Sigh. Another nihilist post from Alex Fein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My comments in response to your prose will be in red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some important points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they were women, you’d feel better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS. You aren’t young anymore, Alex.

Great, I hope you have a nice Seder

We are just at the beginning of all of this.

I’m excited.

I hope you are too.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame

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

You want it darker

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

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

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

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We kill the flame

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

It started with a snippet from a sheltered letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The central questions given the letter  were,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin ז׳ל

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Chaim Dalfin
Rabbi Chaim Dalfin

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rav (second from left) with Rav Shmuel Walkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Dalfin states,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rebbe and the Rav
The Rebbe and the Rav

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rashab
The Rashab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky
Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky

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

ravmoshesoloveitchik
Rav Moshe Soloveitchik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik

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

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

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

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

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

I find Rabbi Dalfins comment that

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

I had posted on this.

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

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

Here is the article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

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

[Hat tip NB]

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

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

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

Caulfield Shule President misses the crucial point

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

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

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

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

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

Males who refuse a Gett; an appropriate response

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

The text of the RCA Resolution reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are just my thoughts.

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

I read with incredulity the continuing slide to the left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just expressed my humble thoughts.

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

The Gay Pride March in Jerusalem

If one is Orthodox and as a matter of belief, the Torah is the word of God, then one cannot escape that certain acts of sexual relations are forbidden, including some of those being exposed through a march.

In Halacha, there are several categories of people who perform acts which constitute sin, many unrelated to sexual acts, where their capacity to act as Torah ordained witnesses is diminished. There are some who do this out of want, and others who do this out of rebellion against the Torah.

I have no doubt that there are many people who struggle with the fact that their desires, sexually, are considered a matter of shame to the extent that they don’t wish to disclose this information, except in trusted (safe) environments. Berating someone for having such desires, or call it a disposition (research on this will emerge over the next ten years, have no doubt), is not of value in this day. Indeed, it could cause someone to feel that they are so hopeless, that they make take their own life in the worst case, or become so depressed that they cannot function as a human being.

It is known that many contemporary sages have said that we no longer have the skill of “telling someone off” for straying from Torah. I believe this is true. The best way to influence someone is to be a living and shining example of what a Jew with unconditional belief, and intellectual submission to the Torah means, and that such a person can be pleasant and sensitive, as can the Judaism they practice.

Intellectual submission to Torah in the form of Emunah is something that is axiomatic for the practicing Orthodox Jewish person. Belief, by its nature transcends intellect. Reasons for commands are there primarily to explore the “what can be derived” from Judaism, as Rav Soloveitchik explained, however, reasons, do not have a place in the “why must I do this command”. The why question exists only when there isn’t submission. In Chassidic terminology this may be termed Bitul.

I understand, and I am happy to be corrected that there may be two motives for a parade of this sort:

  1. To promote the life style as being acceptable
  2. To express the view that nobody should live in fear, or be cut off, as a result of their orientation.

Promotion of such a life style is not compatible with Torah. To put it crudely, one would also be against a march which said “It’s okay to do away with Shabbat”. The common element is that they are immutable Torah imperatives, and the quest to seek adherents to such views is anathema to a Torah observant Jew. Indeed, we find great Halachic difference in the Jew who breaks the Sabbath in private versus the one who honks the horn when passing the Rabbi walking to Shule, with the aim of showing that “I don’t care about Sabbath”, or the person who eats prawns because they “just love the taste”.

In terms of the Gay Pride march, if the aim is point 2 above, then I think its existence transcends religion. There are various types of people who don’t accept this reality for other reasons. It is important to make sure that all those who have predilections and quandaries, are not made to feel that they are “outside the tent”. They are in the tent. A more sophisticated approach would be how to engage them, should they personally wish to be engaged on the topic, and make them feel that there are hundreds of Mitzvos that are applicable to them, as much as anyone else. On this point, it would be useful if Rabbis of skill got together and devised some guidelines.

With that in mind, I felt the statements of some 300 Religious Zionist Rabbis achieved nothing positive in respect of the marchers, except for Nir Barkat choosing to remain Pareve and not attend for what he called “sensitivity” reasons. If those Rabbis thought that there was a lack of knowledge about various sins and how they are treated in Judaism, then there are other ways to interact with the various groups. The religious group need a different approach than the one of the non practicing variety. Those approaches need to be advanced and not simple. Quoting a verse, for which the irreligious marchers have no regard, is a waste of time. Do they not know this already?

Point 1 though is something that I do not think should happen from a Halachic viewpoint. I do not see a reason to seek recruits to swell the numbers engaging in such a life style.

The gay pride movement is not without blame here, either. They have much to answer for. Jerusalem is the Holiest City, as such, sensitivity, indeed the same sort of sensitivity they demand when respecting their sexual orientation, should imply that this is definitely not the City where one chooses to march. In the process, they are trampling on sensitivities that they do not understand and in some cases are antagonistic towards. Why do this? It only creates antipathy and division. Of course, this does not mean that there are people in Jerusalem who are confronted with the issue of being gay (or GBLTIQ). They are in Rishon LeTzion, Haifa, and not confined to some geographic point in Israel.

If they have had an Israel march in Tel Aviv, then it’s happened. It can be marketed as such: the location of the march doesn’t signify that it is only for those who live in Tel Aviv. There is no need to offend the Torah based sensibilities in Jerusalem, the Holy City, when sensible alternatives which achieve the same aim are possible. Some of the responsibility for the rhetoric that has occurred, rests with those who also wish to remove the notion that Jerusalem is any holier a place, in Israel. Ironically, that’s what the Arabs do. It is not what Jews do: be they practicing orthodox or otherwise. If they throw a spark into flammable material, then expect a raging fire.

I would have liked to have seen two outcomes from the march:

  1. Jerusalem is considered a no go zone for such marches as the outcome is to cause more antipathy, and that’s precisely what they are trying to overcome. It will actually heighten the problem for GBLTIQ people who will feel minimised.
  2. The Rabbis, need to be more sophisticated in the statements that they put out in response to such events. There should have been meetings beforehand between the organisers and Rabbinic leaders and I expect that a better outcome would have occurred. Of course any Orthodox Rabbi will quote the Torah here if asked. The Torah’s views are not hidden, nor are they unknown. However, I do not know what is achieved by calling such people names as a method to reduce the occurrence of people performing forbidden acts of the Torah.

It is a democracy. That also implies that the Jews of Jerusalem should have a say about the compatibility of the event occurring also in Jerusalem. If the motive is to preach secularism, then it is secularism, not being Gay, that is the issue here. Silent peaceful marches against creeping secularism where Israelis are identifying as nothing different to a non-Jew who lives in Israel (and sees Israel as their secular home country). This may even come to resemble the French Republican model.

It is at times like this, that we need the wise counsel of the lover of all Jews in Israel, Rav Kook. He knew how to ignite the spark of Judaism in Jews who were adopting other isms in Israel and he did so through positive acts. It is time the Rabbis examined their methods of protest and became more advanced in their way of expounding the real basis and foundation for which Jews live in Israel in the first place.

Some will sophomorically claim that this is just the Charedi Leumi section of Religious Zionism, and that they are no different to other Charedim in 90% of their outlook. Rav Kook was a Charedi; there is no doubt about that. One does not have to become a wishy-washy, left-wing, tree-hugging, apologetic Rabbi with a community of people who are lax in increasing numbers, to be qualified to respond to these events.

Unfortunately, our generation doesn’t have a Rav Kook. It doesn’t have a Lubavitcher Rebbe or a Rav Soloveitchik. Apart from Rabbi Sacks who is wonderfully adept at expressing Torah views without causing others to become anti-Torah, we are lacking Rabbinic leaders who understand people, and not only the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch.

Rabbi Riskin: the other side of the coin

[Hat tip NB]

This is from Rabbi Yoni Rosenzweig who was a Rosh Kollel in Mizrachi for a several years. I do not know him, and I think I only spoke to him once on Purim over a passuk in the Megilla at Rabbi Sprung’s house. I say I “think” because it was Purim and the memory is hazy 🙂

That being said, the interaction between my car and it’s bluetooth implementation and my phone, causes a shiur (I have about 2000 on my iPhone) to come on when I drive. On Friday, I heard part 2 of one from Rabbi Professor Sperber (who is known for his fantastic series on Minhagim). There were aspects that disturbed me. I will try to listen to Part 1 and 2 and blog about that in the future.

