Bush And Knishes
I’m new to The Jewish Press, or maybe I should say The Jewish Press is new to me. I live in the Miami area, and only recently began reading your paper as a result of my newly kindled interest in Judaism. There’s so much to read each week, and I particularly appreciate the Torah columns and your great op-eds and editorials.
Speaking of editorials, I loved your editorials endorsing President Bush, although I knew – as did you – that outside of the Orthodox community, most American Jews would sooner vote for the worst imaginable Democrat than for a Republican. In fact, my next door neighbors, transplanted New Yorkers in their eighties, calmly informed me that they’d have voted for Al Sharpton over Bush, because, in their words, “the Republicans want to take away our Social Security.”
I was glad to read that younger Jews were more likely to vote for Bush than their elders, so at least there’s hope that the next generation won’t be the mindless, robotic Democrats their parents and grandparents prove themselves to be election after election.
In closing, I’ll share with you an observation a friend of mine made about these Florida senior citizens all around us who still think Roosevelt was the greatest thing that ever happened to Jews and who believe that the essence of being a good Jew is to support any liberal Democrat: “Bush could convert to Judaism and then complain about his colonoscopy over diet soda and knishes, and still those old Jews wouldn’t vote for him.”
Worthy Role Model
Re Boruch Selevan’s Dec. 24 letter to the editor criticizing frum Jews who follow the career of a rising young superstar boxer who happens to be frum himself:
I am a frum Jew who’s been involved in kiruv for over twenty years and can claim to have brought – with the help of dedicated rabbanim and community members – a very large number of students to some level of Yiddishkeit. I say this not as a boast but to qualify my opinion.
I have also boxed, and I have a black belt in Jiu-jitsu. In my opinion, it is about time that Jewish youth have a strong frum role model in the media. Our Torah is replete with heroes, from Avraham to the achronim, who fought and won decisive battles for Torah and Hashem. Contrary to some opinions, they did not just set down the sefer and pick up the sword. It takes years of practice, physical conditioning and some measure of pain to produce a fighter.
Today we encounter the phenomenon of a Jewish community losing its hold on its youth to non-Jewish gang-style rappers, tough-guy Hollywood actors and left-wing “freedom fighters.” (If you think this is a phenomenon exclusive to the non-frum world, you just don’t know your kids.) And why not? Youth admires strength and courage over all things. How many kids dress up as soldiers, cowboys and swordsmen on Purim? How many as gedolim?
It is when I understood that Jewish youth need a constructive character-building environment, supported by the Torah and the empowerment that physical skill and strength provide, that I started to succeed in kiruv.
Admirable Young Boxer
Given all the world’s ills, I find it appalling that Mr Selevan has nothing else to worry about besides what an admirable young boxer chooses to do with his life. I happen to know the young man in question personally, and the fact that he wears his frumkeit on his sleeves is commendable and should be given at least the moral support of the frum community at large.
I am not writing to debate whether boxing is the frum thing to do. I simply wish to salute a man who is “mekadesh shem shomayim befarhesia.”
Those Pro-PETA Letters (I)
I was shocked and horrified at the number of recent letters to the editor agreeing with the ludicrous claims put forth by PETA. Readers who claimed that PETA is correct according to our Holy Law neglected to indicate how exactly the practices at AgriProcessors contradict the Shulchan Aruch.
The fact is that the cutting of the arteries in the neck during shechita causes an immediate loss of blood pressure in the brain. This means, in laymen’s terms, that the cow no longer has enough energy in its brain to power its nerve cells. As a result, the cow doesn’t feel a thing. All twitching by the animal is due to muscle spasms – a reflex action not connected to the brain, and therefore the nerves, at all.
I congratulate Nathan Lewin, reader Amy Wall, and The Jewish Press on their excellent points and strong stances on this issue. I am dan lekaf zechus all those readers who did not respond; I assume they agree with the position of The Jewish Press on this subject.
