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Posek for a World at War

Eliyahu Ackerman

Who was the dayan of Brisk, referred to by Rav Chaim Brisker in his writings as “my good friend, Rav S.Z.”? Rav Simcha Zelig Riger Hy”d left none of his own seforim as a legacy, but as an integral part of Brisk and confidant of the Soloveitchik gedolim of prewar Europe, his name continues to be venerated as a remarkable halachic arbiter and a rav dedicated to his people until the end. His grandson, Rav Chaim Ber Gulevsky, shares his memories of the zeideh he left when he fled Europe for safer shores.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

posek during the warBoro Park, the corner of 46th Street and 18th Avenue

Outside, an evening wind rustles the treetops as another ordinary weeknight descends upon Brooklyn. But as we cross the threshold of the Gulevsky home, we are drawn into a different era and days long passed. Indeed, even after decades of living in America, Rav Chaim Ber Gulevsky has remained an old-time Brisker. He has retained his asceticism, his disdain for the vanities of this world, and the sharpness and incisiveness that characterized the Torah scholars of Brisk.

Rav Chaim Ber Gulevsky turns out to be like fine wine that grows better as it ages, as his vitality and drive fill the room. And on the wall across from him hangs a picture of his revered grandfather and inspiration, Rabbi Simcha Zelig Riger Hy”d, the chief halachic authority of the town of Brisk.

I am accompanying Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller, researcher and author of The House of Brisk and Yeshivas Chevron, who is now in the middle of his newest research project: after having published a four-volume sweeping biography of the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, he is now putting together a definitive biographical work surrounding the life of his father, Rav Chaim HaLevi of Brisk. Such a project wouldn’t be complete without including the illustrious personalities associated with Brisk at the time, and if there is anyone today closely related to those personalities, leave it to Rav Meller to ferret them out. So when he discovered that the grandson of Rav Simcha Zelig Riger, the dayan of Brisk, was alive and well in Brooklyn, he wasted no time paying him a visit.

Rabbi Chaim Gulevsky has spent decades disseminating Torah, authoring seforim, and teaching students. In addition, he possesses a vast store of incredible memories relating to the gedolei Torah and the prewar yeshivah world.

Rav Gulevsky is a contemporary of the rosh yeshivah of Brisk, Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, and he was a childhood friend of many members of the Soloveitchik family. They grew up together; they were the children of the rav, while he was the grandson of the dayan. With the outbreak of World War II, Rav Gulevksy fled from Brisk to Vilna, where he joined the students of the Mir Yeshivah on their historic flight to Shanghai. After the war, he settled in New York, where he raised a family of Torah scholars who continue to be a credit to his holy grandfather.



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