Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rav Shach - Dialectics and understanding Gedolim

Shloime just posted a long list of harsh comments by Rav Shach - "to let him speak for himself" So let me present some counter balancing stories. which create a more 3 dimensional understanding. In essence I will take the approach presented by Anonymous [I would really like some more creativity expressed - why does everyone chose the moniker "anonymous"?]. A leader is not the simple sum of a sample of stories told about him.

1) My son learned in Ponevich in Rav Schach's time and related the following story which circulated the Yeshiva when Rav Shach was niftar.

Rav Shach once asked a close friend of his to promise to attend his funeral. When the astonished friend questioned the necessity of such a strange promise, Rav Shach replied, "As a leader I know I have made many enemies over the years. I am afraid that there will not be a minyan at my levaya."

This is intimately connected with another story.

2) When the news of Rav Shach's petira broke, there was a massive movement of hundred's of thousands of Jews to Bnei Brak. The buses leaving Har Nof were packed. While I was standing by the bus stop wondering how to get to Bnei Berak a car pulled up and offered me a ride. I did a double take when I saw who the driver was. An acquaintance who is the most dyed in the wool fanatic religious Zionist I have ever met. As I gratefully settled in my seat, I asked him why he was going to honor a man who was such a strong opponent for everything he stood for. He replied, "I have much reason to be upset with Rav Shach - both in terms of what he said and what he did to us. But there was no question that G-d chose him to be one of the major Torah leaders of our generation. How can I not show kavod to him by going to his levayah."

3) Regarding his attitude to secular learning. As is well know there is a unique institution guided by Rav Zev Leff - Maarava - in which an elite student body learn both Torah secular studies on a very high level. Something which is obviously not done in the chareidi world. It is also well known that Rav Shach periodically denounced the school in very strong terms. As those who know Rav Leff will attest, he is a very loyal member of the chareidi establishment. Before he accepted the position at Maarava, he of course had consulted with Daas Torah i.e., Rav Shach as to whether to accept the job. When he heard Rav Shach's strong denunciations and read the many wall posters attacking the school - he hurried to consult with Rav Shach. Rav Shach replied, "I already told you that you should take the job with the school. Just as it is your obligation to provide guidance for the school it is my obligation to denounce it so that the cream of our yeshivos understand it is not a l'chatchila choice for them. But for those who need such a school it is important that you guide it."

4) The Bostoner Rebbe told me the following when I was trying to find a school in Yerushalayim for my kids that was comparable to Chaim Berlin where they had learned. He said, "It is obvious that Americans need a different type of education than Israelis and it is obvious that many American's don't make aliyah or go back to America because their kids don't fit it the Israeli yeshiva system. I once went to Rav Shach to explain to him the need for a different yeshiva for Americans. When I presented my views he told me, 'If you American's don't like the way we run things here go back to America.' "

At the time I thought it was incredibly insensitive. However as I have gotten older, I realize that not every problem is to be approached with American rachamim - sometimes Israeli din is needed also. American's fail because they are overly sensitive about somebody saying boo at them or saying, " I don't like you." If they want to live and thrive in Israel they need to be as tough as the natives.

5) This was once expressed to me very bluntly by Rabbi Eliyahu Essas - one of the heroes of the Russian refusenik era. I mentioned to him that I had a set of mishnayos translated into Russian -my grandmother got it as an engagement present. I told him perhaps he would be interested in reprinting it to aid the Russian baalei teshuva. He replied with an irritated tone. You Americans are always looking for the easy way to do things. Russians know that the only way to be a scholar is to master Hebrew and learn the original. American's rely too much on crutches and don't learn to walk on their own."

6) One final story. Rabbi Steinzaltz is one of the modern heroes of the Jewish people. But he has no mesora i.e., he never was part of a yeshiva. [The Chofetz Chaim had a similar criticism of the Meshech Chochma]. There are many Russian Jews whose tie to Yiddishkeit was almost entirely through the Steinzaltz gemora. There are many baalei teshuva who first learned gemora with the Steinzaltz. Over time his influence and accomplishments increased mightily. He was even described as the "Rashi of Our Era" by Time magazine. Nobody criticised him until he acquired superstar status. It was when people starting describe him a gadol - as someone to guide and make the meta decision for the Jewish people that he was attacked. [Similar to R' Slifkin] He produced a book describing how our Biblical ancestors were human beings with psychological issues and typical petty motivation. It was then that Rav Shach attacked.

Hopefully this answers Shloime's question - if not - perhaps it will be enlightening to another reader of this blog.


  1. It is important to realize that when a person becomes a leader, he must set aside his natural instincts and do what is best for his followers. A general may be a kind, gentle and loving father but in the war room he has to show cold, analytical logic without emotion. His responsibility as a leader demand it.
    Thus Rav Schach could be both types of men described, one in his role as a personal guide and friend, and one in his role as a political leader.
    Did he make enemies? Of course he did. He took stands and held fast to them, something rare in politics. That would earn anyone's enmity but that doesn't mean he was a bad person.
    I think the example of the Tzioni who went to his funeral says it best: one can disagree but still respect one's opponent. Unfortunately that takes a maturity only too rarely found nowadays.

  2. I once heard a pirush said over from the Satmar Rav on the pasuk in Koheles:
    כי אדם אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה־טוב ולא יחטא׃
    "For there is not a righteous man in the land who does good and does not sin."

    Even though Chazal tell us that there were a few individuals who never sinned, nevertheless, thoses individuals are not the greatest figures in Tanach. The Avos, Moshe and Aharon, David and Shlomo, are not on the list.

