Humble Beginnings and Lofty Legacies: A Talk with Rabbi Paysach Krohn

ArtScroll talks with internationally acclaimed speaker and best-selling author, Rabbi Paysach Krohn about the start of his illustrious career, the legacy he carries, and the family traditions he’s passing on.

They say that behind every great man is a woman, and that adage is true in the case of Rabbi Paysach Krohn –  his illustrious writing career started with his mother. “My mother was a marvelous writer. As I was growing up we used to sit together and read well-written newspaper articles, editorials, and op-ed pieces, all so I would learn to express myself with concise clarity.”

And thus began Rabbi Krohn’s lifetime of writing.

Before he was a bestselling author of the popular Maggid Series of books, Rabbi Krohn wrote for periodicals such as The Jewish Observer and Olomeinu. “In 1976, ArtScroll published its first book and I was so impressed with the quality of the work and the writing. I decided that I wanted to write for ArtScroll.”

“I called Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz and asked about publishing with ArtScroll. At first, we discussed a book on Mishlei, but I realized that would be a major undertaking.” Shortly thereafter, ArtScroll began to publish books on various topics, in addition to Tanach commentaries, so Rabbi Krohn’s next idea seemed obvious. “As a mohel I knew exactly what would be needed in a book on Milah.”

Rabbi Krohn tells of the favorable impression ArtScroll made on him. “Rabbi Nosson Scherman took his little phone book out from his inner jacket pocket and wrote my name and phone number in it. He pocketed the book, saying, ‘Now you’re one of us.’ I’ll never forget that.”

After Rabbi Krohn submittedwrote some sample chapters, ArtScroll accepted the concept and a contract was signed. But instead of a deadline, Rabbi Krohn was given a goal. “They told me, ‘Write a book on bris milah that is so thorough and so good, nobody will even consider writing another one for at least ten years.’” Thirty months later, Rabbi Krohn felt he had achieved that goal, and Bris Milah/Circumcision, was published.

Ready for his next writing challenge, Rabbi Krohn was inspired by short stories. His personal connection with Rav Sholom Schwadron, the Maggid of Yerushalayim, gave him the idea for his second book. Rabbi Krohn approached Rav Sholom and asked for permission to trasncribe his stories in a book accessible to the English reader.

“I wrote up the stories, and my cousin translated them for Rav Sholom. Then the most amazing thing happened: Rav Sholom called me and said that he liked what I had done with the stories, but that in many of them I had gleaned a different lesson from the story than he had.

“That is why The Maggid Speaks uses a different typeface for the introduction and epilogue than it does for the story itself. The stories belong to Rav Sholom, but the lessons and introductions are mine. This format worked so well that I continued to use it for all of my subsequent books. A story is like manna; just as everyone tasted the manna according to what they enjoyed, everyone can read a story and enjoy it, but they can each learn different lessons from it.”

After The Maggid Speaks, Rabbi Krohn believed he had finished writing short stories, but Rabbi Scherman had other plans. “Rabbi Scherman said that he had just come from South Africa where he saw a rebbi teaching his class from my book. He told me, ‘If rebbeim are teaching from your book, you need to write more.’”

Just as Rabbi Krohn worried that he didn’t have enough material for another book of stories, another amazing thing happened. “Rabbi Boruch Grossman called and asked me to speak at the graduation of his high school for Russian boys. That was my first public-speaking engagement. Following that, Mrs. Shanni Perr asked me to come to Camp Bnos to speak on Shabbos.” After those events, Rabbi Krohn received calls from other camps, and it wasn’t long before he had speaking engagements every Shabbos. Next, Rabbi Hillel David’s rebbitzen  invited him to speak to a ladies’ group, and things snowballed from there.

Along with the speaking invitations came another benefit. “People began to realize that if I was writing stories, I probably wanted to hear stories as well. Acquaintances and strangers approached me to tell their stories – on a plane, while crossing the street, anywhere. And they still do.” Rabbi Krohn collected stories for his next book, Around the Maggid’s Table. “It was called Around the Maggid’s Table, because that’s how stories are gathered. Rav Sholom would tell some stories, and others around his table would tell others.

The third book no longer contained stories from Rav Sholom, but rather – stories that Rabbi Krohn himself had collected and compiled. The book is therefore called In the Footsteps of The Maggid.

The format of Rabbi Krohn’s latest release differs from that of his previous books. “When Zman magazine originally began publishing, the editor-in-chief, Rabbi Yaakov Astor, asked if I would be willing to have my speeches transcribed to create articles for the magazine. I agreed, and ever since the first issue, one of my speeches has been the leading article.” After 25-30 issues had been published, Rabbi Gedaliah Zlotowitz thought of publishing these articles in book form. They worked it out with Zman, and published Perspectives of the Maggid.

His latest book, The Maggid at the Podium, is the second compilation of his speeches. “I knew that books of stories sell well, but I was amazed by the reception to this book.” Rabbi Krohn commented. The Maggid at the Podium sold over 5000 copies in its first couple of weeks, and “The feedback from readers has been wonderful, Boruch Hashem. People enjoy stories, but with this book, they get the lecture structure as well. There’s a buildup, development of the theme and a whole chapter for each topic.”

When asked if he prefers writing or speaking, Rabbi Krohn insists that he loves both, as each is uniquely rewarding. “But Bris Milah will always be first for me. It’s my main parnassah and a family tradition.” Both Rabbi Krohn’s father and grandfather were mohelim, and his son and son-in-law now continue the tradition.

Rabbi Krohn proudly recounts that his children are also continuing other family traditions. “My daughter Chaviva continued the writing tradition, first with stories from the Maggid books that she adapted for children.” Her newest children’s book, Making Hashem Proud is due out soon from ArtScroll. Rabbi Krohn’s daughter-in-law Genendel is achildren’s book author as well.” Speaking has also become a family tradition; Rabbi Krohn’s son Eliezer is a seminary teacher and popular speaker.

So much harbotzas Torah, such lofty legacies and traditions, one could wonder where they all comes from. But Rabbi Krohn sums it up simply. “Being a mohel is from my father, the writing is from my mother, and the speaking is from Rav Sholom Schwadron.”

Click here for exclusive online savings on Rabbi Krohn’s latest release: The Maggid at the Podium 

Click here for all titles by Rabbi Paysach Krohn

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