Ukrainian Rabbonim Create Kiddush Hashem
There is no question about it: This week’s column must begin with the war in Ukraine. It is the top news story this week, and it will probably be the main story next week as well.
The entire world’s attention is riveted on Ukraine, and here in Israel we are watching the unfolding hostilities with even more concern; after all, our fellow Jews are in the danger zone. There is no nation in the world like Klal Yisroel; the hearts of Jews throughout the world are focused on the plights of our brethren in that war-torn region. We all share the apprehension of the leaders of the Jewish communities there. Interestingly, some of those leaders could easily have removed themselves from the area of danger before the war broke out, but they chose not to do so. Instead, they stayed with their fellow Jews.
On erev Shabbos, a car with a loudspeaker drove through my neighborhood, playing a recorded message calling on all of us to increase our Torah learning, our davening, and our acts of chessed to provide zechuyos for our brethren in the war zone. Minutes before Shabbos began, we heard that the buses carrying the Jews of the Tikva community in Odessa would be traveling on Shabbos as well, due to the grave danger facing them. We all felt their pain and fear; that is the way of the Jewish people. When a Jew is oppressed anywhere in the world, other Jews feel his distress as well. On motzoei Shabbos, I received a picture that had been taken by an aide to Rav Shlomo Amar, the Rishon Letzion and rov of Yerushalayim. Rav Amar had spent Shabbos in Teveria, and on motzoei Shabbos he had gone to the kever of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness to daven for the salvation of the Jews of Ukraine.
In the Pesach edition of 2017, I published two articles here about my experiences visiting Kyiv and Odessa. I had visited Rav Bleich’s shul on Podol Street in the city of Kyiv, where I met the yungeleit who learned in the shul and, Rabbi Hillel Cohen. In Odessa, I was a guest in Rabbi Shlomo Bakst’s community, Tikva, and I davened in the main shul. Both of these rabbonim featured prominently in the article that I wrote two weeks ago about events in Ukraine.
Rabbi Bakst from Odessa and Rabbi Hillel Cohen from Kyiv have been hailed as heroes over the past week. When I spoke to them just two weeks ago, both men were in Israel, about to depart for their return trips to Ukraine. They could easily have remained in Israel—but then again, they weren’t able to bring themselves to do that. They felt a sense of responsibility to their communities and to the Jews who relied on them. Rabbi Bakst serves as the rov of a kehillah, and Rabbi Hillel Cohen is the chairman of Hatzolah Ukraine. And both have since been widely sought for interviews by the Israeli media, secular and chareidi. Rabbi Bakst was interviewed while traveling with his kehillah from Odessa to Moldova. For the time being, they are stuck in the Carpathian Mountains, in a situation that is quite frightening. Rabbi Cohen remained behind in Odessa to assist the Jews who had stayed in the city. Both can be credited with creating an enormous kiddush Hashem. On Sunday, a lengthy article in Yediot Acharonot bore the title “The Father of Orphans.” The Chabad shalichim in Ukraine have also been interviewed by the media, earning admiration both for themselves on a personal level and for Yiddishkeit in general.
I would like to share several thoughts that have occurred to me about the current situation in Ukraine.
Jewish Children on the Run
When I interviewed Rabbi Shlomo Bakst a couple of weeks ago, he strongly condemned the Israeli Foreign Ministry for forcing Israeli teachers who were working in the orphanage in Odessa to return to Israel. He could not understand how the Israeli government could justify tearing the teachers, who are like maternal figures to the orphans under their care, away from the children in the institution. Just between us, I will reveal to you that some of those teachers indeed flew back to Israel, following the orders from the Ministry of Education, and then immediately returned to Kyiv, traveling as private citizens this time rather than as employees of the Israeli government. They were determined not to abandon the orphans in their time of need. Their heroism is absolutely incredible!
In the blink of an eye, the Jews of Odessa suddenly found themselves in mortal danger and were forced to run for their lives after discovering that the site they had designated for refuge was actually on the front lines. Who would ever have expected the Russian army to invade Kharkiv and Chernobyl? Who would have dreamed that Camp Shuva, where Rabbi Bleich’s community planned to escape from the hostilities, would also be in the battle zone? Who could have imagined that the camp near Zhitomer would be under fire?
