Friday, February 29, 2008

Just a Thought


So far, the greatest synagogue service ever, I experienced with Karlin - Stolin. Every time I am going there, I am impressed anew. Chassidim are praying in such ecstacy, wow. The Erev Shabbat service on Friday night is the best.

About 200 men pray downstairs at the men's sections. Chassidim from any kind of group and not only the Karliner themselves. National religious, litvish....
Unfortunately, not too many women come on Erev Shabbat.

Today I feel like having a really good prayer service and will be at Karlin - Stolin.
Later on, I might go to the Toldot Aharon Tish, if there is one. Actually I would also like to go back to the Kretchnifer, as I haven't been there for a few weeks. I like to see the Kretchnifer Rebbe (Jerusalem) dancing. He does it with such Kavod, it is unbelievable.

As there is another Shabbat Chatan at the Toldot Aharon synagogue, I might go there for Shacharit. However, I am not sure because I would like to see something else as well. Sadigora, Munkatch or Czernobyl.

When I look at all the Rebbes, Chassidim and policies, an interesting thought came into my mind. In order to find an answer, if there is an answer at all, I need to speak to the guys and not to the women. That's for sure.
I was asking myself who really runs a chassidic group. No matter if it is a smaller or a bigger group. Is it really only the Rebbe himself ? Is it only him being in charge ? And what about the "Scheyne Yidden" (the so - called group elite) ? How far do they influence the group's life ? Do the Shabbabnikkim listen to the Rebbe ?

Those are very interesting questions to me and I will try to find an answer.
Every group probably works different anyway. However, getting at least an idea would be great.

Shabbat Shalom - Gut Shabbes - שבת שלום לכל הקוראים

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cake and Chuppah


First I thought I would be far too early but the more I walked towards the Toldot Aharon synagogue, the more I knew that I was just on time. The Toldot Aharon members were dressed up yesterday evening and I saw them walking eagerly to their synagogue.
The great wedding of the Rebbes grandson Eliezer and the Kallah Sarah was coming up and especially for the Toldot Aharon women, this is also a social event. An occasion for meeting friends.

I apologize for not describing the male point of view too much, as I only saw what was going on at the women's side. However, people told me that the guys had a great dancing.

As I said, I was just on time and arrived when the women's hall was opened. For anyone familiar with their facilities: The synagogue has a women's dining room / hall on the right side of the alleyway leading into the backyard and to another women's entrance to the synagogue. I found many women lined up already. Toldot Aharon members as well as women from other chassidic groups, a few sephardi women and very few national religious. The language was Yiddish. And I started off in Yiddish asking two women about the schedule. I was told that I am in the right place. "Just walk in", they told me.

It was easier to get in than coming out. The hall turned out to be a big room with long tables on both sides of the wall. Left and right were cakes and drinks places on the tables. If you now think that everybody just ran up to the cakes, you are wrong. Everyone jumped into the front part or on the little benches in the middle. The bride Sarah was seated in the very front and anyone was free to shake her hand and say "MAZAL TOV". This was the main goal of most wedding guests. The teenage girls preferred standing at the side or in the back on the highest benches. I cannot describe enough how all the eyes of the teenage girls were shining. In this moment, every single one of them imagined her owned wedding with the prince riding on a white horse to pick her up.

Finally I also found a place on one of the benches and had a great view onto the stage in the front. I was surprised how great the Kallah looked. She seems to be a very nice girl, rather American looking. Later I was told that this isn't the case. She is totally Israeli.

A Toldot Aharon woman next to me explained me the background. The bride is the granddaughter of Rabbi Moshe Halberstam who was a famous member of the Edah HaCharedit and died in 2006.
In the meantime, the bride was busy shaking hands. She was extremely nervous and stopped hand shaking after a while. She could hardly sit still and eventually her mother took over the greeting job. I thought about lining up but saw that the the bride is getting a little fed up and when I looked at the long line, I wasn't in the mood anymore. Instead I took a piece of cake and another woman informed me about what is going to happen now.

Suddenly I heard a voice behind me introducing someone as an academic student. If this was THE academic student I am thinking of then I have to tell her that I was impressed that she finally showed up. I hope that you learned something and hopefully start using your connections in a positive way. Ph.D. yes, but be honest with the group members, as they don't deserve any betrayal behind their backs.

A Mechitzah was set up and the groom marched in to greet the bride. His name is Eliezer and he looked rather shy.
I don't know how many times bride and groom have met before the wedding. Generally they only meet a few times and for me it is very hard to imagine, getting married to someone I've only spoken to a few times. A person I don't know at all. However, if you grow up in such a society and you have been raised all your live with the goal to get married, you look at it from a very different point of view.

After the greeting, both walked out to the Chuppah.
A woman told me to run out as fast as I can. This remark came too late, as everybody had the same idea. The women just ran towards the exit.

The Chuppah was set up outside in the backyard. Right in front of the men's entrance into the synagogue. They had a great Chazan singing and we were able to hear everything due to the microphones. There were hundreds of women running through the alleyway towards the back of the building. I followed and placed myself almost next to the Chuppah which turned out to be on a stage. Thus, everyone was able to see the whole ceremony.

Even with the Mechitzah in the middle, we had enough space to stand. Many women chose standing behind the windows inside the synagogue but had to turn off the lights, as there faces could be seen from the outside.

First the Chatan Eliezer showed up. His grandfather, Rebbe David Kahn, accompanied him to the Chuppah. Later the bride Sarah followed. For her it was hard because her face was covered by a veil and she could hardly see a thing. The Rebbitzen of Toldot Aharon and her mother led her when she encircled the groom.
The ceremony itself was rather short. The Ketubah was read out via microphone. Don't ask me what the sum was. Sometimes the Yiddish was too fast for me. But you can be sure that there is plenty of money involved.

I really enjoyed myself and spoke to some further women about different chassidic dynasties. After the celebration was over, it took me about twenty minutes to leave. We were all squeezed in and could hardly move. I had almost succeeded in leaving the complex when someone pulled my arm. It was one of the group members I know and she asked me if I had enjoyed it. We spoke for a while and I went on to my regular talmudic class on Wednesday.

Most women went home anyway and it was exciting seeing the nearby streets only full of Toldot Aharon members.

It was a great wedding and I am really impressed. Mazal Tov to Sarah and Eliezer and I wish them all the best.

Nevertheless, many events are also going on in other chassidic groups. For instance, next week there will be a great event in Chassidut Belz taking place and if I can make it, I will participate.

This Shabbat however, I will stay with the Toldot Aharon for another Shabbat Chatan. But as their women don't go to the synagogue on Erev Shabbat, I might jump over to Karlin - Stolin. Seeing something else is important to me and it is very important talking and being in touch with other chassidic groups as well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chaseneh in Toldot Aharon


In another few hours, the great wedding is going to take place. A grandson of the Toldot Aharon Rebbe is getting married.

The Chuppah will be in Jerusalem, the Seudah, celebration and the Mitzwe Tanz (Dance) are going to be in Beit Shemesh.

I still haven't decided if I will go to Beit Shemesh or not. We'll see. However, tomorrow I am going to write about this extraordinary wedding.

MAZAL TOV to Kallah and Chatan !!!!

Toldot Aharon Chassidim

Toldot Aharon couple

The Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn

The Toldot Aharon Rebbe in New York

Intense Exhaustion


As I have written many times before, about ten years ago I was very active in the Jerusalem religious scene. Haredim, shiurim, synagogues, you name it. Due to a personal crisis I left haredi society and moved to Germany in order to get my life sorted out. I decided to look at everything form a distance and then decide how I should continue. In Germany, I had my distance but started missing haredi life and everything connected to it very fast.

Back in Israel I renewed almost all my former contacts. Nevertheless, one thing I really promised myself:
Never ever would I jump into haredi society and make the same mistakes all over again. I just didn't want to face another nervous breakdown. And believe it or not, everything went fine. Although I have been in constant contact with the Haredim and even try to make my way back, I have been able to keep my distance successfully. I am not getting involved too much and I don't exaggerate. And I would like to give the same advice to any religious newcomer.

My success is based on the following:
A few days a week I am totally involved in haredi activities but, at the same time, the other few days of the week, I keep my distance. Three days here, three days there, and Shabbat I spend entirely haredi.

So far, everything worked out great. I haven't had any problems for almost eight years. First I feared that the fact that I write about religion and the haredi world and especially the intensive dealings with the Chassidut would throw me back into the old crisis. But nothing happened.

However, I almost ran into a crisis when a few months ago, a very young woman came up to me at a chassidic Tish and wanted to talk to me. She came out of the blue, sat down next to me and made clear that she would like to talk to me. I had only seen the woman once before but this had been weeks ago. And although I had seen her before, we had never exchanged even one word. And suddenly, one night, she stood in front of me and asked if I remember her. I was so shocked that I almost fell off the metal bench.

