emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Love Your Fellow as Yourself

In EmunahSpeak: In The Crosshairs we ran a little overtime so we’ll do a one eighty here and make it short and hopefully sweet with a lick and a shmeck on a topic that will IY”H be revisited.

So what does love your fellow as yourself mean anyway?

Interpretations abound, and all too many of us settle for a chesed oriented definition as opposed to a literal one in which our fellow’s needs dictate our love for him.  According to this view, the more he needs the more we love him.  A very high madreiga of chesed to be sure, but it has nothing to do with the mitzvah of love you fellow as yourself.

When we quoted The Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, in EmunahSpeak: Perhaps They’re Better Than You, we borrowed only what was needed for the topic at hand.  Now that we have flipped that page for a new one, we’ll borrow some more a little further along in the Rebbe’s talk.

The Rebbe z”l, said “that the mitzvah of love your fellow Jew applies (even) to a Jew across the world whom you have never seen.”  And he didn’t mean that we should feel obligated to send him a check if we should find out that he needed help because the Rebbe’s understanding of love your fellow as yourself wasn’t mortgaged to the touchy feely chesed interpretation that we spoke about above.

However much the Rebbe z”l, was wont to darshen in many other areas of Torah, vis á vis the mitzvah of love your fellow as yourself his approach was literally straight down Main Street.

“What kind of love,” He asked?  “Torah contains no idle words.  When it says ‘love your fellow as yourself,’ love means love.  Your fellow means not you, but him.  As yourself?  Just as much as you love yourself.”

We need neither the views of Rashi nor the rest of the meforshim to perform this mitzvah the way the Rebbe z”l, understood it.  Nor do we need the biggest head in the world.

We need the biggest heart.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In The Crosshairs

                                In the Belly of the Beast (part 2)


WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG POST THAT MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR PATIENCE.

In EmunahSpeak: Perhaps They’re Better Than You, we raised some eyebrows by actually saying something positive about the Internet as we opened a window, ever so slightly, to a brave new world of kiruv that is being Internet driven.  We said there: As far as kiruv is concerned the Internet is a win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, which enables us to reach people that heretofore were totally inaccessible vis á vis kiruv in any form.

And so it is.

In March 2010 (rabbi) Eric Yoffie who is President of the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism, r”l) addressed the URJ Executive Committee.  The relevant parts are as follows:

I am optimistic about the future of our Movement…and right now, we need the Reform movement more than ever. Because the future does not lie with the chareidim and the fundamentalists of the Jewish world; and it certainly does not lie with Chabad, which may do some good things, but which sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism. The future, I believe, lies with us. 

But what do we have to offer? Is there something distinctive about being Reform? 

We draw the boundaries of Reform so as to include rather than exclude, and we welcome gays, lesbians, the intermarried, non-Jewish spouses and all who bind their fate to that of the Jewish people.   
We see tikkun olam as an essential element of our Reform identity – in fact, as the jewel in the Reform crown.  (Note: What he means by Tikkun Olam is cleaning up trash in empty lots in Harlem and other such spiritual venues). 
When disaster struck in Haiti, Reform Jews provided relief at a level that no other movement could even dream of.
  
The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.

(rabbi) Yoffie’s pearls of Jewish brotherly love were posted on the URJ web site under the title of The Future of Reform Judaism, r”l.  If this would have been twenty years ago (rabbi) Yoffie’s remarks would have been published in the URJ magazine, and that would have been the end of it.

Way back when, from the mid seventies through most of the eighties, I made attempts to question/challenge the outrage de jour that Reform was attempting to sell as Judaism.  These forays into what amounted to doomed prospects for attempted dialogue were usually in response to something I heard on the news or an article I had seen in one of their publications in a doctor’s waiting room, and more often than not they took the form of letters to the editor.

All I received for my efforts was the silence of the dead.  The flow of information from the outside world was tightly controlled, and nothing even remotely critical of their movement was given a forum.

And that’s how it had always been.  Depending on the decade, Reform had its tentacles into a million plus Jews at any given time, and there was no way to get at them.  They had erected their version of the Berlin Wall, and it was no less effective.

And then the Internet came to town.

