A pamphlet released under the name Peninim V’hanhagos became available on line recently. The pamphlet is presented in the fashion of a certain kind of book which is very popular nowadays, listing interesting sayings or customs of famous Rabbis organized by topic, such as Shabbos, Teffila, Kiruv, etc..
This pamphlet was not meant to be serious, it was published by someone as a way to denigrate the subject, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Shteinman, who is widely regarded as the Gadol Hador, the leader of the non-Hasidic Haredi world. In many ways, this compilation of statements, sayings, and practices has had the opposite affect by displaying the, sanity, and practicality of Rabbi Shteinman.
There are certainly many parts which would rub people the wrong way, as many do for me, but they don’t have to detract from his better statements. What follows is a selection of items which I find refreshing to hear from a person of this status and stature. I will post more in a later post. I’ve tried to translate each entry as closely as I am able to.
Here is why opponents of R Shteinman think you should oppose him too:
- During the Indian hair wigs situation, when it was learned that hair was used for idol worship, R Shteinman declared that there is no need to worry about this or to change your wig, and about the concern he said, “This is nareshkeit (nonsense)”
- R Shteinman opines that the nusach of the siddur isn’t exact and therefor when necessary it can be changed. For ‘hataras nedarim’ on New Year’s eve he authored a shorter version so he could save time on that holy day.
- R Shteinman said, “People make a big deal out of the esrog but it isnt l’shem shamayim, esrog is an acronym (in hebrew) for ‘al taviuni regel gaavah’, people search for an esrog for haughtiness and not for the mitzva.
- When a young yeshiva student died suddenly, the deceased’s friends asked R Shteinman in what matter they should strengthen themselves as a reaction to the death. R Shteinman responded that it is a normal occurrence that sometimes young people pass away. When the friends asked him about the Rambam who wrote that someone who doesn’t mourn death should be worried and investigate what is wrong with himself, R Shteinman replied that the Rambam was referring to major disasters.
- At a panel discussing education, R Shteinman said that not everyone is capable of teaching (referring to people who obtain positions through nepotism), “We see Avroham had a son Yishmael.”
- Regarding the custom of kissing a mezuzah, R Shteinman asked “What is the purpose of this custom? You think just because you touch a mezuza it makes you holy?”
- Regarding the statement in Nefesh Hachayim (by R Chaim of Volozhin) that were there to be a second wherein not a single person in the world was learning Torah the world would immediately be destroyed, R Shteinman said that this isnt correct, since fulfilling mitzvos also keeps the world running, even when we eat or sleep it counts, since it is done to help in our service of hashem. It’s likely that R Chaim of Volozhin was just exaggerating to make a point.
- R Steinman added that we see from two sources (Avos 6:2 and Sukka 45b) that there were times when nobody in the world was learning.
- While speaking to a student, R Steinman said that one shouldn’t be discouraged that their learning is weaker in the middle of the year than it is at the beginning, since this is the nature of things. Even the Rashba’s essays get shorter as he gets further into each gemora tractate.
- Regarding what it states in Chovos Halevovos and is quoted in Shmiras Ha’lashon that someone who speaks loshon ha’ra acquires the sins of his victim, R Shteinman asked “From where did they get this? There is no source for this idea in tradition and it is very strange and odd to say such a thing.”
- R Shteinman was asked if it can be repeated in his name that that since all kollel students have cellphones that the phones should be kept off during yeshiva hours. He answered that we can’t know why someone has a phone, perhaps his wife needs him. A person can decide for himself how to behave here, but under no circumstance should it be to the detriment of his wife.
- Someone asked R Shteinman whether they should avoid kiruv since they will see immodestly dressed women. He responded by quoting the Talmud: “Who is a pious fool? Someone who sees a women drowning in a river and says it isn’t proper to look at her and to save her.”
- R Shteinman says often that in our time the merit from learning Torah isn’t as great as it used to be since we don’t learn it for its own sake. He added on one occasion, “Who says our learning is even considered learning? Perhaps our ideas are wrong?”
- Unlike how most people feel that the world was created for Torah study, R Shteinman says that the world was created to perform kindness.
- Several yeshiva heads asked R Shteinman whether they should allow their students to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashana. He replied, “I’m certain that among all the people, there is at least one minyan of people davening properly, so it’s certainly a merit if they join that minyan.”