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A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tammuz 5764 - June 30, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Gedolei Yisroel Warn Against Birthright Trips to Israel
by M. Halevy

Last year, gedolei Yisroel in Eretz Hakodesh and the US, headed by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, shlita, issued a statement against trips for chareidi youths from the US to Eretz Yisroel that cause numerous stumbling- blocks, in tznius, kashrus and hashkofoh. Maranan verabonon said these trips, organized by a program called Birthright, have a detrimental effect on the participants.

In recent years, an Israeli-American organization with Zionist leanings began offering trips to Israel to impart girls with "ahavas Yisroel." These trips are highly subsidized and many participants--hastily assuming the program was sponsored by chareidim and was perfectly kosher-- have been tempted to take part.

Last summer, rabbonim from the US and Eretz Hakodesh strongly opposed the initiative, which has already caused spiritual harm to many girls, after it was learned that the organization planned to expand its activities by offering similar trips for boys.

Recently, a prominent educator reiterated warnings against these trips, after hearing more stories about the spiritual dangers they contain, including the following account: A group of girls from Monsey registered for a chareidi seminary in Israel for girls from abroad. Before the school year began, they unknowingly decided to join a Birthright trip. One of the guides was a female soldier who had been educated in chareidi institutions before falling off the path. This soldier formed a friendship with several of the girls and later even came to the seminary where they studied. The director would not allow her to come inside, but for one of the girls it was already too late. This chareidi girl had already formed a bond with the soldier girl and agreed to meet with her outside the seminary. Eventually the soldier had a negative influence on the seminary student and took her to Lishkat Hagius (the IDF induction bureau), had her sign induction forms and walked her through the induction process. Thus the seminary girl descended into spiritual ruin, to the astonishment of all her acquaintances.

Rabbonim and principals recently received a disturbing letter containing eyewitness testimony by two Birthright participants describing the stumbling- blocks and spiritual trials they faced during the trip.

"Our journey began on a Monday," they wrote. "When we arrived at the airport we were greeted by the tour guide and a representative of the travel company. We immediately noticed they were clearly not chareidi and wondered what lay in store for us. When the girls got off the bus at the first rest stop and began to take pictures, we immediately noticed the lack of spiritual supervision on the trip. All those who oversaw the trip saw that their responsibility focused only on maintaining the girls' health and physical well-being. There was nobody there who could guide the girls in matters of kashrus, tznius or halocho.

"During our trip, because the girls thought they were on a Bais Yaakov trip, they let down their guard and were not wary to maintain an upstanding spiritual level. Some of the girls went with the flow and accepted the entire itinerary without question because they assumed it had been planned according to a Bais Yaakov level.

"When we began to get friendly with the girls, we learned of the lack many of them sensed. These girls had come to Eretz Yisroel, many of them for the first time, with tremendous expectations of encountering the kedushoh of Eretz Yisroel. But there was no opening talk about the kedushoh of Eretz Yisroel and how to access this power.

"Based on this marked lack, we took responsibility. At this point, L. gave a short, stirring talk on the kedushoh of Eretz Yisroel. This was a real awakening for the girls and for the first time they really felt they were in Eretz Yisroel.

"A few days later we grew closer to the girls. Some of them told us that until that moment they had wondered what was not quite right with them. They couldn't understand why they failed to feel the kedushoh they had heard so much about. After the first night, the two of us recognized we were the only ones who could assume the job of spiritual supervision and we privately decided we would do as much as we could. Some of the girls on the trip also recognized the problems we faced and they told us of their concerns."

At this point, the chareidi girls described incidents in which the participants were taken to restaurants with questionable or no kashrus where some of them ate because they relied on the organizers. The overall nature of the trip and the choice of sites to visit was more suited to the secular Zionist approach and the explanations given by the official guides had Enlightenment undertones.

The long, detailed letter goes on to say, "On Thursday we took a tour of the northern town of Tzippori. We were taken to an archaeological dig and they brought us into what was once the home of a wealthy Jew who lived around the time of the Mishnoh. We were astonished to see the ancient mosaic floor was decorated with depictions of pritzus and immodesty and images of centaurs suggestive of pagan culture. The girls were not yet aware of the hashkofoh problems with the tour guide and when she began to speak, many of them still accepted her remarks as authoritative. The guide explained that the home had belonged to an influential Jew who lived during the time of R' Yehuda Hanossi and the findings indicated the floor may have been from the home of R' Yehuda himself [afro lepumei] . . .

