Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Kislev 5762 - November 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Thirty Days Since His Passing
Special Section

HaRav Shach Zt'l, Founder And Mentor Of Yated Ne'eman
by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

A profound sense of personal loss can be felt these days in the offices of Yated Ne'eman. Although so many felt that their relationship with the Rosh Yeshiva was special and somehow unique -- and these feelings have been brought into even sharper focus over the past weeks -- the Yated staff were still aware of his having felt a particular warmth for the paper which he brought into existence and for whose survival he went to such lengths.

This is not a question of professional bias on our part. All those involved in communal affairs knew very well that HaRav Shach zt'l, had a special relationship with Yated Ne'eman and some even expressed their surprise at the standing that the paper enjoyed, among all the other endeavors that he launched. This article will attempt to explain why it was so and why, therefore, amid the general sea of pain and bereavement, Yated's loss is so prominent.

With His Own Hands

Yated Ne'eman began publication on the twenty-third of Tammuz, 5745 (1985), with the blessings and encouragement of the Steipler Rov and HaRav Shach zt'l. HaRav Kanievsky was niftar a month later but he had long since empowered HaRav Shach to carry the burden of the newspaper, leading and guiding it in the desired direction.

It is hard, in the present context, to convey the full extent of HaRav Shach's work and his dedication in getting the paper founded and established. While he always girded himself with superhuman energy in every communal matter, here he exceeded even the usual dimensions of his dedication and fervor in klal affairs.

He personally raised funds. He approached potential donors and tried to get them to invest in the paper, either as shareholders or by extending short or long term credit. He despatched those close to him to make exhaustive inquiries into the technical aspects of printing and publication and into the assembly of an editorial board and a team of workers, while firmly at the top of the organizational ladder he placed a Vaada Ruchanit composed of marbitzei Torah and rabbonim who make the policy decisions and review everything that the paper prints. He was involved with every detail and kept track of everything that was happening.

Looking back today, one might think that the venture's success and popularity were assured. At the time however, that seemed to be the most unlikely outcome. There were even those who felt that every penny invested in the paper was as good as lost and that the loan documents and share certificates that the paper was giving would only have value as collector's items!

Just before the paper was launched, one of Agudas Yisroel's veteran and senior activists said quite frankly to the present writer, "Do me a favor. Go to the Rosh Yeshiva and tell him that, as someone with experience, I know how difficult it was decades ago to set up Hamodia and to keep it going, even though it had the backing of an established party that united all of chareidi Jewry. Setting up a newspaper is no simple matter, especially when its readership will only be part of the chareidi community. It doesn't have a chance! It'll last for a week or two, or a few months at maximum, then it'll go bankrupt. Believe me, I'm thinking of the Rosh Yeshiva's welfare and I'm offering constructive advice. It's better to give up the whole idea than have the embarrassment!"

Though one might have suspected the motivation of such advice of having been less than objective, prompted perhaps by the desire to prevent competition, its logic was nonetheless apparent and it seemed a perfectly sensible professional opinion. Moreover, many in our own camp were saying exactly the same thing.

But HaRav Shach did not give in. He saw the establishment of the paper as a priority, a lifesaver for the survival of Torah hashkofoh in our times, and he therefore continued working and spurring others to work. Those who frequented his home saw daily how much the paper meant to him.

Close to his Heart

One of the rabbonim who today works for the Vaada Ruchanit in reviewing the material to be published (known as a mevakeir) told me the following story: "When we, his talmidim, saw how dedicated the Rosh Yeshiva was to the venture, a group of us decided to raise money for a loan to the paper. Each of us gave what he could and approached friends, until we had gathered several thousand dollars. When we brought the money to HaRav Shach, he brimmed with joy, such as we only rarely saw him express over matters unrelated to learning. He was like a man bowed down by debts for his family's upkeep, who suddenly obtains a sum of money. Then he explained to us, `When the Chofetz Chaim wanted to be oleh to Eretz Yisroel, he decided to give money towards something that would provide him with merit. Out of all the possibilities he chose to make a well, because Chazal say that a well is a communal need (tzorchei rabbim). You should know that in our time, Yated Ne'eman is a communal need.' "

Although he had established the paper with his own hands, HaRav Shach refused to derive any benefit whatsoever from it, neither for himself nor for his family. He was careful to pay the monthly subscription fee for the paper that was delivered to him each day, just like any other subscriber! Although we of course never asked him to pay, at every meeting, before we discussed anything else, he wanted to know, "How many months do I owe for?"

