Monday, December 31, 2012

The Glory of Telshe - הישיבה הגדולה והקדושה דטעלז

For the fiftieth anniversary of the Telshe Yeshiva in America, over twenty years ago, a fine video presentation was professionally prepared. There is much historical information there, including nice footage of  ראשי ישיבה no longer with us speaking in Yiddish about it, as well as an extended clip of Rav Mordechai Gifter זצ"ל speaking in the בית מדרש.

One can now take that trip down Telzer memory lane with minimal tircha, via modern technology. To embark on the journey, just click here.

Enjoy and be inspired.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Old Litvishe Mohel (zt"l) Reflects On His Holy Work

A very nice short video on a famous mohel, R. Mordechai Zimmerman, of N.Y., זללה"ה.

An American born Yid, who learned in Mir, in der alter heim.

פשטות, ישרות , ענוה shine though!

More info on him here.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why Amnon Lipkin-Shahak Was NOT A Descendant of Rav Yisroel Salanter

Following up on the previous post, let me elaborate as to why I believe that Gen. Amnon Lipkin Shachak was not descended from Rav Yisrael Salanter, aka Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter.

1) There is no good proof for it. One site making the claim gives the source as 'personal knowledge', while others, such as Hebrew Wikipedia pages here, and here, give no source at all.

2) The Wikipedia pages already, in the past, had stated that he was of Chassidic descent (and still incorporates that in them even after recently tacking on a new claim that he was descended from Rav Yisroel Salanter).

They can't both be right. You can't have it both ways.

The Chassidic descent info was there first and I assume therefore that it is correct, while the Rav Salanter claim came later. I suspect what happened is that someone thought, well his name is Lipkin and Rav Yisroel's name was Lipkin, so therefore they must be connected. And then wrote or reported it. And then others just repeated it without subjecting it to scrutiny.

3) While the general came from a seventh generation Israeli family, Rav Yisroel Salanter's family was not in Eretz Yisroel until later on in the modern era.

4) The general's forebears came from the Pinsk area, while Rav Yisroel came from other Lithuanian areas. Keep in mind that in those days people didn't get around as easily as they do today.

5) See the comments of יעקב135 in a discussion of the matter at an Israeli website.

Update: A fine Israeli website focusing on Rabbinic genealogy, by בנימין מפתח תקוה, concurs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rav Yisroel Salanter's Non Descendants - A Lesson In Caution

Earlier this week, a prominent Israeli, former chief of staff General Amnon Lipkin Shachak passed away. In one news report that mentioned it that passed by me, it was stated that he was a descendant of the great gaon and tzaddik, Rav Yisroel Salanter zt"l, whose surname was Lipkin as well.

I felt immediately that something was wrong, as a number of years back, perhaps when he became רמטכ"ל, I recalled that the same claim was made, but was then corrected by someone who pointed out that he was actually of Chassidic descent. Doing some quick research earlier online brought this out clearly. I will lay it out right here, for all to see.

1) Go to the Hebrew Wikipedia page of General Shachak -אמנון_ליפקין-שחק

In the beginning there, in the biography section, you will see that he was descended from Yitzchak Lipkin, a builder of neighborhoods in Yerushalayim.

Click on Yitzchak Lipkin's name there, which will take you to his Wikipedia page,יצחק_ליפקין

It says clearly there, that he was the son of a Chassid of R. Aharon of Karlin. And that he married a woman from the Chassidic settlement in Chevron (which I think was Lubavitch, but not 100% sure).

So we see that he was of Chassidic descent, not descended from R. Yisroel Salanter.

In addition to the assertion that he was descended from R. Yisroel not being correct, we also have to be careful before making such claims, as it is not a kavod, an honor to the great Gaon and Tzaddik, R. Yisroel, to be associated with someone who was, lo aleinu, as far as I know, not considered 'dati', although he did do great mitzvos, like fighting to protect Yidden, which he of course deserves much credit for.

