Saving Tommy

letter-447577_1280

I had to rub my eyes as I tried to absorb the news. Prime Minister Olmert could not be that insensitive. But no matter how many times I rubbed, the story remained the same: Ehud Olmert, just appointed his old friend Tommy Lapid to be Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. Now, dear reader, it is your turn to rub your eyes in disbelief.

One can admire the prime minister’s desire to provide a sinecure for a down-on-his-luck politician. But chairman of Yad Vashem? That is a bit much.

For an equally shocking example of insensitivity, one would have to go back to Yad Vashem’s decision to award the Zussman Prize for artists dealing with the theme of the Holocaust to sculptor Yigal Tumarkin (a decision later narrowly reversed by a special panel). Yes, the same Tumarkin who famously remarked: “When I see a large chareidi family, I begin to understand the Nazis.”

For decades Lapid has been one of Israel’s most polarizing figures –- first on Popolitika, and later as head of the Shinui Party. Lapid rode a one-issue hobby horse on his meteoric political rise: venomous hatred of chareidim, often expressed as contempt for Jewish religion in general. How ironic, then, that he should be chosen to head a museum devoted, inter alia, to preserving the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.

According to Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the research institute attached to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, 50-70% of those murdered by the Nazis “were traditionally religious Jews.” Not only were six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, but an entire thousand-year culture of Torah learning was destroyed. Only the Mirrer Yeshiva, of all the great pre-War yeshivos, survived nearly intact.

Yad Vashem is the one mandatory stop on the itinerary of any dignitary visiting Israel for the first time. Yet the museum has always been controversial, particularly in the eyes of the Torah community. Zionist historiography of the ‘50s contrasted the martial bravery of the “new Israeli Jew” to those killed in the Holocaust, who were described as having gone like sheep to their deaths. And the original exhibit at Yad Vashem reflected that approach, for which former partisan leader Abba Kovner was perhaps the most prominent spokesman. (Towards the end of his life, Kovner wondered if his brother, who had stayed behind in Vilna with their invalid mother, was not the greater hero after all.)

Sadly, even with the creation of a magnificent new exhibition hall, Yad Vashem still has not been able to break out of its earlier ideological blinders. A religious visitor is struck repeatedly by all that is missing. In the hall devoted to the Warsaw Ghetto, there is no hint of the rich religious life of the ghetto -– the yeshivos and chadarim, the celebration of yomim tovim -– even though these are all documented in Emanuel Ringelblum’s diaries.

The hall on the Kovno Ghetto is filled with pictures of the leading personalities who died or were murdered in the ghetto. Absent, however, is a picture of the Dvar Avrohom, Rabbi Avraham Dovber Shapiro, the rav of Kovno and one of the leading poskim of his time. Also absent is Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, one of the greatest thinkers and Talmudic scholars of the century, whose works are basic texts for every yeshiva student. Likewise, Rabbi Avrohom Grodzinski, the Mashgiach of Slabodka Yeshiva. The heartrending shaylos addressed to Rabbi Ephraim Oshry in the Kovno Ghetto, collected in Shaylos u’Teshuvos MeMaamakim, find no mention.

Testimonies of survivors are interspersed throughout the exhibition hall. But one looks in vain for one survivor wearing a kippah or a sheitel. At the British Holocaust Museum and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, they are found, but not in Yad Vashem.

The interviews are full of graphic description of the degraded state to which the Nazis succeeded in bringing the inmates of the concentration camps. But the spiritual heroism of those who exchanged their only morsel of daily bread for the chance to put on tefillin or daven from a siddur, of those who insisted on blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah or baking matzos on Pesach, of those who risked their lives to save other Jews goes unmentioned. The words “Shema Yisroel,” on the lips of millions of Jews as they met their end, appear nowhere in Yad Vashem.

The standard response to complaints about these omissions and many others equally glaring is that Yad Vashem is not a “sectoral” museum, but one for the entire Jewish people. And thus, with the wave of a hand, are half those who perished in the Holocaust written off as a mere “sector,” and secular Jews accorded the status of the true representatives of Klal Yisrael.

On second thought, Tommy Lapid might be an appropriate representative of Yad Vashem. But not quite in the manner intended.

Published in Mishpacha, July 26

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39 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    Zuroff confuses daas Torah with prophecy, something no one has ever claimed for gedolei Torah

    There are certainly those who claim infallibility for Daas Torah. If one takes away the infallibility claim and that one who is not their talmid must follow Gadol X-then a lot of debate of Daas Torah would disappear. If I remember correctly Prof.kaplan’s initial writings on Daas Torah started when Rav Hutner ZT”L wrote that there was no anti Jewish pogroms in the Middle East before Zionism. Since the blod libels of Damascus were in 1840-there clearly were. If I recollect correctly Kaplan wrote that Rav Hutner in his fingernail knew more than him-but Rav Hutner was wrongh istorically and then he commented on the JO’s articles that stated a gadol can’t be wrong.

  2. mycroft says:

    Roshei Yeshiva have stated that both Rabbi Moshe Sherer and Rabbi Naftali Neuberger had very good ideas; however both submitted to Gedolim for ultimate Klal decisions.

