A rare treat. A full Teshuva Derasha from the Rav in Yiddish from 1975

Enjoy, if you know Yiddish! Quality isn’t wonderful, but never having experienced this personally, it’s a piece of treasure

[Hat tip ydbz]

It started with a snippet from a sheltered letter

My journey has almost done a full circle. The topic concerned two of the greatest leaders of our generation: the Rav (Soloveitchik) and the Rebbe (Lubavitcher).

It was 2011. I conveyed some thoughts back then in this blog post. My impression was that the Rebbe was not at one with the Rav’s approach to Yahadus, as exemplified by an issue which was the subject of a revealing letter published in that post and reproduced again below.

Certainly the Rav wasn’t a Chossid; he had a strong connection with Chabad through the Rayatz, the Rebbe’s father in law and this also stemmed from his youth in a Chabad town. There are many anecdotes and written accounts of a certain closeness. I would tend to categorise it as mutual admiration and respect. I don’t think the Rebbe and his romantic nostalgic relationship with Chabad were the same notion. The Rebbe was  single-minded in his approach. The Rav, ironically given his heritage, had a more pluralistic acceptance of different segments of Orthodox Jewry, and was often a featured as the star orator. The Rebbe could be described as reclusive or too busy, at the same time he was warm and insightful. He was tethered to his headquarters in 770 to the extent that he eventually decided he would not leave 770 for various purposes, apart from the daily cup of tea with his dear wife, and rare occasions. There are those who surmise that each of these revolutionary Rabbis’ wives were their only true confidants. The Rav’s wife had a PhD and was an educator whose mission revolved around the excellence of the Maimonides School that was established to resuscitate the Boston she and the Rav met on their arrival. The Rebbetzin was ever reclusive and kept to herself in an understated way.

One day, I became privy to what I (and  others) considered to be some clearer views from the Rebbe about the Rav in the form of a snippet from a letter. This letter, as I understand it, was not known and rather sequestered. I surmise with some confidence based on the secrecy, that it was placed under an unofficial embargo. What made the snippet  so interesting to me? As noted in that blog post, it clearly implied that the Rebbe had his differences and criticisms with the Rav (from the vantage of the Rebbe’s Weltanschauung and approach).

The Rebbe was a Manhig, a global director with firm views, and was not limited to Crown Heights, Brooklyn or the USA. The Rav described himself a “Melamed.” Everyone knew this was a self-deprecating description of a most brilliant Torah Rosh Yeshivah steeped in the Brisker tradition of his illustrious family. The Rav described how he was struck  and impressed by the Lubavitcher Chassidim who lived in the town where his father, Reb Moshe, the elder son of Reb Chaim Brisker, was Rav for a few years. The Rav experienced  the Chassidim’s Emesdike, heart-felt, even romantic approach to Judaism, though many were not apparent scholars (the antithesis of the highly intellectual Brisk he had been exposed to). That’s not to say that Chabad didn’t include high calibre Talmidei Chachomim, rather, they also embraced simple people within those people’s abilities and made them all realise that they could achieve plenty. They managed to produce outcomes that were somewhat foreign to Beis HoRav, Volozhin and Brisker tradition. Whilst Rav Chaim, the Rav’s grandfather was far from a “snob” and embraced the impoverished with all his might and kindness, Chabad made them feel holy.

I speculated more about the relationship between the Rav and the Rebbe in another blog post of 2011. The letter below  appeared (and I might say curiously) later as a page in a pamphlet given out as a wedding memento (of all things).

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

The cat was out of the bag through that snippet. Would anyone notice it or comment, I thought.

The central questions given the letter  were,

  • how was a Lubavitcher now meant to relate to the Rav, and vice versa,and
  • how was someone from Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon meant to relate to the Rebbe, given what had been written.

I was unable to advance knowledge of the context of the letter and those who I asked from both sides, seemed unaware or were reluctant. I suspect in Lubavitch some were aware, but I doubt that this snippet was ever seen by the Rav or indeed his Talmidim.

An anonymous Chabad researcher of note, recently revealed the issue as being in the context of the Rebbe writing disapprovingly of the Rav’s alleged predilection to “change his mind on matters of Halacha“, for various reasons, although the “Rav himself is a complete Yiras Shomayim.”

The study of Chabad Chassidus was growing. It appeared in some Hesder Yeshivos over the last ten years, and before long there were  students who studied Tanya. This was not surprising given that the current generation of some youth seemingly less pre-occupied with minutiae and seeking a more mystical understanding of their faith. My Posek, Rav Schachter, a Talmid of the Rav, often quotes the Tanya, so it was certainly an important Sefer in Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon.

More recently, Yeshivas Yitzchak Elchonon (RIETS) had no issue with a Tanya Chabura, and past lectures can be heard online and were taught by YU Rabbonim. Certainly, Rabbi Reichman, one of the Roshei Yeshivah has been teaching a variety of Chassidus for many years, even though he describes himself as a Litvak. One of his sons has studied Tanya in Israel through both Lubavitch and non Lubavitch spectacles (if I’m not mistaken he studied it also with another Chassidic Rebbe, one on one)

A Symposium was held at YU on the Rav and the Rebbe. I blogged about that symposium. Again, I felt that to talk about this topic and not  mention this letter left a gaping hole. The academic in me felt it was verging on dishonest because I was sure the Chabad speakers knew about the letter. Its absence could be considered, purposefully misleading. Rabbi Yossi Jacobson disagreed with me on that point in private correspondence.

A new book was recently announced on the Rav and the Rebbe by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin. I reviewed the book. Rabbi Dalfin knew about the letter and had asked me a while back if I knew more about it. I did not. The letter existed, however, and he knew about it. The letter was not mentioned in Rabbi Chaim Dalfin’s book. In subsequent correspondence with me, Rabbi Dalfin claimed that without knowing the full letter and its context he didn’t think he should include it. I disagreed vehemently. Perhaps that’s due to my academic training. Whichever way one looks the Rebbe makes clear statements. I appreciate that a Chassid doesn’t want to double guess what their Rebbe meant.

Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin ז׳ל

The mystery is now revealed. The letter was addressed to the famous Rav Zevin, the master editor and compiler of the earlier volumes of the Encyclopaedia Talmudis. [ Later volumes, whilst very good, don’t quite reach his enormous ability and articulate summarisation]

It can be argued that there are other things in the letter, but that is immaterial, at least, to me. If it had to do with the same issue it would also have been published (unless it said worse things!). Either way, choosing not to include this snippet can be viewed as a form of sublime revisionism, parading behind a façade of ‘I need full research on the letter’.

The reality is that the comments addressed in the letter were known in Chabad, but kept quiet. I again surmise that it was kept quiet because nobody wanted such comments in the public sphere.

As I have written, a full understanding of the Rav, encompasses his enormous strength and integrity in being able to change his mind if he felt a situation was different, or he felt a compelling new reason. This makes him stronger in my eyes; not wishy-washy by nature, as seemingly implied in the letter. That being said, it would seem that was not even the case here, anyway.

Let’s call a “spade a spade”, and I don’t just mean Rabbi Dalfin. I include Rabbi Jacobson. Who are we kidding? When Lubavitch poached the head master of Maimonides in Boston there was  acrimony that lasted some ten years. The Rav would never have allowed this in reverse in this way. The Rav went to Chinuch Atzmoi as a Mizrachist, albeit a nuanced variety thereof.

As to the Rav being some type of closet Chabadnik. The Rav stated many times he was a Litvak, who liked lots about Lubavitch and had a romantic attraction to them stemming from his youth. He was also a big fan of the writings of the Alter Rebbe.

The agenda of Rabbi Dalfin’s book was to gloss over these things and convince the reader through some dubious logic that they were much closer than they were (even though the Rebbe wrote a letter saying they were closer than people knew). The Rav’s head was in Shas and Poskim, all his life. Only certain Rishonim mattered, and he didn’t read the others. Philosophy was a wrapper to make sense of Judaism through a modern prism and paradigm.

[Hat tip anonymous] The snippet was about the Zim Israeli Shipping Company controversy. Zim proposed to sail also on Shabbos. In response to the fact that sailors, engineers etc would have to be mechalel shabbos to do so, Zim claimed that the ship could travel on auto-pilot. The Lubavitcher Rebbe completed an Engineering degree in a Paris College (not the Sorbonne) and, as the Ramash, worked in the Naval Shipping Yards in the USA as an engineer when he arrived. The Rebbe clearly had technical scientific expertise and of course was also a Gaon in Torah. As such, he vociferously held, and mounted a wide campaign to stop Zim, enlisting the help of many other Rabbis of note, including Rav Hertzog the then Chief Rabbi. According to the Rebbe, it was impossible for the ship to travel in “auto pilot” without some chillul shabbos from staff.

[Hat tip DH and AR] The Rav was asked to offer his view. The Rav had a policy of not paskening about matters pertaining to Israel. He felt that this was the domain of the Chief Rabbinate and not that of a resident of Boston and Rosh Yeshivah in RIETS. He also held the policy that Rabbis must consult experts in questions of Halacha involving matters that were not known by them. This is reflected in his view that the question of returning territories was a matter of Pikuach Nefesh that had to be determined by Generals and not Rabbis or Politicians. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Rebbe and Manhig and proffered his Halachic opinion that no inch of land be ceded. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a different approach.

Unless someone has more information: I have consulted world-wide authorities on the Rav, and  knowledgeable people about the Rebbe, I cannot understand how the Rebbe could come to his conclusion about the Rav. The Rebbe obviously expected the Rav to join him, as he knew this would be very powerful. The Rav was always his own man. He had views  on protests for Russian Jewry as did the Agudah, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe had different views. This, however, does not make him prone to change his opinion, as implied by the snippet.

I have already covered the microphone issue, and that is a long bow. I can’t find the blog post though 🙂

In conclusion, those who wish to argue that they were close, can do so, but my view is that they held fundamentally opposing approaches and views and to intimate a special bond through a symposium or through Rabbi Dalfin’s book doesn’t stand up to academic muster.

Accounts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s campaign re Tzim and influencing the Chief Rabbinate can be seen here and here and here (in Ivrit).

Unfortunately, in correspondence from Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, he advised me that the two people who would have known more details about the Rav’s involvement have both passed away. He referred me to a son who shed some light.

If anyone can elucidate with any more material on this I’d be interested. At this stage, I stand by the feelings expressed in blog posts dating back to 2011.

The Rav on Rav Kook and the magnetism and religious tremor of an authentic Jewish personality

[Hat tip YW]

There is more to this story. When I find it (I read it about 20 years ago), I will post some details on the powerful episode at Havdolo.

 

New book on Rav and the Rebbe by Chaim Dalfin

I was contacted by the author, Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, to make known his latest publication. I don’t normally post advertisements, but I am a fan of both the Rav and the Rebbe, so can’t help myself. I don’t know Rabbi Dalfin personally, but I certainly knew and admired his Shver, the late Reb Chaim Serebryanski. I ordered the book about a week ago, and he sends to Australia too. I don’t believe it will be available in bookshops.

It is available online if you follow this link. Of course, I have no opinion on it until I read it 🙂

dalfinbook

Parshas Ekev

The nuance expressed in this short Dvar Torah is better appreciated with reference to the aramaic text in the Gemora (Tractate Brachos 33b), included below with the english paraphrasing. Our weekly portion quoting Moshe asks (Devarim 10:12)

“… What does God request from Jews?”

Moshe answers

“ only to fear the Lord your God”.

The word “only” is a challenging pursuit in life. How does Moshe seemingly minimise the fear of God, as a simple attainment, and as THE element that God asks from us?
The Talmud (ad loc.) is similarly troubled and says

“Is fear of Heaven such a simple level to obtain?”
אטו יראת שמים מילתא זוטרתא היא?

The Talmud answers incredulously,

“Yes, in Moshe’s domain it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין, לגבי משה מילתא זוורתא היא

The question is obvious. We are not Moshe. We didn’t speak to God and experience miracles or God’s interference in our world. God remains hidden. For us plebeians, it can’t be said that attaining the fear of Heaven is a relatively simple task.
In one of my favourite insights from Rav Soloveitchik, the Rav explains that the placement of the comma in the Talmud’s response is the key to the puzzle. Instead of reading

“Yes, in Moshe’s domain it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין, לגבי משה מילתא זוורתא היא

the Rav suggests it be read as

“Yes in Moshe’s domain,  it is a simple level to obtain”.
אין לגבי משה, מילתא זוורתא היא

Meaning, the Jew alone does not achieve this level unless they attach themselves to their respected Rabbi and teacher (לגבי משה). It is indeed a formidable mountain to climb, however, it is incumbent upon every Jew to attach themselves to the Masoretic tradition of a respected Rabbi and teacher who is able to help climbing the mountain.

“fear of heaven”.

This mechanism gives rise to the guiding principle of Judaism, Imitatio Dei, emulating Hashem, as expressed thematically throughout the Rav’s writings, through the Pasuk

והלכת בדרכיו
You should go in the way of God

This imperative is held as a positive Torah command by many Rishonim.
The Rav’s Uncle, the Griz, R’ Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, provided a further insight in his ליקוטי הגרי׳ז ב:פה. One of the Griz’s students excelled more than others. The Griz explained that this wasn’t simply a matter of that student’s innate ability and acquired knowledge. Rather, that student knew how to nullify their self-importance ביטול, and that skill is not an easy one to acquire. On the contrary, the greater the person’s skill set and knowledge is, the harder it is to suppress and bow to the opinion of his teacher and master. The statement in the Talmud that

what a servant does for their master, the student does for their master

Isn’t simply a detail, but a general principle that is applicable across the gamut of educational experience, through which one can achieve fear of God/Heaven—יראת שמים.