Does this mean that the Ministry of Education was proven right in retrospect? Does Rabbi Bakst agree now that they were correct to recall all of their employees to Israel? Absolutely not! “I am more convinced of my position than ever,” Rabbi Bakst declared. “You have no idea how much emotional support these teachers are providing to the children!” Indeed, it makes sense: The more traumatic the situation becomes, the more lifesaving the teachers’ presence will be. One can only imagine how the community members would feel without the reassuring presence of their leaders, and how lost the orphans would feel without their teachers.
Putting these events in historical perspective, it is very sad to see Jewish children on the run once again. Who would ever have imagined that such scenes would be repeated in our times? Even though this isn’t a war against the Jews, the sight of Jews hunkering down in bunkers and bomb shelters, or racing to get to a location where their lives will not be in danger, is still deeply painful.
Was Vital Information Hidden from the Community?
There is another question that remains unanswered, and I am not even certain how to write about it. Most of the leaders of the Jewish communities in Ukraine did not believe until the last minute that Putin would act on his threat and invade the country. Certainly, no one expected an invasion of this magnitude, which would come from four different directions at once and would include areas that were ostensibly safe and quiet. That is the reason that no one wanted to listen to Foreign Minister Lapid, who repeatedly called on the Israelis in Ukraine to leave the country.
Adding to their sense of security was the fact that the Americans insisted that Putin’s attack would take place on Wednesday, February 16. When that day and the two following days passed without incident, the fears began to dissipate. But why were the Americans so confident that the invasion would begin on that day? Moreover, Lapid himself even said, “At this point, I do not see a violent conflict taking place in the near future.” Well, if Lapid himself didn’t foresee a violent conflict, then why would anyone have listened to his insistence that all Israelis should flee from the country?
In retrospect, it seems that while Lapid did not believe that the invasion would happen, he must have had intelligence from America indicating that Putin was determined to carry out his threats and that a war was imminent. When Lapid called on the Israelis in Ukraine to return home, it was clearly based on that classified information. But if he was in possession of confidential information that he did not secretly share with the Jewish communal leaders in Ukraine, then he is worse than a fool; he is a criminal!
One Unified People
In recent days, many people have voiced their confusion over the Jewish shows of sympathy for the Ukrainian people. After all, Ukrainians despised Jews and are guilty of many acts of savagery, especially during the Holocaust. I have contemplated this issue myself. We must keep in mind that the Ukrainians’ foes are no less worthy of condemnation.
Meanwhile, no one really understands Putin’s motivations. Putin seems to have lost a step and his country is going to suffer under sanctions. Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting against him throughout Europe. A good friend, Meni Bromer, sent me a picture that he took in Strasbourg, which shows large swastikas scrawled on the Russian consulate near the European Parliament (in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood). In Yerushalayim, there is a store called Putin, but the owner took down the sign this week. In short, Putin is not winning any popularity contests….
It was not long ago, in historical terms, that the infamous trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis took place near Kyiv. It was a classic blood libel, a typical product of the anti-Semitic minds of Russia and Kyiv. One of the witnesses in the trial, a priest who did not disguise his hatred for Jews, claimed that he had circumstantial evidence that Beilis was a murderer: The Gemara states that according to Jewish hashkofah, only a Jew is termed adam—a human being. Therefore, he contended, the Jews related to non-Jews as subhuman.
Rav Yaakov Maza, the chief rabbi of Russia at the time, was called as a witness for the defense. Rav Maza, who was accepted by the judges as an expert on religion, explained that the priest had misunderstood the Gemara. What the Gemara truly means, he explained, is that the entire Jewish nation is like a single unit—one collective adam. Just as a person’s entire body feels pain when one of its limbs is harmed, the Jewish people feel pain whenever any member of the nation is suffering. The judges accepted this contention and agreed to reject the thesis postulated by the wicked priest.
The Beilis trial took place shortly before Pesach in the year 5671. As we approach Purim of the year 5782, Jews are once again suffering in Kyiv. Throughout the Jewish world, from Yerushalayim to New York and from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, we all daven fervently for the welfare of our beleaguered brethren.
The Lesson to Be Learned
Some pundits have opined that the lesson to be learned from the events in Ukraine is that Klal Yisroel cannot rely on the rest of the world, even the United States, for assistance. This is the same lesson that they derive from the events of the Holocaust.
