Alex Fein is defamatory; so what’s news?

  1. I never knew her husband prayed at Emmy Monash before the question was asked
  2. I was approached by the Rabbi of that institution, to ask a revered Modern Orthodox Rabbi (not Chareidi or Chabad) to get an unbiased view given the Rabbi was Chabad (I’m not, of course) but I happened to be learning Torah close to that Rabbi for a few months and he knew I regularly was in touch with Rav Schachter based on other discussions that arose daily. Rav Schachter was not told any names as it is not relevant and in fact, it wasn’t the only question asked. Rav Schachter was quick and firm in his response (he’d obviously come across it). Guess what? Mizrachi had this same Psak from their Rabbi at the time (no, not Rabbi Sprung) about a different functionary, so it’s hardly a new issue.
  3. There is no line about female circumcision and is just some inflammatory nonsense from someone purposefully deflecting from the issue because she has been exposed. She also knows that what I was asking her, was about whether should she should have a SON and whether she would offer the choice of him having a circumcision or she would force him, like the fundamentalist she accuses me, and my Rabbi and others to be, and have it at eight days. I simply noted that she didn’t have to face that question because she has only females to date. It is rather sick to contort that in the way that she has, but on the other hand, it is revealing, because anyone normal can read what she has written and seen what I have written and see immediately the falsehood she spreads.
  4. Alex is ageist. That is clear in her response as sent to me by someone.
  5. She wouldn’t have a clue, but I visited old people in those homes every week for over two decades (they are dead now), so don’t think I’m some person who hangs around with youngsters like Alex only.
  6. Frankly, if she wants to defame me in public and get excited about that, good luck to her. I am not responding to her gutter sniping, foul language, and lies.

Ho Hum. Take a Bex and lie down for a rest Alex.

Oh Yvonne Fein, you can do a lot better better than that pithy response

Someone just sent me your response to what I wrote. (I will reproduce it below) I understand that a mother, like a lion, looks after her cubs; one has a natural inclination to protect, but I can assure you that:

a) It didn’t take me long to write; and

b) I have read gone with the wind; and

c) I have four University degrees, including a PhD, so please don’t place me in your preconceived bed pan of medieval street sweepers; and

d) I have met you and found you pleasant and have actually written a piece in Generation which I believe you were involved with; and

e) A cousin of Yaron is a cousin of mine.

If you want to argue facts or claim I have been unkind, then I’m all ears.

Failing that, enjoy your Matza Balls (if you are allowed them … I have to wait till the last day)

My goodness, Cousin of Yaron. It was such a pleasure to read your response to Alex’s post. The fact that it was only slightly shorter than “Gone With the Wind” (that’s a secular book you may have been forbidden to read) is a clear indicator of how much you respect her thoughts and ideas. Taking so
much time to reply – and I’m a writer so I know these things -must have
taken you hours. We are indeed privileged to share your acumen and erudition. I hope there’s more on the way. Also, if you feel compelled to reply, please know that I will not re-engage. I’ve said my piece.
(Disclosure: I am Mother of Alex.)

Sigh. Another nihilist post from Alex Fein

I need to start with the disclaimer. I bear no personal antipathy towards Alex. She is married to my cousin Yaron Gottlieb, and I remember their wedding fondly (the band in particular were incredible).

I’ve been busy of late, involved in matters that rather wouldn’t have required my attention. Such is life. Today, however, I received an email  (allegedly) being an article just written by Alex. I don’t feel an imperative to read Galus Australis given the stack of things I haven’t read next to my bed. (I was chuffed to see its roots though included the daughter of a colleague of mine, Dr Ron Sacks-Davis. Ron is a mild-mannered lovely person who recruited me to RMIT more years ago than I care to admit.

I read a few lines of Alex’s alleged comments and saw that it involved my Rav Hamuvhak (my primary Rabbi and teacher), the world-renowned Halachic Decisor for the OU (currently the only Halachic Consultant since Rav Belsky’s recent passing), the Rabbi of the Rabbis of the Rabbinic Council of America, someone who just celebrated 50 years as a Rosh Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel at Yeshivah University, who has a degree in Science, the youngest Rosh Yeshivah appointed by Yeshivah University, the brilliant Rabbi who could recall just about every word he heard from his teacher, the enormous father of Centrist Orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז׳ל. More recently, three of his books have been published where he recounts the Mesora, approach and words that he heard either with his own ears, or from someone else (always naming his source). He also had a serious of Halachic treatises. One includes his decision that it is forbidden according to Halacha to return parts of Israel. No doubt, that of itself would be something that Alex would not accept, though she could not build a counter halachic argument, despite frequenting partnership minyanim which seek to raise the prominence of women in all facets of Judaism (perhaps with the exception of circumcision, although I suspect Alex might be against it because the male child hasn’t been asked whether they actually want it). Alex and Yaron now have two charming daughters.

I have a copy of every book that Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter has written. Steve Jobs can be credited with introducing me, and even forcing me (due to a bluetooth firmware bug in some 3rd party radios used in today’s cars) to listen to my iPhone in the car for some 40 minutes each day driving to works and then back. I’m sorry I was using green house gasses, however, I was fulfilling כיבוד אב ואם. I now use more green house gasses, via the public tram system, but let’s not go there.

Despite being a musician for longer than I’ve been an academic, the only song that might be on my iPhone at a given moment is one I need to learn for a wedding and require a refresher. 99.9% of the 128 Gigabytes, yes, Gigabytes, contain Torah Shiurim. Due to the bug in the blue tooth, as soon as I turn the car on, a random Shiur starts (or sometimes the Shiur I was listening to resumes). I just checked my iTunes list and found that I had downloaded locally 1000 Shiurim. If one visits yu.org, which is one of the biggest sanctifications of God’s name, one finds that Rav Schachter has 4,880 Shiurim. Now Alex is good with her pen (although I find her descent into profanities unbecoming and bordering on unfitting illiterate Bogan culture, let alone something that is forbidden by the Judaism that Alex loves (even by “non” fundamentalists).

My first question is, how many of the published 4,880 Shiurim of Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter, has Alex listened to? I would venture to say that two digits would be a stretch. As such, her personal exposure to his style, character, integrity, let alone his learning and dignity, is approaching ZERO.

My next question is, how many of Rav Schachter’s Seforim has Alex learned or studied with or without someone. Again, I venture to say none given that since they don’t seem to fall under the rubric of a quote from Wikipedia (I got a shock when I saw she has an entry)

In one article, a conservative community activist whom she had criticised accused her of an ‘evidence-light prosecutorial indictment of the community.’ Fein responded to this criticism by saying that it was this very style of argument that was driving away an entire generation of young Jews.

Fein, for example is certainly unaware that Rav Schachter is the Halachic authority that is relied upon by a movement which rallies against outing men (not sure if they are involved in women not accepting a Gett) and putting them under pressure, demonstrations etc. I will leave Alex to find out about that. Rav Schachter, though, doesn’t do things because he thinks they sit well with his “feelings”. He does them because Halacha and his feelings coincide, with the former being the last words. He is afraid of nobody and states his opinion without fear or favour.

My next question to Alex is how many times she has spoken to Rav Schachter?  I speak to him semi-regularly. I gather the questions that I have (which are not klotz kashes) and late in the evening in New York he always takes my call, and did so the first time without knowing me from a herring. He speaks with incredible humility and I have never, I repeat, never, heard a Rav say “I don’t know”, as often as I hear Rav Schachter say that in Shiurim, and sometimes on the phone. So Alex, being such an accomplished writer and journalist would you like to ring him cold and ask him your questions? You might want to read him one of your diatribes where you state

For some reason, I consent to be a part of a congregation that does not count me as an adult human.

Only adult men can form the quorum required for certain prayers. Every time I set foot in my synagogue or participate in Orthodox Jewish life, I leave my civil society feminism at the door and therefore comply with something that erases a massive part of myself.

There are plenty of rabbis prepared to insult our intelligence. They’ll tell us that all the things women cannot do in Orthodoxy—bearing witness and initiating divorce being two of the biggest—are simply because women are more spiritual than men and should not have to dirty themselves with… what? Real life and power, among other things.

How can I consent to this oppression in any intellectually honest way and still call myself a feminist?

Alex, maybe you can’t call yourself a feminist. Instead, try Jewish Orthodox person, and learn from prime sources. You do know that Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Schachter’s prime teacher encouraged women to study the Torah including the Talmud. Undoubtedly you also know that Rav Moshe Feinstein z’l explicitly forbade anything that remotely smelled of feminism. I’m not sure why that defines you more than Judaism? Does it?

By the way, just to set the record straight if you may have received the message incorrectly: Rav Schachter ruled that any functionary of a partnership prayer group, should be banned from leading services in an Orthodox Shule. Now this was one of a batch of questions on my list to ask. A number of Rabbis know that I have access to Rav Schachter, and they ask me to ask him a question on their behalf. And no, they don’t always like the answers. The issue of your own husband not being permitted to be a functionary, is an outcome of that halachic decision. It was not initiated by me in any way whatsoever. I’m sure it gnaws at you though, incessantly.

Okay, let me now get to your article Alex. You are an intelligent girl, and I know you mean well and I have zero negativity towards you.

My comments in response to your prose will be in red

Good morning kvetchers.
There’s a rabbinic shit fight* going on that we all need to pay attention to, even those of us who are not Orthodox or have no interest in religion.**

Dear Alex, we don’t use words like that. Get a thesaurus. They are online. Furthermore, we certainly don’t have to pay attention to it when we haven’t got the foggiest idea what is behind it.
This fight represents a broader struggle for the soul of our worldwide community.

Alex, your knowledge, or should I say complete ignorance of Rav Schachter is showing ingloriously. This has nothing to do with the soul, nothing to do with the worldwide community. Rav Schachter happens to have definitional and methodological problems with the other Rabbi, and feels very strongly about those, in the same way that his teacher Rav Soloveitchik felt about Reform and Conservative, and how his approach decimated their charlatan forms of our religion.

It is a clear cut case of fundamentalist intolerance versus moderate reason.

Define your terms please Alex. What is a fundamentalist? Someone who ascribes to the Rambam’s 13 fundamentals or the 620 Mitzvos, 613 +7. And who in God’s name or his writings defines moderation as being abandoning fundamentals. You really can’t write cheap one liners like that. You are more intelligent than to descend into the one line headline grabbers of the Greens.
This fight has material implications for our collective long term future because of the current Orthodox stranglehold in Israel and over many communities, (including Australia) regarding personal status (who is a Jew, agunot, etc.)
It has personal ramifications for Orthodox, frum women like me who have felt asphyxiated by rabbinic irrationality and abrogations of historicity.

Can you please give us examples of your eruditely researched Rabbinic Irrationality. Without it, your statement is vacuous despite its clarion call to history.
What started with Rabbi Herscel Schacter – a major (fundamentalist) figure at Yeshiva Uni – tearing down the posters advertising a lecture by a rigorous but moderate rabbi, Aryeh Klapper, is transforming into a very exciting story.

Hmmm, we don’t know what fundamentalist means, but Alex has crowned Rav Schachterwith the term; someone who ordains Rabbis after a four year course fir the last 50 years! (give me a call Alex, I will tell you some of the fantastic innovations they have there which are being introduced elsewhere). 

The Rabbi Klapper incident is a Machlokes L’Shem Shomayim. Rav Schachter will have his reasons, and they will be most cogently argued as to why he doesn’t think Rabbi Klapper isn’t following Mesora and thereby should not speak at YU. To be honest, it doesn’t even interest me. That Rav Schachter took off the posters? Big deal. He felt it was a Bizayon HaTorah. 

But you know Alex, there is a thing called Divine Providence, which doesn’t have a special relationship with feminism or fundamentalism. I hopped into my car tonight to get home. As I mentioned above, a random Shiur started. Guess what, the Shiur was from Torahweb.org (he has Shiurim there and elsewhere as well) and the speaker was Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter. Guess what his topic was? “Why are Jews so intolerant”. He dissected the issue nicely, and I urge you to find it (I will send it if you can’t) and you will find a man who has one thing greater than his learning. His Middos. He is one of the most self-effacing humble people I have met, and he is the real thing.

This now about Orthodox Jews saying to a cabal of intolerant rabbis: enough!

Do me a favour the new Victorian Rabbinate Leadership is hardly a cabal let alone intolerant. You’ve been accused before for making statements without back up. You have done so again. If you were my student, I’d give you zero for that statement. It’s just an attack.

You do not have a hotline to God that you can steamroll opposition to your dystopian, misogynist, racist, and homophobic view of our religion.

Alex, are you working for Richard Di Natale? You have simply trotted out a series of “modern” slogans and have not linked them to an allegation that you made. It does not become someone of your intelligence to descend into cheap sloganeering.

Some important points:

The rabbi tearing down the posters, Rabbi Schacter, is considered by many a giant of Torah learning.

You can say, He IS a giant of Torah learning. The world knows that. He is a prodigy.

.He has, however, an unfortunate world view. He famously told a group of rabbis that informing the police of child rape would endanger the rapist by placing him “in a cell with a shvartze, in a cell with a Muslim, a black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

You and the forward are so damned misinformed. You take the quote and you don’t actually listen to his Halachic analysis which is valid and in-depth. Rav Schachter actually says that they must be reported to the police, however, he raised the halachic issue of sending someone to the type of prison which is against the Torah (e.g., where they get raped and beaten up). He suggested the Prison System needs to be reformed. There you go Alex, how about taking that on. I think they should be reported and if found guilty go to prison, but I do not think it is halachically (or morally) correct that they are subject to rape, and sticks up their behinds, and beatings. Do you? 

http://forward.com/…/yeshiva-condemns-offensive-racial-rem…/

. Schachter also believes women have *zero* role in public life *at all*. He doesn’t just oppose women’s ordination; he opposes their presence as public figures full stop.

You’ve dropped his title and simplified the issue to a two liner. He has many Shiurim on this topic where he dissects Rishonim and Acharonim. This isn’t about a western line of equality nor is it about sticking to medieval practices. It is about interpreting Halacha for our times. Let me remind you, Rabbi Schachter is exactly that-the biggest Talmid Chacham in Centrist/Modern Orthodoxy. Guess what Alex. His wife has Shiurim on yutorah.org (heaven forbid!) You really have zero idea and just shoot with no bullets in your pop gun.

.Rabbi Klapper is a straight down the line Modern Orthodox rabbi who sees a need to balance rigorous adherence to law with intelligent interpretations of that law. He is sympathetic to women’s desires not to be marginalised.

I’m not going to argue with you. I don’t know Rabbi Klapper from a bar of soap. However, Rav Schachter certainly knows his methodologies

https://docs.google.com/…/1EIgABKi2t9KS84yiJSHwpvkpbuz…/edit

. He is also someone who pauses from discussion of Halachic minutiae to think about other crucial, practical things impacting Jewish life, such as the cost of school fees

Are you just bigoted? This morning I heard a Shiur ALSO from Rav Schachter on this topic. You can call it minutiae but it is bemoaned by many and case in terms of Hilchos Tzedoko. If you like I can send you the Shiur. It was on the topic of Zikkuy HaGett but he went on a tangent (as he often does). You think these things don’t bother him and he’s only worried whether you eat Meir Rabbi’s mayonnaise for Pesach?

http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/…/the-moral-costs-of-jewis…/

So it’s not surprising that a man like Schacter is not going to like a man like Klapper.

Like? Please educate yourself. Rav Schachter would have nothing to do with notions of whether he likes or doesn’t like Rabbi Klapper. Any objection would be firmly based on Halachic principles (things you seem to love like to denigrate and call minutiae). Rav Schachter says explicitly that when two Talmidei Chachomim have sound approaches which disagree on a conclusion, both conclusions are God’s word. I heard him say that in the car this afternoon. Rav Schachter will have his reasons. He didn’t just have a 50th year celebration and Sefer Torah dedication at YU because he’s some simple-minded automaton.

It’s also not surprising that a woman like Alex who knows ZERO about the Halachic/Mesora reasons Rabbi Schachter may have against Rabbis who take certain paths (which by the way may have to do with Ben Pekuah and not women) will make such a sciolistic and ignorant Gzeira Shava.

What *is* surprising, is that Schacter thought it was appropriate to refer to Klapper as an apostate and crazy person, when Schachter was asked why he ripped down posters advertising Klapper’s lecture.

Rav Schachter’s words are a matter of conjecture, as I expect you know by now. He can sometimes use inflamed expression. On the other hand, if he really believed Rabbi Klapper was an Apikorus (which you aren’t) he would be able to explain why but no doubt do that behind the closed doors of the RCA. He has a right to deny certain speakers, or do you deny him that too?

Schachter also said inviting Klapper to speak was as bad as inviting a Reform rabbi.

He uses that analogy all the time. It means, it’s as bad as inviting someone who doesn’t display fidelity to Mesorah and makes Judaism fit their world view and not the other way around.

I don’t know about you, but I’m personally thoroughly sick and tired of this disgusting attitude to people who have different religious beliefs.

I know a few Doctors if you are “thoroughly sick” but I suggest you educate yourself so that you don’t sit like one of the four daughters at the Pesach table.

I’m sick of bullies in positions of rabbinic power.

You mean people who said your husband’s involvement with partnership services is not kosher? It wasn’t my question, but I most certainly accept the answer, especially in Melbourne where many of the women eat out, and don’t keep many basic Mitzvos, but demand “a pulpit” to expectorate from (unlike the Jerusalem chapter where those women are consistently frum.

I’m sick of rabbis who hate women; who are openly racist; who think it’s OK to protect child rapists.

So am I, but I don’t know any now in Victoria.

. I’m sick of these men deciding on matters crucial to the future of our people.

If they were women, you’d feel better?

But this whole episode has a very, very bright side: I had never heard of Klapper before this incident, and neither had a lot of other people.

And how many of his shiurim have you listened to now? You should start by calling him Rabbi Klapper, otherwise we may need to resort to calling you Rebbetzin Gottlieb.

Schachter’s disgusting behaviour has done the exact opposite of what he intended: it has introduced us to a great Jewish thinker of our time.

Well go and ask Rabbi Klapper about Melbourne’s partnership services. One look at that service and it would not surprise me that he will be on a flight out.

This is not to say I agree with everything I’ve read (to date) of Klapper’s opinions. But his reason, rigour and blatant decency are so refreshing.

So is the furious response from young people who are enraged that Schachter tried to shut Klapper down. This whole incident makes me more optimistic than I have been for a while.

Young people? You think older people defer to the old sage. Oh boy, you have zero idea. Rav Schachter’s knowledge is idealised by boys of 18-24. Y.U. has a left wing and Commentary can easily inflame a situation, better than you can.

PS. You aren’t young anymore, Alex.

Great, I hope you have a nice Seder

We are just at the beginning of all of this.

I’m excited.

I hope you are too.

Well no doubt you will regale both sedarim with fantastics divrei torah devoid of politics, sensationalism, and various modern appendages.

***

*It must be emphasised that the fight is very one sided. Klapper, as far as I know, has not engaged in any way. It is just Schacter calling him an apostate.

You could learn to spell Rav Schachter’s name, especially as there are two at YU who are not related. Finally, make it you next task to try and understand exactly why Rav Schachter does not like the approach to Halacha that Rabbi Klapper utilises.

Enjoy the Charoses. I hope its consumption doesn’t offend the green emission lobby.

PS. I haven’t read this. I just typed it in in one go, so there are bound to be English errors and typos. Forgive these please.
PPS. I just got a new book on the Parsha written by one of his students. Let me know if you want to borrow it.

Dr Mark Baker and the Neturei Karta boycotters of the Left Wing

I was sent this article, written by Mark Baker, an academic at Monash University (and family friend). Mark is alleged to have posted the article below on his facebook page. I received it by email and have never visited Mark’s facebook page. My reaction, over a few days, was that we had the mirror image of the boycott tactics used by Neturei Karta against the State except unlike Neturei Karta, this wasn’t about religion (Halacha doesn’t get a guernsey in Marks article). Rather it was the exasperated groans of a left-winger indelibly married to two “states”, even if one is effectively the mamzer Amalek.

I interspersed his facebook commentary with my understanding of why some of Mark’s views are blind post-liberal, and left-wing economic terrorism. The tone sounds an awful lot like the failed rhetoric we hear from J-Street, Bernie “the shhh I’m a Yid” Sanders, American reform and the Tikun (sic.) Olamniks of this world. They stem from superimposing a left-leaning view of the world, into some plasticine-like Zionism (and Judaism) as opposed to the other way around. In the other way around, Zionism and Judaism are already defined. They react to the world. They do not metamorphose to become something else to fit into some world views.

I will variegated Mark’s emotive outbursts with a critique of his post-liberalism. The rhetoric sounds like the extreme left views we hear from J-Street and Bernie “I’m not sure if my grandchildren will even be reconstructed cultural Jews” Sanders, feel-good American Reform clergy,  and of course, the Tikun (sic) Olamniks of this world. I don’t mention the infamous Norman Finkelstein because Mark appears to be even more radical than Norman on BDS. Norman, one of many communist inventions of the Holocaust, actually opposes the very BDS that Mark claims he “quietly supports”. The left-leaning start with their vision of the Olam (world) which they conjure to appease an already morally corrupt world and then mould (sic) Judaism into having plasticine-like spinal characteristics that can be contorted any which way.

My comments are interspersed and not in italics. The original article from Mark is in italics. This should not be understood as an ad hominem attack on Mark; I’m sure he believes what he says and he is no Norman Finkelstein anymore than I am a Dershowitz or Benny Morris.

I was living in Israel in 1995 with my family. From our apartment, we could hear the crowds at Zion Square baying for Rabin’s blood, and holding up placards of the PM dressed as a Nazi and a terrorist. Bibi Netanyahu was standing on the balcony, whipping up a frenzy, which culminated in the assassination of Rabin.

Long time ago! This description is mendacious.  Both the left and the right engaged and engage in spirited demonstration, but  implicitly opening with a remark that is designed to ascribe the assassination of Rabin to Bibi is confounding and offensive, while it is woven indirectly as a deflection. Clearly  this imagery and its conclusion is out of context. It was designed to paint the entrance to the rest of the article. First, “Bibi is responsible for Rabin’s assassination”. Now we’ve got you hating him for that episode, let’s continue.

Nothing has changed about Bibi in 22 years, except that he has stood at the helm of a government that has led the country literally into a dead-end.

People who don’t change their views in the face of unchanged oppression and rejectionism should not be held to ridicule. Let’s see what else hasn’t changed in 22 years.

  1. Arafat hopelessly let his people down (apart from Mrs Arafat’s fat bank account and the years of siphoning money to his cronies and the 1 Billion spent on the 1st intifada, 1/2 of which was funded by Saudi Arabia, and the massive corruption, which makes James Packer’s gifts insignificant. Even now, it is a brave person who claims that Abbas actually distributes international money to non political causes.
  2. He had Rabin, not Bibi, and Arafat still couldn’t bring himself to sign on for a two-state solution! Wasn’t there a proposal for this in 1948 too and before that? Note: it was in Arafat’s hands; not Bibi’s. What do we learn from that? That Israel didn’t offer enough? Come now! Everyone knows that simply wasn’t true. Arafat wanted to live another day. Peace would have meant his savage opponents would lop his head off-ISIS style. In the end, I believe this is why Arafat didn’t sign. Mark, perhaps tell us why you think Arafat didn’t sign off? Was it because he was actually born in Cairo and didn’t think he had the authority. Goodness me.
  3. They still want ALL of Israel. Is anyone in any doubt? When push comes to shove, Arafat, Abbas, all of them, simply do not accept the concept that there is a distinctive JEWISH Homeland. Does Mark really believe they don’t want to push us into the sea? What does “the” occupation mean? Mahmoud “Holocaust denier” Abbas, calls the idea of a Jewish Homeland “Racist”. A Chutzpa. Let him try to live in Jordan where most of his DNA-brethren live and where his genome is found.  Perhaps he’d like Saudi Arabia or Yemen; maybe Syria?
  4. Post-holocaust, especially, endangering Israeli sovereignty is not negotiable. Not 22 years ago, while Mark sat on balconies sipping coffee, and not now. Since most Arabs still don’t accept that reality, we are delusional if we think otherwise. Instead they engage in diplobabble. Mark, falling for this, is no different to someone who takes all of Trumps rhetoric seriously.
  5. They should seek to confederate with the Hashemites in Jordan, most of whom are their blood cousins. Why do you respect Jordan so much Mark? When does Monash’s library make a big deal of that tribe. Is the Palestinian in Jordan different somehow or are you as afraid of the Hashemites as they are. Call the historic truth, not some temporal Ottoman historical relic.
  6. Israel is probably at its strongest point (although it should have listened to Bennett in respect of the Hamas tunnel tactics and not Bibi. Certainly Mr Morality Ya’alon is now finished in politics for his clumsy left-wing handling of the mortal threat of death tunnels.
  7. One cannot talk about a two state solution! One must talk about a three state solution. When someone can make Abbas, Hamas, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Hizbollah, Da’esh and Turkey’s dictators kiss and make up, they can cut the number to consideration of two states. Don’t hold your breath. Make sure you have done a course on disentangling diplomatic babble before you fall for the type of nonsense, that Rabin and Clinton did.
  8. And yet, we don’t hear anything about “the right” of return. Is this deemed acceptable by Mark? Is he expecting Abbas to move back to Tzfat and vote in the municipal elections and avail himself of Kupat Cholim for his hemorrhoids? Maybe he wants not an international Jerusalem, but an international Israel where we pay jizya or become Dhimmis. (Who were the first to call for an “international Jerusalem”? Of course, it was the Pope. Study Xtianity and the chosen people and you will understand why they had to say that).
  9. Palestinian PhD students in Melbourne who I talk to, make it VERY clear. They don’t want a Palestinian state under Abbas. I was actually shocked. They say they want ONE state (not two). They say that Abbas and Hamas and the lot of them are corrupt criminals. They say they are happy to live along Israelis and Jews and vote in elections. Sorry guys, that’s not a Jewish Homeland. We aren’t stupid. I didn’t say that in response, of course. I just listened to their view.

While he wasn’t the first to build settlements, he has deepened and permanently institutionalised the occupation, eroded Israeli democracy, continued to whip up racism against Arabs, propagated the myth that there is no peace deal to be made, turned Israel into a partisan issue in Congress and among Diaspora Jews, launched brutal wars that could have been avoided, created a diversionary campaign to fight the delegitimisation of Israel when he more than anyone has contributed to its delegitimisation, alienated Israel from world leaders by shunning international law, abused Holocaust memory by playing the victim card, exploited real threats in the region for his own political expediency, undermined the civil rights legacy of his own Likud party in exchange for a fascist impulse; created a settler state and given free rein to Jewish thuggery; and worst of all, he has paid lip-service to the two-state solution while creating a one-state reality, leading Israel (as warned by every PM before him) down the path of apartheid.

Now that’s a looong expectorating sentence, even if interspersed by stray semi colons. Lets take the allegations one by one so they can be swallowed slowly.

