Monday, September 9, 2019

A Litvak Looks at Reb Zadok Hakohein of Lublin and a Well-Known Teaching of His

(Today is the yahrzeit of Reb Zadok of Lublin, which makes it a good time to share some relevant thoughts.)

One of the Hasidic authors that has become popular among some in the wider Jewish world in recent decades is Reb Zadok of Lublin.

One big fan of Reb Zadok recently wrote a tribute to him, in which he claims that the line in Reb Zadok which people are mostly familiar with is his teaching that 'just as a man must believe in Hashem, he must believe in himself'. This fine writer, who described himself as having four American born grandparents and without any even remotely distant Hasidic relatives, describes how, hearing those words in his Modern Orthodox high school from neo-Hasidic leader Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, mashpia at Yeshiva University and Rabbi in Woodmere, turned him on to Reb Zadok/Hasidus (though he says that he is mainly interested in Reb Zadok, as opposed to Hasidism in general).

Now I have heard that before from others, that those words of Reb Zadok made a big impression on them. But I have some trouble understanding what the big deal is.

Didn't the משנה itself, eons before ר' צדוק, say that every person is obligated to say בשבילי נברא העולם, the world was created for me?

Don't believe me? Take a look at סנהדרין פרק ד.

So okay, Reb Zadok said a similar thing in a different way, but it seems that he basically reinvented the wheel here.

יגדיל תורה ויאדיר

Just don't tell me that he made the whole thing up יש מאין.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Inside Look at BMG With Its CEO

A frank discussion with an excellent interviewer.

Topics discussed include Shlomo Carlebach, לולי תורתך, & BMG, Rav Nosson Kaminetsky ז"ל, MOAG, and the Kotlers, changes over the years, the freezer, quality vs. quantity, and more.

Tune in and enjoy.

Songs of Yearning as Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim Commences the Zman of Ellul 5779

The Litvishe soul on display at one of its leading yeshivos.

Click and enjoy.

A gutten chodesh un a gut yohr!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Straight Talk About Chabad-Lubavitch - The Real Story Beyond the Fake News Headlines of Dovid/David Lichtenstein's Podcasts

Reb Dovid Lichtenstein, of the Headlines books and podcasts, is an impressive תלמיד חכם and בעל צדקה, with many good deeds to his name, of תורה ומעשים טובים. However, that does not absolve him from criticism and correction when he errs, especially if he errs grievously

Recently he issued a new edition of his Headlines podcast, once again devoted to Chabad-Lubavitch and the relationship between it and Orthodox Jewry in general. This was not the first time he tackled the topic. Approximately two and half years ago he had a similar program, followed by a follow up segment with Rabbi Dr. David Berger, author of a well-known book on Lubavitch messianism. That adds up to three programs, or segments, in around 2 1/2 years, which shows a significant focus on the issue.

In all of these programs Lichtenstein has tried to spin and advocate for Lubavitch. As we know, three times is a חזקה. Lehavdil, in baseball, the rule is three strikes and you're out. So we see that Dovid is a מוחזק to advocate for and distort general facts and positions of גדולים along the way, in his zeal to advocate for Lubavitch. While in the past he disclosed some important background information related to his relationship with Lubavitch (he credited them with helping him with a dangerous medical emergency in one case, and another emergency in another during overseas travels), which makes him a נוגע בדבר and disqualified to rule on the matter, in this last program it was omitted. He also has a close connection to the Lubavitch base near his residence, where the Lubavitcher Rabbi and mashpia Y.Y. Jacobson presides (Dovid hosted him on Headlines in the past with effusive praise, another indication of his sympathies).

Now of course people can advocate and argue for certain positions. However, Lichtenstein crossed the line when he distorted positions of גדולי ישראל in his advocacy. He went into "fake news" territory when he fabricated "facts". Such actions lead to the very dangerous territory of מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה ח"ו. Therefore a public מחאה is necessary. We hope that David will admit his errors and retract/repent his misstatements in future programs.

Let me elaborate.

Two and a half years ago David posted misleading edited audio snippets on his program implying that leading non-Lubavitcher גדולים gave their hechsher (stamp of approval) to Chabad-Lubavitch (as an aside, there have been complaints about such activity on other episodes of his program as well, on other topics, so that definitely is something that people need to be aware and wary of). Afterward that episode of his program was critiqued here and the distortions and misleading tone of the program brought out into the public view. One might have thought that afterward he would be more careful, but, to my great surprise, in the beginning of his recently released program of a few weeks ago, he replayed the distortions of the earlier one, resharing the misleading audio snippets, as though there were no great issues with them, trying to once again fool his listeners. To that I say, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Even if you are a גביר who is מוזיל כסף כמים.

