It is with a very heavy heart and with great trepidation that I write these words of remembrance about one of the greatest Jewish leaders of our generation Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David (1938–2023) who passed away suddenly this past Pesach that came as a shock to so many people who knew her or knew about her. Primarily, she was the founder and dean of the famous Beth Jacob of Jerusalem known by its initial BJJ in Jerusalem, Israel that she single-handedly turned into the "Harvard", or the "Slabodka", of Jewish religious girls seminaries anywhere in the world. BJJ was and remains the gold standard of young Jewish women's post-high school education that is at the top of the pyramid of this type of Jewish education for Jewish women.
My own connection to Rebbetzin David started when I came to learn at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York in late 1976. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Pesach sedorim led by Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) who was Rebbetzin David's illustrious father. I attended the sedorim led by Rav Hutner from 1977 to 1980 when at the end of that year, Rav Hutner passed away in Jerusalem, Israel. During 1981 the Pesach sedorim in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin were continued for one year as a sign of continuity as Rav Hutner had run them.
I met Rebbetzin David in the yeshiva's kitchen prior to the Pesach sedorim in early 1977 where I was helping out and Rebbetzin David came by to check on what was going on. Upon seeing me she asked who I was and when I came to the yeshiva. When I told her that I had recently come from South Africa to learn at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin she gave a big smile and she asked me if I had "acclimated" yet to which I replied that I was "climatizing"! We couldn't decide which was a better word "acclimating" or "climatizing"!
At Rav Hutner's sedorim, in what was to be his last years, it was Rebbetzin David's husband, Rav Yonason David who co-led the sedorim waiting for Rav Hutner's signals to proceed or to stop. Usually in attendance were other members of the yeshiva's Hanholla (leadership) and their families, most notably Rav Aaron Schechter and his family. The men would all be seated at one long table in the yeshiva's dining room, while the women would be seated at a separate long table nearby with Rebbetzin David at the helm.
By 1982 I was married and we were invited by Rabbi and Rebbetzin David to join them at their home on Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn for the sedorim and the Pesach Yom Tov meals. By this time there was no longer a long table but only the intimacy of Rabbi and Rebbetzin David's home. Prior to that I had been invited for various Shabbos meals when I was still single together with a few other selected guests. At that time, from 1976 to 1980 Rav Hutner was still alive and Rebbetzin David would cook and serve all the meals herself on the second floor of the house where she and her husband lived when they were in America, and then she would run downstairs to serve her father, Rav Hutner, who was having his meals alone. Sometimes we would hear Rav Hutner's voice drifting up from downstairs. At these meals, the Rebbetzin sat quietly and attentively listening to every word her husband said, and in between she would dash off to clear the table and serve the next course. She did this unassumingly and lovingly like any regular Jewish Balabosta (housewife).
During the time when I was still single and was invited to Rabbi and Rebbetzin David's home for Shabbos meals, after the end of one Shabbos and when Havdola was over, she asked me to stay. She then came over from the kitchen where she was washing the left-over Shabbos dishes still wearing her apron and we sat down in her living room and she proceeded to "rehd" me a Shidduch. She started off in a typically humorous way by saying that the Rosh Yeshiva, meaning Rav Hutner would say that "for everything there is a purpose in the world, so what's the purpose of a krumma kop (in Yiddish: a 'twisted mind')?" to which the Rosh Yeshiva answered "to rehd Shidduchim"! (to set people up on dates. There is another version of this that ends with the purpose of a "krumma kop" is to be 'melamed zechus' – to judge people favorably). She said to me that this was not a case of a "krumma kop"! It was to one of her top BJJ girls and naturally I was very flattered. That time it did not work out though. Eventually when I met my wife and after we were married in early 1982 and we were invited to join the David's for Pesach, when Rebbetzin David met my wife she exclaimed in Yiddish: "Tzugetroffen" (perfect match)!
