Moving Commentary 3

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, serious scholar, editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, and friend for decades, called shortly before I left the States, warning that I was on the cusp of never learning seriously again. Puzzled that he thought that this was the fate that befell someone looking for the next level up in avodah, I asked him to explain. Simple, he said. There are so many fascinating people in Yerushalayim, you can easily run from one to the next to take them all in. You will be so busy, you will never have time for consistent Torah learning of your own.

Fools rush where seraphim and ophanim fear to tread, so I blissfully ignored R. Goldberg’s advice when offered an opportunity to meet one of those people. R. Moshe Grylack’s son-in-law called my son (with whom we stayed until our apartment becomes habitable) to inform him that the veteran journalist and Mishpacha editor-in-chief was staying with him, and that I was welcome to come over.

We had clashed before, in the pages of Mishpacha and Cross-Currents. The give and take was completely respectful, without a trace of anything ad hominem. Yerushalayim, however, was true to its name – the City of Peace – and I was immediately overwhelmed by his graciousness.

We spoke about a good number of things. He filled me in on the history of Torah journalism in Israel; I gave him an overview of developments in the US Orthodox world, particularly the difficult decision that the OU still has to make regarding the march of schismatic misadventures of Open Orthodoxy. We spoke about how those moves related to cultural changes in Western society in general, including antinomianism, the elevation of personal autonomy over other values, the preference for feeling over thinking, and the postmodern cynicism regarding the very existence of truth.

What he really wanted to speak about, however, was the greatness of R. Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l. We were still too close to his loss for him to digest anything else, without him first unburdening himself cathartically. He had been close with him, as he had with many other gedolim of the last decades.

R Grylack had seen significant history unfold, and had played a role in its development. In his youth, he had survived in the forest with siblings, hiding from the Nazis. He fought in the War of Independence. He learned in Ponovezh, and was close with R Shach, who asked him to serve as the founding editor of Yated Neeman. Effectively, he had been an astute observer of both the development of the State, and of haredi Judaism in Israel. He parroted no party line, and wore no blinders. His appreciation of the haredi Torah world was not starry-eyed or naïve, but born of comprehension of its depth. He was fully aware of problems within the haredi world. Yet, having been close to so many exemplars of Torah excellence over the years, he could differentiate between the areas of weakness and greatness. He had confidence in the ability of the latter to ultimately triumph over the former. If he had to criticize, the words of rebuke would be muted and measured, mindful of any collateral damage they might inflict.

Speaking with him, I remembered important conversations I had with some of my mentors in my youth, particularly R. Nachman Bulman zt”l. In him, I had experienced a similar mixture of fierce commitment to a Torah community, razor-sharp criticism, open-mindedness, intelligence, and a striving for truth. I realized that what I experienced in my conversation with R Grylack is something that I had not been able to find in the US for many years: an intelligent mind that had been set on fire by the gachaltan shel chachamim, and that had never lost the glow or the warmth.

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13 Responses

  1. lacosta says:

    does he talk english , or was it in yiddish?

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Great picture! Looks like your aliyah is havimg a kliah tovah!

  3. lacosta says:

    while you are there on the ground, am listening to the podcasts of headlines [ ] , and it seems there is a disagreement as to r steinman’s tenor on nahal haredi. Hager from LA says pro. a satmar activist on the show says there is a letter saying it was ok only for chayavei karet. maybe you can get to the bottom line….

    • Moving 8000 miles hardly makes me an expert. But even without the geographical proximity, I would not believe anyone’s claim to have a letter from a gadol. (I recall a website through which you could key in text, and then select which signatures you wished to append to it. Really.) If someone showed me a letter, I would pay no attention to it unless verified by experts.

  4. MK says:

    I personally witnessed this. Someone brought Rav Hutner ZTL a Kol Koreh, a proclamation from the Moetzes. Before signing it, the Rosh Yeshiva asked him, “Were you there when Rav Moshe signed it?”

  5. mb says:

    R.Adlerstein has been a Sabra for 5 minutes and bang goes the tie!

    • Not true. It took a full day. And I still wear one to shacharis, although I’m the only one other than a frum Columbia prof who is a regular

      • BF says:

        Ironically, I know a rabbi here in Jerusalem who wears a tie all day long, with the sole exception of shacharis. Of Chasidic origin, he claims an aversion to ties but that his place in society requires him to wear one; at Shacharis (k’vasikin) he is free to be his true self. Of course, from a purely halachic perspective Rabbi Adlersterstein’s practice would seem to be more correct.

  6. Cvmay says:

    Find fulfillment, inner peace & hatzlacha in the holy land. Combine your & Rena’s ahavas Yisroel with ahavas haeretz coupled with torah learning & nachat from the children.

    Yakov & I ate full of kosher envy.. 💕💕❤️❤️🇮🇱🇮🇱

  7. dr. bill says:

    you are now in a place where the greatest academic shiurim are given. if you attend shiurim by any number of professors, i am curious how your attitude towards academic talmud and/or the history of halakha will be affected.

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