Sigh. Another nihilist post from Alex Fein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My comments in response to your prose will be in red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some important points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not going to argue with you. I don’t know Rabbi Klapper from a bar of soap. However, Rav Schachter certainly knows his methodologies…/1EIgABKi2t9KS84yiJSHwpvkpbuz…/edit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they were women, you’d feel better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS. You aren’t young anymore, Alex.

Great, I hope you have a nice Seder

We are just at the beginning of all of this.

I’m excited.

I hope you are too.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Chaim Dalfin
Rabbi Chaim Dalfin


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rav (second from left) with Rav Shmuel Walkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Dalfin states,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rebbe and the Rav
The Rebbe and the Rav

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rashab
The Rashab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky
Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky

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

Rav Moshe Soloveitchik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik

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

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

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

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

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

I find Rabbi Dalfins comment that

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

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

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

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




Supervised Milk vs Government Regulated Milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlebach, R’ Moshe Feinstein and Chabad

I know there are many people who feel uplifted by his tunes. However, the Halachic perspective on this controversial figure, needs to be known.  I am aware that Vicki Polin had been accused of many things including hyperbole, but it cannot be argued by anyone who has a fidelity to historical fact, that as years progressed he became more “progressive” and there were serious accusations.

Reb Moshe Feinstein wrote an opinion in among a section of his writings one would not normally read Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer Vol. 1, No 96. In that, my reading is that until he became more progressive, his songs were fine. After that, they were to be avoided.

One Shabbos Shachris, without much forethought, I chose a Carlebach tune for Kel Adon. (Let me say that it is Halachically very problematic to sing Kel Adon in any tune, unless one does this in a form of Aniya (answering). The Chazan says a stanza and the Kahal repeat it. The same is true of Lecha Dodi. There is a special Kedusha and Mesora to this form of Answering which is an endangered species and I urge Ba’alei Tefilla and Chazonim to re-introduce it, even with song. This was the very strong opinion of the Rav).

I finished davening, and Rabbi Groner ז’ל as was his custom, thanked me for the שחרית and then asked me to sit down. He relayed a story between he, the LR and R’ Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Groner had been a friend of Carlebach, and had learned with him. After Shlomo went down certain paths, Rabbi Groner wondered what approach he should take vis a vis his relationship with Shlomo and inter alia his music/influence.

Rabbi Groner told me that the LR was very firm. Although the LR always stressed Kiruv (bringing people closer to God), he did do so again in respect of Shlomo. The LR instructed Rabbi Groner that all efforts should be made to be warm to Shlomo, however, and this was a big however, this was never to be done within the Mosdos (institutions) of Chabad. One should find other ways.

Rabbi Groner then regaled me with stories of Shlomo and his brother’s brilliance in learning, but he asked me not to do this again. Suffice it to say, that within a Lubavitch Mosad, I never sang a Carlebach song during Tefilla. I admit, I was also influenced by R’ Moshe Feinstein’s Tshuvah, which although is kind, and doesn’t mention Shlomo by name, is known by his Talmidim, to have Shlomo in mind.

I’m not here to judge Shlomo. However, I do think that anyone with a fidelity to Chabad absolutely must follow the LR’s instructions. Some will not know, others I know ignore these instructions. I mentioned my conversation with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, and he affirmed that he had heard it from his father himself as well. R’ Chaim Tzvi will quietly discourage Shlomo’s tunes in his Chabad House.

Make up your own mind about those who choose to not follow the LR’s very clear dictum. Do they know better?

The covenantal community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixed Gender Functions

[Hat tip MD]

Recently, a question was asked of the Charedi Leumi Posek, Rav Aviner, about a 50 year reunion of a group of couples who had been part of a youth group 50 years prior. They would be attending, were frum, all with their wives, and the idea was that they would recollect memories and have an enjoyable evening. The question asked to him was

Is such a reunion permitted according to Halacha

I guess the mere fact that they asked Rav Aviner the question before going ahead with their reunion is testament to their frumkeit and fidelity to Halacha. Those who are not so beholden to their Rabbi, would not even ask a question.

At any rate, Rav Aviner’s answer was

“חלילה. זו מכבסת מילים לפעילות מעורבת. זה איסור חמור גם אם אלו יראי שמים. ולצערנו יש פעמים רבות פעילות המשך

In other words, definitely not permitted and is a serious halachic infraction even if the participants are frum! Rav Aviner opines that unfortunately, there are sometimes serious outcomes from such events.

In other words, age makes no difference, and one would assume, a fortiori, that this would be forbidden for younger couples. I won’t extrapolate to mixed tables of singles at a wedding who are looking for Shidduchim. Rav Aviner may have the same opinion as R’ Aron Soltoveitchik that this isn’t just permitted but desirable. It is dangerous to extrapolate in Halacha.

Upon hearing of this Psak, respected Rav Amnon Bazak (whose writings I am acquainted with and if I am not mistaken he may have visited Melbourne) of Har Etzyon, disagreed with Rav Aviner on three grounds.

  1. The attitude of the Rishonim and Acharonim on issues such as this, was and is tightly connected with the practices in such communities. In other words, if it was common place for men and women to meet, then Poskim such as the Bach, opined that it is permitted (if you want to read more about this examine the issue of whether to say שהשמחה במעונו at a mixed Sheva Brachos. If my memory serves me correctly, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is Machmir and says no). The point of Rav Bazak was that this is something which may well change from community to community. I wouldn’t expect this to happen in Satmar, or Belz, where the women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, of course.
  2. If one wants to say “those who are stringent will get a blessing”, this leaves is a sour taste because the idea that they get a blessing on account of people who really are not doing anything wrong according to plain Halacha.
  3. What’s the point in putting out words like ‘absolutely forbidden’ when this happens all the time, at tables, which involve Chachomim and Roshei Yeshivah at their meals?

There is also the question of when you have two long tables at a Sheva Brachos one with men and the other with women without a Mechitza. Some will still say this is “mixed” other will not, even according to those who argue with the Bach.

Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter relates that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Yaakov Kaminetzy ז’ל  and others made weddings and there were mixed tables. He does however caution that times have changed somewhat to those days. He doesn’t use Rav Bazak’s arguments but notes that

  1. Women tend not to wear the ornate thick dresses that they wore in yesteryear, and sometimes, perhaps too often, are on the boundary of Tzniyus with flimsy clothing which leaves little to the imagination
  2. The music in those days was much slower and it was rare to find a women or man return to the table shvitzing with all that comes from that phenomenon and fine cloth.

Accordingly, he suggests caution at weddings.

Your views? I believe this is societal and something according to הרגלם and will change from group to group to the extent that a blanket opinion is elusive and probably not advised.

