My view regarding Rabbi Riskin’s take on תועבה is shared

[Hat tip NB]

I received the following article by Rabbi Baruch Efrati?

Rav Baruch Efrati

I had not heard of him until today.

According to the internet, Rabbi Baruch Efrati is a prolific writer. Rabbi Baruch Efrati is also the head of the ‘Rabbanei Derech Emuna’ organisation, and teaches in a number of High level Yeshivas, and is (ironically) a Rabbi in the town of Efrat. I found the article sent to me, in Arutz Sheva.

I admit to feeling somewhat justified when I noted that Rabbi Efrati also brought the example of Yichud from Shulchan Aruch, as I did (and which some commenters questioned in regards to my blog post on the ill-advised hosting of Steven Greenberg in Melbourne).

Here is the article from Rabbi Efrati..

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s remarks on homosexual relations: A response

This response to a controversial interview given by Rabbi Riskin, translated from the Hebrew press, was written by a young rabbi who heads the Israeli Rabbanei Emunah mainstream Orthodox young rabbis’ group.

Recently, there has been a whole spate of articles on Jewish attitudes to homosexuality, some of them using the subject as an opportunity for self-praise, lauding the writer’s empathy and love of humanity, subtly hinting that this is in contrast to the attitude of mainstream Modern Orthodox and haredi communities. Others have lashed out openly at these two mainstream Orthodox sectors for what they call backwardness, closed mindedness and lack of inclusivity, alleging humiliation of homosexual partners.

This is certainly a way to gain approval from people who do not know the fact that mainstream Orthodoxy does not reject people with homosexual natures, but that Orthodoxy does strongly reject the homosexual act, calling it an “abomination.”That is what the Torah says – and it does so explicitly. Modern Orthodox and haredi rabbis are therefore against the recognition or public display of same-sex relationships.

Two names of world-renowned rabbis who have dealt with the issues are Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, head of the prestigious religious Zionist Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and Rabbi Aharon Feldman of the also prestigious haredi Ner Yisrael Yeshiva of Baltimore. Both have had the forthrightness to explain the Torah way of looking at same-sex relations: There is no loophole to allow the act, they say, and observant people who cannot overcome such tendencies are faced with the need to refrain from acting upon them, difficult as that may be. Rabbi Meidan has said that he considers the students who told him that they have decided to live celibate lives because of this prohibition, “tzaddikim.”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Gush Etzion, was interviewed last week in Hebrew by the Israeli liberal-religious Makor Rishon newspaper, where his unprecedented words on homosexuals caused a strong backlash in the mainstream Orthodox rabbinic world in Israel – and abroad.

Response to Rabbi Riskin:

I beg to differ absolutely with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s claim that a person with same-sex tendencies cannot be called a transgressor, a declaration in which he says that  this person is in the halakhic category of “Ones Rachmana patreh” –“someone who is coerced to commit a transgression and therefore unaccountable,” as, after all, he was born that way. This is a basic error in the way halakhic decisions are made, and one which can cause this prohibited behavior to proliferate among the people of Israel.

In an interview with the Makor Rishon newspaper, the rabbi said other things I found unacceptable, some philosophical and others halakhic, some with regard to great Torah Sages. However, the same-sex relationship topic is such a basic one that it is impossible to remain silent in the face of the misinterpretation, some might say distortion, of Torah laws by someone who is the rabbi of a city in the state of Israel.

Rabbi Riskin is known as a Jewish thinker and exceptional orator on many subjects as well as a rabbi with a wonderful rapport with his followers. However, he is not known as a major and expert halakhic decisor.  I do not know of any books of halakhic decisions on Orach Chaim, Even Haezer or Choshen Mishpat (three of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law, ed.) published by Rabbi Riskin. I have not heard of any general halakhic decisions made by him on topics of kashrut, ritual purity, the Sabbath or washing one’s hands for bread.

How unfortunate it is if rabbis are only heard from on halakhic issues when they decide to twist them to suit imported liberal culture, lacking organized halakhic sources and sans halakhic precedents.

If the “Torah is as a light unto our feet,” we must study its laws in their entirety, not just the ones that are of sudden interest in liberal circles..

The rabbi’s error springs from several basic premises:

1.It is important to note that same-sex tendencies are not always inborn but can be a result of the pressures of secular culture and society. Some are, however, innate, and those whose tendencies are innate and who withstand the temptation to engage in those relations, are truly holy.

There are also some people who choose this way of life intentionally, and their attempts to create a society that chooses to sin (an abomination in the Torah’s words) must be fought openly.

2.Despite the fact that there are inborn tendencies for same-sex desire, there is no way to permit the act to take place, certainly not using the halakhic expression, as Rabbi Riskin did, of “he who is coerced is not responsible [for his transgression].” On the contrary, strength and willpower must be doubly increased in order to withstand the temptation to sin with those of the same sex.

Maimonides writes in Laws of Repentance that everyone has free will. He writes that someone who says he has no choice other than to sin because G-d created him with powerful inclinations and other weaknesses that leave him with no free will and force him to sin – is a person denying a basic premise of Torah, the free will granted to all of creation.

3.Modern science does not set our values. It draws a map of reality, but cannot interpret it. Moral interpretation and halakhic teachings are the exclusive purview of G-d’s Torah for Jews.

The phenomenon of homosexual inclinations is as old as the world, but in all the halakhic responsa of our sages there is not one instance of a rabbi allowing homosexual relations because the person “is coerced by his inclinations” – just the opposite is the case. There is a strong call to be of courage and resist committing sexual transgressions even when this way of life is extremely painful and difficult to attain.

The author of the Code of Jewish Law publicized a special degree for his geographic area prohibiting a man from being alone in a closed room with another man. Commentators explained that homosexuality was rampant in his area, causing him to declare this new limitation so as to prevent people from sin. But couldn’t the Rema have said such men “are coerced to commit a transgression,” as Rabbi Riskin does, and allow for leniency on this prohibition??  Why did he declare limitations to prevent homosexual relations?

4. G-d willed us to have lust, desire and inclinations, but G-d also told us the permissible way to gratify them. If there is no halakhically lenient way to allow something, no matter how much it is desired, it cannot be done.  Halakhic morality is above the reality of the present. Sometimes man finds himself at a dead end, and we must offer him every support, but not to the extent of permitting that which is forbidden in order to make his life easier.

Rabbi Riskin’s words are in direct contradiction to those of the saintly religious Zionist icon Rabbi Isaac HaCohen Kook in Orot Hakodesh, paraphrased here, but appearing in full in his work, Eight Collections:Collection 6, 99:

Modern science’s revelation that homosexual tendencies are natural and inborn, leading them to uproot the moral protest against them, will be met by “our G-d’s words are eternal.”

Those who believe that if there is a natural tendency discovered by science, the sinner is not responsible for his actions but is “coerced,”  are mistaken and do not realize the place of Torah vis a vis science.

Science describes the world, while the Torah directs it.

That is why, whether or not science defines homosexual tendencies as innate traits, is irrelevant. It does not obviate the moral responsibility we have to protest acting upon this tendency. It says so clearly in the Talmud (Tractate Yevamot 53 and Tosaphot there):

‘This is not considered “coercion.”‘

That is what our sages continued saying in decisions generation after generation (Rishonim and Achronim).

And the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Kapra said the Hebrew word for abomination,Toeva, can be seen as an acronym for Toeh Ata Ba – you are going astray on this issue –meaning that this is a negative tendency, which man must combat.

It is a mistake to think that there is no choice because a desire is natural or inborn, that things are permitted morally or halakhically in that case. On the contrary, one must fight the inclination and overcome it.

Continuing, Rabbi Kook relates to the Talmud (Nedarim), saying that there are some unconquerable inclinations which the rabbis allowed a priori by allowing them to be gratified within a normative marriage. This ruling is meant for someone with inborn desires for whom the sages had pity, ruling that a man and his wife’s personal sexual preferences are acceptable and can be a way to find release for someone with same-sex tendencies.

The Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, writer of the Ashkenazi Code of Law) made the same halakhic decision in Even Haezer 25, pp. 2, positing that it is preferable to avoid unnatural forms of conjugal relations even with one’s wife, and attempt instead to remain holy by overcoming such desires. The lenient possibility exists, however, and is only allowed in situations where the person’s inborn tendency is for same-sex relations and this is an outlet for them.

So I ask, why should someone with same-sex tendencies be considered “coerced” and “free of prohibition” – someone who is above judgment? Since when are halakhot (rather than specific instances of unavoidable sinning from  whence the concept arises) decided on this premise?  There is truth and there is falsehood, good and bad, there is always individual choice, especially in the case of sexuality and sin.

For years now, I have been guiding tens of men and women with same-sex inclinations. I know how difficult their world is and I counsel them on how they can keep halakha despite their strong inclinations. Many of them are G-d fearing, wonderful people who struggle and manage to control their desires. Rabbi Riskin’s words are in contradiction to the Rambam, the Rema and Rabbi Kook, but just as seriously, they are not said in a vacuum and may cause some of the people I help – to fall.

We trust the words of the Talmud in Yevamot, we trust the words of Rabbi Kook – therefore, the rabbis who protest those who transgress are correct in their moral protests against the trend to be inclusive towards openly living an alternative lifestyle. Rabbi Riskin is entirely mistaken in proclaiming that those with same-sex tendencies are in the halakhic category of :”coerced and therefore not accountable.”  This can cause many good people to err.

We do not make halakhic decisions based on the spirit of the times, but according to the eternal words of G-d.

Parshas Toldos-Rav Mordechai Greenberg, Rosh Yeshivah, Kerem B’Yavneh

In an essay in the book “Orot” about the disputes on opinions and faith, Rav Kook explains his approach to the issues of fanaticism and tolerance. On one hand there is fanaticism, which believes that its approach and its religion are absolute and immutable truth, and which denies that any other movement has any truth to it at all.

As opposed to this, there is a more tolerant viewpoint which believes that all of the movements have some basis of truth, and that by gathering together the items of truth in all the different movements we will be able to achieve absolute truth and there will be peace in the world.

Rav Kook claims that both of these approaches are erroneous. We, in Judaism, do not merely have part of the truth, which would mean that we are in need of additional information from an external source to complete our knowledge.

Moron Rosh Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Moron Rosh Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, HaRav Mordechai Greenberg

At the same time, we do not subscribe to the infectious fanaticism which claims that we exclusively possess absolute truth and there is nothing left to learn from others.

“It is a bad sign for a party if it thinks that it alone is in possession of a living source of all wisdom and honesty – and that everything else is empty and void of any meaning.” [Igrot Re’iyah volume 1, page 17].

Here is the correct way of looking at things: Judaism does indeed include everything, but it does not deny that others also have parts of this whole. Even more than this, the power of every movement and every ideology stems from its specific point of truth. If it did not have at least one absolute truth it would not exist at all.

The sages taught us that “falsehood cannot continue to exist.” [Shabbat 104a]. Falsehood has no way to stand up. All the letters of “sheker” stand on a single leg, as opposed to truth, “emet,” all of whose letters stand on a solid base of two legs.

The main Beis Medrash of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh
The main Beis Medrash of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh

It is therefore important to reveal the elements of truth in every movement in order to know how to struggle against the movement. Only something that is totally false must be eradicated from the world. But if it has at least one element of truth there must not be any attempt to destroy it, because if you do so you are fighting against truth, and any such action is doomed to failure.

And for this reason Rav Kook felt that it was wrong to struggle against secular Zionism in a bitter fight to the end, as others did, since it is based on some true ideas.

Some people said: If they move to Eretz Yisrael we will not do so. If they speak Hebrew, we will speak Yiddish.

Rav Kook disagreed with these ideas. He insisted that the issues supported by Zionism are words of Torah which also obligate us. Therefore we must show our appreciation for the positive elements of truth in their approach and only afterwards argue against the falsehoods.

Rav Kook gave similar advice to parents in Russia whose children were caught up in the Communist movement. He said we should tell them that we appreciate their demands for social justice, because this is based on the Torah and on Judaism, and that there is no need to move away from Judaism in order to embrace the concept of socialism.

This can also help us understand Rav Kook’s analysis with respect to Eisav:

“Let me tell you my opinion regarding foreign beliefs. The light of Yisrael should not try to destroy them, just as we do not intend to cause general destruction of the world and of all its nations, but rather to mend their ways and raise them up

The words of the GRA are enlightening: ‘I had hatred for Eisav’ [Malachi 1:3]. The hatred was for the things that had been added on. But the main thing, his head, was buried together with the great people of the world.’”

Even Eisav had a point of truth which was put to rest near the Patriarchs.

‘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.




The Rav on Rav Kook and the magnetism and religious tremor of an authentic Jewish personality

[Hat tip YW]

There is more to this story. When I find it (I read it about 20 years ago), I will post some details on the powerful episode at Havdolo.


The Gay Pride March in Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing the point about Jews, Judaism and Zionism

We are used to worrying about the BDS boycott, and various academic boycotts and the like. There has been no talk of boycotts in my University. If the National Tertiary Education Union went down those stairs and/or the University, there would be mayhem.

What attracted my attention today is a statement we hear over and over, in various guises and contexts. The statement is attributed in the Jerusalem to former Chief Rabbi Sacks, a brilliant speaker and writer. He is alleged to have said

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Sacks said that some politicians in the British Labour Party had courted the Muslim vote and had adopted anti-Israel attitudes which have morphed into anti-Semitism.

I could not DISagree more. Where is the clear thinking. Anti-Israel attitudes expressed in the context of ‘we must solve the problem of Palestinian Arabs’ is nothing more than anti-Semitism. This is not anti-Zionism. The logic is exceedingly simple. There is no body, none, that will agree that Jews deserve a homeland, and that homeland is Israel. This narrative is elided too often. Some will quibble over the definition of borders and security provisions and so forth. They are issues that should be discussed. However, since 1948 and before that, there is still no recognition that Jews need a homeland. In this I include the entire spectrum of Jews in Israel except for the hand full of lunatics led by Moshe Ber Beck, the Iranian nuzzler. He is welcome to live there, and be happy. They are not religious Jews. They have seen that all their sycophantic activities amount to nothing but Bitul Torah while protesting and travel.

No, Rabbi Sacks. Nothing has “morphed“. This is classic fallacy filled British diplomacy . The anti-Semitic Ken Livingstone types of this world should be dethroned, but to allow the semblance of thought that Jews are not entitled to their homeland, as above, and call this entitlement Zionism, is bizarre, I find it difficult to comprehend. Nay, this is an attack on Judaism 101. We assert our right to live in peaceful boundaries. Those who seek to deny this right, whether emanating from explicit charter, whispering, obfuscation or diplobabble (the French Connection) are anti-Semites.

As Rav Kook so eloquently put it:

“It is only the anticipation of redemption that preserves Judaism in Exile, while Judaism in the Land of Israel is the redemption itself.”

This redemption is what we aspire to.

[ Only an ignorant would interpret this to mean Rav Kook’s Judaism in Exile was not infused with Torah. ]


Our own Taliban להבדיל

From Yeshiva World News:

An erev Pesach entertainment event in Jerusalem’s Arena Stadium that was to include Mordechai Ben-David has been canceled. According to a Kikar Shabbos News report, the cancellation follows the intervention of the “Vaad Mishmeres Kodesh & Chinuch”.

The entertainment event “Kumzing – By the Minagnim Orchestra” – was for men only, sponsored in part by the Jerusalem Municipality and was scheduled for Monday evening, 10 Nissan. The chairman of the vaad, Rabbi Mordechai Blau, announced on Sunday, 24 Adar-II that the committee opposes the event which if held, will be going on against the wishes of gedolei yisrael shlita.

Kikar reports as a result of the vaad’s announcement, the event is being canceled.

Rabbi Blau says that the Vaad takes issue with these shows since “gedolei yisrael oppose them”.

No names of any Gedolei Yisroel were named.

Unless there is something disgusting about this concern that I’m not aware of, the biggest enemy we face in our midst are not so much the Rabbonim Muvhakim, but rather the Askant, the Askonim (machars/political apparatchiks), who want to control lives whether it’s in keeping with Torah or indeed their Rav HaMuvhak.