I am reminded also of a somewhat similar case from a few years back, in which it was claimed that a famous person in the frum community, a choshuve Yid who goes around inspiring people to live lives of Torah and Yiddishkeit, who grew up not-religious, may he be well and have koach to continue his important work for many years, was also descended from Rav Yisroel, based upon the fact that his mother's maiden name was Salant. Some people assumed that if her name was originally Salant, and she came from that town, she was descended from Rav Yisroel Salanter zt"l. But actually that claim fell apart, when it was pointed out that Rav Yisroel Salanter's surname was not Salant, but rather Lipkin, in addition to other difficulties with it.

The lesson from this is that there is a temptation at times to connect people to gedolim, especially such giants like Rav Yisroel. But one must be careful, as it possible to make great errors while doing so, unwittingly.

Update: This post was written the other day. At that time, the Hebrew Wikipedia page, did not, as it does now, state that Gen. Shachak was descended from R. Yisroel. It seems that someone has just added that info to that Wikipedia page, as well as to the Hebrew Wikipedia page of R. Yisroel. However, note that they have no source for the claim! They write it and then it says דרוש מקור (source needed)! It seems to me to contradict the other info given there earlier (which remains posted along with the new addition) actually, so I am maintaining my skepticism at this time, and will try to clarify the matter further.

Further update, the next week: I see now that the dubious claim of descent from Rav Yisroel was removed from the Wikipedia page. ב"ה. Whoever corrected it, thank you.

P.S. See also subsequent post, which elaborates on the first part of this one, Why Amnon Lipkin-Shahak Was NOT A Descendant of Rav Yisroel Salanter

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mamma Rochel vs. Rav Shimon bar Yochai

Rav Shimon ben Yochai, you have competition.

They say כדאי הוא רבי שמעון לסמוך עליו? By Rav Shimon's kever, in Meron, you can get what you need? Well, now we have a new claim, that Mamma Rochel, רחל אמינו, tefillos by her kever, can do even more.

According to the Mother Rachel website, "There is no other figure in the annals of Jewish history that equals Rachel Imeinu, or “Mame Rochel” as the mother of Israel is known, when it comes to having the power to averting Heavenly anger and bringing a bestowment of mercy, redemptions and out-and-out miracles on her children throughout the generations."

According to a phone call I received, presumably from the same enterprise, not even Moshe Rabbeinu and other of our great all time leaders, can equal the power of Mamma Rochel.

But is it true? Of course there is a special koach there, Chazal talk about davening there, but in the way, to the extent presented at the site and in the phone calls? It seems definitely too exaggerated to me.

If Rav Abuchatzeira davens there, as promised by the site, he should remember his cousin, R.Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, who needs help now. Maybe he can get Mamma Rochel to help.

שנזכה לרפואות וישועות בקרוב

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mussar for the Siyum Hashas

מזל טוב to all on this great occasion.

Although it is a great simcha, nevertheless there is a place for some words of mussar as well.

Here are a few mussar thoughts from gedolim of the past that come to mind.

1) מסכת אבות, פרק ב, משנה ח - רבן יוחנן בן זכאי קבל מהלל ומשמאי, הוא היה אומר, אם למדת תורה הרבה, אל תחזיק טובה לעצמך, כי לכך נוצרת

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said, if you learned much Torah, don't hold yourself great because of it, as therefore you were created.

2) You went through Shas - but did Shas go through you (attributed here to the Kotzker Rebbe)?

3) It is easier to learn through the entire Shas than to change one bad middah (character trait) - Rav Yisroel Salanter.

May we be zoche to internalize our learning so that it becomes to us a סם חיים, an elixir of life.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More On Moshiach Being A Misnaged

I heard more about Moshiach being a Misnaged from a Litvishe friend.

The way he told it was like this.

