Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Part 1: The Truth About Rav Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandel zt”l and a Eruv in New York City

Since the establishment of the current Boro Park and Williamsburg eruvin, there has been much debate regarding the opinion of the Nitra Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandel zt”l (1903 - 1957). A great deal has been alleged in Rav Michoel Dov’s name regarding eruvin, much of which is clearly inaccurate and was concocted way after the fact, particularly in the book Yalkut Michtavim. Moreover, these fairy-tales have gained credibility since they are now cited in the newly published biography on Rav Weissmandel called Ish Chamudos (it is fascinating that the authors of this biography did not cite the source of these tall tales possibly because they realize that Yalkut Michtavim has little integrity). 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 1939, when Rav Michoel Dov was in London, he wrote a letter to his father-in-law stating that it would be easy to establish an eruv there, and it would only require twenty-one delasos reuyos l’hinael. He added that it would be ideal if he would be able to erect tzuras hapesachim, and that he hoped to write a kuntres regarding the matter (Toras Chemed, letter 53; see also Kovetz Toras Chemed, vol. 1 p. 18-19 and Alei Deshe, year 2 issue 1).

In the introduction to Rav Michoel Dov’s sefer, Toras Chemed, they write that one of the issues that he was involved with prior to his coming to America was eruvin. It is also well known that, after coming to America in 1946, Rav Michoel Dov gave many shiurim on Meseches Eruvin.

On April 13, 1949 at the behest of Rav Tzvi Eisenstadt zt”l, Rav Michoel Dov wrote a teshuvah, in support of an eruv for Brooklyn (Toras Chemed, siman 1). The issue was so important to Rav Michoel Dov that he commenced to write the teshuvah on Erev Pesach, and since he was concerned that he would not have time to conclude it after Yom Tov, he stated that it was a davar ha’aveid and that he was allowed to finish it even on Chol Hamoed.

Rav Michoel Dov supported Rav Eisenstadt’s drive to institute an eruv and stated:


ומאחר שלפע"ד הדבר נוגע במצוה רבה הנני כותב מכתב זה וכו', ואשרי חלקו דמר אם יעלה בידו להוציא הוראה לפועל בדבר הזה בהסכמת גדולי תורה המכוונים הוראה לשם שמים


Rav Michoel Dov ended this teshuvah by encouraging Rav Eisenstadt with the following words:


כשבאתי לכאן בגזירת עליון חשבתי תמיד מי יתן וזכיתי לכך וכו', נא במטותא מיני' דמר נ"י, בזכות אבותיו הקדושים, כיון שהתחיל במצוה זו אל יתרשל


At the outset, Rav Michoel Dov stated (ibid.,) that he did not write the teshuvah to establish the halachah; for this matter, he argued, Rav Yonasan Stief zt”l should be enlisted:


לא לברר הלכה אני כותב, כי מה מני יהלך, אלא לדבר דבור הנוגע למעשה, 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 ... מלבד שהגאון הנזכר הוא בקי גדול ומצויין בהוראה גאון וצדיק וישיש, יש כאן טעם גדול אחר להטיל עליו זאת ההוראה לפי שהוא ענוותן שלא נמצא כמוהו בדור הזה לפע"ד, שפל ברך, שייף עייל שייף נפק, שלא יורה הוראה אלא בפלפול חברים ושאילת פה כל הגדולים וכל הקטנים בכל מיני כבוד והדור וזה עיקר גדול להוציא את ההוראה הזאת לפועל, ודי בזה למבין בשפלות הדור הזה בעקבתא דמשיחא, ומנהיג לפי הדור


In a later teshuvah (August 19, 1951), Rav Michoel Dov reiterated (ibid., siman 2) that he was not issuing a p’sak and added that from the time he wrote his first teshuvah, the issue had since been presented to the great poskim:


ועיקר הדבר מה שאני רוצה להגיד בדגש חזק הוא, כי כל מה שכתבתי אז כמו עתה, לא כתבתי אלא לפלפולא דאורייתא בעלמא ... וגם זה מעט שכתבתי אז, הי' זמן זמנים טרם שנתלה הדבר להלכה באשלי רברבי אשר מפיהם אנו חיים


From Rav Michoel Dov’s first teshuvah we discern that he planned an eruv that would encompass a large portion of Brooklyn:


והנה העיר ברוקלין הים והנהר חומתה מג' רוחות כו', ולא נשתייר אלא לדון על רוח צפונית כי מצפון תפתח העיר, אמנם לעומת זה כמעט על פני כל צד צפון משוך הגשר של העלעוועטעד ליינס, המתחלת מקרן צפונית מערבית, להתמשך מן גשר של וויליאמסבורג, כמעט עד צפונית מזרחית עד חוף הים. ואין כאן רק מעט פרצות, כמו שלושים רחובות.[1] ואלו אפשר לתקן בצורת הפתח מאחר שכבר יש כאן שלש מחיצות, או בדלתות הראויות לנעול. כי אולי מצד ממשלת העיר יותר יסכימו על דלתות הראויות לנעול משיסכימו על צורת הפתח


