Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chazon Ish: Shielded from knowledge of Holocaust?!

Rabbi Grylak (Mishpacha Magazine (Jan 21, 2013)) defends Chareidi exemption from the army because they are providing greater protection through their Torah learning. He tells the following unbelievable story to support his thesis.
As I write, I recall a story I heard from talmidim of the Chazon Ish some forty-five years ago, when I was collecting material for the biography Pe’er HaDor: the Chazon Ish was irate over the fact that, in order to spare him pain, his talmidim and family hid the facts from him about what was happening to the Jews of Europe under the Nazi reign of terror. When he learned the true extent of the disaster he blamed them for not informing him. His brother-in-law, Rav Shmuel Greineman, quotes him in his book on the Chafetz Chaim as saying that had he known, “Men nit gelozt” (We wouldn’t have let it happen).

What exactly the Chazon Ish meant by this remark, I cannot presume to say. But at the least, it indicates the strength of the Jewish belief in what Torah study can effect in this world.

Note the following assertions 1) Chazon Ish did not know what was happening in Europe during the Holocaust. 2) He didn't know because he was shielded from information which was common knowledge by his family and students 3) Furthermore he was upset when he found out the truth - not because he was shielded - but because he apparently could have stopped the Holocaust had he been aware of it!

This is shows the power of Torah learning!?


  1. Rabbi Grylak from Mishpacha magazine wrote Pear Hador? I thought it was someone else.
    It is impossible to believe that the Chazon Ish did not know what was going on in Europe once it became public knowlege.

  2. Rationalist SuperJewJanuary 31, 2013 at 1:48 AM

    Guess the practice of askanim controlling the information available to the gedolim was part of our mesorah

  3. Is the Rav greinemen he quotes alive? He's got to be asked.

    Sure sounds like a tall tale, but hey, you never know. Let him name "names" of "talmidim".

  4. "This is shows the power of Torah learning!?"

    this shows the idiocy of some authors.

  5. 1) The European holocaust was not widely known until towards the end of the war.
    2) Some people may have been more aware of what was happening than the general population, and perhaps they didn't share their knowledge with the CI.
    3) The CI seems to be saying had be been more aware, he would have davened harder to help alleviate the situation.

  6. If you take the story at face value what does it say about the Torah learning of (among others) R. Chaim Ozer, The D'var Avraham, the Brisker Rav, Rav Shach, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, R. Aron Kotlar, R. Menachem Ziemba, R. Teichtal, the rebbes of Satmar, Belz, Ger, Kloisenberg and all the other great Rabbonim who were certainly aware of the Holocaust because they were in it? And all the Rabbonim and lay people in the US and Palestine who worked to get Jews out. It would be a monstrous slander.

    Moreover, since the Chazon Ish, as is well known, offered his views on how those who sought refuge in the Far East should fast on Yom Kippur, it cannot be said that the Chazon Ish was unaware of the Holocaust, even if he did not know the full extent of the tragedy.

  7. Rav Eidensohn, what is your take on the prevalent hashkafic view that full-time Torah learning at the expense of taxpayers (and army enrollment) is justified because it provides greater protection than working or serving in the army? I often see it cited as "basic hashkafa" but isn't this view quite new, and doesn't it contradict the requirements in Jewish law to teach one's son a trade, not to be a burden on the community, etc.? How can Torah learning be protective if it is done by (apparently) transgressing? Is it really enough that the gedolim have approved of open-ended kollel for the masses?

    1. Ramban (Job 36:7):He doesn’t withdraw His eyes from the righteous. … Because most of the world is intermediary between the totally righteous and the totally wicked, the Torah commanded that soldiers be utilized for defense and that a priest be anointed for war. This priest is to reject soldiers who are afraid and would therefore undermine the courage of the others. We also find in the Torah and Prophets that battles were conducted on the basis of careful battle tactics. For example Dovid asked G d about the battle and he was told: Do not go up. Rather you should circle around behind them … And draw them to Mt Tabor and take ten thousand men with you. If they really had been meritorious they could have gone out to battle with a few people and been victorious without any weapons. If they had deserved defeat than no amount of soldiers would have helped. In this case they had to fight the battle in a totally natural way. This matter is explained well by the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:18 and 3:50).

      Ramban (Bamidbar 13:2): When the Jewish people requested that spies be sent out to know the roads to the cities in the normal manner of military conquest and that they obtain information as to which city to attack first and which side to start the attack - all this was totally appropriate to do. In fact we see that Moshe himself sent out spies later (Bamidbar 21:32) and Yehoshua did also (Yehoshua 2:1). Thus this request was received favorably by Moshe since one is not to rely on miracles but when engaged in warfare it is necessary to carefully plan strategies and tactics. We see this also in the conquest of the city of Ai in which G d Himself commanded that the conquest be done by ambush. We see this in many places. Therefore Moshe consulted with G d concerning the spies and was given permission to send them to obtain information on how to proceed with the conquest.

