About Rav Yitzchok Hutner
Yitzchok (Isaac) Hutner (1906–1980) was an Orthodox rabbi and American rosh yeshiva born in Warsaw, Poland, to a family with both Ger Hasidic and non-Hasidic Lithuanian Jewish roots. As a child he received private instruction in Torah and Talmud. As a teenager he was enrolled in the Slabodka yeshiva in Lithuania, headed by Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, where he was known as the "Warsaw Illui" ("prodigy").
Having obtained a deep grounding in Talmud, Rabbi Hutner was sent to join an extension of the Slabodka yeshiva in Hebron. He studied there until 1929, narrowly escaping the 1929 Hebron massacre because he was away for the weekend, on his way to see Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. It was during his stay in the British Mandate of Palestine that he became a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine (as it was then known.) The philosophical and mystical mind-set of both men made them kindred spirits. Like Rabbi Kook, the young Rabbi Hutner eventually developed a warm welcoming posture towards non-religious Jews who were seeking to become more religious. They viewed things in the context of the end of the Jewish exile, golus (galut), with the imminent coming of the messianic era.
In later years, when Rabbi Kook's name became entrenched with the Mizrachi, part of the Religious Zionist Movement, Rabbi Hutner, as an eventual member of the non-Zionist Haredi Agudath Israel of America's Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah ("Council of Torah Sages"), sought to decrease his former association with Kook, even though he maintained cordial relations with Rabbi Kook's son and heir Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook and others such as Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Neria. Rabbi Hutner's students recount that on Sukkot Rabbi Hutner would hang a portrait of Rabbi Kook in his sukkah. When the matter of conscripting religious girls (giyus banot) into the Israel Defense Forces became a controversial matter after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the photo of Rabbi Kook was removed and replaced with one of Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz who ruled that Jewish females are forbidden to perform National Service (Sherut Leumi) in lieu of army service. Finally, when Rabbi Hutner composed and published his work Pachad Yitzchok there is absolutely no overt reference to any of Rabbi Kook's own extensive works (although Rabbi Kook's notions and motifs permeate Rabbi Hutner's work to those familiar with both rabbis' writings.) However, there are a select few of Rabbi Hutner's early students who recall some of Rabbi Hutner's lengthy comments to them regarding Rabbi Kook, but none of them have ever written or said anything about what was said to them in a public forum. It has remained for the Religious Zionist teacher, Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Neria to republish the approbation that Rabbi Kook had written and some correspondence between Rabbis Kook and Hutner about it.
After the pogrom in Hebron in 1929, Rabbi Hutner spent some years as a wandering scholar. First, he returned to Warsaw, from there going to study philosophy at the University of Berlin, but not for degree purposes; he was not interested in degrees or the jobs they could offer, but only in the actual material that the university taught him. During this period he wrote Torat HaNazir, on the laws of the Nazarite. He spent time familiarizing himself with the intellectual milieu of Germany.
He befriended two other future rabbinical leaders studying secular philosophy in Berlin: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who was to become rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University in New York City, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who would become rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch in Brooklyn. The three were to retain close and cordial personal relations throughout their lives, even though each differed from the other radically in Torah weltanschauung (hashkafa). Nevertheless, each developed a unique bridge and synthesis between the Eastern European world-view connecting it with a Westernized way of thinking. This was a key factor enabling them to serve successfully as spiritual leaders in the United States of America.
After marrying his American-born wife, Masha Lipshitz, in Warsaw, Poland, in 1932, the couple spent about a year in Palestine where Rabbi Hutner completed his research and writing of his Kovetz Ha'aros on Hillel ben Eliakim's commentary on midrash sifra. He visited Europe in 1934 to collate manuscripts of Hillel ben Eliakim's commentary.
By 1935 the couple had emigrated to Brooklyn, New York where Rabbi Hutner pursued his private studies, initially not actively seeking a formal position. However, he soon joined the faculty of the Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Joseph (RJJ) and sometime between 1935–1936 was appointed first as a teacher then as principal of the newly established high school division of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin known as Mesivta Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The yeshiva had been the oldest elementary yeshiva in Brooklyn since 1904. During 1939 and 1940 he established the yeshiva's post-high school beth midrash division and became the senior rosh yeshivah of the entire Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. In this effort he also received the help of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz who headed Brooklyn's largest and more established Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. Under Rabbi Hutner's charismatic leadership, Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin grew from relative obscurity to prominence, and with it grew his reputation in the world of Torah scholarship.
