Stuck in a time warp

I couldn’t believe the article I read in yediot, where the Aguda’s Rabbi Litzman had reservations about the legislation to limit the volume of the call to prayers, mainly used by Muslims, but also to usher the Shabbos.

When I travelled to India, I disliked my trips to Hyderabad. My hotel was decent, one of the few, but each morning I was woken by a cacophony of calls for prayer coming from outside, far away. I also heard this in Kochin (where the Muslims and Hindus said it at the same time and it was a war of blaring stupid sounds). Why should anyone who is asleep be woken by an antiquated method to remind people of the time(s) of prayer? At 3am and 4am and whenever?

People used to have a “Shabbos Zayger (timepiece)” which was more ornate so that they could wear it in a place where there was no Eruv because  it was a piece of Jewellery as well as being functional and according to most opinions permitted to wear. I know that some Charedim forbid “smart phones”, but even dumb phones can get an SMS. I can think of many other ways of alerting people to Shabbos. There could be lights that go on and off, and change colours. They could even indicate when Shabbos was out according to both opinions. These don’t cost the earth. They could easily be installed in the entrance of Shules and Shtieblach for those who are chronologically challenged and unable to discern that the widely known time for Shabbos coincides with the timepiece on their hand.

Charedi/Muslim Entrepreneurs this is a business opportunity!

In days of old, there was a custom for someone to knock on the doors of each house to announce Shacharis, the morning prayer. It made sense. They didn’t all have clocks, and even today, an alarm clack is used by many, even in the guise of a smart phone alert. When I learned at Kerem B’Yavneh, the last people on guard duty knocked on each door to arouse us from our slumber. Okay. That’s fine. It didn’t wake up the people in Kibbutz Yavneh a few kilometres away.

There is no place, in my view, to disturb anyone’s sleep in today’s age, because of one group (be it any religion—the Hindus do it in India to counter the Muslims) wanting to announce prayers. Let me correct that, there is a place: in a village where everyone wants it, and the sound doesn’t disturb neighbouring areas, that’s acceptable. But if one person objects (they might even be sick!) then they should desist and find another solution.

All this does is reinforce in my mind, that people have taken mimesis to a level that goes well beyond the concept of Mesora. There are Halachos which pertain to sounds: shofar, trumpets for war etc. These are not daily occurrences nor are they simply mimetic. It seems that it’s not only the medieval style of dress, which Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t wear, and which is Kodesh Kodoshim is now being extended to a siren as THE only way to make sure people are aware that Shabbos is happening. Halachically, it might even be better not to blow such a siren in areas of irreligious. It’s better they do things unknowingly, than knowingly.

Rabbi Litzman should go to Machon Tzomet, and arrange for a pocket tiny device to be put in the hat and tichels/sheitels of those who wish to have personal shabbos alarms, send them a mild electric shock heralding that Shabbos is coming in. It could be sold to Muslims to insert for their times of reminding. Come on, we aren’t living in the dark ages. We are fully able to observe Shabbos without disturbing anyone else, and Muslims are fully capable of finding ways to wake up for prayers without someone yelling across the mountains from a fancy modern sound system which is hooked up (heaven forbid) to electricity (another new innovation).

Ultra-Orthodox minister blocks ‘Muezzin Bill’

The “Muezzin Bill,” which aims to prevent mosques from using loudspeakers to announce prayer times, is raising a great deal of opposition, with Arab MKs and activists protesting Tuesday in the Arab city of Sakhnin and planning additional protests on Wednesday in Jaffa and the Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye.
A surprising bit of opposition, though, has emerged from among the ultra-Orthodox community, with Health Minister Yakov Litzman filing an appeal on Tuesday to prevent the Knesset from voting on the Muezzin Bill, thereby sending it back to the government for further review. This will also force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already voiced his support of the bill, to weigh in on the matter.

In his appeal, Litzman referred to the similarities between the muezzin calls and the call announcing the beginning of Shabbat. “For thousands of years, different instruments have been used for this purpose, including the shofar and trumpet. With the advancement of technology, loudspeakers are now used to announce the beginning of Shabbat while respecting the allowed volume and in accordance to the law.”

The appeal continued by saying, “The bill in its current phrasing and following the discussions that it will bring on may harm the status quo, and so in accordance to governmental protocol, this appeal is hereby submitted for further review.”