    Baruch Horowitz:
    I believe that we and I may agree more than it seems. Obviously, when one makes a decision one mustbe guided by what one believes razon hashem is-obviously, in general those who are the most knowledgeable in Torah and practice it, should in general be the most likely to get the correct anser. However, a lot of decisons are based on chochma not Torah-eg in one extreme which antibiotic to use-given a war which artillery shell to use. Note whether to go to war or not may be a decision that Talmeidei Chachamim could give advice on what factors to consider.
    It is probable that a certain political group abrogating for itself that its leaders are “the Gedolim” rather than “Gedolim” has caused some of the unwarranted backlash against the concept of Daas Torah. It is so much so-that some of the MO velt would actually advocaste a form of Daas Torah but won’t use the word becasue the term has been unfortunately politicized.
    Re Rabbi Sherer and the Agudah-it is tisha Baav after Chatzot so I will just state the relative power of laity and Rabbonim has been an open issue in the Agudah since essentially 1911-I beleive that is roughly when it was founded. There is no doubt that Rabbi Sherer and the Gedolim of Agudah got along and they had faith in his decisions.

  3. mycroft says:

    “You are all making a bizarre mistake—you imagine that the advice he gave was wrong, because indeed Europe was overrun.”

    Rabbi Menken:
    I’m missing something. In my mind someone telling someone not to leave Europe and thus the person was killed by the Nazis by definition makes the advice wrong. It does not mean that the person who gave the wrong advice was not a great gadol-it just means the advice in that case was mistaken.

    ” spiritual wasteland to which I referred was the United States”

    I believe that referring to the US pre-WW11 as spiritual wasteland often overstates the case and is demeaning to the many who were here then. There is no doubt that with the addition of the Holocaust refugees there has been an addition of a strong segment of frum Jews. But don’t over exaggerate the point. There are currently many schuls in the US over or close to 100 years old. The OU was founded in 1898-the first product under its supervision was Heinz’s Bake Beans in 1923.The day school movement increased immensely after 1940-but it was increasing even before Torah Umesorah was founded. Note for example Seth Farbers book about R. Soloveitchick Boston where in 1935 there were zero day schools by 1945 there were a few. Of course the Talmud Torah movement back then had much more intensive education-many had 15 hours a week.
    I personally resent talk of people saying before X came to a community it was a Midbar-if you want brag about what mosdos Torah one has put up-don’t knock those who were there before.
    By 1935-among leading Yeshivot were Torah Vaddath, Chaim Berlin, Ner Israel, and RIETS-it was founded 1886!

  4. Chareidi Leumi says:

    But in any event, neither of us were there, so we can’t say if we would have made better decisions. Moreover, the exact situation of pre-1948 Israel will never be duplicated, so all we can do is, like always, learn from the past.

    Baruch,

    I never said such a thing. And my suggestion is never to blame them for being wrong but rather to admit that there were two competing views of the situation and that one proved correct. Perhaps we can learn from some of the underlying assumptions that side made in order to make better decisions in the future. Perhaps something was fundamentally flawed with one world view and not the other. I am just saying that it is preposterous to claim that the side who instructed people to stay in Europe was not wrong. It is insulting to our intelligence.

    Hillel,

    It is not a question of the greatness of the Torah leaders. There were great leaders on both sides. Some like the Gerrer Rebbe, Rav Kook, Rav Charlop, and Rav Herzog, warned years before that there should be a constant effort made to move the population out of Europe and into EY.

    These gedolim were right while another set of gedolim were wrong. It is not so much more complicated than that. Gedolim are not there in order to be revered. The reverence for gedolim is not an end in and of itself. It is a mean towards LEARNING about the correct way in life. We have to look and see what underlying ideas allowed the Gerrer Rebbe and Rav Kook to see the danger ahead of time and what underlying flaw caused other gedolim to not see what was there in front of them.

    Doing this is not arrogance but an absolute necessity for anyone who is interested in learning from gedolim and not just revering them for reverence\’s sake.

  5. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Where do we get the arrogance and the chutzpah to judge these Torah giants, especially in hindsight, sitting comfortably at our computers, perhaps while sipping a coke.”

    I would say that one can try to analyze both sides of a historical question relating to a particular era as best as possible, while still realizing that one is dealing with great people.

    Rav Dessler in Michtav Meliyahu I pp. 75-77 regarding this issue, makes a statement to the effect that anyone who witnessed the assemblage of pre-war Gedolim realized the ruach hakodesh which guided their decisions. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be wrong–see the analogy in post # 29. If there were mistakes, it is because we don’t have 20-20 hindsight as Rabbi Rosenblum pointed out.

    Once one is aware of the previous paragraph as an hakdama, one can face the issue, and see if there is anything to learn from the past. There is nothing to be afraid of in looking at the issue obectively and fairly.

    I like to see a side by side presentation of both sides. In the Spring 2003 issue of the Jewish Action there was a symposium between Dr. Kranzler and Efraim Zuroff. One can examine the entire issue fairly and critically, and then draw conclusions. See all of the following links(I am not sure how well the last link comes out).

    http://www.jewishmediaresources.org/article/875/

    http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5763/5763fall/ORTHODOX.PDF

    http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:SGWo0ILGd3gJ:www.ou.org/publications/ja/5763/5763spring/ORTHODOX.PDF+orthodox+rescue+revisited&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1

  6. HILLEL says:

    GENTLEMEN, ALL:

    As I read all the different comments on Reb Aharon, ZT”L’s, decision on accepting the Dutch/Japanese visas, I cannot help but feel that we are committing sacrilege.

    Where do we get the arrogance and the chutzpah to judge these Torah giants, especially in hindsight, sitting comfortably at our computers, perhaps while sipping a coke.

