Thursday, January 24, 2019

Daf Yomi LIVE from the Museum!

This Sunday, Daf Yomi comes to life!

Chullin – LIVE

at the Biblical Museum of Natural History

A special orientation session for Daf Yomi learners, featuring a presentation and discussion of the unusual mammals, birds, reptiles and insects in this week’s daf.
Join us at the museum, or participate live online!

Sunday, 27th January 2019, 8pm-10pm Israel Time

Sunday, January 20, 2019

You Don't Mess With The Zohar... Or Do You?

Who wrote the Zohar? Was it the tanna Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as the work claims, or was it a collection of texts from Amora'aim and/or later figures that was compiled, liberally edited, and generously added to, by the fourteenth-century forger Moses de Leon?

Nearly a decade ago I wrote a post titled "You Don't Mess With The Zohar," in which I agreed with someone's claim that questioning the Zohar's authenticity or authority is unwise. The Zohar has become canonized as one of the pillars of Judaism. The fact that Rav Yaakov Emden wrote a book with over three hundred arguments for the Zohar being largely of later authorship is not widely known, and pointing it out is unlikely to make a difference. The reaction would be too visceral.

Today, however, I'm not so sure if this is still true. Over the last decade, some changes have taken place. First is that due to the spread of the internet into Orthodox homes, more and more people are aware of things that were previously only known in scholarly circles. Second is that more facts have come to light regarding rabbinic authorities of impeccable credentials who disputed the Zohar's authenticity to a lesser or greater degree. Aside from Rav Yaakov Emden, there was also Chasam Sofer and the Noda B'Yehuda. Even Rav Ovadiah Yosef acknowledged that it cannot be considered heretical to deny the Zohar's authenticity, due to the many questions on it. Marc Shapiro's Hebrew article on this topic, "Is There An Obligation To Believe that the Zohar Was Written By Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai?" and blog posts have doubtless also been of great impact.

In my original post, I shared a critique of the Zohar, in English, by an anonymous charedi author. Recently I discovered a much more extensive document, this time in Hebrew. It's Rav Yaakov Emden's Mitpachas Sefarim, but with a lengthy introduction and elaborations of various parts. You can download it at this link. Meanwhile, for the English/ academic reader, there is an excellent treatment in Tishby, The Wisdom Of The Zohar, vol.1, pp. 55-87. I plan on including a brief summary as an appendix to my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism: Schisms in Traditional Jewish Thought.

(For anyone interested in the definition of heresy, I would strongly advise reading my article, “They Could Say It, We Cannot: Defining the Charge of Heresy," in Hakirah, available for download here.)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

I Was Wrong, And I'm Sorry

Like many people, I hate having to admit that I was wrong. It's particularly unpleasant for me because there is a whole crowd of people who hate me and who leap on such a thing gleefully. And these are probably people who have never, ever honestly examined issues which conflict with their worldview and concluded that they are wrong. Still, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't publicly admit to mistakes that I made. So, in this post, I want to admit to being wrong in not just one, but two of my posts from last week.

First was in my post about whether people in kollel can be considered as quasi-Levites. I wrote that according to Rambam, somebody in kollel is in no way an honorary Levite, for two reasons. One is that according to Rambam, it is forbidden take money for learning Torah. Second is that according to Rambam, the Levites were not learning Torah, they were teaching Torah.

Now, these last two sentences are indeed true. However, I went too far in claiming that this means that according to Rambam, somebody in kollel is "in no way" an honorary Levite. According to Rambam, such a person is indeed somewhat of an honorary Levite.

There are two pieces of evidence for this. One is that at the end of Hilchos Shemittah, where Rambam waxes lyrical about how anyone can be like a Levite in devoting themselves to God, he does not mention teaching, and he is including even non-Jews. Second is that Rambam elsewhere speaks about how Torah scholars (and there is no indication that he means specifically teachers) are allowed to receive certain financial benefits "just like Levites." (It should be noted, though, that he is specifically referring to the investment of funds, and assistance in business, rather than financial grants, which he expressly prohibits.)

And so, although according to Rambam somebody in kollel is not truly like a Levite - because he is not teaching - he is still somewhat like one, and is thus entitled to certain types of business assistance.

My second mistake was in my post critiquing telling the heir to give his father's charity funds to a yeshivah, instead of to conservation, as the father had requested. I wrote that it was extremely upsetting and unethical. After reading and digesting the comments, I still think that it was probably wrong, but I don't think that it reflect a lack of ethics, and it was wrong of me to condemn it so harshly.

