Friday, May 26, 2017

The Road From Uman to the Vatican - Understanding the Astounding

A few weeks ago an astounding video was published online, proceeding to go viral in short order. It showed a group of ostensibly Haredi Jews dancing and singing (during sefirah, with instruments no less) before the Pope in Vatican City to the words of Tehillim, אורך ימים אשביעהו ואראהו בישועתי (I will satiate him with long life and show him my redemption).

A firestorm of criticism erupted online. R. Yair Hoffman, a newspaper writer (along with a Lubavitcher shliach that was removed from his post years ago, by the name of Shmuley Boteach), attempted to tampen down the outrage, but many others took a much harsher view of the event, including Lubavitch, which took action against their shliach that participated.

I want to comment on an aspect that has not received much, if any attention. That is the Uman-Breslov connection involved.

A great amount of the participants in the singing and dancing are alumni of the annual Breslov Uman Rosh Hashanah gatherings. One of them even has his own large minyan there. Zvi Gluck is an Uman veteran. While perhaps Rabbis Pinson and Gluck senior didn't attend, nevertheless the majority or overwhelming majority of the participants appear to be Uman alumni. R. Pinson, although of Chabad-Lubavitch background, has close ties to the Uman group, and spoke for them a number of months ago in a trip in the Middle East.

The Uman Rosh Hashanah gathering has been described as a sort of Jewish Woodstock (Of course, not all Breslovers and Uman visitors are the same. There are different types of Breslovers, and different types of minyanim at Uman. Nevertheless, for some there it has the atmosphere of such a giant festival). Coupled with Breslov teachings about simcha, and doing foolish things to make merry, and the lack of a current supreme Rebbe in Breslov, one can see that the door is left open, or it is encouraged for people to come up with various jolly stunts. In this case, the stunt is singing and dancing a Shlomo Carlebach song in various places around the world.

With most of the participants being younger people with limited life experience and knowledge of Jewish-Catholic relations, and with that Breslover mentality, we can understand how the astounding event came to pass. What is more surprising, however, is how the (by far) senior member of the group, Rabbi Edgar Gluck, born before WWII, went along with it. Perhaps it is part of the pre-messianic confusion of פני הדור כפני הכלב in which the youth lead the elders, instead of the reverse, as the Torah mandates.

Also interesting is how Haredi media reacted to it. Interestingly, it appears that major Haredi media, including Yated Neeman and Hamodia, as well as major website, did not report the story at all. A blackout was imposed. Perhaps they felt bewildered and had trouble explaining the idea of a group of ostensible Haredim from Brooklyn, NY, with the leader in full Hasidic dress, came to sing and dance before the pope. And they were not singing מה יפית either, though perhaps in a way it was somewhat analogous. One could imagine if non-Orthodox leaders would have done the same thing, or some from left-wing Orthodoxy, what kind of an outcry likely would have ensued, in protest of breaching of traditional religious boundaries.

The bottom line is that it was a stunt of a few people, and not representative of mainstream Haredi Judaism. The people involved are not major Rabbis. Despite the seemingly impressive title of chief Rabbi of Galicia, R. Edgar Gluck has not given up his longtime home state of New York, where he continues to be active in local affairs, as an askan or shtadlan. Chief Rabbi of Galicia pre WWII would have been impressive. Now, however, what remains of Judaism there is a miniature shadow of its former self.

I have doubts that Reb Nachman of Breslov himself would have approved.

Let us hope that in the future people will act more responsibly, and curb frivolous instincts they may have, or at least not publicize inappropriate behavior around the world.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lag Baomer in pre WWII Mir Yeshiva in Europe

In the current issue of the Yated Ne'eman (USA) newspaper (p.59), we learn about Lag Baomer in a protypical Litvishe yeshiva.

R' Yitzchok Hisiger reports that someone once asked the legendary R. Leib Malin z"l what Lag Baomer was like in the famed Mir Yeshiva of old. R. Leib's response was וואס מיינסט דו? מען האט געציילט ספירה (What do you mean? We counted sefirah). The writer goes on to say that that was it, otherwise the yeshiva's sedarim went on as usual.

Paragraphs of commentary follow. Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin shlit"a comments that it is ironic that some use the day to slack off in Torah, the opposite of what it stands for, in view of R. Shimon ben Yochai's maximalist reading of the words of the posuk that לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך (see ברכות לה ע"ב).

So the next time someone tries to convince you that you need to go to Meron, dance around a fire, or engage in some other foreign thing to be "yotzei" Lag Baomer, remember R. Leib, and let them take a hike.

Wishing you a good day from virtual Lita.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Chabad-Lubavitch Acts Against Emissary for Inappropriate Vatican Activity

Although we have significant differences with Lubavitch here, nevertheless, I want to compliment them for their action in the wake of the visit of a Hasidic delegation to the Vatican the other day.

It seems that they have removed the listing of the Lubavitch branch of the shliach involved from their website.

While we are prepared to work with others, including leaders of other faiths, to advance certain important goals, nevertheless, gedolei Yisrael, including such different personalities as Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik z"l and the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, have delineated guidelines for such meetings, warning against interfaith theological discussion. They have instructed that traditional faith boundaries be respected. Those guidelines seem to have been violated in this case.

Also problematic in the event was the singing, with instruments, of a verse from Psalms, in front of the Pope. It is problematic for a number of reasons, such as we are now in a historic mourning period, part of which is due to commemorating the many thousands of victims of the Crusades who were massacred in this time of the year, in which live music and dancing with instruments is banned, as well as the danger of the verse and the action being misconstrued, if not worse.

We need to make it clear that the delegation was not made up of major Jewish leaders. Rather it was a group of minor ones.

