Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Kislev 5761 - November 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Extensive Convention Coverage!
by A. Shafran, N. Grossman and M. Plaut

Concern for Kevod Shomayim and Eretz Yisroel Marks Agudath Israel 78th National Convention

Modzitzer Rebbe, Special Guest from Eretz Yisroel, Delivers Message to Diaspora Jewry

For four days beginning last Thursday, Orthodox Jewish religious leaders -- roshei yeshivos, admorim and rabbonim representing a broad spectrum of those dedicated to Torah from across the country and around the world -- admonished the thousands of Jews who attended Agudath Israel's 78th national convention at the Garden State Exhibit and Convention Center in Somerset, New Jersey, to strive for a higher level of personal ethics, to intensify their prayers, to increase their Torah-study and to deepen their concern for others.

The ethical mandate, indeed, was the main thrust of the addresses of two Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah members at the convention's Thursday night plenary session -- HaRav Avrohom Pam, rosh hayeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas; and HaRav Yaakov Perlow, Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel of America. It was also one of the subjects addressed by a third Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah member, HaRav Elya Svei, rosh hayeshiva, Yeshiva of Philadelphia, at the Motzei Shabbos Keynote Session. The three senior sages all bemoaned the great chillul Hashem that has resulted over recent years from lapses of ethical behavior, real or imagined, in the Orthodox community.

Thursday Session

The Bostoner Rebbe from Har Nof was the first speaker on Thursday, the first day of the Convention, speaking on this year's theme: "Making a Difference: The Role of Reb Yisroel in Klal Yisroel." He dedicated his speech to the place of the individual within the community, explaining how individuals build the community and how the power of the community, in turn, influences every single individual. One may try to summarize his words, somewhat freely, by saying: Ein beprat elo ma shebeKlal -- there is nothing in the individual that is not reflected and is a reflection of what is in the community as a whole, and this is the power of Agudas Yisroel in America.

HaRav Aharon Dovid Dunner, a dayan in the Hisachdus Kehillas HaChareidim in London, spoke next about the vital need to seek the guidance of the gedolei haTorah and the halocho in all aspects of life, especially about strengthening and building a Jewish home. Rabbi Dunner fascinated the participants with a series of anecdotes about various Jews who sought the advice of a Torah sage, and received pointed replies which they had not anticipated, and which demonstrated the degree of the crystal clear vision of our Sages.

At this session, the gedolei Yisroel ztk"l who were niftar this past year were remembered. HaRav Yitzchok Ehrenfeld, rosh yeshiva of Beis Shmuel in Jerusalem, spoke about HaRav Binyomin Paller. Rav Yechezkel Besser, a member of the presidium of the American Agudas Yisroel, spoke about the Bobover Rebbe, and Rav Dovid Weinberg, director of the Beis Avrohom institutions in Jerusalem, spoke about the Admor of Slonim. The chairman of the sessions was Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin, vice President of Agudas Yisroel of America, who spoke about various issues of administration and finances.

Thursday night's plenary session was opened by HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, rosh yeshiva of the Philadelphia Yeshiva, who brought the blessings of the Presidium. He spoke about the importance of public and private tefillah especially in our current time when the Jews of Eretz Yisroel are in danger.

Sometimes, he said, a person despairs in advance and thinks: what avail are my prayers? What value is there to the prayers of a single person? However, it is impossible to know what the prayers of the yochid can effect Above.

He said that his father, HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky, once met two students who were standing outside the beis medrash while the rest of the yeshiva said Tehillim. In response to his question of why they were outside, they said: "When hundreds of students are staying Tehillim, what can the prayers of one or two more bochurim add?"

HaRav Kamenetsky heard their words and replied: "Cholilo vechas! You should not think so lightly of your own prayers. Perhaps it is just your perek Tehillim, with your kavono and attention, that will make a telling impression Above."

At the end of his address, HaRav Kamenetsky, asked that each one of us resolve to strengthen himself in some aspect of tefillah and supplication, to add on five minutes to his tefillah and daily recitation of Tehillim.

Afterwards HaRav Avrohom Pam, the rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaas and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in America, gave the main address at that session. Although HaRav Pam could not attend the convention and he addressed the gathering via a prerecorded video presentation recorded especially for the occasion, his divrei his'orerus made a deep impression on the Convention.

