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.

And now RMG Rabi extends his services to conversion

I received this by email, however, I have known about it for some time, having heard it from Dayonim in Melbourne and Sydney. In fact, the story gets worse than what is related here. I will leave it to other investigative types to find out what happened after this episode. Again, it confirms my (non Rabbinic) view that absolutely nobody should rely on RMG Rabi’s pseudo-halachic determinations and cosmic inventions. I’ve edited the quote below lightly and added a source.

[Hat tip BA]

Some years ago a young non-Jewish girl by the name of ### approached
the Melbourne Beth Din to convert to Judaism. She was told the standard procedure
and was given a list of teachers who were approved by the Melbourne Beth Din.
Shortly quite a number of concerns starting coming to the attention of the Beth Din.

These issues we are aware of, have had them confirmed, but do not feel we should make
them public. Five prominent senior Rabbanim from the Melbourne Rabbinate were
consulted and the unanimous decision was not to go ahead with her Geirus.
Numerous Rabbonim were allegedly hassled and pestered over a lengthy period, but the
Rabbonim would not budge and would not convert her as per Halachic advice from overseas experts.

Ms ### then moved to Sydney where she applied to the Sydney Beth Din to convert
to Judaism. After more than a year of her arguing, pressuring, threatening the Sydney
Beth Din and other prominent Rabbonim, she was told that she would not be converted
by the Sydney Beth Din either.

Ms ### was engaged to an American Israeli named ###. This ### was told in
Israel by a “do gooder” that the only person who could help to convert ### is a Rabbi called Meir Rabi.
### was told that Rabi has a history of allegedly antagonising the local Rabbonim and is described as a
rebel who will probably help especially if the other Rabbis say not to. ### also threatened
many Sydney Rabbonim.

Within a couple of weeks of Meir Rabi meeting ### the conversion was, predictably, carried out.
Meir Rabi manufactured a letterhead printed pretending to be an official beth din, calling himself
Harav HaGaon Meir Rabi, Rosh Beth Din.  The other two “Dayonim” of the Beth Din
were his business partner Kalman Gradman (who was bestowed the title Rabbi), and a third
gentleman by the name of Yitzchak Micha’el. Both of these gentlemen, Gradman and
Micha’el, may not halachically be part of a Beth Din for conversion. Kalman Gradman
TEXT REMOVED…
whose past conviction arguably disqualifies him from being part of a conversion Beis Din. Yitzchak
Micha’el is himself a convert which disqualifies him from converting others (see Bet Din Shel Yerushalayim (in Dinei Mamonot Ubirurei Yuchsin 7:416) where it is invalid even B’Dieved, after the fact).

Meir Rabi knew that no Mikveh would allow him to come with his two business associates to convert
the woman, so the 3 of them took ### to the Brighton City Baths to use as a mikvah,
where she performed a dunking and they “baptised” her.

48 hours later in a hush-hush ceremony the couple were married.

Suffice it to say, no Rabbinic authorities accept Rabi’s conversion.

Are מומר לתיאבון types (hungry people) going to hang their coats on his hook and trust? Surely by now your eyes are wide open. Isn’t it time that the established and accepted and respected Kashrut authority in Melbourne was respected?

PS. I note that a famous Arab West Bank Techina factory had its kashrus certification revoked by the Israeli Rabbanut, because of the dangers of Mashgichim coming unannounced to check on operations, and the Arab owner’s argument that they had comprehensive video cameras installed within the factory was rejected! 

Does a pure Tzadik like Rav Kanievsky need this?

My intention is not to give free airtime to business person and rabbinic authority R’ M.G. Rabi (RMG) of Australia and his newest venture (Ben Pekuah farming) although that is inevitable. Those who follow RMG as their Rabbi did so with his many controversial views and will continue to do so. Good luck to them. It is their right and their choice. In my estimation the majority of Torah Observant Jews will not ever rely on RMG’s decisions especially now for reasons that have been documented in many arenas.

On a recent overseas trip to seek agreement from authorities, RMG  had many believe that he found approbation from the venerable 87-year-old sage Rav Kanievsky, son of the Steipler Gaon, and universally recognised as a pure Tzadik who sits and learns like no one else. Having heard this, including having personal direct knowledge of RMG’s words with acclaimed Halachists who refused his requests for support, I suspected, that Rav Kanievsky featured on RMG’s marketing and communication campaign. RMG has a habit of having his picture taken with a recognised Halachist.

Someone who has seen RMG’s media and communications arm still promoting Rav Kanievsky as a supporter, please let me know, especially if Rav Kanievsky’s name and face are still displayed and I will make sure that Rav Kanievsky is informed dispassionately via a third-party about the context of the use of his name and picture. Rav Kanievsky has a right to know.

Why do I say this? Because, like Rabbi Abraham from London and others who have found themselves superglued to RMG’s marketing, my view is that the number of respected Halachists who refuse to meet with him in the future will increase. This will not strengthen his position.

RMG will counter with “This is not the way of Halacha”. I do not know who gave RMG license to pasken (Smicha) so we cannot ask that Rabbi directly if this is his way as well and that he approves of the path RMG has chosen to take. It could be asked if that Rabbi is identified and still alive.Does anyone know who it was? If they are alive do they feature on RMG’s websites?

That being said RMG doesn’t have to follow his own Rabbi’s path as long as he is sure he is acting according to Shulchan Aruch. There have always been sole opinions in Judaism. Some opinions remain a Daas Yachid, when it is a respected Posek, others just disappear into the ether.

It is well-known  now that Rabbi Kanievsky has explicitly not agreed to RMG and the venture. If RMG wants to argue that Rav Kanievsky was “manipulated” then I suggest RMG should never have gone to see him in the first place for approbation! There are many Halachists of note who are not elderly, well aware of the issues and capable of agreeing or disagreeing with him.

Those who followed him will follow him and likely have the attitude that

I can eat it, it’s on that Rabbi’s head not on mine if it turns out to be not permitted

If  it is now in the public domain that Rav Kanievsky has explicitly signed against RMG Ben Pekua farms, will RMG remove Rav Kanievsky’s name and face from his marketing and communications?

If RMG does not, then I ask RMG is that “the way of Halacha” as RMG often writes and says. Categorically, and here there isn’t any question in my opinion, one must take down Rav Kanievsky from all marketing and communications campaigns in respect of RMG and his business investors foetus farms. One doesn’t even need to ask. Yiras Shomayim dictates it as does common decency.

I will mention a recorded and written event from a Rav who has influenced my life, the Grid, Harav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik זצ’’ל (the Rav)

One of the Rav’s students, to whom he had given permission to make halachic judgements (that is, was already a Rabbi) came to see the Rav to ask a question about male and female equality in an aspect of one part of Torah/Rabbinic obligations and practices. The Rav listened to his question and (the best way I can describe it) heard it but did not listen. The questioner, presented a range of halachic reasons and presented his conclusion and sought the Rav’s agreement. Upon leaving the Rav’s house, one of those present asked the Rav “why didn’t you explicitly tell him that you disagree with his approach and conclusions”. The Rav answered in his sage and distinguished way words to the effect

“When he entered and began speaking, I realised that he hasn’t come to ASK me for my Halachic view on the matter. He had already made up his mind before he entered my house. When someone genuinely comes to ask my opinion, I will give it, but if someone comes to prove their Halachic opinion in my presence and I detect that they are not really interested in what I have to say on the matter:  I could see that in this Rabbi.”

In response, the person said that “but your silence could be interpreted as agreement” (and this is a Talmudic dictum). The Rav responded that this might apply in a case where his lack of silence was actually listened to. However, this person was never going to listen to me or my opinion and was only interested to use my name as agreeing with him. That sort of person is entitled to his opinion, but he doesn’t need mine, and I have nothing to say to him as a result.

Others may disagree and say the Rav should have acted like the common practice of Haredim and put out an open letter/poster disagreeing (the Rav did on choice public matters especially via the RCA and official positions) even against the opinion of his ex-students, who were now Rabbis of note. I’m guessing that the Rav didn’t feel this was to be used except for well-known broad policy issues because he did not feel he would be listened to based on letters or posters and the Torah would not be honoured in any way.

I think the Rav was arguably right. A day doesn’t go by without some ban or disagreement signed by Gedolim X, Y and Z plastered in the streets of religious cloisters within Israel and the diaspora. These are ignored by those who ignore such things, and listened to depending on the range of those who signed and the issue at hand and the reader.

That being said, if someone came to the Rav and simply asked a plain question he answered it. For example, some bugged the Rav about the Halacha of women’s head covering (the Rav’s wife didn’t wear one). The Rav, repeated and continued to repeat, “it is absolutely forbidden for a woman to go without a head covering”. The Rav was way too smart to be goaded. Another asked about dubious ways to repeal a marriage. The Rav came out strongly, and condemned the view as he saw it as dangerous. When someone came and said he was a Cohen and was in love with someone forbidden to the Cohen, the Rav said “you are forced to accept that it is forbidden, this is the Halacha”. There are many examples. He wasn’t a shrinking violet.

In conclusion, I think it is incorrect to place an alleged opinion of Rav Kanievsky, together with his picture for one’s business/supervisor/kashrus activities after Rav Kanievsky has explicitly signed onto a letter with other Poskim who disassociate themselves and are firmly in opposition to RMG’s Ben Pekuah farms.

For the sake of Kavod HaTorah, he should take anything using Rav Kanievsky down from his web site. It cannot be the halachic way to use what is in black and white, even if RMG claims he has something else in black and white from before. The Halacha is that the upper level is stronger תתאה גבר and the lower level the תחתון is inferior. This situation isn’t the case of בשר בחלב that I quoted, but it has all the hallmarks of at best a misunderstanding of Rav Kanievsky by RMG or RMG might wish to argue that Rav Kanievsky changed his views. Whatever the case, his view is explicit in the widely circulated letter. Those Poskim are firmly of the view that RMG should cease and desist from his venture.

Rav Kanievsky should however not feature any longer as someone supporting RMG. By all means let him find a bevy of respected Poskim who agree with him and explicitly write that they also approve of the Kashrus of that meat.

What’s wrong with trusting Rav Ya’akov Emden?

I was discussing a topic at Shule concerning why I wasn’t a regular purchaser of Hamodia. He asked me what I didn’t like. I suggested that I always felt like I was reading Disneyland when I read Hamodia’s description of any living or departed “Gadol” from yesteryear. Sure, I’m known to be a cynic. That’s different from being cycnical per se and is probably the wrong word in context. Being a cynic is probably a precursor or post effect from being a scientist of sorts. I have found that I see or notice things some do not. That’s unlikely to be a brain thing, but rather a training thing. I’ve been taught for so many years to dissect each word and scrutinise what’s written it’s invaded by mode of processing information. It’s a good invasion.

Consequently, when I read all the incredible stories about Great Rabonim and the occasional Rebbetzin? I am left with a feeling that “between the lines” there is much missing. What is missing? For me, it is the struggles, the emotions, the human side: the good and triumphant verses the struggles which weren’t always triumphant. I feel cheated. I know, as we all do, that there isn’t a family with a closet hidden and where some skeleton hangs proverbially.  With Hamodia I am being treated with a menu of  historiography and/or not well researched history. This extends way beyond Hamodia itself. Why, the (not so Holy) Artscroll translation decided they had jursidiction over the words of Rashi’s eynikel, the great Rishon, the Rashbam of the early 1000’s and chose to omit various things he “said wrong” or “should be hidden today”. No doubt, that was with permission of a “Choshuve” Rov or three, but I still don’t buy it. To me this consititites Olam HaSheker, the world of lies. Lies by commission and sometimes commission.  He, a Gerrer Chossid, opined that he could see nothing wrong with positivity as motivating force. I took his point, but countered that unlike former times, one simple can no longer escape the “real world”. If a child/talmid is imbued with brains and if they are also pursuers of truth and rigor, I think that the “world would come down” on such and they may cease to believe or start to doubt. They then separate into two types:

  • those that go through all the motions even with all the chumros, but deep down because they have felt they have been lied to, no longer believe anything . Social, Economic and other pressures make it too hard  for them to break away
  • those who have either experienced a bad incident or whose mind is too fertile to ignore the truth when they eventually discover it, either through interaction with a library, the internet, work and plain life and choose to leave the world of their parents and are banished and shamed as a result.

