On the dwindling support for exclusively heterosexual marriage

Although many social studies are by their nature bound to be imperfect due to the preponderance of unknown variables and the law of the excluded middle, there has been a consistent statistic that over 95% of men and women are heterosexual. Despite the sweeping feeling that marriage was ‘unnecessary’ and fewer were ‘bothering’ to engage in the ritual, preferring the ‘de facto’ status, these numbers represent an existential reality that attracts foul-mouthed, uncouth, violent, intolerant and extreme undercurrents of pseudo-fascist protest that have given birth to scenes reminiscent of the drug infested, psychedelic 1960’s where “no war” was the catch cry. In some work places, those who had “Vote No” signs on their doors, found these signs violently torn asunder. So much for the death of Stalin and Marx.

This blog is not and has not ever been a blog void of the influence and directives of Centrist Orthodoxy. Wherever possible, I have attempted to both write the mainstream centrist Orthodox view on contemporary issues and resisted the temptation to assume that I had some ‘holier than though’ view which transcended it. I have also attempted to avoid a metastasized Torah void , Masoretically vacuous view that purports to vaguely occupy the pedestal of organised, resilient, religion-את גאון יעקב אשר אהב סלה.

There are many places of work who have felt compelled to emblazon rainbows and posters, and principally declared a “collective” view that distances itself from  the institution of heterosexual marriage, though such predictive sexual attraction stands at 95%. Contrary views are anathema and stand accused of a homophobic, cruel, uncaring, anti-civil rights opposition. Who is the judge and who is the jury? Who stands condemned without trial? Who are the harbingers of Judaism as opposed to secular mandrakes?

Truth is the first casualty in such emotive and redemptive moments?

I steer away arguing from a point of personal preference or philosophical bent. My life only allows personal preference in as much as the ד׳ אמות של הלכה permits within its hallowed inviolable boundaries.

Curiously, there seems to be a correlation, or is it a causation, that removing elements of עול מלכות שמים in Open Orthodox, Shira Chadasha outliers, leads to a steady succession of less mainstream and über emancipated strains of Judaic practice hovering between Open Orthodox and Conservative movements.

I have been disappointed that so many Jewish brethren and sisters fail to see their lives and life choices through the prism of a collective corpus of rich Jewish Religion. What else has been the mainstay of untainted Jewish and remotely Jewish culture.

Let us begin from the simple to the more complex.

A man comes home and informs his parents that he has met a lovely non-Jewish girl at University. Now turn back the clock fifty years. The door would be firmly shut. The man would be on one side of the door or on the other side of the door. Rarely, and this most certainly does happen in our day, the girl (or indeed male) is genuinely attracted to Judaism and wishes to become one of our people, in the same way that Ruth became a righteous convert and was the progenitor of the Messiah the son of David, no less.

Now let us turn the clock forward only 20 years. It’s a new world. What was holy, inviolable and intractable, is now quite common. The male or female gentile is invited to the traditional Friday night dinner with gefilte fish and chicken soup as the remnant of a transmogrified epicurean cholesterol enema.

The children have רחמנא ליצלן shacked up with their new “partner”-a euphemism for a possibly “penultimate” marriage, union, coupling, conjugal bond, civil partnership, hookup, defacto, or other synonym connoting anything but the legal entity of ‘shudder’ marriage. Pseudo spouses are now welcomed with a shrug of the shoulders and the refrain “what can I do? I can love them or lose them”. Echoes morbidly in the silence of Springvale.

It’s never quite as tragic if the female is Jewish, but you need to ask why the über modern types haven’t overturned the תורה שבעל פה and decided the הלכה according to the discarded view of the Tanna so that they adopt the equanimous male lineage!

Let’s now turn out attention to today’s burning issue, in Australia, where our surveys, ironically filled in by not yet religious people of all shades, are now empowered to redefine a uniquely religious concept! Do they care about religious concepts? If it’s all about having the same rights, then there are enough unemployed lawyers to re-jig laws where mummy and daddy, mummy and mummy, and daddy and daddy, mummy/daddy and daddy/mummy will soon enjoy the same cornucopia of legal rights. Why, the family court already recognises the dog and cat and their gender is quite irrelevant unless there is a brood.

If this was a vote of Jews only, I am afraid to break the news to fringe dwellers that it is מושבע ועמד מהר סיני. Your view, Jew or Jewess, is irrelevant. This isn’t feel good, anything goes, Reform. That is now acknowledged demographically as a dying appendage.

There is a middle ground here. One could argue that this is a vote of Jews (albeit a tiny minority) and non-Jews (including various religionists). In such a case, perhaps שב ואל תעשה might be the (typically diasporan) response.

“Let’s stay out of this, after all, we want to practice our own religion in freedom”.

I hear this argument but it needs to be buttressed by Halachic underpinnings. Whether we like it or not, Maimonides has coded that non-Jews are encouraged to adopt the minimalist Noachide laws. The Noachide Laws prohibit non-heterosexual sexual acts. The question really is, does one need to teach the Noachide laws or make gentiles aware of these? (Note, these need to be done out of a belief in God, and not some “morality”.)

I wonder whether you find it deliciously ironic, that those Jews who love to quote Yeshayahu (42:6) that we must be a “light unto the nations”

 אני ה׳ קראתיך בצדק ואצרך ואתנך לברית עם לאור גויים

I ask them to read what Rashi (and others) says about this Passuk. It will surprise them (Radak excluded)

A perhaps more pertinent verse (49:60)  is

והלכו גויים לאורך

See the following via Chabad who championed this outreaching approach, which was endorsed by President George W. Bush.

Now, I am not one who is in a position to say whether this approach or the more insular approach taken (at least in Melbourne) by other Chassidim, and of course Litvaks from the Lakewood Kollel is the correct approach. Mizrachi is an unknown, as they have a long history of not giving respect to halachic pronouncements of their Rabbi unless it is in the ritual sphere alone.

The left-wing of Rabbi Ralph Genende’s Caulfield Shule who want a bit each way (and who unbelievably caused a massive חילול השם when they invited Stephen Greenberg to the edifice in which Rabbi Genende has halachic oversight), and Rabbi Shamir Kaplan of Beit Aharon who makes Rabbi Ralph’s views appear right-wing, are nothing short of incredulous. Clearly, Rabbi Shamir felt the need to not only state his view, but take a secular view. He’s a very likeable man, but if he could tell us which Posek advised him, I’d be obliged.

Is Rabbi Ralph game to tell us whether he voted yes or no, and on what halachic basis he did so? If he’s not, why not? Who Paskened that it’s indeed not an halachic imperative to state a view whether one is a member of the COSV or not.

Nothing I have written above is new or startling, although many are terrified of weighing into the issue if they are classed as bigots or attacked by murky clam-shells dragging their anatomy through the mud.

I do not include the “Open Orthodox” cum Shira Chadasha in this context, where the

“I’m a functionary, no, I’m not really a functionary, but I advertise on facebook that I will “marry anyone” who breathes some form of Judaism, as long as I find at least one pseudo-orthodox minister who I can “blame” for the emancipated, emasculated service of vows that I feel ‘educated’ to perform.

Some of you will be “new” to Open Orthodoxy (YCT) especially in Australia. Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Elton of the Great Synagogue is a right-wing member of this group. He has distanced himself from some of the more extreme YCT members, to his credit.  I wonder how many more members have joined or participated since Steven Greenberg felt he had to publicise a personal issue in the edifices, under the aegis of Rabbi Ralph.

Here are a group of choice quotes from the “open” neo-manifesto YCT Open Orthodoxy (sources available upon request)

In 2010, rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of YCT (Open Orthodoxy) participated in the LGBT change prayer breakfast in Chicago Illinois, “The focus of the event was to unite (thus used) local faith-based leaders in a rare gathering that galvanised renewed support and affirmation from the faith community for same-sex civil unions and equality for LGBT people. Lopatin delivered the following message:

 

Master of the Universe, you instructed us in your wisdom and your understanding in the Torah, in the book of Genesis
“לא טוב היות האדם לבדו“. God in your mercy you told us to establish a society and a community in a way that allows for a person to find a life partner to live a life of companionship and love, with equality, and without discrimination (?) So God bless our public servants to find that life filled with love for themselves and to be able to work hard to make sure that our state and community lives up to God’s merciful and just standards to make sure that everyone has a “right” to seek out that life partner and to live and love together with the full “right” with that person.  “לא טוב היות האדם לבדו“. Every person has a right to togetherness and a life filled with love. A life blessed by God, our fate, and our society Amen.

It is perhaps ironic that Lopatin leaves all mention of the word “sex” in his feel-good “between the lines”, new Open  non Masoretic “Torah She Bal Peh”.

Professor Daniel Sperber, one of the dwindling few, who Open Orthodoxy lean on as a spiritual guide, entertains the possibility that Orthodox rabbis may perform same-gender marriages. rabbi Ysoscher Katz does not believe Rabbis will ever agree to these alternate unions, though.

I wonder if there is now an halachic imperative to remove Sperber’s books, valuable as they may be, from every Kollel?

It beggars belief that someone like Professor Sperber, who compiled a magnificent work on the etymology of Jewish Minhagim could so profanely and wilfully “white-out” an explicit law in Even HoEzer which (in my reading, for our time) prohibits Yichud  during times of חשד.

There is plenty more outrageous material from Open Orthodoxy, but I will limit myself to the above.

This then brings us to the question of do we have to make our views known to the B’nei Noach? Doing so, is clearly a fulfillment of teaching them Torah that they need to know. Certainly we don’t do that filling in a Survey, but a Rabbinic Body should not be afraid to state the Jewish view.