While Litzman’s concern is mainly over breaking the status quo, the bill has angered both Arab MKs, Arab activists and the country of Jordan. The Jordanian Head of Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Endowments, Abdullah Al Awadi, expressed his objection by saying, “In accordance with international law, the occupier cannot make any historic changes in the city that it occupies and it is required to leave things as they are,” he continued. “This proves that any Israeli decision on Jerusalem is null and void.” MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint List) objected to the bill, as well. “This is a law against Palestinian presence in our homeland. It isn’t the noise that is harmful, but the outspoken presence of the Arab language that emphasizes the place’s identity, along with a certain level of controlling the space. It is a fight over it and control of it. If the will pass, we won’t respect it. We won’t lower our voice in our own space.”
Another MK to raise his voice was Jamal Zahalka (Joint List), who targeted Netanyahu in his objection. “Netanyahu has shown clear signs of chronic Islamophobia and needs immediate help, because his episodes are beginning to become dangerously combustible.” He added that “This isn’t Europe. This is where the muezzin has been making his voice heard for over a thousand years, and where Muslims will go on living …

Whomever can’t stand the sound of the muezzin is welcome to go back to where they won’t hear such sounds.” The Palestinian Authority also criticized the bill. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office warned against the ramifications of voting the bill into law and threatened to turn to the UN Security Council and other international organizations if this were to happen.

I can’t wait for Abbas to bring this issue to the Security Council. He’d better dress up his representative as a clown when he brings the issue forward. Can people get real. Freedom of prayer is sustained. Methods of waking people up have and do change and are not part of ANY religion that I know of. Sheesh.

Maybe Rav Litzman thinks he needs a Beis Din to annul the Siren minhag on Shabbos because it is halachically a practice akin to a “vow”.

Maybe Abbas needs Arafat to rise from his grave and address the security council about this grave matter (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)

Probably in Gulf states they have sound proof rooms for international guests or give them sound cancelling ear plugs 😦

Oh, and don't make smart comments about Schnapps. I've heard much louder bands of late :-)
Oh, and don’t make smart comments about Schnapps. I’ve heard much louder bands of late 🙂

An outrageous Dvar Torah on Korach

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz is the editor of Yated Neeman, a mouth piece for the Aguda. He is the Rabbi of Kehal Ahavas HaTorah in Monsey, and authors a blog in which he publishes weekly “Divrei Torah”.

This week’s Dvar Torah on Korach. It’s been a while since I read a facile piece which uses the Machlokes of Korach to silence alternate views. This is yet another such piece. It insults one’s intelligence to try and sell the line that:

  • Korach was a bad man because he questioned Daas Torah (Moshe)
  • Korach was motivated by jealousy
  • Issue X is contentious but since my Daas Torah says Y on issue X and you don’t agree, then you are a modern incarnation of Korach

So, what are issues X and the Daas Torah views Y in this week’s regurgitation of this illogical fallacy?

Issue X is:

The Aguda response as enunciated by Rabbi Lipschutz is

  • If you oppose Metzitza you are from Korach
  • If you don’t put your hands into Rabonim on abuse matters you are from Korach

Metzitza is a Halachic matter. It rises above petty Agudist politics. It is an old issue. There are many respected halachic opinions that contend that Metzitza B’Peh is absolutely forbidden. Do they not have a right to those views? Are they motivated only by anti-Agudist/Orthodox motives?

Do we not have enough evidence to suggest that Rabonim are not the best address when it comes to ascertaining whether there is a prima facie case of Abuse that should be referred to the Police? The implication here being that the RCA are like Korach?

I really dislike it when the Torah is abused and misused in this way to push a barrow that discredits the right to an opinion that is different even though it had a solid basis.

Anyway, you judge for yourself. Here is the Dvar Torah.

We learn this week’s parsha and are struck by how odd it seems that someone would challenge Moshe after all he had done for the Bnei Yisroel altruistically. This is compounded by the number of times Hashem defended Moshe. How could someone as smart as Korach do something so foolish and how could so many people be taken in by him and join the rebellion?

Miriam spoke against Moshe Rabbeinu and was promptly punished. The meraglim doubted the veracity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s promise and, again, their punishment was swift and harsh. In this week’s parsha, we are again presented with an account of rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu.

