In the June 21 issue of the 5TJT, Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg (“Misguided Mesorah”) takes me to task for my article “The Mesorah of Chesed” (June 14), where I criticized the divisive manner in which the chareidi world has been battling Zionism. Here is my rebuttal to Rabbi Ginzberg.
As I mentioned in my second article (“Kindness and Zealotry,” June 21, page 29) and in private to many, I regret using strong language against Rav Shach, z’l. It was a mistake, which also undermined my credibility. But let me be totally honest about my thought process. Because Rav Shach had come out against so many things and people that were dear to me, including the hesder yeshivas, the kibbutzim, Rav Goren, Rabbi Leo Levi and his books, Rav Steinsaltz and his Gemaras, Rabbi Soloveitchik from YU, President Herzog, and the Entebbe raid (some say he even opposed the ArtScroll Gemaras but was persuaded to retract), it took effort to convince myself, after reexamining the situation, that Rav Shach, despite his acerbic attacks, was indeed a manhig whose intentions were totally l’shem Shamayim.
Attacks on the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I do register a complaint to Rabbi Ginzberg, though, as to why he was not bothered by attacks on the Lubavitcher Rebbe or Rabbi Soloveitchik, or others not from his camp. We can’t have a system of “my gadol is greater than your gadol.” Rather, we must insist on menschlichkeit all around. Will Rabbi Ginzberg defend the ongoing chassidic schism being fought in secular courts, in which Hamodia referred to the protagonists as gedolim? Would he defend Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s public insult to Rav Stav, which led to a physical beating, and which forced the RCA to issue a strong condemnation of Rav Ovadiah?
Reb Moshe Feinstein lived less than 10 miles from the Lubavitcher Rebbe for 30 years, never had a problem with him, and, on the contrary, referred to him in the most laudatory tones. Why would somebody who had never met him, and was 6,000 miles away, be a good choice to judge?
Finally, I note that in Y.D. 243:7, it states that a talmid chacham who starts up with people improperly, causing others to denigrate him, those people are not considered mevazeh talmidei chachamim. The Vilna Gaon, gloss 17, cites Yoma 86, which tells us that a chillul Hashem is when a talmid chacham does not speak nicely, so that briyos (simple people on the street) get upset. I am not a talmid chacham but a simple person on the street who can’t stand this fighting. I am sure Rabbi Ginzberg would agree that respectful disagreement is the best approach, and that otherwise, things degenerate rapidly.
Part of the reason for my strong language is that I had close personal ties to the Rebbe. My father, z’l, who never had any formal yeshiva education, became close with his emissary, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hecht, z’l, in Chicago, and attended his shiurim and monthly farbrengens. Rabbi Hecht arranged with my parents to speak personally to the Rebbe a number of times about important questions. If not for the Rebbe, perhaps my parents wouldn’t have paid for yeshiva education past a certain age. My brothers and I also had yechidus with the Rebbe before our bar mitzvahs to receive berachos and say over our pshetlach.
When my rebbe, Rabbi Wehl—himself a big kannai—found out that I had gone to the Rebbe, he remarked that it was a big inyan to have received a berachah from a gadol ha’dor before one’s bar mitzvah. Another HANC rebbe, Rabbi Wahrman, who knows kol haTorah kula, expressed extreme displeasure with those who were mevazeh the Lubavitcher Rebbe, including Rav Shach.
Can Rabbi Ginzberg understand that to be told that Rav Shach ordered people not to make a shivah call on the Rebbe’s family might elicit a visceral reaction from me? I am not defending everything Chabad does, some of which is highly questionable, but I look to the root, which is that they sorely miss their Rebbe and haven’t been able to cope, because he had no replacement. Rachmanus is called for, more than anything else.
The Satmar shittah. Rabbi Ginzberg states that the Satmar shittah is a valid viewpoint. While that may be true academically, it is not true in practice. To make an analogy, we know there are two minhagim for how to wind tefillin. It is perfectly OK to give a shiur claiming that one is more correct and the other has less basis. But it is not acceptable to scream that a group that does it a certain way are haters of Torah and evil people, and to make a rally in Manhattan against them, such that people get into a frenzy and attack them physically with chairs in shul. That crosses the line into sinas chinam. When it comes to anti-Zionism, it is nearly impossible to conduct a dispassionate academic debate, simply because we all benefit from those who labored tirelessly, and even had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. As one rav told me this past Shabbos, if you hold of the medinah, then say the tefillah and serve. If you don’t hold of it, then don’t say the tefillah and don’t serve. But it is the height of hypocrisy to say, “I don’t hold of the medinah”—and then send your children to yeshiva and seminary in Israel. And does anybody truly believe we would be better off giving the country over to the Arabs and moving back to Poland and Germany?
Anti-chareidi bias? Rabbi Ginzberg takes it that I have a bias against chareidim, as evidenced by his question whether I’m equally upset when they are called parasites, or knowing that Ben-Gurion ate on Yom Kippur. But it is the type of wild behavior we have sometimes seen (and as written about in these pages by 5TJT columnist Shmuel Katz) on the part of chareidim, such as destroying other people’s flags and dumping heavy rocks on erev Shabbos to block the streets, that was exactly the reason for my harsh tone directed at the chareidi leaders. As Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg commented, good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things, but to get good people to do bad things requires religion. (Note: He is an atheist, but as Jews we must strive to show religion is a positive and civilizing force by our actions.)
