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Holy War: Fighting for the Sake of Unity

February 1, 2018

“Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me— A man of conflict and strife with all the land!” – Yirmiyahu (15:10)

“If I am forced to be a man of conflict with the whole world because of the leaning towards truth that is deep in my soul – which [which causes me to be] unable to cope with any leanings towards falsehood – then I do not have the choice to be any other man. And I must transform all the main principles of truth which are hidden in my spirit from potential to action, without any consideration as to what the world will think of me, with all of its standards. This is the valiance of he who seeks truth. This is the valiance of a world tied to the eternal destiny of Am Yisrael which is girded with valiance.” – HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l (Kvatzim)

Recently, I have come under attack for publicly expressing my opinion – I will admit, aggressively and unapologetically – regarding a number of principles that I do not think should need reiteration in a Jewish community that has survived all forms of paganism and anti-Torah influences throughout history. Those who believe in these things have already been questioned by Hashem (Yirmiyahu 2:5): “What wrong did your fathers find in Me that they abandoned Me and went after delusion and were deluded?”

For those that have not followed this recent conversation (you can do so here), I will reiterate my statements below:

  • That no group of Jews has the right to call their rabbi the “Prince of the Generation”, nor can they expect others not to consider that arrogant and presumptuous. (This is especially true for a group of Jews that has always considered themselves separate from the rest of the movement they loosely affiliate with, and though they were respected by many, they were also – until recent years –just a fringe group of the Chassidic movement with virtually no influence on the rest of Jewish community and its theology, especially not in the lands of Sepharad from which I proudly hail.)
  • That the Torah prohibits us from praying to the dead, regardless of the level of righteousness of the deceased.
  • That the Mashiach will not arise from the dead. (Something we constantly tell Christians concerning Jesus, and Heaven protect us against what would happen if this fact would change.)
  • That the only reason I believe some Jews could claim any of the above things is because they are not intimately familiar with the beliefs of other religions and how much their own beliefs smack of idol worship.

The concept of Machloket L’Shem Shamayim, or conflict for the sake of Heaven, is not new to Judaism, though it indeed does seem to be foreign to some Jews who practice a faith that would be foreign to our Chachamim had they lived today. This is not the proper time and place with which to discuss this deep philosophical concept, but instead I came to speak about the Judaism which doesn’t know if it. In this new Judaism which has been created in the last century or so, Torah and Judaism are no longer synonymous. Classic beliefs and sources have been replaced with modern (and often inferior) ones, and a Torah of clarity has quickly become a Torah of confusion.

[It is in the context of this Judaism that today I was called an “Orthodox rabbi”. I am not, nor have any of my rabbis been “Orthodox” and I vehemently reject such categorization. We are Chachamim who follow in the path of Chachme Sepharad, who have never been sectarian, but rather have always deeply cared for all Jews, regardless of their background and affiliation. No matter where a Jew stood in terms of their connection to their faith, they had the same Chacham, the same community, the same family. While other rabbis were sitting Shiva for their family members who rejected their fanatic “Judaism”, we were teaching a Judaism of balance and sanity – one that didn’t divide itself up into sub-categories of Judaism, and one that did not require rabbis in the 1950’s to begin any “outreach movements”, for our Chachamim were always cherished, and their fellow Jews always loved. Though, this is a matter for another article…]

This chaotic Judaism was already foreseen by the Sages who write (Shabbat 138b):

“The Torah is destined to be forgotten from Yisrael”… Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explains: “They wander to ask the word of Hashem but they will not find it – they will not find clear Halachah and clear Mishnah in one place.”

Upon first becoming a communal rabbi in the United States, I was shocked to realize just how deeply this chaos had spread and how ingrained it was in the hearts of the masses. Children were being taught strange mutations of Judaism in schools, adults had been convinced that this Judaism is so dear to them that they must never abandon it; communal life was in shambles – and they did not even know it!

The Torah of clarity, of light, of strength, taught to us by HaKadosh Baruch Hu and His Prophets in the Tanach, clarified by our Chachamim in the Mishnah and Talmud, and codified into Jewish law by our great Poskim such as the Rambam and Maran Rabbi Yosef Karo – had been replaced with a Torah that glorified arguments and the darkness they created, that reveled in excessive opinions and maintained no clear pathways of connection to Hashem. All of a sudden, clear facts that were known to our fathers and mothers, passed down from the Creator to our Rabbis, were being replaced by new Jewish beliefs and practices – and the leaders of the Jewish communities around the world were too paralyzed to speak out, either because of silent agreement or because of the fear of being lynched by the masses who now became their own Poskim and spiritual leaders.

