Almost Every Gadol Of The Early 20th Century Had A Child Who Left The Path

In his third lecture on Rav Elazar Schach for Torah in Motion, historian Marc B. Shapiro says that Rav Schach’s son became a religious Zionist aka Modern Orthodox as opposed to Chareidi aka traditional Orthodox (who are not Zionists, don’t believe in mixing secular education with Torah study, put the premium on Torah study as opposed to everything else). "Who knows? The inner dialectic of that relationship must’ve been interesting. This is not unusual. Almost all the Gadolim (Great Ones) of the past two generations had children who either became not religious or mizrachi (religious Zionist). I’m talking about the greatest Torah scholars. In those days, you were thankful your son remained religious. I’m talking 1890-1940. The forces were so strong for non-religiosity — Zionism, secularism, academic study of Judaism…

"Rav Yehezkel Abramsky had two sons [who left the path]. One became a real communist and one who was totally alienated from him. (R. Itsele of Ponovezh, also known as R. Isaac Rabinowitz, had something similar happen to him.) It was the era. I don’t think Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky had one sibling who remained religious. That’s what made Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik so unusual. He had five children. All remained religious."

"Look at the Lubavitcher rebbe. His two brothers, neither are religious. His brother in Tel Aviv desecrated the Sabbath. He smokes on Shabbos. He owned a book store."

"The Brisker Rav’s kids all remained religious."

Dr. Shapiro calls Daniel Boyarin at U.C. Berkeley "a great Talmudist…influenced by the Satmar Rav. Finally, you have Rabbi Mayer Schiller at Yeshiva University High School who’s complete Neturei Karta, a follower of the Satmar Rav’s anti-Zionism."

Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn emails: "I work with Rabbi Schiller at MTA (Yeshiva University High School in NYC). His hashkafa is very sophisticated and unique. Trust me – he isn’t Neturei Karta. While I disagree with him on a lot of things – his philosophy, and he’ll admit this, is more aligned with the Left Wing Israeli Religious Zionist camp. The Neturei Karta accusation keeps popping up but I think he is being judged because he wears the Chassidic garb."

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for Rabbi Mayer Schiller:

Rabbi Mayer Schiller (1951 – ) is an American Hasid based in Monsey, New York State, who identifies himself as a member of Skver and Rachmastrivka groups and serves as spokesperson for the Skver community in New Square. Schiller also maintains active ties to the Modern Orthodox community and has advocated for a symbiosis between the best of traditional Orthodoxy and broader culture. He teaches advanced Talmud at Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy of Yeshiva University,[2] where he has been a teacher since 1987. Prior to that, from 1977-1981, Rabbi Schiller taught at YHSQ and from 1981-1987 he taught at Mesivta Ohr Torah (both in Queens, NY). From 1979 to 1981, he served as the first hockey coach at the Ramaz School and later in the same capacity at MTA from 1985-1988 and again from 1990-1995. In his final 6 years as coach his teams won 6 consecutive championships. [3]. He is a Baal teshuva, having begun practicing Orthodoxy in the spring of 1964 at age 12.[1]

In the arena of political thought, the Rabbi is most noted for his advocation of non-violent separatism ensuing most significantly from principles of religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial identity and social anti-universalism. He is an outspoken critic of liberal notions of race and the bias against traditional religion in today’s media and popular culture. Along those lines, he was a featured speaker at the American Renaissance conference in 1994.[4] He has been associated with various groups including the Third Way (UK) and the Ulster Third Way. However, Schiller has also advocated a universalist morality and embrace of the Other, provided that is pursued without loss to group identity. [2] He is involved with the group Toward Tradition, which seeks to advance cooperation between Jews and conservative Christians, and is an expert on the thought of C. S. Lewis.

Schiller is also the author of two books "The Road Back: A Discovery of Judaism Without Embellishments," " The (Guilty) Conscience of a Conservative," and a monograph in defense of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy, titled "And They Shall Judge the People With True Righteousness." (the 2nd under the name Craig Schiiler).

