Letters March 2006
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
As in week’s past, Mesora publishes our JewishTimes to many Jewish email groups. This week, we received a reply from one of the emails groups’ moderators. I feel the thinking of this moderator is indicative of a broader problem, one that we have addressed over the years, but worth reiterating.
Objects Replacing God
Moderator: We are no longer going to be posting messages from your organization due to serious hashkafic (philosophical) problems with the points of view you espouse. Please refrain from attempting to post your announcements here.
Thank you, Moderator
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: This statement concerns me, as you have not qualified your position, stating the specific ‘problems’. Kindly specify these “hashkafic problems”, offering your basis in Torah sources. We take such remarks seriously; as such statements if publicized would be “motsi shame ra” or “lashan hara” (ruining one’s reputation).
Thank you for your prompt response,
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim, Founder
Moderator: I sent my communication not to your “website”, but to an email address - the one that posts weekly to my group, and I emailed that address because my communication was a request to stop posting to my group. I did not qualify my position since I don’t wish to enter into a debate about it. However, if you would like specification, the example that occurs to me off the top of my head is the article on mezuzah, which appeared several issues ago, which derided those who check mezuzos after undesirable things happen to them. In fact, this practice is recommended by many gedolei Yisroel (Jewish leaders), in litvish/yeshivish as well as chassidic circles - gedolim of world stature, and of unquestioned credentials - not carpet bagging Kabbalistic practitioners. To ridicule this point of view; to dismiss it out of hand is no less than “megaleh ponim b’torah shelo k’halacha” (claiming they violate halacha). Or “am’hoaratzus” (ignorance). Pardon my bluntness, but I’m answering your question.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Thank you for responding. However, you did not answer what I asked: a textual “Torah” source.
I am quite familiar with Jewish leaders who violate Torah, such as ads in the Jewish Press publicizing silver Chassidishe rings which literally “guarantee making a barren woman fertile.”This is Avoda Zara, yet, “Rabbis” endorse it. (See Rambam, Hilchos Avoda Zara)
Checking mezuzot also has no source in Torah, equally ridiculed by Rambam, from whom Rav Yosef Karo modeled his Shulchan Aruch. You may find it alarming that so many Gedolim endorse this practice. That is why I asked for a Torah source: i.e., Shulchan Aruch, a Gemara, or a Rishon. That at least would sanction the action...but you have not produced this.
Unless you do produce a recognized authoritative Torah source, merely citing Rabbis or Gedolim who endorse a practice, in no way condones it as permissible, or true...for there are other, far greater Gedolim as Rambam who argue on these endorsing Rabbis today that you quote. Now how does one decide who is correct: today’s Rabbis...or Rambam, Otsar Tefilos and the Rishonim? With no source for today’s Rabbis, you have no grounds to suggest Rambam’s position is against Torah.
The only voices of authority are the aforementioned sources. Ask these Rabbis you mention for “their” sources. They have none.
As Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda states in his Chovas HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart), “it is a crime to follow the Rabbis without understanding the matter yourself.” He cites the verse, “know it today and return it to your heart”. (Deut. 4:39) First, “know it (a matter) today” via the Rabbis, then, “return it to your heart” via your on reasoning.
Our case proves why Rabbi Bachya was so severe about each Jew understanding a truth on his own, and not simply repeating what another Jews said, even a Rabbi. It is so unfortunate that what is Jewishly popular, is in fact what is against Torah.
We must separate our veneration for cherished leaders, from what the Torah says, and when in conflict, follow the Torah and the Baalei HaMesora, and great minds such as Rambam. Certainly, when someone teases a sorrowful, barren woman, presenting false hopes for a child in silver rings or mezuzas, things which cannot protect themselves...we must refute such foolishness with reason, and help those ignorant Jews from being further misled.
You will not locate any true Torah sources for the views you defend; however, I appreciate your prompt attention to this important matter. For I truly wish that others were no longer misled. I trust you share my concern and that you will not formulate a final opinion until you see the truth clearly, regardless of reputations. In the end, you will have to defend one view, and refute another. I hope that with your position and responsibility to teach others, that you teach what is true and what is based on reason, not what is popular or stated by famous authors and leaders.
