Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Adar I 5763 - February 12, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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

by Binyomin Y. Rabinowitz

Part III

Just over thirty years ago, on the 8th of Teves 5733, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah met to discuss alarming developments, 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 chittun 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.

The first part discussed the case of Helen Zaidman, the insincere Reform convert who was falsely "converted" again by Rabbi Goren.

The real storm raged about the later case of a brother and a sister (Langer) who were the children of a woman who had married a ger and then remarried without a divorce from her first husband. In early 5733 Goren was elected Chief Rabbi, promising to find a "solution" for the Langers. He soon kept his promise, convening an ad hoc beis din whose composition he never made public. Gedolei Yisroel immediately issued a proclamation that Goren's rulings were meaningless. The press took Rabbi Goren's side.

* * *

Goren published a booklet called, "Psak Din in the Matter of the Brother and Sister," whose main thrust was to cast Mrs. Langer's first husband as a goy by building a mosaic of fragmented testimonies--some from pesulei eidus-- and documents that were halachically inadmissible.

The psak din contained numerous contradictions. Unfit witnesses were rendered kosher by the stroke of a pen. In some cases testimony from witnesses who admitted eating pork on Yom Kippur was accepted, while other witnesses who did not suit Goren's purposes were rejected as being suspect because their testimony was elicited only through guided questions.

In one place Goren writes that two years before he issued his heter the first husband, Borkovsky, told Goren if he considered him a goy he wanted Goren to convert him. At first Goren considered honoring his request assuming he went to study and began to observe mitzvos, but eventually he decided against the proposal because his original geirus had not been officially denied. " . . . And it would be unseemly on my part to take such action of my own accord against the piskei din of the Rabbinical courts that handled the matter."

Goren's Main Ploy

Goren compiled a file with photocopied documents carefully selected from the records of the respective botei din that heard the case over the years. This is what he showed to the nine unknown dayanim who signed the psak with him. Almost all of the documents and all of the testimony it contained had been presented to the various botei din who heard the case (including Beis Din Hagodol) and they had all determined that the brother and sister were indeed mamzeirim. Then along came Goren pretending that he had a new approach to the old evidence.

Actually one of the main tricks in Goren's heter was the use of a halachic power called afke'inehu whereby the rabbonim of the gemora in some cases annul a marriage.

Unsurprisingly, the use of this power lit the imaginations of many leading Israeli academic jurists, who thought they had uncovered the secret tool that would allow them to dismantle the Chief Rabbinate's entire marriage and divorce system. In a witty satirical article published in Hamodiah, a writer named Rabbi Millstein responded to a long article in Ha'aretz by High Court Judge Prof. Zilberg, who had supposedly uncovered the "revolutionary device" in Tosafos that could be used to permit every mamzer from that point on.

"According to Mr. Zilberg," writes Rabbi Millstein, "there are many legal fictions to be found in Chazal. And if the heter iskoh is permitted why should it be forbidden to rule like RiY Hazoken, and to permit a mamzer [to marry normally] through hafko'as kiddushin [annulling the mother's marriage]? This was unknown to any godol among all the gedolei hadoros and we have yet to find someone, among thousands and thousands of responsa in all the sifrei gedolim, who used this heter until along came the former judge and opened our eyes . . .

"Shame on you, rabbis of Israel, you who receive municipal and government salaries, you who are living in a Jewish state, you cruel people without an ounce of compassion in your hearts for these women and their children and in whose breast beats a heart of stone. You never visit Dizengoff Square or the alleys nearby and you do not know what is going on in this country. Are you not ashamed to be unfamiliar with the Tosafos in Gittin 33a s.v. Afke'inehu?

"Do they receive salaries or no? Is there a legal system in this state or no . . . ?

"Why is it, I ask, begging the rabbis' pardon, that when a person hides bars of gold in his home without informing the state treasury he is heavily fined to the point where his wealth is confiscated, yet the rabbis have hidden away such a valuable treasure as this from the public eye and set the entire country spinning just to select a Chief Rabbi . . . ?

Persuading the Public

HaRav Eliashiv constantly guided Rabbi Weinman, telling him how to present his opinion and psak din on the Langer case to the public. To convey the relevant information in limited newspaper ads Rabbi Weinman had to sift through a mountain of documents and beis din records in search of succinct proof with the power to persuade even the general public that Goren's heter was based on falsehoods and deceit. In this endeavor, recalls Rabbi Weinman, "I saw the crystal clear vision only gedolei Yisroel have."

