Shmuley Boteach’s confused understanding of the Jewish World


The (I’m advised sincere) but confused article by Shmuley Boteach should not remain without counter-comment.

I will copy his article below and intersperse my comments.

The magnetism of Chabad messianism

Messianism is the world’s most powerful idea, humanity’s most compelling vision.

Messianism, which presumably is a word used because it over-focuses on WHO may be the Messiah, as opposed to the condition of the world at such a time, is not the world’s most powerful idea nor humanity’s most compelling vision.

The redemption itself, but more nuanced than that, the condition extant at the time of the redemption are a vision which we pray for three times a day. The days when the wolf will live with the lion, and the temple and it’s influence of unity and concentration and holiness are the reality, not vision, which Jews pray for every day. I do know that there are multifarious views of other religions now. I am not terribly interested in these, except in as much as דע משתשיב

Not only is it the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, Christianity, it is also the engine for human progress itself.

If Jesus is the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, that person (as opposed to the euphemistic messianism) then that is what it is. It is no more than that. If it means that people act in a certain way, which can be considered moral and ethical, and most importantly not missionary, then that is good. There is no evidence in Boteach’s statement that it is the engine for human progress. This is a statement without a presentation of any illustrative proof.

Only through a belief that history is not cyclical but linear, that positive steps in human advancement are cumulative rather than short-lived, that as a race we can step together out of the shadows and into the light, can there hope for collective human progress.

There are some mixed metaphors here. History is indeed cyclical. Boteach’s mistake is that if one proceeds in a circle, one cannot increase energy. This is of course demonstrably wrong. It is as wrong as assuming that one who travels in a line, is “growing”. They may in fact be dying, and reaching their end point.

Boteach again uses the term progress. He calls it “collective human progress.” He has not, however, seemingly made any effort to define what he means.

It is therefore fascinating to witness – once a year – the tremendous energy unleashed by the Chabad messianic movement as it congregates and detonates at world Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn.

Having never been there, I have heard that it certainly used to detonate a special extended holiness, however, anyone who has been in the State of Israel, and experienced Succos in Jerusalem, Hevron and the surrounds cannot help but know that they are actually on holy ground, enveloped by a sweeping holiness. that is unleashed and detonated. The same can be said for the “second hakafos” in Israel. That being said, I would posit that even Boteach acknowledges that Brooklyn now, is not the Brooklyn of 25 years ago, and the shining star that illuminated that section of the world, is sadly in another place. There is now much binge drinking where people either drown their sorrows or try to reach moments of detached ecstasy as a substitute. In Melbourne, I haven’t heard a good farbrengen, for example, since Rabbi Groner and those before him departed. Let me know where one is, and I’d love to be enthused by an outpouring of the Torah of Simcha.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot brings together two very different strands of the global Chabad movement. On the one hand, there is mainstream Chabad comprised of residents of Crown Heights – the global hub – together with the worldwide network of Chabad emissaries. Their strength is their professionalism, dedication, and impact.

On the other hand there are the Chabad messianists, a minority to be sure, but vocal, visible, determined, and brimming with life.

Here I assume Boteach defines a Chabad Messianist as either a chanter of one line mantras, or one who imagines he is receiving wine from nobody, or perhaps one who refuses to believe there is a filled grave. It would be helpful if Boteach defined his terms. There are many silent ones who pine for redemption. Some will internally hope that by some Divine rule it will be their Rebbe. Others (a very very small minority) will think this issue of identifying the Messiah, is actually a thorough and useless waste of time. I assume he speaks not about the elohisten.

Mainstream Chabad is uncomfortable with the messianists, believing they give both the movement and the Rebbe himself a bad name. The messianists are millennial, apocalyptic, and, to many minds, irrational. They want to push both Chabad and Judaism into the end of days.

I don’t see them as irrational (but note, I don’t know which category Boteach refers to). I see many of them as post-justifiers. They will cut and dismember Jewish tradition as espoused by the Rambam and acknowledged by the rest of Jewry. Those who think there is nothing in the grave, need psychiatric help.

But there can be no denying that they have tapped into an energy source that appears near infinite.

I do not know what “near infinite” means, let alone in this context.

When I was a young Chabad student in Crown Heights what I remember most was the limitless energy we all experienced in the Rebbe’s court. On Sukkot we could dance nine days running without tiring. We could go for a week with barely any sleep. The Rebbe – then in his eighties – set the pace with superhuman strength and inexplicable vigor.

Although I was not and am not a Chabadnik, I agree, based on the books I have recently read and some videos that I have watched, that it would have been an experience to remember.

That was more than twenty years ago.

Since then, Chabad has conquered the world and gone mainstream, sprouting educational centers in every point of the globe. My wife and I recently spent Shabbat with Chabad of Korea right after I spoke at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium at a global peace summit. A few weeks earlier I had spoken at Chabad of Aspen, Colorado. The local Chabad centers in these two very different places had in common the outstanding young Chabad rabbis, true soldiers of the Jewish people. Watching their impact on their respective communities was inspiring.

I think that Chabad has sprouted and grown, but I don’t know about conquered the world. If there was one word that I was left with after reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it was either the word dedication or positivity. I think Chabad has influenced many in that direction.

But for all that, Chabad today – as a movement that has now gone mainstream – has learned to eschew controversy. Gone are the days when Chabad agitated for the territorial integrity of the State of Israel and public stands against trading land for a fraudulent peace.

Those days aren’t gone!?! I hear this message constantly and unwaveringly today.

Gone too are the Chabad emphasis on messianism as being central to Judaism and the Jewish future.

This depends on the Shaliach. Some have adapted to their clientele while others will unwaveringly soldier on with the original message in all it’s vigour and yellow paraphernalia.

Chabad today is effective if not conventional, essential if not somewhat predictable.

It is predictable because it is a continuation of a message. There is no more central figure to initiate new ideas that are to be brought to the world. That is sad; but true. At the same time, there is an enormous corpus that may be applied to today’s world, without change.

Its focus: opening nurseries and day schools, synagogues and mikvehs, looking after special needs children (Friendship Circle) and the elderly, running Sunday schools and day camps. And to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better.

This is also necessary for the mainstream. Jews are abandoning Shules. The latter can’t survive. They must generate income from nurseries etc simply to survive financially!

It is to this side of Chabad that I adhere and this vision for the building of Jewish life that I am dedicated. Chabad justly evokes in every Jew on earth a feeling of both awe and gratitude.

Which side exactly does Boteach not adhere to? Those that yell Yechi, or those that think it, or someone else?

Without Chabad the Jewish world would be up a creek without a paddle.

I don’t second guess God, nor do I know what he would have done, but there can be no doubt Chabad’s influence has been very significant.

But even as someone who prides himself on his rationality,

I do not know how a Chabad Chossid prides himself on rationality. My understanding is that there is higher level, called Bittul.

I cannot help but be somewhat jealous of the go-for-broke mentality of the other side of the movement, the messianists. The belief that humankind can attain an age of perfection, a belief that Judaism has a global, universal vision that is not limited to Jews, a dismissal of money and materialism in favor of a purely spiritual calling, and placing faith in a great leader who prompts us to embrace that era.

I am not jealous of them. Those that think that they have a minyan with two people and eight pictures, or eat on Tisha B’Av have broken with Jewish Mesorah. If Boteach is saying that he admires their perspicacity, ok.

To be sure, I follow the ruling of Maimonides that the Messiah must be a living man who fulfills the Messianic prophecies which rules out anyone – however great – that has passed from this world without ushering in an age of universal peace, rebuilt the Temple, and gathered in all Jewish exiles. That would exclude my Rebbe as it would exclude all the other great leaders of the Jewish people through the ages however much they have devoted their lives to our people.

It does, but that same Maimonides said, we don’t really know how things will unfold exactly. Which means I agree with Boteach, but I think he may be selective as a Chabadnik.

But that does not change my clear memory of the Rebbe’s incessant and unyielding public calls for Jews to work toward a messianic future, to dedicate every positive deed toward his coming, and to never fear controversy in the pursuit of every aspect of Jewish belief.

I once wanted to visit him for a Yechidus when I was younger. However, I felt that I was not worthy of saying anything of substance nor did I have a particular issue that I wanted to raise. As a Cohen, I also knew that if I blessed Jews with love, God himself would bless me. Not withstanding that fact, after reading the three books, I probably would have gone in if I had my chance again, and simply asked for “an appropriate brocho” Those three words. No more, and no less.

The extremism is out of hand?


Check out this post from the Litvishe leader Rav Steinman inter alia (hat tip hr)

A gross CHILLUL HaShem

We need Rabbis to speak out against this arrant dangerous nonsense. WE created the problems through our false sense of entitlement.

On the Mizrachi Side we have the disgraceful hill top youth. How many more Chilulei HaShem do we have to witness?

This isn’t Torah. It isn’t a Torah State. It’s what HaShem paskened we should have. As such we should seek to make it holier through darchei noam.

I have to commend Rabbi Rosen. I reproduce his forthright criticism of the hill-top youth below.

So, this is nothing for Rabonim in Melbourne to speak about? I beg to differ. When the Sabra and Shatilla massacres occurred the NRP was against an enquiry until the Rav, rang them up from the USA and berated them for their loss of basic Torah values. They were kafuf to the Rav, and they listened thank God.

Halacha clearly states that a Yid can’t be seen to be less ‘moral’ than the normal world even if you bring 100 proofs that an enquiry is not necessary. There were times when unmarried girls wore hats to shule because the Xtian girls wore them to Church lehavdil. I recall a Tshuva in Yabia Omer on this.

People who resort to a Chilul HaShem when there are clearly other ways, will need to deal with the Aybishter after 120 years; not a pleasant thought.

Someone lurking behind a fake name sent me a comment that I should take down the picture of Moshe Beck in my earlier post because the Rabbi of Adass isn’t responsible for his brothers actions. That is 100% true. I know about this phenomenon unfortunately. It has always been true. But if that lurker with the fake Hungarian name lotzi123 had any guts, he’d name himself AND he’d tell us if it’s true that the Moro D’Asra actually visited his brother and attended Simchos. Is that also untrue and just made up stories ‘Lotzi’

I vehemently disagree with the extremists at Adass. They created their own School. Are they tolerated with sniggles and not open condemnation or Cherem? There are many great and kind and good people at Adass. I speak with them and like them. They ALSO privately bemoan the lurch to Satmar and Skverer extremism. We are brothers, but as Holocaust survivors dwindle the voices of the extremists take over. Is this the Chutzpa Yasge of the Gemora in Sanhedrin portending the Geula? If so bring on the Geula now please. It hurts to see people openly flouting clear Halacha because they think Israel is not from God but from the Sitra Achra. Mimo Nifshach: if it’s Sitra Achra get OUT … why do they stay?

In the least, if you loathe the not yet frum Yidden in Israel (unless you can make a buck off them) keep your thoughts to yourself and stop poisoning the kids with a menu of Sinah and Nekoma and now violence. I heard it with my own ears recently when I listened in to a Melamed teaching children. The Melamed is a Dayan! He was fire and brimstone in his delivery. The next generation has no chance.

How nice it was for once to see Charedim stand silently in the Park on Yom HaZikaron and recite Tehillim while doing so. THAT was a simply executed Kiddush HaShem.

Where are the voices of Rav Kahaneman, Rav Shlomo Zalman and their ilk. They seem to be hiding.

Who are we kidding, the extremists didn’t approve of Rav Elyashiv because he was in Heichal Shlomo paskening Shaylos. Heaven forbid! what a horrible thing he must have done when he freed an Aguna

Here is what Rav Rosen wrote:

The “Tag” of Kayin / Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
“‘And every man will stumble over his brother’ [Vayikra 26:37] – All the people are responsible for each other, they would have been able to protest but they did not” [Sanhedrin 27b].

“Those Ruffians”

Among other things, the destruction of the Second Temple can be “credited” to “those ruffians” – who wore the badge of the Sikarikim (see Gittin 56). They took swords into their hands, convincing themselves that they were taking the law and justice into their hands. And they set up a reign of terror over all that surrounded them, enemies and brothers alike.

What are we talking about? You have probably already guessed from the title of this article: the “Price Tag” ruffians who “fight” the Palestinians and the commanders of the IDF, in the mosques and on the tires of the jeeps – using fire, sharp spikes, and (mainly) graffiti. These thugs have taken on the role of “national irritants” against our enemies, against our lawful governm ent, and (mainly) against the security forces. I do not believe the claim that what we see is a provocation by the Palestinians, by leftist Jews, by the security forces, or by other dark forces. I strongly suspect that we are talking about irresponsible youths who are certain that we will win using an approach of thugs!

