Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

See also part one: Remembering Yom Tov With Rav Yitzchok Hutner In Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin (Sep 24, 2023); and Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Legacy (Sep 20, 2022)

Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) was the very memorable Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and its Kollel Gur Aryeh in Brooklyn, New York, USA from the late 1930s to 1980, as well as the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok and its Kollel Ohr Eliyahu in Jerusalem, Israel. His trademark approach to Torah, Tefilla (prayer) and Avoda (worship) was that he drew from many classical Torah sources and innovated his own way of doing things religiously and in all ways in the yeshivas he headed and ran.

His very origins were from two different streams of Yiddishkeit, while his father Chaim Yoel was Litvish, his mother Chana was Polish Hassidish with connections to the Ger hassidic dynasty. This was evident from the way he spoke Yiddish which was his home language, with a Litvish pronunciation on a Polish foundation producing a beautiful unique synthesis. This was no mere linguistic style but it was typical of his drawing from all sources of Torah and Jewish tradition.

Moving to America in the early 1930s allowed Rav Yitzchak Hutner to paint his masterwork of creating something new in the yeshiva world. He held that the concept, or Halakha of "Minhag Hamakom" (custom of the place) does not strictly apply when in America because there is no "Minhag Hamakom" in and of America to speak of. To him this meant that one could set up new "Minhagim" as long as they were based on Halakha (Jewish Law) and Mesora (Torah tradition) and he did this in full force drawing on many sources in Judaism all the way from the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760) and the hassidic masters to the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797) and the Misnagdim weaving it into one seamless whole that became the natural modus operandi in his Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin that continued long after his passing.

The custom of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin was and remains to Daven (pray) and conduct the services according to Nusach Ashkenaz which Rav Hutner upheld. Whatever changes there were to differentiate from other Nusach Ashkenaz customs was attributed to the fact that Rav Hutner instituted that the yeshiva should follow the Nusach HaGRA of the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797) which some refer to as separate Nusach (order or service) with a number of variances to weekday, Shabbos and Yom Tov Tefillos (prayers) and Hanhogas (customs) that go beyond this brief essay.

Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days in Sukkos and Pesach) is a good place to start as a powerful illustration of this trend. Rav Hutner arrived in a Jewish America that was more intent on assimilating into the mainstream secular culture than on moving towards stronger Jewish religious life. Rav Hutner used many methods to counter this trend when it came to those students who followed him, and there were many because he had a magnetic and charismatic personality and was a genius in Torah and secular subjects. He was also very intense about practicing Yiddishkeit with hassidic fervor.

On Chol Hamoed Rav Hutner insisted that his students dress in formal Yom Tov (Holiday) clothing. He drove home his point that Chol Hamoed was more "Moed" (Holiday) than "Chol" (weekday) by instituting the custom of men not wearing Tefillin during Chol Hamoed in his yeshiva. He would say that this was based on the ruling of the MAHARAL of Prague (1512–1609) and of the GRA the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797). No one knew if this was really based on the hassidic custom of not putting on Tefillin during Chol Hamoed or on the Misnagdic (anti-hassidic) custom stemming from the Vilna Gaon not to put on Tefillin on Chol HaMoed.

Rav Hutner loved to keep people guessing and thinking, it didn't matter much to him what public opinion thought about his ways, as long as his students followed him and his policies. For those few die-hard Litvaks and German Jews in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin who do follow the custom to put on Teffilin on Chol Hamoed without a Bracha, they were told to sit separately in the Ezras Nashim (ladies' section) so long as they had their Tefillin on. To this day, the vast majority of Chaim Berliners, as they are called, do not put on Tefillin on Chol Hamoed Sukkos and Pesach..

Rav Hutner instituted that full Hallel with a Bracha should be said on the first two nights of Pesach (in the Diaspora there is a second night), something that no Litvish yeshiva does but hassidim do say it. The word was that Rav Hutner held it was Minhag HaGRA the custom of the Vilna Gaon to do so and that's how it was justified. Rav Hutner used to joke and say in Yiddish: "When could you find a Misnaged in a Chasidisha Shtiebel? – On the first two nights of Pesach to say Hallel and on Shemini Atzeres at night to do Hakafos" when hassidim do an extra night of early Hakofas and the Litvish don't.

To keep his students and followers as fully engaged intellectually and emotionally with the Sukkos and Pesach Rav Hutner would give as many Ma'amorim (Torah discourses) late into most nights of Chol HaMoed. For most of his life he would say these Ma'amorim almost every night himself only relying on his own boundless energy. At the end of Sukkos on Hoshana Rabba people would gather to join him to say the entire Sefer Tehillim (book of Psalms) in honor of Dovid HaMelech's Ushpizin. The Ma'amorim for each of the nights of Sukkos would be based on the various Ushpizin for each night starting from Avraham Avinu and going through the list as each night of Sukkos came on. After he said these Ma'amorim there would be official Chazoras (reviews) by select top Talmidim (students) attended by eager Talmidim of the yeshiva.

Singing was a big part of the Ma'amorim especially on Chol Hamoed Sukkos and Pesach. There were a variety of tunes and always within the packed crowds there would be a few enlivened disciples who would get up and dance with fervor. Above all the atmosphere would be joyous and celebratory and everyone was lifted up as if on a cloud to a high of spiritual elevation. These would become mind altering and life changing experiences for almost anyone in attendance because of their virtual magical charm that held everyone spellbound. It was like entering into a trance in another otherworldly time zone that left everyone who experienced it breathless so to speak by the time Yom Tov was over and feeling transformed in body, mind and soul.

There were three sets of Hakofas, one set on the night of Shemini Atzeres, one set on the night of Simchas Torah, and one set on the afternoon of Simchas Torah until nightfall. The tunes and words for the Hakofas were special and would last long hours tiring out most people. In his younger years Rav Hutner danced the Hakofas and in his later years he would sit in his special chair watching everyone dance the Hakofas and occasionally he would either call over someone or someone would go over to him to talk very quietly about something.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were very somber experiences that tried to connect the prayers as if with the Bais Hamikdash (the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem) itself. Rav Hutner instituted that all the married men should wear their Kittels (long white robes) during the two days for Rosh Hashana and for the night and day of Yom Kippur. Rav Hutner also instituted that all married men in the Yeshiva Chaim Berlin community should wear a Kittel during both Seders on the first two nights of Pesach. If wine dripped on a Kittel or on a Pesach Haggadah he famously said in Yiddish: "A Haggadah without wine dripped on it, is like a Yom Kippur Machzor without tears dripped on it!"

Rav Hutner instituted a long break in the Davening (prayers) before Shofar blowing so that people could go to the bathroom, and to make Kiddush with the yeshiva providing grape juice, cake and hot tea and coffee for everyone. This was also to help everyone make it through the long Davening that would often last to around four in the afternoon leaving little time for the Rosh Hashanah meal with people having to rush back to yeshiva for Maariv (evening prayers).

Rav Hutner shortened the number of Selichos to be recited in the mornings before Rosh Hashana and during Rosh Hashana and Yom KIppur. He mocked what he called in Yiddish "Zogachts" (verbiage) and preferred that less Selichos be said but with much more Kavana (intent). Although he definitely had his favorite Baalei Tefila (prayer leaders) who all had beautiful appealing and loud voices and would not rush through the abbreviated Selichos or any prayers they were leading on other occasions.

As for Tashlich and Kappores I am not sure if Rav Hutner approved of either one as in one of his famous humorous remarks he said in Yiddish: "Shlogt Kappores Mit Dem Tashlich!" (do the Kapporess ritual by using the Tashlich ritual). Maybe other students of Rav Hutner have other information but Kappores and Tashlich were not important Minhagim (customs) as far as Rav Hutner was concerned and there was never a time when I saw any of the leading rabbis in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin Shlog Kappores or go to do Tashlich by the waterside.

Talking of customs that Rav Hutner did not institute, Tu Bishvat and Lag BaOmer come to mind that when they occurred they passed by unnoticed in the yeshiva. There was never a Peiros Tish (fruit-table celebration) on Tu Bishvat nor was there a bonfire on Lag BaOmer. There was definitely no dancing around a bonfire! I do not know why there was never any celebration of Tu Bishvat or of Lag BaOmer in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin but the reason has to be that Rav Hutner held that's the way it should be without ever really giving any full reasoning that is known to all.

Purim and Chanuka were very joyous days with Rav Hutner. On Purim day Rav Hutner would insist of having a huge band play in the Bais Medrash to intersperse with his brilliant innovative Ma'amorim. He would drink wine and would famously recite the rhymed Yiddish saying: "Heint Iz Purim Morgen Iz Ois, Gitz Mir a Trink Und Varft Mir Arois!" (today is Purim tomorrow it's over, give me a drink and throw me out) and everything was done in high spirits as a huge Tisch (table) was installed in front of Rav Hutner who was surrounded on all sides by high walls of enthused disciples and guests eager to enjoy the experience and hear him talk and teach. Rav Hutner did not allow a Purim Shpiel in the yeshiva since he felt it led to unnecessary mocking by the students.

On Purim night and in the morning Rav Hutner had his favorite Megillah reader Rav Naftoli Richter read the Megillah in his inimitable immaculate impeccable style reading it word by word with great intonation and special emphasis where required. There would always be some people appointed to collect Matanos LeEvyonim (charity for the poor). During the day everyone would rush around handing out Shalach Manos and Rav Hutner would receive a mountain of Shalach Manos at home from everyone.

On Yom Tov and the Chagim Rav Hutner was very much a public person on display to everyone while during the regular days of the year he tended to be more reclusive and absorbed with his own learning and meeting with people who made private appointments to speak with him or with interests such as in his latter years in building his Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok in Har Nof in Jerusalem, Israel, or with any matter that was brought to his attention as part of his role as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel of America and as one of the top rabbinic leaders of Torah Umesorah or other organizations where he had leading disciples in leadership positions seeking his counsel.

Shabbos could also turn out to be a big teaching time for Rav Hutner. Towards the end of his life when he spent some time in Camp Morris in Woodridge, New York, the summer home of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, he gave Ma'amorim after Kabbolas Shabbos. When he was younger he would have guests at his home for some of the Shabbos meals, especially for Shallos Seudos (third Shabbos meal). In the yeshiva everyone was supposed to stand during Krias HaTorah (Torah reading) and during Chazoras HaShatz (the repetition of the prayers by the prayer leader). This was in keeping with Rav Hutner's objective of building up Kavod HaTorah (honoring the Torah).

Rav Hutner also instituted that there should be no saying of "Baruch Hu Ubaruch Shemo" (blessed be He and blessed be His name) when Hashem's (God's) name was pronounced during the Chazoras Hashatz (the prayer leader's repetition of the prayers) or at any other time when Hashem's name was said out loud during prayer services. The supposed reason was that it is an interruption and that it is also the Gematria of "Shabtai Tzvi" (the false messiah) (1626–1676) in Hebrew and therefore "Baruch Hu Ubaruch Shemo" is omitted in some congregations such as in Rav Hutner's Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok.

Interestingly while Rav Hutner went to a men's Mikva every Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov, in his later years he had someone help him, he did not make it mandatory for all the men in the yeshiva, but rather left it as a good thing to do voluntarily. Rav Hutner did not allow the building of a Mikva on the yeshiva's premises as he felt it would detract from Tznius (modesty) between the students.

Rav Hutner pioneered and instituted summer learning during July and August away from the big city at Camp Morris in the countryside at a time when that was a new idea. On Tisha BeAv Rav Hutner appointed Rav Moshe Homnick to teach the various sections of the Talmud relating to the destruction of the ancient Jewish temples so that time would not be wasted on that day. Rav Hutner hated wasting his and other people's time. For example, at weddings when he would be honored with the reading of the Kesuva (marriage contract) he would speed read through it without skipping a beat because he held it was a Tircha DeTzibura (troubling the congregation) to drag out the reading of the Kesuba. Same thing with Rosh Chodesh Bentching on the Shabbos before a Rosh Chodesh, he would not allow a lengthy recital of the related prayers but insisted on the brevity of words by the Baal Tefilla (prayer leader).

If one tries to look deeper into Rav Hutner's methodology and goals with regards to the holiday times when his students would gather around him to celebrate the Jewish holidays and to hear his moving Ma'amorim lectures, he definitely tried to create a different stage and setting for them to leave the mundane outside world and enter into another realm of Kedusha (holiness) where he would and could captivate them with his magnetic and inspiring unique personality and his stirring words of Torah wisdom, interspersed with Freilich (happy) singing and excited dancing to induce situations within his audiences that would be mind-altering for them as well as shift them quantitatively and qualitatively from whatever level they were at to higher more exalted levels, changing their characters and personalities for the better and that would remain with them for life.

That he succeeded at this is beyond any doubt as one surveys the myriads of disciples, students and admirers that were attracted to him and accepted him as their Rebbi and Rosh Yeshiva as he liked to be called.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]