Reform’s once impregnable fortress morphed into a target on its back, as the URJ’s circle the wagons strategy gave way to the Net’s subversive egalitarian ethos.  Rather than do the expected, and simply reject my criticism of (rabbi) Yoffie’s less than prophetic mean spirited imaginative meanderings, the URJ chose to post it to its website where it was viewed by thousands of its members.

My comments, in and of themselves, were nothing special.  That they were posted on the URJ website, however, was historic.  Moreover, the live links to a number of Torah websites which I had embedded in my comments were left intact, thereby exposing their people to some of the best Torah content on the web.

After thirty-five years of shadow boxing with the kefira that masquerades as Reform I finally got to land a punch in an Open Letter to (rabbi) Eric Yoffie that was hosted on the URJ website:

I am absolutely astonished by your ((rabbi) Yoffie’s) assertion:  And right now, we need the Reform movement more than ever. The future does not lie with the chareidim and the fundamentalists of the Jewish world; and it certainly does not lie with Chabad, which may do some good things, but which sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism. The future, I believe, lies with us.

I do not like the pejorative term “fundamentalists” nor do I care much for the word chareidim. If you are referring to Torah observant Jewry, the relevant demographics would seem to demand that you back up your assertion with something in the way of facts.


Given a birth rate amongst Torah Jewry that is several times higher than what passes for a birth rate amongst the Reform (which is on the level of Spain), and a divorce rate that is a fraction of what is presently ravaging Reform, and almost universal full day Jewish education for at least nine years at the margins and thirteen plus at the core, and an aggressive, yet sensitive outreach that gathers momentum by the day, are we not tempted toward the opposite conclusion?


And what exactly are we to make of your admission in the President’s Report to the URJ Board of Trustees (June 2010)?  To whit:


We must begin the work of rebuilding our youth movement….We have seen the decline of our youth activities to dangerously low levels, and we are not now providing our kids with the staff and the resources that they desperately need. A related area of equal importance is the work initiated by the Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning to help our synagogues promote teen engagement following Bar and Bat Mitzvah. We know that if current trends continue, approximately 80% of the children who have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in our congregations will have no connection of any kind to their synagogue by the time they reach 12th grade. This is a disaster for our young people and for our congregations as well.


So if the Reform birth rate falls well below the point of sustainability not to mention the host of ravages that will take their toll on those who are born to the next generation, already diminished as it is, where then do you see the cause for optimism?

 Apparently from here:

The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.

I once again protest the slash and burn pejorative references that paint Torah Judaism with broad strokes of negative innuendo. It’s simply not becoming of someone of your stature. While your imagery conjured up all the usual suspects including “ghetto Judaism,” which is de rigueur on the canard hit parade, ethically-limited Judaism is a new one to me. From out of whose hat exactly did you pull this rabbit?

Shakespeare’s perhaps?


Even so, you are essentially correct in saying that the great majority of North America’s Jews will not, at this juncture, choose to identify with Torah observant Jewry. Your mistake is in believing that they will come to Reform. The truth is that the mass of unaffiliated Jews will remain such, r”l and that both they and their descendants will continue to assimilate themselves into oblivion.  Not only will the unaffiliated Jewish masses not reverse Reform’s negative growth rate, their very existence is a massive accusation against Reform and what it symbolizes in their eyes.   

How so?

That the unaffiliated masses don’t want any part of Torah Jewry is perfectly understandable, given its perceived restrictions and such.  So why not Reform with its do your own thing culture? In what possible way could it inhibit their lifestyle?


The unaffiliated masses will never come to Reform because they don’t look upon it as authentically Jewish.  Keep in mind that we are talking about Jews who, aside from maybe putting in a cameo appearance on the High Holidays, have nothing to do with Judaism (as in zilch, zero, nada) the rest of the year. And yet, their dismal Jewish performance notwithstanding, they look upon Torah Jewry as the exclusive bearers of Jewish tradition.

Many, if not most of these Jews would rather openly break every law in the Torah than change those laws to redefine their behavior as permissible.  It could be by taking the hit rather than changing the law, they are vicariously keeping the Torah in their minds, even if only subconsciously. The masses are weak in their ability to do the things that the Torah requires of them and to resist doing that which the Torah forbids. The irony, of course, is that their collective greatness is rooted in their refusal to reduce Judaism to the level of their weakness.

