Understanding the Last of the Great East European Rabbis

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


Why Saturday Was a Resounding Defeat for Iran

Yaakov Lappin provides a concise and useful overview of what transpired on Saturday. For him, the bottom line is this:

Iran and its jihadist Middle Eastern axis sustained a resounding strategic defeat. . . . The fact that 99 percent of the threats were intercepted means that a central pillar of Iranian force projection—its missile and UAV arsenals—has been proven to be no match for Israel’s air force, for its multilayered air-defense system, or for regional cooperation with allies.

Iran must now await Israel’s retaliation, and unlike Israel, Iranian air defenses are by comparison limited in scope. After its own failure on Sunday, Iran now relies almost exclusively on Hizballah for an ability to threaten Israel.

And even as Iran continues to work on developing newer and deadlier missiles, the IDF is staying a few steps ahead:

Israel is expecting its Iron Beam laser-interception system, which can shoot down rockets, mortars, and UAVs, to become operational soon, and is developing an interceptor (Sky Sonic) for Iran’s future hypersonic missile (Fattah), which is in development.

The Iron Beam will change the situation in a crucial way. Israell’s defensive response on Saturday reportedly cost it around $1 billion. While Iron Beam may have to be used in concert with other systems, it is far cheaper and doesn’t run the risk of running out of ammunition.

Read more at JNS

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iron Dome, Israeli Security, Israeli technology