I figured that the young woman had only got married recently and since has been looking desperate. When she approached me I was shocked. First of all, I have enough personal problems figuring out my religious life and I thought that I really don't need to listen to other people going through any kind of crisis.
Secondly talking about certain issues with Chassidim could cause me and the young woman problems with the group itself, and one of my most important rules is not to get involved into any internal policies of the chassidic groups. This would be far too delicate and dangerous.

Fortunately or maybe unfortunately (who knows ?), our conversation didn't take place.

Since I started dealing and writing about chassidic groups, I haven't faced any emotional difficulties. Usually I go to a group, to their synagogue, to the Tishes, I talk to people and sometimes I don't have a conversation. During the week I mostly take off and get my distance if no special event is coming up.
However, since last Shabbat, everything is becoming a little different.

I have been to many chassidic synagogues and normally when I walk in, the women look at me for a short time but as soon as I open my Sidur (prayer book) and mind my own business, they go back to their prayers. No one cares unless I ask something about where we are and why the Rebbe or Rabbi is doing such and such. After the service it sometimes turns out that I talk to different women and sometimes I just leave. It depends on my mood and on the people.

Last Shabbat morning, after I entered the Toldot Aharon synagogue in Mea Shearim, I was never really left alone. When I arrived at 10:00 am, there weren't too many women present. The majority only came at about 10:30am. As I already know a few women, I spotted them out and said "Gut Shabbes". Nevertheless, I am not the creepy kind of person and I sat down further away from them. I was sitting on my own, as I also wanted to be left alone because I was still sleepy. And to me prayer service on Shabbat is very important. I want to concentrate on the prayer service and not talk around.
I chose a seat right behind the white metal Mechitzah and started looking for the right page in my Sidur. After only a few seconds, a Toldot Aharon woman sat down next to me and paid attention that I didn't find the right page in the Sidur right away. She didn't hesitate and was extremely helpful showing me the right page.
I must say that all the present women were very friendly. Nevertheless, it was almost impossible for me to concentrate on any spirituality. I always had the pressure feeling to do everything right. A hundred per cent. Doing everything right means lot's work and concentration. The women spoke to me during the whole service (except for the Torah reading, of course).

"We are saying this verse now. Oh, you don't have it in your Sidur and you don't know our customs."

"The Rebbe just walked out in order to take a short break."

"What have you learned so far in the Yeshivot ?"

"Do you know this and that chassidic group ? If yes, what do you think about them ?"

"Do you know this Rebbe and that Rebbe ?"

"And what is your opinion about this and that custom ?"

One woman offered me sweets, as it was Shabbat Chatan. First I refused to accept the sweets and told her to take them rather for her grandchildren. She smiled and insisted on me putting the sweets into my pocket. A few seconds later, the same woman shouted: "Shemonah Esrei (an important prayer in Jewish liturgy). Everyone just standing around hurried to a right spot in order to start the Shemonah Esrei.

Usually after the Kaddish at the end, we say "Aleinu". I was prepared but suddenly I heard a different prayer which I didn't know. Another woman standing next to me explained that the Rebbe has a custom to say another verse. A Toldot Aharon custom.

After the service I was emotionally finished. I had a headache and felt completely exhausted. Standing outside, I started breathing and enjoyed the fresh air.

To make it very clear:

All the women were extremely nice and helpful. No one ever pushed me around or went on my nerves.
But what happened was that I entered into my own personal emotional crisis. Everything was just too much for me. Too intense. It is the group's intensity which I have never felt in any other chassidic group.

This evening, I am going back to Toldot Aharon, as one of the grandsons of Rebbe David Kahn is getting married. And this coming Shabbat is another Shabbat Chatan.
I am definitely going to today's wedding but I still haven't made up my mind about Shabbat.

Let's say I am going to the Tish on Erev Shabbat and for Shacharit (morning prayer), intensity will be unbelievable high. Especially because I am not anonymous anymore. The women know me already. Some of them even by name.

Job to offer


The bakery where I have been working twice a week, has to offer a job for a Yeshiva Bochur.

The job consists of cleaning the machinery and floors in the factory. It is not such a hard job and the working atmosphere is pleasant.

It doesn't matter if the Yeshiva student studies at a national religious or haredi Yeshiva.

Half of the bakery staff is religious. Our Hechsher (kosher certificate) is Badatz Belz (Beit Din Zedek of the Belzer Chassidim).

Working hours would be in the evening after 7pm.
Time: 2 – 3 hours daily but this is negotiable.

The location is the area around the Machane Yehudah Market in Jerusalem.

The applicant should be an Israeli citizen.

This offer is only for Yeshiva guys.

Anyone interested can send me an e – mail and I will refer him to the bakery manager:

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Set Up ?


It happened many times that when I spoke to Chassidim and inquired about their groups I was told the following:

"You are welcome any time. We get someone special for you who knows the Chassidut and everything. He will show you around the synagogue, anywhere you want and you can speak to our women as well."

As soon as I hear all this, all my alarm bells are ringing. The offers are very nice and I really appreciate them. I don't want to mention the chassidic groups but I had quite a few of such offers. "Come to us, come to us, we are the best. You don't need all the others. Forget about them."

Countless times I mentioned that I write about many different groups. I need to say that sometimes I am jealous for not being in New York and going to the Satmar, Bobov, Tosh, or whatever Tishes. I know very few Satmarer here and as almost everyone of them in Mea Shearim is with the Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, I always need to travel to Bnei Brak in order to speak with Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum followers. Not always, but the majority is in Bnei Brak.

Although Rebbe Aharon visited Jerusalem last August and laid the cornerstone for a new building in Raul Wallenberg Street (the new Kiryat Yoel), nothing has been moving. The construction site has been a huge hole since. No further Rebbe Aharon followers at sight, so far. Well, at least there are two Satmarer synagogues available.

So, what about the offers from different groups ? And by the way, those Chassidim know exactly what I am doing. Writing about chassidic groups on the Internet. And many simply want to see their particular group on the Internet. Present us in a nice way.
I admit that I will take the offers of being shown around. Why not ? The only thing bothering me is, how reliable are all the information I am going to receive ? Is it more a PR - trip ?
And even if I spoke to different group members including the women, what are they going to tell me if they know that I write on the net ?

It depends on my questions. Of course, I would not formulate anything rude but, after all the time, I know what and how to ask. It has become routine. Even if they try to get around a precise answer, I still figure out if the answer is right or wrong. Or half and half.

The most funny thing is when we talk about other groups. Chassidim just know everything. Even the Toldot Aharon know about Chabad, believe it or not. Some even have Chabad relatives. And every group wants to present itself in the most popular way. "Our Rebbe is the greatest. Don't forget to mention him. And if you need any further information or stories, we are the right address."

As long as someone is not an accepted group member, he won't receive any detailed insight information. Even when I studied with Chabad, I wasn't told many of their secrets. Instead, the real Chabadnikkim were whispering to each other at the table. When I once in London asked about a particular Chabad rabbi, what's wrong with him…., I was told that as long as I am not Chabad, no one would ever tell me. That was it.

The only answer to this question is that someone has to feel what could be right or wrong. When you know the Chassidim, their attitude, their group, the people and the mentality, you can feel when someone is making a show or talking Tacheles. It depends who you meet, how prepared you show up and if you know how to deal with the situation.

When I go somewhere, I will be prepared. From the Chozeh of Lublin to Peshis'cha to Kotzk. And I will really drive them nuts with my questions.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Does Science justify anything ?


Israel Rubin is an American Jewish religious writer who wrote some great books about Chassidut Satmar. Just recently I read his reports and found them very interesting. He mentions many insights no one would find elsewhere. The reason is that already in the 60ies, Israel Rubin met the Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, and asked him for permission to interview Satmarer Chassidim. After some time, Rebbe Yoel agreed and thus, Israel Rubin was able to write about the Satmarer society including its history and philosophy.

Just like Israel Rubin, I write because of religious reasons. I admit that through my writings I am trying to connect more to Chassidut in a whole and hope to find my way back into haredi society. This goal is very important to me and I have been thinking about it a lot. I very much enjoy talking to Chassidim and I wish I had a great advisor what and how I should improve my goal.

Others, on the other hand, write about Chassidut or chassidic society for different reasons. Not like Israel Rubin, myself or other religious writers. These others types write due to academic reasons. Science, sociology, whatever studies on chassidic society and groups.

First I have to clarify that I don't agree to academic studies inside the chassidic population. It does not include chassidic history or Chassidism in a whole but rather investigation about private life. There has to be a limit about what can be published and how someone should investigate or approach the Chassidim. If you do so, at least be open with the people.

Finally I should give an example and make very clear what I mean:
About two months ago, I read a Ph.D. of an Israeli Ph.D. candidate. I am not mentioning her name and not what she studied.
The Ph.D. candidate, let's call her P., chose the subject "The Women of the chassidic group of Toldot Aharon".

I read her 450 - pages report twice. Most pages I skipped, as I already know a lot about the subject myself.