  1. Bibi wasn’t the first to build a “settlement”. I guess that’s a feather in Bibi’s cap. Indeed, tell us please what a settlement is. Is Efrat a settlement or are you upset only about 10-20 families in caravans on a hill-top? I trust you boycott Rabbi Riskin as well as Gush Etzyon. He’s here now. Go and demonstrate against him? Define your terms. I believe 2-3% of land is taken up by “settlements”. Are you going to tell Rabbi Riskin to pack up and go back to Lincoln Square because Arabs listened to their mufti in 1948 during a war?
  2. “The occupation”? I’m sorry, it’s disputed land. You live in an occupation. This is Aboriginal land. Have you bought it from them? I don’t know which of your teachers failed to teach you that Jews are the closest thing to indigenous natives, and Palestine is a recently promoted modern term used to confuse the neurone-deprived UN. Warren Mundine knows it. Why doesn’t Mark Baker?
  3. How is Israeli democracy eroded? Have people gotten into power unelected? Perhaps Trumps victory has you so upset that you’ve forgotten he was democratically elected. Maybe you want a new J-Street constitution?
  4. Where does Bibi whip-up racism against Arabs! He’s been hobnobbing with Sunni Arabs who are all too eager to join him and not face the brutal Shiite regime of Iran and its satellite terrorist puppets. Perhaps if God forbid one of their rockets hit your balcony in the 90’s you would have a more sober view of them. I know: Sunni, Shiite, what’s the difference, they are all fine people, full of democracy and tolerance. Did you know Iran is building underground factories for Hezbollah. You think Hezbollah care about Palestinian Arabs or Lebanon? The only thing that unites these people is hatred for YOU, yes you Mark Baker. Go back and look at the beheadings from ISIS. Do you think these savages would spare you?
  5. “Launched brutal wars?” What newspapers were you reading Mark, the Anarchist nonsense given out near Melbourne University or the Trade Union? Did you forget what the D in IDF stands for? That is the motive behind every interlocution. Oh, and don’t forget to read how the soft and fuzzy democrat Ya’alon and his mate Gantz let Israel down with their dismissal of the Hamas Tunnels. Would you ask them to resign. The report is out. Only Bennett comes out looking normal. You won’t enjoy reading how it placed Israelis in grave danger.
  6. “Abused Holocaust memory by playing the victim card.” Nobody is playing cards Mark. Did you borrow this line from Finkelstein? His parents were communists. Yours aren’t. This is for real, just like the Holocaust. How many times do you need “we will drive them into the sea repeated to you? Don’t you watch memri.org or is that also just a load of baloney? Guess what? Holocaust survivors like your parents Mark, actually like Bibi and support Jewish strength; not the pathetic ‘my grandchildren will never be Jews, Bernie Sanders nebachs’, and the libertarian, egalitarian Diaspora pontificators.
  7. You’ve chosen to only focus on the political machinations in the Likud. You think that the Labour party or the Mapai or the Mapam would stop at any political method to keep power? I have no doubt your new darling is Yair Lapid. Why? Because the left-wing is so morally bankrupt, even left wingers don’t take them seriously. Only Shimon Peres could get some attention with his one liners, but we know his part in Oslo. That wasn’t about power either, was it? He was as power drunk as the next politician. Jealous of Rabin?
  8. Alienated leaders? Oh spare me. Is Obama now your love child? Obama will go down as one of the most useless Presidents that existed. Yes, a nice fellow, smart, and great orator, but anyone who can stand and watch 450,000 Syrian casualties (those who do need Tikun Olam) and the best Obama can do in response is send the odd drone, smells morally corrupt and makes Obama a gutless wonder: take your pick. Oh, did you notice how the Africans are now lining up. Perhaps Mark you’d be more impressed if that English anti-Semite Corbyn or the genius Richard Gere was “happy” with Israel.
  9. What is a settler state? Define your terms. Stop with hyperbole. Maybe you mean the Charedim of Betar? Oh, we better not mention Betar. It’s a Jewish place, after all, and the Charedim are iconic “settlers”! I think it’s four minutes to cross Israel by plane. I imagine your microwave achieves more in less time, Mark.
  10. Free reign to Jewish Thuggery. I am a scientist. Perhaps you will quote some figures for us. Let’s go with statistics. You know you are wrong, and that’s even if the soldier who shot the dying terrorist was pardoned. Ask your acquaintance Zev Slonim why Zev’s son was held in prison without representation and democratic rights. He’s a right-winger. I thought Bibi only did that to lefties. Think again. Was that a ruse?
  11. Apartheid. Let’s see. I didn’t see it in Jerusalem. Did you see it while you were watching with your family on the porch, as you stated or while walking down Mamila? You obviously have a better understanding of how to defend ISRAELI cities and civilians from thugs, terrorists and murderers. Those who live their lives peacefully do so and nobody is bothered by them. There are plenty of Palestinian settlements (and Jewish ones) that are peaceful.

He is a liar like Trump, who will speak in Australia tonight by using his oratory skills to trade in fear, eternal victimhood, and despair – while claiming the high-moral ground that Israel is a beacon of light unto the world.

Trump is a liar. Okay, maybe, perhaps he is also a fool. Or maybe he is a clever non politician who has read the mood of the American people better than unelectable Clinton. I decided to judge Trump on what he does. What he says, is all part of the political game. Perhaps you think that Malcolm Turnbull was a sycophantic fool when he acknowledged that Israel had high democratic standards. I think your rhetoric Mark is more akin to the liar Richard Di Natale and his band of merry tree-hugging anti Semites or the repetitive letter writers in the  Jewish News (e.g. Henry Herzog). I hope no Jew ever votes Green. The assimilated ones will. I have no doubt. The tree will be more important than the rotted root. The tree lives on. The rotted root stays that way. (By the way Mark, do you consider Mark Dreyfus Jewish? You claim to be “Orthodox” albeit partnership style. Ask Melanie Landau? )

He will go down in history as having unleashed the dark demons of hyper-nationalism that will kill the Zionist dream.

I can see exactly what Trump and Bibi are doing. I’m surprised you can’t. Either Abbas will come to the party (he’s gutless so forget that) or the status quo will continue. The Palestinians will have their own Arab global warming. They will fight: Fatah and Hamas and Dahlan and say “enough is enough” we don’t hate Jews like you’ve taught us.

It is not the anti-Zionists who should be shunning him, but those who care deeply about Israel and its future.

Those who care deeply about Israel can support Bibi whole heartedly unless he is found guilty of breaching ministerial standards.  Why is the implication that only a Zionist lefty is a true Zionist. Now, that’s apartheid and bias. That’s the killing of democracy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about a “two state” solution. That arose in 1948 and was rejected by Hitler’s Mufti.

Nothing has changed for the better, it’s only become worse. Can I suggest concentrating on supporting the indigenous people of Australia? That’s where you and I live. Maybe we should give back their land, and their right of return (as Jews deserve in Israel).

Leave the defence of Israel and its decision-making to those who put their lives on the line–not me, nor you. We are just pontificating, opinion-bearing people. We are irrelevant.

Hey Mark, watch this video. Give me a mark out of 10 for the pathetic apologist.

But none of this is as expressive as your mentor, Mark, the venerable David Ben Gurion. Watch him here. If he heard you admit that you boycotted Israel “quietly” I suggest he’d call you a fool. As to why you continue to be funded through the community at Monash. That’s a mystery to me and I call on the community to redirect their money away from extreme left wingers.

Mark, what do you have to say about the difference between Ben Gurion and Bibi as per this video?

Perhaps, Mark, it’s time you stopped pretending and joined Noam Chomsky as a fully fledged egalitarian member of the Jewish Community where the notion of identity is erased, as per a communist manifesto and has little hope of surviving the next century.

PS. Anyone whose Hebrew isn’t good enough to understand Ben Gurion’s interview above MUST find someone to translate it to them. He didn’t sit on balconies sipping coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

רפואה שלמה ליהודה בן טובה גיטל תיכף ומיד

 

Heichal HaTorah needs to meet the real world

I read the publication put out by this Minyan because I’m halachically curious by nature and Rabbi Donnenbaum puts in a good effort.

One can have the odd quibble, and some are worth mentioning and others are probably not. For example, he mentions the custom to have a special reading of Parshas Zachor for women (even though they don’t need to hear it according to many opinions). There is a comment in bold that it is preferable that 10 men “be present” during the reading. The source is in Halichos Bas Yisroel which I have and just looked at. (I don’t own a Shevet Halevi so I didn’t check). Indeed, the author of Halichos Bas Yisroel notes that Rav Elyashiv z’l (among others) said to have ten men present. I had remembered, however, that Rav Gavriel Tzinner in Nitei Gavriel thought that was nonsensical unless the men had not heard Parshas Zachor. Those are minor things.

I was outraged however when I read the following

Women who want to participate in the first Megilla reading … and have arranged a non frum jewish baby sitter (eg Russian, Israeli), must ensure that the baby sitter not perform any Chillul Shabbos in order to arrive on time.

If someone can please explain to me why a Russian Jew or Jewess or an Israeli Jew or Jewess should be explicitly listed as examples of “non-frum”, I’d be interested. Indeed, why do I need examples?

This is what is wrong with some segments of Jewry. They are too quick to call people non-frum, too quick to make conclusions about who is likely to be non-frum and then do or say little positive in this regard, let alone Kiruv.

Why assume they don’t know what to do especially if they work for you and live within walking distance etc Why even mention Russian or Israeli. That is a massive put down and totally unnecessary. Sure, if it’s not a regular babysitter, then one needs to make sure they don’t cause them to sin, but if it’s a regular babysitter, you’ve probably already told them so much (“don’t warm up anything for the children?”, Meat and Milk and the list goes on.

Here is a better approach: pay the babysitter extra money and encourage them to hear a later reading of the Megila (when you come home) and invite them to your Seudas Purim (especially if you are so certain they are non-frum and clueless). Maybe tell them what Purim is all about? Drop off Shalach Monos? Perhaps Matonos LoEvyonim?

Really! We can be a bit more sophisticated and positive about doing good in this world than focussing on minutiae when bigger issues stare us in the face? What if the babysitter is indeed a Russian emigre with a husband (you have never seen), and both have never seen a Purim Seuda?

Sorry, Heichal HaTorah, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity, something that prevents Geula, rather than encourages it. Frankly, in the next edition, there should be an open apology. I think that’s at least as important as whatever else is written in the next edition.

Postscript: When I pressed post, WordPress the blog infrastructure suggested that “non-frum” be replaced with “no-trump”. I nearly fell off my chair.

A Freilichen Purim to all, frum and not yet frum.

Mikva and those with a disposition towards the same gender

I am going to confine this question initially to men; that is, those with homosexual preferences. I am also going to confine myself to religious men, because I don’t think that it is likely that non religious Jewish homosexuals would have any connection to this custom.

There is a custom mentioned in the Gemora, which was enacted as a Takana from the Prophet Ezra, that men should visit a (male) Mikvah when they had an ’emission’. It is also true that Mikva was used to purify: the Cohen Gadol used to immerse in a Mikva many times during the services on Yom Kippur. In the days of the Temple even if one was טהור the male went to the מקווה in order to enter the עזרה. Even today, some Chazonim will immerse themselves before certain parts of the davening and this is brought in Acharonim. [ When I led Tefillos on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur, I went to the Mikva (also Pesach and Shavuos)]

The main reason for טבילת עזרא (which actually was enacted for both women and men) appears in Talmud Bavli Brachos 22a, and Baba Kama 92a.

The purpose of the תקנה was to “cool down” the tendency to engage in marital relations in an unfettered way, and to keep it “regular” for want of a better term. I am not using the exact words of the Gemora.

The enactment of Ezra was annulled (אורח חיים סימן פח).

כל הטמאים קורין בתורה וקורין קריאת שמע ומתפללין חוץ מבעל קרי שהוציאו עזרא מכל הטמאים ואסרו בין בדברי תורה בין בקריאת שמע ותפלה עד שיטבול כדי שלא יהיו תלמידי חכמים מצויין אצל נשותיהן כתרנגולין ואחר כך בטלו אותה תקנה והעמידו הדבר על הדין שאף בעל קרי מותר בדברי תורה ובקריאת שמע ובתפלה בלא טבילה ובלא רחיצה דתשעה קבין וכן פשט המנהג.

All the impure read the Torah and Shema, and pray (Shemoneh Esreh) except for the one who had an emission, until they go to the Mikvah. The idea is that there is a “process” before marital relations resume, so that the men are not like unfettered  birds who just do it when they want. Later they annulled this … and it was enough that the person has washed in 9 Kavin of water

Chassidim and I suspect Mekubalim say that the enactment was annulled only for learning Torah. However, before one could Daven, one still had to perform Tevilas Ezra daily. This is why one can witness many people go to the Mikva before they have davened.

There is a story from the genius Posek, R’ Avraham Chaim Naeh, the author of the highly regarded Ketzos HaShulchan,

Rav Avraham Chaim Naeh (from wikicommons)

(whose measurements for Mitzvos I’d say the majority of the world outside B’nei Brak follow), and who asked (or was asked) rhetorically, “the words of Torah can’t become Tameh” [so what’s wrong if someone learns Torah without being to the Mikva? R’ Chaim answered, yes, the Torah doesn’t become Tameh, but can the vessel which is receiving the Torah (the person) who is Tameh, absorb Torah.

These days, one sees Chassidim go to the Mikvah (on Shabbos, and every day) and they have a custom (I believe from the Shulchan Aruch HoRav) that the water should be warm.

Even though it seems the Rambam still engaged in Takonas Ezra (I saw this but alas can’t remember where). Many Brisker wouldn’t have even seen the inside of a male Mikva let alone gone into one. On the other hand, other Litvaks, such as Rav Kanievsky (who is also a Mekubal) certainly go to the Mikva on occasions (I do not think every day, but I stand to be corrected).

This brings me to my essential question, and I’d value the opinion especially of those Rabbis who laudably make a quiet but effective effort to ensure those of an LGBTIQA preference don’t feel ostracised in an Orthodox Shule. I mean strictly Orthodox, not “Open Orthodox” and various break aways.

Here is my question:

“What if a religious person knew that he had preferences towards men (he might not act on these, I assume). He doesn’t find himself attracted to women. If he goes to the male Mikva (daily) (where I regrettably note some of the pedophilia mentioned in the Royal Commission in Australia occurred in the Mikva), even for the holiest of purposes, he will see loads of men in various stages of nudity. The showers have no doors and it is completely Hefker in my experience. Indeed, if you want to turn a non-chassidic young kid off, take him to these types of Mikvaos, where they will also pick up tinea and feel very strange. I would imagine, this is akin to a man, going into a sauna (lehavdil) full of women, where the women are in various stages of nudity. (This is a practice in some parts of Scandinavia). In such a Mikva environment, it seems to be that attendance is stoking the fire, so to speak, and making it harder to avoid stirring up homosexual tendencies towards the forbidden act. The religious homosexual knows they may not do the homosexual act. This would introduce a huge temptation to such a person (outside of the Mikva). Should they be allowed to go to a Mikva given that the Takona has been annulled and the temptation is very real.

Those who still keep Takonas Ezra, do so as a matter of Kabalistic piety. If I was a Posek, I would make it known (in a quiet way—need to think how) that those with homosexual tendencies, should never visit a Mikva (unless they are the only person there) as they will be putting themselves into a place that will make it harder to keep the Torah, especially if another homosexual in the Mikva responds to various eye movements etc or even if they are stirred up by it all.

Equally, I would say (not in the spirit of egalitarianism) that a Mikva woman, should not be a Lesbian or the like, as that experience would likely “fuel her fires” in the same way.”

But I am not a Posek. How would Rabonim pasken?

Would we see the more left-wing types, forbid it, but the more Chassidic types cast a blind eye to this practice? Or would it be the other way around. Would left-wing types permit it (equal opportunity, they can control themselves) and the right-wing forbid it, in the same way they would forbid a man to walk into a woman’s sauna?

I know it’s not a comfortable topic, and I have long argued that there is an opportunity for someone to come up with a better specifically architected/engineered male mikva, such that there is no nudity on display, and the volume needed to be accommodated maintained.

In case you are wondering whether I am inventing new laws/problems, consider learning the laws of Yichud (being alone with someone) and you will find that in our own Shulchan Aruch  אבה”ע סי’ כד, it states where there is a concern that men are attracted to each other, then they are not permitted to be alone, in the same way that a male and female are not permitted to be alone unless it’s in a public area with people still awake etc

“ובודרות הללו שרבו הפריצים יש להתרחק מלהתייחד עם הזכר”

I did ask Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Hershel Schachter this question (among others) and although he is certainly not a Chosid, he said it would be prohibited for someone with such tendencies/preferences to go to a male Mikva, where nudity is everywhere, as they would be making life harder for themselves. לפני עיוור לא תתן מכשול (don’t provide fodder to help someone do the wrong thing)

A desirable side effect of such a ruling is that potential abusers would not have the outlet they used, as outlined clearly in evidence in court, where abuse occurred with two people in the Mikva.

Please note: I have not engaged in the issue of homosexuality. Rather, the laws of Tzniyus as they pertain to different tendencies.

Ideally, I’d like to see someone clever come up with a new architecture for Mikvaos for men. I find them a tad gross, and I’m heterosexual.

IMPORTANT petition against the desecration of the Vilna Cemetery

People, some of you may have received this. If not, please

  1. Sign it (asap)
  2. Send it to all your email contacts (please do it)

I am going to quote one of my favourite Jewish Academics, Rabbi Dr Shnayer Leiman.

This is the link

Yaakov Avinu was deeply concerned that he be buried in Eretz Yisrael as opposed to Egypt.

Thus, he taught us – his children – that protection of the dignity of remains after life is protection of the dignity and sanctity of life itself.

I am sharing a letter from Prof. Shnayer Leiman, the distinguished scholar whom we have had the opportunity to host as a Scholar-in-Residence on numerous occasions.

Please read it and join me in signing this important petition.

Thank you,

Moshe Teitelbaum
Dear Friend:

I don’t ordinarily get involved in signing petitions, but this is a matter that cries out for protest against the massive desecration that is about to take place. I’m sure you know that the Lithuanian government has announced plans to build a new convention center over the Old Jewish Cemetery of Vilna. Although the Vilna Gaon’s remains were removed from the Old Jewish Cemetery, the remains of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews are still buried in the Old Jewish cemetery. These include the remains of some of the greatest rabbis, Jewish martyrs, and pious women through the centuries, including R. Moshe Rivkes (d. 1671-2), author of the Be’er Ha-Golah on the Shulhan Arukh; R. Zelmele (i.e., R. Shlomo Zalman, d. 1788), brother of R. Hayyim of Volozhin and favorite disciple of the Vilna Gaon; R. Shmuel b. R. Avigdor (d. 1793), last Chief Rabbi of Vilna; R. Avraham b. Ha-Gra (d. 1809) ; the Ger Zedek of Vilna (d. 1749), whose remains were not removed from the Old Jewish cemetery (despite claims otherwise); and Traina (date of death unknown), mother of the Vilna Gaon; Chanah, first wife of the Vilna Gaon (d. 1782); and Gitel, second wife of the Vilna Gaon, who apparently outlived the Gaon (precise date of death unknown). Virtually every Jew who died in Vilna before the year 1831 was, in fact, buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The petition does not call for the Lithuanian government to cancel plans for building a new convention center (funded largely by the EU). It simply asks that it be built at a different location in Vilnius – which can easily be done.

A wonderful Vilna resident, Ruta Bloshtein, a shomer shabbos woman who bakes challah for members of the Vilna kehillah every erev Shabbos, has taken upon herself the responsibility of spearheading this write-in campaign. She started some three weeks ago and has about 250 signatories so far. She needs at least 1000 signatures; if she doesn’t get them it will be a Chillul Ha-Shem even beyond the destruction of the Jewish cemetery itself. It will be a signal to the Lithuanian government that Jews neither care nor count. If she gets 3000 signatures, the political authorities will have little choice but to take the petition into account before making any hasty decision. She needs, and deserves, our help.

The two key Rabbonim in Lithuania today, Rabbi Krelin (Chief Rabbi of Lithuania) and Rabbi Krinsky (head of Chabad) are among the first 250 signatories. It seems to me this is a case of מת מצוה in more ways than one. Sefer Chasidim, §261 (ed. Margulies, p. 225) reads:

אהוב לך את המצוה הדומה למת מצוה שאין לה עוסקים, כגון שתראה מצוה בזויה או תורה שאין לה עוסקים, כגון שתראה שבני עירך לומדים מועד וסדר נשים, תלמוד סדר קדשים. ואם תראה שאין חוששים ללמוד מועד קטן, ופרק מי שמתו, אתה תלמדם, ותקבל שכר גדול כנגד כולם, כי הם דוגמת מת מצוה.

You should love mitzvos that have similar status to that of an abandoned corpse that no one attends to (and whose burial is obligatory on whoever finds it). Should you see a mitzvah that is denigrated, or a portion of Torah that is neglected, make a point of [doing the mitzvah and] studying the Torah that is neglected. Should you see the members of your community studying the Order of Mo’ed [the laws of the Festivals] and the order of Nashim [the laws pertaining to women], to the neglect of the other Orders, make sure that you study the Order of Kodoshim [the laws pertaining to sacred matters relating to the Temple sacrifices and service]. Should you see that no one concerns himself with the study of the talmudic tractate Mo’ed Katan, or the talmudic chapter Mi Shemeso [the third chapter of tractate Berakhos], make sure that you study them.

Your reward will be great, equal to that of all the others, for all these are samples of an abandoned corpse whose burial is obligatory on the one who finds it.
All one needs to do is to click on the link below, fill out the electronic form, and electronically sign their name. Please forward to others, so that they too can participate in this mitzvah. It is not a time to stand idly by.

https://www.change.org/p/hon-dalia-grybauskaite-please-move-new-vilnius-convention-center-project-away-from-the-old-jewish-cemetery

With prayers for the success of our cause,

Shnayer Leiman

Lighting Chanuka Candles on Motzei Shabbos

The following is from מו׳ר הגאון הגדול הרב  Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז׳ל.

R’ Yosef Karo in the standard Shulchan Aruch (תרפא:ב) concludes that we light the Chanuka lights before the Havdolo candles. However, when one comes home after Shule, many follow the Taz, that first one performs Havdala and then lights Chanuka licht.

הגאון הגדול הרב Rav Moshe Soloveitchik ז׳ל (the Rav’s father, and eldest son of R’ Chaim Brisker) explains that there is a difference between lighting in Shule and lighting at home.

The prime purpose of lighting in Shule is a requirement on the congregation to publicise the miracle. As the Vilna Gaon is quoted by his students (note the Biur Hagro was not actually written by the Gaon, but by his students)  (תרעא:ז) that every place where the Rabbis required the concept of publicising a miracle, they also required that this miracle is also publicised by the congregation. They bring a proof from Hallel on Pesach Night at Maariv  (which by the way, the Rav used to say in davening even though he davened Nusach Ashkenaz; the Rav was not afraid to “correct Nusach” e.g. He also said the Avoda of Yom Kippur according to Nusach Sefard because he felt it was a Halachically more accurate description of the Avoda of the Cohen Gadol). On Pesach night, Chassidim, and those who daven Nusach Sefard, don’t follow the Ramoh and, per R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber

בשו”ע או”ח סי’ תפ”ז ס”ד “בליל ראשון של פסח גומרין ההלל בצבור בנעימה בברכה תחלה וסוף, וכן בליל שני של שני ימים טובים של גליות

[As an aside, I remember the Rabbi of an important Shule in Melbourne, who used to daven at Chabad in the evening on Pesach Night because it was near his home and his Shule probably didn’t have a Minyan or it was too far for him to walk to as he got older, and when Chabad/Nusach Sefard started Hallel, he would leave Shule. He sat behind me. I was young, but I thought and continue to think that this was not the correct behaviour, but I will leave that issue as he is in another world.]

Back to Pesach. Even though we are required to say Hallel over a cup of wine (at the Seder) that is our personal requirement. However, the congregation, has a separate requirement to say Hallel as a congregation ציבור. When does a congregation get the “halachic designation” of a congregation? If they davened Mincha together, they are a Tzibbur/Congregation that group “is existentially formed” and now must perform the congregational פרסומי ניסא. For this reason, we light in Shule between Mincha and Maariv, even though many have the custom to light after Maariv at home. The reason being that the congregation assumes it’s requirement to light, as soon as they are designated as a congregation, and that occurs immediately after Mincha, because they have an on following requirement to continue with Ma’ariv.

Therefore, in respect of Shule, after Ma’ariv, where they no longer have any congregational duties, there is no more “congregation” and no special requirement to have פרסומי ניסא. Most people might still be there, however, they aren’t halachically a congregation requiring the lighting once they have completed their davening.

So let’s turn to Motzai Shabbos where we can only light the candles once Shabbos goes out. It would seem that since they have already davened, they no longer are designated as a congregation  and no longer a requirement to light as a congregation. In order to avoid this conundrum, the Minhag has become to light the Havdala, as a congregation, after Chanuka lights, because at that time, they are still a congregation requiring Havdala, and therefore the פרסומי ניסא of a congregation has not dissipated. Note that the definition of a congregation is not whether most are there or not. Rather, it is about whether those who are there, are still considered a congregation because they haven’t completed their full davening.

Rav Soloveitchik wondered about gatherings where there was no congregational activity, such as Ma’ariv, e.g. at a fundraiser or the like where most would have already davened Ma’ariv in their own congregations. As such, Rav Soloveitchik questioned whether in such circumstances there was a congregational פרסומי ניסא that was incumbent halachically.

One could turn attention to the “Chanuka in the Park” type celebrations. From my observation, it is sometimes dubious that there is a congregational requirement for publicising the miracle. However, if one assumes, quite reasonably, that many of the people will consider this their private and only lighting of Chanuka candles on that evening, it perhaps would be that an entrance fee be charged, nominally, so that they can become part of the pseudo-mega-household that is lighting the Menora (as opposed to a congregational Chiyuv) to do so. Yes, I see many Chabadniks put Tefillin on people, but the minute they have finished with their Tefillin, those people have done a personal Mitvah, but not a congregational activity that is still incomplete.

It is somewhat ironic, but exact, that congregation isn’t defined by numbers, but by responsibility. Even a group of 10 is a congregation, and as long as they still have a congregational task, they must light Chanuka lights in the Shule. Yet, one could have 5000 people with no Halachically congregational requirement to light Chanuka lights because they aren’t a צבור halachically, because they are not involved in a Tzibbur mandated affair.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing against lighting Chanuka candles in public places. I’m simply repeating the precise halachic categorisation of these acts, as per the words of the Rav and his father.

There are other explanations, including the need to have Chanuka at home with food, and at Shule it’s only for those who don’t know how to perform at home. I’m not going there.

 

So the year 12 Results are out

As expected, there is the usual back slapping and congratulating students on their results. I understand that. A year or so ago we had Yesodei HaTorah listing the names of the Yeshivas their students were admitted to  (not that I know any of them) and then a nondescript line about their results void of statistics. Not exactly “Torah Im Derech Eretz”, but some modern Litvak way of saying what’s important and what is not.

