The situation regarding the Central Chabad Organisation in Melbourne

I should say, that I have held off making any comment on this issue, as I don’t think my comments would help in any way. I’m viewed as an outsider. That being said, neither will this post contribute. But, it’s been on my mind, so I now give it voice through my blog.

I am not a member of the organisation, although we do have two seats for historic/emotional reasons. I didn’t join as I tend not to join things generally and I didn’t understand the complicated structures anyway.

On the issue of a history of offences of a sexual nature perpetrated by low lives and sick people and blind observers who perhaps medicine will one day discover a way to ‘control’, my wish is that we never hear of such occurrences in the future in any School or Institution, and where there is some remote suggestion that something may have happened, this be reported to the justice system to test, immediately.

It is true, that some lay and non lay people were members of  committees when offences were alleged to be occurring. Governance would suggest that unless there was a cone of silence that precluded them knowing, that they now give consideration to new people to take their place, simply on that basis. Those new people should not be “angry ones” or those with a vendetta. They need to be level-headed, thinking, and respected Ba’alei Batim with Chabad’s interests at heart.

It is also true that nobody can fully understand the victim who still suffers, and all assistance—psychologically and financially and apologetically—to help re-route especially those whose lives have fallen apart “back to a happier road” and that must be completed. Some of this has taken place. No doubt some has not. Having never been in the shoes of this type of victim, I am in no place to comment on the effects nor the approaches required to help lessen these effects or give advice.

It may be the result of the Royal Commission, or presumed result of that commission, but I’ve seen snippets of a new constitution and various concerned parents’ minutes. To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the details as they seem legalistic structures that are not my forte and I also lost interest and respect when someone close to me was scandalously marginalised within the School system, but not over anything related to the above. Those are matters for the new “structure” whatever that structure means in practice.

So why I am writing this post, and what is my message?

To me, Chabad is the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Chabad (a continuation of previous Rebbes agenda). It is a top-down hierarchy with the top now missing. I always had the very strong feeling that he had a finger on the pulse of any issue brought to his attention. He was a moral, unimpeachable genius who I am sure would have provided correct Halachic and personal advice if consulted. What actually transpired is anyone’s guess, but I certainly don’t hold him responsible and it doesn’t affect Chabad’s powerful philosophy and approach to Judaism and successes.

Democracy is a great thing—ask Donald Trump. Chabad or indeed any Chassidic group or institution cannot by definition be run by a vote of mass hands. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, upon the death of his Rebetzin, wrote a powerful Sicha, entitled בואו ונחשוב חשבונו של עולם. This Sicha, which was short and very powerful was not published or provided for his proof-reading. It was hidden from him a few times. People didn’t want it coming out. He lays out guidelines about how Chabad and private people should function should he pass on before Moshiach (but he didn’t say that fact explicitly). I don’t have a link to the Sicha, it is now printed at the back of Toras Menachem, but there IS a Video of him saying it on the stairs leading down, at 770, and those who were there were in shock. If someone finds it and posts the link, I will update the post. I don’t know if it’s been translated.

Accordingly, I would not deviate one iota from his wishes and those of his forebears. He asked that a committee of three unimpeachable expert and universally recognised Chabad Rabbis/Mashpiim oversee major decisions. They could be in different countries. Someone correct me if I have misunderstood. I can think of suitable apolitical candidates in other countries who are not part of the current power boards of Chabad.

There is now power play, politics and “rights of Yerusha” in Melbourne for there to be anyone unbiased in Melbourne that could consider this, as a group of three. They would not need to build a tome of complicated constitution, but would certainly need to lay down the guidelines about how voices from the Kehilla would be considered and respectfully responded to.

Nepotism must be eradicated. It is a plague. Excellence should be the only criteria.

There was, to my knowledge, never an instruction to insert a letter into his Igros and derive a conclusion about how to go ahead. We all know of “incredible” cases where direct advice was on the page, but we also know of the myriad of people who found nothing remotely connected, and that didn’t have anything to do with their lack of knowledge or depth. You can say the person wasn’t fit or ready, but you can also say anything.

I’m most disappointed that Chabad, which should be cohesive, has factionalism. They can’t even close down unsanctioned infamous Melbourne CBD “Chabad houses”, let alone expel the Tzfatim from 770. This is the anti-thesis of Hiskashrus. Sadly, we have too few great and straight Chassidim in Melbourne to look at the issue dispassionately, and through proper Halacha, which I have no doubt who would also comply with secular requirements, sans ego.

I also see strange “innovations” ever-creeping into the main Shule, none of which I saw in 45 years, and which are on the rise. These emanate mainly from those who are new to Chabad (not born into the dynasty) and I find them most alienating to those who are mainstream mispallelim davening in a Chabad Shule. Rabbi Groner never made someone feel alienated in the Shule. He even allowed a pregnant pause so people could say Veshomru on Friday night. This pause is now proudly circumcised as a sign of purity.

On Shemini Atzeres, at Hakafos in the main Shule, the audible calling up of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to “say” the first Hakofo occurred. I know some long term mispallelim who left the Shule at that point in disbelief. This is too much and is far removed from normative Jewish practice. Everyone will recall the Gerrer Rebbe encouraging Breslaver Chassidim to give Rav Nachman Hagbah.

There may well be a valid feeling that a Chassid feels internally that he would like nothing more than the Rebbe saying the first Hakofa. Have that feeling. Internalise it, and if it doesn’t happen, go home and weep, by all means, or find strength. But as part of a formal Tefilla and practice, I find it very hard to cope with and I’m not aware of a Halachic source for such a practice. Someone enlighten me.

I have a soft spot for the Shemini Atzeres Farbrengen  at Yeshivah which was always regaled by Rabbi Groner and whilst the format was new this year, I was interested. I was upset though that when the elderly R’ Mendel New got up to say a few words, albeit in a weak voice, there was a cacophony. Silence—complete silence, is what should have taken place, and there was nobody of authority to make sure that such should take place. He was talking about keeping Shabbos in the old days. Rabbi Groner would have yelled out (as he used to do with waiters at Simchas) that everyone zip their mouths. I was embarrassed, and moved right up to R’ Mendel and listened to his story, though I had heard it.

There were a few very learned Rabbis close by where I sat, and they are not drinkers. After kiddush on Vodka, as is the custom, though, it went straight to their heads. The result? Inhibitions were discarded and they started singing “Yechi”.  I left the farbrengen immediately, although discretely. It’s a great turn off for me and legions of others, but Chabad don’t care (though the Rebbe did). Ditto with the signage in some Shules and the other useless paraphernalia.

“Yechi” needs to become an internalised hergesh/feeling that materialises into positive action that people feel genuinely and materialise into lamplighters. Gyrating and singing the song, or plastering signs up in Shules only achieves acrimony from those who find this

  • not part of davening, before or after
  • not part of a shule’s decoration.
  • well passed its use by date

Is this the Chabad “Na Na Nachman”. What has that achieved apart from party revellers joining in.

I have grandchildren in the School, and I only pray that the place returns to becoming a bastion of normative behaviour with a Chassidic bent, staffed by honest, talented, trustworthy people with no other agenda except quality education (yes, and I include secular education). People who don’t live to fill their egos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Chaim Dalfin
Rabbi Chaim Dalfin


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rav (second from left) with Rav Shmuel Walkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Dalfin states,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rebbe and the Rav
The Rebbe and the Rav

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rashab
The Rashab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky
Rav Sholom Ber Kowalsky

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

Rav Moshe Soloveitchik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik

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

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

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

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

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

I find Rabbi Dalfins comment that

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

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

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

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




An Eruv in Crown Heights?

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:

  1. It should not be supported publicly by Rabbonei Lubavitch
  2. It should not be used by Chasidim of Chabad
  3. It should be constructed by a Rabbi of world-renowned expertise in Eruvin
  4. Others should follow their own Posek, and if their Posek allows it, by all means, use it
  5. 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.

Righteous Gentiles: Frum Noahides – Gentiles who act like Jews?

It is well-known that the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע mounted a major campaign to encourage gentiles to engage in the seven Noahide Laws. The Rambam states that they  receive their reward when they do so because they believe in God and perform these as their task. The ultimate question is that Jews have 620 Laws (not all of which can be done anyway). Does this mean that Jews reap a higher reward i.e. 613 Torah + 7 Rabbinic versus 7 Noahide for Gentiles? Alternatively, do we say that there is a peak of a mountain. We are all enjoined to reach the peak of the mountain. Jews have a more demanding path that they must traverse to reach that peak, whereas Gentiles have seven laws that they must keep to reach the same peak?

There are also differing opinions about converts. Jews do not proseletise. The Baal Hatanya contends that all converts to Judaism are actually Jewish souls at the time of Sinai which are being returned. Other Orthodox Philosophers do not agree. With this in the back of your mind, read the following from Tablet Magazine. [Hat tip Shochet assistant]

The Gentiles Who Act Like Jews

A man with a brambly salt-and-pepper beard, a kippah on his head, and circular glasses balanced on his nose stood behind a podium, lecturing on the parasha, the weekly Torah reading, in a southern twang. He was not a rabbi. He wasn’t even Jewish.

In front of him, an audience of about 20 sat in rows, listening attentively. Some wore head wraps and dresses suitable for a wedding, and others looked like they came in off the street. One man boasted neck tattoos and a gauge earring.

I was the only Jew in the room, but everyone else was here to study Torah. I was here to study them.

They call themselves Righteous Noahides: non-Jews who believe in Orthodox Judaism. According to Jewish theology, there are laws that Jews must obey, the 613 mitzvot, but then there are seven laws for children of Noah—everyone else in the world. They are: Do not deny God; do not blaspheme; do not murder; do not engage in incest, adultery, pederasty, or bestiality; do not steal; do not eat of a live animal; and establish courts.

The Noahide laws, which are derived from passages in the Torah, were enumerated in the Talmud. In the Middle Ages, Maimonides urged their observance on non-Jews, writing, “Anyone who accepts upon himself and carefully observes the Seven Commandments is of the Righteous of the Nations of the World and has a portion in the World to Come.” But the idea never really caught on among non-Jews.

But about 40 years ago, Chabad grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson launched a global “Noahide Campaign,” writing and speaking about the need for Righteous Noahide communities, believing Noahide laws would bring about peace and understanding and would hasten the coming of the Messiah. Some non-Jews listened. For example, in 1987, President Reagan signed a proclamation glorifying “the historical tradition of ethical values and principles, which have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws, transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai.”

Noahidism now encompasses communities around the world, especially in Great Britain, the Philippines, Latin America, Nigeria, Russia, and the United States. According to Rabbi Michael Schulman, who runs Noahide website, the Philippines may have the most developed community, with well over 1,000 adults and their children living in a collection of agricultural towns. They run Hebrew schools, community meetings, and even a national summit.

The group I visited, called Netiv, is a bustling 40-person community located in Humble, Texas—in the United States, Texas is the center of Noahide life. Some members travel over two hours each way, two or three times a week, for classes. They obey the Noahide laws, but they also take the concept further, endeavoring to obey other mitzvot and learn more from Judaism.

Adults set out a potluck in the kitchen while children ran around. The man with neck tattoos showed everyone the Kabbalistic painting he made and auctioned it to the crowd.

But the main event was Rod Bryant’s lecture on the parasha, in which Moshe—Bryant used Moses’ Hebrew name—strikes down an Egyptian for beating a Jew. It’s a familiar story, but Bryant put a Noahide spin on it. He emphasized how Moshe stood up for what he knew was right, despite the masses around him just following the status quo.

Like Moshe, Bryant said, Noahides struggle to stand up for their beliefs, despite being surrounded by Christian families and friends. Unlike those around them, Noahides do not identify as Christian. Their feelings on Christianity and Jesus range from respect of the “all religions have something to offer” variety to palpable disdain. They’ve given up what they consider idol worship to follow Jewish theology.

Bryant didn’t always teach Torah; he was a Pentecostal chaplain in the Army during the first Gulf War. He started a small study group in his house that got so large that it moved to a church. Around that time, Bryant began finding inconsistencies in Christian scripture, so he started digging into historical records.

“It was like archeology,” Bryant recalled.

The larger his group grew, the more uncomfortable he felt: He was responsible for the spiritual lives of all these people, and here he was teaching things he didn’t believe. When people asked him to lecture on passages about Jesus, he started making excuses.

“He was like, ‘It’s too long,’ ” remembered one former Christian group member. “I was like, ‘I’ll bring food.’ ”

He started teaching Torah from a Jewish perspective to a small group. Arilio Navarro, who had been having similar doubts about Christianity, came in to learn at one point. Navarro pulled Bryant aside and told him quietly, “I don’t think Jesus is God.” He was pretty sure he’d be thrown out.

To his surprise, Bryant replied, “Oh, you don’t? Me neither.”

It eventually became obvious that Bryant couldn’t be part of the church anymore, and he left, or was kicked out, depending on whom you ask. Probably a bit of both. Either way, he found himself without a job.

“OK, Hashem, funny sense of humor,” he remembered thinking. “Now I really have to trust you.”

He started communicating with rabbis who had been inspired by Rabbi Schneerson’s teachings about Noahides, and he learned about Righteous Gentiles and the seven laws of Noah. Eventually, in 2010, he founded Netiv, which has been growing ever since.


Like Bryant, others who have discovered Noahidism, while not identifying as Jews, seem to love Judaism: the emphasis on asking questions rather than just taking a priest’s word for things, the traditions, the intellectual rigor, the in-depth instructions it provides for maintaining family relations. But above all, they say Judaism gives them a newfound sense of peace.

“It gives me a new way to breathe before God,” said Irene Griffin, a Netiv regular.

The typical story goes like this: A person starts out Christian. (I’ve yet to meet someone who came to Noahidism from anything else. Bryant said one Muslim girl used to stop by, but her family found out and put a stop to it.) These seekers then find inconsistencies between the scripture and the priest’s or minister’s teachings. They start asking questions their religious leaders can’t answer to their satisfaction, questions like: “Why don’t we keep the Sabbath?” “Why do babies need to be baptized?” “If the Bible says God is one, why do we have a Trinity?”

And so on.

Thus begins a journey into different kinds of Christianity. Some searchers become Seventh Day Adventists, who obey Old Testament commandments. Many, interestingly enough, join Messianic Judaism, which becomes a stepping-stone toward more traditional Judaism—apparently, Jews for Jesus can occasionally bring Christians to Judaism rather than the other way around.

At some point, many give up Christianity altogether, which puts them in a boat that seems to be taking on water.

“We’re not Christian. So, what are we?” Dianna Navarro, Arilio’s wife, remembered thinking. She recalled when she discovered that God was one in Genesis while in her old Christian church, while she was starting to doubt the Trinity. She jumped up, excited, crying, “God is one!” The lady next to her muttered, “I know.”

Tina Sachs was already part of Bryant’s group while she was questioning, resulting in a fairly smooth transition from Christianity to Noahidism. But for others, like the Navarros, there was no easy way to land safely: They gave up Christianity and found themselves like Looney Tunes characters who had walked off a cliff with nowhere to stand.


Though he and his wife Jackie are currently Noahides, Richard Waer didn’t used to be religious at all.

“He wouldn’t let me baptize my babies!” pouted Jackie Waer, who had been raising their children Catholic up until a few years ago. It must have been a big source of marital stress at the time; I marveled at how irrelevant it is now.

Richard’s friend Arilio Navarro brought him to a Netiv class, and Richard was hooked. “I felt like I’d been taken out of the Matrix,” he said. “And I felt a little lost.”

Jackie came on board immediately. Something about Judaism attracted her. But even more important was seeing how much her husband began to change. He’d struggled with alcoholism before, but Noahide theology set him free—paradoxically, by calling him to account. “Seeing alcoholism not as the devil, and not as me, but as something in me was what did it,” Richard said. Judaism didn’t demonize alcohol but set forth a way of thinking about the yetzer hara—evil inclination—that made sense to him.

“God speaks to people how they listen,” he said. “I just had to get out of my own way.”

Jackie covers her hair with colorful wraps that she finds on, an online community of Orthodox Jews. A foodie at heart, she zealously tries to make her Netive Mexican cooking kosher, although cholent remains a challenge.

“A lot of us are just fumbling in the dark,” she said.

People around the Waers didn’t really know what was going on when they became Noahides, and many confuse them for Muslim. Even the Waers’ three daughters were perplexed by the sudden “Guess what, kids! We’re not Catholic anymore!” nature of their family’s change, but they noticed that their parents seemed happier.

Ryan Smith’s journey to Noahidism was considerably different. While incarcerated in 2009, he dreamed he was watching the news, and the weatherman said there would be a solar flare causing temperatures to hit about 800 degrees.

In the dream, Smith waited for everything to start burning. Then he saw some sort of figure coming out of the sky, saying, “Don’t be afraid, I’ve come to take my people home.” Smith started crying in his sleep and woke up.

Despite growing up Catholic, Smith had never seriously read a Bible before, but the moment after waking up from an apocalyptic dream seemed like a good time to start. He went on to research religion obsessively and even taught himself to read Hebrew, he said, so he could read the Torah. He contacted Schulman, the rabbi who runs, from whom he learned about Noahidism, and began teaching Noahidism to other inmates, turning it into a small prison religion.

For Smith, who has since been released and is now volunteering with Schulman, Noahidism changed everything; he wouldn’t take back being incarcerated.

“It was the highlight of my existence,” he said. “I’m glad I went there.”

Just as paths to Noahidism are different, so are individual practices. Tina Sachs is a Noahide, and her husband is a secular Jew. For her, Noahidism mainly means attending classes at Netiv and lighting candles on Shabbat. On the other hand, others at Netiv are “Noahide Hasidim,” as Bryant, the Netiv leader, jokingly calls them.

The Navarros for instance, keep kosher and observe Shabbat, and Arilio studies with a rabbi online. When we met, Dianna was wearing a necklace with a Kabbalah tree of life symbol on it and a red string around her wrist.

“It reminds me never to speak badly of anyone,” she said.

Noahides elicit mixed responses from religious Jews. When I first began researching Noahidism, one rabbi emailed me, telling me to avoid a particular Noahide leader, saying the leader was “throwing teachings like pasta at the wall to see what sticks.”

Some rabbis emphasize that Noahides should not perform any mitzvot designated specifically for Jews; they point to interpretations of Genesis 8:22 that argue it is forbidden for non-Jews to keep Shabbat. According to Maimonides:

The general principle governing these matters is: [Non-Jews] are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot, or retain their statutes [in the Noahide Code] without adding or detracting from them.

Arilio Navarro understands these concerns, but he doesn’t abide by them.

“There are a lot of blessings that come with Shabbat, and I don’t want to leave them on the table,” he said. “I spent most of my life doing that; I don’t want to do that anymore. I have a Jewish soul.”

All the rabbis and Noahides I talked to agreed that Noahides don’t have an obligation to keep more than the seven laws. But the sort of people who go on a spiritual quest that leads them out of Christianity aren’t the sort who are typically satisfied with that. They want to do more.

“We left Egypt and can feel the warmth of Judaism,” said Bryant. “We don’t want to just keep wandering through the desert.”

The Navarros, like several others at Netiv, want to convert to Judaism. What holds them back is not conviction, but logistics: It’s hard to maintain an Orthodox lifestyle alone. There are no shuls within walking distance, and the closest Orthodox Jews live in downtown Houston. Moving would be expensive; houses cost twice as much in the city. That’s why many at Netiv want to start an Orthodox Jewish community of their own, one intimately connected with Noahides.

But most Noahides don’t express a need to convert. They like the flexibility of not being obligated to take on the laws.


