Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach
I first met Rabbi Moshe Wiener a few years ago, although until this interview, I had not met with him face-to-face. I “met” him through his sefer that I found in a shul near my home, Hadras Panim Zaken on the topic of growing and removing a beard according to halacha.
Although in the forward to the book, the author calls himself a compiler, when you leaf through the 1228 pages (in the fourth edition) one cannot help but be amazed by R’ Wiener’s tremendous proficiency in Rishonim and Acharonim and the passion he has in spreading the word on this subject.
As a resident of New York, I have often seen ads on notice boards in frum areas as well as booklets distributed in shuls with quotes from gedolei Yisrael of various groups on the importance of growing a beard and the prohibition in shaving it. Each time one of these ads appeared, it was interesting to see the wording, for it was always connected to the upcoming holiday and aimed straight for the heart of the target audience.
Over the years, I was curious to meet the person behind this endeavor who combined a scholarly sefer with consistent, persistent messages but R’ Wiener preferred to remain behind the scenes and refused to be interviewed. It was only recently that he agreed to be interviewed by Beis Moshiach, and to show dozens of instructions and guidance that he received from the Rebbe, in private audiences and letters. It was only later that I understood why he agreed to be interviewed now.
THE SEFER BORN IN THE MIRRER YESHIVA
Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to write this unique sefer.
When the Rebbe wrote about me in connection with the sefer, he said that the author is “a talmid of Yeshivas Mir.” The sefer was actually conceived while I was learning in the Mir and before that, when I learned in Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Thank G-d, I became acquainted with Chabad Chassidus and began attending shiurim in Chassidus at a very young age, so when my beard started to grow, it was obvious to me that I would keep it. But my friends did not understand me as beards were uncommon in yeshiva and since I couldn’t tell them about my connection with Chabad, I began looking for sources in the sefarim of gedolim of all groups, including the Litvishe.
I amassed quite a collection of material which said it is forbidden to remove the beard, especially with an electric shaver which many frum people use. I compiled the material in a booklet and after showing it to my friends and I saw that it’s possible to influence people by spreading the word, I sent the booklet to the Rebbe. I asked whether it should be printed.
The Rebbe’s answer, from Menachem Av 5737 said: There is a need to find someone to edit the exact wording and the style, as well as the halachic give and take. The Rebbe also added the following reservation: To do the above-mentioned if the conclusion is to be stringent (if to be lenient – that is not a matter for him at all to add to the situation as it is in actuality – since on the foundation of the leniency – there are many who transgress the prohibition of the Torah according to all opinions. And [the prohibition of placing a stumbling block] before the blind – is according to all opinions from the Torah.
This answer is printed in the sefer but, for obvious reasons, not with the Rebbe’s name. All it says is “a response from one of the gedolei, geonei and leaders of our generation.”
To appreciate the Rebbe’s concern about lenient views – in the compilation that I submitted to the Rebbe I quoted gedolei Yisrael over the generations who were very strict about removing the beard. However, since they sometimes also quote opinions that maintain that one can be lenient, for various reasons, despite the fact that they dismiss those lenient reasons, people can specifically latch on to those reasons to permit it. And we know the principle that people who are looking to permit things for themselves will emphasize the leniency and ignore the prohibition. So, it was important to the Rebbe that the approach of the sefer be unequivocal, that it is completely forbidden especially, as the Rebbe emphasizes, that even those who permit it, permitted it only in extenuating circumstances and when in danger. Unfortunately, many people think that it is completely permissible and they extend the limits of the allowances to the point of breaking down all boundaries.
Another point, which also has a halachic aspect is that some people follow those who allow it and they remove their beards according to the specific guidelines of their rabbis who allow it, but people who see a religious Jew without a beard don’t know how he removed his beard. They might conclude that there is no halachic problem with shaving. This makes those who are doing it correctly transgress on “don’t put a stumbling block before the blind.” By the way, some poskim bring this in halacha like the Ritva who writes that even if there are halachic sources to be lenient, because of this concern about the observers one must grow a beard.