I’m reminded of a story which Mr Sperling of Elwood Shule used to tell me every Yom Kippur (in the days when Elwood had characters). In Yiddish he would relay how his father was very frum but his sons ranged in their frumkeit. One brother was completely not religious and was a card carrying member of the Communist party. This was not as uncommon as many people would have you believe. Yet, on Kol Nidrei night he had respect for his father and stood with all his brothers alongside their father. When the Chazan genuinely started saying (no choirs, organs, guitars and all the shticks people use today) Or Zarua LaTzadik אור זרוע לצדיק the communist boy’s leg went into an incontrollable shake. Mr Sperling used to rib him in the elbow each year and say “Nu, so you discovered God one night each year and you tzittered (trembled with awe) because your let always gives it away”.

To be sure, choosing what to expose one’s kids to it’s a delicate balancing act. It is one each parent and School considers. There are extremes and middle grounds and hilly grounds. There are a number of Schools that censure text books or story books or censor these in part. Do they think that the kids don’t notice glued pages or redacted texta? They do, and in many cases it makes them want to see the original so they know. People have a thirst for knowledge. The key is to quench the thirst in a meaningful way. Does anyone believe all the non Jewish books in the famous Lubavitch library fell in by carrier pigeon?

Defining what a “meaningful way” is complex. To give a comparison: It isn’t meaningful for anyone to give lower precedence to Tzniyis, be it for a male or female. At the same time, when one introduces laws (especially for women) that make them uncomfortably hot on a summer’s day, one really is using up מסירות נפש for the secondary, and not the primary. I’m not of course suggesting they prance barefoot in the gardens in white on Tu B’Av (would any Rav allow that today?) watched on by potential suitors. Yes, males and females should keep the עיקרים of Tzniyus. In terms of חומרות however, it is a very brave person who can pretend that their entire Kehilla are בעלי נפש people who are quietly and surreptitiously מחמיר on themselves across the gamut of Torah.

ָAnother example: we’ve over focussed on the claim that there can be nothing can be good in secular studies (unless you make a quick buck thereafter). This is simply untrue. Many of the greatest Rishonim and Acharonim disagreed. So you will say, yes, but that’s because they were on a Madrega, and we are not. I will counter that aside from the study of philosophy, where one would really need to be a learned בעל מדריגה if they were to cope with it, most University studies actually perform the side effect which allows one to see just how much צלם אלוקים they own. It is almost a פרוזדור to the real world, but one where you are learning as opposed to being bossed and working for someone else. You aren’t about to encounter כפירה if you study accountancy, computer science, law, medicine, architecture, mathematics, and much more. And if your bent is biology and those sciences, you would do well to be well acquainted with Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s books, as well as his interlocutor Rav Moshe Meisselman,  beforehand. You will be equipped. I’ve seen kids grow in their Yiddishkeit בדווקה because they are exposed to the חושך and are much more able to discern the אור and radiate within it and grow.

I remember the days when just about every Adass graduate who didn’t join their father’s business, went to Prahran Tech (as it was then known). It was normal. They used a short series of English names: George and Peter made up over 50% of them. (I will never understand how Hungarian Adassniks of yesteryear and today chose Peter of all names!). I think that was the Adass of the Germans and Oberlanders. Today it’s the world of Chassidim.

It is with this that I come to Rav Ya’akov Emden who is universally acclaimed as an outstanding Talmid Chacham. The son of the famed Chacham Tzvi, he didn’t need to even come second to his father. His entire mantra was truth which is why a healthy dose of skepticism had him at loggerheads with R’ Yonasan Eybesheutz. Most will never be told that he wrote an auto-biography. That of itself tells you lots about the man and that he did what he thought was right; not what others were doing “as right”. That Sefer is known as Megilas Sefer. I believe there have been three editions. Why so many editions? Of course, the answer is that people “greater and holier” than Rav Ya’akov Emden censored the Ya’avetz (as he is known) because “it was the right thing to do” and never allowed the whole thing to be printed.

I mentioned it a while ago in a learning hall and one צורבא דרבנן contacted me privately and asked if he could borrow my new english translation. I left it for him to pick up, and I assume he will read it and eventually give it back. Alas, many of my Seforim go walk about because I rely on a faulty memory and end up blaming myself for misplacing.

I got so much out of that Sefer as well as the banned (shock horror) “Making of a Gadol” by the Rosh Yeshivah Harav Noson Kaminestsky as relayed to him by his own father the famed R’ Ya’akov Kaminetzky. (By the way R’ Ya’akov was actually related to very well-known Chassidim from Chabad, and there is a famous picture I had which I can’t put my finger on, with him an Rav Mendel Futerfass and I forget the third)

Why do I write on this topic? Well, we have the “going off the Derech phenomenon”. I’ve read at least one wonderful book on that topic. I don’t believe that the problem is with the kids. The problem is with us. How much אמת do we exude, and when we do, how much אמת do we hide when we don’t allow them to also see חכמה בגויים תאמין. There isn’t one answer. There is a multifaceted approach, and its starts with every kid. They see our faults and they see what’s important to us. Their respect for us and יהדות stems largely from this.

I’m reminded of a story, when then Prime Minister Begin used to come to the USA he visited the Rav,  HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik (warning: anyone who calls him JB (especially Lubavitchers) don’t say it near me because I will give you a severe tongue lashing) because Begin’s father was R’ Chaim Brisker’s Shamash (some will try to change this fact, of course). Once Begin felt he wanted to discuss world politics and bounce his views off the Rav. He emerged from his meeting of an hour shaking his head. They asked him “how was the meeting” and he said “this man deeply knows as much if not more about Israeli and American politics than I did”. The Talmidim asked the Rav how he knew such things. He answered  that the prime lesson he learned from his Zayda, R’ Chaim Brisker, and his father R’ Moshe, was: reading the lines of anything be it a Rambam or a mere newspaper, was only half the work. One had to work out the line that was missing that wasn’t written. Consequently, when he read the paper, the Rav used to intuit that which was purposeful elided by reporters and editors and then work out why, and based on this and his genius, develop a view on what the Emes really was.

And here we are today: we have picture books for kids with Moshe Rabenu dressed like someone from B’Nei Brak. What narishkeit is that? Do you think Moshe Rabenu wore boots? I’d say he didn’t. Do you think he wore a turban like hat. I’d say he did. How many people (aside from poosteh Mizrachi) do you see in B’Nei Brak wearing sandals? No, it’s strictly  forbidden. It’s an almost יהרג ואל יעבור

That reminds me of another story. In the days I went to Bombay, Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי’’ד had one of those questions. None of the remaining Iraqi Jews were Cohanim, and the Bene Yisrael had no Cohanim (especially if you believe they came from another lost tribe). In fact there were no Leviim either. One day, there was an Israeli guy, frum, who was a Cohen (I often had to Duchen on Shabbos and learned the Baghdadi chant by imitating the B’aal Tefilla). The Israeli took of his sandals and the oldest Baghdadi Jew took offence, saying how can one Duchen in bare feet. There was a back and forth, and this Baghdadi Jew who was normally very quiet (he has passed on now, and I have fond memories of his Middos) said they should not have Bircas Cohanim if the Cohen wasn’t wearing socks. Rav Gavriel in a stroke of genius suggested that the Baghdadi Jew give the Israeli Cohen his own socks and the problem would be solved. I will leave the rest to your imagination.

We’ve been taken in by the פרט or purposely erased it.

PA = Patents

More on the Rav Riskin Conversion issue

Rav Riskin has suggestions about making it easier for giyur because of the problem with the volumes of non Jewish Russians in Israel.

He has written these in a book. This is the way of Torah.

He has conditioned his suggestions on the agreement of other major poskim.
The information that I have is that he has not actually acted on any of his proposals with respect to Giyur, although, as I mentioned in a previous post, there are a myriad of instances where Charedi Batei Din do quicky conversions which are quite obviously based on marriage considerations!

One of the issues with Rabbi Gil Student’s post is that he doesn’t deal with the suggestions that Rav Riskin puts forward.
Instead of arguing with his suggestions some rabbis prefer to just silence him.

I’m aware that Rabbi Yoram Ullman of the Sydney Beth Din, did deal with some of the proposals, however, I was not in a state to be at his talk. If he has published a Tshuva, or anyone can encourage him to do so and pass it onto me, then I’d be obliged.

If I was Rav Riskin, I’d take my arguments to Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg and Rav Hershel Schachter (but that’s just me). If they both gave approbation to one of his suggestions, I’d accept it with 100% confidence. If they don’t then I would not. Neither of these Gedolim have an agenda (although Rav Hershel may adopt the approach of his teacher Rav Soloveitchik and be unwilling to Pasken for Israel specifically)

  

Rav Yuval Cherlo on the Rabbi Riskin controversy

[the following is an edited, summary of a talk by Rav Cherlo, from Rabbi Dr Eli Turkel and is printed here with permission]

Who is Rav Yuval Cherlo?

He speaks English. He is a Posek of note from the centrist camp, who writes Tshuvos. He is a Rosh Yeshivah in Petach Tikvah. He was a founder of the moderate Tzohar. He served in the army and attended Har Etzyon. He is considered a sound moderate religious Zionist who sits in the centre and is widely respected. He is inclusive but maintains strict fidelity to authentic Halacha.

Rav Yuval Cherlow שליט’’א

During the controversy between the politically puppeteered Chief Rabbinate about extending the tenure of Rabbi Riskin of Efrat (see here and here) Rav Cherlo made the following comments. These need to be considered seriously considering the source.

Rav Cherlow gave a 1 1/2 hour talk last night on the chief rabbinate and R Riskin.
Rav Cherlow is the head of a hesder yeshiva and very active in medical ethics on several government committees.
Enclosed is a brief (from 90 min) summary.

 

There are 2 main purposes to the Rabbinate in Israel:

1) represent the Jewish Religion to the nation; and

2) halachic decisions – involving mainly kashrut and marriage & divorce (conversion is not officially listed as being done by the rabbinic courts)
The beginning of the end of the chief rabbinate began with the fight between Rav Goren and Rav Ovadya Yosef,  which brought the chief rabbinate to an effective stand still and more of a titular position.

Today the majority of non-religious Jews have little interest in the rabbinate. The Charedim mainly want to weaken and control the rabbinate but don’t respect it. That leaves only the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionists) who potentially care.
The low point was the election of Rabbi Meltzer over Rav Ariel in the previous election. The two are not in the same ballfield with Rav Ariel a far superior candidate on all fronts, but Rabbi Meltzer won on political grounds [me: he had a deal with his old friend from Kerem B’Yavneh, Rav Yossi Efrati who was the right hand man of Rav Elyashiv, to follow the views of Rav Elyashiv ז’ל. Rabbi Meltzer used to sit not far away from me in the Beis Midrash, but he was older and in 5th year as I recall when I arrived.]
I don’t really want to talk about chief rabbis that are being prosecuted.

Rabbi David Lau the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi is extremely capable, but won’t take any controversial stand. When asked about pushing for organ transplants he says Rabbi X objects to it. In terms of influence in the country his cousin, Rabbi Benny Lau has a greater presence. Rabbi Riskin is also an inspiration to others (when the radio wants a spokeman or there is a public debate Rabbi Benny Lau or Rav Cherlow are usually chosen).

To my surprise Rav Cherlow claims that the largest public religious events in Israel are the various programs on Shavuot night!
The chief rabbinate is slowly losing all of its power. Today some 100,000 Non-Jews are Israeli citizens recognised by the Law of Return (chok hashvut) with no hope or interest in converting.

In Cyprus the wedding places are all set up for those Israelis who can’t or don’t wish to marry through the rabbinate. This is in addition to all the couples living together without formal marriage. Soon, a minority of couples living together will have been married through the Rabbinate. This obviously means that they also will not be divorced through the rabbinical courts when they separate.
Hence, conversion causes less of a problem as they marry elsewhere and being Jewish isn’t important to them. Rav Cherlow brought a story that a brother of the Rav from Ponovezh was intending to marry a non Jewess. A conversion was arranged for the woman within 3 days!

According to Israeli law only the rabbinate can give a certificate of kashrut. Presently the various badatzim (Charedi Batei Din) only claim supervision without actually stating that it is kosher. There is a movement of other local groups that will start their own kashrut supervision. There is currently a case in front of the court requesting that any Rabbi be able to give a kashrut certificate.

In general many functions of the rabbinate are being taken over by Tzohar which not only performs marriages but also organizes many events for the public.
Many of the Dati Leumi Knesset members are in parties other than bayit hayehudi (the Religious Zionist party). Many of them are willing to dissolve the rabbinate as they feel it does more harm than good. An example is Rabbi Shai Piron who is a leading member of Yesh Atid. Others are in the Likud.

