Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Poches Poches V'Holech

Mr. Eugene (Aryeh Leib) Lebovitz of Aventura, Florida (adjacent to N. Miami Beach) and Mr. Yisroel Starck have much in common. Mr. Starck was born in 1929 in a town just outside of Munkacz, Czechoslovakia (now Ukraine). Mr. Lebovitz was born in 1928 in Uzhorod, Czechoslovakia (now Ukraine). These two towns are less than 40 KM apart.

Both were deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 but they went separate places from there. Mr. Starck was eventually liberated in Ebensee, Austria by the allies. Mr. Lebovitz was liberated in Landshut, Czechoslovakia by the Russians. Both men aspired to make their way to Eretz Yisrael but Mr. Starck never made it (at that point). Mr. Lebovitz did make it to Eretz Yisrael and joined the Haganah.  He eventually became a commander. He might have remained in EY for the distance if he had not met his wife to be on a visit to the US. Although he consequently settled in the US, first Chicago and then Puerto Rico and then Florida, he remained affiliated with the Haganah for quite some time and his loyalties are in place to this very day.

(You can find a fuller biography on Mr. Lebovitz HERE).

Mr. Lebovitz spent his early married years – from 1953 to 1961- in Chicago. Mr. Starck came to Chicago in 1948 and has resided there ever since. Despite this, these two Holocaust survivors did not know each other until a few weeks ago. (It was Mr. Lebovitz’s sister that was the reason for his initial trip to Chicago in 1951 and Mr. Starck had indeed known his sister’s husband, Mr. Joe Weiss).

What transpired a few weeks back was that Mr. Lebovitz came across a copy of Mr. Starck’s memoirs – A Boy Named 68818 - and he was immediately taken by the book. Although he felt there were a few minor discrepancies with his own recollection of some of the background details, he was still very much impressed and made it his business to strike up an acquaintance with Mr. Starck. As one thing led to another, Mr. Lebovitz (Haganah veteran and longtime supporter) invited Mr. and Mrs. Starck to a weekend – Shabbos Chanukah - gathering that he was sponsoring in Las Vegas, Nevada that included a fundraising drive for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). He asked Mr. Starck to address the gathering.

Some people who are aware that I have a personal relationship with Mr. Starck and that I maintain a blog sent me a copy of Mr. Starck’s speech given on the seventh day of Chanuka, 5776 (last Sunday). I personally was very touched by the speech and received permission to post it on the blog.

I hereby present it exactly as it was sent to me.

A freicihen post Chanuka!

Dvar Torah

Shabbas Miketz
12.12.15 - FIDF, Las Vegas

Israel Starck
Regarding the mitzvah of Ner Chanuka, we are all aware of the difference in opinion between Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai.  Beis Shamai say “poches, poches, v’holech” – we start with 8 candles and we reduce by one every day.
The Beis Hillel say “moseef v’holech” – we start with one candle and we add one more every day for each of the eight days: ma’aleen b’kodesh.
However, in one matter there is no difference of opinion: We all agree, when the subject of survivors of the shoah arises, it is poches v’holech: There is only diminishment with time.
There are of course many halachot pertaining to Chanuka, like, for instance, the question whether women are also obligated in ohr Chanuka – lighting of the Chanuka candles – and in reciting of the full hallel in our tefilla.
But my reason for standing up here in front of this most distinguished tzibbur is not to give you a shiur in hilchos Chanuka.  Nevertheless, lefi aniyas daati, I wish to point out to you the tremendous parallel between the miracle of the days of Chanukah and mesiras nefesh of the Chashmonaim, with the experience and mesiras nefesh of those who were liberated at the end of WWII, and the nissim and niflaos we have been witness to in the last 70 years. 
In many ways the miracle, the nes, of the survival and re-generation of the shearis hapleita, the remnants of the Shoah, is comparable to – and I might say even surpasses – the nes shel Chanuka. 
Every day of Chanuka we recite the additional prayer in the Shemoneh Esrai of the V’al HaNissim.  We say, “biyemay Mattisyahu, k’sheheamda malchus Yavan haresha’ah al amcha Yisroel l’hashkicham torasecha ule’he’avirum me’chukay retsonecha.”  “In the days of Mattisyahu, when the evil Greek kingdom rose up against your people Israel to make them forget your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will...”
While the Greeks were not intent to wipe out and eradicate the Jewish race from the face of the earth we, the shearith hapleita, have paid a far greater price by losing 6 million of our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.  All perished at the hands of the Nazi re’shaim.  It did not make a difference whether they upheld chukim u’mishpatim or whether they believed in G-d and his Torah and mitzvot.
Very seldom do we recognize the importance of the moment of liberation by the allied forces.  I compare the small clusters of survivors to the pach shel shemen, the vessel of oil that was found with the seal of the Kohen Gadol.  Only, these survivors were like a pach shel kedoshim.   Just like that precious surviving pach shel shemen, they too bore a unique seal – that of the tattooed number on their arm.  And they too became a miraculous beacon from which light came forth.
Those broken starving skeletons, that I call “pach shemen shel kedoshim,” they were all so weak and depressed and demoralized that no sane person would have anticipated that this small group of skin-and-bones and broken spirits could ignite, and fire up, and radiate again, a light to the world. 
Yes, at war’s end, there were many who proclaimed chalilah, “les din v’les dayan,” “there is no judge and no judgment,” or said, “I will be a good human being at heart, but I cannot accept Torah and mitzvos again”. 

