Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe draws blog spotlight to Lawrence
By Mayer Fertig • The Jewish Star
In Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, followers of Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn, known as the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, and his brother, Rabbi Dovid Kohn, Toldos Aharon Rebbe, are among those responsible for religiously-motivated vigilante attacks on women, and violent protests against chillul Shabbos (Sabbath desecration) that shocked the Jewish world several months ago. The two rabbis are crisscrossing the New York-New Jersey region this week seeking funds for their communities with stops scheduled in Flatbush, Monsey, Lakewood and the Five Towns. The Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe plans to visit Congregation Shaaray Tefilah and a private home in Lawrence this Shabbos, which has drawn the attention and ire of several well-read Jewish bloggers.
One, DovBear, wrote, “[Although] as supreme ruler of their chasidim, [the two] have the power to shut down the violence in an instant, both have steadfastly refused to do so. Instead they teach hate, and look the other way when their chasidim act on their lessons. Moreover, both are leaders of the strongly anti-Zionist Edah HaChareidis.”
Attempting to call readers to action, the blogger added, “if you find it outrageous that Lawrence is playing host to [a] man who disparages and disdains their values, and helping him raise funds, I encourage you to call the shul, and to politely ask why they are giving aid and assistance to this man, and supporting the chillul Hashem that occurs, and continues to occur under his watch.”
Rabbi Dovid Weinberger, rav of Shaaray Tefila, defended the rebbe and the invitation.
“I will tell you that I’ve done my homework very cautiously in Israel with people that I trust and I think I have a very clear picture of who this man is,” he said, and it’s not what critics of the visit are saying.
“Neturei Karta, of which they are officially members, are lumped together — nobody knows the difference — and you’ve got to sift it out.”
It’s true that Rabbi Kohn is an anti-Zionist, Rabbi Weinberger acknowledged, and that some of his followers violently protested the arrest of allegedly abusive mother, and the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem on Shabbos, but, “I don’t think he has the ability to stop” the protests.
“Are there some of his members who maybe go? Could be. But he’s opposed to it,” Rabbi Weinberger stated. “He’s a very peaceful person and he has tremendous ahavas yisroel (love for the Jewish people).”
To underscore his point, Rabbi Weinberger said that during Rabbi Kohn’s visit to Lawrence this Shabbos, four IDF soldiers were also scheduled to speak at Shaaray Tefila, and he wanted to bring them to the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok gathering, as well.
“I didn’t want to do anything to upset the rebbe. I didn’t want to bring them down without out permission. It’s all I need to create a stir with the chassidim and the soldiers in uniform. So I called and I asked. The response I got was, ‘Please bring them, the rebbe would be very happy and would greet them accordingly.’ Which is what is going to happen,” he said.
Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere criticized the nature of the visit.
“These are very difficult economic times. Why are we entertaining rebbes when should we be spending the greatest bulk of any public fundraising for the Community Assistance Fund and the Eliezer project?” he asked. Both charities, the Community Assistance Fund and The Eliezer Project, aid local residents. “We shouldn’t be hosting rebbes at this particular moment in time. We have a lot of people who are out of work and can’t put food on the table.”
Rabbi Billet said he was unaware of the allegations against the Rebbe and cautioned a distinction between the Rebbe and his followers.
“I wouldn’t ostracize a person for his followers,” but he added, “I also think that a person should publicly condemn the activities — if the rebbe denies that he advocates it, then he should publicly condemn it.”
Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn is being hosted by Dr. and Mrs. Fred Marton of Lawrence. This was to have been his second time in the community, however last year’s scheduled visit was canceled abruptly after the rebbe’s son-in-law was tragically murdered in the terrorist attack at the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.
Editorial: Is this really a smart move?
The Jewish Star
The smart money says criticism of this weekend’s visit to Lawrence by an anti-Zionist chassidic rebbe from Jerusalem aligned with the Neturei Karta will be dismissed by some as the work of troublemaking bloggers (or perhaps of a muckraking newspaper that’s too modern for its own good).
What chutzpah! defenders of the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe will fume. Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn is an adom gadol — a great man — a tzaddik, a talmid chachom, and a paragon of Yiras Shamayim and gemilas chasodim, too.
Very likely, that’s all true.
It is, however, not at all the point.
The Rebbe’s followers — at least a good number of them — are thugs and criminals who created an unprecedented desecration of G-d’s name with their violent street protests in Jerusalem.
In a few short weeks they managed to undo and turn around — v’nahafoch hu — a general perception of observant Jews as peaceful and genteel. In some cases they even altered our own self-perception; more than a few frum Jews this summer reported feeling discomfort at being seen as kin to the Orthodox hooligans in the news.
Yet, this weekend, in a display of shocking naïveté, the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe is to be feted and honored — and funded — at Cong. Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence, even as the Rebbe’s brother, the even more extreme Toldos Aharon Rebbe, is making his own appearances in the New York area.
Make no mistake: there are female members of nearly every shul in this region who would run the real risk of being physically attacked, were they to walk in their everyday street clothes through neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh these rebbes control.
While well-meaning people in the Five Towns are proffering respect and kavod haTorah to someone who looks very different from them but ostensibly observes the same Torah, ask yourself if the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok or the Toldos Aharon communities would be terribly likely to extend the same courtesy in the reverse? Same tefillin, same mikvah, same Shabbos, same kosher. But not to them. Does that make us forgiving or foolish?
There are people in our community who cannot pay their mortgage. Who cannot pay tuition. Families that are in crisis and simply cannot make ends meet. They need and are entitled to our help first, based on the halachic ruling of aniyei ircha kodmim. It’s a shame if the community as a whole hasn’t yet internalized the Torah’s guideline, that charity must begin at home.
For those who say that Israel is local, and that supporting Torah study remains a primary value no matter what, fine — there are plenty of other kollelim and plenty of people in Israel who are more in line with our values.
You want a photo op with someone in Yerushalmi garb? Great. Go to Israel.
But here at home, why don’t we reserve scarce tzedakah dollars for people who don’t hold us in such low regard?