By: Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg -
First and foremost I would like to thank Barry Jacobson for his eloquent and heartfelt article titled “The Mesorah of Chessed” in last week’s paper. I often receive literally hundreds of comments, critiques and yes, sometimes even attacks after publishing articles on topics that trigger emotional responses; how refreshing it was to read one written with serious conviction, concern and respect, though I wish he had reserved some of that respect for the Gedolim he had referenced to in his article.
I also want to personally thank him for the very kind words about my father ZT”L, who Mr. Jacobson remembered so fondly from his Yeshiva days, it was a tribute that was well deserved and much appreciated.
And finally, thank you Mr. Jacobson for having the courage to sign your name, because no matter how eloquent or scholarly a letter or article may be, if submitted anonymously, I never respond. For if one cannot stand by what he/she believes, then it is not worth writing down those beliefs and surely not worth responding to. And so I thank you for your courage and for offering me the opportunity to clarify some of the issues you so eloquently raised.
You wrote that you were disappointed that no questions were allowed from the audience. I respectfully beg to differ. In organizing the event, we were concerned with the program first beginning at 10:30 pm, with 4 scheduled speakers, and should we open the floor to questions, the evening would go on for hours. So as a matter of mere convenience, we did open the floor to questions, but via the moderator who was selecting the choicest questions to ask from amongst the questions submitted in writing by those in the audience. I’m sorry that you were disappointed.
Now to address some of your comments.
You go back 100 years discussing the history of Chareidi vs. Zionism all the way back to the days of Herzl . To debate or discuss the founding of Zionism cannot be done properly in between these few newspaper pages, volumes have been already written detailing both the historical and hashkafic issues on this topic and I would like to rather focus on the present.
Just one comment though if I may. You refer to Herzl’s “prophecy.” Herzl was a person so far removed from anything connected to the life of a Jew committed to Torah and Mitzvot that his so called “prophecy” for the Jewish people included the removal of any form of traditional values of Avoseinu Hakdoshim, beyond simple Jewish culture.
I will be sending you a copy of a manuscript that was written by the Chief Rabbi of Basil Switzerland, Rav Asher Cohn z”l who happens to have been my wife’s maternal great grandfather who Herzl himself referred to him, as his “Rabbi’ and whom Herzl invited to give the opening charge at the first Zionist convention in Basil. Towards the end of his life, he penned a manuscript describing both the “man” and his relationship with him,& he doesn’t share your enthusiasm of his “prophecy” , but rather of his ultimate desire of “ridding all of Jewry of their religious trappings.”(end quote). And so forgive the Chareidim for not sharing your vision of the founding “prophet” of Zionism.
You also refer to “supposed episode” of secularization of the Yemenite children, etc., when even the most “ardent zionist” amongst us knows full well of the designs of the early fathers of the state to remove all Chareidi influence on Israeli society. To ignore that is not being a true Zionist, it is being dishonest.
You also take issues with the Chareidim’s objection to the tefilla for the Medina or for the Chayalim by their citing of all kinds of Kabbalistic reasons (your words); however please refer to the Kobeitz Igros Chazon Ish (volume 1), Nefesh Harav from Rav Soloveitchick ZT”L and Shailos Vetushovos Yabia Omer (volume 3) from Rav Ovadia Yosef Shlita who discuss their Halachic objections to it, and not one cities any “Kabbalistic reasons.” Again this important point requires a lengthy review, something well beyond the constraints of a newspaper article.
Barry my good friend, we have a lot in common. Not only do we share in the appreciation of my late father ZT”L’s unique qualities, we also share in the great love and pride in “our” and in every Jew’s home, Eretz Yisroel. I fully identify with your feeling of pride just walking thru the streets of “our” land and our country called Eretz Yisroel; but that should not for a moment cause us to lose perspective that neither the founders of the state, nor the new faces of today’s government, both Kippa wearing and none Kippa wearing share the vision that you and I have of what Eretz Yisroel should look like.
And please understand, that this is not a contradiction!
