The Shabbos Blizzard – Holding Down the Urban Fort

As I trod for several blocks through a few feet of snow and over waist-high snow banks, heading to Shacharis and then again to Maariv at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ/”Breuer’s”) in the face of a fierce north wind that drove the rapidly falling snow with extreme speed and intensity onto every available surface, so as to assure that any attempts to shovel sidewalks would continue to be in vain, I knew that I would be struck by the impact of this underestimated Shabbos blizzard on the minyanim of Washington Heights. After arriving at KAJ and removing my whitened and soaking outerwear in the vestibule, I entered the shul and behold – virtually everything was the same. Almost everyone was there on time to daven, including men and women who live up steep hills at relatively great distances; Pirchei and Bnos afternoon groups remained on schedule and were well attended; the Avos U’vanim learning program on Motzei Shabbos was pretty full as well, with most everyone there on time, including many men and young boys who live up a steep hill almost half a mile away. One would never know that was a powerful blizzard was raging outside, for on the inside was an unstoppable routine of Avodas Hashem, without compromise, deficiency or delay. This is the impact that struck me and that strikes me every time the community faces a major weather challenge.

I davened Mincha and learned on Motzei Shabbos at a local Nusach Sefard shteibel (Dombrov West) that has much membership overlap with KAJ. Same story there – regular minyanim, same very elderly, middle-aged and young men. What blizzard?…

What is at the root of this sense of commitment?

Although I am not a native of the neighborhood, a friend of mine who is a third-generation “Washington Heightser” exchanged a few words with me after Avos U’vanim, and was shocked at the thought of not going to shul or to Avos U’vanim during a blizzard (unless it is very patently hazardous or the like). “Would a person stay home from work? Of course not. Then why can’t he go to shul!?” was the “obvious” reply.

Although such an attitude is far from obvious to others, it bespeaks a mindset permeated with a charge of “Na’aseh v’nishma” of the highest order, such that one does not deliberate, calculate, consider, weigh the factors, equivocate or make “cheshbonos” when it comes to Torah life; there is no option otherwise – performing the Mitzvos in full form is as much of a person’s being as are his bones, muscles and arteries. It is as natural as breathing. No second thoughts or “shtick”.

This same attitude of no-compromise, and of not even contemplating the idea that others may indeed deliberate and “make cheshbonos”, is what has sustained our nation throughout the millenia. Whether it is the mesiras nefesh of going to shul and learning Torah with one’s children no matter what, of raising generations of large families in an urban neighborhood without an eiruv (KAJ and other local older shuls follow the p’sak that eiruvin are not effective for Manhattan – such was the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of RIETS and his brother Rav Aharon, and so many others), or of living simple and unpretentious lives devoted to Hashem in a society filled with the allure of in-your-face materialism and excessive self-absorption, my local “Yekkishe” (and shteibel) community reminds and teaches me what Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim is all about.

While every Torah community has its own legitimate derech, religious expressions and spiritual values and emphases, which must be respected and appreciated, the lessons learned from the Shabbos blizzard in Washington Heights will always be with me, and, for over 3500 years, have indeed been with us all.






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22 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    Wow, you’d think no one of any stature ever thought an eruv was allowed in Manhattan.

    C’mon, you know better than that.

    The Soloveitchiks, for the record, did not approve of *any* city eruvin. Realizing this was not normative, they referred questions of eruvin to others. So that part is a bit misleading as well.

    • Jon Baker says:

      Also, unlike in Brooklyn (where he had to invent a chidush to ban eruvin), RMF explicitly made an exception for those who used and certified the  Manhattan eruv because “you have reliable sources”.

      • Jacob Suslovich says:

        Are you saying that R Moshe Feinstein wanted to prohibit an eiruv in Brooklyn for some nefarious reason but since halachicaly there is no basis for doing so he concocted a spurious chidush to accomplish that goal? If that is not what you are saying, then please clarify.

