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

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

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

b) I have read gone with the wind; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satmar in Melbourne. Is it different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

75th Holocaust Memorial Event

Melbourne was and probably still is a predominantly Polish refugee influenced community largely due to the 2nd largest group of Polish refugees coming to Australia. We are all the richer for that wide tapestry of different components which, I guess Warsaw alone represented. I don’t remember the number, but the sheer volume of different views and newspapers and groups therein was just astounding.

On the other hand we have had valuable refugees from the then Soviet Union who suffered also from the vicissitudes of the Holocaust and associated political atrocities committed there. Chabad, which is really a Lita (Litvishe) / White Russian movement that withstood the attempted erosion of Jewish identity in Russia was an early important element, but in more recent times many Russian Jews have enriched our community with their own contribution having escaped the so-called “Union” of Soviet Republics led by Stalin ימח שמו וזכרו.

Due to the hard work of Mordechai Oyberman and others Elwood Shule is commemorating the 75th memorial and I attach the flier and encourage those who are able to attend. Whilst it’s a pity that we haven’t fully united in commemoration (save for Tisha B’Av which consumes us with Jewish tragedy over the ages) I think it’s important that Jews of all “colours” make an effort to offer Tfilla, Kaddish and Kel Moleh Rachamim for the holy souls consumed by the sub-human element that comprises society.

Flier for 75 years from 22 June 1941 final eng

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.

Honour to Rabonim

One of the things that has struck me between the generation of holocaust survivors, most of whom are in עולם האמת and the generation today is the distinct lack of כבוד for a Rav.

Now, I can hear you saying, ah, but the Rabonim of today are not the Rabonim of yesteryear. I agree. It is also true of the generation before that and the generation before that. This is amplified to the extent that Babylonian Scholars of Talmudic academies were not referred to as Rabbi XYZ but Rav XYZ. Why? there was no Semicha in Bavel/Babylonia.

Yet, we are also asked to make for ourselves a Rav. Even though someone become a Rav, he should still have his own Rav Hamuvhak (mentor Rabbi). There are many stories. Even someone as great as Rav Lichtenstein ז’’ל and Rav Nevenzahl used to look up to Rav Shlomo Zalman as their decisor on matters on the razor’s edge. There is a cute story that Rav Lichtenstein’s daughter wanted one more piercing than her father was comfortable with. Of course, they learned the relevant halachos, and then it was proposed that they will go to Rav Shlomo Zalman, and let him decide. They both agreed to be bound by his Psak. Rav Shlomo Zalman, being more than a Posek par excellence, also had the “feel of the nation” at his fingertips. He turned to Rav Aharon, and basically told him to leave his daughter alone. There was ample precedent for it, and much more important issues to worry about. Rav Lichtenstein was worried about Chabolo.

In our day, there is certainly a mix of good, great, not so good and downright embarrassing clergy. Some can learn, some can’t. Some can speak, other cannot. Some have sensitivity to politics and diplomacy and others hide behind it or don’t realise how their words can be interpreted and hurt. The Torah doesn’t have a concept called “Daas Torah”. That’s a new term post holocaust, largely invented by Hungarians who politically infiltrated the Yishuv in Israel, and then subsequently spread to the States.

One should have a Rav HaMuvhak, a special mentor. Some Chassidic types may call it the spiritual mentor without the halachic clout. Whatever. There are people who have both.

I’ve complained about this elsewhere, but I think one of the biggest Chillulei Hashem is when one chooses to daven at a particular shule AND partake of the Kiddush and then chatter incessantly throughout the Rav’s few words. Maybe what he is saying isn’t startling. Maybe he’s not even your Rav, but you can’t explain why you daven and eat there. It matters not. When someone knows much more than you, you should shut your mouth and listen for the ten minutes so that the “speech” isn’t a shouting match of the wild and wooly versus versus those without Kavod Rabonim and Kavod Habriyos.

I watched for decades as holocaust survivors, who had driven to shule would hide their driving from the Rabbi. They had Kavod, they had a sense of חרפה because this is the mimetic tradition they received from their own fathers. They had reason not to believe. I don’t know what they believed. These are the types of people who, if they saw a Rabbi in the distance on shabbos while smoking, would quickly hide around the corner and butt it out. Hypocritical? I will leave that to God. Lurking underneath though was a sense of Kavod. Don’t like your Shule or your Rabbi? There are many alternatives. You can even lie on a bean bag and pay nothing in some meditative Orthodox minyanim.

Find who and what jives with you, but please, do not come to the Kiddush each week and fail to wait for the Rabbi to make Kiddush first? Why? I don’t eat cake before breakfast (as per halacha) and I’m quite comfortable waiting 5 minutes till the Rabbi has finished dealing with congregants on his way out of Shule. I find it offensive to watch people who are not paupers or hunger stricken by any stretch, shovelling food down their mouths well before the Rabbi arrives. It makes no sense to me. The words Zolel V’Sova come to mind.

Each of the Holocaust survivors who had lots of reasons not to believe, climbed wearily up the stairs (and it was often not easy) just to shake the Rov’s hand and say Good Shabbos. Their kids would have seen this. I saw it. Alas, our generation doesn’t see much of this. They see little. We are creating a new sick tradition of

I am for me, and I couldn’t care about any hierarchy, God ordained or otherwise, because the world is imperfect.

When did you last see someone stand up for an older man in Shule as they passed? That happens to be a Din D’Orayso.

Are we full of Am Horatzim or is it just selfish Davkaniks with an overinflated ego of their less than fulsome achievements. I forgive Am Horatzim. I don’t understand inflated egos that over-ride Kavod HaTorah, even if the Rav isn’t your favourite. Again, no one forces you to come, do they?

Why do I write about it? Because it bothers me. If we don’t set any example, what will our children and grandchildren see and do. Yes, brothers and sisters, the future is in our hands. Can you overcome your need to chatter or to eat 5 minutes earlier? Is it that hard?

Can you also shut up at a Simcha during a speech, or do you contribute to the constant murmuring so that the speaker has to yell? It’s a sick malady. I see it when the speaker talks for 5 minutes, so don’t tell me “it’s because he’s been rambling for 20”. These are unholy excuses. Given Neshamos come down for the Simcha, who are you to disturb a Simcha while they are there?

Same gender group in the Jewish Community Council of Victoria

I am implacably against anyone hurling vitriol or discriminating against someone because of sexual proclivity/preference, but my take on such a council as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is that groups with sub-philosophies within Judaism are members representing a given approach within a broader philosophic cum cultural definition of Judaism. For example, Bund, Orthodox, Sephardim, Conservative, Reform, Secular Zionist etc

I don’t know how sexual preference defines a sub culture or philosophy of Jews or Judaism per se given it crosses all groups anyway.

They should be afforded full support by the JCCV and indeed the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV) in the face of issues which they face, and pastoral/other assistance but their membership extends across the existing sub groups, I would have thought. Services to assist I fully understand and support, but I don’t understand a grouping that defines itself by its sexual preference.

For this reason I don’t understand why they need or want a formal membership separate from existing groups.

As far as Orthodox Shules are concerned, I’ve personally not encountered anyone being called out or excluded or insulted because of a sexual preference. Of course, I stand to be corrected if that has occurred especially in the last ten years.

It comes therefore as a surprise to me that apparently  Caulfield, Brighton, Blake Street, North Eastern, East Melbourne and Kew Shules will all be voting in favor. I imagine the others will either not be present or abstain or go on ‘walk about’. The COSV is pretty much a toothless tiger, and on a matter such as this, they should consult the Rabbinic Council of Victoria as well.

For an Orthodox group(s) I would express disdain for acts which highlight someone’s sexuality and/or take action verbally or otherwise against such people. I think that’s a given in our society. Is it not?

That being said same gender KIDDUSHIN cannot and will not ever be supported by Orthodoxy. That also needs to be made clear, and certainly by Sam Tatarka, Danny Lamm and other orthodox members of the JCCV. There can be no hiding or diplomatic sweeping under the carpet of this axiom  by simply not mentioning it.

Kashrus and a higher level

The following is from Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, Dean, Machon Tzomet. The mind boggles in regards those who approve the lowest level AND run it as an entrepreneurial private business with closed books, wealth accumulation and a dishonest attempt to work with Halal on the grounds that they might imagine they are the ‘authority’ to represent the majority of kosher consumers, most of whom reject such supervision.

A hearing will soon take place in the Supreme Court in Israel on a request for an injunction by some restaurant owners in Jerusalem against the Chief Rabbinate, which fined them based on the Kashrut Fraud Prevention Law that gives the Rabbinate (and the IDF) exclusive control over the concept of “kashrut” in Israel. These restaurants are “approved by the community” in the framework of “private supervision,” headed by Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, who is challenging the local Rabbinates and the Chief Rabbinate. The approval certificates are worded in a sophisticated way, in order to avoid using the protected word “kosher” – (for example “this place is supervised,” and other roundabout hints). And just in case somebody might think that the supervision involves other issues, such as health, ecology, or security, he can check his assumptions at their website, kashrut.org.il. The State Attorney as usual sets his eyes on the strict letter of the law, and he has therefore expressed support for the petitioners. The judges of the court scolded him, trying to “pay attention to how the people normally behave” [Berachot 45a], and demanded to hear from him the position of the Chief Rabbinate. The future result is not easy to guess. Will it depend on the specific judges who are called upon to rule? (As an aside: the kashrut approvals of the “Badatz” organizations are evidently provided in addition to regular approval by the Rabbinate. They have branded themselves as “Mehadrin,” holding to an especially stringent level of kashrut, and it seems that there is a demand for this.)

I agree with the feeling that the time has come for privatization in the realms of kashrut and other religious services (such as has been done with medical insurance and public transportation…). This would place the Chief Rabbinate in a regulatory role, “higher-level” supervision, giving approvals to those who directly supervise the kashrut, attesting to their honesty and their authority . Perhaps the Rabbinate should also be involved in setting the work conditions of the kashrut supervisors. With respect to the new organization in Jerusalem, I would insist on one other precondition – only groups that have proven experience in the field and that have attained public trust would be able to enter the arena as independent supervisors of kashrut. And there is another prerequisite: Transparency – the organization must prominently display the “kashrut elements” on which they depend, and which rabbis give them approval. For example, there might be room to accept rabbis who are willing to give kashrut approval to firms which do not observe Shabbat, while some people might reject them. Some would prefer to be stringent with respect to cooking in a restaurant by a Gentile, in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, while others may be more lenient, following the opinion of the RAMA (see Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Yechaveh Dei’ah, 5, 54). Some will be willing to accept the “heter mechirah” for Shemitta, while others will not. Some will be stringent about milk of Gentiles. Many examples can be given. But the main point is that there should never be any room for deception and misleading claims.

In the petition in Jerusalem, as long as the current law remains in effect and there is no regulatory mechanism, and as long as there is no “higher-level” supervision over the “private supervision,” the situation is indeed one of deception and misleading claims. The normal citizen, who is not aware of the ins and outs of all the power fights against recognized institutions, will tend to accept any “certificate of supervision” as if it was given by the officially recognized kashrut authority. Would we tolerate such sophisticated wording with respect to the ingredients of our food? Would the relevant government authorities allow “approvals” of this type with respect to health, security, or ecology, using very tricky wording?


Let me add that rabbis who are not expert in the issues involved should refrain from giving Shabbat approval to eg hot water heaters or samovars, or to ovens. And this reminds me of the recent scandal of the “kosher switch” which is being promoted by a group in the United States. This “kosher for Shabbat switch” has received approvals by some very low-level rabbis but is rejected by all the rabbis of recognized authority.

Just as it is unthinkable that approval by an amateur will be accepted in matters of security or health, so caution is needed for religious approvals.

Win some, lose some. Chabadnik dons Tefillin on ex-Charedi lady

Some find this funny. For me it epitomises גלות. Here we have a well-meaning boy, who is trying to ignite a spark within Jews. His mode, is that of his Rebbe זי’’ע and that includes igniting the Neshoma through a Mitzvah, the Mitzvah of Hanochas Tefillin.

The only problem is, in this case it was a woman. She had buzzed hair, and to top it off had a strong Charedi broken English accent, full of the usual errors. She obviously enjoyed her moment in the sun of egalitarianism.

I feel sad that she obviously hates her heritage so much, that she is ready to mislead this well-meaning בחור. She’s no daughter of Rashi.

אוי מה היה לנו

Woe unto what we have become


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)


How different is their indoctrination?

these oh so sweet boys share views held by Melbourne’s Shomer Emunim School, a break away from Adass. How sick, sick sick

Watch this

Who attended Rav Lichtenstein’s funeral?

My nephew was there and I saw a few pictures, but I’m interested to know if senior representatives of his family, e.g. R’ Dovid Soloveitchik, senior members of Aguda and Shas or even the Badatz actually attended the Kevura of the Rav’s son in law.

He was one Rov, who didn’t antagonise. He held his views, supported them but one didn’t have to agree with him. He, עליו השלום, used to go R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to pasken his own Sheilos  (that was a measure of his humbleness) in the same way that R’ Avigdor Nevernzahl שלי’טא did.

I heard the the Brisker Soleveitchiks descended from R’ Velvele ז’ל had enormous Derech Eretz for R’ Aharon. I hope/expect they attended.

Was anyone there who can confirm?

Where are the Charedi Luminaries?

[Hat tip DS]

The original (24/4/215) in Hebrew is here from Chadrei Charedim. I haven’t seen it elsewhere in English.

A Givati Brigade Commander went to see two of his Charedi soldiers who were in dire poverty in Meah Shearim. The Jewish Terrorists of Meah Shearim, then set on him and his car for daring to come and aid etc. The mother of the Brigade Commander noted that her husband was Rav Getz, the Rav of the Kotel, who had good relationships between these Meshugoim. About 50 of them, men and children lay on the road, smashed his car and wouldn’t let him leave. They knew he was too kind to do anything to them. Have we heard any voice of condemnation from the Charedi Badatz.

I’d take the 50, and put them on a farm in Beersheba and make them work for a year. They slept soundly at night while this brigade leader and his soldiers risked their lives and this is the thanks they get.

Enough is enough. We have to send a message to these extremists. When they come to my door, again, I will give them the least and tell them that instead of travelling the world they’d be better off enlisting in an old age home and helping people in Israel and earning a wage. They aren’t geniuses, they are not the chosen few who should be sitting and learning all their lives. That is the domain of the real McCoy.

These Jewish Terrorists are a gross Chillul Hashem, and they remind me of the Sunni vs Shiite war that is raging. They do not see the rest of us as useful or part of the Jewish Kehilla (unless of course you are flashing hundred-dollar bills).


Jewish Meah Shearim Thugs

וְשֹׁחַד לֹא תִקָּח כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר פִּקְחִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים



Don’t give Satmar a cent

From Ha’aretz. Be under NO illusion. There are many in Melbourne’s Adass Community who support this group completely. Others are even more right-wing.

Why would you say anything, even if you disagreed. They are the right-wing version of J-Street.

They live separate lives to the rest of us. They should not come to my door whether brought by master driver Osher Ehrlichster and others, all whom make a nice commission from these collectors. I will give them a dollar if they sing HaTikvah even with modified words (like I do).

If you expect a rebuttsl or disagreement with Rabbi Beck, forget it,

If it wasn’t for the fact that Yankel Unfanger was such a Tzadik, I’d have nothing to do with their products. He’s normal. Many of the rest are not. They are extreme zealots who should live on Gibraltar. They have a monopoly on Chalav Yisrael. That’s life.

Sicko Satmars

Some 3,000 followers of the Satmar Rebbe in Williamsburg took it to the streets of Manhattan Tuesday evening to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his speech to Congress and his claim that he’s an emissary on behalf of world Jewry to warn of a nuclear Iran.

The protest, held outside the Israeli Consulate on 2nd avenue and 42nd street in Midtown Manhattan, was organized by the Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada and attended by the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum.

Signs at the protest included statements such as “Bibi – don’t drag American Jewry into your provocative politics”, “”Bibi Netanyahu does not speak for us”, and “we are ably represented, we don’t need a Bibi-sitter.”

“When Netanyahu professes to speak on our behalf, we have to speak out and say this is not the case,” Rabbi David Neiderman told the thousands assembled. “Benjamin Netanyahu, stop speaking on our behalf and directing us what to do.”

“We in America and Jews all over the world are loyal citizens in the respective countries we reside in, and no other foreign government can claim to represent us or speak on our behalf,” he proclaimed.

Rabbi Neiderman went on to thank President Obama – whose name mentioning drew thunderous cheers – together with the Republican congressional leadership. “We are well represented and don’t need Netanyahu and his government’s representation,” he stated.

The speakers preceding Rabbi Neiderman were harsher in their attacks against the Israeli leader. They called him “Haman” and Amalek” and accused him of igniting antisemitism by his ‘reckless’ actions. One Rabbi went a step further to claim that he’s sacrificing the well-being of world Jewry for his political survival. The Satmar Shita against Zionism and the formation of a state in the land of Israel was only mentioned as a secondary reason to protest.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, a spokesperson for ‘Natruna’ and the “True Torah Jews” website, told JP that the protest was only aimed to contradict what Netanyahu said that he’s speaking in the name of all Jewish people. “Besides this being a lie, it’s a very dangerous thing for him to say,” Rabbi Shapiro asserted. “He wants to get into some brouhaha with the president, he’s a foreign minister, he can do whatever he wants. But why bring in the Jewish people into this? So, we are here contradicting what he said about us, and if somebody has a problem with what Netanyahu said he shouldn’t blame the Jewish people.”

“We are here to disassociate ourselves from the dangerous statements he’s making – statement that puts Jews in danger,” he added.

Rabbi Shapiro also lambasted those who compare Satmar – who is against Zionism – to Neturei Karta, who associate themselves with Iran and the Palestinians. “We don’t believe that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. And when a leader of a foreign country comes to America to trash the president and says he’s our representative, the question is not why us but where is everybody else?” he explained.

