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9 Tammuz 5762 - June 19, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Responsa and Letters of the Netziv and HaRav Chaim Berlin
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The first volume of these responsa and letters called Teshuvos Nishmas Chaim was published recently.

Many hundreds of letters covering a variety of public and individual topics, halachic responsa, droshos, writings and articles by Maran the Netziv of Volozhin zt'l and his eldest son, HaRav Chaim Berlin zt'l, are included in the first in a new series of seforim. HaRav Chaim Berlin, who was also the grandson of HaRav Chaim of Volozhin zt'l, served as a rav in Moscow. Towards the end of his life he lived in Yerushalayim.

Until recently most of these letters were only in manuscript form except for a few found in out-of-print seforim. HaRav Yaakov Kosovsky-Shachor (the son of HaRav Shaul Kosovsky-Shachor zt'l, the author of Dvar Shaul), and a descendant of the Netziv of Volozhin, who published the fourth volume of Teshuvos Achiezer and several volumes of letters from Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer zt'l, has taken upon himself the task of editing and arranging these teshuvos and letters of the Netziv and HaRav Chaim Berlin.

The Teshuvos Nishmas Chaim by HaRav Chaim Berlin is the first volume of this series. These teshuvos encompass halachic queries based on all four parts of the Shulchan Oruch and delve deeply into intricate topics discussed in Shas and poskim. The second volume, which will be printed in honor of HaRav Chaim Berlin's ninetieth yahrtzeit will, be'ezras Hashem, include articles and letters about strengthening Torah and mitzvah observance. Immediately following this, HaRav Yaakov Kosovsky-Shachor will publish several volumes of other letters of the Netziv.

Like his renowned father, HaRav Chaim Berlin was a true gaon, fully proficient in all treasures of the Torah. He was also a tzaddik, famous for his burning love of Torah, and a person who studied Torah with unbelievable diligence. In his youth he was well known for his expertise in both the Bavli and Yerushalmi Talmud together with Rishonim and Acharonim. The contents of the many thousands of seforim in his extensive private library were engraved in his head and heart.

HaRav Chaim Berlin served as rov in eminent cities of Russia such as Moscow and Kobrin as well as in Elizavetgrad and for a time replaced his father, the Netziv, as av beis din of Volozhin. He took part in the historic decision to close Volozhin Yeshiva so as not to capitulate to the government decree to add secular studies to the yeshiva's curriculum. The introduction of this new sefer cites the reasons for his father's decision and their enduring significance.

At the sunset of his days HaRav Chaim Berlin immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and lived in Yerushalayim where he was known as the "Elder of the Rabbonim." Even in his old age he was active in all communal activities, and concerned himself with the welfare of the yeshivos and the city's chesed and tzedokoh institutions. HaRav Chaim Berlin passed away at the age of eighty-one on 13 Tishrei, 5673 (Sept. 24, 1912). He was eulogized in Jewish communities throughout the world.

After his demise, a group of talmidim who had immigrated to the USA decided to memorialize his name. HaRav Moshe Meltzer zt'l established the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, then a cheder, located in Brownsville -- at that time a flourishing Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Later in 5697/1937 HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, author of the famed series of machshovoh seforim called Pachad Yitzchok, founded the yeshiva and became its rosh yeshiva, making Chaim Berlin Yeshiva the first yeshiva in Brooklyn.

It grew to be one of the most eminent yeshivos in New York. The many divisions of this multi-faceted institution are currently housed in an array of buildings located on two Brooklyn campuses in Flatbush and a summer campus in the Catskills. The Brooklyn campuses house the Yeshiva Gedola containing more than 350 talmidim, the Kollel Gur Aryeh, the Yeshiva Ketana, the preschool division, and the Mesivta High School. A beautiful campus in Har Nof, Yerushalayim, serves as the location of the Pachad Yitzchok complex with its Kollel Ohr Eliyahu and Yeshiva Zera Yitzchok. At the yeshiva's Camp Morris, many boys have been inspired to focus their hearts and minds towards a lifelong commitment to Torah learning.

During the years of the yeshiva's existence thousands of its talmidim have become roshei yeshiva, eminent talmidei chachomim, leading community figures, and yereim vesheleimim laymen.