Those Pro-PETA Letters (II)
The Gemara teaches that inappropriate foodstuffs have a dulling effect on the mind. I can only surmise that the respondents to the anti-PETA editorials who, with the exception of Amy Wall, sided with the radical organization must have ingested halchically forbidden materials.
One can state categorically and unequivocally that vegetarianism is not, never was, and never will be a higher form of Judaism. Certainly it is any Jew’s prerogative to choose the herbivorous life – that is, until the Beis Hamikdosh is rebuilt, whereupon all must partake of at least the korban Pesach – but to aver that God considers us sinners for eating properly slaughtered animals is an outright lie. From the advent of our nation, when kosher meat was available it was unstintingly consumed.
And what, pray tell, do Orthodox vegetarians suggest we’ll do when the Third Temple is rebuilt (speedily and in our days)? Right, we’ll shecht tomatoes (beef tomatoes to be sure) and sprinkle the juice on the mizbeach.
As to the insinuation raised by some of the writers that yes, PETA represents a lunatic fringe but Hashem made them a tool to highlight religious and ethical infractions at the plant: I can accept this possibility, but as Ms. Wall deftly noted, we must turn to our accepted kashrus organizations to rectify the matter (I am in no position to determine whether anything is in fact amiss), and not play into the hands of a group that would not only bar all consumption and use of four-legged creatures, but fish and fowl as well.
Dr. Yaakov Stern
Rav Teitz’s Approach To Torah
Since last Wednesday friends have been telling me how much they enjoyed Dr. Yitzchok Levine’s memories of my father, HaRav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, published on page one of The Jewish Press (“Master Builder: Rav Teitz and the Elizabeth Kehilla,” Dec. 24).
Dr. Levine is one of a group of scientists and mathematicians that my father welcomed to Elizabeth, New Jersey. He saw their enjoyment and accomplishment in their fields combined with their love of Torah as a promising sign for the Jewish future.
I was struck by one passage in Dr. Levine’s engaging account. “My eldest son,” he wrote, “was born in July 1970. I asked Rav Teitz to be the sandak at his bris, and he graciously agreed. The bris was on a Shabbos. We davened in the Bais Yitzchok shul and then walked across the street to my home for the bris. Since he and I needed our taleisim for the bris, we wore them as we made our way from the shul to my home. As we were walking outside with our taleisim clearly visible, Rav Teitz turned to me and said, “Thirty-five years ago, who would have believed that one could walk in the streets of Elizabeth wearing a tallis?”
Dr. Levine concludes, “The fact that we could do this in 1970 without any qualms was evidence of how far Rav Teitz had taken the Jewish community since he had become the rav.”
What surprised me was my father walking outside with his tallis visible. He had remarked more than once that only in Israel should one do this – that is the only place that is our home, and where we can feel completely at home; everywhere else we are guests and must conduct ourselves accordingly.
This was not a “golus Jew” mentality; he was not afraid. It was a Torah view of the difference between living in Israel and all other countries. He also disliked ostentatious displays of observance; parading one’s piety made the piety suspect.
Then how did he not only wear a tallis outside but make a positive comment about doing so? Some context will give the answer. A person who studies Torah is aware that “one p’sak [decision] does not fit all.” If one senses the complexity of life and appreciates the depth of Jewish law, one realizes that different circumstances require different responses. One can dislike flamboyant frumkeit, but on a mid-summer Shabbos when one will be sandak at a bris (and the eruv would be built a few years later), one can leave his tallis on to walk from shul to the baby’s home.
This consideration of the variables in life is crucial to the vitality of halacha. When I encounter the phrase about the Torah being written in “black on white,” I think that the Torah holds all the contrasts and does not reduce life to a uniform grey.
His positive remark about doing something unusual is equally revealing. His “gam zu l’tovah” wasn’t a sentimental echo. He thought that if you analyzed it correctly, an obstacle could be a challenge and even an opportunity. He could not abide complaining, bemoaning and criticizing. His favorite quotation in the Torah was Avraham’s answer to Hashem, “hineni,” here am I. He interpreted all that was contained in this single word: “here,” not with the excuse that elsewhere you could be an observant Jew; “am,” at this moment, not saying previous generations could keep Torah but not a modern individual; “I,” not ‘someone else should do something,’ but I will act now. Because he wanted to see what was good he found it in people and in situations. He was positive about making an exception for a simcha.