The AJN attack on Orthodox opinion

The AJN is perfectly entitled to have views. These are widely considered anti–religious for many years by many. In fact, each year we ask ourselves why we buy it.

Whatever the case may be, the AJN needs to acknowledge that nobody contends that homosexuality is an illness. It is a preference, call it a predilection. I don’t have it, so I can’t claim any expertise nor am I a therapist of any sort. The preference itself, as is well-known by the AJN is not considered sinful according to Torah Judaism (I don’t conclude man-made reformations of Judaism here as they are of minor interest if any). People are born with predilections. There is the nature vs nurture conundrum which is far from settled. Acting on the preference and performing the homosexual act is described as sinful by the Torah and Codifiers. There can be no argument about that fact in any form of Orthodoxy. Reformers have their own religion.

Now, many if not the vast majority of those professionals who see homosexuals professionally claim that the predilection is life long and cannot be altered. That may well be. There isn’t Science here, and extrapolation into the future is tenuous at best. Maimonides knew about predilections long ago.

The best counter case to nature, as quoted by arguably the most respected psychiatrist in the USA, Professor Abraham Twersky, and many others is the identical twin conundrum which has been studied extensively. All known biological markers were exactly the same, and yet one twin had a predilection and the other did not. There is currently no theory able to explain that. There is a minority view, and yes it is a minority (Dr Elon Karten comes to mind) that claims they have techniques which allow predilection change to materialise. Like Climate Skeptics they are attacked regularly. I’m not an expert, but as a Scientist, one would be a fool to think that in ten years time, our knowledge of these things will still be static. Accordingly, if Rabbi Telsner or anyone else subscribes to the view that predilection modification could occur, they do not deserve to be pilloried in the disrespectful tone of the AJN.

Pedophillia is also at least a predilection. Perhaps we will discover it is more likely a disease that is incurable except by using drastic means to make sure that those who seem to “enjoy” such things are simply incapable of (re)offending. In the meanwhile, one witnesses judges themselves releasing pedophiles back into the public after serving sentences, as if law makers believe they will be “safe” to society once  so released. Is that true? Evidence would suggest that re-offending is (too) common and perhaps techniques for rehabilitation are simply inadequate and not practical at this time.

Now, if Rabbi Telsner were to subscribe to an opinion that people with predilections can have them modified (and this could extend to those with life long fetishes), one can disagree, but one should not excoriate him in the way of the AJN, as a matter arising out of the Royal Commission.

Rav Schachter of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University always said that a “stock” Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel in general should not be a Posek (decisor) of Halacha because they sit in a cloistered environment and are often/mostly oblivious to the nuances of science and other disciplines. This was certainly the case in Lithuania where most Rabbi’s were not Halachic Decisors. There were some exceptions such as the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish, but the late and great Chacham Ovadya Yosef did not consider the Chazon Ish a Posek of repute, because he sat cloistered and didn’t face the people, so to speak.

Either Rabbi Telsner has read some minority opinions or has been informed of such by some of his constituents. This can mean that the AJN, seeing itself to present current knowledge on such topics can disagree with the minority opinion, but it does not give then a license to excoriate a Rabbi for agreeing to such a minority opinion.

The last time I looked there were no Nobel Prize winners writing for the AJN, and aside from the occasional community brouhaha most of the news is stale, and unenlightening. Indeed we may have also recently witnessed an alleged breach of journalistic ethics which has allegedly resulted in a staff member being suspended initially. The mere fact that we are exposed to the weekly whining letters of Messrs Burd and Herzog, and others is bad enough. One could almost write their letter before reading it. I think the AJN do good things but there is room for improvement in some of its approaches. Yes, I know it’s good for selling papers, but Oilom Goilom believes everything.

The “what do you think” section is statistically unsound, and really just a copy of journalistic practice in low-level papers, like the Herald Sun and others. Is it going to make one iota of a difference if I know what the local butcher thinks of Bibi’s chances?

I’m digressing.

Back to the issue at hand. The AJN may not have liked elements of evidence tendered. As such, it should carefully analyse such in a calm and sanguine way. The majority of Rabbis are traumatised by the Royal Commission, and my sense is that things will never return to the situation before in respect to how they react if they are God forbid confronted with such information. We aren’t Catholics, and don’t have a box where one admits their sins and the Priest, Lehavdil, absolves the sin, says a few hail mary’s sends the perpetrator on their way and will never breach confidence.

It’s also not about Chabad. Don’t people read the internet? Modern Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel has pleaded guilty to secretly videoing some 57 women at the Mikva with secret cameras. Is he sick? Undoubtedly. Can he be rehabilitated? I don’t know. He will serve jail time. Does this paint all Rabbis as fetish-laden? Of course not.

Contrast this issue to the one about the “interfaith dialogue” we graphically saw and where Rabbi Ralph Genende as usual gushed forward with platitudes about how useful they were. Let’s look at the evidence AJN. What has ever changed because of these meetings. They were forbidden according to the scion of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik for reasons which were absolutely sound then, and even more sound now. If it was a meeting to bring religions together to have a joint charity drive for the homeless,  or similar that’s fine. If it was about showing our religion to them and theirs to ours, what’s the point? Tolerance can be achieved without any interfaith dialogue as long as nobody considers us as monkeys behind trees that have to be killed. Was I blind, or did the AJN not notice that there was no muslim representative in the picture at that “feel good” meeting, or did I miss something.

Anyway, to make it clear, I usually do not agree with Rabbi Telsner but on some matters I don’t think he deserves the anti-religious excoriation meted out to him.

AJN and especially Rabbi Ralph Genende of the moderate left wing: check this out for a reality check while you read the Chazal quoted by Rashi הלכה עשיו שונה ליעקב. (Whiteout anyone?)

I’d love to hear the AJN and/or Rabbi Ralph’s commentary on this, or better still have his interfaith group muslim representative condemn this presentation from February 13th in Copenhagen as abominable in the extreme in the Western and Muslim Press.

Priorities warped on Haredi websites?

I was looking for an article in either the Yeshivah World News or in Matzav for some coverage of the faults identified in the Royal Commission into abuse. Both of these publications are hardly pro Chabad, and yet, unless I missed it, I failed to see a single mention. That of itself, if I am correct (and I’d be happy to proved wrong) is an inditement on the Haredi world, where Chabad is considered on the left fringe anyway.

In what way is this not news? Why shouldn’t Haredi readers know about what is public knowledge? It’s simple. They deal with their problems “in-house”. Here, I don’t mean the Rabbi Groner approach of seeking out experts and not being aware that the proclivity might be described as a disease. No, in these communities nothing at all has changed.

And yet, sorry folks, if you are a Litvak, I am Posul as a witness according to the following from YWN

Maran HaGaon HaRav Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman Shlita spoke out regarding persons using iPhones, stating they are pasul l’eidus.

HaGaon HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schneider tells of the gadol hador’s words in the weekly Pri Chaim publication. He explains “we merited hearing Maran’s opinion regarding iPhones, the impure device, and I am presenting these words after Rabbeinu questioned regarding a bochur that R”L fell victim as a result”.

He begins by stating the Rosh Yeshiva was made aware of the high cost of such a phone, resulting in his response that it is quite costly to sin and people are willing to pay a great deal of money – the main thing is to sin. He adds that a good esrog is less expensive and when he heard one person say that one who spends so much on an iPhone will not buy an expensive esrog, Rav Shteinman stated this is not necessarily so, for there are those who will pay for an esrog, as well as for an iPhone l’havdil.

Rav Shteinman was informed that HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Halevy Wosner Shlita ruled one who possesses an iPhone is ‘pasul l’eidus’ as Rav Wosner disqualified a witness at a chupah when learning of his phone. Rav Shteinman stated “The Klall is a prohibition that incurs malkos renders one pasul from d’oraissa and a prohibition that does not incur malkos only pasuls d’rabbonon. Hence, one with an iPhone is pasul from eidus d’rabbonon since malkos are not involved here.

This reminds me of the farcical situation when Rabbi Benyamin Wurtzburger, Rosh Kollel of the Lakewood Kollel who was Mesader Kiddushin at a wedding, publicly attempted to make Dayan Telsner, Pasul as a witness, because of his contention (which is probably correct) that Dayan Telsner is a Meshichist. Ironically, phone calls to Rabbi Beck from Adass to Wurtzurger were needed to make him understand that one is not Pasul for having some far-flung view, which is out of touch with the Rambam and Mesora.

Where are our priorities? Will Rav Shteinman be happy with cheap Samsungs or HTC or ? Does have the remotest clue what the difference between this is?

Rabbi Wurtzburger seated left, next to Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner


Our holiday. Part 2: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

Dear Readers,

Herein part 2.

As stated in part 1, our trip, although planned, was somewhat up in the air awaiting various confirmations. As it turned out, Baruch Hashem these came through and we arrived on a Wednesday in Crown Heights, New York, for the first leg. I had never been to crown heights, nor, as I have stated did I ever have a great interest in visiting there. And this, despite the fact that I went to a Chabad School, and daven in Chabad. I’d heard things about the place, but admittedly, I really only listened with one ear, but for me, spending time in Yerusholayim, Ir HaKodesh, was and remains the focus of my heart and mind. Our son, Yossi is currently learning in Israel, and both my wife and I felt that despite our yearning to visit Israel once more, it would be better not to disrupt Yossi’s progress with our ever presence for a few weeks. So, based on my wife’s previous year’s experience, and her suggestion I acceded without rancour to a visit to Crown Heights en route to Montreal, and then our holiday in Miami.

It was difficult to pack because one encountered  the cold winter cold of Crown Heights and colder winter of Montreal and then the physical warmth of Miami; a contradiction in weather patterns, it say the least. My wife expertly found us what is known as a ‘basement’ for our lodging. Observing the architecture, it became clear that basements are a regular fixture of narrower houses that invariably are built on an incline. I was reminded of parts of Sydney. Down the steps we went, and into a basement. It was nightfall already, and the flight via Hong Kong had been longer than expected because our Melbourne to Hong Kong leg departed late, and we missed the connecting flight. I did enjoy a few scotches in the Cathay lounge in stuporous compensation. Marc Schachter was also present, and he was a more experienced flier to these regions, providing sound advice. It was impossible to get food into the airport, and while there was the usual sprinkling of OU Nash, that wasn’t exactly what we were after. This also meant there was no Kosher food on the long missed subsequent leg to New York, as they require 48 hours notice. That God, my wife had a few Wurst Sandwiches which we devoured early on the flight. I did contact Chabad close by, but there wasn’t enough time to effect any changes.

Arriving in Crown Heights, New York, the basement was neat and clean and had amenities for those who maintain a fidelity to Halacha. We quickly grabbed a sandwich from a 24 hour place near vt. It was overpriced, but tasty nonetheless and we were hungry. I mentioned to my wife, that despite sleeping on the plane, I had no idea what time I would wake in the morning and hopefully it wouldn’t be too late for a minyan.

As it turned out, I managed to wake in the morning hours at a reasonable time, grabbed my tallis and  tefillin and noticed lots of chassidim in the street walking in a particular direction. I followed them and then found myself literally 2 minutes later standing in front of 770. We were obviously very close to 770. I recognised it, ironically, from the 770 facade in Caulfield!

I wasn’t sure what to do. I am not comfortable davening with meshichisten, and I wondered if I would end up in a Shule therein bedraped with signs, people taking dollars from nobody, drinking Kos Shel Brocho from nobody, or pretending to make a pathway for nobody to walk through. These are scenes I don’t want to be ever be connected with. I become aggravated weekly from the unnecessary single sign at the back of Yeshivah in Hotham Street Melbourne which effectively states that there cannot be a Moshiach other than the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a nonsense by any stretch of normative Judaism. There is nobody who can or should state who the Moshiach must be. It isn’t part of our Mesora to do that. I am not going to get into the issue from a learned perspective, but an interested and serious reader would do well to read the work of HaRav HaGaon R’ Yechezkel Sofer in his important Kuntress Yisboraru Veyislabnu, for which he was ridiculed and called R’ Yechezkel Kofer (a disgusting pejorative).

That sign grates on many people, but remains up because the Chassidim who run the Shule in Melbourne, including the clergy, don’t actually follow the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directives which included the point that if such a thing causes one person not to come in or feel comfortable, then they should be discarded as they are not the essence of Chabad. Those people have their own rules for what is term Hiskashrus and that concept seems to supersede even what their own Rebbe stated clearly and plainly. I will stop there on that topic.

All these thoughts were in my mind as I stood at the doorway, wondering whether I should go in. I knew I’d be able to find another Shule, but my sense of direction is so woeful, I feared walking further. In addition, I had just finished reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and these had an effect on me. I decided to brave matters and enter.

Opening the door and there was a narrow corridor, and I noticed some people milling about. I recognised Rabbi Shem Tov; he has distinctive eye brows! He was rather self-effacing and pointed to a room and said a minyan would start there in 15 minutes. I searched for a place to put my coat, such that I might find it again and then the door opened and I walked in and readied myself for davening. I noticed that it was an office and that the bookshelves has been sealed. In front of me was a small desk, and it then became obvious that I was in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s office, the room where many a famous yechidus/discussion took place. When a few men turned around and briefly eye-balled me, I realised that the Rebbes’s three secretaries were also in this minyan. My mind wandered to the many stories described in the three books (a draft review of which I have had for some time but have not managed to complete) It was a surreal experience finding myself in that very room. Some people strangely were davening just outside the room even though there was space therein. I was to learn later that this was their way of according respect, because they had no “permission” to enter. Not being a Chabad Chasid myself, I didn’t feel uncomfortable davening in the office and entered as I would in any circumstance.

I looked at the chair, and felt some sadness that there was nobody occupying it. At the same time I was made to feel very welcome. There were no shrieks of Yechi here, no emblazoned Yarmulkas, and no yellow lapel badges, all of which continue to annoy me as they are expressions of a false reality. Instead, call it by divine providence, my first encounter was with those who I consider “normal,  level-headed” Chassidim who were no less connected to their late Rebbe than the type who feel the need to advertise their views. We are lucky that tattoos are forbidden. If not, I would imagine Hiskashrus would be akin to tattooing the Rebbe on one’s back, forehead, and anywhere else.

Being a Thursday, there was layning. It was also Chanuka. The Gabbay, whose son-in-law is the Rabbi of Central Synagogue in Sydney, is a warm man, and when he called out “is there a Cohen”, I answered in the affirmative. I follow the Psak of Rav Soltoveitchik that these days, it is highly questionable whether one should make a Brocho of Gomel after flying as it happens to be safer than crossing a road (statistically). I am a stubborn type in the sense that I don’t like to deviate from what I have been taught to be clear halacha. Accordingly, I made the Brachos on an open sefer torah (and not closing it as per many including Chabad). The Baal Koreh didn’t interfere, and I respect him for that. I felt a bit cheeky doing so, but it is how I do it naturally. When I finished the second bracha, I decided that I would bench Gomel. When I think back why I did so, I think the primary reason was that it was a tad fortuitous and pre-ordained that I should immediately be in the Rebbe’s Yechidus Room, and I felt that Minhag Hamakom should prevail. I wasn’t consistent, because I used the Brocho of Gomel of Nusach Sfard instead of Chabad, but impressively, not a single person blinked an eye lid or issued any complaint. This seemed to be the type of inclusive environment I was used to as a youth, and although my actions were contradictory, I felt a feeling of “acceptance”. At the conclusion of davening, which was undoubtedly more meaningful for me because I was, where I was, and thereby able to commune more effectively with God, I was asked who I was etc.

I couldn’t really answer in any meaningful way except to say I was a Mechutan of Rabbi Yossy Goldman and Rabbi Shabsy Chaiton, both of whom everyone seemed to know. It probably sounded like I was trying to brandish Yichus, but that wasn’t my intention at all. Isaac Balbin, is a meaningless name, although I was to find out that a few people were readers of my blog and enjoyed it. That’s a bonus, but not the reason I write. Indeed, I am writing now, after visiting my father’s Tziyun at Springvale, and whilst I should be learning more Mishnayos, this post is what I am capable of doing at the minute  in my state of mind.

I continued returning to this Minyan later for Mincha etc. It seems it isn’t always available but being Chanuka, I was fortunate. I love the haunting Haneyros Halolu from Chabad, and enjoyed that immensely. Each time I noticed a few more rooms and then it dawned on me that one had to go downstairs to see the “main shule”. I forgot that everything is below ground here!

I didn’t want to go there. I had seen pictures. I had seen the Tzfatim outside, and that atmosphere as opposed to the one where I davened, provided no attraction to me. I didn’t go downstairs.

Shabbos was looming, and Ari Raskin’s aufruf was also to be upstairs, and that was lucky (for me at least). That day is a Parsha in of itself and will be Part 4 of the trip.

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

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

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

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

The horrid Holtzberg Kvura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heter Mechira in Shmitta

This may come as a surprise to the nidertrechtikte soinim of Rav Kook, but the common fallacy is that when he became Chief Rabbi of Yaffo-Tel Aviv, he introduced the Heter Mechira.

This is of course one of a string of lies and distortions that Israel/ZIONIST hating so called Frummer Hungarians in Israel would have you gullibly swallow to this day.

But their world isn’t a world of Torah even remotely approaching the supreme and holy Tzadik that Rav Kook was, so I am not surprised that they peddled and continue to peddle their outright lies and disrespect for a very holy Rov.

A sense of shame and חילול השם

It’s somewhat ironic that during the week of Parshas Pinchas, where the grandson of Aron HaKohen, failed to consult with the Manhig HaDor, Moshe Rabeinu, and murdered the two lust-filled people who were cavorting in a tent. I hear you say that Hashem gave Pinchas the Bris of שלום albeit with a shortened Vav and there are many explanations in this regard. I will leave it to readers to refresh their memories and check the myriad of diametrically opposed explanations of this act.

Fast forward. Three תנוקות של בית רבן, Yeshiva Students of the highest calibre were short and murdered because they were Jewish. Had they been Muslims, they would not have been shot or kidnapped. The perpetrators seem to be hiding in caves somewhere in the Chevron region. Time will tell. They will be caught and they will receive, hopefully, a life sentence behind bars, with no remission, and no luxuries.

