Rav Moshe Grylak – Warrior for Kevod Shomayim
With the passing Tuesday evening of Rav Moshe Grylak z”l, we lost an unsung giant of our generation. And I lost a friend and mentor.
His was a name familiar to both the Israeli and Anglo haredi communities, through decades of service as a journalist. Some referred to him as the first haredi journalist in the State of Israel. A large number of people knew him as the person tapped by R. Shach zt”l to launch the Hebrew Yated, and more recently, as the Editor-in-Chief of the English edition of Mishpacha.
The tributes now being written will crown his head with journalistic laurels, and there is nothing wrong with that. But doing so will completely miss what drove him. There are journalists who were so successful in reaching people, that over time, they were seen as sage, trustworthy voices. (For those familiar with ancient history, I’m thinking of Walter Cronkite, and later David Brinkley.) Their opinions and guidance were sought, not just their reportage. Their journalism led them to become cynosures.
R. Moshe Grylak’s path wended in a different direction. He was, fundamentally, an ambassador of Torah. He was intoxicated with the Torah’s truth and beauty, and worked to bring awareness of it to as many people as possible. He wanted to blow sky-high the negative stereotypes about Torah itself and about haredim in particular. At his core he was – to use today’s jargon – an influencer. That led him to use journalism as a vehicle.
Those whom he influenced were not exclusively from the “in-group.” I suspect that those were the minority. He became a voice of reason about Torah to the non-Orthodox world. To convey Torah values to them, he wrote a parshah series for Jews curious enough to listen to what “the other side” was saying about the shared legacy of Torah. He participated in events where he would be the representative of the “old-time religion,” eager to share its insights with others, without preconditions.
I got to know him only in the last few years, when his energies were not what they were in the past. We had publicly locked horns, before I made Aliyah, in the pages of Mishpacha and my Cross-Currents blog. A son of mine in Givat Ze’ev HaChadashah related to me that R. Grylak’s daughter lived a block away, and her father was often there for Shabbos. This led to an initial visit (at which we more than buried the hatchet), followed by many more, until his last illness.
I cannot say that I knew him as well as others, but I still developed strong impressions of his greatness. Two elements in particular contributed to it, as far as I could see.
The first was his connection with the Chazon Ish as a young man. From his recollections to me, it seems like the closeness to the Gadol Hador of the early years of the State turned him into a powerhouse, a confident articulator of Torah thought. Long after the passing of the Chazon Ish, the relationship continued to empower him. (He could regale at long lengths with stories about the Chazon Ish – including his sense of humor, often missed in more sanitized treatments.)
The second was his intellectual curiosity. He was intrigued to learn that I worked for the Simon Wiesenthal Center as a bridge to the Christian world, and insisted not only on learning which groups were pro-Israel and why, but on analysis of the trends as well. Having discovered that my own interests extended beyond the walls of our community, he wanted to hear from me what he might be missing about the Jewish world in his more cloistered environment. He was especially eager to hear about ideas and movements that were challenging the Torah world, and how we were dealing with those challenges.
He peeked out beyond the limits of the Torah redoubts he came from – always with the confidence that Torah could survive anywhere, and stand up to the scrutiny of anyone. He spent several years in South America. (He once asked me if I believed that all non-Jews hated us. Before I could even finish enunciating a firm but brief “No,” he said, “That’s good. Some of my best friends in South America – extremely fine people – were not Jewish, and I just cannot believe that they secretly hated us.”)
The recipe for his success remains as strong today as ever, even if we do not seem to find as many people who have tried to take the ingredients and whip up a batch of public kiddush Hashem. Those ingredients are an unswerving commitment to our mesorah, a head always involved in learning, the imprint and demus d’yukno of a gadol, and inquisitiveness. He will remind us that it can – and should – be a program for Jewish leadership. That reminder will diminish somewhat the sting of his loss. I, however, will miss him dearly.
Yehi zichro baruch.
Beautiful tribute! Rick Bentley Indianapolis
I am sorry to hear of Rav Grylak’s passing. I did not agree with everything he wrote, but I have no doubt that he was a talmid chachom and an adam gadol. May he be נהנה בזיב השחינה together with the Chazon Ish and all the tzaddikim.
A lovely eulogy. I have to admit I’d never heard of him. Nice that you guys mended fences.
BDE. Your personal anecdote about seeing the individual and not just his political causes was well-stated.
“He spent several years in South America”
Before I read Mishpacha, I knew Rabbi Grylak z”l as “Chaim Eliav,” the author of several best-selling novels published by Shaar Press/ArtScroll.
“In The Spiders Web,” influenced by R.Grylak’s own experiences as a Jewish Agency emissary in Brazil, is about a Sao Paulo assimilated Jewish lawyer who rediscovers his roots and religion because of the Six-Day War and an encounter with a secret Nazi organization operating in South America.
Besides being entertaining and enjoyable, it is an educational book, as R. Grylak infused the plot’s resolution with hashkafos about Divine Providence and the eternity of the Jewish people. The book has even been republished recently by Feldheim in comic format for younger readers, which can be sampled here:
The novel series and comic book adaptation — the latter available in Yiddish as well — are some of the diverse ways of R.Grylak’s impact.
