Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Truth About Rav Yonasan Stief zt”l and a Eruv in New York City

Since the establishment of the current Williamsburg eruv, there has been much debate regarding the opinion of the Viener Dayan, the great posek and tzadik Rav Yonasan Stief zt”l (1877 - 1958). A great deal has been alleged in Rav Yonasan’s name regarding eruvin, much of which is clearly inaccurate and was concocted way after the fact, particularly in the book Yalkut Michtavim. As usual, in their haste to prove that all the poskim were against establishing eruvin, the anti-eruv group concocts fictional stories that, upon closer examination, do not hold water. Therefore, I would like to set the record straight and present the facts chronologically.

In 1949, Rav Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandel zt”l wrote a teshuvah to Rav Tzvi Eisenstadt zt”l in support of an eruv for Brooklyn (Toras Chemed, siman 1). He stated the following regarding Rav Yonasan:

ובענין זה יש לי עצה טובה, ידענא בי' בגברא רבא, זקן ויושב בישיבה, ובעל הוראה מפורסם ע"פ דרכי הוראה של מרן הח"ס ותלמידיו זי"ע, הגאון האמתי וצדיק תמים, מוהר"ר יונתן שטייף נ"י, שיש לו כח דהיתרא לשם שמים. טוב הדבר למעשה להכניסו בהוראה זו. גם אנכי אדבר עמו אי"ה, אמנם למעשה, טוב הדבר שגם מעכ"ת נ"י כה יעשה."

"והנני מסיים מעין הפתיחה, טוב הדבר אם מעכ"ת יכניס להוראה זו את הגאון ר' יונתן שליט"א שהוא רב בברוקלין, ועל הוראתו יסמכו ויסכימו רבים כו'. וידע כבוד הדרת גאונו נ"י, כי מלבד שהגאון הנזכר שליט"א הוא בקי גדול ומצויין בהוראה, גאון וצדיק וישיש, יש כאן טעם גדול אחר להטיל עליו את ההוראה, לפי שהוא ענותן שלא נמצא כמוהו בדור הזה לפע"ד, שפל ברך, שייף עייל נפק שלא יורה הוראה אלא בפלפול חברים ושאילת פה כל הגדולים וכל הקטנים בכל מיני כבוד והידור, וזה עיקר גדול להוציא את ההוראה הזאת לפועל."

Rav Eisenstadt heeded Rav Weissmandel’s words, and the following year (1950), when he established the Vaad Lema’an HaEruv B’Manhattan, he appointed Rav Yonasan to lead the organization (Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan, p. 168 and Divrei Menachem, p. 6).

In 1950, Rav Yonasan wrote a teshuvah supporting an eruv for Manhattan and Williamsburg (Mahari Stief, siman 68; see also Yeshiva University Archives, MS. 1300A for the original teshuvah written to Rav Eisenstadt). He stated:

ולפי"ז באופן זה יש לערב הן העיר ברוקלין והן העיר מאנהעטטען ומכש"כ אותן השווקים שאין בהם ס"ר בוקעין בו, שעל ידי התיקון שיעשה בהם יהיו מובדלות מיתר השווקים שיש בהם דריסת הרגל של ס"ר שלא יהיו פרוצים להם, ובפרט חלק הנקרא וויליאמסבורג שאין כאן שוק שס"ר בוקעים בו, וביחוד העיר ברוקלין אפשר לתקן שכונות שכונות דהיינו אותם השווקים שדרים בהם לרוב מהיראים, בקל יש לתקן אותם בצוה"פ, כי אפשר להשגיח ולבדוק בכל ע"ש אם לא נתהווה איזה שינוי או פירצה."

Additionally, Rav Yonasan mentioned in his teshuvah that he had written a Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin which he had not yet completed. This kuntres, which was recently published in Ohr Yisroel, vol. 32-33, demonstrates that he was a major supporter of an eruv for Manhattan and Williamsburg. The last time Rav Yonasan wrote dealing with city eruvin was on June 25, 1954, in his haskamah on the Shotzer rebbe’s sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan (ibid., Introduction p. 9). He stated:

לתקן העיר מאנהאטען שיהא כדאי לערב שם להציל רבים מעון חלול שבת במלאכת הוצאה, וגם לרבות הטריח את עצמו לדבר עמי פה אל פה בענין הגדול הלזה."

In the book Yalkut Michtavim, the anti-eruv group claims that Rav Yonasan withdrew his support for city eruvin because of the Satmar rebbe zt”l’s strong objection to eruvin. [Regarding the speciousness of the claim that the Satmar rebbe objected to eruvin see Part 1: The Truth About the Satmar Rebbe and a Williamsburg Eruv.] More so, they allege that not only did Rav Yonasan later retract his support for an eruv, he even concurred that New York was a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa. Besides for the consequences of believing allegations that surface some fifty years after the fact ― if we were to believe these allegations, every teshuvah can then be questioned see Noda B’Yehudah, Tinyana, Y.D. 29-30 ― these claims do not follow chronologically. As is typical of their approach, the anti-eruv group gathered bits of information and created tall tales. The following will illustrate the fallacy of their allegations.

1. The allegation that Rav Yonasan retracted his support because of the Satmar rebbe’s objection to eruvin:
The Yalkut Michtavim (p. 27-30) quotes a rav who claimed that by the year 1951-52, after Rav Yonasan had already been involved in the Williamsburg eruv, the Satmar rebbe asked him to refrain from establishing one. The Satmar rebbe’s objections were understood to include all city eruvin.

