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7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Gateshead's Ish Ho'eshkolos Is No More
A biographical appreciation of HaRav Chaim Kaufman

by R. M. D. Spiro

Part I

Motzei Simchas Torah marked the end of the life of "the true Ish Ho'eshkolos" (in HaRav A. Gurwitz's words), of one of the "yechidei seguloh of our generation" (in HaRav Tuvioh Weiss's words). After a serious illness, HaRav Chaim Kaufman was niftar in Gateshead on motzei Simchas Torah at the age of 68. He left behind a broken widow and children, a saddened kehilloh and distraught talmidim throughout the entire world.

On the night after Klal Yisroel danced around the Torah, the heart which pulsated for Torah with all its might, stopped beating. The voice which had beamed the message of Torah on five continents is no more. An indication of his international acclaim is the fact that the Telephone Kol Haloshon network has been swamped by literally thousands of calls from people who are eager to listen to the hespedim.


Gam bema'alolov yisnaker na'ar, im zach veyoshor po'olo (Mishlei 20:11). The Vilna Gaon explains that "zach" refers to purity of heart, whereas "yoshor" refers to purity of deeds. Indeed in Reb Chaim's case the latter was a result of the former. This is the way a contemporary and close friend, HaRav Matisyohu Salomon (currently mashigach of Lakewood Yeshiva), summed up Reb Chaim's youth.

HaRav Kaufman was born on 10 December 1937 — 7 Teves 5698 in Berlin. As a baby of one-and-a-half years he came over with his family to England, fleeing Nazi persecution. The father was only admitted into the country on the understanding that he would provide employment opportunities by using his expertise in the textile business to open a textile factory in the forlorn English coal mine town of Gateshead. He was dismayed at facing the prospect to have to bring up his family in a spiritual wilderness. He soon found out to his surprise that there was a small but strictly observant kehilloh.

While in those days there was no Jewish Primary School, HaRav Bamberger, the former rov of Mainz, had recently founded a Boarding School to provide chinuch for boys from far- flung places.

Young Chaim was a serious, studious boy. Every report sported top marks. Once their Rebbe called together the class to tell them off. He said: I have agmas nefesh from you, but not from Chaim. He is a tzaddik."

His mother once "complained" to a friend of Chaim: I reward him with chocolate bars. He takes them gratefully. Yet I find him storing them in his cupboard rather than enjoying them. Unlike boys of his age, he would not take just to indulge himself.

Indeed self-control became one of his hallmarks in life. In later years, he learned together for many years with a chavrusoh who was somewhat slower. Despite being offered other chavrusas, Chaim carried on, and together they shteiged. Nowadays many a bochur only wants the best and the fastest as his learning partner. Chaim, this friend reported, was able to control himself, to bear with others.

In his later years he bore with talmidim. He bore with those who took up his time to ask him for advice. He bore with total beginners to Yiddishkeit and with childish bochurim. He bore with them all, with ahavas Yisroel. In fact he bore with himself and mitchered himself to learn a sugyoh properly and thoroughly. This was evident in his later shiurim in Yeshiva when he stressed the ameilus in Maharsho and Maharshal. He bore childish pranks of his children. (They cannot remember that their father shouted or lost his temper.) He was able to bear and get on with non- Jewish factory workers and businessmen. He had the warmest ties with gedolim in Eretz Yisroel and very learned kollel avreichim.

The combination of his parent's home, the school, and his great rabei'im in Gateshead Yeshiva nurtured the quiet eager boy into a talmid chochom of international renown.

