The time has come: I do not recommend anyone rely on R’ Gershon Meir Rabi for kashrus

Ben Pekuah is now done and dusted. RMG Rabi, has once more shown his עקשנות but more to the point, his lack of consideration for the advice given by the גדולי הוראה in the world. It’s just a shame that the dismemberment of RMG Rabi’s business has to come from outsiders. In this case, it is Rabbi Yair Hoffman of the five towns. I will reproduce yet another interchange between RMG Rabi and Rabbi Yair. It concludes with a video (we have to resort to videos so that words aren’t twisted and tortuously reinterpreted where R’ Chaim Kanievsky, who whilst not my Posek, is from the Gedolay Horoah, say the words בהחלט … absolutely (not) … in his assessment of RMG Rabi’s investment project and supervision venture with Stephen Bloch and others (who I thought should have realised that they were not backing a winner). The money invested would better have been spent on Charity.

The following video of Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter (who does not support RMG Rabi and directly interchanged with him on a person to person basis). It is important to internalise what Rav Schachter says. It makes it very clear about the types of Musmachim and Gedolay Horoah one should seek on grave questions. Listen very carefully.

The latest interchange from five towns follows. I would urge those with true יראת שמים to distance themselves from each and every one of RMG Rabi’s business forays into Kashrus. There is nothing altruistic in what I interpret. It is opportunism of an unacceptable variety, ועתיד ליתן דין וחשבון, on his activities which hurt the community and those struggling to keep Kosher Businesses acceptable to all, בלי פקפוק from keeping their noses above water.

I’d suggest that RMG Rabi perhaps take a degree in the Law. He will likely meet realities despite his tortured logic that rejects his arguments and dismisses them summarily.

Ben P’Kuah – The Battle Rages On
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The following represents a letter that the consulting Rabbi of the Ben Pekuah Meat concern in Australia, Rabbi Meir Rabi, wrote in response to the Five Towns Jewish Times article last week on the topic of Ben Pekuah. Rabbi Yair Hoffman has written a point by point response. In addition, a letter was written by Rav Hershel Schachter Shlita, agreeing with Rabbi Hoffman’s point. Below is Rabbi Rabi’s letter.

Dear Sirs,
We appreciate the opportunity to add some information to clarify last week’s article about BP.
A] Our primary objective is to welcome those who are sympathetic but not currently committed to eating kosher meat, either because of its cost, or because the choicer cuts aren’t available.

RYH Response: While that may be what you say, the fact that the promotional material includes letters and photos with Chareidi Rabbis, many of which were done without their permission, is indicative of a campaign to also get the Chareidi target market.

B] All our BP are derived from those that originated as non-fully-gestated babies.

RYH Response: The distinction between fully gestated and the 8 month calf which forms the underpinnings of this entire venture is a debate in the Poskim, with many Poskim holding it is prohibited. The Rambam holds that there is no such distinction and so do the Baalei HaTosfos in tractate Shabbos 135a (“Ben”). The uestion is whether it is fair to market such a product even to Jews who are less observant. Furthermore, the Ramah writes elsewhere that we do not distinguish between ben ches and ben tes anymore.
I believe that you making a halachic error in thinking that the offspring of a ben ches BP is treated like a BP ben ches and not a ben tes once it has walked on the ground. This, it seems, is what you are basing your entire edifice upon.
Lastly, the very thought of specifically harvesting a fetus prematurely in order to raise and breed its offspring is halachically untenable as well as perhaps morally questionable..

