Thursday, January 31, 2013



As a member of the Torah True community, I recognize only one day of commemoration for all of the tragedies in Jewish history – the Ninth day of Av – Tisha B’Av. 
The fragment which I want to share with my readers has nothing to do with any other recent or other days of remembrance.
The reason why, all of the sudden, I want to share something with you that I have never written about or posted on my blog is simple: I only recently found the book, three pages of which I will post below. It is the first book about the Holocaust that I have read in probably the last 25 years. The memoir was written by Dr. Hillel Seidman, the archivist of the Judenratt in the Warsaw Ghetto which was the biggest Ghetto under Nazi occupation.
Some 25 years ago I read a memoir from the Warsaw Ghetto written by an eye witness, Henryk Makover. He was the chief doctor of the Warsaw ghetto Jewish police. After the liquidation of the Ghetto he survived the rest of the War on the Polish side of the hideous division wall. Later he worked in Institute of Immunology located across the street from the Military hospital where as Continence Objector; I served my army substitute service.
He was an assimilated Jew and his descriptions of the events in the Ghetto bore a strong mark of Weltanschauung, of the Jew estranged from his heritage, similar in nature to the famous Emanuel Ringelblum. Dr. Makover’s diaries give over the impression that somehow by describing the horrible reality of the Ghetto where his brothers were dying day and night deprived of basic human needs, he finds almost justification for his own moral failings. It seemed as if by describing children dying from hunger in front of a bakery or Jewish policemen stabbing people marching to Umshlagplatz he was trying to say that since there is no compassion there is no morality and therefore he, too, is free from what his ancestors considered moral.
I know that what I just wrote may look simplistic but I believe that in many, although not all, of the cases of renegades from the Jewish faith, it works along those lines. I will stress however, that I recognize the fact that people may lose their faith due to some events which no human being is able to understand or even grasp.
When I saw the book, fragments of which I reprinted below, it didn’t pull me at first. I was somewhat immune since at the dawn of my twenties, soon after I discovered the horrible past of the land where I was born and raised, I had retrieved all possible material about the Holocaust. From when I was eighteen, I had read every book or press release, I had watched every documentary and listened to every radio broadcast.  Most of all, I spoke to everyone who had something to say about the topic – Jew and Gentile alike.
What I came to appreciate in this particular fragment of memory, recorded for posterity on paper, is the Emuna, Emuna of  the children of Abraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov.
Those words and events took place exactly 70 years ago in January 1943.

From "The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries" of Dr. Hillel Seidman


