Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Teves 5763 - December 25, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Argentina -- Spirit over Matter

by Gavriel Shilo

Buenos Aires -- Av, 5762, 2002. It is cold outside. How can it be? Of course, in this distant place on the other side of the equator it is winter, while in Eretz Yisroel and Europe, people are melting from the sweltering heat.

If we wish to summarize in a nutshell the current story of chareidi Argentinean Jewry -- let us observe the hunched elderly, poverty-stricken Jew knocking on the door of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in Buenos Aires asking: "Where is the clothing gemach?"

An avreich called Reb Moshe Kavan is immediately summoned and leads the old man up a flight of stairs, two at a time, to a narrow crowded room. There, inside the room, the poor man's eyes light up. Here he will be able to exchange his worn clothes for almost-brand-new ones collected by Reb Moshe from people in the kehilloh.

This is the tale of chareidi Jewry in Argentina.

Can it be? Is this the entire story of the chareidi community of Argentina? Only chessed and nothing more? Of course not.

However if we delve into this episode, so mundane everywhere in the chareidi Jewish world, we will realize that these things are not so simple. At the end of this article, after a short survey of Argentinean Jewry, we shall clarify what we mean iy"H.

The Early Days

We sat in HaRav Shmuel Aryeh Levine's home and heard the beginning of the story from the man who was pivotal in reviving Torah in Argentina:

The key element of the background and foundation of Argentinean Jewry was a righteous Jew called Reb Yaakov Isser Mazal z"l who arrived in Argentina in the last century as a young boy. His father, Reb Yosef Mazal zt"l, was a big talmid chochom in Brisk. He wrote a sefer called Kvod HaTorah be'Argentina which was one of the only seforim ever privileged to receive the haskomoh of the Brisker Rov ztvk"l.

It was difficult for Reb Yaakov Isser Mazal during that period, in 5684 (1924), to establish a mokom of Torah in Argentina. Following the advice of the Chofetz Chaim ztvk"l he went to Belgium at the age of twenty-seven, where he founded a yeshiva in Haida, which still exists today. At the start of the Second World War he stopped his activities there and fled, experiencing miracles, to Argentina. On his return to there, he established the Heichal HaTorah kehilla. Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim was established by him on the 15th of Av, 5703 (1943).

In doing this, he in fact founded the Torah world in Argentina. Until that time people there had no idea what Torah or Judaism were about. There were a few cheders where children learned until the ages of nine or ten and that was it. In the wake of the Yeshiva's establishment, the spirit of Torah entered Argentina and with it the development of kashrus awareness. Later he brought over the Debricin Rov, HaRav Moshe Stern zt"l, who served as the rov of the community for several years.

In addition, he established the central mikveh and paid for all its expenses from his own pocket. He was a zealous Yid whose aspiration was to keep Yiddishkeit properly. His connections with the gedolim served him in good stead during his conflict with the Zionists who had unopposed control in Argentina up until then. He battled quietly, and nothing Zionist found its way into his community. On the other hand, he was ostracized by the Zionists for his refusal to hang up their pictures in the community building. Rav Mazal was not worried and continued, with his own capital, creating the community according to true Torah ideals.

No one actually wanted to learn in the yeshiva. What did Rav Mazal do? He paid students a salary. The refugees from Europe were very poor then and so the bochurim were paid to come and learn. HaRav Avrohom Yisroel Mishkin from Slonim, a talmid of Rav Elchonon Bunim Wasserman ztvk"l Hy"d, served as rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva. He was a fervent Jew, and also a very warm person. Serving at the helm of the yeshiva with him were other great talmidei chachomim: HaRav Nissim Becker zt"l from Mir and HaRav Steinberg zt"l who came from Russia.

