Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brisk-Lubavitch tensions revealed in new Rebbe biography by Lubavitcher author

Despite a campaign by some to paint a picture of very friendly relations in the past between Lubavitch and Brisk - which was part of the Lubavitcher effort to convince the Modern Orthodox people at the recent Rebbe and Rav event at YU, that Lubavitch and YU are not necessarily opposing camps - a new biography of Rebbe Schneerson, by Lubavitcher R. Chaim Miller, has shown that while they may have cooperated at times, there was still significant tension between the two camps.

In the beginning of the book, on page seven, Rabbi Miller relates that the late Rebbe's father, R. Levi Yitzchak, went to R. Chaim Brisker to be tested for semicha. According to the account, R. Chaim Brisker tested him painstakingly, seeing that he was a Chasid and from the Schneerson family - trying to find a justification to deny that to him. When he didn't succeed in that, he was compelled to grant ordination. However, he lamented the fact that he (R. Levi Yitzchak) was putting his scholarly energies into Kabbalah and Hassidism.

In the endnotes to the book, the source for the story given is actually the Rebbe himself, from a talk in 1951.

Doesn't sound like R. Chaim Brisker was in love with all Lubavitchers from the story. Doesn't look like a Brisk-Lubavitch lovefest to me.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why a Litvak doesn't wear a gartel - Reb Aizel Charif of Slonim zt"l

R. Aizel Charif of Slonim was a very colorful gadol, who lived in Lita around a century and a half ago. He was born into a Hasidic family (his father was a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe of Habad), but became a Misnaged, an opponent of Hasidism (that is a good subject for a possible future posting, Chasidim who left Chasidus and became Misnagdic gedolim, with Hashem's help).

A number of years ago, a descendant of his put out an interesting book about him in English, called "The Modest Genius: Reb Aisel Harif", portions of which can be seen via google books. One chapter of it is about Chasidim and Misnagdim (Chasidim and their opponents, the Misnagdim), and has some interesting stories, which display Reb Ayzel's sharpness. One of them (p.117-118) tells that Reb Aizel was once rebuked by a Chasid for not wearing a gartel. He responded that the pants belt he was wearing already performed the separation between the upper and lower parts of the body. The Chasid, however, kept bothering him about it, which led him to remark that if a sefer Torah is kosher, the gartel is under the mantel (coat, cover, jacket), whereas if the gartel is over the mantel, it is a siman, a sign that the sefer Torah is not kosher. והמבין יבין.

Another issue with wearing gartels that I notice is, especially in some cases, that the way the gartel is worn accentuates the shape of the body in an immodest way, which doesn't seem like an appropriate way with which to approach Hashem.

There are also other aspects of why Litvaks (generally) don't wear gartels. The idea of a gartel is a separation between the higher and lower parts of the body. In ancient times, clothing styles were different than today. If someone wore a robe like garment, they might not have such a separation between upper and lower regions. However, later on, prevalent clothing styles changed, and they already incorporated separation between those areas.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lubavitch and The New York Times

Lubavitch (aka Chabad) has, for many years, been heavily involved in PR, public relations, trying to get press coverage to promote their aims. One of the leading press outlets in the NYC area, where Lubavitch HQ is, as well as worldwide, is the New York Times newspaper. Lubavitch has appeared in that publication many times over the years.

How did Lubavitch develop a relationship with that well known, very influential paper? They invested special effort into cultivating it.

This was recently discussed in an address by R. Yehudah Krinsky of Lubavitch, who was delegated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to work on PR way back in the 1950's. He told of his relationship with Irving Spiegel, who dealt with Jewish affairs at the Times. The address can be seen here.

Another aspect of the Lubavitch-NYT connection is seen in another newly released video online, which shows NYT reporter Israel Shenker and the Lubavitcher Rebbe at a 1972 Purim Farbrengen. It can be seen here. Some more recent R. Krinsky-Lubavitch-NYT interactions are related by R. Krinsky in this recording.

One doesn't usually know what goes on behind the scenes at a newspaper. Here we are given some glimpses of behind the scenes action.

The advertising that Lubavitch placed in the NYT over the years is another related topic. How that may have impacted on the paper's coverage is not discussed.

These activities show how Lubavitch used modern public relations strategies at the direction of the last Rebbe.

Postscipt: If you examine the Wikipedia page on R. Krinsky and are aware of the composition, activities, and trajectory of Lubavitch in recent decades, you can see how important its PR (Public Relations) activities and wing have been as part of its overall activity.

The Wikipedia page does not include some other interesting facts on R. Krinsky, which are revealed in a book by George Kalinsky, which features him among other clergy, that he was the youngest of nine children of a non Lubavitch shochet from Boston, who attended Boston Latin school before going to New York, and that his maternal grandfather was of Habad background. Also of interest is that in publicity for a planned program at Yeshiva University, re The Lubavitcher Rebbe and The Rav, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, it is stated that he was the first student at Maimonides day school of Boston, founded by the Rav.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rav Yisroel Salanter's Non-Ancestor: The Vilna Gaon

We have previously posted (here and here) about non-descendants of R. Yisroel Salanter, in reaction to contemporary claims that two public figures, the late Israeli General Amnon Lipkin-Shachak, and להבדיל לחיים טובים, a well known frum author and speaker, descended from R. Yisroel Lipkin of Salant (aka Rav Yisroel Salanter), and how they were both incorrect.

Yet another dubious claim with regard to Rav Yisroel's familial line was noted just a few hours ago, on his just concluded yahrzeit, on a popular website. However, this time it was not of a descendant, but rather an alleged ancestor. The claim was that R. Yisroel's father, R. Zev Wolf Lipkin, was a descendant of the Vilna Gaon, which would mean that Rav Yisroel was the same.

I felt that something was wrong when I read it, as I didn't recall such a thing from the past. 

It seems clear that it is wrong, based on the following -

1) It was not heard in the past. Such a close familial connection between two Lithuanian Torah giants would likely be well known.

2) Rav Yisroel Salanter was born in 1810 למספרם, less than twenty years after the petirah of the Vilna Gaon. His father, Rav Ze'ev Wolf Lipkin,  was born twenty some odd years earlier, in 5546, when the Gaon was still alive. The writer writes very vaguely that Rav Zev Wolf was a descendant of the Gaon, without specifying what kind of descendant. Since the Gaon was was in his sixties when Rav Zev Wolf was born, let us assume that they meant a grandson or perhaps great grandson. If that was the case, it would be clearly known and should be stated as such, rather than just the vague claim of being a 'descendant', which sounds like someone who was born many years and generations after, when lines of descent and exact relationships often become unclear with the passage of time and development of different family branches.

One may wonder how such a claim even came into being, if it is totally lacking in basis. It is hard to figure out some things, but perhaps someone saw a statement somewhere that placed Rav Yisroel in a line following the Gaon, and misinterpreted it to mean that he was a physical descendant, when actually what was meant was a kind of spiritual lineage. Hopefully people will be more careful in the future, as this is not the first error I have noted in compilations of yahrzeit information.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chazan Yossele Rosenblatt in Eretz Yisroel 1930's movie, Dream Of My People, Online!

Shortly before Chazan Yossele Rosenblatt (notice the great difference between the Hebrew Wikipedia entry on Yossele, which I just linked to, and the English one here, which is so much shorter) was niftar, he was in Eretz Yisroel working on a film. The moving picture was to feature scenes of the rebuilding of The Holy Land, along with Yossele singing relevant songs at mekomos hakedoshim.

In the past I have seen small portions of it, but it was edited, and I felt like something was missing.

I just found a more complete and authentic older version online, which is worth watching (although I am not sure if it is 100% complete, and it seems that there was a Yiddish version as well).

You can see it here, free of charge.

It is a great movie, as it gives you a real picture of the land of Israel eighty some odd years ago, as well as giving a living picture of the legendary Yossele Rosenblatt.

Thanks to poster יעקב גרוס and others who made it available to us.

