Thursday, November 12, 2015

Chasidic Yeshiva Bochurim Banned From Attending Their Rebbe's Tish

Rav Yirmiyahu Kaganoff shlita, a poseik in Eretz Yisroel, has recently written some interesting words about a not so well known Polish gadol who lived in Baltimore, R. Michoel Forshlager z"l, in two installments.

In the second part, the following is stated

"in Sochatchov they did not allow the bachurei yeshivah to attend the tishin of the rebbe, since this would take away from their single-minded goal of growing in learning."

Sochatchov, a leading, and influential Polish Chasidic dynasty, was known for placing great emphasis on limud haTorah.

This is in contrast to what I heard a while ago from Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, mashpia at Yeshiva University, and Rabbi of Cong. Aish Kodesh in NY, in one of his lectures. He said there, in a talk about the Chasidic Shabbos, that as opposed to what outsiders might think, by Chasidim there was no thought that attending a tish could be a problem of bittul Torah (you can hear it here, at app. 18:50). Obviously, that was not correct. At least not in Sochatchov. And I suspect that Sochatchov was not the only place with such a position.

Moral of the story - caveat emptor - buyer beware. Be a critical consumer. Not everything that is stated out there is accurate.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Proper Way of Waiting for Moshiach, and Alternative Ways to Avoid

I have a page here from the Yated Neeman newspaper in New York from the end of Cheshvan 5776, with a very important column about waiting for Moshiach. Since there is much confusion about this issue, I will share some of what the writer, Avrohom Birnbaum, writes, in a summarized adaptation.

Frequently, we hear or read messages that Moshiach is about to come, whether it is this year, at the end of shmitah, this month, any day, and so on. Sometimes these messages are even attributed to a gadol like Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, or a mekubal.

With regard to Rav Chaim, it is sad that his name is used as a source for various unfounded and misunderstood statements. One of the members of Rav Chaim's household told Reb Birnbaum that he could be certain that almost everything said in Rav Chaim's name has a chazakah that it is either not true, or taken out of context, by people with vested interests, or distorted by sensationalistic media.

As far as the frequent pronouncements that Moshiach is about to come, the writer says he is profoundly ambivalent about them. Why? Because a ma'amin does not need such announcements. He believes and waits for Moshiach anyway. But not only because of that. It is also because of a great concern that such announcements can actually hurt the belief in the coming of Moshiach among some people.

Reb Birnbaum brings a Chasidic story supporting his position. Around one hundred and seventy five years ago there was a year in which numerous tzadikim and mekubalim predicted that Moshiach would come. R. Eliezer of Dzhikov, a Polish Rebbe, publicly announced at the beginning of that year that Moshiach would not come that year. He explained that despite the predictions, Hashem might decide not to bring Moshiach then (as indeed happened). If so, there was a danger that people, especially simple Jews, might lose their faith in Moshiach. And he could not allow that to happen. On the other hand, if Moshiach would come, what would be the worst thing that could happen? People would say that he was a shakran and not a real Rebbe. It is said that R. Chaim of Sanz, when he heard what R. Eliezer said, praised it, and said 'he saved many Yidden from apikorsus'.

(Adapter's note) There is a similar story about Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt"l. I don't recall all the details at present, but I think it was in the context of trying to get someone to close his business on Shabbos. Some people wanted to promise the guy something irresponsible if he did so, such as that Moshiach would come if he would do so and keep Shabbos (two Shabbosos?). Rav Yaakov objected and said that it was not proper to do so, and that the man could lose his faith if and when he would see that what was promised did not happen. The bottom line is that we cannot, it is improper, to build Yiddishkeit with falsehood, and irresponsible, and unfounded claims and predictions.

Another version of this perversion is in form of a revelation allegedly via an autistic child or similar. Such scams should also be ignored.

Such circulating predictions, rather than indicating a strong belief in the coming of Moshiach may actually indicate the opposite. A true maamin has such a strong belief that he has no need of such dubious pronouncements to supposedly be mechazeik him.

May we be zoche to the coming of the true Moshiach bikarov.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Extreme Hotspots - Kivrei Tzadikim In Contemporary Neo-Chasidus

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Yeshiva University mashpia, and Rabbi of Cong. Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, recently traveled with a group of his followers to burial sites of Chasidic leaders in Europe, before continuing on to the land of Israel.