What about the future: There are two options:

1) dissolve the rabbinate and have a situation similar to the US [of separation of religion and state] (however the government will still fund religious events). This will happen by law or informally over time

2) make the current Rabbinate more inclusive and serving larger elements of the population.

Rav Cherlow personally is in favor of the second option. Now, much of Israeli society is traditional. They go through the Rabbinate because it is the accepted way and they have no problems. Once the rabbinate loses its monopoly many of these will choose other options.
The rabbinate claims to have problems with R Riskin because he criticises the Rabbinate and doesn’t always follow the rules. However, many town rabbis from the charedi side do the same thing but are never criticised for their actions. In fact two sets of religious courts have recently released agunot on very controverisal and contradictory reasons.

Town rabbis officially have no retirement age – the only government workers with that rule. Recently a law was passed requiring town rabbis to prove they are healthy at the age of 75 to continue. Until now that law was a formality. Rabbi Riskin is the first town rabbi to be called in for a formal hearing!

R Cherlow says that he has many disagreements with R. Riskin. However, should the chief rabbinate decide that they have the power to say that an orthodox rule is illegitimate (not just wrong on certain issues) then that is the straw that would force Rav Cherlow to object to the entire establishment. Many town rabbis just collect a salary and don’t do anything. To take a rabbi who is an inspiration to many and throw him out because he is too liberal, is simply too much for Rav Cherlow.

Interestingly the chief rabbinate announced that they will not be swayed by public opinion. That itself is a symbol of their problem. What the people of Efrat feel is irrelevant. In the end the Dati Leumi population will vote with the feet and already the other groups have no respect for the rabbinate. That institution will be left with zero support.

Mixed Gender Functions

[Hat tip MD]

Recently, a question was asked of the Charedi Leumi Posek, Rav Aviner, about a 50 year reunion of a group of couples who had been part of a youth group 50 years prior. They would be attending, were frum, all with their wives, and the idea was that they would recollect memories and have an enjoyable evening. The question asked to him was

Is such a reunion permitted according to Halacha

I guess the mere fact that they asked Rav Aviner the question before going ahead with their reunion is testament to their frumkeit and fidelity to Halacha. Those who are not so beholden to their Rabbi, would not even ask a question.

At any rate, Rav Aviner’s answer was

“חלילה. זו מכבסת מילים לפעילות מעורבת. זה איסור חמור גם אם אלו יראי שמים. ולצערנו יש פעמים רבות פעילות המשך

In other words, definitely not permitted and is a serious halachic infraction even if the participants are frum! Rav Aviner opines that unfortunately, there are sometimes serious outcomes from such events.

In other words, age makes no difference, and one would assume, a fortiori, that this would be forbidden for younger couples. I won’t extrapolate to mixed tables of singles at a wedding who are looking for Shidduchim. Rav Aviner may have the same opinion as R’ Aron Soltoveitchik that this isn’t just permitted but desirable. It is dangerous to extrapolate in Halacha.

Upon hearing of this Psak, respected Rav Amnon Bazak (whose writings I am acquainted with and if I am not mistaken he may have visited Melbourne) of Har Etzyon, disagreed with Rav Aviner on three grounds.

  1. The attitude of the Rishonim and Acharonim on issues such as this, was and is tightly connected with the practices in such communities. In other words, if it was common place for men and women to meet, then Poskim such as the Bach, opined that it is permitted (if you want to read more about this examine the issue of whether to say שהשמחה במעונו at a mixed Sheva Brachos. If my memory serves me correctly, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is Machmir and says no). The point of Rav Bazak was that this is something which may well change from community to community. I wouldn’t expect this to happen in Satmar, or Belz, where the women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, of course.
  2. If one wants to say “those who are stringent will get a blessing”, this leaves is a sour taste because the idea that they get a blessing on account of people who really are not doing anything wrong according to plain Halacha.
  3. What’s the point in putting out words like ‘absolutely forbidden’ when this happens all the time, at tables, which involve Chachomim and Roshei Yeshivah at their meals?

There is also the question of when you have two long tables at a Sheva Brachos one with men and the other with women without a Mechitza. Some will still say this is “mixed” other will not, even according to those who argue with the Bach.

Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter relates that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Yaakov Kaminetzy ז’ל  and others made weddings and there were mixed tables. He does however caution that times have changed somewhat to those days. He doesn’t use Rav Bazak’s arguments but notes that

  1. Women tend not to wear the ornate thick dresses that they wore in yesteryear, and sometimes, perhaps too often, are on the boundary of Tzniyus with flimsy clothing which leaves little to the imagination
  2. The music in those days was much slower and it was rare to find a women or man return to the table shvitzing with all that comes from that phenomenon and fine cloth.

Accordingly, he suggests caution at weddings.

Your views? I believe this is societal and something according to הרגלם and will change from group to group to the extent that a blanket opinion is elusive and probably not advised.

There is a lot of “Ess Past Nisht” and I’m not arguing. I’m just quoting and adding to this article

בענין סתירת הרמבם שלא יתערבו או שלא יסתכלו זה את זה,  כבר דשו ביה רבים

Support for Rabbi Riskin

I had blogged on this Here

(hat tip nb) Rav Melamed is considered one of the leading Poskim for the Chareidi Leumi group (right wing religious zionists)

 

I’m writing to update you on events surrounding the Israeli Chief Rabbinical Council’s refusal to automatically renew Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s tenure as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. As I wrote last week, Rabbi Riskin has instead been summoned for a hearing, at which the Council will examine his qualifications and credentials for continuing the work to which he has devoted his life since the very establishment of the city.

I am delighted to report that Rabbi Riskin has been blessed with an incredible groundswell of support, which testifies to the meaningful, lasting impact he has had on world Jewry. 

He has been especially touched by the solidarity and encouragement expressed in letters, emails, phone calls, tweets and facebook posts from individuals spanning the globe. 

In addition, prominent members of Knesset and Israeli government ministers, communal and spiritual leaders in Israel and the Diaspora and countless organizations have spoken and written eloquently on his behalf, demonstrating the highest levels of respect he has earned from a broad cross-section of the Jewish world. 

Below is one such article, authored by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, spiritual leader of the community of Har Bracha and a leading figure in the “Chardal” (ultra-Orthodox Zionist) community. In addition to beautifully encapsulating so much of what has been written and said over the past week, the poignancy of his heartfelt advocacy stems precisely from the fact that he holds fundamentally differing views from Rabbi Riskin on many issues. 

I invite you to read and be inspired by Rabbi Melamed’s expression of steadfast support on behalf of our beloved rabbi.

With warmest regards and Shabbat Shalom

David Katz

International Director, Ohr Torah Stone

 Op-Ed: On the Rabbi Riskin Saga:

Don’t Disqualify the Torah Scroll (from Arutz Sheva)

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is a man who raised himself from poverty to dedicate his life to Torah and more – differences in philosophical or even halakhic approaches should not be used to disqualify one rabbi or another. 

It was recently reported that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate has expressed doubt as to whether to permit Rabbi Shlomo Riskin from staying on as chief municipal rabbi of Efrat despite recently turning 75.

The hearing ordinarily would have been nothing more than a procedural matter. But several members of the council evidently aimed to prevent Rabbi Riskin from continuing in his capacity as a result of their objections.

This, then, is the appropriate time to take a stand and praise Rabbi Riskin, a righteous, wise leader who has done extraordinary things.

Rabbi Riskin was born into a non-religious, poverty-stricken family. But from a young age, of his own free will and with the help of his grandmother, he began making his way toward the Torah and religious observance. Being a prodigy and an outstanding student, he was accepted to Harvard, the most prestigious university in the world, with a full scholarship. By choosing to study there, he would have guaranteed his professional and financial future: no door is closed to Harvard graduates.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a temptation that few could resist. Yet Rabbi Riskin declined the scholarship and instead made his way to Yeshiva University, which also took notice of his abilities and granted him a full scholarship.

Since then, he has dedicated his life to Torah.

As a young, gifted, and charismatic rabbi, a captivating speaker with the ability to lift up the souls of his audience and draw them near to Torah and religious observance, Rabbi Riskin earned special esteem in the United States. Successful, educated individuals also found meaning in his words of Torah and were privileged to become acquainted with Jewish tradition under his guidance. “There was truthful Torah in his mouth, and he brought many back from sin.” The future that awaited him was that of a leader of the American-Jewish community.

Yet before even turning 40, inspired by pure faith in God and His Torah, he gave up his position in the United States and made a decision to immigrate to Israel.

In so doing, he gave up what had been his main skill in his work: his command of the English language, which had brought him the success he enjoyed in the United States. True, he learned to speak Hebrew excellently. but they say that in English few can parallel his rhetorical skills. Thanks to his vision, abilities, and leadership, he was able to bring many members of his community to Israel in his wake. He established an Israeli city at the heart of whose cultural life are the study of Torah and religious observance, whose residents enjoy a high standard of living and contribute to the economic, scientific, and social development of the State of Israel.

His ‘aliyah’ to Israel was felt by hundreds, even thousands, who followed in his footsteps to new homes in Efrat and throughout Israel, while also benefiting from the enhanced religious life implicit in such a change. Never slowing, Rabbi Riskin successfully established yeshivot and educational institutions for boys and girls in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. Drawing on incredible sources of energy, he still makes his way to all of these institutions, where he teaches, speaks, illuminates, and imparts to his students the excitement of a life centered on Torah and Judaism.

Yet when he arrived in Israel, he was guaranteed nothing. He came with little more than the shirt on his back.

Western Aliyah to Israel

Unfortunately, though we are not always aware of it, the vast majority of those who have immigrated to Israel in modern times have come from countries where Jews were subject to persecution and poverty. Immigration from Western countries, particularly the United States, is perhaps the most impressive of all.

I therefore have a deep appreciation of Rabbi Riskin as well as all other immigrants from the United States.

A Difference of Approach

There are most definitely different approaches to various issues in Jewish law. This always has been the case in Jewish discourse, whether between the sages of the Mishnah, those of the Gemara, the luminaries of Geonic Babylonia, the scholars of the medieval era, or those of the modern period. Sometimes the differences stem from people’s different characters, as with Shammai and Hillel. Other times they stem from differences in background or intellectual method. Concerning these issues, our sages said (Ḥagigah 3b), “‘Masters of assemblies’ are those scholars who sit, some in this faction and some in that, and occupy themselves with the Torah. Some say it is impure; others say it is pure. Some forbid; others permit. Some declare it invalid; others declare it valid.

Lest a person say, ‘Then how can I study the Torah?’ the verse states that all were ‘given by a single shepherd’: a single God gave them, a single leader said them, from the mouth of the Lord of all creatures, blessed is He, as is stated, ‘God stated all of these things.’ So you, too, make your ears a funnel and develop a discerning heart so that you can hear the words of those who say it is impure and the words of those who say it is pure, the words of those who forbid and the words of those who permit, the words of those who declare it invalid and the words of those who declare it valid.

American Jewry

Rabbi Riskin’s American background plays an important part in his pursuits: American Jews and immigrants from the United States stand at the forefront of the struggle with Western culture and its principles of liberalism and equality, including feminism.

Out of their faithfulness to the Torah, Rabbi Riskin and his colleagues have forged a path to contend with these major and important questions. Among American rabbis, too, there are different approaches: how much to open up and how much to close, what to bring near and what to keep distant.

Sometimes, other rabbis, including myself, prefer other solutions. Sometimes this preference stems from habits of observance to which we are devoted, sometimes from the fact that we believe a certain way is more appropriate. For the most part, these differences of opinion and practice pertain to questions of education and society, rather than to questions of practice per se. Time will tell what advantages and disadvantages each path contains. In any event, we must not seek to delegitimize Rabbi Riskin’s path, which is one of the most important approaches to religious observance in our day. 

A Whole Torah Scroll

If a single letter is missing from a Torah scroll, it is unfit for use, and the same holds true for the pan-Jewish religious world: every true Jewish scholar has a letter in the Torah, and any person who excludes one of these scholars makes his own Torah scroll unfit for use. Any offense against Rabbi Riskin’s service in the rabbinate is equivalent to the obliteration of whole sections of the Torah.

I imagine that it was only out of ignorance that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate entertained doubts with regard to Rabbi Riskin. I am confident that once they have heard a bit of his reverence, erudition, and rectitude, the majority of the members of the rabbinical council will take his side.