As usual, the Jewish News were more interested in the advertising dollar, and simply published the carefully crafted statistics each school put out.

It’s a pity the Jewish News couldn’t give guidelines as to which bands and statistics were to be supplied. Even things like Class sizes are never mentioned, making it nigh on impossible to make one to one comparisons for those who like to do so.

I don’t know what sorts of projects our “Roof Bodies” do, but one which I think I’d like to see each year is the “6 years hence” statistics. Each Orthodox Shule, or Reform/Conservative Temple, or Shira Chadasha? would have a record of marriages. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see under each School’s name, the percentage of those who are known to be married within the faith? I’d be fascinated.

Imagine getting 50 for text and tradition and then marrying out. Would today’s parent accept that? No names, of course, but the trends would also become visible and we would see for the first? time what it means to be a JEWISH School and pay the fees. Yes, I know the home is critical, but the home has assigned the school this aspect in the main.

Are we impressed that someone gets 50 for Ivrit or Yiddish and marries out?

Yes, marrying out is the end game. Schools are halachically the agents of parents for these critical years. The students need to build an identity that can confidently answer and resist the many isms, they will confront in life.

We correctly pull up a School if they have been involved in something not right. Let’s see our “Roof Bodies” … the great unelected, hire demographers to follow these statistics.

Yes, I am aware that an argument can be put forward that some students in some schools are not technically Jewish in the first place. Let’s see if they marry such untechnically Jews later as well. Those are the statistics I’d like to see.

With this type of malaise, no wonder American assimilation is at 70% amongst non Orthodox

There are lots I don’t understand. One of the things I could never understand was the Jewish connection to Chanukah by those who otherwise have diminishing Judaism in their lives. The answer isn’t the massive Chanukah Menorah’s put up by Chabad, but they certainly are needed and help enormously. The assimilated Jew has his Pintele Yid, his Jewish Soul, so overcome by the goings on in a multicultural or Xtian dominated society, that they make the same types of rationalisations that they do with their diminishing Jewish identity. Let’s be clear. Identifying with Israel, which was such a positive force post holocaust, won’t wash with our tree-hugging, tikkun olam, social justice types. We now have the abhorrent New Israel Fund which is a direct outcome of this type of feeling. They hold onto the hope of a “two state solution” when one side (Abbas and Co) will simply never recognise Israel as a Jewish State, a home for Jews.

That being said, we must hang on and enhance those elements of truth, which emanate from the truly Jewish soul, and provide meaningful alternatives to counteract the cultural pressure so many seem to feel.

I was rather radical. For over 20 years, when they put up all the Xmas decorations in our University Department office, I refused to step in. I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel comfortable because they were Xtian symbols, but I felt uncomfortable that the money funding these things were the public purse, and that other days, from other religions weren’t able to acquire equal opportunity.

If someone wants to have a picture of Yoshke or a cross next to their desk, that’s none of my business. I avert my eyes and concentrate on the reason I came to speak with them.

Do we really believe that Chanukah means what it does to the almost assimilated? The miracle of Chanukah is debated among our Rabbis, and there are places where the WAR is the main miracle. There is even conjecture whether they lit Chanukah candles after Chanukah for some time, and whether that was a later custom which became incumbent on us all.

Ironically, Chanukah represents the triumph of those who want to INFILTRATE our culture (perhaps without intention these days unless they are missionaries). Can you imagine if Chanukah didn’t involve lights? It’s almost as if the almost assimilated, are relieved that they can find some link between the pagan Xmas tree lights and their religion, and luckily for them it turns out around the same time.

Nothing is by coincidence. Chanukah represents the challenge of not letting go of what gives us our own identity. Yet, like many challenges God gives us, he dresses them with an outer shell, and if we want to we can break that shell, and find the Jewish element, which represents the truth, as aligned with our heritage.

It took years of quiet diplomatic action, when I used to wish people a happy holiday break, or joked they shouldn’t eat too much at their parties, that they eventually realised I wasn’t joining them in their Pagan-cum-Xtian festival.

I greatly appreciate it when someone recognises this now, and doesn’t say “Merry Xmas”, and engages their brain. I notice that Muslims are less touchy are about this because they consider Yoshke some prophet (but of course lower than Mohammed) so they don’t have a problem saying that (at least in Melbourne). In Egypt, of course the Coptic Xtians are persecuted mercilessly and the world just stands by, as they do to Syrian atrocities. We live in a world of lies and fake feel good emotions.

One can feel good, and even better, simply by being a Mentch, and not being offensive, but religiously embracing Chanukah and Chanukah only.

Does anyone thing that those don’t South in the USA would even remotely contemplate adding Chanukah to their Xmas. Forget it. It is only the Schmaltz belts where people have compromised their values and heritage and succumbed to the gods of Mamon and Acceptability, that such morals outrageous posts, from the Times of Israel, even get published. By publishing this, I struggle with understanding what they achieve. Do they tell us a new reality or perhaps would they be better off encouraging Xtian friends to come to a latke and Ponchke night with candle lighting, but with ABSOLUTELY no hint of capitulation to either religious or capitalist opportunism afforded by the “necessary gifts” and the stress these seem to cause people.

Read the blog post below. Am I over reacting?

Imagine running an education evening entitled “the intersection between Chanukah and Xmas is that your kids are less likely to be Jewish” and having that run by Rabbinic orators and educationists of standing. I’d rather see articles from fellow bloggers like Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo on these topics then some of the more esoteric ones he chooses.

This isn’t a case of mixing solid מין במינו … this is a דבר המעביד within two different מינים and is Treyf, לכל הדעות.

Oh, and PLEASE don’t forget, we give Chanuka Gelt and not presents.

As to “Sylvester” and “New Years Eve”, are we meant to celebrate two days because of Sfeka DeYoma? Yuck.

They say in the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that a little light dispels darkness. I heard Mori V’Rabbi say that this is true, but often you need lots of light to get rid of the rampant thick darkness, and you can’t see to far ahead with minimal light. So to all wishing to reveal the light of the Neshoma, I wish you only success.

I will do my part at this year’s Chanukah celebration with my band Schnapps, as I have for many years. Everyone should try to be at the annual big celebration, sans any reference to Pagan rituals.

PS. We do not say Chag Sameach on Purim or Chanukah. We only say that when there was a Korban Musaf. Try Freilichen Purim, or Purim Sameach, or Chanuka Sameach or some other phrase.

I celebrate Hanukkah, but I love Christmas
Dilute that most wonderful time of the year into a Jewish minor holiday? No thanks, he’d rather enjoy the real thing

I grew up in suburban Chicago surrounded by my fellow Jews — at school, at camp, on the weekends, at my parents’ friends’ houses, in the streets and parks of my neighborhood.

Even then, I knew that Jews made up less than 2 percent of America’s population — but in my childhood world, we were the 99%. If you had stopped 11-year-old me on the street and asked, I could have recited lengthy Hebrew prayers by heart, or told you about the codifying of Jewish law in 200 CE. But when it came to Christianity, I had a basic idea of what Easter was, and could probably have provided a brief bio of Jesus, culled mostly from popular culture. That was about it.

Until December rolled around, that is. Christmas was inescapable — and I loved it. I still do.

Christmas is everywhere. It’s at the malls, in the candy aisle of the grocery store, on the radio and TV, and in the movie theater. And I get how it can all be overwhelming. I understand how it’s a bit much for people to be bombarded starting from Thanksgiving — make that Halloween — with carols and candy canes and Santa and reindeer and manger scenes and ornaments and mistletoe and trees. And I know that for lots of people, it’s bit much how everything is red and green, especially if it’s not even your holiday. Plus — on an intellectual level, at least — I object to the commercialism, the conspicuous consumption and the tackiness of it all.

But if I’m being honest: I love the tackiness. I love the manufactured happiness. I love feeling snow on my shoulders, walking into a heated cafe, sipping hot cider and hearing a Christmas song — probably written by a Jewish composer — on the speakers. I love the contrast between the terrible weather and the enveloping cheer, however artificial it is. I love being able to enjoy the Christmas spirit without having to worry about how it affects the way I celebrate Christmas.

Because I don’t celebrate Christmas. See, we Jews have our own winter festival — it’s called Hanukkah.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Hanukkah. But in America, it’s kind of weak sauce. If Christmas is a thick, juicy hamburger on a sesame bun, American Jews have tried to make Hanukkah into a black-bean burger — something that’s perfectly edible but, really, nothing like the real deal. Hanukkah, like black beans, would be fine as its own separate thing. But instead we’ve flattened it into a cheap imitation of something else.

I’m Jewish, so of course I celebrate Hanukkah. I’m down with the story, the victory of the weak over the strong, the faith fulfilled when a small flask of oil lasted eight days. I’ve even nerded out over the two alternate Hebrew spellings of “Maccabee” and how they correspond to today’s religious-secular divide in Israel.

But I’ve never liked how American Hanukkah in certain ways becomes a diluted, Jewish version of Christmas. So the Christians give presents for Christmas? Sure, we’ll give Hanukkah presents, too. They have tinsel? Sure, we’ll have tinsel, too. They have holiday sweaters? Sure, we’ll have those, too.

Just as I can enjoy the Christmas spirit because I don’t feel personally invested in the holiday, I feel disappointed in Hanukkah precisely because I am invested in it. And in any case, Hanukkah is a minor holiday. I don’t begrudge its significance for anyone, but in Jewish tradition, it’s treated as less important than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and a couple others.

That’s why in Israel, where I lived for five years, Hanukkah is certainly celebrated, but doesn’t receive top billing. There are decorations, menorahs in the windows and sufganiyot — doughnuts filled with jelly or cream — on bakery shelves. Kids get a few days off to sing and play. Giving Hanukkah presents isn’t really a thing there.

Contrast that with the season that runs from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot and Simchat Torah, a series of festivals and holidays that ended several weeks ago. In Israel, before Rosh Hashanah, supermarkets are stocked with apples, honey and pomegranates, and temporary stands sell greeting cards on the sidewalks. On Yom Kippur, the streets and shops are all closed. Religious people wear white and gravitate en masse to synagogue, while those who aren’t fasting crowd the empty streets with bikes. On Sukkot, there are temporary huts seemingly everywhere, from people’s porches to public squares.

For close to a month, little business gets done. Need to schedule a meeting or start a work project? “After the holidays” is the common refrain. The Jewish holidays there are celebrated on their own merits, not judged against the overwhelming dominance of another religion’s season.

So spare me your Chrismukkah and your Hanukkah bush, and let me culturally enjoy the most wonderful time of the year the way America clearly wants me to.

After all, if Bob Dylan can rock out to an album’s worth of Christmas music, so can I.

Can Chabad do ANYTHING right?

[I didn’t want to write on this topic as it’s too depressing and generates spite and heat. That’s not my intention. I won’t publish comments unless they are sufficiently motivated by language that is positive and helpful. I’m not writing to create a huge argument. Like all my posts, I just write what’s on my mind at some time]

There has been a lot of press and talk about the happenings (hopefully soon in the past) of a lack of requisite and proper immediate action in respect of cases of sexual abuse which occurred over time, some years ago. People certainly made horrid mistakes: sometimes it was out of sheer unbelievable ignorance about the ways of the world (sheltered lives void of Western Morals, which are Halachically mandated in such cases according to the Ramban as a Torah command?), and other times it was a clumsy or “too clever” misguided attempt to cover up, in the hope that it will “just go away”. Neither reason is an excuse or acceptable. Unfortunately, victims often take years to tell their stories. That’s apparently a known side-effect and a sad one as it means things are dealt with years later. Pedophiles spread their sick urges like uncontrollable vermin, wherever you place them. I do not know if they can be cured. This is not my area. Nor do I know the confidence intervals of such “cures”. I’m not sure if anyone knows.

Certainly, those who are and have been friends with a victim, and are able to express social compassion and support, outside of any governance structures, should continue to do so or see if they can commence doing so. [For my part, I spent many hours helping to out  a shocking, perhaps the worst, pedophile (and those in the know, are well aware), and I really didn’t and don’t know victims on any personal let alone social level.] I hope there are many people of their age group, peers and friends, and I hope those people make an extra point engaging them, as I’m confident that can only contribute to them feeling less ostracised.

Those who were part of the YBR governance structure and knew of wrong doings, ought to move out of any governance role in any and all committee or decision-making roles. How long do they stay out of such positions or roles? I do not know. I expect it depends on the person and any metamorphosis they may undergo due to education and sincere Tshuva and Kapporo (accepted atonement).  I’m not sure they have to be banished to a pseudo city of refuge, but they do need to undertake continuing education and deep introspection and I would go as far as suggesting they undertake voluntary pastoral roles where appropriate counselling and helping general victims (they don’t have to be Jewish) or if they are Jewish, we know that there were victims from a number of Schools in Melbourne that they can try to show they have acquired the requisite understanding and skills to empathise and support such people cope with living. Ultimately, I mean a pastoral role. Most victims will, I suspect, require psychological and/or psychiatric assistance to get them through the damage they experienced. I’d avoid counsellors. There are a myriad ways anyone can become a counsellor (you can even take a quick course for $900) and these courses lack scientific rigour or a proper roof body that can punish people for ethical breaches. There are many shonks out there.

That the Jewish News focusses negatively almost solely on Chabad is not surprising. Their approach has long been considered  (on unrelated happenings) as anti-Orthodox and they have no qualms using a JEWISH News to advertise anti-Jewish practice. When Judaism morphs to solely Zionism, or some other single mode of expression more akin to culture, then the Jewish News will be part culpable for the alarming assimilation rate. In the USA it is, I believe 70% assimilation. Think about it. It’s an epic disaster

Today, Love conquers all. “What can I do?” you hear the mother or Booba saying … When a boy brings home someone from another religion in a relationship, it no longer has stigma because “what can I do“. Once upon a time a kid knew they couldn’t do this and this actually prevented the mountain of growth of questionable conversions for a relationship. Once upon a time the boy was not permitted to come to the front door with that intention and was told by his parents to “fly a kite”. People were even afraid to consider assimilation because it meant saying goodbye to family. Yes, there is more to it, especially the new religions of egalitarianism, equality, “tikkun olam” and social justice and that’s that. Ironically, many who do convert sincerely, can’t get their husbands to go along with them. A house of holes and hypocrisy is born, and children who see this are statistically known to be more likely to intermarry or become fundamentalist.

When a girl is allowed to bring home a boy from another religion, then it’s “not so bad” (at least, the kids they might have are Jewish so all is “good”) although you won’t hear the champions of egalitarian approaches complaining about that. Matrilineal descent is fine, its only been Halacha for thousands of years. Reform recognise patrilineal descent, and we know that they are now forced to move more and more to tradition in order to proffer some Tachlis to their communities (who intermarry more than any; patrilineal descent has not helped at all). It is a plain fact that most households assume that to compromise for “family unity” is the answer. “What can I do?” is the refrain. What they are doing, is setting up a framework for Judaism to die in the ensuing generations just so they can eat a Seder together or Latkes on Chanuka and in some cases delude themselves that their grandchildren are Jewish. They don’t see that far ahead. Why? That’s a complex answer and another post. As to Yohr Tzeit and Yizkor? The next generation seems to take the money and run.

So how does Chabad fall into this discussion?  I sense a reaction to the debacle of the pedophile issue, which also seeks to minimise all the good that Chabad has done and continues to do in preserving Jewish identity, by sparingly reporting positively on their work (save the usual pictures of an event). Chabad literally built Judaism in Melbourne. They are ubiquitous. They are unceasing in their efforts, non judgemental with irreligious people, but won’t leave you alone. They are nudniks when it comes to Jewish observance. They want you to connect to your roots so you can light up the world. That’s their way. You can’t change it, and there is no point even wanting or trying to change that approach.

I’m not a Chabad (or any) Chassid (I don’t fit) and am wary of any underlying philosophy proclaiming that there is only one way, but I am also loathe to support an undercurrent of “anti” Chabad to persist, even after they (hopefully) sort out their issues, and yes, it’s taking way too long because of a void in leadership.

Chabad don’t in general join other Rabbinic Organisations; Melbourne was exceptional because that’s just about all there was,  so perhaps we’ve reached a point where they aren’t worried they don’t dominate these and don’t care if they resign. Those Rabbinic Organisations however are a reflection of what we are. The best they seem to be able to do is issue statements. Contrast this to the RCA and OU where education is at the forefront even though statements are made. Don’t even mention the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria, apart from the Eruv. That organisation is also crying out for new authentic leadership.

Where is the weekly lesson from the members of these  Rabbinic organisations? Why aren’t sermons and shiurim podcasted later or published? Much more can be done.

I detect, with few exceptions, that Jewish Education, and here I mean the type which doesn’t just seek to indoctrinate, but simply learn for learning’s sake so that people can see the incredible beauty of the written and oral law and the commentaries surrounding these, has fallen by the wayside. It is the essence of Judaism, not the Kreplach, Choolent, Gefilte Fish and Chicken Soup.

I’d like a dollar for every Bar Mitzvah boy’s speech which isn’t about sport. Judaism just seems to have disappeared (together with the Rabbis who used to be at these events, and the Kosher Food that was a must at any Jewish Simcha … and yes, there are Jewish Simchas hosted by the very wealthy which are simply Trayf … uber fancy cuisine or the use of custom herds comes before heritage and tradition: great-grandparents turn in their graves).

Today, we see new ways (mostly copied) to draw people into a Shule, through some type of “program” which includes kids and food. For the older generation, it’s enough to offer whisky and herring and they flock. This is all fine. If, however, it doesn’t lead to further involvement, sans these ingredients, it has a limited shelf life and a shallow precarious continuation. Torah Education must be the cornerstone.

Many Rabbis, non Chabad and some Chabad, simply don’t engage their congregational youth in a serious study of Torah. Some can’t relate to the kids because they haven’t lived in a Western world or understand it. They need to. The Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Soloveitchik certainly understood the need to understand the Western worlds they lived in and studied in University. It’s not just about classes for a bride before she gets married.

Kids break their heads so that they can get an Aliya on their Bar Mitzvah and learn Haftora like a parrot. Would it not be better to have a policy in a Shule, in fact all Orthodox shules, that they only need to get an Aliyah without Haftorah, but should attend a weekly one hour shiur with the Rabbi (or some proper assistant) for a year to augment what they may (or may not study at School). Parents should be encouraged to attend too. This should also be provided to Bat Mitzvah girls (who I understand in many cases already have privately done such things) but they too should have a year-long initiation to Jewish Orthodox Learning, which after all, is the basis for everything and represents the true tradition from Moses to this day. The other flavours are western influenced portable religions that don’t survive the test of time. The USA experience has taught us that.

Chabad has done and continues to do much good. The Jewish News (and some blogs, and I honestly haven’t read these blogs, nor seek Facebook posts on the topic because I get too upset with the often generated unnecessary, anonymous and ad hominem attacks) really should also undergo a Bar Mitzvah for their staff journalists. I challenge them to have a weekly column which describes something a Chabadnik has done to touch and ignite Jewish souls in our community. There is plenty of material. Is it not newsworthy? It’s at least as newsworthy as pictures at a cultural event. Alternatively, let a capable Chabadnik give a weekly Shiur to journalists of the Jewish News?

My own feeling is that most want Chabad to get its house in order and continue the overwhelming good that they achieved. If they have papers like the Jewish News (and various web sites, and of course the left-wing Jewish Friendly “the Age”) seeking to minimise their enormous contribution to the community over decades, they will still survive, whether they are part of a Rabbinic Board or not. They will still have a profound positive effect. But, and I caution this most seriously: they must remove the stains, and embrace the reforms that are necessary, as we’ve seen across the spectrum of various Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and recognise that protection of children and education of educators and staff, are simply not negotiable and must be taken as seriously, if not more, than an infraction of eating Ham. If they do that effectively, and manage to sideline those who should have known better, and seek to re-engage (not just for PR) with victims (not all will want or be able to) of the past, then they will effectively continue their efforts to bring the redemption earlier. Jewish studies teachers without degrees should at least undertake correspondence courses in formal Education if they can’t/won’t attend University personally. I don’t see why it’s different to Kashrus, where Kosher Australia sponsored staff to undertake a Food Science degree at RMIT.

My own view is that they need to import a very talented, world standard, and worldly, Chabad Rabbi to re-invigorate and re-align the institutions. Yes, it will cost, but in the long run, it’s either that, or they will wallow in mediocrity.

If they do not do this, and continue to over argue little points that really should not be on the table, and keep faceless people and rampant nepotism, they will remain in this state of constant flux.

Chabad have done too much for Australia to stay in such a continued state of harmful flux, and I dare say, that some of the victims may actually agree with me. There were some aspects of their education and certain educators that left them with positive outcomes (at least I hope so! … their friends and family will know).

Here is something [Hat tip NB] just written by a Conservative rabbi (I don’t know the source)

Last Sunday night I checked the annual Chabad Kinus Sheluchim off of my bucket list – the annual gathering of Chabad emissaries from around the world. Over 4,500 rabbis from 90 countries convening for what is considered to be the largest such annual gathering of Jews in North America. Seventy-five years since the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson of blessed memory, arrived in America from war-torn Europe, Chabad is the fastest growing Jewish religious movement of our time. From Bangkok to Kenya, UCLA to Middlebury, Chabad houses, schools and mitzva tanks abound in numbers and vitality. The big announcement of the dinner was the appointment of Mendel and Mussie Alperowitz to Sioux Falls, South Dakota – a placement that secures a full-time Chabad presence in every single state.

As a Conservative rabbi I sat there marveling at the wonder that is Chabad. Not just its meteoric growth and ubiquitous presence, or its impassioned focus on the Rebbe.

Chabad’s secret sauce is personal relationships – on a street corner, a heimischy Friday night campus meal, or a one-on-one study session in a downtown office. The mission of a Chabad rabbi or rebbetzin is to draw out the pintele yid – the divine spark embedded in each and every Jew. What became clear to me last Sunday night is that the institution Chabad cares most about is not 770 Eastern Parkway or any campus Chabad; rather it is the institution of each and every unique Jewish soul yearning for expression.

The target audience of Chabad and the Conservative Movement is one and the same, our tactics are just different. The recently published Hertog study on Chabad on Campus makes clear that Chabad’s impact is greatest for those raised in Conservative and Reform households.

On a certain level, it makes no sense. Why would a movement that overlooks the Enlightenment, promotes a non-egalitarian expression of Jewish practice, is positively parochial in its posture and small “c” conservative in its politics captivate a liberally minded and often disengaged American Jewry? And yet, as the Hertog study explains, it is precisely these elements that help explain Chabad’s appeal.

In a frenetically paced world of online and superficial connection, where all of us stand to be alienated from each other and ourselves, Chabad provides an intimacy that is a deeply valued commodity. The free food and drink on campus undoubtedly doesn’t hurt, but it is the prospect of a finding a personal connection, the belief that you matter to someone that speaks to the soul of American Jewry. One does not need to be a chabadnik or social scientist to understand the importance of cultivating individual relationships; that community building is a retail business, one person, one Shabbat table at a time.

And yet for all its successes, it is also by understanding Chabad’s limitations that one sheds light on the distinctive role of the Conservative Movement. The Hertog study documents that virtually no students affected positively by Chabad choose a Chabad lifestyle after college. Why? Because sensitive as Chabad may be to the soul of American Jewry, neither its theology nor its lifestyle reflect the hyphenated lives that American Jews actually lead. Chabad does not embrace the non-Jewish members of our Jewish families. Chabad does not seek to draw in Jews of patrilineal descent.

Chabad does not engage with all the counterclaims, intellectual and otherwise, that modernity brings.

Embracing as Chabad may be, it is not pluralistic.

These observations are not meant to be criticisms. They merely signal the need for a religious movement that can walk side-by-side with American Jewry throughout their Jewish journey; a religious movement both single-minded and open-minded in its efforts to draw out the pintele yid hidden within.

Conservative rabbis complain when their lay leaders provide financial support for Chabad when neither they, nor their children have any intention or desire to live a Chabad lifestyle. What we fail to see in our kvetching is that we ourselves have failed to provide a compelling alternative worthy of our leaders’ investment.

What if the Conservative Movement were able to adopt some of Chabad’s insights? What if we were able to corral an army of Jewish educators and set in motion home study sessions; for singles, young couples, empty nesters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons or home-bound seniors? What if the Conservative Movement redoubled its outreach to interfaith couples, individuals exploring Judaism, considering conversion or maybe just trying to figure out how to get a foothold in the Jewish community? What if our community were able to rethink congregational education to include opportunities for families to learn with each other – building both Jewish literacy and community at the same time, one living room at a time? What if there were hours enough in a day that Conservative congregational rabbis could enter the offices, homes and lives of our congregants campaigning for nothing other than their Jewish souls? It would require a dramatic rethinking of how we conducted business and allocated resources.
But given the stakes – the infinite value of a Jewish soul – why wouldn’t we be filled with a mesirus nefesh, a missionary zeal for the Jewish future? The Jewish world would be strengthened by way of having parallel efforts working in concert with each other. As my Chabad friend said to me at the dinner the other night: “Elliot, you and I are traveling down the same highway, but our windows are rolled up.” Lets roll down the windows and work together, learn from each other, respect each other, celebrating each other’s achievements even as we recognize our differences. There is room enough for us all, more than enough lost sparks looking to light up the dark. Most of all, let’s recognize that we are all on the same team looking to build up the individual and collective soul of American Jewry.

The author is the senior rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue, Manhattan.

A great editorial about the Israeli Higher Court Deliberations and Delineations.

Read this editorial from the left wing Yediot  from ynet by Professor Daniel Friedman

Professor Daniel Friedmann
Professor Daniel Friedman

who makes important points.

Would the Australian High Court judge whether Pauline Hanson was permitted to be a candidate in an election? Would a High Court decide whether a vote of politicians, a referendum, or a plebiscite is the appropriate mechanism to decide the acceptability of secular gay marriage?

There is certainly a friction between the courts carrying the law, and their seeming assumed role to define  the parameters of Israeli life, culture, politics and values. The latter are safe in a sane democracy, which Israel is, albeit with the usual political compromises (one only has to watch Malcolm Turnbull in Australia have to encounter a range of single views in order to pursue the mandate he was given). When one puts the High or Supreme courts on pedestals that extend their brief, one is entitled to question this phenomenon.

It’s a very fundamental editorial and one that those from the left and right wing of our Society should think deeply about.

If you want it darker: my take on Leonard Cohen’s mesmerising song.

A few weeks before Leonard Cohen passed away, somebody sent me [hat tip AN] a youtube video of his new song ‘You want it darker’.

I was mesmerised. I loved the song. I have to admit to not being a big listener of Leonard Cohen but knew some of his better known tunes as we all do (eg, Halleluka — yes, I write it with a K, it’s a Machlokes Tannoim at the end of Psochim, but that’s how I was taught).