The reason is that the answer was given from within the worldview that the father's soul in Heaven will receive no benefit at all from having left money for conservation, but will receive enormous benefit for the money being directed to yeshivos, and thus the soul is surely hoping that the money will be redirected. Now, one may disagree with that premise, but from the perspective of one who has that premise, it's not unethical.

But the reason why I still think it's wrong, even if not unethical, is twofold. First is that even from within a chareidi/mystical worldview, conservation is a cause with merit. There are numerous sources in my book Man & Beast from classical rabbinic works speaking about the importance of respecting and looking after the natural world. True, you won't find any explicit sources speaking about saving animals from extinction, but that's because, as discussed at length in The Challenge Of Creation, nobody believed that it was possible for species to become extinct! But you do find Rishonim speaking about how the prohibition of taking mother bird and young is because it is conceptually like not caring about the perpetuation of the species. Kal v'chomer one should care about the actual perpetuation of species!

Second is that the whole idea of changing from one's agreement with a person in order to do what the person "would surely want if he really understood things" is fraught with problems. It lends itself to abuse in all kinds of ways. And would we ever want people to do that with us? Imagine the following scenario: You gave money to a non-Jew (or a secular Jew) for kosher food, and they deceive you and give you cheaper but non-kosher food, and use the difference for a good cause, based on their sincere belief that if you really knew that kashrus didn't matter, you would want the money to be used more productively. Would you think that they acted ethically?

True, there are times when we are in a bind, because we have a halachic mandate - for example, if a relative asks to be cremated. But when there is no such mandate, and the person has not asked for the money to go to an evil or pointless cause, I think it would be very appropriate to honor their request, even if you consider that there is a better cause. But it is a difficult question.

So, apologies for my mistakes. And I hope that this post serves as further proof that I am open to changing my mind and admitting errors.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Mavericks, Mystics, False Messiahs, and Mishpacha

My friend Rabbi Pini Dunner recently published a fascinating book, Mavericks, Mystics & False Messiahs. This slim and mesmerizing volume discusses a variety of colorful episodes from Jewish history. Some of them are well-known stories of considerable significance, such as Shabbtai Zvi, and the fight between Rav Yaakov Emden and Rav Yonasan Eybeschutz. Others are lesser-known stories of mavericks, such as Samuel Falk and Lord George Gordon. The book is not intended as an academic work, but rather as a popularization of accounts that are usually only known by history buffs.

The Shabbtai Tzvi story is astounding. Among his bizarre escapades was dressing up a fish as a baby, celebrating all the chagim in a single week, innovating a blessing to be pronounced upon committing a sin (Baruch matir assurim), and eating pork in public, after reciting that blessing! How on earth did he bring so many people under his spell? Particular astonishing is the account of how Rabbi Chaim Beneviste, one of the outstanding halachists of his era, was initially skeptical of Shabbtai Tzvi, had a fierce confrontation with him, and then was converted to being a staunch believer!

The topic of Shabbtai Tzvi, and even more so the Emden-Eybeshutz controversy, are generally not considered suitable topics for discussion in the charedi world. They are embarrassing and contradict the notion of the great rabbis of the past being near-infallible Gedolim. (Perhaps this is why the book is selling very well in Boro Park and Lakewood!)

I recall about twenty years ago asking my Rosh Yeshivah how to understand the Emden-Eybeshutz controversy. He was clearly uncomfortable with the question. After all, either Rav Yaakov Emden was badly wrong, or Rav Yonasan Eybeshutz was an apikores! The latter was the more unpalatable option, and so it had to be Rav Emden who was wrong. But, my Rosh Yeshivah claimed in his defense, this happened because when a very important power of holiness arises, such as Rav Eybeschutz, then the Satan is given extra-strong powers to counter it, which is how the Satan managed to lead Rav Yaakov Emden astray in his campaign.

Rabbi Dunner's conclusion in the Emden-Eybeschutz controversy is that Rav Eybeschutz might indeed have been a Sabbatean, but it cannot be conclusively determined either way. (But see Prof. Shnayer Leiman's article here.) Yet, as Rabbi Dunner points out, it is no longer relevant today, since both of them are now renowned for their contributions to Torah literature. This is very similar to the verdict reached at the time by Rav Yechezkel Landau, who was largely convinced that Rav Eybeschutz was indeed a secret Sabbatean, but basically said that it didn't matter, because it was secret!