HaRav Pam spoke at length about the obligation to conduct one's business and financial affairs according to the halocho and mussar, reminding his listeners that the gemora says that the first question a Jew is asked in the World to Come is, "Did you conduct your financial dealings with emunah?" or integrity. "Emunah, he went on to explain, also means "faith," an allusion to the fact that faith in the fact that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is the source of our daily bread is antithetical to acting dishonestly.

He said that one of the intentions of the first question a person is asked when he comes to the beis din shel maalah, "Did you do business conduct your business affairs with integrity," is that one should conduct his business affairs out of the belief that HaKodosh Boruch Hu provides and sustains all.

Money, therefore, must be obtained honestly and in a trustworthy manner. A person cannot pasken for himself in such matters, because the saying that "a person doesn't see a problem (chov) of his own," includes not only a person who is not well-versed in the details of the laws, but even to a talmid chochom, who is well-versed in the entire Choshen Mishpat.

Every deed one does, he stressed, must be weighed on the scales of the halocho. In every dispute between a worker and his employer, a merchant and his clients, one must turn to a moreh horo'oh or to a beis din so that if he loses, he will nonetheless feel happy and relieved over not having been nichshal in theft.

The beloved senior Rosh Hayeshiva took pains to state clearly and unequivocally that it makes no difference whether one is acting as an individual or on behalf of an institution, or whether one is dealing with a Jew, non-Jew or government -- meticulous honesty is the mandate of every Jew and must certainly be the hallmark of every observant Jew.

Some people, he noted, are not careful in their business dealings with non-Jews, or in their relationships with the secular authorities on financial matters. He cited the Rambam in Hilchos Geneivoh Ve'aveidoh who applies the posuk Ki so'avas Hashem kol osei ovel as fully to one who deals dishonestly with gentiles as with Jews. He also cited the Rambam in his Commentary on the Mishnayos in Keilim where he discusses and criticizes at length the common misconception of the right and wrong in these matters.

This all applies to the letter of the law and the ikkar din. Yet beyond this there is an element of chillul Hashem, and acquiring of corrupt middos. "There are Jews," he said, "who are very scrupulous in the mitzvos between man and Hashem, yet are lax in these issues. Some were even caught, tried and imprisoned. They thought that nothing would happen to them; that they would not be caught. But tragedies ensued and terrible chillul Hashem as well."

He added that the chillul Hashem is even greater when the those who deceive non-Jews are Torah and chesed institutions and not private individuals. The non-Jews regard this as the Torah's derech, chas vesholom, causing them to look down at Torah. "There is no way to permit the deceiving of non-Jews to preserve Torah institutions. People act lesheim Shomayim, and they are mechalel sheim Shomayim. They seek to maintain Torah using methods which contradict Torah, and they end up disgracing it."

Bnei Torah must also be careful about taking grants from the American government which they do not deserve, and one who is in financial distress and wants to support his family should rather approach donors and take charity, because that is the derech haTorah. In asking donors for assistance, bnei Torah also benefit the tomchei Torah, but not if it is done in ways which do not fit the truth of the Torah.

"It is impossible to understand how people dare to take such risks when chillul Hashem is involved. Would they act that way in matters of pikuach nefesh? The Torah says, "Do not desecrate My sacred Name," when previously it says, "And you shall observe all of My mitzvos," to teach us that even one who is scrupulous in all of the mitzvos must be warned about chillul Hashem. One must love the Creator, "bechol me'odecho," with all of one's monetary assets, because Hashem made man upright, and integrity is kevod Shomayim. Hashem is emmes, our Torah is emmes and the seal of Hakodosh Boruch Hu is emmes. Let us all resolve to strengthen ourselves, and in that manner to merit the yeshua in Eretz Yisroel and in the Diaspora."

HaRav Pam's words had a tremendous impact on the audience. Echoing HaRav Pam's remarks, HaRav Perlow sounded the very same theme shortly afterwards in his Thursday address, after observing that Orthodox Jews flock to Agudath Israel's national convention not to be entertained but to be guided.