I’m reminded by the admission of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank who related a discussion with Rav Chaim Sonnenfeld.  I will leave out the juicy bits but you can read them here

About six weeks ago, I spoke with Rav Chaim Sonnenfeld, and at one point, I asked him if it is right that he signs himself as the Rav of the Ashkenazim in our Holy City… He answered me that the truth is, he does not sign so, but they made for him a stamp and wrote this on it.

I love this picture (edited by me to look clearer, I don’t know where I got it from), because it represents the truth. Not the world of falsehood that has enveloped our enclaves and askonim. Rav Kook (in the spodik) sitting next to Rav Sonnenfeld. The two behaved properly to each other, even though Rav Sonnenfeld was older and more prone to manipulation by the Hungarian political incursion into Yerusholyaim described by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 7.49.23 PM

Time for Mechila: nobody is perfect

This statement most certainly includes me. When writing my blog posts, I’ve occasionally unintentionally upset someone or have been misunderstood given the fact that perhaps I unwisely tend not to spend too much time actually writing my posts or proof-reading them.

Sometimes people send me a private email, and I act on it. Other times they send me a fake comment and when I try to reply, it bounces because there is no such address. Given that it’s Erev Yom Kippur, if there is a current or past post that you feel is unfair or has stepped over a halachic boundary, I ask you sincerely to email me, and most certainly, if it is a real email address and doesn’t bounce, I will reply accordingly.

I chanced across a comment about two? years ago where someone said I had it in for Rav Beck of Adass. Let me be very clear. Rav Beck is a holy man, a Yirei Shomayim, who has never done anything to me and I do not seek to belittle him in any way. I do have differences between the views of my Rabonim and his Shita on some things, and I do not resile for those. That should not be confused with a “personal vendetta” which I think I saw someone on the internet describe it.

So, for the sake of the record I will state those things (some of which also apply to Satmar, Toldos Aron and various other extreme groups within Adass)

  • I utterly and completely condemn their approach to the state of the Israel, and consider Veyoel Moshe, not Halacha and not LeMaaseh and it has been taken apart as a Sefer many times by people more learned than I. It’s also just reminded me of a story:
    • In the early days, Rav Kook זצ’’ל was the then Chief Rabbi, and he was informed that there were some Jewish Builders working on Rosh Hashono. What did he do? He didn’t send people to scream at them and throw stones at them etc This were before the State came to be. He immediately called his Shamash and a few others and instructed them to go to the building site, and blow the mandatory number of notes of the Shofar with a Brocha to be Motzi the Builders. The builders were bewildered. They asked who are these people. They were told these are the direct emissaries of the Chief Rabbi, the Holy Tzadik, Rav Kook. They asked what are they doing here on Rosh Hashono. They were told that Rav Kook has personally requested that they be given the opportunity to share in the Mitzvah of Tekias Shofar. The Builders were bewildered but stayed silent. They put down their tools. The Shofar was blown. Rav Kook’s emissaries then quietly left the building site and returned to Rav Kook. What transpired was the approach that I subscribe to. The builders were overcome. The sound of the Shofar and the care and indirect admonition of Rav Kook left them in a state of shock. They downed their tools, went home, and many of them apparently changed clothes and attended Shule.
  • I utterly condemn anyone who quietly visits and stays in contact with his brother Moshe Ber Beck. For those who don’t know this is the “personage” who went and continues to kiss Arafar, Ahmadinejad and all שונאי ישראל and give us the “problem” of we aren’t against Jews (like moshe ber beck) just Zionists. Well everyone should answer them truthfully. EVERY Jew is a Zionist. Every Jew believes that the Land of Israel is the Land of Jews. Some might differ with timing and method, but we pray this three times a day and more. Don’t anyone ever fall for the trick that a Jew is not a Zionist. EVERY JEW IS A ZIONIST. There is no need to go into Rashi and Tosfos on when, how, etc. To the שונאי ישראל there is NO difference. All you are doing is giving them hate fodder.
  • I utterly condemn and person who fails to alert authorities about a danger in our midst (e.g. a pedophile, a wife basher etc)
  • I utterly condemn anyone who on the basis that somebody reports such a danger, discriminates against such people. We must encourage those affected to get all the help they need to cope with what in some cases is a life long struggle.
  • I utterly condemn the infamous blog authored by Scott Rosenberg which is spite filled hate for Torah.

That being said, I am sure I have made someone unhappy and may have crossed a line in one of my many posts. If so, please feel free to email me personally or if you like write a comment and I won’t publish the comment.If on reflection (and I will reflect) I will apologise one way or another,

My blog posts are there mainly to help me. They are therapeutic. I write what’s on my mind, and I also have an outlet to spread Torah. At all times I try to be fair, but I far from perfect. If you are unhappy and don’t tell me some way (even write me a hand written letter and drop in my letter box) please do so. My email address is very easy to find i s a a c @ B A L B dot IN … just don’t send to my RMIT address as I am on leave at the moment and not reading those emails.

Wishing EVERYONE כתיבה וחתימה טובה בברכת כהן מוחזק

May all your Tefillos go straight to where they have to, and be successful, and may we all be Zoche to שופר גדול לחירותנו

matos masei 

After Jewish men illegally consorted with Midianite women, we find a strange offer from the sinners. Instead of the usual animal or flour/incense based sacrifices, they suggest that atonement for their sins should be granted by bringing the jewellery and concealed body ornaments proudly adorning the Midianite women and used to cajole them to a sordid bed of iniquity. This is a most strange and irregular “sacrifice”. From whence did they assume that such a notion would be acceptable? The sons of Aaron died for bringing a “strange fire” as a sacrifice! There was no Torah precedent for this style of offering to atone for the injunction against iniquitous cohabitation.

Precious Jewellery represents the enticement embodied by the physical being. Man and Woman are attracted to beauty. This, in of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, without appreciation of such, there might be no procreation. The danger is born when physicality alone conceals and constricts the spiritual essence and striving of the holy Jewish soul. The soul is rendered wounded by the attack of physicality (or excessive materialism).
Rav Kook explains that the sinners had recognised that they allowed bodily desires influenced by external considerations to overtake the essence of their spiritual and religious imperative. The shell of the egg, if you will, conceals the yolk and albumen. In such situations, our role is to break the shell, and find the essential truth which nourishes the soul. We have witnessed the shell of a deal with Iran. The devil is in the detail concealed therein. May we merit to see true peace in our country, Israel, and may all Jews be safe from the scourge of the misleading and tempestuous storm of deception and violence enveloping our world—especially now—during the nine days of mourning for the destruction of our beloved Temple.

Beautiful D’var Torah on Shlach

[hat tip MT]

“And [the spies] began to speak badly about the land that they had explored.” (Num. 13:32)
A dispirited discussion took place at Beit HaRav, Rav Kook’s house in Jerusalem, not long after the end of World War II. The Chief Rabbi had passed away ten years earlier; now it was his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, who sat at the head of the table.
One participant at the Sabbath table had brought up a disturbing topic: the phenomenon of visitors touring Eretz Yisrael and then criticising the country after returning to their homes. These visitors complain about everything: the heat, the poverty, the backwardness, the political situation – and discourage other Jews from moving here, he lamented.
Rav Tzvi Yehudah responded by telling the following parable, one he had heard in the name of the famed Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, the rabbi of Bialystok.
The Failed Match
There was once a wealthy man who sought the hand of a certain young lady. She was the most beautiful girl in town, and was blessed with many talents and a truly refined character. Her family was not well-off, so they were eager about a possible match with the prosperous fellow.
The young woman, however, was not interested in the match. Rich or not, the prospective suitor was known to be coarse and ill-mannered. She refused to meet with him.
The father asked her to at least meet with the young man in their home, so as not to embarrass him. After all, one meeting doesn’t obligate you to marry him! To please her father, the young woman agreed.
The following Sabbath afternoon, the fellow arrived at the house as arranged, and was warmly received by the father. Shortly afterwards, his daughter made her entrance. But her hair was uncombed, and she wore a faded, crumpled dress and shabby house slippers. Appalled at her disheveled appearance, it did not take long before the young man excused himself and made a hurried exit.
What everyone says about this girl – it’s not true, exclaimed the astonished young man to his friends. She’s hideous!
Rav Tzvi Yehudah stopped briefly, surveying the guests seated around the table. Superficially, it would appear that the brash young fellow had rejected the young woman. But in fact, it was she who had rejected him.
The same is true regarding the Land of Israel, the rabbi explained. Eretz Yisrael is a special land, only ready to accept those who are receptive to its unique spiritual qualities. The Land does not reveal its inner beauty to all who visit. Not everyone is worthy to perceive its special holiness. It may appear as if the dissatisfied visitors are the ones who reject the Land of Israel, he concluded. But in fact, it is the Land that rejects them!
A thoughtful silence pervaded the room. Those present were stunned by the parable and the rabbi’s impassioned delivery. Then one of the guests observed, Reb Tzvi Yehudah, your words are suitable for a son of your eminent father, may his memory be a blessing!
Seeing the Goodness of Jerusalem
Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s response was indeed appropriate for Rav Kook’s son. When visitors from outside the country would approach the Chief Rabbi for a blessing, Rav Kook would quote from the Book of Psalms, “May God bless you from Zion” (128:5).
Then he would ask: What exactly is this blessing from Zion? In fact, the content of the blessing is described in the continuation of the verse: “May you see the goodness of Jerusalem.”
The rabbi would explain: The verse does not say that one should merit seeing Jerusalem; but that one should merit seeing ‘the goodness of Jerusalem.’ Many people visit Jerusalem. But how many of them merit seeing the inner goodness hidden in the holy city?
And that, he concluded, is God’s special blessing from Zion.

Which accent in Ivrit/Ivris did Rav Kook prefer

It may come as a shock to some, but Rav Kook was vehemently against anyone changing their pronunciation. Rav Kook acutely felt that the issue of 12 gates/approaches to the Beis Hamikdosh, despite the concept of Shaar Hakolell (the 13th gate for those who knew not what their tradition was, and which the Ari felt was his Nusach, and which the B’aal HaTanya refined) was Kodesh Kodoshim.

If your father/grandfather pronounced things a certain way and/or followed a certain Nusach, Rav Kook was implacably against the Ben Yehuda approach of creating a universal style new pronunciation. This is known by anyone who spoke with Rav Kook.

Rav Kook preferred to speak in Loshon Kodesh. That’s another matter. I feel though that people need to understand that this icon of Jewish Rabbinic History was far less malleable despite his extreme and burning Ahavas Yisrael and Ahavas HaTorah and Eretz HaKodesh than people realise.

Certainly Poskim including Reb Moshe and the Minchas Elozor were authoritative in their machlokes and rulings on this matter, but it’s interesting to note Rav Kook’s view.

At Elwood Shule, I remember as a boy asking the older men (in Yiddish) what did your father say in Musaf, “Kesser or Nakdishach”. Invariably they said “Kesser” but once they moved to anglicised Melbourne, they simply went along with the English influenced Nusach of the regal Rabbinate. My father ע’’ה told me that he always said “Kesser” and a few times, I heard him mumble “Brich Hu L’Aylo Mikol Birchso Veshiroso” as opposed to Amen or Brich Hu. I keep this, and cherish the unadulterated Minhag Avoseynu.

The Hetter Mechira for Shmitta (Part 2)

[Hat tip from RDS]

If you can read Hebrew you will understand how they have taken Rav Kook and twisted his words, as they always have and always will. And why? Two reasons: he loved the Land, and he loved all Jews, both with a fiery enthusiasm. As I recall the Ridbaz below was from Tzfas Ir HaKodesh. The emphases in bold are mine.

ט.        משגלה העם היהודי מארצו, ובהיעדר חקלאות יהודית משמעותית בארץ בימי הגלות, כמעט שלא עמדה על הפרק – במובן לאומי אופרטיבי – שאלת השמיטה; עם זאת מוצאים אנו פולמוסים בעניינה בעת חידוש היישוב היהודי בצפת במאה הט”ז, וחילוקי דעות לא מעטים בין פוסקי הלכה (ראו הרב זוין, שם קי”ג-קט”ז). ואולם, משהחלה בשנות השמונים למאה הי”ט הקמתן של המושבות היהודיות (מושבות העליה הראשונה), שהתפרנסו מחקלאות ונתקיים בהן “ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבוא” (יחזקאל ל”ו, ח), עלתה שאלת השמיטה לראשונה בשנת תרמ”ב-1882, ובמלוא עוזה בשנת תרמ”ט-1888. המושבות, שחלק ניכר מאיכריהן היו שומרי מצוות, עמדו בפני השאלה הקשה כיצד יתפרנסו אם ישמרו על השמיטה כנתינתה. הרב יצחק אלחנן ספקטור, רבה של קובנה שבליטא, פוסק מרכזי בדורו, שראה את הסוגיה כהצלת נפשות, פסק בקשר לשמיטת תרמ”ט לטובת “היתר מכירה”, ובלשונו,

“להתיר על פי העצה למכור השדות והכרמים לישמעאלים, הגוף, והפירות, על משך שתי שנים בלבד, ואחרי כלות הזמן יחזרו הכרמים והשדות לבעלים”.

הסכימו עמו גם הרב יהושע מקוטנא, הרב שמואל מוהליבר מביאליסטוק (מראשי חיבת ציון) והרב שמואל זינויל קלפפיש מורשה. עם זאת ציין הרב ספקטור, כי המדובר בהיתר לשמיטת תרמ”ט “אבל לא לשמיטות הבאות, שאז יצטרכו להיתר מחדש ולעיין אי”ה, וה’ יהיה בעזר עמנו, שלא יצטרכו להיתר…”. קו הקושי מתבלט כבר מאז, קרי, הפער בין חזון שמיטה ככל משפטה וחוקתה לבין מציאות קשה, שהפתרונות לה מורכבים הלכתית. הרב ישראל מאיר לאו, הרב הראשי לישראל לשעבר, בחוות דעתו “שביעית בזמן הזה”, שו”ת יחל ישראל ג’, קמ”ז, שנכתבה בקשר לשמיטת תשס”א-2001, מבאר על פי הרב נפתלי הרץ הלוי – רבן של יפו והמושבות עד פטירתו בתרס”ב (במקומו בא בתרס”ד הרב א”י הכהן קוק) – כי היסוד להיתר היה בדברים שכתב הרב מרדכי רויו מחברון, בעל ספר שמן המור, בשנת תקנ”ג (1793). אבן יסוד קודמת לכך מצויה אצל בעל הבית יוסף, רבנו יוסף קארו מחבר השולחן ערוך, שהתיר פירות נכרים בשביעית, אף שגם עליו היו חולקים בדורו (ראו הרב זוין, שם, קט”ו-קט”ז). הצטרפו אל הרב ספקטור בהיתר גם מראשי הרבנים של הציבור הספרדי בארץ ישראל, ובהם הראשון לציון הרב יעקב שמואל אלישר, בעל ישא ברכה, והראשון לציון הרב רפאל פניג’ל, ובחו”ל גם הנצי”ב – הרב נפתלי צבי יהודה ברלין, ראש ישיבת וולוז’ין, וכן הרב יוסף דב סולוביצ’יק מבריסק. מנגד חלקו עליהם בארץ הרב יהושע לייב דיסקין, רבה של בריסק לשעבר שעלה ארצה, והרב שמואל סלנט, רבה של ירושלים.

י.        הרב הלוי, רבן של יפו והמושבות, נסמך לקראת שמיטת תרנ”ו על היתר המכירה – וזאת הפעם כנראה בהתיעצות עם הרב דיסקין והרב סלנט. לקראת שמיטת תרס”ג נפטר הרב נ”ה הלוי, וחתנו הרב יוסף צבי הלוי הוסמך על-ידי הרב אליהו דוד רבינוביץ תאומים (האדר”ת), אב בית דין בירושלים, ועל-ידי הרב סלנט, רבה של ירושלים, להמשיך בהיתר המכירה (ראו הרב מנחם ולדמן, “הוראות לשנת השמיטה תרס”ג”, תחומין י”ג (תשנ”ב) 47, 48, והפירוט שם; נאמר כי הכרעות הרב נ”ה הלוי היו בהסכמת הרב דיסקין).

