EYES TO SEE: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust
Weight: 2.40 kilograms
EYES TO SEE: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust
Eyes to See is a courageous call by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz, a leading ultra-Orthodox sage, for fundamental change in the Torah-observant community. In it, the author calls for the abolition of a dangerous new phenomenon - the tendency among various Orthodox groups to establish their own insulated networks of schools and other institutions - because divisiveness and discord are a natural consequence of this factionalism within Jewish society. He implores Orthodox Jewry to designate a fast day in remembrance of the Holocaust, as indifference to the greatest tragedy in Jewish history can only sow cruelty and breed immorality. The author also calls upon Orthodox Jewry to re-assess the manner in which we relate both to our non-religious brethren and our non-Jewish neighbors, highlighting the Torah's command that we be compassionate and honest with all people, and that we strive to glorify G-d's Name and bring honor to the Torah by the manner in which we behave in even the most mundane aspects of our daily lives.
Eyes to See: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust was written with the goal of restoring integrity, compassion, unity and kiddush HaShem to their central role in the observance of Torah and mitzvos, as Halacha demands. This will serve to correct a number of serious errors and misconceptions of Torah views, values and obligations that resulted from the annihilation of nearly all of the great European Torah leaders in the Holocaust. This destruction left a young generation of bereft and bewildered survivors without the great Torah personalities necessary to educate and impress upon them the absolute centrality of these traditions and laws for correct Torah observance.
Eyes to See is a powerful work, brilliantly woven from biblical, talmudic and later rabbinical writings. It paints a magnificent view of traditional Judaism, revealing that morality and ethics, honesty and integrity, and compassion and kindness are so basic to authentic Torah Judaism that they define Jewishness itself.
This work also includes an incisive analysis of how the pre-Holocaust rabbinic infrastructure was destroyed and never rebuilt and lays out a framework for regaining the trust and respect rabbinical courts ought to have. Similarly, Eyes to See presents a blueprint for the arrest and reversal of the frightening decline of great Torah scholarship, despite an ever-growing number of yeshivas and kollels.
Edited and translated by Rabbi Avraham Leib Schwarz
About the Author:
Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz was born in Oswencim (Auschwitz), Poland in 1921. Recognized at a young age as a scholar and child prodigy, he entered the famed Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin at the age of fifteen. After miraculously surviving over two years in ghettos and two years in concentration camps, Rabbi Schwarz became the Chief Rabbi of Luneburg, Germany in 1947. He settled in the US in 1951 and has served as the Rav of K'hal Nachlas Yaakov in Brooklyn, NY (previously of Queens, NY) for the past forty years.
Rabbi Schwarz is the author of a number of published scholarly works in Hebrew, the latest of which is the multi-volume collection of responsa Adnei Nechoshes, comprising his halachic decisions on a broad range of the most serious legal issues of our time. Its originality, creativity and clarity, coupled with far-reaching erudition in Talmudic and rabbinic literature, has resulted in the establishment of Rabbi Schwarz as an authority of wide repute, though he is not as well-known outside of scholarly circles.
An expanded biography of the author by Rabbi Yaakov Schwarz and Rabbi Avraham Leib Schwarz, sons of the author, appears at the end of the book.
Hardcover, 502 pages
Praise for Eyes to See:
"Do I have to tell you how moved I was--and still am--by [Eyes to See]? In his commentaries and halakhic considerations there is fire--the fire of Sinai.... I will certainly try my best to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible."
A monumental work that I enjoyed immensely.... It's fascinating, well-written, covers a lot of ground, and is based on true Torah principles. I very highly recommend it.
-Zev Brenner radio
"Eyes to See" is a volume of great insight by a sage of extraordinary vision, Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz. Any day spent reading and contemplating this book is a true Yom Tov, a good day. And implementing the ideas and ideals, the ethical values of the Torah way espoused by Rabbi Schwarz will undoubtedly lead to many more Yamim Tovim, an abundance of good days, for Jewish communities everywhere.
-Rabbi Reuven Bulka
The subject of Judaism and ethics receives further examination in... Eyes to See: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz (Urim Publications, Mar.).
-Marcia Ford, Publishers Weekly
The Shoah has orphaned us of our greatest gedolei Torah. True though that may be, to our great sorrow, one must remain ever alert for the exceptional case -- the rare sage of intense piety, genuine humility and passionate ahavat Yisrael who combines expansive erudition, penetrating insight, inspired wisdom and exquisite sensitivity with uncompromising honesty, fierce independence and indomitable courage.
