MOSHE SHMUEL GLASNER (1856-1924)
Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner of Klausenburg (Cluj) in Rumania, was one of the outstanding Torah authorities of SouthEast Europe during the last, and at the beginning of the current, century. He was born in Budapest (Hungary) in 1856 (I Adar 21, 5616) into a rabbinic family. His father, Avraham Glasner, who later became the rabbi of the city of Klausenburg, was a grandson by marriage of the world renowned Gaon, the Hatam Sofer.
Moshe Shmuel studied mainly under his father and already in his early youth gained a reputation as a brilliant Talmudist. He spent but a few months at Pressburg, during the last days of the author of Ktav Sofer, Rabbi Abraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer.
In the introduction to his main Halakhic work, "Dor Revi'ee1 he writes:
In 1877, at the age of fifty-two, Rabbi Avraham passed away and Moshe Shmuel was elected to take his place. He was then only twenty-one years old and he served his community continuously for a period of forty-four years.
In 1921 he resigned his rabbinical position in Klausenburg to fulfill his lifelong desire: he settled in Eretz Israel. He established his home in Jerusalem where he passed away suddenly on Shemini Atzeret 1924, while participating in the joyous Hakafot rites.2
Rabbi Moshe Shmuel was unique not only as a scholar but also as a "man of practical work" ( "Baal Maasseh").
He developed an original way of Torah study and interpretation. He showed, by pinpointing the original source of each Halakhah, how clarification can be brought into most complicated matters. This approach is evident in all his works. 3 He advocated a return to the way of study of the Rishonim (scholars before 1500 C. E.) "whose way was to explain with crystal clearness, to examine, to search for truth without any respect for any person" (Introduction to Dor Revi'ee). He objected strongly to the tendency to introduce pilpulistic reasoning in matters of Halakhah: (1) "For Pilpul is as far from the path of wisdom as East is from West" (ibidem); (2) He considered pilpul "a weakness developed in the Galut during whose millennia of persecutions and migrations our capacity for straight thinking had been wellnigh destroyed." In this respect he followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, the Hatam Sofer:
The Talmudic saying 4 "The Torah returns to its inn" (is hereditary in the scholar's family) was vividly manifested in him. His contemporaries applied to him the time-hallowed saw: "Mimoshe ad Moshe Lo Kam K'Moshe," i.e., from the time of Rabbi Moshe, the Hatam Sofer, his great-grandfather, to the days of Rabbi Moshe (Shmuel), there was no other Talmudical scholar who could have been compared to Moshe, the Hatam Sofer.
In the field of "Maasseh," Rabbi Moshe Shmuel showed exceptional initiative and courage. He preached and practiced in exemplary manner "Ahavat Torah, (Love of Torah"), "Ahavat Yisrael, (Love of Israel, the people)" and "Ahavat Eretz Yisrael, (Love of the Land of Israel)." As to Ahavat Torah: (Love of Torah"), "Ahavat Yisrael, (Love of Israel, the people)" and "Ahavat Eretz Yisrael, (Love of the Land of Israel)."
As to Ahavat Torah: He established and headed a Yeshivah in his community and devoted his time and energy to its develop went. His personal care for every one of his students contributed greatly to the fact that his Yeshivah became widely known for its high standard of learning. Many distinguished scholars, now holding rabbinical positions in Europe, Israel and in the United States, are former students of this Yeshivah.5
Ahavat Yisrael: He was devoted to the people of his community in particular and to the Jewish people everywhere. He constantly cared for the needy and the unfortunate. He initiated the movement for a Jewish hospital in his city.
As to Ahavat Eretz Yisrael: He firmly believed that the highest level, if not the very existence, of the Jews as a people of God and Torah can be maintained only in Eretz Yisrael; that both, the people of Israel and the land of Israel, are indivisible. Hence he became a leading member of the Religious Zionist movement (Mizrachi). On many occasions he proclaimed that the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael "depends upon the classic spirit of the Yeshivot of Shem v'Ever, (the patriarchal Semitic Academies), the unshakable faith and endless devotion of Joshua ben Nun and Kaleb ben Yefune."
He remained unmoved by the strong objection to his new affiliation which his colleagues in the Orthodox rabbinate exhibited. His espousal of the Mizrachi cause made a profound impression on all of Hungarian Jewry.
