Sunday, October 01, 2006

Those Wild and Crazy Orthodox


I you needed more proof that there is a strain of madness and wild irrationality, or at least extreme eccentricity, that is growing within Orthodox Judaism, two items I came across should help provide it.

The first is an article in the Forward about the annual pilgrimage of the Bratslav Hassidim to the grave of Reb Nachman in Uman, Ukraine.

“On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the dirt roads on the northern edge of this central Ukrainian town had Jewish worshippers at every turn, transforming the site of a historic massacre into a place of dancing and prayer.

The crowd — a collection of black-hatted Hasidim, tie-dyed teenagers from the West Bank, American seekers and participants from more than 20 countries in all — had come to Uman to spend the holiday near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachman, a charismatic 19th-century Hasidic Rabbi, had asked to be buried at the site of the 1768 Haidemack massacre, where some 20,000 Jews were killed.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, the annual pilgrimage has grown steadily, peaking with this year’s estimated 20,000 visitors. …

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, nearly every pilgrim gathered near Nachman’s grave to read 10 psalms prescribed by the rabbi. He is said to have told followers that he would personally pull up from hell, by the sidelocks, any Jew who reads the psalms over his grave on the Jewish New Year.” (for the full story click here)

In Israel the Bratslavers have been growing rapidly due to their aggressive recruiting in prisons, in the Sephardi community, and among disaffected teenagers. And despite the sects traditional focus on the interior life, they have become vocally in favour of keeping all the land of Israel, and are not above beating and intimidating members of their rival Haredi factions.

(On the other hand, who cannot help but be drawn to the obvious fervour and passion of the men in the picture above. The beatific look on the face of the young man at the bottom centre, makes one long to drink the kool-aid too.)


A news item without any redeeming charm in my opinion, is the completely misguided and dangerous attempt to revive the Sanhedrin (religious court / parliament of Mishnaic times). This move, steeped as it is in a belief that the Messiah’s arrival is indeed imminent, and that the Temple will soon be restored, is very controversial in the Orthodox world. If it had not attracted some respected Rabbis, most notably Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz , it would be completely laughable. Hopefully, it will remain marginal. Otherwise it will lead even more Orthodox to support anti democratic theocratic rule, and a catastrophic false messianism.

The news article originally appeared in the Hebrew edition of Haartetz .

My translation is below:


A Storm in the Haredi World:
Rabbis Blow Shofar On Shabbat !


According to the Halakha, in our times, it is forbidden to blow shofar on Rosh Hashana that falls on Shabbat, because of the possibility of carrying it in the public realm; the minyan was organized by the "New Sanhedrein" group.

by Nadav Shragai

This past Shabbat, a group of prayers [people who pray] smashed a Halakhic tabu, when they organized a minyan for the purpose of blowing Shofar on Shabbat. According to the Halakha, it is forbidden, in out times, to blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana that falls on Shabbat, because of the possibility of carrying it in the public realm. This act has already caused a storm, particularly in the Haredi world, but has also sparked halakhic discussions that deal with the possibility that, in the future, there may be persons that will ask to allow nitilat lulav on Shabbat as well; an act that is forbidden for the same reasons.

The minyan, which was held in Yishivat Beit Hab'khira in the Old City of Jerusalem, was organized by the "New Sanhedrein" group, under the presidency of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, which seeks to see itself as the continuation of the Sanhedrein of old.

Members of this group, among them Professor Hillel Weiss of Elkana, a member of the Temple Movement, see in the act "a precursor and a remembrance of the Temple", in which they did blow Shofar on Shabbat. In an announcement that was released on Erev Rosh Hashana they explained that, " ... Now, as we stand before the War of Gog and Magog (a war of Israelis enemies against Israel at the end of days, according to the Book of Ezekiel) shall we not delay the decree ... by means of blowing the Shofar? ...."

Weiss even published, in a a Torah newsletter that is distributed by bar Ilan University, an scientific-research paper on the issue, wherein he cites Jewish sources, that show that, in the past, even after the destruction of the Temple, Shofar was blown on Rosh Hashana that fell on Shabbat. He also pointed to a recently discovered Piyut that is meant to be said at Ma'ariv of Rosh Hashana, that seemingly confirms this practice.

Shofar Blown on Shabbat - 101 year ago.

Rabbi Tzvi Idan, the first Nasi of the "New Sanhedrein", was present and invested a Beit Din of three, that permitted - supposedly - the act. The Shofar blowers were rabbi Tzvi Rogin and Rabbi Lieper.

Among the 23 prayers, there were Haredim - Gur Hasidim, Litvaks, Sephardim from Shas - as well as knit kippas, and Americans and French olim.

It should be recalled that 101 years ago Rabbi Akiva Yosef Shlezinger instigated blowing Shofar on Shabbat, but he did virtually in secret. This act of Rabbi Shlezinger, who was a Haredi Zionist and called for Jews to make aliya to the Land of Israel, aroused much reaction. Shlezinger took this innovative step because he was convinced that the Shofar blasts would preven the spread of anti-Semitic pogroms Russia.

According to a number of researchers, at the time, he obtained the tacit approval of the chief Rabbis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Samuel Salant, the ADRAT (Rabbi Eliahu David Rabinovich Teomim), and Rabbi Chacham Bashi, the Rishon L'Zion Rabbi Yaacov Shaul Elishar.

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