Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Million Jew Seder By Rabbi Shmully Hecht

The article below says some important things that need to be said and acted upon. After I read it I spoke with Rabbi Hecht and asked him to write an introduction. One of the comments he made in our conversation was that the concern for the non-observant Jew is not an exclusive Chabad endeavor and in fact there are a significant number of Lubavitcher's who have trouble reaching out to their fellow Jews. He noted that it was important to clarify that his message was not Chabad versus the Charedim - but rather that we all need to work on removing the barriers betwen Jews.
Dear Readers , 

Please allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Shmully Hecht and I am the senior Chabad Rabbi at Yale University .  Though I was born and married into prominent Chabad families  on all sides , our recent family ancestry  is quite broad and unique.  The Hecht family can best be described as Galitziana Yidden. In fact, in 1885 my great great grandfather Reb Hersh Meilech Hecht  z”l came from the  Polish town of  Shiniv to America  with the  blessings of Reb Yechezkel of Shiniv; grandson of The Sanzer Rav . My mother’s father, Rav Chaim Gutnick z”l  learned in Telz for many years  with Rav Mordechaii Gifter  before the second world war. My wife’s maternal  extended Weiss family are prominent Satmar Chasidim; Reb Moshe Weiss being a great uncle. My wife’s paternal great grandfather was Rav Nisen Pilchik, among the  founders of Stolin in America. My father is the Senior  Rav in the Sephardic community of Queens where I grew up davening with Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and just about ever middle Eastern and North African Country on the map. I went to Ohr Yisroel in Queens NY for elementary school where the students were best described as black hatters/litvish  and our Rabbeim  were Satmar, Ger, Vishnitz, Belz and Lubavitch. I have spent time with Jews in over 100 cities on 6 continents, and have educated Jews in places as remote as Perth  Australia , Tokyo,Japan and Addis Ababa,Ethiopia .  

I have spent seventeen years as the Rabbi at Yale where I have met Jews from every secular and religious stripe you can imagine.  They span from the Chareidi Phd math candidate from Yerushalayim, to the Jewish Yale undergraduate, born to a Mormon father from Denver . 

In short, I am familiar first hand with the fact that there is really  only one Jew in the world and our differences are minimal compared to our essential bond and oneness. It is perhaps because of the many worlds I have been exposed to  that  I can humbly make that statement wholeheartedly and objectively . I have therefore asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky to officially ask his talmidim this year to kindly invite one Jew to their seder. My hope is to have one million Jews invited this year for Pesach by someone they would least likely expect it from . Even if they don’t accept the invitation, the call itself  will change Israel and the Jewish people in a revolutionary way. Please read the following story to understand why. Times of Israel

An open letter to:

Rav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky

I write to you in your capacity as one of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Israel, often referred to as the haredi movement.

On a flight last week from Israel to New York, I had a rather disturbing conversation with one of your of disciples. The individual was an ultra orthodox Jew and a successful Swiss real estate developer who resides in Jerusalem with his wife and seven children. He was on his way to New York for the wedding of a relative. I was returning home from Israel where I had spent the day attending the funeral of the father of a dear Israeli friend of mine from Yale, where I am the campus rabbi.  I had met the  deceased last year at his son’s wedding in Caesarea, where I was honored to officiate. On a subsequent trip to Israel I had put Tefillin on with this 77 year old man, preceded by an in-depth theological conversation about his Judaism and beliefs.  On this return trip to Israel it was at the Shiva house where, upon meeting many of the members of my friend’s F16 squadron, a troubling conversation began. This was a conversation that crystallized on the flight back to New York while talking with your disciple.[...]

