Distorting The Jewish Dietary Laws

Moshe Zev posts to Marc B. Shapiro: I would love to see more about how kashrus has been distorted today in America. We have been taught to believe that nothing is kosher unless it has a certification. Yet it is impossible that all those thousands of products simply not paying for a hechsher stamp are actually not kosher. It is very hard for a non-meat product to be really and truly treif.

You would be doing a massive favor to the Jewish community by publishing your findings. Prices are already needlessly inflated for "heimishe" brands. If people only knew the truth, the community could save huge amounts of money. Think how much they could save if the community started using a high-volume, cheaper product like Hebrew National, which is 100 percent kosher.

Zalman Alpert posts: Rabbi Albaum of Chicago was the brother of rav David Tevele Katzenelboigen (d. 1930) the last pre Revolution rav of St. Petersburg and leningrad. He too was involved in a more quit controversy with the Rayatz in ways of dealing with the new Communist policy towards religion.He is buried in St. Petersburg.
The magid of Vilna was traditionally the First More Zedek of the city and that position was held by Chief rabbi Joseph. Later on he was succeded by among others rabbi Hirsch Rabinowitz son of rav Isaac Elchonon and the Ridbaz himself , so much for the concept that RJJ was not a major talmudist. His problem was that he was a Musarnik and the rabbinic establishment in lithuania was then controlled by the anti Mussar forces. But even so he became Matz and magid in Vilna.In Vilna the rav was not the rosh yeshiva of the local yeshiva -Ramalies , even Reb Chaim Ozer did not hold that position. It was independent.
Rabbi Fleischer was also a lawyer and published numerous English books. In his English books he included his picture soemhting he left out in his responsa in Hebrew !Hew was succeded by Rav Oschry who told me much about R. Fleischer.
Rabbi Moses Romm. If you are saying he was the grandfather of Rav Shimen Romm of Riets the Bochen and later zekan rosh hayeshiva of RIETS
s , you are incorrect. Rabbi Shimen’s real name was Posniak and he came from Visoki. Bachurim were called after their town. hence Shimen Visoker. In Mir there were 2 older bchurim from Visoki , so he used the Hebrew trabslation of Visoki which is Romm. In Israel and the USA it was his legal name.
Kolel in Volozhin is the famous Brodsky;s kollel which was not closed when the yeshiva was..Brodsky was a wealthy sugar magnate.
Attending Rabbi Soloveitchik’s shiurim . Perhaps RabbiSchneur Kotler did not , but the late R. Barry S. Gourary assured me he did for close to 1 year to get the Rav’s methodology and meet his family as the Rayaatz wanted him to marry one of the rav’s daughters. I heard this from Rabbi Gourary himself.
The Rashash of Vilna (R. Samuel Strashun)brings down the Ranaw none other then Wessely . Once in studying with my rebbe rav Romm we came across this and Rav Romm asked me with a smile who is the ranav , not knowing he told me its Wessely.
Chasam Sofer. In order to justify their new kaanaus and still be chasidim the Hungarian so called chassidim claim that the Chasam Sofer was a talmid of the Besht. In fact they had nothing in common. But the new Charedi ideology marking the USA Hungarain chassidim is that chassidus alone will not stand look at Chabad, and the derech of the Chasam Sofer will not stand , look at the Oberlander , you need both. Only then can you have the frumkayt they need.

Marc B. Shapiro posts: Again, I don’t know Shurkin so I can’t comment. But about the mental retardation comment, while Shurkin apparently did not remember it exactly, the fact is that the Rav said something very shocking, not about hallel on Yom ha-Atzmaut per se, but about the entire Yom ha-Atzmaut davening program. This was, I think, developed by R. Goren, and if not by him, certainly by other great Zionist rabbis. Yet the Rav said that it is "indicative of retardation", The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 207. I wish the Rav never said this. It is a stupid, and perhaps even cruel, thing to say. The truth is that it was an offhand remark to his class. If we had a tape recorder next to every gadol we would get lots of offhand comments that anyone reading it later would be embarrassed that he said it. I know the Rav would never want something like this to appear in print, and he would certainly have regretted using such language (and all this should be taken into account when dealing with the Holzer volume).

And if he says the Rav told him this, maybe he did. The Rav said many different things to different people. I personally wouldn’t believe him if he told me this, but you never know.

But returning to our topic, I don’t deny that Shurkin has been responsible for multiple distortions.

But Amshinover, you must ask yourself, are the distortions intentional or not? In this case, if he wasn’t told it personally, he no doubt heard the comment recorded in the Holzer book. It was very famous at the time, and by the time it reached him it got distorted, or perhaps he was in the audience and didn’t remember it exactly and applied it to the simple saying of hallel.

