Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Shevat 5763 - January 15, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Manning the Watchtower: HaRav Eliashiv's Battle for Torah and Halocho

by Binyomin Y. Rabinowitz

Just over thirty years ago, on the 8th of Teves 5733, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah met to discuss alarming developments that were beginning to spread like wildfire, particularly the raging debate over "the brother and sister" which rose to the top of the chareidi agenda when Rabbi Shlomo Goren was elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel just a few months previously. Although at the time they rarely participated in such affairs, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt'l, and ylct'a, HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv attended the meeting along with every member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and HaRav Yechiel Michel Feinstein.

HaRav Eliashiv, shlita, had good reason to attend. For several years he had been leading the battle against various attempts to violate the sanctity of the Jewish nation and to destroy the institution of marriage--the cornerstone of all Beis Yisroel--by opening the door to pesulei chitun and others prohibited from entering Kehal Yisroel, as well as "converts" who did not convert according to halochoh.

Throughout the ongoing battle rabbinical advocate Rabbi Tzvi Weinman remained at HaRav Eliashiv's side. Recently we spoke with Rabbi Weinman to survey the chain of events thirty years ago, and the many tasks he carried out as HaRav Eliashiv's personal shaliach.


Three years earlier in the case of Helen Zaidman, Maran HaRav Eliashiv foresaw the inherent danger to the sanctity of halocho, Rachmono litzlan and immediately set out to put a stop to this serious breach by directing Rabbi Weinman to take certain steps.

HaRav Eliashiv was the first to recognize the great threat Goren's actions posed to "daas Torah and halocho," notes Rabbi Weinman. The Zaidman case unfolded in Sivan 5731 (1971) soon after Goren became Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, an appointment that automatically released him from his duties as IDF Chief Rabbi.

On several occasions HaRav Eliashiv expressed concerns that Goren could take advantage of his post in the civilian rabbinate to implement his warped views and to grant the secular state hegemony over halocho by selecting rabbinate candidates willing to do its bidding, effectively subjugating halocho to state legislation. Goren's aim was to find favor in the eyes of the secular public by inventing all sorts of unusual heteirim that were inconsistent with daas Torah and halocho.

HaRav Eliashiv held his ground firmly. He made himself available to take an active role in the fight. Rabbi Weinman would come to his home almost daily, often joined by the late Rav Eliezer Goldschmidt. The battle led the headlines in part due to the hefty political elements involved, but mostly because it represented an attempt to strike a major blow at the Torah and to make a mockery of the fundamentals of Judaism.


Christian by birth, Helen Zaidman moved to Israel and settled at Kibbutz Nachal Oz. She tried to convert at rabbinical botei din but, quickly realizing she had no intention of keeping Torah and mitzvos, they rejected her request immediately. In the meantime she married a Jew, a Kohen in fact, and had a daughter. Knowing it would be difficult to have a Christian as a member of the kibbutz, Nachal Oz had her undergo a Reform conversion.

Immediately following the "conversion" she contacted the Interior Ministry and asked to be listed in the national registry and on her national ID card as a Jew. The Chief Rabbinical Council reached a firm, unambiguous decision to deny her request.

Gradually the issue began to gain momentum until it turned into a highly controversial political wrangle. When Chaim Moshe Shapira of the National Religious Party, who served as Interior Minister at the time, refused to list her as a Jew, Zaidman hired Attorney Yosef Ben-Menashe to file a High Court petition to force the Interior Ministry to recognize Reform conversion.

Shapira's refusal to honor the request brought the National Unity Government to the brink of dissolution and led to the resignation of Mafdal ministers Yosef Burg and Zerach Warhaftig.

Just a few months earlier Shapira had faced the same problem during the Shalit Affair, in which he complied with a High Court directive to list her two children as Jews, but in that case Shapira had made a deal with another Shapira, then Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, to list the Shalit children as Jews on condition that the Justice Minister help pass an amendment in the Knesset explicitly stating only those born of a Jewish mother or converted would be registered as Jews. Interior Minister Shapira also tried to insist on adding the words "in accordance with halacha" or "according to din Torah," but the other Shapira was unwilling to meet this demand.

In fact the latter Shapira, the Justice Minister, went one step further. When the proposed amendment was brought before the Knesset he explicitly stated that "conversions" performed outside of Israel by Reform rabbis would also be recognized. A great debate soon raged. The Mafdal sought various ways to solve the problem by at least ensuring that Reform conversions performed in Israel would not receive legal sanction.

