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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

KISVEI YAD as published in Inspiration Magazine


“It’s an incredible level of Torah learning, a rare and precious opportunity to meshamesh –serve- talmidie chachamim – real gedolei HaTorah – of a previous generation. Through making a gadol’s work available to the public, I will have no choice but to become his talmid, immersing myself in his derech halimud, and become intimately familiar with his shitos through an in-depth study of all of his other works, whether published or not. Only after such intensive preparation am I able to start preparing the gadol’s manuscript for publication.” 

Rabbi Dov Shorr* (*footnote; assumed name) is one of many talented avreichim devoted to making manuscripts written by gedolim of previous generations available to the talmidei chachamim of today. It is a labor of love; no one could possibly fathom the endless hours of work involved in making sure that the Torah is transcribed and edited properly, so that generations of talmidei chachamim will be able to easily take advantage of it in the future.

“Everything – every source, every reference - must be checked and rechecked. After all, each time I sit down to work, it is as though I am preparing a shiur for the thousands upon thousands of talmidei chachamim who will be learning my Rebbe’s Torah as well as generations of roshei yeshivos who will use these seforim constantly to prepare their shiurim.”

When Rabbi Schorr speaks about his avodas kodesh, he radiates energy and excitement – the excitement of discovering hidden diamonds, polishing them to make their clarity and perfection evident and then placing them in a proper setting to allow others to partake of their beauty.

Over a decade ago Rabbi Schorr spent several years editing the manuscripts of a rosh yeshiva that had lived in the previous century. This rosh yeshiva was a descendant of Rav Chaim Volozhner, and considered one of the greatest gedolim of his generation. Among his kesavim was a Kuntres of chidushim on masechtas Nedarim. Written one piece at a time, many of these kesavim concluded with the words, “continued on the binding of the Gemora.” But no one had a clue as to what had happened to this Gemora that held the key to so many of the Rav’s chidushim.

Eventually, another search was made of the attic where the kesavim were originally found. A pile of old seforim, infested with worms and damaged from dampness, was discovered in a forgotten corner. Among those seforim were the Gemora covers that the Rav had constantly referred to. A diamond had been found.

Buy the seforim were riddled with holes, much of the writing had faded, and in many places they were badly torn. Since paper was so expensive, the Rav had crowded in as many words as possible, so that the lines were overlapping and sometimes even continued upside-down. Obviously, only a person completely familiar with the sugia, as well as the Rav’s style of limud and his handwriting could decipher such a work.
And many – if not most - thought that even then it would be impossible.

A famous rosh yeshiva observed Rabbi Schorr as he worked his way through this Gemora cover.  Surrounded by countless open seforim, checking and rechecking references to be sure that the seemingly illegible manuscript was being transcribed correctly, the rosh yeshiva watched in amazement as the pieces of a giant presumably impossible puzzle were slowly put together. It was not long before the Rosh Yeshiva started repeating over and over, “This is mamash techiyas hameisim. Torah that would have been lost for generations is being redeemed.”

And thus a diamond is polished, revealing its full brilliance.


Today, there exists a variety of institutes publishing Judaic manuscripts, each one specializing in its own particular type of research. For example, Machon Yerushalayim, based in the Old City of Jerusalem with branches throughout Israel, traditionally deals with manuscripts written by Acharonim, the later Rabbis. On the other hand, Machon Ofeq, located in Cleveland,Ohio, specializes almost exclusively in Rishonim, the earlier Rabbis. Machon Beis Aharon Veyisroel of Chassidei Karlin-Stolin specialize in the manuscripts belongingn to the Karliner Rebbe’s extensive collection, as well as works by authors associated with the chassidus. Machon Harav Frank deals exclusively with the writings of Rav Zvi Pesach Frank. Machon Mishnas Rebbe Aharon was originally founded to publish the writings of Rav Aharon Kotler.


