If you think there is no ‘Litvack’ interest in Meron, you’d be wrong.
Granted, most of us believe that the Litvack / Lithuanian interest in Meron kind of starts and stops with statements like the one below, from R’ Gershon Edelstein in Bnai Brak – who appears to have some form of mild ruach hakodesh.
On April 28th, 2021 – two days before the mass murder in Meron – he put out the following heavily publicised statement:
Leading Lithuanian-haredi rabbi calls on followers not to travel to Meron on Lag Ba’omer. ‘We do not travel; we sit and learn.’
“We have learned from the Brisker Rav, from the Chazon Ish, from the Ponevezher Rav – and they did not travel [to Meron],” [R’ Edelstein] explained, listing former leaders of the Lithuanian-haredi community.
“They did not travel, and therefore we do not travel. We sit and learn: Learning Torah is equal to everything else. We do not travel: Torah learning is equal to all else.”
So that’s nice and clear, isn’t it.
And if that wasn’t nice and clear enough, we have other more minor luminaries in the Litvack universe echoing the same message ad nauseum. Like this, from HERE:
Yes, Lag Ba’Omer is a happy day!… But who says we are supposed to celebrate a Yohrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the illumination of the Zohar that he taught with mass events that outstrip the most grandiose wedding?… Something has gone terribly wrong.
When I was in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin under the guidance of Rav Yitzchok Hutner ZT”L (1906-1980) I do not recall any special mention or fuss being made about Lag Ba’Omer. There was no hadlaka (bonfire) tthere, there was no special singing or dancing, there was no official lecture about the day. Nothing. Just no Tachanun, perhaps a wedding or two of students.
This is admittedly the Litvish, Lithuanian yeshiva approach…
But of course, everyone should be holding by it.
That’s the ‘subliminal message’ I picked up from all these articles. And it’s the same message you get about daring to go to Uman for Rosh Hashana, too. Good Jews, good ‘Litvaks’ just don’t do that sort of un-Jewish, quasi-avoda-zorah stuff involving travelling to tzaddikim.
But there is a puzzle here that I can’t quite seem to figure out.
So I thought I’d try and thresh it out here on the blog, and we’ll see what turns up.
On Pini Dunner’s blog HERE, he set out who ‘owns’ Meron, on the religious side of the equation.
Relevant snippet below:
Ultimate control over what happens in Meron is in the hands of a shadowy group known as the Va’adat Hachamisha (“committee of five”)…
One of the two Ashkenazi groups [who ‘own’ Meron] is headed by Rabbi Avrohom Frohlich – the former proprietor of a Judaica auction house in Jerusalem who closely associates himself with the Brisk community in Jerusalem, a group that utterly rejects the State of Israel’s legitimacy… He is closely followed in his inflexibility and refusal to consider any changes to Meron’s infrastructure by his Ashkenazi counterpart, Rabbi Mordechai Dov Hacohen Kaplan, son of Safed’s late chief rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Simcha Hacohen Kaplan.
Me being me, I went to look these people up.
Let’s start with R’ Mordechai Dov Hacohen Kaplan, descendant of Shabtai, aka the SHACH, whose family have ‘inherited’ the position of Chief Rabbi of Tzfat over the last six generations.
There’s lot of interesting stuff I could tell you, but let’s focus in on this pertinent snippet, for this post:
The Kaplan family are about as hardcore ‘Litvak’ as it comes.
If you go to the Hebrew Wikipedia entry for R’ Avraham Simcha Hacohen Kaplan, here’s a bit of what you learn:
He was a member of the Council of Torah Scholars of Degel HaTorah. Degel HaTorah is an: ‘ultra-orthodox Lithuanian political party in Israel’.
Not only that, R’ Kaplan senior seems to have studied with just about every big Litvak ‘luminary’ of the 20th century, including:
- Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky
- Rabbi Shabtai Yagel of the Slonim Yeshiva
- Rabbi Shabtai Weigel Slonim of the Mir Yeshiva
- Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky of the Lomza Yeshiva (and later of the Ponevezh Yeshiva)
And while he’s at the Lomza Yeshiva, he rubbed shoulders with many other ‘Litvak’ luminaries, including:
Rabbi Yosef Rozovsky, Rabbi Reuven Yosef Gershonovich , Rabbi Eliyahu Mishkovsky , Rabbi Zalman Rotenberg , Rabbi Zvi Markowitz, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and more.
And if that wasn’t enough, he makes aliya to Israel with none other than the Brisker Rabbi himself, R’ Yitzhak Zeev Halevi Soloveitchik, descendent of R’ Chaim of Volozhin.
And if THAT wasn’t enough to prove just how ‘Litvak’ R’ Avraham Simcha Hacohen Kaplan really was, he got his smicha from another very interesting big personality in the Litvak world, called R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer of the Slutsk yeshiva.
In fact, there is so much huge, Litvak yichus going on there, on his Wikipedia page, it’s almost making my eyes water.
So now, let’s set out the difficulty I’m having.
How is it, that the two Ashkenazi organisations who are part of the “Va’adat Hachamisha” who control the site of Meron on the ‘frum’ side of the equation are both being run by people with very deep ties to the Litvak community?
For example, R’ Mordechai Dov Hacohen Caplan’s sister is married to Rav Mordechai Drori, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chemed.
Rav Drori’s brother was the late R’ Ozer Drori, who according to the YWN,
“[L]earned in Ponevezh as a bochur under his Rav, Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein.”
Hey, wait a minute.
Where have we heard that name before?
Ah yes, I remember now:
R’Avraham Froehlich is proving harder to track down ‘in the real world’, but I will take Pini Dunner’s word for it, at least for now, that he’s closely associated with the Brisk Litvak faction.
So, that makes two out of the two Ashkenazi groups who ‘own’ Meron being run by people who are about as LITVACK as you can get.
So now, the questions start to multiply like mushrooms after rain.
Here’s a few, to get us started.
How did this strange situation come about, given that no Litvaks rabbis light bonfires at Meron, nor apparently hold with the custom of ‘praying to dead people’, and other things they like to describe as ‘quasi-avoda-zorah’?
- Why have the two Litvak Ashkenazi groups who ‘own’ Meron been blocking the very necessary renovations required, for the site to be able to safely accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who visit every year?
- Why is it that none of us know that the same people who tell us ‘not to go to Meron’ for L’ag B’omer are closely linked to the people who ‘own’ Meron, at least on the Ashkenazi side of the equation?
- Who gets to decide who should be leading the Ashkenazi organisations who participate in the “Va’adat Hachamisha”.
- Who put the money down, in the first place, to create these Ashkenazi Hekdashs, and to get them recognised by the Ottoman rulers of Israel 200 years ago? (If we can get the answer to that, then we’ll really start to know a whole bunch of other things, too.)
Do you see the problem, here?
The Chassidim are getting blamed for the ‘awful infrastructure’ of the RASHBI tomb at Meron, by the secular authorities and the police, and also – and often much more harshly – by people who proudly claim to be religious Jews who are part of the Litvak world.
But who is really at least partly responsible for that ‘awful infrastructure’ in the first place?
The two Ashkenazi ‘hekdash’ institutions, who officially ‘own’ at least a bit of Meron – and who are being run by dyed-in-the-wool Litvaks.
There appears to be something very strange going on here, and another mystery that needs solving.
BH, with God’s help, we’ll get to it.
In the meantime, let’s be clear that the hardcore Litvak community in Israel has a very strong, historical link to the ‘ownership’ of Meron, and that this link has been deliberately obscured from the public, for reasons that are not yet obvious.
Now we know this information, we can start to ask why the Litvak people running the Ashkenazi institutions that ‘own’ Meron don’t stand aside, and let representatives of the communities who actually believe in things like going to Meron for L’ag B’omer, and the importance of visiting the graves of tzaddikim take over?
I mean, c’mon guys, what does Meron have to do with learning Toyrah?
And why are you running these organisations when you clearly don’t believe in the whole inyan of going to Meron for L’ag B’omer in the first place?
What else is going on here, under the surface?