Moshiach will be a Misnaged. Why? Because he will come and say kaddish, and he will not say veyatzmach purkanei vikareiv meshichei (ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה) as part of it (because if  Moshiach has already arrived, it will be out of place, anachronistic, to say it). So that proves he is a Litvak, and not a Chassid.

Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch: Moshiach will be a Misnaged

The Alter Rebbe of the Lubavitch, R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, is reported to have said, surprisingly, that Moshiach will be a Misnaged (not a Chassid), giving the following explanation.

If Moshiach will be a Chassid, the Litvaks (Misnagdim) won't accept him. But if he will be a Misnaged, the Chassidim will accept him anyway, since Chassidim are (allegedly) 'kabbolas ol'niks' (בני קבלת עול).

If so, how did the messianic fervor around the late Lubavitcher Rebbe take off? Did they abandon the above teaching of the Alter Rebbe, renowned and venerated founder of the Habad Lubavitch group?

By the way, if you think about it, the above saying is really a Chassidic put down of Misnagdim. As if they (the Chassidim) are saying that the Misnagdim are like babies, they won't accept a Moshiach not like them. But we are more mature, we won't insist that Moshiach will be one of us. Reminds me of the issue of Moshiach's Hat.

P.S. Does anyone know of sources for the above, especially early ones? I did a search online and saw it mentioned in a number of places, including a Lubavitcher forum. Even a very prominent Lubavicher Chassid, R. Zalman Posner, longtime Lubavitcher shliach in Tennessee, mentioned it in the course of a back and forth on Lubavitch messianism in Jewish Action magazine a few years ago (page three, first column, paragraph three). So it is known. Though how well known these days, I do not know. Perhaps Lubavitchers didn't talk about it much in recent times. Perhaps it fell out of favor. It wouldn't seem to fit in too well with those promoting the late Rebbe as Moshiach I bet. :)

Litvaks, Nit Chassidim, and Misnagdim: Various Terms for the non Chassidic

What do you call a non Chassid?

Some people use the term Litvak. However, that leaves something to be desired, as there are Chassidim that are of Litvak roots. Chassidic groups such as Karlin, Slonim, and Lubavitch, are of such background. And there are misnagdim that are of non Litvish background as well. On the other hand, some prefer it, as it sounds sort of neutral, non-threatening, and non confrontational. It just means that the person comes from Lita, where the standard form of Judaism was not Chassidic. Some people use Litvish instead of Litvak, Litvish meaning that they follow the way of Lita, even if not from there or that background.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, stated that there are no Misnagdim today, just ניט חסידים (non Chassidim, in Yiddish). What he meant with that claim was that some non Chassidim today don't really actively oppose Chassidism, or know why they are not part of it. They just know that that is not their background.

Although that is incorrect (Misnagdim still exist and they cannot be wished away, even if a Chassid would like to imagine that they don't exist), there is something to that.

The last term, Misnaged, clearly indicates that a person is opposed to Chassidism. It is more 'in your face' than the others.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sephardic Kabbalists (מקובלים) & the Tanya of Chabad-Lubavitch: On The Same Page?

I came across some very interesting things a few days ago online.

At the Kavannah blog there was a series of posts recently consisting of interviews with a Sephardic student of Kabbalah. In the second of the posts, the talmid relates how Rav Kaduri z"l sliced out the entire Tanya , along with sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, from the Chitas that he owned, after asking and obtaining permission from him to 'fix mistakes' in it.

The talmid goes on to inform us that great Sephardic mekubbalim (he names eight of them, including well known giants like the Ben Ish Chai, and Rav Kaduri, as well as other names not as well known to the general public) held that the Tanya contradicts the עץ חיים of the אר"י ז"ל (Rabbi Isaac Luria, the great, overwhelming master of Kabbalah from about five centuries ago). Also, great Sephardic mekubbalim instructed their students not to learn Chasidic sefarim!