Some  listen to a song but don’t really “hear” the lyrics. In general, this is me. Often, I think it is because the lyrics and the tune often have no relationship. When they do, the lyrics become relevant to me. The famous and great Rabbi Ben Tzion Shenker ז׳ל who recently passed away, wrote his songs FROM the lyrics. The songs emerged from the lyrics. I think that’s the right way around. Others seem to always know and remember lyrics to songs irrespective. On the other hand, as a band leader, I’m probably more attuned (sic) to the musicianship and pitch of the singer (mind you, so many sing through pitch controllers these days) and don’t focus on lyrics.

What surprised me about this song was that the lyrics hit me between the eyes. I sent a link of the song to our family whatsapp group and said

“He’s preparing for his death, and it’s so deep, he’s telling us what he’s going to say to God”

I had heard that he was ill but I wasn’t across his life history in much detail.

I am somewhat drier and like things in black and white without the cloudiness of interpretation. I don’t want to guess multiple meanings.I remember in year 7 our English teacher becoming so excited while reading  poems. This did nothing for me. I guess I don’t have that aesthetically nuanced ingredient. It’s also the rare piece of Art that I will stop and appreciate. Abstract art is something that just passes me by.

Yet, somehow, this song grabbed me immediately and the lyrics were just luscious. I said at the time that I was going to write my commentary to them but hadn’t gotten around to it. Apparently, Rabbi Sacks wrote a masterpiece “drush” but it was only after I mentioned to my wife last night before retiring to bed, that I had written this piece, that she told me about Rabbi Sacks’s interpretation. I had mistakenly thought Rabbi Sacks had spoken about Cohen’s most famous song Halleluka. Since writing the draft post, I listened to Rabbi Sacks, and enjoyed his ever-brilliant take. You can watch it here

Just before writing this blog post, I looked up Leonard Cohen on wikipedia to learn a bit more about him. Cohen was seemingly an enigmatic thinker. He strangely stayed close to his Orthodox Synagogue and yet became involved with Zen Buddhism even becoming a Monk. He never abandoned his Judaism, although his life couldn’t be described as that of someone with complete fidelity to their religion’s tenets. He felt that there was no contradiction with Zen because his involvement never included another deity. There was only one God for Cohen. He believed that, it seems, all his life. There was only one Judaism as well, and it was Orthodox Judaism. Whatever the case, he was clearly monotheistic and believed he would confront God one day, as do we all. He was buried in a traditional Orthodox way, as was his wish.

Here are the lyrics and uncharacteristically my own thoughts, after I first heard it (and replayed it several times). I sent it to members of my band, and my non-Jewish Bass player responded with “brilliant” and went out to buy the CD. My interpretation isn’t set in Parshas Vayera. More likely it reflects some of my own feelings about the world today and that is why I connected with the lyrics in my own way. Maybe my teachers in year 7 were right after all

The lyrics are in red, below. My interpretation follows each line.

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game

Here the ‘you’ is God. He is apprehensively asking about God’s nature. What is your role in this world I have lived in. Are you like the proverbial dealer in a card game? If so, since you are God, I’m bound to lose, and so I’m out of the game. I’m going to die. I’m about to meet my maker.
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame

Cohen had cancer and it wasn’t going away. He tried to understand the meaning of God as a healer. This is what he knew. God could heal, but wasn’t healing him. Cohen was descending into the valley of death, and so he was broken by this realisation, and lame in the sense that he wouldn’t be able to go on doing what he had. He was perhaps wondering if his not being healed was due to the path he had chosen, or that he would soon need to account for it. I think he was addressing his preparation for addressing why he lived the way he did.

If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame

He self-reflects and in the face of death, considers himself and his life as inglorious. He was dying. Perhaps he regrets some of the things he had done. So he meekly points out that compared to God’s glory, what he has done must be considered shameful and hence his journey to the valley of death/heaven. Cohen seems to be saying is he about to say goodbye.

You want it darker

He is questioning God. Living is light, but ultimately our lives seem to be so unclear. We don’t see the light, so often. The world is such a dark place. Coming to the end of his life, Cohen is saying, well God, you don’t seem to need my light in this world, “you want it darker” because Cohen considered that he did offer some light. But, he is resigned. He knows he can’t win and the next line is
We kill the flame

Who is the we here? I think it is humanity, especially Jews or those who speak in the name of God. He is reminiscing now about others who have died and killed. He’s saying, there were times when God seemed to want it darker. The current state of affairs, where Jerusalem is dismembered from Jews and Jewish history is pretty dark. Cohen says, “have it your way”, you are the boss. We are ultimately responsible though for our actions, so perhaps then it is WE who kill the flame through either completing our task or polluting your world, in your name.
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name

He’s acknowledging that he has inescapable deference for the Creator. God is by definition perfection, this is the essence of Kaddish, but

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

We Jews have a tangible element of God within us, and yet, we Jews are vilified, crucified once that Godliness is within our human frame. The body isn’t a perfect receptacle to hold such a sanctified element, says Cohen. He is reasoning that God knows this, so how can he be critical of what we haven’t achieved and the state of this dark perverted world. Cohen, then goes to the great tragedy of Jewish mass murder
A million candles burning for the help that never came

He is “fighting back” in a presumably future dialogue and saying, but there were good people, good Jews, who did light up the darkness. Why then does God allow them to suffer. Why has this world become so dark. Where was God’s help that never came. The million candles lit up the world throughout history, but when they were bullied and murdered, he asks God why He didn’t intervene, and then says again.
You want it darker

Ultimately, you don’t seem to want that light, or it’s not enough for you, or Cohen has no explanation except that it is God’s “want” that this world seems so hopeless. He wants it darker.
Hineni, hineni

So here I am. Here I am ready to be confronted, dressed down, analysed and judged. I am not hiding. I will engage you. Cohen submits himself to his end, and says
I’m ready, my lord

I’ve thought about it all. I am not apprehensive. I will engage in dialogue. I will ask questions. I’m ready. I’m ready to meet my maker.
There’s a lover in the story

Cohen is telling us that this isn’t a relationship of antagonism. He has a love of God despite what it might sound like. He stresses, that Cohen, is the lover, and he is part of the story of Jewish history, despite not understanding the darkness and the killing of the flame.
But the story’s still the same

Yet, even though Cohen tried to manifest his love, as did many others, the story of the fate of the Jewish people, the continuing pain and anguish at being persecuted for being different, is constant. Others have also perpetrated atrocities in God’s name.
There’s a lullaby for suffering

Yes, one can sing softly and meaningfully about the tragedy of the Jewish people’s suffering. We do so on Tisha B’Av and other occasions. It can rhyme beautifully, calm the nerves, and eventually put one to sleep, as well as …
And a paradox to blame

If we are the Chosen people, the ones charged with a holy mission that other nations refused, it is an extreme paradox that as a result of that choice, it’s all our fault? What a paradox. Cohen then says that it’s not just his feeling or interpretation. In fact,
But it’s written in the scriptures

The Torah forewarns us that we will go through periods of terrible suffering. The world will be an ugly place. The Esav’s will bite our neck, when they pretend to kiss us. Amalek will sneak up on us, and ultimately there will be an enormous battle of Gog and Magog. The prophets of the Scriptures have told us this would happen. So, please God, don’t think this is just Leonard Cohen’s poetry. In fact ..
And it’s not some idle claim

There is evidence that this is our destiny. You told us so. What do you want from Leonard Cohen. How could he change what you decreed. The fact is that, you God
You want it darker

For some reason that Cohen doesn’t understand, he accuses God of just “wanting” it to be darker, as Jewish lights are extinguished. He can’t understand it. The world is full of shameful darkness and lies. But, in the end, we submit and
We kill the flame

We go to our maker, vanquished, and resigned. It is our fate, we accept it and thereby kill the flame. But God, can’t you see that we are victims?
They’re lining up the prisoners

We were taken during the Holocaust and before and now are lined up against a wall as we were before. Is that called killing the flame? Who is killing? Who is making it darker? Why did this have to happen? What are we meant to do when ..
And the guards are taking aim

We face the barrels of a gun, aimed at us. Whether in the form of mass murder, murder tunnels, missiles, knives and now fire … We are in the aim of those who have us captured in our enclaves. How do you expect us to live the life you wanted us to live? Cohen is saying he was far from perfect, but he is one of a production line of historical tragedies that seem to have been foisted on him. He struggles to understand dark humanity
I struggled with some demons

Cohen didn’t give up. He might not have lived a proper Orthodox Jewish life, but he was proud that he was a Cohen, and he left strict instructions that he was to be buried as a Jew in a traditional Jewish way. He wrote acclaimed poems and songs. He gave voice to his struggles up and down the ladder of his human existence. He wasn’t a passive player.
They were middle class and tame

Yes, Cohen says, his struggles were with the pen, with the mind (probably his tuning out of the world through Zen) and through his guitar. The issues he struggled with were not those of a pauper nor those of a wild man. The demonic ideas and explanations that paraded in Cohen’s head were not extreme. They were plain and tame, somewhat middle class in their roots, much like the German Nazi middle class expected tameness … He didn’t go blowing himself up because he didn’t understand. His voice, words and music were rather an urbane reaction. Was that not enough for you, God, asks Cohen. Did you expect me to do more?
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim

Cohen says he did what he could but he hadn’t been taught that  weapons would be the mode of violence in the name of God, as we see all too often. He wasn’t that sort of person anyway. He gave voice. He wasn’t silent. He did his best, but he wasn’t ready to terrorise those who preferred the elimination of Jews even though they terrorise the world. He doesn’t understand, and repeats his mantra once more:
You want it darker

Which I see as question to God. Cohen replies rhetorically, okay then

We kill the flame

Have it your way. I have no choice. I’m ready to have a discussion with you, as I leave this world.

Parshas Toldos-Rav Mordechai Greenberg, Rosh Yeshivah, Kerem B’Yavneh

In an essay in the book “Orot” about the disputes on opinions and faith, Rav Kook explains his approach to the issues of fanaticism and tolerance. On one hand there is fanaticism, which believes that its approach and its religion are absolute and immutable truth, and which denies that any other movement has any truth to it at all.

As opposed to this, there is a more tolerant viewpoint which believes that all of the movements have some basis of truth, and that by gathering together the items of truth in all the different movements we will be able to achieve absolute truth and there will be peace in the world.

Rav Kook claims that both of these approaches are erroneous. We, in Judaism, do not merely have part of the truth, which would mean that we are in need of additional information from an external source to complete our knowledge.

Moron Rosh Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Moron Rosh Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, HaRav Mordechai Greenberg

At the same time, we do not subscribe to the infectious fanaticism which claims that we exclusively possess absolute truth and there is nothing left to learn from others.

“It is a bad sign for a party if it thinks that it alone is in possession of a living source of all wisdom and honesty – and that everything else is empty and void of any meaning.” [Igrot Re’iyah volume 1, page 17].

Here is the correct way of looking at things: Judaism does indeed include everything, but it does not deny that others also have parts of this whole. Even more than this, the power of every movement and every ideology stems from its specific point of truth. If it did not have at least one absolute truth it would not exist at all.

The sages taught us that “falsehood cannot continue to exist.” [Shabbat 104a]. Falsehood has no way to stand up. All the letters of “sheker” stand on a single leg, as opposed to truth, “emet,” all of whose letters stand on a solid base of two legs.

The main Beis Medrash of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh
The main Beis Medrash of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh

It is therefore important to reveal the elements of truth in every movement in order to know how to struggle against the movement. Only something that is totally false must be eradicated from the world. But if it has at least one element of truth there must not be any attempt to destroy it, because if you do so you are fighting against truth, and any such action is doomed to failure.

And for this reason Rav Kook felt that it was wrong to struggle against secular Zionism in a bitter fight to the end, as others did, since it is based on some true ideas.

Some people said: If they move to Eretz Yisrael we will not do so. If they speak Hebrew, we will speak Yiddish.

Rav Kook disagreed with these ideas. He insisted that the issues supported by Zionism are words of Torah which also obligate us. Therefore we must show our appreciation for the positive elements of truth in their approach and only afterwards argue against the falsehoods.

Rav Kook gave similar advice to parents in Russia whose children were caught up in the Communist movement. He said we should tell them that we appreciate their demands for social justice, because this is based on the Torah and on Judaism, and that there is no need to move away from Judaism in order to embrace the concept of socialism.

This can also help us understand Rav Kook’s analysis with respect to Eisav:

“Let me tell you my opinion regarding foreign beliefs. The light of Yisrael should not try to destroy them, just as we do not intend to cause general destruction of the world and of all its nations, but rather to mend their ways and raise them up

The words of the GRA are enlightening: ‘I had hatred for Eisav’ [Malachi 1:3]. The hatred was for the things that had been added on. But the main thing, his head, was buried together with the great people of the world.’”

Even Eisav had a point of truth which was put to rest near the Patriarchs.

A rare treat. A full Teshuva Derasha from the Rav in Yiddish from 1975

Enjoy, if you know Yiddish! Quality isn’t wonderful, but never having experienced this personally, it’s a piece of treasure

[Hat tip ydbz]

It started with a snippet from a sheltered letter

My journey has almost done a full circle. The topic concerned two of the greatest leaders of our generation: the Rav (Soloveitchik) and the Rebbe (Lubavitcher).

It was 2011. I conveyed some thoughts back then in this blog post. My impression was that the Rebbe was not at one with the Rav’s approach to Yahadus, as exemplified by an issue which was the subject of a revealing letter published in that post and reproduced again below.

Certainly the Rav wasn’t a Chossid; he had a strong connection with Chabad through the Rayatz, the Rebbe’s father in law and this also stemmed from his youth in a Chabad town. There are many anecdotes and written accounts of a certain closeness. I would tend to categorise it as mutual admiration and respect. I don’t think the Rebbe and his romantic nostalgic relationship with Chabad were the same notion. The Rebbe was  single-minded in his approach. The Rav, ironically given his heritage, had a more pluralistic acceptance of different segments of Orthodox Jewry, and was often a featured as the star orator. The Rebbe could be described as reclusive or too busy, at the same time he was warm and insightful. He was tethered to his headquarters in 770 to the extent that he eventually decided he would not leave 770 for various purposes, apart from the daily cup of tea with his dear wife, and rare occasions. There are those who surmise that each of these revolutionary Rabbis’ wives were their only true confidants. The Rav’s wife had a PhD and was an educator whose mission revolved around the excellence of the Maimonides School that was established to resuscitate the Boston she and the Rav met on their arrival. The Rebbetzin was ever reclusive and kept to herself in an understated way.

One day, I became privy to what I (and  others) considered to be some clearer views from the Rebbe about the Rav in the form of a snippet from a letter. This letter, as I understand it, was not known and rather sequestered. I surmise with some confidence based on the secrecy, that it was placed under an unofficial embargo. What made the snippet  so interesting to me? As noted in that blog post, it clearly implied that the Rebbe had his differences and criticisms with the Rav (from the vantage of the Rebbe’s Weltanschauung and approach).

The Rebbe was a Manhig, a global director with firm views, and was not limited to Crown Heights, Brooklyn or the USA. The Rav described himself a “Melamed.” Everyone knew this was a self-deprecating description of a most brilliant Torah Rosh Yeshivah steeped in the Brisker tradition of his illustrious family. The Rav described how he was struck  and impressed by the Lubavitcher Chassidim who lived in the town where his father, Reb Moshe, the elder son of Reb Chaim Brisker, was Rav for a few years. The Rav experienced  the Chassidim’s Emesdike, heart-felt, even romantic approach to Judaism, though many were not apparent scholars (the antithesis of the highly intellectual Brisk he had been exposed to). That’s not to say that Chabad didn’t include high calibre Talmidei Chachomim, rather, they also embraced simple people within those people’s abilities and made them all realise that they could achieve plenty. They managed to produce outcomes that were somewhat foreign to Beis HoRav, Volozhin and Brisker tradition. Whilst Rav Chaim, the Rav’s grandfather was far from a “snob” and embraced the impoverished with all his might and kindness, Chabad made them feel holy.

I speculated more about the relationship between the Rav and the Rebbe in another blog post of 2011. The letter below  appeared (and I might say curiously) later as a page in a pamphlet given out as a wedding memento (of all things).

Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז'ל mentioning the Rav ז'ל
Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל mentioning the Rav ז’ל

The cat was out of the bag through that snippet. Would anyone notice it or comment, I thought.

The central questions given the letter  were,

  • how was a Lubavitcher now meant to relate to the Rav, and vice versa,and
  • how was someone from Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon meant to relate to the Rebbe, given what had been written.

I was unable to advance knowledge of the context of the letter and those who I asked from both sides, seemed unaware or were reluctant. I suspect in Lubavitch some were aware, but I doubt that this snippet was ever seen by the Rav or indeed his Talmidim.

An anonymous Chabad researcher of note, recently revealed the issue as being in the context of the Rebbe writing disapprovingly of the Rav’s alleged predilection to “change his mind on matters of Halacha“, for various reasons, although the “Rav himself is a complete Yiras Shomayim.”

The study of Chabad Chassidus was growing. It appeared in some Hesder Yeshivos over the last ten years, and before long there were  students who studied Tanya. This was not surprising given that the current generation of some youth seemingly less pre-occupied with minutiae and seeking a more mystical understanding of their faith. My Posek, Rav Schachter, a Talmid of the Rav, often quotes the Tanya, so it was certainly an important Sefer in Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon.

More recently, Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon (RIETS) had no issue with a Tanya Chabura, and past lectures can be heard online and were taught by YU Rabbonim. Certainly, Rabbi Reichman, one of the Roshei Yeshivah has been teaching a variety of Chassidus for many years, even though he describes himself as a Litvak. One of his sons has studied Tanya in Israel through both Lubavitch and non Lubavitch spectacles (if I’m not mistaken he studied it also with another Chassidic Rebbe, one on one)

A Symposium was held at YU on the Rav and the Rebbe. I blogged about that symposium. Again, I felt that to talk about this topic and not  mention this letter left a gaping hole. The academic in me felt it was verging on dishonest because I was sure the Chabad speakers knew about the letter. Its absence could be considered, purposefully misleading. Rabbi Yossi Jacobson disagreed with me on that point in private correspondence.

A new book was recently announced on the Rav and the Rebbe by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin. I reviewed the book. Rabbi Dalfin knew about the letter and had asked me a while back if I knew more about it. I did not. The letter existed, however, and he knew about it. The letter was not mentioned in Rabbi Chaim Dalfin’s book. In subsequent correspondence with me, Rabbi Dalfin claimed that without knowing the full letter and its context he didn’t think he should include it. I disagreed vehemently. Perhaps that’s due to my academic training. Whichever way one looks the Rebbe makes clear statements. I appreciate that a Chassid doesn’t want to double guess what their Rebbe meant.

Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin ז׳ל

The mystery is now revealed. The letter was addressed to the famous Rav Zevin, the master editor and compiler of the earlier volumes of the Encyclopaedia Talmudis. [ Later volumes, whilst very good, don’t quite reach his enormous ability and articulate summarisation]

It can be argued that there are other things in the letter, but that is immaterial, at least, to me. If it had to do with the same issue it would also have been published (unless it said worse things!). Either way, choosing not to include this snippet can be viewed as a form of sublime revisionism, parading behind a façade of ‘I need full research on the letter’.

The reality is that the comments addressed in the letter were known in Chabad, but kept quiet. I again surmise that it was kept quiet because nobody wanted such comments in the public sphere.

As I have written, a full understanding of the Rav, encompasses his enormous strength and integrity in being able to change his mind if he felt a situation was different, or he felt a compelling new reason. This makes him stronger in my eyes; not wishy-washy by nature, as seemingly implied in the letter. That being said, it would seem that was not even the case here, anyway.

Let’s call a “spade a spade”, and I don’t just mean Rabbi Dalfin. I include Rabbi Jacobson. Who are we kidding? When Lubavitch poached the head master of Maimonides in Boston there was  acrimony that lasted some ten years. The Rav would never have allowed this in reverse in this way. The Rav went to Chinuch Atzmoi as a Mizrachist, albeit a nuanced variety thereof.

As to the Rav being some type of closet Chabadnik. The Rav stated many times he was a Litvak, who liked lots about Lubavitch and had a romantic attraction to them stemming from his youth. He was also a big fan of the writings of the Alter Rebbe.

The agenda of Rabbi Dalfin’s book was to gloss over these things and convince the reader through some dubious logic that they were much closer than they were (even though the Rebbe wrote a letter saying they were closer than people knew). The Rav’s head was in Shas and Poskim, all his life. Only certain Rishonim mattered, and he didn’t read the others. Philosophy was a wrapper to make sense of Judaism through a modern prism and paradigm.

[Hat tip anonymous] The snippet was about the Zim Israeli Shipping Company controversy. Zim proposed to sail also on Shabbos. In response to the fact that sailors, engineers etc would have to be mechalel shabbos to do so, Zim claimed that the ship could travel on auto-pilot. The Lubavitcher Rebbe completed an Engineering degree in a Paris College (not the Sorbonne) and, as the Ramash, worked in the Naval Shipping Yards in the USA as an engineer when he arrived. The Rebbe clearly had technical scientific expertise and of course was also a Gaon in Torah. As such, he vociferously held, and mounted a wide campaign to stop Zim, enlisting the help of many other Rabbis of note, including Rav Hertzog the then Chief Rabbi. According to the Rebbe, it was impossible for the ship to travel in “auto pilot” without some chillul shabbos from staff.

[Hat tip DH and AR] The Rav was asked to offer his view. The Rav had a policy of not paskening about matters pertaining to Israel. He felt that this was the domain of the Chief Rabbinate and not that of a resident of Boston and Rosh Yeshivah in RIETS. He also held the policy that Rabbis must consult experts in questions of Halacha involving matters that were not known by them. This is reflected in his view that the question of returning territories was a matter of Pikuach Nefesh that had to be determined by Generals and not Rabbis or Politicians. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Rebbe and Manhig and proffered his Halachic opinion that no inch of land be ceded. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a different approach.

Unless someone has more information: I have consulted world-wide authorities on the Rav, and  knowledgeable people about the Rebbe, I cannot understand how the Rebbe could come to his conclusion about the Rav. The Rebbe obviously expected the Rav to join him, as he knew this would be very powerful. The Rav was always his own man. He had views  on protests for Russian Jewry as did the Agudah, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe had different views. This, however, does not make him prone to change his opinion, as implied by the snippet.

I have already covered the microphone issue, and that is a long bow. I can’t find the blog post though 🙂

In conclusion, those who wish to argue that they were close, can do so, but my view is that they held fundamentally opposing approaches and views and to intimate a special bond through a symposium or through Rabbi Dalfin’s book doesn’t stand up to academic muster.

Accounts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s campaign re Tzim and influencing the Chief Rabbinate can be seen here and here and here (in Ivrit).

Unfortunately, in correspondence from Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, he advised me that the two people who would have known more details about the Rav’s involvement have both passed away. He referred me to a son who shed some light.

If anyone can elucidate with any more material on this I’d be interested. At this stage, I stand by the feelings expressed in blog posts dating back to 2011.

The situation regarding the Central Chabad Organisation in Melbourne

I should say, that I have held off making any comment on this issue, as I don’t think my comments would help in any way. I’m viewed as an outsider. That being said, neither will this post contribute. But, it’s been on my mind, so I now give it voice through my blog.

I am not a member of the organisation, although we do have two seats for historic/emotional reasons. I didn’t join as I tend not to join things generally and I didn’t understand the complicated structures anyway.

On the issue of a history of offences of a sexual nature perpetrated by low lives and sick people and blind observers who perhaps medicine will one day discover a way to ‘control’, my wish is that we never hear of such occurrences in the future in any School or Institution, and where there is some remote suggestion that something may have happened, this be reported to the justice system to test, immediately.

It is true, that some lay and non lay people were members of  committees when offences were alleged to be occurring. Governance would suggest that unless there was a cone of silence that precluded them knowing, that they now give consideration to new people to take their place, simply on that basis. Those new people should not be “angry ones” or those with a vendetta. They need to be level-headed, thinking, and respected Ba’alei Batim with Chabad’s interests at heart.

It is also true that nobody can fully understand the victim who still suffers, and all assistance—psychologically and financially and apologetically—to help re-route especially those whose lives have fallen apart “back to a happier road” and that must be completed. Some of this has taken place. No doubt some has not. Having never been in the shoes of this type of victim, I am in no place to comment on the effects nor the approaches required to help lessen these effects or give advice.

It may be the result of the Royal Commission, or presumed result of that commission, but I’ve seen snippets of a new constitution and various concerned parents’ minutes. To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the details as they seem legalistic structures that are not my forte and I also lost interest and respect when someone close to me was scandalously marginalised within the School system, but not over anything related to the above. Those are matters for the new “structure” whatever that structure means in practice.

So why I am writing this post, and what is my message?

To me, Chabad is the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Chabad (a continuation of previous Rebbes agenda). It is a top-down hierarchy with the top now missing. I always had the very strong feeling that he had a finger on the pulse of any issue brought to his attention. He was a moral, unimpeachable genius who I am sure would have provided correct Halachic and personal advice if consulted. What actually transpired is anyone’s guess, but I certainly don’t hold him responsible and it doesn’t affect Chabad’s powerful philosophy and approach to Judaism and successes.

Democracy is a great thing—ask Donald Trump. Chabad or indeed any Chassidic group or institution cannot by definition be run by a vote of mass hands. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, upon the death of his Rebetzin, wrote a powerful Sicha, entitled בואו ונחשוב חשבונו של עולם. This Sicha, which was short and very powerful was not published or provided for his proof-reading. It was hidden from him a few times. People didn’t want it coming out. He lays out guidelines about how Chabad and private people should function should he pass on before Moshiach (but he didn’t say that fact explicitly). I don’t have a link to the Sicha, it is now printed at the back of Toras Menachem, but there IS a Video of him saying it on the stairs leading down, at 770, and those who were there were in shock. If someone finds it and posts the link, I will update the post. I don’t know if it’s been translated.

Accordingly, I would not deviate one iota from his wishes and those of his forebears. He asked that a committee of three unimpeachable expert and universally recognised Chabad Rabbis/Mashpiim oversee major decisions. They could be in different countries. Someone correct me if I have misunderstood. I can think of suitable apolitical candidates in other countries who are not part of the current power boards of Chabad.

There is now power play, politics and “rights of Yerusha” in Melbourne for there to be anyone unbiased in Melbourne that could consider this, as a group of three. They would not need to build a tome of complicated constitution, but would certainly need to lay down the guidelines about how voices from the Kehilla would be considered and respectfully responded to.

Nepotism must be eradicated. It is a plague. Excellence should be the only criteria.

There was, to my knowledge, never an instruction to insert a letter into his Igros and derive a conclusion about how to go ahead. We all know of “incredible” cases where direct advice was on the page, but we also know of the myriad of people who found nothing remotely connected, and that didn’t have anything to do with their lack of knowledge or depth. You can say the person wasn’t fit or ready, but you can also say anything.

I’m most disappointed that Chabad, which should be cohesive, has factionalism. They can’t even close down unsanctioned infamous Melbourne CBD “Chabad houses”, let alone expel the Tzfatim from 770. This is the anti-thesis of Hiskashrus. Sadly, we have too few great and straight Chassidim in Melbourne to look at the issue dispassionately, and through proper Halacha, which I have no doubt who would also comply with secular requirements, sans ego.