The Toldot Aharon are an extreme chassidic group with about 600 families living in Mea Shearim and in Beit Shemesh. Even in Mea Shearim, the group is seen as extreme but highly respected. They keep themselves very separate from the outside world, and thus it was hard for P. to get in closer touch with them.

What do I criticize about her Ph.D. work ?
It bothers me a lot how the got her information.
She told some Toldot Aharon women that she studies at the University and writes something social on the subject. She told the Toldot Aharon Rebbitzen that she is interested in Chassidism and intends to get closer to religion. None of the women really knew that they would be part of a Ph.D. This impression I got from the writings of P. The Rebbitzen helped her talking to people, as she supposed that P. is looking for some chassidic roots.

What is so terrible about it ?
As I said, I don't agree to the methods. P. wrote her Ph.D. on an entirely academic basis. Her language, her approach, anything was entirely academic. The question is how far is science allowed to go ? Am I allowed to lie or pretend in order to get my Ph.D. ?

Last week, I called P. up. I had a few further questions and I really wanted to hear what kind of a person she is. Call it curiosity.

However, I had never expected the way P. reacted on the phone.

I introduced myself and had to do so a few more times afterwards.

The first thing P. told me was not to "steal" from her writings about the Toldot Aharon women.

Now, I have to say and I told her that I have been dealing with Chassidut Toldot Aharon for some time and all of P.'s information were already known to me. As a matter of fact, I have written about different matters months ago.

I myself had spoken to different women but, as I know Yiddish, I had overheard many of those subjects at the Tishes of the group. Young brides were talking to her friends about women's issues. I didn't even need to ask but got my information just like this.

P. concentrated her Ph.D. basically on two issues:
The education of the Toldot Aharon women and how they deal with the hair shaving one or two days after the wedding.

I wrote about the head covers etc. months ago but do not concentrate too much on the subject itself. For me it is important to write about different chassidic groups, their history, their rebbes, the synagogues, the customs, the Tishes, marriages, etc. The religious issues are very important. What I experienced is that chassidic women tell me a lot. The reasons are that I am religious myself, I completely identify with the subject, I know about the subject and I actually respect Chassidim very much. The Chassidim react differently if someone tells them that he comes from the university.

P. was upset and started a kind of yelling. At least she raised her voice and asked me about my background and if I am somehow connected to Toldot Aharon. I stressed that I am not connected to any group but write about all of them. Not only about Toldot Aharon. That I am religious and that this is my reason.
However, I just wanted to ask her a few questions.

P. agreed.

I was really interested in one thing: Has P. kept up her connections with the Toldot Aharon women ?

She finished her Ph.D. some years ago and I was interested in what had happened since.

P. admitted that right after she finished her investigations, relations had stopped. And now she is busy with a second Ph.D. or whatever you call it.

I told her that I deal with the Chassidim in a very different way. I could not get information and then just dump the people. "I got everything and now leave me alone. I have got what I wanted and you remain where you are. Stay away from me."

I also told her that for me, the Chassidim are people and many of them I consider as my personal friends. They are not a study object.
I would not use them and afterwards disappear.

This was the moment when P. went wild. She started a whole justification scream. She is too busy, she likes the people, but she has this and that. Again she asked me who I was. As if I am a Toldot Aharon spy.

I asked her if she at least knew that one of the grandsons of Rebbe David Kahn is getting married ?

P. didn't know.

Eventually she told me that she is planning to put the Ph.D. into a book and wants to publish everything. Yes, she knows that the Toldot Aharon might cause her problems.

If she had told the members her actual reasons for her inquiries, things would be more positive but she wasn't always too honest. She used group members and therefore, the Toldot Aharon probably look at the matter as if she was an intruder. So, P. might be right when she expects threats.

In the end, P. suggested that we should meet and she would like to hear my opinion on the matter. I sent her my e – mail address but she never responded and never will respond.

She made the mistake to let everyone think that she is the only person in the world who ever spoke to Toldot Aharon. The truth is that many Haredim know everything what P. wrote about from their own experience. Especially the education issue is very common among haredi society and therefore, it is well known. I had to skip the education pages anyway.

When I go to chassidic groups, I emphasize on other subjects, as I mentioned before. History, rebbes, synagogues or customs. Of course, social aspects also play a role but for these subjects I don't need to ask the Chassidim. I know the haredi world myself and thus can ask myself. Most social issues I write about, I have experienced myself.

What really bothers me is P.'s behaviour. As soon as she reached her goal, she disappeared. She wasn't interested in the women at all. She was interested in getting the information and now she wants to make money. Well, she can sell her stuff to secular papers or give lectures to the secular. I am sure that left wing papers like Haaretz always love some haredi scandals. To the religious themselves, she won't have too many connections because they already know.

A friend of mine said that P. wrote her study in an academic scientific way and not for religious reasons. This is her right and there is nothing wrong with it.

That's right but it doesn't get into my head that she let herself being invited, told the Chassidim some Blabla – stories and then just dumped them. I spoke to other Chassidim (not to Toldot Aharon !!!!) and they said: "So what. Let her publish the stuff. We won't read it anyway."

I expected P. at least to show up for the Shabbat Chatan yesterday. Okay, she hasn't spoken to the Toldot Aharon for some time but this was a chance to renew the connection. She could have claimed that she was busy and now she heard about Shabbat Chatan and wanted to say HELLO. As far as I saw, she didn't show up. For her, the subject is finished and now it is cash time.

I am not a scientist and I am glad not to be one if those are the methods and goals. I rather live without an academic title instead of turning out to be like this. I will continue writing about many chassidic groups because I honestly enjoy talking to the Chassidim. So far, I have met great people who I really respect and appreciate. It doesn't necessarily mean that I agree with all the issues but in a way I wish, I could be like them.

If P. is reading this article:
I am NOT going to the Toldot Aharon and tell them. I haven't done so far and I don't intend doing so in the future.
You can do whatever you want but maybe you should consider telling them the truth. You, and not me.

If not, I wish you all the best and great success. And I mean this seriously.

Shabbat Chatan with Toldot Aharon - שבת חתן עם תולדות אהרון


To say it in very few words:
I had a great time.

Whoever wants to continue reading, is welcomed to do so.

After the usual Shabbat dinner at Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's house, I went straight to the chassidic Tish of the Toldot Aharon. Many times before I have mentioned it already: The Toldot Aharon are seen as the most extreme chassidic group in Mea Shearim. The secular Israeli press loves to refer to them as some kind of outlaws in society.

Due to their closed society and their strict internal laws, one might think that they are weird. Anyway, if you know them a little better and actually speak to them, you find out that they are very nice people. People I very much learned to respect. And people who chose to live in such a closed society. They made up their own rules and are happy with what they have.

At my arrival at the synagogue, the doors to the Ezrat Nashim (women's entrance) were still locked. So far, we were only a few females waiting. One woman suggested that we should move over to the second entrance but at the same moment, a Chassid walked in and unlocked the doors. As the Toldot Aharon keep a very strict standard of modesty laws and men and women are absolutely separated. Thus, we females had to move over to the left side while the Chassid passed us on the right side.

However, the Ezrat Nashim was packed and all the little girls where there as well. I only found a place to stand right behind the glass Mechitzah in the second room. Immediately I spotted out a young man I had never seen before. His face was very young, he had blond hair and was unbelievable tall. I asked a Toldot Aharon woman if this is the grandson of Rebbe David Kahn who is getting married next (this) week. She nodded and right after we started a great conversation. A few minutes later, a second woman joined and we were talking without any breaks. Mostly about private matters but they also explained me different things about wedding customs.

And right away they invited me to come to the synagogue the next morning for the "Aufruf" and Shabbat Chatan celebration. I had planned this anyway but was happy that they mentioned that people from the outside can participate as well. There wouldn't be a problem.

Their synagogue service starts at 9:00am on Shabbat but due to my laziness, I only made it at 10:00am. I walked in, sat down, looked through my Sidur (Nussach Sepharad) and could hardly keep my eyes open. I almost fell asleep again. A woman sitting next to me noticed my struggle finding the precise page in the Sidur (although I almost got it), and showed me the right prayer. Another woman sat down next to me and she was great. After a few minutes, we started a great conversation. The Rebbe took a few minutes break anyway and we used the time to talk. In the meantime, she explained me different Hungarian prayer customs, as I wasn't used to them. "Come more often and you will get used to the Hungarian rites", she proposed.

The Ezrat Nashim filled up because everybody wanted to see how the sweets were thrown onto the children downstairs at the men's side. As I know a few women already, we all said "Shabbes" to each other. The woman next to me kept on explaining me things. Among others she told me that the actual custom of throwing sweets at the boys downstairs has its roots in the idea that a groom is sinless. All his sins are forgiven. We do the same. We get rid of our sins by throwing the sweets at the boys. I didn't know the root of this custom.

As I had never been to a Shabbat morning service at Toldot Aharon, I was impressed how different the synagogue looked. When the Tish takes place, it looks totally different. However, in the morning, all the metal benches are gone and replaced by wooden tables and benches. The Bimah stands in the middle.