I know very well the story of the fanatical attack by Shimon and Levi in Shechem, but in this case I am in complete agreement with the pointed scolding by Yaacov, our father and theirs: “You have made me ugly and spoiled my odor among the inhabitants of the land… I am few in number, and they will gather around me and strike me, and I and my house will be destroyed” [Bereishit 34:30]. Yaacov’s complaint is not only a matter of dissatisfaction (“you have made me ugly”), it literally leads to a curse – “Let their anger be cursed” [49:7], which is accompanied by a punishment of exile, divisiveness and separation from each other – “I wil l divide them among Yaacov and I will disperse them among Yisrael” [ibid]. The best thing for fanatics and for the world is to keep them apart from each other!

“They Stabbed their Rabbi”

I am also well aware that the people bursting with fanaticism will not listen to ethical scolding, do not pay attention to rabbis, and certainly do not weigh their actions in terms of “profit and loss.” They are operating “from a gut feeling” or in response to messianic mysticism, and as far as they are concerned “let the world be consumed!” The proof of how much damage can be caused by such individual acts is provided by a fanatic who has been somewhat forgotten, a man who had a personal very noble record and was not an anonymous “hilltop youth.” I am talking about Dr. Baruch Goldstein from Kiryat Arba, who killed dozens of Arabs in the Machpeila Cave on Purim of 5754 (1994), thereby causing tremendo us damage “and making us ugly.” With what he did, he gave a double-edged sword to our Moslem enemies and to the world. Foolish fanaticism, hallucinatory and murderous, also contributed to the spoiling of the vision of expanded settlements among broad groups of our nation. And this is exactly what is happening before our very eyes as we watch the “Price Tag” events, shaking our heads and shedding tears out of pity: It is a pity that you should waste your youth for no good reason in prison, and it is a pity that you corrupt the righteousness of our path.

And this explains why the cries that are heard from every corner are futile: “Where are the rabbis who can calm them down? Why don’t the rabbis stop them?” We are told that “those ruffians” from the Second Temple era “stabbed their own rabbi!” [Gittin ibid]. They will not be deterred by having us turn our backs on them. In any case, if for no other reason than to reject the claim that we do not scold them, I hereby object loudly and without any limit to their actions. The need to voice an objection is also clear from the quote at the beginning of this article, in the commentary on a verse in this week’s Torah portion – that we are all responsible for each other, especially those who “were able to protest and did not.”

Fanaticism Cannot be Planned

We mentioned Shimon and Levi, the fanatics of Shechem, as providing an inspiration for the “Price Tag” fanatics. It is appropriate to repeat here some relevant points from our sources about the proper attitude towards fanaticism.

“Shimon and Levi were greatly upset by illicit sex, and they each took their swords and killed” [Pirkei D'Rebbe Eliezer 38]. And for this they were scolded by Yaacov. But they “took their swords” spontaneously, without any advance planning, without establishing an organization of fanatics, and w ithout declaring any public policy and designing a “tag” as a symbol of their activity. This is what the sages taught us: “They did not ask Yaacov for advice… and they did not take advice from each other” [Bereishit Rabba 80:9].

The same two brothers meet again in the arena of fanaticism, but in the second case they are on opposite sides. Pinchas the priest (from the tribe of Levi) kills Zimri, a family leader (in the tribe of Shimon) for the sin of immoral behavior with a daughter of Moav. “Pinchas acted against the will of the wise men. Rabbi Yuda said: They would have put a ban on him, if not for the fact that the Holy Spirit came out and said, ‘I hereby give him my covenant of peace, because of his fanaticism'” [Talmud Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 9:11]. The act of Pinchas was accepted because it was spontaneous and not the result of planning. The laws of fanaticism read as follows: “One who has sexual relations with an Aramite woman should be struck by fa natics” [Sandhedrin 81b]. But in the same breath, it is also written there, “One who comes to take advice is not told to do so.”

That is, fanaticism is by definition a spontaneous act, and at times it can be accepted, depending on the circumstances. Fanaticism is always the act of an individual, and establishing any organization or “taking advice from each other” is not fanaticism but the act of a “ruffian.”

Nice article by Shmully Hecht


See the original from the Times of Israel (which I reproduce) here. [hat tip MT]

I have no issue with Shmully’s thoughts except that

  1. R’ Chaim Volozhiner was not an opponent of R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He in fact, while being the prime disciple of the Vilna Gaon, and the person who hand wrote the condemnation of Chassidim (Cherem) did not sign the Cherem!
  2. Rav Chaim Kanievsky is not a political person. He sits and learns and does little else. That this boor said “come and I will take you to Rav Chaim Kanievsky” does not mean that Rav Chaim was aware of agreed with the way he spoke or what he said. Rav Chaim is also a Mekubal who knows Kol HaTorah and if you look at what he signs, you will find dear Shmully, that he rarely if ever gives his own opinion. He is a humble man, who mostly says “if such a great person said X, then I (Rav Chaim, who he considers to be a “nothing” in his self-effacing way) join in. This is because he does not see himself as a leader.
  3. The one that you should be addressing is, in my opinion Rav Shmuel Auerbach, whose incredibly great father R’ Shlomo Zalman had more knowledge, feeling, sensitivity and greatness than his son by a country mile.
  4. As to the rest of them, and by “them” I mean ANYONE who can’t see the Godly soul of a Jew at all times (yes, this is something from Chabad that I am ingrained with) they will not change, not by your article or by our comments. The best thing that can be done is to work now with the Nachal Charedi and make sure it is the holiest battalion in the entire Army, and one which is a Kiddush Shem Shomayim BoRabbim. That, to me, is where ALL the effort should now go.
  5. The so-called “distaste” for those who aren’t yet frum (I loathe the word chilonim) is amongst the Religious Zionists as well. They too have much to answer for over the years in their preponderance with land over people. The two should have never been separated. Rav Froman ז’ל is an example of a Gush Emunimnik who was searing with love for others, just like Rav Kook. It seems though that hate is a catchy illness and love for others is an acquired and elusive taste.
  6. This has nothing to do with Brisk, save that R’ Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik espouses similar views to that bigot on the plane, ironically his grandfather R’ Chaim Brisker was an even bigger Ba’al Chesed for a Jew than he was the Gaonic Genius of that generation. Check out his tombstone in the Warsaw Cemetery.

I write to you in your capacity as one of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Israel, often referred to as the haredi movement.

On a flight last week from Israel to New York, I had a rather disturbing conversation with one of your of disciples. The individual was an ultra orthodox Jew and a successful Swiss real estate developer who resides in Jerusalem with his wife and seven children. He was on his way to New York for the wedding of a relative. I was returning home from Israel where I had spent the day attending the funeral of the father of a dear Israeli friend of mine from Yale, where I am the campus rabbi. I had met the deceased last year at his son’s wedding in Caesarea, where I was honored to officiate. On a subsequent trip to Israel I had put Tefillin on with this 77 year old man, preceded by an in-depth theological conversation about his Judaism and beliefs. On this return trip to Israel it was at the Shiva house where, upon meeting many of the members of my friend’s F16 squadron, a troubling conversation began. This was a conversation that crystallized on the flight back to New York while talking with your disciple.

Israeli air force pilots are in their mid-20s and 30s, a ripe time for young people to be seriously dating and in many instances newlyweds. It was ironic yet promising that despite being in the shiva house of my friend, we found ourselves discussing weddings and choices of rabbis. Here I was, surrounded by Israel’s bravest military officers, who held the most coveted spots reserved for only the brightest and best, that I began to hear about one particular pilot’s wedding. He had just returned from a trip to the US where he got married in a civil marriage ceremony in City Hall of NYC. He explained that he, like many of his friends, had done so because they had nothing in common nor any dialogue with the rabbis of Israel. I reminded him that on that particular morning we had witnessed three Israeli rabbis bury our friend’s father, a total stranger. I continued to point out some of the many great things rabbis were doing in Israel. In vain, I tried to shed some light on the rabbinate and build a bridge to this rather secular group of Israel’s elite.

Listening to him describe the gap that sadly divides the secular “chiloni“ and ultra-orthodox “haredi“ leaderships of Israel, I was dismayed and saddened by how far this split has actually wedged a division among our people. Could we have reached such a low point in our history that Jews living in our ancient homeland were flying across the world to avoid having to engage with our very own rabbis? How ironic I thought it was that I, an American rabbi, had flown to Israel first to marry and now bury a son and father of the most secular type of Israelis. Would this young pilot’s first encounter with an Israeli rabbi be at his own funeral?

Harav Kanievsky, I am convinced that the fault lies largely with us, the “religious,” and less so with them, the “secular. “ In fact I don’t believe there is an “us” and “them.” I was born a Chabadnik, where we are taught that there is only one Jew in the world. Yes, one Jew. But it wasn’t until the conversation with your disciple on my return flight that I began to comprehend the mindset that actually fuels this terrible divide. It is for this reason, and with hope of healing this terrible National wound, that I write you this letter.

“You look like a Chabadnik,” he started off, as he leaned across the aisle of our ElAL plane, “so tell me a story of your great Rebbe.” Not sure if I was sensing sarcasm or sincerity in his tone, I told him about my experience of once praying with the man I had just buried and how this person carried a photo of The Rebbe in his wallet for 20 years, despite claiming to be an agnostic. The truth is that “Rebbe miracle stories” were never really my forte, so I figured I would challenge him to a more serious theological debate in this final hour of our cross Atlantic flight. After all, I don’t get to meet many “haredis“ on the sprawling campus of Yale University. “What will you do about the pending proposed military draft?” I curiously asked my flight mate. “Well if it actually passes,” he said, “they will have to put a million of us in prison, for how can a pork eater, the son of a pork eater, tell us G-d fearing Jews to close the yeshivas and serve in the army? These Jews need to be despised and excommunicated for the way they treat the religious community.”

I was so shocked by the venom he was espousing in front of his wife and 16 year old son that I felt like stopping the conversation right there just to avoid embarrassing him. This verbal assault on the majority of Jews alive and the Jews who I consider my dearest constituents was not going to pass without a fatal blow. One, of course, I would have to deliver with love.

This man was by no means a Torah ignoramus, nor lacking in any level of sophistication. He was clearly a successful businessman, philanthropist, and learned Torah scholar. “I’m not sure you can blame a Jew for eating pork if that is what he was brought up eating,” I replied. It was an elementary response to such a loaded attack.

“After all,” I continued, “doesn’t your son [who was sitting next to him on the plane] eat what you eat?”

“How can you preach such hatred of a Jew,” I asked, “when the Torah explicitly says, ‘Thou shall not hate your brother in your heart’? Is that verse any less a part of the Torah you embrace?”

He replied, “well Esau, despite being the son of Isaac the patriarch, was the enemy of the Jews,” as if to suggest that any secular Jew had the status of an enemy. I explained that the Torah explicitly tells us that Esau and Ishmael had abandoned the ways of their parents’ home and clearly attained the status of another nation early in our history. To suggest that every non-observant Jew in Tel Aviv born to non-observant parents, or simply brought up in a non religious home, was now the enemy, was ludicrous.

His self-righteousness and arrogance was so revolting that I knew I needed to win this debate before we landed. I reminded him that the Jewish people were a family first and called over the flight attendant who was not wearing a kipa, and clearly the type of Jew he was critiquing. I asked the man if he believed we were all part of one family, to which he replied, “of course.” “If the plane went down at this moment,” I continued, “do you think your prayers would be any different than this gentleman? Do you really think your cry of Shema Yisroel would sound any different than his? Have you ever considered the probability of living parallel lifestyles should you have been born into his family, and he into yours?”

He would not concede. “The Finance Minister of Israel [he refused to mention him by name] is a pork eater, the son of a pork eater, and will suffer for the terrible anguish he is causing our community. He is no different than Jesus whom, though born to Jewish parents, is responsible for the murder of so many Jews through European history.” I reminded him that according to one account in the Talmud, Jesus left the seminary because of the lack of sensitivity of his Rabbi and perhaps that was why Christianity started to begin with. I reminded him of the commandment to love thy neighbor as you love yourself–to no avail. As I sat there I started to comprehend why my new friend from the squadron had flown to NY to have his wedding. How could he have any respect for Jewish leaders that did not officially declare this type of talk absolute heresy? Who could stomach this unapologetic self hatred by a “religious” Jew. All in the name of Torah and G-d!

But then I digressed and mentioned one of the greatest Rabbis in our collective history. Reb Chaim of Volozhin. He is, after all, the icon and example of Torah Judaism, who embodied the ultimate divine manifestation of Torah in a human being. In addition to being the crown disciple of the Gaon of Vilna and the author of Nefesh Hachaim, he was also the patriarch of the great Saloveitchik Talmudic family dynasty. So in a final attempt at reconciliation I asked:

What if I told you that the current President of Yale is named Peter Salovey, short for Saloveitchik? Though he is not particularly observant by your standards, he is a direct descendant of Reb Chaim. He is a dear friend of mine and despite being of the more secular type, he is extremely proud of his Judaism. In fact, he proudly quoted the great Mishnaic authors in his inaugural address as President of Yale. Do you know that he often engages in Talmudic discussions with me and others of the Yale community? Would you dismiss, excommunicate, and forsake the grandchild of the holy Reb Chaim of Volozhin in your self-righteous pursuit of an Israel that excommunicates the non-orthodox Jew?