I also see strange “innovations” ever-creeping into the main Shule, none of which I saw in 45 years, and which are on the rise. These emanate mainly from those who are new to Chabad (not born into the dynasty) and I find them most alienating to those who are mainstream mispallelim davening in a Chabad Shule. Rabbi Groner never made someone feel alienated in the Shule. He even allowed a pregnant pause so people could say Veshomru on Friday night. This pause is now proudly circumcised as a sign of purity.

On Shemini Atzeres, at Hakafos in the main Shule, the audible calling up of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to “say” the first Hakofo occurred. I know some long term mispallelim who left the Shule at that point in disbelief. This is too much and is far removed from normative Jewish practice. Everyone will recall the Gerrer Rebbe encouraging Breslaver Chassidim to give Rav Nachman Hagbah.

There may well be a valid feeling that a Chassid feels internally that he would like nothing more than the Rebbe saying the first Hakofa. Have that feeling. Internalise it, and if it doesn’t happen, go home and weep, by all means, or find strength. But as part of a formal Tefilla and practice, I find it very hard to cope with and I’m not aware of a Halachic source for such a practice. Someone enlighten me.

I have a soft spot for the Shemini Atzeres Farbrengen  at Yeshivah which was always regaled by Rabbi Groner and whilst the format was new this year, I was interested. I was upset though that when the elderly R’ Mendel New got up to say a few words, albeit in a weak voice, there was a cacophony. Silence—complete silence, is what should have taken place, and there was nobody of authority to make sure that such should take place. He was talking about keeping Shabbos in the old days. Rabbi Groner would have yelled out (as he used to do with waiters at Simchas) that everyone zip their mouths. I was embarrassed, and moved right up to R’ Mendel and listened to his story, though I had heard it.

There were a few very learned Rabbis close by where I sat, and they are not drinkers. After kiddush on Vodka, as is the custom, though, it went straight to their heads. The result? Inhibitions were discarded and they started singing “Yechi”.  I left the farbrengen immediately, although discretely. It’s a great turn off for me and legions of others, but Chabad don’t care (though the Rebbe did). Ditto with the signage in some Shules and the other useless paraphernalia.

“Yechi” needs to become an internalised hergesh/feeling that materialises into positive action that people feel genuinely and materialise into lamplighters. Gyrating and singing the song, or plastering signs up in Shules only achieves acrimony from those who find this

  • not part of davening, before or after
  • not part of a shule’s decoration.
  • well passed its use by date

Is this the Chabad “Na Na Nachman”. What has that achieved apart from party revellers joining in.

I have grandchildren in the School, and I only pray that the place returns to becoming a bastion of normative behaviour with a Chassidic bent, staffed by honest, talented, trustworthy people with no other agenda except quality education (yes, and I include secular education). People who don’t live to fill their egos.

Stuck in a time warp

I couldn’t believe the article I read in yediot, where the Aguda’s Rabbi Litzman had reservations about the legislation to limit the volume of the call to prayers, mainly used by Muslims, but also to usher the Shabbos.

When I travelled to India, I disliked my trips to Hyderabad. My hotel was decent, one of the few, but each morning I was woken by a cacophony of calls for prayer coming from outside, far away. I also heard this in Kochin (where the Muslims and Hindus said it at the same time and it was a war of blaring stupid sounds). Why should anyone who is asleep be woken by an antiquated method to remind people of the time(s) of prayer? At 3am and 4am and whenever?

People used to have a “Shabbos Zayger (timepiece)” which was more ornate so that they could wear it in a place where there was no Eruv because  it was a piece of Jewellery as well as being functional and according to most opinions permitted to wear. I know that some Charedim forbid “smart phones”, but even dumb phones can get an SMS. I can think of many other ways of alerting people to Shabbos. There could be lights that go on and off, and change colours. They could even indicate when Shabbos was out according to both opinions. These don’t cost the earth. They could easily be installed in the entrance of Shules and Shtieblach for those who are chronologically challenged and unable to discern that the widely known time for Shabbos coincides with the timepiece on their hand.

Charedi/Muslim Entrepreneurs this is a business opportunity!

In days of old, there was a custom for someone to knock on the doors of each house to announce Shacharis, the morning prayer. It made sense. They didn’t all have clocks, and even today, an alarm clack is used by many, even in the guise of a smart phone alert. When I learned at Kerem B’Yavneh, the last people on guard duty knocked on each door to arouse us from our slumber. Okay. That’s fine. It didn’t wake up the people in Kibbutz Yavneh a few kilometres away.

There is no place, in my view, to disturb anyone’s sleep in today’s age, because of one group (be it any religion—the Hindus do it in India to counter the Muslims) wanting to announce prayers. Let me correct that, there is a place: in a village where everyone wants it, and the sound doesn’t disturb neighbouring areas, that’s acceptable. But if one person objects (they might even be sick!) then they should desist and find another solution.

All this does is reinforce in my mind, that people have taken mimesis to a level that goes well beyond the concept of Mesora. There are Halachos which pertain to sounds: shofar, trumpets for war etc. These are not daily occurrences nor are they simply mimetic. It seems that it’s not only the medieval style of dress, which Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t wear, and which is Kodesh Kodoshim is now being extended to a siren as THE only way to make sure people are aware that Shabbos is happening. Halachically, it might even be better not to blow such a siren in areas of irreligious. It’s better they do things unknowingly, than knowingly.

Rabbi Litzman should go to Machon Tzomet, and arrange for a pocket tiny device to be put in the hat and tichels/sheitels of those who wish to have personal shabbos alarms, send them a mild electric shock heralding that Shabbos is coming in. It could be sold to Muslims to insert for their times of reminding. Come on, we aren’t living in the dark ages. We are fully able to observe Shabbos without disturbing anyone else, and Muslims are fully capable of finding ways to wake up for prayers without someone yelling across the mountains from a fancy modern sound system which is hooked up (heaven forbid) to electricity (another new innovation).

Ultra-Orthodox minister blocks ‘Muezzin Bill’

The “Muezzin Bill,” which aims to prevent mosques from using loudspeakers to announce prayer times, is raising a great deal of opposition, with Arab MKs and activists protesting Tuesday in the Arab city of Sakhnin and planning additional protests on Wednesday in Jaffa and the Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye.
A surprising bit of opposition, though, has emerged from among the ultra-Orthodox community, with Health Minister Yakov Litzman filing an appeal on Tuesday to prevent the Knesset from voting on the Muezzin Bill, thereby sending it back to the government for further review. This will also force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already voiced his support of the bill, to weigh in on the matter.

In his appeal, Litzman referred to the similarities between the muezzin calls and the call announcing the beginning of Shabbat. “For thousands of years, different instruments have been used for this purpose, including the shofar and trumpet. With the advancement of technology, loudspeakers are now used to announce the beginning of Shabbat while respecting the allowed volume and in accordance to the law.”

The appeal continued by saying, “The bill in its current phrasing and following the discussions that it will bring on may harm the status quo, and so in accordance to governmental protocol, this appeal is hereby submitted for further review.”

While Litzman’s concern is mainly over breaking the status quo, the bill has angered both Arab MKs, Arab activists and the country of Jordan. The Jordanian Head of Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Endowments, Abdullah Al Awadi, expressed his objection by saying, “In accordance with international law, the occupier cannot make any historic changes in the city that it occupies and it is required to leave things as they are,” he continued. “This proves that any Israeli decision on Jerusalem is null and void.” MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint List) objected to the bill, as well. “This is a law against Palestinian presence in our homeland. It isn’t the noise that is harmful, but the outspoken presence of the Arab language that emphasizes the place’s identity, along with a certain level of controlling the space. It is a fight over it and control of it. If the will pass, we won’t respect it. We won’t lower our voice in our own space.”
Another MK to raise his voice was Jamal Zahalka (Joint List), who targeted Netanyahu in his objection. “Netanyahu has shown clear signs of chronic Islamophobia and needs immediate help, because his episodes are beginning to become dangerously combustible.” He added that “This isn’t Europe. This is where the muezzin has been making his voice heard for over a thousand years, and where Muslims will go on living …

Whomever can’t stand the sound of the muezzin is welcome to go back to where they won’t hear such sounds.” The Palestinian Authority also criticized the bill. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office warned against the ramifications of voting the bill into law and threatened to turn to the UN Security Council and other international organizations if this were to happen.

I can’t wait for Abbas to bring this issue to the Security Council. He’d better dress up his representative as a clown when he brings the issue forward. Can people get real. Freedom of prayer is sustained. Methods of waking people up have and do change and are not part of ANY religion that I know of. Sheesh.

Maybe Rav Litzman thinks he needs a Beis Din to annul the Siren minhag on Shabbos because it is halachically a practice akin to a “vow”.

Maybe Abbas needs Arafat to rise from his grave and address the security council about this grave matter (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)

Probably in Gulf states they have sound proof rooms for international guests or give them sound cancelling ear plugs 😦

Oh, and don't make smart comments about Schnapps. I've heard much louder bands of late :-)
Oh, and don’t make smart comments about Schnapps. I’ve heard much louder bands of late 🙂

What should we be doing during the lifting of the Torah (Part 4)

There are three previous blogs posts, (one, two and three), if you’ve read this far. Some of which have generated useful dialogue להגדיל תורה ולהדירה.

I received an email from a good friend and Talmid Chacham in Yerusholayim תִּבּנה ותכונן במהרה בימינו אמן who said that he liked what I had written but felt that I may be accused of seeing it in the Piskei Tshuvos of Rav Ben Tzion Rabinowitz שליט’’א, the son-in-law of the Biala Rebbe. I responded that I hadn’t seen the Piskei Tshuvos, and would take a look next time I walked in the Chabad Kollel. Ironically, I knew I had some Piskei Tshuvos in my library, but it had been such a while that I had looked into this very useful Sefer, that I had forgotten that I had the chapter on these particular Halachos (let alone learnt them)! I had thought I only had the ones on Yomim Tovim and Shabbos. I guess it’s a combination of ageing not so gracefully coupled with too many seforim in my library that I don’t open often enough.

I immediately wrote back, noting sheepishly that I actually owned that Piskei Tshuvos and would look into what was written on the topic.

The Piskei Tshuvos states in Chelek Beis, page 203, אות ד.

The Mishna B’rura סקי’’ט notes that that it seems that that Hagbah is more Mitzvah/important than Gelila, and therefore whoever does the Hagbah gives the Gelila to someone else, and based on this it is written in סעיף קטן ה that the Gemora in Megilla (32a) that the Golel (the roller of the Sefer Torah) takes the reward of all those who preceded him, refers to the person who does Hagba.

And the explanation of this [strange thing, how can the Gemora say Gelila is the higher reward and yet the Mishna Brura seems to contradict this and say that the Gemora (also) means the person who does Hagba, claims R’ Rabinowitz] is there was an original Minhag [among everyone], and that is the Minhag of the Sefardim until this day, that Hagbah is done before we layn, and after layning, another person rolls the Sefer Torah up, and closes/locks it (and they don’t bind it with a belt as we are accustomed to) and [then] it is lifted up and taken back to the Ark, and this second closing, is done by a different person to the first. The Gemora in Megila therefore states בפשיטות that the Golel, that is the last person to handle the Sefer Torah after the layning [as there is no open Hagbah at that point, takes the (final) last reward over everyone else.

However, the custom of the [latter-day] Ashkenazim has two differences from the above original practice. Firstly the open (expanded) Hagbah takes place after the layning, and secondly, the Hagbah is done by one person, and the Gelila is done by a second person, and the main honour in such a scenario is for the person who does Hagbah [because it’s impossible to say that the person who raps the belt and puts on the coat on is really the Golel [my note: they are simply dressing the Sefer Torah and not rolling it up] given that the person who lifts and shows the Torah to everyone and everyone stands to honour it is surely deserving of the greater honour.

However, since the language of the Gemora [in reconciliation with this later Ashkenazic practice] suggests that the person rolling the Torah gets the greater reward, there exists a custom that the person who does the Hagbah lifts the Sefer Torah and then that same person places the Sefer Torah back onto the Bima and rolls it up [so he also does Gelila] and he then sits down, and another person dresses the Torah.

R’ Rabinowitz then seeks the source of this minhag that the person who does Hagba also does Gelila and traces this (in subnote 13) to a Minhag Chabad and then he states

It appears to me that this minhag (of Chabad) must have been something also practiced by others in earlier generations, as noted by the Aruch Hashulchan

This comment surprises me. The Aruch Hashulchan explicitly states that he saw this Minhag himself seemingly for the first time. Now, while the Aruch Hashulchan was a well-known Navardoker, and they were far away from Chassidus, let alone Chassidus Chabad, the first place that the Aruch Hashulchan was Rav was actually in a town largely/mostly populated by Lubavitcher Chassidim. I don’t know how R’ Rabinowitz missed this factoid, and used the Aruch Hashulchan’s observation of Minhag Chabad to assume that it is an older Minhag. It may well be an older Minhag (preceding Chabad), but the sources brought are not conclusive.

Indeed, the Aruch Hashulchan comments that he cannot understand why young children were given Gelila presumably in Navardok  given that Gelila was so important (according to the Gemora). I don’t understand his question. It is clear that in former times, the Golel was considered the one with the biggest honour because Gelila happened before layning. (see the ב’’ח, quoting the שלטי הגבברים) and hence coupled with that, his was the greater honour. Who says then that the person that rolls up the Sefer Torah has the biggest reward in circumstances where that minhag had already ceased! I believe it had ceased by that stage.

Finally, R’ Rabinowitz quotes ארחות רבינו recording practices and views of the Chazon Ish, that the latter held that in our days the reward applied to both the Magbia and the Golel.

Anyway, be it what it may, my original question was why we do not seem to see people bowing when the Hagba takes place. I’m told that some, like the famous Rav Shraya Deblitzki שליט’’א considers it a Davar Pashut that one should bow and it is common in בני ברק.

It seems to be the standard original text as I have noted in previous posts.

My point was and remains that as per the original Minhag (and as followed by Sefardim today) that Hagbah occurred before the layning, and people approached to see the actual words of the Torah from whence the portion would be read, and that the people bowed as they approached the Torah’s shining letters. It seems to me, therefore, irrespective of whether does Hagba+Gelila at once followed by dressing the Torah as per Chabad and other Chassidim after layning, or whether one sees the common Ashkenazic practice of one person doing Hagba after layning followed by a different person doing the Gelila, that if one is close enough to actually see the lettering, one ought to bow.

It remains a mystery to me why this particular practice seems to have dissipated and yet everyone has picked up the curiously less sourced practice of showing a little finger.

One thing is for sure, the Piskei Tshuvos, while interesting and informative as always, certainly didn’t address the topic I was raising or my supposition about why the practice has dissipated, as claimed by my friend in Yerusholayim.

PS. In my opinion, in places where one person does Hagba and Gelila, the second person shouldn’t be called up as a Golel. He is not! He does an important thing: he dresses the Torah, and this can be done by a minor, but it certainly isn’t rolling up the Torah!

‘The Rav and the Rebbe’ a book by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin: some comments

I’ve thought about how I will comment on this book. I decided not to review it from a purely academic perspective, as I don’t see the book in the more traditional academic light; there is abundant speculation and innuendo, interspersed both under the surface and visibly, for it to be considered as such. An academic work would seek to start with no or few assumptions let alone perceived bias, and would attempt to conclude and prove on the basis of “raw” facts, without an undercurrent that seems to be attempting to convince the reader to embrace a particular approach a priori. To be fair, towards the end of the book, the author doesn’t deny this and is honest. The author has tried his best.

That’s not to say that the book doesn’t contain useful information; it does: I am always (addictively, one might say) interested in discovering new things about Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik (the Rav) and Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the Rebbe), although not so much in the sole sense of their relationship, but rather their philosophies, deeds, accomplishments, and advice for living a fulfilling Torah life. These were two unparalleled leaders of our time with enormous accomplishments. Sadly, I didn’t possess the maturity or have the opportunity of interaction to appreciate them while they were living in our world. Perhaps I’d be less perplexed or even less universalistic than I tend to be.

As background, it behoves me to re-state that I studied in Chabad during my entire schooling and am thankful for the Rayatz for setting up a School in the antipodes which served the children of Holocaust survivors. I gained a methodological approach to “learn” at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel after that. These days I attend varied Shules that follow Nusach Chabad (I used to go to Mizrachi and Elwood, mainly, as that is where my father davened, and I was also Shaliach Tzibbur on Yomim Noroim). One is often influenced to be where their grandchildren are. It is good for them to see Zayda at Shule. I need to do more of that.

A keen sense of Chabad doesn’t elude me, having three sons-in-law and a son who consider themselves Chabad Chassidim of various shades. I don’t have any problems with that, and I hope they don’t have any problems with me having my own approach. In fact, I encourage them to adhere to their principles.

I only visited 770 once, a few years ago, and although I was in New York many years prior, never felt a sense of self-importance to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  At that time I convinced myself that I had nothing burning to justify disturbing a busy Rebbe. I did enjoy the shtetl-like Crown Heights and managed to speak with many of the older, well-known personalities. This is another penchant of mine as they are a fountain of experience and wisdom.

The Rav, on the other hand, wasn’t part of my life until much later. I wouldn’t have asked him for a Brocha per se if I’d seen him. He was not a Rebbe. More likely, I would have taken a back seat and listened and tried to absorb. He had passed away by the time I felt the magnetism. I was and am exposed to him through his writings, talks, and the material from his students: one of whom is my primary Posek. The Rav is a source of fascination. A brilliant Brisker Talmudist, primarily, who taught a solid Mesora to legions of Rabbis, he also acquired a PhD in Philosophy (which he originally wanted to write about the Rambam but could not, as there wasn’t a qualified supervisor willing to supervise him in Berlin). My own career in University, although not in Philosophy, may be a factor in that attraction, but I’m not sure of that.

I have written a few blog posts on the topic with some documentary evidence and my own speculation. There should be no doubt, however, that the Rebbe had halachically and personally derived respect for the Rav. He stood upright at a Farbrengen as the Rav walked in, and remained standing when the Rav left. This has its roots in Halacha, and is most significant, even for a Chassid. I do get offended when the Rav is referred to as “J.B”. I hear this from Lubavitchersand some others. I find this an enormous Bizayon HaTorah, and make my feelings known vociferously. Can one imagine calling the Rebbe “M.M”? It’s a Chutzpah.

This was some background. I felt it important to mention, lest it biased my reading. It’s up to other readers to decide that, though, and I welcome any of their reflections.

Rabbi Dalfin’s book was been proof-read, and although there are some English errors, I sense English expression isn’t his forte. It reads more as a communicative attempt to search for commonalities, even obscure, irrelevant, and quite subjective ones, as a means to unite the two giants.

The purpose of this attempt at uniting and attempt at commonality is clear: it is to make Chabad more palatable or desirable for YU-style Talmidim. I didn’t find, though, any reciprocal exhortation or suggestion that someone from Chabad read, for example “Abraham’s Journey” while we are in the midst of B’Reishis. It’s a very good read, by the way.

I have never met Rabbi Dalfin, and that is probably good, as I maintained an open mind. I am acquainted with his ex-Melbournian wife and know his famed mother-in-law, but that is tangential. Notwithstandingly, the book I see the book as a pseudo-academic work designed to also function as a soft and diplomatic/disguised approach to convince the non Chabad students of Toras Rav, that:

  1. the distance between Chabad and the Rav’s Mesora is closer than they think;
  2. since the Rav was exposed to Chassidus as a child it not only affected his vista of Yahadus, but the Rav’s Talmidim should do likewise; and
  3. the Rav continued being an avid reader of Chassidus.

Rabbi Dalfin is aware that these accusations would be forthcoming and I feel he did his best to submerge them. In the process, I am sure (or hope) Rabbi Dalfin also gained an enormous respect for the Rav. At the end of the day, though, Rabbi Dalfin is a Chabad Chassid first and last, and that commits a person to clear boundaries and conclusions. It’s not my way, but it’s a valid approach.

Rabbi Chaim Dalfin
Rabbi Chaim Dalfin

 

There has been a group in YU who learn Chassidus already for some years. This also manifests itself amongst some in Yeshivot Hesder. Rav Hershel Reichman, one of the Roshei Yeshivah, has taught Chassidus for eons and visited the Rebbe at least three times, and one of the newer Mashgichim at YU is the charismatic Eish Kodesh of Woodmere, a fully-fledged Chassid (but not of Chabad per se). One can even download on yutorah.org (I think two) sets of Shiurim on the complete Tanya.

None of this is surprising due to the fact that at YU and RIETS, one isn’t shackled. In Chabad, one is more limited to a pre-defined set of Seforim. Individual Chabadniks, often the most impressive messengers of Chabad’s mission, are the ones who have also read more widely. The stock standard Chassid limits themselves safely to Toras Chabad and Torah She Baal Peh and Biksav. Personally, I appreciate it when someone tries to imbue a new insight, irrespective of what it’s based upon.

Chakira-philosophically styled works-is not encouraged in Chabad institutions today to my knowledge, and yet, I believe the original students of the famed Tomchei Temimim needed to know Kuzari and Moreh Nevuchim, before being admitted. The argument might be that in our day, people are not at that level and not equipped to deal with the challenges. This is cogent, but is it universally effective? Alternatively, the Lubavitcher Rebbe provided a comprehensive and firm formula relating to Jews which navigates around these types of seforim and provides an alternate approach, even though an enquiring mind may want to dip their toe into philosophical questions. Lubavitch emphasises Bitul, and Chakira involves questioning. Are they mutually exclusive?

For Chabad, there is only Chabad Chassidus, and it is often referred to as the Shaar HaKollel, the gate that all and everyone should enter, and Chassidus must be spread far and wide as a pre-condition for Moshiach. I don’t even think Rabbi Dalfin would agree that this was the view of the Rav or his Talmidim! In that sense, the Rav and the Rebbe were worlds apart. Perhaps they completed each other? One manifested their inherent gifts as a “Melamed/Rosh Yeshivah/Posek for the RCA” and the other as a “Manhig for all Jews”. They are different categories of leadership and contribution. Both were intellectually and intuitively well advanced over stock Rabbis in their generation, and were the subject of unfound criticism, as a result. That has been a hallmark of Rabbinic history, sadly.

I found that there was repetition thoughout the book, and that it could have been cut down by perhaps one third. The most interesting things = were footnotes where the author had sought interviews with people, whom I had not heard of or read about. For this alone, it was certainly worthwhile, especially for a somewhat addicted one to these personalities.

I now make some non-exhuastive comments on various parts of the book. While I was reading, I placed an ear mark against something I felt warranted comment. I now go back to each ear mark and try to remember why I did so!

The Rav (second from left) with Rav Shmuel Walkin

On page 43, Rabbi Dalfin notes that the Rebbe met Rav Hutner. I would expect that Rabbi Dalfin also knows that when Rav Hutner wanted to learn Chassidus, eventually he had a Friday night session with the Lubavitcher Rebbe (who was the Ramash at the time) at the explicit direction of the Rayatz, the Ramash’s father-in-law. The other brother in law, the Rashag, who was an important personality, was the original Chavrusa, but Rav Hutner needed more. Rabbi Dalfin didn’t need to tell us this, but it is an interesting historical fact.

I do not know where Rabbi Dalfin has information that the Rav ever spoke to or had anything to do with Nechama Leibowitz, even though she was there. She apparently sat in the library behind a mound of books. No doubt he would have nodded his head in passing. We do know, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe and others were in a tutorial with a series of august Rabbis, and were taught by Rav Aharon Kotler’s more controversial sister (this is documented in ‘The Making of a Gadol’ by Rav Kaminetzky, where she is alleged to have said who she thought was “smartest” of the talented group studying in Berlin).

As far as I know both the Rav and the Rebbe attended Rav Chaim Heller’s shiurim quite often. Rav Heller, however, maintained his relationship in the USA with the Rav, and the Rav’s hesped for Rav Heller was like a son for a father. It is one of the Rav’s classic hespedim.

The Rebbe in the early years, as the Ramash
The Rebbe in the early years, as the Ramash

The interchange about the Rambam at the Shiva call, seems to be questionable, or at least there are two versions. It would have been good if the actual letter from the Rebbe to the Rav was reproduced in the book. I’m sure it exists. The traditional story I read about and heard was that they discussed the laws of an Onen and Trumah and at one stage the Rebbe said “it is an open Rambam”. The Rav replied “there is no such Rambam”. Most of the discussion was in half sentences which the bystanders could not follow. One would start a Ma’amar Chazal, and the other would counter before they had finished their sentence. Subsequently, the Rebbe noted in his letter that it wasn’t actually in the Rambam’s Halachic writing, but appeared in the Rambam’s earlier glosses on Mishnayos and apologised for the misunderstanding.

On page 44, Rabbi Dalfin seems to be apologetic when saying that the Rebbe did not reciprocate a shiva call to the Rav because he stopped leaving 770 except to visit the grave of his father in law, the Rayatz. This may be true. Rabbi Dalfin notes however the phrase “with very few exceptions” that he did leave. I have little doubt that each such exception (prior to the early days when the Rebbe performed Chuppa/Kiddushin) were for important Chassidim or special cases/incidents. There were exceptions, though, and this can’t be glossed over: the Rav’s Aveilus was not one of them, though the thesis is that they were good friends. The Rebbe wrote as much. Clearly, visiting the Rav for a Shivah call was not one of those exceptions; the Rav saw it at least as an Halachik obligation to console the Rebbe personally. Indeed, the Rebbe subsequently wrote to the Rav, proposing that it might be possible to console a mourner through the written word. The Rebbe, also being felicitous to Halacha felt that he needed to explore and justify that one can be Menachem Avel through a letter. [I do not know if the Rebbe rang the Rav. If he did not, why not? If he did, I may have missed it in the book]

Page 46 (and other pages) In reference to the meetings of minds between the Rav and the Rashab at the Kinus HoRabonnim in Warsaw to oppose secular studies in the Yeshivas, as proposed by the Soviets, there seems to be no mention about the other recorded tradition. The Rashab was allegedly depressed because he felt he and Rav Chaim would lose the vote, being in the minority. The Rashab was weeping. Rav Chaim approached him and told him that he shouldn’t weep. Rav Chaim assured him that it would not happen. As I recall reading, just as the discussion/vote was to start, Rav Chaim rose and ascended to the Bima, banged his hand, and issued a formal Psak Din, that it was forbidden to listen to the Soviet proposal. None of the great Rabbonim who were present, was game to challenge Rav Chaim, even though they were great, and the meeting was over. I’m not sure why this version which has appeared in other places, isn’t mentioned.

On page 49, Rabbi Dalfin states that the Rav was a studious admirer of the Baal HaTanya. The Rav was certainly studious and was an admirer, but one needs to bring some evidence that the Rav learned Tanya regularly or semi-regularly following his youth to come to some of the conclusions Rabbi Dalfin seems to suggest. The Rav certainly knew the Tanya, as he did the Nefesh HaChaim of his ancestor, and he is one of the few who understood the differences. Unlike the noble recent translation of the Nefesh Hachaim by Avinoam Fraenkel, the Rav and the Rebbe both felt that the approaches to Tzimtzum were not the same. Either way, Tzimtzum isn’t something on my lips on a regular basis and I can’t say I think about it much. Ironically, I do when engaging a non Jewish students who wishes to talk!