Such a sage emerges by G-d`s grace once in a very great while -- sometimes almost unnoticed, to correct, enrich and elevate us, if we would but heed them.
The voice of such a sage, Hagaon Rav Yom Tov Schwarz, shlita, of Brooklyn, New York, has gradually made itself heard over the last three decades -- initially, in the field of Talmudic discourse and Halachic decision, with his remarkable Ma`aneh L`igrot and Shu`t Adnei Nechoshet; and lately, in the field of Torah ethics, with his more generally accessible Einayim Lirot, originally published in Hebrew and recently issued in a fine English translation as "Eyes to See: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust" (Urim Publications, 2004). In Eyes to See, R. Schwarz, a Holocaust survivor who was ordained before the war at the famed Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, offers an unaccustomed breadth of Torah authenticity and clarity in his view of various aspects of conventional Orthodox culture, attitudes and practice.
R. Schwarz measures many prevailing trends and institutions of contemporary Orthodoxy and compares them to Jewish societal norms of prior eras, especially pre-Shoah Europe. R. Schwarz presents an analytical tour de force, at once measured in its incisive analysis of modern Torah life. Although few remain among us who experienced the horrors of the Shoah, we are a generation still reeling from its direct and indirect consequences. An aspect of this phenomenon that is perhaps least recognized is the continuing deleterious impact on the Orthodox world of the abrupt transformations attendant upon the Shoah and our adjustments or failures to adjust to them. In R. Schwarz, we have a faithful witness to the Shoah, to the Jewish world obliterated thereby, and to the subsequent reconstitution of Torah Judaism on these shores.
-David Nadoff, The Jewish Press
reprinted from the Chaburat Eim Habanim Semeichah newsletter
Once in a great while, a book comes along which challenges us to reconsider and change the way we look at our world. Such is the book "Eyes To See" by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz.
Rabbi Schwarz is a little known figure to the general observant public, yet is considered by those who know his work to be among the first rank of poskim in our generation. His most significant work to date is his multi-volume collection of responsa, Adnei Nechoshes, which covers a broad range of halachic issues.
For forty years, Rabbi Schwarz served as the rabbi of Congregation K`hal Nachlas Yaakov, first in Queens and then in Brooklyn. But his personal history is a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Jewish people in this generation. He is the single survivor of a large family murdered in the Shoah. In the words of his sons written in an afterword to the book, he "survived the starvation, torture and subhuman conditions that he suffered during his nearly six years in Hell - including more than two years in ghettos and two in nearly a dozen slave labor and death camps."
The story of his miraculous survival is told in the seventh chapter of the work, the one that gives us the key to Rabbi Schwarz`s character and outlook. In that chapter, he recalls those holy Jews who sacrificed and risked their lives to keep him alive - even though in many cases they did not know him personally. Some made special efforts because he was a talmid chacham, a pupil of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, and had learned as a young man from Torah giants such as the Kozhiglever Rav and the Tchebiner Rav. But above all, Rabbi Schwarz makes it clear that the remarkable concern of many individual ordinary Jews was a central element in his survival.
In the present work, he addresses the religious world on the most vital moral issues of the day. In it he offers strong, and often controversial, criticism of much behavior in the present generation. He writes, "In our own generation, we need not go back hundreds of years in order to see the spiritual deterioration of our generation relative to earlier ones.... Today the charedim themselves have splintered into dozens of factions. Each group forms a separate community, with its own cemetery and school system, and members of these groups marry almost exclusively within their own ranks. Such is the extent of their separation, in life as well as in death. So too, with regard to the other bedrock principles and foundations of the Torah. Our generation has experienced a spiritual and ethical decline of such magnitude, that is as if two thousand years passed by during the Holocaust years."
But Rabbi Schwarz`s criticism of the present generation is based on the dictum that one must rebuke and deter one`s fellow Jews when they are on the wrong path. And here it must be clear that the whole spirit of this musar sefer is a spirit of love and concern for Am Yisrael. Thus, Rabbi Schwarz writes of the need for us to show greater understanding for Jews who are non-religious, and who have the status of tinok shenishba ("captured children"). He enjoins us to honor properly those who have been lost in the Shoah by instituting a specific day of Remembrance for the Shoah among the religious community.
