Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New Claims


As the issue is very important, I am publishing this particular article again from time to time:

People who lost relatives in the Holocaust are now able to find out if the victims had property in Israel (former Palestine).

Last week, a new campaign was introduced where people can find out if they have any claims. If, for instance, ones parents or grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, he can go to and look through a list with names of people who did invest in Palestine before the war. One can claim real estate, jewellery and money in Israeli banks.

For now, the website is only in Hebrew but will be also available in English within the next week or so.

The newly Religious


I admit that there is a certain danger in choosing such a headline, as some people might think that it is a generalization. It is anything but meant as a generalization. My intention is to describe a certain kind of change in behaviour of some newly religious Jews.

Within the past years, I met many Jews from abroad or Israelis who became religious. So far, they led a completely secular life, and now, for different reasons, decided to become religious. Haredi or national religious. Actually most of them I met chose the haredi way. Many of them came from the States (New York, New Jersey, Detroit etc.), and their parents had sent them on the famous one - year - programms to different yeshivot in Jerusalem (Aish HaTorah or Ohr Sameach).

In Israel it is well known that some of those kids had problems (mostly drugs) at home and by sending them to Jerusalem, their parents mistakenly think that the trip would bring a solution.
However, there are many other secular Jews who get attracted by those programms and decide to stay for more than only a year.

Whoever wants to join haredi society has to know one thing: As a newcomer you will always have the reputation that you became religious later in your life. Haredi born Jews have a different status than the so - called Chozrei Be' Teshuva, the Jews who became religious. It does not matter if it is the Shidduchim subject, getting their kids accepted at certain schools or anything else, those Chozrei Be ' Teshuva have to take more things into consideration. And this applies to Israelis and people from abroad. It might be the same elsewhere but here I am especially talking about Israel.

I met many female and male teenagers and people in their thirties or fourties who changed their lives completely. However, young people becoming religious are suddenly so enthusiastic about telling outsiders their new experiences and their new accomplishments in Torah studies etc. They just love their new life which and there is nothing wrong about it.

The other side of the story is that sometimes they apparently do not notice that they go on others nerves. They come up to people and start telling them what to do, as they had just learned a new halacha. I am religious myself but when I met certain boys and girls, I just could not be around them anymore, although we had been friends before. I just feel sorry for their parents because as soon as they come home, probably the secular parents have too suffer from it.
My rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, ones said that there is a danger that when a young men is coming from an Israeli yeshiva and going back to America that he might walk into his former community and tell the local rabbi what to do. "According to the Shulchan Aruch you have to do such and such…."
However, the rabbi might just tell him that this particular community is not going by the Shulchan Aruch but by the Aruch HaShulchan. So, one becoming religious has to be careful with other people and not place himself on the top.

The newly Israeli religious are a little more different, as, in many cases, they are older. Many of them even have a family. Becoming religious together with the whole family could cause great tensions within the family. Especially among the kids. One day, the parents are secular and the kids are going to a secular high school, and the next day, the parents are haredi and send their kids to Beit Yaakov or Talmud Torah. This does not work out, and in Jerusalem we have the problem that many of those kids run away.

The parents want to be accepted by other haredim which many times causes a certain "we have to be better than anyboy else - behaviour". They want to show that they are just as perfect as the haredi born Jews. If this happens, the newly religious are running into such a pressure that they leave religion after a while. Instead, people should take it slowly when they decide to become religious. The famous example is Rabbi Akiva who was fourty years old and had to learn everything from scratch.

My advice is that you should learn to accept that the born haredim might never really accept you but, nevertheless, lead your own life and do not concentrate on others all the time. Put all your energy into learning and keeping your family together. Another important thing is that you should not give up all your former friends from your secular life. And especially not criticize your parents. Of course, you cannot eat in a non - kosher home anymore but there are different ways to explain it nicely to other people.

Bobover Rebbe in Israel


The Bobover Rebbe from Boro Park is coming to Israel today. He is only staying for a few days and visiting Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

History of chassidut Toldot Aharon, Shomrei Emunim and Toldot Avraham Yitzchak


Founder and first Rebbe of the chassidut Toldot Aharon was the Czechoslovakian born Rabbi Aharon (Arele) Roth. He was born in 1894 in the town of Ungvar. His father was Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov and his mother was a grandchild of one of the hidden Zaddikim at the time of the Baal Shem Tov.
Already at the very young age of nine, he studied at the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yosef Rothenberg in Krasnoye. Later he studied at Yeshivot in Galicia and under Rabbi Yeshayahu Zilberstein in Hungary. During World War I , he stayed in Hungary.

At the age of 22, he married Sima who was the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Katz of Budapest. Afterwards he lived in Satmar for a short period of time where he acquired a small group of followers. Although Rabbi Aharon Roth became a famous rabbi, he did not have any direct lineage to the Baal Shem Tov, as other chassidic rebbes and founders of chassidic dynasties used to have. Nevertheless, he had a very charismatic personality and was very learned. For this reason, many people chose him as their rebbe.
He had studied under many famous rabbis such as Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, Rabbi Tvi Elimelech Spira of Bluzhov, Rabbi Israel Hager of Vishnitz, Rabbi Yeshayah Silberstein of Weitzen and Rabbi Moshe Vorhand of Makov.

