ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav describes sparingly and with restraint the things he and thousands of his volunteers at ZAKA do. ZAKA is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) organization that rescues, identifies, and traces Jewish disaster victims in Israel and all over the world under sometimes virtually impossible conditions. Such a mission requires love of one’s fellow man, great empathy, faith, and a belief that good will come of it. It requires Zahav, a man with impeccable curly white payess (sidecurls).
Two months ago, following a four-year struggle, ZAKA won recognition as an official UN consultant and observer. The eventual decision was taken unanimously by a special UN committee composed of representatives of 19 countries, including Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Turkey, China, Russia, Pakistan, Uruguay, Burundi, Greece, the US, and Israel.
“Globes”: Did Iran and Pakistan also vote in favor?
Zahav: “There was no opposition, not even one country. We sent our representative, who met with every one of the committee members. The Iranians asked us if the report that ZAKA treats Jews first and Arabs later at terrorist events was true. We said that they hadn’t read it correctly. We treat the victim first, and then the murderer, regardless of nationality. They realized this, and voted in favor.”
About-face: From extremist haredi operations officer to national hero
Once upon a time, Zahav was the operations officer of the Eda Haredit extremist haredi group. He led demonstrations against Sabbath desecration, burnt Israeli flags, fasted and wore mourning clothes on Israel Independence Day, illegally removed dead bodies from the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to prevent autopsies from being performed and put mice into the pathologists’ rooms, and sneaked onto archeological sites in order to prevent archeological excavations. Since then, however, Zahav has been honored by being asked to light a torch on Mt. Herzl while calling aloud in a clear voice, “For the glory of the state of Israel.” His grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Sheinberger, the mythological leader of the Eda Haredit and a fanatical opponent of the founding of Israel, refused to speak with Zahav for the last four years of his life. For Sheinberger, what Zahav did was a desecration of God’s name.
The change in Zahav began on July 6, 1989, when a terrorist blew up a bus on the 405 route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It happened on a road in front of the Telz-Stone yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) in Neva Ilan. Zahav and his friends wanted to see what was happening, “and then, when the dismembered bodies were laid out before my eyes, when the sirens were echoing among the smoky fragments of the bus, when the bloodstained clothes were scattered over the area, when entire families were broken and erased in an instant, I realized that the quarrels between us were meaningless. The type of skullcap you wear and the kind of clothes you wear pale in comparison with the real war we’re faced with. The Arab enemy doesn’t distinguish between the blood of a haredi, a secular person, and someone who’s modern Orthodox. We’re all connected. There’s no right or left. Everyone’s pain is the same. That was the moment when I crossed the lines and abandoned the ideology of haredi Judaism,” he later said, just before lighting the torch in honor of the ZAKA volunteers in 2003.
“Since then,” he says today, “I have been repenting. I put my efforts in the right place.” That also includes severe criticism of the leaders of the community he is identified with. “I didn’t see the haredi leaders with the bereaved families,” he said during one of the IDF campaigns in the Gaza Strip. “There were 20,000 people at the funeral, but I didn’t see black clothes there. There might have been haredim here or there, but when we want to, we can fill any place with black clothes.”
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 🙂
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)
I was discussing a topic at Shule concerning why I wasn’t a regular purchaser of Hamodia. He asked me what I didn’t like. I suggested that I always felt like I was reading Disneyland when I read Hamodia’s description of any living or departed “Gadol” from yesteryear. Sure, I’m known to be a cynic. That’s different from being cycnical per se and is probably the wrong word in context. Being a cynic is probably a precursor or post effect from being a scientist of sorts. I have found that I see or notice things some do not. That’s unlikely to be a brain thing, but rather a training thing. I’ve been taught for so many years to dissect each word and scrutinise what’s written it’s invaded by mode of processing information. It’s a good invasion.
Consequently, when I read all the incredible stories about Great Rabonim and the occasional Rebbetzin? I am left with a feeling that “between the lines” there is much missing. What is missing? For me, it is the struggles, the emotions, the human side: the good and triumphant verses the struggles which weren’t always triumphant. I feel cheated. I know, as we all do, that there isn’t a family with a closet hidden and where some skeleton hangs proverbially. With Hamodia I am being treated with a menu of historiography and/or not well researched history. This extends way beyond Hamodia itself. Why, the (not so Holy) Artscroll translation decided they had jursidiction over the words of Rashi’s eynikel, the great Rishon, the Rashbam of the early 1000’s and chose to omit various things he “said wrong” or “should be hidden today”. No doubt, that was with permission of a “Choshuve” Rov or three, but I still don’t buy it. To me this consititites Olam HaSheker, the world of lies. Lies by commission and sometimes commission. He, a Gerrer Chossid, opined that he could see nothing wrong with positivity as motivating force. I took his point, but countered that unlike former times, one simple can no longer escape the “real world”. If a child/talmid is imbued with brains and if they are also pursuers of truth and rigor, I think that the “world would come down” on such and they may cease to believe or start to doubt. They then separate into two types:
those that go through all the motions even with all the chumros, but deep down because they have felt they have been lied to, no longer believe anything . Social, Economic and other pressures make it too hard for them to break away
those who have either experienced a bad incident or whose mind is too fertile to ignore the truth when they eventually discover it, either through interaction with a library, the internet, work and plain life and choose to leave the world of their parents and are banished and shamed as a result.