The yeshiva drifted from place to place in Buenos Aires. Later HaRav Tzvi (Zeidel) Semiatitzky zt"l, a great talmid chochom, came from England to join the yeshiva. Four week after his arrival, with great plans for establishing a yeshiva gedolah, he passed away suddenly. His passing stunned the Jewish community and became a turning point in the history of Argentinean Jewry.

The passing of Rav Mazal in 5720 (1960), left the community with nothing to lean on. The cheder of Heichal Hatorah had one hundred and fifty students, but the chareidi atmosphere amongst the Jews living there began to dwindle. In Rav Mazal's later years, the teshuva movement began under the auspices of Rav Velvel Greenberg zt"l. He received room in Rav Mazal's building, who greatly supported and encouraged him.

Fifty years ago Rav Greenberg was the only one who dealt with the baalei teshuvoh and this movement was called "the Sephardi Agudas Yisroel." After Rav Mazal's death the connection between the Sephardi Agudas Yisroel and the Ashkenazi Agudas Yisroel, which had been headed by Rav Mazal, was severed. Later the Sephardi community developed and adopted the name "Shuva Yisrael." In the meantime the Yeshiva Ateres Zvi named after HaRav Tzvi (Zeidel) Semiatitzky was established by Shuva Yisrael.

A Place of Torah Will be Established There

During this period HaRav Levine was a young avreich learning in the Ponevezh kollel in Bnei Brak. One night Rav Mazal appeared to him in a dream and said: "I want you to know that I am very happy with the things I did during my lifetime, but you should know that I cannot do anything further now!"

Rav Levine felt this was more than a hint and with the encouragement of the Rosh Yeshiva and the Mashgiach he returned to his birthplace in 5732 (1972), and began to redevelop the yeshiva. It was obvious that the words of the Rosh Yeshiva were about to materialize, verbatim: "My heart tells me that a mokom Torah will be established there!"

The soil was fertile and seemed to wait for the farmer to come and sow the seeds.

HaRav Levine asked the rov of the Sephardi community, HaRav Shechavar, to also open a yeshiva but he was at first reluctant. Later, when Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim was developing and members from his community who were learning in the yeshiva were becoming big talmidei chachomim, he called HaRav Levine (towards the end of 5737 [1977]) and told him of his plans to open a yeshiva in the Syrian community which would be called "Yesod Hadat" on Levalle (pronounced "Levazha") Street. This yeshiva has since produced hundreds of learned talmidim.

Later HaRav Ephraim Dinnes established the Chacham Nissim Cohen Yeshiva in the Flores community. The bochurim from that yeshiva go to learn in the yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and then after marriage they return to their homeland and continue learning in the kollel avreichim which was established later.

After this, Ashkenazi Jews opened a yeshiva in the Belgrano district which is headed by HaRav Doniel Moadav and HaRav Doniel Oppenheimer. Soon HaRav Yechezkel Levi opened a yeshiva in the Yeshurun community in the established Palerma neighborhood. After him HaRav Parva opened a yeshiva in the Ohr Torah community in the Barakas district, a poor community mostly made up of people originating from Damascus.

At around the same time, the Shuva Yisrael community headed by HaRav Eliezer Ben David developed and steered all their young bochurim to the best yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel. Some returned to settle in Argentina, and now there is a strong core of people learning Torah who are deeply rooted in the hashkofoh of the yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel.

This was the beginning of the blossoming period of Argentinean Jewry, whose success is also hailed by Satmar chassidim who are opening a Yeshiva Od Yosef Chai for Sephardic Jews with chassidic inclinations.

"Everyone laughed," Rav Levine recalls, "when in 5732 (1972) I came to give a speech in Barakas and I said to them: `You will see that there will be a Yeshiva here one day!' Today, although they learn there only part time, who would have believed that they would educate their children in the yeshivisheh way and send their daughters to Bais Yaakov?"

Those communities (which we will discuss later) which do not have the appropriate educational frameworks for girls and boys completing their primary school education, send their children to learn in the Heichal Hatorah community in the Once (pronounced "unsa") neighborhood under the auspices of Rav Levine and his wife ("the teacher"). Or they may send their boys and girls to the equivalent excellent institutions of the Shuva Yisroel community also in Once.