P.S. NCJF seems to have a much longer, sixty six minute, English version, for sale (take a look at their page for it, which shows a quaint poster advertising the film as well), while the one featured here is in Hebrew, and only around twelve and a half minutes. Nevertheless it is definitely worth watching, and the price is definitely not to complain about.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Sefer Hachinuch on simcha (happiness): A person's nature is such that he must rejoice on occasion (as opposed to constantly)

The previous post, on the proper Jewish attitude toward simcha, got much attention, ב"ה, thanks to a fellow writer online that linked to it. Thank you very much to him, and שפע ברכה והצלחה.

Not long after it appeared, a friend notified me that a writer in a prominent weekly publication (Yated Ne'eman magazine, 28 Cheshvan 5774), Rabbi Boruch Leff, had actually devoted a column of his (Growing with Passion) to the subject. Studying what he wrote, it seemed to be an attempt to rebut and refute what had been posted here. He labored mightily and made a good case for his opposition, but ultimately fell short.

Unfortunately, part of the piece muddied the waters and clouded the issue, making it appear as if the position expressed here was opposition to the very idea of simcha shel mitzvah, a fundamental part of our Torah. Chas veshalom! The points made here perhaps are too fine for some people to grasp, and, in the modern sound bite world, with short attention spans and epidemic attention deficit disorders, that we live in, are easily distorted and misunderstood. Nevertheless, we have to make our hishtadlus and try to elucidate the issues. Those who are open minded will hopefully read the words here and give the matter a fair hearing.

To attain some clarity and tap into classical Torah hashkafah on the subject, it would be a good idea to step back about three quarters of a millenium, and look and see what a great early Gaon, the renowned authority on mitzvos, the Sefer Hachinuch, writes about simcha, to show what this great Rishon, a giant among giants, had to say about it. And we can then decide if he agreed with the much more recent mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha tamid saying.

Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 451, מצוה לשמוח ברגלים

 משרשי המצוה לפי שהאדם נכון על ענין שצריך טבעו לשמוח לפרקים, כמו שהוא צריך אל המזון על כל פנים ואל המנוחה ואל השינה, ורצה האל לזכותינו אנחנו עמו וצאן מרעיתו וציונו לעשות השמחה לשמו, למען נזכה לפניו בכל מעשינו. והנה קבע לנו זמנים בשנה למועדים, לזכור בהם הנסים והטובות אשר גמלנו, ואז, בעתים ההם, צונו לכלכל החומר בדבר השמחה הצריכה אליו וימצא לנו תרופה גדולה בהיות שובע השמחות לשמו ולזכרו, כי המחשבה הזאת תהיה לנו גדר לבל נצא מדרך היושר יותר מדאי. ואשר עמו התבוננות מבלי החפץ בקטרוג ימצא טעם בדברי

Translation - Of the roots of this mitzvah is that a person is set up in a way that his nature requires being happy at times, just like he needs food, and rest, and sleep. And Hashem wanted to refine us, His nation, and the sheep of His flock, and He commanded us to make the rejoicing for his name, so that we stand righteously before Him with all our actions. And behold He set for us specific times in the year as festivals, to remember in them the miracles and favors that he granted us, and then, in those times, He commanded us to nourish our physical side with the joy that it requires, through which we would attain great healing with the satiation of rejoicing for His name and remembrance. This state of mind would be for us a protective shield from veering off the proper path.

We learn a number of important points  from The Chinuch.

1) Simcha is a need, a requirement of life!

2) It is akin to eating, resting, and sleeping, a vital part of existence.

3) However, just like eating, resting, and sleeping, it is not something that is done every second.

It seems quite clear that he did not subscribe to the notion that there is a constant mitzvah to be besimcha. We would be wise to give his words the attention and respect they deserve.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Guess What? The Rama was not a Breslover Chasid! Is there a mitzvah obligation to incessantly, always be happy? No! :-)

Synopsis - In case you have no time or patience to read through the whole post, to save you from jumping to conclusions and saying this guy is crazy, he's advocating being sad always, atzvus, rather than being besimcha, happy, here is a synopsis

עבדו את ה' בשמחה - Serve G-d with joy - definitely yes, as stated in Tehillim 100:2
וטוב לב משתה תמיד - Definitely yes, as per Mishlei (Proverbs) 15:15
מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד - Not in my Tanach, Gemara, or Shulchan Aruch

