A Powerful Op-Ed Defending The Kavod Of The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)

It is a sad reality that very often, lawyers win cases not on the evidence per se, but rather upon their ability to speak more passionately and more convincingly than the lawyer representing the other side.

Recently, a Rav of a Flatbush shul delivered a deeply passionate resignation speech.  Listening to the speech strikes an emotional cord within us.  It was a plea for Tefilah, a plea to hear the sweet sounds of tinokos shel bais Raban. What yid with a heart listening to this powerful presentation would not empathize with this Rav? Who cannot be taken by his passion? His genuine pain?  The power of an emotional speech is most convincing.

The problem is that the Rav’s appeal to the emotion, so powerful and so prevailing, leads us, perhaps, down a somewhat murky path.  It is a path that, intellectually, perhaps, sets off some warning bells in our head.  And yet, the sheer force of his passion, his earnestness of expression, his sincerity – draws us ever closer toward his thinking.  Is he, perhaps, right?

It is hard to navigate – but there is something tugging within us.  Something we feel is not quite right.  Why does his speech set off warning bells?

Because, we are the am Hashem, and we like to think that we cannot simply throw our Gedolim under the bus.

Everyone knows that the Sar haTorah – Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita paskened not to daven in shuls.  Should we listen to this Rav and view Rav Chaim as being misled by baal habatim that know nothing of Torah and Yiddishkeit?  And what of Rav Gershon Edelstein Shlita?  The warning bells are a bit too scary to also throw Rav Edelstein under the bus.

Rav Meir Stern shlita has also closed every minyan.  His depth and gadlus and yiras shamayim are beyond reproach.  Is it wise to really take on such Gedolim?  There were numerous Admorim and Chassidisha Rabbonim who also self-isolated.  Indeed, the Novaminsker Rebbe himself zatzal came out strongly in not attending minyanim in shuls.

Also, Rav Yeruchem Olshin Shlita – has been davening on his porch (b’minyan) for weeks and has not been in the shuls.  His seforim in learning and in mussar and machshavah have been described by the greatest Gedolim as a matanah for this dor.  How do we throw his hanhaga to the wind?

And, finally, let’s not so easily dismiss the intelligence and love for Klal Yisroel of the entire Moetzes Gedolei Torah.  To describe Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, the einei hador as too old is very very disturbing.  In this Rav’s worldview, we never should have closed the shuls or the chadarim.  The way he expresses it – the doctors do not know any more than he does. This also sets off warning bells.  Doctors are more experienced than we are.  The frum pediatricians just do not seem the type to hate the shuls and wish to close them.

Another warning bell is the accusation levelled toward Agudath Israel of America that there was forgery in issuing their guidelines of how to gradually re-enter our shuls.  To accuse hundreds of well-meaning doctors who give their days and nights in selfless dedication and care for our friends and relatives who have died is just untenable.

Yet another warning light is the possible Motzei Shem Rah on a Yeshiva graduate who is working in Washington.  Casting a slur of not putting on Tefillin upon this young man, merely because he arranged a phone call with the White House that convinced Rabbonim to shut the shuls,  is a bit disturbing.  Who knows how many people listening to the Rav’s tape now believe this assertion?

The laws of our Torah are inviolable.  Even if you are the Vilna Gaon or Moshe Rabbeinu, you cannot violate halacha and randomly accuse someone that you do not even know.

Another warning bell, is this attack on those who wish to minimize talking in shul.

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 151:1) rules that it is forbidden to talk during shul – and one must avoid idle talk in shul even not during tefilah.  The Tosfos Yom Tov even wrote an entire mishebayrach for those who avoid it – how can a Rav come out against Shulchan Aruch?  The Aruch haShulchan (OC 124:11) writes that talking in shul is a chillul Hashem because it contributes to the perception that haovdei koachavim yoser zahirim mildaber bebais tiflus shelahem m’klal Yisroel bemikdash me’at shelanu.  With the utmost respect, by what right can one voice opinions that are counter to Shulchan Aruch and a cause of chillul hashem?  True, the Rav’s father is on the Moetzes Gedolei Torah, but that does not give anyone the right to so thoroughly negate the views of virtually all of Moetzes.  I have been told that the Rav’s words were misconstrued, but at least fulfill the idea of “Chachomim hizharu b’divreichem” if this is the case.