Sometimes people assume that Sephardim and Chasidim are basically in agreement theologically. But the truth may be more complicated than that. Quite interesting.

Update: Learned from a comment at another blog that the matter is more complicated - see more here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bikur Cholim in America - pre & post WWII: Who Were The Pioneers? Setting The Record Straight

Bikur Cholim is a great mitzvah, which many Jews have excelled in for a very long time. But sometimes people forget our long background in it and get confused.

The Claim - Founded By Survivors

One occasionally hears or reads claims in frum circles like 'The (Holocaust) survivors started bikur cholim in America'. The explanation of the claim is based on their founding of a number of well known Bikur Cholim organizations, such as Bikur Cholim of Boro Park, Satmar Bikur Cholim in New York, and others.

But is this so? Was there no bikur cholim before the end of WWII in the USA? Is bikur cholim a mitzvah performed only by ultra Orthodox or Hassidic holocaust survivors?

What Does Bikur Cholim Really Mean?

To answer the above, we must first examine the meaning of the term ביקור חולים. Many people today think it translates simply into 'visiting the sick'. However, in reality, it means much more than that. It means to see that a sick person's needs have been taken care of, as seen in an article by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Kaganoff here. That encompasses a range of activities, from creating hospitals and clinics and treating sick individuals (which seems to be a major and greater fulfillment of the mitzvah), to providing them with support, such as by visiting, and providing food, encouragement and davening for them.

Pre WWII Bikur Cholim

In the pre WWII period, many Jews were active in working to erect Jewish hospitals, in various parts of America. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, sixty Jewish hospitals were established in twenty four US cities between 1850 and 1955. Such institutions enabled Jews (as well as others) to receive vital competent medical assistance, while at the same time getting kosher food and not being subject to Christian symbols and proselytization, which was a great threat in those early days in other hospitals (yes, America was different then than it is today). Great, sustained, and mighty effort, together with much Jewish funds, brought about the creation of great institutions to help the sick. Keep in mind that at that time the great level of government support for healthcare that we have today did not exist, making the feat all the more impressive. It wasn't like getting a government funded clinic for needy people set up nowadays. It was much more difficult. What a great fulfillment of ביקור חולים!

There are also old Shuls in various places with ביקור חולים in their names and constitutions, obviously something they were very concerned and involved with.

This is in addition to other types of bikur cholim, as discussed below, of course.

Post WWII developments

After WWII, various refugees migrated to the United States. They perhaps had not seen and were not aware of the herculean efforts made by earlier arrived Jews to set up the great Jewish hospitals in previous years. Where and how they thought the hospitals had come about, whether they thought they just appeared miraculously, just fell down like manna from heaven, or otherwise, I don't know. Nevertheless, they came and sought to perform bikur cholim in other ways, such as by visiting patients, bringing them hot food, such as chicken soup (I suspect it started out as a service for Hassidic patients who didn't trust the kashrus of the hospital food, and then branched out to others as well), among other things, in already existing institutions. Some Hassidic Rebbes, such as the Skvira of Brooklyn and Bostoner of Boston, famously got involved in referring patients to specific hospitals and doctors, who they believed were better than others. Nice and important things to do. But mostly in the category of supporting the ill, rather than directly being involved in treating their illnesses, which was taken care of by the hospitals brought about by earlier immigrants.


Different Jews made different contributions in the area of bikur cholim. Some were more active in building hospitals, while others were more active in support services after the hospitals already existed. Can the latter group then seriously claim that they were the pioneers in the area of bikur cholim in general, as if they invented it? Of course not. The lion's share of credit belongs to those who toiled mightily to create the great institutions.

To this day we see Jews, of various backgrounds and levels of religiosity, being leaders in the area of helping the ill (another way of saying bikur cholim), as donors of large sums of money, medical personnel such as doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators, as well as by providing support for the sick and their families with meals, apartments near hospitals, and otherwise. We are a merciful people. רחמנים בני רחמנים. This great mitzvoh is done by many types of Jews, not just one type.