One thing I did come away with was that Professor Sperber’s description of his daughter’s Judaism, and what I know of Shira Chadasha in Melbourne are many many miles apart. Below, is what Rabbi Rosenzweig apparently wrote on Facebook in response to Rabbi Gordimer (I haven’t seen the original)

Rabbi Riskin gave an interview yesterday in which he posited that the Reform an Conservative movements are not enemies, but rather partners (see link in the comments). In response, Rabbi Gordimer wrote a scathing response (link below in the comments).

I must take issue with Rabbi Gordimer’s comments. I would like to start off by saying that as my family was also very close with The Rav, and also very much involved in YU, I have – despite my growing up here – always been privy to many stories regarding Rabbi Riskin, both positive and negative, and have been “kept in the loop” through those circles and connections.

But I never really knew Rabbi Riskin until I started working for him (and still work in one of his institutions). Throughout my work in Ohr Torah I have had many opportunities to sit with him, discuss both practical and theoretical issues, and hear his position on many a topic.

I can say two things without hesitation: (1) Rabbi Riskin and I disagree on a whole bunch of stuff. I can count on more than two hands the Halachic and philosophical positions he has taken which I disagree with. We have very different outlooks. (2) Rabbi Riskin is a completely authentic and genuine person. He doesn’t pander, doesn’t change his opinion in order to get as many “likes” as possible. That’s not his way. He really and genuinely believes in his positions, and thinks they will benefit the Jewish people.

Rabbi Gordimer’s insinuations otherwise are scandalous. To call Rabbi Riskin a “superstar Rabbi”, or to say he is just trying to be “politically correct” or to “gain popular appeal” – that’s just slander. If he wants to talk about the issues, he can do that, but to attack Rabbi Riskin’s character is off-the-wall, especially as it misses the mark completely.

Even to claim he is Open Orthodox is doubtful in my eyes. Look at the article Rabbi Riskin published in Techumin, regarding women receiving Aliyot to the Torah. He outright prohibits it. Is that the psak of an Open Orthodox Rabbi, trying to gain public appeal and score points with the liberal public? Or is that the position of someone who will tell you what he thinks is right, regardless of how it makes him look (and no doubt people looked to him to allow that as well)?

My father – who sat in The Rav’s shiur – once told me that no matter what, he believes anyone who was in The Rav’s shiur and was close with The Rav, is kept honest by that experience, because whenever he does anything, he sees The Rav’s face in front of him, and that keeps him from straying off the straight and narrow.

So I don’t worry about Rabbi Riskin, who has done so much for the Jewish people – even if you think his comment was mistaken this time around. I worry about that the people who slander him, that the flame of their self-righteousness shouldn’t blind them from seeing the forest from the trees.

Attention: the dormant Rabbinic Council of Victoria

The following is from Arutz Sheva from the respected Rabbi Gordimer re Rabbi Riskin’s creeping to the left.

[Hat tip DS]

Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. His writings on Jewish topics are published widely.

It is sometimes hard to believe what we are reading, as things are turned upside down in an effort to be politically correct and gain popular appeal. Orthodox Judaism has never sought to be politically correct – on the contrary, it has stood its guns no matter what direction the winds are blowing. Unfortunately, with the case of Modern Orthodox rabbis who have crossed the line into Open Orthodoxy, it has become almost commonplace to read the unbelievable, things that would never have been expressed were Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l, the Torah luminary of American Modern Orthodoxy, still with us. Sometimes, shocking ideas are articulated in direct contravention of his views, with the excuse that “times have changed.” Since when has that wellworn excuse been used in Orthodoxy?

This, much as it hurts to write it, seems to be the case when it comes to rabbinic superstar, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, who seems to be on a much publicized collision course with tradition. There was the “Rabbi Jesus Video” (which Rabbi Riskin later said did not represent his views, due to the video’s poor editing), his promoting the chanting of Megillath Ruth by a woman at the main minyan of a synagogue under his jurisdiction, and other ideas that fly in the face of Orthodox tradition. A once modern rabbinic icon who did much to bring people closer to Torah, Rabbi Riskin has in his later years adopted positions that fly in the face of normative Torah understanding. (Please also see the later portion of this linked article regarding Rabbi Riskin’s involvement with Christian ministries.)

Although one could have otherwise, perhaps favorably interpreted Rabbi Riskin’s hair-raising idea in his recent public pronouncement on Arutz Sheva that the Reform and Conservative movements are partners in Jewish outreach to have been intended to express the demarcation between acceptance of Reform and Conservative Jews themselves and unequivocal opposition to their leaders and their interpretations of Judaism, a view held by respected rabbinic authorities, that is clearly not what Rabbi Riskin said.  Rather, Rabbi Riskin stated:  “They’re not tearing Jews away but bringing them closer… That may have been true at the beginning of the Reform Movement, but it’s very different now – they’re trying to bring Jews closer. Not to the wholeness, the fullness of Orthodox Judaism that I love and that I know, but nevertheless they’re trying to bring Jews closer.” In other words, it is the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements whom Rabbi Riskin praises!

This leadership is bringing Jews closer to what? Intermarriage?  Christmas trees and menorahs in the living room? A total departure from normative halakhic Judaism?

Let us look at that greatest danger to the continuity of the Jewish people, not the just as important continuity of its halakhic framework. On a factual level, not only are most Reform Jews (and non-Orthodox Jews in general) intermarried today, and not only does the head of the Reform movement extol intermarriage, but there has been serious discussion within the Reform movement to permit its rabbis to themselves be intermarried. The Reconstructionist movement has gone further, formally allowing its rabbis to be intermarried, and a large plurality of rabbis in the Conservative movement favor the performance of intermarriages. In fact, the Conservative movement’s USY youth group now permits its leadership to interdate

To endorse these movements as positive and as forces for bringing Jews closer to Judaism is downright wrong and even farcical. Although these groups may espouse some type of Jewish identity, they embody and encourage assimilation and the abandonment of Jewish tradition and commitment. And it is happening before our eyes.

Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.

It is therefore not only incorrect to refer to these groups as partners in bringing Jews closer to Judaism, but it is dangerous, as such a statement empowers and validates groups which threaten the very integrity and future of authentic Judaism in every manner.

There is no need for elaboration, as the issue is not subtle or nuanced; endorsing the heterodox movements is tantamount to endorsing the dismantling and destruction of traditional Judaism.

Many of my friends were immensely impacted by Rabbi Riskin in a most positive way during his early tenure in the United States, as he energetically established Torah institutions of the highest caliber. My friends miss the old Rabbi Riskin. We all wish that he would return.

The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s opinion and do not represent any organizations. 

Centrist (Modern) Orthodoxy will die in Melbourne

Chabad are everywhere except where they aren’t. They work hard at it, and some are very good at it. They are entitled to the fruits of many years of work.

Those remaining Rabbis who aren’t Chabad, are almost exclusively left-wing. You can’t be modern if you aren’t left-wing. Consider that the Rabbinic Council of Victoria cannot make a statement about Open Orthodoxy (which is today’s incarnation of Conservative Judaism, except, in the words of Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter, “they can’t learn and perverted Yahadus”.)

The Rabbinic Council, led by (Chabad) Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick knew about the issue in Melbourne before it occurred, but have chosen silence. This is misguided as it won’t go away. If you are a Chabad Rabbi, then you don’t really care. You only care about the Jew, not the labels. You perform the tasks you believe will cause the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s return from on high to lead the Jews out of Golus. In my view that is why the Rabbinic Council is toothless. Shules are there because they include Jews who need to have their Klipos removed. I don’t include mavericks like M.G. Rabi in this; he has no community, only kashrus businesses.

Case 1: Rabbi Shamir Caplan (who is a lovely soft person) of Beit Aharon invites a “Maharat” whose title then morphs in other later advertising to “Rabbi”.

Case 2: Rabbi Ralph Genende of Caulfield Shule (who seems to have a penchant for quoting non Torah literature in his speeches) has decided to host the cutely misnamed Rabbi Ysoscher Katz from YCT. YCT is the left-wing break away from YU which has been considered beyond the pale by the Rabbinic Council of America.

Who in Melbourne cares? If it isn’t obvious, Shules in Melbourne will be led by young “I’m your friend style, Chabad Rabbis OR left wingers like Rabbis Caplan and Genende.

Rabbi Ralph Genende, second from the left at the well. Greens’ leader Di Natale is third from the right.

In truth, Jews actually need knowledgeable centrist Rabbis who live in this world, and don’t have an agenda and who give Shiurim on a range of topics. Rabbis need to become educators again, not feel good functionaries. I can see Melbourne in 10 years deprecating into an architectural abyss of a former era. I’d rather Moshiach came NOW!

