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Location: Tzfat, Israel

Tuesday, April 20, 2004



EYES TO SEE by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz

See the synopsis and critiques on:

Book Review – EYES TO SEE, Recovering Ethical Torah Principles Lost in the Holocaust by Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz,
Translated and Edited by Rabbi Avraham Leib Schwarz,
Published by Urim Publications, Jerusalem and New York,
Copyright 2004 by Yom Tov Schwarz

This book is a must-read for every Jew. One might come to the conclusion that it is because I wholeheartedly embrace every word that Rabbi Schwarz has said that I give so absolute a recommendation. No; it is because of the weaknesses, no less than the strengths, of this book that it is a must-read.

Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz is as knowledgeable, clear-headed, kind and as articulate a Jew fully steeped in the Pharisaic/Rabbinic tradition that one can hope to find today. He also seems to be aware of, and in touch with, the environment in which he lives, i.e., Brooklyn, New York. He is a now man in his early eighties, may he live and prosper until age one hundred and twenty, at least. He was born in Auschwitz, in Poland, in 1921. Considered an illui (child prodigy), he attended the Yeshiva Chakhmei Lublin. Thus, Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz knew well, as remembers clearly, the Jews of “the old school” in “the old country”. He posits himself a representative of a better age in Jewish morality and scholarship. Does his book convince us that this is so?

Rabbi Schwarz’s book EYES TO SEE holds out the hope of being returned to pristine Jewish morality – and, while certainly presenting a depiction of a Jewish world more noble in every way than the one which we know, the description is, all told, rather disappointing. Rather than describing a Jewish world that we should emulate, or return to, Rabbi Schwarz’s book in fact describes the Jewish world that was the progenitor of our own, that our world is a necessary outcome of.

Having read EYES TO SEE, it is all too apparent there were major problems with Pharisaic/Rabbinic Judaism from it’s very inception that worsened as time went on because no one dared to call them problems, or distortions in interpretation of Holy Writ, and correct our path. No one dared to call contradictions in the tradition contradictions. Thus, interpretation of the Torah became untenable in indefensible as it attempted to reconcile the irreconcilable.

The first problem is the fact that the sages of former generations who became famous are all assumed to be people of impeccable, nay unquestionable, virtue and monumental intellect whose grandeur we are behooved to regard with awe. We dare not call a faux pas on their part a faux pas, nor may we call a logical inconsistency a logical inconsistency nor sloppy analysis sloppy analysis, kal v’chomer we must not call them down for obvious moral indiscretions or even ascribe to them the least desire or ability to err or be hypocritical. Grave problems in Talmud Torah arise in subsequent due to this. Although it is clear from the time of the redactors of the Talmud on that there were personality clashes among the Rabbis based on nothing more than ego, their students in subsequent generations are not permitted to admit this to themselves. It is impermissible to admit to the glaring and blaring fact that a great deal of ego, pettiness and lust for power motivated the Rabbis throughout the generations and that this small-mindedness and narrow-mindedness impinged on their ability to interpret Torah. The behavior of Rabbi Yo’el Sirkes [1561-1640, the Ba’ch (Beit Chadash)] toward the chazzan in the town of Belz when the Ba”ch was the Chief Rabbi of that town recounted in chapter 33 of EYES TO SEE, pp 386-389, for instance, can be no more than someone “losing it” and heaping ona’at d’varim on another person in public, in a synagogue no less, during the time of kri’at HaTorah; yet Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz chooses to interpret the Ba”ch’s behavior as fiercely defending the honor of Torah. Rabbi Schwarz, unquestioning and blindly loyal to the Pharisaic/Rabbanic tradition as he states again and again throughout EYES TO SEE, has no recourse but to justify the Ba’ch’s behavior because the latter was “our illustrious master the Ba”ch, who later went onto become Av Beit Din and Rosh Metivta in the then large city Krakow and even Rabban Shel Kol B’nei HaGolah. Of course, Rabbi Schwarz repeatedly mentions that it is absolutely forbidden to shame people in public and that the punishment for doing so is death by Divine intervention throughout EYES TO SEE. Evidently, when a man who later became Rabban Shel Kol B’nei HaGolah behaves in so despicable a manner nothing other than effusive praise can be lavished upon him in subsequent generations by Rabbis who are trained to be mealy-mouthed lemmings if they wish to share in the honor of the Rabbinut.

We learn in EYES TO SEE that from its inception the Pharisaic/Rabbinic tradition bemoaned the lowliness of their generation in every age. It becomes clear that making each generation feel that it is the lowest of all time worked was, and remains, a very effective mind-control technique.

Another problem that arises is the fact that since all of the reputed Rabbis’ every word must be assumed to be absolutely true their students find themselves in an conundrum when their interpretations contradict one another. We see Rabbi Yom Tov Schwarz grappling, rather unsuccessfully, with this problem throughout his book. Though he attempts to reconcile contradictions in the various sources he fails as often as he succeeds, heroic as the measures he takes may be and phrases such as: “ In any case…” and “at any rate” follow a number of discussions the conclusion of which is not rigorously derived, but which the Rav would like us to adopt as true. The book is also flawed by an overuse of the word ‘however’ for this same reason. appears at the end of any number of his discussions on any number of topics, the result of not applying rigorous logic and analysis.

