Manipulation of elderly Rabbis

Thanks to the Internet we have all witnessed the disgraceful use and abuse of holy Rabbis who sit all day learning and can barely walk or talk while being cajoled to make statements which are blown out of all proportion by those who seek their approbation.These Rabbis often have no idea what they are getting into. They are being used.

We saw this with Rav Elyashiv. We see this with Rav Kanievsky.

Hagaon Rav Kanievsky Shlita One of the Tzadikei HaDor

We saw this with Rav Steinman, although despite his age, the latter has seen through the political chutzpah of many who have tried to manipulate his words.

His words of

Ga’avah, Ga’avah, Ga’avah

Were very powerful and showed he was a compassionate man who understood that those who had come to him were not the real McCoy but haughty people with Hats and  Peyos.

Be very wary when the best someone can do is quote an elderly Rabbi far removed from the world, but someone who can quote every saying of Chazal. As Rav Schachter says:

when you are in Yeshivah, your Posek may be your Rosh Yeshiva.

When you leave the Yeshivah, find a Posek who lives in your world and understands it,  so he can Pasken realistically and not in the world of a Beis Midrash


T’cheles (likely authentic blue) Tzitzis

The Shulchan Aruch includes a disagreement between the Mechaber (R Yosef Karo) and the (Ashkenazi) Ramo. The Mechaber’s view is that the strings should be the same colour as the four cornered garment they are attached to. In that vein someone wearing a Kapote which is black and has four square edges, would need to wear black Tzitzis. That’s my understanding of the Mechaber. The Ramo states that Minhag Ashkenazim is different. Ashkenazim don’t look at the colour of the garment as determinant, rather they always wear white. Undoubtedly this is not a Minhag from the time immemorial. Rather, when the Jews had preserved the tradition of Tcheles from generation to generation it is reasonable to conclude that the strings were not all white. Indeed, we see even amongst Sefardim like the Rambam, and others such as the Ra’avad and Tosfos different ways to utilise and incorporate the Techeles string.

The tradition of Identifying/finding Techeles was lost. There is the famous Radziner Rebbe who thought he identified Tcheles, and the subsequent debunking of the Radziner Techeles by Chief Rabbi Herzog and others. About 15 years ago the murex trunculus (as I recall, I could be mistaken with the exact name) enjoyed very strong halachic and scientific support as being authentic T’cheles.

Rav Soloveitchik opposed attempts to identify and conclude what T’cheles was as he was very much the Masoretic Jew from Beis HoRav (stretching to the Vilna Gaon). As such, where a mesora/tradition was lost, that was the end of the story, and one would need a Novi/Melech HaMoshiach to confirm the source of the T’cheles blue.

According to Kaballah, the Sefer Hachasidim related that he saw in a prophetic image that God wore white Tzitzis on a completely white garment.

The Mishna Brura opines that it is best to wear a pure white garment and white Tzitzis, as in this way one fulfills both the opinion of the Ramoh and the Mechaber.

It is rumoured that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father, Reb Levi Yitzchok הי׳ד who was an accomplished Kabbalist, wore a plain white Tallis and white Tzitzis.

Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter argues that today, based on the Gemora in Menachos 40a, that the Gemora states explicitly that someone who wears Indigo coloured strings as a substitute for Techeles is fulfilling the Torah command of Tzitzis. Therefore since in our day we have something which can be called ספק תכלת, possibly Techeles, there is a cogent argument to no longer follow the Ramoh’s custom, and to wear modern T’cheles, since it’s a ספק דאורייתא, a Torah doubt, for which we normally are careful to be concerned about.

Clearly, Rav Schachter, arguably the most accomplished of the Rav’s Talmidim, doesn’t agree with his Rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik (during which time this T’cheles wasn’t yet (re)discovered.

Rav Schachter opines that Rav Elyashiv’s view that one should continue wearing white, must be based on a reason that Rav Schachter didn’t merit to understand. I seem to recall Rav Schachter meeting with Rav Elyashiv and this was one of their conversations.

I have a set of the first T’cheles of the new type that have been sitting in my cupboard for many years. I haven’t looked into the matter since I read Rav Soloveitchik’s view.

I’m interested in any views which may differ from the rather compelling logic and psak of Rav Schacter. I know that Chassidim (and today’s Litvaks are no different) look to their Master and follow their Rebbe/Daas Torah behaviour and practices.

I’m interested in halachic arguments against Rav Schachter’s logic.

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.

