The following is from Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn. We have already published on our blog http://torahhalacha.blogspot.com several dozen pages about my experience with Gedolim Reb Aharon Kotler, Reb Moshe Feinstein, Reb Yosef Shalom Elyashev and others. We are now developing an entire section with material from Gedolei HaDor in Israel and America that shows the crisis of invalid Gittin, invalid conversions, and other things especially now that marriage and family is falling apart. It is our hope to supply happy answers to the dreadful crisis of broken children and families.
Reb Aharon Kotler died in 1962. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The new president was Lyndon Johnson, whose great hope was to undo the grip of poverty on the poor. From President Johnson came federal grants for people who needed money who could qualify for the programs, and sometimes merit large sums of money.
Who was poorer than somebody who learned in Kollel? Thus, here is one factor for the new money in Lakewood. The Yeshiva itself applied for the now generous Federal government’s grants for the poor, and so did individuals.
At the time, there was such corruption, including front page articles about prominent people, that I determined to stay away from every dollar and every penny. I asked Reb Yaacov Kaminetsky about this. He seemed pleased that somebody would ask such a question, but could not rule that we should not take money from the government. He asked if it was not true that people constantly benefit from the government with all kinds of Federal expenditures including roads, lights, etc. I heard from somebody else who asked this of the Satmar Rov Rebbe Yoel zt”l, and he got basically the same response. He did not forbid taking federal money. Whether it was better to subsist on different money was not an issue he publicly ruled on.
I made up my mind after seeing what I saw of the problems with such free money, that I would refuse to apply for it. I know that HaShem granted me wonderful children, heads of institutions and Talmidei Chachomim. That is wealth, and that kind of wealth doesn’t come from Federal largesse, but the opposite, from straight earned money.
At any rate, the free money surely helped Lakewood financially. But there was another factor that contributed to a rapidly growing student body in the Yeshiva. America was involved in a terrible war with North Viet Nam. Eventually, America just left and eventually Communists took control. There was a draft during the Vietnam war, and college students were obligated to go fight in it. Eventually, many students rebelled at the draft and the idea that their college program would be interrupted by a war that nobody cared about. Timothy Leary was a prominent Harvard professor who taught students to take dangerous mind altering drugs so that they would sense new things. Modesty and decency were openly flouted by the youth. Obviously, Orthodox children could not go to such colleges which had become sewers. Now more and more people looked with new understanding at the prospect of sending a child to Lakewood.
Now, a good Lakewood student was a valuable asset. This translated into cold cash. Meaning, a boy had a price. A boy with a good name in learning could anticipate a girl whose parents would pay him a lot just to marry their daughter instead of sending her to college and the heinous horrors there.
Thus was born the idea that instead of the old Lakewood system where people trusted in miracles not to collapse from starvation, now money flowed into the Yeshiva from President Johnson and from parents anxious for a learning boy.
I had talked to Reb Aharon in learning regularly. And I needed a Gadol to talk to. Now Reb Aharon was in another world. And, in a sense, the Yeshiva was in a different world. The Lakewood in the last year of Reb Aharon’s life was a new Lakewood, especially when a group of geniuses came to the Yeshiva. Then Reb Aharon realized that he had succeeded. But the new Lakewood, now something that attracted more and more people for various reasons, and more and more money for various reasons, was not for me. I was at a crossroads, and I had nobody to talk to about it.
I told HaShem I was putting it on Him. I am leaving Lakewood. I am going home to Cinnamson, New Jersey, which is basically nowhere, and the worst place to be if I want to get married. If HaShem gets me married properly in Cinnamson, NJ, it will obviously be from HaShem. And, if I won’t have a wife, my question will be answered in a bitter but strong way.
As time went on, I did get married. I remember the day we held open house for the family and close friends. I realized that people were coming not to honor me or my basherteh, but out of plain curiosity. Who in the world would marry somebody like me, who left Yeshiva and stayed for years at home where? in Cinnaminson, NJ. At least two people saw my wife-to-be and burst out with “Miracle!” Okay, so HaShem got the job!
