Besser, Chaskel O.

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BESSER, CHASKEL O. (1923– ), Orthodox rabbi. Besser was born in Katowice, Poland. His father, Naphtali Besser, was a successful businessman who was the right-hand man to the *Radomsko rebbe, Solomon Rabinowich, and tried to get him to escape occupied Poland, but the rebbe refused to leave his people. As a child, Chaskel Besser studied in the Radomsker Keter Torah Yeshivah both in Katowice and in Lodz. He escaped Poland on September 1, 1939, as the Germans entered the country, and reached Ereẓ Israel five days later. He continued his studies with Rabbi Herschel Eisenstadt (originally of Poland) of Jerusalem, who was the disciple of Rabbi Ḥayyim Brisker. He was ordained in 1942 by Rabbi Joseph Blumenfeld, the head of the Bet Din of Tel Aviv.

Besser moved to New York in 1946, where he became a successful businessman in real estate. However, his real devotion was to working for the benefit of the Jewish people and labored on behalf of common causes. He was friendly with presidents and prime ministers as well as a diverse group of Jewish leaders including Nahum *Goldmann and Menaḥem *Begin as well as such rabbinic leaders as Moses *Feinstein and *Aaron Kotler and a variety of ḥasidic leaders.

Besser was instrumental in popularizing the daf yomi (study of the daily Talmud page in a 7½-year cycle) starting. He was one of three rabbis invited to the inauguration of President George H. Bush. In 1987, he was appointed to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad.

In 1987, Rabbi Besser met Ronald S. *Lauder, a leading businessman, philanthropist, and Jewish leader while Lauder was serving as U.S. ambassador to Austria. The following year, Lauder established the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation to develop and nurture Jewish life in former Communist countries. Besser quickly became Lauder's mentor and spiritual guide for the activities of the Foundation. Besser was already active in fighting for the preservation and restoration of Jewish cemeteries in Poland and in surrounding countries. This dedication led him also to seek out the remaining Jews of Poland and other countries, especially those who had only recently discovered their true Jewish identities. Being one of the first Jews to recognize that there were many more Jews remaining in Poland than previously thought, he labored ceaselessly to enable any Jew who wanted to return to the Jewish people to be able to so. Today, there are more than 20,000 practicing Jews in Poland, in large measure due to the groundwork laid by Besser in the late 1980s on.

Besser became the rabbi of Bnai Israel Chaim on Manhattan's West Side. He was also one of the closest allies and confidants of Rabbi Moses Sherer, the executive director of Agudat Israel for several decades, helping him strengthen and expand the activities and the impact of the organization.


W. Kozak, The Rabbi of 84th Street (2004).

[Michael J. Schudrich (2nd ed.)]