I worked on the booklet for another half a year and it was a hundred handwritten pages. I wrote to the Rebbe and included a photocopy of the Rebe’s previous answer. The Rebbe responded in the margin of the previous answer: All of the above remains in force. I will mention it at the tziyun.
When another half a year went by, I wrote that I planned on beginning the sefer with an explanation of the subject and the issues of growing a beard. The Rebbe crossed this out and wrote: The main influence will be by showing them the enormous number of their own great Rabbis who are strict in this, therefore the compilation of views should be placed first. The Rebbe concluded with: I will mention it at the tziyun and may you relate good news.
THE REBBE WAS INVOLVED IN THE DETAILS
When I wasn’t sure I understood an approach of one of the gedolei Yisrael who seemed to contradict himself, I asked some rabbanim and when I received their answers and I submitted them to the Rebbe, the Rebbe decided which answer to include in the sefer.
For example, the Tzemach Tzedek says it is completely forbidden to remove the beard even with scissors that are unlike a razor. He draws support for this from the words of the Rashba regarding the shaving of the nazir. There were rabbanim who argued this point from the words of the Rashba somewhere else, where it says that it is permissible for a nazir to cut his beard. They maintained that the Tzemach Tzedek did not see this Rashba.
I sent the question to many rabbanim all over the world and received some answers. Two rabbanim, Rabbi Sholom Morosov and Rabbi Hillel Pevsner, gave the same answer which seemed logical so I submitted the answers to the Rebbe and asked whether to include the answers as written or to edit them a bit.
The Rebbe’s answer was short and clear: To print as is. The Rebbe added a bracha: I will mention it at the tziyun. May all of the above be in a good and successful time.
One time, the Rebbe himself answered my question and of course, I put that in the sefer. It was a question about the Rambam’s view. On the one hand, he writes in Mishneh Torah that “if he removed his beard with scissors, he is exempt.” A number of gedolim and commentators on Rambam understand this to mean, “exempt but forbidden,” as the Rambam himself emphasizes in a number of places that when he paskens “patur” this does not mean that it is permissible. It is prohibited; the person is only exempt from punishment. On the other hand, I found in the Teshuvos HaRambam, that he writes “it is permissible to remove the beard with scissors,” and he even writes that “this is what is actually done, to cut the peios of the head with scissors.”
I corresponded with several gedolim about this and one of them pointed out that at the beginning of the teshuva it talks about “cutting the beard” while at the end it says, “to cut the peios of the head,” and he said that since these teshuvos were translated from Arabic, it’s possible that it was not translated accurately and if we looked in the original we would see that.
I asked Rabbi Yosef Kapach, someone who has translated and explained the Rambam’s writings, and Rabbi Avrohom Sofer, editor of Beis Ha’Bechirah. They were inclined to explain that the Rambam does allow scissors which are not like a razor and I asked the Rebbe whether I should cite their view…
In a response to my letter, the Rebbe resolved the contradiction with amazing simplicity:
The explanation is simple – the written response has no date on it. Since the Rambam wrote the Sefer HaYad over a period of many years, and edited and made changes as is well known, and what we have is the final edition and there it is clear that it is forbidden (Tzemach Tzedek 93:10), it is reasonable to assume that the response is from an earlier period. And even though he wrote that this is the practice – after his conclusion in the Yad – that changed as well.
That means that since there is no date on the teshuva, while the Mishneh Torah was written by the Rambam over many years and we have the last edition, it is reasonable to assume that the teshuva was written earlier, when the Rambam maintained that there is some heter, and even followed that in practice, but years later, he changed his opinion and paskened that it is asur (and only patur).
Later in his response, the Rebbe questioned the accuracy of the translation from Arabic and wrote: In general, it requires analysis if the wording of the teshuva is exact – as it lacks [any mention of] the law of the fifth corner, [referred to as] the stalk of the beard!
At a later point, the Rebbe added: As to his previous comment in ShuT HaRambam 244, I just saw that the publisher of that edition (vol. 3 pg. 18) estimates that it was written before the conclusion of the Yad. The Rebbe went on to stress another important point that: In the footnotes of that edition – [it cites] in numerous places that they are not like what is written in the Yad.