The Rav was also a philosopher, yet Rabbi Dalfin states that in the Rav’s speech extolling the Rayatz, the Rav’s use of comparison between the Rayataz and Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa, was inspired by the writings of the Alter Rebbe in Tanya. Supposition?  The Rav knew Tanya and it’s there, he would have seen it and in Chazal. If he didn’t know Tanya, then he would have known the Chazals. It shouldn’t be remotely claimed that the Rav applying this praise to the Rayatz, was some type of pseudo plagiarism or an imperative derived from the Tanya. I got that message and didn’t appreciate it. Perhaps it is what gave the Rav the initial idea to create such a masterful Drosha, but the Rav was not a regular copyist (in fact, when he visited Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky he was quite upset as he perused Rav Chaim Ozer’s Seforim, because he saw many of his Chiddushim has been published by others, and he had not seen those Seforim until then).

The Rav was a Master darshan in his own right and had plenty to call upon. He didn’t need Tanya to construct his positive comments about the Rayatz, and one doesn’t need to justify saying something that appears in many places! By the way, to buttress my point, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner told me that he was present for this particular Derosha from the Rav, and it was the best Drosha he had ever heard. Rabbi Groner was well acquainted with the Rayatz and the Tanya and the Rebbe.

On page 50, we come to a quandary. If the Rav was so infused with Chassidus Chabad, why did it apparently take his recovery from an illness to teach Chassidus for 15 minutes as a measure of Hakoras HaTov. Before the Hakoras HaTov, he didn’t find it important enough?

I don’t recall Rabbi Dalfin mentioning the Rav’s comment extolling that a unique greatness of the Rebbe was his ability to take Yahadus into Reshus HoRabbim and that this was something the rest of the Rabbinical world could not or would not do, with fervour, organisation and single mindedness. Many kirov organisations try to emulate the approach, but aren’t quite as effective due to the Mesiras Nefesh of the Chassid.

On page 53, Rabbi Dalfin brings no source for the alleged knowledge of Sam Cramer. If it is true, then the Rayatz’s wife and daughter would have known about it, in the least!

On page 59, Rabbi Dalfin mentioned Rav Mendel Vitebsker seemingly nonchalantly as someone who accompanied the Alter Rebbe to see the Gaon of Vilna (others say it was the Berditchever, as Rabbi Dalfin mentions later). Rabbi Dalfin will know that Rav Mendel, also known as R’ Mendel Horodoker, was explicitly referred to as Rebbe by the Baal HaTanya himself, and the Baal HaTanya followed his Rebbe physically as a chassid to Israel, until told to turn back by R’ Mendel and look after the diaspora in Russia. It has always been a mystery to me why Rav Mendel isn’t considered a Rebbe before the Baal HaTanya in the chain of Chabad lineage, given that the Baal HaTanya considered and wrote of him as his Rebbe. Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t related to the Schneersohn dynasty. Either way, that is a side issue, but one that has intrigued me. Indeed, when I spoke to the late and great Chassid and friend, R’ Aharon Eliezer Ceitlin about this point, he mentioned that someone had once asked the Rebbe this question at a farbrengen, and the Rebbe replied that “it was a good question”. Take it for what it’s worth. I’m repeating what I was told. There is probably another reason.

On page 61, Rabbi Dalfin concludes that early tradition guided much of the Rav’s acceptance of Chabad. I see no logical conclusion for that. The Vilna Gaon went into exile for months, climbing through a window and issued a Cherem! Yes, the Vilna Gaon may have been misled, but a better proof would have been from the Rav’s relative, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, who pointedly did not sign the Cherem, even though he wrote it!

On page 63 Rabbi Dalfin argues that the Rav wasn’t a traditional Misnaged. He doesn’t define Misnaged. They come in different modes today. He needs to. A full misnaged is opposed to all Chassidic groups! My Rov, Rav Boruch Abaranok used to say, “Halevai there were Misnagdim today and Halevei there were Chassidim”.

Rabbi Dalfin surmises that the Rav didn’t go to the Mikva every day “perhaps because learning was more important”. The Rav was the quintessential Halachic man. Perhaps he saw no Halacha vis a vis Takonas Ezra requiring him to go Mikvah. On the contrary, one could conclude that Chassidus had not enough effect on him when it was weighed against Halacha Peshuta and his Brisker Mesora. (Apart from the fact that the Rav presumably showered and according to his student Rav Schachter and others, this suffices for those who wish to keep Takonas Ezra today). In those days, Mikvaos were also the central place to have a Shvitz and a clean up of sorts.

I do not know what is meant by the misnaged approach to practical Halacha that Rabbi Dalfin writes about. If anything, Brisk was highly critical of the Litvishe Yeshivas engaged with Pilpul and not drilling down to Halacha. The Rav was quite sharp in criticising that aspect. This was also the view of Rav Kook who never finished the books he wanted to write (as opposed to the snippet of diary entries which have been morphed and altered into books and are therefore mired in controversy).

On page 64, Rabbi Dalfin concludes based on David Holtzer’s book that the Rav did not think much of Polish ChaGaS. The Rav was despite his strong persona, extremely tolerant. His views were firm, but if there was a Yid for whom ChaGaS was a major ingredient and perhaps suited their personality, I cannot imagine from the Rav’s writings, that he would have an issue with it, let alone tell the person to abandon ChaGaS. The Rav wrote what affected him. I am not sure he wrote to convince others to change their approach to Yahadus.

The Rav had a lot of time for the Tehillim Yidden in Khaslavich. These were indelible memories. Yet, saying Tehillim was not the Brisker way. Brisk were the elite. I’d venture to say that Rav Moshe, the Rav’s father was more elitist (call it extreme masoretic) than the Rav, but the Rav was not, even though he maintained a personal unshakeable fidelity. Rav Moshe preferred Mishnayos, as is known by the practice between the two on Rosh Hashona.

Rabbi Dalfin relates that the Rav was allegedly eventually convinced of the emotional style of attracting Jews practiced by the Bostoner Rebbe, with whom he was close. But, the Rav had an open mind, and when he saw it had a place for certain types of Jews he accepted it. I don’t find it surprising. Evidence is a powerful ingredient. [On taking fringe ground: Both the Rav and the Rebbe gave Rabbi Riskin permission to develop Lincoln Square Synagogue, but this was not advice for others.]

This is in stark contradiction to the general approach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe adhered to one way; Toras HaBaal HaTanya as successively elucidated and revealed by successive Rebbes. I can’t belittle such an approach. Why would I? I know many who are consumed by it. The Rebbe never deviated from it, and when in doubt, he followed what his father-in-law (as opposed to his more Kabbalistically inclined father) did. He was completely beholden to his father-in-law until his last breath, and felt he was an extension of his mission (in my opinion). In this sense the Rav and Rebbe were chalk and cheese. The Rav and Rav Moshe weren’t exactly kindred personalities but they had an understanding, a bond, perhaps a quietest bond void of emotions. The Rav, though, was not the pure extension of his father. That being said, he trembled to teach a Masechta that he had not learned with his father.

I recall reading a story that the Rav was to be a Sandek at a bris where they were going to do Metzitza using the mouth. The Rav who was Sandek, informed the Chassidic Mohel, that he forbade him to do so. The Rav was concerned for health reasons, and this was a matter of Halacha. Brisk are notorious for their stringency on matters of health, which results in leniencies. Two or three times they argued back and forth, and the Mohel refused to budge (he obviously didn’t think much of the Rav; Chassidim dismiss him as out of hand, but quietly admit that he was the inheritor of R’ Chaim’s brilliant mind). At that moment the Rav told the Mohel, “you are lucky that my father isn’t the Sandek. He wasn’t as tolerant as me. He would have walked out and refused to move one iota”. In this sense, I think Rav Moshe, the Rav’s father, was more like the Lubavitcher Rebbe showing a more singular unshakeable approach. He followed his Beis HoRav to the minutest detail [although in his later years he adopted the Tachkemoni approach, which didn’t work out for various reasons]. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had his singular vision and methodology and that could not be compromised and was a faithful brilliant continuation from the 1st Rebbe of Chabad.

On page 77, Rabbi Dalfin writes of an interchange with the venerable Rav Mendel Marosov regarding Mussar and Chassidus. One need not read the interchange in the way that Rabbi Dalfin interpreted it. Rather, the Rav could easily have been saying “Rabbi Marosov, you are a Chassid, you should be asking me not about Mussar but about Chassidus“. Neither implies that the Rav held that his Talmidim had to learn either. In Brisk they had a disdain for mussar (some called it Bitul Torah), and didn’t know of Chassidus. The Rav was exposed to Chassidus, and it gave him a non Brisker Geshmack in the same way that his mother did for the emotional side of Judaism and the secular scholarship of the world, in contrast to the more limited approach of his father.

Rabbi Dalfin states,

“if we truly respect the Rav and wish to fulfil his wishes(!) then Chassidus should be taught and studied at YU”.

This is a very long bow. Many of the Rav’s best Talmidim don’t study Chassidus regularly or at all, and were never asked to do so by the Rav! Certainly Rav Schachter quotes both from the Baal HaTanya and the Nefesh HaChaim and considers them both important Seforim. The thing I infer is that the Rav wanted to create original, halachically, sound-thinking, critical-thinking Rabonim, bound by a Mesora that behoved them to consult their Chaveirim if they had a Chiddush in Halacha, and then to do a PhD to enhance their ability to research with an academic nuance and think methodologically with the rigour he was exposed to in his University studies (and also relate to the new American, who spoke a different language).

On Page 86 Rabbi Dalfin notes “Some have criticised the Rav for being indecisive”. With this statement I believe Rabbi Dalfin is evasive for diplomatic or other reasons in order to further part of his agenda, and perhaps it indicates he doesn’t appreciate fully the Rav’s way. In fact it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself who noted the Rav was prone to sometimes change his mind.

Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז'ל mentioning the Rav ז'ל
Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל mentioning the Rav ז’ל

In an interchange with Rabbi Dalfin, I criticised him for consciously leaving this letter out of his book and addressing it. He responded that he didn’t have the full context of the letter (and neither did I) and had consulted others as to whether to include it. It could well be that the rest of the letter had nothing to do with these comments, but it’s hard to imagine that the letter would be an expansion of what the Rebbe said, or a self-softening of what he said. My view is that they were intrinsically, also different.

Anyone who has seen Rav Schachter during Summer in Tannersville, knows that when he starts learning Gemora on his porch, he tells the many who wish to join him, that they must remove all their previous thoughts and knowledge about the Gemora and think originally again! This was what he learned from the Rav. It was about never being afraid to revisit an issue and conclude differently” (as did Rav Chaim Brisker famously in his inaugural lecture in the Volozhiner Yeshiva).

Some might say this indicates that the Rav vacillated, or was weak. [The episode of Kashrus in Boston, which Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky’s father experienced put paid to that. The Rav didn’t budge an iota when the Halacha was as clear as could be, and suffered (in his words) with the attempts to discredit him in court] To do so, in my opinion is to not understand his halachic honesty and his self-sacrificial fidelity to Mesora, that “every day it should be in your eyes, like something afresh”.

To Rabbi Dalfin I say, you should have published the part of the letter, translated it, and then made whatever comment you could or could not make. You could even have even left it to the reader.  To leave it out, is not the way, and the book is poorer for not mentioning this. I was also critical of both Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky and Rabbi Yossi Jacobson for not addressing this letter in a forum about the Rav and the Rebbe at YU (such a forum wouldn’t happen at 770 🙂 and I corresponded with Rabbi Jacobson on this matter, privately. As I recall, we agreed to disagree.

The Rebbe and the Rav
The Rebbe and the Rav

The fact is that this letter was hidden, and only known about by few. I don’t usually look at statistics on my blog, as they don’t interest me; I write because I feel a need to, at times. The statistics spiked when I published the letter) wordpress had sent me an email. Note also that anything personal could have been redacted, and the entire letter published. Everyone knows the librarian at 770, and they can obtain this letter from him and do the needful, unless there was a specific command for the librarian not to release it (and if there was, one needs to ask why). There are other cases where Chassidim (not the Rebbe) tried to prevent the publication of something he said.

My view is that this letter does not mean the Lubavitcher Rebbe was not fond of or friendly with the Rav, but it does mean that aspects of the Rav’s Derech HaTorah were not in tune with the Rebbe. I believe this fact is inescapable.

The Rav was also misunderstood. Many a time a Talmid would come to “ask a Shayla”. The Rav nodded. When asked why he nodded when he was against the proposal put forth by the Talmid, the Rav said, that [young modern Rabbi, as Rav Hershel likes to put it] did not come to ask me a Shayla. He already had decided. He had some contorted opinion to rely on, but the Rav did not agree with it LeHalacha U’LeMaaseh. He was, however, not interested in the Rav’s Psak. Someone of this type doesn’t come to the Rav as a Talmid to a Rav.

There are many stories of people asking the Rav if a woman has to wear a head covering. The Rav answered “yes, definitely”. They were “smarter” than the Rav, and thought he was just giving a dry diplomatic answer given that his own wife didn’t wear one (for reasons I’m sure she could explain). The Rav answered honestly, I have no doubt, and this is what he held.

On page 87, Rabbi Dalfin states that the Rav tried to be lenient on some rulings! I don’t buy this for one second. The Rav paskened according to what he firmly concluded was Halacha, and like all Poskim, specifically for the person asking the question, and the circumstance. His grandfather used to find lenient positions to make a Chicken Kosher. Did this make Reb Chaim a Kal? The strength of a Hetter is more powerful. The Rav would never pasken unless he was confident and if something new (technologically or fact-wise) came to light, he was intellectually honest enough to change his ruling. This happened with electricity and microphones, for example. He wasn’t the only one. He saw no contradiction with that. It was an imperative. Rabbi Dalfin hints at this in the footnote, but that sort of comment is for the text, not a footnote.

I am sure that Rabbi Dalfin also knows that when it came to questions of Yichud and adopted children, the Rebbe often suggested the couple go to see the Rav in Boston for a Psak, rather than ask the Rebbe. Why would the Rebbe do that if he didn’t respect the Rav as a Posek with broad shoulders?

The Rashab
The Rashab

On page 102, Rabbi Dalfin takes a long bow and attempts to extrapolate that the Rav “learned from Chabad” that a simple Jew should fuse the spiritual and the mundane. Does this mean Chabad follow Torah U’Madda or Torah Im Derech Eretz? Absolutely not. Chabad astonished the young Rav when he observed that simple Jews displayed real Yiras Shomayim and yet did so without great Torah knowledge. This contradicted his Mesora. It’s irrelevant anyway now. Both Chabad and YU stress the need for great Torah knowledge, (Chabad still maintained its Mesorah for saying Tehillim, and Rav Moshe would still have encouraged learning Mishnayos)

On page 125, it is noted, that the Rav was not in the habit of going to hear Torah from a Torah Genius. It is true, he didn’t go to other tishes or farbrengens. He didn’t even learn in a mainstream Yeshivah. Today’s Yeshivas would have thrown him out! Look at the way the Aguda spitefully treat Rav Schachter at the Siyum Hashas. He is seated at a back table, despite the fact that he likely knows more than all those at the head dias. This is Kavod?

What would the Rav learn in Viznitz or Belz! He did go to Rav Chaim Heller, as did the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Rav Heller was a genius but was not gifted as an orator and those around him often didn’t understand what he was saying. The Rav would elucidate. This doesn’t contradict Rabbi Rakkefet’s comment brought in the footnote that the Rav would interrupt, as if to imply he didn’t have respect for Rav Heller’s Torah or think it was worthwhile attending! The Rav, however, had very firm views of the standard of Torah of others. Rav Shimon Shkop was a Rosh Yeshivah at YU until his students sadly cajoled him to go back to Europe. The Rav didn’t feel at all inferior to the Rav Shimon Shkops and other luminaries at YU. He taught his way.

The Rav discussed Torah with Rav Aharon Kotler and Reb Moshe Feinstein, and visited sick Gedolai HaTorah who were in hospital who were visiting from overseas, and lifted their spirits through Torah interchanges. He was also the Chairman for the Chinuch Atzmoi at the behest of Rav Kotler because even though he had moved philosophically towards the vision of Mizrachi, he never minimised the importance of Rav Kotler’s work, and he also used to interchange Toras HoRambam with his Uncle, Reb Velvele (although the shameful ones removed the Rav’s name as the author of the letters). The Rav used to ironically send money to his Uncle to support his institutions! He was tolerant to those who learned Torah; even the Neturei Karta.

One can conclude that the Rav thought enough of the Rebbe based on personal interaction that he would come to part of an important farbrengen. It is not surprising that hearing the Torah there, he stayed as long as he felt well enough. Why wouldn’t he? The Rebbe was a genius. I don’t think that had to do with friendship per se. There was some Hakoras HaTov, but in the main, he was attracted to what he was hearing.

There is a theory, I think Rabbi Jacobson mentioned it, that the Rebbe tailored what he was saying, to respond to some of the issues the Rav had written about in the Rav’s Seforim. I’m not at the level to understand that. If I ever meet Rabbi Jacobson, I’d be interested to try and understand.

I wish to note another comment that I read in Rabbi Sholem Ber Kowalsky’s book, which I bought for some reason. He had been in the car, as I recall. Someone “borrowed” the book from me, and I haven’t seen it in years. Bring it back! In addition to what the Rav said in the car on the way back as reported by Rabbi Dalfin, the Rav also is reputed to have said that “Er meint az er iz Moshiach”, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe thought he was Moshiach. I know there is a JEM video with Rabbi Kowalsky and I don’t recall him saying that phrase in the video, but I clearly remember reading it, as it hit me between the eyes at the time. I don’t have a clue if it bothered the Rav in any way; I doubt it. I think his mind would be on the Shiurim he was to deliver.

Rabbi Dalfin seems to associate the Rebbe standing when the Rav entered the farbrengen as some sort of reciprocation. How does Rabbi Dalfin know that the Rebbe reciprocated because he saw the effort the Rav made (as a sick man who found it difficult to sit with sciatica) to come. Does Rabbi Dalfin, a Chabad Chassid not consider that the Rebbe stood because that is the Halacha for people of the calibre of the Rav!?! I guess for a Chassid, that just doesn’t work.

1. Rav Dovid Lifschitz, Suwalker Rav, 2. Rav Moshe Shatzkes, Lomza Rav, 3. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, R”Y RIETS, 4. Rav Chaim Heller, R”Y RIETS, 5. Dr. Shmuel Belkin, Presiden of RIETS
1. Rav Dovid Lifschitz, Suwalker Rav, 2. Rav Moshe Shatzkes, Lomza Rav, 3. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, R”Y RIETS, 4. Rav Chaim Heller, R”Y RIETS, 5. Dr. Shmuel Belkin, Presiden of RIETS

The size of the Shule that the Rav davened in as described in page 170 was small. The Rav wanted to teach students how to learn according to his Mesorah. He wasn’t a Rebbe, and saw no need for them to follow his personal Minhogim and styles. The Rav davened quickly, for example.

Both the Rav and the Rebbe were snappy dressers in Berlin. For the Rebbe, this was a negative amongst older Chassidim who were displeased that he wore white gloves to the Seuda for his Wedding, and had removed his Kapote, as described in the Warsaw press, at that time in the early hours of the morning. (The article from the press appears in “Larger than life” and is very detailed; it was a big story). I have both volumes of Larger than life if anyone is interested. I know the author is derided.

On page 140, Rabbi Dalfin claims that they had a different view of active messianism. I’m not sure why there is at least no footnote of evidence to support this statement. Rabbi Dalfin seems to forget that studying Kodshim, which is a Brisker emphasis, has plenty to do with being ready for the immanence of Moshiach. It is a Torah-study based activism and preparation (the same view was held by the Chafetz Chaim and Rav Kook). I’m not arguing the point, but just wondering if he had evidence that the Rav was opposed to the Rebbe’s approach. Could they not be complementary? After all, the Rebbe inaugurated the learning of the Rambam daily because it covered all aspects of Halacha and was unique, including the times of Moshiach and Kodshim and Tahara etc

On page 142, it is claimed that the Brisker tradition meant that the Rav may have been “less forgiving” in dialogue with visitors than the Rebbe. I think Rabbi Dalfin forgets that Rav Chaim left a specific command that only “Ish Hachesed” should be left on his tombstone. Rav Chaim was known to be very soft with the people, but tough in Torah discussion. The Rav was no Rogatchover firebrand with visitors, although he burned with Torah, and indeed, the Rav was very different to his father, possibly on account of the influence of his mother. Whilst in the early days of Shiur, the Rav “took no prisoners”, I’m not aware that he treated each person who came to his house with pure graciousness as per Halacha. If Rabbi Dalfin has evidence to the contrary, it should be presented.

On page 143, there is not enough evidence for the claim that the Rav studied the Moreh Nevuchim (regularly or semi-regularly). Of course he had studied it. We know he gave a year-long shiur on the topic that has been masterfully put together into a book by Professor Lawrence Kaplan recently, however, in the scheme of things, the Rav was much more of a “Melamed” of Shas and Poskim, then a teacher of philosophy. I wonder how often he picked up the Moreh Nevuchim later? How many of he Rav’s shiurim diverged into Philosophy or Chakirah? Do they sit in a filing cabinet?

Asking what the Brisker fascination with the Rambam was, is like asking why the Lubavitcher Rabbi had a fascination with every nuanced word of Rashi on the Torah. What about it? The Rambam was unique, as expressed by the Beis Yosef himself. There is no doubt about that. Indeed, at a Shiva call, the Rebbe asked the Rav, what his opinion was about the Philosophy of the Alter Rebbe, given that the Rav was ‘a philosoph’. The Rav responded that since the Rambam, there has been no greater Jewish (or non Jewish) philosopher than the Alter Rebbe. I heard and saw this stated from the mouth of Rav Hershel Reichman, who was in the room at the time, and is one of the Roshei Yeshiva at YU.

Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky
Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky

On page 170, Rabbi Dalfin seems surprised that Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter didn’t “hang out to daven” wherever the Rav was davening. I’m not sure why Rabbi Dalfin was so surprised. Prior to the current Litvishe Rabbis effectively imitating the ways of the Chassidishe Rabbis in that they became the locus of all activity, the Rav did not like anyone simply following his practices because he did them. He respected that there were family customs; his job was to teach Torah. He wasn’t taking the place of his father or grandfather and expanding the Shule he attended into an enormous gathering of Chassidim. Chassidim emulate every aspect of their Rebbe. They even clap their hands in the same style, and reshape their hats with a Kneich in the same way. This is totally foreign to a Brisker Litvak like the Rav.

ravmoshesoloveitchik
Rav Moshe Soloveitchik

On page 175, Rabbi Dalfin describes the non Brisker message the Rav derived from the simple Chassidim of his youth. The Rav has written about it. Nowhere did I find support for Rabbi Dalfin’s comment that this was attained through attending farbrengens! I can’t even imagine Reb Moshe allowing his son to attend. If I recall, the Rav retells how at Melave Malka he experienced the longing of Chassidim to extend the Shabbos and how that impressed him greatly (and yes, the Rav kept Rabbeinu Tam’s times for Shabbos). I haven’t read anywhere about the effect of any farbrengens per se on the Rav.

On page 198. Rabbi Dalfin quotes an exchange with Rabbi Fund. It is interesting, but I don’t think Rabbi Dalfin sees the message adequately, that when the Rav learned Likutei Torah, Rabbi Fund states that he only elaborated on topics that he recognised, and that he didn’t use Chassidic language. Most importantly, contradicting the undertones of Rabbi Dalfin’s book, is that Rabbi Fund states that

“His [the Rav’s] exposure to Chassidus was limited

Rabbi Dalfin attempts to connect the teaching styles of Reb Yoel Kahn and the Rav. I once tried to listen to Reb Yoel Kahn, and found his delivery very difficult to follow. I think this was due to a speech impediment. The Rav was an orator. But more to the point, the Rav was a Mechadesh. Does anyone in Chabad think that Reb Yoel Kahn said or wrote original Chidushim in Chassidus? Surely he crystallised the thoughts of the Rebbes for the masses and is most influential in that way.

On page 225, Rabbi Dalfin recounts the Shavuos meal shared by the Rashab and R’ Chaim as retold by the Rayatz. I do not understand why Rabbi Dalfin didn’t mention that in response to the Rashab, R’ Chaim provided his own Torah in response, let alone reflect on what R’ Chaim was trying to say )I read this in Nefesh HoRav, I believe). I read the episode as two Torah giants exchanging Torah at a meal with mutual respect. I’m not sure how one reads Rabbi Dalfin or the Chassid with whom he discussed it and the novel explanation, without the context of R’ Chaim’s Torah at that same time. In addition, was there any evidence of “push back” from the Rav to learning Chassidus. I know that when he did take that initiative, he stopped Likutei Torah, and tore strips off Rabbi Menachem Genack, and said that this study was not for those who couldn’t use their heart, and stop focussing on the Rav’s brain.

On page 230, Rabbi Dalfin seems to imply that there is a paucity of “mimic acceptance” amongst Chassidim. My understanding is that Chassidim first do accept anything the Rebbe says or does, and then try to understand it (if they are successful). The Rav, was a great supporter of mimetic tradition, when it came to Mesorah (his son R’ Chaym famously writes about the concept in Tradition), but when it came to learning the truth of Torah, he had no place for non-critical regurgitation. One needed to personally work to come to sound conclusions. This was his definition of proper Torah study LiShma. Indeed, as a simple example, the Rav never accepted the new Techeles, not because he had some scientific or halachic objection, but because a Mesora had been broken. Yet, his student, Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter, does wear Techeles, and brings cogent arguments as to why one should do so as a Halachic preference. The Rav would have had no issue with a Talmid Muvhak, deciding in this way.

On page 236, Rabbi Dalfin wonders how the left of the RCA were becoming more dominant. For one, the left has effectively gone to YCT and has been rejected by the RCA. Secondly, to conjecture that this is the Rav’s fault because he encouraged individualism, is to ignore that the Rav over-rode individualism on matters of great importance, and the RCA does the same to this day. Furthermore, this line of argument, is akin to claiming that the plainly lunatic meshichist elohisten who stand in line for Kos Shel Brocho and think the Rebbe is literally alive, are the fault of the Rebbe because he should have been more forthright in stopping Rav Wolpe from writing his book on Moshiach. I heard that exchange on video, and I can’t see what the Rebbe could have said with more intent. Rav Wolpe though thought and thinks he knows what the Rebbe wanted and went ahead, even though the Rebbe told him to desist. There are many examples of Chassidim (with Hiskashrus) who do things today that they never would have done in the days when the Rebbe was in this world. One could “blame” the Rebbe or “blame” the Rav, but I think this is too simplistic. We are responsible for our actions. That being said, Open Orthodoxy is the new Conservative, and there have been some good articles exposing them of late. On that matter I have concerns for some Shules in Melbourne that are left wing enough to gravitate to a YCT-style approach.

