The Rawa Mazowiecka Nigun

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A few weeks after the first Yohr Tzeit of אבי מורי ז’ל R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen Balbin, two of our daughters were married ב’’ה.

It is a custom in Melbourne, probably emanating from the מצווה of הכרת הטוב that both Mechutonim say a few words between meals or dance sets. I spoke after my Mechutan, Rabbi Yossy Goldman of Sydenham Shule in Johannesburg. I was most conscious of the fact that my father had descended this world to be at the Simcha. Accordingly,  I decided to begin my speech with the Niggun he taught the family and which he often sang at the Shabbos table. My daughters and sisters are visible at stages in various stages of emotion on the video.

I haven’t heard it sung anywhere.

After I finished my speech many people said I should record it “properly” and put it up on iTunes or similar. I admit I hadn’t even thought of that. When I mentioned this to my friend HaRav HaGaon R’ Shraga Feitel HaLevi Levin, he suggested I do not do so. His view was to leave it כמות שהוא as it was. He felt I was in a state of “communion” with my father ע’’ה and that this should not be altered and presented as is. It’s a year later now, and I agree with Feitel, and below is the niggun, as it was sung on the night by me. If anyone has heard it before or knows its origins, I would be very much indebted. Rawa is in Congress Poland.

What happens if you take out an extra Sefer Torah by accident

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It can happen. Someone gets confused and thinks it’s a special Shabbos. Or, there is to be an extra layning in an adjoining room because of chiyuvim. So, out come the Sifrei Torah, everyone gathers and kisses them and they go to the Bimah. Before layning, it dawns on the Gabbay, that they have taken out an extra Sefer Torah.

Option 1: Take the Sefer Torah back to the Aron HaKodesh.
Problem: One is shaming the second Sefer Torah

Option 2: Use the second Sefer to read the Maftir, so that it is at least used
Problem: It will need an extra Hagba and Gelila and that is a Tircha D’Tzibura

The above scenario occurred in the Shule I daven at. At the time, they followed option 1, but I was uncomfortable with it because I knew in the recesses of my mind that you don’t return a Sefer Torah like that.

I asked Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter what he would have done. His answer was

a) Do not return the second sefer torah
b) Leave it on the Bimah during layning
c) Announce to all, that the second sefer torah was taken out by accident

He didn’t like my Option 2, because it may look like the first sefer torah was Pasul.

The AJN attack on Orthodox opinion

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The AJN is perfectly entitled to have views. These are widely considered anti–religious for many years by many. In fact, each year we ask ourselves why we buy it.

Whatever the case may be, the AJN needs to acknowledge that nobody contends that homosexuality is an illness. It is a preference, call it a predilection. I don’t have it, so I can’t claim any expertise nor am I a therapist of any sort. The preference itself, as is well-known by the AJN is not considered sinful according to Torah Judaism (I don’t conclude man-made reformations of Judaism here as they are of minor interest if any). People are born with predilections. There is the nature vs nurture conundrum which is far from settled. Acting on the preference and performing the homosexual act is described as sinful by the Torah and Codifiers. There can be no argument about that fact in any form of Orthodoxy. Reformers have their own religion.

Now, many if not the vast majority of those professionals who see homosexuals professionally claim that the predilection is life long and cannot be altered. That may well be. There isn’t Science here, and extrapolation into the future is tenuous at best. Maimonides knew about predilections long ago.

The best counter case to nature, as quoted by arguably the most respected psychiatrist in the USA, Professor Abraham Twersky, and many others is the identical twin conundrum which has been studied extensively. All known biological markers were exactly the same, and yet one twin had a predilection and the other did not. There is currently no theory able to explain that. There is a minority view, and yes it is a minority (Dr Elon Karten comes to mind) that claims they have techniques which allow predilection change to materialise. Like Climate Skeptics they are attacked regularly. I’m not an expert, but as a Scientist, one would be a fool to think that in ten years time, our knowledge of these things will still be static. Accordingly, if Rabbi Telsner or anyone else subscribes to the view that predilection modification could occur, they do not deserve to be pilloried in the disrespectful tone of the AJN.

Pedophillia is also at least a predilection. Perhaps we will discover it is more likely a disease that is incurable except by using drastic means to make sure that those who seem to “enjoy” such things are simply incapable of (re)offending. In the meanwhile, one witnesses judges themselves releasing pedophiles back into the public after serving sentences, as if law makers believe they will be “safe” to society once  so released. Is that true? Evidence would suggest that re-offending is (too) common and perhaps techniques for rehabilitation are simply inadequate and not practical at this time.

Now, if Rabbi Telsner were to subscribe to an opinion that people with predilections can have them modified (and this could extend to those with life long fetishes), one can disagree, but one should not excoriate him in the way of the AJN, as a matter arising out of the Royal Commission.

Rav Schachter of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University always said that a “stock” Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel in general should not be a Posek (decisor) of Halacha because they sit in a cloistered environment and are often/mostly oblivious to the nuances of science and other disciplines. This was certainly the case in Lithuania where most Rabbi’s were not Halachic Decisors. There were some exceptions such as the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish, but the late and great Chacham Ovadya Yosef did not consider the Chazon Ish a Posek of repute, because he sat cloistered and didn’t face the people, so to speak.

Either Rabbi Telsner has read some minority opinions or has been informed of such by some of his constituents. This can mean that the AJN, seeing itself to present current knowledge on such topics can disagree with the minority opinion, but it does not give then a license to excoriate a Rabbi for agreeing to such a minority opinion.

The last time I looked there were no Nobel Prize winners writing for the AJN, and aside from the occasional community brouhaha most of the news is stale, and unenlightening. Indeed we may have also recently witnessed an alleged breach of journalistic ethics which has allegedly resulted in a staff member being suspended initially. The mere fact that we are exposed to the weekly whining letters of Messrs Burd and Herzog, and others is bad enough. One could almost write their letter before reading it. I think the AJN do good things but there is room for improvement in some of its approaches. Yes, I know it’s good for selling papers, but Oilom Goilom believes everything.

The “what do you think” section is statistically unsound, and really just a copy of journalistic practice in low-level papers, like the Herald Sun and others. Is it going to make one iota of a difference if I know what the local butcher thinks of Bibi’s chances?

I’m digressing.

Back to the issue at hand. The AJN may not have liked elements of evidence tendered. As such, it should carefully analyse such in a calm and sanguine way. The majority of Rabbis are traumatised by the Royal Commission, and my sense is that things will never return to the situation before in respect to how they react if they are God forbid confronted with such information. We aren’t Catholics, and don’t have a box where one admits their sins and the Priest, Lehavdil, absolves the sin, says a few hail mary’s sends the perpetrator on their way and will never breach confidence.

It’s also not about Chabad. Don’t people read the internet? Modern Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel has pleaded guilty to secretly videoing some 57 women at the Mikva with secret cameras. Is he sick? Undoubtedly. Can he be rehabilitated? I don’t know. He will serve jail time. Does this paint all Rabbis as fetish-laden? Of course not.

Contrast this issue to the one about the “interfaith dialogue” we graphically saw and where Rabbi Ralph Genende as usual gushed forward with platitudes about how useful they were. Let’s look at the evidence AJN. What has ever changed because of these meetings. They were forbidden according to the scion of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik for reasons which were absolutely sound then, and even more sound now. If it was a meeting to bring religions together to have a joint charity drive for the homeless,  or similar that’s fine. If it was about showing our religion to them and theirs to ours, what’s the point? Tolerance can be achieved without any interfaith dialogue as long as nobody considers us as monkeys behind trees that have to be killed. Was I blind, or did the AJN not notice that there was no muslim representative in the picture at that “feel good” meeting, or did I miss something.

Anyway, to make it clear, I usually do not agree with Rabbi Telsner but on some matters I don’t think he deserves the anti-religious excoriation meted out to him.

AJN and especially Rabbi Ralph Genende of the moderate left wing: check this out for a reality check while you read the Chazal quoted by Rashi הלכה עשיו שונה ליעקב. (Whiteout anyone?)

I’d love to hear the AJN and/or Rabbi Ralph’s commentary on this, or better still have his interfaith group muslim representative condemn this presentation from February 13th in Copenhagen as abominable in the extreme in the Western and Muslim Press.

Priorities warped on Haredi websites?

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I was looking for an article in either the Yeshivah World News or in Matzav for some coverage of the faults identified in the Royal Commission into abuse. Both of these publications are hardly pro Chabad, and yet, unless I missed it, I failed to see a single mention. That of itself, if I am correct (and I’d be happy to proved wrong) is an inditement on the Haredi world, where Chabad is considered on the left fringe anyway.

In what way is this not news? Why shouldn’t Haredi readers know about what is public knowledge? It’s simple. They deal with their problems “in-house”. Here, I don’t mean the Rabbi Groner approach of seeking out experts and not being aware that the proclivity might be described as a disease. No, in these communities nothing at all has changed.

And yet, sorry folks, if you are a Litvak, I am Posul as a witness according to the following from YWN

Maran HaGaon HaRav Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman Shlita spoke out regarding persons using iPhones, stating they are pasul l’eidus.

HaGaon HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schneider tells of the gadol hador’s words in the weekly Pri Chaim publication. He explains “we merited hearing Maran’s opinion regarding iPhones, the impure device, and I am presenting these words after Rabbeinu questioned regarding a bochur that R”L fell victim as a result”.

He begins by stating the Rosh Yeshiva was made aware of the high cost of such a phone, resulting in his response that it is quite costly to sin and people are willing to pay a great deal of money – the main thing is to sin. He adds that a good esrog is less expensive and when he heard one person say that one who spends so much on an iPhone will not buy an expensive esrog, Rav Shteinman stated this is not necessarily so, for there are those who will pay for an esrog, as well as for an iPhone l’havdil.

Rav Shteinman was informed that HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Halevy Wosner Shlita ruled one who possesses an iPhone is ‘pasul l’eidus’ as Rav Wosner disqualified a witness at a chupah when learning of his phone. Rav Shteinman stated “The Klall is a prohibition that incurs malkos renders one pasul from d’oraissa and a prohibition that does not incur malkos only pasuls d’rabbonon. Hence, one with an iPhone is pasul from eidus d’rabbonon since malkos are not involved here.

This reminds me of the farcical situation when Rabbi Benyamin Wurtzburger, Rosh Kollel of the Lakewood Kollel who was Mesader Kiddushin at a wedding, publicly attempted to make Dayan Telsner, Pasul as a witness, because of his contention (which is probably correct) that Dayan Telsner is a Meshichist. Ironically, phone calls to Rabbi Beck from Adass to Wurtzurger were needed to make him understand that one is not Pasul for having some far-flung view, which is out of touch with the Rambam and Mesora.

Where are our priorities? Will Rav Shteinman be happy with cheap Samsungs or HTC or ? Does have the remotest clue what the difference between this is?

Rabbi Wurtzburger seated left, next to Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner

 

Sir Martin Gilbert ע’’ה

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Sir Martin’s wikipedia entry states:

Gilbert was born in London to Peter and Miriam Gilbert; all four of his grandparents had been born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was evacuated to Canada as part of the British efforts to safeguard children. Vivid memories of the transatlantic crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his curiosity about the war in later years.

After the war he attended Highgate School, and then completed two years of National Service in the Intelligence Corps before going on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1960 with a first-class BA in modern history. One of his tutors at Oxford was A.J.P. Taylor. After his graduation, Gilbert undertook postgraduate research at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

Career
Historian and academic
After two years of postgraduate work, Gilbert was approached by Randolph Churchill to assist his work on a biography of his father, Sir Winston Churchill. That same year, 1962, Gilbert was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and he spent the next few years combining his own research projects in Oxford with being part of Randolph’s research team in Suffolk, working on the first two volumes of the Churchill biography. When Randolph died in 1968, Gilbert was commissioned to take over the task, completing the remaining six main volumes of the biography.

Gilbert spent the next 20 years on the Churchill project, publishing a number of other books throughout the time. Each main volume of the biography is accompanied by two or three volumes of documents, and so the biography currently runs to 24 volumes (over 25,000 pages), with another 7 document volumes still planned. In the 1960s, Gilbert compiled some of the first historical atlases. Michael Foot, reviewing a volume of Gilbert’s biography of Churchill in the New Statesman in 1971 praised his meticulous scholarship and wrote: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

His other major works include a definitive single-volume history on the Holocaust, as well as single-volume histories of The First World War and The Second World War. He also wrote a three-volume series called A History of the Twentieth century. Gilbert described himself as an “archival historian” who made extensive use of primary sources in his work. Interviewed by the BBC on the subject of Holocaust research, Gilbert said he believes that the “tireless gathering of facts will ultimately consign Holocaust deniers to history.” He wrote the foreword to Denis Avey’s The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz which he described as “a most important book’ and stated that Avey’s “description of Buna-Monowitz is stark, and true.” The accuracy of certain aspects of Avey’s account have subsequently been challenged

In 1995, he retired as a Fellow of Merton College, but was made an Honorary Fellow. In 1999 he was awarded a Doctorate by Oxford University, “for the totality of his published work”. From 2002, he was a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan, and between 2006 and 2007 he was a professor in the history department at the University of Western Ontario. In October 2008, he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Churchill College.

Public service
Gilbert was appointed in June 2009 as a member of the British government’s inquiry into the Iraq War (headed by Sir John Chilcot). His appointment to this inquiry was criticised in parliament by William Hague, Clare Short, and George Galloway on the basis of neutrality, Gilbert having written in 2004 that George W. Bush and Tony Blair may in future be esteemed to the same degree as Roosevelt and Churchill.[8][9] In an article for The Independent on Sunday published in November 2009, Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya, objected to the presence of Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman on the committee partly because of their Jewish background and Gilbert’s Zionist sympathies. In a later interview, Gilbert saw Miles attack as being motivated by antisemitism.

As the Iraq inquiry was to be conducted on Privy Council terms, Gilbert (who was not previously a Privy Counsellor) was appointed to the Council in order to take part in it.

Praise and criticism
Many laud Gilbert’s books and atlases for their meticulous scholarship, and his clear and objective presentation of complex events. His book on World War I is described as a majestic, single-volume work incorporating all major fronts — domestic, diplomatic, military — for “a stunning achievement of research and storytelling.” Catholic sources describe him as a “fair-minded, conscientious collector of facts.”

Gilbert’s portrayal of Churchill’s supportive attitudes to Jews (in his book Churchill and the Jews) has been criticised, for example by Piers Brendon. Also, Tom Segev writes that, although Gilbert’s book The Story of Israel is written with “encyclopedic clarity,” it suffers by the absence of figures from Arab sources.

Honours and awards
In 1990, Gilbert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1995, he was awarded a Knighthood “for services to British history and international relations”.

In 2003 Gilbert was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen. The Sir Martin Gilbert Library at Highgate School, where he was a pupil, was opened on 6 May 2014 by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “I know he helped Lady Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, but he also helped me a great deal with his insights into history,” said Mr Brown.“I know he advised Harold Wilson even before them, but at every point Martin was available and he wanted to believe that the best outcomes were possible. A genuine humanitarian, someone whose writing of history taught him we could always do better in the future if we are able to learn the lessons of history.”

Personal life
In 1963, he married Helen Constance Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. He had two sons with his second wife, Susan Sacher, whom he married in 1974. From 2005, he was married to the Holocaust historian Esther Gilbert, née Goldberg. Gilbert described himself [sic]as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist.

One Friday evening, I found myself sitting on the roof of the old Chabad House in Bombay prior to 2008. I wasn’t in a talkative mood, being really tired, and wanting to get back to the Taj Mahal Hotel to sleep. I was very tired from travelling the depth and breadth of India, being in an airplane each night, interviewing students in a different city from morning until evening, then travelling to the next city either late evening or very early morning.

There is a formula used in most Chabad Houses. This one was no different. There were  about 20-30 of us on the roof, in stifling humidity. We were asked by Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי’’ד to introduce ourselves and then either tell a story, sing a song, or say a Dvar Torah. I was used to it, and always chose the Dvar Torah.

The person opposite me declined to say anything other than what his name was. I distinctly recall him saying “My name is Mordechai, and I come from England”. Mordechai had a thick English accent and persisted in making conversation with me, even though I must have looked disinterested and tired. Eventually after talking about various topics he told me that he was Martin Gilbert. Startled, I then introduced myself. Turning to him I said “you are not Sir Martin Gilbert, are you?” to which he answered, “I’m afraid so”.

For the next hour I found myself in private conversation with Sir Martin and his wife Esther (nee) Sacher. She was writing a set of books that served to record stories of Holocaust survivors. She described how she visited holocaust survivors and was writing volumes of their history based on their testimony. I do not know where she is up to, but I will send her a condolence message.

