Thursday, July 31, 2008

Part 2: The Truth About Rav Chaim Michoel Dov Weissmandel Zt”l and a Eruv in New York City

Continued from part 1

In the books Yalkut Michtavim and Ish Chamudos, the anti-eruv group claims that Rav Michoel Dov withdrew his support for city eruvin because of the Satmar rebbe’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.] 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:
They claim (Di Tzeitung, November 26, 1999 p. 44 and Yalkut Michtavim, pp. 35-36) that when Rav Michoel Dov wrote (Toras Chemed, siman 2, dated August 19, 1951) that he was not issuing a p’sak and stated that from the time he wrote his first teshuvah, the issue has since been presented to the great poskim, Rav Michoel Dov was deferring to the Satmar rebbe’s wishes that an eruv cannot be established.
These are the facts:
• Even from Rav Michoel Dov’s first teshuvah (ibid., siman 1, dated April 13, 1949) we see that he was not issuing a p’sak. Therefore, when he wrote in the later teshuvah (ibid., siman 2, dated August 19, 1951) that he was not issuing a p’sak, Rav Michoel Dov was not indicating that he was deferring to anyone; he was only reiterating what he said from the beginning.
• From Rav Michoel Dov’s first teshuvah written on April 13, 1949, we see that he advocated that they enlist Rav Yonasan Stief to issue a p’sak regarding an eruv for Brooklyn because he considered Rav Yonasan the ideal posek. Consequentially, there can be no doubt that Rav Michoel Dov in his August 19, 1951 teshuvah was referring to Rav Yonasan when he stated that the issue has since [the time he wrote his first teshuvah on April 13, 1949] been presented to the great poskim because by now Rav Yonasan had become involved in the Brooklyn eruv (Mahari Stief, siman 68 was written on May 25, 1950).
• Way after Rav Michoel Dov wrote his last teshuvah, it was well known that he supported an eruv in New York. Even in 1956 and 1959, the Shatzer rebbe, published in his sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York.
• In 1960, the rabbanim who backed an eruv for Manhattan included Rav Michoel Dov on a kol korei of rabbanim who supported an eruv there. Clearly even after Rav Michoel Dov’s passing in late 1957, it was an accepted fact that he supported an eruv until the very end. (Isn’t it strange that until 1999 there is not one written word about Rav Michoel Dov withdrawing his support for eruvin in Brooklyn?)
• Even after Rav Michoel Dov wrote this letter stating that the issue has since been presented to the great poskim (Toras Chemed, siman 2, dated August 19, 1951) he penned an additional letter supporting an eruv in Brooklyn (ibid., siman 3, dated September 8, 1951). There can be no doubt that Rav Michoel Dov continued to support the establishment of a Brooklyn eruv to the very end.

2. The allegation:
They state (Yalkut Michtavim, pp. 34-35; see also Ish Chamudos p. 420) that many people claimed to have heard the following story from Rav Avraham Chaim Spitzer shlita. In the year 1949 or 1950, the Satmar rebbe was at a bris in the Yeshivah of Nitra in Mount Kisco, NY. Later the Satmar rebbe locked himself in the Yeshivah’s seforim room with Rav Michoel Dov and debated the merits of a (Williamsburg) eruv the entire night. Rav Spitzer relates that at approximately three o’clock he awoke and overheard the conversation. After some debate regarding a Tosfos in Eruvin, the Satmar rebbe declared that he would never permit an eruv here (Williamsburg) since roughly sixty years ago an eruv was established (in Manhattan by Rav Yehoshua Seigel zt”l) with approbations from Gedolei Yisroel that utilized bridges (elevated train tracks). These elevated tracks were later demolished, but nevertheless people continued to carry (in Manhattan). Following this, the Satmar rebbe repeated that he would never agree to an eruv here (Williamsburg). They add that Rav Spitzer claimed that he remembers the story as if it happened today. This tale in Yalkut Michtavim is cited as primary testimony that the Satmar rebbe was opposed to eruvin anywhere in New York.
These are the facts:
• This story is pure fiction. Rav Seigel utilized the natural riverbanks for three sides of the boundaries of the eruv and on the fourth side, the Third Avenue El. The only mechitzah that the Satmar rebbe could have been referring to that was later demolished was the Third Avenue El. However, the Third Avenue El was not demolished prior to 1950 as this story charges but actually August 3, 1955, as reported by the New York Times (see Part 1: The Truth About the Satmar Rebbe and a Williamsburg Eruv; see also The Subway, p. 249). Just as this fundamental tale regarding the Satmar rebbe in Yalkut Michtavim is a fabrication so too all stories contained therein should be treated as such.
• As stated above way after this supposed story happened it was well known that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York. Even in 1956 and 1959 the Shatzer rebbe, published in his sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York.
• As mentioned above, even after this supposed story took place Rav Michoel Dov was included on a kol korei of rabbanim [1960] who supported a Manhattan eruv.
• Rav Michoel Dov wrote a letter (Toras Chemed, siman 3, dated September 8, 1951) in support of an eruv even after this supposed story happened. Clearly he continued to support an eruv after this imaginary story happened.

