Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5763 - January 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Manning the Watchtower: HaRav Eliashiv's Battle for Torah and Halocho

by Binyomin Y. Rabinowitz

Part II

Just over thirty years ago, on the 8th of Teves 5733, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah met to discuss alarming developments, particularly the raging debate over "the brother and sister" which rose to the top of the chareidi agenda when Rabbi Shlomo Goren was elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel just a few months previously. Although at the time they rarely participated in such affairs, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l, and ylct'a, HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv attended the meeting along with every member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and HaRav Yechiel Michel Feinstein.

HaRav Eliashiv, shlita, had good reason to attend. For several years he had been leading the battle against various attempts to violate the sanctity of the Jewish nation and to destroy the institution of marriage--the cornerstone of all Beis Yisroel--by opening the door to pesulei chitun and others prohibited from entering Kehal Yisroel, as well as "converts" who did not convert according to halochoh.

Throughout the ongoing battle rabbinical advocate Rabbi Tzvi Weinman remained at HaRav Eliashiv's side. Recently we spoke with Rabbi Weinman to survey the chain of events thirty years ago, and the many tasks he carried out as HaRav Eliashiv's personal shaliach.

The first part discussed the case of Helen Zaidman, the insincere reform convert who was falsely converted again by Rabbi Goren. The real storm raged about the later case of a brother and a sister (Langer) who were the children of a woman who had married a ger and then remarried without a divorce from her first husband. In early 5733 Goren was elected Chief Rabbi, promising to find a "solution" for the Langers. He soon kept his promise, convening an ad hoc beis din whose composition he never made public. Gedolei Yisroel immediately issued a proclamation that Goren's rulings were meaningless. The press took Rabbi Goren's side.


HaRav Yaakov Kanievsky and HaRav Shach stood at the battlefront, stirring up the Torah world and demonstrating staunch opposition to the mockery made of daas Torah. The Steipler issued a harsh letter against the Chief Rabbi. After elucidating at length the matter of megaleh ponim beTorah shelo kehalocho he wrote that the insolence of the megaleh ponim represented "raising a hand [to strike at] the Torah and at the Giver of the Torah . . . and all the more so he who cooks his dish in public and causes blatant chilul Hashem befarhesioh before the entire world through empty, rejected rulings [presented] in the name of the Torah, HaKodosh Boruch Hu's Torah, and this is like stepping forth and proclaiming it is of no consequence if the words of the holy Torah are distorted arbitrarily, chas vesholom. I do know the words that are appropriate to describe a neveiloh like this. . . . "

In conclusion he writes, "And clearly such an individual is wholly unsuited for rabbinical positions, his writings are [merely] the writing of a conjurer and his rulings are like the rulings of the Reform ra- bbonim shr"y who have already set themselves apart from shlomei emunei Yisroel. And he has presented himself in alignment with the reformers who lived at the time of the Chasam Sofer and other similar figures whose name will remain an ignominy and a disgrace and a shame and an abomination forever throughout the generations. In each and every generation various destroyers rise up against Klal Yisroel and rebel against the holy Torah veHaKodosh Boruch Hu matzileinu miyodom. Heimo kor'u venofolu va'anachnu kamnu vanis'odod . . . And Chazal said about one like this, `May he and a thousands others like him perish and not one letter of the Torah will be nullified.' "

The day after the offensive heter was announced, Maran HaRav Shach zt'l made a surprise appearance at a meeting of the National Mercaz Agudath Israel, accompanied by Rav Shlomo Berman ylct'a, and asked permission to speak there. Addressing the audience the Rosh Yeshiva requested that this issue take precedence as the central public campaign of the entire Torah world rather than being relegated to the inner chambers of botei din. HaRav Shach sought thereby to put the case at the center of public attention, as a matter for the entire community and not a technical issue internal to the rabbinical courts. Maran saw it as a critical problem affecting the entire face of Judaism, halocho and Torah, as well as the yeshiva world and roshei yeshivos.

"I came here not to deliver a speech, but to express the pain in my heart over this situation. Sometimes one must write speeches and articles, but now we must cry out; when a fire breaks out anyone who reacts casually and says, `I don't know how to speak out,' would be thought a lunatic. A fire is ablaze, the flames are catching, the Torah is being burned, one parchment after another is being torn off, and one must cry out against such a gevaldic act of burning the Torah.

"In his teshuvos the Rashbo wrote that throughout his lifetime there would always be someone manning the watchtower to ensure the holy Torah remained untouched, "and I say that as long as there are yeshivos in Yisroel founded on taharas hakodesh, what has happened cannot be! Nobody has the authority to interpret [the Torah] as he sees fit . . . We must rend our garments over the burning of the holy Torah. We face a situation in which they are trying to tear out parts of the Torah, and even more so this deed is being committed by someone called by some the Chief Rabbi of Israel! We must declare that his rulings are not halachic rulings and it is forbidden to rely on them whatsoever. By bringing mamzerim into Kahal Yisroel he calls his authority to serve as a rov into question, and if the mamzerim are allowed to come into the kahal then he is not allowed to come into the kahal.

"Some claim the Chief Rabbi is a lamdon, but what is the definition of a lamdon? It is said in the name of Rav Yosef Dovber of Brisk that a lamdon is not one who knows how to learn, just as a thief is not simply one who knows how to steal. One who learns Torah forged with yiras Shomayim that comes before his knowledge--he is a lamdon. And although he says he wrote an article on this topic, those who have seen it say it is merely leitzonus, confusion and lies . . .