New distortions

In the (first) prior program we mentioned, Dovid's argument was along the lines of that since Lubavitch as a whole didn't apostasize after the Rebbe's passing, as some had allegedly predicted, and since they do chesed, such as helping travelers, therefore they should be accepted by all, and longstanding serious points of disagreement dropped, or put aside.

In this latest program, he trotted out a new argument, claiming that Lubavitch has made 'hundreds of thousands of baalei teshuvah' (perhaps he can tell us where they reside? Or have they somehow vanished into thin air?), a claim I don't recall hearing even from Lubavitchers themselves. Is that actually true however?

This will lead us to an important look at Chabad-Lubavitch activities.

(As an aside, Lubavitch does not like the expression 'baalei teshuvah' as it is used colloquially, based on the stance of their seventh Rebbe. The Rebbe's position was that some Jews are closer and others farther away, but that even the 'frum' need teshuvah. And they also claim that every mitzvah done is choshuv, even if a person is not a 'baal teshuvah'. Lubavitch, instead, as with other things, has their own vocabulary, they call people who they bought/are bringing closer מקורבים.)

Time to update the picture of what Lubavitcher shluchim do today

Lubavitch has changed over the years, and Dovid should realize that. Lubavitcher shluchim today are not necessarily the same as shluchim at UCLA in the 1960's dealing with non-orthodox hippie types. The shluchim are a varied group involved in various things. Many shluchim now are busy with youth from Modern Orthodox backgrounds at various colleges (maybe the guy's name is Jared, but his background is MO ;-). Many also spend much time as a sort of frum traveler's aid society, helping Jewish travelers with kosher food and other things. Many also work as mashgichim for kashrus.

With the decline of the non-orthodox movements, such as the Conservatives, and the closing of many their Temples, some people who were affiliated or identified with such streams now attend Lubavitch services instead (Lubavitch has now become a significant synagogue movement). But does that mean that they have become Orthodox or baalei teshuvah? Not necessarily so.

To illustrate this point, let us look at a few prominent Jews associated with Lubavitch.

1) Joseph Telushkin - a talented author who Lubavitch paid to write a book promoting the late Rebbe as "the most influential Rabbi in Modern History". He has gone around speaking in Chabad houses around the country promoting it and the Rebbe. So, one might reasonably assume that he is connected to the Orthodox movement. However, believe it or not, Joe Telushkin is actually the leader of a non-orthodox Temple in California, something that caused a significant group of Lubavitchers to come out against his book.

(By the way, a while ago I was in someone's house and saw some recent issues of Mishpacha magazine. In one of them - say an issue of maybe 6-8 weeks ago - some people that Mishpacha promotes as frum Jewish leaders gave recommendations for summer reading. One of them offered a book by a controversial figure who had crudely attacked Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל. After much protest, in a subsequent issue Mishpacha apologized for promoting it. Yet at the same time, in the same magazine, neo-Chasidus leader Rabbi Judah Mischel recommended a book by the leader of a non Orthodox Temple, Joseph Telushkin, also something quite questionable. However,  I didn't see Mishpacha apologize for that afterward. Why does Judah Mischel and that book get a free ride, while the other did not?)

2) Dennis Prager - longtime friend and associate of Joseph Telushkin, someone who also speaks at Chabad Houses and promotes Lubavitch. However, he also declares openly that he is non orthodox and espouses some troubling positions.

3) Alan Dershowitz - recently a sefer Torah was written for him which was given to 770 Eastern Parkway. However, Dershowitz is non-orthodox.

The above three were raised Modern Orthodox and then moved on from that. But they are still accepted and feted by Chabad-Lubavitch.

4) Sue Fishkoff - author of a book that came out a few years ago, The Rebbe's Army, a positive portrayal of Lubavitch, who recently wrote a piece for the twenty fifth anniversary of the Rebbe's passing. She declares openly in it that she is not Orthodox.

The above four are a few prominent examples, but it seems that they are many others like them. People that go to and associate with Lubavitch, but remain non orthodox. That does not fit in with David Lichtenstein's claim of hundreds of thousands of 'baalei teshuvah'. Yes, perhaps there are hundreds of thousands of people who have encounters with Lubavitch in a year. But that doesn't equate to 'hundreds of thousands of Lubavitcher baalei teshuvah' in the colloquial sense of the term. I know the argument that every mitzvah is important, but nevertheless, we cannot claim that such people are fully Orthodox.