Also, how can one go against so many Gedolei Torah who quote the mefurash Gemorah in Bava Kamma (60b) –  dever ba’ir kanes raglecha – if a plague is in the city – keep your feet indoors?  The pasuk that the Gemorah quotes in Shmos (12:22) explicity states: “Do not leave the entrance of your homes.”

The Ramah in the Darchei Moshe (116:5) says that even though it says not to leave the home – running away is still preferable.  It does not say that the zchus of keeping the minyanim running will save us.

Someone had actually remarked to me that the death rate of COVID-19 does not rise to the level of Dever ba’ir.  I cannot believe that any one that truly values life would say such a thing.  The death rate locally is about .45%.  There has been too much pain and suffering to dignify this with a response.

The Rav has a remarkable ko’ach hadibbur. He is also clearly passionate about what we all hold dear.  But even if one disagrees with these Gedolim, Roshei Yeshiva, Admorim, and Rabbonim, and the doctors’ opinions as well – let’s not accuse them of rishus.   Let us not throw around the word “stupid” so loosely.  Divrei chachomim b’nachas nishmayin.  It would seem, that a heart-felt and sincere apology is in order.

[An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that some of the aforementioned Gedolim did not daven b’minyan, when in fact, they just did not daven within the shuls.  The author regrets the error.]

The author can be reached at [email protected]

25 COMMENTS

  1. Was it really impossible for us to keep things usual. We went shopping before pesach, the crowds were usual, we have our cleaning help come from their communities into our houses.

  2. Ari256, the point is to avoid sakonah. If the shopping was done not the right way, it does not mean that people should have done other things which are dangerous. Who knows how many people got sick and died because of that type of shopping?

  3. Rav Chaim Kaniyevski Shlita Has stated that Shuls should reopen in E.Y. Intially, Rav Chaimdidn’t allow any Yeshivos close since the sakanah of is greater thank Covid19.
    Please clarify.

  4. to be fair rav chaim kept saying on the closing of shuls & yeshivas ” sakana chamura harbeh yoser mekorona” even when the head police came to him reb chaim did NOT agree , instead said be careful . it was only once the mishtarah forcibly closed … did reb chaim go with it. and when it came time to reopen reb chaim wrote such a sharp psak that rav edelstien asked to hold off & not print it.

  5. wrote before and it wasn’t posted so trying again. Please have the courtesy to allow me to post this.
    I don’t pretend to know what really happened as us common folk will never know politics behind the scenes. That being said I do believe no matter what or who did orchestrate minyanim and school being shut we won’t be punished for listening. However if our Poskim didn’t agree that would be sad. Some of the surprising things to me are
    1) not all 8 members signed
    2) all letters were published right before Shabbos/yom tov with such extreme detail…
    3) when I reached out to some of the Rabbonim that actually signed the letter (the ones from lakewood poskim) their peak to me was different then what was on the paper and when I asked them about they said they cannot answer.
    In addition R Frankel NEVER said that R David Feinstein is senile!He said that making a meeting late at night-midnight is not fair to old people. I have a 92 year old father and that late at night is never conducive to him.

  6. All well and good. Problem is that one of the signers of this declaration wrote a famous letter just a few short months ago, (Seems like 20 years ago with all that’s gone on since) saying almost the exact same thing about another signer of this letter as well as about the same Bnai Brak Gedolim referenced above, in the issue of the WZO elections.

  7. Dear Yair !
    From your writing it looks like you are from Israel and if that’s true you know how. That Reb Chaim himself davened with a Minton everyday three times a day and that when the police came to close his Minyon in the thick of the pachad they were sent away. You also know that gedoilay horabonim in eretz yisroel Reb Nosson kopshitz And Reb Ezriel Auerbach and plenty more said clairly to keep the shuls open so why print something that just is written to

  8. All I know is, Frankel spoke against the holy author of the Shulchan Aruch, Maran Rav Yosef Karo zt”l. He is an unadulterated apikores who should be put in Cherem for that alone, not to mention a mezalzel talmidei chachomim. Anyone defending him is complicit in his being meishiv torah lo k’halacha, and a marbe shekarim and hotozas’as shem ra.

    Surprised he didn’t throw in the anti-tziyonis this peleg’nick loves to rant about.

