Photo Credit: Courtesy
Bernard Bergman with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik at his son's Shlomo's Bar Mitzvah in 1955.

Throughout his career, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Bergman led prominent Jewish organizations, earning recognition for his activism, leadership, and scholarship. Revered for his wisdom, kindness, and philanthropy, he was dedicated to assisting those in need. His commitment to Orthodox Judaism and varied contributions solidified his importance in American Jewish circles. Known as “Ish Hamaseh,” his legacy as a scholar, activist, Zionist, and rabbinical leader made a profound and enduring mark. Sadly, Bernard Bergman passed away on the 16th of Sivan, 1984, precisely forty years ago, just ten days after Shavuot, at the age of 72, succumbing to a heart attack. As we commemorate his 40th yahrzeit, it’s fitting to ponder some of his remarkable accomplishments.




Bernard Bergman

Bernard Bergman, born Yisochor Dov in 1911 in Romania, was the great-grandson of the renowned chassidic rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai of Nadvorna. A chassidic dynasty dating back to the Baal Shem Tov, Bergman’s family continued the Nadvorna lineage across Romania and Hungary. After his father Shlomo’s death in 1916, Bergman’s Nadvorna uncles, who were rebbes, raised him, fostering his deep connection to Nadvorna Hasidism, which remained central to his identity throughout his life.

A few years after his father’s death, Bergman’s mother remarried her cousin, Rabbi Isaac Lifer, another grandson of Rabbi Mordechai. At age 12, Rabbi Isaac immigrated to America with his wife and stepchildren, settling in Williamsburg, which was becoming a hub for Orthodox and chassidic Jews. Rabbi Isaac was among the first rebbes to establish himself there. Despite the 1921 Emergency Quota Act restricting Jewish immigration, Rabbi Isaac, like many chassidic leaders, moved to America during the interwar period, benefiting from a quota exemption for religious ministers.

After arriving in America, Bergman continued his religious studies at Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchanan (RIETS). There, he befriended other chassidic descendants like Yochanan Twersky who would eventually become the Tolner Rebbe in Montreal and later in Jerusalem. Bergman also pursued a secular education at City College, which offered high school equivalency for aspiring students. Many Yiddish-speaking immigrants, including Bergman, utilized this opportunity. He eventually graduated with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from New York University.

In the early 1930s, Bergman’s life took an interesting turn when his parents moved the family to Jerusalem. There, Bergman studied at the renowned Yeshiva of Chevron (Hebron), which had relocated to Jerusalem after the 1929 Hebron massacre. Under Rabbi Moshe Mordecai Epstein’s tutelage, Bergman pursued religious studies and received rabbinical ordination from him in 1933, shortly before Epstein’s death. He also received ordination from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.

In 1936, while studying at the Yeshiva of Chevron, Bergman was suggested as a match for Chana Weiss, granddaughter of R. Isaac of Spinka and a descendant of the Belz chassidic dynasty. Chana’s father, R. Naftali, was a distinguished Torah scholar and Rabbi of Bilke in Czechoslovakia. Despite her chassidic roots, Chana was drawn to contemporary ideologies. As a teenager, she moved to Lemberg (now Lviv) to live with her grandparents and attended the Hebrew Gymnasia. Lemberg was a hub of modern Jewish culture with newspapers, theaters, libraries, and progressive movements like Zionism and socialism. Chana thrived, mastering English, French, and Hebrew, while remaining committed to Orthodox Judaism and seeking a match of high standing.

Given the common practice of intermarriage within chassidic lineages, the shared descent of Bergman and Chana from rebbes, as well as their mutual openness to contemporary ideas, Bergman and Chana seemed destined for each other. Bergman traveled to Europe to court Chana, and they married in early 1938 in Bilke. He then brought her to New York, where they settled on the Lower East Side, on East 11th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Their residence was near the Sons and Daughters of Israel nursing home on East 12th Street, one of several founded in the early 20th century to help impoverished elderly East European immigrants. Serving as a chaplain, Bergman began his rabbinical career and involvement in the nursing home industry there.


Rabbinic Texts

Before courting Chana, Bergman dedicated himself to a lifelong scholarly mission: rescuing early Rabbinic texts from obscurity. He painstakingly deciphered, organized, and edited these works for publication. In 1936, Bergman published Piskei Challah, a rare 13th-century text by the Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ibn Aderet). He corrected errors, added detailed commentary titled Kedushat Lechem, and included correspondences with leading scholars. It received approbations from figures like R. Isser Zalman Meltzer and was eventually incorporated into the contemporary Mossad Harav Kook Rashba set.

Bernard Bergman with Rabbi Isaac Herzog, to his right is Rabbi Herbert Goldstein, credit: Alexander Archer.

Bergman’s dedication to unearthing rare rabbinic texts was complemented by his passion for antique books. He built one of the largest private collections, which included many items dating back centuries, including antique manuscripts. Notable among his collection was the Siddur of the Smak, one of the Rishonim, annotated by medieval commentaries. Bergman also contributed a scholarly essay on this manuscript to the Rabbi S. K. Mirsky Memorial Volume.

Bergman owned an original Shulchan Aruch, once owned by Rabbi Avraham, son of the Gaon of Vilna, along with his annotations. These annotations were later published in Yeshurun by his son, Rabbi Meir Bergman. Throughout his life, he published many essays on contemporary Jewish law in Torah periodicals and corresponded on Halachic issues with leading rabbinic authorities like Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

In his doctoral dissertation, conferred upon him in 1947 by Yeshiva University, he meticulously edited Katuv Sham, the critical commentary by Raavad, on the works of Baal HaMaor for the tractates Rosh Hashana and Sukkah, drawing upon manuscript sources. His scholarly work included not only annotations and comments but also a comprehensive biography of the Raavad and an evaluation of his writings. In 1957, Katuv Sham was published by Mosad HaRav Kook, incorporating footnotes from Bergman’s research. Maintaining a lifelong connection with Yeshiva University, Bergman earned recognition from Rabbi Belkin as “an esteemed alumnus.” He assumed the presidency of the Bernard Revel Graduate School Alumni Association, while his son Meir pursued studies under Rabbi Soloveitchik and earned a Master’s Degree from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.

A skilled writer and orator, Bergman became editor and publisher of the Yiddish Morgen Journal in 1949, the primary Jewish daily among Orthodox communities. Yiddish remained the dominant language for many first-generation American Jews, particularly Holocaust survivors, well into the late 1940s. Bergman’s editorials in the journal were filled with homiletic interpretations and sermons on the weekly parsha. In 1951, he compiled many of these editorials into a book titled HaDerash V’Harayon, praised by one reviewer as a valuable resource for homilists and national preachers.

After leaving the Sons and Daughters of Israel in 1951, Bergman’s improved financial situation led him to move his family from the Lower East Side to the more affluent Upper West Side, specifically at 100th Street, corner Riverside Drive. Their eight-room apartment, though spacious, was modestly furnished, reflecting Bergman’s overall humble lifestyle. Bergman then became the rabbi at the Riverside Jewish Center on 103rd Street.


Religious Education

Upon entering the rabbinate, Bergman focused his efforts on establishing day schools, a cause of enduring significance to him. He believed strongly in the importance of educating Yeshiva-trained boys and girls, viewing it as vital for the future of American Jewry. In 1937, echoing the sentiments of other Orthodox leaders, Bergman expressed concern about a second generation growing up with irreligion due to parental lack of spirituality. He stressed the need to instill religious knowledge and guidance to counter the dangers of materialism. Bergman was soon appointed head of the Education Committee of Yeshiva Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, founded in 1912 and one of New York’s earliest Jewish day schools on the Lower East Side.

During World War II, as European yeshivas dissolved, Bergman emphasized in a 1940 Morgen Journal article the heightened responsibility of American Jewry for its spiritual continuity. This urgency arose because many American Jewish leaders had received their education in European yeshivas. For nearly 80 years, Bergman stated, the Eastern European American Jewish community thrived spiritually thanks to European Judaism’s support. Our spiritual roots extend to Europe, and the influence of Jewish life and culture across the ocean is profound. However, with the recent destruction of European Torah centers, we can no longer rely solely on others to preserve our spiritual heritage.

At his son Meir’s bar mitzvah in Israel in 1957, Bergman noted a religious revival in the United States, emphasizing the growth of Torah education. In 1935, there were only seventeen day schools in America, but by then, the number had risen sharply to 227. In the mid-1960s, Bergman became president of Mizrachi’s National Council for Torah Education. Under his leadership, the council actively promoted and funded the establishment of Jewish Day Schools, leading to the opening of many new ones across America.


Religious Zionism

A central aspect of Bergman’s life was his commitment to Zionism and Israel. In 1943, he ran as a delegate for the American Jewish Conference, aiming to determine the American Jewish community’s post-war role and support the establishment of Jewish Palestine. Bergman gained support from leading rabbis and heads of yeshivas, ultimately receiving the highest number of votes among all delegates. One newspaper noted his success, highlighting his ability to mobilize support from yeshivas and even outpace well-known figures like Reform leader Dr. Stephen S. Wise.

At 17, in 1927, Bergman joined the first group of Hapoel HaMizrachi in New York, an offshoot of the religious Zionist Mizrachi organization. While both focused on religious Zionism, Mizrachi emphasized general principles and political activism, while Hapoel HaMizrachi emphasized labor, social justice, and religious agricultural communities. His five years at the Yeshiva of Chevron deepened his connection to the Holy Land. Beginning in 1933, Bergman served on the national administration of Hapoel HaMizrachi, eventually becoming national president in 1948, serving on the national presidium in 1954, and reclaiming the presidency in 1955. Additionally, his home became the official meeting place for the executive committee.