Today there are twenty yeshivos and kollelim in Buenos Aires, including yeshivos for baalei teshuvoh. In addition there are night kollelim in which about a thousand people learning Torah partake in this immense spiritual "party" and including two hundred avreichim who are in full time learning!

If we include all those avreichim -- altogether about another two hundred -- learning in Israeli centers like Bnei Brak, Yerushalayim, Modiin Elite and Elad (one can identify them by their South American accents), then we get a big number. "Today," Rav Levine tells us, "anywhere in Argentina where one hears the Torah being learned, all the teachers, rabbonim and headmasters are of local origin."

In his opinion, Buenos Aires could have had five hundred avreichim and two thousand bochurim today. "It could have been incredible," he sighs, "but this is the way Hashem wants it and, b"H, every year, more and more avreichim and bochurim who are constantly learning, join us."

Thorough Groundwork

All this success did not come gratis. In the beginning it was difficult to convince a father to send his son to yeshiva. "What have you done to my son?" parents would shout at the Rosh Yeshiva.

"Will it be better for your son to marry a non-Jewess?" he replied.

They wanted their sons to have a career, to become doctors. But there were other cases as well, like that Jew who grabbed the Rosh Yeshiva in the street in 5734 (1974) and cried: "What will be with my children?"

The Rosh Yeshiva calmed him down: "Do not worry, my friend, your children will lack for nothing. They will have only good."

"If the Rav says so," he replied, "then I will be calm."

And today: one of his sons is a rov in Flores and another is a rov in Mexico and b"H neither lack anything. Although this Jew passed away a long time ago, he merited to see naches from his offspring during his lifetime. This Jew felt that all would end well. He was very happy and would always say: "Rav Levine told me not to worry, boruch Hashem!"

"Today there is no livelihood for working people, but the rabbonim have parnossoh," Rav Levine says cheerfully. "But then, at the beginning, everyone was a hard-working merchant and you had to convince them that whoever follows the way of the Torah is helped by Hashem."

These children, who were street youths, are today precious avreichim who move heaven and earth even in Israel. Once it was truly difficult work. Today it is fashionable and everyone wants to be in full-time learning.

HaRav Levine recalls how he would have to talk about the Torah at every drosho until his speeches were no surprise to people anymore.

From where did he derive the strength to withstand the difficult spiritual and material reality? How could a young avreich like HaRav Levine carry this heavy burden and responsibility upon his shoulders?

Here we have to mention that without the support and encouragement of the gedolim, and at the forefront the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l, the building would not have arisen. Everything was always run according to his advice. The conflicts were bitter but when the leaders were adamant about their goal, there is great siyata deShmaya.

For example imbuing into the Bais Yaakov girls the desire to raise bnei Torah. It was not simple. Today it is simple and clear to each girl, that what she is looking for is a ben Torah.

There was an additional problem: whether to go to high school or establish a yeshiva without one. The battle to establish a yeshiva without high school was successful, in contrast to America. Today all the yeshivos in Argentina have no high schools. There are Jewish high schools but there is no such thing as a yeshiva high school. Nowadays every father knows that his son does not need a high school education.

To Begin From Scratch

However, one has to admit the fact that everything is actually an obvious miracle. These bochurim come from a materialistic atmosphere and a spiritual vacuum and enter the house of Torah. They hear about Torah learning repeatedly and then they immerse their entire beings into the sea of the Talmud. Slowly but surely they begin to feel the taste of learning. Later on they go to taste the Torah of the holy yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel. Not everyone does this, but that is already an accepted path.

When HaRav Levine arrived in Buenos Aires, there were almost no bearded or hatted men on the streets. If a Jew who looked like that walked down the street, people turned to look.

