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December 21, 2014 / 29 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘rav’

Getting Serious About Get-Refusal

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

It’s human nature to hide our heads in the sand. That may be because we are mostly optimistic. We believe everything will be all right even when we know we are taking a chance.

On the flip side, it’s emotionally very difficult to admit we have a problem. We are worried about how others will regard us. Moreover, addressing a problem entails gathering strength to go about solving it. It’s so much easier to hide our heads in the sand.

About ten years ago, at a rabbinic convention in Israel, I was introduced to a well-known American Orthodox rabbi as a to’enet rabbanit – rabbinical court advocate. The rav politely asked me what I do. I briefly explained how I work with dayanim in Israeli batei din on cases of Get-refusal they have difficulty resolving. I stressed my focus on prenuptial agreements to prevent the agunah problem from arising in the first place, through the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel.

“Oh, I know all about prenups” the rabbi replied. “My daughter just got married but I didn’t tell her to sign one. We don’t need these things.”

This rav, one of the most effective leaders in the American Orthodox world, did not recognize the very real agunah problem in his community. In fact, I have received cries for help (even though I am in Israel) from women who belong to every manner of Orthodox community in the U.S., from chassidishe and haredi to Modern Orthodox and everything in between.

Truth be told, it is difficult for a rav to admit publicly to a problem of Get-refusal in his community when no one is admitting it in the other communities. It is more comforting to imagine that should an agunah case arise, the community will take care of it. However, individuals who begin to tread the path of a me’agen are becoming more and more resistant to communal pressure or even rabbinic influence.

By recognizing the potential for the problem and arranging the signing of prenuptial agreements for its prevention, communal and rabbinic influence can be restored. The problem needs to be prevented from taking root in each individual case before it is too late.

Nevertheless, the practice is to hope for the best, rationalizing the agunah problem with statistics. “What,” we think, “are the chances of this happening to me or to my daughter?”

And yet our communities have overcome deep-seated reluctance in order to deal with other widespread problems. To cut down on the number of cases of genetic disease afflicting the Orthodox community, for example, practical yet dignified solutions were found. The community needed to find a way to assist individuals on a communal level and so now many Orthodox educational institutions routinely bring professionals into twelfth-grade classes to administer blood tests.

In this manner, the individual understands the implicit stamp of approval by the rabbanim and the fear of “what will others think?” is erased, since all are working toward the prevention of the problem.

Similarly, the leadership of each of the various Orthodox communities can make practical arrangements for prenup education with every educational institution – high school, yeshiva gedolah, seminary or college.

A service should be provided whereby every student, man or woman, who becomes engaged is called in. The school’s rabbi or counselor can present the couple with a halachic prenuptial agreement together with an explanation, and arrange for notarization services in the school’s office. In this manner the community will quickly understand that all are expected to sign a prenuptial agreement. It will become “automatic” – one of the things you have to arrange before you get married.

Even those who marry later, while no longer under the aegis of educational institutions, will remember to sign a prenuptial agreement since it will have become a standard part of the shidduch process.

Twenty-one rabbanim of one of Americas’ Orthodox communities – roshei yeshiva of Yeshiva University – recently signed a (second) kol koreh calling on all rabbis and the Orthodox community to promote the standard use of a halachic prenuptial agreement. They were spurred to do so by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. There are those who may feel YU or ORA is not their derech, but that does not relieve them of the responsibility to address the agunah problem in their own communities.

A Unique Iranian Custom

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Question: It is known that some sephardim generally arrive at a simcha a few hours subsequent to the time noted on the invitation. Is there any logic behind this custom?

Answer: Years ago, while serving as a rav in Los Angeles, I, together with my wife, went to a bat mitzvah celebration at the home of a prominent Iranian friend. The event was called for 7 p.m. We arrived shortly after 7:00 and were escorted to the backyard of the venue where there were tables and chairs for at least 500 people. Yet, to our shock and amazement, not a single person was there.

Thinking that we had come on the wrong date, I informed the person who had escorted us that I had probably made an error and that we were departing. As we were about to leave, I was told that the party was in fact taking place that evening.

Noticed my puzzlement, the host himself came forward to speak with me. He said that the satan visits every happy event in order to create an ayin hara and mar the simcha. To counter this, all invitations announce the simcha for at least an hour prior to the time when the event is really scheduled to begin. When the satan arrives at the scheduled time and sees no one there, he figures he is wasting his time – it’s a “no-show party” – and leaves. The guests, however, know in advance that the event won’t begin until at least an hour after the official time and therefore only arrive after the satan has already departed.