It is now pretty clear that some,  overcome with the grief of this incident coupled with their sense of vengeance felt that they could take the law into their own hands and incinerate a Muslim boy in return. This is anathema. It is anathema not just in Jewish Law, but even B’nei Noach are meant to have proper courts of laws and systems. Society cannot exist while people are taking the law into their own hands. Did they even listen to the words of the parents of the slain קדושים’s parents? Did they think that the man hunt wasn’t on an enormous scale with the aim of catching the low lives who perpetrated this disgraceful act.

Yes, we can show that we didn’t demonstrate, burn tyres, cause all range of mass violence in reaction, but some, albeit a few, had been brought up and inculcated, no different to the murderer of Yitzchak Rabin, to take the law into their own hands.

This was an opportunity to demonstrate a Kiddush Hashem. The parents were inspiring. The world was watching, and then some wild ones קנאים decided that they owned the right to respond for the parents and for the State. They too must be brought to justice, and they too must be jailed for the rest of their lives, in an Israeli Jail, without the comforts of a good living. No “Glatt Kosher/Daf HaYomi” Jail for them. They should do physical labour and go to sleep each night exhausted. For they have defamed the name of Hashem Yisborach, and that in turn defames the name and kedusha of Am Yisrael.

From afar, I do not believe in territorial concessions. I believe one must be aggressive in expansion and only this will bring the Jordanian Palestinians to their senses. Either they want one state in Yehuda and Shomron, or they do not. Until they renounce violence and completely disarm, they cannot be partners for peace. Until that time, Jews have the same right to live in the previously declared Jordanian territory as anyone else. If they don’t like it, then they should negotiate. No Israeli Prime Minister from the left of the left to the right of the right has managed to find a partner for peace. Abbas is just a pretty western suit with a coiffured moustache. It’s only a matter of time before he dies of old age or sickness and then there is nobody else. He hasn’t got the guts to do anything because, unlike Sadat, he is afraid. He is afraid that someone will blow his head off. Let him go to his grave afraid. In the meantime, there is nobody with authority or credibility to talk to.

Then there is the enemy in our midst. If a Palestinian State was to be established, then Jews should be permitted to live there. If they are not, then all Palestinians within Israel should be asked to politely leave before they are forcibly removed. We live under the façade of a holy democracy. It is an incredible democracy but it has allowed people who are not genuine citizens to pretend that they are part of Israel. Anyone not ready to sing Hatikva, fight in the IDF, and do their civic duty is not a Citizen of the State. I don’t care who they are. It’s a free world. They can go to Jordan or Yehuda VeShomron or Williamsburg and live a free life over there if they hate Israel. Let’s face it, most loathe Israel.

Ironically, the words of Aharon of Satmer are but a pimple compared the acts of these Jewish young adults.

Extremists on both sides need to be sidelined. The Meretz Morons whose philosophies are astronomically in the realm of cosmology cause as much trouble as the right wing automatons who have grown out of the ill-fated Gush Emunim movement. Rav Amital would be turning in his grave.

The Chief Rabbis should have (maybe they did) attended the funeral of the Muslim Boy, and sought out his Imam, to apologise for the extremists who decided that price tag was some sort of Hetter to commit חילול שם שמים. We don’t say ה׳ ינקום דמם for no reason. Yes, we must bring them to justice, but Hashem will ultimately deal with their future, and if he sees his people behaving with similar savagery, will he be happy? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that we cannot be Hashem’s accountants. There are all sorts of Rebbalach and more who think they know why Hashem oversees certain things. They would do better by simply following והלכת בדרכיו

We don’t need more accountancy from self-appointed accountants of Hashem’s Cheshbonos. We can only deal with the here and now. The here and now is ugly and we must not let these חיות רעות invade the HOLINESS of our religion. Theirs is a profanation that cannot be countenanced.

They aren’t Pinchas. They have no Moshe. They certainly didn’t make בריתי שלום

The excruciating pain of the 3 kidnapped yeshivah boys and the disgrace of Neturei Karta

[Hat tip DS]

My children were near that spot on Thursday night. It is spine chilling. While we normally criticise Neturei Karta for a lack of Ahavas Yisrael, in this case, they have certainly done the wrong thing. They have written about three of their own who (שומו שמים) may have been drafted into the Holy Army defending our Nation.

I find it very hard to support these people. Someone at Shule said “respect their Shita”. Sorry, this poster makes me ill in context. They complain about “ZIONIST MURDERERS”

What Mashiach would want to walk through Meah Shearim? Not even Shabtai Tzvi the faker.

I call on the leaders of Adass Yisrael to disassociate themselves from this and to attend the Tehillim tonight at Caulfield Shule


Pinchas Koplowicz ע’’ה

My memories of this man are larger than life. I attended his Levaya on Erev Shabbos. To us, the Balbin family, he was known as ‘Uncle Pinye’. We were brought up never to call more senior people by their first names. It wasn’t appropriate to call him Mr, in the same way that it wasn’t appropriate to use the Yiddish “Ir” instead of the closer version “Dir”. He, as usual, disliked Mr just as much, and always said he was “Peter Kay.”

Uncle Pinye was another long-time member of Elwood Shule after his family moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. He sat at the back-most row of the Shule in the last seat of the middle section on the left, leading into the Beis Medrash named after R’ Chaim Yoffe, where daily services are still conducted. Uncle Pinye didn’t sit there because the seats were cheaper. He sat there because he was enigmatic. On the one hand, he wasn’t short of a dollar, and was munificent when it came to Tzedoko for causes that were dear to him. He revelled in the happy social murmur pervading a brunch or event that he loved to host. On the other hand, he wasn’t a person who felt comfortable “standing out” in a Shule environment. The most comforting, perhaps compromising position for him was in the back row. If anything, I felt that he was always struggling when sitting in Shule, conjoined to a seat.

To be sure, there were other members of our family who also sat in that back row over the years, and this would also have contributed to feelings of relative comfort. I use the term ‘relative comfort’ because he was constantly in a state of inner and vocal philosophical turmoil.

All Holocaust survivors struggle to find meaning or justification (if I can use such a word) to describe what they experienced, but he was an Auschwitz survivor whose tattooed number one didn’t need to see. ‘Holocaust survivor and State of Israel lover‘ were evident in a virtual tattoo that was visible constantly on his forehead and literally manifested itself in every second line of conversation I and others had with him for almost 50 years.

A close friend of my father ע’’ה for seventy years, he and his wife Resi ע’’ה loved my mother equally.

Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום
Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום

He always told me that if I needed to study the definition of Yiddishe Mamme, I should simply look at my mother. I remember my band ‘Schnapps’ flying up to Sydney to play at his grandson’s wedding. I secretly wept at select moments when nobody was watching. I played Yiddishe Mamma at his request on my violin. For him, this was a surreal occasion. I feel he was riddled with the understandable guilt of enjoyment and Nachas. What do I mean by that? Although he merited seeing two daughters build families and played joyfully with great grandchildren, he was in a state of questioning at all times. His question was

“Why me? Why did I deserve to survive? What inherent quality did I possess that was not possessed by the millions who were butchered around me?

That was not his most powerful question or indeed his constant question. He traumatised me somewhat from a very young age whenever, and I mean whenever, he saw me. He would ask:

Hey youngster! Yitzchik, I know you are an intelligent boy, a religious boy, and a good son to your parents, but one day I’d like you to explain to me why 1,000,000 children deserved to die.

As I got older, and wiser, I subconsciously, and no doubt intentionally, tried to gently steer the conversation away from that and to the Nachas he was enjoying. He wasn’t simple, of course. He knew exactly what I was doing, and sometimes managed to reverse my strategy.

He wore a small Tallis, and usually that grey hat. I suspect that the late and great R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל was someone whose expressed the pain of the holocaust and a genuine love of the State of Israel as manifested in his renowned drashos, affected Uncle Pinye in a manner that captivated his attention. Rabbi Gutnick didn’t have answers either. He never pretended to. Who does? He spoke about the dry bones, and how those dry bones came to life. I am sure that message resonated somewhat with Uncle Pinye, and it was probably for that reason, and the cajoling of my father and late Uncle Yaakov, that allowed him to feel semi-comfortable enough to attend Elwood in those days.

Last week, when his state of health state was undulating precariously like a yo-yo, between recovery and imminent end of life, I visited him. As a Cohen, it was a calculated decision. We donned gowns and gloves. He was lying listlessly in the bed, and when he realised that I had come with my mother, an enormous strength overcame him as reflected in his eyes and hands. Suddenly, he was the typical Uncle Pinye. I knew it, because he said , in his last words to me

Listen to me youngster (he was 93 and I have grandchildren!)  I do not intend to leave this world until I get an answer to why 1,000,000 children were allowed to be murdered.

I was frozen, as always when confronted with this style of questioning. I find it difficult to read books about the holocaust, let alone watch a movie. The latter stems from my experience as a boy, watching the Diary of Anne Frank and running out of the TV room when the Nazis ימ’’ש found her. I recall running to my room in Rockbrook Road, lying down on the bed, trembling and weeping. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that moment. But, this isn’t about me.

When we were young, his family lived in Adelaide. It was there that he built his livelihood. They would come (and it wasn’t cheap) for visits to Melbourne, and there was no question that his daughters were tantalised by the richer Jewish and social life in Melbourne, as well as the sense of family experienced through the wider Balbin family. Whenever they came, we were in their surrounds, enjoying many moments together. They were a permanent fixture though they lived in Adelaide. Eventually, daughters Dora and Belinda won. The family moved to Melbourne, but he used to commute because he couldn’t just leave his business interests to dissipate in wanton abandon.

He had used the name Peter Kay, because in a non-Jewish world it was easier. I recall his love of table tennis, gymnastics, hand-stands and sport, as well as the gregarious nature he oozed without tiring. He had no qualms dressing up, and his house just had to have a formal bar. The refrain

Can I offer you a drink?

still rings in my ear. It wasn’t an offer. It was essentially a command. He had it all behind that bar, and once a drink or two were quaffed, our discussion inevitably led to the Holocaust and how much he admired my parents and family.

He would enthuse that he didn’t have words for the honesty and integrity of my father and Uncle Yaakov who slaved upstairs in their factory cutting clothes and assembling them for production.

For her part, my mother knew that Uncle Pinye loved Choolent. Almost each Shabbos, especially when my father retired, we set aside the remainder to be delivered personally by my father (sometimes together with me) to his house on Sunday. If my father was ill, he and my mother would ask me to perform the delivery. I did so, willingly, of course, even if it meant a drink and talk session that lasted at least an hour. There was no such thing as a quick visit.

I remember a number of times he said to me, “Yitzchik, I have so many paintings, please choose a few and take them home for your lovely wife”. I have always felt uncomforable accepting gifts, and I kept replying that I had no art appreciation and he’d need to talk to my wife. His response was, of course, “so bring her, with pleasure”. My wife also visited on a number of occasions and he loved her too like family.

The root of this connection goes back many years. Although he was born in Lodz, he had relatives in my father’s home town of Rawa Mazowiecka. Immediately after the war,

Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום
Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום

when he imagined that nobody had survived, he found two of his sisters in my Booba and Zeyda’s house in Rawa. He never forgot that. I recall when the sisters (Zosia and Itka), who lived overseas, would come to Melbourne, the special bond that they too shared with my father. The kinsmanship and love were palpable. It was no problem for me to like them as well. It was a veritable hand in glove.

Like my parents, his family was his love and purpose and that kept a tortured soul focussed and grounded somewhat. The State of Israel was a miracle he was so very proud of and he never failed to be part of it, even when he wasn’t physically standing in the streets therein.

When my father ע’’ה passed away recently, he turned his attention to the isolation and melancholy that my mother understandably descended into. After her serious fall, he redoubled his efforts, even though he was physically frail. Almost a day wouldn’t go by without him incessantly ringing my mother, and then me and my sisters when he couldn’t elicit an answer from her phone. He wanted to take out the entire family for dinner. I tried to explain that we’d need to wait until the year was over, and he accepted that, but even after the year was over, my mother was and remains rather isolationist, rejecting invitations from her friends for the most simple of activities, such as sharing a cup of coffee. This will change, undoubtedly, in time, but alas, Uncle Pinye departed before she was able to bring herself to accept invitations with comfort.

He is now, no doubt, at peace. I use the term קדושי ניצולי השואה which whilst not common, cannot be seen as objectionable. For me, every survivor was and is holy. They were holy, because they had been “set aside” as a Korbon, literally a sacrifice on the altar. For reasons we do not comprehend, the Korbon survived, not because it was a בעל מום, חס ושלום, rather because

הנסתרות להשם אלוקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם

The hidden mysteries are the domain of Hashem, but the revealed, is for us, our children and offspring, forever.

This is my only response, although it is not one that I ever used in discussion with Uncle Pinye. There could never be a response that would assuage his troubled, quixotic character.

He is now hovering above his grave on the journey to the Garden of Eden, at the end of the 12 months of mourning. His legacy, kindness, love, and gregarious nature, though, is set in stone in my psyche, and  in that of my mother, siblings, children and the wider Balbin family.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Postscript: at great expense and with much paper shuffling under the devoted hand of Ezra May, he decided to formally change his name back to Koplowicz. He had needed to function as “Kay” but he had never lost the Koplowicz, and that describes his essence in a single act. It isn’t surprising that Yom Yerushalayim will fall during his week of Shiva. That is also Hashgocho—the conundrum of issuing praise for the miracles Hashem wrought after the Holocaust, davka at a time of extreme mourning for an individual of this ilk.

The extremism is out of hand?

Check out this post from the Litvishe leader Rav Steinman inter alia (hat tip hr)

A gross CHILLUL HaShem

We need Rabbis to speak out against this arrant dangerous nonsense. WE created the problems through our false sense of entitlement.

On the Mizrachi Side we have the disgraceful hill top youth. How many more Chilulei HaShem do we have to witness?

This isn’t Torah. It isn’t a Torah State. It’s what HaShem paskened we should have. As such we should seek to make it holier through darchei noam.

I have to commend Rabbi Rosen. I reproduce his forthright criticism of the hill-top youth below.

So, this is nothing for Rabonim in Melbourne to speak about? I beg to differ. When the Sabra and Shatilla massacres occurred the NRP was against an enquiry until the Rav, rang them up from the USA and berated them for their loss of basic Torah values. They were kafuf to the Rav, and they listened thank God.

Halacha clearly states that a Yid can’t be seen to be less ‘moral’ than the normal world even if you bring 100 proofs that an enquiry is not necessary. There were times when unmarried girls wore hats to shule because the Xtian girls wore them to Church lehavdil. I recall a Tshuva in Yabia Omer on this.

People who resort to a Chilul HaShem when there are clearly other ways, will need to deal with the Aybishter after 120 years; not a pleasant thought.

Someone lurking behind a fake name sent me a comment that I should take down the picture of Moshe Beck in my earlier post because the Rabbi of Adass isn’t responsible for his brothers actions. That is 100% true. I know about this phenomenon unfortunately. It has always been true. But if that lurker with the fake Hungarian name lotzi123 had any guts, he’d name himself AND he’d tell us if it’s true that the Moro D’Asra actually visited his brother and attended Simchos. Is that also untrue and just made up stories ‘Lotzi’

I vehemently disagree with the extremists at Adass. They created their own School. Are they tolerated with sniggles and not open condemnation or Cherem? There are many great and kind and good people at Adass. I speak with them and like them. They ALSO privately bemoan the lurch to Satmar and Skverer extremism. We are brothers, but as Holocaust survivors dwindle the voices of the extremists take over. Is this the Chutzpa Yasge of the Gemora in Sanhedrin portending the Geula? If so bring on the Geula now please. It hurts to see people openly flouting clear Halacha because they think Israel is not from God but from the Sitra Achra. Mimo Nifshach: if it’s Sitra Achra get OUT … why do they stay?

In the least, if you loathe the not yet frum Yidden in Israel (unless you can make a buck off them) keep your thoughts to yourself and stop poisoning the kids with a menu of Sinah and Nekoma and now violence. I heard it with my own ears recently when I listened in to a Melamed teaching children. The Melamed is a Dayan! He was fire and brimstone in his delivery. The next generation has no chance.

How nice it was for once to see Charedim stand silently in the Park on Yom HaZikaron and recite Tehillim while doing so. THAT was a simply executed Kiddush HaShem.

Where are the voices of Rav Kahaneman, Rav Shlomo Zalman and their ilk. They seem to be hiding.

Who are we kidding, the extremists didn’t approve of Rav Elyashiv because he was in Heichal Shlomo paskening Shaylos. Heaven forbid! what a horrible thing he must have done when he freed an Aguna

Here is what Rav Rosen wrote:

The “Tag” of Kayin / Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
“‘And every man will stumble over his brother’ [Vayikra 26:37] – All the people are responsible for each other, they would have been able to protest but they did not” [Sanhedrin 27b].

“Those Ruffians”

Among other things, the destruction of the Second Temple can be “credited” to “those ruffians” – who wore the badge of the Sikarikim (see Gittin 56). They took swords into their hands, convincing themselves that they were taking the law and justice into their hands. And they set up a reign of terror over all that surrounded them, enemies and brothers alike.

What are we talking about? You have probably already guessed from the title of this article: the “Price Tag” ruffians who “fight” the Palestinians and the commanders of the IDF, in the mosques and on the tires of the jeeps – using fire, sharp spikes, and (mainly) graffiti. These thugs have taken on the role of “national irritants” against our enemies, against our lawful governm ent, and (mainly) against the security forces. I do not believe the claim that what we see is a provocation by the Palestinians, by leftist Jews, by the security forces, or by other dark forces. I strongly suspect that we are talking about irresponsible youths who are certain that we will win using an approach of thugs!