One day a gentile friend born in Holland who once killed a Nazi asked me where my wife was from. My wife drove me to work that day and this fellow and some others in his company were very impressed. But they couldn’t figure out where my wife was born and were curious to find out. I told him that my wife was from Poland which made him very happy. Well, don’t Europeans have the right to think that attractive women come from Europe?
Once, I was in New York with my wife and children, in the house of my wife’s sister and her children. There was a terrible milk strike. My wife and her sister both had young babies who needed milk. But there was no way to get one drop of milk anywhere. I declared that I was going out to look for milk. Some people thought I was nuts. I walked one block away from where I was staying and a milk truck drove right next to me and stopped. I asked him if I could have some milk. He said yes. I said I wanted a crate of milk. He gave it to me. I walked into the house with the crate of milk and people were astounded. Well, if you work for HaShem that is what happens.
I am now an old man of 74. I spent my life chasing great rabbis and living in terror as I told them my questions or understandings. After Reb Aharon Kotler I chased Rav Moshe Feinstein for some years. I was terrified but I kept coming back. Finally, I wrote a book and asked him for an approbation. He wrote, “I know Rabbi Eidensohn for many years as one who delves very deeply into complex halalacha questions to clarify them.” That is what happens when you spend time outside a rocket ship far from the moon and you know that if you make one false move you will sale off into outer space.
I also have a very strong semicha from Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashev, the senior Posek in Israel. I had a Beth Din under Rav Elyashev that dealt with Russian Gittin, rather, baalei teshuva who used to be either Communists or lost Jews. I went to Israel and met with Rav Elyashev and he didn’t want to talk about Russian Jews. He wanted to talk about American rabbis who convinced New York State to force men to divorce their wives even though the men did not want to give a GET. In Torah law a GET given by the husband because of pressure is usually invalid and the remarriage of the wife to another man produces babies who are usually mamzerim.
Recall that at age 17 I began talking to Reb Aharon Kotler as much as I could. It was very frightening, but I came back for more even though Reb Aharon was very honest with what he thought of my Torah thoughts. Eventually I understood how to present my Torah to Reb Aharon so that he did not blow me away, which was quite a feat. Later on, I spent a lot of time talking to Reb Moshe Feinstein. That was also very frightening, but I kept coming back, and one day I got a very warm approbation that I quote above. Reb Moshe knew how hard it was for me and how scared I was and that figured into the semicha he gave me with his approbation.
By the time I got to Reb Elyashev I had gone through Reb Aharon and Reb Moshe and now I was not afraid. I asked him some very hard questions which only a Gadol HaDor could answer, and he answered right away. When we were finished, I asked for a semicha from him to be a Rosh Beth Din for Gittin, and I added, I wanted his name in the bargain. He immediately agreed. Of course, that was chutzpah first class or maybe last class, but when you deal with Gedolim at my age and with my knowledge what else is there but brutal chutzpah? At any rate, I told this to my chaverusa on our Beth Din, and he was absolutely furious. Such chutzpah? The Rov never uses his name for anything and he gives it to your Beth Din for Gittin?
Look, all of the Gedolim knew it was pure chutzpah; I knew it was pure Chutspah, so what else can I do when I talk to Gedolei HaDor when I might be happier playing basketball?
Some years after the above criticism from my chaveruso about how I dealt with Gedolim, he told me that he was asked a very difficult medical question and he and nobody he knew could answer it. Well, that is what happens when you are not a mechutsaff. But I am a mechutsaff, and I had asked Reb Moshe that exact question.
The question was, if a person is very ill, and there is no treatment, and the person is in great pain, do we have to keep the patient alive to suffer or can we let him die, if we don’t contribute in any way to his death? I had been told previously that some authorities rule that a person in pain and dying and there is no cure must be kept alive even if he wants to die. The case was a hospital where a certain Rov was the posek, and a person was dying of a very weak heart. He was in terrible pain and his children wanted him to die to be saved from the terrible pain, but the Posek refused. Each time the sick father died because his heart gave out, the Posek brought him back with electric shocks. The children begged the Posek to let their father die, but he said, no, the Din is that the person must be brought back to stay alive, no matter how terrible the pain is.
I asked that question to Reb Moshe. He immediately fired off exactly how many times he had been asked that question, and how he had answered. He spoke so fast I could not keep up, but I did understand when he said that we don’t have to keep a person alive who is suffering and wants to die. A child in Monsey was in that state, and it is said that Reb Moshe ruled that if the child was suffering and wanted to die there was no obligation to bring him back to suffer, and he can be allowed to die. I heard that somebody had asked Reb Moshe this question and he answered as follows: There is no obligation to keep a sick person alive who has no chance of recovery if he is suffering and wants to die. Yet, let the suffering person should realize that while he lives he can do mitsvose, and when he dies he may need those mitsvose. But if he really suffers and wants to die, he may. (And a person who suffers can say some bad things so maybe it is better to die – that is my comment DE.)
Now, in my career as a mechutsaff I spoke often to the Gaon Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner from Israel when he visited in America. I had two open gemoras that Reb Moshe was right, that a person who is suffering may be allowed to die if there is no cure and his pain is intense.1 See footnote below. One proof is a gemora in Gittin 70A and one is Avoda Zora 12B. The gemoras say that one who will surely die from his illness may be prevented from dying until he says goodbye to his family and settles his estate. He is willing to suffer so that his children will not fight after he dies over the inheritance. If as the Posek mentioned above is right that we must fight to keep a person alive even if he has hideous pain, why does the gemora suggest that one take this or that food or medicine in order to say goodbye to his family? Let it say that he must take this medicine or food in order to live another few minutes, even if he already said goodbye or has no need to say goodbye. I told this to Rav Wosner and he replied, “That is poshut.” I wondered why he said such thing. But then I realized that since Reb Moshe was Gadol HaDor Rav Wosner did not want to say that he agreed with Reb Moshe, as this insults the Gadol HaDor, so he said That’s poshut, meaning, of course the halacha is what Rav Moshe said.
When I trained to deal with difficult halochose, I went to a Rov who paskened halochose. He spoke to people on the phone and I did not hear what the people said to the Rov, but I did hear what the Rov said. One time the Rov had a long and difficult time with somebody and he tried his best to calm things down and finally succeeded. However, he did not pasken the Shaalo. When he hung up the phone finally he told me, “I am not going to pasken that question. Go to the Strassberger Rov who is in Monsey and ask him the question.”
So I went down the block to where the Strassberger Rov was visiting his son-in-law, a Monsey Rov. I was told to come in and sit down until the Strassberger Rov is ready to speak to me. I sat down, and soon the Rov came in. I told him the question and then I told him what I thought was the proper answer. The Rov said nothing. I repeated myself and the Rov said nothing. I tried again, and nothing, so I just sat quietly.
The Rov then spoke and said, “HaRav Eidensohn.” When I heard that I knew I was in big trouble. I knew that after this “HaRav” I was going to be blasted, which is exactly what did happen. After saying “HaRav Eidensohn” and letting it sink in, the Rov continued saying, “A Rov never says from his mouth what you just said.”
I told this to a Monsey posek and he told me the following: A couple went to the Gaon Rav Yaacov Kaminetsky with a hideous problem, similar to the problem the Rov refused to pasken. He spoke to them at length and then they left. They by then knew exactly what the halocho was in their case, but never did Reb Yaacov say one word about the halocho. He spoke in a smart way that they should understand how to proceed, but never told then directly to do this or that. That is what the Strassberger Rov told me. I may have been right that in the case of the Rov the person should do this or that. But since it was an ichy horrendous thing we don’t talk about it. We talk around it and the person gets the message, without being told directly. So I learned something. Fine. But maybe it was learned too late. Because I was sure that by now the Strassberger is fed up with me who says things that a Rov is not supposed to say.
I was waiting for the curtain to come down and then I would leave, but the Strassberger went into the next room, where I could see him clearly, and he first paced here and there, and then he said, “I have a difficult shaalo.” I was stunned. I thought he was going to tell me, “Good night.” Then the Strassberger began telling me his difficult shaalo. It was a real difficult shaalo. Then, as I was spinning with his remark and the fact that he didn’t get me to leave the house, he said, “I have to bring the shaaloh to Reb Moshe, but I don’t know how to reach him.” Now, this was really strange. The Strassberger was in charge of Gittin and family issues in the Haredi Beth Din of Jerusalem of Aidi HaCharedis. He never spoke to Reb Moshe in the years of his paskening family questions? He doesn’t have anyone to ask where Reb Moshe lives when his son-in-law is a Rov and lives in this very building? Part of me was really confused, but the part of me that was a mechutsoff, just wanting a piece of the action, plowed ahead. I announced, “I know Reb Moshe and I will take the Rov’s shaaloh to his house tomorrow.” The deal was done.
