Hashavua Study Center
Shemini 5770/ April 10, 2010
Memorial Day-April 12
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-
in Ramat Gan,
project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman
Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on
the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-
International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for
Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
“A brand plucked from the fire” –
Rabbi Isaac Jacob Weiss*
Dr. Yaakov Geller
Rabbi Isaac Jacob b. Judah Weiss was born in Dolina, Hungary in 1905.
In his youth he gained acclaim as a child prodigy
and was ordained as a rabbi at the age of 17.
After marrying the daughter of Rabbi Phinehas Segel
Zimbaum of Oradea-Mare in northern Transylvania, Romania,
he settled in that city, and from 1929 served as a judge on the rabbinical
court, alongside his father-in-law.
Northern Transylvania, which was annexed to Romania after World War I, was severed from Romania by the Vienna Dictate in early 1940 and
annexed to Hungary.
In May-June 1944, fifteen ghettos were set up
there, and about a month later around 150,000 Jews were deported to the death
camp at Auschwitz.
Rabbi Weiss and his son, however, hid in
their city of Oradea-Mare and then fled to Arad in southern Transylvania (which remained in Romanian
hands) with the aid of youth from Bnai
Akiva and other youth movements, who were helping smuggle
Jews out of Hungary
by bribing the border police, gendarmes and local residents.
From there the rabbi and his son were
transferred to Bucharest,
with the assistance of railway workers, who also received a pay-off.
In the capital they were given forged
identity papers, provided housing and prepared for immigration to the land of Israel.
The rabbi and his son planned to travel to Israel on the
Mafkura, which was scheduled to set sail along with two
other illegal ships, the Bulbul and Morino, but they
missed the boat and so were miraculously saved once more, for the
Mafkura was torpedoed by a Russian submarine in the Black
Sea and the 380 immigrants aboard were drowned.
This miracle was one more in the list which included their being saved
from deportation to Auschwitz, being smuggled across the border, and surviving
the bombing of Bucharest
by the Allied air-force.
In thanksgiving to the Creator for his deliverance and the
deliverance of his son (the rest of his family was wiped out in the Holocaust),
Rabbi Weiss wrote a booklet entitled Pirsumei
Nisa (= “Publicizing the Miracle”), from which we
cite several passages not previously published in any Holocaust research:
The Lord, blessed be His Name, saved us from all foes lying
in wait, … for we were as walking between the living and the dead, and for
every step I shall give praise, in recognition of the miracle, … and I shall
mention some of the Lord’s mercy and providence over us…
We decided to cross the border into Romania even
though we knew the way was difficult and fraught with danger, since in those
days Jews trying to cross the border were being killed…
There was no question of whether we should
transgress the rules of the Sabbath in order to save ourselves from death…
At night we walked for hours through forests,
fields, and vineyards… Our hearts were
faint with fear, for this too was a great deliverance…
With the aid of the Lord, blessed be He, we
managed to cross the border safely, after paying them what money I had
left. After this we continued walking
for two days and one night, over mountains and hills, until we reached a
village by the name of Dianti, which is some 40-50 miles from the border,
and there we were graciously received by Mr. Hartman and Jacob Friedman, ritual
slaughterers in Dianti and Belenish.
There, for the first time in a long while, we
were able to relax. We even tasted meat
and could shut our eyes without being in mortal fear.
Several days later, the entire group with
which we were traveling reached a village … we had reached the vicinity of Arad, although during the
two weeks which we spent there we had to be in hiding for fear.
In any event, we found pleasure in seeing
entire families living in their homes, and batei
midrash and synagogues standing and functioning –
something we had not seen for a long time.
I gave thanksgiving to the Lord, blessed be His Name.
In Arad we heard that three
small ships were to set sail from the capital for the land of Israel.
We hired an army officer to transport us to the vicinity of the capital. The
next morning he had engine trouble and we had to remain on the main road near
the city of Sibiu…
We reached Bucharest safely, but missed the boats, which
had set sail two days earlier… Due to
our many sins the ship sank. In
Bucharest, the capital, we remained another few fearful weeks, for even here
the voice of the Jew-hater could be heard – may his name be obliterated, …
demanding that all the Jews be turned over to him, as in Hungary; so, being
foreigners, we were in danger at every moment.
Therefore we sought a way of fleeing to Bulgaria or finding a bunker.
During these weeks the city was being bombed
from the air daily, causing many casualties.
On August 23, 1944, there was a change for the better, as Romania cast
off the yoke of the Germans after the king proclaimed he was making a peace
treaty with the other side.
Rabbi Weiss aspired to immigrate to the land of Israel,
but before doing so journeyed to Oradea-Mare to see if he could find any of the
numerous manuscripts his own or of his father-in-law, but all he found were
3,613 survivors out of a community that had numbered 21,337 before the
war. There were 500 agunot
there, whom Rabbi Weiss was asked to free to remarry.
He was also asked to remain and lead the
crushed community there. Rabbi Weiss
instituted important legislation regarding agunot,
and managed to free some 200 women to remarry.
Also Rabbi Hayyim Meir Hagger, the
admor of Vizhnitz,
returned to this city, and the two worked together to instill new life into the
community. After the communists came to
power, Rabbi Weiss was invited by the Jews of Manchester, England, to head the Rabbinical Court
there. The rabbi of the
kolel, Alexander Shafran,
recommended him, commending his character and Jewish learning.
At the request of the Satmer
Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitlebaum, who
lived in Brooklyn, Rabbi Weiss immigrated to Jerusalem,
after serving as rabbi in Manchester
for 22 years. He was appointed deputy
head of the rabbinical court of the ultra-Orthodox community, and after the
passing of Rabbi David Jungreis, was appointed head
of the rabbinical court (Ra'abad- Rav
Av Bet Din). Rabbi Weiss was inclined
towards moderation, away from the extremism of Neturei
Karta. After the passing of the
Satmer Rebbe he received the
Ga'abad (Gaon Av Bet Din).
Rabbi Weiss was one of the greatest halakhic authorities
and responsa authors of his time, and earned a
reputation for his monumental 10-volume work, Resp. Minhat
Yitzhak, containing correspondence in matters of halakhah
with the great rabbis of his time. His
books serve as a foundation for halakhic rulings today, especially regarding contemporary
issues. He evinced the ability to
clarify rules of halakhah concerning current
events and was considered a great post-Holocaust halakhic authority.
He was expert in all the technological
advancements that the Halakhah needed to
address and resolve.
He himself explained the title of his magnum opus,
… since my offering (= minhah)
is a humble one, an offering of thanksgiving to the Lord, blessed be His
Name, for having survived all the hardships that afflicted us in the days of
wrath, losing most of our family in sanctification of the Name, and along
with them many of the manuscripts to which I alluded in the introduction to my
books of responsa.
Another of his works, Sefer
Minhat Yitzhak (Jerusalem, Part I 1988, Part II
1997), is a commentary on the Torah. For
his books Rabbi Weiss was awarded the Rav Kook prize
by the Tel Aviv Municipality.
He died in Jerusalem in Sivan 5749 (1989).
After his death his son, Rabbi Issachar
Dov Weiss, published responsa
and halakhic rulings, Talmudic novellae and
clarifications on the four sections of the Shulhan
Arukh, culled from the writings of his father
which had not previously been published.
This anthology is also called Minhat
1996). One year after his death a
memorial volume, Sefer ha-
Zikkaron la-Rav Weiss
(Jerusalem 2002) was published.