One of the few American based institues is Machon Mishnas Rebbi Aharon, located in Lakewood, New Jersey. It  was founded at the behest of Rav Shneur Kotler, just a few months before he passed away. Originally established to bring Rav Aharon Kotler’s manuscripts to light, the Machon has expanded to become a major disseminator of important Torah works that would otherwise be lost to the world’s talmidei chachamim.

 “Before Rav Shneur traveled to Boston for treatment,” says Rav Tzvi Rotberg, director of the Machon, “he spoke to both Reb Meir Schick, director of the RJJ Yeshiva Network, and myself, requesting that we take over his avodas kodesh of preparing his father’s manuscripts for publication. That was the beginning of our Machon. I was in charge of the actual publication, while Reb Meir took upon himself the initial financial burden.”

Rav Shneur wrote the preface to the first volume of his father’s maamorim just two weeks before he passed away. The Machon rushed to finish the volume, and three days before his petira, they were able to hand Rav Shneur the completed work. “I will never forget Rav Shneur’s expression,” says Rav Rotberg. “The Rosh Yeshiva was elated and held this sefer tightly in his hands constantly for the next three days, until he was niftar.

 “Today, Rav Aharon’s seforim are learned by almost all yeshivaleit throughout the world,” says Rav Rotberg. “Through preparing these manuscripts for publication, we have opened up wellsprings of Torah that would have remained sealed. Now it is accessible to every talmid chacham.”

Truly a ‘techiyas hameisim, rujuvenation of the dead.

Rav Aharon valued his manuscripts, and during the course of his travels from Europe to the United States, he never allowed them to leave his presence. In April 1941, Rav Aharon was given special permission by President Roosevelt to enter the United States. Involved in his work for klal Yisroel, he almost missed the boat. By the time he was ready to board, the ship’s gangplank had been pulled up.

The captain dropped Rav Aharon a rope ladder, and Vaad Hatzala’s representative, Mr. Frank Newman, took the boxes of Rav Aharon’s manuscripts and carried them up the ladder into the ship. Although Rav Aharon was in his fifties, he raced up the rope ladder like a young man in his prime. After all, how could he allow such precious diamonds out of his sight?

By the time Rav Aharon passed away, his writings consisted of close to fifty notebooks and hundreds upon hundreds of loose sheets that had been written over a span of fifty years. The oldest notebook was written in 1912, while Rav Aharon was still a bochur in the Slobodka Yeshiva. Throughout his lifetime, Rav Aharon added to his original shiurim in whatever notebook he was using at the time. As a result, each of his notebooks contained a variety of shiurim on diverse mesechtos, as well as short divrei Torah on a broad range of unrelated topics.

Obviously, even before preparing the manuscripts for publication, Machon Mishnas Rebbi Aharon had to meticulously catalogue them according to Masechta and topic. Thanks to the painstaking work of scores of dedicated talmidei chachamim, generations of Bnei Torah are now enriched with the fourteen volumes of Halacha and four volumes of mussar and machshava that have been culled from Rav Aharon’s manuscripts and taped shiurim.


Since its inception, the Machon has branched out to publish the manuscripts of Rav Shneur, chidushei Torah of outstanding contemporary talmidei chachamim as well as important works of different Rishonim and Achronim, some of which have already been published, but with gross inaccuracies, while others are now being published for the very first time. “We are opening up untouched territories: the Rash on Zaroim, early Rishonim, even baalei Tosfos,” says Rabbi Rotberg.

How is it possible that published works can contain inaccuracies?

“The printers often had only one copy of a manuscript available,” explains Rabbi Dovid Shapiro, an editor of kisvei yad, “and many times that was not the most authoritative manuscript available.  Sometimes, you can even find cases of the printers stating their own ideas as though it was a part of the actual manuscript, or more commonly, they would  misinterpret the author’s abbreviations. Today, with the help of microfilms, we are able to compare different manuscripts found in libraries throughout the world and use the most accurate ones available.”