There is a Tosfos in Chagiga 13a and a Gemara in Baba Kama (38a) which seeks to take the opposite view. See R’ Moshe Feinstein in Yoreh Deah (3:89) and others, who take the Tosfos in Chagiga’s view as the final definitive Halacha.

Your mileage may, however, vary. But for God’s sake, don’t make up your own views or be less than careful with your language. Speak to your Competent Local Orthodox Rabbi (CLOR). R’ Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Charedis (Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:37) takes a different view to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Moshe, Rav Elyashiv and others. I would imagine that insular view matches most Charedim in Melbourne.

It comes down to the old insular shtetl view versus the אור לגויים approach, except that on this issue those who want us to spread the light ironically, would prefer if we turned down the dimmer. Go figure. איפכא מסתברא!

To young, well-meaning Rabbis, I say, leave the personality contests and the point scoring within your communities.

I wouldn’t give the Jewish News a single quote! What for? They are avowed anti-Orthodox. They are not your friends. They never do you any good. Choose your words very carefully, and behave with real warmth, but let’s not pretend that by using lovely prose and soulful apologies we do anything.

I close with the powerful eternal words of my teacher מורי ורבי הרב Soloveitchik ז׳ל

It is my opinion that Orthodoxy cannot and should not unite with such groups which deny the fundamentals of our Weltanschauung. It is impossible for me to comprehend, for example, how Orthodox Rabbis who spent their best years and absorbed the spirit of Torah She Baal Peh and its traditions, for whom Rabbi Akiva, The Rambam, the Rema, the Gra, Rav Chaim Brisker and other Jewish Sages are the pillars upon which the spiritual world rests, can join with the spiritual leaders for whom this is worthless… From the point of view of the Torah we find the difference between reform and Orthodox much greater than what separated the Perushim and the Tzedukim in the days of the Bayis Sheni, and between the Karaim and the traditionalists in the Gaonic era. Has Jewish History ever recorded an instance of a joint community council that consisted of Karaim and Torah-true Jews.

[from the 1954 Yiddish article in Der Tog Morgen Journey]

Wasnt it a matter of some mirth to find the JCCV (Jewish Community Council of Victoria) taking a view on same-sex marriage! Not only aren’t they democratically elected, and not only did they not seek the views of their constituent members, they didn’t have the common sense to say nothing (שתיקה סייג לחכמה) If it was going to oppose thousands and thousands who do adhere to our tradition, who needs their opinion? Are they that deluded to think that their regal proclamation will make people change their vote? I guess the National Council of Jewish Women (who also only allow left-wing lectures on their premises should hang their heads in shame).

The Holocaust survivors who funded infrastructure would have baulked at the left-leaning Marxist tendencies now being promulgated in the name of “equality” and “human rights”.

[Some source material has been gleaned from the excellent Headlines books by Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein]

Mikva and those with a disposition towards the same gender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Avraham Chaim Naeh (from wikicommons)

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

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

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

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

Here is my question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ובודרות הללו שרבו הפריצים יש להתרחק מלהתייחד עם הזכר”

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

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

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

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

How do you deal with the name Zelig זעליג?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּֽיק

which is from Tehillim (112:4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

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

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

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

Oh, and here are our two treasures:

img_5315

Methodologies to attract members: ARK — revised

Over the weekend, I was strongly encouraged  to repost my article. I had one comment which was valid in retrospect, and I am taking that fully into account in this revision. I was not aware, but a number of people have mentioned that R’ Shneur Zalman Waks is involved in conversions, including one involving the marriage of a Cohen. I was informed he has his own Beth Din and does not involve the Melbourne Beth Din. That’s not to say his conversions are invalid. I can’t give an opinion without knowing details. If anyone knows, do tell. We have RMG Rabi’s Beth Din which does conversions, R Schneur Zalman’s ARK Beth Din for conversion, Adass which has always been separatist, in addition to the standard and fully internationally accepted Melbourne Beth Din. In my opinion, a community should only have one Beth Din and it should be modelled on the Melbourne Beth Din, with its checks and balances from a lay committee, including a separation from money issues.

The original reason for this post, however, was that someone sent me emails that Shneur Zalman sends to his ARK community (of which I know little) and I’m commenting on the last one that I received.

Shneur Zalman of ARK, is someone who is different and seemingly diverse. That, in of itself, isn’t a problem provided he is sincere and maintains a fidelity to strict Halacha. I’ve decided to intersperse commentary on his most recent article because I found it vexing. The quotes below are verbatim from what was sent to me.

Growing up in a strictly Chabad home in the days before internet meant that my information sources were rather limited. We weren’t allowed to listen to radio, watch television, or read ‘secular’ books, so I became a Jewish History buff.

This is a questionable representation. There are plenty, including Rabbis, who were and stay intimately involved in many issues and who have strongly different views than Shneur Zalman. The statement that bothers me is that it is crafted to convince ARK congregants that Shneur was born into a prison-like idyllic “crown heights” or “kfar chabad” standard Chabad home of a most orthodox type. This has been a matter of discussion by members of that family itself. I do not know if ARK members have been exposed to counter claims. This is contextually important.

Shneur Waks and wife Lisa

The issue of Chabad in particular is profoundly misplaced. All ultra orthodox groups encourage minimisation of interaction with the outside world unless necessary.  Of all the ultra groups who have a higher percentage who are exposed to the outside world, Chabad is clearly the one most exposed and experienced (and pilloried as a result). That being said, it might be that Shneur Zalman’s  parents had no hidden TV or other devices, and a computer was locked for use for “business” purposes. I do not know. Perhaps he was denied access to the world.

It is ironic though that Shneur Zalman’s claimed TV and Radio-avoiding family chose to agree many years ago and feature in full length documentaries for SBS about how they get on with life!  I assume these were motivated primarily for the benefit of the non Orthodox and gentiles who do watch TV and whom the family they wished to influence to adopt their “idyllic Amish-like lifestyle?  I’m sure the parents felt this was prototypical Chabad Chasidism encouraging others to have double-digit children while demonstrating how it could be done with dynamic results. My band members (non Jewish, watched it with incredulity). Maybe this was a form of outreach, though, using the very medium Shneur Zalman claims was discouraged to engage with. I assume Shneur Zalman was part of that documentary. Based on his description, he might appeared like a rabbit in bright lights not knowing anything about the outside world, save his claim to be a self-made “Jewish History buff”, appearing bewildered by the brouhaha.  I have not seen the video, as the topic per se had never been of interest to me.

From my religious study I already knew about the suffering of the Jews as they were enslaved by the Egyptians, nearly annihilated by the Persians, and oppressed by the Greeks and Romans. But added to that I discovered the long history of Christian antisemitism; peaking during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Pogroms, and of course culminating in the devastating Holocaust.

Shneur Zalman has been selective. He implies that his “History buff” knowledge informed him of Xtian antisemitism, the inquisition, pogroms and the holocaust, but these were denied by his education. I find this derisorious. All these events save the last, are covered in formal long lamentations  on Tisha B’Av, and spoken about on Pesach. Either Kinos wasn’t said, or understood, or Shneur Zalman met teachers throughout his entire Jewish education who always put a full stop at the Roman Conquest.

Everyone is aware of the Holocaust, including the ultra orthodox  and the survivors who occupied the pews. Does Shneur Zalman not know what happened because of his religious upbringing at home?. Even Satmar knows!

Shneur Zalman is disingenuous about modern-day events. He most definitely would have heard how his namesake was persecuted by the Communists and dreaded NKVD. Strangely, Shneur Zalman doesn’t seem to mention the systematic attempts at destroying Torah Judaism to eradicate the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. The Nazis attempted it physically, the Soviets were happy if one abandoned Judaism spiritually and adopted a (ironically Jewish sourced) Stalinism or Marxism, that considered a Jewish text, to be poison and to be eradicated.

Shneur Zalman tells us that

I read every book I could get my hands on which told the story of the darkest years in human history and heard the story from the mouths of many survivors. When we then sang the Vehi Sheamda on Seder night, which basically translates that in every generation there are those who want to kill us, it was felt in a most immediate fashion.

Shneur Zalman’s  own Chabad School has a very good free lending library almost next door to his house. Are we to assume that his parents forbade him to borrow books from that library (let alone his excellent School library) or perhaps they they vetted the books lest they would corrupt their son with hatred to those hell-bent on killing Jews at any time or place? I think not. Is Shneur Zalman being purposefully disingenuous here or just tardy? I’m not sure.

I surmise that Shneur Zalman is  naïve  if he considers himself a “Jewish history buff” and yet could write

At some point I came to question the point of this message. Granted, we should never be complacent about antisemitism. We have suffered too deeply to be so naïve. But I personally never experienced antisemitism. Sure there were Saturday morning drunks who could scream out “bloody Jew”, but to rate that at all would be to belittle the traumas inflicted on our people. So what relevance does the story of antisemitism have to me, my generation, and the ones younger?

How did Shneur Zalman know that only drunks screamed this message from their fast-moving car? Is he superman with X-ray vision?

It is incredulous that anyone could emerge as a self-proclaimed ” Jewish History buff” and yet feel that because in the short cloistered walk of 1 minute from his house to his School (remember, he claims he was forbidden to be exposed to the real world) he concluded that people who called out “bloody jew” in that moment, were not hard-core anti-Semites. What a strange intuition. It in fact contradicts the beginning of each and every blood bath the Jews faced. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that they all started with small voices of “bloody Jew” and then grew into a society unfettered by morals and ethics proceeding to death and destruction. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that if he took a number plate and reported it to the police that those who said those things would be prosecuted for hate crime? Was Shneur Zalman blind and deaf  to a prominent incident, next door to his home, where one of his chassidic colleagues was beaten by off-duty police. It was all over the papers and the talk of the centre. Did Shneur Zalman miss the articles or was he forbidden to read them.