This new work, Teshuvos Nishmas Chaim, which contains two hundred responsa, will serve as an additional step in keeping HaRav Chaim Berlin's memory alive. (It is of interest to point out that in chapter 25, after explaining what the Maharsha meant concerning a certain subject, HaRav Chaim Berlin writes he is certain that after his petiroh the Maharsha will greet him in appreciation for his accurate explanation).

We wish to briefly mention a few interesting topics.

The first chapter deals with the she'eilah that arose following the invention of the record player. Can Hashem's sacred Name be recorded and later played? Other halochos relevant to that topic are also examined.

In another chapter HaRav Chaim Berlin analyzes whether someone can take part in a lottery drawn on Shabbos. Is winning such a lottery considered schar Shabbos, as if gaining money for working on Shabbos? He writes that some people asked permission to print signs in his name prohibiting it, "but I don't want to be one of those who set decrees unless the prohibition will also come from other rabbonim such as HaRav Sholom Mordechai Hacohen of Brezan. Only if that is done can you add my name."

In several teshuvos he cites his father's opinion. For example, in a responsum about Purim halochos he points out: "I saw that my father was accustomed to fulfill the mitzvah of matonos le'evyonim before he prayed Shacharis, and that's how I would always act (so that the poor will benefit from the money as early as possible)."

In chapter eighteen we find testimony about the painful reality of life in Russia that forced poskim to deal with uncommon and strange questions. In that chapter he writes: "It so happened in Moscow that a person was exiled to Siberia on Shabbos because of some crime. I tried to delay his being sent away until the next day but failed. I therefore instructed that he should appoint sheluchim on Shabbos to write, sign, and send a get for his wife after Shabbos. I subsequently asked my father's opinion, and I followed his rulings in arranging the get for his wife to permit her to marry."

The author also discusses the unfortunate situation that many of those who immigrated to the USA totally deserted Torah observance. In chapter twenty he writes: "Concerning what you asked about someone whose children in America are non- observant but when the father lives there they honor him and close their stores and factory on Shabbos, but should he leave, they will open their businesses on Shabbos, if the father is obliged to remain there although it is harmful for his own Torah observance in order to save them from sin and public chillul Shabbos. . ."

In a responsum dealing with appointing a rav to a certain community he writes: "In addition, I don't believe that a worthy talmid chochom and yorei Shomayim will be found who will not fear the curse of Moshe that applies to trespassing another's rights. It seems to me that they know that when I visited there some fifteen years ago on the occasion of the wedding of my niece, the daughter of Morenu Yaakov Shapiro, the community heads entreated me to become their rav and av beis din but I told them I wouldn't accept without the agreement of the previous rabbonim in order not to trespass their rights, chas vesholom."

In a teshuvoh dated 5652 (1892), after Volozhin Yeshiva was closed, he apologizes for his belated reply that was caused because of "my many troubles concerning the yeshiva and the irritation it involves. I stayed in Vilna the entire winter and the matter of the yeshiva caused me great pain and acute annoyance. Because of our sins the work of the Satan succeeded and our holy house and pride was destroyed. The yeshiva was closed and the students dispersed to all corners of the world. The Jewish community leaders and also those wanting to assist the yeshiva in Vilna and Minsk already gave up, not knowing what should be done."

In that year he traveled on a fundraising campaign to repay the debts his father, the Netziv, owed for the previous upkeep of the yeshiva. From a letter he wrote from Paris, we see that during that trip, whenever he could find a spare minute, he devoted his time to Torah study and to chidushei Torah, completely engrossing himself in it.

In the conclusion of a teshuvoh, HaRav Chaim Berlin zt'l writes about a known historical episode--the controversy about the Chassidic Movement. He clarifies that the reasons given then for separating from Chassidus are inapplicable today. "There is no reason not to pray in the botei knesses of Chassidim. The Vilna Gaon's decree was only for that time since then Chassidim belittled talmidei chachomim. Today is different. At the present time Chassidim honor those who study Torah and they are yirei Hashem and observe Torah and mitzvos. It is forbidden to deviate from their minhogim or the text of their tefillah in public. In Kedushah that is said aloud one should say Keser because of the issur of lo sisgodedu and to prevent any feuds, chas vesholom. But in the silent Shemoneh Esrei you should not deviate from the custom of our fathers and their minhogim and we should pray nusach Ashkenaz."


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