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.

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Read more at Jewish Press

More about: Haredim, Rabbis, Talmud

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy