Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Apology to my Readers and Commenters - Problem with Submitted Comments

Dear Friends -

(No, this is not an apology for Hisnagdus and announcement of Conversion to Hasidism, ר"ל) 😁

It just came to my attention that that many recent comments submitted here, for maybe like the last two years, have ended up in the spam folder. While I looked there in the past, as suggested by Blogger (and didn't find much, if anything), it seems that I have not checked there for a while, and therefore a sizable group of them has been laying there in limbo for months and months.

I know that people put thought and effort into writing comments, expecting to have reasonable comments posted, and that to not have that subsequently happen is frustrating and disappointing. If people thought that comments have not been posted lately in an attempt to totally prevent and stifle legitimate discussion and debate here, they should know that that is not correct.

I started rectifying the matter a short while ago, by starting to go through the backlog (still in progress).

Please accept my apology for the problem, and thanks for reading.

Looking forward to legitimate, reasonable discussion and debate with appropriate respect.


Your Friendly Litvak Curmudgeon Buddy 😇

Thursday, October 25, 2018

How to Enjoy and Succeed in Torah Study - Rav Gershon Edelstein's Common Sense Advice

In a recent edition of "Yated Neeman" (USA) (issue dated 3 Cheshvan 5779 - October 12) a worthwhile feature appeared containing valuable הדרכה (guidance) from gedolei Eretz Yisroel in learning and avodas Hashem, on pages 40-44. It was adapted by Avrohom Birnbaum from the Israeli Yated.

I would like to bring to your attention some pieces of very important advice in it regarding proper ways of learning Torah, from מרן Rav Gershon Edelstein shlit"a, Rosh Yeshivas Ponevezh, מגדולי וממנהיגי דורנו. While they may seem simple, plain, and self evident to some people, others unfortunately are ignorant or confused about them. Both groups can benefit from reviewing them.

A person should learn במקום שלבו חפץ (we discussed this here in the past), a type of limud (study) that one will enjoy. Rav Edelstein cited the sefer חוסן יהושע, by Rav Yehoshua Heller z"l, as strongly urging a person to learn in a way with which they will enjoy their learning, also citing the gemara in מסכת עבודה זרה דף יט teaching that as well.

There seem to be two separate aspects of this.

1) The subject matter, the חלק of Torah studied, should be desired by the person, and

2) The תלמיד should study in a simple way (at least at first), not making things too complicated and difficult. R. Edelstein said that over the years many yungeleit came to him, broken in spirit, not enjoying their learning, and lacking in desire to go further. He explained to them that according to their situation they needed to learn simple gemara and Rashi, without all the סברות and לומדות. When they began to do so, they became so satisfied and happy, it was like they were exposed to a new reality, and began to derive real pleasure from learning.

Some examples from gedolim -

R. Hirsh Glickson, son in law of Rav Chaim Brisker, when he was a bochur all he knew was Mishnayos. Neverthless, Rav Chaim Brisker saw that he had seichel hayashar and took him as a son in law, and he later became a Rosh Yeshiva. (Rav Dof Yaffe z"l cited words of the של"ה in his time, that now that the commentary of רע"ב on mishnayos exists, the primary limud should be משניות.)

I saw a similar thing in the Artscroll biography of great gaon Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman z"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Ramailes yeshiva - Netzach Yisroel, that he first learned through all of mishnayos, ששה סדרי משנה, before gemara (as his Rebbe held that was the proper derech, as per the Vilna Gaon, Maharal, etc.), coming to know mishnayos by heart at ten years of age, which laid the foundation for his later gadlus (p.32). He also learned a great deal of נביאים in his youth, getting to know ירמיהו and ישעיהו by heart (p.34).

In the fine Rav Avigdor Miller biography, it reports that he first learned Tanach well, and only in his teens got into gemara.

להבחל"ח, we know that מרן שר התורה, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a, followed a similar derech, generally speaking.

As the Torah itself tells us, כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאוד, Torah is very close, not excessively difficult and distant.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

NCSY Heads to Uman

NCSY is a well known youth movement in the Modern Orthodox community, which has brought many young people closer to Judaism and Torah for decades. It has also garnered support from segments of the more right wing "Yeshiva World" at times as well.

Lately, however, they evidently are increasingly under the influence of the neo-Hasidic segment of Modern Orthodoxy. This recently became more prominent, front and center, with the appointment of neo-Chasidus leader Rabbi Judah Mischel as Mashpia (a Chasidic title/position seemingly created there for him, as was created for his mentor, neo-Chasidus leader Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, at YU-RIETS a few years back) of NCSY (see also here).