Rebbe David Kahn has the custom to read the whole Torah portion himself. There are "Aufrufs" but it is only him reading. One of the women gave me a Chumash (Torah) so that I could follow the Torah reading. But honestly, I wasn't able to follow. I heard the Rebbe reading but could not understand his words. Maybe it was a bad acoustic or I am simply not used to his accent. I was only able to figure out a few words. Then my neighbour told me that there is also a Bar Mitzwah. The little boy named Mendel was very proud standing next to the Rebbe. His Streimel looked brand new. My neighbour told me that they never give brand new Streimels to the kids but only to a groom. Mendel's Streimel might look new to me but was actually second hand. They just made it look new.
Later on the sweets were flying around and before I left, I also got a little plastic bag of sweets.

I was invited to participate in the meal afterwards but because I was told earlier that there will be another Shabbat Chatan next Shabbat, I refused to go. I told them that I would rather join next time. I didn't feel comfortable and didn't want too much at once.

The wedding is taking place this coming Wednesday. To be honest, I forgot the Chassidut where the bride comes from and have to inquire again. It was a very tiny chassidic group I had never heard about before.

The next wedding will be between a regular Chassid and a bride who has her roots somewhere in Karlin - Stolin. Not totally, but somehow she is connected to Karlin - Stolin.

However, the wedding of the grandson of the Rebbe this Wednesday, will be divided between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. The Chuppah will be in Jerusalem and the rest in Beit Shemesh.
I was invited to also come over to Beit Shemesh: "You cannot just leave without seeing everything. Especially not without the Mitzweh Tanz between the Rebbe and the bride."

This is true. I would love to see the Mitzweh Tanz but I am not sure yet, if I will make it to Beit Shemesh.

I had a great time and very much enjoyed talking to the different Toldot Aharon women. They were very friendly and extremely helpful.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Gerer Rebbe in Jerusalem


After exactly one month, the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, is visiting Jerusalem this Shabbat. It is also the Yahrzeit of the "Pnei Menachem" and this morning, the Rebbe went to the cemetery in order to pray at the grave.

Tonight, there will be a huge Tish at the Synagogue in Yirmeyahu Street. But, unfortunately, Chassidut Gur is the only group, not letting the women join their Tish. I wish this would change !!!

Some Gerer Chassidim asked me to come to the Synagogue tomorrow morning but I had to cancel. This Shabbat I am entirely spending with the Toldot Aharon in Mea Shearim. Tomorrow they celebrate Shabbat Chatan, as a grandson of the Rebbe is getting married next week.

In the middle: The Rebbe of Toldot Aharon, Rabbi David Kahn.

However, the Gerer Rebbe will be back in Jerusalem in another two weeks and for Purim !!!

The present Rebbe of Chassidut Gur, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Who are you ?


Israel is a tiny country and its citizens have the constant desire to belong to a certain group in society. Israelis love to judge you according to your place in society. This doesn't always depend on money but on religious or secular, if religious, how much ? Doss (haredi) or more normal ? Where do you live ? Who do you vote for ? Are you right - wing or the opposite ?

The worst for me was always looking for an apartment with a flatmate. Flats are expensive and many times, people are forced to share. When I studied at a national religious institution, I dressed national religious and lived in the national religious neighbourhood of Kiryat Moshe. I had an outer identification.
I looked like them and when I looked for people to share an apartment with, they knew who I am, as soon as they opened the door. No one asked me "Do you keep kosher or are you religious ?" Looking like them was already like a walking ID - card.

Things changed when I still lived in the same neighbourhood but didn't dress too religious anymore. I definitely was but walked around in Jeans and T - Shirt. To make things very clear, although I walk around this way, I do neither wear any sleeveless shirts nor tight jeans. Just normal and modest.

However, you should have seen the looks when people opened their doors. They looked at my clothes and asked if I think that I am really in the right place.

Then it was the other way around. Me and my flatmate were looking for a third person. We hung up notes everywhere: Searching a religious flatmate, koscher kitchen, $ 225 rent.

My flatmate was the same as me; we kept Mitzwot but walked around in pants. People started making appointments with us in order to see the apartment. Usually they didn't ask too many questions on the phone but as soon as they walked in, they had a list.

Some haredi women showed up with their daughters. Mum wanted to check out where the daughter is going to move.
Actually the daughters where quite excited to see us but Mum wasn't. We never succeeded in convincing any haredi mother that we are religious and don't mess around in the apartment.

Then a girl from Mea Shearim showed up. At least she claimed to be from there. She had just escaped and was looking for a national religious change. Whatever that means.
My flatmate and I wanted anything but not a Mea Shearim runaway and all the problems connected with it. No Modesty Police (Mishmeret HaZniut) banging on our door. Running away means depression for the girl and we didn't feel like listening to all the personal baggage. She was out of the picture anyway, as she announced that she doesn’t agree to secular novels in the apartment.

What did we do ?
Of course, we ended up with another national religious girl. And this worked out perfectly. She didn't wear pants but could accept different more open directions. When I looked for an apartment some time after that incident, I ran into a great girl's group living in Katamon. As soon as I walked in, I was an outsider due to the pants.
The girls, however, reacted great and I am still in touch with two of them. They wore skirts and came from haredi backgrounds. One was from a Satmar family but more open, as she stressed.

They accepted me right away because I was the only one who had ever heard about the different groups they came from. In the end, I chose a different offer but the example with the haredi girls shows that it doesn't always have to be stereotype.

I don't belong here anymore


I had this experience many many times: For years I had been participating in a certain program (frame), go to a certain rabbi and join the Shiurim, and suddenly everything comes to an end. Sometimes not too suddenly and it turns out to be a slow process.
Going somewhere else, meeting new people and rabbis, listening to other Shiurim, is nothing bad. And it doesn't necessarily have to mean that all the former programs and friends are completely forgotten. However, life is changing and a persons needs to advance and improve. This is very human and doesn't only apply to religion.

On the other hand, there are many things I always stick to and I would never abandon them. Example: chassidic life.
Although I am definitely not dressed chassidic (at least not at the moment) and I am not a member of any specific group, I do identify myself with chassidic society. In other words, I would never leave my participation and suddenly only turn to be litvish oder national religious.

Last Shabbat I spontaneously decided to go to a rabbi I hadn't seen for some time. For years, I used to go to his house almost every Shabbat. Shiur and Seudat Shlishit (third meal). Suddenly I stopped for different reasons. One of the reasons was that I realized that I only went because this particular rabbi sometimes doesn't have too many guests and I felt a kind of sorry for him. I never told him my reasons but rather claimed to be too busy at the moment.
Him, his wife and other participants kept on asking me for months why I stopped coming. But as life goes on, after a while, no one asked anymore.

Then, last Shabbat, I went back. Only once, I said to myself.
There was a great welcoming but somehow it wasn't the same anymore. Of course, it was the same place, same dishes, same Shiur, same rabbi and the same participants. However, I just felt that it wasn't my thing anymore.

The Rabbi gave a Derasha (speech) on the Torah portion but I hardly listened. Instead I was angry at myself why I had gone in the first place. I felt totally displaced. It was nice, thanks, I will never forget about you but now it is time to move on, those where exactly my thoughts.

As I already mentioned, there are things which never leave me. And I think that it is very important to concentrate on the issues which seem to be important to your inner self. I see it as a sign to continue and even improve the connection, as, for instance, chassidic studies and society.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Toite Chassidus


There is nothing worse than a chassidic group without a Rebbe.
Just take Breslov and Chabad as an example.
A chassidic group without a Rebbe is like a dead fish. The group might be still active but something is missing.

The last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died in Crown Heights on June 12, 1994. The Rebbe had suffered from a stroke in the early summer of 1992 and since, he hasn't been too present anymore. Eventually his Chassidim got used to an inactive Rebbe.

The first and last Breslover Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, died in 1810 and since, the Breslov movement has been without a real spiritual leader. After Rabbi Nachman died, nobody felt like being good enough to replace him. Not even Rabbi Nathan Sternhartz. However, Rabbi Nachman left a complex Chassidut with his work "Likutei Moharan".

Nevertheless, many Breslover Chassidim have distanced themselves from the hardcore and instead founded their own directions (Rabbi Israel Odesser). Today, Breslov includes many different fractions within Breslov. At least in Israel.

Many times I asked a colleague of mine how the Breslover celebrate Shabbat. My colleague is a member of Chassidut Breslov and she always invites me to their great synagogue in Mea Shearim Street. She even wanted to drag me to their Mikweh. So far, I haven't been into the synagogue but will definitely go one day. However, when I asked her, she keeps on responding that Breslovers have their own private chassidic Tish at home.

This is true but you shouldn't forget that there are bored Breslover Chassidim. In Mea Shearim they see all the other Chassidim going to Tishes and they have nowhere to go. As a result, many Breslover Chassidim go to other Tishes such as Kretchnif or Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. The same with Chabad. I have seen many Chabadnikkim at different chassidic groups.

