I first met Rabbi Bulman when I was a student in Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. I had come to study for what I thought would be a short time just before Pesach in 1976. The yeshiva’s rabbis were a formidable group of Jewish scholars and activists who were constantly stimulating us to think about our Jewish heritage, and appreciate its depth, complexity, comprehensiveness, and continual relevance. Each of us, in our own ways, were astonished by the matrix of Jewish life, and the foundations of our ancestry, which linked each of us to Sinai, the Avos and our own unique relationship to the Creator. Even amongst this gifted and talented group of Torah educators and example-setting mentors, Rabbi Bulman stood out in the spheres of Jewish history, the motivational/emotional tensions of pursuing such high spiritual goals against the diversions of worldliness, and the subtlety of thought as competing ideologies, commitments, and perspectives tug at our resources and loyalties.
His teaching style was alive and vibrant with active threads, weaving the historical evolutions of societies and ideologies into a fabric of context that brought forth the significance of Jewish belief and action in ways that forced us to experience the drama and, more importantly, the spiritual battle we were engaged in as Jews.
In those days, he gave the advanced introductory classes in Chumash, giving us a foundation in the historical evolution of Shem, Yefes, and Cham. These text-based learning experiences were filled with Midrashim that portrayed the intricacies of the major lineages of civilization with their foundational values and their core conceptual allegiances. He was so attuned to the consequences of these ideologies that he could follow their implications through the course of history as each evolved and spread across the fabric of global societal construction and the birth of political nations. His weekly evening shiurim on Nach were lectures of sensational profundity, detailing for us the import of events, the consequence to our national character and, more importantly, to our intense relationship with HaShem, our Father and King.
I visited Rabbi Bulman at his home in Sanhedria Murchevet many times during those years, to talk about Jewish life and to better understand how my own life could be reassessed and directed to the path of Torah living. My “hire” education at UCLA had stimulated my interest in very diverse current social and psychological movements and experiments, from Marx, Weber, Parsons, Durkeim, Mills etc., to Freud, Jung, Skinner, Maslow and Fromm. I had become a student of Ethnomethodologist, Prof.. Harold Garfinkel, in my sophomore year, and had consequently begun to appreciate the sways that societies were accomplished. All of this barely prepared me for the immensity, intensity, and profundity of Rabbi Bulman’s extensive portrayals of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.
In 1983, during a month-long visit to Eretz Yisroel, I visited Rabbi Bulman in Kiryat Nachliel, in Migdal HaEmek. He was very gracious, and generous with his time giving me a tour by car of the entire Migdal HaEmek community. He knew all the neighborhoods, the challenges in each, and gave me an overview of his plans and hopes for extending the reach of Torah observance and stimulating the broader community to greater participation in Torah education.
I spent a Shabbos in Washington Heights, when I had heard that Rabbi Bulman was asked to come there in what appeared to be a search for a Rabbinic leader who could carry the mantle of communal responsibility as Rabbi Schwab, zatzal, was at that time walking with two canes, with great mesiras nefesh. Although I had heard Rabbi Bulman speak of Hirschian philosophy many times, his extensive appreciation of these philosophical threads and their manifestation in the Breuer’s community was penetrating. The contextual drama of this kehilla’s evolution was not just the embodiment and fulfillment of Torah im derech eretz, but the guiding light for forging a Jewish synthesis of holy sparks emanating from historical forces whose power to combat “other” forces bent on trying to undermine Judaism was part of the multi-dimensional fabric of western civilization (almost like Yosef against the lineage of Esau). I recalled the many times that Rabbi Bulman had spoken about the “Yosef” type of Jew, never realizing that Rabbi Hirsch’s positions were the contemporary analogy in fending against the forces of Esau in this Western European epoch of our exile. It was these and many thousands of other “revelations” that Rabbi Bulman lived and breathed into his dialog with Jews wherever he was.
I remember clearly the time I asked Rabbi Bulman to be the guest speaker at the Yeshiva Library Speaker series I was promoting. Here we could get the rabbis to speak specifically on topics of our choosing. At that time, many of us were vegetarians and the yeshiva accommodated our needs with great sensitivity, never questioning our commitment to kosher vegetarian food. I asked Rabbi Bulman to speak on Torah and vegetarianism, knowing full well this could be a topic with strong opinions, and competing moral beliefs, but wanting to finally bring to the open Das Torah. He so clearly delineated the Torah, but then went on to “dissect” the intellectual fallacies of vegetarianism: its expression in form of avodah zora; the self-righteous indulgences that can divide people, and promote notions of spiritual elitism or condemnation of our fellow kosher meat-eating brethren. His portrayal of the subtle ways in which we accept notions and beliefs, yet can overlook their true “character” outside the context of their formulation, made many of us reassess our commitment to vegetarianism. Some continued, most did not, for many recognized the foreign notions that their actions had become built upon. It was all done through the illumination of our traditions, its relevance to every decision we make, and the choice role we Jews each play in helping to forge our common destiny. I cannot really speak for my chaverim, each has special stories of their own. However, I know that “we” have lost a great teacher, inspiring leader, and a “Rebbie”.The writer, David Romand, an Ohr Somayach alumnus, works in the hi-tech industry and resides in Monsey.