Wednesday, August 15, 2018

I Will Resume Writing after Rosh Hashanah...Wishing All People of Good Will...Shana Tova u'Metuka.....

Writer's block

Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer's block has been a documented problem.[1]
Typewriter Adler No. 7 (5).jpg

Professionals who have struggled with the affliction include authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald[2] and Joseph Mitchell,[3] comic strip cartoonist Charles M. Schulz,[4] composer Sergei Rachmaninoff,[5] and songwriter Adele.[6] Research concerning this topic was done in the late 1970s and 1980s. During this time, researchers were influenced by the Process and Post-Process movements, and therefore focused specifically on the writer's processes. The condition was first described in 1947 by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler.[7] However, some great writers may have already suffered from writer’s block years before Bergler described it, such as Herman Melville, who quit writing novels a few years after writing Moby-Dick.[8]


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The UOJ Perspective - Year 'Round Edition!

A Time to Cry - A Time to Learn What is Genuine and What Are Lies!

The # 1 Most Widely Read Post of all 2011 

The events of the past several years, very obviously demonstrate the way you and your leaders understand our cultural history. But for the few of us that truly understand our history, as I do, untangling some of its complex strands has practical and intellectual consequences.

In my own case, the hardest - and the most challenging - is my never-ending research of Judaism's core values. I had to unlearn what I thought I knew, and was forced to shed presuppositions I had grown up with and taken for granted internally and intellectually.

This type of introspection, difficult to the extreme, has given me the depth of understanding of the Jewish doctrines to which is part of my very being, embedded in my DNA, and has assisted me in determining, at least for myself, what is divine and what is human.

For those who will never experience my struggle, there is no contradiction at all to the divine and human perception, the challenge is integrating the two. They are not diametrically opposed to one another as your ignorant rabbis would have you believe. They rule out that learned and spiritually inclined Jews, have always sought to discern spiritual truth via their intuition, reflection, senses, and creative imagination.

The rabbis that will deny you your God-given intellect, to experience on your own what humankind was destined to evolve into, a mirror-image of the beauty of what could and should be the Divine will of chochmat ha'briah; the understanding of the evolution of the intellect to adapt to today's realities of truth and practicality. What they would want you to forget, that only with the shedding of the "Church" as the arbiter of truth and morality in the U.S. Constitution, a mere couple of hundred of years ago, was then civilization, at least the United States, able to remove its intellectual shackles burdened and encumbered by nonsense, cruelty, ignorance and hell.

We've developed more in the last few hundred years, than we have in the last untold thousands. That does not come without a price, however. But that is not the thrust of this post.

Rabbis who will deny such experiences, can teach us anything they choose to about God,and have always identified themselves as our "guardians" of the ancient traditions, or Mesorah. They will preach with fire in their eyes and bimah-banging that it is only they that can determine your faithfulness - by your ability to abide by their interpretation of what was handed down from ancient witnesses -- never adding or subtracting anything unless you consult with them first. And these "guardians", who refer to themselves as the "eini ha'edah" or the eyes of the community, that this view of their role expresses appropriate humility; and it vests them and them alone of the Divine Truth, with God's own authority.

These so-called leaders, of course could not ban the imagination entirely, but they effectively channeled your religious imagination to support their opinions, no matter how cruel and ignorant they may be. Everything you are, they teach, is because you are merely an extension of them, not individuals who have the ability to know right from wrong. And if you stray; like Heaven forbid, do not consult with them if an ongoing series of heinous crimes and cover ups are transpiring under your noses, by the very rabbis that will have you consult with them only, than it is you that is the heretic, the maskil, the sheigetz, the oisvorf and the menuvel.

But in fact, these "heretics" having left the intellectual Jewish ghettos of New York, have impoverished the very system that they outgrew. These "heretics" often walk alone - despite the fact that the spiritual inquiry that they undertook, forcing them to leave their ghettos of origin behind, have become primary sources of inspiration to tens of thousands, and eventually their ideas to the vast majority of Jews, because ultimately I pray "right makes might"!

What such people seek, however, is NOT a different set of rules and obligations to their faith, but rather insights or intimations of the Divine, that would validate themselves in experience. Some who have engaged on this path pursue it in voluntary solitude; others participate in various forms of worship, prayer and action, or a combination of the above.

Engaging in such a practice requires the highest form of faith, or belief, but it also involves so much more; the trust that enables us to commit ourselves to what we hope and love. We have the knowledge and experience to declare boldly; "THIS IS NOT SO, I DO NOT ACCEPT THAT!"

The sociologist Peter Berger points out that everyone who participates in tradition today chooses among elements of that tradition. We survived thousands of years BECAUSE we were able to relive, reinvent, and transform what we received.

This act of choice - which the term heresy originally meant - leads us back to the problem that Orthodoxy meant to resolve; how can we tell truth from lies? What is genuine and thus connects us with one another and with reality, and what is shallow, self-serving, or evil? Anyone who has seen foolishness, sentimentality, delusion, and murderous rage disguised as God's truth, knows that there is no easy answer to this dichotomy. Orthodox Judaism distrusts your capacity to make such discrimination and insists on making them for us. Given the often notorious human capacity for self-deception, we can thank your so-called rabbis for this. And the many of you that wish to be spared hard work, gladly accept what these rabbis tell you.

But the fact that we do not have a simple answer, does not mean we should evade the question. We have also seen the hazards - even terrible harm - that sometimes result from unquestioning of religious authority. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman's tyrannical, unforgivable conduct during the Holocaust comes immediately to mind. Thousands went to their death upon instruction from him. How many hundreds of thousands of "modeh ani l'fanechahs" will forever remain unsaid every morning from the mouths of children?, perhaps only God knows, but I suspect that He does not know either.