I contrast that with my experience which is philosophically diametrically opposed

Walking with my father to Elwood Shule, we stood in the middle of Brighton Road on the tram tracks. A car load of “young and restless” passed us, rolled down their window, and called out “Bloody Jews”. To me, standing next to my elderly father, a holocaust survivor, this was simply not on. I took off on a fast run down the tram tracks of Brighton Road in my suit, hoping that their car would be stopped by a red light. Luckily, it was. I reached their car, thumped hard on their window and bonnet. Startled, they turned their heads and heard me yell at the top of my voice.

If you filthy scumbag anti Semites ever say that again, I will smash your bones and report you to the police. Don’t ever take a Jew lightly. I will break every bone in your body if you dare say that again

I went to the same school as Shneur Zalman. I don’t attribute my then reaction to the school in totality, let alone should Shneur Zalman be insinuating that his lack of understanding of the beginnings of anti-Semitism had anything to do with his home or his school. This was Shneur Zalman’s  reaction, and his alone. His sad misunderstanding of anti-Semitism, is there for all to I see in that paragraph.

By the way, my father later asked me why I reacted with such crazed venom. I explained that precisely because of the message of Pesach and his place as a survivor, I for one was not ever going to be a  Jew who minimised such vituperation in the way that Shneur Zalman seemingly professed to his ARK community in tame words and wonderful sculptures.

A wedding at ARK. (I’m not sure who the second witness is, based on this picture)

Jumping back to where Shneur Zalman was heading, he informs us

The most prominent response I came across when I was younger was that we should never trust the Goy. We were even taught in the first chapter of the Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad philosophy written by my namesake, that non-Jews are inherently incapable of good deeds, that whatever seemingly kind acts they perform are for their own selfish gain.

I see this as sloganeering. The lack of definition and intentional misrepresentation is breathtaking. Firstly, he claims this was the most “prominent” response. Response to what? Response to anti-Semitism? What is the context of trust here? Was it trust in business? Trust in Tae Kwan do? Even a young Shneur Zalman would know that this is not manifestly practiced by any ultra orthodox people (who may have more tangles in business with many Jews than they do with non Jews.)

What was he getting at, I thought? Was he saying that he was taught that a non-Jew was more likely to thrust a knife in his back than a Jew? If so, statistics would say that this is entirely correct whether one is ultra orthodox or not. Does Shneur Zalman not know of a gentile reporter who recently donned a Yarmulka and found that this immediately made him a magnet of hate, violence, and derision. Heck, the reporter was featured everywhere.

Does Shneur Zalman still not read the popular press? Perhaps he subscribes to the doctrine that it’s all because of the “settlements”. I guess the prime settlement of Tel Aviv, which is still claimed by Hamas and their ilk as the problem as well as the mere existence of Jews? Or perhaps Shneur Zalman sides with Neturei Karta or Mahmoud Abbas, that a Jewish homeland, should never exist? Alternatively, he might be one of the mixed up clerics who think that sharing bread and holding hands with clerics of other religions espousing “social justice” will solve the latent hate blatantly expressed in the texts of their religions, while clasping hands for photo ops. Will Shneur Zalman change that? It has never solved anything. I don’t see a “Jewish history buff”.

Now, I do not profess to have more than a simple passing knowledge of Chabad metaphysics as described in Tanya, but I do know that it is not a Shulchan Aruch as Shneur Zalman had his ARK members misunderstand. One of its tenets, which isn’t universally held (I hope Shneur Zalman is able to transmit authentic  other Orthodox approaches and that he isn’t still in the “imprisoned cloistered” youth that he painted, Tanya is a collection of older texts rewritten coherently and beautifully. Jews do have an element of Neshama that non-Jews do not. The oldies used to call it the “pintlele yid”. This has ramifications to understanding conversion, and whilst it most certainly is a valid understanding of Judaism, I’d hope Shneur Zalman isn’t on some populist anti-Chabad rant  presenting it as the only  Orthodox approach to understanding the metaphysics of the soul. It seems that Shneur Zalman either forgot, or chose not to mention many Talmudic statements which, if understood in a simple way are far more contentious. More importantly, projecting other Orthodox approaches would be a great idea if he didn’t “like” the Tanya’s sources.

What I can say without any doubt is that his namesake was an absolute giant of an intellect on par with the Gaon of Vilna, and was possessed with a love of Jews and the future of Judaism that was legendary. That he chose sides in the Russian/French non-Jewish conflict is remarkable. Perhaps Shneur Zalman should tell his ARKers about how his name sake  made the right choice and that almost single-handedly saved Soviet Jewry from obliteration. To this day, moderate Rabbis such as Rabbi Riskin make kiddush on Vodka on Shabbos because of the incredible legacy that Shneur Zalman’s  name sake left in Russia. Shneur Zalman will readily admit he isn’t a boot lace compared to his name sake: either in matters of standard Jewish Law, or in matters of Jewish Metaphysics or as a Jewish History buff. Is there anybody today?

Next Shneur Zalman makes what seems to be a leap of logic from his earlier statement, that confounds understanding.

But that is a very depressing message. Moreover, it contradicts our experience. And most importantly, that message is precisely the message propounded by the most evil of people. I mean isn’t that precisely what Hitler was saying in the inverse? Surely that can’t be the moral of the story.

Shneur Zalman, it would be profoundly incorrect to assume that every non-Jew is an anti Semite. It would also be wrong to assume that many non Jews are indeed anti semitic but it’s definitely on the rise. I have personally experienced it in today’s age of the culturally sophisticated.

Hitler? Has Shneur missed out ? Has he taught ARK about Amalek? We read it today in Shule. I know of no Jewish gangs who take baseball bats to Lakemba or Coburg with the aim of obliterating Lebanese Muslim anti-Semites who openly say Jews should all die (as does Hamas). Again, perhaps Shneur Zalman has not caught up with current events? He seems to live in a utopian but unrealistic world.

Over the last two weeks, ARK Centre has been hosting an incredible exhibition put on by Courage to Care that provides an answer to this question most profoundly and resolutely. We must remember the suffering of our people not in order to perpetuate trauma but to learn the evils of bigotry and what happens when good people stand by and allow it to happen. We must learn to be up-standers, not by-standers!

The exhibition contained a number of evocative pieces. The one that affected me most deeply was a piece by an incredibly inspiring, youthful, and optimistic, 89 Year old Sarah Saaroni. It is a sculpture of Dr Janusz Korczak, a paediatrician and head of an orphanage, who had an opportunity to save himself but decided to stay with the children as they were gassed to death. In the sculpture he is holding, embracing, and comforting a dozen children or so as they are standing in the gas chamber. The image really is heart wrenching and now, as a father of two beautiful children I love so dearly, it really is difficult to process.

But the sculpture is more than a statement about the unbelievable depravity of the Nazis who could do this to pure children. It is a tribute to the spiritual depth of the doctor who, in the midst of absolute darkness, was able to radiate a beam of holiness, of love. His facial expression left me, and I dare say anyone who sees it, with a sense of warmth and serenity.

I’m not sure how Shneur Zalman’s  religious education seems to have forgotten the concept of the other Chassidim. Yes, the חסידי אומות העולם.  The righteous gentiles. Note: they are called Chassidim, Shneur Zalman.

I do hope Shneur Zalman exposes ARK to that concept. It was there well before the cultured sculptures, and has a history as long as the history of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, his namesake writes about them and their reward in the world to come. Is Shneur Zalman trying to turn  his congregation into populist left-wing tree huggers? Let Shneur Zalman break bread and condemn Senator Lee Rhiannon of the loony greens to ARK. Would he? Perhaps he should remind ARK about German Jewry who were more German than the Germans, and that it did not help them in the “advanced” socialist democracy of Germany.

Don’t misread me. I interacted with 400+ non Jewish alumni on my Facebook. I didn’t have family or friends on facebook. I recently lent a significant amount of money to a non-Jewish colleague who had to fly back from overseas because her father and uncle dropped dead. The message I give Shneur Zalman is, rather than the seemingly post-modern one he is giving ARK, one can be centrist orthodox with an absolute fidelity to Halacha and live in this world peacefully, especially with tolerant non Jews. I can tell Shneur Zalman, that if I ever meet an intolerant or anti semitic type who threatens me overtly or covertly, I turn into a different persona. I don’t sit down to “break bread” with them. I know exactly with what I am dealing, and any “Jewish history buff” will affirm this.

Shneur Zalman writes:

This is a message that is so relevant and extremely positive. This is, in fact, what the Jewish tradition is all about. We are not the Chosen People of a superior race as I was taught. Rather we are a people who have, unfortunately, experienced immense suffering as a result of bigotry and the absence of enough up-standers in our midst. This experience of being a stranger in a strange land endlessly persecuted compels us to be the preachers of light; to declare that all human beings are created in the image of God and, therefore, all equally deserve to be treated with compassion, dignity, and humanity.

To the whole team at Courage to Care, thank you for your vision and dedication to fulfil it.

With hope and prayer that we internalise this message and turn our horrible history into a reservoir of inspiration to become more sensitive and caring human beings especially to those who are very different to us.

I couldn’t disagree more with this contorted configuration of childhood and this message. My own family was saved by righteous gentiles who were honoured in Yad Vashem. I have visited them. For close to 70 years, the extended Balbin family still sends all our surplus clothes to their extended family. A number of their family are anti Semites. They hid the fact that they saved Jews. When the husband of the girl found out, he beat his wife constantly. She held it a secret for some 30 years because she knew he was a depraved anti-Semite. We send them money and medicine too. (One of the family couldn’t even stand being in the room with me and my father, and left). This, despite the heroic efforts of his mother and her father). Some morality!