It was at this moment that he got out of his seat and approached mine with an urgency. He finally realized what we were actually talking about. We were talking about that one Jew, the Jew that he could never forsake for it would mean forsaking Reb Chaim Volozhin. And so I got up and together we stood near the emergency exit door as he softly whispered these words into my ear, but more so into my heart and into my soul:

I envy you so much my dear Shmully, because in the merit of showing unconditional love to his grandson, I assure you that when you die, the great Reb Chaim of Volozhin will be waiting for you in heaven, and he will single-handedly open the gates of Gan Eden for you to enter.

These final moments of my flight were an absolute affirmation that there is hope for our people. I could not hold back my tears and replied, “how ironic, that upon my death, at the moment I would have to face my Maker, I would not be greeted, escorted, and defended by my Rebbe, Reb Schneur Zalman of Liaidi, the founder of Chabad, but rather by his opponent, the prize student of the Gaon of Vilna, Reb Chaim of Volozhin.”

And then he said, “You know, when you return to Israel, I’m going to take you to visit our leader the great Reb Chaim Kanievsky. I want you to tell him what we talked about.”

Rav Kanievsky, I don’t want to wait until my next trip to Israel. I will simply ask you what I asked him:

What would Israel look like this Pesach if you asked each and every one of your followers today to invite one non religious friend for Pesach? How amazing would it be if 1 million non orthodox Jews came home tonight and told their spouse that their religious friend or acquaintance invited them to their Seder? What if we reinterpreted, “all who are hungry may they come and eat, all who are needy may they come and enjoy Pesach,“ to mean, “not only the physically or materially poor but those less observant than us”?

Just as I’ve been assured that Chaim of Volozhin will be waiting for me in heaven, I sincerely hope Schneur Zalman of Lyadi is waiting for you. Let us hope there will be no need to imprison 1 million Jews but rather have 1 million more guests this year at the Seder.

I look forward to embracing you on my next trip to Israel.

Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer: the Jewish Society at Yale and can be reached at shmully@279crown.org

Stories can inspire but they can also be a downfall


One of the differences between Chassidim and Misnagdim is that the former’s Rebbes were B’aal Mofsim. They were able to “perform wonders”. The Rav used to chuckle at far fetched stories and call them “Chassidishe Mayses”. Most of us will have heard of the person who didn’t catch a flight on Shabbos and managed to avoid the tragedy. We need to see Yad Hashem in both the good AND the bad. When my father a”h passed away, I had to say a Brocha of Dayan HoEmes, and as unfathomable as that might be, that’s the correct thing to do.

I know of stories where the greatest Rebbes and/or Rabonim were unable to effect a Mofes/Yeshuah even though they promised such. Those stories tend not to be printed. They should be, in the very same book that prints the times when they were successful.

צדיק גוזר והקב’’ה מקיים

does not seem as absolute as some perceive.

[Hat tip to Benseon]

This article perhaps puts the danger of emphasising too much. Finding the balance is the trick.

A Jewish lesson from the Malaysia flight tragedy

It would be a dangerous mistake to say that a Jew was saved from disaster after deciding not to fly on Sabbath – no matter how the story goes.

By  | Mar. 12, 2014 | 2:08 PM |  12

While the world anxiously awaits information regarding the mysteriousdisappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a perplexing Jewish angle to the story has emerged.

In short, a Jewish traveler who is not Sabbath observant was booking a flight through a Jewish travel agent. The traveler planned on flying on Flight 370 on the Sabbath, but the travel agent was uncomfortable booking travel for a Jewish passenger that would violate the prohibition against flying on the Sabbath. The traveler agreed to take a different flightand was spared whatever horrors the passengers of Flight 370 are experiencing or have already experienced.

The story is being cheerfully passed around the Internet and its lesson is ostensibly that Sabbath observance saved the traveler’s life. This is a terrible lesson. While it is true that the observance of the Sabbath has the practical effect of sparing this traveler’s life, it is extremely dangerous to attribute salvation to a particular religious observance.

Every religion has stories of miraculous salvation. The hubris of Jewish people pointing to this miracle as some sort of support for Jewish religious beliefs faces an unanswerable question when confronted by stories of similar salvation from other religions. One Christian published a book about how Jesus saved him and U.S. Airways Flight 1549 because of his faith in God. Muslims often point to Mosques that survive natural disasters as proof that God saves Muslims.

There is nothing unique about a story of someone who did not travel on the Sabbath and was spared from a disaster. It is a common and fallacious claim to say that not being present or being spared from any particular harm is the hand of God saving the saved for religious reasons. If, as believers in Judaism, we reject the claims that Jesus or Allah spared their followers how do we blindly accept that our God saves adherents to Judaism? What are we to say about Sabbath observant people who die in plane crashes? Or non-observant people who survive because they missed their flight? The application of miraculous salvations to one person of one religion out of millions of counter examples is disingenuous and incredibly arrogant.

Even worse is the implication of such a claim. If God saved one person from the plane for observing the Sabbath, we are also saying that God caused the other people on the plane to suffer whatever harm has befallen them. This is a disturbing worldview that even if we believe to be true, is quite offensive to the family and friends of the passengers of Flight 370. In our zeal to proclaim that our beliefs save lives, we are in effect condemning others to death for their religious beliefs. This is not a message that we should feel comfortable projecting.

Further, the religious arithmetic is incorrect. Boarding an airplane on the Sabbath is forbidden according to Jewish law. However, the prohibition is almost certainly Rabbinic. It might even be permissible according to some rabbinic opinions posited by the great Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg in his Halakhic work Tzitz Eliezer. Rabbinic prohibitions on the Sabbath are common and it’s safe to say that almost anyone who is not consciously trying to avoid violating a rabbinic decree on the Sabbath will inevitably violate the Sabbath. In fact, it’s likely that the traveler who stayed home violated Torah prohibitions on that particular Sabbath. If he cooked a meal, or drove a car, or signed his name in ink he violated the much more severe Torah level prohibition of not breaking the Sabbath.

So while it is indeed laudable that the traveler did not violate the possible rabbinic prohibition of boarding a plane on the Sabbath, it is extremely unlikely that he actually kept the Sabbath according to Jewish law. It just doesn’t seem to compute that even assuming that God saves Sabbath observers, but not others, from peril, that our traveler would be spared for not breaking the Sabbath in one way but breaking it in another way that likely involved greater violations of Jewish law.

Finally, I am afraid that stories like this give people the impression we should keep the Sabbath so that we are saved from incidents like Flight 370. This is entirely false. God commands the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath. Several reasons are given in the Bible and the rabbis of the Talmud and their successors provide other lessons and meaning to Sabbath observance. None of our sources teach that the Sabbath is to be observed so that God will save you. Sabbath observance is not a charm or talisman. Making the Sabbath into an amulet is religious malpractice that detracts from its innate beauty and vibrancy. It is downright offensive. It’s akin to saying the Mona Lisa is beautiful because it wards off the evil eye or that Niagara Falls is awe-inspiring because its waters can heal the sick.

What are we to make of this story? Nothing really. Things happen. It was noble of the travel agent to suggest keeping the Sabbath in a pleasant way and it was nice that the traveler valued the Sabbath enough not to travel. The traveler should feel grateful that his choice to connect with his Jewish roots might have spared his life. But we who hear the story dare not conclude with any certainty that God saved this one traveler for this or any particular reason. Most importantly, we must not turn the Sabbath into a magic trick. The Sabbath its own eternal meaning. Let’s explore the rich tradition of the Sabbath and soar to the heights of one of the great spiritual gifts of Judaism, the Sabbath.

And now the “oh so frum” condemn a Purim skit


Not to be outdone, the holy tzaddikim who shouldn’t be reading the internet condemn this video, which was clearly done in the spirit of Purim to “connect” to the Oilom who aren’t connected, and the types of comments you read are reproduced below. They are so out of touch with how to reconnect with Yidden, it’s plainly embarrassing. The Dati Leumi community were also out of touch. At least they are now recognising that their absence created a vacuüm.

  1. geula says:

    scary! this is exactly what are grandkids can turn out to be chas vesholom. This is a result of embracing a bit of the amalek; there’s such a kaltkeit and zilzul in this video and the whole DL community. There are no gedarim or bounds. it’s selective judaism. and what they do do that is based on something is so twisted and made to fit. Complete complete busha.

Egalitarianism is Treyf and can’t be cooked


The following is a Dvar Torah from Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter שליט’’א via Torah Web. Rav Hershel is not an Agudist, and is clear thinking Posek par excellence who importantly follows the methodology of Psak that he inherited from his teacher, the Rav, R’ Soloveitchik זצ’’ל and who is the Doyen Posek for the Poskim at YU, and co-chief Posek for the OU. He has been outspoken on a number of issues (and I have written about them in the past). For example:

  • He unambiguously says that suspected pedophiles be reported to the police and there is no Din of Mesira
  • He supports pressuring recalcitrant husbands who don’t want to give a Get, using Rabbeinu Tam’s method, and does so on a case by case basis

He is not an academic. He doesn’t need to look up Bar Ilan CDs or Otzar Hachochmo. He has Kol HaTorah Kulah at his finger tips. When one actually speaks to him, one is struck by his incredible humility and ehrlichkeit. He is softly spoken, and isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know”.

About fifty years ago the Yiddish press carried a news item that the Vaad Halacha of the conservative movement issued a “psak halacha” that one may drink Welch’s Grape Juice. Their reasoning was that Talmud states that there is no prohibition of stam yainom on yayin mevushal and the grape juice was cooked.

Rav Soloveitchick came into his class the next day, related to the students what he had read, and asked if anyone knows what was incorrect with the statement. The only one among the students who knew anything about the topic at the time was Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein who had a smile on his face. The Rov asked him to explain to the other students where the error was. So R’ Aharon explained:

The main reason Chazal prohibited stam yainom was out of fear that it could possibly lead to intermarriage; the concern that perhaps the nochri may have been menasech the wine and then later allow someone to drink it was very farfetched. However, once Chazalinstituted the prohibition out of concern of chasnus, they extended the issur to include even kosher wine handled by a nochri lest the nochri was menasech it for avodah zora. In the event that the wine had previously been cooked, it would be even more unlikely that thenochri would be menasech it, and therefore in that case magah ha’nochri would not make the wine prohibited. But since in the case of Welch’s Grape Juice the wine was processed by nochrim before being cooked, the fact that they cooked it afterwards was irrelevant. The wine was forbidden because the concern of b’noseihem (intermarriage), which is the primary reason for the issur of stam yainom to begin with, still applied even though the farfetched concern of nissuch no longer applied.

The fatty parts of the sacrifices that have to be burnt on the mizbeach must to be raw; if they are first cooked, the kohein does not fulfill his mitzvah of haktorah. This haktorah lacks the element of raiach nichoach because the smell will simply not be the same. Similarly, the blood of a korban may not be cooked before being sprinkled upon the mizbeach; if it is cooked first, it’s not considered dam (blood) but merely the “juice of the meat”. It is for this reason we assume in Shulchan Aruch that eating dam shebishlo is only forbiddenm’dirabbonon – such blood would not be acceptable in a korban, and that is the entire basis for the biblical prohibition forbidding dam.

The same is true regarding wine. Yayin mevushal is considered inferior and would not be accepted for nisuch on the mizbeach. Since it would not be accepted on the mizbeach in the Beis Hamikdash, we assume that the nochrim would probably also not use it for their avodah zora. For that reason, if a nochri handled kosher wine where there is no issue of “binoseihem” but only the concern of nissuch, if the kosher wine had already been mevushal the chachomim never prohibited it.

One must remember that in the old days, the Conservative movement had a number of people who were Talmidei Chachomim. There were also a number of Orthodox Rabonim who worked in their JTA because it was a job, and it paid. Of course, their method of Psak via democratic vote doesn’t turn them into some quasi Sanhedrin.

In our day, we have the academic Professor, Rabbi Sperber who is cited as the authority to permit partnership minyanim. Tradition magazine recently featured a destruction of Sperber’s permissive ruling for places like Shira Chadasha, and their neo-modern egalitarian inspired mode of service by the famous erudite academic brothers, Professors Frimer, who have written on many of these topics over decades.

As far as I know, the Melbourne Shira Chadasha don’t have minyanim three times a day. Why? I guess one only has to be egalitarian on Friday Night and Shabbos? Whilst there are some misguided and ernest people who attend there, they stay outside the pale of normative Psak and Mesora and Orthodoxy. The majority from what I can tell, struggle with many of the normal non-egalitarian Mitzvos, that  Prof Sperber would say are non negotiable and would consider completely forbidden.

