Monday, June 24, 2013

Departing from the Family Mesorah

Rabbi Moshe Meiselman
I have been faxed a published interview in the Yated of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman by someone who reads my blog.  Therein Rabbi Meiselman espouses the almost verbatim argument constantly heard from the Charedi side in opposition to the draft and to the government requirement of a core secular curriculum to qualify for continued funding.

These arguments have been rehashed dozens of times in the media. They center on the evil intent of the founding fathers (carried on to this day) to use the army to dissuade religious Jews from Torah observance... and the terrible consequences of giving up control over education to them

I am not going to rehash all the reasons why these views are so terribly misguided other than to say that Rabbi Meiselman is living in the past, attributes motives to others which are biased and untrue in most if not all cases and vilifies other observant Jews  who are acting L’Shma - just because he disagrees with them.

I understand the fear. If these new policies are implemented it will change the face of Charedi Israel to look more like Charedi America. Charedi leaders in Israel consider that a tragedy of major proportions.

What I would like to focus on here is how Rabbi Meiselman has departed from his own family Mesorah. I’m sure he would vehemently disagree with me. But his interview is filled with the same anti Zionist (religious or otherwise) venom as the most right wing of Charedim.

He actually quotes his great uncle, Rav Velvel (as the American Briskers refer to the Griz, R’ Yitzckok Zev Soloveitchik) as the authoritative voice of the world in which he lives. The Griz was a Kanoi that was opposed to army service. That was because of Ben Gurion’s stated purpose of creating the new non observant Israeli via assimilation through the army. Ben Gurion saw army service as a way of forced  assimilation away from observance – to create the new secular Israeli disabused of the ghetto mentality of the religious Jew.  So opposed was the Griz to the army, says Rabbi Meiselman, that he said Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor (be killed rather than transgress!) about even males serving, not to mention females!

Rabbi Meiselman is someone that I know, although admittedly not that well personally. He was a Rebbe in Skokie Yeshiva (HTC) when I was in the Semicha program of his uncle, Rav Ahron Soloveichik – who brought him in to Chicago to teach. He did not look anything like he does now. He wore a regular suit, was clean shaven, and had no peyos. He also had the distinction of having a doctorate in math from MIT. This was something the Yeshiva used to brag about – a Rebbe with a Ph.D.

He later served as a Rebbe in Yeshivas Brisk followed by a stint as a Rebbe in Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA). Thereafter he made Aliyah to open a Yeshiva with Rabbi Daniel Lehrfield (Beis Yisroel) - later to split off and open up his own Yeshiva, Toras Moshe (named for his grandfather, R’ Moshe Soloveitchik).

Rabbi Meiselman is also known to be a Talmid (student) of the Rav, R’ Yoshe Ber Solovietchik. If I understand correctly he learned much of his Torah directly from him - taught privately for many years.

He happens to be a brilliant man. He reveres his uncle, the Rav and teaches the Rav’sTorah in his Yeshiva. In fact one of his faculty members is R’ Michel Shurkin who has written Seforim containing the Rav’s Torah. I actually own this two volume set of Harirei Kedem which contains the Rav’s thoughts on the Moadim (Jewish holidays).

But that is where his devotion to his uncle ends. He has learned the Rav’s Torah but has rejected his Hashkafos… and those of his own parents.

One need not go far to see what his parents Hashkafos were. His mother, Shulamis Meiselman (The Rav’s sister) wrote a wonderful memoir entitled The Soloveitchik Heritage. Therein she described her family’s history and Hashkafos. 

I recall hearing that Rav Meiselman was not all that thrilled with that publication and said something like ‘My mother always wanted to tell her story and she finally got it out of her system!’

This (among other things) indicates to me that he has left the family Mesorah. Either that or he must think his mother is wrong about it. I tend to think it is the former. Not because I choose to believe his mother over him. But because the American Briskers are diametrically opposite of their Israeli cousins in their views about the State of Israel . The Rav was the titular head of the Religious Zionists of America. And Rav Ahron said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

How sad this turn of events is. Rav Meiselman is a conflicted man who accepts the Torah of his uncle, the Rav who was nonetheless been declared an near Apikores by Rav Shach, a man who has been posthumously elevated to near godlike status by his Charedi constituents. Rav Shach’s tomb is a mausoleum – complete with a roof; places to sit and say Tehilim; and places to light candles. By comparison the Chazon Ish’s gravesite a few feet away is a simple one - no different than anyone else’s there. Needless to say, the Rav’s Torah is not exactly studied in mainsytream Charedi Yeshivos in Israel.

As I said Rav Meiselman seems to have rejected his family Mesorah. He may claim otherwise and point to specific things he does that are part of his Mesorah. I’m sure that’s true. He probably follows all of his family Minhagim on matters of Halacha. But on matters of Hashkafa the words in this interview say otherwise. One should definitely factor that in when evaluating his opinions.  Anyone who thinks that Rav Meiselman reflects the views of the Rav, would, I think, be mistaken.