Moderator: My source is the verse, “Do not veer from the matter which they tell you, left or right”, which means that after making every attempt to understand a custom yourself, the bottom line is that you follow the Rabbis. That’s been Jewish tradition - and law - since Mt. Sinai.
There have, of course, been exceptions throughout our history. They are known as Karaites, Tzdukim, etc. and have fallen by the wayside as the dismal failures they were. You are free (as in the sense of having bechira while remaining responsible for your actions) to follow that tradition if you wish. I am excersizing my common sense and following a different path. The entire Torah-observant world knows who Rav Chaim Kanievksy is, for example, but who are you? Rav Chaim developed his reputation by virtue not of marketing and fancy websites, but rather by virtue of his outstanding scholarship and righeousness. Any man of common sense defers to an renowned expert in a particular field and not to the lone guy in the corner who is yelling that he knows better.
We have a more than 2000 year history of Torah she’baal’peh along with a mesorah for resolving differences of opinion in halacha. A non-expert can find a shittah to prove virtually anything, but that’s a very slippery and dangerous slope to play on. Our gedolim have the expertise, the mastery of mesorah and siyata dishmaya (see the Ramban on “elokim nitzav baadas keil”) and can discren halacha l’maiseh out of the complex thicket of divergent shittos. Others can’t, and shouldn’t try. That’s why the Torah tells us “lo sosur”.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Ironically, the beginning of the very verse you quoted reads, “In accordance with the Torah that they (the Rabbis) teach you, so you shall do…do not veer, etc.” This means that Rabbis have no jurisdiction outside areas of Torah and Jewish Law. “Torah” is the operative word in this verse (Deut. 17:11). Do not be misled to think, that since this topic concerns mezuza, this renders the topic a “Torah issue”. For there is no Jewish law concerning checking mezuzas in connection with life’s problems. That is simply an idolatrous crutch, similar to carrying a Rabbit’s foot. The only difference is the charm used by the person. Incorporating a mezuza into an action does not condone the act. Checking mezuzas is merely to determine if the letters weathered over time, and nullified the mezuza…not as the ignorant masses assume, that it is checked to be intact, so it continues to “protect”. God never said objects possess abilities to protect, nor do we witness this to be true. In the end, what you promote is your imagination, not Torah.
Firstly, I don’t believe any intelligent Rabbi said to check a mezuza when problems arise. Not Moshe Rabbeinu, or any leader, Rabbi or Sage in our Torah ever suggested such idolatrous activities, but the wise of our nation like Maimonides denounced such acts. When problems arose, reflection is called for. Torah teaches to do Teshuva (repentance), not check mezuzas. If one does not repent, then he remains evil, and checking or replacing a mezuza in no way corrects the poor traits of this sinner. And if one does repent, then he deserves God’s kindness, regardless if he checked a mezuza, tallis, tefillin, or anything else. It should disturb your mind, that repentance is what the Torah demands, while you feel otherwise: accepting mezuza as essential to removing your problems.
I also wonder at your favoring of today’s Rabbis with inexplicable magical cures, while you ignore Maimonides who lived in accord with rationality, and who denounced these forms of idolatry.
I’ll end with this: if a Rabbi told you to give away all your money, would you follow him as well, just like following his advice to check a mezuza? I know you will not. And there is your contradiction. But just as the Rabbi was not given authority in matters outside Torah, and his demand that you part with your wealth is not part of Torah, and is foolish, you too would be foolish to listen to him.
This concluded our exchange. Torah is no longer respected. Today’s leaders are revered more than those who far surpass them, like Maimonides, to whom no one today in their right mind would suggest they compare. Why then are today’s misled teachers followed? It is because no one concerns themselves to think, but they seek magical cures, so they follow those who verbally accept and promote this idolatry. Even though the greatest minds and God’s Torah verses refute such notions, people opt for what feels good, not for reality and Torah. This type of thinking magically replaces God and His torah system of reward and punishment, with inanimate objects.