    The Nazi era was prophesized in the Tochecha in the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim knew it was coming, and shed many tears for the future victims. It was a time of “hester panim,” when HaShem hid his face from us.

    I think that those who criticise these great men for their decisions taken at a time of Pikuach Nefesh, do a great disservice to us all. They imply that they stand on equal footing with our Torah leaders, which is false.

    Our only hope of surviving intact in this golus is to follow our Torah leaders. If we reduce their stature to our own level, we will be rendered unable to follow them, and we will be committing collective suicide.

    This whole issue of following Torah leaders uncritically is explained in the Sefer Hachinuch, with respect to the Mitzva of “Venosi BeAmcha Lo SaOr”–You should not curse a leader in your nation>

  7. Bob Miller says:

    These old, unresolvable battles are a distraction. Ask what today demands of us. Unless we can rise to the occasion, we’ll need, G-d forbid, to prepare a new wing of Yad Vashem. Somewhere.

  8. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Chardal,

    Let’s leave the Holocaust as an open historical issue. I would like to see a side by side presentation of both sides. But in any event, neither of us were there, so we can’t say if we would have made better decisions. Moreover, the exact situation of pre-1948 Israel will never be duplicated, so all we can do is, like always, learn from the past.

    But how would one chart a course for the future? Even statesmen don’t know what events will bring. No one could have predicted the effect of the Floridian chads in the 2000 Presidential election, which allowed Bush to win.

    What about current events in Eretz Yisrael? The calculus has changed with Sharon’s illness. Regarding the current Lebanese war as well, the accidental death of the 60 Lebanese children may have also altered the course of events. There is room for Hashem’s intervention in history, even as we plot the future, based on experience learned from hindsight.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    R Menken-Were you not replying to my point as well vis a vis the pre-war “spiritual wasteland” of the US, as opposed to EY? There were Gdolim in pre WW2 US, but certainly not the community that we have today . More critically, the US was viewed as the “treife medinaH” even as far back as the 19th Century and until the 1920s,when the US passed very restrictive immigration laws. Of course, it should be noted that immigration in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was discuraged by the Gdolim despite the views of none less than R Chaim Volozhiner and RCS that the US was the next stop and a brave new frontier for Torah. Their views were the minority.

    As far as Zionism and Charedim are concerned, the Charedim eschewed any participation in Zionism, thereby ensuring that their influence and immigration quotas would be minimal at best.Although DeHaan was the victim of a political assasination, one can argue that the Charedim’s own view of Zionism as well as their evaluation of the political and historical trends that swept 19th Century Europe such as nationalism, Communism, Nazism and secular Zionism created their own dilemna and led many Gdolim to believe that Communism was worse than Nazism, because of the obvious atheistic component of Communism and the belief that Germany was a civilized country.

    With regards to Yad VasHem, as Jonathan Rosenblum mentioned, the article in Mishpacha indicated that Yad Vashem is in the process of moving away from its old embrace of physical resistance and secular Zionism as the only lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. That is a major step forward and should be applauded by anyone who believes that both spiritual and phsyical resistance deserve an equal place in that institution as well as a far better description of the religious life and response of religious leadership in the Shoah. It is apparent that this process will take a while and that we should display some patience unless the likes of Lapid preclude it from taking place.

    More critically,that does not mean that one must reject or embrace Daas Torah to accomplish this task. Baruch HaShem,Rabbanit Farbstein’s monumental book deals with all of the issues and is must reading for anyone interested in the subject. Of course, those who view Daas Torah as precluding any objective analysis or as wrong have hashkafic agendas that will not be satisified by Rabbanit Farbstein’s book. I know of no other work published that analyzes the difficult issues of rabbanim staying or fleeing, placing children ( of some prominent rabbanim)in monasteries as well as her debunking of a story of 93 BY students who purportedly committed suicide.Rabbanit Farbstein analyzes all of these issues without passing judgment or casting blame. IMO, her book, which is being translated into English, can and should be the basis of any serious course on the Shoah within the Torah world. FWIW, I haven’t seen a better analysis of the issues anywhere else.

  10. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Yaakov,

    Are you actually trying to say that from 1924 on (when de Haan was murdered), entry of Jews into EY was impossible? This is just not true – many many chareidi Jews made aliya during this period. Gerrer Chassidus was practically saved because the Imrei emet supported mass aliya and encouraged his chassidim to do so at every opportunity. Unfortunately, most of the other chareidi gedolim did not have his foresight.

    This is all besides the fact that I am talking about the bigger picture. If the chareidi world would have taken the correct attitudes towards yeshuv haaretz from early on, the situation where the secular Jews had so much power in EY might never have come into existence.

    Further, the white paper was drafted in 1922, two years before the murder. One of the main reasons that secular Zionists were able to have such control over entry permits was because they filled a vacuum that the chareidim had left open. In the testimonies of the representatives of agudat Israel to the british authorities, there was always hesitations as to the role religious Jews should have towards yeshuv haaretz and there were many opportunities when teh agguda (who represented a majority of European Jewry at the time) could have achieved higher levels of influence on mandatory policy.

    Bringing up de Haan is a red herring which does nothing. The problem was the chareidi approach towards yeshuv haAretz which allowed the seculars to become the dominant force in EY.