In the midst of this maelstrom along came the Zaidman case. Ben-Menashe, who had been known for years for his attempts to smash Israeli marital laws founded on din Torah, decided to test the Shapira-Shapira deal by filing a High Court petition in Zaidman's name. In waging his campaign Ben- Menashe collaborated with Reform Rabbi Tuvia Ben Chorin of Ramat Gan, the man who had carried out Zaidman's so-called conversion.

The case caused the Mafdal great embarrassment, particularly since then Attorney General Meir Shamgar, who later became High Court President, refused to defend the Interior Minister's stance. The Mafdal realized that this time there would be no way to reach a compromise and the party's latent threat to withdraw from the government became very real as the High Court prepared to hand down its decision. Meanwhile the Labor Party was unwilling to yield in principle, preferring-- in the best Mapai tradition--to try a different approach. The Mafdal, which did not relish the idea of relinquishing power was interested in finding another way out as well.

Labor and Mafdal indeed joined forces, dispatching representatives to pressure and persuade Zaidman to back down. Naomi Cohen, Goren's sister-in-law, took a leading role in trying to persuade her to have Goren-- who had undertaken to save the National Unity Government--perform a conversion.

"One day Goren called me and asked, `Why don't we convert her?'" recalls Avraham Katz-Oz, a resident of Kibbutz Nachal Oz who was serving as secretary of the Kibbutz Union and later served as a Knesset member and a deputy minister. "I said, `You know what, that's a good idea.' We took her to all of the rabbinical courts and everywhere she was refused. It was only because there was no other choice that we had her undergo a Reform conversion. And then Goren says to me, `Bring her to my office in the Kirya [the IDF Rabbinate offices opposite IDF General Staff headquarters in Tel Aviv] within an hour.'

" `But how can I bring her? She's at the kibbutz now.'

" `At the kibbutz?' said Goren. 'No problem. I have a car and driver here. He'll drive to the kibbutz and bring her.' "

Katz-Oz called the kibbutz to have Zaidman get ready and a short time later Goren's driver picked her up at the kibbutz gate.

"In Goren's office, there were two other IDF rabbis in uniform, with giant gemora volumes open on the table. `Do you know how many days Chanukah lasts?' Zaidman wasn't sure whether there were seven days or eight. `And when is Shavuot?' asked Goren, `In the winter or the summer? And have you heard of Yom Kippur?' She said she had heard something about Yom Kippur. Goren glanced at the other two rabbis and issued his psak: `Yes. She knows. Ze beseder. But she needs tevilah . . . ' "

When they discovered Helen Zaidman had a daughter whose case was also on the High Court docket Goren sent his driver to pick up the girl. Thus Zaidman and her daughter were transformed into Jews--according to Goren- -in a matter of minutes.

But first Goren had Zaidman sign two fateful documents. One form was a request to undergo conversion proceedings at the special beis din Goren set up to handle the case, and the second form was a notice to the High Court withdrawing the petition she had filed asking for recognition of Reform conversions. Thus Goren saved the National Unity Government from being dismantled, and was applauded all around for pulling the chestnuts out of the fire. Nevertheless this did not put an end to the tempestuous national debate. It was obvious to all that besides the fact that the conversion procedure had been worthless, Goren knew very well that Zaidman was married to a Kohen, which is not permitted even for a valid convert.


At this point Maran HaRav Eliashiv stepped onto the scene. He directed Rabbi Weinman to appeal Goren's decision, which he had issued after assuming the role of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv--a post that also designated him as the Regional Av Beis Din.

Among other claims Rabbi Weinman charged, "In accordance with court regulations, the respondents were required to file a conversion request to the Regional Rabbinical Court for Conversion. Such a request was not filed to the Regional Rabbinical Court. In accordance with Regulation 15 of the court regulations, the respondent's request should have been heard by the Ashdod or Be'er Sheva Rabbinical Courts, which are located in proximity to her place of residence. In accordance with Regulation 115, a conversion request must be heard only 12 months after being filed. The respondent's request was heard on the day it was filed."

Rabbi Weinman also wrote that the conversion request had to be heard by three dayanim, while "the conversion in question was determined by only one dayan, since the two rabbis sitting with him were not dayanim." Furthermore he claimed Zaidman had not studied Judaism for three months as per regulations and in closing, stressed her forbidden marriage to a Kohen and the fact that she was still living in a place where it was nearly impossible to lead an observant life. "These are clear proofs that there was no acceptance of the yoke of mitzvos in this case."