If, heaven forbid, they reach a contrary decision, Rabbi Riskin’s dignity will not be harmed. His standing in his community and his institutions will keep rising, and his influence will become even greater. However, the public standing of the Chief Rabbinate as the public representative of the Torah of all Jews will be weakened when it becomes known that the Torah scroll it represents is deficient and unfit.

Policy of the Chief Rabbinate

Some have argued that the Chief Rabbinate should draw a line that all rabbis must follow, and Rabbi Riskin is not following the line that was drawn concerning such issues as conversion.

True, it is desirable that the Rabbinate take a position in pressing matters of public importance-but in order to do so, it must engage in a deep, serious discussion of each of these issues, a discussion of Talmudic, medieval, and modern literature that analyzes the reality of the matter at hand in all its dimensions. In order to expedite such a discussion, rabbis who are active in the given area would have to study various books and articles ahead of time, and then the discussion of every issue would continue for at least a few whole days.

Unfortunately, today no serious discussion is held concerning any important matter, whether in the Rabbinate or in any other religious entity. For instance, when it comes to conversion, Rabbi Ḥaim Amsalem wrote a very respectable book that is deserving of discussion. True, I draw different conclusions from his, but in objecting to what he wrote most of his opponents offer worthless arguments that rely on violence such as is accepted in Haredi circles.

I must add that despite the great value of arriving at a consensual position on every issue, such a position must not come at the expense of rabbinic discretion. Even when the Great Sanhedrin held session, local courts enjoyed a certain degree of authority, because fundamentally this position is not a thin line, but a divinely sanctioned field, a field in whose scope there are different practices and approaches thanks to which the Oral Torah becomes richer and greater.

All the more so today, when there is no Great Sanhedrin that traces its authority directly to Moses, must the Rabbinate not set a rigid line that seeks to disqualify religious perspectives of substance. The lesser the standing and authority of the Chief Rabbinate, the more it must take the various perspectives into consideration in arriving at its position. This is how the rabbis of the Jewish people carried themselves in previous generations.

“One Law Shall There Be for You All”

Aside from anything else, a single law must apply to all. When the Council of the Chief Rabbinate declines to react to profound challenges to its views and its dignity on the part of rabbis belonging to the haredi stream, who violently reject its kashrut supervision and treat the chief rabbis and municipal and neighborhood rabbis with contempt, it must also act tolerantly and fondly toward rabbis such as Rabbi Riskin, who respect the Chief Rabbinate but sometimes take a different track.

In today’s reality, the Rabbinate does not go out of its way immediately to dismiss rabbis who, contrary to the rules of Jewish law, disqualify conversions performed by representatives of the Rabbinate. It continues to recognize kosher supervision services, marriages, and conversions by “rabbis” who have the gall to publicly dismiss commandments of the Torah, such as the duty to settle the Land of Israel and defend the nation of Israel through military service, or deprecate the good that God bestowed on us with the establishment of the state and denigrate those who recite the Psalms of Praise on Independence Day.

In such with today’s reality, the Rabbinate must restrain itself from taking action against a rabbi whose reverence, deeds, and erudition are greater than those Haredi “rabbis” whom it is overly careful not to slight. 

Two Views on Rabbi Riskin

It was predictable, that the hard-hitting and often “on the money” Isi Leibler would come out in full support of Rabbi Riskin. Isi, if I’m not misquoting him, is also a supporter of Rabbi Benny Lau, who is a controversial figure.

What Isi fails to notice is that Rav Soltoveitchik was a Charedi in his outlook on Torah and Mitzvos. The difference was that Rav Soltoveitchik could make a Psak (many were often contradictory for good reasons) and “take on” any Gadol BaTorah in the entire world and flatten him with his learning and brilliance. His use of the philosophical world was to broaden the understanding of Torah.

Rabbi Riskin is a very impressive man. I enjoyed his latest book immensely. One thing that was clear though that Rabbi Riskin, when in doubt, always went to seek advice from some mentors. He used to go to Rav Soltoveitchik and then to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (especially when the latter enfranchised him to work underground for Soviet Jewry).

Now, Rabbi Riskin is his own man. He is not young. He got one-off Hetterim from both Rav Soltoveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe for certain activities. In his fantastic book he is clearly in awe of them, and if you asked him today whether he reached either of their ankles, he would tell you “No way in the world”. That being said, unlike another moderates like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ז’ל, Rav Aharon actually also had a posek. That Posek was none other than Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל, a cousin of Isi’s wife, Naomi. The saintly Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl also went to discuss difficult matters with Rav Shlomo Zalman. Why? Because whilst being a Charedi, Rav Shlomo Zalman was not behoved to any politics or political machinations. He was an independent, a pure soul, who understood both Rav Aharon, and Rav Avigdor (and like Rav Elyashiv would get angry at anyone who remotely said anything negative about Rav Kook ז’ל)

I feel that Rabbi Riskin is now missing his mentors. Who isn’t? His last few more controversial steps are argued among the real students of Rav Soloveitchik, of whom I consider Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, the carrier of Rav Soloveitchik’s Torah Mesora and דרך הלימוד ופסק par excellence.

Far be it from me to be one to proffer advice to Rabbi Riskin, (I don’t come to his ankles) but the one Rabbi I would go to discuss issues of grave halachic import in Israel with, is actually Rav Shlomo Zalman’s son in law, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is very much attuned with the real world, as was Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. He is a wise man, very attuned to the real world, and void of politics.

I’ll close with Isi’s article, and that of Rabbi Gil Student. You decide. Regarding the Chief Rabbinate, I agree. The calibre of Rabbi is not what it should be. Rav Ovadya Yosef was recently described as מיוסף עד יוסף לא קם כיוסף where the first Yosef is R’ Yosef Caro the author of the Shulchan Aruch. I agree with this whole heartedly. Sadly, political appartchiks are now in the seat.

Indeed, reading what Rav Soltoveitchik wrote about the Chief Rabbinate, is as true now as it was 30 years ago. He was utterly opposed to the concept.

Here is Isi’s article, followed by R’ Gil Student.

The despicable effort by the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate to purge Rabbi Shlomo Riskin because he does not conform to their stringent halachic approach may prove to be a blessing in disguise. The anger this outrageous initiative generated could be the final straw needed to dissolve this corrupt institution, which is held in contempt by most Israelis — including, ironically most haredim.

Rabbi Riskin is one of the outstanding role models of the religious Zionist community. I am privileged to have known him for over 30 years and consider him one of the greatest and most beloved Modern Orthodox rabbis of our generation. He is also an extraordinary creator of Jewish institutions.

A student of the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in 1964 Riskin became the rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, which he transformed into one of New York’s most successful Orthodox religious centers.

In 1984, at the peak of his career, he moved to Israel and became founding chief rabbi and a leading developer of Efrat, which is today a highly successful community.

In addition to acting as a communal rabbi, he launched the Ohr Torah Stone institutions, which include one of the best networks of Modern Orthodox schools in Israel, ranging from junior high school through to graduate programs. He also created a special program to inculcate young men with the knowledge and skills to be effective rabbis and educators throughout the Jewish world.

He displayed innovation by seeking to blend Halachah with the requirements of a modern industrial Jewish state.

He strove to upgrade the status of women and to this effect launched Midreshet Lindenbaum, a college designed to educate religious women. He also created a five-year program designed to train women to act as religious advisers paralleling rabbis. This and his efforts to address the issue of agunot (women in unwanted marriages whose husbands are unwilling or unable to grant them divorces) outraged the ultra-Orthodox.

Rabbi Riskin also had a major impact in the field of marriage, divorce and above all, conversion, where he established independent conversion courts that were bitterly challenged by the haredi establishment. Riskin considers the issue of conversion — especially related to immigrants from the former Soviet Union — as one of the greatest religious, national and societal challenges facing Israel.

He was at the forefront of efforts by the moderate Tzohar Rabbinical Council to decentralize the appointment of rabbis and provide Israelis with choices beyond the extremist ultra-Orthodox candidates appointed by the Chief Rabbinate.

When at the age of 75, Rabbi Riskin’s tenure came up for a five-year extension — an automatic procedural formality, the Chief Rabbinical Council took the unprecedented step of refusing to reappoint him. It was only due to a plea from the recently elected chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, that the council reluctantly agreed to interview him. He only learned about his provisional rejection from the media.

This was not merely an attempt to publicly humiliate one of the doyens of Modern Orthodoxy. It was a ploy by the ultra-Orthodox fanatics to assume unprecedented total centralized control of religious leadership and to marginalize those with different approaches.

But choosing to impose their agenda on Efrat, a bastion of national religious Zionism, is likely to backfire and the crude effort to oust Rabbi Riskin against the wishes of his community, exposes crude agenda of the Chief Rabbinate.

As far back as the Mishnah, there were robust debates in the interpretation of Halachah between the more liberal Beit Hillel and more stringent Beit Shamai schools. And this process of debating the “70 faces” of Torah ensured that a plurality of interpretations prevailed at all times. Now even the ultra-Orthodox compete among themselves to impose the most stringent interpretations of implementing Jewish laws.

This is being extended to the Diaspora with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate insisting that that conversions to Judaism by Orthodox rabbis lacking their endorsement should no longer be recognized as Jews by the government of Israel and thus ineligible for aliya.

This is outrageous and entirely beyond the jurisdiction of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Former chief rabbis like Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others were outstanding religious scholars, moderate and devoted religious Zionists in stark contrast to the mediocrities and corrupt individuals who succeeded them when the haredim hijacked the Chief Rabbinate.

It is significant that the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau ensured his election by giving an unqualified undertaking to haredi groups that he would resist any proposed reforms relating to conversions or rabbinical administration without their prior approval.

To make matters worse, the level of corruption and scandals associated with the Chief Rabbinate reached bedrock when the former chief rabbi (whose appointment was orchestrated by the haredim to block a national religious candidate of genuine stature) was arrested and charged with purloining millions of dollars from illegal activities and corrupt practices.

Not surprisingly, the attempts to humiliate Rabbi Riskin created enormous outrage. The Tzohar Rabbinical Association stated that “above any effort to depose Rabbi Riskin flies a clear red flag of revenge directed against his positions and halachic decisions” and accused the rabbinical council of initiating this solely “for political considerations and to enable them to appoint insiders in his place.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, stated that the Chief Rabbinate was behaving in an “unacceptable” manner and that he would not stand by and permit this.

Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, described Riskin as “a Jewish leader and an Israeli patriot,” insisting that there can be “no questions about his qualifications for his continued service.”

The Efrat municipal council unanimously voted to extend the rabbi’s tenure and condemned the intervention. Rabbi Riskin made it clear that if necessary, he would appeal to the Supreme Court but that so long as the Efrat community wished to retain him, he would continue to serve them as rabbi without payment.

The abject silence of Diaspora Orthodox institutions was disappointing, encouraging Rabbi David Stav, the head of Tzohar, to call on Jewish communities in the U.S. to stop inviting Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef as their guests if the Riskin provocation is not withdrawn.

The Rabbinical Council of America, once a robust Modern Orthodox group, expressed the hope that the differences would be amicably settled. One of its executive officers, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, actually accused Rabbi Riskin “of violating the trust of his employer and contravening the rulings of the most pre-eminent halachic authorities of this and previous generations,” alleging that “the employer had more than ample reason to maintain that his employee was not adhering to the policies and values that he was hired to uphold.” This obscene depiction of Riskin as an employee of the Chief Rabbinate reflects the distorted mentality of those currently controlling the institution.

In view of the waves of protest, there is every probability that the Chief Rabbinate will back down. But now is the time for Israelis and Orthodox Jews throughout the world to raise their voices and say enough is enough. Despite the repercussions of a division, breaking away and setting up independent religious courts directed by moderate Zionists is the only means by which to terminate the exclusive control of the haredim.

Throughout the Exile, the rabbinate never imposed centralized religious control and there was always a plurality of differing halachic interpretations. The issue is not whether we should be more or less stringent in the application of Jewish law. Any Orthodox community should be entitled to select its choice of spiritual leader. Haredim are entitled to practice their religion as they see fit. Indeed, there are aspects of their spirituality and lifestyle that our hedonistic society could benefit by emulating. But that does not provide a license to enable the most extreme elements to impose their limited worldview on Israeli society.

The Chief Rabbinate is regarded with contempt and despair by the vast majority of Israelis, including most haredim, who merely exploit the institution for their own purposes. The greatest impediment to the current religious revival is the deplorable status of the rabbinical bureaucracy, which alienates rather than attracts Israelis to their Jewish heritage. The scandalous effort to degrade one of the most beloved and successful Orthodox rabbis of our generation should be a wake-up call to introducing highly overdue, radical changes in the rabbinate.

