Understanding the Last of the Great East European Rabbis

March 28 2022

On March 19, hundreds of thousands of mourners flooded the streets of the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak to pay their respects to Chaim Kanievsky, the leading rabbi of Israel’s non-ḥasidic or “Lithuanian” Ḥaredim. Born in Pinsk in 1928, Rabbi Kanievsky is one of the very last great sages to have hailed from Eastern Europe, and was the son, nephew, and son-in-law of highly distinguished talmudic scholars. He held no formal position, dedicating himself night and day to study, writing, and answering halakhic queries, and he avoided taking on a leadership role until one was thrust upon him; thereafter ḥaredi politicians turned to him as their chief religious authority. In recent years, he received attention outside of his community for his initially dismissive attitude toward the coronavirus pandemic, and then his rapid about-face as he advised his followers to observe public-health measures scrupulously, to avoid communal prayer, and to take the vaccines.

Shlomo Zuckier analyzes Kanievsky’s legacy, beginning with his talmudic work, which aimed above all to

make sense of the language of the text, with the goal of ultimately arriving at halakhic conclusions. . . . Interestingly, Reb Chaim, [as he was known to his followers], was also very much open to using manuscripts and other modern methods in study. The best example of this might be his writing a commentary on M’khilta d’Rashbi [an ancient commentary on Exodus], which was fully reconstructed in the 19th and 20th centuries on the basis of sporadic manuscripts and citations.

Reb Chaim had two sides—a Torah side and a political side. What is fascinating is how little connection there was between the two; . . . in many ways the two are in great tension with one another. Precisely because of Reb Chaim’s . . . constant study, he was not acquainted with worldly matters. Some of his rabbinic peers described him as ignorant of the names of streets in his own neighborhood (where he lived nearly his entire life), and all the more so of recent trends in Israeli culture and politics.

It is worth noting that Reb Chaim’s self-understanding, the way he viewed his own contribution, was as a teacher of Torah rather than as a communal leader.

Read more at Jewish Press

More about: Haredim, Rabbis, Talmud

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria