Time for Mechila: nobody is perfect

This statement most certainly includes me. When writing my blog posts, I’ve occasionally unintentionally upset someone or have been misunderstood given the fact that perhaps I unwisely tend not to spend too much time actually writing my posts or proof-reading them.

Sometimes people send me a private email, and I act on it. Other times they send me a fake comment and when I try to reply, it bounces because there is no such address. Given that it’s Erev Yom Kippur, if there is a current or past post that you feel is unfair or has stepped over a halachic boundary, I ask you sincerely to email me, and most certainly, if it is a real email address and doesn’t bounce, I will reply accordingly.

I chanced across a comment about two? years ago where someone said I had it in for Rav Beck of Adass. Let me be very clear. Rav Beck is a holy man, a Yirei Shomayim, who has never done anything to me and I do not seek to belittle him in any way. I do have differences between the views of my Rabonim and his Shita on some things, and I do not resile for those. That should not be confused with a “personal vendetta” which I think I saw someone on the internet describe it.

So, for the sake of the record I will state those things (some of which also apply to Satmar, Toldos Aron and various other extreme groups within Adass)

  • I utterly and completely condemn their approach to the state of the Israel, and consider Veyoel Moshe, not Halacha and not LeMaaseh and it has been taken apart as a Sefer many times by people more learned than I. It’s also just reminded me of a story:
    • In the early days, Rav Kook זצ’’ל was the then Chief Rabbi, and he was informed that there were some Jewish Builders working on Rosh Hashono. What did he do? He didn’t send people to scream at them and throw stones at them etc This were before the State came to be. He immediately called his Shamash and a few others and instructed them to go to the building site, and blow the mandatory number of notes of the Shofar with a Brocha to be Motzi the Builders. The builders were bewildered. They asked who are these people. They were told these are the direct emissaries of the Chief Rabbi, the Holy Tzadik, Rav Kook. They asked what are they doing here on Rosh Hashono. They were told that Rav Kook has personally requested that they be given the opportunity to share in the Mitzvah of Tekias Shofar. The Builders were bewildered but stayed silent. They put down their tools. The Shofar was blown. Rav Kook’s emissaries then quietly left the building site and returned to Rav Kook. What transpired was the approach that I subscribe to. The builders were overcome. The sound of the Shofar and the care and indirect admonition of Rav Kook left them in a state of shock. They downed their tools, went home, and many of them apparently changed clothes and attended Shule.
  • I utterly condemn anyone who quietly visits and stays in contact with his brother Moshe Ber Beck. For those who don’t know this is the “personage” who went and continues to kiss Arafar, Ahmadinejad and all שונאי ישראל and give us the “problem” of we aren’t against Jews (like moshe ber beck) just Zionists. Well everyone should answer them truthfully. EVERY Jew is a Zionist. Every Jew believes that the Land of Israel is the Land of Jews. Some might differ with timing and method, but we pray this three times a day and more. Don’t anyone ever fall for the trick that a Jew is not a Zionist. EVERY JEW IS A ZIONIST. There is no need to go into Rashi and Tosfos on when, how, etc. To the שונאי ישראל there is NO difference. All you are doing is giving them hate fodder.
  • I utterly condemn and person who fails to alert authorities about a danger in our midst (e.g. a pedophile, a wife basher etc)
  • I utterly condemn anyone who on the basis that somebody reports such a danger, discriminates against such people. We must encourage those affected to get all the help they need to cope with what in some cases is a life long struggle.
  • I utterly condemn the infamous blog authored by Scott Rosenberg which is spite filled hate for Torah.

That being said, I am sure I have made someone unhappy and may have crossed a line in one of my many posts. If so, please feel free to email me personally or if you like write a comment and I won’t publish the comment.If on reflection (and I will reflect) I will apologise one way or another,

My blog posts are there mainly to help me. They are therapeutic. I write what’s on my mind, and I also have an outlet to spread Torah. At all times I try to be fair, but I far from perfect. If you are unhappy and don’t tell me some way (even write me a hand written letter and drop in my letter box) please do so. My email address is very easy to find i s a a c @ B A L B dot IN … just don’t send to my RMIT address as I am on leave at the moment and not reading those emails.