As Rabbi Dunner describes Rav Landau's position: "As long as the amulets were destroyed, and Rabbi Yonatan visibly behaved in accordance with Jewish law and conducted himself according to the standards expected of a great rabbi, what difference did it make if he had surreptitiously inserted incomprehensible Sabbatian word puzzles into amulets that influenced nobody to believe in the messianic vision of the long-dead Shabbetai Tzvi?" (I think that there is support here for Prof. Menachem Kellner's claim that being a Jew in good standing does not require adherence to a certain code of dogma, and his observations about Chabad being accepted despite Rabbi Dr. David Berger's pointing out their problematic beliefs - but note my disagreement with him at this link.)

Given the discomfort with these topics in the yeshiva world, I was intrigued to see that Rabbi Dunner and his book were the feature story in a recent issue of Mishpacha magazine. How would Mishpachah cover these disturbing controversies? Perhaps wisely, they didn't; there was just a passing reference to their existence. But Mishpacha doubtless gave a tremendous boost to Rabbi Dunner and his book. Hopefully there will be no negative consequences to giving him a high profile in the charedi world, and it won't lead to any unwanted attention from zealots. As the late Rabbi Nissan Wolpin said to me thirteen years ago, "As soon as I saw you on the cover of Mishpacha magazine, I knew they'd come after you!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Disobeying Dad's Dying Wish

There was an extremely upsetting halachic responsum which appeared in last week's Yated Ne'eman. It was all the more distressing because it was quoted in the name of Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, who is generally respected as a very wise and sensible person. In his defense, I will point out that we have no idea as to the framework within which the question was presented and answered - whether the questioner sat with him to discuss it properly, and Rav Goldberg wrote the answer, or whether the questioner grabbed him after mincha for a few seconds, gave him the bare outline of the question, and "processed" the answer.

With that prelude, let us get to the responsum. It is to a person whose non-religious father, before passing away, asked his son to donate his funds towards wildlife conservation, and not to a yeshivah, as his son had requested. Here is the question and answer (click to enlarge):

The son is told that he can disobey the wishes of his dying father and give the funds instead to a cause that his father did not want to give to!

Here's the crux of the problem (and I confirmed this with a Posek who specializes in wills, Rav Menachem Copperman): The answer does not deal with the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Or, as the Posek that I consulted presented it: The answer deals only with what one is absolutely legally obligated to do, not with what is the right thing to do.

According to the letter of the law, it is indeed true that such a dying wish is not legally binding, since it does not fulfill the various technical requirements. However, there is still a principle that it is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of a dying person, especially in a case where it is grounded in the fundamental principle of kibud av, honoring one's father. As Ramban notes, the Torah says V'asisa hayashar vehatov, one should extrapolate from the Torah's general principles to do the right thing in a case which is not technically covered by the law.

Surely the right thing is for this person to honor his father's dying wish. It's not as though the father wanted the money to go to a bad cause, or even to a cause with no value. I don't personally give my charity dollars to conservation organizations, but respecting and preserving God's creations should certainly be considered a legitimate cause, even by charedi standards. It's even mentioned in the Midrash that God charged Adam with the task of looking after the world and not damaging it. There are numerous further sources as to the importance of respecting the natural world, as discussed in my unfortunately out-of-print book Man & Beast, such this from Tomer Devorah:
"A person should accustom himself… to respect all creatures, since the perfection of the Creator, Who formed man with wisdom, is recognizable among them – likewise the wisdom of the Creator is in all creatures. He should demonstrate for himself that they are very, very precious, for the Creator of everything, the Elevated Wisdom, takes care of all creatures. If he were to disdain them, Heaven forbid, he is encroaching on the honor of their Creator. It is similar to a master craftsman, who made something with great skill and showed his work to people, and one person begins disparaging it and treating it disrespectfully – the craftsman will grow very angry, for by disparaging his handiwork, they are disparaging him. So, too, the Holy One; it is evil in His eyes if any of His creatures are treated disrespectfully. This is what is written, “How great are Your works, O God… You made them all with Your wisdom” – since You used Your wisdom, Your works are important and great, and a person should contemplate the wisdom in them and not disdain them."

I can certainly understand the frustration of not identifying with the charitable cause that one's parent has chosen, but that is the essence of honoring one's parents - fulfilling their wishes even when it's hard for you to do so.

What's doubly upsetting is that not only is the son told that he doesn't need to give the money to the cause that his father wanted, but that he's even told that he can give the money to a cause that the father specifically said that he didn't want it to go towards. At least give it to a cause that he'd support, such as a hospital or feeding the unwillingly poor - not something that you know he objects to! (And even if you disagree with his objection to supporting a yeshivah, surely it should be acknowledged that it is at least understandable, and that, depending on whether it is an institution for children or adults, Rambam would have had exactly the same objection!)

