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Yitzchok Hutner


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Rabbi Yitzchok (Isaac) Hutner (1906 - 1980) was born in Warsaw, Poland, to a family with both Ger hasidim and mitnagdim[?] in their origins. He received private instruction in Torah and Talmud. As a young teenager, he was enrolled in the famous mussar Slabodka[?] Yeshiva in Lithuania, headed by the famous Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel.

The picture of Rabbi Hutner to the right was taken at a special Purim celebration towards the end of his life:

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Early years Having obtained a deep grounding in Talmud, the young Rabbi Hutner was sent to join an extension of the Slabodka yeshiva in Hebron. He studied there until 1929, narrowly escaping the Hebron Massacre of 1929[?] because he was away for the weekend. It was during his stay in Palestine that he became a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine. The philosophical and mystical mind-set of both men, made them kindred spirits, and 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 Exile, galut[?], and the onset of the times awaiting the Jewish Messiah, Moshiach.

In later years, when Rabbi Kook's name became entrenched with Mizrachi[?], Religious Zionism[?], Rabbi Hutner, as a sitting member of Agudath Israel of America 's "Council of Torah Sages[?]" (Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah), sought to decrease his former public association with Kook, even though he maintained cordial relations with Rabbi Kook's son and heir Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook[?].

Travels and marriage Rabbi Hutner then spent some years as a wandering scholar. Most notably he spent time in university in Berlin, studying philosophy, but not for the purpose of obtaining a degree. He deliberately spent time familiarizing himself with the intellectual milieu of Germany. He befriended two other future rabbinical leaders studying secular philosophy in Berlin: Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, who was to head Yeshiva University in New York, and Menachem Mendel Schneerson who would head Chabad Lubavitch in Brooklyn. The three of them 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 had developed a unique bridge and synthesis between the Eastern European world- view, and connected it with a Westernized way of thinking and life. This was a key factor enabling them to serve successfuly as spiritual leaders in the United States of America.

A short while after marrying his American wife, Masha , in Warsaw , Poland, Rabbi Hutner set sail for America. In 1936, he assumed the leadership of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin[?], the oldest institution of its kind in Brooklyn, having been set up as an elementary school in 1906. He set about building a high school, recruiting boys from all sorts of religious backgrounds. His forceful and very charismatic style of leadership soon gained him a large following amongst both lay leaders and students.

In the United States He was able to construct an intense curriculum and an environment that produced young scholars who were in the same league as their compatriots in Eastern Europe. In 1940, he established a post-high school yeshiva , Bet 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. He maintained this relatively liberal policy during his entire tenure at the helm of the yeshiva, allowing and even encouraging students to combine their day's learning in yeshiva together with attending college, such as at Brooklyn College[?] in late afternoons and evenings. He appointed the Yeshiva University and Slabodka[?] educated Rabbi Avigdor Miller[?] as the Mashgiach[?] (spiritual mentor and supervisor) of the yeshiva.

Rabbi Hutner developed a very special 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 extreme 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 personally donning hasidic garb, (begadim[?]) and acting outwardly like a cross between a Rosh Yeshiva and a Rebbe and instructed his students to do like-wise.

Methodology His methodology and style was controversial, as it veered too much towards the hasidic-style, more than his Lithuanian-style colleagues reared as mitnagdim[?] could tolerate. Ironically, Rabbi Hutner became a fierce critic of Lubavitch and the idolization of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Yet both men referred to their discourses as maamarim. He also forbade his students from attending any lectures given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik at the same time that he appointed Rabbi Soloveitchik's younger brother, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik[?] as head of his own Yeshiva Chaim Berlin.

In the 1950s, he established a school for post-graduate married scholars to continue their in-depth Talmudical studies. This was the Kollel (a post graduate division) Gur Aryeh[?], one of the first of its kind in America. Many of his students became prominent educational, outreach, and pulpit rabbis. He stayed in touch with them and was intimately involved in major communal policy decion-making as he worked through his network of students in positions of leadership, and won over to his cause people who came to meet with him.

He published his magnum opus which he named Pachad Yitzchok[?], ("Fear of Isaac", meaning the God whom Isaac in Genesis feared, and also refers to God by that name, also in Genesis). He called his outlook Hilchot Deot Vechovot Halevavot, ("Laws of 'Ideas' and Duties of the Heart"} and wrote in a clear, yet very poetic modern-style Hebrew reminiscent of his original mentor's style, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, even though the original lectures were delivered in Yiddish.

The core of his unique synthesis of different schools of Jewish thought was rooted in his deep studies of the teachings of the Maharal of Prague[?] Rabbi Judah Leow (1525-1609) a scholar and mystic. It is commonly accepted that Rabbi Hutner "opened up" and "popularized" the writings and ideas of the Maharal.Another pillar of Rabbi Hutner's thought system was the works of the Vilna Gaon , Rabbi Elijah, (1720-1797).

Mentor to others He was the mentor of some controversial figures in Jewish outreach. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach[?] who became the "Singing Rabbi" was one such student. Another was Rabbi David Weiss Halivni[?], who became a prominent scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the main seminary of Conservative Judaism. Another was a cousin to the earlier Shlomo Carlebach, who also was called Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who was appointed as the Mashgiach[?] (spiritual supervisor) at the Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, but who split with Rabbi Hutner on policy matters. All three were Holocaust survivors who Rabbi Hutner took upon himself to raise as his own "sons" together with others in similar circumstances.

His students included Rabbis: Pinchas Stolper[?] of the Orthodox Union and founder of NCSY[?] who followed Rabbi Hutner's guidelines in setting up this youth outreach movement; Shlomo Freifeld[?] who set up the one of the first full-time yeshivas for Baal teshuva students in the world, and who personally maintained an open relationship with Lubavitch unlike Rabbi Hutner himself; Joshua Fishman, leader and executive Vice President of Torah Umesorah[?] the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools; Noach Weinberg[?] founder and head of the Baal teshuva outreach conglomerate called Aish Hatorah[?]; Rabbi Yakov Weinberg[?] of Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore and others.

Final years In the late 1960s he began to visit Israel again planning to build a new yeshiva there. In 1970 he, together with his wife, daughter and son-in-law, were captured by the Black September Palestinian military movement who were in turn attacked by King Hussein's army in Amman, Jordan where the hostages found themselves after being let off the planes that were hijacked. In spite of this experience, Rabbi Hutner continued his efforts to build his yeshiva in Israel. Eventually it was set up and named Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok in Har Nof[?], Jerusalem. He died and is buried in Jerusalem .

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