When the Lubavitch movement began its messianic propaganda, Maran girded himself to fight this group and the one who headed it. During this period, when Maran first came out with his opposition in public, the messianic message was still somewhat covert with innocent sounding mottos and slogans. The public was not yet aware what lay behind them. At that time only one blessed with a sharp eye could discern this blind belief in a messianic Rebbe which was swelling and taking on a more real proportion under the guise of chassidus. Maran, with his wise vision, understood what would eventually happen and to what dimensions this movement would reach if he did not take steps to quell it with an uncompromising battle.
He did not stir up this steamy cauldron with equanimity, but with reluctance. On one occasion he said to me that he would have preferred that others wage this war in his stead. But seeing that no one wished to involve himself, he felt responsible to do everything in his power, brooking no compromise.
Maran’s mesirus nefesh in this battle knew no bounds; I have already described in the first chapter the outcry of his heart, “Even if I knew for certain that they would burn me alive, I would still not desist in my campaign against false messianism, for this is bona fide avodoh zorah.”
It should be noted that in spite of his pitched battle against Lubavitch, Maran nevertheless recited Tehillim when the Rebbe became sick. At the time I asked him for an explanation, and he obliged, “My battle is against his erroneous approach, against the movement, but not against the people in any personal way. I pray for the Rebbe’s recovery and simultaneously, also pray that he abandon his invalid way.”
(With regard to this, Maran quoted the words of Tosafos in Pesochim 113b, that even when we are talking about a situation when it is a mitzvah to hate, one should give preference to loading the donkey of an enemy before unloading the burden of a friend’s donkey, just in order to temper one’s evil inclination.)
Constructing the World of Torah
In the wake of the battle against the Lubavitch movement, Maran came to the realization that in the framework of Agudath Yisroel, there was no true understanding and regard for the world of Torah, the Lithuanian yeshivishe circle. And then he arrived at the conclusion that the Torah world could not be reliant on a so-called guardian from the outside (which is how the Israeli Agudath Yisroel presented itself at the time). It must become independent in every public matter, and to this end, it was necessary to create its own organizational setup.
This is how the Hebrew [and English] language newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, came into being, together with the political party Degel HaTorah, and the Kashrus network of Shearis Yisroel.
Maran became convinced that in spite of his pleas that the Agudath Israel publication, Hamodia, stop its support of the Chabad movement, to say nothing about waging a frontal attack against it, they were determined to carry on. Hamodia even printed occasional Lubavitch advertisements. To compound this injury, it refused to let Maran voice his view against Chabad.
In 5745 he founded a special newspaper for bnei Torah, together with Maran HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Kanievsky ztvk’l. I have already noted how difficult it is to describe the difficulties involved in establishing this newspaper. In addition to the logistics of organizing it, there was the problem of finances.
Contrary to his usual practice, Maran decided to borrow $750,000 from the noted philanthropist R’ Moshe Reichman as seed money to get it started. (I don’t know if the readers can sufficiently appreciate this sum as it was valued twenty years ago.)
This debt weighted upon him like a heavy lodestone. Maran expressed his anxiety over it many times and said that he hoped not to leave this world before having paid up that debt. It pressed on him heavily until he was finally able, not without great effort, to make good on the loan.
When Agudath Israel refused to declare war against Chabad’s messianic campaign, despite all of his pleading and attempts to convince them of the need thereof, he drew the inevitable conclusion and, in 5749, established the organization which represents the yeshiva world, Degel HaTorah.
In 5746 Rav Yaakov Landau, the chief rabbi of Bnei Brak, passed away and his son, a Chabadnik, was instated in his place. Maran disapproved of this appointment and established an independent Kashrus network for bnei Torah: Shearis Yisroel. This step, as its predecessor, also met with vehement opposition which did not stop at any lowly means to sabotage Maran’s plans and its establishment.
We will not dwell on facts that are well known. The founding of the paper and the establishment of an organization of this size are weighty undertakings, even for a person in his prime of life. How much more so for a man of ninety! And it should be known that Maran did not suffice with issuing directives from the top. He was actively and fully involved in all of the activities, in every detail, at all levels. He inquired, motivated the people involved, did not rest or relax his efforts at any time.
Only a leader designated for the task by Heaven, and privy to special Divine assistance, is capable of such leadership, which defies nature and human resources.
Maran kept all the fliers and posters containing the vilification and the propaganda campaign against him in a special place and requested that they be buried together with him, saying that when he was summoned before the Heavenly court, he would declare: “Ribono shel Olom: I did everything I was supposed to do to the point of vile deprecation and condemnation. Here are the posters they plastered against me . . . ”
Love Ye Truth and Peace
In the final stage of his life, Maran endured unimaginable pain and a tortured soul, suffering when certain circles dared blame him for imagined opposition to the chassidic public and in causing dissension within the Torah-loyal community.