Motivated by the political and religious welfare of Israel, Bergman visited the country around 12 times in the 1950s. Leading the Hapoel HaMizrachi delegation to the World Conference of Mizrachi and Hapoel HaMizrachi, he earned admiration for his forthright positions on crucial issues. In 1957, Mizrachi and Hapoel HaMizrachi merged to become the Religious Zionists of America. By 1960, Bergman, a key advocate of the merger, was elected President, emphasizing unity as crucial for accomplishing goals. He stated, “Unity has always been my ambition. The more religious Jews are unified, the more we can accomplish… I have never swerved from this.”

For the next 15 years, Bergman remained active in Mizrachi leadership. During this time, he developed a close relationship with Rabbi Soloveitchik, who served as Mizrachi’s honorary president and spiritual leader. Rabbi Soloveitchik mentored and advised Bergman on important Mizrachi activities, emphasizing their shared belief in prioritizing religious education and establishing day schools across the United States, as well as fostering support for Israel.

As editor-in-chief of the Morgen Journal, Bergman focused on promoting Zionism and covering Israel-related news to garner more support within the Orthodox community. He secured an interview with Ben Gurion, who expressed Israel’s desire for American Jews to relocate, stating, “We want not only American money but also U.S. Jews… We want their skill and brains,” and emphasized, “We are building Israeli democracy and socialism as developed on Mount Sinai.”

In 1967, Bergman’s love for Israel led him, along with his wife and four children, on a challenging four-day journey by propeller plane to celebrate his son Meir’s bar mitzvah in Israel. Despite requiring multiple refueling stops, the trip was significant. Meir was notably the first American boy to have his bar mitzvah in Israel, as highlighted by one publication, which emphasized that this act could inspire others to choose Israel as the location for their sons’ bar mitzvahs, further deepening the bond with the country. The celebration, reflecting Bergman’s vibrant personality, attracted over six hundred guests, including prominent figures like the roshei yeshiva of Chevron and Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Isaac Nissim. Ministerial speeches honoring Bergman were delivered by Moshe Shapira and Yosef Burg, along with S.L. Sar of Yeshiva University and Sh. Z. Shragai, honorary president of the World Mizrachi Movement.



In May 1942, following the United States’ entry into World War II, Bergman made history, becoming the first Orthodox Rabbi to deliver the invocation at the House of Representatives. Emphasizing the severity of the situation under the shadow of Nazi terror, Bergman stressed the importance of defeating such evil entirely. Wearing a yarmulka and tallit, he offered a prayer for guidance and wisdom for the House during humanity’s perilous hour, urging protection for the brave defenders of liberty engaged in battle on distant lands.

After the war, Bergman actively supported Holocaust survivors, offering them jobs in his nursing home business. He also aided his relatives, many of whom were descendants of chassidic rabbinical lineage, in establishing their religious institutions in the New World. Additionally, he provided a home and education for his wife’s cousin, Miriam Horowitz, who had lost most of her family. Miriam went on to study at New York University and married Rabbi Morris Shmidman, a communal activist. He was widely praised for his remarkable generosity and kindness, with many acknowledging his extensive acts of kindness towards individuals and his employees over three decades.

Bergman was appointed by the RCA in 1965 to join a tour of the Soviet Union as part of the Special Commission to Jews behind the Iron Curtain. The visit aimed to build connections between American and Soviet Jews. They intended to speak at the Great Synagogue in Moscow during Sabbath services, where around 600 local worshipers gathered, a rare occurrence in the Soviet Union.

Bergman conveyed to Russian Jews that “America felt their Pain.” With charged words, he instilled hope, affirming the unity of Jewry in sorrow, stating, “We have come because of the words of the Bible: Et achai anochi m’kavesh; it is my brothers whom I seek!” Moved to tears, people reached out to silently kiss his hand in gratitude as he passed holding the Torah. “One of the clearest impressions I brought home with me,” Bergman recounted, “was that Soviet Jewry was telling us in the free world: Cry out! Help us!”


Final Years

With his health in decline, in 1975, Bergman resigned from the Mizrachi leadership. Retirement saw him mostly immersed in his library, delving into Talmudic studies, a lifelong passion. He continued to publish essays during his final years. Additionally, Bergman cherished time with his family, finding solace in their company. In December 1982, his son Meir’s marriage to Miriam Guttman brought him immense joy. Over the following year and a half, he often visited them, remarking, “It is here that I am content.” Yehi Zichro Baruch.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleDevorah Leah Andrusier Part 1: Overcoming Addictions in the Jewish Community
Next articleThe End Is Not In Sight – The Jay Shapiro Show [audio]