I asked Sir Martin what brought him to a Chabad House on a Friday evening in Mumbai, of all places. He mentioned that when he was in China he had also visited a Chabad House, and liked the informal and friendly atmosphere. He commented that unlike China, where he felt he was being watched by the authorities at every turn, Mumbai was gloriously emancipated. Neither of us was to expect that we might have been watched watched by the Pakistani terrorists who eventually gunned down Rav Gavriel, Rivki and those who were in the newer Nariman house, Chabad house.

I asked Sir Martin what brought him to India.

Sir Martin related that he had travelled through India as a young student and became very ill. His mother advised him that if he was ever to become ill, that he must visit an “Auntie Fori”. Auntie Fori’s husband, Mr B.K. Nehru was a famous and distinguished civil servant of India, also serving as Ambassador to the US and UK. He was a cousin of Prime Minister Nehru. This Auntie Fori had curiously avoided shaking the hand of the German Foreign Minister when she met him, and it transpired that she was in fact a Hungarian Jewess related to Sir Martin’s mother. After months of nursing Sir Martin back to health, Auntie Fori mentioned to Sir Martin that she knew nothing of her Jewish heritage but something told her not to touch the German Foreign Minister’s hand. Before he left, she begged Sir Martin to give her a history lesson about the Jews. He responded that he would write a series of letters to this effect, from England. These letters were later published as a book entitled Letters to Auntie Fori: the 5,000 Year History of the Jewish People and their faith.

I mentioned that I’d love to read the book and Sir Martin promised to send me a signed copy. It’s somewhere in the house or someone has borrowed it. I spoke to his wife Susan who told me that she came from Stoliner Chassidim. In return, I promised to send the music to some famous Stoliner Nigunim. Sir Martin and Susan left before everyone. I had surreptitiously revealed Sir Martin’s identity to Reb Gavriel during the meal, but he and Rivki were otherwise involved. Their focus was usually on the younger Israeli tourists. I know that if they had realised who he was, there would have been some fanfare, but I realised that Sir Martin preferred to be incognito, and I didn’t have the right to disclose his true identity.

After they left, I disclosed to Reb Gavriel who his guest was, and being a Yeshivah Bochur from Israel and then 770, he hadn’t heard of him. He believed me, of course, and for a number of years, Reb Gavriel would ask me to “tell the story about Sir Martin” to his guests. He was always proud of his visitors.

Everything is Hashgocho Protis. I wondered why I had met Sir Martin. I discovered this later. I received a phone call in Melbourne from an anguished Israeli mother who mentioned that her daughter was in prison in India awaiting a trial for alleged drug possession and asked me to do what I could to put pressure to facilitate her freedom. Indian prisons are not fun, and it can take two years or more until a trial is held. She was apparently pregnant, and they had one bucket of (horrid) water to share for drinking and washing amongst the female inmates in a cell. I knew a consul general in Melbourne representing India, as I had admitted his daughter to our course. That was one avenue.

It then dawned on me that perhaps this was a reason I had met Sir Martin. I knew he was far better connected than me! I sent him an email and described the situation and asked for his advice and help. I noted that perhaps this was the reason he and I had met that Friday night, and so it was now incumbent on both of us to get this girl out of the hell hole before she died prior to her ttrial. Sir Martin responded immediately and gave me the name of an international lawyer in Jerusalem who would work on the case at no cost. She told me that the system in India was riddled with corruption and delay and she didn’t know whether she could be effective but would try.

I couldn’t write this in email, so I rang Rav Gavriel and in Yiddish told him what I was trying to do. On a subsequent visit, I asked Rav Gavriel how the girl was doing. He told me with a glimmer in his eye, that she was in Israel. Incredulously, I asked how that happened. He took me aside and whispered a few things. Apparently, since she had escaped from prison, the Indian police had stalked the Chabad house daily, until one day Rivki הי’’ד came out with a broom, and told the plain clothes police officer that the girl was not in their house and they had no information to relay, and if he didn’t disappear she would use the broom on him.

With a smile, Rav Gavriel told me they didn’t come back.

I would describe Sir Martin as someone who towards the last 10-15 years of his life moved more and more towards traditional Judaism. I emailed him (in code) that the girl was now safe. Alas, he is is now with Rivki and Reb Gavriel in a higher plane.

יהי זכרם ברוך

A sensible start to Mikva reform

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Dear Mispallelim,

Due to our concern for the safety of children, the Mikva will not be available for any children under 18 years old. This applies whether or not they are accompanied by an adult. Failure to adhere with this rule will result in the closure of our Mikva.

Mispalelim should remain cognizant of their responsibility to ensure their children’s safety. Parents are reminded to supervise and ensure the safety of their children while in our Chabad House

We would like to take this opportunity to again convey our unequivocal recommendation that anyone who has been abused, knows someone else who was abused or has concerns about inappropriate behaviour of an individual, should report it to the police immediately. If for any any reason, the individual is apprehensive about contacting the police directly, s/he may feel free to report it to myself or Rabbi Shmerling who will then pass on the information to the police, as we have indeed done recently.

With wishes for only good in the future,

Rabbi Y. Gutnick
Chabad House of Caulfield

I would say this is a proper position based on

  1. עת לעשות לה׳ הפירו תורתיך
  2. It’s a Middas Chassidus, which is outweighed by the scourge
  3. Some Poskim hold that a shower is a Mikva (for a male)
  4. They can get sound חינוך that they can’t go because of potential danger until they are older.
  5. It’s not a Chiyuv today anyway but a good הנהגה

Whisky from Sherry Casks. The OU Position

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The following is taken directly from the OU’s Daf Hakashrus. SHERRY CASKS Rabbi Eli Gersten, RC Recorder of OU Psak and Policy

Many whiskeys advertise on their labels that they have been “sherry cask matured”, or “sherry cask finished”, or will just print the words “sherry cask”. Simply put, this means that the whiskey was kavush in a sherry cask. Unless the whiskey has a hechsher, the sherry cask they are referring to was a barrel of stam yaynam. Some Rabbonim are maikel and allow drinking these whiskies, while other Rabbonim say that one should stay away. Why are there different opinions? What are some of the halachic questions involved with whiskey that was stored in such barrels, and why does the OU not permit serving these whiskeys at their establishments? Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 135:13) says that only a k’dei klipa (thin layer) of a wine barrel becomes assur. Since the volume of whiskey stored in these barrels is much more than 60 times the k’dei klipa of the barrel, the bliyos of wine are batel in the whiskey. Another sevara why Rabbonim are maikel with whiskey aged in sherry casks is because Shulchan Aruch (137:4) says that one may place water, beer or sha’ar mashkim into a clean wine barrel. The bliyos of wine that are absorbed in the barrel are nosain ta’am lifgam into these mashkim. Although Rema (Y.D. 137:1) paskens that wine barrels always have the status of a ben yomo, even if they have not been used for many months, however wine barrels are only mashbiach other wines. Since whiskey is not wine, it too should be included in this heter of sha’ar mashkim. This sevara would only apply to ordinary sherry casks, where the intent is to mellow the barrels, and they are not interested in the sherry taste. But this sevara would not apply to refurbished casks, which are loaded up with sherry, and the intent is to leach sherry into the whiskey. In this case, it is clearly intended as ta’am lishvach. In those whiskies where the intention is for the taste of sherry, it is possible that bitul would not help since it is ikro l’kach. Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 134:13) paskens like the Rashba that any drink which it is the derech to mix in wine is forbidden, even if the wine is less than shishim. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igeros Moshe Y.D. I:63) explains that Shulchan Aruch paskens that issurei hana’ah, such as stam yaynam, that are ikro l’kach are not batel. However, Rema writes that b’zman ha’zeh b’makom hefsed we do not consider stam yaynam issurei han’ah. Furthermore, the Mishna (Avoda Zara 29b) says that kosher wine placed in a stam yaynam barrel does not become assur b’hanah (only assur b’shetiya). So the chumra of ikro l’kach would seem not to apply here. Although placing whiskey into these barrels would still be a form of bitul issur, however if a non-Jew is mivatel issur, especially if his intention is to sell to other non-Jews, then according to many Achronim, it is permissible for a Jew to purchase this product. One more consideration is the age of the barrel. Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 135:15) says that a wine barrel that was not used for 12 months is permitted. Although these wine barrels have a chezkas issur, this is a chazaka ha’assuya l’hishtanos. However, this heter is not so clear, since whiskey manufacturers are interested in moist barrels, and will even transport the barrels with some sherry still in them to keep them from drying out. Although sherry casks add color to the whiskey, and in certain cases we say that chazusa is not batel, nevertheless in this case the chazusa is batel. This is because we pasken like the Pri Chadash (Y.D. 102:5) that chazusah of issurei d’rabbanan are batel. However, there are compelling sevaros to be machmir as well. Sherry is the name of a Spanish wine that is fortified with grape alcohol. Alcohol content of an average wine will range about 12-13%, but alcohol content of Sherry will range from 15 to 22%. Is sherry still considered just a wine, or due to the added alcohol is it considered a davar charif like yayin saraf? Noda B’Yehuda (Tinyana Y.D. 67) says that although wine will only assur a kdei klipa of the barrel, wine alcohol will be absorbed throughout the entire thickness of the barrel. The volume of whiskey to the thickness of the barrel is not even six to one. So if sherry is viewed as a davar charif, the bliyos would not be batel. Furthermore, Noda B’yehuda (Tinyana Y.D. 58) writes that wine alcohol is nosain ta’am lishvach into whiskey. So if indeed sherry is considered a davar charif, the whiskey would be assur. Even if we were to accept that the alcohol content in sherry is not high enough to consider it a davar charif, there are still reasons to be machmir not to drink these whiskeys. Shach (Y.D. 135:33) says that if we know that wine was kavush in a barrel for more than 24 hours then wine is absorbed in the entire thickness of the barrel, and not just the k’dei klipa. Although most Achronim do not follow this opinion, Chachmas Adam (Klal 81:6) writes that unless it is a tzorech gadol, one should be machmir to follow Shach. Therefore, one should avoid these whiskeys, since the volume of whiskey is not enough to be mivatel the entire barrel. It is difficult to apply nosain ta’am lifgam to whiskey, since whiskey is a davar charif. Ordinarily we assume that all bliyos, even ta’am pagum, are lishvach in a davar charif, especially here where we see that the sherry is mashbiach. Rav Belsky has also said that in some instances, such as when they use refurbished sherry casks, the intention of storing the whiskey in these barrels is to draw out the flavor. Perhaps this should be compared to cheres Hadreini and not to regular barrels. Cheres Hadreini was pottery that was allowed to absorb much wine, so that the flavor could be extracted later. The Mishna (Avoda Zara 29b) says that wine absorbed in cheres Hadreini remains assur b’hanah. If these bliyos remain assur b’hanah, they can assur the whiskey, even if they are batel b’shishim, since it is ikro l’kach. Although, we mentioned above that Rema does not consider stam yaynam b’zman ha’zeh to be issurei hana’ah, this is only when there is a makom hefsed. Another reason to avoid these whiskeys is because of bitul issur lichatchila. Radvaz (III:547) writes that lichatchila one should not purchase from a non-Jew a product that they know contains issur, even though the issur is batel. He was concerned that if one was permitted to purchase this item, this would lead to eventually asking the nonJew to prepare it for them. There is large machlokes Achronim whether we follow this Radvaz (See Yebiah Omer Y.D. VII:7). Although Igeros Moshe (Y.D. I:62) seemingly was not machmir for Radvaz, nevertheless he frowned on purchasing whiskey that relied on bitul: למהדרין ראוי ל”וז ליזהר מדברים שצריך הוראת חכם כהא דחולין דף ל“ז ודף מ“ד ואיפסק ברמ“א ס“ס קט“ז וכ“ש אוסרין גם שיש בזה. It should be noted that Rav Moshe zt”l was not discussing whiskey stored in sherry casks, which have additional considerations l’kula u’lichumra (as outlined above), but whiskey to which small amounts of wine were added. But it would seem that his caution is applicable here as well. Because of all of these concerns, the OU does not permit “sherry cask” whiskeys to be served by their caterers or at their restaurants. However, unflavored whiskey that is not labeled sherry cask and there is no reason to assume it was kavush in a sherry cask is permitted, as per Rema (Y.D. 114:10). Rema says if it is not necessary to add wine to a certain food, unless one knows for sure that the non-Jew added wine, it is permitted. The same rationale can be applied to a blend of many whiskeys. Since each individual whiskey might not have been stored in a sherry cask, the blend is permitted as well.

I will just note that Dayan Usher Weiss disagrees (Minchas Asher Chelek 1) and amongst other things asks where in the Gemora there is there a concept of Nosen Taam that takes say 10 years? He argues that Nosen Taam is always used in the context of an immediate or semi-immediate reaction as per the examples in the Gemora.

On the Taskforce against family violence

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I was interested to read it was over 20 years old and people with a bee up their bonnet should remember that and support their activities. They should not be trying to beat up frum women who have joined the taskforce with the excuse that their husbands are or were associated with organisations which had not dealt with problems properly especially at a time when people really didn’t appreciate the gravity of illness some perpetrators have.

I call on MORE women to join, and here I include women from Adass too. Anyone who thinks that there is no familial violence in the frum or ultra frum sector is a horse with blinkers. There is. Period.

On the Age of 20 in Judaism

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One of my readers commented (with his usual vitriolic language) about this age in the context of halachic maturity (which was the essence I was discussing in that original article in respect of Yossi Feldman focussing on age 13 at the Royal Commission as being the transition from a minor to something else). I felt this was disingenuous, but be that as it may, another reader sent me the following which I present as of interest. If I find some time over Shabbos, I may add to this from the Tzitz Eliezer as I had mentioned in the comments section.

גיל הבגרות המלאה 

אף שהבגרות ההלכתית לזכרים הוא גיל 13, מצאנו במקורות רבים שגיל הבגרות המלאה הוא 20. 

בתנ”ך מצאנו במספר מקומות את גיל עשרים שנה כגיל הבגרות המלאה:

בתרומת מחצית השקל: שמות פרק ל פסוק יד, וכן בפרק לח פסוק כו.

בערכים: ויקרא פרק כז פסוקים ג, ה.

במפקדים: במדבר א, פסוקים ג-מה, פרק כו, ב, ד, דברי הימים א כז,כג, ב כה, ה.

בחטא המרגלים: במדבר פרק יד, כט, פרק לב, יא.

בגיל הלויים לעבודת המקדש: עזרא ג, ח, דברי הימים א כ, כד-כז, ב לא, יז, אך ראו במדבר ח פסוק כד: “זאת אשר ללוים מבן חמש ועשרים שנה ומעלה יבא לצבא צבא בעבודת אהל מועד”, חולין דף כד עמוד א, ורמב”ם כלי המקדש פרק ג הלכה ז.

ביוצאי מצרים מצאנו מחלוקת בין הפרשנים בגילם של ה”גברים” וה”טף” יוצאי מצרים:

“ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כשש מאות אלף רגלי הגברים לבד מטף”. (שמות פרק יב פסוק לז). 

מה היה גילם של הגברים, ומה היה גילם של הטף?

בעוד האבן עזרא (בפירושיו הארוך והקצר) מתייחס לגילם של הטף:

“לבד מטף שהוא פחות מכ’ שנה”. 

הרי רש”י בפירושו מתייחס לגילם של הגברים:

“הגברים – מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”. 

לדעת הרב מנחם כשר, (תורה שלמה חלק יב, הערה תקפ”ב), מקורם הוא במכילתא דרבי שמעון בר יוחאי פרק יב פסוק (לז) ויסעו:

“מטף מלמד שעשו עמהן פחות מבן [עשרים שנה]”. 

בשיר השירים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ג ד”ה ד ורבנן פתרי:

“ששים גבורים, אלו ששים רבוא שיצאו ממצרים מבן עשרים שנה ולמעלה. מגבורי ישראל, אלו ששים רבוא שיצאו ממצרים מבן עשרים שנה ולמטה”. 

הרמב”ן כתב, (שמות פרק ל פסוק יב):

“והנה ישראל כשיצאו ממצרים היו כשש מאות אלף רגלי (שמות יב לז), לא שש מאות, ומתו מהם עד המנין ההוא, ונתרבו במשלימים שנותיהם. ואולי “הגברים” אינם בני עשרים, אבל כל הנקרא איש מבן שלש עשרה שנה ומעלה בכלל, כי הוא להוציא הנשים והקטנים בלבד, כאשר אמר לבד מטף”. 