But then the greatest miracle occurred. The Ribono Shel Olam sent us a living Torah embodied in sparks of light – people like the Klausenberger Rav, Rav Yekutiel Halberstam – who ignited the spirits of that pach shel shemen shel kedoshim – and the light which emanated was not quickly consumed. 
To the contrary, this small pach shel shemen of kedoshim kept getting stronger and stronger each day, each month and each year.  A living example of Beis Hillel’s moseef v’holech – we add and advance. And just as in the time of Purim, so too the survivors took an oath of “kimu v’kiblu mah shehekiblu kvar.” They fully re-affirmed their commitment and re-dedicated themselves to the mesorah of our fathers. 
This fire, of commitment to Torah values and a Torah life, is getting stronger and stronger even now, day-by-day, giving light to the whole world.  The mosdos haTorah are boruch Hashem flowing over with Yankelach, Moishelach, and Ruchelach.  Be it in South Bend Indiana; Lakewood, NJ; Chicago, Illiniois; New York, and of course Eretz Yisrael.
After one of my talks a few years ago, a little girl by the name of Pereleh came up with the following question:  “Mr. Starck, what do you consider is the greatest threat to the Jewish people in this day and age?” 
And I answered her that when I was a little boy of 5 or 6 years of age and walked to cheder, many times the Ukrainian and Ruthenian kids would spit or throw stones at us, shouting, “Zid, to Palestina sklo missity.”  “Jew, why don’t you leave and go to Palestine to grind glass?” 
And when I turned 14 or 15, even though I never held a weapon of any kind in my hands, if another Yid would have approached me saying, “Srulek, here is a satchel of dynamite and fuses. You have to sneak under this bridge in the dark of the night and place the explosives under the bridge that transports all these trains to Auschwitz,” I would have carried out the mission without any question. 
But, there was then, no dynamite, no fuses, and no one to give instructions.  And now, the difference is that today we have our own country, with the strongest army and air force in the Middle East, if not the world.  Sure there are mechablim, terrorists, who will raise a hand or a knife against us. But he also knows quite well that there will be consequences.  Israeli forces will hunt him down and make him pay with his life.
A chassideshe bochur remarked to me, “Why didn’t I also tell Pereleh that it is the time of ikvasa d’meshicha, and Moshiach will come?” 
I told him, let me tell you the story of two friends, Berel and Shmerel.  Shmerel loved to take a drink now and then.  In difficult times, that was his balm. It gave him a sense of security.  He would often visit the village kretshma, the tavern, where he would drink to his heart’s content.  One day, Berel caught up with him and followed along.  He noticed that every block on his way to the tavern, Shmerel paused, took out a little flask, and took a swig from it. 
Finally Berel said to him, “Shmerel, you know and I know where you are heading to. So must you also stop every block and take a swig from your little flask?  Can’t you at least wait until you get to the tavern?”  Shmerel answered, “Until you get there, you also need a drink.” 
We hope and we pray that the Ribbono Shel Olam will be a Shomer Yisroel and give strength and wisdom to our brothers and sisters guarding the front lines of Israel ad biyas goel tzedek.
 *   *   *

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Open Orthodoxy and the Big Hearted Moose

The gemara in Menachos 29b states that HKBH created two worlds – Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah - with the abbreviated name of HKBH: Yud-Heh. Olam Haba is represented by the letter Yud because it is humble and very few are worthy of it. Olam Hazeh is represented by the letter Heh. It is closed from three sides but open at the bottom.

Why is it open?

So that anybody who wants to leave, may leave. Of course, once one has left (unless he returns), one can never achieve the Yud – Olam Haba.

In the past few months we have been hearing a lot about a “movement” that calls itself “Open Orthodoxy”. Open Orthodoxy refers to the “heh” in the abbreviated name of HKBH. It is for people who want to call themselves Orthodox and to live for this world. And it is “Open”. Anybody who wants to leave, may leave. Thus, Open Orthodoxy is one of the all-time greatest oxy-morons (with the accent on the morons).

The oxymoronic nature of this movement is so brazen that many of our Rabbinical leaders felt it cannot go unchallenged. Hence, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the Rabbinical Council of America and, more recently, the Conference of European Rabbis have all issued statements strongly denouncing this movement.

Although I am in full agreement with all of these Rabbis and with the statements, I wonder if they are really necessary. Instead, why don’t we just pull off a “Thidwick”??

A Thidwick?!

When I was a wee lad, I received as a birthday present one of the lesser known works of the prolific author, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss). It became one of my all-time favorites. It is called: Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose.

In this lesser-known tale, Thidwick the moose is too nice to say no to all the bugs and animals that want to live in his antlers. "A host has to put up with all kinds of pests. For a host- above all- must be kind to his guests." But this has some serious consequences, like not being able to cross the river to get to the moose moss he needs to survive. And then some hunters from the Harvard Club come after him shooting guns! This is getting real. Luckily for Thidwick, he remembers that moose shed their antlers once a year, and so he does, along with all his unwanted guests. Thidwick thus escapes the hunters while all his guests are not as fortunate.

When somebody encroaches into one’s domain, the gut reaction is to fight to take it back. Or, at least, to close your eyes and hope it goes away. Says Thidwick: “Besides, now it’s getting quite late in the day. And surely tomorrow they’ll all go away!”

But we ultimately learn from Thidwick that there is sometimes another option. Sometimes it is much simpler to just shed the domain and let them wallow in it. This works when one has something to replace it with.

Thus, instead of trying to regain control of his hijacked horns or waiting for his “guests” to vacate, Thidwick exercised the option of simply jettisoning the horns and replacing them with fresh unsullied ones.

The issue with Open Orthodoxy is their use of the epithet “Orthodox”. Those of us who are more “Orthodox” feel, that our label has been hijacked. It has been wrested out of our control. And we want to regain control.

Yep, a few unwanted guests have come to live in the Jewish horns (all Jews have horns, don’t they?) that are called “Orthodox”. And who are the guests?

There is “Modern” Orthodox which adheres to the mitzvos but falls short on the amailos b’Torah, “Open” Orthodox which falls out the bottom, “Centrist” Orthodox which doesn’t really exist (except, perhaps, in the world of blogs), and even “Ultra” Orthodox which implies that true mitzvah observance with amaeilus b’Torah may be excessive (ultra).

They are weighing us down and they are keeping us on the opposite side of the river than the Yud.

“Orthodox” is supposed to mean the “straight” or “correct” ideology. But if it is subject to modifiers like “modern”, “open”, “centrist”, or “ultra”, then, in what way does it indicate what is “correct”?

I have written about this emphatically in the past. (See HERE). I wrote in that post that Rabbi Dovid Rosoff, in the glossary of his book Where Heaven Touches Earth says the following definition: Chareidi – Orthodox Jew.

