Monday, March 16, 2009

International Tehillim Gathering, and my thoughts on it...

The email I received:
This Monday night, March 16, marks the 21st of Adar, which is the yarhzeit of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. Under the direction of the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel and America, women around the world are being asked to meet block by block to say Tehillim b'tzibur at 8:30 pm.
Rabbi Elimelech Mi-Lizhensk was a great tzaddik, and this day is a very auspicious day to daven for rachamim.
May Hashem bring about the release of the innocent and tortured boys in Japan in the merit of the tefillos of noshim tzidkanios (righteous women).
Please organize your block to join women around the world to daven to free these bochrim in Japan.
One of the mothers of the interned boys, Mrs. Mirel Goldstein, will be speaking in the New York area this weekend:
Sunday evening, March 15th at 8:00 PM in Lakewood at Yeshiva Orchas Chaim -410- Oberland Avenue
Tuesday evening, March 17th at 8:00 PM in Boro Park at Khal Chassidim-4820-15th Avenue
They are also looking to raise money for pidyon shovuim. With any contribution, you can call a special number set up to receive a brocha from Hagoan HaRav Chaim Kanievski, Shlita. Please call Chaya [redacted] at [redacted].
The names of the boys are:
May Hashem hear our tefillos berachamim!

I have a few thoughts and comments on the above.

1) First and foremost, I did not feel comfortable sharing the full name and phone number above. But if you would like to contribute, and call, send me a private email or drop me a comment with your email, and I can tell you this information privately.

2) Second, I hope they are successful, whether by collecting and then applying the appropriate moneys or by the tehillim.

3) That said, I have a few questions about the above:

a) "Under the direction of the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel and America"
Which gedolim in Eretz Yisrael and the US? Unfortunately, some people misattribute things to the gedolim all the time, or kvetch their words to be more than what they said. Not that I am specifically suspecting these folks, but it would be good in general to specify. Is it Rav Kanievsky in Eretz Yisrael, or is he only associated with the fundraising effort?

b) "women around the world are being asked to meet block by block to say Tehillim b'tzibur"
Did the gedolim approve this wording? With modern Amen parties and Amen groups, under extremely frum Orthodox auspices, the boundaries of halacha have been blurred, IMHO. Halachically, it is only a tzibbur if 10 Jewish males are present, so it is not Tehillim betzibbur, or tefillah betzibbur, without this.

c) "Rabbi Elimelech Mi-Lizhensk was a great tzaddik, and this day is a very auspicious day to daven for rachamim."
Is one permitted to say this, or think this? Haman figured out auspicious days, based on the death-day of the tzaddik Moshe Rabbenu. But for Jews, this might well be meOnen. Of course, chassidic or kabbalistic influences might have undone this halacha. But, to cite Yeranen Yaakov's translation of a halacha Yomit from Rav Ovadiah Yosef:
In the Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin (page 65b), it says: The rabbis learned: [What is a] Me'onen? Rabbi Akiva says, "This refers to someone who calculates times and hours and says, 'Today is a good day to travel.' [or] 'Tomorrow is a good day to purchase (to do business)' because at those times, the Mazal is good or bad - and similarly, anything similar to these [statements]." (Rashi explains: The word "Me'onen" is like a master of "Onot" [time periods], where he distinguishes the [good from bad] time period and says, "Today is a good day to travel on the road.")

Rabbeinu HaRambam made a similar halachic decision [by saying]: What is a "Me'onen"? These are those that give times, that they say through astrology that a certain day is good, and a certain day is bad, etc. Similarly, Maran [Rabbi Yosef Caro] in Shulhan Aruch (Y"D 179) decided: Regarding one who says, "Do not begin to collect money from me because it is morning" or "because it is Motza'ei Shabbat" or "because it is Motza'ei Rosh Hodesh" (because this person thinks that those times are not good for that matter), saying such a statement is forbidden.
Perhaps since this is not based on astrology but instead on tzaddik-worship, it is not as problematic. Or maybe it is more problematic, if accompanied by a belief that the dead tzaddik is some power to turn to for help on this day.

On the other hand, why specifically Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk, and why specifically this day? The Jewish people have been blessed with great tzaddikim in each generation, and plenty of them, such that by now, every day is a yahrtzheit.

To cite the Zchus Avos blog, and excerpt only a little:
20 Adar - R’ Yoel ben R’ Shmuel Halevi Sirkis (1641), author of Bach- Bayis Chadash on the Tur

21 Adar – R’ Elimelech ben R’ Elazar Lipman (1787) Known affectionately as the Rebbe Reb Meilech, author of Noam Elimelech, which is know as the “sefer of tzadikim”. He and his brother, the Rebbe Reb Zushia of Anipoli were talmidim of the Magid of Mezerich.