The eventual notice in the newspaper was purely factual, consistent with the approach of dayanim. The first one was published in January 1973, just about 30 years ago.

"Ever since it became a nation when the Torah was received on Mt. Sinai, Am Yisroel has faithfully kept accepted halochoh, as written and handed down. As Rabbenu Saadya Gaon wrote, `Our nation is not a nation except through its Torah.' For an individual who committed a transgression and deviated, the gates of teshuvoh are always open to him, but a rov and a moreh halocho who commits the same deed has the din of `megaleh ponim beTorah shelo kehalocho' (Ovos 3, 11).

"Recently the rabbonim and dayanim of Israel were forced to gather and defend the heart and soul of halocho from those who have risen up against it to `adjust' it to today's circumstances. We have reached the peak of wretchedness in turning halochoh into a fraud with the psak din of S. Goren, which permits mamzeirim -- whose status was determined following three rulings by Rabbinate botei din that heard the case over the course of several years-- to enter kehal Hashem based on unfounded `halachic' explanations and with the help of `underground' dayanim.

"Religious people who recall their childhood learning and who hold the integrity of halochoh and the honor of rabbinical judgment in high esteem, along with secular people who are fair-minded and prefer honesty and consistency over back-room deals, will spurn efforts to stitch together a psak din with crude stitches . . . and both will rise up against piskei din commissioned by the authorities to achieve fleeting political ends. They will acknowledge that bypassing minimal legal process that is clearly not allowed in secular law, most certainly has no place in religious law."

Following this important introduction, the text addresses Goren's "heter" in light of the salient facts. One of the major foundations of the "psak" was based on the argument that Langer's first husband was a ger shechozar lesuro [a convert who returned to his former ways] and therefore his conversion was annulled, the marriage never took effect and the children of the subsequent marriage were not mamzeirim. Apparently someone advised Mrs. Langer to use this argument and she used it throughout the various hearings. Time after time her claim was rejected for lack of evidence, but Goren said he had found new testimony and documents to confirm it.

New Documents

Goren's booklet relies primarily on the opinion of a City of Tel Aviv social worker named Ms. B. Freund. According to a report of hers dated March 1, 1947 the previous husband, Borkovsky, placed his son in a Christian environment, involved him in Christian festivities, and so on. Based on this report Goren writes, "It is clear as day that Mr. Borkovsky lived in Israel as a Christian, attended Christian festivities with his son and regularly brought him into a Christian atmosphere, . . ."

In conclusion Goren writes, "Before us is the most authoritative report of the years in question. It says he lives as a Christian and forces [Christianity] upon his little 10-year-old son. This is not a story told by Chava Langer but the social worker's conclusion following her own investigation of the case."

Yet it seems Goren somehow overlooked the social worker's first sentence in which she writes, " . . . I received all of the details from the mother [Chava Langer] . . . " Time after time the report interjects, "she said" or "she related." Several times the social worker seems a bit more skeptical, stressing that what she writes is "according to her (lidevoreho)."

At the end of the report the social worker adds a characterization of her own, saying Langer is "frivolous and makes it appear as if she is concerned over the child's well- being. [However] in reality, she does not care that much."

"The Rov Knew"

Goren's heter also cites the fact that Mrs. Langer was married (for the second time) by Rav Levitzky in Givat Rambam in the year 5704 (1944). Goren used this as another "foundation" for his heter, saying had Rav Levitzky known she was married to a Jew he would not have officiated at her wedding without a get. Thus, claimed Goren, Rav Levitzky knew Borkovsky was a goy and that was why he did not insist that she get a divorce.

This argument could have been quite strong were it not for the record of the Rabbinate's hearings of 2 Iyar 5715 (1955) in which Mrs. Langer, in responding to a question of one of the dayanim, testified, "In '43 I was married by the rov in Givatayim. I didn't tell him about my husband the ger. I told him I was single and my name was Chava Ginsburg."