How do they live a true Jewish life there? In Eretz Yisroel there is an abundance of necessary Jewish services, in quality and quantity. There on the other side of the globe . . . how does it "work?"

Thirty years ago there were only two Jewish food stores in the entire city, which has a population of about twelve million inhabitants today! Today there are about thirty stores including some kosher supermarkets.

Once when there were elections in the Jewish community no one cared about the handful of religious Jews. Today they are considerate of the chareidim and do not establish a coalition without them. (See box for an explanation of the community elections.) Labor Party members come to the yeshiva and sign agreements out of respect and honor for the Torah. They realize the honesty and the real concern for the spiritual needs of the Jews. The members of the left wing parties such as Meretz and Labor allow the treasury to be run by the chareidim, and their influence extends to other areas as well.

The belligerent and inciteful attitude against Judaism that prevails in Israeli politics does not exist in Argentina. The non-religious see that the chareidim have integrity and a genuine interest in having the community run properly. The battle there is that of pure truth, and the only ones who tried to interfere with the chareidim were the Conservatives who have by now all but disappeared.

"Three years ago we took over the treasury of the community with a twenty million dollar debt" HaRav Levine said. "Everyone told us we were crazy to accept it. Today the community has no debt!"

Another unique thing about Argentinean Jewry is the fact that its Chief Rabbi, HaRav Shlomo ben Chamu, is a chareidi Jew who is particular about all the halochos and everything is done according to the true, faithful, Jewish spirit.

HaRav Levine excitedly tells us another mofes about the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l. About twelve years ago the issue of running a slate of chareidi candidates in the community elections was on the agenda. HaRav Levine opposed this, but the more he expressed his reservations, the more the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l pressured him to set up the list. At the end the list was set up and since then, although they have always been a minority party, chareidi Jewry has been at the center of the community.

The AMIA Community

Today, in the merit of the Rosh Yeshiva, people feel a need for the chareidim and seek to follow their advice. If the list had not been set up, one could say that there would have been no Jewry in the community today!

The non-religious Jews know that all the matrimonial and kashrus issues and all matters relating to holy things are conducted in accordance with halocho. Both the Syrian community headed by HaRav Shechavar and the Hashemite community led by HaRav Ben Chamu subject themselves completely to the rulings of the rabbonim.

The community's name is AMIA (Asociacion Mutualista Israelita Argentina), renowned for the terrible blast which destroyed its building. Today the AMIA community is 40,000 strong and remains the central community. Everything passes through AMIA. Overall there are an estimated 197,000 Jews in Argentina (down from an estimated 310,000 in the early 1960s), and of these 40,000 are said to be religious.

"We, the chareidim," says Rav Levine, "became stronger after the blast at AMIA. The chareidi community grew from day to day. Part of the non-religious Jews are scared to send their children to the non-religious Jewish schools, and there are those who specifically want to follow the path of the youth attending yeshivos."

Regarding the national economic crisis and its ramifications for the Jewish population, Rav Levine comments that it is in fact a miracle. Although it should have brought antisemitism in its wake, in reality no antisemitism is evident. The policemen posted next to Jewish institutions are idle. "Boruch Hashem we do not need them and are not interested in their aid," says Rav Levine.

We, who hear the reports of poverty in Argentina, think that they reflect the reality. However, one should be aware of the fact that there are people with personal interests involved in this. To tell the truth, although the situation is indeed difficult, there is aid from the Joint and other parties in America and b"H AMIA is managing to continue its financing of the schools and the welfare needs without enlarging its debt.

Avreichim are not needy and were never in need of assistance. In accordance with the instructions of the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l the avreichim do not receive assistance from the government. The burden is on the heads of the various institutions to ensure that the avreichim can persevere with their learning. An avreich is not a social case nor is he a poor man -- Rav Levine proclaims.

For this reason Vaad Hayeshivos was established. Its purpose is to ensure that all the yeshivos, including those which have no connections outside Argentina, will receive financial support from wealthy people from all over the world.

