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.

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.