Hopefully in the future we will will merit the blessing of Chazal that אשרי הדור שהקטנים נשמעים לגדולים, fortunate is the generation in which the small heed the direction of the gedolim, the great Jewish leaders.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Man Who Was So Busy Learning That He Had No Time To Become A Talmid Chochom

The story goes that back in the old country there was a Yid that was always learning Torah, yet remained in the realm of ignorance, not becoming a talmid chacham.

R. Chaim Brisker was asked to explain the phenomenon. He explained that 'he is so busy learning, he has no time to become a talmid chacham' (source - Kerem Yehoshua: Bring Clarity To Your Learning And Master Shas, By Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen).

What does that mean? It means that the idea of learning Torah is to become knowledgable in it. One needs to learn with seichel, with a method, to grow in Torah knowledge and understanding. Just 'learning' alone, without proper digestion and absorption of the Torah studied, can leave a person in (relatively) ignorant state, despite numerous hours spent 'learning'. Just like someone eating profusely, but not allowing his body to digest and absorb his intake properly, will not be healthy.

A related teaching from Chazal is brought in Rashi on the first pasuk of parshas Vayikra, which we just read. It tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu had hafsakos, breaks, between one parsha and the next, to have space/time to think. To digest and absorb the Torah he learned. And afortiori, all the more so, for people on a lower level, with lesser teachers, that such breaks are needed for proper Torah learning.

A related Litvishe teaching is that there is an inyan of bittul Torah be'eichus. Bittul Torah in terms of the quality, the level of the Torah study. If someone can learn on a higher level, with deep understanding, and instead remains on a simplistic level, he has fallen short. Bittul Torah is not just a matter of quantity.

We need to keep in mind that the goal of Torah learning is to truly understand Torah, and not be like the pious fool that was always learning, but remained ignorant.

May we merit becoming true תלמיד חכמים.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chareidi Garb Tutorial - Humorous Video

Cute and entertaining, brief, partial look at male Chareidi attire, in Hebrew.

(h/t Gruntig)

The Religious Imperative of Giving Yourself a Pat On The Back - A Little Known Genesis Gem From R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik (aka "The Rav")

Some are of the belief that in the Litvishe hashkafah, people are expected to always put down, or minimize their accomplishments (as part of religious mandated humility presumably). Is that correct however?

Recently, through the magic of technology, I heard a fine vort from Rav Yosef Dov (aka R. Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik, renowned Bostoner Rav, and R"M at ישיבת רבינו יצחק אלחנן, addressing and illuminating this important issue.

In the words of his dedicated talmid, R. Yehudah (Julius) Berman shlit"a -

"In his inimitable fashion, the Rav started off by referring to the creation of the world, as reflected in the Torah in the beginning of Bereishis. The Rav pointed out that the Torah repeatedly states in the course of creation that וירא אלקים כי טוב, and G-d saw that it was good. And then finally, in noting the conclusion of creation, after six days, the Torah states וירא אלקים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאוד, And G-d saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

The Rav asked a simple question.

Is it really necessary for Hashem to look back to his creation and conclude that "it was good"? Could it really have been otherwise? Is there a suggestion here that G-d may have, of his own free will, created something and then turned around and said that he had, if one could be so bold as to use the phrase, 'goofed'?

The Rav went on to answer his own question.

Obviously, there is no real issue as to whether what G-d  had created was good in his eyes. In his eyes it could not have been otherwise. But G-d was teaching us a lesson, as to how we, as simple human beings, should relate to our own past activities during life. Normally, when we look back at our actions during the year, there is a tendency to focus upon the defects or deficiencies, in our performance, with the hope that we can correct them, by resolving to do better in the future. However, pointed out the Rav, there are times in one's life when one should, upon reflection, focus upon the positive aspects of one's past activities. Not only Hashem, but every human being, has the right, and indeed the duty, והלכת בדרכיו (imitatio Dei), to reflect upon one's past activities, and acknowledge achievements and accomplishments. And that is what G-d taught us when he bothered to look back at his own creation and judge its merits."

Source - address (app. 1:08:50-1:11:33) of R. Berman at recent חג הסמיכה of ישיבת רבינו יצחק אלחנן)

So even a Litvak can enjoy their own pat on the back sometimes.


A gutten chodesh Nissan.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Rav & The Rebbe - The Rest of the Story - Vital Information & Missing Context

A few months ago a book called Rav and Rebbe (Amazon link), by the prolific Lubavitcher author Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, was published.

I have found a very interesting, and detailed review of the book online, from Australia, which (along with other posts by the author, such as this one, about a hidden letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe) contains important information, which should be required reading for anyone interested in the subject. The author is a very knowledgable person, who studied and davens in Lubavitch (as well as non Lubavitch) institutions and has close family members that are Lubavitchers

To whet your appetite, here are some brief passages from the detailed and forthright review -

"I see the book as a pseudo-academic work designed to also function as a soft and diplomatic/disguised approach to convince the non Chabad students of Toras Rav, that:
  1. the distance between Chabad and the Rav’s Mesora is closer than they think;
  2. since the Rav was exposed to Chassidus as a child it not only affected his vista of Yahadus, but the Rav’s Talmidim should do likewise; and
  3. the Rav continued being an avid reader of Chassidus." 
On the other hand, another interesting passage, referring to Rabbi Meir Fund, a well known scholar with an extensive background with both the Rav, as well as Chasidism, well placed to address the topic, is this -

"Rabbi (Meir) Fund states that“His [the Rav’s] exposure to Chassidus was limited"

As I was researching this topic, I also found a video online of the author, Rabbi Dalfin, speaking about the book a few months ago at a Shul in New Jersey.

One can get a much better understanding of the matter through the links above, a more balanced and accurate picture than through some other unbalanced and biased sources out there.

May we be merit reaching the Emes, in this as well as other matters.