Dr. William Gewirtz, a former CTO of AT&T Business, is a (n almost retired) consultant in the technology and communications sector. He maintains a strong interest in halakhic areas where mathematics, science, and/or logic play an important role, including all aspects of zemanim, cantillation / trop, the fixed Rabbinic calendar and kinnim.
I attended the only co-ed Lubavitch cheder of which I am aware, growing up in Bridgeport, CT. I then went to Torah Vodaath, which was then still in Williamsburg, where three of my rabbeim, Rav Yosef Levitan, Rav Avraham Brody, and Rav Yisroel Belsky all zt”l left lasting impressions each in their unique way.
Rav Levitan was an American born talmid hakham whose personality attracted me from the time I arrived as a freshman in 1961. Sadly, he died before the age of 40. I fondly remember walking from Williamsburg to his home in Crown Heights on many a Shabbat. Our conversations have remained etched in my mind to this day. Clean-shaven, with short sideburns, and never or rarely, as I seem to remember, wearing a black hat, he was my first encounter with brilliance. Much of our conversations will remain private; they would not be believed anyway given the transformation of traditional Judaism that has occurred since then. Rav Levitan had 2 children as I recall a daughter around 8 and a 2-year-old son who had bells on his shoes, which Rav Levitan explained quoting a Gemara, Shea yuki sha’r, the devil destroys walls. Given my fascination with his personality, I remain cautious trying to make sure I do not distort/amplify our conversations. Why he was so open with me, a HS freshman, I can only speculate. In my junior year when he was already quite ill, he encouraged me to attend the shiurim of the Rav zt”l, every Tuesday night in the Moriah synagogue. Between Rav Brody, my first European trained rebbe that year, and the shiur for ba’alei batim given by the Rav, a derech halimmud began to emerge. That year, I was privileged to my own room in the dorm on the semicha student’s floor after a raid discovered books on academic Talmud in my dorm room. It may have been the first (and last) time that that form of contraband was discovered.
During the summer between my junior and senior year, I was told by Rav Dovid Bender, ztl, that Rav Levitan was niftar. Sadly Rav Bender was niftar the following summer in his mid-forties.
My last year at TV was spent in Rav Belsky’s shiur; he was a genius of a different type, whose fame quickly spread. He encouraged me to attend BMG for that summer before I began 4+ years learning with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l and then the Rav zt’l. While at Yeshiva College a number of professors made a lasting impact; I remember the late Dr. Mayer Herskovitz, who influenced what I read. His response to many a question was ” there is a book about that.” I followed many of his suggestions including The Rise and Fall of the Judean State by Prof. Solomon Zeitlin. Ironically, I was reading Prof. Zeitlin’s 2 volumes with his picture on the jacket cover when he showed up and quietly sat in the back of the Rav’s shiur, for a Middle States evaluation, I believe. I do not believe that anyone noticed the way the Rav began speaking differently than usual while he was present; I almost burst out laughing from the expressions the Rav used that were clearly directed towards Prof. Zeitlin.
Dean Bacon, aware of my knowledge of Tanach, exempted me from college Bible classes, and instead, I got to spend three and one-half years studying at Revel with Professor Michael Bernstein, who, because of his disabilities, was confined to his home. Much of what I learned has not been forgotten.
In those days, unlike in recent years, there were only two awards in Talmud upon graduation; in 1969 one went to a current YU RY, and the other went to me. 🙂 While I attended the Rav’s shiur sporadically after graduation, my energies went into obtaining a Ph.D. in mathematical logic.
Each of the topics covered on this website emerged from different events in my life. As an executive at AT&T, I had to travel to Venezuela over 3 decades ago. It was my first Shabbat close to the equator and addiction to zemanim resulted. A few years later when traveling to Singapore, which sits on the equator, I was prepared, understanding the dramatic effect latitude had on zemanim.
My father AH was an expert Ba’al Koreh of whom I asked too few questions. I am now beginning to fully understand a number of things that I remember he told me. Rav Breuer ztl’s Sefer, Ta’amai Ha’mikrah, introduced me more formally to that world. My father died, be’saivah tovah, in 1998, just shy of his 94th birthday, a year when I traveled globally while commuting to London almost bi-weekly. In the last year of his life, he came late to a Purim seudah at my sister’s home, explaining that he was called to a nursing home to read the Megillah for alteshckis. The Sunday before his kevurah a week later, he walked up two flights of stairs not wanting to wait for the elevator, attending my daughter’s and SIL’s engagement party.
By my meticulous scheduling, I never missed minyan for an entire day. Stories about davening in 20+ cities around the world exposed me to some customs with which I was previously unfamiliar, many stories for a different day. At the YU book sale, my son Michoel bought me a recently published mathematical treatise formalizing and generalizing all of kinnim. Oddly, the author, Dr. Moshe Koppel, and I both had Prof. Martin Davis as our Doktervater. I studied the Sefer each time I missed a minyan; sadly I finished reading the Sefer twice. Fortunately, however, my interest in kinnim began.