Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Rav Avigdor Miller Warns Against Unwholesome and Dangerous Distortions in Torah Study

A few months ago, in the 5781 שבת שובה Toras Avigdor booklet (p.6-7), Rav Avigdor Miller ז"ל addressed some dangerous distortions in Torah study and teaching, that exist among some Torah students and teachers, including, unfortunately, some identified with the Litvishe community, that can lead to Torah impoverishment and alienation, G-d forbid.

In particular, two distortions were described.

1) Covering too little ground. Getting bogged down in a Talmudic thicket, and not getting to know the vast, beautiful forest around it. It is very important to have context, to get the proverbial big picture, in Torah as in life, for proper understanding, and one doesn't get that from a relative few pages.

Rav Avigdor Miller states emphatically, based on his experience in great ישיבות of the past, that learning Torah does not mean learning merely the first six blatt of a מסכת, albeit with "all rishonim and achronim" in a winter zman. Rather much more was learned. As Rav Miller states, essential Torah principles and wisdom are not limited to the most widely studied pages of  Talmudic tractates, but rather appear throughout the vast Talmudic sea (ים התלמוד). And through the תוה"ק in general, of course.

2) Skipping "non-lomdish" sections of gemara. Rav Miller speaks harshly of a rebbi he once had, that, when they came to sections of the Talmud that were not "legalistic", but rather dealt with חכמה, מוסר, eitzos, and yiras shamayim, he would skip them (!).

A wholesome Torah education leads to a wholesome Torah personality. A fragmented and piecemeal Torah education can lead (G-d forbid) to a deficient, semi-educated, fragmented, immature product.

As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

May Hashem help us learn and grow appropriately.

Aftermath of Chabad-Lubavitch "Miracle Torah" - Dramatic Crown Heights COVID Increase

Look at what the situation is now.

People who were part of the scam, either knowingly, or duped into it, should speak out now and renounce it. Whether a maggid, a Rabbi, or one of the few Roshei Yeshiva, wake up, and be מתחרט for joining up with Lubavitch and leaving the path of Rav Schach זצ"ל.

ושב ורפא לו

Wishing אחב"י a רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Neo-Chasidus Guitar Hallel in the Spotlight

 One of the trademark innovations of Neo-Chasidus (in addition to the Tisha B'Av kumzitzes) is its Hallel with musical instruments playing. Mostly guitars it seems, but there could be other instruments too. Such things can be seen on Rosh Chodesh, and on various Yamim tovim.

Now, not everyone realizes that the propriety of such a service is not a simple matter. Significant halachic authorities do not permit such things, for various reasons.

A short time ago, I noticed a post at the Life in Israel blog, related to this. According to it, a dispute erupted after someone came into a minyan with a violin and started playing it during Hallel. Later on, they agreed to ask a שאלה to a מורה הוראה about it.  The question was posed to Rav Shlomo Aviner, a leading Dati-Leumi Rabbi, and he said that it should be avoided.

I am writing this to call attention to this matter, but also in general to the innovations of Neo-Chasidus, which some people do not seem aware of, which warrant scrutiny. As we see here, even in the Dati-Leumi camp, there exists opposition to (at least some of) their actions.

A freilechen Yom Tov.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Preserving the Great Legacy of Rav Schach זצ"ל - Social Distancing From Deceit & Falsehood

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Schach, זצ"ל, was a great תלמיד חכם and builder of Torah. In his later years, in particular, he also was a מנהיג of masses of Yidden at large, and an important source of דעת והשקפת התורה הקדושה for כלל ישראל.

A crowning achievement of the rich life of Rav Schach זי"ע was when he stood up, in his old age, with great sacrifice, against the dangerous messianic movement of Chabad-Lubavitch, based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in New York, and, with the help of הקב"ה and many clear thinking Jews, succeeded in raising awareness of the great danger of it, and the imperative of social distancing from them, for protection against infection from their confused and distorted beliefs and actions.

