by Barry Jacobson –

Originally published June 18th, 2013 –
First, I apologize if my language was unduly harsh toward people considered gedolei yisroel, which would undermine my own cause of civility, especially since some events occurred long ago, with no way to defend or verify precisely. I ask mechila.

Unfortunately, a similar occurrence of a respected posek insulting another Rav took place this week, and as usual, led almost immediately to physical violence against him. I leave as an open question: how are we supposed to react to these events, with regard to our faith in Daas Torah, and how do we convey it to our children?

In any event, I received a letter from a very close childhood friend:

“Well written, Barry, and you are so right that we should admit our share of responsibility for this mess.  Sadly, Yair Lapid and Co. are dead set against religion and will not distinguish between chareidi or other shades. He has a new mesora, hatred of religion, second generation. I am unsure that a more tolerant reaction to Herzl would have helped. It probably would have diluted things even more in Eastern European Jewry. And who knows how that dilution would have trickled down to you and me; would we have had the religious opportunities and learning opportunities that we had 80 years later. There is a place for kannaus. What we are lacking is the balance that the yeshiva intelligencia of Lithuania provided to offset and balance the Galician-Hungarian kannaus. The checks and balances that Volozhin provided to this whole dynamic no longer exists because the Yeshivas since WW2 are not truly in the Volozhin tradition.”

I wanted to discuss his point, that kannaus has a place.

I was privileged to have a Rebbe at HANC in the 1970’s who was an ultra-kannai, Rabbi Yaakov Wehl Z”L, author of Haggadah with Answers, and Sefarim Ikvei Aharon and Pesher Davar on many difficult mesechtas. Even today, 35 years later, HANC students from that era never fail to get an affectionate laugh from stories about him, which were colorful, to say the least.

One day in 9th grade, I went to a school bowling club that met before shiur, but buses returned about half an hour after shiur began. Rabbi Wehl turned beet-red, and screamed in the loudest voice you ever heard, “JACOBSON, IS BOWLING MORE IMPORTANT THAN BUILDING THE BEIS HAMIKDASH? THE GEMARA SAYS WE ARE NOT MEVATEL LEARNING EVEN TO BUILD THE BEIS HAMIKDASH, BUT FOR BOWLING WE ARE???” Needless to say, I never went again.

He would not allow any school announcements to be made during learning, and would wave the messenger (even the attendance monitor) away. On Tu Bishvat one came around with JNF stickers for dedicating a tree in Israel. After kicking out the messenger as usual, he yelled to the class, “TU BISHVAT HAS AS MUCH TO DO WITH PLANTING TREES IN ISRAEL AS I HAVE TO WALKING ON THE MOON.”

Another time he commented about another faculty member that he spends all his time singing Hatikvahs. (Yes, with an ‘s’.)

Now, while this was a rather unusual pedagogical method, it motivated HANC students to continue learning for many years in yeshivos all around the world. One is now a Rosh Chabura and Rav in Lakewood. Rav Wehl knew that if Israel became the primary focus of young day-school students, they could easily think that the totality of Jewish experience was to sit around campfires and sing Israeli songs. He desperately wanted to push students to go higher in their growth in learning.

My friend quoted above clearly takes the chareidi side here. But he presents it with love, deep understanding, and great wisdom. Precisely because he knows all those same Israeli songs we learned in day school, and understands both sides of the issue, and is only speaking what he thinks is the truth, not any personal bias, his point rings home with me. Yes, there is a place for kannaus, because it can fire people up to accomplish great things. Nevertheless, I still maintain that if the chilonim hate us so much, we are doing something wrong. One recent poll showed Lapid at 30 seats if elections were held now. Kannaus can be a dangerous weapon, if used incorrectly.

I think this is the message of the broken vav of Parshas Pinchas when it says Heenini nosen lo es brisi shalom. True, kannaus is sometimes needed to deal with an aveira, but it is not the full shalom. Better would have been to inspire the rasha, so that he would not have committed the aveira in the first place.

Similarly, Chazal say keivan shenitna reshus lamaschis lechabel eino mavchin bein tzaddik larasha. When chas vshalom the destroying angel is let loose, he doesn’t distinguish between the righteous and the wicked. Why is that not grossly unfair? Possibly because the tzaddik is at fault for not reaching the rasha in a language he can understand.

I have no personal position on whether Yeshiva bachurim should be drafted. That was not the point of previous article. The point was to address the vildkeit (brazen and hurtful behavior) among some of us. In my house, we call a rabbi for the simplest kitchen mix-up; I would never dream of offering an opinion on such a complex matter. But a good place to start, for those interested in knowing some of the sources, is Rabbi Alfred Cohen’s article.[ Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society – No. XXIII, Spring 1992, Pesach 5752] It is interesting that Rav Zevin, despite the intial reaction of many gedolim at the founding of the State, that no yeshiva bachurim should serve, politely went around and asked them what their source was. He concluded in a monograph that they must serve.