Many of us, however, sooner or later, at critical points in our lives, will have to make our own path where none exists. And that, done correctly, is a good thing. As for me, I am resolute, passionate in my beliefs, non-yielding to any ideological foe that crosses my path. I live in my head and in my contemplative soul. Any setback I view as temporary and a challenge to outhink my opponent. I never concede to evil, never...and I never will. My children and your children are counting on me, whether they know it or not.

And so are you....

As the posuk in יְשַׁעְיָהוּ Isaiah - 10:13 says, "The light of Israel will be fire and its Holy One - flame, it will burn and consume its thorns..."

READ: Investment Banking Blog

Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt"l - In Memoriam - His Yahrzeit - The Third Day Of Elul

Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz was born in the town of Willig in Hungary in 1886 into a family of G-d-fearing Sanzer chassidim. At a young age -- when he was already studying Shulchan Oruch Yore De'ah with Shach, Taz and the Pri Megadim -- he had acquired a name as a scholar who brimmed with deep religious passion. He studied under the Arugas Habosem, the B'eer Shmuel, and the Shevet Sofer, Rav Simcha Bunim Sofer --the three leading gedolim of Hungary at the time, and received semichah from them.

A person of deep complexity and contemplation, he pursued Jewish philosophy and mussar privately, and at a young age had completed the entire works of the Maharal, Kuzari, Mesilas Yeshorim, and works of chassidus. He avidly studied the works of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch in the original German. He saw Rav Hirsch as his ideal because Hirsch had successfully devised a religious Jewish weltanschauung that could stand up to the challenges of modernity. (Nothing showed his diverse interests more than the fact that he spent his entire wedding dowry on buying a set of Zev Yaavetz's history books.)

Although Rav Shraga Feivel appeared an unassuming young man, he had a rare strain of boundless idealism running through his fabric. When he came across the statement in the gemora that, "Were Israel to keep two Shabbosim in a row, the Redemption would immediately come" he promised himself then and there that he would work to draw the hearts of Jews back to their Father in Heaven.

In the early years of the twentieth century, when Jews all over the world were blindly rushing to embrace enlightenment, communism, socialism and every other "ism" besides their ancestral heritage, his dream appeared as unpractical, wishful thinking.

At age 22 he married, and settled near his father's home in the town of Humina. In 1913, he decided to leave for the U.S. for reasons never clearly defined by him. Before he left, he received a brocho from Rav Yeshaya of Krestira, who foretold that he would accomplish great things in America.

The first few years in the U.S. Rav Shraga Feivel spent trying his hand at different professions. Although an expert at the laws of shechita, he saw after a day that this profession did not suit him. He taught in talmud Torahs in New York, Bridgeport and Scranton, before he returned to New York and opened an ice cream business.

Although he still dreamed of opening a yeshiva, he had discovered that in the U.S., all the power was concentrated in the hands of a talmud Torah's president and board of directors, and the principal and teachers were viewed as merely low level servants. He dreamed of succeeding in his business and with the funds, opening his own yeshiva. However, his business was not succeeding as planned, possibly because his head was more in his Torah studies than in ice cream.

Kashruth and educating the public

Rav Shraga Feivel was a lover of Jewish liturgical music; he and chazzan Yossele Rosenblatt became friends and together created The Jewish Light (Dos Yiddishe Licht) newspaper. The intent was to inform the Jewish public about the awareness of their heritage, shmiras hamitzvas, the importance of keeping the kashruth laws; and they wanted to give their secular brothers an alternative to The Forward (and The Workmen's Circle/Bund). He was way ahead of his times; the public was not interested for the most part in their message, and the paper folded leaving them deep in debt.

Rav Shraga Feivel, realizing that his business enterprises were failing, in the summer of 1921, after being pursued by various members of the board, he finally agreed to take a teaching job at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, which at the time was a "talmud Torah" rather than a yeshiva. Many of the teachers were not shomrei Torah and mitzvos, a very sore spot in the side of Rav Shraga Feivel, and added to his hesitancy of joining the school. He was certain that the Torah could only be learned, if taught by frum teachers. A series of illnesses that struck him didn't allow him to take the job until Elul 1923, when he was appointed to teach the eighth grade class.

Rav Nesanel Quinn, a student who had arrived the year before and later became principal of Jewish studies in the yeshiva, recounts, "In the first days after he came to the yeshiva, even the worst students began to feel more positive about their Jewish studies. He tried -- and succeeded -- in making Torah study beloved to them, and in giving them the feeling of closeness to Hashem. They began to keep mitzvos not out of habit but out of deep feeling. He imbued one with pride to study Torah, and that nothing in this world could compare to Torah study."

The Yeshiva Leaps Spiritually

The board hired Reb Shraga Feivel for just six months on a trial basis instead of a year, as they had done with all the previous principals, and if they weren't satisfied, they could fire him. To their surprise, Reb Shraga Feivel told them that he wasn't even interested in a six-month contract. He offered that they could hire him on the basis that if at any point they were dissatisfied, they could fire him on the spot. All the previous principals had insisted on a detailed contract for an entire year.

Rav Shraga Feivel began the next day. He found a group of cool, impassive teachers whose resentment of him bristled under the surface. The teachers too were all of Polish or Russian extraction, and they could not respect the Hungarian man who "lacked up-to-date scholastic and educational training" and proudly sported a beard and payos.

But as the following weeks unfolded, and each teacher had the occasion to meet and discuss topics with him, they soon stood open-mouthed before Rav Shraga Feivel's vast knowledge. The teacher who was expert in Hebrew grammar soon discovered that Rav Shraga Feivel was a giant in dikduk. The teacher whose specialty was Jewish history soon discovered that Rav Shraga Feivel knew far more than he.