I think it’s time we popped the hood, and tried to find out.
A reader sent me links to the following:
First THIS, which explains how the feuds between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi organisations who ‘own’ Meron have basically brought us to the stage where the State of Israel is ANYWAY going to expropriate the tomb of the Rashbi at the end of three years, in 2023 if they can’t figure out how to work together, to do what needs to be done at the Kever.
The basic gist is that in 2008, there was a State Comptroller’s report into the RASHBI site, that lambasted the ‘owners’ for not renovating the site properly, and keeping it properly maintained.
Then at the end of 2011, the State of Israel decided it was going to ‘expropriate’ the site – which honestly, also makes me queasy, as I don’t trust a thing the State of Israel decides to do, vis-a-vis things that are holy to yiddishkeit, and to Jews, generally.
So then, a massive court battle ensued, which apparently only ended in February 2020 of last year, where the ‘Vaad HaHamisha’ – or ‘Council of Five’ in Meron – was given three years to put appropriate administrative arrangements for the site in place (whatever that actually means…).
If they didn’t manage to do that – then the State of Israel ‘reserved the right’ to expropriate ownership of the site at the end of 2023.
If we could trust the government here, and if we could believe that it really only has the best interests of the religious Jewish community at heart, maybe that wouldn’t be such an issue
But we can’t.
And so it is.
The next article my reader found is also very interesting, in English, HERE:
Here’s a longish snippet:
Between the rival [Ashkenazi and Sephardi] trusts, the battle lines are clearly drawn. According to Shalvash [of the Sephardi Trust], “All areas are our areas” and the Ashkenazic trust “has no control of” Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. But Ben-Zion Guberstadt, board member of the Ashkenazic trust, states simply, “We say the whole thing is ours.”
Both groups claim hundreds of years’ precedent, and appeals through the past five years to courts — both religious and civil — have failed to settle the feud…
Both groups say that they are ready to build prayer houses and ritual baths to serve the million-plus pilgrims a year. The Sephardim say they would use a multimillion-dollar Safra legacy. The Ashkenazim say that even without this money, they have donors in England who will give $25 million.
[Rivka note – this is an old article, and some renovations of the Tomb itself, using money from the Safra legacy, have subsequently been carried out in Meron.]
The Sephardic trust, however, says that the Ashkenazim are driven less by a genuine interest in the site and more by the financial implications of control…
The Ashkenazic trust is battling for control “because they want money. That’s the name of the game,” Shalvash said in an interview with the Forward. Guberstadt flatly denied the claim…
The prevailing opinion in the Israeli government is that it should take control of the site, an inside source said.
On Meron, Rabbi Shraga Shnitzer suggests a different solution. Shnitzer, head of the independent charity Ohel Ha’Rashbi-Meron, which provides free food to visitors, believes that decisions about the site’s future should be placed in the hands of the most respected contemporary halachic authorities, the gedolei hador.
He said, “Ashkenazim and Sephardim need to sit together with gedolei hador who will come to the place and hear from everyone at Meron and decide what is allowed to do and what it is not allowed to do.”
But Schvinger says that any resolution will open up another can of worms, as there are rival splinter groups within each trust. “If it is decided that either the Sephardi or Ashkenazi hekdesh are the owners, this will open up a whole new question as to who is the true Sephardi or Ashkenazi hekdesh.”
The ‘Schvinger’ quoted here is Yosef Schvinger, head of the ‘National Center for the Management of Holy Places‘, and Aryeh Deri’s right hand man, who we wrote about HERE.
There’s a LOT of very dodgy things going on around the grave of the RASHBI at Meron, but at least one aspect seems to be bringing us back to the idea of ‘following the money’.
Right at the start of the investigation into Meron, I had some emails from someone who told me that the grave is a very big money spinner for the people who are running it.
It brings in literally millions of shekels in donations every year, and those donations are made to the various organisations and people who ‘own’ it.
Something about this just doesn’t seem right, does it?
We’ll have to tread very carefully, to try and unpick all this, because while the financial incentive is clearly looming large in the battle for control, it’s certainly not the only reason that at least some of the people involved in Meron are there, and doing what they are doing.
