Shraga Crombie, Beis Moshiach
There are very few chapters in the history of the Seventh Generation of Chabad, in which the Rebbe involved himself to the point of issuing instructions regarding every minor detail, guiding every step behind the scenes and publicly addressing the issue in his sichos to the entire community. One such example would be the famous court case involving the library, and perhaps another one or two.
However, while the court case involved a struggle against opposition from the outside, the episode of the election and appointment of the rabbis of the Crown Heights community involved a struggle against opposition from within. But let us not jump the gun, and start from the beginning.
THE REBBE RULES: PERTAINS TO THE RESIDENTS OF THE COMMUNITY
After about twenty years, in which Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin a’h served as rav of Crown Heights, he passed away on 19 Adar 5745/1985. The Rebbe went out to his levaya.
Nearly a year passed without anything being done to replace him. It was first in Shevat 5746 that the members of the Vaad Hakahal of Crown Heights wrote to the Rebbe saying that they wanted a beis din of three rabbanim. They were not referring to elections; this was about the Vaad Hakahal choosing three men and they asked the Rebbe for a bracha. On 9 Shevat the Rebbe responded: All this pertains, as is obvious, to the decision of the Jewish residents of the community.
In hindsight, this was the first attempt by certain factions to force their will on the people, something that the Rebbe absolutely negated.
The residents of Crown Heights began forming a committee to set up elections and everything that entails. As a result, the Netzigim organization was founded. Before that, a meeting was held in the Crown Plaza hotel where it was decided that an organization would be started that would have one representative from each shul in Crown Heights and one representative for each of the main mosdos. All the people in each shul had to choose their representative.
The Netzigim were a sort of an organizing committee whose only job was to hold and supervise the election process for rabbanim in the community. Their job was not to choose the rabbanim.
After the process of setting up the organization was concluded, 24 shuls and some of the mosdos sent their representatives and at the general meeting Rabbi Eliezer Zirkind was chosen to serve as chairman of the organization, a role he served in until the conclusion of the elections and the appointment of the rabbanim. Immediately afterward, a report was sent to the Rebbe to which the Rebbe responded: Received and thank you. I will mention it at the gravesite that it be the will that they align with the intention of my father-in-law the Rebbe mara d’asra.
From that point on, R’ Zirkind reported to the Rebbe regularly, nearly every day, and sometimes more than once a day. He received detailed responses to every question and topic he raised (only a small number of which will be cited in this article).
Halachic guidance for the process was provided by a number of rabbis, mainly Rabbi Yitzchok Hendel of Montreal. R’ Hendel also reported to the Rebbe regularly and he also received many answers. The Rebbe emphasized that every detail needed to be precisely according to Shulchan Aruch to forestall any complaints following the elections and crowning of the rabbanim.
AGUCH TRIES TO CHOOSE A RAV
Once word got out in the world of Lubavitch that Crown Heights was about to choose a rav, suggestions were put forth to the committee. On 17 Adar II the committee sent formal announcements to each of the rabbis in the list of candidates, ratifying their candidacy.
While the representatives were busy preparing for the elections, the seven members of the board of Agudas Chassidei Chabad (Aguch) held a meeting and decided to bring a certain rav to the community, whom they chose by majority vote. They reported to the Rebbe on 17 Adar II. The Rebbe replied: There were quite a few meetings about this – of representatives of many shuls of the community and the mosdos therein, and what is this all of a sudden, from the board of Agudas Chassidei Chabad [whose function is to serve as] a worldwide organization?
This clear answer, which negated mixing in to the elections by Aguch was not the end of the story. A few days later, on 22 Adar II, the members of the board of Aguch wrote to the Rebbe again in an attempt to appear innocent and explain that their meetings about the rabbanus were merely as it related to the general Chabad world and not the rabbanus of Crown Heights. The Rebbe replied sharply to this too:
Obviously, after an entire year in which nothing was done regarding the rabbanus of Chabad and since the start of the action is specifically when they saw that people are actually doing something regarding the rabbanus of the neighborhood – they began specifically now regarding the aforementioned, and automatically they will introduce turmoil and divisiveness and contention etc. And they will disturb (or more than that) the aforementioned elections (which for known reasons, some of them have shown no interest in and some of them even conducted a boycott against).
Apparently, they want to explain to me with good reason and sincerity – that when they will bring a rav here (chosen by seven men) – it will not undermine at all the rabbanus of the rav of the neighborhood etc etc.
The explanation, up to this point in time, has not been accepted by me.