      • mycroft says:

        A good example of how psak works. It is obvious to a child of 3 that Manhattan objectively has more problems of reshut harabbim than Brooklyn. However, RMF because he knew and liked those who were matir theManhattan eruv-to use R Moshe Tendlers words while discussing a potential separate UWS eruv that he was involved in attempting to set up 3 decades ago or so’MY SCHVER THOUGHT THE TORAL MANHATTAN ERUV WAS WRONG MIDVAR MISHNA BUT COULD NOT SAY THAT BECUASE THERE WERE AL ME SHYISMOCH IN FAVOR OF IT”

    • mycroft says:

      “The Soloveitchiks, for the record, did not approve of *any* city eruvin. Realizing this was not normative, they referred questions of eruvin to others.”

      I am not sure I disagree with Nachum but I would express it differently. The Sooloveitchiks followed Brisk and Rambam on  eruvin thus as a practical matter no area would be able to have an eruv.  The Solveitchiks di not expect that people who were not Briskers should follow Brisker non generally accepted minhagim. Thus, the Rav would advise an American of European descent with no family minyan of putting tfillin on one way or another on chol hamoed to put on tfillin on chol hamoed.

      Thus, no expectation that general American kehillot should not have eruvin.

      Of interest that when the Rav was alive Boston did not have an eruv-the community felt it would not be right to have an eruv in which the person who most of residents of area believed was gadol hador would not use eruv. But after meah vesrim his family encouraged Boston to have an eruv-recognizing that minority chumras that are not generally accepted should not prevent others from benefiting.

    • dr. bill says:

      One i remember clearly as supporting the eruv was R. Menachem Kasher ztl.  An long article by YCT associated Rabbi Adam Mintz gives a more complete history.  RMF ztl said those who use it have authorities on whom they can depend; ultimately, the position of Rav Henkin ztl is arguable, IIRC.

      The Rav ztl and his brother ztl both did not use eruvin given their view based on Rambam and others that 600,000 was not required.  IIRC, RAS was slightly more adamant about his position; the Rav encouraged Rabbis to establish eruvim.

      • mycroft says:

        “One i remember clearly as supporting the eruv was R. Menachem Kasher ztl”

        see eg
        The Manhattan eruv : from the writings of Rav Menachem M. Kasher …

        Menahem Kasher; Shalom Carmy

        Hoboken, N.J. : Ktav Pub. House, 1986.

         Print book : English

      • Nachum says:

        It’s actually Mintz’ doctorate, which you can get online. R’ Rakeffet devoted many shiurim to the topic, partially basing himself on Mintz.

  2. mycroft says:

    ” raising generations of large families in an urban neighborhood without an eiruv (KAJ and other local older shuls follow the p’sak that eiruvin are not effective for Manhattan – such was the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of RIETS and his brother Rav Aharon, and so many others),”

    As I indicated elsewhere R Moshe Tendler was representing that according to RMF one could make many different eruvin in many of Manhattan’s neighborhoods.

    You are aware I assume of an eruv that many accept in the KAJ side of Washington Heights

    and certainly you accept the posek of the other WashingtonHeights eruv

  3. Ari Rieser says:

    Rabbi Gordimer should acknowledge the tireless efforts of the many Bennett Ave building superindentants and porters that worked non-stop all day to ensure sidewalks were shovelled and plowed so we could safely walk to shul. Whether or not you hold by the YU/Washington Heights Eruv, were it not for them and the NYC Dept of Sanitation very few Alte Yekkes would have braved the harsh elements and made it safely to shul. As an aside, the implication of this article is that only those who don’t abide by the Washington Heights Eruv had a true and uplifting Shabbos experience. This is myopic and offensive – as I and many of my Mt Sinai Jewish Center eruv-abiding and supporting correligionists (numbering well over 300 men and women) had a B”H tremendously uplifilting and beautiful shabbos during which we too were “mekabel ol malchus shamayim” in a way that, I daresay, was a nachas ruach to HKB”H and l’havdil, a made our venerble ancestors very proud of us as well.

