By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
In an ideal world, we would only publish articles praising other Jews and focusing on the positive developments in the Torah world. We don’t enjoy arguing with other Jews or writing negatively about them.
However, we have a responsibility to our readers and to the visionaries who established this newspaper, and the voices of Torah media through the ages, to warn people about the danger represented by the likes of Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, and the people who work for them.
Close to home, the call for a progressive, user-friendly, liberal Orthodoxy is heard. It is lonely to be the only ones pointing out the sad fact that the particular brand of Judaism they are selling has very little to do with Orthodoxy. We wonder when Orthodox Jewry will finally proclaim, once and for all, that these “innovators,” who profess fidelity to halacha, are no different than Moses Mendelsohn, Abraham Geiger, Solomon Schechter, Saul Lieberman, and others, who claimed to be all for halacha and mesorah but simply wished to tweak and modernize them.
No one wants to be a prophet of doom. Everyone wants to be liked, shake hands, and slap shoulders all around, but those who claim to love truth have a responsibility to stand for it. We wonder about the silence of organizations who claim to speak for us, and question the silence of groups formed to take a forceful stand on matters vital to safeguarding Orthodoxy in communities across this country. It isn’t easy to take a stand, but if they wish to be seen as relevant, they must.
Recently, a musmach of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah wrote what can only be referred to as outright divrei kefirah, crossing a red line by anyone’s account. Instead of disowning him, the school’s leadership slammed the Yated. That’s right. The school’s president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, and its dean, Rabbi Dov Linzer, wrote that their “Modern and Open Orthodox yeshiva… [teaches] our Torah in a way which allows our talmidim to speak freely and openly, without fear, as they seek to grasp in their own ways the very basic theological foundations of Judaism… Our talmidim are thriving in our open, non-judgmental approach, to be the future rabbanim who will carry on our tradition.”
You see, dear readers, in our yeshivos, the talmidim aren’t permitted to speak openly and freely, according to Rabbis Lopatin and Linzer. They are afraid to express their thoughts and aren’t permitted to ask and question as they try to understand the ikrei emunah. We are backward, according to these rabbis. They are advanced. They are modern. Their talmidim are all sweet and loving, non-judgmental and open. Everything is good and everyone is good.
This coming week, Elul zeman will get underway in hundreds of yeshivos around the world. Bochurim will flock to their institutions with their Gemaros and blank notebooks, taking their places in the bais medrash. They will be attending yeshivos for metzuyonim and yeshivos for struggling talmidim, and those for students in between, but they all have one thing in common. Walk in to any bais medrash in the middle of seder and listen to the song. You will hear voices rising and falling. You will be exposed to passionate arguments, energetic give-and-takes, proofs and questions, all with genuine excitement as lomdei Torah debate the finer points of a sugya.
I feel sorry for those who don’t get to feel the cadences of ameilus baTorah and witness the intense drive for the truth. Go and see our heilige yeshivos, the pride and joy of our nation. You will find people attaching themselves to the eitz chaim, ignoring every other pursuit and focusing only on the one that brings them closer to the Creator.
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, “Ram and head of the Talmud Department of YCT,” defends the YCT graduate. “For several years now,” he writes, “the Chareidi newspaper Yated Ne’eman has attacked our yeshivah, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, on average once every couple of months… The common denominator in these attacks is the shared format: after a brief, often skewed review of some recent activity by one of our Rebbeim or graduates, we are inevitably tagged with some synonym for apikores: heretics, Reformers, neo-Reformers, etc.”
And then he gets cute.
“Like R. Akiva in the story told in Makot (24B),” he relates, “I find myself reacting differently than my colleagues and students. While many of them are disturbed and hurt by these critiques, I find myself smiling and feeling reassured. If we are being critiqued so harshly and so often, it is a sign that we are doing something important and having an impact.”
He is reassured when he is attacked, because it makes him feel that he is doing something important. He is about as important as the shualim who were defiling the Bais Hamikdosh. Rabi Akiva wasn’t happy to see the holiest place in the world in a state of ruin. He was horrified by it, but unlike his contemporaries, he saw in the churban the fulfillment of a prophecy and thus comforted himself with the knowledge that just as the prophecy of doom was realized, so would the prophecy of rebuilding come to pass.
Rabbi Katz claims to be qualified to take solace in the Yated‘s attacks, because, as he says, “I do have first-hand experience with the average Yated reader. (I grew up in Williamsburg and studied in Satmar and Brisk Yeshivot.)”
And there’s more: “Their community, in Israel and abroad, is having serious difficulties, trying to stem the high level of attrition they are currently experiencing. A significant number of those who leave that community do so because they are confronted with serious questions and debilitating doubts about Judaism. Ideological confusion is a universal – across the denominations – crisis.”