Wishing EVERYONE כתיבה וחתימה טובה בברכת כהן מוחזק

May all your Tefillos go straight to where they have to, and be successful, and may we all be Zoche to שופר גדול לחירותנו

Sam Lipski gets it wrong about the Australian election date

[Disclaimer: as always, these views are my own. They do not represent my employer or any organisation with which I am affiliated or a member of]

In an article in the Australian Jewish News, the erudite and respected figure editorialised that it didn’t bother him that the Australian Labor Party through the Prime Minister Julia Gillard had chosen Yom Kippur as the election date, despite having other possibilities. Amongst his points Lipski argues that as far as he knew Halacha knew no difference between the voting on Shabbos and the voting on Yom Kippur. Despite Sam’s Orthodox roots and his current alleged membership of the (small) Conservative Jewish Community, it shocks me that he would make such statements. Granted, the job of an editorial is to be somewhat left (sic) field and sensationalist, but in this case he has taken his license too far.

The implication that once you drive on Shabbos, you may as well drive on Yom Kippur is a nonsense, and Sam knows it. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, and even those who might infract on other days, attempt to refrain from doing so on Yom Kippur.


On Yom Kippur evening after davening at Elwood Shule, there are many people who walk back to their homes even though they drive on Shabbos. Are we expecting Sam to knock on their window and say “Hey Buddy, what’s the point, you already drove last Shabbos”. It is well-known that the Conservative movement’s attempt to purify driving on Shabbos was an abject failure. Even its own leaders now acknowledge this fact.

No Sam, your role isn’t to find special meaning on the “wonderful” conjugation of the election and Yom Kippur. That, is distasteful, disrespectful, and frankly grandstanding. You already have a good name. There is no need to engage in this populist, sensationalist nonsense that strikes at the holiest day of the Jewish Calendar.

Michael Danby a Labor MP, a member of Elwood Shule, put it respectfully and rightly when he expressed disappointment over the date and announced that extra polling days would be available in Jewish areas.

I urge all people to not even remotely consider the possibility of casting your ballot on Yom Kippur. Do it before, or by postal vote. All Orthodox Shules should contact their members in this regard, in my opinion. I’d venture to say that even the Conservadox, Conservative or Reform movements should do the same.

I’m told that on another blog, there is an article whose title suggests it is “Great” that an election is held on Yom Kippur. Whether this is sarcasm, wit or a real opinion, it’s a great shame that writers and thinkers even have the temerity, let alone the Jewish vacuity, to evince a view that is remotely positive about such a sad conjunction.

Gartels on Yom Kippur

It is questionable during the year whether one needs to wear a Gartel. Let’s assume that it is your family minhag or acquired minhag to continue to do so even today. This article is not about the need to wear one.

On Yom Kippur, certainly those who wear a Gartel also wear a Kittel. Almost every Kittel I have seen, includes a white gartel, made of the same material as the kittel. If so, on a day when we are meant to wear white (via a Kittel) largely because it reminds us of the deathly shrouds (which is why Shulchan Aruch paskens that even women can wear a Kittel) why is it that people also put their black gartel on top of their kittel. That is, a gartel on a gartel?

On Rosh Hashana, when I am the Ba’al Tefila for Musaf, I wear a Kittel. I don’t wear an extra Gartel. On Yom Kippur, I confess that I also wear a black gartel over my kittel. The reason that I do so has nothing to do with Halacha. It is an emotional expression. My Zeyda Yidel Balbin passed away on Yom Kippur. As a young man, when I entered the room that he was in when he passed away on Motzoei Yom Kippur (he had already been removed by the Chevra Kadisha). I stood there alone for quite some minutes feeling the emptiness of the room. His hat and walking stick were in the room. As I walked around, I also found his Gartel. I took that Gartel and I wear it on his Yohr Tzeit (Yom Kippur).

Why do others wear a black gartel on top of their kittel? If they do so because their Rebbes did so, then why did the Rebbes do so?

Along these lines, why don’t some Chassidim substitute their black yarmulkas for white yarmulkas?

Does anyone know?

Typical Kittel

Look what they’ve done to my song

It’s Erev Yom Kippur. I’m at work. I’m finding it difficult to focus on work. It’s my Elter Zeyde and namesake, R’ Yitzchak Amzel’s ז’ל (Bogushitzer) Yohr Tzeit. Tonight, on Yom Kippur, is my Zeyde, R’ Yehuda Balbin’s  ז’ל Yohr Tzeit. Elwood Shule will be pretty much full. Just before כל נדרי I’ll be sitting on the Bima saying תפילה זכה. Only this time, it will be different.

