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Tuesday
Jun132017

SHLICHUS ON MANY FRONTS

It is hard to find a quiet moment in the daily schedule of RYosef Chaim Rosenblatt. He is always on the move between his official position as Chief Rabbi of the Lower Galilee, visiting large manufacturing plants under his kashrus supervision, and his shlichus work. In addition, he answers halachic queries that come to him from across the country, on a wide array of topics, in his role as aresponding rabbifor Machon Halacha Chabad. * Who better to talk to about the very questions that he deals with on a daily basis: How to bring the Torah and develop a love for Torah among the wider population? How to navigate between the eternal law and the ever-changing times? How to blend shlichus with a formal rabbinic position?

Photos by Chaim TuitoRabbi Yosef Chaim Rosenblatt is a man of many hats. Besides being the Rav of the Lower Galilee regional municipality, he also serves as the Rebbes shliach in the area. As a shliach, he provides kashrus supervision to about forty large food plants, prepares couples for marriage, and boys for their bar mitzva. He also answers numerous halachic queries sent from around the country under the auspices of Machon Halacha Chabad, and that is only some of the things he does.

FROM THE BEGINNING

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Rosenblatt was born in 5729/1969. His parents are Mordechai and Malka. His father is of old time Yerushalmi stock and his mother is from a family of Holocaust survivors. His father attended Yeshiva Toras Emes in Mea Sh’arim.

In his youth, he learned in the Chinuch Atzmai school system and then transferred to the Litvishe Kol Torah. His life’s trajectory took a turn thanks to Rabbi Naftali Roth, rav of the Chabad community in the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Yerushalayim.

“My brothers and I, from a very young age, grew up in his shadow thanks to the Chabad shul in the neighborhood. R’ Roth is the spiritual force in the community and we got a lot from him, mainly a Chassidishe approach and hiskashrus to the Rebbe. My parents did not come from Lubavitcher families, but my father, because he learned in Toras Emes, joined the Chabad community in Mattersdorf. We started attending Tanya classes and then my brothers and I went to learn in Chabad yeshivos.”

It was there that R’ Rosenblatt became inspired to go on shlichus. He married the daughter of Rabbi Yeshaya Hertzl who was serving at the time as rav in Kfar Tavor and the Lower Galilee (and is now the rav of Natzrat Ilit). He and his wife decided to go on shlichus to a yishuv called Givat Avni located in the regional municipality of the Lower Galilee. A few years later he was appointed as the shliach of the entire region and as the Rav of the regional municipality.

 

Can you tell us a little about the area over which you hold sway?

It consists of eighteen yishuvim, some of them religious. We ourselves live on a big Yishuv called Givat Avni that has about 600 families, about 3000 people. The municipality has four schools, some of them religious.

I officially am involved in everything a rav is involved with, mainly kashrus and marriages. Those two areas are my responsibilities. Aside from the official part of the rabbanus, there is the unofficial part which entails drawing people close to their Father in heaven. This is a vital part of the work of a rav, especially as I am a shliach of the Rebbe. Under these auspices, we founded a network of shiurim and an array of programming, clubs for children, mivtzaim, etc. We recently had a Lag B’Omer parade that was attended by hundreds of children.

 

Shlichus is shlichus, and rabbanus is also shlichus. What takes precedence and how do you separate between them?

Rabbanus and shlichus go hand-in-hand. It is possible to find many shluchim who are looking for ways to establish themselves as a rav too, since they know that this title will provide more opportunities to connect to the public. These two categories, rabbanus and shlichus, go together nicely. I meet the public often in my role as rav and this connection is further developed in my role as a shliach. Take engaged couples, for example, who come to me before they wed. They receive guidance which is given with warmth and friendship, and are even invited to Shabbos meals at my house.

I will give you another example – preparing boys for their bar mitzva. The boys are not only taught how to put on t’fillin and how to read the haftorah, but absorb lessons about Jewish life, about the light and sweetness in it. As a result, a greater connection develops with the boy’s family.