The echo of Vaad Hayeshivos reverberates all over the world. There is a desire to help the Yeshivos continue functioning despite the difficult economic situation. HaRav Dovid Shustal, one of the roshei yeshiva of Lakewood, and other important roshei yeshivos were enlisted to help.

One has to remember that all funds formerly received from the wealthy local Jews have entirely ceased. But all this, as we said, does not affect the avreichim through whom the Torah's promises are fulfilled. They receive their guaranteed monthly salary and are not at all worried or concerned about the situation.

"When the situation is difficult," says HaRav Levine, "one has to increase Torah learning and do one's utmost not to disturb the avreichim from their learning."

The economic situation pushes more and more people below the poverty line, and gives rise to kidnapping for ransom money. It is to be pointed out, however, that although the phenomenon is becoming more widespread, it is not significant, and boruch Hashem it is not felt in the central sections of Buenos Aires and the Jews do not suffer from it.

Although there are solutions to the livelihood and security problems, we may still wonder about the solution to other no less existential problems. Where can one buy an esrog? And what about kosher meat, and a mehudar mezuza and tefillin? It seems that in far-away Argentina, one assumes it is practically impossible to get all the necessities of shemiras mitzvos.

The Story of the Mikveh

We will begin with one of the most basic community needs: the mikveh. The inhabitants of large Jewish communities are used to finding a mikveh in almost every neighborhood. But those living in a vast non-Jewish metropolis like Buenos Aires may have to travel extensive distances, which calls for real mesirus nefesh.

The story of the mikveh in the Once neighborhood begins about seventy years ago when Rav Mazal donated the building for it.

Twenty years later Rav Kos shlita joined the picture. "In my childhood my father asked me to run the mikveh and, although I did not want to do it, I am here to this day."

The mikveh, which at the beginning was still heated by wood, is now very beautiful and sophisticated. Rav Kos expends all his resources and talents on the mikveh and he even developed a halachic approach regarding the laws of hashokoh (mingling new water with existing water) which won the approval of the gedolim including HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner.

Today due to the welcome increase of religious Jews, many more mikvo'os can be found in other neighborhoods, which have followed in the footsteps of the central mikveh.

Excellent Kashrus

The important area of kashrus is also a big success story: the rabbonim of the community battled to preserve the traditional ways of shechitoh. For example the examination of the internal organs is done while the carcass is prone and not while hanging (as is done in other communities). Since various problems in the animal's abdomen have become widespread lately and can only be checked while the animal is prone, the pressures to change have been pushed aside.

The community's shochetim, HaRav Levine tells us, are all faithful bnei Torah known in Israel. There are several other mehudar shechitos, he says, but this one is the main shechita of the bnei Torah, headed by Rav Yosef Lieberson.

"Aside from the shechitoh," Rav Lieberson tells us, "we have developed other areas such as wines and candies." Because of the very strict kashrus standards, many rely on the hechsher of the Agudas Yisroel Argentina even in America, England and Israel. All the products are bishul Yisroel and the milk is cholov Yisroel. The dozens of mashgichim in the dairies all over the country ensures a supply of milk, and despite the difficulties this incurs, there are no compromises.

"Another important, complicated and unique area which exists in our kashrus system is the concern for yoshon flour. We know that there are poskim who are lenient in this matter. Nevertheless we make it our business to ensure that anyone interested will be able to use only yoshon.

"It is important to remember" he points out, "that in a kashrus system in a non-Jewish country it is relatively easy to dispose of non-kosher merchandise without any major loss. Meat and fish that are found not kosher can be sold at very reasonable prices.

"An avreich who wants to establish a Torah home can rely on our kashrus with no reservations! Whatever we cannot produce with great hiddur we import from Israel and do not rely on any leniency in the halocho!" HaRav Levine concludes the kashrus issue.

