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An Extraordinary Housewife

Machla Abramovitz

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

flower“Everything said about my father is a tribute to my mother,” the renowned mechaneches Carmella Nussbaum declared. “The Torah within my father could not have been there if not for her. She created a tranquil home where learning Torah was foremost.  She never asked my father for anything else.” It was this profound relationship that Rebbetzin Alte Chaya Hirschsprung a”h, shared with her husband, HaGaon HaRav Pinchas Hirschsprung ztz”l, and which her children believe best defines the woman she was.

Rebbetzin Hirschsprung’s petirah four days before Purim was sudden and unexpected. Along with it came an abrupt end to a unique era in the history of the Montreal Jewish community. For 64 years the Hirschsprungs dominated the city’s spiritual life. As Chief Rabbi of Canada, av beis din of MontrSaveeal’s Va’ad Ha’ir, and head of Bais Yaakov D’Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung — so named after his petirah — Rav Hirschsprung’s brilliance and kindness acted as a spiritual compass quietly directing these institutions and, through them, the greater community at large. 

The shivah house was packed with men and women from all walks of life — chassidish, litvish, modern Orthodox, non-religious, non-Jewish — a tribute to the Hirschsprungs’ acceptance of all people, one of the Rav and Rebbetzin’s hallmark traits. They all came to pay their respects to the memory of the Rebbetzin, a woman who had not only stood by her husband for 50 years, but who — for the last 14 years, since the Rav’s petirah, through the sheer force of her sterling middos — had quietly kept his legacy alive. 

“My mother was an “eshes chaver k’chaver,” Carmella continued. “Despite their many differences — for example, my mother had a joie de vivre and loved beautiful things while my father did not care at all about such things — they were on the same page when it came to what mattered: my father’s abiding love of limud Torah, and their mutual, exceptional commitment to hachnassas orchim. My mother would often tell us, ‘In some families it’s the children who come first. In our family, it’s the husband who comes first.’ ”

According to their son, Reb Yitzchak Hirschsprung, whenever his parents traveled, his father needed only worry about which Gemara to take along. His mother would take care of everything else. “My mother never allowed my father to open up a fridge or make himself a cup of tea,” he said. “At the age of 40 she learned how to drive because she felt it was not bekavodig for her husband to take a bus. Later on, she did not want to matriach his talmidim to give him lifts.”

“The greatest compliment my mother felt she ever received,” Carmella interjected, “was when a man told my father ‘Your wife lets you learn.’ ”


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