Within a few weeks, the entire staff was united in their reverence and respect for the new principal who each admitted towered far above him. Rav Shraga Feivel began his innovative program right away.

On his first day as principal, Rav Shraga Feivel dictated a letter to the members of the board. He wrote them that a person cannot be balabos (board member) over a yeshiva unless he appreciates Torah. He demanded that every one of them attend a Torah shiur at least twice a week. The board members were astonished -- but they complied.

Rav Shraga Feivel gave a shiur in the home of Reb Benzion Weberman where he impressed the committee members with his deep religious, educational and personal ideals. They began to understand that it wasn't sufficient for a child to have a Jewish education only until his bar mitzva years, which was the standard in America until then.

In addition to winning over the rebbes and the parents, Rav Shraga Feivel soon was idolized by the students. They had never seen a principal who taught with such heart and neshomoh. On holidays he made assemblies and parties, and would dance with the students. He would sing soulful songs "Kadsheinu" and "Vetaheir libeinu" with such ecstasy that all the students were swept up with the same emotion.

"It isn't the slightest exaggeration to say that Rav Shraga Feivel blew a new soul into us, of a natural Jewish approach to our Torah. We could clearly sense how the Shechina was present in every class. A new spirit blew in the life of the yeshiva -- and all this he did quietly, without noise, without giving orders."

Torah Vodaath's name began to spread far and wide in New York. There was no longer any need to recruit bochurim for the yeshiva and the problem now became how to find enough room for all the boys. The crowding forced the committee to open classes in rented apartments around the district. Classes were held in the Keap Street beis hamedrash, the Lincoln business school, and the Beis Aaron shtiebel on Division Avenue. At the same time, the spiritual growth fostered by Rav Shraga Feivel kept pace with the physical growth of the yeshiva.

The Mesivta is Founded

The idea of a Jewish high school was still far-fetched. When the end of the year drew near, Rav Shraga Feivel persuaded the parents of the eighth-grade boys to keep their sons in the yeshiva for "just one more year." Rav Shraga Feivel arranged for the youths to study in a local high school at night where courses were offered for adults who had not completed their high school diploma. He knew such a school would have less of an influence on his students than learning in a public school with youth their age. Besides the hours at night devoted to secular studies, the boys studied Jewish studies from early in the morning and even late at night after they finished their secular studies.

When the end of the year came around again, Rav Shraga Feivel convinced the parents to agree to just one more year. And when that year finished, the parents were willing to agree to another year. At that point, he found himself with a group of high school youths whose dedication to Torah study remained strong and unswerving.

Says Rav Nesanel Quinn, one of the students of this group, "Our study day was long and exhausting, but Rav Shraga Feivel pushed us to study Torah additional hours, on our own initiative, as it were, until late at night. I remember that he sat and studied Torah with us every Thursday night until almost midnight, and we felt that Torah study was so sweet that we almost didn't feel tired. Our load of studies was not easy, particularly if you compared it to the study program in a public school. But none of us ever complained. The frequent recesses of course helped to release the tension, but mainly what helped was that in our society, everyone was working hard and no one had it easy. So the heavy load on us wasn't viewed as anything extraordinary. We were so busy with our studies that we virtually had no time to spend on small talk."

When Rav Shraga Feivel was ready to implement his next educational endeavor -- the Mesivta -- he already had a group of older boys who had spent 12 years in intense Jewish education and the idea of continuing Jewish studies after elementary school was becoming more palatable.

When Rav Shraga Feivel asked to open a full high school division, with structured Jewish and secular studies offered within the format of the school in 1927, his request met with resistance from the board. The board, truth to tell, had nobly maintained the elementary school through unflagging and exhaustive efforts, but to undertake the support of a high school on top of that was a burden that the members saw as overwhelmingly difficult and perhaps unjustified.

Mr. Avrohom Lewin, a board member backed Rav Shraga Feivel. Despite the failure of Mr. Lewin's business during the growing Depression that hit America in those years, he staunchly agreed to buy a building at 505 Bedford Avenue for the Mesivta (as Rav Shraga Feivel called the high school to differentiate it from the elementary school, which was called "the yeshiva").

Shortly after Mr. Lewin purchased it, taking out large loans in his name, a real estate agent offered to buy it back from him at a much higher price -- that would have landed him a profit equal to three years of livelihood. But Mr. Lewin passed the difficult trial, and made the building available to the yeshiva. Eventually, the committee board agreed to take the Mesivta under its wing and pay for its cost. However, the burden of running and maintaining it fell upon Rav Shraga Feivel.

It must be emphasized what an immense achievement this was. Not only had Yeshiva Torah Vodaath acquired a sterling name as a yeshiva with undiluted Torah values, but it was the only yeshiva at the time with an excellent high school program. The other yeshiva schools, such as Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef, Rav Shlomo Kluger and Tiferes Yerushalayim, were only elementary schools with at best afternoon programs for public high school students.

Rav Shraga Feivel's concept of the Mesivta program had no parallel in any yeshiva in the world -- and not just because he incorporated secular studies and a high school degree into the yeshiva. This in itself was an act of genius. He understood that for American Jewry to flourish, yeshiva boys must have a secular education. He insisted that his talmidim excel in the secular program as well. When he asked the European gedolim about the issue of secular studies in the yeshiva, the only shaila was could it be housed in the same building as used for limudei kodesh.(There were fanatics on the board, that insisted the yeshiva change its name from Torah Vodaath to a name that did not imply that there was daas outside of Torah. He strongly disagreed with that premise, as did Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch)

Besides gemora being taught on a high level, he insisted that the curriculum include Chumash and Novi with their commentaries, the meanings of the prayers, knowledge of the 613 mitzvos, Jewish law, and sifrei yirah and mussar such as Sha'arei Teshuvah, Mesilas Yeshorim, and for select students, even Doros Harishonim, the detailed Jewish history book written by Rav Y. Halevi. Many of the latter courses he personally taught. He saw the utter importance of giving his students a solid foundation in Jewish faith and hashkofo that was taken for granted in the European yeshivos.