At least some of those people also care for the sanctity of the site, and the well-being of the pilgrims who are visiting it.
But sorting the wheat from the chaff is going to be challenging, to say the least.
And at this stage, I’d really love to know who is sitting on those ‘hekdeshim’, which ‘hekdeshim’ came first, the Sephardi or the Ashkenazi ones, who is making the decisions and really wielding the control on the ground – and how much money is flowing through the coffers of these organisations, and where it’s all going.
Once we know that, we’ll know a lot more about what ‘went wrong’ in Meron this year.
For sure, it was State-sponsored mass murder carried out by the police.
But clearly, there is also a lot of cheshbon hanefesh that’s required on the ‘frum’ side of the equation, too.
Baruch Hashem, now we are having some ‘achdut’ between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim after all…
SHAS and UTJ are working together to try to help cover up what really happened in Meron on L’ag B’omer.
This comes from HERE:
Mount Meron: UTJ and Shas propose gov’t controlled committee of enquiry
Interior Minister and Shas head Arye Deri would control appointment of chairman, and at least two other committee members, while the chief rabbis would also appoint a representative.
In case you forgot, Deri and ‘Interior Minister’ Amir Ohana were two of the ministers, together with Yuli Edelstein, Nachman Ash, and Netanyahu, who signed off on the ‘Coronavirus rules’ for Meron this year, that directly killed 45 people, and injured hundreds more.
So of course, a ‘government controlled committee of enquiry’ where the appointments are all being controlled by the very people who need to be investigated to get to the truth, is worse than useless.
People, how much longer are we going to put up with these so-called ‘religious’ politicians, who only care about their own egos?
45 people died, the Government is poised to swoop in on Meron and ‘expropriate it’, what happened in Meron is now being used as the ‘excuse’ to stop big weddings, and visits to other holy sites, and to try to ‘control’ even more aspects of religious life – and our two ‘religious’ parties in the Knesset are totally complicit in the cover up of what really happened on L’ag B’omer.
Man, it stinks.
So, I did more digging around the whole question of ‘who owns Meron’, and that brought me to a couple more interesting bits of information.
#1 – There is apparently also a massive corruption investigation currently going on in land ownership in the whole of Meron, over the last 40 years, which began in April 2019.
You can go HERE to read more of the details, if you want. (I’m choosing not to translate this, at this point, for the blogbut Google translate works well enough, if you don’t have Hebrew:)
#2 The Hebrew Wikipedia contains more information about who ‘owns’ Meron.
It seems that the Algerian ‘Abu’ family basically bought the site when they made aliyah in 1817.
That then somehow became the ‘Sephardi Trust’ – or at least one of them – who took over management of the site, which was registered in the Trust’s name in 1888, when Eretz Yisrael was still under Ottoman control.
In 1920, when it became mandatory to official register ownership of the land, most of the land was registered in the name of the Spanish Trust, with a small area now also registered in the name of the ‘unknown’ Ashkenazi Trust, while the rest of Meron was put in the name of the Israel Lands Administration.
Snippet from Wiki:
“In 1976 , an agreement was signed between the Spanish Trust and the Ministry of Religions, according to which the ministry will rent the complex for a period of 5 years. This period ended in 1981, when the complex returned to the management of the Spanish Trust. However, during the period a number of different organizations and bodies clung to the place, which refused to vacate their place afterwards.
Splits and divisions in various dedications, led to four various public agencies being involved in managing the complex, in addition to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Center for the Development of the Holy Places…
Since 1998, there has been a legal dispute over the ownership of the site, between four different endowment bodies, which are splits of the old Sephardic and Ashkenazi Trusts.
The litigation took place in both the Rabbinical Court and the District Court , with appeals being submitted to the Supreme Court . The State of Israel was also involved in the litigation on the issue, and finally in 2008 the Supreme Court decided to appoint a five-member committee (one from each body of the sanctuary, and the State Representative as chairman), to manage the compound.”
