Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Iyar 5761 - May 2, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Thousands at P'eylim / Lev L'Achim Annual Conference
by Eliezer Schwartz

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 conversation.

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 left off.

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 Shabbos?

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- and-answer forum.

Pikuach Nefesh?

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 their work.

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 pikuach nefesh.

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 children.

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 cure him.

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 expelled.

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 middos.

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 unprecedented success.

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 said.

"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 faces."

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 in kiruv.

"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 Chizkiyahu.

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 teshuva."

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 religious ones.

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 sells itself.

"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 Hebrew."

Personal Glimpses

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 way."

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 Chaifa.

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 stam.

Family Friction

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 Rabbi Zilberstein:

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 this?

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 husband?

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 forum.

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 keys.

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 conferences.

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 home.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.