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17 Teves 5765 - December 29, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Shnos Dor VeDor: Fascinating Letters and Documents of Gedolei HoAchronim
The Latest Volume

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Shnos Dor VeDor contains hitherto unpublished manuscripts that shed light on the life of gedolim and teach us how Jewish luminaries comported themselves when interacting with other Jews and non-Jews, both in private matters and in their sacred missions for the klal.

This invaluable treasure comes from the archive of the remarkable ish chessed Rav Reuven Dessler of Cleveland, the grandson of the Michotv MeEliahu ztvk'l, HaRav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler. For many years his overflowing love for Torah drove him incessantly to gather together the writings of our gedolei Torah. Shnos Dor VeDor is an unbelievable collection that covers various periods of time, countries, communities and numerous Torah centers. When reading these letters and documents written by our spiritual shepherds we hear clearly the heartbeat of am HaTorah.

To mention only a few, this magnificent work includes writings of the Aderes, the Chasam Sofer, the Ksav Sofer, the Oruch LaNer, the Marahi Assad, the Malbim, Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, the Oruch HaShulchan, the Sdei Chemed, R' Shmuel Salant, the Maharil Diskin, R' Naftoli Amsterdam, R' Itzeleh Blazer, the Alter of Kelm, R' Yosel of Novardok, the Alter of Slobodka, the Netziv of Volozhin, HaRav Chaim Berlin, the Brisker Rov, the Ridbaz, the Chofetz Chaim, HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, HaRav Eliyohu Dessler, HaRav Elchonon Wasserman, the Leshem, the gaon R' Shlomoh Kluger, HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch and also of the nodiv and loyal activist for his people Sir Moses Chaim Montefiore.

The hallowed words of the above-mentioned Torah giants are a mere drop in the ocean of the wealth within the recently published volumes of Shnos Dor VeDor. This is a unique compilation of rare manuscripts, certificates and documents written by esteemed rabbonim, tzaddikim and roshei yeshivos, and only now brought to press.

The two volumes available for the public — and we sincerely hope that this momentous series will be continued — are the results of an unprecedented project that presents us with the right perspective to the Torah Nation's rich history. Shnos Dor VeDor does not review a certain defined period, does not focus on specific years, and does not even present the chronicles of our past in an orderly fashion, year after year, and month after month. This multifaceted and comprehensive anthology of documents written by gedolei Torah enlightens us about the lives of these Torah leaders of am Yisroel and the various problems they encountered and the diverse impediments they had to overcome in those turbulent periods.

Shnos Dor VeDor reveals to the reader a veritable stockpile of valuable information about various eras, countries, communities and numerous mekomos haTorah. The common denominator of this abundance is that it enables us to learn how to better conduct our own lives in the future. Every old manuscript or yellowing letter bears within the heartbeat of the Torah Nation. Hundreds of authentic documents teach the reader important and instructive chapters of our nation's history. Contemplating them allows us to tangibly feel as if our past history is taking place today, and through these prized documents we can better comprehend the essence of the Jewish People.


The first volume of Shnos Dor VeDor was published in 5760, and because of the great demand it has been once again made available. The book is divided into ten chapters with each chapter containing a number of documents, certificates and records of correlated topics. This division was set up to allow the reader to easily find what interests him according to the subject matter.

A considerable part of the first volume deals with matters concerning the Holy Land, beginning with the aliyah of the Vilna Gaon's talmidim until the petiroh of the rov of Yerushalayim, HaRav Shmuel Salant ztvk'l. This part is particularly rich in documents that present us with an interesting picture of the spiritual and material life in Yerushalayim (and initially in Tzfas) for a period of about a hundred years. We likewise discern the extensive connections of the forerunners of the settlement in Eretz Yisroel, its communal leaders and activists, and its generous benefactors who lived throughout the Diaspora.

One division of letters deals with support for the various yeshivos and Torah centers located in Lithuania during the few decades preceding World War I. One can read correspondence from such geonim as the Netziv of Volozhin, the Godol of Minsk, HaRav Chaim of Brisk, HaRav Refoel Shapira, HaRav Eliezer Gordon, HaRav Eliyahu Boruch Kamai, the Ridbaz, the author of the Oruch HaShulchan and many other letters of Torah leaders from that period.

A special chapter is devoted to letters and certificates from Rabbeinu Yisroel Salanter ztvk'l, his family and devoted followers, his talmidim and the talmidim of his talmidim, and inspired advocates of the Mussar Movement throughout the years. A special section in this sefer is allocated for the letters of Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zy'a.