Self-control showed itself in other ways too. When he was in Pirchim Camp in 1951, the rumour went around that there was a boy in camp who would never, ever — under any circumstances - - lose his temper. One boy made sure, very sure, to test the truth of this statement. He did his best to annoy young Chaim, and he was efficient. Young Chaim did his best to control himself, and he succeeded. (Dayan A.D. Dunner)

As a Talmid Hayeshivoh

Chazal say: Whoever writes a sefer Torah is considered as if he accepted it on Har Sinai. Why? Writing, rather than buying the finished product, involves toil. If he is prepared to invest effort, he would surely also have bothered to go to Har Sinai and receive the Torah! (Nimukei Yosef, beginning of maseches Sefer Torah)

The most remarkable thing about this is that buying an incomplete Sefer and merely "toiling" to add the final word qualifies the writer for the title: As if he would have accepted the Torah on Sinai. Surely a small degree of toil is not beyond any of us! (Reb Chaim in a siyum on Sefer Minchas Chinuch)

Upon joining Gateshead Yeshiva Gedoloh he learned at the feet of Reb Leib Gurwitz, Reb Leib Lopian and others. While the former often delivered accomplished shiurim containing sevoros and easily-understandable chidushim, the latter excelled in engaging his talmidim in pilpulo shel Torah. His razor-sharp chilukim and deep shiurim "brimmed with arguments" and rischo de'Oraiso.

The bochur Chaim drank up their words with extraordinary thirst. He was most meticulous in noting down each and every shiur, something which he expected later of his own talmidim. Not only the shiurim but even a simple bochur's questions and an older bochur's chaburoh would be written down with alacrity. HaRav Chaim was gratified that years later HaRav Leib Lopian would actually borrow his notebooks in preparation for his shiurim.

Every Shabbos the bochurim would meet at the home of a kollel scholar, HaRav M. J. Kamionka, for sipurei tzaddikim, divrei Torah veChassidus on the Sedroh. Chaim, the bochur, felt inspired by this. Decades later he led similar gatherings with his fiery inspiring words.

The Kaufman family hailed from great chassidic yichus as descendants of Reb Mordechai Dovid Dombrover (a talmid of the Chozeh MiLublin). The grandmother's older sister was married to the Sanzer Rov (as his third zivug) and she, the younger sister of the Rebbetzin, spent much time in the home of the saintly Divrei Chaim. When her daughter, Mrs. Kaufman senior, had to send her two sons away before they could flee themselves, her parting words were: Remember your yichus.

In particular Reb Chaim, who noshed and inhaled Torah throughout his life as a shikker drinks alcohol (Rebbetzin Feinstein's description of her husband), used to delve into sifrei Chassidus. In fact, in later years his vast knowledge of both sifrei Mussar and sifrei Chassidus was absolutely amazing.

Eventually, his contemporaries continued their studies in Eretz Yisroel. Chaim remained behind in Gateshead and looked after his ailing father. By nature he was somewhat introspective, quiet and studious. While others were privileged to ascend the ladder, prodded on by the challenge of new shiurim and new roshei yeshiva, Reb Chaim found it possible to find inspiration within himself.

In a way, this was a sign of the future. At a time when many a talmid chochom is no longer so vibrant, Reb Chaim at 60 could be as inspired, as intrigued and as nispo'el from a new explanation as at age 20.

The gedolei hamussar explain: "Chanoch lana'ar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yosur mimenu," means that if a person is privileged to receive the right chinuch as a youngster, he will never veer away from seeking further chinuch and inspiration, even in his mature years. Reb Chaim was an example par excellence of this. He never stopped learning. He never stopped hearing explanations from others often many years his junior. He never stopped visiting gedolim of all types to hear their inspiring words. The brenn of the accomplished talmid chochom was no less than that of a young bochur eager to hear his first shiur in yeshiva.

At the age of about 21, he became engaged. As a choson at an unusually young age, he was admitted to the Gateshead Kollel Horabonim. He thus joined the illustrious chaburoh which had been founded by HaRav Dessler. At the time it was probably the only kollel in the entire length and breadth of Europe.

The demands and standards were exceptionally high. His colleagues in the beis hamedrash included many who later became known as outstanding rabbonim and roshei yeshiva. Amongst others were the young HaRav Tuvioh Weiss, currently the gavad of the Eidoh Hacharedis, and the vast majority of Europe's roshei yeshiva and rabbonim in that generation.

