Rav Abba Bronspigel, popular rosh yeshiva at RIETS and founding rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash L’Talmud at Lander College for Men, died on Shabbos, February 18 in Lakewood, N.J. His funeral was held the next day in Lakewood with burial on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem.
Rav Abba Bronspigel was born in 1938 in Modzitz, Poland, to Leib and Chana Bronspigel, owners of a textile factory. The Holocaust began when he was a young boy. Little Abba lived for nine months in the rafters of a women’s concentration camp at the age of 5. As an adult, he would say that he had no idea how he survived and wasn’t caught or didn’t die of starvation and malnutrition. Rav Bronspigel said it was a nes galui (revealed miracle). He stated there was no other logical explanation. Unfortunately, four out of his six siblings did not survive the Shoah.
After the war, the Bronspigel family returned to their home but it was not safe as Jews to remain there. Mr. Bronspigel thought a big city would be safer for Jews, so they moved to Lodz, Poland, where he started a successful business. It then became too dangerous to remain in Lodz so the Bronspigels moved to the American zone in Germany. Young Abba’s father hired tutors to teach his son Torah (since there were no yeshivas for children). Abba became the 8th grade valedictorian of his class in the most prestigious private school in West Berlin. This shook up his father who said that the family did not survive the war for his son to become the best student in Germany. So, Mr. Bronspigel left behind another successful business, picked up the family and immigrated to New York so his son could attend yeshiva. Abba went to Mesivta Torah Vodaas for high school and upon graduation entered Yeshiva College/Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan.
At YU he was a talmid of Rav Yeruchem Gorelik for two years (who was also his rav in the Bronx) and then of the Rav, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. He was a talmid muvhak (a primary disciple) of the Rav, spending ten years in the Rav’s shiur, plus spending summers with him in Onset, Mass., and Yom Kippur in Boston.
Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani of RIETS, told The Jewish Press about his lifelong friend, that he “was from the best of the talmidim of the Rav in his era.”
Rabbi Chaim Bronspigel told The Jewish Press, “Rav Gorelik imbued my father with his fierce devotion to mesorah while the Rav gave my father his depth in Talmudic analysis.”
Rav Bronspigel was awarded bachelors and masters degrees from YU and was accepted into a doctoral program at Harvard, which he did not pursue. Rav Bronspigel did keep up with the world by reading the New York Times daily.
Rav Bronspigel became a high school rebbi in MTA (YUHS for boys) in 1963 where he successfully taught for 10 years, In 1973, he was promoted to give a college-level RIETS shiur, which he did until 2002.
Rav Chaim Bronstein, former assistant dean of RIETS, told The Jewish Press that Rav Bronspigel was “brilliant and very successful in his learning. He became one of the most popular maggidei shiur in the yeshiva, [and] taught with a remarkable clarity and preciseness so that almost everyone could follow his shiur.”
Rabbi Blau noted that Rav Bronspigel was incredibly successful as a rebbi, controlling his classroom even in the high school setting. At one point in the 1980’s and ‘90’s he delivered the most popular shiur in the yeshiva. Rav Bronspigel’s style enabled everyone to understand the shiur by first explaining clearly the Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos, and at the end would say some lomdus (for the more learned students).
Rabbi Baruch Pesach Mendelson, a rebbi at MTA and student of Rav Bronspigel’s, described to The Jewish Press how his rebbi “had one mission in life – teaching his talmidim Gemara. He was focused on teaching the peshat, the plain simple meaning of the Gemara, Rashi, Tosafos and Rambam, which he did masterfully.”
Alan Shuchatowitz said that in shiur Rav Bronspigel was totally focused on the daf and never went on tangents. “My rebbi had no airs about him, he just wanted to teach Torah. Rabbi Bronspigel represented to me the truth of the Torah and of the sugya.”
According to Rabbi Mendelson, Rav Aharon Soloveichik, zt’l, in recommending Rabbi Mendelson attend Rav Bronspigel’s shiur, called the latter, “The best rebbi in the yeshiva. He is in the bais midrash first thing every morning, he speaks to his talmidim during morning seder, and knows the names and learning levels of all his 80 talmidim in the shiur.”
Rav Bronspigel was also known for maintaining deep connections with his students. He hosted talmidim for Shabbos and hosted the whole shiur for a Chanukah party and an end-of-Purim celebration at his home. Rav Bronspigel would listen to his students’ problems and give them personal advice. He was also renowned for his super enthusiastic dancing at their weddings.
Rav Bronspigel also opened a shul in Boro Park and then one in Monsey called Zichron Yehuda v’Chana in memory of his parents. The focus of his rabbanus was teaching his congregants Torah.
In 2002, Rabbi Bronstein became the founding rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash L’Talmud at Lander College in Kew Garden Hills, Queens.
Rabbi Doniel Lander, president of Touro University, told The Jewish Press that when his father, Dr. Bernard Lander, founded the yeshiva he wanted as rosh yeshiva someone who would be close to the talmidim and also pass on the pure mesorah. Rav Bronspigel brought instant credibility to the new institution.
The first time Rav Bronspigel spoke publicly about his Holocaust experiences was 28 years ago at the Young Israel of Massapequa, whose mara d’asra was his talmid. When an audience member suggested the Holocaust happened due to the decline in religious observance among European Jewry, Rav Bronspigel interrupted him and said, “I came from the Gerrer chasidim in Poland. You cannot get frummer than the Gerrer chasidim of Poland. No kehillah has yet replicated the Gerrer chasidim of Poland. So I disagree with the premise.”
Rav Bronspigel said he would not judge Holocaust survivors who did not stay frum. “It was easy for me to stay frum because both my parents survived, which was very unusual. However, most survivors were orphaned young people and in 1945 in Poland there was an overwhelming sense of leis din v’leis dayan (there’s no Judgment and no Judge). You cannot imagine the despair Jews in Poland felt after the war.”
Rav Bronspigel also pointed out that unlike in Spain in 1492, the chachamim of the Holocaust generation did not put a cheirem against going to Germany. “That’s because in the mid and late 1940’s, Poland was not safe. The safest place for Eastern European survivors at that point was the American military zone in Germany, which is where his own family had escaped to. By the time all the Jews emigrated in the 1950’s it was too late to make a cheirem.”
Rabbi Abba Bronspigel is survived by his widow, Rebbitzen Elisheva Bronspigel, daughter Esther Weiner (Kew Gardens, Queens), and sons Rabbi Chaim Bronspigel, Rabbi Refoel Bronspigel, Rabbi Tzvi Dov Bronspigel (all of Lakewood) and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Rebbitzen Miriam (Munk) Bronspigel.