I haven’t mentioned Mizrachi because they are in their own category. They consider themselves as the only real religious zionist shule. I think it is true that more B’nei Akiva graduates go on Aliya, than any other congregation, but I’ve never been comfortable with them “owning” Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim services. I feel these should be held in a different Shule each year. That is a more positive thing to do.

Who is there to talk to? The moribund Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV)-The “lay body”? Don’t waste your time. There are lots of old furniture still running that group and the meetings are thoroughly uninspiring. If there wasn’t an Eruv, they would be dead, ironically.

The Council of European Orthodox Rabbis agrees with the Rabbinic Council of America on this issue, and the general issue of YCT, and rabbi Avi Weiss et al. I don’t imagine the congregants of Caulfield Shule give a tinker’s cuss. These days, you do whatever you can to “bring them in”. How do they measure success? Seat Payments or regular Shabbos attendance or …

Here is a view from the RCA

Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)

Oct 31, 2015 — Formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership, the full text of “RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis” states:
Whereas, after much deliberation and discussion among its membership and after consultation with poskim, the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously passed the following convention resolution at its April 2010 convention:
The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our members have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.
We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah (Jewish law), hashkafah (Jewish thought), tradition and historical memory.
In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.
Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah (Torah study), yir’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and dikduk b’mitzvot (scrupulous observance of commandments).
And whereas on May 7, 2013, the RCA announced:
In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010… The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America
Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
Commits to an educational effort to publicize its policy by:
Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.
This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha, community scholars, Yeshiva University’s GPATS, and non-rabbinic school teachers. So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as “Maharat” is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.

Congratulations to Rabbi Danny Mirvis and his family

Danny Lamm has not taken long before his committee (how many Lamms are on that committee, and people complain about Yeshiva!) has offered the position of Senior Rabbi to Rabbi Mirvis.

He ticks the boxes.

  1. He is a Religious Zionist from a Hesder Yeshiva
  2. He isn’t a Chabadnik (yes, I don’t believe Mizrachi would ever appoint a Chabadnik)
  3. He was educated in the more politically moderate Yeshivat Har Etzion
  4. He and his wife are charming and seem to be well-liked
  5. He will likely complete a four-year stint before returning to Israel (preferably the stint will be a lot less due to Geulah being in place)
  6. I have only shared a few lines of conversation with him, and heard him speak twice. He does his homework and is a likeable person. I do not know how he traverses the philosophies of Rav Amital vs Rav Lichtenstein, the former apparently having more of an influence on his outlook. Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein had enormous respect for each other but were very different, with Rav Amital having his own strong disagreements with R’ Tzvi Yehuda Kook on Rav Kook’s approach and the approach needed today.
  7. Perhaps most tellingly 🙂 when I introduced myself he said “Oh, Jackie Bassin’s Zayda”. I was expecting, “Oh, Adina Waller’s brother”. I learned from that, that he obviously had exposure to our grandson, and appreciated him, and that this was perhaps more my Yichus than being my sister’s brother :-). If he’d known my father and not mentioned that I was his son, I might have had some misgivings. Rabbi Sprung knew my father and often asked him what his secret was. Sadly, Rabbi Mirvis won’t, but happily he will see some of my parents’ great grandchildren one on one.
  8. He will give a more meaningful approach to Judaism than the more tree hugging, Tikun Olam, we embrace everything style of leadership or the “I do it different and I will shock you style from ARK”, and will respect Kashrus and support established authorities and ignore the communal maverick.

Prior to that, the name “Mirvis” only registered with me in respect of his Uncle Johnny. Johnny who is no doubt also a Rabbi, was in fifth year of Hesder at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, when I joined Kerem B’Yavneh. I didn’t have much to do with him, partly because of my reclusive nature, and partly because he concentrated on the English and American Bochurim, for whom he was given a particular mashpia style role. I only knew of his father when he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, although I need to declare that I am not a Monarchist, and consider both Philip and Elizabeth anti semites. The latter would visit a toilet in Ghana before stepping into Israel, and the former cantankerous oddity only goes to visit his mother’s grave, in a private capacity. Charles is hardly pro-Jewish either. Let me repeat what I have stated in other posts. If one claims to be against anti-Semitism and can’t call Israel the JEWISH State, they are an anti-Semite in my eyes, irrespective of where one sets borders.

Good luck. It’s not an easy community. You will be pushed around (older generation) by pseudo-Mevinim, but the youth will rally around you, and in that way, you will be successful. Now, if you can get the grandfathers and great grandfathers out of “Beit Haroeh” and hand it over to Ohr David, that would be a great start. Beit Haroeh has passed its used by date long ago and its time they grew up and moved into the Main Shule.

I also hope they let you influence Yavneh in respect to its Torah learning programs, and not write you out of that equation as they did with previous Rabbis.

From an interview at Har Etzion:

After numerous years as Director of the Yeshivat Har Etzion Center for Torah Leadership (CTL), Danny Mirvis is stepping down ahead of moving to Australia to assume a new position at the Mizrachi community in Melbourne. Dublin-born and London-raised, Danny has held numerous positions in the Yeshiva including Madrich of MTA, Racaz of the Overseas Program and most recently, Director of CTL. We asked him some questions about his time with CTL and plans for the future.

How has CTL changed over the years?

CTL started off as an exciting dream with many great ideas. Over the years, those ideas have been developed and organized to create three focused areas of activity:

1) Partner Projects – Supporting a broad range of educational and social initiatives of alumni from Yeshivat Har Etzion and Migdal Oz, including a focus on women’s learning.

2) Torah Leadership – Developing the connection with alumni actively involved in the Rabbinate and Chinuch across the world through ongoing contact, regular conferences and supporting different Torah publications.

3) Future Leaders – Identifying and investing in students and alumni with significant leadership potential, through leadership programs and CTL’s Winter Fellowships.

What have been the highlights of your time with CTL?

Rabbi Doniel Schreiber, the Dean and Founder of CTL, is a man of tremendous passion and vision. To work together with him and see how that vision has become a reality has been a privilege and pleasure.

For me, CTL’s proudest achievements have been the partner projects we identified and supported in their early stages, which have gone on to blossom and thrive on their own two feet. To give just a few examples, Garinei Ayala is now three times the size it was when they first came to our office to ask for assistance. The Shiurim in Givat Shmuel and Katamon are now self-sufficient and continue to grow and attract large crowds. The late night Beit Midrash at Penn turned to us for assistance at its inception and has gone on to become a fully-fledged part of Penn’s learning program.

How do you see CTL developing in the future?

CTL’s primary area of focus – the alumni of Yeshivat Har Etzion and Migdal Oz – is a talented, dynamic and growing group. It is through these alumni that CTL aims and hopes to make a positive impact and genuine contribution to the world around us. As our alumni progress and grow in number, new opportunities will develop for CTL to expand its programs and activities.

The same can be said for our alumni in Chinuch and the Rabbinate. I see great potential for CTL to increase its interaction with this group as it continues to grow in influence and number.

You have held numerous positions in the Yeshiva. How does it feel that your next position will be on the other side of the world?

Though I have held numerous positions in the Yeshiva, they have all shared the sense of mission of working towards the Yeshiva’s goals of being immersed in Torah and engaged with the world.

Mizrachi in Melbourne is a wonderful community with strong ties to the Yeshiva, a genuine appreciation for Torah and a deep love of Israel. Though it could not be much further away geographically from the Yeshiva, I see my role there as a continuation of the same mission.

What will you be able to take with you from your experiences with CTL to assist you with your future role?

First of all, thanks to CTL, I will belong to a global network of Rabbinic alumni from Yeshivat Har Etzion, which I will be able to draw on for ideas and advice.

I also hope to employ CTL’s educational and organizational philosophy in my new position. At CTL, we have not aimed to build our target audience around our programs and activities, but to build our programs and activities around our target audience. This is something I hope to continue in the future.”

PS. I had promised to show him my Shas, printed in Dublin on linen paper. He was astounded that such a thing existed. I suggested his father would know. It even has Chiddushim of the Satmar Rebbe at the back, and yes, there are still pages stuck together in my Shas, I never used it for Daf HaYomi 🙂

What exactly is the problem?

The Jerusalem Post, a middle to right wing paper, commented on some recent statistics in Israel. One that drew my attention was (emphasis is mine)

This year’s report also revealed a trend reversal in that transfers between educational streams show a move away from religiosity.