Imagine if a secular newspaper printed an advice column in which the dying father is an Orthodox Jew with a son who has become Reform, and he asks for his charity to go to an Orthodox Jewish day school rather than a Reform school, but the son is advised that he knows better and he should give the money to a Reform school instead. Can you imagine the reaction in yeshivah circles?!

UPDATE: A number of people suggested that this has to be evaluated from the perspective of both the questioner and the rabbi that the deceased would greatly benefit from the redirection of the funds, and that surely his neshamah now wants such a thing; and thus from this perspective, it is ethically appropriate. I think that there is some merit to that argument, and I would like to hear what others have to say about it. To my mind it still demonstrates a certain lack of humility, the same sentiment that leads people to censor the works of deceased Torah scholars on the grounds that "now that he is in the Olam Ha-Emes, he surely regrets writing that."

Monday, January 14, 2019

Is Kollel a Levite Lifestyle?

It's hard for someone in kollel to make the transition to working to support his family. Especially if it's been drilled in to him for many years that he's failing his purpose in life by doing so. And thus Jonathan Rosenblum's article in last week's Mishpacha magazine, "Life After Kollel," was a very important piece. While lamentably (but understandably) quoting R. Chaim Volozhiner's novel mystical views about the impact of Torah learning on the cosmos, Rosenblum also stresses how the workplace, no less than the yeshivah, is a place where one grows in Avodas Hashem. He even writes that "sustaining and advancing the physical world, yishuvo shel olam, is itself a mitzvah."

It's fabulous that such an article is published in a charedi magazine. But I do have to nitpick on one small but significant matter.

Rosenblum refers to the time in kollel as "the years spent as a member of Shevet Levi." This is following Rambam's famous declaration, at the end of Hilchos Shemittah Ve'Yovel, about how anyone who chooses to devote himself to the service of God becomes like a Levite.

But this is intellectually dishonest in the extreme. Because if you're following Rambam, then you have to acknowledge that Rambam was of the view that somebody in kollel is in no way an honorary Levite.

I'm not even talking about the fact that, as is well known, Rambam was of the view that it is absolutely forbidden for someone to take money for learning Torah (and he held that the financial support of honorary Levites was not financial grants, but rather involved the investment of funds, and assistance in business). Nor am I talking about how, according to Rambam, such a person is not exempt from military service.

Rather, I'm talking about the fact that according to Rambam, someone learning in kollel is simply in no way doing what Levites did. Because according to Rambam, the Levites' special mission was not learning Torah. It was teaching Torah:
Why did the tribe of Levi not acquire a share in the Land of Israel and in its spoils together with their brothers? Because this tribe was set apart to serve God and to minister to Him, to teach His straight ways and righteous ordinances to the multitudes, as it is written: “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances and Israel Your Law” (Deut. 33,10).(Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shemittah VeYovel 13:12)
I've lost count of the number of times that I have seen charedi policymakers and ambassadors blur the difference between learning Torah and teaching Torah. It's a very serious distortion, one which makes all the difference in the world. Levites serve God by serving the Jewish people. People in kollel do not.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Question For American Charedi Olim

Here's a question for all the American charedim, or charedi wannabees, who have made aliyah: Name five recent or current American charedi great Torah scholars. They can be charedi gedolim, but they don't have to be.

There's plenty to choose from. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, Rav Leff, the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yitzchok Sheiner, Rav Aharon Feldman. Or, you can go for the local younger generation in Beit Shemesh: Rav Chaim Malinowitz, Rav Elimelech Kornfeld. And in terms of recently deceased, there's also plenty of examples; Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, etc. Think of anyone that you want.

Now, I have another question for you: What do all these five Torah scholars have in common?

The answer is: They all went to high school.

(And, depending on whom you thought of, they might well have all gone to college, too.)

I mention this because there are numerous American charedi families in Israel who want to educate their children within a charedi framework, but instead of choosing one of the many options of charedi high schools which offer secular education and matriculation (bagruyot), they choose to send their boys to yeshivah ketana, which offers zero secular education. In some cases, the reason for this is that they want their children to become Great Torah Scholars. But, as the list of established Great Torah Scholars shows, it's perfectly possible to become a great Torah scholar even with a high school education!

