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A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Av 5766 - August 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Memories of HaRav Shach, zt"l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Twenty-Six: A Leader Par Excellence

We have already mentioned in our introduction to the chapters on Maran, HaGaon R' Eliezer Mann Shach ztvk'l how, for the majority of his life, until reaching a ripe old age, Maran was wholly immersed in Torah study — excluding everything else. Nothing else in the world interested him save studying and disseminating Torah.

Surprisingly, however, towards the end of his life, Maran was transformed into a leader bechessed Elyon, par excellence, of all Klal Yisroel. He led his entire generation with a firm, competent hand, winning unchallenged accolades as the supreme, highest authority.

In this connection, I would like to quote from the words of Maran himself, which were said with regard to Maran HaGaon R' Aharon Kotler ztvk'l.

R' Aharon came to Eretz Yisroel in order to introduce fundamental changes in the makeup of Chinuch Atzmai, and appointed R' Shraga Grosbard zt'l as its Director General. This was considered revolutionary and R' Aharon encountered vehement resistance. Nevertheless, he overrode the opposition and operated according to the dictates of his conscience without taking any other factor or faction into consideration, even the strongest and most entrenched.

Maran observed R' Aharon's adamant stance with open wonder and said, "You know the R' Aharon of today, as a public leader with clout and power. But I knew him in his youth, and I see in the change a marvel of Divine Providence. Once the mantle of Torah leadership was laid upon his shoulders, to serve as a driving, decisive force, he has been privy to unique inner powers which are foreign to his basic nature, and even at odds with his innate character."

These words perfectly describe and define what we saw happen to Maran himself when he became the public figure that he eventually was. He too, "became privy to unique inner powers which were foreign to his basic nature, and even at odds with his innate character." For by nature, Maran was reticent and retiring, even bashful to an extreme. He was wont to say, "One must give in, give in, and again, give in. To be mevater . . . " But once he assumed the cloak of leadership and began administering the needs of the public, he stood for truth, for the whole truth, with exceptional obduracy.

Maran declared upon various occasions: "Every generation has its leader, and the leader of a generation is privy to a special degree of siyata deShmaya." Indeed, we saw this statement exemplified in Maran, himself.

"Klal Yisroel Must be Guided through Tradition"

One can sum up the essence of Maran's position regarding leadership of the public through a definition which Maran frequently used: "I myself don't know a thing. When I stand before a decision, I try to imagine what the Chofetz Chaim, R' Chaim Ozer, the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov would have done in the situation. I try to embrace their thinking process on each question and I strive to reach the decision which they would have arrived at. One does what one saw by the Chofetz Chaim. And what one did not see — one does not do." (Shimushoh Shel Torah)

In his Michtovim Umaamorim, III, p.124, Maran writes:

"I have, praised be Hashem, reached the age of gevuros [eighty], and have been educated to understand, listen, learn and teach, only the given Torah, transmitted from Hashem through Moshe Rabbenu, without intermingling any foreign knowledge. Throughout my life and up to this day, I have fulfilled the dictum of, `And you shall sit in the dust at the feet of the Sages,' both through what they wrote and from what I learned from studying their conduct firsthand, and what I heard uttered from their very mouths.

"The worst curse is when youngsters come along and dare defy a veteran sage, casting behind their backs the timeworn ways of tradition as transmitted to us throughout the generations, and introduce their ideas and ideologies, their modern, so- called progressive ways. This is the worst of all. There have been all kinds of difficult periods in the history of our people; we have had our ups and downs. But throughout them all, our leaders have been the experienced, knowledgeable and venerated sages. And not `a woman ruling them or a youngster leading the flock.' "


A delegation once came to me asking that I do a certain thing which, in their sight, would bring much benefit. I told them that I would have to consult with Maran first.

After Maran heard what it was all about, he reacted, "Don't do what they ask. We have seen from the Chofetz Chaim that this is not the proper way."

After hearing Maran's reply, the people involved decided to hear his opinion firsthand and went to him, hoping to convince him how important and beneficial was their idea.

