Melbourne, Australia is renowned for the quality of its coffee and the abundance of chic cafes. My parent’s generation religiously quaffed a good cup of tea after dinner. This was a ritual. Coffee in Europe was perhaps more the domain of the “more cultured” countries, including Italy, Austria, and Greece. The shtetl in Poland wasn’t exactly a place where one could obtain a more refined cup of “Kaveh”. Over time, coffee consumption increased even for Holocaust survivors, who would start the day with a cup accompanying their breakfast. Of course, the coffee was often instant coffee, but it succeeded in nourishing a “caffeine hit” and fueled the ubiquitous Yom Kippur withdrawal headache. As time marched on, and new generations were born, a more sophisticated approach to coffee made its way into homes. Multiculturalism also gave rise to a range of cafes strategically positioned to entice a passerby.
These days, fancy coffee and cafes are everywhere. Indeed, even in Israel, I noticed an improvement in quality, though Israel still has some catching up to do in this regard. Homes now commonly employ a Nespresso-style coffee pod machine (or in the USA a Keurig machine).
Another significant change has been the rise of nonlactose (non cow-based) milk. Let’s call them “alternative” milk. The demand for such milk has grown due to a number of factors-lactose intolerance, vegetarian and vegan demands, and somewhat unproven theories linking milk to a bevy of illnesses. One other benefit of alternative milk is that it is potentially Pareve. Unlike the older style parve coffee creamers, which were a chemical mash-up of all manner of “delights”, alternative milk, in theory, is basically derived from a grain or legume and the addition of water.
To be sure, it isn’t the case that every alternative milk is simply kosher. Every reputable kosher agency publishes a list of alternative milk products which are acceptable from a Halachic standpoint. Indeed, even those which are kosher are sometimes also designated as “DE-Dairy Equipment” which means that they should not be consumed together with a mouthful of meat or chicken.
For those who drink only supervised Chalav Yisrael cow’s milk and do not rely on the leniency of Chalav Stam, alternative milk can be a blessing. However, a DE designation may still change the rules. For them, even though the alternative milk is kosher since it may have shared an equipment line with non-Chalav Yisrael equipment, the DE classification would be moot. This isn’t universal. Non-Chassidim, who otherwise only consume supervised Chalav Yisrael, may nonetheless follow the rulings of Rav Henkin z”l (Teshuvos Ibra 43), as quoted by the CRC), Rav Kaminetsky (Emes LeYaakov p308 as quoted by Rav Jachter) Rav Belsky and others who do not extend the stringency of Chalav Yisrael to vessels/Kelim. For others, notably Chassidim, DE is meaningless if it shares equipment with Chalav Akum and has the same prohibition as Chalav Akum.
So where does this leave us vis-à-vis the contemporary barista coffee shop?
A typical machine looks something like this.
Essentially, coffee beans are ground and placed in the portafilter and then attached to the group head. Hot water is then pumped through the portafilter dripping freshly brewed coffee into a cup placed on the tray. Assuming that the coffee beans are not flavoured or oiled in some unacceptable manner, this part of the process ought not to present a Kosher concern. Therefore, someone who orders an espresso or a long black in a disposable cup should be pretty safe from a kashrus perspective. As in all such questions, one should not assume that this blog functions as a Halachic arbiter. Readers should discuss this with their competent local orthodox Rabbi. For Sefardim, a glass cup may be acceptable. Regular crockery presents more of a problem.
The plot thickens (sic) when we introduce the frothed milk or frothed alternative milk. Firstly, is all the regular milk used in the Cafe (especially for those who rely on Chalav Stam) actually Kosher Milk? These days, milk isn’t always “just milk” from the cow. Various additives are commonly introduced and one would need to be sure that the brand of regular milk being used is actually approved by the local kosher authority. Let’s assume that things are simpler and that the Cafe always uses a common brand of milk which is also Kosher (one would need to eyeball the milk and note that they use a fixed brand).
Next, the milk (regular or alternative) is poured into a stainless steel pot that looks like this
The steam wand pictured above is inserted into the pot and, using the steam control, the milk is frothed (yes it could be for a cappuccino, flat white, latte, macchiato, כפה הפוך, and more). The frothed milk is then poured over the freshly brewed black coffee and served in a disposable cup (as above). It’s yours after you part ways with 4-7 dollars.
Introduction of alternative milk
These days the alternatives to cow’s milk are ubiquitous. Almost every coffee shop offers a choice of soy, oat, almond milk, and more. The coffee is made in the same way except that the alternative milk that is now frothed in the pot (which is commonly rinsed in between cups with a hot gush of water) is one of the alternative milk, and shares the use of the steaming wand.
The reality is that some of the alternative kinds of milk are simply not approved by a local kashrut authority. In my experience, after asking which brand of alternative milk a given shop is using, it is very common for at least one of the above alternative kinds of milk to be not approved or not kosher. This reality presents a major problem. Even if one were to ask for a soy latte, and observe that the soy milkbeing used is of the kosher variety, since that pot and wand is used to froth at high temperatures with one or more non-kosher varieties (and the pot is obviously not kashered in between cups) then the resultant soy latte presents a serious kashrus question.
I know that many יראי שמים do buy a takeaway non-black coffee (with milk or a parve otherwise kosher alternative milk). I wondered whether perhaps I was not across all the halachic parameters and was needlessly alarmist in my thinking.
I discussed the matter with a number of local Rabbis who were somewhat silent but acknowledged the issue. Eventually, I wrote to Rav Yosef Rimon, a respected Posek and educator, who has visited Melbourne on a number of occasions. Rav Rimon answers promptly.
Rav Rimon answered (my adapted translation)
According to your description, some of the milk may not be kosher. If so, it is very possible that non kosher cooking within a 24 hour period occurred, and if so it [the pot] cannot be used anyway. Even if it is known that the pot hadn’t been used for 24 hours, in the first instance (Lechatchila) it would not be permitted and any Heter might only be permitted after the fact, BeDieved.
Therefore, it is difficult to permit and one has to make sure that all types of milk used there are kosher or that they use utensils that never contain milk of any type about which there is a kosher concern.
Personal communication March 9, 2023
It appears to me that unless a given coffee shop or cafe is absolutely known and verified to not be using any brand of non-kosher/approved milk or milk alternative, it would be forbidden to purchase a takeaway cup of non-black coffee. This must be checked, and indeed, a proprietor might be given a list of kosher milk to use as this would benefit religious Jews who wish to patronise their establishment.
If your Posek has a different view, do let me know in the comments section.
Record of correspondence
Here is the text of the question that I sent.
אני כותב אודות בתי קפה בחו’’ל
לפני כמה שנים המצב היה פשוט יותר. למי שסמך על ההיתר של הגרמ’’פ זצ’’ל בדין של חלב ישראל ואחרים שסברו וסוברים כמוהו במדינות מתורבתות עם חוקים נוקשים לגבי מרכיבי מזון וזיוף, היו שנכנסו לבתי קפה וקנו כוס קפה שהוגשה בכוס חד פעמית או בכוס זכוכית (אני מתאר לעצמי שכוס רגילה היא יותר בעייתית) הקפה נעשה על ידי טחינת הפולים, מים חמים ותוספת חלב מוקצף. החלב המוקצף נעשה על ידי החדרת זרבובית מחוממת שהתיזה אוויר חם לתוך סיר מתכת קטן המכיל חלב. כמובן, היו וריאציות על כמות החלב והסגנון, ואלה נקראים בשמות שונים כולל ’’קפוצ’ינו, אמריקנו, לאטה’’ ועוד. יש אנשים אחרים, כולל כאלה אינם מקילים אל פי הפסק של ר׳ משה, ושותים רק קפה שחור.
(אגב אני יודע שיש חשש במדינות מסוימות בנוגע להליכים וטרינריים המקלים על הצטברות גז בפרות, כך שהנהלים הללו יכולים להפוך את הפרות לטריפות ויש שסוברים שזה דין רוב ואינו מיעוט שאינו מצוי. אני לא כותב אודות פרות כאלה ––– פה, הזנת הפרה היא דשא, והבעיה אינה שכיחה כלל.)
עכשיו אני פונה לשאלה בזמנינו. ידוע, קיימים כיום סוגים חלופיים רבים של חלב ללא לקטוז, ביניהם סויה, שקדים, שיבולת שועל ועוד. כאשר מכינים קפה באמצעות חלבים אלטרנטיביים אלה, התהליך זהה, אלא שסיר הפלדה המשמש להקצפה של החלב מכיל את מוצר החלב אלטרנטיביים האלה. מוט ההקצפה שמרסס את האוויר החם משמש במשותף עם חלב רגיל ובין החלב באלטרניטיביים, אך מנוקה בין כל כוס עם סמרטוט, ולפעמים עם פרץ של אוויר חם מהמוט לפני ניגוב על ידי הסמרטוט.
כאן, ובמדינות מערביות אחרות בחו’’ל, לא כל סוג של סויה, שיבולת שועל, שקדים או חלב אחר מקבל הכשר. יש רשימה של חלבים כשרים ידועים, ובחנות ספציפית, כל אחד מהחלבים האלטרנטיביים שבהם הם משתמשים עלולים להיות לא כשרים. אפשר וצריך כמובן לשאול באיזה חלב אלטרנתיבי ספציפי שהם משתמשים, וגם לראות את קופסה. זה לא כך רגיל שבית קפה ישתמש רק בסוגים הכשרים של חלב אלטרנטיבי. סביר הרבה יותר, אם לא כמעט בטוח, שלפחות אחד מהחלבים האלטרנטיביים שהם משתמשים בהם אינו כשר.
ולכן, על פי הנאמר למעלה, יש שאלה על קניית קפה בבתי שפה אפילו עם חלב רגיל כשהשתמשות בסיר הפלדה ומוט ההקצפה בין כוס קפה לכוס קפה יכול להיות לפני כן עם חלב אלטרנטיבי לא כשר. שניהם––המוט וסיר הפלדה הם בוודאי בחום של יד סולדת. בדרך כלל, איך שאני ראיתי, שותפים את הסיר בין כוס קפה על ידי זרם מים.
הנה, בשולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות הכשר וטבילת כלים סימן קכב סעיף ו כתוב:
“אף על פי כן אסור לומר לעובד כוכבים: בשל לי ירקות בקדרתך, וכן לא יאמר לו: עשה לי מרקחת, שכל האומר: בשל לי, הרי הוא כאלו בישל בידיו” (גם אם הבליעה יהא בטל, או אינו בן יומו, או טעם פגום או בטל)
שלכאורה, לפי זה ועוד, יהיה לכאורה אסור לקנות קפה בחנות כשידוע שמשתמשים באפילו סוג אחד של חלב שאין לו הכשר? (לפי הועדת הכשרות במדינה).
(כאמור, בחנויות הם שותפים את סיר הפלדה מהר בזרם מים בין כל כוס וכוס … והם מנגבים את מוט ההקצפה בין שימוש לשימוש)
and here is the response
מקווה שעבר עליכם פורים בטוב לפי הנתונים שלכם חלק מהחלב איננו כשר. אם כך, ייתכן מאוד שהיה בישול אפילו בן יומו לא כשר, ואם כך ממילא אי אפשר להשתמש. גם אם ידוע שזה לא בן יומו, ההיתר יהיה בדיעבד ולא לכתחילה.
לכן קשה להתיר וצריך לדאוג שכל סוגי החלב יהיו כשרים או שישתמשו בכלים שבוודאי לא היה בהם חלב מכל סוג שיש לגביו חשש כשרות.
The following is written in memory of my mother, Mrs. Elka Balbin a”h on the occasion of her second Yohr Tzeit, כ”ט שבט.
I miss her incessantly, and not a day goes by without reflecting on her as my biggest supporter—a constant force of positivity and giving. She was a מעיין חי— a living spring—who doled out and infused us with love with every interaction.
During the first year, there was a period during the pandemic, when the Shules were closed, and I could not personally recite קדיש. Like many in this situation, this was disturbing. I looked here and there to make sense of the situation and to see what could be done to “compensate”. I had some ideas and rang מורי ורבי רב שכטר שליט”א, expressing my angst. רב שכטר responded with a comforting thought.
“What are you concerned about? Hashem asks us to follow the Halacha, and He has His ways. We say קדיש for Aliyas HaNeshama, to raise the level of the Neshama and to give a זכות to the נפטרת. Your mother was clearly a type of Neshama who didn’t need such “heavy lifting” and the fact that you couldn’t say קדיש for some time, no doubt had no negative effect above.”
He didn’t know my mother, but his comment was entirely apt.
Surely, everyone visits the בית עולם?
At first glance, based on mimetic tradition, people clearly do go to the בית עולם and visit the graves of their relatives. Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik famously wrote an important essay (with a recent follow-up, which is on my seemingly ever-growing “to be read” list) about the importance of mimetic tradition. It would, therefore, appear to be an open and shut case. Ironically, the mimetic tradition of the Soloveitchik family was not to visit the dearly departed at the בית עולם. That mimetic tradition can be traced back to the Vilna Gaon, who was against the practice of visiting the dead at their resting place. The Gaon wrote a letter to his wife (some have claimed this was specifically to women, though the practice of his students does not support that claim) stating:
“ותישמר שלא תלך לבית הקברות כלל וכלל“
Be careful. Do not go to the Cemetery, ever.
אגרות הגר”א ט
Indeed, Rabbi Dr. Soloveitchik’s illustrious father, the Rav זצ’ל, wrote:
“The Gaon of Vilna, R. Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, his son R. Hayyim, his grandson, R. Moshe, R. Elijah Pruzena [Feinstein] never visited cemeteries and never prostrated themselves upon the graves of their ancestors. The memory of death would have distracted them from their intensive efforts to study the Torah.”
Halachic Man (page 30)
On both sides of the Rav’s family: Soloveitchik and Feinstein, there was no tradition to visit the בית הקברות. There are two things of note in this statement of the Rav.
He describes two separate categories: (a) visiting a cemetery and (b) prostrating upon a grave at a cemetery
He provides a reason for not visiting.
I think both of these points are noteworthy in the context of this ensuing discussion. Are there some who visit (perhaps more than four Amos from a grave) but do not prostrate? Is there a problem for a simpler person, who is not as intense with their Torah studies, to visit the cemetery? I do not know the answer to these questions, though they can be interpolated into the analysis.
Interestingly, the Rav found this restriction exceedingly difficult to sustain once his wife passed away, and felt it necessary to visit her grave in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, admitting to breaking with his family tradition. This was not automatic: the Rav kept his Brisker family traditions, zealously.
It would perhaps be intellectually lazy to assume that the reason one ought not to visit a cemetery is because of the frequency of pervasive metaphysical קליפות – impure forces of Halachic Tumah – at a cemetery. It would appear that if one kept four Amos (about two meters or 6.5 feet) away from an actual grave (as we Cohanim do anyway) then a concern of Tumah impurity is not germane. Therefore, if Tumah was the underlying reason for avoiding the cemetery, one could qualify the advice by saying “You may visit but don’t get too close”
I have often wondered whether a Cohen needs to wash his hands when leaving the בות עולם given that he doesn’t approach within the four Amos. (I found that both the Pri Megadim, in his Eshel Avraham 21, states that in such a circumstance a Cohen would not need to wash, see also the Chayyei Adam in 135:25)
The Gemara in Brachos 3b states that it is forbidden to say any Dvar Torah near a grave. This is codified by the Rambam (הל’ אבל פ”יג ה”ט) . Tosfos (ב”ק טז:, ד”ה שהושיבו) explains that this is okay as long as it is at a distance of four Amos. The Shulchan Aruch, however, does permit it even within four Amos (יו”ד סי’ שד”מ סעיף י”ז). Some Acharonim were careful nonetheless and distanced themselves by four Amos. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch itself states (and is supported by the Shach (סי’ שס”ז ס”ק ג’)
שאחר שנגמר סתימת הקבר נעפר… מרחיקין מעט מבית הקברות ואומרים קדיש
After the burial one moves away a little from the the cemetery (!) and says Kaddish
יו”ד שע”ו סעיף ד’
R’ Chaim Vital (1542-1620) quotes his teacher the AriZal (also recorded by the Magen Avraham (או”ח סוף סי’ תקנ”ט))
ותמיד צריך להיות רחוק ד’ אמות מן הקברות
One should always be at least four Amos from a grave
שערי רוח הקודש, תיקון י”ב
Leaning on and/or touching the gravesite/Matzeyva would possibly be considered akin to prostrating, though I hasten to add that this is not necessarily so, especially outside of Israel, where the dead are buried in a coffin. I won’t go into detail here, but note that there is a Halachic question whether טומאה בוקעת – Tumah escapes upwards – when there is a gap within the structure of a coffin. I know of at least one local Rabbi who is a Cohen who does approach the tombstone, based on this question. In addition, there is a question of whether something buried deeper than Ten Tefachim is in a separate רשות, but this beyond of the scope of this post.
Tumah/Impurity, though, was seemingly not the source for the practice of the Vilna Gaon and his family, and those who follow the Brisker tradition on this (like מורי ורבי ר׳ שכטר שליט”א). As is well known, rulings of the Rambam are often a reason to adopt a stricture for those whose mimetic tradition derives from the practices of the Vilna Gaon.
The position of the Rambam
It appears then that the source for that tradition is a lesser-known statement by the Rambam in הלכות אבל (which curiously is inserted in the ספר שופטים of the Rambam’s משנה תורה)
והצדיקים אין בונים להם נפש על קברותיהם …ולא יפנה אדם לבקר הקברות
Markings are made on the graves. A tombstone is placed on the grave. For the righteous, by contrast, a tombstone is not placed, because their words will cause them to be remembered; a person will not need to visit in the cemeteries.
According to the Rambam, the reason that we put a tombstone on the grave is to remind and inspire us about the person who is buried there, presumably through some choice words etched on the tombstone. However, since the words of a Righteous Tzadik remind us of their memory and inspiration, no tombstone should be placed on the grave of a Tzadik! Indeed, R’ Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe (יורה דעה ד:נז) interprets this Rambam as implying that it is forbidden to do so and can be seen as insulting to the Tzadik!
Another reason for Tombstones, not brought here, is to mark out the perimeter of the grave so that Cohanim don’t accidentally wander and become impure (see ריש לקיש היה מציין קברי תלמידי חכמים, רש’’י בבא מציעא פה, ב).
We make the following observations:
Touger appears to interpret the Rambam’s advice not to visit gravesites as pertaining to the graves of Tzadikim. That is, one might be able to visit an ordinary person’s gravesite.
Touger appears to reinterpret or qualify the Rambam’s words as somewhat less than a prohibition. Touger interprets the words ולא יפנה as a person “will not need” to visit a gravesite. In other words, according to Touger, the Rambam isn’t expressing a black and white view of what a person is permitted and not permitted to do. Rather, a person is permitted to visit a grave. A/The (prime) purpose of visiting a grave is to be inspired by the deeds, words, and memory of the person buried there. In the case of an ordinary person, this is a side effect induced by reading the Matzeyva. In the case of a Tzadik, however, visiting the grave in order to be inspired is not necessary. The Tzadik’s monumental legacy and inspiration is not their Tombstone, but rather the Torah and good deeds that they have spread in this world. That Torah is prevalent at all places and time without needing a visit to the cemetery in order to be (re)exposed and (re)inspired.
Simply speaking, dare I say rationally speaking, one can read the Rambam’s choice of words of ולא יפנה differently. The Rambam is giving advice to the person who seeks inspiration and/or motivation. Though it is true that reading the Matzeyvos of ordinary people may well prove to be stimulating, it is better for a person to not “choose to frequent” the Cemetery [for this purpose]. Certainly, the greatest inspiration is in the memory of the Tzadikim, and the greatest stimulation is not provided by their graveside. Rather, one should study the Torah of Tzadikim. That Torah is accessible at any time. One need not be involved looking for a פנאי – an opportunity – to visit the cemetery in order to be energised and invigorated by their memory and Torah.
Examples of this phenomenon abound. Indeed, in the Rav’s own writings, he constantly refers to the Torah and examples of his forebears with palpable inspiration. According to the Rambam then, what is to be gained by actually visiting the gravesite?
The commonly cited source of the Rambam for not building a monument over the grave of a Tzadik is
Did the Rambam’s view become the common Halacha? What do the commentators on the Rambam write?
Position of the Radvaz
The Radvaz (1479-1573) explains
פירוש “לבקר הקברות” הוא לפתוח הקבר לפקוד את המת וזה יש בו מדרכי האמורי, אבל לפקוד הקברות מבחוץ אין חשש בזה וכן נהגו כל ישראל לפקוד את מתיהם ולהשתטח על קבריהם
רדב”ז הלכות אבל ד:ד
that the Rambam was certainly not discouraging people from visiting a gravesite. The Radvaz focuses on the wordלבקר הקברות from which he derives that the Rambam was concerned that people were copying the ways of the אמורי which is forbidden. The “ways of the Emori” pertains to practices and superstitions that are forbidden but were occasionally temporarily practised by ignorant Jews. The practice of the אמורי in this context is recorded in the minor tractate of שמחות as
יוצאין לבית הקברותופוקדין על המתים עד ג׳ ימים ואין חוששין משום דרכי האמורי
We go out to the cemetery and examine the dead within three days and do not fear [being suspected of] superstitious practices
מסכת שמחות פרק שמיני
The practice used to be that the “”lid of the coffin” was opened during the first three days after death to double-check that the person was not buried alive. Apparently, there were cases where someone was incorrectly assumed to be dead. According to Mesechta Semachos, it is okay to perform this check for the first three days because it would not be assumed that it is being done for superstitious reasons (דרכי אמורי) however after three days this practice was forbidden. The Rambam, based on the understanding of the Radvaz, interprets the meaning of the word לבקר as opening the coffin at any time after burial. The Radvaz explains that this is what the Rambam meant when he expressed the view that one should not visit the grave. Visit here means for the purpose of opening the coffin, as above. According to the Radvaz then, it would appear that an ordinary visit, these days, was not something that the Rambam was writing about. In order to make this interpretation, the Radvaz would need to consider the previous statement about Tzadikim not having Matzeyvos, as something completely independent and not at all linked to the prohibited form of visitation. The interpretation of the Radvaz is not the only one.
The view of the Chasam Sofer
The Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) makes important points about both מסכת שמחות and the רמבם in his responsa (יורה דעה של”ח, בד”ה וע”ד הברייתא). He contends that a daily visit for the first three days is far-fetched and most unlikely to discover the unfortunate case of someone who was effectively buried alive! Surely, the fact that they were covered with earth (even in the days when they buried people in caves) would make it nigh on impossible to discover a mistaken burial. In the least, one would need a full-time guard for all of three days who was highly attuned to any slight movement of soil, reacting quickly. Quoting the Yerushalmi, at the end of the second chapter of Sanhedrin, the Chasam Sofer writes that there was a time when the custom was to have a two-stage burial. The first stage was a “temporary” stage, at which time there was no formal burial under the earth. This could have been achieved by secreting the body in the caverns in a rock face or similar. At a later stage, the bones were extracted and traditionally buried. During that first stage, claims the Chasam Sofer, it was possible for an occasional error, and so they used to visit for the first 3 days to be sure. However, since that time, this practice was no longer observed. As such, the Rambam writes, based on the explanation of the Radvaz, that after burial, one should not visit the grave to open the grave in order to check if the person actually died. Anyone doing so was clearly following דרכי אמורי (who also did this for a lot longer than just three days because they attributed some mystical experience around the spirit of the dead) and therefore such visitation is clearly forbidden.
Based on this explanation of the Radvaz, through the lens of the Chasam Sofer, the immediately preceding comment of the Rambam about not placing a tombstone on the grave of a Tzadik, is a separate and disconnected Halacha. Following on from that Halacha, the Rambam adds that one should not visit the cemetery for the purpose of checking, as above.
There are some who postulate that the word לבקר of the Rambam is a translation of the Arabic זיארה Ziara which was perhaps the practice of pilgrimage in Islam (outside of the Hajj according to some) and it was this practice that the Rambam was concerned about. Interestingly, it is the Shiites who have the practice of visiting graves. The Sunnis consider this practice heretical. In the Rambam’s Egypt, the vast majority were Sunni.
The position of the Rivash
The Rivash (1326-1408) in his Responsa תכ”א draws our attention to a question of differing versions of the Rambam’s text. We had explained that some interpret the word לבקר in our text of the Rambam to be about visiting and checking to see if the person is possibly alive. The Rivash notes another נוסח which excludes the word לבקר—to visit.
ולא יפנה אדם לבית הקברות
and therefore plainly means
“don’t turn towards the cemetery”.
What does “turn” mean in the context? It means don’t turn your attention to the cemetery. Why not? Based on the preceding comments: in the case of a Tzadik, one would be better advised to be inspired by the Torah and spiritual output of the deceased. In the case of an ordinary person with a formal tombstone and fancy wording, the Rambam is saying “don’t be distracted by such things”. The Rivash considers the comments about monuments and visiting a cemetery as strongly linked to each other, as opposed to independent statements.
The Chasam Sofer eventually concludes his treatment and states that the statements are linked and that the Rambam extends the words of Mesechta Semachos and prohibits going to the cemetery even before three days have elapsed.
The author of the Shulchan Aruch, R’ Yosef Karo (1488–1575) in his Kesef Mishna commentary on that Rambam, learns plainly like the Rivash before him that the Rambam discourages if not “prohibits” visiting a cemetery. I have used italics because the Rambam doesn’t express this using clearly normative prohibitive language.
Given the above, how are we to understand the Rambam elsewhere?
Clearly, the Rambam has no problem with going to the Cemetery on a Fast day in order to be inspired by the spectre of death, in order to motivate repentance. What is the intention of going to the cemetery on a fast day? The Gemara in Taanis 16a describes two reasons given by Tanoim: (a) the spectre of death induces Teshuvah, or (b) so that the dead will ask for mercy on our behalf. The Rambam adopted the first view, that the atmosphere was conducive to Teshuva, as opposed to the suggestion that one might “interact” with the departed while there. This can be seen as consistent with his previously mentioned view. One should avoid going to the cemetery unless there is an external factor (such as the need for Teshuva on a fast, or giving honour on a Yohr Tzeit). That is, do not frequent the Beis HaKevaros.
According to the Radvaz, there is seemingly no issue to visit if there is no intention to open the coffin. Based on the Kesef Mishna, Rivash and others, one could say that perhaps the Rambam was opposed to using the motivation of the בית הקברות in general, and most specifically, in respect of visiting the graves of Tzadikim—special people. Instead, the Rambam encouraged connecting and being inspired through their Torah instead. This would not preclude going on a Fast day, such as one held due to a lack of rain, or seemingly other occasions, such as a Yohr Tzeit.
Sources for visitation
The earliest example of visiting a gravesite is brought in :סוטה לד regarding Calev who went to Chevron to pray at the Mearas Hamachpela so that he wouldn’t fall under the spell of the spies. Another example is in :בבא מציעא פה regarding someone who prostrated himself on the grave of Rav Chiya, as well as the story about Rav Mani in :תענית כג who was persecuted until he too went to prostrate himself.
At the end of Yevamos, the Gemara describes the story of a certain lady, whose husband had apparently been murdered, who went to the Rabbis on three occasions to obtain permission to remarry. What were those three occasions? Rashi writes:
– שהיו תלמידי חכמים נקבצים לשמוע דרשה הלכות פסח בפסח והיתה שואלת מהם. ובתשובת הגאונים מצאתי כל הנך ריגלי דאמוראי היינו יום שמת בו אדם גדול קובעים אותו לכבודו ומדי שנה בשנה כשמגיע אותו יום מתקבצים תלמידי חכמים מכל סביביו ובאים על קברו עם שאר העם להושיב ישיבה שם
בד”ה תלתא ריגלי
Rashi quotes the responsa of the Geonim which states that these three occasions were a time when the great Rabbis used to gather each year on a famous Yohr Tzeit,at which time they gathered at the grave in honour of the day. Clearly, according to Rashi quoting the Geonim, there was a custom to go the gravesite on a Yohr Tzeit. Was the Rambam arguing with the Geonim and Rashi? Perhaps the Rambam’s advice not to visit graves is limited to those times where it is not traditional to go, such as on a fast day or a Yohr Tzeit. Perhaps this is why he used the words ולא יפנה which might mean “don’t clear your diary” on a given day, so to speak, and go to cemeteries, even if your motive is to be inspired (as opposed to grieving). This idea is perhaps expressed by the Mishna Brurah (quoting the Maharil)
דבית הקברות הוא מקום מנוחת הצדיקים והתפלה נתקבלה שם יותר, אך אל ישים מגמתו נגד המתים אך יבקש מהש”י שיתן עליו רחמים בזכות הצדיקים שוכני עפר ויקיף הקברות ויתן צדקה קודם שיאמר התחנות
The Cemetery is a place of rest for the Tzaddikim and one’s prayers are accepted there more readily, however, one should not place his expectations “on the shoulders” of the departed, but rather, one should ask Hashem to be merciful in the merit of the Tzadikim who reside in the earth and he should walk around the graves and give Tzedaka before he utters supplications.