In one of his talks during the trip, at the grave of the founder of the Chasidic movement, which was recently featured prominently (at the landing page, first page you see when visiting the site) at, he stated (11:40-) (reading from a writeup related to a R. Yosef Dayan of Eretz Yisrael) that

"One hour of Torah and tefillah at the burial site of a tzadik, he used to say, is equivalent to hundreds of such hours in a Beis HaMedrash."

Rabbi Weinberger is viewed as the leader of the neo-Chasidus movement, so his words are significant.

A few things strike me as particularly significant about the statement - 1) the statement is not qualified, e.g. if a person is at the highest level, prepared for the experience thoroughly, but is given as a blanket statement, 2) in addition to the extremely high multiplier effect claimed, the mere fact of quantifying the matter, 3) the mention of learning at the site, in addition to davening.

Is this in line with mainstream Chasidic theology nowadays?

It comes across as quite extreme, even for Chasidim. Do other Chasidim nowadays make such statements? It is one thing to say that praying at such places is powerful, but to quantify such claims, saying they are hundreds of times more powerful than doing the same things elsewhere? Not doubly as powerful, thrice as powerful, or four times as powerful. Hundreds of times as powerful. That is quite a claim.

I suspect that in this, as well as with some other things, neo-Chasidus is outdoing much, if not all, of old Chasidus.

It is not Rav Soloveitchik's Modern Orthodoxy for sure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Revealed - Rebbe, Rebbe song was made for Breslov and Uman

In case the previous post was not enough for you, we now have confirmation of the specific Breslov background of the song.

See paragraph two of this article, which states clearly that the song was made for hisorerus connected to traveling to the kever of R. Nachman of Breslov in Uman.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Old Litvish Comes Back Into View (Chofetz Chaim video analysis)

The recently discovered Chofetz Chaim video has garnered much publicity and commentary, and rightfully so.

A few days ago, a more sophisticated analysis appeared online, giving important context to the video.

However, I don't recall seeing some of the points that occurred to me, so I will share some of my thoughts here.

Old Litvish vs. new Litvish

Many people, perhaps the overwhelming majority of people out there in the sugya, have a certain image of what a Litvak, an orthodox, Torah observant Litvishe Yid, is. It likely is, for most such people, someone wearing a fedora, with a necktie (often with eyeglasses as well). Or, if they are a Rav, perhaps with a Homburg type hat. They might picture him as beardless, in a light colored modern suit as well. However, the Chofetz Chaim, one of the most famous and venerated Litvish Torah personalities of modern times, and perhaps of all time, in a few moments of moving pictures, demolished all those stereotypes. Not one of those things are seen on him in the video!

What is the explanation for this?

The answer is, that the Chofetz Chaim, when the video was filmed in 1923, was a Litvak from an earlier era. A throwback to pre-modern Lita. That partly was due to his age. Recall that he was born way back in the 1830's. But also due to his chosen way of life. He deliberately did not wear a Rabbinic hat, preferring the hat of a simple baal habayis (layman). The modern garb of light suits, ties, and fedoras adopted by many young Litvish Yeshiva students in the early 1900's, reportedly under the direction of the Alter of Slabodka (although some aspects of it started earlier), to give the Yeshiva students status, to counter the picture of them promoted by their 'enlightened' opponents that painted them as 'shleppers', giving them instead an aura of sophisticated urbanity, was a new thing, and one that the Chofetz Chaim, as a conservative small town Yid from a previous generation, did not adopt.

While we have many photos showing the new Litvish style, Yeshiva students, Rabbonim, and gedolim, in the newer garb, we have many less images that give a glimpse of the older, simpler, Torah observant Lita. Seeing such images, therefore, are a great revelation, taking us back into an earlier time. Being transported to the old Lita with such video footage, even for just a few seconds, is therefore an unexpected revelation and delight.

A posek, a Litvishe Halachist, and Baal Mussar - and not a Brisker!

Another way in which the Chofetz Chaim was an old fashioned, pre-modern Litvishe Yid was in his type of Yiddishkeit. He was from the pre Brisker era. Nowadays, many (rightly or wrongly) identify Litvaks with people learning with 'lomdus' and 'Brisker Torah', in wake of the revolution wrought by R. Chaim Brisker. Often, those who followed that trend shied away from hammering out halachic conclusions, and they were also not part of the musar movement as well. The Chofetz Chaim, on the other hand, was diametrically apart from this new Lita of Brisk. He was, on the contrary, heavily involved in and promoting halacha study and mussar.