When Gallup took a poll of 3,789 Texans in 2004, only 0.7 percent identified as Jewish. So, why has Noahidism taken root here, albeit on a small scale? I heard a variety of theories, involving, variously: Texan independence, superior leadership, or a surplus of shekhina—divine feminine presence—in the Lone Star State.

Considering the large number of Noahides in Latin America and Africa, Schulman theorized that countries that had had Christianity forced upon them might be pulling off the yoke of their oppressors. And it’s true that Noahidism seems to spring up mostly in Christian countries. But imperialism is pretty much everywhere—what place hasn’t been taken over by Christianity or Islam or nationalism or something else?

The best explanation for Noahidism’s spread lies not in space, but in time. A few decades ago, Noahides were usually lone individuals, or perhaps groups of four or five, who had come to the Noahide commandments on their own.

“No one knew each other existed,” explained Bryant.

But thanks to the Internet, Noahides realized they weren’t alone. Religious seekers were suddenly able to get their hands on all kinds of information on Judaism (many talk about and like family friends), and Noahide-specific websites appeared. The true headquarters of Noahidism isn’t in Texas or the Philippines; it’s in the web servers. Bryant regularly gets emails saying, “I’m so happy I found your video. I thought I was the only person in the world who lived this way.”

Because Noahides are so spread out, dating can be a problem; it’s not that easy to find non-Jews who practice Judaism. So, Noahides having started dating sites, such as Soulmate Connections. Cherrie Lacrosse, another Texan, met her husband through one such site.

“It was like we’d known each other forever,” she remembered.


Of course, many are already married before becoming Noahides, such as Peter and Val Loth, a couple that frequents Netiv.

They both grew up Christian, but as an adult Peter found out he was actually a Jewish Holocaust survivor who’d been adopted by a Polish family as a baby. Already married, Peter and Val started looking into Judaism, and they discovered that many did not consider their marriage valid. All of a sudden, religious Jews were telling them that they might need to get divorced. “It was scary,” said Val. Peter met Bryant at a church speaking engagement, and the Loths joined his study group, which eventually became Netiv.

They decided to remain married—“God brought us together for this purpose,” said Val—but life got complicated in other ways. Peter had from time to time spoken on forgiveness to church groups, but once he announced that he was religiously Jewish, speaking engagements dried up. Upon finding out he was Jewish before one speech, a pastor dropped Peter off at a McDonald’s, leaving him to find his own way back to his hotel.

Peter and Val aren’t alone in experiencing these problems; Netiv is a kind of support group for Noahides. “We stick together because we have to,” said Jackie Waer. Extended families rarely understand what’s going on, and that’s created rifts. Val Loth simply hasn’t told her elderly Christian mother, knowing it would break her heart. “Honoring her is leaving her in her little Catholic world,” she said.

Most people simply don’t know Noahides exist. Bryant remembers one time a Noahide group from Waco, Texas, took a trip to Israel for Sukkot and, for some reason, decided it would be a great idea to show up on the Temple Mount. A Muslim man approached them.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“No,” replied one of the Noahides, who looked like a Hasid. “I’m a Noahide.”

“Are you an American?”

“No, I’m a Texan.”

“… OK, then.”

And when Noahides show up at Chabad houses or synagogues, saying they want to learn Torah, they’re frequently turned away at the door.

“What about being a light to the nations?” asked Bryant, the Netiv leader. “Where else are they going to learn Torah? At church?”

One thing about Noahides: They really, really want to be accepted by Jews.

“We all came from Adam and Chava,” Smith pointed out. “We’re all related, just with very big branches.”


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Ilana E. Strauss is a writer and filmmaker living in New York. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Heeb, GOOD Magazine, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, and The Toast.

Things we can do for Israel

Somebody sent me this link from and noted that the one thing missing was actually being part of the non spiritual army, and fight and protect. I couldn’t agree more. That being said, I’m in Chutz La’aretz and therefore hypocritical. I also imagine that link was directed to those in Chutz La’aretz.

At the end of the day, the Rambam which was quoted by the LR and which is often repeated, says that you GO OUT TO MILCHOMO even on matters of Straw and Produce. B’Pashtus, as is the Pashtus of the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim, is that this is physical war (albeit assisted by good deeds and mitzvos and tefillos)

Avraham didn’t fight those kings with Kaballa or Chassidus. He SMOTE them AL PI CHAREV.

Who said this?

Background: it is a critique of Chabad seeking to put Tefillin on soldiers, or any Yidden who haven’t worn them on that day …

“I’m only saying this, because this [putting on tefillin] became a fad.
The frauds and the evil ones’ have attached themselves to this particular mitzvah to advertise to the world, “I’m wearing Tefillin.”
I don’t believe any of this [that this made anyone frum], and even if it should be true, …..
Shabsai Tzvi made Baalei Teshuves in the tens of thousands …
It is brought down from the books of Reb Yaakov M’emdin and others, that there were Jews that distributed their total wealth and went to Shul to learn and they said “Moshiach is already here” and they did Teshuvah!

Win some, lose some. Chabadnik dons Tefillin on ex-Charedi lady

Some find this funny. For me it epitomises גלות. Here we have a well-meaning boy, who is trying to ignite a spark within Jews. His mode, is that of his Rebbe זי’’ע and that includes igniting the Neshoma through a Mitzvah, the Mitzvah of Hanochas Tefillin.

The only problem is, in this case it was a woman. She had buzzed hair, and to top it off had a strong Charedi broken English accent, full of the usual errors. She obviously enjoyed her moment in the sun of egalitarianism.

I feel sad that she obviously hates her heritage so much, that she is ready to mislead this well-meaning בחור. She’s no daughter of Rashi.

אוי מה היה לנו

Woe unto what we have become


My Whys over Pesach?

The AJN target Yeshivah and are not at all even handed.

[UPDATED: I was not aware that my post (in good faith, by a friend) was published on Facebook. I don’t use Facebook except in a private professional capacity to stay in touch with my 450+ postgraduate alumni of nearly 3 decades as it is a most convenient forum.

I understand some people had nice, not nice, and some scathing comments to make about my “Whys”. It’s only a relatively a free country, however, and as author of my thoughts I reserve the right to publish and/or respond to anyone reacting to these. Accordingly, if you feel like it (and frankly it is not my aim to attract comments) and are ready to put a real name to your comment (unless you are, of course a victim of crime) I will moderate your comment according to my understanding of Halacha and common law. If such an arrangement does not suit you, go ahead and write a critique. I won’t be engaging in debate, as this is not why I write. If I want my blood pressure to rise, I have a myriad of better techniques at my disposal 🙂 ]

Onto the article, which I will now proof-read in anticipation of a wider audience than I would normally expect.

Both before and during Pesach I found myself full of pitputim that I needed to express. I held myself back for reasons that aren’t worth recording. One of these was that I didn’t think it was permitted on Chol Hamoed. Maybe I was the proverbial תם (simpleton) of the Hagadda and should have fired thoughts as soon as they occupied my neurones, but, for various reasons, I held back and wrote them immediately after Pesach (when I undoubtedly should have helped my wife). Undoubtedly that was not the right timing, but let’s not go there (thanks CBN).

Some of the responses to these questions need people to retrospect through new glasses; as such I was reticent. This is a hard job, Accordingly, I’m going to frame some of my thoughts as a series of why’s as opposed to proffering cheap advice.

  1. Why has the disgraceful Australian Jewish News continued to remain the mouthpiece of few, as opposed to a faithful unbiased reporter of Jewish news allowing for a wider range of reporting of fact. To give but one example, anyone on Facebook (and I am not on Facebook except with my University alumni although I have an account I originally set up to see pics of my grandchildren) can look up Avi Yemini and find most serious accusations which he apparently alleges will now be formalised via the police against his father Steven (aka Tzefania) Waks. Why Steve? Well, he has clearly shown a preference to a centrist orthodox way of life, dispensing with charedi garb and beard. For the record, I am often regarded as centrist and my name is Isaac. Some persist in calling me יצחק and from my perspective both are quite ok. Indeed, halachically speaking one cannot will away a name that one was called formally even if done via deed but lets not go to that area of Halacha. More to the point:Why is the Australian Jewish News seemingly ignorant of Avi Yemini and his siblings and their views of the father of Manny Waks? I met his siblings in Miami and it wasn’t a pretty description, and backed up Avi. Indeed, they don’t like to talk about it. Guess what AJN? That (comparative silence) in of itself is news, and should be reported. Why didn’t you do that? There is more, but I won’t write it.
  2. Why is Tzedek “off the map?” I did see an advertisement this week, which is good but there is no denying the demise of Tzedek and it worries me. At best, it served as an important encouragement to those who have been abused (earlier in their lives) to give voice to that abuse; and encourage others to give voice. This is critical to unveiling the mask of perpetrators and ensuring educational programs become de jure in organisations to recognise and prevent such perverts. We don’t hear comparatively less from Tzedek since their controversial CEO resigned, although I have absolutely nothing against those running it now and I am sure they are as committed to the cause as those who preceded them; irrespective of whether some were victims. I am not a victim of abuse, but I pursued Cyprys until his veil was lifted. I believe Kramer was after my time, and I certainly didn’t experience any abuse from any of my teachers, be they religious or secular in my 12 years in the School and neither did my siblings.
  3. Why are victims creating websites? The manifestation of private websites authored by professed victims serves good in my eyes only if it’s cathartic for them and not investigative. I’m not a psychiatrist but I’d hope their psychiatric advice would be to pursue such channels only if it was part of their healing. There are existing channels. I’m not sure why they aren’t apparently being used. Shouldn’t they channel their life long challenges to established professionals and professional organisations? I don’t think is the best idea on the planet and furthermore many will see it as self-serving gold-digging. There are formal community and private bodies to help deal with these life long issues and give aid using the best professional methods, as they are developed. At worst it may give the impression that those abused seek to make a career from being abused and I doubt that this is their intention. Well, I hope not. If it indeed is their sublime intention, then I suggest they need even more professional help than they realise.
  4. Why is it that The Australian Jewish News seems to only report one school and institution-the Yeshivah Centre. We all know that the Yeshivah Centre and Chabad in general have done more than arguably any group for Torah observance, Kiruv, and the welfare of those in need. They are not judgemental. Their mantra is love albeit played through the love strings of their Rebbe’s violin. This is their great strength. They do, in the main follow, a system which was typified by their late and great Rebbe. They have rotten apples. No group is immune from that reality. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe (and his father in law) didn’t join groups (e.g. Aguda) and felt they could achieve their aims through an independent well-structured agenda: bringing Jews and Judaism to Torah and Mitzvos through spreading Chassidus Chabad. He rarely (to my knowledge) interfered with the nitty-gritty of problems in his myriad of institutions but was surely bombarded by such (indeed I once did so). He expected that same independence and intellectual purity to be demonstrated by his trained and faithful emissaries. Sure, they asked his advice, but he wasn’t aware of cleaners and locksmiths and groomers of kids in Mikvaos irrespective of the stories you hear of his greatness and vision.Now, it is clear to all, that the SCHOOLS, (Yeshivah and Beth Rivkah) which are really the raison d’être of the entire organisation are employing best practice, to the extent that they are perhaps overly strict. It is known that they are allegedly being sued by some employees who step out of a very strict line and who don’t allegedly practice world’s best standards. This was instituted before the Royal Commission and as soon as word of the criminals Cyprys and Kramer became love children for the reporters of “the Age”. The other love children of “the Age” are Israel and the “Palestinians”. I know some of the reporters from the Age. They hunkered for Jewish stories and used to call me (and read my blog) as I am straight on these matters and always tried to be. Indeed Mr Waks senior rang me almost daily in my pursuit of Cyprys. As a board member of Elwood Shule, I felt an extreme responsibility to stop this pariah from parading in the way he did.
  5. Why is Yeshivah singled out for its particular mode of governance, when all Chabad Houses still function in a similar way and have not been abandoned in any way. Few complain, because they trust the Rabbi and his advisors and they all benefit. Are some going to conduct an audit of a Rabbi Raskin/Engel/You-name-them and their specialised Chabad Houses, or, say Rabbi Lieder who works tirelessly for Israeli back packers (and ironically leave Melbourne with more knowledge of Judaism than what they learned when in Tel Aviv?) No. I don’t hear any call from the Jewish News or the holier than thou’s asking for a different form of transparent governance. Why not? Is it a matter of amount or principle? Don’t get me wrong here. I think they should all, without exception, including Adass’s offshoot extreme school, subscribe to the strictest codes especially given the Chillul Hashem we have endured. I also happen to disagree with the mode of governance but having grown up witnessing the hopeless squalor that Rabbi Groner lived in, I never considered him to have anything other than the institution in his mind. Indeed, when my father gave him some money before Pesach, the next day there was a receipt from the Yeshivah Centre.
  6. [Please note] The information about Heichal Hatorah (Rabbi Donnenbaum) was miscommunicated. It isn’t based on video surveillance. There is a policy, as I understand it being developed by professionals which as I am informed will be an approved policy that can stand up to accepted standards.  We apologise for that previous innacuracy.
  7. Why only Chabad? It’s not just Chabad. Rabbi Kohn, a controversial figure himself, runs what is effectively the identical model of a Chabad house, except that his is a private business like Meir Gershon Rabi. Will anyone ever know the finances? Cyprys went to Kohn’s minyan! I heard Rabbi Kohn say he learnt his craft from R’ Nochum Zalman Gurevich, who we all knew and loved. Well he learned some of it, the bits that garnered donations. Yes, Kohn’s bent could be described as non Hasidic or anti Hasidic, but who audits his books? What real governance exists? What standards do they use there? Is there a community list—even a Shomer Shabbos list—of every single place that has an acceptable verifiable standard. Let’s not forget, people like Cyprys would try to hire a Shule Hall or a Youth Hall and use that as their modus operandi. He worked for the CSG no less and they had no clue.2015 is not 1985 or 1995 or earlier. The world has changed we must completely eradicate this scourge of scum. It is in fact far worse overseas, if you can believe it because they are so much “holier” and use cattle prongs to elicit a gett as long as you pay through your teeth.
  8. Why are Adass Israel ignored? Peyos don’t make the man. Malka Leifer, has strangely not been a constant focus of those affected by Cyprys and/or Kramer and she runs free allegedly in Immanuel in Israel. Credible rumors abound that she is seeking to avoid extradition to face serious charges on the grounds that the “West Bank” where she resides is not Israel! and Australia has no extradition treaty. Can you believe such a Chutzpah? If true, this is a clever but grossly offensive defence by smart attorneys. I ask why the silence from the Adass Congregation that provides us with so many products and producers. Is it only about food and profit? You cannot get Adass to do anything until you hit their hip pocket. The rest of us are unwanted pimples of the Sitra Achra. Don’t be mistaken. This is what they are taught. I have heard it from the number 2 in the Rabbinic side of the organisation. The youth of Adass are not the old generation. They have little love and are taught thatAhavasYisroel only exists for aShomer Shabbos.There are some wealthy people in Adass. Why isn’t Leifer’s picture in the local Immanuel paper weekly saying “Beware of this person. There are serious allegations of lesbian pedophilia against her”. Should she be teaching or ever left alone even with her own children? Has she even admitted she was wrong, short of fleeing the next day. I asked arguably the third most senior Rabbi at Adass and he shrugged his shoulders saying “What can we do”. I urge you to ask them when you bump into them at various establishments. Ask at the bakeries, ask at the fish shops, ask at the next function you attend. You can do plenty Adass but you thumb your nose at the non charedi community and now also deny that many of your own are “off the derech” something you prided yourself with and now send away so “nobody will notice”.
  9. Why aren’t other schools in the frame? I was informed reliably by someone at the Royal Commission that there were n students of Mt Scopus abused some time ago and a then headmaster was approached and said “Shoosh” it will cause a Chillul Hashem. Sound familiar? I know the AJN were at the Royal Commission. Was there an order barring the names of other schools affected by the despicable reprehensible pedophiles to be reported. I had wondered about the timing of a later letter by Rabbi Kennard (who reads my blog). He didn’t reply. Why? Rabbi Kennards letter was correct and proper but should have been written at least 6 months earlier.
  10. Why don’t people re-internalise that Yeshivah was a one man band. An incredibly wonderful one-man band with more success than people could ever imagine. It was the late and great Rabbi Groner, who whilst consulting with professionals, would not today remotely repeat his approach if he had his time again. Is there anyone game enough to say he would? There was always a committee, but they were and are toothless tigers who took ultimate direction from Rabbi Groner. If he said “no” the committee could proverbially jump. He told them what he thought they needed to know. I have no doubt there were many private things he took his grave. Tonight is his birthday as I just saw from an email.Much was in his head and certainly never on paper. He was the Shaliach. People were only too happy to call him their friend and get his calls in hospital while he was in hospital himself, and come to functions in his honour and he is on the record as vociferously castigating some of the parents whose children became victims (and they ignored him on occasion). Is there a real need to destroy the man after his passing, together with his significant life work, now, while the place has initiated a process to modernise its governance when ill-timed votes threaten its existence financially? Sure, if their new governance is a façade, go for it, but for crying out loud, give them a chance to go through a process. It doesn’t happen over night.
  11. I know of another very well-known (real) clergy (not charedi) who the Jewish News chose NOT to name over allegations of past pedophilia. The name would shock. He was by no means “ultra” orthodox. In that case the AJN (correctly) did not name the person because he couldn’t defend himself against the odious claims. Why only Yeshivah? Because some Rabbis showed themselves to be second-rate and/or clever by half?
  12. Why are there so many (self-proclaimed) counsellors permitted to discuss all manner of most serious topics to congregations and groups “as if” they are experts. If you are a counsellor, then register with the Australian Counselling Association and/or other similar bodies. Your commerce degree isn’t enough. There are enough complaints about counsellors themselves but if, unlike psychologists, some can get away with a load of ill-advised counselling, and more, without being answerable to a formal board, then no Jewish organisation should let them into their four walls to speak and nobody should seek them for any advice except which chewing gum to buy. Some maybe okay, but others are straight out charlatans, Register! Did victims go to a psychiatrist and spill their guts out and get medication where indicated or did they run rings around the counselling option of people who don’t answer to a board of counsellors.
  13. Why are people skeptical about those who sit on Yeshiva’s board or sat on that board? I have emails from about a decade ago where (it now turns out) some victims and others were looking to change things while Rabbi Groner was alive. One hears all types of stories of “this board member” being stubborn, “that one” being nepotistic etc. Some of it is true especially in a vacuüm. I know three former board members and I don’t think they aligned with any of the above. I know they gave thousands of hours of their lives to keep the institutions above water and growing in a way that no Jewish child was ever turned away. Remember, I happen NOT to be a card-carrying member of the “Chabad only” approach to Judaism, although members of my family happen do. We live in peace and in harmony. It’s not hard.There is a review of governance allegedly taking place. It doesn’t and can’t take 5 minutes. Instead, I hear people saying “it’s a PR trick”. How do they know that? I know a serious person who is looking at the structure and they are definitely not looking at it from a PR point of view. Yeshivah is in transition. It had to happen after Rabbi Groner’s passing following that of his mentor. It’s a shock and terrible that the spectre of pedophilia needed to be the back-breaking catalyst, but in the words of a good friend “it is what it is”. So people why don’t you sit back and see what comes forth. By all means if it isn’t transparent and in keeping with the law, bleat and bleat and bleat. Until then, surely wait a little while.
  14. Why do people feel that beating Rabbi Telsner or Rabbi Glick is the answer? It isn’t. It’s 2015. I especially rang Rabbi Telsner because I wanted to know exactly what he said that got the Jewish news positively apoplectic on their front page and what was said to him. How the AJN could then say “tell us it’s not so Rabbi Telsner” is beyond me. Rabbi Telsner and I have a love/less love relationship. He doesn’t like it when I raise Chabad issues with him (halachic) and he’s not my Posek but he doesn’t deserve to be manipulated.
  15. Why isn’t the Association of Jewish Psychologists being used more. They respond. They don’t go looking for work. I went to a talk and was very impressed with Dr Dan Gordon. He is someone who every School should use for an in-service for their teachers. Why was this a well attended event by Rabbis and religious people and yet so poorly attended by others including headmasters and/or vice-principals? I have a feeling my wife may have been the only senior teacher there. These are specialist psychologists, with PhDs and experience; they have authority and wisdom and aren’t running shonky practices. Listen to their professional wisdom.
  16. Why is the AJN becoming more of a left-wing “Age” newspaper seemingly only haranguing religious institutions (except Adass who don’t buy their paper and buy Hamodia). Religious groups certainly deserve it in some cases, but as I’ve pointed out the AJN are transparently biased. I dislike Hamodia with a passion because it is such a fake fairy tale “feel good” paper full of omissions. I saw a new paper emerge over the break. I hope it takes form. To be honest, I wouldn’t be unhappy if the AJN disappeared if it didn’t seriously reform to become a properly neutral paper instead of a harbinger of an agenda together with pictures of who attended what. I’m tempted to cancel my subscription and my advertising. If it’s possible and the AJN is listening, let me know and I will cancel. Call me tomorrow. My blood pressure will be healthier without your articles and the predictable Henry Herzog et al propaganda that we all skip and are sick to death of.