In his first lecture on Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Marc Shapiro recalls working as a waiter in 11th and 12th grade student at the hotel Simcha by the Sea. Rav Aron Kotler’s widow would come every Shabbos. "I was their waiter every Shabbos.

"It shows you how Orthodoxy has changed. There was no mashgiach (kashrut supervisor). I don’t think you could have a situation today with a hotel without hashgacha. All the gadolim came and there was no hashgacha. One Shabbos, the proprietor tells me that R. Moshe Feinstein was coming. I got to ask many questions. I asked Reuven Feinstein is it true that your father does not read any newspapers so that his psak (Jewish law rulings) are not affected? Reuven got offended. He said, ‘My father is a citizen. He reads the newspaper every day.’

"It’s an interesting example of how the legends outstrip the reality."

For Ashkenazim, Dr. Shapiro calls Moshe Feinstein the most influential posek in the world during his last 15 years (1971-1986) and the most important posek in America in the last half of the 20th Century.

Before Reb Moshe rose to prominence in the 1960s, the most important posek in the United States was Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, who also lived on the Lower East Side. Rav Henkin was mainly a posek for New York, while for Rav Moshe, all serious questions had to go to him. It doesn’t mean that everyone accepted him. He wasn’t the Pope.

When he came to America, he didn’t take offers from Yeshiva University nor Torah V’Das because he didn’t want to be in an institution where lay leaders ran the show. He wanted to be somewhere a rosh yeshiva (head of the yeshiva) ran the show. When a rosh yeshiva dies and his son or son-in-law takes over, they often don’t measure up while a public trust such as YU is generally run more efficiently and effectively through the generations.

In the 1920s, Reb Moshe became the rosh yeshiva of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, which never became known as one of the oustanding yeshivas.

Dr. Shapiro says: "I’ve never been a big fan of the Brisker method, mainly because I’ve never understood it."

"Rav [Elazar] Schach was not a posek. He never poskened. Only in today’s hagiographic world could this be considered a put down. Rav Aharon [Kotler] was more dynamic."

Dr. Shapiro calls Reb Moshe’s psak that smoking is permitted "tragic… Not everything that is stupid is forbidden. Is it forbidden to drive 75 mph in a 60 mph zone when everyone is doing it? I don’t know… It is hard to take someone seriously as a rabbi if they smoke."

"Reb David Chaim Halevi was the first one to rule that smoking is forbidden. He was followed by the Sitz Eliezer. Today I don’t know of any posek [who permits it], certainly not in the Modern Orthodox world… It annoys me to no end when I see the Hasidim smoking, but I assume that their poskim hold that smoking is permissable.

"Reb Moshe was very opposed to smoking. He said you can’t smoke in a yeshiva… But you can’t forbid it. You can’t say that a person who does it is a sinner. This Rabbi Mordecai Halperin, a big rabbi scientist in Israel, they hold that a smoker is not allowed to be a witness in a marriage. They hold that a smoker is a terrible sinner, the equivalent of someone who desecrates the Sabbath. To really feel that this is such a terrible thing, you have to follow it through.

"Reb Moshe was worried about the slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? What about fatty foods? He wasn’t aware of everything. Rav [Moshe] Tendler would say, if Reb Mosher were alive now, he would assur (forbid) it. If it’s really assur, what about the people who don’t listen to it?

"If you take seriously that smoking is injuring your life, that it is a terrible sin you are violating, such a person can not be a witness for a wedding. Are we now going to start asking people, do you smoke?"

"Maybe Reb Moshe loved Jews too much to declare them all sinners."

"Today obviously for the younger generation, most of us find it abhorrent. It’s hard to believe that someone could smoke and consider himself a religious person. Rabbi [Moshe] Tendler says it is worse than eating pork."

"In Israel, smoking is everywhere."

"This one rabbi wrote if Reb Moshe assured smoking, it would’ve saved lives. It is a disappointing psak. On the other hand, what does this rabbi want Reb Moshe to do? Reb Moshe didn’t think it was a good thing to do, but he didn’t think it was technically forbidden. Should Reb Moshe have lied? Should Reb Moshe have made up the halacha? Are you allowed to twist halacha in the name of some larger goal? Reb Moshe didn’t do that."

