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Jul 15, 2007

a breath of fresh air

My Rosh Yeshiva from my yeshiva days was a fairly eccentric fellow. That is pretty common among these "iluy" types, that they are kind of quirky.

His main quirk was that he cared about nothing else aside from getting the right pshat with clarity in the gemara.

Nothing else mattered.

He did not care about appearances. He did not care about what people thought. He wanted to learn, to teach, to get the true pshat, and that the boys should learn. That's it.

Any time he tried to change something in the yeshiva for appearance sake (e.g.. to make it more "yeshivish"), it was always because other people pressured him to do so. They would tell him if he wants a better caliber boy, he has to do x, y or z. A different rebbe would say if he wanted to attract boys from yeshiva x he had to implement y or they would not come. A mashgiach would say they had to change q so the yeshiva would have a better name. Sometimes he became convinced of it and followed the advice, and sometimes not.

One thing I remember clearly was how he would run for the bus. At the time the yeshiva was in a different neighborhood than the one he lived in. He would travel to and from by city bus. That's right - you could often see this big-time rosh yeshiva sitting on an Egged bus muttering to himself (he was always learning).

The most interesting thing was to see him run for the bus. If he was caught up in something and only realized at the last minute that his bus was coming, he would just pick up and run. I think he would have give Car Lewis a run for his money! You would see him dash out towards the bus stop with his frock tails flying behind him as he waved to the bus driver to wait for him..

Eventually some people told him it was not respectable and made the yeshiva look bad and they insisted he take taxis rather than the city bus. He held off or a long time because he saw no reason for it, as the bus was just fine. But others insisted that it is not respectable for such a important rosh yeshiva to be on the bus. He gave in and took taxis or got rides, but he could still sometimes be seen getting on the bus.

Why do I recall this now?

I just read about how Rav Wosner is planning a trip to Switzerland. When one of his supporters heard that he will be travelling, he approached Rav Wosner and offered to arrange for him a private plane, all expenses paid. He felt it was not appropriate for the great Rav Wosner to be travelling like the common man on a regular flight.

Rav Wosner first accepted, but after a few days he contacted his benefactor and rejected the offer. he said I am just like any other Rav and I do not need any special travel arrangements. I can travel like everybody else.

That is a breath of fresh air to me. We have gotten so used to treating our rabbonim like chassidishe rebbes that we lose perspective. In the chassidishe world and the sephardic world it is common. Their supporters pay big money to be able to sponsor something for the Rav/Rebbe/Chacham.

I just read about the Satmar Rebbe will be going somewhere (do not remember where) and anybody who wants to sit with him will have to donate some astronomical sum, something like $50,000. The sephardic Rabbonim all drive the top luxury cars, which are sponsored by supporters.

I know of a sephardi shul where the Rav decided to open up a new shul. he went to collect to build a building. He raised a million dollars for the building in one fundraising trip. The only problem was he had nobody to daven in the shul. He built a large building very quickly, not completed but built enough to use, and one can see often people outside the shul looking to shlep someone in to help complete the minyan. But he has his big building.

It is something cultural in these communities. The litvishe community however always eschewed that style. The litvishe community always looked for simplicity. Torah was the main thing and everything else was minor.

Yet as time goes on, the litvishe community has begun treating its rabbonim like chassidishe rebbes. A Rav needs to take a trip and he gets a private plane!! Certainly the trips can be difficult and, especially for an elderly Rav, anything to help ease the discomfort can make a big difference. But it always made me uncomfortable to see the change in the way the Rabbonim were treated and how they allowed themselves to be treated like that.

To read that Rav Wosner decided such a luxury was unnecessary and wasteful, as he can travel like everybody else, is a breath of fresh air.


  1. What about showing Kavod Hatorah? It bothers you that people who have the means (now more than in previous generations , perhaps) cannot bestow kavod on gedolim?

  2. it bothers me that we consider that necessary. it creates a form of keeping up with the schwartzes (or joneses).

    There are number of aspects I think that make me unconmfortable.
    1)They are quick to make takkanos of how many people you can invite to your wedding, but they have no problem letting people rush to spend tens of thousands of dollars needlessly on a private plane. Is a first class seat not good enough? business class? Does the Rav really need a private plane?

    2) it also makes me uncomfortable that when teaching minimalist approaches - pas b'melach toachal, etc... we can then find it in us to not be so minimalist.

    3)is that really kavod hatorah? does kavod hatorah demand so much money to be wasted? a private plane? come on

    4) the aspect I discussed in the post which was the fact that the litvishe community never treated its rabbonim this way before. These types of things were in the sefardic and hassidic communities but not in the litvishe. One can find many examples of this in everyday life, not just sponsoring a private plane for a rav who wants/needs to take a trip. Go to many litvishe shuls nowadays and you will see what I mean. There are some shuls I do not daven in because I was turned off by the way they treat the rav like a chassidishe rebbe. If I wanted that I would go to the local shteibel.