Our holiday. Part 2: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

Dear Readers,

Herein part 2.

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.

Rav Schochet – prominent Chabad rabbi – bans Telushkin Book For Heresy Content

If there is one thing that any chossid or reader of the works and episodes of the last Rebbe זי’ע is that while he was firm and unwavering, his responses during yechidus were often unexpected. There is a need for a person to imagine how is Rav HaMuvhak would have behaved, but once you get into the realms of the greats, you are a brave man extrapolating from the general to the particular. This is what Rav Schochet and many others do. They are well intentioned but in my opinion show disrespect by double guessing their Rebbe. Based on Schochets comments below we could never have seen the wonderful interchange between the LR and a reform rabbi who wrote 9 1/2 steps which the LR ALLOWED him to publish. I say take a step back and remember to be מקבל the אמת from whoever tells you. If he has problems with certain views or assumptions then let him state these; he otherwise falls in the category of the ubiquitous protests stuck on the walls of Yerushalayim which not many pay attention to.

Here is the article from

Make up your own mind. I found the book excellent. I think that calling Telushkin out in this way achieves zero kiruv.

In a letter written a few weeks ago, Rabbi Gershon Elisha Schochet, Av Beis Din of Toronto, asks Rabbi YY Shusterman, Rov in Beverly Hills California, if he permitted the reading and disseminating of the Telushkin book.
After a response was not forthcoming, he chose to publish the letter:
I have heard a rumor, that you have supposedly approved the book of Telushkin, and additionally, you have ruled, in your capacity as a Rov More Hora’ah for Chabad, that Shluchim should encourage the distribution of the book.
I am sure you are aware of the Rebbe’s opinion prohibiting the use of books which were written by unscrupulous individuals, even when there is no inherent problem with the content of the book. And the Rebbe held the same regarding books which only referenced such publications.
Also, you are surely aware of the Rebbe’s extensive correspondence regarding the Conservative movement, it’s “Rabbis” and leaders – that the Halacha is they are considered heretics.
You are surely aware of the famous ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, that a Conservative “Rabbi” is not trusted for testimony in Jewish court just by the mere fact that he is affiliated with said movement, and he doesn’t need any prior warning before being disqualified…
Regarding the author, Telushkin – there is no need to do any research, for it is clearly known to anyone who searches the internet that he serves as a “Rabbi” in a Conservative temple, where a woman serves as a “Chazanit” and his assistant “Rabbi” is from the Reform movement,
Although this would have been enough for someone who is a G-d fearing Jew, and even more so for a Chossid of the Rebbe, and even more so for one who presents himself as a Rov who rules according to the directives of the Rebbe – to completely prohibit the above book.
More so, in this case (without even discussing the issue of the author), when many people who are considered G-d fearing Jews, and known around the world as smart people who are busy with spiritual issues (I am not talking about those “leaders” who are well-versed in politics, PR and monetary issues) – have said that the book has some terrible ideas which constitute a Chilul Hashem, so much so that anyone who has any inkling of a connection to the Rebbe, and more so if he has an iota of Hiskashrus, would immediately denounce this book.
I therefore turn to you and ask you, in the name of Anash and their descendants which are here and those that will come, that you please tell me that this rumor is a lie, and there is no inkling of truth in this matter.
If G-d forbid there is some truth to this rumor, I demand you tell me what the reasoning behind your ruling is, and if you made your decision independently or after consulting with other Lubavitcher Rabbonim and Mashpiim, and tell me their names and reasons.
With a blessing for a Ksiva V’chasima Tova,
Rabbi Gershon Elisha Schochet

Shmuley Boteach’s confused understanding of the Jewish World

The (I’m advised sincere) but confused article by Shmuley Boteach should not remain without counter-comment.

I will copy his article below and intersperse my comments.

The magnetism of Chabad messianism

Messianism is the world’s most powerful idea, humanity’s most compelling vision.

Messianism, which presumably is a word used because it over-focuses on WHO may be the Messiah, as opposed to the condition of the world at such a time, is not the world’s most powerful idea nor humanity’s most compelling vision.

The redemption itself, but more nuanced than that, the condition extant at the time of the redemption are a vision which we pray for three times a day. The days when the wolf will live with the lion, and the temple and it’s influence of unity and concentration and holiness are the reality, not vision, which Jews pray for every day. I do know that there are multifarious views of other religions now. I am not terribly interested in these, except in as much as דע משתשיב

Not only is it the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, Christianity, it is also the engine for human progress itself.

If Jesus is the underpinning of the world’s most populous religion, that person (as opposed to the euphemistic messianism) then that is what it is. It is no more than that. If it means that people act in a certain way, which can be considered moral and ethical, and most importantly not missionary, then that is good. There is no evidence in Boteach’s statement that it is the engine for human progress. This is a statement without a presentation of any illustrative proof.

Only through a belief that history is not cyclical but linear, that positive steps in human advancement are cumulative rather than short-lived, that as a race we can step together out of the shadows and into the light, can there hope for collective human progress.

There are some mixed metaphors here. History is indeed cyclical. Boteach’s mistake is that if one proceeds in a circle, one cannot increase energy. This is of course demonstrably wrong. It is as wrong as assuming that one who travels in a line, is “growing”. They may in fact be dying, and reaching their end point.

Boteach again uses the term progress. He calls it “collective human progress.” He has not, however, seemingly made any effort to define what he means.

It is therefore fascinating to witness – once a year – the tremendous energy unleashed by the Chabad messianic movement as it congregates and detonates at world Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn.

Having never been there, I have heard that it certainly used to detonate a special extended holiness, however, anyone who has been in the State of Israel, and experienced Succos in Jerusalem, Hevron and the surrounds cannot help but know that they are actually on holy ground, enveloped by a sweeping holiness. that is unleashed and detonated. The same can be said for the “second hakafos” in Israel. That being said, I would posit that even Boteach acknowledges that Brooklyn now, is not the Brooklyn of 25 years ago, and the shining star that illuminated that section of the world, is sadly in another place. There is now much binge drinking where people either drown their sorrows or try to reach moments of detached ecstasy as a substitute. In Melbourne, I haven’t heard a good farbrengen, for example, since Rabbi Groner and those before him departed. Let me know where one is, and I’d love to be enthused by an outpouring of the Torah of Simcha.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot brings together two very different strands of the global Chabad movement. On the one hand, there is mainstream Chabad comprised of residents of Crown Heights – the global hub – together with the worldwide network of Chabad emissaries. Their strength is their professionalism, dedication, and impact.

On the other hand there are the Chabad messianists, a minority to be sure, but vocal, visible, determined, and brimming with life.

Here I assume Boteach defines a Chabad Messianist as either a chanter of one line mantras, or one who imagines he is receiving wine from nobody, or perhaps one who refuses to believe there is a filled grave. It would be helpful if Boteach defined his terms. There are many silent ones who pine for redemption. Some will internally hope that by some Divine rule it will be their Rebbe. Others (a very very small minority) will think this issue of identifying the Messiah, is actually a thorough and useless waste of time. I assume he speaks not about the elohisten.

Mainstream Chabad is uncomfortable with the messianists, believing they give both the movement and the Rebbe himself a bad name. The messianists are millennial, apocalyptic, and, to many minds, irrational. They want to push both Chabad and Judaism into the end of days.

I don’t see them as irrational (but note, I don’t know which category Boteach refers to). I see many of them as post-justifiers. They will cut and dismember Jewish tradition as espoused by the Rambam and acknowledged by the rest of Jewry. Those who think there is nothing in the grave, need psychiatric help.

But there can be no denying that they have tapped into an energy source that appears near infinite.

I do not know what “near infinite” means, let alone in this context.

When I was a young Chabad student in Crown Heights what I remember most was the limitless energy we all experienced in the Rebbe’s court. On Sukkot we could dance nine days running without tiring. We could go for a week with barely any sleep. The Rebbe – then in his eighties – set the pace with superhuman strength and inexplicable vigor.

Although I was not and am not a Chabadnik, I agree, based on the books I have recently read and some videos that I have watched, that it would have been an experience to remember.

That was more than twenty years ago.

Since then, Chabad has conquered the world and gone mainstream, sprouting educational centers in every point of the globe. My wife and I recently spent Shabbat with Chabad of Korea right after I spoke at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium at a global peace summit. A few weeks earlier I had spoken at Chabad of Aspen, Colorado. The local Chabad centers in these two very different places had in common the outstanding young Chabad rabbis, true soldiers of the Jewish people. Watching their impact on their respective communities was inspiring.

I think that Chabad has sprouted and grown, but I don’t know about conquered the world. If there was one word that I was left with after reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it was either the word dedication or positivity. I think Chabad has influenced many in that direction.

But for all that, Chabad today – as a movement that has now gone mainstream – has learned to eschew controversy. Gone are the days when Chabad agitated for the territorial integrity of the State of Israel and public stands against trading land for a fraudulent peace.

Those days aren’t gone!?! I hear this message constantly and unwaveringly today.

Gone too are the Chabad emphasis on messianism as being central to Judaism and the Jewish future.

This depends on the Shaliach. Some have adapted to their clientele while others will unwaveringly soldier on with the original message in all it’s vigour and yellow paraphernalia.

Chabad today is effective if not conventional, essential if not somewhat predictable.

It is predictable because it is a continuation of a message. There is no more central figure to initiate new ideas that are to be brought to the world. That is sad; but true. At the same time, there is an enormous corpus that may be applied to today’s world, without change.

Its focus: opening nurseries and day schools, synagogues and mikvehs, looking after special needs children (Friendship Circle) and the elderly, running Sunday schools and day camps. And to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better.

This is also necessary for the mainstream. Jews are abandoning Shules. The latter can’t survive. They must generate income from nurseries etc simply to survive financially!

It is to this side of Chabad that I adhere and this vision for the building of Jewish life that I am dedicated. Chabad justly evokes in every Jew on earth a feeling of both awe and gratitude.

Which side exactly does Boteach not adhere to? Those that yell Yechi, or those that think it, or someone else?

Without Chabad the Jewish world would be up a creek without a paddle.

I don’t second guess God, nor do I know what he would have done, but there can be no doubt Chabad’s influence has been very significant.

But even as someone who prides himself on his rationality,

I do not know how a Chabad Chossid prides himself on rationality. My understanding is that there is higher level, called Bittul.

I cannot help but be somewhat jealous of the go-for-broke mentality of the other side of the movement, the messianists. The belief that humankind can attain an age of perfection, a belief that Judaism has a global, universal vision that is not limited to Jews, a dismissal of money and materialism in favor of a purely spiritual calling, and placing faith in a great leader who prompts us to embrace that era.

I am not jealous of them. Those that think that they have a minyan with two people and eight pictures, or eat on Tisha B’Av have broken with Jewish Mesorah. If Boteach is saying that he admires their perspicacity, ok.

To be sure, I follow the ruling of Maimonides that the Messiah must be a living man who fulfills the Messianic prophecies which rules out anyone – however great – that has passed from this world without ushering in an age of universal peace, rebuilt the Temple, and gathered in all Jewish exiles. That would exclude my Rebbe as it would exclude all the other great leaders of the Jewish people through the ages however much they have devoted their lives to our people.

It does, but that same Maimonides said, we don’t really know how things will unfold exactly. Which means I agree with Boteach, but I think he may be selective as a Chabadnik.

But that does not change my clear memory of the Rebbe’s incessant and unyielding public calls for Jews to work toward a messianic future, to dedicate every positive deed toward his coming, and to never fear controversy in the pursuit of every aspect of Jewish belief.

I once wanted to visit him for a Yechidus when I was younger. However, I felt that I was not worthy of saying anything of substance nor did I have a particular issue that I wanted to raise. As a Cohen, I also knew that if I blessed Jews with love, God himself would bless me. Not withstanding that fact, after reading the three books, I probably would have gone in if I had my chance again, and simply asked for “an appropriate brocho” Those three words. No more, and no less.

Are we unique in crime stats?

There are and will always be bad eggs within any group, be it chassidic or otherwise. I do not know if anyone has done a statistical analysis of crime amongst orthodox people to see if they are in fact under the normal number occurrences of such things, with statistical reliability. I’d be surprised if they were not.

In that vein, I was sent this (hat tip DS) from the New York Post. It had been published in Ivrit earlier in an Israeli forum.

High holy days, indeed!
A crew of Hasidic Jews from Crown Heights who dreamed of fancy Hawaiian getaways tried to score 50 pounds of potent pot from an FBI agent posing as a Texas drug dealer, according to court papers.
Wearing traditional yarmulkes and tzitzits, Boruch “Barry” Rapoport, 47, Moshe “Mony” Horenshtein, 27, and Menachem Jacobson, 30, were all arraigned in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday and will have their cases transferred to Texas to face drug raps there.
Rapoport, who is married with kids and lives on public assistance, met an agent posing as a El Paso drug honcho in April and said he needed a staggering 50 pounds of pot a week, according to a criminal complaint.
The leery Lubavitcher asked that he be kept away from the marijuana trove because he and his cohorts “won’t be going to Hawaii for many years” if they were ever busted with the haul, according to court papers.
“Rapoport stated that he didn’t want to be in the same room as the ‘s–t,’ ” the complaint states.
Rapoport also demanded that they use the code words “alfalfa” and “vegetables” for marijuana.
The undercover told Rapoport that his marijuana mountain was located in El Paso and that he would have to have it transported by truck to Brooklyn.
The two agreed to have the pot delivered to a warehouse on Atlantic and Nostrand avenues on Tuesday and that they would close the deal the next day, according to court papers.
Rapoport met the undercover at a Brooklyn hotel to hand over the cash on Wednesday while Horenshtein and Jacobson arrived at the warehouse to inspect the pot and talk business, court papers state.
Jacobson, whose bail was posted by Hunter College Chabad Rabbi Boruch Jacobson, was pleased that the weed was high quality because “you can’t sell that Mexican stuff around here,” according to the complaint.
“Jacobson then stated that he knew about ‘hydro’ and the requirements for growing it because he was asked to grow some before,” the suit states.
Horenshtein, who plays in a Hasidic music band, handed over $3,000 to the agent to cover transport costs and selected two marijuana bricks as samples before the agents pounced. Rapoport — who pays $108 in rent for his subsidized $1,400 apartment — produced $95,000 in cash to pay for the pot before he was arrested.
All three men were released on $500,000 bond and will appear in court in Texas federal court on Sept. 26.
Horenshtein’s bail was posted by members of the powerful Rubashkin family of Crown Heights.
The clan owns a host of businesses — including the a massive kosher-food outfit — and is heavily influential in the Lubavitch community.
Horenshtein’s attorney, Zaki Tamir, did not return a call for comment. Jacobson’s lawyer, Albert Dayan, declined to comment.

Policing Tznius

The halachic definition surrounding the limits of Tznius are the discussion of many a book and Responsa in Halacha, let alone Shulchan Aruch. In general, though, these tend to focus on the female aspect of Tzniyus. A good recent fundamental discussion of the issues (although it is technical and deep) is that of R’ Yehuda Herzl Henkin, author of שו’’ת בני בנים who is a grandson of the great Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ז’ל, and who undertook shimush with his grandfather.

There are a range of views in the arena of female Tzniyus. Some relate to more fundamental aspects, and other relate to what we term Minhag HaMakom (the custom in a given place). I am certain that if someone lived in the New Square, or Williamsburg enclaves, there are strict minhagim of those micro Makomos. That does not mean that anybody from outside such communities needs to follow their dictates. It’s a free world, bound by Halacha.

It is well-known, that the Orthodox world accepted the lenient definition of Shok (section of the leg) as enunciated by the Mishna B’rura, and, as such, defined it as “over the knees” in a sitting situation (if the knees are visible while sitting then one would need to make sure they always stood?). Others, such as various Chassidim, Chardal and more are stricter and only accept skirts which are extended to the calf area. In general, none expect that the skirt should be “skin-tight” to the extent that it advertises the outline of the anatomy. Each to their own Rav HamuvHak, and one should not blithely condemn anyone for following an acceptable Psak. To do so, is the antithesis of the halachic process and an insult to the honour of respected Poskim who established their criteria with the permission of the Torah (even if we arguably no longer have Smicha today).

Other areas of the anatomy are always a matter of Minhag. I’m not aware of a Minhag that a female has to wear gloves. Her hands from the wrist bone to the tips of her fingers are never considered Erva by any opinion I have come across. If a reader knows of one, please tell. On the other hand, from the ankle down, is a matter of rather strange contention, with some saying that unlike hands, the foot area is a matter of Tzniyus, while other say it is a matter of the Minhag of the place, and others stating that since there is generally no accepted minhag in a larger city, one may follow any minhag. Some are careful on this matter on Shabbos, but not during the week. That is usually a matter of being elegantly dressed or a function of the heat in a particular place. Each to their own. To criticise someone for clearly halachically valid views is not effective and according to most Acharonim, even when a practice is halachically invalid, a stranger would have no liability to admonish, as their words would not be listened to, and we have lost the “art” of admonishment. Certainly, the Satmar Rebbe, who was extreme in all matters, and who one does not have to accept as the yardstick Rabbinic authority, specified a curious view of stockings, in particular:

“The rebbe taught that even 70-denier stockings should not be worn. The numerical value of sod (secret) is 70, so the secret is out that this [stocking] is also transparent.” There then follows a lengthy account of Teitelbaum’s creation, with the help of a Brooklyn businessman named Lipa Brach, of an exclusive line of fully opaque women’s hosiery:

Money in hand, Reb Lipa Brach began to work on the project. He went to several hosiery manufacturers, collected samples, and brought all of them to the rebbe to inspect. The rebbe was very pleased with the progress, and he tested each sample by pulling it over his own arm. If his hair showed, it was no good…. The new stockings were given the brand name, “Palm,” the English translation of the Rebbe’s surname…. To this day every Satmar woman and girl wears Palm stockings.

