Monday, June 27, 2011

HoChiMinh, Hagiography, Humor, Heroics

The new Artscroll biography on Rav Mordechai Gifter is now available and I am impressed. Whereas most other biographies unfortunately are similar in nature, this book is refreshingly different. Many Gedolim knew Chumash by heart when they were five years old, knew Seder Nezikin before their Bar Mitzvah and finished Shas by the time they were 16. Yet what is so remarkable about Rav Gifter is that he knew only one Blatt Gemoro by the time of his Bar Mitzvah.

Yet through hard work, dedication and perseverance, Rav Gifter was able to make something of himself. He further decided that the prime location for persuing a Talmudic education lay across the ocean, and that is where he journeyed to. Ultimately he married into the family of the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva and went on to become Rosh Yeshiva himself.

Yet Rav Gifter did not lose sight of his humble origins. He understood that American Bochurim need to play ball; Americans needed the Artscroll Shas. Rav Gifter was not afraid to support his views, even when they opposed those of some of the leading rabbis of his generation.

Another Artscroll biography of note is that of Reb Shlomo Freifeld. Reb Shlomo also did not fit the mold of most AS biographies, also strongly advocated for his Bochurim and did not cower in the face of opposition.

I recently heard a vignette that Reb Shlomo was present at a meeting of the Yeshiva when they were discussing who to honor at their forthcoming dinner. Reb Shlomo puzzlingly suggested Ho Chi Minh. When asked why he responded something to the effect of ... "He has done more than anyone else in this generation to get Bochurim to come to Yeshiva!" [This blog even has visitors from Ho Chi Minh City.]

This reminds me of the difficult Vietnam War era when Rabbi Avigdor Miller scolded latecomers to the Yeshiva "You'll wear Tefillin at 8 AM here, or Khaki's at 6 AM at Fort Dix!"


  1. A. was that Vietnam or Korea?

    B. hattip?

  2. A. Don't know. It was before my time.
    B. I heard this story before you sent email, but thanks to you it might have been moved from the recesses of my mind to the forefront.

  3. well better a dieved hat-tip than none at all

  4. Interesting story where Rav Gifter is dismayed by the SNOOZE alarm clock. I forget the exact quote, but something to the effect that alarm clocks are for waking people up, not putting them back to sleep!


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