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A collection of comments on various issues of the day

As a graduate (1965) of Torah Vodaath, I am sadly required to divorce myself from an institution to whom I owe much gratitude.  Read my bio for some details of my Torah Vodaath experience.  Those who read that synopsis will note that in 4 years, one would normally have four Rabbeim; I listed only three.  Then, I omitted one Rebbe where my experiences would have dishonored Torah Vodaath;  I still maintain that position.

Notwithstanding, three major sins (le’Shem Shamayim 😊) have brought about a complete separation.  I thought that the appointment of the Rav ztl’s grandson and RAL ztl’s son would have made a difference, but sadly his energies have been applied in a different direction.  He has and is rebuilding a strong post-HS program leaving TV with a booming elementary school, but a still anemic HS program.

While there is a host of sins, three unrelated occurrences motivated my divorce.

The first occurred about five and one-half years ago in 2015 when I saw the video at the annual dinner where my 50th anniversary class was recognized. I was uncertain of what I thought I saw; a CD of the dinner allowed me to verify what I in fact saw.  The video hatched the face of Rav Pam ztl’s rebbitzen AH, who was then in her eighties. I remember paying a shivah call to Rochelle (Dershowitz) Zinkin; her late mother was a childhood friend of the rebbitzen.  I saw them as young teenagers playing together in camp, dressed as one might expect of normal young girls. Interestingly, most of my former classmates, with only three exceptions, had adopted the “uniform.”

Other events at my 50th HS anniversary dinner were disturbing – 1) the choice of dais members, ve’hamaivin yavin, 2) an author of a sefer on a topic that would have by necessity require reading a prior sefer by RAL, of whose existence he was not even aware, 3) reinterpreting “Vodaath” by two separate speakers as referring to daat Torah. That effort to rewrite history pales in significance relative to my next two sins/occurrences. There were other issues not even worth mentioning

The second occurred about one years or so later.  In the short biography of an unnamed RY who arrived in the US in the early 40’s, the RY was described as bringing the Brisker derech to America.  Forget the obvious insult to both the Rav and his father, Rav Moshe ztl, who arrived a decade or more earlier; perhaps the greatest talmid of Rav Chaim ztl Rav Shlomo Polachek ztl who Rav Chaim himself named the Meitscheter illui  was the RY at R.I.E.T.S. for about 5 years before his untimely death in 1925, (from a tooth infection.) Rav Polachek’s students included Rav Nissan Wachtfogel ztl , the long-standing mashgiach of Lakewood and Rav Pinchas Scheinberg ztl among many others.  But Torah Vodaath continually ignores its predecessor in Washington Heights; this shameless lie is just another part of a continual pattern of the blatant rewriting of history.

The third avlah occurred at TV’s 100th centennial, two+ years ago, something I would not attend.  My brother-in-law (Rabbi Julius Berman) and sister went because of the presence of Rebbitzen Tovah Lichtenstein, who was there given the introduction of her son, Rav Yitzchak Lichtenstein, as the Rosh HaYeshivah.  The yeshivah distributed a brochure honoring its 100 most influential graduates.  I suspect that Rav Dr. Norman Lamm ztl and yibadail le’chaim, my BIL would deserve that honor even without any mention of Yeshivah University or R.I.E.T.S.; Rav Lamm’s drashot on the parsha or my BIL’s roles at the OU and the  Claims Conference alone tower over the accomplishments of anyone mentioned.

This post was delayed by my desire not to be so critical of what clearly exhibits the consequences of a ḥareidi orientation.  However, after further consideration the Torah-only philosophy reflected is so pernicious to topics in zemanim, I felt I have no choice but to address / confront.

To add more motivation, I noticed that bastion of fairness, Ha(aino)modia, failed to even mention Rav Adin Steinsalt Even-Israel ztl’s passing.  Long after his detractors are at best a footnote to history, his seforim will still be valued.

I received a sefer entitled Z’manim on the Friday following Tisha B’av.  I told my Rav that the yetzer ha’rah would have encouraged me to read it on Tisha B’av had it arrived a day earlier.  After Shabbat, having read / skimmed the book I wrote back to my Rav that reading the sefer on Tisha B’av would have perhaps been permissible since it would only have added to the spirit of the day.