I know very well the story of the fanatical attack by Shimon and Levi in Shechem, but in this case I am in complete agreement with the pointed scolding by Yaacov, our father and theirs: “You have made me ugly and spoiled my odor among the inhabitants of the land… I am few in number, and they will gather around me and strike me, and I and my house will be destroyed” [Bereishit 34:30]. Yaacov’s complaint is not only a matter of dissatisfaction (“you have made me ugly”), it literally leads to a curse – “Let their anger be cursed” [49:7], which is accompanied by a punishment of exile, divisiveness and separation from each other – “I wil l divide them among Yaacov and I will disperse them among Yisrael” [ibid]. The best thing for fanatics and for the world is to keep them apart from each other!

“They Stabbed their Rabbi”

I am also well aware that the people bursting with fanaticism will not listen to ethical scolding, do not pay attention to rabbis, and certainly do not weigh their actions in terms of “profit and loss.” They are operating “from a gut feeling” or in response to messianic mysticism, and as far as they are concerned “let the world be consumed!” The proof of how much damage can be caused by such individual acts is provided by a fanatic who has been somewhat forgotten, a man who had a personal very noble record and was not an anonymous “hilltop youth.” I am talking about Dr. Baruch Goldstein from Kiryat Arba, who killed dozens of Arabs in the Machpeila Cave on Purim of 5754 (1994), thereby causing tremendo us damage “and making us ugly.” With what he did, he gave a double-edged sword to our Moslem enemies and to the world. Foolish fanaticism, hallucinatory and murderous, also contributed to the spoiling of the vision of expanded settlements among broad groups of our nation. And this is exactly what is happening before our very eyes as we watch the “Price Tag” events, shaking our heads and shedding tears out of pity: It is a pity that you should waste your youth for no good reason in prison, and it is a pity that you corrupt the righteousness of our path.

And this explains why the cries that are heard from every corner are futile: “Where are the rabbis who can calm them down? Why don’t the rabbis stop them?” We are told that “those ruffians” from the Second Temple era “stabbed their own rabbi!” [Gittin ibid]. They will not be deterred by having us turn our backs on them. In any case, if for no other reason than to reject the claim that we do not scold them, I hereby object loudly and without any limit to their actions. The need to voice an objection is also clear from the quote at the beginning of this article, in the commentary on a verse in this week’s Torah portion – that we are all responsible for each other, especially those who “were able to protest and did not.”

Fanaticism Cannot be Planned

We mentioned Shimon and Levi, the fanatics of Shechem, as providing an inspiration for the “Price Tag” fanatics. It is appropriate to repeat here some relevant points from our sources about the proper attitude towards fanaticism.

“Shimon and Levi were greatly upset by illicit sex, and they each took their swords and killed” [Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 38]. And for this they were scolded by Yaacov. But they “took their swords” spontaneously, without any advance planning, without establishing an organization of fanatics, and w ithout declaring any public policy and designing a “tag” as a symbol of their activity. This is what the sages taught us: “They did not ask Yaacov for advice… and they did not take advice from each other” [Bereishit Rabba 80:9].

The same two brothers meet again in the arena of fanaticism, but in the second case they are on opposite sides. Pinchas the priest (from the tribe of Levi) kills Zimri, a family leader (in the tribe of Shimon) for the sin of immoral behavior with a daughter of Moav. “Pinchas acted against the will of the wise men. Rabbi Yuda said: They would have put a ban on him, if not for the fact that the Holy Spirit came out and said, ‘I hereby give him my covenant of peace, because of his fanaticism'” [Talmud Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 9:11]. The act of Pinchas was accepted because it was spontaneous and not the result of planning. The laws of fanaticism read as follows: “One who has sexual relations with an Aramite woman should be struck by fa natics” [Sandhedrin 81b]. But in the same breath, it is also written there, “One who comes to take advice is not told to do so.”

That is, fanaticism is by definition a spontaneous act, and at times it can be accepted, depending on the circumstances. Fanaticism is always the act of an individual, and establishing any organization or “taking advice from each other” is not fanaticism but the act of a “ruffian.”

Where have all the crackers gone?

Recently I had occasion to be at Adass Yisrael Shule (the Charedi Shule in Melbourne) for Shabbos Davening, as we has some Simchos to attend. After Davening there is a nice Kiddush. Generally speaking, my taste buds have been infused with the cuisine from Poland, and proudly so. All I need is some Schmaltz Herring, Whisky, and crackers for Mezonos.

At Adass, I noticed for the second time, that there was no pure Mezonos except for the cakes (and no, I’ve never understood how cream cakes crept into our Kiddushim when there is Herring on offer 🙂

Nobody, not even a Hungarian born on the border with Czechoslovakia would eat herring with cake. Yuck She-Be-Yuck, you’d have to agree.

Looking for Mezonos, all I could find were baskets of this

Melba Toast

Now, there is nothing wrong with the taste of Melba Toast, and it would taste good with the Herring, no doubt. As my Mazel would have it, I was also sitting over the produces of this toast, and he overheard my whinge that there was no plain Mezonos that one could use. I couldn’t see a cracker anywhere. He, and others, responded that’s it’s fine, it’s not really bread, it’s “Mezonos” bread and so on. True enough, it isn’t a fresh roll, made with juice and not water, and it’s hard to tell the difference between these and a standard roll or wrap, but at the end of the day, I argued that these were bread masquerading as bread. I was advised that the Badatz allow it, and my memory recollects that this is indeed the case. I retorted that the OU (specifically Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter (and Rav Belsky) had problems with this produce and believes one should make HaMotzi.) For those interested, you can see why it’s called Melba toast (an Aussie connection!) and how it’s made here. This is, if I’m not mistaken also the position of Rav Gedalya Dov Schwartz of the cRc. I asked then, why Adass had to enter into a Safek Brachos, and didn’t use a true and tried standard cracker. Okay, I didn’t insist on Eyer Kichel (they are outrageously expensive).

I have to give credit where credit is due. Soon enough, someone had Rachmonus on me and  found a pack of crackers. This was magnanimous. My blood pressure lowered, and I enjoyed my interaction with the menagerie of different Chassidim and the non Chassidim.

PS. A pet peeve of mine is that people don’t wait for the Rabbi (Roov/Rov) to say Kiddush. This happens everywhere. I don’t understand why. So, you wait 5 minutes, at worst 10 minutes. This is Kavod HaTorah, especially for a clearly elderly Rov, who doesn’t exactly move in a sprightly fashion.

PPS. You will notice that Kosher Australia doesn’t take a stand on this (which I think is the right thing to do) on their airline meals and makes pareve statements in regards to this bread. Mind you, on a plane, I think one should be meikel because of Kavod Habriyos and not bother the fellow travellers.

Johannesburg and Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I’d hate to see Tzedek disappear

I have a lecture to prepare. I don’t really have the time to deal with scurrilous nonsense, so I will be brief.

Tzedek was set up with the best intentions. I am confident that the financial and non financial backers are good people whose final and laudable aim is to help our society deal with past ills and (perhaps even more importantly) create an awareness so that the horrible crime of abuse is seriously minimised etc

Organisations, though, need to be very careful with their words and claims. It is relatively easy to lose credibility very quickly. That’s not to say they shouldn’t speak out. That’s an entirely different matter.

I don’t allow ad hominem attacks on this blog. The purpose of this blog is multifarious as can be seen by the range of topics I choose to write about.

In trying to discredit me, however, I had to laugh with angst at claims and  descriptions put out by Tzedek.

  1. I’m ultra-orthodox. Well, let’s see. Where do I start. My Rabbi isn’t. He advises me on halachic matters. He is shunned by the ultra-orthodox and described as modern orthodox or centrist orthodox. He is a world-class Talmid Chacham but the Aguda don’t even let him speak or sit on a dias at Daf Hayomi Siyumim. He sits at the back on a normal table. It’s a bizayon Talmidei Chachomim. He can learn better than most of them on the dias, but because he is not considered ultra-orthodox, he has no place! I have a PhD, which means I spent many years of my life studying in a University. That’s a no no. Worse, I’m still there. I teach secular topics—Science. I even use the internet, constantly. I use social media. I have a blog. All these are forbidden by ultra orthodox. But wait, it gets even worse. I run a band which plays non-Jewish music and this is to crowds who are mixed dancing. Guests aren’t dressed modestly either, especially in the warmer months. Read my posts on Israel and related matters and see if I’m closer to Zionism than “non” or “anti” Zionism—hallmarks of ultra orthodox. Read my critique of the extreme groups. Yes, I have to unashamedly try to keep Torah and Mitzvos, but if that’s the definition of ultra-orthodox, then I guess many of us are damned by Tzedek. Tzedek’s CEO’s own father is “ultra-orthodox”. Does he describe him as “my ultra orthodox father”. Why do I say, “damned”? Because it is entirely irrelevant what shade of white, black or grey somebody is unless you believe in strange conspiracy theories that people who are lumped by Tzedek into some category (which they don’t define) are likely to be so dumb and stupid, that they will hide the truth or protect people from that same  “Tzedek category”. Sorry, this type of characterisation is Grade 1 level. Does the CEO preface his remarks about someone defending homosexuality as saying “Homosexual Joe Jones said …” that’s simply boorish. It has no credibility as far as debating logic is concerned, let alone, in my case any resemblance to fact. It is a transparent and poor attempt to deflect from the lack of research conducted by Tzedek on the matter of Rabbi Brander’s visit to our shores. Did Tzedek actually ring a roof body, all of whom reacted with probity after reading some of the toilet blog posts and their comments? At the risk of repeating myself, there is no such thing as a Gzera Shava for people, to the extent that if one  does belong to a group, that they are thereby tarnished ipso facto and have lost their independence of thought and action. There is no better proof of that than Tzedek’s CEO’s own father. Is he tarnished because he is Chabad? Why not? Answer: he has his own views and expresses them. A contradiction to the implied thesis in the CEO’s hyperbole. But …. maybe I am ultra orthodox in Galus Australis style, simply because I don’t eat at Lord of the Fries or similar establishments? The mind boggles.
  2. I’ve been criticised because I sit on a Shule board, one of whose ex-members is now facing proceedings. I understand that the CEO of Tzedek is alleged to be one of the victims of said ex-member. Well, hello there Tzedek. Your CEO and his father (and indeed readers of my blog) know very well that it was me who initiated the removal of said ex-member from the board. Do you not remember my father הכ’’מ asking me to take a post down because he thought I should not get involved! Let’s go further. I even had an attempted intervention order (later withdrawn) placed out on me by the aforementioned ex-board member now facing trial, because I was “in his face” so to speak. Tzedek, you have the wrong address. But it’s worse than simply having the wrong address. What’s really worrying, is that (a) you actually know you have the wrong address on such matters, and (b) had you even bothered to ring a single board member of my Shule, they would have told you this. Indeed, ring the accused’s father! Go on, do us all a favour and return with your findings.
  3. On the matter of the COSV and the accused’s membership, again, Tzedek is so far off the mark, it’s really sad that this fact demeans Tzedek terribly. I was present when the conundrum was raised, and frankly, Tzedek ought to have been proud, of the attitude of each member of that executive and individual Shule Presidents. But, let us not let the truth get in the way of Tzedek’s tirades, hyperbole, and one liners in the press.

A pattern is emerging with Tzedek, and it’s a very sad one. It is turning people off Tzedek; people who used to look up to them. Their raison detre is brave and important, but their execution (sic) due to poor research, questionable leadership and the emotive untruths expressed by its leader(ship) is damaging its credibility. That would be a great shame.

I don’t have a clue if any member of Tzedek’s board read my blog, so my words may be in vain. By all means, someone please pass on this blog post to each and everyone of Tzedek’s board members. I would be most happy to meet them in my house at a time of their choosing, and properly explain what is wrong and my thoughts on how it can be fixed.

Have a nice day, everyone. I hope to!

Talkers and Do-ers

When I perform at a wedding as a singer/band leader, my job is not to moralise or give social commentary. Band leaders have developed techniques and share them, to overcome those who feel they just “have to tell you what you should be doing”. Twice in over 3 decades I’ve succumbed, and said something, albeit for less than a minute.

Last week, I performed at a nice wedding. It was lebedik, and all was going well until suddenly, the Mechitza started to come down down. One end of the Mechitza (lightish white curtain material) started to come down, because one end had become unattached.

It was the height of Simchas Choson V’Kallah. The band were playing, both sides were dancing. Some hadn’t realised it had come down. Others quickly noticed, and attempted to assist in whatever way they could. Some quickly picked up the Mechitza and stood there holding sections aloft, while others quickly attempted to re-attach the end that had come loose and bring it to its previously taut and supportive state.

Suddenly, two well-meaning gentlemen approached the band stage and effectively “suggested I stop playing immediately”. I doubt either had license from the Ba’alei Simcha but that’s a side issue. Halachically, they were correct. One should not continue dancing without a Mechitza. Halachically, however, there was another solution. Instead of merely being talkers, those two people could have added to the group of do-ers and held sections of the Mechitza up, so that it was temporarily functional while others were re-attaching it. 

In five minutes time, or less. The Mechitzah was back up, and all resumed as before. At the end of the music bracket, I was quietly seething. This was a reflection of our society. There were those in our community who were only too quick to “advise us” of the halachic impropriety of the descended Mechitza. They were the talkers. They are well-intentioned, and no doubt very earnest. I know both men, and they are the “real thing” in the sense that they are יראי שמים. Neither, however, was ever going to become the Rav of people.

A Rav has to (in my mind) at least find halachic solutions that are more creative. What would have been wrong with those two fine men both lending their own hands to hold up the Mechitza, and at the same time calling for 4 more volunteers? They could have proverbially killed two birds with one stone. Both Halacha would have been satisfied, and those who were actually involved in fixing the Mechitza could have continued their job, quietly and efficiently.

We are too quick to impose and pass cold and less than innovative commentary on situations. Worse, we are quick to act with our mouths, as opposed to our hands.

Today is the Yohr Tzeit of R’ Chaim Brisker ז’ל. On his Matzeyva, the words רב החסד are enscribed. Why? There are many reasons. When Brisk burned down, R’ Chaim refused to sleep in his own rebuilt house until the simple poor people had their own homes rebuilt. There was no hierarchy for him, despite the fact that he was the undisputed Torah genius of his generation. R’ Chaim ז’ל had no problem playing with little children. He would sometimes be found tied up to a tree while the children ran around with glee. This was someone who was at home with the Rambam, Ramban, Rishonim and Shas, in the same way that we breathe air. And yet, R’ Chaim was a do-er. Oh yes, he spoke, but he did.

The same people who cry עד מתי should perhaps also look at some of the answers to this question. There are some very easy things we can all do, ואני בתוכם.

Act! Don’t just talk.

matzav.com stands condemned

matzav.com reports news. It allows comments, and disallows comments. It has some “editorial policy” in this regard. No problem so far. I have sometimes not had my comments printed (using my real name) but I have no problem with that. It’s their website. They went way too far though the other day and showed themselves to be irresponsible, heartless and downright stupid.

There was the tragic article of the drowning of little Zev Aryeh Glick ע’’ה in the USA. I know the grandparents, and feel for them. Matzav then had the gross and sickening temerity to allow the following comment from a nameless and gutless non-entity. For those who don’t understand Hebrew, pop the text into google translate.

In short, it includes a diatribe against the evil zionists in Israel who are stopping the redemption (and of course the need to improve Tznius etc).  Lock the commenter and editor up in a mental home until they understand that this is an inappropriate statement to make now.  Apart from the fact that I can’t imagine my Aybishter “decreeing” that a toddler should drown because of Zionists in the State of Israel who (for example) want to provide funding to schools only if Talmidim who accept such funds learn the basics of Reading, Riting and Rithmetic.

Where does matzav.com get off? What “editor” would allow such a comment in this context. The only comments that should have been allowed at a time like this are condolence messages and the like. Who the heck are we to pretend to know why Hashem didn’t step in and stop a kid from drowning? The parents will  live an internal hell for their whole lives. Give them space. Spare them this disgraceful style of commenting.

This makes me sick in the stomach (once more) and I guess given that it’s the nine days, is probably the way I’m meant to feel anyway. Sorry, “Mark Spicer”, I don’t have anything uplifting to say (yet),  given that complete fools allow this to be printed in its entirety. I did try to highlight the Yohr Tzeits of the Ari Zal and R’ Chaim Ozer last night at Ma’ariv, but nobody seemed interested.

אוי מה היה לנו

אתם חושבים שיהא הסוף עם הגזרות הקשות בארצינו הקדושה מהרשעים הארורים, שאין להם יראת שמים, ואני לא מקנא בגיהנום שלהם על החילול השם שהם עושים כל הזמן,

כל בעל דעת יודע שלא צריכים לפתוח את העיניים הרבה, בשביל להבין שכל העולם מתהפך בשנים האחרונות, בצורה מטורפת לקראת בואו של משיח צדקנו, שתפקידו יהיה להביא שעבוד מלכויות, ובית המקדש השלישי וכו’, ואז ידעו כי ד’ אחד ושמו אחד….בלי הציונים.

