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 DovBear, Emes 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).
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.