We would try to avoid answering, saying that we didn't have the exact calculation with us etc. but he wouldn't give in and he took money from his pocket to pay. He was even upset with us for trying to let him off of paying. He wanted us to realize that he considered it a privilege to pay the monthly subscription. (Incidentally, it is Yated Ne'eman's policy that all editorial personnel and workers for the paper pay for their own copies of the newspaper. There are no free subscriptions!)

The only area in which he exercised his spiritual "ownership" over the paper was in demanding that it live up to its purpose: to promulgate the pure hashkofoh that he had received from his own teachers and transmitted to our generation. Here he was uncompromising because he saw the paper as the mouthpiece of the Torah world, which should never shirk its responsibility of taking a stand when the fundamentals of our religion were threatened.

The Need for a Mouthpiece

In his discussions with the editors, HaRav Shach repeatedly emphasized that the paper was a vital necessity, serving both as a barrier -- preventing further spread of our generation's shortcomings -- and as a wall -- keeping foreign ideas and values from infiltrating our camp.

He attributed a great measure of the success of the maskilim in Eastern Europe over a century ago to the lack of any chareidi publication that could rebut the slanders they spread against Yiddishkeit. Although several discussions were held among the leaders of the time, there were always doubts and concerns that kept the proposal from being implemented. In the meantime, the newspapers run by the maskilim were spreading their venom and influencing simple minded Jews, ultimately leading to the ruination of thousands of Jewish homes Rachmono litzlan, because there was no medium through which to respond to them.

In his opinion, the need today is even greater than it was, in view of the media deluge in all its different forms, which leads to befuddlement and ideological confusion. In a letter from Shevat 5746 (1986), he writes that while most papers inculcate heretical ideas about all that is holy to us, "in some cases, the heresy is not quite so blatant yet the ideas are absorbed because people read them superficially, without deep thought."

In another letter he wrote that, "Human nature is not to have an independent opinion but to absorb whatever is written or printed, without examining whether or not things are really so." He also stressed that often, even the best papers, which are supposed to express a Torah viewpoint, do not write with sufficient clarity or do not react to various issues (out of the wish to avoid controversy and other such considerations).

A parable used by the Chofetz Chaim in a different context can afford a better understanding of the function that HaRav Shach intended for Yated Ne'eman: When two countries are at war, no single battle will decide the eventual outcome. The side that loses one encounter may win the next and so on. But this only holds true so long as both sides possess ammunition. If one side manages to destroy the enemy's ammunition stores however, the war is lost for there is no longer any chance for an equal fight.

Many challenges face chareidi Jewry and in particular the Torah world, which defends the pure ideal of full-time Torah study. We may or may not be entirely successful in any given campaign, but we only have a chance while we hold onto our ammunition, namely, a publication through which we can respond and provide immediate commentary on the issues of the moment so that the community recognizes the justice of our cause.

If we lose this means of expression, it becomes extremely difficult to win anything. Any struggle, be it the most justified and the most sensible in the world, will simply crumble before an onslaught of venomous and false propaganda that presents our side in a negative light and sows doubt and uncertainty even among the very community on whose behalf it is being waged.

This has happened in the past on various occasions, when those struggling for the community felt that they had been rendered powerless by arguments that had been cunningly put into people's mouths and ambivalence that had infiltrated the public mind, effectively removing any possibility of confronting the issues face-on and dealing with them logically.

Opening our Eyes

There are several circumstances where halochoh tells us to, "Speak out for those who are dumb," and this injunction can be borrowed to fit our context. This is why publicity is so important. It is up to us to provide explanation and demonstration, so that the public becomes aware of things that it did not know about, or that had been very cunningly concealed from it so that only one side of the coin was showing.