Korach is Exhibit A in the teaching of Chazal that “hakinah, hataavah vehakavod motziim es ho’odom min ho’olam.” His ambition and lust fueled him in a way that totally altered his perception of reality and truth.

Rashi tells us that Korach fooled himself. His thirst for power and drive for recognition toxically combined with his ego to convince him that he was right. His ulterior motives tripped him up. Because of his negiah he thought that Moshe had appointed his brother Aharon to a high position and ignored the better candidate. Though Moshe had repeatedly proven that he was following the command of Hashem, Korach, like people who haven’t subjected their jealousy and bad middos, had lost his ability to think clearly.

Ambition is good. All around us are good people who have risen to leadership positions as a result of hard work and determination. However, in the dog-eat-dog world where everything goes and the ends justify the means, people think that by trampling over others, by lying, and by playing on people’s emotions instead of by targeting their intellect, they can become popular and powerful. However, such achievement is short-lived and flames out rather quickly.

Korach ran a quick and easy campaign, because hate spreads like a fire. “Did you know that…? Have you heard the truth? I’ll tell you the real story.” He used the same successful tactics, grievances and claims as today’s hate-mongers. All throughout history people have been susceptible to the machinations of demagogues.

Korach deluded himself into thinking that he would be different than those who previously had made the same mistake as he and doubting the Ish Elokim. He was operating from a position brought on by negius, and thus his view was altered and his thinking fatally flawed.

The Chazon Ish writes that a gadol baTorah does not make decisions based on negius and has no personal interest. Korach couldn’t face this fact. He refused to accept the reality that a true gadol doesn’t have an agenda.

Rav Elazar Shach zt”l explained the concept of daas Torah as such. When a great person who has no personal negiah and is totally absorbed with his Torah study is asked a question, it is as if the Torah itself is responding to the query.

Moshe Rabbeinu, the consummate humble person, the one who delivered them from slavery, virtually the only leader the Jews had known, and the man whose every word was Torah, was the person who Korach and his group accused of malfeasance.

The Mishnah in Avos states that a machlokes lesheim Shomayim is sofo lehiskayeim, while a machlokes shelo lesheim Shomayim has no kiyum.

The Mishnah tells us that the disputes between Hillel and Shamai were lesheim Shomayim, while the quarrel of Korach va’adaso was the quintessential machlokes shelo lesheim Shomayim, an argument that is sustained purely to serve a personal agenda.

A machlokes lesheim Shomayim is fueled by the desire of both antagonists to determine the truth. Hillel and Shammai shared the same goal, but they had differing methods of interpreting and understanding the words and concepts of the Torah to determine the will of the Ribbono Shel Olam. Hillel and Shammai are so much a part of our everyday life, because by studying their drashos and sevaros, and by understanding their discussions, we are able to arrive at a more illuminated understanding of Torah. Their teachings and words endure – sofo lehiskayeim.

When the machlokes is lo lesheim Shomayim, the other side is not interested in the truth. They are only interested in winning. There is nothing to be learned by dissecting their arguments, for they are illogical and obviously false.

A story is told about two friends who were talmidim in the great Volozhiner Yeshiva. Meir was exceptional, brilliant and driven, and had been considered one of the yeshiva’s most accomplished students. That was before he began reading and then becoming increasingly influenced by Haskalah literature which robbed our people of thousands of promising people such as Meir. The poisoned pens of the Maskilim which mocked and disdained the holy traditions and Torah leaders succeeded and Meir found himself unable to apply himself to learning and davening.

Chaim had been his chavrusah and best friend, but as Meir fell under the spell of Haskalah, their friendship fell apart. However, Meir was determined to take Chaim along with him. He sought to take his simple, unsophisticated friend by the hand and lead him into the great, big world beyond the walls of the Volozhiner Yeshiva. Chaim refused to hear his friend’s arguments, explaining that he derived all the intellectual and emotional stimulation he needed from the pages of the Gemara.

Meir didn’t give up and continued hammering at Chaim with the arguments he picked up in the beautifully poetic pamphlets of the Maskilim, who used their creative gifts to carefully compose tracts that brilliantly mocked everything and everyone holy.

Meir turned to Chaim and asked, “How can you learn Gemara all day and delve into the words of the Tannaim and Amoraim if you have no idea who they were and what they were all about? First you have to learn some history and connect with their era. Familiarize yourself with the geography of the great cities and yeshivos in which they learned, and then you will be able to begin a proper analysis of their words and teachings.”