Rabbi Schwarz also criticizes ignorant insularity and says that just as Moshe learned from Yitro, so should we as a chosen people be able to learn from and understand the wisdom of non-Jews. The subject of Jewish and human dignity is clearly at the center of his conception of how we must sanctify the Name of G-d in the world. This, too, is central to the chapters he writes on the need to once again establish a unified Beis Din for Am Yisrael, and to raise up judges not only deeply knowledgeable in Jewish law, but of absolute ethical integrity.
Eyes To See is tremendously rich, and this review has only touched upon a few of its themes. Its mastery of Torah sources is evident on every page. It is translated into a beautiful English by the rabbi's son, Rabbi Avraham Leib Schwarz. It could not be more highly recommended.
-Shalom Freedman, The Jewish Press
One need not be a professional historian to know that were a modern Honi HaMe'agel (the Talmudic Rip Van Winkle) to have gone to sleep in the early 20th century and woken up today, he would not recognize the Jewish world. The tumultuous last hundred years saw the destruction of the 1000 year-old Jewish community in Europe, the establishment of the first Jewish autonomous state in 2000 years and the rise of a major Jewish center in the United States. The commemorative dates on the calendar this coming month (Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzma'ut and Yom Yerushalayim) are an opportunity to present to our students some historical perspective on events that took place in the recent past, particularly to a generation that takes much of contemporary Jewish life for granted. If you need to clarify to your students that change has really taken place, I have a simple exercise to suggest. Have your students look up entries of people or places (e.g. Rav Kook, Poland) in the Encyclopedia Judaica and then compare them to the same entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in 1906 and available on-line at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/ .
One of the most powerful statements that I have read that examines these changes is Dr. Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction" that appeared in the journal Tradition in 1994 (the full article is available at http://www.lookstein.org/links/orthodoxy.htm ). In it, Dr. Soloveitchik argues that the social changes of the last century - largely connected with the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust - shifted traditional Jewish practice from a religion of what he calls "mimetic norms", those learned from one's parents and community, to "legal norms" gleaned from the study of halachic textbooks. In a sweeping review of the present-day Orthodox scene, Dr. Soloveitchik argues that this change is representative of a larger shift in the sense of spirituality, that "[z]ealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke."
While Dr. Soloveitchik focused on Halacha and ritual practice, Rabbi Yom Tov Schwartz' recently translated Eynaim Lir'os promises to examine contemporary ethical behavior in the Orthodox community in the light of normative behavior in the pre-war European community. Rabbi Schwartz, who was born in Oswencim (now infamous under its German name Auschwitz) in 1921, a student in Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin prior to the outbreak of the war, and a survivor of concentration camps, speaks with the authority of someone who was familiar with the reality of Jewish life in Poland before the war. Today Rabbi Schwartz is a community Rabbi and Posek in the metropolitan New York area.
Rabbi Schwartz' main concern appears to be the lack of sensitivity within his target audience to larger issues. Among the points that he makes, buttressing his arguments with sources from Talmudic and Rabbinic literature, are:
1. Factionalism amongst different Orthodox groups leads to Sin'at Hinam (needless hatred).
2. The inability to establish a Bet Din system that is viewed as honest and reliable drives Jews to seek redress in secular courts. Moreover, incompetent authors publish purported Halachik works that are replete with errors that receive approbation from Rabbinic leaders.
3. A basic lack of honesty and appreciation for the rule of law leads religious institutions to attempt to deceive and defraud the government, leading to Hillul HaShem (a public desecration of God's name).
According to Rabbi Schwartz, the European Jewish community before the war was able to overcome its differences to join together on matters of general concern and to produce leaders who were universally recognized and respected. Furthermore, the present-day reality in the democratic United States demands that the Jewish community respect both governmental agencies and non-Jewish neighbors.
There are also specific issues that are of concern to him.
Pointing to the reaction of the European communities to the Chmielnicki massacres of 1608-9, who established a fast day on 20 Sivan, a tradition that was kept for hundreds of years after the event, Rabbi Schwartz questions why no fast day has been established to commemorate the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust. Furthermore, in the shadow of the Holocaust, weddings and other celebrations are ostentatious to the point of giving the appearance that no one is aware that a tragedy has only recently occurred.
Based on both personal experience during the Holocaust years and on Nosson Nata Hannover's Yaven Metzulah that describes the period of the Chmielnicki massacres and Jewish life in 16th century Poland, Rabbi Schwartz records the Mesirus Nefesh of the European Jewish community - the willingness of a Jewish person to put his life on the line for another Jew. This, claims Rabbi Schwartz, cannot be found in his community today.
