It has been my longstanding policy as a published author over four decades not to engage in polemics with people who publish opposing articles, write letters to the editor, or offer critiques in a “Comments” section.

I have seen too many lengthy back-and-forths in Commentary and similar magazines, and I never saw an author improve matters by these sallies. Inevitably, he sounds petty or paranoid or put upon or pugnacious – or all of the above. Better to rely on the original inspiration of the article itself, a more reliable guide to crafting a message.


Furthermore, these postmortem debates force the author to escalate the rhetoric. If the veracity or accuracy of his claims are challenged, he must bring more proofs than he originally thought judicious to cite. The upshot is that the frictive parts of the message are exacerbated; much is lost, little is gained.

That said, in my recent article about my own experiences in Agudas Yisroel, my shaving of content to accommodate the newspaper’s word limit resulted in key points left open to challenge. As such, I feel obligated to clarify elements that readers have rightfully raised.

People question how I know the story about Vice President Mondale calling Rabbi Moshe Sherer in 1980 to complain about Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s congregants on Ocean Parkway wearing Reagan buttons. In the article, I explain that I was employed by Agudas Yisroel in 1977, but I failed to lay out in detail how I was still privy to inside information in 1980.

The answer is that in 1980 I was a maggid shiur in the Agudah shul in Chicago every Shabbos morning. I was placed in that position by Harav Avraham Chaim Levin, zt”l, who shortly afterward was admitted into the Moetzes (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudas Yisroel.

I was a very enthusiastic Agudah activist. I went to Pirchei Agudas Yisroel as a child every Shabbos without fail. Rabbi Joshua Silbermintz was a figure of great veneration. From the first age that I owned a wallet, my Pirchei membership card was always featured prominently.

At age 11, I joined Camp Agudah as a camper, graduating to Masmid at age 15 under the tutelage of Harav Yisroel Belsky, zt”l. The bond I formed with him continued until his last days on earth. When he passed, Ami Magazine invited me to write a feature article about our relationship.

At age 17, my dream of becoming a counselor in Camp Agudah came to fruition. Several of my campers became big talmidei chachamim and Aaron Kotler became CEO of Bais Medrash Govoha. My first published article came at age 18 in The Jewish Observer, an Agudah organ; the subject was the recent Agudah Convention and the words of Torah spoken by gedolim like Harav Moshe Feinstein and Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky.

My first editing job at age 19 was at the Zeirei Forum. The first girl I dated worked at the main office of Agudas Yisroel, and the same Rabbi Yaakov Bender who gave me the Zeirei job set up the shidduch.

In 1980 at age 22, as a Kollel fellow in Telz-Chicago, it was only natural for Rabbi Levin to hand me that shiur in the Agudah minyan. I still proudly use the goblet for Kiddush given to me by the members when we finished a masechta, with my name engraved as the maggid shiur.

I was right in the thick of things during the 1980 election, and the millionaire donors in Chicago’s Agudah shared with me the goings-on from the inside. Thus, my contemporaneous insider account of the Rabbi Miller-Rabbi Sherer-Vice President Mondale drama.

I was asked by some: Was I accusing Rabbi Sherer of making policy decisions for his personal benefit? My jaw dropped when this question was raised. I knew Rabbi Sherer as a person of the highest integrity and his son, Shimshi, was personal friends with my cousin Yisroel Meir Homnick and me. No sane person who observed him up close would accuse him of pocketing a single dollar, much less being swayed in that way.

My critique – shared by many, Rabbi Miller’s students most prominently – was that he saw securing funds for Jewish education as Agudas Yisroel’s highest duty while my chaverim and I believed with Rabbi Miller that fighting the moral battles in society should be its paramount mission. So much so that Agudah should recuse itself from any matters concerning government funding to avoid any conflict of interest and to keep this holy union of charedi Jews as a pure flame of Torah with untarnished credibility.

Perhaps I idealized Agudas Yisroel too much and as such have consistently been let down by reality. I wanted to see a great rosh yeshiva running for Congress in America like Rav Meir Shapiro ran for the Sejm in Poland. I admit that I saw the advent of Agudas Yisroel in the early 1900s as a momentous historic achievement.

In fact, when asked over the years if I thought the State of Israel was aschalta d’geula (the beginning of the redemption) my answer was: “Agudas Yisroel is aschalta d’geula!”

Many do not share my view that Agudah should avoid the taint of money. That’s why an author of 20 sefarim on Shas thinks it worthwhile to passionately engage in this public debate. But I do believe that Rabbi Miller’s vision has taken hold at the grass roots level as we’ve seen the moral foundations of America crumble much further over the last 40 years.

As Rabbi Klass intuited back in 1977, bnei Torah want to get behind Moshe Rabbeinu when he shouts, “Whoever is for Hashem should join me!” And he achieved that, the Gemara (Taanis 11b) teaches, by wearing a garment without pockets.


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Yaakov Dovid Homnick is the author of 20 sefarim on Shas, most recently “Marbeh Beracha” on Maseches Brachos. As “Jay D. Homnick,” he is the former deputy editor of The American Spectator and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research in Washington D.C.