The deputy chairman of the community board of Givat Avni helps me in my work. When he was approaching his bar mitzva, I taught him and prepared him for it. Years later he came back to me with his fiancée and I arranged their marriage after teaching them about the importance of a Jewish home. Their son will soon become bar mitzva, and his parents have already told me to get ready. The father, in his job as deputy chairman, is involved with our activities and helps as much as he can.

The question about the essential role of a formal rav is something that is on the current agenda of the chief rabbinate, which wants rabbanim not only to focus on their official work but to expand their activities to include other forms of outreach. In the near future there will be a conference of the chief rabbinate under the title, “How to enhance the connection of rabbanim with their community.”

Previously, a rav would sit in a designated location or his office and wait to be asked halachic questions. This might serve ultra-Orthodox communities well, but when dealing with the broader public it doesn’t work, for the simple reason that people won’t come and ask questions. We rabbis must go to the public and initiate a connection with them and bring them to us, so we can show them the beautiful world of Judaism, Torah and mitzvos, and Chassidus.

 

How do you do this?

Even in the official portions of my work, I incorporate the shlichus aspect. If, for example, someone wants kashrus certification for his business, my official job is to appoint a mashgiach for him and supervise him. However, I will never enter his business like a policeman or inspector and look for flaws in his kashrus. When I walk into his business, I first hug him. I will suggest that he put on t’fillin and I will talk to him about his parnasa and things that are important to him. Only then will I check and make sure that everything is being done according to halacha.

The same is true for marriage. My official job is to make sure the candidates are Jewish and to certify their status. What I actually do is invite the couple for talks that prepare them not only for the wedding but also to discuss the beauty of a Jewish home, about the chain of generations they are about to perpetuate, about family purity and the importance of kashrus and Shabbos in a Jewish home. I invite them for Shabbos meals so they can see what a Jewish-Chassidic Shabbos meal looks like.

Those are just two examples of blending together rabbanus and shlichus in a positive and effective manner.

Just recently, I got an interesting letter from a family that came to Jewish practice from zero. They hadn’t even kept Shabbos. Today they are religiously observant in every respect; the children attend ultra-Orthodox schools and the older daughter married a talmid chacham. This is what the oldest daughter wrote to me and my wife:

Dear Rosenblatt family,

Several sweet, moving memories come to mind as I write these lines. My entire new home is founded on the chinuch that you transmitted to us day and night, all those days we spent in your house, a house of outstanding hospitality with the familiar line, “everything is Badatz here.” With a smile and a great desire that we succeed, you instilled in us a love for Hashem and His mitzvos in an outstanding way. I think that if you would not be here on the yishuv, we would not be where we are today. You breathed the breath of life and purity here thanks to everything you do for others. May Hashem repay those who do His will.

I have the privilege of calling you father and mother because whoever teaches his fellow’s child Torah, is as if he gave birth to him. With Hashem’s help, I will continue to learn only good from you. Thank you for the beautiful childhood hours that you provided me, my brothers and my parents, and mainly for the eternal treasures.

FRIENDLY BUT NOT SEEKING APPROVAL

His approach and his deep connection to the residents is something Rabbi Rosenblatt acquired, to no small degree, from his father-in-law, R’ Hertzl.

“I received so much from him. I learned from him how to work with the local residents. R’ Hertzl is particular about every detail of halacha and combines this with a sever panim yafos (a pleasant countenance).”

Upon visiting the Lower Galilee, you can readily see mountain ranges shaped in a circle extending from east to west, with broad valleys in between. One can look in wonder upon the Beit Kerem valley abutted by the Shagur ridge. Further on is the Sichnin valley bordered by the Yotevet ridge, the Beit Netufa ridge followed by the Tiran valley, and on to the Natzrat ridge and the Kesulot valley.

As mentioned, there are eighteen yishuvim in the Lower Galilee, a few of them agricultural moshavim, while most of them are residential communities. There are also kibbutzim within the municipality, like the religious kibbutz Lavi and kibbutz Beit Keshet. The demographic makeup of the residents represents a cross-section of the Israeli population.

R’ Rosenblatt is in touch with every resident, including those with antagonistic views regarding the religious sector. “Everyone here lives in love and brotherliness. There is nobody who doesn’t know where the rav lives.”

