Friday, May 01, 2009

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - The Local Recluse

In my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, I knew a kind and devout elderly woman named Mrs. Sarah Lang, whose father, Rabbi Yisrael Stamm, had been a respected scholar and posek there during the early 1900s. Like almost all the Jewish residents of Norwich (including the Sears family), Rabbi Stamm hailed from the town of Shat, Lithuania. Another “landsman” who was close to the Stamm family was a porush, or recluse, named Rabbi Yitzchok Luria. And like his sixteenth-century namesake, Rabbi Luria was a kabbalist, albeit in the “Litvishe” tradition. (He might have been related to Rabbi Dovid Luria, a close disciple of the Vilna Gaon and author of an important commentary on Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer, but that’s just speculation.)

Mrs. Lang told me that Rabbi Luria used to spend the entire week in a little shack on the grounds of a farm a few miles south of Norwich, near the New England shtet’l of Montville. On Shabbos he would join the Stamm family and accompany his friend Reb Yisrael to shul. She remembered with nostalgia how her father and his guest would exchange Torah thoughts on the weekly Torah portion. Then after Shacharis and Musaf, Rabbi Luria would go to the home of another talmid chokhom for the day meal; upon his return, while his hosts took an afternoon nap, he would sit quietly in the dining room and study for awhile. Then he would close his eyes and sing wordless melodies of awesome deveykus to Hashem until it was time for the Minchah prayer.

One Shabbos afternoon, though, the guest returned while the family was just beginning the main course. “Reb Yitzchok,” Rabbi Stamm exclaimed, “what happened that you’re back so soon? Is something wrong?”

A little embarrassed, the guest hemmed and hawed until finally he divulged his secret with one sentence: “The rebbetzin put a carrot in the chicken soup…”

I raised an eyebrow when Mrs. Lang said this – but with a mischievous look, she offered a commentary of her own on that cryptic remark. “In those days, there were all sorts of ‘isms’ in the Jewish world. And basically, there were those who didn’t change anything versus those who wanted to change this or that. My father and Rabbi Luria were in the first camp. And that carrot suddenly appearing in the soup was a sign that the other rabbi’s wife was moving away from tradition. So the guest was afraid of her kashrus altogether. My father understood his feelings and asked him to join us for the day meal, too. From that day on, every week he spent the entire Shabbos with our family.”

When I was sitting shiva for my father in Norwich, a relative named Lou Fox was reminiscing with us and Rabbi Luria’s name came up. It seems that when he passed away, Lou had helped settle his estate and take care of his burial, etc. He remembered him as an awesome individual, a man who was not of this world.


At May 1, 2009 at 9:15:00 AM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

there is an interesting passage in Divrei Yecheskel that my Rov was reading this past shabbos, where the Shinover Rebbe ZTL said that he did not drink soda water as his family had not tradition of it, and it was something new

At May 1, 2009 at 9:49:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Litvak said...

Nice post.

Why am I not surprised that such a fervent Hassid like R. Sears is from Litvishe background...

Anyway, some of the things I like about the post are 1) it shows another side of Litvishe Yiddishkeit that is often overlooked or unknown today. A Litvishe porush and Kabbalist to boot! Good antidote to those who think all Litvaks are clones of the Knesses Yisroel Slabodka Yeshiva, Brisk, or the like.

Also, it shows that there were some Litvaks who were ultra-conservative similar to the way some Hassidim are, in contradistinction to the common (not) 'wisdom' that such did not exist basically. As another example of this, in a book of stories from Rav Schach z"l by his grandson R. Bergman, published by Artscroll in translation, mention is made of a minyan of devout Litvaks (perhaps circa 1880) where they did not give someone with a necktie an aliyah, as such was not part of the old Litvishe levush and they considered someone attired that way suspect.

I could see this post at a hisbodedus blog as well.

Anyway, nice to see R. Sears going back to his Litvishe roots for some deep spirituality.

Yasher keyach!

At May 1, 2009 at 9:59:00 AM EDT, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

What an awesome story!

At May 1, 2009 at 11:35:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soup on Shabbos day?

At May 1, 2009 at 11:47:00 AM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

Reb Dovid,
first of all, it is so interesting for me to hear about the previous Generation of frum Jews in N.E, a place that I get farther and farther away from. Mustafina Milehagid but I am a little uneasy about both Rabbi Yitschak Lurias, for reasons I cant get into as the Jerusalem Tsefira just announced 40 minutes before sunset. there must have been so many other things going on at his friends house. I am quite impressed by this story and will be thinking about it it over shabbos. and regardless of my uneasiness, I am now going to Beit El to listen to Rav Avicahi's davening. be well and a Groise Yeshar Koach,

At May 1, 2009 at 11:57:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

My wife Sharon also grew up in Norwich, CT. Her grandparents, father, and other members of the family (originally Yarozalimsky or Jeruzalimsky, changed later to Zelinsky) came there in the late 1930's from Chernavchitsy, a small town at 52°13' N 23°44' E between Brisk and Kaminetz. The town was then in Poland but is now in Belarus.

