Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5761 - June 27, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Mr. Yitzchok (Ernest) Gutman, z"l
by C. D. Sklar

On Monday the levaya of Mr. Ernest Gutman of Baltimore, MD, U.S.A., set out from Yeshivas Kol Torah in Bayit Vegan, one of the numerous institutions Mr. Gutman supported loyally for many years.

The rosh yeshiva of Kol Torah, HaRav Moshe Yehudah Schlesinger, was maspid first. He told the assembled that Yeshivas Kol Torah was one of the first yeshivos that provided an air-conditioned beis medrash, enabling the avreichim and talmidim to learn with unparalleled hasmodoh even in the scorching heat that so characterizes Israeli summers. This unprecedented step certainly prompted many other yeshivos to provide air- conditioning for their botei medrash as well.

The Rosh Yeshiva said, "He was a godol in humility and modesty and exuded pleasantness in all aspects of his life. He did not usually contradict people, but he vehemently opposed one statement I made. When I praised his efforts in obtaining and providing the air-conditioning system in the yeshiva and told him that in his zechus all the talmidim are learning with greater hasmodoh, he refused to agree that it was in his zechus."

HaRav Schlesinger concluded his words quoting a mishnah in Ovos where Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakkai asks his five students to tell him what is the proper path a person should cling to. "Rabbi Elazar Ben Aroch answered, Lev tov. This epitomized the niftar. His whole demeanor and all his actions reflected his good heart. As his son-in-law said in his hesped, `His name was Yitzchok ben Mordechai Gutman -- that's what he was, a good man.' "


Mr. Ernest (Yitzchok) Gutman was born in 1914 to Max (Mordechai) and Rosalie (Rivka) Gutman in the German town of Ellinger. His father was a cattle dealer, as he was too. In his youth, he studied under Dayan HaRav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger, the founder of Yeshivas Kol Torah in Jerusalem and father of the present rosh hayeshiva there. When Hitler, yemach shemo, rose to power, Mr. Gutman left his hometown and family behind, and set out for America.

He arrived in Baltimore, Maryland in 1938 and was appalled by the level of Yiddishkeit there. In a letter he wrote to a friend, he describes the situation and expresses his disappointment with the Kehilla. He wrote, " . . . there is no yiras Shomayim here, very few women wear head coverings. . . "

But to return to Germany would have been like stepping into the lion's den, so instead of deserting Baltimore because its level of shemiras hamitzvos was not up to par, he spearheaded many projects to raise the city's standards. To remain Torah-true in an environment steeped in yiras Shomayim and Torah is hard enough, considering all the outside influences that may come one's way. But to do so in a community not up to par in Yiddishkeit requires a formidable effort. Mr. Gutman did not let this deter him.

He was the "first" in many things. He introduced yoshon to Baltimore's Jews, brought in the first cholov Yisroel products, and started both a keilim mikveh and a city mikveh. He initiated the first neitz minyan in Baltimore and began the Agudas Yisrael minyan, which met in his house for well over a decade. When the time came to purchase a shul building and hire a rov, he was instrumental in those aspects as well.

Mr. Gutman helped start Bais Yaakov, was an active supporter of the boys' Talmudical Academy, and gave tremendous financial support to the Baltimore yeshiva, Ner Israel, as well.

In addition, he was also among the first in projects that didn't pertain specifically to Baltimore. When HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l wanted to make a worldwide kenes, Mr. Gutman was first on the list.

Immediately upon coming to Baltimore, he found a spot in the yeshiva and was one baal habayis who learned there on a steady basis. He became very close to the mashgiach, HaRav Dovid Kronglas, and learned daf hayomi with him daily, before it became so popular. It was not unusual for him to review the day's daf two or even three times each day. Together Mr. Gutman and HaRav Kronglas made a siyum on Shas, something that today is becoming increasingly common today due to the worldwide Daf Hayomi program, but in those days it was extraordinary.

All the maspidim stressed that the niftar was deeply connected to the Torah world and a tremendous ba'al tzedoko. After coming to America in 1938, with only $39 in his pocket, Mr. Gutman worked as a Fuller Brush salesman, walking up and down steps, going from door to door, while lugging a thirty pound suitcase full of merchandise for sale (brooms, mops, brushes, and other household goods). During this period he earned $15 a week, yet gave $25 to tzedaka. One specific donation recorded in his ledger from those days was a case of Coca Cola to Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore--a rare treat.