  3. but I should add that I am not criticizing anyone. not the guy who offered it and not the rabbonim who previously have accepted such treats.
    I was just talking about the phenomenon we find of this happening and how I find it refreshing that a big name Rav rejected such an offer/

  4. BTW - Rav Wosner is chasidish...

  5. actually I think he is hungarian. But most of, or at least many of, his followers are also in the litvishe community.

  6. B"H WHICH Satmar Rebbe? Curiouser and curiouser....

  7. don't remember. I am inclined to say Reb Aharon, but that is just what I think I remember from the article a couple of weeks ago.
    That was just one example. A couple of months ago there was the kiddush cup donated that was worth something like $100,000. There are plenty of other examples.

  8. It was R' Aharon who is coming to Israel soon. This was reported in the Mishpacha newspaper.

  9. thanks, bluke. I am surprised that I remembered correctly. I have such a bad memory.....

    Anyways, again, my point was not to criticize those who do. Especially in communities where that is the norm for whatever reason (like by chassidim). It was just to comment how nice it was to see someone reject the wastefullness. Especially if he has some chassidic leanings, it is especially unusual.

  10. When I flew here on the plane, the bobover rebbe was on the plane as well. He had about 8 or so chasidim with him.

    The Lubavitcher rebbe had a cadilac but it was a older model and it was nothing fancy.

    According to halacha though a leader has to conduct himself nicely.

  11. There are some shuls I do not daven in because I was turned off by the way they treat the rav like a chassidishe rebbe.

    Thank you!!!! Same here!!!

  12. "the litvishe community never treated its rabbonim this way before. These types of things were in the sefardic and hassidic communities but not in the litvishe. "
    i have no idea about hassidic communities, but 'in the past' sfardi rabbis lived as poorly and simply as the common folk.. im not sure where you are getting this from, but it's so way off.
    it's funny but i would say if the sfardim do it today, it's cuz they copied it from someone else.. it sure wasnt in our ways to behave this way.. real kavod doesnt come from the pocket, real kavod sfardim always had (and still have)for their rabbis.. the financial showing off is something new..and im just as curious as you to know where it comes from

  13. did they live just as poorly because the wole society was poor? As soon as they became wealthy the community would then lavish the Rav/shul with wealth?

    I do not know that the sfardi rabbonim live wealthy. I think most do not, with few exceptions. I think it is only public displays, such as a luxury car or a fancy shul, or stuff like that....

  14. yes today, but not in the past.
    the rabbis lived simply and were pious and thats what everyone expected of them. the public displays are kissing his hand or beign respectful, not shuls and cars. in fact there was no such as thing as big shuls, or big yeshivas, people lived simply.
    i'll give you an example, baba sali wasnt that well known to all morocans (eventhough he lived there) until he got to israel. he wasnt any less holy, but the whole ruckus was made in israel..

  15. I did not know that about the Baba Sali. That is very interesting. Thanks

  16. Well Moroccans do not represent the whole Sephardic community. Turkish/Greek Jews have always been pretty well off and not only were they well off to build great institutions in their communities but they also built universities and hospitals in the cities that they live in. However everyone in that community is humble, they do not show off their wealth.
    I don't see anything horrible if a rabbi drives a fancy car. He should go live like a hobo cause he is a rabbi? However a private jet is a bit pushing it.
    I also don't see anything horrible about money. I am not saying bow down it and do avodah zarah but it's a useful tool (no money, no Torah). It's important to know how to use it, how to keep it, how to invest it and how to save it. To say that money is nothing is simply stupid.

  17. rebel - there is nothing wrong with having money, spending money and using it to help Rabbis live respectably and honorably. My comment was just n the fact that in a community that does not normally do this, unlike by the sfardim, it is out of the ordinary...

  18. i dont think theres anything inherently wrong with money either, but i dont think rabbis or community leaders should be living lavishly. not because it's wrong, but because the kind of poele i want as a leader are not interested in those things, and on the contrary are repulsed by shows of extravagance. you keep saying this is common by sfardim, i only know of one sfardi rabbi where this is the case, and there is a lot more at play than sfardi/ashkenaz.. there is politics.. and that changes everything.

  19. If u read the Rambam Hilchos Melachim the way he describes the way a king is supposed to be lavished...you'll see theres nothing new..with followers who see their Rebbe as a king..to go out of their way and lavish them..
    Its up the Rav not to fall into the trappings of luxury..

  20. thanks, David on the Lake. That explains why among the chassidim this culture exists. They consider their chassidus, usually, as a malchus of sorts.


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