Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l, On His Tenth Yahrtzeit, Today, 26 Tammuz

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rav-nachman-bulmanRav Nachman Bulman’s parents were Gerrer chassidim who immigrated to America after two other sons had already passed away in Europe. They received a bracha from the “Imrei Emes” of Ger, and after that, Rav Nachman was born. Rav Nachman’s mechutan, Rav Homnick recalls that by age nine, Rav Nachman was already wielded a positive influence over his playmates and friends. Not through any particular thing he said, but through the sheer force of his personality.

One of the few American boys to get a yeshivah education in those days, his personality was forged by three main influences. He basked in Gerrer chassidus, the tradition he had received from his father and at the Gerrer shtieble in Lower East Side; he learned the intricacies of lamdus and psak from Rav Moshe Poleyeff and Rav Moshe Bik at Yeshivas Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, and through the writings of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch. His eclectic personality is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he was once offered the position of rav of the Adas Yeshurun kehilla in Washington Heights, while, when he came to Israel he became the unofficial rav of the Modshitz shtieble in Yerushalayim.

During his yeshiva days, Rav Nachman’s ability to solve problems with grace was apparent to all.

The bochurim of his yeshivah were standing in a lunch queue one day. As each bochur reached the front of the line, the burly cook would slap a portion of meat and potatoes on his plate.

“Excuse me,” asked one bochur, could I please have a little more.” “That’s all you get today,” retorted the cook gruffly. “Keep moving!” But Rav Nachman, who was next in line, stood up for his fellow bochur. He seized the tiny portion of meat right off the bochur’s plate and carried it off to use as visible evidence in an appeal to the yeshivah to increase their rations.


By the time he received semicha, Rav Bulman had offers to officiate at the most prestigious shuls in America. But, unfortunately, in the early 50’s the many American shuls did not have mechitzas that reach Rav Bulman’s non-compromising standards. So he and his wife, Shaindel, were forced to move out to the tiny community of Danville, Virginia whose shul had an upstairs women’s gallery.

rav-nachman-bulmanBut when Rosh Hashanah arrived, Rav Nachman was horrified to discover that a mechitza much lower than the halachah requires had been set up in the main shul.

“We don’t want all the ladies to have to exhaust themselves climbing the stairs,” someone explained.

By Rav Nachman’s demand, a better, makeshift, mechitza was set up but its aesthetic inadequacies offended the women so much that attempts were made to dismantle it completely. The mechitza finally survived, but one lady protested by refusing to enter the building and remained outside on the shul steps.

After the Torah reading, Rav Nachman stood up and gave an impromptu drasha instead of the one he had prepared.

“This is probably the last time I’ll be davening with you,” he said, “but before I leave I want you all to understand the meaning of a shul and its sanctity.”

After a heart rending drasha Rav Bulman strode to the amud and began Mussaf, pouring out his soul to Hashem with his spellbinding voice. Words of the heart penetrate the heart. Rav Nachman’s words and prayers stole the hearts of the kehilla and he remained their beloved rav for another three years.

From 1954-1957 Rav Nachman served as rav in South Fallsburg where he fought a fierce battle to improve the standards of its shechita. Chazal say that when Hashem loves a man’s path, even his enemies make peace with him and this is what happened in this controversy. One of the shochtim, who had been Rav Nachman’s fiercest opponent, subsequently took Rav Nachman’s side against the others.


Rav Nachamn’s brilliance as an educator shone forth. As one of the first proponents of the teshuvah movement in America, he understood the way to make and keep kids frum was not through bar-mitzvah lessons and visits to shul, but by creating a program that would speak to their hearts and souls.

And so when NSCY, was created which offered Shabbatons, youth conventions and camps. Rav Bulman was one of its key speakers. People who are grandparents today still remember his electrifying speeches which changed their lives.

From 1957-1962 Rav Bulman was the head of the Adath Yehsurun Synagogue in Newport News, Virginia. By that time his children were in elementary school and Rav Bulman organized a car-pool to transport children of the community to a Torah school in Hampton. The car-pool was, however, not the epitome of punctuality and one day an angry non religious father announced, “If my daughter is picked up late one more time I’m sending her to the local public school!”

A few mornings later, when it was Rav Bulman’s turn to drive the children to school, he woke up with an excruciating pain in his side. Knowing that if he were late, a Yidddishe soul might drop out of yeshiva, he ignored his pain, picked up all the children and drove them out to Hampton. At the school gate he collapsed and was sped to hospital where it was discovered that his appendix had burst. But to Rav Nachman, the important thing was he got that girl to school on time.

Several years later the mother of that girl passed away when she was twelve years old and she was left with the task of bringing up her two younger sisters. Thanks to her years in a frum school she was able to instil them with Jewish values, despite her father’s indifference, and today all three girls are married to bnei Torah. This was Rav Bulman’s self sacrifice for one child.

This was not the only case of Rav Bulman’s mesirus nefesh. Not far from Newport News, was a nuclear research base in the town of Eustis. Young servicemen from the base were often his Shabbos guests and many of them became shomer mitzvos through his influence.