Perhaps there was a time when this was so, but no longer. The modern term Orthodox is too open to ultra-deceptive centristic definitions.

So we should take a tip from Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose. Let’s shed the horns. We no longer have any use for them. Lets drop the archaic term “Orthodox” once and for all. It's not even a Jewish term, anyway. It's Greek! 

We really shouldn’t need any official statements claiming that these movements cannot be called “Orthodox”. Let them be Orthodox! Who cares??

And he called to the pests on his horns as he threw 'em,
You wanted my horns; now you're quite welcome to 'em!
Keep 'em! They're yours! As for ME, I shall take
myself to the far distant side of the lake!"

I do not want to be Orthodox. I want to be what is really straight and correct.

Which is what?

Based on chapter 9 of my book, here are some of the proper terms for the authentic Jews (with explanations):

  • Chareidi Jew – This is the term used by Yeshaya Hanavi (and Ezra HaSofer) to refer to those who adhere to the word of G-d.
  • One Above Jew – This is a term I made up to refer to those who adhere to Vayikra 26:3 - which, by the way, is the word of G-d.
  • Davidic Jew – Same as above since Dovid Hamelech echoes Vayikra 26:3-13 in the head chapter of his greatest work – Tehillim.
  • Talmudic Jew – This is self-explanatory as all of our binding laws, customs, and ethics (hashkafos) are rooted in the Talmud. I want to add that Toras Kohanim that defines the true essence of Vayikra 26:3 (as per Rashi) is the Halachic Midrash on Vayikra and an intrinsic, albeit under-appreciated, part of the Talmud.

I presented even a few more suggestions in my book.

So why do we need official statements? Why not be Big Hearted about it and let them stay Orthodox?
Let them keep the bottomless Heh. All those who wish to leave, may leave. 
We’ll take the Yid.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Refuah Sheleima-----Chaver!

Reb Chaim Yechiel Rotman, HY"D

About three months ago, I wrote a review on a new book titled A Boy Named 68818 by Mr. Israel Starck. Mr. Starck was in Eretz Yisrael last August as the first copies rolled off the press. I visited him during his stay and was fortunate to receive a copy of the book from the first palette. (I am told now that the book has just recently arrived in the stores).

In the book, Mr. Starck – Srulek, in his youth – relates that he had an older sister with severe physical and mental handicaps who needed constant care. With the war raging around them, his mother (hy”d) was at wits end how to continue caring for this daughter, then around 18 years old. His mother sought out advice from Rav Moshe Ziditchover of Munkacz and brought Srulek along for the consultation.

She explained to the Rav the infirmities of her daughter – which he was already aware of - and inquired as to how to care for her in view of all the travails that are being imposed by the war. The tzadik simply told her to go back home and not to worry, her daughter “will have a refuah sheleima”.

Little Srulek was confused because he was old enough to understand that his sister’s condition was not one that was reversible by contemporary medical standards. How can she possibly have a refuah sheleima?

About three days later, his sister did not wake up. And, with this, R. Yisrael learned that a “refuah shleima” means deliverance from illness, pain and torment but it does not always mean a return to full health in this world.

For just two weeks shy of a full year we have been praying for a refuah sheleima for the most seriously injured of the Har Nof Kedoshim – Chaim Rotman (hy”d) – Chaim Yechiel ben Malka. The women of Har Nof have held weekly Tehillim groups over the past year entreating for a refuah sheleima for Shalom Daniel (z”l) ben Baruch Yehuda Ray who passed away last summer along with R’ Chaim Yechiel (hy”d). Until now, the refuah sheleima had not come.

Last Thursday, however, something special happened. Har Nof held its chapter of the international Great Challah Bake. Hundreds of women (including my wife and one daughter) gathered at the Minhal (Community Center) to participate. Two large rooms were dedicated to the event, one for single girls and the other for married women. There were long tables with rows of mixing bowls stocked with flour, water, yeast and whatever else. The women split into groups of three for each mixing bowl.

The event was presided by Reb. Tamar Ansh, the renowned challah maven, and by Reb. Tzipporah Heller. Reb. Ansh gave instructions to the attendees and did a ceremonial hafrasha with a bracha.  It was announced that this “Challah bake” is being done l’zchus a refuah sheleima for R’ Chaim Yechiel ben Malka. Mrs. Risa Rotman was then invited to do another “public” hafrasha.

Before she actually did the hafrasha, she made a few remarks. She mentioned that she is constantly being given accolades for the strength of spirit that she has in weathering her excruciating ordeal. In response to this she said that the inspiration for this strength should be attributed to her husband who, as is evident, is a true “fighter”. And then she continued that people are constantly commiserating with her over the fact that her life is in limbo, between heaven and earth. She has no husband and she’s not a widow. Children with no father but not orphans. A life on hold. To this she responded that after hearing this so many times she decided that this can’t be. One’s life is never on hold. If somebody’s circumstances are precarious, this is the situation in which HKBH wants them to continue moving along in life. So many people put off the changes they need to make until after their husband gets better, after all the kids are married, after the baby is born, after…after…after… We cannot live this way. We must continue moving forward no matter what.

She then proceeded with the hafrasha and the bracha to the sound of a resounding “amein” and the event went on to other speakers (Reb. Heller). This was done for a zechus refuah sheleima for R’ Chaim.

Less than 24 hours later, as most of the participants were setting their fresh challos on the Shabbos table and preparing to hear “Hamotzie”, R’ Chaim Yechiel ben Malka ZT"L (HY"D) was granted a refuah sheleima.

I wrote a bit about the massacre a year ago and I intimated that I am well acquainted with the “korbanos” (hy”d). I knew them all but wouldn’t consider myself a “buddy” to those of the original group. R’ Avrohom Goldberg ZT”L was about a decade older than me and R’ Aryeh Kapinsky ZT”L was about a decade younger than me. These were the down-to-earth guys. R’ Moshe Twerski ZT”L was just a bit older and R’ Kalman Levine ZT”L was about my age but these fellows were so “arein-getuhn” in Avodas Hakodesh and I am not worthy of placing myself in the same league.