During my time as a Talmid (student) in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin I also attended Teachers College–Columbia University to obtain an MA in Education. During that time I had heard that Rebbetzin David had also attended Columbia University and I searched through the university indexes and found confirmation of her PhD thesis: "The Dual Role of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes: Traditionalist and Maskil" (1971) and I eventually bought a copy of the thesis and tried to read as much of it as I could. Eventually, when I wrote my own MA thesis: "The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy" (1983) I quoted from sections of her thesis about the nature and impact of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and I decided to use the same formatting for the different parts, chapters and sections in my thesis as she did in her thesis.
To be accurate one should actually call her Rebbetzin Dr. Bruria Hutner David, or Dr. David for short because she earned a bona fide doctorate at the prestigious Ivy League Columbia University. No doubt that what she absorbed and studied at university on the highest levels helped her and played a crucial role in her ability to set up her own grand post-high school college level institution for higher Jewish education after her in-depth experiences and graduation from Columbia University.
One needs to point out a few things at this juncture.
Number one, that she actually went through a full rigorous secular college education. To earn a PhD one must first have attained a Master's degree and to do that one needs a Bachelor's degree. So Rebbetzin David obviously complete a BA and a MA as well but nothing is known about where she got these and what she studied during that time, as only the subject of her PhD thesis is public knowledge.
Number two, she followed in the footsteps of her father Rav Hutner and many of his own close students who went to college while at yeshiva. In Rav Hutner's case he studied Philosophy for a short time at the University of Berlin never obtaining an official degree, but many of Rav Hutner's disciples obtained BA, MA and PhD degrees during the time they were learning in yeshiva under his tutelage.
Number three, if anyone takes the time to read Dr. Bruria David's PhD thesis and her gutsy critique of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes (1805–1855) also known as "The Maharatz Chajes" (מהר"ץ חיות) her incredibly powerful analytical mind is on full display as she takes a major Acharon (latter day rabbinic scholar) to task for not treating Agada (the metaphors of the Talmud) with the same gravity as does her hero in this regard Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1512–1609) known as the "Maharal of Prague" (מהר"ל מפראג). This is the intellectual climate she lived in and she got there from her father Rav Hutner as well as from her mother Masha who had a degree from Hunter College.
Number four is that it is inconceivable that Rebbetzin David would have made any move academically, in life and Hashkafically (in world outlook) without the input, guidance and approval of both her father as well as of her husband. The three of them were partners in everything from the time Rav Yonosan David married Bruria the only child and the one and only daughter of Rav Hutner.
Rebbetzin David's life was tied to both her father's life and her husband's life and careers as a Roshei Yeshiva. They planned all their moves together as one unit. When Rav Hutner decided sometime in the late 1960s that he was determined to move back to Israel where he had once studied at the famous Chevron Yeshiva in the the late 1920s and to set up a yeshiva of his own, the calculation included a vision of an illustrious future for both his son in law Rav Yonason David and for his daughter Rebbetzin Dr. Bruria David. Initially Rav Hutner set out to build a yeshiva together with Rav Dov Schwartzman (1921–2011) in Yeshiva Bais HaTalmud in Jerusalem that included a high post for Rav Yonosan David. When that did not work out Rav Hutner started to build exclusively his own yeshiva without any partners known as Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok where Rav Yonosan David was and still is the Rosh Yeshiva.
While Rav Yonosan David was focused on educating young men as Talmudic scholars, Rav Hutner had a vision for his brilliant and devoted daughter to set up a post high school seminary for Jewish religious girls in Jerusalem. This project was actualized and came into operation some time in the early 1970s and eventually a huge campus was built with dining and dormitory facilities for approximately two hundred full time students spending a year there. The official name for this academic place of excellence for young Jewish women was to be Beth Jacob Jerusalem (סמינר בית יעקב למורות, Seminar Bais Yaakov LeMorot), also known as Machon Sarah Schneirer, commonly referred to as BJJ,
As much as BJJ is the success story of Rebbetzin David's accomplishments it is also the fulfillment of Rav Hutner's dream and vision for Chinuch HaBanos – Jewish Education for girls in the world. Everything, literally everything Rebbetzin did, was with the Hashkofas - worldview of her father Rav Hutner and with the full input and consultation with her husband Rav Yonosan David. It cannot be stressed enough how the three of them did everything together and after Rav Hutner's passing in 1980, Rebbetzin David did everything in conjunction with her husband including editing and writing Rav Hutner's and their own master works.
