Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth zt"l

R. Isaiah Wohlgemuth, longtime teacher at the Maimonides School in Boston, passed away this Sunday. Below is the biography of him from his book, A Guide to Jewish Prayer:

Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth personifies the heights and depths of the twentieth century Jewish experience. Nurtured in a universe of enlightened tradition and insatiable learning, he was torn from his heritage and his hopes and forced to flee to an unknown destiny. His uncompromising love for Judaism and Jewish values prevailed over struggle and hardship in his becoming a teacher to thousands of Boston students at the Maimonides School and role model for three generations of Bostonians.

Click here to read moreRabbi Wohlgemuth was ordained at the Berlin Rabbinical Seminar. "The Seminary was more than a mere platform for study; it united its students in a true community life," according to one historian. "Every subject in the encyclopedia was discussed in its relationship to traditional Judaism." The Seminar flourished despite the rise of National Socialism.

After his ordination in 1935, Rabbi Wohlgemuth returned home to Kitzingen, located in the district of Bavaria, where he became the youngest pulpit rabbi in Germany at the time, taking over for his father who had just passed away.

On November 10, 1938, Rabbi Wohlgemuth's Shul was among the thousands of Shuls in Germany damaged that Kristallnacht, and Rabbi Wohlgemuth was confined to a labor camp in Dachau.

After his release in 1939, he was able to escape to a relative in New York, Shortly thereafter, he came to the community of Rav Soloveitchik in Boston where he embraced the ideals of the Rav in the teaching of Torah and Yiddishkeit. It was also in Boston that he met his wife Bertha; they were married in 1943.

"Orthodoxy was a dying institution," Rabbi Wohlgemuth once said. "The older generation which brought Orthodoxy from Europe was not able to pass it on because the environment opposed them so strongly:' The centrist philosophy of the Rav showed that "old-world values" could co-exist with a modern society.

Rabbi Wohlgemuth began his teaching career at the Maimonides School in 1945. As he and some 750 graduates recall, the highlight of his love and warmth in teaching was his Be'urei Hatefillah (A Guide to Jewish Prayer) course, affectionately known as "BH." His philosophy of teaching is simple: "You have to love the child, then the child learns to love you and wants to learn everything from you."

To this day, students of his reminisce and teach their children the fine points of how to pray properly to God, and how to understand and express the innermost feelings within the ancient texts and prayers set forth by Chazal some 1,500 years ago. According to Rav Soloveitchik, prayer is man's direct link to God.
See also this post by R. Jeffrey Woolf: link

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