THE LITVISHE RAV WHO WANTED THE BACHUR’S BLESSING
You say you dealt with rabbanim from all over the world and they sent you their responses. How old were you?
(Smiling): I was a young bachur but when I sent them the complete kuntrus on the subject, with photocopies of letters from gedolei Yisrael that I had received, they were sure the compiler was an older talmid chacham who worked on this for years. In general, when I sent my questions, I identified myself as a talmid of the Mir and wrote letters on the yeshiva stationery. This may also have made the Chassidishe rabbanim want to respond to me.
It reached the point that one of the great Litvishe rabbanim wrote in the margin of his answer that his wife was not feeling well lately and he asked me to daven for her … Of course, I passed this request on to the Rebbe with her name and her mother’s name, as the rav had written. A few days later, the Rebbe’s secretary saw me and said that when the Rebbe read this letter, he wanted to know from whom the rav had asked for a bracha …
THE REBBE SPEEDED UP THE PRINTING OF THE SEFER
R’ Wiener worked for years on the sefer, continuing to do research and sending updates to the Rebbe. On 16 Menachem Av 5737, the Rebbe wrote him about the preferred name for the sefer, even getting into details such as the page design with the name of the sefer and the name of the section on each page.
Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5738, R’ Wiener wrote to the Rebbe, “Thank G-d, I completed collecting approbations and the printers said they would organize and print all of the galleys as soon as possible.” He also asked the Rebbe what subtitle to give the sefer.
In his response, the Rebbe urged him again to print the sefer quickly and not to keep postponing it. At the end of the response, the Rebbe wrote the preferred subtitle from among the choices submitted.
R’ Wiener tried to hurry but still wanted to fully clarify and sift through the material cited in the sefer and on 3 Adar I, he sent a question to the Rebbe about the view of Rabeinu Yona. The Rebbe did not respond to the question; just urged him to print the sefer immediately and to address all the questions in the second edition.
In light of this instruction from the Rebbe, R’ Wiener rushed to prepare the sefer for print and within a short time, he published the first edition.
I see that a few months later, at the end of 5738, you published a second edition. Why the rush?
Since I continued to be in touch with gedolei Yisrael and I continued my research, I had accumulated enough material that justified a second edition. I wrote to the Rebbe about this and the Rebbe encouraged me to publish a second edition as soon as possible.
In the meantime, I got engaged and before the wedding I had yechidus with the Rebbe along with my kalla. In the note that I submitted to the Rebbe I wrote about the wedding and did not mention the sefer but the Rebbe had other priorities and began the yechidus with a question: What’s doing with the second edition?
I told the Rebbe that it was being delayed in addition to the fact that I was busy with wedding preparations. The Rebbe did not accept this, especially since the first edition was almost entirely sold out. The Rebbe was not pleased that soon it would be impossible to get a copy and he asked: When will it come out?
Most of the yechidus was about the sefer and only toward the end did the Rebbe bless us.
Throughout that year, 5738, I received at least six responses from the Rebbe which show the great extent of his involvement in the publishing of the sefer. When I asked the Rebbe for a bracha in obtaining an approbation from one of the great American rabbanim, the Rebbe’s response was: In the meantime, surely you are hurrying the printing.
When I spoke with the Algemeiner Journal and the Jewish Press about writing reviews and reports about the book, they wanted to write about the author in addition to the book. I really did not want to be in the spotlight and I asked them specifically to focus on the material. I asked the Rebbe whether to insist they write only about the sefer and the Rebbe responded on 12 Adar II: Whatever he can accomplish with the editorial boards of the two aforementioned [publications] – is good, and as far as the rest he should concede since it is extremely important that they write an article. And all of the above also applies to the [Torah publication] HaMaor (and the newspapers in the Holy Land).
In fact, a review article was published in HaMaor (Shevat-Adar 5738). When I sent it to the Rebbe, the Rebbe responded (Nissan of that year) with advice and guidance regarding the promotion and publicizing the sefer, as well as expressing his surprise that the large number of pages in the sefer was not mentioned. As the Rebbe put it: In this case, this [fact] itself is an ‘endorsement,’ and certainly he will anticipate this in the future [to make certain that the number of pages is mentioned].
