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February 12, 2008

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman's Letter Forbidding His Students From Accepting Visas Offered By YU & Skokie Yeshiva

"What is the gain in achieving physical salvation if you lose your spiritual life?"

Elchonon_wasserman_letter_about_yu

Please click to enlarge.

[Hat Tip: A Kind Reader.]

Shmuel's translation of the letter is posted after the jump in the extended post:

The opening paragraph obviously was written after Rabbi Wasserman's death and is not part of the letter per se.

"Daas Torah regarding Yeshiva University in New York and regarding Bet Midrash L'Torah [Hebrew Theological College] in Skokie, Illinois from Hagaon Hatzadik Rabbi Elchonon Bunim Wasserman of blessed memory, may God avenge his blood:

[The actual letter begins here.]

"Baruch Hashem, Erev Shabbos Kodesh Naso

I received your [literally "his"; the letter is written in the respectful third person] letters but I have no ability to do anything with this, thus I did not respond.

The yeshivos in America which are able to bring over students are the yeshivas of Dr. Revel (named Yeshiva University) in New York and Beis Midrash L'Torah in Chicago and they both are places of danger in terms of spirituality because they conduct themselves in a spirit of freedom, and what benefit is there to flee from a physical danger to a spiritual danger, but I sent your [literally, "his"] letter to the revered Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Heiman, Dean of Mesivtha Torah V'Daas in Brooklyn and I suggested that he request of the revered Dean of the Mirrer Yeshiva that he should also write to Brooklyn to the address below:

Rabbi Shlomo Heiman
92 Martin Street
America

Blessing you [literally, "him"] with life and peace and all good things forever,
Elchanan Bunim Wasserman"

Comments

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Odd. If I squint a little, that small graphic of the yeshivah looks a little like the cattle cars its students were deported on.

At least one should note that Rav Wasserman went down with his ship, as it were. Perhaps the focus should be on those rabbonim who took off to leave their students to die, all the while promising them olam haba for staying in Europe.

I see nothing wrong with Rav Wasserman's letter. And, for Garnel's edification, Baranovitch was a premier yeshiva. Many of Rav Wasserman's students were outstanding scholars and leaders. I don't think YU in its far longer history will ever produce such illustrious graduates. Ever.

Why is this being brought up now? You dont want people to study at YU or HTCand they should only learn at TV? This was then perhaps if Rav Elchonon were around today he would have felt differently. There bigger burning issues that should be fixed and addressed. An example how long do the residents of Sderot have indure what they are going through now.

Have a great day and regards from Jerusalem

>>This was then perhaps if Rav Elchonon were around today he would have felt differently.

Of course not. On the contrary, YU's maggidei shiurim were greater then, and YU's culture is even more "college like" as oppose to "yeshiva like."

Here's my translation. I'll try to be as literally word-for-word accurate as I can and still make it read smoothly:

(The opening paragraph obviously was written after Rabbi Wasserman's death and is not part of the letter per se)

"Daas Torah regarding Yeshiva University in New York and regarding Bet Midrash L'Torah [Hebrew Theological College] in Skokie, Illinois from Hagaon Hatzadik Rabbi Elchonon Bunim Wasserman of blessed memory, may God avenge his blood:

"Baruch Hashem, Erev Shabbos Kodesh Naso

I received your [literally "his"; the letter is written in the respectful third person] letters but I have no ability to do anything with this, thus I did not respond.

The yeshivos in America which are able to bring over students are the yeshivas of Dr. Revel (named Yeshiva University) in New York and Beis Midrash L'Torah in Chicago and they both are places of danger in terms of spirituality because they conduct themselves in a spirit of freedom, and what benefit is there to flee from a physical danger to a spiritual danger, but I sent your [literally, "his"] letter to the revered Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Heiman, Dean of Mesivtha Torah V'Daas in Brooklyn and I suggested that he request of the revered Dean of the Mirrer Yeshiva that he should also write to Brooklyn to the address below:

Rabbi Shlomo Heiman
92 Martin Street
America

Blessing you [literally, "him"] with life and peace and all good things forever,
Elchanan Bunim Wasserman"

I hope that's helpful. There were a lot of pronouns and references to third person masculine parties at the end. I hope
most of the correct flavor was captured. Is it clear? I'm not so sure, but let's hear from you guys (and gals).