Rav Schach zt"l, however, was niftar (passed away) close to twenty years ago, and, since then, in the passage of time, the understanding of the necessity of continuing this distancing weakened among some, for example, among younger people, who hadn't seen the dangerous messianism at its peak up close themselves. Since Chabad-Lubavitch is based in a neighborhood in New York away from where most frum Jews live, it is easy for people to delude themselves into wishful thinking that Chabad-Lubavitch messianism is an issue of the distant past, not relevant today, as they may never have visited 770 Eastern Parkway and seen the lunacy there. At the same time, Chabad-Lubavitch and their fellow travelers have tried to rewrite history, cover up that past, break out of their isolation, and be accepted as part of the mainstream Klal Yisrael, especially among the more Orthodox and Haredi ציבור.

As a consequence of the above, there have been more incidents, ל"ע, in recent years, of breakdowns in necessary distancing from Chabad-Lubavitch.

             Chabad-Lubavitch "Miracle Torah" of Fraud & Deceit

Recently, taking advantage of confusion and desperation during the Corona virus outbreak, a giant "Miracle Torah" (at other times called Unity Torah, or United for Protection) scam was run by Chabad-Lubavitch from Crown Heights. Fierce debate about the project was seen in various places online With the help of massive advertising and PR (typical of Chabad, as they were taught by their late Rebbe), a significant amount of people were induced to give a great amount of money for a dubious סגולה alleged to be from the founder of Hasidism, with the implication being that it would stop COVID-19 in its tracks miraculously. The organizers attempted to hide the project's connection with Chabad-Lubavitch, to make it seem like a mainstream community endeavor, when soliciting support from outside their group. They succeeded thus in duping some non-Lubavitch community leaders, even some Rabbis, with this duplicitous and deceptive approach. ב"ה many of our leaders saw through the Chabad-Lubavitch deception, and almost all Litvishe leaders did not fall into it. Overall, though, too many people were confused by it, so it is necessary to alert people, not only since it is has not ended, as they are attempting to continue it, by getting people to contribute more for another such "Miracle Torah", but also to alert people in general to the danger of this sect and their devious ways, to protect against other, similar present and future dangerous initiatives.

         Why is the Chabad-Lubavitch "Miracle Torah" a scam?

Let's look at the results -

Firstly, in contrast to the implication of the Chabad advertising that the COVID-19 plague would end even before the Torah was finished, when the Torah project was merely underway, as the tale it was based on, the plague has continued for months, with victims upon victims.

Secondly, even after the "Miracle Torah" was finished earlier this week, and the extravagant celebration ended, Lubavitch media itself, just the other day, reported that COVID-19 was endemic in Crown Heights!

Where then, is the miracle? 

They concealed the fact that it was a Chabad-Lubavitch project

They were mevazeh מרן שר התורה, R. Chaim Kanievsky שליט"א, by presenting him a distorted version of their project (they hid from him who it was from, that it is a Chabad-Lubavitch project, and hid from him that it was being advertised as a "Miracle Torah" - real גניבת דעת, which I suspect was done to other Rabbis too - shame on them, הוי זהיר בגחלתן, such deception and בזיון of a גדול בישראל, a מנהיג הדור, is a very dangerous "game" to play, even if they paid off people to assist them in it) and using it to get an "endorsement" from him based on that deception. There are two videos with Rav Chaim - one from months ago, and a more recent one. In both of them (it seems that they paid off Reb Y. M. Druk and Yanky Kanievsky to get a sham "endorsement" under false pretenses from Rav Chaim שליט"א - watch the videos closely and you can see how the whole thing looks like a big setup - א שאנדע און א חרפה) he is asked about writing a Torah for a זכות for protection from the virus - a "miracle" is not mentioned.

When the project was already well established, their Lubavitcher roots and agenda became more visible, such as when they went to the grave of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe right before the "Miracle Torah" was finished, and when the first leining of it took place at 770 Eastern Parkway, the morning after the dedication.

                    Was It An Official Chabad-Lubavitch Project?