The author is a grandson-in-law of a prominent Rav who wrote an important sefer on zemanim, Munaḥ Yomah. This sefer, however, included something I never saw previously except in an advertisement – a haskamah with (only) a partial quote, omitting words.  It read as follows: “This is a fascinating and scholarly review… and…”  I wonder what was omitted before “and.” Beyond that, the word scholarly coupled with another haskamah from Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen seemed somewhat oxymoronic given normal use of the word scholarly.  I would be more inclined to call Rabbi Cohen Open Orthodox before calling this sefer scholarly; yeshivish, (sadly) perhaps, scholarly never.

What causes my negative reaction?  First, and fundamentally, the lack of reference to the science that provided an underpinning to ḥazal’s calculations of a fixed calendar.  To say otherwise is in my mind (close to) kefirah.  One example (of many) suffices. Ḥazal, like astronomers of their time knew that the exact period between “new moons” varied (considerably).  In establishing the calendar, they used the average time between lunations, something they (and scientists of their time) approximated with 6 decimal place accuracy. It is critical to realize that knowledge of the average lunation came from science and not the halakhah / mesorah.  We now know the average lunation not only to 6 but to 8 decimal places. To attribute slight imprecision to ancient science is hardly surprising, but to assign ḥazal’s imprecision to HlMmS, halakhah or mesorah borders on kefirah.  (BTW the organization responsible for the bible codes episode, put out another similar and objectionable video on the time between lunations as well.)  How ḥazal arrived at the molad / average time between lunations scientifically is necessary to better appreciate the source of the very minor error.

Second, to compare (partially and inadequately) Rabbi Adda’s tekufot to those implicit in the Gregorian calendar is either just bad judgement or inability to calculate accurately, (page 71).  Those tekufot implicit in the calendar of Pope Gregory came over a thousand years after Rabi Adda and are much more accurate. Nowhere did I see any statement on the impact of Rabi Adda’s inaccuracy (at this point an approximate 5 – 6-day drift to a later date in the year caused by the calendar) and reasons it should not be of concern until a few thousand years from now.  Without acknowledging the implication of a slightly longer year, its halakhic (non-) import cannot be addressed, a significant omission. Instead, the issue is simply omitted.

Third, the discussion of the Gaon’s critique of Rabbeinu Tam, is at best incomplete. Its implications go well beyond what was discussed.  The Gaon’s ḥush and scientific knowledge in addition to his compelling logic are all not optional but essential to understanding his attacks on the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.

Fourth, the author’s assertion of the absolute need for a dateline is simply false. RIZM ztl and RTPF ztl disagree; modern logic (and their insightful he’orot based on the positions of rishonim and aḥaronim) supports their halakhic position.

It is of importance to note that well before Rambam, in geonic times, an Arab astronomer details a roughly accurate version of the fixed calendar created by the rabbis, expressing his amazement at its brilliance. Ḥokhmah ba’Goyim timtzah.

Many of the papers included on this site address all the issues raised.

”Only values that arise from within the halakhic system play a role in producing pesak.”  I agree completely.  Traditional poskim are careful to frame a pesak that way and that is what legitimately constrains the range of possible pesakim. However, as is self-evident, more than one halakhic path forward may exist. The question is what points a posek one way versus another? That is a meta-halakhic question and probably a psychological or sociological one as well. Asserting that only Torah influences are legitimate in forming a posek’s orientation is the what is argued. I have not seen any arguments that would support the position restricting legitimate influences only to those that are Torah based.  In any case, many/most poskim may not necessarily be sufficiently self-aware.  Something as simple as one’s empathy for a situation is IMHO the result of various influences; for example, awareness or evaluation of a situation’s consequences, clearly not in the main derivable from Torah sources is clearly a legitimate basis for differing poskim‘s differing orientations.

However, what we are now witnessing is far worse. Those with a disdain for anything but learning Torah as practiced by say Rav Shach ztl, end up incapable of being a leader and posek. They may be living an ideal existence, but not one that prepares them to opine on the issues of the day. The Sanhedrin did not learn 70 languages from learning Torah. The Metonic relation which hazal adopted is nowhere in the Torah, (thank God, it is faulty) nor is the average lunation (almost but not quite exact and more critical) nor the relationship between stars and darkness. Shmuel did not become a baki be’shivielai de’rakiah by studying Torah. Rabbis without such knowledge did not attempt to create calendars.

There were many great poskim, RMF ztl and especially RSZA ztl for example, who worked diligently to acquire secular knowledge to pasken; today there are defenders for those who do not. That I find problematic.

Stolen from a source I no longer remember.

In the year 2020, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in America and said:

“Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me.”

“Build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans.”

He gave Noah the blueprints, saying:

“You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.”

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no Ark.

 “Noah!” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?”

“Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed.”

  1. “I needed a Building Permit.”
  2. “I’ve been arguing with the Boat Inspector about the need for a sprinkler system.”
  3. “My homeowners association claim that I’ve violated the construction code.
  4. Neighborhood by-laws by building the Ark in my back yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the local Planning Committee for a decision.”
  5. “Then the City Council and the Electricity Company demanded a sh.. load of money for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear none of it.”
  6. “Getting the wood was another problem. There’s a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the Greater Spotted Barn Owl.”
  7. “I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but no go!”
  8. “When I started gathering the animals, PETA took me to court. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodations were too restrictive and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space.”
  9. “Then the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that I couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on Your proposed flood.”
  10. “I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I’m supposed to hire for my building crew.”
  11. “The Immigration Dept. Is checking the visa status of most of the people who want to work.”
  12. “The labor unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only union workers with ark-building experience.”
  13. “To make matters worse, the IRS seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.”
  14. “So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this ark.”

“Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.”

Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?”

“No,” said the Lord. ” The Government beat me to it.

  1. Do not compare the NY area and Israel. NYC has a similar population to Israel with 70 times the number of deaths. There is much afoot.

2) The NY area MO community suffered greatly. Just in my own immediate circles, my FIL, 2 MO doctors, one who I grew up with, a major RIETS donor, a young man from shul, etc. all succumbed. Others recovered.

3) Haredim do not listen as often to secular news and because of some of their news sources’ abominable behavior, they were insufficiently warned of the danger.

4) Sadly, however, there will be minimal retrospection in many parts of the Haredi world; what went wrong cuts to the heart of hareidi worldviews. Spin-doctors will help to guarantee a minimum level of learning.

5) A benefit that accrues to the MO community is that normal traditional Jews will no longer feel inauthentic given the extremism most hareidi innovators claim as our authentic halakhic heritage; it is not. One grandson’s heard shiurim from RHS on a continuous basis. He was able to learn be’havrutah almost normally. Another heard shiurim from Eretz Yisroel. For all eight grandchildren, their educations may have suffered, but not dramatically.

I have risk factors galore; the worse being the medications I take that suppress my immune system that BH controls my neurological disease. I have ventured out with extreme care (fully only three times in the last 12 weeks, with layers of protection.) OTOH, I have never had so productive a period of reading/learning in decades.

Lesson learned, yes, and no. I have jokingly said that I may be able to return to shul only after the coming of Moshiach, but only if he tests negative.

  1. We need a new expression: the road to hell is paved with quotes from the Rav ztl.

2) The OU is dragged right and left; the Agudah seems to have only half of that issue but in spades!! 🙂

One thing is noticeably clear: even the meaning of what is viewed as one of the ikkarim changes over time.  Differing opinions about God’s corporeality, the character of the Messiah, the nature of authoritative texts, etc. are apparent in reading authoritative texts in our mesorah. Even when we seem to pasken on hashkafic issues, the psak is often refined and changes, often dramatically, over time.  This is significantly different from how psak in halakhic matters operates traditionally.

Both our conception of God or understanding of the notion of mesorah are two relatively clear areas, at least to me. This is an area of significant difference between various traditional Jewish streams.

Though I have a few philosophical disagreements wrt hashgacha, I am overwhelmed by the Sanzer Rebbe’s sensitivity and sagacious advice. Both his priorities wrt Pesach and focus on where to look for improvements given Covid – 19 reflect what has been traditionally recognized as Torah infused wisdom.

I have a warm place in my heart for Sanz. As a teenager right after WWI, my late father davened in a shul led by the Divrei Chaim’s grandson, a son of one of his older children. In the ghetto, some 20+ years later, he received a haunting bracha from the youngest son of the Divrei Chaim, the Tzhiliener Rebbe, born when the Rebbe was in his late 70’s. He was killed by the Nazis YMS, a few days later. He said to my father: ba mir iz shoen tunkel; uber dir vellen de reshayim nisht hoben kain shelittah. (Translated: For me, it is already dark; over you, the Nazis will not rule.) Miraculously, my parents and my incredibly young sister survived the war.

The Rebbe displays the sensitivity that goes back to Rav Chaim of Sanz. The late Jacob Katz (primarily in The Shabbos Goy) writes about the disagreements between the Divrei Chaim and the positions of the Chatam Sofer, who lived almost 2 generations earlier. In my judgment, the Divrei Chaim exhibited a remarkable and profound awareness of the (new) world in which he lived and its halakhic implications.