    • Charlie Hall says:

      In my neighborhood of Riverdale in The Bronx, my wife and I got up early to make it to the 7am minyan while the snow totals were still small. By mincha time, there was more than a foot of snow on the ground and nether the street we live on nor the 115 steps that I take to walk up on the way to shul (The Bronx has hills!) had been plowed; it was simply impossible to get anywhere. I guess I could have spent the entire day shoveling the steps (snow isn’t muktzeh and there is an eruv that everyone agrees is kosher) but that was certainly not a Shabat-like activity! So I had a nice Third Meal with my wife  and davened at home.


      I learned after Shabat that a state of emergency had been declared as of 2:30pm Shabat afternoon; all but emergency driving had been banned and the only public transit running were the underground subways. Had I been a non-Jew trying to get to work Saturday afternoon I would have had to navigate down 160 unplowed steps with over a foot of snow and then another 1 1/2 miles of unplowed sidewalks including a 1300 foot long bridge over the Harlem Ship Channel through high winds to get to the closest underground subway station — our Subarus are great in a few inches of snow but not in a foot of unplowed snow. So the answer to the question, “Would a person stay home from work?” would be in almost all cases, “Of course”.

      Appreciating and fearing extremes of weather causes me to get a better idea of the power of my Creator. As I write this at least 30 are known dead as the result of this storm. There has been a lot of destruction, particularly along the Atlantic coast, and a bowling alley collapsed in Virginia (Baruch HaShem apparently nobody was in the building). There are times when one risks ones life for a mitzvah but this was not one of them, at least not this past Shabat where I was.

  4. Larry says:

    Is it my imagination or are 49.5% ofthe articles on this site about why Orthodox people are so great, 49.5% about why others (for Agudah this means religious zionist and for MO this means OO) are treif and 1% about why can’t we all just live together in harmony?

    Why do some articles need a secondary agenda that takes a needless dig at someone’s psak.  I fail to see the logical link between attending shul on in a snow storm and the halachic status of an eiruv.

    Some shuls on the Upper West Side of Manhattan hold by the Eiruv and some do not.  The UWS pulpit Rabbis who encourage their congregants to use the eiruv all received smicha from Yeshiva University and many teach there.

    I have a great love for the KAJ kehilla.  The kehilla has very high standards.  Not only is KAJ strict not to hold by the eiruv, but the kehilla requires a Hamish Hescher and eschews the OU whereever possible.

  5. S. Benson says:

    It was a beautiful Shabbos up here. Sure, there are problems and challenges created by the snow but it can be quite pretty.
    MSJC had a nice turn-out also. Rabbi Gordimer, next time you’re here, please drop by.

    I would have enjoyed your article much more if you had simply said “some shuls don’t hold by the eruv.”
    It’s informative, relevant, and helps paint the picture.
    Listing the various Rabbanim moved if from informative to judgmental: you went from describing a wonderful Shabbos dynamic to building a case.
    Why even go there? Take the high road.
    By implying that MSJC, YU, and a few others that hold by the eruv are wrong, you’ve engendered a backlash to what would have otherwise been a nice article.
    Now there are comments, arguments, replies, etc.


  6. dr. bill says:

    In all honesty, I have no problem with talmidim of the Rav ztl tilting right and saying, for example, that TuM is too risky given the current university environment.  I also have no problem with those tilting left and saying, for example, that the evolving position of women in overall society has implications for their roles in Jewish communities.  I also generally value those, both on the right and left, who respectfully disagree with the Rav and say so openly.   I object (violently at times) to those who take statements of the Rav from decades if not half a century ago and apply them without regard to changed circumstance.  Yet worse are those, many on the right, who recast the Rav in their image.  A young faculty member and graduate of JTS, who the Rav convinced to come teach at YU, said of one such individual, “I guess he never made it to the second floor.”  The Rav kept his secular library on the second floor.
    Reading that you attend KAJ amused me.  IMHO, KAJ reflects the philosophy of RSRH ztl as you reflect that of MO.   However, I do appreciate your rather minimal/almost non-existent level of moderation.

