Issues tangential to the tragic death of Aharon Sofer ז’’ל

I have been ill with a virus, consumed with the Gaza operation and all the news surrounding it, and yet, I most certainly knew that this 23-year-old Yeshivah student, who was hiking with friends near Yad Vashem, had disappeared in the Jerusalem forest. I had read it in the Israeli papers. I read it in the Jerusalem Post, Yediot, Times of Israel and I’m sure more.

Was it a secret? No? We all knew about it, and it was on the front page over a few days.

And yet, in another example of Charedi ignition, we are exposed to a shrill article in Matzav, which not only asserts that the Israeli media ignored the disappearance, but probably did so because he was Charedi. The first point is patently false. When I first heard about it, my immediate reaction, call it a gut feeling, was that he had lost his way and was dehydrated somewhere.

This is not the first time in recent times that a Charedi kid has tragically died in avoidable circumstances. Perhaps his phone battery was low, or it was a kosher phone unable to connect to the internet for a distress signal, but not having water when you hike appears to be more common among Charedim. Aharon may have had water. I don’t know. It’s baffling.

What I do expect though is that a proper educational approach take place where Yeshivah boys are warned and re-warned, that you don’t travel without a charged phone which has a way of sending a distress signal, and you must have water with you. Will such obvious advice be splashed on the walls all around Israel’s Charedi enclaves? I don’t know. I sure hope so. If they don’t it’s questionable whether the Rabonim should be held to account according to the Din of Egla Arufa that we just layned.

No doubt, we will hear one of “God’s accountants” who says that it happened because he wasn’t in the Beis HaMedrash. I sincerely hope not. The Rebbes and Rabbonim who went to Marienbad and similar to get some Menuchas HaGuf were also not in the Beis HaMedrash, and it is entirely acceptable to take a rest and have some fun Bein Hazmanim. In Israel of course, based on the Medrash?, walking 4 cubits suffices to acquire Olam Habo! I guess according to Satmar and other Hungarians that statement is whitened out.

I’d like to turn this issue on its head, from a Melbourne perspective. Yesterday, in light of the fact that a few days had passed and he hadn’t been found, it was planned to have an evening of Tehillim in the Adass Hall. The poster was politically correct. It also mentioned that the Tehillim was for the “matzav” in Eretz Yisroel. My questions were, for the “Matzav in Eretz Yisroel” there had previously been no such poster let alone a call to the Rabbinic Council to lend their approval.

A boy of 4, Daniel, had just tragically been killed in a mortar attack. The Rabbi of Adass will not allow a Tefilla for the welfare of the soldiers of the IDF (Tefila L’Chayalei Tzahal) to be said in his Shule! The automatons follow this ruling. Yet, when a boy from Lakewood, who tragically met his demise becoming lost while hiking, the “Matzav” in Eretz Yisroel gets a sudden call up. I ask, where was the picture of little Daniel whose parents were in the midst of Shiva. Where was a call to divide the learning of Mishnayos for Daniel’s soul? There was not. You see, Daniel, wasn’t wearing a Yarmulke and his parents were Kibbutzniks so his Neshama wasn’t important enough to make a brouhaha and cause a kiddush Hashem by using this night to also divide the learning of Mishnayos.

Why do the Rabbis of Lakewood in Melbourne and those from Adass ask for support from the Rabbinic Council of Victoria (RCV) if they consider that council to be something akin to a Chabad dominated circus of ignoramuses? Let’s not kid ourselves. They have no respect for the RCV.

Let’s get serious. had no business making such false accusations, and the Melbourne community really shouldn’t have had to wait till after a ceasefire and when this boy Aharon tragically lost his life before attempting to organise joint ventures in “good faith.”

Perhaps my cynicism is greater than ever, but for me, every soldier, child etc who is killed is a human tragedy. Whilst the RCV had an evening of prayer (twice, I believe) and whilst some Charedim attended, most did not and would not. No,, the argument goes the other way, why does it take the untimely tragic death of a Lakewood boy to spur the Charedi world to organise a special night of Tehillim for the community. The answer is, I believe, that Aharon was frum. He was learning. Soldiers protecting lives and little boys killed by mortar are on a “lower madrega”, one which doesn’t call for a special gathering.

Ironically, who visited family Sofer to give them encouragement? It was the Dati Leumi mother of one of the three boys kidnapped and murdered by terrorists.