Maran said to them, "I am not arguing the points you present in favor of the idea. Perhaps you may even be right and there is logic in your words. But even if the idea is a good one, one does not lead Klal Yisroel through good reason and good sense. The tradition we have from the Chofetz Chaim is that that is not the proper way. And that fact outweighs all the good reasons you seek to put forward."

Decision-Making Through Serious Contemplation

Every decision of Maran's was preceded by a great deal of thought. He sometimes told me that he had not slept the entire night, so busy was he thinking about a decision he had to make and how to make it.

In 5733, the city of Rechovot organized a welcome ceremony for a certain government dignitary who was persona non grata to the chareidi world. The mayor demanded that all the schools participate in the welcoming ceremony for this personage, and made a special point that the Chinuch Atzmai school in Petach Tikva be present. He informed the principal that he would accept no excuse for non-participation. If they were absent from the ceremonies, he would be forced to reach his own conclusions in the matter as to the future . . .

R' Meir Luria, Director General of Chinuch Atzmai, went to Maran with the dilemma. What should the school do?

Maran gave a very clear-cut reply: "Students of the Chinuch Atzmai school are forbidden to participate in the welcoming ceremony of a person who is spiritually negative and opposed to our way."

The principal and many parents informed Maran that they were very fearful of the repercussions; the mayor, who was not sympathetic to the Chinuch Atzmai school as it was, would surely seek immediate revenge. He could inflict serious damage to the school. Maran was not to be budged from his position. "What is forbidden, is forbidden," he maintained, adding, "Hashem will help."

The end of the story is that for some reason, no invitation was sent to the school. The principal was not informed, and did not even know, of the time that the welcome ceremony would take place. On the day following, the mayor called up to apologize for the oversight of not having invited him. And in order to `appease' him for the error, for the insult towards the school, he promised to make certain renovations in the school . . .

When I told Maran about this mofess-miracle, he reacted, "Don't you realize that my decision bore an element of great risk? Well, you should know that I recited pirkei Tehillim throughout the day and prayed that no damage result from my decision."

Intensive Investigation

He always sought to acquire firsthand information. He would interrogate askonim at length, emphasizing that he greatly valued all the information they provided him, since they were involved in that given subject. Without their input, he would not make any decision.

Many were the times, however, when his conclusion differed from theirs and he refused to accept their position. Maran's final resolution was ultimately his own, and as he would note, it stemmed from delving deeply into the decisions of the Torah leaders of the previous generation and how, in each given situation, he felt they would have acted.

There once was an occasion in which Maran had already formulated his own decision. Still, he said he wished to think the matter over and hold up his judgment until he had heard my opinion. That evening, I was in Jerusalem and received the message at midnight that Maran was waiting to see me. I told the messenger that I would not be able to get to him before 1:15 a.m.

Maran informed him that he would await my arrival at whatever hour I showed up. When I arrived, he asked me for my opinion in the matter. He listened to the different sides of the question very carefully and then was ready to announce his decision. To my surprise, he said this time, "I am accepting your view for it appears to be the right one."

Interestingly enough, this was the very opposite of the decision he had been prepared to make originally before he had heard what I had to say. This was for me a most illuminating lesson in humility.

One Who Questions the Doings of his Master

Maran never did anything without examining all of the factors, all the sides of the question. He never relied merely on what people told him but made all of his own inquiries. There were those who thought they could deceive or sway him, but in the end, they invariably reached the conclusion that ultimately those who thought they could mislead him, were misled, themselves.

HaRav Boruch Shapira told me that HaRav Mordechai Gifter zt'l, rosh yeshivas Telz in Cleveland, once asked Maran about his vehement objection to the yeshiva high school Maaravah. He had been told that the reason for his opposition was the fact that the students studied for the government matriculation (bagrut) exams. He had inquired and learned that it was not true that they took those exams.

Maran heard him out but did not react.

