Monday, April 23, 2018

Sublimity vs. Stupidity in Shul Hand-Outs


Last Shabbos I picked up two Torah leaflets in my local shul. One was sublime, inspirational, amazing, educational. The other... not so much.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines
The former was the inaugural issue of HaMizrachi, the official publication of World Mizrachi, the religious Zionist movement founded by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines. It actually commemorates one hundred years since the publication of the first HaMizrachi in Poland. The booklet includes articles by such illustrious figures as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbanit Racheli Frankel, Rabbi Yosef Rimon, Rabbanit Shani Taragin, and others. It can downloaded at www.mizrachi.org/hamizrachi, and I very much look forward to future issues.

Reading the introduction by Rabbi Doron Perez (who also authored a fantastic piece in the Koren/Mizrachi Yom Ha-Atzma'ut Machzor), I learned something surprising. The organization's name, Mizrachi, is actually an acronym for MercaZ RuChanI, expressing its goal of providing a spiritual base for Zionism. Who knew?!

The other leaflet that I picked up was the official publication of a certain branch of chassidus. I've picked up a few of them, and they inevitably irk me, because they are chock-full of implausible miracle stories. I don't mind the occasional chassidishe miracle story (preferably told with a twinkle in one's eye) which has an inspirational message, and I recognize how such an approach is beneficial for many people. But, at least with the few issues of this publication that I have seen, that's all it is! Miracle story after miracle story after miracle story.

This particular issue had a section about the holiness of Shabbos, and it was really over the top. It contained several short anecdotes, and as I read them, my eyebrows kept going higher and higher, until finally they shot off my face and hit the ceiling.

The first anecdote was regarding der heiliker Ruzhiner, and about how when Shabbos started, his appearance changed so dramatically that anyone who wasn't watching would think that it was a different person.

The second was about how a "famous doctor" testified that there is an actual change in the pulse of a Yid's hand on Shabbos.

The third was about how the Baal Shem Tov's Shabbos clothes were a much larger size than his weekday clothing, but both sets fitted him perfectly, because on Shabbos he was much bigger.

The fourth was about how Reb Chayim of Chertovitch had to change his place in Shul every Shabbos, because his weekday seat was under a beam, which cleared his head during the week, but did not do so on Shabbos, when he was a full head taller.

Extra-tall hassidic rabbi spotted in Crown Heights
Good grief!

As nonsensical as all this is, in the past I would still have just dismissed it as harmless entertainment. But lately I have grown increasingly concerned about the effects of teaching people to be utterly naive and gullible about Holy Men. Ha-aretz had a frightening article about the cult surrounding convicted sexual predator Rav Eliezer Berland, whose followers believe that he is God in human form, and that it is permitted for him to engage in actions that would be forbidden for others. And I've posted here several times about people getting taken advantage of by other "holy men," or making other damaging choices due to their complete lack of critical thought. I am beginning to think that such Torah leaflets could be downright dangerous.

Although, I must say, my suit does feel smaller on me by the end of Shabbos!

73 comments:

  1. 1. "when Shabbos started, his appearance changed so dramatically that anyone who wasn't watching would think that it was a different person."

    As long as this isn't intended literally, it's a pretty nice story.

    2. "an actual change in the pulse of a Yid's hand on Shabbos."
    Probably meant blood pressure for people who live really far from shul and get more exercise on Shabbos.

    3. "Baal Shem Tov's Shabbos clothes were a much larger size than his weekday clothing"
    As you noted, this is because Mrs. Baal Shem Tov made an amazing cholent.

    4. "cleared his head during the week, but did not do so on Shabbos, when he was a full head taller."

    Reb Chayim wore a top hat on Shabbos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mrs. Baal Shem Tov! Yes, her kishkes and kreplach had the power to turn any ba'al geivah into a blubbering pile of viduy. And that's how the early chasidim would know if the stories told about the Ba'al Shem were true or not: their holy wives would use Mrs. Baal Shem Tov's recipes, and their guests would eat enough to show that they were not trafficking in sheker.

      Delete
    2. >> The fourth was about how Reb Chayim of Chertovitch had to change his place in Shul every Shabbos, because his weekday seat was under a beam, which cleared his head during the week, but did not do so on Shabbos, when he was a full head taller.

      > Reb Chayim wore a top hat on Shabbos

      And better shoes!