But R’ Chaim was different. He was a friend. We are (were) exactly the same age, both born and raised in out-of-town North American communities, immigrants to E”Y, working class people with (bla”H) double digit kids, struggling to maintain jobs to support large families of kids who are not as American as we are, while we try to incorporate as much growth in Torah as we can. He was a malach in midos but still a very Human person. As opposed to the others, he wasn’t a melech. He was an eved. An “eved Hashem”.

I wrote one post about the Har Nof massacre last November. I titled it Har Nof Massacre I. Why the “I”?

I had originally intended to write about 2 or 3 posts. One was to be about some of the nissim that happened and another to be my characterization of the victims. I did not write those two posts because so many others “beat me” to it, saying almost exactly what I had planned. to write. Many others wrote then that it is ominous that the four initial victims were totally outstanding in a major area of Judaism:

  • Rav Moshe Twerski ZT”L was a gadol in Harbatzas Torah.
  • Rav Kalman Levine ZT”L was a gadol in Avodas Hashem.
  • Rav Aryeh Kapinsky ZT”L was a gadol in Gemilus Chasadim.
  • Rav Avraham Goldberg ZT”L was a gadol in Yiras Shamayim.

So I wanted to say (I haven’t heard anybody else say it this way) that:

Rav Moshe Twerski was the Kesser Torah - Rav Kalman HaLevy Levine was the Kesser Kahuna - R’ Aryeh with his chassadim was the Kesser Malchus - and R’ Goldberg was the Kesser Shem Tov that rides on all of them.

But now R’ Chaim ZT”L joins this distinguished crowd. Where does he fit in?

R’ Chaim has no use for a Kesser. He is not a melech. He is an eved Hashem. R’ Chaim was a Shulchan Aruch Yid. He lived and breathed the Shulchan Aruch. From page one. Literally.

What do I mean?

I heard a story about a Jew who was very meticulous about getting out of bed promptly and rushing to get ready for his seder hayom. When asked why he was so strong in this department he explained:

After 120 years I will be brought before the Beis Din Shel Maala and I will be handed a Shulchan Aruch. I will be asked if I complied with the rules of this code of law. I will naturally answer: “Yes”. They will then say, “Okay, let’s check it out.” And they will open it up starting at the first page to see if I was in compliance. What does it say there? It says: “One must galvanize themselves as a lion to arise for the service of his Creator…” Woe is to me if I can’t even make it past this first section!

All of the maspidim noted (not in these words) that R’ Chaim was the undisputed champion of the 100 yard dash. This is the approximate distance between 14 Agassi (his house) and 5 Agassi (the shul). 15 seconds or less. Nobody could do it faster. He was a regular at the hashkama minyan and he was on time.

He took page one of the Shulchan Aruch very seriously (halevai auf mir gedached…) and every page after that. When it came to Rav Rubin’s Shlita Friday night and Shabbos afternoon Halacha shiurim, he was mekayem הוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם ושותה בצמא את דבריהם.

He was just what a Jew is supposed to be. To HKBH he was an eved. To Harav Rubin he was a talmid. To his wife he was a husband and to his children a father.

And to me he was a friend.

Refuah Sheleima….Chaver.

Yehi zichro baruch.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mesira VIII: Blood Labels

As a teenage Yeshiva bochur, I lived nearby a JCC which, in those years, did not have separate hours for free swimming. There were, however, hours that were designated for instructional swimming and those were aptly separated for boys’ instruction and girls’ instruction. The problem was that the facility did not change the lifeguard from one instruction period to the other and the standard lifeguard was of the female variety. As such, I did not think that it was Halachically acceptable to use the pool even during instruction hours because of the presence of the underclad female lifeguard. An acquaintance with a more free-thinking mindset tried to urge me to use the pool. This person rationalized, “Well, she is there in order to protect your life so it’s a pikuach nefesh so it should be okay.”

I think (or hope) that most of us understand that this would be a gross distortion of the concept of pikuach nefesh. The potential of danger that may accompany a recreational activity cannot be employed as a tool to mattir the serious transgressions involved (which, in this case, ironically happen to border on the domain of “yehareg v’al yaavor”). And I hope that the person who suggested it was merely trying to “get my goat”. To this day, I am not sure about it and the reason I am not sure is because many of our more free-thinking brethren take suggestions such as this very seriously (or- liberally).

This was a high profile issue about five years ago when the Barzilai Hospital controversy erupted. Barzilai Hospital – located in Ashkelon – made plans for a new missile proof emergency room adjacent to its current facility. When the excavations for the foundation began, a significant number of burial crypts – bones and all – were uncovered. The kanayim of kavod hameis immediately demanded to stop the excavations and relocate the emergency room. The chilonim – and government – wanted to continue the excavations and relocate the bones (to the dust bins of history). One of the main debates centered around whether these were bones of Jews or non-Jews. If non-Jewish there would be Halachic grounds to relocate the bones but if they were Jewish, the Halacha would not permit it. Amidst all of this was an outcry spanning from the moderate religious to the knowledgeable irreligious that the construction of the new emergency room constitutes pikuach nefesh thus justifying relocating the bones in all circumstances.

This part of the debate reached the posek hador, ZT”L, who promptly ruled that there is no pikuach nefesh.

Why not?

Because, at the current time, there was not a single person whose life was currently in danger who could be helped in any way by moving these bones or by the construction of a new emergency room five years down the line. Sure, in five years from now the (proposed) brand new emergency room may help many people who might – chas v’shalom – be in life threatening danger at that future time; but a projected future pikuach nefesh that is not currently in effect does not justify transgressing Halacha today. Today’s transgression will save absolutely nobody.

We understand from this psak that pikuach nefesh carries rules and regulations. In this case we learn that pikuach nefesh requires a “clear and present danger”.

Of course, this logic does not deter the backers. If they know no other words of chazal, they at least know that אין לך דבר שעומד בפני פיקוח נפש. (Yoma 82a, Kesubos 19a) And pikuach nefesh is in the eye of the beholder. As long as we are being somaich noflim and rofeh cholim, we can be mattir issurim.