[בספרות החיצונית מצאנו שבהקרבת קרבן הפסח חייבים רק בני עשרים שנה ומעלה.

במגילת המקדש (יז, ח), נאמר:

“מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה יעשו אותו ואכלוהו בלילה”.

בספר היובלים (מט, א, יז) נאמר:

“בדבר הפסח לעשותו בעתו בארבעה עשר לחודש הראשון… כל איש אשר בא ביומו יאכלוהו בבית המקדש אלהיכם לפני ה’ מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”].

בתלמוד מצאנו במספר מקומות איסור למלא תפקיד ציבורי על מי שאינו “בן עשרים”:

בעבודה במקדש:

מאימתי כשר לעבודה? משיביא שתי שערות, רבי אומר, אומר אני עד שיהיה בן עשרים … ת”ר: מאימתי כשר לעבודה, משיביא שתי שערות, אבל אחיו הכהנים אין מניחים לו לעבוד עד שיהא בן עשרים”. (ספרא אמור פרשה ג, חולין דף כד עמוד ב), וראו רמב”ם הלכות כלי המקדש פרק ה הט”ו.

כשליח-ציבור ועלייה לדוכן: 

“… אינו עובר לפני התיבה, ואינו נושא את כפיו, ואינו עומד על הדוכן עד שימלא זקנו. רבי אומר: וכולהם מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה, שנאמר ויעמידו את הלויים מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”. (ירושלמי סוכה פ”ג הי”ב, וראו תוספתא כפשוטה (ליברמן), חגיגה פרק א הלכה ג, חולין דף כד ע”ב, מסכת סופרים פרק יד הלכה יג).

לדון דיני נפשות: 

לדברי רבי אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן, מי שהוא פחות מגיל עשרים פסול לדון דיני נפשות (ירושלמי סנהדרין פ”ד ה”ז), וראו שו”ת הרשב”א חלק ו סימן קע”ט: “… לפי שעדיין אינו בשלימות דעתו … “.

אף אדם וחוה “כבן עשרים שנה נבראו”. (ב”ר פרשה יד ד”ה ז, שהש”ר פרשה ג),

אלא שמצאנו שאף שמשה היה בהגדרת “גדול” באותה עת, הוא לא היה “איש”.

על הפסוק “ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו” (שמות ב, יא), נאמר במדרש:

ויגדלבן עשרים שנה היה. (שמו”ר ( א, ד”ה כז).

את הפסוק (שמות פרק ב פסוק יד): “ויאמר מי שמך לאיש שר ושפט עלינו הלהרגני אתה אמר כאשר הרגת את המצרי …”, מפרש רש”י: “מי שמך לאיש – והרי עודך נער”.

במדרש תנחומא, (ורשא) שמות סימן ח:

” … א”ל אחד מהם מי שמך לאיש ועדיין אין אתה איש מלמד שהיה פחות מבן עשרים”.

במדרש שכל טוב, (שמות פ”ד):

“ומסורת בידינו שבן עשרים שנה היה משה כשהרג את הנפש … שדתן הרשע אמר לו מי שמך לאיש … כלומר עדיין לא הגעת להיות איש …”. 

לדברי המדרש שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה א ד”ה ל, היה אז או בן עשרים ואיש הוא במשמעות מבוגר, או בן ארבעים, ואיש משמעותו שליט:

“ויאמר מי שמך לאיש שר וגו’, ר’ יהודה אומר בן כ’ שנה היה משה באותה שעה אמרו לו עדיין אין אתה ראוי להיות שר ושופט עלינו לפי שבן ארבעים שנה לבינה, ור’ נחמיה אמר בן ארבעים שנה היה, אמרו לו ודאי שאתה איש אלא שאי אתה ראוי להיות שר ושופט עלינו”. 

בילקוט שמעוני, (שמות רמז קסז, מקורו מדרש אבכיר) נאמר, שגיל הבגרות להקרא איש הוא 25:

“… שבאותה שעה לא היה כי אם בן עשרים שנה … ואמרו מי שמך לאיש, שאין אדם נקרא איש עד כ”ה שנים, כלומר עדיין לא הגעת לאיש …”.

הרב מנחם כשר מביא בתורה שלמה (שמות פ”ב סוף הערה פ”א) 9שיטות לגילו של משה באותה עת: בן 12, 18, 20, 21, 29, 32, 40, 50. 60.

ר”י אבן שועיב כותב בדרשותיו, (פרשת ויחי בד”ה בישישים חכמה), שגיל הבגרות הוא עשרים:

“… והילדות הוא מעט משנולד אדם עד עשרים שנה, ובזה הזמן יש בו גידול תמיד”.

Interesting article or beat up?

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See this article about Chassidic “atheists”. I don’t know how true it really is. Ironically Centrist Orthodox (e.g. YU) are accused of becoming more Chassidic as witnessed by the employment of the Aish Kodesh, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger (a Rebbe with an MA and MS) as Mashpia at YU. I read an article about that phenomenon when I was in NY. I’m told davening in his Shule is a real experience.

Is it Kosher? Does that also mean is it moral?

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It is interesting to note, that the word כשר (kosher) does not appear in the Torah per se. It appears in only one place in the Tanach, and surprisingly perhaps to many, it is in the book of Esther. That book itself was parenthetically one which was a matter of argument amongst the Rabbis in that some felt it should be included in the Canon whilst others did not. In the end, we know that the conclusion is that it was קדש holy, and Esther herself, as quoted, asked for it to be included by the Sanhedrin.

So, we have the single occurrence of the word in the story of Esther and Ahashverosh in her request to the latter that he consider her plea that Haman’s decree be annulled. In that context, she asked Ahashverosh whether her argument/plea was “kosher”.

It’s a striking observation because it centers around the concept of whether a plea/argument was (morally) proper = Kosher.

Today, and this is also certainly reflected by the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim, the use of the word Kosher is almost exclusively referred to food.

Perhaps we should revisit this term, especially in light of matters here and around the world, and apply the opposite word “Treyf” or “not Kosher” to matters of an amoral and/or Chillul Hashem causing, just as often?

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I find it ironic? Kosher didn’t start from food but has somehow morphed to be only what we put in our mouths.

On the Royal Commission

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I had previously written that I was so upset by the thing that I couldn’t bring myself to watch proceedings. Yesterday, towards the end of the day, for some reason I can’t explain, I decided to see what was happening, and caught about an hour of Yossi Feldman’s testimony. Some aspects of that testimony made me feel ill, quite literally. It disturbed my sleep last night significantly and I awoke in a nightmarish state imagining I had spent the night in the Royal Commission watching proceedings. I missed Shacharis because I was affected by what I had heard and seen in that one hour and woke in an agitated state.

Many things struck me, but one was reverberating in my head as I drove in to work. When asked whether he had undertaken any specialised education since the issue became headlines, Yossi Feldman admitted had not but intended to do so in the near future. I could not understand why one, who by his own admission, had at best a very immature understanding of sexual crime involving minors (and I note that his answer of 13 years of age (Bar Mitzvah) was disingenuous even from a Jewish point of view because one is not a Bar Onshin (punishable) until they are 20 thereby making a person a “minor” in respect of punishment until they are 20 according to Jewish Law) had not undertaken any formal education in this area himself immediately. I recognise some live cloistered lives, but it is precisely those people who need that type of education more so than those who live in the real world. The world is a much crueller place than some imagine.

I then noticed the laudable statement from the Jewish Taskforce in Victoria this morning which stated

We have been following the Royal Commission into Child Abuse with concern as we hear the awful experiences people have gone through.
We feel deeply for all the victims and applaud their courage in coming forward to tell of the pain they suffered and continue to bear. We encourage all victims  and their families to reach out for support; whether that be in reporting to the police,
in seeking therapeutic assistance or for whatever else they require.

We would like to reiterate that all institutions must have appropriate policies in place to safeguard children so that there will be a clear understanding
of appropriate behaviors and the ramifications of not behaving in accordance with the law. We therefore encourage those organisations who have not yet put
policies in place to attend the JCCV training sessions, or similar appropriate ones. Child abuse is heinous and unacceptable. The responsibility lies with all of us as a community and society to ensure we take action to prevent it.

Debbie Wiener – Chair
Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence Inc.
Admin line: 03 9523 6850
Support line: 03 9523 2100
PO. Box 2439, Caulfield Junction, 3161
admin@jewishtaskforce.org.au
http://www.jewishtaskforce.com.au

and it dawned on me that perhaps there is no chapter of this organisation in New South Wales? If this is indeed the case, there is a strong argument simply based on one hour of what I watched, that all in positions where they educate the young or interact with the young etc undertake a series of courses as described by the Jewish Taskforce and often offered by them. Certainly, I would make it compulsory as part of Rabbinic Studies designed for communal leadership. If there is no such organisation in Sydney, then it’s time some from NSW came down and followed the processes used here to make such facilities available. It would be silly to assume that this problem only existed and will continue to manifest itself solely in Victoria and NSW. These types of education programs should be compulsory in every state, even those with fewer students. I extend this call to Bar/Bat Mitzvah teachers, those who give Shiurim in a Kollel or house of learning, and anyone in a position where they interact in a way that may be amenable to grooming or whether there is a power differential. Knowledge is power. People need to know and understand. Clearly some do not.

More on fridges with LED lights

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Mori V’Rabbi Rav Shachter who is currrently in Eretez Hakodesh, answered my question question in respect what I did in Miami בשעת הדחק. To be accurate he didn’t describe my situation as שעת הדחק but that is my inference from the context of the question.

ּBasically there are two halachos that he paskened.

  1. Using LED’s is an issue D’Rabbonon (so I was right on that)
  2. In a great need (which is what I thought I had). In covering the led lights I was demonstrating that it was a פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליא

Accordingly, it was a בדיעבד which was okay. He said there was one view I could rely on but didn’t say which view this was. I’d expect it was a Rishon. At any rate we haveולמעשה כתב במ”ב שכא, נז, ושעה”צ סח, עפ”י הבית מאיר, שבמקום הצורך אפשר להקל

It seems it’s common with modern fridges to have LED lights and the way to get around it is to  attach two small but powerful magnets which stop the LED’s from coming on.

So those of you with modern fridges I recommend playing around with powerful magnets until you see the lights don’t come on. Google it. as always as your local orthodox rabbi.

On the Royal Commission in Melbourne on child abuse

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To be honest, the whole thing has long made me sick in my stomach. I don’t have the time to watch it live. Maybe I will read the full transcripts later, but I’m likely to get upset for multiple reasons.

I am glad that the importance of the issue is at the forefront and one can only hope that those who haven’t reported in the past would not hesitate to do so in the future and out a lurking sick criminal.

Unfortunately there will always be pedophiles. Medicine may one day have something to curb the sub human tendencies of offenders. I don’t know. But having observed them at close quarters, they actually live in a world of self-denial and delusion. They are a danger and I’m not at all convinced that after a prison sentence they are even capable of suppressing abominable tendencies they seem to have been born with.

I’d also hope that despite the natural urge, people aren’t focussed on triumphalism or expressing it. I have seen that, and whilst I understand why this has occurred I don’t see it as a positive development.

The key is the future and how communities learn from past mistakes huge and smaller. Education of children and educators and Rabbis more is the key.

It is ironic that the whole Din of Mesira was based on the concept that old time courts were biased or anti Semitic or amoral. I could understand that today with respect to a court in Saudi Arabia or Iran or even the UN etc but in a Malchus shel Chesed like eg Australia, it is nonsensical and indeed a chillul Hashem to be lectured or even need to be advised on basic morality by אומות העולם given we have to behave at a higher level. There is a מצווה of והלכת בדרכיו and we have been given a wake up call to be moral beacons as opposed to shtetl oriented subterfuges.

I may write no more than this. It’s too upsetting, really, in so many different ways. I’ve always tried to be fair: you make enemies on both sides as a result. I’m not a person who has a burning need for mountains of friends but I don’t want to enter a snake pit either.

Opening a Fridge door which operates an LED light

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Picture the scene. It was during our holiday in Miami, and we were invited out for one meal on Shabbos, but my wife had bought things for the other meal, and many of these had to be in the fridge.

Just before Shabbos, my wife reminded me to “remove the light bulb” from the fridge, or tape up the switch. These are those small bar fridges in Motels. I opened up the fridge and noticed that it was nothing I had seen before. There were 4 tiny LED lights which had all manner of wiring to them which seemed inaccessible to me (without breaking anything) and I didn’t have time to try and see how the mechanism worked etc.

What do you do. It was one of those cases where I had to “pasken” on the spot.

Firstly I reasoned that the prohibition was not a Torah prohibition because LED lights cannot be considered a flame, so they must be a DeRabbonon (I knew that in Minchas Asher Chelek 1, he felt that LED lights were forbidden because of Makeh B’Patish. This was a big Chiddush which he acknowledged, and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it. At the time I had just received the Minchas Asher and skimmed the Tshuva. Now I can look it up and study it in some depth. Something tells me that others won’t agree with that reasoning because מכה בפטיש is essentially the act of completing a vessel of sorts and I can’t see how the vessel (LED) is not complete. To me, it is complete, it is just not activated.)

Then I ran downstairs and got some pieces of cardboard (promotional cards for tours etc) and stuck them together with tape and completely covered the LED light. In my mind, I was thereby indicating that this was a Psik Reishe D’Lo Ichpas Lei, a direct action that I didn’t care about. That is generally worse than a Psik Reishe D’Lo Nicha Lei in the sense that it is generally forbidden, but there are opinions that for a Miderabbonon it is okay. See for example קג, א; עה, א, ‘הצד חלזון’  מאירי מסכת שבת. Clearly, by covering this LED light up, I was indicating it was something I didn’t need or want to derive benefit from (we had another light on all shabbos so we could easily see what was in the fridge).

Finally, it was for a צורך גדול a great need, given that it was our food source.

Putting these three together, that’s what we did, and opened and shut the fridge door.

Yes, one could close it with an elbow, or have two people closing it, but I’m not sure the two people further Hetter would work here because it’s something that can be done easily by one person.

I haven’t asked Rav Schachter if I did the right thing or whether my reasoning was sound B’Dieved. I will bank it up with other questions as they arise, and then ask them as a group because I don’t like to bother such a busy man.

Interestingly, a frum fellow, a Chabadnik, turned up the Shabbos after, and asked my wife what we were doing about the fridge. My wife told him what I had done the week before and he said he could not see how that helped. I sought him out on the first floor (we were on the second floor) and explained my reasoning, and he insisted I was wrong because the LED light was forbidden by Torah Law as a Tolda of fire. I explained there was no heat or filament, but he was insistent that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and told me that he was a Talmid Muvhak of the famous Rav Hirshprung. I persisted that I thought he was not up to date with his knowledge of electricity on Shabbos, and that this was really like turning on a fan on Shabbos (a Rabbinic prohibition unless one follows the view of the Chazon Ish).

On Shabbos, I ended up in the same Shule as him “the shule” in Miami led by Rabbi Lipskier, and he approached me and said “you were right. I spoke to him” (and he pointed to a youngish person who apparently came from a family of Talmidei Chachomim) and he affirmed that it was D’Rabbonon as you claimed. I responded that maybe both of us should review Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchoso and electricity when we got home.

I’m still not sure if what I did was permitted in the particular circumstance. Happy to hear your views.

While in NSW, the Kashrus mess is progressing thus …

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[hat tip BA]

Emphasis is mine.
Disclaimer: Romy is my brother-in-law.

The Kashrut Commission of Inquiry established by The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies has released its recommendations.

The Commission has declared that:

The market for kosher products and services in NSW should be as open and competitive as possible so as to facilitate the reduction of costs for consumers.

• Urgent structural reforms in relation to the provision of kashrut certification in NSW should be made.
• The certifying kashrut authority should be transparent, representative of the Community, and run as a not-for-profit operation, with a recognised set of governance rules consistent with community norms.
• Community funds should be made available to seed and/or support such a kashrut authority.
• A resolution must be arrived at immediately in relation to:

a strategy and timetable for implementing cost savings;
the provision of a permanent kashrut certification to each of the Kosher Establishments in NSW not currently certified by the KA;
and the permissibility of meat products from inter-state certified providers to licenced Kosher Establishments in NSW.

• The Executive of the JBD should delegate to three people, one being a
member of the JBD Executive and two being members of the KCI, to supervise the implementation of these recommendations as far as possible.