(משנה ברורה (תקפא, כז
The Ramoh (ibid) mentions the good custom to visit the Beis HaChaim on Erev Yom Kippur and Erev Rosh Hashana.
Yet, the greatest Navi and leader, Moshe Rabenu’s resting place was purposely hidden from us
א”ר חמא בר חנינא, מפני מה נסתתר מקום קברו של משה מעיני בשר ודם, שגלוי וידוע לפני הקב”ה שעתיד ביהמ”ק לחרב וישראל יגלו מארצם, שמא יבאו לקברו של משה ויבכו ויתחננו ועומד משה ומבטל את הגזירה, מפני שחביבים צדיקים במיתתם יותר מבחייהם
:עין יעקב סוטה י’’ד
because the was a real fear was that if we visited Moshe’s resting place, then Hashem would be forced to listen to our Tefillos on account of Moshe’s merit (and his intercession). Clearly then, even though Tzadikim today are not at the level of Moshe and we know where they are buried, perhaps it does make sense that we should daven there? The Rambam would not agree, of course.
The position of the Bach
מיהו כבר החזיקו במנהג זה ואין מוחה ויש לזה סמך בספר הזוהר, ודווקא להשתטח על קברי אבות ולהתפלל לפניו יתברך על כל צרה שלא תבוא בזכות אבותיו הנקברים פה וכיוצא בזה, וכבר נתקנו סדרי התפילה למשתטחים על קברי אבות ואין לשום מורה למנוע ולבטל מנהג זה
Be that as it may, people have already adopted this Minhag (of going to Graves) and nobody seeks to prevent them. They have support from the Zohar. Specifically, they can prostrate themselves at the gravesites of their ancestors and to pray to Hashem [to save them] from every tragedy that might otherwise have come if not for the special merit of the ancestors who are buried there. And there have been special prayers constructed for this purpose … and no Posek should seek to annul the practice.
יורה-דעה סו”ס ריז
It is noteworthy that the Bach (1561-1640) adopts the approach that one should pray that “the merit of the ancestors” should save/assist them. This is in contradistinction to those who ask that their prayers be carried to Hashem through the agency of the person who is buried there. Poskim differ on what is the correct mode of prayer.
There is no doubt, however, that one needs to be exceedingly careful that their words not be understood as making supplications to the dead person. It is a very fine line and one needs to be careful not to transgress דורש אל המתים.
The Munkatcher, in his responsa, was known to defend the customs of the Chassidim, especially when these appeared to be different to past practice. Towards the end of my research on this topic I came across a most comprehensive responsa which lists most of the sources I have above and many others. He wrote:
והוא צורך גדול ותיקון לנפש… ולפי המנהג אף בצדיקים בונין נפש והכל מתקבצין אצלה להתפלל…
This (going to the grave of a Tzadik) is a great need and heals the soul, and according to the Minhag, even for Tzadikim we build a Tombstone/Mausoleum … and people gather there to pray
שו”ת מנחת אלעזר א:סט
The Minchas Elazar (as expected) strongly defends the practice of Chasidim to visit the grave of the Tzadik. Strangely, however, I didn’t see the Minchas Elazar in that responsa discuss and consider the Rambam quoted at the beginning of this post. He was certainly aware of it, and his words “even for Tzadikim” are well understood in the context of the Rambam, above. That being said, I do not understand why he didn’t quote and discuss the Rambam explicitly. He extends the consideration in his response to discuss the issue of דורש אל המתים – the prohibition of “supplicating” to the dead. He argues that this does not include asking the Tzadik to intervene on one’s behalf. Rav Moshe Feinstein does not agree with the Minchas Elazar. He states:
אין להפקיע הקרא דדורש אל המתים מפשוטו, דהוא איסור גם מלבקש מהמתים שהם יתפללו בעבורינו
… It is also forbidden to ask the dead to pray on our behalf
שו”ת אגרות משה חלק או”ח ה סימן מג.
The famous non-Chassidic Shulchan Aruch of the Chayei Adam (1748—1820) is explicit:
איסור דורש אל המתים… וכן עמי הארץ שהולכין על קברי מתים וכאילו מדברים עם המתים ואומרים להם צרותיהם
The prohibition of “supplicating” to the dead … and the simple people go to the gravesites and it is as if they speak with dead and relate all their problems
סי’ פ”ט ס”ק ז’
The issue extends to whether someone can leave Israel in order to visit the grave of a Tzadik. One might expect that this would elicit a positive response from Chassidim and a negative response from those who are not Chassidim. The issue transcends Chassidim and non-Chassidim. Rav Kook also writes about this problem in his responsa. Rav Sternbuch, who is generally a follower of the Brisker approach, basing himself on Rav Elyashiv’s grandfather, the Leshem, who was not a Chassid but a great Kabbalist
אם מרגיש התעוררות מיוחדת לצדיקים מיוחדים, שלומד מתורתם, לבוא על קברם ממש, יש בזה מצווה
If someone feels a special awakening when visiting the specific grave of a Tzadik, where they also learn the Torah of that Tzadik, to visit that grave, this is a Mitzvah (!)
תשובות והנהגות, ח”ג סימן סא
Rav Yitzchak Yosef in his Yalkut Yosef, Yoreh Deah on page 254 writes that
It is forbidden to go the cemetery except for a Levaya … but it is permitted to prostate oneself on the graves of the righteous or to visit the grave of one’s father or mother to honour them …
סימן י, שו”ע ס׳ שמג–שסא
So, how does one make sense of all of the above, taking into account the view of the Rambam? I think one can summarise the issues as follows:
The Beis HaChaim/Cemetery is full of impurity and not somewhere to “hang out”. Someone who does so because of extreme grieving should also liaise with a professional.
Visiting graves on a Yohr Tzeit or for special occasions is an ancient practice. It would appear that the Rambam was not opposed to this, although the Brisker tradition would suggest otherwise.
Visiting the grave of a Tzadik can provide inspiration, especially when one also learns the Torah of that Tzadik. We see this phenomenon perhaps even more than any period of time, with visits to the graves of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and R Nachman of Breslav particularly popular. As we have discussed, some would recommend the gravesite should inspire, but no direct interaction should take place.
Visiting the grave of a Tzadik can potentially be problematic in the sense that one may speak in a manner which somewhat bypasses Hashem. Ultimately, the Tzadik was (and is, in the sense that they are “more alive” after they have passed away) a conduit. Some say that addressing the Tzadik is forbidden. When I visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s gravesite -long story- I followed the formulaic text of the מענה לשון.
Those who are not Chassidic and whose inspiration primarily was through learning Torah (in the main) without frequenting a Tzadik for inspiration etc will not use visits to the Beis HaChaim as a source of inspiration and growth. One could argue that this is the Rational School of Judaism as opposed to the more Spiritual/Mystical School, and that the Rambam, who is often considered the prime Rabbi of Rationalist Judaism, therefore did not encourage, if not prohibited, the practice of visiting graves, especially those of Tzadikim.
I’m not advocating one approach over another. Both approaches are rooted in Chazal.
Human logic-based Egalitarianism is Halachically problematic and is inconsistent with the stratified roles defined by the Torah.
Korach is the philosophical progenitor of postmodern egalitarianism. Suffused with self-allocated, chimeric rank, Korach attempts to deconstruct the assigned and stratified roles legally ordained through Moshe’s direct Godly interaction. There is a biblical prohibition, with tenure today,
“not to be like Korach and his assemblage.”
The parameters of this prohibition are not singular. One parameter is defined as negating the importance of every Jew attaching themselves to an exemplary teacher and role model of Torah.
This morning as I watched an unrelated youtube snippet sent to me, the
“next suggested youtube”
was of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe z’l, whose Yohr Tzeit is on Shabbos. I clicked.
Fortuitously, the Rebbe asked,
“the Talmud says that the teacher one should adhere to, is the imitato dei (as characterised by a holy angel). However, if one has never even seen a holy angel how does one choose the virtuous teacher?”
He answered, quoting the Talmud in Yevamos, that the archetypical Jew exudes the traits of mercy, self-effacedness and kindness. Furthermore, these traits are self-evident and not “advertised”.
Indeed, after he left his father’s house, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s own role-modeled teacher became his father-in-law, the Rayatz. As noted by Rav Soloveitchik* (whose role model after he left his father’s house, was Rav Chaim Heller), based on an explicit Rashi in the book of Bereishis, even after a prime teacher’s demise, one should implant the teacher, who is spiritually a part of the mosaic soul, in front of him and interrogate that behavioural reality to determine major decisions we confront in life.
There is no antinomian expression intended in the above. Both sides of the coin: the Baal HaTanya and the Nefesh HaChaim describe the soul of the Tzadik teacher and mentor through the same prism.
the source for this view of the Rav is in Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter’s Nefesh HoRav.
There is no doubt that many people will be inclined to watch the nuptials of the latest Royal Wedding. Some will feel magnetised by the moment, others will be eager to see the habilment. One needs to remember, though, that even clothes will include vestments and the marriage is a formal Xtian marriage in a Church (כנסיה).
Those who may watch the wedding ceremony will do so through their Television or the Internet. Is there any halachic issue?
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:129) stressed that it is not permitted to enter a Church, even if one only intended to admire the architecture or art. In Yoreh Deah (3:77) he goes as far as not permitting the use of Church facilities for a Talmud Torah where that Talmud Torah had difficulty finding accomodation. Mori V’Rabbi, the Rav was asked after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, whether it was permitted to watch the service on the Television. Rav Soloveitchik responded that in the same way that it was forbidden to enter a כנסיה, it was equally forbidden to bring the כנסיה into one’s house. He noted that the clergy at the time encouraged those who were not able to attend, to avail themselves of participation in the service by watching through the Television.
In summary, it is best to spend one’s time on permitted activities, and how much more so, by having a Shiur or learning from a Sefer at that time.
STOP PRESS: I am advised that this Wedding is being held on a day that one is forbidden to watch ANY Television (Melacha). That being said, many will I estimate wish to “catch up” and watch some highlights.
It is impossible to allow such an auspicious day pass without reflecting on the contribution of האי גברא רבא, פה מפיק מרגליות, חכם בקי וחריף, איש החסד, גזע תרשישים מורי ורבי הרב יוסף דוב הלוי למשפחת Soloveitchik.
I am indebted to Yeshivas Yitzchok Elchanan (RIETS) for its incredible resource yutorah.org an organic burgeoning library of Torah.
Nothing I can write from a second or third hand indirect ‘knowledge’ can do justice to the legacy of ‘the Rav of Rabonim’.
I highly recommend this discussion Chaired by Rabbi Brander, including three prime and great Talmidim, מורי ורבי ר׳ Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Menachem Genack and Rav Mayer Twerski, one of the Rav’s auspicious grandsons. The parent link is here.
Although many social studies are by their nature bound to be imperfect due to the preponderance of unknown variables and the law of the excluded middle, there has been a consistent statistic that over 95% of men and women are heterosexual. Despite the sweeping feeling that marriage was ‘unnecessary’ and fewer were ‘bothering’ to engage in the ritual, preferring the ‘de facto’ status, these numbers represent an existential reality that attracts foul-mouthed, uncouth, violent, intolerant and extreme undercurrents of pseudo-fascist protest that have given birth to scenes reminiscent of the drug infested, psychedelic 1960’s where “no war” was the catch cry. In some work places, those who had “Vote No” signs on their doors, found these signs violently torn asunder. So much for the death of Stalin and Marx.
This blog is not and has not ever been a blog void of the influence and directives of Centrist Orthodoxy. Wherever possible, I have attempted to both write the mainstream centrist Orthodox view on contemporary issues and resisted the temptation to assume that I had some ‘holier than though’ view which transcended it. I have also attempted to avoid a metastasized Torah void , Masoretically vacuous view that purports to vaguely occupy the pedestal of organised, resilient, religion-את גאון יעקב אשר אהב סלה.
There are many places of work who have felt compelled to emblazon rainbows and posters, and principally declared a “collective” view that distances itself from the institution of heterosexual marriage, though such predictive sexual attraction stands at 95%. Contrary views are anathema and stand accused of a homophobic, cruel, uncaring, anti-civil rights opposition. Who is the judge and who is the jury? Who stands condemned without trial? Who are the harbingers of Judaism as opposed to secular mandrakes?
Truth is the first casualty in such emotive and redemptive moments?
I steer away arguing from a point of personal preference or philosophical bent. My life only allows personal preference in as much as the ד׳ אמות של הלכה permits within its hallowed inviolable boundaries.
Curiously, there seems to be a correlation, or is it a causation, that removing elements of עול מלכות שמים in Open Orthodox, Shira Chadasha outliers, leads to a steady succession of less mainstream and über emancipated strains of Judaic practice hovering between Open Orthodox and Conservative movements.
I have been disappointed that so many Jewish brethren and sisters fail to see their lives and life choices through the prism of a collective corpus of rich Jewish Religion. What else has been the mainstay of untainted Jewish and remotely Jewish culture.
Let us begin from the simple to the more complex.
A man comes home and informs his parents that he has met a lovely non-Jewish girl at University. Now turn back the clock fifty years. The door would be firmly shut. The man would be on one side of the door or on the other side of the door. Rarely, and this most certainly does happen in our day, the girl (or indeed male) is genuinely attracted to Judaism and wishes to become one of our people, in the same way that Ruth became a righteous convert and was the progenitor of the Messiah the son of David, no less.
Now let us turn the clock forward only 20 years. It’s a new world. What was holy, inviolable and intractable, is now quite common. The male or female gentile is invited to the traditional Friday night dinner with gefilte fish and chicken soup as the remnant of a transmogrified epicurean cholesterol enema.
The children have רחמנא ליצלן shacked up with their new “partner”-a euphemism for a possibly “penultimate” marriage, union, coupling, conjugal bond, civil partnership, hookup, defacto, or other synonym connoting anything but the legal entity of ‘shudder’ marriage. Pseudo spouses are now welcomed with a shrug of the shoulders and the refrain “what can I do? I can love them or lose them”. Echoes morbidly in the silence of Springvale.
It’s never quite as tragic if the female is Jewish, but you need to ask why the über modern types haven’t overturned the תורה שבעל פה and decided the הלכה according to the discarded view of the Tanna so that they adopt the equanimous male lineage!
Let’s now turn out attention to today’s burning issue, in Australia, where our surveys, ironically filled in by not yet religious people of all shades, are now empowered to redefine a uniquely religious concept! Do they care about religious concepts? If it’s all about having the same rights, then there are enough unemployed lawyers to re-jig laws where mummy and daddy, mummy and mummy, and daddy and daddy, mummy/daddy and daddy/mummy will soon enjoy the same cornucopia of legal rights. Why, the family court already recognises the dog and cat and their gender is quite irrelevant unless there is a brood.
If this was a vote of Jews only, I am afraid to break the news to fringe dwellers that it is מושבע ועמד מהר סיני. Your view, Jew or Jewess, is irrelevant. This isn’t feel good, anything goes, Reform. That is now acknowledged demographically as a dying appendage.
There is a middle ground here. One could argue that this is a vote of Jews (albeit a tiny minority) and non-Jews (including various religionists). In such a case, perhaps שב ואל תעשה might be the (typically diasporan) response.
“Let’s stay out of this, after all, we want to practice our own religion in freedom”.
I hear this argument but it needs to be buttressed by Halachic underpinnings. Whether we like it or not, Maimonides has coded that non-Jews are encouraged to adopt the minimalist Noachide laws. The Noachide Laws prohibit non-heterosexual sexual acts. The question really is, does one need to teach the Noachidelaws or make gentiles aware of these? (Note, these need to be done out of a belief in God, and not some “morality”.)
I wonder whether you find it deliciously ironic, that those Jews who love to quote Yeshayahu (42:6) that we must be a “light unto the nations”
אני ה׳ קראתיך בצדק ואצרך ואתנך לברית עם לאור גויים
I ask them to read what Rashi (and others) says about this Passuk. It will surprise them (Radak excluded)
A perhaps more pertinent verse (49:60) is
והלכו גויים לאורך
See the following via Chabad who championed this outreaching approach, which was endorsed by President George W. Bush.
Now, I am not one who is in a position to say whether this approach or the more insular approach taken (at least in Melbourne) by other Chassidim, and of course Litvaks from the Lakewood Kollel is the correct approach. Mizrachi is an unknown, as they have a long history of not giving respect to halachic pronouncements of their Rabbi unless it is in the ritual sphere alone.
The left-wing of Rabbi Ralph Genende’s Caulfield Shule who want a bit each way (and who unbelievably caused a massive חילול השם when they invited Stephen Greenberg to the edifice in which Rabbi Genende has halachic oversight), and Rabbi Shamir Kaplan of Beit Aharon who makes Rabbi Ralph’s views appear right-wing, are nothing short of incredulous. Clearly, Rabbi Shamir felt the need to not only state his view, but take a secular view. He’s a very likeable man, but if he could tell us which Posek advised him, I’d be obliged.
Is Rabbi Ralph game to tell us whether he voted yes or no, and on what halachic basis he did so? If he’s not, why not? Who Paskened that it’s indeed not an halachic imperative to state a view whether one is a member of the COSV or not.
Nothing I have written above is new or startling, although many are terrified of weighing into the issue if they are classed as bigots or attacked by murky clam-shells dragging their anatomy through the mud.
I do not include the “Open Orthodox” cum Shira Chadasha in this context, where the
“I’m a functionary, no, I’m not really a functionary, but I advertise on facebook that I will “marry anyone” who breathes some form of Judaism, as long as I find at least one pseudo-orthodox minister who I can “blame” for the emancipated, emasculated service of vows that I feel ‘educated’ to perform.
Some of you will be “new” to Open Orthodoxy (YCT) especially in Australia. Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Elton of the Great Synagogue is a right-wing member of this group. He has distanced himself from some of the more extreme YCT members, to his credit. I wonder how many more members have joined or participated since Steven Greenberg felt he had to publicise a personal issue in the edifices, under the aegis of Rabbi Ralph.
Here are a group of choice quotes from the “open” neo-manifesto YCT Open Orthodoxy (sources available upon request)
In 2010, rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of YCT (Open Orthodoxy) participated in the LGBT change prayer breakfast in Chicago Illinois, “The focus of the event was to unite (thus used) local faith-based leaders in a rare gathering that galvanised renewed support and affirmation from the faith community for same-sex civil unions and equality for LGBT people. Lopatin delivered the following message:
Master of the Universe, you instructed us in your wisdom and your understanding in the Torah, in the book of Genesis
“לא טוב היות האדםלבדו“. God in your mercy you told us to establish a society and a community in a way that allows for a person to find a life partner to live a life of companionship and love, with equality, and without discrimination (?) So God bless our public servants to find that life filled with love for themselves and to be able to work hard to make sure that our state and community lives up to God’s merciful and just standards to make sure that everyone has a “right”to seek out that life partner and to live and love together with the full “right” with that person. “לא טוב היות האדםלבדו“. Every person has a right to togetherness and a life filled with love. A life blessed by God, our fate, and our society Amen.
It is perhaps ironic that Lopatin leaves all mention of the word “sex” in his feel-good “between the lines”, new Open non Masoretic “Torah She Bal Peh”.
Professor Daniel Sperber, one of the dwindling few, who Open Orthodoxy lean on as a spiritual guide, entertains the possibility that Orthodox rabbis may perform same-gender marriages. rabbi Ysoscher Katz does not believe Rabbis will ever agree to these alternate unions, though.
I wonder if there is now an halachic imperative to remove Sperber’s books, valuable as they may be, from every Kollel?
It beggars belief that someone like Professor Sperber, who compiled a magnificent work on the etymology of Jewish Minhagim could so profanely and wilfully “white-out” an explicit law in Even HoEzer which (in my reading, for our time) prohibits Yichud during times of חשד.
There is plenty more outrageous material from Open Orthodoxy, but I will limit myself to the above.
This then brings us to the question of do we have to make our views known to the B’nei Noach? Doing so, is clearly a fulfillment of teaching them Torah that they need to know. Certainly we don’t do that filling in a Survey, but a Rabbinic Body should not be afraid to state the Jewish view.
There is a Tosfos in Chagiga 13a and a Gemara in Baba Kama (38a) which seeks to take the opposite view. See R’ Moshe Feinstein in Yoreh Deah (3:89) and others, who take the Tosfos in Chagiga’s view as the final definitive Halacha.
Your mileage may, however, vary. But for God’s sake, don’t make up your own views or be less than careful with your language. Speak to your Competent Local Orthodox Rabbi (CLOR). R’ Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Charedis (Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:37) takes a different view to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Moshe, Rav Elyashiv and others. I would imagine that insular view matches most Charedim in Melbourne.
It comes down to the old insular shtetl view versus the אור לגויים approach, except that on this issue those who want us to spread the light ironically, would prefer if we turned down the dimmer. Go figure. איפכא מסתברא!
To young, well-meaning Rabbis, I say, leave the personality contests and the point scoring within your communities.
I wouldn’t give the Jewish News a single quote! What for? They are avowed anti-Orthodox. They are not your friends. They never do you any good. Choose your words very carefully, and behave with real warmth, but let’s not pretend that by using lovely prose and soulful apologies we do anything.
I close with the powerful eternal words of my teacher מורי ורבי הרב Soloveitchik ז׳ל
It is my opinion that Orthodoxy cannot and should not unite with such groups which deny the fundamentals of our Weltanschauung. It is impossible for me to comprehend, for example, how Orthodox Rabbis who spent their best years and absorbed the spirit of Torah She Baal Peh and its traditions, for whom Rabbi Akiva, The Rambam, the Rema, the Gra, Rav Chaim Brisker and other Jewish Sages are the pillars upon which the spiritual world rests, can join with the spiritual leaders for whom this is worthless… From the point of view of the Torah we find the difference between reform and Orthodox much greater than what separated the Perushim and the Tzedukim in the days of the Bayis Sheni, and between the Karaim and the traditionalists in the Gaonic era. Has Jewish History ever recorded an instance of a joint community council that consisted of Karaim and Torah-true Jews.
[from the 1954 Yiddish article in Der Tog Morgen Journey]
Wasnt it a matter of some mirth to find the JCCV (Jewish Community Council of Victoria) taking a view on same-sex marriage! Not only aren’t they democratically elected, and not only did they not seek the views of their constituent members, they didn’t have the common sense to say nothing (שתיקה סייג לחכמה) If it was going to oppose thousands and thousands who do adhere to our tradition, who needs their opinion? Are they that deluded to think that their regal proclamation will make people change their vote? I guess the National Council of Jewish Women (who also only allow left-wing lectures on their premises should hang their heads in shame).
The Holocaust survivors who funded infrastructure would have baulked at the left-leaning Marxist tendencies now being promulgated in the name of “equality” and “human rights”.
[Some source material has been gleaned from the excellent Headlines books by Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein]
We are enjoined not to judge anyone until we are proverbially ‘in their shoes’. Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, with the agreement of its Senior Rabbinic Authority, Rabbi Ralph Genende, have invited members of the community to hear a self-professed homosexual, and self-professed Orthodox Jew, once ordained at YU, named Stephen Greenberg, to address his homosexual struggle, contextualised with his ‘partner’ and ‘daughter’.
If we accept the theory that Steven was born with a predisposition of sexual attraction to the same gender, then we must ask whether he consulted his teachers at YU. As someone who was ordained, this is even more of an imperative given the gravity of the issue and the world trip, crusader-like approach.
The Shulchan Aruch is acutely aware that some will have a tendency to be attracted to the same gender. It is unambiguous in describing what a person should do if they are indeed inclined that way.
There are well-known prohibitions in respect to a heterosexual male being alone with a heterosexual female. Whether this is a Torah infraction or a Rabbinic one, is a dispute between the Rambam and other Rishonim. Whatever the case, the laws of Yichud, being alone, are there to protect against a potentially more serious consequence, that may lead to prohibited sexual relations.
What is not well known is that the Shulchan Aruch codified the self-same laws of Yichud, in regards to samegender seclusion/Yichud (See Even HoEzer 24:1)
If a male has a homosexual predilection, then it is forbidden to be halachically alone with another male. There is no argument about this Halacha and there can certainly be no argument of its applicability in our age.
The Rambam in his glosses on the Mishna in Sanhedrin 7, states that a Jew is not suspected of homosexuality or bestiality as they are both unnatural. The Rambam could not envisage someone with a Jewish Soul having such proclivity.
As I understand it, Steven claims to adhere to all laws of Judaism give or take the odd stumble that we all experience. If Steven lives with his male partner he most certainly is choosing to ignore a Halacha. I am not referring to the likely outcome of homosexual sex; rather, Yichud—being alone. If he does not, then kudos to him.
I would assume that Steven, who Rabbi Genende also describes as an Orthdox Rabbi, does not live under the same roof as his partner, and they perhaps take turns looking after the daughter? If that is not the case, it is difficult to accept the description of Orthodox.
Technically, one or both males, might not be the biological father, which also raises another hornets nest in respect to Yichud with an adopted child. The Lubavitcher Rebbe amongst many others had grave problems giving permission for Yichud with an adopted child. Others are more lenient, including Rav Soloveitchik, to whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent some Lubavitch couples (see Nefesh HoRav from Rav Schachter) who wanted to adopt and needed the Psak Din of a World renowned Rabbi.
At this point I trust that even the far left are not churlishly dismissing me as homophobic, based on what I have written.
One expects that the otherwise religiously-oriented homosexual Jew feels more self-guilt than the secular homosexual Jew. This is not because people are more derisive to the religious one. Rather, it’s because he feels he has been born with an impediment to keep Halacha.
Some will deal with it by disappearing into new social circles where they potentially practice less Judaism as time goes by. Others, such as Steven presumably blame their genetic marker for their predilection and will wrestle with God about why they weren’t given heterosexual genes.
I would hope that if Steven was asked, ‘Would you have preferred if God had made you heterosexual’, that Steven would answer in the affirmative. If he does not, I’m not sure why Rabbi Genende as Vice President of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria would invite him to espouse his views!
We should consider why Stephen isn’t addressing one of the homosexual groups where he may encourage people to keep all the other laws of Judaism and give them confidence to do so. Perhaps he will do so. I do not know, but I think that would be a positive thing.
I have not ever come across anyone not being welcomed in Shule because they were homosexual. I would imagine they are shunned by Hungarian Chassidic communities.
To be sure, even Chabad who welcome all, have some restrictions. When Shlomo Carlebach started diverging from an Orthodox path, Rabbi Y. D. Groner z’l, who had been a study partner of Shlomo, asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe נ׳ע whether he should try and bring Shlomo ‘back’ through Kiruv. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should do so, but never within the walls of a Lubavitch institution lest anyone think that what Shlomo does is acceptable etc. Why did Steven have to speak within Caulfield Shule’s property? Having Steven at a congregational function definitely stretches the boundaries of what is tolerable. Given Rabbi Genende’s professed opposition to Steven’s approach in a letter to his congregants one wonders why Rabbi Genende didn’t choose to debate Steven?
The menagerie of congregants at Caulfield on a standard Shabbos will not likely include the young adults who will attend Steven’s talk. Caulfield do a great job, given their ability to pull in big donations to lure world class performances via a choir from Israel. They are a vibrant Shule with an active and dedicated committee.
I’m sure these activities are roundly enjoyed, but will a ‘voyeuristic’ gaze into the house of a religiously inclined homosexual Jew translate to attendance at Shule or Rabbi Genende’s educational programme? I think not, especially if Rabbi Genende disagrees with Steven’s interpretation of Scripture anyway!
Imagine, if you will, that instead of Steven, the guest speaker was a ‘religious’ adulterer/womaniser. Perhaps not a Rabbi, but someone well known. Imagine this person wanted to speak about his problem of wandering eyes which lead to covert forbidden sexual relations. It could be argued that he too has a proclivity. Is there a genetic link? My question then to Rabbi Genende is, would you give such a person a podium to speak of his struggles to keep his pants on when his eyes wander? Something tells me that Rabbi Genende would not allow such a talk. Why? Marriage is sacred and such acts are abominable and don’t deserve a podium. If I am right, the podium should be reserved for the types of Jews who are inspirational. I am more inspired to hear of those homosexual religious Jews who courageously don’t give in to a basic tenet.
Did Rabbi Genende consult leading centrist/modern Poskim. It would appear that his colleagues in the Rabbinic Council of Victoria are far from enamoured by his ‘go it alone’ approach. If he has support from a Posek who knows Steven then Rabbi Genende should at least inform his colleagues in the Rabbinate.
I have heard that some intend to protest. In my mind this is not only stupid in the extreme, but halachically questionable. On that matter I also have Rabbinic agreement. Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter שליט׳א made it clear in our phone call that one should not go to Caulfield, either to protest or to listen to Steven.
