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Friday, February 21, 2020

As we await the celebration of the Siyum HaShas on January 1 (4 Teves), there is a palpable excitement about beginning the next Daf HaYomi cycle (Hadran alach) with the learning of Maseches Brachos.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Halacha shiurim on Maseches Brachos have been widely published and disseminated in the last 15 to 20 years. However, there is a hidden jewel of shiurim on Brachos from the Rav that is not well known and not readily accessible, namely, his shiurim on Aggadeta, presented in Yiddish, which will now be available in a new setting and format.

Those who were privileged to hear shiurim directly from the Rav are well aware of the convergence of his various and unique talents. Of course, there was the mastery of the topic at hand and the particular sugya, the pedagogic skills (the consummate melamed), the charismatic presentation and the facility of language. When reviewing his shiurim indirectly through a medium, whether through an oral or written format, one can still capture the “Torah” despite losing the impact of the Rav’s presentational skills. However, when it comes to his shiurim on Aggadeta, when the Rav’s presentation is missing, given the different nature of Aggadeta, the essence of the shiur will be lost.

Aggadeta, or Aggadah, is the exposition or expanding of Gemara texts that incorporates moral exhortations, faith, wisdom, ethics and practical advice. The Rav himself explained that some Aggadah is very difficult to fully understand while others are readily understood, rich and deep in meaning, like “silver strands wrapped over apples of gold,” borrowing from the Rambam’s general description of Torah.

As is known, most of the Rav’s shiurim, especially before 1960, when he began using English for his YU shiurim, were given in Yiddish. His extensive shiurim on Brachos, both in Halacha and Aggadeta, that were given in the Moriah shul on the Upper West Side during the 1950s and early ‘60s were all delivered in Yiddish. While the Rav’s written and oral language skills in English and Hebrew were clearly apparent and well documented, Yiddish was his mame loshon (mother tongue). These Aggadeta shiurim on Brachos focusing on the first 35 blatt particularly lend themselves to the Rav’s unique combination of abilities.

A chaburah (group setting) is being organized under the auspices of the Congregation Bnai Yeshurun Adult Education committee that will gather on a monthly basis to listen to the original audio files of these Aggadeta shiurim in Yiddish. I will introduce the first chaburah gathering, scheduled for January 7 (10 Teves) at 8:15 p.m., by briefly reviewing the actual piece of Aggadeta prior to listening to the shiur and then pausing occasionally to clarify ideas and concepts presented by the Rav. Sol Rosenberg has worked on the original files that were obtained and was able to significantly improve their audio quality.

It is recommended that participants have some basic Yiddish skills to appreciate the shiur. While walk-ins are encouraged, to reserve a “seat at the table” please contact Sol Rosenberg at [email protected] or David Chesir at [email protected].

By Rabbi Tuly Polak