Listening to him describe the gap that sadly divides the secular “chiloni“ and ultra-orthodox “haredi“ leaderships of Israel, I was dismayed and  saddened by how far this split has actually wedged a division among our people. Could we have reached such a low point in our history that Jews living in our ancient homeland were flying across the world to avoid having to engage with our very own rabbis? How ironic I thought it was that I, an American rabbi, had flown to Israel first to marry and now bury a son and father of the most secular type of Israelis. Would this young pilot’s first encounter with an Israeli rabbi be at his own funeral?[...]
This is the Hebrew translation - Rabbi Hecht encourages the distribution of this letter


  1. Dovor Hamiskabel instead of honesty Honesty?April 9, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    "One of the comments he made in our conversation was that the concern for the non-observant Jew is not an exclusive Chabad endeavor and in fact there are a significant number of Lubavitcher's who have trouble reaching out to their fellow Jews. He noted that it was important to clarify that his message was not Chabad versus the Charedim"

    Hmm. Interesting. That's not what his article says.

    "I write to you... as one of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox"

    Ultra-orthodox? This certainly has derogatory connotations contained therein. Is this not a game of Chabad versus those "ultra-orthodox"?

    "I had a rather disturbing conversation with one of your of disciples"

    1) Disciple? I was unaware that there were people who called themselves disciples of Rav Chaim".

    2) Is this supposed conversation you claim to have had with a singular "disciple" of Horav Kanievsky supposed to be representative of the whole Torah world. You know, those "ultra-orthodox"? Huh?

    If there is some reason to believe so, which you gathered from a source other than this aforementioned supposed conversation, then why don't you quote that source. Additionally, how on earth is that conversation relevant?

    Is this all part of "dovor hamiskabel" replacing honesty?

    1. You are correct that the original article was Chabad vs Chareidim. As noted in our phone conversation I pointed out to him that I have talked with Lubavitchers in Crown Heights and when I asked them how they could live in such a hostile environment I was told the following. "If I lived in a normal neighborhood with nice Reform and Conservative Jews as my neighbors it would be much harder to explain to my kids why we are different. In this neighborhood it is obvious why we are different and the significant contribution of Torah. He agreed that there are significant numbers of Lubavitcher's who are not interested or have difficulty relating to other types of Jews.

      Thus his introduction was to make his message of One Jew - a universal issue

  2. Dovor Hamiskabel instead of honesty Honesty?April 9, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    One question for you rabbi Hecht. Does love and kindness also apply to those "ultra-orthodox" and chareidim whom you cannot get to follow your way-of-life?
    How are you different than the Chasidah bird?

    What's the story the Schlessinger twins that have been covered on this blog? Why will Chabad officially work against the kids, seemingly, since the mother is an outsider?

  3. Recipients and PuplicityApril 9, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    1 of 2 of RaP's response:

    Dear Rabbi Hecht, as you know it is Erev Pesach and there is little time for a detailed response, so here are some brief reactions to your words:

    1. Yes, your yichus is great and you have done a lot. No one can do what Chabad does on the scale that it does setting up Chabad houses and shulls and reaching out to Jews all over. Just because Chabad is good at that does not mean that others can do that. Chabad shluchim have a special chinuch based on a special curriculum of their Chabad chasidus especially the Tanya which is a powerful sefer and of course no one has the Rebbes of Chabad to inspire them like Chabad shluchim have. No one has the ability to do what Chabad does, so please keep that up.

    2. Unfortunately you letter and the way it is present and couched is absurd, comical and cynical, even grandiose in a number of ways. Furthermore, as they say in the classics, "charity starts at home" why don't you preach about getting your own house in order, and settle the problems with your (majority?) Chabad messianists the meshichistim? By the way do you personally believe that the Rebbe was Moshaich???!!! If yes, why? If not, why not?

    3. Welcome to reality, you are Charedi as well, and are regarded as such by the very secular Jews you work with no matter what color jacket you wear or how long you delay taking a haircut and regardless of horn-rimmed specs. So quit putting up fake barriers between yourself and the Charedi world.

    4. Rav Chaim Kanievsky (RCK) is not a "Rebbe" like the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who conceives "miftzo'im" ("mitzva campaigns") and then orders his Chasidim to enact them as if in an army. Outreach/kiruv is also NOT, repeat NOT a priority in the non-Chabad Charedi world. Charedim put an emphasis on learning Torah and becoming great in it. Raising large pure families and they mostly not equipped or not looking to invite people who are virtual "aliens" into their homes at any time, not just for Pesach seders. It takes special people, like from Chabad or kiruv-minded Charedim to be able to host secular Jews either in Israel or America or anywhere else.