Moreover, the “pikuach nefesh” card is so-o-o Humanitarian. We must all agree that life is precious; life is holy. Ergo, when there is any kind of threat to life (real or imagined) anything goes.

From all of the pasukim that tell us the rules and regulations of pikuach nefesh, the most well known and popular is: לא תעמוד על דם רעיך. It says to us that we cannot stand upon our fellow man’s blood. Hence, if we cha”v transgress this commandment, we have our fellow man’s blood on our hands – or, at least, at our feet.

Blood is pikuach nefesh  - כי הדם הוא הנפש.

Thus, when the pikuach nefesh card has to be played, of all the pasukim that deal with pikuach nefesh, Lo taamod is almost always the one cited.

Why? Because it’s about BLOOD. Because it carries the “blood label”.

So when the free-thinking need blanket hetteirim for serious issurim, we can always rely on the blood label.

Now, pikuach nefesh is generally docheh potential transgressions bein adam l’Makom – except for the three biggies. This is because HaMakom (B”H) is a bit of a softie – or, let’s just say, very Humanitarian – when it comes to chllul Shabbos or maachalos assuros. Nevertheless, when it involves bein adam l’chaveiro – to save somebody by killing, maiming, robbing, damaging, or even shaming another person – the rules can get very strict.

Now, I have invested numerous posts complaining about an all-but-forgotten two month old one-time Kol Koreh simmering on a back burner which very likely will never again appear in print. It would probably be the wisest thing to just cut my losses. But since I don’t have much else to write about (nobody wants to hear me preach that we should all make Aliyah, especially since most Americans think coming here now would be a pikuach nefesh and they don’t want to, cha”v, stand in their own blood) and hardly anybody actually reads my stuff anyway, I may as well extend the investment.

I spoke very strongly against the language of the Kol Koreh. This is because I feel very strongly about it. There are numerous very serious problems with the way this thing was written. And the fact that so many Rabbanim approved of the way it was written is the most disturbing.

In my last post, I quoted the entire text and colorized the trouble spots. I summarized the issues but I did not elaborate on them. In this post, I want to focus on this one line:

The Torah's statement in Leviticus 19:16, "Do not stand by while your neighbor's blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.

There’s the blood label.

When I complained that the Kol Koreh “misrepresents Halacha” (with the blessings of at least 108 Rabbanim), it was this line that I was referring to. Though I didn’t elaborate, I hinted to the problem when I cynically wrote “the mitzvah of  לא תעמוד על דם רעיך  has now been officially upgraded to a matir issurim”. And again I wrote: “I gather that not one of the 107 Rabbanim looked up the gemara in Sanhedrin 73a before they signed it.”

These were all hints to a gaping flaw in the text (which, by the way, could have been remedied by a very subtle change as I will discuss, IY”H). Thus I thought:
 די לחכימא ברמיזה.

I don’t have many readers so I don’t get much feedback. Yet, one loyal reader, who does not consider himself a chareidi (for good reason), emailed me offline and commented: You have no concept of Lo Samod A Dam Re'echa!!! All you care about is your own ignorance based interpretation of Halacha.”

I will have to add him to the list of those who didn’t bother to check out the gemara in Sanhedrin 73a before he took the trouble to inform me that he is an expert on ignorance.

Without calling anybody ignorant, it is clear that Lo taamod (or pikuach nefesh in general) is not fully understood and is often overplayed. Hence, it is probably a good idea to discuss the sequential sources of pikuach nefesh based on the gemara in Sanhedrin and other places.

We must familiarize ourselves with about six or seven pasukim:

Step 1 – והשיבותו לו (Devarim 22:2)

The first issue is how do we know at all that if somebody is in peril that there is a mitzvah to help him? No, the answer is not Lo Taamod. The answer is והשיבותו לו. To help somebody preserve their life is at least as worthy as to help him preserve his property. Thus, the main mitzvah of pikuach nefesh is an offshoot of Hashavas Aveida.

Step 2 – Lo Taamod (Vayikra 19:15)

Well, if we know that one must save a life from Hashavas Aveida, why do we need Lo Taamod?

The gemara tells us that Hashavas Aveida only requires one to help somebody when he (the savior) is available to help and without any personal expenditure. How do we know that for pikuach nefesh we must disrupt our schedule and expend our resources even to the point of hiring people to assist? This we learn from לא תעמוד על דם רעיך.

Still, we have learned that one must put out some cash to save a Jewish life. Yet, from Lo Taamod, we still do not know that one can transgress any issur whatsoever. Not bein adam l’Makom and not bein adam l’chaveiro. Lo Taamod by itself is not mattir any issurim!!

Step 3 – V’Chai Bahem (Vayikra 18:5)

So, how do we know that for a pikuach nefesh we can transgress an issur bein adam l’Makom (not including avoda zara and arayos)? For this we need to travel to Masechet Yoma 85a-b. There we find a lengthy discussion about how we know that one can be mechallel Shabbos even for a safek pikuach nefesh. The gemara concludes that we learn this from וחי בהם – ולא שימות בהם.

Step 4 – Ein lo damim (Shmos 22:1)

So we have learned that one may transgress chillul Shabbos (and kal v’chomer a lesser bein adam l’Makom) to save a Jewish life. But what about transgressing an issur bein adam l’chaveiro? I am sorry to say that in most cases we are a bit stuck. We have a rule in the gemara (Baba Kamma 60b) that a person is forbidden to save himself by destroying the property of others (note – Rambam and Shu”A learn that this merely means that one who does this must pay the owner). Another rule is נוח לאדם להפיל עצמו לכבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חברו ברבים.

The only real hetter that we know for this is in the case of a rodef. In this case one may save himself at the peril of the rodef. How do we know that this is permitted? This we learn from אין לו דמים.

Step 5 - V’Hukah V'meis (Shmos 22:1)

Still we only know that the person at risk can save himself by killing or injuring a rodef. How do we know that any good samaritan can do it? Is this from Lo taamod??

No it’s not. We only know this know this from והוכה ומת.

