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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Derech Eretz’

My Father, Dayan Grunfeld

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

One cold December evening, I walked into my father’s book-lined study to light the Chanukah candles, which were placed beside the window that overlooked a high street in North London.

My father was seated in his armchair surrounded by the red glow of the crackling log fire, and in the chair next to him, wearing a flowing red robe and white skull cap, sat Sir James Parkes, the renowned Christian theologian and author.

I hesitated and backed away.

“Stay and light the candles,” said my father.

Gingerly, I approached the menorah and with flame in hand, I mumbled the blessings under my breath so that Sir James would not hear.

“Amen,” responded Sir James loudly, and I felt a sense of pride that Sir James had acknowledged our faith, mixed with shame that I had tried to hide it.

My father never hid it. He believed that God and His Law served as the province for all mankind and was in no way reserved for the Jews alone. From its very inception, universalism was axiomatic to Judaism. The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of Man, not with the story of the Jew. God chose the Jews to carry the message of monotheism until the dawn of the Messianic era when all the nations of the world would at last acknowledge Him.

The purpose of designating the Jews as the Chosen People is clearly outlined in the leitmotif of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, namely to fulfill the wish “that every creature know that God is its Maker and proclaim that the God of Israel is King and his Kingship rules over everything.”

If the Jews were to isolate themselves in a ghetto and shun the secular world, such a goal would never be achieved. For my father, there was an intimate connection between the position of Israel as the Chosen People on the one hand and the Messianic unity of mankind on the other. To maintain one’s identity as a separate religious and ethnic group and yet work loyally for the whole community of mankind was, for him, no contradiction.

Consistent with this thinking, my father believed that religion should embrace the whole of life in its personal, economic and social aspects and that it was a fundamental mistake to try to localize God in a House of Worship. God is either everywhere or He is nowhere and the Law of God either rules supreme in all aspects of life or it rules nowhere at all.

According to my father, the origins of the Holocaust could be traced back to the emergence of the Renaissance era with its separation of God and State, and its insistence that God Himself and the Divine origin of His Torah be proven in the courts of human reason. God, imprisoned by the Renaissance in the House of Worship, was the first displaced person of Europe and into the vacuum created by His expulsion rushed the demons of Machiavellian sovereignty, bringing death and destruction in their wake.

Mankind’s inventiveness and destructive energy had run amok and were charging headlong with atom bombs and nuclear armaments toward the precipice of universal self-destruction with none of the precepts and boundaries of religion to keep them in check.

* * * * * As a student of the works of Immanuel Kant and a disciple of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, my father believed the Torah could address all its critics, including the “wise men” of higher criticism, which he, together with others, dubbed “higher anti-Semitism.”

His premise was that God and the Divine origin of the Torah lay beyond the reach of human reason, which can neither prove nor disprove them because, to use the language of Kant, they are not “phenomena,” not part of this world, but “noumena,” beyond this world. Nevertheless, they are facts, to the same extent that nature itself and the soul of the human being are facts.

They exist, without doubt, even though we do not fully comprehend them. One cannot analyze the soul through a microscope, scan God through a telescope or view God speaking to man by using the spade of the archeologist. To deduce from this that God and the soul do not exist would be rather like the fisherman who claims that water does not exist because his net never captured it. Accordingly, to my father, the only way to perceive God is through the observance of the mitzvot, which he called power stations that generate holiness.

Tender Reminiscences: Chief Rabbi Carlebach And My Family

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

A few months before my family emigrated in 1938 to the United States from Hamburg, Germany, I had the special privilege at the bris of my brother, Micha, to sit on the lap of Chief Rabbi Joseph Carlebach, zt”l, a revered rabbinical giant of his age.

At the time I was just a child, yet I still recall and revere the encounter with this towering personality. While my family was fortunate to escape the Holocaust, Chief Rabbi Carlebach remained with his congregants as they were deported to Riga, Latvia, where he and his wife were martyred by the Nazis.