It is important to understand that this is not just some low level appointment. Rather, it is a pivotal new development, as it is reported that he will be working closely with all levels of NCSY staff and dispensing guidance.

Surprisingly though (or perhaps not surprisingly), the OU doesn't mention explicitly, or detail his neo-Chasidism in their announcements of it. It seems that they are trying to hide it, flying under the radar, to make it like he is just some neutral inspirational mainstream Orthodox figure, rather than one of the top neo-Chasidic leaders.

Who is Rabbi Judah Mischel?

Rabbi Judah Mischel is a person who has transformed Camp HASC (where he is executive director) in the last few years into a major platform for the promotion of neo-Chasidus among young people, and now, with his elevation at NCSY, is in position to do more of the same there, this time with the reach, prestige and influence of the O-U behind him. He is someone who regularly goes to Uman for Rosh Hashanah and promotes that to others as well. He also has significant ties to Lubavitch. He founded an organization called Tzama Nafshi, which works to spread neo-Chasidus among the Modern Orthodox, by means such as a special tour to graves of famous Chasidic Rebbes in Europe.

This a significant departure from the O-U and NCSY's past. Is NCSY, the National Council of Synagogue Youth, becoming NCSY, Neo Chasidic Synagogue Youth? This is something worthy of examination, discussion, and thought.

This great shift at NCSY should be taken into account by OU members and officials, parents, donors, young people, people connected to NCSY, and any concerned community member. Is the OU now willingly becoming a vehicle to lead young people, the future of the community, away, in a different direction, to neo-Chasidus?

To get an idea of the mentality involved, a relevant illustration is a statement Rabbi Mischel made a few months ago - "There are three places that attract and unite Jews from all walks of life" he said, "Uman on Rosh Hashana, Meron on Lag Baomer, and Camp HASC."

Wait, you may say, what about the Kosel Maaravi? ירושלים עיה"ק, the city that Chazal said unites Yidden? No. He says the three places are Uman, Meron, and Camp HASC.

Well, if you want to try something new, what can I do, but personally, I am old-fashioned, and choose ירושלים.

Reb Mischel is known for stunts and merrymaking. But what may be popular in a summer camp environment is not necessarily what is desirable year round for searching youth.

How did Mischel get his new job? I am not privy to all the deliberations, but it is known that O-U Executive VP Allen Fagin is close to and has a very warm relationship with neo-Chasidus leader (the man Mischel calls his captain) Rabbi Moshe Weinberger (we have discussed Rabbi Weinberger and some of his controversial statements here in the past). A few months ago when Rabbi Weinberger had a special breakfast for his new Emek Hamelech institute, Fagin was there, sat on the dais, and exchanged kisses with Weinberger after the program. Weinberger gave effusive recognition and thanks to him for coming then, as well as being available when called in general, despite his busy schedule, in the beginning of his talk. It is not just Allen Fagin himself, however, it is a deeper, more extensive, family connection. Fagin's son is a longtime neo-Hasid and congregant of Rabbi Weinberger. In a video from the recent first selichos pre-Rosh Hashanah 5779 at Aish Kodesh, for example, Fagin family members can be clearly seen in the foreground (some in Hasidic garb, Mr. Allen Fagin himself in a light blue shirt, at the left of his son) extensively (he/they can be seen in some previous similar videos as well). So there is a deep relationship there. Hence it is quite logical to wonder if Mr. Fagin himself is lending a hand to the promotion of neo-Chasidus at the O-U/NCSY (of course, there are some others there as well under that influence, such as R. Bashevkin of NCSY, but he doesn't seem to be into Uman as R. Muschel is, or as extreme. Additionally, there is a difference between if there is one or few neo-Chasidic leaders in an organization, and if there are multiple such individuals).

Be that as it may or may not be, the point is that major change is under way at NCSY, and people should be made aware of it. An unacknowledged stealthy major change in orientation breeds suspicion and does not inspire trust. We don't want parents complaining in the future that Rabbi Mischel and NCSY made their children into neo-Chasidim.

Let us have some honesty, transparency, and forthrightness about the situation, rather than obfuscation and euphemisms.

The O-U Kashrus division is an industry leader due to its great staff of dedicated Torah scholars in the mainstream of the community. It would be logical for other divisions of the O-U, such as NCSY, to proceed in such a path as well, taking advantage of wise counsel of established senior תלמידי חכמים, rather than going בעצת נערים, with the fads of the youth, even if the latter are more popular on social media. Social media is not, and should not be, our guiding light.