There is a lot of “Ess Past Nisht” and I’m not arguing. I’m just quoting and adding to this article

בענין סתירת הרמבם שלא יתערבו או שלא יסתכלו זה את זה,  כבר דשו ביה רבים

Do elevators “need” a Mezuza?

[Hat tip MD for Hebrew Source]

This is in Hebrew and seems ambivalent about the concept. It’s yet another thing which seems unnecessary but those who want to be concerned for all opinions, can be strict (a sort of Mishna Brura approach or a R’ Moshe approach for a B’aal Nefesh)

I found this from R’ Sholom Klass.

Q. Do elevators require a Mezuzah?

A. There is a debate among authorities as to whether elevators require a Mezuzah. Most authorities feel that since the elevator is not stationary it is exempt from a Mezuzah. Thus an elevator or a door leading into an elevator does not require a Mezuzah.

The authorities that do require a Mezuzah on elevator doorways that are stationary write that it should be affixed on the right side as one enters the elevator on the bottom floor. On the other floors it should be affixed on the right side as one exits the elevator and enters the hallway.

From R’ Elchanan Lewis

If he could explain us, where should mezuzah be affixed by the entrance of elevator in multilevel building.
The door of elevator opens inside the wall (and does not turn around)
Is there difference between floors of the building?

There is more than one opinion on this issue.

The Responsa Minchat Yitzchak (4, 93) holds that the elevator itself requires a mezuzah from the inside and not in the entrance of every level.

Others require a mezuzah on the right side of those who enter the elevator apart from the main entrance of the building in which the mezuzah should be placed on the right side of those leaving the elevator. (Chovat Hadar p.43)

Some exempt the elevator all together from a mezuzah. (Be’er Moshe 2; 88, 90)

The last opinion I found is to place the mezuzah in all levels on the right side facing out of the elevator. (Pitchei Shearim p. 190)

Most elevators I have seen do not have any mezuzah and those whom have, followed the last opinion above. (though I haven’t seen many buildings in religious neighbourhoods…)

In any case because of the doubt the mezuzah will be placed without a Brachah.

Note that Chacham Ovadia Yosef discusses this issue in the aforementioned chapter (p. 300), and he concludes that we do not consider the time spent on a boat a permanent residence, and thus it does require Mezuzot. This principle applies as well to other rooms that are not intended for permanent residence, such as elevators, buses, airplanes and jetways leading from airport terminals to planes. In all these situations, even if there are rooms of a size that normally obligates a room in Mezuza, no Mezuza is required, given the temporary nature of the use of these structures.

Summary: One who returns home after an extended absence does not recite a new Beracha over the Mezuzot in his home. One need not affix Mezuzot to the doorposts of boats, elevators, buses, airplanes or other structures that are not used for permanent residence.

Revach L’Neshoma writes:

Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach – Mezuza On The Elevator Door?

In Even Yisroel (9:100), Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer is asked if when he paskened that one is required to put a Mezuza on the entrance of the elevator, he had seen Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak in Minchas Shlomo. Rav Shlomo Zalman says that in principle an elevator is patur from a Mezuza but you should put a Mezuza on the right side of the door when coming out of the elevator without a bracha.

Rav Shlomo Zalman’s reason, as brought down in the Even Yisroel, is that since when the elevator is not on that particular floor the doorway serves as an entrance to an empty pit, it cannot be considered a doorway since you cannot come in and out unless the elevator is there. Only in the case where there is a doorway to a ladder that is fixed in its place to go up and down, is there a requirement for a Mezuza.

Rav Fisher says that he hadn’t seen the Tshuva but after studying it now he doesn’t change his psak. Using Rav Shlomo Zalman’s analogy, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fisher argues and says that if each person on the floor had his own doorway for the ladder that they all shared, and the ladder could be moved from one doorway to the other, each person’s doorway would definitely be required to have a Mezuza. The fact that the ladder is not always there. and then the doorway leads to a long drop down to the courtyard, does not take away the obligation for a Mezuza. Similarly the fact that the elevator is not always there does not exempt the doorway from requiring a Mezuza.

And perhaps the “best” answer from the folks at Eretz Chemda

This a fascinating question from the perspective of applying classical halachot to new situations, which can and does prompt varied conclusions in this case. As far as the bottom line l’maaseh, our response will be somewhat more straightforward. We will refer to a residential building. The status of mezuzot in commercial settings, even in normal rooms, is a major issue in its own right (see Living the Halachic Process, G-4).
The Rambam (Mezuzah 6:9) says that there is no need for a mezuzah on a sukka or on a house on a boat because these are not permanent places of living. Similarly, an elevator does not have a usage in a set manner because, from the perspective of any specific floor, one cannot access it when it he wants. Rather sometimes it is here and sometimes it is there (B’tzel Hachuchma III, 80).
On the other hand, there is a concept that a beit sha’ar (a hut that serves as a gateway) that is open to a house does require a mezuzah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:7). This is the case even when the beit sha’ar does not have the regular requirements of a room that would require a mezuzah. Thus, for example, the Chamudei Daniel (cited in the Pitchei Teshuva, Yoreh Deah 286:11) says that a beit sha’ar requires a mezuzah even if it does not have the usual size of 4 amot (approximately 6 feet) by 4 amot. In some ways then, an elevator is more likely to require a mezuzah than a sukka. While it moves around from place to place, it serves a function on behalf of a building where people live on a permanent basis (Minchat Yitzchak IV, 93, based on the aforementioned Chamudei Daniel). Yet, this is far from a simple matter. Firstly, the approach that an area can require a mezuzah just because it serves an area that requires one is not necessarily accepted (Minchat Yitzchak, ibid.). Secondly, the elevator does not even serve as a set beit sha’ar for any floor’s elevator shaft but is a roving beit sha’ar.
Those poskim who do recommend placing a mezuzah for an elevator, for the most part say to do so without a beracha because there does not seem to be more than a doubt that it is required (see some opinions in Pitchei She’arim 286:220-222). These poskim also have another issue to contend with: where would one put it. On one hand, you might want to put it on the entrance from the corridor into the elevator shaft. This would require a mezuzah on each flight. One posek said that on the first floor, where one enters the building, it would be on the right side going in, whereas on other floors, where one first and foremost, exits the elevator, it would be on the right side from the perspective of one leaving the elevator (Chovat Hadar 5:11). On the other hand, some say that the elevator shaft is just a dangerous hole that is sealed except when the elevator opens up next to it. Therefore, one would put a mezuzah on the elevator’s entrance. That way, whenever one would move from the corridor to the elevator shaft, one would meet an elevator in the entrance (Minchat Yitzchak, ibid.).
In any case, what is most important in such a matter is that the minhag ha’olam (the accepted practice) is to not put a mezuzah anywhere around an elevator. While we have seen some reasons to explain why one might want to place one, we have not found close to a consensus of poskim to require it. In such a case, it is not positive to start a trend to contradict an accepted practice based on doubt, which almost automatically, in our days, starts off a chumra (stringency) race to have the most halachically advanced building. In many circles, this could be seen as casting aspersions on others, actually on the masses, and the disadvantages of the chumra outweigh its advantages.