In summary, who could have a problem with an Asifa to say Tehillim for a missing kid, but to effectively make differences between frum and not yet frum is distasteful.

Let me also remind my Charedi friends that there was a soldier who went missing for days and days and was ultimately found dead. The strong rumour is that abuse when he was a child led to his untimely death. Again, I can’t remember the Charedi Lakewood or Adass communities organising, let alone getting the RCV involved, to publicise their event for that tormented soldier.

I’m sorry for those Charedim who send me unnamed comments telling me I’m fostering Sinah. People, wake up. The Sinah is perpetrated palpably not by me, but by the actions of hypocrites who love non Charedi financial support in terms of business and donations, but think we are second-rate.

Well, I don’t accept being considered a second-rate citizen: neither Rav Shach or Rav Kotler was my Rav,  and I don’t follow the anti Israel views of R’ Yoel of Satmar.

We are in Ellul. A bit more Ahavas Yisroel is needed. Tonight there was meant to be a community Avos uBanim program. Adass not only said that they aren’t participating, but they actually removed the posters advertising the event, lest one of theirs is “led astray” and sits and learns with his son in a large room with those who don’t follow the closed Hungarian Charedi world. Shame on them!

I will finish with a most sincere wish that Aharon’s parent’s are blessed with nechama, and the resultant trauma doesn’t consume their lives, בתוך שאר אבילי ציון וירושלים. I can’t even begin to imagine their pain.

Give us back our boys (Part 2)

After the Caulfield Shule event there was much murmuring from sections of the community about aspects that they didn’t like. This is not to imply they had a problem with the event. The feeling was positive.

I’d like to consider each one (that I know of) and that have been broadly canvassed, and offer my view, for what it’s worth. These are in no particular order.

  1. Umbrage was expressed that the Rabbinic President of the RCV and ORA was using his phone from the daïs to take panoramic pictures/videos from his place while people were involved in the event.
    My view is that this was ill-advised, and not in keeping with the solemnity and angst of the event. There were adequate photographers and the ubiquitous Channel 31 fellow quite able to take pictures and video as need be.
  2. Offence was expressed that some Rabbinic figures failed to sing HaTikva
    My view on HaTikva was formed many decades ago when I discussed the matter with a Rav from Mercaz HaRav, as a young Yeshivah Bochur during the summer break at Moshav Keshet. That is a story in of itself. The Rav was fiercely Religious Zionist, and our site was literally on the border with Syria. When we threw a rock over the barbed wire fence near where we worked each day, it was common for a mine or some other incendiary device to detonate. The Rav was obviously very spiritual. I remember waiting twenty minutes for him to finish davening Mincha after we had all finished to engage him in discussing the matter. His view was that it was unfortunate that God’s name is not mentioned therein and that there was no seeming connection to Torah. Nonetheless, he felt that when in a place where people were singing it as an anthem, not doing so, would likely cause some to make the wrong reading, and that this itself could estrange Jews from Judaism, so to speak. He told me that he made one substitution when he sang it in such situations. Instead of Lihyot Am Chofshi, he used Lihyot Am Torah B’Artzenu and suggested I focus on Hashem’s hand and Ein Lecha Ben Chorin Ela Mi Sheosek BaTorah. Since that time, I have tried to do so. Chofshi, can mean many things, but to secularists this can range from freedom to possibly freedom of the yoke of religion/heaven (from the vantage of a more Charedi reading). As my own children grew up, they noticed me making this substitution. Whether they do, is a matter for themselves. 
    That being said, it is unwise to be standing there in public view without one’s lips moving even if someone is theologically opposed. I understand that some might turn their back so nobody would notice. I understand that some have other objections. I could even foresee the bleeding left-wing objecting to the anthem on the grounds that it is difficult for an Arab Israeli to sing (this has been in the news in fact). Either way, one should absent oneself in an inconspicuous manner so as not to create heat. I saw one Rabbi leave as soon as Tehillim was over. That’s his right. It’s for his congregation to interpret. Nobody forces a Rabbi to sit anywhere they don’t want to.

    In of itself, there is nothing holy about an anthem, of course. This does not imply that one is opposed in some way to the notion that the birth of the State was Yad Hashem and a miraculous event. Let’s face facts. The majority of the RCV are not Religious Zionists, including the President nor do they need to be in terms of any constitution or mandate that I am aware of.

