David Weiss Halivni, Controversial Talmudic Scholar, Dies at 94

Professor Halivni was born David Weiss in Kobyletska Poliana, now in Ukraine. (He later adopted the Hebrew surname Halivni, which Weiss basically means Caucasian, since the name Weiss also belonged to SS officers he met.) Although his passport says his date of birth is December 21, 1928, his son says that his actual date of birth is September 27, 1927, and that date has most likely been changed so that he can qualify immigrated to the United States under a special program for war orphans.

When he was four years old, his father, Ephraim Bezalel Viderman, and his mother, Feige Weiss, separated and he and his mother went to live with his Hasidic grandfather, Shaye Weiss, a respected Talmud scholar, in the town of Sighet, then in Romania. . There, he was sometimes a friend at the religious school of Elie Wieselfuture Nobel Peace Prize winners.

His grandfather realized that David was a child prodigy, with an extraordinary memory capable of recalling entire pages of text, and had him join the Talmud at the age of 5. When he was 10, he stopped going to school to study full time. separately, and at the age of 15 he was ordained a rabbi.

In March 1944, German troops entered Sighet and deported its Jewish inhabitants to Auschwitz, where David’s mother, sister, and grandfather were killed. His father was also killed by the Germans, leaving him at the age of 16 as the sole survivor of his family. After a week at Auschwitz, he was transferred to forced labor camps in Gross-Rosen, Wolfsberg and finally Mauthausen, where he worked in an underground weapons factory.

He later told his sons that on one occasion he noticed a German guard eating a bread wrapped in a torn sheet of paper from the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish code of law, and had boldly asked the guard to give him the package. The Guardian agreed, and the site became the subject of gossip for several months.

After the Allies defeated the Germans, he returned to Sighet to find that the Jewish community there had been wiped out and took up residence in Budapest, where he spent his days studying with a rabbi. He told his sons, Baruch Weiss said, that “the only thing that kept him going after the war was learning.”

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