What is striking about the articles over the years on various egalitarian topics involving the “rights of women” in Judaism by the Professors Frimer, is that they undertake a painstaking analysis of topics, and then discuss these with Gedolei HaPoskim. They will quote R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and his famed son-in-law R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg et al. These are not “immovable right-wing poskim” but innovators who call a spade a spade when it comes to Halacha, but who maintain adherence to Mesora that has been the link between generations since Moshe Rabbenu (whose Yohr Tzeit is tonight if you follow the opinion that you also commemorate the second Adar).

Like the Grape Juice, the issue of these partnership minyanim was Treyf Lechatchila. As R’ Moshe noted, it was born not from Judaism, but the modern feminist movements. It cannot and should never be decided by the Sperbers and Kaplans of this world. The former is famous for his erudite academic work on Minhagei Yisrael, but that does not catapult him into the position of a Posek, let alone one who is qualified to make far-reaching changes to the definition of Kvod HaTzibbur. His opinion has been negated by R’ Yehuda Herz Henkin as well, and Rav Henkin is not exactly a Posek who remains beholden to a dormant lack of momentum. He and his wife head Nishmas. My cousin, is a Yoetzet Halacha and knows a heck of a lot more than I do. Speaking to her many times, I find a woman who is not driven remotely by feminism or egalitarianism. She is a Torah Scholar who doesn’t need the Avi Weiss Maharat denomination, and is most effective helping and answering and referring questions for women, as need be.

Rabbis are torn on how to deal with Shira Chadasha. They all agree that this is not an Orthodox prayer service. It could be classed as a right-wing mode of Conservative prayer service. If the membership are attacked, this may strengthen their resolve. If they are ignored, they may grow unfettered. They latch onto anything “modern” and are happy to adopt Carlebach style sing-song (Davening is much more than a sing-song. Chazal mandated strict rules) or Eastern influenced forays into Parks to daven/meditate in concert with nature.

The correct mantra is חדש ימינו כקדם

On Kennard, Shochet, Chabad and Modern Orthodoxy


The community in Melbourne, and abroad, has been buzzing about a series of articles/indirect interchanges between Rabbi James Kennard, principal of Mount Scopus College and Rabbi Yitzchok Shochet of the UK. I caught the tail end as we were heavily involved in planning and enjoying the wedding of our daughter! I had a moment after the Shabbos Sheva Brachos to quickly read Rabbi Kennard’s second article (I haven’t seen the first) in the Australian Jewish News, and formed some thoughts which I now have a moment to put down.

Firstly, the usual disclaimers and context:

  • Three of our children married into Chabad families. Our fourth will also do so in a month or so.
  • I attended a Chabad school, Yeshivah College in Melbourne
  • I did not attend a Chabad Yeshivah after year 12, I went to Kerem B’Yavneh, a religious zionist yeshivah (call it Chardal if you like)
  • I was Rosh Chinuch at B’nei Akiva for a few years, and my wife was a Meracezet in Sydney
  • None of our children attended a Chabad Yeshivah or Seminary after their Schooling.
  1. There is little doubt that a follower of Chabad, who considers themselves a Chosid, needs to effect the wishes and approach of the late and great Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Ramash נ’ע
  2. There is little doubt that the philosophy of Chabad is that the Geula (Moshiach) will be effected when Yidden will augment their Torah with Chassidus Chabad. אימתי קאתי מר
  3. There is little doubt that where a person has no known minhag because their family practices have lapsed, that Chabad will only introduce Chabad minhagim to that person, and will in general not make an effort to find out what a family practice might have been. This is because Chabad philosophy considers their approach as one which subsumes other approaches, and is superior at this time. שער הכולל
  4. There is little doubt that Chabad has indeed changed its approach to Zionism, in practice. Whereas the Rashab spoke with vitriol in a manner not too different to Satmar, the Ramash’s language became far more sanguine and displayed an acceptance? of historical reality (to use the words of the Rav, “History has paskened that the Aguda was wrong”)
  5. Chabad never saw the establishment of the State as the moment of the beginning of Geula. On the other hand, the establishment of the State certainly occurred during the time when the Geula was imminent, according to Chabad philosophy.
  6. In general, unlike many groups, Chabadniks do not spend their lives in Kollel. They either go out and get a job/study, or they become Shluchim. That’s not to say they embrace Torah Im Derech Eretz as a particular philosophy. Rather, it’s how one survives and lives.
  7. Chabad was and still is a leader in Jewish outreach, and this stems from extreme! Ahavas Yisroel, as stressed in Chassidus Chabad, where the Neshomo Elokis of a Yid is what counts, at the cost of all other considerations. This is a good thing!
  8. The Rav himself stated that Chabad taught the world how to bring Yiddishkeit into Reshus HoRabbim as opposed to Reshus HaYochid.
  9. The Rav noted that the differences between the Tanya and Nefesh Hachaim were semantic nuances that most did not and could not understand. The Rav did, of course. Indeed, Rabbi Brander mentioned that the Rav wrote a Pirush on Tanya which is still בכתב יד!

Until now, I have written about Chabad. Of course, like every group, there will always be a mismatch between the philosophy and some of the implementors (call them Chassidim) of that particular philosophy. Some Chassidei Chabad are what one might call “more tolerant” of difference, whereas others (often these are newer chassidim) range from less tolerant to downright intolerant of anything which isn’t in immediate accord with the Chabad approach to life. In this, one could argue that Chabad are no different to others. I would argue, however, that Chabad are different. Their difference lies in the fact that they absolutely revere and adhere to their approach to Yiddishkeit and do so with Mesiras Nefesh. Any student of history or sociology will have noticed that elements of this reverence have rubbed off on so called Misnagdim, who now have Rebbes in everything but name. “Gadol HaDor” anyone?

I agree with Rabbi Kennard that there isn’t only one way. I have always felt that way. Indeed, when I was a student and introduced to Tanya, I had a “stand up” with my teacher who said that Moshe Rabbeinu was a Lubavitcher. I said this was absurd and he called me a “Moshchas”. I think that’s where I started going down hill :-)

It is a well-known Gemora (I think in Taanis) that says that Hashem will, in the future, create a circle of Tzaddikim (in plural) who will dance around him and point to the epicentre of truth, which IS Hashem, בעצמותו. Many have repeated the interpretation (two which readily come to mind are Rabbi Akiva Eiger (whose grandchildren were Chassidim) and Rav Kook (whose mother came from Chabad)) that a circle was chosen rather than a square or indeed a line (dance) because each Tzaddik represented a different but equal approach to Avodas Hashem: call it a different perspective.  The  point of this Gemora (I think it might even be a Mishna, but I’m writing without looking as I have little time at the minute) is that each approach is equidistant to Hashem. Each is valid. Each is correct.

How can they all be correct? Simply because it’s a matter of perspective. Two people can be in the same room and the same spot, and witness or observe the same thing from two perspectives. Both are right. Both see truth. One of my sons is very talented in design. I have zero talent in the area in which he excels. I will not see what he sees. At the same time, I’m perhaps extra-logical. My PhD intersected with formal logic. My son won’t see or be bothered by what I see or am influenced by. Undoubtedly, this also extends to the concept of education, where we are enjoined to teach each child according to that particular child’s needs and expectations, approach and ability. חנוך על פי דרכו

No doubt, the Chabad perspective on the Tzaddikim in the circle will be that they consist of the line starting from the Baal Shem Tov through to the Ramash, and the reason they are equidistant is that they represent the same spark of Moshe Rabeinu, and that is a super soul which incorporates the souls of all of us. (This is not entirely correct though because the Ramash inherited the greatness of the Rayatz who inherited the greatness of the Rashab etc)

Personally, despite my background, I have not developed an understanding or appreciation of Chassidus Chabad or any other Chassidus. When I was introduced to Mussar, I disliked the  almost “abusive” approach of reproach. I learned Kuzari (which Rabbi Kennard might be interested to know was originally something that Chabadniks had to know together with Moreh Nevuchim!) but found it outdated.

I was attracted to the Rav, and elements of Rav Kook, in the main. That’s just me. That being said, I don’t know if so-called “modern orthodoxy”, which is a term the Rav did not like, is what is “needed” by the congregants of the Great Synagogue. I do not know how Rabbi Kennard knows that either. If he does know it, then I would hope that he flew to Sydney and addressed the board and congregation of the Great Synagogue and explained to them why that style of philosophy was the correct one for the Great Synagogue.

Perhaps I am spoilt. I saw a Chabad at Elwood Shule in the frame of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. The Shule davened Ashkenaz, and still does. In fact, I inserted that expectation into the constitution of the Shule! Rabbi Gutnick was a master orator and a Chabad Chossid, however, I never witnessed him pushing Chabad down the throats of his congregation. Occasionally, he would refer to his master and teacher, the Ramash, but in the end, he related to people כמות שהם, “as they were”. His son, R’ Mottel follows in exactly the same footsteps as his father, although he does mention the Ramash more often than his father. Some may call this “Chabad Light”, but I beg to differ. It’s what you achieve that matters. I know that Rabbi Chaim Gutnick discussed his approach and issues with the Ramash on several occasions, and the latter called him הכהן הגדול מאחיו

At the other end of the spectrum was the late and great Rabbi Groner. He wasn’t the Rabbi of a non Chabad Shule. He was the Rabbi of a Chabad Shule. He was the head Shaliach of the Rayatz and then the Ramash. He certainly projected Chabad through a more defined prism, however, at the end of the day, he too never shoved Chabad down my throat, and I was known to be vocal on issues  I might have. I often heard him give a drasha based on a vort he read from someone other than the Ramash (not that it contradicted Chabad philosophy).

I attend a great shiur by R’ Yehoshua Hecht. He has no problem with saying “the Rebbe Nishmoso Eden“. He is as strong a Chosid as anyone else, and speaks without fear or favour.

I am aware, though, of some who are “not as well read” or “not as exposed” to the different Jewish world views and people who exist. As such, they are certainly less tolerant, more narrow-minded, and frankly, less likely to succeed! (in my opinion).

The point I am making, of course, is that it is more about the Chosid him or herself, than the Chassidus itself.

I recall coming back from learning in Israel, and R’ Arel Serebryanski asked me at a Farbrengen (yes, I do enjoy a good farbrengen, but sadly there aren’t many good ones these days) to learn Tanya with him. I responded that I would do so if he agreed to learn Chazon HaGeula from Rav Kook with me in return. He promptly averred. That’s fine. R’ Arel has his Chassidim and his circle of influence, but I’m obviously some type of “Klipa” that is in the too hard basket :-)

So, while I don’t learn Chabad Chassidus per se, I have to say that their approach of love and being non judgemental as a primary mode of returning Jews to their roots, is something that is inspiring and we all can learn from. Clearly, places like Aish HaTorah have adopted this approach. It’s the only approach that can work in my opinion. The days of chastisement  and admonition have long passed their expiry.

I did not like Rabbi Kennard introducing the issue of child abuse in the context of his article. I felt that this was completely out of context and in boxing terms a hit below the belt. Rabbi Kennard is not a fool, and he knows full well, as we all do, that actions speak louder than words, and words unfortunately seem to fall in the domain of lawyers and those who are litigious by nature. When the Labor Government came into power they promised an apology to the indigenous population of Australia. Speak to any indigenous person. They will tell you that an apology is meaningless in the context of a void of action. Action is the key, and like Rabbi Kennard, I have no doubt that action has and continues to be taken to make sure that world’s best practice of prevention is implemented in the School in question.

I think it was unwise for Rabbi Shochet to debate Rabbi Kennard on this matter. Did he really think that he could argue cogently with the points that Kennard had made?

I also think it was unwise for Rabbi Kennard to make a call on the Great Synagogue’s needs in the Australian Jewish News, when in my opinion there are much more important issues threatening all Orthodox approaches in the circle I mentioned above. The Jewish world is buzzing about “egalitarianism” and the actions arising out of that fever. There is a growing Shira Chadasha, a private Hechsher that is causing waves of discontent, Ramaz’s issues with Tefillin in the women’s gallery (will Rabbi Kennard allow that at Scopus?), the Maharat debate and more.

Yes, I agree with Rabbi Kennard that there is more than one way. Yes, I agree with Rabbi Kennard that Chabad (like others) think that their way is the best way, but I am interested to know where the issue of Chabad and the Great Synagogue’s choice of Rabbi sits in terms of importance to the Jewish world, vis-a-vis the issues I outlined above (and more).

Johannesburg and Melbourne


I have never been to South Africa. If you would have asked me 3 months ago whether I would have two future sons-in-law both born and bred in South Africa, I would have looked strangely at you.