Who are the Gedolay HaTorah

The following is an editorial from Arutz Sheva in 2012 based on the view of Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rosh Yeshiva of Har Bracha

Rav Eliezer Melamed

Occasionally, people from the hareidi community question or attack my articles. Even though they are well aware that I strive to follow in the path of Maran Harav Kook zt”l, nevertheless they argue: “Why don’t you accept the authority of the Gedolei haTorah (eminent Torah scholars)?” The simple answer is: I don’t consider them Gedolei haTorah.

They definitely are important talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, educate many disciples, and it is a mitzvah to respect them. But they are not Gedolei haTorah.

Gadlute beTorah (Torah greatness, eminence) necessitates an all-embracing, fully accountable handling of serious issues facing the generation, including: the attitude towards Am Yisrael in all its diversity and various levels – both religious, and non-religious; the attitude towards mitzvoth of yishuv haaretz (settling the Land) and the on-going war which has surrounded it for over a century; the attitude towards science and work, and the contemporary social and economic questions.

Technical Questions as Opposed to Fundamental Questions

It is important to note that merely addressing these questions is not sufficient, because it would be easy to settle for trivial answers offering technical ways in which an individual Jew could survive the changes and revolutions facing the nation and world in modern times. To accomplish this necessitates expertise, and the more complicated the situation, the greater the amount of competence required. But this does not demand gadlut beTorah.

The type of expertise leaders and public figures already possess is quite adequate; if they are loyal to the path of Torah as taught by their rabbis, and understand the social realities before them, they can find creative solutions to problems faced by different sectarian groups (hareidi or dati, Ashkenazic or Sephardic). This is presently the type of expertise required of Knesset members, ministers, and mid-level theorists. Clearly, they can take advice of rabbis who are familiar in this field, but this does not necessitate significant Torah input.

However, true Gedolei haTorah are required to deal with fundamental questions, in order to provide significant and important answers to the perplexities of the generation. They need not offer detailed plans for immediate implementation, but they must set a vision, thoroughly analyze the events and phenomena confronting them, distinguishing between the positive and negative points, and offer direction wherein the positive can triumph over the negative, and even rectify it.


What is Gadlute beTorah?

How this is determined is a weighty and important question indeed. Obviously, the mere fact that a person decides to tackle the important questions does not entitle him to the designation of gadol baTorah as long as he lacks the competence to do so. Likewise, it is clear that it is not determined by the degree of proficiency. Throughout all the generations there were talmidei chachamim famous for their great erudition, but nevertheless, their knowledge did not place them in the top row of gedolei haTorah, because that is determined by the degree of comprehension and penetration into the roots of the matter.

In very general terms, there are three levels of Gadlute beTorah:

The first level includes those who merit understanding the root of the svara (rational inference) of every individual halakha or agadah they learn – these are the regular talmidei chachamim.

The second level includes those who merit delving deeper, understanding the inner svara which clarifies several halakhot collectively, and thus know how to resolve various questions. For example, rabbis who present the important lectures in yeshivot, who are able to explain numerous sugiyot (issues in the Talmud) along the lines of one concept, and are great in lamdanut (erudition).

They can also be important poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who, out of their profound comprehension, understand numerous halakhot, and know how to contend with new questions, and usually are gedolim in a some fields of halakha. Some of those on this level merit comprehending the inner svara which clarifies various matters of aggadah, and they are gedolim in machshava (Jewish philosophic thought) and emunah (faith).

The third level includes those who delve deeper into the inner roots of the svarot, both in halakha, aggadah, and pnimiyut ha’Torah (the deepest aspects of Torah). Consequently, they understand the general rules of the Torah more profoundly, and as a result, the details of halakhot and midrashim are clearer to them; they know how to give comprehensive instruction and guidance in matters concerning the affairs of the clal (general public) and the prat (individual), the spiritual, and the practical. These are the true Gedolei haTorah. Naturally, there are also numerous intermediate levels, according to the extent of profound thought and inner orientation in the various areas of Torah.

Maran Harav Kook zt”l – The Gadol of Recent Generations

Maran Harav Kook zt”l was one of Israel’s unique Gedolei haTorah. He was gifted with tremendous natural talent and by means of his extreme diligence, righteousness, and virtue, merited delving into all areas of Torah to an inconceivable extent, particularly in general issues comprising both halakha and aggadah collectively, clal and prat, sacred and secular.

God performed an enormous act of kindness to His nation Israel, and the entire world, by sending us such a great and holy soul to illuminate our path in these extraordinary times – generations filled with highs and lows, tremendous scientific achievements and terrible moral confusion, the revealing of individual talents and the decay of national, societal, and family values.

