A Year of Coronavirus
A year has passed since the world began coming to a screeching halt.
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, last December. At the time, it evoked little more than a shrug and a raised eyebrow from most of the world. I don’t know exactly what reactions it elicited in America, but I am sure that you, like us, did not imagine what lay in store for us. Here in Yerushalayim, the Ministry of Health merely advised Israelis traveling to Wuhan to avoid contact with animals. One month later, the ministry issued an advisory against traveling anywhere in the Hubei province. The government later enacted a quarantine requirement for anyone returning from China, and Netanyahu assigned the National Security Council to monitor the situation. But even then, we couldn’t have imagined the threat that the virus would pose to the entire world.
In February, the disease was detected on board a cruise ship, where a handful of Israelis contracted the virus, and Israel sent a doctor to the ship. We began becoming alarmed when a group of tourists from South Korea visited Israel and reportedly brought the disease into the country. Their itinerary was reported to the public, and anyone who had come in contact with them was asked to have an immediate test for the virus. We all learned a new word—epidemiology—but we still remained calm, at least for a short time.
This week, America is expected to cross the threshold of 11 million infections. There are almost seven million Americans who have recovered from Covid-19, but I am not sure if they are among the 11 million. Who could ever have imagined this? And who knows what is still in store for us?
But now, boruch Hashem, there is talk of a vaccine. Prime Minister Netanyahu is working to acquire six million doses of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer. If I am not mistaken, America is buying the vaccine as well. Netanyahu has already had two conversations with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and reached an agreement with him, anticipating a possible shortage.
Our lives have changed. Priorities have been reversed, and people have learned that their own strengths and abilities are meaningless. The world’s faith in doctors has eroded, and money and wealth, once virtually worshiped by much of the world’s population, have been shown to be empty and meaningless. When Covid patients struggled to breathe, the most advanced medical science in the world could not find ways to pump air into the longs of even the wealthiest among them. The accursed virus brought sorrow and bereavement to the world, but there was also a positive side to the coin. We received a sense of proportion; our lives were reshaped and rebooted. We all discovered how puny and impotent man really is, as a disease carried by a simple bat thrust the entire world to the brink of destruction. Suddenly, there was no travel, domestic or international; there were no summer bungalows and no duty-free shopping. Lehavdil, even the de rigeur trips to Kerestir and Lizhensk were canceled. Weddings were scaled down dramatically, brissos even more so. People stopped meeting each other, shaking hands, and going to work. We sit with plastic partitions separating us from each other. Modern science can clone monkeys and transport men to the moon, but a single tiny virus left it helpless and floundering. And now, to make matters worse, there is the Danish mutation of the virus. Without even blinking, and with all due respect to the mink, Denmark now plans to destroy 17 million of the animals.
Lessons from Covid
Covid-19 has taught us the limits of human power. This week, the Israeli media reported that two people had hired a private jet and traveled from Ukraine to Israel. I imagine that they were wealthy people who had done everything in their power to avoid being infected with coronavirus. Nevertheless, on the plane they discovered that they had both contracted the virus.
I also heard this week about a resident of New York who paid 180,000 dollars for a private plane to take him to a family simcha in Yerushalayim. He offered to pay any sum necessary in order to secure an entry permit from the Population Authority or the Health Ministry, after managing to obtain an exemption from quarantine on his own, but he was turned down. In short, the wealthy have learned that money cannot buy everything they desire. Of course, there were also plenty of affluent people who contracted coronavirus and were brought to death’s door, Hashem yishmor. Their fortunes certainly were of no avail to them in that situation. Only Hashem Himself holds the keys to salvation.
The coronavirus situation has also spawned a new genre of humor: Covid-19 jokes, ranging from the shallow to the incisive. Undoubtedly, many of these witticisms were hatched during the long nights of the lockdown, when people were confined to their homes. During those days, only essential workers or others with special permits were permitted to walk the streets. Policemen would stop cars at checkpoints, and ordinary citizens would have to explain their presence outdoors. And that was even before the enforcement of the mask requirement.