Not long after that first pulpit, a fellow rabbi (I am being kind) decided to speak out against me by attacking a class I gave in Shulchan Aruch. Publicly and without shame, he showed his entire community his ignorance of Torah, though his remarks against me made a terrible mark in the hearts of many people – until today. When pressed for a response from my students, I shared the following in a private letter, some of which I will now share:

The Rambam – our giant, our rabbi, our rebbe, our master, our teacher – was no stranger to controversy and attacks. His works were burned in the streets of Europe, and vilified as recently as the Chassidic sages of the Ukraine, an attitude one can still find in the Jewish community today. Why? Because he was controversial. What was controversial about the Rambam? He wrote the truth, explained Torah clearly, simplified the complex for the masses, wrote in Hebrew – and many more were his “controversial crimes”.

My rabbi and teacher, HaRav Yaakov Peretz demanded from us to always turn to the “Letters of the Rambam” for guidance as to how a Jew should act. Not in the columns of legal code that the Rambam left behind in his Mishneh Torah, nor in between the pages of fascinating philosophy found in his Moreh Nevuchim. Rather, “In his letters you will meet our Master the Rambam. In his letters you will find the man, the person, the human who is of such high stature. Turn to his letters and discover the beauty of Judaism”, said HaRav Peretz. These very letters are what I wish to share with you today. This is my response.

The First Letter – Approaching Attackers

The Rambam writes:

This is always my way with every man who I see holding on to his foolishness, not wishing to retract from it – I will remain silent, and leave him be, this has forever been my way.

How does one deal with fools? How does one argue with someone who believes in utter nonsense, and instead resorts to spreading falsehood and lies? Says the Rambam – do not argue! Do not respond.

But why not? Why should we not respond? Why should we not fight back? Have you never heard that silence is agreement?

Midat Sedom – Evil through the Lens of Halachah

Before we answer these questions, we must analyze a Halachic rule.

If one owns a tree, are you allowed to go and pick fruit from his tree? No, of course not!

Are you allowed to cut off branches? Obviously not!

However, are you allowed to rest in the shade of his tree? Yes!

Our Rabbis call this a case of “Ze Nehena – VeZe Lo Chaser” – “This one receives benefit – and this one does not lose anything”. It is for this reason that you can light your candle from someone else’s – you receive benefit and he does not lose anything. This is a simple Halachah.

What if the owner of the tree refuses to allow you to rest in the shade of his tree? Does he have the right to banish you from public property because you are using his shade? Yes but no!

Yes, he is allowed to, but no, since a Rabbinic court would force him to allow you to use his shade. They call this “Midat Sedom” – “a character trait of Sedom”, and our Rabbis have the responsibility to force one not to act in the evil ways of Sedom.

The Second Letter – Fighting in Baghdad

It is with this in mind that we shall turn to another letter of the Rambam. Rabbi Yosef ben Gabar was a rabbi in Baghdad, responsible for publicly rebuking other rabbis who defamed the Rambam. Upon hearing this news, our Master sent him the following letter:

It has come to our attention that in Baghdad there is one who speaks evil about us. We have also heard that you condemned them and stood up against them – do not do this! We forgive anyone who acts this way due to his stupidity (Hebrew: Sichluto). Especially since he clearly derives benefit from this, and we are not harmed from his speech, and our Rabbis force one not to act like the people of Sedom, since this is a case of “this one receives benefit (the evil-speaker) – and this one (us) does not lose anything”.

Look at the greatness of the Rambam! Allow others to speak against us – because clearly it helps their cause, clearly it allows them to feel good and receive benefit. All know that we are innocent and that these words are evil and vicious lies, and therefore we will not lose anything by remaining silent. Let us be the better people.

The Third Letter – Dealing with Rabbis Who Attack

The Rambam wrote the following letter to his student Rabbi Yosef ibn Vaknin who was deeply involved in a dispute with another rabbi:

That which it has been difficult for you to understand this man who spoke against you before the People of Israel – this should not be a challenge to you, for who can be hit and not scream? You should know that you have harmed him greatly, you have ruined his fame, and have broken his arrow, for if it was not for you the other[s] would be in his hands like a small bird in the hands of its prey…and he would devour it. Therefore do not expect from one whom you have harmed [in this way] to love you and praise you.

The Rambam explains to us that sometimes, when we are so successful, we unintentionally take away from another’s greatness. Therefore we should not expect other people to be angels, and not allow such matters to cause crisis in our lives.

Where Is Their Fear of Heaven?

The Rambam continues his letter:

It is also not proper [that] which you ask: where is his Yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven)? Because this person…and many others before him… only consider stringencies to be considered fear of Heaven, as the masses similarly believe it to be. They do not consider the obligation to have good and upright character traits to be included in [the category of] fear of Heaven, nor will they be careful with their speech, unlike those of the purest levels of fear of Heaven [who] will be careful [with their speech].

