The Midwest Agudas Yisroel Council of Synagogue Rabbonim held its annual conference last week at the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumburg, Illinois. More than 40 Rabbonim from 16 different cities participated in the conference. For the first time, this year’s conference also featured a special track for Rebbitzens.
The theme of the conference was, “The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: How to Help Individuals and Communities Avoid Conflict (and What to Do if They Do Not Succeed).” Speaking on this theme, noted author and lecturer Dr. David Lieberman provided illuminating insights into human nature to help understand the roots of conflict and how to better prevent it. He then led an animated discussion as the Rabbonim shared their experiences in this arena.
Rabbi Doniel Neustadt, Yoshev Rosh of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis in Detroit (COR) and Mora D’asra of Congregation Bnei Israel, shared several piskei halacha on situations of potential conflict; between baalei teshuva and their families, between spouses, and within a community. He emphasized that although the simplest tip to avoid conflict is to “Be a Mentsch”, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of certain halachic principles in order to know how to navigate through potentially difficult situations.
A unique privilege for this year’s attendees was the participation of Rabbi Nota Greenblatt, world renowned posek and Rosh Hayeshiva of the recently founded Yeshiva of Memphis. Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt, a nephew of Rav Nota and Mora D’asra of the Agudah of St. Louis, pointed out in his introduction to his uncle’s sessions that Rav Nota may be the oldest person in history to start a new Yeshiva. This distinction should be a chizuk to all of us and a reminder that it’s never too late in life to start an important undertaking. Rav Nota has a very rich personal history and was a talmid and acquaintance with many of the gedolim of the previous generation. Most notably, he was a very close talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l, as well as a talmid of the Brisker Rav.
In a session that was officially scheduled to be a little over an hour, Rav Nota held the Rabbonim fascinated, and they kept him on the podium for nearly two and a half hours. He spoke about his unique relationships with these gedolim as well as many of his personal experiences. He emphasized that no movement or organization will ever have long term success without the leadership of the gedolim, and he brought several case studies to prove this yesod. He also stressed that a true gadol is far more than a great talmid chacham, he is someone that has wisdom, concern for others, and has fully developed his middos. In his own words, “In order to have ‘Daas Torah’, one needs to have ‘Daas Hashem’.”
A major highlight of the conference was a visit by Harav Avraham Chaim Levine, Rosh Hayeshiva, Telshe-Chicago; member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and Yoshev Rosh of the Midwest Council. Despite his recent health difficulties, the Rosh Hayeshiva was moser nefesh to come greet and give chizuk to the Rabbonim. In response to recent current events, the Rosh Hayeshiva spoke about the unique role and mission of Klal Yisroel, and that they always need to act in accordance with their unique standing despite the actions and the views of the world around them.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, reported on the recent Supreme Court Decision redefining marriage, and shared many of the political and legal challenges that these decisions may pose in the future for the frum community. In his introductory remarks, Rabbi Labish Becker, Executive Director of Agudath Israel of America, shared very positive words. He pointed out that despite all the challenges that we have faced as a nation, we have always been able draw the inner strength to prevail and maintain our values, and that in our generation we can count on this trend to continue, B’ezras Hashem.
Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Dayan of Agudath Israel of Illinois and Senior Advisor of the Midwest Council, gave a penetrating iyun shiur on the topic of using DNA analysis in halacha. The Dayan shared the practical applications of this research in criminal investigations, in the release of Agunos, in determining yichus, and in the laws of yerusha. Finally, Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Rabbinic Administrator for CRC Kosher, made a very practical presentation on how shuls can better develop, implement and communicate their kashrus policies.
The Rebbitzens, in the addition to the sessions where they joined the Rabbonim, also heard from Rabbi Fuerst, Dr. Lieberman, and Mrs. Craindell Mannes, Assistant Principal of the Bais Yaakov High School of Chicago. The Rebbetzins commented that it was very beneficial to hear presentations that catered specifically to their role as the First Ladies of their kehillos and it was a great opportunity for them to connect and discuss issues with others that share similar life experiences.
Overall, the conference was a tremendous success. The schedule ran smoothly, the sessions were practical, timely and very well presented, and the discussions were lively and productive. That being said, more important than the success of each part of the conference, was the overall positive energy felt by the end of the conference. The camaraderie, mutual respect, and a sense of a unified mission that the Rabbonim shared, are the real goals of the Midwest Agudas Yisroel Council of Agudas Yisroel Rabbonim. After all, the more that Rabbonim and Kehillos can work together as one unit, the more that can be accomplished on behalf of individuals and Jewish communities across the globe.