The Goral HaGro, Mekubalim, and advice for the unsure

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

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

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

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

‘תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך’

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

Rashi says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Modern” Orthodoxy faces an internal schism

Rav Schachter, Shilita, doesn’t like the term Modern Orthodox. Many don’t. If the term is to be used, it means the type of Orthodoxy that is ready to deal with modern issues using modern knowledge. Rav Schachter believes this is nothing new in the sense that dealing with modern issues is something most groups with Orthodoxy undertake. They have to. When a question comes before a Rav, he needs to either answer it, or send the questioner to a different Rav who may be more qualified to answer that type of question.

Whilst Rav Schachter is also a Rosh Kollel, and in general a Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel doesn’t make the “best” Posek for a Ba’al Habayis, because they often live in a surreal world which is cut off, at best from the vicissitudes facing the man and woman who are immersed in Olam HaZeh, and not looking at Daled Chelkei Shulchan Aruch for most of their day. Rav Schachter is different. His interaction with an ordinary Ba’al HaBayis is palpable when he speaks, although stylistically and on occasion his oratory is more Yeshivish. He has a modest and respectful charm, which I can testify is very much real and uplifting.

Like his own teacher, the renowned Rav, Rav Soloveitchik ז’ל, Rav Schachter has an enormous and unshakeable attachment to Mesora/tradition. Mesora isn’t always that clear, of course. For example, simply looking at last week’s Parsha, when discussing how the Jews had access to Shitim wood in a dessert, Rashi quotes a Tanchuma and Yerushalmi (from memory) that Ya’akov Avinu foresaw that the Jews would need Shitim to build the Mishkan and ensured that these were planted in Egypt and then transported. Yet, Ibn Ezra says words that

If these thoughts of the Amoraim and Geonim are a Kabolo (Mesora) in learning that they received, then we must accept it. If they are not, but rather constitute a more homlitic interpretation by Chazal, then we (he, the Ibn Ezra) has another suggestion. His view is that there was an Oasis near Har Sinai, and it was from there that they took Shitim Wood

What’s obvious to the Ibn Ezra is that he is completely respectful to the Mesora. He just doesn’t have (from his own teachers) a definite teaching that Rashi’s sources constitute a definite truth, as opposed to a possibility. He does not dismiss this view as “far-fetched” and not to be accepted. Rather, he qualifies his comments with an “If then else”.

In terms of dealing with new questions, or indeed old ones, in a “modern” framework, what makes Modern or Centrist Orthodoxy different is really two things

  1. A rejection of the Hungarian view espoused by the Chasam Sofer, that “all that is new is forbidden”. In other words, if you don’t know about a new proposal or approach, then in a void of Mesorah, it is safest to always pronounce that the answer is “NO”
  2. The use of modern knowledge to aid us in understanding and further bringing Kavod LaTorah.

The latter is scary for the Aguda and those to the right of the Aguda. It represents a precipice. There is no question, that when, ironically, it comes to questions of Kashrus, all agencies rely on modern science. Science is respected, and the knowledge of the food chemist is critical. When it comes to questions of electricity and Shabbos, the Posek again must understand the physics. The Posek of a certain generation will indeed Pasken according to the modern understanding of the Science of their time. However, the modern orthodox Posek will not be afraid to also PERMIT something which was once forbidden because of a faulty model that was understood in yesteryear.

Another divide can be seen in issues involving the types of items identified in the Sefer, Hilchos Shmiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh. This has a list of many things that should be avoided because they may be injurious to health. Some are from the Gemora, others are more Kaballistic.

Rav Schachter contends that on matters of health, for example, THE MESORA itself, was to use the best knowledge of doctors of the time. In reality, when we are sick we all do that. However, when it comes to some “dangerous” things, Rav Schachter will often say that we don’t need to worry about it, as it only represented the best medical/scientific knowledge at the time. Now, we know better. We, however, must according to the Torah, use the best knowledge available in coming to a cogent and relevant (read modern Psak) as opposed to taking the Hungarian/Chassidic line of forbidding more and not less.

That being said, there are lines, and there always have been lines. Some of these lines can be argued with on the basis of “modern NEEDS” as opposed to modern knowledge or science. This constitutes the basis of articles involving  R’ Haskel Lookstein.

It is ironic, that the vast majority of ladies who want to include male mitzvos, do not routinely keep female mitzvos. One only has to look at the practices of those in Shira Chadasha style prayer organisations (I can only speak somewhat about the Melbourne manifestation). If only, if only, egalitarianism wasn’t the petrol in their Jewish Car, and comprehensive attempts at all Torah and Mitzvos, especially those already germane to women and men, were adhered to scrupulously. Alas, they appear not to. The emphasis is on egalitarianism, the catch cry of the conservative, and the idea that people like the Rav, R’ Moshe warned about. These cannot and must not change the existing Mesora.

Yes, if there is a particularly enriched and scrupulous woman, who is like the women of yore, with Tehillim on their lips, Torah in their hands, and Yiras Shomayim in spades, who objects to such exceptions fulfilling a natural progression. Ashreichem, if you reach such a Madreyga. Men don’t need to. We are enjoined to do these things, even if we haven’t reached such heights. Woman, however, are enjoined to focus on their important orthogonal role, and if they are special, so be it.

Rav Schachter, and his colleagues, are debating these issues behind closed doors, and doing so in a spirit of Torah and not through the press with hot loaded statements, that really don’t constititute adequate Tshuvos on the topic(s) (especially when they have erroneous sources, but let’s not go there).

I pray that Rav Schachter and his Chaverim are able to peacefully negotiate the issues with Ramaz and the like, and keep true to the firm and unshakeable weltanshauung of Rav Soloveitchik when it comes to “ceremony” and Shule. Shule was never about a mode of ceremony for the Rav. It was all about Hilchos Tfilla, and the Lonely Man of Faith, never lost sought of this.

I see no renaissance in female Jewish observance surging through the modern orthodox world. On the contrary, they seem to struggle with “why is sending sms’s on shabbos forbidden”.

Enough. I don’t want to cast aspersions on many good people.