Always, but especially "in these frightful times when our brethren in Israel are in such frightful danger," he said, it behooves us to seek to improve ourselves, "to act nobly. to be worthy of divine mercy and kindness." Honesty in all matters, including financial ones, he averred, results in "the sanctification of the glory of Heaven" -- something, he explained, quoting the Rambam, that Jewish religious law requires of "`kol Beis Yisroel' -- every Jewish man, woman and child." Such sanctification of the glory of Heaven, HaRav Perlow continued, is "the overriding challenge and the basic underpinning of Jewish life." And its opposite, G-d forbid, he went on pointedly, is Jewish life's "ultimate failure."

It is a desecration of G-d's name, Rabbi Perlow continued, when apparently observant Jews engage in questionable practices or seem to differentiate "between glatt kosher and glatt yosher" -- between meticulous observance in realms like kashrus, on the one hand, and similar stringency in the realm of financial "straightforwardness" on the other.

While he was careful to note that many cases of Orthodox Jews accused of wrongdoing have turned out to be media exaggerations or even outright fabrications others, he admonished, have not. And the very fact that government and the media have come to consider Orthodox Jews suspect is itself, the Rebbe argued, an indictment -- an indication that whereas once observant Jews were automatically seen as "paragons of ethical virtue," they no longer are.

Both HaRav Pam and HaRav Perlow cautioned against being judgmental of others, and noted the extreme financial pressures that bear heavily on so many Orthodox families and institutions. And both prescribed greater determination on the part of those in the community who are financially secure to assist their less fiscally fortunate brethren.

Heart in the East

The dire situation in Eretz Yisroel was a major focus of speaker after speaker at the four-day gathering. Indeed, the motzei Shabbos plenary session, which was attended by thousands, was dedicated to addressing the situation in the Holy Land; its theme was: "Libi BeMizrach: Uniting With Our Brothers Under Siege in Eretz Yisroel."

The keynote address was delivered by Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah member HaRav Elya Svei, rosh hayeshiva, Yeshiva Gedola of Philadelphia, who provided a historical perspective to the current "eis tzoroh leYa'akov." (The rest of the motzei Shabbos program is described below.)

As Jews reestablished themselves in Eretz Yisroel and other countries around the globe after the Second World War, the Philadelphia Rosh Hayeshiva noted, "people talked themselves into thinking" that the scenario of the Jewish people as a solitary "sheep among 70 wolves," was no longer descriptive of reality. Recent events, however, have started to disabuse them of their misplaced optimism. "The hatred is incredible."

We must, he stressed, take the happenings to heart and learn from current events that only the protection extended us by Hashem has protected us in the past, and only it can do so in the future. And yet, he continued, so many of us don't adequately absorb the import of that vital message. Citing Pharaoh's choice to ignore the makkos and the refusal of some of the Jews enslaved in ancient Egypt to want to leave despite seeing the hand of Hashem, HaRav Svei contended that people are capable of witnessing the most powerful potentially life-changing realities and yet ignoring them and remaining the same.

Like the sons-in-law of Lot, he said who, laughing at their father-in-law, refused to leave Sdom pointing, as the Midrash describes, to the atmosphere of joy and celebration in the city's streets, "we too regard the world and think we see that all is fine."

But it is not, the Rosh Hayeshiva asserted. "When the Ribono Shel Olom's protection of His people seems to falter, we have to realize that we can, chas vesholom, lose it entirely."

Creating a Ruach of Kedusha

How we can merit that protection was the essence of the balance of HaRav Svei's address.

As the Torah's recounting of Avrohom's attempts to save Sdom demonstrates, even a place of utter evil can be protected by the presence of tzaddikim. It is not only the influence such righteous people might have on their neighbors, he submitted, that provides such security, but the protective power of the spirit of kedusha engendered by their presence. The sheep can only exist safely among the wolves, HaRav Svei declared, through the protection provided by such a spirit of kedusha. And that spirit today, he contended, is generated by places of Torah study.

The resurgence of Torah over past decades in America, HaRav Svei said, is a miracle to be sure, but one produced nonetheless by a method: mesiras nefesh. And not only the mesiras nefesh of the legendary roshei yeshivos of the post-Holocaust years, he explained, but that of their talmidim, who lived lives so austere "we would never believe it today."