Fast forward to schools and acceptable Tzniyus practices as recently described here. This is not only applicable to Schools, but also to camps (where I have a reliable source to confirm that often girls have to put on socks as soon as they emerge from a women-only pool, and cannot even walk to the bunk house in any other fashion).

I do think that it is critical that Schools (and Camps) enunciate what is acceptable, and anyone who enrols their child in a school should not complain about that level. They do have a choice. They might wish to send their children to another school if views on Tzniyus are considered too right-wing. Often Schools are either inconsistent and/or lax. This can be constant or may reach a crescendo, from time to time. In such a case, the question is how one now educates existing girls about the need to adhere to the standards in the shadow of inconsistent practices of enforcement.

I am opposed to the approach of having non-Jewish (or even Jewish) Tznius “police” casting their eyes up and down girls as they enter the gates and either expelling or calling them out if they breach an aspect. If the school had been inconsistent in the past, then it needs to take a far more sophisticated and educative approach than simply policing with halachic batons. Such policing will simply turn people off, possibly forever, and make them respect no Tznius Police style people or their comments.

What would I do? For a start, I wouldn’t try to single girls out especially publicly. I would take silent note of what the issues are, and away from the school gaze, enunciate the views of the school and source these in a halachically mature and respectful way. That way should not disqualify other approaches but should contextualize the varied approach(es) adopted. It may be necessary to have a weekend seminar, and bring in thoughtful and soft people who are knowledgeable both about the halacha and mind-set of those who sometimes get excited only by these issues. Failure to do that (and there may be other solutions) are likely to be doomed and disenfranchise and cause more underlying dissension than had existed before.

Once a consistent standard has been in place for a few years, a different approach can be adopted, but, again, I’d try not to shame someone in front of their peers.

There are halachic views, as I recall, mentioned by Chacham Ovadia Yosef stating that if the approach in a Xtian country is for a unmarried girl to wear a hat to Church as a matter of modesty and respect, that a Jewish girl should do so no less!  It cannot be that the אומות העולם grab the high ground. At the same time, there are limits. Burkas and the like are not within the confines of reasonable halachic parameters (although we see demented people in Yerushalayim and Beit Shemesh following such antithetical and condemned practices).

Women may well argue, and do argue, that there is a degree of misogyny on display. Why is it that the focus appears to be largely on females and not males? This is a good question. I recall in Malaysia and Indonesia where I often saw a poor (hot) female dressed from top to toe (inclusive) in a gown that allowed only her eyes to peak out. Her husband and kids were walking along in tow. The often bearded husband ironically wore shorts, a singlet and flip flops! That is, the type of clothing many people wear in hot weather. I couldn’t understand why Islam seemed to have two standards. Does Judaism have the same attitude? It could be argued that a man wearing floppy shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops isn’t technically breaking any law of Tzniyus, save a possibly “Minhag HaMakom” where “Makom” doesn’t purely exist, such as in places like Melbourne, where a multiplicity of views is extant. Sure, during davening, men have dicta, some of which are relativistic, but it seems that the female folk are the ones who are getting all the attention. There is a level of existentialism in this, although some may argue.

Is the approach taken by a school and others that “yells” and “calls out” right? Is it fruitful? More importantly, is the shouting, embarrassing, policing style approach likely to achieve anything positive?

I think not. Most attitudes are formed at home. That is the place for education, and it needs to start early.

Come clean on meat kashrus, melbourne

Last night, I enjoyed a Simcha. It’s common for me to attend a Simcha, except that I usually eat with my band, and prefer to for professional and menchlich reasons, even when I am often also a guest. Last night, though, I was a regular guest sans any musical involvement. I was just a Moshe Kapoyer.

As we sat down to the main course, I noticed two fine members of Adass who appeared to be vegetarians. The catererer was a fine Adass caterer, however, there was a sign advising that the meat was from (Chabad supervised) Solomon’s Butchers. Clearly Chabad prefer their meat at their functions. Some Chabadniks will eat Adass meat, others will not.

There is nothing new about the fact that there are different approaches to Shechita. There is Beis Yosef, Chassidish, Litvish, and variations. These can vary because of whether there is freezing of the meat with the blood intact before latter processing, the expectation of the morality of the Shochetim (do they have an iPhone for example) and their supervisors, the Bodkim, and more.

Now, everyone is free to have a preference for their own home. You can have two people who are Mehader in meat preparation, and one prefers shop A, and the other shop B. In my mother and father’s house, meat always came from Chedva Butchers, and later from the (Tzaddik) Yankel Unfanger’s Melbourne Kosher Butchers. That was their preference. Later, they included Solomon’s as well.

But, and this is a big but, there is a far cry between choosing what you use in your own home and what you may find yourself presented with at a Simcha. I can relate many stories involving Rabonim bigger than anything we have in Melbourne, including R’ Moshe and R’ Shlomo Zalman, who wouldn’t dream of not participating in a Simcha if there was a reliable hechsher, even though their wives might buy meat or other produce elsewhere in their own homes.

[There is a famous case of a line of Rabonim sitting together all deciding to eat Fish instead of meat. Rav Moshe Tendler was in that line of seats, and went up to each Rav, and asked them how many potential Issurei D’Orayso were involved with Fish versus Meat. There are more with fish!, so he suggested they were actually being Meikel with their Fish and should have chosen the meat. There is no accounting for truth, of course though in our Olam HaSheker].

Returning to our story, I simply didn’t get it. Was a Chabad Shechted Chicken not Kosher enough to the extent that the fine men from Adass became instant vegetarians? Is it correct to implicitly cast aspersions on the Kashrus of others at the same table from an empirical level? What of the B’alei Simcha? Maybe they should have purchased latkes at a take away for them instead?

Now, it works both ways. We never bought from Continental Butchers. I understand it has come a long way in leaps and bounds from the days of yore, and is probably more closely supervised than the disgrace in Monsey (below) where people were eating Mamash Treyf as supplied by “Heilige Butchers” who learned Daf HaYomi each day.

What do I do, though, if I am invited out, and I notice, for example, I am served Wurst from Continental, or something similar? Can I honestly conclude that it is mamash Assur with Timtum Halev and all the shvartze klollos that go with it, or do I conclude, that it’s not my first choice at home, but I’d never embarrass a baaleh booste et al by even remotely making them think that their home was “not kosher enough”.

I was advised that Rabbi Beck had issued instructions that Chabad Meat was never to be eaten. Why? Is it Meshichism? Was he worried that Meshichisten=elohisten? Frozen? Split Chicken? What are the reason(s)? Can Rabbi Beck discuss any issues he or his son-in-law may have with Rabbi’s Telsner and Groner? Is it impossible to fix anything that may appear “wrong”. In the beginning, Misnagdim wouldn’t touch a Chassidic Chalaf Knife. Now, they are all happy with them because they are better. What changed?

While we are at it, Melbourne Kosher describes mehadrin and non mehadrin products. What is the status of Continental? Are they mehadrin? Are the fertile rumours circulating that things aren’t quite as strict as they might be under Melbourne Kosher’s control as far as Meat production is concerned true or scuttlebutt? If so, what are these issues. Can they be fixed? Why the silence.

[Let me state: I am not interested in the slightest in the maverick views of those like Meir Rabi and his ilk].

I’m writing about the respected big three butcher shops. What’s the story? Can we either spill the beans or fix up operations?

PS. I have seen enough in 30 years as far as Kashrus is concerned; I’d not want to write it down though. Ironically, some of the best practices are from Yidden who aren’t the biggest Frumaks, but I trust them any day of the week, at any time, based on what I see.

PPS. Please Adassniks who want to respond, stop the silly games where you continue to fake your identity and expect me to post your comments. Be man enough to put your name to your opinion. Rabbi’s Gutnick, Sprung et al, can you tell us if you LECHATCHILA buy from Contintental in your own homes and if not why not. What is all the scuttle butt about certain chumros and practices. Are they untrue. Is it Mehadrin? If they are untrue put out a bulletin and knock it on the head!

On Kennard, Shochet, Chabad and Modern Orthodoxy

The community in Melbourne, and abroad, has been buzzing about a series of articles/indirect interchanges between Rabbi James Kennard, principal of Mount Scopus College and Rabbi Yitzchok Shochet of the UK. I caught the tail end as we were heavily involved in planning and enjoying the wedding of our daughter! I had a moment after the Shabbos Sheva Brachos to quickly read Rabbi Kennard’s second article (I haven’t seen the first) in the Australian Jewish News, and formed some thoughts which I now have a moment to put down.

Firstly, the usual disclaimers and context:

  • Three of our children married into Chabad families. Our fourth will also do so in a month or so.
  • I attended a Chabad school, Yeshivah College in Melbourne
  • I did not attend a Chabad Yeshivah after year 12, I went to Kerem B’Yavneh, a religious zionist yeshivah (call it Chardal if you like)
  • I was Rosh Chinuch at B’nei Akiva for a few years, and my wife was a Meracezet in Sydney
  • None of our children attended a Chabad Yeshivah or Seminary after their Schooling.
  1. There is little doubt that a follower of Chabad, who considers themselves a Chosid, needs to effect the wishes and approach of the late and great Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Ramash נ’ע
  2. There is little doubt that the philosophy of Chabad is that the Geula (Moshiach) will be effected when Yidden will augment their Torah with Chassidus Chabad. אימתי קאתי מר
  3. There is little doubt that where a person has no known minhag because their family practices have lapsed, that Chabad will only introduce Chabad minhagim to that person, and will in general not make an effort to find out what a family practice might have been. This is because Chabad philosophy considers their approach as one which subsumes other approaches, and is superior at this time. שער הכולל
  4. There is little doubt that Chabad has indeed changed its approach to Zionism, in practice. Whereas the Rashab spoke with vitriol in a manner not too different to Satmar, the Ramash’s language became far more sanguine and displayed an acceptance? of historical reality (to use the words of the Rav, “History has paskened that the Aguda was wrong”)
  5. Chabad never saw the establishment of the State as the moment of the beginning of Geula. On the other hand, the establishment of the State certainly occurred during the time when the Geula was imminent, according to Chabad philosophy.
  6. In general, unlike many groups, Chabadniks do not spend their lives in Kollel. They either go out and get a job/study, or they become Shluchim. That’s not to say they embrace Torah Im Derech Eretz as a particular philosophy. Rather, it’s how one survives and lives.
  7. Chabad was and still is a leader in Jewish outreach, and this stems from extreme! Ahavas Yisroel, as stressed in Chassidus Chabad, where the Neshomo Elokis of a Yid is what counts, at the cost of all other considerations. This is a good thing!
  8. The Rav himself stated that Chabad taught the world how to bring Yiddishkeit into Reshus HoRabbim as opposed to Reshus HaYochid.
  9. The Rav noted that the differences between the Tanya and Nefesh Hachaim were semantic nuances that most did not and could not understand. The Rav did, of course. Indeed, Rabbi Brander mentioned that the Rav wrote a Pirush on Tanya which is still בכתב יד!

Until now, I have written about Chabad. Of course, like every group, there will always be a mismatch between the philosophy and some of the implementors (call them Chassidim) of that particular philosophy. Some Chassidei Chabad are what one might call “more tolerant” of difference, whereas others (often these are newer chassidim) range from less tolerant to downright intolerant of anything which isn’t in immediate accord with the Chabad approach to life. In this, one could argue that Chabad are no different to others. I would argue, however, that Chabad are different. Their difference lies in the fact that they absolutely revere and adhere to their approach to Yiddishkeit and do so with Mesiras Nefesh. Any student of history or sociology will have noticed that elements of this reverence have rubbed off on so called Misnagdim, who now have Rebbes in everything but name. “Gadol HaDor” anyone?

I agree with Rabbi Kennard that there isn’t only one way. I have always felt that way. Indeed, when I was a student and introduced to Tanya, I had a “stand up” with my teacher who said that Moshe Rabbeinu was a Lubavitcher. I said this was absurd and he called me a “Moshchas”. I think that’s where I started going down hill 🙂

It is a well-known Gemora (I think in Taanis) that says that Hashem will, in the future, create a circle of Tzaddikim (in plural) who will dance around him and point to the epicentre of truth, which IS Hashem, בעצמותו. Many have repeated the interpretation (two which readily come to mind are Rabbi Akiva Eiger (whose grandchildren were Chassidim) and Rav Kook (whose mother came from Chabad)) that a circle was chosen rather than a square or indeed a line (dance) because each Tzaddik represented a different but equal approach to Avodas Hashem: call it a different perspective.  The  point of this Gemora (I think it might even be a Mishna, but I’m writing without looking as I have little time at the minute) is that each approach is equidistant to Hashem. Each is valid. Each is correct.

How can they all be correct? Simply because it’s a matter of perspective. Two people can be in the same room and the same spot, and witness or observe the same thing from two perspectives. Both are right. Both see truth. One of my sons is very talented in design. I have zero talent in the area in which he excels. I will not see what he sees. At the same time, I’m perhaps extra-logical. My PhD intersected with formal logic. My son won’t see or be bothered by what I see or am influenced by. Undoubtedly, this also extends to the concept of education, where we are enjoined to teach each child according to that particular child’s needs and expectations, approach and ability. חנוך על פי דרכו

No doubt, the Chabad perspective on the Tzaddikim in the circle will be that they consist of the line starting from the Baal Shem Tov through to the Ramash, and the reason they are equidistant is that they represent the same spark of Moshe Rabeinu, and that is a super soul which incorporates the souls of all of us. (This is not entirely correct though because the Ramash inherited the greatness of the Rayatz who inherited the greatness of the Rashab etc)

Personally, despite my background, I have not developed an understanding or appreciation of Chassidus Chabad or any other Chassidus. When I was introduced to Mussar, I disliked the  almost “abusive” approach of reproach. I learned Kuzari (which Rabbi Kennard might be interested to know was originally something that Chabadniks had to know together with Moreh Nevuchim!) but found it outdated.

I was attracted to the Rav, and elements of Rav Kook, in the main. That’s just me. That being said, I don’t know if so-called “modern orthodoxy”, which is a term the Rav did not like, is what is “needed” by the congregants of the Great Synagogue. I do not know how Rabbi Kennard knows that either. If he does know it, then I would hope that he flew to Sydney and addressed the board and congregation of the Great Synagogue and explained to them why that style of philosophy was the correct one for the Great Synagogue.

Perhaps I am spoilt. I saw a Chabad at Elwood Shule in the frame of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. The Shule davened Ashkenaz, and still does. In fact, I inserted that expectation into the constitution of the Shule! Rabbi Gutnick was a master orator and a Chabad Chossid, however, I never witnessed him pushing Chabad down the throats of his congregation. Occasionally, he would refer to his master and teacher, the Ramash, but in the end, he related to people כמות שהם, “as they were”. His son, R’ Mottel follows in exactly the same footsteps as his father, although he does mention the Ramash more often than his father. Some may call this “Chabad Light”, but I beg to differ. It’s what you achieve that matters. I know that Rabbi Chaim Gutnick discussed his approach and issues with the Ramash on several occasions, and the latter called him הכהן הגדול מאחיו

At the other end of the spectrum was the late and great Rabbi Groner. He wasn’t the Rabbi of a non Chabad Shule. He was the Rabbi of a Chabad Shule. He was the head Shaliach of the Rayatz and then the Ramash. He certainly projected Chabad through a more defined prism, however, at the end of the day, he too never shoved Chabad down my throat, and I was known to be vocal on issues  I might have. I often heard him give a drasha based on a vort he read from someone other than the Ramash (not that it contradicted Chabad philosophy).

I attend a great shiur by R’ Yehoshua Hecht. He has no problem with saying “the Rebbe Nishmoso Eden“. He is as strong a Chosid as anyone else, and speaks without fear or favour.

I am aware, though, of some who are “not as well read” or “not as exposed” to the different Jewish world views and people who exist. As such, they are certainly less tolerant, more narrow-minded, and frankly, less likely to succeed! (in my opinion).

The point I am making, of course, is that it is more about the Chosid him or herself, than the Chassidus itself.

I recall coming back from learning in Israel, and R’ Arel Serebryanski asked me at a Farbrengen (yes, I do enjoy a good farbrengen, but sadly there aren’t many good ones these days) to learn Tanya with him. I responded that I would do so if he agreed to learn Chazon HaGeula from Rav Kook with me in return. He promptly averred. That’s fine. R’ Arel has his Chassidim and his circle of influence, but I’m obviously some type of “Klipa” that is in the too hard basket 🙂

So, while I don’t learn Chabad Chassidus per se, I have to say that their approach of love and being non judgemental as a primary mode of returning Jews to their roots, is something that is inspiring and we all can learn from. Clearly, places like Aish HaTorah have adopted this approach. It’s the only approach that can work in my opinion. The days of chastisement  and admonition have long passed their expiry.

I did not like Rabbi Kennard introducing the issue of child abuse in the context of his article. I felt that this was completely out of context and in boxing terms a hit below the belt. Rabbi Kennard is not a fool, and he knows full well, as we all do, that actions speak louder than words, and words unfortunately seem to fall in the domain of lawyers and those who are litigious by nature. When the Labor Government came into power they promised an apology to the indigenous population of Australia. Speak to any indigenous person. They will tell you that an apology is meaningless in the context of a void of action. Action is the key, and like Rabbi Kennard, I have no doubt that action has and continues to be taken to make sure that world’s best practice of prevention is implemented in the School in question.

I think it was unwise for Rabbi Shochet to debate Rabbi Kennard on this matter. Did he really think that he could argue cogently with the points that Kennard had made?

I also think it was unwise for Rabbi Kennard to make a call on the Great Synagogue’s needs in the Australian Jewish News, when in my opinion there are much more important issues threatening all Orthodox approaches in the circle I mentioned above. The Jewish world is buzzing about “egalitarianism” and the actions arising out of that fever. There is a growing Shira Chadasha, a private Hechsher that is causing waves of discontent, Ramaz’s issues with Tefillin in the women’s gallery (will Rabbi Kennard allow that at Scopus?), the Maharat debate and more.

Yes, I agree with Rabbi Kennard that there is more than one way. Yes, I agree with Rabbi Kennard that Chabad (like others) think that their way is the best way, but I am interested to know where the issue of Chabad and the Great Synagogue’s choice of Rabbi sits in terms of importance to the Jewish world, vis-a-vis the issues I outlined above (and more).

Chabad and Israeli Military Service

The following is from Israel National News. You would think that MK Stern is a tad naive. No Chabadnik would remotely consider themselves an emissary of anyone other than the Rebbe Ramash נ’’ע, in keeping with attempts to bring Geulah quicker.

That being said, he is suggesting that influencing Jewry to become more observant (albeit through the particular prism of the Chabad approach) is a formal State service. That, in of itself, is a significant development.

Wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic if someone who wasn’t going to go on Shlichus, now did so because they would (also) be serving the State’s needs in a different way to enlisting in the physical army?

Israel should recognize young adults who volunteer with the Chabad hassidic movement as having done national service, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) has proposed.

Stern’s proposal was accepted by the Committee for the Equal Burden of Service (Shaked Committee), the Knesset committee weighing Israel’s options regarding hareidi-religious military service.

Stern suggested that under certain circumstances, yeshiva students who volunteer with Jewish communities overseas should be recognized as having done national civilian service, an alternative to military service. Among those who would benefit under the criteria he proposed are Chabad youth, many of whom spend time overseas working with Chabad emissaries.

“There is an organization that is active around the world, on a purely voluntary basis, that does not get recognition from the state of Israel,” Stern said. “The Chabad movement sends people to every corner of the earth.”

Roughly 250-300 Israelis are volunteering with Chabad at any given moment, he said. Chabad emissaries engage in outreach and support to local people in places as diverse as Eastern Europe, Africa and the Far-East, and are often a welcome site for Jewish backpackers and tourists as well, providing them with kosher food and other services.