In short Shneur Zalman, I find this newsletter message rather populist, misleading, and simple. I’d rather if it was more learned and candid and more informed and realistic. The simple reading of history today, actually matches the claimed simple education Shneur Zalman claims to have received!

He didn’t receive a simple education.

He sounds populist.

Is he a member of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria?

If not, why not?

Why doesn’t he  break bread with them and convince them of his views and how they conform with Halacha. This is the Rabbinic way.

I take that back if he does not consider himself or ARK Orthodox.

Supervised Milk vs Government Regulated Milk

Firstly a disclaimer: In our house you will only find Milk that was formally supervised, that is, in Melbourne the Milk from Tempo supervised by the Hungarian Charedi community. This is commonly known as Chalav Yisrael. The same is true of cheese we buy and eat.

It is common among the “frum world” to call standard milk that one buys from a supermarket (assuming it’s kosher of course, because sometimes they now have strange health additives) as “Chalav Akum“. Now, there is nobody who permits Chalav Akum. It is forbidden according to Shulchan Aruch without any question.

But, it grates on me, that people call the milk one buys in, say, Australia or the USA as Chalav Akum. It is NOT Chalav Akum. This milk falls into its own category. R’ Moshe Feinstein called it “Chalav HaCompanies” and permitted it expressly in many of his Responsa. He never changed his mind, however, he said that in Yeshivas that could afford  Jewish supervision of milk, or for someone who considers themselves  a “Baal Nefesh” (which is difficult to translate, but let’s just say it’s someone who is wary of any/most lenient opinions across the gamut of Judaism—perhaps this is the level of “Tzadik” described in the Sefer HaTanya?) they should take on the stringency of Jewish supervision.

Rabbi Dr Tendler, R’ Moshe’s son-in-law, testifies there was standard milk in R’ Moshe’s house. If R’ Moshe was strict, he extended it only to himself. The Rav agreed with R’ Moshe.

The term Baal Nefesh wasn’t defined by Reb Moshe, of course. It appears earlier in many Seforim. Sometimes they use Medakdekim, but I don’t know if that’s exactly the same thing. Perhaps it is.  I haven’t merited seeing a definition. There are people who I consider to be a Baal Nefesh, but I think the real Baal Nefesh would never call themselves that 🙂

HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank זצ’’ל, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and Dayan of the Eda Charedis

Now, what grates on me is the issue of powdered milk. Why so? There are some (e.g. the Har Tzvi, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank) who contend that the decree to need milk to be supervised never applied to milk powder. If one looks carefully on Hashgacha in Israel one often sees that they make mention that the milk (usually from overseas) is from milk powder, because they know that some agree with Rav Frank.

What some Charedim do, however, is mislead. They mention that powdered milk is the same as milk, and quote the Chazon Ish. Yes, the Chazon Ish was the première Posek of Bnei Brak and his word is most important in the Torah world. As such, Charedim will not accept the powdered milk permission of Rav Frank, (even though he was no lightweight in anyone’s eyes and a staunch opponent of Hungarian Charedim). I don’t have a problem with anyone following the Chazon Ish, of course. Why should I? He was the Posek of B’nei Brak and his influence extended beyond.

So what is this blog post about? Well it’s about what they do not tell you about the Chazon Ish.

Everyone assumes that the permission to use Government regulation for Milk was initiated as a “lenient” opinion by R’ Moshe Feinstein זצ’’ל. (R’ Moshe was disgustingly ridiculed by Satmar, as is well-known, and one of their ilk wrote a repulsive book called Ma׳aneh L’igros, which might have been taken seriously if the author had even a modicum of Derech Eretz. The book was thrown in the gutter because of its disgraceful lack of respect to R’ Moshe and withdrawn from print.

The FACT however is that no less a figure than the Chazon Ish himself, before R’ Moshe, allowed Government regulation of Milk and he, yes, the same Chazon Ish expressly permitted it to satisfy the rules of Chalav Yisrael!

Some biased ones will tell to sell you all sorts of tall tales about this. The facts are that the Chazon Ish mentioned his decision/psak to Rav Wosner ז’ל on two occasions, and published it openly in his Seforim, and his Psak was also affirmed by the Steipler Gaon (the Chazon Ish’s brother-in-law). Some will do everything to make one think that the Chazon Ish didn’t mean it; that it was not L’Maaseh (for practical effect); it was just a Sevorah (theory) etc. However, those that say this are just plain revisionists for their own populist purposes. I thank RDS for an excellent article on this topic. If “the Baalei Nefesh” want to forbid it, fine. To claim that this was also the view of the Chazon Ish, though, is just pure fiction.

So, in future, if you are one of those who drinks Government regulated milk, you really should mention that it was permitted by the Chazon Ish. Saying it was permitted by R’ Moshe Feinstein can make it sound like a “lenient opinion” but if you say it was the Chazon Ish, then you are telling the truth and standing on the shoulders of a Charedi giant. Of course, R’ Moshe was a giant, but not for Charedim in Israel who considered his opinions too permissive.

I recently discussed this with the OU, and they affirmed that they agreed 100% with my sentiments.

One more disclaimer: the milk really needs to be from a civilised government where corruption and alternative milk substitution is not rife. If you are travelling, you need to be very careful because in some countries, there really is no issue of respect/fear of Government regulation if it exists at all. If it doesn’t exist, there is no permission to use the Milk according to anyone, unless they don’t have Treyf animals in that country! As a tangential example, we all know many Hindus are strict vegetarians or even vegans. Yet, for years, McDonalds in India sold their advertised pure veggie food, using animal oil from cows which many Hindus consider a sacred animal! The outcry in India was enormous. I was there at the time. (Personally, I only ate what was in my suitcase)

An Apt Tisha B’Av Message

  
(Hat tip RC)

The internet and the streets simply must open up the world to Charedim

Here is a fascinating story of the grandson of the Satmar Rebbe who joined the Israeli army. Yes, it’s true, that there is no family that is immune from a child taking a different direction. This is a fact of life.

I don’t like the word blame in the context. I prefer to think that the concept where ‘one size fits all’ and clueless teachers and/or parents cause much of this reality. חנוך על פי דרכו teach according to their acuities, is something harder to achieve in a “my way or the highway” approach.

You should read the article HERE [hat time CMW]

Another article, of interest, describes what appears to be a growing phenomenon is from the Huffington Post, and reproduced here [Hat tip Krakower]

I Escaped Hasidic Judaism and Went From Living on the Streets to Being a Hollywood Actor

In June 2008, exactly three years after I got married, I decided to get a divorce. I didn’t fall out of love with my wife. In fact, I never fell in love with her in the first place. I simply no longer wanted to have the life I had with her and everyone surrounding her.

My wife was a Hasidic Jew, and when I married her, so was I. But that was no longer the case. I was a 22-year-old man with a long beard and side curls (payes) and all the other markings of a Hasid, but I was an atheist. An atheist surrounded by Orthodox Hasidic Jews. Surrounded by their certainty, their food, their self-righteousness and their minivans.

I hated all of it, so I left and entered a world full of uncertainty and a broad spectrum of ideas about right and wrong.

I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no education beyond Jewish Talmudic studies. I had no friends outside of the Hasidic world beyond a few I met at Footsteps, an organization that supports Orthodox Jews attempting to escape. I had no marketable skill beyond being able to charm your pants off. I had never been on a date. I had never heard of The Beatles. And I thought, “May the Force be with you” meant “May God be with you.”

“For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us.”

After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay. I slept in a tent in Bushwick for several months, lived in a rented Volkswagen Jetta for as long as my credit card limit allowed and crashed with friends. I starved in the harsh street of New York City. When I used my last subway fare to make my way to my sister’s (one of eleven siblings) house for leftovers from Shabbat meals, she wouldn’t let me in the house because I was wearing jeans.

When I went on dates, I had nothing in common with the women. I knew nothing about their culture, and they knew nothing about mine. I thought all shiksas were prostitutes, and they thought all Hasidim were landlords and diamond dealers.

Let me answer some revealing questions about Hasidic Judaism. Does it withhold a broad education from their children in order to keep the children narrow-minded and uneducated? Yes. Does it vilify the outside world in order to keep its members from joining it? Definitely. Does it have a fear and/or doomsday element to it? Of course. Is there ex-communication for those who dare to leave? Oh yeah.

I still have not received anything past a 5th grade education. In fact, since I never attended a regular school, I don’t actually know what a 5th grade education is — I just picked a grade that seemed right. I don’t know what algebra is; I know I can Google it but I wasn’t made to care enough to do so.

“After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay.”

For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us. I believed that all goyim are murderers, rapists, degenerates and dirty second-class citizens. Of course, they/we aren’t but I was taught that in order to make the secular lifestyle less appealing. I was told horrible things would happen to me in this world and the “next world” if I leave. I was told I would end up a criminal or drug addict. Many members of my family refuse to speak to me to this day.

I have had to transition both out of Hasidism and transition into mainstream culture. I have had to find a replacement for the void left by the lack of community and warmth. I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass. It was hard leaving everything behind but it was even harder to find something to replace it all with.

Thankfully, as an actor, my professional community is very friendly and inclusive (albeit competitive). I’ve replaced my biological family with actors and Footsteps members. I have managed to date, to have my heart broken, to have broken some hearts and to grow because of all of it.

I get asked all the time: “Are you happy now?” The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!” I have friends who love me for who I am, for who I was and for who I am trying to become.

“I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass.”