In his remarks, the Rosh Hayeshiva also focused on the decrepit state of the larger culture in which we live today, a culture that celebrates the immoral, whose amusements occupy the lowest level of decadence and that considers the pleasures of this world to be the essence of human life. That culture, he maintained, seeps into our world as well and must be pushed away at every turn.

Other issues on which HaRav Svei touched included Shmittah, as he called upon his listeners to support the efforts of Keren HaShevi'is; and the importance of financial integrity, as he reiterated the urgency of conducting our affairs in a manner that promotes kevod Shomayim, not chas vesholom, its opposite.

A Special Guest

A visiting luminary from Eretz Yisroel, HaRav Yisroel Don Taub, the Modzitzer Rebbe, delivered an address as well, on the topic of Eretz Yisroel and what Jews in chutz la'aretz can do to help the situation.

The Rebbe, known for both his sharfkeit and his varmkeit, spoke about the urgent need for American Jews to speak up in a loud and clear voice against all attempts to whittle away at the holiness of life in the Holy Land. He suggested that special committees be established for this purpose.

Tehillim and Brochos

The motzei Shabbos program opened, fittingly, with the heartfelt recitation of Tehillim by all present on behalf of the safety and security of acheinu Beis Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel and around the world.

Opening remarks were delivered by Agudath Israel of America Presidium member Rabbi Chaskel Besser, who shared reminiscences of conventions past -- including those long past, when tens of Jews rather than thousands comprised the gathering -- and read words of brochoh from a number of prominent gedolei Torah in Eretz Yisroel, including the Vishnitzer Rebbe, HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman, HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, the Gerrer Rebbe and the Belzer Rebbe.

Reaching Out and Saying Thanks

The beloved and respected Agudath Israel askan then introduced the convention chairman Eddie Betesh, who spoke movingly about his youth, and about the tremendous power of caring and reaching out to disaffected youth. He described the Gedolei Yisroel as the "loving arm of Klal Yisroel" and of botei chinuch and yeshivos as "the heart of our people." (See accompanying box.)

The evening's first guest speaker, introduced by the motzei Shabbos plenary session chairman, HaRav Yitzchok Margareten, manhig ruchni, Cong. Shomrei Shabbos, Cleveland, was a young one, with a short and to-the-point message: 18-year-old Tuvia Grossman, the boy whose image, battered and bloodied as a result of a vicious attack on him and friends by Israeli Arabs, was splashed across the pages of newspapers around the world, courtesy of the Associated Press. The photo had been described as depicting a Palestinian youth being beaten by an Israeli policeman; after a torrent of protests from Jews, the New York Times and other papers set the record straight.

Mr. Grossman, who had been studying in a yeshiva in Israel at the time of his attack and has been undergoing physical therapy in his native Chicago in recent weeks, attended the convention session on his way back to Eretz Yisroel, a fact that brought a loud round of applause from the convention audience. He described his ordeal, his uncanny escape and the tremendous outpouring of Jewish concern that followed in its wake. "The Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sin'as chinom," he said. "I've been the recipient of an amazing amount of ahavas chinom."

Meriting Mercy

The Novominsker Rebbe, in his capacity as Rosh Agudas Yisroel of America, then delivered a message to the gathering. Focusing on the evening's theme and the need for Jews to merit Hashem's salvation of our people, he posed the question of how we might best evoke Hashem's mercy. Echoing a proclamation by gedolim in Eretz Yisroel endorsed by their counterparts in America, he urged the daily recitation of Tehillim after Shacharis and the setting aside of the coming (last) Monday, Yom Kippur Koton, as a half-day fast.

"Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel are looking to us for chizuk," he said. "We must provide our tefillos . . . and show that our hearts beat together with theirs, `like one person with a single heart'."

He went on to urge that Israeli soldiers, entrusted as they are with protecting their fellow Jews and endangered as they are as front-line targets of Arab violence, should occupy a special place in our thoughts and tefillos.

