Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

5 Iyar 5759 - April 21, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Halachic Ruling Redefines Role of Kiruv Work in Eretz Yisroel

by Moshe Schapiro

How should a Torah-observant person relate to the mitzvah of bringing wayward Jews back to the fold? Is it an optional commandment that one may choose to fulfill if and when the opportunity to do so arises, or, is it an obligatory mitzvah that one should seek out and pursue?

Until recently many members of the Torah community in Eretz Yisroel were not so sure. The prevalent attitude had been that the mitzvah of kiruv is mainly the domain of people who have been blessed with the natural talents required for this sort of work, but it is not something the populace at large can -- or should -- get involved in.

Last week, a landmark halachic ruling announced in Bnei Brak before thousands of Bnei Torah shattered this mistaken assumption and redefined the mitzvah of kiruv in Eretz Yisroel.

Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, rav of Ramat Elchonon and son-in- law of HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, announced the landmark decision during a question-and-answer forum he conducted as part of P'eylim / Lev L'Achim's Fourth Annual Convention in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Zilberstein's forum gave the thousands of kiruv workers who attended the convention an opportunity to ask questions pertaining to various aspects of their work, and to gain a better understanding of the complex halachic issues they confront daily.

Many of the questions submitted to Rabbi Zilberstein involved extremely sensitive issues that -- depending on how they are handled -- can determine the future of a marriage, or the kind of education a child will receive. In addition to the queries submitted by the kiruv workers who participated in the convention, Rabbi Zilberstein presented and analyzed several questions that kiruv workers had sent to him in previous weeks.

One such query was submitted by a prestigious kollel. Several weeks ago a member of that kollel, in response to the call of the gedolim to set aside one evening a week for kiruv work, decided to join Lev L'Achim's volunteer force. The administrators had no objection in principle to this arrangement. However, since the kollel pays stipends to members in accordance with their attendance record, a question was raised: should the kollel deduct the member's new weekly absences from his stipend, or not?

The kollel submitted the question to Rabbi Zilberstein, and Rabbi Zilberstein in turn brought the matter before HaRav Eliashiv. Following is a literal translation of HaRav Zilberstein's response, which he announced in the presence of the thousands of bnei Torah who participated in the question-and-answer forum:

"I presented the question to my esteemed father-in-law, Maran HaRav Eliashiv, and this is what he said to me: `Kollel administrators who deduct [hours of absence] from the stipend of a kollel member who goes out to do kiruv work do so in violation of the law. Do they [the avreichim] go [to do kiruv] for their own sake? Of course not! They do so for the sake of all Am Yisroel!'"

For the sake of clarity HaRav Zilberstein reiterated the decision a second time. Judging by the excited buzz of conversation that rippled through the cavernous hall in the wake of HaRav Zilberstein's announcement, the significance of this halachic ruling was not lost on the audience.

Prior to this landmark ruling, many people assumed that the call of the gedolim to take part in Lev L'Achim's kiruv programs did not apply to everyone (even though the historic letter of the gedolim, signed by HaRav Shach, HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l explicitly states that it does). They had regarded kiruv rechokim as an optional mitzvah intended primarily for people who have a natural disposition for this kind of work, or for those who do not mind taking a break from their learning on occasion. HaRav Eliashiv's ruling dispelled this notion out of hand.

By requiring the kollel administrator to pay the kiruv volunteer his full stipend, the ruling gave halachic recognition to the principle that doing kiruv work one evening a week is a mandatory obligation incumbent upon every single member of the Torah community. There is no other way to explain why HaRav Eliashiv would require a kollel -- an institution dedicated exclusively to Torah learning -- to pay one of its members to take part in kiruv activities.

The awesome array of rabbonim and rosh yeshivas that graced the convention with their presence loudly echoed HaRav Eliashiv's ruling. It was the largest gathering of gedolei Torah representing such a wide spectrum of communities in recent history.

Speakers included: HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman; HaRav Shlomo Wolbe; HaRav Tzvi Markowitz, rosh yeshivas Karlin- Stolin; HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira, rosh yeshivas Beer Yaakov; HaRav Moshe Shternbuch, segan nassi Eida HaChareidis; HaRav Yaakov Chaim Sofer, rosh yeshivas Kaf HaChaim; HaRav Moshe Tzadka, rosh yeshivas Porat Yosef; HaRav Shmuel Wosner, av beis din Zichron Meir; and HaRav Usher Weiss, rosh yeshivas Chassam Sofer. HaRav Boruch Shapira, a senior hanholo member of Lev L'Achim read a letter of support and encouragement sent by HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, who was not able to attend. In an adjacent hall, over eight hundred female volunteers viewed the speeches on closed-circuit television.

HaRav Steinman delivered a moving address in which he reemphasized the importance of participating in Lev L'Achim's kiruv activities:

"The knowledge that thousands of Torah scholars throughout Eretz Yisroel are now endeavoring to enroll nonobservant children into Torah schools purely for the sake of Heaven fills me with joy. We have accomplished much, but there is still a tremendous amount of work ahead of us, and we need great siyata diShmaya. Know that he who participates in this effort will earn indescribable reward in the world to come.