Yehi zichro baruch.
I must take exception to your reference to the Chazon Ish ztl as the Gadol HaDor. He was undoubtedly a great RY in the style of the Gaon and his younger cousin the Grash. However, his role as a posek was iconoclastic and though venerated by Haredi society hardly successful. His dateline position was argued 2 generations earlier by Rav Moshe Lapidus and strongly (and definitively) opposed by Rav Shaul Natanson. (This was pointed out to the CI by RIZM, who viewed the question as already decided.) His views on shiurim, going back generations while practiced by yechidai segulah, were effectively put to rest by recent discoveries of coins to which Rambam makes reference; Rav Chain Naeh was precisely correct.
Many others are credible candidates for the title of Gadol Hador; I would suspect naming a singular individual of that era is pointless. There were a (small) number of worthy candidates.
I was privileged to hear stories about the CI from a Talmid who broadened later in life, Rav Tzvi Yehudah, including one on the CI’s encounter with Rav Goren ztl, who was sent by RIZM to debate the dateline issue.
Your point about the futility of pointing to one person as THE Gadol Hador is well taken. But you are also correct is conceding that there were only a (very) small number of candidates. My point was that if a person can spend quality time with one of those very few candidates – like the nominee of a large segment of the Torah population – he is going to be changed for life.
Regarding the legacy of the Chazon Ish, I don’t think it can be assessed on the basis of picking one or two examples from his oeuvre of psak, no matter how important. In the case of the CI, I don’t think his greatest contribution was his piskei halacha, preriod. As Rav Hershel Schachter has said several times, he opened up some sugyos that had previously been closed. Indeed, in almost any sugya he not only has something to say, but he thoroughly cuts through layers of difficulty. Even when one disagrees, it’s hard not to take his analysis into account in going through the sugya.
Perhaps someone can comments on this. Before Pesach,I get guides from various organizations. There is real disagreement about how the Chazon Ish held about the shiurim for matzah eaten at the seder. Most guides show his matzah shiurim on the high side as with wine. The Agudah of Illinois consistently shows his matzah shiurim on the low side. Was there a change in his determination for matzah?
Bob, The smaller shiur is correct; it comports with the typical Litvishe minhag. See articles in Techumin 13/ 14 for a complete review of this topic, together with (disputed) reports of practice in the CI’s home.
Overall, are what you’d consider to be the typical Lithuanian minhagim about the seder and other matters being ignored?
RabbI Grylak ZL created in Mishpacha a great magazine that is far superior to the JO, well written, aware of the issues that the Charedi world, has fascinating articles on Jewish history and letters that show the issues that are percolating in the Charedi street.
As far as the legacy of the CI is concerned, one may not always agreee with the Psak of CI, but as RHS and R Aldlerstein have stressed , there are many areas of halacha such as Eruvin which the CI opened up, and his hashkafa as expressed in Emunah UBitachon, whch was a clearl rejection of the Baalei HaMusar in its emphasis on Halacha as well as mediocrity in Avodas HaShem as expressed in one of the most important letters in Igros CI are very significant works that everyone should explore if they consider themselves a Holech as opposed to an Omed in Avodas HaShem
In one of RHS’s hespedim for RYBS, RHS mentioned that RYBS highly reccomended that talmidim learn the sefarim of CI because of CI”s coverage of what is called ZMaN NaKaT( Zeraim,. Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshm and Taharos).
In CI:OC there is a fascinating essay by CI about Matan Torah-which is an amazing analysis of what mitzvos were given at Sinai, Ohel Moed and Arvos Maov.I highly reccomend it for anyone interested in understanding the nature of the process of Kabalas HaTorah and especially when and why some mitvos were given as set forth in the Torah and as understood by Chazal and the Gfolei Mefarshim
One should also note that as a result of the famous meeting between Ben Gurion and CI, the precedent was set not to draft or reqjuire IDF service for Charedi bachurim and Avreichim . There are many Girsasos as to what happened in that meeting,but this version is worth reading. https://mizrachi.org/hamizrachi/the-chazon-ish-ben-gurion-and-rav-tzvi-yehudah/One can argue that Ben Gurion made the arrangement because he thought that secular Zionism would destroy the Charedi world. It should be noted that RYBS also while very much a supporter of Mizrachi, a;lso wrote in a letter published here https://www.hakirah.org/Vol32Zelcer.pdf was not exactly a fan of Ben Gurion’s view of Tanach and Torah She Baal Peh, and willing to confront Israeli policies on issues such Shemiras Shabbos and Kasjhrus by the Zim Lines https://www.hakirah.org/Vol32Shapiro.pdf The demographic reality was that as Charedim recovered from the losses sustained during the Holocaust and defections to the secular world numerically and today have thriving yeshivos, the kibbutz movement withered on the vine and one of the more popular names of an upscale Tel Aviv suburb is “Yeled vKelev.”
Rabbi Grylak was the foremost writer and the go-to page in the early years of Mishpacha magazine. His articles were thought provoking as he sliced through layers of Israeli society. Friends from Alon Shvut knew him from his Dati – Leumi days, is that a truism? If so that explains his broad shoulders & open-minded ideas. יהי זכרו ברוך