C] BP is markedly less expensive than and superior to ordinary kosher because
• every ounce of meat of every animal that is Shechted is Glatt Kosher LeMehadrin

RYH Response: The term Glatt when used colloquially means a higher quality of kashrus and does not exclusively refer to the smoothness of lungs anymore. The fact that this meat is only kosher according to a combination of a minority opinion combined with two obscure readings of texts makes this statement somewhat misleading.
In addition, as mentioned in our first article, the London Beis Din has requested that Rabbi Rabi take down the letter from the London Beis Din on his website that gives the impression of support. They claim that the letter was only meant to help you get a job in hashgacha and you had used this letter to support his own hechsher and to have it reflect on Ben Pekuah. They have said its use is dishonest.
When I brought up the issue in conversation with Mr. Bloch he said that this has nothing to do with the company as they are not displaying the London Beis Din letter of approbation. In fact, the company brochure, which the 5TJT has now gotten hold of displays the London Beis Din letter prominently. This is a questionable practice.

• checking the lungs for ritual blemishes is not required – a great time, money and personnel saving

RYH Response: Most smaller shechitas have only one processing line with one experienced bodek. This is probably the case in the abattoirs used in your area as well. Thus, the line would not be slowed at all and the personnel savings would be of one employee.

• in ordinary Kosher such blemishes regularly disqualify up to 66%

RYH Response: Actually, my research is that it is more like 25 to 35 percent. This is especially true in Australia where the cows are much healthier than elsewhere.

• no need to remove Cheilev and Gid [the forbidden fats and sciatic nerve] – a tremendous saving

RYH Response: The issue of Chailev is also not so clear cut. All seem to hold that the chailev must be removed, rather there is a debate as to whether this obligation is biblical or on account of maris ayin.
The reason why you may have thought that there is no need to remove the chailev is that in SA 64:2 it appears to only mention hifris al gabei karka, walking on ground, in relation to Ben tes. You assume that it doesn’t apply to children of a Ben ches or your Ben ches that gets saved. But perhaps the real reason that it only mentions it in relation to Ben tes is because that is the only one that survives.
A Ben ches that is removed and survives can very well be considered a Ben tes! Furthermore, once a cow is walking around, whycan;t we assume the maris ayin would be there regardless of the origin of the cow. And how can you categorically state that the opinion that holds Ben tes Chailev is Doriso will not hold the same for progeny of a Ben ches or the Ben ches itself that somehow was saved and grew to birth age? The issue is about possibly feeding chailev to others.

• there is no risk these painstaking tasks are performed hurriedly and incompletely

RYH Response: According to the simple readings it would be uite risky.

• BP animals are processed as efficiently as non-Kosher animals
• BP requires far fewer Kosher staff
• ordinary Kosher production runs slower, is less efficient, and requires more staff
• tereifos from ordinary Kosher sold to the non-Kosher market only fetch non-Kosher prices. Their extra production costs cannot be recovered.

RYH Response: In this list you list 9 reasons why your meat is substantially cheaper than the standard kosher meat. But most Kosher shechita is done at the gentile slaughter facility and a kosher production team is brought in. The team will number between 3 and 5 people. The cost per day of this team is about $2200 per day. But if this number is spread out over the total edible poundage of the slaughter that day (say the product of 100 cows at 850 pounds divided by 2 for bone and fat loss and halved again), the additional cost is less than ten cents more– yes, less than 10 cents more on the wholesale level. So what then is the extra cost in kosher production? It is the distribution system, the markups of all the middle people and the standard aspects of economics that would apply to all businesses. The nine points that are made here are a drop in the bucket and perhaps are not the real reason that kosher meat is higher.

D] In previous generations kashering and removing prohibited cheilev fats and gid was performed at home so BP offered no real benefit whereas modern meat processing presents tremendous challenges and costs to Kosher. Today BP offers tremendous benefits.

RYH Response: An honest system of reliably tracking and reliably keeping tabs on BP herds would also involve expenses. Outsourcing this system to a gentile firm and outsourcing crucial aspects of overseeing the kashrus involved to a gentile firm is fraught with missteps. Assurances of reliability here notwithstanding, the fact is that we were not yet able to obtain assurances of your organization’s kashrus integrity from any of the three major kashrus organizations in Australia nor from the London Beis Din despite their letter being on your own website. Indeed, on the contrary, we have received and viewed letters demanding that you take down these letters from your website and you have not complied with them.