3. The allegation:
They state (Ish Chamudos, p. 420), without attribution, that at a conference of rabbanim regarding establishing an eruv in Williamsburg, the Satmar rebbe expressed his objection to an eruv. After hearing the Satmar rebbe’s opposition, Rav Michoel Dov, then and there, acceded to his wishes.
These are the facts:
• Even the Yalkut Michtavim, which has added many fictional rabbanim conferences regarding the Willamsburg eruv, never claimed that Rav Michoel Dov participated in any assembly regarding eruvin. The first fictional conference mentioned in Yalkut Michtavim (I will prove that this is a tall tale when I post Part 2: The Truth About the Satmar Rebbe and a Williamsburg Eruv) in which the Satmar rebbe participated was around late 1957 to 1958, and they did not mention that Rav Michoel Dov was present. (It’s important to remember, as well, that Rav Michoel Dov was no longer alive by late 1957.) Clearly this conference, as stated in Ish Chamudos, is fiction.
• As mentioned above, even after this supposed conference took place, Rav Michoel Dov was included on a kol korei of rabbanim [1960] who supported a Manhattan eruv.
• In allegation number 2, they claim that Rav Michoel Dov was apprised by the Satmar rebbe himself, somewhere between 1949 and 1950, that he objected to a Willamsburg eruv. Why would Rav Michoel Dov need to accede to the Satmar rebbe’s wishes at this later conference of rabbanim if he previously desisted from being involved with eruvin?

4. The allegation:
In Yalkut Michtavim (p. 188), there is a letter from one of the Gabbaim of the first Satmar rebbe. He claims that in the year 1950, he was present when Rav Michoel Dov came to the Satmar rebbe to discuss the matter of a New York and Brooklyn eruv, and the rebbe declared that he was fervently against eruvin in both New York and Brooklyn for many reasons.
These are the facts:
• This story never happened. From Rav Michoel Dov’s teshuvos, we can discern that he did not end his involvement with these eruvin in 1950 as this story would have us believe since he continued to write teshuvos regarding eruvin at least to the end of 1951.
• In allegation number 2, they claim that Rav Michoel Dov was apprised by the Satmar rebbe himself in the Nitra Yeshivah in Mount Kisco, NY, that he objected to a Willamsburg eruv. This does not jive with this argument that Rav Michoel Dov first acceded to the Satmar rebbe’s wishes when he came to the Satmar rebbe to discuss these eruvin.
• As mentioned above, well after this supposed story happened, it was well known that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York. Even in 1956 and 1959, the Shatzer rebbe, published in his sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York.
• As stated above, even after this supposed meeting took place, Rav Michoel Dov was included on a kol korei of rabbanim [1960] who supported a Manhattan eruv.

5. The allegation:
In Yalkut Michtavim (p. 36), there is a letter from a rav stating that when Rav Michoel Dov initially wanted to establish an eruv, the Satmar rebbe told him that the harm would be greater than the gain. Rav Michoel Dov immediately desisted from his involvement with eruvin.
These are the facts:
• According to the dates on Rav Michoel Dov’s teshuvos, his involvement in the Brooklyn eruv spanned approximately a year and a half, from April 13, 1949, until September 8, 1951 (Toras Chemed, siman 1-3). Clearly, Rav Michoel Dov did not immediately cease to be involved with eruvin. There is no doubt that this story is a work of fiction.
• As stated above, well after this supposed story happened, it was well known that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York. Even in 1956 and 1959, the Shatzer rebbe, published in his sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York.
• As mentioned above, even after this supposed story took place, Rav Michoel Dov was included on a kol korei of rabbanim [1960] who supported a Manhattan eruv.