The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors

[Apologies as this may seem like a repost for some readers. WordPress seemed to get confused, so I have re-published as a new article]

There is seemingly a trend that has taken hold in the last 12 months or more. We’ve seen it employed by Orthodox Jews, some Orthodox Shules, and the Conservadox Shira Chadasha. The trend is to move out of the Shule and into the outdoors, presumably for a heightened, perhaps more “spiritual” davening. To be sure, it’s not (yet) regular, and is something that is utilised at chosen times. Many of these services revolve around music, and “nature”.

I am a musician. I’m not a “mathematical” musician in the sense of analysing a score and declaring it a piece of genius. Rather, I was blessed (I guess) to have a special חוש/sense for music to the extent that I can play a piece after I have listened to it.

I am inspired by music. I find that it touches my Neshama. It’s something that can uplift me, or just as importantly it can solemnise my feelings to the extent that I’m “at one” with those ambient feelings. Feeling melancholy I may choose Rachmaninov, for example; I love Russian classical music as it seems to accurately reflect the oeuvre of the tragedy of much of Jewish history. On Yom HaShoah, when I hear the ‘Partisan Song’, it never fails to stir and uplift.

Halacha discusses what type of music is acceptable. Obviously, love songs, as mentioned by the Rambam, aren’t in the frame. Some, such as R’ Moshe Feinstein based on the fact that he felt the Pshat in a Gemora was more in tune with the R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber, than the Ramo) went as far as prohibiting pleasurable music all year around as an expression of זכר לחורבן. This view is not widely accepted.

As I always reiterate, my pitputim are just that. Ask your own Rov if you have any questions or concerns. Rav Ovadya also had interesting Teshuvos on this (I can’t recall whether it was in Yabia Omer or Yechave Daas). If my memory serves me correctly, he even permitted muslim prayer tunes to be set to Jewish words and used as part of Tefilla!

I’m a traditionalist, especially when it comes to authentic Jewish expressions of connection with Hashem and preserving the Mesora via modes of accepted expression, additions and location.

I’m lucky enough to also feel exhilaration when learning, and I prefer delving than more surface-oriented coverage. The latter is instructive and important, in the sense of המעשה אשר יעשון but it doesn’t perhaps titillate me when compared to the combination of intellect/neshama as elicited by חכמת התורה. That for me, provides a tangible connection to אלוקות. Your mileage will vary, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. There have always been at least two approaches. הרבה דרכים למקום

Many of our current youth seek tangible and immediately perceived connection through their senses. Some are limited in their ידיעת התורה armoury, and the soul-like, metaphysical connection through song, works effectively as a catalyst. A catalyst towards what, one might ask? Is it a means or an end? Effectively in my Weltanschauung, is when this leads one to the level that they can meditate on Shmoneh Esreh in the very least, and through that seek to “connect”. Shmoneh Esreh is Tefilla.

As Rav Soloveitchik always pointed out, Judaism has never been reactive or temporally focussed on modes of pomp and ceremony and new forms of worship: these cross the line of Mesora. We are bound, happily, through our Mesora. To Chazal, Mesora is Halacha, and it regulates accepted methods and modes of Tefilla and delineates the unacceptable.

We don’t make up new integral prayers (as opposed to תחנות and בקשות) or modes of prayer. We follow the Nusach of our Mesorah, and we do not deviate. It is, of course, well-known, that when faced with the rising influence of conservative temples in the USA, the Rav stood steadfast, and would only allow “innovation” that didn’t step beyond Mesora and Halacha. Sometimes, protective mechanisms were needed to entrench a barrier against a temporal but threatening breach. These need to be approved by an expert Posek. One does not innovate on the basis of a more academically inclined analysis of sections culled from the Bar Ilan responsa DVD. That does not a Psak make.

There is the story recorded by Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter, of a Baal Teshuva who would have offended his family by not attending the Bar Mitzvah of his brother. The Bar Mitzvah was to be held in a conservative temple. The Rav, whose Psokim one may not generally extend to their own situation, ruled that the Baal Teshuva should attend so as not to cause Agmas Nefesh and Machlokes on the strict proviso that in respect of the conservative service he:

  1. Daven in a proper Orthodox Minyan beforehand
  2. Sit when they stood
  3. Stand when they sat
  4. Not answer Amen

In no way, should he give the impression that he was participating in davening per se at a conservative temple. Each situation is different, of course, and a Posek needs to be appraised of the complete circumstance before issuing their Psak Din.

R’ Shlomo Carlebach, a controversial figure, is in vogue, especially in sing/song style prayer. Allegations, about him, abound. Some are most concerning and sinister. Yet he was also proffered love by the Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א, widely considered as one of the “holiest Rebbes” of our generation.

A young Amshinover Rebbe with R’ Shlomo Carlebach

At the same time, in Igros Moshe, Even HoEzer (in the middle of a Tshuva), Reb Moshe Feinstein intimated that nigunnim performed before a certain period in Reb Shlomo’s life were acceptable, but those after that date were not to be played or sung.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל personally told me that he was a chavrusa/learning partner of R’ Shlomo. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, after Reb Shlomo diverted to a more controversial path, how to interact with him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should be Mekarev R’ Shlomo, but never under the umbrella or Mosdos of Chabad per se.

I once used a Carlebach melody at Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, and Rabbi Groner advised me not to do it again, for these reasons. He, of course, told me this privately and quietly after Shule, as I walked out after ravening. I know that Rabbi Groner’s son, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi also adheres to this approach in the Chabad House where he is Rabbi.

Many of our youth seem to seek spirituality. Authentic Jewish spirituality can be achieved in a number of Masoretic ways. I’m not sure, though, whether home-grown techniques of spirituality lead towards מעשה בפועל or if they are all permitted anyway. One would hope so, even if contraindicated, as per Reb Moshe or others. We should assume that seekers are earnest in their quest for interaction with אלוקות. The method of T’filla and the place of T’filla however, must remain the mainstream Chazal-mandated approach. Yes, there is a place for התבוננות, reflection and meditation. The Breslaver Chassidim require it once a day, the Baal Shem Tov himself did it—each to their own.

Lately, I’ve noticed various Orthodox groups (I consider Shira Chadasha conservadox in my nomenclature despite spirited sound-bites on a Melbourne TV show attempting to convince us that they are Orthodox) seek to leave the sanctuary of Shules and Shteiblach, or even house-minyanim and seek the outdoors through the aegis of an open area/park or similar setting.

I am not enamoured halachically by house minyanim on a regular basis during, say, summer months. There are shules close by.

ברוב עם הדרת מלך

is not a platitude. It is a halachic requirement.