On the following day, R' Boruch went to the Ministry of Education, had copies made of the matriculation diplomas which had been awarded to the students of Maaravah, and brought them to R' Mordechai Gifter. When he saw them, R' Mordechai lifted his hands up and said, "How great are the words of Chazal who said never to question the doings of gedolei Torah . . . I failed in having questioned Maran's position, having presumed that he was acting on the basis of false information . . . "

The Industry that Would Build Up the Country

Maran was once asked to agree to meet with two high-ranking officials from the Finance Ministry who were in charge of the finances of yeshivos in the country, in the hope that this would prove beneficial in creating a positive attitude towards yeshivos in general. At first, he refused to see them. But in the end, he agreed.

An entire entourage of officials and their escorts arrived at the yeshiva. Before they approached Maran, who stood in his usual place, they looked all around them at the students who filled the beis medrash and were totally absorbed in their study. Maran left his place and, escorting the guests to the lobby, asked them if they had ever before visited a yeshiva. They replied in the negative. "Well then, you can recite the blessing `Shehechiyonu' for having merited this sight."

He then added, "In the capacity of your office, you allocate budgets for industry. Providing Jews with a means of livelihood is a very important thing, to be sure. But for your information, there is no better, more lucrative industry to build up the country than creating another Torah institute and yet another Torah institute, another yeshiva and another yeshiva. Without Torah, the state does not have a mandate to exist. Torah is the industry that will guarantee the existence of the State and of the Jewish people."

Maran concluded by saying, "After you leave, think about what this old man said to you. There will come a time when you will surely realize and understand what I stated."

The officials did not say anything but after they left, they turned to the one who had escorted them and said, "In the wake of what your rabbi said, we have decided to allocate the budget that was requested." (Lulei Soroscho)

Their Net is Spread Over the Entire World

Maran's net, or web, was spread not only from Dan to Beer Sheva, but throughout the entire world. In Europe, the United States, South America, Australia, in every city, town and settlement, Maran saw to it that a Torah school for boys or girls be established — a cheder, Bais Yaakov, yeshiva, kollel etc. Maran did not suffice with merely establishing those Torah institutions but accompanied them, guided them, directed their curriculum, told them how to teach it, and helped in every possible spiritual and material way.

HaRav Elya Svei, rosh yeshivas Philadelphia, said, "I am an American, but Maran HaGaon R' Shach, knows a great deal more than I about what is going on here in America. He knows what is going on in every single yeshiva, in every community. I am utterly amazed at how expert he is in every single detail." (Quoted by R' Boruch Shapira)


HaGaon R' Chaim Kreiswirth zt'l, one of Europe's greatest rabbis, traveled extensively throughout the world. He reached places very distant from the major Jewish concentrations: in Australia, Mexico and Chile. He saw Torah institutions and wondered how they had ever become established in such remote areas when it completely defied expectations. When he asked, the reply invariably was the same: it was all done through the initiative and help of Maran HaRav Shach. They would also add that he continued to maintain close contact with them and served as a very active mentor and guide.

"There is no doubt that he was chosen by Providence to be the leader and master of all Jewry," exclaimed R' Chaim Kreiswirth enthusiastically, adding that in his opinion, ever since the era of the reishei golusa, there has been no single leader with equal decisive influence over the entire world such as could be said of Maran.

Maran was involved in everything that took place in the yeshiva world. There did not exist a yeshiva or Torah institution which did not consult with him and then follow his beneficial advice, both in spiritual and in material matters. Whenever differences of opinion arose between principals, administrators and roshei yeshiva, he would enter into the thick of the problem, devote as much time as was needed, indeed limitlessly, and would not rest or desist until affairs had been straightened out and everything could continue running smoothly.

Rosh Yeshivas Telz HaRav Mordechai Gifter zt'l immigrated to Eretz Yisroel in order to lead the Telzer yeshiva that was established here. After a short period however, HaRav Boruch Sorotzkin, who had replaced him in Cleveland, passed away, and the yeshiva administration begged him to return.