I don’t know if he’s referring to the Yated community, Satmar or Brisk, nor do I care.
There are problems, to be sure, and we’ve never shied away from addressing them. Truth be told, I am proud to have learned and grown in Yeshivas Brisk, as have my sons, and neither I nor they are aware of anyone from that great yeshiva who fell away, but that’s beside the point.
I’m not sure if his insinuation that YCT is the solution to our problem is delusional or simply arrogant. It’s about as false as his statement that “YCT is a yeshiva like any other yeshiva. Like any other serious semicha programs,” he says, “we too teach punctiliousness in Jewish law, optimal observance of Mitzvot, and a commitment to learning Torah.”
We have been documenting the falsehoods of YCT ever since we began focusing on the dangers of that institution and the hypocrites who lead it.
There are battles and there are wars. Sometimes, the Torah community loses a battle and sustains defeat. Last week, in the Knesset, the haters made a mistake. When the bill to draft yeshiva bochurim passed its first vote in the Knesset, they mistook our bitter loss for evidence that they, with their anti-halacha campaign, were victorious. They didn’t realize that while they may have won a battle, they have not won the war, nor will they.
Their victory, another in a long string of wins stretching back to the election, took place last Monday. On Wednesday, the rabbi loved by the YCT crowd was rejected for the post of chief rabbi of Israel. The gedolei Torah, who perceived the dangerous intentions of those who so badly wanted Dovid Stav to be elected as chief rabbi of Israel, declared that we would not forfeit the election. In fact, we would stand and fight for what we believe in despite the likely chances of electoral defeat.
Rav Dovid Stav ran a full-fledged political campaign, with the assistance of the might and muscle of Naftali Bennett and all the related Mizrachi parties, in addition to Yair Lapid and his cronies. Millions of dollars were invested and the best public relations firms were hired by their campaign to seize the power of the rabbinate.
The Stav campaign invested in consultants, political professionals, public relations groups, media blitzes and everything else that goes into a political campaign, yet he fell short. He lost out to a ragtag bunch of chareidim, in a campaign engineered by Aryeh Deri.
Rav Dovid Lau and Rav Yitzchak Yosef were elected, respectively, to the positions of Ashkenazi and Sefardi chief rabbi. The only weapons in their arsenal were the influence of elderly rabbonim, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Ovadia Yosef, and the impact of Rav Yisrael Meir Lau. It was their perseverance when others had already given up that turned the tide and saved the rabbinic institution from falling into the hands of those who promised “a real revolution.”
One can only shudder at the thought of that revolution and what it might have spawned.
The new chief rabbis are both heirs to a legacy of ahavas Yisroel and appreciation of all Jews, and will no doubt endeavor to invest that office with distinction and prestige. We certainly hope that they will stand tall when it comes to matters of mesorah and halacha, defending traditional marriage and being firm regarding geirus. With their selection, a tragedy was averted.
Prior to the election, Rav Shteinman told one of his visitors to “tell Reb Dovid that I haven’t stopped davening for him.” Boruch Hashem, his tefillos were answered, and the glee of a media and public so eager to rejoice over the chareidi demise and loss of influence was cut short.
After passing their bill in the Knesset and succeeding in advancing their agenda on many fronts, those battling the chareidi world could hardly hide their merriment as the rabbinic election approached.
The chareidi community had sustained quite a blow. The status quo that had been in place for decades – the arrangement that had seen both military success and the flourishing of yeshivos – was abandoned by the progressive group currently in power.
The chareidi Knesset representatives were beleaguered, clearly drained from a long and persistent battle.
It’s a good thing that we don’t believe everything they say about us or accept their headlines and post-chareidi articles as fact. We do not view the pundits and commentators as possessing the final word. Despite their dire warnings, we don’t just slither away.
They proclaimed that the chareidim were done. Our representation and leadership had failed us once and for all, they declared, and the secular revolution was the new reality. The message was, “You had better get used to it, because this is the new way. You guys are the enemy and we won’t rest until we bring you to your knees.”
But victory and defeat are relative. It depends on what your goal is. If you are focused on the bottom line, then it’s absolute; either you get what you want or you lose. But if your battle is simply to ensure that Hashem’s will is being fulfilled, then even when it appears that you have lost, you accept that His will is different than you thought it is, and with humility you move on. It was decided that chareidim would mount a campaign for the rabbinate and what it represents, and Hashem blessed the effort.
Mr. Julius Klugmann zt”l, who passed away three months ago, was a role model of passionate askonus, a German-born American baal habayis whose thoughts and efforts were focused on kevod Shomayim. The unassuming Jew from Washington Heights earned the appreciation of gedolim, who perceived the purity of his intentions at each juncture.