While it seems that originally it was an initiative of individuals rather than "official Lubavitch", later on, the Chabad establishment got involved, to the extent that people like Reb Moshe Kotlarsky, and the brothers Reb Simon and Reb Y.Y. Jacobson took part in the big celebration

                                    "Miracle Torah" vs. "Unity Torah"

The massive publicity promoting the project alternated between calling it "Miracle Torah" and "Unity Torah". Why was "Unity Torah" sometimes used instead of "Miracle Torah"? Perhaps the organizers realized that calling it Miracle Torah left them too open to charges of running a scam. However, it also points to another aspect of the project. The hidden messianic agenda involved. Chabad-Lubavitch has been promoting the writing of Torahs for decades to unite Yidden  and to bring Moshiach. Despite the special COVID-19 angle of this one, the Chabad-Lubavitch mission to write "unity Torahs" to "bring Moshiach" was also a big part of it, whether explicitly acknowledged, or not.

              A Teachable Moment - Takeaways from this episode

Beware of scam artists, even if they look "frum".

Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was used to promote this. It should be made clear by now though that Rubashkin is not a מורה דרך for the general ציבור. Whatever ordeal he went through, he remains a Lubavitcher, with the continuing mission and goal of trying to spread Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidus, and the honor of their late Rebbe, to the world at large. It is time to stop the veneration of him as some kind of Jewish leader, when he gives shiurim at 770 Eastern Parkway, Messianic Lubavitcher HQ, with its giant 'Long live the Rebbe...'  banners in the background, and when he referred to the late Rebbe with the expression שליט"א many years after his passing.

Keep a distance from Chabad Houses. If you travel, make other arrangements for food and davening. Do not compromise important Torah principles for the fleeting convenience of Lubavitch facilities.

                                            Some Good News

 Despite their massive event/webcast for over six hours earlier this week. the amount of letters subscribed to in their second "Miracle Torah" only rose about two percentage points, from about fifteen to seventeen percent. That seems to show that people are wisening up to their scam, and/or that the more gullible folks have already been had, and are thinking, enough!

In the merit of sticking to אמת, and staying away from falsehood and deceit, even when it is cloaked in "frum" garb, may we merit good health and the true משיח, soon, in our days.

May the light of Chanukah drive away the darkness of שקר.

A freilichen Chanukah.

P.S. Just saw an interesting Op-Ed at a Lubavitch site, where the project came under fire from within Habad for allegedly not being Lubavitch enough. Maybe that is why they came more out of the closet afterward.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Illustrious Litvishe Roots of UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, רב יעקב צבי זקס ז"ל

 Last מוצאי שבת we learned of the passing of the renowned רב יעקב צבי זקס, aka Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in the UK. Accolades and הספדים poured in afterward from around the globe, from non-Jews as well as Jews.

But who was this man that brought forth such a torrent of tributes and emotions? And what were some of the great Jewish influences on him?

In terms of decisive influences, some pointed to his רבי, R. Nachum Rabinovitch z"l. Others mentioned Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik of Boston & New York, z"l, who he met as a young student. Lubavitchers, of course, mentioned his meeting with their Rebbe. Lord Sacks himself, in an interview, mentioned the great effect the six day war had on him.

But before all of those, he had a family which raised him. Who were they? His father, was born in Kielce, Poland. His mother, ליבא, Libby Frumkin Sacks, born in the UK, came from a renowned Litvishe family. She was a granddaughter of the famous R. Aryeh Leib Frumkin ז"ל (Hebrew Wikipedia entry here), a well-known Litvishe תלמיד חכם, mechaber of ספרים, and activist. At her funeral, her בכור, Lord Sacks, mentioned how proud she was of this zeide. So it was not a fact that was unknown to the young יעקב צבי. This ר' ארי' לייב פרומקין, son of R. Shmuel Kelmer, was himself in turn a descendant of the חכם צבי, לבוש, של"ה, מהר"ל מפראג, ולמעלה בקודש, as well as having family connections to other gedolim, such as R. Yisroel Salanter, זכר צדיקים לברכה.

