Just as powerful and impactful was the history of Rav Hutner's relationships with his seniors and contemporaries. The third of my articles in this series dealt with Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Relationships with Gedolim in America (Aug 17, 22).
This article will cover Rav Hutner's relationships with the Gedolim (great rabbis) of Eretz Yisrael during the time of the British Mandate for Palestine (1920–1948) .
In general, Rav Hutner's relationship with the great rabbis of Eretz Yisrael follows a trajectory of three periods: during his early life, mid-life, and the last years of his life.
The first period is from 1925 when Rav Hutner arrives in British Palestine as a nineteen year old yeshiva student of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania who arrived to learn in its new Eretz Yisrael branch known as the Chevron (Hebron) yeshiva that had started operations in the Holy Land in 1924 and that after the 1929 Hebron Massacre relocated to Jerusalem where it flourishes to this day being one of Israel's most famous yeshivas. Rav Hutner was not present in the yeshiva during the massacre and returned to Europe in 1929 remaining there until 1933 when he returned to Eretz Yisrael. Rav Hutner's early connections to Eretz Yisrael extended to 1934 after which he finally moved to the United States with his new wife Masha.
The second period lasted about thirty years during which time Rav Hutner lived and worked in America, eventually becoming the main Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, NY while he still kept up long distance relationships with Israeli Gedolim.
The third and last period begins from the early 1960s when Rav Hutner makes plans to visit Israel and begins to travel back to Israel with the intention of eventually settling there while still maintaining his position as Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn by travelling back and forth shuttling between Israel and the USA, until his passing away in Jerusalem in 1980.
The great rabbis with whom Rav Hutner connected in the Land of Israel, were like him, born in Eastern Europe and from there had migrated, i.e. made Aliyah, to Eretz Yisrael. They ranged from Lithuanian Talmudic scholars to Hasidic Rebbes, the two schools of thought that Rav Hutner loved and emulated, commonly also known as Lithuanian Misnagdim followers of the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797) and Eastern European hasidim followers of the Baal Shem Tov (1690/1700–1760) that he spent a lifetime trying to reconcile, reintegrate, synthesize, reconcile and unify in thought, speech, and action.
These illustrious rabbis had left the comforts of home and for some their vast followings to move to the Holy Land of Israel at a time when such things were not just unpopular in Europe, but were actually almost impossible to accomplish on a mass scale. Yet nevertheless they were determined to leave behind Europe and moved to Eretz Yisrael the ancient Jewish homeland in the Middle East that until 1918 was still under Ottoman Turk domination when limited Jewish immigration was permitted and that by the end of World War One in 1918 was conquered by the British who promised the Jews that it would be their homeland but who in fact also limited mass Jewish immigration.
* Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel Zt"l (1849–1927) known as the Alter (Elder, in Hebrew: "Sabba") of Slabodka moved from Lithuania to Hebron in the British Mandate of Palestine in 1925 two years before his passing in 1927, while Rav Hutner had moved there in 1925 just before the Alter of Slabodka. It is said that Rav Hutner was there to greet the arrival of his early primary mentor and spiritual guide in a brightly colored suit that caught the attention of the Alter who commented on it. Rav Hutner's connection and relationship with Rav Finkel goes back to when Rav Hutner was a young teenager known as the Warsaw Illui (Torah genius) and had been enrolled in the Slabodka yeshiva at the age of about fourteen (about 1921).
The Slabodka Yeshiva was known for both its rigorous curriculum of Talmudic study harking back to the core teachings of the Vilna Gaon, combined with an even more rigorous informal program of character and ethical development known as Mussar intended to create the perfect Torah personality combining excellence in Talmudic learning and all aspects of intellectual endeavors with the highest degrees of refined human behavior and superior character and spiritual development and fear of God that was denoted by the term Gadlus HaAdam, "greatness of man". Rav Hutner saw himself as the quintessential Slabodka student and this was his vision of how to mold his own students later in America.
