Monday, April 25, 2022

How a Struggling Young Chaim Kanievsky Was Put Back On Track to Torah Greatness

 Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Moreinu Hagadol, Maran Sar haTorah, זכר צדיק לברכה.

A towering giant, a spiritual titan. מושבו ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה.

Born into a family of greatness. But nevertheless, he was not always the מרן שר התורה that he became later, that we merited to know. In his youth, he struggled in learning too. Yes, so it has been reported. It is important to share that important part of his life, to learn and benefit from it. In what I have seen in hespedim and remembrances after his recent passing, I have seen little, if any allusion to, or mention of it (of course, I have not seen everything written and disseminated, כי רבים הדברים).

One English language publication that does mentions the story is Walking with Rabbi Miller, Daily Conversations with an Inspirational Gadol, by Rabbi Mordechai Dolinsky (Mesorah Publications), a work published close to twenty years ago. 

In chapter eighteen there ("The Happiest Day"), on p.83, it is related that the Steipler Gaon was having difficulty with his son, who was showing resistance to his Torah studies. The father, implemented strict disciplinary measures, but the problem persisted. Whereupon he presented the matter to the great Chazon Ish. His brother-in-law's advice? Chaim'l should not be taught further with the "typical yeshiva approach". No deep analysis, no ראשונים, no אחרונים, not even the fundamental תוספות. Rather, just plain gemara and Rashi until the end of the מסכת. And then on to the next mesechta, with same derech, and the next, until the end of Shas. Later, of course, this was augmented by Tosafos and other Rishonim. And that is how מרן שר התורה came to be. The clear-headed, simple-minded advice of the Chazon Ish זצ"ל, that it is counter-productive to force a talmid to learn what he is not yet ready for, and that one must advance in his studies gradually, that תפסת מרובה לא תפסת, ותפסת מועט תפסת, put Rav Chaim back on track to his path to astounding greatness. אשרינו שזכינו.

How old exactly Rav Chaim was when this happened, is not stated. But the lesson is clear, for students in general, and particularly younger ones. Let us hope that people learn from it, and act accordingly. And in the merit of such, we should see more giants, who light up the world like Rav Chaim, זי"ע, did. 

אמן, כן יהי רצון

Friday, April 1, 2022

Alt-Neu Litvish - Rav Chaim Kanievsky Rolls Back the Litvishe Clock to the Golden Age of Lita

מרן שר התורה והיראה, גאון עוזנו, Rav Chaim Kanievsky זצ"ל, has passed on, ועזב אותנו לאנחות. So many words of הספד, הערכה, הזכרה have been shared, in so many places. But there is still room for more, ואף אני אענה חלקי, בעזר צורי וקוני. So let's try to evaluate and define Rav Chaim's place in and impact on the Litvishe Torah world, in addition to the velt at large.

Where did Rav Chaim stand, what did he stand for in that world? Although to outsiders it might seem an unvaried ocean of black and white, to those in the know that is far from the reality. 

As we wrote about here in the past, in one of our most popular posts, much of the Litvishe velt changed in certain ways over the last century or so (as there were changes in other segments of the frum world during that time). Two great דרכים that conquered large swaths of that world then, were the paths of Brisk, and Slabodka. Brisk meaning the דרך הלימוד associated with Rav Chaim Brisker and his followers. Slabodka meaning the דרך החיים associated with the Alter of Slabodka and his talmidim. Whether that was what was originally intended can be debated, but those movements prevailed in many corners of the so-called Litvishe Torah world, to one extent or another, leading to the popular image of the Litvishe yeshiva student as being a young man in somewhat Western dress (necktie, fedora, business suit), usually beardless, whose עיון studies consisted of studying and utilizing Brisker type analysis to address Talmudic dilemmas.