At the beginning of the hearings a counterclaim was presented, challenging Rabbi Weinman's protest on the grounds that he was not a baal din in the case (that is, he had no standing). But based on a ruling by HaRav Eliashiv, the dayanim -- HaRav Betzalel Zolti, HaRav Eliezer Goldschmidt and HaRav Shaul Yisraeli -- determined that Rabbi Weinman was indeed a baal din. (Maran's ruling relied on a teshuvoh by the Rashbash [Siman 46] that "in certain matters all of Am Yisroel are baalei din.")

The State legal authorities considered the IDF Rabbi a sufficient halachic authority. However HaRav Eliashiv paskened that such a conversion could never be considered valid, and made a mockery of geirus. During the course of deliberations the dayanim decided to try to challenge the so-called conversion on procedural grounds.

In a written decision HaRav Eliashiv noted that there was no real need to consider the question of baal din since another question was far more pressing: Was there even a proper psak din to appeal?

In his written challenge Maran quotes Regulation 119: "Every ruling and every decision of a regional rabbinical court is subject to appeal in the Beis Din Hagodol." The wording of this regulation demonstrates that only a regional beis din, officially recognized by the State and presided over by three elected dayanim can deliver a valid decision. A private beis din has no standing.

Maran's decision further states, "Regarding conversion, according to the above regulations . . . conversions not performed properly, but before a private beis din are not valid until a regional rabbinical court deliberates the case and inquires into whether this conversion was thoroughly executed, including proper kabolas mitzvos, which according to the halocho in the Shulchan Oruch, Yoreh Deah, Siman 268 is an inviolable condition for conversion, and in light of its inquiry the regional rabbinical court issues a ruling.

"In the present case no documentation indicating a ruling from a regional rabbinical court has been provided, and according to the petitioner there was no such ruling. Therefore, there is no ruling worthy of appeal, and only if and when such a ruling meeting the above conditions is made by a regional rabbinical court will there be such a ruling."

With this decision in hand Rabbi Weinman hurried to meet Interior Minister Moshe Chaim Shapira to request that he block registering Zaidman as a Jew. However Shapira, who had announced he would not obey the High Court ruling, did not obey the Rabbinate's Beit Din Hagodol either. When Zaidman presented an official Conversion of Religion certificate signed and sealed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs (which was also controlled by Mafdal at the time) Shapira issued instructions to list her as a Jew.

In the end, the Tel Aviv Regional Rabbinical Court also validated Goren's slapdash conversion.

Immediately afterwards, Rabbi Weinman was summoned to the home of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who was concerned he was about to file another appeal. During their meeting he issued various vilifications, saying if he did not retract the appeal he had filed "he would be cursed throughout the generations." Then he added, "You will not live through the night, and all of your children will not live out the year."

Rabbi Weinman remained unperturbed. He had Maran's blessing that he would know no evil and had no reason to fear the curses. He also had merited the blessings of maranan verabonon; the Gerrer Rebbe even invited him to visit and blessed him warmly. Yet at that point he had no further means of action available to him since the Regional Rabbinical Court had already validated the "conversion."

The Mamzerim

The real hurricane struck when a famous case of mamzerus came to the fore thirty years ago. The national debate became such a critical issue that HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt'l, and ylct'a HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, made rare appearances at a meeting of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.

Although most assume the story begins in Kislev of 5733 (1972) Rabbi Weinman takes us back to Av of 5732. Just as in the Zaidman case, Rabbi Weinman says Maran HaRav Eliashiv recognized the inherent danger years before the "heter" was implemented and saw what Goren would bring upon Am Yisroel in the event he was chosen as Chief Rabbi of Israel (which he was in October 1972 (Cheshvan 5733)). Even at this relatively early stage he decided to take concerted action to put a stop to Goren's schemes.

"Every morning we [the late dayan HaRav Eliezer Goldschmidt and Rabbi Weinman] would report at Maran HaRav Eliashiv's home to discuss the details of the battle. We stood in awe, amazed by Maran's profound understanding of how to wage the campaign. He knew how to discern exactly what should be done and what shouldn't, which kind of publicity could be effective and which would harm the cause; we didn't move an inch-- not a single detail of the ongoing campaign was set into motion--without first receiving his instructions and final decisions."

At the end of 5732, as the scheduled time for the Chief Rabbinate elections drew near, Goren appeared at press conferences and made other appearances announcing he had already found a "heter" for mamzerim and therefore needed a "beis din." He even accused the newspapers of publicizing the matter prematurely, saying had they held off a bit he would have already found a beis din.