The atmosphere of the yeshiva was an unusual mix of Litvish learning taught by great Litvish scholars some of whom he brought over from Europe, with chassidic enthusiasm and soul which he himself injected. He integrated different approaches from various groups in Klal Yisroel and knew how to create a harmonious synthesis that appealed to his American students.

Although his influence permeated the yeshiva and every student in it, he humbly kept himself to the sidelines and refused to accept the title of "Rosh Mesivta" or even the more routine title of "Rabbi." He could not be found at the Mizrach of the beis hamedrash during prayers. He was the hinge on which the entire yeshiva turned, but to the unknowing eye, he seemed just an unassuming person filling a nondescript role. Who had ever heard of a man who built an entire yeshiva with mesiras nefesh -- only to refuse to take the mantle of honor it would bequeath to him?

In the shiurim Rav Shraga Feivel gave to the classes of the Mesivta he spoke constantly of Eretz Yisroel and the negative effect of college (he later altered his opinion, and asked Rabbi Hutner to apply for a college charter from New York State, under changing circumstances and an evolving necessity for many talmidim). Had he lived,  a college would have been built under the auspices of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.


Courtesy of the Mendlowitz Family Archives and Philip Fishman
 MORE: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2014/02/in-1946-americas-top-non-hasidic-haredi-rabbis-wanted-to-combine-their-yeshivas-to-form-a-jewish-university-567.html

 In one shiur, to the astonished eyes of his students who didn't know if he was hallucinating or really meant it, he said that the day would come when he would found a kollel avreichim for them to continue their studies in Eretz Yisroel after their weddings. No one in their wildest dreams at the time even considered continuing their Torah studies after their weddings. Each student felt that his hands were full with just remaining in yeshiva for high school despite the disapproval of his parents, the mockery of his neighbors, the haughty looks of his more Americanized friends, and the spirit of materialism and heresy that blew in powerful gusts all around him.

The Mesivta grew, and Rav Shraga Feivel realized his dream of creating knowledgeable, deeply religious and committed Jews. Years later, he created Beis Midrash Elyon in an "unknown" town called Monsey near Spring Valley, where hand-picked married students engaged in high-level Jewish studies and where Torah students went in the summer for a combined program of summer relaxation and Torah study. This was the first kollel of its kind in the United States.

Wellsprings of the Mesivta

Rav Shraga Feivel created soldiers who went forth to Jewish communities outside of New York and founded yeshivas and saved the remnant of religious Jews from going lost. He sent students to found new yeshivos: Lakewood, Telz, and the Nitra Yeshiva, and he gave up his own sorely-needed supporters instructing them to help support new yeshivos that were opening up elsewhere. He founded Beis Midrash Elyon, for advanced Torah study at a kollel level. One of his greatest dreams came to fruition when Torah Umesorah, whose goal was to create day schools and yeshivos all over the world, was founded.

By the time Rav Shraga Feivel passed away in 1948, American religious Jewry was still small and tender, but had deep and strong roots. Yeshivas Torah Vodaath had sprouted numerous rabbis and activists that helped create the prominent religious Jewish communities that we see today spread out throughout the U.S. and Canada.

With the mighty personality of Rav Shlomo Heiman, the rosh yeshiva who taught the older bochurim of the Mesivta from the years 1933-1943, Rav Shraga Feivel produced the first team of Torah scholars of stature on American soil, all of whom had incubated in the classrooms of Torah Vodaath. They continued to reinvigorate Jewish religious life around the globe throughout the twentieth century.

The fabric of the American Jewish community began to change in the 1950s. The flood of survivors and the local religious community opened new yeshivos, the religious community burgeoned, a new religious-American weltanschauung developed which enabled a religious Jew to face American society with confidence and independence.

His love for his fellow Jew was expressed best by Rabbi Weissmandel in his book "The Unheeded Cry." "(Paraphrased) There was no rabbi in the U.S.A. that cared for the plight of European Jewry more than the saintly Rav Shraga Feivel, and helped greatly in the fundraising and hatzoloh efforts to save every Jew possible."

Rav Shraga Feivel took seriously ill in 1948. He was an ardent zionist; he urged his son in-law, Rabbi Alexander Linchner, to go to Israel and save the Sephardi children from secularism. Boys Town Jerusalem was established in 1949, the largest yeshiva/trade school of its kind anywhere in the world.

He asked that he be buried in a non-monumented grave in the Arugas Habosem cemetery on Long Island until the situation in Israel would enable his burial there. He was laid to rest in his final resting place in Bnei Brak. Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt"l, in his will, requested that he be buried next to Rav Shraga Feivel. Until this day, the Kehillas Arugas Habosem has left his original grave empty.

It is not an exaggeration to say that there was no man that impacted the American Jewish landscape with such purpose, clarity of thought, and vision, as the saintly Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zecher tzaddik v'kadosh levracha.

(Much of the material was taken from Shlucha DeRachmana (written in Hebrew) by R' Aaron Suraski who interviewed many family members. Mr. M. Samsonowitz gathered and had written much of the material. Although this piece had other important figures mentioned in the establishment of the American yeshiva movement, upon extensive research, I had discovered that they were greatly exaggerated to the point of being fabricated, and could not at all discern the true from the false, so I eliminated that material entirely. The above edited piece, is accurate, although not the entire story.)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Now more than ever, how desperately we crave Reb Shraga Feivel’s purity, righteousness, and encouragement, to lift the stone that covers our hearts, weighing us down and blocking out the light."