In generations where all orders of life are shifting, it is essential to delve deeply into the Torah so as to instruct, correct, and redeem all that is continually revealed. In order to contend with such types of challenges, regular gadlute baTorah is not sufficient – not even of the third level. What is called for is the type of greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu and Ezra the Scribe.

Torah Scholars Who Do Not Understand the Teachings of Rav Kook

Needless to say, someone who does not understand the teachings of Maran Harav Kook zt”l cannot be considered one of the Gedolei haTorah of the generation. He can be an expert and well versed in numerous details from the technical side of halakha and aggadah. But he cannot truly be Gadol baTorah.

Even among those who understood Rav Kook’s teachings, there are two main distinctions. There are those who accepted his general instructions regarding the importance of Eretz Yisrael in our times – the generation of kibbutz galyiot( Ingathering of the Exiles) and atchalta degeulah (beginning of the Redemption). Also, they agree with his teachings in relation to science and work, and the fundamental attitude towards Jews who abandoned Torah but identify with the values of the nation and the Land, or universal values. Owing to their identification with his teachings and luminous character, such talmidei chachamim merit being spiritually connected to the third level.

And then there are a select few who delve deeper in understanding the ideas, which genuinely illuminate life, and pave a path to redemption via the light of Torah guidance.

It should be noted that among the elder rabbis of the previous generation, whom the hareidi community consider as Gedolei haTorah as well, there were many who were significantly influenced by Maran Harav Kook zt”l. And although they did not follow his path of public leadership, they accepted some of his ideas, remained admirers, and honored his image all their lives. Among them: Rabbi Frank zt”l, Rabbi Aeurbach zt”l, Rabbi Eliyashiv zt”l, Rabbi Wallenberg zt”l, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, shlita, may he live a long life.

The Words of Rabbi Charlop

Similarly, Rabbi Kook’s great disciple, Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlop zt”l, wrote in his book “Mayanei Hayishua” (Chap. 9), that at the present time, Gedolei haTorahmust engage in the general rules of the Torah.

In that chapter he explains that the prophets dealt with general rules for life, because when the general rules are set right, all the details fall into place. However, as a result of Israel’s transgressions, the general rules deteriorated and the Holy Temple was destroyed; consequently, our main task in galut (Diaspora) was rectifying the details themselves. But when the beginning of salvation occurs, and as the world gradually recovers, the longing for the general rules increases (and when the general rules from the source of the Torah are not provided, consequently, they are sought after in alien places, and chutzpah (audacity) and lawlessness intensify).

“Israel’s gedolim must be deeply aware of this yearning, and pay heed to speak inspiringly, at length and in brief, about rectifying the general rules. In a way that not only will speaking about the general rules not obscure the details, but rather, will add force and strength, yearning and enthusiasm for the details and their rectification…”

“At that time, if narrow-minded people come forward, assuming to hasten the final redemption by speaking only about rectifying the details alone, failing to speak favorably about correcting the general rules, they fall into the category of ‘a student who has not reached the level of teaching, but nevertheless teaches’, disarranging all the spiritual conduits, because the hidden light is best revealed through illuminating the general rules, and uplifting the worlds.

“It is appropriate to make vigorous efforts against such thoughts. The true gedolim wrap themselves with might and strength to stand at the head of the nation, guide them in the correct path, and know that truth and God are with them.”

The Chief Rabbinate

As a continuation to the vision of revealing Torah in its greatness, Rav Kook viewed the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate as a nucleus from which a significant and united Torah leadership could develop. However, after Rav Kook zt”l passed away, the independent status of the Chief Rabbinate steadily deteriorated. From a rabbinate which presented a vision emanating from a totally autonomous position, devoid of subordination to public institutions or to public circles, the rabbinate grew to be a subordinate public institutions, subject to the present legal establishment.

No longer was the focus on offering a comprehensive vision, but rather finding halakhic solutions for presented situations, shaped by public and political leadership. Even the attempt of Rabbi Herzog zt”l to suggest an alternative constitution for the State of Israel, was not an effort to propose an all-inclusive constitution, rather, to find ways to ‘kasher’ the norms of the country’s leaders, within the framework of halakha.

Still the Chief Rabbis and the members of the Rabbinical Council were for a long time,  the greatest talmidei chachamim of the time in Israel. Gradually, this status eroded, with the rabbinate recently becoming a supervisory department for a handful of religious matters, such as marriage, conversions, and kashrut.

In such a situation, although the rabbinate plays a very important role in managing these affairs, we are no longer talking about a supreme, moral, and spiritual Torah authority of mara d’atra (lit. “master of the house,” i.e. Israel’s authority in Jewish law). Rather, the role of the Chief Rabbi became at best similar to that of a director of religious affairs, and at worst – the spokesperson for religious affairs.

This  underscores just how much we must continue studying, delving, and identifying with the great vision of Maran Harav Kook zt”l, in order to increase and glorify the Torah and elevate the status of its bearers, so the light of the redeeming Torah can illuminate the entire world.

They did not understand Rav Elyashiv

Yitzy Sprung referred to this nice article in context of my earlier article.

Rav Elyashiv retired from the Rabbanut, as mentioned. He had only one interest after that: to learn Torah. As R Schachter explains, when you are a Dayan for the State, your context is as wide as your constituency. You will necessarily consider certain leniencies in keeping with the audience of your opinion. The decisions back then are published by Heichal Shlomo.

Once he retired, he didn’t put out an advertisement which said “Psaks-R-us” or seek a new appointment. Rather, because of his reputable erudition, people gravitated to him. His home became a magnet over time for major questions, and eventually the not so major. His audience was now very different and the strictness in his approach consistent with that.

In that context it made absolutely no sense to appoint a “successor”
He knew there were other Poskim that people could and did turn to. He chose not to impose a successor.

I would argue that this might have been one of the most profound Psak/legacy that he left us!

Petira of Rav Elyashiv צ״ל

It was a sad day, indeed, when I read about this event. I had two occasions where I turned to him to answer Shaylos that I had. Both times my letters were passed on by Rav Yossi Efrati, who is a tremendous and fiery Gaon, and who delivered a Thursday night Halacha Shiur to ‘Chutznikim’ at Kerem B’Yavneh. In both cases, I received detailed answers with sources.

This occurred well before he became the leader of Lithuanian style Charedim in Israel.

There is no Rabbi or human being who has not had their share of controversy. Rav Elyashiv famously split from the Rabbanut as a senior Dayan, when he vigorously opposed Rav Goren’s solution to the Langer case. Ironically, it would seem that Rav Elyashiv, or at least his minions also engaged in attempts to anul some conversions; eg. The view of Rav Avraham Sherman.

He also paskened that where there was a reasonable suspicion of abuse one should go directly to the authorities. Aguda twisted his words, and sadly in the last ten years many of his words were twisted and he was drip fed information by ‘Askanim’.

He didn’t write much, sadly, although I do have his Kovetz Tshuvos at home.

I don’t think he will be remembered in the same light as Reb Moshe or Reb Shlomo Zalman or Rav Waldenburg, however, If there is one thing that we can inspirationally derive from his life, it would have to be his incredible continuous learning of Torah. He could be described as a conservative Posek. Im not familiar with all his Psakim of course, but i cant recall a big noted Heter. Whether it was 16 hours a day or slightly different is immaterial. What is known is that he simply learned almost all day, and lived a humble life in a tiny apartment in Meah Shearim. It is said that he knew all four sections of shulchan aruch with all the commentaries, by heart.

He was an admirer of his shadchan, Rav Kook ז״ל and was not afraid to defend Rav Kook. See here for example.

יהי זכרו ברוך


Giving a year of one’s life

R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, may he have a רפואה שלמה, is still critically ill, although reports today suggest that he has emerged from a medically induced coma and is gesturing with his hands and eyes. R’ Elyashiv is a widely acclaimed Posek who is over 100 years of age. I have asked two Shaylos to him in the past. These were over 20 years ago and before he was named or considered the “Posek HaDor”.

Recently, various Charedi press outlets have reported that a young man allegedly bequeathed one year of his life to R’ Elyashiv. Symbolically, this is a nice gesture. However, it troubles me on a few fronts.

It is reported that the young man went to speak about his proposal to a range of Poskim and Rabonim and that they advised the young man to speak to his family first. I gather that he sought to find out if it was “possible” to do so, from a halachic perspective.

If it is indeed possible to do so, which is what is implied in the press, then I’d be interested to be educated as to which section of Shulchan Aruch discusses this phenomenon. In particular, where does it suggest in our Mesora/tradition that we have the right to dispense with a year of our lives, even for a so-called noble cause? It also troubles me that the young man didn’t discuss this proposition with his own family before he asked permission from the Poskim. I’d imagine that the young man checks with his wife (and not his Posek) about the details of the bread and milk order. Why wouldn’t you discuss this minor matter with her first, as well?