(Sources: מפניני הרב, ונפש הרב מאת מורי ורבי ר’ צבי שכטר שליט׳א)

On the nature of interfaith relationships

Many years ago, the indisputable Rabbinic Doyen of Centrist Orthodoxy (call it Modern or Torah U’Maddah if you like), Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, issued clear rulings under which interdenominational activities must be underpinned. Note, unlike, more right-wing streams of Orthodoxy, Rav Soloveitchik, was not an extremist advocating zero contact. At the time, the Rav’s focus was on Xtianity, as this was the prevailing pressure in the USA. To think that his advice would not equally apply to other religions, such as Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism is a non sequitur.

Rav Soloveitchik stated (emphasis is mine):

1. “We are a totally independent faith community. We do not revolve as a satellite in any orbit.” Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded. This refusal should be recognised by all participants as an ongoing point of disagreement between the faith communities, not an issue to be ironed out by apologetics or revisionism.

2. “The logos, the word in which the multifarious religious experience is expressed does not lend itself to standardization or universalisation. The confrontation should occur not at a theological, but at a mundane human level. There, all of us speak the universal language of modern man.” Because the theological language of the respective faith communities expresses religious sensations too intimate to be comprehended by those of another faith, dialogue must remain in the realm of the “secular orders.”

3. “Non-interference is a conditio sine qua non for the furtherance of good-will and mutual respect.”No Jew must ever suggest changes or emendations to Christian rituals or texts, and the converse is a requirement as well.

4. Any response to Christian overtures that even hints toward a willingness to compromise the fundamental matters over which millions of Jewish martyrs were sacrificed is an affront to their memory. To willingly equivocate where they stood firm demonstrates utter insensitivity to the “sense of dignity, pride, and inner joy” that their memory ought to inspire.

With this in mind, let us examine a letter from Rabbi Ralph Genende (emphasis is mine) of Caulfield Shule as an Orthodox Rabbinic member and President of JCMA

To Our Muslim Sisters And Brothers

Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia Statement

11th July 2016

We watched with sadness and horror the tragic events of the last days of Ramadan and can’t imagine how difficult they were for you.

We know that there is wide consensus that these terrorist attacks are largely political and that Islam is being distorted and manipulated for political and ideological purposes.

The victims, the families and friends of the victims, are all in our prayers.

In Australia, we heard with pain the divisive and hurtful comments of Pauline Hanson about Islam and Muslims.

Know that we share in your sorrow and distress and that we stand with you in the struggle for love and compassion.  May they overcome bigotry and hatred and violence.

May the blessings of peace, Shalom, Salam speedily grace our planet.

Rabbi Ralph Genende

President JCMA on behalf of JCMA

I have a number of questions of Rabbi Genende.

  1. Does he accept Rav Soloveitchik’s principles as outlined above? If he does, I am comfortable with that. If he does not, I posit that he is acting outside the boundaries set by Rav Soloveitchik for the RCA. [ Yes, I am aware of revisionists from both sides (left/right) who want to strengthen or weaken what Rav Soloveitchik ruled, but I treat these as speculation of little substance]. We have what the Rav said explicitly. It is clear and unambiguous.
  2. If he accepts the Rav’s views, did he formally write the parameters to his colleagues through which dialogue could proceed, as enunciated by the Rav above. In particular, did he write words to the effect that“As Jews we will never concede at all to the notion that our covenant with God has been superseded by other religions and we formally seek your acknowledgement of this point before any dialogue can proceed. You may have your viewpoint, but I seek your explicit agreement that you acknowledge that we will never see our covenant as superseded by other religions, and there can be no apologetics or revisionism in this regard.”
  3. Can Rabbi Genende tell us whether he received condolence style letters of apology from his Muslim colleagues ever. If not, why might that be? If yes, surely, it is critical that he actually publish those letters. Such letters, more than Rabbi Genende’s letter, act as a counter balance to incitement.
  4. We experienced the recent murder of Rabbi Marks and the stabbing of the young girl Hallel Ariel about whom the State Department made no statement despite her being a US citizen, let alone a human being. I assume Rabbi Genende heard the brave tear-jerking speech at the grave by Hallel’s mother. Muslim men of the cloth, in such a forum, need to distance themselves from Arab politics, and issue unambiguous condemnation of cruel, disgustingly opportunistic cold-blooded murders. Surely, one basis of this group is that violence is to be condemned at all times, except if attacked in a war situation where one is defending oneself.
  5. If Rabbi Genende received no such letter of condolence from his Muslim friends of the cloth, then I see no reason for him to continue with letters of “Salaam”. What is the point? The only outcome from such things is  Queens Day honours for the committee for their tolerant platitudes and joint acts of breaking bread.
  6. I am not an expert on Pauline Hanson’s platform, however, a significant number of Australians voted for her viewpoint. In a democracy, this counts for votes in determining how we are governed. There is rhetoric and views from Hanson’s acolytes that are to be condemned. There are other statements that state the obvious, but neither the Labor Party or the Liberals would ever say those for fear of losing votes.  Whatever Hanson’s views are, I do not see it as the role of this committee via Rabbi Genende to make pronouncements about a political party unless Hanson’s party has a platform which is universally considered amoral. Rabbi Genende doesn’t mention which comments of Pauline Hanson he as our representative objects to, but I think that should be the focus and not Hanson herself. He should focus on what was said that is offensive, and if need be, condemn such statements where they offend common human decency. In a vacuum though, the letter simply reads as a political rejection of everything Hanson’s party stands for. It’s not the party per se. It is explicit policies, which may emanate from any party, including the Greens, that might be horribly objectionable to all three religions because they breach a basic covenant of morality. The issues, not the parties, should be the focus.
  7. I invite Rabbi Genende to publish letters initiated by either Xtian, Muslim or other colleagues in respect to violence against civilians in the wider world, including Israel. Paris anyone?
  8. I invite Rabbi Genende to ask his colleagues to openly condemn the current outrageous UNESCO proposal where they brazenly rewrite history, announcing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is an exclusive Muslim holy place which has no connection to the Jewish people or their religion whatsoever! Does Rabbi Genende not remind his co-religionists that this is blatant lying, and lying is a common mundane human act that all religions should condemn? It is precisely the type of pronouncement (from UNESCO) about which Rabbi Soloveitchik warned.Last week UNESCO adopted a resolution which refers to Israel as the “occupying power” in Jerusalem and on, what UNESCO calls, the al-Haram al-Shariff (Temple Mount). The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) that is today Judaism’s holiest site is referred to as “Al-Buraq Plaza” in the resolution.The UNESCO resolution claimed “Israel is planting Jewish fake graves! in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” near the Temple Mount and falsely accused Israel of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”. Will Rabbi Genende’s committee distance themselves from such lies publicly? If not, why not? How does one sit on a committee with anyone who denies the Jewish foundation of Jerusalem?UNESCO especially mentioned the damage caused by Israeli Forces since Aug. 23 “to the gates and the windows of the so-called Qibli Mosque inside al-Aqsa Mosque.”. The organisation claimed that Israel doesn’t respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of al-Aqsa Mosque as “a Muslim Holy Site of worship and as an integral part of a World Cultural Heritage Site.” Rabbi Genende knows this is an abhorrent rewriting of history, or to use the words of Rav Soloveitchik,“Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded.”

    Given that this implicitly and explicitly concedes our covenant, let alone provable history, on what religious basis is Rabbi Genende continuing dialogue unless his co-religionists openly reject the notion in a letter initiated by them?

    Aug. 23 is the date that 67 Jews were murdered in Hebron in 1929 during riots that began after similar lies about a Jewish threat to al-Aqsa ignited the Arab street in British-ruled Palestine. Talmudic Geniuses from the Yeshiva in Hebron were among those murdered. Will Rabbi Genende not also focus on this parallel or does he confine himself to personhood statements of grief when one group of Muslims murders another group of Muslims?

    The UNESCO resolution doesn’t utter a word about the daily riots that already started on the Temple Mount in the summer of 2015 and continued into the autumn after the Palestinian Authority and Hamas spread false rumors that Israel intended to change the status quo on the mount. There is overwhelming video evidence of who started the fighting at the Temple Mount and of Muslims barricading themselves in the al-Aqsa mosque. Video evidence doesn’t count in a world of lies, and if men of the cloth don’t condemn such lies, why are we sitting with them on one table?

  9. One has to wonder: apart from appeasement in the name of “we are all one” what Rabbi Genende’s involvement on this committee actually achieves. I’d argue that sending all Victorian students to the holocaust centre achieves much more than such letters.

I also read the growing trend of experiencing the religious practices of other religions in moments of “unity”, with nice accompanying pictures (Rabbi Genende amongst them). I ask again, how is this consonant with Rav Soloveitchik’s ruling that things be restricted to secular orders. Rav Soloveitchik, effectively meant, looking after the poor, the needy, and Noachide-style edicts of having proper courts, order, etc.

I have no doubt that Rabbi Genende has the best intentions, but I believe that unless we see letters initiated by his co-religionists of this committee, then we are not getting a proper picture of what this committee does or what it hopes to achieve, and whether it achieves it or whether its terms of reference should be refined or changed.

I, for one, would have no regret in condemning  those Jews in Israel who burnt the Palestinian youth and criticising it as an act which is contrary to Halacha and normal moral law. Did Rabbi Genende write such a letter? We all know that  such Jews are minuscule in numbers, and that the Shin Bet is on their heads and tails, sometimes with justification and sometimes without. Jews act to quell violent radicalism.

Be under no illusion, Rabbi Genende. Even today, Xtians believe that all Jews should convert to Xtianity and Muslims believe that all Jews should convert to Islam. Under that factoid, it seems to me that confining activities to joint acts of the more secular, as enunciated by Rav Soloveitchik is the correct and only approach to take. Any more is platitudes that achieve very little.

The politics and policing of curbing incitement is the domain of politicians and the law, not a religious committee that ought to work together to foster those secular good acts that benefit society.

Chabad Principal Rabbi Smukler attends and dances at Yom Ha’aztmaut service

The yearly prayer event which coincides with Ma’ariv is something I have attended for more years than I care to share. I do not recall but I believe I was unable to attend last year. In some years I was lecturing at the time, but I have attended almost every year.

I learned in a Hesder Yeshivah of note; the first Hesder Yeshiva in Israel. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht had the written and personal approval of the Chazon Ish. We dressed in our better finery and had a special dinner celebration of thanks. I lost my two Israeli room mates to War. I think about them often: Chovav Landau and Ze’ev Roitman HY’D. Chovav Landau’s wife was pregnant with their only child at the time. They were both in their fourth year of the five year program when I met them. I was closer to Ze’ev than Chovav. Ze’ev had lost his father to Yellow Fever, because a Doctor in Rechovot, had not changed needles after injecting an Arab patient. I felt his tragedy acutely. They both had machine guns locked in our room, and both perished when their tank was hit during the first Lebanon war.

The text of Ma’ariv in our Yeshiva was not the one adopted by the Kibbutz HaDati Movement (there was one next door) nor was it the text of newly published Koren Yom Haatzmaut Machzor. It was standard  Ma’ariv.

The Yeshivah formally followed the ruling that full hallel be said in the morning but without a blessing. There was no Tachanun.  This was not a statement of ‘less’ religious zionism. Rather, it represented delicate rulings related to liturgy and halacha.

As I recall, Ma’ariv had no additions. There was no Shofar etc I’m happy to be corrected. I do not know what current practice is followed. The Yeshivah did not affiliate with Bnei Akiva formally because of a concern for mixed gender functions. In my day Bnei Akiva in Jerusalem was gender separated.

Halachically, what one says before Ma’ariv and after the concluding Aleinu prayer is of lesser importance. When said in a Shule proper, there is also halachic  import.

That being said, I was to learn, later in life that the famed Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, otherwise known warmly as ‘the Rav’ was implacably opposed to additions to liturgy. This extended to the Holocaust and Kinos. He famously stormed out of RIETS when some ignored his ruling on Yom Haatzmaut.

Chabad’s Yeshivah and Beth Rivka Schools follow their choice. Chabad make no liturgical change and do say Tachanun. Whilst certainly not religious Zionist, they are not noted for the extreme anti Zionist rulings of the Adass Israel Congregation where Tachanun is especially said on Yom Ha’atzmaut even in the presence of a Bris Milah lest someone conclude that Adass saw any religious importance  in the State of Israel’s Independence Day.

For decades, Chabad’s boys school principal would not attend the Chabad dominated Rabbinical Council of Victoria’s gazetted service at Mizrachi. Thee council is, I believe dominated by Chabad Rabbis. This is not surprising in Melbourne where the survival and resurgence of Judaism is due in major part to Chabad.

I have been opposed to the service only being held at Mizrachi as I do not consider Mizrachi to be the ‘owner’ of this style of service. I am certain, that, for example, Caulfield Shule would gladly offer their Synagogue.

Chabad now has only one Principal: the controversial Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler.

It was then interesting for me to note Rabbi Smukler’s  front row appearance at Mizrachi last night, including his dancing circomvolution around the Bima. I concede that this may not have constituted halachic dancing (during Sefiras Haomer). He didn’t clap like Rabbi Cowen of Mizrachi’s Elsternwick Shule (Rabbi Cowen is considered a Chabad Chassid) nor did he sit on the Mizrachi wall like Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, who spoke as President of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (and who is also a Chabad Chasid) and R Leor Broh (also a Chabad Chasid) of Mizrachi’s Beit Haroeh Shule (populated by once young marrieds, now grandfathers :-).

To be complete, unlike a general Yom Tov or a Chabad Yom Tov such as Yud Tes Kislev, I didn’t notice any Chabad Rabbi in attendance wearing their longer black Kappote).

We live in very interesting times.

May the State of Israel metamorphose into the Eretz Yisrael of our redemption, speedily, in our days, with the continued grace of God.

An example of Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Hershel Schachter’s Centrist World View

It is so easy to say why this clear thinking enormous Talmid Chacham is effectively the Posek for the Rabbinic Council of America and the Orthodox Union. I reproduce an article he just published (c) Torah Web entitled “Volunteering Mitzvos”. What he writes is אמת לאמיתו.

About two years ago I came across a “teshuva” written by a Conservative clergyman. The thrust of the essay was that since the Tanoim established the halacha that women are exempt from wearing Teffilin because they are exempt from learning Torah, and today we expect women to learn Torah just like men, therefore women are no longer exempt from wearing Tefillin.

