In the previous column I brought the story of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin shlita about Rabbi Soloveitchik ztz”l, who responded to Rebbetzin Feinstein’s request to ask her husband Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to withdraw his heter (halackhic permission) for artificial insemination, so that the zealots would stop harassing them. Rabbi Soloveitchik agreed, even though he told Rabbi Riskin that Rabbi Feinstein would not back down, because he was a “courageous like a lion.” Following this I was asked, how is it possible that Rabbi Soloveitchik agreed to ask Rabbi Feinstein to retract a ruling that he believed was the truth according to the Torah?!
A: Rabbi Soloveitchik was also willing to pay a heavy price for his positions. In his choice to support Zionism and the Mizrachi movement, he lost his status in the Haredi world from which he came. He was one of the greatest profound thinkers in the Lithuanian yeshiva world, but his former friends ignored him, and some despised him. He was offended, but remained silent. All the same, he believed that Rabbi Feinstein should consider accepting the rebbetzin’s request and waive his heter in order to prevent the suffering caused them by the zealots. And perhaps he also thought that it would be better to waive this heter in order to maintain Rabbi Feinstein’s status as an accepted posek (Jewish law arbitrator), and his series of books ‘Igrot Moshe’ that had become popular throughout the Jewish world. In addition, Rabbi Soloveitchik’s own leaning on this issue was le’chumra (stringent), but in the end, he agreed with Rabbi Feinstein’s decision (‘Nefesh Harav’ 5759, p. 255).
The Controversy against Rabbi Feinstein
The controversy against Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztz”l (1895-1986) reached its peak in 1964, when he was close to the age of seventy (seventy years old of sixty years ago, is about eighty years old today). The controversy was first aroused by Rabbi Meir Amsel (1907-2007), editor of the “HaMaor” publication. Before that, however, various rabbis, led by Rabbi Yoel of Satmar, had a strong resentment against Rabbi Feinstein over his positions and rulings, and now that the opportunity had been found to add more rabbis who disagreed with his ruling, an open and fierce struggle was waged against him. Over the years, Haredi Torah scholars from all factions had participated in the “HaMaor” publication, and consequently, when the campaign against Rabbi Feinstein was conducted on its pages, the public received the impression that many were against him.
The first buds appeared in Tammuz 5722 (1962), when Rabbi Amsel wrote a critique in “HaMaor” against Rabbi Feinstein’s heter, which allowed spouses who could not give birth because of a man’s fertility problem to receive a sperm donation from a stranger. And in the month of Av he published an article by Rabbi Azrin (a student of Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman) who condemned him for “the multiplied loopholes” caused by him.
Two years later, in 5724 (1964), Rabbi Amsel published another article by Rabbi Azrin against Rabbi Feinstein in “HaMaor”, in which he wrote: “Whoever allows this, I say of him that there is neither wisdom nor genius, but a lack of Torah knowledge in ignorance, and he is the factor by which the generation will break out into promiscuity.” Afterwards, the Rebbe of Satmar joined and wrote two long articles, in the month of Av and Elul, against the “terrible breach”, and stated that a child born in this way is a mamzer (bastard), and concluded: ” Let this settle down, and not occur to a person from Israel to speak such an abominable thing, to show impurity and bastards and confusion amongst the Jewish people, and with His great mercy and grace God will save us from such terrible obstacles, God help us, Heaven fordid.” Rabbi Azrin also continued to lash out at Rabbi Feinstein, saying there was no need to contradict his words, since “everyone knows what the true Geonim and righteous wrote about this, and did not write any heter to do so. And one should not consider one who comes up with “made-up heterim and does not consider the words of the previous Torah giants.”
Strengthening the Controversy
In the following months, in 1965, Rabbi Amsel continued to collect and print articles against Rabbi Feinstein in “HaMaor”, including articles from Lithuanian rabbis who appreciated Rabbi Feinstein, but disagreed with him in this ruling, such as Rabbi Henkin and Rabbi Zimmerman, and other articles by Hasidic and Lithuanian zealot rabbis who attacked him personally, including Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, and the Rebbe from Bobov (1908-2000) who published a “pamphlet to save the sanctity and attribution of Israel”, in which he blatantly referred to Rabbi Feinstein’s words and called them “hefkerut” (lawlessness), “neveilah” (a carcass), “machshevet pasul” (invalid thought), “to’evah” (abomination), “ha’poraniyut ha’mara” (bitter calamity), the “total destruction of the purity and attribution of the Jewish family”, and so on. And to deal with “the terrible destruction that is upon our heads,” he proposed “to declare an awesome boycott on every woman who commits this crime from now on, and on every child born from this insemination, who will have no share and inheritance in the congregation of Israel.”
And in another article from Rabbi Azrin, in which he grumbled about the rabbis that God had “graced with understanding and reason” and understood that Rabbi Feinstein’s heter “is a thing of prostitution and leads to bastards,” and why they “sense it, but do not destroy it by boycotts and prohibitions, for after all, they are able to. And in the future, they will be judged for it.” And other articles from famous rabbis from all over the world, and testimonies that Rabbi Sperber from Brasov “shouted a great and bitter cry” against the heter, and so on.
It goes without saying that as a result, there were so-called “tzadikim” who threw away the books of the Igrot Moshe, and even burned them. Others harassed Rabbi Feinstein’s family with abusive language and insults. And other ‘moderates’, who shunned the insults and the book-throwing, and telephoned to express the full depth of their grief over Rabbi Feinstein’s exaggerated heters that caused all this chilul Hashem, in which ‘tzadikim‘ and ‘gedolim‘ were forced to oppose. The attacks on Rabbi Feinstein spread to other publications, and became the talk of the day in the Haredi street.