Which year was this letter written in and where was Rabbi Wasserman when he wrote this letter?

Can someone fill me in on what he had against HTC? I'm a little confused

I am unable to determine the date, though it is on the letter right after "Erev Shabbos Naso"; the letters 1. "tes/tet" 2. "lamed" 3.unclear to me and 4."alef" appear. Readers?
Not sure where he was when he wrote it. The letter does not say.

It was 1939, I believe. Late Spring or early Summer.

Most of Poland was already sure Hitler would invade.

It was at this time that the then-Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, wrote a letter to parents of American yeshiva students planning to attend the Lubavitch yeshiva in a suburb of Warsaw in the Fall of 1939. The Rayyatz promised the parents that there would be no war, and personally guaranteed the safety of those children.

The war started on August 1, 1939.

The Rayyatz abandoned those students and fled. He was later rescued by the US Government. (See Bryan Mark Rigg's, "Rescued from the Reich.")

On their own, the students hooked up with the Mir and got out through Shanghai.

IN 1939 HTC was in Chicago
It didn't move to Skokie till much later
The additional lines on the top must have been added more recently

>This was then perhaps if Rav Elchonon were around today he would have felt differently. There bigger burning issues that should be fixed and addressed. An example how long do the residents of Sderot have indure what they are going through now.

Yes, just like today's gedolim have been SO helpful in solving that same crisis.

This from John Dunne. "So perish souls, which more choose men's unjust Power from God claim'd, than God himself to trust."

BIG DEAL!!

R. Elchonon was aked a question and he gave his opinion. He also said that it would be wise to contact local counsel and he was doing likewise. Sounds like sound advice.

So he had his doubts about YU and HTC for a specific (unknown to us) questioner. Get over it. It is frankly getting annoying reading ridiculous inuendo and references to R. Elchonon as if he were some kind of murderer. He was the favorite talmid of the Chofetz Chaim. Why treat him like Rodney Dangerfield?

The Germans are about to invade Poland, Kristallnacht has already happened, concentration camps are open, Poland is gripped in fear, and the 'holy' rabbi Elchonon Wasserman writes"What is the gain in achieving physical salvation if you lose your spiritual life?"I guess the halakha should be changed to "Die through them."

Why is this this faggot wasserman still being called a rabbi?

lol the two thises was a typo

shmuel thanks for the translation was spot on.

Yankel
"There are many brilliant men, but few wise men."

This applies here. R Wasserman may have been brilliant in most aspects of Torah knwoledge, but for what ,ever reason in dealing with real life and death issues in this situationhe appears to be a fool.

Yankel

I don't see anywhere in the letter where he forbade going to YU, just that he advised against it. Also, it is a bit unclear what the intent of this letter was. If, as Shmarya indicates, this is to fobid (or even advise against) accepting Visas offered by YU, then it would seem logical to me that the persons being offered the Visa should just have accepted the Visa and when they came to the US all they had to do was hop on a train from Manhattan to Williamsburgh and join TV. No immigration official was really monitoring which yeshivah they attended. The prose of the letter is difficult to follow, but it seems more logical that the letter was with regard to which yeshivah this fellow should attend and not whether he should accept a Visa that was offered to him from any source.

If, as Shmarya indicates, this is to fobid (or even advise against) accepting Visas offered by YU, then it would seem logical to me that the persons being offered the Visa should just have accepted the Visa and when they came to the US all they had to do was hop on a train from Manhattan to Williamsburgh and join TV. No immigration official was really monitoring which yeshivah they attended.

Not true. Immigration was VERY tightly controlled and people who received these visas were closely monitored.

Sorry, no smoking gun in this letter.

I am the proud father of two YU boys. Both of them are just as "frum" as are their Brooklyn and Lakewood counterparts, although they dress differently. After all, there is no mitzva to wear black!!

There is also no mitzva for a third or fourth generation American to speak English with a foreign accent!!

That aside, the Haredi world has this enormous fear of YU. An urban legend exists, that there is an enormous openly gay community at YU (It's interesting to note, that the leading Rabbi in the anti - molestation campaign is Rabbi Yosef Blau, who is YU's mashgiach, and that the loudest protests against those who would expose the molesters, have come from Lakewood's mashgiach!)