Chabad is also split into two groups today:

1. The Meshichistim


2. the others.

One group cannot stand the other one and everybody believes to me more important. A Chabadnik told me that the Meshichistim even started to call their own group opponents "Mitnagdim". The "Mitnagdim" are those Chabadnikkim who do not see Rabbi Schneerson as the Meschiach.

Who leads Chabad today ?
Apparently everyone does his own thing in the name of the Rebbe.

Until today, Chabad keeps the Farbrengen – custom. Farbrengen is Yiddish (verbringen – to spend) and is a kind of a chassidic Tish. Without the Rebbe, of course. A Chabad – Rabbi sits together with Chassidim and guests; the eat, drink, sing and tell each other stories about the Rebbe.

Personally I prefer a chassidic group with a clear chassidic concept. I need a Rebbe who decides and keeps the group alive and active. Why should I follow a "Toite Chassidus – a dead Chassidut" ? The Rebbe is important and simply belongs to a group.

Chabad has failed to appoint a successor and eighth Rebbe.
After Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson took over leadership from his father – in – law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, in 1951, he succeeded in pushing away his opponents. He used great tactics and maneuvered himself into the pole position. At the same time, he started a cult about himself, Chabad had never seen before. Chabad founder Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi supported a Rebbe ideal of a spiritual guide. The big change came with the past two Lubavitcher Rebbes who started a new cult about themselves. The peak was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The only problem was that he never announced a successor or spoke publicly about leadership after his death. Maybe he considered himself as the Meschiach but what about his own idea that his father – in – law, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak, might be the Meschiach ?

A chassidic group can only be called alive with a learned charismatic Rebbe and I prefer that much more than a movement based on illusions and cult.

At least the Breslover have kept their concept. They have the old original followers of Rabbi Nachman in Mea Shearim, as well as the new movement for the newly religious. Rabbi Shalom Arush and Rabbi Eliezer Berland do a great job with the newcomers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How careful do we have to be ?


Not only once I was asked how I would deal with the situation if a chassidic group was threatening me due to my writings.
Are you not afraid that they find out ?
This question I was asked many times in private e - mails.
The answer is:
"No, I am not afraid."

First of all, I don't write anything offensive about anyone besides some regular jokes about national religious and Litvaks.
No, seriously, I am not aware of anything offensive I have written, so far. Of course, I don't make only propaganda for the haredi society. How great it is to be Haredi let alone chassidic. Living in the perfect world without any negative things. Everyone is just happy and great. I do write about negative issues in the haredi society, and there are a lot. Good and bad things, as also the haredi society is a human society with its pros and cons. We are all people and make mistakes.

Someone wrote that some writers only pick on the bad points instead of mentioning that there are thousands of happy Haredim. No one is claiming the opposite and I know many happy Haredim myself. However, the society as a whole is not always the ideal paradise and things happened and should be mentioned. Everybody has a right to know and another important point is that the things mentioned, could help other people to deal with a similar situation.

Concerning the writings about particular chassidic groups:
I also don't think that I have written anything bad. If anyone has criticism or alterations, he is welcomed to let me know.

Another question coming up is:
Do you tell the Chassidim that you write about them ?
The answer is that is really depends.
Chassidic friends know what I am doing but asked me not to write about them. At least not mentioning their names and addresses. A thing I wouldn't do anyway.

I know people from Dushinsky, Avraham Yitzchak, Gur, Belz or Vishnitz and they know exactly what I write, as some of them even read it on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago, the Rebbitzen of Kretchnif Jerusalem spoke to me but didn't ask me straight away what I am doing. I, on the other hand, thus didn't see a need to tell her. If someone was asking me directly, I wouldn't have a problem telling them.
If the Toldot Aharon woman and I had spoken for a far longer time last Shabbat, I would have definitely told her. I am not a journalist looking for scandals in haredi society. Unfortunately, many Chassidim do think so when I first tell them:
"Oh, you are probably just like everyone else. Gossiping about us."
It always takes me some time explaining strangers that it is not that way.

All in all, I am not afraid and I don't see any reason why the Edah HaCharedit or anyone else should ban me. And I don't think this would ever happen. At least, I hope not.
What I do always emphasize when I speak to Chassidim is that other religious Jews all over the world are interested in what is going on, and not everybody lives in Jerusalem and can participate live.

The chassidic answer to this is that they have never thought about such an argument. After some minutes of thinking it over, the absolute majority eventually agrees. Other chassidic groups simply like to see their Rebbes and groups published, and they cooperate without hesitating. Of course, afterwards they want to see what I wrote and forward it to further group members.

The main actors in all my stories are the Haredim themselves and this is what keeps everything going.

Nevertheless, there are situations where I am seriously asking myself if this should be published or not. If so, how should I fit it into non - offensive words / context ?
Especially with one group, one has to be extremely careful.

But where does censorship start and where does it end ?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Toldot Aharon Synagogue


The Toldot Aharon Synagogue in Shivtei Israel Street in Jerusalem.

To the left you can see the construction of the huge new synagogue / community center. Although there has been a crane standing for a long time, I don't see any improvement.
Are they progressing or do they sometimes stop construction works due to financial issues ?

"Der Rebbe hat stark gebeten….."


As I am still suffering from the flue, I didn't expect too much for the past Erev Shabbat. I was rather in the mood of "leave me all alone with my running nose". Rabbi Mordechai Machlis didn't run his usual dinner - show but was celebrating the Shabbat Chatan of his oldest son Moshe. Nevertheless, Rabbi Machlis gone away over Shabbat doesn't mean that there are no public meals in his home. He always leaves his house open for everyone and he found someone else to run the regular Shabbat show.

A litvishe haredi paper had published two pictures and the headline: "Wedding at Toldot Aharon".
One picture showed the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, and the other one showed his brother, the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn. According to the paper, Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov had come over to celebrate the wedding of a grandson of the Toldot Aharon Rebbe. Therefore my plan was to find out more.

I went to the Toldot Aharon Synagogue after Shabbat dinner and, in fact, a Tish took place. The first one after at least two months. I walked in and right away asked a woman if there are Sheva Berachot tonight.

Here I have to mention that some time ago I started going to the Tishes alone and anything connected to chassidic society, I do my own. This turns out to be much better. The Chassidim respond differently when you are alone and refer to you much more.

However, the Toldot Aharon woman told me that the wedding wasn't at Toldot Aharon but at Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. "But, she added eagerly, we also have a great celebration in two weeks. A grandson of our Rebbe is getting married."

I walked into the Ezrat Nachim and found a great seat in the middle of all the Toldot Aharon women. I was sitting next to two very nice young girls and in front of me sat an elderly group member. First we were a kind of moving around until we were seated and I told the elderly lady in Yiddish that she can sit next to me, as there is enough space. Suddenly she turned around and asked: "You speak Yiddish ?" I told her yes, but rather broken. And due to my cold my voice was not the best anyway. However, this was the beginning of a long and very nice conversation. A conversation in Hebrew, by the way.

The Toldot Aharon woman asked me where I was from and where I had studied Judaism. She asked me about Chassidut and different subjects until she told me about herself. She was very nice and very open, because I mentioned that I am not really from a chassidic background but rather born into the outside world.
Then she explained me all the Rabbis sitting next to Rebbe David Kahn. I never asked her for any kind of explanation because of my sore throat but she kept on talking. To the right of the Rebbe was one his younger brothers who actually looked very much like the Rebbe himself. Then came the sons and in - laws. The lady even showed me some of the grandchildren. When I asked her about the upcoming wedding of one of the Rebbe's grandson's she and the other two girls didn't know who the bride would be. The only thing they knew was that she would not be from Toldot Aharon.

Usually the members marry within the group but the Rebbe's family mostly marries out into other chassidic groups.
I asked her if I could come to the wedding and she said that I should already come for the Shabbat Chatan. Why wait ?
So, the entire coming Shabbat I will spend with Toldot Aharon and I am very excited.

Everybody seemed to be excited that Erev Shabbat. It was a great and open atmosphere and I enjoyed it very much. Their Tish doesn't last for too long, as Rebbe David Kahn keeps a tight schedule. A short while before the Tish officially ended, the women started to leave. Just by accident, I turned around and my eyes fell on a huge green note stuck on the door. "Der Rabbi Shlit"a hat stark gebeten……… - The Rabbi Shlit"a has asked…" The Rebbe asked the women to leave the Tish at least 15 minutes before its end, as he doesn’t want everyone to leave at the same time. Women and men could gather in the streets outside and this is completely immodest.

I said "Shabbes" to the helpful woman and hope to see her again next Shabbat.

However, I had to go over to the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak and look at their Sheva Berachot. As you can imagine, Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn was in a great spiritual mood and was clapping hands, waving his arms and swinging without any end. Also Rebbitzen Channah was swinging a lot, due to their Simcha. To the Rebbe's right sat Rabbi Me'ir Brandsdorfer in a special rebbe like chair. Rabbi Me'ir Brandsdorfer is the most important member of the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak and has a high position in the Beit Din Zedek of the Edah HaCharedit.