Curious Coincidences

The Rebbe noted as well the "curious coincidence" that the recent violence in Eretz Yisroel broke out at the very dawn of the Shmittah year -- when the idea of Hashem's ownership of the Land, as a symbol of the fact that all is His, is meant to be paramount in Jewish minds. The Rosh Agudath Israel stressed the importance of supporting Shmitta-observant farmers, "who have, at great sacrifice, dedicated the year to Hashem," through Keren HaShevi'is.

Another non-coincidental "coincidence" to which the Rebbe referred was the way Israel's Prime Minister's declaration of a "secular revolution" -- as it was dubbed in the press -- "was so quickly followed by an Arab revolution." One of the casualties of the recent violence, he averred, is the breakdown of many Israelis' legendary commitment to their country and morale. "Many feel there is nowhere to turn, nothing to believe in, nothing worth fighting for."

All bnei Torah, including those of us in chutz la'aretz, the Rebbe charged, must "carry the message to the secular community in Eretz Yisroel that now is the time to return" to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Pain Alleviation

Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, Agudath Israel's executive vice president, delivered his message on the theme of alleviating the pain of Klal Yisroel and the pain, kevayochol, of the Shechina itself. He invoked not only the pain of Jews in Eretz Yisroel but of those elsewhere too, and the pain caused Hakodosh Boruch Hu by "secular revolutions" in Eretz Yisroel, raging intermarriage among American Jews and the falsification of Torah by "new Judaisms."

Agudath Israel, Rabbi Bloom declared, "a movement charged with solving the problems of Klal Yisroel in the spirit of Torah," must endeavor to "alleviate some of the pain of both Yidden and of Hakodosh Boruch Hu."

Hearkening back to the convention theme -- "Making a Difference: The Role of Reb Yisroel in Klal Yisroel" -- the Agudath Israel leader contended that the secret of how that pain might be alleviated lay in the words of HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt"l, at an Agudath Israel convention 21 years earlier. At that point, a film clip of the godol's words, stressing the role of individuals, comprising a new sort of "shevet Levi," was presented on screens throughout the hall. Rabbi Bloom then noted how the imperative of creating an effective volunteer force had finally reached fruition, with the creation of a special "Agudah Volunteer Program" designed to "channel the energy and talents" of each askan who contacts it, to a service or organization that can most benefit from them.

"That," he said, "is the path toward alleviating the pain of Klal Yisroel, and the pain, kevayochol, of Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself."

Rabbi Bloom announced the formation, as a result of a discussion at a Friday morning roundtable at the convention, of a committee to promote kedushas beis haknesses and enhance davening in shuls. He also announced a Yarchei Kallah for American ba'alei batim, to take place in Yerushalayim. Such a trip -- "not to tour or see the sights, but to study Torah" -- would, he said, be a truly meaningful demonstration of solidarity with our fellow Jews in Eretz Yisroel.

Front-Line Report -- and Advice

The evening's final speaker was another Eretz Yisroel guest, HaRav Shimshon Pincus, rav of Ofakim. HaRav Pincus fully acknowledged the crisis at home, but took pains to stress that "tova ha'aretz me'od me'od." He noted the proliferation of yeshivos and shiurim, that Jews once alienated from their heritage are returning to it and that the populace is not unduly fearful. "The real crisis," he contended, "is not in Eretz Yisroel per se, but in the entire Jewish people -- Eretz Yisroel is but its heart." He suggested that a message lies in the fact that the current strife is not a battle between governments but between peoples and the threat is not so much against a country as against individuals.

"There is a contrast," he said, "between what people build and what they are." Perhaps, he continued, we need to more carefully apply to ourselves as individuals the very same concern that we so strongly translate into community efforts, the building of yeshivos and kollelim and the quality of our children's education.

"The bnei Yishmoel," he noted, "are claiming that it was their ancestor, not Yitzchok, who was chosen as Avrohom's heir, what Hashem called "yechidcho." We must all act as meyuchodim to Hashem. No matter how old, each of us is His ben yochid. Our behavior as such will prove that we are deserving of that honor."

Aditional comments about the Aguda Convention

U.S. Aguda Convention 2000: Reflections

From Hollywood to the Holy Land

Excerpts from Remarks of Eddie Betesh, Convention Chairman

The Success Story of Dallas, Texas


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