Sunday, August 20, 2023

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky: Why he erred in thinking the Maharsham was senile

Recently events have caused me to recall an interesting story I heard from Rav Yitzchok Berkowitz. I believe Rav Berkowitz said that this story was told by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky at an Agudah Convention many years ago.

When Rav Yaakov Kaminetseky was a yeshiva bachur he happened to be traveling by train through the city that the Maharsham lived. Being a great admirer of the Maharsham , as well as other gedolim, he decided to take the opportunity to meet with the Maharsham - who at that time was a very old man. He said to himself, "Who knows if I will have another opportunity to meet him."

When he met the Maharsham, he raised a question in Yevamos that had been bothering him for a long time and which he had found no satisfactory answer in the standard commentaries. The Maharsham listened carefully to the question and then said, "You will find the answer in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim." He gave him the precise simon. Rav Yaakov thanked him for the answer and for giving up some of his precious time to talk with him.

As Rav Yaakov was walking back to the train station, he sadly thought to himself. "What a pity such a great man was suffering from senility. How absurd to say that I should look at Orech Chaim for the answer to a complex question from Yevamos. Everybody knows that Orech Chaim doesn't deal with such questions."

The more he thought about the tragedy of the loss of the Maharashm's mind, the more an inner voice struggled to be heard. It said, " If a gadol tells you something - you should take it seriously and don't be so hasty to dismiss it."

In deference to the inner voice he stopped in a beis medrash and looked up the source that the Maharsham had proposed. Much to his astonishment and shame, the source in Orech Chaim did in fact answer the complex question of Yevamos. 

With a feeling of great embarrassment and degradation, he ran back to the Maharasham's house to apologize for his terrible mistake in thinking the Maharasham was senile.

The Maharsham of course greeted him gently and told him not to be so upset about his misjudgment. He told Rav Yaakov to go to his bookcase and take down the first volume of his set of Shulchan Aruch. He then told him to open to the inside cover. There Rav Yaakov saw there was about 100 marks inscribed there. The Maharsham said, "Those marks are the number of times I have fully reviewed the Shulchan Aruch. You should know that even if I had become senile - because of my intimate familiarity with the Shulchan Aruch that has resulted from constant review - I still would have been able to give you the answer to your question.


  1. The maharsham was from brezhan in galitziyah. Known as the 'brezhaner'. He was a shwadron, whose son became the 'maggid of yerushalayim' and mentor of the mohel r pesach krohn, who also calls himself a 'maggid'.

  2. Rabbi Meir of Lublin recounted that in the Maharsham’s old age, when
    he was already sick and no longer left his home, several of the town’s
    important Talmidei Chachamim assembled by the door of his house. There,
    they began a discussion of Halachah among themselves. The noise of
    their conversation reached all the way to the Maharsham’s room, and so
    he called Rabbi Meir, who was a member of his family, and asked him
    what Halachah they were speaking about outside. Rabbi Meir responded,
    “A Halachah on the parts reserved for the Kohanim.” The Maharsham
    straight away replied, “This is specifically dealt with in Darchei
    Moshe, on the Halachot for a Mezuzah, chapter [such and such],
    paragraph [such and such].” He asked that the Tur be brought to him,
    and he immediately pointed out the place where the subject was found.

    To Rabbi Meir’s astonishment, the Maharsham showed him what
    he himself had written in the margin of the Tur: “Today, on [such and
    such a date], I have completed the Tur for the hundredth and first
    time.” The Maharsham added, “The person who studies one hundred and one
    times, it is not surprising that he remembers a particular section of
    Darchei Moshe.”


    The years of his financial support ended with his father-in-law’s petirah, and he returned to his hometown, Zlotochov. Since he refused to assume a rabbanus,
    he worked as a dealer in timber until he was 32 years old. His
    grandchild later said he had heard from his grandfather that in those
    two years as a worker he reviewed the entire Shulchan Aruch 400 times!

  3. Wow! And what about the inner Gemora of M. shabbos 152. , talmidei chacomim kol zman shemazkinin chochmo nitosfos bahen? Close enough to the magic number of 101 peamim!

  4. Grandson. Rav Sholom Schwadron was his grandson.

  5. Correct. The famous maggid, Rav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Schwadron, carried the name of his grandfather, the Maharsham.

  6. Rabbi Krohn is a Maggid in every sense of the word, and is so crowned by all the hundreds of thousands of yidden who listen to his drashos and are inspired by them. He is as much a maggid for our dor as R Sholom was for his. your condescending comment is not appreciated.

  7. I have been at many brissim by r krohn, as well as scholar in residence and lectures (magid) programs.

    My condencension was directed at artscroll.

  8. how long has senility been discussed in Jewish texts? Was there ever a question in the Gemara that chachamim may have become senile? This is different from actually going insane, (eg R Yochanan after he loses Resh Lakish).

  9. I believe the maggid was his great grandson.

  10. Maybe, but it is cute to see the evolution in his book titles, where the "maggid" shifted of time from R' Shvadron to him.

  11. Eddie it is mentioned a number of times in the gemora.

    There is no claim that chachmim don't become senile.

    However I once visited a nursing home in East New York. As I was being shown the sensitive care they gave senile women - the basket weaving, the pasting of pictures, playing ball etc etc - I suddenly realized that there were no men in the group. I asked where the men were - the answer they were busy studying gemora.

  12. The magid was his grandson.

  13. @Eddie
    see Menoches 99.


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