      Delete
  2. If you can believe what Haaretz writes about religious Jews, then you can believe what Maiselach say about chassidishe Jews.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In this case it's absolutely true. There are masses of people who turn out to support him, outside the court when he was on trial, and to his rallies. Some of these are bored charedim, I suppose, but there are lots of true believers. There's a woman out there, from Britain originally, who maintains a blog that would make you sick. She's just published two huge volumes defending him. The Minister of Health of Israel himself, perhaps the most powerful charedi in the country, visited him in the hospital.

      Delete
    2. I've seen too many times how that particular media source twists and shades and outright lies in order to attack the religious, its sole reason for existence. To believe what they say about orthodox Jews, one must be as naively credulous as someone who reads the Chassidishe Niflaos stories.

      I don't know anything about this particular story, but find it impossible to believe this person's "followers believe that he is God in human form." Either our host RNS is misrepresenting something, or the article he got it from is. Take your pick.

      Delete
    3. @Nachum,

      At a guess, you are referring to Shirat Devorah. She is a mystically-minded nut who fully believes in anyone or anything slightly mumbo-jumboish. She's a sad specimen of humanity, never mind Jewishness.

      @DF,

      Ha'aretz is extremely opinionated. They hate religion and they hate Israel, possibly in equal measures. But they have good fact checkers, and there's little reason to disbelieve them unless you personally have evidence to the contrary.

      Delete
    4. "The Minister of Health of Israel himself,"

      Don't you mean the Deputy Minister?

      Delete
    5. Avi: No, someone named Rivka Levy. But the two seem to be good buddies, linking to each other.

      Delete
    6. @DF: Care to share any concrete examples of how Haaretz 'lies' to attack 'the religious'? There may be some Op-Eds that are antagonistic towards some in the religious sector, but that is why they are op-eds.

      Delete
  3. I once read a fanciful story about a rabbi who when he read something he did not believe his eyebrows actually came off of his head and then reattached themselves later. Incredible (I’m writing with a twinkle in my eye in case you can’t tell.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did his name happen to be Cap'n Crunch?

      Delete
    2. @Fred,

      No, silly. Cap'n was the black sheep of the family, running off to sea to escape the stifling Yeshivah study hall. The rabbi Yoni2 referred to is his esteemed brother Hagaon Rav Yeruchum Crunch.

      Delete
  4. HaMizrachi was really inspiring! And my community had two of their 70 scholars with a third coming in a few weeks. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Alternative AngleApril 24, 2018 at 7:14 AM

    I don't like those kinds of stories either, which is why I try to stick to traditional Jewish texts, and not contemporary mystical mumbo-jumbo.

    For example, instead of reading about the Ruzhiner's face changing on Shabbos, I prefer to read the Torah's story about Moshe's face glowing.

    The idea that the pulse changes on the Shabbos is just silly. Did you know though that a girl's hymen regenerates if pierced when she is younger than three? As the Yerushalmi teaches us, if beis din are mikadesh the chodesh early and she becomes three, it will not regenerate, but if they wait and she remains two, it will! Shabbos may not be able to change physiology, but beis din certainly can.

    Chassidish maysalach about the Baal Shem Tov changing size on Shabbos but his clothes still fitting him? The gemarah teaches us that the aron took no space in the beis hamikdash, so obviously there would be no need for the Baal Shem to grow on Shabbos to fit his extra spirituality. Plus, when everyone bowed in the Beis Hamikdash, it was still able to fit everyone. So again, there's simply no reason for the Baal Shem to have to grow to accommodate the Shabbos. Fake news, as they say; he stayed the same size. Same goes for the R' Chayim of Chertovitch story, clearly contradicted by Talmudic science.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's all exactly the same thing. Come on.

      Delete
    2. If you look into biofeedback you will see it is entirely possible for one's pulse to change on Shabbos.

      RM

      Delete
  6. More proof that Chassidus is polytheistic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personally, I have nothing against terylene bekeshes.

      Delete
  7. MY pulse changes when shabbos comes in. As soon as the cell phone is off and the work emails / whatsapps stop, it drops. Wonder of wonder. Miracle of Miracles.

    ReplyDelete
  8. From Wikipedia on Shivḥei ha-Besht :

    "Hasidim approach these legends with a blend of suspicion and belief. Rebbe Shlomo Rabinowicz of Rodomsk declared, "Whoever believes all the miracle stories about the Baal Shem Tov in Shivhei HaBaal Shem Tov is a fool, but whoever denies that he could have done them is an apikoros [a heretic]".