Many feel that the paper's function is to enable the public to "Know how to respond" to those who argue and quarrel with us, but this is not the main point. The main point is for ourselves. One of the mussar masters remarked that "Know how to respond to an apikores," actually refers to the little apikores that lurks inside each of us, and leads us to subconsciously question the rectitude of our path.

Over the years, we have often been astounded by readers' reactions -- both verbal and written -- expressing profound thanks for the paper's having "opened their eyes" on a range of issues. One example of this was many people's initial wonderment over the Rosh Yeshiva's objections to trends in the Lubavitch movement which, assisted by massive and well oiled propaganda machinery, always managed to present itself as furthering worthy goals.

In the end, after various facts and proofs had been cited -- which would never have reached the public eye had it not been for the paper -- everybody understood what was wrong with the movement's leadership. Even then, HaRav Shach's views were only accepted by some on the basis of his standing as godol hador, who was telling us that "right" is "left." After decades of brainwashing, some people still felt that his antagonism was strange and inexplicable.

Ultimately the group's messianic fervor burst out in full force and in retrospect, everybody understood what the fuss had been about. Let's not forget though, that for many years, the question of how to relate to the movement was bitterly contested. This is just one example of the kind of ideological issue that would never have been properly understood had it not been for Yated Ne'eman.

Those who opposed the paper and fought against it, who longed for the day when they would be able to eulogize its demise, appreciated its power very well. They realized that it would lead to a revolution in public opinion which had hitherto been deliberately steered and controlled. Through Heaven's kindness and in the merit of our great teacher's dedication, we have been successful in bringing this about.

In the sixteen years since the paper began publication, those whose aim is to remove barriers have known that they were no longer able to do as they wished. Those who ask themselves "What will Yated Ne'eman say?" or "How will Yated Ne'eman react?" before they make any move or utterance. There are many who open the paper each day nervously, who know just how important it is to us, from the way that it disturbs them from attaining their objectives.

There are many who dislike Yated Ne'eman. They dislike seeing the truth, especially when it is presented clearly and lucidly, respectably printed up in a paper that has a wide circulation, and that enjoys the public's confidence.

A Dual Role

In the past, this writer has summed up the approach that Yated has set for itself in the light of the guidelines laid down by HaRav Shach at its inception, as the emulation of what the Rambam calls "pleasant speech" (in his commentary to Ovos perek 1, mishnah 17) meaning, to praise good and to denounce bad. The Rambam explains that this involves, "praising virtues of mind and of character and decrying faults in both these areas; using prose and poetry to provide inspiration to strive to reach higher and to avoid shortcomings; praising men of worth and pointing out their virtues so that people should look well upon their behavior and emulate them, while denouncing wrongdoers and their bad traits so that people view their actions and reputations with disgrace, keep their distance from them and refrain from copying them."

Both of these elements are vital and both guide our paper. On the one hand, we honor those who are fulfilling their purpose in the world, especially bnei Torah, who devote their lives to Torah study. We encourage positive initiatives, spiritual advancement and the strengthening of Torah.

On the other hand, it is our obligation to raise the alarm about those who would lead the public astray, revealing them for what they are and showing the dangers that they pose. We must also warn against foreign influences that our leaders view with disfavor.

There is no contradiction between these two fields of operation. The first has no more intrinsic merit than the second: just as the Rambam enjoins us to praise men of worth so that they will be emulated, he also tells us to disparage bad elements so that they and their practices will be avoided.

In this connection, I recall once hearing criticism from HaRav Shach, the main thrust of which was his concern that our articles should not be too restrained!

"I don't know why you don't write in a more strident and sharp manner," he told me. "Please, don't listen to all the mah yofisniks who want you to write with moderation and not attack any opinions or subjects because it leads to machlokes. The opposite is true -- it is your duty to give firm expression to the protest of the bnei Torah against any distortion or straying from the path."

The present writer was very surprised by this particular charge. It was the very first time anybody had found our line too soft. In fact, we were used to hearing exactly the opposite. HaRav Shach then explained that a number of communal workers had been to see him in recent weeks and had complained that they felt that the articles were too harsh and had been dealing with issues that were not acceptable to all groups and that it would be better if the paper wrote about more general topics on which there was a consensus, rather than matters of contention.