In 1925, he moved to Jerusalem where he acquired a new group of followers. Due to medical reasons, he returned to Satmar in 1929. There the self – appointed rebbe was not welcomed by other Chassidim and was seen as a competitor. He was forced to leave Satmar for Beregszaz (Beregovo) where he established a new Yeshiva with the name "Shomrei Emunim". Eight students studied with him and the yeshiva was supported by Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira of Munkacs.

All those years, his students from Jerusalem were still in touch with Rebbe Aharon Roth. In 1939, he left for Jerusalem where he established a very closed society called Toldot Aharon. He was an extreme strong opponent of Zionism, emphasized ecstatic and urged his followers to live according to his Takanot (laws).
Rebbe Aharon Roth died on 6 Nissan 1947 and is buried on the Mount of Olives. Rebbe Arele, the name his Chassidim called him, was the author of many books such as "Shomer Emunim" and "Shulchan HaTahor".

After his death, the majority of his Chassidim did not choose his son, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Roth, as their new rebbe, but instead Rebbe Aharon' s son – in – law, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kahn.
Rabbi Avraham Chaim was not too pleased and founded his own group called Shomrei Emunim. He was born in Satmar in 1924, and is married to Beila Chaya who is the daughter of the Admor of Zhevil, Rabbi Mordechai Goldman of Zevil (Selutchov).

After the split into two groups Toldot Aharon and Shomrei Emunim, most former Chassidim of Rebbe Aharon Roth chose to stay with Toldot Aharon and their new Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kahn.

Today, the present rebbe of Shomrei Emunim is still Rabbi Avraham Chaim Roth who later on in his life moved to Bnei Brak. However, there is a Shomrei synagogue in Mea Shearim as well as a Shomrei Emunim neighbourhood.

Rebbe Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kahn was born in Safed. His father was Rabbi Aharon David and his mother was the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Deutsch of Sighet. Later on, he went to Hungary and studied in the yeshiva of R. Yoel Teitelbaum. There he got to know Reb Arele who chose him as son – in – law.
Under the leadership of Rebbe Avraham Yitzchak Kahn, many Toldot Aharon Chassidim moved to Beit Shemesh where they have a huge neighbourhood today. When you go to their Jerusalem Tish on Friday night, you will only see half of the Chassidim, as most of them live in Beit Shemesh.
Rebbe Kahn died during Chanukkah 1996, and was buried on the Mount of Olives next to Rebbe Aharon Roth.
He wrote the books "Divrei Emunim", "Derech Emunah" and "Tikvat HaGeulah".

His death caused a third split within the group, as he was succeeded by two sons who each wanted to be the new rebbe. The Toldot Aharon Chassidim chose the younger son, Rabbi David Kahn, as their new rebbe and the older one, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, founded his own group named after his father: Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.
Both brothers are very learned people. Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov had studied at the yeshiva of the Vishnitzer Rebbe Chaim Meir Hager (Imrei Chaim), and Rebbe David had studied under the Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum.

Until today, both brothers are extremely friendly with each other and so are the Chassidim. It is said that Toldot Avraham Yitzchak are a little more open than Toldot Aharon, but so far, I also found Toldot Aharon quite open. The two groups almost keep the same customs and use the same Sidur "Beracha u'Tehillah". Additionally, Avraham Yitzchak use their own Sidur called "Tehillat Avraham Yitzchak". So far, I just had a brief look at "Beracha u'Tehillah" which has certain kabbalistic parts in it.

Both are members of the anti – Zionist umbrella organization, the Edah HaCharedit. Toldot Aharon has more members and a greater influence. Nevertheless, the great Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer is a member of the Beit Din Zedek (Badatz) of the Edah, and he is a member of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.

If you see the Chassidim of the two groups, you will not be able to tell which is which. Men and women wear the same style of clothes. The great synagogue of Toldot Aharon you can find in Shivtei Israel Street and the one of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak is located only a few meters far away; right in the Mea Shearim market.

The next article will be about the clothes and the rather complicated laws called Takanot.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Another chassidic Shabbat


At the moment, the weather is just unbearable hot. Temperatures are far over 33 degrees Celsius. Eilat was even suffering from 45 degrees Celsius.

It is hard to breath and to move but, nevertheless, my friend and I went to another chassidic Tish last night. Well, it was not really another but rather the same Tish. Wherever we go, we always come back to Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, a split - off from Toldot Aharon, as we like it very much.

We went there last night and, again, stayed through the whole night. The more we go to those two groups, the more people we get to know and learn a lot about their society.
Psychologists and academics from Bar Ilan University or other institutions give lectures about feminism etc. in such close chassidic societies. I do not write any academic studies.
Before I decide writing about a chassidic group I do read all their literature as well as their history. However, I think that it is very important to speak to the people and from what we saw at the Tish so far, we can tell a lot about social behaviour.