This Mussar extra-curricular but central feature of the Slabodka Yeshiva was under the personal guidance of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finklel, or the Alter as he was referred who was in fact the founder and director of the yeshiva and acted as its Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual guide). Rav Hutner as a young student in the yeshiva became a close disciple of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel who had a lifelong impact on not just the young Rav Hutner but especially on many other great rabbis who would eventually move to America, such as Rav Aharon Kotler (1891–1962), Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891–1986), Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman (1900–1987) and others in America, as well as many great rabbis who remained in Europe or moved to Eretz Yisrael.
Rav Hutner was a hybrid of one who was from Europe, moved to Eretz Yisrael, then on to America, and then finally back to modern day Israel all while treasuring and propagating the pedagogical and life-influencing impact of the education and teachings he had absorbed from Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel and then passed them on to new generations of his own disciples and students first in America and then in Israel. Rav Hutner would sometimes marvel that the Alter of Slabodka would sign himself in Hebrew as Hatzafun (in Hebrew) meaning "the hidden one" deliberately scrambling the first letters of his name to come up with a description of a hidden and inscrutable persona. While the Alter of Slabodka spoke in a cryptic manner and wrote no books, Rav Hutner was more elaborative and eloquent in both speech and print yet he remained as hidden and enigmatic as the Alter of Slabodka guarding his private life and inner thoughts from prying eyes.
In later years Rav Hutner would send select top disciples in his Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn to go and experience learning in his alma mater the Chevron Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Three such students of Rav Hutner who travelled in the 1950s and 1960s by boat from America to learn in Chevron Yeshiva in Israel were Rav Chaim Kitevits, Rav Yehoshua Fishman, and Rav Moshe Chaim Hunger, who all later became famous Torah teachers in New York.
Rav Hutner would eventually follow the historical pattern of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel's life by dedicating his own final efforts as a Rosh Yeshiva to moving from America to Israel in order to establish a branch of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Jerusalem, Israel, which was eventually done and is called Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok in memory of Rav Hutner's written works. After Rav Hutner's passing in 1980 Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok remained headed by Rav Hutner's son in law Rav Yonoson David who keeps up Rav Hutner's tradition of commuting between Israel and America where Rav David is also still the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn.
* Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld Zt"l (1848–1942) was born in the Slovakian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1873 where he eventually co-founded the Edah Hacharedis the umbrella organization for non-Zionist Charedi Jewry in Jerusalem in 1921 that is still a very powerful organizational body to this day. In the biography of Rav Sonnenfeld "Guardian of Jerusalem" (a translation of HaIsh Al Hachoma) the early relationship between Rav Hutner and Rav Sonnenfeld is described especially as it relates to the rivalry between Rav Sonnenfeld and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1865–1935) and Rav Hutner's role as a messenger between the two great rabbis. Rav Sonnenfeld was a disciple of Rav Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (Schreiber) (1815–1871) known as the Ksav Sofer who was a son of the famous and revered Rav Moshe Sofer (Schreiber) (1762–1839) known as the Chasam Sofer.
Rav Hutner retained a life-long respect for the Edah Hacharedis that Rav Sonnefeld founded in Jerusalem that has become the bastion and focul point of both non-Zionist and anti-political Zionism in modern day Israel. Rav Hutner saw no contradiction between that and his own love of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook who eventually would become the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem in 1919 and Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1921, something that was opposed by Rav Sonnenfeld who felt that Rav Kook should remain as the rabbi of Jaffa that he was invited to head in 1904. Rav Hutner described the differences between Rav Sonnenfeld and Rav Kook as the one who has his head "in the clouds'' (meaning close to Heaven) but his feet were elevated and not touching the ground referring to Rav Kook, while Rav Sonnenfeld had his head in the clouds and his feet were firmly planted on the ground, meaning not only was he an idealist but he was also a realist. In the book "Guardian of Jerusalem" there is a description of how Rav Kook felt betrayed by the founders of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who promised Rav Kook that they would not teach modern Biblical Studies based on the secular non-religious modern Bible critics, while Rav Hutner mentioned to Rav Kook that Rav Sonnenfeld would not have been fooled by empty promises!
Rav Hutner had a life-long admiration for Rav Sonnenfeld's school of Torah thought mainly the works of the Chasam Sofer that eventually became key texts in his own yeshiva's Talmudic studies curriculum. The name "Chasam Sofer" was and is pronounced with awe by Rav Hutner's disciples who continued their Rosh Yeshiva's profound respect for the intellectual prowess and spiritual greatness of the Chasam Sofer and learned from his great books.