Among the Jewish population, the report noted, recent years have seen net migration from more religious to less religious school systems.

As such, more students have moved from haredi schools to state-religious and state- secular schools, and from state-religious schools to state-secular schools than in the opposite direction.

The largest number of transfers was from state-religious schools to state-secular schools, where in 2014/15, 14,700 pupils transferred.

The researchers called this “remarkable” since the national-religious population constitutes the smallest sector at 14-15% of the population.

We first note that the Jerusalem Post as opposed to any study that I am aware of concludes that this is a move away from religiosity. While that may be true, it is by no means a foregone conclusion.

  1. Have they measured, for example, whether the hours saved (presumably) at the State School, are being used “more productively” through daily shiurim at yeshivas and the like?
  2. Have they looked at the reasons given for the school moves?
    • A Charedi person may be just as frum, but may simply not be able to be burden costs
    • They have not discussed National Religious Charedi. There are many in this category and different approaches.
    • Have they defined religiosity
    • Is full observance in a State School a move away? Perhaps the longer term trend is that many of these students will influence more students to move toward “religiosity”?
  3. Looking at it with a pessimistic slant, one may wish to consider whether
    • Parents being left of center in religious observance are more likely to have children who move further to the left  than parents who have one or more “off the derech” children (I dislike the terminology and I do not know why we give it a classification category. Such categories can slur, and may become entrenched as something to feel more comfortable with. Let us not forget that the Torah itself did not like using negative language: animals that may not be consumed are called “not pure” as opposed to “trayf “.
    • How many teachers who practice orthodoxy are there in the State School system
    • How good is teacher training, especially in respect of pastoral care among State Religious teachers? Do they understand their pupils? It is far easier to simply teach in a State School in respect of the qualitative aspects of religion given a purely cultural/historical approach is most likely.
  4. The Rambam preached the middle ground. Life has taught me that very few start and stay on the middle ground. Indeed moving further in observance and understanding of Yahadus when younger, is not a negative trait. It would seem that as people age, and I do not remove myself from any such consideration, their level of Jewish observance moves left. To lead a life in the middle ground may well mean an early foundational right of middle experience. I specifically do not include those who learn for a living, do not publish, are not gifted intellectually, and are a burden to those who work for a living.
  5. Having not seen the statistical study and only read the Jerusalem Posts reporting on it, some of my comments may portray ignorance.

 

Whatever the case, what I took out of this, ostensibly, is that we need to increase in Torah Observance and Learning. In terms of observance, we must seek to minimise any negative proclivities. Those who have habituated a Chilul Hashem seen by the eyes of their children, are the greatest destroyers of  Yahadus, and the continued promoters of a perverted Judaism of the worst shameful order.

Chabad Principal Rabbi Smukler attends and dances at Yom Ha’aztmaut service

The yearly prayer event which coincides with Ma’ariv is something I have attended for more years than I care to share. I do not recall but I believe I was unable to attend last year. In some years I was lecturing at the time, but I have attended almost every year.

I learned in a Hesder Yeshivah of note; the first Hesder Yeshiva in Israel. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht had the written and personal approval of the Chazon Ish. We dressed in our better finery and had a special dinner celebration of thanks. I lost my two Israeli room mates to War. I think about them often: Chovav Landau and Ze’ev Roitman HY’D. Chovav Landau’s wife was pregnant with their only child at the time. They were both in their fourth year of the five year program when I met them. I was closer to Ze’ev than Chovav. Ze’ev had lost his father to Yellow Fever, because a Doctor in Rechovot, had not changed needles after injecting an Arab patient. I felt his tragedy acutely. They both had machine guns locked in our room, and both perished when their tank was hit during the first Lebanon war.

The text of Ma’ariv in our Yeshiva was not the one adopted by the Kibbutz HaDati Movement (there was one next door) nor was it the text of newly published Koren Yom Haatzmaut Machzor. It was standard  Ma’ariv.

The Yeshivah formally followed the ruling that full hallel be said in the morning but without a blessing. There was no Tachanun.  This was not a statement of ‘less’ religious zionism. Rather, it represented delicate rulings related to liturgy and halacha.

As I recall, Ma’ariv had no additions. There was no Shofar etc I’m happy to be corrected. I do not know what current practice is followed. The Yeshivah did not affiliate with Bnei Akiva formally because of a concern for mixed gender functions. In my day Bnei Akiva in Jerusalem was gender separated.

Halachically, what one says before Ma’ariv and after the concluding Aleinu prayer is of lesser importance. When said in a Shule proper, there is also halachic  import.

That being said, I was to learn, later in life that the famed Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, otherwise known warmly as ‘the Rav’ was implacably opposed to additions to liturgy. This extended to the Holocaust and Kinos. He famously stormed out of RIETS when some ignored his ruling on Yom Haatzmaut.

Chabad’s Yeshivah and Beth Rivka Schools follow their choice. Chabad make no liturgical change and do say Tachanun. Whilst certainly not religious Zionist, they are not noted for the extreme anti Zionist rulings of the Adass Israel Congregation where Tachanun is especially said on Yom Ha’atzmaut even in the presence of a Bris Milah lest someone conclude that Adass saw any religious importance  in the State of Israel’s Independence Day.

For decades, Chabad’s boys school principal would not attend the Chabad dominated Rabbinical Council of Victoria’s gazetted service at Mizrachi. Thee council is, I believe dominated by Chabad Rabbis. This is not surprising in Melbourne where the survival and resurgence of Judaism is due in major part to Chabad.

I have been opposed to the service only being held at Mizrachi as I do not consider Mizrachi to be the ‘owner’ of this style of service. I am certain, that, for example, Caulfield Shule would gladly offer their Synagogue.

Chabad now has only one Principal: the controversial Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler.

It was then interesting for me to note Rabbi Smukler’s  front row appearance at Mizrachi last night, including his dancing circomvolution around the Bima. I concede that this may not have constituted halachic dancing (during Sefiras Haomer). He didn’t clap like Rabbi Cowen of Mizrachi’s Elsternwick Shule (Rabbi Cowen is considered a Chabad Chassid) nor did he sit on the Mizrachi wall like Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, who spoke as President of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (and who is also a Chabad Chasid) and R Leor Broh (also a Chabad Chasid) of Mizrachi’s Beit Haroeh Shule (populated by once young marrieds, now grandfathers :-).

To be complete, unlike a general Yom Tov or a Chabad Yom Tov such as Yud Tes Kislev, I didn’t notice any Chabad Rabbi in attendance wearing their longer black Kappote).

We live in very interesting times.

May the State of Israel metamorphose into the Eretz Yisrael of our redemption, speedily, in our days, with the continued grace of God.

Shira Chadasha’s “Modern” Orthodox appointee

Let’s dispense with this rotund canard. Shira Chadasha is not considered part of (modern/centrist) and certainly not mainstream Orthodoxy. It is part of the break away left wing “Open Orthodoxy”. The appointee (who was the first from Avi Weiss’s program who insisted on being called “Rabbi”) worked at “Mount Freedom Jewish Center” in New Jersey which is intellectually honest and describes itself as Open Orthodox. Open Orthodoxy, through  Chovevei Torah, is definitely not considered Modern/Centrist Orthodox. As Rav Schachter told me, Am Horatzus is absolutely rife therein; none of them know Mesora and Mesoras HaPsak.

It  is well to the far left. Some within Modern Orthodoxy don’t want to cut them off, but it is inevitable. It will happen. The RCA made this very clear when it stated:

Oct 31, 2015 — Formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership, the full text of “RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis” states:

  • Whereas, after much deliberation and discussion among its membership and after consultation with poskim, the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously passed the following convention resolution at its April 2010 convention:
    1. The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our members have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.
    2. We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah (Jewish law), hashkafah (Jewish thought), tradition and historical memory.
    3. In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.
    4. Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah (Torah study), yir’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and dikduk b’mitzvot (scrupulous observance of commandments).
  • And whereas on May 7, 2013, the RCA announced:

    In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010… The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.

Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America

  • Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
    1. Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
    2. Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
    3. Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
  • Commits to an educational effort to publicize its policy by:
    1. Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
    2. Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.

This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha, community scholars, Yeshiva University’s GPATS, and non-rabbinic school teachers. So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as “Maharat” is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.

As for what drives the new clergy Lila Kagedan at Shira Chadasha, this quote from Lila is very telling.

“I was drawn to ritual. I felt committed to the halachic process, but to be honest, I became absolutely disgruntled several times growing up,”.