Career-wise, it seems I have sought the path of most resistance, deciding to work in a field full of multi-talented human specimens with high cheekbones and jaguar physiques. I’m five foot seven inches, unathletic and have a heavy Yiddish accent. And yet, I’ve been getting work. My latest film, “Felix and Meira,” just beat David Cronenberg at the Toronto International Film Festival for “Best Canadian Feature Film,” and I won “Best Actor” at the Torino Film Festival. Next, I will appear in a recurring role in the upcoming season of “Transparent” on Amazon Prime.

But those achievements pale in comparison to the responses I get from people within the Hasidic community who have snuck out to go see the film. They have been yearning to break away but have been told that if they do, they will end up in jail or in rehab, and they believed it. But now, they can counter that with success stories like mine and those of others like me.

The Hasidic community isn’t what it used to be even five years ago. With the Internet, every person has access to every flavor of every forbidden fruit his or her heart desires, including my story. It won’t be long before the Empire falls. It might not fall completely, but it certainly will be forced to adapt to the 21st century.

The Empire won’t go down easy. The Empire will strike back. For evidence, watch the comments section below.

Follow Luzer Twersky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@twersky

In my opinion unless subtle changes are introduced into Charedi education this will become more prevalent. It is nigh on impossible to live in a Cocoon these days. I know of schools that redact every book with pen or gluing pages together. The effect is that the students are more certain to find the original text and be exposed. I’m not sure that approach works. Kids are far more connected than they ever were.

Indeed, there has been a new (undesirable) ban now on whatsapp [Hat tip BA]. I surmise this is because the kosher filters cannot filter such messages. whatsapp is wonderful, it keeps families closer and informed, especially when they are spread around the world. Anything can be used for bad or for good. That is the central tenet in my understanding.

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)

  

The Charedi Male Burka

10425356_1590666974515418_1164827599723612175_nHeaven forfend. In my opinion they are transgressing the Torah command of לא תלבש גור שמלת אישה

If they had Tzniyus as their concern, they should have come wearing their Tallis over their heads (which ironically is known mechanically as עטיפת ישמאלים)

It’s almost certain they are Chassidim and not Litvaks.

 

When does a Woman not exist?

its old news that Adass chassidic will not write even the first initial of a lady. My wife would be known as ‘mrs I Balbin’ this is certainly a hall mark of Hungarian chassidic practice as well as some Russian/Polish chassidic.

contrast this to the wedding invitation that R Chaim Brisker used for his son Mishe’s wedding (Moshe Soloveitchik was the father of the Rav. He had signed it as ‘Chaim and Lifshe Soloveitchij’. No appellations and her name was ‘out in the wild’, heaven forfend. 

Dealing with the false Messianists in Israel

[Hat tip Bobby]

See here and here and here and here for news coverage.  The following is a first hand account

I attended.

From 8:30 am to 10:30 am, I was present at a mass Tefillah protest against this mass false messianic movement. Unlike these reports, I estimated that there were between 2000-3000 people there, and very few non-Shomer Shabbos people, if any. Maybe they came later. We all Davened on a large grassy area outside the Metro-West complex at the far end of which, and blocked by numerous police, was a building where the Meshumads and their friends were doing their Christian thing.

Chairs were provided and tables set up for Bimas, some Sefardi and Nusach Sfard ad hoc “Siddurim” which were printed just for the occasion by Yad L’Achim were available, although most people came prepared with their own Siddurs and Chumashim.

Due to the largeness of the crowd, and the desire of the Sephardim and the Yemenites to have their own Minyans, not to mention a large group that wanted to Daven with or close to the Clevelander Rebbe or one around Rabbi Peretz, the mass subdivided into some dozen or so Minyanim.

The biggest problem was that there were only a limited number of Sifrei Torah and so when it came to the layning, Minyanim united.

I did not see any violence whatsoever, however, later I heard of a boy who crossed the police lines, was arrested and then followed by his father who tried to save him and was also arrested, were both beat up and bloodied in the police van. There was only one Meshugener there who walked around for a couple of minutes yelling out “kill them” (in English, Davke) but he quickly disappeared.

The Davening was very peaceful, albeit it noisy at times when some of the multiple Minyanim would call out things like “Shma Yisroel” and similar key verses, just as a protest or those closer to the Meshumad building would scream with catcalls and boos. In a way it was very difficult to get any real Kavana because of the loud Sephardim and Yemenites, not to mention the outdoorsy, disorganized, circuslike atmosphere at such events. Fortunately, there were a few relatively normal Ashkenazi minyanim, too, where I ended up.

Towards the end of Mussaf, some people began setting up a minimum Kiddush with wine and rokalach, but I was already packed up and ready to leave.

I did not see or hear any anyone speak to the crowd or was there any attempt to get everyone to say Tehillim together or anything like that.

There are no overt signs of the media there and I only saw one person taking a photo with his cellphone. I did not see TV cameras or microphones.

For the most part, the protest went by unnoticed by the mainstream press.

Rachel was there, too, on the other side of a sheet-strung ad hoc Mechitza.

A sensible start to Mikva reform

Dear Mispallelim,

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

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

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

With wishes for only good in the future,

Rabbi Y. Gutnick
Chabad House of Caulfield

I would say this is a proper position based on

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

On the conundrum of mesora

(Guest post from R Meir Deutsch)

כך ראיתי בית אבא.

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

קשר תפילין הראה לעניו

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

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

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

I wonder which one is the correct way.

On the lighter side.

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

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

What can you “say” at a grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

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

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

The horrid Holtzberg Kvura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Admor of Amshinov, Rav Sholom Shimon Kalisch זצ’’ל

In another blog I was asked to post the picture by a commentator, but I can’t recall the article! Anyway, I have in our dining room a picture of the Rebbe זי’’ע. I just took a picture of it with my iPhone. He was very well-known. In Lubavitch he is known because the Rayatz instructed his Chassidim, when the Rayatz was in hiding from the authorities, and unable to respond to their questions to only ask R’ Sholom Shimon. In addition, at the wedding of the last Rebbe, R’ Sholom Shimon walked into the Simcha in the wee hours of the morning while the Rayatz was saying a Ma’amar Chassidus. He must have sensed R’ Sholom Shimon had come in, because in a very rare occurrence, he actually stopped saying the Ma’amar Chassidus until the Rebbe from Amshinov had sat down. In Amshinov, there is also a tradition which I have seen written, that says there is only one sefer that has to be learned to understand all Chassidus, and that is the Tanya of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Interestingly, I heard Rav Schachter saying that a Scholar is now working on an important Sefer comparing the Tanya to the Nefesh Hachaim of R’ Chaim Volozhin, the prime student of the Vilna Gaon (who did not sign the Cherem against Chassidim). The word is that he finds the thoughts and approaches close to identical. I also heard the Rav (Soloveitchik) say this, although he qualified it by saying that the differences are advanced and he doubts many actually understand the differences. The Rav was unique of course in the sense that he knew both those Seforim inside out, and had been taught Tanya by his Lubavitcher Melamed when a boy (but that didn’t matter because the Rav had a superior intellect, as is well known).

As for me, I know nothing about either! The current Amshinover Rebbe in Bayit Vegan,  is well-known as one of the Tzadikei HaDor. He doesn’t get involved in politics, and is a truly incredible Oved Hashem. My only connection is a nostalgic familial one, because my grandmother, Toba Frimet Balbin ע’’ה (née Amzel), who I loved very much and was the engine behind the Balbin family, was from Amshinover Chassidim. She and my Zeyda Yidel are buried in Israel, and I still remember Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner ז’’ל speaking about her before her coffin left from Essendon Airport. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל told me that she used to bring him a present every Purim. I never knew that, and he told me they were all around his house!

PS.  I got this picture from Chayi Glick (nee Rotter), whose mother I believe stems from Amshinov and whom I cajoled incessantly to bring back the picture from New York.

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Being a Shaliach for Bircas HaGomel

This question came up for me recently. Note, unlike a Bircas Hanehenin which is optional in the sense that it only comes to be if you want to benefit from something, this is a Bircas Hanehenin that is a Chiyuv, It was about someone in a car accident and his mother (in Israel of all places) begged me to be the Shaliach for Bircas Hagomel. Whilst this appears to be against the Rama, and I have looked a little, a few local Rabonim replied in the negative immediately. I have seen some contrary opinions but alas haven’t studied them in enough detail (yet) to feel confident about them. I have asked Rav Schachter but I’ll need to ring him, as I have a few unanswered questions. Has anyone come across this one. It’s different of course to the husband and wife situation if one uses the argument of אשתו כגופו but I note many women had and  have the minhag to say it themselves anyway (either with a minyan in their house — I think it’s a peculiar minyan which has to have two Talmidei Chachomim) or they say it in Shule from the women’s gallery provided it’s not a Chassidic or neo-Litvak Shule of today. Some women, for a Bris,  say it at the Bris.

 

Mesora and Psak: How it may differ between Chassidim/Mekubalim and others

The closeness to Mesora has always been primary. Halacha LeMoshe Misinai is immutable. Torah Shebaal Peh as written is a record of Mesora including contradictions and attempts to disambiguate and show through the Midos SheHatorah Nidreshes BoHem, including Sevara (which isn’t listed but is clearly a Midda as testified by the Gemora in many cases). As time advanced through Tanaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim we move to latter generations known as Acharonim. To be sure, there are some Acharonim, who on occasion would argue with Rishonim. Two well known examples are the Vilna Gaon and the Rogachover. They were guided by what they felt was Emes L’Amito.

When it comes to Acharonim, there  are those, depending on which group you align yourself with, who are considered “the last word” and there are others, such as the Chazon Ish in respect of electricity where everyone seems to be Chosesh to some extent to his opinion. That being said, others will say he was an Acharon in B’Nei Brak and if he was your Rav and/or you lived there you need to follow his Psokim.