  3. Some from the more Charedi spectrum, who made an effort to attend in name of unity, felt that the Tefilla Lishlom HaMedina was contentious.
    It is true that Charedim, Chabad, Litvaks et al do not agree that the birth of the state implied that one should say Reishit Tzmichat Geulateynu. Some add the word “Shtehe” (rumoured to be R’ Moshe Feinstein’s suggestion) or Smichat Geulatenu.Having finished a book about the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Amiel ז’ל, of the Gush, a holocaust survivor himself and ardent Zionist, and having a copy of his seminal book המעלות ממעמקים which I read decades ago, it is clear that even some Religious Zionists (like Rav Amiel) have problems with the issue of certainty when it comes to predictions of redemption. It is also for this reason also that I am uncomfortable when people say that XYZ is Mashiach. This type of eschatology, to me, is unimportant. The end is the goal. Exactly who and when and how things happen, as noted by the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim is unpredictable. Having said that, one wasn’t forced to say this prayer. One could easily have just stood like everyone while it was being said. Those who felt that it was just too theologically uncomfortable, could have attended a Tehillim event that was apparently held at Adass Israel on a previous day, although it would be good if they publicised these things in a better manner: they know how.
  4. There were comments about allowing a Conservative Cantor recite Tehillim.
    To be honest, I didn’t know who the (Sefardi) Cantor was. I only noticed the errors in Tehillim that he had made and wondered whether he had bad eye sight. Either way, unless the person is a Kofer/Apikorus, I don’t see an issue with saying Tehillim after him (I haven’t asked my Rav). I would assume the President of ORA checked this out and was satisfied that he wasn’t a Kofer/Apikorus.

To end on a positive note, [Hat tip BA] listen to this excellent speech from the Chief Rabbi in London.

A litmus test for Shules regarding the IDF vs Torah study issue

[Please note: I will keep this list updated as information comes in]


Phew. I’m physically wasted. Baruch Hashem, our daughter was married last night, and apart from the usual responsibilities of being the “father of the bride” and all that goes with it, I sang and danced during the evening with my great band, Schnapps. That’s not an advertisement. They were simply magnificent last night.

Someone drew my attention to an interesting point which then had me think of the following hypothetical:

If you received an Aliya on Shabbos, and asked the Gabbay to make a Misheberach for Tzahal (Tzva Hagana L’Yisrael) what would the different attitudes be in different Orthodox Shules. I will list those that I believe will have and do have no problem with such a benign (Zionistically speaking) request (and donation)

  • Elwood
  • Caulfield
  • Mizrachi
  • South Caulfield
  • St. Kilda
  • Kew
  • Brighton
  • Ohel Dvora
  • Yeshiva
  • Da Minyan
  • Moorabbin Shule
  • HaMerkaz Shelanu (Rabbi Liberow)
  • SpiritGrow

I do not know what the attitude would be at the following Shules. I accept of course that there may be differing practices within, say, some Chabad Houses

  1. Rabbi Kohn’s Shule
  2. Russian Chabad Shule (FREE)
  3. Central Chabad
  4. Chabad Sephardi Shule
  5. Glen Eira Chabad
  6. Malvern Chabad
  7. East Brighton Chabad
  8. Other Chabad Houses
  9. Rabbi Donnenbaum’s Heichal HaTorah
  10. Rabbi Berlin’s Shule
  11. Rabbi Wurtzberger’s Lakewood Kollel Beth HaTalmud

Perhaps readers can enlighten me on these and any that I inadvertently forgot. I haven’t mentioned Adass yet. I will relay, though, a true occurrence which was at a public gathering of prayer which might shed light on their view.

During the time when those three Charedi Yeshivah Bochurim were arrested and incarcerated in Japan, Adass organised a public gathering to say Tehillim to beseech God to release those boys. At that public gathering, it was suggested (quite vocally) that since Gilad Shalit was incarcerated by Hamas in Gazastan, that he also be included in the Tefillos. I’m advised that the response was like

You can organise your own Tehillim if you want to daven for him

If this is true, it’s an outrageous view. Now, I know this isn’t a universally held opinion. Adass certainly has various categories of views and it’s quite remarkable that those views can co-exist in the one place, however, if Adass President Binyomin Koppel could enlighten  the official view about such a Misheberach, I would be obliged.

Certainly, I have been at Chabad Shules, notably Yeshivah where special Tehillim is said for Israel when it faces many of its challenges.