Personally, I wouldn’t say that that is the lesson here, since the principle is obvious to me. I have never placed my trust in America in any event, nor have I relied on the IDF. If we are to learn a lesson from the Holocaust years, then it is not only the silence of the Americans that is telling, but also the inaction of the Jews of the United States themselves. A study published in Chicago in 2016 revealed that Franklin Roosevelt was an anti-Semite, which was the reason he decided to limit Jewish immigration before the Holocaust (S. Eshel). The New York Times likewise placed limits on reports about the persecution of the Jews, by order of its editor, Arthur Sulzberger, and Jewish leaders in America called on the Anti-Defamation League to refrain from discussing the Holocaust, fearing that it would lead to a rise in anti-Semitism in America.
When Israel was threatened with destruction in 1973, America did nothing to assist the country. They sent arms to the Israelis only when it played into their own interests in the Middle East. If we are going to learn any lesson from these events, perhaps it should be the fact that some of our worst enemies have been apostate Jews. It was Henry Kissinger who convinced President Nixon to wait until Israeli blood was spilled, and only then to respond to Golda Meir’s pleas for armaments. Kissinger explained that if a few thousand Israeli soldiers died, then the Israelis would come to the negotiating table in a more compliant state.
In conclusion, we didn’t need the bombings of Kyiv and Kharkiv to teach us these lessons. We have seen such things in the past, and even if we hadn’t witnessed it, we have always known since the birth of our nation that we can rely on no one other than our Father in Heaven.
Starving the Living and Accepting the Dead
The Israeli government’s behavior seems completely unreal. It is a parody of a real government; it is accomplishing nothing. It seems to be stuck in neutral, with chaos reigning both within and without. It is a government that starves the living and tolerates the dead. Over 20,000 people have died of Covid in Israel, and the government is paying no attention to it. Minister Shaked remarked in the past that “we need to accept the deaths.” The finance minister can barely set foot in the street without encountering hordes of people cursing him and protesting his policies. There were several recent incidents in which he had to run for his life to avoid angry crowds. And when he isn’t facing enraged protestors, he encounters citizens weeping in desperation instead. This has happened several times, even at sessions of the Knesset Finance Committee. The country also has a foreign minister who is rotten on the inside, as well as a prime minister who has managed to get himself in trouble with America and Iran and to turn himself into a laughingstock within Israel as well. These people are simply detached from the world in which the rest of us live.
During the snowy days in Yerushalayim, I noticed a sign that had been hung across from the headquarters of the Treasury, bearing the words “Comrade, are you awake?” This week, I saw tearful protestors demonstrating over their inability even to afford basic commodities such as food.
The Knesset has been on shaky ground for a very long time, even before Avidar and Gantz threatened to destabilize it. The last time the Knesset voted on a motion of no confidence, the coalition members left the room. They weren’t afraid that the government would fall, since the opposition wasn’t able to muster a majority of 61 votes at the time (emphasis on at the time), which is required in order to bring down a sitting government. Indeed, the opposition managed to receive a majority vote last week, but it didn’t reach the threshold of 61 members of the Knesset. But while the coalition was fragile before, now it is trembling wildly. As soon as Gantz announced his intention to boycott the votes in the Knesset—and the battle over pensions is just beginning—the coalition had no choice but to surrender to him. The Knesset session was closed after the no-confidence measures were discussed, in spite of the long list of laws that the government still needs to push through the legislative process. In addition to all that, Mansour Abbas is continuing to wring more and more concessions out of the coalition. I have nothing against the Arabs (well, perhaps I shouldn’t say that, since the heavy taxes landing on us at dizzying speed were concocted in order to fund the benefits that the Arabs are supposed to receive) but I find it frightening to watch as the government repeatedly caves to his demands. This week, they even promised to freeze all enforcement against illegal construction in the south. It is unbelievable!
And now Eli Avidar has returned to the Knesset, as I discussed in a separate article.