Your vision of the future is terminally circumscribed by the present because the majority of those that ARE choosing to live Jewish lives have, for a number of years now, opted for that halakhically-based, ritually-obsessed, fundamentalist, oldie but goody from the ghetto.
Once again, however, on one point, you are more or less correct.  You said:  But what do we have to offer? Is there something distinctive about being Reform? My answer is “yes.”


Reform IS a unique product that has a market niche, but the market isn’t what you think it is. While Reform’s program, as articulated by you, is at full tilt in the direction of what is au courant on the Liberal Left, the Jewish community is no longer the liberal monolith that it has been longer than any one of us has been alive. For reasons of which all of us are aware, North American Jewry is beginning to reassess its undying loyalty to a Liberalism that the Radical Left (pardon the redundancy) destroyed some  forty years ago. This means that the trend line of the great mass of unaffiliated Jews, the same Jews that you would like to bring out of the bullpen to save Reform from its self-inflicted demographic nightmare, is headed (ever sooo slowly) in the opposite direction from the “philosophy” upon which you have staked Reform’s future. In the short term the effects will not be discernable. But long term it’s not good news for Reform.

And while it’s true that those who wish their environmentalism, feminism, egalitarianism, and all the other constituent isms of the liberal pantheon to be sprinkled with the fairy dust of Reform will continue to answer “present” at the Reform roll call, those who are seeking serious spirituality as opposed to having their secular ideology validated, will look elsewhere.


Reform has entered its Glasnost era. Those who truly seek to experience Shabbos, the Yomim Tovim, and anything else that is part and parcel of the “traditional Judaism” that you have dangled in front of their eyes in your push toward pseudo-tradition will not be satisfied with half a loaf, and Reform by definition is philosophically incapable of delivering the other half. It’s the nature of genies that once they’re out of their bottles it’s quite impossible to stuff them back in again. Quantitatively the losses may ultimately turn out to be surprisingly small but qualitatively they will be your best people.

You think not?


The following links are to some of the most popular speakers in the English speaking Torah world today. They have had a tremendous impact on both religious and unaffiliated Jewry in North America, South Africa, Great Britain, and Israel.  And each one comes from either a Reform, Conservative or totally assimilated background. Torah Judaism is enriched by their teachings, as it is by the many others who have made the Long March from your movement and from the others. And there are hundreds if not thousands more, who by virtue of the Jewish genie that you have let loose from the bottle of Reform, who will one day come to join them as teachers of Klal Yisroel.


http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-lawrence-kelemen/
http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-dovid-gottlieb/
http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-akiva-tatz/
http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/jewish-inspiration/
http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/crash-course-jewish-history-mp3s/


Keep in mind that every point being made here relates back to your contention that: The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.” 


The entire future of your movement stands or falls on that premise.

The links above are but a tease that serves as an intro to the most important thing affecting the future of Reform that you didn’t mention in your piece: the Internet.


Unlike in previous generations where Traditional Judaism was out of sight and out of mind to anyone not living in close proximity to one of several urban areas in the United States, today it’s big, bold, and in your cyberspace
face, right where the totality of your target audience hangs out.

The Torah’s Internet presence is absolutely overwhelming, and it is impossible for the mass of unaffiliated Jews not to trip over it in due time. I don’t know how many sites there are because there are new ones every week, and I simply can’t keep up, but we’re talking here in the triple digits and counting.


I took the trouble of going to every Reform website listed on the drop down menu located on the URJ website, and found nothing in the way of content. The only reform site that contains anything of interest to outsiders is the URJ/Reform blog, and even so it’s all chit chat. Some of it is fascinating to be sure, but it’s still just chit chat just the same.