Let me assure Rabbi Ginzberg that I have no bias against chareidim. I learned in chareidi yeshivos; Reb Shmuel Berenbaum was at my chasunah. I was a ben bayis for years by the mechutan of Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky. But more than that, I named my own child for an important chareidi leader, the founding president of Agudath Israel of America. My son Akiva Moshe Elimelech is named for my wife’s grandfather Yaakov (=Akiva), Reb Moshe Feinstein, and Elimelech (Mike) Tress. Why did I choose Mike Tress, to whom I am not related and whom I never met? For one main reason: His biography describes how he was a wealthy executive in the Esquire Shoe Polish company, and owned many shares of stock. During the war, the Vaad Hatzalah badly needed funds. Mike sold off stock time after time and donated until he was literally destitute. So poor, that in later years he could not afford to pay for his own medical treatment. Eventually, Esquire was sold to Revlon, and Mike’s stock would have been worth millions. Because he gave up every penny he had to save Jewish lives, and his ahavas Yisrael clearly exceeded all bounds, this was a person I wanted my children to emulate. And where was my son’s b’ris held? In the Lakewood Kollel of Boston. (Amazingly, at the b’ris I met Mike Tress’s grandson Rabbi Elimelech Pichey, but that is a story for another time.)
The roots of violence. Rabbi Ginzberg misunderstands my words that verbal violence leads to physical violence. I never meant that chareidi leaders tell their followers to beat up soldiers. What I meant was that if they were preaching ahavas Yisrael, these beatings would never occur. They clearly are preaching something else. While it is admirable that the leaders want to stand up for the Ribbono shel Olam’s kavod, He would prefer they stand up for shalom. As we find by sotah, G‑d lets His name be erased in order to make shalom between a man and his wife. How much more so in all Klal Yisrael. In my opinion, this hatred is as harmful as when they burned the Rambam’s sefarim 800 years ago.
Ahavah and menschlichkeit. That Rav Shach cried over the Israeli soldiers is nice to hear. But the fact that Rabbi Ginzberg has to even mention it, like it is a chiddush, demonstrates that even he knows deep down the intense anti-Zionism of that world. One reader commented that a leader should be leading in public, not in private. Another reader asked me to inquire whether, notwithstanding Rabbi Ginzberg’s possible halachic objection to Hallel, or the tefillah, or whatever, does he or his yeshiva do anything at all on Yom HaAtzmaut to differentiate it from any other day, as he might do on one of his kids’ or grandkids’ birthdays?
Dealing with anti-Torah factions. One of Rabbi Ginzberg’s most difficult questions I have left for last: How can we support people who seemed to be completely anti-Torah and may have actively fought against any expression of religion? What we need to know is that the job of a leader is to advocate for Klal Yisrael, not to condemn. Moshe Rabbeinu said to Hashem, “V’atah im tisa chatasam, v’im ayin mecheini na misifrecha asher kasavta.” The people had just done the worst possible sin, but Moshe demanded forgiveness, or else he wanted no part in the Torah. Never does a leader have a right to speak ill of our beloved brethren, and especially when it is the vast majority. His job is to be melamed z’chus.
And the reason for the behavior of the Zionists is not difficult to fathom. After 2,000 years of unimaginable torture and bloodshed throughout galus, with expulsions, inquisitions, crusades, Chmielnickis, Cantonist children who were taken from their parents, and finally the Holocaust, many Jews were furious at the Ribbono shel Olam and wanted no part of the religion. The Gemara (Bava Basra 16) tells us that if one chas v’shalom curses Hashem out of tzaar, it is not held against him. This is the entire lesson of Sefer Iyov. Rabbi Berel Wein explains that this suffering was also the reason why Jews embraced Communism so ardently. They finally thought, here is a movement which states all people are equal. Music to their ears. While they were sincere, the corrupt leaders were not, and they exploited the people even worse than before.
Making shalom. I conclude with the following story of how peace was brought between opposing sides. There was a certain singer with a lot of ahavas Yisrael who had a shul on West 79th Street, and whom I will simply call Reb Shlomo (I won’t mention his full name, as I don’t want to get into any more trouble with the yeshivishe velt than I already am). The following story is related about him in the book Holy Brother. He once was on a plane and saw a stewardess who, in moments of free time, was davening and saying Tehillim, but was very upset. Shlomo asked her what was the matter. She told him that she was a recent convert and was engaged to a nice boy who was a baal teshuvah, but his father refused to give consent, because he said she was not good enough.
She complained that this father was completely nonobservant, didn’t keep anything; but she—who was trying her best—was not a good enough Jew in his eyes. Her own father had now become angry that his daughter was being treated this way, and was also opposed to the marriage. Shlomo said he would see if he could arrange a meeting with everybody to find out what was going on, and to convince the boy’s father that this girl was worthy.
He persuaded the families to meet in his hotel room. When the father of the boy saw the father of the girl, he stared for a minute, and asked waveringly, “Yankel?” The girl’s father replied, “Hershel?” And they embraced. Before the war, they had been chavrusas in yeshiva. They were so close, they had vowed to make a shidduch together. But during the war they lost contact, and because of their experiences, each had become so angry with the Ribbono shel Olam that they disavowed any connection to the religion. One of them refused to give his children any Jewish education; the other one didn’t even tell his kids they were Jewish! Reb Shlomo was beaming. Now the time had come to keep the vow. v