It was to be Meir’s final argument. Chaim looked at him with pity and turned to head back in to the bais medrash. “You know Meir’l,” he said as he walked off, “you may know where Abaye and Rava died, but I know where they live.”

To paraphrase the Volozhiner bochur, Hillel and Shammai are alive and well in every bais medrash in the world. Moshe’s Torah is as fresh as the day it was given at Sinai, while Korach and his group are buried deep down in a wayward desert, crying out to be heard.

Hillel and Shammai pursued truth, not the argument. Their disputes were a means to arrive at the truth.

Those who engage in Korach-type debates and disputes are not interested in the truth. There is nothing to be gained by debating them or studying their arguments. They are simply baalei machlokes, heirs to Korach va’adaso.

Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t arrive at his leadership position by way of hubris, coup, terrorism, or taking advantage of people by forcing them to go along with him. In fact, he was the most humble person. He got there because Hashem put him there. He rose to the highest levels possible for a human. He led the Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim, delivered the Torah to them, adjudicated their disputes, brought them close to Hashem, and gave them everything they needed, yet that wasn’t good enough for Korach, the members of the Sanhedrin, and the masses who followed him. It seems shocking, yet too often, today, we can hear the echoes of Korach’s cry.

Bnei Korach lo meisu.

Sinas am ha’aretz towards talmidei chachomim is all around us. Where there are Jews, there are rabble-rousers who covet positions of power and scheme to destroy the humble talmidei chachomim and leaders who spent decades of their lives in obscurity getting closer to Hashem while working on their middos and growing in Torah and everything that is important. They are people who don’t necessarily occupy official positions, yet they become recognized by Klal Yisroel for their gadlus. And there are people who mock and fight them.

It seems incompressible, but if you look back at our recent history, you see that there were people who fought against the Chofetz Chaim and called him a baal machlokes and troublemaker. Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, who was not only one of the most brilliant minds the Jewish people ever saw, but also possessed the kindest and most gentle nature, was vilified by people who wanted his position. He was the rabbon shel kol bnei hagolah, father and mother of yeshivos, of the poor and forlorn, and of the almanos and yesomim, yet there were people in Vilna who fought him and ran an election to usurp his position.

Though Chazal warn, “Hizaharu begachaloson,” there are always those who become overcome with envy and jealousy and delude themselves into thinking that they are more worthy for the position. They rally other malcontents to their side and do what Korach did.

Today, we see people battling against time-honored practices such a metzizah and quietly encourage the government to intervene and interfere with our religion. They stoop to lies, pseudo-science and fabrications to portray us as baby killers. The media gobbles it up without a second thought. The people who care most about life are portrayed as inconsiderate of the lives of infants and more concerned about some ancient ritual. Such stories are permitted to fester, and only one or two among us has the courage to rise up from the machaneh and say, “Enough with the lies. We have suffered enough from being portrayed as people who don’t care about the lives of children. Tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters were murdered because of the lie that we are baby killers.”

The lie is permitted to gain hold and none of the proud Jewish spokesmen protest.

The same goes for the new focus on abuse. Rabbis who spend their days ministering to their flocks and delving into the eternal words of the Torah are portrayed as callously concerned strictly with maintaining their positions. The oft-repeated canard is that they care not about the sanctity of life. People who spend their lives caring for people are said to turn a blind eye to children who are abused.

It is high time we rose up and said that we have heard that sorry song enough times. Of course every responsible rabbi agrees that predators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Of course religious Jews maintain that monsters should not be permitted to walk the streets and destroy lives.

No one who harms a child, in any way, with any type of abuse, should be coddled. Rabbis have been saying that for thousands of years, yet we are portrayed as being a group who doesn’t hear the cries of the victims. The nation that has spawned the greatest proliferation of chessed organizations, which the rest of the world never even attempts to emulate, is portrayed as uncaring and no one says anything. How can that be?

When the nations of the world were still offering up their children as sacrifices to pagan gods, the Torah was concerned about ensuring that our children remain safe and healthy.

Molesters are classified halachically as rodfim and are treated as such when they are caught and their reprehensible actions are proven. Yes, sometimes unfortunately, these evil people are not sufficiently punished, and those exceptions should be addressed, but how can we permit the minority to impugn the character of every rov, rosh yeshiva and frum Jew?