There are further reasons to send your kids to a high school. You have the advantage that if the great Torah scholar career doesn't work out (as many people in such an intense system suffer burnout), or if it doesn't put bread on the table (as it often doesn't), then there are fallback options. And it's in line with Chazal's requirement that the duty of parents is to ensure that their children are capable of earning a living.

Plus, if you send him to a regular charedi high school and he decides to become a great Torah scholar, he'll do so with ease. Having grown up here, he'll already have a head start over the Torah scholars listed above. He won't resent your not having sent him to yeshiva ketanah. But if you send him to yeshivah ketanah, and he doesn't end up as a great Torah scholar who can make a living, he may well end up resenting you for not giving him the educational tools necessary to get a proper job.

Giving your child a few extra hours of Torah study each day, on top of the numerous hours that all yeshivah high schools do, is not going to be the determining factor in making him a great Torah scholar. It might even reduce his chances. But it will certainly reduce his chances of being able to support his family. It goes against Chazal's requirements, and it just doesn't make sense.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Police Officers and other Tidbits

Some miscellaneous items:

- One morning this week I was looking for a parking spot in the industrial zone, and I finally parked my car in a place of questionable legality. I wasn't sure if it was okay, but then I noticed a police officer in his car. So I walked over to his car, knocked on the window and asked if it was okay to park there. He rolled down his window and apologetically gestured that he didn't know and couldn't talk - because he had his Tefillin on and he was in the middle of davenning!

- Kudos to Daniel Goldman for taking a public stand about Rav Druckman. See the article here. There will be significant further developments within a week, thanks to the efforts of a number of prominent US rabbis.

- Change in my travel plans: I am available in the NJ/NY area as scholar-in-residence for Shabbos February 23. If you're interested, please email me at

- The Feast of Exotic Curiosities is coming to LA! Send an email to for details.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rubashkin: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Before getting to the main point of this post, I want to make something clear. I'm not personally condemning Rubashkin for his financial shenanigans. After reading the account of the story in the fascinating book Kosher USA, it's hard not to be sympathetic. "Do not judge a man until you are in his place." It's very, very difficult to run a profitable kosher slaughter business, since the costs are so much higher and a large proportion of the meat cannot even be sold to the kosher market. Imagine inheriting a huge but failing family business, with cattle prices continuing to rise. There was undoubtedly enormous temptation to go to any lengths to stop the business from falling apart. And thus he engaged in unethical practices against other Jewish meat suppliers; he reversed the more compassionate (but less efficient) methods of animal processing that had been agreed upon; he hired illegal labor with inadequate conditions (resulting in five amputations along with dozens of other serious injuries); and he falsified documents in order to keep things afloat.

In addition, it's not hard to understand why Rubashkin wouldn't have seen all this as a big deal. The fact is that, as Rabbi Nisson Wolpin z"l told me over twenty years ago, the charedi community has long had relatively little regard for civil law. The reason is partly due to its isolationism (not identifying with the laws of the country as being "their" laws), and partly due to a cultural hangover from eras where the government really was the enemy. This unfortunate phenomenon is especially pronounced in chassidic communities, and even more so in the Rubashkin family, which has a history of breaking laws.

So, Rubashkin's upbringing and situation set the stage for his crimes. And he suffered plenty for them. The protests being uttered by myself and countless other people are not about targeting him for further recrimination. Rather, what we are protesting is the elevation of Rubashkin to hero status. He's done his time; let him now fade into anonymity, not be paraded as a celebrity. To quote Rav Hershel Schachter:
"It's scandalous - the man is a criminal. The OU warned him for years to straighten up his act and he didn't listen. He came out of prison and he was drunk on the videos. They're turning him into the next Lubavitcher rebbe! The trial was unfair and he didn't need to be in prison for so long, but he should have been quiet about it." 

Rubashkin is a person who did not care about the law. He, and his employees, said this to people explicitly. He did not care if other people suffered due to his business practices. And he did not place his bitachon in Hashem to assist with his business problems - instead, he signed false documents and broke the law. He should not be paraded as a source of inspiration.

According to Levi Shapiro, director of the Jewish Community Council in Stamford Hill, the message of Shalom Rubashkin in his forthcoming visit to London "is to be law-abiding business people, to learn from your mistakes, to be true contributors to society, and to make the most of second chances." Ha! If only! He's never, ever given over this message. Rubashkin never speaks about having done anything wrong or about the need to be law-abiding. His message is only about his heroic ability to trust in Hashem to help him with his plight - never about his mistakes and wrongdoings that got him there in the first place.