Mrs. Langer repeated this version at another hearing held in Tishrei 5727 (1967). Responding to a question posed by Av Beis Din HaRav Shlomoh Shimshon Karelitz, this time she said, "In '44 I married Otto Yehoshua Langer in Givat Rambam. I didn't tell the rov I had a husband, but I conveyed to Mr. Langer the whole story about my husband Avrohom, and he told me I didn't need a get from him since he was a goy . . . "

Further concrete evidence emerged from another session in the Rabbinate beis din on 2 Elul 5711 (1951) at which they gave a psak din directing "the woman Chava of the family of Ginsburg" to divorce Borkovsky without delay and forbidding her from ever marrying Otto Langer even after receiving a get." At the time, which was seven years after she had married Langer, she did not protest to the beis din that she had married Langer with the heter of a rav in Givat Rambam and thus did not need such a get.

Clearly the only reasonable explanation for this gross omission is that Ms. Chava-Ginsburg-Borkovsky-Langer deceived Rav Levitzky by presenting herself as a single woman and by using her maiden name and that had Rav Levitzky known about the earlier marriage he surely would have insisted on a divorce.

The records of the various botei din were available to Goren when he prepared his booklet, yet he seems to have overlooked the fact that the only person who ever exempted her from obtaining a get was none other than Otto Langer. It is interesting that on page 13 of the booklet, after citing Mrs. Langer's story based on her own testimony in beis din, Goren omitted the sentence, "I didn't tell the rov I had a husband."

Chutzpah Instead of Argument

The Langer case did not disappear from the media spotlight for a moment. Goren remained undeterred by the objections and exhortations of all gedolei hador, speaking out against them unabashedly. Among the pearls that spewed forth from his mouth: "Who made you, HaRav Shach, posek hador?!"

Goren, on the other hand, had been knighted posek hador by such "authorities" as Golda Meir and her friends in the Labor Party after he promised to eradicate what they deemed unnecessary stringencies regarding mamzeirim and other pesulei chittun.

At a large press conference Goren let loose the following invective: "You [rabbonim] can dictate the policy at your yeshivas and nothing more." Encouraged by the sound of laughter from the journalists he added, "They can practice stringencies among themselves, and even prohibit drinking water except for heavy water, but who empowered them to issue rulings for the State?"

The height of the battle came when Agudath Israel Knesset Leader MK Rabbi Shlomo Lorencz, speaking during a Knesset plenum, made harsh statements intended to mock Goren for his vilifications of dayanim and the botei din and all others who did not stand behind him, the great and hallowed general. "We are in Jerusalem and not in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Paratrooper's wings [which Goren famously earned] are a very important thing, but are not impressive when speaking of the Rabbinate. What a curiosity that in Kampala as well there is someone who received IDF paratrooper's wings." (The infamous Ugandan dictator at the time, Idi Amin, had earned paratrooper wings during training in Israel.)


This remark caused a major tremor. Mizrachi rabbonim quickly issued a niddui against Rabbi Lorencz. The Knesset plenum rose up in tumult as well.

However, in an interview with journalist Rafael Bashan, Rabbi Lorencz said that on Shabbos in his shul he had been given a place of honor in the front of the beis knesses and was called up to the Torah for an aliyoh, obviously ignoring any niddui. He also told Bashan jokingly that the Office of the Chief Rabbi must have issued a statement of ginui (condemnation) which somebody apparently confused with a statement of niddui (excommunication).

In Hamodiah, a notice signed by gedolei hador said both ginui and niddui had no standing, reminding the public that Goren's rulings and directives carried no authority.

As is often the case when the chareidi sector speaks out and the public does not want to listen to reason, a call was made to draft yeshiva students into the IDF. This time the initiative came from Prime Minister Golda Meir, who told a meeting of the government that "the unruly chareidim are employing violent means against those who follow shittas Beis Hillel." Later she sent a written warning to roshei yeshivos, holding them responsible for any violence. Neither would Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir let himself be outdone as he proceeded to pointedly enumerate various government funding given to support and maintain the yeshivas, and complaining that despite this they sometimes failed to toe the government's line.

From the moment HaRav Shach zt'l, began to cry out in the name of the Torah and yeshiva world, Goren started heading downhill and never recovered. Although at first the secular public supported him in his efforts to permit all pesulei chittun and to change the face of Jewish practice in Israel, through his arrogance and unseemly personal conduct he lost large segments of his supporters in Israel and abroad. Eventually he began to get entangled and quarrel with the rest of the public on both the right and left, and even the national-religious.