These fears are not new. Indeed, the Haredi world has conjured them up, since there was a YU. Perhaps it's the fear that more educated young men and women will not blindly follow the party line. Perhaps its the fear that students who are exposed to real scholars, who combine Torah education with at least a passable (though often greater) degree of secular knowlege, will not respect leaders whose knowlege is confined the the 4 amot of Halacha.

This feeling was a contributor to the deaths of many students of Torah in the 1940's. Its persistence causes nothing but ill will and Sinat Chinam two generations later.

Perhaps 10% of American Jewry is Shomer Shabbat. An even smaller percentage is involved in serious Torah study. Why do we have to differentiate ourselves over the color of a shirt, a hat, etc., when we should work together?

--Not true. Immigration was VERY tightly controlled and people who received these visas were closely monitored.--

Source and citation please. Also, even if that is correct there is something missing in the comprehension of the letter. I would love to see the inquiry he was responding to.

--There is also no mitzva for a third or fourth generation American to speak English with a foreign accent!!--

In all fairness that is only the case among certain hasidic groups. The majority of haredim do not speak with an accent.

--That aside, the Haredi world has this enormous fear of YU.--

I think this would be better described as difference in opinion or even distrust. Moden orthodoxy has more to fear than the other way around as modern orthodoxy loses more of its members to haredim than vice versa. My hashkafot would more alligned with YU than haredim, however I would have to admit that there are serious differences in the hashkafot.

--Not true. Immigration was VERY tightly controlled and people who received these visas were closely monitored.--

Source and citation please. Also, even if that is correct there is something missing in the comprehension of the letter. I would love to see the inquiry he was responding to.

You should be able to find this in any academic work dealing with US immigration policy leading up to and during WW2.

This is not exactly shocking or new information.

YU graduates have been in the FOREFRONT OF HELPING ALL JEWS THE LAST 50 YEARS

WHEN A YU TALMID GIVES A DONATION OR HEALS SOMEONE EVERYONE GETS IT AND SAYS TAKEH GEVALDIG

IT TOOK 50 YEARS FOR US TO CATCH UP IN UNDERSTANDING YU GADLUS

MAYBE NOW WE WILL BEHAVE LIKE MENTSHEN AND STOP DOING OUR SINAS CHINAM

--Not true. Immigration was VERY tightly controlled and people who received these visas were closely monitored.--

Source and citation please. Also, even if that is correct there is something missing in the comprehension of the letter. I would love to see the inquiry he was responding to.

--There is also no mitzva for a third or fourth generation American to speak English with a foreign accent!!--

In all fairness that is only the case among certain hasidic groups. The majority of haredim do not speak with an accent.

--That aside, the Haredi world has this enormous fear of YU.--

I think this would be better described as difference in opinion or even distrust. Moden orthodoxy has more to fear than the other way around as modern orthodoxy loses more of its members to haredim than vice versa. My hashkafot would more alligned with YU than haredim, however I would have to admit that there are serious differences in the hashkafot.

--Not true. Immigration was VERY tightly controlled and people who received these visas were closely monitored.--

Source and citation please. Also, even if that is correct there is something missing in the comprehension of the letter. I would love to see the inquiry he was responding to.

--There is also no mitzva for a third or fourth generation American to speak English with a foreign accent!!--

In all fairness that is only the case among certain hasidic groups. The majority of haredim do not speak with an accent.

--That aside, the Haredi world has this enormous fear of YU.--

I think this would be better described as difference in opinion or even distrust. Moden orthodoxy has more to fear than the other way around as modern orthodoxy loses more of its members to haredim than vice versa. My hashkafot would more alligned with YU than haredim, however I would have to admit that there are serious differences in the hashkafot.

--Not true. Immigration was VERY tightly controlled and people who received these visas were closely monitored.--

Source and citation please. Also, even if that is correct there is something missing in the comprehension of the letter. I would love to see the inquiry he was responding to.

--There is also no mitzva for a third or fourth generation American to speak English with a foreign accent!!--

In all fairness that is only the case among certain hasidic groups. The majority of haredim do not speak with an accent.

