Dr. Pearl Herzog
June 3, 2021
A Heart for History, an Eye for Eternity
The experiences, relationships, and accomplishments of Pearl Herzog and her family offer a unique appreciation of and glimpse into the journeys of Am Yisrael in the 20th century.
Her name may be familiar from various publications or from around Lakewood, where she has lived for 35 years, but readers may not know Pearl in person. While her official title includes a PhD, she only uses it in academic circles, as she humbly claims, “The more one knows, the more one realizes how little one knows.”
Pearl’s mother, Chana Rochel née Flam, left Poland in 1924 with her parents, who descended from the Chassidic dynasties of Belz, Kaliv, Ziditchov, and Strettin. They settled in Montreal, where her father established a shul. One notable congregant was Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung, the future chief rabbi of Montreal. The shul hosted numerous other venerable personalities as well, including Rav Meir Shapiro, the founder of Daf Yomi, who came to collect for Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin; in fact, he served as sandak at the bris of one of the Flam sons.
When she reached marriageable age and prospects in Montreal were limited, Chana Rochel traveled to Yerushalayim and stayed at her grandmother’s home so she could pursue shidduchim. When she expressed her wish to return to Canada, her cousin Rav Aharon Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe, advised her to stay because “your bashert is in Eretz Yisrael.” Soon after, she met Tovia Preschel.
A grandson of the rav and av beis din of Snyatin, Galicia, Tovia was born in Vienna. In addition to attending cheder, he learned privately with Rabbi Shmuel Hubner, who eventually became known for his translation of several volumes of Gemara into Yiddish.
Following the horror of Kristallnacht, 16-year-old Tovia was fortunate to be sent on the Kindertransport of Rabbi Solomon Schoenfeld to London, where he learned under the tutelage of Rav Eliyahu Lopian. Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky took him as a chavrusa for his own son Menachem and hosted Tovia at his home every Shabbos and Yom Tov.
While he found refuge in Britain, Tovia joined the Irgun Tzva’i Leumi (Etzel), the underground movement protesting the British Mandate in Eretz Yisrael, then known as Palestine. At great personal risk, he published articles and organized a mass protest in which he spoke against the British restrictions on Jewish immigration. Years later, Prime Minister Menachem Begin bestowed upon him an award for his participation in the Irgun.
During the War of Independence in 1948, Tovia voluntarily joined the war effort with other frum men, including the father of the current Kozhnitzer Rebbe, who brought with him his own kosher utensils. It was around that time that Tovia was reunited with his father, who had survived the Holocaust.
Once, during the period when Tovia was active in the army, he visited Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim in Yerushalayim and father-in-law of Rav Aharon Kotler. The Rav had been wounded in his leg during the siege of Jerusalem and was convalescing at the home of his son-in-law Rav Y. M. Ben-Menachem in Petach Tikvah. While the Rav lay on a couch, Rebbetzin Meltzer sat at a table copying his divrei Torah in preparation for the publication of another volume of Even Ha’ezel. As was typical due to the poverty that was rampant at the time, they did not even have paper for writing; she wrote on paper used for wrapping food.
Rabbi Tovia Preschel became known as a talmid chacham, bibliophile, and Jewish historian due to the many articles he contributed to Torah journals and newspapers in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, including Sinai, Hadarom, Hapardes, Hamodia, Hatzofeh, the Jewish Press, and the Algemeiner, among others. His writings covered topics such as she’eilos u’teshuvos, minhagim, Gemara, Tanach, Haggados, and the calendar, in addition to reviews of sefarim and as well as biographies of influential personalities and interviews with prominent Jewish figures. He has been quoted by numerous scholars, who cite him as “Tes-Peh”; those initials are even included in the Otzar Roshei Teivos by Shmuel Ashkenazi and Dov Yarden. His entries can be found in Hebrew and English in the Encyclopedia Talmudit, Encyclopedia HaIvrit, Encyclopedia Judaica, Encyclopedia of Hasidism, and others.
He was close with Yerushalmi legends such as Rav Aryeh Levine and Rav Itche Meir Levine. He also worked as an editor at Mossad Harav Kook, with whom Dr. Herzog later collaborated to posthumously publish six volumes of his Hebrew writings, Ma’amarei Tovia. She also established a website, www.Toviapreschel.com, which contains over a thousand of his articles.