I am glad that Dr. Levine’s reminiscence led to this exploration of an approach to Torah that is both profound and positive. Thank you for mentioning Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah, the biography of Rav Teitz published by Ktav.
Rivkah Teitz Blau
Posts Tagged ‘Rav Teitz’
Bush And Knishes
One cannot think of Yiddishkeit in Elizabeth, New Jersey, without at the same time recalling the community’s longtime leader, Harav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, zt”l. Rav Teitz served the Jews of Elizabeth for sixty years, building a dynamic Orthodox kehilla that provided for all the religious needs of a relatively small Jewish community.
Mordechai Pinchas Teitz was born on July 7, 1908 (8 Tammuz 5668). In 1924, after spending two years studying in the yeshiva in Ponevez, Lithuania, and some time with the Rogochover Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen, he became a student at Yeshiva Knesses Yisroel, commonly referred to as Slabodka. At this time almost four hundred students were studying there. Slabodka, under the leadership of “der Alter,” Rav Nosan Tzvi Finkel, produced many of the great Torah leaders of the past century.
Among those who studied in Slabodka and developed under the influence of Rav Finkel were Rabbis Aaron Kotler (Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood), Yaakov Kamenetsky (Yeshiva Torah Vodaath), Yaakov Ruderman (Yeshivas Ner Yisroel), Yechiel Weinberg (the Seridei Aish), Yitzchok Hutner (Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin), and Yaakov Moshe Lessin (Yeshiva Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonan). An interesting thing to note about these men is that each was not only a Torah giant, but a unique individual as well. The Alter focused on the development of the natural gifts and personalities of his students. Certainly there was no “cookie cutter” approach in Slabodka that attempted to produce students who “fit a certain mold.”
Arrival in America
In 1933 Rav Teitz was asked to accompany Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch on a fundraising trip to America on behalf of the Telz Yeshiva. He was chosen because at the age of 25 he had already earned the reputation of being a multi-talented individual and an excellent speaker. While in the United States, Rav Teitz visited many Jewish communities. In 1934 he met Basya Preil, whom he married in January 1935. Basya was the daughter of Elizabeth’s previous rav, Rabbi Elazar Mayer Preil, who had passed away in 1933. Rav Preil had written in his will that the position of rav of Elizabeth should go to the man who married Basya, provided he was qualified. Mordechai Pinchas Teitz certainly fulfilled this requirement.
Rav Teitz and his new bride visited Europe shortly after their marriage so that she could meet his family. While there, Rav Teitz spoke at a number of gatherings. His speeches were always memorable. A friend of mine, Rabbi B., a student in the Telz Yeshiva from 1932 until 1939, still recalls a key point of the talk Rav Teitz gave in Telz in 1935 – some seventy years after he first heard the words spoken.
“I remember that Rav Teitz spoke in a movie theater in Telz,” Rabbi B. told me. “The theater was packed. You have to realize that in Telz there were only one or two cars, perhaps three. Rav Teitz said that in America there were many cars constantly moving this way and that way in the streets. ‘What keeps the cars from crashing into each other?’ he asked. ‘At every intersection there is a traffic signal with red and green lights. When it is green, the cars can go, and when it is red, they must stop. The Torah is our traffic light! It tells when and where we can go and when and where we must stop!’ “
Building a Kehilla
A man of great talent and energy, Rav Tetz set about the task of building the institutions of the Elizabeth Jewish community almost as soon as he and his wife returned from Europe. Dr. Blau writes on page 107 of her biography of her father.
In April 1935, at a meeting called for the new rabbi to present his plans, people were shocked when he announced, “I must leave Elizabeth.” They expected an outline for the future, not a resignation speech. When they protested he explained, “A Jew is not permitted to live in a place that has no Mikvah; since we do not have one, I must move to a city that meets this primary requirement.” One member sputtered, “It’s a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, to talk of such matters.”