י”א.     מי שביסס במיוחד את היתר המכירה הלכתית היה הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק, רבה של יפו והמושבות בשנים 1914-1904, ואחר כך רבה של ירושלים בשנים 1921-1919 ורבה הראשי הראשון של ארץ ישראל מאז 1921 עד פטירתו ב-1935, בספרו שבת הארץ שנכתב בשנת תר”ע לעת השמיטה דאז (תר”ע – 1910), תוך ויכוח חמור. הרב קוק ציין, כי

“מרוב דלות מצב יישובנו בארץ הכרח הוא אמנם להסתפק על פי רוב בהוראת שעה, כאשר הוסכם מאז על פי גדולי הדור, אשר נכנסו לעומק מצב היישוב החדש בארצנו הקדושה… ולדעת כי מאת ה’ היתה זאת, לתת ניר לעמו על אדמת קדשו… למרות הפקעת  המצוה אשר בהוראת שעה זו, ישנם כמה גופי הלכות הנדרשים לשמור ולעשות בפועל… שינון ההלכות יחקור בלבבות את חיובם בלב ומשמיטה לשמיטה יתווספו רבים, אשר בעז ה’ בלבבם ירחיבו את גבול המצוה בכל הרחבתה ופרטיה” (שבת הארץ – הלכות שביעית, כ”ה-כ”ו).

יסוד ההיתר, כפי שהסביר הרב קוק, הוא שבשביעית בזמן הזה מותר לעשות כל עבודה בקרקע של נכרי, וכמובן מי שרוצים לקיים את מצוות השמיטה בלא קוּלות, יש לברכם, ואילו על מי שיקיימו את המצווה במלואה “לדון לכף זכות בכל רגשי כבוד ואהבת ישראל, את כל אלה שמצבם בפרט, או מצב היישוב בכלל מכריח אותם להתנהג על פי סדרי ההיתר וההפקעה” (שם, עמ’ כ”ח. ראו גם איגרתו של הרב קוק אל הרידב”ז – הרב יעקב דוד וילובסקי, פרשן התלמוד הירושלמי שחי אז בארץ – בשו”ת משפט כהן הלכות שמיטה ויובל ס”ג (איגרת מיום ב’ דר”ח אייר תרס”ט) המדגישה (עמ’ קכ”ז, כ”ט) את שעת הדחק מזה ואת דחקות ההיתר מזה, וכן ח’ בן-ארצי, הרב קוק בפולמוס השמיטה תשס”ז (ושם גם התכתבותו עם הרידב”ז)). כאמור, ההיתר לא היה ללא מתנגדים, שעמדו על שמירת השמיטה כנתינתה; חלק מן ההשגות נסבו על השאלה אם ניתן למכור קרקע לנכרי בארץ ישראל, ולא נאריך.

The Heter Mechira in Shmitta

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

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

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

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.

Dvar Torah for Shoftim

Tomorrow, is Rav Kook’s ז’ל Yohr Tzeit, so it is fitting that the Dvar Torah includes his thoughts, The Dvar Torah is from one of the Roshei Yeshivah of Kerem B’Yavneh (my alma mater), Rav Motti Greenberg.

Ironically, last night at Ma’ariv, there were a few international Tzedoka collectors from Israel in Shule. I was in my usually “straight ahead” mood, and asked one of them (a Chossid, with peyos)

What are your thoughts on Nachal Charedi

His responded with a pained look and said

Anyone who supports Nachal Charedi should not be allowed to enter a Shule

The problem with people like that is that they think that when they go to the toilet, it doesn’t stink. They live in la la land.

He effectively stated that I had no place davening Ma’ariv in Shule if I thought Nachal Charedi was a valid approach.  I said,

well, I support them, and you don’t come up to the level of their shoe laces, with a hateful comment like that

I don’t expect he will visit me for a donation. His paid driver heard the interchange.

Anyway, the D’var Torah … 

As part of the laws of warfare, it is written, “What man is afraid and fainthearted? Let him go away and return home.” [Devarim 20:8]. According to Rabbi Yossi Hagelili, this refers to a man who is afraid because of the sins in his hands. However, this seems backwards – to be afraid because of sins is a good trait and not a bad one, why should the man be sent away?

In Chassidic texts it is written that one time there was a delay in the construction of the succah of the Rebbe, the author of Beit Aharon. In the end, one of the Rebbe’s followers made a great effort and finished building the succah the day before the holiday, thus giving the Rebbe great pleasure. As a reward, the Rebbe offered the man his choice – he could either sit next to the Rebbe in the world to come, or he could become very wealthy. The man chose wealth. He explained to the astonished Chassidim who asked about his decision that to want to spend the world to come close to the Rebbe is a matter of selfishness, but if he had great wealth he would be able to help many other people.

Rabbi Shimon Shkop wrote in the introduction to his book Shaarei Yosher, “The foundation and the root of the goal of our lives is that all of our labors should always be geared and dedicated to the good of the community.” Rav A.Y. Kook wrote, “A person must always extricate himself from the private frameworks which fill his entire being, such that all of his ideas are centered on his own fate. This brings a person down to the depths of being small, and there is no end to the physical and spiritual suffering that comes about as a result. Rather, his thoughts, desires, his will, and the foundation of his ideas must always take into account the general – the world, mankind, Yisrael as a whole, and the entire universe. And this will also establish his personal status in the proper way.” [Orot Hakodesh volume 3, page 147].

To be “afraid of the sins in his hands” means that the person is concerned with his own sins and not with the sins of others. This is a man who lives only for himself. This is similar to what the sages taught us: “Why is it [the stork] called a ‘chassidah’ (one who is kind)? It is because it is kind to its companions.” [Chulin 63a]. But a question is asked: The Rambam teaches us that the reason birds are considered impure is because they are cruel, why then is the stork an impure bird? Chidushei Harim explains that this bird is kind, but only to its own friends.

The soldiers in King David’s army would give their wives a divorce before going out to battle. Rav Kook explains that the reason was not only to avoid a woman being “chained” to h er husband if he would be lost in battle. The Gentiles would bring their wives and children to the battlefield in order to give the soldiers greater courage, as if to say, look for whom you are fighting. But in David’s army the men would divorce their wives in order to disassociate themselves from any personal interests and to fight for the good of Yisrael as a whole. This is as the Rambam wrote, that a soldier must stop thinking about his own family and be aware that he is fighting in a Divine war. Anyone who is afraid only because of his own individual sins and does not think of the general public during the war is not worthy of fighting in the Army of G-d.

When a dead body is found abandoned on the roads, the community elders declare, “Our hands did not spill this blood” [Devarim 21:7]. “Would anybody even consider that the elders of the Beit Din are murderers? Rather, they are declaring that they did not see him and send him away unaccompanied, witho ut any food.” [Sotta 45b].

As the month of Elul begins, we should remember the hint of the month’s name, an acronym of “I belong to my lover and my lover belongs to me” [Shir Hashirim 6:3]. This is a hint of the relationship between man and the Holy One, Blessed be He. But the letters of Elul are also an acronym for another verse, “Every man gave to his colleague, and also gifts to poor people” [Esther 9:22]. This refers to concern for other people.

In connection with the above, we note that all the prayers of the Days of Awe refer to the needs of the community as a whole and not to personal requests.

Israel and Soldiers

[Hat tip to DM]

Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yerucham Levovitz: “..regarding those who currently sacrifice their lives so we can be saved, no one in the entire world can stand in their presence…and our obligation to pray on their behalf is limitless…”

Nothing is to be achieved from the negative messages, prevalent in the hareidi/hassidic world about Israel. It is time for a change in approach so that new generations learn about what Israel is and not what it is not. Then the madim (uniform) and kelei ha’mikdash, the sanctified vessels and tools used daily to rebuild our Promised Land and safeguard all of its citizens, will be seen in a proper light..

The revered Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yerucham Levovitz, who commented in his Sichos Mussar regarding those who were killed in Lod in Talmudic times [ha’rugei Lod ein kol briya yechola la’amod be’mechitzatan]. “No mortal can be in their presence” because they have sacrificed their life on behalf of Israel. Likewise,“regarding those who currently sacrifice their lives so we can be saved, no one in the entire world can stand in their presence [no one can measure up to their level]. And our obligation to pray on their behalf is limitless…”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, head of Har Etzion hesder yeshiva, related that once, when he returned to America and was visiting with his father in law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, he posed a series of questions he had received from students serving in the IDF. One student worked in the tanks division and his job was cleaning out and maintaining the tanks. Often his uniform got covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change before afternoon prayer,davening Mincha, something that would be terribly inconvenient and difficult. The Rav looked at Rav Lichtenstein and wondered out loud, “why would he need to change? He is wearing bigdei kodesh, holy garments.

These sacred garments have restored Jewish pride, faith and fortitude… these bigdei kodesh safeguard and secure all that is holy and worthwhile in G-d’s Promised Land and throughout the world.

No lesser voice than HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook shared the regard and reverence for Israel’s soldiers and the uniform they wear. In Sichot Rabbenu, Yom Ha’atzmaut 5727, he wrote:

“A student of our Yeshiva approached me. I said to him: ‘At first I did not recognize you.’ He was wearing the army uniform. You know that I relate to this uniform in holiness. A lovely and precious man, full of G-d-fearing and holiness was approaching, and he was wearing an army uniform. At that occurrence I mentioned what I said at one wedding [of Ha-Rav She’ar Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa], when the groom came dressed in an army uniform.

There were some who were pointing out that it is inappropriate for a groom to stand under the chuppah with an army uniform. In Yerushalayim, the Holy City, it was customary that they came with Shabbat clothing, holy clothing, like a streimel (fur hat worn by hassidim on the Sabbath, ed.).

” I will tell you the truth. The holiness of the streimel – I do not know if it is one-hundred percent clear. It was made holy after the fact. Many righteous and holy Geonim (great rabbis) certainly wore it. There is certainly so much trembling of holiness before them, and we are dirt under the souls of their feet, and on account of this fact, the streimel was made holy.

“Also Yiddish, the language of Exile, was made holy because of its great use in words of holiness. But from the outset – it is not so certain. In comparison, the holiness of the army uniform in Israel is fundamental, inherent holiness. This is the holiness of accessories of a mitzvah, from every perspective…”

Rabbi Yehoshua Zuckerman relates [inIturei Yerushalaim] about Rav Tzvi Yehuda “teaching a class and a student, who was on leave from the army, was standing next to him. During the entire time, our Rabbi rested his hand on the student’s arm. At the end of the shiur, another student asked about this. Our Rabbi explained,“It is simple. He was wearing a Tzahal uniform and I was touching holiness the entire time.”

Thankfully, there are also those in the hareidi community willing to speak out against the angry and misguided radicalism that would diminish the glory of the IDF. Writing on Behadrey Hareidim,Rabbi David Bloch, founder of Nahal Hareidi, expressed his resentment at Rabbi Tzaurger’s words.

“We have been told by our ancestors: ‘Anyone who opposes the good in his friend may end up opposing the good of Hashem’, anyone who is not grateful towards the soldier for his defense of the Jews in Israel, so he can live here in relative peace, is an ingrate.” Rabbi Bloch continues: “There is no connection between the Zionist ideology and gratitude to those who physically make it possible with God’s help so each resident can live here, and manage his life as he sees fit. Even if we were living in exile and there are enemies who want to destroy us – we must be grateful to those who are working to save lives. One could be anti-Zionist and still be grateful to those who risked saving lives. Such a call is a serious failure of values.”

The most basic Jewish value is that of expressing Hakarat ha’tov, gratitude, to anyone and everyone who does anything which is of benefit for me and certainly for society at large.

Every Orthodoxy has radical elements. To be radical in one’s love of Torah and of God is not a sin. However, when one’s embrace of Torah is expressed as hatefulness towards IDF soldiers and a damning of the bigdei kodesh that they wear, then it is a radicalism that has lost sight of true Torah.

Israel’s Next Chief Rabbi Has Illustrious Shoes To Fill—From Long Ago

The author, Elliott Horowitz, sent me this link. It’s definitely worth reading.

New Science and Prophecy

“If the New Science brags that it has been liberated from Theology, it must know that by the same token, Theology has been freed of Science, which bound her in human chains. However, certainly a new name is required for the sublime subject, not a name coined by men, but a new name given by God.

Theology freed of the fetters of Science is Prophecy, the treasure of Israel, which will be revealed to us soon”

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ז’ל, ‘Arpiley Tohar’, page 40.

Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut

I understand but do not accept the view of Hungarian Satmar, Toldos Aron, Shomer Emunim and similar, that the establishment of a State for Jews is the work of Satan and should be rejected. Such a view, in the opinion of many great sages is not justifiable, and its tenuous reliance on the three oaths is seen as an halachic fiction.

I understand, but do not agree with the view of Chabad and some other Chassidim and Misnagdim, that “it is what it is”. They contend that the establishment of the state wasn’t a necessary event in the development of events leading to the Mashiach. However, given that the State is a reality, they will support the people within the State. Chabad, for example, refrain at all costs from saying the State of Israel. Listen carefully. They will always say Eretz Yisroel, following the practice of the last Rebbe, who I believe only referred to it as the “State of Israel” but once.

I understand and accept the position of those who see the State of Israel as being an eschatological reality created by Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and that it will eventually lead to ובא לציון גואל, but who will either

  • not say hallel
  • will say hallel without a bracha
  • will say hallel with a bracha

They do not disagree with the metaphysical importance of the State, but have halachic techno-legal reasons for their particular practice. For example, the Rav didn’t say Hallel and at Kerem B’Yavneh we said Hallel without a Bracha.

I do not understand why people who do not agree that the establishment of a State for Jews is the work of Satan (e.g. Satmar) or who are passively ambivalent about the eschatological significance of a State (e.g. Chabad) not only say Tachanun, but insist on saying Tachanun. It is related that the Chazon Ish, who was saved from the events of the Holocaust by no less than the efforts of Harav Kook ז’ל, insisted on saying Tachanun.

In Melbourne, a number of years ago, when a Bris occurred at the ultra-orthodox Adass Yisrael congregation, Rabbi Beck insisted that Tachanun be said davka because it was Yom Ha’atzmaut and that it would be entirely wrong for someone to come away with the impression that Tachanun might not have been said on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

It is well-known, that Chizkiyahu the great King, in whose generation the Gemora tells us (in Sanhedrin from memory) that Torah study and knowledge was in a high and unprecedented state, failed to materialise the Geula because Chizkiyahu became too haughty and felt that it was unnecessary to utter special praise (Shira) to Hashem and thank him for the miracles that Hashem wrought on Am Yisrael.

Shira, praise and thanksgiving, is the power to see the illumination of the future in the present. It is the power to perceive our existence as a link between the past and the present, and the power to raise everything towards an all-encompassing Geula.

Therefore after crossing the Red Sea, in “Shirat Ha’Yam” – it states: “Az” Yashir. Az– “Then,” past tense, is a reflection on the past, “Yashir” – “will sing praise” in the future tense. There is the joining and encapsulation of the past and the future, thereby giving meaning to the present.

The Torah is also referred to as “shira.” We seek to find Hashem in every nook and cranny and aspect of life—in every corner. This is the approach to Torah that elevates the world. Torah that creates a superficial division between the Yeshivah and the external, real world, is not the ideal.  Yahadus desires to interpret everything, and of course, especially the manifestation of God’s name

It is possible to study Torah as in the days of Chizkiyahu, to the extent that even the children are expert at the laws of tumah and tahara, yet still the Geula is hindered and delayed.

Yeshayahu expected Chizkiyahu to offer praise, and sing shira to elevate the entirety of reality. Chizkiyahu failed and the world was set back in reaching its goal.

One’s individual Torah, despite it’s great value and benefits, is not termed Shira. Only the transcendent Torah that strives to see how everything is bound to Hakadosh Baruch Hu is described as shira.

Those who separate the Torah from the State as if they are two entities are not singing.  This is how Rav Kook explained the criticism of Chizkiyahu. “That in his days briers and thorns covered Eretz Yisra’el,” for Chizkiyahu did not demonstrate how the Torah is also connected to the land.

In justifying Chizkiyahu, some have posited that the miracle of his victory over Sancherev was not as great as the sun standing still (in the days of Yehoshua) and that is why Chizkiyahu didn’t sing Hashem’s praises. Mortals, however, are not qualified to  judge which miracle is greater or more substantial. Judging such things is an expression of haughtiness, and this is what Chazal meant.