One of his hallmarks was his single-minded and regular devotion to Torah as well as his ability to bear with others. He retained one of his chavrusos, HaRav Matisyohu Salomon, for about 16 years both in yeshiva years and later in kollel.

When his father became seriously ill, Chaim gave up his regular sedorim of learning. Day and night, he devoted himself to helping his helpless father. In 1958, his father was niftar. The orphaned Chaim was sent to relatives in America for Purim. Little did he know that this visit would have singular impact on his life and avodas Hashem. A relative, R. Luzer Schondorf, had become close to the Satmar Rov in his immediate post-war years in Switzerland. He arranged for the young Chaim to be present at both of the Rebbe's Sedorim, a rare honor.

Chaim listened avidly to every word. He watched every action. Every detail was taken in by his thirsty mind — even to the extent that he noted how the Rebbe had watched the clock (regarding chatzos lailoh) on the first night and not on the second night. When he heard that the Rebbe would travel to Eretz Yisroel by ship, he gave up the convenience of a flight in order to be close to the Rebbe for an unforgettable ship journey. He never tired the rest of his life of telling and retelling all the memorable details. The biurim of the Satmar Rov, and in fact many gedolei hachassidus, never left his lips.

While in America, he also spent a weekend in Lakewood Yeshiva listening avidly to HaRav Aharon Kotler's shiur. Upon his return to Gateshead, Chaim was "armed" with two sets of notes: a meticulous recording of some of HaRav Aharon Kotler's shiurim — no mean feat in the light of the fact that later, after that Gaon's visit to Gateshead, the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Leib Gurwitz labored hard, together with this talmidim in shiur, to piece together the details of Reb Aharon's shiur. Second, he had recorded all he had heard and seen in the presence of the Satmar Rov.


At the age of 22 he married his wife Lei'oh from the Nagel family in Antwerp. The Nagel family were Gerrer Chassidim who had moved from near Lodz to Berlin and eventually ended up in Antwerp. Mr. Nagel had the ambition and expectation to have a son-in-law who would devote his entire day — and indeed energy — to Torah.

In those days in post-war Antwerp, such a hashkofoh was by no means a forgone conclusion. The kollelim of Eastern Europe had gone up in flames and the idea of a kollel-scholar was foreign even to many learned ba'alei batim. Although in those days girls hardly attended a seminary, his wife had absorbed an exceptional degree of ahavas Torah from home. She identified totally with his aim in life.

R. Miller once said that the true purpose of a Sem is like an incubator, to imitate what the "home atmosphere" should be, after tiltulei golus and persecutions have weakened the mesoroh and fabric of our homes.

Indeed she stood at his side in both easy and difficult times, looked after him when he was operated on in a remote American town and created a home of such simchas hachaim that it truly became the launching pad of his worldwide harbotzas haTorah. She was his ezer kenegdo in all vicissitudes of life including the hardest of all: his final illness.

Typically when some proposed to move a shiur to his home due to his illness and others considered cancelling the shiur, she encouraged the former, knowing how much chiyus he derived from shiurim.

From Pursuit of Profits to Pursuit of Prophets

The Avnei Nezer once explained Chazal's obligation to teach one's child how to swim: Even when submerged in the waters of Olom Hazeh, never forget to keep your head above water.

Some time after Reb Chaim's father was niftar, Reb Chaim had to help run the family firm. He was quite unhappy to move from the koslei beis hamedresh to a quilt factory. At the earliest opportunity Reb Chaim returned to his life's passion, the beis hamedrash. Yet his experience in the world of business endowed him with the ability to empathize with businessmen and help them to keep "their heads above water."

Perhaps this explains in part the tremendous appeal his later shiurim enjoyed, not only among bochurim but also among those who toil hard in earning a parnossoh. The fact that after two years in the office he was able to return to full-time learning with such unbelievable dedication and simchoh shel Torah bore witness to how he himself had managed to avoid "drowning."