All around us, we see the koach of Korach va’adaso taking hold, pulling people in their direction, creating doubt in the hearts of many. Their target, as always, is still Moshe Rabbeinu and those who follow his teachings.

Therefore, four times a week, we rise to our feet and point towards the Sefer Torah and call out, “Vezos haTorah asher som Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisroel al pi Hashem beyad Moshe.” We proclaim our allegiance to the Torah, which guides our every step and shapes our opinions. We restate that we received it from Moshe.

We point at the Torah and say, “This is timeless. This is enduring. This is real and lasting. It is the honest truth.” We received it from Moshe Rabbeinu, the humblest and greatest leader, and in every generation, the Moshes of the dor transmit the heritage to us as they lead us to grow in the lives the Torah demands of us.

This Shabbos is the 30th yahrtzeit of the great Lakewood rosh yeshiva, Rav Shnuer Kotler zt”l. His father, Rav Aharon zt”l, breathed life into dry bones, creating a European-style yeshiva in a place no one thought it possible, working with superhuman energy and dedication, experiencing extraordinary siyata diShmaya.
When Rav Aharon passed away, it was feared that his many accomplishments and the yeshiva he had established would be lost. Yet, providentially, Rav Shneur led Lakewood into its glory era, increasing the numbers and the breadth of limudim, and leading the kollel movement in its spread across America.

Rav Aharon’s talmidim spread out across America and around the world, imparting his message and adding legions to the forces of Torah. Their success and his in transmitting Torah, yiras Shomayim and ahavas Yisroel to the succeeding generations are proof that Toras Moshe never grows old or stale. It remains relevant and vibrant wherever Hashgachah guides Jews.

And so it was with many of the Holocaust-era Chassidic and yeshiva leaders who arrived here, penniless. They had lost their families, friends and students, but they were not alone. They clung to the Toras Moshe and it sustained them. It was their oxygen and lifesaver and they were buffeted about in strange, choppy seas. They never despaired or wavered. Today we harvest the fruits of their labors. Every week, there are more people pointing to the Sefer Torah and proclaiming, “Vezos haTorah.”

Those who follow Moshe Rabbeinu and his successors are growing and tipping the population scales. A just completed survey of New York’s Jews showed, once again, that intermarriage is on the rise. The Conservative and Reform, who a few decades ago thought they had the Orthodox beat, continue to lose adherents despite all the games they have played, from patrilineal descent to counting anyone who claims to be a Jew as a Jew.

The media is surprised. The entrenched liberal power brokers are fearful. New York’s organizational leaders are worried about their future. They fret over the calamitous future predicted by the finding that 64% of New York’s Jewish children are Orthodox.

The only group that is experiencing growth is the one that adheres to Toras Moshe and whose offspring is educated in the Torah way. The only guarantee for our future is provided by learning and observing the Torah. Yet, they refuse to accept that bare fact and instead engage in desperate battles against us.

As they and the other modern-day Korachs use emotion, hyperbole and every tool at their disposal to get our attention and detour us from the path which led from Sinai to Yerushalayim, Yavneh, Pumpedisah, Gerona, Sefard, Ashkenaz, Volozhin, Warsaw, Slabodka, Vilna, Liadi, Berditchev, Morocco, Brisk, and so many other stations until it led to us, we need to stay focused on the truth of Moshe Rabbeinu and his modern-day successors. We dare not fall for gimmicks, charlatans and those who would lead us down the path of oblivion.

We are approaching the twelve-month mark of last summer’s terrible tekufah, the weeks when we sustained blow after crippling blow. As their yahrtzeits arrive, we should focus on whom we lost and what sort of people walked amongst us in Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman, Rav Chaim Stein and Rav Elazar Abuchatzeirah, zichronam livracha, among others. When we think about them and the lives they led, and the giants whom we merit having among us, we will be reminded even in our day that the Torah is as vibrant as ever, al pi Hashem beyad Moshe.

May this summer be one of happiness and brocha, as we asked this past Shabbos in Rosh Chodesh bentching for a month of “chaim shetehei bonu ahavas Torah veyiras Shomayim,” coupled with shemuos tovos and besoros tovos for everyone, everywhere.

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