Within the next few days, I am going to write an article on this subject.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Unholy Parade in the Holy City


It took weeks to decide whether the Jerusalem Gay Parade is going to take place or not. Politicians, the municipality and religious people (Jews, Muslims and Christians) are against such a parade especially in Jerusalem. Let alone the inhabitants of Jerusalem. No one really wants such an event but the gays insist on making their point. They want to show everybody that they are just as normal as everyone else.

A few days ago, I read a great comment in an Israeli forum site on this kind of behaviour. Someone wrote that if I want to be so normal, why should I demonstrate. The moment I demonstrate, I separate myself from everyone else and show that I am different. Anybody else does not demonstrate in order to show that he is normal.

This afternoon, the Jerusalem Gay Parade is taking place and the police are on high alert, as the Haredim threatened to attack the gays on their march. However, Degel HaTorah has called upon the haredi population not to use any kind of violence and rather stay at home and pray for Jerusalem.

I just want to share some brief thoughts on today's event.
One of the most famous teachings of the Baal Shem Tov is that wherever your thoughts are, you are. If your thoughts are into holiness, so you are in the world of Kedusha.
If your thoughts are just the opposite, so you are in the world of impurity (Rabbi Aharon Roth, founder of Toldot Aharon).

It seems to be a kind of fashion in our societies today that people who do something wrong get all the attention of the whole world. Actions seen as wrong and unacceptable some years ago, are becoming permitted now. The more people take part in wrong actions and the more other people watch, those actions are considered as right.

The same with homosexuality. We see certain things in our daily lives. Gays embracing or kissing each other in public, and finally people get so used to it, that in their eyes it is just normal.

The question is where we see our moral standards today ? Can it really be an excuse to say "Oh everybody just did it, so it was right" ?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A different kind of Zionism


The chassidic Vishnitz sect is very much into "Ahavat Israel" - The love of Israel. Generally the topic of Ahavat Israel can be divided into two different explanations. The first one is the love for any Jew, no matter if he is religious or not.
The second explanation is a more or less Zionistic one; the love for the Land of Israel.

A few hundred years ago, settling in Israel was not too popular among the Chassidim. Although it is the goal of every religious Jew to live in Israel, many Chassidim followed the idea of the Baal Shem Tov that we Jews have an important role in Galut (Diaspora). Our task is to collect all the fallen sparks (Netzizot), make a Tikun Olam and thus bring the Meschiach.

On the other hand, Israel is very important as only there we are able to keep all the Mitzwot including Shemittah. Prayers are being more accepted in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Abroad prayers go from place to place until the finally reach Jerusalem and go up to heaven, whereas in Israel we have a local phone call with G - d.

Nevertheless, many Chassidim did move to Israel. One of the most famous among them was Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk who moved to Tiberias in 1777. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov came for a visit and Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk considered moving to Israel. Later his students persuaded him not to leave Lizhensk.

Those Chassidim who did leave Eastern Europe had enough of the Gentile anti - Semitism and pogroms. They did not see a contradiction in settling the land although Meschiach had not arrived yet. It is possible to build a religious settlement run by Torah law.

The Apter (Opatov) Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel had a different approach. Each of us has the power to bring Meschiach. But what we need to do first is getting rid of our own individual Galut. We have to overcome our Yetzer and turn all our bad habits into something good. The idea of turning bad into good and, thus, elevating it is one of the basic ideas in Chassidut.

In May 1912, the Agudat Israel was founded as an opposition group against the secular Zionism of Theodor Herzl. Until 1935, the main branch of the Agudah was in located in Frankfurt - Germany. However, its heart was in Poland were the Chassidim lived. The Agudat Israel saw the Haskalah movement as an assimilation danger for the Jewish people. According to Herzl, Jews should have their own state but a secular one. He wanted German as the country's first language and wanted a Jewish state to be another Germany or Austria where Jews were very much assimilated. Thanks to the disastrous reform movement.
The spiritual leaders of the Agudah were the Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brest - Litovsk (Brisk Yeshiva) and Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Gur (Chassidut Gur). The Agudah was anti - Zionist but also pro - Zionist, as its goal was to build settlements according to the Torah law.
The present Agudat Israel has five seats in the Knesset and their party is called Yahadut HaTorah. In charge are Chassidut Gur, Vishnitz and Belz as well as litvishe Haredim. Their participation in the Knesset does not mean that they completely changed their policy and became great Zionists. It rather means that they learnt how to make certain agreements and from the inside (the Knesset) one can influence the land much better than from the outside.