  9. This morning I woke up to a host of WhatsApp messages all with the same rant coming from Pinchos Frankel , i took to time to listen and wasn’t sure if it was some Ill conceived Purim joke or if he’s suffering from some type of חולי הנפש

    While I’m not about to call out all his lies , inaccuracies and fallacies , I just want to address a few things that he favored us with ;

    The first red flag in Mr Frankel’s rant was his claim to be speaking on behalf of הקב״ה and the תורה , I’m sorry but with Pinto , Boteach and Mizrachi occupying that rostrum there’s no room for another such representative !

    While he was tossing around all his theories dripping with rancor and unmitigated arrogance , claiming to care about halacha , what is his heter or justification to insinuate that Avi Berkowitz doesn’t lay Tefilin on a daily basis ? Who gave Mr Frankel the heter to commit מוציא שם רע and to spread such slander about another Jew ?

    Another point that Mr Frankel was ranting about was his opposition to the “ stop talking in shul campaign “ , for someone who claims to be halachic , why is such an initiative such an anathema to him ? I’m not that well versed in the שלחן ערוך , but in אורח חיים , קכד הלכה ז a person who talks during חזרת השץ is called a חוטא and I’m pretty sure the מחבר doesn’t bandie that term around that often . Perhaps when our shuls do reopen , an initiative that calls for increased decorum is such a terrible thing for Mr Frankel to stomach ?

  10. *****NEWSFLASH****

    His brother is the Rov at Sasregen, which we all know stayed open against the law. You probably all forgot how the Sasregener Rebbe died of COVID.

    #Rotzchim

  11. Someone had actually remarked to me that the death rate of COVID-19 does not rise to the level of Dever ba’ir. I cannot believe that any one that truly values life would say such a thing. The death rate locally is about .45%. There has been too much pain and suffering to dignify this with a response.

    It is the truth, and I cannot believe that anyone who values the truth would deny it. You refuse to “dignify” it because you have no answer. It is an incontrovertible fact that even at its peak this epidemic did not come even close to the definition of “Dever”. The greater NYC metropolitan area has about 16 million people, of whom let’s say 4 million are working-age men; therefore a dever would require three consecutive days with at least 8,000 deaths. Obviously there has not been even one day that came even close to this number, let alone three of them.

  12. Haimi, hohareidi etc. (in short, Jovie), according to Rav Edelshtein the Chareidim is the most affected by the virus community in E. Yisroel. Any comment? And by the way, the Yeshivos did close there.

  13. Yaakov m,
    While the rebbe passed away, and the shul was open, that doesnt mean theres a connection. The rebbe wasn’t going to shul after the lockdown. He was exposed like many many others beforehand.

  14. Ferd
    I highly doubt you can show me where he spoke against the shulchan aruch. His point about talking was mainly that talking in shul (in his opinion) is not as bad as shutting the shul. I have davened there a couple times, both times he spoke against talking in his drasha. Also, merely paskening not like the shulchanaruch does not make you an apikores, otherwise ashkenazi would be in trouble, as would the rema, the mogen avraham, and others. Finally, I dont know why you think hes a peleg supporter. Hes not. Do you lump everyone you disagree with into one basket?

  15. Babagenush
    I thought your long critique would include many examples of what you found wrong. You talk with platitudes about how terrible the speech was and call someone who knows much more about the shulchan aruch than you do (you admitted you dont know much), “mr frankel” and all that you can find wrong was the tefilin comment and the talking on shul part?.. I agree with you on both of those points, the tefilin comment seemed gratuitous, though I thought he was talking about jared Kushner, and the talking in shul segment seemed odd to me, but I believe he was trying to contrast talking in shul vs shutting shuls down. He clearly believes the former is the lesser of 2 evils. I guess that’s not bad, he spoke for 50 minutes and you only didnt like about 5 minutes of it. That’s a better ratio than most rabbis get.

  16. Rabbi Hoffma,
    Rabbi Frankel never meant to speak in shul. He was ridiculing people who are concerned with talking in shul, but NOT concerned with:
    1. The need to daven in a shul, BEFORE coronavirus.
    2. Davening at an appropriate pace.
    3. The need to reopen shuls.
    Writing that Rabbi Frankel intended to advocate to talk in shul is obvious misunderstanding on your part. His goal was to ridicule those people’s values.
    Please correct this point. It is hotza’as shem ra on your part.