There is a valid question about calling up to the Torah someone who advertises their homosexuality and the acts which result. These types of questions arose in the Halachic literature regarding those who have married out and those who publicly break the Sabbath in a ‘look, Shabbos doesn’t mean anything’ attitude. I know that in Elwood Shule, there is a Shule goer who married out. He comes on Shabbos fairly often. Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick instructed the Gaboim not to give him an Aliya, as I recall. This is consistent with the view of R’ Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל.
Turning our attention towards Sabbath desecrators, I know that the late Rav Chaim Gutnick z’l would wait in his office until everyone had left and then walk home. He knew that his community of Holocaust survivors were theologically and psychologically challenged and displayed peculiar traits: they came to Shule but drove there. They didn’t eat Kosher but would never eat Pork. When such a damaged person came to Shule, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick only saw their holy soul and did not see any infractions.
What about Steven Greenberg? To my mind, he does not need an audience of voyeuristic heterosexuals. The need to treat people as created in the image of God should be taught by those who are not involved in Torah infractions. I interact every now and again with a homosexual Talmid Chacham, who I believe to be celibate.
Does one give Steven Greenberg an Aliyah? My personal answer would have been yes, if he was a ‘mind your own business’ private type. If however he was advertising his homosexuality and seeking acceptance according to the Torah then I would be inclined not give an Aliya to the Torah. I don’t rely on my own feelings in such a grave case, and discussed this with my Posek today. He fully agreed with me that protesting was definitely not the correct approach. It would also not be advised for an Orthodox person to attend such a talk. In respect of giving him an Aliyah he opined that inaShule where people have lots of different baggage of aveyros, and wouldn’t be alarmed in the slightest, then he is not considered an outlier in that particular congregation and can be called up.
In the end, we must try to focus on the Godly soul of individuals who face big challenges to keep Torah and Mitzvos and try to have them attend davening, go to Shiurim etc.
My view is that this is for the ‘ordinary’ person. The one who has ordination and travels the world talking about his anti Torah proclivities should not be afforded an outlet connected to an Orthodox Shule.
It is ironic that many of those making noise against him are defending the despicably accused Malka Leifer. I just hope that she isn’t duping the psychs in Israel who are evaluating her state of mind and that she be promptly brought to face Justice in Melbourne, and should she be found guilty, they could put her in a psychiatric prison if she is indeed impaired in that way.
PS. YU does not revoke Smicha, but would have revoked Steven’s if they had that policy. I discussed this with those who give YU’s respected and high standard Smicha today.
The following is from מו׳ר הגאון הגדול הרב Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז׳ל.
R’ Yosef Karo in the standard Shulchan Aruch (תרפא:ב) concludes that we light the Chanuka lights before the Havdolo candles. However, when one comes home after Shule, many follow the Taz, that first one performs Havdala and then lights Chanuka licht.
הגאון הגדול הרב Rav Moshe Soloveitchik ז׳ל (the Rav’s father, and eldest son of R’ Chaim Brisker) explains that there is a difference between lighting in Shule and lighting at home.
The prime purpose of lighting in Shule is a requirement on the congregation to publicise the miracle. As the Vilna Gaon is quoted by his students (note the Biur Hagro was not actually written by the Gaon, but by his students) (תרעא:ז) that every place where the Rabbis required the concept of publicising a miracle, they also required that this miracle is also publicised by the congregation. They bring a proof from Hallel on Pesach Night at Maariv (which by the way, the Rav used to say in davening even though he davened Nusach Ashkenaz; the Rav was not afraid to “correct Nusach” e.g. He also said the Avoda of Yom Kippur according to Nusach Sefard because he felt it was a Halachically more accurate description of the Avoda of the Cohen Gadol). On Pesach night, Chassidim, and those who daven Nusach Sefard, don’t follow the Ramoh and, per R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber
בשו”ע או”ח סי’ תפ”ז ס”ד “בליל ראשון של פסח גומרין ההלל בצבור בנעימה בברכה תחלה וסוף, וכן בליל שני של שני ימים טובים של גליות
[As an aside, I remember the Rabbi of an important Shule in Melbourne, who used to daven at Chabad in the evening on Pesach Night because it was near his home and his Shule probably didn’t have a Minyan or it was too far for him to walk to as he got older, and when Chabad/Nusach Sefard started Hallel, he would leave Shule. He sat behind me. I was young, but I thought and continue to think that this was not the correct behaviour, but I will leave that issue as he is in another world.]
Back to Pesach. Even though we are required to say Hallel over a cup of wine (at the Seder) that is our personal requirement. However, the congregation, has a separate requirement to say Hallel as a congregation ציבור. When does a congregation get the “halachic designation” of a congregation? If they davened Mincha together, they are a Tzibbur/Congregation that group “is existentially formed” and now must perform the congregational פרסומי ניסא. For this reason, we light in Shule between Mincha and Maariv, even though many have the custom to light after Maariv at home. The reason being that the congregation assumes it’s requirement to light, as soon as they are designated as a congregation, and that occurs immediately after Mincha, because they have an on following requirement to continue with Ma’ariv.
Therefore, in respect of Shule, after Ma’ariv, where they no longer have any congregational duties, there is no more “congregation” and no special requirement to have פרסומי ניסא. Most people might still be there, however, they aren’t halachically a congregation requiring the lighting once they have completed their davening.
So let’s turn to Motzai Shabbos where we can only light the candles once Shabbos goes out. It would seem that since they have already davened, they no longer are designated as a congregation and no longer a requirement to light as a congregation. In order to avoid this conundrum, the Minhag has become to light the Havdala, as a congregation, after Chanuka lights, because at that time, they are still a congregation requiring Havdala, and therefore the פרסומי ניסא of a congregation has not dissipated. Note that the definition of a congregation is not whether most are there or not. Rather, it is about whether those who are there, are still considered a congregation because they haven’t completed their full davening.
Rav Soloveitchik wondered about gatherings where there was no congregational activity, such as Ma’ariv, e.g. at a fundraiser or the like where most would have already davened Ma’ariv in their own congregations. As such, Rav Soloveitchik questioned whether in such circumstances there was a congregational פרסומי ניסא that was incumbent halachically.
One could turn attention to the “Chanuka in the Park” type celebrations. From my observation, it is sometimes dubious that there is a congregational requirement for publicising the miracle. However, if one assumes, quite reasonably, that many of the people will consider this their private and only lighting of Chanuka candles on that evening, it perhaps would be that an entrance fee be charged, nominally, so that they can become part of the pseudo-mega-household that is lighting the Menora (as opposed to a congregational Chiyuv) to do so. Yes, I see many Chabadniks put Tefillin on people, but the minute they have finished with their Tefillin, those people have done a personal Mitvah, but not a congregational activity that is still incomplete.
It is somewhat ironic, but exact, that congregation isn’t defined by numbers, but by responsibility. Even a group of 10 is a congregation, and as long as they still have a congregational task, they must light Chanuka lights in the Shule. Yet, one could have 5000 people with no Halachically congregational requirement to light Chanuka lights because they aren’t a צבור halachically, because they are not involved in a Tzibbur mandated affair.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing against lighting Chanuka candles in public places. I’m simply repeating the precise halachic categorisation of these acts, as per the words of the Rav and his father.
There are other explanations, including the need to have Chanuka at home with food, and at Shule it’s only for those who don’t know how to perform at home. I’m not going there.
My journey has almost done a full circle. The topic concerned two of the greatest leaders of our generation: the Rav (Soloveitchik) and the Rebbe (Lubavitcher).
It was 2011. I conveyed some thoughts back then in this blog post. My impression was that the Rebbe was not at one with the Rav’s approach to Yahadus, as exemplified by an issue which was the subject of a revealing letter published in that post and reproduced again below.
Certainly the Rav wasn’t a Chossid; he had a strong connection with Chabad through the Rayatz, the Rebbe’s father in law and this also stemmed from his youth in a Chabad town. There are many anecdotes and written accounts of a certain closeness. I would tend to categorise it as mutual admiration and respect. I don’t think the Rebbe and his romantic nostalgic relationship with Chabad were the same notion. The Rebbe was single-minded in his approach. The Rav, ironically given his heritage, had a more pluralistic acceptance of different segments of Orthodox Jewry, and was often a featured as the star orator. The Rebbe could be described as reclusive or too busy, at the same time he was warm and insightful. He was tethered to his headquarters in 770 to the extent that he eventually decided he would not leave 770 for various purposes, apart from the daily cup of tea with his dear wife, and rare occasions. There are those who surmise that each of these revolutionary Rabbis’ wives were their only true confidants. The Rav’s wife had a PhD and was an educator whose mission revolved around the excellence of the Maimonides School that was established to resuscitate the Boston she and the Rav met on their arrival. The Rebbetzin was ever reclusive and kept to herself in an understated way.
One day, I became privy to what I (and others) considered to be some clearer views from the Rebbe about the Rav in the form of a snippet from a letter. This letter, as I understand it, was not known and rather sequestered. I surmise with some confidence based on the secrecy, that it was placed under an unofficial embargo. What made the snippet so interesting to me? As noted in that blog post, it clearly implied that the Rebbe had his differences and criticisms with the Rav (from the vantage of the Rebbe’s Weltanschauung and approach).
The Rebbe was a Manhig, a global director with firm views, and was not limited to Crown Heights, Brooklyn or the USA. The Rav described himself a “Melamed.” Everyone knew this was a self-deprecating description of a most brilliant Torah Rosh Yeshivah steeped in the Brisker tradition of his illustrious family. The Rav described how he was struck and impressed by the Lubavitcher Chassidim who lived in the town where his father, Reb Moshe, the elder son of Reb Chaim Brisker, was Rav for a few years. The Rav experienced the Chassidim’s Emesdike, heart-felt, even romantic approach to Judaism, though many were not apparent scholars (the antithesis of the highly intellectual Brisk he had been exposed to). That’s not to say that Chabad didn’t include high calibre Talmidei Chachomim, rather, they also embraced simple people within those people’s abilities and made them all realise that they could achieve plenty. They managed to produce outcomes that were somewhat foreign to Beis HoRav, Volozhin and Brisker tradition. Whilst Rav Chaim, the Rav’s grandfather was far from a “snob” and embraced the impoverished with all his might and kindness, Chabad made them feel holy.
I speculated more about the relationship between the Rav and the Rebbe in another blog post of 2011. The letter below appeared (and I might say curiously) later as a page in a pamphlet given out as a wedding memento (of all things).
The cat was out of the bag through that snippet. Would anyone notice it or comment, I thought.
The central questions given the letter were,
how was a Lubavitcher now meant to relate to the Rav, and vice versa,and
how was someone from Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon meant to relate to the Rebbe, given what had been written.
I was unable to advance knowledge of the context of the letter and those who I asked from both sides, seemed unaware or were reluctant. I suspect in Lubavitch some were aware, but I doubt that this snippet was ever seen by the Rav or indeed his Talmidim.
An anonymous Chabad researcher of note, recently revealed the issue as being in the context of the Rebbe writing disapprovingly of the Rav’s alleged predilection to “change his mind on matters of Halacha“, for various reasons, although the “Rav himself is a complete Yiras Shomayim.”
The study of Chabad Chassidus was growing. It appeared in some Hesder Yeshivos over the last ten years, and before long there were students who studied Tanya. This was not surprising given that the current generation of some youth seemingly less pre-occupied with minutiae and seeking a more mystical understanding of their faith. My Posek, Rav Schachter, a Talmid of the Rav, often quotes the Tanya, so it was certainly an important Sefer in Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon.
More recently, Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon (RIETS) had no issue with a Tanya Chabura, and past lectures can be heard online and were taught by YU Rabbonim. Certainly, Rabbi Reichman, one of the Roshei Yeshivah has been teaching a variety of Chassidus for many years, even though he describes himself as a Litvak. One of his sons has studied Tanya in Israel through both Lubavitch and non Lubavitch spectacles (if I’m not mistaken he studied it also with another Chassidic Rebbe, one on one)
A Symposium was held at YU on the Rav and the Rebbe. I blogged about that symposium. Again, I felt that to talk about this topic and not mention this letter left a gaping hole. The academic in me felt it was verging on dishonest because I was sure the Chabad speakers knew about the letter. Its absence could be considered, purposefully misleading. Rabbi Yossi Jacobson disagreed with me on that point in private correspondence.
A new book was recently announced on the Rav and the Rebbe by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin. I reviewed the book. Rabbi Dalfin knew about the letter and had asked me a while back if I knew more about it. I did not. The letter existed, however, and he knew about it. The letter was not mentioned in Rabbi Chaim Dalfin’s book. In subsequent correspondence with me, Rabbi Dalfin claimed that without knowing the full letter and its context he didn’t think he should include it. I disagreed vehemently. Perhaps that’s due to my academic training. Whichever way one looks the Rebbe makes clear statements. I appreciate that a Chassid doesn’t want to double guess what their Rebbe meant.
The mystery is now revealed. The letter was addressed to the famous Rav Zevin, the master editor and compiler of the earlier volumes of the Encyclopaedia Talmudis. [ Later volumes, whilst very good, don’t quite reach his enormous ability and articulate summarisation]
It can be argued that there are other things in the letter, but that is immaterial, at least, to me. If it had to do with the same issue it would also have been published (unless it said worse things!). Either way, choosing not to include this snippet can be viewed as a form of sublime revisionism, parading behind a façade of ‘I need full research on the letter’.
The reality is that the comments addressed in the letter were known in Chabad, but kept quiet. I again surmise that it was kept quiet because nobody wanted such comments in the public sphere.
As I have written, a full understanding of the Rav, encompasses his enormous strength and integrity in being able to change his mind if he felt a situation was different, or he felt a compelling new reason. This makes him stronger in my eyes; not wishy-washy by nature, as seemingly implied in the letter. That being said, it would seem that was not even the case here, anyway.
Let’s call a “spade a spade”, and I don’t just mean Rabbi Dalfin. I include Rabbi Jacobson. Who are we kidding? When Lubavitch poached the head master of Maimonides in Boston there was acrimony that lasted some ten years. The Rav would never have allowed this in reverse in this way. The Rav went to Chinuch Atzmoi as a Mizrachist, albeit a nuanced variety thereof.
As to the Rav being some type of closet Chabadnik. The Rav stated many times he was a Litvak, who liked lots about Lubavitch and had a romantic attraction to them stemming from his youth. He was also a big fan of the writings of the Alter Rebbe.
The agenda of Rabbi Dalfin’s book was to gloss over these things and convince the reader through some dubious logic that they were much closer than they were (even though the Rebbe wrote a letter saying they were closer than people knew). The Rav’s head was in Shas and Poskim, all his life. Only certain Rishonim mattered, and he didn’t read the others. Philosophy was a wrapper to make sense of Judaism through a modern prism and paradigm.
[Hat tip anonymous] The snippet was about the Zim Israeli Shipping Company controversy. Zim proposed to sail also on Shabbos. In response to the fact that sailors, engineers etc would have to be mechalel shabbos to do so, Zim claimed that the ship could travel on auto-pilot. The Lubavitcher Rebbe completed an Engineering degree in a Paris College (not the Sorbonne) and, as the Ramash, worked in the Naval Shipping Yards in the USA as an engineer when he arrived. The Rebbe clearly had technical scientific expertise and of course was also a Gaon in Torah. As such, he vociferously held, and mounted a wide campaign to stop Zim, enlisting the help of many other Rabbis of note, including Rav Hertzog the then Chief Rabbi. According to the Rebbe, it was impossible for the ship to travel in “auto pilot” without some chillul shabbos from staff.
[Hat tip DH and AR] The Rav was asked to offer his view. The Rav had a policy of not paskening about matters pertaining to Israel. He felt that this was the domain of the Chief Rabbinate and not that of a resident of Boston and Rosh Yeshivah in RIETS. He also held the policy that Rabbis must consult experts in questions of Halacha involving matters that were not known by them. This is reflected in his view that the question of returning territories was a matter of Pikuach Nefesh that had to be determined by Generals and not Rabbis or Politicians. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Rebbe and Manhig and proffered his Halachic opinion that no inch of land be ceded. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a different approach.
Unless someone has more information: I have consulted world-wide authorities on the Rav, and knowledgeable people about the Rebbe, I cannot understand how the Rebbe could come to his conclusion about the Rav. The Rebbe obviously expected the Rav to join him, as he knew this would be very powerful. The Rav was always his own man. He had views on protests for Russian Jewry as did the Agudah, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe had different views. This, however, does not make him prone to change his opinion, as implied by the snippet.
I have already covered the microphone issue, and that is a long bow. I can’t find the blog post though 🙂
In conclusion, those who wish to argue that they were close, can do so, but my view is that they held fundamentally opposing approaches and views and to intimate a special bond through a symposium or through Rabbi Dalfin’s book doesn’t stand up to academic muster.
Accounts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s campaign re Tzim and influencing the Chief Rabbinate can be seen here and here and here (in Ivrit).
Unfortunately, in correspondence from Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, he advised me that the two people who would have known more details about the Rav’s involvement have both passed away. He referred me to a son who shed some light.
If anyone can elucidate with any more material on this I’d be interested. At this stage, I stand by the feelings expressed in blog posts dating back to 2011.
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:
the distance between Chabad and the Rav’s Mesora is closer than they think;
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
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.
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 yutorah.org (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!
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 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.
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 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?
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.
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 wasunique, 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.
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.
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.
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.
I was contacted by the author, Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, to make known his latest publication. I don’t normally post advertisements, but I am a fan of both the Rav and the Rebbe, so can’t help myself. I don’t know Rabbi Dalfin personally, but I certainly knew and admired his Shver, the late Reb Chaim Serebryanski. I ordered the book about a week ago, and he sends to Australia too. I don’t believe it will be available in bookshops.
It is available online if you follow this link. Of course, I have no opinion on it until I read it 🙂
The nuance expressed in this short Dvar Torah is better appreciated with reference to the aramaic text in the Gemora (Tractate Brachos 33b), included below with the english paraphrasing. Our weekly portion quoting Moshe asks (Devarim 10:12)
“… What does God request from Jews?”
“ only to fear the Lord your God”.
The word “only” is a challenging pursuit in life. How does Moshe seemingly minimise the fear of God, as a simple attainment, and as THE element that God asks from us?
The Talmud (ad loc.) is similarly troubled and says
“Is fear of Heaven such a simple level to obtain?”
אטו יראת שמים מילתא זוטרתא היא?
The Talmud answers incredulously,
“Yes, in Moshe’s domain it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין, לגבי משה מילתא זוורתא היא
The question is obvious. We are not Moshe. We didn’t speak to God and experience miracles or God’s interference in our world. God remains hidden. For us plebeians, it can’t be said that attaining the fear of Heaven is a relatively simple task.
In one of my favourite insights from Rav Soloveitchik, the Rav explains that the placement of the comma in the Talmud’s response is the key to the puzzle. Instead of reading
“Yes, in Moshe’s domain it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין, לגבי משה מילתא זוורתא היא
the Rav suggests it be read as
“Yesin Moshe’s domain, it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין לגבי משה, מילתא זוורתא היא
Meaning, the Jew alone does not achieve this level unless they attach themselves to their respected Rabbi and teacher (לגבי משה). It is indeed a formidable mountain to climb, however, it is incumbent upon every Jew to attach themselves to the Masoretic tradition of a respected Rabbi and teacher who is able to help climbing the mountain.
“fear of heaven”.
This mechanism gives rise to the guiding principle of Judaism, Imitatio Dei, emulating Hashem, as expressed thematically throughout the Rav’s writings, through the Pasuk
You should go in the way of God
This imperative is held as a positive Torah command by many Rishonim.
The Rav’s Uncle, the Griz, R’ Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, provided a further insight in his ליקוטי הגרי׳ז ב:פה. One of the Griz’s students excelled more than others. The Griz explained that this wasn’t simply a matter of that student’s innate ability and acquired knowledge. Rather, that student knew how to nullify their self-importance ביטול, and that skill is not an easy one to acquire. On the contrary, the greater the person’s skill set and knowledge is, the harder it is to suppress and bow to the opinion of his teacher and master. The statement in the Talmud that
what a servant does for their master, the student does for their master
Isn’t simply a detail, but a general principle that is applicable across the gamut of educational experience, through which one can achieve fear of God/Heaven—יראת שמים.
(Sources: מפניני הרב, ונפש הרב מאת מורי ורבי ר’ צבי שכטר שליט׳א)
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:
To promote the life style as being acceptable
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:
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.
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.
Many years ago, the indisputable Rabbinic Doyen of Centrist Orthodoxy (call it Modern or Torah U’Maddah if you like), Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, issued clear rulings under which interdenominational activities must be underpinned. Note, unlike, more right-wing streams of Orthodoxy, Rav Soloveitchik, was not an extremist advocating zero contact. At the time, the Rav’s focus was on Xtianity, as this was the prevailing pressure in the USA. To think that his advice would not equally apply to other religions, such as Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism is a non sequitur.
Rav Soloveitchik stated (emphasis is mine):
1. “We are a totally independent faith community. We do not revolve as a satellite in any orbit.” Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded. This refusal should be recognised by all participants as an ongoing point of disagreement between the faith communities, not an issue to be ironed out by apologetics or revisionism.
2. “The logos, the word in which the multifarious religious experience is expressed does not lend itself to standardization or universalisation. The confrontation should occur not at a theological, but at a mundane human level. There, all of us speak the universal language of modern man.” Because the theological language of the respective faith communities expresses religious sensations too intimate to be comprehended by those of another faith, dialogue must remain in the realm of the “secular orders.”
3. “Non-interference is a conditio sine qua non for the furtherance of good-will and mutual respect.”No Jew must ever suggest changes or emendations to Christian rituals or texts, and the converse is a requirement as well.
4. Any response to Christian overtures that even hints toward a willingness to compromise the fundamental matters over which millions of Jewish martyrs were sacrificed is an affront to their memory. To willingly equivocate where they stood firm demonstrates utter insensitivity to the “sense of dignity, pride, and inner joy” that their memory ought to inspire.
With this in mind, let us examine a letter from Rabbi Ralph Genende (emphasis is mine) of Caulfield Shule as an Orthodox Rabbinic member and President of JCMA
To Our Muslim Sisters And Brothers
Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia Statement
11th July 2016
We watched with sadness and horror the tragic events of the last days of Ramadan and can’t imagine how difficult they were for you.
We know that there is wide consensus that these terrorist attacks are largely political and that Islam is being distorted and manipulated for political and ideological purposes.
The victims, the families and friends of the victims, are all in our prayers.
In Australia, we heard with pain the divisive and hurtful comments of Pauline Hanson about Islam and Muslims.
Know that we share in your sorrow and distress and that we stand with you in the struggle for love and compassion. May they overcome bigotry and hatred and violence.
May the blessings of peace, Shalom, Salam speedily grace our planet.
Rabbi Ralph Genende
President JCMA on behalf of JCMA
I have a number of questions of Rabbi Genende.
Does he accept Rav Soloveitchik’s principles as outlined above? If he does, I am comfortable with that. If he does not, I posit that he is acting outside the boundaries set by Rav Soloveitchik for the RCA. [ Yes, I am aware of revisionists from both sides (left/right) who want to strengthen or weaken what Rav Soloveitchik ruled, but I treat these as speculation of little substance]. We have what the Rav said explicitly. It is clear and unambiguous.
If he accepts the Rav’s views, did he formally write the parameters to his colleagues through which dialogue could proceed, as enunciated by the Rav above. In particular, did he write words to the effect that“As Jews we will never concede at all to the notion that our covenant with God has been superseded by other religions and we formally seek your acknowledgement of this point before any dialogue can proceed. You may have your viewpoint, but I seek your explicit agreement that you acknowledge that we will never see our covenant as superseded by other religions, and there can be no apologetics or revisionism in this regard.”
Can Rabbi Genende tell us whether he received condolence style letters of apology from his Muslim colleagues ever. If not, why might that be? If yes, surely, it is critical that he actually publish those letters. Such letters, more than Rabbi Genende’s letter, act as a counter balance to incitement.
We experienced the recent murder of Rabbi Marks and the stabbing of the young girl Hallel Ariel about whom the State Department made no statement despite her being a US citizen, let alone a human being. I assume Rabbi Genende heard the brave tear-jerking speech at the grave by Hallel’s mother. Muslim men of the cloth, in such a forum, need to distance themselves from Arab politics, and issue unambiguous condemnation of cruel, disgustingly opportunistic cold-blooded murders. Surely, one basis of this group is that violence is to be condemned at all times, except if attacked in a war situation where one is defending oneself.
If Rabbi Genende received no such letter of condolence from his Muslim friends of the cloth, then I see no reason for him to continue with letters of “Salaam”. What is the point? The only outcome from such things is Queens Day honours for the committee for their tolerant platitudes and joint acts of breaking bread.
I am not an expert on Pauline Hanson’s platform, however, a significant number of Australians voted for her viewpoint. In a democracy, this counts for votes in determining how we are governed. There is rhetoric and views from Hanson’s acolytes that are to be condemned. There are other statements that state the obvious, but neither the Labor Party or the Liberals would ever say those for fear of losing votes. Whatever Hanson’s views are, I do not see it as the role of this committee via Rabbi Genende to make pronouncements about a political party unless Hanson’s party has a platform which is universally considered amoral. Rabbi Genende doesn’t mention which comments of Pauline Hanson he as our representative objects to, but I think that should be the focus and not Hanson herself. He should focus on what was said that is offensive, and if need be, condemn such statements where they offend common human decency. In a vacuum though, the letter simply reads as a political rejection of everything Hanson’s party stands for. It’s not the party per se. It is explicit policies, which may emanate from any party, including the Greens, that might be horribly objectionable to all three religions because they breach a basic covenant of morality. The issues, not the parties, should be the focus.
I invite Rabbi Genende to publish letters initiated by either Xtian, Muslim or other colleagues in respect to violence against civilians in the wider world, including Israel. Paris anyone?
I invite Rabbi Genende to ask his colleagues to openly condemn the current outrageous UNESCO proposal where they brazenly rewrite history, announcing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is an exclusive Muslim holy place which has no connection to the Jewish people or their religion whatsoever! Does Rabbi Genende not remind his co-religionists that this is blatant lying, and lying is a common mundane human act that all religions should condemn? It is precisely the type of pronouncement (from UNESCO) about which Rabbi Soloveitchik warned.Last week UNESCO adopted a resolution which refers to Israel as the “occupying power” in Jerusalem and on, what UNESCO calls, the al-Haram al-Shariff (Temple Mount). The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) that is today Judaism’s holiest site is referred to as “Al-Buraq Plaza” in the resolution.The UNESCO resolution claimed “Israel is planting Jewish fake graves! in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” near the Temple Mount and falsely accused Israel of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”. Will Rabbi Genende’s committee distance themselves from such lies publicly? If not, why not? How does one sit on a committee with anyone who denies the Jewish foundation of Jerusalem?UNESCO especially mentioned the damage caused by Israeli Forces since Aug. 23 “to the gates and the windows of the so-called Qibli Mosque inside al-Aqsa Mosque.”. The organisation claimed that Israel doesn’t respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of al-Aqsa Mosque as “a Muslim Holy Site of worship and as an integral part of a World Cultural Heritage Site.” Rabbi Genende knows this is an abhorrent rewriting of history, or to use the words of Rav Soloveitchik,“Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded.”
Given that this implicitly and explicitly concedes our covenant, let alone provable history, on what religious basis is Rabbi Genende continuing dialogue unless his co-religionists openly reject the notion in a letter initiated by them?
Aug. 23 is the date that 67 Jews were murdered in Hebron in 1929 during riots that began after similar lies about a Jewish threat to al-Aqsa ignited the Arab street in British-ruled Palestine. TalmudicGeniuses from the Yeshiva in Hebron were among those murdered. Will Rabbi Genende not also focus on this parallel or does he confine himself to personhood statements of grief when one group of Muslims murders another group of Muslims?
The UNESCO resolution doesn’t utter a word about the daily riots that already started on the Temple Mount in the summer of 2015 and continued into the autumn after the Palestinian Authority and Hamas spread false rumors that Israel intended to change the status quo on the mount. There is overwhelming video evidence of who started the fighting at the Temple Mount and of Muslims barricading themselves in the al-Aqsa mosque. Video evidence doesn’t count in a world of lies, and if men of the cloth don’t condemn such lies, why are we sitting with them on one table?
One has to wonder: apart from appeasement in the name of “we are all one” what Rabbi Genende’s involvement on this committee actually achieves. I’d argue that sending all Victorian students to the holocaust centre achieves much more than such letters.
I also read the growing trend of experiencing the religious practices of other religions in moments of “unity”, with nice accompanying pictures (Rabbi Genende amongst them). I ask again, how is this consonant with Rav Soloveitchik’s ruling that things be restricted to secular orders. Rav Soloveitchik, effectively meant, looking after the poor, the needy, and Noachide-style edicts of having proper courts, order, etc.
I have no doubt that Rabbi Genende has the best intentions, but I believe that unless we see letters initiated by his co-religionists of this committee, then we are not getting a proper picture of what this committee does or what it hopes to achieve, and whether it achieves it or whether its terms of reference should be refined or changed.