In 1919, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld founded the Edah HaCharedit, a kind of competitor to the Agudah. The reason was that the British occupation government at that time had allowed the Zionists to build their own chief rabbinate. This, the anti - Zionist Edah could not accept. Until today, the Edah and the chief rabbinate have almost nothing to do with each other. Sometimes there is a kind of contact but only concerning acceptance of marriages and birth certificates.
The main activists in the current Edah HaCharedit are the Satmarer Chassidim, Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, Brisk, Spinka and Dushinsky. Their head office is located in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood and the present head of the Edah is Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch. Those of you who might think that the Neturei Karta reigns over the Edah are mistaken. The Neturei Karta does have an influence through Chassidei Satmar but, on the other hand, Satmar denied any contact with the Neturei Karta guys who went to Iran last year.

The founder of the chassidic Toldot Aharon sect, Rabbi Aharon Roth, called Zionism a terrible thing and accused secular Zionists of taking away the Kedusha (holiness) of Eretz Israel. Since they came, there is no more Kedusha here (Sefer Toldot Aharon, Part 2).

The most important head of the Edah ever was the former Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. G - d has promised the land to the Jews and, one day, they shall return. However, as long as the Meschiach has not arrived they should not return but live abroad, fulfill Mitzwot and not rebel against foreign governments. The present State of Israel is a desecration of the Torah because Jews did not trust in G - d but rather took all decisions into their own hands. According to Rabbi Teitelbaum, the secular State of Israel is the reason that Meschiach has not come yet.

I do not agree with the Satmarer Rebbe, as no one can say for sure if G - d really did not want our present State of Israel. Of course, I would also prefer having a land with Torah law and the Meschiach. But I do see the secular state as it is today as a forerunner to the religious state. Maybe we did take too much into our own hands and we should have waited for Meschiach. On the other hand, Israel was founded after the Holocaust and I am glad that there is at least a place today where Jews can go to. It does not matter if it is religious or secular when your live is in danger.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A very long night


Last Leil Shabbat was a very long night for me and my friend. First we went for a Shabbat meal to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis and then we participated in two chassidishe Tish.

Our first Tish was with Toldot Aharon. The womens' section was rather empty when we arrived at about 11.50 pm. The last time we were there, everything was packed as the Rebbe had married off his daughter the same week. But last Friday, we had enough space to watch everything going on downstairs in the men's section. More and more men were streaming in and soon the synagogue was quite full. Chassidim, national religious, litvish, everybody was there.

As is was already our second time going to Toldot Aharon, we knew our ways through. Slowly slowly we get to know some people. Including a woman from the Satmar group who obviously does the same as we do. She likes going from Tish to Tish and we recognized each other.
Rebbe David Kahn had already made Kiddush and was about to do Netillat Yadaim as we arrived. Before he does so, he has the custom of taking a few leaf branches in order to say the "Besamim - blessing" on it. When he does so, he does it with real Kavanah, I have to say. In my opinion, he seems to be a very intelligent and nice person. He carries out his Minhagim very seriously and his community takes everything seriously as well. When he does something everybody keeps quiet and all his Chassidim watch him. The special chair he sits on is a normal black wooden chair and nothing fancy at all. He wore a really nice blue silk coat which he changed into a white one after Netillat Yadaim. He said the blessing over the huge Challot and handed out slices to his Chassidim.
Toldot Aharon has a certain seriousness which I enjoy. Of course, there is lots of singing as well but, nevertheless, I like when people carry out Mitzwot and they really mean it. I am not saying that other groups do less but, however, Toldot Aharon is something special and can be taken as an example.

40 minutes later, we decided to move on to the next Tish. Our goal was the split - off Toldot Avraham Yitzchak which is led by David Kahn's older brother, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn. We knew our way and very much enjoyed walking through some backyards in Mea Shearim. Apparently each chassidic group has its own neighbourhood within the neighbourhood, and we kept on walking through the Toldot Aharon hood.
I got the impression that the two Rebbe brothers are different characters. Rebbe David Kahn seems very serious but his brother, Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov is very much into Niggunim. As soon as the singing part starts, he cannot sit still anymore. He is swinging his arms and conducting.

That night, a choir was singing a few songs at Avraham Yitzchak. I did not enjoy it too much, as I thought that the choir was terrible but the Rebbe did like it. He even asked them for more songs and my friend and I could not wait until they finished their performance. We just hoped that the Rebbe would not demand any more songs.

It was 2.30 am and I have to say that there was not even a second to be bored. We did not see the Tish as something spiritual but rather entertaining. Maybe the Rebbe's Tish has to be spiritual for the Chassidim, I do not know. But suddenly people brough in huge amounts of fruit on silver trays. Cake came in and you cannot imagine the quantity. Cheese cakes, chocolate cakes and I do not know what else. Food just kept on floating in and everything was placed in front of the Rebbe. My friend and I knew that there will not be anything for us but it did not stop us from dreaming about a few slices of cheese cake. When you go to such a Tish you should definitely be a man.

The woman sitting on a special chair right in front of us seemed to be the Rebbetzin. A little boy brought her a small tray full of fruit and it would have been nice if there had been a second tray for the rest of the women as well. But maybe this is their custom. Who knows.
In the meantime, all the fruit and cake downstairs were devided among the Chassidim. Whole fruit boxes were handed around and very soon, everything was gone. I wish I had been downstairs.