One of those times was when her 13-year-old brother was permitted to sit on a beit din for the annulment of vows before Yom Kippur. “Meanwhile, I felt like I had no status.”

Need one say anymore about what motivates such females as opposed to Yoatzot Halacha? I suppose she also feels upset that she can’t Duchen because she’s not a male Cohen? Let’s get real here.

Call a spade a spade and dispense with the charade. If they think they uphold Halacha, good luck to them. I hope they do and may it improve, but the need to force their modes of worship over well established nomenclature that rejects such modes, only indicates they have no respect for established Rabbinic Poskim and leadership. Reform don’t call themselves Orthodox, and neither do Conservative. I don’t see why putting the adjective “Open” before Orthodox is anymore than a not so clever ruse. There are many learned Jewish Orthodox women in Melbourne who exercise their scholarship and feel empowered to do so.

They don’t feel “I had no status”. The existential imperatives of Judaism come second to them as they academically dance around terminology (hopefully with a Mechitza).

Anyone who even remotely thinks this is the model of Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soltoveitchik is simply an intellectual fraud.

I wonder what Caulfield’s Rabbi Genende’s stance on this is? I wrote to the RCV that this would happen over a year ago. It’s time the RCV not only put out stance like the RCA, I’d be happy if they formally affiliated with it.

An example of Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Hershel Schachter’s Centrist World View

It is so easy to say why this clear thinking enormous Talmid Chacham is effectively the Posek for the Rabbinic Council of America and the Orthodox Union. I reproduce an article he just published (c) Torah Web entitled “Volunteering Mitzvos”. What he writes is אמת לאמיתו.

About two years ago I came across a “teshuva” written by a Conservative clergyman. The thrust of the essay was that since the Tanoim established the halacha that women are exempt from wearing Teffilin because they are exempt from learning Torah, and today we expect women to learn Torah just like men, therefore women are no longer exempt from wearing Tefillin.

Needless to say, this is totally incorrect. The halacha that was formulated by the Tanoim that women are exempt from learning Torah has never changed. The laws of the Torah are not subject to change; the immutability of Torah is one of the thirteen principles of faith of the Rambam, and in our generation it has become the main point of distinction between Orthodox Judaism and other branches of Judaism. For centuries Orthodox women have been volunteering to shake a lulav on Succos and to listen to shofar on Rosh Hashonah. No one has changed the halacha that women are exempt from lulav and shofar, rather women have been volunteering to observe these mitzvos as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah. In the days of the Bais Hamikdash only men were obligated to give machatzis hashekel towards the purchase of the korbonos tzibbur but the mishnah records that a woman may volunteer to observe the mitzvah as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah.

We don’t recommend in all cases that one volunteer to perform a mitzvah that he is exempt from. The Shulchan Aruch quotes from the Talmud Yerushalmi that if it is raining on Succos and sitting in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, not only is one exempt from the mitzvah, but also it simply does not make any sense to volunteer to observe the mitzvah – when sitting in the Succah is very uncomfortable there is simply no kiyum ha’mitzvah. If the lights in one’s Succah have on gone out on the evening of Shabbos or Yom Tov and eating in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, but one’s friend has a Succah a one hour walk away, one would not be obligated to walk for an hour in order to sit in the Succah. Nonetheless, if one did go out of one’s way and walk for an hour, when one finally arrives at the friend’s Succah and sits there comfortably, Rav Akiva Eiger says that one may recite the brocha of leishev baSuccah. In this instance, the one who walked the hour is volunteering to observe the mitzvah in a fashion of aino m’zuvah v’oseh.

Rabbi Soloveitchik, who gave a shiur on Gemorah in Stern College, did not intend to disagree with the Talmudic principle that women are exempt from talmud Torah. He merely felt that in that generation it made good sense that the opportunity should be available for women to volunteer to studygemorah, in the same way that women have been volunteering for centuries to observe lulav and shofar. At that time he recommended that the gemorahs studied by women should not be Maseches Baba Kamma or Maseches Sanhedrin, but rather Maseches BrochosPerek Kol Ha’bosor,Maseches Shabbos, etc. which discuss dinim that are relevant to women halacha l’ma’aseh.

The Ta’noim understood from a phrase in the beginning of Parshas Vayikra that the mitzvah of semicha (i.e. that the one who brings a korbon must lean on the head of the korbon before sh’chitah) only applies to men and not to women. The expression “Bnai Yisroel” which appears in chumash so many times sometimes comes to exclude geirim (converts), sometimes comes to exclude women, and sometimes excludes neither. The Tanoim had a feel and a sense for how to darshon the pesukim based on the context of the passuk.

During the period of the second Bais Hamikdash, many women felt bad that they were not permitted even to volunteer to do this mitzvah of semicha since doing so would be a violation of avodah b’kodshim (getting work/benefit from a korban by the korban supporting their weight when they lean on it). Men who are obligated to do semicha are obviously not in violation of this prohibition of avodah b’kodshim, but since women are not obligated to do semicha, were a woman to do it voluntarily she would be in violation of this issur. As a result, many women wanted to perform an “imitationsemicha” (i.e. without actually leaning on the head of the animal but merely by having their hands float on top of the head of the animal). The permissibility of this was a big dispute amongst the Chachomim. Many were of the opinion that the performance of such an “imitation semicha” might possibly lead mistakenly to a violation of avodah b’kodshim if women would actually lean on the animal, and therefore it should not be permitted. The accepted opinion is that we do permit it, but we have to be careful that one thing should not lead to another.

The bottom line is that each of us has to observe all mitzvos that we are obligated in. However, when it comes to someone volunteering to do that which is not obligatory on him/her, there are rules and regulations pertaining to each individual mitzvoh/halacha specifically, and to observance ofhalacha in general, and it is not so simple to determine when one should or should not go beyond that which is obligatory.

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Rabbonim when the Bride is flashing Erva D’Orayso?

I have seen pictures even official Shule pictures in their magazines of Rabbonim officiating at weddings where the Bride is rather “fully out there” in respect of lack of Tzniyus. What gives?

Rav Soloveitchik refused to officiate at such weddings. Once when he found himself caught out, he kept asking others to get him a bigger and bigger Siddur (he also refused to do Chuppas in a Shule). When he had a really big Siddur he then officiated in a way that he could not see the bride (rather than embarrass her) and looked into his Siddur and said the Brachos etc. The Rav didn’t compromise his Judaism or our holy Mesora. The word fidelity to Judaism comes to mind.

I do not know why Kallah teachers, and every Rabbi don’t insist that each bride go to a proper inspiring Kallah teacher, where they are all told that they must wear some sort of fancy scarf covering up the parts that should be covered under the Chuppa. What are they afraid of, that they go to a Reform ceremony instead? Reform are empty. Everyone knows that. The RCV should adopt this stance as a matter of policy and no Rabbi should break the rule.

I bumped into a “Jewish” celebrant at the chemist. I looked at her and her face rang a bell. I asked her “where do I know you from?”. She then told me what she did. I then remembered. It was one wedding I did at the last minute, where they had the “ceremony” on the dance floor just before we started playing. The bride was marrying a gentile unbeknown to me and it was one of the very few times I was caught out. I told the celebrant that for the entire week after that wedding I was literally ill. She asked me why. I said

“because you are a great pretender, and you have zero to do with any authenticity, you are a blender of bull, who makes up things as you go along. That couple were never married Jewishly and all you facilitated was an impending assimilation. Your little Tallis and your blowing a Shofar were as authentic as Michael Jackson’s skin colour.”

She looked at me like I was from Mars and scowled. I told her to have a nice day, and to discover real Judaism rather than the concocted monstrosity she was selling for a fee.

It’s time some Rabbonim in  our community who are so concerned about populist interfaith dialogue, LGBT, aboriginal rights, and social justice, actually bothered to also be concerned about Mesora and implement proper Jewish Laws and customs at a Chuppa and were not “afraid” of putting Yiddishkeit first.

I remember the days when Rabbonim specified there was to be no mixed dancing until Benching and no female singers until then. Yes, you can definitely bench before dessert and have the “King Street Disco” until midnight. Why are we so bashful to make our weddings JEWISH in flavour? I know gentiles who come home from such weddings wondering why Jews were imitating them, except that for them a wedding is big with 70 people and for us it’s at least 300 כן ירבו.

