Are Rebbes In Control of and Responsible for Controlling Their Followers

Note by Yerachmiel Lopin: Below is a re-post of something I wrote about Rabbi Dovid Weinberger on November 4, 2009. At the time he was defending his synagogue’s decision to host a rebbe whose Hasidim had thrown rocks at police in Jerusalem. It came to mind again after I criticized Chicago’s decision to host the Skvere Rebbe, Dovid Twersky in my post, What Chicago Can Learn From the Skvere Rebbe. Most Chicago readers accepted my claim that the village he leads is notorious for serious acts of arson-assault, rape, and fraud. Yet a number of Chicago leaders defended the hosting decision by claiming that either the Rebbe did not know about these acts or was not in control of his miscreants. I disagree. Consider my post below a rejoinder to that argument.

Controlling the Impulse to Throw Stones and Kugel: A Hassidic Saga
(first posted on Frum Follies on 11/4/2009)

This past Friday, Jewish Blog readers were urged to protest a visit to a modern orthodox synagogue by one of the most exteme Israeli Hassidic Rebbes. Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence, NY was going to host the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn that very Shabbat. This is off the beaten path for the Rebbe, but the beaten path is threadbare and the pantries are empty.

This raised a firestorm in the blogossphere which was well captured by the postings and comments in DovBearEmes Ve-Emunah, Failed Messiah, Honestly Frum and others. This morning I read an article in The Jewish Star, a Long Island Jewish newspaper which prompted me to express my reactions which I submitted to their comments sections and posted here (with some slight edits).

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For a long time money has flowed from the modern orthodox to Haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews). At the same time, influence has flowed in the opposite direction. This grates on the nerves of some in the modern orthodox world who feel that Haredim treat them with contempt. That is the main issue in the Five Towns controversy about Shaaray Tefila’s sponsorship of  a visit by the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn. Some have complained that fundraising by this visitor will drain away money away from local needs.  However, that is not the real issue. The same passions are not stirred by fundraising for Bar-Ilan University.

The Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Hasidim present an extreme case of the asymmetrical relationship. On the one hand, these Hasidim and a group led by Rabbi Cohen’s brother, (Toldos Aharon), harbored a mother who was starving her child. The Israeli social service sector detected the problem, and brought the child to Hadassah Hospital where he was being nursed back to health. The mother returned to the hospital and yanked out a feeding tube and this was captured  on video. Whatever her motives and mental status, she is clearly unfit as a mother.

Any responsible system must intervene when a mother is damaging her child’s health. Instead several Israeli Haredi groups became very hostile towards Israeli Social Services and Hadassah Hospital. As is their wont, they threw out the epithet Nazi. They seemed to imply that Hadassah was a dangerous place. Naturally, when their leaders need the best of medical care they continue to go to Hadassah, not Sharay Tzedek, a hospital under orthodox auspices. In effect they take the service but assert religious and moral superiority while denigrating their service providers. Perhaps their greatest sin is their complete violation of the obligation of  hakaros hatov, acknowledging and repaying kindness. At a minimum, Shaaray Tefila ought to expect hakaros hatov from its guests.  The Rebbe should be thanking Hadassah for saving a child’s life and thanking Shaaray Tefila’s congregants who give to Hadassah.

Rabbi Weinberg offers up a very dubious defense when he says,

It’s true  . . .  that some of his [Rabbi Kohn’s] followers violently protested the arrest of an allegedly abusive mother, and the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem on shabbos, but, I don’t think he has the ability to stop [the protests]. . . . . . He’s a very peaceful person and he has tremendous ahavas yisroel (love for the Jewish people).  . . . . . During Rabbi Kohn’s visit, four IDF [Israel Defense Force] soldiers were also scheduled to speak . . . (and I asked about bringing them to the Rebbe’s gathering). . . . . . The response I got was, ‘bring them, the Rebbe would be very happy and would greet them.”

Wow! “We’ll take your money and even be polite to your guests!” More disturbing, is the disingenuous claim that Rabbi Kohn does not control his followers. Hassidic Rebbes are well known for the sanctions they impose on disobedient chassidim. The sanctions include denying access to the Rebbe, attendance at the tisch, or even the right to pray in their beis medrish.

Consider the notorious kugel pelting episode at Slonim last year. The Slonim Hasidim were angry at Ger for supporting a non-Haredi candidate for Mayor of Jerusalem. When Ger’s MK, Yaacov Litzman, went to the Slonim B’M for a simchah, his streimel was yanked off and stomped, he was pushed around, and he was pelted with kugel (potato, I believe). “Such things cannot be allowed in Israel,” to quote the Hebrew scriptures. The Slonim Rebbe was not going to allow such abuse of a fellow Jew. He informed all the attackers  ‘no access to my tisch  until you apologize and beg Yaacov Litzman to forgive you.’ In spite of their sacredly motivated ire at Litzman, his hassidim all turned on a lira, rethought their kugel philosophy, and did their apologies. So how can Rabbi Weinberg claim that Rabbi Kohn doe not have control over his hassidim?” The Toldos chassidim all sign pledges to obey that are exceptional even by hassidic standards.