    Litvaks might disagree with the second half of the statement. In 2008, R. Avi Shafran wrote("Reaching Out With Reason; A Kiruv Primer"):

    "There are also those who, for better or worse, are impressed by anecdotes or artifices – “miracle” stories and “Torah codes.” While such stratagems may excite some Jews, what titillation they may generate is often ephemeral. And for good reason. Many maasehlach enjoy an only tenuous relationship with truth; and many textual fireworks tend on close inspection to fizzle out. Wonder stories and miraculous methodologies might “work” for some, but Jewish lives are not generally built on such foundations."

    ReplyDelete
  9. Always good to drop in here and hear that the "Mizrachi" community is absolutely perfect while the Haredim are a bunch of blithering idiots, crooks and gullible fools. I'll reassess my opinion of this blog when I see some criticism of the "Dati Leumi" world and a few positive words about Haredim.

    It's bad enough that we have this division among observant Jews, but it's worse that some people seem to find their whole meaning in life in perpetuating it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are plenty of good things done by charedim. And plenty of bad things done by Dati Leumi people. But none of the former seem to *stem* from being a charedi per se, and none of the latter seem to *stem* from being a dati leumi per se. That is, each could do the good or bad if they were in the other camp.

      Delete
    2. This post wasn't discussing a Charedi publication. It was discussing a Chassidish publication.

      Delete
    3. Nachum,

      So you do believe that 'Hareidiut' is all bad and 'Dati Leumiut' is all good? Just as superficial and false as the simplistic view of the communities I was pointing out.

      RNS,


      This post wasn't discussing a Charedi publication. It was discussing a Chassidish publication.


      Excellent distinction, but one which is rarely made these days.

      Delete
    4. No, I said that the principles are.

      Delete
  10. Now, now! Don't you know that the word gullible was removed from the dictionary.

    ReplyDelete
  11. When I went to a public elementary school in the U.S., we heard stories and watched film strips about a big blue ox, a giant red dog, a grossly exaggerated John Henry, etc. etc.

    I'm not sure it's still in vogue, but for several decades a holy and government-funded academic field was travelling the world to collect and document the tall tales of many nations and peoples, the more primitive the better.

    But when chassidim engage in their version of it, it is publicly ridiculed by other observant Jews.

    #self-haters

    RM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's exactly the same. Come on.

      Delete
    2. Still reading Clifford books in your spare time?

      Delete
    3. Alternative AngleApril 24, 2018 at 8:33 PM

      #self-hatred ... is always possible but much more likely is that people who like to think of themselves as rational are irked by these stories which make the "irrational" component of their religion so obvious. They need to say, "So silly ... good thing that's nothing like what I believe." So while I disagree with your assessment, I think it's a good lesson to learn. Too often people accuse others who criticize things they hold dear to be self-hating:

      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/02/detached-from-reality.html?m=1



      Delete
    4. Alternative AngleApril 24, 2018 at 8:36 PM

      Nachum,

      Did you make a macro with that comment?

      Delete
    5. I see your point, but I do not hold these things dear. They do nothing for me. I'm calling out a double standard. When tall tales and fantastic stories appear in other cultures, they're collected and cherished, or at least not criticized because that would be intolerant and ethnocentric. Among our own, held up to public ridicule.

      RM

      Delete
    6. Anonymous, the difference is that no one will call you an apikores if you say it's impossible that Paul Bunyan combed his beard with a wagon wheel.

      Delete
  12. "The booklet includes articles by such illustrious figures as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbanit Racheli Frankel, Rabbi Yosef Rimon, Rabbanit Shani Taragin, and others"

    With the exception of Sacks, who are these illustrious figures? Never heard of a single one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You shouldn't boast of that.

      Delete
    2. Oy. Really, not something to boast of.

      And Racheli Fraenkel you've heard of.

      She's the mother of Naftali Fraenkel, hy"d, one of the 3 kidnapped boys.

      She is also an illustrious Torah educator in Israel.

      Delete
    3. I wasn't boasting, just remarking.

      But while we're on the subject, would you agree the Mizrachi Orthodox world has produced proportionately fewer high stature Talmidei Chachamim than the much maligned Charedi world?