Members of the commission established in late 2014 under the chairmanship of Robert Gavshon included:

• Bruce Fink, member (representing the UIA).
• Romy Leibler, member (representing the COSA).
• Geoffrey H Levy, AO, member.
• Yair Miller, member (representing the JBD).
• Peter Philippsohn, OAM, member (representing the JCA).
• David Sandler, member.
• Richard Scheinberg, member.

Jeremy Spinak, president of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies said: “The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies fully endorses the Commission’s recommendations and, in partnership with other community-minded organisations, we will strive to see that they are implemented.
Kashrut is crucial to Jewish life and we strongly believe that the Commission’s recommendations, once implemented, will deliver the transparency, accountability and meaningful competition that the community demands.
We specifically commend the Commission for recommending a number of cost-saving measures aimed at lowering the cost of keeping kosher in NSW.
The recommendations are fundamentally concerned with Jewish continuity; we don’t want keeping kosher to be priced out of reach for Jewish families.
The report clearly shows that reforms are needed. We believe delaying doing so any longer would be to disadvantage the observant members of our community and other consumers of kosher products.

I look forward to working with our colleagues, including the Kashrut Authority, whose technical excellence in this area is unparalleled, in the spirit of Ahavat Israel to ensure that these important changes are implemented and that our model for kashrut arrangements becomes the best in the Jewish world.
Finally, I would like to thank the Commissioners, in particular Chairman Robert Gavshon, for producing such a rigorous and thorough report and for the months of hard work and dedication that they expended on behalf of our community.

The background:

The creation of the KCI was deeply rooted in the principle that the Community requires a range of kosher products and services (including catering and supervision services) at affordable prices, and requires delivery of these services in a transparent manner. Indeed, the sustainable, affordable and transparent provision of such products and services is a fundamental pillar of a strong Jewish community.

As a result of the development of significant solvency issues of kosher caterer Passion8 in 2013, a group of philanthropists and JCA donors asked the JCA to assist with the conduct of a financial review of Passion8’s business with a view to salvaging the business. This was felt essential due to Passion8 playing a pivotal role in the provision of kosher catering to the Community. Following the completion of the review, Passion8 was placed into administration.

In August 2013, during the review, the KA approached the JCA for financial support. It asked the JCA for a one-to-two year bridging loan in the approximate amount of $68,000, equivalent to the debt claimed to be owed to it by Passion8.1 It is not in the JCA’s charter to provide loans, nor to fund non-constituents, and the JCA could not therefore agree to provide such a loan or funding.

Shortly after Passion8’s closure, a new caterer, AIT, was formed. AIT acquired some of the assets of Passion8 from its administrator, and it was granted a temporary licence by the KA. When the temporary licence expired in October 2013, after being on foot for three weeks, and after negotiations between AIT and the KA broke down, a number of communal organisations saw an impending crisis where no kosher caterer would be able to deliver the majority of the large functions in Sydney, particularly in the period from November 2013 to January 2014, when a communal function and many private functions were then due to take place. The JBD, supported by the JCA, started a mediation process between AIT and the KA in an attempt to avoid such a crisis. COSA was also involved in an attempt to mediate a solution.

After operating for several weeks without a Hechsher from the KA, in late November 2013, AIT began to operate under kosher certification from Rabbi Yossef Feldman.

Once it was made public that they had become involved in the discussions with the KA, the JBD and the JCA were approached by multiple stakeholders (including the UIA, the JNF and Kesser Torah College) to review the current state of kashrut in NSW. They began engaging with many industry participants, including the meat and poultry suppliers, Kosher Establishments, rabbis and other communal organisations.

The JBD and the JCA did not succeed in getting the KA and AIT to agree on mutually acceptable terms to resolve their outstanding issues and withdrew from that process. Discussions with the KA, however, continued on the broader issues raised.

In the course of the negotiations and mediation the JBD and the JCA recommended to the KA that it move to an independently appointed rabbinic board, and that it expand the lay membership of the KA board. The KA initially welcomed the concept of additional lay members. The JBD and the JCA recommended five shomer Shabbat candidates who they felt could add balance and significant expertise to the KA board. Only one of the candidates was deemed acceptable by the KA. The KA made it clear that the structure and selection of the rabbinic leadership of the KA was an issue solely in the domain of the SBD and was not something that was open for discussion in any negotiations. This precluded the JBD and the JCA from taking this issue any further.

In November 2013, the KA published a document online and in the Australian Jewish News referring to the JCA having viewed its accounts.
(http://www.jwire.com.au/news/ka-myths-and-facts/)

After consideration, the then CEO and the President of the JCA felt that the document was potentially misleading as it implied that the JCA endorsed the accounts of the KA.

The JCA suggested, and the KA agreed, that the KA participates in a forensic review of its accounts. The JCA Executive believed that this would be beneficial for community confidence in KA finances.

Martin Bloom, former managing partner of Horwath NSW and then principal at Deloitte, was invited by the JBD and the JCA to conduct an independent review. Mr Bloom’s services were initially accepted by the KA. He had one meeting with the KA and other meetings with industry representatives. The KA declined Mr Bloom’s request for a subsequent meeting and asked that he be replaced by Peter Hersh, the KA’s own auditor.

While not questioning Mr Hersh’s expertise, the Presidents of the JBD and the JCA came to the conclusion, after careful consideration and consultation, that it would not be appropriate for an independent review to be conducted by the KA’s own auditor.

The KA withdrew any participation in the review and claimed that any use of the word ‘forensic’ had an implication of inappropriate behaviour. This issue had not previously been raised at any point in the previous months of discussion by the KA or their representatives. The JCA immediately agreed to drop the term “forensic” but recommended that the review should continue. The KA declined to agree.

As a result of the KA’s refusal to agree to an independent review of its accounts, its refusal to accept the appointment of independent directors to the lay board as suggested by the JCA and JBD at that time, the Presidents of the JBD, the JCA, the UIA and the JNF came together and requested the JBD to establish the KCI.

In January 2014 the KCI, was established by the JBD to examine kashrut in NSW on its behalf and to report back to the JBD with its findings and recommendations. The establishment of the KCI also followed discussions with, and had the imprimatur of, the COS, which is the roof body representing the majority (15) of orthodox synagogues in NSW.

The enslavement in Mitzrayim and the exit to freedom

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[Guest post from R’ Meir Deutsch, with some minor touch ups and additions from me]

We have many dates for what we call ShibudMitzrayim

  • enslavement in Mitzrayim: 430 years from the Brit Beyn Habetarim with Avraham;
  • 400 years from the birth of Yitzhak;
  • 210 years from the arrival of Ya’akov to Mitzrayim.

What we are missing is the several years that the Jew were enslaved and worked Be’Farech, in hard labor. For how many years were they actually slaves?

I used the Hebrew version of the names (i.e. Avraham) and Mitzrayim for Egypt.

Meir Deutsch © All rights reserved

We know that for the bondage in Mitzrayim we have three dates.

Reysh Dalet Vav = 210 years, four hundred years, and the sojourning of the children of Israel who lived in Mitzrayim for four hundred and thirty years.

How do we understand these different time spans? Our sages say

  • the real sojourning of 210 years in Mitzrayim, is from the time Jacob arrived there;
  • 400 years from the birth of Isaac (your descendants will be strangers – was said to Avraham) to the Exodus;
  • and 430 years from the Brit Beyn Habetarim to the Exodus.

Ya’acov comes to Mitzrayim in the second year of the seven years of famine. He remains in Mitzrayim for 17 years until his passing, which is 12 years after the end of the years of famine.

One could ask: why did he not return with his family to Canaan? Was the intention to settle in Mitzrayim or only temporary stay there during the years of hunger? Our ancestors lived in Canaan in tents and moved from place to place; in Mitzrayim they built for themselves houses and settled in the land of Goshen. They were no longer a nomadic tribe. The houses were not built just to be able to put the blood on the doorposts. They were a sign of some permanence.
We have seen the several years of the enslavement in Mitzrayim. We will now try to work out how many years did they actually work B’Farech—in serevitude—in Mitzrayim.

  1. Josef stands before Pharaoh at the age of 30
  2. Ya’acov and the brothers come to Mitzrayim when Josef celebrated his 39th birthday – in the second year of famine
  3. Josef died at the age of 110
  4. Josef lived another 71 years after his father and his brothers came to Mitzrayim
  5. The exodus was 210 years after the arrival of Ya’acov to Mitzrayim
    If we subtract from those 210 years, the years that Josef lived after the reunion with his father Yaakov we are left with 139 years of the children of Israel working B’Farech in Mitzrayim (assuming the enslavement began immediately at the death of Josef and the crowning of a new king who did not know Josef).

Do we have just another date on the bondage of Mitzrayim – The years of hard labour (B’Farech) of 139 years or is there a lesser period recorded? [1]

God promises Jacob that, in exile in Mitzrayim, he will be a great nation.

The Torah tells us that the number of grown up men that left Mitzrayim were: “six hundred thousand men apart from the children and the added Erev Rav… (שמות יב, לד-לה). Rashi explains: men: aged twenty or higher. Our sages say (רש”י שמות א, ז) : VaYishretzu (they multiplied): six in one belly/birth. They came to that conclusion from the many descriptions of births and from VaYischretzu – one Sheretz has many off spring at once.
How many left Mitzrayim? We know that from Ya’acov’s arrival to Mitzrayim until the Exodus we have 210 (רדו) years.
Let’s assume – and this is just an assumption, trying to calculate the large number of the children of Israel in that period of 210 years. Your mileage may differ. Here I assume two wives for each man and two and a half children on average for each wife (actually more births. The two and a half children on average are after the deaths during childbirth, natural mortality, and throwing male babies into the river ). These numbers seem reasonable to me.

Ya’acov had four child-bearing women and three children plus from each on average (we know Rachel had two and Leah had more). As we know, and assume here, the Israelites, including our ancestors, married foreign women. It is logical to adopt this assumption for our calculation:

In a generation of 18 years:

  • Every man marries two women and another woman if one of the wives died.
  • Newborns are half male and half female
  • On average each woman gave birth to only 2.5 children that reached adulthood
  • Ya’acov brings to Mitzrayim 70 souls other than women. So let’s assume 140 women

In the first generation 350 children are born, of which half are male and the other half female.
The 175 males in the second generation marry 350 women and 875 off springs are born. And so on until the middle of the twelfth generation.
The formula is: D = n * (c / 2 * w) ^ d where:
Births in the generation = D
The number of women at the start = n
Number of children born to each woman = c
The number of wives for every man = w
Number of generations = d

At the end of the 11th generation, in the 198th year after Jacob came to Mitzrayim we find by calculation:

  • Part of generation 12 are children under the age of 12
  • Generation 11, part of them are children aged 12 to 20.
  • The generation totals 3.3 million
  • The 10th generation aged 30 to 48 would come to 1.3 million men and women
  • The 9th generation aged 48 to 66 would come to 0.5 million men and women
  • From Generation 9 that survived and reached the time of redemption, Generation 10 and Generation 11 (after deducting the young people under the age of 20), we reach the number – about 600 thousand men aged 20 years and over – actually more if everyone would survive and not die of various causes within the period. However, as I said, I used particular numbers only by way of reasonable illustration.

According to these figures we could have had more males that were thrown into the Yeor and those who died for other reasons.
Part of the 11th generation, and the 12th generation are children. The total number of Jews (not including the extra mixed multitude of Erev Rav) that left Mitzrayim was about 5 million or more.


One can use different assumptions in coming to an approximation. Other assumptions will reach other numbers.
We can conclude. Rabotenu say ששה בכרס אחת . Do they need this interpretation to get to the numbers of יוצאי מצרים ? No, they do not, and I do not think that they suggested it. They came to the conclusion of six in one womb because the Tora says וישרצו and a שרץ has many offspring at once.

This subject was brought up by Fidel Castro when Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau visited him in Cuba. As Castro could not figure out the 600 thousand, Rabbi Lau told him about “six in one womb” (ישראל מאיר לאו – “אל תשלח ידך אל הנער” עמ, 309). He still could not get the numbers and Rabbi Lau pointed out to him the Erev Rav that joined the exodus. I wonder why Rabbi Lau and Fidel Castro did not calculate and reach the number. In all likelihood they had other things to talk about too :-)

What kind of slaves were the people of Israel. Wealth was measured in those days by how “heavy” a man was in silver, in gold, and in sheep and cattle. We are not told how much silver and gold the children of Israel had in Mitzrayim, but sheep and cattle they certainly had a plenty. When Pharaoh asked them to leave a guarantee/deposit, their sheep and cattle, they responded with no, we are going to worship G-d with our flock. When leaving Mitzrayim they took their livestock: “וצאן ובקר מקנה כבד מאד” (שמות יב, לח). I wonder who was grazing the sheep and cattle when they were working hard in Mitzrayim? Did they hire shepherds? Was Goshen so amenable to natural unaided feeding and care? Did only men labour Be’Farech, whilst females were looking after the flock? What appears here is that the children of Israel were “rather rich slaves”, heavy in sheep and cattle.


[1] ב”סדר עולם” החל ממות לוי, לא יותר מ-116 שנים. ואין השיעבוד יותר על כן.

Meir Gershon Rabi is involved once more in controversy

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They say that all publicity is good publicity. I’m sure Meir Gershon Rabi and Kalman Gradman’s business benefit from each bit of publicity negative or positive. His clientele are set in their ways and largely are happy to leave the onus on Meir Gershon. This article and and happenings won’t bother those few.

I understand there is a fracas brewing between the Australian Jewish News and Meir Gershon over an apparent refusal to remove a Dayan in London’s letter of approbation ostensibly originally designed to ensure Meir Gershon is accepted for a job as a Mashgiach.

Where the truth lies I do not know. I am not a prophet.

However, note that there is a concept called Asmachta. Without using it formally, it can be thought of as an adjacency relationship.

This much I know for a fact. Meir Gershon has/used to have/ a gravatar which included Rav Belski from the OU. There can be many theories why someone would choose to do that. If I have a gravatar with a grandchild, then one assumes that I’m kvelling/happy to appear together with them. If a Chosid has a gravatar with his Rebbe, then we understand that entering that Chosid’s house one will find pictures of that Rebbe, and that Rebbe will be his guiding light in matters of life.

It is peculiar though for someone to have a gravatar with Rav Belsky, unless Rav Belski is Meir Gershon’s mentor, or Rav HaMuvhak, or was the one that gave him Smicha or perhaps Meir Gershon did shimush (rabbinical apprenticeship) with Rabbi Belski. I don’t expect Meir Gershon will ever tell us why he did so, but there will be various theories as to such.

For my part, I didn’t allow that gravatar on my blog. I asked him to have a picture only of himself. At the end of the day, nobody who eats using his imprimatur is eating from any other authority except Meir Gershon. Each to their own. His curious need to rub shoulders with Rabbis and then publish pictures may be a marketing ploy. I don’t know or understand why this should be done.

What I can advise, and have advised, is that Meir Gershon visits many Rabbonim around the word where he discusses various aspects of his ideas, hetterim, and future projects.

I was talking to Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter, Posek of the OU, who advised that he had received some written material from Meir Gershon. Readers may remember that Rav Schachter said he could not see a problem with Kosher thick style Matzos made K’Das V’Kdin, although he had absolutely zero to do with Meir Gershon’s own production and in no way gave it his own imprimatur.

Meir Gershon has had an idea for some some seven years regarding cattle, and has been researching it assiduously, asking questions on the internet and to Rabbonim.

I attended Yeshiva University’s Yarchei Kallah in December. Speaking to Rav Schachter, I showed him a selfie of Rav Schachter and Meir Gershon. Rav Schachter was shocked and asked ‘how did you get that. I met with him only yesterday’. I responded that it apparently was on the internet. Rav Schachter shrugged his shoulders and said that he had advised Meir Gershon not to put the picture on websites. It seems Meir Gershon is selective in his hearing.

For what it’s worth, I also have pictures of myself with Rav Schachter, but they are in the vein of

והיו עיניך רואות את מוריך

I don’t run a kosher business and mentioned to Rav Schachter that my pictures would not appear on the internet (certainly not without his permission)!

I have a problem with Kashrus Businesses.

If the melbourne community had more communal sense, it would come to a scheme of arrangement whereby Mizrachi was paid for their investment in Kashrus. The Kashrus should be handed over to the Melbourne Beth Din, with current staff intact. Any experts from Adass should be invited to join as well as Yeshivah. The Rav Hamachshir should remain Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick. He is a true expert in the area, and he should have someone in training for the future. The standard used needs to be OU standard, and frankly, I wouldn’t be upset if Kosher Australia became an arm of the OU in Australia. All States would set up a similar operation. There would be one hechsher. One could confidently buy from any butcher shop. Independent audits could be inaugurated. A lay body would oversee finances and eventually profits would be poured back into a reformed COSV (which I perceive as tired and haggard) and which sought to help Orthodox Shules become more attractive without becoming Conservadox, as well as the sponsoring of programs for the disabled and challenged amongst us.