    In any case, there are many documented instances of people who HAD entry permits to go to EY and were told by chareidi gedolim to stay in Europe. Anyone who does not see the attitude which advocated passivity and maintenance of the status quo on the eve of WWII as a mistake has a big problem on their hands.

  11. Baruch Horowitz says:

    While not the subject of the original post, the thread has meandered to the subject of Daas Torah, so I wish to add some comments:

    It is interesting that the concept of Daas Torah is embraced by Centrists as well as by Charedim, although in varying degrees. For example, there are tapes on this from Rabbi Herschel Shachter, Rabbi Michael Rozensweig, and an article in “Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society” by Rabbi Alfred Cohen, which all are supportive of nuanced concepts of Daas Torah.

    I think that it is apparent from Chazal, that Chachmei Hatorah have authority to display leadership on technically non-Halachic matters. On the other hand, as with any valuable principle, people may take an idea too far. I think one of the Achronim is quoted out of context that “Daas Bale Batim is [automatically] in opposition to Daas Torah”.

    Roshei Yeshiva have stated that both Rabbi Moshe Sherer and Rabbi Naftali Neuberger had very good ideas; however both submitted to Gedolim for ultimate Klal decisions. When contemplating complex issues which Gedolim rule about, it doesn’t mean that anyone else can not have a good idea, or that there is only opinion. That would be g’aavah.

    Rabbi Rosensweig states that , “[The] question of infallibility has often been the straw man in the argument against the concept of Da’as Tora”(Einei Haeda Blog). Regarding Daas Torah and the Holacaust, that is a classical question, and as above, is either answered by explaining how the decision was indeed tactically correct in some ways, or with the chazal that a “Dayin judges based on his current perception of reality”. “Chacham adif m’navi” doesn’t mean that a Gadol is a prophet in every aspect.

    The following is from Rabbi Alfred Cohen’s article(J Law.com website):

    “Sometimes the unexpected does happen, which no one could have predicted. Sometimes surgery must take place – but the patient dies of an allergic reaction to the anesthesia. That doesn’t mean it was a mistake to perform the necessary surgery, it just means that we are not always in control of the consequences of our seemingly wise decisions or even that we can always foresee all the possible results.”

    “Mulling over this paradox, Rav Hutner offered the following metaphor:
    Assume there are two people poised to jump from the roof of a building; horrified onlookers beg them not to. One agrees, and proceeds to take the stairs in order to reach the street, but trips and breaks his neck. The other man decides to jump, but happens to land on a mattress on the back of a truck! Although the outcome for him was miraculously good (and even more so in the face of what happened to the other would-be jumper), yet it would be ridiculous to blame the onlookers for giving bad advice. The advice was wise, and the one who listened to them indeed chose the right path. The guidance of our Torah leaders, Rav Hutner concluded, is just that – Torah inspired wisdom, but it is not prophecy, and it is not fail safe. Our rabbis are wise men, not prophets.”

    I would recommend to independent thinkers(like myself) to approach the general issue of Daas Torah in degrees– Tofasta meruba lo tofasta. First start off trying to maintain Kavod Hatorah, which needs improvement in our age. Then one can proceed to Emunas Chachamim which is mentioned in Pirkei Avos as one of the fourty-eight ways of acquiring Torah. Finally, one can embrace in various degrees Daas Torah–whatever one’s exact hashkafic orientation is.

  12. Yaakov Menken says:

    Chardal,

    You have it completely backwards. The spiritual wasteland to which I referred was the United States, not Israel, for the simple reason that getting into Israel was impossible. Post the Zionists’ murder of Dr. DeHaan, they had locked the charedim out, and deliberately insured that only a small fraction (6%) of entry visas be allocated to Agudath Israel despite the urgent situation in Europe.

    One of the Zionists commented during the Holocaust that every country is founded upon sacrifice, “and they [the Jews of Europe] are our sacrifice.”

    For one who claims to know his history, you are displaying great selectivity in your memories.

  13. Chareidi Leumi says:

    You are all making a bizarre mistake—you imagine that the advice he gave was wrong, because indeed Europe was overrun.

    Um, because hindsight allows us the advantage of learning from mistakes and seeing who’s line of reasoning was better and which particular set of leaders had a better grasp on the reality around them.

    Do you, or do you not, believe HKB”H (G-d) runs the world?

    Yes.

    Do you have any idea how close Rommel was to overrunning Eretz Yisroel and exterminating the Yishuv? What sort of katrig (accuser) would have been created in Heaven if everyone had left Europe for what was then a spiritual wasteland, sacrificing their eternal life for their life in this world?

    Lovely, you just called the mitzva of yeshuv haAretz, a mitzva keneged kol haTorah, a “chayei olam haZe”. Maybe the accuser arose because of veMaasu beEretz chemda as the Em habanim smeicha suggests? Maybe just maybe the chareidim will admit that their gedolim were wrong and the RZ rabbis were right. Never mind that some of the greatest gedolim of the century lived in EY at the time. Never mind that the zechut of yeshuv haAretz would protect them. Never mind that Rav Hertzog was running around being mechazek people by teaching them to have emuna in our messorah that there will not be a churban shlishi in EY. Never mind that history proved the RZ gedolim RIGHT! When will the chareidim stop painting the target around the arrow they shoot? When?

    In addition, Gedolim have spoken about the fact that G-d took the light from the eyes of the Sages at that time.

    So were they mistaken or not? make up your mind.

    It was G-d’s work, not that of R’ Aaron or any other Gadol.