In order to show what he thought of their request that he restrain the writer, he stressed his opinion, which was exactly the reverse of theirs, that the only possible reservation is if our line was too cautious. He said that we had to be on our guard against writers taking too moderate a stand, in what he used to call "the mah yofis spirit."

It is worthwhile pointing out that at the same opportunity, HaRav Shach made it clear that there is no difference in outlook between the Torah world and the groups of kano'im in everything connected with Zionism, the State, haskoloh and all the other foreign influences that have affected our nation in recent history. We completely negate the ideas of the Nationalists and the advocates of compromise just as emphatically as the zealots do, and we maintain just as strongly that, "Whatever issues from something unclean, is itself unclean."

The only difference between our groups is in our attitude to participation in elections and the political process, which is a tactical question not one of principle.

"You should know," he said, "that Yated Ne'eman's approach to secular Jews, to secularism and to related topics, should be exactly the same as that of [the `old yishuv' periodicals] Ho'eidoh and Hachomoh. There is no ideological difference; the only change should be in the style of the writing. Others, in expressing their zeal, sometimes slip into a wild and biting way of writing. We must express the same views of opposition to lawless individuals and distorters, but not in a coarse manner but in a dignified and fitting way, as befits bnei Torah."

Nucleus of a Quiet Revolution

Already in the paper's early days HaRav Shach, with his characteristic foresight, saw the growing need for a strong and independent association of the Torah world in all communal and organizational spheres. He felt that an influential, quality daily newspaper would serve as the foundation for such an organizational entity. "Without a newspaper," he wrote, "one has no influence whatsoever."

Yated was thus the forerunner of his later achievements: Degel Hatorah, Shearis Yisroel and other enterprises that followed. In a study of the Israeli press, one media researcher wrote, "All over the world, the norm is that a party starts a newspaper. The party comes first, and the newspaper follows as a party publication. Yated Ne'eman came along and turned everything upside down: the paper started the party!"

There is no doubt that without a means of expression that accompanied the campaigns, it would have been impossible to recruit the multitudes of bnei Torah to following HaRav Shach in the fight to preserve Torah and our outlook in all their purity.

The campaigns that were waged over the years against specific ideas would also have been impossible if not for Yated Ne'eman.

When HaRav Shach wrote or spoke out against particular things, or pointed out areas that required correction, he often didn't stop with the delivery of his own general comments. He would personally guide the Yated Ne'eman staff as to how the campaign ought to be conducted and how the case should be stated. What pleasure he got when an entire article was read out to him, word for word, before publication and he saw that its contents reflected his opinion and expressed his views without any fear or hesitation!

"What would we do without Yated?" was the rhetorical question that many rabbonim, Torah disseminators and communal workers became used to asking. They were all well aware of Yated's pivotal role in HaRav Shach's struggle on behalf of our religion and in his striving to bequeath a firm Torah outlook to our generation.

The importance of this role lay at the heart of the two conditions that HaRav Shach always made when trying, in every possible way, to bring about peace and unity within the chareidi camp, namely, that it was out of the question that Yated would cease to exist as an independent body, and that there was likewise no question whatsoever of preventing Yated from expressing daas Torah on any given issue.

A Matter of Survival

It may not be common knowledge that the "last straw" that led to the foundation of Degel Hatorah was an attempt to impose such a condition on Yated, stopping it from expressing HaRav Shach's Torah opinion on one of the then- current issues. This writer recalls that time, at the end of Elul 5748 (1988) and the beginning of Tishrei 5749, as though it were just yesterday.

Until then, setting up an independent political party had not been discussed as a practical step, only as an emergency measure. Day after day, long and wearying negotiations were going on over the demands of the faction [of Agudas Yisroel] that represented the bnei Torah (this faction was then called Hisachdus Bnei Hatorah.)