Rebbetzin David's success in Israel from the early 1970s until her recent passing in 2023 was built on the reputation she had acquired in New York's religious circles as an educator of Jewish religious girls in various Jewish seminaries in New York such as the Esther Schoenfeld High School for Girls and the Bais Yaakov Academy where she developed her formidable reputation as a highly qualified, inspiring and capable Mechaneches – Female Jewish Educator. The trust that she built with parents created confidence that they could entrust their daughters to her for a year in Israel.
Rebbetzin David carried herself very humbly and she dressed in a very simple manner. She always wore a well-coiffed Sheitel in public or when in the company of people. Behind the simple and quiet demeanor was not just a brilliant person who probably knew Kol HaTorah Kula (the entire Torah) but also a very successful educational administrator and business lady. Under Rebbetzin David BJJ became the elite most desired post-high school seminary for Jewish girls graduating Jewish religious high schools, known as Bais Yaakovs.
Obviously from the 1970s to the 2020s tuition was different. But if one assumes that in recent years about two hundred girls came from America to learn at BJJ for a year and each one's parents paid about $20,000, that means that about one thousand girls studied at BJJ over a five year period, thus 1,000 times $20,000 equals $20,000,000. Multiply that by four periods of five years and the figure is $80,000,000. Etc. That's a lot of money and no wonder that a beautiful campus was built for BJJ with dining and boarding facilities with top teachers and faculty as well the ability to sponsor religious Israeli girls who could not afford such tuition. Rebbetzin David oversaw a hugely successful Jewish educational campus with a budget that ran in the tens of millions of dollars, a great testament to her abilities in the monetary sphere that has been copied by quite a few other girls' seminaries and boys' yeshivas operating in Israel.
There is a lot of confusion in the world outside of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok circles about the role that Rebbetzin David played in the production of her father's magnum opus the Sefer Pachad Yitzchok and other works that have appeared about and by Rav Hutner as well as in the latter works produced by her husband Rav Yonosna David. One thing has to be made perfectly clear: Rav Hutner, Rebbetezin David and Rav Yonason David are fiercely private people. Absolutely no one knows exactly what went on inside their home once the front doors were shut and the curtains were pulled and they were left alone to write and produce their literary masterworks.
In the very early years, sometime in the 1950s, Rav Hutner entrusted the transcribing of his Maamorim (lectures) to his daughter that was published in her own very neat and crystal clear Hebrew handwriting. Once Rav Hutner switched to the regular printing of his Pachad Yitzchok Seforim (books) nothing is known about exactly how Rav Hutner edited what he wrote or what role either his daughter or son in law played in them. Rav Hutner wrote many of his own copious notes, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter and often in Yiddish. When he would deliver the spoken Maamorim he would often add things that came to him at that moment in time. It was a very complex process from thought to speech to writing. From that he wrote up his own books. It stands to reason, but remain 100% unknown in actuality, to know what amount and type of input anyone else had on Rav Hutner's own works.
However, after Rav Hutner's passing in 1980 the Davids became the sole owners and trustees of all of Rav Hutner published and unpublished work of any kind. They were free to do with them editorially as they wished. They published some of Rav Hutner's works after his passing known as "Maamarei (discourses of) Pachad Yitzchok" to what degree they added, or subtracted or left out words will never be known. Certainly this process continued when Rav Yonoson David began to put out his own Seforim (books) no one will ever know to what degree Rebbetzin David helped edit or write anything in it, if at all. It will just have to remain a big miraculous mystery, just as they remain great holy mysteries themselves.
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. 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 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]