Orphaned Sefarim

Like hungry and exhausted travelers braving the snow and freezing cold, we creep past abandoned apartment blocks and courtyards searching for sefarim from a lost civilization to transfer to the Judenrat archives. We enter the second story of 28 Muranowska Street where we have been told there are many sefarim. Indeed, large bookcases are filled to overflowing with sacred literature. I open a Gemara at random and read "Shaiyach l’Rabi Yosef Albinger — Belonging to R. Yosef Albinger.- The next sefer has the same inscription, and I recall this is where Kehillah committee member Albinger lived.
In fact during the War, the Sochatchover Rebbe, R. Dovid Bornstein, zt"I, secretly stayed here, too. His grandson Nosson Bahariah, a talented young man, managed to conceal him throughout the terror, and the Rebbe merited to survive the most difficult stages of the deportations. The Rebbe died from causes and received a proper Jewish burial (in the Ghetto this was known as a - luxury death"). I actually took part in the Sochatchover Rebbe’s levaya, but only a small crowd was present.
Now I find a small sefer Torah in the bookcase and the tables are full of Chasidic sefarim, Gemaras, and Zohar as well as rabbinical response - a classical Chasidic household. Everything has already been looted: furniture, utensils, and possessions. Only the sefarim remain. Apparently Albinger enjoyed other interests too. We discover copies of the publication: Hatzefira. Hamagid, Hamelitz and Hayom. Ali of it is carted off to the archives.
We cross over to Nalewki Street and enter the Chevra Shass Shul at number 41. Piles of sefurim lie heaped on the tables and benches. Many are worn and tattered from heavy use — how much Torah has been learned here! Then we visit the Sardinar Shtiebl at 15 Nalewki Street. Here we find many siddurirm, machzorim, Tehillim, and a few Chumashim.
One imagines how all these prayer books must have absorbed decades of tefillah — how many tear-laden sighs were uttered here! How many heartfelt tefillas! This shtiebl used to be filled with minyanim all day long. Where are all those many Jews now! Can I still hear their faint echo here?
After this sobering experience we walked to Nowiniarska Street where HaRav Avraham Weinberg (also popularly known as "Reb Avrumele Stitziner") lived. He was a famous laimdan, renowned too for his piety, a talmid of the Avnei Nezer (the first Sochatchover Rebbe), and one of Poland's prominent rabbanim. I recollect his noble appearance, which spoke volumes of spiritualism. He was fairly short, but his deep-set eyes shone with an ethereal light. He spent day and night studying or teaching talmidim; though he was far removed from everyday affairs, he was not a "batlan."
I remember when the Kehillah shammas., the famous "Reb Don," once attempted to deliver Reb Avrumele's stipend and reported to me that his door was locked. He surmised that he was probably working officially as a "shoemaker" at Schultz since Reb Avrumele's brother (surprisingly, not religious) Was a large factory owner and a top manager at Schultz. But "Reb Don" was wrong. Reb Avraham Weinberg remained at home during the German occupation — learning diligently until he and his family were deported, after the 2nd of August. Apparently he was taken in the middle of his shiur, since a number of Gemaras Bechoros are laid out on his table still open at the page at which they were disturbed.
in my imagination the empty room reverberates to the ancient tune "Hoi, omar Rava, Hoi, v’omar Abaye - Rava said... and Abave replied...." But the familiar cadences sound mournful and depressed. The abandoned Gemaras stare at us reproachfully, asking those eternal questions: Why? What for? These tomes of Talmud mount a challenge for which we have no adequate answer. I order my team to leave the Gemaras as they are, untouched, as if they were holy relics.
Perhaps one day, when a better world arises from the ruins of the present one, we shall gather the world leaders who now remain so silent and persuade them to file past these orphaned Gemaras, abandoned in the middle of a sugya, and see if they can answer these penetrating questions. Where were you, we shall ask them, when this pure innocent world was being destroyed? Let those who pontificate endlessly about democracy and justice give a decent reply to these tattered and well-worn Gemaras.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pan Twardowski, Faust, Matasyahu and Mephispheles

Maybe after reading this title all has been said already. Indeed for those that know the story or Faust, Dr. Faustus or Pan Twardowski the message of the title is clear.

From all the personalities listed above Pan (Mr.) Twardowski is the lesser known one, especially to those living outside of Poland but I will remember him perhaps forever.
The Polish romantic writer Adam Mickiewicz wrote a poem about this anti hero and when I was in school we received a home assignment to study the poem until we could recite it from memory, Now that my children are grown I can admit that I almost never did any home work Not only didn’t I do homework but for years I didn’t even use notebooks to take notes during classes. My teachers were quite upset with me, but they lacked any understanding of why I was unable to write properly especially in the Polish language which is extremely twisted. Well, we were living in the times when understanding of dyslexia or dysgraphia was unknown. So… we receive an assignment to memorize the Pan Twardowski poem. And it is quiet a long poem, the longest poem that I have ever memorized! I got one of the best marks in my life for I recited it with ‘feeling”. Once I decided to do something it would come quite easy for me. Otherwise my records at school were more than awful.

Pan Twardowski was a legendary noble man who had a talent to perform magic tricks and eventually sold his soul to Chort – Slavic kind of devil. Pan Twardowski is the Polish version of the German Faust story written by Goethe. In Goethe’s story, Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles for fame and money. Goethe also wrote at the time when romance was the most popular literature genre in Europe. From what I remember from school and from a theater performance that I saw over 25 years ago, the Faust story goes something like this: His Faust wants to achieve happiness which he believes will be attained when he gains the love of Gretchen and for this he was ready to sell his soul. At the end of the story things get rather messy as he destroys the tranquility of Gretchen’s family and only her true love and Christian forgiveness were able to save the Faust’s soul from the torments of hell.