One popular joke has it that a police officer stopped a person on the street and asked what he was doing outdoors. “I am exercising,” the man replied, citing one of the outdoor activities that were permitted by law.
“But why aren’t you wearing a mask?” the policeman pressed.
“That is because I was smoking,” the citizen said.
“I don’t see a cigarette!” the policeman shot back suspiciously.
“I just threw it away,” the other man replied.
“Then why don’t I smell cigarette smoke in the air?” the policeman continued questioning him.
The self-proclaimed smoker looked squarely at the policeman and asked, “Are you sure you don’t smell anything?”
“I don’t smell anything at all!” the policeman replied confidently.
With that, the citizen let out a yelp. “You don’t smell anything? Hashem yishmor!” he exclaimed. “Get away from me!”
As you may recall, one of the symptoms of Covid-19 is the loss of one’s olfactory sense…
Another humorous tidbit was shared with me recently by a neighbor’s son at our outdoor minyan. “A policeman stopped a car at a checkpoint in Romema recently and asked him, ‘Where are you going?’” he said. “The driver looked at him and responded, ‘Where do you need to go?’”
There are some good things that we have discovered during this year of coronavirus, such as the powerful yearning for Torah and tefillah within every Jew, and the Jewish heart’s longing for the Kosel, for Meron, for Uman, and for the bais medrash. We have witnessed amazing initiatives launched by people who had only just discovered what they were capable of doing. We saw elderly men, small children, bochurim and yungeleit clinging to the Torah at any cost and in the face of boundless challenges. In courtyards, over telephone lines, and in capsules, Torah learning flourished. People davened on their porches while longing to return to their places on the rickety benches of their respective shuls. We ourselves sometimes do not realize just how deep these desires run within us. When the shuls reopened, people wept with emotion. And when the Kosel and Meron were opened to visitors once again, that weeping was complemented by joyous dancing.
Hotels in Eilat and Anti-Chareidi Incitement
Anyone who read Yediot Acharonot last Wednesday could have been forgiven for thinking that the greatest enemy of the State of Israel is neither Abu Mazen nor Nasrallah, nor even Iran or the coronavirus, but the chareidi community! A massive front-page headline blared, “Chareidi Politicians Pressured. The Government Caved In. And Eilat Was Abandoned Again.” Pages 2 and 3 were occupied entirely by an article describing “the three demands that caused the government to surrender to the chareidim again.”
What is the connection between the chareidim and Eilat? The government had decided to exclude Eilat from some of the restrictions imposed on the rest of the country and to permit its hotels to open. Their rationale is that Eilat, a city whose economy is based on tourism, was collapsing. The mayor of Eilat is a well-connected man with many ties to officials in the Likud party, and he exerted enough pressure to have the measure passed. The government proceeded to put together a special law singling out Eilat as an exception. But the laws passed by the Knesset must receive the approval of the Constitutional Committee, which is headed by MK Yaakov Asher of Degel HaTorah. Asher, together with a majority of the committee’s members, decided to make a few changes to the bill.
First, the committee decided that the bill should be expanded to include not only Eilat but Teveria as well, which is also heavily dependent on tourism and is likewise on the verge of collapse. Second, the committee members insisted that in addition to the hotels, other businesses associated with tourism, including restaurants, should be permitted to open in Eilat. Of course, the mayor of Eilat had also advocated for this. The third item actually had nothing to do with Eilat: It provided for any person who has recovered from coronavirus to receive a certificate of recovery, which will permit him to be excluded from lockdowns and all sorts of other restrictions.
When the bill was brought to the Knesset for its approval, the Minister of Health announced that he had decided to withdraw it completely, since he was opposed to the changes that had been made. This resulted in the headlines that claimed that chareidi pressure had killed the measure. What did this have to do with the chareidim? Absolutely nothing! But there is a well-oiled incitement apparatus in this country, and it has been working hard.
In fact, the bill was brought back to the Knesset for another vote on Wednesday night, at which time it passed. This was after the prime minister interceded and arranged for the clause including other tourist zones to be dropped. Nevertheless, the clause allowing for a certificate of recovery remained in place, triggering another round of chareidi-bashing in the media on the following day.