The book closes with two chapters on the importance of earning a living, rejecting a lifestyle that demands of young men, in general, to remain in Yeshiva and study. In Europe, according to Rabbi Schwartz, only a few outstanding students were supported by the community.
Many of the points raised here are not new, although the argument that these ethical values were, in fact, basic to the pre-Holocaust Jewish community is important to publicize. Furthermore, public presentation of these issues by a learned community leader who garners an impressive collection of primary proof-texts is a bold move, perhaps an act of bravery. When Rabbi Yechiel Ya'akov Weinberg (author of the Seridei Aish) made many of these points in his criticism of the Orthodox world, he limited them to private letters, and their translation and publication by Marc B. Shapiro was followed by an avalanche of criticism questioning the appropriateness of their being made known to the public. (The letters appeared in Shapiro's Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884-1966 published in 1999. An earlier presentation in the Torah U'Madda Journal, available on-line at http://yuriets.yeshivalive.com/TU7_Shapiro.pdf led to an article by the journal's editor, Dr. Jacob Schacter, "Facing the Truths of History", in which he presents and defends his reasons for publishing the letters, yet closes with an apology to Rabbi Weinberg. Rabbi Schacter's article appears at http://yuriets.yeshivalive.com/TU8_Schachter.pdf .)
Superficially it would appear that Dr. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Schwartz reach contradictory conclusions, with Dr. Soloveitchik discovering a world searching for its roots in greater commitment and religious service while Rabbi Schwartz has found a community that is unable to connect to its past and has moved ahead with no sense of history. More likely the two are in agreement. The "rupture" with the past that took place mid-twentieth century has led to a search for meaning in Jewish life by all committed Jews. The very ideals of which Rabbi Schwartz is speaking were found more in the "mimetic norms" described by Dr. Soloveitchik, that could not be found in the texts that have replaced the family traditions. Perhaps this book can act as such a text, turning the lost Torah She'ba'al peh (oral tradition) into a Torah she'bikhtav (written tradition) that can be studied.
While reading this book it is clear that it was originally written as a "Mussar Sefer" for a community comfortable with a plethora of Rabbinic quotes to support a given point. The translation retains the cadence of the original, and while most esoteric terms are translated or explained in a footnote, some of the abbreviations that are commonplace in such works are left for the reader to work out (e.g. bav"h - it took me a minute to realize that this meant B'Avonoseinu HaRabim = due to our many sins).
Of greater concern to me is that I believe there exists a practicing, committed Jewish community that has managed to retain (or, perhaps, to recreate) at least some of the values that have been lost in the community in which Rabbi Schwartz serves. While by no means perfect, there are communities in Israel in which young men recognize the need to literally be Moser Nefesh on behalf of the community, splitting their time between Yeshiva study and army duty. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva, Yeshivat Har Etzion argues at length that army service in Israel is not a compromise, but an ideal of Mesirut Nefesh on behalf of the Jewish people. His The Ideology of Hesder is available at http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/ral2-hes.htm
The Rabbanut in Israel has established a memorial day for the Holocaust - Yom Hashoah http://www.religions.gov.il/chagim/nisan_arba.htm and has declared the fast of Asara b'Tevet to be the general day of Kaddish for those killed in the Holocaust - http://www.religions.gov.il/chagim/tabat.htm
I have no illusions with regard to the Orthodox community in both the United States and Israel that is committed to traditional religious ritual values while at the same time involved in the modern world. Like every group of people, it has its tensions and problems. Nevertheless, given that many of its ethical values seem close to what Rabbi Schwartz describes as basic to the pre-war European communities, I would have liked to have seen some acknowledgement of its existence.
-Shalom Berger, Lookstein Digest
More than just an intriguing title, Eyes to See is a powerful critique of haredi behavior written by a haredi Holocaust survivor living in Brooklyn.
In this controversial book, Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz concentrates on sins committed by haredim and their rabbis in violation of mitzvot bein adam lehavero - commandments between man and his fellow man. Beyond the sins themselves, Schwarz points out, when rabbis and yeshiva heads are caught cheating, they are most guilty of hillul Hashem, profaning God's name.
The interesting angle on this issue is Schwarz's contention that an increased decline in ethical standards, even among haredi leaders, is a post-Shoah phenomenon, corresponding with greater division within the haredi community.