וּבְכֵן צַדִּיקִים יִרְאוּ וְיִשְׂמָחוּ וִישָׁרִים יַעֲלזוּ. וַחֲסִידִים בְּרִנָּה יָגִילוּ. וְעולָתָה תִּקְפָּץ פִּיהָ. וְהָרִשְׁעָה כֻּלָּהּ כְּעָשָׁן תִּכְלֶה. כִּי תַעֲבִיר מֶמְשֶׁלֶת זָדון מִן הָאָרֶץ: וְתִמְלךְ אַתָּה הוּא ד’ אֱלהקינוּ מְהֵרָה לְבַדֶּךָ עַל כָּל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ. בְּהַר צִיּון מִשְׁכַּן כְּבודֶךָ. וּבִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִיר קָדְשֶׁךָ. כַּכָּתוּב בְּדִבְרֵי קָדְשֶׁךָ. יִמְלךְ ד’ לְעולָם אֱלקיִךְ צִיּון לְדר וָדר………

שותפי ממשלת השמד והשנאה – יתנו את הדין. היום יום עצוב לעם ישראל. אבל לזכור, “והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו.. שבכל דור…והקב”ה מצלינו מידם” “עוצו עצה ותופר דברו דבר ולא יקום כי עמנו קל”

אנחנו גם חייבים להתחיל לשפר מעשינו המצות ומעשים טובים, ולהתעורר מיד, ולשוב ולבקש על נפשינו מהקב”ה, זה חייב להיות “‘הנושא היחידי” שלנו, זה חייב לבעור בעצמותינו יומם ולילה, ואז בודאי ישמע אותנו בורא העולם, ויחון אותנו לפליטת עולמים ויגאלנו גאולת עולם בקרוב ממ”ש אמן ואמן

שותפי ממשלת-מדינת איזראיל-השמד והשנאה – יתנו את הדין בקרוב. הצילני נא מיד אחי מיד עשו, אבל אנחנו צריכים להמשיך לקדש שם שמים. הזמן הגיע להתפלל בכונה, ולשפר הצניעות בכל הארץ, ובזכות זה יהיה ישועות גדולות לכל עם ישראל בכל העולם כולו, אמן.

הטרדות שמקיפות כל אחד ואחד, מסיטות ומונעות מאיתנו האמת הנכון, לבקש ולצפות באמת גמור, לגאולה שלמה, למשיח, “לבית המקדש השלישי”, לאושר הנפלא הזה השמחה האמיתית בעולם הזה.

לוּ באמת היינו צועקים והיינו כואבים את חסרוננו זה, בודאי היינו כבר נגאלים,

וזאת על פי דברי המדרש (ילקוט איכה פרשה א’): “אמר יצחק לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: שמא אין חזרה לבנים?! אמר לו: אל תאמר כן, (אם) יש דור שהוא מצפה למלכותי – מיד הם נגאלים, שנאמר ויש תקוה לאחריתך נאום ה’ ושבו בנים לגבולם”.

חייבים להכניס זאת טוב טוב למוחנו ולליבנו: אין לנו פתרון אחר, זהו הפתרון האמיתי היחידי!

אנחנו חייבים להתעורר מיד, ולבקש על כך מהקב”ה, זה חייב להיות ‘הנושא’ שלנו, זה חייב לבעור בעצמותינו יומם ולילה, ואז בודאי ישמע אותנו בורא העולם ויחון אותנו לפליטת עולמים ויגאלנו גאולת עולם בקרוב ממש אמן ואמן!

כשנשאל ר’ יששכר דוב רוקח זצ”ל על מי צריך לכוון בברכת ולמלשינים, הוא ענה כי יש לכוון על הציונים ועל המזרחים. וכמה שהוא צדק !!! כמובן שיש הרבה מה להרחיב בנושא, אך לא כאן המקום.

רק אציין עוד עניין אחד – ר’ אלחנן וואסרמן הי”ד טען כי אלו הלוקחים כסף מן הציונים כפופים ומשועבדים להם לעשות רצונם. ואני מוסיף שכל הצרות וגזרות בגלל הפאות והפריצות החרדית. נשות החרדים נראות כגויות זו התוצאה

On the dangers of being a singer at weddings

I’m not sure if I could be insured for this type of situation, but it happens all to often. Maybe playing in a cage would be safer.

Hat tip to frusk

You can picture the scene. Benny Friedman was invited to do a guest spot by both Mechutonim/Chosson-Kalla. It’s not cheap. He starts, together with the existing singer, and all of a sudden an overweight “holy man” who can’t cope with the “modernishe” sound of the song, keeps approaching and eventually takes the microphones away.

מי שמך לראש?

Who gave him the right. No, he wasn’t a Mechutan. He was a guest from Israel who felt that, like many extremist Charedim he had the right to dictate what could or could not be played.

It is a very horrible situation to be in. In my case, it’s even worse, because my band are Nochrim and they see it as grossly unacceptable and unprofessional—read, חילול השם ברבים

I have had my share of these “situations”. The most infamous one was where I met with Chasan and Kallah and one Mechutan and went through what should/should not be played. I followed it to the letter. I have always done so. I proffer advice, but at the end of the day, it is the client who chooses. Suddenly, while playing a Shwekey Mizrachi style song, I was approached by a group of angry zealots, who turned out to be the Mechutan from overseas (a highly extreme and opinionated Rosh Yeshivah, and his Hefty holy sons). They tried to pull out the electrical chords. I asked them to confer with the other Mechutan and to come back, but he was having nothing of it.

I don’t know how I stayed cool, but I gracefully stopped the bracket, and tried to explain later that Shwekey was far from a Goy, but nothing helped.

Ah, for the old days. Holocaust survivors had another approach. They used to come up to the band stage waving $100 bills and asking whether we could play a particular song next. Suffice it to say that I never took the money, and always played within the rules provided to me. I told them to speak to the Mechutanim first.

Indeed, I played at a wedding last week, and someone wanted me to do something extra and brandished some $100 bills. I told him to give them to Tzedaka, but I’d do as I was professionally bound to do.

What should that Ferd (horse) who attacked Benny Friedman have done? If he was a mentch and didn’t like the song, he should have gone to the foyer, eaten a few more knishes and come back.

You might be giggling, but I can tell you, it’s a horrible scene. Everyone has an opinion. Only one opinion counts, however, and that is the Mechutanim in concert with Chosson Kallah.

One of my acquaintances in New York, has gone as far as specifying a contract which states that nobody is permitted to approach the band stage with their narishe requests except through the Mechutonim. I’m not sure if that helps, but it’s another approach.

Is this how we should relate to a Ben Noach?

I have a colleague. He is a homosexual. I didn’t know for over 15 years. I wasn’t close to him. He was about 10 years younger than me. Several years ago, he “came out of the closet”. I had just merited having our first grandson born, and there were pictures all over my office. He popped his head in one day, and said (like most staff)

“Don’t tell me you’ve had another kid, how many is that now?”

After explaining that despite my youthful countenance, I wasn’t engaged in that particular pursuit any longer, he suddenly volunteered that he had just had a baby as well. I congratulated him. Asking how the birth had been,  mentioning that I had no prior inkling that he was expecting a child (so to speak). He nonchalantly stated that he and his husband  were ecstatic. Obviously I showed no untoward outward reaction. He was comfortable enough in my responses. After further questioning he seemed happy to engage me in conversation about this personal topic. I even went as far as to ask him how he and his boyfriend/partner decided on which sperm was to be used with the donor egg (that was then carried by a different mother). Did they toss a coin?

Time went by. Pictures of my grandson, and then baruch hashem another grandson were updated on my office wall. He’d pop his head in, and we’d chat about kids, and colds and tempers etc

At no time did I sense that he was uncomfortable with me, despite him knowing that I was visibly Orthodox and (hopefully) acted that way.

Oh, if you are thinking, this is a “you are so special, isaac” story; keep reading.

Recently, he and his so-called husband had another child. He cheekily told me that he was taking maternity leave! I giggled and said that our current boss (very conservative) wouldn’t know what to do with the application, and would probably gag.

Last week he returned from leave, said hi, and as he left my office I started to wonder, whether I was doing the right thing? He told me he had been at a place full of Israelis who were also obtaining babies (not necessarily homosexuals) through this surrogate method, and they had invited him for Pesach, and that he didn’t think much of Maror …

Should a Ben Noach feel that comfortable talking about such things with a frum Yid? Should I feel comfortable simply being civil and non-judgemental? I certainly had nothing against him on a personal level. On the other hand, the act of homosexual sex is abhorrent in the extreme, and I recoil innately  at the very thought. There is also the modernistic view which goes hand in hand with the fakers who call themselves “Jewish Tikun Olamniks” that one should never be judgemental.

Perhaps I’ve become too soft cuddly and socially left in my older age, I don’t know. I guess it’s also a symptom of living in two worlds that should be one.

I wonder if I have any Halachic obligation to behave in a particular way here? Is זניפה going to achieve anything?

January 1 as the new Year

I’m sure many of you who interact with gentiles, commonly face a situation where wishes for a “Safe, healthy etc new year” are conveyed. There are poskim who still forbid writing a non-Jewish date on correspondence. General practice is to be lenient, especially outside Israel.

Tosfos in Avoda Zara 11a describe two different styles of custom forbidden by the prohibition of imitating non-Jewish customs as described in Vayikra 18:3 vis-a-vis the Gemora in Sanhedrin 52b. The Ramo, who we follow, in Yoreh Deah 178:1 is lenient and writes that as long as a custom has no pagan origins, and makes some common sense, it is permitted. On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon ad loc takes the opposite view: unless a custom has a specific Jewish origin, it is always forbidden. In general we don’t follow the stringent view of the Gaon.

According to wikipedia:

The Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings for whom the first month of the year (January) is also named. After Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BC and was subsequently murdered, the Roman Senate voted to deify him on the 1st January 42 BC[2] in honor of his life and his institution of the new rationalized calendar.[3] The month originally owes its name to the deity Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward. This suggests that New Year’s celebrations are founded on pagan traditions. Some have suggested this occurred in 153 BC, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls (after whose names the years were identified) entered into office on that day, though no consensus exists on the matter.[4] Dates in March, coinciding with the spring equinox, or commemorating the Annunciation of Jesus, along with a variety of Christian feast dates were used throughout the Middle Ages, though calendars often continued to display the months in columns running from January to December.[citation needed]

Among the 7th century pagans of Flanders and the Netherlands, it was the custom to exchange gifts at the New Year. This was a pagan custom deplored by Saint Eligius (died 659 or 660), who warned the Flemings and Dutchmen, “(Do not) make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf, compare Puck] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” The quote is from the vita of Eligius written by his companion, Ouen.

Most countries in Western Europe officially adopted January 1 as New Year’s Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. In England, the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, was the first day of the new year until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The March 25 date was known as Annunciation Style; the January 1 date was known as Circumcision Style,[5] because this was the date of the Feast of the Circumcision, considered to be the eighth day of Christ’s life, counting from December 25 when his birth is celebrated. This day was christened as the beginning of the New Year by Pope Gregory as he designed the Liturgical Calendar.[6]

Accepting this historical record would imply that the notion of celebrating January 1 as a “New Year” is forbidden even according to the lenient view of the Ramo. Indeed, the idea of Yidden getting together for a New Year’s eve party, may be forbidden according to Torah law, as above. Without trying to sound too judgemental, if a Yid wishes me a “Happy New Year” or something similar, I respond that our new year is not at this time. How though does one respond to a gentile?

It seems to me, and I repeat, that my view is not LeHalacha and not LeMaaseh and just pitputim, and each person really needs to ask their own Local Orthodox Rabbi: that there would be nothing wrong with issuing a pareve style response along the lines of

“I hope that the ensuing new calendar year is a successful one for you, yadadayada”

This is not just a throw away line. I think we do want our non-Jewish associates and friends to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Mipnei Darchei Shalom and Mishum Eyvo (that is, just to be a diplomatic mentch in a non-Jewish society) I think it is appropriate to make such statements, but to leave it at that.

Chas V’Shalom to ascribe any special meaning to the day, however, even if it has now become secular. The roots are pagan, and therefore forbidden in practice. Some believe it corresponds to the Yom HaMila of אותו איש, which of course it wasn’t, but even if they think that, it’s enough.

Working with נכרים

Last Friday, I met up for coffee with an alumnus of mine. She is also the Head tutor for a subject I teach. Even though she has spoken to me hundreds of times, she had never raised these issues on her mind, even though we are in close contact. She already knew that I only eat Kosher (we had coffee at Glicks) and she knew that I was uncontactable on Friday afternoons until Motzei Shabbos, and lots more. I’ve had dinner with her and her boy friend, mother and grandmother, and yet, she hadn’t raised these issues about Judaism until now. I’ve known her for about ten years, and vividly recall giving her a scholarship in New Delhi, many moons ago.

One evening, we spent an hour planning the tutorial sessions she was going to run, and I drove her home on my way home from University. Suddenly, she opened up with a few issues that had been playing on her mind.

  1. Why is it that when Jews eat with us at a function or restaurant and they order their own food, that they sit at a different table, or at a distance from the rest of us.
    I wasn’t sure what the circumstances were, but I noted that there was no reason that I could think of precluding a Jew eating at the table with everyone else. I explained that sometimes it was a little embarassing when one’s food arrived in a double-sealed container that was messy to remove, but other than this, I was mystified.

    More to the point (and I didn’t relay this thought) such behaviour creates an uunecessary enmity between the Jew and נכרי. They might think we are elitist. חז”ל certainly didn’t encourage social fraternising, as witnessed by Halachos such as סתם יינם, בישול עכו”ם and more, however, if one is in a work environment and such interaction is important, well … you’re either there and behave like a mench, or change jobs! Presumably, if the Jew had already agreed to eat special meals, the issue of מראית עין was not extant, especially according to contemporary Poskim. If their Rov had paskened that they should eat separately, it would seem that any benefit keeping כשרות is counterbalanced by unecessary enmity. It isn’t always possible to miss important lunches, and I’d urge people to carefully consider the ramifications of their behaviour.

  2. She knew that I always left early on a Friday and so did this fellow-employee. She asked why her fellow Jewish workmate was seen having a drink on a Friday afternoon when he should have been home for Sabbath. I explained that it was probably summer time when Sabbath comes in later.

    Now, although there is an איסור to teach Torah to נכרים, I think it’s a good idea to explain to fellow employees (let alone one’s boss) the mechanics of when Shabbos starts. Like many of us, I am in a mad rush, especially in Winter, to finish work and jump inתו the shower just before Shabbos. My fellow workmates know all about me leaving for Shabbos, and in Summer, they will often say when passing my office, “don’t you have to be leaving now.” They even correct themselves and note that sunset is later in Summer. It’s important not to be too precious about our rules. Explain them, adhere to them, and people will respect you. Take the time to do so. If you do, questions like the above will not arise.

  3. Once the Jewish employee received their Kosher meal without eating implements. This can happen and is embarassing. It’s probably happened to most of us. Thankfully, for me, Unger’s Catering (shameless plug) always provide implements, and metal ones at that. The employee was lucky as there was an IGA across the road and they ducked out and bought plastic knives and forks. The non-Jews were bemused, however, because he was drinking Coke from a glass. They asked him why he used the glass and didn’t use a knife and fork. He apparently mumbled that he was a Rabbi and had special rules.

    Again, it’s not too difficult to explain the difference. People can understand absorption. Unfortunately, rather than doing so, the Jew advised his fellow work mates that he had special strict rules. This only made matters worse. My alumnus countered that she was a Priest (Brahman), and she also had rules (vegetarian) but what made him different to other religious Jews. They started asking him which Temple he presided over, and it became uncomfortable. They felt he was a strange fraud.

    There is no need to obfuscate. Be clear, precise, and do your best to explain. They even scoffed at his Rabbinic claim by stating (presumably because he had told them) that he had studied laws which may have been unrelated to his behaviour.

  4. On birthdays, the company had the nice practice of buying a cake and celebrating an employees special day. This is quite common. When such a celebration happens in my workplace, I come to the “round table” event where they sing Happy Birthday, but I don’t eat the cake. These days, my fellow work mates say “Have some cake, and then correct themselves with “Oh yeah, you only eat Kosher cake”, and sometimes they ask, “what can be non-kosher in a cake”. There are even nice side effects. I regularly inform one staff member who is lactose intolerant about products which are pareve.

    Unfortunately, this Jew not only organised a Kosher cake for his birthday (which is, of course, perfectly reasonable) he asked everyone how it compared, and they responded “it tastes nice”. He then approached the person responsible for overall cake purchases in the company and asked whether perhaps they could always buy Kosher cakes. I certainly wouldn’t do that, however, it got worse. He noted that he could get a “good deal” for the company because it was his relative who actually made the cake, and she was also able to cater in-house for all manner of event. This left a very bad taste. He didn’t realise it at the time, but other employees heard about this shameless pursuit of business for one of his family members and were unimpressed/span>;;;

The end result is that many of us are also looked upon as being somewhat strange(r) and worse, opportunistic. Before you counter that there is always at least one person who will “muck up” and there’s not much we can do about it, I know the person involved in this case. He’s no fool. He is quite capable of explaining and able to act in a proper and Mentchlich manner. I would rather not have to defend the rest of us and say that this person acted beyond the pale of normal decency.

My appeal, therefore, is to please be careful. We attract enough attention when we are visibly Jewish and observant. This is something חז”ל intended. At the same time, when we do so, it should be an opportunity to act in a manner which promotes the true essence of our religion and its moral standards.

We need to all try harder, me included, to remember that we are a דוגמא and how we conduct ourselves can be קידוש שם שמים, or חס ושלום the opposite.

And no, I’m not inviting others to tell me more horror stories, let alone name anyone.

Neutered correctness gone mad?

Am I getting old(er) to the extent that I simply cannot fathom the sentiments expressed in this article?

I have been working at University for over two decades. I have seen all manner of extremism, exhibitionism, sexism, racism … you name it, I’ve seen it. One expects this at a University where there is (or at least there ought to be) a license for free thought, wrapped up in a veritable cornucopia of wildly differing personalities amongst both the student and staff body.

Nonetheless, this quote floored me:

Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them.”

I looked up the term sexism to refresh my understanding, and found:

1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

I think there are three key terms here:

  • discrimination
  • stereotyping
  • inferiority
  • Now, discrimination on its own isn’t a pejorative term. It connotes difference. I’d argue that if the difference leads to an act or comment which implies that women are promoted as inferior in any way, then it is wrong. In this instance, surely an act of chivalry or good manners need not be interpreted as an expression of inferiority, weakness or the like?

    I understand that stereotyping is a dangerous weapon in the mouth of someone consciously or subconsciously motivated to demean, demote or demography the “role” of a woman in society. Again, I have difficulty understanding how a gesture which could also be understood as consciously or subconsciously honouring and elevating the stature of the feminine gender, should solely be interpreted as an act of sexism.

    I’m unconvinced why such an act need also be interpreted as ascribing an inferior feminine position.