The Rebbe added the need for publicity in Eretz Yisrael that should include a broad spectrum of Sefardim as well, and suggested publicizing a reduced price for yeshiva students. He also attached a $100 bill as his participation, and again emphasized the need for speed in promoting the sefer in order to “negate etc. in the days of Sefiras HaOmer.”
[=Apparently, the Rebbe wanted to take advantage of Sefiras HaOmer when people do not shave in order to publicize the book and convince people to continue growing their beards even after sefira.]
On 23 Iyar 5738, after I sent an update to the Rebbe about the progress of the sefer, along with approbations, appendices and supplements that came to me after the first printing, the Rebbe acknowledged receipt of the material and wrote: He should continue and actually publish the second edition, and should completely put out of mind all those who try to distract and all the distractions, and the merit of the many will assist [in all of the above]. And Hashem should grant him success and he should deliver good tidings.”
On the eve of 15 Menachem Av, I reported that all of the corrections were made and the second edition was ready for print, the Rebbe answered that it should be “in a manner and worthwhile that he be able to spread it in the beginning of Elul.” In Elul proper, the Rebbe again sent out an answer: In connection with matters pertaining to the month of Elul and Tishrei – it is worthwhile that they once again publicize about his sefer HPZ, and perhaps [offer] a special price for this time (lowered). And perhaps to also publish a pamphlet of additions.
FROM DENIAL TO SUPPORT
Aside from the answers in which the Rebbe urged you to hurry and print the sefer, was the Rebbe involved in any other ways?
Yes, the Rebbe was involved in a number of episodes with rabbanim who tried to interfere with the distribution of the sefer but not everything can be publicized. I will tell you one incident and even that, with the omission of the rav’s name.
When I printed the first edition, I got an approbation from one of the leaders of Agudas HaRabbanim in the United States, Back then, he himself did not have a beard and even alluded to this in his approbation when he wrote, “Many, due to our many sins, stumble in this.” I was in his office and he wrote the approbation in my presence. After the sefer was published, there were some clean-shaven rabbis who attacked him for giving his approbation. He even considered withdrawing his approbation and publishing a denial in the papers.
By divine providence, one of his mekuravim was a Lubavitcher and when he heard what the rabbi planned on doing, he told me and we thought about what to do. If someone wrote against the sefer in the paper that was not as bad as someone writing that we forged his words because then the sefer loses its credibility and I had worked so hard over every word I quoted.
At that time, this rav was supposed to come to a Kinus Torah at 770 and together with his mekurav I waited for him in my car when he came out of 770 after he delivered his drasha. The mekurav asked him to go over to the car because someone wanted to ask him something. When he came over and saw me, he turned red. He knew exactly what I wanted to ask him.
I was delighted when he reassured me that not only wouldn’t he publish a denial but he himself would speak on the subject.
I didn’t know how the turnabout happened. He told me that after the Kinus Torah, he davened mincha in the Rebbe’s minyan and after the davening he spoke with the Rebbe in gan eden ha’tachton. The Rebbe began talking to him about my sefer and asked him to give a shiur on the importance of growing a beard and to print the shiur in the HaPardes publication.
The Rebbe’s words had the desired effect in that he had a complete turnaround. He gave the shiur as the Rebbe asked him to do and had it published in the periodical and also in a compilation of his shiurim. He wrote it so clearly as though I myself had written it. He wrote that in Europe before the war, it was so out of the question to remove a beard that for simple Jews it was easier to amputate a limb than to cut their beard! The most important thing though was that this rabbi himself began to grow a beard.
WHOEVER WAS EXPOSED TO THE SEFER WAS IMPACTED
Over forty years have passed since the sefer was published. Did it effect a change in the mindset of the yeshiva world?
When the sefer gets into the study halls of the yeshivos it definitely makes an impact. It’s not an easy thing and even someone who learns the sefer and understands the severity finds it hard to actually stop trimming or removing the beard but there are definitely bachurim who, after learning what their gedolim said about this, stop shaving.
