Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Enlightened Rosh HaYeshiva

The following is the copy for this video located at YouTube:

yeshiva machane yisrael is a yeshiva for baalei teshuva in the beit yisrael section of jerusalem near the mir yeshiva. the rosh yeshiva is opposed to the use of computers, and therefore even the yeshiva office uses none. here we can see one of the many computer smashing ceremonies held at the yeshiva, with a brief introduction by the rosh yeshiva Rabbi Findler who explained how in this particular instance, the computer was used for purposes of earning a livelihood by the owner until he decided to make the move and dispose of his laptop. this is an exercise carried out by trained professionals, please don't try this at home but if you do please wear safety goggles!

When I first saw this video I had to laugh. I thought, “How primitive a response like this is to the problems with the internet!” The truth unfortunately is that it isn’t so funny. Not that I am all that surprised by it.

I am not going to go into the pros and cons of the internet. I’ve done that more times than I can count. But I do think it is important to see exactly what a Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva for Baalei Teshuva thinks is the appropriate way to show his contempt for it. He actually believed that a symbolic smashing of a laptop would make his point more valid. It seemed apparent from the video that he knew he was being videotaped. It is also fair to assume that the purpose of taking a video of this event was for the purpose of making his point to a wider audience.

Unfortunately for him, the message received is not really the one he wanted to send. He was trying to show what he thought ought to be done to this conduit of evil. But the general response to this video has been one of ridicule and laughter by just about everyone who has seen it – as far as I know.

I think this Rosh Yeshiva has clearly demonstrated why people who have this attitude about the internet and this methodology of dealing with it ought to be as marginalized as possible from the Torah world. By their actions they show just how shallow and backward they really are.

Judaism is not a religion of primitive fanatics that deal with problems by smashing valuable educational tools. I can respect their total opposition to the internet even if I don’t agree with it. But smashing a laptop only makes them look like ignorant fools. How exactly does this appeal to a potential Baal Teshuva? Is anyone with even a modicum of intelligence going to say, “This is the kind of religion I want!” “One that smashes laptops!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Clock is Ticking

An article on Matzav tells us of a last minute appeal from the Pope via Vatican official Archbishop Fernando Filoni. He like others who have been seeking to at least stay his execution until all appeals are exhausted argued that he has changed and is now a man of faith.

Indeed many people have accused the Orthodox Public service organziations now actively involved in this that they are only doing it because he is now a Frum Jew.

Really! Frum Jew? I’m not so sure about that. From Matzav:

Grossman, meanwhile, has declined the traditional last meal. Instead, he will have banana cream and peanut butter cookies, canned fruit punch and a chicken sandwich he bought himself from the inmate canteen, according to the Department of Corrections.

Is this what a Jewish man of faith does just before he is about to meet his Maker? Eat Treif?


Not saying we should give up trying to save him. I still believe that his sentence should be commuted to life in prison without parole.

But Wassupwidat?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who Was The Greatest?

And the Winner is… Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. That’s who I believe had the greatest impact on Orthodox Jewry in the 20th century. Back to that later.

The poll closed yesterday and the results indicated otherwise. The results of the very unscientific poll showed Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe with 69 votes to have had the greatest impact, followed very closely by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe who garnered 65 votes. There were 260 votes cast. Here is the breakdown:

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn 69 votes - 26% (of the total)
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum 65 votes - 25%
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein 39 votes - 15%
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik 37 votes - 14%
Rabbi Aharon Kotler 25 votes - 9%
Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz 22 votes - 8%
Other 3 votes - 1%

The question must be asked as to why the top two vote getters received more than 50% of all the votes counted. Can it be that this represents the feeling of all Orthodox Jews? I doubt it. I think what probably happened here is that followers of these two great rabbinic figures somehow heard about this poll and had a ‘voting war’. My last poll only generated only 129 respondents – about half as many as this one did.

Now it is possible that these two rabbinic giants would have won anyway. But it is hard to know one way or another. Factoring out the top two winners it seems that Rav Moshe is seen as having had the greatest impact by a very slight and probably statistically insignificant margin over Rav Soloveitchik. I tend to question that result too since I presume that many if not most of my readers tend to be from the broad spectrum of Modern Orthodoxy. The lower vote of Rav Aharon Kotler I think might reflect the fewer numbers of Charedim that might read this blog.

So in the end, this poll proves absolutely nothing. Except that my choice was deemed least important of the candidates.

Why Reb Shraga Feivel? Let me start by statiing why not the others.

Anyone who reads my posts regularly knows that of all these great figures, I was most influenced by the writings of Rav Soloveitchik. None of the others had anywhere near his impact on me. But at the saem time I recognize that his impact did not really go beyond the world of Modern Orthodoxy, I’m not saying that he didn’t impact it at all. Fair minded people of all stripes will admit that he did. Some will say for the worse. But in the Orthodox world he is basically ignored by all but Modern Orthodox Jewry.