The next day bright and early I was running up the steps of the apartment house where Reb Moshe lived. Suddenly, somebody grabbed me and asked me where I was going. I replied that I wanted to go to Reb Moshe. He told me that Reb Moshe wasn’t feeling well and nobody is allowed to go to his apartment. I replied that I had a letter to Reb Moshe from Aido HaCharedis. The gentleman immediately released me and let me go to Reb Moshe’s apartment. I gave in the letter and left. I called later and asked when there would be a response to the letter. I was told the response would be soon. I was told that Reb Moshe felt that the ruling on the shaaloh was that it was permitted. But I never received written proof of this, only daily oral statements that Reb Moshe permits it.
Weeks or months of calling didn’t improve things. The time came when I got a letter from my rebbe in this world and the next, the Kabbala genius Reb Shmuel Toledano zt”l. He told me that if I did not come to visit him he would stop writing to me. I got this letter on Motsei Shabbos and I was terrified. I ran to this and that Rov but nobody was home. I came home, and had no idea what to do. The phone rang. It was my sister who had just married. She told me that she won a ticket to Israel but was going to return it, because one person of a couple who just married doesn’t leave the other spouse and go to Israel. I told her to give me the ticket, and I had a ticket. I had a few dollars from a Tephilin campaign that I made, because I was studying Safruce, so I went to see my rebbe. But I also told Reb Moshe that I would be in Israel from this date to that date, in case he wanted to send the answer to the question of the Strassberger Rov.
I stayed by him a few days, and on Friday I went to see the Strassberger Rov. He told me that I would be by him for Shabbos, but he told me that I will go to the general Mikva and he goes to the rabbis Mikva, so he would be back before I would. So it was. I got back to his house and he was reading a letter. It was the letter from Reb Moshe. For some reason, Reb Moshe did not want to mail the letter to me, but did want to mail it to the Strassberger.
The Strassberger showed me the letter and then asked me, “Did you speak nicely to Reb Moshe?” I almost fell over. What kind of question was that? Later, after I had studied the letter, I realized what had happened, why the letter was never mailed to me. And why the Strassberger asked me if I had spoken nicely to Reb Moshe. I will soon explain. But to continue, the Strassberger then told me that although his rabbis disagreed with Reb Moshe, and did not want to recognize the boy in question as a bona fide Jew, but rather as one with serious questions about his Yichuse, since Reb Moshe had said that what his rabbis wanted to do with the boy was not wrong, they would do that. But there was still some kind of a halacha question even doing what his rabbis wanted to do with the boy. So he told me to take the letter from Reb Moshe to the senior rabbi in Israel, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach, and ask him the halacha question.
Before I continue, let me explain why Reb Moshe never mailed the letter to me, but simply ruled that the boy was permitted to marry a Jewish girl. To explain, I have to explain my relationship with a very senior Posek, the Klozenberger Dayan in Williansburg, Rav Fischel Hershkowitz. He was my rebbe for some years. I used to travel from Monsey to Williamsburg once a week, with a list of questions for what I invented answers, as part of my training in paskening halocho. Of course, I told him about the boy who had gone to the Strassberger for permission to marry a Jewish girl, and was refused. This caused the Strassberger to refer the issue to the great rabbis of Israel, especially Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach, who emphatically refused to accept the boy as a definite Jew, but rather feared that he was not.
The issue is that the boy came I believe from India, from a group of people who at one time were probably regular Jews, but as the centuries wound down, and the group had no real rabbis, gentiles mixed into the group. If so, there was now a fear that the boy was a mamzer, because maybe somewhere and sometime in the centuries in India a parent of his going back some generations may have had relations with somebody who would make him a mamzer. The Strassberger and the great Israeli rabbis feared that he was invalid to marry a Jewish girl, because he may be a mamzer or a doubtful mamzer, but Reb Moshe permitted him.
