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Tuesday
Jul032018

THE LUBAVITCHER DAYAN RESPECTED WORLDWIDE

This is the unbelievable story of a young French lad who made his way from France to yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, and then to a course for horaa (ruling on Halacha) and dayanus (ruling in financial matters). Over many years, he did practical internships with some of the greatest names in the world of P’sak Halacha, developed a broad array of contacts with the Torah greats of every branch of Judaism, and earned their respect and admiration. * The Gaon, Chassid, and Dayan, R’ Yaakov Chaviv, in a first ever special interview with Beis Moshiach.

On the winding road out of Yerushalayim, past the Hizma checkpoint on the way to Kochav Yaakov, I had time to prepare for my meeting with the Chassid and Dayan, RYaakov Chaviv. In background conversations that I had had, I was amazed at what I heard, for the first time, about this young Rav who is doing so much for French Jews and French-speaking Jews in Eretz Yisroel. RChaviv deals with the most sensitive of halachic questions and is a member of the Beis Din Ichud HaRabbanim in France. He has written a number of vital halachic works, which have been well-received by poskim, and is a relatively young Rav who is relied upon by the greatest poskim in Eretz Yisroel and the United States.

Although I am not in the world of rabbanus or dayanus, I would have expected to have heard his name over the years, but this did not happen. I must say, I was quite eager to meet him.

R’ Chaviv was waiting for me outside his home and he warmly invited me into his office. We got acquainted and I discovered that we had been in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Kiryat Gat twenty years ago, with only one year difference between us. It felt like discovering a relative.

CHASSIDUS AND HALACHA

R’ Yaakov Chaviv is 43 and was born in Paris. His father was Rabbi Masud Chai z”l, a Chassid and shliach of the Rebbe in France. He had government positions within the Consistory and the umbrella group of Jewish communities in France. R’ Masud Chai started many communities in France, in Nice, Strasbourg and Paris. At the end of his life he lived in Montreal. In every location he built battei midrash and shuls, mikvaos and schools, spreading the light of Torah and Chassidus throughout France. In his later years, he undertook to translate Beis Moshiach into French, knowing how necessary this weekly was for French-speakers.

R’ Chaviv’s ancestry is long and honorable. His family is linked to many spiritual giants in Jewish history, including the Nimukei Yosef (R’ Yosef Ibn Chaviv); Mahari (R’ Yaakov Ibn) Chaviv – author of Ein Yaakov; Maharalbach – R’ Levi Ibn Habib, chief rabbi of Yerushalayim from 1525 until his passing; Maharam Chaviv – author of Get Pashut; the Rishon L’Tziyon – R’ Avrohom Chaviv, Rosh Av Beis Din in Tripoli, and others.

R’ Yaakov Chaviv went to the Kerem Menachem School in Nice, under the auspices of the shliach R’ Yosef Pinson. In 5748 he went to learn in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Brunoy, and from there he went to Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Kiryat Gat. Then he went to 770 where he absorbed chayus and much inspiration.

R’ Yaakov Chaviv was inclined to rabbanus from a young age, an inclination he got from his father “who taught us to learn a subject with an eye to the final Halacha.”

“The style of learning was passed along to us in the way they learned in Tunisia, not just studying plain Gemara, but in every sugya the learning approach is to direct the study towards the practical Halacha. We would learn Gemara, Rashi, Tosafos, the Ran, Rosh, Rif, and then immediately delve into the Halachic side of things from the Tur and Beis Yosef and their commentators.”

When he was in the U.S., he began learning for smicha by G’dolei HaGeonim in Canada and the U.S. He was in touch with the geonim R’ Pinchas Hirschprung zt”l, R’ Efraim Fishel Herskovits zt”l, and R’ Aharon Wieder zt”l. After completing his learning in New York, he returned to Kiryat Gat to learn in the Machon Horaa to complete his smicha for rabbanus.

After marrying, he began learning in a Kollel L’Horaa headed by R’ Meir Aharon in Rechovot, “which was the first Chabad kollel in Eretz Yisroel where they learned sugiyos in depth along with knowing the p’sak Halacha and the sources for the p’sak.”

R’ Chaviv remembers the period when he was starting out, learning for smicha and dayanus, and he enthuses fondly about the Halachic revolution wrought by R’ Aharon:

“The Halacha learning in the kollel is directed at one goal, to produce poskei Halacha, talmidei chachomim and dayanim. It wasn’t meant solely for people to enter the field of working for battei din, but for Lubavitcher Chassidim to know how to issue a clear Halacha ruling. Since then, the kollel has produced many dozens of rabbanim and dayanim morei horaa. But when I was learning there, it was still in its infancy. Most Lubavitcher young marrieds were heading toward shlichus.”