There would be no place or space for more than one authority. This is what I saw in Johannesburg, and recently in Miami. What a pleasure it was.

To put it bluntly, Kashrus Supervision should not be a business. Proper respectable wages should be given, and contracts and KPI’s implemented but the notion of making a business out of hechsherim is anathema to me.

Yes, it is true, there will be some contentious matters, and sometimes we will need to compromise so that world’s best standards are adhered to. This will benefit the Australian export market. And yes, those who want to have whisky from wine casks, can do so in their own homes. Personally, my own view is that this whisky is okay, but I don’t have a problem with an authority adopting accepted world standards. That being said, the wording that has been used needs to be vetted more carefully, and I understand that this will be the case in the future. As much as I like a good scotch, it’s not the be all and end all.

On the conundrum of mesora

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(Guest post from R Meir Deutsch)

כך ראיתי בית אבא.

But many do not go in their father’s steps. You go to the synagogue and you see many praying in Nussach Sfarad/Sfard while having the Ashkenaz Tfilin. Is that what is meant by:

קשר תפילין הראה לעניו

Is that why we have the different Kesharim? In Keter/Kether I do not like the part אחרית כראשית .

Many left their father’s steps and went over to Chabad and say today only one Bracha/Broche when putting on Tfilin. Many today do not follow what they saw at home but follow a Rebbe or a Rabbi.

A friend of mine (not a Chossid) settled in the U.S. and made a Rabbi for himself עשה לך רב . He followed all his rulings till it came to Passover. The Rabbi told him not to eat GEBROCHTS / Shruya. He told the Rabbi I follow you up to here, but there is no Pessach without Kneidlach.

I wonder which one is the correct way.

On the lighter side.

One asked a Rabbi: Is G-d feminine or masculine?

The Rabbi replied: It depends; if you are Ashkenaz it is HASHEM HU HA’ELOKIM, if you are a Chossid it is HASHEM HE HA’ELOKIM.

Which accent in Ivrit/Ivris did Rav Kook prefer

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It may come as a shock to some, but Rav Kook was vehemently against anyone changing their pronunciation. Rav Kook acutely felt that the issue of 12 gates/approaches to the Beis Hamikdosh, despite the concept of Shaar Hakolell (the 13th gate for those who knew not what their tradition was, and which the Ari felt was his Nusach, and which the B’aal HaTanya refined) was Kodesh Kodoshim.

If your father/grandfather pronounced things a certain way and/or followed a certain Nusach, Rav Kook was implacably against the Ben Yehuda approach of creating a universal style new pronunciation. This is known by anyone who spoke with Rav Kook.

Rav Kook preferred to speak in Loshon Kodesh. That’s another matter. I feel though that people need to understand that this icon of Jewish Rabbinic History was far less malleable despite his extreme and burning Ahavas Yisrael and Ahavas HaTorah and Eretz HaKodesh than people realise.

Certainly Poskim including Reb Moshe and the Minchas Elozor were authoritative in their machlokes and rulings on this matter, but it’s interesting to note Rav Kook’s view.

At Elwood Shule, I remember as a boy asking the older men (in Yiddish) what did your father say in Musaf, “Kesser or Nakdishach”. Invariably they said “Kesser” but once they moved to anglicised Melbourne, they simply went along with the English influenced Nusach of the regal Rabbinate. My father ע’’ה told me that he always said “Kesser” and a few times, I heard him mumble “Brich Hu L’Aylo Mikol Birchso Veshiroso” as opposed to Amen or Brich Hu. I keep this, and cherish the unadulterated Minhag Avoseynu.

Yud Shvat is also the Yohr Tzeit of the indefatigable Rav Yissochor Shlomo Teichtal הי’’ד

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The Rayyatz was a holy man, and it is Yohr Tzeit. He is given deserved honour.

In the honour of the Gaon Rav Teichtal, I will reprint something I saw from Rav Aviner. I have written about Rav Teichtal before.

Teshuvah and Geulah

Q: Aren’t the Charedim correct that Am Yisrael will first perform Teshuvah and only then return to Zion in purity?

A: This was in fact one of the possibilities, but as it happened, Am Yisrael did not repent in the Exile but will do so here (In the newly released edition of the book “Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah” of Keren Re’em, it is written in the introduction [p. 12] that during the Tena’im ceremony held for the engagement between the granddaughter of Ha-Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel, author of Shut Mishneh Sachir and Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah, and the eldest grandson of the present Belzer Rebbe, the Belzer Rebbe related that in the year 5703, Ha-Rav Teichtal came to his uncle and father [the previous Belzer Rebbe Ha-Rav Aharon and Ha-Rav Mordechai of Bilgoray] in Budapest to ask for a Haskamah for his book Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah. Rav Mordechai of Bilgoray said to him: There is a dispute in Mishnah Pesachim [10:6]: How far does one recite Hallel during the Pesach Seder prior to the meal? Bet Shammai says: Until [the verse] “Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah – As a joyous mother of children”, while Bet Hillel says: Until “The flint into a fountain of waters”. We currently follow the halachic rulings of Bet Hillel. In the future, the Halachah will follow Bet Shammai: “Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah” [- a play on the name of his book].

But apparently they were unaware that when the Belzer Rebbe – Ha-Rav Aharon -made Aliyah, he came to Reb Noson – Ha-Rav Shalom Natan Ra’anan Kook, Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s son-in-law – and said: You and I had differences regarding the way to bring Jews on Aliyah. We [much of the Haredi world] said that they should first be strengthened in Judaism outside of the Land and only then could they make Aliyah in order to build in holiness; you said that every one of them should quickly come on Aliyah without calculation. After the Holocaust, it has become clear to us that we erred, and we are greatly distressed over this fact. Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Eretz Yisrael pp. 57, 221-222. This story is also brought in Imrei Shefer on Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira, p. 37)

Klipas Nogah

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What the heck is it? I use it in my iPhone email signature. One of my respectful readers asked me to explain what I meant by קליפת נוגה. To trace the concept historically, perhaps its earliest appearance is in the  זוהר חדש יתרו מ”ד ע”ב and I am happy to be corrected by those who live and learn these concepts regularly. I don’t understand Kabbalistic concepts and find them and Chassidus rather impenetrable. That’s just me. Nonetheless, we have Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 203 (hat tip RMS) telling us something very profound

אם אי אפשר לו ללמוד בלא שינת צהריים – יישן.

הגה: וכשניעור משנתו, אין צריך לברך “אלהי נשמה” (בית יוסף). ויש אומרים שיקרא קודם שיישן “ויהי נועם” (כל בו).

ובלבד שלא יאריך בה, שאסור לישן ביום יותר משינת הסוס, שהוא שיתין נשמי. ואף בזה המעט – לא תהא כוונתו להנאת גופו, אלא להחזיק גופו לעבודת השם יתברך.

וכן בכל מה שיהנה בעולם הזה, לא יכוון להנאתו אלא לעבודת הבורא יתברך, כדכתיב: “בכל דרכיך דעהו” (משלי ג ו), ואמרו חכמים: כל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמיים, שאפילו דברים של רשות, כגון האכילה והשתיה וההליכה והישיבה והקימה והתשמיש והשיחה וכל צרכי גופך, יהיו כולם לעבודת בוראך, או לדבר הגורם עבודתו. שאפילו היה צמא ורעב, אם אכל ושתה להנאתו – אינו משובח, אלא יתכוין שיאכל וישתה כפי חיותו לעבוד את בוראו.

וכן אפילו לישב בסוד ישרים ולעמוד במקום צדיקים ולילך בעצת תמימים, אם עשה להנאת עצמו – להשלים חפצו ותאותו – אינו משובח, אלא אם כן עשה לשם שמיים.

וכן בשכיבה, אין צריך לומר שבזמן שיכול לעסוק בתורה ובמצוות לא יתגרה בשינה לענג עצמו, אלא אפילו בזמן שהוא יגע וצריך לישן כדי לנוח מיגיעתו – אם עשה להנאת גופו אינו משובח; אלא יתכוין לתת שינה לעיניו ולגופו מנוחה לצורך הבריאות, שלא תיטרף דעתו בתורה מחמת מניעת השינה.

וכן בתשמיש האמורה בתורה, אם עשה להשלים תאוותו או להנאת גופו – הרי זה מגונה. ואפילו אם נתכוין כדי שיהיו לו בנים שישמשו אותו וימלאו מקומו – אינו משובח, אלא יתכוין שיהיו לו בנים לעבודת בוראו, או שתהיה כוונתו לעבודת הבורא או לדבר המביא לעבודתו.

כללו של דבר: חייב אדם לשום עיניו וליבו על דרכיו ולשקול כל מעשיו במאזני שכלו, וכשרואה דבר שיביא לידי עבודת הבורא יתברך – יעשהו, ואם לאו – לא יעשהו. ומי שנוהג כן, עובד את בוראו תמיד.

In other words there is a class of our actions that can be used for mundane/selfish or even sinful purposes but that group is not in of itself an irredeemable or innately bad category. It is a behavioural manifestation that depends on us. If we use it for good, it can be raised to holiness. If we misuse it, it can transform into a negative force.

When we consider many aspects of life, be they secular, seemingly mundane, or even holy, they can be a positive force or they maybe a negative sapping energy.
There are, of course, things which are innately evil or lacking קדושה and are simply impure. These are defined to us by Shulchan Aruch. But ultimately, many things are (in the words of a friend in Miami) Pareve. You can turn them into fleshig or milchig. What you do, depends on your intention and  actions: do you seek to have a positive emanating light or are you fooling yourself, or are you, God forbid, misusing what has been given to you.
iPhone, the internet, and other devices have been slammed by many righteous people and some Poskim. It is  my belief that they fall into the class of קליפת נוגה. In other words, they are not innately bad. They are a communication device but are able to aid in other ways. Of course, like many other appliances, they can be misused for the wrong thing(s). At the same time they can be a source of extreme קדושה.
In my own case the advent of the iPhone opened up a world to me that I would never have experienced. Although I am a musician, I have little music on my iPhone. I only insert the odd song that I need to learn for my band. Currently I have 50 Gigabytes of Shiurim on my iPhone. When I drive to work, and drive home, most commonly I am listening to a Shiur (and usually it’s from Rav Schachter). The internet as stored or accessible on my iPhone which is shining from a parve state to one which I have found  exalted. My own Posek was actually “sourced” from learning via my iPhone. I had the recent pleasure of spending a full day of Yarchei Kallah at YU, together my wife. and I had the merit of hearing two shiurim directly from Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter, and also spoke a little with him. The iPhone was the derech that I discovered him and his Torah.
Dayan Usher Weiss is another who I occasionally listen to. He knows me now. Just this week I spoke to him about a difficult Shayla which I became involved in, only because I was asked, and I knew that his standing would be able to influence those on the other end. (My son just brought back the second chelek of his Shaylos and Tshuvos for me).
To perhaps put the concept in more concrete terms. I will quote from a very good book I was given, named “GPS for the soul”, by Rabbi Nadav Cohen. It’s essentially a rewrite of Sefer HaTanya in a form that is palatable for simpletons like me. I haven’t read it from cover to cover, but do look therein when there is a concept that doesn’t cleanly penetrate my head due to the way it’s been explained to me before. Here is an embellished quote

From a verse in Yechezkel 1:4 “And I looked and  behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, a burst of flame, and a glistening (נוגה) around it, we learn there are four kinds of Kelipa (outer shell): “a stormy wind, a great cloud, a burst of flaming and a glistening (the latter is what I think is Klipas Noga)

These four Kelipot subdivide into two main groups: a lower level and a higher level. The lower level which is referred to as a stormy wind, a great cloud, and a burst of flame is called the three impure Klipot and they are responsible for infusing vitality into all forbidden things.

The remaining Kelipah (“a glistening“) is called kelipat nogah and  is responsible for infusing vitality into all permitted things-meaning, anything that isn’t forbidden or (already) a Mitzvah

Sefer Hatanya formally states (chapter 7)

קליפה רביעית הנקראת קליפת נוגה שבעולם הזה הנקרא עולם העשיה רובו ככולו רע רק מעט טוב מעורב בתוכה [שממנה באות מדות טובות שבנפש הבהמית שבישראל כמ”ש לעיל] והיא בחי’ ממוצעת בין שלש קליפות הטמאות לגמרי ובין בחי’ ומדרגת הקדושה ולכן פעמים שהיא נכללת בשלש קליפות הטמאות [כמ”ש בע”ח שער מ”ט ריש פ”ד בשם הזהר] ופעמים שהיא נכללת ועולה בבחי’ ומדרגת הקדושה דהיינו כשהטוב המעורב בה נתברר מהרע וגובר ועולה ונכלל בקדושה כגון ד”מ האוכל בשרא שמינא דתורא ושותה יין מבושם להרחיב דעתו לה’ ולתורתו כדאמר רבא חמרא וריחא כו’ או בשביל כדי לקיים מצות ענג שבת וי”ט אזי נתברר חיות הבשר והיין שהיה נשפע מקליפת נוגה ועולה לה’ כעולה וכקרבן. וכן האומר מילתא דבדיחותא לפקח דעתו ולשמח לבו לה’ ולתורתו ועבודתו שצריכים להיות בשמחה וכמו שעשה רבא לתלמידיו שאמר לפניהם מילתא דבדיחותא תחלה ובדחי רבנן. אך מי שהוא בזוללי בשר וסובאי יין למלאת תאות גופו ונפשו הבהמית שהוא בחי’ יסוד המים מארבע יסודות הרעים שבה שממנו מדת התאוה הנה ע”י זה יורד חיות הבשר והיין שבקרבו ונכלל לפי שעה ברע גמור שבשלש קליפות הטמאות וגופו נעשה להן לבוש ומרכבה לפי שעה עד אשר ישוב האדם ויחזור לעבודת ה’ ולתורתו כי לפי שהיה בשר היתר ויין כשר לכך יכולים לחזור ולעלות עמו בשובו לעבודת ה’ שזהו לשון היתר ומותר כלומר שאינו קשור ואסור בידי החיצונים

So, in summary, what I say in my “iPhone email sign off”, is that like the Television that is wheeled out each Motzei Shabbos in the Shule I daven at on Motzei Shabbos and is used to show DVDs of Torah, that TV is Klipas Nogah. It can glisten and shine and emerge from pareve.

Think of classical music, for example, it can be used to soothe nerves. It can’t be considered as forbidden in my world view.
I recognised the more right-wing sheltered types will see no glistening in such devices. הנח להם … I leave them to their philosophy with which I disagree.
Even the University education of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav, in my opinion was Klipas Noga. They used it to shed light and infuse the particular type of modern Jew for whom this was “the key”.

Our holiday. Part 4: Shabbos Leading to a visit to the Tziyun

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Dear readers,

In some ways, this part of the trip afforded me with a most significant lesson in morality and middos.

On Friday night we were fortunate to be invited to a family home of the Chosson. The host is well-known to me as a fellow graduate of Yeshivah College in Melbourne. The hostess is a more recent person who I met in Melbourne a few times, and is somewhat more “reserved” but charming. I know many of their children, and with one of the husbands discussed his PhD, and if I can, I am hopeful to help him achieve some of dreams flowing from those ideas. He and his wife represent the essence of values that makes Chabad an attractive proposition to those who are searching and attuned to the spiritual. At subsequent Sheva Brachos my wife also discovered a common educational language. I was thrilled with that outcome.

The Dinner proceeded, and whilst I had been asked to pop in and meet the well-known Rebbetzin Henya Lane (a sister of my Mechuteniste) after Friday Night dinner, that didn’t happen because Friday night’s dinner ended late, partially due to wonderful hostessing and the happy, relaxed ambience. By that stage I wasn’t about to barge into someone’s house late on a Friday Night. Henya’s husband is also related to Avremy Raskin (who isn’t?), and is in need of a Refuah Shelema, since then. I understand he is on the mend, Boruch Hashem, but I don’t think I formally met him. My feeling is that he will return to full activity and vigour, and for whatever my Brocho is worth, R’ Chaim Dovid has it.

