The ultimate characterization of Rabbi Gideon Perl ztz”l who passed away last week, is that he was a close disciple of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook * His great precision in halakha was always accompanied by sensitivity and extreme concern for others * I first met him when he was my teacher in seventh-grade, and from then on until his last days, he accompanied me in my writing of the “Peninei Halakha” series * The comment on the laws of a widow which testified to his extreme sensitivity
Last week, at the age of eighty-one, Rabbi Gideon Perl ztz”l, rabbi of the community Alon Shvut, passed away. Until his last day he eagerly engaged in Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds. On the fourth night of Hanukkah, while asleep, he died peacefully.
As a close disciple of our teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, Rabbi Gideon ztz”l was completely devoted to Torah, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael, and all with great love. He merited to be one of the founders of the community Alon Shvut, and even helped establish the important yeshiva there. He was also very dedicated to the absorption of new immigrants, and was one of the first activists in the absorption of immigrants in Gush Etzion. As the rabbi of Alon Shvut, he took on all rabbinical tasks, bore the burden of the public, managed a gemach (charity fund), and assisted the needy. His house was open at all hours of the day and night to those with questions in halakha. With his cleverness, speed of thought, and understanding of reality, he knew how to connect halakha to life, and was not afraid to deal with difficult questions. He also had the privilege of being a student of our teacher and mentor Rabbi Avraham Shapira ztz”l, and later when Rav Shapira was appointed Chief Rabbi, he assisted him in the work of the Rabbinate.
From the Eulogy of Rabbi Ze’ev Whitman shlita
About five years ago, Rabbi Gideon retired, and Rabbi Ze’ev Whitman shlita replaced him. I will quote from his eulogy. In his opening remarks, he explained that as a man of precise halakha, Rabbi Gideon was meticulous not to eulogize on Hanukkah, but since Rabbi Gideon is a “chacham be’fanav” (a Sage in one’s presence), it is permissible, and even obligatory, to eulogize him.
“Rabbi Gideon was great and wise, not only in Torah, halakha and ruling of Jewish law, but also in marvelous leadership, and noble virtues. As great as his wisdom and magnitude were, so was his modesty, humility, devotion, and actions for Am Yisrael, for Eretz Yisrael, and for the Torah of Israel.”
“Members of the entire community today feel a very great loss, and feel towards Rabbi Gideon an unparalleled sense of immense love and gratitude, for his immeasurable and invaluable contribution to the Alon Shvut community and its image – for the community in general, and for each and every individual.”
“‘These are the matters that a person does them, and enjoys their profits in this world, and nevertheless, the principal exists for him for the World-to-Come, and they are: Honoring one’s father and mother, and acts of loving kindness, early attendance in the House of Study morning and evening, providing hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, participating in the making of a wedding, accompanying the dead to the grave, concentrating on the meaning of prayers, making peace between fellow men and between husband and wife, and the study of Torah is equal to them all’. Our beloved teacher and rabbi exemplified all of these: study of Torah with dedication, diligence and great perseverance. Prayer and attendance in the House of Study every day. Also, giving charity, and making peace between fellow men and between husband and wife, and hospitality, every day. Participating in the making of a wedding, and le’havdil, accompanying the deceased to the grave and attending to, and guiding, the family of the deceased. He did all of these deeds hundreds of times with endless sensitivity, love, and devotion. Talmud Torah and gemilut hasadim, both physically and monetarily, and making peace between people, filled his entire being, and the whole day, of our teacher and rabbi.”
“Everyone gave Rabbi Gideon full confidence, because they knew he was a man who could keep a secret… (consequently, many could seek his advice and guidance even in difficult and complicated circumstances, as they knew he would keep their secret at all costs).”
“Not many people were aware of his courageous halachic rulings, or witnessed how he handled a conversion court and converted hundreds of converts with halakhic meticulousness, with great judicial courage on the one hand, and sensitivity and love of the convert on the other. After having done so, he made sure to register the converts for marriage, married them off, took care of all their wedding needs, and even continued to accompany and assist them after their conversion.”
“Rabbi Gideon saw these conversions as sacred work that prevented assimilation, and prevented mixed couples from living in a situation prohibited by halakha. More than once I told our Rabbi that if for only this one thing, I would long to be in his presence in heaven, of which he is promised.”
Rabbi Whitman shlita went on to say: ” Almost five years ago when I agreed to step into Rabbi Perl’s very large shoes as rabbi of the community, I did so only after consulting with him and receiving his blessing, and only because I knew he would continue to accompany and help me in the numerous matters in which he had already dealt with.”
“Indeed, that was the case – Rabbi Gideon continued to lead the synagogue, and even during the Corona period when we had to leave the synagogues, he did not despair, and organized and led the prayers outside the synagogue for a long period.”
“All those years, Rabbi Gideon continued in helping the needy, inside and outside the community, and continued to accompany numerous families in joyous occasions – and may it not happen to us – in times of mourning. He continued engaging in making peace between husband and wife, and between man and his fellow friend.”
