Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Our leaders have spoken. Now they must act.

A guest post by Berel Shain

This past week, our community experienced one of the most brutal, heinous and unspeakable crimes in recent memory. The abduction, murder and dismemberment of Leiby Kletzky has all of us searching for still elusive answers to a host of questions that span the philosophical, theological, emotional and practical spectra. Some have been presumptuous enough to offer their suggestions as what was to blame and “why” this unimaginable tragedy occurred. I don’t care to join them. However, I do feel the need to comment on the one bright spot that emerged during this most trying week, the incredible achdus and unity that was palpable and that has been discussed at the levaya and in its aftermath.

On a conference call on erev shabbos this past week, Rav Binyomin Eisenberger spoke passionately of the need to harness the achdus experienced during the previous days and ensure that it continue to develop and grow even during tranquil times. That noble thought resonated with me for a brief moment. Until, that is, I realized that sadly, the realities of our community today all but ensure that the fervent hopes expressed by Rav Eisenberger and by various observers in recent days are all but impossible. Machlokes and infighting have become staples of our community at the highest levels.

One of the attendees of the levaya was Rav Aharon Teitelbaum, one of two Satmar rebbes who has been openly feuding with his brother Rav Zalman Leib for years. There are now two Satmar Rebbes, their dispute has winded its way through the judicial system all the way to the highest court of the state, and the two brothers do not speak to each other to this day. The following evening, the publication Dee Voch posted a photo on its twitter account of a chasuna in Satmar. The dais showed Rav Ahron Teitelbaum (but not his brother) and Rav Yisroel Hager of Vizhnitz (but not his brother R’ Mendel with whom he is feuding). The Bobover Rebbes – uncle and nephew - were also in attendance at little Leiby’s levaya, though their followers made sure that neither would cross the other’s path. Neither participates in the other’s smachos.

Turf wars and public disputes are not exclusive to the Chassidic world. Telshe has been mired in a machlokes for decades and readers will remember when a dispute over leadership in the Ponevizh yeshiva turned violent just a few years ago. Nearly thirty years have passed without a resolution to the dispute between a former mashgiach of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and its hanhala and the son of Rav Chaim Kreiswirth remains mired in Bais Din proceedings with the founder of Yeshiva Mercaz HaTorah in Yerushalayin for control of that institution, of which Rav Kreiswirth zt”l served as its symbolic rosh yeshiva. Recent halachic disputes such as those relating to the kashrus of fish and water and the Brooklyn eruvin have degenerated into nasty personal attacks instead of reasoned halachic discourse.

I share the sentiments of those who urge us to seize the moment and increase the achdus that we all felt last week. But the leaders must take the lead. When the Bobover Rebbe of 48th street and the Bobover Rebbe of 45th street dance a hakafa together on simchas torah; when one Satmar Rebbe asks his brother, the other Satmar Rebbe to join in the mitzvah tantz at his child’s wedding (or for that matter simply invites him to the event); when Rav Hershel Schachter is invited by Rav Binyomin Eisenberger to give a shiur on hilchos chanuka in his shul; when the baalei machlokes in high positions of all stripes and colors engage their disputants b’derech kavod then, and only then, can we have meaningful discussions about achdus. Until then, I fear that the sentiments still fresh in our hearts and minds will once again dissipate waiting for the next challenge before it emerges again.

Our leaders have spoken. Now they must act.

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