I’m reminded of a story which Mr Sperling of Elwood Shule used to tell me every Yom Kippur (in the days when Elwood had characters). In Yiddish he would relay how his father was very frum but his sons ranged in their frumkeit. One brother was completely not religious and was a card carrying member of the Communist party. This was not as uncommon as many people would have you believe. Yet, on Kol Nidrei night he had respect for his father and stood with all his brothers alongside their father. When the Chazan genuinely started saying (no choirs, organs, guitars and all the shticks people use today) Or Zarua LaTzadik אור זרוע לצדיק the communist boy’s leg went into an incontrollable shake. Mr Sperling used to rib him in the elbow each year and say “Nu, so you discovered God one night each year and you tzittered (trembled with awe) because your let always gives it away”.
To be sure, choosing what to expose one’s kids to it’s a delicate balancing act. It is one each parent and School considers. There are extremes and middle grounds and hilly grounds. There are a number of Schools that censure text books or story books or censor these in part. Do they think that the kids don’t notice glued pages or redacted texta? They do, and in many cases it makes them want to see the original so they know. People have a thirst for knowledge. The key is to quench the thirst in a meaningful way. Does anyone believe all the non Jewish books in the famous Lubavitch library fell in by carrier pigeon?
Defining what a “meaningful way” is complex. To give a comparison: It isn’t meaningful for anyone to give lower precedence to Tzniyis, be it for a male or female. At the same time, when one introduces laws (especially for women) that make them uncomfortably hot on a summer’s day, one really is using up מסירות נפש for the secondary, and not the primary. I’m not of course suggesting they prance barefoot in the gardens in white on Tu B’Av (would any Rav allow that today?) watched on by potential suitors. Yes, males and females should keep the עיקרים of Tzniyus. In terms of חומרות however, it is a very brave person who can pretend that their entire Kehilla are בעלי נפש people who are quietly and surreptitiously מחמיר on themselves across the gamut of Torah.
ָAnother example: we’ve over focussed on the claim that there can be nothing can be good in secular studies (unless you make a quick buck thereafter). This is simply untrue. Many of the greatest Rishonim and Acharonim disagreed. So you will say, yes, but that’s because they were on a Madrega, and we are not. I will counter that aside from the study of philosophy, where one would really need to be a learned בעל מדריגה if they were to cope with it, most University studies actually perform the side effect which allows one to see just how much צלם אלוקים they own. It is almost a פרוזדור to the real world, but one where you are learning as opposed to being bossed and working for someone else. You aren’t about to encounter כפירה if you study accountancy, computer science, law, medicine, architecture, mathematics, and much more. And if your bent is biology and those sciences, you would do well to be well acquainted with Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s books, as well as his interlocutor Rav Moshe Meisselman, beforehand. You will be equipped. I’ve seen kids grow in their Yiddishkeit בדווקה because they are exposed to the חושך and are much more able to discern the אור and radiate within it and grow.
I remember the days when just about every Adass graduate who didn’t join their father’s business, went to Prahran Tech (as it was then known). It was normal. They used a short series of English names: George and Peter made up over 50% of them. (I will never understand how Hungarian Adassniks of yesteryear and today chose Peter of all names!). I think that was the Adass of the Germans and Oberlanders. Today it’s the world of Chassidim.
It is with this that I come to Rav Ya’akov Emden who is universally acclaimed as an outstanding Talmid Chacham. The son of the famed Chacham Tzvi, he didn’t need to even come second to his father. His entire mantra was truth which is why a healthy dose of skepticism had him at loggerheads with R’ Yonasan Eybesheutz. Most will never be told that he wrote an auto-biography. That of itself tells you lots about the man and that he did what he thought was right; not what others were doing “as right”. That Sefer is known as Megilas Sefer. I believe there have been three editions. Why so many editions? Of course, the answer is that people “greater and holier” than Rav Ya’akov Emden censored the Ya’avetz (as he is known) because “it was the right thing to do” and never allowed the whole thing to be printed.