But his temperament was not the only reason for Goren's decline. The notices Rabbi Weinman placed in the secular press with the advice of HaRav Eliashiv played a large part in persuading readers that Goren had woven a web of lies for political and personal reasons, and in the process had made a mockery of Torah and halochoh.

Debunking the Heter

Years earlier HaRav Eliashiv had already warned about the likely repercussions if Goren became Chief Rabbi of Israel, and he began working to counter his schemes. Now at HaRav Eliashiv's behest Rabbi Weinman took several steps to refute the so-called heter.

As the wide publicity campaign against Goren gathered momentum, ger tzedek Avraham Borkovsky suddenly found that he had been rendered a goy because of Goren's heter, which relied on allegations that Borkovsky had reverted to his former ways and "even went to church."

Rabbi Weinman uncovered the fact that Goren based his claims on reports provided by people whom Chief Rabbinate botei din had deemed unreliable (including one who was himself married to a non-Jew). On the other hand, Goren disregarded the testimony of a gabai beis knesses in Tel Aviv near Borkovsky's home who said he came to the beis knesses for prayers and acted like a Jew in every way. (This testimony helped sway the opinion of one dayan who, unlike his colleagues on the bench, originally had doubts regarding Borkovsky's status as a Jew and leaned toward allowing the mamzeirim to marry freely.)

Based on a letter written by Borkovsky's son, Goren claimed Borkovsky baptized the boy in Poland -- yet Goren omitted the significant fact that, according to the same letter, this took place before Borkovsky's giyur when he certainly was not Jewish.

All of Goren's methods point to a singular conclusion: he held the ends justified the means.

What About Helen Zaidman?

In the notices he placed in secular newspapers, Rabbi Weinman also presented another challenge to Goren's ruling: If he considered Borkovsky a goy rather than a ger, how could he have earlier converted Helen Zaidman, who lived on a kibbutz in a non- religious environment?

Goren claimed Borkovsky was a goy since he did not keep mitzvos, yet Rabbi Weinman pointed out several acknowledged practices of his that were on record that indicated Borkovsky was not as far from Yiddishkeit as Goren suggested: he sent his children to Jewish religious schools although secular schools were not lacking in his area; when he wanted to remarry, unlike his first wife he went to a beis din to have a get prepared; he attended a beis knesses regularly and held a bar mitzvah for his son there. In addition there was Borkovsky's own argument that, had he not lived like a Jew, he would not have made aliyah altogether.

After disproving claims that Borkovsky went to church, Rabbi Weinman asked how Borkovsky was any less Jewish than Zaidman, who had been living with a kohen at the time Goren performed her so-called conversion and moreover since the conversion the two had remained together on the kibbutz.

Rabbi Weinman's newspaper ads covered more than an entire page. The conclusion read, "The halacha propounded by Goren and his anonymous `beis din' was molded like clay on a potter's wheel. When he wishes he expands, when he wishes he abbreviates. But since `the living cannot refute the living,' and since the facts prove Goren's "psak halacha" wrong, one would hope public opinion in Israel, both among the religious and the non-religious alike, will renounce this attempt at blurring [the facts] and not allow a mockery to be made of halacha, our life and breath."

Borkovsky is "Reinstated" as a Jew

The battle was not yet finished. In order to determine once and for all that Borkovsky was a Jew, under HaRav Eliashiv's guidance Rabbi Weinman contacted the Chief Rabbinate beis din in Petach Tikva -- headed by HaRav Shlomo Karelitz -- which had ruled that the Langer children were mamzeirim. The hearings continued for an entire year during which Rabbi Weinman summoned various witnesses to testify regarding their involvement in the case.

Meanwhile Goren did all he could to prevent witnesses from coming to testify, claiming the beis din in Petach Tikva was not qualified to hear the case. Among those who came to Goren's aid was High Court Justice Mishael Cheshin, who made headlines recently as chairman of Central Election Committee. At the time, Cheshin was serving as Assistant Attorney General and in response to a letter from Rabbi Weinman he formulated elaborate interpretations of the affair, centered around his desire that Goren's "horo'oh" should remain in force.

Rabbi Weinman also asked Goren's successor in the army, IDF Chief Rabbi Mordechai Piron, who cooperated with Goren when Goren had served as IDF Chief Rabbi, to pass on all the information he had pertaining to the case, but Piron cited Goren's ruling not to cooperate and he refused to appear in beis din in Petach Tikva.