I, for one, would have no regret in condemning those Jews in Israel who burnt the Palestinian youth and criticising it as an act which is contrary to Halacha and normal moral law. Did Rabbi Genende write such a letter? We all know that such Jews are minuscule in numbers, and that the Shin Bet is on their heads and tails, sometimes with justification and sometimes without. Jews act to quell violent radicalism.
Be under no illusion, Rabbi Genende. Even today, Xtians believe that all Jews should convert to Xtianity and Muslims believe that all Jews should convert to Islam. Under that factoid, it seems to me that confining activities to joint acts of the more secular, as enunciated by Rav Soloveitchik is the correct and only approach to take. Any more is platitudes that achieve very little.
The politics and policing of curbing incitement is the domain of politicians and the law, not a religious committee that ought to work together to foster those secular good acts that benefit society.
There is an existing Eruv supervised by Rabbi Unsdorfer which covers North Crown Heights. This doesn’t include Chabad. While there have been Eruvin in Chabad (in Liadi and Lubavitch itself) times have changed, and the last Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע stated clearly that he was against Eruvin today and an example is Melbourne. Let me qualify that. One cannot be against Kosher Eruvin in the sense that they think an Eruv is an unnecessary concept. That is a view likely held by Reform or “reconstructionist/new age” Jews. I would like to think that those who are less practicing but when they do practice, do so, according to traditional Orthodox Judaism also have no issue with the concept of a Kosher Eruv and would consider supporting such.
I was privy to details of the first (unkosher) Eruv constructed in Melbourne many years ago through the office of the then Mizrachi Organisation’s Rabbi (not the venerable Rav Abaranok ז’ל), and heard the tapes of Rabbi Groner ז’ל discussing the issue forcefully with Rabbi M.D. Tendler and read booklets from Rabbi M. Krasnjanski and Rabbi Yosef Bechoffer and more.
Melbourne now has a world-class Kosher Eruv, which is, I believe, under the supervision of Rav Gavriel Tzinner (who has mashgichim here through the Council of Orthodox Judaism of Victoria) and visits these shores from time to time. It is trusted by those who avail themselves of its facility, and this includes the ultra orthodox, generally secessionist, Adass Israel Congregation.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe did not issue Halachic decisions as a rule, but did do so from time to time if he felt it was important to identify and/or stress a Chabad custom, or if he deemed the matter to be of a level of importance to the extent that he did so.
On the issue of Eruvin, as I understand it, the Lubavitcher Rebbe preferred to build a quiet unannounced but strictly Kosher Eruv for the purposes of minimising the possibility of someone carrying by accident. I understand that he was concerned that, in our day, a proliferation of Eruvin would imply that ordinary Jews would forget there was a prohibition to carry. Indeed, on several occasions I have witnessed Jews, especially from Israel where there are Eruvin all over the place, not even be aware that one should not carry on Shabbos, as a matter of Torah law.
Since the Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away, as I saw in videos and written material, and as affirmed in the book by Rabbi Eliezrie which I happened to finish one week prior to this post, the LR specified that issues in “the future” for Chabad Chassidim (which undoubtedly included the possibility that he would not live to see the redemption before he passed away) should be decided by Vaad Rabbonei Lubavitch or Mercaz etc depending on the type of issue. I do not recall reading or hearing the notion that one decides based on opening a random page of his Torah, a practice which many Rabbis forbid or do not encourage, including some Chabad-ordained Rabbis, since even the Goral HaGro (and yes there is also a Gemora גיטין דף סח) was only used with Tanach.
I therefore close with my opinion that those who are now starting a public campaign to raise money for a more expansive Eruv in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, should only be doing so if they are not Chabad Chassidim, or they have express permission from the aforementioned Beis Din of Lubavitch.
I am not here to discuss the merits of an Eruv. In days gone by Eruvin were critical. They allowed one to bring home the pot of choolent, which was warming in the baker’s oven (I presume the baker had a fleshig section or the heavy pots never had enough to overflow 😦 ) for lunch after davening. It is a halakhic requirement to have something warm on Shabbos, and from there, Choolent, Chamin and the like emerged (in my opinion). As an aside, PLEASE don’t use the term Pareve Choolent. There is no such thing. Call it Potato Stew or slow cooked Potato or whatever. A choolent without meat, was unfortunately something which the poor suffered who couldn’t even get bones to put in their choolent.
Back to the issue. My view on the online appeal for money to support a wider Eruv in Crown Heights are:
It should not be supported publicly by Rabbonei Lubavitch
It should not be used by Chasidim of Chabad
It should be constructed by a Rabbi of world-renowned expertise in Eruvin
Others should follow their own Posek, and if their Posek allows it, by all means, use it
Those who are not of Chabad persuasion who want to be personally stringent should only do so for themselves. They should not impose the stringency on their family. If they wish to change their mind and use the Eruv later on, they will need Hatoras Nedorim (annulment of vows, given the views of the Rambam on Reshus HoRabbim D’Orayso, which is also a Chumra of Briskers and I believe the Rav was also reluctant to use Eruvin)
In summary, it would have been better, given the relative paltry sum required from the vantage point of a Gvir, to have done this without fanfare, if one followed the late and great Lubavitcher Rebbe. Indeed, who knows if an Eruv was built in secret. It’s not in any book I’ve read (and I have read four relatively good ones on Chabad in the last year, especially when compared with the poor book by Heilman et al which was taken apart by Rabbi Rapoport of England)
Disclaimer: I aspire to be an ordinary Jew. I am not a card-carrying member of any group, although I would be most inclined to follow Rav Soloveitchik if he were בעולם דידן. One can only surmise if the Lubavitcher Rebbe would have a different opinion. Those who try to second guess him, should give up now. There is no ability to do that. Like the Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a super genius.
I’m amazed at Dr Cardozo’s latest piece. You can read it. I found it facile. I will summarise my reaction
We are the people of the book. It is called the Torah. It can’t be “read” away. It is immutable.
There purposely has always been an oral component, handed down at Sinai. We don’t need Plato for the insight of reading and understanding.
The text is called HAGODO which means “telling/saying”. In other words, the point is dialogue. The text is the starting point. Not having a locus to commence from leads to the neo style evenings which turn Pesach into yet another commemoration of the Holocaust, something Rav Soloveitchik railed against vociferously. The left will of course humanise the story of Jews and turn it into “the evening of social justice” where we commemorate Darfur, Slavery, and what have you. Sorry. This is about Yetzias Mitzrayim which is indelibly woven both rationally and Kabbalistically with Matan Torah. Matan Torah is what it’s all about. The former, Pesach, is the journey.
Reading doesn’t require verbalising. The Hagodo does as he notes, but doesn’t amplify
Rebbi Yehuda Hanosi wasn’t concerned with pharmakon! He was concerned that the oral discussions not be lost. Learning Gemora is the quintessential exercise in trying to piece together any contradictory mesoras that were transmitted
I’m not at all clear what Dr Cardozo’s message means in the context of an audience that doesn’t understand the basics of what was written, and to expand that into dialogue. As I alluded to above, this is not ab nihilo. The Baal Hagodo gave us a starting point. If one isn’t even at the level of the starting point, then the starting point becomes exactly what should be taught this year, so that new insights are introduced in the following year. The beginning is most definitely reading and more reading and more reading. We most definitely do start from a point. It is called Mesora.
Let’s dispense with this rotund canard. Shira Chadasha is not considered part of (modern/centrist) and certainly not mainstream Orthodoxy. It is part of the break away left wing “Open Orthodoxy”. The appointee (who was the first from Avi Weiss’s program who insisted on being called “Rabbi”) worked at “Mount Freedom Jewish Center” in New Jersey which is intellectually honest and describes itself as Open Orthodox. Open Orthodoxy, through Chovevei Torah, is definitely not considered Modern/Centrist Orthodox. As Rav Schachter told me, Am Horatzus is absolutely rife therein; none of them know Mesora and Mesoras HaPsak.
It is well to the far left. Some within Modern Orthodoxy don’t want to cut them off, but it is inevitable. It will happen. The RCA made this very clear when it stated:
Oct 31, 2015 — Formally adopted by a direct vote of the RCA membership, the full text of “RCA Policy Concerning Women Rabbis” states:
Whereas, after much deliberation and discussion among its membership and after consultation with poskim, the Rabbinical Council of America unanimously passed the following convention resolution at its April 2010 convention:
The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our members have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.
We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah (Jewish law), hashkafah (Jewish thought), tradition and historical memory.
In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.
Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah (Torah study), yir’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven), and dikduk b’mitzvot (scrupulous observance of commandments).
In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the “ordination as clergy” of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution’s claim that it “is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders,” the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010… The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America
Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
Commits to an educational effort to publicize its policy by:
Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.
This resolution does not concern or address non-rabbinic positions such as Yoatzot Halacha, community scholars, Yeshiva University’s GPATS, and non-rabbinic school teachers. So long as no rabbinic or ordained title such as “Maharat” is used in these positions, and so long as there is no implication of ordination or a rabbinic status, this resolution is inapplicable.
As for what drives the new clergy Lila Kagedan at Shira Chadasha, this quote from Lila is very telling.
“I was drawn to ritual. I felt committed to the halachic process, but to be honest, I became absolutely disgruntled several times growing up,”.
One of those times was when her 13-year-old brother was permitted to sit on a beit din for the annulment of vows before Yom Kippur. “Meanwhile, I felt like I had no status.”
Need one say anymore about what motivates such females as opposed to Yoatzot Halacha? I suppose she also feels upset that she can’t Duchen because she’s not a male Cohen? Let’s get real here.
Call a spade a spade and dispense with the charade. If they think they uphold Halacha, good luck to them. I hope they do and may it improve, but the need to force their modes of worship over well established nomenclature that rejects such modes, only indicates they have no respect for established Rabbinic Poskim and leadership. Reform don’t call themselves Orthodox, and neither do Conservative. I don’t see why putting the adjective “Open” before Orthodox is anymore than a not so clever ruse. There are many learned Jewish Orthodox women in Melbourne who exercise their scholarship and feel empowered to do so.
They don’t feel “I had no status”. The existential imperatives of Judaism come second to them as they academically dance around terminology (hopefully with a Mechitza).
Anyone who even remotely thinks this is the model of Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soltoveitchik is simply an intellectual fraud.
I wonder what Caulfield’s Rabbi Genende’s stance on this is? I wrote to the RCV that this would happen over a year ago. It’s time the RCV not only put out stance like the RCA, I’d be happy if they formally affiliated with it.
It is so easy to say why this clear thinking enormous Talmid Chacham is effectively the Posek for the Rabbinic Council of America and the Orthodox Union. I reproduce an article he just published (c) Torah Web entitled “Volunteering Mitzvos”. What he writes is אמת לאמיתו.
About two years ago I came across a “teshuva” written by a Conservative clergyman. The thrust of the essay was that since the Tanoim established the halacha that women are exempt from wearing Teffilin because they are exempt from learning Torah, and today we expect women to learn Torah just like men, therefore women are no longer exempt from wearing Tefillin.
Needless to say, this is totally incorrect. The halacha that was formulated by the Tanoim that women are exempt from learning Torah has never changed. The laws of the Torah are not subject to change; the immutability of Torah is one of the thirteen principles of faith of the Rambam, and in our generation it has become the main point of distinction between Orthodox Judaism and other branches of Judaism. For centuries Orthodox women have been volunteering to shake a lulav on Succos and to listen to shofar on Rosh Hashonah. No one has changed the halacha that women are exempt from lulav and shofar, rather women have been volunteering to observe these mitzvos as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah. In the days of the Bais Hamikdash only men were obligated to give machatzis hashekel towards the purchase of the korbonos tzibbur but the mishnah records that a woman may volunteer to observe the mitzvah as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah.
We don’t recommend in all cases that one volunteer to perform a mitzvah that he is exempt from. The Shulchan Aruch quotes from the Talmud Yerushalmi that if it is raining on Succos and sitting in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, not only is one exempt from the mitzvah, but also it simply does not make any sense to volunteer to observe the mitzvah – when sitting in the Succah is very uncomfortable there is simply no kiyum ha’mitzvah. If the lights in one’s Succah have on gone out on the evening of Shabbos or Yom Tov and eating in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, but one’s friend has a Succah a one hour walk away, one would not be obligated to walk for an hour in order to sit in the Succah. Nonetheless, if one did go out of one’s way and walk for an hour, when one finally arrives at the friend’s Succah and sits there comfortably, Rav Akiva Eiger says that one may recite the brocha of leishev baSuccah. In this instance, the one who walked the hour is volunteering to observe the mitzvah in a fashion of aino m’zuvah v’oseh.
Rabbi Soloveitchik, who gave a shiur on Gemorah in Stern College, did not intend to disagree with the Talmudic principle that women are exempt from talmud Torah. He merely felt that in that generation it made good sense that the opportunity should be available for women to volunteer to studygemorah, in the same way that women have been volunteering for centuries to observe lulav and shofar. At that time he recommended that the gemorahs studied by women should not be Maseches Baba Kamma or Maseches Sanhedrin, but rather Maseches Brochos, Perek Kol Ha’bosor,Maseches Shabbos, etc. which discuss dinim that are relevant to women halacha l’ma’aseh.
The Ta’noim understood from a phrase in the beginning of Parshas Vayikra that the mitzvah of semicha (i.e. that the one who brings a korbon must lean on the head of the korbon before sh’chitah) only applies to men and not to women. The expression “Bnai Yisroel” which appears in chumash so many times sometimes comes to exclude geirim (converts), sometimes comes to exclude women, and sometimes excludes neither. The Tanoim had a feel and a sense for how to darshon the pesukim based on the context of the passuk.
During the period of the second Bais Hamikdash, many women felt bad that they were not permitted even to volunteer to do this mitzvah of semicha since doing so would be a violation of avodah b’kodshim (getting work/benefit from a korban by the korban supporting their weight when they lean on it). Men who are obligated to do semicha are obviously not in violation of this prohibition of avodah b’kodshim, but since women are not obligated to do semicha, were a woman to do it voluntarily she would be in violation of this issur. As a result, many women wanted to perform an “imitationsemicha” (i.e. without actually leaning on the head of the animal but merely by having their hands float on top of the head of the animal). The permissibility of this was a big dispute amongst the Chachomim. Many were of the opinion that the performance of such an “imitation semicha” might possibly lead mistakenly to a violation of avodah b’kodshim if women would actually lean on the animal, and therefore it should not be permitted. The accepted opinion is that we do permit it, but we have to be careful that one thing should not lead to another.
The bottom line is that each of us has to observe all mitzvos that we are obligated in. However, when it comes to someone volunteering to do that which is not obligatory on him/her, there are rules and regulations pertaining to each individual mitzvoh/halacha specifically, and to observance ofhalacha in general, and it is not so simple to determine when one should or should not go beyond that which is obligatory.
He was a famed Rosh Yeshivah of Volozhin, and a chavrusa of the Rogatchover Gaon, who changed the face of Torah learning. Indeed, the Rav (R’ Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik) said that if not for R’ Chaim’s sophisticated models of analysis, many intelligent Jews would have been lost to academia and the enlightenment. Chochmas HaTorah, the genius of Torah, was embodied in his unique methodology.
So, what do you think R’ Chaim asked a potential student who wanted to learn in Volozhin? It wasn’t like today. A student who wanted to learn in Volozhin was already a known genius and had probably learned all they could from other teachers and Yeshivas. They were coming to Oxford. They knew Shas. They knew how to learn. They were coming to hear the famed Shiurim of R’ Chaim or the Netziv.
R’ Chaim would ask them
If you had a third eye where would you place it
Most of the students would wriggle uncomfortably at the unexpected question and eventually say
I’d put the eye on the back of my head. My eyes see what’s in front of me, but if I put one behind me, I can see what is behind me as well
R’ Chaim replied:
No. You’d put the eye on your finger. That way, you could freely direct your eye in any direction and see everything
I don’t know about you, but I found this answer, and the question most profound!
I came across this beautiful piece of Torah from מורי ורבי, Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, (c) TorahWeb 2008, and think it is well worth sharing.
Will the Real Adar Please Step Forward
If one dies during the month of Adar in a shanah peshuta (a non-leap year which has only one Adar), when do the children observe the yahrzeit during a shana meuberes (a Jewish leap year which consists of thirteen months, two of them called Adar)? Should the yahrzeit be kept during the first Adar or the second? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 568:3) quotes a difference of opinion on this matter. The sephardim follow the view of the Mechaber (Rav Yosef Karo) that the yahrzeit should be observed in the second month of Adar, while the Ashkenazim follow the view of the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles) that it should be kept in the first Adar.
The presentation of this dispute in the Shulchan Aruch runs as follows: (I) the whole idea of observing a yahrzeit is a matter of minhag (custom) (II) customs are binding (rabinically) because they are considered as if the individual had taken a neder l’dvar mitzvah (a vow regarding a mitzvah) (III) when it comes to nedarim the determination of what is and is not included depends on lashon beni adam (the common language usage in the place and time of the neder) (IV) the gemara in Nedarim (63a) quotes a dispute among the Tanaim whether in common usage it is the first or the second Adar which is referred to simply as “Adar” without specifying “first Adar” or “second Adar”. The Mechaber and the Rama are arguing about which view of the Tanaim is the accepted view, i.e. do people have in mind the first or second Adar when they refer to Adar during a leap year?
We are still left with a major problem. Given that all languages change over time, just because in the days of the Tanaim in Eretz Yisroel the common usage of the term “Adar” during a leap year may have meant one or the other of the two months, perhaps over the years the usage has changed. The Meiri in his commentary to Maseches Nedraim repeats many times that the interpretations of lashon bnei adam as given by the Mishna and the Gemara only applied at that time and in that part of the world. It is quite possible that the usage of terms has changed.
The Rama concludes that one should observe the yahrzeit in a leap year during both months of Adar. We would probably understand this to be based on the Talmudic dispute regarding what is indeed the lashon bnei adam, and because of the doubt we recommend that one be machmir. However, Rav Solovetichik was fond of pointing out the explanation given by the Vilner Gaon for this position. The Gaon said the yahrzeit should be observed in both months of Adar not because of a safek (a doubt) but rather b’Toras vaday (as a certainty).
The Tanaim (Megillah 6b)had a major dispute regarding the observance of Purim during a leap year. Should the Megillah be read on the fourteenth day of the first month of Adar or of the second month of Adar. In this context the Talmud does not refer to the aforementioned dispute between the Tanaim regarding a neder. The issue of what is included in a neder is a function of lashon bnei adam, but the reading of the Megillah is a function of which day is the real Purim, which in turn depends on which month is the real Adar. The Tanaim give seemingly tangential reasons for their views of when the Megillah should be read, and don’t tackle the crux of the issue: which day is the real Purim? Therefore it would appear that both Adars are really Adar, and the fourteenth of both months is really Purim. In fact, the fifteenth of each month is also considered a day of Purim and thus a regular year has two days of Purim and a leap year has four days of Purim.
The Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch point out that it is forbidden to fast or to deliver a eulogy on any of the days of Purim, whether one lives in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. We leave out tachanun in a leap year on all four days of Purim. The question of when one reads the megillah is not really a question of which day is the real day of Purim, but rather on which of the four days should one observe the mistvos of Purim. Pesach is a seven day yom tov in Eretz Yisroel but one can only observe the seder on the first night. Rosh Hashana is (biblically) a twenty four hour yom tov, but the mitzvah of shofar can only be fulfilled during the day. Similarly, all four days are really Purim but one can not read the Megillah on whichever day he chooses. One tana is of the opinion that we should not postpone reading the Megillah to the second month, since we are not allowed to forgo an opportunity to do a mitzvah – ein maavirin al hamitzvos. The second tana insisted that we read the megillah on the second Purim, which is closer to Pesach, to connect the geulos of Purim and Pesach.
And now the punch-line: the observance of the yahrzeit is not purely a matter of minhag. Rather the assumption is that since a person died on this day, perhaps this day is still a day of judgment (yom hadin) for the deceased (or perhaps for his entire family), and as such ought to carry with it certain observances (fasting, reciting of kaddish, learning mishnayos, etc.) in order to mitigate the din. If we assume that both months of Adar are really Adar, then both possible days of the yahrzeit may be viewed as yemei hadin, and hence the yahrzeit ought to be observed in both Adars, not merely out of doubt (meisafek) but rather as a certainty (b’Toras vaday).
 See Chaim Uvracha Lmishmeres Shalom on the topic of yahrzeit, #15.
I know there are many people who feel uplifted by his tunes. However, the Halachic perspective on this controversial figure, needs to be known. I am aware that Vicki Polin had been accused of many things including hyperbole, but it cannot be argued by anyone who has a fidelity to historical fact, that as years progressed he became more “progressive” and there were serious accusations.
Reb Moshe Feinstein wrote an opinion in among a section of his writings one would not normally read Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer Vol. 1, No 96. In that, my reading is that until he became more progressive, his songs were fine. After that, they were to be avoided.
One Shabbos Shachris, without much forethought, I chose a Carlebach tune for Kel Adon. (Let me say that it is Halachically very problematic to sing Kel Adon in any tune, unless one does this in a form of Aniya (answering). The Chazan says a stanza and the Kahal repeat it. The same is true of Lecha Dodi. There is a special Kedusha and Mesora to this form of Answering which is an endangered species and I urge Ba’alei Tefilla and Chazonim to re-introduce it, even with song. This was the very strong opinion of the Rav).
I finished davening, and Rabbi Groner ז’ל as was his custom, thanked me for the שחרית and then asked me to sit down. He relayed a story between he, the LR and R’ Shlomo Carlebach. Rabbi Groner had been a friend of Carlebach, and had learned with him. After Shlomo went down certain paths, Rabbi Groner wondered what approach he should take vis a vis his relationship with Shlomo and inter alia his music/influence.
Rabbi Groner told me that the LR was very firm. Although the LR always stressed Kiruv (bringing people closer to God), he did do so again in respect of Shlomo. The LR instructed Rabbi Groner that all efforts should be made to be warm to Shlomo, however, and this was a big however, this was never to be done within the Mosdos (institutions) of Chabad. One should find other ways.
Rabbi Groner then regaled me with stories of Shlomo and his brother’s brilliance in learning, but he asked me not to do this again. Suffice it to say, that within a Lubavitch Mosad, I never sang a Carlebach song during Tefilla. I admit, I was also influenced by R’ Moshe Feinstein’s Tshuvah, which although is kind, and doesn’t mention Shlomo by name, is known by his Talmidim, to have Shlomo in mind.
I’m not here to judge Shlomo. However, I do think that anyone with a fidelity to Chabad absolutely must follow the LR’s instructions. Some will not know, others I know ignore these instructions. I mentioned my conversation with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, and he affirmed that he had heard it from his father himself as well. R’ Chaim Tzvi will quietly discourage Shlomo’s tunes in his Chabad House.
Make up your own mind about those who choose to not follow the LR’s very clear dictum. Do they know better?
My intention is not to give free airtime to business person and rabbinic authority R’ M.G. Rabi (RMG) of Australia and his newest venture (Ben Pekuah farming) although that is inevitable. Those who follow RMG as their Rabbi did so with his many controversial views and will continue to do so. Good luck to them. It is their right and their choice. In my estimation the majority of Torah Observant Jews will not ever rely on RMG’s decisions especially now for reasons that have been documented in many arenas.
On a recent overseas trip to seek agreement from authorities, RMG had many believe that he found approbation from the venerable 87-year-old sage Rav Kanievsky, son of the Steipler Gaon, and universally recognised as a pure Tzadik who sits and learns like no one else. Having heard this, including having personal direct knowledge of RMG’s words with acclaimed Halachists who refused his requests for support, I suspected, that Rav Kanievsky featured on RMG’s marketing and communication campaign. RMG has a habit of having his picture taken with a recognised Halachist.
Someone who has seen RMG’s media and communications arm still promoting Rav Kanievsky as a supporter, please let me know, especially if Rav Kanievsky’s name and face are still displayed and I will make sure that Rav Kanievsky is informed dispassionately via a third-party about the context of the use of his name and picture. Rav Kanievsky has a right to know.
Why do I say this? Because, like Rabbi Abraham from London and others who have found themselves superglued to RMG’s marketing, my view is that the number of respected Halachists who refuse to meet with him in the future will increase. This will not strengthen his position.
RMG will counter with “This is not the way of Halacha”. I do not know who gave RMG license to pasken (Smicha) so we cannot ask that Rabbi directly if this is his way as well and that he approves of the path RMG has chosen to take. It could be asked if that Rabbi is identified and still alive.Does anyone know who it was? If they are alive do they feature on RMG’s websites?
That being said RMG doesn’t have to follow his own Rabbi’s path as long as he is sure he is acting according to Shulchan Aruch. There have always been sole opinions in Judaism. Some opinions remain a Daas Yachid, when it is a respected Posek, others just disappear into the ether.
It is well-known now that Rabbi Kanievsky has explicitly not agreed to RMG and the venture. If RMG wants to argue that Rav Kanievsky was “manipulated” then I suggest RMG should never have gone to see him in the first place for approbation! There are many Halachists of note who are not elderly, well aware of the issues and capable of agreeing or disagreeing with him.
Those who followed him will follow him and likely have the attitude that
I can eat it, it’s on that Rabbi’s head not on mine if it turns out to be not permitted
If it is now in the public domain that Rav Kanievsky has explicitly signed against RMG Ben Pekua farms, will RMG remove Rav Kanievsky’s name and face from his marketing and communications?
If RMG does not, then I ask RMG is that “the way of Halacha” as RMG often writes and says. Categorically, and here there isn’t any question in my opinion, one must take down Rav Kanievsky from all marketing and communications campaigns in respect of RMG and his business investors foetus farms. One doesn’t even need to ask. Yiras Shomayim dictates it as does common decency.
I will mention a recorded and written event from a Rav who has influenced my life, the Grid, Harav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik זצ’’ל (the Rav)
One of the Rav’s students, to whom he had given permission to make halachic judgements (that is, was already a Rabbi) came to see the Rav to ask a question about male and female equality in an aspect of one part of Torah/Rabbinic obligations and practices. The Rav listened to his question and (the best way I can describe it) heard it but did not listen. The questioner, presented a range of halachic reasons and presented his conclusion and sought the Rav’s agreement. Upon leaving the Rav’s house, one of those present asked the Rav “why didn’t you explicitly tell him that you disagree with his approach and conclusions”. The Rav answered in his sage and distinguished way words to the effect
“When he entered and began speaking, I realised that he hasn’t come to ASK me for my Halachic view on the matter. He had already made up his mind before he entered my house. When someone genuinely comes to ask my opinion, I will give it, but if someone comes to prove their Halachic opinion in my presence and I detect that they are not really interested in what I have to say on the matter: I could see that in this Rabbi.”
In response, the person said that “but your silence could be interpreted as agreement” (and this is a Talmudic dictum). The Rav responded that this might apply in a case where his lack of silence was actually listened to. However, this person was never going to listen to me or my opinion and was only interested to use my name as agreeing with him. That sort of person is entitled to his opinion, but he doesn’t need mine, and I have nothing to say to him as a result.
Others may disagree and say the Rav should have acted like the common practice of Haredim and put out an open letter/poster disagreeing (the Rav did on choice public matters especially via the RCA and official positions) even against the opinion of his ex-students, who were now Rabbis of note. I’m guessing that the Rav didn’t feel this was to be used except for well-known broad policy issues because he did not feel he would be listened to based on letters or posters and the Torah would not be honoured in any way.
I think the Rav was arguably right. A day doesn’t go by without some ban or disagreement signed by Gedolim X, Y and Z plastered in the streets of religious cloisters within Israel and the diaspora. These are ignored by those who ignore such things, and listened to depending on the range of those who signed and the issue at hand and the reader.
That being said, if someone came to the Rav and simply asked a plain question he answered it. For example, some bugged the Rav about the Halacha of women’s head covering (the Rav’s wife didn’t wear one). The Rav, repeated and continued to repeat, “it is absolutely forbidden for a woman to go without a head covering”. The Rav was way too smart to be goaded. Another asked about dubious ways to repeal a marriage. The Rav came out strongly, and condemned the view as he saw it as dangerous. When someone came and said he was a Cohen and was in love with someone forbidden to the Cohen, the Rav said “you are forced to accept that it is forbidden, this is the Halacha”. There are many examples. He wasn’t a shrinking violet.
In conclusion, I think it is incorrect to place an alleged opinion of Rav Kanievsky, together with his picture for one’s business/supervisor/kashrus activities after Rav Kanievsky has explicitly signed onto a letter with other Poskim who disassociate themselves and are firmly in opposition to RMG’s Ben Pekuah farms.
