Monday, July 09, 2007

The (Almost) Gerrer Rebbe in America, from YU

In Turim: Studies in Jewish History and Literature Presented to Dr. Bernard Lander (ed. Michael Shmidman) vol. 1, Monty Penkower has an article that is a biography of a long-gone rosh yeshiva of YU, R. Avraham Selmanovitz (d. 1946). R. Selmanovitz became close with R. Moshe Soloveichik when they were both in Warsaw and R. Soloveichik was the rosh yeshiva of the Mizrachi-Tachkemoni yeshiva. After R. Selmanovitz moved to America, R. Bernard Revel invited him to become a rosh yeshiva in YU. R. Selmanovitz was also active in the Agudas Ha-Rabbanim, serving on its presidium. After the deaths of R. Revel and R. Soloveichik, R. Selmanovitz was one of the chief advocates of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik taking his father's position. R. Selmanovitz was also a Gerrer chassid who was close to the Gerrer rebbe, the Imrei Emes, to the point that the rebbe asked R. Selmanovitz to serve as the Gerrer rebbe in America.

Penkower writes (p. 152):

Selmanovitz quickly became the head of the Gerer community there [in Williamsburg]. His ties to the rebbe at that time, Abraham Mordechai Alter (the "Imrei Emes"), had begun when he had been a boy studying in the Gur yeshivah in Warsaw. Abraham's bed in the dormitory was next to that of the young Alter, eldest son of Judah Leib... Once the latter [the Imrei Emes] became rebbe, he gave Gur Hasidim a dynamic, organized framework of schools and organizations, even while exploring the possibility of moving with his followers to Palestine. Like Torah chieftains Jacob Willowski (Ridbaz) and Israel Meir ha-Kohen (Hafetz Hayyim), Alter saw little hope forOrthodoxy in the United States. He requested Selmanovitz to care for the small contingent, perhaps 10, of Gerer Hasidim there; family members recall Selmanovitz refusing the role of Gerer Rebbe in America, saying that one must be born to the position rather than be appointed.

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