In Love with Everything Holy --- In meeting Reb Shraga Feivel, a stone had been lifted


by Rabbi Judah Mischel

Maybe it was ordained On High that I should have to take a circuitous route to meet my rebbi — that I should first be required to survey the vast landscape of Yiddishkeit.

I grew up on Grove Street in old Monsey, our family the only Modern Orthodox baalei teshuvah — perennial outsiders in a predominantly yeshivish neighborhood. We were raised to be open, accepting, and respectful of all. My parents chose their Jewish destiny; we were always made very aware of our responsibility to think for ourselves and “do our own thing” in avodas Hashem. Our background allowed us the opportunity to explore the Torah’s many different pathways.

After a year in Eretz Yisrael, when I was trying to learn Torah seriously for the first time as a student at Yeshiva University, the challenge of “finding my place” in avodas Hashem was real. I was drawn to chassidus, engaged intellectually with Modern Orthodoxy, enamored of “the yeshivah world,” and ideologically at home in religious Zionism. There was so much beauty and opportunity in the diversity of Jewish communities. Yet so much seemed scripted, and the search for self, more like deciding which box to fit into, which set of cultural norms to adapt. As aspiring bnei Torah, did we really have to choose one way to the exclusion of all others?

While perusing old copies of the Jewish Observer between classes on the fifth floor of the YU library, I got my answer. I finally met the tzaddik who would become a formative influence and inspirational force in my life: Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz ztz”l. A tribute marking Reb Shraga Feivel’s 35th yahrtzeit penned by Rav Yitzchak Chinn, a close talmid, took my breath away.

The piece described an episode that took place in 1943, just a couple of blocks from where I’d eventually grow up in Monsey. Reb Shraga Feivel was sitting outdoors with a group of yungeleit, and asked one to turn over a large stone embedded in the ground. As he did, swarms of insects scurried about in every direction.

Said Reb Shraga Feivel: “Do you see those creatures? For their entire existence under that rock, they believed the world to be a dark, dreary place. By overturning that stone, you have revealed a whole new world, filled with light and beauty. In exposing them to the sun and sky, you’ve introduced a new dimension of reality into their lives.

“That is our mission in this world — to roll the heavy stones off souls and reveal the Yiddishe neshamah, to allow the ohr haShechinah to shine. When we have moved the boulders, we can lift our eyes to the Heavens, behold our Creator, and know our Yiddishkeit.”

In meeting Reb Shraga Feivel, I felt as though a stone had been lifted — and a new ray of light was shining in.

Reb Shraga Feivel defied definition and categorization; not tethered to any specific one of the shivim panim laTorah, he embodied the infinite expansiveness of Yiddishkeit. Reb Shraga Feivel’s way of learning Torah revealed its awesome unity: plumbing the commentary of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch to explain challenging passages in Tanya — and vice versa. Chassidus, mussar, nigleh and nistar — for Reb Shraga Feivel, it was all One.

Even while quoting freely from the writings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook, Rav Shraga Feivel maintained a close friendship with and deepest respect for Reb Yoelish, the Satmar Rebbe. At Torah Vodaath and Beis Medrash Elyon, classic yeshivah learning was complemented with shiurim on Tanach and tefillah, the teachings of Reb Tzaddok HaKohein of Lublin with insights on the intricacies of biblical grammar. Rambam’s Shemonah Perakim and Rebbe Nachman’s Sippurei Maasios, Chovos Halevavos, Ramchal and the Tzemach Tzedek.

Fusion implies bringing together of separate, individual parts to form a complete whole. Reb Shraga Feivel didn’t “fuse” discrete parts; he was drawing from a higher source.

“The Tree of Life was in the center of the Garden” (Bereishis 2:9). Reb Shraga Feivel taught: No matter how disparate the various ideas and approaches in Torah that we learn may seem to be, they are all different approaches to the Eitz Chayim. As long as the Tree of Life is “b’soch haGan” — and Torah is at the center — it can be approached from all directions.

Reb Shraga Feivel carried the dialectic within himself: charisma and humility, passionate activism and hisbonenus, intellect and emotion. A gadol who saw himself as a regular person, “Mr. Mendlowitz” shunned all honorifics and trappings of kavod. A public figure, constantly surrounded by talmidim, who relished privacy and quiet. An idealist with two feet firmly on the ground, Reb Shraga Feivel upheld unwavering fidelity to his Hungarian upbringing, while attuning his incredible sensitivity to the needs and realities of the postwar American Jewish community.

Uncompromising in his dedication to truth — at a time when ideology mattered — Reb Shraga Feivel was unabashed in voicing staunch opposition to innovations he felt threatened tradition, but still managed to maintain respectful working relationships with those he vehemently disagreed with.

“Hashem sefasai tiftach” — in asking the Ribbono shel Olam to open our mouths and sing His praise, we aim to emulate His infinite nature, to be big, expand our boundaries, open our borders. As Reb Shraga Feivel would say: “Der seichel iz elastish” — the mind is elastic. If we are intellectually honest, it can be stretched from one extreme to another. Hotziah mimasger nafshi.

Reb Shraga Feivel’s natural expansiveness validated drawing from approaches in Yiddishkeit that seemed to conflict: “Some souls drink from Tanya. Others from the Ramchal. Still others from Rav Hirsch. I drink from all of them, though at any given time, I might drink from one in particular.”

From Reb Shraga Feivel came “insider” confirmation that the search for truth and the fulfillment of ratzon Hashem is more about “a Torah perspective,” as opposed to “the Torah perspective.” “Taamu u’reu ki tov Hashem,” for a searching Jew, Reb Shraga Feivel catered a fresh, bountiful, and spiritually healthy smorgasbord of theological opportunity.

