Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chafetz Chaim obit in NY Times: a Tale of Research and Results

A couple of people forwarded me the following email, and I think it bears posting:

I wanted to share the following with you:

About a year ago I heard a shiur in which reference was made to the Chofetz Chaim and Shmiras Halashon. The Baal Darshin mentioned the well-known fact that the Chofetz Chaim lost his hearing later in life and said "And he lived a very long life! According to the New York Times, he lived until 105!" The reference to this newspaper intrigued me - I was unsure if he was simply using the newspaper's name in jest or if the New York Times actually published an obituary for the Chofetz Chaim.

It crossed my mind again this Elul with the Chofetz Chaim's 73rd yohrtzeit. (The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation hosted a brilliant nation-wide conference-call evening of shiurim. The participating rabbonim ranged in subject from Hilchos Shmiras Halashon to Inyonei D'Yoma to aprapos Elul mussar.)

My interest was piqued and I decided to visit the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, known for its vast research facilities: I wanted to see this obituary.

The search began with an alphabetical index of the NYT Obituaries in the Reference Department. I thought to look under "K" for Kagan. According to Artscroll and other American-based publications, The Chofetz Chaim is always refered to as Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan. ('Kagan' being a derivative of 'Kohen' often used by Lithuanian and/or Polish jews). There was nothing under Kagan in the indicies, so I went to the Microfiche department in the back corner of the library's ground floor. I knew the civil date of death was Friday, September 15, 1933 (corresponding to the yiddish date: Elul 24, 5693) and searched the drawers of NYT microfiche for this date and the week that followed - how soon would a New York newspaper report on the death of a jewish rabbi in Radin?

Attached you will see my findings.

In addition to the feeling of accomplishment one feels in achieving a 'goal,' I was very inspired when reading the small article. I think it speaks volumes to see how a non-jewish publication in 1933 America reported in such a dignified fashion on the life of a eminent tzaddik and gadol ha'dor.


I don't know who this originates from, but I like the idea; discovering the problem and doing the research and uncovering gold.

(click below to enlarge and read or download as a PDF)

EDIT: I am pleased to be able to attribute this to Avigayil Meyer who notes that this research was hers and the email begun by her.

The research and letter above was done by ME! I sent the e-mail out to a couple of friends and now I see it all over the Internet without credit. Please post THIS response and spread worldwide. Credit should be given where credit is due!

Well done, Ms Meyer!

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