May Hashem help us proceed on the right path and avoid pitfalls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Chasidic Tall Tales Explained by Satmar Rebbe

The Satmar Rebbe (SR), R. Yoel Teitelbaum, was an iconoclast, well known for his oppositional stance toward Tzionus and Medinas Yisroel.

Despite his strong beliefs and fiery rhetoric, he could also be quite entertaining, with sharp quips and clever wordplay, such as his comments on ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם, that לבבכם is הרצל and עיניכם is (Rav) קוק (to appreciate/understand that one, you need to know some Yiddish).

Less well known among the world at large is another area in which his iconclasm was displayed, namely his scornful dismissal of questionable tales peddled by fellow Chasidim.

A fine illustration of this was brought into view in a recent tweet (via DB) of an image from a sefer reporting an explanation the SR once gave for the Hasidic custom to relate "סיפורי צדיקים" (Hasidic tales) at Melava Malka.

He said that it is brought down that an עם הארץ was held to be more truthful on Shabbos than during the week, due to the spiritual effect of the holy day (the awe of Shabbos is upon him). So, the SR mused, based upon that, that such a person restrains himself all Shabbos not to say falsehood, but when מוצאי שבת arrives he cannot restrain himself any longer.


See the related discussion in a previous post as well.

While longtime Chasidim and those knowledgable about it may know such things, people new to it, such as new converts, or neo-Chasidim, might not be similarly aware, to the extent of being dangerously naive. Therefore it is good that some people share such important internal knowledge with the broader community.

יישר כחכם

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mishpacha Joins Neo-Chasidus P.R. Campaign

Mishpacha magazine (The English version. For Wikipedia's take, including the original Hebrew side, see here), for those who are unaware, is a glossy, high-level publication aimed at the upscale, affluent, (allegedly) sophisticated frum community that has become popular with some in recent years.

When perusing such publications, however, it behooves us to recall the admonition of רבי in Pirkei Avos, אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו, do not gaze at the container, but rather at what is inside it (like the English expression "don't judge a book by its cover"). The fact that a publication is printed on glossy paper, with beautiful graphics, does not mean that everything in it is true, correct, and free of bias.

Recently, in their Shavuos issue, one of the main articles/features was related to the frum Neo-Hasidism movement. Typical of such pieces, it paints the frum world as being void of depth and spirituality, with Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Rabbi Judah Mischel, & Co. riding up on white horses (donkeys?) to redeem them from their wretched existence with Chasidus, which turns into an unstoppable mass movement, where people become Chasidic and live happily ever after. It gives a breathless report or impression of people allegedly running to learn Chasidus all over, with Chasidic books piled up on every Beis Medrash table.

The problem is however, that it just isn't so in the real world.

The article seems to claim that the movement is conquering the Modern Orthodox/Dati Leumi world (quite debatable of course - growth is not the same as taking something over), but tries to give the impression that the same thing is happening in the Charedi world as well, by talking about one Beis Medrash in Kiryat Sefer (but what about all the others in Kiryat Sefer and elsewhere that are not doing so?). Lemayseh, not only are Tanyas not generally piled up on the tables of the greatest non-Hasidic yeshivas, they are also not piled up on the tables of great Chasidic ones either! In Satmar yeshivas they don't learn Tanya - a bochur might get expelled for doing so. In Sanz, bochurim don't learn Chasidus bichlal either (they want to them to concentrate on regular limudim). I don't think Bobov, Belz, Vizhnitz, Ger, or Skver are much, if at all, different in that regard. And those are just some examples.

Actually, if you look into it, the Mishpacha article is sort of an updated version of an article that appeared on the subject in the O-U's Jewish Action magazine a few years ago. It is clear that the two are closely related by the fact that they have so many things in common, from stories related to multiple personalities featured.

I wonder how the women who wrote the articles supposedly know that tables in batei medrash all over are piled up with Tanyas. Did they perhaps dress up as men, a la Yentl the yeshiva bachur, and take a survey of yeshiva tables? Or did they just get that from the Neo-Chasidus P.R. Dept.?

One also wonders how accurate the article is when it gets some elementary facts wrong (e.g. it is Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, not Weinberger, and Rabbi Binyomin Eisenberger is not a Chasidishe Rebbe - his background is Oberlander Hungarian, dress is Litvish, he learned in Litvish yeshivas, I believe he doesn't even wear a gartel, even if he might flirt with some aspects of Chasidism).