For the sake of Kavod HaTorah, he should take anything using Rav Kanievsky down from his web site. It cannot be the halachic way to use what is in black and white, even if RMG claims he has something else in black and white from before. The Halacha is that the upper level is stronger תתאה גבר and the lower level the תחתון is inferior. This situation isn’t the case of בשר בחלב that I quoted, but it has all the hallmarks of at best a misunderstanding of Rav Kanievsky by RMG or RMG might wish to argue that Rav Kanievsky changed his views. Whatever the case, his view is explicit in the widely circulated letter. Those Poskim are firmly of the view that RMG should cease and desist from his venture.
Rav Kanievsky should however not feature any longer as someone supporting RMG. By all means let him find a bevy of respected Poskim who agree with him and explicitly write that they also approve of the Kashrus of that meat.
I would highly recommend that Open “Orthodoxy” supporters of proffering new titles to learned women, as well as hard left members of the RCV (re) read Abraham’s Journey by Rav Soloveitchik. One is thunderstruck again by his open understanding that the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov were a team with their wives and through many verses he makes it obvious that without their wives, the covenantal leadership was significantly reduced.
In last week’s Parsha the Rav concentrates on the lack of any description in the Torah, save the burial of Sarah, about the last 38 years of his life. This is a long time. What was going on? Abraham without Sarah, was a “cappuccino without coffee”. There was little to report on or to talk about. If you find that “Abraham’s Journey” is too long and involved, I would also highly recommend the OU’s Soloveitchik Chumash which is a masterpiece in understanding the human side of Orthodoxy, existential reality, and the prime importance of Mesorah.
I can’t recommend these publications highly enough. Far from women being seenas secondary figures, they were masoretically part of a duo, to the extent that if that was broken up, so was the purpose.
Whilst the Mahari Bei Rav unsuccessfully tried to re-institute formal Semicha, I find it very hard to consider any female, religiously sincere, if the term Yoetzet Halacha is not enough for her.
It is also my view that no Yoetzet Halacha should ever address gatherings of Jewish (Religious or otherwise) Feminists. Feminism is a western ideology. It is viewed with extreme derision ranging from (the cousins) Rav Moshe Feinstein through to Rav Soloveitchik himself. There is no doubts about this. It is in black and white in their own words. Those words are prophetic and just as relevant.
It’s time we focussed less on titles and more on the actual Jewish Education of our youth. Therein is the challenge. The best teachers and expositors go out to the professional world and their skills are not used. This is the tragedy of our society.
SHIUR HARAV Y.D. SOLOVEITCHIK זצ’’ל ON פרשת LECH LECHA
(Shiur date: 1955) Based on tape #5126 available from Milton Nordlicht. (c) (1999) Josh Rapps & Israel Rivkin, Edison, NJ. Permission to reprint this summary, with this notice, is granted [lightly edited/corrected by me]
Avraham is portrayed as the great personality of Jewish History. The previous 2 parshios are a preamble to Avraham, the other patriarchs and the birth of Knesses Yisrael. Avraham’s life culminated at the time that he consummated a covenant with Hashem. He did this twice. The covenant was consummated many years before the birth of Isaac. The sole purpose for the birth of Isaac was to carry on the Bris. There ar e 2 covenants in this parsha. The first is Bris Bayn Habesarim. The Torah says Bayom Hahu, on that day Hashem made a covenant with Avram to give him and his children the land of. At the end of the Parsha there is another covenant, which included Bris Milah, and again the gift of the land to Avraham and his children is repeated. [It is interesting to note that at the Akeidah there was no new Bris, rather the original Bris was reaffirmed.] Hashem commands Avraham to include Ishmael and circumcise him, but the covenant will not be passed to his children.
The first covenant very clearly revolved around the gift of the land to Avraham. Why not have only one Krisas Bris? When thinking about the granting of the land to the Jewish People, we very often overlook the second Bris with Avraham and instead focus on the Bris Bayn Habesarim. Another question is why separate the 2 covenants with the story of Ishmael and Hagar? Why not juxtapose the 2 covenants immediately next to each other?
The Rav answered the first question that Bris Bayn Habesarim says that Hashem gave the land to the children of Avraham. It does not say for how long. The first Bris did not guarantee the eternal ownership of the land. The second Bris says that it is given to the Jewish Nation forever.
Jewish History is very perplexing to one who attempts to understand the continuity of the Jewish Nation. How were we able to survive tragedy and holocaust throughout the millennia? In fact there is a doubly fascinating aspect here. The first is based on the Bris Bayn Habesarim, that Eretz Yisrael has waited for us. The Midrash says Vhashimosi Ani Es Haaretz (And I will lay waste to the land), this is a good thing for Bnay Yisrael, for it means that the enemies of Israel will derive no benefit from the land and would never conquer it and claim it. If one would analyze the colonial periods of the 1600s through the 1800s we find that major portions of the world were colonised. The Americas, Australia etc. The non-Jewish world excelled in their colonising ability. However many countries attempted to colonise Eretz Yisrael. Germany which was well known as being expert colonisers failed to colonise Eretz Yisrael. It is interesting to note that many of the nations around Israel were much more developed than Eretz Yisrael through this period. Egypt and Iraq were much more developed than Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael remained untamed and barren, a land of sand, stones and sea. Had the land been colonised it would have been much more difficult for the Jews to return. Eretz Yisrael is Kolet, absorbs, its inhabitants. Eretz Yisrael also has the ability to expel, L’Hakey, those that it rejects.
The Beis Halevi says that when Jeremiah says “Al Har Tzion Sheshamem Shualim Hilchu Bo, Atah Hashem Lolam Teshev” it implies a blessing for the Jewish people. Many wanted to settle the land but were unsuccessful. This is a sign that the Kedusha is eternal. Its stones could not be colonised. The land remained loyal to the people. Reb Yehuda Halevi in his Kinos says “Tziyon Halo Tishali L’shlom Asirayich”. How do we know that Tzion inquires as to the welfare of its inhabitants, the Jews? It is written in the barrenness of the hills and land of Judah and Israel, the fact that no one else was able to colonise it.
In Judaism we have the concept of Agunah. It implies someone who is locked in limbo, who is constantly waiting for her husband to return even though she is ageing and realises that her chance to remarry is slipping away with each day that passes. Yet she waits. The land of Israel is an Agunah in this respect. It waits for its mate to return even though he has been gone for so many years. The Bris Bayn Habesarim guaranteed that the land would remain loyal to the people.
If the inanimate land elects to remain loyal to the people, it has the ability to remain loyal indefinitely. However the problem is how to ensure that the people remain loyal to the land? A husband can be an Agun as well, someone who waits for his wife to return. The Jewish Nation has been an Agun, waiting for the land. Achad Ha’am (someone far from religion) wrote that he came to Jerusalem and visited the Kotel on Tisha B’av and observed how Jews from Aydot Mizrach were mourning. He observed that the stones are witness to the destruction of our land and these people are witness to the destruction of our nation. He asked which is worse? He answered that a land that was destroyed can be rebuilt by those that return, like Ezra and Nechemia. But who will rebuild a nation that is destroyed?
Achad Haam’s mistake was that the group of people he observed were not witnesses to the destruction of the land. But the principle is correct. The question is how can a nation express its identity and live uniquely under such conditions? Everything about the Jew is different than the world around us. The way we write, the way we pray, the way we set our calendar are all examples of how we differ from those around us. Jews lived in Europe for a thousand years and remained loyal. Eretz Yisrael is another example of the uniqueness of the Jewish Nation. Rationally one should not support Israel, how can it survive against so many enemies? Yet this is the great wonder and power of our nation, our ability to wait for the land and to return to it. The same applies to the relationship of the Jew to Torah, especially Torah Sh’beal Peh. Just like one can’t learn and appreciate Mathematics by simply reading a book. It is a method that must be incorporated in the thought processes of a person. The same is true of Torah Sh’beal Peh, it is a method that becomes part of a Jew’s personality, distinguishing him from those around him.
The fact that people would wait for a land for so many years is based on Hashem granting us the land L’dorosam, forever. This eternal gift was granted in the covenant associated with Bris Milah and not in the covenant of Bris Bayn Habesarim. The second covenant grants the land eternally to a people that keeps Torah Sh’beal Peh, a people that rejoices differently and cries differently. This is the essence of Bris Milah. Milah is a Chasimah. Chasimah is not just a signature but rather it is the mark of the individual. It expresses the uniqueness of the individual that no one else can copy. Milah is called Chosam Bris Kodesh because the Jewish Nation is different and unique from all others. It is this uniqueness that guarantees our constant yearning for and connection to the land. Why is the story of Ishmael introduced between the two covenants? Because any nation can survive while they are on their land, even Ishmael. The distinguishing characteristic between Ishmael and Isaac is in their ability to maintain their uniqueness when they are removed from the land. That’s why Hashem says that He will transfer the Bris and its fulfilment to Isaac and not Ishmael. Because Isaac and his children will remain unique forever. Hashem retains responsibility to recognise and fulfil the Bris Bayn Habesarim so that the land maintains its loyalty to the people. However our job is to fulfil the covenant of the Bris Milah and to retain our uniqueness and identity as the Am Hashem.
I have to admit to liking a drop. Strangely however I’ve never been able to take part in the rather heavy “straight to the head on an empty stomach” that occurs on Shemini Atzeres during or before Hakofos. I don’t know why, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say I appreciate that people have been generous, but the “barn like” atmosphere affects half of me. the Brisker side, and not the Amshinover side. That’s speculation. I don’t really know. My disposition on Simchas Torah is laboured. I tend to look at the Sefer Torah and find it harder as I get older to muster Simcha because the older I get the more I realise that there is much more that I don’t know than I do know. I tend to stand, and look in a Sefer, and probably appears (unintentionally) pompous or remote. It’s my issue. I heard I nice vort today from Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner where he said the מחשבה … cognisant thinking are the same letters as בשמחה and that through מחשבה of good things as opposed to wallowing in one’s “I haven’t yet achieved where I should get to” one may get to בשמחה. This is of course quite consistent with modern-day psychology which exhorts parents et al to concentrate on the achievements and the good things. Likely, I am still affected by the hole in my life, that is my father, but should concentrate on the wonderful new additions of our four beautiful grandchildren כן ירבו בדרך התורה והמצווה על פי המסורה הקדושה.
The following two videos are presented in this blog as food for thought. I think there may be a part 3. I’m not sure. I will post it, if I see it.
Personally I have a long way to go to get past “going through the motions”. When one is younger, especially returning from higher Yeshivah, one is convinced that they have the Torah. The Brisker influenced part of me, especially from the Rav, and then realising what an ant I am listening to HaGaon Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, has turned me into something more sanguine. It’s not humbleness. It’s just reality. I can’t hide reality.
I learned a little story this week. Mori V’Rabbi R’ Schachter is known to be prolific. His shiurim are an endless daily stream of wisdom and he is clear and wonderful to listen to (in my biased opinion of course). He was the youngest ever Rosh Kollel appointed at YU, and was and is known as a genius. Greater than his genius, are his Middos, as I’ve personally experienced. He is a humble, straight, man who has no tickets on himself. I’d say that the art of politics cum diplomacy are not his strengths, but that’s often a result of not having a level of English oratory, even though he speaks English fluently, having graduated from University.
When Rav Schachter was five years old, his parents, including his well-known father Rav Melech Schachter ז’’ל, were upset and most disturbed. Any parent would be. Their little son Hershel, did not speak a single word. He was silent. He wasn’t stupid, but he would not talk. He knew exactly what was going on, but wouldn’t say a thing.
The Schachters are not Chassidim. Rav Schachter is far closer to the Brisker Derech, having learned assiduously a Mesorah from the giant Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik ז’’ל, the genius Yoresh of Rav Chaim Brisker.
For reasons I do not know, the parents decided to take the young Rav Schachter to see the Rayatz נ’’ע, the second last Rebbe of Chabad, who had escaped Russia via Poland, as has been well documented, and was now residing in New York. The Rayatz wasn’t blessed with great health. His visage, with the spodik, always gave me the feeling of Midas HaYiroh (fear). He spookily looked like his father the Rashab נ’’ע (in my opinion).
The senior Schachters walked into a Yechidus (private audience) with the Rayatz and asked for a blessing for their son, who still couldn’t speak at the age of five. Immediately, the Rayyatz dismissed them with a wave of his hand. exclaiming that they had no idea how many words, and words of Torah would come out of this child’s mouth, when he was ready. They should not worry, and could leave with confidence.
And so it was. Rav Schachter is the most prolific shiur giver at YU and the highly revered Posek of the OU (with Rav Belsky).
Our Mechutan, Rabbi Yossi Goldman, Senior Rabbi of Sydenham Shule in JoBerg, related a story.
Rav Schachter was invited by the Rabonim in South Africa to discuss and help with a myriad of current and difficult halachic matters and to speak on various topics. One day, they hired a bus, full of the cream of South Africa’s Rabonim, and wanted to show Rav Schachter the wonderous Ma’aseh Breishis in the famed wild life parks. Alas, the bus broke down and was stranded for an hour or two. Apparently, one by one, the Rabbonim stood in line, and each asked questions of Torah from one edge to the the other edge of Torah. For two hours it was a Kolo D’Lo Posik (a voice that didn’t stop). With each Rav, he quoted the entire tracts, with Rishonim and relevant acharonim, and explained how he would deal with the question at hand. There seemed to be no topic that wasn’t in his hip pocket. At the end, the Rabonim discussed what they had personally discussed among each other, and were simply blown away, that someone could sit at the end of the bus, with no Seforim, and had the entire Torah at his finger tips and was able to articulate his sensible views, in a Kolo D’Lo Posik Mideorayso. This wasn’t a photographic memory. It was the memory of someone simply across all the Torah.
Even though Rav Schachter states clearly that using Igros of the last Rebbe is not halachic, and meshichisten are rather Narish, he has a soft spot for Chabad, which largely emanated from that meeting with the Rayatz (and no doubt stories he heard from his Rebbe Muvhak, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik ז’’ל, which are well documented)
By chance I came across this. I had written another piece here.
I haven’t heard of anyone who ties their tzitzis this way. I had asked one of Rav Schachter’s sons but he hadn’t got back to me. His father just went on a Heritage Tour of Morocco where he gave six shiurim on Morocco depending on where they visited. Unbelievable. I will have to find time to listen!
The Shulchan Aruch includes a disagreement between the Mechaber (R Yosef Karo) and the (Ashkenazi) Ramo. The Mechaber’s view is that the strings should be the same colour as the four cornered garment they are attached to. In that vein someone wearing a Kapote which is black and has four square edges, would need to wear black Tzitzis. That’s my understanding of the Mechaber. The Ramo states that Minhag Ashkenazim is different. Ashkenazim don’t look at the colour of the garment as determinant, rather they always wear white. Undoubtedly this is not a Minhag from the time immemorial. Rather, when the Jews had preserved the tradition of Tcheles from generation to generation it is reasonable to conclude that the strings were not all white. Indeed, we see even amongst Sefardim like the Rambam, and others such as the Ra’avad and Tosfos different ways to utilise and incorporate the Techeles string.
The tradition of Identifying/finding Techeles was lost. There is the famous Radziner Rebbe who thought he identified Tcheles, and the subsequent debunking of the Radziner Techeles by Chief Rabbi Herzog and others. About 15 years ago the murex trunculus (as I recall, I could be mistaken with the exact name) enjoyed very strong halachic and scientific support as being authentic T’cheles.
Rav Soloveitchik opposed attempts to identify and conclude what T’cheles was as he was very much the Masoretic Jew from Beis HoRav (stretching to the Vilna Gaon). As such, where a mesora/tradition was lost, that was the end of the story, and one would need a Novi/Melech HaMoshiach to confirm the source of the T’cheles blue.
According to Kaballah, the Sefer Hachasidim related that he saw in a prophetic image that God wore white Tzitzis on a completely white garment.
The Mishna Brura opines that it is best to wear a pure white garment and white Tzitzis, as in this way one fulfills both the opinion of the Ramoh and the Mechaber.
It is rumoured that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father, Reb Levi Yitzchok הי׳ד who was an accomplished Kabbalist, wore a plain white Tallis and white Tzitzis.
Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter argues that today, based on the Gemora in Menachos 40a, that the Gemora states explicitly that someone who wears Indigo coloured strings as a substitute for Techeles is fulfilling the Torah command of Tzitzis. Therefore since in our day we have something which can be called ספק תכלת, possibly Techeles, there is a cogent argument to no longer follow the Ramoh’s custom, and to wear modern T’cheles, since it’s a ספק דאורייתא, a Torah doubt, for which we normally are careful to be concerned about.
Clearly, Rav Schachter, arguably the most accomplished of the Rav’s Talmidim, doesn’t agree with his Rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik (during which time this T’cheles wasn’t yet (re)discovered.
Rav Schachter opines that Rav Elyashiv’s view that one should continue wearing white, must be based on a reason that Rav Schachter didn’t merit to understand. I seem to recall Rav Schachter meeting with Rav Elyashiv and this was one of their conversations.
I have a set of the first T’cheles of the new type that have been sitting in my cupboard for many years. I haven’t looked into the matter since I read Rav Soloveitchik’s view.
I’m interested in any views which may differ from the rather compelling logic and psak of Rav Schacter. I know that Chassidim (and today’s Litvaks are no different) look to their Master and follow their Rebbe/Daas Torah behaviour and practices.
I’m interested in halachic arguments against Rav Schachter’s logic.
There was once a young couple who was very close to the Bostoner Rebbe and Rebbetzin. The couple was also close to Ha-Rav Yosef Solovietchik, who was Rav in Boston, along with teaching at Yeshivat Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan. The couple was once invited to Rav Soloveitchik’s home for a Shabbat meal. The Bostoner Rebbetzin asked the young woman: What did you see there? She answered: It was quite similar to what you do but there was one difference: They use disposable utensils. The reason is that Rav Soloveitchik’s wife wants to participate in her husband’s Motzaei Shabbat class, and if she needed to wash dishes, she wouldn’t be able to do so. The Bostoner Rebbetzin went to her husband and told him this practice of Rav and Rebbetzin Solovietchik and asked: I am willing to eat on China every meal, but we have 30-40 guests every Shabbat and I wash dishes until Tuesday. Why can’t I use disposable dishes? The Bostoner Rebbe said: You can use disposable dishes. The Bostoner Rebbetzin said that she is so grateful to this young woman who told her what she saw at the house of Rav and Rebbetzin Soloveitchik (The Bostoner Rebbetzin Remembers pp. 165-166).
Undoubtedly this was before the days of dishwashers, but even so, there is plenty to do Motzei Shabbos, and the salient lesson was that Rav Soloveitchik’s wife Rebbetzin Tonya, has more of a תשוקה, a strong desire to hear her husband’s shiur, than washing up dishes. The Rav, however, had a duty to give his superlative shiurim.
I have to admit, I was brought up in a very old-fashioned way. I don’t ever recall my father ע’’ה doing these sorts of things. He worked extremely hard, going to work at the crack of dawn and coming home in the evening when it was dark, including a good half day on a Sunday. I am an only son, and inherited this tendency, although I have improved in minuscule ways, and never worked as hard as my father. In reality, there really is no excuse to help unless you have the means to hire some home help.
It was predictable, that the hard-hitting and often “on the money” Isi Leibler would come out in full support of Rabbi Riskin. Isi, if I’m not misquoting him, is also a supporter of Rabbi Benny Lau, who is a controversial figure.
What Isi fails to notice is that Rav Soltoveitchik was a Charedi in his outlook on Torah and Mitzvos. The difference was that Rav Soltoveitchik could make a Psak (many were often contradictory for good reasons) and “take on” any Gadol BaTorah in the entire world and flatten him with his learning and brilliance. His use of the philosophical world was to broaden the understanding of Torah.
Rabbi Riskin is a very impressive man. I enjoyed his latest book immensely. One thing that was clear though that Rabbi Riskin, when in doubt, always went to seek advice from some mentors. He used to go to Rav Soltoveitchik and then to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (especially when the latter enfranchised him to work underground for Soviet Jewry).
Now, Rabbi Riskin is his own man. He is not young. He got one-off Hetterim from both Rav Soltoveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe for certain activities. In his fantastic book he is clearly in awe of them, and if you asked him today whether he reached either of their ankles, he would tell you “No way in the world”. That being said, unlike another moderates like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ז’ל, Rav Aharon actually also had a posek. That Posek was none other than Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל, a cousin of Isi’s wife, Naomi. The saintly Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl also went to discuss difficult matters with Rav Shlomo Zalman. Why? Because whilst being a Charedi, Rav Shlomo Zalman was not behoved to any politics or political machinations. He was an independent, a pure soul, who understood both Rav Aharon, and Rav Avigdor (and like Rav Elyashiv would get angry at anyone who remotely said anything negative about Rav Kook ז’ל)
I feel that Rabbi Riskin is now missing his mentors. Who isn’t? His last few more controversial steps are argued among the real students of Rav Soloveitchik, of whom I consider Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, the carrier of Rav Soloveitchik’s Torah Mesora and דרך הלימוד ופסק par excellence.
Far be it from me to be one to proffer advice to Rabbi Riskin, (I don’t come to his ankles) but the one Rabbi I would go to discuss issues of grave halachic import in Israel with, is actually Rav Shlomo Zalman’s son in law, Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is very much attuned with the real world, as was Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. He is a wise man, very attuned to the real world, and void of politics.
I’ll close with Isi’s article, and that of Rabbi Gil Student. You decide. Regarding the Chief Rabbinate, I agree. The calibre of Rabbi is not what it should be. Rav Ovadya Yosef was recently described as מיוסף עד יוסף לא קם כיוסף where the first Yosef is R’ Yosef Caro the author of the Shulchan Aruch. I agree with this whole heartedly. Sadly, political appartchiks are now in the seat.
Indeed, reading what Rav Soltoveitchik wrote about the Chief Rabbinate, is as true now as it was 30 years ago. He was utterly opposed to the concept.
Here is Isi’s article, followed by R’ Gil Student.
The despicable effort by the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate to purge Rabbi Shlomo Riskin because he does not conform to their stringent halachic approach may prove to be a blessing in disguise. The anger this outrageous initiative generated could be the final straw needed to dissolve this corrupt institution, which is held in contempt by most Israelis — including, ironically most haredim.
Rabbi Riskin is one of the outstanding role models of the religious Zionist community. I am privileged to have known him for over 30 years and consider him one of the greatest and most beloved Modern Orthodox rabbis of our generation. He is also an extraordinary creator of Jewish institutions.
A student of the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in 1964 Riskin became the rabbi of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, which he transformed into one of New York’s most successful Orthodox religious centers.
In 1984, at the peak of his career, he moved to Israel and became founding chief rabbi and a leading developer of Efrat, which is today a highly successful community.
In addition to acting as a communal rabbi, he launched the Ohr Torah Stone institutions, which include one of the best networks of Modern Orthodox schools in Israel, ranging from junior high school through to graduate programs. He also created a special program to inculcate young men with the knowledge and skills to be effective rabbis and educators throughout the Jewish world.
He displayed innovation by seeking to blend Halachah with the requirements of a modern industrial Jewish state.
He strove to upgrade the status of women and to this effect launched Midreshet Lindenbaum, a college designed to educate religious women. He also created a five-year program designed to train women to act as religious advisers paralleling rabbis. This and his efforts to address the issue of agunot (women in unwanted marriages whose husbands are unwilling or unable to grant them divorces) outraged the ultra-Orthodox.
Rabbi Riskin also had a major impact in the field of marriage, divorce and above all, conversion, where he established independent conversion courts that were bitterly challenged by the haredi establishment. Riskin considers the issue of conversion — especially related to immigrants from the former Soviet Union — as one of the greatest religious, national and societal challenges facing Israel.
He was at the forefront of efforts by the moderate Tzohar Rabbinical Council to decentralize the appointment of rabbis and provide Israelis with choices beyond the extremist ultra-Orthodox candidates appointed by the Chief Rabbinate.
When at the age of 75, Rabbi Riskin’s tenure came up for a five-year extension — an automatic procedural formality, the Chief Rabbinical Council took the unprecedented step of refusing to reappoint him. It was only due to a plea from the recently elected chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, that the council reluctantly agreed to interview him. He only learned about his provisional rejection from the media.
This was not merely an attempt to publicly humiliate one of the doyens of Modern Orthodoxy. It was a ploy by the ultra-Orthodox fanatics to assume unprecedented total centralized control of religious leadership and to marginalize those with different approaches.
But choosing to impose their agenda on Efrat, a bastion of national religious Zionism, is likely to backfire and the crude effort to oust Rabbi Riskin against the wishes of his community, exposes crude agenda of the Chief Rabbinate.
As far back as the Mishnah, there were robust debates in the interpretation of Halachah between the more liberal Beit Hillel and more stringent Beit Shamai schools. And this process of debating the “70 faces” of Torah ensured that a plurality of interpretations prevailed at all times. Now even the ultra-Orthodox compete among themselves to impose the most stringent interpretations of implementing Jewish laws.
This is being extended to the Diaspora with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate insisting that that conversions to Judaism by Orthodox rabbis lacking their endorsement should no longer be recognized as Jews by the government of Israel and thus ineligible for aliya.
This is outrageous and entirely beyond the jurisdiction of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Former chief rabbis like Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others were outstanding religious scholars, moderate and devoted religious Zionists in stark contrast to the mediocrities and corrupt individuals who succeeded them when the haredim hijacked the Chief Rabbinate.
It is significant that the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau ensured his election by giving an unqualified undertaking to haredi groups that he would resist any proposed reforms relating to conversions or rabbinical administration without their prior approval.
To make matters worse, the level of corruption and scandals associated with the Chief Rabbinate reached bedrock when the former chief rabbi (whose appointment was orchestrated by the haredim to block a national religious candidate of genuine stature) was arrested and charged with purloining millions of dollars from illegal activities and corrupt practices.
Not surprisingly, the attempts to humiliate Rabbi Riskin created enormous outrage. The Tzohar Rabbinical Association stated that “above any effort to depose Rabbi Riskin flies a clear red flag of revenge directed against his positions and halachic decisions” and accused the rabbinical council of initiating this solely “for political considerations and to enable them to appoint insiders in his place.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, stated that the Chief Rabbinate was behaving in an “unacceptable” manner and that he would not stand by and permit this.
Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, described Riskin as “a Jewish leader and an Israeli patriot,” insisting that there can be “no questions about his qualifications for his continued service.”
The Efrat municipal council unanimously voted to extend the rabbi’s tenure and condemned the intervention. Rabbi Riskin made it clear that if necessary, he would appeal to the Supreme Court but that so long as the Efrat community wished to retain him, he would continue to serve them as rabbi without payment.
The abject silence of Diaspora Orthodox institutions was disappointing, encouraging Rabbi David Stav, the head of Tzohar, to call on Jewish communities in the U.S. to stop inviting Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef as their guests if the Riskin provocation is not withdrawn.
The Rabbinical Council of America, once a robust Modern Orthodox group, expressed the hope that the differences would be amicably settled. One of its executive officers, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, actually accused Rabbi Riskin “of violating the trust of his employer and contravening the rulings of the most pre-eminent halachic authorities of this and previous generations,” alleging that “the employer had more than ample reason to maintain that his employee was not adhering to the policies and values that he was hired to uphold.” This obscene depiction of Riskin as an employee of the Chief Rabbinate reflects the distorted mentality of those currently controlling the institution.
In view of the waves of protest, there is every probability that the Chief Rabbinate will back down. But now is the time for Israelis and Orthodox Jews throughout the world to raise their voices and say enough is enough. Despite the repercussions of a division, breaking away and setting up independent religious courts directed by moderate Zionists is the only means by which to terminate the exclusive control of the haredim.
Throughout the Exile, the rabbinate never imposed centralized religious control and there was always a plurality of differing halachic interpretations. The issue is not whether we should be more or less stringent in the application of Jewish law. Any Orthodox community should be entitled to select its choice of spiritual leader. Haredim are entitled to practice their religion as they see fit. Indeed, there are aspects of their spirituality and lifestyle that our hedonistic society could benefit by emulating. But that does not provide a license to enable the most extreme elements to impose their limited worldview on Israeli society.
The Chief Rabbinate is regarded with contempt and despair by the vast majority of Israelis, including most haredim, who merely exploit the institution for their own purposes. The greatest impediment to the current religious revival is the deplorable status of the rabbinical bureaucracy, which alienates rather than attracts Israelis to their Jewish heritage. The scandalous effort to degrade one of the most beloved and successful Orthodox rabbis of our generation should be a wake-up call to introducing highly overdue, radical changes in the rabbinate.
Here is Rabbi Gil Student’s take:
If you want to know why Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is apparently being forced into retirement by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, you have to read his recent book, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy. I don’t claim any insight into the complex politics of Israel’s governmental organizations, of which the Chief Rabbinate is one. I don’t know enough to understand the power struggle that is occurring. However, in terms of ideology, I see why the Chief Rabbinate Council would express concern over R. Riskin. His book is more radical than many might expect. This is not the same Rabbi Riskin you may remember from the 60’s and 70’s.