I’ve watched standards drop alarmingly over the years. Holocaust survivors had MORE questions about God than our modern Gen kids, but they didn’t abandon Mesora. Our young Gen call their children by any name that sounds more gentile than a gentile, and need to be shaken up. Sometimes you don’t even see the Jewish name in the Jewish News. Did they ever get one or is it   טיפני בריטני׳ (Tiffany Brittania)

If they are having a Jewish Wedding, then make them do it properly. No “Kosher Style”, no weak compromises. Strength begets strength. It’s not the Orthodox who are assimilating, it is the Reform that assimilate in alarming levels, and the Conservative who become Reform.

It’s time Rabbonim realised that whilst it’s great to be “cool” and “friendly” and “populist” there are strict lines and they should insist on them. Frankly, it used to be unthinkable not to have the Rabbi at a Simcha in the days of old. Today, even the friendly Rabbi often isn’t invited so they don’t see the “shrimp” and pritzus.

Rav Schachter told me that it is preferable to have a Bar Mitzvah call up on a Monday or Thursday than cause חילול שבת … Maybe the father will even put on Tefillin and they can video the entire event. Is there something holy about Maftir on Shabbos? It’s not even from the main Aliyos.

PS. I don’t attend weddings that are Treyf and they offer to order me a Kosher Meal double wrapped while I sit at a table struggling with the silver foil, tape, and glad wrap, as everything spills on me, and others think I’m a Charedi weirdo. I’d rather give a present and say enjoy your party, but don’t call it a Jewish Wedding Simcha. It’s a wedding populated by Jews.

Inviting Jewish Politicians to speak on Shabbos

I noticed an advertisement by a Shule in Melbourne, where a Jewish Federal Member of Parliament (from the Liberal party) was invited to speak as follows:

Cholent n’ Chat Kiddush after Shabbat
Tefillah

With the dynamic and resourceful Federal Resources Minister Josh
Frydenberg

“Brave New Year: Economic and Strategic Challenges facing Australia”

Firstly let me say that this particular Shule does a great job creating interesting programs to attract people to Shule. They are to be commended for that. They are professionally run, and have full pews on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Now, I do not know Josh Frydenberg. I am hoping that he or a relative lives close to the Shule. In the least the Rabbi or a board member should have invited him for Shabbos. If this is not the case, then the creation of such an event serves to potentiate a Halachic abuse of Shabbos. I will assume Josh or his family live within walking distance or some other arrangement has been made. It is the responsibility of the Rabbi of the Shule to make sure that the Halacha is followed here. If Josh were not to be within walking distance, Rav Soloveitchik was very clear that it would be forbidden to invite a person when they “knew” such an invitation would induce Shabbos desecration.

The last issue is that of the topic. The Navi Yeshayahu 58:13 tells us:

אִם תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי, וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ ה’ מְכֻבָּד, וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ, מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר

from which the Talmud (Shabbos 113B) and Codifiers conclude that one’s topics of speaking, should be “Shabbosdik”. A clear explanation of this can be found in (‘שולחן ערוך הרב’ או”ח סי’ שז ס”א), What I have written is short of an exact definition. At the same time, unless the organisers know exactly what Josh will be talking about, they may be causing an infraction for Josh. The speaker is the one who is enjoined not to speak about matters which involve or may come to involve acts forbidden on Shabbos. On the other hand, those who attend, also take part in this activity. If they were not in attendance, then there would be no talk. To be clear, if Josh was to speak about the Government’s attitude to Israel or Jewish multiculturalism or security that would be quite pareve. If, however, he were to speak about the likelihood of, say, changes to death duties or superannuation, then this would induce people to consider acting on their investment portfolios, and that may be forbidden. As I mention, I am not a Rabbi, so do take every thing I say with a grain of salt, and make sure you speak with your own learned Posek/Halachic Decisor.

The purpose of this post isn’t to seek out and unearth things that might be wrong in an Orthodox setting. For all I know, Josh may in fact be a member of Caulfield Shule and attend every now and again, in the same way that Michael Danby attends Elwood Shule regularly. I am simply noting that the planning of topics and events needs careful halachic attention.

Another aspect of  וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר is to make sure that people are not brought to צער (feeling bad) by the speech. As such, I would suggest that any Labor voters (I hope there is no such thing as a tree hugging anti semitic Greens voter among our people) would probably not be permitted to attend the talk as they would get annoyed by the Conservative platform that will be espoused. Causing yourself צער on Shabbos is contraindicated halachically as well.

Perhaps I am being over pedantic. Note though that I tend to look at things through the prism of Halacha especially when I had learned these laws only one week ago!

I repeat what I said at the beginning of this article: the particular Shule in question does a great job in bringing innovative new ideas to entice people to enfranchise with Judaism. I wish them only success.

Responses of Gedolai Horoah to RMG Rabi’s Business forays

Firstly, here is a letter from מורי ורבי הרב הרשל שכטר, Posek for the OU and Rosh Kollel at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan.

RavShechterBenPekuah

 

A rough translation follows: My parts are in square brackets]

4 Shevat 5776 (January 14, 2016)

In respect of a ben pakuah [a calf that is born alive after its mother has already been slaughtered]  (which has been “born” [prematurely] at eight months, before it has completed its normal formation, [ from its slaughtered mother ]  one may eat its gid hanasheh (Sciatic nerve) and cheilev (forbidden fats) (YD 64:2) [ which are normally forbidden] and [since it is 8 months old] it is not reasonable for this premature calf to put its feet on the earth [as it it is a mature calf] because it is a “nefel”. If they took this calf and put it into an incubator [to allow it to mature] until it became fully fledged healthy, as if it was born as a nine month old calf, [on this matter] the Chazon Ish’s view is that halachically the calf is considered fully formed  and its gid hanashe and cheilev are forbidden. [the prohibitions of gid hanasheh and cheilev only apply when the ben pakua preforms the halachic act of ‘hifris al gabei karaka’ (lit. places its hoof on the ground)].  It is not possible for a premature calf to execute this halachic action.

It is. therefore, impossible to raise premature bnei pakua for slaughter as the only way to do so is by placing them in an incubator until they become viable. As previously stated this would cause them to have the status of full-termbnei pakuos whose gid hanasheh and cheilev would be forbidden Biblically or Rabbinically as soon as they are ‘hifris algabei karka’.

Tzvi Shachter

There is also a picture that someone sent me of RMG Rabi (who looks to be in a long Rabbinic coat, unless I’m mistaken) sitting with (the Belzer) Rabbi Pinchas Padwa. The picture conjures an endorsement of RMG Rabi’s venture with Kalman Gradman, Stephen Bloch and perhaps others. Rabbi Padwa sent the following letter to Rav Beck of Adass.

RavPadwa-Beck

My translation follows. My emendations and additions are in square brackets [ ]

To the honoured famous Torah scholar and Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi A Z Beck shlita, the Head of the Beth Din [ of Adass] in Melbourne, Australia.

After [genuine and serious] genuflection, I am writing  to clarify my opinion on this matter [of commercial production of Beni Pekuah meat].  Although I wrote a response to Rav [Ze’ev] Vitman [formerly the Chairman of the Shemittah Committee of the Chief Rabbinate] [it must be understood that] the letter was solely for academic purposes [as opposed to a letter with a definitive Psak Din Lehalocho U’Lemaaseh] and was [motivated in order] to clarify Torah concepts, which is my normal practice [with such letters].

I did not enter the fray of deciding on commercial Ben Pekuah from a practical halachic conclusion, especially as this is a type of matter which will bring a stumbling block and a breach and separation from the walls of our religion, Chas V’Shalom, and will serve to undermine the Torah which is under the bastion of Kashrus and Kashrus for which the Rav [Beck] gives his all to sustain.

God forbid, that someone should do anything large or small which will breach the fences of the world and weaken the standing of Rabbinic Gaonim, who stand on guard [to protect Torah and Kashrus].

I  join [Rav Beck] and the great Rabbis of the Holy Land, the princes of Torah, that one should not grow commercial B’nei Pekuah [farms] as such a venture will result in a Churban [devastation of Kashrus].

I bless the honored Torah scholar that he should merit to stand strong against any breach in the wall of our sacred religion against any breach in our religion, for many more good years]

Rabbi Pinchas Leibish Padwa

It would seem, but who can know that Rabbi Padwa was called to task for giving the appearance that he was a supporter of RMG Rabi vis-a-vis his letter to Rav Vitman. He then clarified his view. RMG Rabi claims an anonymous Rabbi has eaten his meat. One wonders if that was Rabbi Padwa or Rabbi Vitman. Someone should ask them.