Here is Rabbi Gil Student’s take:

If you want to know why Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is apparently being forced into retirement by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, you have to read his recent book, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy. I don’t claim any insight into the complex politics of Israel’s governmental organizations, of which the Chief Rabbinate is one. I don’t know enough to understand the power struggle that is occurring. However, in terms of ideology, I see why the Chief Rabbinate Council would express concern over R. Riskin. His book is more radical than many might expect. This is not the same Rabbi Riskin you may remember from the 60’s and 70’s.

The most surprising thing about the book is what is missing from it. On multiple occasions, R. Riskin wrote programmatic essays about what Modern Orthodoxy needs to do to succeed. These were essays full of passion, exhorting both faith in God and Torah as well as devoted observance of the commandments. While the book consists almost entirely of previously published articles, these programmatic essays were replaced with a new introduction titled “What is Modern Orthodoxy?” This introduction is a call for radical change in halakhic decision-making. For example (p. xiv):

The Modern Orthodox decisor must orchestrate the interplay between both of these directives, taking into account the guiding principles used by the sages of the Talmud in their religio-legal discussions, the meta-halakhic principles such as, “for the sake of the perfection of the world,” “in order to respect the integrity of the human being created in the divine image,” “for the sake of freeing a wife chained to an impossible marriage the sages found leniency,” “in order to provide spiritual satisfaction for women,” and “you must love the stranger and the proselyte.”

If you are familiar with rabbinic literature of the past century, you will immediately recognize that these are legitimate principles that can and have been (ab)used to overturn wide swaths of Jewish law. The essays in the book provide many examples of R. Riskin’s applications of these principles. There are two things going on here. First, R. Riskin is promoting his own fairly radical agenda, as would be expected. Second, he is setting the stage for future rabbis to make even more changes to Jewish practice according to their own understanding of what is needed, regardless of what traditional texts allow.

Another troubling trend I find in this book seems to be the result of an editorial oversight. Most of the essays were written over the course of decades, as R. Riskin’s experiences and outlook changed. While the essays were edited for consistency and maybe updated a little, the conclusions were largely left intact. Here we see a troubling difference in how R. Riskin reaches conclusions. Regarding changing the daily blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” R. Riskin writes: “I would not permit even so minor a change without the approval and approbation of several leading halakhic authorities” (p. 159). While R. Riskin advocates annulling marriages, he does not plan on doing so unilaterally. Rather, “this should be effectuated by a special Beit Din for agunot in Jerusalem with impeccable halakhic credentials who would render judgments, and rule on urgent issues of mesuravot get throughout the world” (p. 188). In his call for theological interfaith dialogue with Christians, R. Riskin repeatedly invokes Rav Soloveitchik, albeit in what I believe is a twisting of his words but at least as an appeal to an eminent authority.

However, in his essay on women halakhic scholars and judges, R. Riskin does not submit his proposal to leading authorities. The most he does is quote a responsum of Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, who is alive and well and could be consulted. Instead, R. Riskin started a program for ordaining women on his own. (R. Riskin writes that his program’s first two graduates published a book of responsa that “has received much praise, and — at least to my knowledge — no negative reviews” (p. 132). We published a negative review by Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer to which one of the authors responded.)

When it comes to women dancing with a Torah scroll on Simchas Torah–which I acknowledge lacks the gravity of some other issues under discussion–R. Riskin likewise does not mention consulting with other scholars. When discussing establishing a Hesder yeshiva for women–a matter of great communal importance–R. Riskin also omits discussion with great authorities.

What I see is a rabbi whose agenda has become increasingly radical. Realizing that he was engaging in activities for which he would not gain approval of his elders, he stopped asking. Instead, he moved forward on his own authority. A young R. Shlomo Riskin regularly consulted with Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When they passed away, he was no longer restrained.

In America, R. Riskin was a defender of Orthodoxy against the Conservative movement and a defender of Judaism against Christian missionaries. That is not the R. Riskin you will find in this book. Maybe in Israel he found himself in a different situation which has given him a new perspective. He now has Christian supporters in his role as a defender of modernity against Charedi Judaism. Maybe he simply underwent a personal evolution.

However, this is all speculation. Regardless of why, R. Riskin has taken some communally radical actions and created surprisingly unorthodox institutions entirely on his own initiative. Some people love him for it. We should not be surprised that others believe he has gone too far on too many issues. Whether that is cause for him to be forced into retirement I leave to his employers and constituents.

Disclaimer: Isi’s son is my brother-in-law.

Guest Post: on the misrepresentation of pictures

Thanks to Reb Meir Deutsch for his copyrighted contribution.

Why should only women be blurred in pictures? Do not women have HIRHURIM? The whole thing of ERVA originates from SHIR HASHIRIM. The description of the Shepherd by the NOTERET are (her הרהורים ):
דודי צח ואדום

ראשו כתם פז קבוצותיו תלתלים שחורות כעורב

עיניו כיונים על אפיקי מים רוחצות בחלב

לחייו כערוגות הבושם

שפתותיו שושנים נוטפות מור עובר

ידיו גלילי זהב ממולאים בתרשיש

מעיו עשת שן מעולפות ספירים

שוקיו עמודי שש מיוסדים על אדני פז.
Is it less HIRHURIM than the Shepherd’s ( his הרהורים):
עינייך יונים מבעד לצמתך

שערך כעדר העיזים שגלשו מהר גלעד

שינייך כעדר הקצובות שעלו מן הרחצה

כחוט השני שפתותיך

כפלח הרימון רקתך מבעד לצמתך

כמגדל דוד צווארך

שני שדייך כשני עופרים

אפך כמגדל הלבנון צופה פני דמשק – בטח, הרי זה אף יהודי

ראשך עלייך ככרמל

חמוקי ירכייך כמו חלאים מעשי ידי אומן

בטנך ערימת חיטים סוגה בשושנים

Blur them both. Is there an ERVA only in women? Let us see:

בספר חסידים (מרגליות) סימן תריד. “מכל מה שכתוב בשיר השירים צריך להיזהר שלא ישמע קול אישה והוא הדין שלא תשמע [האישה] קול איש, שמכל שהאיש מוזהר האישה מוזהרת. […] וגם אם שער ראשו יפה ואינו נזהר בו לוקה כאבשלום שנתלה בשערו.” 

There are many POSKIM, but I would like to quote Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He writes:

בזמנם [של חז”ל], שלא היו רואים אשה בחוץ שכל כבודה בת מלך פנימה, ובראיית אשה מיד באים לידי הרהור במחשבה שבלב, משא”כ עתה שהנשים עוסקות במשא ומתן, ומורגלות בינינו, ואין האדם מתפעל בראייתן ובשיחתן לבוא לידי הרהור

ומעתה י”ל שגם לענין ק”ש כנגד נשים שהורגלו לצאת לרה”ר בגילוי הראש, וכל אדם העובר ברה”ר יראה כהנה וכהנה, ואין הרהור מצוי כ”כ בזה מרוב הרגלן בינינו, אין בזה משום שער באשה ערוה אע”פ שעושות כן שלא ברצון חכמים, דלגבי דידן הו”ל כבתולות שרגילות בכך. ושו”ר הלום להגאון מהר”ר משה פיינשטיין שליט”א בשו”ת אגרות משה (חאו”ח ס”ס לט), בד”ה ולכן, שכתב: וכבר הורה זקן הגאון ערוך השלחן שבזה”ז מותר לברך ולהתפלל כנגד שער נשים הרגילות לצאת פרועות ראש.

Let us have pictures of landscapes, oceans and famous buildings. Why do we need pictures of people, if they are showing nothing (all blurred), or showing a picture made up and not a genuine one.

See: http://www.calcalist.co.il/local/articles/0,7340,L-3659853,00.html

The charedi press distorts Judaism

They, and I explicitly exclude myself from their interpretations of Judaism, have a right to publish their own newspapers (even though they fight anyone who brings historical proof that the Netziv, R Chaim Soloveitchik and many more Gedolei Torah read the newspapers).

They don’t need to have pictures, and here I find myself in agreement with Uri Regev when they distort the image of a female. In a bizarre way they are in fact using what is new to present a distorted world.

Now, you might ask why it bothers me? Well it bothers me because I try to follow Torah, not some new invention. As such if it was a picture of Amalek there might be a positive command to erase him etc (practically we don’t know who Amalek is Lehalocho). Charedim might cogently argue that they won’t publish a picture that shows knees. Ok. If their clientele prefer digital burkas covering the face, that’s not ok. It’s not halachic and those people should never leave their houses let alone read any newspaper. 

So, in summary, the Charedim have created a mitzvas aseh (a positive command) to digitally distort women in pictures so they are not there, where in fact there only exist negative commandments. Such negative commandments can be fulfilled by not including the picture.

Ah, but it’s got nothing to do with Halacha in fact. It has everything to do with POLITICS. They must somehow show that they are in government visually, so they want to show their male members of the government of the state of Israel.

I have no time for such false religiosity.

Klipas Nogah

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

אם אי אפשר לו ללמוד בלא שינת צהריים – יישן.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sefer Hatanya formally states (chapter 7)

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

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

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

Rabbi Riskin on the conversion issue

[Hat tip MD]

Original in hebrew is here

Rabbi Riskin: Haredim are the greatest reformers

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin came out strongly against the ultra-Orthodoxas a result of their opposition to the law, saying “The Haredim are the greatest reformers. Justifying only one way is to Catholicism and the Pope”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Rabbi of Efrat and founder of Ohr Torah Stone institutions, has slammed the haredi opposition to the law after the conversion  waves on Israel Radio. “I do not understand the thing. Yes, I  there is a commandment of “love the convert. “Yes, I think that the Chief Rabbinate until now did not know what it means is to convert properly with love and care. How do they have the audacity to say the conversions I perform are not in accordance with  Jewish law? “said Rabbi Riskin.

“Their behavior regarding conversion law is contrary to Halacha. Unfortunately, the Haredim are the greatest reformers, on many  things. Including enlisting in the IDF, because there is no section in the Talmud, where it says there Torah in respect of the laws of saving people’s lives in action. There is room for dissenting opinion in Judaism. One who claims there is only one way this is not not Judaism, but Catholicism and the Pope. ”

“The government has taken a bold step in favor of the unity of Israel, a move that will prevent a split into two peoples: Jews and Israelis,” said Rabbi Riskin. “I hope the Chief Rabbinate understands that we, city rabbis, are completely dedicated to Halacha and as in all generations there were dissenting students of Hillel and Shammai offering a different interpretation. We unite and will not split, we will talk and not boycott. This is about the lives of human beings and the future of our people.”

On the Aruch Hashulchan

A reader asked me what “caused” the Aruch Hashulchan not to remain the primary acharon for Psak, arranged according to the Shulchan Aruch but then be “overtaken” by the Mishna Brura as a source for final psak by many. (Mind you they don’t accept the Mishna Brura on skirt length and more, even if they accept him for Hilchos Shabbos)

This is largely due to the Hungarian Charedim.

They couldn’t accept

  1. His Psak that it was permitted to say Krias Shma in front of woman with revealed hair because today such a thing no longer titillates a male
  2. His Psak that Dina D’Malchuso Dina, following the laws of the land, especially vis-a-vis Mesira, are not germane because in many cases we live in a Malchus shel Chessed.

Of course, number 1 is factually true unless one is hermetically sealed. Unfortunately, number 2 is not only factually true but is the problem with today’s society in fearing going to authorities over especially heinous crimes and is infamous. There are those who want to claim that the Aruch Hashulchan was forced to write as in 2. to assuage the authorities and avoid the censor. I don’t know. But I do know, that if you live in a Malchus Shel Chessed, you have no excuses.

I like the Aruch Hashulchan very much because he starts with primary sources and for a very much part time learner like me, that is helpful.

The Mishna Brura has some issues which many still won’t acknowledge: it wasn’t all written by the Chafetz Chaim. Some sections were written by family, who openly acknowledge they didn’t agree with the Chafetz Chaim and therein is the source of some contradictions in the Chafetz Chaim. I have seen tomes trying to reconcile contradictions in the Chafetz Chaim, but they failed to realise that it was from two sources!