The most surprising thing about the book is what is missing from it. On multiple occasions, R. Riskin wrote programmatic essays about what Modern Orthodoxy needs to do to succeed. These were essays full of passion, exhorting both faith in God and Torah as well as devoted observance of the commandments. While the book consists almost entirely of previously published articles, these programmatic essays were replaced with a new introduction titled “What is Modern Orthodoxy?” This introduction is a call for radical change in halakhic decision-making. For example (p. xiv):
The Modern Orthodox decisor must orchestrate the interplay between both of these directives, taking into account the guiding principles used by the sages of the Talmud in their religio-legal discussions, the meta-halakhic principles such as, “for the sake of the perfection of the world,” “in order to respect the integrity of the human being created in the divine image,” “for the sake of freeing a wife chained to an impossible marriage the sages found leniency,” “in order to provide spiritual satisfaction for women,” and “you must love the stranger and the proselyte.”
If you are familiar with rabbinic literature of the past century, you will immediately recognize that these are legitimate principles that can and have been (ab)used to overturn wide swaths of Jewish law. The essays in the book provide many examples of R. Riskin’s applications of these principles. There are two things going on here. First, R. Riskin is promoting his own fairly radical agenda, as would be expected. Second, he is setting the stage for future rabbis to make even more changes to Jewish practice according to their own understanding of what is needed, regardless of what traditional texts allow.
Another troubling trend I find in this book seems to be the result of an editorial oversight. Most of the essays were written over the course of decades, as R. Riskin’s experiences and outlook changed. While the essays were edited for consistency and maybe updated a little, the conclusions were largely left intact. Here we see a troubling difference in how R. Riskin reaches conclusions. Regarding changing the daily blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” R. Riskin writes: “I would not permit even so minor a change without the approval and approbation of several leading halakhic authorities” (p. 159). While R. Riskin advocates annulling marriages, he does not plan on doing so unilaterally. Rather, “this should be effectuated by a special Beit Din for agunot in Jerusalem with impeccable halakhic credentials who would render judgments, and rule on urgent issues of mesuravot get throughout the world” (p. 188). In his call for theological interfaith dialogue with Christians, R. Riskin repeatedly invokes Rav Soloveitchik, albeit in what I believe is a twisting of his words but at least as an appeal to an eminent authority.
However, in his essay on women halakhic scholars and judges, R. Riskin does not submit his proposal to leading authorities. The most he does is quote a responsum of Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, who is alive and well and could be consulted. Instead, R. Riskin started a program for ordaining women on his own. (R. Riskin writes that his program’s first two graduates published a book of responsa that “has received much praise, and — at least to my knowledge — no negative reviews” (p. 132). We published a negative review by Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer to which one of the authors responded.)
When it comes to women dancing with a Torah scroll on Simchas Torah–which I acknowledge lacks the gravity of some other issues under discussion–R. Riskin likewise does not mention consulting with other scholars. When discussing establishing a Hesder yeshiva for women–a matter of great communal importance–R. Riskin also omits discussion with great authorities.
What I see is a rabbi whose agenda has become increasingly radical. Realizing that he was engaging in activities for which he would not gain approval of his elders, he stopped asking. Instead, he moved forward on his own authority. A young R. Shlomo Riskin regularly consulted with Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When they passed away, he was no longer restrained.
In America, R. Riskin was a defender of Orthodoxy against the Conservative movement and a defender of Judaism against Christian missionaries. That is not the R. Riskin you will find in this book. Maybe in Israel he found himself in a different situation which has given him a new perspective. He now has Christian supporters in his role as a defender of modernity against Charedi Judaism. Maybe he simply underwent a personal evolution.
However, this is all speculation. Regardless of why, R. Riskin has taken some communally radical actions and created surprisingly unorthodox institutions entirely on his own initiative. Some people love him for it. We should not be surprised that others believe he has gone too far on too many issues. Whether that is cause for him to be forced into retirement I leave to his employers and constituents.
Well, thank God, I’m out of the cast and am now in a moon boot (see below)
It was Thursday, and as my wife drove me home from the Hospital, I mentioned to her that there is now a question about me Duchening on Shavuos in one of these. My wife said “what could be wrong”.
Well, the issues as I saw them were
I am in no physical condition to remove the boot. It’s early days, and I’m still in a fair bit of pain and can’t just stand on my socked foot
Normally, I do the directional turns during Duchening as laid out in Shulchan Aruch. I don’t believe they are strictly necessary though
There is some conjecture about non leather shoes and duchening. Rishonim hold that non leather shoes need not be removed (which is why some don’t remove their shoes on Yom Kippur Duchening)
Some agree that one doesn’t need to remove non leather shoes, however, if the show has laces, then one could trip and miss duchening (and hurt oneself) so it’s better to remove shoes even on Yom Kippur
This moon boot (or air cast as some call it) uses velcro so it is not going to undo itself by accident, and it’s not made of leather, so it would seem that one could leave the boot on during Duchening
One of the reasons that a Cohen who has a blemish (בעל מום) doesn’t duchen, and is ineligible for the Avoda, is that people will turn their attention to the blemish and not properly concentrate on the Blessing itself.
My wife didn’t like reason 6, and said that she couldn’t understand why that should disqualify a Cohen. I noted that according to Rav Soloveitchik the success of the Bracha is through direct links between the Cohen and the congregation. For that reason we don’t say שומע כעונה (one Cohen can say the blessing on behalf of other Cohanim). Anyway, she wasn’t convinced, but I felt there was enough doubt about it to merit asking Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter his view. Thankfully, he replied before Shavuos.
In essence his answer was
One could duchen in a moon boot
Much depended on how freely the Cohen could move
There is an issue of the Tararum (cacophony) such a Cohen could cause becoming a “celebrity” standing out from the other Cohanim. Again, that depended on the level of movement they could cope with.
In the end, he felt that it was probably best I didn’t duchen given I just got the contraption and was really unable and not permitted to walk freely without support. He suggested I leave the Shule without much fanfare, and I was able to do that easily as I sit in the back row of the Shteeble around the corner from me.
Excitedly, I mentioned to my wife (and to Rav Schachter) that these were my thoughts as well. Your Posek may have another view, but I felt it was important to put this down for the record. Hopefully, it’s never למעשה for another כהן!
(c) Yeshivah World. Rav Elyashiv ז’’ל on the left in discussion with Rav Schachter on the right.
I don’t have time to translate it but the Rebbe wishes Rav Soloveitchik a good Yom Tov using the language of his father in law the Rayatz which included accepting the Torah happily. When he came to sign the letter he explained the word happily ie בשמחה
The difficulty is we are meant to be in fear. What does the emotion of happiness have here. Based on a Gemora in Brachos, Rishonim and the language of the Shulchan Aruch HoRav, it is explained that fear most certainly has its place during learning Torah, but at three other stages the emotion of happiness is appropriate. One of these is on Shavuous when we accept the Torah.
By the way, something I find people don’t know (I think I read and heard them from Rabbi Riskin): R’ Chaim Brisker (Soloveitchik) who was the grandfather of the Rav, and a great innovator in a meta theory for understanding the Rambam, was also Rav of Brisk (of course). R’ Chaim’s Gabbay, Binyamin Begin, was none other than Menachem Begin’s father (and a follower of Jabotinsky). Begin therefore enjoyed a special relationship with the Rav and visited him in Boston when Prime Minister.
Some anecdotes of the visit:
The Rav said: “Mr. Prime Minister, you are so short, and your father was so tall.” Menachem Begin responded, “Kavod HaRav, I will say two things. Firstly, you remember how my father looked when you were a small child, and all adults seem taller than they actually are, to children. But the real point is that my father was always a much taller and greater man than I.”
The Rav said: “Mr. Prime Minister, you apparently learned to be a principled Zionist from your father,” said Rav Soloveitchik. “Kavod HaRav, you apparently learned to be a sage religious leader from your grandfather,” said Menachem Begin.
Anyway, here are some of Menachem Begin’s thoughts.
I believe the lessons of the Holocaust are these,
First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent. (Note: one month later, Begin dispatched Israel’s Air Force to destroy the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak.)
Second, when a Jew anywhere in the world is threatened or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.
THIRD, A JEW MUST LEARN TO DEFEND HIMSELF. HE MUST FOREVER BE PREPARED FOR WHENEVER THREAT LOOMS.
Fourth, Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death. During the Holocaust it was after the enemy had humiliated the Jews, trampled them underfoot, divided them, deceived them, afflicted them, drove brother against brother, only then could he lead them, almost without resistance, to the gates of Auschwitz. Therefore, at all times and whatever the cost, safeguard the dignity and honor of the Jewish people.
Fifth, stand united in the face of the enemy. We Jews love life, for life is holy. But there are things in life more precious than life itself. There are times when one must risk life for the sake of rescuing the lives of others. And when the few risk their own lives for the sake of the many, then they, too, stand the chance of saving themselves.
Sixth, there is a pattern to Jewish history. In our long annals as a nation, we rise, we fall, we return, we are exiled, we are enslaved, we rebel, we liberate ourselves, we are oppressed once more, we rebuild, and again we suffer destruction, climaxing in our own lifetime in the calamity of calamities, the Holocaust, followed by the rebirth of the Jewish State.
So, yes, we have come full circle, and with God’s help, with the rebirth of sovereign Israel we have finally broken the historic cycle: no more destruction and no more defeats, and no more oppression – only Jewish liberty, with dignity and honor. These, I believe, are the underlying lessons to be learned from the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust.
The AJN is perfectly entitled to have views. These are widely considered anti–religious for many years by many. In fact, each year we ask ourselves why we buy it.
Whatever the case may be, the AJN needs to acknowledge that nobody contends that homosexuality is an illness. It is a preference, call it a predilection. I don’t have it, so I can’t claim any expertise nor am I a therapist of any sort. The preference itself, as is well-known by the AJN is not considered sinful according to Torah Judaism (I don’t conclude man-made reformations of Judaism here as they are of minor interest if any). People are born with predilections. There is the nature vs nurture conundrum which is far from settled. Acting on the preference and performing the homosexual act is described as sinful by the Torah and Codifiers. There can be no argument about that fact in any form of Orthodoxy. Reformers have their own religion.
Now, many if not the vast majority of those professionals who see homosexuals professionally claim that the predilection is life long and cannot be altered. That may well be. There isn’t Science here, and extrapolation into the future is tenuous at best. Maimonides knew about predilections long ago.
The best counter case to nature, as quoted by arguably the most respected psychiatrist in the USA, Professor Abraham Twersky, and many others is the identical twin conundrum which has been studied extensively. All known biological markers were exactly the same, and yet one twin had a predilection and the other did not. There is currently no theory able to explain that. There is a minority view, and yes it is a minority (Dr Elon Karten comes to mind) that claims they have techniques which allow predilection change to materialise. Like Climate Skeptics they are attacked regularly. I’m not an expert, but as a Scientist, one would be a fool to think that in ten years time, our knowledge of these things will still be static. Accordingly, if Rabbi Telsner or anyone else subscribes to the view that predilection modification could occur, they do not deserve to be pilloried in the disrespectful tone of the AJN.
Pedophillia is also at least a predilection. Perhaps we will discover it is more likely a disease that is incurable except by using drastic means to make sure that those who seem to “enjoy” such things are simply incapable of (re)offending. In the meanwhile, one witnesses judges themselves releasing pedophiles back into the public after serving sentences, as if law makers believe they will be “safe” to society once so released. Is that true? Evidence would suggest that re-offending is (too) common and perhaps techniques for rehabilitation are simply inadequate and not practical at this time.
Now, if Rabbi Telsner were to subscribe to an opinion that people with predilections can have them modified (and this could extend to those with life long fetishes), one can disagree, but one should not excoriate him in the way of the AJN, as a matter arising out of the Royal Commission.
Rav Schachter of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University always said that a “stock” Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel in general should not be a Posek (decisor) of Halacha because they sit in a cloistered environment and are often/mostly oblivious to the nuances of science and other disciplines. This was certainly the case in Lithuania where most Rabbi’s were not Halachic Decisors. There were some exceptions such as the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish, but the late and great Chacham Ovadya Yosef did not consider the Chazon Ish a Posek of repute, because he sat cloistered and didn’t face the people, so to speak.
Either Rabbi Telsner has read some minority opinions or has been informed of such by some of his constituents. This can mean that the AJN, seeing itself to present current knowledge on such topics can disagree with the minority opinion, but it does not give then a license to excoriate a Rabbi for agreeing to such a minority opinion.
The last time I looked there were no Nobel Prize winners writing for the AJN, and aside from the occasional community brouhaha most of the news is stale, and unenlightening. Indeed we may have also recently witnessed an alleged breach of journalistic ethics which has allegedly resulted in a staff member being suspended initially. The mere fact that we are exposed to the weekly whining letters of Messrs Burd and Herzog, and others is bad enough. One could almost write their letter before reading it. I think the AJN do good things but there is room for improvement in some of its approaches. Yes, I know it’s good for selling papers, but Oilom Goilom believes everything.
The “what do you think” section is statistically unsound, and really just a copy of journalistic practice in low-level papers, like the Herald Sun and others. Is it going to make one iota of a difference if I know what the local butcher thinks of Bibi’s chances?
Back to the issue at hand. The AJN may not have liked elements of evidence tendered. As such, it should carefully analyse such in a calm and sanguine way. The majority of Rabbis are traumatised by the Royal Commission, and my sense is that things will never return to the situation before in respect to how they react if they are God forbid confronted with such information. We aren’t Catholics, and don’t have a box where one admits their sins and the Priest, Lehavdil, absolves the sin, says a few hail mary’s sends the perpetrator on their way and will never breach confidence.
It’s also not about Chabad. Don’t people read the internet? Modern Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel has pleaded guilty to secretly videoing some 57 women at the Mikva with secret cameras. Is he sick? Undoubtedly. Can he be rehabilitated? I don’t know. He will serve jail time. Does this paint all Rabbis as fetish-laden? Of course not.
Contrast this issue to the one about the “interfaith dialogue” we graphically saw and where Rabbi Ralph Genende as usual gushed forward with platitudes about how useful they were. Let’s look at the evidence AJN. What has ever changed because of these meetings. They were forbidden according to the scion of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik for reasons which were absolutely sound then, and even more sound now. If it was a meeting to bring religions together to have a joint charity drive for the homeless, or similar that’s fine. If it was about showing our religion to them and theirs to ours, what’s the point? Tolerance can be achieved without any interfaith dialogue as long as nobody considers us as monkeys behind trees that have to be killed. Was I blind, or did the AJN not notice that there was no muslim representative in the picture at that “feel good” meeting, or did I miss something.
Anyway, to make it clear, I usually do not agree with Rabbi Telsner but on some matters I don’t think he deserves the anti-religious excoriation meted out to him.
AJN and especially Rabbi Ralph Genende of the moderate left wing: check this out for a reality check while you read the Chazal quoted by Rashi הלכה עשיו שונה ליעקב. (Whiteout anyone?)
I’d love to hear the AJN and/or Rabbi Ralph’s commentary on this, or better still have his interfaith group muslim representative condemn this presentation from February 13th in Copenhagen as abominable in the extreme in the Western and Muslim Press.
What the heck is it? I use it in my iPhone email signature. One of my respectful readers asked me to explain what I meant by קליפת נוגה. To trace the concept historically, perhaps its earliest appearance is in the זוהר חדש יתרו מ”ד ע”ב and I am happy to be corrected by those who live and learn these concepts regularly. I don’t understand Kabbalistic concepts and find them and Chassidus rather impenetrable. That’s just me. Nonetheless, we have Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 203 (hat tip RMS) telling us something very profound
אם אי אפשר לו ללמוד בלא שינת צהריים – יישן.
הגה: וכשניעור משנתו, אין צריך לברך “אלהי נשמה” (בית יוסף). ויש אומרים שיקרא קודם שיישן “ויהי נועם” (כל בו).
ובלבד שלא יאריך בה, שאסור לישן ביום יותר משינת הסוס, שהוא שיתין נשמי. ואף בזה המעט – לא תהא כוונתו להנאת גופו, אלא להחזיק גופו לעבודת השם יתברך.
וכן בכל מה שיהנה בעולם הזה, לא יכוון להנאתו אלא לעבודת הבורא יתברך, כדכתיב: “בכל דרכיך דעהו” (משלי ג ו), ואמרו חכמים: כל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמיים, שאפילו דברים של רשות, כגון האכילה והשתיה וההליכה והישיבה והקימה והתשמיש והשיחה וכל צרכי גופך, יהיו כולם לעבודת בוראך, או לדבר הגורם עבודתו. שאפילו היה צמא ורעב, אם אכל ושתה להנאתו – אינו משובח, אלא יתכוין שיאכל וישתה כפי חיותו לעבוד את בוראו.
וכן אפילו לישב בסוד ישרים ולעמוד במקום צדיקים ולילך בעצת תמימים, אם עשה להנאת עצמו – להשלים חפצו ותאותו – אינו משובח, אלא אם כן עשה לשם שמיים.
וכן בשכיבה, אין צריך לומר שבזמן שיכול לעסוק בתורה ובמצוות לא יתגרה בשינה לענג עצמו, אלא אפילו בזמן שהוא יגע וצריך לישן כדי לנוח מיגיעתו – אם עשה להנאת גופו אינו משובח; אלא יתכוין לתת שינה לעיניו ולגופו מנוחה לצורך הבריאות, שלא תיטרף דעתו בתורה מחמת מניעת השינה.
וכן בתשמיש האמורה בתורה, אם עשה להשלים תאוותו או להנאת גופו – הרי זה מגונה. ואפילו אם נתכוין כדי שיהיו לו בנים שישמשו אותו וימלאו מקומו – אינו משובח, אלא יתכוין שיהיו לו בנים לעבודת בוראו, או שתהיה כוונתו לעבודת הבורא או לדבר המביא לעבודתו.
כללו של דבר: חייב אדם לשום עיניו וליבו על דרכיו ולשקול כל מעשיו במאזני שכלו, וכשרואה דבר שיביא לידי עבודת הבורא יתברך – יעשהו, ואם לאו – לא יעשהו. ומי שנוהג כן, עובד את בוראו תמיד.
In other words there is a class of our actions that can be used for mundane/selfish or even sinful purposes but that group is not in of itself an irredeemable or innately bad category. It is a behavioural manifestation that depends on us. If we use it for good, it can be raised to holiness. If we misuse it, it can transform into a negative force.
When we consider many aspects of life, be they secular, seemingly mundane, or even holy, they can be a positive force or they maybe a negative sapping energy.
There are, of course, things which are innately evil or lacking קדושה and are simply impure. These are defined to us by Shulchan Aruch. But ultimately, many things are (in the words of a friend in Miami) Pareve. You can turn them into fleshig or milchig. What you do, depends on your intention and actions: do you seek to have a positive emanating light or are you fooling yourself, or are you, God forbid, misusing what has been given to you.
iPhone, the internet, and other devices have been slammed by many righteous people and some Poskim. It is my belief that they fall into the class of קליפת נוגה. In other words, they are not innately bad. They are a communication device but are able to aid in other ways. Of course, like many other appliances, they can be misused for the wrong thing(s). At the same time they can be a source of extreme קדושה.
In my own case the advent of the iPhone opened up a world to me that I would never have experienced. Although I am a musician, I have little music on my iPhone. I only insert the odd song that I need to learn for my band. Currently I have 50 Gigabytes of Shiurim on my iPhone. When I drive to work, and drive home, most commonly I am listening to a Shiur (and usually it’s from Rav Schachter). The internet as stored or accessible on my iPhone which is shining from a parve state to one which I have found exalted. My own Posek was actually “sourced” from learning via my iPhone. I had the recent pleasure of spending a full day of Yarchei Kallah at YU, together my wife. and I had the merit of hearing two shiurim directly from Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter, and also spoke a little with him. The iPhone was the derech that I discovered him and his Torah.
Dayan Usher Weiss is another who I occasionally listen to. He knows me now. Just this week I spoke to him about a difficult Shayla which I became involved in, only because I was asked, and I knew that his standing would be able to influence those on the other end. (My son just brought back the second chelek of his Shaylos and Tshuvos for me).
To perhaps put the concept in more concrete terms. I will quote from a very good book I was given, named “GPS for the soul”, by Rabbi Nadav Cohen. It’s essentially a rewrite of Sefer HaTanya in a form that is palatable for simpletons like me. I haven’t read it from cover to cover, but do look therein when there is a concept that doesn’t cleanly penetrate my head due to the way it’s been explained to me before. Here is an embellished quote
From a verse in Yechezkel 1:4 “And I looked and behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, a burst of flame, and a glistening (נוגה) around it, we learn there are four kinds of Kelipa (outer shell): “a stormy wind, a great cloud, a burst of flaming and a glistening (the latter is what I think is Klipas Noga)
These four Kelipot subdivide into two main groups: a lower level and a higher level. The lower level which is referred to as a stormy wind, a great cloud, and a burst of flame is called the three impure Klipot and they are responsible for infusing vitality into all forbidden things.
The remaining Kelipah (“a glistening“) is called kelipat nogah and is responsible for infusing vitality into all permitted things-meaning, anything that isn’t forbidden or (already) a Mitzvah
Sefer Hatanya formally states (chapter 7)
קליפה רביעית הנקראת קליפת נוגה שבעולם הזה הנקרא עולם העשיה רובו ככולו רע רק מעט טוב מעורב בתוכה [שממנה באות מדות טובות שבנפש הבהמית שבישראל כמ”ש לעיל] והיא בחי’ ממוצעת בין שלש קליפות הטמאות לגמרי ובין בחי’ ומדרגת הקדושה ולכן פעמים שהיא נכללת בשלש קליפות הטמאות [כמ”ש בע”ח שער מ”ט ריש פ”ד בשם הזהר] ופעמים שהיא נכללת ועולה בבחי’ ומדרגת הקדושה דהיינו כשהטוב המעורב בה נתברר מהרע וגובר ועולה ונכלל בקדושה כגון ד”מ האוכל בשרא שמינא דתורא ושותה יין מבושם להרחיב דעתו לה’ ולתורתו כדאמר רבא חמרא וריחא כו’ או בשביל כדי לקיים מצות ענג שבת וי”ט אזי נתברר חיות הבשר והיין שהיה נשפע מקליפת נוגה ועולה לה’ כעולה וכקרבן. וכן האומר מילתא דבדיחותא לפקח דעתו ולשמח לבו לה’ ולתורתו ועבודתו שצריכים להיות בשמחה וכמו שעשה רבא לתלמידיו שאמר לפניהם מילתא דבדיחותא תחלה ובדחי רבנן. אך מי שהוא בזוללי בשר וסובאי יין למלאת תאות גופו ונפשו הבהמית שהוא בחי’ יסוד המים מארבע יסודות הרעים שבה שממנו מדת התאוה הנה ע”י זה יורד חיות הבשר והיין שבקרבו ונכלל לפי שעה ברע גמור שבשלש קליפות הטמאות וגופו נעשה להן לבוש ומרכבה לפי שעה עד אשר ישוב האדם ויחזור לעבודת ה’ ולתורתו כי לפי שהיה בשר היתר ויין כשר לכך יכולים לחזור ולעלות עמו בשובו לעבודת ה’ שזהו לשון היתר ומותר כלומר שאינו קשור ואסור בידי החיצונים
So, in summary, what I say in my “iPhone email sign off”, is that like the Television that is wheeled out each Motzei Shabbos in the Shule I daven at on Motzei Shabbos and is used to show DVDs of Torah, that TV is Klipas Nogah. It can glisten and shine and emerge from pareve.
Think of classical music, for example, it can be used to soothe nerves. It can’t be considered as forbidden in my world view.
I recognised the more right-wing sheltered types will see no glistening in such devices. הנח להם … I leave them to their philosophy with which I disagree.
Even the University education of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav, in my opinion was Klipas Noga. They used it to shed light and infuse the particular type of modern Jew for whom this was “the key”.
As stated in part 1, our trip, although planned, was somewhat up in the air awaiting various confirmations. As it turned out, Baruch Hashem these came through and we arrived on a Wednesday in Crown Heights, New York, for the first leg. I had never been to crown heights, nor, as I have stated did I ever have a great interest in visiting there. And this, despite the fact that I went to a Chabad School, and daven in Chabad. I’d heard things about the place, but admittedly, I really only listened with one ear, but for me, spending time in Yerusholayim, Ir HaKodesh, was and remains the focus of my heart and mind. Our son, Yossi is currently learning in Israel, and both my wife and I felt that despite our yearning to visit Israel once more, it would be better not to disrupt Yossi’s progress with our ever presence for a few weeks. So, based on my wife’s previous year’s experience, and her suggestion I acceded without rancour to a visit to Crown Heights en route to Montreal, and then our holiday in Miami.
It was difficult to pack because one encountered the cold winter cold of Crown Heights and colder winter of Montreal and then the physical warmth of Miami; a contradiction in weather patterns, it say the least. My wife expertly found us what is known as a ‘basement’ for our lodging. Observing the architecture, it became clear that basements are a regular fixture of narrower houses that invariably are built on an incline. I was reminded of parts of Sydney. Down the steps we went, and into a basement. It was nightfall already, and the flight via Hong Kong had been longer than expected because our Melbourne to Hong Kong leg departed late, and we missed the connecting flight. I did enjoy a few scotches in the Cathay lounge in stuporous compensation. Marc Schachter was also present, and he was a more experienced flier to these regions, providing sound advice. It was impossible to get food into the airport, and while there was the usual sprinkling of OU Nash, that wasn’t exactly what we were after. This also meant there was no Kosher food on the long missed subsequent leg to New York, as they require 48 hours notice. That God, my wife had a few Wurst Sandwiches which we devoured early on the flight. I did contact Chabad close by, but there wasn’t enough time to effect any changes.
Arriving in Crown Heights, New York, the basement was neat and clean and had amenities for those who maintain a fidelity to Halacha. We quickly grabbed a sandwich from a 24 hour place near vt. It was overpriced, but tasty nonetheless and we were hungry. I mentioned to my wife, that despite sleeping on the plane, I had no idea what time I would wake in the morning and hopefully it wouldn’t be too late for a minyan.
As it turned out, I managed to wake in the morning hours at a reasonable time, grabbed my tallis and tefillin and noticed lots of chassidim in the street walking in a particular direction. I followed them and then found myself literally 2 minutes later standing in front of 770. We were obviously very close to 770. I recognised it, ironically, from the 770 facade in Caulfield!
I wasn’t sure what to do. I am not comfortable davening with meshichisten, and I wondered if I would end up in a Shule therein bedraped with signs, people taking dollars from nobody, drinking Kos Shel Brocho from nobody, or pretending to make a pathway for nobody to walk through. These are scenes I don’t want to be ever be connected with. I become aggravated weekly from the unnecessary single sign at the back of Yeshivah in Hotham Street Melbourne which effectively states that there cannot be a Moshiach other than the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a nonsense by any stretch of normative Judaism. There is nobody who can or should state who the Moshiach must be. It isn’t part of our Mesora to do that. I am not going to get into the issue from a learned perspective, but an interested and serious reader would do well to read the work of HaRav HaGaon R’ Yechezkel Sofer in his important Kuntress Yisboraru Veyislabnu, for which he was ridiculed and called R’ Yechezkel Kofer (a disgusting pejorative).
That sign grates on many people, but remains up because the Chassidim who run the Shule in Melbourne, including the clergy, don’t actually follow the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directives which included the point that if such a thing causes one person not to come in or feel comfortable, then they should be discarded as they are not the essence of Chabad. Those people have their own rules for what is term Hiskashrus and that concept seems to supersede even what their own Rebbe stated clearly and plainly. I will stop there on that topic.
All these thoughts were in my mind as I stood at the doorway, wondering whether I should go in. I knew I’d be able to find another Shule, but my sense of direction is so woeful, I feared walking further. In addition, I had just finished reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and these had an effect on me. I decided to brave matters and enter.
Opening the door and there was a narrow corridor, and I noticed some people milling about. I recognised Rabbi Shem Tov; he has distinctive eye brows! He was rather self-effacing and pointed to a room and said a minyan would start there in 15 minutes. I searched for a place to put my coat, such that I might find it again and then the door opened and I walked in and readied myself for davening. I noticed that it was an office and that the bookshelves has been sealed. In front of me was a small desk, and it then became obvious that I was in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s office, the room where many a famous yechidus/discussion took place. When a few men turned around and briefly eye-balled me, I realised that the Rebbes’s three secretaries were also in this minyan. My mind wandered to the many stories described in the three books (a draft review of which I have had for some time but have not managed to complete) It was a surreal experience finding myself in that very room. Some people strangely were davening just outside the room even though there was space therein. I was to learn later that this was their way of according respect, because they had no “permission” to enter. Not being a Chabad Chasid myself, I didn’t feel uncomfortable davening in the office and entered as I would in any circumstance.