Schwarz faults the haredi world for never having instituted a day of mourning in honor of the Holocaust. He reminds the reader of a time, following the pogroms in Poland and the Ukraine, when rabbinic leaders declared the 20th of Sivan ( Kaf B'Sivan) as a day of fasting and special prayers. According to the author, this day was observed for many years after the 17th century, at least among Polish Jews. Certainly the Holocaust should merit similar remembrance.
Another view, never mentioned in any other book on Judaism, is also touted in this book - namely that Jews should show patriotism and fly their host nation's flag from their homes. Schwarz, who came to the US in the '50s, feels that all American Jews, including the haredim, should display the Stars and Stripes, especially on national holidays such as the Fourth of July and Memorial Day. Jews, more than any other group, should go out of their way to show appreciation for the sacrifices Americans have made for freedom - especially for defeating the Nazis.
Concern for the opinion of gentile neighbors is but one aspect of Schwartz's criticism. Haredim, he insists, should also concern themselves with the impression they make on less-observant Jews. He holds that most so-called "secularists" are not really anti-religious, and should be considered as brothers because they presumably never had an opportunity for religious education. (However, he does not reveal his attitude towards those who are learned, but choose not to observe the rituals according to Orthodox standards.)
One important subject missing in the book is a discussion of the relationship between haredim and the secular Zionist state of Israel. After mentioning that living in Eretz Yisrael is a big mitzva, Schwarz gives a very weak justification for observant Jews who remain in Exile.
Despite such questions, I would especially recommend this book or its Hebrew version to haredim, who might be stimulated to re-evaluate the way they view those who are not part of their community.
A special feature of this book is the appendix, which contains biographical information on approximately 100 scholars and rabbis whose writings are quoted. In addition, there is also an interesting biographical sketch of the author, including a brief description of how the Torah learning of his youth helped him survive the Nazi camps. Among his halachic writings is a multi-volume collection of responsa, Adnei Nechoshes, praised by many Torah sages.
In closing, one must give a great deal of credit to Avraham Leib Schwarz, the author's son, for his felicitous translation and editing.
-Joshua J. Adler, Jerusalem Post
Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz is a Holocaust survivor, a communal rabbi, and a Talmudic scholar who began his life in the infamous Polish town of Oswencim (later renamed by the Nazis as Auschwitz). But even more important than all of those credentials, Rabbi Schwarz is a living witness to the traditions and glory of prewar Eastern European Jewry.
It is in that spirit that Rabbi Schwarz wrote this volume, as a record of the values of that lost era. Originally appearing in Hebrew, this newly translated edition is divided into 11 parts and 40 chapters, written in the style of rabbinic ethical works. The 11 parts of this book include: "The Unique Importance and Benefits of Unity in Our Generation," "Recapturing the Unique and Extraordinary Aspects of Jewish Charity," "Relations with Non-Observant Jews," "Rabbinical Leadership: Its Qualifications and Responsibilities," "Truth in Torah: Promoting Genuine Sages and Rejecting Substandard Torah Scholarship," and "What Halacha Says About Torah Study and Parnasah."
Reading this work, it is clear how much of the memetic tradition of pre-war Jewish values has been lost. Whether it is Rabbi Schwarz's readiness to learn from non-Jews, his rejection of the current widespread popularity of long-term Kollel study, or even his emphasis on Jewish unity, this volume challenges its readers to reconsider what traditional Judaism has to say about itself and the world around it.
-Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Jewish Book World
Hagaon Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlit"a, and others have long bemoaned the virtual disappearance from the American scene of first rank Gedolei Torah. True though that may be (to our great sorrow), one must remain ever alert for the exceptional case -- the rare sage of intense piety, genuine humility and passionate Ahavat Yisrael, who combines expansive erudition, penetrating insight, inspired wisdom and exquisite sensitivity with uncompromising honesty, fierce independence and indomitable courage. Such a sage emerges by God's grace once in a very great while -- sometimes almost unnoticed, from outside the dynastic ranks of Roshei Yeshivah and the powerful cadres of Orthodox factional leaders -- to correct, enrich and elevate us, if we would but heed them.