From the refutation of Rav Michoel Dov’s teshuvah, written by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, it is evident as well that Rav Michoel Dov was proposing an eruv for a large portion of Brooklyn (Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:138).[2] Rav Moshe stated:


והנה מה שרוצה הרב הגאון ר' [מיכאל] בער ווייסמאנדעל שליט"א והאריך בקונטרסו לדון על העלעוואטאר בדין פי תקרה יורד וסותם להחשיב חלק גדול מעיר ברוקלין כמוקף מחיצות משום שבג' רוחות כותב שמוקפת ים ונהר וגידודי הים והנהר נעשו בבנין ע"י אדם


However, in Rav Michoel Dov last teshuvah (Toras Chemed, siman 3, dated September 8, 1951) regarding eruvin, we can discern that he was only proposing an eruv that would have merely encompassed the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg:


נסעתי דרך ברוקלין כו', ודרך העברה ראיתי כי אותו הגשר שבא מקווינס אל
הוויליאמסבורג גשר,[3] קרוב להגשר ואינו חסר אלא מעט, כשיגמר זה הגשר יהי וויליאמסבורג מוקף מג' מחיצות שלימות, נעשות בידי אדם, ומחיצה הרביעית יהי' פי תקרה שיש בה משום כמה שמות של היתר. ואפילו עתה שלא נגמרה, לא חסר אלא להתיר איזה פרצות במקום שיש ג' מחיצות שלימות


The above demonstrates that Rav Michoel Dov followed Rav Yonasan Stief’s suggestion (in 1950) that it would be less difficult to erect an eruv for a single neighborhood (Mahari Stief, siman 68; see also Yeshiva University Archives, MS. 1300A for the original teshuvah written to Rav Eisenstadt). Rav Yonasan stated:


ביחוד 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


This corresponds with what is cited in the name of Rav Libush Gottesman shlita, a talmid of Rav Michoel Dov (Chai Anochi LeOlam, p. 72). Rav Libush states that his rebbe mentioned to him that the Satmar rebbe zt”l only objected to an eruv encompassing a whole city (borough) but not to an eruv enclosing just a single neighborhood such as Williamsburg. Moreover, Rav Michoel Dov added that the Satmar rebbe’s objection was more of a recommendation that it would be better to just include a neighborhood and that the rebbe’s objection was not regarding halachic issues at all. Additionally, there are three alternate maps from Rav Michoel Dov that were published in Chai Anochi LeOlam (p. 149-151; see below) depicting his plan for an eruv encompassing only the neighborhood of Williamsburg.

Moreover, Rav Libush Gottesman stated (ibid., p. 72) that the fact that, at the time, Rav Michoel Dov did not established an eruv in Williamsburg was not because the rabbanim withdraw their support only that they were not able to do so. It is discernable as well from Rav Michoel Dov’s teshuvos, that he attempted to minimize the need for tzuras hapesachim by making use of many existing structures for the boundaries of the eruv. In his first teshuvah, he even suggested that delasos reuyos l’hinael would possibly be more agreeable to the city government than tzuras hapesachim. This is a clear indication of how difficult it was until that time to establish an eruv and why the plans never materialized since they always required some modifications requiring tzuras hapesachim.

In a letter of Rav Michoel Dov’s published in Chai Anochi LeOlam (p. 148 dated May 20, 1949), he disagreed with Rav Eisenstadt arguing that it would be more logical to first establish an eruv in Brooklyn and then in Manhattan. A Brooklyn eruv, he declared, involves the erecting of some tzuras hapesachim. Consequentially, uninformed people would recognize that an action was needed to establish the eruv. On the other hand, the proposed Manhattan eruv did not involve any physical action such as erecting tzuras hapesachim but only required a p’sak that would allow the eruv to be established. Consequentially, uninformed people might question what concrete steps were taken by the rabbanim to alter the existing conditions that had precluded the establishment of an eruv earlier. However, Rav Michoel Dov did allow an eruv in Manhattan and was posthumously included on a list of rabbanim who supported an eruv there (Divrei Menachem, O.C. vol. 2, p. 10).

In 1956 and 1959, the Shatzer rebbe, Rav Yosef Dovid Moskowitz zt”l, published his sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan (Divrei Menachem, O.C. vol. 2, summary) and stated that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York (Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan, p. 169).
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[1] Rav Michoel Dov is possibly referring to the Broadway El which runs from the Williamsburg Bridge and connects via the Broadway Junction to the Canarsie Line (L) and then terminates at the Rockaway Parkway station.
[2] For a defense of Rav Michoel Dov’s position see Minchas Yitzchok, 7:24; Pri Temarim, 6:1 p. 27 and Sha’ashu’ie Oraisa, 1 p. 158.
[3] Rav Michoel Dov is probably referring to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway which was under construction at the time.

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The following maps were published in Chai Anochi LeOlam, p. 149-151 without the descriptive text that follows each image. Click on image to enlarge.