I looked at the chair, and felt some sadness that there was nobody occupying it. At the same time I was made to feel very welcome. There were no shrieks of Yechi here, no emblazoned Yarmulkas, and no yellow lapel badges, all of which continue to annoy me as they are expressions of a false reality. Instead, call it by divine providence, my first encounter was with those who I consider “normal, level-headed” Chassidim who were no less connected to their late Rebbe than the type who feel the need to advertise their views. We are lucky that tattoos are forbidden. If not, I would imagine Hiskashrus would be akin to tattooing the Rebbe on one’s back, forehead, and anywhere else.
Being a Thursday, there was layning. It was also Chanuka. The Gabbay, whose son-in-law is the Rabbi of Central Synagogue in Sydney, is a warm man, and when he called out “is there a Cohen”, I answered in the affirmative. I follow the Psak of Rav Soltoveitchik that these days, it is highly questionable whether one should make a Brocho of Gomel after flying as it happens to be safer than crossing a road (statistically). I am a stubborn type in the sense that I don’t like to deviate from what I have been taught to be clear halacha. Accordingly, I made the Brachos on an open sefer torah (and not closing it as per many including Chabad). The Baal Koreh didn’t interfere, and I respect him for that. I felt a bit cheeky doing so, but it is how I do it naturally. When I finished the second bracha, I decided that I would bench Gomel. When I think back why I did so, I think the primary reason was that it was a tad fortuitous and pre-ordained that I should immediately be in the Rebbe’s Yechidus Room, and I felt that Minhag Hamakom should prevail. I wasn’t consistent, because I used the Brocho of Gomel of Nusach Sfard instead of Chabad, but impressively, not a single person blinked an eye lid or issued any complaint. This seemed to be the type of inclusive environment I was used to as a youth, and although my actions were contradictory, I felt a feeling of “acceptance”. At the conclusion of davening, which was undoubtedly more meaningful for me because I was, where I was, and thereby able to commune more effectively with God, I was asked who I was etc.
I couldn’t really answer in any meaningful way except to say I was a Mechutan of Rabbi Yossy Goldman and Rabbi Shabsy Chaiton, both of whom everyone seemed to know. It probably sounded like I was trying to brandish Yichus, but that wasn’t my intention at all. Isaac Balbin, is a meaningless name, although I was to find out that a few people were readers of my blog and enjoyed it. That’s a bonus, but not the reason I write. Indeed, I am writing now, after visiting my father’s Tziyun at Springvale, and whilst I should be learning more Mishnayos, this post is what I am capable of doing at the minute in my state of mind.
I continued returning to this Minyan later for Mincha etc. It seems it isn’t always available but being Chanuka, I was fortunate. I love the haunting Haneyros Halolu from Chabad, and enjoyed that immensely. Each time I noticed a few more rooms and then it dawned on me that one had to go downstairs to see the “main shule”. I forgot that everything is below ground here!
I didn’t want to go there. I had seen pictures. I had seen the Tzfatim outside, and that atmosphere as opposed to the one where I davened, provided no attraction to me. I didn’t go downstairs.
Shabbos was looming, and Ari Raskin’s aufruf was also to be upstairs, and that was lucky (for me at least). That day is a Parsha in of itself and will be Part 4 of the trip.
I’ve scribbled out part 1 (and thanks to a reader for the english correction wherein I learned that I had understood a word incorrectly all my life!)
I’m jumping to Part 3 before Part 2. Why am I doing so? Perhaps you will understand when I have finished writing. I apologise as always for errors but I don’t proof-read much if at all.
My dear father’s 2nd Yohr Tzeit is on Friday. Leading up to that has been somewhat teary. A way to cope is to try to divest from thoughts and memories and ever presence. It only helps partly. Every which way life turns, the touch and influence of his Neshoma and memory is raw and palpable. Call it second generation holocaust survivor syndrome. It’s my existential reality; I can’t escape it.
This morning I had five injections in my feet (for plantar fascia) after enduring pain for way too long. The specialist kept saying, “this is going to hurt, this will hurt a lot more etc as he dug the needle and spread it around while squirting in places where needles don’t normally wander”. I answered each time. It doesn’t hurt. Just do what you have to do. When the procedure was finished and my feet felt like they had fallen asleep from the block used in my heels, he was ready to move on quickly (too quickly to his next patient). I stopped him and explained that nothing any doctor could do would cause me to show pain. He asked why? I replied that my parents are holocaust survivors in a world of insulting and sick denial, and their pain was far worse than anything I could ever imagine. Accordingly, I stridently refuse and refused to show visible pain; what I experienced was a drop in the ocean.
He stood there somewhat speechless. He asked me if my parents had passed away. I said my father had “just” passed away. That’s not true of course. His second yohr tzeit is in a few days and ברוך השם he is weaving his magic with השם and cajoling him to shower our family and wider family with Simcha after Simcha. To me though, it is like yesterday, and hence my instinctive but unintentionally dry incorrect answer.
So what has this to do with Crown Heights and Part 3 of a holiday? Is Isaac Balbin off on yet another emotional outpouring? Maybe he needs to see a shrink. Maybe I do need to see a shrink but not because of this 🙂
We were only in Crown Heights for a few days. The truly wonderful Tzirel Goldman led us on a walking tour of important places, and then our Mechutonim graciously took Leonie and I out to a very nice restaurant. Unfortunately due to a gig, I couldn’t make the wedding of their son, which had just taken place.
I felt an “agenda” happening yet I wasn’t in usual control. I was moving from place to place. The area was buzzing from Chanuka to Hey Teves (& silly meshichisten) and it was on for young and old. Let’s not forget to mention the aufruf I was looking forward to attending (oh and the Kiddush in Getzel’s Shule, someone I had heard lots about)
Suddenly, our Mechutonim, the Goldmans said, let’s go and introduce you to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. I had momentarily forgotten he was their brother-in-law. I keep getting mixed up between Duchman and Kotlarsky for some reason, and Mendel Duchman (who I also met on this trip in Montreal) is also a Mechutan of the Chaitons.
I recognised his face, had seen him in Melbourne, and was aware that he supervised the shlichus operations for the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע. “Fine, I responded thinking perhaps I might just say a few niceties and perhaps share a tiny piece of Torah”. We came into his room and he is a big man in several ways. His office looked organised and tidy. Emails were constantly flowing in. He looked tired and weary as if the world was on his shoulders. We shook hands and I sat in front of his desk, with Rabbi Yossy Goldman, and the lady folk including Rabbi Kotlarsky’s wife (who is my mechuteniste’s sister), Leonie et al on the side.
After the usual platitudes. I mentioned to him things he (made out he didn’t know) about Rav Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg הי’’ד
and we immediately had a rapport based on our collective experiences with these special korbanos tehoros. He asked me if I had been back to see what they had done to Nariman House. My response was “no” and I wasn’t sure I could anyway. On my last trip, I somehow managed to get into the bullet-riddled, blood-stained building and took a video, which I won’t show, as it is nauseating. I mentioned my chelek in the miracle that is Moshe Holtzberg and he nodded, seemingly knowingly. I had the impression that this figure knew a heap more than he was letting on. Nonetheless, I told him how Rav Gavriel’s parents majestically appeared in Melbourne for our daughter Talya’s wedding to Zalman Bassin. The others were moved, but he seemed to show less emotion. I had the feeling that he was “used to” these types of happenings and for him, they were but another confirmation of what he had experienced and what was driving him with a sense of unstoppable purpose.
Suddenly he turned to me and asked “Have you been to the Ohel?”
I answered truthfully. A בית החיים gives me the heebee geebies and I avoid them. As a Cohen I am somewhat cocooned but that came to an abrupt end when my father passed away and a scene I had never been close to, invaded me with shock. I mentioned the opinion of the Gro and Beis HoRav (Soltoveitchik) and Mori Rav Schachter and explained I was a soul with a foot from Brisk and a foot from Amshinov. It’s a contradiction in terms, which might explain my often ebullient meshugassen and eccentricity (well maybe not, but it’s a good try :-). I explained that I find it very difficult to go to my father. I unashamedly attend the least of my entire family. He asked me for the reason, and I explained that I was ממש a nothing compared to him and feel emotionally distraught even from the distance, after which I would be disturbed for days. He asked why? “That’s a good Midda to have. One should feel useless when standing next to giants”. I countered that the giants are around even outside the בית החיים and that is a fundamental. Why did one need to effectively go to a “sack of bones” which was even Tomei to experience their special presence. I suggested that maybe people can achieve things in different ways.
He cajoled me undoubtedly through his demeanour and presence, to “not” leave Crown Heights without a visit.
I launched into the issue of Doresh Al HaMeisim (I can make grown Rabbis scream, but he was very calm) and that I had no Minhag to go to Mikvah, wear slippers and knock on doors. He responded that’s all unnecessary. You can go in the way you feel “comfortable”. I said that DAVKA at a Tziyun, there is a natural tendency to “ask” from the Niftar, and tried to side track him with Brich Shmei and Shalom Aleichem which aren’t said by some for similar reasons. He then said, “Nu, take a simple Maaneh Loshon and say that”. I heard what he said, and understood him well. He had more than a touch of charismatic “Rabbi Groner” about him.
When I go to my father’s Tziyun, I say very specific Tehillim. I do that to stop myself from ASKING my father to do things. You can’t do that, but it’s a very natural tendency. I said I’d consider it seriously, but if I did go, it would be a very great mental strain to stop myself from lapsing into Doresh Al Hameisim when standing in front of two people who were responsible for my Torah education and much more.
In another part, I will explain what eventuated in terms of decision time.
I then mentioned that I had written but once to the Lubavitcher Rebbe yet had never received a reply. He didn’t ask what I had written, but I was comfortable saying it. I said that Melbourne was going through a particularly difficult and potentially splitting moment where two icons were jousting and Lubavitch was splitting. I had mentioned my family history, and made it clear that I could not be considered a Chosid in any shape, but I knew that the only person who could resolve the issue was the Rebbe himself and I asked him to. I never got an answer, and the Rebbe then had a stroke. I always assumed that the reason I hadn’t received an answer was because the Rebbe was B’Sakono and wasn’t in any position to respond with the same immediacy and wisdom as people were accustomed. I left it as a תשבי. One day I’d find out.
At that moment, Rabbi Kotlarksy said but you did get an answer, you just didn’t know it. I will now tell you what happened. As a result of the momentum of letters such as mine (I don’t claim any special powers!), he was summoned immediately to the Lubavitcher Rebbe who instructed him to travel to Melbourne and sort out the “mess”.
Rabbi Kotlarsky then told me how he sorted it out, and he did so quickly. I was very impressed by the ביטול of Rabbi Y.D. Groner ז’’ל about whom I could never imagine as “lower” than anyone, given his towering presence. That was a new greatness that I discovered. I was blown away by what Rabbi Groner had done. I was also blown away by the fact that on this particular trip after our daughter married into a well-known family, I had about an hour with someone who I never expected (or had a desire/need) to meet. I had no common business, so to speak.
But “the Aybishter Firt Der Velt”, and it was השגחה that I was to unravel a long mystery. I liked Rabbi Kotlarsky. He gave me the impression that he’s someone who I could sit for five hours listening to at a farbrengen. His finger was literally on the Chabad pulse.
We said our good byes, and I thanked him for allowing us to interrupt his very busy schedule. He was due to spend Shabbos at the Ohel for Hay Teyves and seemed to always be on planes, in cars and any vehicular transport, as he explained to me.
I’ve obviously not gone into all details, as they aren’t necessary and help nobody today.
So I come home to the Golus of Melbourne, and I’m due to now go the Tziyun of my dear father. I’ve had a practice run, so to speak, and it was mentally draining for me to keep my thoughts halachically sound and emotionally relevant.
I have to admit, that I am still implacably against people who write “to” the Rebbe as I noticed in many letters (even though they were torn) the people either didn’t know the Halacha, or were never taught it properly by some single-minded teachers who probably assumed something transcending Halacha. I don’t change my views on that and don’t apologise. I understand Chassidim emulate, but I am sure that the Lubavitcher Rebbe never ever was Doresh directly of his father in law. He was a Medakdek B’Mitzvos K’Chut Ha’saaroh and could not be questioned on such issues. I feel this was also why he had a common thread with the Rav, who is also known as the איש ההלכה.
So, until my next post, I will try to do the things one should do to give my dear father’s Neshoma nachas, although I can’t help but feel that there ought to be a motive to pile these up during the year, and just unload so to speak on the Yohr Tzeit when the Neshoma will go up a level (or levels).
I hope I haven’t bored you too much, but most of my posts are rather selfish. I heal myself through writing them.
In another blog I was asked to post the picture by a commentator, but I can’t recall the article! Anyway, I have in our dining room a picture of the Rebbe זי’’ע. I just took a picture of it with my iPhone. He was very well-known. In Lubavitch he is known because the Rayatz instructed his Chassidim, when the Rayatz was in hiding from the authorities, and unable to respond to their questions to only ask R’ Sholom Shimon. In addition, at the wedding of the last Rebbe, R’ Sholom Shimon walked into the Simcha in the wee hours of the morning while the Rayatz was saying a Ma’amar Chassidus. He must have sensed R’ Sholom Shimon had come in, because in a very rare occurrence, he actually stopped saying the Ma’amar Chassidus until the Rebbe from Amshinov had sat down. In Amshinov, there is also a tradition which I have seen written, that says there is only one sefer that has to be learned to understand all Chassidus, and that is the Tanya of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Interestingly, I heard Rav Schachter saying that a Scholar is now working on an important Sefer comparing the Tanya to the Nefesh Hachaim of R’ Chaim Volozhin, the prime student of the Vilna Gaon (who did not sign the Cherem against Chassidim). The word is that he finds the thoughts and approaches close to identical. I also heard the Rav (Soloveitchik) say this, although he qualified it by saying that the differences are advanced and he doubts many actually understand the differences. The Rav was unique of course in the sense that he knew both those Seforim inside out, and had been taught Tanya by his Lubavitcher Melamed when a boy (but that didn’t matter because the Rav had a superior intellect, as is well known).
As for me, I know nothing about either! The current Amshinover Rebbe in Bayit Vegan, is well-known as one of the Tzadikei HaDor. He doesn’t get involved in politics, and is a truly incredible Oved Hashem. My only connection is a nostalgic familial one, because my grandmother, Toba Frimet Balbin ע’’ה (née Amzel), who I loved very much and was the engine behind the Balbin family, was from Amshinover Chassidim. She and my Zeyda Yidel are buried in Israel, and I still remember Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner ז’’ל speaking about her before her coffin left from Essendon Airport. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל told me that she used to bring him a present every Purim. I never knew that, and he told me they were all around his house!
PS. I got this picture from Chayi Glick (nee Rotter), whose mother I believe stems from Amshinov and whom I cajoled incessantly to bring back the picture from New York.
[ I had written this for David Werdiger’s excellent JBD organisation, but received much positive appreciation via private email, so I thought I’d share it here as well. Besides, my kids don’t listen to my divrei torah at home, they say I talk too long. It’s the educator in me 🙂 ]
In Parshas Vayeshev, the Torah relates that after Rachel’s death, Ya’akov’s bed was in Bilha’s tent (because Bilha was Rachel’s handmaiden and Ya’akov’s concubine). Reuven, the eldest son, was upset, feeling that his own mother, Leah, should have been afforded this privilege as she was Ya’akov’s first wife and the one who bore him and most of the sons. Reuven unilaterally moved his father’s bed to his mother Leah’s tent; an act stemming from respect for his mother’s honour. The act itself was not earth shattering, however, its effect was cataclysmic. It signified that the eldest child was prepared to over-rule the overt wishes of a father – the father of all his brothers.
Rav Soloveitchik suggested that this is why the brothers indirectly felt empowered with the chutzpah to commit the regrettable act of selling Yosef, their father’s favourite son. They also assumed a level of personal empowerment. Reuven realises that he is responsible for this ill-advised empowerment. He repents, fasting and praying. What seemed like a small act of moving beds led to a rolling set of momentous events.
The moral is clear. We are all observed microsopically by our children, our friends and our relatives, and society. A seemingly innocuous act may lead to an unconscious outcome of unintended education or even profanation of God’s name. In contradistinction, a seemingly innocuous positive act can be eminently efficacious, leaving a subconscious impression that potentially influences micro and macro history, present and future.
After my father, R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen’s passing ע’’ה I feel every little act and legacy that he left, suffuses the lives of our wider family. It is in this sense that we say
Rabbi Hershel Schachter once told me that if there’s a disagreement in matters of halachah at the OU between him and Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, you are the deciding vote.
The halachic decisors at the OU are the three of us. So if there’s a dispute the majority rules.
You’re also involved in running the office?
Yes. That is part of my responsibilities.
Have standards been lowered over the years to expand and broaden the kosher market?
I think that generally during my 35-year tenure as the CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division the standards have actually been enhanced. There’s a good side to the kosher market’s expansion, and a less good side. Rabbi Berel Wein would often bemoan the fact that we’re seeing a lot more “glatt” kosher and a lot less “standard” kosher, a lot more “shmurah” matzah and less “regular” matzah. My own experience growing up in America was that even the Conservative Jews had two sets of dishes. While they weren’t necessarily careful about kashrus outside the home, they were nonetheless careful inside the home. Unfortunately, because of the erosion of the Jewish people to assimilation, that broader commitment has weakened dramatically.
Coextensive with that, we’ve seen the growth of the Orthodox community, especially the chasidic and yeshivish com-munity, which is much more careful and demanding about kashrus. This is expressed most dramatically by the fact that in the 1940s there was no such thing as glatt kosher in America. Glatt kosher began to emerge primarily when Satmar came to America after the war. Before that it didn’t exist. Rav Moshe Feinstein never ate glatt kosher because according to the Rema one doesn’t have to. Today in the OU market everything is glatt. The driving force is the consumer market, which today is much more stringent in this matter.
We’ve actually seen conflicting attitudes. On the one hand, the frum community became much more demanding in terms of kashrus, but we’ve also seen the degrading of kashrus by the general population, which is very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because we want them to be careful regarding kashrus, and also because kashrus is something that binds them together as Jewish and is a bulwark against assimilation.
When I studied in Lakewood, I remember the yeshivah used food products that I don’t think they would use today.
I have the same recollection. I remember when I was in Lakewood in the ’60s they used regular Rice Krispies, and so on. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. When Rav Aharon Kotler started Lakewood, he wasn’t makpid on chalav Yisrael. The famous story that’s told is that when he was finally convinced to switch to chalav Yisrael it came in a big canister, which overturned, and he was very upset about the entire switch.
The OU still certifies kosher chalav akum.
We’re sensitive to those who are diligent about chalav Yisrael. If something is used with what Rav Moshe called “chalav hacompanies,” we list it as OU-D on the ingredients. And when we certify products that are chalav Yisrael we indicate that.
The Chazon Ish has a discussion about chalav Yisrael and he quotes the Pri Chadash, that when there’s pikuach hamemshalah [government supervision] it’s muttar. It’s interesting to cite what Rav Wosner writes in Shevet Halevi that when the Chazon Ish wrote this, Rav Wosner recommended he not print it, since the Chasam Sofer does not permit it. However the Chazon Ish didn’t agree with him. Rav Moshe in his teshuvah claims that government supervision is good even according to the stringent position of the Chasam Sofer. So that’s the OU’s position in terms of dairy products. We have many products we give supervision to that are chalav Yisrael.
The consumer should know what the differences are between local chasidishe hashgachos and the major hashgachos. Would you agree with that?
Do you find those hashgachos to have more chumros?
I think the OU generally has more chumros. All the hashgachos we give we believe are l’chatchilah. We’re dan on everything. We record everything in terms of the halachos, the psakim. We have a secretary, a safra d’dayna, Rabbi Eli Gersten, who’s a very big talmid chacham. We don’t do things on a b’dieved level in shechitah or any production we certify. I think people have come to recognize that. One of the reasons is the level of the rabbanim we employ. There are over 50 rabbanim working in my office, not to mention the people in the field. These are musmachim of our finest yeshivos. They’ve come to recognize that the OU is a purely communal, non-profit organization. Beyond our salaries, we’re not the beneficiaries of even a penny that the OU earns. It goes right back into the Jewish community in terms of kiruv and to the Yachad Program, for children with disabilities. I think that makes the OU unique.
While there are three fine rabbanim in charge of the OU, we also have to rely on the individual mashgichim and on the credibility of the owners of companies. So while we may be able to rely on the OU, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is kosher.
Every hashgachah is based ultimately on the credibility of the entrepreneur who’s running it. If we find someone who’s dishonest, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Jew or a non-Jew; we remove our certification.
Rabbi Schachter told me that China is very problematic, since Chinese entrepreneurs have been caught cheating many times. With that in mind, how comfortable can we feel that we’ll actually be eating kosher at the end of the day?
In terms of China, as the global economy expanded, American companies started sourcing ingredients from every corner of the world. That requires us to go to China and other far-flung places. We inspect all these plants. We have people in China. And, generally speaking, the ingredients we use coming from China are in most cases ingredients that are relatively innocuous. We look at the kashrus sensitivity of the product. We inspect all the plants. The need is there because of globalization.
You have competition and I’m sure the OU is competitive to get as many companies certified by the OU as possible. How do we know you won’t compromise to get a customer?
Obviously it’s an issue and we confront it all the time. But in terms of the OU, that’s one of the things that’s a major underpinning behind our founding. The advantage of the OU as an organization is that there’s an infrastructure and any monetary temptation is mitigated because it’s a communal organization. Our people won’t be rewarded financially; their parnasah doesn’t depend on this or that company. That’s the advantage of communal kashrus.
There’s a conception that kosher food is more healthful and cleaner. Is this only among non-Jews, or also among those Conservative and Reform Jews who, you said before, stopped eating kosher?
You’re right. Companies who look for kosher supervision are not only looking to sell to Orthodox Jews who keep kosher. The kosher market is much larger than that. It includes people who for their own religious requirements look for kosher, such as Seventh-day Adventists or Muslims or people who have lactose intolerance and want to see if it’s pareve, or gluten intolerance and want to see if it’s kosher for Pesach. But a big part of the market includes those who have a perception that if it’s kosher, either quality- or health-wise it’s a better product. Part of that, candidly, is not always the case. For example, a kosher salami sandwich has just as much cholesterol as a non-kosher one. But other times it’s accurate: For example, when there was the problem with mad cow disease; because kosher slaughter eliminates a lot of the blood through salting, it seems it was less susceptible to mad cow. I think another thing is that we provide another set of eyes watching the plant. The USDA or FDA sees a plant maybe once a year. So the kosher designation gives consumers some comfort that there’s an extra set of eyes in the plant.
Does that hold true for non-Orthodox Jews?
I assume it’s universal. Also, in terms of the general Jewish population, we see that around Pesach time American Jews come home to roost and for the Seder and Pesach they’re more likely to buy kosher products.
How closely do you work with other kosher agencies?
The OU’s position is we will use other ingredients from other agencies that we feel meet a certain standard. So there is a certain amount of communication.
The OU is much larger than all the other agencies combined. We could’ve used our leverage to say that if you want to be an OU company you can only use OU products. But we didn’t. When I came to the OU 35 years ago, one of the people who told me to maintain that was Rav Soloveitchik. There was a company that applied to the OU that was under another certification. That certifier complained that we took the company away. I said, “We didn’t take them; they applied on their own.” He said,”Let’s ask Rav Soloveitchik.” Rav Soloveitchik told us, “It’s a free country, and they’re doing this for marketing reasons; they can choose whom they want to use for kashrus.” Then the Rav said to me: “I wouldn’t want to see everything come under the OU, because I don’t think that’s healthy for the American Jewish community that this should be a monopoly.” And I was always guided by that direction from the Rav.
It’s impossible today for any hashgachah not to rely on the OU, since no small kashrus supervision organization can possibly certify all the ingredients that are used in most products.
True. It’s impossible. Every supervision is relying for the basic ingredients on the OU. That doesn’t mean to say that some of them will not check with us as they may want to go see the plants on their own. But ultimately, basic ingredients, for example oils, are under the OU. I remember when I was growing up it was very difficult to get kosher oils. Then Crisco Oil came under the OU. What people take for granted now was very much not the case then. Trying to convince companies to make basic ingredients kosher was heroic work in the 1950s.
Kosher food is often expensive. Maybe we should educate people that in some things the extra hechsher is just a waste of money.
We try to do that in our Pesach directory. We have a special box where we list things we think are innocuous that are kosher all year. We know that to be an Orthodox Jew is a very expensive endeavor. With so many products under different national supervisions it’s possible not only to have kosher food available throughout the US, and if you’re buying a national product that has an OU, it’s the same cost as similar unsupervised items. That’s a tremendous savings. It makes it possible for people to keep kosher at no additional cost.
Any plans for future improvements?
There’s always room for improvement. A lot of it just has to do with a sense of seriousness and purpose. I’m proud of the people who work at the OU. They’re all talmidei chachamim and are endowed with that sense. So they’re the ones who inspire me.
The people in your office are really from diverse yeshivah backgrounds. I’ve been there more than once. You have Modern Orthodox rabbis and chasidim.
That was by design. When I first came to the OU, I thought the OU was a communal organization and should represent all different communities and yeshivos, and we tried to build it on that basis. On a related issue, another thing the OU does is we go to all yeshivos and we make presentations explaining what’s involved in kosher supervision. And also, every other year we do a program for three weeks to teach kashrus to yeshivah guys.
There is a moving Breslov melody which is very popular. The words are from R’ Nachman in לקוטי מוהרן although I haven’t ever read that ספר חסידות, but so I am told. The gist of it is that even when God is hidden, as in ואנכי הסתר אסתיר את פני he is still there albeit בהסתרה.
My davening was very agitated at Shule today. In fact, during davening, when I read certain things, tears welled up in my eyes, and for reasons which probably aren’t entirely normal, I didn’t want anyone to notice my distress. I raised my voice for pesukim which condemned רשעים.
I asked a few people, what is the meaning of this song after the tragedy the latest tragedy. Rav Moshe Twersky הי’’ד for example, Rosh Yeshiva, was named after R’ Chaim Brisker’s elder son Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, the Rav’s father, whose Yohr Tzeit falls out on the same day as my father ע’’ה.
I asked others whether Breslav would be bopping in the streets of Beit Shemesh. How can anyone, even a Chossid bring שמחה to the table.
I noted to others, that in this case, they don’t do Tahara, and one is buried in their bloodied clothing. I don’t know what the din is, but my feeling was it would have been appropriate to bury the person in their Tefillin as well as their Tallis. אפילו בהסתרה was sounding so hollow to me. I couldn’t cope with it.
[Hat tip BA]
Here is a post from a lady close by
Some people wake up in the morning to the soft strains of the music on their alarm clock. This morning I woke up to the heart-stopping shrieks of multiple ambulances and police cars racing down my street on the way to Har Nof. Meanwhile my husband was in shule davening Shacharis. I hadn’t even said goodbye to him as he left while I was still asleep and was considerate enough not to wake me. Thank G-d my husband came home from shule. But my friends Chaya Levine and Breina Goldberg weren’t as fortunate. What do you say to a friend, the widow of a holy martyr, whose life has changed drastically in an instant? How can I smile at Salim, the friendly Arab worker at the grocery store across the road, without feeling suspicious? And how do I deal with the fact that for the first time in 24 years in Israel I no longer feel safe in my own backyard? May G-d comfort all of us in these trying times, and may we all appreciate every minute spent with our loved ones.
I just don’t want to hear God’s accountants telling us it is because of a) or b) or c). Do yourselves a favour and adopt וידום אהרון.
At times like these, I’m terribly reminded of horrible holocaust scenes . I’m left with extreme בהלה
What can one do? We can donate money to relevant organisations, but there are families that now comprise some 24 children without a father. What was the Aybishter doing hiding? Can we ask why? I say yes. I say we adopt Moshe Rabeinu’s attitude and say מחיני נא מספרך rub me out from your Torah if you have something against the Jews. This so soon after a Shabbos Kiddush Hashem, it defies logic, and yes, I know “that soul may have completed its purpose in this world” is often used, but I don’t know why that soul wasn’t allowed to complete more. Who does it harm?
Don’t anyone dare suggest it was because we didn’t follow Satmar’s incorrect views.
In Melbourne we have the wonderful CSG looking after Shules and Schools. Ironically, they don’t look after Chareidim who think that their negative attitude to Israel and Torah Learning etc will protect them. This is a reminder that אין סומכין על הנס and you have to protect yourself. Does someone really believe that two or three deranged chevra from this כת הרוצחים these ישמאלים ממזרים aren’t capable of a copy cat style operation. Both major political parties are supportive of improved security, but there is a limit to what can be done. And I hope nobody touches the latently anti-semitic, nevus socialist alliance party. Don’t give them one vote.
Parents, watch your kids. Watch yourselves. I see kids in the Charedi area of Ripponlea walking at night alone or in two’s. They wouldn’t have a hope of protecting themselves from the type of attack that Zac Gomo endured. Zac was a חייל with training and that saved him. He spoke Arabic and knew how to close a wind pipe.