      Rambam (Letter on Astrology). The reason that we lost our kingdom and the Temple was destroyed and we arrived at our present condition is the result of our ancestors sinning. This is because they found many astrology books which are essentially avoda zara…and they thought they were magnificent science which would be very helpful. Consequently they did not study warfare and military strategies but thought that astrology alone would save them. That is why the prophets described them as fools and idiots…

    2. Thanks for the sources. Here's another one, a selection from Sefer HaBris by Rav Pinchas Horowitz of Vilna:

      And behold, what I have determined to be correct: For any person who desires to be scrupulous in establishing as a cornerstone and basis for all G-d’s commandments that he wishes to fulfill, that they be fulfilled purely for the sake of His great Name, it would be advisable that such a person have a trade with which he can support himself through his own efforts, and thus he will not need to rely on others, nor sustain himself from sustenance received from others. The result would then be that all that he does in terms of the commandments of G-d, he will do solely for the sake of His Name, and his performance of the commandments will not be adulterated with the hope of gaining from others – he will not attempt to appeal to others, neither will he flatter them, nor will he fear them.

      Also, such a person can be confident that he will not miss even a single day of his service of G-d, since his means of support is always at hand, and his sustenance is available in his dwelling and his own city. He will not lie down at night without having eaten, because a tradesman is never without sustenance, nor will he need to travel to faraway places in other lands to seek his sustenance. For when travelling, by necessity a person must be neglectful of the service of G-d, as is well known; there is no way to turn aside and focus on Torah and prayer with concentration when one is away from his place and has set out on the road.

      Thus for this reason, a person is obligated to teach his child a trade, to do some type of work with which he can support himself, as our holy sages of blessed memory and the wise men have said “Just as one is obligated to teach his son Torah, so too is he obligated to teach him a craft.”

      And as far as I am concerned, the current generation’s practice and custom, which is grounded in haughtiness, is evil; which is that most of the members of our nation do not want to teach a craft to their children, saying – with haughtiness and pride – “A trade is a great embarrassment to us.” Only involvement with business and sales, like shopkeepers, is honorable and becoming in their hearts. But ultimately, when they are unsuccessful in business due to bad luck – because there is a concept of luck among the Jewish people as I mentioned above — at that point they have no food, and transgress many sins, as the sages said “R’ Yehuda says: He who does not teach his son a trade, it is as though he has taught him the ways of robbery.” In other words, according to R’ Yehuda, even if he teaches him business – that is buying and selling goods - it is also as though he has taught him the ways of robbery. This is because sometimes he will not have any business to engage in, and he will then set himself up and engage in thievery – real work, making use of clever hands. Some of them engage in flattery of others and prostrate themselves for a cheap coin or loaf of bread; some openly steal and become thieves in the literal sense; some steal on the sly from Jews and non-Jews; some desecrate the Name of G-d amongst the gentiles due to the greatly disgusting acts in which they engage which damage the nations. This results in the gentiles saying “These are G-d’s people who have come out from his land; there is no disgusting behavior in which they are not well schooled, neither is there any trickery in which they are not expert, nor any forgery of which they lack knowledge”. This reaches the point that the gentiles say that the Talmud that the Jews teach their children is nothing but cleverness and slick ways to trick people.

    3. Continued...

      However, if these individuals would have a trade with which to support themselves, they would not do all of the aforementioned, as our sages of blessed memory have said “Poverty leads a man to transgress the will of his Creator.” And the fault lies with the parents of these individuals in that they did not teach them a skill when they were yet young. Why should the gentiles say that Jews are swindlers who behave disgustingly? And why do they curse G-d’s Torah? All because you have looked upon the work of your hands as contemptible and disparaged those who engage in a craft.

      And even more so do I feel anger towards those Torah scholars who do not want to teach their children a trade, and instead only Torah. They rely on the presumption that their children will be Rabbis or Judges, but ultimately many do not become learned enough in Torah to the point of becoming Halachic decisors among the Jews, and they end up “neither here nor there,” becoming schoolteachers. And as the number of those who hold of this approach increases, there end up being more schoolteachers than students, and as a result, these “schoolteachers” cannot even bring in enough for half of their household expenses, their households lack basic food and clothing, and consequently they cannot even engage in their holy work faithfully.