The fight for Teveria to be given “tourist zone” status had nothing to do with the chareidim, but that did not stop the media from blaming the chareidi community for the damage to Eilat. The idea of a certificate of recovery from Covid, and the accompanying exemptions, does have some connection to the chareidim, but it is a relatively minor issue. Why were the chilonim so opposed to this? They argued that the main purpose of the clause was to provide a measure of relief for bochurim learning in capsules in yeshivos, most of whom have already contracted the virus and have recovered from it. The chilonim argued that even a recovered patient might become sick again and thus endanger others. But it is their hatred for the religious community that drove their opposition! This should give you an idea of what has been preoccupying the state, the Knesset, the media, and the prime minister. As you can see, the incitement against chareidim knows no limits.
A Matter of Priorities
More fuel was added to the fire of incitement against chareidim by another recent controversy, this one over the issue of coronavirus fines. When the government scuttled a plan to raise fines on schools and shuls for operating during a shutdown, the headlines screamed once again that the government had capitulated to chareidi pressure.
Of course, you might be thinking that the media, in this case, seems to have been right. After all, doesn’t it look bad for the chareidim to oppose hiking up fines? Doesn’t this paint a picture of the chareidi parties as seeking to protect criminals who defy the government’s regulations?
For one thing, I will not deny that the chareidim are in favor of keeping schools open. This is in accordance with Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s ruling and despite the government’s decision. The fact that this sentiment is not shared by the secular Israeli public is due to a difference in worldviews. As Aryeh Deri put it recently, “There is an order of priorities. There is Torah, there is davening, and then parnossah comes at the end. It is certainly an important element of every person’s world, but it is not the top priority.” Unfortunately, there are many people whose priorities are skewed, who are willing to advocate for the opening of gyms and takeout stores but are indifferent to the closure of shuls and yeshivos.
Indeed, the chareidim fought in the Coronavirus Cabinet against the increase in the fines, but there was good reason for this. First of all, they were infuriated by the comparison drawn in the language of the proposal: “The fine for holding any event, reception, gathering, ceremony, festival, entertainment, or artistic performance, or operating an educational institution in violation of the rules will increase from 5,000 shekels to 20,000 shekels.” It was outrageous for the operation of a place of Torah learning to be equated with activities that are so much more trivial. Moreover, even in the countries where the most rigid lockdowns were implemented, schools were allowed to remain open. And if the non-Jewish world could allow its elementary schools to continue functioning in spite of Covid-19, the Torah learning of Jewish children certainly should not be interrupted!
I personally had a telling exchange in the Knesset recently, when one of the legislators from the Yesh Atid party remarked to me snidely, “Is your party trying to protect scofflaws?” As I pointed out, that seems to be exactly what the chareidi parties were trying to do. But his comment amused me, since the entire Yesh Atid party has called on the citizens of Israel to rebel against the coronavirus regulations. I explained to him simply that we have differing worldviews. From the chareidi perspective, not only should the government refrain from fining schools for operating during this time, but they should even permit the schools to open. In fact, that is an opinion that is shared by educators, members of the Knesset, and the mayors of Israel’s cities, as the latter group announced that they intend to open schools in defiance of the government’s decision.
Forty minutes after this exchange, I received another piece of ammunition that could have been put to good use in that argument, when Yair Lapid himself addressed the Knesset. Lapid, who was presenting yet another motion of no confidence in the government, asserted dramatically, “There are no lockdowns anywhere in the world. Schools are open in England. Schools are open in France. There is no logic in the fact that stores are closed throughout Israel and the Israeli economy is being destroyed.”
