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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rav Wosner’

Was ‘Internet Ban’ an Authoritative Decree of Torah Sages, or Just Baloney?

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

OK. The title is a bit extreme. But at least I have your attention. Last May – one will recall – there was a giant Asifa – a gathering of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews dealing with the dangers of the internet. Although it was billed as a way to properly use the internet, it was ultimately about trashing it and forbidding its use altogether accept for livelihood purposes. And even then – only with filters and only outside the house.

Not that any of that surprised me. But what did surprise me is the way Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman who introduced 99-year-old Israeli Posek, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner.

Using Rabbenu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva as his source Rabbi Wachsman said that when Rivivos Yisroel (thousands of Jews) gather in one place and decisions for action are made by leaders of Klal Yisroel, those who separate themselves from those actions lose their portion in Olam Haba. I suppose he would call this ‘decision for action’ by Rav Wosner Daas Torah.

After that introduction what followed was Rav Wosner paskining in the most serious and solemn of tones that it is absolutely forbidden to own or use any device that has internet capabilities in one’s home – even if it is filtered. The only permit was for business, with a flter, and only outside the home. He added that it is even forbidden to enter a home that has the internet. And that religious schools should exclude children whose homes have it.

Despite that edict and Rabbi Wachsman’s dire warnings, that Psak has been almost completely ignored by the vast majority of Charedim. Although immediuately after that Asifa there was a flurry of activity by a number of Charedim to get rid of their smart-phones and remove the internet from their homes – the ban has basically been unsuccessful. I guess those poor people who still have smart-phones and the like (which is probably the vast majority of Charedim) have all lost their Olam Haba.

One of the things I noticed the most in my recent trip to Israel was that in the Charedi neighborhoods in which I hung out – virtually everyone had a smart-phone. They were so ubiquitous, that I could barely believe my eyes. Perhaps some of them had filters, I don’t know. But that wasn’t the Psak of Rav Wosner that Rabbi Wachsman said must be followed – or else! Rav Wosner said that it was only to be used for Parnassa purposes – with filters – in places of business. The Charedim I saw were using their smart phones causally at their leisure during Chol HaMoed Sukkos. Tons of them!

Not to let things just slide, members of the strident right keep coming out with public statements about such devices. Most recently just before Sukkos it was claimed by the Israeli Yated and other Charedi newspapers that Rav Chaim Kanievsky issued a public notice saying that anyone who owns an i-phone should burn it. It was later denied by sources close to Rav Kaneivsky saying that he only wished to warn people about the dangers involved.

Then something amazing happened. Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak was photographed using an i-phone in his car. One may recall that he was one the earliest proponents of destroying them – railing against its dangers. And yet, there he was using it himself. He defended his own use of it claiming he got a Heter (permission) from another elderly Gadol, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, to use it for Kiruv purposes.

Well… all of a sudden the internet seems to carry some value among Charedim, at least enough to make exceptions to destroying it. And in the case of Rav Kaneivsky – he too seems to place some positive value on it. At least enough to be moved to deny the claim that he had called for destroying i-phones.

One of the biggest criticisms I have about the strident right, is their black and white – all or nothing approach to everything. Of course this is quite in character for them. Everything In their world is black and white, including their clothing. They never heard of the word grey. There is no nuance. No subtlety. No concessions to any of the positive values of something they don’t approve of. If they think the bad outweighs the good – then they just say it is all bad and forbid it. But life does not work that way. Reality will trump rhetoric every single time they come into conflict with each other. As can be plainly seen by the way their bans are ignored.

As I have said over a Gazillion times, the internet is a tool that can be used for good and bad and should be treated that way. The right always said that the bad so far outweighs the good that there is nothing to talk about. Rav Wosner sure felt that way. Even though he probably never used the internet in his entire life.

Another thing I have said over a gazillion times is that I agree with the right about the dangers of the internet. I also agree that precautions must be taken to prevent encountering those dangers. Where I part company with them is in their all or nothing approach. And in their refusal to acknowledge that there is a positive side to it worth utilizing. Their public knows it. Which is why Rav Wosner’s Psak is honored more in the breach than in its adherence.

Rav Shlomo Aviner has the most sensible attitude about using this technology, it is basically the same position most moderate Charedi and Centrist rabbinic leaders have. From YWN:

The rav explained that SMS text messages and internet connectivity are helpful to many people. He feels there is no prohibition in using either of these services.

“It is certainly preferable to have a kosher phone but this is a chumra and not obligatory. One who feels a non-kosher phone is a michshol must prohibit himself from using such a device” the rav stated.

Rabbi Avi[n]er  continued by explaining there are things the Torah did not prohibit but if a person realizes such a device will cause him to stumble, such a person must set restrictions into place to avoid falling due to this michshol.

I wonder if Rabbi Wachsman still believes we are all going permanently to hell?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Eliezer Reiner – The Mitzvah Of Memory

Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

Remember. The commandment to remember reverberates throughout the Torah, starting with the Exodus from Egypt, continuing to Receiving the Torah and finally climaxing in the weekly
remembrance of the Sabbath itself. Embedded in the six remembrances is the commandment to, “remember what Amalek did to you on the way” (Devarim 25:17).

As an extension of this commandment, Megillas Esther is one long act of remembering that reaches back to ancient Shushan and returns with horrifying regularity in our daily newspapers. Eliezer Reiner, a sofer and artist of illuminated manuscripts, concentrates on the act of remembrance by simultaneously remembering the good and holy we have inherited. His labors are a constant homage to the glories of Jewish illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Reiner is a Sofer Stam with semicha from Rav Wosner of B’nai Brak who quickly found that the holy work of being a sofer held a hidden benefit for him, in the singular opportunity to express his creativity while beautifying the mitzva embodied in every text he wrote. Beyond the inherent beauty of the letters themselves, he is able to glorify G-d with elaborate images and decorations surrounding the Megillot and other texts he produces.