Of course I told the argument to Reb Fischel Hershkowitz, and he replied, “Such a problem if a boy is a mamzer can only be ruled on by Reb Moshe.” He did not mean that the Israeli rabbis were not capable of ruling on it. He meant that since he heard exactly what the Israeli rabbis were planning to do, he realized that the boy would never get married with their leniences. Thus, the only hope for the boy to marry is to go to Reb Moshe.
To explain: The Israeli rabbis held that the boy was a doubtful mamzer. If so, how can a doubtful mamzer marry a Jewish girl? No way. So they came up with a plan. The boy would find a woman who was not Jewish, and would somehow ascertain that she was a slave, although those people don’t exist anymore, or are not recognized anymore, and have a baby through her, and the baby would be consecrated as a Jew. I don’t remember all of this so well as it took place decades ago, but that was basically what I remember. The catch in all of this is that the boy was an ultra-Orthodox Jew from Israel who dressed with full fanatic regalia, and what non-Jewish girl would ever accept such a person as her husband, especially if he had to explain to her that she would be a slave and have a baby a slave that would be consecrated as a Jew, or if I err in any of this, the real idea was not far behind this. This is why Rav Fischel Hershkowitz said right away that going to a gentile woman with all of this was not going to produce a wife for this fellow in Israel. His only hope is to go to Reb Moshe and be told that he is accepted as a regular Jew. Since Reb Moshe was the acknowledged Gadol HaDor, once he ruled on such a thing, the boy would find somebody to marry.
Now we come to explain why Reb Moshe did not mail me the letter and why the Strassberger asked me if I spoke nicely to Reb Moshe. Reb Moshe knew that the only hope for the boy was what Rav Hershkowitz said, to ask Reb Moshe to pasken the shaaloh. That is why Reb Moshe sent the letter to the Strassberger and not to me. He wrote the letter without the proper titles that usually one rabbi sends to another in an important letter. He wrote that way because he knew what Reb Fischel knew that the boy would never get married with the plan of the Israeli rabbis. Thus he wrote in a way that the Strassberger would realize that the letter contained a harsh complaint that Reb Moshe, the gadol hador, wants to pasken this question on his own, without the Israeli rabbis involved. If they got involved, the boy would never marry. Once however that the Strassberger saw my expression when he asked me if I spoke nicely to Reb Moshe, he realized what the truth was, and to mollify me for his accusation sent me to Reb Shlomo Zalman, the greatest rabbi in Israel, and the head of the group opposing Reb Moshe, so that he would see clearly what is going on over here, that Reb Moshe is very upset that the question is not being sent to him.
I came to Reb Shlomo Aurebach. It was Friday afternoon before Shabbos. He read the letter, and then, I said to him, “Rebbe! This is an Aguna question.” He exploded and said, “Somebody talked like that in Israel and we wanted to put him in cherem.” When I heard that, well, what can I say? At any rate, what I did I did because I am a talmid of Reb Fischel, but if I get put in cherem, what happens then?
Suddenly, I felt a pair of hands on my skull, and the skull was pulled open. That is, I sensed that. And the fingers reached into my skull and put a piece of paper there. The paper came shooting out of my mouth and I heard myself speak to Reb Shlomo Zalman and say, “The Rov should pasken, not give advice, but pasken, that the boy should ask the shaalo of Reb Moshe.” I noticed that Reb Shlomo Zalman was not looking at me. He was obviously talking to somebody I could not see, and the other person was obviously somebody important. I repeated myself, and Reb Shlomo Zalman turned back to me and said, with some irritation, “I heard you the first time. Yes, that is what we will do. I pasken that the boy should ask his shaalo of Reb Moshe.”
I ran with the letter to the Strassberger who agreed to the pesak, and to another Rov, who was I believe at the time the president or something like that of the Torah community in Jerusalem, and he agreed. So I had three prominent rabbis who paskened that the boy should ask Reb Moshe the shaalo.
I wrote on the back of Reb Moshe’s letter that Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach, the Strassberger Rov, and the third senior Rov, paskened that the boy should ask his shaalo of Reb Moshe. I then presented the letter to the boy.