    • Nachum says:

      Not quite. The YU Beit Midrash is on the ground floor (there’s a new Beit Midrash in the next building, but the old one is still used) and the Gottesman Library, which is academic Jewish studies, was on the second floor. The Rav consulted this library often. The secular library was next door.

      The Gottesman Library is now in the same building as the general secular library (they occupy separate floors) and the high school library is now where it once was.

      • dr. bill says:

        Sorry you misread, i was not talking about YU, but is house in Boston.  His seforim were on the first floor; his (extensive) secular library was upstairs

      • Nachum says:

        Ah! I had half a feeling you meant that.

        Of course, to many such types, academic Jewish works are also no good.

  7. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Friends: I just tuned into the flurry of eruv-related comments. The intent of my article was to share a point of inspiration based on some observations – not to criticize or exclude. The parenthetical note about eruvin in Manhattan was just that – a note of halachic history, and nothing more.

    I have great respect and appreciation for the wonderful people of MSJC and all of the fabulous people in the neighborhood in general, and I hope that the article will be taken as spotlighting something positive, and nothing more.

    Very best to all.

  8. Sam Samuel says:

    While some have mentioned that the Rav would be opposed to all eruvin not just those for large cities, they should include both RAK and RAS in the mix. All three of these luminaries opposed the reliance on the criterion of shishim ribo because they followed the Mishkenos Yaakov over the Bais Ephraim. One has to realize that the minhag was to rely on the criterion of shishim ribo, witness the fact that just about all cities prior to WWII maintained eruvin and needed to rely on shishim ribo.
    People use the term Rambam eruvin without fully understanding the meaning of it. When one declares that he only carries in a Rambam eruv, he is referring to an eruv where the tzuras hapesachim are no more than ten tefachim apart from each other. However, many people who are machmir don’t realize that most large city eruvin are Rambam eruvin, since they make use of mechitzos habatim and only close the gaps between the houses. Consequently, as the Shulchan Aruch declares (O.C. 362:10), the Rambam would agree to the use of tzuras hapesachim to close gaps greater than ten amos when using mechitzos that are omed merubeh al haparutz.         
    Furthermore, RMF would have allowed an eruv for only part of Manhattan. The fact is even his talmidim erected eruvin in lower Manhattan for Succos (see Kuntres L’Torah V’Horaah, vol. 6, 1976).

  9. Raymond says:

    I am not supposed to say that I am not frum and so I guess I will not say it, but I have never allowed myself to get too far away from Orthodox Jewish life.  When I consider all the seemingly endless laws along with their many nuances that need to be followed in order to be legitimately considered a religious Jew, I continue to be amazed how anybody at all can live such a lifestyle.   It is not just that it takes such incredible self-discipline and uncompromising commitment, but that it is done day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year without ceasing.  Not only that, but it is almost always carried out in environments made of people who find such a lifestyle puzzling at best, and worthy of ridicule or even persecution at worst.  All of the pressure supports the side that is against living such a lifestyle.  I can sort of understand how people born into it might do it, because it is what they are used to, but people not born into it?  It just baffles me.  Maybe the tremendous inner strength that it takes to defy all the odds by living such a lifestyle, can help explain how we Jews have managed to survive at all, despite the tremendous odds against it.

  10. Shira Leibowitz Schmidt says:

    The description of “business as usual” during the blizzard was beautiful, as  the second commenter (Bracha Goetz) already said. But then I heard an echo of what a haredi  rabbi  in the U.S.  once said in self-criticism, “Such a beautiful golus.”

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