    Whatever. This would mean something if there were not non-chareidi gedolim who warned of churban Europe ahead of time. The fact is that there was a machloket and history proved one side right and one side wrong. Instead of rejecting the attitudes that led to the mistakes of the chareidi camp in the 30s, the chareidim canonize those mistakes and play G-d buy making up fantasies about how things would have been much worse if people would not have listened to the wrong chareidi camp.

    King David made greater mistakes and is still the forebear of the Messiah.

    I am not at all sure what you have in mind, but one of the great traits of King David is that he was able to admit his mistakes after he made them instead of making up a theology to fit the history, he learned from history to create a more profound theology for the future.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    R Menken-R Herzog ZTL was confident that Rommel would be defeated because we have a strong Mesorah that EY would be subject to two incidents of Churban, and no more. Moreover, EY was not a spiritual wasteland because many Gdolim and yeshivos ( i.e. the CI, R T Pesach Frank ZTL, R Isser Zalman Meltzer and R Herzog Zicronam Livracha, among many others) were in EY. OTOH, your statement that HaShem \”took the light from the eyes of the Sages\” is well taken and can be viewed as what Chazal and Rishonim call as Hester Panim vis a vis their understanding of many of the political and other movements and developments that led to the Shoah.

  15. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Dear Rabbi Menken

    I do not agree with Thomas Lowinger’s point about fitness for leadership and I do not necessarily disagree with your last comments. Nor were my comments meant as an attack on Rav Kotler ZTSL who I have the greatest reverence for.

    My point was aimed at Rabbi Rosenblum’s complaint against Yad Vashem for not “commemorating” the fact that only one pre war yeshiva had escaped intact and the rest were lost. If he had complained that only 300-400 out of 10,000 yeshiva students had escaped, I would have read on. There is no proof that any more could have escaped no matter what the response of the Roshei Yeshiva had been.

    I only took issue with the intactness of Mir. Does Rabbi Rosenblum want to have a discussion of “why only Mir” splattered on the walls of Yad Vashem? Does he want people to see a translation of “Asher Yatsar” paper on the a commerative plaque about yeshivas.

    I am certain that Yad Vasehm will not Artscroll(Change for the Betetr) Charedi history and I believe that Rabbi Rosenblum would agree with me.

  16. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    I have always been a big supporter of allowing unlimited comments on any string, but I must say that this particular stream could have been fashioned by Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Talk.

    For the record, of course I knew that Tommy Lapid survived the Holocaust in Budapest. Yet I cannot see why that fact makes his appointment to head the Yad Vashem Council the slightest bit less offensive.

    For all those who chose this occasion to spill various forms of bile on the chareidi world, it strikes me that you have picked the wrong forum. What in the world does any of this have to do with what I wrote. I have already written to my friend Steve Brizel privately that all the objections to the main exhibit at Yad Vashem have been repeatedly raised with Yad Vashem, and if the interview in this week’s English Mishpacha is to be believed, Yad Vashem acknowledges the validity of much of this critique.

    With respect to the question of using the Curacao end visas, let me just repeat what I have already written with respect to Efraim Zuroff’s book on the Vaad Hahatzalah:

    Did the Roshei Yeshiva Err?

    In his interviews and to some extent in his book, Zuroff criticized some of the major Lithuanian roshei yeshiva for not having taken greater advantage of the “end” visas to Dutch-held Curacao issued by the honorary Dutch counsel in Kovno, which played a crucial role in the flight of the Mirrer Yeshiva to Shanghai. (The potential of the “end” visas was discovered by Nathan Gutwirth, a Telshe Yeshiva student from Holland.) But the Curacao “end” visas were only of use in conjunction with Japanese transit visas issued by the temporary Japanese consul in Kovno against explicit orders. As Zuroff notes in his book, it did not take long for the Japanese to discover that the Curacao “end” visas were invalid, and to stop honoring them. In the end, only 2,000 of the 3,500 Curacao “end” visas issued were ever utilized. Thus, there is no reason to believe that this route could have been exploited further.

    Nor is the hesitancy of the roshei yeshiva hard to fathom, even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. They knew of the brutal suppression of religion under Stalin and were afraid of being caught in his web. At the outset of the war, thousands of Jews in Lemberg opted to return to Nazi-occupied territory, rather than remain under Russian control, so intense were the fears of Stalin. Further, the roshei yeshiva were afraid that they would be treated as enemies of the Soviet state and possibly executed for seeking to leave the Soviet Union. They knew, as Zuroff mentions in his book, that the NVKD had been busy photographing those applying for visas in Kovno.

    Finally, Zuroff confuses daas Torah with prophecy, something no one has ever claimed for gedolei Torah. At the beginning of the war, a young man asked Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman which course he should follow. Reb Elchonon was not embarrassed to reply that he had no clarity on the matter.

  17. Yaakov Menken says:

    Menachem, mycroft, and Thomas,

    You are all making a bizarre mistake — you imagine that the advice he gave was wrong, because indeed Europe was overrun.

    Do you, or do you not, believe HKB”H (G-d) runs the world? Do you have any idea how close Rommel was to overrunning Eretz Yisroel and exterminating the Yishuv? What sort of katrig (accuser) would have been created in Heaven if everyone had left Europe for what was then a spiritual wasteland, sacrificing their eternal life for their life in this world?