I raise this because if a Shule does not allow a Misheberach or special Tehillim or similar for Tzahal, then, frankly, I do not want to hear about their special Torah learning protecting the Chayalim. It’s incongruous, is it not?

Similar questions could be asked in respect of Jewish Schools and their allowable activities.

picture from Haaretz

Sefer Shimush Tehillim

My cousin’s husband, Reuven Brauner has another worthwhile compilation published. You may download it here.

What is it? The introduction states:

Sefer Shimush Tehillim is a short and relatively little-known treatise attributed to Rav Hai Gaon (according to the Sedei Chemed) which describes the Kabbalistic uses of particular chapters and verses from the Book of Psalms for prophylactic or healing purposes. These selections are meant to be either recited alone, frequently multiple times, or in conjunction with some other action or prayer. Shimush Tehillim is mentioned in Teshuvas HaRashba (413), by the Chida, and others. This work is not to be confused with bibliomancy which is the use of Biblical verses for predicting the future.

There are numerous instances cited in the Talmud and other sources regarding the utilization of Biblical verses to ward off demons and the Evil Eye, against bad dreams, against the effects of drinking water uncovered at night, and other more serious calamities. Verses were employed to lighten the pain at childbirth, as protection against danger on a journey, fierce dogs, bleeding and wounds, and the effects of fire and fever. Verses were recited to gain favor or improve one’s memory, and so on. (See Sanhedrin 101a and Shulchon Oruch, Yoreh Deoh 179:8-10, et al.)

Yet, it must be noted, there was great opposition to use of the Torah for magical, curative purposes. The Rambam, the Tur (Yoreh Deoh 179), and the Shulchon Oruch (Yoreh Deoh 179:10) forbade such usage. The Rambam in Hilchos Avodas Cochavim 11:12 pointedly writes:

“Regarding one who incants over a wound or reads a verse from the Torah, and so one who reads verses to calm a frightened child or places a Sefer Torah or Tefilin on a child so that he will sleep – it is not bad enough that these people are numbered among the sorcerers and diviners, but they are also counted as heretics to the Torah by using words of the Torah to heal the body. The (words of the) Torah are for healing the soul only, as it is written, ‘and they shall be life for your soul’. However, it is permitted to recite verses and chapters from Tehillim for protection against troubles and harm – by merit of their recitation.”

Protection – yes, curing – no.

Since Tehillim, more than any other Sefer from Tanach, was used to defend against the effects of all types of predicaments and saving from danger, as recorded in Shimush Tehillim, I thought that it might be interesting to prepare the following table1 to illustrate which chapters it suggests be used for which ailment and condition. For the convenience of the reader, I have also added a cross-referencing index.

Nevertheless, since this monograph is meant for general educational purposes only and not practical application, and in deference to the dissenting opinions, I have only provided a selection of chapter usage from the book, and did not list the use of single verses nor what other actions are required in addition to the recitation of the chapter to affect the desired results. For such purposes, the interested reader must consult an actual edition of Shimush Tehillim and ask his rabbi as to how to employ it, if at all. All this aside, it is commendable to recite Tehillim anyway for the efficacy of it as prayer is well-known.

Finally, I made no attempt at trying to determine why each chapter has the effect claimed, as there is no indication of this in Shimush Tehillim itself.

Saying Tehillim for the sick

It is proper and laudable when concerned brothers and sisters pray for those who are dangerously ill. We say private prayers in the Amida, make a Mishebeyrach, say an extra chapter of Tehillim, sometimes privately, and other times as a collective group.

Recently, several prominent Rabbis continue to be dangerously ill. These include: R’ Ya’akov Yoseph, R’ Yisroel Belsky, and R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Rav Aviner recently addressed a question about R’ Elyashiv, who is 100+, and as I understand, on a ventilator and in need of רחמי שמים.

R Ya'akov Yosef

The question was:

Should we pray for Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to heal from his illness, or – as one Rabbi suggested – should we pray for Hashem to take his soul on High since he is suffering so much?

This is a very bold question to ask (I think that most people who ask such questions either are on an exceedingly high level or are asking להלכה and not למעשה.