However the most serious problem in the Pharisaic/Rabbinic tradition, to my mind, resides is the contradiction that we find in Tractate Ketubot 105b, a section of the Talmud that starts out as a discussion of the Biblical prohibition against Judges taking bribes and showing any sort of favoritism in deliberations, but which ends with the following statement: “Whoever brings a gift to a Torah scholar [is regarded] as if he were offering Bikkurim [in the Beit Hamikdash]”. Clearly these statements are irreconcilable. In chapter 7 of EYES TO SEE Rabbi Schwarz discusses the foregoing statement from Tractate Ketubot 105b, which is in direct contradiction to the position of the Ramba”m in his Commentary on the Mishna (Avot 4:5) where he exposits at length that it is improper for a Torah scholar to accept charitable gifts and monetary support from the public. Rabbi Scwartz presents the following excerpt from the Ramba”m’s work in Chapter 32 of EYES TO SEE: “When we examine the words of our Sages of blessed memory we do not find any instances in which they requested money from other people…for they viewed their acceptance [of financial assistance] as a chilul HaShem in the eyes of the public, since they will think that Torah (study is just another occupation that provides a livelihood, and it would thus be debased in their eyes.” The Ramba”m evidently sides with the opinion of Rabbi Tzadok stated in Avot 4:5: “…do not make it [the Torah] a crown for self-aggrandizement, nor an axe with which to cut”, as well as the opinion of Hillel (ibid): “He who exploits the crown [of Torah for his own ends] shall perish (see also ibid., 1:13)” wholeheartedly. However, in true Pharisaic/Rabbinic form he chooses to go into denial when confronted with a clear contradiction, to wit: the contradiction in Ketubot 105b. In a footnote Rabbi Schwarz writes that the Ramba”m’s view is disputed in part by other halakhic masters. Chapter 40 of EYES TO SEE is entitled Financing Torah Study With Public Funds is Only Permissible for Distinguished Scholars Completing Their Halachic Training. After examining a number of opinions on the matter of Torah scholars receiving support from the public, including fully justifying the behavior of Rav Ami who arrogated a sack of gold dinars that a donor had sent to his study hall and which the donor designated for the academy’s students (see Tractate Chulin 134b), stating that R. Ami “was entitled to take the money on his own”, Rabbi Schwarz rests with a “compromise” opinion. Rabbi Schwarz writes: “In summation we cannot budge from the clear ruling of the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh Day’ah 246:21) that the permission to accept public support in order to be free to study Torah, only applies to an extraordinary Torah scholar who is qualified to sit in judgment and issue halachic decisions, or those elite students who are on track to become the halachic decisors of the next generation.”

The above discussion is truly amazing. Does Rabbi Schwarz take it upon himself to decide that Dayanim and halakhic decisors, as well as prospective Dayanim and halkhic decisors, are so wise and upstanding that they are impervious to the deleterious effects of bribes (cum “gifts”)? Does D’varim 16:19 not say?: “You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not take notice of [someone's] presence, and you shall not take a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make righteous words crooked.” Torah teaches us that no one is so wise, righteous and straight that they are incorruptible by money! Does Rabbi Schwarz disagree? We can see how a bit of impurity that was allowed to enter the discussion on the absolute prohibition against favoritism and bribes on the part of judges led to very fuzzy analysis indeed. Clearly, those who wish to avert the prohibition can pick and choose among the commentaries, taking the quotes that suit him to heart, while assuaging his conscience by telling himself that he is honoring all of the opinions, each of which must be given equal respect according to the rules of the game of Pharisaic/Rabbinic interpretation. What a sophisticated web of entanglements the Pharisees and the Rabbis after them wove and weave for the heart and mind. While Rabbi Schwarz imagines himself to be meticulously moral in not sanctioning all students of Torah, regardless of their abilities, to receive donations from the public, as this puts a strain on the public and encourages idleness and all that comes with idleness on the part of many Torah students, he evinces no comprehension of how damaging it is for Dayanim and Halakhic decisors to be living on public donations. Can he not see that this amounts to little less than bribery, an infraction that he denounces throughout his book? Does he not see that Rabbi Ami was nothing more than a garden variety thief, even as he condemns theft throughout his book? Does he not understand that no Judge or halakhic decisor can rule impartially if he is receiving donations from people? When Dayanim and halakhic decisors take gifts from people (does using the word “doron” make the act less ugly than using the word “shochad”?) it is well nigh certain that they will be receiving the bulk of their support from the wealthy and the powerful. How will they be able to rule impartially if their income is dependent upon the wealthy, the very people who are very likely to need the services of the court? Does he not understand that it is by working that we gain experience in life, learn how to work as part of a team and learn to value money and the learn to respect the efforts required to earn it? To my mind, various work experience including work in various services and industry, as well as farming and menial labor, should be required, de rigueur, of those “who are on track to become the halachic decisors of the next generation” as part of their training so that they will be able to understand the subjective situations and feelings of the litigants who come before them. If a young person is not able to both work and learn Torah that person is unfit to become a Dayan or a halakhic decisor.

We can only wonder just how effective all of these methods of mind and emotion manipulation and control were during the many generations that Jews lived in ghettos and were at the complete mercy of the Rabbis with no other sources of learning how to think and reason. Our reaction must be one of compassion for those Jews whose minds and hearts are still locked away in the ghetto. We must lovingly, but firmly and resolutely, do our utmost to encourage them and strengthen whatever incipient stirrings of trying to find the truth of Torah stirs in their hearts. These foregoing are the abiding lesson that I came away from reading EYES TO SEE with.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat