Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin Courtesy
It has been almost forty two years since the famous Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906-1980) passed away and during that time many of his leading students and disciples have passed away and succumbed to the ravages of time. When I enrolled in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, NY in 1976 it was four years before Rav Hutner passed away and I had the great privilege of getting to know "The Rosh Yeshiva", as Rav Hutner was referred to by the Talmidei HaYeshiva (the students of the yeshiva) and quite a few of his leading disciples.

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Rabbi Yitschak Hutner zts"l
Rabbi Yitschak Hutner zts"l Rudomin

Some background:

Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin was the first yeshiva founded in Brooklyn, NY in the very early 1900s. It was renamed in honor of the famous Rav Chaim Berlin (1832-1912) chief rabbi of Moscow after he passed away. The yeshiva existed as an elementary school until 1936. The first high school class graduated by 1940 and Rav Hutner became one of the main Rosh Yeshivas of the Bais Medrash, post-high school division of the yeshiva. By 1956 Rav Hutner founded Kollel Gur Aryeh post-graduate division for married students, it was named for the Maharal of Prague's work. In the early 1960s Rav Hutner started to establish a branch of the yeshiva in Israel and eventually it was set up in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem under the name Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok, named for Rav Hutner's works by the same name.

From 1936 until his passing in 1980 Rav Hutner educated and cultivated thousands of Talmidim (students or disciples) many of whom became famous rabbis and roshei yeshiva in their own right. Any person who learned in the yeshiva during Rav Hutner's forty four year long tenure as the active Rosh Yeshiva will have their own unique memories and know of the names of so many others who are deserving of mention that is beyond the scope of this brief essay. This essay is not meant as the "final word" about the deceased disciples of Rav Hutner, but as one looks back there is the sense of the passing of an era that should not be forgotten.

Since I came to the yeshiva in 1976 I heard of, met, and saw quite a few famous Chaim Berliners that had established themselves during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980, 1990s and into the 2000s. There were many great disciples of Rav Hutner who became famous leaders in the world of American Orthodoxy that I became familiar with who have passed away and I would like to share some of these memories of these great men that I had the privilege of either getting to know them personally or getting to know about them. Here are a few of them that I had the privilege to know, in alphabetical order:

* Rav Meir Belsky zt"l (1923-2017) was part of the original 1940 Yeshiva Chaim Berlin high school graduating group. Rav Hutner eventually encouraged him to move to Memphis, Tennessee to set up the Yeshiva of the South that existed for about thirty years. Rav Belsky served as the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of the South. Rav Hutner sent a group of his own students to help Rav Belsky set up and get the Yeshiva of the South going and it attracted young Jewish men from the South of the USA to come learn in a genuine yeshiva, something that was quite unique. Rav Belsky authored several books on Torah thought such as "Citadel and Tower". Eventually Rav Belsky followed in Rav Hutner's footsteps and moved to Israel and founded a Kollel in Jerusalem. I would see Rav Belsky a few times when he visited the yeshiva in Brooklyn at the time I was learning there. I got to know some of his sons, all rabbis, quite well. He passed away in Jerusalem.

* Rav Shmuel Elchonon Brog zt"l (1928-2012) married Shandy Miller the oldest daughter of the famous Rav Avigdor Miller zt"l (1908-2001) who was the Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual counsel;or) at the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin where Rabbi Brog came to learn from Pittsburgh, PA. Rabbi Brog was unique because he was a son in law of Rav Avigdor Miller and a strong disciple of Rav Hutner and remained unfailingly loyal to both until his last days. Rabbi Brog was appointed the principal of the Yeshiva Ketana (elementary school) of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and after that Rav Hutner appointed him the head of an outreach Shiur (class) in the main Chaim Berlin Bais Medrash yeshiva building catering to young men who did not have an intensive yeshiva background or maybe had never been to a yeshiva at all, and who now wished to "mainstream" themselves into the yeshiva. This was a groundbreaking pioneering innovation that Rav Hutner introduced into his own yeshiva entrusting Rabbi Brog to carry out this "impossible mission" because he had to teach multiple students, often simultaneously, who were on different levels and who had different learning skills. This program only lasted as long as Rabbi Brog was alive. Hardly any of the big "mainstream" yeshivas in America have ever had such a groundbreaking program that bore so much success. Rabbi Brog authored a number of books, one of them was called "Challenge of Eternity". I merited to be in some of Rabbi Brog's classes at the time he was teaching in yeshiva and was a guest at his home a few times. I got to know his sons, all rabbis, quite well. Rabbi Brog died from complications of heart disease.