Sometimes, perhaps mostly, so-called alternate services are accompanied by a Carlebachian inspired sing-song. As a musician, I know this can stir the heart. The effect is amplified when there is a knowledge of Pirush Hamilos. [ I cringe if the wrong style of tune is used for a passage or chapter. I even cringe when commas are placed at the wrong places: a sure indication that a basic understanding of the structure of Tefilla and Pirush Hamilos needs serious attention. ]

But what does Halacha say about davening in an outdoor setting? I’m assuming that Dina D’Malchusa is followed and council permits are obtained. Parks are not normally designated as places of worship. Imagine if Muslims, Xtians and Buddhists also decided to utilise parks for their places of worship. I, for one, do not think it is appropriate.

The encounter with Hashem is a private one (in the sense of occurring in a house of God), that should be constructed through the agency of a quorum of ten males and a suitable separation of males and females. Dogs, children playing, plain schmutz and the like, do not appear environmentally appropriate. As summarised in Shulchan Aruch Siman 90 S

לא יתפלל במקום פרוץ כמן בשדה

Shulchan Aruch (‘סע’ ה) rules that one should not daven in an open area, for example, a field. The rationale he gives for this halacha is that when one davens in a place that is closed one will have more awe for the King and will have a broken heart which is advantageous for davening. Mishnah Berurah writes that if a place is surrounded by walls it is an acceptable place (ס”ק י”ב מובא דבריו בחיי משה) to daven even if there is no roof.

Shulchan Tahor maintains that l’chatchila, ideallyone should daven in a place that has a roof in addition to walls. However, if the walls extend ten tefachim higher than the average person’s height, one could daven there in a pressing circumstance.

Eshel Avrohom adopts a more lenient approach and contends that it is sufficient if there is a wall in front of the person davening even if there are no walls on his sides. He also adds that this requirement is only for shemone esrei but for pesukei d’zimra one may even daven in an open area.

Sefer Toras Chaim (סק”ז) asserts that this halacha applies when someone davens by himself but it is acceptable for a tzibbur to daven in an open place since the experience of davening with a tzibbur will cause him to have a broken heart and awe of the King. Kaf HaChaim (אות ל”א) cites Ritva who rules that if a minyan is davening together this issue does not apply.

Sha’arei Teshuvah (סק”א) implies, however, that this issue applies to a tzibbbur the same way it applies to an individual.

So, while there is room to be lenient I would think, and this is borne out by opinion, that praying in a park/field is perhaps a stepping stone to the ideal, which is to pray in an ascribed place, viz, a Shule with all its concomitant Kedusha (ironically) and regulation. At the end of the day, it is the iconic Mikdash M’at, a miniature of the Beis Hamikdash itself. See especially the Kitzur Minyan HaMitzvos from the Rambam where he clearly describes this as a D’Orayso, a Torah imperative. We are enjoined to simulate the Beis Hamikdash through both the prayer, the behaviour and the building structure!

A certain man rushed to daven Maariv but missed borchu. Naturally, he wished to daven with a minyan that was just beginning so that he could answer borchu in the beginning of the tefillah. There actually was another Maariv which began a few minutes later but the minyan was outside the sanctuary, in a place without walls. This man wondered what he should do. On the one hand, he knew that it is preferable to daven in a place with walls as we find on today’s amud. On the other hand, he was loath to miss borchu. When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that davening in the shul with walls is preferable. “Even if you will miss borchu it is still better to daven with the minyan inside. Even though the davening outside is complete with borchu, davening without mechitzos is less than ideal.” אבני ישפה, תפילה, פי”א, ס”ו, ובהערה ז

In another place they would pray Minchah in a largish stairwell. Although a minyan always stayed inside, some of the people would wind up joining them outside the building. Since there were no functional walls out of doors, one of the group protested. ”The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to daven in a place without mechitzos. It is therefore b’dieved to daven outside.” But those who stood outside disagreed. “As long as you are part of a minyan which davens inside it shouldn’t matter what you yourself do. It is not as though I have less kavanah, so why assume that inside is superior for every individ- ual?” When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, he ruled that they should indeed pray with the minyan inside. “Those who daven in a stairwell should remain together inside, and not have some people davening inside the building while others are outside.” תפילה כהלכתה, פ”ב, הערה פ”ה

Pardon the pun, but we need to see the wood from the trees. If it is desirable in our age to enfranchise those who would otherwise not seek to daven, through Carlebachian/Breslav, outdoor or “spirit grow style” techniques, then that is an intermediate level, and an expert Posek must be consulted. However, it should always be understood that this level is a stepping stone to the ideal. The ideal is to daven in a Shule or Beis Medrash and to be become a Doogma Chaya, a living example, of how one should comport oneself in a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature version of the Beis Hamikdash. The laws of a Beis Knesses and Beis Medrash are directly derived, according to many, such as R’ Chaim Brisker, from the Beis Hamikdash itself. The Rav gave many examples of this in his Torah.

In a tangential way, even though there is leeway to innovate in respect of melodies during the Nusach HaTefilla, one must remember that some elements are inviolate. Can anyone imagine singing Kol Nidrei to another tune? Cantor Be’er from YU’s Belz School of Music has written a wonderful article where he delineates the Tefillos and categorizes those which one may innovate, tune-wise.

I remember as a boy that both L’cha Dodi and Kel Adon were sung, but this took place in the Masoretic mode of the Chazan and congregation pausing between stanza in the form of “saying and answering” (Davar Shebikdusha, as expounded by the Rav)

Mesora must be protected and cherished.

שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך

Mesora must be protected and cherished. It alone provides the protective borders within which we can serve through an authentic Jewish service.

Carlebach in prayerful bliss: From Ha’aretz

The prepositions אֵת vs. אֶת

The pronunciation of these two words is the bane of many a Ba’al Koreh. You sense everyone waiting to pounce on the wrong pronunciation (which itself its wrong, because it should come from the Rav or his designated “corrector” on the Bima. Some Parshiyos are a breeze, and others are a nightmare. This is compounded by some Ashkenazit pronunciation where one can barely discern the difference between a Tzeyrey and a Segol.

I was very interested to read, in the newly published Mesoras Moshe, where a particular Ba’al Koreh was layning with R’ Moshe Feinstein in attendance. He had made a few errors between the two words, and yet R’ Moshe declined to correct him.

Afterwards, he approached R’ Moshe and asked for the reason behind the lack of correction. Reb Moshe answered that the difference between the two words in the context of layning, is that one has a musical trope (cantillation) while the other does not. Reb Moshe then viewed the error as being one of trope! As such, according to many opinions, trope errors need not be corrected, let alone re-read.

It was fascinating. Your mileage may vary. Certainly wherever I’ve been, the “vultures” have always been ready to pounce. Reb Moshe’s greatness and individuality shone forth, and I enjoyed his observation!

R’ Moshe (from Eichler’s website)

Have we strayed on Sheva Brachos?