22 Adar - R’ Yechiel Michel ben R’ Ahron Halevi Epstein (1902) author of Aruch Hashulchan
Look, I know that chassidim and others flock to Rav Elimelech's gravesite and turn his into a saint, but why should the anniversary of his death by any more auspicious than the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan. They, too, were tzaddikim.


Jeremy said...

While your questions are all legitimate, are you really asking them with the hope that there is a serious answer? You know the answer- this is what Judaism is in the 21st century.

If you don't like what it has become, you may be right, but you will soon find yourself more and more alone outside the contours of what "jewish" people are doing.

joshwaxman said...

someone ("cipher") asked a similar question the other day at Wolfish Musings. See here.

There might indeed be legitimate answers. But the questions were indeed intended rhetorically, and as a way of (hopefully) influencing the contours of Jewish belief and practice in a positive direction.


michael said...

I am not a good expert in halakha, and personally not hassidic oriented, but are you sure this goes under issur meonen?
We know, for example that there is no issur meonen, when there is a logical connection. i.e. sunny day = good day to go to the beach. or new moon = good time to make a surprise attack on the enemy (we have better night-vision technology).
Maybe here we could say that it is a good day to say tehillim bzchut hatzadiq.?
Where as not pursuing an action because a black cat crossed my path would be assur?

joshwaxman said...

no, I'm not sure.

and it might well depend on the meaning of "auspicious," and as intended by the authors of this notice.

regardless, the situation nowadays *seems* to be that instead of saying day X is lucky, or we will be aided in activity Z on day X, because of the influence of some Mazal, we are saying the same thing because of the influence of some tzaddik. In which case we have replaced the 12 signs of the zodiac with the several hundred tzaddikim.

But I am just asking questions. Such as, it wasn't particularly auspicious for Rav Elimelech, now was it? ;)


Michael said...

I believe this all is very ambiguous and borderline. There is always a thin line between holiness and heresy. What about prophecy vs witchcraft? I never completely understood why Moses needs a Rod to part the sea. Bilaam also has some kind of staff. When does that become Kesem ( Kesem means rod if I am not mistaken).
Of course all the mystical approach to Judaism is liable to deteriorate into superstition.

joshwaxman said...


perhaps another nice way of putting it is that it depends on whether it is Truth or Nonsense. If it is nonsense, it may be superstition, MeOnen, etc. But if it is Truth, then it is not nonsense. And they hold it is Truth. Once they pasken that way, then internally it is so and follows consistently as not being MeOnen.

And then it is the matter of judging it from the inside or the outside.

I am not so sure it is so borderline and ambiguous, though. It is only because of years and years of questionable declarations that we may have arrived at the present state of belief. But the true line may already lie quite far from where we now stand, and have been crossed hundreds of years ago.


Anonymous said...

First of all, you seem a bit skeptical about the statement that Reb Elimelech was a tzadik. How can you talk that way? Would so many people, and great people whom almost all consider holy today, believe in it, how can you question it?
Second of all, I don't believe that letter was demeaning the other two huge tzaddikim; however Reb Elimelech has become extremely renowned even-and especially-nowadays for intervening on behalf of our nation. The soul hovers in this world on a yartzheit especially. And Reb Elimelech even requested from above that his soul should always rest in the lowest spheres possible in order to be very connected with his brothers.
I hope that you don't take this as a provocation but rather use this to straighten out your misconception (which isn't only yours).
Kol Tuv!

joshwaxman said...

"First of all, you seem a bit skeptical about the statement that Reb Elimelech was a tzadik. How can you talk that way?"
And what, pray tell, in my words implied that?? Which words? All I was commenting on was the hyper-reaction of the hamon am. There is a difference between a tzaddik and a saint, the latter of which is more a Christian concept, IMHO. I would say the same about Bach and Aruch HaShulchan. (I sometimes use stark words to get my point across, and sometimes over-equivocate, but that is a matter of style rather than substance.)

"I don't believe that letter was demeaning the other two huge tzaddikim"
I don't believe it was either. My only reason for selecting these two was because they died on the days preceding and following. Had the yahrzheit been any other day of the year, I could have selected another pair of tzaddikim.

My point was that once you select a *day* as "auspicious" (a practice which may be questionable, whether or not it is auspicious) because a tzaddik died on that day, the same can be said about *any* other day.

There is a shul in Kew Gardens Hills which never said tachnun, for a span of many years, because every day was the yahrzheit of some tzaddik or some rebbe. It would seem that the same would apply here.

"And Reb Elimelech even requested from above that his soul should always rest in the lowest spheres possible in order to be very connected with his brothers."
This may well be theology behind it. It does not reassure me; rather, it worries me more, as we now may have Hashem in the upper spheres and Rav Elimelech in the lower spheres. This theology (of tzaddik-ism) may be problematic enough when the tzaddik is alive, but may be more so once the tzaddik is deceased. Are we now creating a pantheon of lower gods, formed by deceased tzaddikim; instead of a pantheon of kochavim and mazalot?

But that, of course, is an entirely separate machloket.



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