After the first World War, when Transsylvania became part of Roumania, Rabbi Glasner's communal and national work assumed wider scope. His perception of political realities made him appreciate the profound changes in the contemporary Jewish world and hence he threw himself with all his energy into Zionist work. He held that the Balfour Declaration and the new European scene imposed upon the Jews the obligation to act as a unit and to protect themselves. The situation in Transsylvania encouraged his project. He became the leader of Zionism in his country and labored in every sphere of activity. In 1921 he represented the Mizrachi at the World Congress in Carlsbad; he undertook many a trip on its behalf.
He had resigned his rabbinical position to settle in Eretz Yisrael. But even there he could not stay idle. In Jerusalem he continued his work by participating in various activities. He associated himself enthusiastically with the work for the religious settlements, then in its infancy. Rabbi Maimon describes how, gazing upon the wholesome farmers whom the sun of the Holy Land had tanned, Rav Glasner exclaimed: "It is for such human material that we have prayed: Jews attached to the soil, upheld by strong, natural national sentiment, free from doubt or bored disillusionment. These are the types of my brethren whom I love to meet. Blessed be the Lord Who bestowed that boon upon me."s
He shared the Mizrachi's educational endeavors and taught Talmud to the top class of its Teachers' Training College in Jerusalem. From the day of his arrival in the Holy City an ever more intimate friendship tied him to Rav Kook, with whom he cooperated in the solution of Halakhic problems.
In the introduction to "Dor Revi'ee," Rabbi Glasner explains his approach to the study of Halakhah in the following words:
The following may serve as an example of his approach:
The Talmud' rules: "The Written Law (Torah Shebiktav) may not be recited from memory and the Oral Law (Torah Shebe-al Peh) may not be recited from a written text."
Rabbi Moshe Shmuel offers the following explanation for the prohibition to write down the Oral Law:
"Its purpose was to permit the Torah authorities of later generations to interpret the Torah and thus to contribute new ideas and thoughts to the field of Rabbinics. The prohibition, then, served the purpose of developing the Torah constantly and preventing its being confined to a written text; had the oral Torah been written, further interpretation would have ceased, because we would have been bound to the written text."
Thus he explains also the problem of Prophecy.
Our sages said" that the difference between Moses and other prophets in this respect was that the other prophets spoke in His name: "Koh amar Hashem - Thus said the Lord" (a general term), whereas Moses proclaimed: "Koh amar" and "zeh devar" both, "thus" and "this" and "zeh devar Hashem (This is the word of the Lord)." Rabbi Moshe Shmuel explains that Moses received a clear detailed task to convey, while other prophets had but the story or contents of their vision. The instruction Moses received in the Oral Torah consisted of the contents of Halakhah; he was allowed the freedom of applying his own reasoning and interpretative powers. This in turn gave Torah authorities of following generations the same privilege: application of principle or precedent to new conditions.
Rabbi Glasner reinforced this argument through another Talmudical saying: "At first Moses used to study the Torah and forget it until it was presented to him as a gift." He observes that God's original intention was to convey to Moses every Halakhah in its final form without any changes. However, He foresaw the possibility of Moses' forgetting it, hence He changed His original plan"s and instructed him only in the rules of interpreting the Torah (Middot ha-Torah) and granted him the right to apply his own reasoning.
Another example of his approach concerns the laws about Shemittah (the seventh year of the Sabbath of the land), one of the most complicated halakhic problems.
With the first Aliyah the problem arose as to whether the law of Shemittah, the obligation to let the land lie fallow every seventh year, was for our times (after the destruction of the holy temple of Jerusalem) biblical or rabbinic. The greatest Torah authorities wrestled with it. The gist of this question centered around whether Shemittah being in our time merely a rabbinic ordinance, would hence permit a sale of the land through Shtar Mekhirah to a nonJew. If its validity was biblical, a formal sales contract would be questionable. Rabbi Glasner offered a simple, original answer:
The Mitzvah of Shemitah, he argued, is linked together with the promise:10 "And 1 will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year and it shall bring forth produce for the three years." Since we do not witness the realization of this promise in our times (the law being conditional), the exemption of Shemittah is selfevident.
His attitude towards the problems of our time is expressed in his book "Zionism in the Light of Religion," published in 1920. Its central point is the sovereignty of the Torah based on the national existence of the Jewish people on its own soil, the indispensible condition for its natural wholesome development both, physical and spiritual.
