Facing the truths of history
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In its 24 Teves 5754 issue, the English edition of the Yated Ne’eman published a brief biography of Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler by one of his most devoted disciples in commemoration of the fortieth yahrtzeit of that great twentieth century Jewish leader. In the course of describing R. Dessler’s childhood, the author included a section entitled “Torah Im Derech Eretz—Kelm Style” where he discussed some of the influences to which “little Elia Laizer” was exposed as a young boy. His father, R. Reuven Dov Dessler, was a student of R. Simh. ah Zissel Ziv who, in turn, was a student of R. Yisrael Salanter. In keeping with R. Yisrael’s desire to create Torah institutions which would inspire “ba’alei batim filled with Torah and mussar,” R. Simh. ah Zissel founded a yeshiva in Grobin which included the teaching of Russian language, history, geography and other secular studies as part of its formal curriculum, in addition, of course, to traditional Jewish texts. He felt that “ba’alei batim” would need to know more than “Torah and mussar” in order to be successful. R. Reuven Dov studied in this yeshiva as a young boy, internalized its values even as he became an affluent businessman, and was intent upon transmitting them to his own son. During his childhood years, Rabbi Dessler was taught at home and, wrote the author of this article, “true to the principles of his rebbe, R’ Simcha Zissel, the boy’s father included general studies in the curriculum. Among these were some classics of world literature in Russian translation. One of them (so Rabbi Dessler told me) was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The reason for this choice is not far to seek.”1 (from Introduction)
Schacter, J. J. (1998-1999). Facing the truths of history. Torah U-Madda Journal, 8, 200-276.
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