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August 1, 2015 / 16 Av, 5775
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My Father, Dayan Grunfeld


Dayan Grunfeld

Dayan Grunfeld

When my father inquired whether the religious needs of the Jewish children in the camp were in fact being attended to, the reply was that there was not a single Jewish child in the camp. My father was skeptical. He knew that Jewish children had survived the war by hiding in the houses of gentiles who had risked their lives to save them, and he dared to hope that at least a few Jewish children were among the thousand.

As my father walked through the camp he began to recite aloud “Shema Yisrael” and “Hamalach Hagoel.” All at once he was surrounded by hordes of little children. “Mama, Mama,” they cried. “Take us home to Mama.”

It was this experience that underlined for him the magnitude of the problem and so he went on to establish the Jewish War Orphans Commission, which led to an unrelenting campaign before the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations for the rescue of Jewish war orphans and their return to Jewry.

* * * * * The strain of the war years took its toll.

One Shabbat afternoon in 1954, at the age of seven, I was walking home from shul hand in hand with my father when he suddenly collapsed in the road. He had suffered a major heart attack.

He returned from the hospital six months later, gray and frail. When I asked him whether he would ever go swimming with me again at the seaside, I was taken from his side and swiftly ushered out of the room.

But my father’s extraordinary journey was by no means over.

A number of years after my father’s recovery, he told those present at his 60th birthday party that one night in the hospital he had received a “visit” from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who told him that he would continue to live if he vowed to devote the rest of his life to disseminating Rav Hirsch’s writings.

It was at that party that my father vowed to do so.

From his small study overlooking the high street ensued a stream of his own publications on the laws of Shabbat, kashrut and Jewish inheritance as well as translations of the major works of Samson Raphael Hirsch that revolutionized Torah education for English-speaking Jews.

The pristine English style and syntax of this German refugee, the clarity of thought of the Torah scholar, the consummate draftsmanship of the lawyer and the universal reach of the philosopher all combined to produce these eternal classics of Judaism with which the name Dayan Grunfeld will forever be synonymous.

According to the rosh yeshiva Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, our great rabbis are remembered not only for their scholarly skill but also for their unforgettable acts of kindness. One day there was a knock on the door of our house in London. Outside, a man stood shivering in the doorway. My father saw that he did not have a coat.

My father had two coats. One was worn throughout the week and the other was worn only on Shabbat.

“Go upstairs,” my father said to me and bring down my Shabbat coat.”

I brought him the coat and he handed it to the man who took it and beat a hasty retreat.

Two years later, as I was walking with my father to shul, he suddenly took hold of my arm and steered me to the other side of the street.

I did not understand why. He was a man of discipline and habit and he favored that side of the street on his way to shul. Only then, however, did I catch sight of the man wearing my father’s coat, walking slowly, head down, on my father’s favored side of the road.

* * * * * Rosh Hashanah 1975 was a happy time. Our newborn son, my father’s grandson, was due to have his brit the next day.

My father had visited him and Daniela in the hospital a few days earlier and had stood over his hospital crib and blessed him.

During the Rosh Hashanah meal my sister asked if anyone knew what the baby’s name would be. My father was unusually curt. “Let not discuss it,” he said.

About the Author: Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.


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3 Responses to “My Father, Dayan Grunfeld”

  1. Janet Rosenbaum-Joshua says:

    I just noticed that there is no Wikipedia page for Dayan Grunfeld. Someone should change this. I put in the bare bones info here, but someone who knows more should fill it in and submit for consideration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:Articles_for_creation/Isidore_Grunfeld

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