Step 6 – V’Ein Moshia (Devarim 22:27)/ V’Katzosa (Devarim 25:12)

So after all this, we know everything we need to know right? Not yet. V’Huka only tells us that it is permissible to save a Jew by killing a rodef (see Tosafos Sanhedrin 73a s.v. Af Rotzeach). But how do we know that it is a “Torah obligation”? This definitely must come from Lo taamod because this is what the Kol Koreh says.

But it’s not what chazal say. There is actually a dispute between the Sifri and the Talmud Bavli as to the source of this Halacha. The Talmud Bavli says it comes from ואין מושיע לה. The Sifri says it comes from  וקצותה את כפה. Amazingly, Rambam (Rotzeach 1:7) shuns the Talmud Bavli and goes with the Sifri. I am not sure why.

 Step 7 – V’Lo Yihiyeh Ason (Shmos 21:22)

This is the spoiler. Up to this point we have learned the sources for all the hetteirim of pikuach nefesh. We understand that there is indeed a Torah obligation to save a Jew from the clutches of a rodef. But this is not learned from Lo Taamod. It comes from other sources. Why is this important? Because not only is rodef a distinct Halacha, but it comes with limitations. Two primary limitations: (1) If he can be stopped by non-lethal means one is forbidden to resort to lethal means. (2) If the rodef already did his dirty work (and is no longer threatening this nirdaf) these extreme measures can no longer be used.

The first of the two limitations is learned from the pasuk ולא יהיה אסון, ענוש יענש. The second limitation seems to be a sevara (no scriptural source). It is also much more applicable in our discussion (Child abuse) than many want to acknowledge. The important thing is that we learn from here is that to employ the “extreme measures” to a rodef applies only when absolutely necessary. If it is not necessary, it can be a capital crime.

Thus, it’s important to attribute an “obligation” to its proper source so that we do not lose sight of the whole picture.

After saying all of the above, I will concede that these pasukim are cumulative. This means that in a case where V’Ein moshiya la (rodef) is in effect, Lo taamod is also in effect. The Rambam states this very clearly in Hil. Rotzeach 1:14.

So now let’s review the line from the Kol koreh and we can understand what is wrong with it. It says:

The Torah's statement in Leviticus 19:16, "Do not stand by while your neighbor's blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.

There are two things wrong with this line. One is very minor and the other is very major.

The minor issue is that Lo Taamod is not the proper source when a Torah issur is involved (which mesira to the secular law enforcement clearly is under normal circumstances). We need to append V’Ein moshiya (or V’Katzosa like the Rambam) to Lo taamod to reach this level. Thus, if the statement were to be Talmudically accurate, it would have to read:

The Torah's statement in Deuteronomy 22:27, "And there is nobody saving her," obligates every member of the community…

So now, all my readers will say: “Come on, nitpicker! So they picked the wrong pasuk. Big deal! It’s probably just an oversight. And, anyway, it’s not even the wrong pasuk. Didn’t you just write from the Rambam that Lo taamod is still part of the sequence?!”

Of course, if this was the only issue with this line, I would definitely let it slide as an “oversight”. But there is a much more serious issue with this line. And in conjunction with the issues of other parts of the text, which will not be discussed in this post, it is hard for me to believe that any word in this Kol Koreh is an oversight.

The bigger issue is not that the chosen pasuk is wrong. It’s that the Halacha is wrong. It lies with the words that I left out three paragraphs back:

“…to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.”

Let’s assume that the author of the Kol Koreh would have used the correct pasuk, “v’ein moshiya la”. Does v’ein moshiya la allow somebody to “do all in one’s power”?

Definitely not. If it is in one’s power to kill a rodef, and more so, if it is easier to kill a rodef than to stop him through non-lethal means (when available), it is still strictly forbidden to do so. So says Rambam in Hil. Rotzeach 1:13. So says HRH”G Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L in IgM Ch”M 1:8 (concerning one who counterfeits Kashrus stamps on meat). And so says Chafetz Chaim in Shmiras Halashon 10:2 that in order to be malshin on a person at any level (even not to secular authorities) – even for a toelles – one must ascertain that there is no other way to accomplish the toelles and that this course of action is absolutely necessary.

Thus, the proper statement would need to be:

The Torah's statement in Deuteronomy 22:27, "And there is nobody saving her," obligates every member of the community to do all that is necessary to prevent harm to others.

But this is not what it says.

As I wrote in my previous post, this line is a clear misrepresentation of the Halacha. And I cannot be silent about this. Perhaps most of the Rabbanim who signed the Kol Koreh either did not scrutinize the text or were reluctant but were cajoled into signing it as is (the two signatories that I spoke with thus far both admitted to the latter). Maybe some didn’t care and just followed the herd or actually felt that it is יצא הפסדו בשכרו.

But the author chose to write it this way. And the promoters from the Rabbinate promoted it as written. Are they not Talmidei chachamim?

Why did they write “all in one’s power” when they could – and should - have written “all that is necessary”; and as such they are giving “every individual” license to commit serious transgressions even when such are not Halachically sanctioned?

Do they not know the difference? Are they so callous that they do not care about the difference? Do they understand the difference but opted to write it this way regardless?

The first option is very hard for me to accept. I am not a Rav and I do know the difference.

The second two options are too frightening for me to accept.

Yet, the other issues with the text of the Kol Koreh seem to point in the direction of the last option. It looks to me, that this language was used precisely because they want these results. Halachically sanctioned or not. And so it looks to me that it was not an oversight that they chose the pasuk of Lo taamod instead of V’Ein moshiya.

Lo taamod carries the Blood label. If you don’t carry out your Torah obligation, you will have blood on your hands.

So if we assume that the text is not an "oversight" and you do not carry it out – even when unnecessary - you will have blood on your hands. And if it  really is an "oversight" and you do carry it out – but when unnecessary - you will have blood on your hands.

Is this text supposed to be taken literally or is it an oversight?