So the ‘Vaad Hahamisha’ is this five-member committee, that was appointed by the State of Israel’s Supreme Court in 2008.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that there is a whole can of worms opening up around the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, too, but I’ll save that for another post.
R’ Rabinovitch lost a nephew in the crush at Meron.
He wrote about that – apparently in English! – HERE.
But it’s strange there is no mention of him chairing the ‘Vaad Hahamisha’ that is actually at least nominally responsible for the site’s infrastructure.
In the meantime, from what I can tell with the very limited information available, the Sephardim seem to be getting the short end of the stick here, as their Trust / Endowment clearly owned the site first, and clearly owns most of the site, historically.
Also check the comments, below, for more input on ‘who really owns Meron’ which at this stage I can’t verify, but it’s certainly adding another dimension into an already murky discussion.
It’s hard to see anyone associated with Meron – in any capacity – coming out of this smelling of roses.
Everywhere I turn, there seems to be decades of corruption bubbling up – even when we’re not talking about the State-sponsored mass murder of pilgrims.
Another interesting addition to the list of ‘figuring out what really happened in Meron’ can be found HERE, on the Kikar Shabbat website.
Take away points:
“[A]nother document of the licensing officer from the northern district of the police, which was revealed to “News 12”, states that the engineer approved the buildings, the bleachers and the lighting stage in the Toldot Aharon compound, and determined that each bleacher would have 220 to 300 people. There will be 1,800 people in the gathering plaza and the total number of celebrants in the place will not exceed 3,159.
In practice, and although the Israel Police approved the decision of the licensing officer and the safety plan, about 20,000 people were present – six times the number allowed.”
But here is the really telling stuff:
“Also, in a document sent three days before the incident, the engineer alerted police that “due to the expected amount of crowds, all emergency exits should be kept free.” But in real time there were policemen on the ground who were not properly instructed, and even blocked one of the exits.
Moreover, at a concluding safety discussion, which took place a day before the celebration, according to one of those present, when talking about the quantities of celebrants, and the engineer expressed concern about the congestion, District Commander Superintendent Shimon Lavi replied: “Do not worry [about access] To the site, I know how to stop them if necessary. “
This is incredible.
It seems the police are saying they DID block ‘one exit’ out of Toldos Aharon the night of L’ag B’omer.
And of course, we know that THERE WAS ONLY ONE EXIT out of Toldos Aharon, the night of L’ag B’omer, as the Health Ministry ‘Coronavirus Regulations’ meant that the other three were blocked the whole time, with fences and gates.
And the police’s own safety engineer flags congestion as a real concern three days before L’ag B’omer – before most of the Ministry of Health’s additional fences and ‘checkpoints’ and the ‘tunnel of death’ had even been built – and is just waved off by the police.
Why aren’t these people being arrested, already?
That Kikar Shabbat article also throws some light on the specific issue we’re discussing in this post, stating there is:
“[A]n open check for tens of millions of shekels, which the Safra Foundation previously placed in favor of renovating the complex and repairing the many defects in it, but while most members of the famous ‘Va’ad HaHamisha’ in charge of the complex were happy, Avraham Froelich, who heads the “sanctuary” of the fanatics, refused – because of their principle not to enjoy “Zionist money”.
I understand the principle.
But I’d really like to know just who Avraham Froelich is representing.
Who is he working for?
Who is making these decisions, behind the scenes?
And why is all this information so very hard to come by?
Yosef Schvinger and Israel Deri, of the Holy Sites Authority, were questioned by the police two days’ ago, on May 18th. See more HERE.
The director general of the Center for Holy Places in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Yossi Schwinger and Israel Deri, in charge of the northern region, the center’s cargo, were interrogated by Lahav 433 with a warning in recent days, and released today [Tuesday, May 18, 2021.]
And in case you need more evidence that we are living in the olam hafuch, or upside-down world, the anti-Torah ‘Yesh Atid’ is bringing a bill to the Knesset on Monday to demand an independent State Commission of Inquiry into what happened in Meron.
Let’s see how the ‘religious’ parties, UTJ and SHAS, try to wiggle out of voting in favor for it, so they can keep the cover up going.
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