Rav Moshe is definitely the Posek Acharon for our times. Few people dare to disagree with his Psak on most issues and rarely do. There are some like the Satmar Rebbe who disagrees with R’ Moshe on some key issues but his views are mostly followed by his own constituents. Rav Moshe is by far the most universally recognized Posek of the post war 20th century and beyond. But as much as he impacted Psak, I don’t believe he impacted all of Orthodoxy in any way that was ‘game changing’. Orthodox Jewry would have more or less developed as it did without him. The void in Psak might have been filled by other Poskim. In most of the way we lead our daily lives Halachic observances would not be that significantly different.

The Satmar Rebbe truly did impact the 20th century significantly. He basically single handedly transferred Satmar from Europe to the United States and Israel and shepparded it into exponential growth. It is a world unto itself whose members are unique and dedicated Chasidim. I would even venture to say that if not for Satmar, I’m not sure any of the other Chasidic groups would have grown as much – at least in the US. I will agree that in Israel, the Gerer Rebbe is the one who might have that title.

But all of his aceivements are primarily in the world of Chasidus only. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews, while respecting him in both torah knowledge and leadership capacities, are not influenced by him.

The Lubavicher Rebbe too is limited in his influence. His impact is in the world of Kiruv and his opwn Chasidim. Of all the rabbis listed, he is the one who is most venerated by his Chasidim. In some cases obsessively so – to the point of calling him Moshiach. His movement grew from a miscule one into one of the largest and most powerful ones in the world. But even with all the secular Jews who have been convinced to become Frum, it is only Lubavitch that sees him as a leader. Even the Baalei Teshuva he brought in were brought in as Lubavitchers. His impact on Orthodox Jews outside of Lubavitch therefore is realatively small.

By contrast Rav Ahron Kotler’s impact is felt by Orthodox Jews all over the world. He recreated the world of post high school Yeshivos and Kollelim in America. Without that accomplishment, Orthdoxy as we know it today would not exist – at least here in America. Even though Israel had its’ own builders of Orthodoxy like the Poneviszhe Rav, the Chazon Ish, and the Brisker Rav… they focused only on Israel which was a much smaller community then.

That community has indeed grown today and is possibly even bigger than the one Rav Ahron Kotler built in America. But I don’t think Israel would be what it is today without Rav Ahron Kotler. His influence in America has created a mindset in many young men who choose to go to Israeli Yeshivos like Mir and Brisk instead of Lakewood. Many of those stayed on and live there. I don’t think Israel would have the high numbers of Lomdei Torah today without him.

In my view, Reb Shraga Feivel’s accomplishments are even greater. He created a school system that enabled virtually all of Orthodox Jewry to get an Orthodox Jewish elementary education. These were the feeder schools to places like Lakewood. Without Reb Sharga Feivel I don’t believe Orthodoxy would have anywhere near the numbers we do today. To the extent it would exist at all it would look nothing like it does now.

That said there were day schools established before Reb Sharga Feival. But they were few in number and not that popular. And they were Hashkafa specific – mostly being either Modern Orthodox or Lubavitch. Reb Shraga Feivel had only one goal: to teach Judaism to Jews at the earliest ages. He did not see his mission in Hashkafa specific terms.

Though a school system like this may have emerged anyway since the demand for them rose after the holocaust- he is the one who actually did it. He is truly the one who in my view built the foundation of Orhtodoxy catering to the widest spectrum of all of Jewry across America – which had the largest population of Jews were at that time. By far.

There are other heroes that had similar accomplishments. One cannot minimize the accomplishments of Rabbi Bernard Revel who founded Yeshiva College which has since become Yeshiva University. If not for him - I’m not sure there would be a legitimate and vibrant Modern Orthodoxy today.

And then there is Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan. She was a protégé of Rebbetzin Sara Schenirer and established the Beis Yaakov school system for girl’s education that we have today. While other school systems exist some of which actually predate her - to the best of my knowledge this one is by far the largest. She is perhaps the only person that can rival Reb Sharga Feivel’s achievement. I was remiss in not including her.

But although it is close - I still put him ahead of her. His accomplishments were at the entry level of Jewish education for all Jews of both sexes. His first religious day school was the prototype for the majority of all day schools across the country. That day school was in Detroit and is my alma mater Yeshivath Beth Yehuda.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Their Impact on Orthodox Jewry

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
Rabbi Aharon Kotler
Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum

The list is of course incomplete. There were many great figures that impacted Judaism in the post holocaust 20th century. I could probably add a dozen or more names. But in my mind these six were probably the most influential. Some names are controversial. But no one can deny they each had a major impact. For me it would be almost impossible to say which one of these contributed the most. Although I do have a choice. I am curious to find out what others think? Do one of these stands out more than the rest?

A brief bio of each might be in order.

Rabbi Feinstein is perhaps considered the greatest Posek of the 20th century.