After having undertaken a long and exhausting campaign for a particular cause, he felt defeated and dejected. To cheer him up, his rov, Rav Shimon Schwab, sent him a sefer as a gift. He inscribed it with words that Mr. Klugmann would often repeat: “To lose in a holy cause is to win, and to win in an unholy cause is to lose.”
This message of encouragement strengthened Mr. Klugmann when he was engaged in subsequent battles and campaigns.
The message represents a timeless truth that should drive those charged with representing the Torah community. Battling our enemies is not always easy or ever pleasant. Sometimes the victory is easier to perceive than at other times. In all instances, however, we are not the arbiters of victory. We do what we can to fight the good fight, following the dictate of the Torah of “Lo saguru mipnei ish,“ fearing not that the intelligentsia will mock us.
We forge on, because we know that our course is correct. Our path is well-trodden by the gedolim and askonim of this generation and preceding ones. There will be bumps along the way. We will witness campaigns that we appear to lose and some that we appear to win. We know that our goal remains the same: “Umalah ha’aretz dei’ah es Hashem.” Our sole objective is to prepare the world for better days and for Moshiach.
Following the Holocaust, very few people gave Torah and halachic Judaism any chance of survival. The realists compromised and eventually lost their way. Leaders such as the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov and the Ponovezher Rov in Eretz Yisroel, and Rav Aharon Kotler and the Satmar Rov in this country, brooked no compromise. They fought depression and apathy. They responded to those who claimed that all was lost. They hewed to an ancient creed and refused to make concessions.
They were mocked, vilified and given little chance of success. They had little money and virtually no influence over the broader community, yet they persevered. In Eretz Yisroel, their followers were beaten as they fought for religious rights. But they refused to accept defeat or to view every battle as a zero-sum game. They did their best and left the rest to Hashem, confident in His promise that “netzach Yisroel lo yishakeir.”
Each Shabbos, after reading the Torah, we lain the haftorah from the words of the Nevi’im. The haftorah is preceded and followed by brachos that are replete with references to the final redemption. We say, “Racheim al Tzion… Samecheinu Hashem Elokeinu b’Eliyohu Hanovi…” The Abudraham explains that this is because the Nevi’im provide succor to the nation by reminding us that better days are ahead and the arrival of Moshiach is imminent. Reading the words of the Nevi’im, we are encouraged by their hopeful tidings.
It is easy to be defeatist and convinced that the power of whoever is riding high that day will endure. It is easy to be swept up by the hype and persuaded that there is a new reality. But it is folly.
The Gemara teaches that hai alma, this world, is kevei hilula, like a wedding (Eiruvin 54a). The Chiddushei Harim explained this Gemara with a moshol. A simple peasant visited his friend in the big city. The first night, he fell asleep to the sound of joyous music coming from the building next door. The second night, the music was again very loud, but he fell asleep with a wide smile on his face, enjoying the revelry coming through the window.
On the third night, as the band struck up once again, the peasant asked his host what business the neighbor was in that he had reason to throw a party every night.
The host explained, “You don’t understand. No one lives next door. There is a wedding hall located there. Every night, someone else rents it out. Every night, someone else is getting married there.”
The Chiddushei Harim explained, “One night, there is one mechutan, riding high atop the chair and carried aloft on people’s shoulders, his face aglow. The next night, he is back to being the simple farmer he was the day before. Such is the way of the world. There are people who have their turn sitting on top of the world, but it is fleeting. When their minutes of fame and glory are up, they revert to being whatever they were prior to the momentary flash.”
The Torah world in Eretz Yisroel appears to be in dire straits and at the mercy of a governing coalition of cynical, lustful, arrogant, power-hungry men. It won’t last forever. As Prime Minister Netanyahu releases 104 murderous terrorists, guilty of the worst possible crimes, to placate his American masters, one wonders how long the right wing will sit silent. Now it is their time, but know that the power is fleeting ketzeil oveir, like a passing shadow.
An oveid Hashem forges on, not focusing on always getting his way, but rather on doing what is right. That means not giving up when the sun doesn’t shine upon you. It means identifying chillul Hashem and pointing out for derision those who make a mockery of the Torah.
It means not being fickle and capricious. It means being true to the message of our gedolim. It means standing up for our yeshivos and the purity of our mesorah. And if it comes at a cost of being vilified by people who call for tolerance but show very little of it themselves, then so be it.
Especially during these weeks of the Shiva Dinechemta, we are reminded that good times will return. What is right and true will triumph. We look forward to that day as we do all we can to hasten its arrival.