Suddenly the lights went of and first we thought that someone might have turned them off by accident. Nevertheless, it was a cozy atmosphere sitting in the darkness. The Rebbe got up from his chair and started singing. Then all his Chassidim sang a certain song and started dancing including the Rebbe. He got so carried away with his emotions and I am sure that he was in a different world. Being not the youngest anymore is not to easy but the Rebbe jumped up and down which was unbelievable. After some jumps he fell back into his chair. Completely exhausted but a little later he got up and danced again with a great devotion. Actually we were ready to go but when we saw this, we decided to stay. Our entertainment became a spiritual event thanks to the Rebbe.
Eventually we left at 3.30 am and I think that we were more tired than the Rebbe. It was a great pleasure being there.

This week we will not participate in a Tish but go to the synagogue of the third Toldot Aharon split - off, the Shomrei Emunim (Guardians of Faith). If we only go to the Tish at night, we are not able to get up early in the morning and miss the synagogue service. I do not know how the Chassidim do this but I cannot.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Great Job, Ron Ovadiah


Here you can watch the Jerusalem syndrome live.
A Christian American guy who is calling himself Eliyahu HaNavi (Eliyah the Prophet) is preaching in the Ben Yehudah Mall.
The haredi guy who is singing and bothering the preacher is a good friend of mine. Ron Ovadiah.

The Edah strikes back


The Edah HaCharedit has opened its war against the upcoming Jerusalem Gay Parade. A few days ago, the Jerusalem police announced that the event is probably taking place (June 21, next Thursday). Municipality and high - ranking politicians are against the parade. Such an event cannot take place in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The gays, on the other hand, do anything to provoke the religious population. It is their DAVKA - behaviour what upsets the people. They really want to make their point and do not care how. The Jerusalem homosexual organization, the Open House, does not care at all about religion and religious feelings let alone G - d.

Gays can do whatever they want in their private lives but today, it seems to be a kind of fashion to show the outside world any sexual behaviour. No one is ashamed any more. The problem is that so many people do it, and eventually others might think that it is normal behaving in such a way.

Shimon Peres is our new elected president and, as we can read in the papers today, the religious parties only elected him because he promised to cancel the Gay Parade. These days, the Open House is having meetings with haredim in order to find a solution.
In the meantime, the anti - Zionist organization Edah HaCharedit located in Mea Shearim, is striking back. On the day before yesterday, huge demonstrations took place in Mea Shearim. Garbage was burned in the street and stones were thrown onto the police.
It is not only the haredim reacting in a violent way, but also the police. I know this from my own experience, as I was watching a haredi demonstration near the Machane Yehudah Market two years ago. The demonstrators blocked an entrance to a non - kosher store in Agrippas Street. Suddenly cops driving on motor - bikes came and drove right into the demonstration. Baruch HaShem, no one was injured.

Tonight on Leil Shabbat it will be quiet. A friend of mine and me are again going to a chassidic Tish in Mea Shearim. Toldot Avraham Yitzchak and Toldot Aharon.

Shabbat Shalom to all of you !!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On the Path of the Avot


In Israel, the chassidic group Toldot Aharon is famous for its strict ideology. The daily life of the members is ruled by "Takanot" which were established by the founder, Rebbe Aharon Roth. To some people, those extremely strict Takanot, such as not owning a radio or ask the Rebbe for permission if someone intends leaving town for a few days, might sound rather strange or exaggerated. However, their goal was and is keeping the youth on the path of the Avot (forefathers) and not letting them search for new ways of life. The Toldot Aharon split - offs, Toldot Avraham Yitzchak and Shomrei Emunim, have the same policy.

In our society today, people do search for new ways of life all the time. Sometimes they are so busy searching that they already forgot what they are searching for. Although we might be religious and keep Mitzwot, we are definitely influenced by other ideas. Especially materialism is one of the biggest problems today. National religious, haredi, chassidic, it does not really matter what I am, I have to have the new car, computer, apartment etc. Every Thursday when the new edition of a certain Jerusalem haredi paper is handed out, I realize what is going on. The first page male haredi readers open is the page with the car sales.

Another very important law for Toldot Aharon members is not showing off or being too proud of Torah knowledge. I could not believe it until I saw it myself. All people I met so far are humble whereas in other religious societies rabbis or yeshiva students do not even bother talking to ordinary people without too much knowledge.

Is life according to Takanot the only way of life in order to be on the path of the Avot ? Have other Jewish orthodox societies failed because their members got adjusted to materialism or a life outside Torah ? Can there be a life outside Torah while still keeping Mitzwot ? Who says that I cannot go enjoying a movie but still be a religious person ? I have no clue about what our foremothers or forefathers would have thought about us. It appears to me that they knew how to deal with the outside world but still kept their religion. The only thing is not to let strange influences rule over your entire life. Everyone has to find the best way for himself.