I found another great seat and almost fell asleep. It was far after midnight and I would have gone home but was too lazy to get up. I also had to find out who the bride is, from which chassidic group. After a short while, a young Avraham Yitzchak woman sat down next to me and I asked her. She, as well as the Toldot Aharon woman I had spoken to before, was impressed that I knew so much about their Chassidut. So, she let me know right away that the bride is from the Chassidut Biale in Bnei Brak and the young couple celebrates in Bnei Brak tonight.

I didn't ask her for the exact wedding date last week, and whoever is planning to go to Sheva Berachot can go to the Avraham Yitzchak Synagogue in Mea Shearim and find out. Please take into consideration that parts of the Sheva Berachot will take place in Bnei Brak and I didn't want to find out all the days and when and where.

I just know that I will go to the Toldot Aharon wedding and I am very much looking forward to that.

Friday, February 15, 2008



As I am suffering from another flue at the moment, and I am not sure if I am ablt to go to a synagogue tonight. If so, it will be Karlin - Stolin.

However, after Shabbat dinner I am definitely going for a chassidic Tish. I heard that a grandaughter of the Toldot Aharon Rebbe got married this week. There might be a chance for a Toldot Aharon Tish after an almost two months break.

Tomorrow morning I am planning to go to one of the synagogues in Mea Shearim but haven't decided yet, which one.

Shabbat Shalom to all of you - גיד שבס

Photos from Mea Shearim

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why not me ?


News from the monk.
As I mentioned before, I met this Catholic monk a few days ago, and some readers expressed their concern by e - mail. Being concerned is absolutely right.

An acquaintance of mine raised the question if we Jews should always answer with suspicion regarding Gentiles. There are righteous Gentiles as well and not everybody is a Christian missionary or has something bad in mind.

Furthermore, he claimed that Jews still suffer from a kind of Holocaust - Syndrom. Everybody just wants do destroy and kill us. Where is our pride and self - esteem ? Shouldn't we be more open in order to communicate much more with the Gentile world ?

This was exactly the question I raised myself when I met this monk three days ago. As I wrote, he had responded to my German religious site and wanted to meet me in order to ask some questions about Judaism.

I met him and everything was okay. He didn't missionize but asked regular questions. Then I took him to a Shiur at the house of Rabbi Mordechai Machlis who rather belongs to the national religious movement, although his sons study at the MIR Yeshiva. However, Rabbi Machlis is so much full of Chesed that he became the only orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem inviting also Gentiles for Shabbat. Whoever starts his missionizing show will be stopped immediately. So far, the system always worked out and will in the future.

The monk was impressed seeing a married rabbi with 14 kids because the monk is not allowed to marry. This is a rather funny fact. At least to me.

Rabbi Machlis invited him to the wedding of his eldest son Moshe next week. The monk was happy. Wow, seeing a real Jewsih wedding and so on. Exciting.

Then yesterday, the monk read my comment on Parashat Terumah from last Shabbat and decided to let me know the Catholic opinion about the Mishkan. I was shocked because of the sick schizophrenic interpretation of the church. The self - appointed virgin so and so is identified with the Mishkan. This is what he wrote.
I told him immediately that I am not into interfaith discussions and particularly not referring to such idiotic concepts.
The monk was quiet.

The bottom line is that we Jews really have to be careful with many Gentiles, and it is not always a Holocaust - Effect. It is reality that people hate us. Especially Haredim, as they are seen as some kind of present Pharisees (Perushim).

Fact is that G - d gave the Torah to the Jews, and only they are commanded to keep the Mitzwot.

Still, all Gentiles are entitled receiving a place in the "World to Come - Olam HaBah" if they keep the Seven Noachide laws.

The Torah mentions many times that it is eternally valid, nothing can be taken out, changed or added. That's it.

Why is particularly this fact so hard to understand by many Gentiles ?

Okay, we don't have the 613 Mitzwot, we didn't get the Torah, we are not chosen but we do have a place in the "World to Come" and we do have a special task in this world. Can't they just be happy with this ?

I am neither a man, nor a Cohen, nor a Levy, but a simpleton, as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov would say. And I don't have a problem with this. It doesn't even occur to me for one second changing the context of the Torah is such an absurd ridiculous way that I could become a Cohen let alone serve in a Temple.

It doesn't bother me at all not being part of a certain elite group serving in the Temple. I can accept that.

Each individual has his task in this world and this is the reason why G - d created us. Jews have their task and Gentiles have their task.

Why can people just not be happy with their own lot and task, but start constantly envying others ?

Well, if nothing works, I just take a Torah passuk and change it in such a way that I am included in the whole story. What do you think by doing so ? That G - d is a dummy (excuse my words) and He doesn't know what is going on ?

You can change the Torah however you like but you will never be part of the Jewish people unless you are an honest orthodox convert to Judaism.

As the Midrash tells us, before G - d gave the Torah to the Jews, He asked all the other nations first if they want it.
Their first question was: "What does it demand ? What no more stealing and murdering ? No, no, no, we don't want this."
Only the Jews accepted the Torah unconditionally without having second thoughts.

The monk also told me that he reads Talmud. I responded that this is complicated; especially without an understanding and commentaries such as EIN YAAKOV. He, on the other hand, doesn't really believe in all those rabbi opinions.
Talmud study by a Gentile is useless. They have no understanding and no Yiddishe Neshama in order to gain a level of Jewish Chochmah. Just look at the famous "Madonna" - case and her Kabbalah studies. I cannot imagine that she studies the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria), as he said that Gentile without a Yiddishe Neshama are never able of Jewish understanding. So what kind of a use is it when Madonna studies Kabbalah but continues worshiping idols at the same time ?

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) made another important point in his book "Adir BaMarom":
The Jews are commanded to fulfill the Mitzwot in order to cause a Tikun Olam.

As soon as Gentiles take the Jewish Torah, make a mess out of it and try to keep some Mitzwot, they don't cause anything. In Hebrew we say: "Chaval al HaZman".

My acquaintance was wrong. Jews have to be careful in any way. I also learned this from two counter missionary lectures I went a week ago. "Jews for Judaism" opened a branch in Jerusalem and the Israel Center (OU) made a big thing out of it.
Criticized was especially Nefesh Be'Nefesh, as they started taking money from American Evangelists organizations. The fanatic Christian idea is bringing all the Jews to Israel, turn them into Christians and thus, J. will come.
It looks like there is no end of schizophrenic ideas.

So, what is happening with the monk now ?
He can come to the Rabbi's but has to behave. If he wants further discussions, I will refer him to the Rabbi, as I am not willing to waste my time by listening to endless virginity stories.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Meeting a Monk


Believe it or not, a few days ago I had a meeting with a real monk. The first on ever in my life.

He had sent me an e - mail regarding my religious blog in German. There are hardly any possibilities in Germany talking to religious Jews and even if, the communities have other problems than answering questions of monks.

He wrote me that he is volunteering in Jerusalem at the moment, and if we could meet because he would like to ask me some questions about Judaism. And by the way, he his not one of those fanatic missionaries.

I agreed and we met in a certain cafe downtown Jerusalem. While I was sitting there waiting for him, my only hope was that he doesn't show up in his monk uniform. What would people who know me say ?
I am meeting a monk ?

When he finally showed up, he looked like a "normal" person. Wearing a regular suit with just a tiny little golden cross on his collar. Well, I could live with that.

Actually he turned out to be quite nice and normal. As he is German, he was so organized. He pulled out a little card where he had prepared and written down many questions. And he always thanked me for meeting him, as no one else of the Orthodox world would have agreed. The moment they see a monk, they fear that he only wants to missionize. I wasn't afraid of that, as I always have special responses to such topics.

The monk started asking me interesting questions. For instance about the history of prayers, what a Haredi is and why there are so many different groups in chassidic society.
To me it was very interesting listening to his questions because his opinion also reflects the one of other readers. Thus, I am able to find out what I have to write about, explain better and what interests people. Fact is, that many Gentiles also read my German blog. Unfortunately, more than German Jews. But each of us knows the German Jewish reform history which is also very sad. Nevertheless, there are some interested reform Jews and this is already something.

For more than two hours I was talking to the monk. I found out that he lacked lots of knowledge about Jewish history concerning the Middle Ages. He had no idea that in Paris and other places, Talmud editions were burned by the Catholic Church. He also had never heard about the Hashmatot, a collection of talmudic passages taken out of the Talmud due to church threats.

O course, he doesn't want to convert to Judaism now, but he simply showed some interest. "Looking at all the religious Jews with their Tallitot and Kipot would bring him closer to Mr. J's own history".
When I mentioned the disgusting Christian missionary tactics or missionaries in at all, he claimed that there has to be such a thing, as Mr. J. commanded so in the NT.