Another aspect troubles me. It seems to imply that we have the ability, as opposed to the permission, to enact such an extension of life. How many people have had, and continue to have, parents and children who are critically ill and who wouldn’t do the same thing if it was indeed possible?

What about 20 people donating a year each. Does that mean the person will live another 20 years?

Are we going to see jewbay sales where people auction a year of their lives to the lucky winner, together with a “Buy it now” clause?

If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny. I see this as the natural outgrowth of the unreasonable  and non halachic veneration accorded to human beings, albeit great human beings. Ironically, this time it isn’t occurring amongst Chassidim, who have generally owned the mortgage on this level of veneration. Rather, it is coming from the newer Misnagdic forms of veneration, where “the Rebbe” is replaced by a “Posek HaDor” or “Gadol HaDor” or “Manhig HaDor” or “Zekan Roshei HaYeshivos” et al.

R' Elyashiv, שליט’’א

What makes a Rabbi an expert on matters of abuse?

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the chief posek for the Charedi non Chassidic community, especially in Israel, issued the following ruling in 2004 in Yeshurun. The translation below is from Rabbi Dr Asher Lipner. The original question and answer is here.

BS”D Fast of the Tenth (Month) 5764

To my friend etc. Rabbi Shraga Feivel Cohen etc.

I received his letter in its time and was unable to respond until “a day on which scholars take a holiday.” The essence of the letter: one knows that someone is sexually abusing a boy or a girl in a manner in which we are incapable of stopping him from continuing his evil deeds, is it permissible to report such a matter to a government official?

This is the language of the Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, Spain, 1235-1310, one of the foremost authorities in Jewish law) in his Responsa, III no. 393, “It appears to me that if the witnesses are believed by the selected judges, [these judges] are permitted to impose a monetary fine or corporal punishment, all in accord with their evaluation; and this maintains society. Because if you will adjudicate based only on the laws established by the Torah, society will be destroyed… And, therefore, those judges who did this, if they saw that the situation required [such action] for communal welfare, they acted legally, and certainly when they have been authorized by the government (to impose such punishment)…”

From the words of the Rashba we learn that in matters that concern societal welfare the Sages of Israel of every generation have the authority to make fences (to extend their authority and decide matters according to their best judgment) and to stand in the breach, even without government authorization. And concerning that which the Rashba wrote in his novel insights to Baba Metzia (84b) implies that this is (based on) governmental authority: “If they say to him ‘Arrest him,’ and we are dealing in a case in which there are no witnesses or forewarning and in which there is no Sanhedrin (Supreme Court that has the authority to impose capital punishment) [and therefore according to strict Jewish law a Jewish Court cannot convict such a person], this case is different because they (the members of the Jewish Court) are agents of the king (government) and the king’s law allows for capital punishment even without witnesses and forewarning, in order to discipline the world…” Accordingly, in matters of societal welfare it is not necessary to receive prior governmental approval.

The permission to report (an abuser) to the government is when one is certain that he transgressed, in this there is benefit to society. However, when there is no substance or foundation [to the allegation] but merely a dimyon (presumption), if we would allow (reports to the government) not only is this not for societal welfare, but this is societal destruction. It is possible that [a student may make false allegations] because of some bitterness that the student holds against the teacher or for some meaningless presumption that causes a person to think that his death is better than life—through no fault of [the teacher]. I do not see any permission in the matter.

Yosef  Shalom Elyashiv

Rav Elyashiv’s willingness to permit cooperation with authorities diminishes when it comes to parental abuse of children. This has to do with the concern that the child will be removed from the parental home and given to a foster family that is either xtian or secular. “There is no doubt that this would harm the soul of the child, even if for a short while,” in such a situation, R’ Elyashiv stated that qualified Rabbis must be consulted in each case of parental abuse.

None of the above is new. What is new, however,  is the recent Charedi Agudas Yisrael pronouncement:

But at a panel discussion titled “Molestation Issues and Reporting: Current Halachic Thinking,” the panel’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman, cautioned that Elyashiv never explained what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.” To establish this, Gottesman said, a person should consult a rabbi “who has experience in these issues” before going to secular authorities.

“If [the rabbi] thinks reasonable suspicion has been met, then you would be allowed to overcome mesirah and report,” said Gottesman, a board member of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools.

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, told the conference that even mandated reporters — teachers, social workers and people in certain other professions who are required by law to promptly report any suspected cases of sexual abuse — should consult a rabbi before going to the police.

