Monday, July 27, 2020

Tisha Be'Av Kumzitz - The New Normal?

An advertisement for a Tisha Be'Av night Kumzitz (along with another one the following day) came to my attention recently, and I was quite surprised to see it. The congregation offering it is neo-Chasidic congregation on Long Island, NY, under the leadership of a Rabbi Yussie Zakutinsky, a close disciple of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Woodmere, NY (mashpia at Yeshiva University, and Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh).

Note - I subsequently learned that Congregation Aish Kodesh of Rabbi Weinberger had their own kumzitz on Tisha Be'Av night, although it was not advertised as the Lawrence congregation one was. A video of it, with Eitan Katz, can be seen here.

Now the three weeks period, between the observances of יז תמוז and ט אב, can be a challenging time for many people. Especially in the COVID-19 era. For Chasidim and Neo-Chasidim, it can be even more so, since they put so much stress on שמחה.

It seems that for years Tisha Be'Av 'kumzitz'en of sorts have taken place on/around Tisha Be'Av in Eretz Yisroel, especially around the כותל המערבי. However, it seems that they were usually done by groups like NCSY, and also more toward the end of Tisha Be'Av, rather than in the beginning of it. Now by longstanding widespread custom, toward the the end of Tisha Be'Av, there is a shift in the mood, for example, after חצות היום most people sit regularly rather than down low, so such things are not so surprising toward the end of the day. However, to see it advertised in a Shul setting for the beginning of Tisha Be'Av, and in חוץ לארץ too, was surprising.

Another such innovation, coming from the same or similar circles it seems, is to sing together אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח on Tisha Be'Av night after davening. I have seen that practiced at Cong. Aish Kodesh in Woodmere of the aforementioned Rabbi Weinberger.

Now we can assume that people have good intentions with these innovations. But nevertheless, the question can be raised, are they a good idea, and consistent with our מסורה?

Personally, I don't think so, I think they are definitely a departure.

An excellent article related to this was written a few years ago by Prof. Chaim Saiman.

If people feel an overwhelming need to do such things, esp. in a congregation of youngsters, or a kiruv group, perhaps there is room for leniency for some singing under rabbinic guidance. But does it need to be labeled as a kumzitz and formalized?  To institutionalize them, especially at the very outset of the day, seems problematic.

Additionally, the idea of singing together of אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח on Tisha Be'Av night after davening seems inconsistent with the theme and mood then, which seems to be describing and bemoaning the terrible, massive חורבן and calling for תשובה, repentance, to remedy the great breach that developed between הקב"ה and כלל ישראל. But if people start singing then that they believe in the coming of משיח no matter what, even if he tarries, that seems to dilute and take the focus and urgency away from תשובה as the answer to חורבן and גלות, because it is implied that משיח is coming anyway.

Those are some thoughts that came to me when contemplating these matters. תורה היא וללמוד אנו צריכים.

May we be זוכה to תשובה שלמה and גאולה שלמה, בקרוב.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Great Litvish-Chasidish Purim Divide

There are significant differences between Chasidic and Litvish approaches to פורים.

Two areas where differences are quite evident are with regard to drinking (עד דלא ידע), and the view of the special nature of the day with regard to davening and ישועות.

What is the preeminent position of the great Litvishe גדולי ישראל re imbibing on Purim?

In the current issue of Yated Ne'eman (USA), we learn the following of the Purim conduct of מרן ר' אהרן לייב שטיינמאן ז"ל.

1) Rav Aharon Leib drank more than usual, even more than one becher-full of wine (note - not even two bechers, just more than one. So in reality not much.) (p.50).

2) Rav Aharon Leib chastised a talmid who had already had too much to drink, but sought dispensation to drink more, by asking him, do you really want to become drunk? Did Rav Shach do so? The Brisker Rav? The Chazon Ish? (p.52)

Earlier in the same issue (p.48), we are told that after a certain incident The Steipler ז"ל resolved that he would not drink excessively even on Purim.

From the USA and Slabodka, another Litvishe gadol, Rav Avigdor Miller ז"ל, spoke out very strongly against inappropriate excessive Purim drinking as well. See here and here, for example.

So there you have a row of great Litvishe leaders of our era that strongly put the brakes on taking the inyan of עד דלא ידע too far. More examples exist of course, but I am sticking to easily available written testimony here.