The voice of such a sage, Hagaon Rav Yom Tov Schwarz, shlit"a, of Brooklyn, New York, has gradually made itself heard over the last three decades -- initially, in the field of Talmudic discourse and halachic decision, with his remarkable Ma'aneh L'igrot and Shu"t Adnei Nechoshet; and lately, in the field of Torah ethics, with his more generally accessible Einayim Lirot, originally published in Hebrew and recently issued in a fine English translation as Eyes to See: Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust (Urim Publications 2004). In Eyes to See, R. Schwarz, a survivor of the Shoah ordained before the War at the famed Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, offers an unaccustomed breath of Torah authenticity and clarity in his critique of various aspects of conventional Orthodox culture, attitudes and practice, at both the lay and rabbinic levels.
In a refreshing departure from typical Orthodox complacency, self-congratulation and triumphalism, R. Schwarz measures many prevailing trends and institutions of contemporary Orthodoxy against Torah ideals embodied both in the teachings of the sages and in Jewish societal norms of prior eras, especially pre-Shoah Europe. R. Schwarz presents an analytical tour de force, at once measured in its criticism and incisive in its advocacy of essential reforms, focusing on the ills of factionalism, the declining scholarship and integrity of the rabbinate, inappropriate attitudes toward gentiles and nonobservant Jews, relaxed standards of conduct in interpersonal relations, and the excesses of the contemporary kollel system of subsidized post-graduate Torah study, among other themes.
Although few remain among us who experienced the horrors of the Shoah, we are a generation still reeling from its direct and indirect consequences. An aspect of this phenomenon that is perhaps least recognized is the continuing deleterious impact on the Orthodox world of the abrupt transformations attendant upon the Shoah and our adjustments or failures to adjust to them. In R. Schwarz, we have a faithful witness to the Shoah, to the Jewish world obliterated thereby and to the subsequent reconstitution of Torah Judaism on these shores. We are well advised to attend most carefully to his challenging message on what has gone awry at the core of that reconstitution.
It is often the unfortunate fate of great works such as Eyes to See to be studiously ignored or subtly dismissed by establishment forces that, finding no sound basis for escaping their conclusions, are yet threatened by them. Chaburat Eim Habanim Semeichah highly recommends the study of Eyes to See, and hopes that it will have the widest possible distribution and influence.
-David Hillel Nadoff
Chaburat Torah Imecha newsletter
On a number of prior occasions, I have recommended Einayim Lirot by HaGaon Rav Yom Tov Haleivi Schwartz as an important contemporary work of Torah ethics that is worthy of study by members of this Chabura and others. HaRav Schwartz devotes Chapter 21 of Einayim Lirot to the failure of our generation to establish an annual day of fasting, mourning and repentance on account of the Shoah, an omission which he considers a grievous collective sin of cruel indifference. HaRav Schwartz identifies and analyzes undisputed halachic precedents for the enactment of public fast days (with inclusion of Aneinu in Amida and Kriat Hatorah of Vayechal) even for more limited Jewish tragedies, such as the annual fast on the 20th of Sivan observed for centuries in European Jewish communities to commemorate Gezeirat Ta"ch V'Ta"t (the Chmielnicki massacres of approximately 100,000 Polish Jews during the years 5408 and 5409), which the Shach and other Torah authorities considered the Churban Shlishi (Third Destruction) of our people. With characteristically incisive halachic analysis, HaRav Schwartz debunks the sanctimonious excuses commonly given to justify our dereliction in this regard (e.g., that we must mourn all our tragedies on 9 B'Av; that our generation lacks the authority to enact public fasts), laying bare our shame at what amounts to a variety of "Holocaust denial" - our refusal to acknowledge the Shoah as a unique national Churban that warrants special commemoration and demands ongoing introspection and teshuvah on our parts. HaRav Schwartz also sheds the light of Tanach and Chazal on the psychological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of our response to this singular national tragedy, expanding upon themes such as the Chilul Hashem inherent in our continuing exile, the excruciation of losing Talmidei Chachamim, and the prophetic condemnation of complacency in the wake of calamity. Throughout his discussion, HaRav Schwartz is particularly alert to a phenomenon that Rav Teichtal had already predicted in Eim Habanim Semeicha - the ease and enthusiasm with which the post-Holocaust generations have returned to smug and often excessive pursuit of wealth, comfort and honor, without meaningful adjustments in lifestyle, character traits, observance or values, as if noting happened. HaRav Schwartz is one of our greatest contemporary sages, a treasure of our people, whose teachings on this and other subjects should be widely studied, preached and taken to heart.
-David Hillel Nadoff
Chaburat Torah Imecha newsletter