“There are many elements to the Chabad emissaries’ activity with clear parallels to civilian national service,” he said of Chabad’s social activism. “They do important work in Jewish communities around the world and we need to recognize their important work.”

“I want the Chabad emissaries out there to know they are emissaries of the state,” Stern declared.

Shape of the Menora

In more recent times, Chabad have pushed the line based on a sketch from the Rambam (and a possible interpretation of Rashi), that the (main) Menora didn’t have curved arms, but looked like this (with straight arms)

Chabad style Menora

The common view however has always been that these sketches were not exact and that the Menora’s shape is as per the traditional Jewish Mesorah and looks like this:

Traditional Menora

There have been various archeological discoveries which support the traditional Menora, but perhaps the most significant one was just discovered in Jerusalem.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar displays the 10-cm gold medallion discovered at the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Picture: Ouria Tadmor Source: Supplied

Dr Mazar said he believes the gold was abandoned during a Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614AD.

She has called the find “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”

“We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period in this area, a much earlier time in Jerusalem’s history, so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the seventh century AD at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise.”

The 10cm medallion is etched with the Temple’s logo a menorah candelabrum as well as other religious iconography such as a shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll. Attached to a gold chain, its discoverers believe the medallion was an ornament attached to a Torah.

I recall Rabbi Seth Mandel writing on this topic. Here is what he wrote:

The subject of the exact shape and structure of various kelim used in
the Beis haMiqdosh (BhM) has not been traditionally a matter of much
concern to Jews who learned. In most communities, Jews concentrated on
the sections of the g’moro that had practical relevance, such as
B’rakhot, Seder Mo’ed, Seder Nashim, Seder N’ziqin, Hullin, and sections
of M’nahot. The rules of z’ra’im, qodoshim, and taharot were mostly
abandoned, left, as the Rambam says, as a stone that no one turns over.
Included in qodoshim were the rules of the qorbanot and the rules of the
structure of the BhM, its kelim, and bigdei k’hunna. This was true of
all communities, including the S’faradim and Teimanim. There were only a
few in K’lal Yisra’el who bothered with the issues, mostly chaburos (in
all the communities) who learned mishnayos, or the Teimanim, who
traditionally had a seder limmud every day in the Mishneh Torah, or
individual talmidei chachomim who learned the entire Torah, regardless
of practical relevance.

Indeed, there seems to be little practical relevance nowadays to the
dinim of k’lei haMiqdosh. Without the prospect of rebuilding the BhM,
there is no need for the kelim or the bigdei k’hunna. There was a short
period of excitement before the founding of the State of Israel, when
there was a lively discussion among the g’dolim of Y’rushalayim about
the possibility of renewing the offering of at least some qorbanot.
Outside of that time, the halokhos of the BhM were never discussed from
a practical point of view, either because some held that the Third
Temple would be and could be set up only miraculously, or because
political realities seem to preclude any foreseeable prospect of

However, about 20 years ago, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe ob’m instituted
a seder limmud of the Mishneh Torah among his chasidim. He periodically
gave shmuessen about certain sections of the Rambam that was being
learned. In one, in 1982, he explained to his chasidim that according to
the Rambam the Menorah of the BhM did not have rounded arms, as
traditionally depicted, but had straight arms, going up from the side of
the main pole of the menorah at a 45 degree angle to vertical. This
still would have remained within the area of his chiddushim on the
Rambam and of only theoretical interest, were it not for the idea that
the holders for chanuka candles, called Chanuka menoras or, in modern
Hebrew, khanukiyot, should be in the shape of the Menorah of the BhM. In
Likkutei Sichos vol. 21, p. 169 the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “Based on
this, the menoros used on Chanuka should also be diagonal.” A Lubavitch
web site claims that some of the Rebbe’s chasidim built a new menorah
based on what their Rebbe had said and put it into 770 Eastern Parkway
during Hanukka 1982 (prior to that time, the Rebbe had used a wooden
menorah, which had arms that went out horizontally and then bent up at
90 degrees to the vertical). In any event, I do not know the source for
the idea that the taqqono of Hazal of neros Hanukka in any way derives
from the halokhos of the Menorah of the BhM; it has no source in the
g’moro nor in the rishonim. Neither the time of lighting, nor the place
of lighting, nor method of lighting, nor the substance to be lit, nor
the holders of the candles are derived by Hazal from the rules of the
Menorah of the BhM. Indeed, regarding the last item, namely the holders
of the candles/oil, there are no halokhos at all. According to Hazal and
the rishonim, you could light in whatever you chose: 8 separate candle
holders, one large bowl with 8 carefully distinguished wicks (by placing
a cover over the bowl), or with one object with 8 holders for candles or
oil. Archeological evidence seems to support the idea that most Jews in
the time of Hazal lit by putting out the appropriate number separate
clay oil holders. But Jewish communities from the medieval period on
used various mostly standardized forms that held candles, made out of
tin, brass, or pottery. Jewish museums hold hundreds of these; it is
very easy to establish that although various depictions, such as a lion,
were common, none that anyone has ever discovered were designed to
imitate any shitta of how the Menorah of the BhM was shaped. Such an
idea, that whatever is used to hold the lights in the house should
imitate the BhM, has no basis either in Jewish tradition nor in Jewish
law. (The g’moro says explicitly that whereas certain oils are preferred
and certain forbidden for Shabbos, there is no preference whatsoever for
Hanukka. There was a custom of some to light with olive oil (not minhag
Ashk’naz, which was to light with wax), but some rishonim interpret that
as having to do with the brightness of the flame. I plan to discuss this
at greater length in a subsequent post, b’n).

Ignoring that for the moment, the question I would like to discuss is
the shape of the Menorah of the BhM.

Rashi, on Sh’mot 25:32 says “Yotz’im mitziddeha: l’khan ul’khan
ba’alakson, nimshakhim v’olim.” Since ba’alakson means “diagonally,”
Rashi appears to indicate that the arms of the Menorah were straight.

However, Ibn ‘Ezra (ha’arokh) says on Sh’mot 25:32 “qanim: ‘agulim
‘arukkim,” and in 25:37 (haqatzar) “hashisha ne’erakhim zeh ‘ahar zeh
bahatzi ‘iggul.” So it is clear that he thought that the arms were
round. That indeed was the traditional idea, as far as I can tell, for
most people. The fact that the famous arch of Titus depicts a menorah
with semi-circular arms may have something to do with that, but it is
simply a fact that all Jewish drawing of menorahs from the time of
printing (and they were printed in hundreds of s’farim) had not
straight, but curved arms. (See, for example, 4 Medieval drawings of the
Menorah in the BhM in vol. 5 of R. Daniel Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael,
pp. 69-72.)

The Rambam drew a picture of the menorah in Perush haMishnayot (“PhM:)
(M’nahot 3:7) and in the Mishneh Torah (Hil. Bet haB’hirah 3:10) as well
(in both places the original text says “and this is its form”), but
these were not known in the European Jewish world. The printed versions
of the Mishneh Torah omitted the drawing and even excised the words
“v’zo hi tzuratah”, and the printers of the PhM made up a picture based
on their own ideas of what the menorah looked like (with round arms,
because, as I said, it was accepted that the arms were round). More
accurate representations of the Rambam’s own drawings, however,
continued to be reproduced by the Yemenite scribes in their copies.

The turn in the European Jewish world came when European scholars and
talmidei chachomim started looking in mss. of the Rambam, in old mss. of
the Mishneh Torah, in his writings in the original Arabic, and in
writings of his son R. Avraham, which also were also in Arabic (all of
this happened in the mid-19th Century). All of the above sources showed
that the Rambam drew the Menorah as having straight arms. Yemenite and
very old mss. of the Mishneh Torah, all the copies of the PhM in Arabic
(which were again either Yemenite or old) and a mss. of the PhM which
apparently is was written and drawn by the Rambam himself also shows
that. And in R. Avraham’s Perush on the Torah, he specifically says that
the arms were “straight, as my father and teacher drew it, not circular
as others have drawn” (e.g. Ibn ‘Ezra, which R. Avraham was aware of,
but I am sure there were many others). Originally only scholars and
talmidei chachomim were aware of the new information, but gradually it
spread. In particular this was thanks to R. Yosef Qafih’s edition of PhM
(originally with the Arabic original and the Hebrew translation, but the
Hebrew translation published alone was widely accepted, even in chareidi
circles, because R. Qafih was accepted in the chareidi world and because
his Hebrew was so much clearer than earlier translations). R. Qafih
published a picture from the Rambam’s own ms. of the PhM, reproduced
here at (my thanks
to R. Shlomo Goldstein and R. Micha Berger for setting it up). Once this
idea of straight arms became known and accepted people then looked at
Rashi and said “he must agree” (although that does not seem to have
occurred to anyone that I have seen before the Rambam’s drawings were
promulgated in the mid 19th Century: one would have thought that one of
the many g’dolim who published books with pictures of the Menorah would
have noted that that is not according to Rashi).

There is no direct qashya with believing that the Rambam held that the
arms of the Menorah were straight. Indeed, the description in the T’NaKh
concentrates mostly on the numbers and placement of the arms and the
various g’vi’im, kaftorim and p’rahim, but does not describe any of them
in detail. The G’mara adds measurements and more halakhot about the
Menorah (such as “what if one gavia’ is missing”), but also does not
describe them in detail. So the Rambam’s description of the arms, or his
description of a gavia’ as a “makhrut ustuwaana,” a cone, contradicts no
sources that we know of.

However, there are 2 main problems with the standard interpretation of
the Rambam and his drawing.

1.. Virtually all drawings of the Menorah from ancient sources show
rounded arms.
2.. It is impossible that the Rambam’s own drawing represents
accurately the shape of the Menorah (even according to the Rambam
Let me discuss each of these problems, and then we shall see that the
solution to one will solve the other.

1.. Virtually all drawings of the Menorah from ancient sources show
rounded arms.
Long before the Magen David (originally a decorative emblem and a
magical symbol used by both Gentiles and Jews) became a specifically
Jewish symbol (probably starting in the 14th Century), the Menorah was
one of the primary Jewish symbols. In hundreds of coins, synagogue
paintings and mosaics, and ossuary decorations from the time of the
Hasmoneans through the Byzantine period the primary Jewish symbols were
the Menorah, a lulav and etrog, sometimes a shofar. So there are many,
many drawings and paintings of the Menorah from Jewish sources; we
cannot blame this on a Gentile Roman artist who sculpted the Arch of
Titus. Virtually all show the Menorah with curved arms.

Let me confine my discussion to examples that are the most readily
accessible to people (which I assume the Jewish Encyclopedia [“JE”]and
R. Daniel Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael [“MY”, all citations from his
volume 5] are), I will discuss the following examples:

1.. the coin of Mattitya Antigonos, JE 11:1357 (= MY pp. 172, 174, 176
2.. wall drawing from a house in the Old City, JE 11:1358 (= MY p.178 #4)
3.. paintings from the walls of the Dura-Europos Synagogue, 1) JE 6:301, plate 6 (= MY p. 192), 2) JE 6:277, fig. 3, 3) JE 6:285, fig. 15 (= 6:300, plate 8 = MY p. 183)
4.. a drawing found in a catacomb in Venosa, Italy, dating back to the
first century, at
5.. the Arch of Titus, JE 6:1355 (= MY pp. 185-187, 189-190) My remarks will be applicable to other drawings as well.

a) and b) in this regard (as well as the rough sketches at the Tomb of
Jason in MY p. 178 #5) are the most important for our purposes, because
they were made by Jews at the time when the BhM was still standing. e)
is next in chronological order, sculpted either in 81 or 94 of the
Common Era, according to MY p. 184: at least a decade after the
destruction, but soon enough after that the sculptor can be assumed to
have seen the original. The pictures at Dura-Europos, OTOH, are from 275
of the Common Era, a couple of centuries later, but they are done by
Jews (the JE brings other representations from the 3rd Century in 6:1357
fig. 3 and 1360-1361). The picture from Venosa may date to the first
century or may be somewhat later.

The first and most crucial question to be addressed is whether the
Menorah in the drawings is indeed supposed to be the Menorah in the
Hekhal of the BhM. R. Qafih is forced to argue that it is not, and is
either a different menorah used somewhere in the BhM or a menorah not
used there at all.

Regarding a) (from 37 BCE, a century before the destruction!), the
political background of the coin is crucial to understand. As R. Sperber
notes on p. 173 note 5, Matitya Antigonos is the successor to Yonatan
Hyrkanos II, who did _not_ claim to title of king (basileus), just to be
the Kohen Gadol. The inscription on the coin, however, says on one side
Matitya haKohen haGadol v’Haver haY’hudim (the latter, literally meaning
“friend of the Jews,” at that time had a specific political meaning,
something like “Head of the Jewish Protectorate”). On the other side it
says Basileoos Antigonou [transliterating omega as a double o], Greek
for “of the King Antigonos,” meaning the coin was coined under the rule
of King Antigonos (the nominative, “King Antigonos,” would normally be
accompanied by a visage or other representation of Antigonos). Matitya
Antigonos (which is the combination of his Hebrew and his Greek name,
although he would never have been called that, any more than R. Velvel
Brisker would have been called Yitzhaq Z’ev Velvel) was emphasizing his
claim to kingship on the coin. It only makes sense, then, for him to use
symbols representing Jewish sovereignty over the Temple. In that
context, he would not use Jewish symbols, say a lulav and etrog, found
on other coins, but only artifacts that represented the BhM. If there
had been another menorah in the BhM that would prove sovereignty other
than the Menorah in the Hekhal, we know nothing about it, and surely
Hazal would have mentioned it somewhere were it so important. In
particular, the Menorah had acquired the connotation of Jewish
sovereignty at the time of the Matitya ben Yohanan and the Hanukka
miracle; Matitya Antigonos, named after his ancestor and a Hasmonean,
would naturally have used the Menorah in the Hekhal as THE symbol of
Jewish sovereignty.

So menorah must be intended to represent the Menorah in the Hekhal. To
be sure, this is a coin, and there is no room for details, like
kaftorim. But, as R. Sperber points out, this is not just a schematic
representation: its dimensions match the dimensions that Hazal gave to
the Menorah in terms of the ratio between the area with the arms vs. the
base below. And what is the shape of the arms? Curved, but by no means
circular like the ones on the Arch of Titus. Rather, they are more like
the arc of an ellipse: they curve most sharply at the bottom and then,
about a third of their length, they become almost straight. You can see
this by comparing the space between the tops of the 7 arms, where the
candles were. On the coin, the tops are all equidistant from each other,
most importantly the two curved arms on either side of the central arm
are the same distance from the central arm as all the other arms are
from each other.. Compare this to e), where the arms are semicircular,
and so the two curved arms nearest the center are further away from the
central arm than the other arms are from each other, and to the Rambam’s
drawing (and any other with straight arms, e.g. c3).

The base itself may have had three legs, like both Rashi and the Rambam
say, and all Jewish representations show (see a discussion in MY pp.
177-183), but the coin is rubbed out at the bottom. In any event, it is
clear that it did not have the double-hexagonal base shown in e).

Next is b). This is from a house in the very wealthy, upper class area
of the Upper City of Y’rushalayim, one from which the BhM was actually
visible; the house was destroyed at the time of the Destruction of the
Temple from all indications. Thus it is a representation from the time
that the Menorah still existed. The fact that it is depicted next to a
representation of the Shulhan of the Lehem haPanim proves that it is
meant to be the Menorah in the Hekhal, as do the decorations of
elliptical (egg-shaped) objects on the arms, presumably the kaftorim.
Again, it is not completely detailed (the numbers of the g’vi’im and
kaftorim are not correct, and there are no p’rahim), but the same
comments about a) apply: its relative dimensions are exactly correct; it
shows the same relative size of the tripod base to the arms as does a),
both in terms of height and width, and the arms are curved, but not
semicircular. In fact, they are remarkably similar in shape to those
depicted in a): they are all equidistant from each other, they curve at
the bottom, and about a third of the way up they become almost straight.

Thus we have two depictions, one from a Hasmonean king and one, done 40
to 100 years later, from a man residing in the most prestigious part of
Y’rushalayim overlooking the BhM, both from the time when the Temple
existed, that agree almost exactly in terms of relative dimensions and
the shape of the arms. For this to be a coincidence strains the

Proceeding to c), from a synagogue (i.e. Jewish) 200 years later, we
find 3 different drawings. c1) and c2) are virtually identical. The
relative dimensions of the height of the menorah are almost the same as
in a) and b). The base is very clearly much like the Rambam’s depiction
(with the caveats that I shall discuss below about the latter) and the
description of Rashi in Sh’mot 25:31, showing three legs underneath a
small dome-shaped base supporting the central arm. The arms are
decorated with knobs and some other things, presumably a representation
of the g’vi’im and kaftorim (and perhaps the p’rahim, although it is
difficult to make out precise details), although, as in b), the numbers
are not correct and they cover the entire arm, whereas in reality the
decorations would only have covered the upper part of the outer arms.
Although the arms are more semicircular than in a) and b), that is true
only of the outermost arms. The arms closer to the central arm are
clearly not semicircular, and, indeed, are very like the shape in a) and
b): curved sharply at the bottom and then almost straight toward the
upper part. c3), OTOH, is very different. Its arms are almost straight
(but are _not_ completelystraight, and the two inner arms are further
from the central arm than the other arms are from each other. The
decorations on the arms are different (although again they do not match
the number of g’vi’im and kaftorim given in the Torah). The base has
three podes, but they seem to be composed of balls. Most importantly,
the central arm does not extend to the base. Rather, it stops partway
down and has a rather large bottom part, consisting of a vase-shaped
part and below it four circular disks, each bigger than the one above.
It is also noteworthy that it is placed next to a lulav and etrog, in
contradistinction to c1) and c2), which are both shown standing before
the entrance to a hall with no lulav and etrog. I would argue that c1)
and c2) are meant to be depictions of The Menorah in the Hekhal
(particularly since c2) is next to a depiction of a figure labeled
Aroon, the Greek version of Aharon), whereas c3) is a stylized Jewish
symbol, based on the Menorah, to be sure, but not meant to be an exact
depiction. I would make the same remark about most of the hundreds of
other drawings of menorahs meant as Jewish symbols: although probably
based on the Menorah in the Hekhal, they are not drawn as accurate
sketches, but as stylized drawing of a symbol. See, for instance, d), a
picture discovered in a catacomb in Verona, Italy, that dates back to
the first Century of the Common Era. To the right of the menorah are a
shofar and a lulav, to its left an etrog and something else. The lulav
is obviously a stylized representation of one; no palm fronds curve
around as that one does. Similarly, we can say that the drawing of the
menorah shows that the arms are curved, that it has a tripod for a base,
that the base is smaller than the rest of the menorah. Possibly we could
use relative sizes of the elements as a general indication. But it would
be foolish to measure the arcs of the arms, count the knobs on the arms,
or any other details, since the artist was not interested in making an
architectural sketch.

d), OTOH, is clearly different from a), b), and any of the c)s. The base
is entirely different, and out of proportion with the rest of the
menorah. The arms are all semicircular (as they are in some 3rd – 4th
Century representations from Jewish synagogues shown in JE 11:1357-1361)
and therefore the space between the inner arms and the central arm is
noticeably greater than the distance between the other arms. It has
clear kaftorim and p’rahim, although in the wrong number (not covering
the entire arms, but a greater number on the outside, longer arms). It
is not clear what the g’vi’im are meant to be: they seem to be flattened
bowl-shaped objects above and below the kaftorim, but the concave faces
of each face the kaftor, so that the concave part of the upper bowl
faces down and the concave face of the one below faces up. The central
arm appears to be wrapped with some decoration below the outer arms, and
the base is two giant hexagons, the top one larger than the lower one,
with decorations on the side panels. Examination of the panels of the
hexagons shows that the central one on the upper hexagon has a picture
of two eagles holding a (laurel?) crown. To its left and right are
panels showing a ketos, a aquatic monster usually with a serpent body
and the head of a bird or other animal. In the lower hexagon are three
panels with various kete (plural of ketos). A ketos is called drakon by
Hazal; in the Mishna Avodah Zara 3:3 it shows that a drakon was suspect
of being a symbol of AZ. How would that get into the Temple? Even worse,
the eagle was the symbol of Imperial Rome, and as such was an anathema
to Jews longing to be free of Roman rule.