E] Chazal did not ban or even discourage cultivating herds of BP notwithstanding the potential problem that animals with partial BP Yichus cannot be Shechted.
The Gaonim Rav Sherira and Rav Hai certainly took precautions to prevent such risks when they cultivated their BP herds for feeding the community [R Chaim Kanievsky explained they did this simply to promote awareness of BP] but clearly these were unremarkable since no mention or fuss is made about them.

RYH Response: With due respect, no mention is made anywhere of herds that Rav Shrirah Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon cultivated. They had a few Ben Pakuahs. There is no evidence that they cultivated herds of Ben Pakuahs.

We have very strict safety and security systems, including DNA to verify and guarantee the purity of all our BP which is documented and confirmed by an independent auditor as are all our protocols.

RYH Response: There are two issues here. Firstly, when dealing with DNA there needs to be a trust of the person in charge. Thus far, we have been unable to find Rabbis in your community that stand behind your supervision – even on ice cream – and certainly for meat. The second issue deals with the DNA parameters. Rabbi Yaakov Roza is one of the top experts in the field of DNA testing and halacha. He states that the halachic criterion is to match 200 of the 500 DNA parameters in order to create a DNA umdana. Your process matches 12 of 25 DNA parameters.

F] Halacha accepts the legitimacy of non-Jewish experts due to their need to maintain their integrity and reputation.

RYH Response: This is not true on issues of meat. A kfailah has ne’emanus on taste, but not for matters having to do with supervising meat.

The material collected from the Shechted animals for DNA analysis is overseen by Rabbi Rabi.

G] DNA is vastly superior to double seals required for meat which is in the control of a Goy [ShA-YD-118] Furthermore, considering Rabbi Hoffman’s confirmation that authentic Kosher seals are fairly readily available, one must seriously question their reliability [the OK reports; “Our Mashgiach sent the meat back and was shocked to observe the (non-Jewish) driver applying other Kosher seals he had on the truck to those same boxes of meat”]

DNA provides the most powerful tool on earth to prevent substitutions and guarantee the integrity of Kosher meat. The Israeli media reports “Only 15,600 tons of 35,000 tons of non-Kosher meat imported during 2007 to 2009 for the Palestinian Authority, reached its stated destinations. 56% just “disappeared.” State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote, “There is a concern that it was smuggled into Israel and lucratively sold as Kosher meat”

H] The Pesukim in the Torah, and the argument Ubbar Yerech Imo – a foetus is deemed to be akin to a limb of the mother, fail to explain or provide foundation for the ruling that all future generations of purebred BP are also BP. The Gemara and Rishonim see no need to explain it, as though it is self-evident.
Indeed, R Chaim Kanievsky explained – obviously species replicate themselves and since BP is a species unto itself it requires no Passuk or Derasha to know that it replicates itself.

RYH Response: You are quoting Rav Chaim Kanievsky, but he and Rav Shteinman and Rav Karelitz and two other gedolim signed a letter saying that commercial BP production is forbidden. The Five Towns Jewish Times published this letter last week. Why is this being ignored?

Furthermore, we now have a video of Rav Chaim wondering what happened to you [in other words, that you have gone completely off the deep end]. His grandson then asked the question, “Is what he is doing wrong?” Rav Chaim responds, “Certainly!”

We also have a letter here from Rav Hershel Schachter of the OU saying that the approach of the requirement of shechita being not a full fledged requirement is incorrect, and thus any allowing of stunning before the shechita would make the meat treif.

I] Just as deer meat may be cooked with dairy since Basar-BeChalav is restricted to the species of BeHeimah which excludes Chayos, like deer, so too BP is not a BeHeimah and may be cooked with dairy.

RYH Response: In order to respond to this, we must take off the kid gloves. Not one Rishon or acharon mentions that BP meat is pareve in 1600 years. You have an inference that you make in one sefer (which you admit has alternative readings) that you have extrapolated to say this very explosive idea. In addition, there is not a posek in America, Australia, or Eretz Yisroel that has ruled in this manner – it is simply untenable.