Chazal tell us אמר רבי יוחנן אין הקב"ה מקפח שכר כל בריה. Hashem will not deprive people of שכר they people deserve. The record keeping, so to speak, upstairs is done very well, so whoever is entitled to credit there does not have to worry that they will be cheated of it. But, at the same time, חותמו של הקב"ה אמת, we need to stick to the facts, the truth, the seal of Hashem. IIRC, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe himself, when asked about history, instructed that it should be אמת לאמיתו.

PR vs. צניעות. 

Another thing Lichtenstein objects to in the most recent program under discussion is when his guest Rabbi Lederman says that Rav Schach זצ"ל did not like the excessive focus on PR of Chabad-Lubavitch. He challenges his guest about it, as if even raising such a point is absurd. To which I say, David, have you forgotten fundamentals of our holy Torah, such as Rashi on שמות לד:ג, where the teaching of Chazal is cited about the לוחות שניות being given בצניעות , היפך הראשונות, שאין לך דבר יפה מן הצניעות? The famous posuk in Micha which we lein where it is stated מה ה' דורש ממך....והצנע לכת עם אלקיך??

Yes, I know that pirsum/PR is a big thing for Lubavitch, and making a 'kiddush Lubavitch' is a big thing for them, but that does not erase the great, venerable, ancient yesod of צניעות in Yiddishkeit.

Yes, דער וואס האט די מאה האט די דעה, the one with the meah ($), has the deiah, as the old expression goes. So Dovid can have his deiah - but he cannot distort the deios of others, בפרט רבנים, פוסקים, גדולי ישראל ומנהיגי הדור  שליט"א.

Reb Dovid, there is another Yid with your name, also involved in ארץ (real property) and שמים (Torah), of a similar vintage as you, who has done great things for Torah, Rav Dovid Hofstedter שליט"א of Dirshu. I think you can learn some things from him. Note how he is מכיר את מקומו.

I have enjoyed listening to Headlines many times, but, as time has gone by, it seems that the host has moved more and more from being a moderator and presenter, to being someone pushing a particular point of view. If it is done forthrightly and not in a hidden manner, without distortion and misleading presentation, that is one thing, he is entitled to his opinion. But when certain lines are crossed, it needs to be called out.

Let us hope that steps are taken to correct the missteps outlined above, and that the honor and reputation of the program and its host is restored.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Is Lubavitch 'pro-internet'? Pro-publishing photos of women? Not so simple.

It is not uncommon to hear/read statements or claims that Chabad-Lubavitch, unlike Chareidim at large, is not opposed to the internet, and is in favor of publishing photos of females.

Such claims are usually cited approvingly by Modern Orthodox types, women protesting the absence of their photos in some media, etc.

However, is it as simple as they make it to be?

I recently came across a Chabad-Lubavitch website,, which represents a more conservative Lubavitch stance or segment, and does not have photos of women (nor 'comments'). I also noted an interesting op-ed there questioning if Lubavitch is really 'pro-internet'.

For more about the site, its policies and aims, see here, and the links there for site policies and letters of Rabbis.

So things are not as simple as they are often made out to be.

Interesting food for thought.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Baal Shem Tov Tales - Must They Be Believed?

Note: This is not a question for Misnagdim. Of course for them the answer is no. The question is for Chasidim.

Recently an interesting talk was given by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein, a young and talented Rabbi in the NYC area, on the topic "The Adventures of the Ba'al Shem Tov & Must You Believe Them".

He went through a spectrum of opinion on the matter, ranging from Breslov (people must believe them totally) to the חידושי הרי"ם (first Gerrer Rebbe), who, as reported in the sefer אור פני יצחק in the name of his Rebbe, said that the stories are not true.

Interestingly, even a Breslover source mentioned by the speaker (ספר כוכבי אור) that says that people must believe all the stories in the work שבחי הבעש"ט, says about other Beshtian tales that most of them were related when the speaker was between his third and fourth cup of wine, and the listener was even further along in his משתה יין, in the עולם הדמיונות, and are overwhelmingly false.

More details available in the talk.

May we merit to avoid שקר and serve הקב"ה באמת.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Kerestir Kerfuffle - People Speak Up For Sanity

It is heartening to see people questioning and pushing back after the latest assault of propaganda, this time from and for Kerestir. At Matzav and Yeshiva world multiple parties posted comments showing that they are fed up from all the over the top marketing and infomercials.

It's one thing if a Rebbe could perform a public service, such as the alleged rodent suppression matter. But to give people the impression that everyone must run to his resting place, thousands of miles away, at great cost of time, money, and more? I think the Rebbe himself would object.

There is hope. Some Jews are still thinking.

Halevai veiter.