  17. I first want address the last comment anybody who says the rebbe in sasgren died because of covid is a slander he was a 90 year old rov who was sick to say he was niftar because of covd when no one has confirmed it is a lie.

    I usually think the author does a good job however here he twisted alot of words for one he never said some rabbnim are to old lead all he said a meeting 12 O clock at night to a 93 year old rov is not fair to him to understand the situation.the whole rav chaim thing that he said to close everything down and he’s a killer has never been confirmed except a letter written on here the only recording we have was in the beginning was that Torah is the bigger concern not the virus and besides r chaim has been davening with a miyan and he’s no hypocrite and r yerchum who has been davening on porch according to the author how does that make any sense when Lakewood banned porch minyam is he too a hypocrite of course not!! . And continue with the guy from Washington “who has us in mind” the guy who rode on shaboss to go to a church enough said . The doctors are the new khal yisrael leaders what happened to people going to gedlim before a big surgery is that going to stop now because the doctors know more? When the CDC switches its mind everyday and top doctors actually admit they dont know but this one Frum doctor runs around saying he knows more then everybody and you have to listen to him and if you dont you’re going against dass torah and he’s contradicted himself plenty of times and has gone on tv for klah yisrol right? you ever heard people loving control power that’s is here and we’re biting on it like fish if this is the new way may hashem have mercy on all of us then

  18. I’m just trying to be a simple Jew, a poshuter yid, barely. I don’t get involved in things I know little or nothing about.
    I don’t claim to know which poisek said what and when.
    I did find out that there are so many “rabonim” bandying about “Das Torah” that there must be many Toras!
    Perhaps you’ll say this is all L’shaim Shmayim, then you need to listen carefully to how these opinions are being expressed. One Rov told me that an internationally renowned poisak is just a daas yochid, maybe, but the cavalier way he expressed this was horrifying!
    This brings to mind what the “Navee” says in Shoiftem, no less than 4 times (actually it’s the last possuk as well)

    בימים ההם אין מלך בישראל, איש הישר. בעיניו יעשה
    We simple Jews need clear guidance and the least we deserve is clear hadracha from our Rabonim.
    Yes, there were always differences of opinion by truly “Ehrliche Gedolim” but what we have witnessed in the last 2 months is frightening. Not evening a local community could the shul Rabonim agree on a coherent policy.
    What are we “amcha yiddin” supposed to do?
    Ess is shver Tzu zain a yid, why make it harder!

  19. Who is it that decides whether or noy to post.
    I sent a strong response defending Covod Hatorah And The Yeshiva world decided not to post.
    I guess its all about politics.

  20. To MR hoffman I myself Daven in this HOLY Rav’s Shul. my son’s Daven there as well.
    I would like to clarify that the Rav is from the nicest people i know.
    he is always making every one feel like a million dollars.
    I don’t think anyone can say they ever saw him without a smile from ear to ear on his face.
    The Rav was talking against the famous doctor who ran around Flatbush closing down every shul (even though there was socail distincing and was perfectly legal) and calling police on the few shuls that were left open as per the rav of the shul decision. How dare can this so called Doctor call the police on a rabbi. The police themselves were shocked how an Orthodox jew can call on their own Rabbis. Incidents like this is what HaRav Frankel is talking about.
    a friend of mine thru business who is not Jewish told me “this would never happen in our communities”. Look how low we fell that we are sticking up for this Dr and not the Rabbanim.
    I spoke with my good friend Reb Chaim David Zwiebel and he himself told me that the he is working with himself as its very hard to reach the Rabbanim in these times. since when is it our choice if shuls should be open.
    I spoke to many Rabbanim that they would wish to keep their Shuls open but they had to much pressure from their congregants. I must say that most if not all my fellow mispalilem of the shul are on the rav side and fully regret the way they acted and are willing to do whatever they could to get the rav to come back (which is including braking our smartphones).we are all at fault for putting on so much pressure on the rabbis to not letting them run the shul the way they want to. who areSO MUCH smartter than us.

  21. To Babagenush and to everyonr else who called MY RAV MISTER an apogee is NEEDED and to everyone who is shouting against MY RAV and the only thing you know about him is this drasha you have no right to talk
    thank you