Young in Yerushalayim
Rabbi Tovia and Mrs. Chana Rochel Preschel settled in Yerushalayim. Pearl is the third of their four children, born while the city was still under Jordanian occupation. The family lived on Rechov Washington near the historic King David Hotel, within view of the Old City but a world away. Their three illustrious sons are Dr. Yochanan Preschel, a psychiatrist in New York; Dr. Shmuel Aharon Preschel, the well-known internist in Lakewood; and Rabbi Chaggai Preschel, a dayan and mechaber sefarim who served as rav in Moscow and Philadelphia and currently lives in Eretz Yisrael.
Dr. Herzog credits their accomplishments to their mother’s constant effusive praise of her children. “My mother believed that a child lives up to his parents’ expectations. The more a mother conveys her belief that her children could accomplish, the more they succeed.”
Before her youngest brother was born, the Preschels relocated to the US. Pearl gained knowledge of Yiddish from her education at Tomer Devorah and Hebrew from Shulamith elementary school, respectively; she then attended Prospect Park Yeshiva for high school. She continued her education at Michlalah in Yerushalayim, one year in the seminary for students from chutz laAretz and the second year in the Israeli program.
Rabbi and Mrs. Preschel wanted their children to experience Jewish life and Jewish history, up close and personal. In the summer of 1967, the Preschels flew to Eretz Yisrael immediately following the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War in June. They seized the opportunity to visit mekomos kedoshim newly regained by the Jewish people: the Kosel, before it was all cleaned up; Chevron; Kever Rochel; Yericho; and the Sinai Desert, where they picked up many stray bullets, saw many sandals left behind by Egyptian soldiers, and visited what is believed to be Har Sinai.
During the summers when Pearl was 13 and 14, the family traveled around Europe. The international airfare and first-class train tickets for travel between neighboring countries cost less than summer camp. The family of six slept overnight on the trains, which had private rooms in which the seats turned into beds, and they awoke each morning in a different city. Shabbosos were spent in hotels. Long before the advent of kosher tours, they subsisted on fruits, vegetables, and tuna fish.
The family blazed its own trail, visiting kevarim of gedolim, shuls, mikva’os, and other sites significant to Jewish history in Austria, Germany, Poland, Spain, Portugal, France, England, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. On one occasion they traveled by ship from Eretz Yisrael to Turkey, where they visited the Jewish neighborhoods of Izmir and Istanbul.
Dr. Herzog reflects, “I believe that traveling with my family to visit sites of Jewish history reinforced my appreciation for having been born into the Chosen People, and for that I have much gratitude to Hashem.”
Master of languages
Rabbi Preschel believed that to really understand Jewish history, one needs to be able to read sources in the original language. So, Pearl took courses in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, French, Italian, German, and Syriac.
For a whole year, she was ma’avir sedrah with three translations: Targum Onkelos in Aramaic, Targum Shivim in Greek, and Tafsir, a Judeo-Arabic translation of Chumash by Rav Sa’adyah Gaon. She explains that the she’eilos u’teshuvos of the Rambam were written in Judeo-Arabic, so it is a valuable language for Jewish scholars to know.
On Shabbos, Pearl delivered shiurim on the parshah at the Agudah on 10th Avenue in Boro Park, where her mother sat in the front row, beaming.
While not yet married and pursuing a doctoral degree, Pearl traveled to Europe over three summers to study in different cities and develop her language fluency. In Paris, she studied French while staying with a friend from Boro Park in an apartment building under the auspices of Yeshivas Novardok. She developed her Italian while staying with the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Margulies, the former chief rabbi, in Florence. Another summer she stayed in Vienna with a frum family in an effort to improve her German.
While traveling, Pearl wrote articles for the Jewish Press about the Jewish communities in the cities she was visiting. Later, they were compiled and published by Moznaim Publishing as Travels in Jewish Europe, which was released on the day of her wedding, in January of 1986.
Pearl met Rabbi Mordechai Herzog, a native of Vienna who, like her, had a passion for Jewish history, scholarship, and travel. He had attended Rav Schlesinger’s yeshivah in London, Rav Koppelman’s yeshivah in Switzerland, and Ponovezh in Bnei Brak before learning in BMG in Lakewood, where he learned under Rav Shneur Kotler. After their wedding, they visited the Jewish communities in Morocco and nearby Gibraltar. Dr. Herzog contributed articles about those Jewish communities to the Jewish Press, as well.
