Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The radical Islamists’ attacks on Wednesday, January 7, at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, killing 12, and on Friday, erev Shabbos Sh’mos, January 9, at the Hyper Cacher market in the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood of eastern Paris, where four were murdered, followed years of anti-Semitic assaults on Jews in France.
Ilan Chalimi, z’l, Hy’d, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered on February 13, 2006. On March 19, 2012, an attacker went to the Otzar HaTorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, murdering four Jews, z’l, Hy’d—30-year-old Rabbi Yonason Sandler; his sons Aryeh, age 6, and Gavriel, age 3; and the school’s head teacher’s daughter, 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, grandniece of Rabbi Aharon Monsonego, chief rabbi of Morocco. It was the worst school-related attack in French history.
Jews of Paris had been proud of the security and freedom they enjoyed. Paris, as opposed to other cities in Europe, is unique in that its centers of Jewish neighborhoods include chassidish communities. They live alongside Muslim communities. France today has the largest percentage of Muslim residents.
In response to the assaults, France has mobilized its military and police forces to protect Jewish institutions as well as other sensitive areas. “France without Jews is not France,” was France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s response to the terrorist attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris.
More than 7,000 Jews left France last year, a substantial increase from the previous year, revealing unease within the Jewish community notwithstanding vocal official support.
The Jewish population of France is estimated to number from 500,000 to 600,000, representing 7.5–9.5 percent of the total population. Sadly, most are not religious. Religious Jews mostly live in and around Paris. Otzar HaTorah, established more than 70 years ago, is the network of yeshivos and Torah institutions serving the observant community. It was founded in 1945 by Torah philanthropist Yitzchak Isaac Shalom, zt’l (1886–1968), who worked with Rabbi Avrohom Kalmanowitz, zt’l (1891–1964), Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva.
Merkaz HaTorah is the network of yeshivos and Torah institutions based in the city of Gagny outside Paris serving the chassidish community. It is led by Rabbi Yehuda Toledano. The Khal Adas Yisroel Kehillah there, led by Rabbi Yosef Dovid Frankfurter, also has a yeshiva. Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Rottenberg, zt’l (1909–1990), came to Paris after the Holocaust and succeeded Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Rubinstein, zt’l, as the rav of the renowned Agudas Hakehillos Shul (Synagogue de la rue Pavée), at 10 Rue Pavée, in the Marais (chassidish neighborhood known as the Pletzl), in the 4th arrondissement (district) of Paris. He authored Sheiris Menachem and Shemen La’ner and was a Kotzker chassid.
Rabbi Rottenberg established an independent kashrus certification, built mikvaos, and established yeshivos. His son, Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg, and his son-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchok Katz, have succeeded him and are the current leaders of the chassidish community in Paris. Both rabbis lead large institutions with hundreds of boys and girls enrolled (separately, of course). Since these institutions teach religious subjects exclusively, they must be financed independently, without government funds. Rabbi Katz established and leads three kollels in which more than 300 young men study. Two of the kollels have their members also teaching in the yeshivos. The third kollel is devoted to kiruv outreach.
Paris and its environs have more than ten yeshivas; Yeshiva Chazon Boruch, led by Rabbi Yehuda Toledano, is the most notable. In addition, Yeshiva Ohr Yosef, established by Rabbi Yosef Liebman, zt’l (1905–1997), is part of the Novardok yeshiva philosophy. Chabad Lubavitch, led by Rabbi Shmuel Moule Azimov, zt’l (1945–2014), has achieved tremendous growth. Thousands of children are being educated in their yeshivos. The Sephardic community is led by Rabbi Dovid Pinto, with a kollel in the 17th district and a kollel in the 19th district, as well as a large yeshiva.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.