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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Primacy of Torah to the continuity of the Jewish People - Thoughts on Kinah 41

This Kinah was written by the Maharam Miruttenberg, one of the last of the Baalei Tosfos. It describes a tragic event in Jewish history, made even more tragic due to the fact that the entire event was instigated by one of our own, an apostate Jew. In 1240 in Paris an apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin recommended to King Louis IX that if he wanted to get rid of the Jews for once and for all, the only way to do that was by destroying their Torah. The King and the Church had all copies of the Talmud confiscated on March 3 1240 and placed in the Place De Greve, a public square in Paris, which is the current location of city hall and the mayor’s office. In all there were 24 cartloads of Talmud, thousands of volumes.
The King invited 4 rabbis to a debate with Donin, the fate of the 24 cartloads hanging in the balance. Transcripts of the debate exist, and even according to the Latin transcript was it by no means a win by Donin. The Queen herself at one point told the accusers that they were trying too hard.  Even so the fates of the volumes of Torah were a foregone conclusion, and in 1242 the Gemara’s were burnt.
The ramifications of this were tremendous. Each one of those volumes were handwritten, this was 200 years before the printing press was invented.  There wasn’t a Gemara to be found in all of France, and many of the volumes had the actual handwritten glosses of the Baalei Tofos written in their margins, to be lost forever.
There is a parallel that cannot be ignored here. Nine years earlier (to the day?) in the very same square, volumes of the Rambam’s guide for the perplexed had been burned. Although it seems that they had also been burned by the church, the impetus came from some of the greatest Rabbis of the day, who felt that the works of the Rambam should not be studied. It cannot be merely a coincidence that the Talmud was burnt in the very same spot 9 years later.
The Maharam Mirutenberg was a 27 year old student at the time.  It is evident in this Kinah that he saw this potentially as the end of Torah as we knew it. He compares the glory of the giving of the Torah to its current state. As Rav Soleveitchik explains it, he compares us to a wife whose husband ran away and deserted us, and didn’t even leave over any money – the holy Sefarim – to sustain ourselves.
He laments “no longer will I hear the voice of your singers” the voice of Torah has been stilled, and there will no longer be any Torah scholars.
The Torah is the glue that keeps us going throughout golus, that binds us together and to our Father in Heaven.
But netzach yisrael lo yishaker - the tenacity and resilience of the Jewish people cannot be over estimated. As the maharam himself predicts at the end of the kinah, Torah will prevail.
Rabeinu Yechiel of Paris the father of the Rosh and one of the debaters, gathered 300 students and taught them Shas from memory, which they recorded.[remarkably, when compared to the Munich manuscript, one of the only Shasim we have from before the burning, they are almost exactly the same]. He taught them the teachings of the Baalei Tosfos. Rav Moshe of Coucy, another one of the debaters wrote the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol, which codified and explained all the mitzvos and is still a primary text today. 
We saw this more recently during the holocaust. In the Kovno Ghetto there was a Rav named Rav Ephraim Oshry. He recorded and hid many of the questions that were asked to him, questions like whether the kohanim had to remove the rags from their feet before duchening, how to put on tefilin when working 18 hour days, whether boards stolen from the Nazis can be used for a sukkah, and were ghetto homes obligated in a mezuzah. These questions eventually filled five volumes that were printed after the war. Five voumes!! From one ghetto, to one Rabbi. That is the tenacity of klal yisrael, the inborn resilience Hashem has given us to survive.
An American officer told my father the following story. In 1945, he was involved in liberating the horrendous concentration camps of Nazi Europe. He went into a camp to find himself surrounded by death. A man looked up to him with gratitude. “Zei Moichel,” [please forgive me for troubling you] he said “and find me a Gemara Moed Katan.” Next week I have yahrzeit for my father and I promised him that each year on his yahrzeit I would make a siyum on Moed Katan.”
The Maharam Mirutenberg, who right before he died wrote “the sun shines for everyone but G-d and me,” is telling us that Torah is our essence, and when 24 cartloads of Torah were burnt it potentially could spell the end of the Jewish people, total despair and abandonment. The Torah is our lifeforce!

Some of the ides here were borrowed or inspired from here and here

Posted on 07/20 at 11:16 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org