At some point Shaarei Tefila must decide how much they believe in darkei shalom (ways of peace), hakaros hatov (acknowledging and repaying kindness), pikuach nefesh (saving lives), and honoring those who defend Israel’s citizens. If they believe all those things and want their youngsters to absorb those values, they have to stop undermining their credibility by  hosting the Toldos Avrohom Yitchok Rebbe and others like him.

Postcript: I heard that the Rebbe’s visit did happen but the local protests dramatically lowered his fundraising results.

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8 thoughts on “Are Rebbes In Control of and Responsible for Controlling Their Followers

  1. You are totally wrong about this particular episode. Sharei Tefilah did not invite of host the Toldos Ahraham Yitzchok Rebbe. It is a total falacy and lie perpetrated by the Jewish Star. The Rebbes visit was instituted by privare individuals and organized by private individuals. The Rebbe never even entered the building during his stay. All that Sharay did was RENT to the Rebbes followeres the parking lot on which a large tenet was erected. All the Seudas were held in the tent. The rental was paid for by the Rebbes followers. Most of the Rabonim in the area came to the Rebbes Tish. The rebbe stayed in a private house which was also arranged for him by the maiun organizer in the area. Most of the other events were held at this home. You are also wrong about the fund raising, which was very satisfactory. The only involvement of the than Rabbi Weinberger was his asking a Shaila from Rav Eliyashuv ZTL if they should enen get involved byeven renting the parking lot to them, and in general to about The Rebbe and his activities in Israel. Rav Eliyoshos answer to Rabbi weinberger was that the community should do what ever they can on behalf of the Rebbe. Rabbi Weinberger said to me that Rav Eliyashuv stated thet both the Rebbe and his brother the Toldos Aharon Rebbe were great peop[le and thei Mosdos should receive all the financial assistance possible.
    This is the way it was once and for all, and this is the absolute truth. I should know because I arranged for the entire trip and its entire orbanization.

      • You want my name, it is Sender Schwartz. I am not here to debate this with you. You obviously dont believe anythiong other than heresay or smutz that you can spread. About this particular event I do know everything because as I sated I organized this event and many others for Chasishe Rebbes who have visited the Five Towns.
        In Rabbi Weinbergers response was to the Jewish Star,he does not say anything about him being involved or hosting, or organizing, but only responds to the question he was asked about the Rebbes activities in Yerushalayim. Rabbi Weinberger told me that he would ask Rabbi Eliyoshuv about the possible connection the Shul may be associated with because of the rental of the parking lot. That was his total involvement!
        Why is this so hard for you to believe? There are no hidden motives here! This is the truth, and there are no reasons for me to defend anybody or any oprganization for that matter. Do not missrepresent the circumstances of this event. There is no reason for it, not even from you.
        Why cant you just accept the truth? No Shul in the Five Towns has ever hosted a Rebbe! If a Rebbe happened to be in town, they may have allowed the Rebbe to Daven in their Shul. The Shul or Rabbi never ever invited The Rebbe to come or organized it. This is very simple. Ask any of the Shuls members if they or their Rabbi ever invited any Rebbe to Town. The answer is NO!

        • Thank you for the follow-up. I have indeed confirmed that you are accurate that the shul was not officially hosting, merely renting out the space. However, Rabbi Weinberger has been known to refuse rentals to others. In addition, he was not compelled to publicly defend the character of the Rebbe. There was a controversy in the Lawrence of the shul’s decision to rent and the rabbi’s decision to defend the Rebbe as moderate.

        • Yes, Sender Schwartz is reporting accurately.

          I believe that Yerachmiel was getting misinformation from certain Left wing elements in the 5 Towns who are always angry at black hatters.

          Part of it has to do with right wing rabbis who criticized Hershel Billet for allowing a Catholic priest to give a Shabbos morning deroshah in Young Israel of Woodmere. Ever since then, Billet’s chassidim & followers have been looking for any excuse to attack the right wing. Charlie Miller, the president of Young Israel of Hewlett went so far to retaliate as to write a letter to Larry Gordon’s paper attacking Lakewood as a pool of parasites and attacking the yeshiva’s mashgiach as representing the parasites when he visited the 5 Towns.

          There is also a so called shul in Lawrence which is officially orthodox but has many members who are no different than the membership of a Conservative temple. The so called shul itself does things such as invite Conservative cantors to sing there. This crowd is very bent on attacking the Rebbe as being behind the Beit Shemesh violence when if anything the Rebbe was actually from the rabbonim who tried to stop it.

          • I love this beautiful illustration of playing the frum card, just like Rabbi Dovid Weinberger. If you get criticized on substantive grounds, attack the critics as goyim who are not frum. This is straight out of the playbook of Leib Tropper and Mordechai Tendler. Way to go.

  2. Huh? There are rabbonim who deserve to be slammed because they either support or remain silent over the Sikrikim. It was mainly the Litvishe world that fought against Sikrik violence and the Rebbe was from the Chassidishe who joined them. I have information about this from Yerushalmi sources & it was reported in Charedi media.

    And what I write above about some modern orthodox is also true and documented. It does not make me a Weinberger, Tropper & Tendler. It just irks you that your new found circle is being outed as full of bums of a different stripe.

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