    Of course, I wasn’t there. It’s possible that she was sufficiently riled by other incidents to the extent that she had become over-sensitised by her feminine identity.

    If a man (or woman) suggested that an older person enter or leave a lift first, or opened the door for that older person, would this also be seen as ageism?

    Students commonly suggest I enter a lift first, or wait for me to leave a door. My response is either to say “thank you” or “please, there is no need, after you”.

    Surely a better approach than to criticise this type of “etiquette” is to say

    “Thanks, but there is no need. I’m quite comfortable not being treated differently to males.

    Your thoughts?

    To meat or meet?

    What would or should you do?
    You are one of a bunch of madrichim/counsellors at an American style summer camp for young primary age kids, many of whom have limited exposure to Judaism.
    To show their gratitude and hospitality, the parents of one child, who keep a kosher home, invited the counsellors to dinner, during the nine days.
    Unfortunately, they didn’t consider the need for milchigs, and a nice meat meal was served.

    Do you politely decline, and all claim to be vegetarians?
    Can attending a Siyum after the event help?
    Should you consider that embarrassing the hostess is worse than keeping one part of Minhag Aveylus?
    I’m aware that there are leniencies when one encounters royalty and the like during the nine days; does this count?

    I hear some of you quoting the “fifth” chelek of Shulchan Aruch which encourages you to be a mensch at all times.

    I haven’t looked into this. Any insights?

    More violence in Beit Shemesh

    The latest bout of disgraceful violence in Beit Shemesh sickens me and defies desensitisation. Read it here

    The animals who did this should be locked up for a few years. They could have killed the unsuspecting and innocent mother of those twins.

    The so called holy life style they lead is a sham. It is as close to Har Sinai as a pig is to Tahara. What do their teachers and Roshei Yeshiva say? What are they doing to disarm these low lives?
    Zu Torah?

    You couldn’t profane God’s name any worse if you tried.

    From spitting on young girls to burning Chabad Houses

    I saw this on YWN

    Rabbi Moti Koenig of Chabad in Modi’in Illit has grown accustomed to the fact that many residents would prefer if he and his Bet Chabad would vanish. Nevertheless, he remains determined in his mission, to bring Chabad chassidus to the predominately Litvish torah community.

    On Monday, the Chabad library was targeted by an arsonist. He was summoned during the early hours Monday morning (Sunday night to Monday morning) and told to come to the building, horrified to find that the site used to deliver shiurei torah and spread chassidus was targeted by arson. Anti Chabad graffiti was also visible at the site along with graffiti against the planned Lag B’Omer event sponsored by the children of the community later in the week.

    Rav Koenig explained that this was not the work of “children or shabavnikim”, but by those who label themselves “avreichim” and “bnei torah”, questioning how they can set such a site ablaze, a location containing so many sifrei kodesh.

    Rav Koenig added that he remains more committed to make this year’s Lag B’Omer event in the city the biggest ever, hoping to double the number of children taking part.

    On the one hand, should I be shocked? If they shout and spit on girls who they deem to be non tzniusdik in Ramat Beit Shemesh, why should I be surprised that these ‘Misnagdim’ set fire to a Makom Torah and HarBotzas HaTorah. We’ve also seen that it’s not limited to Misnagdim. In Skver, despite the Rebbe over there saying that his house boy would not go to prison, that lad was sentenced to 8 years in prison for attempting to burn down the house of another Skverrer Chosid who wasn’t towing the line.

    This is all a gross perversion of Torah. These people do not keep Torah and Mitzvos. To use their own phraseology, they keep a religion that has elements in common with Judaism. These violent Kanoim should be found and put into prison. Anyone who perpetrates violence against their fellow Jew “in the name of Torah” should be put into prison and left to stew there for many years.

    Predictably, those whose IQ approaches room temperature commented and diverted the attention of the arson to the fact that Chabad were Meshichisten. Sigh. Even if what they said was true, and most Chabadniks were Meshichisten, since when does that justify arson? How sick are people who attempt to justify one by the other. At worst, Meshichisten wilfully misread the plain reading of the Rambam in Hilchos Melochim, but to imply that this is Kefirah is a long long bow. Sure, there are some loo loos who are Boristen and the like, but they are a tiny outlier, and in my experience ought to be seeing a psychiatrist for other manifestations of their meshugass.

    The entire world wept when the Chabad House in Mumbai was attacked, and those Kedoshim were murdered by Islāmic Terrorists. Now, we have so called Yidden who come to burn a Chabad House because it happens to be in a Litvishe area. Sick, sick, sick.

    Are the Agudah Zionists after all?

    In an emotional outburst against Tzipi Livni, MK, Rabbi Yisrael Eichler MK is reported by Arutz Sheva as having stated that

    “It is only because of the ultra-Orthodox, here in Israel, that today we are in our beloved homeland of three-thousand years dating back to God’s promise to Abraham that ‘to your seed I shall give the land’,”

    What does this mean? Surely the meaning is that as a reward for Limud HaTorah and Shmiras HaMitzvos, Hashem is supporting the continued existence and security of a Jewish State. But what of the three oaths, which are quoted by Satmar, Neturei Karta, Shomrei Emunim and the like? Does it mean that according to United Torah Judaism, these are superseded by the protection of Torah? What then is the view of Satmar et al? Do they contend that irrespective of the amount of Torah in the State of Israel, the “State” entity itself, as opposed to the land, is enough to cause much of the manifest problems we experience? I’ve never understood, then, why they don’t leave the State. It’s one thing to say I don’t take “anything” from the Government of the State, but how does this make any difference. Why are they living there? After all, the Satmar Rebbe chose not to live there. Could they not all go to Williamsburg or Brussels and live the same lives without infuriating Satan by their living and expanding in the State they should not be part of?

    So you say it’s forbidden to leave Israel, that’s why they don’t leave. The reality though is that they have left in the past and do leave. Is Torah protecting the State, as per the comment of Rabbi Eichler? Perhaps they contend that their Limud HaTorah only protects their own.

    My comments, above, should be seen as largely tongue-in-cheek. The point I am trying to make is what purpose is there in making statements like this, especially in a parliament where some members are anti-religious or ambivalent towards the religious. What is served by such an outburst? Will the Israeli public all of a sudden take their side? I just don’t get it. These type of comments, as well as comments in the past, where Eichler stated

    “Reform Jews are worse than our enemies. They are anti-semites who hate Israel”

    achieve very little. Okay, I know that Reform is gravely problematic, but anti-semites? I haven’t met a Reform Jew who wants to kill me. They are misguided, certainly.

    It is true that there are elements of the Israeli press who actively seek to ridicule Charedim. That phenomenon must be condemned. But it is equally true that the Charedim do themselves no good at all when they exude

    • angry and vitriolic hate
    • physical aggression against those who aren’t up to their standards
    • supremacist invective
    • an “us” versus “them” divide

    Perhaps it’s the Chabad upbringing in me and/or the extreme love philosophy of Rav Kook, but I just don’t see how this style of negativity achieves anything, except more ridicule and a lowering of Kavod HaTorah.

    I’m probably living in a fool’s paradise. Closeted in Australia, I still see the role of a frum politician as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity not to behave in the same way as those who haven’t benefited from Torah. It is an opportunity to always behave with decorum and speak respectfully. It is an opportunity to reject anti-Torah legislation through powerful speeches laden with an ambience that will trigger the Nefesh Elokis in most parliamentarians (Rav Lau comes to mind).

    Do you know why the so-called “slut walk” is planned to take place Rachmono Litzlan in Yerusholayim? It’s not just because the walkers don’t comprehend the Kedusha therein. It’s also because Kedusha has to be radiated. If the proverbial fans of this radiation are seen to be vituperative pariahs on account of spiteful mouths and a lack of support for the physical safety of the country, the Kedusha finds it harder to permeate and is concealed.

    There is no point being triumphalist. דברי תורה בנחת נשמעין

    One more Simcha peeve

    In a previous blog post, I mentioned four simcha peeves. Unfortunately, I was reminded of another one recently: the intrepid minyan seekers (sic). Consider the two possible scenarios:

    1. The Ba’alei Simcha remembered to insert a specific time in the seder hasimcha specifically devoted to the davening of Ma’ariv.
    2. The Ba’alei Simcha either forgot or had not intended to insert a specific time slot for davening.

    In both case 1 and case 2, the Mentshlich thing to do is to quietly approach the Ba’alei Simcha (or you could even come to the Band Leader) and ask if there is a preferred time for davening Ma’ariv. If there is a time, the case is closed, that’s when you daven. Ask whether an announcement will be made, of course. What do you do if you are one of the people who leave Simchas early because you have a difficult Tosfos that you just have to rush home for, or perhaps you have a sick child at home etc? I suggest that you do not disturb the Simcha. That means, do not make a minyan if it means that you will not be in the hall while someone is saying a Dvar Torah or giving a Hakoras HaTov speech. Sacrifice your own dinner. Eat it quickly. See if you can find another nine people who have also finished eating. Explain that you have to leave early, as above, and see if they will join you in the foyer while the rest of the guests continue eating their Dinner (or Dessert). Do not do this during a dance bracket. Why should the dance floor suddenly become barren and decrease the Simchas Choson V’Kallo because you preferred to choose your own time for davening?

    If the B’aal Simcha forgot, try and minimise their already frazzled state of mind, and suggest a neutral time, at your expense, and your cheshbon, during eating time (when you are normally saying Mishnayos Baal Peh). Don’t choose speeches or dancing! I know this seems obvious, but I’m so frustrated seeing the arguably selfish and insensitive herding of the “cattle” davka during a speech or dance bracket.

    At one Simcha, I was so embarrassed, I wanted to hide under a rock. One fellow organised a minyan, during a father’s speech of Hakoras HaTov. Not only were tables empty, but you could hear the bellowing of the “Borchu es Hashem HaMevoroch” reverberating inside the hall during the comparative silence of the speech. In my mind, יצא שכרו בהפסדו, and it was bordering on a חילול ה.

    In summary, if you see this type of thing happening, approach the organiser of the minyan and ask if they have considered proper manners in executing their minyan for davening.

    Lock these vermin out

    I’m sorry, there is no other way than to describe them. They are vermin. If this story is accurate, or even mostly accurate, I hope they have video footage. There should be video surveillance cameras installed in every single road in Beth Shemesh where these vermin hang out. Catch them, put them in prison for 5 years, and then lets see where it takes us. Are we going to wait and wait and wait for the never resultant condemnation from their Rabbinic mentors? The lunatics are out of the asylum.

    Watch this video of the girl, Natalie Mashiach, recounting her horrible experience.

    And, for something different, a Breslover reaction.

    Natalie Mashiach, assaulted in Beth Shemesh

    Four Simcha Peeves

    I don’t know what the rest of you think, but these irritate me, in no particular order.

    The “floating handshakers”

    You are in Shule on Shabbos for a call-up or a Bar Mitzvah. Suddenly, usually during Krias HaTorah and thereafter, pockets of people come into shule and either walk straight up to the Bima and/or to the Ba’alei Simcha and extend their hands to say Mazel Tov. If you are lucky, they will finish their circumvolution of the Shule and then exit. Mostly, they or someone else who ought to be listening or davening, will find a reason to begin a new conversation. They have already davened. The Ba’al Simcha wasn’t special enough for them to actually daven in the Shule/Minyan where the simcha was taking place. A “Groise Toyve”, they perform and in the process they thoroughly disrupt any semblance of decorum that might have existed prior to their bold entry. I’ve seen people who object to Schnorrers disturbing the Davening. I reckon the “a bi yotze tzu zein” do-gooders who come for a hand shake are equally disturbing. What should you do? I suggest saying, “Good Shabbos, Oh, you must have had another Simcha to attend?”

    The “never on timers”

    People spend a lot of time, effort, not to mention money, on trying to create a good party for a Wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. They often set cocktails+finger food for 6:30 with entry at 7:15 ish. Why is it that at frum functions, almost exclusively, people turn up just before the main course, between 8 and 8:30pm? Isn’t this rude? Is it nice when half the hall is empty because every shlepper and shlepperen can’t bring themselves to rock up on time? I’m not talking about some ludicrous functions where Chossen and Kallah turn up at 8:30pm because they have driven around Melbourne in a limousine for hours. I don’t know about you, but a Simcha starts when they enter. Before that, it is just weird to start washing and participating in Simchas Chossen V’Kallah (entree) with no Chossen or Kallah in sight! At non frum functions, people have good manners and come on time.

    Shlomo Carlebach and band

    The “incessant chatters”

    This group of people, both men and women, talk and talk and talk. It doesn’t matter who is speaking or what they are saying, 99% of the time (and yes, I do know) they yap and display shocking manners at frum simchas. I hasten to add, that it’s also a big chillul hashem. Why? Because there is always someone at the Simcha who is not yet frum, or even a goy. They look at this behaviour and wonder why “these people” have no manners whatsoever. (Thanks to Bet Shemesh, they will now call them “Charedim”) By the way, this behaviour is almost exclusively at Simchas where there is a Mechitza for the seating. Why so? Some surmise it’s because if you place a pack of “boys only” or “girls only” around a table, that’s what happens. When they sit together, for some reason, they don’t behave that way. Perhaps the husband or wife kick their partner under the table, I don’t know.

    The “entrance mob”

    There are people who do the Ba’alei Simcha a great favour, even after they come late. No sooner have they had their meal and a drink or two, and they exit,  standing around in the entrance. It is literally teeming with the same people, who do so at every simcha. Are they so depressed that they cannot bring themselves to just be nice and dance the first 10 minutes of each bracket? And before you start telling me “it’s because the music is too loud”, get a life. These people hang out jn the entrance when there is no music. It makes absolutely no difference. Sure, some will step out for a fag, but it isn’t about that. This is about bad manners again. Oh, and if you are wondering, it doesn’t happen at non frum Simchas.

    What gives?

    Extremism rears its ungainly tail-Chillul Hashem in Bet Shemesh

    The Gemara פסחים נא ע”ב, states—שלא ישנה אדם מהמנהג—when there is a custom in a particular city to behave in a certain manner, it is forbidden to acquit oneself in an alternative way. In particular, if there is an opinion to be stringent or indeed lenient in respect of a particular Halacha in a given town, it is forbidden to effectively inhabit  that town and alter the Minhag.

    The Ramo in his responsa (שו”ת סי’ נד) considers the question of barrels that had previously been smeared with lard, and were now used to store olive oil. Was one permitted to use the olive oil if it sold in these used barrels? The Ramo decides that it’s permitted without qualification to buy the olive oil, and furthermore, this is a long and established convention. The status of this practice being a custom, not only means that it is limited to a permissive ruling. The Ramo expresses the view that someone who desires to be stringent based on the opinion of their own Rabbi, should not do so, even if that person is a בעל נפש—a punctilious individual.

    On the category of בעל נפש, It is common for contemporary Poskim to decide Halacha, and then provide additional direction to the בעל נפש. This is found in the משנה ברורה and אגרות משה. (See also (חולין מד ע”ב) for a more fundamental source). Yet, in the case of the barrels, the Ramo specifically directs the בעל נפש to not be מחמיר. Why so? Surely one is always entitled to adopt a stringency? The Ramo’s reasoning is that since it is permitted and בני ישראל behave in consonance with that היתר, their practice should not be indirectly questioned in any way through the stringent actions of those who wish to take upon themselves an alternative ruling. There is much more to say on the general issue of חומרות. For example, in יו”ד סימן פט ס”ק יז, the Shach cites the earlier opinion of the Maharshal who considers those who wait six hours after hard cheese before consuming meat as not only “simpletons”—the Maharshal coins them as apostates (דברי מינות)! Not every חומרה is sensible, and one who is really a בעל נפש will be cognisant of not offending others or foisting their private practice upon the masses. המחמיר יחמיר על עצמו
    The Maharashdam who was a contemporary Rishon at the time of both the Ramo and Beis Yosef, limits the aforementioned rule of the Ramo  (יו”ד סי’ קצג) to

    • a Psak which involves a דין דרבנן, a Rabbinic law. However, if one wants to be מחמיר because they fear an infraction of a דין דאורייתא, a Torah law, they may do so.
    • a situation where the act of being מחמיר is not assumed by the existing population who settled and live in the city. Newcomers to a town, may not exert their חומרא on the townspeople. (Note that majority or minority is not the consideration here; מנהג המקום is the determining factor and we do not say חוזר וניעור).

    There are groups of people in Israel, known by many names, who

    • assume levels of צניעות which can only be described as חומרות
    • settle in existing cities, such as בית שמש, and not only wish to practice their own חומרות, but seek to force others to adhere to those same חומרות.

    To be sure, members of these communities falsely claim that their standards are

    • not extreme,
    • involve איסורים דאורייתא, and
    • may even imply the need to act in a manner of יהרג ואל יעבור.

    Such claims are  false.

    The actuality is that צניעות is, by definition, a set of lines followed by a grey area. The grey area is defined and governed by societal practice. Societal practice cannot be determined by fiat, violent or otherwise; it is also relative to time and place.

    Ironically, when extremist women commenced wearing black Burkas as an “extra” level of צניעות, even the usually strict Edah Charedis exclaimed that “enough is enough”. To add to the irony, the Edah objected despite the fact that one could cogently show that were one to live among Muslim women, it might well be a Rabbinic imperative to match their levels of צניעות! I don’t expect we will find such a judgement emanating from the Beis Din of the Edah even though I contend that such a ruling could quite cogently be constructed.

    A line was drawn. Grey areas exist in every city, town or village. I do not hold the view that, for example, in Melbourne, one can talk about מנהג מלבורן unless it is something that all the religious communities have practiced and continue to practice. If Adass, the Litvaks, Ger or Chabad or whoever do things uniformly in a particular way, then it is a matter for those communities. They cannot and should not ever impose their practice on anyone else. Ironically, it may well be דינא דמלכותא that preserves the halachic status quo outside of the State of Israel.

