Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Sunday, November 23, tens of thousands of chassidim gathered on the streets of Williamsburg to give honor to Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, Gaavad (Gaon Av Beis Din, chief rabbi) of the Eidah Hachareidis of Jerusalem (also known as the Yerushalayimer Rav). Shuttle-bus service operated from Boro Park, Kiryas Yoel, Lakewood, Monsey, and within Williamsburg, bringing participants to the event. Parking was prohibited on Bedford Avenue, from Lynch Street to Taylor Street, as well as on Taylor Street from Bedford Avenue to Lee Avenue.
With its back to Lee Avenue, a multi-tiered dais was erected on Taylor Street to seat the many rabbis and dignitaries who came to be part of the event. The dais effectively closed off the full width of the broad Taylor Street. Entrance, except for rabbis and dignitaries, was only from Bedford Avenue, at the other end.
Immediately facing the dais was a cordoned-off section with seats for older men. Ladies were directed to the adjacent spacious park and schoolyard, known as the Roebling Playground, of Public School 16 and of the Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School. Entrance for ladies was on Lee Avenue at the corner of Wilson Street.
Thousands of boys from area chassidishe yeshiva elementary schools were brought by buses to Bedford Avenue at Lynch Street. The boys were all dressed in their Shabbos finery. The boys marched to assigned positions along Bedford Avenue all the way to Taylor Street, a pathway stretching more than half a mile. The boys were given torches and pekelech (bags of candy) and stood at attention waiting for the chief rabbi. A little after the scheduled 3:30 p.m., the car bringing the chief rabbi arrived on Bedford Avenue and slowly moved from Lynch Street to Taylor Street. While singing welcoming chassidishe songs, every child was able to see the chief rabbi.
The chief rabbi was brought to the dais, where he disembarked. The mass of waiting chassidim parted and made way for the chief rabbi as he was escorted onto the dais where hundreds of rabbis were standing and waiting. To his immediate left was Rabbi Usher Anshel Katz, Viener Rav, and to the right was Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe.
In 2003, Rabbi Weiss, then dayan of Khal Machzike Hadaas in Antwerp, was elected as chief rabbi of the Badatz of the Jerusalem Eidah Hachareidis. After the passing of Rabbi Yisroel Moshe Dushinsky, zt’l (1921–2003), who served as Badatz chief rabbi from 1996 to 2003, and Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Fisher, zt’l (1925–2003), who served as rosh beis din from 1996 to 2003, the Badatz was left without apparent successors to its leadership.
The decision was made by 28 voting directors of the Eidah Hachareidis convening and deliberating on Sunday evening, April 6, in regard to the appointment of a chief rabbi. Candidates included, amongst other notable leading rabbinical personalities, Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Menashe Friedman, Satmar Williamsburg dayan; Rabbi Dovid Soloveichik, rosh yeshiva Brisk Jerusalem; and Rabbi Weiss. As discussions progressed, each candidate was carefully reviewed and every argument for election was heard. Several straw votes were taken and the two final candidates were Rabbi Friedman and Rabbi Weiss. A vote was taken. The tally count seemed to be 14 to 14. A quick double-check, however, showed 15 to 13 in favor of Rabbi Weiss. A triple-check confirmed it.
The Phone Call
After the vote was finalized, a phone call was made to Rabbi Weiss in Antwerp advising him of the ballot. The callers sought to know whether Rabbi Weiss would accept the appointment. Rabbi Weiss, pausing and reflective, slowly responded affirmatively. Almost immediately, planning and scheduling had to be effectuated to have the new Chief Rabbi come as quickly as possible to Jerusalem, especially for the upcoming Shabbos HaGadol. Hundreds of Antwerp’s observant community almost instantly beleaguered the entryway to his home to wish him a mazel tov on the appointment.
Pressburg, Vienna, Antwerp
Born near Pressburg, Slovakia, Rabbi Weiss was raised firmly in the traditions and heritage of the Chasam Sofer, zt’l. On the eve of the Holocaust, he was included in a Kindertransport to England where he celebrated the Shabbos of his bar mitzvah at the home of a British family who took him in. For his bar mitzvah, he received a pair of tefillin sent to him by his father through the Red Cross. By the time the tefillin arrived, his parents were no longer alive. He was enrolled in Yeshiva Toras Emes and in the Yeshiva at Gateshead.
Initially serving in the rabbinate in London, he moved to Antwerp where he led Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, educating thousands of students. More than 40 years ago, he was appointed as dayan in Khal Machzike Hadaas in Antwerp, Belgium.
When Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth, zt’l (1918–2001), Rav of Khal Machzike Hadaas in Antwerp, passed away at the end of December in 2001, Rabbi Weiss, as dayan, filled the immense vacuum. As the kehillah interviewed potential candidates for the position of its Rav, Rabbi Weiss was being sought elsewhere. On Thursday, February 14, 2002, Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss arrived in Jerusalem where he was feted with a banquet in honor of his appointment as a dayan of the Badatz. The appointment of Rabbi Weiss filled the vacancy on the Badatz created by the passing of Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz, zt’l (1912–2002), Badatz segan rosh beis din. The invitation to become a member dayan on the Badatz came from Rabbi Dushinsky and Rabbi Fisher. At the request of Rabbi Leibish Leizer, Phevorsker Rebbe in Antwerp, in order to maintain the quality of the rabbinate of Antwerp, Rabbi Weiss delayed his move to Jerusalem.
With the passing of Rabbi Rabinowitz, Rabbi Fisher, and Rabbi Dushinsky, tremendous pressure was exerted on Rabbi Weiss to move to Jerusalem to carry the rabbinic load and to participate, as Badatz dayan, in the selection of a new chief rabbi.
Off To Jerusalem
After his elevation to the position of chief rabbi, in response to the thunderous requests of Jerusalemites, Rabbi Weiss hastened to Jerusalem to be there for that Shabbos HaGadol. Arriving at 4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, he was met at Ben-Gurion Airport by several hundred well-wishers representing many chareidi kehillos in Israel. In a private reception area, the new chief rabbi met with the executive committee of the Eidah Hachareidis. Stepping out of the conference room, the assembled burst out in song and dance. On Thursday, the Badatz held a kabbalas panim for Rabbi Weiss at its headquarters in Kikar Zupnick on Rechov Strauss, where tens of thousands turned out to welcome him.
Shabbos HaGadol saw the new chief rabbi at the Dushinsky Beis Medrash for Friday-night Kabbalas Shabbos, Satmar Beis Medrash for Shabbos Shacharis, and in the afternoon, he delivered the Shabbos HaGadol derashah in Beis Medrash Ksav Sofer in Batei Hungaria.
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch
In addition to the election of Rabbi Weiss as chief rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch was elected as rosh beis din at the Eidah Hachareidis meeting. Rabbi Shternbuch, the respected author of Moadim u’Zemanim and Teshuvos v’Hanhagos, was appointed as a member dayan of the Badatz 30 years ago. He wears a pair of tefillin originally used by the Chofetz Chaim, zt’l (1838–1933). Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch had previously served as rav in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Badatz today consists of Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, chief rabbi; Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, rosh beis din; Rabbi Naftoli Hertzke Frankel; Rabbi Chaim Uri Freund; Rabbi Yehoshua Rosenberger; Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Ulman; Rabbi Yaakov Mendel Yuravitch; and Rabbi Dovid Soloveichik as its president.
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.