But there were other Litvishe schools and ways too. Like the way of the Chazon Ish in learning, an opponent of the Brisker method. The way of Novhardok in mussar and הנהגה. The way of Telshe. And others. While perhaps not as popular or well-known as the former ways, they had their adherents and hung around, biding their time. The Chazon Ish זצ"ל, was, of course, Rav Chaim's uncle, and a great, if not the greatest, influence on him. The Steipler Gaon, זצ"ל, Rav Chaim's father, and another great influence, was part of the Novhardok movement in Europe. So it is no surprise at all that Rav Chaim, although also attending Lomzha yeshiva briefly, followed ways more in accordance with the Chazon Ish, with a splash of Novhardok perhaps, rather than those of Brisk and Slabodka (we are talking generally here. Of course, Rav Chaim was very broad, and could and did learn and use Torah from other schools at times as well).

The Glory of Sinai

Rav Chaim's way in learning was based on massive בקיאות, knowledge of vast swaths of Torah, even obscure and less-studied parts, and פשטות, simple, straightforward understanding. He was a personification of what Chazal called סיני, the חכם with wide Torah knowledge. That type of learning might not produce the exciting fireworks of others, or at least not so quickly, but can be very fulfilling in a quieter, less apparent way. It is a long-term investment, which requires patience and diligence, but the dividends keep on maturing and expanding exponentially over time. That is what we saw with Rav Chaim.

Once his towering Torah stature became apparent, even those of different, or even opposing schools could not deny it, and also came to see, accept, and consult with him as a symbol and personification of גדלות בתורה. As his influence grew, and people sought his advice, his עצה ותושיה, he shared it, by word and by example. Not identically with everyone, the same prescription was not dispensed to all. But to some who merited it, he shared certain direction, among which were the importance of בקיאות, of acquiring great amounts of Torah knowledge. And at times he advised petitioners to adopt an older Litvishe way of appearance , to go back to a pre-Slabodka sartorial mode.

Now that he has left us, physically at least, we need to think about how to continue in his ways. And it seems that the way is elementary. To follow the דרך התורה with simplicity and sincerity, to live simply materially, but learn broadly.

May הקב"ה help us follow in those ways, and reap the massive long-term ensuing gains. 

א גוטען שבת און א גוטען חודש

Friday, March 25, 2022

A Kiruv Giant Passes - Rav Yosef Jacobson zt"l

 One of the giants of kiruv in our time, and beyond it as well, has passed away. Although he didn't go around erecting giant menorahs in malls, driving a truck blaring Jewish music around a city, dancing in the streets, giving out candles or hand made matzah, preaching Chassidus, leading Farbrengens, or handing out dollar bills to the masses, he had (and continues to have) a colossal impact on the Jewish world, as well as the world at large, bringing giant numbers of people closer to their Father in heaven.

Rav Yosef Jacobson zt"l, modeled a different type of kiruv, as propounded by classic Litvishe Rosh Yeshivas like Rav Kotler, Rav Schach, and Rav Gifter zt"l. And he showed how powerful it could be. That just learning and fulfilling Torah, באמת, in one's regular place, can generate immensely powerful waves of impact and influence. His recent passing garnered enormous media coverage, and was news round the world.

The Torah world, as well as the kiruv world, deeply mourns the passing of Rav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim ben Rav Jacob Israel, Rav Yosef Jacobson, aka Rav Chaim ben Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky zt"l, זי"ע. May we find consolation in the powerful and holy pathways he modeled so well being continued and spread by myriads of disciples and admirers.

ת נ צ ב ה 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

An Old-Fashioned Litvishe Purim - As Reflected By Great Slabodka Talmid Rav Avigdor Miller z"l

What is an old-fashioned Litvishe Purim like? We have discussed the Litvishe attitude to Purim in the past here, but it is worthwhile to revisit, explore, and reinforce it yet again, due to confusion among too many people, who have come under foreign influences.

