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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rav Meir Shapiro and Sefiras HaOmer in pre-War America

Rabbi (Yehudah) Meir Shapiro (1887-1934), in my mind's eye, stands tall as a great spokesman for our people. An innovator, a Polish parliament member, a gifted orator, and a massive Talmid Chacham. He strikes me as the modern-day Rabbi Abahu of the Gemara, an extraordinarily handsome man (Massechet Bava Metzia) , a master of Aggadeta (Massechet Sotah), and brimming with charisma. If I had a choice of any one Gadol from pre-War Europe with whom I could spend an hour, I think I would choose Rav Meir Shapiro.

His two major innovations were the Daf Yomi, and Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. His concept of a Yeshiva as a place offering more than adequate Gashmiyus accomodations to go along with a rigorous learning program, was a novelty. [Of course, getting in to that Yeshiva wasn't easy at all. You had to know a few hundred blatt Gemara Be'Al Peh].

When Rav Meir returned from a fundraising effort in America, he recounted that the President of a certain Shul had wished to impress Rav Meir with his piety. The fellow said: "I recognize that Sefiras HaOmer is meant to be a period in which we prepare for Shavuos. Since there is a widespread custom of eating milchig on Shavuos, on each day of the Omer I eat the number of
blintzes corresponding to that day of the Omer."

Rav Meir asked the pious Jew: "And what do you do if you miss a day?"

"Rebbe, Poshut! The next day I eat them without a Beracha!"

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

this doesnt sound like a true story :-)

9:39 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Yeah, it's probably what he told over as an illustration of the 'Matzav' of Yiddishkeit there and then. Not meant to be taken literally. :)

9:43 PM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

A cute story, but are you mocking the piety of pre-war American Jewry in this post? It is ironic that the originator (as far as I know) of the daf yomi program was actually an immigrant living in America, Yehezkel Preisser (1829-1915). His calls remained unanswered and it remained for R. Shapiro to get the credit for successfully initiating the first such program.

And yes, I am aware of the other irony: first proposed in America, but brought to fruition in Europe.

I am copying and pasting below an entry from "Hebrew Printing in America" (2006), book #734. It deals with one of Preisser's publications.


Title: ספר פורחת הגפן—יום יזרעאל היער ווירד ערקלהערט דער טאג ווען השם יתברך וועט צוזאמען נעהמען זיין צוזייעטע און צושפרייטע פאלק בו יבואר קץ גאולתנו מן התורה ומן הכתובים.
Author: [Ezekiel {Preisser}] יחזקאל [פריזר]
Author’s father: יצחק
30, [2] pp. + wrappers 8vo
New York, Kislev 5670 [1909]
Printer: Aryeh L. b. Hayyim Bodenstein, 120 Forsythe St.
Front wrapper: border; extended writing; Yiddish.
Title page (p. 1): extended writing; Yiddish.
Includes: errata (p. [2]).
Other languages: Yiddish (pp. 2-14, 21-30).
Copies: *YGC.

Preisser was born in Virbalis, Lithuania, in 1829 and he later moved to Marijampole (or Marinopol?). He immigrated to America in 1884 and settled in New York. Preisser delivered a daily lecture on ספר אורחות צדיקים between the afternoon and evening services. In 1909 he attempted, unsuccessfully, to initiate a daf yomi (“daily page”) program. It called for the adoption of a uniform seven-year study cycle of the Talmud whereby the same folio would be studied each day in all Jewish communities. Preisser’s hopes remained unfulfilled when he died in 1915 and it remained for R. Meir Shapiro to initiate the first successful daf yomi cycle in 1924. Preisser’s son, Alexander, was the head of a hevrah shas (חברה ש"ס ודורשי הספרות העברית) that met at 222 East Broadway (הפסגה 2.5 [10 May 1890], p. 4 [#900]). (BHB1 misrecords Preisser’s surname as Ratner in the record for his ציונים לתורה.)
ספר פורחת הגפן—יום יזרעאל is a volume of end-time calculations. Using a homiletic interpretation of Gen. 49:1-2, Preisser explained that prior to the eschaton the Jewish community would be divided into two components: a well-organized non-religious component and a disorganized religious one. Such a division, he claimed, existed in America. The non-religious Jews were organized into labor unions, the Workman’s Circle and various landsmanschaften, but they had done nothing to provide for kashruth supervision or Sabbath observance. Completing the homily, Preisser admonished America’s Orthodox Jews to unite, particularly by organizing a daf yomi program. Preisser planned to publish the second part of this work as “יום יזרעאל” (p. 31; see #753).

Other works: #753; ציונים לתורה בו מחולקים הד' ציצית על תרי"ג ציונים ועליהם מסודרים תרי"ג מצות התורה (Warsaw: Hayyim Kelter, 5638 [1878]) (NYPL copy has extra approbations).
References: Preisser.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Thanks for that info, Ari! Fascinating.

It wasn't my intent to mock anything. It's a story taken out of a Sefer called "Rabbi Meir Omer", which is a collection of some of his short quips and Divrei Torah.

9:49 PM  

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