Not wishing to provide the satan with an opportunity to mar the simcha, my wife and I departed and returned two hours later – just in time for the beginning of the festivities.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several works on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

Title: Rav HaKolel, A Biography Of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Title: Rav HaKolel, A Biography Of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef
Author: Rabbi Yonah Landau
Publisher: Rabbi Yonah Landau

In the 1880s, a substantial immigration of Jews poured into New York from all parts of Europe, Russia, and Galicia. They were eager to escape the hard life of poverty and lack of peace back home, but the reality in America was not as they had expected it to be. It was hard to find work; it was a struggle for mere existence.

Some of the leaders and rabbonim became very distressed about the religious state of affairs. It was difficult to observe Shabbos and the kashrus situation was not good either. The meat wholesalers in stores could not always be trusted.

At that time, many communities did have distinguished rabbonim. In New York City and several of the smaller towns outside of New York, the rabbonim and leaders of the communities, after much consideration and meetings, came to a conclusion that the best solution would be to find a great talmid chacham capable of influencing and inspiring leadership. He would be appointed as the Rav Hakolel (chief rabbi) and be supported by the community.

Much of the initiative came from a large synagogue on Norfolk Street known as the Beis Medrash Hagodol. At that time, there were about100,000 Jews living in New York and only ten percent were shomrei Shabbos. After lengthy negotiations, an organization was established to include all synagogues that agreed with the decision to hire a chief rabbi.

Rabbonim in Europe were consulted for their advice and recommendations. At one time, they considered the Malbim, the rav of Lodz. After protracted deliberations, the committee agreed to offer the position to R’ Yaakov Yosef, the maggid of Vilna, known to be a gaon, a scholar, a great orator, a ba’al chesed and a ba’al tzedaka.

After much deliberation, in 1888, the rav finally agreed to come to New York. One of the conditions that Harav Yaakov Yosef made was that the community hiring him should pay off the considerable loans he had borrowed for his tzedakah work.

When he finally arrived in New York, the community was elated. They were confident that a new era would begin. On the first Shabbos, the shul was jammed with an overflow crowd. However, it didn’t take long for some of the enthusiasm to fall off.

The rav’s first concern was to investigate the whole kashrus situation in New York City. He appointed a beis din to assist him and that was where he ran into the first opposition – a powerful butcher’s union, which did not look with favor upon his intent to raise the standards of kashrus. Many of the stores had no hashgachas up to then.

As time went on, the opposition became stronger and more resistant. Within a short time, the attitude towards the rav changed and the glow was beginning to dim. There was also opposition from local rabbonim, jealous of the position of chief rabbi. The Rav Hakolel did everything in his power to stop these issues. By his nature he was an extremely kind and reasonable person, but it was to no avail. Within three years, it all changed.

It reached a point where the organization of rabbonim did not have enough backing and could not pay his salary. The aggravation of the overall situation drove him to illness. He became bedridden and after several years of pain and suffering, passed away. His tragic passing suddenly caused the community to realize what they had lost.

More than 100,000 people came to the levaya and thousands watched from their windows. At that point, the full impact of what they had lost hit them.

And then came the final tragedy. As the funeral procession proceeded to Williamsburg, they were assaulted by hundreds of employees from a large printing company called Hoes, known for their anti-Semitic attitude. They pelted the procession with stones and metal and eventually with boiling water, causing injury to many people. The police were understaffed and not prepared for such masses of people at the funeral. This terrible event made the frum community realize how wrong they were and many felt it was a punishment for the way they treated the rav.

The Taste Of Love

Monday, June 4th, 2012

“I think I’m going to stay alone for Yom Tov,” I said, shivering with the frightening finality of the words.

The rav sprung into action. He pulled open the fridge and pulled out a small tin of sliced gefilte fish. He pulled open the freezer and pulled out a pan of roasted chicken.

“Yitzy!” he called, “go down to the basement and bring me a box, please.”

Cooked potatoes were sliced and added to the pan.

“Sruly!” he called. “Go downstairs and get two bottles of wine from the Pesach room.”

The Rebbetzin’s tins were covered and stacked and arranged into the box. Two bottles of wine were deposited neatly on their side.

My heart shivered with the finality of it as the possibilities slipped from my fingers. It was set; I would be alone. I had options, but I felt too insecure and threatened in a home anywhere but this one. And they could not have me for Yom Tov. It was my decision. But I was afraid.