At least the O-U article devoted some some space to criticism, incorporated some critical views, while the Mishpacha one hardly does so.

A good percentage of the Mishpacha staff is Chasidic or has significant Chasidic ties (even if they don't always wear it on their sleeve - see their Shuls supplement this past Pesach for more, for starters), so naturally they like to publish such pieces. And it is not just one piece. Related pieces have continued for weeks, and tweets are also part of the campaign.

Another problem with these pieces is their equating "penimiyus haTorah" - inner Torah - with Chasidus. So all non-Chasidim are engaged in externalities, their Torah and mitzvos are external because they don't learn Tanya, huh? Zeyer shein, very nice, how beautiful and generous of them.

With regard to פנימיות התורה (an expression that comes from Lubavitch I think) - an expression used for סודות התורה and other hidden things comes to mind which may be quite fitting here as well - those who talk, don't know, and those who know, don't talk.

Bottom line - good P.R. piece, but reality and P.R. is not necessarily one and the same thing.

Caveat emptor.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Vizhnitzer Rebbe Terms New High Pointed Shtreimel Style Disgusting, Calls for Boycott

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, R. Yisrael Hager, has just come out with strong words against a new (it has been around a while, but is relatively new, historically speaking) shtreimel style.

It is about time. The trends in recent years of shtreimel inflation have gotten way out of hand. R. Moshe Wolfson (one of the last, or perhaps the last Hasidic leader who is a holdout, leading without any shtreimel on his head), leader of Emunas Yisroel in the USA, was on to something when, as the story goes, he went (after being suggested to that it was about time for him to be fitted with one like a 'real Chasidishe Rebbe') to be fitted for a shtreimel a while back, and, hearing small-minded conversation at the shtreimel place about trivial shtreimel minutiae, walked out in disgust.

Litvaks don't have such problems.

Oy, es iz gut tzu zein a Litvak. :)

Previous shtreimel related posts here and here.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Shver Tzu Zein a Litvak? Gut Tzu Zein a Litvak!

A while ago I had a brief conversation with a choshuve מרביץ תורה (disseminator of Torah) of Litvishe stock. I don't recall the entire (brief) encounter, but at some point he remarked to me along the following lines - 'I agree with you that the Litvishe way (Litvak דרך - way of Yiddishkeit) is the correct way, but it is harder. I have been breaking my head lately over some שווערע Rambams (to understand some difficult passages of רמב"ם). It is hard. It is a lot easier to be a Chasid.'

My response - Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל famously used to say (along the lines of) that the saying 'Es iz shver tzu zein a Yid' (it is difficult, hard to be a Jew') did in a generation of Jewish youth. They would hear their father's, although keeping the tradition, sighing, groaning, about the difficulty involved. The children then, when given the opportunity to live a life that seemed (on the surface) easier, sans the same observance, unsurprisingly grabbed it (the then extremely influential Yiddish theater also had a hand in propagating that dangerous outlook). No, he counseled, admonished, we need to be very careful about what message we are sending - not 'עס איז שווער צו זיין א איד', rather 'עס איז גוט צו זיין א איד'' (it is good, great, enjoyable to be a Jew)!

I believe the same lesson applies to our topic. No, not 'עס איז שווער צו זיין א ליטוואק' (it is hard to be a Litvak), but rather 'עס איז גוט צו זיין א ליטוואק' (it is good to be a Litvak)! If we give off via vocalization or otherwise), a message that it is difficult, arduous, hard to be a Litvak (a Jew of any background following the Litvishe approach to Yiddishkeit), in this age of freedom and fluidity, we may look behind us and discover youth having deserted is, having taken flight for other camps. Rather it is good, special, delicious to be a Litvak! :)

                            The Essence of Being a Litvak, a Litvishe Yid

While we are at it, the idea that 'breaking one's head' over a shvere Rambam, and the like, is the essence of being a Litvak, is a stereotype or a caricature that is unfortunately held by some people. For a better idea of what the essence of Litvishe Torah life is, a fine book published a few years ago, The Legacy: Teachings for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis, is a good place to start. Check out the sample pages available for viewing for starters.

Learning Torah and love of knowledge is at the heart of the Litvak identity/ethos. But it is not a one size fits all prescription of learning shvere Rambams for everyone all the time. Trying to make all Litvaks into Brisker clones is neither historically correct, nor wise.

May we be zoche to enjoy and revel in the great spiritual heritage of Lita, and share it with גאנץ כלל ישראל, all of our people.

א פרייליכען חודש