    In addition, Gedolim have spoken about the fact that G-d took the light from the eyes of the Sages at that time. It was G-d’s work, not that of R’ Aaron or any other Gadol. King David made greater mistakes and is still the forebear of the Messiah.

  18. Thomas Lowinger says:

    Regarding RAK
    Yes he made a mistake that should have disqualified him from leadership in the community. When the politicians make a mistake they pay for it at the polls and are voted out. Besides, aren’t there some rules that a person should follow when he does something b’shogeg ? Here he told his talmidim not no use the exit papers that he himself ultimately used.
    ( I do admit he was a great talmid chacham and his achievements are exceptional)

  19. mycroft says:

    He said that R’ Kotler referred to the exit papers as asher yotzer paper. In the end he availed himself of same papers to escape.

    True-but so what-does anyone believe R. Kotler desired the death of his talmidim-of course-not. He was mistaken when he referred to the exit papers as asher yotzer paper-but when he realized it was his pikuach nefesh later he followed vchai bahem. Nothing wrong. Just R. Kotler ZT”L like all humans could be mistaken-so what. Friendly fire can cause deaths-it doesn’t mean the soldier is a rasha-mistakes happen with fallible people. It is unfortunate that this mistake caused the deaths- of his talmidim-but so do physicians mistakes cause deaths.

  20. mycroft says:

    ” Even Rav Finkel was initially opposed. His talmidim convinced him otherwise and the rest is history. In a sense, there was a generational difference of opinion between the Talmidim and their Rebbeim”

    My impression is that there was a generational difference in considering the threat in Germany too. I believe a while back I was involved in an exchange in cross-currents which involving advice that certain Rabbanim in general gave German Jews in the late 30’s.

    I will make my comment-that in general secular Jews tend to underestimate the threat from the left and overestimate the threat from the right-and religious Jews tend to overestimate the threat from the left and underestimate the threat from the right. Thus the relative underestimation of threats from Nazi Germany-after all the Nazis attacked Communists.

  21. Thomas Lowinger says:

    Regarding R’ Kotler.

    The details are also recorded by R’ Zorach Warhaftig in his biography published in Israel about 6 yrs ago. R’ Warhaftig was a key playerin assisting escapees from Lithuania. He said that R’ Kotler referred to the exit papers as asher yotzer paper. In the end he availed himself of same papers to escape.

  22. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Mycroft wrote

    Rav Finkel recognized the danger–Rav A. Kotler didn’t.

    Hillel wrote
    This accusation against Reb Aharon’s judgement comes from out of the blue. Where is the documentation for this. It doen’t even make sense. Why would anyone—least of all a Rosh Yeshiva—deprive his talmidim of the sole opportunity for rescue?

    Mycroft
    The situation was much more complicated than a simple recognition of danger. In fact, the danger that they faced in 1940 did not come from the Nazis but the Soviet Communists and one can argue that Rav Kotler overemphasized the danger in approaching the Soviets with the wish to
    emigrate. The Nazi threat only materialized a year later in 1941 when Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

    There were two debates going on in 1939-1940 independent Lithuania where the yeshivas had escaped to from Soviet occupied Poland. Many Roshei Yeshiva wanted to emigrate from Europe and some did not. Please see link for more information

    The second question was where to go to if you wanted to emigrate.

    When the Soviets invaded Lithuania in June 1940 the first question became almost moot. The yeshivas had to get out. The question was how.

    The talmidim took the lead. The Dutch Telshe Yeshiva bochur\’s efforts opened up the Far East option to go to Japan. However, the Roshei Yeshiva were afraid of approaching the Soviets to let them emigrate as this could be a one way ticket to Siberia. Secondly what where they go after Japan? Even Rav Finkel was initially opposed. His talmidim convinced him otherwise and the rest is history. In a sense, there was a generational difference of opinion between the Talmidim and their Rebbeim.

    Hillel

    Here is the paragraph that is recap the attitudes of the Roshei yeshiva towards the far east option See link below

    I have prefaced the paragraph with footnotes 74 and 75 in case you have doubts about the author

    74. Rabbi Zelig Epstein interview

    75. Rabbi Moshe Cohen interview Rabbi Cohen is my father\’s best friend from the age of 9 when they played in Warsaw together. Both were talmidim at Kletzk who took the visas.

    This is perhaps the most appropriate point to deal in a more comprehensive manner with the attitude of the roshei Yeshivot to emigration attempts via the Far East. As previously mentioned, roshei yeshivot sought to transfer their schools abroad immediately after arrival in Vilna. Developments in Lithuania after Soviet annexation reinforced these trends. Almost all of the roshei yeshivot opposed efforts to obtain visas for Curacao and Japan, even if they favored immigration in principle. This opposition had two causes: 1) fear of the Soviets, and 2) doubts regarding the feasibility of escape via the Far East. Testimonies by former yeshivah students from Lithuania show that many of the rabbis feared that the emigration scheme was a Soviet ruse, designed to uncover opponents of the Communist regime.74 Thus, for example, Rabbi Aaron Kotler said that the entire matter was sakanat nefashot (a matter of life and death) and reprimanded several of his students who had submitted requests for Soviet exit permits. He claimed that they would be deported to Siberia along with their entire yeshivah.75 Many rabbis thought it useless to obtain exit documents because of the enormous expense and large amount of time required.76 A few ridiculed those refugees who obtained such documents and sometimes even tore the documents to pieces, deciding that they were worthless.77

    http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=gvKVLcMVIuG&b=394985

  23. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft-thanks for your comment. Eim Habanim Semecha and Rebbitzen Farbstein’s masterful book constitute a much needed alternative to the accepted Charedi POV on this issue.