R Moshe Sternbuch, quoting the Meshech-Chochmah, unequivocally declares that BP meat may be cooked with dairy – השחיטה מתיר בבן פקועה ושרי בחלב – the Shechitah [of the mother] permits the BP and it may be cooked with milk. [MoAdimUzManim Vol-4 Chapter-319]

RYH Response: No, these sources are referring to the milk because it is considered chalav shechuta milk of a slaughtered animal.

J] Rabbi Hoffman had access to all R Chaim’s correspondence prior to publication of his article as well as the details of a renowned Posek who endorses and has eaten our BP meat.

RYH Response: Following the principles of due diligence, each item and name that you have presented must be confirmed. Thus far, I have been unable to confirm one citation or quote. Those that have responded to my inquiries have had slightly different stories than that which was presented. The renowned posek you cite also must have instructed you to remove his name from your website, which you did take down but a few days ago.

The Rav Chaim correspondences, are working with a different reading than yours as can be seen from the letter that he signed along with the other four Gedolim, and from the video that we have. YH
Rabbi Meir G Rabi, Consulting Rabbi, AK Ben Pekuah Pty Ltd

The author of the responses can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

Watch the video below:

Does a pure Tzadik like Rav Kanievsky need this?

My intention is not to give free airtime to business person and rabbinic authority R’ M.G. Rabi (RMG) of Australia and his newest venture (Ben Pekuah farming) although that is inevitable. Those who follow RMG as their Rabbi did so with his many controversial views and will continue to do so. Good luck to them. It is their right and their choice. In my estimation the majority of Torah Observant Jews will not ever rely on RMG’s decisions especially now for reasons that have been documented in many arenas.

On a recent overseas trip to seek agreement from authorities, RMG  had many believe that he found approbation from the venerable 87-year-old sage Rav Kanievsky, son of the Steipler Gaon, and universally recognised as a pure Tzadik who sits and learns like no one else. Having heard this, including having personal direct knowledge of RMG’s words with acclaimed Halachists who refused his requests for support, I suspected, that Rav Kanievsky featured on RMG’s marketing and communication campaign. RMG has a habit of having his picture taken with a recognised Halachist.

Someone who has seen RMG’s media and communications arm still promoting Rav Kanievsky as a supporter, please let me know, especially if Rav Kanievsky’s name and face are still displayed and I will make sure that Rav Kanievsky is informed dispassionately via a third-party about the context of the use of his name and picture. Rav Kanievsky has a right to know.

Why do I say this? Because, like Rabbi Abraham from London and others who have found themselves superglued to RMG’s marketing, my view is that the number of respected Halachists who refuse to meet with him in the future will increase. This will not strengthen his position.

RMG will counter with “This is not the way of Halacha”. I do not know who gave RMG license to pasken (Smicha) so we cannot ask that Rabbi directly if this is his way as well and that he approves of the path RMG has chosen to take. It could be asked if that Rabbi is identified and still alive.Does anyone know who it was? If they are alive do they feature on RMG’s websites?

That being said RMG doesn’t have to follow his own Rabbi’s path as long as he is sure he is acting according to Shulchan Aruch. There have always been sole opinions in Judaism. Some opinions remain a Daas Yachid, when it is a respected Posek, others just disappear into the ether.

It is well-known  now that Rabbi Kanievsky has explicitly not agreed to RMG and the venture. If RMG wants to argue that Rav Kanievsky was “manipulated” then I suggest RMG should never have gone to see him in the first place for approbation! There are many Halachists of note who are not elderly, well aware of the issues and capable of agreeing or disagreeing with him.

Those who followed him will follow him and likely have the attitude that

I can eat it, it’s on that Rabbi’s head not on mine if it turns out to be not permitted

If  it is now in the public domain that Rav Kanievsky has explicitly signed against RMG Ben Pekua farms, will RMG remove Rav Kanievsky’s name and face from his marketing and communications?