My connection to South Africa commenced over 30 years ago when I was learning at Kerem B’Yavneh. Naturally, I found them “closer” to Australians, followed by the English, and the non New York, Americans: New Yorkers were another species altogether, as removed as Israelis. One of my Chavrusas back then was a young earnest Masmid (always learning) named Stanley Moffson, now known and loved throughout South Africa as Rabbi Shmuel Moffson of Ohr Someach fame. There were other South Africans, but I don’t even remember their names.

We could share cricket with the South Africans and Poms, but that was it. On Thursday nights we had Mishmar, where traditionally one would endeavour to learn all night. We didn’t learn all night, in general. By about 1am our brains were mush, and the words really just spun on the page (at least that’s true of me). We had a tradition of going to the basketball court, and playing 5 a side soccer for the rest of the night. Here again, the Poms and South Africans, Aussies, and Europeans studying at KBY would “go for it” as if we were representing our country. I still remember one mature English guy who used to play as sweeper and he had me on a string. I couldn’t ever get passed him: the memory still frustrates.

By the time my older son went to learn at KBY, they had a gym. This was a great idea. You need to have outlets, especially for the kids of our day, but I digress.

So, here I was an Avel no longer saying Kaddish, and our youngest daughter is engaged to a nice young man from J’Burg. We try to organise dates, but my wife is in New York for the engagement of our middle daughter, also to a J’Burger who has been in the States for a while. It was nigh on impossible to re-route and change things for my wife so she could also make the J’Burg engagement. I offered to try to book a flight which would take me to NY and then to J’Burg so I could be at both, but my wife insisted that if I’m at both, then she has to be at both. Fair enough too.

It was high season. I managed to get a flight on a full plane via Perth. On the way back I travelled on Kratzmech, and that was a Mechaye because there was plenty of room (and it was Qantas).

Arriving just after 5am in the morning, I was picked up by my daughter and the future Chosson. We dropped my daughter off, and I went to Shule on the Thursday. I didn’t realise it but I had sat (as I usually do) in the back of the Shule (the Chabad house in Sandton under Rabbi Yossi Hecht who was overseas), and the regulars thought that I was a Schnorrer. Now, if they had only had given me some Tzedoko!

I was called up to the Torah as Cohen, and although I’m uncomfortable saying HaGomel (according to the view of the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik given how relatively safe flying is), I did so and not become controversial. The Mechutan was also sitting in a back corner, and I didn’t notice him and hadn’t approached.

Davening ended and everyone shook my hand and said Sholom Aleichem and that was that. They remarked later that they were expecting me to pull out a few sheets of paper testifying that I was a genuine collector.

The thing that struck me was that apart from two dressed in dark suits, the rest of the Minyan looked “ordinary”. They weren’t bearded, were casually dressed, etc. I wondered what the attraction was to coming so early to Shule so early during the holidays. I know that mainstream Shules in Melbourne struggle to get a Minyan each day. The Mispallelim come three times a year and if you are lucky to a Yohr Tzeit. These guys, as I saw came for Shacharis and Mincha/Ma’ariv and I was to learn that this was not unusual.

As I was still technically an Avel, I did not allow myself to go touring and made do with the gym/jacuzzi/shvitz facilities at my hotel. That was therapeutic, and was a Menuchas HaNefesh and Guf which I really needed. My wife needed it as well, but she was in the snow of New York, wearing out the American Express card.

In my travels, I noticed that there seemed to be one and one only Kashrus organisation. There were no maverick entrepreneurial Rabbis who went off on their own for “utopian interests” which were really for “our” benefit. The result was that I could go into Woolworths and pick out items and find a stamp, a single stamp, in much the same way as the OU operates. What a Mechaye. Why was it happening here and in Melbourne we seem to have two Kashrus organisations: Kosher Australia and Adass, as well as the more recent  smaller maverick operation run by R’ Rabi. I won’t even start writing about the mess in Sydney where they simply can’t get their act together and separate Kashrus from Money, and agree on a single operation for all, without even a smell of self-interest.

I then asked where the so-called Charedi community “hung out”. I was to learn that J’Burg was pretty much void of (Hungarian) Chassidim. There was no “highest standard” Hechsher run by a separate Beis Din, where OO is EE, and separatism is a way of life. No, here, the Rabbinic institutions were set up by Litvaks. Even the Chief Rabbi claimed to be a Telzer, even though he apparently had learned only in South Africa.

What of Chabad? They certainly existed and were everywhere with really professional Chabad Houses augmenting the large choir-style Shules. I bumped into the charismatic R’ Sholom Ber Groner, who I knew in Melbourne. In fact, he gave me goose bumps each time I spoke with him in learning because so many of his mannerisms reminded me of his saintly father. He told me that the Ramash נ’’ע had written a letter to the Rabbonim many years ago that they should always work within the existing Rabbinical organisations and not separate themselves into another group. The Ramash was of course quite brilliant, and it came as no surprise that such sage advice was given. The result was that the Litvaks and Lubavitchers had mutual respect and genuine Chavivus. They worked together. The Beis Din is Litvak heavy but universally respected. There was a time when Chalav Yisrael was difficult to obtain, but they managed. They have “Mehadrin” Shechita which effectively means Chassidishe Shechitah. You can find that on menus in fleishig restaurants.

I guess the overall feeling had been of peace and fraternity between Rabonim, and I would argue that this is South Africa’s secret. There are no fifth columnists and private hashgochas and certainly no aspersions being cast around that “I’m frumer than you”.

The “Yavneh College” style school also impressed me. The primary school is mixed, but the high school is separate between males and females, and the males who want, have a Mesivta program where they can come back at 7pm for more learning. I was gob smacked. If something like this existed in Melbourne, with non Charedi teachers, I think Yavneh would really differentiate itself and move to a higher level of Chinuch. Again, I digress.

Yet, despite all this, many Jews from SA left. The apartheid was horrible and I detected racist feelings amongst Afrikaaners. When I suggested that it would take a generation or two of education and opportunity for reform (on the criminal level) to materialise, I was told “No, it will never change”. I loved watching the B’Nei Cham, with their ultra thick hair and perfect teeth walking around the Mandela mall. As someone who came from a persecuted people, I felt a natural affinity. I spoke with anyone who would talk to me. I could have done this for weeks. I loved them, I just felt that I had a duty to lift their morale and make them feel entirely comfortable. I tipped them too much, but what the heck. Their names were just wonderful. Names like Romeo, Delicious, Precious, etc were common place. The ones who worked in the Chabad houses were very well looked after and respected as human beings and I just loved being in that type of morality. The pejorative “Shvartzer” never passed my lips. What was Tzippora? What about Batsheva? What about our Sephardi brothers and sisters. Who are we to comment about any such things.

IMG_3058

Where was the Reform and Conservative movements, let alone the neo conservadox style movements? They barely existed. Why? In a place where Orthodoxy exudes peace, friendship and a typically Chabad and Ohr Sameach non judgemental approach to human relations, this is the most powerful antidote to counter these inaccurate and inauthentic branch offs from authentic traditional Judaism.

I came away with a great feeling. Yes, there are some security issues. Yes, you need to not go on your own without advice etc. There are challenges. As a community, though, I have to say that in general, although we might have more Kollels, their institutions achieve so much more and are more outward looking and manage to enfranchise individuals.

Disclaimer: I was only there for a week, and no doubt I was on a high, and perhaps ignorant and oblivious to various issues. This is my overall impression, however. In Melbourne, if you pass someone from a different “caste” you’d be lucky if they acknowledged you with a Good Shabbos when passing them. We have much to learn, not the least of which is learning to mind our own business and not whispering about every “bad” thing that happens in someone else’s family.

The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors


[Apologies as this may seem like a repost for some readers. WordPress seemed to get confused, so I have re-published as a new article]

There is seemingly a trend that has taken hold in the last 12 months or more. We’ve seen it employed by Orthodox Jews, some Orthodox Shules, and the Conservadox Shira Chadasha. The trend is to move out of the Shule and into the outdoors, presumably for a heightened, perhaps more “spiritual” davening. To be sure, it’s not (yet) regular, and is something that is utilised at chosen times. Many of these services revolve around music, and “nature”.

I am a musician. I’m not a “mathematical” musician in the sense of analysing a score and declaring it a piece of genius. Rather, I was blessed (I guess) to have a special חוש/sense for music to the extent that I can play a piece after I have listened to it.

I am inspired by music. I find that it touches my Neshama. It’s something that can uplift me, or just as importantly it can solemnise my feelings to the extent that I’m “at one” with those ambient feelings. Feeling melancholy I may choose Rachmaninov, for example; I love Russian classical music as it seems to accurately reflect the oeuvre of the tragedy of much of Jewish history. On Yom HaShoah, when I hear the ‘Partisan Song’, it never fails to stir and uplift.

Halacha discusses what type of music is acceptable. Obviously, love songs, as mentioned by the Rambam, aren’t in the frame. Some, such as R’ Moshe Feinstein based on the fact that he felt the Pshat in a Gemora was more in tune with the R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber, than the Ramo) went as far as prohibiting pleasurable music all year around as an expression of זכר לחורבן. This view is not widely accepted.

As I always reiterate, my pitputim are just that. Ask your own Rov if you have any questions or concerns. Rav Ovadya also had interesting Teshuvos on this (I can’t recall whether it was in Yabia Omer or Yechave Daas). If my memory serves me correctly, he even permitted muslim prayer tunes to be set to Jewish words and used as part of Tefilla!

I’m a traditionalist, especially when it comes to authentic Jewish expressions of connection with Hashem and preserving the Mesora via modes of accepted expression, additions and location.

I’m lucky enough to also feel exhilaration when learning, and I prefer delving than more surface-oriented coverage. The latter is instructive and important, in the sense of המעשה אשר יעשון but it doesn’t perhaps titillate me when compared to the combination of intellect/neshama as elicited by חכמת התורה. That for me, provides a tangible connection to אלוקות. Your mileage will vary, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. There have always been at least two approaches. הרבה דרכים למקום

Many of our current youth seek tangible and immediately perceived connection through their senses. Some are limited in their ידיעת התורה armoury, and the soul-like, metaphysical connection through song, works effectively as a catalyst. A catalyst towards what, one might ask? Is it a means or an end? Effectively in my Weltanschauung, is when this leads one to the level that they can meditate on Shmoneh Esreh in the very least, and through that seek to “connect”. Shmoneh Esreh is Tefilla.

As Rav Soloveitchik always pointed out, Judaism has never been reactive or temporally focussed on modes of pomp and ceremony and new forms of worship: these cross the line of Mesora. We are bound, happily, through our Mesora. To Chazal, Mesora is Halacha, and it regulates accepted methods and modes of Tefilla and delineates the unacceptable.

We don’t make up new integral prayers (as opposed to תחנות and בקשות) or modes of prayer. We follow the Nusach of our Mesorah, and we do not deviate. It is, of course, well-known, that when faced with the rising influence of conservative temples in the USA, the Rav stood steadfast, and would only allow “innovation” that didn’t step beyond Mesora and Halacha. Sometimes, protective mechanisms were needed to entrench a barrier against a temporal but threatening breach. These need to be approved by an expert Posek. One does not innovate on the basis of a more academically inclined analysis of sections culled from the Bar Ilan responsa DVD. That does not a Psak make.

There is the story recorded by Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter, of a Baal Teshuva who would have offended his family by not attending the Bar Mitzvah of his brother. The Bar Mitzvah was to be held in a conservative temple. The Rav, whose Psokim one may not generally extend to their own situation, ruled that the Baal Teshuva should attend so as not to cause Agmas Nefesh and Machlokes on the strict proviso that in respect of the conservative service he:

  1. Daven in a proper Orthodox Minyan beforehand
  2. Sit when they stood
  3. Stand when they sat
  4. Not answer Amen

In no way, should he give the impression that he was participating in davening per se at a conservative temple. Each situation is different, of course, and a Posek needs to be appraised of the complete circumstance before issuing their Psak Din.

R’ Shlomo Carlebach, a controversial figure, is in vogue, especially in sing/song style prayer. Allegations, about him, abound. Some are most concerning and sinister. Yet he was also proffered love by the Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א, widely considered as one of the “holiest Rebbes” of our generation.

A young Amshinover Rebbe with R’ Shlomo Carlebach

At the same time, in Igros Moshe, Even HoEzer (in the middle of a Tshuva), Reb Moshe Feinstein intimated that nigunnim performed before a certain period in Reb Shlomo’s life were acceptable, but those after that date were not to be played or sung.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל personally told me that he was a chavrusa/learning partner of R’ Shlomo. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, after Reb Shlomo diverted to a more controversial path, how to interact with him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should be Mekarev R’ Shlomo, but never under the umbrella or Mosdos of Chabad per se.

I once used a Carlebach melody at Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, and Rabbi Groner advised me not to do it again, for these reasons. He, of course, told me this privately and quietly after Shule, as I walked out after ravening. I know that Rabbi Groner’s son, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi also adheres to this approach in the Chabad House where he is Rabbi.