Whatever his opinions were, it was nice talking to him and last night I took him to a Rabbi Machlis Shiur. The Rabbi even invited him to a wedding next week. Today the monk sent me an e - mail thanking me for everything and he really enjoys seeing something original Jewish. He liked the Rabbi and his family and is very grateful getting the opportunity to go to a Jewish wedding.

I only wish that all Christians (including the missionaries) could be like this.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Being among themselves


Every society group has its preferences. Scientist like to talk to other scientists about their specific issues; sportsmen like to talk to other sportsmen; Americans like to talk to Americans and Haredim like to talk to Haredim.

However, this doesn't mean that none of them doesn't communicate with other people; but many times you really prefer being among people like you. Then you can communicate without justifying yourself or explain thousands of things. Or in other words, you enjoy the same kind of language, topics, humour, etc.

My active participation in haredi society was not too long. Only two years or so. Still I have to admit that I hardly ever lost touch and I also studied at their courses. I once even worked for a company owned by Chassidut Gur.

Even if you are a newcomer, as soon as you seriously participate in programs, go to their synagogues and make friends, you change. Especially your language. While talking to Haredim, you could never use a kind of street language or something more slangy or open. This is totally out of place and people would be offended. To learn all the tiny bits and pieces, it takes a longer time and therefore it is important to study in their programs.

The only problem is that once you know the mentality, language, kind of humour and religious issues concerning the haredi world, the outside world seems more and more less important to you.
Of course, you are interested but you automatically concentrate on finding more haredi friends because only with them you are able to discuss certain issues. What does a national religious know about this kind of world ? Mostly not too much. Let alone the secular.

I am glad that I started going back to acquaintances in Mea Shearim. I like talking to the other guests and meet all kinds of different people. The host family very much emphasizes on inviting people from their own society. They seem to be a kind of sick of certain negative remarks. If they mention a Zaddik or Torah commentator (like the Chatam Sofer last Shabbat), they expect the guests to know them. To me, it is a real pleasure being back in such a society where I don't have to explain every detail and then face people who got the whole concept wrong.

Maybe you can compare the whole situation with Jews being among Jews. Sometimes you really feel like being among Jews. And it doesn't matter if you are religious or secular, reform or conservative. There is just an inner demand for being among Jews.
I am sure that every Jew now knows exactly what I am talking about. Maybe other people from other religions feel the same about themselves.

Is Rabbi Karelitz still in Business ?


Someone mentioned at a Shabbat meal in Mea Shearim that Rabbi Nissim Karelitz from Bnei Brak is not allowed to convert more people to Judaism. Does anyone of you know if this is true or just a rumour ?

I heard that the Rabbi obvioulsy had some disagreements with the Rabbanut (chief rabbinate) or other Israeli authorities.
It seems that secular Israeli institutions such as the Jewish Agency or the Ministry of the Interior (Misrad HaPnim) are to frightened of converts to Judaism who intend to be haredi. The Jewish Agency as well as the Misrad HaPnim prefer national religious conversions done by the Rabbanut. A potential convert should be young, speak Hebrew, learn the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, get married and contribute something to Israeli society.
However, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that. Just the opposite, a convert should be part of Israeli society.

So far, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz converted people who want to lead a haredi life style. His own Beit Din is / was especially recognized among the haredi and even "hard - core" chassidic society. With a "Karelitz - Certificate" you can easily joing chassidic groups such as Dushinsky, Belz, etc. Some chassidic groups still prefer a conversion with the Edah HaCharedit. This kind of conversion is not always the best for the convert, as the Ministry of the Interior doesn't recognize an Edah conversion and thus, the converts are not entitled to make Aliyah.

Whoever wants a fully accepted Giur (conversion) doesn't necessarily run to the Rabbanut but mostly joined Rabbi Karelitz. Another haredi rabbi doing haredi conversions is Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein in Jerusalem. Also his Giur is accepted among the haredi population. The Rabbanut certificate is always in doubt, as too many people convert through them who don't intend keeping Mitzwot at all. The more serious you can spot out; these are those who seriously look for a Yeshiva and further higher learning in firm programs.

If anyone of you converted with Rabbi Karelitz in Bnei Brak, I would be interested in learning about his conditions / criteria.
So far, I heard that such a potential convert has to live with a haredi family in the area. Is this true ?

And, as I mentioned, I would like to know if Rabbi Nissim Karelitz had to stop his conversion program.

Furthermore, if anyone of you converted with the Edah HaCharedit, I would be also interested in their conditions.
Does a candidate have to live with a chassidic family ?
Does one have automatically to become a group member after conversion ?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chaseneh in Vishnitz


Whoever is in Bnei Brak today (Monday) and wants to participate in a great wedding, should definitely go to Kiryat Vishnitz. Chassidut Vishnitz Bnei Brak is celebrating a great Chaseneh.

A great - grandson of the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Hager, is getting married. If you are not in the area but still in Israel, don't miss the opportunity going to the Sheva Berachot (until next Monday).

So far, I haven't had the chance to get to know Vishnitz much better. However, for the past few weeks, I have been talking to a Vishnitzer Chassid and he explained me a lot about the group.
In Jerusalem they mostly live in a certain part of Sanhedria, and I asked the Chassid if they don't have a chassidic Tish here from time to time. The Tish is mostly in Bnei Brak but I was told about the "Botte". The Botte is a Vishnitzer custom, a gathering of Chassidim in order to sing and dance.

It is high time for me going more to Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak.
Beit Shemesh is not a problem, as I just got very friendly with a chassidic family who moved there. But in Bnei Brak I don't know people yet. However, once I go there on a regular basis, I will get to know some. I really don't want to miss out Sadigora, Zhvil, Skver, the Satmarer of Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum and the Shomrei Emunim.

For Vishnitz fans:
The Monsey - Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Hager, is coming to Israel after Pessach. He is going to hold and Tish and the Vishnitzer Chassid I know will get me in.

Kiryat Vishnitz in Bnei Brak

Vishnitz Synagogue in Bnei Brak

Satmar Synagogue in Bnei Brak

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My "unknown" Future


Some time ago, "A Simple Jew" asked me in an e - mail if I grew up chassidic and what do I personally gain from going to all the chassidic Tishes I write about.

I grew up non - religious and I do not remember that we even had a Tanach in the house. Somehow I believed that there is a G - d but never bothered to find out more. My life was too busy; high school, university, work. Just as everybody else's life. I never checked out Far East religions or anything, as I was not interested in religion.

When I was in my late twenties, I made the following agreement with myself: I know that there is ONE G - d but at the moment, I do not have the time to learn anything about it. First, I will work and have a normal life but later when I have time I will surely find out more. I think this is exactly what many people do. Well, not now but maybe later.

My perspective changed when I moved to Jerusalem. I was here as a tourist and had been in a Kibbutz Ulpan studying Hebrew. I was sick of Kibbutzim and, as I am a person who likes city life, I moved to Jerusalem. I had lived in Tel Aviv first but hated it.
So, I came to Jerusalem and did not really know where to go. I finally ended up in an Arab hostel in the Arab Quarter of the Old City. The place was dirty and full of non - Jewish tourists. There was even a young American couple where the guy was Jewish but the girl was not. I cannot describe it, but it bothered me a lot. Especially because I had been to the Western Wall (Kotel) on the same day. Not, that I had any great religious feelings at the Kotel but I did remember some kind of a Heritage. When I came back to the hostel and saw the mixed couple sitting there, I just blew up on them. I asked the Jewish guy if he is not ashamed walking around in Jerusalem with a Shickse. The guy was so surprised and did not say much but the "Shickse" was freaking out. According to my later experience, it is mostly rather the non - Jewish part starting to yell at other Jews and call them a something than the Jewish part in the "relationship". I wonder why.:-)

The tourists in the hostel went on my nerves and I considered staying in Jerusalem and making Aliyah at a certain point. In the mornings I left and only came back in the evenings. During the day I was just walking through the city and getting to know it. Then someone told me that there are Shabbat placements for dinner at the Kotel. Every Friday night there is a guy giving the placements to Jewish tourists. I went and I cannot even remember if I wore a skirt or pants. I just went, found the guy who is a Jew from Chicago called Jeff Seidel. He send me to a Chabad rabbi. So, there I was. I was sitting in the middle of about 30 Jews and the rabbi and we were having Kiddush and dinner. Most of the people were just like me and not religious. Someone told me about a free hostel in the Old City called the Heritage House. Already on the next morning, I checked in. And then my religious life started.

The Heritage House also offers free evening classes and I became a complete addict going there. Additionally, they sent us to the Discovery - Program of the Yeshiva Aish HaTorah. I was amazed and soon the Heritage House classes were not enough any more. I went to the National Jewish Library and just studied as much as I could.
Then I went to Yeshiva. First with the national religious and later with the litvish.

However, one thing happened I had never thought of. I really wanted to have a haredi life - style but, for a reason I still so not understand, I could not do it then. I had a nervous breakdown and went back to Germany where I came from.
I think that the reason might have been that I did everything too fast instead of giving it time. Soon I felt squeezed into the haredi world and I missed my freedom. I felt like I could not fulfill all expectations. Especially not my own expectations. It was as if the body wanted but not the soul. Something kept me back.