On the other hand, among some Chasidim, the matter is viewed differently, and sometimes they drink עד הקאה, ועד בכלל, ואפילו יותר (for more on this, including very strong quotes from a Karliner Rebbe and the Nesivos Shalom of Slonim, see the section מספר חכמים יהודיים שדווקא תמכו בהשתכרות בפורים here. Also, note the ninth comment after the post there by בצלאל א about extreme Purim drinking in Breslov.)

Davening on Purim - Not a blank check

Another ענין where confusion is rampant is with regard to davening on Purim. Many promote ideas that on Purim a person can ask anything of Hashem (which can be done all year actually), and give the impression that one is assured to get anything requested through davening on that great day. On the other hand, a Litvishe view is that while תענית אסתר and/or Purim are enhanced ימי רצון for תפילה, there is no absolute guarantee that one will get what one davens for, even then. רחמנא ליבא בעי.

As time goes by, occasionally we see that some Litvishe have come under Chasidic influence in these areas. That is due to more mixing between the groups, such as Litvishe people davening in Chasidic places, marriages between the groups, and other interaction. They are therefore left confused about such things. Which is why educational initiatives such as this are important.

May Hashem help us keep to our דרכים, under the leadership of our גדולי עולם, and in that זכות we should be zoche to רפואות, ישועות, וגאולות.

א פרייליכען פורים

P.S. Important past Purim related posts are still here for חזרה. For example,

The Old-Fashioned Purim of a Litvak - Common Modern Purim Misconceptions Debunked

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Litvish Simcha Hacks - Rock Solid Eitzos

                                            לכבוד חודש אדר, משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה

Yes, you read correctly. Litvishe simcha hacks. They don't exhaust the subject, but give some important fundamentals. Gives you an idea of some Litvak approaches to the ענין. Check out the links along with the text below for more details.

1) מזל טוב, you are alive!

In last week's תורת אביגדור booklet (p.13), a story was related re the משגיח at Lomza yeshiva. When he saw a sad-faced bochur, he went over to him and wished him מזל טוב enthusiastically. Mazal tov! You're a lucky fellow! Everyone should envy you! He continued in that vein for a time, while the תלמיד looked on quizically, trying to understand what the simcha was. Finally the mashgiach explained it to him - Mazal Tov - you're alive!

2) The secret to happiness.

Realize and enjoy all the gifts and luxuries that you have. Almost all of us today have luxuries that even royalty and very wealthy people lacked not long ago.

3) An approach to Adar happiness.

4) There is a story regarding the חזון איש ז"ל, who was visited by a bochur who was feeling down. The Chazon Ish asked him, did you say ברכות התורה this morning? The bochur answered, yes. To which ר' אי"ש reportedly responded, I don't understand, you said אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו can you not be happy?

5) Since תורה is such a great source of שמחה, if someone is learning, but not feeling it, what should he do?

Answer: פשטות in such a case we can assume that something is out of whack in their study. Perhaps they are not attaining clarity in their learning. Perhaps they are learning a לימוד that is beyond their level, or doesn't appeal to them at that time. מאי תקנתיה? What is the solution? They should learn something that is במקום שלבם חפץ, and not too difficult or complicated for them. And then digest and understand it well (as per the pshat of the גר"א on אם אין קמח אין תורה - that Torah must be ground up - broken down - finely, as wheat is, to become the staff of life, nutritious bread, which it is compared to). So they can taste and savor it.

א פרייליכען חודש, a joyous Adar, און א גוטען תמיד, and overall good wishes as well.

Note - the above is not meant to be a complete treatment of the subject, nor to preclude other means of dealing with the matter. The two stories (in #1 & #4) were with yeshiva bochurim, a special subgroup, which is not identical to all others. A person should try to help someone who is in need, not just give them a מוסר shmooze. ה' יהי' בעזרנו.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Learning Guidance from a Classic Rosh Yeshiva - Old-Fashioned, Deep Litvishe Wisdom

Recently, an English version of an important interview with ראש ישיבת חברון בירושלים, הרה"ג אברהם פרבשטיין ז"ל was published in the Yated Ne'eman (USA) newspaper.

It is well worth looking at, as it clarifies many fundamental points related to yeshiva study, חינוך, and לימוד התורה בכלל, some of which are unfortunately insufficiently known today, and often misunderstood. It shows the deep wisdom and humanity of a great ראש ישיבה of the past. It also explodes and demolishes various misconceptions, stereotypes, and caricatures regarding the proper derech of ליטא in לימוד תורה הקדושה.