Interestingly, Reb Chaim had grown up within a strong chaburoh of bnei aliyoh; in particular he was friendly with young Matisyohu Salomon and N. Kohn. They remained in full-time learning. There is little doubt that he had personal experience of the Rambam's categorical statement that a person's avodas Hashem is mightily influenced by his surroundings. On later occasions, he would often plead and entreat many a listener that he should make sure, whatever his situation in life, to keep himself within a chaburoh of bnei aliyoh.

Chazal tell us that noise of kol hamuloh shel Romi fills the entire world from one end to the other (Yumo 20b). The Roman noises symbolize the attractions of this world. Many a time they bewitch a person who has just entered life's stage. The more successful he is in his endeavors, the greater the danger of falling prey to their spell. As his nephew, HaRav Zonnenschein, expressed it so aptly, Reb Chaim left the kol hamuloh shel Romi because his family made this possible. And, one may add, with this he provided for the consequences of the other noise recorded there by Chazal: when the neshomoh leaves the body.

At that time, upon the suggestion of Reb Efraim Pinnick (who subsequently learned in his shiurim for decades), he took over a shiur on Minchas Chinuch and carried on for 35 years. From humble beginnings it gained great popularity. This shiur had been started by HaRav Tuvioh Weiss as a zikaron for R. Dessler.

The Minchas Chinuch shiur was perhaps his first public shiur, the forerunner of many shiurim amazing both in their number and in their range of topics. Indeed the combination of Sefer Chinuch and the Minchas Chinuch was typical of his approach to Torah: The attractive reasons for mitzvos, the basic halochos in the Chinuch — together with the erudite comments and immense breadth of knowledge of the Minchas Chinuch. Again his diligent pen noted down insights and often this formed the basis of later shiurim. Everything mattered, nothing was left to oblivion. In fact the Minchas Chinuch was the starting point of many insights in lomdus which he then incorporated in his other shiurim.

Eventually, his contemporaries left to take up prestigious posts. Chaim, the quiet and reticent totally dedicated kollel scholar, achieved a record of sorts: In his time he was the kollel scholar of longest standing, a full 18 years. (Much later he said this over to the present writer with a sense of relish.) Many have wondered: How did Reb Chaim come to have such an astonishing range of knowledge in so many areas of Torah? This was acquired during long years of unremitting toil in Torah. (The Chasam Sofer once declared: Were it not for the fact that my first rabbonus was in a forlorn little shtetl entailing few distraction from learning, some mesechtas would be a closed book to me.)

Yeshivoh Letze'irim

The midrash comments on the posuk which compares Torah to honey: If your Torah is as sweet as honey, say it; otherwise refrain from saying it. Why indeed is it an absolute requirment that Torah be sweet? Explains HaRav Berel Povarsky: Torah is intrinsically sweet. Every true sevoroh is a delight! That is why Hashem compares it to milk and honey. Were a sevoroh to sound unattractive, were it to cause a sour taste in the listener's mouth, it is simply a sign that the sevoroh concerned is not true. True Torah must be "honey-sweet"! This epitomizes HaRav Chaim's approach to shiurim. They must be attractive.


In 1973 HaRav Chaim left kollel to teach the oldest class of the local school. His lively style and his interesting explanations left his talmidim with a life- time impression of the sweetness of Torah. Once a week he would deliver an inyan-shiur on a halachic topic from the sedroh. Once a week the young boys opened for the first time in their lives the big Shulchon Oruch. He taught them Hilchos Talmud Torah, adding a wealth of interesting explanation.

Apparently he was urged to carry on. He asked the Steipler whether he should take up a position in the school. The Steipler asked him whether he still found geshmack in his learning. After a clear answer in the affirmative, the Steipler ruled that he did not have to take up a position.

He and his chavrusoh, HaRav Ezriel Jaffe, founded a yeshivoh ketanoh. Even then he was so content in his learning that he preferred to stay on in kollel and it was HaRav Jaffe who did his best (with success) to convince him to start the new venture. In those days when yeshiva- educated fathers were the exception rather than the rule, it was predominantly Chassidish families who were prepared to exchange the pursuit of Torah for the pursuit of higher school education. Their yeshiva set out to cater to a new clientele.