Torah-True Education

We go down two flights in the same building where Rav Lieberson lives and enter Rav Yisroel Feder's house, the principal of the cheder of the Heichal Hatorah community.

Education, always a main concern for the chareidi public, receives maximum attention and investment here. The children who come from religious homes have the proper spiritual basis and the cheder's goal is to educate them to Torah and yiras Shomayim. The children are given very little vacation, so that they should not roam the streets, and we see the outcome very clearly.

At the age of eleven the children go to learn in Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, and they continue their learning in their later years in important yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel such as Kol Torah, Be'er Hatorah and Torah Ohr.

"From time to time we fly to Eretz Yisroel and update ourselves about educational issues from other cheder principals and, of course, HaRav Levine insists on importing all the latest innovations such as Ovos Ubonim.

"Despite the fact that the secular studies are prescribed by the local Education Ministry, we make sure," Rav Feder stresses, "to check all the material and the government allows us to run our educational system as an independent system."

After having been convinced that one can really grow to be a ben Yeshiva as easily as in any other Torah center, and can establish a Torah home, the only thing left to check was the situation of sofrei stam in Argentina. There are detailed lists in all the various communities where one can purchase and check sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzas. The actual tefillin and mezuzas are imported from Eretz Yisroel.

"Anyone who feels that they do not need a computer examination, which does not exist here, can certainly rely on our meticulous sofrim," Rav Levine stresses.

We chose to end the long discussion, which took place close to Succos, with the following question: we who live in Eretz Yisroel may not appreciate the difficulties involved in fulfilling the mitzvos of Succa and arba minim. For us, Succos has become a very easy yom tov to celebrate. Is it the same in Argentina?

When Rav Levine arrived in Argentina thirty years ago he brought twelve sets of arba minim with him. A year later he came back with twenty sets. A year later the number increased and today two hundred sets are sent by post!

Naturally the other communities such as Shuva Yisroel and Yeshurun take care of the needs of their congregants, but the central market is in Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim. Therefore, if one wants to fulfill this mitzva behiddur one can do so.

Now we naturally get to the issue of building a succa. Once it was rather unusual to see a succa in large cities overseas. However today, many Jews buy apartments with succas and many buildings are built with an arrangement for one. Still, not everyone is able to have a succah at home and the community is invited to Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim to fulfill the mitzva of sitting in the succa, which includes eating and sleeping.

Also in other shuls spread throughout the city one can find public succas which give community members the possibility of fulfilling the mitzva without missing any details.

Wonderful Gemilus Chesed

We cannot possibly encompass the entire scope of the spiritual activities in Argentina. Many great and important things take place and every local avreich and rov can tell his own story of chareidi Jewry there, on the other side of the ocean.

The gemach in Buenos Aires is also very unique. We heard about the money-lending gemach from Rav Efraim Abramchik, which intentionally ignores the rapid devaluation of the money so that the borrowers can easily pay back the money they borrowed. We also heard of another unique gemach: during sheva brochos brides and grooms need to eat. Sometimes it is hard for them to prepare the extra, non-festive meals. To make sure that they do not go hungry, they are sent three meals every day. There is also a gemach that owns large freezers, allowing people who cannot afford a freezer to prepare food in advance and preserve it there.

There is also a tefillin and mezuza gemach, of course, oriented towards the non-religious community with the hope that these items will remain with the borrowers for a long time. The fact that the tefillin are borrowed induces the non-religious Jew to put on tefillin and not leave them in the cupboard.

There is also the clothing gemach of Rav Moshe Kavan. Yes, the same gemach we mentioned at the beginning of the article!

As we promised, after our short (partial) survey we can now understand how this gemach is a short summary of the entire history of Argentinean Jewry.