As is well known, the main bone of contention was the difference in the approach to the Lubavitch movement, which HaRav Shach had warned about and against whose actions he had protested with all his strength. At one stage, some activists proposed a "compromise," whereby a "cease-fire" would be declared and both sides would adopt a passive stance simultaneously: Agudas Yisroel and its publication would not publish any of the Lubavitch movement's advertisements, while Yated Ne'eman would undertake not to write articles against the movement and its messianic activities.

Ever since HaRav Shach had empowered me to act as his emissary on Yated Ne'eman, I had standing instructions to report to him, "at any time of day or night," about any development that affected the newspaper's functioning -- particularly where matters of principle were concerned. I therefore hurried to his home to tell him about the agreement that was taking shape.

It was late at night and HaRav Shach had already retired to his room and was preparing for a short sleep. When I was told this at the front door, I weighed up leaving and returning in the morning. In the meantime, HaRav Shach heard that I was waiting at the door and he called me into his room. I reported the basic content of the proposed agreement and he jumped from his bed and said, "Lo yokum velo yihiyeh! Yated must write what it has to!"

His apartment, which had already been darkened for the night, suddenly came to life. "Gib mir dem telefon (Give me the telephone)," he instructed, asking that we get hold of Rabbi Moshe Gafni (who was then serving as the general secretary of Hisachdus Bnei Hatorah).

"Reb Moishe," he said, "I hear that they want to put in a stipulation that Yated won't be able to write about `them.' Lo yokum velo yihiyeh! Nobody in the world -- keiner nisht in der velt -- will prevent Yated from writing the truth! If they won't let us write what we have to in Yated, lomoh zeh onochi? (What are we here for?) What is the paper for, if not for stating the truth, even if people don't want to hear it?"

I had hardly ever seen HaRav Shach so agitated. One could tell that this was something that affected his very being.

The end of the story is well known. This issue reached an impasse, with the result that discussions on other matters also stalled, to the point where HaRav Shach decided to establish Degel Hatorah.

The comment which we quoted earlier, about Yated's having been the first newspaper in this country's history to set up a party, could be sharpened by saying that the party was really set up in order to protect the paper's right to express itself freely in matters of Torah hashkofoh.

Sometime later, at a meeting for avreichim on the campus of Yeshivas Chevron in Yerushalayim during the election campaign for Degel Hatorah, HaRav Dovid Cohen, one of the roshei yeshiva, said that people had asked him, "We don't understand what's happening. Is it worth making a division in Am Yisroel just for the sake of a newspaper's printing this or that hashkofoh?"

HaRav Cohen then spoke about HaRav Shach's views at length, explaining that he saw the paper's ability to express the correct outlook as a matter of survival. (His remarks appear in Vezorach Hashemesh, the account of the founding of Degel Hatorah.)

This scenario was replayed again and again, until all involved with the paper came to realize the extent of his insistence that the pure daas Torah which he transmitted from those who had themselves transmitted it from earlier generations should be expressed fully and clearly in a newspaper, without any adulteration or beating about the bush. This had the highest priority with him.

He paid no attention to those who claimed that stating such determined opinions would lead to a division among the people. The truth came first and it was Yated's role to state the truth. He couldn't afford the luxury of passivity and of keeping quiet out of other considerations.

In Closing

In the hesped which he delivered at the levayoh, HaRav Shach's son-in-law ylct'a HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman said, "Through his position in protection of our religion and regarding the character of the yeshivos and of Klal Yisroel, [which he maintained] with such self sacrifice, he merited that the foundations of religion in Klal Yisroel were laid at his behest. He raised Torah's honor and the honor of those who learn Torah, wonderfully. We are duty-bound to ensure that all that he established and achieved in his lifetime, should continue according in his spirit.

This remains our duty at Yated, the paper for which he sacrificed himself to see it established and to see that it fulfilled its function.

"Every single subscriber has a role in strengthening religion in our Holy Land," he wrote, "and it is worthwhile your making efforts to widen Yated Ne'eman's distribution and you will see good [results]."

At the same time we, the writers for Yated, now have the awesome responsibility of acting as faithful emissaries in realizing his holy aim, to continue to produce a quality publication of a high professional and a high spiritual standard that gives expression to the pure hashkofoh as we heard it from his lips -- without fear and without hesitation.


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