I became just the opposite and started to hate all the religious. Seeing haredim on a bus and studying Talmud was a torture for me. They were sitting and studying and I simply could not do it and did not even know the reason.

When I look back it is as if I did not hate the religious but just myself for being unable of having a haredi life style.

I decided to take a break and lived in Germany for more than two years until I finally made Aliyah. There I started missing the religious life but also got adjusted to the European life again. Keeping kosher, finding Jewish friends and having a real Jewish life is almost impossible. Maybe it is different if one lives in Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich but still, this is not like Israel, New York or London. Germany cannot compete with any other place, and there everything felt like dead. German Jews are strange as well.

I was glad when I made Aliyah but did not really intend to go back to the religious. This time I wanted to be more careful and not just jump into something.

I went to Shiurim and to the synagogues but nothing further. Before I left and despite all my studies with the litvish, I was always attracted to chassidim. I got to know their life much better when I had a quite nice friendship with a Satmar family in Mea Shearim. Of course, Chabad tried to get me into their group and claimed that Satmar has nothing to offer. But the thing is that I love Chassidut but could never make up my mind which group to join. I am not a group person anyway and prefer to go here and there. There are things I like about Gur or about Breslov, about Satmar or Toldot Aharon, but I cannot see myself becoming a member and following only one Rebbe.

More than a year ago, I started my two religious blogs; one in German and one in English. As I had never stopped studying Judaism, I wanted to share some knowledge and thoughts. Especially in German where Jews hardly know anything and the reform movement rules everywhere. A little later, I decided to explain chassidic groups and I do not have a particular reason for this goal. After writing about Chabad, Breslov and Gur, I chose Vishnitz. Well, I do not know any Vishnitzer which started to bother me. Would it not be better going out and talking to chassidim in order to write about them ? One should not only quote from a book but actually speak to people. This is why I started going to the different Tishes.

The unexpected thing is that I got attached again. I do think a lot about becoming chassidic and I have been keeping certain customs for quite a while. The more I go, the more I think about it. However, I am still too afraid of jumping into something and getting another nervous breakdown. I have to admit that it is a crazy feeling: On Friday night I am sitting with the chassidim and on Mozzaei Shabbat I am back to my "normal" life. Living in two worlds so to speak.


Sometimes it happens in life that you know the answer and just don't accept it. For whatever reason.

Yesterday I went having lunch with chassidic family in the middle of Mea Shearim. As I mentioned before, it happens that I know the family for many years but they asked me not to publish details about them, and I respect their request.

However, since I have been starting seeing them again after a long break, I do feel much more connected to my old haredi life. The good thing is that I am going on my own and, so far, met great new people in the host's living room. I really have been enjoying the conversations very much and with some people I am even about to make friends.

It is only of advantage going alone to Tishes and Shabbatot, as people start talking to you much easier. My Yiddish seems to improve and yesterday, I had some small successful conversations.

Our host had some very interesting frum girls visitors. She used to invite all kinds of people which caused her plenty of problems with the neighbours. Now she only wants guests who know the haredi world and are somehow part of it. She is a kind of sick of stupid questions and remarks from people who have never led a haredi life style. That's her policy and I totally agree with it.

While we were sitting at the table yesterday, our host, me and the Israeli frum girls had a great conversation. And by the way, we enjoyed not having to justify ourselves in front of anyone not knowing haredi society.

The girls study in a Jerusalem program which is based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. But not only Breslov.
Our host loves to ask private questions and especially one of the girls emphasized that she definitely wants to marry a Breslover Chassid. But not one from the "Nach Nach".

Then our host and another girl started discussing an important personal subject:

Someone becoming religious should never rush himself into religion. Today I study Torah, tomorrow Talmud and next week I know the whole Zohar. Today I learn how to pray and next week I will do the most difficult Tikkunim and reach the greatest Devekut ever.

It doesn't work this way. Becoming religious and especially Haredi is a process which takes many years. It is impossible to start today because you are getting attracted by a certain lifestyle. One has to study the basics and join firm programs. Not a lecture here and there. It should be a real program to get an idea.

The next step is a slow change where a rabbi should help you.

One of the girls made a great comment:
Her rabbi told her that people rushing into religion will definitely fall. The fall itself is a punishment for the rush. After the fall, you have to get up and do everything all over again. But this time, step by step.

I am sure this is exactly what happened to me some years ago, and I am really pleased meeting people having the same problems. It is important meeting such people, as none who hasn't even lived a haredi lifestyle can understand any of the problems one faces.

Yesterday's talks showed me that I am on the right track. I do take it slowly. Being with Haredim helps me a lot coming back to my old life and I will continue joining as many haredi events as I can.

Friday, February 8, 2008



This week was so full of different events that I only today found some time making plans for Shabbat.

Tonight I am definitely going to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis and maybe afterwards to a chassidic Tish. For sure, I am going to check of if the Toldot Aharon are back. Unfortunately, the Rebbe of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, doesn't feel so well, as one of the group members told me. So, I don't know what is going on there; a Tish yes or rather not.

However, on Shabbat morning I am going to one of the Mea Shearim synagogues and afterwards I am invited at a local chassidic family for lunch. I know them for many years and although they live in the middle of Mea Shearim, it is not such a great excitement for me. Well, it is special because they are very nice and warm but the fact of being in Mea Shearim is not anything extraordinary.

A great Shabbat to all of you !!!
שבת שלום - גיד שבס

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Against Christian Missionaries


At the beginning of this week, I participated in a Shiur about Christian missionaries in Israel. The Shiur took place at the Jerusalem Israel Center (Orthodox Union) and wasn't actually too much of a Shiur but more an introduction to the anti - missionary work of "Jews for Judaism". They just opened a branch in Jerusalem but as far as I understood, they are still looking for an office.

Israel already has a more or less sufficient anti - missionary organization called "Yad Le'Achim". They have plenty of volunteers and are run by Litvaks (Head Rabbi Dov Lipshitz) in Bnei Brak. Yad Le' Achim has many contacts all over the country and they receive many daily phone calls from Israelis complaining about Christian missionary activities.

"Jews for Judaism" however announced at their lecture that they first want to stress on giving anti - missionary seminars. Every Jew should know his own religion and appreciate it. There is nothing better than finding the spirituality within Judaism and not, instead, running to another religion. Secular Jews have to learn that Judaism doesn’t only consist of Mea Shearim and weird ancient Halachot but that it stands for a living Thora and endless spirituality.

Nevertheless, I have to say that the "Jews for Judaism" introduction run by Peninah Taylor and Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz (from LA) was too American. Well, what can you expect when you go to the American Israel Center ?

However, I seemed to be more a fundraising show. Okay, Peninah Taylor started off with telling her personal story how she as a born Jews met a classmate at high school and, thus was missionized to Christianity. She talked about how she got married to a non - Jew, went to church, joined the Adventists, left them and was finally sent to a haredi neighbourhood in Baltimore in order to missionize the Jews. Eventually she and her husband told the local rabbi and he introduced them to "Jews for Judaism". Peninah came back to orthodox Judaism, her husband converted to Judaism and both made Aliyah to Israel some time ago. Now she will be the new head of the Jerusalem branch of Jews for Judaism.

There were some things bothering me during the lecture.
As I said, it was too American and Rabbi Kravitz really liked to hear himself talking. It is always strange to Israelis like me when someone from abroad comes and talks about Israel. Yad Le'Achim is much better, as their members and heads are mostly Israelis. This let me come to the next point bothering me. The event totally left out the current Israeli missionary problem. Okay, Jews for Judaism mentioned that there are countless American missionaries on the way to Israel, but the information missing were facts and figures. What is really going on at the moment ? Where are the missionaries located and what exactly do they do ? Where ? Places ? Names ? Something like this.

It showed me that it will take "Jews for Judaism" some time to get started, and what they should consider as their priority is recruiting Israelis speaking Hebrew.

Another point bothering me is a question, I was actually planning to address at Peninah Taylor. Eventually I didn't because I didn't want to see her faint.

My question was how ex - missionaries who are Jewish can deal with the fact that while they were missionizing, they might have caused Jews to do idol worship and convert to Christianity.

The Jewish missionary might come back to Judaism but what about the missioned ones ? Is he going to apologize to them ? Can G - d forgive such an Averah ? Is there forgiveness at all when you consider the Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva ?
I am not a rabbi and I don't have a halachic answer to this but as Peninah Taylor seems to be at the Israel Center more often, I still might ask her how she deals with the fact. In case, she really did cause Jews to do idol worship.

Tonight will be another event taking place at the Center in Keren HaYesod 22, Jerusalem.

At 8:00 pm, the lecture "Christian Zionism - Christian Evangelism" is going to take place.

Entrance fee is 25 IS, students pay 10 IS and journalists have free access.

Pictures from the "Jews for Judaism" event:

Peninah Taylor (left) and Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz (right)

The Crowd listening