The Shulchan Aruch HoRav, who mainly basis his Psak on the Magen Avraham, is a masterpiece of prose. It is a pleasure to read and every word needs to be weighed carefully. Furthermore, he doesn‘t always pasken for Lubavitch, although he follows the Kzots and not the Gra in respect of shiurim and the like. His Siddur will often say what is for Lubavitch. The Chafetz Chaim has a strange habit of not quoting Shulchan Aruch HoRav in many instances for some reason, even though he easily outweighed those Acharonim who were quoted.Then again, I don’t know who is  responsible for that.

As a more modern sefer, I do like the Shearim Metzunoyim B’Halacha, and I bought it 32 years ago. I understand he’s a relative of Rabbi Braun, formerly of Tzemach Tzedek in Sydney and now on the Beis Din in Crown heights. He wasn’t a Lubavitcher. The Kitzur remains an essential part of anyone’s library.

The Chayei and Chochmas Adam are good but a little too brief for me and seem to have parts missing.

In a nutshell, that’s my answer to the reader. By the way, you can find Aruch Hashulchan online, re-typeset.

For Sephardim, it’s another matter. You have the Ben Ish Chai or you follow Rav Ovadya as in Yalkut Yosef.

And, anyone who doesn’t know, do yourself a favor and download the free ובלכתך ודרך from the Apple Store for your iPhone or iPad (you have to type it in Hebrew). It’s great. I know it sits on my iPhone but haven’t got a clue about Android.

Finally, while I have no affiliation with Rusty Brick, I like their products. They cost a little, and are vastly superior to the free versions of various things available from Lubavitch web sites. It’s important to support software companies who are trying to write good things of use!

Haredim Enlist! Good stuff

This is from here by Elchanan Miller

An unusual advertisement appeared on a number of ultra-Orthodox websites at the end of last week. “A group of Yeshiva students is organizing to volunteer with the reserves. Want to join?” it read.

“We believe that the people of Israel are in the midst of an obligatory war against ruthless enemies who seek to annihilate us,” the ad continued, using biblical language for a battle that all Jews are obligated to fight.

“We believe it is a great privilege to join the military effort, in addition to our important contribution through Torah study. We too yearn for this precious mitzvah.”

The message was an outlier in a community where army service is still taboo. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi community, which comprises 10 percent of the country’s total population, has traditionally shied away from service. From the founding of Israel until this year, Haredi men could postpone their mandatory military conscription indefinitely, as long as they were registered for study in a high religious institution, or kolel. This de-facto exemption ended when a new universal conscription law drafted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition passed in the Knesset on March 12. A three-year transitional period, ending in 2017, allows men exempted from service in the past to continue avoiding the draft.

The advertisement, published on two leading Haredi news sites, sends applicants to an online form inquiring about age, marital status and employment status.

“There is no risk of the army drafting you for service if you’re exempt, or that you will get stuck in the army against your will,” the advertisement reassures worried inquirers.

An ultra-Orthodox man walks past the army recruiting office in Jerusalem, July 22, 2013 photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Yossef, a 40-year-old father of six from Jerusalem who serves as the initiative’s publicity coordinator, told The Times of Israel that the online campaign has garnered 500 volunteers since the ad went online Friday, with new people stepping forward every day.

He estimated that a total of 1,500-2,000 will end up signing on for two possible tracks: a combat track for younger, unmarried men to be trained with new immigrants and to join existing fighting units; and a shorter track for older volunteers, comprising multiple-day basic training followed by a commitment to volunteer in the reserves 12 days a year for five years.

He said senior officers within the military have expressed excitement about the idea. A request to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit for comment was not answered.

“The volunteer position must be significant, otherwise it’s pointless,” Yossef told The Times of Israel. “It’s not just something symbolic for us to check off and say, ‘Look, we came to serve in the army.’ People really want to contribute, and not simply as watchdogs in some remote installation. The volunteers also need satisfaction in their work.”

The initiative was the brainchild of five adult students based in Jerusalem, who have long debated the idea of volunteering for the army. The kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June, and IDF Operation Brother’s Keeper, which ensued in the West Bank, spurred them into action.

‘The ultra-Orthodox see those giving their lives in battle and want to contribute too,’ Yossef said

“The ultra-Orthodox see those giving their lives in battle and want to contribute too,” he said. “It’s true we feel that the study of Torah is the greatest contribution we can make to the people of Israel, but one doesn’t replace the other. [Military service] doesn’t contradict our contribution through Torah study.”

But volunteering for the army is, Yossef acknowledged, also a show of defiance against a government that has decided to shove service down their throats. If Haredim were given a mass exemption from the army, many would volunteer to serve in the IDF and join the workforce, and “70 percent of yeshivot (religious institutions) would empty,” he said.

“We wanted to show both the army and our own public that there is a different way of doing things,” Yossef added, withholding his real name and the names of the other initiators, for fear of an angry backlash from hardliners within his community. “The forced draft is a big mistake on the part of the state, but no one — neither the rabbis, nor anyone else — can say anything against volunteering for the IDF reserves. It’s just like volunteering with the police, Magen David Adom (the Israeli ambulance service) or Zaka (the Haredi disaster victim identification organization). It doesn’t harm the Haredi lifestyle.”

Haredi recruits march during  a swearing-in ceremony  at Ammunition Hill, Jerusalem, May 26, 2012 photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The IDF has been trying to convince the ultra-Orthodox for years that military service and the Haredi way of life are not mutually exclusive. In 2002 it created the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, formerly known as Nahal Haredi, where ultra-observant men can volunteer to serve as combat soldiers in a unisex environment, eating strictly supervised kosher food and dedicating time for prayer and Torah study. But critics of the program say it caters to those on the fringes of Haredi society, not those at its heart.

Yossef believes that the volunteer track into the IDF will prove much more successful in the long run than the draft approved by the Knesset earlier this year. For that reason, he opined, some elements in the Haredi community fear this experiment. Dozens of hate messages have arrived with the online application forms over the past week.

“If we expose any names, those people’s children will be thrown out of their Haredi schools because the extremists will go threaten the schoolmasters,” he said.

“It’s not a simple thing we’re doing,” concluded Yossef, one of relatively few Haredim who served in the IDF and reserves. “But it’s very inspiring. Even though I’ve been discharged, I think I’ll join the first training course. This is something special.”

Nice article by Shmully Hecht

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

I have no issue with Shmully’s thoughts except that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m still waiting …

Where was the evening and large gathering of “all” Gedolay Torah in the World against the low life scum who kissed the rectum of Ahmadinajad?

Where were the public posters and condemnations?

Did Rabbi Beck put his brother in Cherem, or does he still visit him quietly when he travels?

No, these low life scum who kiss the Iranians, continue in their Chillul Hashem while those frum charedim who wish to do national service or army are beaten up by the “holy” ones, protecting them for their own good.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This was a Charedi juggernaut and Charedim do not equal the “entire” Torah World. Rabbis Telsner and Groner made a poor judgement and some type of apology. I think they were politically naïve.

How many Mizrachi types will still frequent the professional Kollel “olderleit” at Beth Hatalmud after their Rosh Kollel still refuses to apologise for his participation in this Tefilla/Protest and the posters rude and offensive description.

I went to Kerem B’Yavneh,he first Hesder Yeshivah. We learned hard, at least as hard as the black garbed holier ones. It always shocked me how motivated the boys were in their learning and their defence of the country. The difference was that during the first Lebanon wars, my two room mates Zev Roitman and Chovav Landau הי’’ד (whose wife was pregnant with a boy at the time) were incinerated in their tank after a direct hit. They were the only two in a Yeshivah of 500+ who were killed. The Malach HaMoves was in my room, clearly.

Maybe someone will tell me that they should not have manned their tanks, and should have learned Boba Metzia instead, but my Torah doesn’t tell me that.

The word around town is that Rabbi Donenbaum from Heichal HaTorah felt he was “forced” to sign. Perhaps he could explain why in his weekly few pages of halacha.

Incredibly, when Gush Katif, Ashdod, Ashkelon etc were under fire, it was the Charedi Yeshivas, those whose learning protect us with their constant high class learning who ran away.

I’m ashamed of their action. They could have called for a half day Taanis in their own Shules. That’s at least private and could be timed for the same time. Instead they chose the emotive time of Ta’anis Esther, when they didn’t need to do any extra fasting, and will have us try to believe they had no thought of the connection between Haman and the democratically elected government of the “Treyfe Medina” whose money hand outs they covet and which has a duty to defend all its citizens and ask all to contribute to the Mitzvah of Milchama.

The imagery of barbed war around a Torah on the Melbourne Poster was positively inciteting and spewing with a brand of hatred that sickened me to my core. Maybe they should have davened solely for peace

Has the Kollel apogee been reached?

A few nights ago after Ma’ariv, a young and enthusiastic collector asked me for a few bucks. When I asked what for, he responded that he established a new Kollel for Ba’alei Tshuva who had learned there for 9 or so years, and that times were tough. Of course, that was the truth.

I asked him why they were still in Kollel? He said, because their Torah protects Am Yisrael?

I asked him whether there were any exemplary students therein or were they “run of the mill”.

He asked me “why? what does it matter”. I replied because in my view, if those of us who work for a living extend ourselves to support mediocrity then it’s highly questionable. I noted that at (lehavdil) University level, we were tested for entry most vigorously, and all our outputs are scrutinised. I asked  what level of scrutiny was applied given that there was a crisis, limited money, etc

He  re-iterated that my point wasn’t important because their Torah was protecting Am Yisrael. There is ample precedent in Kosvei Kodesh of that. I asked him what he thought of Nachal Charedi. It’s a litmus test for me, because I feel it offers so many of the more mediocre types the chance to gain a profession and make a living which has more self-esteem. I asked him whether he thought Israeli Soldiers (e.g. Nachal Charedi) were protecting his Kollel when they were policing borders and the surrounds.

He became agitated, and told me that Torah protects.

I then quoted an Aderes Eliyahu from the Vila Gaon (he being a Litvak) where the Gaon explained the Gemora in Brachos לה ע”ב that when הרבה (many) do like R’ Shimon Bar Yochai (devoted themselves solely to Torah Learning) לא עלתה בידם (it wasn’t successful). I argued that the problem is that we are not following the Gemora which makes it clear that as a general rule people should work (and then be Kovea Itim LaTorah) and not be poor in Kollel to the extent that there are myriads begging terribly for money simply to put bread on their empty tables. I feel very sad when people are in poverty because of this choice.

I fully understand that post Holocaust, there was an urgent need to rebuild, but we have rebuilt, and Torah is flourishing in the Holy Land like never before. I know of Tshuvos e.g. from R’ Moshe Shternbuch on the topic. He chuffed off and asked me to text him the Aderes Eliyahu מקור

I kept forgetting to look it up (I had seen it 30+ years ago) but unsurprising, when I was looking into the Nefesh Hachaim of the Saintly R’ Chaim Volozhiner, the Gaon’s prime pupil and yoresh, two nights ago, the Nefesh Hachaim says the exact same words.

Sure you can twist any which way with Girsaos in the Gemora, and I’ve seen lots of that, but you can see my line of thought in R’ Chaim’s classic Nefesh Hachaim from Shaar 1, No 8.

ואמרו הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידם, והרבה עשו כרשב”י ולא עלתה בידם. היינו רבים דוקא, כי ודאי שלכלל ההמון כמעט בלתי אפשר שיתמידו כל ימיהם רק בעסק התורה, שלא לפנות אף שעה מֻעטת לשום עסק פרנסת מזונות כלל ועל זה אמרו באבות כל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה וכו’. אבל יחיד לעצמו שאפשר לו להיות אך עסוק כל ימיו בתורתו ועבודתו יתברך שמו ודאי שחובה מוטלת עליו שלא לפרוש אף זמן מועט מתורה ועבודה לעסק פרנסה חס ושלום וכדעת רבי שמעון בן יוחי…

The Maharsho on the spot is even stronger. Check it out.

Of course, it’s also in Shulchan Aruch, אורך חיים קנ’’ו

Your thoughts appreciated?

Ex-Kollel students training to be policemen (Jerusalem Post)

The Gneivas Daas perpetrated on Chachmei Yisrael

I have written about this topic before, in respect of R’ Elyashiv and his minders, aka מתעסקים, and Rabbi Rosen was pointed in the way R’ Ovadya was sheltered from the real world by those who had their agendas.

There is a power struggle amongst the “Litvishe” style Chachmei Yisrael: R’ Yehuda Leib Shteinman and his supporter, the venerable R’ Chaim Kanievsky versus the more outspoken and bombastic R’ Shmuel Auerbach, a son of R’ Shlomo Zalman who is very unlike his father.