Shira dissolves the temporal manifestation of ingratitude, as supplied by the Yetzer Horah.

What is most puzzling to me is that even those who don’t recognise the need to especially sing to Hashem still insist on making this a day like any other and continue saying Tachanun. Yet, on their own days of celebration (e.g. a special day in a Chassidic court), they suspend the saying of Tachanun.


Drinking on Purim

Rav Kook gave the following Dvar Torah in his Siddur, עולת ראי’’ה  :

The Talmud in Megillah 12a states that the near destruction of the Jews in the time of Ahasuerus was a punishment for participating in the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols. What led them to perform these disloyal acts?

The Jews of that era thought that the root cause of anti-Semitism was due to xenophobic hatred of their distinct culture and religion. As Haman explained his rationale for destroying them:

“There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people; neither do they keep the king’s laws.” (Esther 3:8)

In order to overcome this hatred, the Jews decided it would be prudent to adopt the customs of their idolatrous neighbors. They demonstrated their allegiance as loyal Persian subjects by attending the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols.

However, the Jews soon discovered that their efforts were futile. They were dismayed to learn of Haman’s plot to annihilate them, despite their best attempts at integrating into the local culture.

Accepting the Torah Again

With the realization that assimilation was not the answer, and that their only true protection from enemies is God’s providence, the Jewish people reaffirmed their commitment to keep the Torah and its laws.

“‘They confirmed and took upon themselves’ (Esther 9:27) — they confirmed what they had accepted long before” (Shabbat 88a).

The Talmud teaches that the renewed commitment to Torah at Shushan complemented and completed the original acceptance of Torah at Sinai. What was missing at Sinai? The dramatic revelation at Mount Sinai contained an element of coercion. Alone and helpless in the desert, the Jewish people could hardly refuse. The Midrash portrays this limited free choice with the threat of burial beneath the mountain, had they refused to accept the Torah. In the days of Ahasuerus, however, they voluntarily accepted the Torah, in a spirit of love and pure free will, thus completing the acceptance of Torah at Sinai.

Effusion of Good Will

This appears to be the explanation for the unusual rabbinic requirement to become inebriated on Purim (Megilah 7b). It is ordinarily forbidden to become drunk, since without the intellect to guide us, our uncontrolled desires may turn to immoral and destructive acts.

But on Purim, the entire Jewish people was blessed with an outburst of good will to accept the Torah. On this special day, every Jew who respects the Torah finds within himself a sincere yearning to embrace the Torah and its ways. For this reason, we demonstrate on Purim that even when intoxicated, we do not stray from the path of Torah, since our inner desires are naturally predisposed to goodness and closeness to God. Even in a drunken state, we are confident that we will not be shamed or humiliated with the exposure of our innermost desires. As we say in the “Shoshanat Ya’akov” prayer on Purim,

“To make known: that all who place their hope in You will not be shamed; and all who take refuge in You will never be humiliated.”

We can ask a few questions here. It is understandable that drink and merriment caused the Jews of that time to try to become more like the Nochrim of that generation. We understand this. That attitude, or mistaken belief, was at the root cause of the enlightenment in Germany and elsewhere. Jews thought that they could behave like Nochrim in the street, and like Yidden at home. They falsely relived what the Jews of Persia already found out. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. You cannot escape from that. Your pin tele Yid will shine somewhere, sometime. There will be a descendant of Amalek who will resent that countenance. That descendant will threaten your physical and/or spiritual existence.

What is the response? One response is that of extremes. Chassidim have decided that they will adopt measures which go beyond Halacha. Halacha does not mandate that Jews  are forbidden to wear the same style clothes as non-Jews. A male Jew fulfils a positive command if he wears Tzitzis, and according to some Acharonim, fulfils a Rabbinic command if he wears a Yarmulke. Both males and females should guard the laws of Tzniyus in their attire (and demeanour). Some Chassidim, however, don’t consider this enough. They would like to look “like Jews” (as in a Uniform) in the street. This is an extreme reaction in the same vein as those who take the opposite extreme and dress to look specifically like Nochrim.

What does drinking achieve? Far be it from me to claim that I don’t know. Drinking is a poisoned chalice. It can be liberating, in that it removes inhibition. It can be liberating, in that it unburdens one’s stress and worries. It is an artificial time-bound expediency. How much does one drink? Unlike all other Mitzvos, we are specifically not given an amount. Why? Is it a Reviis, is it ten Reviis? It is neither. The amount one drinks is subjective. It is precisely the amount that leaves a person free to the extent that they are unstressed by the fact that they are not troubled by the concept of a blessed Haman. How can a person not be troubled by that? Surely, the thought of God looking favourably upon the Hamans of this world is distressing in the extreme?

That depends on where one’s feet are. If one is sober, one’s feet are planted in this Earth at this time, in the Golus leading to Geula state that we are in. Inebriated, one is able to rise above that sunken reality and levitate, albeit for only a short period, into a Utopian reality where וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם השם נקרא עליך … that even the Nochrim will see that God’s name is inscribed on our foreheads.

How though do we understand the idea that we can confuse Mordechai as being cursed? My understanding of this is that it is only in our sober state that we mistakenly only see our perfection, only occasionally focussing on those cursed areas of our free will which cause us to stray off the Holy path. We know only too well, that once a person has their veneer lifted, when they have had a few shots, they often become very willing to introspect and describe their failings and indeed seek to consider them afresh.

I feel that this is a meaning of עד דלא ידע in the context. But, like everything in our world, שם שמברכים על הטוב, כך מברכים על הרע, in the same way that one can bless over good things, one blesses over bad things. Alcohol can also be abused. If a person is already in a state where they do not appreciate the difference between a blessed Mordechai and a cursed Mordechai, because they have diluted Mordechai, or they already don’t understand the difference between a cursed Haman or a blessed Haman, then that person will gain nothing by drinking the Alcohol except a headache and an unwanted expectoration. Alas, these types of people need to have a Purim party, but only when they understand the Purim in the party. If there is no Purim, it’s just another party; a Goyishe party. ודו’’ק

This should happen once a month

I applaud R’ Metzger for this initiative, although, I believe that this was originally the journey undertaken by Rav Kook ז’ל in 1913. Bridging gaps is efficacious; spitting and sending to the back of the bus, breeds resentment. Just to name drop, R’ Metzger sat a few rows behind me at Kerem B’Yavneh, although he was in fifth year, as I recall.

The story is told of how Rav Kook, upon one of his visits to an anti-religious kibbutz, was approached by one of the leaders who greeted him as follows: “With all due respect Rabbi, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to convince us to be religious. It’s not that we don’t know what Torah is, most of us were raised in observant homes. We know Torah, rabbis, mitzvot and we don’t like them!” Rav Kook questioned,”Why?” The kibbutznik replied: “We simply can’t stand your old-fashioned, meaningless, outdated rituals!” Exclaimed Rav Kook, “I agree”. “What?”, asked the surprised rebel. Explained the Rav, “I also hate the “religion” that you describe. But the dynamic, idealistic and deep Torah is so beautiful that anyone who is exposed to it cannot but love it!”.

Women singing in the Israeli Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the יום הילולא of Rav Kook זי’’ע

מורינו ורבינו הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק זצוק’’ל

The following is republished without permission from OROT Vol. 1 5751/1991 by Joshua Hoffman

In March, 1924, Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook came to America as part of a rabbinic delegation whose purpose was to raise funds for Torah institutions in Eretz Yisrael and Europe. The other members of the delegation were, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein,

Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein ז’’ל

head of the Slabodka Yeshiva, and Rav Avraham Dov Baer Kahana Shapiro, the Rav of Kovno (Kaunas) and president of the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim of Lithuania. The three rabbis were brought to America by the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, better known as the Central Relief Committee (CRC).

The Central Relief Committee was founded by leaders of the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim, the Union of American Orthodox Congregations, and other Orthodox Jews on October 8, 1914, to raise funds for the assistance of the masses of Jews overseas left homeless and impoverished as a result of the upheavals of World War I. On October 25, 1914, the American Jewish Relief Committee was formed by a more heterogeneous religious group1 The committees decided to pool the funds they collected into the joint Distribution Committee, formed on November 27,1914 to act as a disbursing agency. In mid-1915, the labor groups formed the People’s Relief committee, which also joined the JDC. In 1922, the JDC decided that each of its three committees take over the obligation of supporting those overseas educational institutions which they aligned with. Accordingly, the CRC supported all the Orthodox institutions previously funded by the JDC2.

Rav Avraham Dov Ber Kahana Shapira, the Kovno Rav

Many European yeshivot and talmud torahs had been exiled during World War I and were now in the process of returning to their original homes, some of which had to be rebuilt, or of reopening at new locations, and the cost involved in these operations was tremendous. Funds were also needed to support the students attending these institutions. By 1923, the CRC realized that to continue functioning, it must launch an emergency fund-raising campaign, and for this purpose, began plans, late that year, to bring to America a group of the most prestigious rabbis of the time, to help encourage Jews to contribute3. Rav Kook, being Chief Rabbi of Palestine, was an obvious choice. Because of the many duties which his office demanded, he requested that someone else be found, but the CRC convinced him of the necessity of his participation, and so, in February 1924, after a mass send-off, he sailed for America4. The major leaders of European Jewry-the Hafetz Hayyim and Rabbi Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski-were unable to come5. Instead, Rabbis Epstein and Shapiro, both outstanding figures in their own right, were asked to join the delegation.

Rabbi Epstein arrived in New York on January 30, 19246, accompanied by Rabbi Ya’akov Lessin, a founder of the Slabodka Kollel, and later the Mashgiah Ruhani (Spiritual Advisor) of the Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in New York7. Rabbi Epstein arrived early in order to raise funds for his own yeshiva. He spent part of his time in Chicago, where his brother, Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, was spiritual leader of the Knesset Israel synagogue. Rabbi Shapiro, accompanied by Rabbi Avraham Faivelson, secretary of the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim of Lithuania8, met Rav Kook in Cherbourg, France, from where they sailed together on the S.S. Olympic to America. They arrived in New York on the evening of March 18, 1924.

On the morning of March 19, the two rabbis were greeted by thousands of Jews, among them hundreds of rabbis, singing HaTikvah. This being Rabbi Kook’s first trip to America, his appearance provoked great excitement. When he stepped off the ship, the impression he made was so striking that it led one non-Jewish reporter, not content with giving him the title “Chief Rabbi of Palestine,” to dub him, “the Jewish pope”. He was, however, quickly informed the Jews don’t have such a position9.

The two rabbis were met by Rabbi Epstein, and the three of them were then driven at the head of an automobile procession to City Hall, where they were officially received by Mayor John P. Hylan and other public dignitaries. An enthusiastic reporter wrote that this was probably the greatest honor given a rabbi by a public official since Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel visited London and was greeted by Oliver Cromwell! Mayor Hylan made a short welcoming speech, and presented the rabbis with the “Freedom of the City”. Rabbi Kook then delivered a message in Hebrew, which was translated by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein. In his message, he thanked the American People for supporting the Balfour Declaration. He was referring to a resolution passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Harding in 1922, recognizing the Declaration. Rabbi Kook also told the mayor that the honor being shown the rabbinic delegation was really an expression of honor towards the Jewish People and its Torah, which is the light of the world. This expression of honor, he added, was an indication that America was holding true to its ideals of equality and brotherly love. The mayor then shook hands with Rabbi Kook, who proceeded, to the mayor’s surprise, to converse with him in proper English. The rabbis were then taken to their quarters at the Hotel Pennsylvania10. They stayed at that location for a few weeks, and then relocated to a private home on West 76th Street, which Mr. Harry Schiff had put at their disposal. That house was their headquarters for the duration of their stay in America11.

During their eight months in America, the rabbinic delegation visited ten major cities, several smaller ones, and various neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan New York area. The basic pattern of their reception in New York was followed in all the cities they visited. There was a large crowd greeting them on their arrival, followed by an automobile procession to City Hall, where they were received by local officials and given the key to the city. During their stay in the city, the rabbis would visit the local talmud torahs or yeshiva and attend rallies and banquets, where they would speak of the CRC’s relief efforts and appeal for funds. Invariably, Rav Kook received the most attention and generated the most enthusiasm12

Rav Kook’s predominance in the delegation, despite the tremendous stature of his two colleagues, was partially engineered by the CRC itself. The committee had designated him as the spokesman for the group and the other two rabbis agreed to this move. Simply as a fund-raising tactic, the CRC felt that emphasizing the appearance of Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, in America, would create a greater response and lead to a larger contribution of funds. When the CRC asked prominent public officials including President Coolidge, to send greetings to the rabbinic delegation to be read at major fund-raising events, they pointed out that it was especially important to mention Rav Kook13. There was a great deal of Jewish pride aroused by the phenomenon of the Chief Rabbi’s visit, and the CRC tried to utilize it to the utmost in the interest of the Torah institutions of Europe and Palestine.

There was, however, more behind Rav Kook’s predominance, beyond the significance of his rabbinical position. His personality and intellect were unique even among such rabbinic giants as Rabbis Shapiro and Epstein, and this was immediately perceived by those who came in contact with him or heard him speak14. His reputation for demonstrating love and appreciation for all Jews, even those estranged from tradition, was well known. As early as 1912, a writer for the Boston Jewish Advocate had suggested that Rav Kook, then Chief Rabbi of Jaffa, come to Boston to serve as chief rabbi, to replace Rabbi Gavriel Ze’ev (Velvel) Margolis, who had moved to New York in 1911. The writer felt that Rav Kook’s ability to appeal to all segments of Jewry in Palestine, would enable him to unite the various elements of Boston Jewry15. By 1924, many of Rav Kook’s works had already been published, and he was known as a poet and philosopher who incorporated elements of modern, secular thought into his Jewish world-view, a rare occurrence among Orthodox rabbis of his time16.

The special attention which Rav Kook received in America was highlighted by a reporter for the Jewish Daily Forward, who went to the Hotel Pennsylvania to interview the rabbi. When the reporter approached the information desk in the lobby, he was immediately asked, “Are you here to see the rabbi?” He received the same query from members of the hotel staff on the fifth floor, where the delegation was staying. At their suite, it was Rav Kook who was surrounded by reporters and visitors, although all three rabbis were staying there17. Rav Kook himself had an ambivalent attitude towards the honor shown him. In a letter to his son, R. Zevi Yehuda, he wrote that he was suffering from afflictions of honor, which involve loss of time from prayer and Torah study18. In another letter, however, he wrote that the honor shown him by public officials as a representative of the rabbinate, was a positive development, which could be used to advantage by the American Jewish community in the future19.

On April 2, at the Hotel Astor, a reception was held for the rabbinical delegation, officially launching the Torah Fund campaign. All three rabbis addressed the gathering, with Rav Kook being the last speaker. He spoke of Zion and Jerusalem in a manner so deep, noted one observer, that many listeners had a difficult time understanding him. He also noted that one could ascribe to Rav Kook what the sages ascribed to Queen Esther, namely, that he had a special appeal for each group present. Members of Mizrahi, Agudat Yisrael, Hasidim, Zionists and others, all felt that Rav Kook’s remarks supported their particular philosophy20. Another reporter wrote that the speech projected an unusual, superhuman love for Eretz Yisrael, one which only Rav Kook, the chief rabbi of the land, could display21.

On April 3, Rav Kook began a series of shi’urim at RIETS. The content of the shi’urim was not transcribed, but it was noted that he discussed the nature of court testimony, the laws of Eretz Yisrael, and Jewish culture. One of the concepts he developed was that of the corporate, metaphysical entity of Israel, i.e., its “zibbur” aspect22. One commentator was astonished by Rav Kook’s ability to deliver a traditional-style Talmudic lecture, including all the elements of in-depth analysis, in a fluent Hebrew. He then submitted Rav Kook’s shi’ur as an argument for the use of the Ivrit be-Ivrit system in American Hebrew schools!23 Another writer noted the fusion of halakha and aggadah in Rav Kook’s shi’ur, as well as the great love he expressed for Jews, Torah and Eretz Yisrael. Sitting in New York, listening to Rav Kook, he wrote, one felt he had been transported to Jerusalem, because Rav Kook brought Jerusalem with him to New York24.