As usual, Lapid has reached a valid conclusion only after everyone else. And as usual, Lapid has shown his inability to make a single statement that is completely true. His claim that there are no lockdowns elsewhere in the world was false; on the other hand, it is absolutely true that schools are open as usual in England and France. Why, then, are the schools in Israel closed? As I said, it is a matter of priorities. That is also the reason that the country’s shuls are constantly beset by controversy, with the media and politicians loudly protesting the very thought of opening shuls. Neither they nor the country’s coronavirus project managers have the slightest understanding of what a shul means to a believing Jew, with his strong desire to daven in a sanctuary, in the presence of an aron kodesh and bimah, rather than in a makeshift outdoor minyan.
Secular Israelis have loudly and vociferously attacked the Torah world, whether they were complaining about Orthodox visitors from Brooklyn who allegedly imported Covid-19 to Israel or about Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s instructions for yeshivos and chadarim to operate as usual. Yet the Talmudei Torah have opened in all the chareidi cities, and those same cities were miraculously transformed from red zones to green areas. How is that possible? It is simple: The Torah community transcends nature. The Torah protects us. Furthermore, the capsule system implemented in our yeshivos ought to be studied as a model for other institutions and hailed as a source of pride for the yeshiva world. Our bochurim and yungeleit have demonstrated incredible willingness to sacrifice their own comfort in order to toil over their Torah learning. They have set aside their own desires to do the Will of their Creator.
Europe’s Disappearing Jews
The headline was brief yet deeply alarming: “Jewish Population of Europe Reaches Thousand-Year Low.” This was reported by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London. Among its findings was the fact that only Orthodox communities have survived; all other Jewish communities on the continent have collapsed. This may answer the question of where the millions of Jews in Europe have gone. After all, Israel has not absorbed millions of immigrants from the Diaspora, nor did they migrate to different countries in Europe, since the study took into account the entire Jewish population of the continent. They simply disappeared, but where did they go?
The answer, unfortunately, is that they have assimilated. According to that same study, the assimilation rate in Europe is as high as 70 percent in Poland and stands at 50 percent in countries such as Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. In France and England, the rate is 30 percent. In Belgium it is even lower, due to the large Orthodox community there (again, according to the study).
In my humble view, assimilation takes one of two forms: intermarriage or conversion to Christianity. The latter often happens when a Jew feels threatened because of his Jewishness; he may then decide to cut off all contact with Judaism and divest himself of all the trappings of his Jewish identity. And that is no less sad and painful than the scenario of intermarriage. If I remember correctly, then other studies have shown that the situation in America is no better than in Europe. The Reform movement encourages assimilation, and even the Jews who remain connected to their Reform communities have admitted to researchers that their sense of connection to Israel and Zionism was virtually nil, and their religious affiliation was even lower.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from all this. The State of Israel and the bizarre entity known as the Zionist Federation operate an entire network of emissaries in the Diaspora. These shlichim, as they are known, are stationed in Europe and in America. Do they have the tools to rise to the challenge of strengthening Judaism in the Diaspora? Do they themselves even know what Judaism is about? Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach once asked solemnly, “In what way are they Jewish?” Perhaps the time has come to switch gears and to send the right people abroad to represent Judaism. After all, we are losing large portions of our people!
A Trip Down Memory Lane in the Interior Ministry
This week, I visited the Ministry of the Interior, where Aryeh Deri works. The ministry is a five-minute walk from the Knesset, but I haven’t been there in many years. Decades ago, however, I worked in that very building. And when I arrived at the ministry this week, I found myself transported thirty years into the past. I remembered working in the ministry at the beginning of my career. At first, I worked in the Interior Minister’s office when the position was held by Yitzchok Peretz. In the office across the way sat the director-general of the ministry, a bright young fellow who had left kollel not long before—a man by the name of Aryeh Deri.
Yitzchok Peretz was the public face of the ministry, a role that he played with incredible success. Aryeh Deri was the go-getter, and he played that role admirably as well. This was a period of enormous growth for the Torah world as a whole, and for the Sephardic community in particular. Shuls, Talmudei Torah, and mikvaos received sorely needed allotments of land and funding. There was certainly a reason that the powers that be (Shamir, Meridor, and Milo, along with then-State Prosecutor Dorit Beinisch) came to the conclusion that “we must liquidate that young man.” The unlimited investment of energy and resources in the Netanyahu investigations paled in comparison to the effort that was poured into finding some criminal charges on which to indict Aryeh Deri. But that is not our subject now.