HaRav Eliashiv had the perceptiveness to realize what would later transpire and saw a great peril looming: as head of the Rabbinate Court system, in order to please his appointers and gain power Goren was liable to destroy Torah and halocho institutions which were among the most cherished principles of the Jewish people-- forbidden marriages and proper conversion. Therefore Maran did not wait for Goren to implement the heter and already by the 13th of Av he drafted a letter, together with HaRav Eliezer Goldschmidt, under the heading, "Daas Torah."

The letter was published four days later in Hamodiah. Rabbi Weinman still has the handwritten, signed original in his possession. He recalls that HaRav Eliashiv asked HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky to sign first, followed by his own signature, and then those of HaRav Yaakov Kanievsky, HaRav Elozor Menachem Mann Shach, HaRav Chaim Shmulevitz, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and HaRav Moshe Chevroni.

The text of the letter read, "Winds of confusion are blowing through our Holy Land and mislead many to think it is possible to alter the halocho that we accepted upon us, from one generation to the next since Mt. Sinai, and to permit forbidden practices based on meaningless and deceitful foundations. We declare that all who promulgate such notions have no part in the halocho process and their directives cannot be relied upon. Furthermore, those who assist in spreading this view, which imperils the existence of the Nation, will one day have to account for their deeds."

Historical Background

Way back in 5716 (1956) the case of the Langer children was brought before the Rabbinate beis din of Tel Aviv. The facts were as follows. In 5683 (1923) Miss C. Ginsburg married a ger tzedek named Avrohom (Bollack) Burkovsky. In 5704 (1944) she remarried, this time to a British soldier named Otto Langer--without procuring a get from Burkovsky, Rachmono litzlan--and bore a son and a daughter.

The beis din issued a clear and decisive ruling: the two children were unfit to marry into Am Yisroel.

When they grew up they requested marriage licenses. This time the case was brought before the Rabbinate beis din in Petach Tikva, headed by HaRav S. S. Karelitz. During this second hearing, after investigating the case thoroughly, the beis din upheld the original decision.

Rabbi Weinman recalls that HaRav Eliashiv was familiar with the case inside and out, maintaining close ties on a daily basis with HaRav Karelitz, who participated in the case during various stages. The final ruling stated, "After hearing the case and examining the material evidence, in light of the arguments presented by the regional beis din, we do not have the authority to alter the ruling under appeal."

IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren's presence was felt-- behind the scenes and more palpably as well--throughout the course of the proceedings. The brother and sister were related to the then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and ran a tremendous publicity campaign to press for permission to enter Kehal Yisroel, but it was clear that as long as Goren was in uniform he could do nothing to alter the rulings. Nevertheless, as the elections for the Chief Rabbinate drew near, Goren's scheming began to become apparent as he latched onto the issue for political purposes.

He was behind various public announcements that said if elected Chief Rabbi he would implement a heter for mamzerim and made both private and public promises to this effect. He made it clear that the "brother and sister's suffering and tears" must come to an end. Eventually his plans came to fruition.

Upon Goren's selection as Chief Rabbi and Av Beis Din Hagodol in Cheshvan 5733, Maran HaRav Eliashiv resigned from the Beis Din. Goren urged the Minister of Religious Affairs to accept his resignation as soon as possible, but later he found the other dayanim refused to sit with him on the bench to deliberate cases. Eventually Goren solved the problem through a clever device: he required every candidate to sign a document compelling him to preside together with any dayanim assigned to sit with him.


Goren's so-called psak din allowing mamzerim to marry into Kehal Yisroel was publicized in Hatsofe on 18 Kislev 5733 (1972), five days after he convened his special court. Goren said vaguely that the "heter" had been signed a few days earlier together with a handful of dayanim of world renown and that same evening the brother and sister married their respective fiances.

The media exposure of Goren's heter and the subsequent celebrations in the leading newspapers backed Goren in his struggle against daas Torah alleging it "holds by the stringencies of Beis Shamai" and disregards the suffering of the wretched and the oppressed. Goren, depicted as the Chief Rabbi who championed the downtrodden, revolted against all gedolei Yisroel and avos beis din in Eretz Yisroel.

In response, gedolei Yisroel immediately issued a proclamation that Goren's rulings were meaningless. "We are profoundly disturbed by this terrible deed [and] that someone selected to serve as a rov has the brazenness to strike out at the Torah of Moshe by permitting pesulei kehal through deceitful means, depriving a man held to be a ger of his Jewish status and transforming him into a goy, thereby opening a terrible breach in the walls of our holy Torah. Therefore we proclaim that all of this individual's rulings are null and void, and it is forbidden to rely on them under any circumstances."

End of Part I


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