In the end he won his argument to build a mikvah. It took him three years to raise the $3,000 required to purchase a building and renovate it, but Elizabeth finally had a mikvah of its own. In keeping with Rav Teitz’s belief that Torah had to be presented to the younger American generation in as pleasing a manner as possible, the mikvah he built was a beautiful, modern facility that was always kept scrupulously clean.
The building of this mikvah was just a first step for Rav Teitz. In 1940 he opened an elementary yeshiva. In 1952 he opened a junior high school. In 1955 this junior high was extended to a high school for boys. In 1963 Rav Teitz opened the Bruriah High School for Girls. All of these institutions were eventually housed in modern buildings that incorporated beauty as well as functionality. In addition, he built two modern synagogues, one in 1947 and the second in 1955. These would have been proud accomplishments for any community with five times the Jewish population of Elizabeth.
One must also add that Rav Teitz did not like mortgages, so he raised the money to pay off all of the mortgages on these buildings ahead of their due date.
National and World Efforts
Rav Teitz did not restrict his efforts to Elizabeth. From 1935 until 1995 he was involved in virtually every Orthodox Jewish issue of national and international importance. He was active in the Agudas HaRabbonim and Agudas Yisroel, as well as Torah U’Mesorah. He was always committed to Eretz Yisrael and did much to raise funds to support those who lived there. In the early 1960′s he made his first of many trips to the USSR. He had a unique approach to helping oppressed Russian Jewry that not everyone appreciated at the time.
In 1953 he inaugurated his soon-to-be-famous Daf Hashovua radio program. The idea of teaching Torah on the radio was so revolutionary that some opposed it, claiming it was forbidden by halacha. With the backing of many of the great rabbonim of the day, however, he began to teach Gemara to thousands of listeners.
Some Personal Anecdotes
I mentioned above that Rav Teitz was a truly gifted speaker. As soon as he became the rav of Elizabeth he began to study English. He pointed out many times that it was crucial for a rabbi in America to speak the language of the country in order to communicate with the younger generation. With the assistance of Mrs. Teitz, who was born in America, it did not take long before he was fluent in English and delivering speeches in this language.
I used to go to the Jewish Educational Center (JEC) on Shabbos afternoons for Mincha and to hear Rav Teitz speak. These talks were always in Yiddish when I attended. His regal appearance and bearing, his inimitable style, his Torah knowledge, and his stories about Europe and its great rabbis all served to transport me to a world that I, an American-born man, had never experienced. I could have davened at the Bais Yitzchok shul across the street from where I lived. However, these talks were well worth the 10 or 15 minute walk, and their memory has lasted, as you can see, until today.
My eldest so was born in July 1970. I asked Rav Teitz to be the sandek at his bris, and he graciously agreed. The bris was on a Shabbos. We davened in the Bais Yitzchok shul and then walked across the street to my home for the bris. Since he and I needed our talleisim for the bris, we wore them as we made our way from the shul to my home. As we were walking outside with our talleisim clearly visible, Rav Teitz turned to me and said, “Thirty-five years ago, who would have believed that one could walk in the streets of Elizabeth wearing a tallis!”
The fact that we could do this in 1970 without any qualms was evidence of how far Rav Teitz had taken the Jewish community since he had first become its rav.
While Rav Teitz was involved in an unbelievable variety of activities, his primary commitment was to learning and teaching Torah. I still recall a discussion I had with him relating to some of the halachos of Succos. I asked a number of questions, and he responded, as he always did, patiently, clearly and precisely. At one point I asked what he must have considered to be a good question, because his entire face lit up with satisfaction, and he said, “Good, good!” Torah was always his first love.
When I arrived in Elizabeth I found many well-educated, young Orthodox professionals living there. There was, however, one person who soon caught my attention, a gentleman by the name of Nochum Yehuda Bieber, z”l. “Mr. Bieber,” as he was known to all in Elizabeth, was an elderly man who lived in a room in what had been known as the Remington Mansion. The Bruriah High School for Girls was located in this mansion from 1963 until 1972.