--That aside, the Haredi world has this enormous fear of YU.--

I think this would be better described as difference in opinion or even distrust. Moden orthodoxy has more to fear than the other way around as modern orthodoxy loses more of its members to haredim than vice versa. My hashkafot would more alligned with YU than haredim, however I would have to admit that there are serious differences in the hashkafot.

Sorry about the repeat posts.

--You should be able to find this in any academic work dealing with US immigration policy leading up to and during WW2.--

Ahh, yes, the Shmarya approach to supporting his statements, its well known.

I don't know for sure what the answer is to this, but I find it hard to believe that during the years leading up to the US' involvement in WWII that they had the resources or inclination to follow up or for that matter than they were deporting people back to German or Poland at that time.

I don't know for sure what the answer is to this, but I find it hard to believe that during the years leading up to the US' involvement in WWII that they had the resources or inclination to follow up or for that matter than they were deporting people back to German or Poland at that time.

The US certainly had the ability to quickly find and intern tens of thousands of Japanese not long after.

And the US had a very active effort to root out and deport German spies. This isone of the reasons visas were not given to more German Jews.

I suspect that this letter may have been written in May 1940 and the word appearing after 'Naso' is 'Littau' with the letters Tet and Lamed reversed in error no doubt because of the terrible stress he must have been under at the time.
In May 1939 Poland was relatively confident that Hitler would not dare to invade because of guarantees given by UK, France and USSR. The Molotov Ribbentrop pact was agreed in August of 1939 and Baranovitch was occupied by Soviets a month later. Rabbi Wasserman fled to Vilna in Lithuania to escape Soviet rule. The immediate period between the fall of Poland was one of phony war. When writing this letter in May 1940, Rabbi Wasserman probably held some hope that Lithuania's neutrality would not be respected by the Nazis and indeed he was proved right. (The low countries considered their neutrality as being a guarantee against Hitler). It was the USSR which breached Lithuania's neutrality about one month after that letter was written. A year later the Soviets were in turned expelled by the Germans.
I think this letter (probably written to other refugees in Lithuania) is being over analyzed. I very much doubt that Rabbi Wasserman had any idea of the impending catastrophe facing Lithuania but he was not alone in that view.
The man was not a prophet after all.

--The US certainly had the ability to quickly find and intern tens of thousands of Japanese not long after.--

You are avoiding the point. The issue is not ability but whether they would have had the desire and inclination to monitor and then raise a ruccus if someone came to study in YU and instead decided to study in TV.

In any event, as other have pointed out, even giving its most stringent reading, this letter doesn't tell us much.

--The US certainly had the ability to quickly find and intern tens of thousands of Japanese not long after.--

You are avoiding the point. The issue is not ability but whether they would have had the desire and inclination to monitor and then raise a ruccus if someone came to study in YU and instead decided to study in TV.

In any event, as other have pointed out, even giving its most stringent reading, this letter doesn't tell us much.


Note that Anon left out a key part of my actual response:The US certainly had the ability to quickly find and intern tens of thousands of Japanese not long after.

And the US had a very active effort to root out and deport German spies. This isone of the reasons visas were not given to more German Jews.

This letter shows nothing.

I deal with vast numbers of Haredim. While I find many of them to be as pleasant and as decent as anyone else, many American born individuals speak English with accents, their vocabularies are stunted, and certainly, their general knowlege is deficient. I am not merely talking about Hasidim, although nearly all of them arrived on these shores no later than the late '40s; we are dealing with grandchildren of immigrants!! The Yeshivish world, has, of late, forsworn secular education, and many of its members speak "Yeshivish", a polyglot of English, Hebrew, some Talmudic phrases, etc., best spoken when the speaker has marbles in his mouth!! I do notice that the female of the Haredi species, is often more familiar with our vernacular.

The differences in Hashkafa between the modern Orthodox and the Haredim, do indeed exist, nonetheless, we don't have to hate each other!!

"Note that Anon left out a key part of my actual response:

The US certainly had the ability to quickly find and intern tens of thousands of Japanese not long after.

And the US had a very active effort to root out and deport German spies. This isone of the reasons visas were not given to more German Jews."