My job was to field requests for assistance from the public, and I had countless phone calls and letters to which to attend. I also enjoyed attending Deri’s meetings with various mayors, even though it wasn’t my area of responsibility. In every meeting, the same scene would repeat itself: While the municipal budgets were being presented, the young minister would look through the thick volumes containing the details. When the time came for him to speak, he would ask a question or two that would invariably cause the case erected by each mayor to come tumbling down. Deri would point out a contradiction somewhere in the file he had been handed and would conclude, “So the deficit that you are presenting to me doesn’t really exist.”
Deri’s incisive analysis once upset a certain mayor (Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Yerushalayim) who became so incensed that he began screaming at the woman who oversaw the city’s education department. That young woman, Dalia Itzik, would later become the Speaker of the Knesset…. Deri calmed Kollek, assuring him that Yerushalayim was no different from any other city. “Everyone tries to cut corners, and they usually do not succeed,” he explained. This was the reason that the mayors of all the cities in Israel, ranging from Haifa to Tel Aviv and including all the smaller local councils, harbored a deep, abiding respect for the young minister.
And I could not help but remember one more detail of my encounters with Teddy Kollek. When I encountered him in the ministry, I would often politely ask, “How are you?” He would always respond gruffly, “Why do you ask? Are you a doctor?”
Preparing for Shmittah
The Knesset sometimes decides to devote one of its days of work to a specific topic. This is often the case on a Tuesday, when it often does not have much else to do. For instance, the Knesset has spent an entire day discussing ecology, and another day was dedicated to the war against traffic accidents. Sometimes, the Knesset chooses to follow the international community in devoting a single day to a particular issue. This week, the Knesset discussed the disease of cancer, and MK Yinon Azulai spoke emotionally about his late father, Reb Dovid zt”l. Last week, the Knesset held a full-day discussion about agriculture, and two speakers—Yaakov Tessler, the representative of Vizhnitz in United Torah Judaism, and Michoel Malchieli of the Shas party—used the opportunity to remind the country about the upcoming Shmittah year.
“We are now at the beginning of the sixth year, which precedes the Shmittah year, when Hashem promises to command His brocha to those who let the land lie fallow,” Malchieli said in his address. “I would like to applaud the Ministry of Agriculture, which is headed by my good friend Minister Alon Schuster, for providing for those farmers who allow their fields to rest during the Shmittah year, since the founding of the state until today…. In previous years, the State of Israel has provided support for the farmers who observed the mitzvah of abstaining from working the land during the seventh year. There is no greater day than today to praise those farmers who chose of their own volition to cease their work in the field during the seventh year, and who have joined the Agriculture Ministry’s training fund during the Shmittah year, which is a source of economic support for shemittah-observant farmers.”
Every seven years, the State of Israel, through the Ministry of Agriculture, provides financial support for farmers during the Shmittah year. These farmers learn in special kollelim and receive government stipends, like other kollel yungeleit. We expect that the program will be repeated during the upcoming Shmittah year, even though the current Minister of Agriculture knows nothing about Yiddishkeit. After all, his predecessors were equally ignorant; the Minister of Agriculture during the previous Shmittah year was the son of Yitzchok Shamir. Nevertheless, the issue was explained to them and they all accepted it.
The current Minister of Agriculture, Alon Schuster, responded to this speech in the Knesset and even quoted a posuk in Novi: “I will return the captivity of My people Yisroel, and they will build the ruined cities and inhabit them, and they will plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they will create gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:14). On the subject of Shmittah, his remarks were not exactly encouraging: “We are working hard at this very time to complete our preparations for the Shmittah year. Our goal is for every citizen and resident of Israel to have food next year, in less than eleven months, that is healthy and accessible, and we must begin preparing now.” Such is the attitude of the members of our government. That should give you a taste of what the religious Knesset members are up against. We can only hope for the best.