On April 15, Rav Kook met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House. Although the President had a meeting with his cabinet that same day, and it wasn’t his usual day for receiving visitors, he considered it a great honor to meet with the chief rabbi of the Holy Land, and therefore broke with his usual custom and granted him an audience25. At the meeting, Rav Kook thanked the President for his government’s support of the Balfour Declaration, and told him that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land will benefit not only the Jews themselves, but all mankind throughout the world. He quoted the Talmudic sages as saying that no solemn peace can be expected unless the Jews return to the Holy Land, and therefore their return is a blessing for all the nations of the earth. Rav Kook also expressed the gratitude of Jews throughout the world towards the American government for aiding in relief work during the war. He said that America has always shown an example of liberty and freedom to all, as written on the Liberty Bell, and that he hoped that the country will continue to uphold these principles and render its assistance whenever possible. The speech, written in Hebrew, was delivered in English by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, executive secretary of the CRC. Rav Kook answered “Amen”, and explained that since he wasn’t fluent in English, he had Rabbi Teitelbaum read his message. By answering “Amen”, he indicated that he consented to every word that had been read. The President responded that the American government will be glad to assist Jews whenever possible26. Before leaving Washington, Rabbis Kook and Teitelbaum held a meeting of local rabbis and community leaders to raise money for the Torah Fund27.

Rav Kook’s remarks to President Coolidge on the universal significance of the Jews’ return to their homeland are typical of remarks he made to public officials throughout his stay in America. As mentioned, he told Mayor Hylan that the Torah is the light of the world. While in Montreal, he told the mayor of that city that “the ultimate return of the Hebrews to Jerusalem will not only be for their good, but for the good of the world at large28.” Towards the end of his stay in America, he met, in New York, with the President-elect of Mexico, and expressed his hope that Jews would continue to prosper in his country. He added that all countries which have favored Jews have enjoyed prosperity and Mexico, by welcoming the wandering Jews, would now also prosper29. Rav Kook’s practice of publicly expressing Jewish pride was earlier displayed in England in 1917, after the Balfour Declaration was passed by the British Parliament. At a public gathering celebrating the event, rather than thanking the British government, Rav Kook congratulated it for having been privilege to assist the Jews in returning to Palestine30. The dynamic relation between Israel and the other nations of the world which Rav Kook referred to in speaking to government officials, was elaborately formulated by him in his writings31.

The image of the Liberty Bell and the verse engraved upon it, evoked by Rav Kook in his message to the President, was again referred to by him in a speech on June 22 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the bell is located. Rav Kook said that the bell was one which rang out the freedom of America. He explained that the verse engraved on the bell, “And you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants,” spoke of liberty achieved after forty-nine years of work. Freedom is so important, he said, that one must work forty-nine years to achieve it. This is true for the individual, to whom the verse is addressed, and much more so for a nation. He then placed a wreath of flowers on the bell and said that freedom can be a crown of thorns or a crown of flowers, depending upon how it is used. In America, freedom is used properly, and therefore, it is a crown of flowers32.

Rav Kook’s praise of American freedom may have been more than mere rhetoric. In his philosophical writings, freedom is a central conccpt32a. He writes that the creation of the world is grounded. in the notion of divine freedom of action, and Man’s task is to link himself to this freedom and thereby actualize his inner essence33. Rav Kook may have felt that the freedom enjoyed in America would enable its citizens to realize this wider sense of the concept. As we will see, Rav Kook, shortly before his departure from America, discussed his view of the country’s Jewish community. When he first came to the country, he wrote to his son that it was a difficult exile for the Jews, despite its outer amenities34. As he saw more of the country and its Jewry, however, his views began to change. In one city, he told his audience that America is the best exile for the Jews, because of its concept of liberty. He added, however, that it is still better to be in Eretz Yisrael, because, elsewhere, the Jew is ultimately a stranger, while in Eretz Yisrael he is in his own land35.

Rav Kook himself, as we have seen, was very reluctant to travel to America. Besides the fact that he had many pressing matters to attend to in Palestine, his strong attachment to the land made it very difficult to leave. In New York, he told a reporter that Eretz Yisrael was part of his very soul, and leaving it was akin to having part of his soul removed36. This feeling was apparently so strong that it projected itself onto Rav Kook’s visage. One reporter, describing his impressions of Rav Kook when he first arrived in New York, wrote that he was a very outgoing person, very eager to meet people and involved in the world, yet, at the same time, looked like a stranger, really wanting to be somewhere else37.

Despite Rav Kook’s physical distance from Eretz Yisrael during his stay in America, the land was uppermost in his thoughts. He urged American Jews to buy land and build industry there, and, if possible, to emigrate38. He also attended to Palestine affairs while in this country. A major issue of importance at that time was the effort of the chief rabbinate of Palestine to gain the right to decide on matters of constitution and administration of wakfs, or properties donated for religious purposes in Palestine. Rav Kook had been working on this matter before leaving for America, but the official decision was still pending. While in Washington, he discussed the matter with the British ambassador39. In May, 1924, an ordinance was passed giving the chief rabbinate the control they sought. This ordinance strengthened the power of the chief rabbinate and was vigorously opposed by both leftist, anti-religious factions, and by the old community of Jerusalem, led by Rabbi Hayyim Sonnenfeld. Rabbi Sonnenfeld sent a cable to the British Colonial Office, asking that the right of decision concerning the wakfs should remain with the Moslem Religious Court, as it had until then, rather than with the “Zionist Chief Rabbinate”. The Colonial Office, however, rejected the appeal, saying that the ordinance could not be annulled40.

While in America, Rav Kook also spoke of the yeshiva he was in the process of creating in Jerusalem. In 1922, a small group of young Talmudic scholars began to study in his bet ha-midrash. From this core group, he hoped to develop a Torah institution which, together with the institution of the chief rabbinate, would turn Jerusalem into the spiritual center of world Jewry. The group was referred to as “Merkaz Ha-Rav”, because Rav Kook felt it was not large enough to merit the title of “yeshiva”. He hoped to name it eventually the Central Universal Yeshiva, to which young scholars from all parts of the world would come to study. The physical aspect of Eretz Yisrael, Rav Kook said, constituted Zion, while its spiritual aspect constituted Jerusalem. He insisted that Zion has significance only if it culminates in Jerusalem. He called his campaign to realize this goal of developing the spiritual nature of Jerusalem, Degel Yerushalayim, “Banner of Jerusalem”, a movement which he actually started during his years in London, from 1917 to 1919. In interviews and public addresses he gave during his stay in America, he spoke enthusiastically of this project41. At an OU convention, he said that he envisioned joint cooperation between his projected yeshiva and RIETS, including exchange of faculty, the sending of RIETS students to his yeshiva for a certain period of time, and contributions of RIETS students and faculty to a future Torah journal42. In a letter to his son, he wrote that his central purpose in coming to America was to gain support for the yeshiva43. However, because of his obligations to the CRC, he did not make a formal effort to raise funds for his own yeshiva until a few days before he left the country, when the business of the Torah Fund had already been concluded. At that time, he set up an American committee to aid the yeshiva, headed by Rabbis Aaron Teitelbaum, Israel Rosenberg, Bernard Levinthal, and others44.

Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav (from wikipedia)

Although the rabbinical delegation was in America primarily to raise funds for Torah institutions overseas, they dealt with other issues, as well. Rabbi Shapiro, for example, made an appeal-through the politically active Rabbi Simon Glazer of New York-to Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes, to permit prospective haluzot entrance to America, despite recently passed laws which severely limited foreign immigration45. The delegation was often called upon to arbitrate conflicts between rabbis and rabbinical organizations. Rav Kook was again the spokesman for the group in these cases. Their efforts in this area met with mixed success. In Pittsburgh, a peace agreement adopted through the mediation of the delegation by two rabbis in the city, made front-page headlines in the local Yiddish press46. In Montreal, on the other hand, the delegation was unable to find a solution to a conflict involving kashrut supervision, as one of the factions refused to submit to their authority47. In Newark, Rav Kook proposed a rapprochement between two rabbis who had been disputing the rights to supervision of certain slaughterhouses in the city. When one of the rabbis refused to make peace, Rav Kook in turn refused to attend his installation as spiritual leader of a local synagogue. Rabbi Shapiro also declined the invitation, while Rabbi Epstein, having been the teacher of that rabbi in Slabodka, did attend. He went, however, only as a private individual, not in his official capacity as a member of the rabbinical delegation48. The importance of rabbinic unity was constantly stressed by the delegation while they were in America49. Rav Kook felt that Jerusalem should serve as a unifying factor in this area. By establishing a universal rabbinic organization there, such unity could, he felt, be achieved50.

A difficulty encountered by the CRC in its Torah Fund was its convergence with the campaign of the Keren Hayesod, the financial arm of the World Zionist Organization. In connection with this campaign, Hayyim Weizmann had come to America around the same time as the rabbinical delegation. The coincidence provoked wide-scale criticism. The Hebrew weekly Hadoar, for example, wrote that despite the importance of the Torah institutions of Europe and Palestine, they felt the campaigns for the Tarbut schools overseas and for the Keren Hayesod, both already underway, should take precedence, and that the CRC should delay the beginning of its Torah Fund campaign until the others are completed51. Other voices suggested that the conflict in scheduling was a deliberate attempt by the CRC and the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim which helped coordinate the campaign, to undermine the Keren Hayesod because of it irreligious character52. Whether or not this allegation was true, the conflict worked to the detriment of the Torah Fund, which fell short of its one million dollar goal53.

The irreligious nature of the Keren Hayesod was, indeed, an issue being raised in Orthodox circles in America at the time. In 1923, Rabbi Simon Glazer, an ardent Zionist worker, who had almost single-handedly brought about the joint congressional resolution recognizing the Balfour Declaration54, sharply criticized the Keren Hayesod at the 1923 convention of the Knesset Ha-Rabbanim, a rabbinic organization run by Rabbi G.Z. Margolis together with Rabbi Glazer. The result of this criticism was the organization’s withdrawal of support for the Keren Hayesod, and its official alignment with the Agudat Yisrael World Organization55. In 1924, the Morgen Journal ran a series of articles critical of the Keren Hayesod, and at the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim convention in May of that year, one participant suggested a move similar to that of the Knesset Ha-Rabbanim. Rav Kook, who was present at the convention, spoke against the proposal, and vigorously defended the work of pioneers in Eretz Yisrael, who were selflessly dedicated to rebuilding the land. He also warned the rabbis not to engage in overhasty zealousness56. It is possible that some of the rabbis present knowing of Rav Kook’s recent protest against public Sabbath violation in Palestine57, and his support of a law in Tel Aviv making such violation a civil crime58, felt that the rabbi would approve of withdrawal of support for the Keren Hayesod. In actuality, they totally misread Rav Kook’s position. One reporter, present at the convention, wrote that he had spoken to many of the rabbis present there about Rav Kook, and discovered that they really knew very little about his views59.

Rav Kook’s support of the Tel Aviv Sabbath legislation provoked quite a different reaction from the previously cited reporter for the Forward. He wrote with anger that Rav Kook wanted to impose religious rule in Palestine, and that such an approach was in opposition to the ideals of democracy, socialism and free thought60. This criticism was echoed in other Jewish socialist papers and reflected that movement’s attitude towards religion. As spelled out in one of the papers of the time, they were willing to tolerate religious Jews as long as they did not attempt to impose their religion on others61. The reporter for the Forward, in fact, also interviewed Rabbi Shapiro, and was much more satisfied with his remarks than with Rav Kook’s. Rabbi Shapiro told him that, although he was not happy with the Jewish cultural schools being built in Lithuania, he would never complain to the government about them, since it was an internal Jewish issue. The reporter felt that it was this approach, rather than Rav Kook’s, which had enabled the Jewish people to survive throughout its long period of exile62.

Because of the conflict with the Keren Hayesod campaign, the CRC cancelled its original plan to have the rabbis visit Chicago near Pesah time and make appeals in synagogues during that holiday. The CRC had hoped that a generous response in Chicago would serve as an example for the other cities which the rabbis were to visit. However, the Keren Hayesod, which had already designated the last day of Pesah as a day to make appeals for their campaign in Chicago, protested the projected appearance of the rabbis, and prevailed upon the CRC to arrange a different date for their Chicago campaign. They decided that the rabbis would visit other cities first, and come to Chicago for Shavuot63.

The first major city visited by the rabbis as a group was Montreal. On their arrival in the city on May 5, they were greeted by more than two thousand Jews at the train station. From there, they were driven in an automobile procession to City Hall, where they were greeted by Mayor Duquette. The mayor spoke highly of the Montreal Jewish community, and wished the rabbis success on their mission. Rav Kook, in his reply, referred to Montreal as one of the greatest British cities outside of England. He said that Canada was a sister country of his, since Palestine was under British protectorate rule, and that he was, therefore, a British subject. He praised the British government for helping the Jews build a home of their own. He added that, “When all is said and done, the difference of religious belief is only on the surface, the fundamentals being, to do good to all mankind, live up to the teachings of the Bible and carry out the precepts of the Golden Rule.” At a fund-raising banquet the next evening, Rav Kook said that the Torah is the source of the Jew’s past and future. A reporter present wrote that the speech revealed a wealth of scholarship and erudition, and that hearing it was like watching the flow of a placid stream, whose source is inexhaustible. Six thousand dollars were pledged that evening to the Torah Fund64.

The next city visited by the rabbis was Pittsburgh. They were in the city on May 18 and 19. While there, they visited the Hebrew Institute, where Rav Kook addressed the children in Hebrew. As mentioned earlier, the delegation was able to make peace among the local rabbis. One Pittsburgh resident, Mr. Charles Levin, was so pleased with this development that, in appreciation, he gave one hundred dollars to Rav Kook, to use for the Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem65.

The next stop for the rabbis was Cleveland, which they visited from May 20 to 22. Although there was a large reception for them at the train station when they arrived in the city, there was a very poor turnout at the banquet held the next evening, at which only $1,500 was raised for the Torah Fund. Before leaving, the rabbis criticized the community for its poor response, and suggested that a fund be set up in the city to help support the CRC66. Interestingly, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in describing Rav Kook, noted that he had a reddish beard, wore a squirrel cap, and spoke the Hebrew which Jews in Palestine had spoken two thousand years before.

The rabbis next visited Detroit, from May 27 until June 2. At a banquet on May 29, Rav Kook spoke of the essence of Jewish nationality, and the essential unity in moral purpose of the various elements among the Jewish People. In discussing the significance of the galut, he said, “The past, present and future form a constant stream of the history of our people, and constitute one process. “The redemption of our people,” he said, “both in a physical and spiritual sense is determined by the manner in which the Jewish will asserts itself . . . American Jewry constitutes that phase of present Jewish life which makes possible the necessary adjustment in life of our people as a whole. The present sufferings of the Jewish People in Eastern Europe, on the one hand, and the Zionist activities, on the other, are the signs of the coming Jewish rebirth67.”

One Detroit reporter, in describing his impressions of Rav Kook, wrote of the importance of his rabbinic position and his impeccable scholarly credentials. However, he wrote, the rabbi was most of all a poet-philosopher, whose large, kind eyes contained a suggestion of the mystic, and that his sympathy for his people and for the world, dominates his outlook upon the problems of the Jewish People, the strangeness of its historical evolution, its sufferings and its efforts to achieve a more or less cohesive adjustment. Like an ancient prophet, wrote the reporter, Rav Kook sees a final resolution of his people’s and humanity’s problems on the basis of reason, justice and enlightenment. The reporter, Abraham Caplan, concluded that, “as close as Rav Kook is to his people, whom he loves with such a love few others have, he moves in a lofty mental sphere and detaches himself from the maddening crowd68.”

After leaving Detroit, the delegation went to Chicago, arriving there on June 2, and remaining there for a week, through Shavuot. Chicago was their major stop outside of New York City, and they raised over fifty thousand dollars there, of which the local press was very proud69. While in the city, Rabbis Kook and Epstein delivered shi’urim to the students and faculty of the Hebrew Theological College.

From June 2 to 24, the rabbis visited Philadelphia. Speaking at Independence Hall on June 22, Rav Kook expressed his hope that the freedom and equality of humanity, which the Liberty Bell proclaimed, might continue to be the inspiring message of America70. At a mass rally held at the Academy of Music on June 24, Rav Kook said that the Jewish religion is the hope of the world, and Jerusalem the hope of the Jewish People. “We do not forget our bond with Zion,” he said, “and we do not permit the world to forget it71.”

