You're strolling down the street on Shabbos afternoon
dressed in your Shabbos best when suddenly a nonreligious
Jew stops you and asks you a burning question about
Yiddishkeit, which you do your best to answer. Your
explanation leads him to ask another question, and before
you know it, you are engaged in a full-blown kiruv
When the conversation winds down, he says he would like to
ask you a few more things, and he tells you his phone number
so you can call him after Shabbos and continue where you
Suddenly, you're faced with a dilemma: You know you'll never
remember his phone number, but you also know it's forbidden
to write on Shabbos. At the same time, you feel you must do
something: Jewish souls are at stake -- and doesn't
pikuach nefesh override the prohibitions of
But what can you do? Write down the number with a shinui?
Ask a child to write it for you?
While you may have never found yourself in the above
situation, this is just the kind of complex scenario P'eylim
/ Lev L'Achim's kiruv staff and volunteers face on a
daily basis. That's one reason why thousands attended Lev
L'Achim's recent, annual conference on in Bnei Brak -- to
find the answers to this and many other perplexing questions
that come up as a result of the organization's success in
helping thousands of nonreligious Jews throughout Eretz
Yisroel return to their roots each year.
The conference, which began late Wednesday afternoon )25
Nisan - April 18( and continued past midnight, gave
participants the opportunity to hear words of chizuk
and advice from gedolei Torah and Lev L'Achim
personnel, as well as participate in an eye-opening question-
The pikuach nefesh situation described above was only
one of the difficult halachic questions asked of Rabbi
Yitzchok Zilberstein, a son-in-law of Rav Yosef Shalom
Eliashiv and Rav of Ramat Elchonon, who led the forum. He is
one of the main halachic experts to whom Lev L'Achim staff
and volunteers turn when questions arise in the course of
Rav Zilberstein's answer was as unique as the question:
He began by raising another question about a similar case
and comparing the two. He told the story of the renowned
dayan of London, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, zt"l, who
was faced with a terrifying dilemma shortly after World War
II. The London community was simply out of resources and
could not accommodate a group of orphans who had recently
arrived from the East. The Church was just about to provide
a home for these unfortunate children, thus ensuring that
they would forever be lost to the Jewish people. The only
hope for salvation was a wealthy Jew who unfortunately
refused to help. As long as there was someplace for them to
live -- even a church -- he insisted that there was no
threat to life and the situation could not be deemed
In a last-ditch effort to get the recalcitrant donor to give
the substantial sum of money needed for the displaced
orphans, Rav Abramsky called the donor on Shabbos. The
donor, hearing his phone ring incessantly, concluded that it
must be an emergency and picked up the receiver. His shock
at finding it was Rav Abramsky asking for a donation gave
way to the realization that if the dayan of London
could set aside the Shabbos to call him for help, then the
situation must indeed be one of pikuach nefesh.
Rav Abramsky based his decision on the Chazon Ish's well-
known psak that saving a Jewish soul is akin to
saving a Jew from drowning -- in which case it is pikuach
nefesh, which means that the obligation to rescue him
overrides even the prohibitions of Shabbos.
The donor was so moved by Rav Abramsky's words that he
agreed to give the sizable donation requested of him.
Rabbi Zilberstein then compared this case to the case of the
Lev L'Achim worker writing down the nonreligious Jew's phone
number on Shabbos. He left the question unanswered, saying
additional deliberation was needed. Yet the fact that Rav
Zilberstein was seriously considering the possibility of
permitting Lev L'Achim workers to write on Shabbos
underscores the halachic significance of their work.
Later on during the discussion, the question of pikuach
nefesh was raised again with regard to the many secular
children Lev L'Achim enrolls in the Torah school system.
While Lev L'Achim struggles to enroll as many children as
possible, if a child is hyperactive or has other discipline
problems, he is liable to bring down the level of his entire
class and, in some cases, stigmatize the entire school, thus
driving away other prospective parents and their
For this very reason, Rav Zilberstein related, the principal
of one school felt he had no choice but to expel a certain
student. But on the other hand, there was concern that if he
would do this, other parents would pull out their children
in support of this child, and the whole school might be
forced to close down.
