Monday, September 4, 2017

The Nesivos Shalom Controversy and Its Broader Ramifications for the Torah World

Lehrhaus has just published an extraordinary piece. An exposé by a fervent Israeli (Dati-Leumi) Chasid, Rabbi Dr. Zvi Leshem, of problematic aspects of the נתיבות שלום of R. Shalom Noach Berezovsky, a Rebbe of one faction of Slonimer Chasidim, a work that has gained a cult-like following in some quarters in recent years.

Visitors to this site may recall that a number of the months ago, there appeared here a different critique of the Nesivos Shaom phenomenon, from a Litvishe-Misagdic point of view, in reaction to a Lehrhaus piece lauding it.

Now, with the appearance of Rabbi Dr. Leshem's excellent piece, it is evident that the Nesivos Sholom phenomenon is long overdue for some serious scrutiny. If traditionally opposite camps both have serious problems with a work, it is time to reevaluate it, and its place among us.

The question is asked, what accounts for the popularity of the Nesivos Shalom, among certain segments of the community? Building on what Rabbi Dr. Leshem states on the matter, it seems to me that it has become a staple fed to students  from the diaspora at many seminaries and yeshivas, as it is Hasidism light. Things like modernistic Hebrew, and a more open attitude toward Israel than prevails in some other Hasidic sects, make it an easy fit for faculty who want to offer something a bit different to fill time in the year or more that many Modern Orthodox types study in Israel (or elsewhere) for.

As an aside, I do take exception to the conflating in Rabbi Dr. Leshem's piece of the Litvishe tradition as a whole, with some severe mussar texts or schools within (or without of) it. Not all Litvaks were part of the mussar movement. Some opposed it strongly. And even among those who were part of it, there were great differences. Just like Slabodka and Novhardok were quite different, so too there were significant differences among other Litvishe as well. For example, the Michtav Me'Eliyahu of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler z"l (cited by Rabbi Dr. Leshem in his piece as an alleged exemplar of the Litvishe world), was opposed by some of his Litvishe brethren for various reasons. The traditional Litvishe velt would take strong exception to certain aspects of the Nesivos Shalom just as Rabbi Dr. Leshem does.

בכל דרכיך דעהו, within a framework of moderation in dealing with the physical world, was and is taken very seriously by Litvishe תלמידי חכמים past and present. The Litvishe Torah world extends far beyond black hat yeshiva walls, and its representatives are found in various places and positions, not just or necessarily ראשי כולל, ראשי ישיבה, and some משגיחים.

There also is in this episode an important broader lesson, namely that before people become followers of a leader or sect new to them and their background, they should exercise due diligence, and go beyond the figurative headlines to check for suitability, acceptability, and compatibility.

May we merit appropriate and fitting spiritual guidance, on a deep level.


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