From Philadelphia, the delegation proceeded, on June 25, to St. Louis, and from there to Boston, where they arrived on July 1. A local Boston reporter, writing on Rav Kook’s speech at a banquet held in the city, noted that when he spoke of Zion and Jerusalem, one felt that he really meant what he said, and even those who couldn’t understand the speech itself sensed the holiness of his words72.

The rabbis next visited Baltimore, from July 6 to 8. The local Jewish press wrote enthusiastically of their cause, and urged the city’s Jews to contribute73. Rabbi Israel Miller of Yeshiva University, recalled Rav Kook’s visit to the local talmud torah which he was then attending. After he addressed the student body in Yiddish, the students filed past him individually to receive his blessing. Rabbi Miller particularly remembered the kindness projected through Rav Kook’s eyes74, a feature also mentioned as we have seen by Abraham Caplan of Detroit.

On July 8, the rabbis returned to Chicago, where they remained for a few more days, and then finally returned to New York, in anticipation of their departure from America. They did not personally travel to cities further west, but representatives of the CRC went to cities such as Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Francisco to raise money for the Torah Fund75. In addition, the Agudat HaRabbanim had its members pledge to spend two weeks each, traveling to smaller cities which did not have rabbis, in order to raise funds76.

Throughout their stay in New York, special receptions were held for the rabbinical delegation in various communities of the city, including Brownsville, East New York, Harlem, Boro Park, and others. They also occasionally visited private individuals. For example, the delegation visited the home of Rabbi Israel Rosenberg, a leader of the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim and the CRC, where a special meal was prepared in their honor77. This was one of the few places where Rav Kook ate anything other than what was prepared for him by his private cook, or by his son-in-law, Rabbi Israel Rabinowitz Teomim, who had accompanied him on his trip to America78. Another home in which Rav Kook consented to eat, was that of Dr. Samuel Friedman, popularly known as “Shabbos” Friedman, because of his rare status as a Sabbath-observing physician. Dr. Friedman’s son, in his biography of his father, described an interesting incident that occurred while Rav Kook was visiting his parents’ home in Edgemere, New York. A distraught man interrupted a conversation between Rabbi Kook and Dr. Friedman, and told the doctor that his ailing daughter had no chance to live, and that, therefore, Dr. Friedman was her only hope for survival. Rav Kook told the man to pray, but the man said he couldn’t, because he was a Sabbath-violator. Rav Kook told him that if he wanted his child to live, he must repent and decide to observe the Sabbath. He then told Dr. Friedman to tend to the child, who, in the end, survived79.

The rabbis had originally planned to stay in America for about three months80. However, because their fund-raising efforts were not as successful as had been hoped, they remained for eight months. In the end, they raised a little over $300,000, far short of the one million dollar goal which the CRC had set. Before leaving, the rabbis helped set up a membership drive for the CRC, which it was hoped, would bring in more funds81. In any case, in May, 1925, the executive committee of the JDC decided to reorganize its work for all spheres of relief, and thus, the CRC rejoined the organization, thereby considerably relieving themselves of fund-raising burdens. The money raised by the rabbis, therefore, proved to be quite helpful for the short period of time during which it was needed82.

The rabbinical delegation left America on November 12,1924. During their last few days in the country, farewell receptions were given them by various organizations. At a banquet held on Sunday evening, November 9, by the CRC, the rabbis thanked American Jewry for its help in saving the Torah centers in Europe and Palestine. Rav Kook, in his speech, said that the CRC campaign should not be taken in isolation from other campaigns, because all Jewish spiritual efforts are interconnected, and lead to Israel’s ultimate redemption83.

On Tuesday afternoon, November 11, a special farewell ceremony for Rav Kook was held by the Zionist Organization and the Keren Hayesod. The event was attended by about five hundred of the leading Zionist and Keren Hayesod workers of Greater New York. The famed orator, Reverend Zevi Hirsch Masliansky, opened the ceremonies by praising Rav Kook for his spirit of tolerance towards people with whose religious views and practices he differed most radically. Another speaker Gedaliah Bublick, editor of the Yiddish daily, the Tageblatt, declared that Rav Kook represented the inseparable union of the Jewish religion and Jewish nationalism. In his farewell address, Rav Kook spoke of recent events in Jewish history, of the first steps in the great redemption, and predicted that “in the final structure, the material and the spiritual will be harmoniously blended in truth to the fundamental character of the Jewish People.” He also spoke of the haluzim, the Jewish pioneers in Palestine, and predicted that the workers for the spiritual redemption of Palestine and they will ultimately say “Amen” to each other, united in common purpose84.

On November 12, at 9:00 A.M., the rabbinical delegation was met at Pier 59 by thousands of Jews, wishing them a safe journey. The rabbis issued a letter of farewell to American Jewry, wishing them the blessings of the Torah, and asking them to become members of the CRC and thereby continue to support Torah institutions over-seas. Their ship, the Mauretania, departed at 11:00 that morning85.

Reporters were very interested in the impression the rabbis had of America, and especially in those of Rav Kook. In an exclusive interview he had with the Morgen Journal, Rav Kook referred to American Jewry as a hidden treasure, and enumerated three qualities they had which, if developed, could make them one of the most important Jewries in history. These qualities were a deep feeling for religiosity, a sense of Jewish nationalism, and a sense of social responsibility. He attributed the last quality to the excellent human material of which the Jewish communities consist, as well as to the civil liberties enjoyed by American Jews as free citizens of a republic under a generous and democratic government. He also noted the importance of the civic education which American Jews receive through their unhampered participation in their country’s political affairs. In order for American Jews to develop their potential, Rav Kook said, it is necessary for them to provide a proper Jewish education for their youth. To this end, he felt that parochial schools should be built by the Jewish community. He felt that American Jewry would eventually surpass Jewries in other lands of the diaspora and serve as an example for them, and ultimately, would be able to transfer its talents to Palestine to help rebuild the Jewish homeland86. These last remarks echoed those he made at an OU convention in June, where he said that, just as in the past, there were two great centers of Jewry, Palestine and Babylonia, so today, there are two great centers of Jewry, Palestine and America87.

Rav Kook maintained contact with the American Jewish community after returning to Eretz Yisrael, largely in connection with the committee he had set up in New York to aid his yeshiva. He planned a return trip to this country to raise funds for the yeshiva, but was never able to make it88. He was occasionally asked for his opinion of events on the American Jewish scene89, and one of his last acts before he died, was to send a telegram to the Agudat HaRabbanim of America expressing his opposition to proposed changes in the ketubah sponsored by the Conservative movement90.

Rav Kook’s trip to America came at a watershed period in Jewish history. Immigration laws passed in 1921 and 1924 had in effect put an end to the mass influx of Eastern European Jews to America, a process which had begun in the 1880’s. A time for consolidation had come, and Rav Kook’s visit with his two colleagues gave American Jewry an opportunity to take stock of itself, and consider its strengths and weaknesses. The appearance of the rabbinic delegation in America helped bolster the community’s self-image, and the honor shown the rabbis by public officials greatly strengthened Jewish pride. The message received from the rabbis, and especially Rav Kook, was that America, which had been considered earlier a “treife medinah”, was now beginning to emerge as a major center of Jewish religious life. It was widely felt that the rabbis’ visit did more for American Jewry than for anyone else91. Rav Kook’s unique contribution was his promotion of love for Eretz Yisrael and support for its physical upbuilding, especially at a time when voices of opposition were beginning to be heard in the religious community.

What follows are the impressions a writer for the English section of the Tageblatt, Jean Jaffen had of Rav Kook upon meeting him at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

“It is impossible to speak of Chief Rabbi A. I. Kook without becoming sentimental, at times even maudlin.

“I witnessed the hardy reception tendered to the rabbi by Mayor Hylan of New York. I was moved by the occasion for, literally speaking, his patriarchal countenance and prophetic mien brought tears not only to the eyes of his fellow rabbis present, but to the eyes of many a transient street gamin as well as the municipal officials.

“I read of Rav Kook’s versatility. I heard of his rare spirit. I knew of his literary work. I heard of the numerous titles conferred upon him. I was familiar with the rabbi’s achievements in the spiritual and physical development of Palestine. When I went to meet him I therefore awaited a spiritual bulwark, a gigantic mind. And I found much more.

“I was admitted into an attractive reception room at the Hotel Pennsylvania where a host of people, from indifferent newspapermen to rabid enthusiasts and disciples of the rabbi, were eagerly awaiting him. I admit that my short knowledge of Hebrew, to which I immediately resorted, made me feel more at ease (I was the only woman present) and made my presence more desirable.

“Rabbi Kook was ushered in from the adjacent room. I sincerely hoped that it were possible for me to remain silent throughout. I wanted to sit, look and listen.

“I managed to be the last one confronted, so that I might have time to stay. I looked at the calm, celestial face illuminated by the large, Semitic eyes, which spoke of sorrow and impression, of poetry and hope-and of wisdom. I noticed his white, well-kept hands as he removed his massive headgear to the surface of a skullcap. I looked at his beautiful, immaculate garb, black velvet and white. I followed up closely his consistent resort to the Talmud which he brought in under his arm and from which he would raise his eyes only to answer questions, which were provoked by his own replies.

“It is quite a revelation to hear a well-constructed, well-modulated English come from so aged a man (Rabbi Kook is about sixty) who has spent his life in Russia and Palestine. He later accounted for it by saying that frequent meetings with Herbert Samuel led him to make a study of the language. He did it by a thorough study of an English translation of the Bible92. Rabbi Kook speaks German, Russian, French and Chaldean, besides Hebrew and English.

“His tone was quite jovial for he mostly answered questions about the things nearest to him, the Torah and Palestine. But when putting questions, his tone was grave, for he asked of the galut, of the desecration of the Bible, of the violation of the Sabbath. He would often abandon the topic under discussion and with the intellect of a father would ask personal questions of each respective guest. He was able to discuss freely modern phenomena and types and phases of modern life.

“Rabbi Kook was most impressive when he struck the lyric chords. He turned poet in expression and ardor when he spoke of the great number of Jewish colonies springing up in Palestine, of the development of industry and natural resources. Then his face beamed all the more as he told of a railroad between Tel-Aviv and Lod, which is not operated on the Sabbath.

“The words ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘inspiration’ constantly echo in his conversation. “Jewish children must be inspired to the Bible and by the Bible,” was one of his frequent remarks. Another was, “The building up of Palestine must be with dignity and religion.”

“I came away from this venerable man with a vision of all that I ever knew and heard of the Jewish race, with an intense feeling for the things he conveyed and with a feeling of annoyance against all the pettiness of everyday life which surrounded me upon my departure93.”


1 The Sefer Ha-Yavel shel Agudat Ha-Rabbanim: 1902-1927 (New York; Agudat Ha-Rabbanim, 1928), p.125, states that the AJRC was started by “reformed Jews” who called for a general meeting, led by bankers and leaders of the American Jewish Committee. This group asked the CRC to join with them to form one united relief committee; The CRC, however, insisted on retaining its separate existence, in order to assure that the needs of the Orthodox world would be attended to. Oscar Hardlin, in The Continuing Task (New York, 1964), p.25, writes that the American Jewish Committee had asked forty national organizations to meet in October, 1914. At that meeting, Oscar S. Strauss, Julian V. Mack, Louis D. Brandeis, Harry Fischel and Meyer London were charged to select one hundred people to act as the AIRC, with Louis Marshall serving as president and Felix M. Warburg as treasurer. Harry Fischel also served as treasurer of the CRC, while Louis Kamicky, publisher of the Yiddish daily, the Tageblatt (Jewish Daily News), served as its President. See also Aaron Rothkoff’s article, “The 1924 Visit of the Rabbinical Delegation to the United States of America,” in Ha-Masmid (New York, 1959), p.122. Rothkoff incorrectly identifies Kamicky as publisher of the daily, Morgen Journal.

2 Yeshiva University Archives, records of the Central Relief Committee, 198/8.

3 Ibid. 140/1.

4 Iggerot Rayah, vol.4, p.177, no.1212, and CRC, 140/2.

5 The Hafetz Hayyim was in his eighties, and too ill to travel, while Rav Hayyim Ozer had recently lost his wife. Rav Kook wrote R. Hayyim Ozer a letter of condolence shortly before leaving for America. See Iggerot Rayah, vol.4, p.185, no.1222. Until then, he had tried to convince R. Hayyim Ozer to join him in the trip. See, for example, Iggerot Rayah, vol.4, p.175, no.1207. The Morgen Journal, April 16,1924, published a letter from R. Hayyim Ozer, expressing his regret that he couldn’t come, and referring to the members of the delegation as being the greatest geonim of the generation.

6 Morgen Journal, Jan.31, 1924, p.1. That paper reported that 150 rabbis attended a reception for Rabbi Epstein.

7 Rothkoff, op. cit., p.123.

8 Ibid.

9 Morgen Journal, March 21, 1924, p.9.

10 Ibid, March 20, 1924, pp.1 and 2, and Tageblatt, March 20, p.1. The Tageblatt article included a Yiddish translation of Rav Kook’s Hebrew speech.

11 Rothkoff, op. cit., p.124.

12 See, for example, Der Tag, April 3, 1924.

13 Y. U. Archives, CRC, 140/6.

14 See, for example, the report in the Tageblatt, March 20, 1924, p.1.

15 Boston Jewish Advocate, March 1, 1912, p.6.

16 Tageblatt, March 20,1924, p.1. See also The Jewish Forum, March, 1924, pp.173-176 (and also June, 1924, p.367, for corrections of errata in the March article).

17 Forward, March 26, 1924, p.7.

18 Iggrerot Rayah. vol. 4, p.189, no.1229. Rav Kook was referring to the passage in Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 5a which states that afflictions can be identified as “chastisements of love”, if they do not cause loss of time from prayer or Torah study. See also the quotation in Rothkoff, op. cit., p.125. Rabbi Israel Tabak, who came to America on the Olympic at the same time as Rabbis Kook and Shapiro, related his impressions of these rabbis in his memoirs. Of Rav Kook he wrote, “Rav Kook impressed me as particularly serious, steadfast of purpose, and always deep in thought; he invariably held a sefer close to him, and was constantly engaged in study or contemplation. His face reflected his strong character, his determination to get things done, to make every day count. In spite of his fame and his important position as Chief Rabbi, he was modest and reserved and never assumed an air of superiority.” (Three Worlds, A Jewish Odyssey, by Rabbi Israel Tabak, Jerusalem, 1988, p.93). Rabbi Tabak erroneously states (ibid.) that Rabbi Epstein was on the Olympic together with the other two rabbis.

19 Ibid, pp.195-196, no.1241.

20 Das Yiddishe Licht, April 18, 1924, p.19.

21 Tageblatt, April 3, 1924, p: i

22 Ibid, April 6, 1924, p.7 

23 Das Yiddishe Licht, May 2 1924 pp.4-5

24 Tageblatt, April 3, 1924 p 1

25 Morgen Journal, April 16 ‘924 p 1

26 CRC, 140/7. The CRC records contain an English translation of Rav Kook’s entire speech, and fragments of President Coolidge’s speech. 

27 Morgen Journal, April 16 1924 p 2

28 Canadian Jewish Chronicle, May 9, 1924, p.5.

29 Jewish Daily Bulletin, Oct. 30,1924.

30 Alexander Carlebach, Men and Ideas (Jerusalem, 1982), p.109.

31 See, for example, Orot. pp.15-17.

32 The Philadelphia Jewish World (Yiddish), June 23, 1924.

32a. See e.g. Eder Ha-Yeqar, p.28; Iggerot Rayah, vol.1, p.53; no.44; Orot ha-Qodesh, vol.3, p. 40; vol.4, p.423; Arpiley Tohar, bot. p.57; Eretz: Tzvi [Tzvi Glatt Memorial Volume] (Jerusalem, 1989) p.183, par. 2; Rabbi M.Z. Neriyah, Sihot ha-Rayah (Tel -Aviv, 5739) note bottom p.342.

