Friday, February 04, 2005

Escalation of Violence at Ponevezh Yeshiva, likely to splinter off and set up an independent yeshiva


At 5:16 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Feb. 4, 2005
Ponevezh on brink of split

A belligerent faction in the Ponevezh Yeshiva, considered the Harvard of haredi yeshivot, is likely to splinter off and set up an independent yeshiva.

This follows an escalation of violence that culminated in the bloody beating of a yeshiva head. Last Thursday, Rabbi Haim Peretz Berman, the newly-appointed cohead of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, was ambushed outside his Bnei Brak apartment on the way to morning prayers.

The assailant pummeled Berman's face with brass knuckles and continued to hit him after he fell to the ground.

Berman, who sustained mainly superficial wounds to his face, was hospitalized briefly and showed up, bandaged and stitched, for his Talmud classes at the yeshiva.

The naming of Berman as a cohead of the yeshiva two months ago was seen as an attempt to push out Rabbi Shmuel Markovitz, who is fighting for control there. Berman's appointment escalated the already tense atmosphere at Ponevezh.

This week, Rabbi Asher Deutche, a Markovitz supporter and a teacher at Ponevezh, discounted Berman's beating by comparing it to the punches sustained by Nathan Hirsch, a yeshiva student who supports Berman, during a fistfight at Ponevezh a month ago.

In response, Rabbi Michal Yehuda Lefkovitz, head of Ponevezh's yeshiva high school, issued a notice stating that "those who minimize that horrific act are accomplices of those who actually performed it."

Quoting from the Talmud (Shabbat 54b), Lefkovitz warned that any rabbi who is in a position to denounce a transgression and fails to do so is punished along with the transgressor.

Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, one of the most respected spiritual leaders of the Lithuanian haredi world, who until now has maintained neutrality, floated the idea of installing Markovitz and his followers in a separate yeshiva that would be funded by Ponevezh's administrative head and Markovitz's brother-in-law, Eliezer Kahneman.

Steinman presented the idea to the two senior heads of Ponevezh, rabbis Baruch Dov Fobarsky and Gershon Edelstein.

In an unprecedented move, Edelstein convened on Tuesday the entire yeshiva student body and faculty, including former students who were bused in from all parts of the country, to announce that the violence had gotten out of control and that a solution would be found very soon. Some 3,000 people attended.

Perhaps the most important development was the involvement on Wednesday of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority in the haredi world.

Elyashiv, who has until now supported Markovitz's claim to a senior role in the running of Ponevezh, signaled this week, via his messenger, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Karp, that he supported Steinman's suggestion of distancing Markovitz and his followers from Ponevezh by establishing a separate yeshiva.

In the coming weeks an attempt will be made to advance the idea.

However, two main obstacles need to be hurdled. First, Markovitz will undoubtedly oppose the move.

A new yeshiva established under such negative circumstances would hardly be viable. Plus, Markovitz still argues he has rights inside Ponevezh.

A rabbinic court would have to be convened to determine whether Markovitz can be forced to accept such a solution to the conflict.

Second, Kahneman, whose family first established Ponevezh in the 1940s, must be persuaded to fund the enterprise.

No matter what the final verdict will be, there is a consensus that a solution must be found.

Sources inside Ponevezh told The Jerusalem Post that the ongoing infighting had not tarnished the good name of the yeshiva so far.

It still attracts 200 of the best and brightest students every year. Very few yeshivot can compete with Ponevezh's prestige.

But the full ramifications of the recent outbreaks of violence have yet to be gauged.

As one student put it, "Soon parents are not going to want to send their sons to a yeshiva replete with such strife."


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