Rabbi Zilberstein addressed the issue by first emphasizing
that decisions like these have to be considered matters of
pikuach nefesh -- life and death. He brought up a
similar case that occurred in a talmud Torah in the
United States where, in a class of 20 children, 11 were born
to women who had undergone a Reform conversion and were
therefore not halachically Jewish. Because it is forbidden
to teach Torah to a non-Jew, the administration wanted to
know whether they should dismiss those 11 students, or
continue teaching them for the sake of the Jewish children
in the class.
This question was tackled by HaRav Moshe Feinstein in his
Igros Moshe, in which he wrote that the only answer
was to try to convince the 11 children to convert in
accordance with the laws of the Torah.
Rabbi Zilberstein pointed to Rav Shlomo Karelitz who, in his
sefer Amudei Sheish, grappled with a similar
situation and said that just like you don't throw a sick
person out of a hospital bed, one shouldn't throw a
problematic child out of school; instead, one should try to
Rabbi Zilberstein then told a story illustrating just how
important it is to hang on to every single student who
attends a Jewish school. Many years ago there was a boy in a
Jewish school in the United States who put a live goat in
the Aron Kodesh. The principal was sure the boy had
crossed all red lines of misbehavior and had to be
The boy actually saved himself from being expelled by
telling the principal that if he were to be expelled, the
principal would, in effect, be expelling the boy's children
and grandchildren. The principal rescinded his decision and
two generations later the boy's grandson told this story at
his sheva brochos.
Rabbi Zilberstein said that in the final analysis, he
referred the question to Rav Eliashiv, who paskened
that if indeed the child has crossed all red lines, he
has to be dismissed. Otherwise, he must be retained and
every effort put forth to help him improve his
It Depends On Us
While the question-and-answer session was a major highlight
of the conference, Lev L'Achim staff and volunteers also
received chizuk and encouragement from the many
gedolei Torah who addressed them.
As the clock ticked closer to 6 p.m., the feeling of
anticipation become palpable. The centerpiece of the
conference, the "Maamad Gedolei Yisroel" keynote session,
has emerged as the single event of the year that brings
together the leading roshei yeshiva and manhigim from
the entire spectrum of Yiddishkeit. Sephardic
chachamim and Chassidic admorim join together
with the major Litvish roshei yeshiva in a show of
solidarity that reveals the source of Lev L'Achim's
At exactly six o'clock the entire crowd rose to catch a
glimpse of the elder gedolei Yisroel as they made
their way to the dais. The chorus of 2,000 voices singing
"Yomim al yemei melech tosif" was heard many blocks
away as the assembled greeted the marbitzei Torah in
a display of kovod haTorah that will long be
remembered by those privileged to witness it.
The eminent poskei hador, HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv
and HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, were both unable to attend
the event but sent letters of greeting and brochoh.
HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman gave a brief address in
which he compared the teshuva movement to returning a
lost child to his father.
"Every child and every soul that we bring back to
HaKodosh Boruch Hu gives tremendous pleasure to the
Ribono Shel Olom," said HaRav Shteinman. "The more we
add to this, the closer the geula becomes, when the
world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem."
Another prominent speaker at the kenes was Rav
Mattisyahu Salomon, mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha,
Lakewood. Rav Salomon had to come to Eretz Yisroel to head a
delegation that toured religious schools throughout the
country that accommodate the thousands of nonreligious
children Lev L'Achim enrolls each year. As a mashgiach, Rav
Salomon is constantly giving chizuk to others and
strengthening their emunah, but after touring the
schools, he said he was the one on the receiving end.
