Wednesday, September 20, 2006

R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, Tikkat Shofar on Shabbat & plagiarism (of course)

Menachem Mendel has a very good post discussing the issues and the history regarding the propriety of blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShana when it falls on Shabbat. A central figure in this discussion is R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger. R. Schlesinger is perhaps best known for his book Lev haIvri a commentary on the last will and testament of the Hatam Sofer. In this book, which perhaps can be used to trace much of Haredi ideology today, the bulk is devoted to putting down the "reformers." He discusses Mendelssohn's Biur, speaking in the vernacular and a host of other issues. There is no doubt he held what many would consider extremists views. R. Schlesinger has a less well known side - his love of Israel and dislike or almost vehement hatred of inertia.

R. Schlesinger who was born and raised in Hungry emigrated to Israel. When he got to Israel, at the time, most people were supported by the various kollelim. These kollelim would be set up by country, Hungarian Kollel etc. (the American Kollel was controversial). These kollelim in turn wielded tremendous power - they had the money. R. Schlesinger took a very dim view of these kollelim. First, he felt the money was not given out based upon need and merit, rather it was given based upon status and connections. Additionally, this system only ensured that people would never actually try and make money themselves. To be clear, these kollelim did not only support people learning full time, rather, almost everyone was supported by them.

R. Schlesinger came out strongly against the kollelim and decided to set up his own system. This system he outlined his book Kollel HaIvirim. First, he explains his system would be democratic. He explains that the Torah requires one to follow the majority. This is so, even when a Godol or the like holds different views. He proves this by pointing to the system of the Sanhedrin. There, they did not just go with greatest Rabbi on the Sanhedrin, rather, they started polling the views of the lowest one. (p. 7).

According to R. Schlesinger's system the Kollel or Board would be in charge of almost everything. They would oversee the education of the children. He advocated for marriage at 18 and then a 3 year period to devote to study. However, R. Schlesinger notes, not too many people are successful at just studying Torah full time, therefore, the Kollel should see who is not or who does not have an interest and they should learn a proper profession. This study should not be half hazard. Instead, they should study from a expert and devote a significant amount of time to this endeavor. He includes agriculture among these professions. (p. 9-10)

R. Schlesinger did not shy away from accountability. Even today many religious organizations do not have open books. R. Schlesinger, however, advocated for a yearly accounting which would be sent to all where they could view all the expenses and the accounting of the Kollel. (p.11).

He also seems to have taken what today would be considered a religious Zionist view of the then current status of Israel. Although at the time, Israel was under the rule of the Turkish government, due to the fact, they were fairly benevolent he understood that it was already then - long before the founding of the State of Israel - the messianic era. Specifically, he points to the Talmudic passage which explains the only change during the messianic era will be the removal of government oppression (אין בין עולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שעבוד מלכיות בלבד). (p. 19) Additionally, he chides his former countrymen on their aversion to move to Israel. He says R. Isaiah Horowitz in the 16th century moved to Israel although it took a year to do. Today, he says, it is easy. The government gives anyone who wants a pass and it on the fast ships and rail it takes a mere 10 days. (p. 16).

Although it was fairly safe, R. Schlesinger was aware there still should be a security force. Thus, he advocated for a month long rotation for everyone. These watchers would serve for a month and then others would take their place. He says they should do so even on Shabbat. (p. 26b).

He wanted everyone to have a flag. There would be a general Kollel haIvrim flag with white, green, purple and turquoise. Then each shevet would have their own as well. (p. 27).

All of these plans met with serious resentment from the established Kollelim. They viewed him as undermining their system and way of life. So, as anyone who wants to get someone in trouble does - they searched his books to find something they could ban. Sure enough, they were successful. In his book Bet Yosef Hadash, which is on the Bet Yosef, he discusses a terrible problem and attempts to find a satisfactory answer. In Russia at the time there was forced conscription for a 25 year period. This was a Jewish death sentence - some people, were taken as young as 8. So, some would flee Russia and move to Israel to avoid this. At times, their wives refused to come. R. Schlesinger, therefore, discusses the possibility of getting around the Herem of Rabbenu Gershon on two wives. R. Schlesinger's enemies, however, accused him of doing away with and not respecting the Herem.

They consigned his books to the fire and put a ban on them.

In the end, however, his students (and he had many) were successful in setting up the city of Petach Tikvah (see here for more). They wanted R. Schlesinger to join them, and he did. He purchased land, but to honor his father in law, purchased it in his father in laws name.

Unfortunately, this had terrible ramifications. When R. Schlesinger returned to Hungary to gain support for his movement, his enemies went to his father in law. His father in law was old and could not take this. His father in law signed over the land he owned in Petach Tikvah, the land which was the culmination of R. Schlesinger's dream to his enemies, the Hungarian Kollel. R. Schlesinger then attempted to get it back. He did win some court victories. His opponents, however, used his own means against him. They ignored the pronouncements of the Bet Din, knowing that R. Schlesinger would never go to a non-Jewish court.

It seems that not only was R. Schlesinger a tragic figure, but other things he touched as well. Shmuel Weingarten was an avid Zionist. He published, among other things, a book demonstrating the collection of anti-Zionist letters in Dovev Siftei Yeshanim were forgeries. At the end of his life he obtained letters sent to R. Schlesinger's group (although they don't mention it, Weingarten shows they in fact were)and published them in a volume titled B'Shevach Yishuv Ha'aretz. These letters were from many Rabbis, some who were not that well known. Weingarten, as he notes, had to spend considerable effort tracking down and providing biographical information about these persons. He also transcribed the letters. He, unfortunately, did not live to see this book published.

In 1999/2000 some in Beni Brak B. Margolius (most likely a woman due to the lack of first name), published a book, Ragli Mevasar. This book is divided into three parts. The first two are biographies of R. Schlesinger and his father in law. The last part are the very same letters originally published by Weingarten. Additionally, they include the very same biographies that Weingarten did. There is absolutely no attribution at all! I have included a page from each were the reader can see how they are the same. The top page is from Weingarten and the bottom from Ragli Mevasar. None of the library catalogs I have seen note that this is plagiarized.

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