Saturday, January 01, 2005

Ponevezh yeshiva struggle escalates: now using stink bombs


At 5:12 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Ponevezh yeshiva struggle escalates
By Mati Wagner
Jerusalem Post
Jan. 2, 2005

Dramatic intervention by a top rabbinical authority has torpedoed the first, and perhaps only, attempt by the haredi media to cover an escalating power struggle at the Ponevezh Yeshiva, the Harvard of the haredi world.

The battle for control at Ponevezh, in Bnei Brak outside Tel Aviv, plumbed new depths on Thursday, when supporters of one of the rabbis hoping for primacy there, Shmuel Markovitz, tried to disrupt a lesson given by his rival, Rabbi Haim Peretz Berman, by hiding stink bombs in the air-conditioning, The Jerusalem Post was told. The stink bombs were discovered half-an-hour before class.

Earlier in the week, supporters of Markovitz, the son-in-law of the son of the yeshiva's founder, tried to prevent Berman, who has only recently been appointed to a senior position at the yeshiva, from delivering the three-times weekly most prestigious Talmud lesson, a role Markovitz covets. In the ensuing scuffles, bodyguards whom Berman had recruited because he feared disruption kept the Markovitz supporters at bay. One person was hospitalized with a pummeled face.

A haredi weekly, Sha'ah Tovah, was this past weekend to have published a four-page expos of the bitter power struggle at Ponevezh, where about 1,000 of the brightest students from a cross-section of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi haredi communities study.

But at Sha'ah Tovah's press time, Rabbi Michel Yehudah Lefkovitz, head of Ponevezh's yeshiva for youngsters, instructed Shlomo Halpern, Sha'ah Tovah's publisher, to remove the piece. Halpern complied, and because he had no time to insert alternative material, the magazine appeared with four blank pages.

Haredi journalists say they cannot remember the last time a respected rabbi intervened so drastically in decision-making at the normally self-censored haredi media.

"The [Lithuanian] rabbis don't even recognize the existence of a commercial haredi press, let alone get mixed up in editorial decisions," said one senior haredi journalist.

Founded in the 1940s, Ponevezh's reputation was built primarily by Rabbi Eliezer Shach, the single most important spiritual leader of Lithuanian haredi Judaism in the modern era, who died in 2001. There has been no clear successor to him at the yeshiva.

The rare instance of rabbinical censorship, and the magazine's readiness to comply, may do wonders for the popularity of Sha'ah Tovah, haredi journalistic sources reckon.

"After two years of struggling to make a name for itself, Lefkovitz's intervention has put Sha'ah Tovah on the map. Now the entire haredi community knows that the weekly respects Torah sages," said one source.

Publisher Halpern, unsurprisingly, agreed. "We are a newspaper that respects halachic authorities. We received the phone call from Rabbi Lefkovitz and there was no question but that we would remove the article," he said. Halpern refused to comment on its content beyond saying that "it dealt with the Lithuanian yeshiva world."

The haredi press has made no other effort to cover the Ponevezh saga, since haredi journalists consider that reporting so unpleasant a struggle would constitute a desecration of God's name (hilul Hashem), the Post was told.

Sha'ah Tovah is the offshoot of Hashavua, which was forced to close after a confrontation between its editor, Asher Zuckerman, and the Gerer hassidic sect. Sources told the Post that Zuckerman, using a pseudonym, writes and edits Sha'ah Tovah.

Halpern claims the weekly, which comes in four sections printed on glossy pages and costs NIS 13.80, has 100,000 readers, both in Israel and abroad. "In the haredi world every print copy is passed around to a lot of readers," he said, indicating that the print-run may be far lower.

The power struggle flared at Ponevezh last week after Berman was named as a yeshiva co-head. The move was seen as an attempt to push out Markovitz, the son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Kahaneman, son of the yeshiva's founder. Markovitz is fighting Kahaneman's son Eliezer for control of Ponevezh.

Berman is an ally of Eliezer Kahaneman.

Tension rose further when the preeminent Lithuanian halachic authority, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, came out against the Berman appointment.
Besides the failed stink-bomb incident, Thursday also saw a meeting between Markovitz and Rabbi Haim Kanyevsky, one of the most respected spiritual leaders in the Lithuanian haredi community.

Markovitz's rivals say Kanyevsky recommended that Markovitz break with Ponevezh and establish a new yeshiva. But Markovitz continues to demand a powerful position inside Ponevezh.


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