Although I really admire chassidic life, I could not just go into one direction. I enjoy going to Chassidim but, on the other hand, I also enjoy going to a cafe or a movie. I am not really here or there and I do like having a change. Being only on one side would make me depressed and this is what Judaism should not cause anyone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Toldot Aharon Dance


For those of you who do not know how the Toldot Aharon chassidim look like, here a short video from last Sukkot. The Chassidim are dancing in their great synagogue in Mea Shearim where also the Rebbe's Tish takes place.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Curse


While walking through Jerusalem today, you might realize many posters on the walls. Posters written in Mea Shearim style which are called Fakshvillim. They were put up by the anti - zionistic Edah HaCharedit located in Mea Shearim. Members of the Edah are, for example, Satmar, Toldot Aharon, Dushinsky, Brisk etc.

The so - called Open House is planning a new Gay Parade in Jerusalem on June, 21. In my opinion, it is a disaster having such a Parade in Jerusalem. The gays can go to Tel Aviv or elsewhere. By the way, there was a Gay Parade in Tel Aviv last Friday.

Jerusalem is the city of G - d and such a parade is a desecration. All three religions, Jews, Moslems and Christians are demonstrating against such a parade. The Knesset just signed a new law not allowing such an event in Jerusalem. However, the homosexual organisation, "The Open House" in Ben Yehudah Street wants to make its point. They claim to have a right for the parade. The only thing is that they seem to do it on purpose. Enjoying running around half naked through Jerusalem just to make their point.

Now, the Edah HaCharedit has put a ban and a curse on everyone joining the parade, including the people protecting it such as the police. Additionally, 100,000 Haredim are expected to demonstrate against the gays. I am not sure if police and border police will take such a risk. Mayor Uri Lupolianski and the vast majority of the inhabitants are against the parade anyway.

Tish at Chassidut Toldot Avraham Yitzchak


Again, last Friday night, a friend of mine and me went to another chassidut in Mea Shearim. As at the moment I am writing about chassidut Toldot Aharon, I do have lots of work. Toldot Aharon has two split - offs and one of them is Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.

During Chanukkah 1996, the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kahn, passed away and each of his two sons wanted to be the new Rebbe. As the followers chose the younger brother, Rabbi David Kahn, his older brother Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn started his own chassidic group named after his father Avraham Yitzchak.
Despite the separation, both groups and brothers are extremely friendly with each other and most of their customs and clothes are still the same. Someone even told me that I should attach myself more to Avraham Yitzchak in order to get more information. They are a little more open and basically the same as Toldot Avraham. However, I found that also members of Toldot Aharon are very helpful and answer all kinds of questions.

In order to find out more about Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, a friend of mine and me went to their synagogue last Friday night. First we went for Maariv. Their great synagoge is located in the middle of the Mea Shearim neighbourhood, not far from the huge Breslov synagogue.
The women of Toldot Aharon have the custom not to go to Maariv on Leil Shabbat, but at Avraham Yitzchak they do. As we entered, we only found four women praying in the women's section. The women's section at the Avraham Yitzchak synagogue looks nicer than the one at Toldot Aharon. It is much bigger and there are two rooms. When you come in first, you might be disappointed by the Mechitza. It is almost impossible to look through the metal bars. However, just go around the corner to your left and you will find another womens' room with three huge windows as Mechitza. The disadvantage is the hearing. The windows are tight and you will not hear too much. Nevertheless, one has a great view over the men's section.
At the end of Maariv, sweets and potatoe chips were handed out to the children. The men were storming to a certain location in the synagogue where the Rebbe stood and wished everyone a Shabbat Shalom - Git Shabbes. A women told us to come back later for the Tish where the Rebbe is handing out orange slices to his Chassidim. A custom of Avraham Yitzchak.

We did come back later and Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn had already made Kiddush. Actually he was in the middle of his Shabbat meal, starting with Gefilte Fisch. He had a giant silver tray in front of him. A chassid acting as a kind of waiter served him the meal and drinks, soda or wine. While the Rebbe obviously enjoyed his meal, the Chassidim were singing. Toldot Aharon also have a great Tish but Avraham Yitzchak is more entertaining. I really liked their great Zemirot and Niggunim. They sang very enthusiastically and the Rebbe was conducting. Later on he led the singing.

After the Gefilte Fisch, he ate chicken soup and then meat with Kugel and cooked sweet carrots. The leftovers were given out to the Chassidim.
The women's section was full with at least over 100 women. Downstairs were about 200 men including some litvishe Haredim and a group of national religious yeshiva students. Some Chassidim, especially those sitting at the Tish for the elderly or more distinguished members, fell asleep. Sometimes there was a certain point when they woke up. Especially when the singing started again and when the Rebbe conducted.
Unfortunately, we did not hear too much from his Drasha. All the women around us were talking, as they rather see it as a social event. Bringing their kids and chatting with the other women.

At about 1:00am, another chair was carried in and another Rebbe sat down right next to Rebbe Kahn. First we thaught that this might be a relative but a woman told us that this is the Rebbe of Kalov. The Kalover Rebbe Moshe Taub from New York. He was a special guest that night.