The following was from Rav Aviner. These days, it seems to have become de jure, and it’s almost as if you feel “sorry” for someone who doesn’t have them each day. Would we be better off giving Tzedaka? It’s a difficult question as it can’t be generalised, of course.

Q: Is there an obligation to have Sheva Berachot all 7 days?

A: No. Whatever is most comfortable for the groom and bride. After all, it is to bring them joy and not to burden them (Re’im Ahuvim pp. 165-169. And Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein related that when he got married they only had Sheva Berachot on Shabbat, and not on all 7 days as is customary today. Reshumei Aharon Volume 1, p. 18. And Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach once lamented this practice and quoted what the Chatam Sofer wrote in his responsa Even Ha-Ezer #122: “That someone once had Sheva Berachot on Shabbat and the entire community mocked him”, and that the Aruch Ha-Shulchan wrote in Hilchot Sukkah #640 that we do not have the custom to have Sheva Berachot every day. Meged Givot Olam Volume 2, p. 72).

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).

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.


What is a “Posek HaDor”?

The article below, is from the brilliant Rabbi Nathan Lopez-Cardozo. My take on his article is that he is expressing exasperation that some who were recently “crowned” with the mantle of Posek HaDor were lacking in their interaction with society and as such were compromised in some decision-making. In addition, those Poskim responded to questions from Askanim and others on matters that were perhaps not halachic. Although I understand where Rabbi Cardozo is coming from, I don’t agree with the need to somehow define the characteristics of a Posek HaDor as it can overly paint Rabonim today in a negative light.

It would be more important to define the Dor, the generation that this Posek is addressing. If one does that, it is clear to me that some more recent Poskei HaDor, who were Halachic geniuses, utterly righteous and as close as humanly possible to spiritual perfection, never saw themselves as paskening for the wider Dor. The wider Dor includes those in Chutz La’aretz, let alone communities in Israel who are not aligned with that Posek’s political Weltanschauung.

Two outstanding Poskim, who in my estimation were Poskei HaDor were R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל. The latter used to answer questions from well outside his Sha’arei Chesed and Kol Torah spheres of influence. R’ Aharon Lichtenstein, a son-in-law of the Rav, a PhD in English Literature and Rosh Yeshivah of a Hesder Yeshivah, considered R’ Shlomo Zalman as the Posek he consulted for his own Sheylos. R’ Aharon came to him. R’ Shlomo Zalman didn’t seek questioners, let alone Rabbonim like R’ Aharon, who are themselves conversant with Kol HaTorah and spend every spare moment learning Torah and teaching.

R’ Shlomo Zalman with R’ Aharon Lichtenstein

R’ Telsner told me that he knew R’ Aharon in the USA, and while R’ Aharon was studying his PhD in English Literature at Harvard, he never spent less than eight hours a day, every day, deep in learning Torah. R’ Telsner said that he was known as an incredible Masmid. Yet, R’ Aharon went to R’ Shlomo Zalman like a Talmid Lifnei Rabo. The same is true of R’ Avigdor Nevenzahl (immediate past Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem) and others.

Why did this happen? I believe it happened because they satisfied the criteria of R’ Lopez-Cardozo, but not necessarily using the experiential techniques that R’ Lopez-Cardozo advocates. Both R’ Shlomo Zalman and R’ Moshe knew about the pain of the widow and Aguna, as well as the abused child. Their Neshomos were special and sensitised to the plight of others. They also understood their audience. Many times, R’ Shlomo Zalman would refer the questioner to their own Rav or Rosh Yeshivah. Their greatness has been shown time and time again, without the need to resort to Artscroll-style hagiography. Yet, while both were considered Poskei HaDor, it was not uniform. Satmar, for example, attacked R’ Moshe unceasingly and the Eda Charedis never considered R’ Shlomo Zalman to be their Posek, as he was too much of a “Zionist”. Ironically, both R’ Moshe and R’ Shlomo Zalman often referred questioners from outside of their countries of residence to the “Great Rabonim of Israel” or the “Great Rabonim of the USA”. They had no tickets on themselves.

R’ Nebenzahl (c) Sha’ar Hashomayim

Rabbi Lopez-Cardozo’s article follows below.

Nothing is more difficult than being a “Posek HaDor,” the foremost leading halachic arbiter of the Jewish people, in our complicated and troublesome days. The Posek HaDor is the man whose halachic knowledge is greater than anyone else’s, and furthermore, is considered to have “da’as Torah,” divine inspiration. Consequently he has to decide on issues of life and death, literally and figuratively. He is seen as someone who can make judgments about political matters, both local and international, especially in and concerning the Land of Israel. Such a person must have a kind of wisdom surpassing anything that ordinary mortals could ever dream of. He is asked to singlehandedly decide matters which will affect hundreds of thousands of orthodox Jews, and by extension, millions of secular Jews. What are the conditions under which a person is able to fulfill such a task? And does Judaism truly want one person to have such a task?

Never has the Posek HaDor been confronted with so many challenges. It was the establishment of the State of Israel that threw all Jews around the globe into a new world-order and created a need for unprecedented religious leadership. Social and economic conditions have changed radically, creating major upheavals in Jewish life. Unprecedented opportunities have arisen that need to be translated in reality. Will the Posek HaDor grasp those opportunities and turn them into major victories, and inspire his people? Or will he close himself up and live in denial and continue as if nothing has changed? Will he be aware that he needs to lead religious Jewry in and through a new world-order? That his views will not only affect Jews but even gentiles, as his voice will be heard far beyond the Jewish community, transmitted via the Internet? Will he realize that he may have to give guidance to an often extremely secular and troubled world which is in great need of hearing the words of a Jewish sage? Will he realize that his decisions must reflect the fact that Jews are asked to be a light unto the nations—a light which must shine everywhere? Or will he only focus on the often narrow world of orthodoxy, and look down on or ignore the gentile or secular world?

Most Jews today are no longer observant and are not inspired by Judaism. To them, Judaism has become irrelevant and outdated. The reasons for this tragedy are many, but no doubt the failure to convey halacha as something exciting and ennobling like the music of Mozart or Beethoven is a large component. Only when a Jew is taught why it is that halacha offers him the musical notes with which he is able to play his soul’s sonata will he be able to hear its magnificent music. Just as great scientists are fascinated when they investigate the properties of DNA or the habits of a tiny insect under a microscope, so should even a secular Jew be moved to his depths when he encounters the colors and fine subtleties of the world of halacha. But does the posek realize this himself, and does he convey that message when he deals with halachic inquiries?