Take your pick.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mesira VII: The Heter Meah Rabbanim - The Genie is Back

אַבְטַלְיוֹן אוֹמֵר: חֲכָמִים, הִזָּהֲרוּ בְּדִבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁמָּא תָּחוּבוּ חוֹבַת גָּלוּת וְתִגְלוּ לִמְקוֹם מַיִם הָרָעִים, וְיִשְׁתּוּ הַתַּלְמִידִים הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיכֶם וְיָמוּתוּ, וְנִמְצָא שֵׁם שָׁמַיִם מִתְחַלֵּל.

I am a typical Torah-minded baal-habos. I barely read magazines or other publications. I only pay actual money for two publications: Mishpacha Magazine at the behest of my eishes chayil, and Zman Magazine at the behest of my kids. The Zman Magazine I almost never look at, but Mishpacha Magazine usually gets a 15 min to half hour going over.

I read like most of us do – check out the columns and features that I usually like, ignore those that I don’t usually like, and as for the articles, just flip through the pages to see what catches my attention. Oh, and skip all the ads. Usually.

Well, in a somewhat recent issue (Issue 574 Aug. 26, 2015), something indeed caught my eye that was not a column, feature, or article. It was a three page ad on pages 53-55, just beyond the midpoint staples. All three pages were full of names and signatures. Nothing too remarkable by itself. But it wasn’t by itself.  It was under two paragraphs of text which was itself under the banner headline:

So, I thought, if it is an “Important Announcement” (and warrants three pages) I suppose I should read this “Important Announcement”. So I did. I did not like what I read.

Then I wondered, what kind of person would affix their name to this “Important Announcement”? So, I looked over the list of names. I did not like what I read.

Then I wondered who is sponsoring this “Important Announcement”? So I glanced at the bottom of the page. There was almost nothing there to read. Only an email address for additional rabbanim and a fax number with a Lakewood area code "for more information". I sent an email to the printed email address requesting more information. I did not present my self as a Rabbi (I am not a Rabbi). I received a reply that they do indeed need more money to place more ads but no additional information.
This ad was signed by approximately 107 prominent Rabbanim from numerous American communities. (Curiously, every single signature was in English.) I am familiar with many of the names on the list. Some I know personally, such as those from my pre-Aliya community and some wayback Yeshiva acquaintances. A few are well known Roshei Yeshiva. Others are names that I have heard here and there along life’s yellowbrick road. A few are real heavyweights. And, of course, two Rabbanim in California are cousins to my wife.
So I got some kind of impression by noting the names of those who signed it – and I got another kind of impression by noting the names of countless other Rabbanim that I know or have heard of…who didn’t sign it (including the Rav in California who is a cousin from my side). As an example, the 732 area code of the printed fax number indicates some kind of base in Lakewood. Yet, only two Rabbanim from all of Lakewood Ir Hakodesh signed the Kol Koreh. And these two are not local heavyweights. This augmented my wonderment about those who agreed to sign it even more.

So, I called up one of the signatories on the list. An old Yeshiva chum of mine and spoke with him. He was able to reassure me that the signatories were not as outlandish as I feared and made me feel a little better about the whole thing. Still, I can’t imagine that I would ever sign such a document even (or, especially) if I had semicha and ran a shul or yeshiva.
What bothers me?

A number of things struck me. I was  a bit disturbed at the relative anonymity of the sponsors of the notice. But chiefly, what struck me was the crudeness of the letter, how indiscriminate it is, how it caters to a prevalent presumption of guilt and how it misrepresents Halacha.

Let’s look at the text of the Kol Koreh (main text in green and I will colorize the trouble clauses):

Over 100 Rabonim Urge Communities: Report Child Abuse to Civil Authorities

We, the undersigned, affirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information. These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter. Furthermore, those deemed "mandated reporters" under secular law must obey their State's reporting requirements.

Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah's statement in Leviticus 19:16, "Do not stand by while your neighbor's blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others. In conclusion, every individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse has a Torah obligation to promptly notify the proper civil authorities.

In a nutshell, approximately 107 Rabbanim are telling us – that is, “any individual” – that if you so much as “suspect” any degree of “child abuse” whatsoever, even without any “firsthand knowledge”, the Torah obligates you to go be moser to the police without any compunctions whatsoever. Don’t bother asking any shaylos. It’s a Torah mitzvah! And what’s the mitzvah?

לא תעמוד על דם רעיך

It doesn’t matter how closely or loosely you are connected to the parties involved. No need to verify if the “suspect” is truly guilty. No need to distinguish what "class" of abuse we are dealing with. And, likewise, no need to be discriminate if this degree of “abuse” (which you merely suspect – with reason, of course) qualifies as rodef achar haervah or not. No need to confront or forewarn (hatraah) the suspect. No need to consider any other less severe and possibly more effective course of action. No Siree! Just turn him right over to “law enforcement” for prosecution (oops, I mean "investigation") in the non-Jewish penal system because “These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter”. We can depend on these goyim to do the right thing!

Open season. Report first and ask questions later (if at all). איש כל הישר בעיניו יעשה!   Endorsed (in English) by over 100 American Rabbinic community leaders!  Oh, and the mitzvah of  לא תעמוד על דם רעיך  has now been officially upgraded to a matir issurim (a tremendous chiddush endorsed by 107 Rabbanim).

Is this really going to make our communities a better place?
I don’t really want to clash with over 100 musmachim (I am not a musmach) including superiors, friends and relatives. Let me be 100% clear that I fully acknowledge that, when it is absolutely necessary, the option to call in intervention from secular law enforcement can be exercised. I wrote it in my post in 2008 and I wrote it in my post in 2009 and repeated it throughout the previous six posts that I have posted here. There are significant teshuvos to this effect.

Hence, if the Kol Koreh was a responsible set of guidelines, there would be no need to protest it. But this indiscriminate text goes way beyond these boundaries. And when boundaries are crossed, bad things happen.
  כיון שניתן רשות למשחית להשחית, אינו מבחין בין צדיק לרשע.   

Now, I did call one the signatories and we had a little schmooze. He initially told me what I wanted to hear: He and many other signatories had issues with the looseness of the language of the statement and were reluctant to sign it as written. In fact, several of his colleagues refused to sign it for this very reason.