Born in Hungary, he studied calligraphy in Budapest and then later, the exacting skills of the sofer in France and Antwerp. Being a sofer carried great responsibility, illustrated by the simple question; “Who must be more proficient, a shohet or a sofer?” If a shohet’s work and
examination is not exactly perfect, his customers risk the sin of eating neveilah or treifah. What a responsibility! However a sofer actually carries a heavier responsibility. While his work must have a corresponding accuracy, getting each word correct, he must have the proper intention with each Torah, mezuzah, tefillin and sacred text in which he writes G-d’s holy name. That kavanah, for the sake of heaven, is necessary for any holy text to be kosher, and yet only the
sofer and G-d know whether the kavanah is proper. A sofer lacking the proper kavanah exposes his customers to the risk of a lifetime of unfulfilled mitzvot. We are totally dependent upon his skill and piety.

Reiner is well aware of his responsibility to halacha and therefore went to Rav Wosner to make sure that the illumination of manuscripts was permitted in contemporary times. He was told that the use of images, even of human beings, was well within the accepted norms for general texts and Megillot. Reiner proceeded with his project of the revival of the Golden Age of manuscript illumination. In the Middle Ages, a sofer frequently had to work with a non-Jewish artist to produce the luxuriously illuminated Jewish texts. Problems arose, however, concerning some of the illuminations creating inappropriate images of Greek and Roman figures, angels, and nudes that were out of place in sacred Jewish texts. Reiner’s vision is to create works that will be beautiful, expressive and firmly within Jewish law.

Not surprisingly Reiner has illuminated many versions of Megillas Esther. His website, www.artilluminations.com, exhibits no less than eight examples of this work, out of the over 20 hand illuminated Megillas he has created. Each Megilla is custom made for the specific needs of the customer, often reflecting individual tastes and sensibilities. The text, normally surrounded by an ornate floral design border done in gold leaf, egg tempera, acrylic paint and colored inks, is sometimes interrupted by illuminated panels, such as the startling image of the Beis haMikdash (2004) set in a bejeweled rondo, reminiscent of Italian Renaissance manuscripts. This placement reminds the reader that the Book of Esther takes place after the
destruction of the First Temple and before the construction of the Second. Much like today, the Jewish people felt themselves suspended in longing for a peaceful homeland and access to G-d.

The intensely lush visual style in all of Reiner’s work transcends mere ostentatious decoration. His images, never directly copied from ancient examples, always reflect historical styles that express a pride and love of Jewish cultural life. A developed sense of aesthetics is not foreign to Judaism, it seems it has only been temporarily forgotten. Reiner reminds us that when Noah blessed his two sons, Japheth was crowned with the skill and appreciation of beauty. Shem and Japheth were meant to live together in harmony, Torah and beauty in partnership. Over the ages, many Jews have forgotten how beauty can enhance so many aspects of Jewish life.

Reiner’s Tree of Life, (1999) carries its image well beyond a simple family tree. The surrounding “carpet page” decoration exists in exquisite tension with the naturalism of the many-branched tree. The swirling mass of brightly colored flowers, leaves and branches create a joyful meditation on sumptuousness, a reflection of the glorious but undocumented generations both past and future. Crowning the upper branches of the tree poetic verses from Taanis 5b remind us of “a tree of fruits of which were sweet, its shade pleasant, May it be [G-d's] will that all the shoots taken from you be like unto you.” Reiner’s blessing is one of visual beauty.

“This is my G-d and I will glorify Him” was uttered at the very moment of our salvation from Egyptian bondage as we were on the threshold of freedom. To remember that moment, we recite the Haggada. The Haggada which Reiner illuminated in 1982 took almost a year to complete, and it is filled with a series of totally original images that leap gleefully back and forth between ancient Egypt and contemporary Hasidic life. A little girl in a white pinafore and pigtails gingerly washes her hands, illustrating the ritual of Rahatz at the seder, while she reappears again almost hidden behind a piece of matzah to illustrate Hamotzie, reciting the Grace After Meals. The Four Sons appear, surrounded by the appropriate text and a beautifully eclectic decoration. Hasidic children are lovingly depicted and contrast with the one rebel, the young man who has chosen to become a boxer, using his might instead of his brains to challenge the world.

Visual creativity of this quality takes tremendous effort, time and skill that are usually beyond the means of most individuals’ compensation. Currently, Reiner is working on an illuminated Sefer Tehillim. Ashrei, the opening psalm, is richly decorated with golden crowns in each corner, a gold-leafed first word and illustrated inserts of the Tower of David. The psalm is set within an elaborate floral decoration that echoes the delicately crowned text. The Jewish public
must recognize that in order for artwork of this quality to be created, some kind of partnership needs to be established in the form of institutional sponsorship. In the last great age of manuscript illumination, medieval and Renaissance donors would commission elaborate works.
Contemporary institutions could use such sponsorship to honor the donors of a yeshiva, a synagogue or other large communal structure.

The act of remembering remains central to Jewish life. We need to remember our rich cultural heritage that some artists, including Eliezer Reiner, are taking it upon themselves to bring back to life. We need to remember, and recognize the efforts of artists past and present who labor to create a Jewish culture that enriches us all.

Eliezer Reiner; Sofer Stam & Illuminated Manuscripts www.artilluminations.com; (845) 426- 3954.

Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/eliezer-reiner-the-mitzvah-of-memory/2004/03/31/

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