Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 302

Become a Supporter Library Library

Ask the Rabbi

February 3, 2001 / 10 Shevat 5761; Issue #302

Brisk It Is


Richard Brisk from Boston, MA wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

In your wonderful "Torah Weekly" commentary on Parshat Vayeshev, you wrote: "Rabbi Chaim of Brisk once asked..." This caught my attention because, throughout my childhood, my father told me the story of how his father's birthplace became our family name during his passage through Ellis Island, New York. Although I never doubted my father's story, I was never able to objectively verify it by either locating Brisk on a map or talking to someone who knew of such a town.

Your reference to Rabbi Chaim of Brisk changed that. I would greatly appreciate it if you would tell me something about where the city of Brisk is located, and something about the city itself. I am sorry to bother you about this trivial detail, but your reference to Rabbi Chaim of Brisk is a concrete information that lends credence to that dream-like story my father used to tell me. With great respect from Boston, Mass,

Richard A. Brisk

Dear Richard A. Brisk,

Yes, Brisk in Lithuania was a famous Torah center, and home of the illustrious family of Talmudic scholars, the Soleveitchik family. Perhaps the best known of this family was Rabbi Chaim Soleveitchik, renowned for his novel and penetrating analysis of the Talmud. Today, there are several "Brisk" yeshivot in Israel and abroad.

I have been told that what we refer to as Brisk is today known as the city of Brest.

And did you say you are from Boston? Boston was home to the renowned Torah Scholar Rabbi Yosef Ber Soleveitchik who recently passed away. He was a grandson of the Rabbi Chaim of Brisk mentioned in our article.



E. Robe wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

What are Kohanim? Does it have any connection to the name "Cohen?"

Dear E. Robe,

Kohanim is the plural of kohen, which means "priest." In Judaism, the kohanim are the male descendants of Aharon, Moses' brother, and when the ancient Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the kohamim were the ones who performed the service.

There are still many kohanim among Jews today. They get special honors in the synagogue, such as being called up first to read from the Torah.

Many people -- but not all -- whose last name is "Cohen" are indeed kohanim, meaning they are direct descendants of Aharon. Amazing to be able to trace your lineage to one particular individual who was born 3,396 years ago, isn't it?

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: JUMP IN THE LAKE (Ask the Rabbi #298):

I don't wish to make anyone mad but I disagree with what you told the person who stood by while his friend almost drowned. It may have been a "test" or maybe not. I have seen this happen several times, that when a traumatic event happens a person shuts down or some call it "freezing up." It does not mean that the person doesn't care for the person in desperate need, nor is it a sign of not having courage. It is a physical/mental shutdown that cannot be helped or controlled. The reason I know this is that I myself was saved from harm not by my mother (who froze) but by my sister who did not freeze. No other human on earth ever loved me more than Mom and she was also the most courageous person I have ever known. Also, my brother-in-law was in Vietnam and could not "move" either, until his best friend got his head blown off sitting less then two feet from him. Out of pure terror he jumped up and killed them all, saving his whole platoon. It made him sick to his stomach and he will tell you himself it was not done out of "courage" but fear of dying. So please, do not let that young man who wrote to you think that he has no courage!!



Just a thank you to all the rabbis -- especially the one with the sense of humor -- your Ask the Rabbi column is a source of interest, knowledge and even a few laughs as I continue my research on a book I'm writing, a dictionary of "Jewish" words -- Hebrew Yiddish and English. Toda!

Ellen Scolnic

Ohrnet Responds: Thanks for your thanks. But we're having a bit of a problem passing along your special thanks to "the Rabbi with the sense of humor," because all the rabbis here claim that you meant him!

Re: SOLOMON'S WISDOM (Torah Weekly Parshat Miketz):

It was not necessarily only jealousy that made the one woman wanted the other woman's child to be cut in half. Rabbi Mordechai Miller gave the following explanation, based on the commentaries: The two women were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law was the mother of the dead child. Her husband had also died. As a childless widow, she was therefore bound to "yibum," the requirement that she remain single until she either marries her deceased husband's brother or "divorces" him.

Therefore, the daughter-in-law was determined that the living child not be recognized as her mother-in-law's child -- i.e., her husband's brother, or else she would have to wait until the child grew up when it would be possible to perform yibbum or dissolve her relationship to him through chalitza with him, before she could remarry. Many thanks for your wonderful articles.

R. Geller

Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
© 2001 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved. This publication may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue newsletters. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission, and then send us a sample issue.
This publication is available via E-Mail

Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students.

The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.

Copyright © 2001 Ohr Somayach International. Send us feedback
Dedication opportunities are available for Ask The Rabbi. Please contact us for details.
Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.