The Rama's two temidim and a recent competitor

There is an old vort, observing that in the beginning of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, halacha aleph, the Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles, the great poseik, talks about Shivisi Hashem Linegdi Tamid, while at the end of Orach Chaim, almost seven hundred simanim later, he ends off his comments on that same sefer with another tamid, namely veTov Lev mishteh tamid. The old vort refers to these two hagohos of the Rama as the two temidim, as in the two daily korbanos (sacrifices) tamid that were brought in the Beis Hamikdash. In derush it was used to homiletically stress the importance of them both.

Recently, a new competitor has emerged to the Rama's two temidim. A new saying has become popular in some circles, which claims that
מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד.

However, unlike that two temidim of the Rama, which come from pesukim, the first from Tehillim and the second from Mishlei, the latter is neither seen in our holy scriptures, nor in the Mishna, Gemara, or Shulchan Aruch. The Rama, our great halachic authority, when talking about simcha, in Hilchos Purim, as linked above, doesn't say mitzvah gedola lehiyod besimcha tamid - rather, he says vetov lev mishteh tamid.

An accident? I think not

The Rama was not a Breslov Hasid it seems, believe it or not. ;-) Surprise, surprise.

Apparently, the saying comes from Breslov circles, though Rav Nachman himself may not have said so exactly.

Simcha doesn't make the list of mitzvos temidios, constant mitzvos

And now a new twist. I could see it happening years ago. And now it has occurred, in a very public manner.

What do I mean? A Rabbi, a fine talmid chacham, asked, at the end of a recent newspaper article, why 'mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha tamid' is not included in the list of mitzvos temidios (constant mitzvos). This shows how the relatively new Breslover saying 'mitzvah gedola lehiyos besimcha tamid' has become so ubiquitous and taken for granted by many in recent years, that even a prominent and respected Rav, treats it as it if it were a halachic  statement from the Mishna, Gemara, or Shulchan Aruch. When actually it does not appear in any of those places!

Years ago, a  fine article on the topic appeared online, questioning if the saying was indeed correct. Reading it is recommended. The answer to the Rabbi's question can be found that way.

I paste it below, with permission.

Is there a Mitzvah of Simcha


from (note: the url does not work at present)

Is There a Mitzva To Be B'simcha (happy) constantly ?

In recent years, a 'saying, "mitzva gedola lihiyos b'simcha tamid" (It
is a great mitzva to be always joyous) has become well known and oft -
quoted. It is not a new saying, but probably due to being put to music
in recent years and (an)other factor(s), it has become a very popular
saying. Some seem to think that it is an ancient Jewish teaching -
perhaps from the gemara (Talmud) or another unimpeachable classic
ancient Jewish source. That is not the case, however. The source of the
saying is, to my knowledge, the leader of the Breslov (or Bratzlav)
chassidic group, R. Nachman, who lived approximately 200 years ago. Such
a formulation does not appear earlier than that, to my knowledge. With
that in mind, I think it is appropriate and in order to try to examine
if this is an undisputed and indisputable teaching accepted by all
Jewish authorities, despite their not expressing such, or perhaps their
refraining from expressing such a belief for so long, indicates

Questions On 'Mitzva Gedola Lihiyos B'Simcha Tamid'

(1) What is the source of this supposed mitzvah?

Many would point to 'ivdu es Hashem b'simcha' (serve Hashem with
joy) of Tehillim (Psalms) 100:2 and similar verses. However, that /
those verse(s) speak(s) of serving Hashem with joy - not being joyous in
and of itself. This distinction, although seeming very fine, should not
be ignored, in my opinion. What may seem to be fine distinctions /
nuances in Torah verses can be of great import.

(2) If this is a mitzvah (commandment), why do the classic enumerators
of the 613 mitzvos not count this as such? There is a Biblical mitzvah
of Simcha on certain yomim tovim (holidays) that is enumerated, I
believe, but not such a mitzva that applies constantly. In fact, even
the mitzva of simcha on holidays is only fulfilled by action, e.g.eating
meat from karban shelamim (sacrifice), etc., and not just by being in a
certain state of mind. This is quite significant in that it shows that
(1) when there is a mitzva of simcha, it involves more than just thought
/ feelings / emotions and (2) there is no such mitzvah seemingly, at
other times.