This time, we will look at and try to learn this סוגיא via the example of the renowned Rav Avigdor Miller z"l. Rav Miller was a born and bred Litvak, a Litvak through and through, who learned under great Litvishe gedolim in the USA and in Europe, where he learned in the Slabodka mussar yeshiva.

Let us focus on a few points from תורת אביגדור..

1) Rav Miller z"l spoke strongly against drunkenness on Purim. Purim is to gain דעת he explained, not to lose it ח"ו.

2) When asked about the Purim-Yom HaKippurim idea, an idea stressed by Chasidim that Purim > Yom Kippur, that has become widespread and popular among so many nowadays, he seemed to be unaware of it, and explained it in a different way than it is usually done. That shows that that idea was not part of the Purim milieu and discourse in old Litvishe Slabodka yeshiva type circles years ago, so much so, that it seemed unknown, or hardly known to him. Additionally, in a talk on Yom Kippur (in general, and app. 30% through, in a section entitled "The Happiest Time") he talks of  Yom Kippur being the best day of the year, and greater than Purim, squarely at odds with the reverse notion that is heard so often nowadays.

3) I don't recall seeing him mentioning another notion stressed heavily by Chasidim that on Purim one can ask Hashem for anything, כל הפושט יד, וכו and that one therefore should "storm the heavens" on that day, as if there were a blank checking awaiting above.

ב"ה we can still get a glimpse of the old Litvishe way via Rav Miller and some others who held to tradition and did not adopt foreign notions wholesale, uncritically, as far too many do.

May Hashem help us follow our true way, וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת.

א פרייליכען פורים

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Can Foul Mouthed Chasidim Bring Moshiach? The Chabad-Lubavitch Nivul Peh Epidemic

 Looking at a leading Chabad-Lubavitch website recently, I admit I was surprised at a discussion I came across. It wasn't about some of better known problems within the group, such as drinking, messianism, et al.

Rather it was something new to me. Evidently among them there is a big problem of ניבול פה, using language improper for Orthodox Jews.

This is a group that claims to be the vanguard of Torah Judaism, of Hasidism, bringing Moshiach, yet they use vulgar language of bums in bars and on street corners.

And we learn that it is not just a new thing, that even in old Lubavitch, even mashpi'im used 'colorful' language.

Where does that come from? From the vodka? Farbrengens? Tanya? Likutei Sichos? 

Of course, the giant Chabad Lubavitch propaganda machine, will not tell you about such things, but it is important for people to know the seamy side of Lubavitch, lest they be fooled by Yudel Krinsky and his minions at Chabad PR into wholly accepting the Disney-like fantasy image of the group that they disseminate.

Maybe instead of vodka at farbrengens, they should start giving out some soap.

May we be zoche בקרוב to true Yiddishkeit, and true פנימיות התורה, and be purged of all pretenders, and deceptions.

א פרייליכען חודש

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Shtreim, Shtreimel, Spodik, Kolpik - Chasidic & Non-Chasidic Jewish Male Headgear - Great, True, Real, Illustrated, Comprehensive History

 A few weeks ago, there was yet again another news report online about a Chasidishe Rebbe coming out against a new shtreimel fashion. I was looking around to check on a claim made in comments on the report, and came upon a great article, in a Jewish history magazine online, on the history of the shtreimel.

This is the best feature article I recall ever seeing on the history of the shtreimel.

To get the true story, beyond legends and myths, with beautiful illustrations, it is the place to go.

א גוטען חודש

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Neo-Chasidus & Chabad - Closeness & Distance

 The Neo-Chasidus movement has garnered much attention in recent years. For some people it was a great surprise, seeming to have arisen suddenly, from the proverbial nowhere. They don't know what it really is, what its roots are, how to react to it. It is desirable, therefore, to spend some time examining its roots, to better understand where it came from, and what it represents.