Rabbi Shapiro is one of the scholars at Machon Mishnas Rebbi Aharon that is working on a producing new edition of mishnayos Zaraim. This publication will contain an improved edition of the Rash (*footnote Rabbi Shimon of Shantz, one of the early baalei tosfos) as well of chiddushim written by the avreichim studing in the Lakewood Kollel. 

“At the conclusion of the Rash’s perush on Masechtos Zaraim,” explains Rabbi Shapiro, “the printers of the first edition of the Gemara (printed in 1520) wrote: ‘Because of the rarity of Rabbeinu Shimshon’s commentary – may his soul rest in Gan Eden – there was only one copy of the manuscript in our possession. It would therefore be impossible not to find various errors and every Torah scholar should correct the errors that he finds.’

“So in this case,” continues Rabbi Shapiro, “the printers themselves admitted that there were mistakes. The fact is that the Rash is such a difficult perush to understand is partly due to the fact that it is, indeed, full of errors. For that reason, the Machon is publishing a new edition based on a different manuscript, found in the national library of Paris, as well as a careful study of the Rash and his sources and of those later authorities who quote and explain the Rash.

“Another example of a published sefer that was full of mistakes would be the Chasam Sofer on Shulchan Aruch. It was published posthumously and it is quite obvious that the printers had great difficulty interpreting the Chasam Sofer’s handwriting, and that they did not take the time to properly learn the material they were printing.

“In Aruch Chaim 89, for example, halachos tefilla, there is a lengthy discussion about the length of a mil, which has a direct bearing on when one can start davening. But anyone learning this in carefully will realize that it doesn’t seem to make sense. The Chasam Sofer, for example, refers to the Gemara in Mesechtos Pesachim (46a) that says that a mil is the distance between Tiveria and Migdal Nunya, and then says, “look in the Ran.” But there is no Ran on that Gemora nor is there any other Ran discussing this subject!.

“But in the Chiddushei Chasam Sofer, Masechtos Shabbos (35a), the Chasam Sofer writes, ‘Here I will copy what I have written next to the Magen Avraham simon 89,’ and then proceeds to quote the entire piece that was printed in the Aruch Chaim, but this time without the printer’s errors. In the above example, the Chasam Sofer had quoted himself as saying ‘yiduin hen,’  ‘they are known,’ rather than ‘ayin b’Ran,’ ‘look in the Ran.’ This is just one of many such printing mistakes, and of course once they were corrected, the Chasam Sofer made a lot of sense.

“Although this is only one small example,” concludes Rabbi Shapiro, “it demonstrates the importance of the Machon’s work, as well as some of the difficulties that the Machon is facing. We are not trying to mechadesh anything (although occasionally we do, and that is a side benefit), but we are trying to make sure that our Rebbe’s published words are as true to the original and as clear as possible.”


Being a woman, it is, of course, difficult for me speak about the importance of limud Hatorah and the mesora. Since I never “shteiged in learning,” I cannot speak from personal experience. Learning Torah is not my purpose in this world.

But what I do know is that in all aspects of life, when a person takes a step forward, he must make sure that his feet are firmly on the ground, otherwise he might just end up falling flat on his face. I would imagine that it is the same with limud HaTorah; and that in order to mechadesh properly, one must have a deep and thorough knowledge of what the gedolim of the previous generation had to say on the subject.

The chain of mesoras is both our foundation and our future. Through assuring that the chain is accurate, we are giving all future generations a very precious gift; a solid foundation to build on. I am sure that the avodas kodesh of those involved in kisvei yad has a place in creating that foundation, and in strengthening limud Hatorah in general. And as we all know, “The study of Torah is equivalent to them all.”

The author would like to thank Rabbi Tzvi Rotberg, director of Machon Mishnas Rebbi Aharon and Rabbi Dovid Shapiro, the author’s husband, for their help in preparing and reviewing this article. 

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