Needless to say, this is totally incorrect. The halacha that was formulated by the Tanoim that women are exempt from learning Torah has never changed. The laws of the Torah are not subject to change; the immutability of Torah is one of the thirteen principles of faith of the Rambam, and in our generation it has become the main point of distinction between Orthodox Judaism and other branches of Judaism. For centuries Orthodox women have been volunteering to shake a lulav on Succos and to listen to shofar on Rosh Hashonah. No one has changed the halacha that women are exempt from lulav and shofar, rather women have been volunteering to observe these mitzvos as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah. In the days of the Bais Hamikdash only men were obligated to give machatzis hashekel towards the purchase of the korbonos tzibbur but the mishnah records that a woman may volunteer to observe the mitzvah as an ainah m’tzuvah v’osah.

We don’t recommend in all cases that one volunteer to perform a mitzvah that he is exempt from. The Shulchan Aruch quotes from the Talmud Yerushalmi that if it is raining on Succos and sitting in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, not only is one exempt from the mitzvah, but also it simply does not make any sense to volunteer to observe the mitzvah – when sitting in the Succah is very uncomfortable there is simply no kiyum ha’mitzvah. If the lights in one’s Succah have on gone out on the evening of Shabbos or Yom Tov and eating in the Succah would be very uncomfortable, but one’s friend has a Succah a one hour walk away, one would not be obligated to walk for an hour in order to sit in the Succah. Nonetheless, if one did go out of one’s way and walk for an hour, when one finally arrives at the friend’s Succah and sits there comfortably, Rav Akiva Eiger says that one may recite the brocha of leishev baSuccah. In this instance, the one who walked the hour is volunteering to observe the mitzvah in a fashion of aino m’zuvah v’oseh.

Rabbi Soloveitchik, who gave a shiur on Gemorah in Stern College, did not intend to disagree with the Talmudic principle that women are exempt from talmud Torah. He merely felt that in that generation it made good sense that the opportunity should be available for women to volunteer to studygemorah, in the same way that women have been volunteering for centuries to observe lulav and shofar. At that time he recommended that the gemorahs studied by women should not be Maseches Baba Kamma or Maseches Sanhedrin, but rather Maseches BrochosPerek Kol Ha’bosor,Maseches Shabbos, etc. which discuss dinim that are relevant to women halacha l’ma’aseh.

The Ta’noim understood from a phrase in the beginning of Parshas Vayikra that the mitzvah of semicha (i.e. that the one who brings a korbon must lean on the head of the korbon before sh’chitah) only applies to men and not to women. The expression “Bnai Yisroel” which appears in chumash so many times sometimes comes to exclude geirim (converts), sometimes comes to exclude women, and sometimes excludes neither. The Tanoim had a feel and a sense for how to darshon the pesukim based on the context of the passuk.

During the period of the second Bais Hamikdash, many women felt bad that they were not permitted even to volunteer to do this mitzvah of semicha since doing so would be a violation of avodah b’kodshim (getting work/benefit from a korban by the korban supporting their weight when they lean on it). Men who are obligated to do semicha are obviously not in violation of this prohibition of avodah b’kodshim, but since women are not obligated to do semicha, were a woman to do it voluntarily she would be in violation of this issur. As a result, many women wanted to perform an “imitationsemicha” (i.e. without actually leaning on the head of the animal but merely by having their hands float on top of the head of the animal). The permissibility of this was a big dispute amongst the Chachomim. Many were of the opinion that the performance of such an “imitation semicha” might possibly lead mistakenly to a violation of avodah b’kodshim if women would actually lean on the animal, and therefore it should not be permitted. The accepted opinion is that we do permit it, but we have to be careful that one thing should not lead to another.

The bottom line is that each of us has to observe all mitzvos that we are obligated in. However, when it comes to someone volunteering to do that which is not obligatory on him/her, there are rules and regulations pertaining to each individual mitzvoh/halacha specifically, and to observance ofhalacha in general, and it is not so simple to determine when one should or should not go beyond that which is obligatory.

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Dealing with two Adars

I came across this beautiful piece of Torah from מורי ורבי, Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, (c) TorahWeb 2008, and think it is well worth sharing.

Will the Real Adar Please Step Forward

If one dies during the month of Adar in a shanah peshuta (a non-leap year which has only one Adar), when do the children observe the yahrzeit during a shana meuberes (a Jewish leap year which consists of thirteen months, two of them called Adar)? Should the yahrzeit be kept during the first Adar or the second? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 568:3) quotes a difference of opinion on this matter. The sephardim follow the view of the Mechaber (Rav Yosef Karo) that the yahrzeit should be observed in the second month of Adar, while the Ashkenazim follow the view of the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles) that it should be kept in the first Adar.

The presentation of this dispute in the Shulchan Aruch runs as follows: (I) the whole idea of observing a yahrzeit is a matter of minhag (custom) (II) customs are binding (rabinically) because they are considered as if the individual had taken a neder l’dvar mitzvah (a vow regarding a mitzvah) (III) when it comes to nedarim the determination of what is and is not included depends on lashon beni adam (the common language usage in the place and time of the neder) (IV) the gemara in Nedarim (63a) quotes a dispute among the Tanaim whether in common usage it is the first or the second Adar which is referred to simply as “Adar” without specifying “first Adar” or “second Adar”. The Mechaber and the Rama are arguing about which view of the Tanaim is the accepted view, i.e. do people have in mind the first or second Adar when they refer to Adar during a leap year?

We are still left with a major problem. Given that all languages change over time, just because in the days of the Tanaim in Eretz Yisroel the common usage of the term “Adar” during a leap year may have meant one or the other of the two months, perhaps over the years the usage has changed. The Meiri in his commentary to Maseches Nedraim repeats many times that the interpretations of lashon bnei adam as given by the Mishna and the Gemara only applied at that time and in that part of the world. It is quite possible that the usage of terms has changed.

The Rama concludes that one should observe the yahrzeit in a leap year during both months of Adar. We would probably understand this to be based on the Talmudic dispute regarding what is indeed the lashon bnei adam, and because of the doubt we recommend that one be machmir. However, Rav Solovetichik was fond of pointing out the explanation given by the Vilner Gaon for this position. The Gaon said the yahrzeit should be observed in both months of Adar not because of a safek (a doubt) but rather b’Toras vaday (as a certainty).

The Tanaim (Megillah 6b)had a major dispute regarding the observance of Purim during a leap year. Should the Megillah be read on the fourteenth day of the first month of Adar or of the second month of Adar. In this context the Talmud does not refer to the aforementioned dispute between the Tanaim regarding a neder. The issue of what is included in a neder is a function of lashon bnei adam, but the reading of the Megillah is a function of which day is the real Purim, which in turn depends on which month is the real Adar. The Tanaim give seemingly tangential reasons for their views of when the Megillah should be read, and don’t tackle the crux of the issue: which day is the real Purim? Therefore it would appear that both Adars are really Adar, and the fourteenth of both months is really Purim. In fact, the fifteenth of each month is also considered a day of Purim and thus a regular year has two days of Purim and a leap year has four days of Purim.

The Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch point out that it is forbidden to fast or to deliver a eulogy on any of the days of Purim, whether one lives in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. We leave out tachanun in a leap year on all four days of Purim. The question of when one reads the megillah is not really a question of which day is the real day of Purim, but rather on which of the four days should one observe the mistvos of Purim. Pesach is a seven day yom tov in Eretz Yisroel but one can only observe the seder on the first night. Rosh Hashana is (biblically) a twenty four hour yom tov, but the mitzvah of shofar can only be fulfilled during the day. Similarly, all four days are really Purim but one can not read the Megillah on whichever day he chooses. One tana is of the opinion that we should not postpone reading the Megillah to the second month, since we are not allowed to forgo an opportunity to do a mitzvah – ein maavirin al hamitzvos. The second tana insisted that we read the megillah on the second Purim, which is closer to Pesach, to connect the geulos of Purim and Pesach.

And now the punch-line: the observance of the yahrzeit is not purely a matter of minhag. Rather the assumption is that since a person died on this day, perhaps this day is still a day of judgment (yom hadin) for the deceased (or perhaps for his entire family)[1], and as such ought to carry with it certain observances (fasting, reciting of kaddish, learning mishnayos, etc.) in order to mitigate the din. If we assume that both months of Adar are really Adar, then both possible days of the yahrzeit may be viewed as yemei hadin, and hence the yahrzeit ought to be observed in both Adars, not merely out of doubt (meisafek) but rather as a certainty (b’Toras vaday).

[1] See Chaim Uvracha Lmishmeres Shalom on the topic of yahrzeit, #15.

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.

Halachic implications of a ‘Moon Boot’

Well, thank God, I’m out of the cast and am now in a moon boot (see below)

It was Thursday, and as my wife drove me home from the Hospital, I mentioned to her that there is now a question about me Duchening on Shavuos in one of these. My wife said “what could be wrong”.

Well, the issues as I saw them were

  1. I am in no physical condition to remove the boot. It’s early days, and I’m still in a fair bit of pain and can’t just stand on my socked foot
  2. Normally, I do the directional turns during Duchening as laid out in Shulchan Aruch. I don’t believe they are strictly necessary though
  3. There is some conjecture about non leather shoes and duchening. Rishonim hold that non leather shoes need not be removed (which is why some don’t remove their shoes on Yom Kippur Duchening)
  4. Some agree that one doesn’t need to remove non leather shoes, however, if the show has laces, then one could trip and miss duchening (and hurt oneself) so it’s better to remove shoes even on Yom Kippur
  5. This moon boot (or air cast as some call it) uses velcro so it is not going to undo itself by accident, and it’s not made of leather, so it would seem that one could leave the boot on during Duchening
  6. One of the reasons that a Cohen who has a blemish (בעל מום) doesn’t duchen, and is ineligible for the Avoda, is that people will turn their attention to the blemish and not properly concentrate on the Blessing itself.

My wife didn’t like reason 6, and said that she couldn’t understand why that should disqualify a Cohen. I noted that according to Rav Soloveitchik the success of the Bracha is through direct links between the Cohen and the congregation. For that reason we don’t say שומע כעונה (one Cohen can say the blessing on behalf of other Cohanim). Anyway, she wasn’t convinced, but I felt there was enough doubt about it to merit asking Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter his view. Thankfully, he replied before Shavuos.

In essence his answer was

  1. One could duchen in a moon boot
  2. Much depended on how freely the Cohen could move
  3. There is an issue of the Tararum (cacophony) such a Cohen could cause becoming a “celebrity” standing out from the other Cohanim. Again, that depended on the level of movement they could cope with.

In the end, he felt that it was probably best I didn’t duchen given I just got the contraption and was really unable and not permitted to walk freely without support. He suggested I leave the Shule without much fanfare, and I was able to do that easily as I sit in the back row of the Shteeble around the corner from me.

Excitedly, I mentioned to my wife (and to Rav Schachter) that these were my thoughts as well. Your Posek may have another view, but I felt it was important to put this down for the record. Hopefully, it’s never למעשה for another כהן!

(c) Yeshivah World. Rav Elyashiv ז’’ל on the left in discussion with Rav Schachter on the right.

Letter from Lubavitcher Rebbe נ’ע to the Rav נ׳ע before Shavuos

(hat tip Sh)

The letter and beautiful explanation is Here

I don’t have time to translate it but the Rebbe wishes Rav Soloveitchik a good Yom Tov using the language of his father in law the Rayatz which included accepting the Torah happily. When he came to sign the letter he explained the word happily ie בשמחה

The difficulty is we are meant to be in fear. What does the emotion of happiness have here. Based on a Gemora in Brachos, Rishonim and the language of the Shulchan Aruch HoRav, it is explained that fear most certainly has its place during learning Torah, but at three other stages the emotion of happiness is appropriate. One of these is on Shavuous when we accept the Torah.

The Rav, the Rashag, the Rayatz, and the Ramash (the future and last Lubavitcher Rebbe)

 

Some thoughts from Menachem Begin

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 6.49.03 pm[Hat tip RB]

By the way, something I find people don’t know (I think I read and heard them from Rabbi Riskin): R’ Chaim Brisker (Soloveitchik) who was the grandfather of the Rav, and a great innovator in a meta theory for understanding the Rambam, was also Rav of Brisk (of course). R’ Chaim’s Gabbay, Binyamin Begin, was none other than Menachem Begin’s father (and a follower of Jabotinsky). Begin therefore enjoyed a special relationship with the Rav and visited him in Boston when Prime Minister.

Some anecdotes of the visit:

The Rav said: “Mr. Prime Minister, you are so short, and your father was so tall.” Menachem Begin responded, “Kavod HaRav, I will say two things. Firstly, you remember how my father looked when you were a small child, and all adults seem taller than they actually are, to children. But the real point is that my father was always a much taller and greater man than I.”

The Rav said: “Mr. Prime Minister, you apparently learned to be a principled Zionist from your father,” said Rav Soloveitchik. “Kavod HaRav, you apparently learned to be a sage religious leader from your grandfather,” said Menachem Begin.

Anyway, here are some of Menachem Begin’s thoughts.

I believe the lessons of the Holocaust are these,

First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent. (Note: one month later, Begin dispatched Israel’s Air Force to destroy the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak.)

Second, when a Jew anywhere in the world is threatened or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.

THIRD, A JEW MUST LEARN TO DEFEND HIMSELF. HE MUST FOREVER BE PREPARED FOR WHENEVER THREAT LOOMS.

Fourth, Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death. During the Holocaust it was after the enemy had humiliated the Jews, trampled them underfoot, divided them, deceived them, afflicted them, drove brother against brother, only then could he lead them, almost without resistance, to the gates of Auschwitz. Therefore, at all times and whatever the cost, safeguard the dignity and honor of the Jewish people.