He opposed the orthodox community in Hungary which in its struggle against religious reform "stressed only the eternality of the unchangeable Law without sufficiently emphasizing the dangers of assimilationist trends," which the will to national existence opposes with full force. The orthodox group would not assert that the national hope and faith in the Restoration of Zion alone represented the preserving power of Jewish life in the Golah. Rav Glasner took his uncompromising stand: "The very laws of the Torah testify to their national character, the very order of the Mitzvot represent a system of national foundations." He was first among the great Torah authorities to recognize the need for a new basic emphasis in Jewish thought: towards the return of an independent Jewish government in Israel. At the 12th Zionist Congress in Carlsbad he urged the restoration of the Sanhedrin. To him Law and Zionism are meant to forge the people and the land into organic unity.
With regard to the grave cultural problem (Kulturproblem) in Zionism he held that the Mizrachi, as its religious partner, ought to inspire the whole movement with the brightness of TorahJudaism. To deprive Zionism of spiritual endeavor would mean to "destroy its soul while the body still exists." One cannot build up Israel without faith, or dynamic spiritual effort. Whatever will make Israel flourish, every productive enterprise possesses "a quality of sanctity."
As with Halakhah, Rabbi Glasner developed a unique way of interpretation in Agadah. The following example may serve:
When we ponder this verse, we ask ourselves: why should other peoples when they hear about our Mitzvot say that we are wise and understanding? What kind of qualities will they discover in the Mitzvot which will elicit such statement? He explains it thus : 12
By observing the Mitzvot we will acquire two unique qualities: "Sur Mera," to refrain from doing evil (from what the Torah forbids), and "Asseh Tov," (to employ zeal and zest in) doing what the Torah tells us to do. These two qualities are normally contradictory. He that possesses the power to refrain, does not possess the power of zeal. However, our people by complying with the Torah demonstrate the ability of harmonizing the two seemingly opposite qualities. Therefore the peoples will praise us and they will say: "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."
He was greatly concerned when the trend of assimilation grew among the Jews of Hungary. He never missed an opportunity to caution against it. He used to emphasize that Jewish identity must be preserved under all circumstances.It is interesting to quote his interpretation of the verse --- "And Israel bowed down upon the bed's head."13 According to Rashi, Jacob expressed his thanks to God, "that he did not find any blemish among his children and that none of them were wicked."
The question here is obvious: What prompted Jacob to express his gratitude to God at this point?
Rabbi Glasner explains it thus:
"Jacob realized the hardship that he would bring upon his son, Joseph, by pleading that he should not bury him in Egypt. Joseph occupied the second highest position in Egypt and would be placed in a difficult position if he violated the sentiment of the Egyptian people by taking his father's body out of the country into Israel. But Joseph's answer: "I shall do as you say" and his oath which solidified his pledge, showed Jacob that he was ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of his Jewish identity. Therefore, he thanked God that all his children maintained their loyalty to God and to the House of Jacob."
His partriarchal figure, his smiling face, crowned by a snowwhite beard, have remained indelibly engraved in the heart of countless folks. His parting words are quoted with mingled pride and pain by the few survivors of his flock. He blessed them as they crowded around him just before his departure for the Holy Land and pleaded: "As I am leaving you forever - for I know I will not return hither - I would wish that you follow me. Come in masses to the land of our fathers! Come as long as it is possible to do so, for at the time when you will want to come, it may be too late!"
Most of his congregation perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. His bitter, ceaseless, painful, battles with the Torahtrue colleagues and groups who assailed him for his views; his bold espousal of Mizrachi program and attitude, his infinite love for every child of his people crown this prince of the Torah with imperishable glory.
1"Dor Revi'ee" (1921) contains a commentary and novellae on Tractate Hullin. In his introduction to this work he explains that because he was the first of the fourth generation of the Hatam Sofer, he called this work "Dor Revi'ee" (Fourth Generation.)
2His son, Rabbi Akiba, succeeded him and headed the Kehillah of Klausenburg up to 1945, when he was deported to a Nazi concentration camp, together with his community. He later resided in Zuerich (Switzerland) where he passed away in 1956. His remains were taken to Israel and brought to rest in the city of Jerusalem, the resting place of his father.
3He published the following works: "Or Bahir" (1908) on the laws of purity and Mikvaot; "Halakhah I'Moshe" (1908) on Shehitah; "Makor Davar" (1908) on Mixed and Civil Marriages; "Shevive Esh" (1903) Agadic interpretations; "Dor Revi'ee", and a number of pamphlets on different subjects. His unpublished works and responsa were destroyed during the dark days of World War Il.
4B. Metzia. 85a.
5His first published work ("Shevive Esh --- Sparks of Fire")
was edited and published by the student body of his Yeshivah.
6J.L. Maimon, History of Mizrachi, 132.