Sruly came up the stairs once more, carrying a silver plate and kos in his hands. A big smile crossed his face. “I got this for you,” he said.

I took the dishes from his hand. They were plastic, but looked like real silver. The black-silver shine sparked in my hands, ignited a twin spark in my heart. My face dropped the anxiety and twisted naturally into a smile. “Whose idea was that?” I asked. My heart paused its fluttering.

“Mine,” he responded easily.

This time I grinned. “Thank you so much, Sruly!” I carried my becher into the kitchen and placed it carefully in the box.

The Rebbetzin turned from the stove and returned my smile. “It really was his idea,” she confirmed.

The spark in my heart grew in strength, slowly warming my cold veins.

Hasty best wishes were sent my way, the taxi was called… it was time to leave. I lifted my box and walked out the door.

It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done.

The box was much heavier than its light weight. Only the silver, shimmering in my mind, helped me open that heavy door, walk down the path, and slide into the car that would take me away.

I placed my precious burden on the clean floor of my kitchen. The silver plate was there, shining happily, but there was no kos. I looked frantically for it, lifted out the tins, checked through my bags… It wasn’t there. Later I would find out that the baby had toddled over and lifted it from the box in the minutes before I had left.

At the moment, I felt devastated, cut off from the one tie that sparked a connection of caring… an extra special unnecessary something that came with a big smile crossing a small face.

The Yom Tov food and the small silver plate would be my consolation.

I did my best to set up nicely for Yom Tov, to make this festive night special.

It was hard. All I felt was sadness, and anxiety, and the fear of the unknown. When one is so small inside, it is hard to be alone.

The silver plate lay on the white china dish on the white lace tablecloth. I was exhausted, completely gone… Thoughts came and went, tormenting thoughts, of fear and threat and helplessness and sadness and aloneness and – and what do I do, and why am I left alone… why am I left alone??? Tears of anger and pain rolled down my cheeks.

Just make Kiddush, Tirtza… just make Kiddush.

I poured the wine and raised the clear plastic cup. There was the silver plate, shining to me in a beacon of shimmering connection. In the mirrored surface shone the murky depths- of people, far away perhaps, who could not be with me, but who sent me strength, and caring-

There was depth in the shimmering mirror, even if my foggy mind could not fully grasp its meaning.

Yom Tov was hard, but I pushed, pushed beyond my felt abilities – because I knew I was not alone.

This Shabbos I was alone again.

Not just by myself. Alone. This time I felt totally… bereft, abandoned…. I had not been able to hear from my support and I was… all alone.

West Coast Happenings

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Shul Updates: Some West Coast shuls have ended their search for a new rabbi while others are still searching. Here’s an update: Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, originally from Los Angeles, will be moving back as the rav of Kehillat Yavneh, while Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz of San Francisco’s Adath Israel is leaving to become the rav at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York when Rabbi Einhorn leaves that position. Another L.A.-born rabbi, Avi Stewart, will be the new rav at Westwood Kehilla. Meanwhile, EDOS in Denver is continuing its search for a new rabbi.

ENCINO, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Daniel and Rachel Weisman, a son.

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvahs: Jacob Sclar, son of Gavin and Zara Sclar… Adam Wechsler, son of Jeff and Stace Wechsler.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Yossi and Shani Milstein of Yerushalayim, a daughter (Grandparents Yisroel and Reeva Milstein… Shmueli and Samantha Hauptman, a son (Grandmother Maureen Landers of Santa Monica)… Avi and Bryna Webb of Crown Heights, NY, a daughter (Grandparents BenZion and Yocheved Novack)… Rabbi Shmule and Shterny Gurary, a daughter (Grandparents Shimon and Chana Raichik).

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvahs: Avishai Mermelstein, son of Shlomo and Mariana Mermelstein… Michael Szabo, son of Howard and Helen Szabo… Noam Gershov, son of David and Michal Gershov… Yehuda Mandelbaum, son of Shemayah and Devorah Mandelbaum.