Fifth, stand united in the face of the enemy. We Jews love life, for life is holy. But there are things in life more precious than life itself. There are times when one must risk life for the sake of rescuing the lives of others. And when the few risk their own lives for the sake of the many, then they, too, stand the chance of saving themselves.

Sixth, there is a pattern to Jewish history. In our long annals as a nation, we rise, we fall, we return, we are exiled, we are enslaved, we rebel, we liberate ourselves, we are oppressed once more, we rebuild, and again we suffer destruction, climaxing in our own lifetime in the calamity of calamities, the Holocaust, followed by the rebirth of the Jewish State.

So, yes, we have come full circle, and with God’s help, with the rebirth of sovereign Israel we have finally broken the historic cycle: no more destruction and no more defeats, and no more oppression – only Jewish liberty, with dignity and honor. These, I believe, are the underlying lessons to be learned from the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust.

The Admor of Amshinov, Rav Sholom Shimon Kalisch זצ’’ל

In another blog I was asked to post the picture by a commentator, but I can’t recall the article! Anyway, I have in our dining room a picture of the Rebbe זי’’ע. I just took a picture of it with my iPhone. He was very well-known. In Lubavitch he is known because the Rayatz instructed his Chassidim, when the Rayatz was in hiding from the authorities, and unable to respond to their questions to only ask R’ Sholom Shimon. In addition, at the wedding of the last Rebbe, R’ Sholom Shimon walked into the Simcha in the wee hours of the morning while the Rayatz was saying a Ma’amar Chassidus. He must have sensed R’ Sholom Shimon had come in, because in a very rare occurrence, he actually stopped saying the Ma’amar Chassidus until the Rebbe from Amshinov had sat down. In Amshinov, there is also a tradition which I have seen written, that says there is only one sefer that has to be learned to understand all Chassidus, and that is the Tanya of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Interestingly, I heard Rav Schachter saying that a Scholar is now working on an important Sefer comparing the Tanya to the Nefesh Hachaim of R’ Chaim Volozhin, the prime student of the Vilna Gaon (who did not sign the Cherem against Chassidim). The word is that he finds the thoughts and approaches close to identical. I also heard the Rav (Soloveitchik) say this, although he qualified it by saying that the differences are advanced and he doubts many actually understand the differences. The Rav was unique of course in the sense that he knew both those Seforim inside out, and had been taught Tanya by his Lubavitcher Melamed when a boy (but that didn’t matter because the Rav had a superior intellect, as is well known).

As for me, I know nothing about either! The current Amshinover Rebbe in Bayit Vegan,  is well-known as one of the Tzadikei HaDor. He doesn’t get involved in politics, and is a truly incredible Oved Hashem. My only connection is a nostalgic familial one, because my grandmother, Toba Frimet Balbin ע’’ה (née Amzel), who I loved very much and was the engine behind the Balbin family, was from Amshinover Chassidim. She and my Zeyda Yidel are buried in Israel, and I still remember Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner ז’’ל speaking about her before her coffin left from Essendon Airport. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל told me that she used to bring him a present every Purim. I never knew that, and he told me they were all around his house!

PS.  I got this picture from Chayi Glick (nee Rotter), whose mother I believe stems from Amshinov and whom I cajoled incessantly to bring back the picture from New York.

IMG_0773

Parshas Veyeshev: Small acts leading to big consequences

[ I had written this for David Werdiger’s excellent JBD organisation, but received much positive appreciation via private email, so I thought I’d share it here as well. Besides, my kids don’t listen to my divrei torah at home, they say I talk too long. It’s the educator in me 🙂 ]

In Parshas Vayeshev, the Torah relates that after Rachel’s death, Ya’akov’s bed was in Bilha’s tent (because Bilha was Rachel’s handmaiden and Ya’akov’s concubine). Reuven, the eldest son, was upset, feeling that his own mother, Leah, should have been afforded this privilege as she was Ya’akov’s first wife and the one who bore him and most of the sons. Reuven unilaterally moved his father’s bed to his mother Leah’s tent; an act stemming from respect for his mother’s honour. The act itself was not earth shattering, however, its effect was cataclysmic. It signified that the eldest child was prepared to over-rule the overt wishes of a father – the father of all his brothers.

Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik זצ’’ל: Picture from the Jewish Press

Rav Soloveitchik suggested that this is why the brothers indirectly felt empowered with the chutzpah to commit the regrettable act of selling Yosef, their father’s favourite son. They also assumed a level of personal empowerment. Reuven realises that he is responsible for this ill-advised empowerment. He repents, fasting and praying. What seemed like a small act of moving beds led to a rolling set of momentous events.
The moral is clear. We are all observed microsopically by our children, our friends and our relatives, and society. A seemingly innocuous act may lead to an unconscious outcome of unintended education or even profanation of God’s name. In contradistinction, a seemingly innocuous positive act can be eminently efficacious, leaving a subconscious impression that potentially influences micro and macro history, present and future.

After my father, R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen’s passing ע’’ה I feel every little act and legacy that he left, suffuses the lives of our wider family. It is in this sense that we say

יעקב אבינו לא מת

and

דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים

Mesora and Psak: How it may differ between Chassidim/Mekubalim and others

The closeness to Mesora has always been primary. Halacha LeMoshe Misinai is immutable. Torah Shebaal Peh as written is a record of Mesora including contradictions and attempts to disambiguate and show through the Midos SheHatorah Nidreshes BoHem, including Sevara (which isn’t listed but is clearly a Midda as testified by the Gemora in many cases). As time advanced through Tanaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim we move to latter generations known as Acharonim. To be sure, there are some Acharonim, who on occasion would argue with Rishonim. Two well known examples are the Vilna Gaon and the Rogachover. They were guided by what they felt was Emes L’Amito.

When it comes to Acharonim, there  are those, depending on which group you align yourself with, who are considered “the last word” and there are others, such as the Chazon Ish in respect of electricity where everyone seems to be Chosesh to some extent to his opinion. That being said, others will say he was an Acharon in B’Nei Brak and if he was your Rav and/or you lived there you need to follow his Psokim.

The Brisker Shitta, is different. Whilst they are beholden to Beis HoRav (Volozhin/Soloveitchik) they were never afraid to disagree with each other. Of course, there is a group that follows every word of Reb Meshulam Soloveitchik, son of the Griz (Uncle of the Rav) in the same way that Chassidim follow their Rebbe. He’s just not called a Rebbe, and he doesn’t fir tish etc.

We saw that as a Posek became more recognised, people came for Brachos. Some were averse, and others would give a general Brocha to be Yotze. I sensed this from Videos of R” Shlomo Zalman.

The Rishonim (and here there is some difference amongst Ashkenazim) and certainly Sephardim, are untouchable. If you want to innovate=bring something consonant with Menorah you need to bring a Rishon.

I remember well, some 40 years ago when my zeyda bought a copy of the Meiri. At the time it was very controversial. Beautifully put together, it was ignored somewhat for years. Now, it seems nobody has a problem quoting a Meiri. The Meiri was a Bar Mitzvah present for my cousin Ya’akov Balbin and while it sat in my house for many years after he went on Aliya, I sent it to him at his request.

There have been plenty examples of Ziyuf. There was the fake Yerushalmi on Kodshim, and more.

The common denominator was that to qualify for Psak,  especially the style of Psak (especially Hungarian) where one joins different Kulos, you had to have a Rishon (or early Acharon who quoted a Rishon given that some had access to Rishonim we don’t have, or a Girsa we don’t have.

There are stories where the Rav’s Talmidim, would say but Rebbe it’s an open Maharsho that contradicts your Pshat. When he was younger, he angrily banged the Gemora and said, “and I’m not an Acharon”? This was not haughty. This was what he felt. He felt his Pshat was more correct than the Maharsho and was ready to debate it with anyone.

Many Acharonim either didn’t own, or look at other Acharonim. That’s not to lessen their importance. But, it’s a derech.

Where Chassidim/Mekubalim are different, I feel is that they would consider that when there is no clear way forward or where there are different views, Kabbola, whether from the Zohar or Ari on occasion trumps and guides the Psak. A pure non Chossid/Mekubal would note such opinions but would be less likely to PASKEN based on them.

Do people agree with me or have I over simplified. Drush is another class. One has license to extrapolate and certainly doesn’t need a Rishon to find a nice Pshat.

Aleppo Codex - Genesis

Army Clothes for Davening

[Hat tip MD with my additions]

Rav Soloveitchik (the Rav) was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. He often cited the Rambam (Tefillah 5:1) that eight specific aspects of prayer must be adhered to while standing for Shemoneh Esrei. The first four are:Amidah, standing; Nochach HaMikdash, facing Eretz YisraelTikun HaGuf, feet together and clean body; and Tikun HaMalbushim, proper and dignified attire.

This went to the extent that the Rav held that Chazoras HaShatz was Tefillas HATzibbur, and as such stood with his feet together facing the front. My own opinion is that this view of the Rav is even more relevant today in Shules where the majority simply cannot Daven, and are subject to a continuous set of announcements saying “we are on page number n in this edition, and page m in this edition etc”. The importance of the Shatz as being connected to and an actual Shaliach, as opposed to some performer seems to have been lost.

The Rav was once visited by a student who served in the Israel Defense Forces who asked the Rav the following question: He worked in the tank division and his job was cleaning and maintaining the tanks. Often, his uniform would get covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change clothing before davening Mincha. He emphasized that it would be possible to do so but it would be quite inconvenient and difficult. The Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud,

“Why would you need to change? You are wearing bigdei Kodesh, holy clothes”!

That is how the Rav felt about someone serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

My thoughts on the Rav and the Rebbe event

When I became aware that this event was being planned, I quietly contacted the organisers, and asked that either the Chabad speakers (I didn’t know who they might be) and/or the YU speakers might address the telling letter where the Rebbe זצ’ל chose to write some of his personal thoughts about the Rav.

I felt that the YU speakers were generally “polite”, reminiscing and respectful. There is and was no problem (to my knowledge) in a pluralist place like YU to condemn anyone who decided to learn Chassidus (of any type) that I am aware of. In the same way, although Mussar was not seen as a useful use of one’s time according to the Beis HoRav (through R’ Chaim) it would be hard to imagine YU or the Rav condemning or putting a stop to someone for whom learning Mussar was part of their daily regimen. Talmidim had to know all about the Shiurim that they attended, and in particular, those who went to the Rav’s shiur, say, as opposed to those of R’ Dovid Lifshiz ז’ל were exposed to the method of trying to learn what is in-between the lines. R’ Dovid, the Suvalker Gaon, had a different approach. The Yeshivah co-existed with different viewpoints, but the Rav’s charisma and enormous depth in learning, naturally attracted many now esteemed Talmidim.

I received some replies from the organisers about the source of the letter I presented in an earlier blog post in which the Rebbe clearly expressed a form of misgiving about what he considered to be character traits of the Rav. I responded that if this was to be a true event where the relationship was to be studied openly and honestly, that the organisers should approach Chabad about the authenticity of the letter (not that this can be questioned, it’s very clearly the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s handwriting) and be ready to analyse and comment on it.

I didn’t hear back for months, and I just assumed that the organisers would pass the letter onto the Chabad speakers, and we’d hear a perspective, at least, in due course. Perhaps the organisers did pass on the letter, and Rabbis Krinsky and Jacobsen decided that they wouldn’t “touch it” because it might introduce controversy. I don’t know. I may email the organisers and ask them.

I’m an academic. If this was a colloquium or extended seminar and it failed to discuss the contents of the letter (they are of course entitled to disagree entirely with my personal interpretation) then it was deficient because it seemed to be ignored.

Perhaps I am oversensitive because the Rav has become such an important ingredient in my ability to make sense of the world through the prism of Yahadus, but I felt that Rabbi Krinsky, continually referring to him as “Rabbi” Soloveitchik was (perhaps unwittingly) derogatory. The Rav described himself as a Melamed, but given the number of Rabbinic folk in Chabad who get Smicha and call themselves “Rabbi” XYZ, I felt this was a come down. He could have been called “the Rav”, or even R’ Yoshe Ber, especially since the event was being held at YU. (I find those who refer to him as “J.B” rude). Can you imagine for one minute if someone from YU spoke at a Chabad event at 770 and referred to the Rebbe as Rabbi Schneersohn? I know people are even sensitive to the acronym Ramash, because acronyms are usually applied once someone has passed away and is in גן עדן מקדם or in עדן itself. I found Rabbi Krinsky’s anecdotes interesting, but I didn’t find them academically incisive or revealing. Certainly his recollection of the Rambam in Pirush Hamishnayos when the Rav came to be Menachem Avel to the Rebbe, was enhanced by Rabbi Jacobson and more detailed than what I head read in (I think) Nefesh HoRav.

Rabbi JJ Schechter, not to be confused with the Rav’s Talmid Muvhak, R’ Hershel Schachter שליט’’א  is a fine scholar, and I have read a number of his articles, books, and listened to his talks. However, here, I felt he (perhaps diplomatically, or influenced by his late father, the other Rabbi Hershel Schechter ז’ל) provided more of a sociological talk which, while entertaining, wasn’t overly enlightening (at least to me).

I felt the most dynamic speaker was Rabbi Jacobson. His reputation as a speaker precedes him. He, at least, tried to link the contents of the Sichos which the Rav heard, with his interpretation that they were an “answer” to the Rav’s lonely man of faith, halachic man, etc. Nobody seemed to mention that the Rav went to the farbrengen as an expression of HakoRas HaTov as described by close Talmidim. To look at Rabbi Jacobson’s thesis, and he was second guessing his own Rebbe, one would have to study those Sichos and see whether in the gamut of other Sichos or Ma’amorim at farbrengens, these were indeed somewhat out of left field, and directed as a theological approach by the Rebbe to assuage the original thoughts of the Rav, as expressed in his published works to date. I certainly am not in a position to comment on that thesis, as I do not have the knowledge of the Rebbe’s general style and content at such a Farbrengen, let alone those Sichos.