A few years back, on one of the parsha sheets, there was a biography of one Rav, who I can’t recall. He was quite young, maybe 12, but desperately wanted to learn in a certain yeshiva far from home. He did well on his farher (entrance exam), but the rosh yeshiva told him that unfortunately, the yeshiva is so poor, we have absolutely no more food for another student. He begged the rosh yeshiva to take him, and assured him he could make his own arrangements. The Rosh Yeshiva agreed. The boy began learning. After a few weeks, it was discovered that these “arrangements” were that he would wait for the other bachurim to finish, and then when they left, he would sneak in and eat whatever leftover scraps he could find from their plates. When the yeshiva found out what this poor boy was willing to do in order to be able to learn, they managed to get him some real food. This is the mesirus nefesh that has been the hallmark of our nation for so many years.

The intellectual capacity we have to accomplish what we did in Israel, and the honesty and kindness that allows us to get along with people to establish these successful enterprises, were all honed in our long history of learning. While we can’t easily get Chilonim to understand our love of learning a blatt gemara, which probably defies any rational explanation, we can at least try to explain what benefit it has been to them all these thousands of years, in terms they can understand.

There are so many considerations in the question of the draft. The zechus of Torah protects, but plain halacha seems to be clear that in a milchemes mitzvah everyone is obligated to fight. Also, simple fairness seems to dictate that the risk be borne by all. Mai chazis d’dama didach?

If we use a quota system, we have additional problems, such as who will dan dinei nefashos saying you learn well enough, and you don’t. What if one is a great and sincere masmid, but can’t grasp, despite how hard he tries? Is there any issue to treat everybody the same, so as not to embarrass those who are not able to pass the exemption test, like we do with burial in the simplest casket, and with borrowing garments on Tu B’Av? In addition, would midos tovos dictate that even if offered an exemption, a yeshiva bachur should properly decline, if his peers are drafted?

Further considerations include lack of ability to make a living in current system, leading to poverty, self-esteem and shalom bayis issues. I note that frequently taxi drivers who have fought in the ‘67 war are so proud, they have more confidence than a CEO.

The Chazon Ish writes in Emunah Ubitachon that the biggest problem most people have in accepting the word of rabbanim is not that they don’t trust that the rabbanim know halacha, or that the questioners don’t want to keep halacha. Rather, they are intensely afraid that they will not be impartial, but will inject their own preference. He dismisses this as almost not worthy of consideration, because it is the most basic part in rendering a decision. Yet clearly, in our time, because of all the division and polarization, it is extremely difficult to get universal agreement on who would be trusted and unbiased poskim to weigh all these factors. There are moderate gedolim who were written out of history in the past century, because their positions did not conform to pre-conceived notions. Extremists have an advantage that they can silence moderates by labeling them less G-d-fearing, etc. The Netziv says that one reason Jerusalem was destroyed was because people went around calling each other Apikorsim.

A name that pops into my mind as an example of one who would have been ideally suited to pasken on this issue and be accepted by all is Rav Gustman Z”L. He served on the Beis Din of Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, a founder of Agudah, at age 23, yet was an independent thinker. Someone related that he set up his yeshiva in Yerushalayim next to a nursing home. To be financially efficient, he paid the nursing home to provide food for his yeshiva, as well. Someone complained that it had a Rabbanut hechsher. He told him that he checked everything out, and all was fine. The person told him that he would make trouble for him if he used Rabbanut. Rav Gustman responded that he went through the war, and watched his 6-year old child killed in front of his eyes, and his body thrown on a trash heap. He told the fellow that because this was the most degrading thing that could ever happen to a person, and conversely, because he had the privilege to sit with Reb Chaim Ozer, the greatest honor that could happen to a person, there was nothing this person could do at either end that would faze him. When Shlomo Aumann (whom I was fortunate to know) was killed in Lebanon, Rav Gustman spent much time with his father, Prof. Robert Aumann, telling him that while his son Meir was a kadosh, Shlomo had an additional advantage that he died while saving Jews. Such a posek can transcend all divisions.

May we be zocheh to raise a new generation untainted with any fighting or arguing, who are great talmidei chachamim that are able to see all sides of an issue, who are truly loved and respected by all segments of the klal, and who can explain their piskei halacha in a way which is miskabel al hadas and miskabel al halev. I.e, they can make their decisions understandable intellectually, and also acceptable emotionally, so that people don’t feel that they are being ramrodded with views or hashkafos that are anathema to them, but accept them willingly and happily.


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