A Rabbi Wrote a Halakhah Sefer – What Happened Next Will Amaze You!

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imageby R. Jeffrey Saks

The recent discovery of the 12 second video clip of the Chofetz Chaim has rightfully fascinated the Torah world. Indeed, it may be enough to redeem the black hole of inanity which is the Internet, with its click-bait of cats playing with string and Charlie biting fingers. The opportunity to view this “visual talisman” of the most revered tzaddik of the last century has proven very meaningful those of us for whom the Mishnah Berurah serves as a source of daily instruction. The fact that the Chofetz Chaim was largely “visible” to us only through that one much-reproduced, and rather stiff-looking portrait, makes the power of the brief moving image all the more remarkable.

In 1992 I was in Riga with YUSSR. The shul had a large storeroom full of old sifrei kodesh (literally hundreds of dusty volumes), which the shamash asked tourists to buy for foreign currency. For what was probably a fortune of cash to him, maybe it was $10, I took a stack of books, not knowing that among them was an original edition Mishnah Berurah. The endpages are covered in scribblings (including a few arithmetic calculations, it seems to have been used as scratch paper!). When I returned to New York I showed it to a dealer in rare Jewish books, who pointed out that in the upper right hand corner of the inside cover is the Hebrew word “mugah” (checked, inspected). He told me that the Chofetz Chaim himself (and his sons-in-law) inspected each volume as it came back from the printers to make sure there were no mistakes in the binding, etc. That notation, “mugah“, is none other than the Chofetz Chaim’s own handwriting (according to the book dealer).

When teaching halakhah, as I’ve done in various contexts since then, I always bring in the volume to class. I find the effect of having students touch a sefer which was held in the Chofetz Chaim’s own hands to be very powerful indeed.

About Jeffrey Saks

Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding director of ATID. His frequent lectures at the Agnon House in Jerusalem are broadcast on WebYeshiva.org/Agnon.


  1. MiMedinat HaYam

    Early editions of the MB have the Chofetz Chaim’s royalty notice (front of second cheeks / volume) allowing reprints if 20% of print run is donated to yeshivot.

  2. MiMedinat HaYam

    Another historical anomaly: the introduction of most reprints, written by the CC’s grandson, Rav Mendel Zacks (bochen at YU) shows how American Jewry knew about the Holocaust in 1942

  3. I also found a copy once in shaimos with Mugah in it. I was told by some knowledgeable people that both the CC’s wife and young daughter would also proof the sefer and write the word mugah themselves.

  4. ” MiMedinat HaYam
    Mar 16, 15 at 11:42 am

    Another historical anomaly: the introduction of most reprints, written by the CC’s grandson, Rav Mendel Zacks (bochen at YU) shows how American Jewry knew about the Holocaust in 1942″

    Of course it was widely known just a quick search of NY Times archive for 1942-I subscribe to NYT-so no marginal cost includes the following”SLAIN POLISH JEWS PUT AT A MILLION; One-third of Number in Whole Country Said to Have Been Put to Death by Nazis ABATTOIR FOR DEPORTEES Mass Electrocutions, Killing by Injection of Air Bubbles Described in Reports


    Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. ();
    November 26, 1942,
    , Section , Page 16, Column , words


    LONDON, Nov. 25 — Nearly a third of Poland’s Jewish population — 1,000,000 persons — has perished in three years of German occupation, Dr. Ignacy Szwarcbart, Jewish member of the Polish National Council in London, told this correspondent today, amplifying Polish Government information on the new Nazi onslaught on the Jews.’
    BTW R Zacks was the son-in-law of the CC-bochen -I was there when he was the bochen and experienced it.

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