A cute and clever moniker attached to it gives us an idea of what some of its main components are - חבקוק -ראשי תיבות חב"ד, ברסלב, (הרב אברהם יצחק) קוק, וי"א ג"כ (שלמה) קרליבך. In English, Chabakuk, standing for Chabad, Breslov, (Rav Avraham Yitzchak) Kook, (Shlomo) Carlebach).

The Chabad component, which comes first in this sobriquet, is indeed a great foundation of Neo-Chasidus. If not first and foremost, definitely one of the great parts of it.

Let us look at the deep connection between Chabad-Lubavitch and Neo-Chasidus, starting with some background on some of the leading personalities of the movement.

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Woodmere, NY, is perhaps the leader of the movement in the English speaking world. Though he is of Hungarian Jewish background, he has a deep connection to Chabad-Lubavitch. Starting in his teens, when he was introduced to it by a local businessman who took him other local teens to Farbrengens in Crown Heights, in the early 1970's למספרם (Bashevkin interview, 14:50-). He was drawn to it "like a magnet", in his words, and spent much time at their headquarters, hanging out at 770 Eastern Parkway for years, attending farbrengens, and learning a lot of Chabad Chasidus. He has related that at one time he "was probably very, very close to becoming a Lubavitcher Chasid" himself. Later, he spent much time at a Chabad-Lubavitch outreach center, Heichal Menachem, in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, where he heard many shiurim from the late Chabad-Lubavitch mashpia, R. Yoel Kahn. He davens from a Nusach Ari (Chabad-Lubavitch) siddur. He regularly lights a public Chabad-Lubavitch menorah during Chanukah in the Five Towns area of NY. All those years of deep Lubavitch connection and engagement left a profound impression on him and his thinking, even if he doesn't call himself a Lubavitcher now.

Rebbe Judah Mischel, a disciple of Rebbe Weinberger, is a well-known disseminator of Neo-Chasidus via his positions at Camp HASC, NCSY, writings, and speeches. He is also the son of a Chabad-Lubavitch mekurav (and here). In recent years he has visited Crown Heights, meeting and conferring with Lubavitch leaders, and later tweeting about it (as reported here previously, though the tweet referenced was later deleted).

R. Yussie Zakutinsky, leader of a Neo-Chasidic congregation in Lawrence, student at Rabbi Weinberger's Emek Hamelech kollel, also has a family background closely connected to Chabad-Lubavitch.

All of the above are heavily influenced by Chabad-Lubavitch.

The Chabad-Lubavitch influence on Neo-Chasidus is not just theological however.

Another aspect is seen in stories and music used by it. Here is one good example, that covers both the music and theology departments, Neo-Chasidim dancing enthusiastically to a signature Chabad-Lubavitch song. Many Lubavitch songs are sung in Neo-Chasidic circles.

Interestingly, though, despite the deep ties and influence, there is a significant element of distance and tension in the relationship between Neo-Chasidus and Chabad-Lubavitch nevertheless, that is worth noting. And that is, due to the fact that despite pleasure on the Chabad-Lubavitch side to see some Modern Orthodox and others turning in a Chasidic direction via Neo-Chasidus, they are still disappointed that they have not become Lubavitchers. In the Chabad-Lubavitch view, they are the highest form of Chasidus, and their Rebbe is the נשיא הדור, leader of the generation. While Neo-Chasidus draws deeply upon Chabad-Lubavitch, they do not feel bound to and by it, and imbibe from other Hasidic streams as well.

The component of Chabad-Lubavitch in Neo-Chasidus is not something small that could perhaps be (figuratively) בטל בששים, nullified when heavily outweighed. It is an עיקר, a large, main component, and also נותן טעם, imparting much flavor. So in a way, it (Neo-Chasidus) could be considered a branch or offshoot of Chabad-Lubavitch (perhaps similar to the מלאכים Chasidic group of Williamsburg in NY). People should keep that in mind when considering the movement.

May הקב"ה help us see things clearly, as they actually are, to reach the correct conclusions about them, and approach things with the proper מהלך.

א גוטען חודש