Chief Rabbi Carlebach presided over an old and large kehilla in north Germany, collectively known as “AHU” – the combined communities of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck. He served as spiritual leader of Hamburg’s Bornplatz Synagogue, where the chazzan was the renowned Yossele Rosenblatt (prior to his departure for New York to accept the cantor’s position at Congregation Ohab Zedek, then located in Harlem).

Bankers like Max M. Warburg, import-export tycoons, shipping magnates and professionals of every stripe were Rav Carlebach’s congregants. As a child I attended the vast and beautiful Bornplatz Synagogue with my father. I recall this impressive structure as a freestanding building with a plaza in front. (The synagogue sanctuary was larger and higher than my synagogue, Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, or that of Temple Beth El in Boro Park.)

When my father arrived at the Bornplatz Synagogue, the attendants at the coat check desk would hand him his silk top hat, which was stored there, in exchange for the hat he was wearing. Such formal headgear for men was standard fare in this synagogue.

My father liked attending Rav Carlebach’s shiurim as well as listening to his sermons because the chief rabbi was an outstanding orator. Rav Carlebach, I was told, didn’t have to make an appeal; merely mentioning a communal need during his sermon would result in that need being almost immediately filled by his congregants.

Chief Rabbi Carlebach had an uncanny ability to discover and attract outstanding scholars to his community. Rav Shmuel Yosef Rabinow, who became a friend of my family, was approached by Rav Carlebach to accept a position as rosh yeshiva. Rav Rabinow was initially reluctant to accept the position because he was studying at an East European yeshiva while his wife managed a store to support his Torah studies. So Rav Carlebach appealed to the Chofetz Chaim, who persuaded Rav Rabinow to accept the position.

Later, Rav Rabinow became a member of the Hamburg bet din. Fortunately, he was able to leave Hamburg prior to World War II and eventually became a prominent member of London’s renowned bet din.

Rav Rabinow also served as rabbi (klaus rabbiner) of Adas Jeschorim Synagogue in Hamburg until he left Germany in 1938. He was succeeded by my maternal grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Avraham Petrover. Prior to Chief Rabbi Carlebach’s deportation to Riga, he appointed Rabbi Petrover to lead the remaining Hamburg Jews. He served in this position until he, along with my grandmother, Friedericke Falk Petrover, and aunt Mellita were deported to Lodz, where they perished.

Jewish education in Hamburg was conducted in the philosophy of Torah im Derech Eretz, defined as the evaluation of the secular by the standards set by Torah and Chazal. Rav Carlebach attracted to Hamburg’s celebrated Talmud Torah Realschule many Torah-observant scholars and educational pioneers – Dr. Arthur Spier, Rabbi Dr. I. Grunfeld, Dr. Hugo Mandelbaum, Naphtali Eldod – as teachers and lecturers. They were on the teaching staff when my uncles were educated at this institution.

Dr. Spier later became founding principal of Manhattan Day School (Yeshiva Ohr Torah) and the author of the Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar. Rabbi Dr. Grunfeld went on to become a highly respected member of the London bet din, author of The Sabbath, and translator of the writings of Samson Raphael Hirsch. Dr. Mandelbaum, who was also a mathematician, became a professor of geology at Wayne State University in Detroit while also teaching mathematics at that city’s Yeshiva Beth Yehudah High School. Unfortunately, Mr. Eldod, a teacher of French, perished in the Holocaust.

It wasn’t surprising that Rav Carlebach seated me on his lap. He was very familiar with my family. My paternal grandmother’s family (the Gumpel-Fursts) lived in Lubeck, Germany, and gave that community many distinguished leaders. My great-grandfather, Meyer Gumpel-Furst, was the parnass in Lubeck. They were friends and congregants of Joseph Carlebach’s father, Rabbi Salomon Carlebach, the spiritual leader of that community.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tender-reminiscences-chief-rabbi-carlebach-and-my-family/2010/06/09/

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