    5. It is a great chutzpa of you to approach RCK by means of an "open letter" that is not the way such gedolim work, you have failed to go through the proper channels like everyone else. It does not reflect well on you in the eyes of Torah Jews, who do not think like you do and you cannot manipulate events and people to get what you think is important when they do not.

    6. You have done good work, keep it up, but don't let it get to your head with delusions of grandeur about a million man seder that sounds a lot like the million man march civil rights march in America years ago, and it also sounds that you are over-compensating for the fact that Chabad was not involved in the recent "million person (if one includes all the women protesting at home) protest by Charedim against the decrees to enlist them by the secular Zionist authorities in Israel against their will.

  4. Recipients and PuplicityApril 9, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    2 of 2 of RaP's response:

    7. Outreach/kiruv to secular Jews is a complex human and halachic nightmare that cannot be "solved" with magic formulas. There are major differences between what goes on in Israel and outside of it. In Israel the reality is that right now there is a huge culture gap and standoff between the chiloni (secular) majority and the Charedi minority. While reaching out to the chilonim (seculars) is a beautiful notion and Charedim have worked very hard at for a very long time, and that includes the efforts of Chabad, the reality AT THE PRESENT TIME is that the Chilonim have declared a halt and have in everything but name declared a cultural and economic war against the Charedim, and that automatically has pushed aside the the noble cause of reaching out to the chilonim with the need to confront them instead. Weclome to the realities of political and religious life in Israel.

    8. Outside of Israel, there is near 100% intermarraige and as you know it is impossible to invite interfaith people an gentiles to a Halachic seder. Not to mention that Judaism does not rush to proselytize and welcome in millions of people MARRIED TO GENTILES which you have not addressed how that will be solved beyond saying "just invite millions of goyim who are spouses/partners of Jews into Orthodox homes" which is crazy. How does anyone even know or check if these peopel are even Jewish, all the wild scenarios as you touch on them???Just as well, the doors for teshuva are not open forever. Everyone has freedom of choice.

    9. It is not just RCK who has faced the current situationin Israel (he has no pull outside of Israel FYI, like in America there are other gedolim and rebbes) but in modern day Israel every single Charedi rov, rosh yeshiva, rebbe, posek, politician whether Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Litvaks, Polish, Hungarian, Misnagdim, Chasidim, ALL, repeat ALL of them are of one voice and are now united like never before to confront their common aggressive secular Zionist predators, yes they are enemies, let us not mince words, so this is a time of "gezeiras hashmad mamash" and little old you the Chabad rabbi from Yale U is asking that they all sit down and eat some matza and sip some wine together??!! You surely have to see the comedy in your words! (By the way, how many Chabad kids go to ANY college?? Basically ZERO!!! Maybe they should all enroll in all the colleges to show how much they like the lifestyle choices of non-frum Jews?)

    10. Why don't you address your comments and appeals to Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid folks or to PM Netanyahu or to Naftali Bennett to STOP, repeat STOP their Charedi bashing, Charedi baiting tirades as if it was a Jihad? Explain to them that it is a waste of time to threaten the Charedim. The cat is out of the bag. The Charedim are a huge group of hundreds of thousands in Israel and they cannot be cowed or intimidated by the Lapid-Bennett-Netanyahu ("LaVaN") axis.

    11. One must conclude that you are really not focused on the Charedim but you want to score brownie points with your own shaky supporters with fake appeals to shame the Charedim. Everyone knows that Chabad is hostile to "misnagdim" and that they cannot resist one-upmanship and you are proving it.