I think the same thing can be said about Meiselman. I find it hard to believe that he is intentionally distorting the Rav. His article on the Rav and Zionism was so outrageous, so dishonest, that no one intentionally trying to distort the Rav would dare write what he does. They would see it as a case of tafasta merubah lo tafasta. I think we have to assume that they really think that they are portraying the Rav as they knew him.

I could be all wrong about this. In my new book I cite all sorts of sources that say you can lie about something you heard from a gadol if you think it will accomplish an important goal. Maybe Shurkin and Meiselman hold to this shitah.

But since I have never had any personal dealings with them, I tend to assume that the Rav was a multi-faceted person and for those who only wanted to see the Talmudist, that is all they saw. That makes them simplisitic in their thinking about the Rav but not necessarily dishonest. Let’s not forget that the Rav himself didn’t speak to these students about his hashkafot. Haym Soloveitchik asked the Rav to speak to them about these things, as he saw the extremism that was developing among the talmidim in the 1970s, but the Rav never did so.

I think the Rav would agree that it was a stupid thing to say. How can anyone say about great rabbis that something they did was "indicative of retardation" In elementary school I had a rebbe who used to call us "mental retards" and "mongoloid idiots". Yehudah, I guess you don’t have someone in your family who happens to really be mentally retarded. If you did, you would understand why this is not something you joke about and you don’t call other people retards. It is simply a terrible and hurtful thing to say. The book, The Rav Thinking Aloud, says that the class laughed after hearing the comment. I don’t think we should be making jokes at the expense of the less fortunate in our society. I used to be one of the people who drove the Rav back and forth from shiur in Boston and I would have told him to his face that I thought it was a terrible thing to say.

And you know what? In his gentlemanly manner, with his unforgettable accent, the Rav would have replied "You are right. I should have chosen better words to express myself."

…Where did I say that I would say to the Rav that what he said was stupid? I said that I would tell him that what he said was terrible (without necessarily using that word). The conversation would go like this "Rebbe, I want to speak to you about something you said today. I feel strongly about it, so please don’t take offense. I know you always want me to be honest with you about what I am thinking which is why I am sharing this. I also think that you might have needlessly offended some people today, and I know that wasn’t your intention. Therefore, I want to share this with you so that in the future you will have this in mind. I feel that your comment about certain rabbis being retarded was uncalled for. I don’t know how much contact you have had with the retarded, but I know that people who have retarded members of their family take great offense that this affliction is made something to joke about." And the conversation would go on from there.

I guarantee you that the Rav’s family is very upset that this passage appeared in the book, as it is not something that anyone can be proud of and the Rav certainly would not have wanted it to appear.

I also wouldn’t use the word "stupid" in an essay (no matter who I was discussing) — but here we are conversing, just like face to face. If I was talking to you face to face I would indeed say that calling certain great rabbis retarded was a stupid thing to say (whether the Rav said it or anyone else). And I have no doubt that after speaking to the Rav he would agree that he erred in speaking this way, and I also have no doubt that the family thinks that it was a stupid thing to put this passage in the book.

I don’t want to comment any more on this — my opinion has been made clear. All are entitled to disagree (and I of course understand that we are more sensitive to these matters than years ago) But before anyone starts defending calling people retarded, why not spend some time with some kids from HASC, why not spend Shabbatot with kids who are really retarded, why not speak to the parents of these kids and how they deal with these matters. I have done all these things and it has opened my eyes, and if my personal connection has made me overly sensitive in this matter, then I plead guilty. But there are plenty of worse things one can do.


You are right about the terrible feuds in the academic world, but the difference is that these are played out often behind closed doors and with few people involved. The don’t affect the wider world. The unfortunate thing about rabbinic disputes is that they are played out in front of the community and they bring the Torah into disrepute. We don’t expect professors or others to be models of propriety and ethics. Many are complete menuvalim. But people expect more from the rabbis, which is what it is so sad to see them doing the same thing as the others.

As for the titles, I don’t think anything I saw will satisfy you, because there is no real consistency. I give Kamenetsky an "R" the first time I mention him, because I know him and want to show some respect, but I don’t know Eliach so I can treat him like other historians.

…I would never refer to Jacobs or anyone else by his first name in a scholarly piece. If "Jacobs" was substituted for "Louis" the sentence would be fine. But the editor obviously was on a first name basis with Jacobs and this comes through in the note. (I don’t even believe the editor intentionally wrote "Louis".) But in scholarly writing one never refers to someone by his or her first name.

LAWRENCE KAPLAN WRITES: DF: I agree with you that anyone who thinks that "niggardly" is a derogatory term referring to blacks, and on that basis criticizes a person who uses it, is simply ignorant and foolishly hypersenstive. But when the Rav in an informal, colloquial talk referred to an evening Yom ha-
Atzmaut program as being "stupid" and indicative of "retardation," I think the audience in laughing at the Rav’s use of the latter word, alas, understood him correctly.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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