  24. mycroft says:

    Criticizing the hashkafa of Yad Vashem requires proof that the Torah world offered its perspective of spiritual resistance to Yad Vashem in addition to the POV of physical resistance in the form of memoirs, oral histories and documentary evidence and offered to serve as the custodian and/or curator of this perspective. However, when one reads much of the Charedi POV on this area, there is a complete downplaying of physical resistance-which may fit Charedi hashkafa BUT which contradicts the evidence that no less than R M Ziemba ZTl, HaShem Yimkam Damo supported the Warsaw Ghetto uprising-despite its utter lack of chances of a military or political success and the role of R Gustman ZTL as a partisan. Moreover, since some Charedi Baalei Machshavah view Zionism as one of the “causes” of the Holocaust/Shoah/Churban Europa, it is not at all difficult to see why the Charedi world would avoid identifying or helping Yad Vashem-many of whose founders viewed physical resistance as the only or primary means of heroism.

    Steve: Very well put. Just would like to add an interesting variation is to read Eim habanim Semeha: by E.Yisakhar Shelomoh Taikhtel,,a-for those of us-native English speakers there are two translations-both about 7 years old. If not available elsewhere-one should check Amazon etc.

  25. Eliyahu says:

    What other side is there to the Tommy Lapid? Over the course of at least the past seven years, Tommy Lapid one-dimensionalized Tommy Lapid. He didn’t and doesn’t need anyone else to do it for him.

  26. Micha says:

    First, because Tommy Lapid is a survivor, I will refrain from judging the person. The speeches, yes, condemn vociferously. But thank G-d I can not imagine the forces that shape his psyche. Let G-d\’s accountant worry about his personal culpability; I can\’t.

    Second, yes, there are many famous survivors, not only Tommy Lapid. R\’ Lau was suggested, although someone who is being seriously talked about as the next president may not be an appropriate candidate. Yes, there are the exingencies of politics. But do not two-dimensionalize Tommy Lapid based entirely on his horrific opinion of chareidim and Orthodox Jews in general. He stands for other things as well.

  27. HILLEL says:

    Mycroft:

    I have read many accounts of the Mirrer Yeshiva’s miraculous escape from Lithuania during World War II. Nowhere did I read that Reb Aharon, ZT”L, for bad his students from using the “Dutch/Japanese visas.

    This accusation against Reb Aharon’s judgement comes from out of the blue. Where is the documentation for this. It doen’t even make sense. Why would anyone–least of all a Rosh Yeshiva–deprive his talmidim of the sole opportunity for rescue?

  28. mycroft says:

    A bit of a history lesson is in order. The reaseon the Mirer Yeshiva was the only one that survived intact is that it’s Rosh Yeshiva was the only one that permitted his talmidim to take the tarnsit visas that the Japanese consul in Kaunus(kovno?) was handing out to every Jew who asked

    This part is essentially well known.

    Below is the story of Kletsk

    I have it on good authority that Rav Aaron Kotler ZTL told Rav Eliezer Portnoy ZL that he, Rav Aaron, was wrong in forbidding his Kletzker Talmidim from taking the transit visas that Sugihara was handing out in Kovno in World War II..

    With the outbreak of the war in 1939, the Litvishe yeshivas fled Soviet occupied Poland to Lithuania. Some Talmidim from Chassidishe yeshivas also came to Lithuania. In 1940, the Soviets began to move on Lithuania and desperate to get out a Talmid of one of the yeshivas who was a Dutch citizen came up with the idea of going to Curacao where no entry visa was necessary so that he could be issued a transit visa out of Lithuania. The Japanese consul in Kovno agreed to issue him and later anyone who asked a transit visa.

    A fierce debate broke out among the Yeshiva heads about the wisdom of traveling on the visas. The Litvishe Roshei Yeshiva prohibited their students from obtaining the visas with the exception of the Mirer. Have you ever wondered why Mir survived the war intact and the other LItvishe yeshivas perished. This is the reason why.

    The Chasidishe bochurim traveled on those visas and escaped. With the exception of supposedly 5 Talmidim who did not heed Rav Aaron’s ban, all of the Kletzker talmidim remained in Lithuania to be slaughtered later on by the Nazis. Only those who were fortunate enough to be considered trouble makers by the Soviets and shipped off to Siberia escaped that fate. This outcome befell all of those who remained behind.

    Comment by Menachem Petrushka

    If true-so what-if Rav Aaron ZT”L made a mistake so what-so did many others they could not perceive what the Nazis -Yimach Shemam Vzichram-could do. The only problem is for those who believe a Gadol can’t make a mistake. For the restou=so what-if true-Rav Finkel recognized the danger-Rav A. Kotler didn’t

  29. HILLEL says:

    To Petrushka:

    Can you back-up your statement that RebAaron, ZT”L, forbad his talmidim from taking the Japanese visas. It doesn’t make sense–something is missing here. why not?

  30. Eliyahu says:

    There are plenty of other Holocaust survivors in Israel. R’ Israel Meir Lau is a very famous one, for example. So Lapid wasn’t chosen “because he is a survivor”, but for some other reason. The point R’ Rosenblum was making is that you don’t appoint somebody who is viciously anti one segment of the population to be the head of a museum that is supposed to be for all Jews. The fact that Tommy Lapid is a survivor is not relevant.