The first years were fraught with problems. Eventually, as the post-war generation of yeshiva-trained ba'alei batim matured, they sent their sons to this new venture. Spurred on by the encouragement of the Gateshead Rov and HaRav M. Salomon (then mashgiach of Gateshead Yeshiva Gedoloh) the fledgling mosad developed into the flagship of Europe's yeshivoh ketanos. Many bochurim have said that their chiyus in learning came from his shiurim. As his talmid, relative and later colleague, HaRav Moore stated so aptly: He had the talent to challenge the gifted talmidim, while at the same time propping up the weaker ones.

Often, in the early years, it was a father's attraction to HaRav Chaim's personality, or a father's enjoyment of HaRav Chaim's droshoh, that made him decide to entrust his son to the fledgling yeshiva. Once, a boy called Rachamim arrived from South America. The father had heard Reb Chaim and had decided: To him I must send my young son, even if it is thousands of miles away

HaRav Chaim gave a daily shiur on gemora with a stress on the pshat, an inspiring evening shiur on Chumash, a wide-ranging shiur on halochoh inyonim every Shabbos, as well as weekly divrei mussar vehisorerus. He also delivered a chaburoh to older groups of the yeshiva ketanoh. In addition, he tested the talmidim regularly on Mishnoh Beruroh.

In the gemora shiur he stressed greatly the importance of pshat, concentrating on the nuances of difference between Maharsho and Maharshal. Only after painstaking toil in clarifying the sugyoh would he treat his talmidim to the joy of the Acharonim's comments.

The enjoyable shiur on Chumosh sparkled with interesting explanations. The breadth of knowledge was evident. It ranged from pshat by the gedolei horishonim to delightful insights of the gedolei hachasidus and divrei mussar. For some time he also delivered chaburos to selected bochurim from yeshiva gedoloh.

Perhaps his greatest preparation was for the shiur on Shabbos morning. Inevitably the yeshiva would be packed, not only with the entire student body but with many visitors from other yeshivos. After divrei hisorerus during Kiddush he would deliver a wide-ranging halachic shiur on a selected halchic topic in the sedroh. It could be from inyonei kodshim (which was always near to his heart). Sometimes it was a halchic discussion of practical relevance and, on occasion, a detailed analysis of a parsha in the Torah, a Brisker Rov or the like. Often he offered his own answers and drew subtle distinctions which illuminated the issue at hand. Little did his listeners know how many hours he had spent in preparation.

Eventually he published his three-volume sefer Mishchas Shemen which was distilled from these Shabbos shiurim. While the content was fairly demanding for young talmidim, in its wide-ranging novelty he went to great lengths in making the shiur attractive to the broad spectrum of 150 talmidim. His very lively delivery, a joke with a point, a short biographical comment on a godol whom he quoted, an interesting story which led to the discussion — all these served as the master's tool or, if you will, as the conjurer's bag of tricks, to inject mesikus haTorah into the listeners' hearts.

Apart from this he delivered countless other shiurim. On many a yom tov he was invited to deliver shiurim to the Kehilloh in halochoh and agodoh. Invariably the venue was packed by all segments of the Kehilloh. All knew that whatever the topic, he could make it exciting and involve his audience. His masterful ability to combine halocho and agodoh allowed him to lead almost seamlessly and naturally from lomdish and halachic analysis to the agodoh aspect of the very same topic.

The high point for many ex-talmidim and chassidic bochurim in yeshiva gedoloh was his weekly Shalosh Se'udos. It was divided into a shiur on a mitzvoh of the Sedroh and a shmues replete with divrei Chassidus and hisorerus punctuated by nigunim. Even when illness ravaged his body and he was no longer able to go out and deliver shiurim to his beloved talmidim in Yeshiva Letze'irim, he still continued with the Shalosh Se'udos Shiurim.

End of Part I


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