THE ELECTIONS GET UNDERWAY
The sharp answers jettisoned these ideas and paved the way for the elections to be held by the residents. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5746, the committee publicized an announcement to the community with details about the upcoming elections and a list of contenders: Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba, Rabbi Mordechai Dov Altein, Rabbi Dovid Chanzin, Rabbi Sholom Morosov, and Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow.
There was electioneering among the residents which was done in a dignified, positive manner. For example, a letter was disseminated which told about R’ Chanzin’s good works and enumerated his great qualities for which he deserved to serve as the “Rebbe’s rav.”
Elections were held on Sunday, 4 Nissan 5746 in the women’s section of 770. Over 90% of the men of the community voted, thus showing the seriousness and importance people ascribed to the process. Out of the five contenders, three were chosen: R’ Marlow, R’ Osdoba, and R’ Chanzin.
When R’ Chanzin told the Rebbe that he was elected, the Rebbe responded that he should continue in his rabbanus in Petach Tikva and the Vaad Rabbanei Anash in Eretz Yisrael.
THE ALTER REBBE ALREADY SILENCED THEM
The committee sent out a letter to the public with the election results and the Rebbe’s response to R’ Chanzin, and announced that elections for a third rav would take place after Pesach.
This was enough for the cynics who resented the elections to make a mockery of the committee and the elections and to accuse the Netzigim of underhanded tactics and not checking the candidates before publicizing the names.
On 7 Nissan, R’ Zirkind wrote a report to the Rebbe in which he described the situation in five paragraphs, one of them referring to the opposition. He wrote: after all of the above, some of the senior Netzigim asked me to approach the Rebbe to get the view from above, since people are talking in terms of subversion of everything we did and that we are frauds etc, for arranging elections for rabbanim that were not accepted etc. Therefore, the Netzigim await the royal word in order to quiet the mockers.
The Rebbe responded in detail to each paragraph, and as far as what they wrote that they are hoping for an answer from the Rebbe to quiet those who mock (mal’igim):
The Alter Rebbe already “quieted” them at the beginning of his Shulchan Aruch. It is possible to add – that it says in sefarim that la’ag (mockery) is the same letters as eigel (referring to the golden calf).
Regarding the question whether to conduct the installation of the two newly elected rabbanim right away, the Rebbe answered:
After the conclusion of the elections (also of a third rav).
As to the other questions about the right time to deal with elections for a third rav, the Rebbe answered:
As per the decision of the community.
Regarding the report as a whole, the Rebbe’s answer was: Received and thanks. And also for their involvement in the needs of the community. I will mention it at the tziyun for success in all the aforementioned.
After Pesach, on Sunday 23 Iyar, elections were held for a third rav. Before that, on motzoei Shabbos, the Netzigim received the following response from the Rebbe:
Received and thanks. I will mention it at the gravesite again, that the elections should be in a good time and successful in every regard, for the benefit of the general public and the benefit of the individual, including the explanation of “gam yochad” in the drushei Lag B’Omer – hilula d’Rashbi.
Rabbi Yosef Avrohom Heller was elected in a majority vote and the election process came to a good end with the election of three rabbanim.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR 770 AND MYSELF TO BE SILENT
If you think the affair ended with that, you are mistaken. A month of meetings, discussions and reports about a contract with the rabbanim and the installation event ensued, as well as new questions that cropped up regarding the standing of the organization of Netzigim. The Rebbe was involved in every detail and gave lengthy, detailed answers to every report he received. The Rebbe made clear in his answer to the report dated 19 Sivan that on the one hand: Obviously, it is completely out of the question for me to be involved in the administration of the kahal or in the administration of the Netzigim.
On the other hand, since he received “complaints from both sides, that the other side was doing the opposite of Shulchan Aruch, this compelled me to get involved in all this because it is impossible for 770 and myself (as a resident of the community and nothing more) to pass on this in silence (since if he was silent he admitted to me, as was said to me explicitly).”
Even after the detailed answers from the Rebbe, things still moved very slowly with members of the Vaad Hakahal at that time blaming the Netzigim for various things that they thought were not done properly.
The Rebbe received complaints from both sides and on 23 Sivan the Rebbe wrote a long answer to the Netzigim at the end of which he wrote:
In conclusion simply: They were chosen to choose the replacement for the aforementioned [Rav Dworkin]. They accepted upon themselves the appointment and actually began to deal with it (and have done more than just a beginning). Commotions developed etc, and the “hand” is yet raised up.
