Statues in Montreux

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A few days ago, I visited Montreux, a small Swiss town by Lake Geneva. It is picturesque, temperate, and while there are plenty of tourist shops, parts of the town are pretty up-market. It was a lovely place to spend a few hours with the family before driving back into the mountains.

Two significant statues on the lake-front are popular with tourists, both of well-known men who lived good parts of their lives in or near Montreux. One is of Charlie Chaplin, the famous actor and film-director, the other is of Freddie Mercury, a leading pop-star of the 70s and 80s. If we can briefly ignore their private lives (the inscription on the statue of Mercury even mentions the ‘discretion’ of the locals), each of them brought much pleasure to millions of people. Presumably, the residents of Montreux feel honoured that Chaplin and Mercury chose to live in their town and recognised this with lake-side memorials.

I was struck by the lack of a statue of Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, a world-famous posek (Jewish legal authority) who lived in Montreux for a large part of his life until his death in 1966. He was a man of astonishing scholarship, who wrote landmark responsa (published as Seridey Aish, by which eponym the author has become known) tackling the most complex and contentious modern issues. The Seridey Aish was at home in the premier yeshivos of pre-war Eastern Europe, yet was a man of his times, facing modern challenges to traditional Judaism robustly, but with a light touch. He fostered a generation of students, including some of the world’s foremost rabbinical leaders, such as the late Gateshead Rov, Rabbi Betzalel Rakow, zt”l, the late Rabbi Joseph Hirsch Dunner zt”l of London, and ylc”t, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, the Ra’avad of the Eidah Charedis in Jerusalem.

Where indeed is the statue of Rabbi Weinberg? Of course, hardly any visitors to Montreux will have heard of him and it is unlikely that a bronze likeness of a rabbi would attract the level of interest from tourists to make its manufacture worthwhile; this apart from the obvious halachic issues raised by making a statue in the first place. I’m sure that the matter was never even considered.

Actually, I’d have been rather upset to have seen a statue of the Seridey Aish along the lake-front in Montreux: Rabbi Weinberg immortalised in the company of an actor and a singer. While the contribution of Rabbi Weinberg is immeasurably more significant than, lehavdil, Messrs Chaplin and Mercury, his immortal responsa, which are still debated and relied-upon by halachists the world over, are a far better testimony to his greatness than a bronze cast.

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11 Responses

  1. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    twenty years ago, i arrived at the train station in montreax, and told my friend to change $ (as we were out of swuiss francs) while i call the local kosher hotel for a room.

    after i finish my call, my friend calls me over. changing money in switzerland is no big deal, and why was it taking so long?

    well, my friend is talking to the station clerk/money changer in hebrew! i must have told my friend to change $ in hebrew, she overheard, and spoke to my friend in fluent (all three of us are fluent) hebrew speakers.

    on another note, years later, i found out my father’s cousin went to yeshiva in montreaux BEFORE the war. why? because the montreaux yeshiva had a reputation of being for “problem” students. seems that its a old old problem, not new like its made up to be!
    note: not the current yeshiva.

  2. Daniel Shain says:

    Am I the only one who is uncomfortable with gedolim cards and pictures? While I understand that seeing a picture of a Tzadik is meant to inspire us, I find myself more inspired by reading/studying their divrei Torah, rather than idolizing them in photographs and cards. As Garnel (comment #8) and others commented, the legacy of a tzadik is spiritual, not physical.

  3. mycroft says:

    Chazal had it correct:

    Divreihem hen hen zichronam-Their words are their rememberances and thus we don’t put monuments up for our scholars.

  4. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Those who live in the physical world leave behind physical monuments.

    Those who live in the spiritual world leave behind spiritual monuments.

    That’s why there isn’t a Seridei Eish statue.

  5. lawrence kaplan says:

    Harvey Belovski: Thanks for the clarification. As I stated, I was sure that any creeping “Haredization” was inadvertant.

  6. mb says:

    “the late Gateshead Rov, Rabbi Betzalel Rakow, zt”l, the late Rabbi Joseph Hirsch Dunner zt”l of London, and ylc”t, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, the Ra’avad of the Eidah Charedis in Jerusalem.”

    How come these luminaries often disagreed with their Rebbe?
    I have great difficulty with this. So much for the chain of tradition.

  7. Yosef says:

    The gemara says that we don’t make monuments for our gedolim, we study their writings. Yet the truth is that we do make monuments, in the sense that we have gedolim cards, and expensive portraits that people can buy to hang in their homes. So yes, there should be a (halakhically acceptable) monument to Rabbi Weinberg in Montreux, R. Hirsch in Frankfurt, the Chafetz Chaim in Radin etc. If we had the money, we should even establish a large museum of gedolei Yisrael in Jerusalem.

  8. Zach Kessin says:

    Maybe someone should bring it up with the town. Its possible that they never put up a plaque or the like just because no one ever brought it to their attention. So someone bring it up, maybe they will do something.

  9. Harvey Belovski says:

    For Lawrence Kaplan

    As an admirer and regular teacher of the works of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, I am more than aware of the influence of the Seridey Aish upon him. The original version of my essay included the phrase ‘to mention only those I had the privelege of knowing personally’, in reference to my selection of students of the Seridey Aish. My wife asked me to delete this line, which I did!

    The comment about Yeshivos was intended only to convey the sense that Rabbi Weinberg was a man of great breadth, by contrasting two extremes. Besides which , a number of Rabbi Weinberg’s students were from the post-war era.

    I am entirely familiar with Prof Shapiro’s work on the Seridey Aish – indeed, his recent talk on Rabbi Weinberg at my Shul in Golders Green was a great hit.

    Sorry to disappoint, but no ‘creeping Haredization’ here.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    For more on the SE, one must begin with the very interesting biography authored by R D M Shapiro.

  11. LAWRENCE KAPLAN says:

    A thoughtful essay. I was troubled, however, by the fact that while the essay pointed out that “the Seridei Esh was at home in the premier Yeshivot of Eastern Europe,” it neglected to mention that Rav Weinberg served as Rector of the Orthodox Berlin (Hildesheimer) Rabbinical Semiary from 1924 until its closing in 1938, and that it was in THAT capacity that he “fostered a generation of students.” I was also troubled by the fact among Rav Weinberg’s students who emerged as prominent rabbincal leaders, the essay only mentions figures associated with the Haredi community and neglects to mention such prominent rabbinic figures associated with MO as Rabbis Leo Jung and Eliezr Berkovoits who were students of Rav Weinberg. I trust that the creeping “Haredization” of Rav Weinberg implicit in such omissions was inadvertant.