Most people of religion that hold positions of power and authority, when a matter arises that will challenge their power – their fear of Heaven disappears. Do not expect every person to be [holy] like Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair…

The bottom line is – I demand from you, if you are truly my student, to follow in my ways…

I have no fear – not from the people that have turned their noses at me, nor from the feelings of others who have been had their sensitivities offended that I dare teach Torah. The Torah is one of truth, and I – who promised my Rabbi to uphold the Torah “in accordance to the Laws of Moshe and Yisrael” – have no choice but to defend the truths of the Torah, even if others wish to hate me for it.

I will not allow my portion to be from those who stood idly by as masses of Jews strayed towards the other god and false messiahs of the past. We will speak the truth, shouting it from the mountaintops if need be – so all can know and hear!

But why? Why get involved in these matters?

That is the question of questions, and that is where all the speculation has taken place.

I do not hate any group of Jews, nor any specific flavors of Judaism. If I wished to hate, I could do so in my heart without going through the hell I have for speaking my truths.

If I wished to be controversial and create fame for myself, as some have claimed – I could be controversial in ways which would make me much more popular.

Rather, it is my genuine love for Am Yisrael and its unity that I do what I do.

That is a strange way to show love, is it not?

Absolutely not. Open your hearts, and listen to this parable:

Two siblings had a third brother who was a drug addict, dangerously addicted and constantly at the risk of losing his life. One sibling loved his brother so much, that he gave him compliments and money to purchase more narcotics. The second brother constantly tried to get his brother to break his habit, offering to pay for his rehabilitation, but telling him that he would not see another penny from him until he admitted himself into a proper institution.

Which sibling truly loved his brother? The one who helped him or the one that criticized him?

It was the one who was willing to risk his relationship with his brother at the hope of seeing him alive and at the family table for many years to come. That is the power of “Machloket L’Shem Shamayim” – that classical Judaism believes in, even if it does not sit well with the adherents of the newly fabricated Judaism!

I have two sons, Baruch Hashem. When the time comes, I hope to see them come home with wonderful Jewish girls. They can be Ashkenazi or Sepharadic, Yemenite or Chassidic – my wife and I couldn’t care less, because we are all one people with the same Creator and the same Torah!

But the moment a group of Jews will get up from the discussion table of Judaism, will leave the living conversation that is Torah, will create its own beliefs and religious norms to the point that none of us who are still at the table will be able to identify them as a normative segment of our people – then my children and their children will lose out on the opportunity to fuse their souls into one and create a faithful home in the Jewish People – for they are no longer speaking within the same frame of reference that we do, and they will have left the boundaries of our majestic faith.

So I scream. And yell. And shout. And with tears in my eyes, I beg: Do not stray from the path of light created by the Chachamim throughout the ages! Do not be the one to destroy the unity we so cherish!

And if that is offensive? I will never apologize for my love, no matter how much it makes them upset. If that hurts them and makes them angry, then I would much rather be the brother who cared than the brother who stood idly by.

I will end with the prayer of HaRav Yosef Kapach (Qafih) zt”l, one of the giants of Yemen, who wrote:

“Blessed are You Hashem, my God and the God of my fathers, for guiding me on the path of Truth and the way of straightforwardness. And despite all the threats against me from certain groups… and despite the persecutions I have been persecuted with [at their hands]… Please, Creator of the World, continue to guide me between the drops so that I may not get wet…” [I have omitted the ending which is full of the heartbroken curses of a Chacham that dared commit the crime of speaking the truth to Jews who despised it]

HaKadosh Baruch Hu – Praiseworthy are You for placing my portion among those who sit in the Bet HaMidrash of the Torah of Truth. My heart overwhelms with gratitude to You for allowing me to humbly lead a Kehillah of Truth.

Blessed is Adonai forever, Amen V’Amen.

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  1. Rabbi, I’m sorry that you have been attacked. I know you well enough to stand and say that you and your dear wife are decent and true to Torah and Mitzvot. Thank you for being a light – for all of us. You help and encourage so many of us to learn.
    I enjoyed your blog post – especially the excerpts from The Rambam’s letters. I will keep those in mind as they are useful in these times. Often, silence is most kind. And as Jews, we must be kind.

    With greatest respect,

  2. Problem is few rabbis want to address the elephant in the room: kabbalah

    If you want to bring back the Maimonidean tradition then you have to be willing to expose the movement that sought to destroy his influence. Quoting the Zohar or Chassidic Masters to appear bipartisan is part of the problem. Just call a spade a spade and tackle A’Z in all its permeations, because the message has to trickle down from the Hakhamim.

    But what can you do, right? Sheeple would rather not read history…but a good place to start would be Sabbetai Sevi by Gershom Scholem.

    Tizkeh L’Mitzvot, Rabbi. Keep fighting the good fight, but it may be time to take off the kid gloves.

  3. Well said in our Sephardic tradition. I particularly appreciated this quote which applicability in all of life, “ Most people of religion that hold positions of power and authority, when a matter arises that will challenge their power – their fear of Heaven disappears. Do not expect every person to be [holy] like Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair…”

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