    The Satmar Rav explained that the pasuk says, "who does good and does not sin." To accomplish great things, to take a role as a great leader of the Jewish people, one by necessity exposes himself to greater spiritual risks.

    Thus an Amram can avoid sin, a Moshe Rabbeinu cannot; a Yishai can avoid sin, a Dovid HaMelech cannot.

  3. If Maarava was good for as certain clientele why is it right to criticize it so harshly and fully on the basis of it is not being for the masses. That's like condemning chemotherapy because it is bad for most people. Why can't one just be honest and open, and educate the masses that different venues are accepted for different people with different needs. (It seems to me this is a major flaw of Israeli society as a whole. Everyone must fit in exactly with norm - which is no good for anyone!)

  4. Who said Israeli "Din" is better or accomplishes more than American "Rachamim". Don't we say "Chanoch L'Naar Al Pi Darko"?!?

  5. Rabbi Eidensohn,
    I am sufficiently stunned by your, shall we say, 'dialectics and explanations', that I am typing this very, very, s l o w l y . I had the temerity to post some of R' Shach's letters in an attempt to make clear what his position was. Surely there is no better way than to quote, not (even) from his speeches, but from his writings - verbatim. Of course what I posted was barely 'efess kotzehu' of his similar (and harsher) statements. You respond with some 'stories' designed to, presumably, put a nice face on some very not-nice statements. As a researcher or academic, you surely realize the absurdity of this approach. I ask you, PLEASE address the issue head-on, please go to substance. Were these comments acceptable or not ?! Are we to c"v believe that R'Yoshe-ber Soleveitchik and Rav Steinsaltz were actually heretics- because that is what R' Shach wrote. Or are these stories merely an attempt to obfuscate and obscure the issue. Please remember that a charge of heresy is among the most serious that can be brought against a Jew, and that the freestyle branding of other Jews as r"l, 'heretics' by Rav Shach is not easily dismissed by a few nice stories. Serious issues demand a serious response. I beg of you again- please go to substance.
    As to your cheap shot at R'Steinsaltz 'not being part of a yeshivah', what does that prove - neither was the Chazon Ish (or many other gedolim). And whence taketh a rosh-yeshiva in the twentieth century the gall to declare who can and cannot do teshuva ?
    I thank you in advance for actually addressing these issues face-on,

  6. i'm sorry but i don't beleive the story that the Chafetz chaim zt"l said about the meshech chochma that being that he learnt in no yeshiva he has no mesora etc.
    in which yeshiva did the Chafetz Chaim learn?
    in those days it was before the political das torah (which is placed into holy words like "mesora") was formed.
    they used to respect anyone who was a true gadol in torah unlike today that a person like R' Zalmen Nechemia Goldberg Shlit"a isn't one of the gedolim just because he isn't from the followers of the litvishe propegana of today.
    or R' Dov Landau Shlit"a (RY Slabodka one of the bigest Lomdim of this generation) who just because he wrote against R' Shach isn't bichlal a known gadol today or R' chaim Greinaman etc.

  7. Shlomie,

    Why don't you explain, head on, how the Rebbe can suggest that someone greater than him was a messenger of the samach mem, or that all bnei torah who were aghast at his position are messnegers of the same. Please also explain his motzi shem rah on someone greater than him concerning that person's tefllin.

    Head on, please. After all these are direct quotes.

  8. It's quite simple, 'anonymous'!
    The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in his typical attempts to be melamed-zechus on every Jew, obviously wondered how R' Shach could possibly spew so much hate against fellow-Jews. The explanation, according to the rebbe, was that his tefillin must be possul. Note that he didn't call him a 'heretic', didn't forbid his shechita or wine, didn't say he could never c"v do teshuva - all he said was that his tefillin must be possul. And this is what has you in a tizzy....wow !!
    When you provide an actual quote or reference for what else is bothering you, I'll try and address that. Remember, no lies please - only verifiable quotes - we're not in Chelm anymore...
    Now, back to those bothersome (printed)diatribes of R' Shach, who you seem to have decided was such a godol he's beyond reproach ?

  9. I was once discussing a case with Rav Shach which involved extending help to someone I knew, and Rav Shach told me:

    "Are you looking to provide me with Mitzvos?"

    -Hakdama to Yegias Erev, Nazir

  10. Shloime, what limud zechus is there in implying that he didn't have his tefillin checked for decades?

  11. Where would you draw such an implication from ? The fact is that very often, especially with regard to subtleties, many sofrim/bodkim will miss something. An interesting case in point: My (one-time) chavrussa's first child was, r"l,stillborn. Then came r"l a miscarriage, then another... As a lub. chossid, he kept writing to the rebbe, who repeatedly answered "bedikas hatefillin". And every sofer who checked his tefillin said they were fine. Finally he asked his rosh hakollel, Rav Heller, who referred him to another sofer, and told him to check the tagim. Sure enough, it turned out that on all the 'tagei lamed', the left was taller than the right. (I won't diverge into hilchos sta"m here, but those familiar will appreciate the implications.*) He had them corrected, and went on to B"H have six healthy children. So nobody ever implied that RS' tfillin 'weren't checked for decades'.

    *For those interested, see SA HaRav o"c 36:2, beis yossef 36, quoting the Ri Askandrani, the d"m citing the boruch-sheomar, and the chassam sofer in lishkas hasofer explaining the same thing.

  12. Funny how nobody ever managed to address Shloime's points here - obviosly he hit the nail on the head.
    Rav Shachs legacy continues to speak for itself, and much louder than any apologists....


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.