R’ Shteinman is elderly and very frail. He was also recently assaulted by an alleged psychotic person who is now being assessed in a mental institution. What disturbed me last night was an article which referred to the following video [Hat tip Benseon]

Watch carefully. R’ Shteinman is fed all manner of lies about the non Charedi candidate for mayor in the hotly divided embarrassment, otherwise known as Beth Shemesh. R’ Shteinman, who is known for having a more sanguine outlook on life and those who are not yet frum, is basically bullied with lies, to condemn Eli Cohen. I found the video most disheartening. There can never be כפייה תדית, that is, the forced charedisation of people whom Hashem provided with free choice. Yet, the agenda is clearly to mistranslate the phrase ’לתקן עולם’ to be one of violent and unremitting pressure designed to “rid” Beth Shemesh of people who happen to choose their own way of life.

Everybody knows that such facile attempts to “convince” people to follow a particular path is but a charade. It’s a charade in the sense that many protagonists act out the charade, and others follow suit simply to remain unbranded. Branding can and will mean ostracisation at least, and the leper-like treatment of their children in the future.

I do not think that we can do much about it, except hope that any fraud in that election is revealed and that fraudsters are imprisoned. We must also interact with those who do live peacefully in Beth Shemesh, and who want nothing of the emigration of Neturei Karta to their city where that emigration denies them basic civil rights.

It is important to bear all this in light of the so-called proclamations issued by the Chachmei Yisroel. They are being fed a litany of lies and untruths. אוי מה היה לנו

On another note:

I  watched a wonderful video of R’ Ovadya’s youngest daughter-in-law, Yehudit Yosef. Again, I was thunderstruck by her description of his powers of concentration as he was learning. Even if there is a touch of hyperbole, I don’t doubt the story of her two year old son.

Alas, I can’t find where I saw it. She was interviewed by a female student and it was broadcast on an Israeli Television station.

RCA position on Chacham Ovadya’s statement

I had pitputted on this topic 2 weeks ago, when it arose, and I’m pleased that the RCA has adopted a similar view, as reported by Kobi Nachshoni in Yediot. [Hat tip DS]

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is standing by Rabbi David Stav and slamming Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who called him “evil.”

In a letter published Monday night, the organization’s leaders, on behalf of more than 1,000 members, expressed their “encouragement and support” for the moderate chief rabbi candidate, while harshly criticizing Shas’ spiritual leader for lashing out at him during his weekly sermon on Saturday night.

“We trembled upon hearing the terrible things Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in regards to his honor,” RCA President Shmuel Goldin and Vice President Leonard Matanky wrote in Hebrew to Rabbi Stav, “and also when we heard of the events in Bnei Brak at the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Rabinowitz,” referring to a verbal and physical assault on Stav by ultra-Orthodox teens Sunday evening.

This is the most significant support Stav has received so far following the attacks against him, as the RCA is the largest organization of Orthodox rabbis in America.

‘Woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah’

The letter praised Rabbi Stav, quoting Chazal (our Sages of Blessed Memory): “Look at how pleasant his ways are, how proper his deeds are.”

Yet in regards to Rabbi Yosef, the US rabbis quoted contradicting statements: “Is this Torah and are these its scholars? Woe to so-and-so who learned Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah. So-and-so who learned Torah—look at how destructive his deeds are, and how ugly his ways are.”

They concluded by telling Stav that they were grateful for everything he had done “for the good of all the people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the State of Israel.” They said they expected to work with him for many years “to expand and glorify the Torah, and to bring hearts closer to our Father in Heaven.”

During his weekly sermon on Saturday night, Rabbi Yosef said that Stav, chairman of the national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar, was “an evil man” and that appointing him to the Chief Rabbinate was like bringing idolatry into the Temple.

“I don’t know Stav, I don’t know this man, I haven’t seen him, but all his friends the National Religious Party leaders come to me and say: ‘Beware, this man is a danger to Judaism…’ People in his party testified that this man is a danger to Judaism, a danger to the Rabbinate, a danger to Torah – and I should keep silent? They want to make him a chief rabbi? This man unworthy of anything! Can they do such a thing?”

The Tzohar rabbinical association issued a statement a harsh statement in response, referring to Rabbi Yosef’s remarks as “incitement” and calling on him to “repent and ask for forgiveness after humiliating a person in public.”

Prominent religious-Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman told Ynet that Rabbi Yosef had gone too far and that he was “extremely shocked by the blatant remarks” against Rabbi Stav.

Attack during wedding

The battle against Rabbi Stav escalated on Sunday evening when he was attacked during the wedding of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz’s daughter.

Rabbi Stav arrived at the wedding and was even seated on the dignitaries’ stage alongside other rabbis, but when he got up to join the dancing circle, several haredi teens tried to get him to trip and kept swearing at him, calling him “evil” and “abomination.”

When he turned to leave the banquet hall they continued to harass him, shoving him and splashing water.

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, whose faction announced its support for Rabbi Stav as chief rabbi, said in response to the attack: “We expect a spiritual leadership, regardless of its outlook, to condemn decisively – and certainly not encourage – harm caused to a another religious leader.”

According to Lieberman, “It’s a shame that as part of a political race, and certainly for the position of chief rabbi, there are those leading the public to such dark corners. The Torah has 70 faces, and not a single one of them is of violence and incitement by one rabbi against another rabbi.”

The Mesorah Of Chesed

[Hat tip to Marek]

Article by Barry Jacobsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chacham Ovadya, Efshar Livrurei!

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

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

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

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

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

Invite him over for a cup of tea!

פוק חזי

Leave Haredi enlistees alone!

Picture the scene. Terrorists are at loose in an area of Israel. The Army is conducting searches, door-to-door. The door of an apartment opens and some of the soldiers have dangling payos and scraggly beards. They are frum; they are Haredim who chose to enlist. The owners of the apartment themselves are Haredim. Would they protest? Would they tell the soldiers to go to the Beis Hamedrash instead, and leave it to the “chiloni” or “druze” enlistees to conduct the search and/or protect the apartment block from an incursion? I’d hope not. Why must they conclude that anyone with Peyos is רך הלבב? I’d say the opposite, these are גיבורי חיל.

Ah, but that’s at a time when people are thinking clearly. They can feel the palpable danger around them. In fact, I’ll bet they actually feel proud that Frum soldiers are performing a Kiddush Hashem by acting to protect the lives of their fellow Yidden.

What happens before that? These soldiers can’t just jump out of a Ketzos HaShulchan, with little to no training and assume an important protective or attacking role. There is training. It takes years. The training has been catered to be sensitive towards Haredi requirements. Haredim want the outcome, the protection, but they don’t want the training? Who learns a Ketzos before knowing Shulchan Aruch and the Gemora behind it? Do you introduce R’ Chaim Naeh to year three students? No, of course not. There is a period of preparation. In Torah it does take longer, but in the military, you also need an acceptable period of training, unless Haredim want to see keystone cops, so to speak, acting on their behalf?

I see this current period as one of re-alignment. It is no different to the current phenomenon of frum kids who are doing University courses on-line. Yes, University was not allowed for various reasons, but you can now do a program on-line if you can’t or won’t go to University and are not going to be a business person (IDB=In Dad’s Business). Not everyone is cut out, let alone has the acumen to become a Dayan, or Magid Shiur, or Rav of a Kehilla, let alone a great Melamed. How many people have we seen cause a Chillul Hashem, despite their long years in Yeshivos, because innately, they are simply not leaders suited to their jobs, and should be pursuing a different style of work, albeit remaining an ehrliche yid.

The shoemaker, R’ Yochanan HaSandler, wasn’t considered any less a giant because he was engaged in Olom Hazeh in an honourable way. We are meant to follow such Tanoim. He was R’ Akiva’s student, no less, and a contemporary of Rashbi.

This is why I find reports such as this one, utterly repugnant. Will Haredi incitement and pressure  solve any problems? Will that create more Torah more love between Jew and Jew? Just leave these boys alone. חנוך על פי דרכו is ever so critical and perhaps our failure to do so is part of why some leave the fold? Respect them!

I don’t see an Israeli government specifying that students study Spinoza or Amos Oz. They are specifying  studying the basics, and the basics  constitute a study of the Borei Olom and his Beriah. That’s what Science and Math are.

As Rav Kook said: on its own the basic sciences etc are just that. However, when coupled with Kodesh, they transform Kodesh to Kodesh Kodoshim, because they complete and enhance our understanding of the world. You wouldn’t make a Birkas HaTorah on them alone, but when coupled with  Kodesh, they lift Kodesh to Kodesh Kodoshim. I believe this idea is expressed by many in different ways. Mekubalim would probably refer to it as breaking down klipos, but I’m an ignoramus in the field of Kabbalah and Chassidus.

In a State, yes, it is a State, despite the reticense of so many to utter such a word,  you need garbage collectors, and police officer and nurses, as well as accountants and doctors and social workers, journalists with ethics, and psychologists. Especially when you are surrounded on all four sides by people who are literally an embodiment of

עומדים עלינו לכלותינו

It is only the foolish person who doesn’t learn from history (wasn’t yesterday Chaf Sivan?) who thinks they can hide under a rock or in a cave like Rashbi and make Yahadus thrive.

I have every confidence that Torah learning will continue to grow in quality levels and in measure. Those who want to fund institutions that won’t enforce the three R’s, go right ahead. It’s your right. I inclined to help a place that actually realises that it “lives in this world” both BeGashmius and BeRuchnius.

The Honeymoon is over

Let’s face it. Charedim have never considered any religious zionists—Mizrachisten) “frum enough”. That’s a generalisation, of course. Notable exceptions, such as Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל or indeed his son-in-law, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg שליט’’א never saw things in black and white (sic). Rav Shlomo Zalman’s son, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, however, is most extreme in his views.

The Charedim were considered “black” (in keeping with their attire) and the religious zionists (with their white crocheted Shabbos Yarmulkes were the white ones). In truth, the right-wing of religious zionists, such as those from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, are easily “as frum” as the frummest Charedim, across the board, although they didn’t wear the uniform of hats and jackets or follow the dictates of Agudisten or “Daas Torah”. It’s no different in Melbourne.

We have four kollelim:

  1. The Chabad Kollel
  2. The Lakewood Kollel (Litvishe Misnagdim)
  3. The Adass Kollel (various Hungarian and other Chassidim)
  4. The Mizrachi Kollel MiTziyon (Religious Zionists)

The Chabad Kollel is an arm of the general Chabad movement. People learn there for a couple of years and then go into Chinuch, the Rabbinate, or the general work force. It’s not a life time job to sit in Kollel. The Kollel is interested in people outside of Chabad, in the same way that Chabad is interested in anyone (with the exception of farbrente Misnagdim with whom they share no love).

The Lakewood Kollel was split asunder by a massive disagreement between its own constituents which saw one Rosh Kollel go back to the USA and the other remain in his position. Many important Ba’aley Batim left the Lakewood Kollel, never to return. For many of the full timers, it’s a lifetime job, to “sit in Kollel”. The Lakewood Kollel isn’t really interested in Religious Zionists. It is mainly a common ruse to attract such people to attract funding to support their activities. Behind the scenes, religious zionists are not considered “frum enough”. This is no different to any other such institution around the world.  It is not unique to Melbourne.

The Adass Kollel keeps completely to itself. It is made up of people who have retired as well as young and not so young marrieds. It isn’t interested in the wider melbourne jewish world outside of its own hermetically sealed group and it certainly has no time for Religious Zionist types from a Torah perspective.

Kollel Mitziyon, isn’t really a Kollel. It’s a quasi yeshivah and does a good job continuing the type of learning program that those who studied at religious zionist style yeshivas experienced before returning to Australia. It normally imports a Rosh Kollel and Israeli Hesder Bachurim; their Rabonim though are simply not treated with any respect by the other Kollelim or their constituents.

So what honeymoon is over? Has there ever been a marriage? There has been a “quiet peace” between Charedim and Religious Zionists. While the latter learned in Yeshivos and went to the army, the former generally avoid the army at all costs because they see their torah learning as protecting Jews, and many also see it as a full time, life-long vocation.

Until now.

The new style Mizrachi party, Habayit HaYehudi no longer supports a carte blanche arrangement where significant numbers of Charedim are able to avoid going to the army and sit in Kollel for the rest if their lives. The retribution has been swift. Incredibly, joining the anti-semites and anti-zionists of the world, the Charedi parties have decided to no longer support produce from the “settlements” beyond the green line!