* Rav Shlomo Carlebach zt"l (1925-2022) who was a first cousin to the singer Shlomo Carlebach zt"l (1925-1994) (who had also been a Talmid at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin earlier in his life and was close with Rav Hutner from whom he claimed to have received Semicha - rabbinical ordination), was the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin for twelve years after Rav Avigdor Miller left that position. Rav Carlebach was a Holocaust survivor from Germany whose parents and younger siblings had been murdered by the Nazis. His father was the last rabbi of Hamburg and somehow the young Shlomo Carlebach had miraculously managed to survive the Holocaust. With the help and advice of his surviving family in New York he was referred to see Rav Hutner and come to learn in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn. It was also a case of love at first sight as Rav Hutner virtually "adopted" the young Shlomo Carlebach as if he was his own son. They became so close that Rav Carlebach came to adopt the methods and language of Rav Hutner's pedagogy and of delving into the writings of the Maharal of Prague (1526-1609). Rav Hutner recognized Rav Carlebach's greatness and saw fit to appoint him to fill the vacancy caused by Rav Avigdor MIller's departure from the yeshiva. Rav Hutner appointed Rav Carlebach as Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual guide) of the yeshiva and Rav Carlebach spent over a decade teaching hundreds of students. Rav Carlebach wrote a set of works called "Maskil Lishlomo" based on his thoughts on Torah. Rav Carlebach was the official Mashgiach when I came to learn at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and I asked him for advice on a number of important issues. I was a guest at his house a few times and got to know his family. He passed away of old age at 96 in 2022.

* Rav Shlomo Cohen zt"l was in the Kollel Gur Aryeh post-graduate division of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and served briefly as Rosh Kollel in Antwerp, Belgium upon the suggestion of Rav Hutner before returning to the USA and with only a high school diploma was admitted to Columbia Law School based on his LSAT prep-college admission tests and eventually became an outstanding corporate attorney, all while still keep up his own schedule of Torah learning and giving his own brilliant shiurim. We were both students at yeshiva at the same time and would speak with each other. I would meet him in Manhattan sometimes when he became an attorney. He died of cancer.

* Rabbi Dr. Chaim Feuerman zt"l (d. 2017) was a famous Jewish educator, Jewish school principal, professor of Jewish Education at the Azrieli School of Education at Yeshiva University and teacher and mentor to other rabbis and teachers in Jewish and Torah education specializing in Jewish and Hebrew days schools in particular. Rabbi Feuerman as a youngster was studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary when a friend suggested he go meet Rav Hutner at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. This was another case of love at first sight as Rabbi Feuerman was instantly attracted to the magical allure of Rav Hutner's personality with Rav Hutner seeing the incredible capabilities and potential of the young Chaim Feuerman. After leaving yeshiva Rabbi Feuerman served as Jewish chaplain in the US Air Force. The story is told that Rav Hutner kept a constant correspondence with the young Chaim Feuerman who was serving in the military. Afterwards Rabbi Feuerman started what would be a meteoric rise in the world of Chinuch (Jewish education) serving as principal in a number of major North American cities including Montreal, Atlanta, Staten Island, Queens, Westchester. In his later years he founded his own Jewish educational consulting agency. His wife stood by his side during his many ups and downs in the unpredictable world of Chinuch and she predeceased him by a few years. I became quite close with Rabbi Feuerman and his oldest son Yisroel. I was a guest at their home a few times and listened intently to Rabbi Feuerman's descriptions of his adventures in Chinuch, Jewish Education. Rabbi Feuerman died peacefully surrounded by his students while giving a lecture at the Azrieli School in Manhattan.

* Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt"l (1925-1990) became a disciple of Rav Hutner as a young teenager and that bond lasted a lifetime. Rav Freifeld set up his own yeshiva in Far Rockaway, NY named Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv specializing in welcoming less religious Jewish young men into the yeshiva to learn Torah and Talmud and for the first time. In his prime he was regarded as one of the best known figures in the Baal Teshuva (returnees to Judaism) movement. Rav Freifeld was a giant of a man and had a charismatic personality with a booming voice and the capacity to speak on the level of everyone. I saw Rav Freifeld a few times when he came to visit Rav Hutner on Chol HaMoed with some of his own students. I was once at Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv for a Shabbos and saw Rav Freifeld there. He passed away from cancer.

* Rav Shimon Groner zt"l (d. 2005) was eventually appointed by Rav Hutner as the Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual advisor) of the yeshiva after the departure of Rav Shlomo Carlebach. He was utterly devoted to Rav Hutner and to the yeshiva and was looked up to as a Halachic guide by many. He was very tall and at the same time very humble and was referred to by some as Shimon HaTzadik (righteous). His wife Rebbetzin Nechama Groner was the principal of Bnos Yisroel School for Girls in Brooklyn. I became very close with Rav Groner and he took a keen interest in my progress in the yeshiva. We were invited to spend Pesach at his home a few times and he always had the greatest confidence in me. He passed away from cancer.

* Rabbi Dr. Moshe Homnick zt"l (d. 2020) was a dedicated Talmid Chochem (Torah scholar) and practicing psychologist. He lived near the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim in order to be close to Rav Hutner. He was very modest and unassuming but he was not a quiet character. On Yomim Noraim (the High Holidays) his piercing voice could often be heard as a crescendo on top of everyone else's prayers. He was always the last one to hold a Torah and dance for the crowds on Simchas Torah letting out yelps and woops and sway his free arm to fire up everyone's spirited singing. Rav Hutner loved the expressions and moves of Rabbi Moshe Homnick as he danced with abandon in honor of the Torah and the Yom Tov and to please his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Hutner. I would speak with Rabbi Homnick frequently because he was a regular at the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim where we all Davened (prayed) together. I was always thrilled by his fervent dancing on holidays. He passed away due to complications from Corona.

* Rav Yosef Katzenstein zt"l (d. 2020) was a rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Brooklyn for many years. He came to Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin as a Holocaust survivor whose family had been living in Denmark before the Holocaust and were part of the famous rescue of the Danish Jews. He spoke Danish and held Danish citizenship. He was a brilliant person with an equally brilliant uproarious sense of humor. At his wedding Rav Hutner walked him down the aisle. He authored books of Talmud. He remained close to the yeshiva for most of his life and specialized in learning with the yeshiva's Illuim (genius Torah scholars). We became very friendly and I was hosted at the Katzenstein home for Shabbos a few times before I was married. He was a good advisor to me. He was always funny and brilliant. He passed away from Covid.

* Rav Yaakov Perlow the Novominsker Rebbe zt"l (1930-2020) was sent to learn in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin hy his father the previous Novominsker Rebbe and so he thereby became a disciple of Rav Hutner who was highly honored that one of his select pupils had become a great Chasidic Rebbe in his own right. Eventually Rav Yaakov Perlow would be appointed as the Rosh Agudas Yisroel of America and head of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages). Rav Perlow was also an author of a Talmudic work known as "Adas Yaakov". I, like many others, heard him speak and he was a powerful and much sought after orator. He spoke in perfect English and had a masterful command of the language. He lived in Boro Park but early in his career was a Rosh Yeshiva in the Breuer's Yeshiva of the Adas Yeshurun community in Washington Heights, Manhattan. I saw him come to be with Rav Hutner on Chol Hamoed and I heard him speak quite a few times at various venues. He passed away due to complications from Corona.