I mentioned the Rebbe’s response to rush the printing during sefira. At this time, it is easier to convince people since they aren’t shaving now anyway and it is easier to continue than to stop at some other time of the year.
I have a friend who has a flower store who has employees who arrange flowers at weddings. During sefira, when there are no weddings, he has to pay their salaries but he doesn’t have much work for them. He decided to volunteer his employees to distribute the announcements that I put out from time to time with quotes from the sefer. I published a booklet with quotes from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky against shaving both in Hebrew and in English and his employees went from yeshiva to yeshiva and distributed thousands of copies.
A few months later, I met one of these roshei yeshiva about something else entirely. At the end of the meeting he said that he knows that I wrote the sefer Hadras Panim Zaken and he even displayed his proficiency in the contents of the sefer. But what made me really happy is when he said that his two sons, who learn in a Litvishe yeshiva and got this booklet during sefira, both began growing beards! He said that not only his sons but also some other bachurim decided to grow beards.
I once spoke to Rabbi Chodakov about this and he said: The day will come when bachurim will bring the sefer to their roshei yeshiva and ask whether what it says is true and the roshei yeshiva will look at the sefer and say: That we allowed you to shave was one big mistake!
WHO IS AFRAID OF THE SEFER?
You began your answer with the disclaimer that the sefer has an impact when it “succeeds in getting in.” What prevents a Torah work from getting into the study halls of yeshivos?
The big problem is that unfortunately there are certain parties that obstruct the sefer’s distribution and do all they can so that yeshiva students are not exposed to the material! Nowadays, the distribution of sefarim in the frum world goes largely through the frum newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, some of the editors of these publications are unwilling to publicize the sefer, not even with a paid ad.
Back then, when the first and second editions of the sefer were published, the frum world had one main newspaper and I wanted to place an ad in it. Since the sefer presents the subject from the perspective of bnei ha’yeshivos, I quoted a letter from a Litvishe rosh yeshiva who was asked “regarding cutting the beard with an electric shaver” and he cited the Chofetz Chaim who wrote it is forbidden and not to be lenient in this. He added that it is known that the Chazon Ish forbade a machine. I translated this into English and wanted to place an ad with these quotes. To my surprise, the editors refused!
I said to them, in recent months you have quoted the opinion of that rosh yeshiva regarding returning land for peace. If he is reliable enough to quote about the danger to millions of Jews, why isn’t he reliable enough about a beard?
After a lot of debating, they agreed to the ad but only in Hebrew. This was an English newspaper and I suppose they hoped that most readers wouldn’t understand it.
Fifteen years ago, when Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman visited a number of American cities to provide chizuk to Jews in communities abroad, I wanted to take the opportunity to place an ad with his view on the subject including a picture of him and a photocopy of his handwritten letter with a translation into English. Again, they refused. I said to them, in recent weeks you published an entire supplement describing his trip and you called him a “gadol ha’dor.” How can you prevent the gadol ha’dor from expressing his view on such an important subject? No response…
At that time, the frum world had other newspapers too, and they also turned me down. They said they had gotten instructions from a Litvishe rosh yeshiva not to print anything in the paper against shaving.
When they were marking the fortieth yartzeit of the founder of the yeshiva in Lakewood, I thought that would be a good opportunity to let the bnei ha’yeshiva know his view against shaving. I prepared an ad with his picture and quotes from letters with a translation into English and wanted it in the local paper. They told me they had to consult with their rabbanim. I called a few days later and they said the rabbanim said not to print it. I asked why, when this was the opinion of their own rosh yeshiva and they explained that since the ad was in English, if children read it they would ask their fathers why they shaved when the rosh yeshiva was against that.
Their fear of talking about the subject is so great that I was turned down by a newspaper that is officially a Chassidishe paper but is meant for the broader public which is why they are fearful of promoting the topic. In that paper they had an article about a kiruv movement which gave out electric shavers to those who used a razor. I wrote to them saying that the same thing came up years ago, after the Six Day War, when a Litvishe organization called HaSaad HaRuchni gave out tashmishei kedusha to baalei teshuva. This included tefillin, mezuzos, and talleisim and they wanted to include electric shavers.