"When you see children who a year ago were learning in
public schools and today learn gemara and do a
siyum on masechtos they learned on their own,
you really see the power of teshuva," Rav Salomon
"I never before in my life got a cheshek like I did
today to be a ba'al teshuva. There was such purity
and kedusha and happiness of life that shone on their
Rav Salomon reminded the gathering that every person is
responsible for his fellow Jew, and said that this
responsibility starts with Bircas HaTorah each
morning. In the brochoh of Veha'areiv no, one
should have kavonoh that all of Klal Yisroel should
learn and succeed in Torah.
But prayer alone is not enough, Rav Salomon added, in a
final word of encouragement for people to become more active
"Without tefilloh, there is no siyata
deShmaya. A nes can't occur without tefilloh,
but the way to activate that nes is through
action, and the action is entirely dependent on us."
In addition to Rav Shteinman and Rav Salomon, other rabbonim
addressed the gathering, including: HaRav Moshe Shmuel
Shapira, rosh yeshiva of Be'er Yaakov; HaRav Shmuel
Betzalel, rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef; HaRav Yosef Brock,
rosh yeshiva of Nesivos Olom; HaRav Michel Zilber, rosh
yeshiva of Zhville; and HaRav Yaakov Meir Zonnenfeld, chief
rabbi of Rechassim and rosh yeshiva in Knesses
A Change In Approach
Several of Lev L'Achim's leading officials also addressed
the gathering and discussed the need to alter the
organization's current approach to kiruv because of
the change in Israeli secular society.
Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Lev L'Achim's Director General,
said that today's secular Israelis are more open and
receptive than ever to the idea of learning Torah because
they have personally witnessed the spiritual bankruptcy of a
nonreligious lifestyle. Rabbi Sorotzkin contended that they
no longer need to be convinced that the Torah is emes
-- they just need to be exposed to Torah learning.
"There's no greater seminar than a daf of
gemara," he said. "If we simply learn the sugyas
of Abaye and Rovo with a secular Jew, he'll do
Rabbi Menachem Cohen, Lev L'Achim's chairman, also addressed
the gathering, crediting Lev L'Achim's nationwide enrollment
campaign for playing a large role in helping to create this
newfound thirst for Torah. In just three years, the campaign
-- which is promoted through the use of radio appearances,
advertising and a toll-free hotline -- has led thousands of
Israeli school children to leave secular schools for
Israeli parents, he said, are now more likely than ever to
consider religious schools for their children because of the
increasing violence and disrespect for authority that are
prevalent in public schools. And when they see that
religious schools can, in fact, straighten out their
children, they begin to see that Torah is the key to
straightening out their own lives as well.
The Tolna Rebbe, Rav Yitzchok Menachem Weinberg, echoed this
message in his address, saying that the truth of the Torah
"We don't need to take courses on how to influence people
and we don't need courses in body language," said Rav
Weinberg. "Hakodosh Boruch Hu gave us an original
message. We don't have to clothe it in foreign garb."
Rav Weinberg added that one doesn't even have to be an
eloquent speaker to succeed in kiruv. "One avreich
I know was mekarev 860 Israeli families in twenty
years, and when he started he didn't know a word of
In addition to the many Torah personalities and Lev L'Achim
personnel who spoke at the gathering, several secular
Israelis whose lives were personally touched by Lev L'Achim
shared their stories.
Avrohom Ronen of Mevasseret Zion, a Yerushalayim suburb, was
one of them.
Ronen told the gathering how he started to learn Torah with
a Lev L'Achim avreich, but when the avreich
invited Ronen and his wife to his home, he was reluctant
to accept the invitation because he was worried that his
wife's mode of dress would be inappropriate.
The avreich told him to tell his wife not to worry
about it and to dress as she liked. "The important thing is
that you accept the invitation and come over," the
avreich said. But then Mrs. Ronen raised a concern of
her own -- that the only topic of conversation would be
Torah, and that she would feel left out.
In the end, after all of these deliberations, husband and
wife visited the avreich in his home, and Mr. Ronen
said the evening turned out to be a wonderful experience.
"My wife saw that this chareidi family was normal, and that
they did not fit the media's demonizing descriptions. She
saw that they ate regular food, talked about all sorts of
topics, including politics, and were normal in every
Ronen now wears a yarmulke and his family observes
Shabbos and taharas hamishpocha.