The Brisker Shitta, is different. Whilst they are beholden to Beis HoRav (Volozhin/Soloveitchik) they were never afraid to disagree with each other. Of course, there is a group that follows every word of Reb Meshulam Soloveitchik, son of the Griz (Uncle of the Rav) in the same way that Chassidim follow their Rebbe. He’s just not called a Rebbe, and he doesn’t fir tish etc.

We saw that as a Posek became more recognised, people came for Brachos. Some were averse, and others would give a general Brocha to be Yotze. I sensed this from Videos of R” Shlomo Zalman.

The Rishonim (and here there is some difference amongst Ashkenazim) and certainly Sephardim, are untouchable. If you want to innovate=bring something consonant with Menorah you need to bring a Rishon.

I remember well, some 40 years ago when my zeyda bought a copy of the Meiri. At the time it was very controversial. Beautifully put together, it was ignored somewhat for years. Now, it seems nobody has a problem quoting a Meiri. The Meiri was a Bar Mitzvah present for my cousin Ya’akov Balbin and while it sat in my house for many years after he went on Aliya, I sent it to him at his request.

There have been plenty examples of Ziyuf. There was the fake Yerushalmi on Kodshim, and more.

The common denominator was that to qualify for Psak,  especially the style of Psak (especially Hungarian) where one joins different Kulos, you had to have a Rishon (or early Acharon who quoted a Rishon given that some had access to Rishonim we don’t have, or a Girsa we don’t have.

There are stories where the Rav’s Talmidim, would say but Rebbe it’s an open Maharsho that contradicts your Pshat. When he was younger, he angrily banged the Gemora and said, “and I’m not an Acharon”? This was not haughty. This was what he felt. He felt his Pshat was more correct than the Maharsho and was ready to debate it with anyone.

Many Acharonim either didn’t own, or look at other Acharonim. That’s not to lessen their importance. But, it’s a derech.

Where Chassidim/Mekubalim are different, I feel is that they would consider that when there is no clear way forward or where there are different views, Kabbola, whether from the Zohar or Ari on occasion trumps and guides the Psak. A pure non Chossid/Mekubal would note such opinions but would be less likely to PASKEN based on them.

Do people agree with me or have I over simplified. Drush is another class. One has license to extrapolate and certainly doesn’t need a Rishon to find a nice Pshat.

Aleppo Codex - Genesis

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!

The kittel during Tefillas Geshem and Tal

We can all easily work out the sense in the Shaliach Tzibbur wearing one. A sense of extreme humility and awe should envelop the Chazzan while he recites such critical requests on behalf of the congregation.

On Erev Succos, an acquaintance of mine discussed the concept with me and asked me what the SOURCE of this MINHAG is. I said I’d look and email. I don’t have access to the Bar Ilan program because they refused my offer to port the program to a Mac or an iPad. I was hoping it might run under a PC virtual machine on my Mac. They have progressed from the time warp of DOS and XP and now like you to subscribe to online access.

Either way, I searched and searched and couldn’t find it. I was sure that if I looked at the Nitei Gavriel he was bound to find SOME primordial source for this. Alas, even he stated that he didn’t know of a source as pointed out to me by a Zurba Derabonnon.

I did find in my limited research that the Minhag in Frankfurt (and perhaps Hamburg and other parts of Germany) was NOT to wear a Kittel!

There was an older Minhag, about which I’m unsure why it ceased, to wear a special white gown cum kittel as one’s Bigdei Yom Tov. Many seem to forget that one should wear something extra special on Yom Tov.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the real reason why people wore it at the seder. I don’t really know and I’ve read many of the reasons including Rav Moshe Soloveitchik’s (R Chaim Brisker’s son who married into the Feinsteins) reason, and who was the Rav’s father.

Anyway, I’m throwing the question out to the Oilom who read my blog. I guess that someone like Rav Sraya Deblicki might know, but if Rav Tzinner, the author of Nitei Gavriel and Rav Hamachshir of Melbourne’s Eruv doesn’t know ….

Of course the kittel didn’t appear to exist amongst the Sephardim.

It’s a pity Rav Ovadya has left us, as he was a walking encyclopaedia kipshuto.

Full of twaddle

There is a fellow who sits proximate to me, whose Yechi Yarmulke annoys me. Actually, its not his yechi yarmulke, it’s all Yechi yarmulkes that upset me, because I consider the implied message as non halachic bunkum. And yes, I’d be happier if there was no sign at the back of the Shule, but if it means people don’t blurt it out at every opportunity during, before and after davening, like they used to, I tolerate it.

Anyway, he’s a new comer, so today he informed me that he had “asked about me”. He was perplexed. How can someone daven at a Chabad Shule and dislike the advertising hoardings around a handful of skulls.

He then told me that he was advised that I was a Misnaged who has been thrown out of every Shule I had davened at, and that’s why I now often daven in Lubavitch.

Well I have news for this Johnny-come-lately, and for the geniuses who informed him.

I have been “encouraged” to leave one Shule only in my life. It was the nascent Beit Haroeh at Mizrachi, decades ago. Two others, Anthony Waller and David Meerkin, both fine upstanding people and friends, who now live in Israel, were also so encouraged, all by Mizrachi Board Askonim at the instigation of the infamous Rabbi Baruch Zaichyk, then Rabbi of Mizrachi. I carry that episode as a badge of honour. Quite apart from some serious halachic issues I had with Rabbi Zaichyk which I raised privately with him (and I don’t refer to the Eruv that wasn’t) he publicly imitated Mori V’Rabbi Harav Baruch Abaranok ז’’ל and that was a line that was beyond the pale for me. I revered and continue to revere Rav Abaranok to this day. I could have fought Zaichyk, especially in those youthful days, and believe me I have a dossier of properly researched material in a file which I had prepared to defend my position in the event that a need would arise. My father ע’’ה who was a lot wiser than me, told me to just stay away. I have no desire to reveal this information today and long ago took the decision not to do so. I enjoyed a good relationship with Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen ז’’לֹ and get on extremely well with the impressive Rabbi Ya’akov Sprung, both Rabbis of Mizrachi since that time.

So Mister Smart Aleck, proud wearer of the Yechi Yarmulke, your “facts” have zero credibility. I think you need to wake up and realise that there are even Chabad Shules, such as the one run by my class mate Rabbi Yossi New in Atlanta, who wouldn’t even let you in, wearing one of these skull caps.

PS. Anyway, although I don’t follow any Chassidic group, I am not opposed to Chassidism per se, Lubavitch or otherwise. I have three sons-in-law and a son who consider themselves Lubavitch! I do have different views on matters: e.g. the rabid anti-Zionism of Satmar, Meshichism of Chabad, etc but they hardly qualify someone as a Misnaged!

ירך הלבב

This awe inspiring photo (hat tip mad) shows you can be very frum and ‘as holy’ as those who refuse to enlist. This is a milchemes mitzvah unless you practice a heathen religion related to Judaism as per Neturei Karta and their supporters, and the holy Litvaks who don’t follow Torah by defending Am Yisroel Lefi Pshuto shel Halocho Mefureshes ….

THESE guys are holy. They are our heroes and Shluchei HaKadosh Baruch Hu kipshuto

May they all come back healthy and all those who are injured should recover כהרף עין

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מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ

I don’t know where Thisbe from, my daughter in law sent it. Uplifting!

A soldier on the border writes:

What’s happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and begs the imagination.

Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, v backgammon and more. They’re coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon.

Every intersection on they way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but be residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation b organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.

They’re writing letters and blessings, how they’re thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they’re as perfect and comforting as possible.

Of course representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Cha’Ta’Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) for every troop transport and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy.

The Chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers’ names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area.
Soroka Hospital (in Be’er Sheva) today looks like a 5 star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the MasterChef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded.

It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously Kosher. Shachrit, Mincha, and Maariv with Sifrei Torah. They’re giving out tzitzit and Tehilim by the hundreds. It’s become the new fashion! The Rabbi of Maglan [Special Forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat. They’re gaining both a Mitzva and a high quality undershirt. We’ve started calling them “Shachpatzitzti” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). We’re having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff.

We’re making lots of jokes at Hamas’s expensive and without politics. There’s lots more to add but my battery is running low and the staff has been requesting someonekm give a class on Likutei MoharaN (Breslov).

How happy is the nation that is like this.

The Goral HaGro, Mekubalim, and advice for the unsure

Life has its ups and downs. Some people cope better than others with the downs while others simply can’t cope with the ups, even though they think they do. Every day presents new challenges and questions, as well as solutions and achievements.

It is common to see advertisements from so-claimed clairvoyants. These are people who seem to have an ability to foresee some future event or reflect on a past event.

The Torah is very explicit in its instructions. We are forbidden to be involved in things involving “foretelling the future” or in the words of the Torah  (Vayikra 19) לא תנחשו ולא תאוננו. I’m not happy with the phrase “foretelling the future” but it will do for this context. Of course, this is also explicit in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah קעט) as a Torah prohibition, quoting the Rambam.

Now the term Goral HaGro, which means the “lottery” of the Vilna Gaon, is almost certainly nothing to do with the Vilna Gaon. There is, to my knowledge, no provable record, of the Gaon ever performing a specific methodology which enabled one to make a future determination. Certainly though the term/technique has continued and is mentioned by those who identify themselves as followers of the Gaon. Fundamentally, on the Pasuk in Vayikra

‘תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך’

Be complete/pure [in the path] with Hashem your God

Rashi says

התהלך עמו בתמימות ותצפה לו ולא תחקור אחר העתידות, אלא כל מה שיבוא עליך קבל בתמימות ואז תהיה עמו ולחלקו

Which plainly means that one should accept one’s lot and not seek to determine the path they will take based on seeking out the future before it happens.