I am surprised that nobody took the opportunity to mention that the Rav wrote a Pirush on the Tanya in Ksav Yad, that remains unpublished, as claimed by Rabbi Kenneth Brander on his recent visit to Melbourne. It’s certainly indicative of the Rav’s attitude to Chabad, as opposed to the Rebbe in particular.

To summarise, what I considered, a few years ago, to be a letter which provided potentially important insight, was seemingly wilfully? ignored. As such, I felt it was a “feel good” evening in American style, where the YU people stressed that the Rav had enormous respect for the Rebbe (which needs to be tempered by statements recorded in Rabbi Holtzer’s book, and statements attributed to the Rav’s own son Prof Chaym Soloveitchik)

So, in conclusion, congratulations on a great idea, but I would have preferred a more academically inclined approach than the “slap on the back” style which seemed to permeate most speaker’s style of delivery. Then again, maybe that was the aim of the organisers, and my issues are misplaced in context.

“Modern” Orthodoxy faces an internal schism

Rav Schachter, Shilita, doesn’t like the term Modern Orthodox. Many don’t. If the term is to be used, it means the type of Orthodoxy that is ready to deal with modern issues using modern knowledge. Rav Schachter believes this is nothing new in the sense that dealing with modern issues is something most groups with Orthodoxy undertake. They have to. When a question comes before a Rav, he needs to either answer it, or send the questioner to a different Rav who may be more qualified to answer that type of question.

Whilst Rav Schachter is also a Rosh Kollel, and in general a Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel doesn’t make the “best” Posek for a Ba’al Habayis, because they often live in a surreal world which is cut off, at best from the vicissitudes facing the man and woman who are immersed in Olam HaZeh, and not looking at Daled Chelkei Shulchan Aruch for most of their day. Rav Schachter is different. His interaction with an ordinary Ba’al HaBayis is palpable when he speaks, although stylistically and on occasion his oratory is more Yeshivish. He has a modest and respectful charm, which I can testify is very much real and uplifting.

Like his own teacher, the renowned Rav, Rav Soloveitchik ז’ל, Rav Schachter has an enormous and unshakeable attachment to Mesora/tradition. Mesora isn’t always that clear, of course. For example, simply looking at last week’s Parsha, when discussing how the Jews had access to Shitim wood in a dessert, Rashi quotes a Tanchuma and Yerushalmi (from memory) that Ya’akov Avinu foresaw that the Jews would need Shitim to build the Mishkan and ensured that these were planted in Egypt and then transported. Yet, Ibn Ezra says words that

If these thoughts of the Amoraim and Geonim are a Kabolo (Mesora) in learning that they received, then we must accept it. If they are not, but rather constitute a more homlitic interpretation by Chazal, then we (he, the Ibn Ezra) has another suggestion. His view is that there was an Oasis near Har Sinai, and it was from there that they took Shitim Wood

What’s obvious to the Ibn Ezra is that he is completely respectful to the Mesora. He just doesn’t have (from his own teachers) a definite teaching that Rashi’s sources constitute a definite truth, as opposed to a possibility. He does not dismiss this view as “far-fetched” and not to be accepted. Rather, he qualifies his comments with an “If then else”.

In terms of dealing with new questions, or indeed old ones, in a “modern” framework, what makes Modern or Centrist Orthodoxy different is really two things

  1. A rejection of the Hungarian view espoused by the Chasam Sofer, that “all that is new is forbidden”. In other words, if you don’t know about a new proposal or approach, then in a void of Mesorah, it is safest to always pronounce that the answer is “NO”
  2. The use of modern knowledge to aid us in understanding and further bringing Kavod LaTorah.

The latter is scary for the Aguda and those to the right of the Aguda. It represents a precipice. There is no question, that when, ironically, it comes to questions of Kashrus, all agencies rely on modern science. Science is respected, and the knowledge of the food chemist is critical. When it comes to questions of electricity and Shabbos, the Posek again must understand the physics. The Posek of a certain generation will indeed Pasken according to the modern understanding of the Science of their time. However, the modern orthodox Posek will not be afraid to also PERMIT something which was once forbidden because of a faulty model that was understood in yesteryear.

Another divide can be seen in issues involving the types of items identified in the Sefer, Hilchos Shmiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh. This has a list of many things that should be avoided because they may be injurious to health. Some are from the Gemora, others are more Kaballistic.

Rav Schachter contends that on matters of health, for example, THE MESORA itself, was to use the best knowledge of doctors of the time. In reality, when we are sick we all do that. However, when it comes to some “dangerous” things, Rav Schachter will often say that we don’t need to worry about it, as it only represented the best medical/scientific knowledge at the time. Now, we know better. We, however, must according to the Torah, use the best knowledge available in coming to a cogent and relevant (read modern Psak) as opposed to taking the Hungarian/Chassidic line of forbidding more and not less.

That being said, there are lines, and there always have been lines. Some of these lines can be argued with on the basis of “modern NEEDS” as opposed to modern knowledge or science. This constitutes the basis of articles involving  R’ Haskel Lookstein.

It is ironic, that the vast majority of ladies who want to include male mitzvos, do not routinely keep female mitzvos. One only has to look at the practices of those in Shira Chadasha style prayer organisations (I can only speak somewhat about the Melbourne manifestation). If only, if only, egalitarianism wasn’t the petrol in their Jewish Car, and comprehensive attempts at all Torah and Mitzvos, especially those already germane to women and men, were adhered to scrupulously. Alas, they appear not to. The emphasis is on egalitarianism, the catch cry of the conservative, and the idea that people like the Rav, R’ Moshe warned about. These cannot and must not change the existing Mesora.

Yes, if there is a particularly enriched and scrupulous woman, who is like the women of yore, with Tehillim on their lips, Torah in their hands, and Yiras Shomayim in spades, who objects to such exceptions fulfilling a natural progression. Ashreichem, if you reach such a Madreyga. Men don’t need to. We are enjoined to do these things, even if we haven’t reached such heights. Woman, however, are enjoined to focus on their important orthogonal role, and if they are special, so be it.

Rav Schachter, and his colleagues, are debating these issues behind closed doors, and doing so in a spirit of Torah and not through the press with hot loaded statements, that really don’t constititute adequate Tshuvos on the topic(s) (especially when they have erroneous sources, but let’s not go there).

I pray that Rav Schachter and his Chaverim are able to peacefully negotiate the issues with Ramaz and the like, and keep true to the firm and unshakeable weltanshauung of Rav Soloveitchik when it comes to “ceremony” and Shule. Shule was never about a mode of ceremony for the Rav. It was all about Hilchos Tfilla, and the Lonely Man of Faith, never lost sought of this.

I see no renaissance in female Jewish observance surging through the modern orthodox world. On the contrary, they seem to struggle with “why is sending sms’s on shabbos forbidden”.

Enough. I don’t want to cast aspersions on many good people.

The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors

[Apologies as this may seem like a repost for some readers. WordPress seemed to get confused, so I have re-published as a new article]

There is seemingly a trend that has taken hold in the last 12 months or more. We’ve seen it employed by Orthodox Jews, some Orthodox Shules, and the Conservadox Shira Chadasha. The trend is to move out of the Shule and into the outdoors, presumably for a heightened, perhaps more “spiritual” davening. To be sure, it’s not (yet) regular, and is something that is utilised at chosen times. Many of these services revolve around music, and “nature”.

I am a musician. I’m not a “mathematical” musician in the sense of analysing a score and declaring it a piece of genius. Rather, I was blessed (I guess) to have a special חוש/sense for music to the extent that I can play a piece after I have listened to it.

I am inspired by music. I find that it touches my Neshama. It’s something that can uplift me, or just as importantly it can solemnise my feelings to the extent that I’m “at one” with those ambient feelings. Feeling melancholy I may choose Rachmaninov, for example; I love Russian classical music as it seems to accurately reflect the oeuvre of the tragedy of much of Jewish history. On Yom HaShoah, when I hear the ‘Partisan Song’, it never fails to stir and uplift.

Halacha discusses what type of music is acceptable. Obviously, love songs, as mentioned by the Rambam, aren’t in the frame. Some, such as R’ Moshe Feinstein based on the fact that he felt the Pshat in a Gemora was more in tune with the R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber, than the Ramo) went as far as prohibiting pleasurable music all year around as an expression of זכר לחורבן. This view is not widely accepted.

As I always reiterate, my pitputim are just that. Ask your own Rov if you have any questions or concerns. Rav Ovadya also had interesting Teshuvos on this (I can’t recall whether it was in Yabia Omer or Yechave Daas). If my memory serves me correctly, he even permitted muslim prayer tunes to be set to Jewish words and used as part of Tefilla!

I’m a traditionalist, especially when it comes to authentic Jewish expressions of connection with Hashem and preserving the Mesora via modes of accepted expression, additions and location.

I’m lucky enough to also feel exhilaration when learning, and I prefer delving than more surface-oriented coverage. The latter is instructive and important, in the sense of המעשה אשר יעשון but it doesn’t perhaps titillate me when compared to the combination of intellect/neshama as elicited by חכמת התורה. That for me, provides a tangible connection to אלוקות. Your mileage will vary, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. There have always been at least two approaches. הרבה דרכים למקום

Many of our current youth seek tangible and immediately perceived connection through their senses. Some are limited in their ידיעת התורה armoury, and the soul-like, metaphysical connection through song, works effectively as a catalyst. A catalyst towards what, one might ask? Is it a means or an end? Effectively in my Weltanschauung, is when this leads one to the level that they can meditate on Shmoneh Esreh in the very least, and through that seek to “connect”. Shmoneh Esreh is Tefilla.

As Rav Soloveitchik always pointed out, Judaism has never been reactive or temporally focussed on modes of pomp and ceremony and new forms of worship: these cross the line of Mesora. We are bound, happily, through our Mesora. To Chazal, Mesora is Halacha, and it regulates accepted methods and modes of Tefilla and delineates the unacceptable.

We don’t make up new integral prayers (as opposed to תחנות and בקשות) or modes of prayer. We follow the Nusach of our Mesorah, and we do not deviate. It is, of course, well-known, that when faced with the rising influence of conservative temples in the USA, the Rav stood steadfast, and would only allow “innovation” that didn’t step beyond Mesora and Halacha. Sometimes, protective mechanisms were needed to entrench a barrier against a temporal but threatening breach. These need to be approved by an expert Posek. One does not innovate on the basis of a more academically inclined analysis of sections culled from the Bar Ilan responsa DVD. That does not a Psak make.

There is the story recorded by Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter, of a Baal Teshuva who would have offended his family by not attending the Bar Mitzvah of his brother. The Bar Mitzvah was to be held in a conservative temple. The Rav, whose Psokim one may not generally extend to their own situation, ruled that the Baal Teshuva should attend so as not to cause Agmas Nefesh and Machlokes on the strict proviso that in respect of the conservative service he:

  1. Daven in a proper Orthodox Minyan beforehand
  2. Sit when they stood
  3. Stand when they sat
  4. Not answer Amen

In no way, should he give the impression that he was participating in davening per se at a conservative temple. Each situation is different, of course, and a Posek needs to be appraised of the complete circumstance before issuing their Psak Din.

R’ Shlomo Carlebach, a controversial figure, is in vogue, especially in sing/song style prayer. Allegations, about him, abound. Some are most concerning and sinister. Yet he was also proffered love by the Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א, widely considered as one of the “holiest Rebbes” of our generation.

A young Amshinover Rebbe with R’ Shlomo Carlebach

At the same time, in Igros Moshe, Even HoEzer (in the middle of a Tshuva), Reb Moshe Feinstein intimated that nigunnim performed before a certain period in Reb Shlomo’s life were acceptable, but those after that date were not to be played or sung.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל personally told me that he was a chavrusa/learning partner of R’ Shlomo. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, after Reb Shlomo diverted to a more controversial path, how to interact with him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should be Mekarev R’ Shlomo, but never under the umbrella or Mosdos of Chabad per se.

I once used a Carlebach melody at Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, and Rabbi Groner advised me not to do it again, for these reasons. He, of course, told me this privately and quietly after Shule, as I walked out after ravening. I know that Rabbi Groner’s son, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi also adheres to this approach in the Chabad House where he is Rabbi.

Many of our youth seem to seek spirituality. Authentic Jewish spirituality can be achieved in a number of Masoretic ways. I’m not sure, though, whether home-grown techniques of spirituality lead towards מעשה בפועל or if they are all permitted anyway. One would hope so, even if contraindicated, as per Reb Moshe or others. We should assume that seekers are earnest in their quest for interaction with אלוקות. The method of T’filla and the place of T’filla however, must remain the mainstream Chazal-mandated approach. Yes, there is a place for התבוננות, reflection and meditation. The Breslaver Chassidim require it once a day, the Baal Shem Tov himself did it—each to their own.

Lately, I’ve noticed various Orthodox groups (I consider Shira Chadasha conservadox in my nomenclature despite spirited sound-bites on a Melbourne TV show attempting to convince us that they are Orthodox) seek to leave the sanctuary of Shules and Shteiblach, or even house-minyanim and seek the outdoors through the aegis of an open area/park or similar setting.

I am not enamoured halachically by house minyanim on a regular basis during, say, summer months. There are shules close by.

ברוב עם הדרת מלך

is not a platitude. It is a halachic requirement.

Sometimes, perhaps mostly, so-called alternate services are accompanied by a Carlebachian inspired sing-song. As a musician, I know this can stir the heart. The effect is amplified when there is a knowledge of Pirush Hamilos. [ I cringe if the wrong style of tune is used for a passage or chapter. I even cringe when commas are placed at the wrong places: a sure indication that a basic understanding of the structure of Tefilla and Pirush Hamilos needs serious attention. ]

But what does Halacha say about davening in an outdoor setting? I’m assuming that Dina D’Malchusa is followed and council permits are obtained. Parks are not normally designated as places of worship. Imagine if Muslims, Xtians and Buddhists also decided to utilise parks for their places of worship. I, for one, do not think it is appropriate.