This qualification by Agudas Yisrael brings us back to square one! In fact, it might be worse because even they acknowledge that nobody knows who the so-called qualified Rabbis are, Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshivah University, who was originally involved in the ill-fated case involving the guilty Baruch Lanner stated:

“There is no decent justification why anybody in their right mind should think rabbis are qualified to make that judgment”

Indeed, check out this recent farcical case in Lakewood, where the Beis Din had to call a social worker to make the detemination and wasn’t even available to later hear what the social worker had unearthed!

Agudas Yisrael’s pronouncement has caused justifiable consternation (see also here).

Melbourne has its share of alleged predators, some of whom walk around in our community with impunity. Yes, it is true that in most cases victims will not formally go to a court of law and press charges. I am not here to judge them. However, I do have the following question, which is bothering me.

If I am a Rabbi, and I have undergone specialist training on abuse  and I have seen victims who have testified to me about crimes a Melbourne predator has allegedly committed, and I believe those victims but I cannot convince the victims to go to the police, would I do everything in my power to make sure that those alleged predators

  • are not given opportunities to address youth in our community
  • are not able to sit on boards of community organisations

Sadly, in our own Melbourne community, there are alleged predators who continue to speak to our youth in both formal and informal manners presenting as some sort of “expert” as well as alleged predators who continue to sit on the boards of community organisations. Should those people be encouraged to remove themselves from such positions? The predators need to seek help. They need to admit what they have done and be under a supervised treatment regimen. We must protect society in whatever way we can. Some of these predators masquerade as if they never perpetrated any crime.

Surely, if we can’t get victims to press charges, removing alleged predators from positions of power or influence is the least we can do to protect the vulnerable ones in society?

Rabbi Mark Dratch of JSafe is a source of inspiration.

as is Dr Asher Lipner

Perhaps it’s time to open up a Melbourne Chapter of JSafe?

Relations with Shabbos Desecrators: Rav Kook vs Rav Elyashiv

Rav Elyashiv is considered by many to be the most important current Posek. Israeli Litvaks and Misnagdim certainly follow his Piskei Halacha to the letter. Sefardim turn to Chacham Ovadya Yosef, whereas Chassidim have an array of Poskim they consult. The most important Posek for the so-called Centrist Orthodox is Rav Hershel Schachter.

I have one volume of R’ Elyashiv’s פסקי תשובות at home. Apparently, many are in fact תשובות for cases R’ Elyashiv was involved with when he was a member of the Rabbanut of the State of Israel. Those who know much more than I, advise that many of the תשובות are drawn from פסקי-דין של בתי הדין הרבניים האיזוריים בישראל.

R' Shlomo Elyashiv ז’ל

The מסדר קידושין at R’ Elyashiv’s own wedding was none other than R’ Kook ז’ל who was also the שדכן. R’ Elyashiv’s grandfather, R’ Shlomo Elyashiv ז’ל was the בעל לשם שבו ואחלמה a very famous מקובל (of all things). When Rav Kook became Rav of Yerushalayim, R’ Shlomo Elyashiv wrote:

To my dear, long-time friend, the brilliant rabbi, the great luminary whose name is renowned for praise and glory, our venerable master and teacher, R. Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook shlita…

I was [just] informed that Your Eminence has been appointed Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and I was very happy to hear this. Let me, therefore, have the honor of blessing Your Eminence: May you hold this rabbinic post for a long time, and may your good name reach [near and] far, and may you go higher and higher. Amen, so may it be G-d’s will.

It is clear that both R’ Elyashiv and his father had a very close connection to Rav Kook. R’ Elyashiv also worked for the State of Israel’s Rabanut. He can be seen here fourth from the right on the top row at the opening of Heichal Shlomo (click to enlarge).

R' Yosef Sholom Elyashiv שליט’’א at the inauguration of Heichal Shlomo

It has been widely reported that R’ Elyashiv issued a Psak as follows:

until now the public, as well as seminaries and other educational institutions, had been instructed not to visit places that desecrate Shabbos, but now that the chareidi public has grown and unfortunately the major sites in the country desecrate Shabbos while those that do keep Shabbos cannot accommodate the larger groups. Thus if they stand firm in not going to places that desecrate Shabbos, trips and weekends of the major schools may have to be canceled, despite their vital importance in maintaining a proper framework for students during the summer.

When presented with the dilemma, HaRav Eliashiv said, “Since a directive not to visit places that desecrate Shabbos has been established and it is widely known that this is to keep a distance from ugly and unseemly things, this wall should not be breached by contravening the takonoh in any way.”