If not for the wind of Torah blowing through Argentina today there would be no awareness of Jewish spiritual activity. If not for the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l pressuring HaRav Levine to set up a yeshiva, there would not have been all the other yeshivos, talmudei Torah and Bais Yaakov schools. If not for the holy persistence of the roshei yeshiva, a vibrant Jewish world would not have arisen, and the poor elderly man (whose story began the article) would have remained with his torn worn clothing and been cold during the winter.

If there were no community like Yeshurun in the Palerma neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Reb Moshe Kavan would not have discovered Yiddishkeit and learned Torah, and would not have set up his clothing gemach in the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in the Once neighborhood.

This is how the holy Torah wanders through the golus, sustaining Yiddishkeit and the Jews in each and every location, regardless of place, time and money.

The message of Argentinean Jewry can be summarized in the well-known words of Chazal: "Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Chanina said: "Talmidei chachomim increase peace in the world, as it says: `And all your children learned of Hashem and much peace to your children' -- do not read `your sons' but `your builders.' "

The Chief Rabbi of Argentinean Jewry

HaRav Shlomo Ben Chamu, who serves as the Chief Rabbi of Argentinean Jewry and as head of the beis din of Buenos Aires, has his office on the top floor of the new building that replaced the old AMIA building which was destroyed in the terrorist attack.

During our conversation it became apparent that, unlike many other places around the world, the office of Chief Rabbi here is occupied by a chareidi Jew.

"The Argentinean community is a very extensive one and Buenos Aires today can easily be termed an ir vo'eim beYisroel due to its yeshivos, chadorim, kollelim and Bais Yaakov institutions.

"AMIA is the central community and is a very unique body. Unlike other Jewish communities around the world, here everything is conducted according to the party lists of the Israeli Knesset. However, here UTJ is in second place behind only the Labor Party and, in practice, any decisions made are strictly in accordance with halochoh. Any Jew leaving us has no need to prove his Jewish status, unlike many other places."

[Note: In Argentina the community is run by elected representatives who run according to the parties in Eretz Yisroel. The makeup of the board is different from Eretz Yisroel, however. UTJ is the second largest party in Argentina. Perhaps in this respect Argentina is the vanguard of the future.]

The Chief Rabbi points out the special relations that have developed between him and the Meretz representative, stressing the great honor accorded to him as the community's Secretary of Religious Affairs. The tensions prevalent in Eretz Yisroel are not felt here at all!

On motzei Tisha B'Av 5754 (1994) the terrible explosion took place in AMIA. The names of dozens of victims are inscribed on the wall in the street. The new building is much further away from the street than the previous one and security is noticeably tight.

"As distressing as that event was, we must not let it break the spirit of the community, and you could actually say that we came out strengthened by it. Some parents are afraid to send their children to Jewish schools, but this phenomenon does not exist among the religious population."

HaRav Ben Chamu has been in Argentina for thirty-five years. He feels that even Jews older than he cannot remember there ever being such a difficult economic situation as today. The collapse of the currency together with rising unemployment have confronted the community with a new situation. In the past, welfare activities were concentrated solely on medical and nursing assistance, but today AMIA for the first time finds itself supplying food packets to needy families and many poor people. "Every month, basic commodities are distributed, and we hope that this coming year will see an improvement in the situation."

Rosh Yeshiva of all the Roshei Yeshivos

Who in Rav Levine's community does not know Rav Michael Tchourba?

He is a public figure who leaves his mark on the yeshivos, chadorim, kashrus and chesed institutions, but above all he is a modest, pleasant Jew. We chose to speak to him at the yeshiva where he learns half a day, devoting the rest of the day to serving as Rav Levine's right hand man.

"Here in the yeshiva we feel that HaRav Levine is like the godol hador. We consult him for every little question. Actually, people from all the various communities in Argentina come to consult with him because he is the most important rov in Argentina."

He is known as "the teacher Michoel" to the cheder boys at Heichal Hatorah and he has twenty- two years' teaching experience behind him. He just teaches alef beis but he is happy and does not look for a more senior position or for honor. He was offered tempting positions (outside Argentina) in education, but he stresses: "A teacher's job is not to earn money but to earn children, souls."