      Delete
    4. Oy Vey. Baal HaBoss, I'm not in the Mizrachi world myself, but please think before you make such foolish remarks...

      Delete
    5. Well, sure, if you get to define "talmid chacham."

      Delete
  13. I often agree with much of your criticism of the chreidi world but the percentage of the national religious leaving the fold is astounding by all accounts https://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/346435 and yes, I am willing to pay the price of being sheltered which pales to the option of my son going OTD. (it exists in the charedi world as welland primarily amongst Sefardic BT families but in any case not near to that of the dati leumi community) how come you never mention the faliure of the DTL education where the youth are leaving in droves??!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're not sheltered. Neither are your kids. But whatever gets you through your haughty night.

      Delete
    2. I've mentioned it on several occasions (perhaps someone can find the posts). Sure, being exposed to the big wide world carries a great risk of going OTD. But that's no justification for a community of people to simply abandon their societal and national obligations.

      Delete
    3. RNS, I would argue and say it's at least debatable if it is a justification. Youth leaving in droves is a very heavy price to pay

      Delete
    4. Would 70 or 80 percent dropout rate be reasonable to abandon national obligations? I am sure at some point you would agree the price is too high, to me 50% or even 30% is way too much.

      Delete
    5. So the charedi community should say, "The price is too high in terms of kids dropping out, but we recognize that we are avoiding our obligations, so we will make it up in other ways, such as XYZ"

      Delete
    6. Sorry (or not) to be a cynic, but it is the rare person in any community who feels really guilty about "avoiding obligations". Again the idealization of the DL community which in reality is full of people just like everyone else who do whatever they can't avoid doing for the "general society" which doesn't give a damn about them and never has. Like it or not, the Jewish survival mechanism throughout the past 2000 years has included a large component of not caring about the surrounding society, and there really isn't much difference today when dealing with the anti-religious "Jews" in Israel who hate us more than the goyim do (as the Gemara says.)

      Delete
    7. Evolution doesn't care about national obligations. Survival is the only thing that matters. Mizrachi have have a lower survival rate and are evolutionary less fit.

      It's surprising that you didn't know what Mizrachi stands for.

      Delete
  14. I recall reading in the preface to "Not Just Stories: The Chassidic Spirit Through Its Classic Stories", by Rabbi Dr. AJ Twerski, the following from a chasidic source :

    Rashi says that Eliezer saw the water rise up toward her and therefore approached her. The question arises: If Eliezer saw her merit a miracle, then why continue testing her to see if she’d offer his camels water? We learn that although miracles may have been performed for Rivkah, that wasn’t sufficient to determine if she had good middos.

    I've seen a similar point about Yitzchak,Rivkah and miracles in the name of the Brisker Rav and others.

    The Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah says "Whenever anyone's belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah says "Whenever anyone's belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery."

      Yes, but his remedy is not reason or experiment, but a better miracle that can't be forged as easily.

      Delete
  15. The last sentence was great. I was thinking it in the middle of the post, but it was still funny when I read it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Perhaps Hasidic stories are intended to be read, and indeed read, the same way Midrashim were intended to be read - metaphorically?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps everything religious, not just hasidic stories, should no longer be read as if they were science or history?

      Delete
    2. Perhaps what passes for science, and biased people's views of history, shouldn't be read as if they were actually true?

      Delete
    3. There are way too many people who take Midrashim literally as it is.

      Delete
  17. As practical matter, if the Baal Shem Tov grew on Shabbos and needed bigger Shabbos clothes than during the week, when was he measured for his Shabbos clothes? It couldn't be done during the week as he was not that size then, and it couldn't be done on Shabbos when he was bigger as that would violate the Shabbos. Any ideas?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can measure on shabbos l'tzorach mitzvah.....

      Delete
  18. Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, zt'l, writes in one of his essays that in Poland, one Shabbos, at first he could not recognize someone, because the man looked so different and exalted in his Shabbos clothes.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Your ignorance is showing once againApril 24, 2018 at 10:31 PM

    מרן הגר"א לופיאן נ"ע סיפר על רבו הרש"ז מקלם נ"ע שבימות חול היה נראה כמו מת ממש - פניו הוי חיוורים לגנרי - ובש"ק היו לו פנים אדומות! פני אדמו"ר =(רבי ירוחם ממיר) נ"ע השתנו בש"ק כל כך, עד שתלמיד חדש שראה את אדמו"ר בימות החול - כאשר נכנס לישיכה בליל ש"ק היה נדמה לתלמיד כי יש לישיבה משגיח מיוחד, יותר גדול, ליום השבת, ולא זהו שראה ביום השבת, רק במשך הזמן התרגל להבין כי פני אדמו"ר משתנות כ"כ בש"ק.