Here are three links:

The first is Rabbi Zev Leff’s website. I chose this because he is an individual who is not connected to any organization, and all of the content on his site was produced by him alone. This one site probably has more content than URJ, all of its affiliated sites, and all of its member Temples combined.
http://www.rabbileff.net/


Next is the Orthodox Union, and I chose it because it is the Orthodox organizational equivalent of the URJ.
http://www.ou.org/


And the third is Aish.com which is the web presence of Aish HaTorah, the famous kiruv yeshiva.
http://www.aish.com/


My purpose is not to have you sample the content but to do an INVENTORY of it, and you should make it thorough by clicking on all the various topical tabs etc.  As I have already stated, these sites barely scratch the surface but they should still give you enough information from which you can extrapolate as to how well mined is the road to Reform’s supposed glorious future.


If you do your due diligence in searching out Torah Judaism’s presence on the web you will no longer credibly be able to say: The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based….


And then there is the imagery/symbolism of Judaism.

Guess who owns it and guess what the impact of that ownership is and will continue to be on that mass of unaffiliated Jews that Reform pines for.  I know that the Wall and some other things are a sore point of contention for Reform, but for the purposes of this post I’m not interested in the politics of it all. I’m simply stating an incontrovertible fact as to where the public’s eye is drawn vis á vis the imagery and symbolism of Judaism.


The irony of it all is that Reform is stuck with the same imagery/symbolism. It’s in your temples and all over the website. And what other choice do you have anyway? If not a shofar, menorah, lulav etc., then what?  A recycling bag, a pushka that says Hati on it, and two guys holding hands?


Below is a link to a representative image to which you have nothing to answer. The crowd is mostly made up of Sephardim and they are singing Ani Ma’amin at the Kosel as it was sung in Auschwitz.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbCvrTy7HbI&feature=related


Let’s be honest now.


To whom do you think that uncommitted mass of unaffiliated Jews is going to emotionally respond? To those Jews who are singing the Ani Ma’amin or to the ones who ripped it out of the siddur?

The name of your original article is The Future of Reform Judaism, but the entire premise upon which you stake this future has a hole in it and it's taking water.  It would have been more accurate had it been entitled The Death Knell of Reform Judaism.


So much for (rabbi) Yoffie’s take on Reform’s future and my comments thereto.  This was not an isolated incident. It’s illustrative of an ongoing process made possible by the Internet which won’t end until this stain on the integrity of Klal Yisroel implodes, speedily in our days.

It is very important to understand that at the time, (rabbi) Eric Yoffie was president of a movement (URJ) that claims one and a half million members.  In addition, well over a thousand of those members click onto the URJ website every day, and it is to be presumed that these are the people with the most active interest in the doings of the URJ.

And yet….

Although thousands of (Reform) Jews read both (rabbi) Yoffie’s predictions as to their glorious future and the systematic shredding of those fantasies, only one person bestirred himself to come to their President’s defense, and even he didn't answer the bell for Round Two after his comments were rebutted.  These Jews may be ignorant of most things Jewish, but they are still capable of recognizing the truth when they hear it, and by their deaf and dumb reaction they made it quite clear that they weren't hearing it from (rabbi) Yoffie.

What can be said about a movement that allows its leader to be trashed on its own website with nary a response?

That it’s laser locked in the crosshairs, Boruch Hashem, with the door locked behind it and the clock ticking.

They know it's over.  They're just keeping up appearances.































Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Perhaps They’re Better Than You

In the Belly of the Beast




 “And then came Amalek…

Our Sages tell us that Amalek is the paragon of evil.  While there has been no shortage of evil (as directed toward Klal Yisroel) these past few millennium, forensic evidence that ties any of it to Amalek doesn’t come easy.  Aside from a couple of appearances in the guise of Agag and Haman, Amalek seems to be the where’s Waldo of Tanach.

Generically, however, Amalek is unfortunately alive and well, r”l.

In the same way that Islam has been the means by which all of the middos inherent in the Torah’s description of a pere adom has been channeled into peoples from non-Arab stock such as the Iranians and the Pakistanis, the wickedness and kefira of Amalek has been morphed into various religions and political philosophies over the centuries up until our own day.  A plethora of movements and ideologies were let loose by the French Revolution, and Amalek’s fingerprints are all over them.

And then came the Internet.

In much the same way, as Rashi tells us, that the Ribbono Shel Olam incited the Dog (Amalek) to “bite” Yisroel in the midbar in response to its asking: Is Hashem in our midst or not?...the Ribbono Shel Olam has incited a digital Dog against our generation, a generation that doesn’t even know enough to ask whether Hashem is in our midst or not.  It’s the last generation before Moshiach and, as Chazal tell us, it’s a generation that, not coincidently, has the face of a dog.