Now comes the most shocking thing I ever saw in my life. The boy refused my letter. He said, “I am an Israeli. I want my rabbis to pasken my shaaloh. Why do I have to go to American rabbis?”
Let us pause for a moment. Here is a boy who knows that he is a doubtful mamzer and the rabbis in Israel will never permit him to marry a Jewish woman. But here is his hope. These same Israeli rabbis have clearly paskened that he should ask Reb Moshe the shaalo, and he refuses! Never did I see such a tsaddik, and he is a sofek mamzer – Incredible!!!
I found a Rov who spoke to the boy who agreed to accept the pesak of Reb Moshe but I never saw the boy again.
At least, let me add my own bit here to explain how the rabbis in Israel who feared that the boy was a sofek mamzer could tell him or pasken for him to ask Reb Moshe.
See Sheb Shemattso I:1 much discussion about a doubtful mamzer, if it is forbidden by the Torah or the rabbis. The Pnei Yehoshua brings that the Rambam holds that a doubtful mamzer who may be a mamzer or may be completely worthy of marrying a regular Jewish girl, may do either or both by the Torah. That is, even though logically by marrying both a mamzeres and a regular Jewish girl he has certainly sinned, by doubtful mamzer the Torah permits even this. There are other opinions there that are not our present topic. But at any rate, there are certain leniencies with a doubtful mamzer at least as regards the Torah, and therefore, the senior Israeli rabbis were dealing with a doubtful mamzer who if he marries a Jewish girl has standing with some opinions that he does no sin by the Torah and the discussion turns to the rabbinical stringencies. In such a case, when the rabbis accept that what they want to do won’t in all likeness work, and he will probably never marry, and the Gadol HaDor wants to permit him to marry, which probably will not produce Torah sins but maybe rabbinical ones, we understand why they ruled as they did.
Again, to mutter in my own muttering, a doubtful mamzer has many circumstances. One case is when there are two babies, one a definite mamzer and the other definitely not a mamzer and they get mixed together. This is a very serious problem of “one out of two” being forbidden for sure. But in the case of the Jews who lived for centuries among goyim and originally a Jewish tribe lived there, how do we define the community now? Surely they intermarried with goyim. And we have a rule that we go according to the majority. The majority of the country was surely gentiles, and they don’t make mamzerim. If so, the question is what is the question? If the majority of the country today and probably for previous generations as well are and were goyim, and maybe here and there is a Jew, so what? And if there is a Jew and he married somebody who maybe, possibly, had somehow got into his system some problem of a mamzer, is this not a remote question?
We have a doubt that may be not one doubt but many doubts. A doubt if this child is a goy. If he is, there are no problems. A goy is permitted to convert to Judaism, no problem there. But maybe this child who is probably a goy because the majority of the goyim there are goyim, maybe, he is Jewish. So what? He is Jewish, so what? Well, maybe the Jews in this community produced mamzerim. How could Jews produce mamzerim? One way is by a brother marrying a sister. But nobody does things like that. So why even worry about it. What happens if a Jew marries somebody who is married to somebody else? This is only a problem if the woman the Jew marries is Jewish and the man is Jewish. But in each case, we assume that the majority of gentiles cancel out the question if the husband or wife are Jewish. If even one, the husband or wife, is a gentile, and the other is Jewish, there is no mamzeruth. Without prolonging the discussion, there are so many doubts here that any verdict that a child is a doubtful mamzer is a very interesting challenge. Add to that that we are talking about a boy who may never marry which is certain a factor, and we can accept that the Israeli rabbis in good conscience told the boy to ask Reb Moshe his shaalo.
1 גיטין ע ע"א אמר שמואל האי מאן דמחו ליה באלונכי דפרסאי מיחייא לא חיי אדהכי והכי ניספו ליה בשרא שמינא אגומרי וחמרא חייא אפשר דחיי פורתא ומפקיד אביתיה אמר רב אידי בר אבין האי מאן דבלע זיבורא מיחייא לא חיי אדהכי והכי נשקיה רביעתא דחלא שמזג אפשר דחיי פורתא ומפקיד לביתיה עכ"ל וע' ע"ז יב ע"ב שמביא זה.