      Some of these individuals engage with one another in some sort of side business, some serve as tutors giving lessons in private homes, and some venture off to study with students in far off lands, away from their wives, in order to earn their sustenance. As a result, their own children end up being boors, because they grow up without a father, and their wives must live with worry. Some of them, upon arriving at these far off lands, do not find any students, and their wives and children die of hunger. Some wander far and wide in distant lands, some become preachers focusing on speeches chastising their audiences, others prepare themselves to engage in homiletics, and they travel on long journeys giving lectures to the Jewish people, yet others travel to distant lands to collect handouts and they collect from the Jewish people. Others commit their words to writing and they publish these books and seek to sell them. Yet others wander off to all the far cities in search of sustenance – not chastising, not lecturing, not doing anything other than begging for sustenance for their household – that is, the individual’s own wife and children and their need for money. And all of these individuals are dependant on others, and are seeking sustenance. And this calamity is all the fault of the fathers who refused to teach them a trade when they were yet young.

    4. Continued further...

      Now indeed the fathers felt that they acted thusly for the sake of Heaven, relying on the opinion of R’ Naharai who stated “I set aside all trades in the world and I teach my son only Torah”. They do not understand that this is the method of the Evil Inclination, as is his typical way, to dress up and conceal things which are not good in the garb of piety, covering up all sins with love of G-d and fear of G-d and giving them an appearance of something that is for the sake of Heaven. And they do not know that this is not at all the true opinion of R’ Naharai, as the MaHarSha of blessed memory writes:

      “R’ Naharai’s opinion is not that one should set aside teaching his son any craft other than Torah, for it has been stated in the first Chapter that every father is obligated to teach his son a trade, and there is no dissenting opinion. Furthermore, we have learned “Any Torah learning that is not accompanied by labor will not last and leads to sin.”

      Rather, this is what R’ Naharai meant: ‘I set aside the study of all trades on a steady basis, and I teach him Torah on a steady basis and a trade on a sporadic basis.’ And that is what is meant that a trade only stands by a person when he is young, for then he has it in his power to perform a difficult job on a consistent basis. But when he reaches old age or gets sick he can no longer work enough to support himself. The Torah on the other hand, is not like that, for through the merit of his Torah learning he will be blessed with pleasant easy work which he can perform even in old age and he will attain achievements in both [work and Torah learning] areas, like the “early pious ones mentioned in Tractate Berachos.”

      Furthermore, one who makes use of his Torah knowledge in connection with earning his livelihood, will never become rich through it; rather it will cause him to be taken from this world as the Sages of blessed memory have said “He who makes use of the crown [of Torah] shall perish”; thus you see that he who profits from Torah learning removes himself from existence in this world.

      My brother, be shaken at this very great evil. For how long we will not direct our hearts to our hands, to encourage them to work? There is no doubt that anyone who transgresses the words of our Sages in this matter, and does not teach his child a profession, is destined to be held accountable for this before the Heavenly court, and will surely be punished. There will also be a punishment for the righteous person, who did this to his children out of noble intentions…

      - Sefer HaBris 2:12:10 (2:13:2 in the DBS version)

  8. So what about the massacre in the Chevroner Yeshiva? We can ask all we like, but it is folly to try and answer. One day we will know. That day hasn't come.

  9. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 31, 2013 at 6:47 AM

    "This is shows the power of Torah learning!?"

    No, it shows the power of "bubba meises" aka "rebbisha meises" (aka "rubbish") that tries to re-make Litvisha gedolim to be like Chasidisha rebbes, and it just comes off like a pathetic joke. Grylak and his Mishpacha-magazine-for-hire should take a hike. They throw in lots of narishkeit in between pushing the agendas of Michael Freund and his Shavei Israel type stuff of bringing more goyim to Israel under the guise of being "the lost tribes" that makes for good journalism but is just a load of baloney clap-trap like everything else in that stupid magazine.

  10. How is it that Sephardi Gedolim knew what was happening to their Ashkenazi brethren in Europe to the point that Rav Kaduri joined the British Army, and Rav Mordekha Sharabi sent his students to the British Army to fight the Nazis, and Rav Yehuda Patya got involved in his own way for which he is still recognized as a national hero in England, but an Ashkenazi Gadol was clueless? I find that really really hard to believe.

  11. "...because he apparently could have stopped the Holocaust had he been aware of it!"

    How exactly does that work? We had great Gedolim during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Rhindfleish massacres, Chmeilnicki massacres, pogroms of E. Europe, etc. and they weren't able to stop it!

    It's time we stop attributing powers to our Gedolim which they do not have. I seriously doubt that the Chazon Ish really said what is being reported.