I mentioned it a while ago in a learning hall and one צורבא דרבנן contacted me privately and asked if he could borrow my new english translation. I left it for him to pick up, and I assume he will read it and eventually give it back. Alas, many of my Seforim go walk about because I rely on a faulty memory and end up blaming myself for misplacing.
I got so much out of that Sefer as well as the banned (shock horror) “Making of a Gadol” by the Rosh Yeshivah Harav Noson Kaminestsky as relayed to him by his own father the famed R’ Ya’akov Kaminetzky. (By the way R’ Ya’akov was actually related to very well-known Chassidim from Chabad, and there is a famous picture I had which I can’t put my finger on, with him an Rav Mendel Futerfass and I forget the third)
Why do I write on this topic? Well, we have the “going off the Derech phenomenon”. I’ve read at least one wonderful book on that topic. I don’t believe that the problem is with the kids. The problem is with us. How much אמת do we exude, and when we do, how much אמת do we hide when we don’t allow them to also see חכמה בגויים תאמין. There isn’t one answer. There is a multifaceted approach, and its starts with every kid. They see our faults and they see what’s important to us. Their respect for us and יהדות stems largely from this.
I’m reminded of a story, when then Prime Minister Begin used to come to the USA he visited the Rav, HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik (warning: anyone who calls him JB (especially Lubavitchers) don’t say it near me because I will give you a severe tongue lashing) because Begin’s father was R’ Chaim Brisker’s Shamash (some will try to change this fact, of course). Once Begin felt he wanted to discuss world politics and bounce his views off the Rav. He emerged from his meeting of an hour shaking his head. They asked him “how was the meeting” and he said “this man deeply knows as much if not more about Israeli and American politics than I did”. The Talmidim asked the Rav how he knew such things. He answered that the prime lesson he learned from his Zayda, R’ Chaim Brisker, and his father R’ Moshe, was: reading the lines of anything be it a Rambam or a mere newspaper, was only half the work. One had to work out the line that was missing that wasn’t written. Consequently, when he read the paper, the Rav used to intuit that which was purposeful elided by reporters and editors and then work out why, and based on this and his genius, develop a view on what the Emes really was.
And here we are today: we have picture books for kids with Moshe Rabenu dressed like someone from B’Nei Brak. What narishkeit is that? Do you think Moshe Rabenu wore boots? I’d say he didn’t. Do you think he wore a turban like hat. I’d say he did. How many people (aside from poosteh Mizrachi) do you see in B’Nei Brak wearing sandals? No, it’s strictly forbidden. It’s an almost יהרג ואל יעבור
That reminds me of another story. In the days I went to Bombay, Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי’’ד had one of those questions. None of the remaining Iraqi Jews were Cohanim, and the Bene Yisrael had no Cohanim (especially if you believe they came from another lost tribe). In fact there were no Leviim either. One day, there was an Israeli guy, frum, who was a Cohen (I often had to Duchen on Shabbos and learned the Baghdadi chant by imitating the B’aal Tefilla). The Israeli took of his sandals and the oldest Baghdadi Jew took offence, saying how can one Duchen in bare feet. There was a back and forth, and this Baghdadi Jew who was normally very quiet (he has passed on now, and I have fond memories of his Middos) said they should not have Bircas Cohanim if the Cohen wasn’t wearing socks. Rav Gavriel in a stroke of genius suggested that the Baghdadi Jew give the Israeli Cohen his own socks and the problem would be solved. I will leave the rest to your imagination.
We’ve been taken in by the פרט or purposely erased it.
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 following is an edited, summary of a talk by Rav Cherlo, from Rabbi Dr Eli Turkel and is printed here with permission]
Who is Rav Yuval Cherlo?
He speaks English. He is a Posek of note from the centrist camp, who writes Tshuvos. He is a Rosh Yeshivah in Petach Tikvah. He was a founder of the moderate Tzohar. He served in the army and attended Har Etzyon. He is considered a sound moderate religious Zionist who sits in the centre and is widely respected. He is inclusive but maintains strict fidelity to authentic Halacha.
Rav Yuval Cherlow שליט’’א
During the controversy between the politically puppeteered Chief Rabbinate about extending the tenure of Rabbi Riskin of Efrat (see here and here) Rav Cherlo made the following comments. These need to be considered seriously considering the source.
Rav Cherlow gave a 1 1/2 hour talk last night on the chief rabbinate and R Riskin.
Rav Cherlow is the head of a hesder yeshiva and very active in medical ethics on several government committees.
Enclosed is a brief (from 90 min) summary.