Man Replacing God
A friend emailed me what he says is now popularly accepted in the Yeshivish world. I will share it with you, omitting the purported Rabbi responsible, as I do not accept the story as truth, for reasons I will explain at the end.
“A man came to Rabbi XXXX last week, so he can give an “upsheren” to his son. Since the child looked rather young, Rabbi XXXX asked the father how old his son is. The man replied that he is 2 years and 1
month old. Rabbi XXXX told him to come back next year, when he’s 3, the time when the minhag is to cut the hair. The man replied that his son was just diagnosed with a brain tumor (rachmona litzlon), and the
doctor said he has less than a year to live - could the Rebbi please give him a brocha to live out this year without much yisurin.
Rabbi XXXX took the boy to one of the rooms in his apartment, and a few minutes later came back and told the man to return next year for the upsheren.
The man didn’t understand what transpired, and took his son home. The next day, at the scheduled doctor’s visit to re-scan the brain, the doctor couldn’t find anything on the X-Ray, and told the man to come back tomorrow, as the X-Ray machine must be broken. The next day nothing came up on the machine again, to the surprise of the staff, since earlier that morning it worked fine. They consulted with the other doctors, and concluded that the tumor is completely gone.
The father returned to Rabbi XXXX, asking him what happened. Rabbi XXXX answered that - as is well known - he makes a Siyum Hatorah every year. At this siyum, his family celebrates, and lets him bentch (mezuman) on a koys. When he took the boy to the room, he gave him to drink from some of that wine - which was drunk over Kol HaTorah Kulah - this was the brocha that cured to young boy.”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Why was this miracle not on the news? Certainly, the examining doctor should have found this to be extraordinary, as much as those proliferating this email. Why is the “man” nameless? Why does this Rabbi not help others?
The truth is that someone close to the nameless Rabbi concocted this story, desirous of elevating his fame, and they exaggerated or fabricated this account. This was done in the past in connection with Jesus and others, and will unfortunately be continued by many insecure people overly attached to their leaders. It is worthy to note that this story suspiciously mimics an account from our prophets, namely Elisha, where a boy was very sick, taken to Elisha’s chambers, and revived. (Kings II, 4:32)
I felt this next story shed light on how damaging misguided religious emotions can be.
Michael Freund, THE JERUSALEM POST
“A delegation from the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect is currently visiting Teheran to meet with senior officials and express their support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his calls to eliminate Israel.
In a statement to Iran’s official IRIB radio, the group called for “the disintegration of the Zionist regime” and defended the Iranian president, saying that it “is a dangerous deviation to pretend that the Iranian president is an anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic personality.”
They added that they were “upset about the recent ploys, propaganda and tensions which have been created by the West regarding the statements of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about a world free of Zionism, since this is nothing more than wishing for a better world dominated by peace and calm.”
On Sunday, members of the delegation, headed by Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, met with Iranian Vice-President Ahmad Moussavi, who also chairs the Iranian Committee in Support of the Palestinian Revolution.
At the meeting, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Weiss “praised the ‘enlightening’ statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the Holocaust and said the establishment of a Zionist government and occupation of Palestine are contrary to the injunctions of Judaism.”
The doctrine of Neturei Karta says Jews cannot use human force to establish a Jewish state before the coming of the universally accepted messiah.
The group supports close ties with Arabs, particularly Palestinians, and rejects Zionism.
Ahmadinejad has been widely condemned in the West for asserting that the Holocaust is a myth.
This is not the first time that Neturei Karta has come to the defense of the Iranian regime. On October 28 of last year, the group issued a statement denying that Ahmadinejad was anti-Semitic after he called for the State of Israel to be dismantled.
Neturei Karta’s leader, Rabbi Moshe Hirsh, considers himself a Palestinian Jew. The group has frequently participated in pro-Palestinian activities, including a visit to the grave of Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in November.”