The “morning after” was Shabbos and it was time to go to Shule. Again, the combination of a windowless basement, remnants of jet lag, no alarm clock, and good food and drink the night before conspired to make me late to Shule. I’ve never been one to come late to Shule; I abhor it! I have to admit that on this occasion when I arrived at 770 for the aufruf upstairs, I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself for being late. The Aufruf was upstairs in the Yechidus room; the room where I felt very comfortable, and I again met some wonderful Talmidei Chachomim, including Rav Michoel Seligsohn, with whom I discussed various issues, and stay in touch. He is a very quick to respond, and I appreciate his perspicacity and learning. I had wanted to meet R’ Chaim Serebryanski who davens downstairs, and asked someone to see if he was there, but learned later that he finishes his seder learning and davening, early.

As davening came to a close, I initiated the process of remembering where my overcoat and hat were placed and thank God, I was still on the ball and found them. This is another weakness of mine. I’m prone to losing things. To many this is trivial. For me, it’s a major challenge. I still got lost merely negotiating the upper floor.

As I picked up my hat, I noticed the venerable Rav Yoel Kahn שליט’’א giving a shiur in Chassidus to the Bochurim of Tomchei Temimim. I felt I should experience this, as he is considered the doyen. Unfortunately, a combination of his accent, and compromised health, meant that from the distance, there was little chance for me to understand what he was saying. I waited for a moment wherein nobody noticed, and quietly slipped out, not wishing to offend.

My good friend, the Gaon, Rav Shea Hecht also has Yohr Tzeit around this time after his father R’ Peretz, and we shared much of the previous year at Ohel Devora in Melbourne saying Kaddish for our fathers. I had heard that Reb Shea was “around” and wanted to say Good Shabbos to him before I headed off to Getzel’s Shule for the Kiddusha Rabba. Someone advised me that he was in “that room” on the right, just down the hallway, otherwise known as the Cheder Sheni. I popped my head in and saw Shea and he greeted me warmly. As is his ebullient way, he introduced me to a packed room of people in the middle of a Kiddush, packed on benches like sardines.

Suddenly a colourful character named “Pinto” began speaking in a loud and boisterous and voice, challenging aspects of my views on various matters with a smile. This didn’t bother me, of course. Pinto was clearly refreshed and in a happy mood. I like happy people, as long as they haven’t left their brains parked at home, or don’t have any to find.

The next thing I knew, I was “magically” propelled onto one of the benkalach among this group of what I now know to be seasoned kiddush machers. They were generally my age and older and were a jolly group  for whom opinion flowed with un-alarming alacrity. They insisted I should make Kiddush as this was the real Kiddush. Pleas that I needed to go to attend a Kiddush for a Simcha seemed to be irrelevant.

Nu, so you will go after this kiddush.

I didn’t think too much of it, as I have a well known penchant for a drink after davening (I don’t eat before Shacharis which can make this dangerous), so I sat down thinking I’d spend 15 minutes or so and then head over to Getzel’s Shule. I was asked if I wanted wine, and answered that my preference was to make kiddush over mashke every shabbos, in the self-same way I did with my father ע’ה each week, and since. I asked for Scotch, and discovered that this colour didn’t seem to figure in the room at the time. There was herring and all manner of good Kiddush food (farbaysen), but it became obvious that I had stumbled into a Russian-Style Kiddush where everyone quaffed white liquid. At one stage, when I was told

we have everything

I challenged by asking for Galeh (pecha) and in an instant it was in front of me, and was really good (although not as good as my wife’s cuisine, of course :-)

I don’t dislike white liquid, but suggested that the cup they had given me was three times the Shiur of the Chazon Ish, let alone R’ Chaim Naeh, and a usual 80-100ml cup would be plenty. Plastic sufficed, I didn’t follow Poskim who held you needed a more substantial material for a cup. Immediately, a cup of appropriate size was placed in front of me, brimming with “lighter fluid”, and I made Kiddush.

On my right was a friendly person who engaged in conversation. I was to learn later from R’ Shea that I had engaged anyone who

tried me out

 

and held my own with dignity, giving back anything I was dealt. Much of the conversation was “Have you been to the Ohel”. I explained my general feeling of uncomfortableness and inadequacy at visiting places like that, but this only spurred the crowd (rabble?) on more,  in the sense that they stated

well if that’s how you feel, you davka are the type of person who should go.

I was to discover that the “Vodka” I had consumed a number of subsequent times included the famed “Zeks und Ninetziger”, otherwise known as rocket fuel. My Zeyda Yitzchok after whom I was named, drank Zeks und Ninetziger every Shabbos, and I knew the secret was to pour and not allow it to touch the extremeties of one’s mouth. My father used to mention this to me.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember the details of conversations.

As I was about to leave, the gentleman on my right said to me

Nu, what time tomorrow shall I pick you up to go to the Ohel.

I hadn’t even agreed to do so let alone committed to such after Rabbi Kotlarky’s talk on that topic. By that stage, I felt somewhat “worn down”, and his ehrlichkeit penetrated. Knowing that we had lots to do on Sunday (including catching a flight later to Montreal), I thought I’d say 7am sharp, and this would surely prove to be too early for my interlocutor. He asked me where I was staying, and promised he’d be there at 7am. I had no contact number, and at that stage didn’t even know his surname. I didn’t know whether he was serious or not, but he was rather heartzig (heartfelt) and earnest and seemed to ooze chesed (kindness), so I took him at face value.

As I found out later, he was married to a lady I saw on our first evening in Crown Heights and whom I mistook for our good friend in Melbourne. Her mode of speaking and voice are almost identical and I had met a few years prior in Melbourne on Chanuka.

We left the Kiddush, and he accompanied me. We spiralled into a number of Chabad homes, while people were eating their lunch, and of course “had” to have a L’Chayim and some Gefilte fish at each such place. My “Chavruso” didn’t leave my side and directed me to all places. As we walked in, he was always greeted very warmly with

Good Shabbos Moshe.

Everyone seemed to know him and warmed  to him, seemingly magnetically. Moshe was very kind, and looked after me (I would have been lost without him, having no spatial skills whatsoever. Eventually we both finally made it to Getzel’s Shule for the Kiddush). I sensed the host would would have liked me to have come earlier, and he was very right. I still managed a L’Chaim or two. Thankfully I had davened Mincha at 770 beforehand.

It was really only then, when others asked me “where have you been” and I responded that I had been with Moshe Rubashkin, that I retraced my steps. It didn’t interest me to ask why people said

oooh, with Moshe

as if I had been with the King of England.

I woke on time, and sure enough, Moshe was also there on time. I had my Tallis and Tefillin and didn’t know if we’d daven before or after the visit to the ציון of the Rebbes. On the way we spoke, and although he was rather Russian, and I was an Aussie academic whose מהות (soul) was still planted in Rawa Mazowiecka, Poland, we had a curiously common language and got on very well. He kept saying I was “funny”. I don’t know what that meant, but I assume it meant that I was somewhat more unpredictable with my responses than he was used to.

When we arrived at Montefiore Cemetery, I didn’t know what to expect. We walked through a front door, and were confronted by the video of a past Sicha on a big screen. Somewhat fortuitously, sitting to the right and behind  the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a light suit, was Reb Yisroel New (whom I knew, as a great-grandfather of the Chosson). The topic was “holidays”. and the LR was fulminating that there could not be a holiday from Torah and that he couldn’t understand how Mosdos would close down completely. I was on holiday, but I didn’t feel I had stopped my small engagement with Torah, so took his words in context. Moshe stood there and listened באימה, and I didn’t move until he moved on.

At every stage, everyone seemed to greet him with warmth, and I realised he was a real personality amongst the populace. We moved into a large room where minyanim were taking place (and apparently a Bar Mitzvah was being prepared for) and then suddenly I came to a door.

I opened the door and tentatively entered and was confronted by the scene of two stark Matzeyvos filled with mounds of torn paper. I physically recoiled backwards. This was my natural reaction as a Cohen. Although there was a mechitzah around the Kvorim, it was not natural for me to be so close, and my Cohanic instincts made me take two backward steps.

I had the Maaneh Loshon with me, and after staring at the graves and scrutinising the words, noting the slight difference in language, my mind wandered to the contribution and responsibility these two Rebbes had played in my life, overseeing and supervising the establishment of the School that I was to attend for 12 years. People around me were saying Tehillim, and one lady was weeping audibly. Rain was dripping on my hat and Moshe was saying Tehillim. I didn’t write any note, nor did I take off my shoes or knock at the door. I didn’t feel disrespectful.

Eventually I started saying the Maaneh Loshon, but the words were floating around on the page, and I can’t say that they were at one with my mind and thoughts. I subconsciously decided that silent contemplation with my eyes shut was appropriate. It required great concentration not to commune directly with the Rebbes. I concentrated on asking their Neshomos to join me in beseeching Hashem for various things relating to others. Only at the end, did I venture into a short matter about me. I’m not sure how long I was standing there for, but was to learn that Moshe went 2 or 3 times a week, and normally said the entire Tehillim. I felt a little guilty, when after some time I felt I had ended my experience and tentatively started to leave. Moshe compromised his usual timing and joined me immediately. This was something I learned later.

A minyan was just starting, and I recognised the Ba’al Tefilla from 770 upstairs but had never asked his name (he was a gingy). During davening my mind occasionally wandered back to that sombre scene, and I understood why Chassidim felt drawn to visit their Rebbe’s resting place. Again, there was so much

Hello Moshe, how are you

I was amazed at the “celebrity status”. He asked someone walking along the muddy path if they needed a lift, and we drove back. He had no airs or graces.

When we returned, we sat in the car and continued talking for what seemed ages. Finally, there was this knock on the window, and I saw my wife with her hands up in the air, saying

I’ve tried to contact you for hours. I had no idea what happened to you, we have to go to X, Y and Z

She wasn’t angry, but had that look of “knowing her husband” and my proclivities. She said,

I see you seem to have found a soul mate.

I responded that we had a natural affinity to each other and could have spoken for another two hours without a problem, even though externally we are chalk and cheese.

Later, people told me about amazing acts of Chesed that Moshe was doing for many people, and I was not surprised.

I asked him to apologise to his wife for keeping him out for that long and mentioned that I had met his sister-in-law on the street when we arrived. He said

that was actually my galicianer wife

It was only then that I realised that Moshe and his wife were actually the bookends of our visit to crown heights: His wife when we arrived and Moshe when we left.

On my return, I obtained Moshe’s number and sent him a proper thank you. Should I return to Crown Heights, I will definitely seek him out. He helped make my visit to the ציונים of the Rebbes less stressful and dignified, and without pressure to conform in any way.

Our holiday. Part 2: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

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Dear Readers,

Herein part 2.

As stated in part 1, our trip, although planned, was somewhat up in the air awaiting various confirmations. As it turned out, Baruch Hashem these came through and we arrived on a Wednesday in Crown Heights, New York, for the first leg. I had never been to crown heights, nor, as I have stated did I ever have a great interest in visiting there. And this, despite the fact that I went to a Chabad School, and daven in Chabad. I’d heard things about the place, but admittedly, I really only listened with one ear, but for me, spending time in Yerusholayim, Ir HaKodesh, was and remains the focus of my heart and mind. Our son, Yossi is currently learning in Israel, and both my wife and I felt that despite our yearning to visit Israel once more, it would be better not to disrupt Yossi’s progress with our ever presence for a few weeks. So, based on my wife’s previous year’s experience, and her suggestion I acceded without rancour to a visit to Crown Heights en route to Montreal, and then our holiday in Miami.

It was difficult to pack because one encountered  the cold winter cold of Crown Heights and colder winter of Montreal and then the physical warmth of Miami; a contradiction in weather patterns, it say the least. My wife expertly found us what is known as a ‘basement’ for our lodging. Observing the architecture, it became clear that basements are a regular fixture of narrower houses that invariably are built on an incline. I was reminded of parts of Sydney. Down the steps we went, and into a basement. It was nightfall already, and the flight via Hong Kong had been longer than expected because our Melbourne to Hong Kong leg departed late, and we missed the connecting flight. I did enjoy a few scotches in the Cathay lounge in stuporous compensation. Marc Schachter was also present, and he was a more experienced flier to these regions, providing sound advice. It was impossible to get food into the airport, and while there was the usual sprinkling of OU Nash, that wasn’t exactly what we were after. This also meant there was no Kosher food on the long missed subsequent leg to New York, as they require 48 hours notice. That God, my wife had a few Wurst Sandwiches which we devoured early on the flight. I did contact Chabad close by, but there wasn’t enough time to effect any changes.

Arriving in Crown Heights, New York, the basement was neat and clean and had amenities for those who maintain a fidelity to Halacha. We quickly grabbed a sandwich from a 24 hour place near vt. It was overpriced, but tasty nonetheless and we were hungry. I mentioned to my wife, that despite sleeping on the plane, I had no idea what time I would wake in the morning and hopefully it wouldn’t be too late for a minyan.

As it turned out, I managed to wake in the morning hours at a reasonable time, grabbed my tallis and  tefillin and noticed lots of chassidim in the street walking in a particular direction. I followed them and then found myself literally 2 minutes later standing in front of 770. We were obviously very close to 770. I recognised it, ironically, from the 770 facade in Caulfield!

I wasn’t sure what to do. I am not comfortable davening with meshichisten, and I wondered if I would end up in a Shule therein bedraped with signs, people taking dollars from nobody, drinking Kos Shel Brocho from nobody, or pretending to make a pathway for nobody to walk through. These are scenes I don’t want to be ever be connected with. I become aggravated weekly from the unnecessary single sign at the back of Yeshivah in Hotham Street Melbourne which effectively states that there cannot be a Moshiach other than the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a nonsense by any stretch of normative Judaism. There is nobody who can or should state who the Moshiach must be. It isn’t part of our Mesora to do that. I am not going to get into the issue from a learned perspective, but an interested and serious reader would do well to read the work of HaRav HaGaon R’ Yechezkel Sofer in his important Kuntress Yisboraru Veyislabnu, for which he was ridiculed and called R’ Yechezkel Kofer (a disgusting pejorative).

That sign grates on many people, but remains up because the Chassidim who run the Shule in Melbourne, including the clergy, don’t actually follow the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directives which included the point that if such a thing causes one person not to come in or feel comfortable, then they should be discarded as they are not the essence of Chabad. Those people have their own rules for what is term Hiskashrus and that concept seems to supersede even what their own Rebbe stated clearly and plainly. I will stop there on that topic.

All these thoughts were in my mind as I stood at the doorway, wondering whether I should go in. I knew I’d be able to find another Shule, but my sense of direction is so woeful, I feared walking further. In addition, I had just finished reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and these had an effect on me. I decided to brave matters and enter.

Opening the door and there was a narrow corridor, and I noticed some people milling about. I recognised Rabbi Shem Tov; he has distinctive eye brows! He was rather self-effacing and pointed to a room and said a minyan would start there in 15 minutes. I searched for a place to put my coat, such that I might find it again and then the door opened and I walked in and readied myself for davening. I noticed that it was an office and that the bookshelves has been sealed. In front of me was a small desk, and it then became obvious that I was in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s office, the room where many a famous yechidus/discussion took place. When a few men turned around and briefly eye-balled me, I realised that the Rebbes’s three secretaries were also in this minyan. My mind wandered to the many stories described in the three books (a draft review of which I have had for some time but have not managed to complete) It was a surreal experience finding myself in that very room. Some people strangely were davening just outside the room even though there was space therein. I was to learn later that this was their way of according respect, because they had no “permission” to enter. Not being a Chabad Chasid myself, I didn’t feel uncomfortable davening in the office and entered as I would in any circumstance.

I looked at the chair, and felt some sadness that there was nobody occupying it. At the same time I was made to feel very welcome. There were no shrieks of Yechi here, no emblazoned Yarmulkas, and no yellow lapel badges, all of which continue to annoy me as they are expressions of a false reality. Instead, call it by divine providence, my first encounter was with those who I consider “normal,  level-headed” Chassidim who were no less connected to their late Rebbe than the type who feel the need to advertise their views. We are lucky that tattoos are forbidden. If not, I would imagine Hiskashrus would be akin to tattooing the Rebbe on one’s back, forehead, and anywhere else.