These are the facts:
  • In 1954, Rav Yonasan gave a haskamah on the Shotzer rebbe’s sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan (ibid., Introduction p. 9) supporting an eruv for Manhattan. This proves that Rav Yonasan was still involved in the establishment of city eruvin a few years after this fabricated story.
  • Rav Yosef Eliyahu Steiner zt”l, who was a talmid of Rav Yonasan and later became the Viener Dayan, wrote a letter of support for an eruv in Williamsburg in 1981. Rav Steiner states his primary reason of support for the eruv was because Rav Yonasan supported an eruv for Manhattan and Williamsburg. This is clear evidence that Rav Yonasan never retracted his support for eruvin in New York City. [Additionally, all the Satmar rabbanim gave letters of support for a eruv in Williamsburg between the years of 1972-1981. There is no doubt that if the Satmar rebbe had objected to an eruv in 1951-52, these rabbanim would never have supported an eruv in later years.]

    2. The allegation that Rav Yonasan later agreed that New York City may be a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa:
    In 1953, Rav Yonasan gave a Shabbos Shuva and Kol Nidrei derasha (September 12 and 19) stating that women should not wear jewelry outside because our streets are classified as a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa (Yalkut Michtavim, p. 31-33). The anti-eruv group argues that this proves that Rav Yonasan retracted his teshuvah where he had stated that there is no reshus harabbim d’Oraysa today.

    These are the facts:
  • Rav Yonasan wrote a teshuvah clearly supporting an eruv for Manhattan and Brooklyn. To hold up his derasha as proof that he retracted is disingenuous, especially since his derasha did not pertain to eruvin but to hotza'ah. This, though, is typical of the anti-eruv group, who in their quest to ban eruvin utilize all issues even those that do not pertain to eruvin as an indication of one’s opinion regarding the issue.
  • Rav Yonasan’s own notations of this derasha are extant, and he does not call the streets a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa only a reshus harabbim. As a matter of fact, the poskim use the term reshus harabbim regarding hotza'ah and are actually referring to a reshus harabbim d’rabbanan (a karmelis). [Rav Yonasan was referring to the shita that even wearing jewelry in a karmelis is ossur me’dinah, but since women might wear jewelry despite this shita, it is preferable sheyihyu shogegin. However, as a Dayan, he maintained that he had a responsibility to remind people that it is really ossur me’dinah (see Chai Anochi LeOlam, p. 146-147).]
  • Even if Rav Yonasan would agree that there is a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa today, he maintained that a tzuras hapesach would downgrade a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa to a karmelis (Mahari Stief, siman 68). Therefore, if an eruv was erected, there would be no issue of a d’Oraysa any longer. [Furthermore, Rav Yonasan maintained that because our streets are encompassed by mechitzos habatim, they are definitely not classified as a reshus harabbim.]
  • The main evidence that this tale was created after the fact is Rav Yonasan’s haskamah on the Shotzer rebbe’s sefer, Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan. Since Rav Yonasan notated this Shabbos Shuva and Kol Nidrei derasha, we know that it was given on September 12 and 19 of 1953. On the other hand, the haskamaha on the Shotzer rebbe’s sefer, where he urges the establishment of the Manhattan eruv, is dated June 25, 1954. This proves beyond a shadow of doubt that Rav Yonasan was still involved in the establishment of eruvin after his derasha about hotza'ah, and he did not retract his opinion that there is no reshus harabbim d’Oraysa today even in New York City.
  • As stated above, Rav Steiner wrote in 1981 that he knew that Rav Yonasan supported an eruv for Manhattan and Williamsburg.

    3. The allegation that Rav Yonasan later agreed that New York City may be a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa:
    The Mishmeres Chomosenu, Ki Seitze 5763 states that Rav Yonasan wrote in his commentary on the sefer Zichru Toras Moshe (p. 121) published in 1952, that there are those who question the heter regarding an eruv for Manhattan since there is shishim ribo traversing therein and it may require delasos. Therefore, they argue that Rav Yonasan, following the publication of his teshuvah (1950), retracted and admitted that New York City may be a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa.

    These are the facts:
  • Rav Yonasan mentions a teshuvah from Rav Eisenstadt regarding this matter in his commentary on Zichru Toras Moshe. The omission of a reference to his own teshuvah is obviously because Rav Yonasan wrote this commentary prior to writing his teshuvah, although he published the commentary at a later date.
  • As mentioned previously, Rav Yonasan subsequently (1954) wrote a letter to the Shotzer rebbe supporting an eruv, which clearly proves that he did not retract.
  • As stated above, in 1981, Rav Steiner wrote that he knew that Rav Yonasan supported an eruv for Manhattan and Williamsburg.

    Additionally, the Yalkut Michtavim (p. 30), quoting Rav Yonasan (Mahari Stief, siman 68 p. 69), states that if all the rabbanim are not in agreement, an eruv cannot be established because according to the Yerushalmi (Eruvin 3:2, 7:9) the main takanah of eruvin is for shalom. [It is very debatable if this is the simple peshat; I would suggest that the Yerushalmi is signifying that an eruv brings shalom, but it is not suggesting that if an eruv does not bring shalom one can’t be erected.] However, the Yalkut Michtavim deliberately omits the rest of the passage. Rav Yonasan follows this statement with a recommendation that every rav should only erect an eruv for his neighborhood, and then all the rabbanim do not have to be in agreement (Rav Yonasan is either referring to Manhattan, where the eruv was going to encompass the whole island and include all the neighborhoods, or to Rav Weissmandel’s original suggestion for an eruv that would include most of Brooklyn).

    In summation, the shoddiness of this revisionism is beyond belief, and this should be discernable to all. There is no doubt that Rav Yonasan was one of the great proponents of eruvin for Manhattan and Brooklyn. Unfortunately, since the issue is eruvin, it is not surprising that there are people who want to believe that this is anything but a work of fiction.
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