If RMG does not, then I ask RMG is that “the way of Halacha” as RMG often writes and says. Categorically, and here there isn’t any question in my opinion, one must take down Rav Kanievsky from all marketing and communications campaigns in respect of RMG and his business investors foetus farms. One doesn’t even need to ask. Yiras Shomayim dictates it as does common decency.

I will mention a recorded and written event from a Rav who has influenced my life, the Grid, Harav Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik זצ’’ל (the Rav)

One of the Rav’s students, to whom he had given permission to make halachic judgements (that is, was already a Rabbi) came to see the Rav to ask a question about male and female equality in an aspect of one part of Torah/Rabbinic obligations and practices. The Rav listened to his question and (the best way I can describe it) heard it but did not listen. The questioner, presented a range of halachic reasons and presented his conclusion and sought the Rav’s agreement. Upon leaving the Rav’s house, one of those present asked the Rav “why didn’t you explicitly tell him that you disagree with his approach and conclusions”. The Rav answered in his sage and distinguished way words to the effect

“When he entered and began speaking, I realised that he hasn’t come to ASK me for my Halachic view on the matter. He had already made up his mind before he entered my house. When someone genuinely comes to ask my opinion, I will give it, but if someone comes to prove their Halachic opinion in my presence and I detect that they are not really interested in what I have to say on the matter:  I could see that in this Rabbi.”

In response, the person said that “but your silence could be interpreted as agreement” (and this is a Talmudic dictum). The Rav responded that this might apply in a case where his lack of silence was actually listened to. However, this person was never going to listen to me or my opinion and was only interested to use my name as agreeing with him. That sort of person is entitled to his opinion, but he doesn’t need mine, and I have nothing to say to him as a result.

Others may disagree and say the Rav should have acted like the common practice of Haredim and put out an open letter/poster disagreeing (the Rav did on choice public matters especially via the RCA and official positions) even against the opinion of his ex-students, who were now Rabbis of note. I’m guessing that the Rav didn’t feel this was to be used except for well-known broad policy issues because he did not feel he would be listened to based on letters or posters and the Torah would not be honoured in any way.

I think the Rav was arguably right. A day doesn’t go by without some ban or disagreement signed by Gedolim X, Y and Z plastered in the streets of religious cloisters within Israel and the diaspora. These are ignored by those who ignore such things, and listened to depending on the range of those who signed and the issue at hand and the reader.

That being said, if someone came to the Rav and simply asked a plain question he answered it. For example, some bugged the Rav about the Halacha of women’s head covering (the Rav’s wife didn’t wear one). The Rav, repeated and continued to repeat, “it is absolutely forbidden for a woman to go without a head covering”. The Rav was way too smart to be goaded. Another asked about dubious ways to repeal a marriage. The Rav came out strongly, and condemned the view as he saw it as dangerous. When someone came and said he was a Cohen and was in love with someone forbidden to the Cohen, the Rav said “you are forced to accept that it is forbidden, this is the Halacha”. There are many examples. He wasn’t a shrinking violet.

In conclusion, I think it is incorrect to place an alleged opinion of Rav Kanievsky, together with his picture for one’s business/supervisor/kashrus activities after Rav Kanievsky has explicitly signed onto a letter with other Poskim who disassociate themselves and are firmly in opposition to RMG’s Ben Pekuah farms.

For the sake of Kavod HaTorah, he should take anything using Rav Kanievsky down from his web site. It cannot be the halachic way to use what is in black and white, even if RMG claims he has something else in black and white from before. The Halacha is that the upper level is stronger תתאה גבר and the lower level the תחתון is inferior. This situation isn’t the case of בשר בחלב that I quoted, but it has all the hallmarks of at best a misunderstanding of Rav Kanievsky by RMG or RMG might wish to argue that Rav Kanievsky changed his views. Whatever the case, his view is explicit in the widely circulated letter. Those Poskim are firmly of the view that RMG should cease and desist from his venture.