Thomas Mann, another famous German writer wrote a different story based on the legend of Faust – the story of Dr. Faustus. I would say that this story dressed in novel, carries a mark of post existential period of European philosophy, when some of the ideas of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and later Huserl and Heidegger were popularized by the publication of the novels.  Thomas Mann’s hero doesn’t aspire for magic trickery or just romantic (somatic) love, he wants to understand the meaning of life, and this is what he is ready to sell his soul for.

Depending on the winds blowing around the globe at different times people crave different ideals and desire different earthly aspects of life. Even Faustus if I remember correctly is involved with a woman, so in the end it is always about fame, domination, money and sex.

If you read however all those narratives from the beginning, we see in those stories personalities of almost crystal clear honesty and their only desire is the good of humanity. Somewhere though, along the way, something happened which turned these people to Chort, Mephistopheles, Devil or as we would say in the Hebrew, Sitra Achra – the 'Other Side'.

In today’s days, what our body and corrupted minds desire, is not that much different than what was desired in years before, it has just different manifestations. Every time I see pictures of people standing in line somewhere in Hollywood to get their chance, their big break, it stuns me! People are ready to do anything, including things that go beyond humiliation to join the monstrous mind controlling machine north of LA. They desire to gain their moment of attention like nothing else in their lives. And to a certain extent I don’t blame them; they didn’t get any attention from their parents, because on average they don’t have family. They don’t have a father and mother that can teach them proper values…any values. The only thing they have is a huge TV with hundreds of channels of s…ewage on them as Roger Waters use to sing in his famous song. And then millions of zombies spend their lives watching these and other shows of stupidity and shamelessness.
What boggles my mind is, how some of us who claim to be part of the Torah world are falling into this honey trap that is filled with decay and excrement? (I am not talking now about our holy people who deliberately as an act of separation from this oilom hasheker – the world of falsehood, don’t even have TV’s)

In our Jewish realm we also have a few stories (not novels but historical events) which illustrate this path of self-destruction. In Jewish stories however (Lehavdil), it is usually not limited to the selling of someone’s soul to the other side for private gain, rather it is usually the story of the wholesale selling of Jewish souls to the sitra achra, which usually follows the rejection of the Only True Source.  
While Shaul is an example of one such tragic individual who did not schlep neshamos after him, this can not be said about Yochanan Kohen Gadol or Menelaus who influenced an entire generation to leave the Torah and turn to the idolatrous Hellenistic life style – though not much religion was involved, this time the subject of worship was human body and human mind.
We will never understand the story of Acher who according to the Gemara was judged by Heaven in a special manner allowing him to enter gehinnom for purification. The stories of Hanania, Shabsay Tzvi or other detractors of True Torah Judaism closer to our times are tragic and catastrophic. Tragic, not only because of the personal calamity of these individuals, but also catastrophic as thousands of other Yiden, lost their bond to the Eternal One because of their unshakable trust in their false leaders.

I was watching the career of my namesake Matisyahu from the very beginning. While I didn’t consider the first album of Matisyahu as something artistically special (maybe, because I like my reggae performed by guys from Jamaica and not from Westchester!), according to Jewish music standards it was still a great achievement and a step up in professionalism and artistic performance.  I was surprised though, of the rise of Matasyahu’s star in the non Jewish music market but understood that it was in a large part a result of him being something totally exotic to the music canals and studios.

I always wondered how a bal teshuva like Matis could place himself in an environment that is so viciously opposed to our values. I couldn’t understand how someone who learned Torah for years is still lacking basic knowledge of Tsniyus and Shmiras Aynayim!