A Clash of Worldviews
Here is another example of the type of ignorance of Yiddishkeit that manifests itself regularly in the halls of government in Israel. Several members of the Knesset proposed a law that would prevent the Minister of the Interior from vetoing any municipal bylaw that permits stores to operate on Shabbos. The government’s response to their proposal was delivered by the Deputy Minister of the Interior, who explained the significance of Shabbos.
“Because of the importance of Shabbos and of the days of rest specified in the law,” he said, “there is an existing stipulation that the minister will not give his consent to any such bylaw unless he is convinced that it deals with businesses that provide services that he considers essential. The bill that has been presented to you seeks to abolish that provision, which would harm the status of Shabbos and of the days of rest. For the sake of the honor of Shabbos and in order to protect the days of rest, I ask you to vote against this proposal… When the State of Israel was founded, the leaders of the state declared Shabbos to be the national day of rest. They understood that in a Jewish state established in Eretz Yisroel, it is very important to stress that our main historic right to live in this land is derived from our heritage—the Jewish heritage that includes the possession of this land…. It is unthinkable that we all fought to come here, rather than to Ethiopia or any of the other places that were offered to us—only here, to the land that was promised to our forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov—and that Jews are sitting here and seeking to turn Shabbos into an ordinary weekday, into a day for home repairs and shopping. If this is allowed to pass, the day is not far off when we will find ourselves turning the Shabbos day into just another day of the week. And who will go to work on Shabbos? The executives will sit at home with their families; it is the disadvantaged people who will be forced to work on Shabbos in order to avoid losing their jobs…. It is unthinkable that the Jews in golus gave up their lives and were willing to die for the kedushah of Shabbos….”
In response, MK Yulia Malinovsky of Yisrael Beiteinu shouted, “We already have a state! We are no longer in golus!”
That is the mindset that the religious politicians must contend with.
Thoughts on the Fifth Yahrtzeit of Rav Dov Tzvi Karelenstein zt”l
This week marks the fifth yahrtzeit of Rav Dov Tzvi Karelenstein zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of Grodno in Ashdod. Long ago, the Ponovezher Rov decided to open a yeshiva in Ashdod, which was mostly home to sand dunes at the time, and selected a prominent talmid in his own yeshiva to serve as its head. Rav Karelenstein was one of the foremost bochurim in the Yeshiva of Ponovezh and was cherished by all three of its roshei yeshiva. His partner in founding the yeshiva in Ashdod was Rav Tzvi Drabkin, who serves today as the rosh yeshiva of Grodno in Beer Yaakov, along with Rav Yitzchok Hacker, son-in-law of Rav Shmuel Rozovsky. (Rav Shmuel, of course, was the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh along with Rav Shach and Rav Dovid Povarsky.)
I had a unique connection to Rav Karelenstein, since I was a close friend of his son, Rav Chanoch Karelenstein zt”l, who headed the yeshiva ketanah founded by Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky in Givat Shaul. Rav Chanoch lived in my neighborhood, and we were very close. That friendship naturally grew to include his father as well. Rav Chanoch suffered greatly from a terminal illness during the final years of his life, and I tried to help him in any way that I could. When he passed away in Elul 5759 at the age of 42, I wrote a highly emotional article describing his awe-inspiring greatness. Ever since that time, I have fulfilled one of his last requests by announcing the arrival of Elul every year in my journalistic writings.
Rav Chanoch’s levayah, which took place a few days before Rosh Hashanah, was attended by huge crowds of people. The entire neighborhood of Givat Shaul seemed to turn black as the throngs of participants filled the area. The mitah was brought to the Pressburg shul, and hespedim were delivered there. Rav Don Segal delivered a hesped that will never be forgotten. Rav Dov Tzvi moved everyone to tears when he cried out, “My Kaddish!” Rav Chanoch had been his only son.
Many of the gedolei Yisroel came to pay their respects to the family, including Rav Elyashiv and, yibadeil l’chaim, Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Chanoch’s wife, the prominent educator Rebbetzin Tzira Karelenstein, is a granddaughter of Rav Aryeh Levin, who was Rav Elyashiv’s father-in-law.