Lapid the Clown
I have no doubt that Yair Lapid will yet be proven to be the clown of this government. Hashem has performed a tremendous chessed for us by demonstrating beyond a doubt that the man is utterly incapable of serving as a public leader. When Lapid was the Minister of Finance, everything he touched turned to dust, and the same is happening in his current position. He may have a way with words, but even his words have recently turned him into a laughingstock. This week, a video was released that showed Lapid railing against the Netanyahu government during his time in the opposition. “When something is built improperly, it is bound to come apart,” Lapid declared. “This government will come apart much sooner than we think. I know them. I know what they truly think about each other. They will not survive each other, and that is a good thing. The State of Israel deserves better. This is a corrupt government that has stolen the votes of the people.”
Nu, and what would Lapid say about his own government?
Abba Eban, the onetime Israeli foreign minister who was known for his sharp wit (and not much more than that), once said that the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. One can make a similar comment about Yair Lapid, the current foreign minister and alternate prime minister of the Israeli government: Lapid never seems to miss an opportunity to poison Israel’s relations with other countries. As a serial troublemaker, he has created one diplomatic incident after another. Lapid is completely unqualified to serve as foreign minister, although I am uncertain if there is any position for which he is truly qualified, other than sitting in the Knesset gallery and shouting that the entire world around him consists of worthless incompetents.
I was actually quite entertained by a recent parliamentary query submitted by a chareidi MK about Lapid’s failures as a foreign minister. The question, directed to Lapid himself, was brief and focused: “In the course of your actions, Israel’s relations have been soured with one country after another. Most recently it was Ukraine, where the Israeli ambassador was summoned for a reprimand, and now you have changed direction and Israel is headed toward a conflict with Russia, thanks to your own words. I would like to ask: Why don’t you consult with senior figures in the Foreign Ministry before wreaking diplomatic havoc?”
Hostility to Religion in the Supreme Court
Last week, I wrote briefly about Dudu Amsalem and his fierce exchange with Chief Justice Esther Chayut of the Supreme Court. Bli neder, I will return to the subject at a later date. In his speech in the Knesset, Amsalem accused Chayut of racism and contempt for the Sephardic community. She responded with an open letter that infuriated him further.
The truth is that Dudu Amsalem is mistaken. Indeed, the Supreme Court is not racist—but not because the chief justice herself grew up in a transit camp. The Supreme Court is the most secular and leftist institution that exists, and that orientation is the reason for its rulings that are hostile to religion and to socioeconomic causes. Amsalem was correct when he claimed that most of the Supreme Court justices have disdain for him, but it is not because he is Sephardic; it is because he is neither chiloni nor leftist. The average Sephardic Israeli is traditional; that is the reason for the Supreme Court’s antipathy toward them.
Aharon Barak, the onetime chief justice who championed the philosophy of “hakol shafit” (everything is subject to the courts’ judgment) called the typical Israeli who was close to his heart “a reasonable person.” His concept of a reasonable person is anyone who shares the thinking of Barak himself and others of his ilk. Dudu Amsalem is the polar opposite of Barak’s conception of a “reasonable person.” Amsalem observes tradition and is in favor of maintaining the integrity of Eretz Yisroel. He is the greatest threat to the worldview of the judicial elite. And the chareidim are even further removed from the court’s ideals. As Moshe Gafni pointed out, the chareidim have never received the court’s support. Even when the Supreme Court rejected the subsidy cut for day care for chareidi children, it was only a partial show of support for the community. In principle, the court ruled that the government is fully entitled to strip chareidim of the rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens. For that matter, though, when has the court ever heard the cries of anyone on the right, or any disadvantaged member of the “second Israel”?
I have spent very little time in the Supreme Court. The first time I visited the court was many years ago, when I accompanied a Sephardic bochur who was arrested on suspicion of throwing a stone at police officers on Rechov Bar Ilan and was being kept in detention until the case against him was settled. I came to the court on behalf of two members of the Knesset who wanted to accept responsibility for the bochur and offered to allow him to be kept in house arrest in one of their homes, either in Acco or in Ashkelon. Their request was rejected by Judge Dalia Dorner. Several months later, Dorner reversed herself and accepted an identical request in the case of an Arab youth who had thrown homemade explosives at police officers. The District Court had ordered the Arab to be kept in custody until his case was resolved, but Dorner argued that his right to freedom could not be abrogated. I wrote about her double standard at the time, and I made sure that the appropriate parliamentary queries were submitted. Dorner eventually admitted that she had been mistaken in discriminating against the chareidi defendant.