Mr. Bieber once told me how he came to “live in a girls’ school.” He had retired and was estranged from his family. Since learning Torah was his main interest, he decided he would move from New York to Lakewood. While traveling, he stopped in Elizabeth to daven Mincha. Rav Teitz spotted him immediately, and, after the davening, engaged him in conversation.
When it became apparent that Mr. Bieber had no definite place to go in Lakewood, Rav Teitz proposed that he stay in Elizabeth and live in a room in the Bruriah building rent-free. This way, Mr. Bieber would have a place to live at no cost, and there would be someone in the building at night and on weekends to make sure that unwelcome guests did not gain access to the building. It was, as they say, an offer too good for Mr. Bieber to refuse.
Not long after he moved in, Mr. Bieber found himself bombarded with invitations for Shabbos. After all, he turned out to be the perfect Shabbos guest. He gladly ate whatever he was served and interacted well with members of the host families no matter how young they were, despite his being well on in years. He knew when to listen and when to be “preoccupied.” By the time I moved to Elizabeth, Mr. Bieber was in such demand that, in order to have him come as your Shabbos guest, you had to “reserve” him several weeks in advance.
Mr. Bieber’s long term goal was to settle in Eretz Yisrael and live out his life there. He received a small monthly check from Social Security and did his best to save as much of it as possible. His life was a frugal one. I recall him making cheese from spoiled milk. He once proudly showed me how he prepared his tablecloth for Shabbos: He would wash it in the bathtub and let it dry. Then he would fold it neatly and put it between his mattress and box spring for a few days. The result was a neatly “pressed” tablecloth.
By 1971 Mr. Bieber had saved up enough money to move to Israel. When he applied for papers to become a permanent resident, he was turned down. The Israeli consulate would only grant him a tourist visa, out of fear that an old man like him would get sick and become a financial burden on the State. He was devastated when he told me what had happened. In some way or other av Teitz found out, and soon Mr. Bieber had the papers he so dearly wanted.
The next time I saw Rav Teitz, I thanked him for intervening on Mr. Bieber’s behalf. He told me that the Israeli government had refused to grant Mr. Bieber the papers for permanent residency without a guarantee that, in the event Mr. Bieber became ill, someone would underwrite his medical expenses. In the end, Rav Teitz had to promise that the Elizabeth Jewish community would assume this financial obligation. In this way he enabled Mr. Bieber to fulfill his dream and settle in Israel. In 1973, shortly after Shavuos, Mr. Bieber passed away. My second son was born that Shavuos, and I named him after Mr. Bieber.
The Teitz Way
Shortly after I moved to Elizabeth, someone told me the following. “You have to understand; in Elizabeth there is the right way, the wrong way, and the Teitz way.” I pointed out that something was either right or wrong. However, after living in Elizabeth for six months, I began to understand what this fellow meant.
There were times when some of the residents of Elizabeth were unhappy with things that Rav Teitz did and insisted upon. No one really likes a strong leader who is adamant about how things should be done. Nevertheless, Rav Teitz was always careful to make sure that nothing was done that would weaken the kehilla he had so painstakingly built.
Once, when someone was complaining about something that Rav Teitz had done, another fellow replied, “Think of what America would be like today if there had been one hundred Rabbi Teitzes in one hundred cities like Elizabeth.”
Indeed, how many cities now devoid of any real Yiddishkeit would have developed into vibrant Torah communities had they had a Rabbi Teitz at the helm?
It certainly is something to think about, particularly at this time of year when we mark the yahrzeit of Rav Teitz, who passed away on the fourth of Teves, 5756, corresponding to the evening of December 26, 1995.
(Note: Much of the information for this article was found in the excellent biography of Rav Teitz, Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah (Ktav), written by his daughter Dr. Rivkah Teitz Blau.)
Dr. Yitzchok Levine is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.