How do you get the public at large to love Torah when some of them have no familiarity with it?

It depends a lot on exposure. The public is exposed to me and to our work and they see from up close that we are not threatening. There are places where the residents feel threatened by the religious people, because of items that the media publicizes. They take in distorted messages that someone like me, who looks religious, is threatening and dangerous.

When they get to know me, they see that Judaism is nice. Of course, this is without compromising on principles.

(R’ Rosenblatt took out a letter from a pile of papers on his desk): Here is a letter from someone in Kfar Chittim. He sent it to me after the bar mitzva celebration of his son. Due to his exposure to our style of activities, his outlook and that of his family changed.

Dear Rabbi Rosenblatt,

As you know, I was raised with Zionism on Moshav Kfar Chittim. My parents were very particular about cooperation, with love for others and mutual aid, but this was not from a place of Torah and mitzvos. It was an ideology that came from the hard life they had experienced in the Diaspora, including anti-Semitic persecution.

After I married, my wife and I decided to bring tradition into our home, but we didn’t venture into a shul.

When our son reached the age of mitzvos, we were uncertain about where to have the aliya to the Torah. As someone who did not go to shul, the shul on the yishuv was a little intimidating, but after our first meeting with you, and a few meetings our son had with you, we began to feel part of the big family. Our initial apprehension turned into curiosity and at a later point, it got stronger and turned into a feeling that we belonged. We discovered here, on our very own yishuv, an entire world of experiences and community that we had not been exposed to before. And you are the right man in the right place. Yashar ko’ach.

 

How does someone who comes from a Chassidic background manage to acclimate to an irreligious environment? Especially when you are a bearded rabbi dressed like a Chassid. Aren’t you perceived as a strange creature by the moshavnikim and kibbutznikim?

I want to tell you something. When we arrived here, twenty-five years ago, the yishuv was literally in its early days. It was long before I got the position as Rav. We appeared then before the absorption committee. The members of the committee asked me, “How do you come dressed like that to a place like this? Aren’t you afraid riots will break out?”

We told them honestly that this is what is unique about Chabad Chassidim, that they go everywhere with lots of love, but not with offensive displays. Yes, we want people to know exactly who we are, and at the same time we want to do away with the negative impression created by the media.

One of the ways of doing this is by constantly dressing as I do. This recent Lag B’Omer I went with my sons and sons-in-law dressed as Chassidim, unlike other places where they don’t always want to “poke people’s eyes out,” in fear that it will distance people or make them feel threatened. I don’t think so and I am not afraid it will put people off.

Today, after the many years that have gone by, we have created a situation in which our appearance draws admiration and a sense of mutuality. I look the way I look, as a Chassid, and yet, we are brothers. People accept this with love, understanding and even with respect. We don’t need to adjust ourselves to others. We come as we are, full-force, as Chassidim of the Rebbe. When you do this, in all honesty and forthrightness, it makes an impact.

Whoever comes to visit us at home, sees the large library of Jewish books and the pictures of the Rebbe, and this causes them to connect and to relate. Even the way my children help in the outreach activities on the yishuv – they never try to find favor by retreating, and still, they are always likable and friendly.

I am not talking only about dress, but a whole host of things in which we present the full Chassidic intensity and Chassidic atmosphere. And yes, we definitely come to have an influence on others.

 

You were on K’vutza by the Rebbe in 5749 and in the years to follow. Are there moments with the Rebbe that you keep with you in your daily life on shlichus?

For sure. Whether it was a Tishrei with the Rebbe over the years, during my year on K’vutza or after that. Many special things happened in 5749, like t’fillos (during part of the year) in the Rebbe’s house. That year, the Rebbe also said two maamarei Chassidus after several years of no maamarim. These events generated great excitement. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the maamer said out of the blue, as the Rebbe stood near the lectern, Erev Shavuos, that began with “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.”

FAR REACH

As an inseparable part of his rabbanus, R’ Rosenblatt is involved in giving kashrus certification to companies, some of which are major players in the Israeli food market. During the day he goes from the milking at Tzuriel to the Wissotzky tea factory. On every box of tea there is his seal of approval. He supervises the kashrus at the Lavi hotel, which is visited by frum people from all over the country, and then he goes to the massive Prinir factory which produces an assortment of food products.