Therefore, in my humble opinion: 1) They can reveal all of my answers, but obviously without any distortion at all (such as saying that I am representing a side or issuing rulings – which is the opposite of the truth). As soon as possible (to decrease the machlokes etc.), to clearly resolve all of the claims regarding the election for the rabbanus (even those claims that I did not wish to write as above, and they should investigate them with the various sides). And to proceed and complete their job as far as electing rabbanim, presenting the ksav rabbanus (and obviously – as appropriate according to Shulchan Aruch.) 2) At least by the end of the month of rabbanus – the third month (Sivan).
And if they will inform me forthwith that all of this has begun and with alacrity – thank you in advance.
The election committee immediately announced to the public that whoever had a complaint about the elections should come forth. They also wrote to the Rebbe about a contract for the rabbanim (after the Vaad Hakahal refused to sign and pay salaries). This time too, they received a detailed answer to every paragraph in their letter. The Rebbe urged them to finish the process as soon as possible.
The Rebbe’s desire to conclude the process was evident in numerous answers, for example, on 24 Sivan, the Rebbe responded to a short report from the chairman of the Netzigim:
Out of his goodness: to clarify with other holy communities, in New York at least, how many gatherings were held until they elected their rabbanim. How much time did it take from its beginning to its end. How many letters and reports did they need for this.
At the same time, the Rebbe made very clear:
If it is his intention that I decide about all of this, I answered him a number of times – that I am not issuing a ruling on all this, I am not a side in all this etc. All of my writing about all of this – since the Shulchan Aruch says in my humble opinion – that the sides have accused each other of the above – that it is forbidden to remain silent etc.
SICHOS KODESH IN HONOR OF THE INSTALLATION
The controversy continued to roil, but at this point, the light was already visible at the end of the tunnel and the installation was announced for Sunday, 29 Sivan.
On Shabbos, the Chassidim heard a sicha from the Rebbe (which was edited and printed in Likutei Sichos afterward) which began with, “In connection with the election and appointment of rabbanim which was completed, by divine providence, yesterday, erev Shabbos Kodesh, the last erev Shabbos for the third month, Sivan.”
The Rebbe dedicated the sicha to the job of rabbanim, morei horaah b’Yisrael, and their power to make peace in the world, while explaining the special importance of the rabbanim of Crown Heights:
There is a special aspect to all of the above regarding the rabbanim of this neighborhood; this neighborhood is where the Rebbe, my father-in-law, Nasi Doreinu lived for the last ten years of his life in this world, ten years, an entire era. Since “the nasi is everything,” every activity in this neighborhood (the neighborhood of Nasi Doreinu, the generation of ikvesa d’meshicha in which the galus ends and the Geula begins) has an influence also on the entire world. In a footnote the Rebbe adds: Therefore one can say that an activity in the neighborhood of Nasi Doreinu acts upon and influences (not only on all people in this generation, even those far away, but) also all previous generations.
The Rebbe ended with a suggestion: It would be worthwhile and proper to hold a farbrengen in connection with the appointment of the rabbanim in which everyone participates: the rabbanim, Netzigim, and at their head the committee to elect and appoint rabbanim, along with the entire community “as one man with one heart.” The Rebbe gave a bottle of mashke by way of participating in the installation farbrengen.
A few months later, the Rebbe explained in a farbrengen (Mishpatim 5747) why the empowerment of the rabbanim of this community is unique:
In most communities in New York etc., there are a few people (askanim, parnasim, etc.) who choose the rav of the community, and over time, when they see how the rav conducts himself in practice, it becomes clear whether the appointment was in accordance with the public’s will etc.
Crown Heights is one of the few communities where the rabbanim were elected by the public. All men in the community were called upon to personally participate in the elections and most of them responded to the call and they came to the holy place, a beis knesses and beis medrash, in particular – the shul and beis medrash of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, Nasi Doreinu, and there they themselves chose the rabbanim – a fact which imbues the rabbanim with the greatest empowerment, of which there is no higher.
NAME OF THE BEIS DIN
Even after the installation of the rabbanim, there were those who continued raising questions about their standing, and the manner of the operations of the beis din. For example, on 3 Tammuz 5746, R’ Zirkind wrote to the Rebbe that it was decided that the beis din would be called, “Beis Din Rabbanei Lubavitch – Crown Heights,” but the Rebbe negated this and wrote:
The meaning of their suggestion, according to Shulchan Aruch, is that all those in the neighborhood and are not Lubavitch should choose [their own] rabbanim and a beis din.”
On 11 Tammuz there was another farbrengen to install all the members of the Badatz and the following day, at the farbrengen on Shabbos, the Rebbe gave mashke in honor of the three members of the beis din.
Then the Netzigim submitted a report to the Rebbe about the installation/farbrengen and the response was: So should you report good tidings all of the days. I will mention it at the tziyun.