"We realized how illogical what she was saying was, but we stood and listened until we saw some of the girls were accepting her remarks as fact. When L. saw a girl taking notes on what the guide was saying and other girls began to speak, a debate broke out over the logic of her [the tour guide's] explanations. This was our first open confrontation. We tried to stop the debate without retreating from our position.

"In response to our remarks, the tour guide said perhaps R' Yehuda lived in this house and the fact he could assimilate Roman culture [afro lepumei] without being negatively influenced is indicative of his high dargoh . . . We left Tzippori with an uncomfortable feeling, knowing the girls had imbibed spiritual coolness and bewilderment as a result of what happened."


A letter issued by roshei yeshivos and marbitzei Torah in the US read, "With regard to the trips known as Birthright, in which many from our own ranks have begun to participate, we hereby alert and warn that although the leaders of the trips present them as kosher and in keeping with our ways, we have learned this is not the case and they harbor a great danger to the education of our dear children by causing our sons and daughters to breach the bounds of tznius and kashrus and to expose them to opinions that run counter to our holy Torah. Therefore, parents and teachers should know not to register their son or daughters or talmidim for trips of this sort."

The statement is signed by HaRav Shmuel Birnbaum, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir; HaRav Yisroel Povarsky, rosh yeshiva of Beis HaTalmud; HaRav Aharon Shechter, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin; HaRav Eliyoh Simchah Shustal, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Binyomin of Stamford; HaRav Shmuel Avigdor Feivelson, rosh yeshiva of Beis Medrash LeTorah; HaRav Yosef Rosenbloom, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Shaarei Yosher; HaRav Chaim Leib Halevy Epstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Zichron Melech; HaRav Eliyoh Dov Wachtfogel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Zichron Moshe of South Fallsberg; and HaRav Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Lakewood.

In Eretz Hakodesh, gedolei Yisroel wrote, "Gedolei haTorah of the Diaspora in America have already revealed their opinion, daas Torah, regarding the breach of arranging trips to Eretz Hakodesh in the framework of Birthright, which lacks any proper oversight and spiritual supervision, leading to numerous stumbling blocks in modesty and kashrus and exposure to a misleading worldview, and opinions contrary to the holy Torah in the framework of these trips.

"We hereby join them in their directive not to send talmidim and talmidos on these trips.

"And be'ezras Hashem those who heed us will merit nachas of kedushoh from their children."

The letter is signed by Maran HaRav Eliashiv, HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman, HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky and HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, shlita.

HaRav Lefkowitz also stated his opinion in a separate letter in which he replies to inquiries and explains at length that these visits are in stark contradiction to daas Torah in their very essence since they distort the proper perspective on Eretz Yisroel.

"Regarding trips called Birthright, in which many people from our own ranks have begun to participate, including groups of girls raised in chareidi homes, the results demonstrate that during the short time they are in Eretz Yisroel many of them are negatively influenced and are infused with a hashkofoh that Eretz Hakodesh, chas vesholom, is a place and a state just like any other country, with no feeling for the kedushoh [of Eretz Yisroel and of the site of Beis Hamikdosh] even after the Churbon, [while] Chazal say the kedushoh of the Kosel Maarovi has not ceased, for it is a place of tefilloh to the Creator.

"And now we have heard that this organization seeks to arrange [a trip for] a group of bochurim studying at yeshivas in the U.S. [who are] unaware that these trips, Rachmono litzlan, distance the participants from everything holy, and the organizers represent a group that can be considered machti'ei horabim, a type of group Rabbenu Yonah in Shaarei Tshuvoh ruled it is forbidden to join (Shaar 3, Piska 51). Therefore we hereby warn parents and yeshiva staffs to prohibit talmidim from joining this group for trips of this kind, for the danger is a very dire danger and who can know the extent of [spiritual] decline they can cause?

"May HaKadosh Boruch Hu infuse us with a spirit of purity and holiness to be safeguarded from all of these ways of the yetzer hora and may all those who heed [this warning] merit siyata deShmaya and protection. May HaKodosh Boruch Hu spare us from such trials."


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