    Bet Shemesh, on the other hand, is and was, an established city and it had its lines and grey areas. Those areas were amorphous and pluralist but never included the consideration that men and women walk on either side of a road. (This was also not the practice in Poland, for example, except allegedly in Kelm). The line never extended to the disgraceful dehumanisation and targeting of women who wear Tichels and skirts down to their knees. The line didn’t consider a woman who “heaven forbid” displayed her toes through sandals as licentious and through whose toes was causing lustful thoughts in these less than holy בעלי נפש thereby “polluting” the atmosphere with such פריצות. (Yes, one lady wearing a long skirt and sandals was indeed set upon by unruly ruffians for this most trivial reason).

    I have been disturbed for days by the sad picture of that little girl holding her mother’s hand while trembling on her way to school because she feared the modern zealots would spit and accost her.  שומו שמים … how far have we strayed from דרכיה דרכי נועם.

    If zealots feel the need to build their own עיר מקלט city, where they can enact all level of stringency, that’s their business. If they are permitted to do so by the law of the land, then let them go ahead. If a person wants to live or visit, it would be a good idea to follow those stringencies within the boundaries of that city. This is not different from להבדיל Mecca, where Muslims have accepted certain extra practices only within that city. This would not ever imply though that mindless automatons are justified in resorting to spitting and other forms of violence if someone does not follow their city-based dicta. A city whose Rabbi encourages such practices of violence either directly or indirectly will face a דין וחשבון in due course. I would call such a city that duly practices such abominable acts a modern-day example of an עיר הנדחת.

    For a little more perspective, let me conclude with a rather prophetic and incisive psak from no less a גאון than Rav Chaim Berlin ז’ל.  

    Rav Chaim Berlin was the son of the famed Netziv (from the Netziv’s  first wife) and a half-brother of R’ Meir Bar Ilan. He was Rosh Yeshivah in Volozhin, Chief Rabbi of Moscow, and at the end of his life became Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem after R’ Shmuel Salant ז’ל.

    R’ Chaim Berlin’s halachic responsa  were published posthumously by alumni of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in the USA. In Even Ha-Ezer, R’ Chaim was asked by a  former student now in the USA what to do in the event that a woman stretched out her hand to him as part of common business practice. R’ Chaim answers that according to the letter of the law עיקר הדין there is no איסור because the act is not occurring בדרך חיבה—amorously—and since the student is visibly religious and is expected to be doing so simply as part of business etiquette, it is permitted. Interestingly, and this is the part that I found very impressive, R’ Chaim quotes the Gemara יומא פו:א

    ואהבת את ה’ אלוקיך – שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך

    You shall love Hashem your God—[implies that] Heaven should become beloved [by others] on account of your hands [actions]

    R’ Chaim contends that the person who is clearly a religious Jew, and is visibly seen as such, and who does not behave with common business etiquette is likely to encourage Non-Jews to think that Jews and their Rabbis are fanatical madmen! Accordingly, he says that failing to shake the hand, in the case of that student, would constitute a חילול שם שמים!

    These are powerful words. I’m not a Posek suggesting that anyone simply make their own halachic conclusions based on this insight. However, it is quite clear, that we have witnessed over the last few weeks is exactly what R’ Chaim Berlin was warning us against.

    The actions of an ungainly ugly tail of extremist Jews have through their own prescribed grey areas caused Judaism to be seen by many as no different to the Taliban or Salafist Wahhabis. My accusation extends to the imbeciles who berated a blind woman when she sat at the front of one of those new separate buses.

    עת לעשות לה’ הפרו תורותיך

    Women singing in the Israeli Army

    It is well-known that during the British Mandate, there was an important event held in the presence of the two leading religious figures of that time, R’ Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook z”l, and R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld z”l. The former, of course, became the 1st Chief Rabbi whereas the latter was ideologically opposed to him and Av Beth Din of the Edah Charedis. At this event, in the presence of the British dignitaries, a woman began to sing. To be sure, they undoubtedly had no idea that religious men may not hear live singing of the female variety. The reaction of each of them is interesting:

    1. Rav Kook, a lofty man possessed with an ultra sensitive neshama, stood up in shock and made a quick exit. Nothing else existed at that moment. He instinctively removed himself.
    2. Rav Sonnenfeld put his head down and covered his ears with his hands.

    None of us approach the lofty spiritual stature of these holy men. I dare say the same applies to Israeli army conscripts who find themselves at an event where women sing as part of the entertainment/process.

    How would/should a Jewish conscript behave if they were part of a non-Jewish army and this occurred? I doubt that they would make a commotion or threaten to “die” rather than stay at the performance. It is likely they would put their head down and/or attempt to block the voice out. Why then in the Israeli army do Jewish soldiers behave differently, as reported in the press? Why do Rabbis of the Charedi Leumi variety demand the most extreme response? The answer is that one expects an Israeli army to be more attuned to the needs of religious Jews. That is a reasonable expectation. However, the reality is that respect is earned. Respect may not be demanded and it is not a byproduct of being genetically related.

    We know that דברי תורה בנחת נשמעים, words of Torah are best delivered in a gentle manner. “We demand” is only going to make matters worse, especially in a society which is already alienated by religious jews on account of their not being seen to be pulling their weight in a State sense, and featuring prominently in various cases of moral and ethical malfeasance.

    Dogma is part and parcel of our religion; coercion is not. Our purpose is to imitate God—Imitatio dei—והלכת בדרכיו. God, himself, gave us free choice.  What right then do we have to remove that בחירה from a fellow Jew? We are expected to be holy. Holiness means separation. We saw two expressions of that separation above: Rav Kook and Rav Sonnenfeld. What is the appropriate approach then for an ordinary soldier?

    It’s obvious to me, sitting here in Australia, from the distance.

    1. Put your head down/close your eyes. Many poskim hold that if you do not see the person singing it’s not ערווה
    2. Bring your fingers up to your ear lobes and block what you can. You can even hum to yourself.
    3. Gently speak to your commander after the event pointing out that it was uncomfortable for you to be in this situation.
    4. Increase Torah and Derech Eretz in your military group.

    I’m not sure what else one can or should be expected to do. Walking out en masse and creating a furore simply germinates the same enmity that has transported people to a situation where they already don’t respect each other.

    It’s a short step from reacting in a virulent manner to tearing down posters and having Tznius police. Ironically, R’ Kook who did walk out, didn’t do so out of protest. His was but an ultra pure soul that literally fled from a remote smell of  איסור. His Rabbinic leadership was all about gentle enfranchisement and tolerance for those who were not yet observant. None of us are R’ Kook, including the conscripts who perhaps  imitate his reaction.

    They have a chip on their shoulders, and much of this is due to unrelenting Charedi delegitimisation of their ideology. Years of Charedi attempts to delegitimise Mizrachi or Torah Im Derech Eretz type Jews are now manifest in less than diplomatic approaches to dealing with the reality of a State before the Geula. Dogma is expressed in virulent and uncaring tones.

    We are all worse off as a result. I couldn’t see any קידוש ה’ ברבים

    What if anything should you say בימי אידיהן

    Yesterday, a number of my alumni were wishing everyone “Eid Ul Aza” or “Eid Mubarak” or similar. November 6, 2011 is associated with an Islāmic festival, sometimes called Eid al-Adha. Essentially, Muslims contend that it was Yishmael who Avraham Avinu was commanded to sacrifice on the Akeyda. They celebrate this act of faith with a feast and wish each other Eid Mubarak. I had discussed this issue in the past with some of my more open-minded alumni, and one of them said “forget who it was, just celebrate an act of extreme faith”.

    I have always considered religious festivals to be a private matter. It never made sense to me that someone should wish me a Happy Chanukah anymore than I would wish them a Merry Xmas. To be sure, Muslims are not considered בעלי עבודה זרה and so the issue in this instance is somewhat different from a halachic point of view. On the other hand, this particular festival grated on me because it was contradicted by all ancient sources.

    We contend that it was Yitzchak who was on the Akeyda. Even if some Muslims seemingly acknowledge that Yitzchak was also charged to be on the Akeyda with Avraham, I always viewed that as apologetic and a cop-out.

    So what does one say, if anything? In the end I settled on “Enjoy your feast”. Is that kosher in the spirit of שלום?

    What do you say when someone wishes you Merry Xmas? In the case of Roman Catholics Xmas is עבודה זרה.

    Do you feel uncomfortable if someone wishes you Happy Chanukah? Are you as über sensitive as me?

    I admit that I am overly sensitive. Towards the end of the year, our office is bedecked with Xmas decorations. I feel uncomfortable just entering the office at that time, and avoid doing so at all costs. I don’t so much care if someone pays for and displays their own personal decorations, but I do not care for University money being used for one particular religion. Are my views too extreme?

    Rabbi Yossi Feldman responds

    I have a word of advice to anyone using email: never, but never, assume that what you have written, even with the qualifying words “highly confidential” or “for your eyes only” won’t be sent on against your express wishes. Personally, I would never send out something confidential to a third-party, but the reality is that people do. Indeed, I experienced this “phenomenon” a few weeks ago when I sent an email to four trustworthy people. One of them may have leaked, but all denied it. It is remotely possible that their email account was accessed against their will, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

    It would seem, and I do not know, that Rabbi Feldman’s private emails to fellow Rabbis were leaked to the Jewish News. It would then appear that the AJN created a news story based on the email interchange. It is important to remember that Rabbis are also entitled to discuss matters להלכה ולא למעשה. If another Rabbi leaked Rabbi Feldman’s private emails, then it’s beyond contempt, and disgusting.

    If the AJN constructed their story based on such leaks, then I suggest their actions are unethical and amoral. I don’t care if they are in the business of selling papers. In the least, I wonder if they conferred with Feldman before publishing? At any rate, no doubt the AJN got legal advice before they went to press and Yossi Feldman has now reportedly got his own counter legal advice, and there are threats of defamation flying around. I’d hope that it would go ahead to an independent international Beth Din for arbitration before it got to any defamation lawyers, though.

    Was this episode necessary? If there was just a modicum of respect, the AJN should not have behaved like a Murdoch style paper excitedly thinking they had a Watergate leak. They should have asked Feldman for clarification. This issue of abuse is too grave to be side-tracked by what will become a win/win for only the respective lawyers. How sad.

    Here is what I received Erev Shabbos from one of my readers (thanks Steve). It is doing the rounds and is a legitimate email from Feldman.

    From: Yeshiva Shul
    Date: Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 8:58 AM
    Subject: Statement from Rabbi Yosef Feldman in relation to article in the AJN

    To: yeshivashul


    I would like to put on the record that from my perspective the Australian Jewish News coverage in issue dated 29/7/11 misquoted, misconstrued and misrepresented my comments from an in internal Halachic debate amongst the Rabbinate of Australia relating to the serious and reprehensible issues of Child abuse and the appropriate response. I reserve all of my Halachic and Legal rights in relation to this matter which constitutes in my opinion no less than character assassination at the highest level. Today I will be consulting with a senior defamation Lawyer in relation to what I believe is an outrageous travesty, and exploring all available options including Beth Din or court proceedings to remedy the matter.

    I quote the beginning of the article which says that, “Among his assertions were that anyone who reported a paedophile would be responsible if the paedophile was raped in prison.” I never made such an unqualified assertion in relation to a convicted paedophile. This and other serious matters arising from the coverage will be pursued vigorously.

    I would also like to make abundantly clear that the Rabbinate of NSW under my Presidency and encouragement has unequivocally and unanimously endorsed a resolution condemning all forms of child abuse and recommends the reporting of such to the relevant secular authorities.

    I also emphatically endorse the joint statement on this matter publicised by ORA (The Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia) the Melbourne Beth Din and the Sydney Beth Din, which states that there is no Halachic impediment to conveying all credible information regarding such matters to the police or relevant authorities, but to the contrary, it is Halachically obligatory to do so. The obligation applies not only to mandatory reporters but to all who become aware that abuse is taking place.

    The Jewish News has called for my resignation as President of RCNSW.

    My response is that as a result of what I and others believe to be their unprofessional recklessness, in my personal capacity I call for the immediate resignations of both AJN National Editor Zeddy Lawrence and article author Josh Levi, before they cause further damage to myself, the Sydney Rabbinate and the Jewish community.

    Rabbi Yosef Feldman

    I hope this rather nasty incident doesn’t deflect from the main issue at hand:

    • protecting children
    • reporting alleged abusers to the police


    They want to touch my feet

    Over the years, in professional University life, I am exposed to an interesting Hindu ritual, known in Sanskrit as Upasangrahan. An informal survey of alumni suggests that most Indians don’t know it by name, but they all know what it is. They rarely perform the ritual, and most do not perform it in Australia. I would estimate that in Australia it’s only 1 out of every 100 Indians who have the “guts” or  להבדיל frumkeit to act it out. Here is one nice description:

    “Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc. In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivaadana, which serves to introduce one-self, announce one’s family and social stature.

    Man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which has been one of India’s enduring strengths.
    The good wishes (Sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvaada) of elders are highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have a tremendous strength. When we prostrate with humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders, which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.
    The different forms of showing respect are :

    • Pratuthana: Rising to welcome a person.
    • Namaskaara: Paying homage in the form of namaste
    • Upasangrahan: Touching the feet of elders or teachers.
    • Shaashtaanga: Prostrating fully with the feet, knees, stomach, chest, forehead and arms touching the ground in front of the elder.
    • Pratyabivaadana: Returning a greeting.

    Rules are prescribed in our scriptures as to who should prostrate to whom. Wealth, family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in ascending order of importance qualified men to receive respect. This is why a king though the ruler of the land, would prostrate before a spiritual master. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect.”

    Upasangrahan: Touching the feet of a revered person

    Picture the scene if you will. An Indian (Hindu) student has arrived in Melbourne and enrols in RMIT’s Masters of Computer Science degree. It’s likely I interviewed and selected the student on one of my trips. After discussing various electives that suit the student’s background and ability, the session is over. As the student rises to leave my office, he asks if he can touch my shoes and receive a blessing. The first time it happened, I was taken aback and the process felt unnatural. After gently exhorting the student that there was no need to touch my shoes as I was not to be seen in any way as exceptional, it was easy to sense that the student was deflated. The student associated this ritual as a natural pathway before embarking on their two-year study at RMIT.

    Having been born a כהן, conferring ברכות is second nature to me. This time, the נוסח needed to be somewhat more “free form” or avant-garde.

    It never occurred to me that this episode might be part of a Hindu ritual. I always assumed that it was simply a sign of respect more akin to a stylised cultural handshake. The ברכה which I give is always a simple one wishing them הצלחה with their studies. Okay, I try to make it sound a bit more meaningful than that 🙂

    These days I don’t proffer much enrolment advice; I tend to handle the more difficult cases where more questioning to ascertain the student’s level is required. One such student saw me last week. I had seen him in Bombay two years earlier. He had just landed after his Visa had been approved. It had been a struggle for him to show his finances. He seemed to be on cloud nine and had a dreamy smile etched on his face. We discussed his study plan, had a short chat, and then as he got up, he asked for a blessing. I knew the scene, so I stood up to give him a blessing. He placed his hands on my shoes and I tried to muster some meaningful words. After he left, I wondered if there was any halachic issue involved in what I had just done.

    The מגן אברהם in אורח חיים סימן קפט:א writes:

    כשיש עכו”ם בבית נוהגין לומר כלנו יחד בני ברית, וכתב הט”ז ביו”ד שאינו נכון דכיון שאומר כולנו יחד הכל בכלל אלא יאמר אותנו בני ברית כולנו יחד, והטעם לפי שאסור לברך עכו”ם דכתי’ לא תחנם

    In other words, if there is a non-jew at one’s table during Benching (ברכת המזון) when we reach to the section of הרחמן, how should the הרחמן be phrased? This section of benching is about us blessing all those around the table. To take into account the non-jew, the words “he should bless all of us together, the children of the covenant” is suggested. The Taz writes that this is not an acceptable alternative wording because as soon as we say “all of us” that includes the non-jew and non-jews are not “children of the covenant”. Instead, the Taz suggests, “he should bless all the children of the covenant; all of us” and thereby this would exclude the non-jew from that ברכה!

    Now, I can almost hear you say “hold on, what’s the problem here. Why can’t we bless a non jew at the same time as we are blessing jews. What’s the harm in giving a ברכה to a non jew!” The Magen Avraham quotes the Kol Bo and Mateh Moshe that giving “favour” or חן is part of the biblical prohibition of לא תחנם as mentioned in דברים פרק ז and described in עבודה זרה כ

    כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ, ה’ אלקיך, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ; וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי–שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ.  ב וּנְתָנָם ה’ אלקיך, לְפָנֶיךָ–וְהִכִּיתָם:  הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִים אֹתָם, לֹא-תִכְרֹת לָהֶם בְּרִית וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם

    When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land to to which you are coming to possess it, He will cast away many nations from before you: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful that you. And the Lord, your God, will deliver them to you, and you shall smite them. You shall utterly destroy them; neither shall you make a covenant with them, nor be gracious to them.

    Other sources for this include:  מחזור ויטרי סימן פג וסימן תצו, and ארחות חיים, הל’ ברכת המזון סי’ נז.

    The שולחן ערוך הרב who generally follows the Psakim of the מגן אברהם writes this explicitly (ibid)

    כשיש נכרי בבית נוהגים לומר ‘כולנו יחד בני ברית’ – להוציא הנכרי מכלל הברכה, שאסור לברך הנכרים שנאמר ‘ולא תחנם’. ויותר נכון לומר ‘בני ברית כולנו יחד’, שלא יהי’ בכלל הברכה אפילו רגע

    See also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:18.