More then 40 years ago, as a young teenager one month past my 16th birthday, I made my first trip to Eretz Yisroel to learn in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Yerushalayim, and which turned into a prolonged visit of 16 months. The thing that I remember the most about that unforgettable experience that had shaped my love for Eretz Yisroel in both heart and soul, was one particular “shmuz” (mussar talk) given by my Rebbe HaRav Moshe Chait ZT”L. He was a gifted and inspiring orator, but there is one shmuz that is forever etched in my soul, that I hear again and again in my head each time I step off the plane in Eretz Yisroel.
One day, a few boys from the Yeshiva were returning from the basketball court a few blocks away and hadn’t noticed that Rav Chait ZT”L happened to be walking to Yeshiva for Mincha about 10 feet behind them. One of the boys opened a chocolate bar that he had in his pocket and without giving much thought tossed the wrapper onto the sidewalk. As soon as Mincha concluded, the Mashgiach banged on the Shulchan and said that everyone should gather around and that Rav Chait ZT”L wanted to address the student body at that time. This was highly unusual, as Rav Chait’s talks were limited to twice a week and we wondered what is the emergency that warrants this special “shmuz.” Rav Chait stood up and with tears in his eyes and in a quivering voice speaking with such passion that I had never heard before or after, shared his pain that a Bochur from his Yeshiva threw a candy wrapper onto the street in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh in Artzeinu Hakodesha. He continued for an hour on a passionate explanation what Kedushas Haaretz is and how we have to feel the special Brocho of Eretz Yisroel in every waking moment of our day and how could a true Yiddishe Neshomo be so callous as to sully the streets of Yerushalayim. I have never forgotten that Drasha, it’s words, it’s passion and most importantly, it’s message.
And yet, my dear Barry, Rav Chait’s Yeshiva did not say Tefilla LaMedinah, nor Hallel on Yom Hatzmut, & did not view Herzl as a “prophet, etc,.etc:, yet his love & yes his “pride” in Eretz Yisroel was no less then yours. What you see as a Stira (contradiction) he and countless others do not.
Our instructions while we were in Yeshiva was if we are learning in the Bais Medrash and the siren of Yom Hazikoron is heard, we were to keep learning as this method of “rememberance” is not the “Jewish way” of Zikaron (that also warrents a separate discussion) but if we are on the street in public, then we “must” stand at attention, as not to create a “Chillul Hashem.”
Having a barbecue in a public park during Yom Hazikaron is no less a Chillul Hashem then Ben Gurion sitting in an open café on Rechov Arlossorof in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur and having lunch, making sure that the photographer from Yediot Achronot caught it on camera.
Barry my friend, I have way to much respect and admiration for you to really believe that you also are from the “accusers” who make the accusation that the physical violence against religious IDF soldiers or to ANY Jew is sanctioned by Gedolei Yisroel. It is an accusation no less of a lie and no less ridiculous then the historical “blood libel” of yesteryear. I do not know of even one Gadol who ever has, or will advocate violence against another Jew, no matter what the issue is.
Another disturbing aspect in your article was the “giyul nefesh” (utter disgust)- your words- that you and your “Chaverim” feel at the constant anti-Zionist propoganda spewed forth by the Chareidim. I deeply admire the depth of your sensitivity, however I wonder do you and your Chaverim also feel the same “giyul nefesh” when the Chareidim are called “parasites” and the “evil of society” by fellow members of Klal Yisroel from the Knesset podium; or is the “utter disgust” you and your Chaverim have, is only reserved for the Chareidim.
As an aside, your backhanded scholarly swipe at the “shlita” of the Satmar Rebbe ZT”L by referring to his “entire ideology” is based upon on some “obscure aggadata” (again your words) must have come in a moment of”passionate forgetfullness.” I assume you had read the Satmar Rebbe ZT”L entire sefer that represents his world view and came to the conclusion that his “only source” is some “obscure aggadata.” I will suggest that you go back and review his writings and then you will quickly see the foolishness of such a ridiculous and irresponsible comment. While I do not share the ideology of the Satmar Shita, it is because my Rebbe ZT”L and the Gedolei Hador I adhere to did not either. But this does not in anyway mean that his “shita” is not based upon a comprehensive and deep understanding of Torah, something that I am very far removed from, seemingly unlike you and your “Chaveirim.”