Many of our youth seem to seek spirituality. Authentic Jewish spirituality can be achieved in a number of Masoretic ways. I’m not sure, though, whether home-grown techniques of spirituality lead towards מעשה בפועל or if they are all permitted anyway. One would hope so, even if contraindicated, as per Reb Moshe or others. We should assume that seekers are earnest in their quest for interaction with אלוקות. The method of T’filla and the place of T’filla however, must remain the mainstream Chazal-mandated approach. Yes, there is a place for התבוננות, reflection and meditation. The Breslaver Chassidim require it once a day, the Baal Shem Tov himself did it—each to their own.

Lately, I’ve noticed various Orthodox groups (I consider Shira Chadasha conservadox in my nomenclature despite spirited sound-bites on a Melbourne TV show attempting to convince us that they are Orthodox) seek to leave the sanctuary of Shules and Shteiblach, or even house-minyanim and seek the outdoors through the aegis of an open area/park or similar setting.

I am not enamoured halachically by house minyanim on a regular basis during, say, summer months. There are shules close by.

ברוב עם הדרת מלך

is not a platitude. It is a halachic requirement.

Sometimes, perhaps mostly, so-called alternate services are accompanied by a Carlebachian inspired sing-song. As a musician, I know this can stir the heart. The effect is amplified when there is a knowledge of Pirush Hamilos. [ I cringe if the wrong style of tune is used for a passage or chapter. I even cringe when commas are placed at the wrong places: a sure indication that a basic understanding of the structure of Tefilla and Pirush Hamilos needs serious attention. ]

But what does Halacha say about davening in an outdoor setting? I’m assuming that Dina D’Malchusa is followed and council permits are obtained. Parks are not normally designated as places of worship. Imagine if Muslims, Xtians and Buddhists also decided to utilise parks for their places of worship. I, for one, do not think it is appropriate.

The encounter with Hashem is a private one (in the sense of occurring in a house of God), that should be constructed through the agency of a quorum of ten males and a suitable separation of males and females. Dogs, children playing, plain schmutz and the like, do not appear environmentally appropriate. As summarised in Shulchan Aruch Siman 90 S

לא יתפלל במקום פרוץ כמן בשדה

Shulchan Aruch (‘סע’ ה) rules that one should not daven in an open area, for example, a field. The rationale he gives for this halacha is that when one davens in a place that is closed one will have more awe for the King and will have a broken heart which is advantageous for davening. Mishnah Berurah writes that if a place is surrounded by walls it is an acceptable place (ס”ק י”ב מובא דבריו בחיי משה) to daven even if there is no roof.

Shulchan Tahor maintains that l’chatchila, ideallyone should daven in a place that has a roof in addition to walls. However, if the walls extend ten tefachim higher than the average person’s height, one could daven there in a pressing circumstance.

Eshel Avrohom adopts a more lenient approach and contends that it is sufficient if there is a wall in front of the person davening even if there are no walls on his sides. He also adds that this requirement is only for shemone esrei but for pesukei d’zimra one may even daven in an open area.

Sefer Toras Chaim (סק”ז) asserts that this halacha applies when someone davens by himself but it is acceptable for a tzibbur to daven in an open place since the experience of davening with a tzibbur will cause him to have a broken heart and awe of the King. Kaf HaChaim (אות ל”א) cites Ritva who rules that if a minyan is davening together this issue does not apply.

Sha’arei Teshuvah (סק”א) implies, however, that this issue applies to a tzibbbur the same way it applies to an individual.

So, while there is room to be lenient I would think, and this is borne out by opinion, that praying in a park/field is perhaps a stepping stone to the ideal, which is to pray in an ascribed place, viz, a Shule with all its concomitant Kedusha (ironically) and regulation. At the end of the day, it is the iconic Mikdash M’at, a miniature of the Beis Hamikdash itself. See especially the Kitzur Minyan HaMitzvos from the Rambam where he clearly describes this as a D’Orayso, a Torah imperative. We are enjoined to simulate the Beis Hamikdash through both the prayer, the behaviour and the building structure!

A certain man rushed to daven Maariv but missed borchu. Naturally, he wished to daven with a minyan that was just beginning so that he could answer borchu in the beginning of the tefillah. There actually was another Maariv which began a few minutes later but the minyan was outside the sanctuary, in a place without walls. This man wondered what he should do. On the one hand, he knew that it is preferable to daven in a place with walls as we find on today’s amud. On the other hand, he was loath to miss borchu. When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that davening in the shul with walls is preferable. “Even if you will miss borchu it is still better to daven with the minyan inside. Even though the davening outside is complete with borchu, davening without mechitzos is less than ideal.” אבני ישפה, תפילה, פי”א, ס”ו, ובהערה ז

In another place they would pray Minchah in a largish stairwell. Although a minyan always stayed inside, some of the people would wind up joining them outside the building. Since there were no functional walls out of doors, one of the group protested. ”The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to daven in a place without mechitzos. It is therefore b’dieved to daven outside.” But those who stood outside disagreed. “As long as you are part of a minyan which davens inside it shouldn’t matter what you yourself do. It is not as though I have less kavanah, so why assume that inside is superior for every individ- ual?” When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, he ruled that they should indeed pray with the minyan inside. “Those who daven in a stairwell should remain together inside, and not have some people davening inside the building while others are outside.” תפילה כהלכתה, פ”ב, הערה פ”ה

Pardon the pun, but we need to see the wood from the trees. If it is desirable in our age to enfranchise those who would otherwise not seek to daven, through Carlebachian/Breslav, outdoor or “spirit grow style” techniques, then that is an intermediate level, and an expert Posek must be consulted. However, it should always be understood that this level is a stepping stone to the ideal. The ideal is to daven in a Shule or Beis Medrash and to be become a Doogma Chaya, a living example, of how one should comport oneself in a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature version of the Beis Hamikdash. The laws of a Beis Knesses and Beis Medrash are directly derived, according to many, such as R’ Chaim Brisker, from the Beis Hamikdash itself. The Rav gave many examples of this in his Torah.

In a tangential way, even though there is leeway to innovate in respect of melodies during the Nusach HaTefilla, one must remember that some elements are inviolate. Can anyone imagine singing Kol Nidrei to another tune? Cantor Be’er from YU’s Belz School of Music has written a wonderful article where he delineates the Tefillos and categorizes those which one may innovate, tune-wise.

I remember as a boy that both L’cha Dodi and Kel Adon were sung, but this took place in the Masoretic mode of the Chazan and congregation pausing between stanza in the form of “saying and answering” (Davar Shebikdusha, as expounded by the Rav)

Mesora must be protected and cherished.

שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך

Mesora must be protected and cherished. It alone provides the protective borders within which we can serve through an authentic Jewish service.

Carlebach in prayerful bliss: From Ha’aretz

I have lost faith in Rav Druckman


I waited. I was hoping to be enlightened. R’ Moti Elon, who is likely to appeal charges against him, and for all anyone knows may not be found guilty, was condemned by Takana, a highly respected group of Modern Orthodox Rabbis and learned women. The court re-affirmed their findings.

In a case like this, one must be careful. Elon does have rights, and one must write alleged. At the same time, there is absolutely no Chiyuv that I know of, which would make it necessary to invite him specifically to give a Torah lecture while this very real cloud hangs over Elon.

Rav Druckman had invited him, and whilst nobody can be anything but impressed by his achievements as a human being and as an educator par excellence, one must question his judgement in this case. I waited for an explanation, but either I’ve missed it, or there is none.

Accordingly, I have suspended my faith in his judgement. It’s a pity we don’t have a body like Takana here in Melbourne. There are some dubious individuals, about which there is a raft of evidence that hasn’t yet seen the courts, circulating with clear ramifications that call for an enquiry. I see no need to INVITE such people to  speak on topics given the very dark cloud that surrounds their past. Yes, they are innocent until proven guilty, but we can do better than choosing people who seem to be moral and upright and don’t have such clouds accompanying them. If and when they clear their name, בבקשה.

It reminds me of the sad story re-told by Rabbi Riskin:

“Let me tell you a true incident which for me is a metaphor of our times. A young man attended a yeshiva in Safed.

“The first morning, he arrived a bit late for breakfast and there was no milk left for his coffee. He went to the grocery, purchased a container of milk and placed the container in the yeshiva refrigerator with a sign, ‘Private property.’

“The next morning, the container was gone.

“He bought another container, on which he added to the previous sign, ‘Do not steal.’

“The next morning, that container, too, was missing.

“He purchased a new container, adding to the sign, ‘Questionable gentile milk’ (halav akum). This time no one took his container; he left the yeshiva.”

At the risk of sounding like an Orthodox basher, let me say that far too little is written about the lack of leadership on morality and ethics on the left side of our divide. I did notice criticism of Macabbi in the 2000’s for allegedly not doing enough to separate someone wth a grey cloud over their head, from Macabbi kids. In general, the left leadership is moribund except when it sees an Orthodox target. They includes the reform and the conservatives and the “unaligned” (Shira Chadasha, who for some reason market themselves as Orthodox but are not considered as such by 99% of the Orthodox community).

Jews are a strange group. That’s why we have the crazy notion of people who want to “celebrate” Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur without God. They advertised in the paper. I would imagine they sit around in Yoga type trances and moments of thought, and make “new year resolutions” while consuming apples dipped in honey. Ultimately, they are celebrating with God, for He ordained the concepts and their meaning. They just have a pintele yid, which is clouded by secularist, do good, and tikkun olam (the modern socialist mantra). They are good concepts in the main, but whether they like it or not, God is part of our tradition! Rosh Hashana isn’t “Happy New Year”. Why not run it on December 31st with the others? Isn’t that more inclusive and likely to break down the “barriers”.

It’s actually God’s coronation. It’s not about making “commitments” per se, although one should use these times to improve.

Anyway, I digress, as usual, given this is (as always) an unedited conscious stream …

Rav Druckman (courtesy jewish community watch)

What did they achieve?


Matzav.com reports

The chief rabbis of Tzfas shlita, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Rabbi Mordechai Bistritzky are working to close a pool operating in the holy city on Shabbos, “Tzfas Country”. As a result of the efforts of the rabbonim, calling on the tzibur not to use the pool because of its chilul Shabbos, more than a few members of the pool have cancelled their membership in protest.

In a local Tzfas newspaper the pool operator writes “I am alone, all alone in this battle. The few chilonim who remain in Tzfas are not taking part nor is the mayor. The chareidim are canceling their planned pool rental for groups. This has resulted in significant loss and the need to lay off workers. At moments of despair I ask myself why bother – who needs this when you can just close on Shabbos. However, when I return to clarity of mind I tell myself that I must continue and I mustn’t give them a victory. They won’t dictate to us how to live here”.

Pashkavilim are appearing on the streets informing residents that anyone supporting the pool is working against efforts to close it down on Shabbos. (The pashkavilim are not from the local rabbonim). “A bit more and we will succeed in closing the pool on Shabbos” reads the pashkavilim.

City Hall has released a statement regarding the effort to close the pool. “It is unfortunate that of late extremist chareidim are doing their utmost so that the upcoming local elections will surround a confrontation between the religious and secular”, BaKehilla reports.

Let’s analyse. Those who want to swim, will find an alternative. Swimming on Shabbos, isn’t the worst aveyrah in the world. It can be mitigated. Maybe it would be better to organise a Seudas Shabbos with Torah at a particular time knowing that the swimmer will attend? Recognise what you can achieve and what you can’t. Closing down their pool will make it much more likely that they won’t attend your Seudas Shabbos. You achive ZERO. Wake up Yidden!

The Mesorah Of Chesed


[Hat tip to Marek]

Article by Barry Jacobsen

A beautifully arranged presentation, graciously hosted by the Wolfson family, was held this past Motzaei Shabbos regarding the upcoming plan in Eretz Yisrael to conscript yeshiva bachurim into the IDF. Sadly, at the conclusion, I left with a feeling of disappointment.

No questions were permitted from the floor. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the speakers afterwards, who generously listened to me. But that was not the same as a full discussion of a difficult issue.

I am grateful to Rabbi Bender for his infinite chassadim to my family in numerous areas. Any comments I make are in no way intended to minimize the tremendous feelings of respect I have for him. Similarly, I had the opportunity to know the father of Rabbi Ginzberg from my days in yeshiva.

He was a paragon of seiver panim yafos, friendship, kindness, and concern about the welfare of all the bachurim. Any points I raise here are only intended as an exchange of ideas and an expression of deep pain for what I and many others see in the current state of affairs.

I was inspired to devote a number of years to learning in my early youth.

The warm feelings towards Torah, Yiddishkeit, and a Shabbos table filled with ruach will never be dimmed. The desire to maximize that path motivated me to send my kids to chareidi yeshivos where they were given a warm and meaningful Torah education. However, I am deeply disturbed at what has been happening on a wider level in the klal as a whole. I believe I speak for many others, and I know my chaverim have discussed these issues with me, as well.