However, the picture cannot be simply an invention of a Roman artist.
The arms are are equidistant from each other, and the distance equals
the width of the arms (another universal characteristic of Jewish
sources), they all go up to an equal height, and even the ratio of the
distance from the base to the lower arms to the rest of the height
matches the ratio given by Hazal. And there are clear g’vi’im, kaftorim
and p’rahim on the arms. This must be a representation of the Menorah of
the Hekhal. So how can we explain the base?

R. Daniel Sperber gives the correct answer, IMHO. He notes that usually
a ketos has a nymph perched on its back, and scales on its neck, and
shows pictures of a very similar from a Roman temple in Didyma with such
a nymph. In e), there is no nymph and no scales on the neck. He quotes
the g’moro AZ 43a that a drakon that is osur has scales on its neck, and
the Tosefta in AZ that says “if the neck was smooth, it is muttar.” This
evidence, that the base was made showing the symbol of Imperial Rome and
avoiding AZ, matches Herod the Great. He was put in his position, after
Matitya Antigonos, by the Roman, and Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews
tells us that he erected a great golden eagle over the gates of the
Temple, an act that angered the Jews. OTOH, he always was careful to
portray himself as King of the Jews and avoided any outright AZ. So, R.
Sperber concludes, it must have been Herod who put on the base. Why
would he have monkeyed around with the Menorah? Probably because shortly
before his reign the Parthians entered Y’rushalayim and plundered it.
The Menorah may well have been broken at its weakest point, its small
base, at that time, and Herod, whose mark was large construction
projects many of which were for the benefit of the Jews while at the
same time reminding everyone of Roman sovereignty (as he did in his
reconstruction of the BhM), would naturally have made a large new base,
for the good of the Jewish Temple but with Roman symbols.

So it is extremely probable that e) was actually drawn from someone who
saw the Menorah as it was paraded through Rome in 71 and perhaps later,
wherever it ended up. But some of the exact details, like the exact
number of kaftorim, or the exact curve of the arms, is wrong, because
the sculptor no longer had the Menorah in front of him.

In summary, all depictions of the Menorah in the Hekhal, from Jewish and
Roman sources from the time of the BhM and the following couple of
centuries (as well as medieval Jewish sources) show the Menorah with
rounded arms. (It is worth mentioning that the 4 Medieval Jewish
drawings of the Menorah in MY pp. 69-72 all show arms like in a) and b):
curved at the bottom, but straight in the upper part.)

1.. It is impossible that the Rambam’s own drawing represents
accuragtely the shape of the Menorah (even according to the Rambam
Let me begin by quoting him in PhM [my translation from the original]:
“it had three legs. A gavia’ is the form of a solid [i.e. not hollow]
cup, except that it gets narrow toward the bottom, or, if you wish, [it
has] the shape of a cone whose tip has been cut off. A kaftor is the
form of a sphere that is not exactly circular, but somewhat elongated,
close to the shape of a bird’s egg. A perah is the form of the blossom
of a lily. And now I will draw for you in this drawing the g’vi’im in
the shape of a triangle and the kaftorim as a circle and the perah as a
semicircle in order to make the drawing easier, since my intent in this
drawing is not that you should know the exact form of a gavia’, since I
have just explained it to you. Rather my intent is to show you the
number of the g’vi’im, the kaftorim and the p’rahim, and their
placement, and the length of places of the arms of the Menorah that are
empty and that of the places that have kaftorim and p’rahim, and its
general appearance [lit.: how its generality was]. And here is the
drawing of all of these.” He says explicitly that you should not pay too
much attention to all the details of the drawing. On the contrary, he
says it is a schematic drawing, representing the kaftorim and other
parts by geometric shapes that are easy to draw. In particular, note his
last words here: “w’aljumlah kayfa kaanat,” “its general appearence.” I
believe that that applies not just to the shapes of the kaftorim etc.,
but to the entire drawing: it is schematic, and was meant only to be

But if the arms weren’t exactly straight, why did the Rambam draw them
that way? Well, why did he draw the kaftorim as a circle? Because he
drew everything with a ruler, a compass and a protractor (much as an
electrical schematic drawing is done with straight lines). Note that all
the kaftorim are drawn not as free-form circles, but are perfectly round
(even though the real kaftorim were not). Similarly, the top of the
base, above the three legs, is a perfect arc clearly drawn with a
compass. The distances are also schematic: the space occupied by the
gavia’, kaftor and perah above the base are one tefah, as the note on
the drawing next to them states, whereas the empty space above them and
below them are both two t’fahim, also clearly noted (“t’fahayim”) on the
drawing, yet those latter spaces in the drawing are much less than the
space taken by the g’via’, kaftor and perah.

As a matter of fact, the drawings of Yemenite scribes, their attempts to
reproduce the Rambam’s drawing, most clearly differ in the fact that
whereas the Rambam used a ruler, compass and protractor for everything,
the Yemenite scribes made free-hand drawings. Their triangles are not
exactly triangular, their circles are not exactly circular, and their
straight lines are not exactly straight, including the shape of the
arms. See one of them reproduced by R. Qafih in his edition of the
Mishneh Torah, page 54.

Another proof that the Rambam’s drawing is not meant to be schematic and
not accurate in its details is the placement of the g’vi’im, kaftorim
and perahim on the arms. The Rambam, again for ease of drawing, put them
all at the bottom of the arms, and since the outside arms are longer
than the inside ones, these items were not lined up next to each other.
Everyone knew that this was not meant to be accurate, and so even the
Yemenite scribes changed it in their free-hand drawings, putting the
g’vi’im, kaftorim and perahim at the very top of all of the arms. R.
Qafih knew this as well; in his “corrected” drawing in his edition of
PhM he not only drew these items on the tops of the arms, he also
thought that the Rambam drew the g’vi’im upside down: the Rambam drew
them with the narrow end pointing up, whereas R. Qafih redrew them with
the narrow end pointing down (as is the common view, that these “cups”
were on the Menorah with the “bottom” of the cup down). Although R.
Qafih changed his mind about the direction of the pointed end by the
time he put out his edition of the Mishneh Torah, my point is not which
way is correct, but that he himself thought that the Rambam did not
necessarily mean that all details of the drawing were accurate, and so
did not consider minor changes to be against the Rambam’s view.

As for the comments of R. Avraham, the son of the Rambam, that the arms
were straight, let me note that he says explicitly “as my father and
teacher drew them.” Not “as my father told me” or “as my father said.” I
believe that R. Avraham was basing himself on the drawings of the
Rambam, rather than having had a discussion with his father about the
subject. This is not the only time that R. Avraham made statements based
on what his father had written that may not accurately reflect his
father’s exact view, and most scholars agree that R. Avraham’s
statements about his father’s view must be treated cautiously. There is
little question about his transmission of things that he says he heard
from his father, but things he read from his father he may not know more
about than anyone else.

Now even in a schematic drawing, if the arms were semicircular arcs, as
they are on the Arch of Titus, the Rambam would have surely drawn them
that way, using a compass. But what if the arms were not semicircular,
but were curved somewhat? What, as a matter of fact, if they were like
the arms shown in a), the coins of Matitya Antigonos or the arms shown
in b), the drawing on the wall of the house discovered in the Old City,
that were partially curved and partially straight or almost straight? I
would argue that in his schematic drawing, the Rambam would see nothing
wrong with drawing them with a ruler as a straight line. After all, as
he says, “my intent in this drawing is not that you should know [i.e. I
should draw] the exact form. Rather my intent is to show you the number
of the g’vi’im, the kaftorim and the p’rahim, and their placement, and
the length of places of the arms of the Menorah that are empty and that
of the places that have kaftorim and p’rahim, and its general

In the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam does not discuss all of the details of
his drawing that he did in the PhM; he does not even explain that the
triangles are g’vi’im and the circles are kaftorim. So the Mishneh Torah
does not add anything new.

I would also argue that Rashi’s statement of alakson could also fit the
drawings Medieval Jewish sources, discussed above. As I have said, it is
inconceivable to me that rabbonim drawing pictures of the Menorah in the
14th Century would not have noted that Rashi disagrees.

One may ask: why am I even trying to reconcile the Rambam to the
historical drawings. Is it not possible that the Rambam was simply wrong
about historical facts?

The Rambam may have been in error about historical facts; he dealt with
the best information available to him, and he did not have all the
knowledge we do now. He did not know Greek, for example, as far as we
can tell, and so does not realize when some words are Greek. But the
Rambam was well aware of archeological findings and did not dismiss
them. In one of his t’shuvos he even gives an ingenious explanation of
why all the inscriptions on coins are in K’tav ‘Ivri, rather than K’tav
Asshuri, when he holds that the Torah was given in K’tav Asshuri. It is
highly likely that the Rambam saw some of the many drawings of the
Menorah on coins and other artifacts, and since there is no clear
evidence from the g’moro or other Rabbinic texts that we know of, he
would not have rejected the drawings out of hand as all being a mistake.
Furthermore, the Rambam is one of the greatest of the Rishonim and the
only one who paskens lahalokho about the structure of the BhM; coins and
pictures are halakhic sources. I believe it is proper methodologically
to reconcile the g’dolei rishonim with non-halakhic depictions as much
as possible.

In conclusion, I have argued that no one thought that the arms were
exactly straight; that the idea came into being only in the 20th Century
after the Rambam’s drawing became common knowledge, but does not have a basis in a careful reading of the Rambam and a comparison to Jewish
depictions ranging from the time of the Temple to centuries later.

I shall defer a detailed discussion of the idea that the shape of
Hanukka menorahs should be based on the shape of the Menorah in the BhM
for another time. However, I repeat again that it has no basis in Hazal
or in the rishonim or in common Jewish practice for hundreds of years in
the construction of menorahs used to fulfill the mitzva of neros

For the Chabad view, please see here

Of course, for Chanuka, one doesn’t need a Menora, one can just use silverfoil as a base, for example.

Hilchos Aveylus: Attending Weddings of a close relative

When I wrote to Rav Schachter about various questions, he opined that he was unhappy with the leniency of “being a waiter” in order to participate in the wedding of close family. His view was that it was a Halachic bluff because nobody was really a waiter, and they weren’t working for the organisation, and he couldn’t imagine the mother or father of a Chosson/Kallah donning an apron or similar in the kitchen and really “working”. He noted that there was no need to look for specific devices like this given that there was a clear leniency from no less than R’ Yaakov Emden in Sheilas Yaavetz, and that those who wanted to rely on this, should do so (in such cases) and not “play games”.

He said that he felt that it was like the special shabbos phones introduced in Israel for Doctors involved in Pikuach Nefesh. He couldn’t understand why people were even trying to create such devices given that it was a MITZVAH to be Mechallel Shabbos for Pikuach Nefesh. He felt that people were losing their clarity of what Halacha was about.

I had reason to discuss this with nebech a father from the USA who was an Avel and travelled to Melbourne for the wedding of his son. I asked him how he would conduct himself and he said that he had asked R’ Schwei, a highly respected Posek in Chabad, who had advised using the waiter device. I mentioned that I thought it strange that someone would travel all the way from the USA to be a waiter, and I couldn’t understand the reasoning.

I, of course, work as a musician and there is no issue (as long as I’m paid 🙂 working at a wedding. Recently, I played at my nephew’s wedding, and I was careful to ensure that I was paid as usual. That, of itself, however, didn’t give me permission, to dance, however!

Of course, the issue of dancing, and eating in the hall, is separate. I may write about this in another post. In general, R’ Schachter explained to me that Aveylus was a state of mind. One needed to make sure that one wasn’t engaged in activities which invoked Simcha in the Avel. Where, however, an Avel would be causing real Tzaar (pain) by not being present, and their motive was not to disturb a Simcha by causing such Tzaar to a Choson and Kallah, he felt that this was not what Aveylus was every about. Of course, Halacha K’Meikel B’Aveylus, but it’s a state of mind, and one needs to be careful to make sure correct motivation and behaviour.

Why do people sanitise history?

It doesn’t diminish in the slightest that the Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע had a brother who became secular. What does one have to do with the other? I was accustomed to Artscroll being the kings of whitewashing history.

This last Shabbos, I had 20 minutes before Mincha. My wife wasn’t well and a kindred soul had passed her some magazines to read. The magazines seemed to be oriented towards the N’Shei Chabad. I saw one article was about R’ Yisroel Aryeh Leib Schneersohn. Everyone knows that he, for reasons best known by himself and probably his illustrious brother, became secular. Yet, when I finished reading the article, there wasn’t a single word mentioned about that, let alone all the other facts that are known.

To be sure, I am not in the business of speaking ill of the dead, and what R’ Yisroel Aryeh Leib decided to do or not do was his own business, and none of mine. But why, oh why, do people need to be brainwashed through the method of simply omitting fundamental facts. Sure, his father Reb Levik said that he had inherited the brain of the Tzemach Tzedek. By all means, mention such things, as well as his obviously great intellect, but where was the directive that the Rebbe told his Chassidim to “leave him alone” and not to try and be Mekarev him, so to speak? Why should a child of Chabad, male or female, not read the truth? Will it cause them to go off the derech?

When you tell half-truths, you create more problems than you solve?

Inspirational: at the kever of the Baal HaTanya z”l

I’ve always liked a [good] Chabad Nigun. Maybe it’s גירסא דינקותא, my childhood memories, but there is also a musical element. I’m partial to the more haunting Russian-inspired musical oeuvre. The morose underpinnings appeal to my darker side, especially if I’m melancholy.

Lehavdil, that’s why I’m also a fan of Rachmaninov, for example.

I enjoyed this video on the 200th Yohr Tzeit/Hillula of the B’aal HaTanya, the great Gaon and Tzadik, R Shneur Zalman Ben Baruch, at his grave site.

The connection between Chabad and the establishment of Adass Israel in Melbourne

This is a great little piece of research by Rabbi Dr Aryeh Solomon of Sydney. Hat tip to Moshe. Enjoy. If you can’t read it below click here

Lighting up the darkness

It is a long-standing Chabad metaphor, repeated by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, that his Chassidim need to be lamp lighters. One of their tasks is to create light in a dark world, so to speak. In advice allegedly also given to Binyamin Netanyahu, he had said

“even in the darkest hall, the light of a single candle can be seen from a great distance”

Netanyahu had taken to using this metaphor in many speeches and discussions. If I’m not mistaken, he also used this metaphor in his famous recent speech to the UN. The metaphor is apt an powerful, and certainly justifies the lighting of the Jewish soul, if you wish, by Chabad emissaries throughout the world.

Recently, I was listening to a shiur by R’ Hershel Schachter. He mentioned the Pasuk

כי נר מצוה ותורה אור

For Mitzvos are a candle and Torah is light

He made the point (unrelated to Chabad) that whilst its true that a little light can illuminate “big” darkness, that Mitzvos are limited in that they are but the light of the candle. It is not effective on the larger scale, so to speak, of vast darkness. They light up the immediate surround, but are pretty limited as one moves away. Torah, however, is light itself. Accordingly, says R’ Schachter, if one wants to really illuminate and disperse the darkness, one needs to increase in Torah learning, whose light is Or itself.

The pleasurable chabadnik

Last night, there was a knock on the door. My daughter answered and called out “Aba”, as I was eating dinner. I know this means that there is a Tzedaka collector at the door. I don’t do things properly. I should sit down with them, offer them a L’chaim or cold drink and listen to their pitch and look at the pictures. It’s something I need to improve on. He noticed I was in the middle of dinner and apologised, which is always the sign of a mentch.

I recognised immediately that he was a Lubavitcher. He told me that he had seen me at Shule and that I had wished him שבת שלום. I couldn’t recall. I used to have a policy of not asking them who they were collecting for and just gave each person a modest amount. Lately, there are two categories that I enquire about. The first is whether they consider the State of Israel as a hindrance towards the Geula born from the Satan who is misleading us with false promises. If they are one of these, I will tell them that I prefer to give to those who see the State of Israel as a manifestation of יד השם and those who look to improve the religious and economic situation therein and not carp on the outer. I wish these people well in their ventures but advise them that I would rather give my modest support to those whose views don’t upset me. I make a mental note to give double to the next collector (who is not one of these types) to compensate somewhat. I know the Rav ז’ל would have given to this type of collector. He used to collect for his Uncle, R’ Velvel ז’ל, even though the Rav and R’ Velvel had different views on what the State of Israel meant from a religious perspective.

The second type of individual with whom I am uncomfortable, is the Meshichist. This is not for the same reason, but again, I’m uncomfortable with their views. Perhaps it is precisely because I went to a Chabad School and was exposed to what I think is the real McCoy, that I am upset with this type of person. I recognise they are fully entitled to their beliefs, in the same way that I am entitled to reject them. Back to the story at hand.

This person came in, and modestly mentioned that he was a Rosh Yeshivah from Arad in the south of the State of Israel. I asked him whether he was a Meshichist. He smiled and said (in Ivrit)

“I am not one of those people who go around saying Yechi”

So far, so good. My next question was:

Is there even a remote possibility that the Mashiach may not be the last Rebbe ז’ל?

He smiled, genuinely, and with warmth said:

I will be happy with whoever Hashem chooses to be Mashiach, it is Hashem’s choice, and it is not important to me who that person is. That’s not the important thing.

He had that certain real old-fashioned Chabad warmth that I was accustomed to in my youth. I immediately took to him. He almost had a smile like R’ Zalman Serebryanski ז’ל and projected a certain Emesdikeit. I gave him 3 times what I normally give someone at the door, but in retrospect, I feel I should have given him more. If any of my readers encounters him in the next few days, please tell him to come back!

Chabad do great things. I don’t agree with elements of their Philosophy, but that’s not a big deal. If we are honest, and delve deeply, most of us can’t say that we agree 100% with any particular approach.

When I compare this, to the type of Chabad that my kids are/were exposed to, I feel they have missed out. One just returned from Camp. One of the first safety approaches that were enacted was the method to call out for help if a camper was lost or in trouble. Campers were told to yell “YECHI” and those who heard this and were in a position to help, were to yell back “HAMELECH”. Couple this with the saying of Yechi thrice after each of the three Davenings every day, I ask you, is this what Chabad is about? Don’t people realise this turns non dyed in the wool people off? It’s simply not what Yidden do!

Let’s have more of those genuine Chassidim whom I encountered at my door please? They lack absolutely nothing in their התקשרות. They perform Hashem’s will through the prism of the approach advocated by their Rebbe. They are comfortable in their own skin and don’t need to holler daily to prove their credentials. Their actions are their deeds.

R’ Avrohom Mayorer: an inspiration

I guess it must have been about 20 years ago, when I sat at the Seudas Bris of a baby who had just been named Avrohom. For some reason, I can vividly remember the scene, including the exact table and seat where I was sitting. I don’t normally remember such things in this way. Rabbi Groner ז’ל was speaking in his renowned powerful and emotive manner; a style which many of his students have naturally if not genetically assumed in their own delivery.