There are 2 main purposes to the Rabbinate in Israel:
1) represent the Jewish Religion to the nation; and
2) halachic decisions – involving mainly kashrut and marriage & divorce (conversion is not officially listed as being done by the rabbinic courts)
The beginning of the end of the chief rabbinate began with the fight between Rav Goren and Rav Ovadya Yosef, which brought the chief rabbinate to an effective stand still and more of a titular position.
Today the majority of non-religious Jews have little interest in the rabbinate. The Charedim mainly want to weaken and control the rabbinate but don’t respect it. That leaves only the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionists) who potentially care.
The low point was the election of Rabbi Meltzer over Rav Ariel in the previous election. The two are not in the same ballfield with Rav Ariel a far superior candidate on all fronts, but Rabbi Meltzer won on political grounds [me: he had a deal with his old friend from Kerem B’Yavneh, Rav Yossi Efrati who was the right hand man of Rav Elyashiv, to follow the views of Rav Elyashiv ז’ל. Rabbi Meltzer used to sit not far away from me in the Beis Midrash, but he was older and in 5th year as I recall when I arrived.]
I don’t really want to talk about chief rabbis that are being prosecuted.
Rabbi David Lau the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi is extremely capable, but won’t take any controversial stand. When asked about pushing for organ transplants he says Rabbi X objects to it. In terms of influence in the country his cousin, Rabbi Benny Lau has a greater presence. Rabbi Riskin is also an inspiration to others (when the radio wants a spokeman or there is a public debate Rabbi Benny Lau or Rav Cherlow are usually chosen).
To my surprise Rav Cherlow claims that the largest public religious events in Israel are the various programs on Shavuot night!
The chief rabbinate is slowly losing all of its power. Today some 100,000 Non-Jews are Israeli citizens recognised by the Law of Return (chok hashvut) with no hope or interest in converting.
In Cyprus the wedding places are all set up for those Israelis who can’t or don’t wish to marry through the rabbinate. This is in addition to all the couples living together without formal marriage. Soon, a minority of couples living together will have been married through the Rabbinate. This obviously means that they also will not be divorced through the rabbinical courts when they separate.
Hence, conversion causes less of a problem as they marry elsewhere and being Jewish isn’t important to them. Rav Cherlow brought a story that a brother of the Rav from Ponovezh was intending to marry a non Jewess. A conversion was arranged for the woman within 3 days!
According to Israeli law only the rabbinate can give a certificate of kashrut. Presently the various badatzim (Charedi Batei Din) only claim supervision without actually stating that it is kosher. There is a movement of other local groups that will start their own kashrut supervision. There is currently a case in front of the court requesting that any Rabbi be able to give a kashrut certificate.
In general many functions of the rabbinate are being taken over by Tzohar which not only performs marriages but also organizes many events for the public.
Many of the Dati Leumi Knesset members are in parties other than bayit hayehudi (the Religious Zionist party). Many of them are willing to dissolve the rabbinate as they feel it does more harm than good. An example is Rabbi Shai Piron who is a leading member of Yesh Atid. Others are in the Likud.
What about the future: There are two options:
1) dissolve the rabbinate and have a situation similar to the US [of separation of religion and state] (however the government will still fund religious events). This will happen by law or informally over time
2) make the current Rabbinate more inclusive and serving larger elements of the population.
Rav Cherlow personally is in favor of the second option. Now, much of Israeli society is traditional. They go through the Rabbinate because it is the accepted way and they have no problems. Once the rabbinate loses its monopoly many of these will choose other options.
The rabbinate claims to have problems with R Riskin because he criticises the Rabbinate and doesn’t always follow the rules. However, many town rabbis from the charedi side do the same thing but are never criticised for their actions. In fact two sets of religious courts have recently released agunot on very controverisal and contradictory reasons.
Town rabbis officially have no retirement age – the only government workers with that rule. Recently a law was passed requiring town rabbis to prove they are healthy at the age of 75 to continue. Until now that law was a formality. Rabbi Riskin is the first town rabbi to be called in for a formal hearing!
R Cherlow says that he has many disagreements with R. Riskin. However, should the chief rabbinate decide that they have the power to say that an orthodox rule is illegitimate (not just wrong on certain issues) then that is the straw that would force Rav Cherlow to object to the entire establishment. Many town rabbis just collect a salary and don’t do anything. To take a rabbi who is an inspiration to many and throw him out because he is too liberal, is simply too much for Rav Cherlow.
Interestingly the chief rabbinate announced that they will not be swayed by public opinion. That itself is a symbol of their problem. What the people of Efrat feel is irrelevant. In the end the Dati Leumi population will vote with the feet and already the other groups have no respect for the rabbinate. That institution will be left with zero support.