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik

On page 237, Rabbi Dalfin notes that the Rav didn’t visit the graves of his father or grandfather to communicate with them in the way the Lubavitcher Rebbe always went to his father-in-law’s grave. I think that Rabbi Dalfin has forgotten one thing: Brisker do not visit graves. They consider them Avi Avos HaTuma, and Halachically, they are not places one should frequent or expose themselves to. Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter doesn’t visit the cemetery. The Rav himself broke the rule when his wife passed away and admitted he allowed his emotions to rule (he did jokingly justify it with a positive outcome for the Yeshivah).

Rabbi Dalfin discusses Lubavitch and Women in respect of half, full or otherwise ordination and says it’s not even on an agenda. He is right. Traditional titles will never be used in Chabad. However, Chabad has its own title, namely, Shlucha. Depending on the Shlucha, who is as important as the Shaliach in respect of a Chabad house, many of the activities of the Shlucha share a commonality with the pastoral care that some women assume as their roles assisting a Rabbi. This used to be the role of a Rebbetzin, however, sadly, many Rebbetzins don’t see it that way any longer and their roles have changed, and some were not as learned. For the record, I am pro Yoatzot Halacha, as in those who study in Nishmat under Rav Henkin, but I draw the line there. A Yoetzet Halacha doesn’t pasken. She transmits a psak according to the case, and asks Rav Henkin when she does not know or is not sure.

On page 238, Rabbi Dalfin claims contradictions between the Halachic and philosophical positions. I am not sure what he is driving at, in the context of the relationship with the Rav. If his point is that there were no contradictions between the Rebbe’s halachic stances and the Rav’s philosophy, the two were writing in two completely different loci. One was expounding chassidism, while the other also related the conceptual illumination of philosophy to Halachic imperatives. The Rav, was also refreshingly open about his personal feelings. The Rebbe, in the words of the Rav, was a Nistar by nature. One would imagine that he only discussed private matters with his wife when they shared a cup of tea each day. The Rav and Rebbe were chalk and cheese on matters of self, and expressing their personal struggles.

On page 241, Rabbi Dalfin quotes from the Rayatz and the Rebbe, regarding R’ Chaim being someone ‘who did as much as humanely possible and then leaving the rest to God’. The Rashab, wasn’t satisfied with that. The Rebbe saw in this R’ Chaim exercising a halachic view. I am not here to argue with the Rebbe’s interpretation, however, when Brisk burned down, and they rebuilt it, the last person to move into their house was R’ Chaim, even though it was immediately rebuilt. He slept in the street until every pauper had their house rebuilt. According to Halacha he didn’t need to do that! An equally plausible explanation is therefore that R’ Chaim wasn’t saying there is nothing more to do, but rather, we need Siyata Dishmaya to achieve more. I see nothing untoward in such a thought. I also read that the Rashab couldn’t believe that R’ Chaim’s Shamash (and paupers) often slept in R’ Chaim’s bed forcing the Rebbetzin to sleep in the kitchen. He had a rule with his Shamash: whoever went to bed first, slept in the bed. That doesn’t sound like man who pursued honour to me. The Rav also didn’t pursue honour. He knew his task, and gave his life to fulfil it.

On page 254 Rabbi Dalfin mentioned the Chabad-YU conference on the Rav and the Rebbe. I ask Rabbi Dalfin would such a thing ever be held at 770 in the Zal?

I find Rabbi Dalfins comment that

“More young Israel congregations should hire Chabad Rabbis and Chabad must start to include more young Israel Rabbis as speakers and teachers at their events

one of the most revealing biases in the book! Chabad’s strength is with the non-affiliated using their non judgmental approach. Many a Chabad Rabbi is ill-equipped to lead a young israel shule. They do not have the secular background to connect, and it is only the crème de la crème that can do so. Having said that, this comment is demeaning and I don’t think Rabbi Dalfin would agree that the Rav would agree with it! And why aren’t young Israel Rabbis more than speakers! Their Smicha is excellent and includes important new training.

Finally, Footnote 519 lists Rabbis Boruch Reichman. It fact it was his father Rav Hershel Reichman who was in the room and heard the statement.

Here is a Pesach letter from the Rav to the Rebbe, and this is a letter from the Rayatz extolling the Rav. Apologies for any typos, but I don’t spend much time re-reading what I wrote, especially when it’s this long, and I’ve probably lost the reader already.

 

 

 

It’s easier to execute blessings than to represent a congregation

This might seem to be an odd topic to discuss but I will do so briefly as it comes up from time to time. The interested reader really should learn the laws in Orach Chaim 128 about a Cohen and Orach Chaim 53 about one who wishes to become a Chazan and lead the prayers.

A fundamental difference between the two is that the male who leads the prayers is a representative of the entire congregation. As such, if this is someone who is known to have sinned and has not repented faithfully then they should not be asked to lead the service. Of course, there is nobody who doesn’t sin. We are humans. The Halacha however focusses on someone who isn’t fit by virtue of them being known as doing the wrong thing when that “thing” is a more grave infraction. For example, someone who profanes Shabbos in public is not a person who we allow to be our chosen representative to lead the prayers. (I’m aware that there are Poskim who say that our generation is different and their breaking the Shabbos should not be seen as in the days of yore, however, this does not mean that we choose that person to lead the prayers!) There are many examples: someone who is married and is known to frequent other women is not permitted to lead the prayers; someone who has stolen money and not returned it, should not lead the prayers; someone who is unscrupulous in business etc. The list goes on. In general, the Gabbai (beadle) of a Shule chooses people who have requisite qualities (fear of heaven, being over 30, ideally married, understand what they say and be able to say it well, are capable of growing a beard, have children etc) as opposed to those with a serious question mark. Where there is an issue, one chooses a learned and pious person to lead the prayers, even if they have a poor (but not annoying) voice. Ideally, the voice should also be pleasant to listen to, unless there is nobody else. There is some subjectivity, and this is often an issue where a Gabbay must diplomatically consult the Rabbi. If someone questionable, who has not genuinely repented, insists on leading the prayers in honour of a Yohr Tzeit, this can become most unpleasant. Indeed, our Rabbis teach us that if the person leading the prayers has a serious question mark  concerning them, then all the blessings they make on behalf of the congregation metamorphose into curses (God forbid).

The Cohen is also performing a mini-leading of sorts. The Cohen, however, represents God in the Cohen’s positive Torah command to bless the congregation.  He and his fellow Cohanim are bound by various laws that pertain to their suitability. For example, they should not have killed. [ An interesting question arises about the Cohen who is a soldier in the army. In Israel today, there is in my mind no doubt that each war is a מלחמת מצווה, a war where Israel’s very survival is at stake, and for which even a Groom joins in the defence effort. Defence however entails attack and attack inevitably leads to killing another person.] Another issue is Cohanim with physical defects, but it is not my intent to agglomerate all the laws here.

One interesting qualifier of the Cohen is that when he blesses the congregation, this should be through a blessing of Ahavah; that is a love of their fellow Jew/congregation. A congregation that is unable to remove negative thoughts about a particular Cohen needs to make sure that this Cohen not bless them as part of a group of Cohanim who are blessing. The Aruch Hashulchan (128:21) explains the love pre-requisite of the priestly blessing based on the Zohar.

“Any Cohen who can’t bring himself to have Rachmonus (mercy) on the congregation that he blesses, or about whom the congregation can not muster Rachmonus on him” (should find another community to bless.)

This is brought by the Magen Avraham in his gloss 18 ibid.

In other words, without being able to feel Rachmonus on a community there can be no bounded blessing based on love between the Cohen as God’s representative and that community and that Cohen should bless a community where he does find himself comfortable. Rachmonus is needed because it is rare to discover a congregation where there isn’t a single congregant about whom a Cohen has some doubts, and vice versa.

It is likely a truism, that most people, including Cohanim, feel odium towards the behaviour of some of their fellow congregants. It may even be directly mutual. The key, however, is whether a Cohen is able to concentrate on a community and have positive feelings while he acts as a conduit to blessing the people on behalf of God. If he finds himself unable to muster Rachmonus, most certainly, he should try to remove this impediment in his character. If he cannot stop his thoughts wandering negatively, and the positive feelings do not envelope his blessings, then it is better that he not bless that congregation. At the end of the day, the Cohen is blessed by God himself, on account of the Cohen blessing the people.

He who leads prayers, however, is a single person, who must represent, all the people. In this way, his acts and past acts can serve to invalidate him from performing such representation.

Those who were not born with a voice that is appreciated by others generally don’t get asked and therefore don’t face this challenge of representative acceptance. Fobbing off the Gabbai when trying to avoid being chosen to lead the congregation, as its chosen representative, is also not encouraged.

What should a congregant do if he is convinced that a particular Shaliach Tzibbur is of dubious character? One should consult their Local Competent Orthodox Rabbi for advice.

What should a congregant do if they loathe a particular Cohen who is blessing the congregation? Again, they should ask, although they do have the option of leaving the Synagogue at that time.

These are most uncomfortable situations. Ideally, someone who has not performed as God would want, will confess and repent. A(n angry) Cohen who is unable to muster a feeling of congregational positivity-call it an attachment to the Tzelem Elokim of each Jew if you like-should also ask themselves whether they should be one of the group blessing that congregation.

[Please remember: nothing I write should be misconstrued as a replacement for consulting one’s Halachic decisor/Posek]

How do you deal with the name Zelig זעליג?

This sounds like a strange heading for a blog post. Let me explain. In the last few months, we merited having two grandsons born to my younger two daughters. They and their husbands named both their sons Shaul Zelig, שאול זעליג after my dear father ז׳ל. I was honoured and, of course, this was due to my father’s very close relationship with each and every one of his grandchildren.

In the 1600’s, Rav Eliyahu Shapira in his famous work Eliyahu Rabo, quotes the Beis Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, that just before saying the Oseh Shalom עושה שלום of Shemoneh Esreh, one should say a Pasuk from Tanach whose first letter corresponds to the first letter of one’s  name, and such that the passuk ends with the last letter of one’s name.

One of my sons-in-law, had quickly taken on the custom to say his new son’s Pesukim for both שאול and זעליג as well as his own, until his son was old enough to do so. The other soon followed. I did not know but he had asked some Rabonim in Shule because he could not find a single Passuk in Tanach which started with letter Zayin and ended with a Gimmel. Eventually, it was concluded, thanks to computers, that there was no such Passuk. The question then arose, so what does one say if they practice this custom?

The Arizal and the Shelah Hakadosh both write about this concept and the latter mentions in his Sefer, that it is a tool or device to help one after 120 years, when facing God, and when asked their name (this would be something mystical that is beyond me). We will be in fear and the saying of this Passuk will jog our memory from its expected momentary freeze. (Some say the Passuk 18 times by the way). It is clearly a Kabbalistic/Mystical notion, however, I am accustomed to saying my name as well, because that’s what I was taught when I was a boy, and assumed this was mainstream practice. I don’t know whether Germanic, Oberlander or other Ashkenazic traditions also have this Minhag/practice. I would imagine that Sephardim do.

Either way, the advice one son-in-law was given was a bit of a compromise. He was to say a passuk that had a word in it that began with zayin and ended in gimmel. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work. I saw some opinions that indeed suggest this.

I was intrigued when I learned about this reality and started scouring (I don’t have Bar Ilan or Otzar HaChochma databases though). I found that some have a custom to say one passuk which would starts with a Shin for Shaul and ended with a Gimel for Zelig. This was legitimately sourced, however, both my sons-in-law both follow the Chabad custom, so I set about to find out what, if anything, Chabad does in such a situation (or indeed any group that says two Pesukim for two names).

I immediately thought to ring Dayan Usher Zelig Weiss, Rav of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital and a world-famous Posek. After all, his middle name is Zelig, and I have spoken to him before. I got an answer almost immediately that the Passuk that should be used is:

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּֽיק

which is from Tehillim (112:4)

The reasoning is because in pronunciation the Gimel actually sounds like a Kuf. Indeed it does. I can still hear my father say it that way unwittingly.

Certainly, in Hilchos Gittin, where names and nicknames are most critical, I could see this as being significant. There are various theories about the origin of the name Zelig. In my father’s case (I surmise Dayan Usher Zelig Weiss, the Zelig was considered a coupled/translation of Osher (Usher) as in Dov Ber, Yehuda Aryeh Leib, Menachem Mendel, etc. I knew my father’s middle name came from his grandfather who was also called Osher (who was Yitzchak Osher Amzel or Reb Yitzchak Bogoshitzer) but since my father’s other grandfather was named Yitzchak, and was still alive, he couldn’t get the name Yitzchak Osher. I got the name Yitzchak later, as did my cousin Ya׳akov Yitzchak Balbin ז׳ל.

An oracular friend in the USA, Rabbi Michoel Seligson, sent me the following letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe in response to someone who asked exactly this question (it’s reprinted from a couple’s wedding booklet gift to their guests).

image001And to add, see
where the Kav Noki quotes the Mahari Mintz (need time to look at that) supporting equivalence as in soundex. Clearly, soundex was extended to the Possuk as well, as a device for memorisation.

Zelig more  recently was the same as Germanic Selik or Selig. Rabbi Selig Baumgarten comes to mind. Again, accents/pronunciation are evident. Zelig seems to be derived from Old German meaning “chosen” or “blessed”. It is also found in Old English and may have become the word “select“.

We also find it in Yiddish with this meaning  as in “a zointz un a zelig(ch)s”

Back to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I am intrigued by the last words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe above which state that this is the Pasuk “until you find an exact pasuk”. I thought to myself, there are a finite number of Pesukim. Either it exists or it doesn’t exist. What possibly could the Lubavitcher Rebbe have meant “until you find“. You’d never find it! One could surmise he was hinting that when saying Pesukim in general, never stop paying careful attention to each letter of each Passuk.

I had another thought, for which I have no support. The tradition is that when the Moshiach comes a “new Torah” will sprout תורה חדשה. Perhaps, given the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s single-minded focus on causing Moshiach to come sooner, he was hinting that such a Passuk may come into existence in times to come? I don’t know. I’m certainly not qualified to double guess what he meant. It might be an explanation.

Either way, I found it an interesting tidbit, especially for those who have the name זעליג!

Oh, and here are our two treasures:

img_5315

More on the Chief Rabbinate vs Beth Din of America on Conversions

I had posted on this.

The Jerusalem Post indicates that Rabbi David Lau is not opposed to the conversions performed by the Beth Din of America, however, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef prefers to treat each convert individually. I do not understand the rationale from Rabbi Yosef. Unless the Beth Din is Pasul, the conversion has occurred (except in very extenuating circumstances which would have been in existence before the conversion). I am not at all sure Rabbi Yosef’s father, Chacham Ovadia ז׳ל would agree with his son.

For the record: All Geirim need to go through a proper process of learning and should be accepting of the yoke of Mitzvos. That is independent. I believe this would certainly be the case for the Beth Din of America.

Here is the article.

Understandings reached in 2008 between the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America stated that an Orthodox conversion performed in America and given formal approval by a rabbinical judge from the Beth Din of America would be recognized as valid in Israel by the Chief Rabbinate.

However, this agreement has been unraveling in recent years, as numerous cases have occurred in which conversion approvals from the Beth Din of America and its most senior judge, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, have been rejected.

It is the rabbinate’s Department of Marriage and Conversion, run by Rabbi Itamar Tubul, which has been directly responsible for these rejections.

The department is under the authority of Yosef in his position as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and sources in the Chief Rabbinate have indicated that he is responsible for instructing Tubul to adopt this new approach.

On Monday, an aide to Lau wrote a letter to Tubul, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, in which he stated that Lau had asked him to clarify to Tubul “once again” that “approvals issued by the Beth Din of America and signed by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz should be recognized, and that they should be relied upon for the purposes of approving [conversion] certificates which are received from the US.”

Yosef’s office declined to answer an inquiry made by the Post as to whether the chief rabbi considers the understandings of 2008 as still operative.

On Sunday, a spokesperson for the Chief Rabbinate said that every case requiring conversion verification from the US “is examined on an individual basis,” and that “there are no all-inclusive approvals or rejections,” indicating that the Chief Rabbinate, under Yosef’s direction, no longer considers the 2008 agreement to be binding.

Lau and Yosef have had a high-profile quarrel for several months over various issues.

The ITIM religious services advisory group, which has represented many of the converts requiring recognition by the Chief Rabbinate, welcomed Lau’s comments to Tubul, but was critical of the fight between the two chief rabbis.

“The internal bickering in the rabbinate is taking place while converts are suffering. This is un-halachic and inhuman,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.

“We call upon the Chief Rabbinate to immediately disband the department and issue a statement that all conversions done under the auspices of rabbis from halachic institutions will be automatically recognized. This is what was always accepted in traditional Jewish society and this should be today’s standard.”

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

A Bizayon (slur) on Kavod HaTorah by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate

[Hat tip NB]

The Chief Rabbinate has had the temerity, and I used this word with intent, to turn down some conversions of the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din of America, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz. I had the opportunity to speak with Rav Gedalia, when he came to Melbourne for the wedding of one of his students. I was merely the singer of our band Schnapps, but I took every opportunity to approach him at the head table and talk. I found a humble, knowledgeable, worldly, Talmid Chacham. He is ill at present and we wish him a Refuah Shelema.

The Chief Rabbinate which has been mired in corrupt controversy over the last few years and is a pale comparison to the greats who occupied the Chairs in days gone by, would do better to ensure that the Kashrus of their products throughout Israel were acceptable. As most people know, it is not a simple matter to walk into a restaurant under the Rabbanut and actually eat supervised food of an acceptable standard. I encourage people not to say “Ah well, it’s their sin, they have a certificate” but rather to ask to see and speak with the Mashgiach. Many times, you won’t find the Mashgiach. Let them get their house in order before they have the unmitigated Chutzpa to reject a conversion from the universally respected Av Beis Din of America. By contrast Rav Schwartz oversees the cRc, the Chicago Rabbinical Council’s Kashrus, upon which everyone relies. Indeed, their app, is the one you consult when it comes to the Kashrus of alcoholic beverages, as an aside.

Ironically, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, spoke in honour or Rav Schwartz’s 90th birthday.

Caulfield Shule President misses the crucial point

In a letter to the Australian Jewish News, Anthony Raitman does a good job of explaining that Shules need to become part of Centres of Orthodox Jewish interest attracting more people. The days of people who simply buy a seat are perhaps waning. Yes, if one attends 3 days a year, even if you have a great Chazan supported by a great Choir, there are challenges charging only for this. In days gone by, this was not the case. The community attended more often, many daily. This was a year long rental of a seat and all that goes with it, and a reasonable price. Caulfield Shule, which classes itself as Modern Orthodox does a great job at hosting and innovating new activities to attract people into the building.

Anthony, however, has missed one important point in my view. This relates to whatever the mission statement of the Shule may be. All the activities are means to an end. The end, though, is to have people feel affiliated to the extent that they will come to shule on more than 3 days. Many don’t come for Yizkor, let alone “Bar Mitzvah” anniversaries and all the new techniques. Ultimately, the cornerstone of all activities must be serious weekly and varied Jewish education, as part of the mix. Without that, people can see it as a Modern Orthodox Beth Weizman. I don’t think this was ever the view of the father of Centrist Orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik. Serious Torah learning, varied, specialised classes for women on topics that relate specifically to them, etc must accompany all entrepreneurial approaches. Shule can’t simply be a performance. People must be transformed, and transformation can only apply through quality education.

I would hope that more Shules would adopt this as part of their mission statement. Some Chabad shules seizing on the opportunity, simply shift the financial onus from seat rental to raising money. However, they too need to be involved in not just the ‘feel good’ aspects. Torah education must be central to a centrist Orthodox Shule.

Unfortunately, Melbourne did not make use of Rabbi Kenneth Brander from YU, who turned a Shule from 60 members to 600 and is in charge of Yeshivah Universities outreach. He offered lots of free follow-up. I know of many Rabbis who haven’t even made contact with him. Yes, they have their own networks, but you can see the copycat styles even to the extent of canned pre-prepared Shiurim. Whilst pastoral care is critical, education is even more critical as it ensures continuity and revival.

How many Shules offer to say Kaddish on a Yohr Tzeit etc but could do it better by actually meeting the people, re-acquainting them with Kaddish and having them come to Shule and say it, with Tefillin? That’s a level higher.

Males who refuse a Gett; an appropriate response

The Rabbinic Council of America again leads the way on this matter. The pioneering work by noted Posek, Rav Mordechai Willig on this matter, will now become compulsory for member Rabbis. Rav Willig had discussed his method with leading Rabbis around the world some years ago and received  their Halachic agreement. In Victoria, Australia, I understand there are some local legal impediments preventing this method ‘having teeth’. I trust that the RCV, the Rabbinic Council of Victoria are working overtime with both parties to make sure this is overcome. It is high time the Rabbanut in Israel enforced the same on all its Rabbis. I don’t know what other Rabbinic groups such as the Aguda opine, but given the number of very public issues in that sphere of late, it would be nice to see them follow suit.

The text of the RCA Resolution reads:

A Powerful Advance to Prevent Using Jewish Law to Cause Human Suffering

Sep 22, 2016 — “The Rabbinical Council of America today takes a major step forward toward alleviating the suffering of those who cannot successfully end marriages due to the refusal of one of the parties to participate in effecting a Jewish divorce,” said Rabbi Shalom Baum, president of the RCA. A resolution adopted by the RCA now requires “each of its members [to] utilize, in any wedding at which he is the officiant (mesader kiddushin), in addition to a ketubah, a rabbinically-sanctioned prenuptial agreement, where available, that aids in our community’s efforts to ensure the timely and unconditional issuance of a get.”

According to Jewish law, both the husband and the wife must participate willingly in the delivery and acceptance of a get, a Jewish divorce document, without which neither party can remarry. Most divorcing couples understand the need for the get, and are cooperative and respectful of the process. In some cases, however, one spouse inappropriately uses the get as a bargaining chip to gain concessions in other areas surrounding the divorce such as financial settlements or child custody, or as a tool to torment a former spouse. This is an abuse of Jewish law as well as a form of spousal abuse that uses religious practice as a tool of manipulation and control. A rabbinic tribunal often does not have the authority or capability of forcing a recalcitrant spouse to cooperate, and there are those whose marriages have functionally ended but who tragically cannot remarry due to their religious convictions. A woman who cannot remarry is referred to as an agunah; a man is an agun.

One effective way to prevent get-abuse is the “Halachic Prenup.” Drafted by Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Sgan Av Beth Din of the Beth Din of America and a Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University, in consultation with halachic and legal experts, the Halachic Prenup has been advocated by the RCA since 1993. The agreement received wide-spread endorsement of leading rabbinic authorities in Israel and the United States, and is based on much older documents, dating back hundreds of years. This prenuptial agreement both designates the rabbinic forum in which claims for a get will be adjudicated and creates financial incentives for both parties to effect the Jewish divorce in a timely manner. There are other prenuptial agreements that are used as well.

Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, Director of the Beth Din of America maintains that “”we have seen, over and over again, that the existence of a halachic prenup dramatically changes the dynamics of contentious divorce cases and virtually eliminates the risk that the get will be improperly used as a tool for leverage or extortion.”

Rabbi Jeremy Stern, Executive Director of The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), a group that seeks to eliminate abuse from the Jewish divorce process and which was instrumental in drafting and advocating for this resolution, reports that in well over 1,000 contentious Jewish divorce cases with which his organization has been involved, “we have never seen a case of get-refusal in which the halachic prenup did not work. In numerous divorce cases in which the husband began to posture that he would refuse to issue a get, the halachic prenup secured the issuance of a timely and unconditional get.”

While until now the vast majority of RCA rabbis have counseled their congregants to enter into halakhic prenuptial agreements, and while many of them refused to officiate at weddings in which these documents were not first signed, this new resolution now requires all RCA-member rabbis to require the use of prenuptial agreements. There is reason to believe that this new mandate will help to prevent or alleviate many agunah cases. Most importantly, it will remove any perceived stigma associated with signing the agreement. Requiring rabbis to officiate only at weddings with halachic prenups eliminates the concern often expressed by about-to-be married couples that signing a prenup casts aspersions on their characters or their marriage.

With the adoption of this new resolution, signing the prenup is now no longer about the couple and the expectations that its rabbi has of them, but is about the rabbi and the professional standards that he must maintain. Rabbi Shalom Baum announced that the RCA will embark on a number of initiatives to help rabbis better implement this new mandate, as well as community programs to encourage the understanding and signing of prenups.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Vice President of the RCA said, “Seeing that there is a halakhic prenup at every wedding is everybody’s responsibility. Mothers and fathers should not walk their children to the chuppah unless a prenup has been signed. Friends should not let friends get married unless a prenup is signed.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the RCA said, “Supporting members of the community and relieving their distress are among the top priorities of rabbis. If the definition of a religious scholar is one who increases peace in the world (Berachot 64a), then rabbis must certainly step into the forefront when use of halachically acceptable tools are available to prevent the abuse of the vulnerable. Otherwise, we forfeit our claim to the title ‘rabbi.’

Pure Tipshus (stupidity)

[Hat tip BA]%d7%a9%d7%92%d7%a2%d7%95%d7%9f-%d7%9e%d7%a9%d7%99%d7%99%d7%97%d7%99%d7%a1%d7%98%d7%99-%d7%97%d7%93%d7%a9

I thought I’d seen just about everything, but this just goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Oh, and if you are wondering whether I’d call out a Tallis that had a Magen Dovid or something woven in the same way on the back, I would do so, if the purpose wasn’t decorative.

In my opinion, and I know this is shared by others in the main Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, the sign up the back has passed its use by date. Indeed, I heard Rabbi Telsner last week in a speech refer to the Lubavitcher Rebbe as Nishmoso Eden נ׳׳ע … given he is a Meshichist, my ears were sensitised. The final decision rests with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner in my opinion, and it’s time the Shule was normalised to look like Shules always looked, without placards etc.

On my sole visit to 770, I didn’t go downstairs because that Minyan, the main minyan, is just surrounded by placards. Chabad agonise about putting a Tefilla on a wall as it’s not considered Minhag Chabad. Enough of this. If he turns out to be Moshiach, it doesn’t bother me. If it turns out that he’s not, then it doesn’t bother me. In the meanwhile can we give all this constant advertising and chanting a rest? If someone really feels that removing these things is tantamount to a cutting off of their Hiskashrus (connection) to the Rebbe and/or not recognising him as their Manhig, I’d suggest that they concentrate on being a proper Chassid and not being part of all this Chitzoniyus (external stuff) which you are more likely to find in the non-Jewish world, or on bill boards daily in Meah Shearim.

Move on. Bring Moshiach, but move on.

Gneivas Daas and “Political Spin”

Geneivas Da’as in Hebrew involves the theft of one’s mind, thoughts, wisdom, or knowledge (Choshen Mishpat, 228: 6). By causing someone to have a mistaken assumption, or impression it includes fooling someone In other words, it is akin to deception, cheating, creating a false impression, and/or acquiring goodwill through false impressions/words and the like. It goes beyond blatant lying; which is a separate sin.