R' Mordechai related that he went to consult with Maran. "Maran told me to return to the States. But since I dearly wished to remain here, I decided to go and ask the Steipler; perhaps he would find a way for me to stay. After hearing the sides of the question, he said, `This is a question that should be addressed to Maran.' I told him that I had already asked him and he had told me to go back. The Steipler seemed very surprised at me and said, `If the godol hador told you to return to America, why in the world did you come to ask me?'"

Fencing the Breach

Maran stood on guard against any breach and violation. He often said to me, "It is my nature not to fight battles against any person. And whenever there is a need to do so, I wait and see if there are people bigger and better than me ready to wage the war. But when I see that there is no one to stand in the breach, I feel the obligation to do it myself, for I know that in the Heavenly Court, they will hold me accountable. They will charge me, `Can it be that you saw the breach and did not do what was necessary to repair it?'"

In a previous chapter we mentioned that in 5733, the chief rabbi of the IDF officiated at a second marriage whose partners were known to be mamzeirim, at the request of Moshe Dayan, the Defense Minister at the time. Maran's spirit was stormy. He was overwrought and distressed and felt obligated to react.

Maran made a surprise appearance at a meeting of the central Agudath Israel committee. He stood up and said, "I have come to stage a protest, to register my strong objection to the terrible breach which was perpetrated to Jewry, that one who bears the title of rabbi should allow the marriage of mamzeirim and actually usher them into the fold of Jewry."

Maran spoke with fire and brimstone. One could verily feel the deep pain that suffused his entire being. He declared: "It shall not be! Whoever does something against the Torah shall no longer be recognized as a rabbi in the midst of our people. His rulings shall not be honored as rulings but become null and void."

Maran did not rest or desist. He initiated a special meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah to which the major poskei hador were invited: Maran HaGaon R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk'l, and l'hbchl'ch Maran HaGaon R' Eliashiv shlita. It was decided at this meeting to protest the actions of the chief rabbi of Zahal.

An ad was publicized to the general public, signed by Maran R' Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, HaRav Shach, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and lhbchl'ch Maran R' Eliashiv, in which it was declared that his rulings had no validity of a halachic decision.

"I Indenture Myself Wholly to Klal Yisroel"

HaRav Zvi Eisenstein, rosh mesivta of Netzach Yisroel, related that he once apologized to Maran for disturbing him often and robbing him of his precious time, to deal with his problems. Maran took his hand and said, "For seventy years I was totally and solely engrossed in Torah study. Now that I have passed the age of eighty-three, I have reached the `bar mitzvah' age of the normal `seventy-year life span.' If Hashem has granted me life, I must subserve it entirely to Klal Yisroel."

Towards the end of his very advanced years, when his eyesight became very limited and he found it difficult to study, Maran was very broken and would complain bitterly that he could not study as before. When his personal physician asked him if he still had the will to continue living, he replied, "I wish to continue to live because people still come to consult with me and ask for my advice." (Lulei Toroscho Sha'ashuai)

His Battle for the Strengthening of the Representation of Torah-True Jewry

Maran devoted personal time to promoting the success of Agudath Israel in the elections. He had a very clear-cut position that it was vital to increase the power of chareidi Jewry as much as possible in all of the local councils, townships and in the Knesset. Maran did not regard this as a political move but as a true strengthening of Yiddishkeit.

When those in the circles close to R' Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik of Brisk argued that their leader was opposed to participating in the elections, Maran announced in a meeting of bnei Torah in a very loud and decisive tone: "I know the Brisker Rov's view very well — better than anyone else. In fact, there is no one who understands him better. And I do so determine," he declared, "with certainty, even in his very name, that there is an obligation to participate in the elections and to increase the power of Agudath Israel!"

Maran added, "I have no doubt that were the Chasam Sofer alive today, he would also rule that one is duty-bound to take part and bolster the strength of the chareidi public, of Agudath Israel, in the elections."

This explicit pronouncement from Maran was an expression of his power of leadership. It showed that he was not afraid of rightists and extremists within the Torah camp.

