Sunday, September 04, 2005

Of Luhot and Tau'yot: Memories of Rabbi Moshe Besdin

Many years ago, when I was in my first year in my first congregation in Long Island City (Queens), I had a very special adviser for my sermons. He was the late, sainted, R. Moshe Besdin זצ"ל. Now I never went to JSS (which he founded as the first school for Ba'ale Teshuva), and so had never been previously exposed to him. In fact, I'm not even sure if we were ever formally introduced and for a long time I'm pretty sure he didn't know my name. I was in my second year of Semikha at YU (I"d received my first Semikha the previous Tishre from Rav Gedaliah Felder זצ"ל. I would never have had the temerity to take a shul otherwise.)

He had heard that I weas a young Rav starting out, and he just sort of appeared at my table one Friday Morning before SR (i.e. Supplementary Rabbinics. Does that still exist?) and asked what I was going to say on Shabbos. Sometimes I"d thought of something, oftentimes not. He would then offer of his unsurpassed, encyclopedic knowledge of meforshim and his own very incisive sense of parshanut and drush. Rabbi Besdin was a master pedagogue and a master darshan. He did not confine himself to giving pshetlach and wortlach and then call it a day. Oh no. When I would arrive at Kollel Seder the next Sunday afternoon (and Monday morning at the latest), hwe would find me and ask with his impish smile: 'So, what did you say?" At that point, I would have to repeat the sermon from Shabbos and he would tell me his reaction. In Hebrew one would say, איזה בן אדם!

Anyway, I found myself thinking about Rabbi Besdin today for a different reason. He used to love to regale me (and lots of others) with stories from his various rabbinical positions. He once recounted how, when he became the rabbi of Bes Miedrash Gavoha of Washingon Heights (where his major congregant was his rebbe, R. Moshe Soloveitchik זצ"ל), he came to an understanding with the Shammas. 'If you ever pasken a ta'us in a Sefer Torah,' he told the Shammas, 'I"ll throw you out of the shul. And, if you ever ask me what's in the Luach, I'll also throw you out of the shul!' Of course, the basic idea was to preserve the areas of jurisdiction in the shul. However, there was also an implicit assumption that the published Luach is reliable. Today I learned that (as Sportin' Life says), 'It ain't necessarily so.

I have yahrzeit for my father ז"ל on Wednesday, so this morning I received Maftir. After my Aliyah, the gabbai opened the big Koren TaNaKh to I Samuel. He pointed to it and said, 'Mahar Hodesh.' The problem, of course, is that we're in the middle of the seven weeks between Tisha B'Av and Rosh HaShanah when special haftarot of consolation are recited. My problem is, that in situations such as these my memory is not up to snuff. All I recalled was that the din is that the special haftarah trumps 'Mahar Hodesh.' The gabbai dramatically pulled out the Luach of the Chief Rabbinate which stated that the Haftarah is 'Mahar Hodesh,' though some say that one should recite the special one. I was adament and since the heilige luach said that it was a legitimate possibility, he relented (albeit, very unhappily).

After shul, I went home to do my homework. I had remembered the din correctly. What I"d forgotten is that every single major Poseq and Aharon (starting with the Mehabber and the Rema, never mind the GRA whose opinion anyone could have guessed) agrees that the special Haftarah trumps 'Mahar Hodesh.' It's a non-starter. Yet here was the official Luach (which oh so ostentatiously trumpets its status as the guide for 'Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Temanim' ) unilaterally paskening fahrkehrt! I immediately thought of Rabbi Besdin and how if he'd been the Rav of my shul, he'd have had to keep tabs on the Luach too. Some 'hazakos' just don't hold anymore. (Though the overwhelming majority do.)

One thing, though, is certain. If he'd been the Rav, he would have resolved the matter with kindness, ehrlichkeit and menschlichkeit as befits the Talmid Hakham that he was.

11 comments:

settler@zion.org said...

where does the first and last posuk of the Mahar Chodesh reading tacked onto the end of the special "nechamta" reading come from?

Jeffrey said...

It's an attempt to cover all bases.

Nachum said...

And can't be done if you're reading from a klaf.

settler@zion.org said...

then he can make like the cohen gadol on yom kippur and read those two p'sukim by heart :-)
but, seriously, how do the klaf reading folks deal with mincha on Yom Kippur when they read sefer Yona and then read the p'sukim from Micha? I've never been in a klaf reading haftora shul on YK.

Nachum said...

Micha and Yona are in the same sefer, and thus on the same klaf. Micha even follows Nachum.

I believe some communities (Sefaradim or Teimanim) read from a book other than Micha- Chabakuk? In any event, it's also in Trei Asar.

Nachum said...

I also wonder if there'd be an issue when Rosh Chodesh fell on Shabbat during the Shiva D'Nichemta. After all, that's Yishayahu as well- could you roll to the end and read two pesukim?

Jeffrey said...

Look st Orach Hayyim no. 425. Because there's consolation in the Haftarah of RH, the trend is to let it trump the 7dN.

Menachem Butler said...

The Breuer's 'Kehilla' in Washington Heights recited machar chodesh, though the YU main beit medrash did not.

Menachem Butler said...

Regarding Rabbi Moshe Besdin, zt"l, see the four YUdaica articles from the 7th issue of The Commentator.

1) Steve Brizel - It and Not About It
2) Herbert Cohen - The text, Gentlemen. The Text.
3) Shlomo Riskin - The Master Educator
4) Bernhard Rosenberg - The Story of the James Striar School

Anonymous said...

"The Breuer's 'Kehilla' in Washington Heights recited machar chodesh"

Is this another example of what one prominent Rosh Yeshiva at YU calls "the Fourth Reich" doing it their way?

David Polaner said...

I was fortunate to have been a talmid of Rav Besdin zt'l. He had a tremendous influence on me, I suspect more that he realized. His insistance on teaching and learning "it, not about it" has been a lesson that transcended our chumash shiur and has been a guidepost for me in every other academic endevour that I have engaged in.