Rabbi Weinman made a concerted attempt to secure documents and evidence from Poland where Borkovsky originally converted, but shaky relations between Soviet bloc countries and Israel during this period prevented him from obtaining the evidence he sought.

When East-West relations improved a few years later, Rabbi Weinman again tried to obtain various documents related to the case from the Polish Minister of Religious Affairs, but his request was still met with an unqualified denial. Rabbi Weinman says it remains unclear whether "someone" behind the scenes prevented him from getting the documents. Eventually all of the relevant documents and pieces of evidence were brought before the beis din.

One year after the affair came into the public spotlight, in Kislev of 5734, presiding dayan HaRav Shlomo Karelitz, HaRav Michel Zolty and HaRav Nochum Dov Kreisman wrote the following psak: "The applicant filed a request to certify his status as a Jew, namely that he underwent a proper conversion while still abroad several decades ago. He further requested that this beis din render a ruling as to the validity of his marriage with his second and current wife, which was held under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv.

"Based on the witnesses who testified before us and the evidence and material in the file from the regional botei din in Tel Aviv and in Petach Tikva that were before us, the beis din rules as follows: A. We affirm the Jewish status of the applicant, Avrohom Borkovsky, who converted abroad, and he is to be considered a Jew in every respect, including to marry a bas Yisroel. B. Since the marriage file between the applicant and his second and current wife from the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv was not brought before us, once he has produced proof of his marriage with his [current] wife the beis din will certify the marriage."


Thus ended the matter of determining Borkovsky's status as a bona fide Jew, but the battle against Goren and his deeds was far from over. Rabbi Weinman did not hesitate to fight against Goren at every opportunity that presented itself, to ensure that the whole country clearly understood the root of the problem and the gravity of the matter--and what the battle was being fought over. Innumerable letters, High Court appeals, repetitious uproars in the media and various other actions kept Goren pinned to the wall and prevented him from operating freely and continuing his wanton activities.

In selecting dayanim, for instance, he worked hard to keep talmidei chachomim from receiving appointments. Goren used his authority and collaborated with the Religious Affairs Minister then in office to prevent the selection committee from convening, because he was convinced its composition was not to his advantage and would favor talmidei chachomim over dayanim who would follow his path of issuing questionable heteirim.

Goren managed to postpone appointments for an entire year until Rabbi Weinman stepped into the picture, this time as well at HaRav Eliashiv's direction. By then, more than ten positions were vacant. Together with the Religious Affairs Minister, during this period Goren even introduced legislative amendments to determine who would sit on the selection committee as the representative of the dayanim. Rabbi Weinman filed a High Court petition that thwarted Goren's scheme when the High Court ordered the committee to convene with its current members, and the candidates Goren recommended were not selected.

Goren was forced to undergo a series of embarrassing and unpleasant experiences because of these battles. For instance, he had to read Rabbi Weinman's letter aloud before the Chief Rabbinical Council, a task he understandably carried out only reluctantly. In this case the High Court forced it upon Goren and against his will he had to publicly say "I want it."

Toward the end of Goren's first term Rabbi Weinman continued his campaign by trying to prevent him from remaining president of the Rabbinate's Beit Din Hagodol.

Rabbi Weinman says when this took place, from a legal standpoint Goren's term as Chief Rabbi had expired. Following the Religious Affairs Minister's directive he was given a nine-month extension in office. When this period ended and preparations were begun for the selection of a new Chief Rabbi it became clear that Goren had no chance of being re- elected by the voting body as it was then constituted. To solve their problem, the Mafdal quickly passed legislation annulling the election preparations that had been made and extending Goren's term of office.

After the second extension expired, Rabbi Weinman filed a High Court petition claiming that in such a state of affairs Goren could not serve as a dayan in the Beit Din Hagodol and in practice he was no longer serving as Beit Din President, but nevertheless he remains in his post. Judge Aharon Barak issued an order nisi and set an urgent date one week later for an additional hearing on the request for a temporary order.

In general Rabbi Weinman's constant pursuit of Goren was intended to keep the latter on the defensive, thereby diluting his power and preventing him from implementing his designs to alter the face of Judaism in Israel.

End of Part III


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