The Request of Rabbi Greenblatt
In response to the publications, Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt (1932-2014, author of “Teshuvot Rivevot Efraim“) sent a short letter of protest to “HaMaor” against the words of contempt of the “pillar of Torah study, and the posek of the generation.” Rabbi Amsel wrote that he was fulfilling his wish happily, and published his protest, while adding a sting to the inferior status of Rabbi Greenblatt, writing “it is possible that by this, some of his rabbinical friends will arise to find him a better job for himsel, for his livelihood in Memphis is not easy,” and went on to explain in an extensive essay, why it was “necessary” to come out against Rabbi Feinstein.
Why it was “Necessary” for them to come out against Him
True, Rabbi Amsel was careful to address Rabbi Feinstein respectfully, and wrote “that his instructions for issurim (prohibitions) must surely be relied upon, because since he forbade, it is clear that there is no more room to permit it. However, his halakhic responses to permit must be treated with all caution, because his kocha de’heitera (the power of giving halakhic permission) of this gaon, surpasses all the lenient-ruling poskim of all times, and this too is as a result of his excellent qualities in kindness, charity and mercy on people, and wanting not to place chumras on them, whenever he finds some lenient authority to rely on…”
And since Rabbi Feinstein’s books were well-known, and his heters destroyed a building that many rabbis diligently built, therefore it is necessary to “inform the public that Torah students do not agree with all the rulings of the gaon, author of the ‘Igrot Moshe’ responsa, and especially those responses in which he exaggerated, and went out of his way to disagree with the Gedolei Ha’Dor (eminent rabbis) of the previous generation.”
The Lenient Rulings of Rabbi Feinstein
In order to prove his words, that Rabbi Feinstein is lenient “in the things that the Gedolei Achronim have strictly forbidden, and their sins will spread amongst Beit Yisrael,” Rabbi Amsel compiled thirty such rulings, which were puzzling to him, and published them in Kislev 5725 (1964).
Amongst them he claimed that: 1). Rabbi Feinstein permitted to hold a bat mitzvah celebration, contrary to the position of “many righteous rabbis who fought hard against the assimilated.” 2. He permitted adopting children in contrast to the rabbis who forbade. 3. He permitted washing meat and milk dishes in the same sink – “thus blurring the line between meat and milk.” 4. He permitted including Shabbat violators in a minyan and in reciting words of kedusha, against the opinion of “all the Achronim.” 5. He permitted hanging the Israeli flag in a synagogue – “Go out and see the desecration of Hashem in question” (this is why Rabbi Amsel retired from Agudat Israel, of which Rabbi Feinstein was president). 6 He permitted the use of an etrog grown in shmita year, “and general support for the chief rabbinate.” 7. He permitted one to teach in secular schools, which was an explicit prohibition among the “Gedolei Ha’Dor of the previous generation.” 8. He permitted announcing the page numbers in the prayer books in shul, which “is a long-standing Reform custom.” 9. He permitted holding weddings in synagogues – “Who cannot forget the difficult war of the rabbis of the previous generation against this distinct custom of the Reformers.” 10. Permitted prayer in a synagogue without a bima (raised platform) – “against this thing, all the eminent rabbis of the previous generation fought against the assimilated.” 11. Permitted holding common gatherings (a dinner) with Reform Jews for Zionist fundraisers. 12. He permitted “eating cabbage from factories without testing for worms, based on the fact that in America there are no worms.[this after removing outer leaves, ed.]” 13. He permitted an insufficient mechitza (partition) in a synagogue. 14. He permitted chalav akum milk (milk that was milked by a non-Jew without any supervision whatsoever if there was no chalav yisrael in the vicinity) – “Don’t forget the great noise that the eminent rabbis made about it.” 15. As a continuation of this, he permitted gevinat shemenet (cream cheese) of non-Jews – “in other words, the milk of non-Jews and the cooking of non-Jews” . 16. He permitted relying on a manufacturer of vegetable oils who says the oil is free of a prohibitive mixture, “and consequently, no supervision is needed at all.” 17. He permitted “blended-whiskey” even though “Haredim are careful about drinking it.” 18. He permitted shaving on Chol Ha’Moed. 19. He permitted women revealing their hair two fingers towards the forehead, thus disagreeing with the Chatam Sofer. 20. Permitted bread baked in desecration of Shabbat. 21. He permitted “shared schools for young boys and girls, although it also causes the same to be allowed for older children.” 22. He permitted sailing on Shabbat on ships of the Israeli company Zim, which was suspected of desecrating Shabbat. 23. “There is an impression that in times of distress, it is permissible to pray even without a mechitza, as long as there is no mixed seating.” 24. He permitted a seeing guide dog for the blind to enter the synagogue. 25. He ruled that metzitza (direct oral suctioning) does not abrogate circumscion.
In the Margins of His Claims
It should be noted that usually the claims of the disputants do not rest on the foundations of halakha, rather on the fact that the “Gedolei Ha’Dor of the previous generation” forbade, and made noise about it. Only then, are secondary reasons brought to the fore. In practice, many of these rulings were agreed upon in the first place by most rabbis, as they relied on the accepted foundations of halakha. However, the zealots reject all the other rabbis, and consequently, it turns out that “all the rabbis” think like them.
In my next column, I will write about the end of the affair.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.