Are not many orthodox Jews nearsighted and in dire need of a wider vision? Is making sure that a chicken is kosher all that there is to kashrut? Or are the laws of kashrut just one element of a grand Weltanschauung which defines the mission of the people of Israel; a mission whose importance surpasses by far the single question of a chicken’s kashrut? Should such inquiries not be one small component of larger questions concerning the plague of consumerism and mankind’s obsessive pursuit of ever-increasing comfort? Should the posek who is asked about the kashrut of somebody’s tefillin not ask the questioner: And what about the kashrut of your much-too-expensive and ostentatious car? Is he not first of all an educator? Or does he still believe that only hard-line rulings will do the job and create the future for a deeply religious Judaism?

Is it not the first requirement of the posek to live in radical amazement, and to see God’s fingers in every dimension of human existence, whether it is the Torah, Talmud, science, technology and, above all, in the constant changing of history which may quite well mean that God demands different decisions than those of the past? Today’s halachic living is being deeply disrupted by observance becoming mere habit. Outward compliance with externalities has taken the place of the engagement of the whole person with God. The jewel has got lost in the setting. Over the years this problem has become exacerbated because everything in Judaism is now turned into a halachic issue. It is the task of the posek to make sure that Judaism does not get identified only with legalism. There is a whole religious world beyond halacha. One of aggadah, philosophy, deep emotional experiences, devotion and often un-finalized beliefs. Should these not enter in the very process of how halacha is to be applied? The task of halacha was to ensure that Judaism did not evaporate into an utopian reverie; some kind of superficial spiritualism. But what happened on the ground? Did not Judaism develop into something different because this delicate balance was lost; a kind of sacred behaviorism? Judaism was never supposed to become a religion that is paralyzed in its awe of rigid tradition. Halacha is supposed to be the practical upshot of un-finalized beliefs. Judaism is a fluid liquid that must be transformed into a solid substance. It needs to chill the heated steel of exalted ideas and turn them into pragmatic deeds without allowing the inner heat to be cooled off entirely.

Should halacha not be a midwife which gives birth not only to answers, but also to profound spiritual questions created by that very halacha? If so, shouldn’t we make sure not to turn the Posek HaDor into somebody who needs to give on the spot answers as if one presses a button?

Would it not be wise, for example, for a group of women, and above all, the wife of the posek, to be deeply involved in certain halachic decisions when they touch upon emotions and social conditions that they may understand better than the posek/husband? Why do we almost never hear about the spouse of the Posek HaDor, of her wisdom, and above all the sacrifice entailed in being married to such a great man, who is needed by so many and often has so little time for his own family?

Is it possible to be a Posek HaDor if one is absolutely sure of the truth of one’s religion but not informed or aware of the many challenges today’s world presents to religious faith and Judaism? How could such a person be able to understand the many issues of people who live in doubt? Will he understand the sincere troubles of the confused teenager; the Jewish Ethiopian; the bereaved parent; the struggling religious homosexual; the child of a mixed marriage with only a Jewish father; even the Christian or Buddhist who has an affinity for Judaism and asks for guidance? Is there anybody in this world who has all the qualities necessary to singlehandedly rule on these matters? Is it not highly unfair and extremely dangerous to ask one human being, however pious and wise, to adequately respond to all these issues? Would this not require teamwork with fellow poskim who may not be as learned in halacha but are much more familiar with many of the problems of which the Posek HaDor may not be aware? Should the Posek HaDor not be advised by a team of highly experienced professionals, such as psychologists, social workers and scientists, before giving a ruling, so as to prevent major pitfalls? Is halacha not to be decided by consensus, instead of by one person, even when he is the greatest?

Should poskim not encourage new Torah ideas and shun the denunciation of books which try to bring religion and science into harmony, instead of banning them, as the Vatican used to do in bygone times? Is it not a tragedy and a Chilul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, that such bans appear in secular newspapers, and are then ridiculed, since they so often prove the total lack of scientific knowledge on the part of those who sign the bans? Would it not be better that some of the greatest rabbis themselves offer scientific and philosophical solutions to possible conflicts between Torah and science, as has always been done throughout Jewish history, instead of simply calling something heresy? Inquisitions have no place in Judaism.

Should the Posek HaDor not have broad enough shoulders to be able to appreciate different worldviews, including Zionist, non-Zionist, ultra-orthodox and modern-orthodox and make sure that all these denominations feel that the posek is impartial, making space for their varied ideologies? Could he not even have an open ear for Reform and Conservative Judaism and realize that many of their adherents are serious about their Judaism, even though he will not agree with these movements? Could he explain to them adequately why he disagrees?

A real Posek should go down to women’s shelters, speak personally with abused children, perhaps deny himself food and drink so that he feels the real terror of poverty. Unless he is a very sensitive soul, should he not get himself “hospitalized” and spend time observing the lives of sick people? They are in the hands of doctors and nurses who do not always deal with their patients in an adequate way, whether through lack of time, insensitivity, or some other reason.

Before dealing with the question of agunot and the refusal of husbands to give a get, a writ of divorce, to their wives, would it not be a good idea to leave one’s wife (with her consent) for a long period and live in total loneliness, to understand what it means to live in utter silence and having no life partner?

Is the Posek HaDor not responsible for narrowing the serious gap between the ultra-orthodox and the rest of Israeli society, and coming up with creative halachic solutions which will boggle the minds of all sections of Jewry?

The new Posek HaDor must be somebody who will propose unprecedented solutions for dealing with the status of the tens of thousands of non-Jews of Jewish descent living in the State of Israel. He needs to make sure that courses on Judaism are so attractive that halacha becomes irresistible. He should instruct his students to welcome these people with open arms, knowing quite well that otherwise we will be confronted with a huge problem of intermarriage in the State of Israel. This is now a halachic problem which can no longer be solved on an individual level and threatens the very existence of the Jewish State. His prophetic and long term view must ensure that debacles such as the present one concerning the exemption of yeshiva students from army service, which is now exploding in front of our eyes, will never take place again.

For nearly two thousand years, Jewish Law has been developed into a “waiting mode” in which it became the great “preserver” of the precepts. It was protective and defensive, and mainly committed to conformity, so as to make sure that Judaism and Jews would survive while surrounded by a non-Jewish society which was hostile most of the time. It became a “galut halacha”— an exilic code — in which the Torah sometimes became too stultified. It may have worked in the Diaspora, but can no longer give sufficient guidance in today’s world.

Who, after all, will deny that Jews today live in utterly different circumstances despite all the anti-Semitism? The State of Israel is the great catalyst for this new situation, a situation which we had not experienced during the past two thousand years. Are we not therefore in dire need of a new kind of prophetic halacha, in which is presented not only the strict rules of halacha but also the perspectives of our prophets, speaking of burning social and ethical issues from the perspective of a deep religiosity? Has the time not come to leave the final codification of Jewish law behind us; to unfreeze halacha and start reading between the lines of the Talmud to recapture halacha’s authentic nature?