  31. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Rabbi Rosenbloom writes
    > Only the Mirrer Yeshiva, of all the great pre-War yeshivos, survived nearly intact.

    A bit of a history lesson is in order. The reaseon the Mirer Yeshiva was the only one that survived intact is that it’s Rosh Yeshiva was the only one that permitted his talmidim to take the tarnsit visas that the Japanese consul in Kaunus(kovno?) was handing out to every Jew who asked

    Below is the story of Kletsk

    I have it on good authority that Rav Aaron Kotler ZTL told Rav Eliezer Portnoy ZL that he, Rav Aaron, was wrong in forbidding his Kletzker Talmidim from taking the transit visas that Sugihara was handing out in Kovno in World War II..

    With the outbreak of the war in 1939, the Litvishe yeshivas fled Soviet occupied Poland to Lithuania. Some Talmidim from Chassidishe yeshivas also came to Lithuania. In 1940, the Soviets began to move on Lithuania and desperate to get out a Talmid of one of the yeshivas who was a Dutch citizen came up with the idea of going to Curacao where no entry visa was necessary so that he could be issued a transit visa out of Lithuania. The Japanese consul in Kovno agreed to issue him and later anyone who asked a transit visa.

    A fierce debate broke out among the Yeshiva heads about the wisdom of traveling on the visas. The Litvishe Roshei Yeshiva prohibited their students from obtaining the visas with the exception of the Mirer. Have you ever wondered why Mir survived the war intact and the other LItvishe yeshivas perished. This is the reason why.

    The Chasidishe bochurim traveled on those visas and escaped. With the exception of supposedly 5 Talmidim who did not heed Rav Aaron’s ban, all of the Kletzker talmidim remained in Lithuania to be slaughtered later on by the Nazis. Only those who were fortunate enough to be considered trouble makers by the Soviets and shipped off to Siberia escaped that fate. This outcome befell all of those who remained behind.

  32. Nachum says:

    I have to echo Micha. To write a piece like this without acknowledging that Lapid himself is a survivor is horrid. I hope you were unaware of the fact, as I can’t imagine someone even writing a piece like this with that knowledge.

    Also please tell me that you haven’t started, in this article, to play the little “who suffered more” game again. That’s equally as horrid.

    Finally, as to “When I see a large chareidi family, I begin to understand the Nazis,” you should read what Hitler himself, ym’sh, had to say in Mein Kampf.

  33. Eliyahu says:

    I am surprised at R’ Rosenblum’s surprise and disbelief. What else would you expect from Olmert? Insensitivity and worse to other people is normal behavior for Olmert, as shown by his behavior with Amona and his remarks to Gush Katif refugees the other day (if arutz7 reported them correctly). If it would be to his political advantage, he would appoint Tommy Lapid the minister of charedi affairs without blinking an eye. Then he would give a speech how Lapid’s appointment is really done in the best interest of the charedim themselves.

  34. Micha says:

    How about Olmert simply acknowledging that Tommy Lapid is a survivor himself? And among the most famous ones in the country.

  35. charedilite says:

    While I understand the displeasure with Lapid’s appointment and Yad V’Shem’s “slant”, the sad facts on the ground are that it will make no difference whatsoever that Lapid was appointed. The frum community doesn’t expect anything at all from Yad V’Shem, and Lapid will surely meet that expectation.

    Bob Miller is quite right- a private institution can tell the other side ot the story- and I suspect that there are many other sides to the story.

  36. tzvi says:

    It is primarily a political institution intended to exploit the death of our six million brothers for political purposes.
    Sounds like something an Arab would say.

  37. HILLEL says:

    The appointments of Tommy–“I’m a European gentleman”–Lapid and Yigal–“I’m beginning to understand the Nazis”–Tumarkin confirm what I have long believed:

    Yad VaShem is not primarily an institution intended to memorialize the 6-million “Kedoshim.” It is primarily a political institution intended to exploit the death of our six million brothers for political purposes.

    Therefore, we whould not be at all surprised when left-wing politicians are appointed and left-wing artists are celebrated there, while Hareidim are pointedly ignored.

  38. Bob Miller says:

    It sounds like we need a privately operated and funded institution to tell the other side of the story, about the Jewish spiritual resistance to nazism/fascism/communism in the 20th Century. Who said that everything useful had to depend on the government, especially this one?

  39. Steve Brizel says:

    It is easy to criticize the appointment of Tommy Lapid. Criticizing the hashkafa of Yad Vashem requires proof that the Torah world offered its perspective of spiritual resistance to Yad Vashem in addition to the POV of physical resistance in the form of memoirs, oral histories and documentary evidence and offered to serve as the custodian and/or curator of this perspective. However, when one reads much of the Charedi POV on this area, there is a complete downplaying of physical resistance-which may fit Charedi hashkafa BUT which contradicts the evidence that no less than R M Ziemba ZTl, HaShem Yimkam Damo supported the Warsaw Ghetto uprising-despite its utter lack of chances of a military or political success and the role of R Gustman ZTL as a partisan. Moreover, since some Charedi Baalei Machshavah view Zionism as one of the “causes” of the Holocaust/Shoah/Churban Europa, it is not at all difficult to see why the Charedi world would avoid identifying or helping Yad Vashem-many of whose founders viewed physical resistance as the only or primary means of heroism.