Shnos Dor VeDor also includes engrossing documents of historical value such as the semichas chachomim that the Oruch LaNer received as a young man in 5581 (1821), the Kesav Yuchsin of HaRav Eliyahu Kletzkin who was the av beis din of Lublin, the pruzbol of Maran HaRav Shmuel Salant written at the end of the sixth year and the beginning of the seventh year that was executed according to the Rosh's opinion (we rule otherwise, that a pruzbol need be written only at the end of the Shmittah year).

The title of an absorbing chapter in the first volume is "Letters to R' Tzvi Hirsch Leren and Pekidim Ve'amarkalim (literally, `Supervisors and Administrators')." This chapter reveals a splendid effort in the gallant struggle that Torah leaders of Germany led against the Reform and Haskalah Movements that spread like wildfire through Europe, of which HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Leren was a central figure, the pivot around which all organized opposition turned in this determined battle against those ideologies that wanted to uproot true Torah observance and study.

In his day, HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Leren of Amsterdam was considered truly unique. He was at once an eminent talmid chochom, a tzaddik in all his endeavors, a successful businessman, banker and loyal activist for Torah. His communal activism was all-embracing. He was on the alert against any breach in the wall of Torah observance and study, and fought against the Reform Movement that during his lifetime spread in his country and throughout Europe.

Nonetheless, HaRav Leren's main preoccupation was extending help to those living in Eretz Yisroel, in all ways possible. This sincere care for his fellow man living in the Holy Land enveloped him from his youth, and this tzaddik would constantly do his best to lend a helping hand to the representatives of the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel who arrived in Holland to raise badly-needed support. Despite all of his numerous duties he would accompany them in their exhausting attempts.

Afterward he set up the "Pekidim Ve'amarkalim of the Holy Cities Organization" that concentrated all collections of donations for Eretz Yisroel throughout the communities in west and central Europe and transferred them to their proper destination. For thirty-five years, HaRav Leren carried on his shoulders the concern for supporting settlers of Eretz Yisroel, and all contemporary gedolei Torah fully relied on all that he did.

In the part dealing with this topic is quoted a chain of letters that gedolei hador sent to HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Leren, with special requests. We find letters of Maran the Chasam Sofer, the Ksav Sofer, the Mahari Assad, the Oruch LaNer and HaRav Eliyahu Gutmacher of Greidiz. From the letters one readily sees the enormous esteem in which he was held by these Torah giants.


The second volume, that was recently published, is divided into twelve chapters. Each chapter summarizes a topic in the history of chareidi Jewry during the past few centuries beginning in the Vilna Gaon's time and extending until recently. Among the pages of this book one can find various letters dealing with representatives of communities and Torah institutions who were sent from Eretz Yisroel to Jewish communities throughout the world during the time of the Chida, the Mahari Algazi, and even during the period of HaRav Shmuel Salant ztvk'l, to request vital monetary assistance.

To rare manuscripts and documents that discuss matters concerning Yerushalayim, Shnos Dor VeDor dedicates a special chapter. In it one can find the opinion of the gedolei Torah of that generation in reference to several pressing affairs such as the episode of the difference of opinion around founding Kollel America, the Mussar Movement, letters of HaRav Shmuel Salant to Sir Moses Montefiore and additional arresting issues.

There is an abundance of rare letters and documents in matters of general interest such as, the takonos of the geonim of Brisk in support of the settlers of Eretz Yisroel (5647-1887), the letter of Maran the Ben Ish Chai to the gaon Yiso Brochoh (5661-1901), a telegram sent by the Admor A. M. of Gur (summer 5705-1945), a letter from HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer and HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin ztvk'l to Agudas HaRabbonim about founding institutions for children of the concentration camps, and a letter that HaRav Y. L. Tzirelson sent to HaRav Eliezer Gordon ztvk'l (5669-1909).

The sefer also shows how gedolei Yisroel put in extreme efforts to assist individuals, and how they devoted endless amount of time even in matters that had no connection to the klal. For instance, HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky in 5693 (1933) sent a letter to HaRav Eliezer Silver about saving a respected family of Vilna who were on the brink of starvation.

An entire chapter discusses yeshivos, in which a number of topics connected to the Torah World are unveiled for the public. For instance, it includes the letters of Maran the Maharil Bloch zt'l about the plans for the aliyah of the Telzer Yeshiva to Eretz Yisroel (5686- 1926) after the Slobodka and Lomzha Yeshiva moved to Eretz Yisroel. An additional letter of Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer (5687- 1927) is actually an appeal of support for the Mirrer Yeshiva, and a letter that HaRav Dov Sokolovsky sent to the Vaad Hayeshivos (5690-1930) about the amount of dapim of gemora that should be studied in the yeshivos ketanos.