    12. And this about "millions" that is just so outlandish. You know full well that outreach cannot be done as "mass production" and you als know quite well that no one is going to listen to you that you are whistling in the wind. So, again, please stop the grandstanding and creating smoke screens and distractions to the real issues. Be well and wishing you much success in you holy work, but please stop coming up with wild ideas that will go nowhere. Sort out the mess in Chabad first. Get rid of the meshichistim. Start to work with the other Charedi kiruv and outreach organizations that deal with the realities and please do not write "OPEN letters" to ANY gedolim if you want to be taken seriously.

    Wishing you and yours a Chag Kosher VeSameach!

    1. Att. short-langeh maaseh: basically, its time for you to do Tshuvah and become a Chossid.

    2. Mordi,

      Are you still claiming this is not a chabad vs. trditional yiddishkeit piece?

    3. Dovor Hamiskabel instead of honesty?April 17, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      Raabi Hecht,

      Do you remember when we met on a flight just last week?
      You told me to do teshuva and become a chabadsker. Here is the conversation we had:

      Mordi Hecht (MZH): Why Don't you join us?
      MZH: You are empty from your way of life.

      Dovor Hamiskabel instead of honesty (DHIH): I have plenty, B"H.
      DHIH: I can even tell you what you are thinking!

      MZH: Yeah, right, you ignorant fool! What am I thinking?

      DHIH: Thank you for the compliments.
      DHIH: You are thinking about the 6 continuous Mitzvos.

      MZH: No, I am not, you idiot! I haven't thought about those in many years.

      DHIH: Ahh. And that's exactly why I will not join your brand of "chasidus". For it doesn't leave room for G-d to exist in it.

  5. Actually, the divrei chaim (original sanzer rov, one of r hrcht's ancestors, among MANY others (litvish.and chasdidish) advocate kiruv / convrtsion of intermarried spouses (and overlooking some humrot in giyur.

    (Of course, the divrei chaim (among othets) also said not to accept gittin from america cause "they don't know what they're doing".

    MiMedinat HaYam

  6. Recipients and PublicityApril 10, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Forget Pesach, it is always a nightmare for many Charedi and Chasidic families to pay for every last Pesach expense.

    How about this, the Israeli government itself, of all things, says that almost 900,000 go hungry in Israel all the time year in year out!!!!!!

    Everyone knows that Charedim and Chasidim (same thing, since Chasidim are Charedim) in particular are suffering from hunger for years with large families and limited budgets and no way to find real work (yes, they would work, just like they work in America and Europe since they not persecuted for their beliefs) because the secular anti-Charedi Israeli government wants them to go to the army first (since when is serving in an army a Jewish way or solution for anything?)

    So how about the Israeli government does something about this and not spend so much on guns and weapons, spoiled diplomats, corrupt bureaucrats and bloated government agencies worthy of the Byzantines and Turks, and ask all those wunderkind nouveau riche newly-minted millionaires and billionaires we read about all the time and once and for all stop the disgrace of Jews or anyone in Israel going hungry a situation that is not possible in modern Western countries:

    Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

    "Israeli gov’t: Nearly 900,000 Israelis go without food due to poverty

    April 8, 2014

    ERUSALEM (JTA) — Some 894,000 Israelis go for an entire day without food or eat smaller meals because they cannot afford to buy food, according to a government report.

    The State Comptroller’s Nutritional Insecurity report issued Monday found that 306,000 of those who go hungry are children. In addition, nearly 50 percent of the Israeli-Arab population cannot meet minimal nutritional needs.

    The report blamed the government for transferring the responsibility for the problem to charitable organizations instead of meeting it head-on, according to Israeli media reports.

    “The heart breaks when you read about a family with children whose refrigerator is empty, or about a family who hasn’t bought fruits and vegetables because of financial difficulties,” Israel’s State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said. “The responsibility for the lack of food security falls on the government that left the treatment of this problem in the hands of charity organizations. Poverty is not the result of fate.”

    The report covered the time period of February 2013 to August 2013."

    1. another cause you should get on right away - while we fress pizzas and shwarmas and buy shtati ties - kinderlach are starving!

  7. As heard from people on his flight this article is not true. He did not have such an argument with anyone else on the plane.

  8. Wonderful letter...There's NOTHING LIKE CHABAD!


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.