One Friday afternoon Rav Bulman got an urgent phone call. “Hello,” said a voice at the other end of the line. “I’m so and so from the nuclear research base and it looks as if the experiment we’re conducting is going to run into Shabbos. What should I do?”

“Tell me the details,” said Rav Nachman.

The specialist briefly outlined the intricacies of the nuclear experiment and Rav Nachman advised him how he could continue to conduct it on a supervisory basis without violating the Shabbos.

“Don’t forget to come around afterwards,” concluded Rav Bulman.

At one in the morning there was a knock at the door and Rav Bulman shared a second Friday night meal with the young man. This is how Rav Bulman captured people’s hearts.

When Rav Bulman left Newport News, the local pharmacist asked his replacement if he intended to continue the custom of Rav Bulman. “What custom?” asked the rabbi.

“Whenever a meshulach came to town,” replied the pharmacist, “Rav Bulman would inquire after his health and send him here for medicine telling me to charge it to the Bulman account.”


Rav Bulman’s next position was in the West Bronx where he served from 1962-1967. At that time, he decided that it was high time American orthodoxy had an articulate voice of its own in English. He not only was one of the founders of the Jewish Observer,but even wrote many of its articles for several years under various pseudonyms. He also wrote the article in the first edition explaining the reason for the founding of the new magazine. He also assisted Torah Umesorah and founded the Teachers Training Program in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, Baltimore. Every Sunday he would make the six-hour round trip journey from New York to teach there.

Together with Eliyahu Kitov, Rav Bulman translated and published the famous works “A Jew and His Home” and “The Book of Our Heritage” which are mainstays of English speaking frum homes, and which have never gone out of print since.

From 1967 – 1975 he was the rav of Far Rockaway N.Y. where he founded and taught at the Sarah Schnirer High School and Seminary and the Yeshivah of Far Rockaway (Yeshivah Derech Eisan).


Rav Nachman yearned his whole life to live in Eretz Yisrael and finally his dream came true in 1975 when he came to live in Sanhedria, Jerusalem. One of his first stops was at the home of the young local rav, Rav Noach Heisler.

“I’m offering you my services for whatever you need,” he said. Rav Bulman’s offer was soon urgently needed. Part of the plan of Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, to secularize the city was to build a huge football stadium on the giant hill behind Sanhedria Murchevet and its bordering religious neighborhoods, which would have caused traffic jams and noise to disturb the Shabbos peace.

Thanks in part to Rav Bulman’s fervent opposition, the plan was aborted and today the stadium site is home to a new frum neighborhood, Ramat Shlomo.

Shortly thereafter, Rav Bulman became the mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr Someach.

In Israel, Rav Bulman helped American Jews adjust to the different reality of Chareidi Israeli life. One of his sage pieces of advice was to strictly avoid undertaking impossible financial obligations when marrying off children.

The outreach activist, Rabbi Meir Schuster, used to bring estranged Jews straight from the Kosel to Rav Bulman’s home and it never ceased to amaze him how Rav Bulman instinctively handled each one. Confronted with an intellectual, Rav Bulman would perhaps discuss the paradox of Hashem’s foreknowledge and free-will. A free- wheeling lost soul would be showered with Chasidic warmth. A chutzpan would be mentally beaten into submission and a sincere seeker of the truth would find a fountain of sweetness and warmth.


A frum Jew, who Rav Nachman wished to transform into a ben Torah once asked him, “What’s wrong with the rabbi I’ve been listening to until now?” “Come back in a week and I’ll tell you,” replied Rav Nachman.” A week later the young man returned and for forty five minutes Rav Nachman told him eight positive points which he admired in that rabbi. “Nevertheless,” concluded Rav Nachman, “he is mistaken about one thing,” and he proceeded to explain that point of disagreement. Rav Bulman always had a dream of leading a community that would serve as a magnet for American aliyah. To further that aim, in 1979, Rav Bulman founded the Torah community of Kiryat Nachliel in Migdal Ha’emek and he lived there until 1993. One Friday afternoon he was shocked to see that his neighbors, immigrants from Russia, continued tending their garden long after sundown on Friday afternoon.

With typical tact, Rav Bulman approached them during the week and sympathized that their busy schedule seemed to leave them with so little time to tend their beloved garden. “If you see that its getting late on Fridays,” he concluded, “I’ll be happy to give you a hand and help you finish off.”

Of course the offer was never accepted, but the message made its way to their hearts and never again did they do any garden work on Shabbos. With such an approach is it any wonder that Rav Bulman single handedly crated thousands of baalei teshuvah?

Once again Rav Bulman considered it part of his duty to not only act as a surrogate parent to the young couples of the community, but also to start up and finance a synagogue, a kollel and an elementary school. Just two years ago, Rav Bulman moved to Neveh Yaakov in northeast Yerushalayim where he founded the Nachaliel Beis Medrash.


Rav Nachman possessed a towering intellect. He knew and taught Tanach with unparalleled depth and breadth. There was not a Torah topic which he had not mastered, in addition to his expertise in history, philosophy, ethics, halachah, chassidus and more. His wife said that he was “addicted” to sefarim. He brought home more and more and more until he amassed a gigantic library. Yet he knew where every single sefer was and he had been through them all. Shelves of sefarim consisted of works produced by his past talmidim.

