Machberes: Inside The Chassidic And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The Vienner Chasunah. On Sunday, March 3, Avrohom Boruch Babad will iy’H marry the daughter of Rabbi Aaron Yeshaya Rosner, Szombathely Dayan and Vienner Rosh Kollel in Williamsburg. The chasan is the son of Rabbi Chanoch Henach Babad, son of Rabbi Chaim Yoshua Babad, Tartikover Rav and Rosh Kollel. Rabbi Rosner is the son of the Tertzaler Rav and son-in-law of Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz, Vienner Rav. The chasan is a grandson of Rabbi Yaakov Yukel Horowitz, Zalisha Rav in Boro Park.
The kallah is the oldest grandchild of the Vienner Rav and the first to marry, which represents an important threshold event. Chassidim are eager to witness and to be part of this historic event.
Festivities will begin with the Shabbos Ki Sisa aufruf, which will take place in the Tartikover Beis Medrash in Boro Park. The eminent grandparents will participate and the event will draw thousands of chassidim. The wedding will start with the kabbolas panim in the Vienner Beis Medrash at 27 Lee Avenue in Williamsburg. The simcha is expected to have thousands participating, including eminent chassidishe rebbes, prominent rabbis, and leading roshei yeshiva. The chuppah will take place on a raised platform built in front of the shul, so that everyone will be able to follow the ceremony.
Immediately after the chuppah, coach buses will be standing at the ready to ferry all participants, men and women separately, to the Rose Castle, 380 Flushing Avenue, for men, and to the Imperial Hall, 712 Bedford Avenue, for ladies. The banquet wedding dinner will be served and festive dancing will take place at both locations. The traditional mitzvah tantz will be grandly held at the Rose Castle with space being made for the kallah and ladies.
The Shabbos Vayakheil-Pekudei sheva berachos, March 8–9, will be royally celebrated, with thousands of chassidim taking part. All events will be held in the Vienner Beis Medrash. A special committee has been designated by the Vienner kehillah to arrange lodging for the many incoming chassidim for Shabbos. Those wishing to participate are directed to contact the kehillah’s offices for all arrangement.
The Vienner Kehillah: Chassidism Nusach Ashkenaz. The Vienner kehillah of Williamsburg was formally established on Sunday, May 25, 1941. Its antecedent history begins in mid-19th-century Austria. With the advent of the Reform movement, the organized Jewish community of Vienna began to come under its influence. Observant members engineered the election of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Spitzer, zt’l (1811–1893), as its Rav in 1852. However, the Reform contingent continued to grow in influence. As a consequence, Rabbi Spitzer, author of Tikun Shlomo, led the observant breakaway kehillah, later headquartered in the renowned Schiff Shul, which was built in 1858. Rabbi Yeshaya Fuerst, zt’l (1857–1943), succeeded Rabbi Spitzer in 1894. Both Rabbi Spitzer and Rabbi Fuerst were disciples of Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, zt’l (1815–1872), Pressburger Rav and author of Ksav Sofer, son of Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt’l (1763–1839), Pressburger Rav and revered author of Chasam Sofer. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Spitzer was a son-in-law of the Chasam Sofer.
With the onset of the Holocaust, Rabbi Fuerst fled for his life from Vienna at the Anschluss in March of 1939. He passed away in England in 1943. Other members of the persecuted kehillah succeeded in reaching America and settled in Williamsburg. The refugees reestablished a seedling of the Orthodox Vienner kehillah in the then Agudath Israel headquarters on Bedford Avenue. They named the new congregation Khal Adas Yereim and invested great energy in its development. The name of the kehillah in the Schiff Shul was Adas Yisroel. The shul proudly maintained the Ashkenazic nusach of its predecessor, the Schiff Shul back in Vienna.
From Vienna to Williamsburg. Amongst the refugees arriving at America’s shores in 1946 was Rabbi Yonason Steif, zt’l (1879–1958), who was the last appointed Rosh Beth Din of Budapest, the highest functioning rabbinical position in all of Hungary after the passing of Rabbi Koppel Reich, zt’l (1852–1929). Rabbi Reich served as the last official Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Budapest. In America, Rabbi Steif gravitated to the Vienner kehillah and when a shul building was acquired on Rodney Street and South 5th Street in 1948, he was elected as its Torah leadership. A larger facility at 27 Lee Avenue, its present location, was purchased in the early 1950s, which was instrumental in the impressive growth of the kehillah.