* Rabbi Betzalel Reifman zt"l (1923-1992) was at one point the long-time Executive Director of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, but he fulfilled many roles and wore many hats in serving the yeshiva. He had a booming raspy voice that was very catchy and pleasing and because of that Rav Hutner appointed him as the official Baal Tefila (prayer leader) for the main services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. His words of prayer would carry the emotions and longings of the yeshiva congregation with them as he uttered them with passion and fervor. Yet, he had a great sense of humor, and one day when he noticed I was missing from services he joked that I was "playing hooky"! It so happens that the yeshiva owned a nursing home for Jewish senior citizens and Rabbi Reifman served as its Executive Director. Despite not being a professional rabbi with a pulpit or a teaching position he was the ultimate man of action and the go-to person to take care of any of the yeshiva';s administrative needs. He was a conscientious Talmudical scholar and would love to come and learn early before morning prayers and sing his words in his inimitable style. We became very friendly and he helped me with official matters when I came to the yeshiva. We sat close to each other in the yeshiva on Shabbos and he always had kind and humorous things to say. He died of complications from heart failure.

* Rav Chaim Segal zt"l came from a family of Ger Chasidim who had fled to Siberia during World War Two and managed to survive the Holocaust that way. After the war he lived in France and afterwards came to America and enrolled in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and became one of Rav Hutner's closest disciples. He was most famous as a high school principal and eventually became the Menahel (principal) of the Mesivta (high school) of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and excelled in becoming a brilliant educator and educational visionary able to transform young boys from ordinary Jewish American families into great Talmudic scholars. Nothing escaped his astute and piercing eyes and he delivered his comments with great humor all in a Polish Yiddish accent. He was much beloved by all his students. We would meet almost every day when he was the principal and I always admired the way he would stand and talk in learning with his Talmidim every night when they came to learn in the main Bais Medrash. He always had a quick quip and clever words to say. He passed away from heart complications.

* Rabbi Pinchas Stolper zt"l (1931-2022) was recruited by Rav Hutner to come learn in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin after Rav Hutner saw an article and photos of him being arrested for throwing rotten tomatoes at a German soccer team being received at New York's city hall. It was a relationship of love at first sight with Rav Hutner impressed with Rabbi Stolper's charisma and leadership qualities and Rabbi Stolper captivated by Rav Hutner's genius and brilliance as a teacher and rabbinic leader that would last all their lives. Rav Stolper went on to develop the Orthodox Union's NCSY outreach youth movement into a huge force in North American Jewish communities. His late wife Elaine joined him in his travels and adventures to spread the message of the beauties of Judaism, Mitzvot, Torah, Israel and God to tens of thousands of alienated secular Jewish teens and turning many of them on to go study in Jewish day schools, yeshivas and seminaries for young women in America and Israel. Rabbi Stolper rounded off his illustrious career being appointed the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union for many years where he oversaw high level dealings with the government. He authored multiple books about Torah and Judaism. We became extreme;y close and he welcomed us into his home a few times. When I was facing a great personal emergency he provided strong and forceful help that helped us immensely. He was always smart and encouraging. Rabbi Stolper passed away from complications of Alzheimer's and his wife passed away soon after him.

* Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt"l (1923-1999) was the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, MD, and the one and only son in law of its famous Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman. His younger brother was Rav Noach Weinberg zt"l (1930-2009) who had also learned in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and who was the founder of both Ohr Someach Yeshiva and Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Israel. Rav Noach Weinberg left Chaim Berlin to go to Ner Yisroel when his brother Rav Yaakvov moved to Ner Yisroel in Baltimore after marrying Rav Ruderman's daughter. The two brothers were very close and consulted each other on all matters. Rav Yaakov Weinberg was a frequent guest speaker at Yeshiva Aish HaTorah where his every word was prized as gold. The Weinbergs originally came from a Slonim Chasidic family that had a tradition of reaching out to the Jewish people who needed Torah learning in a friendly manner. Rav Yaakov Weinberg travelled across the length and breadth of North America and to many other countries to speak on various topics relating to Talmud and Judaism. A story has been told that when Rav Hutner was trying to set up Rav Yaakov Weinberg to meet the one and only daughter of Rav Ruderman, Rav Hutner told Rav Ruderman that Rav Weinberg had the potential to become the biggest Rosh Yeshiva in America! I often met both Weinberg brothers at the AJOP Jewish outreach conventions and listened with fascination to their speeches and presentations on all matters. Both Rav Yaakov and Rav Noach Weinberg passed away from cancer.

* Rav Gershon Weinreb zt"l was a child prodigy and Torah genius who was one of Rav Hutner's most illustrious disciples. He was known for his Hasmada (diligence) and would sit at his place for the whole day in yeshiva engrossed in his Torah learning. He served as one of the "Chozrim" (those who would repeat) of Rav Hutner's Maamarim (Torah lectures) in his early years. He then became a Magid Shiur (Torah lecturer) at the Yeshiva of South Fallsburg, after which he returned to full-time learning in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, where he then authored several Talmudic works. I sat near him when he came to learn in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and would ask him any questions I could. He was brilliant and very studious and very complimentary to people. He passed away at the age of 52 from cancer.

* Rav Shmuel Wolman zt"l was born in Eretz Yisrael when it was under the British Mandate to a Yerushalmi family and then came to Brooklyn to learn in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. He eventually became Rav Hutner's personal secretary and close confidant. Rav Wolman served as the Menahel (principal) of the Chaim Berlin elementary school and then became the official legal Secretary of the yeshiva and undertook many fundraising missions in far off cities where alumni were located. He was the yeshiva's Baal Koreh (Torah reader) for a long time and pronounced every syllable and word of the Torah he was reading meticulously and clearly. A truly caring and loving man who was selfless and who always had time for me to schmooze about anything I would ask him. He was warm and friendly and was the epitome of loving-kindness. In his later years he moved to Israel and joined a Yeshiva for Kabbalists in Yerushalayim, He passed away in Jerusalem.

** Some other top disciples of Rav Hutner that I may either have seen or met or heard about while I was in the yeshiva who have since passed away: Rav Mottel Weinberg zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva in Montreal, Canada; Rav Elya Weintraub zt"l, a Mekubal in Bnai Brak, Israel; Rabbi Reuven Savitz zt"l, a brilliant administrator and organizer; Rav Shlomo Prager zt"l, a famous Maggid Shiur in Brooklyn; Rav Yisroel Chaim Prager a Mashgiach Ruchani at Yeshivas Novominsk; Rav Moshe Fruchthandler zt"l, a dynamic yeshiva and Jewish day school teacher; Rav Shimon Goldstein zt"l, a Talmudic educator at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin; Rabbi Ephraim Sturm zt"l, head of the National Council of Young Israel; Rav Mendel Morris zt"l, a famous Sofer (scribe) who lived in Monsey, NY; Rav Naftoli Richter zt"l, a well-known Melamed, Torah teacher who lived in Monsey, NY; Rav Yehoram Max zt"l, a brilliant Torah scholar who invented a computer program to teach Torah and Talmud in yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs; Rabbi Leibel Kruger zt"l, who served as one of Rav Hutner's loyal Gabaim (assistants).

May their memory be for a blessing! May they all rest in peace and may each and every one of these great men be a Meilitz Yosher (literally one who relates rectitude, meaning someone to advocate on one's behalf in the heavenly courts) to Klal Yisroel to which they had devoted their entire lives!

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocuast 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 College-Columbia 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 1988-1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994-1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995-2015.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin atizakrudomin@gmail.com