Basic Laws Passed Under False Pretenses
On a related note, this week the Knesset marked the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of its Basic Laws. Unfortunately, this brings back memories of a dark time in our history. The chareidi parties were misled by the authors of the Basic Laws, who promised that the legislative package would not lead to any changes. But as soon as the laws were passed, the Supreme Court exploited the Law of Freedom of Occupation to rule that the import of pork must be permitted. And that was only the beginning.
Anyone who reads the books Birth of a Revolution and How the Political System in Israel Changed—1990-2020 by Uriel Lynn will reach an inescapable conclusion: The Basic Laws that were passed with the agreement of UTJ (which was represented on the Constitution Committee by Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz), Shas (represented by Rabbi Yosef Azran), and the National Religious Party (represented by Rabbi Yitzchok Levi) were the result of pure deceit, beginning with the division of the proposed constitution into several laws and culminating with the late-night approval of those laws in the Knesset. Uriel Lynn, who worked hand in hand with the left, made a concerted effort to avoid drawing attention to himself in the Knesset, as did Dan Meridor. The sponsors of the Basic Laws hid the fact that their bills would create a major upheaval that would also give the Supreme Court greater authority than the Knesset. The threats to Jewish religious values were also carefully concealed. When concerns were raised, they either remained silent or denied the existence of drawbacks. And it is clear from historical accounts that Aharon Barak, the father of the “judicial revolution,” was a major player in this game as well. Barak collaborated surreptitiously with the authors of the laws, and after they were passed, he used his very first ruling to overturn a law passed by the Knesset. The religious parties were misled by a handful of connivers, mainly Uriel Lynn, Dan Meridor, and Ehud Barak.
But while the facts seem to show otherwise, Lynn himself claims that the opposite is true. In his book, he quotes MK Mickey Eitan of the Likud party as asking, “How can we pass a bill like this in the Knesset without noting that it allows the authorities of the Knesset and the legislative branch to be usurped by the Supreme Court?” Mickey Eitan was furious about something else: “Paragraph 7 states that any law passed in the Knesset will now be able to be struck down on the grounds that it contradicts a Basic Law. Against the combined will of all of us, a group of three or five Supreme Court judges will be able to decide that a law that we enacted has no validity.” Eitan objected that the judges would be able to determine “the values of the State of Israel.” Uriel Lynn added that Eitan was correct in his basic presumption that the law allows judges to overturn a law passed by the Knesset, but he claims that no one ever tried to hide that fact. “We didn’t hide or conceal anything, and we didn’t minimize the problem,” Lynn insists. “The opposite is true: The implications were clear and revealed to everyone, and the law was written accordingly.” He adds, “Eitan himself exposed the true meaning of the law. There are people who try to deny it today, but these things were said openly, in loud and clear terms.”
This is a lie! In fact, Lynn’s very own wording betrays the truth; if the purpose of the laws had been made clear at the outset, there would have been nothing for Mickey Eitan to “expose.” Moreover, the Knesset protocols of December 24, 1991, demonstrate that MK Amnon Rubinstein repeatedly tried to contradict Mickey Eitan and to claim that the Basic Laws would not create any changes. “Similar powers have always been given to the courts to evaluate laws passed by the Knesset,” he insisted. Lynn’s book also admits that “Eitan himself was furious about the fact that such a dramatic change was hidden within the law.” If it was hidden, then it could not have been known.
The Knesset Was Deceived
Thirty years ago, there was another member of the Knesset who sensed the deception surrounding the new legislation. MK Elyakim Haetzni declared, “I sense something here…. Without saying it openly, they are making every law passed in the Knesset subordinate to the authority of the Supreme Court.” Lynn actually cites this comment as evidence that everyone was aware of the radical impact of the laws, but that is nonsense; if anything, it proves exactly the opposite. For one thing, Haetzni himself insisted that the agenda of the laws’ creators was being hidden. Furthermore, Rubinstein tried to reassure him that the court would still be overridden by a majority.