Another secular Israeli who shared his story was Yaakov
Adir, who spoke during a round table discussion hosted by
Rabbi Uri Zohar, himself a well-known ba'al teshuva
who is now Lev L'Achim's kiruv director.
Adir began his story by recalling his army days, when he
served as a photographer for an elite air force unit. Like
many Israelis, upon his release, he transferred the skills
he had acquired to the commercial market and became a
wedding photographer. He was very successful and soon bought
a home in a fancy neighborhood in Kiryat Ata, near
One Friday afternoon he was fumbling with the dial on his
radio trying to find his favorite channel when he "happened"
to hear the Kav Hachessed program on Radio 10 -- a religious
station -- on which people advertise their services or
merchandise to people in need. Adir heard a commercial for
one of his competitors, so he figured he might as well offer
his talents, too.
Not long afterward, the phone calls started coming in.
Photographing a chareidi wedding was intimidating at first
to Adir. But one thing led to another, and soon he was
learning with Rabbi Chagai Ravinsky, who had to keep a tight
rein on the former air force man to keep him from taking off
and disappearing into outer space.
"I wanted to put on a black hat right away," said Adir, "but
they held me back because they thought it might alienate me
from my wife and children."
Today Adir learns in kollel and is a sofer
While both the Ronen and Adir families are happily embracing
their newfound Yiddishkeit, Adir touched on a sensitive
topic that was also addressed during the question-and-answer
session: situations where families are interested in
learning more about a Torah way of life, but where different
members advance at different paces.
No less than six questions on this topic were relayed to
CASE 1: A wife wanted to spend money -- against her
husband's wishes -- to attend a kiruv seminar. Can
she use the money against his will?
CASE 2: A husband agreed to start putting on
tefillin, but found a "bargain" pair at $75, which
was not kosher. The cheapest kosher pair of tefillin
cost $300. Can the wife take money without her husband's
consent and buy him the more expensive pair?
CASE 3: A wife who was becoming more frum
wanted to get rid of her television set. Since she
didn't want to get into an argument with her husband, she
had an idea to throw it out but make it seem as though
someone had broken into the home and stolen it. Can she do
CASE 4: Vegetables with a better hechsher for
the shmittah year are more expensive than those with
less stringent supervision. Can the wife spend more money
for the better hechsher without telling her
CASE 5: A pharmaceutical company, trying to boost
sales, offers the doctor in charge of prescriptions at a
hospital an all-expense paid, one-week "tour" of the
company's facilities in Switzerland. The doctor wants to go,
but the wife knows it's just an all-expenses-paid pleasure
trip and will lower her husband's ruchniyus. Can she
destroy the tickets?
CASE 6: A whiskey connoisseur with a fine collection
of single-malt whiskeys refuses to sell them before Pesach.
Can the wife pour the golden liquids down the drain so her
husband won't transgress the prohibition of eating
chometz she'ovar olov haPesach?
In answering these questions, Rabbi Zilberstein quoted a
Zohar that says that Rachel Imeinu died because she
stole Lavan's Teraphim. The question is: Why? Lavan
probably used the Teraphim for avoda zora, and
we know that centuries later, Chizkiyahu Hamelech was
praised for dragging the bones of his father, a notorious
idol worshiper, in order to deter the people from engaging
in idolatry. So why should Rachel have been punished for
trying to stop her father from worshiping idols?
According to Rabbi Zilberstein, the Ya'avetz answers the
question by saying that Chizkiyahu's case was different
because he humiliated his father after his death, when his
father was in the Olam HaEmes and already knew
better, whereas Rachel took the property of her father while
he was still alive, thus defying him and doing the opposite
of his will.
On this basis, Rav Eliashiv ruled that only in the case of
the shmittah produce could the woman use her
husband's money for the better hechsher, since the
husband is bound by Torah law to provide food for his wife.
