Wednesday, February 08, 2006

HaGaon, Rabbi Dr. Chaim Zimmerman, ZTL

In the course of telling the story of Rav Ahron’s tenure in HTC I mentioned the exit from HTC of the late and great Gaon, Rabbi Dr. Chaim Zimmerman. Some have asked me about this great figure and I think I should try to clear up a few things. This may be a bit difficult since my memory is a bit fuzzy but... I will try to "get it right" and beg indulgence on any errors I may make. My words are not to be taken as disparaging nor as the final word on the essence of the man, but merely as my own recollection and reflection on the people and events of the time as I remember them and the circumstances as I understood them. I invite anyone with superior knowledge or a better memory to correct, add, or and modify that which I am about to write.

Rav Chaim Zimmerman was perhaps the Gaon HaDor of his time. His knowledge of Torah was indisputable. His Magnum Opus was a Sefer written on one of the most difficult subjects in Halacha, the international time zone. He was a great genius. It was said about him that he understood quantum theory as well as did Niels Bohr when most of the scientific community had scarcely heard of it yet.

He was one of YU's pre-eminent students and the one chosen by Dr. Bernard Revel to convince one of the Gedolei HaDor visiting the US on a fundraising tour for his own Yeshiva about the seriousness and caliber of the students in YU so that this Gadol would give a Shiur in YU. (I think it may have been Rav Aharon Kotler). This Gadol was convinced and did give such a Shiur.

At some point in time, HTC had hired him to join their faculty as the highest level Magid Shiur. I don't know the date or the circumstances because by the time I arrived as a high school student he was already there. (Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that his wife was from Chicago.)

As is the case with many a genius, he was quite eccentric... NOT your typical Rosh Yeshiva. He wore colored shirts and plaid sports coats. He was clean shaven and drove a Cadillac convertible. I will never forget the fun I had when as a sixteen year old I "hitched" a ride home with him once in his car. :)

Even though the times of his Shiurim were supposed to be fixed, he rarely stuck to them. He gave Shiur whenever he decided to at very unpredictable random times sometimes even past midnight. By the time I arrived he had a loyal following, who didn't mind. He had very little if anything to do with the rest of the Yeshiva. There was also a running "feud" between Rav Chaim and Dr. Eliezer Berkovitz. He considered some of Dr. Berkovits views to be heretical and, to say the least they were not on the best of terms.

In 1964 (IIRC), Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman, the long term president of HTC retired and Dr. Simon G. Kramer was hired to replace him. The student council of the Yeshiva high school decided to throw a "welcome" Melave Malka for Dr. Kramer. During the Melave Malke, R. Chaim spoke and made a casual reference to Dr. Berkovitz calling him words to the effect of “my friendly Apikores". After he finished, a barely restrained Dr. Berkovitz stood up and said angrily words to the effect of: "I am not an Apikores, I don’t recognize you, and I don't even acknowledge your existence". He apparently was so enraged that he inadvertently knocked a glass Coke bottle off the table which broke. (Some people remember the incident as him throwing it on the floor).

The next day R. Chaim was fired. And shortly thereafter the Yeshiva had been put in Cherem.

The Yeshiva operated for a couple of years without a Rosh HaYeshiva until Dr. Kramer brought in Rav Ahron.