Parsha Talk With Rabbi Rabbs

Monday night, Rabbi Hershel “Rabbs” Remer and I discuss this week’s two Torah portions — Maatot and Masei.

Luke: “Did you sense the holiness of the land of Israel when you were there?”

Rabbs: “Yes! The kedusha (holiness) of eretz Yisrael (land of Israel)! When I got off the plane, it was the first time I had been there, oh my G-d, it’s the Holy Land. I kissed the ground. I said shehecheyanu. Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

“I took a spit at that statue of Ben Gurion.

“The first six months, it was like a honeymoon. I was going to all these holy places.

“After six months, it turned into just another country. It was the secular state of Israel. The kedusha (holiness) of eretz Yisrael dissipates. You’re on this fantasy high. The you realize you’re in this secular third-world backward country and this is probably not the best place to be. That was probably the time to leave but I was too stupid to leave after six months. I stayed for two years. I never left.”

Luke: “Have you been back since?”

Rabbs: “No. I’m never going back. I hate that country. It’s not a country for a Jew. The state of Israel is no place for a Jew.”

Luke: “Why is there so much trash lying around? It’s the trashiest place I’ve been to in the first world.”

Rabbs: “I haven’t been there since 1987.”

Luke: “Maybe you left it there.”

Rabbs: “That was probably my trash. I just remember a lot of cats running around.”

Luke: “What do you have against the state of Israel?”

Rabbs: “What don’t I have against the state of Israel? There are the personal reasons while I was there. I wasn’t accepted anywhere.

“I am much more embraced right here in Jew Town, Jewfoundland, where we live. I’m more embraced here in LA by the Jews on the street, in the restaurants. Everybody here likes me. That wasn’t the reaction I got from any Jews anywhere I lived in Israel. In the state of Israel, everything is like you’re either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists. I didn’t fit in anywhere. Rabbs doesn’t fit in. I’m like a pig. If I was in this group, I stuck out because of this. They hated me.”

Luke: “What were some of the things that got you out of the group?”

Rabbs: “For instance, I was dressed like this, which is the Belzer uniform. I was learning in Belz. Then I started learning with Chabad. Chabad prides itself in how open-minded and loving they are. Bull****! A bunch of a**holes where I went.

“Do you know what they did? They couldn’t stand it. I was there in that yeshiva for a year. After six months, all the problems started. But they love you. It was like the Mormons. You move into a Mormon neighborhood and everybody loves you. You go to Utah and everybody loves you. After six months, if you don’t join the Mormon church, you’re a pariah. Nobody is going to talk to you anymore. That’s how Chabad is.

“Chabad is like, ‘We love you. Come spend Shabbos with us.’ They’re really sweet for about six months, but if you don’t join Lubavitch and you’re outwardly more frum than they are, they get nervous and they take it out on you.

“I’ve had this happen in America too.”

“What’s going on?”

Luke: “I’m just banning someone.”

Rabbs: “Who are you banning?”

Luke: “A guy who’s calling me a homosexual.”

Rabbs: “He’s probably a homosexual. The Baal Shem Tov says the world is full of mirrors. Whatever you call somebody is usually what you are.”

“One night the climax came with Chabad. I went outside. I was carrying my laundry because you have to do it by hand. A group of bocherim surrounded me and they threatened to kick my ass because I would not change and I would not accept the rebbe in my heart. I wasn’t going to do it. The rosh yeshiva didn’t say I had to do it but they couldn’t stand it. Thank G-d, their rosh yeshiva walked out at that moment and they scurried like insects. I knew it was time to leave. The next day, I started looking for another yeshiva.”

Luke: “Why didn’t you join one of the groups like a regular person?”

Rabbs: “My rav wasRav Avigdor Miller, and he told me to be a bee. A bee goes from flower to flower and takes the pollen. Everywhere it goes, it takes the best. He told me that’s how I should be. Go learn in a Chabad yeshiva and take the best. They couldn’t handle that in Chabad. They couldn’t handle someone who was different from them.

“They can handle it if you show up in a Metallica t-shirt and long hair and a clean-shaven face and you’re still like that six months later, they can handle that because you’re below them. They feel like they’re better than you. They’re not intimidated by you. But if you walk in [looking like this] and you say, I’m frum. I’m shomer mitzvos. I learn Torah. I want to learn with you guys. They’ll say, great, have a seat.

“Six months later, if you’re still sitting there and you’re not rebbe, rebbe, rebbe, they’ll want to kick your ass. They’ll want to kick you out. They’ll have no room for you.

“I had a similar thing here in LA. I got close to a Chabad community. I’d been going there for a couple of years. I’d been spending Shabbos with these people. Then one day out of nowhere, I totally got caught off-guard, the rabbi of the community goes up to the bima and says, ‘We have somebody here who’s been with us for two years and he hasn’t become Chabad. The expectancy is that you become Chabad.’

“Nobody tells you this when you join Lubavitch and you eat by their houses, you’re expected to join the cult and if you don’t join the cult, they become very nervous.”

Luke: “Every kiruv organization is like this.”

“Did the other yeshivot embrace you and take you to their bosom and set you up with their daughters?”

Rabbs: “No, that’s never happened.”

“I met with the Bostoner Rebbe. He said, ‘You know what your problem is? Wherever you go, you don’t fit in.’ OK, that’s me, but it works for me.”

Luke: “I’m the same way. Wherever I go, I marginalize myself.”

“What was Rav Avigdor Miller like?”

Rabbs: “He was a great man. You can tell that I’m a follower of Rav Miller’s because I just let it fly. I’m not afraid to call a heretic a heretic. I’m not afraid to slam Chabad or Aish HaTorah. I say there’s no room in Torah for ideas of evolution or Zionism. He didn’t go out looking for members. He brought in more members for Torah than anybody but people found him through his books and word of mouth.”

“In the state of Israel, even in the secular community, maybe 90% are well defined. You have your political party. You dress a certain way. All your beliefs are on your clothes. There’s no mix and match. There’s no mix and match. If you mix and match, then they say, he’s one of those nuts from the Carlebach group. Everybody is in a box and hates people in those box. Everybody hates each other and puts each other in cherem. To me, it’s poison.”

Luke: “How many shtups can a rabbi have outside of marriage before he’s out as a rabbi? Do you get one affair or two? How many divorces do you get?”

Rabbs: “I’m going to give you an answer that you won’t like. I think it’s irrelevant. A rabbis not a priest. We don’t purport to be better than anybody else.”

Luke: “But you’re supposed to be a holy man, right?”

Rabbs: “No, we’re not. That’s the misconception.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see 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 (
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