"Rav Ovadia Yosef’s newspaper Yom Ha Yom — the Shas newspaper in Israel — no longer takes ads for cigarettes and they did declare smoking forbidden. Rabbi Elyashiv won’t come out against it… In Israel, they don’t know about the health issues… Boruch Ber Leibowitz had a terrible smoking addiction and he’d put all his old cigarettes in a canister and on Shabbos, he’d open it up and smell it."

"It’s a terrible problem in the charedi world in Israel where there’s smoking everywhere."

In Reb Moshe’s yeshiva Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, there was a money laundering scandal by some administrator.

Rav Ovadia Yosef is Reb Moshe’s successor. Only they among deciders of Jewish law from an Orthodox perspective speak to the larger community. Only Rav Ovadia, like Reb Moshe, is concerned about the non-religious Jew living in Netivot. Only Reb Moshe wrote to rabbis in Lancing, Michigan, where everybody violates the Shabbat.

Charedim tend to have an expansive view of what constitutes chukas ha goyim (ways of the Gentiles forbidden to the Jew). Some of them hold that you can’t even eat kosher chinese food.

Reb Moshe’s other responsa (opinion) that’s "very disappointing is his one on homosexuality. Reb Moshe had no understanding of it. He sees homosexuals as evil people who have no real sexual inclination for homosexuality because no one does, they just want to rebel against God. This total lack of understanding about what homosexuality is about with people struggling with real issues… Reb Moshe was in an era where people don’t understand homosexuality like they do today."

Reb Moshe refers to non-Sabbath keepers as rashaim (evil ones). He refers to churches as "places of nothing."

Marc Shapiro writes about the negative consequences of Orthodoxy’s refusal to deal with Christianity:

I would say that, despite its intent, "Confrontation" reaffirmed Orthodox Jews’ inclination that, in all but the most negligible circumstances, they should ignore the dominant religion and its adherents. A different essay by the Rav could have put an even greater stress on the positive results of interfaith cooperation in "secular" spheres.14 Instead, almost nothing was done to remove the fear of Christianity from Orthodoxy, and while in the very shadow of Vatican II this might have been the correct approach, by now I think we have moved beyond this. Yet even in our day it would still be unheard of for a Christian clergyman to address the members of an Orthodox synagogue or group about matters of joint concern. A lay Christian might be welcome, but any relationship with clergy is seen as dangerous, in that it could lead to a compromising of traditional Jewish beliefs.

Another result of the lack of any dialogue between Orthodox Jews and Christians is that in addition to the fear of Christianity, there remains an enormous amount of ignorance. On numerous occasions I have heard Orthodox Jews assert that according to Christianity one must accept Jesus in order to be "saved". When I have pointed out that this notion has been repudiated by the Catholic Church as well as by most Protestants, the response is usually incredulity.

It is also significant that Orthodox Jews treat Christianity as an abstraction, and detailed discussions about its halakhic status continue to be published. I find it strange, however, that in our post-modern era people can write articles offering judgments about Christianity based solely on book knowledge,15 without ever having spoken to Christian scholars and clergymen, that is, without having ever confronted Christianity as a living religion.16 There is something deeply troubling about Orthodox figures discussing whether Christianity is avodah zarah without attempting to learn from Christians how their faith has impacted their lives. I would think that this narrative, attesting as it does to the redemptive power of faith, must also be part of any Jewish evaluation of Christianity.17 Yet barring theological dialogue, how is this possible?
I realize that the halakhic system prefers raw data to experiential narratives, but certainly modern halakhists and theologians are able to find precedents for inclusion of precisely this sort of information. After all, wasn’t it personal contact with Gentiles, and the recognition that their lives were not like those of the wicked pagans of old, that led to a reevaluation of the halakhic status of the Christian beginning with Meiri and continuing through R. Israel Moses Hazan,18 R. David Zvi Hoffmann, and R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg?

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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