I once heard historian Marc B. Shapiro say that you could fit two Einsteins into the Rogatchover.
In his fifth lecture on Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor for Torah in Motion, Marc Shapiro says:
Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Herman Adler (who dressed like a Protestant minister) refused to accept any of the suggestions of the newly arrived East European rabbis, such as the banning hindquarter meat. Rabbi Adler referred to them as “people who came over here uncultivated and uncivilized.”
This is the first thing that breakaway communities do — open up their own shechita (rabbinic supervision of the slaughtering of animals). If you say you don’t trust the shechita of the rabbi of the town, you’re saying he’s not reliable in general.
So the East European Jews brought over their own rav in 1891, a Zionist, Arthur Cohen.
The traditional reaction to a breakaway community opening up their own shechita is to declare it trafe (unkosher). It’s trafe sociologically, not literally. It’s akin to the Satmar sect in Williamsburg that in the 1970s hung the Lubavitcher Rebbe in effigy.
The East European Jews didn’t care that Rabbi Herman Adler declared their shechita trafe and they got many East European rabbis such as the Chofetz Chaim and the Rogatchover to back them up.
There is Jewish history in Malta. The Knights of Malta would kidnap these people going to Israel and leave them on the island and ransom them. There would be all sorts of Jews, mainly from Italy, who’s job it was to ransom kidnapped Jews. The Jews were in better shape than other people. The typical Christian? No one ransomed him.
Our whole kashrut system depends on the owner being shomer shabbos (Sabbath observant). You can’t have inspectors in there 24/7. You rely on the owner being an observant Jew, which means the Jew observes the Sabbath and the other Jewish laws.
The hashgachas (kosher supervision agencies) can create doubt where there is no doubt to benefit themselves. A few years ago, the Vaad of Long Island, based upon nothing, cast aspersions on Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik’s hasgachah on Streich’s matza, which has been in the family for two generations. If you want to destroy someone’s business and make sure you get part of the action, all you have to do is to cast aspersions.
What about Rav Shach declaring Lubavitch shechita trafe? That’s sociological. Rab Shach regards the person doing the shecting is a heretic, but nobody in America took that seriously aside from David Berger.
In his sixth lecture on Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor for Torah in Motion, Marc Shapiro says:
Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor declares separatism forbidden in England but other rabbis felt they had justification for their separate kashrut organization (East European rabbis had a problem with Rabbi Herman Adler of London, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire). The Yiddish-speaking separatists got support from the Chofetz Chaim and the Rogatchover.
Rabbi Adler declared a particular type of Orthodox kashrut supervision (from Eastern Europe) trafe (not kosher) and they responded in kind. Rabbi Adler got support from Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, the greatest Ashkenazi posek (decider of Jewish law) of the time.
Why didn’t Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor feel the need to check with the other side in the dispute? He was not concerned with the kashrut controversy. He was concerned that it is forbidden to set up a Bais Din (Jewish law court) in competition with an existing Bais Din.
The Rogatchover doesn’t care about Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor. He was no respecter of persons. He sided with the East European rabbis against Rabbi Adler. The reason the other rabbis in Lithuania go along with Rav Spektor is that they are following the famous old rabbi of Kovno [Spektor] like a blind man’s stick. They don’t think for themselves. But thank God, there is a Torah. We’re not like these other rabbis who don’t use their minds. Send me his words and I’ll scatter them like chaff.
That old man is sitting there in Kovno and writing and publishing with no end. Who asks him for this? Are we lacking books in this world?
That’s typical Rogatchover but it is unusual. The Rogatchover was probably the only rabbi in Eastern Europe who gave no mind to Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor.
Herman Adler was not a great Torah scholar. He was not on the level of his father Nathan Adler. Today Herman Adler would be regarded as a great Torah scholar but he was nowhere the great authorities of Eastern Europe. I think that Nathan Adler is the first rabbi in modern times to get a PhD.
Jonathan Sacks is not a great Torah scholar. He’s a great intellectual and a philosopher. He’s the greatest Orthodox public intellectual of our time. He may be the greatest Jewish public intellectual of our time. He’s the most significant religious figure in England. When they got this new Chief Rabbi of the British empire, they wanted a rabbi who focused on the Jewish community and on rabbis. Jonathan Sacks was the rabbi for the entire country, more respected by Christians than their own religious leaders. No one takes him as an authority on Jewish law.
Rabbi Berel Wein and Warren Goldstein (Chief Rabbi of South Africa) have published a new book — The Legacy: Teaching for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis.
There’s a blurb from Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky: “I am Lithuanian and everything in it is true.”
We Jews have an old principle that there is no book without an error (Ramban). I only skimmed the book. I didn’t have to look far to find errors, such as on page 130. Berel Wein writes about the ascendancy of Torah learning as a distinctive phenomenon in the modern Jewish world began with the Vilna Gaon. That makes no sense. We had Jacob Emden, Noda Biyhudah, etc. Berel Wein calls the Vilna Gaon “Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer.”
I’ve been studying the Vilna Gaon for 20 years. I don’t think it was more than two or three years ago that for the first time I saw the Vilna Gaon referred to as “Eliyahu Kramer”. I don’t think Berel Wein invented this falsehood. We’ll see another falsehood he invented.
It’s always the same thing. It’s people who want to sound sophisticated, I know the Vilna Gaon’s last name, when the Vilna Gaon had no last name. Nobody in history called the Vilna Gaon “Eliyahu Kramer.”
In the next paragraph, Berel Wein says that foremost among the Vilna Gaon’s students was Rabbi Chaim Rabinowitz, who served as the rabbi of Volozhin. I am certain that Berel Wein originates this, that Chaim of Volozhin had a last name and it was “Rabinowitz”. And Berel Wein goes on and on with “Rabinowitz”.
There’s a mathematical formula known as Kramer’s Theorem and some Orthodox Jews attribute this to the Vilna Gaon, but that’s nonsense.
Yeshivas are hotbeds for these sorts of ideas. Rabbi Jehiel Yaakov Weinberg was the first one to argue in print that Rabbi Yisroel Salanter preceded Freud in discovering the unconscious but what Salanter and Freud meant by the unconscious were different things. When Freud was big, it was very yeshivish to say that Yisroel Salanter preceded Freud.
Berel Wein does a good job popularizing Jewish history but he does make mistakes, such as not knowing the generation of Azriel Hildesheimer.
How many people think that “Satmar” comes from “Saint Mary.” That’s another myth.