In utter contempt and disrespect, without mentioning his name, you besmirched the very individual that all of Torah jewry (emphasis on ALL) relied upon for more than a quarter of a century as the ultimate Daas Torah of our generation. His position as such was not granted to him by popular vote or elections in the Knesset, that title was confirmed upon him by the Gedolei Hador of the previous generation, from Rav Chaim Ozer ZT”L, the CHAZON ISH ZT”L, and the Brisker Rov ZT”L (amongst many others.) A person whose depth and dedication to Torah is still held in awe by every serious Torah student , even today years after his passing. A person who is today’s Gadol Hador, Rav Chaim Kanievski shlita used to go see him every Rosh Chodesh just so he can make the bracha with Shem Umalchus at the sight of such a scholar (which was witnessed by this author).
And yet my dear friend, despite your opinions, shitos & conflicts, you can find it in yourself to write for the public consumption such words of disrespect for the Gadol Hador and leader of world Torah Jewry; is there “any” concern on your part for how you will respond to this after 120 years. Do the words of Chazal and codified in the Rambam, that when one is Mevazeh a Talmud Chochom (let alone a Gadol Hador) there is no portion in the world to come!!
Please my dear friend Barry, these words are not a criticism nor a curse, its just a heartfelt painful question, “ how could a G-d fearing Jew think like that, let alone write it for the public consumption?
You write the “Klal” is mortified and tired(your words) .If I may be so bold as to ask which “Klal” are you referring to? Is it the tens of thousands of Bnei Torah that spend their days and nights studying, analyzing and trying to understand the depths of Torah that this Gadol Hador left us as his legacy. Or is the “ Klal” you are referring to, is you and your Chaveirim whose sole understanding and connection to this Gadol is from your reading his transcribed speeches in English.
About 15 years ago, I was invited to participate in the Thursday night keynote session at an Agudah convention where I shared a very personal story about my experience with this Gadol Hador ZT’L that seemingly struck a chord and immediately went viral. It has been retold and written over in many seforim and books since, but permit me to repeat it as it is pursuant to our friendly discussion.
First a simple disclaimer. Repeating this personal story should not be misinterperted that this Gadol Hador whose love for EVERY Jew was legendary & who does not need my help in defending him or his reputation. Nor does it minimize even a drop from the unforgivable Aveira of “Bizayon Talmud Chochom Berabim” that you perpetuated in your very public article. What I hope it does accomplish, is that maybe there’s one person out there who maybe was never exposed to the Ahavas Yisroel of this Gadol Hador and would possibly be influenced by your misguided diatribe against him, maybe I can prevent that from happening with this story.
More than 25 years ago, I was a guest for Shabbos at a particular community that was looking for a Rov, as the old Rov had recently retired, and as the shul was divided into various factions, there was difficulty in making a clear choice. After Shabbos was over and thankfully my shiurim passed the test and I was invited to meet with the shul’s board of directors.
Following a very enjoyable and informative interview, one young man asked that very “important question” as to what is my view of Hallel on Yom Hatzmut. I responded that though my heart never left Eretz Yisroel, on this issue, I am to small to make my own interpertation and so since I have been blessed with having two great Rabbeim in my life, my Rebbe in Torah was Rav Henoch Leibowitz ZT”L from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim and in Halacha it was Rav Moshe Feinstien ZT”L, and since neither of them do so, I just follow my Mesorah.
At that point, the young man who raised the question jumped up and said, “I thought so, you are from the “’Shach school of thought” and that is not for us. To clarify, he was not referring to the great classic commentary on Shulchan Aruch referred to as the “Shach”; what he was disrespectfully referring to was the Gadol Hador, Rav Shach ZT”L. The realization that I follow my Mesorah and do not say Hallel on Yom Hatzmut, aligned me with that Gadol’s view of Zionism and therefore it was not the Hashkafa that he wanted in a Rov.
Immediately after his disrespectful comment, the entire board of directors present began to scold him for both his manner of speech and disrespect to me. I stood up and asked for the floor and said that I take no offence what so ever and appreciated him speaking his mind, however with the disrespect shown to the Gadol Hador by his remark ( something akin to the comments in the aforementioned article) that I would like to respond. I shared the following story.