Their two sons, who each learned for five years in Ponovezh, live with their families in Yerushalayim, where they continue to learn full-time. Pearl credits their love of learning to their observation of their father learning during every spare moment. In addition, every day for more than 15 years, she recited the tefillah of the Shelah Hakadosh and the Tefillah L’hatzlachah B’Torah of the Chazon Ish, asking Hashem to merit sons who are talmidei chachamim.
Professor and publisher
While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in education at Hofstra University, Pearl taught in Bais Rivka in Crown Heights and Bais Rochel in Williamsburg. She earned a master’s degree in Semitic languages from Bernard Revel Graduate School at Yeshiva University and a master’s and PhD in Near Eastern studies from New York University. Her PhD dissertation was about the Jews of Corfu, a Greek island. One article within it is about the kashrus of the esrogim that used to grow there.
Dr. Herzog taught advanced courses in Hebrew literature and Jewish history at Shevach High School in Queens for credit at Touro College. She later taught various courses, including one about the Dead Sea scrolls, at Baruch College in Manhattan under Dean Rebbetzin Jean Jofen. She also worked as an editor of the Jewish Press. She spent a year commuting to work in New York from Lakewood via a bus and two trains, then stopped as it was too taxing.
Missing her teaching and editing work, she founded and single-handedly ran her own newspaper, the American Jewish Times. From 1988 until 2014, thousands of copies of the 12- or 16-page paper were distributed biweekly or monthly for free throughout Ocean and Monmouth Counties. The newspaper included divrei Torah from rabbanim, articles about Jewish communities around the world, news topics, lists of places where one could buy kosher food, a humor column called the “Narishkeit Section,” stories of gedolim, and a comic strip about a Jewish superhero, “Tallisman,” whose cape was a tallis.
She describes it as a “vehicle to help make people frum”; her target audience was the local unaffiliated Jews, and her mission was to prevent assimilation. In a 1992 interview with the Asbury Park Press she explained that she wanted “to perpetuate the Jewish people” after having lost so many in the Holocaust. An advocate for justice, she printed on the front page a request to daven for Jonathan Pollard to be released from jail and included his address for readers to send him letters, and for many years she sent him a copy of the newspaper.
When Pearl realized she could live without the constant pressure of a weekly deadline, she stopped producing the newspaper and instead began to contribute articles to Hamodia, Ami, and Mishpacha. She has written fascinating features on topics such as the mysterious kevarim of Esther and Mordechai, a lesser-known gadol in Western Europe, a Jewish physician in pre-Islamic Middle East, Jewish weddings that took place in cemeteries, the Jewish Pope in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, the Rothschilds of Pinsk, and the origins of eating hamantashen on Purim. Today, she is working on publishing more of her father’s writings and occasionally shares her thoughts in letters to the editors of various publications.
In addition to her extensive writing work, Dr. Herzog served as adjunct professor for 16 years in New Jersey. She taught English writing at Ocean County College and modern Jewish history, medieval Jewish history, and modern Israel courses at the Kean University branch of OCC.
Pearls of wisdom
As a pioneer in frum women’s higher education with a treasure trove of knowledge, what does Dr. Herzog suggest for chinuch habanos today?
She feels that yeshivah high school students already learn a tremendous amount, but “the priority is transmitting to our daughters and granddaughters both fear and love of Hashem and the importance of tznius in dress and thought. When they understand that they are constantly being guarded and loved by the Almighty, they will feel secure and not need to seek attention elsewhere.”
How can we inspire ourselves and our children to love Hashem, His Torah, and His people?
“By infusing our children with the message that we believe in Hashem, by constantly referring to His existence, we raise devout Jews who will adhere to the mitzvos because of strong beliefs. When our society will focus on the spiritual acknowledgement of our Creator and not emphasize materialism, our progeny will grow up secure within themselves and not have their self-worth tied to the accumulation of goods.”
Dr. Herzog blends emunah with Torah scholarship to better inform our understanding of Jewish life and history. While exploring and educating about our glorious past, she has helped inspire foundations for a brighter future.