Rav Kanievsky should however not feature any longer as someone supporting RMG. By all means let him find a bevy of respected Poskim who agree with him and explicitly write that they also approve of the Kashrus of that meat.

Nice article by Shmully Hecht

See the original from the Times of Israel (which I reproduce) here. [hat tip MT]

I have no issue with Shmully’s thoughts except that

  1. R’ Chaim Volozhiner was not an opponent of R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He in fact, while being the prime disciple of the Vilna Gaon, and the person who hand wrote the condemnation of Chassidim (Cherem) did not sign the Cherem!
  2. Rav Chaim Kanievsky is not a political person. He sits and learns and does little else. That this boor said “come and I will take you to Rav Chaim Kanievsky” does not mean that Rav Chaim was aware of agreed with the way he spoke or what he said. Rav Chaim is also a Mekubal who knows Kol HaTorah and if you look at what he signs, you will find dear Shmully, that he rarely if ever gives his own opinion. He is a humble man, who mostly says “if such a great person said X, then I (Rav Chaim, who he considers to be a “nothing” in his self-effacing way) join in. This is because he does not see himself as a leader.
  3. The one that you should be addressing is, in my opinion Rav Shmuel Auerbach, whose incredibly great father R’ Shlomo Zalman had more knowledge, feeling, sensitivity and greatness than his son by a country mile.
  4. As to the rest of them, and by “them” I mean ANYONE who can’t see the Godly soul of a Jew at all times (yes, this is something from Chabad that I am ingrained with) they will not change, not by your article or by our comments. The best thing that can be done is to work now with the Nachal Charedi and make sure it is the holiest battalion in the entire Army, and one which is a Kiddush Shem Shomayim BoRabbim. That, to me, is where ALL the effort should now go.
  5. The so-called “distaste” for those who aren’t yet frum (I loathe the word chilonim) is amongst the Religious Zionists as well. They too have much to answer for over the years in their preponderance with land over people. The two should have never been separated. Rav Froman ז’ל is an example of a Gush Emunimnik who was searing with love for others, just like Rav Kook. It seems though that hate is a catchy illness and love for others is an acquired and elusive taste.
  6. This has nothing to do with Brisk, save that R’ Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik espouses similar views to that bigot on the plane, ironically his grandfather R’ Chaim Brisker was an even bigger Ba’al Chesed for a Jew than he was the Gaonic Genius of that generation. Check out his tombstone in the Warsaw Cemetery.

I write to you in your capacity as one of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Israel, often referred to as the haredi movement.

On a flight last week from Israel to New York, I had a rather disturbing conversation with one of your of disciples. The individual was an ultra orthodox Jew and a successful Swiss real estate developer who resides in Jerusalem with his wife and seven children. He was on his way to New York for the wedding of a relative. I was returning home from Israel where I had spent the day attending the funeral of the father of a dear Israeli friend of mine from Yale, where I am the campus rabbi. I had met the deceased last year at his son’s wedding in Caesarea, where I was honored to officiate. On a subsequent trip to Israel I had put Tefillin on with this 77 year old man, preceded by an in-depth theological conversation about his Judaism and beliefs. On this return trip to Israel it was at the Shiva house where, upon meeting many of the members of my friend’s F16 squadron, a troubling conversation began. This was a conversation that crystallized on the flight back to New York while talking with your disciple.

Israeli air force pilots are in their mid-20s and 30s, a ripe time for young people to be seriously dating and in many instances newlyweds. It was ironic yet promising that despite being in the shiva house of my friend, we found ourselves discussing weddings and choices of rabbis. Here I was, surrounded by Israel’s bravest military officers, who held the most coveted spots reserved for only the brightest and best, that I began to hear about one particular pilot’s wedding. He had just returned from a trip to the US where he got married in a civil marriage ceremony in City Hall of NYC. He explained that he, like many of his friends, had done so because they had nothing in common nor any dialogue with the rabbis of Israel. I reminded him that on that particular morning we had witnessed three Israeli rabbis bury our friend’s father, a total stranger. I continued to point out some of the many great things rabbis were doing in Israel. In vain, I tried to shed some light on the rabbinate and build a bridge to this rather secular group of Israel’s elite.