"HaRav Yisroel Salanter used to say that there are two ways to have a positive effect on others. If a person would sit down to learn Torah in Vilna, a Jew in Paris would not abandon his faith. Torah study affects Am Yisroel as a whole. Yet we see that this alone is not enough, for HaRav Yisroel Salanter himself moved to Paris to disseminate Torah knowledge among his fellow Jews. I am certain that it was very difficult for him to live there, but this did not dissuade him. He did it purely for the sake of Heaven.

"We must follow his example. On the one hand, to immerse ourselves in Torah study and in this way open the hearts of our wayward brothers to the beauty of Torah. And at the same time, to reach out to in the manner of the prophets of earlier generations, who went from one city to another and spread knowledge of Hashem among Am Yisroel.

"We live in a generation veiled in spiritual darkness, yet at the same time, within that darkness, there is an opportunity to bring out the light. If we will merit more siyata diShmaya, we will reap the fruits of our labor with joy and rescue precious Jewish neshomos from the fangs of evil. May we be privileged to see the fulfillment of the verse, `He will bring the hearts of parents back [to Him] by means of their children.'"

HaRav Wolbe stirred the audience further by asserting that "If every yungerman would contribute a portion of his time to kiruv rechokim, every single Jew in Eretz Yisroel will be brought back to the ways of the Torah." This concept was expressed several times during the seven-hour conference by a wide range of speakers.

In addition to the gedolim mentioned above, over thirty of Eretz Yisroel's foremost rosh yeshivos attended the event, including: HaRav Yehuda Ades, rosh yeshivas Kol Yaakov; HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, rosh yeshivas Ma'alos HaTorah; HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein, rosh yeshivas Chevron-Geula; HaRav Yaakov Ben-Naim; HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman, rosh yeshivas Rashbi; HaRav Chaim Brim, rosh yeshivas Ruzhin; HaRav Zev Berlin; HaRav Menachem Tzvi Berlin; HaRav Dovid Cohen, Chevron Yeshiva; HaRav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshivas Ateres Yisroel; HaRav Gershon Edelstein, HaRav Baruch Dov Povarsky, HaRav Eliezer Kahaneman, HaRav Shmuel Markovitz, all of Ponovezh Yeshiva; HaRav Yehoshua Eichenstein, rosh yeshivas Nezer HaTorah; HaRav Rafael Elkarif; HaRav Yehoshua Erenberg, rosh yeshivas Beis Yitzchok (Chadera); HaRav Tzvi Drabkin, rosh yeshivas Grodno (Ashdod); HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, rosh yeshivas Slobodke; HaRav Yaakov Hillel, rosh yeshivas Ahavas Shalom; HaRav Dov Yaffe, yeshivas Knesses Chezkiyahu (Kfar Chassidim); HaRav Gavriel Yosef Levi, rosh yeshivas Beer HaTorah; HaRav Dovid Mann; HaRav Avraham Salim; HaRav Aviezer Piltz, rosh yeshivas Tifrach; HaRav Chaim Shaul Karelitz, gaavad Shearis Yisroel; HaRav Boruch Rosenberg, rosh yeshivas Slobodke; HaRav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman, rosh yeshivas Lakewood- Yerushalayim; HaRav Moshe Yehuda Shlesinger, rosh yeshivas Kol Torah; HaRav Nosson Zochovsky, Ohr Gaon; and HaRav Michel Zilber.

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Director General of Lev L'Achim, read a very warm letter of support and encouragement sent by the gedolei Torah of America. The letter was signed by: HaRav Avrohom Yaakov Pam, rosh yeshivas Torah Vodaas; HaRav Elya Svei, rosh yeshivas Philadelphia; HaRav Yaakov Perlow, admor of Novominsk; HaRav Aharon Moshe Schechter, rosh yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin; and HaRav Yosef Yitzchok Feigelstock, rosh yeshivas Long Beach.

Hearing the names of America's Torah leaders while sitting in the presence of the gedolei Torah of Eretz Yisroel was a truly unforgettable experience. There was a tangible sense of unity in the room, and for one fleeting moment, all of Torah-true Judaism seemed to merge into an awesome, unstoppable force.

Speakers from the ranks of Lev L'Achim included: HaRav Menachem Cohen, Vaad Chairman; HaRav Tzvi Eliach, senior Vaad Member; Rabbi Uri Zohar; and Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Director General. In addition Rabbi Mordechai Neugroshell delivered a fascinating lecture on how to find common topics of discussion with nonobservant Israelis, and how to convey to them the beauty of a Torah way of life.

The words of the gedolim had a palpable effect on the audience. Dozens of onlookers who had not yet joined Lev L'Achim filled out forms indicating their desire to do so, and active volunteers emerged from the hall smiling from ear to ear. A veteran Lev L'Achim volunteer, Dovid Levine from Netivot, explained why he undertook the long journey to Bnei Brak:

"People think we kiruv volunteers have an inexhaustible store of resolve, and that we have a natural talent for this work that somehow makes it easier for us. Well, I have news for you," Dovid said. "I'm definitely not a `natural' at this, and I have yet to meet anyone who thinks kiruv work is easy. In fact it's very difficult, and also we need to recharge our spiritual batteries. To be quite frank, the thought often crosses my mind, `Why am I doing this? Why do I close my gemora every week and leave the beis medrash? To go out and schmooze with non-religious people?' Once in a while I need to go back to the source -- the Gedolim -- and regain my sense of direction."

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