In the years I was zoceh to learn in Eretz Yisroel, I made it my business to visit and become close to many of the Gedolim there, including HaRav Shach ZT”L. I would go to him very often on Friday afternoon which was a more quiet time for him, and I was able to spend a considerable amount of time in his company.
One Erev Shabbos, as the house was full of people, I was awaiting my turn to speak to him. All of the sudden, his grandson came in and asked everyone to leave, because the doctor had arrived and Rav Shach ZT”L had a serious infection on his foot that needed to be cut out. Everyone left, but with the insolence of youth, I decided to stay to observe, that maybe I could learn something by observing this great Gadol. I stood in the library behind the bookcase and watched as a serious discussion ensued between the doctor and the Rosh HaYeshiva. The doctor wanted to give the Gadol a shot of a pain killer to minimize the pain that he would feel with the knife cutting out the infection, but he refused. He was in the midst of preparing for his Shiur Klalli that he was to give the following week and he didn’t want to have the pain killer that would affect his ability to think clearly and deeply. And so reluctantly the doctor agreed. However there was a concern that due to the pain, he may suddenly jerk his leg, and could jeapordize something more serious happening. All of a sudden the grandson spotted me and called me over to help hold onto the Rosh HaYeshiva during the procedure so he doesn’t move.
My hand grasped the Rosh Yeshiva’s hand and he was to press my hand when in real pain. There was the doctor, one grandson, one attendant, the Rosh Yeshiva and myself. Throughout the approx. 15 minute procedure, I was amayzed (as I am still, so many decades later) that the Rosh Yeshiva sat there, eyes closed in deep concentration and he didn’t cry, didn’t scream, didn’t press my hand any harder before, during or after the procedure.
Now to Act II.
It was about 9 months later, again it was an Erev Shabbos and I was having a conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva as a long line was waiting their turn. A grandson walked in and whispered into his ear the terrible news that just came out that an army helicoptor just crashed in a training mission and all 6 soldiers were killed. The Gadol Hador right in front of me burst into tears and into incredible sobbing, and we were all asked to leave. I remember leaving the house and standing outside for quite a while trying to absorb what I just witnessed. This same Gadol, who months earlier I personally witnessed a doctor cutting into his body with a knife and not even one tear was shed, now that same person, hears news about an accident and the loss of 6 soldiers, none who were Talmidim of his or any Yeshiva and yet he cries uncontrollably. How is that to be understood. And then I understood, that for this Gadol Hador, the pain of the suffering of another Jew, “Any Jew” is more painful to him than a knife cutting into his own body.
And so I said, to that young man in the room filled with the shul’s board of directors, that I have just been accused of belonging to the “Shach school of thought” ; to me that means I belong to the school of thought that we must love all Jews to the depth of our being, where their pain should hurt you more than your own physical pain. How proud I am to be part of such a “school of thought” and I truly hope and pray that one day I will truly merit to to share those types of feelings of Ahavas Yisroel. And having said that, I said my good-byes and I left the room.
This was the Gadol Hador ZT”L that we were zoche to. Not only the Gadol in learning and in Yiras Shamayim, but in Ahavas Yisroel as well. How sad and unfortunate that you my friend and your Chaveirim are so blinded by hatred of everything Chareidi; that you can’t even see greatness when it stares you in the face. Maybe it’s time to close the book of his transcribed speeches in English and see the greatness of the Gadol Hador that two generations of Gedolei Hador and hundreds of thousands of Yidden in the Torah community have not only always seen, but are still in awe each & every day.
The Torah world is not only mortified and pained by your hateful comments on Gedolei Hador, they are saddened by them as well.
(In the following weeks, Rabbi Ginzberg will continue his response in two more parts & he will also address the recent Satmar protest in N.Y., as well as the current situation in Eretz Yisroel. He will also address the comments by Mr. Jacobson in regard to the concept of the abundance of Chessed that the Chareidi community has been the reciepients of & seems to lack appreciation of all that was done for them, as last week’s article claims).