  12. R' Aharon Kotler was initially influenced by the lithuanian /haredi meshugas of confusing Lithuania for Jerusalem and that yeshiva studies will protect them. He woke up from this illusion and when he moved to America was one of the driving forces for Vaad Hatzolah.
    I heard from R' Rackman (who was a follower of Soloveitchik, not Kotler), that R Kotler had a Chesed that he cared for every single Student, - and by implication for every jew, whereas R Soloveitchik was more aloof and distant from everyone.

    Regarding the quotes from Ramban, yes a priest, that is a Kohen Gadol, who had certain special connection to Hashem, and wore urim v Thummim/ Choshen Mishpat.

    The error is to assume that one appointed a Head of a Yeshiva, has the same abilities and connection as a Cohen Gadol.

    According to Josephus, some Kohanim in 2nd Temple, who were more hashmonaim/sadducem, had the abiltiy to tell the future!

    1. " He woke up from this illusion "

      a bit late. by then it was too late for those who took his advice to stay put.

  13. Even if the story is true, the conclusion is so illogical. The Chazon Ish may have meant a million different things in saying we could have stopped it. Maybe he meant we could have helped minimise it (for example by supporting more refugees, raising money to bring more Jews out of Europe). Where is the mention that he could have stopped it by learning Torah? Wasn't he always learning Torah? So you could draw the exact opposite conclusion - the Chazon Ish was always learning Torah. The Holocaust still happened, despite him always learning Torah. So had the Chazon Ish known the extent of the tragedy, he would have stopped learning Torah and helped minimmise the effect by doing something practial, like pidyon shvuyim, bribing officials, assisting more refugees. I am not chas veshalom trying to minimise learning Torah, but how anyone draws the conclusion that people should learn Torah and it protects all of Klal Yisroel from this story is beyong me!

  14. Mistama he meant that he would not have aloud the tzionim to keep out the frummeh, thus saving many more yidden.


  15. Post-factum prophecy? anyone could do it!

  16. Some very good points made above.

    A) the claim that he actually didn't know and made that comment is not plausible. He must have been in contact with American Gedolim.

    b) Even if he did make the comment, I agree with Avrohom - he could have meant he would petition more politicians , maybe in America, or collaborate more with Zionists, or give a psak that Europeans should accept visas and escape whatever it takes.

    I heard another alleged remark of the CI. And this one contradicts the one under discussion. He is alleged to have said that anyone who claims that less than the 6 million would have died if certain things had been done, is an apikorus.

    This is another case of pseudodepigraphy. Someone makes up a fantasy, and then ascribes it to a gadol, to give his own ideology a kick start. V'Hamaskil Yavin.

  17. The problem I have with the story is, what does it mean that he did not know the "true extent" of the Holocaust?

    It was common knowledge that the Jews of Europe were in grave danger. When the Soviet Union took over Lithuania after the Nazis and the Soviets signed a non-aggression pact in 1939, R. Chaim Ozer was reported have commented that "We feel like we have been given a reprieve from a death sentence only to be sent to life in prison."

    OTOH, the full extent of the brutality and genocide of the Nazi regime was not known until late in the war. There were a few stragglers who made it out of Auschwitz and told what was going on, but they were not generally believed. (True story. My great grandmother was in Poland in WWI. She left in the 1920s. She always related that when the German army invaded, they treated them humanely. She could not bring herself to believe that the same army had committed the Holocaust.)

  18. Why is the Rambam the one quoted in this issue? The Shulchan Aruch paskens against the Rambam. It is extreme intellectual dishonesty to present a shita that was not accepted as the definitive halachic opinion, as though it were.

  19. Like many rabbis who were prevented from settling in Eretz Yisroel, sometimes Hashem blocks certain thoughts or events because the time is not yet ripe. The chazan ish could have easily ended the Holocaust

  20. How could the CI have ended the Holocaust? Was he greater than Chazal, who could not prevent the Churban Bayit?

  21. they were capable of but Hashem didnt let them. it was a decree and the time was not yet ripe for redemption. all of us can become great

  22. Guest, if you refer to Chazal and the temple, that is a difficult claim to substantiate. it is also an illogical, since if Hashem did not allow them, then they were no longer capable.
    I am not criticising or casting doubt on Chazal, I am simply making a historical point, and perhaps an easier example is why Yoshiyahu HaMelech's Teshuva program was unsuccessful in prevent the first Churban Bayit? The answer is similar to yours, ie that Hashem decreed that the sins have gone beyond a simple Teshuva program, and that the Churban will go ahead anyway. in any case, no Navi, even Yirmiyahu was able to prevent the Churban. Much that I respect the CI's Gadlus, he was not on the level of a navi, nor was any Rabbinical leader - so how could they have prevented the Shoah?

  23. Good to know there are people who understand God's score card so well. Gives me a great feeling of confidence knowing that we have people with such clear vision.


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