The encounter with Hashem is a private one (in the sense of occurring in a house of God), that should be constructed through the agency of a quorum of ten males and a suitable separation of males and females. Dogs, children playing, plain schmutz and the like, do not appear environmentally appropriate. As summarised in Shulchan Aruch Siman 90 S

לא יתפלל במקום פרוץ כמן בשדה

Shulchan Aruch (‘סע’ ה) rules that one should not daven in an open area, for example, a field. The rationale he gives for this halacha is that when one davens in a place that is closed one will have more awe for the King and will have a broken heart which is advantageous for davening. Mishnah Berurah writes that if a place is surrounded by walls it is an acceptable place (ס”ק י”ב מובא דבריו בחיי משה) to daven even if there is no roof.

Shulchan Tahor maintains that l’chatchila, ideallyone should daven in a place that has a roof in addition to walls. However, if the walls extend ten tefachim higher than the average person’s height, one could daven there in a pressing circumstance.

Eshel Avrohom adopts a more lenient approach and contends that it is sufficient if there is a wall in front of the person davening even if there are no walls on his sides. He also adds that this requirement is only for shemone esrei but for pesukei d’zimra one may even daven in an open area.

Sefer Toras Chaim (סק”ז) asserts that this halacha applies when someone davens by himself but it is acceptable for a tzibbur to daven in an open place since the experience of davening with a tzibbur will cause him to have a broken heart and awe of the King. Kaf HaChaim (אות ל”א) cites Ritva who rules that if a minyan is davening together this issue does not apply.

Sha’arei Teshuvah (סק”א) implies, however, that this issue applies to a tzibbbur the same way it applies to an individual.

So, while there is room to be lenient I would think, and this is borne out by opinion, that praying in a park/field is perhaps a stepping stone to the ideal, which is to pray in an ascribed place, viz, a Shule with all its concomitant Kedusha (ironically) and regulation. At the end of the day, it is the iconic Mikdash M’at, a miniature of the Beis Hamikdash itself. See especially the Kitzur Minyan HaMitzvos from the Rambam where he clearly describes this as a D’Orayso, a Torah imperative. We are enjoined to simulate the Beis Hamikdash through both the prayer, the behaviour and the building structure!

A certain man rushed to daven Maariv but missed borchu. Naturally, he wished to daven with a minyan that was just beginning so that he could answer borchu in the beginning of the tefillah. There actually was another Maariv which began a few minutes later but the minyan was outside the sanctuary, in a place without walls. This man wondered what he should do. On the one hand, he knew that it is preferable to daven in a place with walls as we find on today’s amud. On the other hand, he was loath to miss borchu. When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that davening in the shul with walls is preferable. “Even if you will miss borchu it is still better to daven with the minyan inside. Even though the davening outside is complete with borchu, davening without mechitzos is less than ideal.” אבני ישפה, תפילה, פי”א, ס”ו, ובהערה ז

In another place they would pray Minchah in a largish stairwell. Although a minyan always stayed inside, some of the people would wind up joining them outside the building. Since there were no functional walls out of doors, one of the group protested. ”The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to daven in a place without mechitzos. It is therefore b’dieved to daven outside.” But those who stood outside disagreed. “As long as you are part of a minyan which davens inside it shouldn’t matter what you yourself do. It is not as though I have less kavanah, so why assume that inside is superior for every individ- ual?” When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, he ruled that they should indeed pray with the minyan inside. “Those who daven in a stairwell should remain together inside, and not have some people davening inside the building while others are outside.” תפילה כהלכתה, פ”ב, הערה פ”ה

Pardon the pun, but we need to see the wood from the trees. If it is desirable in our age to enfranchise those who would otherwise not seek to daven, through Carlebachian/Breslav, outdoor or “spirit grow style” techniques, then that is an intermediate level, and an expert Posek must be consulted. However, it should always be understood that this level is a stepping stone to the ideal. The ideal is to daven in a Shule or Beis Medrash and to be become a Doogma Chaya, a living example, of how one should comport oneself in a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature version of the Beis Hamikdash. The laws of a Beis Knesses and Beis Medrash are directly derived, according to many, such as R’ Chaim Brisker, from the Beis Hamikdash itself. The Rav gave many examples of this in his Torah.

In a tangential way, even though there is leeway to innovate in respect of melodies during the Nusach HaTefilla, one must remember that some elements are inviolate. Can anyone imagine singing Kol Nidrei to another tune? Cantor Be’er from YU’s Belz School of Music has written a wonderful article where he delineates the Tefillos and categorizes those which one may innovate, tune-wise.

I remember as a boy that both L’cha Dodi and Kel Adon were sung, but this took place in the Masoretic mode of the Chazan and congregation pausing between stanza in the form of “saying and answering” (Davar Shebikdusha, as expounded by the Rav)

Mesora must be protected and cherished.

שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך

Mesora must be protected and cherished. It alone provides the protective borders within which we can serve through an authentic Jewish service.

Carlebach in prayerful bliss: From Ha’aretz

A novel approach to shadchanus

On Wednesday nights, the Rav ז’ל used to give a Chumash Shiur. How did this Shiur originate? R’ Ari Kahn relates that one evening the Rav looked around his apartment and asked his Shamoshim (an entourage who assisted the Rav with his needs) why they were there: didn’t they have families, and if they didn’t why weren’t they looking. Some of the Shamoshim responded that life was not easy. They didn’t feel at ease interacting with the Shadchanim industry; equally, they were loath to “hang out” in the front of the Stern College for Women as if they were “on the prowl”.

The Rav responded that he would begin a Shiur for both young ladies and young men. He, the Rav, would make sure that the young ladies would attend; he’d leave the rest up to them. With that, the new Shiur commenced.

Of course, the right-wing would only see a “mixed” Shiur, so to speak, and condemn.

The Rav on Vayigash: 3 short insights

Notes from a shiur given in Boston on January 6, 1979. (מוצאי שבת)

Insight 1

I try to answer one question halachically. When the brothers come to Mitzraim for the first time to buy food and presented themselves before Joseph, were accused of espionage and denied the charges, Judah’s name is not mentioned. No matter where you look, he isn’t mentioned. We find in the conversation between the brothers and the Viceroy the word, “Vayomru” — (and they said) but it doesn’t mention “Who said.” “Vayomru” is mentioned in fact several times but not specifically who. Where does Yehudah appear?

In his debate with Jacob (where he appeals to his father to let them go a second time to buy food and to take along their youngest brother Benyamin as requested by the Viceroy). At first, it is Reuven – the oldest brother who intervenes right away and is rejected by the father. Much later, it is Yehuda. Scripture tells us there was no food and then Yehuda repeated basically what his brother spoke before him. Suddenly, he emerges from the shadows to the forefront. Apparently, his appeal was irresistible and was accepted. He could have said it before the food was consumed but waited till the point of starvation. When they come to Joseph’s house Yehuda again disappears in the background. When they were caught with the silver chalice in Benjamin’s possession, again, Yehuda is not mentioned. The turning point is where Yehuda is singled out in a solemn manner. Yehuda took over the leadership. The fact that Joseph couldn’t contain himself any longer is due to Yehuda’s appeal. Yehuda takes over when the situation becomes grave. Thus, it was grave when the food became low. Before the goblet was found they thought it was a joke on the part of Joseph. When the goblet was found however, disaster threatened. Yehuda takes over in the time of crisis. Technically, Reuven’s power still had not been removed till Jacob’s blessings in Sedra “Vaychi”. Yehuda takes over in the time of despair.

“Chazal” (Sages) says, “Reuven bchor shota” – Reuven is a fool for he speaks of “Jacob killing his children if he fails to return Benjamin – Aren’t his children Jacob’s also? Yehuda however, wins over with his oration. When Yehuda takes over, the mission will be implemented. The reason is: Yehuda will be Melech. From him will arise the kingship. I want to quote Rambam about the mission of a king. If a “novi” – prophet appoints a king, even if not from the house of David, and he follows the right path, he will be accepted. His ability must be to fight a war. He should think of one objective – to raise the standard – to establish justice, to break the arms of the wicked and to engage in a holy war because the whole purpose of appointing a king is to implement justice, to march ahead of the armies and to emerge victorious over our enemies.

The job of the king is two-fold: to enforce justice and fight the war. The word war, however, has to be interpreted. The word milchama (war) by Rambam is in a much wider sense than the literal meaning. I would say, “milchama” means time of crisis — military, economic, or spiritual. When there is a war it is a critical time. When times are normal there is no need for such unity. In times of war, we need unified, collected leadership. He is responsible for the well-being of the people and their continued existence. Secondly, the king is responsible for the principles of justice. The courts were composed of three, twenty-three, or seventy-one justices — and found in all the cities. But the king is necessary when justice is being trampled in time of crisis and is in danger of disappearing. When the principles of justice are being desecrated, where the people make mockery, the Bes Din (court) is not sufficient. For example, the Hashmonayim lived in critical times. They fought against the “mishyavnim” — the revisionists in combat and the power was seized by Yehuda Hamaccabee. He had the courage and ability of a king.

These are the two objectives which a Melech should pursue: general crises and justice. When the brothers first come to Joseph and he accused them of espionage, they thought he was irritated but not critical. After all, he acted like a gentleman, was handsome and in general conducted himself exemplary. When they finished the food, Yehuda smelled danger. His conscience was affected. “I must come forward at once, it is a crisis!” Later, he withdraws because again there is no crisis. He becomes humble, modest, withdrawn. When he comes before Joseph, they exchange gifts etc. Again he withdraws and his name is not mentioned. When the goblet is discovered and they tear their clothes in despair, now he must emerge. It is a critical time. They all come to Joseph’s house and Joseph understands very well that he’ll have to deal with them, but he thought it would be collective bargaining. However, “Vayigash Yehuda” — Yehuda stepped forth. Joseph had an intuitive feeling that he’ll have to fight with Yehuda and this he’d want to avert. Of course, they were aroused by the initial charge of espionage for it is wrong to be suspicious. But this was a conspiracy. “This Egyptian is out to destroy the house of Jacob.” After all, many nationalities came to Egypt and Joseph didn’t receive them personally. Here he singles out the house of Jacob. He is a fiend interested in destroying the house of Jacob and he will go on provoking and provoking. The possibility that the house of Jacob will be destroyed aroused the “Lion of Judah”.

It is time for the King Yehuda to come forth. Medrash says that the “Shvotim” (tribes) were not involved at all. It is a confrontation of 2 kings. The Torah characterizes Yehuda as a “lion”. Often, the lion sleeps and is unaware of what is happening outside. This “lion” slept when Joseph was sold. In time, when courageous action was desired the “lion” aroused to defend the principles of justice and to defend Jacob’s house. Yehuda appears courageous twice: — once in the affair with Tamar when she returned his goods for identification (when he accused her of harlotry and sentenced her to death. He could have remained silent but chose to forego his honor and publicly admitted his guilt). Secondly, was his defense of Benyamin. Yehuda was successful on both occasions. Why was he tested twice? Because there are two problems! Does he have power as an individual? Does he have power as a leader? Some people can only do one. Some have leadership but as an individual (over their own conscience) they have no power. Here he was tested on both levels. It was not easy to lower himself for an unknown girl. The second time he called the Viceroy of Egypt a liar.

Insight 2

There is another problem which is bothersome. When Yehuda came over to Joseph and wanted to engage in an argument what was the substance of his argument? He told him a story which Joseph knew very well. Basically, it seems strange to think that Joseph would change his position and let Benjamin go free. He merely told Joseph all which he already previously knew. He didn’t argue; he merely related a story. Therefore, what is the idea?

I believe that Yehuda told Joseph something new — something he didn’t know! It is like a lawyer telling a judge that which he already knows. Yet, he must have told him something which caused Joseph to break down and reveal his identity. Why did Joseph torture his brothers — charge them with espionage? I believe that Joseph pursued a double objective. First, Joseph wanted to make up his mind, “should I be loving and forgiving or should I be vindictive? Shall I be a brother or an Egyptian tyrant? The answer is: “It depends on them! Are they the wild Bedouins who sold me or have they grown up? Has the morality of Abraham taken hold of them? Are they or aren’t they ‘B’alay T’shuvah’ (repentant)? Have they changed in the course of time?”

Judah’s appearance changed his mind. He remembered Judah on that awesome day when he sold him. How Jacob would suffer to such a message. He had no compassion for his father’s feelings. Now we are told by medrash that Judah grasped the columns of the palace and shook them. He was ready to give his life. The one who repents is willing to give his life. I believe that Judah felt, Joseph will give in if he repeats the story. Here Judah shows his feeling for his father.

Deep down in his heart, Joseph wanted something which no one could give him. Joseph dreamt twice! Once he dreamt of the surrounding sheaves and the prostration of the sheaves. This was fulfilled! When the brother’s came and bowed there was no doubt about the reality in such a fantastic manner. His ego was satisfied. His brothers are beggars and prostrate themselves. Was the second dream a reality or is it a vision waiting to be recognized. Joseph wanted not only that the sheaves should prostrate themselves but also the celestial bodies! He was mainly interested in the second dream. This is related to the spiritual leadership which the “shvotim” (tribes) will prove. He wanted “malchus” (kingship) not in Egypt but in the Eternal City — the “Messiah”. He wanted all to prostrate themselves and recognize that from him will the Messiah issue forth.

In order to have all this he had to have one condition. When Joseph beheld the second vision, this is the one which he revealed to Jacob. Jacob declared, “Do you expect me to bow to you?” Jacob is the sun! In order to recognize fulfillment of the second condition, Jacob must bow. Jacob had the key – the control. Jacob will never accept and Joseph can never lay claim to “malchus”. His problem was, “How can he make Jacob prostrate himself?” Thus, he contrived the following plan. He will contain or retain Benjamin — fully knowing that Jacob will not remain in Canaan if Benjamin doesn’t return. He will come to Egypt, bow just once to the “Egyptian Viceroy” as a matter or protocol and the “malchus” will come to him. Judah did not understand all this but he felt that the strange Egyptian leader had an interest in making Jacob leave Canaan and come to Egypt. “Jacob will come without knowing the identity.” Should he know, he surely will not bow and Joseph cannot take over “malchus”.