33 Orot Ha-Qodesh, vol.3, p.26.

34 Iggerot Rayah, vol.4. p.190, no.1231: “Galut kevedah hi, ela she-me’uteret bi-zehuvim” (“It is a heavy exile, but adorned with gold coins”).

35 Philadelphia Jewish World, June 23, 1924, and Baltimore Jewish Times, May 23, 1924. See also, Orot, p.11(6).

36 St. Louis Jewish Record (Yiddish), June 13,1924.

37 Morgen Journal, March 23, 1924, p.4

38 Ibid, March 20, 1924, p.2.

39 Ibid, April 16, 1924, and CRC, 140/6.

40 Chicago Chronicle, June 13, 1924, and Morgen Journal, June 10,1924, p.9, which carries a report from Jerusalem, dated May 10. See also Iggerot LaRayah (Jerusalem, 5750) p.257.

41 Morgen Journal, April 29,1924, p.6; Das Yiddishe Licht, July 25 and August 8,1924.

42 Das Yiddishe Licht, May 30,1924, English section, p.12, and sources in note 40. See also Iggerot La-Rayah (second, enlarged edition, Jerusalem, 5750) pp. 325-326, no.215.

43 Iggerot Rayah, vol.4 p.190, no.1231.

44 YU Archives, CRC, 124/1 and 5.

45 The Glazer Papers, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio. The prospective haluzot were widows whose husbands had died childless, and were survived by a brother. The woman could not remarry unless halizah was performed with the surviving brother. Often, the brother was in America and the widow overseas.

46 The Jewish Indicator (Yiddish), May 11, 1924, and Der Tag, May 23.

47 The Canadian Eagle (Yiddish), May 11, 1924, and Der Tag, May 23. On the entire controversy, see Ira Robinson, “The Kosher Meat War and the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, 1922-1925,” in Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. XXII, No.2, November 30, 1990.

48 Ya’akov Mendelssohn, Mishnat Yavetz (Newark, 1925), p. 72. Rav Kook is referred to as “rosh ha-medabrim’; the spokesman of the group.

49 See, for example, Morgen Journal, May 14, 1924 and Nov. 10,1924, p.1. Rav Shapiro attributed the failure to reach the CRC’s one million dollar goal to the lack of unity among American Jewry.

50 See sources in note 40.

51 Hadoar, March 21,1924, p.2, and March 28, p.1. In its Nov.14 issue, the journal further criticized the delegation for not having rebuked American Jewry on account of its low level of religious observance.

52 Newspaper article by B.Z. Goldberg, dated March 24, 1924. The article is included in a collection of press clippings in CRC, 206. The newspaper is not identified, but appears to be Der Tag.

53 In a letter to the Chief Rabbi of South Africa (CRC, 124/5) Rav Kook wrote, that despite all the honor shown him in America, he was unable to raise enough money to establish a firm foundation for the yeshivot.

54 See his work, The Palestine Resolution (Kansas City, Mo., 1922). He sent a copy of it to Rav Kook. See Iggerot Rayah, vol.4, pp.155-156, no.1169.

55 Das Yiddishe Licht, July 27, 1923, p.8

56 Der Tag, May 20,1924 (in CRC, 205).

57 Das Yiddishe Licht, April 4, 1924, English section. p.10.

58 Forward, March 26, 1924, p.7, and Iggerot Rayah, vol.4, p.160, no.1179.

59 Der Tag, May 20, 1924. Also, see Ha-Doar, May 30 and June 6. The article in the May 30 issue gave the impression that many members of the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim backed the proposal in question. In a letter to the editor in the June 6 edition, R. Hayyim Hirschenson explained that it was the proposal of only one person, who himself was an outsider, and not a member of the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim. The article in Der Tag seems to corroborate the May 30 Ha-Doar version. Later, in the winter of 5686 (1925-1926), Rav Kook was criticized by a group of Hasidic rabbinic leaders for his support of the Keren Ha-Yesod. See article by R. Ya’akov Filber in Ha-Zofeh, 3 Ellul, 5750, p. 8 and Iggerot La-Rayah (Jerusalem, 5750) pp.303-306, no.199.

60 Forward, March 26, 1924, p.7.

61 Der Wecker, April 12, 1924 (in CRC, 206).

62 Op. cit.

63 CRC, 140/9 and 11.

64 Canadian Jewish Chronicle, May 9,1924, pp.5 and 9.

65 The Jewish Indicator, May 27, 1924.

66 The Cleveland Jewish World (Yiddish), May 23, 1924.

67 Detroit Jewish Chronicle, June 6, 1924.

68 Ibid.

69 Chicago Jewish Courier, June 11,1924. In an article on June 4, the Courier suggested that the rabbinic delegation meet with the directors of Chicago’s Hebrew Theological College (now located in Skokie) to determine the direction the institute should take, and what balance should exist in the curriculum between Talmud and other Jewish studies.

70 The Philadelphia Jewish World (Yiddish), June 23, 1924.

71 Ibid. June 25, 1924.

72 Clipping from a Boston Yiddish newspaper, in CRC, 206, dated July 3,1924. Rav Kook was accompanied on his trip to Boston by Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel Charlop, who had come to New York to deliver the money collected during a Shavuot appeal for the Torah Fund in four synagogues in Omaha, Nebraska, which he served as rabbi. See the Omaha Jewish Press, July 10, 1924, and Mikhtevei Marom (Jerusalem, 5748) p.63. That work contains letters sent to Rabbi Charlop by his father, R. Ya’akov Moshe, who was a very devoted student of Rav Kook. In a conversation (Nov.14, 1990) Rabbi Zevulun Charlop of RIETS, a son of R. Yehiel Mikhel, related that in an unpublished letter, his grandfather prompted R. Yehiel Mikhel to make the trip from Omaha to New York. In other unpublished letters, R. Ya’akov Moshe wrote to his son of his attempts to dissuade Rav Kook from traveling to America, and of Rav Kook’s attempts to persuade Rav Charlop to accompany him on the trip.

73 Baltimore Jewish Times, July 4, 1924, p.10.

74 Conversation, September, 1990.

75 Denver Jewish Times, August 14, 1924.

76 Sefer Ha-Yovel shel Agudat Ha-Rabbanim, p.62.

77 Conversation with J. Mitchell Rosenberg (Rabbi Rosenberg’s son) on December 17, 1989. Mr. Rosenberg recalled that Rav Kook told him of a meeting he once had with President Wilson (sic). Rav Kook said that he had explained to the President the Jewish concept of the Messiah, and that the President had understood what he was told.

78 Leonard Seymour Friedman, in The Angel Cometh (New York, 1986), p.136, mentions this precaution taken by Rav Kook. The other members of the rabbinic delegation also seem to have acted in this manner. See CRC, 140/11, telegram from Rabbi Teitelbaum to B. Horwich, dated April 17, 1924.

79 Ibid. pp.113-115.

80 Morgen Journal, March 21, 1924, p.9.

81 CRC, 124.

82 CRC, 198/8.

83 Morgen Journal, Nov.10, 1924, p. 1

84 The New Palestine, Nov.14, 1924, p.323. See also Ma’amrey Ha-Rayah Jerusalem, 5744) pp.94-99.

85 Morgen Journal, Nov.13, 1924.

86 Ibid, Nov. 12, 1924, p.2, and Jewish Daily Bulletin, Nov. 13, 1924, p.2. See also The Jewish Forum, September, 1924, p.558, and Iggerot Rayah, vol.4, p.201, no.1149.

87 Das Yiddishe Licht, May 30, 1924, English section. p.12.

88 CRC, 124/6.

89 Ibid.

90 See London Jewish Chronicle, Sept. 6, 1935, p.12, and Hayyim Karlinsky, Divrei Yosef (New York, 1947), introduction, p.39. The proposal provided for an authorization by the husband, at the time of marriage, to allow his wife to appoint an agent to write a get and another agent to deliver it. This authorization was to be spelled out in the text of the ketubah. The proposal was made by Rabbi L. Epstein, who claimed that Rav Kook approved it, In his telegram, Rav Kook expressed his opposition to the proposal. In a letter to R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski, also cited by Karlinsky, Rav Kook wrote that he had never heard of Epstein. An account of the proposal and the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim’s campaign against it, is given in Karlinsky’s work, introduction, pp.31-44, and in the work Le-Dor Aharon, published by the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim in New York, 1937.

91 Editorials in newspapers at the time of the delegations’ departure.

92 Rav Kook received English instruction while a resident of London. In a letter to the London Jewish Chronicle, Sept. 13,1935, p.12, Rabbi Dr. S. M. Lehrman writes: “It was my never-to-be-forgotten privilege to be his disciple in Talmud and Poskim and also to become his first English tutor. A more brilliant pupil could not be imagined. Together we read also the classics of other European languages, of which he possessed such an excellent knowledge.”

93 Tageblatt, March 28, 1924, English section.

What a pleasure to be here

I have to thank my students. They allowed me to change my lecturing schedule through Sunday lectures so that I could dash off to the Holy Land for my cousins daughter’s wedding. My cousin Jackie z”l after whom our grandson is also named, passed away a year ago and I had promised to attend a wedding should it eventuate: and here I am. It was weird yet comforting to stand in line to board an El Al flight. It’s not Singapore Airlines, but the food is better, even the Hamasbia (I’m frumer than you) meals.

The airline crew work with what I can best describe as “ruthless efficiency”. It’s almost like a military operation. They are quick to serve, and before you can say boo, the tea and coffee is coming. I mucked up my flight plans (typical) and ended up in Hong Kong for the fast, and boarded a few hours before the fast finished. At least on EL Al, without asking, the hostess offered to give me my meal at the end of the fast. I should have asked her to Pasken for me 🙂

There were two other frumaks on the flight, wearing green crocs, and one tried to give me a knowing smile. I don’t know why, but I prefer that people don’t see me as “Charedi”. How could I be. I listen to Jazz (there were billboards today in Meah Shearim saying that it was forbidden to go to frum concerts let alone listen to Jazz); I am a University lecturer; I am comfortable with all manner of people, and don’t see the world in terms of us vs them. Indeed, my refrain since arriving has been to stop people using the word “Chiloni”. It’s a pejorative. I dislike it. The only person who is בוחן לב האדם is Hashem. Sounds cliched but that’s how I view things.

Rav Kook z”l had a famous observation. The Gemara   בבא מציעא נז ע”ב says:

בונים בחול ואחר כך  מקדישים

You don’t use the money from Hekdesh for the building blocks of the Beis Hamikdash, otherwise the builders may come to do aveyros (Meilah). Instead, you use normal building blocks bought from non holy money. Rav Kook said that during the time of building, even the least holy person could stand in the Kodesh Kodoshim! Where are we now? Are we built or are we building? We are building, surely? Even anti or non Zionists would say we are far from built. Based on this insight, which I took to heart many years ago, I look at everyone, including myself, as potential. If we see the potential, we might have a chance to spread kedusha. If we only see the negatives, what’s the point? We create division and hatred. Didn’t Yishmael do Teshuva even though Hashem said to look at him באשר הוא שם?

I feel at home here. It’s surreal and utopian. Yes, I’m only in a Hotel and a typical  tourist. I don’t struggle like the builders who live here; but I feel at home. No place on earth fills me with the feelings that I experience in this Holy Land, in the Holiest city on Earth, Hashem’s chosen place.

Yes, I know, some people, even great people, think that you can make Eretz Yisrael “here”. All that you can hope for is that at the time of Binyan Beis Hamikdash borders will expand and holiness will spread like the proverbial tsunami. In the meanwhile, we live in a second best infrastructure. We may have Kedushas HaTorah and we can seek out Kedushas Yisrael, but we do not have Kedushas Ha’aretz. Combine the three, and you have that winning elusive formula?

Regards from the hypocrite who lives in Melbourne.

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.

Gedolim and Rav Kook ז’ל

I received an email from a reader who asked if all that stuff mentioned in a comment by Yisroel was true. We need to understand the times. The difference between the secular zionists and the haskolo was miniscule, except that the latter were not nationalistic. Accordingly, they removed themselves from the yoke of heaven, tried to assimilate and removed themselves from their land. Rav Kook was wise and spiritual enough to understand that the secular zionists, by virtue of still being associated with the land, were associating with Kedusha. Once a Neshama is touched by such Kedusha there is every chance it can be further stirred and influenced. Rav Kook, accordingly, never turned his back on secular zionists. Many other Gedolim, and here it spans most groups including Chabad via the Rashab, thought that the secular zionists were a dead loss and one had to fight them with polemics and protestation.

Rav Kook fought them with love; he overcame many of them with unadulterated אהבת ישראל (and that is not because his mother was from kapust 🙂

Yisroel would know that the Rayatz came to Rav Kook soon after he arrived in Israel and before leaving Rav Kook visited the Rayatz.

Here is a collection of material from other web sites and blogs (mainly via R’ Aviner).

“R. Yitzchak Gerstenkorn, the founder of B’nei Brak, told this story: In 5694 (1934), the Rav [i.e., Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook] was invited to the groundbreaking ceremony of the Beit Yosef (Novardok) Yeshiva in B’nei Brak…At the ceremony, which the Chazon Ish also attended, Rav Kook spoke at length…Throughout the Rav’s address, the large crowd sat quietly in their seats–everyone but the Chazon Ish. He remained standing throughout the speech, listening attentively to every word. He only sat down when the Rav finished speaking and took his own seat.”

“R. Tzvi Kagan, who was present at the event, added this revealing piece of information: When the Rav’s address began to draw out, people approached the Chazon Ish and suggested that he sit down. The revered rabbi refused, however, saying, ‘The Torah is standing!’”

from An Angel Among Men, by Simcha Raz, p.375; translated by Rav Moshe D. Lichtman

It’s worth noting that, in his review of this work, Rav Berel Wein stated, “There is so much about Rav Kook that is misunderstood and misportrayed in the Jewish world, that a book that portrays him accurately is invaluable and necessary. This is such a book.”
In a letter from the Chazon Ish to Rav Kook that is seen on p. 374 of this work, we see that the Chazon Ish opened by saying, “HaRav HaRoshi HaGaon Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Hod K’vod Maran Shlita.” (“The Chief Rabbi, the consummate Torah-scholar, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the glory of the honor of our Master, may he live a long and good life.”)

“Rav Shlomo Zalman, in his earlier years, enjoyed a warm relationship with Rav Avraham Yitzchak [HaKohen] Kook, the first [Ashkenazi] Chief Rabbi of Israel. He would visit with him, observe his actions, and learn from him. Their relationship was so close, in fact, that Rav Kook officiated at Reb Shlomo Zalman’s wedding… Reb Shlomo Zalman’s respect for Rav Kook was evident from the numerous stories he would tell which highlighted the brilliant and charismatic attributes of the Chief Rabbi… Reb Shlomo Zalman never ceased to speak of him with the very highest admiration.”

“Reb Shlomo Zalman’s classic work Me’orei Esh contains approbations from Rav Abba Yaakov Borochov, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. The approbation which appears first is that of Rav Kook.”

“Considering Reb Shlomo Zalman’s aversion to matters of a political nature, it was startlingly unusual when he intervened in the internal affairs of a particular organization. Needless to say, the Gaon’s advice was always sought and welcomed, but in the area of organization politics, no one had ever succeeded in eliciting his response in the past. The issue at hand was whether to accept a certain candidate for a key position in this Torah organization. Reb Shlomo Zalman had recommended not to accept the nominee. His unprecedented intervention was triggered by the fact that the candidate in question always referred to Rav Kook as simply ‘Kook.’”