From the Straits to the Expanse

In 5737, Agudath Israel made significant gains in the elections and was a pivotal pin in the makeup of the coalition government. The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, headed by Maran, directed Agudath Israel to try to depose the Labor government which had been ruling the country from the beginning of its statehood, by signing an agreement with the Likud headed by Menachem Begin. The Begin government was willing to make every concession to Agudah demands concerning religious matters, like amending the law of women's draft, passing legislation against autopsies, releasing yeshiva students from army service and doing everything to make Orthodox life as independent and amenable as possible.

The very fact of joining the government coalition was an innovation requiring a great deal of courage, since for over two decades Torah Jewry had preferred sitting in the opposition. The circles of zealots did not spare their tongues in lashing out against Maran, but Maran was adamant and determined to do what he felt was daas Torah. Today, with hindsight, it can be said that Maran's move was truly revolutionary. It opened up an entirely new era in the annals of chareidi Jewry in Israel.

During this period, Maran's leadership qualities were revealed in their full potency. I am certain that had it not been for his determination and unwavering leadership in assuming full responsibility for this step, and Maran's giving us his full backing, we could never have passed those amendments which are the very heartbeat of Torah-true Jewry.

These legislative amendments were made according to Maran's closely guided, supportive direction. Factions opposed to Agudath Israel argued that the amendments did not answer to the needs and might even be exacerbating the situation. Their intent was clear. But Maran did not hesitate to announce publicly, "All of the amendments were made according to my specific guidelines and whoever has any objections or protests, should know that he is going against me."

This pronouncement served to shut the mouths of all the hecklers, who did not dare oppose Maran frontally.

It is difficult to describe how difficult it was for Maran to assume the mantle of responsibility, and publicly so, for every single word of those legislative amendments. But he did it for he knew how vital those amendments were. Today it is clear to one and all that these amendments helped rid us of those terrible decrees. These included the government board for the deferment of girls from military service, a committee which was made up of secular people who were opposed to deferring girls from the army. They did everything in their power to draft the girls rather than release them. Today, thanks to the amendment which was passed, every girl can send her declaration that she is religious via the post, and her deferment is automatic.

The amendment to the women's draft was passed in the Knesset very late at night. Maran asked to be notified as soon as it was passed, no matter how late the hour. I asked my son-in- law, R' Elozor Halevi Shulsinger, to go to Maran and inform him of the fact. He tried to go in to him at midnight, but seeing the apartment dark, he waited until there was a light — at three-thirty a.m. Maran greeted him happily and said, "You bear good news, good news!" He then added, "The light was not on until now. I had lain down, but I couldn't fall asleep. I was waiting to hear the news and wondered that R' Shlomo had not yet informed me of it . . . "

I would like to especially note that in the above coalition agreement, we tried to insert all of the topics that needed amending. When we showed Maran the draft of the agreement, he asked me, "Why didn't you include the matter of National Service for Women (Sherut Leumi)?"

I replied that that law had already become antiquated in the time of the Labor rule. The government had given up on enforcing it and had made peace with the fact that they could not implement it, knowing that the girls would veritably sacrifice their lives in order not to be drafted. If that was the case, why stir up a subject that was no longer relevant?

Maran did not accept that argument. "So long as the law is on the books, even if it is not being enforced, we must take into account the eventuality of it being stirred up. At some future point, the question may be raised, `How can it be that the government is not implementing a law that is still in effect?' Therefore, it is important that we fend this off and be prepared." On Maran's initiative, an additional clause was inserted in the coalition agreement stating that the government deemed itself responsible to see that the Law of National Service not be enforced.

In time, it was proven that `a wise man is preferable to a prophet.' A few years later, a petition was brought to the High Court against the government, ordering it to show cause why it was not enforcing the Law of National Service. As is known, a decision of the High Court can force the government to enforce a law on the books.

Thanks, however, to Maran's foresight in his having included that special clause in the agreement not to implement the law, the government was forced to include a clause in the law of the Sherut Leumi that this be enforced only at that time that the government so decided to do. But it was thanks to this paragraph that the intervention of the High Court was avoided, for they are powerless to do something against an explicit law.


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