What did Judah tell Joseph? “You are making a mistake. Jacob will never come. You cannot achieve your objective. If you keep Benjamin, Jacob will die but not in Mitzraim. You have lost your game! You’ll never force Jacob to come! “This is when Joseph broke down and realized that “Hashgocha” (providence) has different plans. Now he no longer could control his emotions!

Insight 3

“Vayigash alov Yehuda” (And Yehuda drew near to him). It should have said, “Vayigash Yehuda el Yosef”. This would have been perfectly acceptable Hebrew grammar. What is the difference semantically? In order to understand “alov”, we must study the end of Sedra “miketz” to find out to whom. The brothers didn’t understand the Egyptian. They really didn’t believe he was an Egyptian. “What could we really have said about him had we been exposed to him? We he brutal, capricious? He never engaged anyone else in conversation — the thousands who came to buy. The others bought, they loaded – they departed. Here he asked them all sorts of personal questions. Also they couldn’t understand Shimon’s treatment. Having seen him arrested and bound before their very eyes when they first departed from home, yet when they returned and Shimon was released and was questioned, “How were you treated?,” he answered “Better than ever!” When they come to Joseph’s house, they were wined and dined and exchanged gifts. It was strange!

Even after the charge against Benjamin they were not brought to jail or to the executioner, but to his own house. It was customary even at the time of accusation to throw all into jail. Here the text reads, “Cholilah” (far be it from me to take you all as slaves). In that era, a Yehuda rebuttal against Pharaoh (as he did) would have led to the gallows. Therefore, “alov” is Joseph — the cryptical figure; on one hand an Egyptian — on the other hand, a different kind of person. Even the word, “Baso” (his house) had the opulence of a king but the reminiscence of the quality of their own home. Even when they were apprehended, they were not assaulted and he didn’t shout. He used the language of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. It is more of a complaint person, not the language of a despot. Joseph was still the cryptic, mysterious figure which no one could describe. He was the man of their family!

Ki Tavo+Vayelech before Rosh Hashana

The following is an adaptation of small part of a Yohr Tzeit Shiur given by the Rav in 1966. It is strongly based on the transcription copyrighted in 2001 by Josh Rapps and Israel Rivkin. I have made minor stylistic changes.

Ezra enacted a rule that we should read the ברכות וקללות of ויקרא in פרשת בחוקותי prior to Shavuos and the ברכות וקללות in דברים) פרשת כי תבוא) before ראש השנה (Megila 31b). The Rav ז’ל asked:

  1. According to our order of reading the Torah, במדבר is always read the Shabbos prior to Shavuos and נצבים is always read the week prior to ראש השנה. Why do we deviate from the Takanas Ezra?
  2. The גמרא distinguishes between the ברכות וקללות in תורת כהנים)  ספר ויקרא) and ספר דברים —משנה תורה (for example, in the ברכות וקללות of תורת כהנים, one person reads the entire set, while the ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה may be subdivided among several people). Why is there a distinction between them?

The Rav explained based on a רש’’י דברים 14:2

 … כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך

רש’’י explains כי עם קדוש as  קדושת עצמך מאבותיך, you possess inherited sanctity from your forefathers. However there is another type of sanctity that Moshe mentions:

בך בחר ה’ אלוקיך להיות לו לעם סגולה

describes an amazing principle, that a Jew has two forms of sanctity, קדושת ישראל through יחוס מאבות. There is a second individual קדושה granted to each Jew, קדושת עצמך, your individual holiness, based on our selection as בני ישראל by Hashem.

The Rav asked what is the status of a משומד (someone who has become an apostate)? Does he retain complete קדושת ישראל or not? On the one hand there are sources in the גמרא that he remains a complete Jew (for instance his Kiddushin is valid, see Yevamos 47b). On the other hand, there are other sources that exclude him from various religious tasks (Shechita, Kesivas Stam and others, see Gittin 45b).

Which קדושה does the משומד lose? The Rav said that the inherited קדושה of a descendant of the patriarchs is irrevocable. However, the Rav felt that a משומד forfeited the second קדושה that is based on their personal selection  as the chosen people of the Jewish nation.

A convert has both קדושות, as the הלכה says, he recites the  פרשת ביכורים and he says אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו based on Abraham being called the father of a multitude of nations, אב המון גויים. He has an inherited קדושה from Abraham and he acquires the קדושת ישראל when he converted.

If there are two קדושות inherent in Jews, and every generation has these two קדושות, they must be based on two separate כריתת ברית (enacted covenants). קדושה is based on the obligation to fulfil מצוות. The Rambam (הלכות מלכים 9:1) describes the observance of מצוות among the generations prior מתן תורה as the historical map of sanctity among the Jewish people. Each higher level of sanctity could be attained only through the acceptance of additional מצוות. Even though they underwent Milah and Tevila in Egypt prior to the Korban Pesach and the Exodus, בני ישראל needed an additional Tevila at Sinai. The Rambam says that since they attained new מצוות at Sinai, they had to undergo another conversion process. In short, Mizvos are built upon כריתת ברית, the enactment of a covenant with all the obligations therein.

Har Grizim and Har Avol

A Jew has two distinct sources of obligation. The first is based on the original ברית at הר סיני that derived from the patriarchs and was then expressed through Moses. This covenant obligates all successive generations, through our lineage connection—Yichus—to fulfil the מצוות. There is a second כריתת ברית that is based on individual קדושה and is entered into by each and every generation.

Where do we find these two covenants? The first covenant is in בחוקתי and the second is in כי תבוא. Why do we need both covenants*?

פרשת נצבים is the continuation of the ברית in כי תבוא (according To Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon). At מתן תורה, Moshe read the ספר הברית while the Jews stood at הר סיני. What did Moshe read to them? חז’’ל tell us that he read the Torah from Breishis through the story of the Exodus. The Sinaitic covenant was built on the Exodus that was in turn built on the covenant with the Patriarchs. In תורת כהנים, Hashem mentions that He will recall the original covenant with Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. In other words, the entire Sinaitic covenant is based on, and is the continuation of, the covenant of the forefathers and transfers from generation to generation.

Therefore Shavuos, the holiday of Matan Torah, is associated with the ברכות וקללות in בחוקתי that were given at הר סיני. Even though the ברכות וקללות are recorded in בחוקתי, they are referred to and are connected to פרשת משפטים, when Moshe sprinkled the people and read the ספר הברית to them. These ברכות וקללות were part of the ברית enacted with the Patriarchs. We read פרשת במדבר prior to Shavuos, because the entire concept of Yichus, Jewish lineage, is based on פרשת במדבר. The entire concept of counting the people derives from the sanctity of the Patriarchs and the lineage of the 12 tribes who trace that lineage back to Abraham. As it says in the Parsha,

למשפחותם ולבית אבתם, ויתילדו על משפחותיהם

חז’’ל say that each one brought his lineage documentation (Shtar Yuchsin) proving that he descended from the patriarchs and their children.

The different levels of sanctity attained by each of the twelve tribes was derived from their connection to the קדושת אבות of the previous generations. This is the Kedusha of כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך. In Bris Atzeres read on Shavuos, we find the fulfillment of the statement כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך, the sanctity of each Jew based on his lineage. The Midrash says on the verse זה קלי ואנויהו, that Moshe emphasised that the קדושה did not begin with him (Moshe), but rather it began long ago through our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as expressed in אלוקי אבי וארוממנהו. This is the essence of Shavuos, מתן תורה and ברכות וקללות of בחוקותי. Ezra established that they should read about this covenant, the covenant that mentions the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt that led to קבלת התורה at Sinai, before Shavuos each year.

The Rav lecturing at Stern College

How do I know that this covenant extends to subsequent generations? I would not know it from פרשת בחוקתי alone. The Yichus, lineage described in פרשת במדבר teaches that the covenant also extends to me based on that Yichus.

The covenant based on ברכות וקללות in נצבים was not only given to the generation that stood before Moses prior to his death. Rather, this set of ברכות וקללות was, and is, given to each and every individual generation. We are not bound to this covenant through lineage, or through the patriarchs. It is our own responsibility. As רש’’י explains ובך בחר השם אלוקיך, Hashem has selected you and endowed each generation with a קדושה that is separate and distinct from the קדושה of the Avos.

רש’’י explains the verse ואת אשר איננו פה עומד עמנו היום (and those who are not with us this day) that the oath obligates the future generations of Klal Yisrael. Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel says explicitly that it binds all future generations. All succeeding generations stood before the Ark and Moshe and accepted the oath to observe the מצוות of Hashem. Therefore ראש השנה is a יום הזכרון for ברית, not only for the ברית אבות but also for the ברית that Hashem makes with each generation. ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה must be read prior to ראש השנה, however the story would be incomplete without also reading פרשת נצבים, since the connection to each generation, לא איתכם לבדכם אנוכי כורת הברית הזאת (not with you alone am I forging this covenant), is not found in כי תבוא, but rather in נצבים. Therefore, reading נצבים prior to ראש השנה is in total agreement with Takanas Ezra, as it is the continuation of the ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה.

The Sinaitic covenant that was built on the patriarchs was a covenant created with the entire עם ישראל. Everyone, each and every יחיד, is included and responsible, because each of us belongs to the עם, to the רבים. כי עם קדוש אתה, the basis of the sanctity, is the עם, the רבים. That’s why the ברכות וקללות in בחוקותי are written in לשון רבים, plural, as it was given to the entire nation. However the כריתת ברית in נצבים was given in the singular form, to each and every יחיד. It is not just a כריתת ברית with each successive generation, but rather it is a covenant with each and every individual within those generations.

Each of us stood before Moshe and the Ark and we accepted the oath administered by Moshe. Moshe is talking about each individual who might say in his heart שלום יהיה לי, I will go my own way. Moshe warns such an individual, that the retribution for this sin will be great. He is talking to each and every Jew, throughout all the generations.

* Really there were 3 covenants, with the third at Mount Grizim. But that was a different type of covenant based on Arayvus, acceptance of mutual responsibility for fellow Jews.

Yom Hashoa

I have just returned from Monash University where the Melbourne Jewish Community commemorated Yom Hashoa, remembering the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, may their names be blotted. Many families were seen attending together with a parent or grandparent, who are holocaust survivors. What person would not join their parent or grandparent on such an occasion? Sadly, I witnessed some families attend, as they always did, only this time without the Holocaust survivor in tow. Alas, the survivor had gone to meet their maker.

When I was a boy, attending this event was almost a punishment. It used to be held at Dallas Brooks Hall and maybe even Festival Hall before that. It tarried for what seemed an eternity. One could barely hear a non-Yiddish phrase. The evening was full of long speeches by people who spoke only the Queen’s Yiddish—the Litvishe style Yiddish so consummately enunciated by Bundists. I used to pray for the choir of old men and heaving women to emerge, for I knew that when they plodded onto the stage, it was time to sing the famous Partisan Song, that haunting melody forever etched in my mind. The lyrics were composed by Hirsh Glick, and tonight in Melbourne, we heard from Glick’s friend, Phil Maisel, formerly incarcerated in the Vilna Ghetto, who personally related the scene when Glick wrote the poem, thereafter describing how Glick was murdered by Estonian prison guards after trying to escape with a group of 40 inmates.

The Rav said that every time a Jew stops and remembers the Holocaust he fulfills the positive Torah command of remembering Amalek, זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק. Times have changed. We no longer endure the long and winding speeches mainly from members of the Bund. We have also lost the heart-rending and eloquent speech from Rav Chaim Gutnick ז’ל who captivated every heart on these occasions, often on the theme of the dry bones coming to life, the עצמות היבישות of the נביא יחזקאל. Instead, the devices of multi-media are intermeshed with chosen personal testimony, interesting narrative, and soulful choirs. The commemoration does not take long, is usually very powerful, and serves the purpose of transporting many of us, back in time, amongst the Nazi killing fields.

The traditional universal day of mourning to remember and mourn Jewish tragedy is Tisha B’Av. The Rav strongly felt that Tisha B’Av should also be the day when the Holocaust is remembered. When Menachem Begin, then Prime Minister of the State of Israel, visited the Rav, one of the topics they discussed was contemporary modes of Holocaust commemoration. The Begin and Soloveitchik families were very close in Brisk, with Menachem Begin’s father being R’ Chaim Brisker’s Gabay. The Rav reportedly convinced Begin to press the Knesset to adopt Tisha B’Av as the (correct) day to also commemorate the Holocaust. A young Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, was also present at the Rav’s house at that meeting, as he describes in his wonderful collection of essays entitled “Listening to God” (I highly recommend his book). Upon returning to Israel, Begin, however, faced oppostion to this concept on practical grounds, because Israeli school children would be on holidays on Tisha B’Av and Ministers felt that the commemoration would be largely uneventful with the secular public.

Ironically, whilst the Kinos on Tisha B’Av are literally crying out for a Kina related to the Holocaust, and I have been personally moved by the Kina authored by the Bobover Rebbe ז’ל, the Rav (like his Uncle R’ Velvel ז’ל but for a different reason) was opposed to us adding new Kinos since we don’t have the ability to write with the requisite authority and style. The Chassidic genre, like the Bobover Rebbe, had no trouble adding a Kina and neither did the German-derived Rabbi Schwab ז’ל of Breuer’s Shule.

An interesting question can be asked: during the time of the second beis hamikdash, did the Jews fast on Tisha B’Av? On the one hand, the first temple was destroyed, and the level of miracles was lower in the second beis hamikdash. On the other hand, is it not anachronistic to mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash whilst the second Beis Hamikdash is standing and in use? It appears that both Rashi and the Ritva in Gemora Rosh Hashono 18B held that during the second beis hamikdash they did not fast on Tisha B’Av. On the other hand, the Rambam in his Pirush Hamishnayos to the first perek of Rosh Hashono, in the third Mishna, opines that the Jews did observe Tisha B’Av even during the time of the second Beis Hamikdash. The reason would seem to be, that although we regained the right to bring Korbanos (sacrifices) in the second Beish Hamikdash, after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, there has been and there is no end to the tragedies that befell and continued to befall our people. The Rambam held that until the Redemption, there is a direct link beginning from the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash extending until our times. Tisha B’Av essentially commemorates the beginning of, and the continuation of, Jewish suffering. The second beis hamikdash was a temporary hiatus; it did not signal an end to Jewish suffering and so the Jews, according to the Rambam continued to fast.