The rabbonim then pointed out that having schools and seminaries arrange summer programs to safeguard girls is also an important takonoh and if they are not in these programs they could spend their time at other, unsuitable places. “Since we are in a state of war against those who breach the walls of Shabbos,” replied Maran, “we must continue with the battle, which is more important than this concern, and not allow breaches in a time of war to uphold the sanctity of Shabbos.”

“Even in the case of a place that is not publicly known to be a Shabbos desecrater,” he continued, “if we know that Shabbos desecration takes place there, `ein tevunoh ve’ein chochmoh’ – and it should not be patronized.”

To be sure, R’ Elyashiv is often misquoted. I know some people who do not listen to anything said in R’ Elyashiv’s name. Instead, they seek to see things in writing only. Be that as it may, I read the above, and was somewhat נבוך—perplexed. R’ Elyashiv was perhaps suggesting that for בני and בנות ישיבות it was fitting that they not only not be מסייע לדבר עבירה (help someone indirectly commit a sin) but also that they not תומך עוברי עבירה (support those who sin) and thereby distance themselves from non conducive environments. What of Israeli society? R’ Elyashiv’s alleged view could perhaps be summarised by the command to נח that he should enter the ark and separate himself and his family from the sinners around him. The isolationist approach is certainly self-preserving. It’s a pretty safe approach.

I feel that ironically, Rav Kook’s approach was diametrically opposed. R’ Kook would have echoed the command of צא מן התיבה go forth from the ark. Is it a sin to visit an establishment whose owners don’t keep Shabbos? That is the salient question. R’ Hershel Schachter in his shiurim explains that a Cohen who is a Shabbos desecrator is (these days) commanded to Duchan (ברכת כהנים), even though Shulchan Aruch states that such a Cohen isn’t eligible to perform this Mitzvah. The reasoning is that unless the congregation is repulsed by the fact that someone desecrated Shabbos, the Shabbos desecrator is no longer the classical מחלל שבת בפרהסיא and it is better that he keeps one more Mitzvah (to bless the people with love) than to sit on the sidelines and be estranged and do nothing.

Certainly, the environment addressed by R’ Elyashiv is nothing like the environment addressed by R’ Schachter. The type of people R’ Elyashiv is talking to are indeed repulsed by and revile those who commit Shabbos desecration.

How does one classify the people who live and God forbid die for the State of Israel and their people? R’ Kook had, I would suggest, a different approach. Let’s use just one well-known and hugely controversial example. This example was used by the opponents of R’ Kook to suggest that he associated with sinners and promoted secular studies.

Just imagine. The fledgling Yishuv in Israel was opening up the Hebrew University. Who would attend such a University? Surely, the Shabbos desecrators and those who do not sit in Yeshivos. Based on the sentiments attributed to R’ Elyashiv, the very thought of an important Rabbi, let alone a Chief Rabbi, attending and speaking at such a ceremony would be anathema. Surely, הלא משנאיך ה’ אשנא—ascribe scorn and hate to the sinner! R’ Kook saw the light among the darkness. R’ Kook, ironically, in contrast to R’ Elyashiv, took a different view (admittedly at a different time).

R’ Kook perceived opportunity in these Jews and the institution. R’ Kook discerned the sliver of light, as encapsulated by their adherence to קדושת הארץ, to attempt to influence them in a way that would be for the good. Did R’ Kook delude himself to the extent that he thought that after his speech, they would listen to him? I doubt it. Did he expect that Hashem would shine his countenance on the people and aid them to stay loyal to our מסורה despite the fact that they were immersing themselves in the Weltanschauung of the modern world? I would say he definitely  did.

I can’t express the sentiments anywhere nearly as beautifully as R’ Kook did. Accordingly, I present a translated excerpt from his speech at the opening of the Hebrew University. After you’ve read it, ask yourself whether R’ Kook should have been condemned by the Charedim? After that, ask yourself whether R’ Kook would have wanted religious Jews in Israel to avoid the establishments of those who transgress and miss the opportunity to also create a kiddush hashem, as opposed to locking oneself up in the proverbial Ark of Noah.

Rav Kook speaking at the opening of the Hebrew University

There are two paths to the spirit of Israel.

One path goes inward, entirely holy, serving in its entirety to deepen its spirit and shine the light of its Torah deep within. This was the function of all of the Torah institutions that ever existed, the spiritual fortresses of Israel, the yeshivas of the past, present and future, serving amongst us to magnify and glorify the Torah, in the full meaning, greatness and richness of this holy yearning of the Jews in every generation. This path of the spirit is entirely confident-“great peace to those who love Your Torah and they will never stumble.” Yet, even with all of this confidence, Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakaneh would pray when entering the beit medrash that no error may come about through him.