What horror can we recount that hasn’t already been recited ad nauseum, to the point that a certain numbness has taken the place of what was once our collective innocence?  Breaches have replaced barriers, and we have long since run out of fingers to stick in the dike that used to separate us from that sea of iniquity that is the rest of the world.

In a previous time, a time conceptually removed from the present as far as night is from day, the brush strokes that delineated the exterior of a Torah Jew’s life were more often than not a reflection of an emunah peshuta that percolated within.  In the generation with the face of a dog, those externalities all too often mask an inner weakness born of hashkafas more representative of the street than of the yeshivas.  

“Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he killed among you all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d.”  
                                                         
Do we not see this process repeating itself in front of our eyes? The Internet is spiritually killing among us all the weaklings at our rear as it culls the hashkafically faint and exhausted from the ranks of the Klal, and in this sense at least, the havoc it is wreaking more closely tracks the paradigm of Amalek than even the evil of atheistic Communism.

Spiritual killing fields notwithstanding, the Internet also has a flip side.

“There is a desolate land which is thus far underdeveloped spiritually.  There are Jews there who don’t even know that they lack anything.  You had the unearned privilege to be brought up with Torah and Mitzvos.  ‘How lucky we are, how good is our lot.’

“Be there a day, a week, a month, a year, ten years.  You won’t have nice clothes or a comfortable home.  The Jews in the place where you are going manage without them.  Why should you be better?

“Perhaps they’re better than you.”

So spoke the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, to his Chasidim as he exhorted them to get out of their comfort zone and seek out lost Jews, wherever they may be found.  The words perhaps they’re better than you caught my attention, and I believe that they hold the key to understanding the Internet’s impact on the totality of Jewish life.

Ironically, in contradistinction to Amalek, the Internet functions in much the same way as the Parah Adumah, l’havdil.  In addition to rendering impure those who by any yardstick were previously fine upright Torah Jews, it has the power to purify those who have spent their whole life wallowing in the filth of the goyishe velt.

The high profile warnings that have been voiced from one end of Torah Jewry to the other as to the well documented toxicity of the Internet has obfuscated the fact that the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to kiruv rechokim.  As far as kiruv is concerned the Internet is a win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, which enables us to reach people that heretofore were totally inaccessible vis á vis kiruv in any form.  A Jew living in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains fifty miles from the closest human being has access, by means of the Internet, to more shiurim than a Jew living in Lakewood or Monsey without an Internet connection.

In the same way that some Torah Jews who would never even think of paying a visit to Times Square or Greenwich Village seek out the forbidden by way of the Internet in the privacy of their home or office, assimilated Jews who would never be caught in public at a Gateway seminar or a Renaissance Weekend will, out of curiosity, click around the Torah sites on the Internet from the privacy of their home or office because they don’t feel threatened there.

We are, at present, at the very beginning of a kiruv revolution that will bring into the ranks of Torah Jewry previously unimaginable numbers of Jews who are immune to the predations of the Internet because they have been inoculated for the future by virtue of their past.  Their numbers will far exceed the losses suffered at the dark end of the Internet.  As the weak ones are tragically removed at one end they will be replaced by the strong on the other end.

And while the Internet's Klal Yisroel body count should eat you up inside, the sunny side of the Internet equation is also very much your business.  It’s not something to be contemplated with studied indifference.  After all, who’s to say whose blood is redder?

Perhaps they’re better than you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Swordfish

As per Webster:

n: a very large ocean fish used for food that has the upper jaw prolonged into a long swordlike beak.”

Anyone who doesn’t know that swordfish is the password is too frum to be reading this, G-d bless each and every one.


“The avodah of bitochon is to train oneself to rely only on Hashem. 