Reb Shraga Feivel’s open heart felt the joys and pain of Klal Yisrael, burned for Torah, and was deeply connected to Eretz Yisrael — in love with everything holy. Sensing the Divine vitality that pulsates through all of creation, he was a baal avodah who heard all of nature singing Hashem’s praise. Reb Shraga Feivel enjoyed spending time in nature, and often looked toward the sky, davening from what he called “the siddur of David Hamelech.” When a talmid inquired of his rebbi’s preference of davening next to a window: “He thinks I’m looking out, but actually, I’m looking in.”

Reb Shraga Feivel’s singular focus on “looking in” — on living a life of penimiyus, nurturing the inner worlds of others, and encouraging in-depth limud HaTorah — inoculated against superficiality.

Every Jew can be an “insider.” With Torah at the center, we are all equally close.

Reb Shraga Feivel suffered a heart attack when he heard that the Old City had fallen into Jordanian hands during Israel’s War for Independence. Doctors warned him against learning Baal Shem Tov al HaTorah — Reb Shraga Feivel’s excitement when learning the heiliger Baal Shem made his sensitive Jewish heart race dangerously.

“V’hasirosi lev ha’even v’nasati lachem lev basar.” In the end of days the Navi Yechezkel promises that Hashem will remove our hearts of stone and restore our natural hearts of flesh — a fleishige heart that senses that every moment in this world is revelation of Hashgachah pratis and an opportunity to draw close to Hashem. Or as Reb Shraga Feivel would say, “Der grester glick fun leben iz leben alein — the greatest fortune in life is life itself.”

Again and again I have returned to Yonoson Rosenblum’s masterful biography of Reb Shraga Feivel; it is a book that changes my life at each new stage I reread it, each time feeling a deeper yearning for Reb Shraga Feivel’s guidance, his expansive heart filled with ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisrael, nuance and complexity.

Working in the Jewish community, I am privileged to see the absolute best of Klal Yisrael. But even when everyone has only the best of intentions, things can often get personal, and worthy mosdos of different stripes step on each other’s toes. Dedicated professionals and volunteers, even rebbeim and menahalim, passionate for their specific cause, can get territorial over donors, programs — even social services. It’s hard not to get caught up in all of it. Business is business, people are people.

Asking myself, “What would Reb Shraga Feivel do?” invariably leads to clarity and magnanimity, ayin tovah and expansiveness. Reb Shraga Feivel was never confined or defined by where he worked — even by the yeshivos he founded, nurtured, and led. When the fledgling Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin was struggling with recruitment, Reb Shraga Feivel transferred some of his most prized talmidim there, sending his best guys to join “the competition.”

It wasn’t that Reb Shraga Feivel was so confident in his yeshivah that he was unafraid of competition; he simply saw that in the world of truth and penimiyus, there is no competition. Ovdei Hashem are all working for the same Boss, at different points in the Garden, facing the same Center.

Reb Shraga Feivel would remind his talmidim — in and out of yeshivah — that regardless of our professional identity, we are all “sheluchei d’Rachmana,” messengers on a mission from G-d.

As Reb Shraga Feivel’s 70th yahrtzeit approaches on Gimmel Elul, I am thinking about the tzaddikim hatehorim described by Rav Kook — the purely righteous who do not complain about darkness, but instead increase light. Now more than ever, how desperately we crave Reb Shraga Feivel’s purity, righteousness, and encouragement, to lift the stone that covers our hearts, weighing us down and blocking out the light.

I’d grown up literally around the corner from that tree under which Reb Shraga Feivel sat with his talmidim decades earlier, feeling like a perennial outsider. Maybe my not being born to a particular derech with set minhagim and clear mesorah was Hashem’s way of setting the stage for the unlikely kesher I feel with Reb Shraga Feivel. If in our search for meaning we are motivated l’Sheim Shamayim, then we are all insiders.

When we aspire to live each moment with penimiyus, we will find our place in the Torah world, cleaving to the Eitz Hachayim, the Tree of Life at the center of our lives.

Enough complaining about our generation and all that is lacking! “L’oro neilech” — the time for us has come in our search for dveikus to do the heavy lifting, for the ohr haShechinah, for Soul-Glow.

Tzaddikim b’mitasam nikra’im chayim — Reb Shraga Feivel zy”a, chai v’kayam!

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 722. Rabbi Judah Mischel, executive director of Camp HASC and former rebbi at Yeshivas Reishis, is a popular teacher of chassidus and founder of Tzama Nafshi, an organization dedicated to fostering Jewish education and inspiration. He lives with his family in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where he is a talmid muvhak of mashpia Rav Avraham Tzvi Kluger and translator of his works.


Friday, August 10, 2018

"Only a few months earlier, Reb Shraga Feivel, the great architect of Torah education in America, had placed a full-page ad in the Morgen Journal, the most widely read Yiddish newspaper of its day. The anonymous ad excoriated American Jews for their inaction during the Holocaust and called upon them to rebuild the Torah institutions and the vibrant Torah world that had been lost."

Rabbi Binyomin (Bernard) Goldenberg

In the Land of No, He Said YES

Several years ago, Rabbi Binyomin (Bernard) Goldenberg passed away in Yerushalayim, having lived the last three decades of his life in Eretz Yisrael. But over his long career with Torah Umesorah, he played a vital role in radically reshaping the spiritual landscape of Judaism in America. In an exclusive interview with Mishpacha only months before his passing, Rabbi Goldenberg shared some of his recollections, opening a rare window into the history of American Jewry in the early twentieth century.

 Sitting down with Mishpacha to reminisce, Rabbi Goldenberg began with a dramatic episode that was a pivotal moment in his life.