Yet, despite this, we know that “lots” have a place in Judaism. For example, in deciding which of the two animals will be thrown off a cliff on Yom Kippur. Here, the lottery is part of the avoda and is commanded.

The Gemora tells us that when Tanoim were unable to decide what to do, and here I assume that this means not that they could not decide the Halacha, but rather whether one should do X or Y where both X and Y do not contradict a Halacha and cannot be determined via Psak, they asked young children פסוק לי פסוקיך … “Tell us what Pesukim [in the Torah] you are currently learning”. Based on what the children answered, if the Pasuk shed light on whether to pursue X or Y, they chose the one which was hinted at by the Pasuk. It isn’t clear to me whether that could always be determined by the Pasuk, but perhaps depending on the Wisdom of the person asking the children, they were able to derive X vs Y.

Does this Gemora contradict the aforementioned Halacha? It would seem not. There is no attempt to seek out the future through some supernatural (whatever that is) means, but rather, when something can be both X or Y and it is not a matter of Halacha (I presume) the Pasuk sheds light on those deserving and discerning such light.

There have been famous examples of the use of this method: viz, opening a Pasuk from the Tanach and using it when there seems to be no other approach to take. One, is the case of the famed R’ Aryeh Levin, the Tzadik of Yerushalayim and super Talmid of Rav Kook, who used this method to identify the corpses of 12 holy soldiers who were killed during the war of independence in Gush Etzyon. Using a particular format of the Chumash page flipping  eventually a particular verse was chosen. In each case, the verse chosen clearly identified a fallen soldier with a particular body (See “A Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin,” pp. 111-117).

Some commentators would term this a נבואה קטנה a minor prophecy (this is the opinion of the Shach ibid). There are other examples of course. R’ Aron Kotler wasn’t sure whether to go to Israel or the USA when escaping the Nazis. Clearly, if R’ Aron wasn’t sure, he must have held that Halacha didn’t have a clear answer for him. I can’t guess what his thoughts were, but one would imagine that on the one hand, there was Israel which involved a Mitzva of going there and building it up versus the USA where there was a Mitzva to build Torah. Both had issues. Israel was under siege and there was a Sakana and the USA would have presented a spiritual Sakana (danger). R’ Moshe Feinstein begged him to come to the USA. Apparently the Pasuk in Chumash was Shmos 4:27 which suggested he (R’ Kotler go to Moshe (Feinstein) in the desert (USA). It’s eery and scary, to say the least, at least for me!

While such devices will “work” for especially holy people it isn’t clear to me that it’s going to work for every Tom, Dick and Mary. Furthermore, knowing if one should use the device or not, is a major question itself. My understanding is that in keeping with  ‘תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך’ one would need to consult a Rabbi of great stature first before embarking on this path.

There was a story reported that Rav Shteinman used this method to decide whether a Shiduch should go ahead when a Groom pressed him incessantly. On the other hand, the Steipler Gaon, suggested we stop using Goral HaGro because we don’t know how to do it exactly and it’s better to be consistent with the Pasuk of Tomim Tihye.

There is another story, and I don’t know if it’s true or a piece of historiography, that the Griz (Rav Chaim Brisker’s younger son and Rav Soloveitchik’s Uncle) once did this Tanach flipping (Goral HaGro) and the Pasuk he landed on was ‘תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך’ !!!

There are a lot of things we don’t understand, and most of these are in the domain of the exalted ones.

I have to admit that for a time, at the behest of my wife, I spoke with a Kabbalist who is not known, does not take money, and has a very good “hit rate” seeing the future. In fact, the first time I called him, I was in Melbourne at 3am, and it was a “cold call” to him in Israel. Please don’t ask me his name, as he doesn’t seek notoriety or attention. He told me things about myself that literally made me convulse. I went to see him in his remote shanty house in the far north of Israel on a subsequent visit, and again he made some remarkable comments. I won’t go into details, but he noted, for example, that we had issues with some trees in our house and he drew the location. He was right. On the other hand, there are a number of things that he told me that one could say he wasn’t right. I asked him how he knew. He said he couldn’t explain it but that he saw things in the future like on Television (i.e. an external screen with events unfolding). There are lots more stories I can tell about him, but this suffices. My wife still wants me to call him when there is a really major extra-halachic issue, but I have quietly stopped doing so.

I spoke with Mori V’Rabi R’ Schachter, and of course I didn’t identify the Mekubal, and he responded that I should not consult and I should be guided by ‘תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך’ alone.

Interestingly, over Pesach, I read a story from R’ Schachter where he retold how the Rav, R’ Soloveitchik set out one day to convince R’ Aron Kotler to change his mind about a particular issue, and went to visit R’ Aron. On the next day, during Shiur, the Talmidim noticed that the Rav had problems with his arm, and was in some pain. They asked him what was wrong. The Rav said that when he was on the way to Rav Aron Kotler, he slipped on the icy snow and fell on his arm and had hurt it. The Talmidim then asked the Rav, but we know that Shluchei Mitzvo Ainom Nizokin (those who are messengers for a Mitzvah are not harmed) and since the Rav felt the issue was important enough to approach R’ Aron Kotler he must have felt that the mission was a Mitzvah, and if so, how could he be hurt. The Rav immediately responded “Nu, that’s perhaps a sign that I was wrong on this particular issue and R’ Aron was right”!

In our days, it is commonplace since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that some of his Chassidim use this technique. They tend, as I understand it, not to do so using Tanach, but rather use letters that had been published in the past in volumes (אגרות קודש). I have heard various incredible stories in this regard, and I’m sure there are plenty of examples (although these won’t be publicised) where there was no clear indication of how to proceed. I know that R’ Schachter limited the definition of the Goral HaGro to Tanach per se and not Gemora, Medrash etc as he felt there was no Mesora/tradition to use anything other than explicit Psukim. Of course, a Pasuk could be quoted in a letter.

Either way, I tend to be of the view that one must first go and speak to an authoritative Rav/Posek before using this technique willy nilly (so to speak).

I probably haven’t elucidated much in this pitput, except to say that I tend to the view that where a matter is one of Halacha, one follows Shulchan Aruch (or asks a Rav if one cannot see the Halacha or it is not clear or a difficult question). For extra-halachic matters, I guess it’s a matter of what your own Rav HaMuvhak advises you in context of your family and circumstance and that may also be “no specific advice!”

As I finished writing this I found this video if the topic interests you, which I had heard driving in my car a few years ago, and which obviously influenced me!

Finance Minister: I know it isn’t easy to create a work environment for all, but it’s possible.

“Hire haredim (ultra-orthodox); give them jobs,” said Minister of Finance Yair Lapid at the small and medium business conference today. “Following passage of the new draft law, tens of thousands ofharedim are going out into the workforce. Hire them.”

Lapid continued, “I know it isn’t easy. People ask themselves: how do I deal with kosher issues? What do I do if a woman comes in to my business wearing a T-shirt? How do I create a work environment where everyone gets along? I am not saying for a moment that there are easy answers to these questions, but it is possible. Israel has tens of thousands of small businesses where haredim work and they have found solutions.”

Lapid said, “The important point is that if we, as a caring society, do not accept the challenge of bringing haredim into the workforce, if we only demand that they serve in the army and work, without us working to help them integrate into Israeli society, we’ll have done nothing. This will pay off for anyone who makes the effort, because they are hard and intelligent workers and they learn fast, and they know how to say thank you to those who have given them a chance.”

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on April 2, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

A litmus test for Shules regarding the IDF vs Torah study issue

[Please note: I will keep this list updated as information comes in]

 

Phew. I’m physically wasted. Baruch Hashem, our daughter was married last night, and apart from the usual responsibilities of being the “father of the bride” and all that goes with it, I sang and danced during the evening with my great band, Schnapps. That’s not an advertisement. They were simply magnificent last night.

Someone drew my attention to an interesting point which then had me think of the following hypothetical:

If you received an Aliya on Shabbos, and asked the Gabbay to make a Misheberach for Tzahal (Tzva Hagana L’Yisrael) what would the different attitudes be in different Orthodox Shules. I will list those that I believe will have and do have no problem with such a benign (Zionistically speaking) request (and donation)

  • Elwood
  • Caulfield
  • Mizrachi
  • South Caulfield
  • St. Kilda
  • Kew
  • Brighton
  • Ohel Dvora
  • Yeshiva
  • Da Minyan
  • Moorabbin Shule
  • HaMerkaz Shelanu (Rabbi Liberow)
  • SpiritGrow

I do not know what the attitude would be at the following Shules. I accept of course that there may be differing practices within, say, some Chabad Houses

  1. Rabbi Kohn’s Shule
  2. Russian Chabad Shule (FREE)
  3. Central Chabad
  4. Chabad Sephardi Shule
  5. Glen Eira Chabad
  6. Malvern Chabad
  7. East Brighton Chabad
  8. Other Chabad Houses
  9. Rabbi Donnenbaum’s Heichal HaTorah
  10. Rabbi Berlin’s Shule
  11. Rabbi Wurtzberger’s Lakewood Kollel Beth HaTalmud

Perhaps readers can enlighten me on these and any that I inadvertently forgot. I haven’t mentioned Adass yet. I will relay, though, a true occurrence which was at a public gathering of prayer which might shed light on their view.

During the time when those three Charedi Yeshivah Bochurim were arrested and incarcerated in Japan, Adass organised a public gathering to say Tehillim to beseech God to release those boys. At that public gathering, it was suggested (quite vocally) that since Gilad Shalit was incarcerated by Hamas in Gazastan, that he also be included in the Tefillos. I’m advised that the response was like

You can organise your own Tehillim if you want to daven for him

If this is true, it’s an outrageous view. Now, I know this isn’t a universally held opinion. Adass certainly has various categories of views and it’s quite remarkable that those views can co-exist in the one place, however, if Adass President Binyomin Koppel could enlighten  the official view about such a Misheberach, I would be obliged.

