Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cast Down the Viduy Booklets? Response to a Leading Neo-Hasidic Leader and Mashpia

What are וידוי booklets, you may ask?

Well, some years ago, some people who are מדקדק במצות (scrupulous in their observance of Hashem's commandments), in order to be mezakeh the rabbim (merit the public), to enhance the seasonal prayers and עבודה (Divine service) of the ימי תשובה, the season of repentance, published some small booklets, expounding on different forms of viduy recited in the season (an integral component of the teshuvah process), which are focused on in this time of the year, to make it more meaningful and relevant for those who seek such things.

An updated version of one that has been around for many years, is shown here. Another one, from Artscroll, can be seen here.

Fine and dandy you say, huh? Who could have a problem with that? However, to a prominent neo-Hasidic leader, for some reason, they are viewed not as a welcome enhancement, but as a serious problem. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Mashpia at Yeshiva University, Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY, and leader of the neo Hasidic movement, just came out with a scathing attack on such publications. In a gathering at his congregation a few days ago, he ridiculed them (relevant segments being at 69:40 mainly, as well as at 81:20). According to Weinberger they are problematic, because a person should not dwell too much on sin, rather they should concentrate on positive things, citing certain Hasidic teachings to that effect, particularly on the pasuk לב חכם לימינו ולב כסיל לשמאלו.

Now, there is some logic to that. Standard (non Hasidic) Jewish sources also warn against dwelling excessively on sins of the past. However, as part of the teshuvah (repentance) process we also have mitzvos of viduy which are intensified and focused on around the beginning of a new year. And Rabbi Weinberger himself mentions that in his talk. But then, he goes on to bash viduy booklets, which are useful aides for some people, adjuncts to do the mitzvos in a meaningful manner, going so far as to relate approvingly that when he got one as a youngster his father objected to it and threw it to the floor! He ridicules them to the delighted laughter of his Modern Orthodox audience.

To lash out at such legitimate and honorable works that are utilized by sincere Jews, ehrliche Yidden, is not appropriate in general, and certainly not for someone who (allegedly) is a big leader, and merits a signficant מחאה.

Ironically, it is the Hasidic nusach Sfard order of prayer, which is the nusach of Rabbi Weinberger and his congregation, which says viduy much more often than regular non-Hasidic Jews, having viduy as part of its daily weekday services through most of the year, while the nusach Ashkenaz used by non Hasidim, conversely, does not generally say it year round, but rather only at special times like תענתים and  עשרת ימי תשובה. The Vilna Gaon, the great Misnaged, limits it even further. According to the גר"א, viduy (the short אשמנו version, as well as the longer על חטא version) is only said once during daily selichos (as opposed to three times, as others commonly do), as well as only once per tefillah of Yom Kippur (e.g. once during maariv, once during shacharis, once during musaf, once during mincha). As opposed to others who say it an additional time per tefillah with the shliach tzibbur.

Sadly, this is not the first time that inappropriate rhetoric emanated from this personality. A previous case, discussed at this website in the past, was related to his speaking approvingly about dancing on Tisha Be'Av. Other cases, discussed elsewhere, include his wholesale bashing of kollelim. Even before that, he made other extreme statements that generated much controversy, and elicited criticism.

ב"ה it is never too late to repent, as long as people are alive. And for institutions who employ unworthy spiritual leaders, there is also room for rectifying past mistakes, and turning over a new leaf with new appropriate leadership. With the Richard Joel era winding down at YU, questionable initiatives and hires of his tenure should be reexamined as well.

May we all merit true teshuvah speedily.

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