“IT’S A RACHMANUS ON HIM”
The conclusion of the elections for rabbanim in Crown Heights brought up the need to hold elections to replace the members of the Vaad Hakahal who served until that point, those whose opposition to the elections of rabbanim in Crown Heights nearly torpedoed the entire process. When the latter saw that the ground was falling out from under their feet, they immediately began a new campaign of opposition to holding elections for members of the Vaad Hakahal. They enlisted rabbanim from outside of the community to get involved. The three elected rabbanim supported the process, but the members of Aguch publicized letters of opposition and claimed that holding elections was a new invention and such a thing never took place in Chabad.
A month after the conclusion of the elections for rabbanim of the community, the Rebbe felt the need to express his view in public, while using sharp terms against those who fought it. In the sicha of Mattos-Masei 5746, the Rebbe said:
There are those who decided, for some reason, that they are balabatim (in charge) of this community and they are the ones who are supposed to rule and control the entire public. For example, when a rav of the community needs to be elected, he and his friends are the ones who will establish and decide who is fit to serve as rav, and they will appoint him as rav. Such a thing was never heard of in Israel, that an askan or several askanim should decide on their own to choose a rav. All the more so when that askan openly announces that if his candidate is chosen, then he will give money etc, and if not he won’t give … By doing this, he wants to force his will upon the entire public. Is there any greater bribe than this?
When they began to speak about elections for rabbanim, I got a letter from them: How is it possible that I am not worrying that there should be a rav in the community? Their intention was that surely I would appoint them to decide who the rav would be.
That the community is operating for an entire year without a rav – they don’t care. Suddenly, when talk begins about an election for rabbanim and there is hope for a corrected situation, they wake up and see this needs to be prevented at all costs; rather, everybody should accept their control – the opposite of the din that “there is no one who judges on his own, only Echad!”
For this reason, they boycotted the elections for rabbanim and did not participate in them. Moreover, they tried to interfere and ruin it, to instigate quarrels and contention etc, an outright Torah prohibition.
When I saw the state of affairs, I had no choice but to turn aside from all of my involvements, and to see to it that the elections and appointment of rabbanim be concluded at the earliest opportunity.
I did not envisage that I would have to get involved in this matter; this is not my thing; I have enough trouble from other things, not necessarily matters of nachas ruach.
However, when I saw the state of affairs, I had no choice but to turn away from all of my involvements and put them aside, and see to it that the entire matter of the election and appointment of rabbanim be done according to Shulchan Aruch, including preventing and negating all attempts to trip up or push off the election and appointment of rabbanim!
I thought that after my involvement and efforts regarding the election and appointment of rabbanim, I would be able to go back and turn to my involvements, but it turns out I was mistaken, for in addition to the fact that they continue to “dig” against the rabbanim, now matters are repeating themselves regarding elections for the Vaad Hakahal.
Therefore, it is necessary to announce that whoever tries to interfere with the elections, it’s a rachmanus on him. More than that, I do not want to say explicitly.
THE ELECTION OF RABBI AHARON YAAKOV SCHWEI
Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow passed away on 20 Sivan 5760 after an illness. More than two years passed until the members of the Netzigim announced elections for rav.
On Sunday 22 Cheshvan 5763, thousands of residents of Crown Heights went to vote in the basement of 770. Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Schwei was elected by a large majority as mara d’asra and member of the beis din. He won with over 90% of the vote.
A month later, during the 19 Kislev farbrengen in 770, R’ Schwei was installed as rav of the community, with the participation of rabbanim, the Netzigim, members of the Vaad Hakahal and residents of the community.
THE ELECTION OF RABBI YOSEF YESHAYA BRAUN
A few years later, elections became necessary again.
On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5770, elections were held in which Rabbi Yosef Yeshaya Braun was elected as mara d’asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.
Several months later, at a farbrengen in 770 for Yud Shevat 5771, R’ Braun was installed at an impressive event with the participation of the community representatives, rabbanim and many members of the community.
Rabbi Braun brought to the Beis Din much needed new blood.
Besides for his vast knowledge of halacha, he is gifted with an ability to connect and relate to the younger generation, especially by using the tools provided by modern technology to disseminate the age old truth of halacha, through his popular Halacha2Go.com short videos, and the more recent AskTheRav.com website, which Rabbi Braun oversees, that answers hundreds of questions submitted weekly.
Beis Moshiach extends heartfelt wishes to the Rabbonim and the community, that the Rabbonim continue to lead the community with good health, prosperity, peace of mind, and unity, to greet the Rebbe Moshiach Tzidkenu, teikef umiyad mamash!
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