To whet your appetite, I will share some points from it, and invite you to see the article itself for a much more extensive treatment.

1) Question: What is the purpose of a yeshiva? 

Answer: Not to create a למדן. Rather to make a בן תורה.  Two different things.

2) Question: Should a yeshiva have a one size fits all approach to its talmidim?

Answer: No, a yeshiva is not a סדום bed. Individualized spiritual guidance is necessary for success.

3) Too much pressure on a talmid can have terrible repercussions, ר"ל.

4) Learning too many מפרשים can be counterproductive and confusing (in modern lingo, "information overload", see Wikipedia's interesting overview of the matter). Beware of that dangerous pitfall.

5) A minimum of forty blatt per zman should be learned.

ואידך, זיל גמור

Thanks to the publisher and writer for the important contribution, for all those who have lost their way and gotten mired in confusion.

א גוטען חודש

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Gems from מרן שר התורה, Rav Chaim Kanievsky שליט"א, on Learning and Reviewing Shas

ש"ס is in the air, as one סיום follows another, ב"ה.

Therefore it is quite timely to share some shas related tidbits from Maran Sar HaTorah, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a, adapted from a publication from ארצנו הקדושה (note: these are general ideas, some of which may be more relevant for ארץ ישראל. Of course everything must be done with proper deliberation, שיקול הדעת, before applying them, lest they ח"ו be applied inappropriately, leading to a situation of possible יצא שכרו בהפסדו ר"ל).

Question: From what age should youngsters be encouraged to go through all of Shas?

Response: מו"ר ר' מיכל יהודה ליפקוביץ זצ"ל said in the name of the Chazon Ish, that by בר מצוה shas must be completed.

Question: Is that not in the category of תפסת מרובה לא תפסת (if you try to seize too much, you will not succeed, whereas if you try to seize less you will)?

Response: It is not meant to know the entire shas by then, but just to go through it. I too learned shas with my sons by the age of Bar Mitzvah.

Question: If the child is saying it (gemara) without understanding, or, say with someone older, that is, let's say traveling, and wants to take advantage of the time, is there an ענין to recite pages of gemara without understanding at all?

Response: Surely. The gemara שבת סג says ליגמר איניש והדר ליסבר ואף דלא ידע מאי קאמר, אף שלא יודע כלום (a person should learn - recite Torah - and later seek to understand, explain it, even if he does not know what he is saying at first, even if he doesn't understand at all).

Question: Did you also finish shas with your father by your bar mitzvah?

Response: No, my father learned with me the מסכתות that I wanted to learn.

Question: At what age did you first make a siyum hashas.

Response: At sixteen.

Question: Rav Aharon Leib Steinman זצ"ל related that R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, before writing his Shulchan Aruch, sat in Mohilev for sixteen hours on the bank of the river Dniester (seemingly should be Dnieper) and reviewed Shas in his mind. So the question was raised, was it not related that the Gaon of Vilna learned the entire Shas every month?  Why did it take the GRA longer to learn shas?

Response: The first story was a case בהרהור (in thought), such a thing is possible. In the GRA case he learned shas inside (with a sefer).

Question: How long should it take to go through all of shas in thought (במחשבה)?

Response: Half an hour (I think).

Question: If someone has a daf yomi shiur, can he still make a siyum even if he did not learn through all of shas (he sat and listened to the shiur, not necessarily saying all the words of the gemara)?

Response: One can make a siyum based on הרהור, according to the GR"A, and surely on listening, where we have a principle of שומע כעונה.

Question: Does learning gemara without Rashi qualify for a siyum too?

Response: Yes. Even in the time of אביי, from where we learn the ענין of celebrating a siyum, learning was without רש"י.

Question: If someone missed a bit of the מסכת, is it still considered a siyum?

Response: It is not קריאת התורה, where missing even a letter holds one back. Only if one misses a complete sugya is it a problem.

There are additional interesting questions and answers there, but I think the above suffice to give you a nice taste, and to whet your appetite. Those that want to see more should click on the photos below.

אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו

אשרינו שיש לנו רבי כזה

סימן טוב ומזל טוב יהא לנו ולכל ישראל אמן

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Lubavitch Introspection on Display in Op-ed, & Understanding Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson's Success.

