Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A Message to My 'Eltera Chavrusa' - Yitzchok Sorotzkin

Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin
Last week, when today’s March for Israel was announced, I was pleased to see Agudah publicly supporting it, albeit not with a full throated endorsement. In their press realse they said that they were doing so in consultation with their Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. 

Even though their support was lukewarm, I appreciated it. It was the strongest support they have ever given to something that was not initiated by their own rabbinic leaders or any religious leader. There was, however, one exception to that lukewarm support. If what Rabbi Natan Slifkin reported is true (and I have no reason to doubt him) then I am outraged: 

The only one of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah who gave an impassioned speech is Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, who said that it is “chazzer treif” to go to the march. 

Yitzchok Sorotzkin was my ‘Eltera Chavrusa’ in Telshe.  Telshe had policy in those days (the 60s) of setting up high school students to learn with older students at night. I was a high school sophomore then and was set up with Yitzchok. He was a bit older them I was - but was way ahead of me in both Torah knowledge and brilliance. I’m not sure if he even remembers me. But I was in awe of him. He was a kind and gentle Chavrusa who did not flaunt  his Torah knowledge or his brilliance. To this day I appreciate my time with him. And consider myself lucky to have had him as a Chavrusa for one Zman (semester)   

As it happens, he married a friend and classmate of my wife and on many occasions visited his in-laws in Detroit at the same time my wife and I visited my in-laws.. So we actually ran into each other well after we both got married. 

Whenever his name has come up, I would often ‘brag’ about my connection to him. Even though I know that our Hashkafos do not match.

Well, my pride in knowing him has been substantially diminished. That someone widely respected as is a member of the Moetzes can say that going to a rally in support of Israel in what is perhaps its greatest time of need since its very founding, hurts and insults me to the core. 

Not only is he denigrating the march, he is denigrating all the other Rabbonim – many of which are Charedi that are enthusiastically endorsing and attending it themselves. And by inference he is also denigrating Rav Hershel Schachter, a Gadol that in my view is at least as great and brilliant as he is.  Rav Shachter has given his full throated endorsement to it and – if I understand correctly - will be there himself.

I would have to ask my former Eltera Chavrusa, why he considers attending this march for Israel ‘Chazzer Treif’? I get why he might not be enthusiastic about it. But to go so far in condemning it is beyond reasonable.  Does he consider all of the people attendings many of which are religious, some of which are Charedi and the many Orthodox rabbis - some of wuich are also Charedi - eating pork in his eyes? Is Rav Schachter eating pork?!

The very thought of the words ‘Chazzer Treif’ coming out of the mouth of someone I respect makes me very sad - to say the least! It is not only insulting and hurtful, it sends the wrong message to a world that might hear him. Those words can easily be interpreted as not supporting Israel. And not being all that concerned about the hostages. Or about the rise in antisemitism all over the world. 

This is  not to say that he doesn’t care about protecting Jewish lives both here and in Israel. I’m sure he cares very much. I'm sure he was one with the rest of the Moetzes that endorsed observing Yom Kippur Katan yesterday. Yom Kippur Katan is said on the eve of Rosh Chodesh at Mincha at a time of peril for the Jewish people. It is a prayer of repentance in which we beseech God’s salvation. Many Shuls and Yeshivos in Chicago observed Yom Kippur Katan yesterday. It is therefore incorrect to say that my former Eltera Chavrusa doesn’t care. At the same time I cannot protest enough what he said about attending the rally for Israel. 

This is an Eis Tzara L’Yaakov that requires both prayer and Hishtadlus - action . Not prayer alone. Doing both is a moral and religious imperative. It is not eating ‘Chazzer Treif’. Making sure that our political leaders know of the urgent universal concern by Jews - crossing all denominational and political lines - about Israel, the hostages, and antisemtism is a moral imperative. Hopefully attendance will exceed the 100,000 mark predicted by organizers.

This isn’t the first time the importance of  this kind of Hishtadlus was recoginzed as a moral and religious imperative,   As noted by OU Executive Vice-President, Rabbi Moshe Hauer in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine:

On October 6, 1943, three days before Yom Kippur, 400 Orthodox rabbis arrived in the nation’s capital to participate in a march calling attention to the plight of the Jews of Europe. It was the season of teshuvah and the time when our tefillos are best received, b’himatzo, yet these rabbanim chose to dedicate some of that sacred time to the decidedly nonspiritual activity of lobbying in Washington.

They understood that in this world we must raise our voices both to the heavens and to the humanly powerful. America was the country best positioned to stand up to the existential threat facing the Jewish People, and they needed to make every effort to raise their voices and activate its leadership. And, in the words of William Randolph Hearst, the threat was not a Jewish problem. It was a human problem.

I have been told that some of those rabbis were advised by the Gedolim of their day to travel on Shabbos if necessary in order to make it there on time.  

I don’t think Yitzchok thought through the implication of his own words. So, let me respectfully suggest the following words from Chazal (Avos 1-11) to my former Eltera Chavrusa: Chachamim  Hizoharu B’Divreichem. Please retract those ugly words and apologize to all the holy people attending the rally today. It is not’too late.