The year was 1946. While Europe’s rich world of yeshivos, with its centuries-long legacy of limud haTorah, lay in ruins, America’s yeshivah system was in its infancy. From a spiritual standpoint, North America was a parched wasteland. Only a relative handful of American boys were studying in the few yeshivos that existed; the rest were attending public schools. New York boasted a total of 7,000 students learning in twenty-seven yeshivos, and only three Jewish schools existed outside of New York — in Baltimore, Chicago, and Jersey City.

While Jews lived in many cities and towns across the United States, the level of Torah observance and knowledge was abysmally low. Many Jews had come to view the Torah and its precepts as antiquated and irrelevant, an obstacle to their pursuit of the security and prosperity that America had to offer.

This was the gloomy backdrop for a momentous encounter between the young Binyomin (Bernard) Goldenberg, then a student in Torah Vodaath, and his mentor, the legendary Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, one wintry afternoon in 1946. It is likely that Binyomin had no idea of the fateful nature of the conversation that was about to take place, of the startling new direction his life was about to take, and of the impact it would have on the entire future of American chinuch.

Only a few months earlier, Reb Shraga Feivel, the great architect of Torah education in America, had placed a full-page ad in the Morgen Journal, the most widely read Yiddish newspaper of its day. The anonymous ad excoriated American Jews for their inaction during the Holocaust and called upon them to rebuild the Torah institutions and the vibrant Torah world that had been lost. The ad was Reb Shraga Feivel’s plea to the slumbering Jewish public, his effort to awaken them to the aching need for a revival of Torah study and observance. He signed the advertisement, “Speaking to you is a Jew whose heart is pained by the destruction of our people, and who hopes that Torah in America will yet be rebuilt in the spirit of Torah and mesorah.” That last phrase was an allusion to Torah Umesorah (the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools), which Reb Shraga Feivel had founded in 1944.

Reb Shraga Feivel’s advertisement had elicited at least one response. A Mr. Leventhal, who lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, had written to the newspaper seeking to contact the anonymous advertiser, and the newspaper had forwarded his letter to Reb Shraga Feivel. Leventhal was a junk peddler who spent every Sunday collecting money in order to pay a melamed to teach the community’s children, and he was most interested in founding a school where the children could receive a formal Jewish education.

On that windswept Brooklyn street, as he headed toward the bus that would take him home to Williamsburg, Reb Shraga Feivel withdrew Leventhal’s letter from his pocket and handed it to Binyomin Goldenberg. Along with the letter, Reb Shraga Feivel handed the young man a directive he would never forget: “Binyomin, you must pack your bags and go to St. Paul, Minnesota. You must help this man build a day school there.”

Binyomin was stunned. A flurry of objections arose from his confused thoughts. “But it’s cold in Minnesota! And I don’t know how to get there!”

“You’ll find out,” was Reb Shraga Feivel’s even response.

“And I don’t know what to do when I get there!” Goldenberg continued to object. “How do I open a day school? At least give me the phone number of someone I can talk to, someone who can explain how to do this. Besides,” he added, “you just gave me a different job here. How can I leave that position?” Only two months earlier, Reb Shraga Feivel had informed Binyomin, in a similarly unceremonious fashion, that he was to be the founding editor of Olomeinu, a magazine in the spirit of the Torah for young Jewish readers.

Reb Shraga Feivel was unmoved by Binyomin’s protests. To his mind, someone else could take over the helm of Olomeinu. He had already selected Binyomin Goldenberg as the emissary of Torah Vodaath to plant the seeds for an oasis of Torah in the spiritual desert of Minnesota.

Mentor and student continued their intense exchange as one bus after another pulled into the bus stop and left without Reb Shraga Feivel. Finally, when the seventh bus arrived, Reb Shraga Feivel decided to board.

I’m not going!” Binyomin told him emphatically.

“There will yet come a day,” Reb Shraga Feivel called out to him through the bus’s still-open doors, “when they will invoke the words of Yirmiyahu HaNavi about you.”

Binyomin stared. “What words?”

“Don’t you know what he says?” the gadol replied. “Yirmiyahu says: Zacharti lach chesed ne’urayich, ahavas kelulosayich, lechtaich acharai ba’midbar, b’eretz lo zeruah. We read the words b’eretz lo zeruah as ‘a land that has not been sown’ — but that phrase can also be taken to mean a land that has been sown with lo, with ‘no,’ a land where negativity is embedded everywhere.

Minnesota is such a land, a place of negativity, where no one believes that a Jewish day school can thrive and that Jewish children can learn Torah and remain faithful to it. You will go to that land, and you will overcome the lo that is sown in every corner of it!”


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

In our sample of 372 Jewish adult men and women from the United States and Canada, we found a three-fold incidence of rape (involuntary penetration) among individuals who were raised Orthodox but no longer affiliate as such....

Sexual abuse and religion: A call for compassion 


A recent scientific study that I authored suggests that aside from sexual abuse being a horrific crime that can have disastrous psychological consequences, it may also thwart religious development.

My patient – a 17-year old female from a local religious community – was crying profusely. “My teacher was aghast when I asked a religious question in class, and everyone was whispering about me the rest of the day. I just don’t fit in.” She was right to be distraught. Aside from feeling ostracized and ashamed, she felt bitterly and utterly alone since no one around her understood that her spiritual questioning stemmed from an incident of sexual abuse that had occurred many years earlier.

A recent scientific study that I authored suggests that aside from sexual abuse being a horrific crime that can have disastrous psychological consequences, it may also thwart religious development.

In our sample of 372 Jewish adult men and women from the United States and Canada, we found a three-fold incidence of rape (involuntary penetration) among individuals who were raised Orthodox but no longer affiliate as such. We also found that across our entire sample, a history of childhood sexual abuse was correlated with less belief in God, lower religious observance, and diminished religious identity.