Now, oh great one, please explain to those of us that can actually read English what this has to do with the issue at hand. We are looking for support of your notion that the US government monitored and deported jewish immigrants that didn't attend the right yeshiva.

The US actively sought out and deported European immigrants who were suspected of spying.

Suspicious activities – which included things like getting a visa to do "a" but then immediately doing "b" instead, could get one deported.

Immigration rules in 1939 were much much more restrictive and their enforcement much tighter than today.

YU and HTC had to be RESPONSIBLE for these visa holders. YU and HTC had to promise ot feed, clothe and house them, to provide them with medical care and other help, and had to produce these visa holders on request of the FBI.

Taking a visa for YU and then heading over to Torah Vodaas to study risked far more than the visa holder's deportation.

Which all boils down to: Stay in YU and be a "Modern Orthodox", stay in Poland and be a dead Orthodox. And what these guys said then, and NOW, is "better dead, than well read"!!!

>>Which all boils down to: Stay in YU and be a "Modern Orthodox", stay in Poland and be a dead Orthodox. And what these guys said then, and NOW, is "better dead, than well read"!!!

Cheif Doofis: Its better dead than frei.

>>The differences in Hashkafa between the modern Orthodox and the Haredim, do indeed exist, nonetheless, we don't have to hate each other!!

I agree. And let me start by saying that R' Ahron Lichtenstein, in my humble opinion, comes across as a man with an agenda with Charedi Jews. I would not say that he hates them, but there is something very off about his views about them.

Stop calling this idiot rav! He is FAG WASSERMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To the jerk who anonymously wrote, "better dead than frei": I'd like to introduce you to many YU guys who learn every day, whose children are being raised in a Torah true fashion, who haven't missed T'filla B'tzibur in YEARS, who eat the same foods as their Haredi counterparts. They are "marbits Torah" in their communities, and PAY THEIR OWN WAY, TOO!!

And, I know this, because, to two of them, I'm proudly known as Daddy!!

Chief; They might not like "frei" in the colloquial sense of non-religious. But they sure like "frei" in the literal sense of "free;" i.e. gov't handouts.

It's not only government handouts. It's also the largesse of the rest of the Jewish community. I don't know if you are affected (afflicted) by it, yet; but compare the cost of tuition at a Day School, with that of a Haredi style Yeshiva in Brooklyn. We are being destroyed from within!! Working class Orthodoxy is struggling with enormous burdens of educating our youth, while thousands of freeloaders are sucking out the lifeblood of our community!!

"compare the cost of tuition at a Day School, with that of a Haredi style Yeshiva in Brooklyn." This has more to do with the differing cost per student than any "largesse." MO day schools have better physical plants, pay teachers better salaries, have more amenities, better equipment, and have larger support staffs.

Barry writes: "I very much doubt that Rabbi Wasserman had any idea of the impending catastrophe facing Lithuania but he was not alone in that view. The man was not a prophet after all."

Point well taken, but according to the doctrine of Da'as Torah, rabbis virtually are prophets. I do not think they have any special insights into politics over and above lay people.

The statement about the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (ZT"L) is false and disgraceful. Likewise, the disrespectful way some posters have referred to Rav Wasserman (HY"D).
Both for their superior scholarship and their superior piety, well established and universally acknowledged, it is incumbent upon us all to respect the wisdom and G-dly insight of tzaddikim and chachamim.
Furthermore, "one who disgraces the chachamim has no share in the World to Come, and is within the scope of [the verse] 'for he has despised the word of G-d'." (Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah, 6:11)

That is today's haredi Judaism, folks. Follow your leaders. Don't think.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham, who thought for himself and who rejected the sick group think today's haredi rabbis demand.

Someone sent me this link as i go to one of the institutions listed. (I hate it here.)
I grew up going to "yeshivish" yeshivas which I am sure you all have heard of and I hated them. I went after high school to a much less yeshivish place and loved it I came to the realization that yeshivish=bad and charedi is usually good. Id assume a lot of people on here were messed up by possibly some of the very same Rabbeim who did that to me. I just have to say this blog is pointless, feel free to dislike those individuals, don't take it out on the gedolim. If you don't want to do that, get a life anyways.

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