To be an arbitrator of Jewish law is to be the conductor of an orchestra. It is not coercion but persuasion which makes it possible for the other to hear the beauty of the music, and to accept a halachic decision as one would listen, willingly, to the final interpretation of a conductor—because one is deeply inspired.

To be a posek means to be a person of unprecedented courage. A person willing to initiate a spiritual storm which will shake up the whole of the Jewish community. A storm which will prove that conventional/codified halacha has freed itself from the sandbank in which it has been stuck. In a completely unprecedented shift, poskim should lead the ship of Torah with full sails right into the heart of the Jewish nation, creating such a shock that it will take days, weeks, or months before it is able to get back on its feet. With their knives between their teeth, just like the prophets of biblical days, these great halachic arbiters, with their impeccable and uncompromising conduct, should create a moral-religious uproar which will scare the moral wits out of both secular and religious Jews and weigh heavily on their souls.

Poskim should not be “honored,” “valued,” or “well respected,” as they are now, but—as men of truth—they should be both feared and deeply loved.

Jews of all backgrounds should be shivering in their shoes at the thought of meeting them, but simultaneously incapable of staying away from their towering, fascinating and warm personalities.

Halachic decision making is a great art. The posek should never forget that he is the soil on which the halacha is to grow, while God is the sun and the Torah is the seed.**

Above all, it is the task of the Jewish people to greatly revere this person, but never to extol him to the extent that this reverence touches on idol worship.

Let us pray that we will soon meet this personality and make sure that once more Judaism and the Torah will be the great love of all Jews and even of mankind.


* With thanks to my friend M.M. van Zuiden.
** See Samuel H. Dresner, Heschel, Hasidism, and Halakha, Fordham University Press 2002, p. 108

Should a non-Jew wear a Yarmulke?

Back in the days when I began the musical element of my life, I was bemused to see the primarily non-Jewish bands, such as the Los Latinos or Volares respectfully wearing brightly coloured silk yarmulkes. In those days, the façade of the נכרי singing יבריכך ה’ מציון wasn’t complete unless the cap fit and he wore it. Most likely, the haute couture generated supplementary mirth at an already happy and refreshed שמחה. The boldy-coloured yarmulkes, perched precariously on thick, black, amply lubricated and coiffured Italian scalps were not solely the respectful masquerade of a musician. The non-Jewish videographer or photographer,  (if Mr Cylich or Herbert Leder weren’t available) also donned the Jewish millinery uniform.

Schnapps’ keyboard player, Peter, is one of the חסידי אומות העולם. A respectful and sensitive man,  Peter initially asked whether he was required to wear a Kippa. I quickly responded in the negative, and ensured that the other band members knew there was no expectation whatsoever that they do so. In the words of my percussionist, also named Peter, “We are just a pack of goyim anyway”.

Back then, in my young and lest restless years, I felt it was critical not to encourage the portrayal of a misleading repose. I didn’t want to be responsible for a single person being misled by an exterior גניבת דעת. That was then. Today, regrettably, many Jews choose not to wear one even when these are provided by בעלי שמחה as part of a theme or memento.

I fondly recall my old friend Mr Yisrael Tuvia Blass ז’ל posing the question (in Yiddish) “Why is Yom HaKipurim considered like Purim?” His answer was “on Purim, Yidden masquerade as goyim (e.g. Haman) and on Yom Hakipurim, “goyim” masquerade as Yidden. (It sounds even better in Mame Loshen).

Should non-Jewish teachers be required to wear them at Jewish Schools? This question arose several years ago in the USA and was posed to three leading Rabbis of their generation: the Rav ז’ל, R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Aaron Kotler ז’ל. The Rav responded with a simple “no” (the Rav had a policy of not providing the reasons for a Psak). R’ Moshe answered that “he should do as everyone does”. In other words, the non-Jewish teacher should wear a yarmulke. R’ Aaron Kotler answered that the non-Jew should not wear a Yarmulke. Explaining his Psak, R’ Aaron opined that the idea of והבדלתם, that a Jew should be separate, extends to the notion that a non-Jew should not be encouraged to adopt Jewish customs and, therefore, בדווקא, the teacher should not don a Yarmulke.

I read this on שבת in R’ Hershel Schachter’s דברי הרב, and it rang true to me, justifying the position I took with Schnapps, so many years ago.

Igros Moshe, Volume 9

I had an unexpected surprise when the 9th Volume arrived for me at Uni on Friday. I admit to being a שאלות ותשובות junkie, especially the high quality stuff. Since Reb Moshe Feinstein’s passing, one of the late and great original Poskim is no longer publishing his decisions.

Rav Moshe ז’ל

Thankfully, his illustrious family, in concert with other Talmidei Chachamim have now published two posthumous volumes. The first one (and no doubt this one) attracted derision with claims of inauthenticity. I don’t buy those arguments. These two volumes (volumes 8 and 9) are, in my opinion, the authentic opinions of Reb Moshe ז״ל. The introduction to this volume describes the very careful process involved and provides an answer to those who rashly dismissed תשובות simply because the writing style was not that of Reb Moshe. They somehow forgot that towards the end of his life, R’ Moshe was old.

I’ll share one Psak which I found interesting and perhaps counterintuitive.

The question is found in אורח חיים ט:ז

Consider the case of someone who has davened in a Shule regularly for over 12 months and now wishes to claim that he is entitled to lead the davening because he has become ל״ע a mourner. Is the person entitled to this privilege if they are not a formal paid-up member, as opposed to a regular מתפלל?

Reb Moshe differentiates between a poor person and Shules which don’t have an established policy on the matter. Clearly it is not proper to consider a poor person who cannot afford a paid membership as a “non-member,” R’ Moshe  quotes in the name of the Shach. An interesting case is one where a Shule wants to set up a rule saying that it is really only the right of financial members as opposed to non-financial regulars who may lay claim to the right of leading the davening.

Reb Moshe makes the point that a new policy cannot be enacted by the board of the Shule! Furthermore, it should be determined by a democratic vote such that the votes of each NON financial but permanent member is counted! In other words, even an AGM or extraordinary meeting of all financial members is invalid in determining policy unless it counts the votes of regulars who are not financial members! Reb Moshe explains that this process is only necessary when there are non trivial numbers of regulars who are non financial members in the daily davening.

What about someone who has been refused membership but is a regular? Reb Moshe says that he does have a right to lead the davening even though he isn’t a financial member, because he is in fact a regular who has been excluded from the ability to pay.

Reading between the lines, it seems to me that each Shule that has a constitution, might want to run a copy past a recognised Posek!