Listening to him describe the gap that sadly divides the secular “chiloni“ and ultra-orthodox “haredi“ leaderships of Israel, I was dismayed and saddened by how far this split has actually wedged a division among our people. Could we have reached such a low point in our history that Jews living in our ancient homeland were flying across the world to avoid having to engage with our very own rabbis? How ironic I thought it was that I, an American rabbi, had flown to Israel first to marry and now bury a son and father of the most secular type of Israelis. Would this young pilot’s first encounter with an Israeli rabbi be at his own funeral?

Harav Kanievsky, I am convinced that the fault lies largely with us, the “religious,” and less so with them, the “secular. “ In fact I don’t believe there is an “us” and “them.” I was born a Chabadnik, where we are taught that there is only one Jew in the world. Yes, one Jew. But it wasn’t until the conversation with your disciple on my return flight that I began to comprehend the mindset that actually fuels this terrible divide. It is for this reason, and with hope of healing this terrible National wound, that I write you this letter.

“You look like a Chabadnik,” he started off, as he leaned across the aisle of our ElAL plane, “so tell me a story of your great Rebbe.” Not sure if I was sensing sarcasm or sincerity in his tone, I told him about my experience of once praying with the man I had just buried and how this person carried a photo of The Rebbe in his wallet for 20 years, despite claiming to be an agnostic. The truth is that “Rebbe miracle stories” were never really my forte, so I figured I would challenge him to a more serious theological debate in this final hour of our cross Atlantic flight. After all, I don’t get to meet many “haredis“ on the sprawling campus of Yale University. “What will you do about the pending proposed military draft?” I curiously asked my flight mate. “Well if it actually passes,” he said, “they will have to put a million of us in prison, for how can a pork eater, the son of a pork eater, tell us G-d fearing Jews to close the yeshivas and serve in the army? These Jews need to be despised and excommunicated for the way they treat the religious community.”

I was so shocked by the venom he was espousing in front of his wife and 16 year old son that I felt like stopping the conversation right there just to avoid embarrassing him. This verbal assault on the majority of Jews alive and the Jews who I consider my dearest constituents was not going to pass without a fatal blow. One, of course, I would have to deliver with love.

This man was by no means a Torah ignoramus, nor lacking in any level of sophistication. He was clearly a successful businessman, philanthropist, and learned Torah scholar. “I’m not sure you can blame a Jew for eating pork if that is what he was brought up eating,” I replied. It was an elementary response to such a loaded attack.

“After all,” I continued, “doesn’t your son [who was sitting next to him on the plane] eat what you eat?”

“How can you preach such hatred of a Jew,” I asked, “when the Torah explicitly says, ‘Thou shall not hate your brother in your heart’? Is that verse any less a part of the Torah you embrace?”

He replied, “well Esau, despite being the son of Isaac the patriarch, was the enemy of the Jews,” as if to suggest that any secular Jew had the status of an enemy. I explained that the Torah explicitly tells us that Esau and Ishmael had abandoned the ways of their parents’ home and clearly attained the status of another nation early in our history. To suggest that every non-observant Jew in Tel Aviv born to non-observant parents, or simply brought up in a non religious home, was now the enemy, was ludicrous.

His self-righteousness and arrogance was so revolting that I knew I needed to win this debate before we landed. I reminded him that the Jewish people were a family first and called over the flight attendant who was not wearing a kipa, and clearly the type of Jew he was critiquing. I asked the man if he believed we were all part of one family, to which he replied, “of course.” “If the plane went down at this moment,” I continued, “do you think your prayers would be any different than this gentleman? Do you really think your cry of Shema Yisroel would sound any different than his? Have you ever considered the probability of living parallel lifestyles should you have been born into his family, and he into yours?”