Certainly, I have been at Chabad Shules, notably Yeshivah where special Tehillim is said for Israel when it faces many of its challenges.

I raise this because if a Shule does not allow a Misheberach or special Tehillim or similar for Tzahal, then, frankly, I do not want to hear about their special Torah learning protecting the Chayalim. It’s incongruous, is it not?

Similar questions could be asked in respect of Jewish Schools and their allowable activities.

picture from Haaretz

Adass vs Mizrachi

The following correspondence is making the rounds of email on the internet. It sheds light on the basis of the disagreement.

Disclaimer: Ian is my brother-in-law

First, we have a letter from Adass

Dear Ian
I am receipt of your email statement of behalf of the Mizrachi Organisation.
I am astounded that you would issue such a notice without the courtesy of enquiring about the aim of this gathering
You labelled this “a protest” which was “designed to attract the attention of the general community and the media” organised by opponents of the state of Israel
Unfortunately your statement is totally incorrect.
This was not a “protest” but rather a gathering of Jews – Shomrei Torah uMitzvos from most communities – to say Tehilim and Tefillos against recent decrees aimed at harming the Torah world.
We mirrored the call of the ENTIRE Torah leadership worldwide – Chassidim and Litvaks, Ashkenazim and Sfardim.
The Gedolei Hador are pained at new legislation which further erodes Achdus and Shalom between fellow Jews.
How can anyone sit back and watch as a Jewish State legislates that one Jew will put another Jew into jail for studying Torah?
This is something that saddens all of us and we pray that Hashem should bring us together as one people.

This was not a protest. No one spoke, there was no speeches. No banners or signs – Just tehillim and tefila

It was most specifically NOT done to attract the media. It took place inside a Shul – the most appropriate place for prayer.
There was no contact with the media and no street signs.

You have stated the exact opposite of what we were aiming.   We came for prayer for unity peace and you interpreted it as the opposite.

I think you owe the organisers a public apology for your words.
Wishing you a Good Shabbos and Simchas Purim
BINYOMIN KOPPEL
President
Adass Israel
 
PS Please note that I am responding on behalf of our Shul.
Mizrachi’s response is produced below
Dear Binyomin,
I refer to your email of 14 March 2014.
Your letter raises a number of complaints concerning the statement I made on 13 March 2014 which I will attempt to deal with.
First, you say that you are astounded that I would issue such a notice without the courtesy of enquiring about the aim of this gathering.
The aim of the gathering was readily apparent from the poster that was widely distributed. The poster depicted a Sefer Torah wrapped in barbed wire conjuring up the very worst images from our recent history. It called upon men, women and children aged 9 and over to “show solidarity with our embattled brethren in Eretz Yisrael regarding the proposed new law”. It contained images of large outdoor rallies held in Jerusalem and New York.  Although you assert that I should have made enquiries about the aim of the gathering before making any statement, no attempt was made to consult with the Mizrachi Organisation (or to obtain Rabbi Sprung’s signature) prior to organising the event. Presumably that was because it was anticipated by the organisers that Mizrachi would have objected in the strongest terms to what was being planned.
Secondly, you say that I mischaracterised the event by calling it a protest.
When people are called upon to assemble in large numbers to voice their opposition to legislation enacted by a democratically elected government, they are in effect being called upon to protest. A protest need not involve speeches or banners, although I note that similar events held in other cities included such features. You say that the event “took place inside a Shul – the most appropriate place for prayer”. However the poster announced that the rally would take place in the Adass Gutnick Hall.
Thirdly, you state that in organising the gathering you “mirrored the call of the ENTIRE Torah leadership worldwide”.
It is disappointing and troubling that you do not consider Mizrachi and our ideological affiliates around the world, who did not participate in any such events, as part of the Torah leadership community.
Fourthly, you assert that the legislation will mean that “one Jew will put another Jew into jail for studying Torah”.
A cursory reading of the legislation or the available summaries of it will reveal that the law has no such purpose or effect. Its intent is to gradually implement a more equitable sharing of the responsibility for protecting and defending the State of Israel and all of its inhabitants. The law does not come into effect until at least 2017. In the meantime, there is a full exemption for anyone over 26 who did not register in the past and an exemption for anyone aged between 22-26. There will be an option to perform national service rather than serve in the armed forces. Exceptional students will be completely exempt.
Fifthly, you write “We came for prayer for unity (and) peace and you interpreted it as the opposite”.
Scheduling the event on Ta’anit Esther and using the words “Gezeirot Kashot” (ie. harsh decrees) to describe the legislation recently enacted by the State of Israel plainly sought to equate that legislation and those responsible for it with with the terrible edicts decreed against the Jews by Ahasuerus at the instigation of Haman. Actions and statements such as these are plainly calculated to erode achdut. Referring to the Government of the State of Israel as “Shevet HaRasha” (the evil tribe) erodes achdut. How can you claim that you were seeking “unity” and “peace” when you describe fellow Jews in these terms.
I note that, since receiving your letter, two of the seven Rabbis who signed the poster have since expressed deep regret and emphatically dissociated themselves from the document.
You conclude your letter by saying that I owe the organisers of the event a public apology. For the reasons set out above I am not able to apologise for the statement that I made on behalf of the Mizrachi Organisation.
Yours sincerely,
Ian
__________________
Ian Waller SC
President
Mizrachi Organisation

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

Excellent article on the IDF exemption issue

This is from Rabbi Slifkin (whose wife is a distant relative of ours)

It is well worth reading.

An honourable protest

Whatever ones views may be in regards to the new laws requiring Yeshivah students to enlist in the IDF, it seems to me that those who protested in a manner which was a kiddush hashem.

[Hat tip also to MD] See here

What we need: some intellectual honesty coupled with outward perspective

We need intelligent, articulators of Toras HaShem across the board. No politics, no Chumros, no fancy hanhogos. Torah Lishmo. For every Shiur in Nistar (Kaballa which is not the same as Chassidus) there must be a Shiur in Torah, Nach, Meforshim, Shas, Halacha in a digestible way. The greatness of the wisdom and enternal truth of Torah must be exposed. Too many of our youth and middle-aged people keep a link to the past which is not based on Tachlis or based on consistent learning from Rabonim. A Shiurm/Sermon in  Shule or a Temple needs to be given by those trained; not academics in areas where they are bordering on ignorant and lacking the basic Tennet of Judaism—Emunah P’Shuta and Bittul HaYesh.

Each week in a Shule I go to, we have a ‘game’ where we try to spot the Chumra of the week from a well known shtiebel in Melbourne. I get upset. Others find it comical. The Rav is a big Talmid Chacham. Recently he discussed Memareach (smearing cream) on Shabbos. Did he quote the Shmiras Shabbos’s important Psak from R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, no? Why? a lack of Intellectual dishonesty and perverse notion of Torah is my answer. Did he mention that it doesn’t apply to hard surfaces like teeth where it can not be absorbed even MiDerabonon? No. He can and may argue if course, and disagree, but not to mention it and not to argue the point is part if our compartmentalised Toras HaHelem (missing Torah). By all means conclude that you don’t recommend it for various reasons but you must also mention that those who do rely on Giants with shoulders as broad and broader than many of those quoted. This is a living Judaism of B’Nei Torah. It’s a perverse Judaism to omit such on purpose and effectively brainwash a Kehilla or Yereim and Sheleimim. To me. THIS is the difference between centrist orthodoxy and charedism. The former are open and intellectually honest and complete. The latter are cocooned in a hermetically sealed perversion of halachic consideration which buttresses a jaundiced view, at the cost of the vista of opinion. It’s almost cult like.

Talmidei Chachomim earning a living

I have written about this here.

I don’t always agree with Rav Aviner. For example, I disagree vehemently with his attitude towards Rabbi Elon. On the issue below [Hat tip NB]  he is undoubtedly right. There isn’t any reason someone who knows Torah and continues to learn should be a pauper. If they do want that, perhaps they should set up a Kollel in Vietnam?

Prominent Dati Leumi Posek Rabbi Shlomo Ha-Cohain Aviner Shlit”a addressed a statistic reporting that 40% of Charedim do not work. The Rav stated that due to the economic realities in Israel today, an Avreich (married Yeshiva student) must learn a profession that permits him to support his family. “A Talmid Yeshiva cannot remain in Yeshiva indefinitely. He must earn a living and it is not enough to say ‘Hashem will take care of things and it will be fine’”.

He told students during a Shiur that there are Avreichim who go to soup kitchens daily, and that in some Charedi homes children regularly go hungry.  That is why a husband must be able to earn a living. A Talmid can learn for a number of years as everyone must, but at some point one must reflect and determine if one will be a Rav or Rebbe and if not, it is time to look for work. The Rav added that not everyone is suited to be a Rav or Rebbe, though most believe they are, and while one may be a Talmid Chacham there is still the issue of earning a livelihood. Batei Medrashim are bursting with Talmidei Chacham that do not have work because all of the jobs in the Yeshivot are taken.

The Rav then addressed Avreichim who used to make do with the bare minimum. “Once upon a time, man slept on straw like Rabbi Akiva and this was fine.  But today it is not possible to live like this. We may sleep on straw but how will one pay tuition for one’s children? One does not have to eat Prili (type of fruit yogurt) daily but even when living austerely there is a need for money to pay for different necessities.  We cannot change reality with Pilpul. Perhaps in Vietnam one can survive on one dollar a day but in Israel it is impossible.”

Johannesburg and Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3058

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

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

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