During my wife's childhood, her family was close to Rabbi Michoel Geller of the Brothers of Joseph shul there (see )

A few years ago, my wife was in Baltimore after the birth of our granddaughter. Rabbi Geller phoned our daughter's home to offer a mazal tov, my wife picked up the call, and they immediately recognized each others' voices after many decades!

At May 1, 2009 at 1:46:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

R. Sears,

You have my humble gratitude for your postings which neither add or distract from the original message you quote. I don't sense frenzy but calmness and peace found in walking with God.

Thank you,

At May 1, 2009 at 4:13:00 PM EDT, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

My grandfather’s family (not Litvish, but originally Chassidic and from Bershad) lived on a farm in Montville. Small world! But my grandmother put carrots in her soup.

If you're interested, there's a good article about Jewish farmers in eastern Connecticut in an online publication called Hog River Journal (pardon the name!), at

At May 2, 2009 at 7:59:00 AM EDT, Blogger Russell Grayson said...

It's a real Kovod Hashem to put such wonderful stories out in the world for people to see, which enable them to challenge (or just reflect upon) little prejudices about who does this or that, and what is or isn't litvakishe--as it seems always to boil down to comfort within your own minhagim. The REAL blessing, however, is for ba'alei teshuva--who have few or no minhagim...we get to learn and chose what has resonance with our neshama, and create minhagim that come to us from all these great gadolim. A soul recognizes what makes sense to it--why? Who knows, but it hears and then does! These are wonderful intuitions for us...Kol tov--I enjoy your posts so much. Thank you for bringing such simple and heilige yidden to life for us through your posts!

At May 3, 2009 at 1:16:00 AM EDT, Blogger Devorah said...

Great story! As for the "soup on Shabbos day" comment, it was no doubt left on the blech all thru Shabbos.

At May 3, 2009 at 6:19:00 AM EDT, Blogger Avraham said...

I'm a big fan of Rabbi Sears' posts but I seem to have missed the point with this one. Can someone clue me in on what to take from this story.

At May 4, 2009 at 8:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...


If being a litvak means not giving someone an aliya because he is not wearing a tie, "baruch shelo asani litvak."

The greatest Litvaks of them all, the Gra and the nefesh HaChaim, not only knew the zohar by heart, but lived it.

Litvishe Kaballah, or brains terrorized by carrot and tie threats to change. But to be fair, I know some Hasidishe Kabbalists are also terrorized by carrots.

Mashiach will no doubt have had a litvak's brain and a Chassid's heart. but what do we know ....

I love the pristine treatment of the story, which mammash makes the reader think.

A woman I told the story to, a recovering breslover who prefers to remain nameless, reacted to the story by saying that it reminded her of all the reasons she left Mea Shearim.

AVI,its a story about where you draw the line with regards to either keeping the ways of our forefathers or changing them.

It is also a story about the little signs that strike fear in the hearts of extremely sensetive religious personalities.

Again, the whole explanation was a "mischevous" remark by someone who grew up in a house that wanted to keep the Torah just as it was kept in previous generation by defenders of the tradition. Yet "what do we know," it might have been a Kabbalistic delusion, or it might have been a real sign that the hosts were abandoning God's Law.

It is also a great story about where we draw the line between frum yiddishkeit and apikorsus.

What is an Apikorus? Anyone who doesn't agree with your Rabbi. Now THAT's a mischevous remark.

Be well

At May 4, 2009 at 8:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

I would very much hope Mashiach to have a chossid’s brain. A particular type of chossid.

Perhaps for once it may be possible to just enjoy the story in its pure form, without drawing major universal conclusions. Here was a Yid, who had his view of Yiddishkeit, and he was wholesome and pure in his commitment to this view. I may disagree with his view, both in my heart and in my brain, but I at least respect his commitment and find it beautiful.

At May 4, 2009 at 1:05:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Dovid Sears said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments, which I would like to respond to -- but can't at the moment. Please accept my apologies.

Bob Miller -- Rabbi Geller was our "mesader kiddushin." We still keep in touch, although not as often as we would like.

Please ask your wife if she is related to Max Zelinsky, who used to daven in Rabbi Geller's shul. If so, I knew him well.

Kol tuv

At May 4, 2009 at 2:13:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Max Zelinsky A"H was the brother of my wife's father Herman Zelinsky A"H.

At May 29, 2012 at 2:42:00 AM EDT, Blogger dscs815 said...

My great grandfather's name was Rabbi Yisroel Stamm i wonder if this is the same person please contact me at

At June 17, 2014 at 2:23:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Great Grandmother was Mary Cooper Stamm. Mary's brother was Rabbi Zussman Stamm who my grandfather Julius Cooper was named after. Is this the same rabbi you speak of? We may be related was your Mom Grace?

At August 19, 2018 at 9:44:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My great grandfather, Rabbi Max Stamm was the brother of Mary Cooper Stamm


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