Let me say once again: we must cry out and issue a warning. This incident which took place last night before the entire world--although the matter has been going on for some time-- is a treif act. One cannot remain complacent in such circumstances. By bringing the matter before this gathering of Agudath Israel, which is a party whose task is to strengthen Torah and Yiddishkeit, including taking action in this area. I would like to stress that I am against violence, since violence will harm the entire matter because he will use it to his advantage."

Other leading rabbonim--HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky, HaRav Chaim Shmulevitch, HaRav Moshe Chevroni and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach--issued a proclamation (on 18 Kislev, 5733) reading, "We are shocked by the terrible chilul kovod Shomayim done by this terrible, unprecedented deed which has fallen upon Am Yisroel; a hand has been raised to strike at the Torah and to destroy horo'o in Am Yisroel by standing up against horo'o through deceptive means to permit serious prohibitions openly through dark deeds and to make a mockery of all of the channels of horo'o in Am Yisroel, which have already dealt with the case. Therefore we declare his horo'os invalid."

On 8 Teves 5733 a special meeting of Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah was held with all of its members in attendance, as well as Rav Yechiel Michal Feinstein; even HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt'l, and HaRav Eliashiv, ylct'a, made rare appearances.

At the end of the meeting, which lasted over three hours, a long position statement was issued, including the following decisions: "Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah is deeply pained and views with great severity the terrible breach in the walls of the religion made by the well-known psak regarding matters of psulei chitun, which was invented through crooked means in opposition to all halachic guidelines. [We hereby] proclaim this psak null and void, and all of the rulings issued by the man responsible for this psak may not be relied upon under any circumstances."

A written request was also sent "to all of the rabbonim presiding in botei din in Eretz Hakodesh not to submit to pressure from any figure under any circumstances, and not to make the slightest change in Hashem's word, i.e. halocho. Stand your guard like a rock. Do not be afraid of threats and pressure and know that gedolei haTorah and chareidi Jewry around the world stand strong behind you and Hashem will be with you...The Moetzoh is deeply pained by the coordinated instigation against gedolei Torah and their talmidim."

In major cities around the country demonstrations were held to protest the disgrace to the Torah. At Wagshall Hall in Bnei Brak a tremendous demonstration was held where the main speech was delivered by Maran HaRav Shach, zt'l, who cried out from the depths of his soul the pain felt by the Torah world and spoke out against the disgrace to the Torah. At a huge demonstration held in Jerusalem and attended by Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, speakers included HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, av beis din of Zichron Meir, and Rav Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss, the late Av Beis Din of the Eda Chareidis, who cited the verses, "For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons so that the holy seed has mingled with the peoples of those lands . . . And when I heard this thing I rent my garment and my mantle and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard and sat down appalled" (Ezra 9:2-3).

Along with the wave of remonstration in Israel, protests spread abroad as well. In the US a demonstration drew thousands of participants. A delegation of gedolei Torah from the US headed by Maran HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l met with Israeli President Zalman Shazar while he was visiting New York, telling him, "The ruling on the brother and sister is an incorrect psak and it is impossible to change a psak without collaborating with botei din that dealt with the case previously and without presenting them with new evidence. A rov cannot be appointed through bribery, and there is no greater form of bribery than the bribes Goren gave in promising to be lenient. This is the greatest form of bribery possible. We have heard of instances of monetary bribes in the Rabbinate's history, but this is the first time we have encountered an instance of bribery by promising votes. This is the greatest danger there can be for the Rabbinate and for Israel."

* * *

In contrast to the sweeping international condemnation of Goren's so-called psak, the secular public, particularly public opinion as conveyed by the media, transformed Goren into a celebrity. Rabbi Weinman says throughout the meetings held to discuss the situation, gedolei Yisroel spoke of the need to launch a wide publicity campaign to sully Goren's heter because some people did not realize how great a danger it posed to the heart and soul of the Jewish people-- halocho. Toward this end Rabbi Weinman needed to secure a copy of Goren's heter, which entailed filing a High Court petition.

"First and foremost the petition was intended to obtain all of the documents and Goren's psak, a task initiated by gedolei Yisroel. There was also another necessity: to malign the psak, which was entirely based on [the claim] that Burkovsky was not Jewish, contending he was a ger who had returned to his former ways, and therefore his entire marriage with Langer was annulled. And since it was decisively clear that Burkovsky was a Jew in every respect, it was also important to help this ger tzedek in his fight."

The High Court petition achieved both of these goals. At first Goren was forced to submit all of the documents connected with the affair, including his "psak," along with a declaration by Goren that his psak only applied to the status of the brother and sister and did not address the question of Burkovsky's status.

Goren was charged 1,000 liras in court fees, a fine he did not forget for many long years. As a side note one of the newspapers that followed the story reported, "Goren would burst out screeching every time he heard the name Weinman." If that was not enough, Goren's staff referred to Rabbi Weinman as "the agent of the anti-Zionist junta in the Rabbinate." This same newspaper also claimed gedolei harabbonim had placed all of the material connected with the affair in Weinman's possession to demonstrate Goren's web of deceit to the public.

Rabbi Weinman had to face tremendous pressure during this period, but he now speaks of his role in humble terms, as if he were merely a pawn throughout the turbulent campaign. "I was a shaliach and nothing more. Everything was done according to directives by Maran [HaRav Eliashiv], shlita. I was his appointed deputy. This was also a source of strength that allowed me to withstand all of the hardships . . . "

In Part III: How the proclamations by gedolei Yisroel and other forms of publicity managed to discredit Goren's "psak."


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