After introductions by Rabbi Kobre, Rabbi Bender opened with a discussion of the importance of Torah in protecting the klal. He quoted the Gemara in Cheilek that one who says “Mai ahanu lan rabbanan, ldidhu karu ldidhu tanu,” is an apikorus. (One who says, ‘What do the rabbis help us? They only learn for themselves.’ He is considered an apostate.) Rabbi Bender discussed how there were a certain number of yeshiva bachurim learning, while the soldiers fought, during the times of Tanach. He also mentioned how the chareidim have a much lower rate of incarceration in Israeli jails than the general population, thus demonstrating that the Torah teaches good behavior. Finally, he mentioned that there are a number of chareidi organizations which do much chesed for the klal as a whole in Israel, not just for the frum segment, such as supporting the poor and providing assistance with medical issues.

Rabbi Ginzberg focused on why even people who had respect for gedolim in the past, such as those of the stature of Reb Moshe Feinstein, now seem to have wavered, and why questioning daas Torah has become more widespread, particularly on blogs.

Rabbi Eli Paley focused on some of the technical issues, such as how many soldiers the army really needs, and some of his own experiences in the army which seemed to be difficult for a chareidi lifestyle. He seemed to imply that the army is used in some ways as a form of indoctrination and acculturation with the secular viewpoint, rather than as an absolute necessity for security.

Rabbi Kobre mentioned some of the problems chareidi soldiers have recently faced, including medical exams which intruded upon their sense of privacy, and that even in the newer chareidi programs, 25% of the alumni come out non-frum. He took umbrage with a statement from a high level army chief that the chareidim are a worse problem than Ahmadinejad. Rabbi Kobre concluded that this is a state of emergency, and we all need to cry out for salvation.

All of this is true. But it is totally beside the point. The main problem that needed to be addressed, but was totally ignored, is why the chiloni sector has turned on the chareidim at this point in time. It is my belief that we are largely to blame. If it were only a matter of logistics, with the enrollment of more chareidim, suitable infrastructure would be set up so as to better serve them. But that is not at all the point of this article.

For the past 100 years, the chareidi world has been fighting Zionism like it is some kind of poison. They coined fiery slogans such as the Zionists didn’t become frei in order to build a state; they built a state in order to become frei. Aside from being totally foolish, as one can become frei by going to the McDonalds down the block without going through the backbreaking effort of building a state, it is an insult to the downtrodden Jewish people. After suffering 2,000 years of persecution, poverty, plagues, and pogroms at the hands of their host countries, which caused the spirits of many to break, is there no understanding why the status quo was unbearable? Many were converting and leaving Judaism in droves because they couldn’t take the anti-Semitism, discrimination, and misery. Many fled to America or wherever else they could get into.

Theodore Herzl warned that things would only get worse, and his prophecy was 100% correct, as we saw in the Holocaust. He knew the answer was for the Jews to get a place of their own, and he tried his best to help his suffering brethren, despite whatever personal failings he may have had. He did magnificent work. Think about how hard it is to organize a shul dinner, and then imagine how hard it is to organize a country. He had to rally the Jews, raise funds, meet with countless heads of state. The chareidim totally vilified Herzl and forbade any hazkarah in his honor within the city of Brisk after he passed away. The rav of the main shul in town locked the doors to prevent it. But the population was undeterred and broke the lock and held a massive service with thousands of people in attendance. To this day the vilification continues.

In 1923, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah passed a resolution condemning the efforts of the Zionists and vowed to fight any attempt to set up a state with all means at their disposal. This was 25 years before the saga of the Yemenite children whose peyos were allegedly cut off. This fighting and denigration of the medinah continues until this day. Chareidim refuse to say the tefillah for the medinah or for the chayalim in their shuls, citing all kinds of Kaballistic reasons, or because we don’t have power to write new tefillos (despite that we say new kinnos on Tishah B’Av for the

Shoah) or other creative points. However, in the old siddur Otzar HaTefilos, written about 100 years ago, there is a tefillah for Czar Nikolai, his wife, his parents, and children, mentioning them all by name, with effusive praise for each. We are allowed to say a tefillah for this individual who was no friend of the Jews, but for our brethren in the Israeli government, it would somehow ruin the davening.

The average Jew is tired of this stuff already. When a Jew goes to Israel and is greeted at the airport by the sign, Bruchim Habaim L’eretz Yisrael, his heart soars. When he enters Yerushalayim and sees the beautiful floral arrangement spelling out Bruchim Habaim LiYerushalayim, and sees the Old City and the Kotel, his heart is torn with emotion. When he sees young soldiers guarding the streets with dangerous weapons, the same age as our kids, who are often roaming the pizza shops, he is amazed at the level of responsibility and maturity they have achieved at such a young age. When he sees how advanced the country has become technologically, such that it exports its know-how all over the world, in areas such as military technology, water management, agriculture, medicine, electronics, software, and nanotechnology, his heart bursts with pride. When he realizes that there is freedom to set up as many shuls and yeshivos as he pleases, without any fear of pogroms or anti-Semitism, he is overjoyed and dumbfounded that for the first time in 2,000 years, this is possible.

Medinas Yisrael is the biggest berachah the Jews have received since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

Now we run into a problem. When somebody tells us that daas Torah is opposed to this, or that the founders of the state were wrong, or bad people, or that we should not say the tefillah for the Medinah, should not celebrate Yom HaAtzamaut, should not sing Hatikvah, should not stand for the memorial sirens on Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaShoah, the average Jew becomes rather confused and torn, with his heart telling him one thing, and all kinds of yeshivishe propaganda that has been drummed into his head telling him another thing.

A little while ago, there was a picture on the front page of the 5TJT of a young child hugging his father’s grave at the military cemetery. The father died so we can enjoy the freedom and the shuls, yeshivos, and mekomos hakedoshim of Eretz Yisrael that we now have. Can chareidim not give this poor child respect for two minutes and stand still while he cries? How dare any leader not emphasize basic decency in his yeshiva.

When a frum IDF soldier is stoned and rained with trash when he enters Meah Shearim, the rest of the country is sickened. We often hear that it is one meshugeneh. Totally wrong. When verbal violence is preached at the top levels, physical violence results at the lower levels.

All the chesed that the chareidim do, while certainly well appreciated (as it is here in the Five Towns, as well), it doesn’t come to a drop in the ocean of the chesed that the Medinah does. The chareidim may provide transportation, food, or advice to people in need of medical treatment.

But who provides the hospitals, medical training, medicines, instruments, research, universities where training and innovation is carried out, and roads to transport the patients and medicines, etc. They also pay for the care, to begin with.

The chareidim give generously to the poor, but how many mouths does the government of Israel feed? Who ensures that the economy runs smoothly, that there is electricity, and engineering training to design a power grid, and water, and chemists who know how to test its safety? Who protects this vast infrastructure, and provides army personnel to stand watch day and night? The Medinah dwarfs all chesed organizations put together. Where is the hakaras hatov?

The klal craves achdus and warmth. The constant anti-Zionist propaganda spewed forth by chareidim is causing giyul nefesh (utter disgust) in me and many of my chaveirim who learned in chareidi yeshivos, not to mention the chilonim themselves.

Rabbi Ginzberg asks why there is a reduction in respect for gedolim. Well, Sunday following parashas Korach there was a massive demonstration where two warring brothers found that they don’t hate each other more than anything else in the world, as previously believed. It turned out that they hate the State of Israel even more. And the entire ideology is based on some obscure aggadeta (Shalosh Shevuos) not brought down in any of the classic codifiers, which is itself based on a verse in Tanach, from which we don’t generally derive halacha, anyway. Incidentally, a possible message of the Shalosh Shevuos is not to rebel against one’s hosts, out of derech eretz. Would that, perhaps, be applicable as well to Jewish hosts, or are they less deserving than King Henry VIII or Queen Isabella? This movement often resorts to outright lies, such as that the Zionists colluded with the Nazis, when letters have recently become available that Ben Gurion begged the British government to allow Jewish fighters to go to Europe to fight the Nazis. They also claim that enormous numbers of Jews have died as a result of the Medinah, when the number is 25,000 in 150 years, far less than in many other similar eras in Jewish history.

Another rav Rabbi Ginzberg is fond of quoting spewed forth the same type of anti-Zionist vitriol for years. One can open up a book of his transcribed speeches in English. This same rav also founded new political parties. One would think some important ideology was at stake. But it was his dislike of a certain rebbe. For some unknown reason, despite this rebbe’s incredible erudition, breadth, and kindness to all segments, this rav considered the rebbe to be inferior to himself. He disliked that rebbe so much that when that rebbe’s wife passed away, he told other rabbanim not to pay a shivah call. The klal is mortified and tired of this. These types of things have led to a weakening of faith in daas Torah.

Is it telling that the preceding two-brother chassidic movement, and the preceding rav’s yeshiva are now both torn asunder by internal machlokes?

Walls have had to be built and smoke bombs have been thrown in the beis medrash of one of the world’s most prestigious yeshivas in Israel. Midah kneged midah? Perhaps. But maybe just the natural progression of things.

When multiple generations have been raised on hatred and sinas chinam, the imbibed hatred is then used on each other, as well.

A few years ago, there was a major chinuch protest demonstration, with all chareidim in Israel urging their followers to attend. What was the issue?

The Israeli government was upset that a certain school was separating the Sephardic girls from the Ashkenazic girls by means of a fence in the middle of the school building, and down the middle of the playground.

Personally, even if a thousand gedolim held a demonstration with a million followers urging people to be cruel to young Sephardic girls, I would follow my heart and simply ignore it, and instead welcome them with open arms. The hamon am is disgusted.

Torah has become an exercise in mental gymnastics, with the primary message being ignored. When Rebbe Akiva said that v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha is klal gadol baTorah, he meant it. It supersedes all other considerations. Am I ignoring or denigrating daas Torah? I hope not. Rabbi Ginzberg has mentioned on more than one occasion the importance of keeping mesorah. There is one mesorah we have which is even older than the mesorah of learning—by about 500 years. It is the mesorah of chesed. It was taught by Avraham Avinu. When three individuals who he actually thought were idol worshippers (see Rashi) showed up at his door, he did not spit, as some chareidim now do, at priests of other religions. Rather, he served them a delicious meal and gave them a place to rest, before sending them on their way. Chesed comes before ideology.

When Avraham was told that anshei Sdom were going to be punished, he didn’t smirk that they deserved it, but he screamed to the Ribbono Shel Olam, “Hashofet kol ha’aretz lo ya’aseh mishpat!?” Will the judge of the entire world not do justice!? He was our father, and the father of all peoples of the world. Av hamon goyim.

One of the speakers mentioned that we are experiencing a war against Torah Judaism, an oft-heard refrain of the last hundred years, that the chilonim and Zionists are aiming to destroy Torah and see the chareidim as its symbol. This is needlessly inflammatory (but admittedly effective as a way to rally the troops) and simply false. Reb Aryeh Levine dressed chareidi.

Yet the Knesset dedicated a special day in his honor and made a special plaque which was awarded to him in a major presentation. He worked with all his might to help the fighters in the early days before the state.

After davening, he walked tens of miles on Shabbos to the prisoners in jail to tell the families how their loved ones were doing. He cried out on Rosh Hashanah, mentioning each by name, when they were sentenced to the gallows. The chilonim recognized that he loved them with all of his pure heart. The chilonim, in turn, loved him with all of theirs. If we acted like Reb Aryeh, and gave the chilonim the slightest bit of hakaras hatov and warmth and appreciation for the amazing achievement they accomplished (bsiyata deshmaya), not just as a condescending ruse to be mekarev them, but with a sincere and full understanding of the miracle they created and the intense effort they put in; and if we offered to move our yeshivos to the army bases to keep them company in times of war and be mechazek them with kindness; and if we stopped our foolish and angry (and baseless) rhetoric, they would never think of drafting a single yeshiva bachur. We have only ourselves to blame for this miserable situation. Let us try to rectify it before things get worse.

For now we need to know that there is nothing more to Yiddishkeit than simple kindness and mutual love and respect. In the words of Hillel, idach perusha hi—all else is just commentary. Perhaps it is not the chilonim who have gone off the derech. Perhaps it is us. I am not rejecting daas Torah, rather I am relying on the daas Torah of Reb Aryeh Levine which goes straight back to Avraham Avinu.

The author may be reached at bdj@alum.mit.edu.

Chacham Ovadya, Efshar Livrurei!


I read some disturbing words allegedly by Chacham Ovadya in his weekly sermon. His sermons have been controversial, however, when he makes statements based on hearsay, statements of a serious nature which seem to allege that Rav Stav, one of the candidates for Chief Rabbi, is evil, then I look to try to understand.