Well, we did not stay until the Rebbe gave out the orange slices but at least we made it until 2:00am. We enjoyed the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Tish very very much. The women were very nice and open to questions.
Next Friday night we will go again and on Shabbat morning we are going to the morning service of the third split - off called Shomrei Emunim (Guardians of Faith). They are also located in Mea Shearim.

If you have the chance of being in Jerusalem on Shabbat, you should definitely visit Mea Shearim. It is such a great atmosphere there and we enjoyed walking through the narrow streets full of Chassidim and their families.

Some people had told us to go to the great Breslov Synagogue, as they had a great celebration. A Sium of "Likutei Moharan". However, we did not regret going to Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

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To the Synagogue of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak


Tomorrow night, after lighting the Shabbat candles, I am going with a friend to the synagogue of the chassidut Toldot Avraham Yitzchak in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood.
Both of us have no idea what to expect but we hope that it will be as interesting as the Tish with their split - off Toldot Aharon last Shabbat.

Hungarian - Romanian chassidic clothing style


When one goes through a chassidic neighbourhood on Shabbat, he might see women wearing black stockings, black or dark blue dresses and a white apron around the dress.

Wearing a white apron on Shabbat is very common among the women of the chassidic group Toldot Aharon whose members you can find in the Mea Shearim (ultra - orthod. neighbourhood in Jerusalem) and Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem.
I was always wondering why they wear this apron and thought that it must be a certain Minhag (custom). Then my Rabbi Mordechai Machlis told the following story at one of his Shabbatot:

He said that every Shabbat, his mother used to wear a white apron around her dress. After a while he asked her why she does so and she explained that once in Hungary (also Romania), many Jews did not have too much money to buy clothes for Shabbat. They did not have a choice but wearing their daily clothes also on Shabbat. In order to make a distinction, they put on a white apron in honour of Shabbat.

Maybe the women of Toldot Aharon put on an apron for the same reason.

The Rebbe of Sadigora and the Holocaust


This story I heard from Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, Jerusalem:

Every year on Independence Day, the previous Rebbe of Sadigora took a broom and started sweeping the streets of Tel Aviv. Not was he only sweeping the streets but he also put up an Israeli flag on the roof of his house.
Well, in certain chassidic communities it is rather unusual putting up an Israeli flag and his students asked the Rebbe why he did such things.

The Rebbe replied that when he was caught by the Nazis, they forced him to sweep the streets. "Then, so the Rebbe, I promised G - d that if I ever survive all the torture, I will move to Israel, and once a year, sweep the streets. The flag I put up because once the Nazis forced me to climb upon a very high roof and to put up the Nazi flag. While I was climbing onto this rooftop I promised G - d that if I survive, I will put up a flag on my house."

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ahavat Israel


I found a great explanation for a concept which somehow struck me for some time. I could never really explain the meaning of Ahavat Israel - the love for Israel. Chassidut Vishnitz has it as its chassidic concept, and I always thought that it means loving the Jewish people. Now I found a better explanation.

In 1878, Romania became independent but did not give citizenship to the Jews. Therefore, many Jews decided to go to Israel despite all the difficulties.

The Chassidim loved Israel but did not agree to the upcoming zionistic ideas. In their eyes one can still love Israel but can only build it with Torah. An independent state could never exist without the Torah laws. Nevertheless, it is still very important to settle Israel, as a Jew can keep many more Mitzwot there.The goal of the Chassidim was, going to Israel and building religious settlements.

Going to Israel was not such a popular idea among Chassidim, as the main stream saw a very important task in Galut. The main chassidic idea is that the Jews are in Galut in order to elevate the nezizot which could bring a faster Geulah (Baal Shem Tov).

But as life became more and more difficult in Eastern Europe, Jews started to leave for Israel. They had suffered through too many pogroms and at the end of the 18th century, even Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (a student of the Mezritcher Maggid) moved to Tiberias in Israel. One of his reasons was that he wanted to escape the fights between the Chassidim and the Midnagdim. A few months earlier, him and his friend Rabbi Sheur Zalman of Liadi went to see the Vilna Gaon and maybe try to convince him stopping his bans against chassidut. However, the Vilna Gaon refused to receive them. A fatal mistake.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Tish with Toldot Aharon


The Mea Shearim chassidic group Toldot Aharon is causing wild demonstrations, they wear funny clothes, throw stones, burn garbage and do other crazy things. In other words, they are just a bunch of religious fanatics.
You can find these opinions in the Israeli press, TV, and even other chassidic groups spread those ideas.

But are those opinions about Toldot Aharon really true, just made up or exaggerated ? Why are they being hated ? How are the Toldot Aharon members really and what exactly are their ideas and values ?