Rav Aviner’s answer was:

It is correct that the Ran writes in Nedarim (40a d.h. Ain. And see Baba Metzia 84) that if a person is suffering terribly and seems to have no hope of recovery, it is permissible to pray for him to die. The source for this idea is the Gemara at the end of Ketubot (104a), where it is told that Rebbe Yehudah HaNasi was suffering terribly; his maidservant saw and prayed that he should die. Even though she was not a Torah scholar, but a maidservant, the Sages greatly respected her and the Ran rules according to her example. In Shut Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 5 Ramat Rachel #5, 7:49 Kuntres Even Yaakov chap. 13, 9:47), it is written that this applies only if one is davening for the benefit of the sick person who is suffering a fatal illness, and not in order to lighten our own burden. It is clear that our intent in this case it is to lighten the burden on Ha-Rav Elyashiv.
The Ran writes that it is permissible to pray for a person’s end in such a situation, but he does not write that one is obligated to do so. After all, the Gemara itself relates that while the maidservant prayed that Rebbe should die, the Sages prayed that he should not die. In the book “Midbar Shur,” in his eulogy for Ha-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan (pp. 332-336), Maran Ha-Rav Kook asks: Why did the Sages pray that he should not die? Their view is difficult to understand. After all, Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi was bed-ridden, suffering, could not teach or give halachic rulings, and was seemingly of no benefit to this world. If he would ascend on High, he would continue to teach Torah there. So why didn’t they pray for him to die? Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that the influence of a great Torah scholar is not only through his teaching, halachic rulings, etc., but also in the presence of his holy soul in this world. The fact that his soul is located in this world brings blessing, even when he is unable to provide practical benefit, is closed in a room and cannot converse with others. This is similar to the Vilna Gaon, who for many years was closed in a room learning Torah. This world with Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi is not the same as a world without Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi.
When Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught us this idea, he would say that Maran Ha-Rav Kook also suffered greatly, and he told him: Each and every moment that Abba is in this world, despite the suffering, he brings it light. And our Rabbenu would relate this with tears in his eyes.
If so, the same applies in our case. This world with the Ha-Tzadik, Ha-Gaon, Ha-Gadol, Ha-Rav Elyashiv is not the same as a world without him, even though he is currently unable to teach, give rulings, etc. The Rabbis who called on us to pray for Ha-Rav Elyashiv’s healing are therefore correct, and we hope that he will truly be healed and will once again actively bring the blessing of Torah and holiness to this world.
May Hashem send him a speedy and complete recovery.

R’ Hershel Schachter recently discussed the question of davening for a Refuah Shelema for someone who is close to being a גוסס—basically on their deathbed with no hope of survival, short of a miracle. R’ Schachter notes that the Mishna in Brachos is clear that one is forbidden to pray for a revealed miracle. As an example, he describes a man rushing home from work after being told that there is a major fire burning around his house. While driving, the man prays that his house is not one of those engulfed by flames. R’ Schachter notes that such a תפלה is ridiculous. Either the house is, God forbid, in flames or it is not in flames. Asking that it not be in flames is tantamount to praying for an overt miracle to transform a readily observable occurence.

R' Shmuel Rozovsky ז'ל

R’ Schachter then to retells a story that he experienced when visiting the Ponovitzer Yeshiva in B’nei Brak, during the time that Reb Chatzkel Levenstein ז’ל was the Mashgiach. Apparently, someone was very sick due to a certain cancer, רחמנא לצלן, and there was a request that everyone say Tehillim for a Refuah Shelema. Reb Chatzkel, who was sitting in Mizrach, refused and exclaimed that it was forbidden. The mood was incredulous; who would refuse such a request? At that time, the famed Rosh Yeshivah, R’ Shmuel Rozovsky ז’ל was seen leaning over to Reb Chatzkel and talking to him. Tehillim commenced. R’ Schachter was to subsequently learn that R’ Shmuel had explained to R’ Chatzkel that there were people who were successfully treated for the particular cancer afflicting the person for whom Tehillim had been requested, and it wasn’t one where there was “no hope” because the doctors had no more new ideas or one where the patient was effectively in palliative care. Had it been someone in palliative care, R’ Chatzkel would have been right.

Importantly, R’ Schachter explains that it is still proper to say Tehillim. However, one does not ask for a רפואה שלמה. Rather, one should ask for רחמי שמים, mercy from Heaven.

In reflecting on the question to R’ Aviner, in light of R’ Schachter’s insight, I think it’s most appropriate, when someone is effectively in a palliative state, to ask for רחמי שמים and not assume that we should suggest to Hashem how that רחמנות should be manifest (e.g. by death חס ושלום).

Let’s hope that we don’t need to say Tehillim for anyone because we have merited the realisation of the pasuk of אני ה’ רופאיך, “I am God your Healer”.