A clever choice of words or actions that cause others to form incorrect conclusions may be considered a violation of this Issur. The Torah does not allow us to reduce the ability of another person, (Jew or Non-Jew), to make a fair and honest evaluation. This crosses business, interpersonal relations, or other areas where one may be deceived.

It is common place in our politically correct world, as well as in competitive environments where people want to minimise damage to reputation to carefully craft statements describing a situation that has occurred. Details and purposeful ambiguity are employed. In particular, when it is known that there has been a wilful use of such “spin” to deflect from what actually transpired, I think that this forms Gneivas Da’as.

The Tosefta in Baba Kama (7:3) considers the worst type of theft is the one that “steals the minds” of people.  The Tosefta, Baba Metzia 3: 15, quoted by the Magen Avraham states that a storekeeper is not permitted to sprinkle their store with wine or oil because they “steals the minds” of people given that it may fool customers into believing that all the wine sold in the store is of the same high quality. This doesn’t involve a financial loss, so financial loss is not a necessary condition.

Of course, there is a situation where one is fooling themselves and actually believes they are correct and don’t intentionally set out to “spin” or deceive. In such a case Chullin 94b we don’t apply Gneivas Da’as.

I have seen some statements of late which in my opinion are simply Gneivas Da’as Kipshuto bordering on blatant lying. As it is Elul, I won’t take the opportunity to use one example and show explicitly how false and misleading it is to the extent that it steals the minds of those who are not in the know.

Many frum organisations now have public affairs employees, and some of their staff are adept at producing spin. The purpose of this post is to alert people that they should actually ask a Rav whether they may be transgressing Gneivas Da’as. It is not always the case that the sole expert in a matter is the professional wordsmith.

The Rav on Rav Kook and the magnetism and religious tremor of an authentic Jewish personality

[Hat tip YW]

There is more to this story. When I find it (I read it about 20 years ago), I will post some details on the powerful episode at Havdolo.

 

New book on Rav and the Rebbe by Chaim Dalfin

I was contacted by the author, Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, to make known his latest publication. I don’t normally post advertisements, but I am a fan of both the Rav and the Rebbe, so can’t help myself. I don’t know Rabbi Dalfin personally, but I certainly knew and admired his Shver, the late Reb Chaim Serebryanski. I ordered the book about a week ago, and he sends to Australia too. I don’t believe it will be available in bookshops.

It is available online if you follow this link. Of course, I have no opinion on it until I read it 🙂

dalfinbook

Parshas Ekev

The nuance expressed in this short Dvar Torah is better appreciated with reference to the aramaic text in the Gemora (Tractate Brachos 33b), included below with the english paraphrasing. Our weekly portion quoting Moshe asks (Devarim 10:12)

“… What does God request from Jews?”

Moshe answers

“ only to fear the Lord your God”.

The word “only” is a challenging pursuit in life. How does Moshe seemingly minimise the fear of God, as a simple attainment, and as THE element that God asks from us?
The Talmud (ad loc.) is similarly troubled and says

“Is fear of Heaven such a simple level to obtain?”
אטו יראת שמים מילתא זוטרתא היא?

The Talmud answers incredulously,

“Yes, in Moshe’s domain it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין, לגבי משה מילתא זוורתא היא

The question is obvious. We are not Moshe. We didn’t speak to God and experience miracles or God’s interference in our world. God remains hidden. For us plebeians, it can’t be said that attaining the fear of Heaven is a relatively simple task.
In one of my favourite insights from Rav Soloveitchik, the Rav explains that the placement of the comma in the Talmud’s response is the key to the puzzle. Instead of reading

“Yes, in Moshe’s domain it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין, לגבי משה מילתא זוורתא היא

the Rav suggests it be read as

“Yes in Moshe’s domain,  it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין לגבי משה, מילתא זוורתא היא

Meaning, the Jew alone does not achieve this level unless they attach themselves to their respected Rabbi and teacher (לגבי משה). It is indeed a formidable mountain to climb, however, it is incumbent upon every Jew to attach themselves to the Masoretic tradition of a respected Rabbi and teacher who is able to help climbing the mountain.

“fear of heaven”.

This mechanism gives rise to the guiding principle of Judaism, Imitatio Dei, emulating Hashem, as expressed thematically throughout the Rav’s writings, through the Pasuk

והלכת בדרכיו
You should go in the way of God

This imperative is held as a positive Torah command by many Rishonim.
The Rav’s Uncle, the Griz, R’ Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, provided a further insight in his ליקוטי הגרי׳ז ב:פה. One of the Griz’s students excelled more than others. The Griz explained that this wasn’t simply a matter of that student’s innate ability and acquired knowledge. Rather, that student knew how to nullify their self-importance ביטול, and that skill is not an easy one to acquire. On the contrary, the greater the person’s skill set and knowledge is, the harder it is to suppress and bow to the opinion of his teacher and master. The statement in the Talmud that

what a servant does for their master, the student does for their master

Isn’t simply a detail, but a general principle that is applicable across the gamut of educational experience, through which one can achieve fear of God/Heaven—יראת שמים.

(Sources: מפניני הרב, ונפש הרב מאת מורי ורבי ר’ צבי שכטר שליט׳א)

Guest post from R’ Meir Deutsch in response to my post on R’ Cardozo on Tisha B’Av

R Meir’s reactions to my original post (which is in italicised black) are in red. My reactions to R’ Meir are in blue

About your article concerning Tischa b’Av, here are some of my observations.
About your AL CHETs (“Who can” and “Who cannot”); you mention daily events at present, not Tisha B’Av ones. Maybe we should read it on Yom Ha’Atzmaut or on its eve, Yom Ha’Zikaron to remind us that we were a nation before and take care at present that we remain one?

These are just my thoughts.

I see all terrible things, whether remembered or not remembered encapsulated in the overarching Galus. Galus, is of course not just a geographical location. It certainly includes geographic considerations which are reflected by more than 200 Mitzvos which only apply, many Rabbinically at the moment, only in our Holy Land. I stress our Holy Land because it remains Holy to this day according to Halacha. However, even with the Second Beis Hamikdosh, while some Jews lived in the Diaspora (something I find difficult to comprehend) and others actually defiled it in horrible ways that are beyond belief (as described in the Medrash), my personal feeling has always been that whilst steps are taken, miracles happen, and renaissance occurs, all of that is secondary to the eschatological final redemption. On Tisha B’Av, bdavka, I can’t help but think that גלינו מארצינו has both aspects, and is a sad reality. It is one day of mourning, akin to Shiva, where we remember עטרת ראשינו which is not perched in its proper place. And while we have דומה דודי כצבי and are sometimes seemingly teased in directions of euphoria, we then find ourselves, yes even the second-rate ones like me sitting in Australia, depressed about the state of our existence. It extends through the trio: תורת ישראל, עם ישראל and ארץ ישראל all of which portray levels of Galut which should not make it sensible to join our fellow Jews, and recite Eicha together, in a low light, and mournful tone. The qualitative aspect cannot be seen to be ideal today, and just like one doesn’t read Bereishis literally, someone of the stature of Rabbi Cardozo, would surely be able to see between lines, and interpret poetically and midrashically, without the feelings of (not a quote) “what am I doing in Shule with everyone saying Eicha, let me say it alone at home, as it’s challenging to swallow”

I read with incredulity the continuing slide to the left

What do you mean by that? .ימין ושמאל תפרוצי. What is meant by left. by respected people, such as Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopez Cardozo

Rabbi Dr Cardozo is a thinker. This is a hallmark of those with intellect. At the same time intellect may preclude a level of Bittul. I don’t have his intellect, but I’m often accused of not being able to exhibit Bittul. Indeed, this week’s parsha includes a wonderful vort from Rav Soloveitchik which sums up this concept. I wrote it for another forum and will put it up before Shabbos. It tends to be those who are more inclined to mould judaism into new trends, that I refer to as the left. Open Orthodoxy and Partnership Minyanim, and things of that nature (as opposed to Yoatzot Halacha) are the types of things which I call “left” wing. Rabbi Benny Lau is another who I see sometimes express himself this way. I don’t see Rabonim who live in this world and are not cloistered in an attic, like Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter, as ‘right wing fundamentalists’. He is at YU and heads Psak at the OU, and in all my correspondence with him, I have found him to be as straight as an arrow, and moderate, maintaining the strong Menorah base transmitted to him from Rav Soloveitchik. One thing he isn’t, is a philosopher.

Who can not find a day to be sad when a Jew from Jerusalem is called up to the Torah and is asked “what is your name”, and they answer “Chaim”. And after being asked “Ben?” they say “Ben Esrim V’shmoneh”? It’s not funny.

On the other hand, a relative of mine was called up in the diaspora. He said his name: Ra’anan Lior ben Avraham, the Gabai said: not your secular name, your Hebrew name.

I find that just as sad. It’s not a contest. It’s a reflection of the poor quality of Jewish Education that the Mapai have managed to infuse into Israeli society and which the religious zionists ignored for too long while they were perhaps over focussed on outposts at the expense of spreading good Jewish education in Tel Aviv etc

I am not sure how Rabbi Cardozo qualitatively defines the Messianic era, but it seems to me, if he enunciated that, he’d have no issue, on the saddest day of the year, to join in the Shiva, that we all take part in. Don’t we eat meat and drink wine during the Shiva? On Yahrzeit we have a Kiddush (not our minhag). It is true, that our Rabbis also promised us that this will be transformed to a day of Yom Tov. We still do not have a Temple, but we have a Yerushalayim. Is it the time to transform it to a Yom Tov?

We changed the “l’Shana ha’Ba’a Bi’Yrushalayim” to “l’Shana ha’Ba’a Bi’Yrushalayim HABNUYA” the addition is for the Temple – we already are in Yerushalayim.

I feel this is syntactic and in fact supports my comments and not opposes them. Halachically, it is true, that there are ramifications being in Yerushalayim: for example Korban Pesach.

Rabbi Cardozo, surely you aren’t suggesting you see the Yom Tov, but are blind to the myriad of reasons to be sad?

I attend Yom Hashoa out of solidarity, but my real Yom Hashoa tacks onto Tisha B’Av. Each one with his own feelings and customs.

I ask myself: Why would G-d destroy HIS home? It was a place where the Jews worshiped G-d, and not a home of his people. I do not know G-d’s intentions, but shall try my understandings or reasoning. Can one imagine anyone bringing today sacrifices? How would Judaism look if they did? Can it be that G-d’s intention was to stop those sacrifices, and the best way was to destroy the building? ונשלמה פרים שפתינו.

These are questions beyond our human understanding. The Rambam who to my knowledge is the only one who codifies the Halachos of Beis Habechirah and the times of the Mashiach, is certainly not suggesting that there won’t be sacrifices. I know there are those who interpret Rav Kook as implying there may be Korbanos Mincha. At the end of the day, as the Rambam notes, we lack a certain Mesora for these times, because they were hidden from us, and could not have been passed down. He says explicitly words that “all these details we will truly properly know at the time when they happen”

About Yom Hashoa: I was interviewed by GINZACH KIDUSH HASHEM (the Charedi Yad Vashem), and asked: how can you explain the Shoah? My reply was:

We have quite a limited view of the world and its future, as against G-d who has a wider one. At the destruction of the Temple, the Jews were driven out of their city Jerusalem, many were killed others dispersed among the Nations, and many were sold to slavery. They did not enjoy those days, they suffered quite a bit. They probably said Kinot. But G-d had a wider view; my children are going to dwell all over the globe, learn different trades and cultures. Had we stayed in our country, with the Temple, I (or probably also you) would surely dwell in my tent in the Negev as a shepherd looking after my flock – just like a Bedouin. The same with the holocaust, I can still not see the whole picture, but one is that the Jews, after the terrible holocaust, are again a NATION with their own country. Would the world grant us a piece of land if there was no holocaust? Would the Jews come to Eretz Yisrael, the land of desert and camels? Maybe it isn’t yet a full Geula, but surely a beginning. Why did we need six million sacrifices? Would not one million or fewer be enough? Please do not put this question to me. I am not G-d’s accountant.

By the way, in one of the Agudat Yisrael Knesiot (5679 Zurich) there was a discussion whether Jews are a Mosaic sect or a Nation! Because of such a question my father in law, and other German Rabbis left Agudat Yisrael. I thought that Yetziat Mitzraim was our transformation from a nomadic tribe into a Nation. Was I wrong?

I’m a second generation holocaust generation, but feel it acutely, likely due to the fact that for most of my life, I was surrounded only by holocaust survivors, who would challenge my religiosity, even when I was 10 years of age and ask me questions that I could not and dared not answer. It is certainly the case that history would record that an outcome of the holocaust was the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland. These are happenings that I don’t understand either. Do I have to pay 6 million lives to acquire something that we have already been promised? Did God not have other more gentle ways to somehow not interfere and yet interfere in the ways of the world so we would have the same outcome? Why didn’t he send Eliyahu down before the final solution and say ENOUGH. ושבו בנים לגבולם. I don’t know and I don’t believe anyone knows, despite the Satmar and other rhetoric. Indeed, on Tisha B’Av, as we sit on the eve of the full redemption, we can only sit exasperated while more human korbanos occur, and anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism, and Tisha B’Av encompasses all that.

Sure, on Yom Ha’atzmaut and on Yom Yerushalayim, when I was a student in Israel, I celebrated. I went to Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, and euphorically danced all the way to the Kosel, and for the entire night danced until we davened Vatikin. We know how important it is to sing and give praise. Chizkiyahu Hamelech would have been Mashiach if he had sung, as openly stated by the Gemora in Sanhedrin (from memory).

I just expressed my humble thoughts.

And I thank you so much for sharing them. I heard second-hand, that Rabbi Cardozo felt I had not understood his points. That maybe so. As it is the Yohr Tzeit of the famed R’ Chaim Brisker now, I’d like to express that his Neshomo should have an Aliya. He revolutionised Torah learning.

Satmar in Melbourne. Is it different?

I’m accused by what I suspect to be elements of the Adass Israel Congregation of being “anti charedi”. Let’s be clear. The term “anti charedi” use used to maximise the impression of an irrational opposition to a specific approach to Judaism. It should be noted that Rav Kook זצ׳ל was definitely also Charedi. Whilst there is a common element encapsulated in the term Charedi, and that is something that sociologists observe, as well as halachists, the use of catch calls like “anti charedi” is creating a diversion from the specificity of philosophies and actions which occur among specific groups, that may be described as Charedi.

The Adass Israel community in Melbourne is unique,  I believe, in our current Jewish world. Borne by founders who may not recognise some of the direction that it has now taken, it represented a specific firm adherence to religious tenets and approaches that were brought from Europe to Melbourne. It was very common that the children of the founders of Adass, were encouraged to obtain secular education. If my memory serves me correctly, a number attended Prahran Technical School in order to obtain certifications required to make a living which didn’t require seeking handouts in order to survive. I see some  of those people, today, and  interact with them freely and in a friendly manner. They tend to understand the world and the different types of people comprising the world, not to mention the Chochma BaGoyim (the wisdom of a gentile population) as opportunities as opposed to hindrances to their development. Certainly, many of the original members were clean shaven (often with a moustache) and their children, often sport a neat beard, or no beard. Some have morphed into Litvaks. They do respect the Chassidic Adass community that eventually integrated into Adass, but they don’t necessarily share the more extreme range of views expressed by elements of that community. They generally, and sometimes diplomatically, keep their thoughts to themselves. For reasons of cohesiveness, and indeed economic survival, this may well be a necessarily formula, and a secret of success.

The relatively smaller size of the Melbourne Community, together with the economic reality of needing to live within such a community, means that Adass incorporates a cornucopia of different types. The reverence for Rav Beck is a hallmark and something to be admired. There have been a number of leaders ranging from the charismatic Rav Ashkenazi to the Genius Halachist Rav Betzalel Stern, the B’Tzel Hachochma.

Bearing this in mind, we read about different communities around the world where there is homogeneity. Especially in the USA, and to some extent the UK, particular Chassidic groups are grouped entirely amongst themselves. There will be a Satmar, Belz, Munkatcher, Vishnitzer, et al community. They will have their own organisations and pray in their own Shules and Shteiblach.

Melbourne is unique in that all these groups are housed and cooperate together, and the economic reality perhaps dictates that they must remain so, at least for the foreseeable future. It is true there has been one more radical breakaway (Divrei Emina). This may portend future developments, although I prefer an eschatological reality, where we are united in Yerusholayim Ir HaKodesh, well before such events occur.

A number of my readers sent me the article where young groups of both Satmar Chassidim (there are two Rebbes who are brothers) were displaying acts of loathing and violence towards anything to do with the State of Israel. I had seen these and found them a repeat of many other regrettable approaches to education that are used to channel children into a line of thinking where the love of a fellow Jew, dissipates into a hate-filled, dark room of horror. On occasion when I’ve been at Adass, I’ve discretly listened in to lessons to young children and have been disturbed by the time spent on running down the “sinners” and effectively sending them to a fiery hell.

Would the acts reported in the electronic media happen in Melbourne? My answer is that while there may be small pockets of like-minded people, it is unlikely that the collective whole, which comprises Adass, would allow this to occur. Let us not forget that many are also reliant on business dealings with the very same people they consider beyond the pale. There is no doubt this is at least one reason why a documentary featuring especially chosen people from Adass featured on Melbourne Television. (I didn’t watch it; about the only television I watch is a St Kilda or Liverpool game or cricket). Economic reality is a potent force. In addition, Melbourne has been a veritable bastion of pro-Israel sentiment, especially due to the sadly dwindling, but once enormous group of charismatic and determined Holocaust survivors, many of whom sported long payos, and untouched beards before the war.

Adass, like any community, has its occasional crisis or issue. At the moment, there is a concern about the number of divorces and, to their credit, Adass have brought out two experts, to address issues related to this as a means to stem the tide. These experts would have been chosen in the context of meeting the specific environment that Adass couples live within.

If Adass were to splinter, and say, a Satmar group became self-sufficient and had its own organisations, I expect that the same sort of offensive behaviour we have seen splashed over web pages, of children throwing eggs and more, may indeed become part of the Melbourne landscape.

I think its in everyone’s interests that Adass stays together. One group has a grounding and moderating effect on the other; it’s like a semi-forced integration. The concept of being true to one’s ideals and yet be able to compromise on things that are not seriously important, is a plus.

I wouldn’t like to see Adass splinter. Indeed, I have the same view of the Chabad offshoot “Cheder Levi Yitzchok”. In my own dealings with a paraprofessional who helped me health wise when I sustained some serious ankle injury, I am amazed, that due to our respectful interaction, he now sees me as his “oracle” on matters Jewish. I will receive texts out of the blue asking me questions, and where I am able to answer without consulting expert Rabbi’s I do so. I am able to do so because I know him. I know his way of thinking, and I know his challenges. This comes through interaction. At the same time, I also know and recognise some of his qualities. Splintering means the side effect of cutting oneself off from the broader community. With apathy and assimilation from the children and grandchildren of challenged and sometimes disturbed holocaust survivors, it has been my view that one needs to find “kosher” ways of reaching out and incorporating people into Yahadus. I feel this is essentially the process of Teshuva, and indeed, the formula for Geulah. It is clearly stated in Shas and the Rambam. We can sit on our hands, and focus on Bein Odom Lamokom, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Aybishter is quite interested in our ability to relate to Chavero, their fellow Jew. We don’t know how to admonish, and in any case, admonishments have zero effect today.

The answer is not, of course, to make plasticine out of Judaism, and find academic loop holes, some of which are questionable, in order to make Judaism fit the modern world, the world of Science, the world of Philosophy, the world of Linguistics, etc none of which I see as a threat to my belief system and the practices that flow from it. Rather, the answer is to mould people,  and that can only done by engagement, interaction, and above all setting an example. That example has been damaged through the open world we live in, which is able to promulgate every act of every crooked religious person, and thereby lesson Kavod HaTorah. It is easy for the not yet committed Jew to feel let down by people they thought were respectable.

Especially in a world which looks at religion as the cause of all terror and misery, it is critical that we, as Jew, work in the opposite direction.

How many of us, will pass a Jew, let alone a gentile, and simply not say Good Morning? Why not? These small acts, have potentially great outcomes.

Post Tisha B’Av thoughts reacting to Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopez Cardozo

I read with incredulity the continuing slide to the left by respected people, such as Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopez Cardozo, in his incredulous blog post on Tisha B’Av, where he finds it difficult to mourn because Jerusalem is in a state of such glory. I won’t go through it, piece by piece, and rebut each of his arguments. I will note that Rav Goren, whilst not sliding to the left attempted to make changes to the prayer of Nachem, especially after Jerusalem was perceived as being as united.

I had no difficulty seeing the many areas in our Jewish experience that warrant a sombre, halachically mourning-oriented, day.

It is true, that I’m not poetically inclined, and the piyutim of Kinos are mostly unfathomable to me, despite the Rav Soloveitchik publication on Kinos. Perhaps if I’d spent ten years listening to the Rav on Kinos, during his marathon expositions, I’d develop a keen sense. Instead, I see those who need to go to work, rushing through, saying words they often don’t understand, and skipping around.

In the days of my youth, I saw old Chabad Chassidim sit until mid-day and longer and say each word carefully. The Aveylus/mourning of Tisha B’Av was palpable. I will never forget Rav Betzalel Wilshansky, a Chasid of the Rashab, unable to say more than three or four words of the Haftora without breaking out into uncontrollable weeping. Sure, he would have lived through the hell of Russian Jewish existence, but I have no doubt that his thoughts transcended that experience.

We are taught to be positive at all times. It’s good for the psyche, “good” for bringing up children, and is the modern mantra. When taken to the extreme, though, it is nothing more than another level of extremism, removed from reality. One must call ‘a spade a spade’ at times, and although we need to choose our moments carefully, and be cognisant of the differences of each child, and the new environment of social networking and internet and will be part of their lives, we must stay an anchor as parents and educators in ensuring the transmission of the Mesora from generation to generation. I believe the role of a parent and educator is arguably harder today than it has been. The information explosion, creates so many poorly researched and badly argued propositions. The Neshama is clouded by these manifestations. People try to now reach the Neshama, and break through to reach it, using new devices. They resort to different approaches: including neo-hippy style religion, as manifested through indie/rap/alternative modes of music. They resort to mindfulness, when they actually practice mindlessness–an evacuation of the cerebral and emotional trials and tribulations that need to be dealt with, each according to their particularised approach.

The home has become not so much a bastion of home cooking, and family get togethers for important events. People seek to eat out. They want to taste the koshered delicacies that they believe they have missed, and will fill their lives with more meaningful experience. Do I really need Facon, or Ben Pekuah farms?

How many of us sit down once a week, and learn Torah with our children, even after they are married. Technology allows us to do that by FaceTime, Skype or other means. Why not? What is the method of galvanising the chains of Mesora between us and our offspring.

Which brings me to Yerusholayim Ir HaKodesh. I do not want to fall into the pitfall of the spies and speak badly about the city. It is THE city in Israel where I feel a certain spiritual energy rising from the soles of my feet and encompassing my body. At the same time it is racked with so many problems. There are issues of violent fundamentalists. There are issues of a sad divide between Religious and Secular; the latter caused by the paucity of genuine love of a fellow jew. Love arises when commonality is seen clearly despite difference. If one is unable to break through and sense the Neshoma of the secular Jew and love that person because they share that self-same Neshoma with themselves, then they are blinded. They are not blinded by the light. They are blinded by the darkness.

I do not think anyone who transgresses should be made to feel unwelcome, today. There are very few old-fashioned Apikorsim, people who actually know enough to be called an Apikorus. At the same time, who can be comfortable with the concept of PRIDE (as opposed to respect for difference) that is visible with public sexual overtones?

Who can not find a day to be sad because Holocaust survivors who live in the State, are still not treated well?

Who can not find a day to be sad when the fake historiographers attempt to whitewash the essential Jewish Connection to the Har Habayis?

Who can not find a day to be sad when adding a Kinna to remember the horrors of the Holocaust?

Who can not find a day to be sad when the things that unite different religious groups, despite being greater than the things that divide, do not conquer?

Who can not find a day to be sad when Jerusalem, “The Light of the World”, is not seen that way by the world at large?

Who can not find a day to be sad when a Jew from Jerusalem is called up to the Torah and is asked “what is your name”, and they answer “Chaim”. And after being asked “Ben?” they say “Ben Esrim V’shmoneh”? It’s not funny.

Who can not find a day to be sad when those Jews who have some Rabbinic permission to walk at certain parts of the Temple Mount may not, according to law, even project a semblance of prayer!

Who can not find a day to be sad when reading the story of Kamtza and Bat Kamtza and realising that these things continue to go on today through so-called neutral Jewish NGOs? Do we need to unmask Bernie Sanders?

Who can not find a day to be sad when we see a George Soros or a New Israel Fund, that seeks to force an unrealistic solution with no second partner?

Who can not find a day to be sad when the new word for Anti Semite, is Anti Zionist? They are Anti Har Habayis, and our so-called peace partners in Jordan blame us for incitement when this is palpably a blatant lie

Who can not find a day to be sad, knowing that in the last year, incidents involving stabbings, especially in Jerusalem were an almost daily occurrence, and of course, the world blames the Jewish “Zionists” for their defence against such?

Who can’t see the rupture being created by Open Orthodoxy, as it morphs into the new Conservative movement?

Who can’t see that isms, such as Feminism, are used to tortuously twist Halacha, rather than the other way around?

Who can not find meaning in Eicha, and Medrash Eicha that doesn’t reflect on all the above and more? Why sit at home? Is this a protest against the prescribed Mesora of the Availus of Tisha B’Av, which parallels the Availus of Shiva?

Who can not find reason to be sad that when someone passes away, we increasingly follow the non-Jewish practice of “celebrating!” their life. The Rabbis decreed there was a time for introspectional mourning. Shiva suddenly becomes one day. In Australia, they like to get drunk after a funeral as if to wash away the sorrow. There is a time to reflect. It is cathartic. One goes to the Shiva house. One does not stay at home. For the first three days one doesn’t speak first. We wait for the mourner to speak IF they feel like it. The celebration of their life isn’t a one time event. Following the year, it is a daily remembrance of tears interlaced with good stories and lessons, through the prism of the life history of the departed.

I admit, it is hard to imagine what life will FEEL like once the Messianic era does formally occur. It has not. The sheep does not sleep near the wolf in peace. The world is a terrified enclosure, and civilians are being slaughtered everywhere “all in the name of religion”.

I am not sure how Rabbi Cardozo qualitatively defines the Messianic era, but it seems to me, if he enunciated that, he’d have no issue, on the saddest day of the year, to join in the Shiva, that we all take part in. It is true, that our Rabbis also promised us that this will be transformed to a day of Yom Tov.

Rabbi Cardozo, surely you aren’t suggesting you see the Yom Tov, but are blind to the myriad of reasons to be sad?

I attend Yom Hashoa out of solidarity, but my real Yom Hashoa tacks onto Tisha B’Av.

I look forward to the full and real redemption: each day: so should Rabbi Cardozo.