Mazel Tov – Engagements: Shmuel Cohen, son of Rabbi Gabriel and Grace Cohen, to Rivky Alon of Toronto, Canada… Harry Etra, son of Donald and Paula Etra, to Daniella Schwartz of Englewood, NJ… Malka Lowi, daughter of Irwin and Tania Lowi, to Mendy Pechter of Monsey, NY… Esti Gross, daughter of Yossi and Sheindy Gross, to Menachem Neustadt of Detroit, MI… Shmuel Schlussel, son of Gerson and Sara Schlussel, to Hindel Sofer of Melbourne, Australia… Tova Klavan, daughter of Yehoshua and Ruchel Klavan, to Pinchas Schulman of Baltimore, MD… Rivka Stoll, daughter of Warren Zev and Susie Stoll, to Gideon Leiser of Belgium.

Mazel Tov – Wedding: Adam Lebovitz, son of Jerry and Linda Lebovitz, to Dr. Talia Shainhouse.
Graduation: USC – Jonathan Gerber, Master’s in Business Taxation.

PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Engagement: Boruch Kreiman, son of Rabbi Yankel and Rochel Kreiman, to Michal Retman of Melbourne, Australia.

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Rabbi Joey and Sarah Felsen, a son.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Yehudis and Yaakov Kaplan, a daughter (Grandparents Rabbi Avram and Leah Bogopulsky).

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Matan Moyal, son of Uri and Lior Moyal.

MERCER ISLAND, WASHINGTON

Mazel Tov – Birth: Mike and Bluma Ekshtut, a son.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Mazel Tov – Births: Aaron and Naomi Katzman, a daughter (Grandmother Rivka Katzman)… Yeshaya and Nechama Poyours, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Engagement: Diedra Willner, daughter of Shmuel and Sonia Willner, to Jay Schreiber.

A Window Into The Past; A Lesson For The Future

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Earlier this month, members of the Toronto Jewish community were given a rare opportunity to be visually transported back in time. The film, filmed in 1922, is called Hungry Hearts, and is based on the short stories of writer Anzia Yezierska, a Jewish woman born in Poland in the 1880s whose family immigrated to New York. Many of her writings are centered on her experiences and those of other immigrants living in the Lower East Side. Like all movies made at that time, it is silent, with dialogue conveyed by cue cards.

The film was shot on location in the Lower East Side, and offered a unique, albeit brief glimpse, into the life of East European Jewish immigrants who had left “die alte heim” – and everything that was familiar to them – to journey to Amerikeh, spurred by the dream of improving their lives and those of their families in the fabled “goldene medina.”

The film, presented by the Toronto Jewish Film Society was screened at the Miles Nadal JCC, located in a part of Toronto that many decades ago, like the Lower East Side, teemed with the colors, smells and hustle and bustle of Jewish immigrants, many of them, like my parent, survivors of the Holocaust.

I had never seen a silent movie in an actual theater (and it had been years since I glimpsed one on TV), and I was intrigued by the idea of experiencing a movie the way people did 100 years ago – with written dialogue and musical accompaniment being utilized to heighten the audience’s awareness of the drama or comedy of the scene. (In this 80-minute film it was provided with great skill and endurance by Jordan Klapman, an accomplished jazz pianist, music director and arranger.)

What made the movie even more appealing to me was that it was atypical, in terms of it being about a Jewish family – with a bearded father and wig-wearing mother (as opposed to the ones I remember where a common theme involves a villain abducting and then tying a hapless female to the railroad tracks, while her hero/love interest desperately tries to reach her before the approaching locomotive does). The household is headed by a rav, who was threatened by the local police for running a cheder (teaching religion was forbidden in Communist Russia). Believing the boastful letter sent by a landsman (local boy) who had significantly embellished the success he has attained in the land of opportunity, the scholarly father uproots his family at the urging of his stoic, practical-minded wife and their shidduch-aged daughter who is imbued with youthful optimism.

Of course, life in America is not the piece of cake they thought it would be – the father preferred sitting with his face in a sefer rather than walking around with a pushcart, but after many trials and tribulations, the family does indeed achieve the American dream – especially when the daughter, Sara, catches the eye of a newly minted lawyer who saves the day when he defends his future mother-in-law in court against the evil landlord, who happens to be his greedy, bully of an uncle. Anticipating an engagement, she takes on back-breaking menial work to afford white paint that will brighten the dreary walls of their tenement, only to have the landlord, who is appalled that his nephew would deign to marry a poor “greena,” double the rent – already barely affordable as it is. In a fit of despair-fuelled rage, she trashes the place.

While the story itself was entertaining, especially when the actors’ facial expressions were somewhat exaggerated, as were their gestures and body language (obviously to compensate for the lack of dialogue) what captivated my attention was the history I was glimpsing; and the sobering awareness that while for me the events had taken place almost a century ago, for the individuals in that film, they were in their “now.”