This was brought to the attention of Litvishe gedolim at the time who paskened that this is forbidden. I had a handwritten response of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky who wrote in the name of his father the Steipler Gaon in the name of the Chazon Ish. I sent this to the newspaper and they were unwilling to print it.
Recently, the New York Times had an article in its magazine about Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. In the cover picture of the article, you can see R’ Wiener’s sefer in the bookcase behind him. The thick sefer with the unusual spine stands out. When I told R’ Wiener a story that I heard about someone who went to R’ Kanievsky for a bracha and R’ Kanievsky told him to grow a beard, R’ Wiener said that he heard several stories like this, but that sadly there are many who find this hard to do.
In an Israeli paper they wrote that a man’s wife was very sick and his rosh yeshiva recommended that he go and get a bracha from R’ Kanievsky. After relating the medical problem to him, R’ Kanievsky said he had to grow a beard. Several weeks later, the rosh yeshiva asked him what R’ Kanievsky said. When he repeated R’ Kanievsky’s instruction, the rosh yeshiva looked at the man’s clean-shaven face and asked him in astonishment: Your wife is sick! Why aren’t you doing what he said?
In the Hebrew edition of Mishpacha, R’ Kanievsky’s son is quoted as saying that his father told him, “People are not normal. They come here all day, recite an endless litany of problems, one is sick, another is suffering from financial hardship, a third is lacking shalom bayis. What do they think, that I’ll give a bracha and everything will instantly improve? A person comes to me. I look for some little thing, symbolic, that I could ask him to rectify and through that to provide a grasp for the blessing. The Gemara says about a beard that the beard is the splendor of the face [‘hadras panim – zaken’]. What am I asking? Just something small but people are willing to die and not commit to something small.”
GROWING A BEARD AND GETTING READY FOR MOSHIACH
Is there a connection between this subject and Moshiach?
In the sefer, I quoted Rabbi Yaakov Emden that when Moshiach comes there will be people he will not recognize because they don’t have a beard. I also quoted Rabbi Shlomo Kluger who was a famous rav and posek in Galicia two hundred years ago. In some of his recently discovered manuscripts, there is a drasha for the Aseres Yemei Teshuva on the verse, “Rochel cries for her children for they are not,” and explains: throughout the generations, Rochel cries over her children in exile. In the early generations she recognized them in the Jewish mode of dress and G-dly image, but a time will come before the Geula when Rochel will come to cry over her children “and they are not” for she does not recognize them without a beard.
The main connection is that when I published the sefer Kol Kevuda Bas Melech about the laws of tznius for women, I wrote in a footnote in the prologue what I found in Medrash Pinchos of Rabbi Pinchos of Koretz, “The exile hangs on a hair.” I wrote that I heard that some interpret this to mean the beard and some interpret this to mean a hair of a woman’s head, that the Geula depends on these hairs.
Before printing the sefer, I sent the prologue to the Rebbe for editing and the Rebbe made a few changes including in the footnotes. He left this footnote without any change. I understood this as the Rebbe’s approval and I printed it. A few years ago, when I published a new edition of Kol Kevuda Bas Melech I also found some sources for this explanation of the words of Reb Pinchos Koritzer, but the main thing is that the Rebbe edited it and approved it. It’s true, it’s one of the greatest challenges before the Geula, tznius for women and a beard for men.
We see that the more important something is, the greater the obstacles to it. I told you before about the difficulties with the frum newspapers but I also see the great success of the sefer when it does reach the yeshiva students, which is why I ask anyone who can help, to distribute the sefer and bring it to the attention of bnei ha’yeshivos and to help with ads. You can download all the sefarim and booklets that were published, for free, at koshershaver.info where you can also make a donation.
I am confident that when bnei ha’yeshivos see the sefer, truth will speak for itself and we will see more and more bnei yeshiva starting to grow beards. This will hasten the coming of Moshiach.
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