His financial situation allowed him to live more lavishly than he did. Rabbi Menachem Porush, in his hesped at Yeshivas Kol Torah, compared Mr. Gutman to the mishnah in Ovos describing the miracles in the Beis Hamikdash, which states, "Lo chibu hageshomim eish shel atzei hama'arocho-- the rains did not extinguish the fire on the altar." Rabbi Porush said, "Even in the times when he was blessed with an abundance of gashmiyus, we can say about the niftar, eish tomid tukad al hamizbeiach, in all his travels and experiences, he guarded the eish kodesh and kedushas hachaim to live a life of Torah."

His son-in-law said, "My father-in-law was a simple, yet complex person. He had his principles and stood up for them." Mr. Gutman was very stringent in all matters of halocho, and only acted according to them. He wasn't looking out for leniencies. He could be very stubborn for what he thought was the right way to do things, even if it wasn't popular or "in style."

Because of his concern for others and never wanting to cause any form of tirchoh detziburo, Mr. Gutman didn't tell his family when he was sick until the last six months when it was really apparent.

The maspidim stressed that Mr. Gutman grew up among gedolei Torah in Europe and his whole desire was to be among gedolim and the world of Torah. His house was full of gedolim who came to Baltimore. When the Ponovezher Rav came to Baltimore, Mr. Gutman was his host. Numerous other gedolim were also recipients of Mr. Gutman's hospitality. Whenever any godol came to Baltimore, he went to greet them. The excitement he felt when meeting them, speaking to them, receiving a brochoh reflected the reverence he had for rabbonim and daas Torah.

Rabbi Porush said one can learn from him how a ba'al habayis should be a talmid chochom and masmid. He would get up before dawn, sometimes at 2 or 3 a.m., to have a morning seder before going to the neitz minyan. "I once saw him running, saying, `I must finish something in the gemora; I haven't finished yet today.'"

Tefilloh betzibbur was very important to Mr. Gutman. Until three days before his death he davened three times daily betzibbur, and throughout his life he always davened with theneitz.

Mr. Gutman was a tremendous baal tzedoko and gave generously to institutions and individuals alike. His son-in- law mentioned that a man who wanted to go into business came to his father-in-law for a loan. Mr. Gutman gave him thousands of dollars and told the man, "Pay me whenever you can. There is no due date." This person is now a very successful businessman.

The niftar was very attached to the old German minhagim. He knew all the special zemiros and tefillos of the ancient German tradition. When a family member was expecting a baby he said a special tefilloh every day until the baby was born. When he heard about yoshon, he researched the matter thoroughly and introduced it to his community.

Since the death of HaRav Kronglas, Mr. Gutman learned Minchas Chinuch with his son, R' Ezra Kronglas. Even at the very end of his life, when he was racked with pain, he would not forgo his learning sessions. A few days before he was niftar, they learned five lines of Minchas Chinuch together. Every few seconds, Mr. Gutman would rest, regain a bit of strength and then continue learning until the next bout of pain. His perseverance and diligence were remarkable.

Mr. Gutman was extra careful in reciting the tefilloh for Kiddush Levonoh as was his father before him, as there is a special shemiroh that one who is mekadesh the new moon will be saved from death that month. His father passed away in a month that he hadn't said Kiddush Levonoh. HaRav Shimon Schwab, for many years to rov of the German Glen Avenue Shul in Baltimore and later rov of the Washington Heights community, was also very careful about this mitzvah and passed away in a month that he hadn't said Kiddush Levonoh.

Mr. Gutman was very careful about this mitzvoh as well and even when he was so ill, he pushed himself to say the blessings over the new moon, thus reassuring himself and his family that he had the special protection. On Thursday, the day before Mr. Gutman was niftar, he sent his family home because he knew that he had been mekadesh levonoh that month and had its shemiroh. The next morning, on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz when, so to speak, the protection of the month of Sivan departed from him and he hadn't yet had the opportunity to receive the month of Tammuz's protection, Mr. Ernest Gutman departed this world.

Yehi zichro boruch.


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