When I decided to write about chassidic groups I did not want to take all the information from books. For me it is much more real going out to their neighbourhoods, meet people and speak to them. If possible, go into their Batei Knesset and to the Tish of the Rebbe.
I myself do keep many chassidic customs although I am not a member of any group. Anything chassidic has found my interest for many years. Another reason why I do write about them is the Holocaust. When you go to Eastern Europe and the old Shtetls today, you mostly find cemeteries or former synagogues now turned into theatres or club houses.
When I decided to write about Toldot Aharon and started reading the books of their founder and first Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Roth, I was very impressed. I have mentioned before that I do not always agree with them but I gained lots of respect and accepted them as they are.

However, going to their synagogue was different. The whole last week, I was so excited. How do they react to strangers and will they let me in at all ?
I took a friend of mine with me and when we entered the great Mea Shearim synagogue, we did neither find a womens' section nor did we see any women. It was Leil Shabbat and the only thing we heard was the singing of the men.
We decided to go back into the street, find a woman and ask her if we took the right entrance. I spotted out a Toldot Aharon woman who was standing across with her little children. I went up to her and asked. She said that we chose the right entrance, but "You know, she explained, we do have the custom that our women do not pray at the synagogues on Friday nights. What you can do is coming to our Tish a little later. And, by the way, you are lucky today, the Rebbe's daughter got married this week and we are doing Sheva Berachot."

We could not believe her open response. Where were all those claims from the Israeli press ? No one was throwing stones at us. Instead a nice young woman answered our questions.

Furthermore she told us that if we need a Beit Knesset, we can go to their split off Avraham Yitzchak, also located in Mea Shearim.
However, my friend and I decided to go to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis first. Have Kiddush and a meal, as we did not know if Toldot Avraham Yitzchak would make a Kiddush.

At 11.40pm, we were back at the Toldot Aharon synagogue and found the door to the womens' entrance locked. Instead we saw many women rushing into a certain direction to the back of the building. We just followed them and saw that they were all climbing up some stairs and going into an apartment block. We did not know what to do and asked another woman who told us that we should also enter. It came out that the apartment block was a second entrance to the synagogue.

As we walked around the synagogue, chassidim were rushing up and down. No one really took notice of us. Everybody was just running to see the Rebbe.

We entered and through a long hallway we reached the womens' section which was already crowded. All the women had also brought their children and even babies.

My friend and I found a good place where we could stand and we even had a great view. But as the place got more crowded, our view was gone. We climbed up a few metal stairs which were placed in front of the Mechitza. The Mechitza consisted of two huge windows and in the middle was a huge iron board. One could still see something through the board but not too much. Of course, we were standing behind the board but somehow managed to see.

It was a great experience seeing all this chassidim with their Streimel and in their light - brown silk coat. The men downstairs started singing and upstairs, more and more women and children shuffled in. I do not know how everybody did it but eventually everyone was standing on this stairs. Especially children were climbing all over the place. I thought that the whole construction would break any minute and fall down right onto the Rebbe's Tish.

The men got up, sang and the Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, walked in. My friend and I could really see almost everything. The Rebbe placed himself in a special chair and he wore a beautiful dark blue silk coat. I have to say that he looked much older than on pictures I had seen before.
He said a prayer, went for Netillat Yadaim and changed his blue coat into a white one. He made Kiddush and said the Beracha over the bread.
The two challot were huge and someone helped him cutting them. According to their custom, the slices were devided between the chassidim. Later on, also cake was served and many took a tiny piece from the slices.

Elderly chassidim were sitting right at the front table and the younger ones including children sat or stood behind. Upstairs and downstairs, everybody just looked at the Rebbe. Mothers even lifted up their babies.

It was a very impressing scene.
Unfortunately, we could not hear the brief Drasha the Rebbe gave. I think that when you go to a Tish it is better to be a man. We women were stuck behind the glass windows and unable to hear much. The men downstairs had much more space and heard everything.

On our way out, we met a woman from the Chassidut Breslov. Carefully she came in and was so happy to see us, as we were not Toldot Aharon. Obviously, she was afraid to ask any of the other women and so she asked us. If they let in other people as well. "Yes, I said, there is nothing to worry about. They are very friendly people."

This coming Friday, my friend and I are going to the Beit Knesset of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. Someone told us that they do have a Kiddush and are very open.
However, we liked going to Toldot Aharon and learned a lot about their members. The only thing we saw were friendly and very helpful people, and we will definitely be back.

Instead spreading any rumours, the press should go and speak to them. Otherwise they just cause unnecessary hatred.

So far, I did not find out about the brides (the daughter of Rebbi Kahn) and the grooms names but I wish them Mazal Tov and all the best.

Hopefully it will work out that I can speak to a member of Toldot Aharon who will answer my questions. As you probably know, haredi society works very different and a friend of mine is contacting the member who, on the other hand, needs a recommendation from my Rabbi.

If anyone of you would like to go to the Toldot Aharon Tish should be halachically Jewish, speak Yiddish or Hebrew and show some interest. Of course, someone should be dressed very modestly; women in a long skirt and with long sleeves, and men with kipa, long trousers and long sleeves.