It was as if a curtain separating today and a far away yesterday, had been momentarily pulled away, inviting us to view a slice of life that once had been someone’s today.

As the story unfolds you see hordes of people going about their daily business on the streets of lower Manhattan in 1922. You are drawn into their reality as you see pushcart peddlers hawking their wares, women picking up various fruits and vegetables with one hand, evaluating their freshness with a practiced eye as their other hand balances a baby on their hip.

The Shaagas Aryeh

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Reb Aryeh Leib, the author of the Shaagas Aryeh, was one of the great minds of all times. His genius led him to be very impatient with people, especially with communal leaders who were not worthy of their exalted positions. Because of this he was seldom able to remain as rav in one town for very long, and spent much of his life wandering from city to city, in great poverty.

Once, when he reached the city of Koenigsberg, he came to the home of the rav of the city, the great Reb Aryeh Leib Epstein, author of Sefer Hapardes.

Great Debate

Without bothering to introduce himself, the Shaagas Aryeh, began a complicated discussion with the rav of Koenigsberg.

Both giants of Torah rose higher and higher in the intellectual battle, each one asking and the other answering. Finally, the Shaagas Aryeh gained the upper hand and asked a seemingly triumphant question.

The rav of Koenigsberg, however, reached for a sefer on the table and said, “I will answer you from here.” And he proceeded to give an answer from the sefer he held in his hand. It was the Shaagas Aryeh.

When Reb Aryeh Leib saw this he cried out in protest, “You do not understand what the author of the sefer meant! I know what he really wrote.”

Recognized Him

The rav of Koenigsberg looked into the eyes of the stranger and saw them burning with a strange and mysterious fire. He suddenly realized that here was the Shaagas Aryeh himself!

“Forgive me,” he cried out, “for not recognizing you.” And rushing out, he ordered that a special room be set aside for his great guest. He insisted that the Shaagas Aryeh remain, and every day he would sit with him and discuss Torah for hours.

A Call From Metz

Several weeks later, a letter arrived for the rav of Koenigsberg from the community of Metz in the Rhine Valley. This city was a great center of Torah in those days. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, it’s rav had been the famous Rabi Eliezer of Metz, the student of the great Rabbeinu Tam and the author of the stupendous work Sefer Yereim.

Opening the letter, the rav of Koenigsberg saw that the leaders of the Metz community had invited him to be their rav. It was a great honor but Reb Aryeh Leib of Koenigsberg never hesitated. He knew what had to be done.

Chooses Shaagas Aryeh

Taking Reb Aryeh Leib, the Shaagas Aryeh, by the hand, he said, “Your Torah proclaims your greatness and your awe of G-d is greater even than your wisdom. You are also strong and unafraid. Because of this it is only proper that you sit upon the chair of the rabbinate of Metz, the position that the great Reb Eliezer once held.”

And this is how the Shaagas Aryeh, at the age of 70, became the rav of Metz.

Looks Old

The community of Metz was overjoyed to have the great Torah giant as their rav but they were also a bit sad when they saw Reb Aryeh Leib. For he looked so old that they feared that he would not be with them for long.

But Reb Aryeh Leib looked at the communal leaders and, understanding what they were thinking, said, “I know that you are thinking that I am very old and not likely to live many more years. But let me assure you that just as Yaakov told Pharaoh that he was not as old as he looked but he had aged from all his suffering, I can also say the same. I am not as old as I look; I have only aged from all my wanderings and troubles. I assure you that I will be with you for another 20 years.”

And Reb Aryeh Leib proved to be a true prophet. He lived another 20 years as rav of Metz and died at the age of 90.

How He Died

Tradition tells us that Reb Aryeh Leib did not die from old age, but from in a remarkable accident.

The Vilna Gaon once said that the Shaagas Aryeh had the entire Talmud and its commentaries at his fingertips and that he could relate the gist of all of them and their sources in one hour.

It was only at rare intervals that the great Reb Aryeh Leib found it necessary to look at a certain book to check a point. It happened once when he was 90 – a certain point remained a bit obscure in his mind and he went over to the bookcase to look it up.

As he reached up to pull out the sefer, the entire bookcase suddenly toppled over and fell on him, pinning him down. It was not till the following morning that Reb Aryeh Leib was found buried under a whole bookcase filled with sefarim.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/tales-of-the-gaonim/the-shaagas-aryeh/2012/05/04/

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