So even though he went to general schools as a child, he still knew well whence he came, and when he got older he was עולה לגדולה, went to learn תורה הקדושה on a higher level, and became a Rav with progressively greater השפעה on קרובים ורחוקים as years went by.

As we are taught by Chazal, תורה מחזרת על אכסניא שלה, Torah returns to where it is hosted.

תהא נפשו צרורה בצרור החיים

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Litvishe Approach to Tehillim - It's Not Just Lip Service - Don't Just "Daven it Up"

תהלים is something that is an important part of our lives year-round, of course. However, at certain times there might be additional attention to it. 

But how should it be approached? Does הקב"ה need more lip service, עבודת הפה rather than עבודה שבלב?

The answer is emphatically no. Rather, כוונת הלב is what is sought and needed.

Rav Avigdor Miller z"l, in last week's תורת אביגדור booklet (p.7), gives some guidelines for its proper reciting. Say it slowly, with understanding and emotion (click to see what Rav Miller brings from the חובות הלבבות, and more, under the headline "How to Say Tehillim", on p.7 there).

 Elsewhere, in the excellent biography of Rav Miller, it is related that in his youth in Baltimore he would go to a Shul (although not explicitly stated there, based on other sections of the book, where it speaks about Rav Miller's youth in Baltimore, I think that the simple assumption and understanding is that it was a Litvishe Shul - if it was otherwise that would likely have been noted IMHO) where the men said Tehillim together with a beautiful melody (p.43). On Shabbos after סעודה שלישית they would sing the entire chapter 119 (תמניא אפי, the longest kapitel in Tehillim), the saying of which was a widespread minhag in ליטא, and considered a סגולה for חשק ואהבת התורה.

May we be זוכה to meaningful recitations, and כתיבה וחתימה טובה.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Search for Meaning & Passion in Neo-Chasidus - Testing the Limits of Tradition

In the past, when questions were raised about Neo-Chasidus, a response given was along the lines of we do things the same way you do, except that we also want to have a relationship with Hashem (as if regular Yidden don't have such a relationship ר"ל).

And perhaps in the past they were more careful not to innovate in the area of practice. But lately they seem to be more feeling more confident, and more questionable practices are being seen.

Two recent examples illustrate this point quite clearly.

Firstly, ט' אב services at a congregation on Long Island, NY.

In the previous post, before 9 Av, we discussed the advertised Tisha Be'Av kumzitz

I figured that I should check firsthand to see what was going on, בשעת מעשה, at the places I wrote about, after all, that is only proper, as Rashi brings in בראשית.

When I checked out the תשעה באב morning קינות at Congregation KMH, led by Rabbi Yussie Zakutinsky, a close disciple (he is one of a few carefully chosen founding members of Rabbi Weinberger's new Kollel Emek Hamelech) of Yeshiva University Mashpia and Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh of Woodmere, NY, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, with assistance from talented singer Joey Newcomb, I discovered even more than I was expecting.

The abbreviated קינות service was accompanied by a significant amount of singing. And that does not mean that they just sang בצאתי ממצרים and אלי ציון a little more than in other places. Rather there were actual distinct songs between קינות.  You don't have to take my word for it, you can see for yourself, via the links below.

Selection one.

Selection two.

Selection three.

Selection four.

Selection five.

Selection six.

Selection seven.

Selections eight, nine, and ten.

Selection eleven.

Definitely very different than typical ט' אב services at both Non-Chasidic and Chasidic congregations.

The second example is the recent extensive singing (for almost an hour) at the funeral of the well known Lubavitcher scholar and writer, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. Perhaps it could even be called a funeral farbrengen. 

As with the first example, this is something that is not typically seen at such events, whether typical Chasidic or Non Chasidic ones. Neo-Chasidus is doing its own thing.

I like the idea of doing things with more כוונה, and making observances more meaningful. But does that give an unlimited carte blanche license for innovation? I don't think so.

May הקב"ה give us the wisdom to infuse our observances with meaning and passion without transforming them excessively.