Farewell Rabbi Yaakov Sprung

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I am not a member of Mizrachi. I used to be, about three decades ago, and my Rav was the saintly Rav Boruch Abaranok ז’’ל. Rav Abaranok was a Tzadik Gamur. He wasn’t a Beinoni. He was the real thing. He received his Smicha from the Chafetz Chaim and was friendly with Rav Elchonon Wasserman הי’’ד. He didn’t wear a Kippa Sruga (knitted yarmulka) and wore a dark suit and homburg hat. He wasn’t a great orator, but his words in a one on one situation, penetrated the heart more than any orator could achieve. He was also a staunch zionist, and supported the State of Israel in a genuine fashion. I have written about him here. When he paskened, he would subsequently invite you to come the next day or that night, to his office or home, and have all the Seforim open and prepared, and would explain from inside how he had come to his Psak Din.

Our son, Tzvi Yehuda, now famous for his incredible and successful chasing kosher side venture, was fortunate to have Rav Abaranok as his Sandek. I remember being flabbergasted when he arrived at the door for both the Bris and subsequent Upsherin, each time carrying a gift of Seforim. Our younger son, Yosef Dov who is learning in Israel presently, was also lucky to get a set of Seforim from Rav Abaranok ז’ל.

On Shabbos he wore a black litvishe kapote much like the dress of the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis of Israel.

I used to bring our children (two back then) to Rav Abaranok almost every Sunday morning. His children and grandchildren were all overseas, and his wife nebach, was with him but not 100% due to her horrid experience in the Holocaust.

Rav Abaranok became very sick after a fall (as I recall). I had a strange sense that he was about to leave this world. It was too difficult for me to absorb emotionally, so I started visiting less often. He would ask me, if he saw me, “Yitzchok, what did I do. Why don’t you come anymore?”. He never realised that I couldn’t cope with seeing him slip away.

On his first Yohr Tzeit, I went and stood outside his house (which is no longer there) and just cried.

While he was still at Mizrachi, the community decided to appoint a new Rabbi. I stopped going because my father ע’’ה asked me to (the reason for which is immaterial to this post)

That Rabbi was replaced by the recently deceased and well-known, Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen ז’ל. Many members of our family still daven at Mizrachi and my brother-in-law is now the President. I was fortunate to have occasions to interact with him. My interactions were always of a Torah/Halachic nature and I enjoyed speaking “in learning” with him. He had a pleasant disposition and was a professional American style Rabbi with lots of grandeur.

Rabbi Cohen eventually left (I believe of his own accord, but I can’t recall), and was replaced by Rabbi Sprung.

Rabbi Sprung will complete 10 years of Rabonus at Mizrachi in August. I went to his home every Purim (even though he stopped serving scotch after the first year :-), and we shared divrei torah and halachic discussions. On one occasion, when there was an  injustice in the community, he was the Rabbi who was prepared to stand up, by ringing overseas, properly ascertaining facts, when he could easily have avoided the issue. He made a difference.

My wife loved his Shabbos Shiurim, and went every Shabbos to hear these. She said that he put so much preparation into each Shiur. He seemed to always be giving Shiurim. He went from minyan to minyan at Mizrachi and gave droshos. He enjoyed good relationships with the Roshei Kollel of Mizrachi’s Kollel and other Rabbinic staff.

His pastoral support was incredible. He would visit the sick, comfort the mourner or the forlorn, and his door was open. Recently, one post was perhaps too revealing about my state of mind. He doesn’t read blogs, but someone had mentioned it to him. On the next morning, I got a phone call wherein he expressed concern for me, and stressed that whenever I needed or wanted to discuss anything with him, to do so, and that his door was always open. My father ע’’ה was in hospital several times. Rabbi Sprung always visited him amongst many others. I know my father greatly appreciated Rabbi Sprung’s visits. He was in fact the only Rabbi to visit him.

Rabbi Sprung on the far left. [picture from melbourne eruv website]
On Simchos (Smachot if you want to use Ivrit) he would meticulously prepare by interviewing everyone, and then weave a wonderful Drosha where he paid tribute to the attributes of the Ba’alei Simcha and their families. I heard such Droshas many a time. We invited him and his Rebbetzin to our own Simchos, as I considered him a Choshuve Rav with whom I had developed a relationship.