“Once the Gaon was riding in a taxi with one of the rabbanim from Kol Torah. His companion began to relate that he had found the explanation of a complex subject under examination at the yeshiva, in a particular book. But when he mentioned the name of the sefer, Reb Shlomo Zalman stopped him and refused to hear the explanation, saying that the book contained denigrating remarks about Rav Kook.”

from “And From Jerusalem, His Word,” by Rav Hanoch Teller, pp.196-198

I take issue with what Rapoport writes on p. 92, that when R. Kook passed away, R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, the Hazon Ish, declared that he would have no portion in the World to Come. The source for this is Aharon Rosenberg, Mishkenot ha-Ro’im (New York, 1997), vol. 3, pp. 1120-1121, who cites a well-known London anti-Zionist. This is hardly an unimpeachable reference. (This same source also claims that the Hazon Ish insisted that R. Ben Zion Uziel’s Mishpetei Uziel be left on the floor, since it is muktseh mei-hamat mi’us. See ibid., p. 1198; Elyakim Schlesinger’s haskamah to Aharon Rosenberg, Torat Emet [Monsey, 1992]). The truth is that while the Hazon Ish asserted that R. Kook’s philosophical works should not be read, he saw nothing objectionable about his halakhic writings and certainly did not regard as R. Kook as a heretic. See Shelomo Kohen, Pe’er ha-Dor (Jerusalem, 1969), vol. 2, p. 34.  Indeed, one of the first things the Hazon Ish did when he arrived in the Land of Israel was to write R. Kook a letter, asking him to decide a halakhic problem he was confronted with. See R. Ben Zion Shapiro, ed., Iggerot ha-Reiyah (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 448-449. Even with regard to R. Kook’s philosophical writings, the Hazon Ish sometimes expressed a more positive view, depending on whom he was speaking to. See Binyamin Efrati, “Shenei Bikurim Etsel ha-Hazon Ish ZT”L,” Morashah 6 (1974): 62-63.

from “Of Books and Bans” by Prof. Marc Shapiro

The Netziv – Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva – said about Maran Ha-Rav Kook: “He is equal to everyone else [in the Volozhin Yeshiva]”, “There was never a student like this in Volozhin” and “If the Volozhin Yeshiva was established only for this great student – it would have been enough.” Ha-Rav Reuven Bengis – Av Beit Din of the Edah Charedit – similarly said that the most important [student] in the Yeshiva is the son-in-law of the Rav of Ponevezh (Ha-Rav Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Te’omim, Ha-Aderet – Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s father-in-law).
[Tal Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 59-60, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 45 and Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 189]

The Chafetz Chaim: Know that he is holy and pure and anyone who impinges on his honor will not go unpunished.

The Chafetz Chaim once came to Ponovezh in his effort to organize Torah scholars who were Cohanim to learn matters relating to “Kodashim” (the sacrifices in the Temple), since the Temple would soon be built and therefore there would be a need to know the practical Halachah. He turned to Maran Ha-Rav, who was a Cohain (and who was stayed in his father-in-law’s house), and asked him to focus on the laws relating to the Temple and sacrifices. A few days later, Maran Ha-Rav visited the Chafetz Chaim in the place where he was staying. The Chafetz Chaim said to him: “I have a request of you, but promise me from the outset that you will fulfill it.” Maran Ha-Rav responded: “Since I trust that his honor will not request anything which is inappropriate from me, I promise to fulfill your request.” “This is my request” – said the Chafetz Chaim – “When a Rabbinic offer comes before you do not refuse to accept it.” Maran Ha-Rav, who had decided not to involve himself with the Rabbinate, found himself in a difficult position, and wanted to free himself and said: “In order to accept a Rabbinic position I would have to involve myself with the halachic authorities who discuss the issues involved, and I already promised his honor to involve myself with ‘Kodashim.'” Chafetz Chaim thought hard and said: “I give up on your first promise, your Rabbinate is more important”…
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 218, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 122, Tal Ha-Re’eiyah p. 90, Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 231 and 550, Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim pp. 32-33 and mentioned in Bishelosha Be-Elul vol. 1 p. 35]

After Maran Ha-Rav Kook had served a while in the Rabbinate in one of the holy communities in the Exile, he received an invitation from the Chafetz Chaim to help him prepare a work on the service of the Cohanim when the Temple is standing. Maran Ha-Rav replied: If his honor permits me to remove the yoke of the Rabbinate which is upon me, I can fulfill the request which is extremely dear to me. The Chafetz Chaim answered: I have not found an individual as talented as you in administering a Rabbinate in Israel!…
[Ha-Re’eiyah Kook ztzvk”l of Ha-Rav Shmuel Baruch Shulman p. 36]

At a huge Rabbinical Conference in Vienna in 5683, one of the Rabbis made disparaging remarks about Maran Ha-Rav, the Chafetz Chaim (who was sitting at the dais) stood up shocked and said: “You insulted the Mara De-Atra (Rabbinic authority) of Eretz Yisrael.” He left the conference and decided not to return to it. The Chafetz Chaim waited in his hotel to return to his city, and many people came to visit him or receive a blessing. When the members of delegation from Eretz Yisrael wanted to enter, he said: “I will not say ‘Shalom’ to those who caused dispute with the Rav of Yerushalayim (Maran Ha-Rav)!” And he added: “Know that he is holy and pure and anyone who impinges on his honor will not go unpunished.”
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 225-228, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 26-127, Malachim Bivnei Adam p. 211 and for additional information on the subject see Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah chap. 11 and Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim chap. 4]

In the year 5681, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook (Maran Ha-Rav’s son) traveled to Poland to meet with Rabbis and Chasidic Rebbes to convince them to join the “Degel Yerushalayim” movement which Maran Ha-Rav established to infuse the Zionist movement with Torah and holiness. At that time, the Chafetz Chaim came to Warsaw, and our Rabbi, who yearned to see the splendor of the most righteous person of the generation, went to where he was staying. He found him surrounded by people. After over an hour, our Rabbi approached to take leave from him. The Chafetz Chaim asked: “Are you a local?” Our Rabbi responded: “No, from Jerusalem,” and he added: “Your honor was close with Reb Eliyahu David (the Aderet), father-in-law of my father.” When the Chafetz Chaim heard whose son was standing before him, his face lit up and he joyfully said: “Your honor is the son of the Rav of Zimel, the Rav of Boisk, the Rav of Yafo, the Rav of Jerusalem? Then why does he speak about his grandfather? Tell me about your father! How is he? We are long-time, dear friends.”
[Bisdei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 221, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 126, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 157-158, Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 97, Tzvi Kodesh p. 146 and Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim pp. 36-37]

See Bisdei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 217-231, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 120-133 and the book “Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim” which discuss the special relationship between the Chafetz Chaim and Maran Ha-Rav Kook

On Shavuot morning after davening Vatikin, Maran Ha-Rav Kook was walking in one of the alleyways near the Kotel and met Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld. Ha-Rav Sonenfeld blessed him that he should merit serving as the Cohain Gadol in the Temple.
[Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 303-304 and see another blessing of Ha-Rav Sonenfeld to Maran Ha-Rav ibid.]

It once happened that Ha-Sonenfeld was honored to be a Mohel at a Brit Milah and Maran Ha-Rav was honored to act as the Sandak. The two Rabbis met at the door of the apartment where the Brit Milah would occur. After they exchanged friendly greetings, a problem arose: Who would enter the house first? Maran Ha-Rav respectfully suggested that Ha-Rav Sonenfeld enter first. But he responded: “His honor is a Cohain and the Chief Rabbi [of Jerusalem] – and the basic halachah is that he should enter first.” Maran Ha-Rav humbly answered: “But his honor is greater in Torah than I am.” They stood at the door without a decision as to who should enter first. The older houses in Jerusalem were built in such a way that there were two doors in each doorway – the left one was bolted closed and the right one opened and closed, allowing one person to pass through it. Maran Ha-Rav approached the opened door, struck his arm through it and unbolted the left door – and both of them entered at once!
[Melachim Kivnei Adam p. 64]

When the Chazon Ish left Vilna to make aliyah, Rav Chaim Ozer sent a letter to Maran Ha-Rav requesting his assistance. He began the letter: “The Glory of Honor, My Dear Friend, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon, Ha-Gadol, the Famous One… The Prince of Torah, Our Teacher, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook Shlit”a…”
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 236, Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 388-389, Igrot Le-Re’eiyah #316 and Melachim Kivnei Adam pp. 106-107. Maran Ha-Rav’s response is found in Shut Da’at Cohain #223]

There was a wedding in Elul 5696 in which Rav Chaim Ozer, Ha-Rav Shimon Shkop and many other great Rabbis attended. When news arrived that Maran Ha-Rav had died, Rav Chaim Ozer instructed Ha-Rav Shmuel Markowitz, Av Beit Din of Turatz to eulogize him. And this is what was done.
[This is quoted by Ha-Rav Tzvi Markowitz in Kovetz “Achiezer” #2 from the year 5628 and Davar Le-Dor – Kovetz Hespedim Al Rav Kook ztz”l p. 89]

See Igrot Le-Re’eiyah where there are tens of letters by Rav Chaim Ozer to Maran Ha-Rav with great respect and honor, and where it is possible to see the close relationship which existed between them.

Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer: We are Gedolim until we reach his doorknob

Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim in Jerusalem, said: “I was young when I arrived in Volozhin, and I looked with great respect at the greater students who sat on the eastern wall, and among them were prodigies who would become Gedolei Yisrael. But I remember well that looking at him [Maran Ha-Rav Kook] was completely different – even among the special he was distinguished by his uniqueness!”
[Tal Ha-Re’eiyah p. 71, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 101 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 13]

Ha-Rav Meltzer once visited Ha-Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and Ha-Rav Meltzer said about Maran Ha-Rav: “We are Gedolim until we reach his doorknob.”
[Mi-Toch Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet vol. 2 p. 170, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 2 p. 101, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiah p. 202, Bisadeh Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 274, Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 430 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 22]

Ha-Rav Meltzer said many times: “If only I could daven during Ne’eilah on Yom Kippur, with awe of holiness and feeling, like Ha-Rav [Kook] davens during weekday Minchah.”
[Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah #51, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 2 p. 102, Orot Ha-Tefillah of Ha-Rav Y. Epstein (student of Ha-Rav Meltzer) p. 26, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 200, Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 256 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 29]

In the eulogy which Ha-Rav Meltzer delivered for Maran Ha-Rav in the Churva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, he said: “The True Torah was in his mouth” and “With the passing of Ha-Rav – the spine of Klal Yisrael is broken.”
[Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 12, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol 2 p. 101, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 15, Bisadeh Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 275 and Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 430]

Ha-Rav Shabatai Rapaport, Ha-Rav Feinstein’s grandson, related that in the year 5739, during Sukkot in Monsey, NY, Ha-Rav Feinstein was involved with writing a contrary view to a responsa of Ha-Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer). Ha-Rav Rapaport showed his grandfather a statement from Maran Ha-Rav Kook (relating to the issue) which Ha-Rav Rapaport found amazing. Ha-Rav Feinstein responded: “What is surprising, he was the Gaon of Geonim!”
[Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 59]

Ha-Rav Nisan Alpert, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, Rabbi of Agudat Yisrael, author of “Limudei Nisan” and Ha-Rav Feinstein’s student for forty years, was one of those who eulogized his Rav in New York. He also spoke at a memorial evening for Ha-Rav Kook, on the 50th anniversary of his passing. When he was asked about the connection between his Rav and Ha-Rav Kook, he answered that Ha-Rav Feinstein was a “Chasid” of Ha-Rav Kook. Ha-Rav Feinstein said to learn his books and one will find great things. He also added, rhetorically, that he did not understand what people wanted from Ha-Rav Kook ztz”l.
[Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 60]

Maran Ha-Rav Kook was the Mesader Kiddushin at the wedding of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Ha-Rav Auerbach’s brother-in-law, R’ Shemuel Zelig, recalls how Maran Ha-Rav was honored with officiating at the wedding in the Jerusalem neighborhood of “Sha’arei Chesed.” Although there were zealots who did not look upon this kindly, the groom’s father – Ha-Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach – did not give in, because of the close relationship and deep respect between them.
[Ha-Torah Ha-Mesamachat p. 41 and Sefer Rabbenu p. 140 from the newspaper “Ha-Tzofeh”]

Ha-Rav S.Z. Auerbach said: If I say to you ‘Maran’ in Yiddish [Der Rov – Ha-Rav], know that I am referring to Ha-Rav Kook zt”l. I only use the term ‘Der Rov’, Maran, for Ha-Rav Kook.
[Sefer Rabbenu ibid. and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 24 and see note 34 where various testimonies to this fact are quoted]

Ha-Rav Auerbach honored Maran Ha-Rav with being the Sandek at the Brit Milah of his eldest son, R’ Shmuel, who today serves as the Rosh Yeshiva of “Maalot Ha-Torah” in Jerusalem.
[The booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 21]

Maran Ha-Rav’s picture hung together with pictures of other Gedolei Yisrael in Ha-Rav Auerbach’s sukkah.
[The booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 28]

Ha-Rav Chaim Shteiner related that someone once published a book about Ha-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector which also included disgraceful words about Ha-Rav Kook. Ha-Rav Auerbach said that it is forbidden to buy this book until it is corrected, and he also wrote a letter to the author asking him to fix it. He also met the author a few times and would always ask if the book was being fixed.

Ha-Rav Avigdor Neventzal related that Ha-Rav Auerbach would not hear the rulings of a particular Torah scholar because he besmirched Ha-Rav Kook’s honor.
[Ha-Torah Ha-Mesamachat p. 308 and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 30]

Ha-Rav A. Yehoshua Zuckerman related that when someone mentioned in a talk about the horrible behavior of certain individuals against Maran Ha-Rav Kook, Ha-Rav Auerbach responded with great distress: I recommend that those who were brazen and dishonored Ha-Rav should go to his grave and ask forgiveness.
[Ve-Alehu Lo Vibol vol. 1 p. 83 and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 30]

And see further in the booklet “Or Shlomo” by Amichai Kinerati for the close relationship between Ha-Rav Auerbach and Maran Ha-Rav.

R’ Aryeh Levin, who often visited Ha-Rav Shlomo Eliyashuv, the author of “Leshem Shevo Ve-Achlama,” met the latter’s young grandson there – R’ Yosef Shalom. Even then, R’ Areyh recognized the unique greatness of R’ Yosef Shalom. R’ Aryeh once spoke with Maran Ha-Rav Kook about his sorrow that there was a wonderful, righteous, young Torah scholar who would a great match for his (R’ Aryeh’s) daughter, but the young man did not respond favorably to his suggestion (either because he thought he had better options or he was not ready to marry). Maran Ha-Rav asked for the identity of the young man, and told that is was R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Maran Ha-Rav called for the young man and spoke to him. The younger R. Eliyashuv then accepted the proposal and the couple married. Maran Ha-Rav Kook served as the Mesader Kiddushin. When Maran Ha-Rav’s name comes up, Ha-Rav Elyashiv often said that he was honored that Maran Ha-Rav performed his wedding.
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #31] 

Ha-Rav Yosef Buxbaum, the director of the journal “Moriah” and student of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach related:
It once happened that one of the editors of the “Otzar Mefarshei Ha-Talmud” (Treasury of Talmudic Commentators) included a ruling of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, but another editor removed it. I asked him why he removed the ruling: was it because he raised a difficultly with it and it required further study? He answered: “I didn’t even look into the issue. I just think that a ruling of Ha-Rav Kook is not appropriate for ‘Otzar Mefarsehi Ha-Talmud.'” I said to him: “From this moment, you are fired!” The editor did not accept his decision, and they went to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Ha-Rav Elyashiv was shocked and said to the editor: “Did you know Ha-Rav Kook?! You should know – he was holy. He did not belong to our generation, and in his generation, they did not properly understand him. Reb Yosef was certainly permitted to fire you. I would have done the same thing.”
[Weekly parashah sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #31 and #50]

It is related that Rabbanit Elyashiv once heard words which impinged upon Maran Ha-Rav’s honor, and it caused her so much pain that she physically suffered from it for many days.
[Tzadik Yesod Olam p. 232 and Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

Ha-Rav Elyashiv once wrote a halachic ruling, and after he finished someone showed him a different opinion which Maran Ha-Rav had written on the subject. Ha-Rav Elyashiv immediately ripped up his ruling and changed his opinion to that of Maran Ha-Rav.
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

Ha-Rav Elyashiv once mentioned a particular teaching of Maran Ha-Rav. Someone who was present said that Rabbi so-and-so, one of the greatest Rabbis of the generation, sayid otherwise. Ha-Rav Elyashiv simply responded: Ha-Rav Kook was greater than us!
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

I highly recommend Simcha Raz’s book. Things have changed, but people’s understanding of history and the present is in a time warp. As the Rav used to say, history has a way of paskening for us. I submit that history has paskened quite clearly that those who considered R’ Kook outside of the pale, were simply wrong.

יהי זכרון האי גברא רבא איש קדוש ותמים—ברוך

%d bloggers like this: