My earliest memory of Rav Yehuda Bauer, or Rav Yudel, as he is more commonly known, is of him arriving at my brother’s bar mitzvah with two pieces of luggage. The smaller one contained his clothing. The larger one was filled with cooking utensils, food, wine and a washing cup. His rebbetzin served him during the meal, making sure his food was wrapped and heated separately and served on his own plates. His strict adherence to even the tiniest dikdukei mitzvah was recognizable to even a young child like me. Rav Yudel would eat only a minimal amount and spent most of the meal learning. On Friday, he would sit with his tallis and tallis katan, tightening the knots to ensure that he was able to wear them on Shabbos. Rav Yudel would rise early to daven neitz biyechidus because there was no vasikin minyan in Zurich, and he would then come to our shul for the entirety of davening. “Nisht yeder einer darf vissen az ich hub shoin gedavent—Not everybody needs to know that I already davened,” Rav Yudel once humbly explained to me. By Minchah and Maariv, I would observe him clearly enunciating each word.
Arriving in Eretz Yisrael for the first time since the beginning of Covid, my first “extended” visit in 12 years, I knew I had to visit my father’s rebbe, Rav Yudel. Rav Yudel is one of the last talmidim of the Chazon Ish. He is a rosh yeshivah in Yeshivas Beis Shmaya and a posek in Chug Chazon Ish. Up until a few years ago, Rav Yudel lived on Rechov Rashbam in Bnei Brak, not far from Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l. Due to the difficulty of climbing up three flights of stairs, he recently moved to Rechov Rav Ami, a few blocks away.
Rav Yudel’s son told me that when they told their father about the new apartment, they were amazed by his response. “He wasn’t interested in the size of the apartment, the price, or even its location,” he recalled. “The only question he asked us was, ‘How many mezuzos do I need?’ The only thing that was important to him was mitzvas mezuzah.”
Entering Rav Yudel’s first-floor apartment, I encounter a familiar scene: Rav Yudel, his slender frame wrapped in a cardigan, reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, is sitting hunched over a Gemara, holding a cup of tea. So immersed is he in his learning that he is not immediately aware of my arrival. I am not surprised, as Rav Yudel doesn’t allow his surroundings to distract him.
Years ago, he had an afternoon chavrusa in his home, and one particular summer, Bnei Brak was experiencing a heatwave that was even worse than usual. The humidity was so high you could almost cut it with a knife. There was no air conditioning in Rav Yudel’s apartment, and the fan wasn’t doing much to help. His chavrusa, a “chutznik” not used to these conditions, offered to buy Rav Yudel an air conditioner. Many people in Bnei Brak didn’t use electricity on Shabbos because of chillul Shabbos of the electricity company, and even though there were people who used generators, they were only strong enough to power light bulbs, and not much else. Rav Yudel, who seemed oblivious to the heat while engrossed in the sugya, explained that the building didn’t have a generator. “I could afford an air conditioner, but since I wouldn’t use it on Shabbos, I’m afraid I might wish that Motzaei Shabbos would come sooner so I could turn it on. That’s why I’d rather not use any air conditioning during the week so I won’t inadvertently insult the honor of Shabbos,” he explained.
I ask Rav Yudel to tell me about his upbringing. When he replies, his voice is weaker than it used to be.
“I was born in Eretz Yisrael in 1933, not long after my parents came over from Europe,” Rav Yudel begins. (His father, Reb Avraham, hailed from a family of Ruzhiner chasidim from Galicia.) “Most Jews lived in the Old Yishuv, but my parents moved to the New Yishuv.”
Rav Yudel and his siblings were sent to the yeshivah in the New Yishuv, which taught secular studies. “The rosh yeshivah was Rav Reuven Trop, the son of Rav Naftali, the renowned rosh yeshivah of Radin. When I was 15, Rav Shaul Kossowsky and I traveled to the Chazon Ish to ask if we should remain in the yeshivah. Rav Reuven believed that we shouldn’t switch in the middle of the year. The Chazon Ish took a Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Dei’ah Chelek Gimmel off the shelf and began to read: ‘Chayav adam lilmod Torah bayom uvalaylah—A man is obligated to learn Torah by day and by night. He then pushed his glasses down to the tip of his nose and said, ‘The gaon doesn’t differentiate between different types of yeshivos.’ I was young and wanted it to be spelled out for me, so I asked him what I should do l’maaseh. The Chazon Ish put his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘If you want to learn, go learn, and you will be successful.’
“A similar story happened when Rav Shach consulted the Chazon Ish about teaching in the yeshivah in the New Yishuv. The Chazon Ish told him that the position didn’t befit a talmid chacham of his stature; even though the school didn’t give students a high school diploma, it taught limmudei chol. The head of the institution was also closely affiliated with the Mizrachi organizations.”
Rav Yudel went to Yeshivas Ponevezh and quickly gained a reputation as a lamdan and as someone who was very careful about every word. He was content to toil in learning without drawing attention to himself. Although he was a mechadeish, nevertheless, even in his own sefarim, like Kitzur Hilchos Niddah, he followed the halachos of the Chazon Ish and those of the Chazon Ish’s foremost talmid and nephew, Rav Chaim Greinemann. Rav Yudel was satisfied to simply write their psakim clearly and succinctly while adding their sources.
His sefarim Kitzur Hilchos Sheviis and Kitzur Hilchos Terumos Umaasros were so well received that some of the gedolim viewed him as the ultimate halachic authority in these areas. Redeeming maaser sheini requires a certain type of coin, and its halachos are very complicated. Rav Shach and the Steipler Gaon relied on Rav Yudel’s coins for this.