Mizrachi is not like other Kehillos. There are a lot of “leaders” of other organisations who are highly opinionated who daven there as well as many highly educated professionals and “machers”. Rabbi Sprung’s fidelity to Halacha was unquestionable. He wasn’t afraid to state his firm halachic view on a range of issues, including those who led services at the conservadox Shira Chadasha (an identical view with which Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter agrees). These types of issues may have made him be seen as too “right-wing”, but I can’t know that with certainty. I can only describe my interaction. Perhaps Mizrachi will now employ a hatless, Kipa Sruga type. Time will tell.

Towards the end of his Rabbonus contract in August, Mizrachi decided that it would only extend the contract after a democratic vote of all members. I can’t recall whether they had a democratic vote to appoint him, but I do recall there were a few candidates. One can surmise that after 10 years in the role, some no longer appreciated what he offered.

I am sad to see Rabbi Sprung’s tenure at Mizrachi Melbourne come to an end. Knowing him, he will see it as Hashgocho (divine providence) and depart as gracefully as when he arrived. I know he was widely respected by the Melbourne Rabbinate, and he avoided politics when  possible. I’m guessing Rebbetzin Naomi Sprung may feel somewhat blessed that she has an opportunity to relocate to an area closer to her children and grandchildren. Melbourne, isn’t exactly close by, and to be dislocated from family would be a strain for anyone.

I wish Rabbi and Rebbetzin Sprung immediate future success, together with lots of Nachas and joy.

We now wait to see who the (democratically elected?) new Rabbi will be.

Full of twaddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can a Rabbi know everything?

I saw an interesting question and answer from Rabbi Aviner’s web page. I’d describe Rabbi Aviner as Charedi Leumi, but unlike regular Charedim, he is acquainted somewhat more with the real world. Here is the question and answer

Q: Sometimes when a Rabbi is asked a question, he responds: “I don’t know” or “I am not familiar with that”. Is this and answer, or a was of avoiding taking a position?

A: It is a type of answer and of taking a position (The Chazon Ish said: ‘I don’t know” is also part of the Torah, meaning that when a person reviews his learning, he need to points out I know this and I don’t know that. Sha’arei Aharon vol. 1, p. 44 in Kuntres Sha’arei Ish. And the Steipler complained to a great Rabbi: When I say that I don’t know, the world explains it as if it is a doubt. Orchot Rabbenu vol. 1, p. 38 in the additions at the end. And Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski was asked: When Ha-Rav answers a question with “I haven’t heard”. Does this mean that he does not agree with that position? He answered: It is the simple meaning of the words. She’eilat Rav Vol. 1, p. 22 #8. Segulot Raboteinu, p. 257 note #319).

I recall being taken aback when Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Hershel Schachter occasionally said to me over the phone “I don’t know”. This to me is Gadlus, otherwise known as intellectual integrity as opposed to papal infallibility (lehavdil). It could have lots of meanings

  1. I don’t know you well enough to make a determined ruling
  2. I need more facts, and based on what you’ve told me, “I don’t know”
  3. I never had a Mesora on how to decide this issue, and I don’t pasken without a Mesora (this is a Hungarian trait), others (like Dayan Usher Weiss isn’t afraid to say Libi Omer Li)
  4. I can’t answer you on the spot, I need to look into it very carefully (the Rav told all his Talmidim to never answer immediately, and to always say you have to check, and to look in Shulchan Aruch and call back, even if you know)
  5. Rav Hershel always encourages his Musmachim to discuss every Shayla with a Chaver (Rav) before answering
  6. He’s not convinced I’ll listen to him, so and not say something, he says I don’t know.

As opposed to Poskim, I would posit, that most Rebbes, and Rebbalach, never seem short of an answer. Similarly, the same can be said of Mekubalim (the real ones, and the shyster money grabbers).

Book-13-18
Right to left Rav Abaranok ז’ל, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Balbin, and me, on the Upsherin.

I’ve never seen it as a negative! Moshe Rabenu needed to consult what to do with Zelafchad, the Mekoshesh Etzim. Consultation is a good thing, and human frailty to me is Gadlus. Mori, V’Rabi Rav Abaranok, always said his “tentative opinion” then invited you to his office or house, where he went through the Mekoros and explained his Psak (or withdrew it!). They say ( I think in the name of R’ Moshe Tendler) that R’ Moshe when asked a question would answer at the bottom of the stairs, and by the time he got to the top of the stairs, reviewing everything out loud, he either kept his Psak or changed it.

 

מו’’ר Harav Boruch Abaranok ז’ל

As per my about page and a previous post, Rav Abaranok, played a significant role in my Jewish development, especially after I returned from Israel after learning at KBY. I used to call him “Der Rov”. He was a wonderful role model with impeccable middos tovos.

Please enjoy this video from February, 1998 [Hat tip Graeme]