Conflicting Statements / Sources

Karliner Rebbe takes opposing position

(1) Karlin vs. Breslov - One of the great early hassidic leaders, R. Aharon of Karlin, who was before Rav Nachman of Breslov, is reported to have stated 'there is no mitzvah to be b'simcha, but simcha
can bring one to the greatest mitzvos, and there is no aveira
(prohibition) to be be'atzvus (in a state of sadness), but atzvus can
bring one to the greatest aveiros' (or similar). Here one sees a great
hassidic leader, contemporary to (slightly earlier I believe) R.
Nachman, saying that there is no mitzvah to be b'simcha!

(2) Rav Yosef Gikatilla (a great Sephardic Rishon - early authority -
circa 1200's C.E.) says in his Sefer Hamishalim (book of Parables) the
following ( # 97) - He compares simcha to day and atzvus (sadness) to
night, saying that simcha's effect is to light up a person, similar to
the sun lighting up the day and atzvus darkens a person like darkness
darkens the night. He continues by saying that just as it is impossible
to have (only) (day) light always, with no periods of night (darkness),
so it is impossible to have (always) only simcha without atzvus

(3) Rabbenu Bachayay (a great early commentator) says in his classic
'Kad HaKemach' - There is Simcha that is assur (prohibited) min haTorah
(Biblically). Somewhat less than R.Nachman's unequivocal enthusiastic
advocacy of simcha. It is also written, I believe, that simcha tmidis
eina simcha - a constant simcha is not simcha! (I don't have the source
right now - help would be appreciated).

(4) Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon, wisest of men) says in Koheles
(Ecclesiastes) 2:2 "UliSimcha-ma zo osa?" - As for Happiness - what
(good) does it accomplish? Rashi comments - what good does it do, being
that letdown follows in it's wake. Here the wisest of all men,
questions the value of simcha. The gemara (Talmud) in Maseches Shabbos
30b explains this verse (in contrasting it to Koheles 8:15, where Simcha
is praised) as referring to Simcha sheaina shel mitzvah (non - mitzvah
related joy). In other words, Simcha (Joy / Happiness) of a mitzva is
praiseworthy - Simcha not of a mitzva is not.

Another statement critical of simcha is in Koheles 7:4 where it is
stated "Lev chachamim b'veis eivel v'lev ksilim b'veis simcha"- The
heart of the wise is in a house of mourning and the heart of the fool in
a house of happiness (simcha). We see clearly that the wisest of men
clearly does not consider simcha to be always and unequivocally
desirable / praiseworthy - rather he considers certain simcha
praiseworthy and other simcha worthy of criticism / disdain.

Another statement critical of simcha is found in Mishlei (Proverbs)
21:17 where Shlomo says "Ish machsor ohev simcha"- a deficient person
loves happiness.

Why There May Be No Mitzvah To Be B'simcha

Perhaps there may not be a mitzva to be b'simcha because (1) As shown
above, not all simcha is desirable (2) Simcha (joy / happiness) is not
considered a desirable end / goal in and of itself. Rather, it is
something that must go together with / be derived from mitzva
activity. Having an independent / stand alone mitzva to be b'simcha
might be interpreted as making simcha a goal / end in and of itself,
rather than an adjunct / by product to / of mitzva activity.

What Brings Desirable Simcha? Some Ways

Examination of Psukim (Biblical verses) that mention Simcha positively,
show that (1) Straightness - There is a connection between yashrus
(straightness) and simcha. Being straight / righteous brings simcha, as
is stated [Tehillim (Psalms) 97:11] "Uliyishrei lev simcha" - to the
straight of heart is joy. This is also evident in the pasuk (Tehillim
19:9) "pikudei hashem yesharim mesamchei lev" - the precepts of Hashem
are straight and heart gladdening. A straight person with a clear
conscience is naturally inclined to happiness.