The second path of the spirit in the nation serves not only to deepen the holiness of the Torah within deep within, but also serves as a path for a two-way traffic: to bring concepts and values of Judaism from our private domain to the public domain of the world in general, since it is for this that we stand as a light to the nations; and to bring in the general sciences from the breadth of humanity, and adapt that which is good and elevated to the treasure of our life in its purity; for ultimately doing so makes it possible for us to bring forth a logical and lovely expression from our world to the world at large.

To this end, this university can serve as a great and elevated tool.

But here, my friends, is the place for fear.

We had experience in previous days when our most valued and holy concepts were exported from our realm to the public domain. That is what occurred with the translation of the Torah into Greek. At that time, two paths in Judaism grew clear in regard to this issue. The Judaism of the land of Israel was afraid, and its world grew dark (Masechet Sofrim). But the Judaism of the Greek world experienced a happiness of heart and greeted this work with great joy.

We have also had the experience of importing streams of various cultures, Greek wisdom and other cultures of the nations of the world that we have encountered in the course of our history, which penetrated deeply into us. And this absorption has also been met with fear in many circles and with happiness of heart in others.

When now, after these eras have passed, we come to evaluate them, we see that the fear was not without cause-even though the happiness of heart was also not without cause. Although we gained from those streams in some ways, we also forfeited a great deal.

And it is clear that of those who exported the streams of [our culture] and imported those of [gentile culture] without any fear but solely with an optimistic, banal joy and happiness of heart only, very few of their grandchildren are partners at this time with us in our difficult and holy work of building our land and supporting the renaissance of our nation, for most of them were assimilated amongst the nations and swept away by the “richness of the nations.”

Only those who sat confidently in our inner fortresses, in the tents of Torah, in the holiness of the mitzvot and divine decrees, and those who, while exchanging values and concepts via the spiritual pathway linking Israel to the nations, maintained an attitude not only of happiness of heart but also of a fear that accompanied the happiness of heart and joy of the spirit which came from the power of that great vision of oncoming “richness of the nations” brought forth all of those faithful powers of creativity that are being applied to our great building [of the Holy Land] with our entire heart and soul, and the entire great bloc of the Jewish nation that is faithful to the banner [of this movement].

And so the prophet justifiably said, “Then you will see and be radiant, and fear, and your heart will be happy, for the wealth from the west will be will cast upon you, the richness of nations shall come to you.”

But how can we silence the fear? How do we assure the that the Jewish people will withstand that great current [of gentile influence]?

In regard to this, sirs, I stand as an representative of the public on this honorable stage, and transmit to you the expression of the heart of faithful Judaism, as expressed by many of its parts, which are its finest parts.

We must know that this university will not, by itself, encapsulate all that is necessary for our national life. That comes, first and foremost, from the great and strong yeshivas of Torah, those that exist and those that are yet to be created (amongst them the Central Yeshiva-Merkaz Harav-which we are struggling to establish, with the help of God, may He be blessed, in Jerusalem, to act as a shining light in the light of the Torah of Israel in all of its topics, in halachah and aggadah, in wisdom of deeds and wisdom of mind), yeshivas that, as their name implies, that now, as they did in the past, will establish the spirit of the nation in its full confidence.

And alongside that, this university must function at a level where it will cause God, the Jewish people and the land of Israel to be publicly sanctified and not profaned in any manner-whether by the administration, the teachers, or students. And this applies in particular to those who will teach Judaic studies-from the book of books, Tanach (the light of our life) to the breadth of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud and all of their branches, as well as the wisdom of Israel and its history. These must be people who, in addition to their great knowledge in their respective fields, will be completely committed to the faith of Israel in their views, in their feelings and in the way that they conduct their lives. This will indicate a “happiness of heart” and the greatness of the purified expression of the intellectual disciplines. Then our fear, together with our great sight of the “glorious” vision of this day, and together with the illumination shining upon our souls from the radiance of the lights of the various and multi-hued currents of spirit that pass over us, will bring us to that very “happiness of heart” that we seek, and which contains a blessing within itself.

And we hope that this institution, which is crowned today in the glory of Israel, will take on that character, as it receives the “wealth of the gentiles,” and that we may be assured that, as Rabbi Nechuniah ben Hakaneh prayed, “that no error will come about because of me.”

“My nation will sit in the field of peace and in tranquil resting places and in secure homes” (Isaiah 32:18). And may we merit to see the joy of our nation, and the building of our Temple and its beauty, to which all the nations will stream to take Torah from Zion and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem. Amen.

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