In later years when Rav Yoel Teitelbaum (1887–1979) the Rebbe of the Satmar Chasidic dynasty was chosen as the honorary and titular head of the Edah Hachareidis and at one point in the mid 1970s the members of the Edah Hacharedis came to pay their respects to Rav Yoel Teitelbaum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Rav Hutner went to join the delegation. This showed how consistently Rav Hutner respected that which Rav Sonnenfeld had founded and his honoring the Torah principles and symbolism of the Chasam Sofer's school of thought.
* Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook Zt"l (1865–1935) was born in Latvia, known as an Illui (Torah genius) attended the famous Volozhin Yeshiva and moved to Jaffa in Ottoman Palestine, where he became the rabbi of the town in 1905. In 1919 he was appointed by the British, who had just conquered Palestine from the Turks, as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and in 1921 as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine and hence is regarded as Israel's first Chief Rabbi as well even though the modern state of Israel was established in 1948. Eventually he was adopted as one of the leaders of Religious Zionism and in 1924 he founded the Yeshiva Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem where he served as its Rosh Yeshiva.
Rav Hutner came to the British Mandate of Palestine from the Slabodka Yeshiva in Eastern Europe to study at its new branch the Chevron Yeshiva in 1925 and stayed until 1929, coming back during 1933 to 1934 when he moved to the USA. Rav Hutner was related to Rav Kook's daughter in law Chava Leah Hutner who married Rav Kook's son Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (1891–1982) in Warsaw in 1922. So in a very real sense the Kooks and the Hutners were family.
During his early time in Eretz Yisrael Rav Hutner did not limit himself to the confines of the Slabodka/Chevron Yeshiva only. Given his natural intellectual curiosity, thirst for Torah wisdom and a desire to learn from a wide range of rabbis and sources, Rav Hutner connected with Rav Kook and the result was a sort of an epiphany, a profound, deep and super-spiritual connection between the two. Rav Kook became a powerful natural mentor and "soul mate" of Rav Hutner reaching to the depths of his soul which was reciprocated by Rav Kook.
Rav Kook was born in 1865 and Rav Hutner was born in 1906 so there was a forty one year difference in age. Rav Kook was already a wizened battle-hardened controversial rabbi who had staked out an independent path in his ideas and methods in dealing with secular Jews, Zionism, and the outside world in general. Rav Kook was already an established profound scholar and mystic and according to reliable sources he was also a genuine Kabbalist which can be discerned from his discourses and writings.
Rav Hutner tapped into this well-spring offered by Rav Kook and in spite of being a genuine disciple of the Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Hutner also became a devotee and disciple of Rav Kook adopting his method of thinking and expression especially in how to deal with secular Jews by being welcoming rather than hostile to them and in not being afraid to engage with the world outside of the yeshiva.
Experts have noted that Rav Hutner's style of speaking and writing expressing his Hilchos Dei'os Vechovos Halevavos ("laws of ideas and duties of the heart") in his Pachad Yitzchok (Fear of Isaac) writings follows in the same methodology and style of Rav Kook and indeed improves upon it. Rav Kook was a master orator and Rav Hutner was destined to become one as well. Rav Kook's father came from Lithuanian (Litvish) yeshiva background and his mother came from a Chasidic background and likewise Rav Hutner's father was from a Litvish background while his mother was from a Chasidic background, so that created an even tighter bond between Rav Kook and Rav Hutner.
The following are reliable stories about Rav Hutner and his relationship with Rav Kook, and there must be many more:
1. Rav Hutner was once talking to his disciple Rav Shlomo Freifeld (1925–1990) and pointing to a photo of Rav Kook that was hanging on Rav Hutner's wall, Rav Hutner said to Rav Freifeld "Your Shoresh HaNeshama (root of the soul) is his (Rav Kook's) Shoresh HaNeshama" to which Rav Freifeld asked "Does the Rosh Yeshiva (Rav Hutner) mean to say that my Shoresh HaNeshama is the Rosh Yeshiva's (Rav Hutner's) Shoresh HaNeshama?" To which Rav Hutner responded "Ah, that is what I meant!" so we see the deep life-long impact that Rav Kook had on Rav Hutner during his entire life.