In times gone by, people pass and shake my hand, wishing a גמר חתימה טובה and a גוט יום טוב. Some would peer into my מחזור to see what I was saying, and nod their head in acknowledgment. Then in Yiddish they would say

“Oy, תפילה זכה. I remember my father and zeyde saying this, with tears streaming down their foreheads. You can’t imagine the scene in Poland. The shule was overflowing and stifling. The air was electric and you could hear a pin drop. When the חזן started אור זרוע לצדיק we all trembled: man, woman and child.”

My father sang in the choir in the Chassidishe Shtiebl in Rawa. The בעל תפילה (not a חזן wearing a pointy white hat not intoning an operatic performance) was R’ Zishe Shoichet. הי’ד. Earlier that morning, the town was literally a mess after כפרות. Everyone rushed to R’ Zishe who would then Shecht the chickens, ostensibly for the poor. But who wasn’t poor? When a tired and awe-struck R’ Zishe cried out אור זרוע לצדיק the walls evinced shock and awe. Even the Maskil or Bundist would be at Shule, and they too would tremble before מלך מלכי המלכים.

Over the years, the remnants of that generation were liberally sprinkled among the pews. I remember when there were 40 or 50 people standing in aisles and at the door. I remember when there was even an overflow. This was the home of the survivor. This was a peek into their past. Yes, they drove to Shule (although those who had the strength avoided it on Yom Kippur or parked a distance away so that nobody would see that they were driving) but there they were, bedecked in a Tallis, and a tattered old Kapeloosh (fedora). Who wouldn’t come to Shule wearing a Kapeloosh? Comically, they would drive home wearing the Kapeloosh. But they were fasting. They were davening. It was Yom Kippur.

Someone always fainted (G’Chalished). They knew how to navigate a Machzor. They didn’t need Rabbi Artscroll’s English guide to tell them when to start, when to stop, when to sing or when to cry. It was imbued indelibly. There was nobody announcing page numbers. There wasn’t even a need to standardise on a single Machzor. You wouldn’t see one of those “new” fangled English Machzorim issued by the British Empire. There was Tabik (snuff) and smelling salts. By the afternoon, bad breath was the order of the day. Just before Yizkor, the Shule seemed to double in number. The air was electric. R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’ל mesmerised and enfranchised everyone: young and old, sick and healthy, man and woman. After Yizkor, when, as a boy, I’d return to the Shule proper to see men and women with red weeping eyes. Like a time warp, it looked as though they had travelled back into the bosom of their departed loved ones, and been touched on their foreheads.

The year after we were married, I was employed to daven in Wellington, New Zealand. It was a very English Shule (Routledge Machzor and all). No Piyutim were skipped. I had to say a separate Kel Moleh for each name on the Shule list. I can’t forget, though, the face of what seemed to be the only Poilishe Yid in the crowd. As I came down the steps exhausted from davening a Mussaf which finished at 5pm (they didn’t want a break because people might leave) an old yid, Mr Ryzman, in a tattered kapeloosh, smiled broadly revealing a motley set of teeth, and loudly said “Shekoyech”. I was later told that he rarely smiled, and had told others that he felt “in der heim”.

I didn’t think much of all this at the time. It just seemed so normal and expected. Fast forward. Tonight, I will do exactly what I have always done. Regrettably, there will be very few Yidden in a Kapeloosh. Instead, we will have a more modern array of psychedelic yarmulkes perched on coiffured heads bearing testament to attendance at a flashy Bar Mitzvah or the like. There will be page announcements and new innovative speeches designed to make sure that people remain interested. Woman somehow will have forgotten that it is customary to have a head covering; even those who didn’t have a fancy hat wore a white scarf.

But they are here. They have come. They have identified with their people.

ועמך כולם צדיקים

אנו מתירים להתפלל עם העברינים

Davening will be lonely. The singing won’t be spine tinglingly inclusive. I will wait for the עולם to say their bits in response to mine. Alas, there will be comparative silence and an eery feeling of emptiness will envelop me.

I’ve learned to cope emotionally somewhat, despite my perhaps extreme nostalgia, only by trying to daven in a more dispassionate way.

But it’s Yom Kippur. That doesn’t seem right, does it?

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