As great in is heart as in his intellect, he was a man of intense emotion who laughed and cried freely. He could roar like a lion when defending the truth while displaying a powerful love for his talmidim. His greatest joy was when a talmid published a new sefer and brought him a copy. He would embrace the talmid, kiss him and shout out to his rebbetzin, “Bring out the shnapps for a l’chaim.”

People came to him in distress, including agunos, widows, victims of abuse and mothers of sick children. Each found a sympathetic ear, practical advice and a heartfelt prayer.

On one occasion a woman came to him with tears in her eyes. “Rabbi,” she said, “I had one son eight years ago and since then – nothing. Can’t you do something to help me?”

“I’m not a miracle worker,” replied Rav Nachman, “but I know what the Talmud says: ‘Whoever prays for his fellow concerning something which he needs himself will be answered first.’ My daughter has been married for several years and she is still childless. Why don’t you daven for her?” The woman did as Rav Nachman suggested and began praying for his daughter who in the meanwhile adopted a son. Several years later Rav Nachman, who was in Israel, received an excited phone call.

“Rabbi!” said the voice at the other end. “I finally had another son last week and I want to invite you to the bris.”

Amazingly, Rav Nachman’s daughter had given birth to a daughter on the exact day that woman had her son. But that wasn’t all.

Some time later the two women met in Florida and when they compared notes and made allowances for the different time zones they discovered that they had both given birth within the same hour.

On another occasion a man came to sell his chametz and before he left he broke into tears.

“I’ve been a respectable businessman my whole life,” he said, “and now I’m on the verge of bankruptcy. With five thousand dollars I could pull myself out but I don’t have even one dollar of credit.” “I’ll do my best to help you,” promised Rav Nachman. The very next person to walk in Rav Nachman’s study had a different kind of problem.

“Rabbi,” he said. “I’ve got five thousand dollars lying around at this moment that I would like to use for some chesed. Do you perhaps know someone who needs a loan?”

Rav Nachman did his best to suppress such stories about himself. “I’m not an admor,” he would say. “All I do is try to give people good advice.”


Rav Nachman never forgot his chassidic heritage and he forged close connections to the admorim of Modzitz. While in the United States, he was one of the closest talmidim of the Imrei Shaul of Modzitz, and then of the Imrei Shaul’s son, the Imrei Esh, as well as of the current Admor of Modzitz. True to the Modzizer tradition, Rav Nachman was a talented singer.

It was said that hearing him sing was second only to hearing him speak and that was no small compliment if it is kept in mind that busloads of people would come to Agudah conventions expressly to hear his keynote speeches in which encapsulated the da’as Torah and burning fire of the gedolei hador.

Rav Nachman’s levaya was held at 1:00 a.m. on motzei Shabbos and despite the late hour the Ohr Sameach Yeshivah was so crowded that the overflow crowd had to peer in from outside through the windows. In the crowd was a mix of Borsalino-clad men, knitted kippot, streimels.

Rav Nachman was eulogized by Rav Noach Heisler, the rav of Sanhedria Murchevet, his son-in-law, Rav Daniel Belsky, and by his son Shmuel Tzvi.

Perhaps his life’s work can be summed up by one of the last episodes of his life. Three days before his petira a woman in her 80’s arrived with her daughter to pay a visit. He was hardly able to communicate any more. But when Rav Bulman’s daughter asked him, “Do you remember L.K, he nodded yes.

“She’s here to visit you. Can she come in?” again he nodded.

The woman came in and spoke to him with a southern drawl.

“Rabbi,” she said, “I want you to know that you changed my life and the life of many people. You taught us to love the Torah. You taught us that there is a G-d who always cares for us. Rabbi, I love you and I will never forget you.” Thus the old woman, once a young congregant of his, gave back a little of what she had received so many years before.

May his memory be for a blessing.

{By Moshe Shapiro/This article originally appeared in Yated Ne’eman.}

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  1. I was in Ohr Somayach in 1998.
    At Shacharit, Rav Bulman ZL would suddenly start walking down one aisle, and then back up the next. He would be looking in faces until he found who he was looking for. Then he’d often give some tochachah. Guys would tense as soon as the Rav undertook a walk of the floor. But getting that tochachah was wonderful. It was always easier to take, than to watch someone else get it!
    I got it in the heder ochel after Shacharit one morning. Eveyone leaned further over their food like they were ducking for cover. Oof that was good!
    Rav Bulman is incredibly missed.

  2. Have you ever been to an amusement park and seen those mirrors that make you look better than you are; if you’re too fat it makes you look tall, if you are too thin it gives you an extra wide dimension.

    That was Rav Bulman. Whatever, you were, whether you were a Chossid, a Litvak, A Yekki, a Sephardi, a Baal Teshuva, whatever you were, that’s what you saw in him and he brought out the best in you in your Derech.

  3. He knew so much. He did not guess, he was not approximate in his opinions, he just knew every angle, every point of view on an issue, far more than what the person asking knew. He was a tremendous resource.


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