2. Sometime between 1929 to 1933 Rav Hutner wrote a Talmudic treatise Toras HaNazir (Laws of the Nazerite) based on and analyzing Maimonides writings on the same subject and before publication Rav Hutner asked Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky (1863–1940), Rav Avrohom Duber Kahan Shapiro (1870–1943) both leading sages of Lithuanian Jewry as well as Rav Kook in Palestine to write Haskomas (approbations - written approvals) for his soon to be published work and all obliged. His request of Rav Kook ended off by saying that "he (Rav Hutner) cleaves to the dust of his (Rav Kook's) feet" (...Hamisavek BeAfar Raglav)! Rav Kook's approbation spoke of the great genius and great scholarship of the young Rav Hutner.
3. Once when having a relaxed Schmooze with one of his greatest disciples, Rav Hutner disclosed to him that "I was as close to Rav Kook like under his Tallis Kattan!"
4. In his early years in America Rav Hutner would have a picture of Rav Kook hanging in his home and also in his Sukkah on Sukkos. One year in his Sukkah Rav Hutner very publicly took down the picture of Rav Kook and replaced it with a picture of Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (1878–1953) known as the Chazon Ish, due to the controversy surrounding the conscription of girls (giyus banos) into the Israeli army that was and still is opposed by all Charedi rabbis. In fact Rav Hutner insisted that later publications of his Sefer (book) Toras HaNazir be reprinted without the laudatory approbation of Rav Kook due to how controversial Rav Kook had become in modern day Charedi circles that could have a negative impact on Rav Hutner's standing in the Charedi world.
5. When asked by his followers how to judge Rav Kook practically, he would tell them that there is a notion in Torah Judaism of "Talmid Chacham Sh'Ein Halacha Kemoso" meaning that there is such a thing as a great Torah and Talmudic scholar, he may even be the greatest of his generation, but that the practical Halacha, the way things should be done according to the pragmatics of every-day Jewish Law does not follow that exceptional Torah scholar in spite of his superiority in many fields.
After Rav Kook's passing in 1935, Rav Hutner also maintained a close and friendly relationship with Rav Kook's son Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (1891–1982) the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem who was a leading Religious Zionist rabbi and thinker and who had married Rav Hutner's relative Chava Leah Hutner.
The life-trajectory of Rav Kook's ended when he passed away in 1935 at the age of 70, a year before Rav Hutner began his life's work at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in 1936, when Rav Hutner was only 30 years old. Like Rav Kook, Rav Hutner would become a controversial trailblazer in America yet unlike Rav Kook, Rav Hutner would remain within the Charedi world even though he would have relationships with personalities and organizations that were associated with Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism, and even beyond those, from which worlds Rav Hutner would draw many disciples and followers and guide them in a more Charedi and Yeshivish (for lack of a better word) direction.
Yet Rav Hutner was an ardent lover of everything to do with the Land of Israel and kept his links to Eretz Yisrael and pined for a time to return, which he eventually began to do in the early 1960s, especially since jet travel became more available. Most fittingly as an ardent lover of Zion, Rav Hutner passed away in Jerusalem, Israel in 1980 at the age of 74. Both Rav Kook and Rav Hutner passed away at relatively young ages compared to some of their contemporaries who lived into their nineties, but during their lifetimes they moved mountains and accomplished the impossible by promoting Ahavas Yisrael (love of all fellow Jews) furthering Torah study among the Jewish people and building bridges of Torah from the past to the future over which multitudes of Jews have and could follow in the service of God.
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 College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim and was 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Part One: The Changing of an Era: Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Disciples (Aug 2, 22).
Part Two: The Changing of an Era, Part II: Rav Hutner's Disciples (Aug 8, 22).
Part Three: Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Relationships with Gedolim in America (Aug 17, 22).
Part Four: The Changing of an Era: Rav Yitzchok Hutner and the Gedolim in the Mandate of Palestine (Aug 29, 22).
Part Five: The Changing of an Era: Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Relationships with Gedolim in Israel (Sep 8, 22).
Part Six: The Changing of an Era, part VI: Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Legacy (Sep 20, 22).