Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Ellul 5762 - August 28, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Rav Naftali Hertz (Hertzel) Krezmer, zt"l

by Y. Friedman

The following information was conveyed to us by an important talmid chochom.

I was asked by Rav Elchonon Yosef Hertzman, one of the mussar personalities in America and a former Mirrer talmid in Poland, to reprint the five volumes of the wonderful work Noam Hamitzvos. He sang the praises of the book and its instructive words of mussar, in which each mitzva is analyzed and its essence explored. I saw the enthusiastic haskomos of contemporary gedolim, the Or Somayach, HaRav Yitzchok Yaakov Rabinowitz ("Rav Itzele of Ponevezh") and Rav Yosef of Seratzk zt"l, who praise the book and its author, and decided to go ahead with reprinting the sefer.

When I had the merit of showing the book to HaRav Shach [zt"l] he got very excited about the reprint and told me that I could not imagine the greatness and tzidkus of its author, whom he had been privileged to know in his youth in Ponevezh. He heard shiurim from him on the topic of noam hamitzvos and they had a great effect on him.

An Old Book on Lithuania

I was very affected by all of this, and felt a great desire to discover some biographical details of the author. Boruch Hashem I managed to locate the memoirs of one of his talmidim, Rav Boruch Shilman, as well as his photo (in an old book in Yiddish on Lithuanian Jewry). I also found out the date of Rav Krezmer's petiroh, from an account of Rav Itzele of Ponevezh's hesped, which states that immediately after he finished the hesped it became known that Mendel Beilis had been released. That means that Rav Krezmer was niftar on Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5673 (1912).

Here are some excerpts from Rav Shilman's memoirs:

Rav Hertz zt"l was the direct and indirect rov of hundreds of students in many countries, and one of the most special personalities in Ponevezh. He was born in Bialystok to the tzaddik Rav Avrohom, a textile merchant. He got married in Ponevezh and remained there.

After his marriage (with Soroh o"h) he also started to go into the textile business on a part-time basis, but quickly left it and became a shochet in one of the towns in the Ponevezh district. Shechitoh was his source of livelihood for the rest of his life.

However, his main occupation throughout his life was the dissemination of Torah and yiras Shomayim and teaching Judaism. He left his mark on me, as a student, for the rest of my life.

His teaching career started when a neighbor, Dovid Ginsburg the baker, needed a tutor for his son, Nochum Boruch. He developed the boy's considerable talents, and he eventually became the rov of Yanova and other places. Rav Nochum Boruch Ginsburg zt"l Hy"d, the author of Mekor Boruch, is mentioned frequently in the responsa of his contemporaries. Like the majority of Lithuanian Jewry, he was killed by the Nazis ym"sh.

When he taught his student Nochum Boruch, he taught Itche, the son of the carpenter, and myself at the same time.

Before a year had passed he was teaching many students. He got someone else to teach his first students Torah, under his supervision, and he started to disseminate Torah and chessed. He also made us teach certain other students what we had already learned.

Rav Hertz himself started to teach Torah to members of the kehilla and organized different learning groups. There was a group learning Mishnayos at night and on Shabbosim and halocho groups learning Shulchan Oruch and Chayei Odom. These groups served as a training ground for further teachers of Mishnayos and halocho, so that they contributed to an increase in the Torah shiur network in the town.

While Rav Hertz was dedicating himself to enlarging the scope of Torah shiurim he left his beloved students under the supervision of others. But in the afternoons, as soon as he had finished shechting chickens, he came to the small beis hamedrash where we learned and tested us on our studies, encouraging us to be assiduous in our studies.

The Conscience of the Town

He took care of our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He would provide us with baskets and napkins every erev Shabbos to collect bread and challos for needy students under his care. He also sent children with tzedokoh boxes to collect money for needy students. And so Rav Hertz became a beacon of Torah, yiras Shomayim and chesed in the town for decades until his death.

He was called "the conscience of the town." On Fridays, before Shabbos came in, he would go out to remind all the storekeepers to close their stores and the peddlers to close their stalls. Naturally they all obeyed him. He also announced the times of candle lighting, and he got as far as Slobodka.

Once he heard a rumor that some boys and girls were mixing in one of the new neighborhoods in town, resulting in considerable immodesty. He went to reprove them, but they all fled when they heard that he was on the way. By the time he got to the house where they met, there was no one there.

His derech in limud was that learning itself constituted avodas Hashem and yiras Hashem, and the more a person becomes immersed in the study of Torah, the less is he tempted by sin and the machinations of the yetzer hora. Consequently, he felt that sharpness in limud was less important than bekius, for whenever you are increasing your knowledge of gemora you are serving Hashem.

Thus he spent most of his time teaching the plain meaning of gemora and not in trying to delve into a sugya with Tosafos and profound Maharshos.

It gave him tremendous satisfaction to see that a topic was properly understood and if we, his students, managed to find references not mentioned by Rav Yeshaya Pik in his hagohos, he was thrilled.

