Rabbi Baruch Korff’s Impressions of Samuel Gass

Rabbi Baruch Korff, best known as “Nixon’s rabbi” for his unwavering support of President Nixon during Watergate, was the brother of Adele Korff Gass, Samuel Gass’s daughter-in-law. A keen observer of human behavior (who sometimes put his own chauvinistic spin on human interactions), Baruch had this to say about Samuel Gass:

“From my personal observation, I was perhaps the closest to Sam Gass. He liked me and I liked him because I believe that I understood him—he had scruples.

“Sam Gass was an autocrat. He was so successful in his enterprise [the rag business] and so astute in his perception that he just couldn’t perceive that someone else might have a better idea. It just didn’t occur to him. This was not out of malice but out of love. He was very protective of his family.

“The match between Max and Adele was in pursuit of authentication of his aristocracy. It was an affirmation of Sam Gass’s standing. He was a rag dealer. Those dealing in rags were not particularly esteemed by the other Jews in the community. Since the rag dealers had the money and the means, they established their own synagogue, the shmattes [rags] shul. It was regarded as a very well-to-do synagogue and soon others joined it. It was inevitable that Sam Gass became more respected after the match [because Adele was the daughter of a grand rabbi and a descendant of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism].

“My father [Grand Rabbi Jacob I. Korff] respected Samuel Gass for what he was—a decent stable man, much like himself—autocratic. There was a common denominator and they complemented each other.

“In any community you will always find someone who is extremely jealous and wants to visit hardship. When the shaddich [match] between Max and Adele was proposed by an emissary of Sam’s, one of my father’s followers came to see him. I was at home at the time and my father asked me to sit in on the conversation because the man had told him it was very private. The man said, I am a Hasid of yours. I want to warn you that it is a mishuggnah [crazy] family. My father was self-reliant. He had met Max and Max had no history of mental illness other than a volatile temper. He got assurances from Max that he did not deviate from practicing strict Judaism. Max promised that he would live a truly Jewish life with Adele, that he would never work on Shabbos or violate Shabbos; he would observe kashrut.

“At the time Adele wasn’t an observant Jew. Adele had a very strong character and she had rebelled. My father was in a hurry to get Adele married. He dismissed the man’s concerns about the suicide of Samuel Gass’s brother, Gershon. At the time, suicide or any emotional or mental illness, was regarded with apprehension. In later discussions between Sam Gass and me, he touched on his brother’s suicide peripherally. He was afraid it would impact on the matches of his children.

“Samuel Gass had resolved in his early childhood to save [money]. His mother baked bread and sold yeast. [Baruch didn’t remember what Sam’s father had done for a living.] He had a very hard childhood but he didn’t realize how hard it was then because he didn’t know other ways. He wanted a knippel [a safety net] and knew that the only way to make one was to save. When he became wealthy, his wife wanted to play the role of kvirta—wealthy matron and he discouraged this because it would only attract more claimants on his wealth.

“Sam wanted sons and was disappointed each time a daughter was born. This caused friction between Sam and his wife.”[1]

[1] Interview with Rabbi Baruch Korff, 133 Brown Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02912) by Carole G. Vogel, 14 January 1993. Transcript held in 2004 by Paul Gass of Gloucester, Massachusetts.