Unfortunately, I have failed to understand, even in the context of a politically charged atmosphere influencing these words.

  1. If you really care, and you are worried about the future leadership of the State from a Rabbinic perspective, and you hear that a candidate is God forbid “Not God-fearing“, then find out for yourself. Before you go off demonising such a person further, why not invite Rav Stav over for an hour’s shmuess. See what you can discern with your own very learned brain.
  2. If the criteria for a Rabbi being unacceptable is that “even” the “seculars” like him, then I’m afraid this is nothing more than that incredible Chillul Hashem that those who were opposed to Rav Kook ז’ל are guilty of. Au contraire, if the not yet frum, like a proposed Chief Rabbi, and he is (which he is) a Yorei Shomayim who has respect for Mesora etc this is the biggest positive that one can imagine in our Rabbi-spited society, where websites (such as Scott Rosenberg’s horrid site) specialise in minutely extracting every single foible or worse committed by a frum person and highlighting them in bold to besmirch Yahadus as a primary aim.

A symptom of one of the things very wrong with our society is the speed with which we condemn without checking further; public comments that should be carefully considered by a Manhig of the status as Chacham Ovadya; and the dreaded power of Askanim—the political appartchiks—both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, who relish feeding exaggerated fodder to enrage Manhigim and mislead them. The latter are quite literally infracting “Lo Siten Michshol” …. don’t put a stumbling block before the blind.

All that aside, an authentic Manhig, will not allow themselves to be swayed by politically charged, second-hand, exaggerated information.

Invite him over for a cup of tea!

פוק חזי

The good work of Rabbis is often invisible


The reality is that newspapers and reporters are seemingly more likely to report and aggrandise horror stories and mistakes than they are to report excellent outcomes and outstanding effort, especially when it comes to Orthodox Rabbinic work. Sure, if a philanthropist donates money, they will report that as a big story with a nice picture spread. You won’t, however, find the headline on the front cover

“Reform rabbi speaks in favour of the anti-zionist BDS-supporting AJDS”

The “passionate” support of the Reform rabbi happened. It was mentioned in an article about the meeting of the ECAJ. I’d suggest such a view and display of passion has bigger ramifications for the reform movement and the opinion of many Jews than a Zablo that was screwed up and set aside by a NSW court. We should have had a transcript of what she had said.

As Rabbis Ullman and Moshe Gutnick noted in their letters to the Australian Jewish News, the focus on positive work and outcomes of Orthodox Rabbis seems to occupy no space in the AJN.

I wonder how the left-wing, and Limmud Oz supporters would react if it was suggested that they invite the following Neturei Karta people to speak about why we should be appeasing Ahmadinajad and dismantle the State in favour of Palestinian Arabs. After all, it’s all about tolerance, diversity and giving everyone a fair go to express their views?

No, Limmud Oz wouldn’t ever invite Neturei Karta, even remotely by video conference. Why not? I wonder if the AJDS would support them being invited? I imagine they would. After all, democracy is their religion. And yet, Limmud Oz invited Slezak! I don’t see much difference. In retrospect, there is a significant difference. Slezak is taken more seriously, especially by the young and green, and the young and green are mainly behind Limmud Oz.

People like Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, principal of Bialik College in Melbourne, writing in an article in the Australian Jewish News that amounts to a whitewash of a serious error by Limmud Oz in inviting Slezak, should now support Neturei Karta using his own arguments. Would Stowe-Lindner also use an error of inviting Neturei Karta to promote his agenda of sidelining denominational issues to the category of personally baked pareve cheese cake?

I know of recent cases where the Victorian Rabbinate, through the Beth Din, have solved very serious and long running cases of recalcitrant husbands not giving a Get. Was that a front page story? Heck, no.

It’s also the Rabbinate’s fault. They need a PR person in this day and age. In addition, they should have supplied statistics about the number of mediations they have overseen over the last few years which have been successful and not been challenged and compare those with  secular mediations and arbitrations that have been challenged.

No, you won’t see any of this in our Australian Jewish News. They are in the business of selling papers, and horror stories especially about Orthodoxy are better.

[AJDS really should rename themselves ADJS because I struggle to find Judaism in their politics. Left-wing democracy would seem to be their religion.]

Frum and the not yet frum: Separate or Join?


A powerful set of questions are raised in an article titled “Maybe the Secular Are Right?” that was published this winter in the Haredi Kikar Hashabbat, Rabbi Bloch (who is the Head of Nachal Charedi, and a Ram and Rosh Kollel) asks: “Why is it so common for Haredi pundits and public figures to pin the motives for secular hatred against Haredim only on the formers’ bad qualities, their emptiness, anti-Semitism and the ignorant man’s hatred for the scholar? And another question we should ask ourselves is whether, sometimes, the value benefits from this conduct or another are worth the consequent heavy price of hilul Hashem (desecration of the Holy Name).

1. We’ve chosen, for understandable educational reasons, to withdraw and live in exclusively Haredi cities and neighborhoods, avoiding as much as possible any social contact with the secular.

This is legitimate and understandable, but as a result they don’t really know us, amd so they naturally view us as bizarre, in our manner of dress, our behavior, and our language. This creates aversion and alienation. Why, then, we are angry at them for treating us this way?

2. We chose, for educational reasons—although some of us really believe it—to teach our children that all secular Israelis are sinners, vacuous, with no values, and corrupt.

This could possibly be a legitimate view, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular, in return, teach their own children that the Haredim are all primitive, with outdated and despicable values?

3. We have chosen, for the sake of the preservation of Torah in Israel, to prevent our sons from participating in carrying the heavy burden of security, and instead tasked them with learning Torah.

Of course we could not give that up, but why are we outraged and offended when the secular, who do not recognize nor understand this need—or rather most of them are familiar with the issue, but argue that there should be quotas—see us as immoral, and some despise us as a result?

4. We chose for our sons who do not belong, by their personal inclination or learning skills to the group of Torah scholars (Yeshiva bums and worse), to also evade enlistment—including into perfectly kosher army units. And when it comes to the individuals who have joined the Haredi Nahal, we do not praise them, but despise them instead, and we certainly show them no gratitude, while the Haredi press ignores them—in the best case.

Why, then, are we outraged when the secular don’t believe our argument, that the purpose of keeping yeshiva students from enlisting, is to maintain Torah study and not simply the Haredim’s unwillingness to bear the burden?

5. We chose to teach our children not to work for a living, and to devote all their time to Torah study. Clear enough, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular—who do not consider Torah study an all encompassing value—feel that we are an economic burden on their necks, as a mere 38% of us take part in the labor force, and they hate us for it.

6. We chose not to teach our children any labor skills, and we condemn those who do pursue a profession. As a result our kolelim include all of those who do not belong among the scholars and still prefer not to work for a living.

Why, then, do we complain when the secular feel, and say so with an increasing volume, that we are parasites, living off of their efforts?

7. We chose (for educational considerations?) not to educate our children to show gratitude to the soldiers who risked their lives and were killed or injured for our sake, too. So we do not mention them in any way by any special day or prayer or special Mishna learning that’s dedicated to their memory. Moreover, not a single Mashgiach or Rosh Yeshiva ever talks about it in a Mussar Schmooze, and you’ll find no mention of it in the Haredi press.

Why, then, are we surprised that the secular feel that we are ungrateful and despicable, and that the reason for our not enlisting is simply because we are parasites, living off the sacrifices of others in society?

8. When extremist, delusional groups behave in ways that besmirch the name of God—e.g. the spitting in Beit Shemesh, dancing during the memorial siren, burning the national flag—our rabbis chose not to condemn them, clearly and consistently ( except for a few faint statements here and there). Why, then, are we explaining away the fact that the secular believe we all support those terrible acts? Why do we insist that their hostility stems from their hatred of the scholars?

9. We’ve opted to allow our public officials and pundits to curse out all the secular all the time. Why, then, when the secular media treat us the same way, are we offended and cry out that they’re persecuting us?

10. The Haredi press will never offer any praise of or express support for secular Israelis who perform good deeds. Why, then, do we jump up and down when we are rewarded equally? And, in fact, while Haredi spokespersons rarely point anything positive about secular society, the secular media often gives positive coverage to Haredi organizations like Yad Sara, Hatzala, Zaka, etc.

11. We would not agree, under any condition, that secular Israelis turn up in our schools to teach our children heresy, and we would have kept them from putting up stands with books of heresy in our areas. Why, then, do we not understand when the secular do not agree that we seduce her children into denying their parents’ heresy?

12. We do not agree—in my view, rightfully so—that secular people move into Haredi neighborhoods. So where do we get the arrogance and audacity to call anti-Semites those secular who don’t agree that Haredim move near their homes, in secular neighborhoods?

Where Rabbi Manis Friedman got it wrong


There is a controversy regarding comments over the Rabbinic role in helping a victim of molestation, made in a lecture by Rabbi Manis.

I disagree with Rabbi Harry Maryles’s take as described in the above link. If you watch the video alone, without knowing what he said in the first audio recording linked there, I don’t think there is anything objectionable in the video per se (viewed alone). The audio of the first lecture is another thing, however.

It is true that the “role” of the Rabbi must be different to a psychologist. It is true that Rabbis should not assume the role of police or psychologist. The Rabbi (here I assume Friedman means the pulpit or town Rabbi, as opposed to the Rabbinic member of a Beis Din or a Rosh Yeshivah both of whom generally don’t deal with a particular community or its membership in this way) needs to deal with the victim vis-a-vis stressing and fortifying their status as a valued member of Klal Yisrael. The victim’s membership, under such circumstances is inviolate and axiologically grounded. The central issue to me is how you communicate this fact and serve to intercept the sense of possible alienation a victim may feel.

Rabbi Manis’s audio presentation does this in a crass and unrealistic manner. It assumes that a person will feel alienated more by the fact that they have been the victim of a crime whose perpetrator’s punishment is Kores as opposed to say Malkus. In my opinion, this is a nonsense and is a most unsophisticated metric for measuring such factors. The Chacham, wise person, has eyes in his head. He observes, tailors, and reacts according to what he sees. Surprisingly to me, Rabbi Manis is a Chabadnik. Of all people, they are expert in stressing the inherent holiness of the soul, asserting that it can be found in every Jew, and are experienced in helping remove the “layers” of baggage of many varieties which may cloud the vision and experiential manifestation of this soul. Instead, Rabbi Manis, in the audio version, sounds like an old-fashioned, fire and brimstone, B’aal Mussar. Sure, there was a time where you could scare or influence someone to repent based on the technical halachic severity of the sin. Sure, there may have been a time where you could convince a certain type of victim in a certain era that the technico/halachic punishment of what had been perpetrated wasn’t as “severe”, say, as a crime deserving of the death penalty.

No, the approach, ironically, ought to be to give strength by stressing the positive contribution that even continued orthopraxic practice can serve. Importantly, it may well also be beyond the Rabbi. A given community (Kehila) can quickly undo even the appropriate response and support of a Rabbi.

If I was Rabbi Manis, I would apologise, and stress that his words and argument were not formulated in an acceptable manner, and stick to the thoughts that he expressed in the video. Even if he isn’t an official spokesman for Chabad, he’s considered important enough to be ascribed such attention. If he apologised, he’d be no less a person. In fact, he’d come across as more human and thereby more equipped to help people using his undeniable God-given gifts.

We all make mistakes and express ourselves poorly. It seems it’s harder though to admit when we do.

With whom do you share more commonality?


Picture the scene. It’s Yeshivat Hat Etzion, known as the “Harvard’ of the Yeshivot Hesder in Israel. It is considered somewhat more ‘liberal’ than the more mainstream/right-wing Kerem B’Yavneh or Sha’alavim. The Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Aron Lichtenstein, a son-in-law of the Rav ז’ל knows Shas off by heart and is a tremendous Talmid Chacham, but he has a PhD in English Literature from Harvard. It’s a press conference, and someone asks R’ Aron

“Who do you have more in common with: the Jew from Meah Shearim or the Jew from North Tel Aviv”

R’ Aron answers quickly:

The Jew from Meah Shearim

I’d like to ask the question now of a new Rosh Yeshiva. Let’s take a Rosh Yeshivah from Benei Berak or Kiryat Sefer or Meah Shearim. If they were asked

With whom do you share more in common: the Dati Leumi (Nationalistic Religious) Jew or the secular Jew from North Tel Aviv

What would they answer? In case you are thinking they would be likely to say the Dati Leumi Jew, consider that in the binary system of many (most) Charedim, the Dati Leumi person is considered an apostate as well, on account of his/her “krum” (crooked) views and Halachic/Hashkafic approach.

And yes, I realise that if you asked a Chabadnik or a Breslover the question, they would likely answer

We love all Jews the same. They were all created in the image of Hashem and have a Chelek Eloka Mima’al (a piece of God, so to speak).