Other chapters contain documents related to the period of HaRav Leib Chasman zt'l, a talmid of Rabbeinu Simchah Zissel of Kelm. One of the rare documents includes three letters of recommendation that HaRav Leib Chasman received and took with him when he went to the yeshiva of the Netziv (Volozhin). The first recommendation letter was from HaRav Itzeleh Blazer zt'l, the second was from HaRav Eliezer Gordon zt'l, the av beis din of Telz, and the third was from the rav of Kelm, HaRav Tzvi Yaakov Oppenheim zt'l.

An additional fascinating chapter deals with the controversy concerning Mantua. The background for this controversy was that the Jews in Italy, on the one hand, enjoyed internal rule and an independent judicial system, but on the other hand, permission for Jews to dwell in Italy was directly dependent upon the good will of the local dukes and princes. Only if the Jews paid heavy taxes were they allowed to remain in Italy. In addition, every ten years it was necessary for the Italian Jews to renew the permit to live there and at that time the taxes were also increased. For this reason, the rabbonim of those communities enacted that the collection of taxes be placed evenly on every Jew living in Italy so that the tax yoke would be divided justly, and swindlers would not evade fulfilling their duty.

One of the takonos deals with "possessions located outside the country" and rules that they too are taxable, as ruled by HaRav Moshe Chagiz zt'l in his letter to the rabbonim of Mantua. His reasoning was: "This is a necessary and obligatory enactment to guard against swindlers so that they will not smuggle away their possessions (and not be taxed for them) while meanwhile enjoying the benefits of the land."

An intriguing, thorough and comprehensive historical survey of the history of these takonos can be found in a special chapter dedicated to this subject. It also discusses the support that the rabbonim of Mantua received for their rulings from the gedolei Torah of that time such as HaRav C. Alfandri, HaRav C. Chagiz, the author of Knesses Yechezkel, and HaRav Dovid Oppenheim and others.

Also, one reads about halachic topics in Shnos Dor VeDor such as when the megilloh should be read in the faraway neighborhoods of Yerushalayim, the techum Shabbos for those living in the famous Beis Moshav Zekeinim in Romema, Yerushalayim, bi'ur terumah that is tomei, and giving ma'aser rishon to a daughter of a Levi, and others.


In the introduction to this comprehensive and valuable work the publishers point out that publishing these manuscripts is not something that came easily. Hundreds and thousands of additional manuscripts like these are still in existence but we have not been zocheh to see them printed. In many cases they are stored away in libraries and archives of non- Jews or in the possession of those who have no notion that these shabby-looking papers are considered by us to be priceless treasures. Also, those manuscripts owned by Jews are hidden well from others since their "collector's value" is measured according to their rarity and exclusiveness. The more they are hidden and not allowed to be shown to the public, the more their value rises.

About the importance of reading and studying the history and lifestyle of gedolei Torah, HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky writes in his approbation to Ohel Shem as follows: "Besides the practical and bibliographical benefit involved, this is also a matter of kvod haTorah and instilling love for those who lift high its banner. It is fitting that Jews be aware of who their rabbonim and gedolim were, since even today Hashem makes sure that we do not lack true Torah leaders. We should be aware of how [in the past] they acted in matters of kodesh, of their practical behavior, what they accomplished during their lives and their influence on the nation through their good deeds and righteousness. We need to study this so that others will follow their blessed way and cling to their middos, so that knowledge intensifies, and the honor of the Torah and of its studies increase."

Painstaking Labor

It is only proper to point out the backbreaking work invested in this book. Each document is introduced by a concise essay that leads the reader into the subject being discussed. Afterwards, a photo of the original document appears with a newly-typeset rendition facing it.

Shnos Dor VeDor is published on first-class heavy glossy paper with an elaborate and strong binding, which adds to the importance of this stupendous work.

The head of the staff who worked on this book is HaRav Moshe Ze'eira of Yerushalayim, who wrote and edited the two volumes from beginning to end. He was aided by the expertise of HaRav Dovid Kamenetsky of Yerushalayim and HaRav Dovid Bares of Bnei Brak who assisted him in deciphering and identifying the manuscripts and editing them.

Gedolei Torah who went through Shnos Dor VeDor were amazed by the quantity and quality of the material that appears within. Prominent Torah scholars provided guidance to those toiling in this undertaking about what is proper to be published and what not.

Among the gedolei Torah who went through these books before their publication are HaRav Boruch Shmuel Hacohen Deutsch, one of the roshei yeshivos of Yeshivas Kol Torah, and HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, a relative of the publisher, who is a mashgiach in Ponovezh Yeshiva and heads the Vaad Sifsei Chachomim, which is a committee devoted to disseminating Torah and mussar in Bnei Brak. They devoted their precious time to go through these books before publication in order to ensure that a complete and suitable work will appear. Shnos Dor VeDor is published by the Gitler Brothers.


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