(2) Proper Torah study (as per Tehillim 19:9, as above).

Conclusion - Summing Up

As it appears to me, the Jewish attitude to simcha (happiness) is
nuanced. Proper simcha, though not a mitzva, can be desirable /
praiseworthy. Other simcha is undesirable, even forbidden. One should
beware of overly exalting simcha and making / proclaiming 'simcha' a
major thrust of one's Judaism. Let us not forget the classic Rabbinic
dictum "Kol hamosif goreia" (whoever adds, actually subtracts). If
Hashem did not make something a mitzvah, it is presumed to have been for
good reason and we are forbidden to put it in that category.

P.S. Re a related subject - Some people who believe 'mitzvah gedola
lihiyos bisimcha tamid' seem to think as well, as a corollary of the
above perhaps, that sadness and shame are always viewed negatively and
as undesirable by Judaism. Re shame - That is incorrect, as classical
Jewish sources praise shame and bashfullness highly - though not
excessive shame / shyness.

Re atzvus (sadness) - some seem to think that it's always, totally
undesirable. However, we know that everything Hashem made was for a
purpose (see last statement in Pirkei Avos).There is a time for
everything (Koheles). Atzvus may have it's proper place in the world in
aiding a choteh (sinner) and spurring him to do teshuva
(repentance). Those who seem to want to banish it entirely remind me of
a Midrashic teaching where Chazal say that Dovid haMelech (King David)
wondered why Hashem created shigaon (insanity) - he wondered what useful
purpose it serves - who needs it? He was later shown that he would have
need for it - when 'L'Dovid bishanoso es taamo lifnei avimelech
vayigarishehu vayeloch' (Tehillim 34) - He was only able to escape
unharmed from the jaws of King Avimelech by feigning insanity
(parenthetically, this account is somewhat similar to a story related by
Chazal re Dovid hamelech o"h questioning why Hashem had created spiders
and the need for them in the world - which ends with him similarly shown
not to question G-d in that manner and being saved by Hashem from his
enemy via a spider [web]).

Similarly, in my opinion, those who think that atzvus has no proper
place in the world, are repeating the mistake of Dovid hamelech and
should realize that G-d created everything for a reason.

Wisdom of the Wise of the Nations re Simcha

I have come across the following quotes from general non - Jewish
literature, which I think are enlightening on the subject. In the spirit
of the Talmudic teaching that 'chochma bagoyim taamin' [if someone tells
you that there is wisdom among the nations, you should believe them] ),
I am mentioning them here.

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued is just beyond your grasp,
but if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you." - Nathaniel

"If only we'd stop trying to be happy we'd have a pretty good time." -
Edith Wharton.

Both of the above seem to express a realization that active pursuit of
and concentration on happiness can actually be counterproductive to it's
attainment. Perhaps because of the above reasons, some people have been
observed to change the lyrics when the songs were played to 'simcha
gedola lihiyos bimitzvah tomid' (it's a great joy to be always involved
in mitzvah[s])-a reformulation which seemingly avoids the objections
cited above.'

P.S. In the comments section, some important comments appear -

1) Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb of the O-U stated that R. Nachman's statement was given in the following context -

We are taught that 'mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha', as well as 'mishenichnas Av mamatin besimcha'. R. Nachman observed that both of those directives just tell one when to increase simcha and when to decrease it - but it is taken as a given that it always exists at some level.

On that basis he proceeded to state 'mitzvoh gedola lihiyos besimcha tomid'.

While the context is illuminating and makes the statement seem less extreme, the concerns about it raised in the essay above are still valid, IMHO.

2) A different commenter claims that R. Nachman is actually being misquoted, and that he didn't even say it!


Bottom line - We don't pasken from modern song lyrics. Don't believe everything you hear. If someone would show you this supposed mitzvah in the Sefer Hachinuch, that would be one thing. But if you can't find it there, that tells you that something is wrong. Buyer beware

עבדו את ה' בשמחה - פסוק בתהלים - כן!

וטוב לב משתה תמיד - פסוק במשלי - כן!

מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד - יצירה חדשה