Not Hashem plus your accountant or your expertise.  Hashem knows if you have bitochon in Him or if you are relying on the doctor also or your own hishtadlus.  Hishtadlus doesn’t make you a partner with Hashem.  Think of it as the password to the game of life.  It's the equivalent of saying "swordfish" to gain admittance.  Once you have given the password Hashem takes care of 100% of the problem, not the 95% you supposedly left over for Him after you did your 5%.  That Hashem’s 100% might work out to be zilch, zero, and nada of what we have set our minds on in any given situation is of no consequence because bitochon is not results oriented and therefore makes no promises.  It defines how we think not what we get.”

And so it is.  The sum total of what we do in this world in inyonei gashmiyous, understood properly, amounts to no more than swordfish.  This is how the Chovos Halavovos learns in the Sha’ar HaBitochon.  R. Yisroel Elya Weintraub z”l, validated that understanding in a conversation with one of my sons in which he stated that the definition of bitochon means to RELY on Hashem.

It wasn’t until last night that the full import of what I had written blindsided me shortly after I posted my last piece.  It was an epiphany (Yiddish, for a game changing revelation) of sorts. 

I finally realized that swordfish is no less applicable to the realm of creative endeavor than it is to the mundane give and take of our daily existence.  And NO, I’m not talking about recognizing the Yad Hashem in creative inspiration as opposed to falling into the trap of kochi v’otzem yadi.  I learned that lesson the hard way about eight years ago when I finished what was to be my last screenplay.

Anyone who has ever been on a roll, be it in business, writing, Tosfos or in anything else where everything was going great with no speed bumps in sight knows the feeling.  I was so hot at the time; I thought that I could write anything.  And I even made the mistake of saying as much by uttering the five words that terminated my career as a screenwriter, if one can call making no money a career: “Hey, I can write anything.”  That’s all it took.

Baruch Dayan HaEmes.

My head shut down immediately as if on cue, and soon thereafter Hashem allowed me to trace my inspirational famine back to those five fateful words, but to no avail.  I did the best, most sincere teshuva I had ever done in my life, but I wasn’t about to be let off with a slap on the wrist.  Not only could I no longer write anything, but seven years later I had yet to write even a little something. 

No, it’s not about seeing through the mirage of kochi v’otzem yadi.  That would have been enough, given where I was holding way back when I thought that I was a writer, but after last night generalities no longer suffice.  We’re talking pratim here, and it’s Torah hashkafa that’s in the details, not the devil.

There is no muse, no inner voice, no well spring of creativity from which writers, composers, artists, and the like draw their inspiration.  And you can throw in doctors and such for good measure.  Every word, note, brush stroke, and diagnosis is spoon fed to those so endowed by Hashem. 

Query:  Endowed by Hashem to do what exactly?  If every jot and tittle is by way of Hashem then what separates the creative personality from the unwashed masses?

In much the same way that a given radio frequency can pull in a broadcast set to that frequency, creative people have been hard wired from the get go of their existence to process the creative flashes that Hashem is sending them.  It’s not that a writer has been given the ability to write.  He has rather been blessed with the genius to take Divine dictation because it’s all from Hashem, typos included.

There is nothing for us to do other then to say swordfish by taking pen in hand, powering up the computer, or anything else that will meet the threshold of proper hishtadlus. Hashem does the rest, which as we have said, is in actuality everything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It All Began…

The majority of those who are part and parcel of today’s kiruv movement are not old enough to be cognizant of the fact that it wasn’t all that long ago that the phrase kiruv movement was unknown in any language.

On one of his tapes, Rav Miller z”l, speaks about a certain very fine Yid living in Boro Park who sports a dignified long beard with big bushy payos, all decked out in the gang colors of the yeshiva world: black and white.  He comes from a long line of tzadikim, including his parents who were kedoshim killed by the Nazis during the war.

Or so he thinks.

Rav Miller z”l, tells us that he knows the truth about this man’s parents.  They were Communists, and had there been no war it would have been impossible for this Yid to have come out of such a house.   In pre-war Europe there was a greater likelihood of a non-religious Jew, be he a Communist, Bundest or assimilationist of any stripe, traveling thousands of miles to the United States (for those few who could still drey an immigration certificate) and marrying an Italian girl from the East Bronx than there was for that person to become a baal teshuva.

And that’s despite the Chofetz Chaim’s cry in the last years of his life that kiruv should be the call of the hour.

It wasn’t much better here in those days either, but at least it wasn’t impossible.