Being a Thursday, there was layning. It was also Chanuka. The Gabbay, whose son-in-law is the Rabbi of Central Synagogue in Sydney, is a warm man, and when he called out “is there a Cohen”, I answered in the affirmative. I follow the Psak of Rav Soltoveitchik that these days, it is highly questionable whether one should make a Brocho of Gomel after flying as it happens to be safer than crossing a road (statistically). I am a stubborn type in the sense that I don’t like to deviate from what I have been taught to be clear halacha. Accordingly, I made the Brachos on an open sefer torah (and not closing it as per many including Chabad). The Baal Koreh didn’t interfere, and I respect him for that. I felt a bit cheeky doing so, but it is how I do it naturally. When I finished the second bracha, I decided that I would bench Gomel. When I think back why I did so, I think the primary reason was that it was a tad fortuitous and pre-ordained that I should immediately be in the Rebbe’s Yechidus Room, and I felt that Minhag Hamakom should prevail. I wasn’t consistent, because I used the Brocho of Gomel of Nusach Sfard instead of Chabad, but impressively, not a single person blinked an eye lid or issued any complaint. This seemed to be the type of inclusive environment I was used to as a youth, and although my actions were contradictory, I felt a feeling of “acceptance”. At the conclusion of davening, which was undoubtedly more meaningful for me because I was, where I was, and thereby able to commune more effectively with God, I was asked who I was etc.

I couldn’t really answer in any meaningful way except to say I was a Mechutan of Rabbi Yossy Goldman and Rabbi Shabsy Chaiton, both of whom everyone seemed to know. It probably sounded like I was trying to brandish Yichus, but that wasn’t my intention at all. Isaac Balbin, is a meaningless name, although I was to find out that a few people were readers of my blog and enjoyed it. That’s a bonus, but not the reason I write. Indeed, I am writing now, after visiting my father’s Tziyun at Springvale, and whilst I should be learning more Mishnayos, this post is what I am capable of doing at the minute  in my state of mind.

I continued returning to this Minyan later for Mincha etc. It seems it isn’t always available but being Chanuka, I was fortunate. I love the haunting Haneyros Halolu from Chabad, and enjoyed that immensely. Each time I noticed a few more rooms and then it dawned on me that one had to go downstairs to see the “main shule”. I forgot that everything is below ground here!

I didn’t want to go there. I had seen pictures. I had seen the Tzfatim outside, and that atmosphere as opposed to the one where I davened, provided no attraction to me. I didn’t go downstairs.

Shabbos was looming, and Ari Raskin’s aufruf was also to be upstairs, and that was lucky (for me at least). That day is a Parsha in of itself and will be Part 4 of the trip.

What can you “say” at a grave

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לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי ר׳ שאול זעליג הכהן בן ר׳ יהודה הכהן,  מקדושי ניצולי השואה האיומה בשנה ב׳ להסתלקותו לרקיע השמימא

My father, Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל

My father, אבי מורי,  R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל ּBalbin

(At least) One of my readers, is a Talmid Chochom, and a genius. I don’t have permission to publish his name so I will not do so. However, on this particular matter I disagree with him perhaps, and I believe that my opinion is the accepted one, and his thinking is somewhat skewed for whatever reason (which is generally not like him).

There is a הלכה that say אין דרורשין על המת one doesn’t “ask from” the dead.

It is an ancient tradition to visit the graves of Tzadikim. For example, Kalev prayed at Meoras ha-Machpeilah before confronting the meraglim (Sotah 34b). See also Ta’anis 23b.

There are also Minhagim brought in Shulchan Aruch and many other places to go on fast days, Erev Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur etc since going at such times can affect the person to repent and minimise their own self-importance.

The Gemora in Taanis also mentions a second reason (16a) and that is to ask the dead to pray for mercy on our behalf. Reading this one would automatically assume one may ask a Tzadik to pray on our behalf  at auspicious times, according to various Minhagei Yisroel and Mesorah/tradition.

It would seem that according to this second explanation, one may pray to the dead in this fashion. Yet, we are also taught that it is strictly forbidden as a Torah Law! One who prays with such a singular intention transgresses the Torah command of “You shall not recognize the gods of others in my presence (see the authoritative Gesher ha-Chayim 2:26). One may also be transgressing the Torah command against “one who consults the dead” (see Shoftim 18:11 and Eliyohu Rabbah 581:4).

Now, the Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 581:16 (and others) explain this conundrum as meaning that  it is okay to speak directly to the dead to ask them to daven or beseech to Hashem on our behalf. This is in keeping with the style of Selichos that we recite and whose authors were not plain poets. Some also ask Malachim (intermediaries) to beseech Hashem on our behalf. The Melachim aren’t able to do anything but they can be a more effective mouth piece according to Mesorah/tradition. Others don’t accept this explanation and say that even this is forbidden (see Bach and Shach Yoreh Deah 179:15) and the authoritative Maharil, Hilchos Ta’anis as quoted in the Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 581:17).

Instead, their take on this is we pray directly to Hashem that in the merit of the Tzadik/Dead person, Hashem should extend mercy to us. We are inspired to visit graves to “remind” Hashem of the holy tazddikim who are physically buried there. This view is accepted as normative Halacha by a bevy of Acharonim including the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Be’er Heitev, Chayei Adam, Mateh Efrayim and others.

The Chofetz Chaim in the Mishna Brura (581:27) says that we visit, because a cemetery where tzaddikim are buried is a place where Tefillos are more readily answered. But one should never place his trust in the dead themselves. He should instead just ask Hashem to have mercy on him in the merit of the tzaddikim who are interred here.

That being said, the Munkatcher Gaon, the great defender of Chassidishe Minhohim, the  Minchas Elozor, who was a great defender of Chassidic customs, and is commonly quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, seeks to defend those who use a more direct discourse with the dead (see his Teshuva in 1:68). He, of course, makes reference to the Zohar and says that this is a positive practice.

Practically speaking, all opinions agree that it is strictly forbidden to daven directly to a dead person or Malach so that they should help us. The most that is permitted is to ask them to act as emissaries to Hashem, so that Hashem will look favourably upon us.

The Maharam Shick, Orach Chaim 293, and prime student of the Chasam Sofer, explains this nicely. He explains that there must be nothing between a Jew and Hashem. However, it is permissible for a Jew to ask another Jew to be an intermediary between him and Hashem.

The Maharam Shick goes on to  explain the apparent anomaly in the name of his teacher: When one Jew approaches another and tells of the pain he is suffering, the other Jew feels it just as he does. Now they are both in need of prayer. The Jew does not feel he is praying for an “other”–he is praying for himself.

In other words, all Yidden are Guf Echad (one body) so that if the toe is hurting, it needs the head and the heart to help it. So too, if we are in need, we can call upon all other Jews–and especially those who are the head and the heart of our people—to pray for us as well. Because if one Jew is hurting, we are all hurting.

According to the Talmud (and the Zohar), those righteous souls who have passed on from this world are still very much in touch with their students and family and care for them and their problems. We petition them to pray on our behalf—and they do and often their prayers are more effective than our own.

Praying at a gravesite does not mean you are asking the dead to rise from the grave and appear before you. That is the abomination to which the Torah refers. Neither are you, God forbid, praying to the dead—a practice that is most certainly forbidden. But you are able to connect with these souls, since, when it comes to the soul, all of us are truly one.

One is simply expressing faith that the Tzadikim never really completely die, and a grave cannot prevent one from connecting to their teacher. Just as this tzaddik cared and took care of others during his lifetim—not as “others” but as he cared for his own soul—so too now, his Neshoma still can feel your pain and pray with you but this is directly to Hashem.

The Zohar tells us that the tzaddik is here with us after his passing even more than before. In life, he ignored the boundaries of “I and you,” so now he can ignore the boundaries of life and afterlife.

This is the fundamental reasoning behind beseeching those in the grave to intercede on our behalf and assist. And this, in fact, has been the common practice in Jewish communities around the world (although not all, for example Beis HoRav (Soloveitchik)  based on the view of the Gaon that all this can be achieved in other ways and not in essentially a Makom Tumah.

Rabbi Chaim Paltiel of Magdeburg (Germany, fourteenth century) a Rishon, said that the burial-place of a Tzadik is Holy. Regarding Chabad in particular, I found this comprehensive piece which is of interest

In addition, some quotes from the last Rebbe זי’ע

אלו שביקרו באהלי צדיקים יודעים שישנם “אוהלים” שמעוררים קו מרירות וכיווץ, וישנם “אוהלים” שפועלים קו השמחה ועלי’. האוהל של כ”ק מו”ח אדמו”ר הוא מסוג זה, שבהגיע לאוהל, הנה עוד טרם שמתבונן, כבר פועל עליו האוהל עלי’ והגבהת הרוח ששייכת לשמחה מפני עבודתו שעבד בה כל ימי חייו הי’ באופן כזה שקירב והרים  כל יהודי אף הבריות, בדרכי קירוב ונועם, עם הכוונה לפעול בהם גם “ומקרבן לתורה” )לקו”ש ח”ב 50

The broadly respected Chabad Halachist and Chassidic Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. said as per the testimony of the Rayatz, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe that:

בדרך כלל יש ה’ מדריגות, הא’ מה שמבואר
בשו”ע או”ח הל’ ט”ב וז”ל ומה שנוהגים לילך על הקברות הוא כדי לעורר האבילות ולהכניע היצה”ר ולשוב בתשובה. והב’ הוא ג”כ נזכר בשו”ע הל’ ר”ה נוהגים ילך על הקברות ולהרבות שם בתחתנונים. ושם הטעם משום דבית הקברות הוא מקום מנוחת הצדיקים, ומתוך כך הוא מקום קדוש וטהור והתפלה מתקבלת שם ביותר כו’. והג’ מה שהולכים אל מקום מנוחת אביהם וכדומה שמעורר הבכי’ והספד ועושה פתיחות הלב לגמרי עד שיוכל לבכות על חטאיו ממש ג”כ בלב נשבר ונדכה ובבכי’ רבה ויכול לבוא לידי תשובה שלימה. והמדריגה הד’ הוא מה שהולכים על קברי צדיקים שהיו יודעים ומכירים אותם בהיותם חיים אזי מצד תוקף האמונה שהי’ מאמין בו בעודו בחיים חיותו שהוא איש אלקי וכמו”כ כשהולך על מקום מנוחת קדשו מתבטל שם

This morning, before Shachris, I briefly looked this issue up in the Encyclopaedia Talmudis, a Sefer that is also quoted extensively by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and looked well worn in his Yechidus room when I was there. Rav Zevin emphatically classes Dorshin Al HaMeisim as a clear Issur. I won’t go through it, one can look it up. It’s under the second Chelek of  Daled and is beautifully set out as per Rav Zevin’s genius.

In summary, the way I see it, you ought not only go to a grave or write a letter and “speak” to the dead. This is pagan.

Sending a letter is long distance travelling to a grave, but the wording needs to include Hashem and comply with accepted Halacha

One can either ask for help from the Tzaddik or allow oneself to be either B’Yirah or B’Simcha to the extent that they are more enthused to engage separately or together with the Tzaddik, but this must always involve Hashem.

I haven’t read this article from Hakira Journal (yet), but just found it. It seems germane.

Finally, it’s aptl to close with the beautiful and apt prose of Rabbi Jakobovitz, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Jakobovits, in the foreword to the then new Singers Prayer Book, contemplates “The Jewish idea of prayer” and disapproves of petitional prayers. He wrote “What purpose can be served by formulating our pleas to God? Does the all-knowing God, who knows our needs better than we do, require their articulation of what we feel in our hearts? Still more difficult theologically, how can we hope by prayer to change His will? Our very belief in the efficacy of our petitions would seem to challenge God’s immutability, and (they) even question His justice, since we should assume that whatever fate He decrees for man is essentially just; why, therefore, do we seek to reverse it?” “But such questions are based on a false, indeed pagan, understanding of prayer as a means of pacifying and propitiating the deity and thus of earning its favours. It was against these perverse notions that the Hebrew Prophets directed their denunciations so fiercely when they fulminated against the heathen form of sacrifices, the original form of worship later replaced by prayer.” “Like sacrifices, prayer is intended to change man not God. Its purpose is to cultivate a contrite heart, to promote feelings of humility and inadequacy in man, whilst encouraging reliance on Divine assistance. Through prayer, the worshipper becomes chastened, gains moral strength and intensifies the quest of spirituality, thereby turning into a person worthy of response to his pleas.

Our holiday. Part 3: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

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Dear Readers,

I’ve scribbled out part 1 (and thanks to a reader for the english correction wherein I learned that I had understood a word incorrectly all my life!)

I’m jumping to Part 3 before Part 2. Why am I doing so? Perhaps you will understand when I have finished writing. I apologise as always for errors but I don’t proof-read much if at all.

My dear father’s 2nd Yohr Tzeit is on Friday. Leading up to that has been somewhat teary. A way to cope is to try to divest from  thoughts and memories and ever presence. It only helps partly. Every which way life turns, the touch and influence of his Neshoma and memory is raw and palpable. Call it second generation holocaust survivor syndrome. It’s my existential reality; I can’t escape it.

This morning I had five injections in my feet (for plantar fascia) after enduring pain for way too long. The specialist kept saying, “this is going to hurt, this will hurt a lot more etc as he dug the needle and spread it around while squirting in places where needles don’t normally wander”. I answered each time. It doesn’t hurt. Just do what you have to do. When the procedure was finished and my feet felt like they had fallen asleep from the block used in my heels, he was ready to move on quickly (too quickly to his next patient). I stopped him and explained that nothing any doctor could do would cause me to show pain. He asked why? I replied that my parents are holocaust survivors in a world of insulting and sick denial, and their pain was far worse than anything I could ever imagine. Accordingly, I stridently refuse and refused to show visible pain; what I experienced was a drop in the ocean.

He stood there somewhat speechless. He asked me if my parents had passed away. I said my father had “just” passed away. That’s not true of course. His second yohr tzeit is in a few days and ברוך השם he is weaving his magic 2005-10-09_14-47-22 with השם and cajoling him to shower our family and wider family with Simcha after Simcha. To me though, it is like yesterday, and hence my instinctive but unintentionally dry incorrect answer.

So what has this to do with Crown Heights and Part 3 of a holiday? Is Isaac Balbin off on yet another emotional outpouring? Maybe he needs to see a shrink. Maybe I do need to see a shrink but not because of this :-)

We were only in Crown Heights for a few days. The truly wonderful Tzirel Goldman led us on a walking tour of important places, and then our Mechutonim graciously took Leonie and I out to a very nice restaurant. Unfortunately due to a gig, I couldn’t make the wedding of their son, which had just taken place.

I felt an “agenda” happening yet I wasn’t in usual control. I was moving from place to place. The area was buzzing from Chanuka to Hey Teves (& silly meshichisten) and it was on for young and old. Let’s not forget to mention the aufruf I was looking forward to attending (oh and the Kiddush in Getzel’s Shule, someone I had heard lots about)

Suddenly, our Mechutonim, the Goldmans said, let’s go and introduce you to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. I had momentarily forgotten he was their brother-in-law. I keep getting mixed up between Duchman and Kotlarsky for some reason, and Mendel Duchman (who I also met on this trip in Montreal) is also a Mechutan of the Chaitons.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

I recognised his face, had seen him in Melbourne, and was aware that he supervised the shlichus operations for the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע. “Fine, I responded thinking perhaps I might just say a few niceties and perhaps share a tiny piece of Torah”. We came into his room and he is a big man in several ways. His office looked organised and tidy. Emails were constantly flowing in. He looked tired and weary as if the world was on his shoulders. We shook hands and I sat in front of his desk, with Rabbi Yossy Goldman, and the lady folk including Rabbi Kotlarsky’s wife (who is my mechuteniste’s sister), Leonie et al on the side.

After the usual platitudes. I mentioned to him things he (made out he didn’t know) about Rav Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg הי’’ד

The horrid Holtzberg Kvura

and we immediately had a rapport based on our collective experiences with these special korbanos tehoros. He asked me if I had been back to see what they had done to Nariman House. My response was “no” and I wasn’t sure I could anyway. On my last trip, I somehow managed to get into the bullet-riddled, blood-stained building and took a video, which I won’t show, as it is nauseating. I mentioned my chelek in the miracle that is Moshe Holtzberg and he nodded, seemingly knowingly. I had the impression that this figure knew a heap more than he was letting on. Nonetheless, I told him how Rav Gavriel’s parents majestically appeared in Melbourne for our daughter Talya’s wedding to Zalman Bassin. The others were moved, but he seemed to show less emotion. I had the feeling that he was “used to” these types of happenings and for him, they were but another confirmation of what he had experienced and what was driving him with a sense of unstoppable purpose.

Suddenly he turned to me and asked “Have you been to the Ohel?” 