Rabbi Kotler established Lakewood Yeshiva which has been the standard bearer for Right Wing Orhtodoxy.

Rabbi Mendlowitz is responsible for the establishment of religious day school education in America.*

Rabbi Schneersohn is responsible for bringing masses of Jewry to observance.

Rabbi Soloveitchik was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University which is the standard bearer of modern Orhtodoxy - a movement that he helped define and led for decades.

Rabbi Teitelbaum is responsible for establishing and leading the largest and most dominant Chasidus in the world.

* Reb Shraga Feival (as he was lovingly known - he shunned the title Rav or Rabbi) died in 1948, just a couple of years after the holocaust. The others lived well beyond that. But R’ Shraga Feivel’s contributions were mostly felt after his death so I include him on this list.

Obviously these descriptions fall very short. Many might say it is unimportant to know who contributed the most - that they all made major contributions and there are no contests about greatness in Judaism. I understand and kind of agree. But there is the concept of Gadol HaDor which is a recognized one throughout our existence - starting with Moshe Rabbenu. I am merely expanding on this idea here.

Others may feel that I emphasized the wrong thing about one or more of them. I will concede that point. People have different perspectives and focus on different things. But in the interests of keeping this post brief I limited it to what I think was at least one major aspect of their lives.

I have set up a poll on the right margin. After you’ve voted if you are so inclined you can explain your vote in the comments. If you feel there are others greater than those I listed. Please feel free to mention them and tell me why you think so.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Digging the Hole Deeper

You know…. Sometimes it is just better to say nothing. The more explanations I read about why there has been reluctance to act on the part of the rabbinic establishment with respect to Tropper, the more skeptical I become.

Rabbi Dovid Ribiat has granted another interview to the 5 Towns Jewish Times where he further explains why the rabbinic establishment has been so reluctant to do or say anything.

The gist of his argument is that there is just not enough Halachic evidence to do or say anything. Rabbanim have a responsibility to follow the Halachic parameters of Jewish Jurisprudence and do their due diligence. This is what they are doing now. In the meantime they must allow things to go on as they are – as though Tropper were completely innocent of any wrong doing. And he adds:

We do recognize that Rabbi Tropper has also made positive contributions in the past.

In other words - let’s not forget that Al Capone was a Big Baal Tzedaka.

I’m sorry. It all sounds like one big tap dance at this point.

In the meantime Tropper remains in his position as the Rosh HaYeshiva of Kol Yaakov. He is teaching Baalei Teshuva how to be Jewish. They look up to him as a man of honor and integrity while the establishment is ‘being careful’.

Students best learn by example more than they do by word. By now I’m sure many if not most or - even all - of his students have heard the ‘rumors’. He has of course vehemently denied them privately. One of his former students that I am very close to asked his ‘Rebbe’ if the rumors were true. Can anyone guess what Tropper told him?

Perhaps they are buying it now. But it is only a matter of time before this man will be fully exposed for the fraud he is. What will that do to his ‘students’? What message will they learn from the experience? How many will become jaded by it, turn around to mock him, and thereby the Torah he claimed to be following?

‘Why’ …they will ask, ‘were we not warned about this man sooner?’ Why was he allowed to teach us holiness when he was the opposite of holy by his actions?’ Why was there silence?’

This is not due diligence. This is dragging their feet. At the very least they should have privately and publicly asked Tropper to take a leave of absence from Kol Yaakov until this issue is resolved. Even if Tropper declined to do that. At least they would have been on record as doing… something. They would have at least publicly expressed their concern about a man whose character is being challenged by strong evidence of conduct unbecoming of a Rosh HaYeshiva.

Instead there is silence and excuses. Which is why I continue to have a problem with the rabbinic establishment.

Rabbi Ribiat’s explanations does not really address the problem at all It in fact just raises the greater issue of the lack of leadership. All he ends up doing explaining away their behavior.

The evidentiary questions that are holding back condemnation didn’t seem to bother Rav Sternbuch or Rav Dunner. They quickly and without hesitation condemned Tropper and explained why they believed him to be guilty. Is he saying the rabbinic establishment in Monsey or New York is more careful in deliberating this issue than Rav Sternbuch or Rav Dunner? That his ‘Gedolim’ are more concerned with the Halachic aspects than Rav Sternbuch and Rav Dunner?

It is one thing to say that we - the common clay of the earth (otherwise known as Am Haratzim) - are unqualified to make these judgments. That we should not judge the rabbinic establishment unfavorably. They are Daas Torah. We are not. They know the Halachic issues and act accordingly. We do not.

Rabbi Ribiat can say that about us. But by implication - isn’t he then saying the same thing about Rabbis Sternbuch and Dunner? I guess so.

I didn’t know Rav Sternbuch was such an Am Ha’artez. Nor did I know Rav Dunner was. Good to know. I’ll make a note of that for future use. Thank you Rabbi Ribiat!