I used to encounter Rav Dov Tzvi every year on Har Hamenuchos on his son’s yahrtzeit. Our friendship was strengthened by those annual meetings.
Rav Dov Tzvi was an extraordinary man. He was a world-class genius and a formidable leader. Hundreds of Litvishe yungeleit rallied around his leadership in Ashdod. Today, there are two yeshivos that carry on his legacy. The first is Yeshivas Grodno in Ashdod, which is headed today by his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Shmida. The second is Yeshivas Meiras Shemuah, which was founded ten years ago by Rav Dov Tzvi himself, who tapped one of his foremost talmidim, Rav Nochum Rosenblatt, to serve as its rosh yeshiva. The yeshiva¸ which is located in Rova Aleph in Ashdod, has an enrollment of about 200 talmidim today. At Rav Karelenstein’s behest, Rav Rosenblatt instituted a program of learning that places significant emphasis on iyun while requiring the talmidim to cover massive quantities of material. The yeshiva includes an elite group of talmidim who learn seven blatt every day, celebrating a siyum on Shas every year on Simchas Torah. This week, Rav Rosenblatt shared some of his recollections of his illustrious rebbi.
“He was a human bas kol crying out for his talmidim to be lamdanim, to strive for that accomplishment,” Rav Rosenblatt reflected. “The Torah within him influenced everyone, impelling them to harbor loftier aspirations and a powerful desire for achievement. He brought us back sixty years into the past; he filled the yeshiva with the environment of a Lithuanian yeshiva of yesteryear…. People would visit Ashdod and remark that anyone who lived here, in his shadow, was effectively living in an environment preserved from earlier times…. He instilled in us the clarity of knowledge of what our aspirations should be, what our desires should be, what sort of atmosphere we should create for ourselves, and what priorities we should emphasize. A talmid chochom once said to me, ‘You don’t even realize the world that you are living in! This is the way they lived in the previous generation!’ Rav Karelenstein did not allow himself to be confused by the world around him or by any other person. He knew the truth with perfect clarity. He had learned from the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov exactly how the world should appear, how bnei Torah should appear, and how yeshiva bochurim should appear….
“He built an entire world here in Ashdod. He created a world of lamdanus. He used to say that in the previous generation, when parents would rock their babies’ cradles, they would sing songs that encouraged them to learn Torah and become lamdanim…. He said that he had learned from the gedolim of previous generations that this is what causes a person to become great. The rosh yeshiva, with his great power, brought the Torah of Lithuania back to us. He used to say, ‘Our ambition must be to become lamdanim. We must strive for that with all our might.’
“This idea informed the style of his shiurim as well. With enormous mesirus nefesh, he would defy the conventional methods of delivering shiurim and would invest his time and energy in teaching his talmidim how to learn. He guided them to achieve clear, comprehensive understanding of every sevara and every sugya. He felt that delivering a shiur that merely debated the possible interpretations of a sugya wasn’t adequate for that purpose, and that the previous generation of talmidei chachomim hadn’t been developed merely by listening to shiurim. He once said to me, ‘I have examined many of the talmidim of our rabbeim, and I have seen that did not grow by listening to shiurim alone.’ When I asked him about his rebbi, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, whose growth in Torah emanated from the shiurim of Rav Shimon Shkop, he told me that Rav Shmuel himself had said that he became a talmid of Rav Shimon only in Eretz Yisroel, through his seforim. That was how he was shaped as a lamdan. It was not through the shiurim that he attended personally in Europe.
“The rosh yeshiva also used to say, ‘Anyone who works hard will succeed! There is no such thing as a person who toils and does not succeed. At the same time, no one can be successful without hard work! A person who is intelligent enough to understand his learning without working on it will never achieve the same result as one who toils, because there can be no progress at all without effort. A person who toils over his learning is an entirely different kind of person; he is someone who lives on a different spiritual plane, with a greater attachment to Hashem, with different tefillos, with a different heart and an entirely different existence. Even his middos are transformed!’”