Than Matisyahu left Chabad and I heard that he was scouting around in Karlin Stolin. It happens to be that I have some contacts and venues of inside information in this Chasidus and I knew that if he wouldn’t be serious about his life as a Chasid they wouldn’t tolerate him no matter how open minded they are. Was he perhaps looking for some depth which he didn't find in Chabad? Or was Karlin just a step to an even more exotic look and behavior? I don’t know but it was also at this time that I saw some alarming interviews with him which clearly showed his disillusionment not only with this or that Chasidic group but with Torah and Yidishkeit in general.

We, gerim and baaley teshuva have a tendency to schlep our prior experiences and impressions with us to Torah observing community. It can be ok as long as we remember that we have come to learn from those who have had the Torah for generations without interruption. We can share with them our enthusiasm and some chidush from time to time but it is them, our leaders and frum Yiden in general who serve us as guides to follow.

In interviews from a few years ago, Matisyahu didn’t seem to understand this fundamental truth and expressed some strange thoughts which were perhaps undetected by most, but for someone like me who knows the thought process of people who join the Jewish world, it was clear that he is on a dangerous path. In addition, the environment which he was surrounded himself with, requires superhuman moral powers or even a miracle to keep him straight on the path of Torah.

His last appearance in the movie ‘Possession’ proved to me that he treated his Chasidic appearance instrumentally, using it for monetary gain and nothing else. His participation in picturing the Chasidic word as a caricatured reality of dark rooms filled up with Jews that were pushed up from the street by some barkers is just horrible. Using Judaism or any aspect of it for some foolish horror story (more foolish than even other Hollywood products) is no less than treason and a rejection of what every honest Jew treasures most. The pronunciation of Hashem’s holy Name for monetary gain leaves no doubt who the guy with big yarmulke and long payos really is. He can’t fool us, but he certainly fooled thousands if not millions of people. And by presenting a distorted picture of the revelation of Torah, he created a tremendous Chillul Hashem.

From the events which unfolded last year, we know that Matisyahu might be a superstar but he’s definitely not superhuman. As great as his accomplishments were in causing thousands of kids to seek a higher level of life values and spirituality, even greater was his own destruction and failure and the disappointment of all those young people who saw their hero, their leader, rejecting and changing something which for years was a symbol of his spirituality. I don’t buy his explanations that his external appearance doesn’t matter and only what he is inside matters. If he looked as he did it was probably important to him, wasn’t it? It was an external declaration of his convictions and if he changed it, his convictions changed as well. Only stubborn fanatics can follow every move of their leader with blind admiration like those who followed Shabsai in his conversion to Islam or Jones in the Guyana jungle.
While the damage which the fall of Matisyahu wrought, is not of Shabsai Tzvi proportions the damage and indirect influence is still developing.

We are the last group in society at large who still appreciate the word ‘sage’. This is so because we still have a few sages among us and we treasure them and keep them in the highest esteem.
Today the sages in the secular world hiding out in universities are not asked anymore about lessons of history, about our social problems or future of this country and humanity. In the Hollywood culture of today who are the leaders and “Sages” that are asked profound questions? People with brains the size and pattern of a ping pong ball. The Bibers, Rihanas and Lohans - the singers and performers! Who may have G-d given talent to sing or perform but their talent is located in their throats and not in the organ located above it! They can sing but shouldn't advise us about social or political issues! They only know things that come from their kishkes! And all the well dressed and smart appearing journalists asking them such questions are even bigger idiots than those whom they ask. Idiots – are those that ask and idiots are those who answer!

The old Jewish saying goes that – “As the goyim go, so go the yiden.” We are witnessing already this poisonous wind blowing in our streets. We see some performers who because of their popularity imagine that they possess not only superior Chochma, and life experience but they even have the humility which allows them to lead our young along the proper path. Meanwhile they are selling their souls to Mephistopheles or Hormuz (In Talmud Ahura Mazda represents evil) or whoever the name of the 'Other Side' is. They are only performers and they should stay performers. Warm our hearts with song & dance, if you learn enough and have some spiritual qualities you can even lead the minyan but that’s it! Leave the leadership to leaders qualified to lead! If you think we don’t have them in our generation than do nothing! Less you cause even greater harm to your people.

Matys Weiser