    עלי שור ח"ב עמ' שפב

    (In the part about Reb Yerucham, Rav Wolbe is talking about himself.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Speaking of Rav Wolbe and this topic, see Alei Shur, Volume II, page 296 regarding telling stories of tzadikim of dubious veracity, where Rav Wolbe states that this can be very harmful to Emunas Chachamim.

      (IIRC, he quotes from the Chazon Ish as well).

      Delete
    2. Rabbi Wolbe is merely saying that the mood change on shabbos was palpable. He is not claiming anything miraculous happened visibly weekly in Mir.

      Delete
    3. Your ignorance is showing once againApril 25, 2018 at 5:12 PM

      My mood change on Shabbos is palpable too, and no one said anything about miracles.

      when Shabbos started, his appearance changed so dramatically that anyone who wasn't watching would think that it was a different person.

      Exactly.

      Delete
    4. It actually has a place in halachah:
      Normally, during the week of Sheva Berachos, you need someone at the meal who hasn't attended any of the previous meals, to serve as a פנים חדשות--there is an added simchah when a new guest comes to rejoice with the chassan.

      But, even if all the people at a Sheva Berachos on Shabbos have attended the wedding, or the previous meals of the week of Sheva Berachos, they are considered "פנים חדשות", as if a new person is attending!

      But, I understand that the simchah is because you'll serve more food when there are more guests--not really due to a change in the guests themselves:

      https://www.yeshiva.org.il/ask/94844

      ג. שבת ויום טוב שמרבים בסעודה עבורם נחשבים כפנים חדשות וכך מוסכם לגבי סעודה ראשונה ושניה. לגבי סעודה שלישית לרמ"א נחשב כפנים חדשות לשולחן ערוך – לא.

      --Yehudah P.

      Delete
  20. In a radio discussion on miracles with Roman Catholic Newsweek editor Kenneth Woodward who authored a book on miracles in different religions, Rabbi Simon Jacobson of Chabad/The Meaningful Life Center mentions the "fool/heretic" statement I quoted in the name of the Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk regarding how to relate to Bal Shem Tov stories. He later adds the following story:

    "I have a story in my book, actually, Toward a Meaningful Life, where I talk about miracles, that there were three men sitting at an inn, each one describing his personal miracle. One said that his miracle was that his great rabbi suggested that he invest a certain amount of money, and he made an unbelievably successful investment.

    Another one said, “I had a child who was ill, and my rabbi gave me a blessing and the child was miraculously healed.”

    The third one said, “My rabbi told me to invest all my money in a certain area, and I lost it all.”

    And they looked at him and said, “What’s the miracle?”

    He said, “The miracle is that I remained dedicated to my rabbi, and I didn’t lose faith.”

    That’s one of the criticisms in general of the secular world on religion in general, and I guess on prayers and miracles, is that it becomes a form of escapism, a form of a crutch."

    See transcript:

    https://www.meaningfullife.com/miracles-ken-woodward/

    ReplyDelete
  21. Is there any reason why you do not change your kipah to a kipah seruga and therefore openly acknowledge your change of hashkafa to a fully paid up member (hashkafically speaking) of the dati leumi community?

    Tziyona

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is there a reason you think it matters what kind of Kippah anyone wears? I wear a black velvet Kippah, and I have never identified as Charedi.

      Delete
  22. "The organization's name, Mizrachi, is actually an acronym for MercaZ RuChanI, expressing its goal of providing a spiritual base for Zionism. Who knew?!"

    I knew that and inI just a stupid gullible chosid without a Jewish studies phd.

    ReplyDelete
  23. When we used to spend Shabbos at my in-laws, instead of a dvar Torah, they read from Tales of Tzadikim. The stories were so outlandish. I would always mutter, "That never halpened." My mother in-law would say, If you don't believe any of them, that is apikorsus." As if someone writing a book gives the story credence. Mmost of the stories were laughable.

    ReplyDelete

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