I answered truthfully. A בית החיים gives me the heebee geebies and I avoid them. As a Cohen I am somewhat cocooned but that came to an abrupt end when my father passed away and a scene I had never been close to, invaded me with shock. I mentioned the opinion of the Gro and Beis HoRav (Soltoveitchik) and Mori Rav Schachter and explained I was a soul with a foot from Brisk and a foot from Amshinov. It’s a contradiction in terms, which might explain my often ebullient meshugassen and eccentricity (well maybe not, but it’s a good try :-). I explained that I find it very difficult to go to my father. I unashamedly attend the least of my entire family. He asked me for the reason, and I explained that I was ממש a nothing compared to him and feel emotionally distraught even from the distance, after which I would be disturbed for days. He asked why? “That’s a good Midda to have. One should feel useless when standing next to giants”. I countered that the giants are around even outside the בית החיים and that is a fundamental. Why did one need to effectively go to a “sack of bones” which was even Tomei to experience their special presence. I suggested that maybe people can achieve things in different ways.

He cajoled me undoubtedly through his demeanour and presence, to “not” leave Crown Heights without a visit.

I launched into the issue of Doresh Al HaMeisim (I can make grown Rabbis scream, but he was very calm) and that I had no Minhag to go to Mikvah, wear slippers and knock on doors. He responded that’s all unnecessary. You can go in the way you feel “comfortable”. I said that DAVKA at a Tziyun, there is a natural tendency to “ask” from the Niftar, and tried to side track him with Brich Shmei and Shalom Aleichem which aren’t said by some for similar reasons. He then said, “Nu, take a simple Maaneh Loshon and say that”. I heard what he said, and understood him well. He had more than a touch of charismatic “Rabbi Groner” about him.

When I go to my father’s Tziyun, I say very specific Tehillim. I do that to stop myself from ASKING my father to do things. You can’t do that, but it’s a very natural tendency. I said I’d consider it seriously, but if I did go, it would be a very great mental strain to stop myself from lapsing into Doresh Al Hameisim when standing in front of two people who were responsible for my Torah education and much more.

In another part, I will explain what eventuated in terms of decision time.

I then mentioned that I had written but once to the Lubavitcher Rebbe yet had never received a reply. He didn’t ask what I had written, but I was comfortable saying it. I said that Melbourne was going through a particularly difficult and potentially splitting moment where two icons were jousting and Lubavitch was splitting. I had mentioned my family history, and made it clear that I could not be considered a Chosid in any shape, but I knew that the only person who could resolve the issue was the Rebbe himself and I asked him to. I never got an answer, and the Rebbe then had a stroke. I always assumed that the reason I hadn’t received an answer was because the Rebbe was B’Sakono and wasn’t in any position to respond with the same immediacy and wisdom as people were accustomed. I left it as a תשבי. One day I’d find out.

At that moment, Rabbi Kotlarksy said but you did get an answer, you just didn’t know it. I will now tell you what happened. As a result of the momentum of letters such as mine (I don’t claim any special powers!), he was summoned immediately to the Lubavitcher Rebbe who instructed him to travel to Melbourne and sort out the “mess”.

Rabbi Kotlarsky then told me how he sorted it out, and he did so quickly. I was very impressed by the ביטול of Rabbi Y.D. Groner ז’’ל about whom I could never imagine as “lower” than anyone, given his towering presence. That was a new greatness that I discovered. I was blown away by what Rabbi Groner had done. I was also blown away by the fact that on this particular trip after our daughter married into a well-known family, I had about an hour with someone who I never expected (or had a desire/need) to meet. I had no common business, so to speak.

But “the Aybishter Firt Der Velt”, and it was השגחה that I was to unravel a long mystery. I liked Rabbi Kotlarsky. He gave me the impression that he’s someone who I could sit for five hours listening to at a farbrengen. His finger was literally on the Chabad pulse.

We said our good byes, and I thanked him for allowing us to interrupt his very busy schedule. He was due to spend Shabbos at the Ohel for Hay Teyves and seemed to always be on planes, in cars and any vehicular transport, as he explained to me.

I’ve obviously not gone into all details, as they aren’t necessary and help nobody today.

So I come home to the Golus of Melbourne, and I’m due to now go the Tziyun of my dear father. I’ve had a practice run, so to speak, and it was mentally draining for me to keep my thoughts halachically sound and emotionally relevant.

I have to admit, that I am still implacably against people who write “to” the Rebbe as I noticed in many letters (even though they were torn) the people either didn’t know the Halacha, or were never taught it properly by some single-minded teachers who probably assumed something transcending Halacha. I don’t change my views on that and don’t apologise. I understand Chassidim emulate, but I am sure that the Lubavitcher Rebbe never ever was Doresh directly of his father in law. He was a Medakdek B’Mitzvos K’Chut Ha’saaroh and could not be questioned on such issues. I feel this was also why he had a common thread with the Rav, who is also known as the איש ההלכה.

So, until my next post, I will try to do the things one should do to give my dear father’s Neshoma nachas, although I can’t help but feel that there ought to be a motive to pile these up during the year, and just unload so to speak on the Yohr Tzeit when the Neshoma will go up a level (or levels).

I hope I haven’t bored you too much, but most of my posts are rather selfish. I heal myself through writing them.

Our holiday. Part 1: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

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Dear Readers,

I’m starting with some (self-indulgent) prose, as this will more fully inlay context.

As ought to be inferred from blog postings on pitputim, my tendency is to inspirationally respond to more rationalistic approaches of Judaism. I recognise of course that one size does not fit all.

This predilection isn’t for pre-conceived ulterior motives or להכעיס. It is perhaps a natural inclination of my id as opposed to some super-ego. Perhaps a PhD, based on formal logic and a grounding in science affected (or infected) a tendency to align myself with certain of the 70 faces of Torah. At the same time, I have always had a love for פשוטו של מקרא and that is a natural follow on.

I am certainly not the first or last to procure a comprehension and meaning through this particular prism. In some ways, it is the prism of Brisk, where my grandparents on one side were married and lived close by. Undoubtedly this is a reason for a veritable love affair with more halachic aspects, and a disdain for pilpul. I have modified my approach after realising that this isn’t the taste of Torah my kids want to hear at the table :-) Indeed neither do most unless one happens to know of a specific היתר. For example, I held for 30 years that showering on Yom Tov is permitted. Now many Poskim agree with that. I am far from a Posek, but I can detect when there is a hungarian-style inertia stopping the obvious :-)

I am technically a תמים although in reality פסול is evident. Being classified a תמים means one learned in a Chabad Yeshivah. Chabad made Melbourne, irrespective of what Adass or Mizrachi or Johnny-come-latelys may claim or dream. The previous two groups have made enormous contributions, but these have been upon the shoulders and foundation of people sent by the Rayatz and last Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע whose foresight was as prophetic as one can be, limited by the clouds of today’s גלות.

Many of us gained from the simple presence and הנהגות, primarily from the likes of (In no particular order) R’ Shmuel Betzalel Althaus, R’ Nochum Zalman Gurevitch, R’ Zalman Serebryanski, R’ Betzalel Wilshansky. Rav Perlov, R’ Isser Kluwgant (I never met R’ Abba Pliskin) and of course the late and great Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner זכרונם לברכה. Although I didn’t notice it in an active learning sense (except with Rabbi Groner) most of the דמות תבניתם passively infused my soul and the lessons are indelibly etched. Understandably, I didn’t understand or realise much or most of this phenomenon until I was older and less of a one minded חריף. Indeed, the older I become, the more I miss “the real McCoy”.

One of the lessons passively learned over time is an extreme disinclination towards those who speak or act in a degrading way concerning another Jew because of a perceived lowly position that other Jew seems to occupy in the ladder of Torah and Mitzvos. Unfortunately this is a hallmark of some and their philosophy. I understand it, but I vociferously disagree with it.

Chabad are masters at seeing and seeking the good and never being judgemental. I have a spine chilling aversion to the word חילוני or even בעל תשובה. Neither of these words rest easily with me. I actually abhor them. When one truly does a דין וחשבון over oneself, I don’t understand how those words can enter anyones vernacular.

While I admit that when I was fresh out of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, a Yeshivah which I will forever be indebted because it imbued me with a sense of genuine התמדה and יגיעת התורה, I tended to be much more of a black and white person, a real loner. I would have no problem in those days sitting for three hours by myself on two lines of a Tosfos. I refused short cuts. Life and its experiences have taught me that the approach of compartmentalising people as  “Chofshi” or “Yeshiva Leit” or “Nisht Frim” make me uneasy.

I was super sensitised when I returned from Kerem B’Yavneh to the extent that I literally hid in my car between lectures so that I would not be amongst the אומות העולם. Upon returning home from University, I used to lie on the couch in a semi-state of depressive stupor and did little homework. My mother confided years later that she and my father ע’’ה wondered and worried greatly whether they had made the right decision asking me to come home when I wanted another period to advance my learning. I listened to my parents, however, not for halachic reasons but because they are and were giants in my eyes. In all honesty this was happening subconsciously. I was sensitised to an extreme level.

Life is hard enough for any of us to climb up the ladder, and the higher one manages, the bigger even a little fall can potentially cascade one downwards into a spiral. We’ve all seen this sadly.

I discovered a love of Israel while at Kerem B’Yavneh and being in ארץ אשר עיני ה בה מראשית השנה עד אחרית השנה was super special. This was not something that was imparted to me in Chabad in Melbourne. The “Medina” wasn’t a word that was used. ארץ ישראל was mentioned scantily and mainly in the context of גאולה. In Chabad there was basically 770 (or as they call it בית רבינו שבבבל). This was their epicentre until משיח took them out.

I was a lad when the technology of live Sichos beamed through the Shule, and our Torah classes were suspended. Although there was a live translation, I didn’t understand much, and frankly, for most of us, we saw it as an indulgence for our teachers and an opportunity to “wag” or play ball. In hindsight, the teachers could have listened to a recording, but I digress.

This year we not only wanted to go on holidays we needed to. My wife and I were exhausted physically and mentally. The mortal body and the soul need  some rest and relaxation (although I ironically heard the Lubavitcher Rebbe speak against this concept 40 years later when I entered a room leading to his קבר. There was a recording playing when one entered the ante-room, and this was part of his topic.) Was he telling me I didn’t need a holiday? I don’t think so. My understanding was that Torah could not stop because one was on holidays, and it didn’t for me anyway. I found myself in many discussions of interesting issues. The Lubavitcher Rebbe himself was somewhat supernatural in that respect. He was tied to his room and his Chassidim, except for the daily beautiful visit to his loving soul mate to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat. Medically, both my wife and I needed a holiday.

When my father ע’’ה was in this world he wanted us around him in Surfers Paradise, his favourite holiday destination. I didn’t go the beach or walk around bare-chested like those, for whom holidays affords an opportunity to be a little lax. For me, I strolled around mainly sharing “love and other bruises” with my father. I cherish those days and our nightly “farbrengens” which were catered in a way that superseded usual holiday-based epicure-centred  compromises. We danced, we sang, we shared special moments and we were light-headed through the addition of ubiquitous Tamdhu whisky. These moments are vividly captured in pictures and videos and cherished by the extended Balbin family.

The body, soul and brain do need a rest. My wonderful wife and I hadn’t been in a position to have a holiday for seven years. After my band Schnapps performed magnificently and professionally at Rabbi Yossel Gutnick’s magnanimous yearly “Chanukah in the Park” and once I knew all was well from a medical perspective, we booked to leave the very next morning.

770 was really not my destination of choice, to be honest, I had been in the States only once before, when presenting a paper in Texas and spent some days in Manhattan. I loved listening to Jazz late into the night. The quality was stupendous, and I knew some Jazz players, who used to play in my band Schnapps before they moved to live in the States. I could easily have stayed in Manhattan again and wiled my evenings at good fress outlets followed by Jazz; the latter being something my wife shares with me. However, things changed. Through our exuberant Mechutonim and our children and children-in-law there was a familial connection to Chabad now. There were now a range of people whom I now knew and knew of who lived there and importantly, my wife enjoyed the ambience and vibrancy she experienced the year before when she dashed there (while I was an Avel) to be at the engagement of our daughter Batsheva to Yisroel Goldman (aka izzinism) the son of well-known and Choshuve Chabad families. I had spoken to to Yisroel’s maternal grandmother, the well-known Mrs Shula Kazen,IMG_1097

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Batsheva, Rabbi Levin’s mother, my wife and Iwhose son

whose son Yosef Yitzchok ז’ל was curiously one of the first frum Jews I “met” on the internet back in the days of soc.culture.jewish and Aarnet. We developed a long distance relationship and neither he nor I could ever imagine that my daughter would marry his nephew. Shula, with her ultra clear head, is a true foot soldier of the last Rebbe and she continues what she understands to be her Shlichus into her 90’s. She has no holiday! She spoke with me many a time in Melbourne from the USA, apologising that she could not come to the wedding. At her house, I also met her sister, who is the mother of the acclaimed Gaon, R’ Feitel HaLevi Levin.

I wanted to also meet the famous Rabbi Shimon Goldman,IMG_1094 may he have a Refuah Shelemah, having read his book on Shedlitz. He shared that town with Professor Louis Waller, whose family were rooted in Shedlitz, and whose son Ian, president of Mizrachi Melbourne married my sister Adina.

I have a natural affinity for older people; they project Tachlis and חכמה with real stories that resonate. Accordingly, I promised Rebbetzin Shula that on my first opportunity I would visit her in her apartment and chat face-to-face. I wanted to meet Rabbi Goldman and at least give him Bircas Cohanim as well as Rebbetzin Rivka Groner’s father (Rabbi Gordon) who isn’t as well as he should be.

Rabbi Gordon

Rabbi Gordon

Our friends,Avremi andRifka Raskin’s son Ari, was getting married at that time in freezing Montreal. We watched Ari grow up from a babe, and Rabbi andRebbetzin Raskin, as I like to refer to them, had always been more than magnanimous when it came to our children’s weddings. Their home was and remains open for the entire community. Their hospitality is infectious.

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Over the last few years, we also had the Zechus to farbreng in our Succah with R’ Michel

R' Michel Raskin in vainglorious style

R’ Michel Raskin in vainglorious style

and Danya Raskin. Michel was very sick at one stage, and I could see it was affecting Avremy in a major way. I did what I could to cajole the Aybishter to give R’ Michel a lease of life. Thankfully Hashem had his plans for R’ Michel and these included a recovery and his famous crushing handshake. R’ Michel (and a line of traditionalists) love my wife’s Galeh (he calls it Pecha) and I love to hear his stories about Russia. It’s a natural extension of my life-long love of talking to older people. I found his stories and history much more interesting than the Booba Mayses and simple Shikrus that now pervades the Yeshivah Succa on Shemini Atzeres. Oh, for the times when Rabbi Groner farbrenged on Shmini Atzeres-I stayed the entire time.

In truth, from a halachic perspective I would move inside the house if it was cold or pitter pattering with rain on Shemini Atzeres, but out of respect for R’ Michel and other guests, I couldn’t do that, despite the Halacha being clear (to me). There is also the concept of כבוד הבריות and there was a certain romantic feeling about the rain pattering while being regaled with stories of awe.

So, logically, my wife suggested we spend a few days in Crown Heights before heading for a few days to Ari’s wedding and eventually enjoying a holiday in Miami on the way home (as it was the closest warm place where one could be Maaleh Gerah with gluttonous and fiscal abandon)

A three inch high fat free medium rare steak. Who could resist that!

A three-inch high fat-free medium rare steak. Who could resist that!

[to be continued]

Vaera, on the run from HK

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[from Rav Greenberg, Rosh Yeshivah KBY]

The sages taught us at the end of the Tractate of Ketuvot that “anybody who lives outside of the land is like one who does not have a G-d.” The Baal Hahafla’ah writes that the use of the phrase “is like one” is problematic, because it seems to imply that one who lives abroad has a G-d and merely appears as if he does not have one, while one who lives in the land does not have a G-d but only appears to have one?!

The answer is that we are talking about two different people, a righteous one who lives abroad and an evil one who lives in the land. “The one who lives abroad, even though he studies Torah and performs mitzvot, is like one who does not have a G-d, since he is lacking the mitzva of living in the land, and outside of the land he is under the control of the government and the signs in the Zodiac. But the one who lives in Eretz Yisrael, even if the only mitzva that he has is that of living in the land, appears as if he does have a G-d, since his life is directly under the guidance of the Holy One, Blessed by He.”

I’m temporarily indisposed

Hello readers,
I’m currently overseas and my mind is overflowing with blog posts. Being a much needed holiday, though, I’m avoiding writing so as to rest, and share proper attention to my wife. R Meir Deutsch has a very good post on the censorship of the Rambam which he has been prevented from publishing elsewhere. Meir, knowing the readership can I suggest you email it to me in Ivrit AND ENGLISH as it will have more impact. The issue is too important to allow fallow.

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