These findings are consistent with countless anecdotal accounts of individuals leaving religious communities in the wake of abuse. Such a phenomenon makes intuitive sense: Suffering abuse at the hands of ostensibly religious individuals can engender sentiments of disillusionment, betrayal, and mistrust in religion. More broadly, abuse can raise profound spiritual questions (e.g., why would a good God let bad things happen?) and spawn anxious or even avoidant attachment to God. When these changes are not handled delicately with compassion, validation, and an eye towards inclusion, victims feel socially marginalized and are likely to leave the fold.

To make matters worse, psychological science has found religious beliefs and practices to be of help to many people in healing from abuse. A substantial body of literature suggests that spirituality can provide solace, calm and hope, and that using spirituality to cope with adverse life events is associated with better outcomes. Indeed, in my study, stronger religious identity and greater adherence to religious life were associated with lower levels of mental distress and even decreased odds of having a psychiatric diagnosis. This suggests that sexual abuse victims who remain engaged in spirituality fare better than those who do not. As such, religious decline in the context of abuse is particularly tragic, since victims become distanced from the very resource that can help them move towards recovery.

The vast majority of writing on sexual abuse and religion has called upon religious communities to publicly condemn the immorality of abuse and mandate reporting of perpetrators to child welfare agencies. This backlash against the prevailing norm of cover-ups, nepotism, and scandals has created significant legal pressure on religious communities to take matters of abuse seriously. As a result, in my clinical experience, it is now fairly common for religious schools to conduct wrap-around inquiries and take measures to protect students when allegations are raised, and file reports when evidence of abuse is apparent.

It goes without saying that all cases of child sexual abuse and even suspected abuse should be reported to local authorities. This is not only a legal requirement for teachers, rabbis and other community leaders, but a moral one in order to physically protect children.

However, legal intervention is insufficient to help child abuse victims heal. For that to happen, religious communities must recognize that the consequences of abuse are not only psychological or social in nature. My research suggests that spiritual struggles and religious decline may be natural processes for some victims of abuse. These are not an intentional affront to religion, rather they are a normative psychological process that must be expected. Shunning and socially isolating individuals who present with religious questions only engenders greater disconnection, and in the case of abuse victims this can leave them bereft of the interpersonal and spiritual resources needed to heal. For all of these reasons, I call upon religious communities to respond to religious questioning and decline – irrespective of its origins – with validation and compassion.

The author is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and director of the McLean Hospital Spirituality and Mental Health Program.


Monday, August 06, 2018

Rabbi Moshe Felg/Peleg is a respected personality in the Haredi street in Jerusalem. He’s the head of “Shirat Yerushalayim”, a Midrasha for Baalot Teshuva; many of his shiurim are available on YouTube, and the Midrasha’s website says he founds and runs projects around the country and the world: workshops, study days and seminars for strengthening Jewish identity for youths. He also runs non-profits like the “Roots centre” in Jerusalem...

Moshe Felg/Peleg

Natanel (not his real name), 24, from Jerusalem, decided one day that he wouldn’t put up with it anymore. In one impulsive moment, he picked up the telephone and confronted his greatest fear – the Rabbi who he claims sexually assaulted him in his youth. “My dear, you essentially touched me, it all started from you, my dear, not me” claimed Rabbi Felg, in the first sentence of the charged conversation between them. He went on to apologize and even offered Netanel financial compensation to pay for psychological counselling.

Rabbi Moshe Felg is a respected personality in the Haredi street in Jerusalem. He’s the head of “Shirat Yerushalayim”, a Midrasha for Baalot Teshuva; many of his shiurim are available on YouTube, and the Midrasha’s website says he founds and runs projects around the country and the world: workshops, study days and seminars for strengthening Jewish identity for youths. He also runs non-profits like the “Roots centre” in Jerusalem.

Netanel was 13 years old when he started to immerse in a mikveh before shabbat, as is common in the Haredi community. This is Netanel’s story as he told Yediot Aharonot.

“I always went to my local mikveh before shabbat, and Rabbi Moshe Felg who lived near my parents would sit in the warm water,” he explained. “At first he’d stretch out his feet and stroke my legs with them. That happened a lot. Once we were alone, he put his feet on me and I froze. When another bather came in, Felg left and told me to follow him. I followed him without knowing where we were going. He took me into the bathroom of a local synagogue and sexually abused me. I remember at least three times in the bathroom. I would follow him without understanding. He’d smile and wink at me, and I felt like he cared about me and that he chose me when he could have chosen any other kid. On the other hand, I felt paralyzed.”

“Every time he took me to the bathroom I told myself I wouldn’t go in, but I still went in, and after it happened I felt broken. I wasn’t in control, it was a mess in my head. Felg would ask me to touch him, convince me that I’d enjoy it, but I felt frozen. One time it happened he suggested using shampoo, because ‘it will help’. He would rub our parts together and I’d stare into a corner of the bathroom, frozen. I don’t know how long it lasted. As a child, I blamed only myself for what happened, and for ‘failing’ the Rabbi”

Netanel, a good boy with strong grades, left the Yeshiva to hang out on the streets.

“I just got up and left”, he says. “Nobody managed to help me. They didn’t know what was happening and I was so caught up in guilt, especially because he was a neighbour I saw all the time. It affected me for all of my adolescence. I remember when I received my IDF beret I felt like such a man. I came home proud of myself for what I achieved, but then he passed me and waved hello, and I was paralyzed again… only after I got married did I understand that a child couldn’t consent, and that I wasn’t guilty.”

Netanel decided to call Rabbi Felg after reading an article about a pedophile. The whole conversation was recorded in which Rabbi Felg seems to accept Netanel’s story and apologizes to him, while also insisting that he thought he was older than 13.

Rabbi Felg/Peleg denies the story and attempted to get a court order banning its publication. 

Netanel was forced to appear in court, and the Jerusalem court accepted that his story should be heard.