In all the other cases, she must honor the fact that they
are his possessions. The whiskey question, Rav Zilberstein
added, was much too complicated an issue to discuss at the
Another similar question was then raised about a couple who
have become baalei teshuva but have a son who is
still not religious. The son comes to his father every
erev Shabbos and asks him for money and the car
The father knows that if he agrees, his son will drive on
Shabbos and use the money to buy cigarettes, which he will
smoke on Shabbos. But if he says no, he is afraid he will
alienate his son. What should he do?
Rav Zilberstein said he asked Rav Eliashiv this question,
who paskened that if the father is certain that his
son will violate the Shabbos, he should refuse. If, however,
he is uncertain what he will do, he should not withhold the
items from his son.
Reaching Prospective Volunteers
Aside from the main conference, whose participants packed
the hall to capacity from start to finish, a separate
gathering was held for the hundreds of women involved in Lev
L'Achim's wide range of activities. The women came from all
parts of the country and filled an adjacent hall and
listened to the words of chizuk from Rabbi Yehuda
Yosefi and Rabbi Emanuel Tehilla.
In addition to those who addressed the main gathering, a
number of Torah leaders attended the event, including HaRav
Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshivas Ateres Yisroel;
HaRav Shlomo Englander, rosh yeshivas Beis Shmaya; HaRav
Yitzchok Ehrenfeld, rosh yeshivas Beis Shmuel; HaRav Shmuel
Yaakov Borenstein, rosh yeshivas Chevron; HaRav Yaakov Ben-
Naim, rosh yeshivas Nachalas Moshe; HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman,
rosh yeshivas Rashbi; HaRav Yitzchok Bretler, rosh yeshivas
Itri; HaRav Chaim Brim, rosh yeshivas Mishkan HaTorah; HaRav
Menachem Tzvi Berlin, rosh yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Ozer;
HaRav Zeev Berlin, rosh yeshivas Gaon Yaakov; HaRav Shmuel
Deutsch, rosh yeshivas Kol Torah; HaRav Tzvi Drabkin, rosh
yeshivas Grodno; HaRav Yaakov Hillel, rosh yeshivas Ahavas
Shalom; HaRav Yisroel Meir Weiss, rosh yeshivas Nachalas
Halevi'im; HaRav Nosson Zochovsky, rosh yeshivas Gaon
Yaakov; HaRav Betzalel Toledano, rosh yeshivas Zohar
HaTorah; HaRav Dov Yaffe, menahel ruchani of Yeshivas
Knesses Chizkiyahu; HaRav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas
Chevron; HaRav Eliezer Kahaneman of Yeshivas Ponovezh; HaRav
Avraham Salim, rosh yeshivas Meor HaTorah; HaRav Chaim
Sarno, rosh yeshivas Chevron; HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky,
rosh yeshivas Ponovezh; HaRav Machlof Pichema, rosh yeshivas
Torah Vachessed; HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshivas
Mir; HaRav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Mir; HaRav
Betzalel Pinchasi, rosh yeshivas Bircas Ephraim; HaRav Chaim
Shaul Karelitz, Av Beis Din Shearis Yisroel; HaRav Yigal
Rosen, rosh yeshivas Ohr Yisroel; HaRav Boruch Rosenberg,
rosh yeshivas Slobodke; HaRav Eliyahu Raful, rosh yeshivas
Knesses Shalom; HaRav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman, rosh
yeshivas Lakewood in Eretz Yisroel; HaRav Yitzchok Sheiner,
rosh yeshivas Kaminetz; and HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger,
rosh yeshivas Kol Torah.
The event was also open to the general public, and many
potential volunteers joined the scores of Lev L'Achim
personnel and volunteers in attendance. Many of those who
give of their time to Lev L'Achim were first inspired to
join the organization's ranks after attending one of its
Lev L'Achim officials say they hope that this year's
conference will be no exception, and that hundreds of
additional men and women will decide to join the
organization in the important work of helping secular
families from throughout Eretz Yisroel find their way