Whereas in Eretz Yisroel, where the explosion in kiruv can be directly traced to the emotional tsunami that crested in the wake of 1967 war, kiruv in the United States began to take root two decades earlier, and it did not have its genesis in any particular event.  It percolated to the surface of Jewish life here from different wellsprings to be sure but with the exception of Chabad, which was first out of the gate, and which continues to commit its entire movement to the battle for lost Jewish souls, most of what would define American kiruv both in the States and in Eretz Yisroel in the late sixties, seventies and beyond to the present flows back to one person.

Aish HaTorah with its multitude of branches and initiatives that subsequently devolved from it, such as Project Inspire, in addition to its awesome Web presence as manifested by Aish.com, Kiruv.com, SimpleToRemember.com, ClassicSinai.com et al. was conceived and nurtured by Rabbi Noach Weinberg z”l.  And before founding Aish HaTorah, Reb Noach was one of the founders, along with Mendel Weinbach and Nota Schiller, of Yeshiva Shema Yisroel whose name was subsequently changed to Ohr Somayach.  Mendel Weinbach, the Dean of Ohr Somayach considers himself to be a talmid of Reb Noach in inyonai kiruv.  Together, Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach remain the dominent force amongst the main stream baal teshuva yeshivas.  There is no question that Noach Weinberg was one of the most influential figures in kiruv in the English speaking world. 

But he wasn’t alone. 

He also had a brother named (Shmuel) Yaakov Weinberg z"l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of  Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore, succeeding  his father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Ruderman z”l.  In addition to his position as rabbinical advisor to AJOP (The Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals/Programs) from its inception until his death, he founded the Maor Institute to train his talmidim for effective outreach. 

There was also Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, who built Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, into what was at one time the largest baal teshuva yeshiva in the United States.  His talmidim have spread across the length and breadth of the USA, Canada and Eretz Yisroel where they have opened their own institutions in addition to staffing existing yeshivas and kiruv organizations. 

And there is NCSY which, over the course of several decades, Rabbi Pinchus Stolper built into the premiere Orthodox organization working on the front lines with Jewish public school teens and day school teens, many of which don’t go on to yeshiva high school.  Since its inception in the early 1950s, NCSY, under Rabbi Stolper’s guidance has sent thousands of high school grads to learn in Eretz Yisroel and also on pilot trips.  Many thousands more have been saved for Yiddishkeit.

Rabbis Noach Weinberg z”l, Shlomo Freifeld z”l, Pinchus Stolper, Yaakov Weinberg z”l, and many others who went on to make significant contributions in the realm of Jewish outreach were all talmidim of Rav Yitzchak Hutner z”l, as was Rabbi Nota Schiller before moving on to Ner Yisroel.

Even Reb Shlomo Carlbach z"l, who eschewed the yeshiva and organizational based kiruv model in favor of musical outreach, received his semicha from Rav Hutner.

The overwhelming number of the major players who created the American kiruv movement were talmidim of either Yeshiva Rabbeinu ChaimBerlin or Yeshiva Ner Yisroel, who were either directly influenced by Rav Hutner z”l, or indirectly through his talmidim.

As was said above, most of what would define American kiruv both in the States and in Eretz Yisroel in the late sixties, seventies and beyond to the present flows back to one person.

But it’s not Rav Hutner. 

It flows through him, however, because his positive attitude to kiruv, an attitude which was unique amongst all of the contemporary Roshei Yeshiva, was not wrought in a vacuum.  Rav Hutner’s outlook vis á vis non-religious Jewry evolved during his years as a bochur in Hevron, at the same time he developed his attachment to the writings of the Marahral M’Prague and to the sifrei Kaballah. 

And it came to him by way of the same mentor.

The Chofetz Chaim’s plea for a kiruv initiative may have gone unanswered in the ideological wasteland that was pre-war Europe, but it didn’t go lost altogether.  Someone was listening, and that someone breathed it into Rav Hutner’s soul.  Rav Hutner in turn raised two generations of talmidim who propelled the Chofetz Chaim’s clarion call four decades forward into the 1970s where they answered it by raising the banner of revolution in the name of kiruv.

But it all began with Rav Kook z”l and will only end with the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our days.