So the answers to the questions we started out with are all definitively no. Bikur cholim is a mitzvah engaged in and shared by many types of Jews and is not owned by one group or another.

Just to set the record straight and put things into perspective. למען האמת.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Davening on Taanis Esther or Purim - Which is more mesugal, which the more auspicious time?

 In recent years there have been many advertisements and much promotion of the idea that the day of Purim is an especially auspicious time for prayer, with some even claiming or implying that one can daven then for anything with success guaranteed, whatever that means (one can daven to win the powerball lottery and be guaranteed to do so??).

Interestingly, though, I noticed this year something a bit different, being promoted by the Vaad Harabbanim charity organization recently. They are promoting Taanis Esther, rather than Purim, as the special day for davening. Below is an image of their poster promoting it. 

The passage of the sefer Kav Hayashar on which their poster is based, can be seen in context in that work here (starting with the top line of the page).

So which is it?

The Hassidic seforim seem to be promoting Purim day, while the Kav Hayashar is promoting the day before.

If I would have to pick one, I would take the latter.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Artscroll Revolution - The other new Artscroll video

The world renowned Artscroll publishers recently put out a video featuring their forthcoming, biezras Hashem, electronic Schottenstein version of the gemara, which has gotten much publicity online, and rightfully so.

However, they also just put out another video as well, which is also quite interesting, about 'The Artscroll revolution', in conjunction with their recent dinner, which seems to have gotten a lot less attention.

It can be see here.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Zayin Adar confusion on Litvishe Yeshiva calendar

Along the lines of a previous post here, I noticed on the calendar of a certain Litvishe Yeshiva the following words for today, ז' אדר. It states הילולא דמשה רבינו ע"ה, following which come the words תענית צדיקים. Interestingly, this Yeshiva is considered quite Litvish. And yet it has such a Hassidic formulation, rather than just writing that it is Moshe Rabbeinu's yahrzeit.

They write הילולא. Hillulah? Are they having a party, a special seudah for the day, with dancing and music (interestingly, even Hassidim, who are usually into celebrating yahrzeits, don't seem to do that today. Anyone know why?)? And then they immediately follow that with the words תענית צדיקים. I have difficulty understanding having both taanis and hillulah for the same day. I would think it is either one or the other.

It may seem like a small matter, but it is important. I assume that perhaps someone from the office staff, who might not have been aware of the import of the words, put them in, rather than a Rosh Yeshiva, who might have realized that that terminology didn't fit with the Yeshiva's tradition.  Hopefully future editions will be corrected.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rav Aharon Kotler zt"l seen in rare color video from last year of his life

Via Gruntig, in a new video, for the 70th anniversary of Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, in Brooklyn, New York, in the United States.

The Slutzk/Kletzk/Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva is seen at 0:51 into the film walking vigorously, and in a longer clip at 4:02 talking and gesturing powerfully. It gives us a glimpse into the passion and intensity of the renowned gadol זצ"ל. Keep in mind, that he was already over seventy years of age at the time the video was taken. How many seventy year old Roshei Yeshiva walk with such energy, and speak with such passion and vigor? No wonder that he had such an effect on people and the Jewish world.

There are photos of Rav Aharon, but this is the first video I recall seeing. I read that (as the saying goes, that one picture is worth a thousand words), one film is worth a thousand photos! So this video is worth a lot to me. So many people today never saw Rav Kotler when he was alive. Now they can get a better idea of what it was like to see him in action.

Rav Aharon maintained an apartment in Boro Park, just a few blocks from the school, so it is not surprising that he was at the event. He passed away just over two months after the video (the 50th yohrtzeit is approaching). זכר צדיק לברכה.

To supplement the video footage with some recent fine and informative reminiscences of the Rosh Yeshiva from that time and place, see two recent pieces by Dr. Marvin Schick, here, and here.