Now, the interested reader might wish to consider that the wonderful Kosher Australia organisation has even bigger issues they face. RMG Rabi attends the Shabbos early minyan at Mizrachi, however, he is not given any Aliya due to what some consider his subversive actions. In particular, there have been letters allegedly from his pen to gentile manufacturers stating that Kosher Australia is not reliable. This is something that simply cannot be tolerated, from a maverick or anyone else. It is for these reasons that I have posted the above. RMG Rabi and his business partners really should find a different honest income and stop attempting to disrupt the hard work of many years, by a myriad of volunteers.

The Mashgiach of the DNA can be heard here

The covenantal community

I would highly recommend that Open “Orthodoxy” supporters of proffering new titles to learned women, as well as hard left members of the RCV (re) read Abraham’s Journey by Rav Soloveitchik. One is thunderstruck again by his open understanding that the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov were a team with their wives and through many verses he makes it obvious that without their wives, the covenantal leadership was significantly reduced.

In last week’s Parsha the Rav concentrates on the lack of any description in the Torah, save the burial of Sarah, about the last 38 years of his life. This is a long time. What was going on? Abraham without Sarah, was a “cappuccino without coffee”. There was little to report on or to talk about. If you find that “Abraham’s Journey” is too long and involved, I would also highly recommend the OU’s Soloveitchik Chumash which is a masterpiece in understanding the human side of Orthodoxy, existential reality, and the prime importance of Mesorah.

I can’t recommend these publications highly enough. Far from women being seenas secondary figures, they were masoretically part of a duo, to the extent that if that was broken up, so was the purpose.

Whilst the Mahari Bei Rav unsuccessfully tried to re-institute formal Semicha, I find it very hard to consider any female, religiously sincere, if the term Yoetzet Halacha is not enough for her.

It is also my view that no Yoetzet Halacha should ever address gatherings of Jewish (Religious or otherwise) Feminists. Feminism is a western ideology. It is viewed with extreme derision ranging from (the cousins)  Rav Moshe Feinstein through to Rav Soloveitchik himself. There is no doubts about this. It is in black and white in their own words. Those words are prophetic and just as relevant.

It’s time we focussed less on titles and more on the actual Jewish Education of our youth. Therein is the challenge. The best teachers and expositors go out to the professional world and their skills are not used. This is the tragedy of our society.

(c) Shabsaiart, Top left Rav Soltoveitchik, Top Right, Rav Moshe Feinstein

2015 Resolution: RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis

Will the Rabbinical Council of Victoria agree and accept this policy?

Oct 30, 2015 — Formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership, the full text of “RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis” states:

  • Whereas, after much deliberation and discussion among its membership and after consultation with poskim, the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously passed the following convention resolution at its April 2010 convention:
  1. The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is gratified that our members have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.
  2. We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah (Jewish law), hashkafah (Jewish thought), tradition and historical memory.
  3. In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.
  4. Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah (Torah study), yir’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and dikduk b’mitzvot (scrupulous observance of commandments).
  • And whereas on May 7, 2013, the RCA announced:

In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010… The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America.

  • Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
  1. Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
  2. Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
  3. Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
  • Commits to an educational effort to publicise its policies to its members and community.
  1. Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
  2. Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.

 

This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha, community scholars, Yeshiva University’s GPATS, and non-rabbinic school teachers. So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as “Maharat” is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.

So how controversial was Moshe Feiglin of Zehut?

In a previous article, I questioned why a religious zionist (modern orthodox) congregation such as Mizrachi would apparently not permit Moshe Feiglin to speak at Shalosh Seudos, prior to his main talk the next day at the Werdiger Hall. In response to some who have suggested “why don’t you ask your brother-in-law”, which is a valid question, my answer is simple: Whilst he is President of Mizrachi, and has been for many years, and from what I have witnessed has done a sterling job (I might be biased),

  • I suspect it would/should have been a committee decision
  • He may have a personal opinion which he may not wish to share
  • Simply because he is married to my sister ought not mean that my questions shouldn’t be asked in my blog
  • I don’t particularly want to put him on the spot, as he is משפחה at the end of the day

Now, Moshe Feiglin is certainly not the most controversial figure to speak in Melbourne at a Jewish Organisation. The left seem to be able to bring any and every type of anti-Jewish, questionably Zionist, type here with impunity. Ironically, the Holocaust generation, would have nothing of such people, but their tree hugging, reformulated Judaism as תיקון עולם not necessarily with the מלכות שד׳י that follows it, children are exactly those who are comfortable sitting with those who want to make Israel like “all the nations”.

Israel will never be like “all the nations”. As long as it follows the constant הלכה of והלכת בדרכיו where we are meant to emulate God, through his values, his published traits, his wishes, and his admonishments, we will share lots with many good countries, but we will depart on various issues. Indeed, this is why Jews and Judaism have survived. A Talmud that allows an Amora to say אין משיח לישראל doesn’t strike me as a Talmud that is afraid. Yes, I’m aware of the different explanations for this statement, my point being that, and not leaving it out, דרוש וקבל שכר …. listen and learn and understand and you will at least be rewarded for that.

The annual learnathon conducted in Melbourne has included people with views far more radical (of course to the left, never to the right) than Moshe Feiglin. Moshe Feiglin is above all a libertarian. I would now describe him as a radical libertarian. He has his own unique views on the crises facing Israel, and that Zionists, religious or otherwise basically abandoned him at the Werdiger Hall on Sunday night, is a blight on their Zionism.

The people happiest about such a phenomenon are the Benedict Arnold movements, Ameinu and J-Street, both of whom pander to left wing Western “sensibilities and politics” in the arcane belief that this will solve or should I say dissolve the problems.

I heard first hand what Moshe proposed, and although I was unwell and unable to attend, none of it shocked me or made me think he was a radical. We as a community need to ask ourselves some questions:

  • Is the view that the Oslo Accords are dead, and that a two state solution is not the answer, that of a Zionist heretic? Is it necessarily the view of someone who is violent? Can one be a pacifist and subscribe to the notion that there already is a Palestinian State and its name is Jordan
  • Is it anathema for someone whose Rabbi permits them to go to parts of the Temple Mount (note the Jewish Temples which preceded Al Aqsa) to be forbidden to pray! What sort of (Western) democracy is this? How do the magic words “status quo” which we see right at this minute with the lying induced violence conjure up an “Abracadabra” spell on thinking people? Why? Is it because we will lose American support? That’s the only reason I can think of. Surely thinking people would recognise that it makes no sense that a Jew cannot pray but someone from another religion can throw rocks, create fires, and destroy archeology?

Moshe Feiglin has his views. He was asked by an Arab MK when he was Deputy Speaker, and still a member of Likud, “What are the borders of Israel” and Feiglin replied quoting the Chumash, implying a wider, larger Israel. Is he not entitled to have or express such a view? The two state solution is the biggest lie we have seen. There is no partner, there is nobody serious on the other side. They are just a group of bickering tribesmen who are politically at each others throats and far away from even having a semblance of freedom.

I saw an article in the paper that was “shocked” because kids as young as 5 were shown programs about carrying guns in ISIS and their “friends”. Well, hello. Anyone who follows memri.org and I highly recommend it, will know that Palestinian Arabs have done this for decades. It is in an Australian paper because Australians have unfortunately also suffered at the hands of “radicalised ones”. Someone define what non radicalised means? Is that 1/2 Sharia or is it Australian Law?

Feiglin’s philosophy is very similar to that of many Australians. In fact, I read Prime Minister Turnbull make the same statement. There is Australian Law. There may be other legal systems. If you are uncomfortable with living in a country under an Australian legal system, then by all means go to a country that conforms with your definition of law.

Let it not be concluded that I necessarily agree with Moshe Feiglin’s views willy nilly. I’d need to read more and then form my own views. However, not allowing him to speak, is to me a great בזיון for this community which people like Isi Leibler laud as huge Zionists. Unfortunately, Leibler is long gone and doesn’t realise how that the old boat is sliding to the left more and more, while the sanguine views of the previous generation, are buried in Springvale and Lyndhurst.

If anyone felt that Feiglin said something that should preclude him from speaking, or from being granted a Visa, pray tell me why.

Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo on “where is God”

Rabbi Cardozo is an exceedingly smart and erudite man; if not sometimes controversial. Without wanting to sound flippant, my family in Israel had a strong connection with the two murdered Henkins. My cousin is a Yoetzet Halacha (also an anti feminist) with strong roots to Nishmat. Another cousin, who is a Rabbi discussed Halachic issues with the murdered Rav Eitam Henkin and described him as a young genius beyond his years who was another yoresh of the famous Rav Henkin ז’’ל of the USA for whom Reb Moshe Feinstein ז’’ל used to put his hat and jacket on, when he received a call from Rav Henkin.