Those who were close to Maran know to what extent he desired peace, and only peace. I, personally, can testify that there was no lover of peace and pursuer of peace of his like. Maran repeatedly stressed that he had no opposition towards them. Not to the chassidic Admorim nor to their chassidic following. But when certain actions were taken that were contrary to halochoh and to the Torah way, he was forced to react.
However, whenever he spoke out against a negative phenomenon, he was forthright and showed no distinction between one community or following and another, one circle or another, between those who were distant from him and those close to him.
Maran did not bear rancor against any person, and would forgive all those who insulted him. However, he often clarified his stand, both in speech and in writing, that the slander spread against him about his persecution of chassidim was something he could never forgive, for it had transformed him into a baal machlokes, a hate-monger, at a time when he loved peace and pursued it to the nth degree.
After the election campaign of 5748, in which Degel HaTorah and Agudath Israel ran on separate lists for the first and only time, Maran imposed upon me the task of effecting a consolidation of ranks to insure that such a dichotomy never occur again between the two chareidi parties, either in national or in local elections.
According to his directives, I suggested that Agudath Israel make certain far-reaching concessions in order to ensure cooperation and peaceful collaboration of the entire body of chareidi Judaism at all times. With the help of Hashem, I was successful in my mission, thanks to very significant concessions on the part of Maran. And indeed, since then, our Torah-true community has appeared in all municipal and national elections as one united bloc.
The Power of Decision Without Trepidation
With all of the pain and sting surrounding the controversy, Maran said that whoever was in the position of decision making must have no fears or reservations regarding being branded a `quarrel monger.’
At the founding meeting of Degel Hatorah in 5749, Maran stated: “They say that we are quarrel seekers . . . I heard in the name of R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin an explanation of Chazal on the verse, `And Bnei Yisroel mourned Moshe.’ Rashi quotes that this refers to the men. When Aharon HaKohen, who was a pursuer and lover of truth, passed away, it says that all of Israel wept over him since he would make peace between man and wife, friend and enemy.
“R’ Yehoshua was puzzled by this. The Torah seeks to tell of Moshe’s praises. Why then mention here that only the men mourned him?
“The truth is that there is a great element of praise here. Aharon HaKohen loved peace and pursued it, so it is no wonder that everyone loved him. But Moshe Rabbenu’s task was to judge and pass sentence in matters of argument and disagreement, in dinei Torah between two factions. He had to rule in favor of one side and against the other, so that it was inevitable that people would be hurt or might accuse him of favoritism, prejudice and fomenting dissension. It is impossible to justify everyone. The fact that not all of Israel mourned his passing shows that he was truly impartial and ruled according to the dictates of pure justice.”
Applicable and fitting are these words to the very one who uttered them. By innate nature, Maran was basically a peace lover, yet he was not deterred from overriding this trait if he felt it necessary as a leader to denounce one public or another when they conducted themselves contrary to the way of the Torah.
Maran as Principal Posek
One of the faults of which Maran was accused by Lubavitch followers was based on an approbation which Maran had written for a work dealing with halachic issues. Maran wrote that he was unable to write a haskomoh for the content of the work since he, himself, was not involved in the study of practical halochoh. “If he is unable to rule halachically,” they argued insolently, “how can he rule in issues involving the public?”
From the following story we see that this argument is refuted from its basically faulty premise. One of the greatest, most unique poskim of our generation, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk’l, determined that even though Maran was not involved in practical halochoh, when it came to clarifying any halochoh, he was considered in his eyes like one of the major authorities.
In a chol hamoed visit of HaRav Shlomo Zalman in my home at a time that I was serving as chairman of the Knesset Financial Committee, I asked him whether the Institute of Science and Technology for Halachic Matters was under his supervision. I told him that I had received a budget request from this institution, and I explained that if they were under his guidance I would feel under obligation to see that they receive an increased budget allocation.
Maran R’ Shlomo Zalman replied that the institution was to be considered vital and worthy, and surely I should do all in my power to help it, but it was not under his regulation. However, whenever they asked his halachic opinion in any particular matter, he gave it.
I then asked R’ Shlomo Zalman, “If this institute is truly so important, why don’t you undertake a more active, responsible role in it so that everyone can rely on its decisions?”
He replied that it was too great a responsibility; he could not stand up to such a great burden by himself. He added that if two other poskim were to join in shouldering that responsibility, he would be willing to be the third.
“Who would you suggest as those two halachic authorities?” I asked.
“Maran HaGaon R’ Elozor Menachem Shach and Maran HaGaon R’ Yosef Sholom Eliashiv,” was his reply.
“Regarding HaRav Eliashiv, I have no doubts, for he is truly recognized as a prime halachic authority. But how does Maran R’ Shach fit into this particular category? He is not actively involved in halachic matters.”
Replied R’ Shlomo Zalman, “If Maran R’ Shach is willing to join, he is no lesser versed in halochoh than in the chidushei Torah upon which he expounds in his yeshiva. He is a gaon beyond compare, and if he takes it upon himself to deal in halochoh, he will be the greatest of poskim.”
Reprinted with permission of DV