“In the Lower Galilee there are about forty businesses to whom I give a kashrus certificate. This includes restaurants, caterers, fruits and vegetable wholesalers, and more. There are small and large operations and they all demand great attention. One of the places I certify is a large catering establishment which supplies food to hundreds of schools in the north. With time, we were able to convince them to open a special department that supplies kosher l’mehadrin food to schools belonging to shluchim and schools attended by Lubavitcher children.”

How do you manage to do all these jobs?

It’s not easy. But think of other shluchim who divide their time between the programming that they do and fundraising. I get a salary for my formal position, and thanks to that, I have the time to devote to communal matters, mainly kiruv.

HALACHIC IMPACT
ACROSS THE COUNTRY

Speaking of time, it is hard to understand how R’ Rosenblatt manages to fit Machon HaHalacha Chabad into his packed day. This is the entity that provides an answer to every halachic question for Anash in Eretz Yisroel. Every day, he devotes a lot of time to answer dozens of questions on halacha and custom.

 

Your halachic influence is no longer confined to the Lower Galilee …

Machon HaHalacha is terrific. I became aware of it only because of a request that I received from the heads of the institute who asked me to join the Chabad rabbanim from all over the country to respond to questions. For years I was used to getting phone calls with questions in halacha from the Lower Galilee area and from Anash living in other surrounding cities, Teveria and its environs. But after I started answering on the phone line, an hour a day, I encountered a huge array of halachic questions that are on the minds of Anash across the country.

 

Can you tell us some questions that you found poignant?

One time, children called me during recess, following an argument that arose between them that had halachic implications, and they wanted a rav’s decision. Another time, an inmate used his opportunity to make a call, to call me from prison because of a halachic question that bothered him. In the prison in which he was incarcerated there was a quiet shul where he wanted to learn and get stronger in his learning and Judaism. It was very hard for him there and he found consolation and refuge in Torah study. He took a spot in a corner of the shul but another inmate told him to get out, claiming it was his. The question was, in a public place like that, was there such a thing as having a chazaka or not?

 

Is there a difference between questions nowadays and years ago?

There are questions that are the same as years ago, and new questions that have to do with the advancement of technology and medicine and the development of communications, the internet, etc.

 

How can we successfully preserve the traditions of halachic rulings as we received it at Sinai while simultaneously adapting them to the culture of the 21st century?

First, Chazal say that Torah will not be replaced. There are no changes in Torah. There are changes in the realities of the world, and for these changes we need to find solid ground within the existing dimensions of halacha. All the great poskim over the previous generations dealt with questions that arose due to changes that began in the modern era.

 

Can you give us an example from your work?

I am very involved in the kashrus of milk and even lecture on the subject. One of the questions about milking that has arisen nowadays concerns watching the milking via cameras and over the internet. In Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deia it says that milk that was milked by a non-Jew, without a Jew being present, cannot be drunk. In the past, in order to be able to drink milk that was milked by a non-Jew, a Jew had to be in the same location as the cow in order to monitor the milking. Nowadays, it is possible to have online cameras in the dairy. The question is, is this sufficient? Is this in the category of a Jew watching?

There are many rabbanim who discuss this, some of them belonging to kashrus organizations who approve of milk that was milked by a non-Jew when a Jew is watching via camera, and even from a goat farm that belongs to non-Jews. But there are many rabbanim who follow the approach of the Chasam Sofer, which is that the milking done by a non-Jew falls under the category of a decree that is not subject to revision, and therefore, even if the reason no longer applies, the decree stands, and the milk is permissible only when a Jew stands there and watches the milking process in person. Cameras do not help.

This topic, as well as many other topics, like milking on Shabbos, are things we deal with every day. The public is not generally aware of the complexities involved.

Under my hashgacha is the Tzuriel dairy, which specializes in dairy products from goat’s milk. I insisted that they absolutely not use milk that comes from non-Jewish farms, including those where the milking is watched via camera. I said this in no uncertain terms to those who manage the dairy. Boruch Hashem, they accepted this.

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