<14 Teves, p. 10>

HaRav Yosef Oppenheimer: Thirty Years of Leading Argentinean Torah Jewry

by Rav Betzalel Blidstein, Rosh Yeshivas Or Mordechai, Telse-Stone

Many Argentinean Jews owe their spiritual existence to Rav Yosef Hacohen Oppenheimer, zt'l, who lived in Argentina for nearly 30 years until his passing 20 years ago. Born in Frankfurt am Main, he studied at the yeshivas of Telz, Kelm and Kamenitz, which was very rare among German Jews.

He received semichoh from HaRav Simchah Zelig Riger, a dayan in Brisk, and from HaRav Boruch Ber Lebovitz, and then went to Argentina to serve as the rov of a kehilloh of German Jews who immigrated after the Holocaust.

Upon his arrival HaRav Oppenheimer found minimal Torah institutions (except for Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim and Heichal HaTorah Institutions, under the late Rav Mazel) and immediately set to the task of making this desert bloom. Through mesirus nefesh he set up an extensive kashrus network; although only a handful of kosher consumers were stringent regarding various products (e.g. cholov Yisroel) he insisted on supervising their production to make them available commercially. He traveled 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) to produce kosher wine and would personally oversee shechita lemehadrin, not trusting any other mashgiach. His dedication knew no bounds. In order to encourage more people to buy kosher products, rather than taking a short flight he would travel 18 hours by bus to help keep prices low.

As head of Beis Haknesses Achdus Yisroel he had a fine mikveh built nearby.

Together with other askonim he set up Beit Sefer HaChazon Ish (founded in the year of Maran HaChazon Ish's passing) and later the first Bais Yaakov seminary in Argentina, where he even served as principal and gave shiurim, asking no monetary compensation whatsoever. He was also widely involved in kiruv and worked with talmidim from nonobservant homes.

Rav Oppenheimer encouraged many parents to send their children to study at Torah centers in the US and in Eretz Yisroel, setting an example by sending all of his own sons and daughters to distant institutions. When parents claimed they lacked the wherewithal to send their children to faraway places he set up Keren HaTorah to fund travel expenses for yeshiva students. Roshei yeshivos and maggidei shiurim from Argentina now involved in the holy task of teaching Torah in Eretz Hakodesh and the US, attribute their present positions to Rav Oppenheimer's efforts.

He fought fiercely against Reform and Zionist organizations and even published articles presenting clear hashkofoh in the local press. He wrote several articles including "Keitzad Ma'asrim" on ma'aser kesofim and "Veyikoreh Shemo Beyisroel" on customs relating to naming children, as well as a sefer called Rof'ei Yisroel on topical questions on medicine and halacha. His works received approbations of Maran HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt'l, and HaRav Shmuel Wosner, ylct'a.

During his later years, when the general rabbinate found itself with no one qualified to oversee gittin, Rav Oppenheimer reluctantly joined the rabbinate out of a sense of responsibility to uphold Jewish marital institutions and divorce.

He enthusiastically supported Agudas Yisroel, even serving as a delegate for Argentina at the major convention in Jerusalem in 5724 (1964).

His home was a place of assembly for talmidei chachomim and distinguished guests, including marbitzei Torah and leaders of Agudas Yisroel and chareidi Jewry visiting from Eretz Yisroel and the Diaspora. He was held in high regard by all due to his careful adherence to matters of bein odom lechavero and his exceptional humility.

Rav Oppenheimer passed away on Taanis Esther 5741 (1981) and lies buried on the Mount of Olives. His son and successor, Rav Doniel Oppenheimer, heads Beis Knesses Achdus Yisroel and plays an active role in kiruv and upholding Judaism in Argentina. He also serves as the Shearis Yisroel's representative in Buenos Aires.


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