Maybe we need to introduce קרב מגע in every Jewish School. Obama isn’t going to help us, and neither is anyone else. We can’t be sanguine. We must act, speak up, and look after ourselves. At the same time, improving one’s own personal faults in עבודת השם and עבודת הזולת, which is a very personal thing, should be on everyone’s mind. The world is finely balanced, and as usual, we are on the עקידה and although it is commonly thought that Yitzchak didn’t die on the עקידה the Midrash/Peskikta explicitly says that פרחה נשמתו i.e. Yitzchok died before the knife cut, and when he was saved, a new Yitzchok was effectively born.
אני הקטן don’t have anything of real value to contribute in this blog post except an outpouring of = extreme angst and aggravation that MY God was אפילו בהסתרה and if so, I say, no I beseech, that this game of hide and seek needs to stop through full גילוי אלוקות במהרה בימינו.
In the meanwhile, I would, even though it’s against intrernational law, not only demolish the houses, but evict all members of the family on a one way passage to Gaza. Let them rot there. I would investigate and include any Imam/Sheik who had influenced them (if they did) and do the same to them. The Balad party and all parties should swear allegiance to a JEWISH State, and if they can’t, they should leave to an Arab state.
I have absolutely no doubt that I am still traumatised by the fact that my father ע’’ה has left this world. There is not only a vacuüm, but a set of shoes which I haven’t got a hope to fill. Yes, each person is an individual, and it is true that we all carve out our particular approach and niche in life. At the same time, whether via nature or nurture there are so very many aspects of the way my father conducted himself, I cannot even hope to reach his ankles.
I still do not sleep peacefully, and disturbingly, when I awake in the morning I am often in a state of nervous aggravation, as if I’ve fought some war during the night. I don’t remember any dreams, and I’m not sure if there were any. Maybe a subconscious stream has enveloped me. It can take me up to an hour to “get over it”.
Another symptom is forgetfulness. It is very easy for me to forget the most basic things, whereas prior to this event, I was not the classical absent-minded professor, just the remote eccentric and vocal type.
My wife has been a tower of strength often helping me to find most basic things. No doubt issues regarding her health (which Baruch Hashem is fine) haven’t exactly helped me heal overnight as my well as my mother’s poor health which is now Baruch Hashem improving.
Accordingly, unlike my mother and sisters, I avoided going to the cemetery when I could. They are no different to me, but had a need to be close to the grave. I understand that. As I Cohen, I could, however, only stand on the road and look at the back of the Matzeiva. I feared looking at my father’s grave, and coming face to face with the reality of my petty achievements in comparison with his and which had already overtaken my subconscious. Maybe it was better that way. I don’t know.
Maybe this is a part of second generation holocaust syndrome. I also do not know.
So, yesterday, I headed out with my mother to Springvale Cemetery. This is the Minhag in our family, even though Rav Schachter advised me it wasn’t his Minhag to ever go to a Cemetery, or the Minhag of Beis HoRav (Soloveitchik) or the Vilna Gaon. As I have mentioned before, Rav Schachter never would say “don’t go”. When it came to cemetery questions, he suggested I ask a Rav who has such Minhogim.
After visiting my father, we made the rounds of other relatives and friends, recounting aspects of their lives. I then felt a sudden feeling of warmth. Looking around all the Haymishe Yidden that I once knew, and were now in another world, I felt strangely “comfortable”. I thought, now this is a Kehilla. Look at this one, and that one, and so on. I know I am a tad eccentric, and maybe I am also a bissel meshigge, but I felt inspired by the names and what they had represented and achieved. Everywhere we went, there were great people, people I had loved, and people I had admired, and of course, just “plain” survivors.
So, what started as a trip laden with trepidation, ended with a feeling of a “visit to another world”, a world which was familiar to me. People who knew about Jewish tradition, how to daven, how to learn, how to do a kind favour, religious people and not so observant people: they were all in one spot.
Call me old-fashioned, but the איש ההלכה, the quintessential בעל מסורה, cannot digest a ceremonial alternative indie style of davening. This is not supported by the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik who was implacably opposed to innovations which essentially mimic the אומות העולם at the expense of מסורה.
Yes, there are clearly delineated sections of davening where one is permitted to innovate musically and use a tune of choice. This is a positive thing. However, הלכה does not tolerate the decimation of נוסח and I am vehemently opposed to anyone who feels that reinventing נוסח is even in their purvey.
Personally, when I was a boy, I didn’t enjoy Selichos at Elwood even though people came from everywhere to hear my teacher Chazan Adler (Selichos allowed anyone to drive and listen). It was a tad too operatic for me, and no doubt I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. Later, I preferred listening to Rabbi Groner ז’ל with his Nusach derived from רעים אהובים in Brownsville, NY, where he davened as a youth. חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין
I copy a piece from Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz (recently retired Av Beis Din of America). There is plenty of other material, including a description of exactly which sections are “free” and which may simply not be changed.
The diversity of Jewish communities in different parts of the world has had its effect on the application of halakhah and the establishment of minhagim particular to each community. Especially in the matter of customs relating to the nusah and modes of prayer there are many distinct differences. We are all aware of the main streams of nusah known as Ashkenaz and Sephard and the reality that even in these two divisions there are nuances and changes that are ascribed to the different groups of each respective general nusah. Ofttimes a hazzan is caught in the center of controversy over proper nusah or sequence of tefillot and even in the matter of traditional tunes acceptable to the congregation. During the course of this article an attempt will be made to give some guidelines and insights relating to minhag regarding niggunim in their traditional forms and whether changes are permitted to be made. The major source cited by Poskim regarding the fixing of the norms of tefillah is from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Eruv. III, 9.),’ “Rabbi Yose sent and wrote to them (i.e. to the people dwelling in the Diaspora), although they (Le. the sages in the land of Israel) wrote to you the order of the prayers of the holidays, do not change the custom of your fathers whose souls repose in place.” This is the version cited by the Haga’ot Maimoniot (Seder Tefillot Kol Hashanah, 5) and the Magen Avraham 68. However, another version reads: “… although they wrote to you the order of the holidays do not change the custom of your fathers, etc.” In this textual change the meaning refers to the observance of the two days of Yom Tov outside of Eretz Yisrael. This textual variance is extremely important due to the divergent opinions which arose concerning the possibility of changing from one nusah to the other. This divergence is pointed out by the Gaon R. Yisroel of Shklov, one of the great talmidim of the Vilna Gaon, in his work Pe’at Hashulhan.( Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael III, 31.) He cites the responsum of R. Shmuel Demedina of Salonika (She’eilot u-Teshuvot Marashdom, Orah Hayyim, 35.) who ruled that any community may change its nusah of tefillah if the majority so desires because the prohibition of Shinui Minhag only applies to the category of issur, that is, prohibitory laws etc., and not in regard to such a category as tefillah. Consequently he ruled that the Ashkenazic community in Salonika may change to Sephard if the majority of its constituents are in favor of the change. Yisroel of Shklov comments that according to the version in Yerushalmi that prohibits the change in the mode of prayer, this ruling is not acceptable. He quotes the aforementioned Magen Avraham and the Ari Hakadosh who were opposed to any change based primarily on the Yerushalmi, especially since the Haga’ot Maimoniot mentions the text as restricting any change in prayers. The Pe’at Hashulhan attributes Meharashdom’s decision to allow such a change because he must have had the version proscribing any change in the status of the two days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora. It is interesting to note that R. Menachem Hame’iri of the thirteenth century preceded R. Shmuel Demedina in stating that there is no prohibitory regulation for changing the nusah of tefillot for the individual, and publicly if the minhag was different he should not pray differently than the tzibbur, implying that if it was the will of the congregation to change, they could. (Teshuvat Hame’iri, Magen Avot, II.) However, since the Magen Avraham also mentions in his above statement that the verses one says in the piyyutim should be sung in the matter one sings the kerovot (I.e. the piyyutim chanted in the Amidah), he is indicating that he is including within the context of not changing any nusah that one should not change the tune also. This inclusion of niggun as part of the rules prohibiting shinui or change in nusah is in keeping with the clearly stated ruling of the Maharil cited by Rema, (Orah Hayyim 619,1.) “One must not change from the custom of the city even in regard to the melodies and piyyutim that are recited there.” However, the Magen Avraham comments on the Maharil, saying that such a change should not be made because the change of tune will “confuse the congregation.” It would seem from this observation of the Magen Avraham on the Maharil’s ruling that if the tzibbur were not confused or upset by any change in niggun by the hazzan, there would not be any restriction. This raises the question on the Magen Avraham himself who has accepted the version of the Yerushalmi, as mentioned, rigorously opposing any change in tefillot. Perhaps the Magen Avraham interprets the Yerushalmi as meaning that if one is certain about the minhag of his forefathers then he is not permitted to deviate, but if there is uncertainty then it would be permissible. Thus, in communities where doubt and even prevailing ignorance as to the mode of prayer exists as to any definite tradition, changes would be acceptable as long as no violation of halakhah takes place and there are no consequences of bilbul da’at hakahal (confusion in the congregation). (Cf. Teshuvat Minhat Eliezer I, 11, for a novel interpretation of the Yerushalmi and an extensive discussion of changes from Ashkenaz to Sephard, etc.) However, where a change of niggun for example, would cause upheaval, then the words of Maharil and Magen Avraham would apply to all services and not necessarily for Yamim Nora’im, since the primary sources do not differentiate in regard to any particular season. Tangential to this, may I mention an interesting incident which happened to the Ga’on and Tzaddik Reb Zalman Bardn of Yerushalayim of blessed memory, who, once, while attending a Shabbat Minhah tefillah in a shul that had no regular hazzan, heard someone davening as the sheliach tzibbur using a chant that had no relationship whatsoever with the known niggun for the Shabbat Minhah. After waiting for the hazzan to finish, he left the shul and entered another shul to hear the repetition of the Amidah in the traditional mode. He went so far as to say that the “niggun of Shabbat should not be the niggun of the weekdays”! (Paraphrasing the statement of: “Your speech on Shabbat should not be for weekday speech”).(Shabo 113; Macy Nulman apprised me of this excerpt from Eliyahu Kitov’s Hassidim and Anshe Ma’aseh, Sefer Revi’i, p. 160.) This would perhaps be an example of an aspect of bilbul da’at hakahal because of the reaction incurred. As to the type of niggun introduced into prayer that would not cause any bilbul da’at hakahal, it definitely cannot be one that is identified with any non Jewish worship. This is clearly prohibited by many Poskim (Darkhay Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ab 142,27 citing several sources.) Even a tune that, although not connected to any non-Jewish worship, but is recognizable as belonging to a prevailing non-Jewish culture, would not be acceptable. This would be indicated as improper, especially in the synagogue, based on the Talmud’s criticism of Elisha ben Abuya or “Acher” as constantly singing Greek tunes, even when not in the synagogue. (Hag. 15b, viz. Rashi also.) If a shul is faced with the question ofengaging a cantor who does not know the traditional niggunim, known as scarbova nusah, if the makeup of the congregation is such that they willaccept the prayer leadership of such a hazzan and if there is no controversy regarding his being engaged, then it would be permissible to do so. The principle of merutzah lekahal (acceptable to the community) is enumerated by the Rema (Orah Hayyim 581,1.) regarding the qualifications of a sheli’ah tzibbur, although he may not meet the high standards of piety and sincerity demanded for this position. Disputes over this must be avoided. (Cf. Mishneh Berurah, ibid., 11). It is most interesting to note that in the enumeration of conditions pertaining to a sheli’ah tzibbur, the emphasis is placed on the individual’s piety, sincerity, and Torah knowledge and no mention is made of knowledge of niggunim or musical inflection. (Eleph Hamagen to Matteh Ephra’im 581,54.) However, knowledgeable congregations should seek the combination of piety and a mastering of traditional musical nusah which is part of the spiritual fabric of tefillah, particularly on the Yamim Nora’im. The absence of these hallowed niggunim during the davening would be unthinkable to any worshiper who has an inbred affinity for the feelings and stirrings of the heart, rendered by the proper nusah. Just as the Avodah in the Bet Hamikdash was accompanied by a certain order of shir or music, primarily vocal. (Ar. 11a.) so must our Avodah in the synagogue maintain a proper contact and order of shir, of niggun and nusan as we, in our way, make our offerings of prayer.
The following is a question and answer posted to Rav Aviner. I hadn’t seen the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik’s beautiful חידוש on this topic (or had ale forgotten), so I am reposting.
Question: Is it permissible to throw away a worn Israeli flag or must it be placed in the Geniza?
Answer: It may be thrown away, but not in a disrespectful manner (In the book Nefesh Ha-Rav pp. 99-100, it is related that one year the Agudat Yisrael Conference was held in a hotel in Yerushalayim and there was an Israeli flag flying on the roof. Some of the participants, who were opposed to the State of Israel, were unhappy about this, but instead of requesting that the flag be removed they asked if all of the flags of the participants’ countries be flown as well. After this was publicized, Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik stated at the Mizrachi Conference that while the Jewish People had flags in the desert, they were temporary and not for all generations. But the flag of Israel has a different significance.
There is a Minhag in the name of the Rishonim brought in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 366:4: “If a Jew is found murdered, he is to be buried as he was found [i.e. in his bloody clothes] without any shrouds.” The Shach #11 explains that the reason for this Minhag: to kindle Hashem’s wrath when He sees how this person was buried without shrouds. Hashem’s compassion will thus be aroused to avenge him. And the same applies to the Israeli flag.
Towards the end of the War of Independence, the UN set a specific time by which the Jews and Arabs could seize land. They established that all the territory in the hands of the Jews, as signified by raising the Israeli flag on that spot, would become part of the State of Israel, and all territory in Arab hands, would remain outside the State of Israel. And this is indeed what occurred. During this period, much Jewish blood was spilled in order to raise the Israeli flag over as much territory as possible. Many Jewish fighters were killed, displaying self-sacrifice for the sole purpose of raising the Jewish flag, the flag of Israel. Therefore, Rav Soloveitchik said, the flag of the State of Israel has the status of a murdered Jew’s clothing, a symbol of the spilled blood of the Jews. As a result, when the flag of Israel flies, it arouses Hashem’s compassion for Am Yisrael).
Rav Soloveitchik (the Rav) was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. He often cited the Rambam (Tefillah 5:1) that eight specific aspects of prayer must be adhered to while standing for Shemoneh Esrei. The first four are:Amidah, standing; Nochach HaMikdash, facing Eretz Yisrael; Tikun HaGuf, feet together and clean body; and Tikun HaMalbushim, proper and dignified attire.
This went to the extent that the Rav held that Chazoras HaShatz was Tefillas HATzibbur, and as such stood with his feet together facing the front. My own opinion is that this view of the Rav is even more relevant today in Shules where the majority simply cannot Daven, and are subject to a continuous set of announcements saying “we are on page number n in this edition, and page m in this edition etc”. The importance of the Shatz as being connected to and an actual Shaliach, as opposed to some performer seems to have been lost.
The Rav was once visited by a student who served in the Israel Defense Forces who asked the Rav the following question: He worked in the tank division and his job was cleaning and maintaining the tanks. Often, his uniform would get covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change clothing before davening Mincha. He emphasized that it would be possible to do so but it would be quite inconvenient and difficult. The Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud,
“Why would you need to change? You are wearingbigdei Kodesh, holy clothes”!
That is how the Rav felt about someone serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
The Rav זי’’ע, Rav Soloveitchik asked a basic question. We are accustomed to speaking about the term אהבת השם, loving God himself. This connoted an affinity, or rapport so to speak with God. Yet, the concept of fearing God, which whilst also described as יראת השם is used in the vernacular using the more common יראת שמים, fear of heaven. We don’t find our vernacular expressing the term אהבת שמים. Purely from a symmetric consideration, we would expect that to also be a term used in our speech and prayer.
Indeed, the Pasuk says explicitly
ואהבת את השם אלוקיך
The Rav explains this difference in terminology in terms of the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (10:6). There the Rambam explains that the level of love that the Jew can attain with God is proportional to his understanding of God’s essence. With a heightened and more sophisticated and fuller understanding of God, one is able to love him to a greater extent than before that understanding is understood, internalised and appreciated. The way in which one understand, and gains a further understanding of God has its own nuanced approaches by various sub-groups within Judaism.
The Rambam explains that a person needs to seclude themselves so to speak, and think deeply about his connection and the nature of that connection to achieve this love, and thereby closeness to Hashem himself. Love then is an effect that brings one closer to God. The more we delve, the closer and more loving we become.
יראה fear, however is a feeling of distance. It is an awe-laden recognition of the distance between the power and majesty of God and a mere mortal. The more one cognates over this concept, the further and more fearful one becomes of the veneration and wonderment. It is for this reason that it is natural to use the term יראת שמים fear of heaven. As one develops their Jewish character, in respect of יראה, the human condition is seen to be afraid and fleeing in the same way that the sky is beyond us and hangs over us unpredictably from day-to-day.
One cannot, according to the Rav see as an outgrowth of love, אהבה, anything other than a journey of closeness and approachability. יראה, as important as it is, is about the fearful distance which we can’t lessen, as שלמה המלך said
אחכמה והיא רחוקה ממני
As wise as one may become, there is the dichotomous distance through יראה and closeness through אהבה.
Today was the יום הילולא of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe (LR). I’m presently ensconced in three books describing him and will offer my thoughts on these when I have finished.
They are certainly impressive pieces of work, each in their own way. In a recent private email exchange I had with Rabbi Yossi Jacobson in reference to this post, I mentioned that one of the things that attracted me to the Rav, Rav Y.D. Soloveitchik ז’ל was the refreshing ease with which he was able to write about his personal feelings on various matters, some of which were the result of his private life and the emotional struggles surrounding these. Rabbi Jacobson, if I’m not misquoting him, was of the opinion that the LR also expressed his personal feelings. I felt that the LR wasn’t expressing his own private issues, but was always focussed on what the movement and it’s Chassidim needed to achieve.
The Rav, however was not, and never saw himself, or his task in life, as that of a Manhig Yisrael. In his own words he was a מלמד. Certainly that was a self-deprecating description of someone, often described by others as the למדן הדור. We should all aspire to be such a “מלמד”! In other words, the Rav dedicated his life to interacting with the challenging American reality and transmitted the Brisker method of Lomdus and Mesora that he had digested from his illustrious grandfather, R’ Chaim Brisker, father, R’ Moshe, and Uncle R’ Velvel, to a challenged generation for whom such sophisticated analysis of Torah, enmeshed in the vernacular of the day, was intellectually challenging and advanced in its conceptualism and oratory. The Rav ordained more Rabbonim than any other Rav in the history of Judaism (it would seem).
As time goes by, his greatness, like many who pass away, is amplified, and the fact that I “discovered” him relatively late in my life, is a source of sorrow. How I would have loved to have participated in a Shiur, or listened live to his majestic droshas.
Enter his famed University colleague from Berlin the LR. I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I (partly) read the books about the LR, but I now have a fuller appreciation of the LR’s role and personality. In many ways, they were both became fully equipped educationally and culturally to interact with the needs of American Youth in a so-called modern society. They had both studied at University level, and were aware of the so-called European/Western Culture and thought. I do not think either of them saw that culture as some sort of enlightening factor, but it enabled them to interact at the highest levels using the modern vernacular and conceptualisation of our times, within the context of acutely high levels of grey matter.
דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם
found a new home among these giants.
Whilst I was not brought up with a deep understanding of the “Torah Im Maddah” approach or YU, I found it easier,unsurprisingly, to speak and digest that language. A more universalistic approach to different paths has always appealed to me.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, was an enigma. Here was this powerful genius with a photographic memory and acute ability to link and understand the seemingly disparate thoughts at his disposal, through the prism of the metaphysics of Chassidus, with brilliant insights and a paucity of notes. Yet, I guess I felt remote from him because there seemed to be no outward human frailty that he ever allowed to be shown, except when he was afflicted by that terrible stroke which ultimately led to his departure from our world and when his beloved wife passed away. Furthermore, while the elder Chassidim stressed the Chabad Chassidic approach, the younger Chassidim seemed more pre-occupied with his personage. To be sure, Chassidim would say “you must have a Yechidus”, “you have to immerse yourself in Chassidus to appreciate him” but that didn’t prick me into action. I never felt that I had anything meaningful to say or ask, and I wasn’t the type of tourist to invade an important Gadol’s time just because it was the done thing.
I have only been to the USA once, and I never went to 770. I simply didn’t know or comprehend what I might get out of it. These days, I’d be most apprehensive to go there given that it is controlled largely by the more radical Meshichist types, whose philosophy I do not consider to be Masoretic, but rather a backwards-pointing justification for an already concluded premise.
People will read what I have written and say, stop saying “I” … it’s not about you. One has to be בטל, somewhat constricted within their personal ego to appreciate what was being effected in a Yechidus. Perhaps I was too ego-driven or cock-sure of where I stood in life vis-a-vis my Avodas Hashem and perspective on Torah. I may have even been wrong. It is what it was, and remains that way.
After reading most of these books, I have discovered through the über romantic, carefully chosen words of Rav Steinsaltz, and the meticulously researched tome of Rabbi Telushkin (Chaim Miller is next), that I have a better appreciation of this extraordinary leader. I didn’t learn much from earlier books, including those of academics and more. I felt that they started their books with a (negative) premise, and then sought to prove this premise, and not undertake a clean, academic unadulterated look at the facts.
Now, a leader can only try and do his best to make sure that his Chassidim conduct themselves in the way which he approves and/or legislates. The LR was no different. At times his exasperation was palpable.
One can certainly find a bevy of Shluchim who are seemingly pre-programmed automatons lacking the very gift that the LR had—the ability to connect individually with the person talking to them. There isn’t and wasn’t a magic formula. It was an action/reaction experience. Some have this gift; many, I dare say, do not.
Even last Shabbos, when I spoke to stranger who was wearing a Yechi Yarmulke, and asked why he wore that outward advertisement, he accused me of hating him simply for asking. I suggested that concluding that I hated someone because I asked a question was shallow, and when I referred to the classical work of R’ Yechezkel Sofer on the topic (which he described as “garbage”) this represented a problem with his own eyes, and not mine.
After reading the books I felt real sadness for the LR. He was clearly a very reluctant leader initially, almost a recluse whose favourite times were with his wife, father in law, parents or his seforim. His personal life was zealously guarded from the masses or even to the few in constant contact. He was a truly selfless man who pushed himself to extraordinary limits. He did not compromise on an iota, and mission, as summarised by Rabbi Sacks, was to ignite the soul of every person who the Nazis had attempted to extinguish and towards whom society was threatening with their often depraved value systems. He was as singularly minded in his pursuit of re-igniting souls to hasten the redemption as anyone we have seen.
As such, I find myself asking the question: what would he have said about a “tribute night” in his memory. Based on what I’ve read, I posit that he would be embarrassed by the word “tribute” to describe such a night. He would not want anyone to focus on him per se. He appeared to vehemently dislike cultish worship. Rather, the essential task was all about the missions and initiatives that he worked tirelessly to introduce and strengthen, all with the aim of bringing the redemption quicker.
It’s a paradox. On the one hand he was reaching out, and yet at the same time, he was enigmatically private.
So, why do his Chassidim engage in tribute nights? Certainly there is the practice that one should remember and talk about the deceased on the day of their Yohr Tzeit. One fasts, and learns Mishnayos. I don’t know how many Chassidim today do that today. But, it is more than that. In the absence of a leader to actively direct a movement in 2014, I feel he would only approve of such a gathering if it was about people taking strength and renewal and redoubling their efforts to carry out (genuinely) the tasks and processes that he had inaugurated.
In that vein, I will agree that a tribute evening potentially can invigorate. At the same time, it can also fail to do so—if people concentrate on the person and not the task to be achieved.
When I became aware that this event was being planned, I quietly contacted the organisers, and asked that either the Chabad speakers (I didn’t know who they might be) and/or the YU speakers might address the telling letter where the Rebbe זצ’ל chose to write some of his personal thoughts about the Rav.
I felt that the YU speakers were generally “polite”, reminiscing and respectful. There is and was no problem (to my knowledge) in a pluralist place like YU to condemn anyone who decided to learn Chassidus (of any type) that I am aware of. In the same way, although Mussar was not seen as a useful use of one’s time according to the Beis HoRav (through R’ Chaim) it would be hard to imagine YU or the Rav condemning or putting a stop to someone for whom learning Mussar was part of their daily regimen. Talmidim had to know all about the Shiurim that they attended, and in particular, those who went to the Rav’s shiur, say, as opposed to those of R’ Dovid Lifshiz ז’ל were exposed to the method of trying to learn what is in-between the lines. R’ Dovid, the Suvalker Gaon, had a different approach. The Yeshivah co-existed with different viewpoints, but the Rav’s charisma and enormous depth in learning, naturally attracted many now esteemed Talmidim.
I received some replies from the organisers about the source of the letter I presented in an earlier blog post in which the Rebbe clearly expressed a form of misgiving about what he considered to be character traits of the Rav. I responded that if this was to be a true event where the relationship was to be studied openly and honestly, that the organisers should approach Chabad about the authenticity of the letter (not that this can be questioned, it’s very clearly the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s handwriting) and be ready to analyse and comment on it.
I didn’t hear back for months, and I just assumed that the organisers would pass the letter onto the Chabad speakers, and we’d hear a perspective, at least, in due course. Perhaps the organisers did pass on the letter, and Rabbis Krinsky and Jacobsen decided that they wouldn’t “touch it” because it might introduce controversy. I don’t know. I may email the organisers and ask them.
I’m an academic. If this was a colloquium or extended seminar and it failed to discuss the contents of the letter (they are of course entitled to disagree entirely with my personal interpretation) then it was deficient because it seemed to be ignored.
Perhaps I am oversensitive because the Rav has become such an important ingredient in my ability to make sense of the world through the prism of Yahadus, but I felt that Rabbi Krinsky, continually referring to him as “Rabbi” Soloveitchik was (perhaps unwittingly) derogatory. The Rav described himself as a Melamed, but given the number of Rabbinic folk in Chabad who get Smicha and call themselves “Rabbi” XYZ, I felt this was a come down. He could have been called “the Rav”, or even R’ Yoshe Ber, especially since the event was being held at YU. (I find those who refer to him as “J.B” rude). Can you imagine for one minute if someone from YU spoke at a Chabad event at 770 and referred to the Rebbe as Rabbi Schneersohn? I know people are even sensitive to the acronym Ramash, because acronyms are usually applied once someone has passed away and is in גן עדן מקדם or in עדן itself. I found Rabbi Krinsky’s anecdotes interesting, but I didn’t find them academically incisive or revealing. Certainly his recollection of the Rambam in Pirush Hamishnayos when the Rav came to be Menachem Avel to the Rebbe, was enhanced by Rabbi Jacobson and more detailed than what I head read in (I think) Nefesh HoRav.
Rabbi JJ Schechter, not to be confused with the Rav’s Talmid Muvhak, R’ Hershel Schachter שליט’’א is a fine scholar, and I have read a number of his articles, books, and listened to his talks. However, here, I felt he (perhaps diplomatically, or influenced by his late father, the other Rabbi Hershel Schechter ז’ל) provided more of a sociological talk which, while entertaining, wasn’t overly enlightening (at least to me).
I felt the most dynamic speaker was Rabbi Jacobson. His reputation as a speaker precedes him. He, at least, tried to link the contents of the Sichos which the Rav heard, with his interpretation that they were an “answer” to the Rav’s lonely man of faith, halachic man, etc. Nobody seemed to mention that the Rav went to the farbrengen as an expression of HakoRas HaTov as described by close Talmidim. To look at Rabbi Jacobson’s thesis, and he was second guessing his own Rebbe, one would have to study those Sichos and see whether in the gamut of other Sichos or Ma’amorim at farbrengens, these were indeed somewhat out of left field, and directed as a theological approach by the Rebbe to assuage the original thoughts of the Rav, as expressed in his published works to date. I certainly am not in a position to comment on that thesis, as I do not have the knowledge of the Rebbe’s general style and content at such a Farbrengen, let alone those Sichos.
I am surprised that nobody took the opportunity to mention that the Rav wrote a Pirush on the Tanya in Ksav Yad, that remains unpublished, as claimed by Rabbi Kenneth Brander on his recent visit to Melbourne. It’s certainly indicative of the Rav’s attitude to Chabad, as opposed to the Rebbe in particular.
To summarise, what I considered, a few years ago, to be a letter which provided potentially important insight, was seemingly wilfully? ignored. As such, I felt it was a “feel good” evening in American style, where the YU people stressed that the Rav had enormous respect for the Rebbe (which needs to be tempered by statements recorded in Rabbi Holtzer’s book, and statements attributed to the Rav’s own son Prof Chaym Soloveitchik)
So, in conclusion, congratulations on a great idea, but I would have preferred a more academically inclined approach than the “slap on the back” style which seemed to permeate most speaker’s style of delivery. Then again, maybe that was the aim of the organisers, and my issues are misplaced in context.
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