“Rabbi Gideon continued to give Torah lessons with perseverance and dedication, and continued to answer the many questions and inquiries that continued to flow to him from the residents of the community and its rabbis, and from other communities in Gush Etzion and their rabbis, and was for us, and all the rabbis of Gush Etzion, a teacher, a guide, a counselor, and a light for our path.”
Memories from Seventh Grade
I was privileged to be a student of his in 1973 when he was our teacher in seventh grade at the Horev Yeshiva High School. That same year the Yom Kippur War broke out, which left an impression on all of us, as all the students knew families of holy soldiers who had been killed in battle.
We learned the Tractate of Gittin with him, and he offered me a job: to translate from Aramaic into Hebrew the legends of the Churban (destruction of the Temple) in the chapter “Ha-nizikin“, which are spread over two and a half pages of the Talmud, with the aim of it being read later on in class. I found an easy solution. Most of the legends were translated in the well-known book of Bialik and Rabnitzky, and my main work was to copy and arrange them according to the Talmud. Admittedly, I checked their translation and at times, decided to change it when it was not accurate or pleasing enough for my taste. This seems to have been my first literary handiwork.
His Support and Encouragement
Rabbi Gideon used to encourage me in the work of the rabbinate and in writing ‘Peninei Halakha’. Especially in the last year, he often enquired about my well-being, and sent me greetings and words of encouragement to continue the sacred work of writing ‘Peninei Halakha’. I would always send him the books I wrote, and sometimes he wrote me comments.
I will mention a letter he wrote on the 23rd of Iyar, 5778 (May 2018): “To my friend … Shalom from the mountains of Etzion. I happily and gratefully received the book “Peninei Halakha: Likutim” concerning matters of “Mishpacha” (family) and “Ha-Am ve’ Ha-Aretz” (The Nation and the Land). I would like to express my respect and admiration” … and he wrote several comments, one of which testifies to his sensitivity to the grief of widows.
Marriage to a Widow
I will begin by quoting the words I wrote in Peninei Halakha (Likutim: Mishpacha 3:11): “Some halachic authorities have said that although it is permissible to marry a widow three months after the death of her husband, it is better not to, because it is explained in the books of Kabbalah that there may be a hakpada (grudge) on the part of the deceased soul against someone who marries his widow, and this hakpada may cause danger to the groom or the widow (Responsa ‘Chaim Sha’al’ 2:19; Maharsham, Vol.2, 141). Some people are concerned about this, and if they decide to get married, the rabbis perform a special tikun formulated by the Rashash (the great Mekubal, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi) so that by way of it, they will be saved from danger (Rav Pealim Vol. 2, Sod Yesharim 1). Other poskim say that if there is room for concern, it is only within twelve months of his death, but after that, there is certainly no room for concern (see, Nisu’in Ke’Halakha 2:53).
On the other hand, there are eminent halachic authorities who were not concerned about this at all. It is told of the Gaon from Vilna who himself married a widow, the daughter of a Talmid Chacham. Similarly, it is stated in the book of Bnei Yissachar in the name of the Maggid of Mezrich, that not only is there no concern of marrying a widow, but that if the widow is suitable for marriage, as long as she does not get married, the soul of her late husband does not have an aliyah (elevation of the soul). The reason is because of him, as it were, his widow remains lonely and poor, and this is held against him.
And if the widow has children, by marrying her, one fulfills a double mitzvah. In addition to the very mitzvah of marriage itself, it is also a superlative degree of chesed (kindness) and tzedaka (charity). For indeed, in the Talmud (Ketubot 50a) the verse is mentioned that says: ” Happy are they who keep justice, who perform charity at all times” (Psalms 106:3), and our Sages asked: Is it possible to perform charity at all times? If so, who is the happy one who always does charity? Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachmani answered: This is referring to one who raises an orphan boy or an orphan girl in his house, takes care of them, and marries them off.
“I also thought that it was not appropriate to write that le’chatchila (from the outset), it is preferable not to marry a widow. For today, when so many righteous widows are left without a husband – it is certainly appropriate to encourage them, and others, to rehabilitate them.”
I will note that at the time I wrote this halakha, about thirty years ago, my wife and I were privileged to accompany widows who married men from ethnic sub-groups and communities who followed Kabbalah, and took this concern into consideration. Therefore, I found it necessary to mention the opinion of the halachic authorities who take this concern into consideration, in order to later mention those who think there is no need to be concerned about it, and in particular, the words of the Maggid of Mezrich, that if the widow is suitable to get married but remains a widow “the soul of her late husband does not have an aliyah. The reason is because him, as it were, his widow remains lonely and poor, and this is held against him.” After that, I even added the virtue of someone who raises orphans. At the time, these words managed to encourage the marriage of several widowed women whose husbands were murdered by terrorists.
Nevertheless, in line with halakha, his comment is correct, since the vast majority of the poskim did not mention it, and hence, in their opinion, there is no specific concern in marrying a widow. With God’s help, when I have the chance to reorganize these halakhot in a complete way and not as likutim, I will mention the opinion of those poskim who take into consideration the concern, and those poskim who disagree with them, in a comment only.
May the memory, actions, and enlightenment of Rabbi Gideon Perl ztz”l continue to illuminate, for all the students of the ‘great illuminator of lights’ , Maran Rabbi Kook ztz”l.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.