The Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts was founded in 1937 by the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt"l. Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth was a venerated member of the Limudei Kodesh faculty from 1945 to 1997. This book is the result of decades of loving work by members of the Maimonides Kehillah and his students who had the privilege personally knowing Rabbi Wohlgemuth. Rabbi Soloveitchik spent his weekends at home in Brookline. When the Rav was at home, neighbors would join the Rav davening as an informal Kehillah. Rabbi Wohlgemuth was a longtime member.
The November 2013 edition of Jewish Action published a lengthy article by Steve Lipman, “Can Schools Do a Better Job of Teaching Tefillah?” The article wrote about Rabbi Wohlgemuth, and his Biur HaTefillah course at Maimonides: “The Maimonides Beurei HaTefillah curriculum offers both the historical context and philosophical underpinnings of individual prayers. Additionally, it emphasizes the interpretation of the words and the structure of the siddur. The curriculum, say many people familiar with the Jewish educational field, is considered the gold standard of day schools in North America—one that offers depth and breadth, that engages adolescent students’ interest, that inspires them to keep praying and understanding what they are saying after they have left the School.”
Maimonides alumni often write that they have especially warm personal memories of Rabbi Wohlgemuth and of his class, and how what they learned has really stuck. “We can hear Rabbi Wohlgemuth's voice as we read his book and as we daven.”
As he approached retirement, Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth asked Rabbi Asher Reichert, a student of his from Maimonides’s class of 1967, to help him write what has become this invaluable resource. Over six years, they spent many afternoons in Brookline together as Rabbi Wohlgemuth dictated from his Maimonides Beurei HaTefillah lecture notes. Together, they revised and reorganized his material. After Asher went on aliyah, Rabbi Wohlgemuth came to Har Nof for three summers, where they continued writing and editing. Rabbi Wohlgemuth had a philosophy of education that was expressed in his work. Asher had appreciated it before. He came to understand it in depth as they continued.
The first edition wasn’t finished when Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s health began to fail. Because of the rush to get it to print, Rabbi David Shapiro, then retired as the Principal of Maimonides, joined in the final editing. Rabbi Wohlgemuth read and approved all the text they produced. Joel Robinson, a Maimonides Kehillah member, self-published the first two editions of Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s Guide to Jewish Prayer. The resulting books sold 3,000 copies in two printings.
But Rabbi Reichert still had much additional material. They discussed the details and overall scope of the project. Rabbi Wohlgemuth gave Asher some very specific directions for those parts of the book that they didn’t get to finish. He looked forward to when he could take the time to finish this project. In preparation, he spent more than twenty years writing books, using many tools and resources to do just that.
Several years ago, I wanted to purchase more copies of Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s Guide to Jewish Prayer to study each Shabbat long distance with my four Denker grandsons living in Staten Island, New York. But I found that it had been out of print for many years. So I posted an Internet request to the Jewish Boston Group list: “Does anyone have the files for the original edition?” Joel Robinson, publisher of first two editions now living in Israel responded. He had all the files. He gave me permission to use them.
Although I created a new edition of Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s book for my grandsons in New York City, I wanted the Maimonides to self-publish it so it would not ever go out of print again, if we were no longer around. I contacted Mike Rosenberg at Maimonides to alert him to the possibility of making the book available again; he said that many have requested copies. Together, we decided once again to make it available for the third time.
Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s son Shlomoh granted permission for the book to be re-published, edited and annotated. Shlomoh asked Abe Katz to review the entire manuscript. Abe had established the Beurei HaTefillah Institute to assist educators in developing courses on Tefillah. A 1971 Maimonides graduate, Abe was a student of Rabbi Wohlgemuth. He augmented our edition with many additional footnotes to clarify Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s commentary and added an index to identify pages where names or keywords can be found.
Together, Abe Katz, Mike Rosenberg and I produced the third edition of Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s book. July 23, 2015—Mike placed a 500-book order, the first of several book orders since.
Now most importantly this publication by the Orthodox Union give us the opportunity to make his Torah more widely known.
In the fall of 2017 my New York City Grandson, Shmuel Denker entered Yeshivat Reishit in Beit Shemesh, Israel. He brought along a copy of the 2015 book for Rabbi Asher and Rashie Reichert, Reishit’s Office Manager. Rashie and my wife had taught pre-kindergarten together at Maimonides many years ago.
In reply, Rabbi Reichert sent me an email to describe the actual events surrounding the original book:
“I worked very intensively with Rabbi Wohlgemuth, zt”l, to put together his Torah on Tefillah in book form. Rabbi Wohlgemuth wanted me to be listed as a co-author, but I refused, because I didn’t want any of my personality reproduced in the book, just his. But he said we should share in the profits and donate them to a charity of our choice. I agreed, and my choice was Maimonides. I wanted to give back. We didn’t quite finish the project when Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s health started failing. Joel Robinson approached me and asked if I could speed things up so Rabbi Wohlgemuth could at least see and appreciate the results. I agreed even though I didn’t think we were done. Then our family made Aliyah. Today I spoke to Shlomoh Wohlgemuth. He said I should also speak with Abe Katz. I did. I have begun. I used your new print version as my starting point. When it is ready, it should be a proper work that will be relevant to people with a very basic level of Jewish knowledge and relevant to a person with a high level of Jewish knowledge as well. It is my highest priority! The level that Rabbi Wohlgemuth presented material was quite sophisticated. With him not sitting opposite me to help, the requirement to provide notations to back up the sources he quotes is a big job. It will take me more time than you would like, but I do not want to leave anything half-baked or incorrect. I hope I do not disappoint you with what I have expressed, but I am committed to finishing this project as soon as I possibly can, as correct as I can make it, and consistent with what I believe Rabbi Wohlgemuth intended.”
The result is this fourth edition of Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth’s Guide to Jewish Prayer, extensively expanded to include previously unpublished author’s notes and supplementary material. Now that it is published by the Orthodox Union, I am confident that this invaluable work cannot ever go out of print again,
I would personally like to thank Rabbi David Hellman of the Young Israel of Brookline and Rabbi Simon Posner of the Orthodox Union for their encouragement, support and thoughtful advice. Once again for the financial the support for this new edition lovingly provided by Kenny Wintman and his sister Sandy Welkes, both former students of Rabbi Wohlgemuth.