    Based on the ruling above, it would seem that I should not have blessed the student. Even according to those ראשונים who say that this prohibition only applies to idol worshippers, given that Hindus are arguably idol worshippers, for a Jew to perform a blessing as part of upasangrahan would seem to be forbidden because of ולא תחנם. Tosfos in ‘עבודה זרה כ also adds fuel to the fire by explaining that although there are really three prohibitions that evolve from וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם:

    1. Not to sell land in Israel to a non jew
    2. Not to give gifts to a non jew
    3. Not to be gracious (e.g. to give a blessing)

    Only the first one is limited to the שבעת העמים the seven nations mentioned in that Pasuk. The latter two—not giving gifts or being gracious— according to Tosfos apply to all non jews. The בית יוסף in חושן משפט סימן רמט paskens that the only exclusions are a גר תושב—someone who not only keeps the שבע מצוות בני נח but does so because they are commanded to by Hashem! In effect, if we follow the Psak of the Beis Yosef, בפשטות one would be forbidden to give gifts to a non-Jew, and would be forbidden to be gracious through praise, blessings etc. Now, if one lives in the State of Israel, you could perhaps find a way to live your life without ever confronting the latter two איסורים. A Jew who lives in the Diaspora, and who rubs shoulders with fine and upstanding non jews on an almost daily basis, either is doing the wrong thing or needs another Rishon to disagree with the בית יוסף and for their own Posek to decide to pasken like this Rishon against the Beis Yosef. There are other opinions such as the ספר החינוך, מצווה תכו who opine that the last two dinim of לא תחנם only apply to עובדי עבודה זרה which presumably includes Roman Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus.

    It seems that a way to navigate the parameters of this difficult situation may be the interesting and somewhat controversial opinion of the מאירי on ‘דף כ in עבודה זרה. It’s worth quoting the Meiri in full:

    כבר ידעת כמה החמירה תורה להרחיק עובדי האלילים מארצנו ומגבולנו ומבינותינו ובכמה מקומוח האריכה להזהירנו להתרחק ממעשיהם מכאן אמרו לא החנם, לא תתן להם חן, ר’ל לשבח ענינם ומעשיהם ואפילו יופי צורתם ותבניתם, וכן דרשו מכאן שלא נתן להם חנייה בקרקע, כדי שלא להתמיד ישיבתם בינותינו, וכן דרשו ממנו שלא ליתן להם מתנת חנם, שלא לגזלה למי שאנו חייבים לה ביותר כגון נר תושב והוא בן נח הגמור לקיים שבע מצות כמו שאמרה תורה לגר אשר בשעריך תתננה ואכלה או מכור לנכרי, ומכל מקום פרשו בתוספתא דוקא לגוי שאין מכירו או שהיה עובר ממקום למקום אבל אם היה שכנו או חברו מותר שהוא כמוכרן לו, כל שהוא מן האומות הגדורות בדרכי הדתות ושמודות באלהות אין ספק שאף בשאין מכירו מותר וראוי, וכבר אמרו שולח אדם ירך לנכרי

    In simple terms the Meiri is saying that the reason we can’t give them gifts is because this is tantamount to stealing the gift from the Ger Toshav who is the one who is meant to get such gifts. In other words, instead of giving to the Ger Toshav, as the Torah commands us, we choose to give to סתם a non jew (who is not a בן נח/גר תושב) and this is not correct according to the Meiri’s understanding of the prohibition of לא תחנם. This is a  controversial view because the מאירי brings no source for this insight, and to the best of my knowledge there isn’t another ראשון who shares this explanation. Meiri amplifies his view by further stating that even if the non jew is not a גר תושב but he is someone you know, as opposed to סתם a gentile, then you may also give them gifts. Why? Because it’s not a gift when you know the person. Normally, when you give something to someone whom you know then that person will reciprocate as time goes by. This is especially true in business relationships. Since they reciprocate, the (other)  גר תושב doesn’t really miss out on anything because your financial situation has stayed neutral during this episode with סתם a gentile.

    The מאירי continues and says that if we are wanting to praise a gentile, then it’s how we praise, that is the נוסח that we employ is the key to whether it is permitted or forbidden. If we see nature and praise the nature by showing nature’s connection to God , this is the desired approach and the particular blessings which חז’ל provided for us to use, do employ words which link back to God. In practical terms, if one was at a music concert and was overawed by the jazz piano of Keith Jarrett, then as long as one praised Jarrett and sought to link his ability as a blessing from Hashem, then this would seem to be permitted. However, to somehow imply that Jarrett alone, without any connection to The Creator had some Darwinian ability to play jazz piano, would be questionable according to הלכה. Poskim raise questions about the מאירי and his source (a Tosefta) and it would seem that nobody has the נוסח that the מאירי had. Others question the מאירי based on a ירושלמי but I’ll not get into that.

    An interesting question was posted to Rav Waldenberg ז’ל, the previous Posek for שערי צדק hospital and one of the great Poskim of the previous generation, whose Tshuvos are always beautifully constructed. In 16:47 Rav Waldenberg was asked how the Rambam could praise Aristotle in the way that he did and at the same time rule that one is forbidden to praise a gentile! Rav Waldenberg finds a number of ways to permit praising, including the one we mentioned above: limiting the prohibition to those who are idol worshippers; having it only apply when you say it and like the person, and more.

    I’m left with considerable feelings going both ways on this issue and I’d probably need to spend two solid weeks studying it in some detail in the hope that I can understand the various views with a deeper clarity. Even then, at the end of the day, I think it’s not a straightforward  issue, and I’ll look to ask a renowned posek (e.g. Rav Hershel Schachter) whether I am indeed allowed to give a bracha assuming a wording נוסח along the lines of:

    “May God, the only God, the King of the World, shine His countenance as you recognise Him and thereby grant you continued success in your studies, health and life.”

    As always, I value your contribution.

    We are what we eat?

    There are clear effects on a Jewish soul. The effects, both positive and negative, stem from actions and environment. We normally understand actions as constituting the performance of Mitzvos and good deeds (מעשים טובים). Mitzvos include the principal Mitzvah of Talmud Torah that underpins all Mitzvos and leads one to action (ideally).

    Kabbalistically inclined Jews amplify claims that there are effects on the spiritual Neshama (טמטום הלב) stemming from the physical food we put into our mouths.  Jews who are inclined towards rational interpretations of Judaism, are less likely to be concerned about meta side-effects to a soul from a physical item. Let’s take a concrete example. These days we mostly eat Glatt meat. Glatt means that the internal membranes of the animal are “cleaner” and, therefore, don’t attract attendant questions about whether a particular type of faulty membrane renders the animal Treyf. So called pious Jews prefer not to confront the question in the first place. If the animal is Glatt, then it is squeaky clean,  there is no question about its kashrus, and one can be 100% sure that it’s Kosher לכל הדעות. Continuing this theme,  the pious Jew may also contend that even if there is a questionable membrane that is considered kosher by 99% of Poskim, since 1% of Poskim consider the animal Treyf, then there is a 1% likelihood that it’s not kosher and one ought not take the 1% risk of damaging one’s soul by ingesting Treyf.

    Rationalists or Halachic purists will dismiss such pious concerns. They may argue that the Torah presented a divine mandate for a Posek to decide Halacha. If a Posek then determines that the animal is kosher, then it is 100% kosher. This is a binary system; it’s either kosher or it’s not. There is no statistical likelihood of a soul being damaged by opinions which the Posek has determined do not influence his Halachic decision.

    To put it a different way: the more kabbalistically inclined Jew considers that there is an empirical truth about the kashrus of each item we put in our mouths. Rabbis determining Halacha are mortal and do their best to decide whether that food item is kosher or otherwise. They “get it right” some times and they may “get it wrong” other times perhaps because they dismissed a minority opinion which may well represent the empirical kashrus status of the item. The more rationally inclined Jew will contend that this line of reasoning is baloney (sic). Food with a questionable status isn’t empirically kosher or otherwise. It is rendered Kosher by the decision of the Posek. The Halacha is famously not in  heaven: לא בשמים היא and once food has the halachic kashrus imprimatur of a Posek, eat it gezindt aheit.

    Machmirim milk products (yes, it's real) with 4 Hechsherim.

    In keeping with Brisker Lomdus, there is another way to view this conundrum. The kabbalistically inclined may consider that Kosher is only ever about the food item itself (the חפצא). Even if a Posek (a גברא) declares that the food is Kosher, as long as  a solitary opinion of note contends it is not Kosher, the חפצא cannot be transformed into Kosher by the Halachic determination of a גברא, and remains on the outer. On the other hand, those who adopt a solely rational approach to Halacha may argue that the חפצא has no independent status. The גברא imparts a status to the חפצא through determining Halacha according to the tradition, learning and shimush (apprenticeship) of the Posek. Once the גברא decides, the חפצא takes on an identity. It cannot have a dual identity vis-a-vis the single Posek.

    The Ramo writes in יו”ד סי` פ”א ס”ז that when a baby ingests unquestionably non-kosher food, the food has a negative effect on the spiritual development and character traits of the child (See the Shach ס”ק כו). This is also mentioned in Shulchan Aruch but only in the context of a baby drinking milk of a nursing woman who has consumed non-kosher food. The Vilna Gaon (ibid) teaches that we learn this from baby Moshe who refused to nurse from a non-Jewish source (שמות רבה א, כה). The Yerushalmi at the beginning of the second perek of  חגיגה relates that Elisha ben Abuye (Acher) went off the derech because Elisha’s mother had once succumbed to a sweet smell from Avoda Zara and this had permeated Elisha’s body and tainted his character traits. I just found a nice summary of  the issue of the after effects from eating Treyf, on page 3 and onwards here.

    A question arises on the Pasuk in Parshas Ekev, “על כל מוצא פי ה’ יחיה האדם” where the implication is that through the spiritual emission of Hashem, man lives. How does man live from spirit? Man lives from food. The Ari ז’ל explains that all things physical also have a spiritual component. Therefore, when a human ingests Treyf, the spiritual aspect of that food is also ingested by the Neshama of the person. As the Pasuk in Parshas Ekev goes on to say “כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם” Man does not live just from bread alone. That is, man is not only sustained by the physical aspect of bread. After ingestion, Treyf will also nurture the soul.

    What motivated me to blog on this topic, was a story I read last night about R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל (as an aside the disgraceful revisionist artscrollesque wikipedia article about R’ Shlomo Zalman carefully avoids mentioning Rav Kook even though R’ Shlomo Zalman said, “When I say Maran or Der Rav, you should know that I only use this term to describe R’ Kook”. It is useful to compare the Hebrew wikipedia article which prominently mentions R’ Kook!)

    Someone approached R’ Shlomo Zalman with a question on behalf of Seminary girls who are commonly invited to various houses for meals, especially over Shabbos and Yom Tov. Should the girls seek out houses which they know only rely on chosen Hechsherim? It is known that some houses will use Hechsherim which some will not touch with a barge pole.  R’ Shlomo Zalman replied that God forbid we should suspect that Yidden are eating Treyf. As long as these are Frum people who use a Hechsher from a Rav who is a Yirei Shomayim, the girls should eat there. The questioner went on to ask, “but some people will not eat from some of the out-of-town Rabanut Hechsherim”?. R’ Shlomo Zalman replied in the same way: as long as the Rav Hamachshir is a Yirei Shomayim, the girls should eat from such Hechsherim. The questioner persisted and with more than a touch of Chutzpah asked, would you eat from such Hechsherim? At this point, R’ Shlomo Zalman became agitated and said

    “definitely yes. If I go to a Bris or other Simcha and there is a Rav Hamachshir who is a Yorei Shomayim, even though I don’t personally use that Hechsher in my own home, I will even eat chicken from this Rav Hamachshir at the Simcha. חס ושלום to publicly cast aspersions on the kashrus of food being eaten at a Simcha let alone insult the בעלי שמחה. I know that even R’ Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld  ז’ל ate meat from Sefardim at a Bris even though this was not his Ashkenazic tradition.”

    This was R’ Shlomo Zalman. This was why he was one of few universally acclaimed personalities of the previous generation, despite the fact that he issued some controversial and innovative Piskei Din.

    I asked myself after reading the story, wasn’t R’ Shlomo Zalman worried about the effect on his Neshama (טמטום הלב) after eating under the authority of a Hechsher that he didn’t normally use? The Kabbalistically inclined would perhaps have to agree with the more rationally inclined and answer that the food was Kosher מעיקר הדין so there could not be any damage to the Neshomo?

    Perhaps the only danger would be to human beings who might be hurt by the implication that they were damaging their Neshomos after they see a Rav refusing to eat at their Simcha?

    It’s not about the internet, Rabbi Ginzberg

    In an article reprinted in Matzav.com, Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg admirably goes to lengths to show how comments on articles on the internet can be so horribly insensitive. He is right. He then calls them “digital murder”. Rabbi Ginzberg is on the money when he notes that comments can be off and grossly insensitive. So what do I object to? After all, he’s urging people to be more sensitive and nice?

    I don’t disagree with the notion of people displaying a more civil and generous tone when they address topics, but what has this to do with being “digital?”. I discern the spectre of  a new ogre. Yes, that big bad internet is responsible for all this digital loshon hora and digital rechilus and proverbial digital murder.

    Hello? This has little to do with the internet. If people make these comments on blogs they make them at home, at school, in the yeshivah or in the alley way.  Is this the first time we have met people making snide remarks behind other people’s backs? It’s really about poor chinuch, fake chinuch, corrupt chinuch found in our “holy” schools and our “holy” homes. If we or our children are making insensitive remarks then it is deflective to focus on the vehicle that enables the promulgation of those remarks, as if  in some way the vehicle might be (partly) responsible. The vehicle changes from generation to generation. The problem is ubiquitous.

    Pen and Paper. Yes, they can be used to write chidushei torah but they can also be used to promulgate insensitive remarks and yes, even pornography. Ban the pen, ban the paper?

    Telephones. Yes, they can be used to carry nice messages and blessings and Torah and all things good. They can also carry the worst loshon horah that can destroy someone’s life. Ban the phone?

    And now we have the Internet. Well, the internet can be used as a kiddush hashem. Will we ever read about an askan or gadol praising the incredible harbotzas hatorah that has occurred because of the internet? I doubt it. People will just concentrate on the negative side and seek to ban it. This “digital murder” is another attempt to put a nail in the internet coffin. It won’t work.

    The web is here to stay. We should worry about our children making such comments, not the type of paper they use.

    PS. Starting a chabura in mussar is  not the answer to this general problem. It’s about חינוך at an early stage and an example at home.

    Standing for a מכתב ברכה?

    Like me, I’d imagine that many readers have found themselves at a Simcha of some sort, where the בעל שמחה directs that a letter conveying blessings (מכתב ברכה) is read at a pre-determined moment. I’ve only seen this at Chabad Simchas; perhaps it happens elsewhere. Of course, the so called letter, today, is not real in the sense that it was written to the בעל שמחה by a living person, כמלא המובן. That is not the issue, however, that I’d like to discuss here. Let’s rewind the clock to the days when the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל was in good health and the בעל שמחה had received a personal מכתב ברכה.

    What happens, in my experience, is that all those present at the Simcha are requested to stand as a measure of respect. Someone is then chosen (it is considered a כיבוד) to read the letter and (usually) translate it. The person who reads the letter will generally don a hat and jacket, and will often gird himself with a Gartel. I surmise that this is because they see the ברכה from a Rebbe as being on par with the formal utterance of a תפילה, for which they would also normally be attired with hat, jacket and (once married) gartel.

    What about the rest of us? How should we relate to this phenomenon? Is it like להבדיל when people are asked to stand for the national anthem at a Simcha? What occurs when we hear the audio of the Torah/Bracha of a great Rav, or even see the video of the same? Do we also stand? In my experience, we do not stand. Indeed, after the last Rebbe of Chabad passed away,many Chabad Shules play videos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, immediately after Havdala. I am happy to stand corrected, but I haven’t seen too many people standing at attention throughout the presentation of such videos. So, it can’t be the mere fact that a Bracha is heard or a Rebbe is seen. There is more to it than that. Why is it different at a Simcha?

    I postulate that the person reading the letter is a quasi-shaliach of the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe, and, as such, since שלוחו של אדם כמותו, they perceive a level of holiness in delivering a message and dress appropriately. Those who hear the message imagine that the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe himself is standing there and delivering the ברכה to the בעל שמחה.

    Sephardim have a custom to kiss the hands of a Talmid Chacham

    It might then be considered rude then for others to choose not to stand at such a time if they are specifically requested to stand. One could, of course, argue that now that things have changed, and the ברכה is no longer explicitly written for the purposes of the particular שמחה and בעל שמחה that by standing one is perpetuating denial, at best. Some might argue that one should davka sit to make this point and attempt to cajole people into accepting a reality that they are understandably uncomfortable with.

    I have always had a different issue. Not for any reason of present צדקות but simply because it’s a הנהגה that I accepted בימי חרפי when I was learning in Israel, I stand during קריאת התורה. Yes, it’s a חומרה and doesn’t match what I’ve become since those days, but I digress. I wonder, then, how could it be that those people who don’t stand during קריאת התורה do stand during the reading of a מכתב ברכה?

    The גמרא in :מכות כב says אמר רבא כמה טפשאי שאר אינשי דקיימי מקמי ספר תורה ולא קיימי מקמי גברא רבה. The message from that Gemora is that there are silly people who stand for a Sefer Torah but don’t stand for a great person (Talmid Chacham).  The Beis Halevi in his introduction to his Tshuvos, הקדמה לשו”ת בית הלוי states דהת”ח לא הוי בבחינת תשמיש קדושה רק בבחינת עצם הקדושה

    In the words of the Beis Halevi, certainly not a Chassid, the Talmid Chacham is to be considered Kedusha personified. I imagine that this perhaps explains why there is a specific mitzvah to stand in the presence of a Talmid Chacham in the same way that one would stand in front of a Sefer Torah. It is true that a Talmid Chacham can be Mochel on that Kavod and tell you not to stand for him, and there is no such concept of Mechila for the honour of a Sefer Torah, but that is parenthetical.

    An explanation then is perhaps that when a Chassid reads/hears a letter and then “sees” his Rebbe,  he or she stands in the “presence” of their Rebbe, כביכול.

    I wonder then whether it might also be proper to stand for קריאת התורה on this basis. At least one should be able to see (the original) Moshe Rabenu in front of one’s eyes, transmitting Hashem’s word, and standing thereby accordingly?

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