He considered bitul Torah a very serious matter. Once when he was sick and some students came to visit him, he shouted at them to return immediately to their studies and not to be mevatel Torah chas vesholom for the sake of bikur cholim.

He could finish a whole masechta such as Kiddushin in one day. Of course, a learning day did not consist of seven hours, but of fourteen hours and more, and it included a mishmar at night.

The Atmosphere in Ponevezh

The last time I was privileged to see his holy countenance was in 1905 when I left Lithuania. The atmosphere in Ponevezh had changed a lot . . .

However, Rav Hertz continued his avodas hakodesh, teaching Torah until his last day. It would be difficult to say that his personal life gave him material pleasure. His wife (Shasha) was always sick, and he too was sick and weak. His only son Alter z"l passed away before he reached bar mitzvah, and Rav Hertz himself was niftar in his fifties.

His death on Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5673 was connected with another important event in Jewish history. Mendel Beilis z"l had been arrested and imprisoned on a charge of murdering a gentile youth for the purpose of using his blood for matzos. During Rav Hertz's funeral, at the end of Rav Itzele's hesped, news came through from Kiev that Beilis had been released. The blood libel, which had been accompanied by much antisemitism and threatened Jews the world over, was over.

The participants at the levaya considered this a sign from Heaven, and that Hashem had saved the honor of the Jewish nation in the merit of this righteous niftar who had advocated the cause of his nation.

Up to here is the quotation from HaRav Shilman's memoirs.

The following is taken from the biography of HaRav Krezmer written by HaRav Elchonon Yosef Hertzman in the introduction to the book:

"The author Rav Naftoli Hertz zt"l was a grandson of Rav Osher (ben Tzvi) Hakohen zt"l who wrote the Bircas Rosh on Brochos and Nozir, and the son of Rav Avrohom Krezmer z"l.

"Already two generations ago the author was held in esteem by gedolim such as HaRav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, who wrote about him in his haskomoh: `I have known him to be a yirei Hashem since his youth, who walks along the paths trodden on by his ancestors, who were full of Torah and piety.'

An Ish Elokim

"HaRav Itzele of Ponevezh also testifies to the author's greatness in his haskomoh: `I know the author's great righteousness. His motivation in printing his book is purely for the sake of Heaven without any ulterior motive . . . to arouse the Jewish nation to observe the mitzvos.'

"HaRav Avrohom Yoffin zt"l (the son-in-law of the Alter of Novardok) who had the privilege of seeing him, recalled, `He would sit in the beis hamedrash with tallis and tefillin learning Torah with awe and trepidation and holy enthusiasm. Anyone who saw him realized that he was an ish Elokim.'

"His noble character has been engraved in the memory of all those who met him for many decades. HaRav Shach recalled that he learned in a yeshiva ketana in Ponevezh in his youth, and a shiur took place every day between mincha and ma'ariv on Noam Hamitzvos given by the author of this work. His fiery words full of yiras Hashem penetrated the hearts of the bochurim.

"HaRav Avrohom Kahaneman, the president of Yeshivas Ponevezh, says that in the town many stories circulated about the author's miraculous deeds.

The Fire and Amira Le'akum

"The author's father, Rav Avrohom Krezmer zt"l, was a textile merchant in Bialystok. He ran a major business with absolute honesty, setting aside time for regular Torah studies. Once he became very sick and made a neder that if he were granted a full recovery he would move to Eretz Yisroel.

"With the help of Hashem he recovered and in 5640 (1880) he fulfilled his neder with mesirus nefesh and moved to Eretz Yisroel with his wife Leah, their son Moshe Shmuel (the author's brother) and three daughters.

"The author's father settled in Yaffo and became involved in activities for the strengthening of Judaism. He was amongst those who initiated the expansion of the talmud Torah and the growth of the kashrus system.

"Rav Avrohom started a fabric business in Yaffo, from which he managed to make a nice living with the help of Hashem. His wife and daughters helped out, which meant that he could spend more time learning and dealing with public matters.

"Once a fire broke out on Shabbos in his business premises, but he would not let Arabs put out the fire, not wanting to infringe the prohibition of shvus by making a direct instruction to a non-Jew. He told his daughters, who were crying while the fire was raging, that they were not to cry on Shabbos -- and they stopped crying.

"Despite the major damage caused by the fire, he had the merit of marrying off his daughters to gedolei Torah and morei horo'oh: Rav Yosef Gershon Horowitz zt"l, dayan in Meah Sheorim for about seventy years, HaRav Yonah Rom zt"l, dayan in Kerem [Avrohom], Yerushalayim and HaRav Eliyohu Yeshaya Houminer zt"l, the gabbai of the Klelilas Shoul shul in Meah Sheorim who lived for close to ninety years.

"The home of Rav Naftoli Hertz was permeated with dedication to Torah and mitzvos. As the author points out, his father was buried in Tiveria, and his mother lived to a ripe old age in Eretz Yisroel.

"We have managed to discover some important details about a giant who had a great influence on his contemporaries, and, through his book, also on succeeding generations."


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