The good news is that many people recognize this. There is also an online petition to oppose his forthcoming celebrity tour of London. And the school in London which had been rented as a venue for one of his speeches has cancelled the booking.

Alas, however, there are many other people who do not recognize this. I'm not just talking about people who don't grasp the impropriety of having an unrepentant criminal give inspirational talks about bitachon and the miracles that he experienced as a result. I'm talking about people who genuinely do not seem to recognize that what he did was wrong.

Some of the comments to my previous posts and Facebook discussions were disturbing, even frightening. One anonymous commentator on my blog wrote as follows:
it's not dishonest if the customer is aware that the weights are off. in this case the bank was aware of the inflated receivables, and was happy to lend the money. this is actually a common practice, a lender wants to lend money when it is profitable to do so, and it seems secure, they don't care about the collateral. but they can't have the loans on their books without the collateral, so they cooperate with the client to inflate the value of the collateral for the sake of the "books". there are hundreds of banks that were doing this with home mortgages, which was a contributing factor to the recent mortgage crisis (circa 2008). prosecutions for this type of activity are not unheard of, but they are rare.
This person doesn't appreciate that lying is wrong, period, even if the bank would agree to it. Furthermore, the laws of providing collateral do not only exist for the benefit of the decision-makers in the banks - they exist to protect the shareholders and everyone associated with the bank, and the general public. Yes, it works fine as long as the money is coming in, but you can never be sure that it always will come in. Obeying the laws and being honest is important precisely to prevent the sort of financial crisis that occurred in 2008.

One Chabad rabbi, David Sterne, challenged me to demonstrate a single Torah wrongdoing that Rubashkin did. I didn't want to start getting into all the nitty-gritty of the offenses, so I decided to present something very simple and undeniable: the fact that he made false financial statements, and thereby contravened Midvar sheker tirchak. To my surprise, Rabbi Sterne replied that if it's not codified as law in the Shulchan Aruch, then contravening midvar sheker tirchak is not a problem! This sounds too shocking to believe, and he might deny it, so I took screenshots of the argument (click to enlarge):

How can a rabbi, involved in Jewish education, insist that lying (on a financial matter!) is not necessarily wrong?! (Yes, I am aware that on occasions one must resort to lying in order to achieve more important goals; Nosson Slifkin once wrote a book about it. This is not one of those cases.)

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has a problem in its disregard for civil law. The Rubashkin circus is both a manifestation of this and an encouragement of it. Everyone who cares about genuine Torah values, as well as the long-term situation of Jews living among non-Jews, should be protesting.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Rubashkin Bitachon Distortion

The international superstar, the Sharansky of our generation, the Baal HaNess, is going to England! Yes, the one and only, sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin is going to London, to speak about "Faith, Trust and Hope."

In the past, I've written about the disgrace of celebrating an unrepentant convicted criminal as an inspirational hero. In this post, I would like to address a different disgrace: the very topic that he speaks about.

Reb Sholom Mordechai is speaking about emunah and bitachon - about how he was able to have it, and therefore Hashem was there for him. As he explains in his speeches, "We have to know that bitachon is not positive thinking; it’s not what you read about in self-help books. It’s a deep feeling that the Eibershter is with you and that He wants you to daven to Him and to know that He is listening to you... Emunah means believing that everything is l’tovah, even if you don’t understand it. Bitachon is a trust that Hashem will give you what you need."

That's a very nice explanation of emunah and bitachon. However, it misses out a crucial aspect, which in the particular context of Shalom Rubashkin is glaringly conspicuous by its absence.

Emunah and bitachon means that Hashem is in charge of our livelihoods. And the practical ramification of such a belief is that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in dishonest activity. Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon 5) explicitly lists this as one of the differences between a lifestyle with bitachon and one without. The Netziv builds upon this to explain Chazal's statement that dishonesty in business is worse than sexual immorality. He explains that dishonesty in business reflects a fundamental deficiency in emunah and bitachon. A person who trusts that Hashem is in charge of livelihood will not believe that engaging in dishonest business practices will enable him to make more money.

Netziv further explains that this is why the Torah's laws about honest business practice are followed by the account of Amalek. A person who engages in dishonest business practices is implicitly denying Divine providence. And it was the denial of Hashem's involvement that led to Hashem abandoning the nation to Amalek.

The only speech about emunah and bitachon that Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin should be giving is about how he didn't have it, and suffered as a result.

A Different Kind of Chocolate

With Covid having prevented my wife and I from celebrating a significant anniversary milestone, we finally took a long-overdue vacation - to...