“Let me tell you about R’ Avrohom Mayor” he thundered. “In Melbourne, you don’t know who he was nor are you aware of his greatness. R’ Avrohom was an עובד who learned Chassidus for many hours before davening only to then daven for another 4 hours each day. You could see him at lunchtime in 770, draped in Tallis and Tefillin, in deep contemplation while still davening שחרית. But one thing I will tell you, despite his עבודת התפילה, R’ Avrohom would never peform his daily עבודה before he had made sure each of his children had had their breakfast, and food was on the table. R’ Avrohom was completely בטל to the זולת. First it was somebody else, and only then was it R’ Avrohom Mayor.”

I do not know why, but I remember these words with remarkable clarity. The little baby was a great-grandson born through R’ Avrohom’s daughter’s family (Rubin). We were and remain close friends of the then little Avrohom’s parents and family. Subsequently, I saw a large photo of R’ Avrohom Mayor and was awe-struck by the holy הדרת פנים of his countenance. That was then.

Recently, I read that a book had been published by his grandson (Moshe Yosef Rubin) which could be described as a biography of R’ Avrohom. Lately, I have been caught up buying lots of books, and wanted to add this one to the long list of books I intended to read. Not finding the book at or made the purchase less than automatic, so I expedited the process by borrowing a copy.

Over Shavuos, I finished reading the book and it left me feeling both inspired and inadequate. The book is nicely referenced and footnoted, and even allowing for the natural license of a grandson to possibly exalt his Zeyde or omit the odd narrative, it was inescapable that I had read about an impressive and incredible human being.

In my travels, I have been to the USA several times, but only twice to New York. Despite my school years in Chabad, I felt no specific desire to visit 770 Eastern Parkway, and, in point of fact, I have never been there. I am not a Chosid, and have never been in Yechidus with any Rebbe, let alone the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל. I never felt I had anything meaningful to say, and all that I asked for, I tried to achieve through my poor but personal davening. For reasons of familial nostalgia, I did want to visit the Amshinover Rebbe, if only to tell him that I was attending on behalf of my late namesake, who was an Amshinover Chasid, but alas, each time I attempted to see him, it didn’t work out. Maybe that’s the way it was meant to be. After reading this book, however, at this stage of my life, I would have liked to have spent a weekend participating in one of R’ Avrohom Mayorer’s apparently intimate and uniquely inspiring farbrengens.

Elderly Russian Chassidim were not a new phenomenon to me. Rav Perlov ז’ל and Rav Betzalel Wilshansky ז’ל were originally Chassidim of the Rashab ז’ל and even a young non conforming and fiercely individualised lad like me could not help but be intrigued by their הנהגות, demeanour and countenance.

Rav Perlov seemed to be ancient. We were davening שחרית at the school’s 7am minyan, and he seemed to have been there from the crack of dawn. Watching him slowly removing his Rashi Tefillin and don Rabeinu Tam’s tefillin was like a slow motion movie. The world seemed remotely removed from Rav Perlov. Time was an irrelevance. He was seemingly hovering above time. His קריאת שמע took an eternity. R’ Perlov’s wife was no less daunting. I can still vividly see her face, as she walked across the school yard while we played football. She held up her hands, shielding her face, slowly shuffling across the yard, concerned that a ball might hit her. We, of course, froze, and halted our sport until she had safely passed.

Rav Betzalel, with his rounded enormous hat and greyish kapote, was a picture of יראה. I feared looking at him. He seemed thoroughly gripped and enveloped by דע לפני מי אתה עומד. It was as if he was acutely aware of אלקות at each moment, while we were remotely meandering through a confused sea of גשמיות with the odd sprinkle of רוחניות. One Tisha B’Av stands out. R’ Betzalel was called up to say the Haftora of אסוף אסיפם and his loud wailing and sincere crying left me speechless and in awe that someone could so acutely feel the words of the נביא. It is also one of those moments where I can vividly remember exactly where I was standing, as I watched R’ Betzalel literally go to pieces.

R’ Zalman Serebryanski ז’ל was the warm and smiling, intellectual, Rosh Yeshivah and R’ Isser Kluwgant ז’ל carried himself with the dignity of מלכות. R’ Betzalel Althaus ז’ל epitomised שירה וזמרה and התעוררות, but it was R’ Nochum Zalman Gurewicz ז’ל who was the master story-teller. It was R’ Nochum, who interrupted our Gemora classes to tell us about the NKVD and his time in the army. It was he who attempted to regale us with stories of near escapes from the clutches of the evil Soviet empire. But I, and many others, were the sons of Holocaust survivors.

As second generation survivors, stories of Soviet persecution didn’t leave me with the type of indelible tattooed watermark of the שארית הפליטה. This was not the archetypical definition of death and destruction: the evil Amalekite Nazi regime. Put in simple terms, I was brought up surrounded by Holocaust survivors and their harrowing tales. I could not make room to digest the stories of Soviet Jewry, despite being surrounded by the aforementioned respected, impressive and honourable older Chassidim.

Fast forward to this new book. I have a new-found understanding. To put it simply, the stories in this book captured important elements of the attempted destruction of Judaism in the Soviet archipelago, whereas the Holocaust was about the attempted destruction of the Jewish Nation. The Nazis didn’t care if one was frum, half-jewish, a bundist or fascist. If you were Jewish, you were to be exterminated: end of story. The Soviets, however, would leave you alone, and indeed embrace you, if you cast off your Judaism and adopted the communist oath of allegiance to Stalin ימח שמו and his evil socialist ideology.

Enter R’ Avrohom Mayorer and others of his kind. These were Chabad Chassidim who fought with all their might to stave off the attempt to kill Judaism. Story after story of immense bravery, courage and conviction is retold expertly and one is left in wonderment and disbelief. How much easier would it have been to stay alive, unpersecuted, and in comparative safety, simply by compromising and exclaiming יעבור ואל יהרג?

The inspiration for this struggle against the Soviets was the fulfilment of the direction from the Rashab and the Rayatz ז’ל. These Rebbes loomed large in the hearts of the Chassidim who risked their lives, daily, to make sure that the נכשלים אחריך didn’t give up their souls to Godless Soviet atheism. But this was not just a story about the Soviet Union.

R’ Avrohom continued with the same fervour to build up Chabad institutions in the new State of Israel. Whether it was Lod or Kfar Chabad or Tel Aviv, R’ Avrohom Mayorer was devoted to his task of ensuring that Torah (and Chassidus Chabad) flourished in the most difficult and challenging times during the formation of the Yishuv. Life was physically challenging and these were a different style of pioneer in the newly growing, but constantly challenged State.

In his later years, R’ Avrohom finally moved to New York where he was united with the family he so dearly loved. It would seem from all accounts that the last Rebbe ז’ל preferred that R’ Avrohom spend all his days in Israel. R’ Avrohom, was R’ Avrohom. You could take the man out of any country, but you couldn’t take his care and support for Chabad and indeed any Jew, out of the man. You could transplant him into Uganda, and he would find a way to spread Yiddishkeit בכלל and Chabad חסידות בפרט. The issue of R’ Avrohom not remaining in Israel isn’t covered in the book, nor would one expect such a private issue to be discussed in the context of a book written by his great-grandson. Notwithstanding this fact, in my view, it can only be the small-minded, gratuitous, simplistic and ignorant חסיד who failed and fails to see the wood from the trees and appreciate the immense impact and personality of this major תלמיד חכם. It is not a matter of chance that arguably the Rebbe’s greatest חסיד, R’ Yoel Kahn, spent many long hours in deep conversation with R’ Avrohom. Like the Chassidim I encountered in my youth, this book vividly painted the picture of a man who was larger than life.

R' Avrohom with his partner in life R'n Sarah.

On Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur, I am emotionally exhausted and distraught when I sing the chilling words:

כי לא תחפוץ במות המת

What does it mean? Hashem doesn’t want the death of a dead person? If he doesn’t want it, then why let man die? And so what if כי אם בשובו מדרכו וחיה—even after תשובה man dies. R’ Avrohom Mayorer explained this in a brilliant way. What Hashem doesn’t want, is במות המת. When we leave this world after 120 years, Hashem doesn’t want us to leave as a מת, someone whose time was already up; someone who was retired and no longer active; someone whose strengths and abilities were no longer manifest; someone who was physically there but who had effectively ceased their living task. No, on the contrary, we are exhorted to work and live until our last breath and try to bring more קדושה into this world through the מצווה of והלכת בדרכיו. This also epitomised the עבודה of R’ Avrohom Mayorer.

For this vort alone, the book was well worth reading. I will always remember this vort. May his memory be a blessing.

Yom Yerushalayim 2011

On this day, many Jews refrain from saying תחנון and replace this with psalms of הלל, some with a ברכה and others without. On this day, those Jews who have no problem with praising ה’ יתברך for the ניסים he afforded עם ישראל do so. On this day, those Jews who are capable of “forgiving” the fact that הקב’ה wrought his ניסים despite the fact that some of his שלוחים were מחללי שבת and members of secular Zionist groups, do so, and praise Him for this wonderful step towards our pregnant גאולה. On this day, those Jews who can rise above petty politics and pent-up hangups over historical maskilic Zionists do so, and visually touch the יד ה’ extant on this wonderful day. On this day, those who not only crow about not giving back territories, but actually go out there and live in those territories, celebrate the feeling of immense קדושה which emanates from the Holiest city in the world. On this day, those Jews who are able to feel that even under exile, ירושלים is מקודשת from all other cities, increase in their Tefilla, and exclaim הודו לה’ כי טוב.

On this day, Rav Kook ז’ל also arrived in Israel to take up his position as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.  The press (Ha-Hashkafah) described it thus:

“On Friday, the 28th of Iyar, our new rabbi made his appearance in our town. … He was received with great honor by residents of the community from all sections of the population. Messengers came from Jerusalem, to welcome him in the name of Rabbi Shmuel Salant and the Aderet. Delegates also came from the villages of Rishon Letzion, Petach Tikvah, and so on, to receive their new rabbi.”

“Important representatives from the Sephardic community also arrived, and he spoke with them in pure Hebrew. It is rare to find an (Ashkenazic) rabbi who can speak such a pure, flowing Hebrew. On the Sabbath morning, the rabbi spoke well with a clear, unadulterated Hebrew, and the Sephardic Jews also understood his words and enjoyed the sermon.”

“Even the Chabad Chasidim expressed their opinion that they consider the new rabbi to be the best possible choice. They concluded that such a rabbi was on par with the rabbis of the greatest cities of the world, due to his great wisdom and erudition…. They also consoled themselves, that even though the new rabbi was educated in non-Chasidic yeshivas, on his mother’s side he is descended from Chabad Chasidim, and is endowed with several Chasidic qualities.”

On this day, I attended the communal יום ירושלים evening service, as I do each year. Personally, I do not think that this day belongs to the Mizrachi Organisation. I would like to see the service rotated among the mainstream Shules of Melbourne. I would like each Shule to ensure that when the service is hosted in their Shule, that they enfranchise their membership to attend. I don’t subscribe to the particular נוסח currently used. We never did anything like that at כרם ביבנה and I know that the Rav was against additions to the נוסח unless they were after עלינו and were simply couched in terms of הלל והודיה.

On this day, we see most of the Chabad Rabbis attend each year (with the exception of the Yeshivah Centre itself) despite there being a tension between such a service and the view of successive Lubavitcher Rebbes. I was personally very impressed that for the first time, on this day, not only was the Principal of Beth Rivkah in attendance, but the new Principal of Yeshivah College was also in attendance. This, to me, is an expression of real participation in a communal sense, something that the previous principal would never have entertained. Congratulations on this initiative.

שבת אחדות at the Yeshivah Centre

On the 3rd of Iyar, שבת פרשת אמור, the Yeshivah centre saw fit to commemorate the anniversary of Rabbi Groner’s birth with a themed date of unity. All shules and institutions financially affiliated with the centre Davened together. This was also the Yohr Tzeit of Moshe Zalman Feiglin ז’ל described by Rabbi Telsner as the “Avraham Avinu” of the community.

Rabbi Groner was always prepared to go the extra mile, even when gravely ill, to wish Happy Birthday to someone else.

It was nice to sit in a packed shul where a wide cross-section of ages was represented. In addition, rather than a normal shabbos, this shabbos was designed to promote cooperation and tolerance. I attended Shule and a little of the Kiddush/Farbrengen afterwards. I would have liked to have heard the guest speaker Farbreng first, but I understand why they did it in this way, inviting representatives of each Minyan to speak.

While I was standing during קריאת התורה two things struck me:

  1. The number of people who were מחמיר to stand during קריאה
  2. The silence and decorum.

One of the things Rabbi Groner ז’ל used to constantly bemoan was the incessant chatter and “wandering” that took place in Shule. I cannot help but think that he was smiling from above to see that, without anyone having to Clapp on the Bimah, the קהילה naturally assumed a proper level of decorum.

Is the main Chabad Shule in Melbourne moving to the right?

Several months ago, I performed at a wedding in Melbourne, where the father of the חתן was Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. I originally met Rabbi Rapoport when he was a member of the Chabad Kollel. Subsequently, I have read a number of articles authored by him in a well-known learned blog. One is immediately impressed by both the quality of his writing and the material he presents. Rabbi Rapoport  is clearly a scholar and has tackled difficult issues, such as Homosexuality with both erudition and compassion. He is also an accomplished “defender” of Chabad having written a book in response to Rabbi Berger’s critique of Chabad Meshichism, and, more recently, a series of responses to the controversial book by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman.

Rabbi Rapoport is also respected outside Chabad, as reflected by his status and place in Chief Rabbi Sacks’ cabinet, with responsibility for Jewish Ethics. This is a fairly unique position, as Chabad scholars tend, in my opinion, to be more respected inside Chabad and marketed to the outside world as opposed to being also respected outside Chabad with minimal Chabad marketing or “control”. Rabbi Rapoport is by no means at all comparable to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the latter having been effectively ostracised by Chabad over actions he took which went beyond those of even a left-leaning, card-carrying, member of Chabad.

It might be said, then, that Rabbi Rapoport’s personal status and place as a Chabad Chasid with a less fettered mind, results in him not being seen as a “pure” paragon of the official party line. Equally, there are those who strongly assert that he represents authentic Chabad, unfettered by a Meshichism born out of the passing of the last Rebbe. I am convinced that Rabbi Rapoport is a very committed Chabad Chasid. What perhaps sets him apart, and worries some quarters, is that he is not a propounder of the classic Meshichist line: the last Rebbe ז’ל is Moshiach waiting to be revealed. Rather, Rabbi Rapoport contends that the LR might be the Mashiach, and if he is, he’d be happy to see him in that role. Rabbi Rapoport perhaps controversially contends that most Chabadniks are not Meshichisten and that Chabad receives bad press as a result of a lunatic fringe, a minority of whom go further than identifying Mashiach.

With this background in mind, it would seem there should be no so-called control over what Rabbi Rapoport might speak about should he be invited to do so in the main Chabad Shule in Melbourne or indeed at any other official Chabad activities in Melbourne in private houses and elsewhere. My very firm advice is that this was not the case. Rabbi Rapoport was fettered. He was advised in clear language not to speak about certain controversial (read Mashiach) topics. Remarkably, a person of this stature didn’t feature prominently in the official activities of Melbourne Chabad despite him spending a week of Sheva Brachos in Melbourne.

Why was this the case? Is the main Chabad Shule and leadership at ease with a sign at the back of the shule stating the LR is Mashiach but uncomfortable with a Chabadnik who may well argue that the LR might be Mashiach?

Fast forward. Another prominent Chabadnik, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Wolpe  was in Melbourne last Shabbos. Rabbi Wolpe is a big Talmid Chacham but known for his very extreme Meshichist ideology and his uncompromising attitude to the return of any territories beyond the Green Line. There are many Chabad institutions who are wary of allowing him to occupy a pulpit because of the unpredictability of what he will say. In point of fact, Rabbi Wolpe roused the anger of the LR himself when he published a Meshichist treatise against the express wishes of his Rebbe.

I came across his writing, more recently, when researching the question of Indian Sheytels (wigs) for women, and whether they ought to be considered Avoda Zara (benefitting from Idol worship). I was struck by two things when I read Rabbi Wolpe’s response to this question.

  1. Rabbi Wolpe claimed in his introduction defending the use of Hindu Sheytels, that it is impossible that the Sheytels were from Avoda Zara because the LR would have detected this as women passed by the LR as he handed out “dollars”
  2. Rabbi Wolpe then justified his view on Halachic grounds

I came away with the view that point number 1, was his starting point, and point number 2, was the halachic-justification. I always thought that a Posek or Talmid Chacham should be involved in point number 2, first, and do so with a clear and uncluttered mind.

Rabbi Wolpe is a founder of SOS Israel. He published a radical responsa saying that it was forbidden for Israelis to study from text books which did not extend Israel beyond the green line! Rabbi Wolpe has also written polemics against Rav Schach and his views. The wikipedia article is a good summary.

Contrast the two speakers: Rabbi Wolpe is considered an extreme Meshichist, and nobody within Chabad or outside of Chabad would deny that. Rabbi Rapoport represents a more moderate Chabad. Rabbi Wolpe was apparently not fettered in any way. He could speak about any topic that he wished. The main Chabad shule did not issue him with any advice in this regard. Rabbi Rapoport, however, was muzzled somewhat.

Does this issue show that the new leadership of Chabad in Melbourne, have deftly transformed Chabad to be more Meshichist than when Rabbi Groner ז’ל was directing policy?

Keeping a balanced view of life

Over Pesach I heard this story directly from the Levi.

He had travelled to receive Brachos from the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל and to bring his son around the time of his Bar Mitzvah. He is a Levi and was called up as a Levi in 770. The next Aliyah, Shlishi, went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe faltered and instead of starting with ברכו he began the ברכה of אשר בחר בנו. Nobody said anything to correct or interrupt the ברכה. At the end of the Aliyah, after the Rebbe said the second ברכה of אשר נתן לנו, he then said ברכו. Of course, one can say ברכו at any time and have ten people answering.

Upon returning to Melbourne, the Levi mentioned this story to members of the Chabad Kollel. The reaction was

“You’ve misunderstood. The Rebbe did it on purpose. He wanted to teach people what the Halacha was”

Unfortunately, these were also very high quality אבריכים from the USA (from several years ago). It’s somewhat sad that they couldn’t see the Rebbe as a human being, as well as a great צדיק and מנהיג ישראל (or  נשיא)

Chabad: A lack of perspective

The Shule sends out a notice for the coming week. It lists important days. Eg the Tzemach Tzedek’s Yohr Tzeit; that’s fair enough. Whose Yohr Tzeit does it fail to mention? Yitzchok Avinu, Reuven ben Ya’akov  Avinu and Levi Ben Ya’akov Avinu. Okay, I guess we’ve forgotten about them and they weren’t Chassidic Rebbes.

Ah, but on the 18th of Nissan, we are told that it’s the birthday of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn ז’ל (often called a “kabbalist”  trying to gloss over the fact that he said Chassidus at the same time as the Rayyatz ז’ל was Rebbe, which is a big no-no); that’s not to diminish his stature and achievements, but his birthday gets a tick, and Yitzchok Avinu doesn’t rate a mention?

What on earth is going on in their heads?

I first saw this Video posted elsewhere.