I came across a remarkable op-ed at a Lubavitch website the other day, by an anonymous bochur, in which he takes to task some of his fellow Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim.

Even though this op-ed does not address all points of contention with Chabad-Lubavitch of course, seemingly focusing more on peripheral issues, it is still good to see some introspection, seeking to improve the situation, and lower tensions.

I think that a real test of a Chasid, especially a Lubavitcher, when he preaches ahavas Yisroel and the greatness of every Yid, is how he relates to a מתנגד (Lubavitch seems to use/prefer the terms מנגד/מנגדים). I don't understand how some such people can claim to love every Yid, but when it comes to Litvaks or Misnagdim, something seems to be missing in that department?

There is also an interesting aside there (at the end of the second to last paragraph) about the Lubavitcher speaker Rabbi Y.Y. (aka, as he called by Lubavitchers, Rabbi Yossi) Jacobson. The author implies that he is popular (and is invited to speak at non-Lubavitch places) because he cites other sources as well, not just typical Lubavitcher ones. That is definitely correct as one of the reasons for his popularity, as I see it.

Now, if such things are אמת and sincere, fine and well. But if they are just gestures, a show, a tactical move to help with הפצה of Chabad-Lubavitch, well, that is another story, and we should not be fooled by window dressing.

And we non-Chasidim should introspect sometimes too. One of the things we can and should introspect about is the fact that some of us are at times inviting outside "inspirational" speakers that don't always share our השקפות, and are sometimes even actively at odds with them. Is it perhaps because we don't have enough of our own giving a פנימיות התורה message in accordance with our מסורה? We need to realize that times have changed and we can't just serve up נזיקין lomdishe nuggets for every meal. We need a varied and balanced Torah diet to be spiritually healthy.

הלואי that we all introspect and merit to reach and implement proper conclusions.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

OU Whitewashes Chabad-Lubavitch, Participates in Messianic Torah Dedication

In the last issue of the OU's fine magazine Jewish Action, one of the main pieces featured was by Neo-Chasidus leader Rabbi Judah Mischel, a glowing portrayal of the impact of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The problem with the puff piece however, is that it totally left out the Rebbe's Moshiach campaign, which ended disastrously, with Chasidim proclaiming him openly (in giant billboards, large newspaper advertisements, etc.) for years as the Messiah, while the Rebbe took ill and ultimately passed away, a debacle that continues, to this very day, in various ways, in one form or another.

Such a blatant and gaping omission is deceptive, misleading, and irresponsible. It is like someone writing a book on FDR and leaving out WWII.

Reb Judah also was allowed to insert a statement of Lubavitch doctrine there of cheilek Elokah mimaal mamash, blurring the line between man and Hakadosh Boruch Hu, as if it was standard Orthodox theology, sans disclaimer.

What has happened to the O-U? Has it become a Chabad-Lubavitch mouthpiece?

Just because Neo-Chasidus leader Rabbi Judah Mischel is close to Lubavitch and was hired to work for NCSY, doesn't mean that the O-U and Jewish Action have to become Chabad-Lubavitch mouthpieces.

An ostrich mentality, hiding ones head in the sand, is not befitting for a great organization that runs a very important kashrus certification agency.

Lest one think that this is just an academic issue, it can lead to practical pitfalls, as seen in a recent Hachnosas Sefer Torah at Lubavitch Headquarters in Crown Heights. In it a sefer Torah was presented to Lubavitch HQ in honor of Prof. Dershowitz for his efforts on behalf of justice for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. A leading O-U official participated in the event, not only by attending it at 770, which is festooned with signs proclaiming the late Rebbe as messiah, but also by holding a sefer Torah (with a green cover) with a messianic inscription on it, proclaiming יחי המלך. Such actions send signals of acceptance of Lubavitch messianism, which is against the spirit of the resolution of the OU's partner, the RCA, after the late Rebbe's passing.

As an aside, there seem to be significant grounds to suspect S.M. Rubashkin of being a continuing believer in the late Rebbe as Messiah, namely 1) this event, held at the 770 congregation, which is under messianic domination, and 2) a letter that he wrote years ago referring to the Rebbe shlit"a many years after his petirah (see line five of page two).

Let us hope that in the future people will be more careful and responsible, and not send out mixed and improper messages.

A gutten chodesh.