I find this disgraceful. That they could give strength to the types of boycotts imposed by both Jewish and non-Jewish anti-semitic anti-zionists is simply breathtaking, but not surprising. They will stop at nothing to make sure that their sole vocation remains Torah study. To put it in other words, it would be akin to the Lakewood and Kollel Beis Yosef deciding that they would no longer use any businesses associated with the Mizrachi (religious zionists), here in Melbourne. Chabad, of course supports settlement activity given that the last Rebbe was staunchly against returning land for peace.

Idle threats aside: I do not understand why the Charedim do not institute a Hesder system like the Mizrachi did so many years ago. Let them have a ten year Hesder program, where they do 3 years of army interspersed with an extra 7 years of Torah study. What would be so bad? But to boycott any place over the green line in the way they are proposing makes me sick in the gut, and convinces me even more that it was only ever a platonic “marriage”, and the honeymoon is now well and truly over.

Rabbinic abuse of power

[Hat tip to Benseon]

I agree mostly with the article, although, I reject the notion that it is about Kabbalists per se. They are but one category of people in a position of power/influence/mystique some of whom may be taken in by the God given gift and basically go off the Derech. Almost each time I am in Israel I go to a Mekubal (and no, please don’t ask me who, as he is not interested in seeing more people and keeps very much to himself) who frankly scares me out of my wits. He can literally “see” things in the future. He doesn’t ask for money. He sleeps on the floor and fasts. He works a Bank Clerk, if you can believe it. He has impeccable lineage from a Kabbalistic perspective, being a direct descendants of the Akeidas Yitzchak (R’ Yitzchak Arama). I don’t like to ask him too much, as I am by nature and training a rationalist and try to deal with life as it unfolds. On the occasions where I have succumbed, and especially when my dear wife has “instructed” me to call him, he has been scarily accurate.

Jerusalem – Opinion: Abuse Of Holy Power

 
News Source: Opinion Dr. Haim Shine, Israel Hayom
 
Jerusalem – There is nothing more embarrassing than revered rabbis and kabbalists being suspected of stealing Torah scrolls or bribing police officers. No amount of water can extinguish a fire that rages in God’s vineyard. What will naive, God-fearing Jews say when they see corrupt rabbis striving to retain their positions as leaders of communities, and when the homes of the grandchildren of the righteous become their prisons?
One of the greatest kabbalists of the past generations lived in the Shabazi neighborhood in Tel Aviv for decades. He was known as the “holy cobbler,” and he lived in a small apartment beside his shop. Each night, pious sages would gather there to learn, pray and offer formulas of “tikkun olam” meant to repair a fractured world. They were all poor Jews who supported themselves through menial labor. Each of them had a nickname that reflected his profession — the cobbler, the builder, the painter, the milkman and the street cleaner. They did not have titles of honor and their yards were always filled with hungry cats rather than important businessmen.
During those years, Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi, of blessed memory, lived in Jerusalem. Sharabi, a great kabbalist and founder of Yeshivat Nahar Shalom, a yeshiva for the study of kabbalah in the neighborhood of Nachlaot, was visited by many students eager to learn the secrets of Jewish mysticism. Hundreds paid him a visit each night, and the rabbi patiently blessed each of them. Every cent of the charity donations he received was transferred immediately to the needy, while he himself never took interest in monetary gain. Most of his life was spent in affliction, shunning worldly materials. He viewed the world as a narrow passageway to the world of the afterlife.
Years passed and the ever-growing material world took its toll on rabbis studying and teaching kabbalah, the holy crown of Jewish wisdom. Materialism began to affect rabbis who were viewed as role models — rabbis who were supposed to be modest, humble and devoid of material desires. Jewish mysticism, which transcends the mundane world, was gradually taken over by a few characters who proceeded to transform it into nothing more than a lucrative business venture. Those people purchased palaces, luxury cars and other envy-inspiring items with the money they obtained. A genuine sage told me years ago that a kabbalist has never emerged from a five-room apartment.
 
The unholy alliance between the tycoons looking for something to help them deal with their consciences, rabbis under the influence of material desire and media agents who constantly chase the ratings, created a difficult reality that tarred the image of religious Judaism and the kabbalah. God, as we know, is upright and loathes corruption, even when it is done in the name of heaven.
The common response to the charges of corruption is that it was perpetrated by rabbinical aides, without the knowledge of the rabbi himself. But if a rabbi is unaware of what his aides are doing right under his nose, how can he know what is being done by Jews who seek his advice?
Everyone has the right to approach his trusted rabbi and donate money to him, even if the money constitutes the person’s entire life savings or his or her accumulated pension funds. But the line is crossed when the act involves a desecration of God’s name, something for which there can never be any restitution.
It is important for rabbis, kabbalists and public servants to internalize the significance of being a personal example. It is unfortunate that the splendid image of Judaism is being held captive by a few unholy people who exploit the heritage of our forefathers and abuse their special God-given abilities.

Should certain people not join the army of the State of Israel

We have all been reading with interest about the expiration of the Tal Law, which had afforded “Kollel Yungerleit” the opportunity to avoid military service in the State of Israel on account of their extended and continued full time study of Torah. We have also heard many Gedolim say that this is a situation of יהרג ועל יעבור … that people should give up their lives rather than join the army.

Parshas Shoftim describes the process whereby the Cohen, משוח מלחמה explains the procedures before warfare. First he encourages the troops and tells them that they only should fear Hashem and not the enemy, then he describes the categories of soldier (male soldiers, of course) who are exempt from battle (anyone is engaged but yet to marry a woman, anyone who has built a house but did not move in, anyone who has planted a vineyard but has yet to reap a harvest, and anyone who feels afraid). The Shotrim (policemen/miitary staff) then repeat this to groups of soldiers, according to Rashi.

There are two broad categories of war: the Milchemes Mitzvah (loosely described as a war where one defends the very existence/populace) and a Milchemes Reshus (a type of warfare which is waged for other reasons). A Milchemes Mitzvah is obviously a more serious, life threatening situation, and so we fine that the Mishne in Sotah (8:7) states that the aforementioned exemptions do not apply to a Milchemes Mitzvah. In other words, when it comes to defending the very existence of the people/State, it’s “all hands on the deck”.

Strangely, the Rambam at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Hilchos Melachim, states that the Cohen also announces these exemptions for a Milchemes Mitzvah. How can the Rambam contradict a clear Mishna? One explanation I read from Rav Schachter in the name of the Rav is that there is a dual obligation when anyone goes to war. One obligation is a national obligation. The person is part of the כלל and in the sense that the כלל is threatened in a Milchemes Mitzvah, the Torah does not provide an opportunity for exemption. There is also an individual obligation, the obligation of the פרט, the potential soldier who signs up for military service or considers doing so. In a Milchemes Reshus, the Cohen explains that someone who is in one of the aforementioned categories is strongly urged to stay home. They aren’t needed, and furthermore it could be argued that they may even damage morale by virtue of their preponderant thoughts.

According to the Rav, the Rambam is saying that even in a Milchemes Mitzvah, the Cohen explains the laws of the פרט being absolved from joining the armed forces before they defend the nation. It is necessary to explain the difference, and stress that this is only an exemption in as much as they are private individuals, however, since they are about to embark on a life and death battle for the defence of the people and the State, the aspect of the כלל affords them no exemption.

Of course, there are other explanations. Reflecting on this on Parshas Shoftim, I have great difficulty understanding how those who ostensibly don’t feel politically part of the State, give themselves the right to also not feel existentially part of the כלל.

Certainly, as I sit in Melbourne, Australia, I’m not exactly entitled to criticise the life and death decisions taken by those who live in Eretz HaKodesh. I am, however, entitled, I believe to ask for an explanation in light of the above.

Viewing ourselves and our mentors realistically

[Hat tip to R’ Micha]

This is a sobering letter from R’ Yitzchak Hutner ז’ל. He was a very interesting, non-standard, Charedi Rosh Yeshivah, who considered Rav Kook ז’ל as his Rav HaMuvhak for many years; R’ Kook’s picture used to hang prominently in his Succah. The Rayatz of Lubavitch ז’ל arranged for him to have a personal Chavrusa in Chassidus with the last Rebbe ז’ל before he became Rebbe. He was Rosh Yeshivah of Chaim Berlin, and Rabbi Groner ז’ל was also influenced by him and spoke about him. He is best known for his Sefer Pachad Yitzchak, something that’s on my “need to learn properly” list; a list that seems to be getting longer and longer. A generally fiery and charismatic character who some considered to be almost Rebbe like given the Tishes he used to host, R’ Hutner wrote a letter (no. 128) to presumably a Talmid. This letter was translated and published in the Jewish Observer in December 1981.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the Artscrolls and HaModias of the Charedi world tend to never portray the full picture of Gedolim, making them all appear perfect in every possible way. This is of course an exercise in Sheker and a great shame. Furthermore, it can put unrealistic pressure on the ordinary person. Our task is to clone ourselves, but that cloning is to the Middos of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, through adherence to Halacha. We know that we cannot reach that level of perfection. We strive and struggle, but should be under no illusions that we can achieve the type of perfection described by Charedi Hagiography. A dose of realism never hurt anyonw.
Given that we are in Ellul, it’s also a fortuitous moment to re-publish the excerpt below.

…A failing many of us suffer from is, that when we consider the
aspects of perfection of our sages, we focus on the ultimate level of
their attainments… while omitting mention of the inner struggles
that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the
impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their
Creator in full-blown form.

Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim,
z.t.l., considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the
battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that
the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer horo (evil
inclination)? There are many such examples, to which a discerning
individual such as yourself can certainly apply the rule.

The result of this failing is that when an ambitious young man
of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he
imagines himself as unworthy of being ‘planted in the house of
Hashem.’ According to this young man’s fancy, flourishing in the house
of Hashem means to repose with calm spirit on ‘lush meadows’ beside
‘tranquil waters’ (Tehilim-Psalm 23) delighting in the yetzer hatov
[good inclination], in the manner of the righteous delighting in the
reflection of the Shechina [Divine Presence], with crowns on their
heads, gathered in Gan Eden [Garden of Eden]. And at the same time,
untroubled by the agitation of the yetzer hora….

Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in
the TRANQUILITY of the yetzer tov, but rather in the BATTLE of the
yetzer tov. And your precious warm-hearted letter ‘testifies as one
hundred witnesses’ that you are a worthy warrior in the battalion
of the yetzer tov. The English expression, ‘Lose a battle and win
a war’ applies. Certainly you have stumbled, and will tumble again
(a self-fulfilling prophecy is not intended) and in many battles
you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing
campaigns you will emerge from the war with the laurels of victory
upon your head…. Lose battles but win wars.

Beautiful Story

I once played at a wedding where the Groom was seriously ill. The Bride refused to untie their love and insisted that she wanted the marriage to go ahead. The wedding took place, and I recall it vividly. It was at the Hilton Hotel. Each time the Groom passed or was lifted near the band stand, a lump entered my throat. The speeches were uplifting.

Alas, after a few years, and a child, I learned that the Groom had passed away. I attended one of the minyanim. The pure and clear vision of this special Bride and Groom left a mark on me.

Fast forward to a similar story here. If your Ivrit isn’t wonderful, you might try the translation here.

The part I have most difficulty with is the need to go to a Beis Din. When you are faced with such a righteous girl, with exemplary Midos, why would you go to a Beis Din and try and force the issue? Rav Wosner recognised this and thankfully put the issue into perspective.

Rav Wosner (Center)

Who runs the Edah Charedis?

The news out of Israel is that the Av Beis Din of the Edah, together with some of his fellow Dayanim issued a letter requesting that their community daven for a Refuah Shelema for the critically ill R’ Elyashiv. R’ Elyashiv is described by non Chassidic Ashkenazim as the “Posek HaDor”. However, R’ Elyashiv is seen by the Neturei Karta and their ilk as tainted on account of his previous employment and relationship with the Rabanut.

The Beis Din of the Edah Charedis took the sensible view that when a man of this stature and learning is critically ill, one should cast aside any aspersions and genuinely pray for his recovery. The “Askanim” or Committee of the Edah, like Askanim in many groups have their own agenda. They parade and market allegiance to “Daas Torah” but they pick and choose when they listen to their own Daas Torah. This is a very dangerous situation and further marginalises the importance of Rabbis in our world.

Daas Torah is a new invention: an outgrowth of the chassidification of Jewry post Holocaust. Ironically, Daas Torah isn’t under threat from those who don’t subscribe to that weltanshaung. Rather, it is being undermined by the very people who created and now misuse it like a political football to further their own often sinister agendas.