He would not concede. “The Finance Minister of Israel [he refused to mention him by name] is a pork eater, the son of a pork eater, and will suffer for the terrible anguish he is causing our community. He is no different than Jesus whom, though born to Jewish parents, is responsible for the murder of so many Jews through European history.” I reminded him that according to one account in the Talmud, Jesus left the seminary because of the lack of sensitivity of his Rabbi and perhaps that was why Christianity started to begin with. I reminded him of the commandment to love thy neighbor as you love yourself–to no avail. As I sat there I started to comprehend why my new friend from the squadron had flown to NY to have his wedding. How could he have any respect for Jewish leaders that did not officially declare this type of talk absolute heresy? Who could stomach this unapologetic self hatred by a “religious” Jew. All in the name of Torah and G-d!

But then I digressed and mentioned one of the greatest Rabbis in our collective history. Reb Chaim of Volozhin. He is, after all, the icon and example of Torah Judaism, who embodied the ultimate divine manifestation of Torah in a human being. In addition to being the crown disciple of the Gaon of Vilna and the author of Nefesh Hachaim, he was also the patriarch of the great Saloveitchik Talmudic family dynasty. So in a final attempt at reconciliation I asked:

What if I told you that the current President of Yale is named Peter Salovey, short for Saloveitchik? Though he is not particularly observant by your standards, he is a direct descendant of Reb Chaim. He is a dear friend of mine and despite being of the more secular type, he is extremely proud of his Judaism. In fact, he proudly quoted the great Mishnaic authors in his inaugural address as President of Yale. Do you know that he often engages in Talmudic discussions with me and others of the Yale community? Would you dismiss, excommunicate, and forsake the grandchild of the holy Reb Chaim of Volozhin in your self-righteous pursuit of an Israel that excommunicates the non-orthodox Jew?

It was at this moment that he got out of his seat and approached mine with an urgency. He finally realized what we were actually talking about. We were talking about that one Jew, the Jew that he could never forsake for it would mean forsaking Reb Chaim Volozhin. And so I got up and together we stood near the emergency exit door as he softly whispered these words into my ear, but more so into my heart and into my soul:

I envy you so much my dear Shmully, because in the merit of showing unconditional love to his grandson, I assure you that when you die, the great Reb Chaim of Volozhin will be waiting for you in heaven, and he will single-handedly open the gates of Gan Eden for you to enter.

These final moments of my flight were an absolute affirmation that there is hope for our people. I could not hold back my tears and replied, “how ironic, that upon my death, at the moment I would have to face my Maker, I would not be greeted, escorted, and defended by my Rebbe, Reb Schneur Zalman of Liaidi, the founder of Chabad, but rather by his opponent, the prize student of the Gaon of Vilna, Reb Chaim of Volozhin.”

And then he said, “You know, when you return to Israel, I’m going to take you to visit our leader the great Reb Chaim Kanievsky. I want you to tell him what we talked about.”

Rav Kanievsky, I don’t want to wait until my next trip to Israel. I will simply ask you what I asked him:

What would Israel look like this Pesach if you asked each and every one of your followers today to invite one non religious friend for Pesach? How amazing would it be if 1 million non orthodox Jews came home tonight and told their spouse that their religious friend or acquaintance invited them to their Seder? What if we reinterpreted, “all who are hungry may they come and eat, all who are needy may they come and enjoy Pesach,“ to mean, “not only the physically or materially poor but those less observant than us”?

Just as I’ve been assured that Chaim of Volozhin will be waiting for me in heaven, I sincerely hope Schneur Zalman of Lyadi is waiting for you. Let us hope there will be no need to imprison 1 million Jews but rather have 1 million more guests this year at the Seder.

I look forward to embracing you on my next trip to Israel.

Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer: the Jewish Society at Yale and can be reached at shmully@279crown.org