Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Dayan Avrohom Dov (Berel) Berkovits of London zt"l

by M Plaut

The English chareidi community and the entire Torah world was stunned by the sudden passing of British Dayan HaRav Avrohom Dov (Berel) Berkovits, who was niftar suddenly last Friday, erev Shabbos parshas Metzoro, 6 Nisan, while visiting in Jerusalem. He was buried the same day on Har Hazeisim near his father, before Shabbos, a special zchus.

HaRav Berkovits, 55, was a dayan in London's Federation of Synagogues Beis Din. HaRav Berkovits learned in Gateshead and Mir yeshivas in England and Eretz Yisroel, respectively. He was also a law lecturer at the University of Buckingham.

Dayan Berkovits was the son of HaRav Moshe Dovid Berkovits zt"l, a rov in Grosswardein in Romania and later in London. His son Berel was in fact born in London. Rav Moshe Dovid learned in the yeshiva of HaRav Yosef Breuer in Frankfurt. His father, in turn, had learned in the Frankfurt yeshiva of HaRav Shlomo Breuer, the youngest son-in-law of HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch zt"l, who became the rov of Frankfurt with the passing of his shver. Dayan Berkovits' grandfather was also a talmid of the Doros Horishonim and of the Shevet Sofer.

On his mother's side, Dayan Berkovits was the grandson of HaRav Yosef Adler, the Turdo rov, who was a senior rov in Romania and later in Yerushalayim. In Eretz Yisroel he was the senior member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in his day. Dayan Berkovits was very close to his grandfather and published his glosses on gemora.

HaRav Berkovits studied in the Gateshead yeshiva, receiving semichoh from HaRav Leib Gurwicz with whom he was very close. He also studied for several years in the Mir yeshiva in Yerushalayim, and was close to HaRav Nochum Partzovits zt"l.

At first, for various personal reasons, he decided to make an academic career in law. After about six years he decided that he would rather make a career in klei kodesh. He became the safra dedayna of the London Beis Din, and some years later he accepted an appointment as dayan of the Beis Din of the Federation of Synagogues, a position he held until his sudden petiroh.

Dayan Berel Berkovits was a great talmid chochom who was blessed with great intellectual talents. He had a very broad familiarity with many areas of Torah. His expertise in non-Jewish law enabled him to understand the potential interaction between Torah law and the Law of the Land, saving the Torah community from serious problems and often making a great kiddush Hashem. All these prodigious abilities were wrapped in a true chalukoh derabbonon, as his honesty and self-effacement were so evident that they were praised by all.

Several years ago there was a proposal that the UK pass a "Get Law" to help agunos, somewhat similar to laws elsewhere. At a special conference on the issue with the rabbinical leaders of the UK, HaRav Berkovits was able to show how the law as formulated may easily lead to negative consequences as the British courts were likely to interpret it. He helped formulate an acceptable version. Even when he did much of the work, he was not insistent on claiming credit, and was just concerned that the results were good.

He was an expert on yichus and gittin and did not spare himself to help others in these areas. In one famous case, much effort was expended to locate a husband who had disappeared without giving a get. Even a detective agency was unable to find him. Somehow, Dayan Berkovits managed to locate him and to secure a get that arrived just in time to save the woman from serious issurim.

In another case, a family had a cloud that shadowed its yichus. In a step that showed his courage and his compassion, Dayan Berkovits said that he would work on the case until he conclusively resolved it, one way or the other. In fact, it took him five years to reach the point that he was able to be fully metaher the family, showing that the suspicion was based on a mistake. He wrote up his decision and received the consent of the gedolei haposkim to his ruling, as he did with many of his psakim.

He gave shiurim in London and elsewhere and was a very popular lecturer. He once began a series on the 613 mitzvos and said that he expected it to take 10 years to complete it.

HaRav Berkovits was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Torah and his insightful analysis of issues. With his broad experience, he could bring the resources of Torah to bear even on complex modern issues. He was active as a writer in many areas, very often defending the Torah community against those on the outside who attack it. He had the ability to explain what a ben Torah is, even to those who have no firsthand experience.

He had a broad knowledge of the halachic literature and was very thorough when analyzing and writing up cases. A true ben Torah who did not compromise, he was able to speak to people in their own language.

Once he had to travel to India. Later he wrote a series of articles about his experiences there, including his encounters with avodoh zora that still flourishes there, unfortunately. He commented that one can understand the world before Avrohom Ovinu — when avodoh zora was dominant unlike in the West today — by going to India.

Those who knew him recall his amkus and yashrus, in Torah and in all areas of life. He was also a great masmid in learning. These traits were evident to all. During the shivah many of the menachamim told stories of great acts of chesed in which he was involved. Many of these were done with characteristic simplicity and self-effacement, and even the family had not fully appreciated this dimension of his character before, because of his modesty.

HaRav Berkovits was in Jerusalem to visit his mother on the yahrtzeit of his father, which is a day after his passing. He simply did not wake up in the morning, and the exact cause of death is not known.

He is survived by his mother tlct"a, and brothers and sisters, as well as by his wife tlct"a, and four sons, the oldest of whom learns in Lakewood yeshiva of Eretz Yisroel. Another son learns in Gateshead and a third learns in Sunderland. His youngest son is still at home.



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