Even though I have seen this type of thing before, I watched with incredulity and astonishment. The images of these young kids passing the table is an utter nonsense.  It is no less than cultic brainwash. Undoubtedly, there are some who will say

“if we protest they will get more press than they deserve”

I don’t buy that argument. After watching this video, I am flummoxed. How can people who are supposedly intelligent beings get involved in such a foolish, unavailing and ignominious enterprise? Don’t people understand that davening with a sign such as these at the back of a shule only conjures up images of absurd behaviour? Why would anyone want to be under a banner that conjures anything remotely like the video above?

I know that at Yeshiva College in Melbourne, it is very much hip and trendy for boys to travel to 770 for Tishrei for inspiration; I sure hope the school also has a policy that no boy is permitted attend such circuses or derive “inspiration” therefrom. There is at least one teacher in the School who proudly wears a yarmulke with yechi emblazoned in vibrant living lettering.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל did not deserve demeaning and vacuous chassidim besmirching his holy memory.

Am I over-reacting?

If you have never noticed, there are two traditions about how to pronounce לזמן  at the end of the Bracha of Shecheyanu. Most Ashkenzic Jews in my experience pronounce it as Lazman with a patach under the Lamed (ל). This is also what you will find in most standard Nusach Ashkenaz Siddurim today. The other pronunciation, which is supported by the משנה ברורה and the ערוך השלחן based on the opinion of the רמ”א and מגן אברהם is to pronounce it as Lizman with a chirik under the Lamed. Apparently, this latter form is more grammatically correct. The same is apparently true of Bazman and Bizman.

I am no grammarian. I know almost nothing about grammar. I do harbour a trenchant fidelity towards Mesorah/Tradition, however. This is one of the rare cases where the אחרונים say one thing and the Minhag (Ashkenaz) is not to follow these אחרונים and to follow the סידור אוצרות התפילה

Chabad, amongst others, say Lizman and Bizman.

Picture the scene. It’s an Ashkenazi Shule, always has been. It uses an Ashkenazi Siddur (these days Artsroll but in times gone by Singer). The Rabbi of the Shule is a Chabadnik. He decides to direct the reader of the מגילה on Purim to say Lizman Hazeh and not Lazman Hazeh. When challenged, he says “innocently” that this is the opinion of the מגן אברהם etc.

Will the Lizman vs Lazman kill me? No. Will it make a huge difference in עולם האמת … I doubt it. But it works both ways. If it won’t make that much of a difference, why insist on a מנהג which clearly seems to not be מנהג אשכנז and use the paradox of אחרונים who are Ashkenazim as support? After all, for a Chabadnik, when there is a contradiction between their Siddur and the שולחן ערוך הגרש’’ז they follow the Siddur 🙂

It’s the thin edge of the wedge; that’s what bothers me. You just don’t go about lancing an established Mesorah with a chirik.

Disclaimer: I don’t daven Nusach Ashkenaz myself. I have always said Lazman, but I’ve noticed lately that my father seems to say Lizman, so I may well have to change to Lizman myself.

What did the Lubavitcher Rebbe really think of the Rav?

In an earlier blog post I wrote:

The Rebbe felt that the Rav was wishy-washy because he was susceptible to changing his mind on issues based on political or societal pressure. As such, he felt the Rav could not be relied upon.

This is not the type of statement one makes without some type of evidence. Suffice it to say, that I wouldn’t simply write something like this unless I had seen evidence supporting it. In truth, I had the evidence for over a year. However, the person who gave it to me did so on the condition that I not disclose the evidence. Recently, I obtained the snippet from a new source. This source didn’t restrict distribution in any way.

Here it is (click in the image to enlarge):

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

In summary, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asserts that:

  • In important matters of halacha/politics, if “they” warn the Rav that his opinion will not be appreciated, then the Rav will refrain from making his opinion publically known. The Rav will also find ways to interpret the halacha leniently in such cases. For example, there were a few years when the Rav allowed microphones to be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov and then the Rav changed his mind.
  • The Rav is “wishy-washy/susceptible to changing his mind” when put under pressure, except in respect of his own personal Yiras Shomayim and his own adherence to Halacha
  • The Rav is a person who changes his mind by nature.

There are those who would argue that the Lubavitcher Rebbe has at best oversimplified his understanding of the Rav’s personality as the iconic Ish HaHalacha and at worst ignored the complexity therein.

On the matter of microphones, Rav Schachter explains the Rav’s view in this way:

“Rabbi Soloveitchik once spoke at an RCA convention, and dealt with the issue of shuls that permitted the use of a microphone on Shabbos.  He said that, with regard to those who permitted the use of a microphone, he wondered whether they understood the Halakha well enough to permit this; with regard to those who prohibited the use of a microphone, he wondered whether they understood physics well enough to prohibit this.”

My impression from a number of rabbis who asked the Rav about taking shul positions with microphones was that the Rav was against their use on Shabbat, but felt that the mekil position was legitimate, and could be relied upon in cases of need.   This is consistent with the fact that he refused to comment [my emphasis] on Rabbi Unterman’s heter for the Shabbat microphone developed by Prof. Zev Lev, as documented by Julius Berman in Mentor of Generations, p. 141. This is in contrast with Rav Moshe Feinstein, who concluded his teshuva on microphones (Igrot Moshe OC 4:84) by prohibiting a rabbi from taking a position in such a shul.”

Clearly, what the Lubavitcher Rebbe attributed to weakness under pressure or an inability to decide was more complex. The Rav navigated through a gordian path of conservative temples many of which were run or being taken over by ostensibly modern orthodox Rabbis. The Rav’s aim was, and he largely succeeded, to move those temples to the halachic right (sic). There were some innovations, despite the so called societal pressures, that did not affect the Rav’s public and unwavering Halachic opinion (e.g. Mechitzos). The Rav submitted himself  to the altar of Halacha at all times. On matters about which there was some interpetation, the Rav encouraged his Talmidim to get to a stage where they could decide what should be done. He was never shy to give his opinion when asked but would rarely force his own opinion on his Talmidim. The Rav gave his Talmidim some freedom and encouraged them to think and decide, whilst bound by the limits of Mesorah.

In my opinion, it is a simplification to assume that this was some character flaw. On the contrary, this was the Rav’s pedagogy through active learning.

The courage of your convictions part 2

In a previous post, I bemoaned the fact that Haredi anti-zionists who declared that the State of Israel and those who supported it were responsible חס ושלום for the Holocaust, hid behind a proverbial rock and were seemingly afraid to assert their views publicly. This was later buttressed by the observation that the video of Melbourne’s R’ Beck was pulled from the youtube site (although I have retained a copy for download). Many of us are uncomfortable stating our views publicly and unambiguously (where possible). I understand perfectly well that it’s not always wise to do so. I also accept that we are not always wise 🙂

Most of us are cognisant of the fact that it is challenging for a Hasid to consistently exist as part of a Hasidic framework without a (physical) Rebbe. With the tragic departure of a Rebbe to עולם האמת, there is a dearth of live Torah. There are no private audiences. The room is barren and the seat is void. The atmosphere spasmodically mourns the electric ambience that was. Assuredly, the memory lives on. The mission carries on and may presume a new strength and, of course,  דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים. Visits to a Kever

מצבה of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז'ל

are harrowing and melancholic—some may even refuse the experience while others will be inveigled by proximity. Torah from a Rebbe is demoted to unpublished or hidden archives, new compilations, exercises in synthesis and newly organised anthologies of existing material. Those seeking essential counsel resort to second and third-best options, including the somewhat questionable practice of randomly opening volumes of old letters in order to seek the elusive advice to a new problem.

The sense of emptiness is not exclusively the domain of the Hasid, although one expects that reliance of a Hasid on their Rebbe is more amplified than the interdependence of the non-Hasid and their own רב המובהק. All Jews are distressed by a grim feeling of dislocation when a רב המובהק, a mentor, a guide and sage, travels to another world leaving an incontestable void

On several occasions, the Rav, a scion of Brisk, also gave testament to the importance of retaining an important Rabbinic figure as one’s guide, in keeping with the dictum of  עשה לך רב. This phenomena is, of course, not new. Poignantly, the Rav added that even after the פטירה of one’s רב המובהק, it is paramount to attempt to envision what the רב המובהק  might have advised. The Rav evinced the loneliness he succumbed to when his own guide(s) had passed on to another world. One of those apart from his father, was undoubtedly, the Gaon Rav Chaim Heller ז’ל.

מצבה of Rav Chaim Heller ז'ל

See this 2007 link from Mississippi Fred McDowell’s great blog for more about Rav Heller. Both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav used to meet regularly at the home of Rav Chaim Heller in Berlin, but I digress.

When a Jew, Hasid or otherwise, has difficulty dealing with the loss of their mentor, there are perhaps three principal reactions:

  1. Deny that the נפטר  has passed onto another world; or
  2. Accept that the נפטר had passed onto another world, but consider this phenomenon a temporary dislocation in the sense that the  נפטר will return at the time of גאולה as part of the somewhat undefined process of redemption—תהליך הגאולה; or
  3. Accept that the נפטר has passed onto another world and aspire to meet again with the advent of תחיית המתים, the resurrection of the dead.

Amongst Hasidim, the two groups who have not replaced their Rebbe and continue to flourish are Breslav and Lubavitch. Breslav is not a new phenomenon. Habad Lubavitch is  comparatively new and its overt asssertion that the late and last Rebbe was the Mashiach to be, attracted much controversy.

We are led to believe that Habad is split between those who believe he is [still] Mashiach and those who do not. How many are in each camp? I feel that most Habadniks actively conceal their views. Why? Why do they not display the courage of their convictions? Why would they be ashamed to state their  opinion on such a matter? Is it because they are not sure, or is it because they do not want this to be a known opinion because it may turn others off?

People who accept approach 1, above, constitute a group that I do not even begin to comprehend. Some would suggest that this group would benefit from psychiatric therapy. Let’s put them to one side.

Approach 2, in my estimation, encapsulates some 95% of Habadniks whilst the remaining 5% associate with approach 3. These are just my feelings. They are not supported by statistics. They cannot be supported by statistics given that Hasidim are reluctant to state their views unambiguously and on the record.

Within approach 2, though, I assert there are 3 nuances:

  1. The Rebbe will come back as the Moshiach and it is impossible for anyone else to be Moshiach since the Rebbe is the Nosi HaDor and the Dor HaShvii (I don’t know the definition of Dor, but no matter).
  2. The Rebbe may come back as Moshiach. He is also likely to, but it is not certain. הקב’ה may decide that Moshiach is someone other than the last Rebbe.
  3. The Rebbe is not Moshiach, but he will greet Moshiach, resurrected, together with other great figures of Judaism.

I posit that most Habadniks subscribe to nuanced position number 1. Nuanced position number 1 is also most attuned and consistent with the chanting of  יחי אדונינו וכו

Let’s consider the difficulty in eliciting clear statements of conviction by looking at my own stomping ground, the Yeshivah Center in Melbourne. Where does the Yeshivah Center stand? It is a matter of interpretation. In my opinion, most in the Center do not have the courage to express their convictions publically. Instead, they camouflage behind the bold  יחי sign hanging at the back of the main shule and allow this to passively stand testament to their views. Why should this be an issue captured by a sign?

It has always been policy to never disenfranchise people by having the courage of one’s convictions to state one’s views on non halachic matters where those views may not be accepted. There are things that are only said in whispered tones amongst אנשי שלומינו (i.e. card carrying Hasidei Habad) and things which are concealed from עמך—the rest of us.

A good example is the tendency to add the following words to the bottom of a wedding invitation or other appropriate announcements:

ונזכה זען זיך מיט’ן רבי’ן דא למטה אין א גוף ולמטה מעשרה טפחים והוא יגאלינו

Have a close look next time you get a wedding invitation with these words on them. Do they appear in the English text as well? Why not?

Consider these anachronisms as support for my thesis that as long as nobody is looking they will express the courage of their convictions:

  1. The boys’ school casts a blind eye to the daily chanting of יחי, three time after the obligatory היום יום. This chanting would seem to me to be diametrically opposed to the psak of Rabbi Groner ז’ל. Transparent games are being  played when it is claimed that  “it’s not the main shule” or it’s “not an “official” minyan of the school“. Of course, both of these propositions are just fallacious deflections.
  2. The boys’ school has a יחי sign in the Mesivta room proper. Did Rabbi Groner allow two signs? When? I heard his psak with my own ears.
  3. At Chabad Youth Camps, יחי is chanted not once but three times a day, after שחרית מנחה and מעריב. When asked about this, the response is that “it’s not official policy“. Sure thing! Can we expect spontaneous tolerance for the singing of התקוה three times a day as well?
  4. Each שבת during the time of סעודה שלישית young budding chassidic boys sing traditional and haunting melodies which serve as a great source of inspiration. I used to experience this myself as a boy and fondly remember singing beautiful niggunim בצוותא.  And now? The words of יחי are cleverly overlaid onto various traditional niggunim. This is the new התקשרות
  5. On a Friday night, when the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedola is not in attendance the בחורים, sing יחי. When he is there, they won’t. Does the Rosh Yeshivah not know what goes on? Is there an innate tension in the air?
  6. New reprints of older publications fail to remove שליט’א even when it’s obvious it’s not a simple reprint of a שיחה. Indeed, one recent publication for י שבט listed the period of each Rebbe’s “reign” or נשיאות. Unsurprisingly, the last Rebbe did not have an end date nor was the ubiquitous שליט’א elided.
  7. How many parents put יחי yarmulkas on their children, but don’t have the fortitude to wear them themselves.

I’m not one of those, like Professor David Berger, who allegedly contends that the יחי chanters are idolators or apikorsim and Chabad should be marginalised as a result. I’ve read Rabbi Berger’s book and I don’t find many of the arguments compelling. The chanting of יחי does bother me—it bothers me to a great extent. I know, though, there is nothing I can do about it except present my views. I know those views are largely ignored and inconsequential.

What I have difficulty with, though, is the pretence. Let’s call a spade a spade. The Yeshivah should come out openly and either say they support the saying of יחי as per nuance 1, or outlaw it across the organisation. If they wanted to outlaw it, they could. They hold the purse strings and salaries of many in the organisation.

Have the courage of your convictions. Pull out those yellow flags and wave them with gay abandon?

What did R’ Chaim Brisker really tell his grandson the Rav?

In his youth, the Rav lived in Khaslavich, White Russia, where his father R’ Moshe was Rav.

R' Moshe Soloveichik ז’ל

Most of the inhabitants of the town were impoverished Hassidim of Habad. There is a well-known story about the Rav and his Melamed, the (Habad) Hasid Reb Baruch Yaakov Reisberg ז’ל. The Melamed should have taught the Rav, Baba Metzia. Instead, the melamed was secretly teaching the Rav and other תנוקות של בית רבן, Sefer HaTanya, by the Alter Rebbe of Habad. Consequently, the Rav apparently could recite pages of Tanya by heart. When R’ Moshe brought the Rav to visit his illustrious grandfather, R’ Chaim in Brisk, R’ Chaim noticed that his grandson wasn’t as knowledgeable as he ought to have been in Talmudic studies. To quote the prose of the Rav’s eloquent son-in-law, Rav Aaron Lichtenstein שליט’א (see Tradition 30:4, p. 194)

“For the better part of a year, young Soloveitchik’s Talmudic progress was impeded while the study of Tanya accompanied by enthralling stories of Hasidic lore proceeded merrily apace. While Rav Moshe was somewhat slow to detect the tre state of affairs, his wife — herself the learned daughter of an outstanding rabbinic scholar — was more perceptive. Detecting the slow rate of growth in her son’s Talmudic knowledge, she prodded Rav Moshe to remedy the situation. Failng to obtain proper satisfaction, she finally complained to Rav Haym and upon the family’s next visit to Brisk, the budding scholar was duly examined and found wanting. The result was that Rav Haym recommended that Rav Moshe henceforth take personal charge of his son’s Talmudic education, and it was from that day that the period of rigorous mutual study dated.”

I have read and re-read this story many times in different books. On Motzei Shabbos, I was alerted to an article commemorating the 70th Yahr Tzeit of R’ Moshe Soloveitchik. The article appeared in an Israeli Chabad news website. In among the article the story above is retold only this time it is a new version of the same story:

מהעורך, הרה”ח ר’ אהרון דב הלפרין שי’, שמעתי בזמנו סיפור מעניין שסיפר לו הרב חדקוב ע”ה, בשם בנו הגדול, ממלא מקומו, הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק מבוסטון זצ”ל; סיפור אשר היו מעורבים בו גם הסבא ר’ חיים מבריסק, גם האבא ר’ משה, וגם הנכד עצמו, כמובן, מספר הסיפור. היה זה בחודש טבת תשכ”ז, כשנפטרה אמו של הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק מבוסטון, והרבי זי”ע שלח משלחת נכבדה לנחמו, כשבראש המשלחת עמד המזכיר הנודע החסיד הרב חיים-מרדכי-אייזיק חדקוב ע”ה.

המשלחת ישבה אצל הגרי”ד סולובייצ’יק שעה ארוכה, ותוך כדי הדברים הוא סיפר להם כדלהלן: “כשהייתי ילד, אבי כיהן כרבה של חאסלאוויטש שהיתה ברובה עיירה חב”דית. באחת השנים, המלמד בחדר היה יהודי נכבד חסיד חב”ד, תלמיד-חכם. המלמד, ‘גנב’ מפעם לפעם מהזמן שהיה עליו ללמד גמרא ולימד תניא וגם סיפר סיפורים חסידיים. איך שהוא הדבר נודע לאבי, והוא לא שבע רצון מכך. בהזדמנות, כשביקרנו בבריסק אצל הסבא [ר’ חיים], סיפר לו אבא את אשר אירע. הסבא גער בי ואמר שזה לא טוב מה שאני עושה וכי צריך ללמוד כל הזמן עם המלמד רק גמרא. אחר-כך רמז הסבא לאבי שהוא רוצה להישאר בחדר לבד רק איתי.

כשאבא יצא מהחדר, אמר לי הסבא ר’ חיים: “תשמע טוב מה שאני אומר לך: תמשיך ללמוד עם המלמד שלך תניא. אתה עוד תזדקק לזה מאוד!”…

“כעת אתם מבינים” – אמר הגרי”ד בחיוך לחברי המשלחת בראשות הרב חדקוב – “מה זה ‘חכם עדיף מנביא’?”…

In summary, some Hasidei Habad were sent to the Rav represent the Rebbe and perform the Mitzvah of Nichum Avelim, after the Rav’s mother passed away. The Hassidim were with the Rav for an hour. The head of the group was the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Hodakov. Rabbi Hodakov allegedly retold a version of the story that the Rav had allegedly said to Rabbi Hodakov at the Shiva. This version was relayed from Rabbi Hodakov by R’ Aaron Dov Halperin ‘שי.  In this new version, R’ Chaim Brisker privately told the Rav that he should continue learning Tanya since he (the Rav) would need to draw from the Tanya later on his life. The Rav apparently used this story to illustrate that חכם (R’ Chaim Brisker) עדיף מנביא.

I have to say that I was surprised to read this allegedly new version. I do not understand how or why this version, if true, didn’t come to light while both the Rav and the Rebbe were still בעלמא הדיין. If this version is true, surely Habad would have wanted this particular version to be known. Would the Rav have been embarrassed by it? I doubt it. The Rav was seemingly never embarrassed by his past connection with Habad. Indeed, he gave a shiur in the Alter Rebbe’s לקוטי תורה in Boston for some time.  One would have to also conclude that the Rav never told anyone in his own family about this version of the story or that he did tell them and they concealed it; most unlikely.

This new version smells fishy to me. Can anyone shed some light?