Lessons to be gleaned

The overhelming reception to this video, as well as the great, enduring popularity of the Chofetz Chaim zt"l, tell us that there is a thirst and a need for the old Lita, the old Litvishe way. The new, modern Litvish way, of some, of placing great emphasis on Brisker chakiras and fedoras, needs to be reexamined (a process already underway for a while, but more still is needed). Perhaps it was important and necessary for some a century ago. But that doesn't mean we must follow it slavishly now as well, without modification.

The fact the Chofetz Chaim video resonated so well with the frum masses, tells us something very important.

People crave authenticity, Emes. Especially nowadays, when the sheker in the alma deshkira (world of falsehood) has gotten so strong and pervasive. The Chofetz Chaim exuded old fashioned, authentic Yiddishkeit, and Emes.

Such lessons are ignored at our own peril

Monday, February 16, 2015

R. Chaim Halberstam of Sanz on Chasidic stories

R. Chaim Sanzer is a legendary Chasidic figure, father of Hasidism in Galicia, the progenitor of many Chasidim and Chasidic groups, such as Sanz, Bobov, Klausenberg, Zmigrod, Gorlitz, etc.

He said the following related to Chasidic stories - 'When a Chasid says he saw a miracle, he heard it. When he says he heard it, he plainly invented it.'

So states Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in "My Rebbe", his recent book on the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, on p.173.

There is also an old Chasidic teaching re stories of the Baal Shem Tov, that says 'If someone believes all the stories of the Baal Shem Tov, he is a fool. If he says that they couldn't have happened, then he is an apikoros.'

The above two Chasidic teachings (there are other of the kind as well) are an admission by Chasidim themselves that reliability is an issue with Chasidic stories.

It seems that there are a number of different aspects of this.

Firstly, in general, stories often become transformed as they are passed along by people. That is a general problem of accuracy of transmission, not limited to Chasidic stories. Secondly, with Chasidic stories, there is also a problem of exaggeration, if not fabrication. Some people believe that they are allowed to change the facts for (in their eyes) a good cause. Like 'frumkeit', or 'emunas tzadikim'. Some of these issues re veracity of stories exist for some outside the Chasidic world as well.

The Satmar Rebbe, R. Joel Teitelbaum, who was heavily influenced by Sanz, was known to make fun of Chasidic miracle tales.

I believe other Chasidic leaders came out strongly against falsification of history too.

The main thing is, we must remember what our Torah teaches - מדבר שקר תרחק - one should stay far away from falsehood. There is a Chasidic vort that interprets  מדבר שקר תרחק homiletically, that midevar sheker, from falsehood, tirchak, you will distance yourself from Hashem. One cannot sell or build a religion of truth, a Toras Emes, with falsehood. Maybe Hashem help us stay on the path of truth.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Should a Jew dance on Tisha Be'Av? Examining a Chasidic story

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Rabbi of Cong. Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY, and Mashpia at Yeshiva University, tells the following story every year to his congregation when Tisha be'Av comes around (heard from Rabbi Weinberger). You can hear it here, around 16-17 minutes into the recording.

The Koidenover Rebbe (he uses the term Koidenover tzadik, but I think it means the same thing here) used to dance on Tisha Be'Av. His puzzled Chasidim asked him about it. He responded to them as follows. Tisha be'Av there is a mitzvah to be be'aveilus (in mourning for the Beis Hamikdash). And we know that every mitzvah must be done besimcha (with joy). That is why I am dancing.

Now that is an interesting story, but the whole thing does not add up, due to the following

a) Do Rabbi Weinberger himself, and his congregation, dance on Tisha be'Av, and follow the way of the Koidenover Rebbe? If not, why not? If he holds it is correct, why not do so? And if he holds it is not correct, why does he repeat it every year?

b) According to this story, people should dance at a levaya (funeral), and burial as well, as well as when visiting a shiva house for nichum aveilim (condolence call). After all, those are mitzvos too. Do they do so?

Rabbi Weinberger states, regarding this story, that 'the Misnagdim bichlal can't hear it'. Well, maybe the Misnagdim can't hear it, because it doesn't add up, as above. So it is actually a praise for the Misnagdim, that they don't accept it!

It seems like this is another cute Chasidic story that should be discarded, as it doesn't add up. Even among Chasidim, I am not aware of anyone who actually follows the story and actually dances on Tisha Be'Av.

File it away in the recycle bin.