Rabbi Cardozo asks in his blog the question(s) we all have asked and which Jews have asked for so many damned years, and I use the word damned advisedly.

What I’d like to hear from Rabbi Cardozo is how he understands two concepts

  1. אהיה אשר אהיה
  2. הסתר פנים

If I sound flippant, I don’t mean to. I know someone who works as a researcher for Rabbi Cardozo and may ask him to get answers to these two questions.

Move over Sodom and Gemora

We have enough lying fakers in our midst. Out them and stuff their “holy” surnames and moralistic bull-dust.

See here for some distasteful reality. Warning. If you are sincerely frum, better you don’t look

Of course there are enough pathetic men and women who fool nobody except their fake “holy”
names and it’s not a female phenomenon by any stretch.

HaGaon Rav Hershel Schachter and Chabad

I learned a little story this week. Mori V’Rabbi R’ Schachter is known to be prolific. His shiurim are an endless daily stream of wisdom and he is clear and wonderful to listen to (in my biased opinion of course). He was the youngest ever Rosh Kollel appointed at YU, and was and is known as a genius. Greater than his genius, are his Middos, as I’ve personally experienced. HaGaon Rav  Hershel Schachter שליט’’אHe is a humble, straight, man who has no tickets on himself. I’d say that the art of politics cum diplomacy are not his strengths, but that’s often a result of not having a level of English oratory, even though he speaks English fluently, having graduated from University.

When Rav Schachter was five years old, his parents, including his well-known father Rav Melech Schachter ז’’ל, were upset and most disturbed. Any parent would be. Their little son Hershel, did not speak a single word. He was silent. He wasn’t stupid, but he would not talk. He knew exactly what was going on, but wouldn’t say a thing.

The Schachters are not Chassidim. Rav Schachter is far closer to the Brisker Derech, having learned assiduously a Mesorah from the giant Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik ז’’ל, the genius Yoresh of Rav Chaim Brisker.

For reasons I do not know, the parents decided to take the young Rav Schachter to see the Rayatz נ’’ע, the second last Rebbe of Chabad, who had escaped Russia via Poland, as has been well documented, and was now residing in New York. The Rayatz wasn’t blessed with great health. His visage, with the spodik, always gave me the feeling of Midas HaYiroh (fear). He spookily looked like his father the Rashab נ’’ע (in my opinion).

The senior Schachters walked into a Yechidus (private audience) with the Rayatz and asked for a blessing for their son, who still couldn’t speak at the age of five. Immediately, the Rayyatz dismissed them with a wave of his hand. exclaiming that they had no idea how many words, and words of Torah would come out of this child’s mouth, when he was ready. They should not worry, and could leave with confidence.

And so it was. Rav Schachter is the most prolific shiur giver at YU and the highly revered Posek of the OU (with Rav Belsky).

Our Mechutan, Rabbi Yossi Goldman, Senior Rabbi of Sydenham Shule in JoBerg, related a story.

Rav Schachter was invited by the Rabonim in South Africa to discuss and help with a myriad of current and difficult halachic matters and to speak on various topics. One day, they hired a bus, full of the cream of South Africa’s Rabonim, and wanted to show Rav Schachter the wonderous Ma’aseh Breishis in the famed wild life parks. Alas, the bus broke down and was stranded for an hour or two. Apparently, one by one, the Rabbonim stood in line, and each asked questions of Torah from one edge to the the other edge of Torah. For two hours it was a Kolo D’Lo Posik (a voice that didn’t stop). With each Rav, he quoted the entire tracts, with Rishonim and relevant acharonim, and explained how he would deal with the question at hand. There seemed to be no topic that wasn’t in his hip pocket. At the end, the Rabonim discussed what they had personally discussed among each other, and were simply blown away, that someone could sit at the end of the bus, with no Seforim, and had the entire Torah at his finger tips and was able to articulate his sensible views, in a Kolo D’Lo Posik Mideorayso. This wasn’t a photographic memory. It was the memory of someone simply across all the Torah.

Even though Rav Schachter states clearly that using Igros of the last Rebbe is not halachic, and meshichisten are rather Narish, he has a soft spot for Chabad, which largely emanated from that meeting with the Rayatz (and no doubt stories he heard from his Rebbe Muvhak, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik ז’’ל, which are well documented) 

More on Same Gender issues

There is an interesting piece in Tablet Magazine where Rabbi Benny Lau, considered a moderate by many, makes a powerful speech.

Like many, I am horrified that anyone should seek to murder another over this (or indeed any other reason except for self-defence). I wonder, though, what his speech would have been had nobody been murdered. He would have needed to “tip toe through the tulips”. Indeed, one wonders whether he would directly answer the question of whether such marches are appropriate in the Holiest City of Jerusalem? Would he approve of these at the Kotel or Har Habayis? Would he speak at a March there?

Make no mistake. I do not conjure hatred or invoke enmity against those with disposition towards the same gender. At the same time, I am completely bound to the Torah prohibition regarding the actualisation of such a disposition. That is inescapable for any Orthodox Jew. Though Rabbi Benny Lau certainly agrees with that, I think he would choose not to mention it. He would have halachic precedent to not mention it. The command to admonish is not in effect:

  1. Where one will definitely not be listened to; and
  2. Unless someone knows “the way” to admonish.

On the second point, many Acharonim say that we do not know the way to admonish any longer. That should not be equated with silence. This post is not silence. In any democracy, the only way to foster love of Torah is to teach authentic Torah according to one’s audience’s level. This is inescapable.

Ironically, Religious Zionists in Israel as opposed to Centrist/Modern Zionists around the world, are far less equipped to deal with the new generation. I have witnessed a profound lack of sophistication in their educational approach. The preponderance of attention to land over people is only partially to blame. The other part is the feeling that they need to strive to be “like” Charedim. There is no need to do so and there never has. One ought not be concerned by what cloistered enclaves choose to do or not do. That is their approach.

One does as the Torah commands, and speaks בדרכי נועם.

As Chacham Ovadya Yosef taught:

אין טעם כלל לזעוק בקריאות כל שהן כלפי מחללי שבת בפרהסיא, הנוסעים במכוניתם בשבת, שהרי בקריאות “שבת! שבת!” כנגדם לא מתקיימת מצות תוכחה, אם מפני שאינם מבינים כלל את דברי הזועק, ואם מפני שחונכו בדרך לא טובה, ועל כן לא השכילו להבין את חומרת הדבר של חילול שבת. וכל שכן אם הם אנשים יודעי תורה, ואף על פי כן הם מרשיעים ונוסעים בשבת, שבודאי אין חיוב כלל להוכיחם

An Apt Tisha B’Av Message

  
(Hat tip RC)

More on the Rav Riskin Conversion issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Rav Yuval Cherlo on the Rabbi Riskin controversy

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

Who is Rav Yuval Cherlo?

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

Rav Yuval Cherlow שליט’’א

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

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

 

There are 2 main purposes to the Rabbinate in Israel:

1) represent the Jewish Religion to the nation; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the future: There are two options:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support for Rabbi Riskin

I had blogged on this Here

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

With warmest regards and Shabbat Shalom

David Katz

International Director, Ohr Torah Stone

 Op-Ed: On the Rabbi Riskin Saga:

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

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since then, he has dedicated his life to Torah.

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

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

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

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

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

Western Aliyah to Israel

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

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

A Difference of Approach

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

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

American Jewry

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

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

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

A Whole Torah Scroll

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

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

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

Policy of the Chief Rabbinate

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

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

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

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

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

“One Law Shall There Be for You All”

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

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

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

Two Views on Rabbi Riskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Rabbi Gil Student’s take:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter from Lubavitcher Rebbe נ’ע to the Rav נ׳ע before Shavuos

(hat tip Sh)

The letter and beautiful explanation is Here

I don’t have time to translate it but the Rebbe wishes Rav Soloveitchik a good Yom Tov using the language of his father in law the Rayatz which included accepting the Torah happily. When he came to sign the letter he explained the word happily ie בשמחה

The difficulty is we are meant to be in fear. What does the emotion of happiness have here. Based on a Gemora in Brachos, Rishonim and the language of the Shulchan Aruch HoRav, it is explained that fear most certainly has its place during learning Torah, but at three other stages the emotion of happiness is appropriate. One of these is on Shavuous when we accept the Torah.

The Rav, the Rashag, the Rayatz, and the Ramash (the future and last Lubavitcher Rebbe)