Rabbi Steif, who was in Auschwitz and was saved during the Holocaust by having been included on the famous Kastner Train together with the Satmar Rebbe, passed away on the 9th of Elul, 5718 (1958). At the moment of his passing, lights all over New York City flickered. On Sunday, May 28, 1961, Rabbi Ezriel Yehuda Liebowitz, zt’l (1910–1991), Hodhaazer Rav and author of Ezer MiYehuda, succeeded Rabbi Steif and was elected as Rav of the Vienner kehillah. After surviving the Holocaust and immigrating to America, Rabbi Liebowitz had served as Rav of a beis medrash on the West Side of Manhattan. Rabbi Liebowitz passed away on Rosh Hashanah, 1991.
Having led the Vienner kehillah for 30 years, Rabbi Liebowitz had aggressively pursued the growth of the Vienner Yeshiva, which, under his leadership, blossomed into a premier Torah institution. The Vienner kehillah, under his leadership, also branched out formidably into Boro Park and Monsey, establishing shuls, yeshivas, and girls’ schools.
On the 9th of Elul, 1992, on the 34th yahrzeit of Rabbi Steif, zt’l, the Vienner kehillah elected Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz as Vienner Rav. Rabbi Asher Anshel is the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Katz, zt’l (d. 1985), Szombathely Rav; son of Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz, zt’l Hy’d (1881–1944), Serdehaly Rav and author of Ule’ashar Omar; son-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich, zt’l Hy’d (1863– 1944), Shomloyer Rav and author of Lechem Shlomo. Rabbi Asher Anshel is also a grandson of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Pollack, zt’l, Woodkerter Rav.
Pathway to Chassidus. Today’s Vienner Rav is a scion of a chassidishe rabbinical family and had conducted himself according to chassidishe customs all of his life. When the Ashkenazic Vienner kehillah chose him as rav, he committed himself to maintaining its Ashkenazi traditions.
The trend toward chassidus in Williamsburg and Boro Park had already been well under way and felt keenly at the time that the Hodhahzer Rav was elected Vienner Rav. In accepting the position, Rabbi Liebowitz supposedly agreed not to don a shtreimel. The end of the possibly apocryphal story was that the new Vienner Rav began wearing a shtreimel almost immediately, provoking little or no outspoken opposition.
Though the kehillah strongly identifies with its Ashkenazic past, Rabbi Katz is a decidedly chassidishe leadership. He has married his children only into leading chassidishe rabbinical families. The Vienner Rav conducts tisch for his students and followers, and, having had his name included on the very short list of potential candidates for Chief Rabbi of the Yerushalayim Badatz, he adds glory and grandeur to the Vienner kehillah.
Incrementally, the Vienner kehillah has adopted various Nusach Sephard customs through the years, such as Hodu before Minchah on Friday as well as Kegavna before Maariv Friday night. As most of the sons of the original founders of the shul studied at yeshivas which were conducted with Nusach Sephard, they assumed Nusach Sephard as their private mode of tefillah. Reportedly, 90 percent of the members of the kehillah in 2008 prayed in Nusach Sephard in their private tefillos. However, the sheliach tzibbur, the public reader, maintained Nusach Ashkenaz in all congregational prayers. Many of the sons and grandsons of the original founders today wear shtreimels.
The Vienner Rav, at that time, consulted with congregational leaders and conferred repeatedly with Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, author of Shevet Levi and considered today’s leading chassidishe posek. Rabbi Wosner, who himself was raised in the Schiff Shul, carefully reviewed the matter and urged the Vienner kehillah to change to Nusach Sephard. He drew from important seforim, such as the Divrei Chaim, that clearly allowed a change of nusach when most of the congregants were of another nusach. In addition, the original tekanos, articles of incorporation, of the kehillah included a clause that permitted the change of nusach if most of the congregation approved.
On Shabbos Kedoshim, May 2–3, 2008, the Vienner kehillah began using Nusach Sephard. On that Shabbos afternoon, during the Pirkei Avos shiur, the Vienner Rav discussed the change. He described his ongoing discussions with Rabbi Wosner and with congregation leaders. He then reviewed the pertinent halachos of the change of nusach and concluded with Kaddish D’Rabbonon according to Nusach Sephard, including “Veyatzmach perkunei vekoreiv Meshichei.” v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.