Dan Meridor, the Minister of Justice at the time, presented the government’s position in the Knesset without mentioning that the Knesset itself would become subordinate to the Supreme Court. There is no question about it: The judicial revolution was hidden until it was too late. Everything was done to keep the chareidi and religious Knesset members from becoming aware of the anti-religious objectives of the bills. (It later became clear, though, that the Basic Laws would be used against Yiddishkeit, such as in the effort to strike down the draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim by virtue of the requirement of equality.) The Knesset members on the right were also fearful of giving unlimited power to the Supreme Court (a fear that proved justified very soon thereafter, in the court’s ruling on the Bank Mizrachi case). Moreover, during one debate, when Avrohom Ravitz remarked that he feared that the judges would not give any weight to religious sensitivities, Uriel Lynn insisted, “Power is not being transferred to the court system. The power will remain here [in the Knesset].”
A Reporter Attacked
A reporter for Haaretz was recently attacked, his car was torched, and his belongings were plundered. This sounds like a very serious crime that should be loudly condemned, doesn’t it?
Last week, the Shin Bet and the police arrested four Israeli citizens, all residents of Segev Shalom, who were suspected of perpetrating the crime. The suspects also allegedly took part in disturbances of the public order and threw explosives at a police checkpoint in Segev Shalom. Were you aware of this? Have you heard about any government ministers or public figures speaking out to condemn the crimes? No, you certainly haven’t. Would you like to know why not? It probably has something to do with the fact that the suspects’ names are Mahran Abu Adrah, Bilal Abu Adrah, Kerem Al-Qadi, and Ismayil Al-Qadi. All four are between the ages of 18 and 19.
Incidentally, two of the suspects, Bilal and Kerem, have parents who received their legal status in Israel through a process of family reunification. In other words, they live in Israel today because their parents were permitted to reunite in the country after marrying each other elsewhere.
A Shul Razed in Tel Aviv
This week, I saw a picture of a shul being razed—in a completely legal demolition. The shul, which was located in the Abu Kabir neighborhood of Tel Aviv, was demolished after a court ruled that it was located on land belonging to the municipality.
I am saddened by the fact that a municipal government in Israel would feel free to demolish a shul. Even if the demolition was legal, it certainly wasn’t moral. There are halachos governing such things; we are not permitted to simply destroy shul buildings at will. It is very sad and painful.
Rav Ovadiah’s Hesped for Rav Shlomo Zalman
In conclusion, allow me to share a couple of excerpts from the hesped delivered by Rav Ovadiah Yosef for his dear friend Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach: “Chazal say that if you have learned a lot of Torah, you should not be machzik tovah for yourself, for you were created for that purpose. There are two ways to understand this. The first is its literal meaning [i.e., that a person should not pride himself on having learned copious quantities of Torah knowledge]. The second is that a person should not hold back that which is good—in other words, the Torah and halacha—for himself alone, and instead that he should teach it to others. The posuk says that a person was born for ameil [literally, toil], which is an acronym of the phrase lilmod al menas lelameid [to learn in order to teach]. Similarly, the Midrash Koheles states that if a person learned Torah throughout his life and did not teach it to others, there is no greater futility…. The gaon [Rav Shlomo Zalman] had the privilege of teaching many talmidim, who have gone on to serve the people magnificently….
“When Rav Yaakov Addes was preparing to marry off his daughter, the great Rav Ezra Attiya was invited to serve as mesader kiddushin. When he noticed Rav Shlomo Zalman standing off to the side among the guests, he immediately called him over and asked him to serve as mesader kiddushin instead. Rav Shlomo Zalman demurred, claiming that Rav Ezra was more deserving of the honor. A debate then began between them, with each of them asking the other to take the honor. At that time, Rav Shlomo Zalman received enormous honor, as everyone saw that Rav Ezra Attiya respected him so deeply. As far as we know, they ultimately decided that Rav Yaakov Addes himself should preside over the kiddushin instead….
“With all of his greatness as a Torah scholar and a posek, his humility was also evident in the same areas. When he was preparing to publish a sefer, he was offered various suggestions for a title. Someone suggested that it should be called Chemdas Shlomo, and someone else suggested the title Chochmas Shlomo, but he rejected all of their ideas. Finally, when someone proposed the title Minchas Shlomo, he beamed with pleasure. ‘This is an appropriate title,’ he said, ‘since even a pauper can offer a korban mincha.’ This was his reasoning, in spite of the fact that everyone knows that he was the supreme posek of his generation and was unmatched by any of his contemporaries.”