He was able to construct an intense curriculum and an environment that produced young Talmudic scholars who were viewed as being in the same league as their compatriots in Eastern Europe. By 1940 he had established a post-high school yeshiva, beth midrash with hundreds of students.
He viewed secular studies as essential in learning a profession for people to support themselves by eventually going to college and becoming professionals. Together with the dean of the Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz a charter to set up a combined yeshiva and college was obtained from the New York State Board of Regents. However, this plan was abandoned upon the insistence of Rabbi Aaron Kotler the anti-secular leader of the Lakewood yeshiva (Beth Medrash Gevoha), which would become the largest yeshiva of its kind in the United States, who wielded great influence and rabbinical power. In this and other matters Rabbi Hutner acquiesced to Rabbi Kotler.
Rav Hutner however maintained his relatively liberal policy during his tenure at the helm of his own Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, allowing students to combine their day's learning in yeshiva together with attending college, mainly at Brooklyn College and later at Touro College in late afternoons and evenings. He would take great pride in the secular accomplishments of his students insofar as they would fit into his vision of a material world governed by the principles of a spiritual Torah way of life. One of his closest disciples is the renowned economist, Rabbi Israel Kirzner who edited Hutner's written works, Pachad Yitzchok. Many of Hutner's disciples went about quietly obtaining doctorates often with his blessings and guidance, including his daughter Rebbetzin Dr. Bruria Hutner David (philosophy). The list includes Rabbis Shlomo Teichman (mathematics) founder and dean of Bais Yaakov Academy, Shlomo Braunstein (statistics) rosh yeshiva and principal, Shlomo Ribner (psychology) psychologist and rosh yeshiva, Moshe Homnick (psychology), Ahron Soloveichik (law) rosh yeshiva, Zecharia Dor-Shav (Dershowitz) (psychology) educator, Aharon Lichtenstein (literature) rosh yeshiva, Dr Abraham J. Tannenbaum (education), Joseph Thurm (information technology), Naftoli Langsam (education), Yedidya Langsam (biology), Chaim Feuerman (education), Zvhil-Mezbuz Rebbe Grand Rabbi Yitzhak Aharon Korff (law, international law and diplomacy). Many alumni of his yeshiva have attained success as attorneys, accountants, doctors, and in information technology.
Rabbi Hutner was well versed in many intellectual areas, even studying and refuting secular and non-traditional Jewish scholarship. There was an interesting episode where a student made a remark about some religious issue. Rabbi Hutner allegedly slapped him and said, "You read that in Heschel!"
His daughter and only child, Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David, obtained her Ph.D. at Columbia University in the department of philosophy as a student of Salo Baron. She subsequently founded and became the dean of a major seminary for Jewish women in Jerusalem known as Beth Jacob of Jerusalem (BJJ) that caters to young women from Haredi families in the United States. Her dissertation discussed the dual role of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes as both a traditionalist and maskil ("follower of the enlightenment"). Some have noted the remarkable parallels between her own father and Rabbi Chajes, the subject of her dissertation.
Rabbi Hutner appointed Slabodka yeshiva educated Rabbi Avigdor Miller as the Mashgiach ruchani ("spiritual mentor and supervisor") of the yeshiva. After the yeshiva relocated to Far Rockaway, New York in the 1960s, Rabbi Miller resigned from his position due to the difficulties a daily commute from Brooklyn entailed.
Rabbi Hutner developed a style of celebrating Shabbat and the Holy Days, Yom Tov, by giving a kind of talk called a maamer. It was a combination of Talmudic discourse, Hasidic celebration (tish), philosophic lecture, group singing, and when possible, like on Purim, a ten piece band was brought in as accompaniment. Many times there was singing and dancing all night. All of this, together with the respect to his authority that he demanded, induced in his students obedience and something of a "heightened consciousness" that passed into their lives making them into literal hasidim ("devotees") of their rosh yeshiva, who encouraged this by eventually personally donning Hasidic garb, (begadim) and acting outwardly like a synthesis between a rosh yeshiva and a rebbe and instructed some of his students to do like-wise