The Rav, perhaps following the Rambam, felt that no new mournful days should be added and that Tisha B’Av was more than just the destruction of the Temple. Tisha B’Av signified both the beginning and the continued suffering of the Jewish nations, reaching the contemporary unfathomable holocaust of our generation.

The Gemora in Avoda Zara 17A relates the famous story of R’ Elazar Ben Durdaya. R’ Elazar performed an intense level of repentance after an encounter with a famous harlot. This lady had indicated that R’ Elazar’s Teshuva would never be accepted in Heaven. R’ Elazar tried to summon all manner of help to effect T’shuva, after which he finally came to the realisation that the only way he could do T’shuva would be through his own efforts. With that cognisance, he sat down on top of a mountain and cried until his soul left him. A Heavenly voice proclaimed that Rav Elazar Ben Durdaya had entered Olam Habo –the World to Come. When Rebbi heard this story, he began crying and remarked,

“There are some who acquire their share of Olom Habo in just a moment.”

יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת

Many ask why Rebbi cried. Surely he should have been happy that R’ Elazar Ben Durdaya had been accepted to Heaven with a “clean slate”. Reb Chaim Shmulevitz ז’ל explains that Rebbi cried in recognition of universal human frailty. Each one of us potentially experiences a gripping moment in our lives that is capable of transforming our thoughts and deeds. Rebbi cried because so few of us are able to recognise or “seize the moment”. Our generation lives with that moment. It’s in our blood.

In terms of the Mitzvah to remember and not forget Amalek, our generation was cursed through the cataclysmic and inhuman tragedy of the Holocaust. If this remembrance though means that some, especially in our generation, choose a different date to remember, or different devices to remember, so be it. I will live with their choice, and join them.

If only we could all seize the moment.

Remembering a giant: the 18th Yohr Tzeit of Morenu HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז’ל

I received  the following loose transcript of an oral shiur given by the Rav on the 31st March 1999. It isn’t clear when the Rav actually delivered this shiur.

Sippur, as in Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, comes from the word Saper, the same root that includes Sofer, which is Hebrew for scribe. A scribe is not the same as a simple writer. Throughout Tanach the word Sofer is used to indicate that the position of scribe was one of importance, for example Sofrei Hamelech in Megilas Esther. In Talmudic parlance, Sofer means a Talmid Chacham, a scholar. In contrast to Divray Torah we have the term Divrei Sofrim, which are the teachings of the scholars. There are many examples in the Talmud where the word Sofer refers to the scholar. Apparently the Hebrew language scribe or scholar is distinguished by his ability to write. A Talmid Chacham must be capable of writing. Historically, when a Jew showed the ability to write, he was accepted as a scholar. The statements of the transmitters of learning, the Maatikay Hashemuah, are referred to as Divray Sofrim.

The definition of Sippur goes beyond simple oral story telling, but it includes the ability to tell a story through writing it down. The word Sefer, book, derives from the same root, L’Saper, to tell a story. In Hebrew, writing and oral communication are both included in the framework of the root word Saper. The Gemara says that Megilas Esther refers to itself first as an Igeres, letter, and later as a Sefer, a book. There are significant differences between these 2 forms of writing. A letter is written for a short term purpose. It does not need to be written on parchment; it can be missing letters and may not be complete yet it still conveys the gist of the story. In contrast, a Sefer is intended to transmit the story to future generations. It requires parchment and if even one little letter is missing it is halachically voided. For example, the prophet commanded the people to write contracts on their land in a Sefer and place them in earthen vessels so that they may last a long time. Sefer documents an event for present and future generations. Another example: Hashem commanded Moshe to document the eternal conflict between God and Amalek in the Sefer and transmit it to Joshua. This message could only be transmitted through a Sefer.

Chazal note that a major Kabbalah principle is that Hashem created the world through acts of Kesiva, writing. For example, the notion of writing is found by the 10 commandments that were written Betzba Elokim, K’vayachol, by the finger of God. The Sefer Hayetzira maintains that the world was created through 3 Seforim (forms of the word Saper): B’sfor, B’sippur U’Bsefer, through counting, relating a story and through the book. We know from the Torah that Hashem wrote the Luchos, but how does the Sefer Yetzira know that the world was created through these 3 forms of the word Saper? According to the Kuzari, when the Torah repeatedly mentions Vayomer Elokim, it is referring to the act of Sippur by Hashem. The result of this Sippur was the Sefer, all of creation. It was the word of God that created the world and is embedded in nature and continues to drive it. At the same time, nature must obey the will of Hashem. If  the flowers bloom, the birds fly, man walks and the heavenly bodies remain in motion it is because this is the Ratzon Hashem, the will of God. The manifestation of the will of God was inscribed into every function of nature. According to the Baal Shem Tov, the word of God, the Vayomer Elokim, that created everything is as real and ongoing today as it was at the time of creation, Udvarcha Emes Vkayam Load, and Your words are true and everlasting.

Chazal valued very highly of the ability to write. Chazal say that Ksav Vmichtav were among the miraculous things that were created at twilight of the sixth day prior to the onset of the Shabbos. Chazal recognized the amazing gift in the ability of man to  to record events that happened thousands of years ago in such a way as to allow subsequent generations to identify with, understand and appreciate the thoughts and feelings that moved the author so many years before. The events of past generations are alive for us today. For example, when we read in the Torah the stories of the patriarchs and the 12 tribes, we feel as if we are part of the actual events that are unfolding before us. We cry with Joseph when he is sold into slavery by the brothers and we rejoice with him when he is elevated to the position of Viceroy of Egypt. We travel with Abraham as he leaves Charan for the unknown land of Canaan and our hearts skip a beat as Yaakov narrowly departs with the blessings before Esau enters his father’s room. Reading the written word allows us to span generations in an instant and to identify with our ancestors. Educators today must make the stories of the Torah come alive for their students and make them feel as if they are part of the story and not some impartial bystander.

In contrast, the Rav noted that today, unfortunately, parents and children can’t communicate across a gap of a single generation. Children of today can’t understand or relate to the experiences of their parents. To many Jews today, the Lech Lecha of their parents, their life experiences and their Judaism, means nothing to them. In order for us to inject meaning into the stories that we write during our lives, we must do more than simply put words on paper. We have to create a climate through which we appreciate all the events that shaped Jewish history, for example to feel the pain of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash or to understand other events in Jewish history. Today we have many aids to study, unprecedented numbers of  translations of the various texts are readily available to the masses to assist them in study. However in too many cases, we have words written on paper, but we lack the atmosphere of involvement and participation in the events we study. The greatest Sofer, scribe, is not one who can write on parchment or paper, but rather the one who can write on the hearts of living beings and influence their lives. The great scribe is the one that can transmit a living Torah that passes on the Torah world of Rabbi Akiva, the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon to the next generation. This is Torah Shbeal Peh, which is dependant on the ability of each generation to make these experiences come alive for the subsequent generation to ensure that the flame of Torah burns for eternity. The scholars were called Sofrim because they were the transmitters of the tradition between generations. Their greatest accomplishment was not the writing of Torah on paper, but rather etching Torah into the hearts and souls of their students to keep it alive for subsequent generations, creating living Seforim.

One need not write tomes during his life to earn the title of Sofer. For example, we have no recorded writings from the Baal Shem Tov. Yet his vast Torah was spread throughout the world by his living Seforim, the many students that he taught during his life. Moshe Rabbeinu was called Safra Rabba D’Yisrael, the great scribe of Israel. Did Moshe spend his time as a scribe of Sifrei Torah, Tefilin and Mezuzos (STAM)? We find that Moshe wrote a Sefer Torah towards the end of his life. Yet he earned the title as the great scribe in Israel because of the Torah he taught all Bnay Yisrael and how he inscribed it into the parchment of their hearts and souls so that they might act as the scribes that would teach the next generation. Just as the original word of God continues to drive nature, so to the Torah that Moshe gave Bnay Yisrael in the desert is as alive for us today as it was thousands of years ago. It is the ability to transmit from generation to generation, despite great difficulties, without diluting the message that makes Bnay Yisrael unique.

Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is more than telling a story. Vhigadta L’Bincha means that the father must write the book that will become his son. It is the obligation of the father to view his son as a Sefer to be carefully written and not as an Igeres. The obligation to be the scribe of this book extends well beyond the Seder night to encompass all of life. Bchal Dor V’dor Chayav Adam Liros Es Atzmo K’ilu Hu Yataza M’Mitzrayim, in every generation the Jew must view himself as if he has just left Egypt. Man must feel that he has participated in the entire, collective Jewish experience and he must inscribe this knowledge into the book that is his child. Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is the book of Jewish existence. The greatest accomplishment is when a father carefully transmits his experiences so that he may pass it on intact to his child before he passes on.

There were many great scholars who were not able to permanently inscribe themselves into the Sefer that was their children. They were only able to write an Igeres, a short term note, that their  children quickly erased when they left home. Yet there are simple parents who succeeded in making a permanent inscription into their children’s personality. They were able to write on the hearts of their children their Seder, their feelings on Tisha Bav, the beauty of their Shabbos, the solemnity of their Yom Kippur and their blessing of their children before Kol Nidrei in a way that made a lasting impression on the child, an impression that stayed with him throughout many years of separation and struggle. The Rav asked why should the scholar fail where the simple person succeeds?

Chazal say that there  are 10 synonyms for prophecy, one of which is the word Masa. There are 2 explanations why Masa refers to prophecy. The first is that the prophet would raise his voice when presenting the message of God to the people. The second is the Rambam in the Guide (Moreh Nvuchim) who explains that Masa is used to indicate that prophecy was a heavy load for the prophet to bear. The essence of prophecy is that it is a truth entrusted only to the specific prophet. He is the only one privileged to know this truth communicated to him by Hashem. The vision is a burden that does not let him rest. He has a need to spurt forth spontaneously and a desire to share it with others. For example, when someone is entrusted with a secret they have a difficult time maintaining the confidence. They find themself constantly struggling to refrain from blurting it out. The prophet seeks to unburden himself by telling the message of God to others.

When it comes to a prophecy or to Torah that a Jew knows, the only relief from his load comes through sharing it with others. The Rambam says that the prophet is required to tell his prophecy to others even when he knows that his intended audience is not interested in the message and may seek to harm him as a result of it, even if it costs him his life. Jeremiah was an example of a prophet who wanted to hold back his prophecy when the scoffers opposed him but he could not hold it back. When the Jew has a prophecy or Torah to transmit, he must view it as a Masa, a heavy burden, that in order to endure must be transmitted with great care and exactness as a Sefer to the next generation and not as an Igeres.

The ability of the Jewish parent to sacrifice themself for their child is so great that it approaches the point of self negation. How can such a person refrain from transmitting to his child the beauty of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Tanach or Torah Shebal Peh and the great Jewish personalities? Like the prophet of old, he can’t control himself, he must blurt out the message. If he does not transmit it to his child, the reason must be because he himself is lacking the feeling for these things. In order to be a successful scribe, you yourself must feel the burden of prophecy, the Masa Dvar Hashem.

In essence, this is the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, V’Higadta L’Bincha, and you shall instruct your children. A Jew must present his child with a Sefer and not an Igeres. Inscribing such a Sefer for the next generation is the way for every Jew to attain the level of prophecy in his lifetime. If you would ask what is the greatest characteristic of Knesses Yisrael, it is the  great wonder of Jewish History, the ability to engage in Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim not just on Pesach night. It is the ability for one generation to turn the subsequent generation into its carefully written Sefer.

The Rav noted that the night of Pesach is a symbol for this inter-generational transmission process. We are all familiar with the story of the great rabbis that were assembled in Bnay Brak and were involved in Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim all that night till dawn. The Rav asked which night was it? The Rav interpreted the night as extending beyond that immediate night of Pesach. The “Night” refers to the long and dark exile period that we have endured for 2 thousand years. It is the long night of pogroms and blood libels and crusades and inquisitions and holocaust that we have endured. Not only were Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshua at that table, but Gedolei Rishonim and Achronim who lived through the rain of Jewish blood and misery throughout the ages were there as well. Yet despite all these difficulties, Gedolei Yisrael recognized that they had a mission to be the scribes of the their generation, not in terms of writing books but as scribes that engrave a love of Torah in the heart of each Jew. Gedolei Yisrael carried the burden, the Masa Hashem, and transmitted their Torah as an inter-generational Sefer and not as a fleeting Igeres. They seized on the method Hashem uses, the Sippur Bsefer, writing on the book of creation, to ensure the continuity of faith in Hashem and the eternity of the Jewish people. The Torah remains alive to us today because of them. If not for their efforts, we would not be able to sit at our Seder table and discuss the exodus on the night of Pesach.  Jews are called the Am Hasefer, the people of the book, not because they are avid readers, but because each and every Jew is a living book that has been authored by the previous generations.

How long must we function as Sofrim, as scribes? When does the Jew complete his assignment of studying Torah? How long must we emulate the ways that Hashem created the world, through Sfor, Sippur and Sefer? Until we see that the next generation is ready to shoulder the load and assume its role in this never ending chain. Until the students knock on their teachers’ door and say “Our Teachers, the time to recite the morning Shema has arrived”, that they are now ready to assume the leadership role. The essence of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is to create the living books, the Seforim, that will ensure the continuity of Torah and Judaism, is not limited to the night of Pesach. It is an eternal mission.

Copyright 1999, Josh Rapps and Israel Rivkin, Edison, NJ. Permission to reprint this Shiur, with this notice, is granted.