But then he told me what I didn’t want to hear: He was urged to sign it “as is” by some of the senior Rabbanim, including one Torah sage who did not sign it himself, and he, as being in a more junior position, could not refuse their entreaties. At a different point I asked him if he felt pressured or compelled to sign it, meaning – under any level of duress, and he said: Not at all. Despite that, at this point he intimated there was substantial “peer pressure” and he otherwise may not have signed it.

I asked him who is behind this entire project? I had assumed that if so many communities coast-to-coast were reached, it must have been spearheaded by a sizable organization. He told me, to my surprise, that this is basically due to the efforts of a single devoted individual.

It truly scares me to discover that a single person could exert enough influence to get over 100 community Rabbanim to sign a Kol Koreh with such indiscriminate, ambiguous, and consequently, hazardous language.

Getting more to the point, I asked my Rabbinic friend the key question: What is the purpose of this Kol Koreh? What is its objective?

He told me a number of things:
  • The Rabbanim have been receiving a lot of criticism for being too lenient with predators.
  • Victims or parents of victims are regularly discouraged from reporting the predators because it’s “lashon hara” or “mesira”.
  • Too many predators are just getting away scot-free because they do not fear being turned over to the police.
  • Apparently, these Rabbanim felt that if there were to be a united voice throughout the country that sanctions reporting predators to the police, these people will be more motivated to curb their activities and possibly to voluntarily apply for rehabilitation.

This is all very commendable. Yet, one question still stood out: Couldn’t we accomplish all this with a statement that reflects the Halachic complexity (and limits) of this issue instead of an indiscriminate, loosely worded text that is asking to be misused by the trigger-happy masses?

He did not offer to me a satisfactory answer to this question. He did say that this Kol Koreh is not intended for irresponsible people – i.e., those I called the “trigger-happy masses”. It is for level headed people who want to do the right thing and are reluctant or feel they are being stonewalled by the Rabbinic establishment.

He went on to say that the current situation is as hefker as the Wild West. Though he acknowledges the flaws in the language of the Kol Koreh, if it prevents one person from being molested, it would justify the Kol Koreh. Then he said that he was told that there have already been dividends; in one community a suspected child molester voluntarily turned himself into the Rav for rehabilitation on account of this Kol Koreh.

As he told me this I wondered: If there were any negative dividends, such as if somebody, on account of this Kol Koreh, was turned over to “law enforcement” when it was not really warranted (perhaps this Kol Koreh negates such a possibility since it states unequivocally that it is always warranted – even a Torah obligation) or if a case that could have been handled quietly and did not need public exposure received an inordinate amount of public exposure thus causing an unnecessary chillul Hashem on account of this Kol Koreh, would he be told about it as well?

In any case, this basically sums up the highlights of our conversation. He did not explain to me why it is not mesira or lashon hara – though, in fairness, I did not ask him to. I did learn the following:

  • He (and presumably some of the others) are fully aware of the flaws and potential pitfalls in the document but agreed (or felt compelled) to sign it anyway.
  • One reason for this Kol Koreh is a window dressing for the Rabbinic community to counter the shouts of complacency. כי יראתי את העם !

  • Because the situation is reminiscent of the Wild West, the proper response is to just form a posse and head ‘em off at the pass. As of now, the “responsible” level headed people are being urged to behave like the “trigger-happy masses” with the blessings of 107 Rabbanim (plus Harav Dovid Cohen, Shlita).
  • Oh, and about Lo Taamod, I gather that not one of the 107 Rabbanim looked up the gemara in Sanhedrin 73a before they signed it.

This friend is not the only person I spoke to (or, more accurately, listened to). I also heard a 13:52 minute interview with Harav Dovid Cohen. There were some things he said that I could agree with (like this Kol Koreh is totally unnecessary) but some things I found shocking. Primarily the contradiction between what he said at 1:23 to what he said at 7:28. Likewise, I read a statement from Harav Yechiel Perr which I found to be incomprehensible. I cannot elaborate on these in this post.

I understand that I have not been specific about the issues with the Kol Koreh. I basically covered them all in the 3 paragraphs above that begin with “In a nutshell…” And if you have been following my previous six posts, the issues should be self-explanatory. Perhaps I will elaborate in future posts.

The alarming thing is that the problem with the Kol Koreh is not with its basic message or intent. If somebody is proven to be an incorrigible child molester, let's get rid of him. It’s the broad brush it was painted with along with the anonymity of the sponsorship. The same Kol Koreh with the same basic intent could have been written properly and more openly and, thus, secure the dividends without the pitfalls; without misusing Halachic instruments for a seemingly virtuous cause. (And perhaps it would have merited many more signatures.)

But it wasn’t. And this spells out an agenda. And, just as with the Patriot Act where constitutional rights are trampled upon because that’s the way we get bad guys, but then they are no longer upheld for the general population; so too, when Halachic restrictions can be trampled upon for the purpose of routing out bad guys, then they can be trampled on in any situation – with you and me on the short end.

This is the Genie of Ochel Nefeshמתוך שהותרה, הותרה.

מתוך שהותרה כשברור שהוא רודף שא"א להצילו בדבר אחר, הותרה כשלא ברור ולא רודף

Mitoch she’hutra mesira as a last resort, hutra mesira as a first resort!

107 (108?) Rabbanim are supporting it as written! This is scary. The Genie has come to the chareidi community. And he will not go back into his bottle.

 I can tell you three Rabbanim who would never sign this Kol Koreh:

  • Rambam (Hilch. Rotzeach 1:7)

  • Chafetz Chaim (Shmiras Halashon 10:2)

  • Harav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L (Igros Moshe Ch”M 1:8)

But they are all in Olam HaEmes.

חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין

אַבְטַלְיוֹן אוֹמֵר: חֲכָמִים, הִזָּהֲרוּ בְּדִבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁמָּא תָּחוּבוּ חוֹבַת גָּלוּת וְתִגְלוּ לִמְקוֹם מַיִם הָרָעִים, וְיִשְׁתּוּ הַתַּלְמִידִים הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיכֶם וְיָמוּתוּ, וְנִמְצָא שֵׁם שָׁמַיִם מִתְחַלֵּל.