6. The allegation:
They state (Ish Chamudos, p. 420), without attribution, that one of Rav Michoel Dov’s talmidim was driving his rebbe from Mount Kisco to New York, and in middle of the journey, Rav Michoel Dov saw that a bridge [elevated track] that could have been used for an eruv [through pi tikra] was being removed. At that time, Rav Michoel Dov acknowledged that the Satmar rebbe was correct when he declared that since in America they are constantly altering the infrastructure, we cannot use these structures for the boundaries of an eruv.
These are the facts:
• It is curious that the editor of Ish Chamudos left out the name of this talmid, and I think I know why. This story was originally published in Di Tzeitung (November 26, 1999 p. 45),[4] and the talmid’s name was given as Rav Libush Gottesman shlita. However, in Chai Anochi LeOlam (p. 72) Rav Libush was cited as declaring that this story never happened. What is even more telling is the fact that Rav Libush was quoted in Ish Chamudos ― that his rebbe gave him the responsibility to write a protocol of all the shitos that would allow an eruv to be established in Brooklyn ― on the same page where this tale is mentioned, but yet they failed to associate him with the story. Clearly the editor knew that this story is fictional, but nevertheless chose to mention it to further his own personal agenda against eruvin.
• As stated above, even after this supposed story took place, Rav Michoel Dov was included on a kol korei of rabbanim [1960] who supported a Manhattan eruv.

7. The allegation:
In Di Tzeitung (November 26, 1999 p. 44), there is a mention of a story from a rav in Williamsburg. He claimed that, in 1954, Rav Michoel Dov gave a public drasha stating that he had planned to establish an eruv in Manhattan and in Williamsburg, but that once he was apprised that the Satmar rebbe objected to an eruv, he retracted his ruling. In Yalkut Michtavim (p. 36), there is an additional allegation from this rav that, in 1955, he was at a shiur on Meseches Eruvin given by his rebbe Rav Michoel Dov who mentioned that he wanted to establish an eruv in New York but retracted after he heard that the Satmar rebbe objected. There is an additional story from this rav in his letter published in Yalkut Michtavim (p. 139) where he writes that, in 1956, his rebbe mentioned that he wanted to establish an eruv in Brooklyn, but the Satmar rebbe opposed it. Rav Michoel Dov added that one of the reasons why the Satmar rebbe refused to support an eruv was that people were carrying in California because of the Manhattan eruv without recognizing that there was any distinction between the two locales.
These are the facts:
• The Shatzer Rebbe ― the only person to mention something regarding the Satmar rebbe and eruvin in the Satmar rebbe’s lifetime ― wrote that, in 1955, he spoke to the Satmar rebbe (see Hamaor, Tishrei 1955) and discussed with him all of his concerns. The issue that people were carrying in California because of Manhattan was never mentioned.
• No other talmid of Rav Michoel Dov’s knows about this supposed drasha and shiur where Rav Michoel Dov retracted.
• Even after these supposed stories happened, it was a well known fact that Rav Michoel Dov was involved in establishing a New York eruv. Even in 1956 and 1959, the Shatzer rebbe published in his sefer Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin Manhattan that Rav Michoel Dov supported an eruv in New York.
• As mentioned above, even after this supposed drasha and shiur took place, Rav Michoel Dov was included on a kol korei of rabbanim [1960] who supported a Manhattan eruv.

While I realize that my debasing of all these allegations seems so fantastic considering that there are many people who claim to have heard that Rav Michoel Dov retracted his support for an eruv out of deference to the Satmar rebbe, I would suggest that one take into account that all these people are alleging something even more fantastic. These people are arguing that Rav Michoel Dov, Rav Yonasan Stief and all twelve rabbanim ― members of the Hisachdus Harabbanim who knew the Satmar rebbe’s opinion better than all the contemporary rabbanim and would not go against his wishes ― who wrote letters in support of the Ratzferder rav’s Williamsburg eruv (between the years of 1972-1981 Otzros Yerushalayim, 298-300 and Al Mitzvas Eruv, p. 159-194) retracted their opinion. This unprecedented claim, many years after the fact, with no written proof is indicative to the length the authors of Yalkut Michtavim and Ish Chamudos would go to support their personal agenda against eruvin. In light of this, my argument is not anywhere near as fantastic as their allegations are.

The biography Ish Chamudos (at least regarding the issue of eruvin) is a redaction of history and is an embarrassment to Rav Michoel Dov’s name. As can be discerned from the above, Rav Michoel Dov considered the establishment of a Brooklyn eruv of extreme importance and campaigned to bring his plan to fruition. Instead of embracing this fact, the writers of this book capitulated to the current trend to be anti-eruv and rewrote their ancestor’s true desires.

In summation, regarding the allegations set forth in Yalkut Michtavim, the shoddiness of their revisionism is beyond belief and should be discernable to all. There is no doubt that Rav Michoel Dov was one of the great proponents of eruvin for both 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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[4] This allegation was made by the well known writer in Di Tzeitung who goes under the penname Yisroel M. Sofer. This writer is a notorious redactor of history and can’t be trusted regarding any matter and much more so when the issue is eruvin. His whole series regarding eruvin in New York, that ran from November 26, 1999 through December 31, 1999, was cut out of whole cloth as can be determined from the fact that they do not follow chronologically at all.