After a year, he continued the difficult and exhausting course of study in the kollel Darchei Horaa L’Rabbonim of the chief rabbi, R’ Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, where he followed the demanding course for seven to eight years at the end of which he was awarded smicha for rabbanus and dayanus.

“I was offered a combined course of study with the goal being to take a rabbinic position in a Jewish community abroad. This combination appealed to me.”

R’ Chaviv made no allowances or compromises for himself. For many years he diligently studied all parts of Shulchan Aruch with the Rishon L’Tziyon standing over him, both encouraging and critiquing him.

“R’ Mordechai Eliyahu’s approach to Halachic ruling is no ordinary ruling but that of a Chassid,” says R’ Chaviv.

What is the ruling of a Chassid?

“The p’sakim of R’ Mordechai Eliyahu are based on the p’sakim of the Ben Ish Chai (Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Iraq; 1832-1909), where you find not only pure Halachic considerations but also the neshama-aspect of P’nimius HaTorah. There is a dispute among the poskim whether the issuance of Halachic rulings needs to be exclusively based on Halacha or whether the rulings of the kabbalists, which are based on the teachings of the Arizal and his disciples, should also be taken into account.

“The Rebbe definitely sees Halacha based on the hidden aspects of Torah as well. That is how R’ Eliyahu did things too, combining Halacha with the mystical teachings of the Arizal and his students.

“R’ Eliyahu also had great sensitivity in his Halachic approach in anything connected with the p’sakim of the Alter Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek. When he gave a shiur in the kollel, he would sometimes wait for me to add the Chassidic point to the central idea of the shiur. He also quoted the Rebbe a lot on various halachic matters.”

R’ Eliyahu loved R’ Chaviv and highly esteemed him. In his approbation to one of R’ Chaviv’s s’farim in French, he describes him as “one of the distinguished Rabbis of the kollel, the distinguished rav, Yaakov Chaviv, a mouth that issues forth pearls,” and adds warm words, “Rabbis who know and understand this language have already testified that the book is important. I don’t rely on them exclusively, but know him to be a distinguished Torah scholar and surely he has Heavenly assistance.”

“R’ Mordechai Eliyahu encouraged me in those years to continue to do things as Chassidim do.” He smiles, “For example, he never let me kiss his hand as his students did. He said that this is not the practice of Chabad Chassidim.”

R’ Chaviv considers himself a talmid muvhak (a fully committed disciple) of R’ Eliyahu when it comes to Halacha and p’sak. “I went to him a lot and every Friday I would spend hours in his office doing shimush (practical internship) in the wide range of Halachos that came to his door in all parts of Shulchan Aruch. I would write the questions that came in, pasken the Halacha, and present it to him for his analysis. Oftentimes, we would hash out the issue until we reached the depth of the Halacha.”

R’ Eliyahu’s approach was to promote Torah wherever there were people who wanted to learn. He saw this as his mission. It was the goal of the rabbinic training course that he set up in his kollel; not just to prep a generation of rabbanim and dayanim, but to get them to go out to the people and spread the light of Torah and Halacha. “R’ Eliyahu considered it a most important goal and this, of course, is the Rebbe’s way.”

IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH THE GREAT POSKIM

Along with his learning, R’ Chaviv began to serve as a rav and moreh tzedek in Kiryat Moshe in Yerushalayim, where he was accessible to anyone who sought to know Halacha.

Before going to France to serve in rabbanus, he did shimush for five years at the Beis Din HaRabbani in Yerushalayim where he interned with the greatest of the rabbinic judges on the court. Among other things, he acquired expertise in ordering divorces and the writing of names in divorce decrees, and other matters of dayanus in Even HaEzer and Choshen Mishpat by the great Avos Battei Din: Rosh Av Beis Din Yerushalayim R’ Eliyahu Atzor zt”l; R’ Yissochor Dov Hager zt”l; Rosh Av Beis Din Yerushalayim, R’ Tziyon Elgarbali; R’ Ezra Batzri, R’ Amram Elchadad; R’ Binyamin Levi; R’ Avrohom Tzvi Scheinfeld; and Rosh Av Beis Din Yerushalayim R’ Eliyahu Aberjil.

R’ Chaviv is also in touch with the dayanim and members of the Badatz of the Eidah HaChareidis, and has spent much time in their company. This is apparent in letters and approbations in matters of learning and p’sak in all parts of Torah that were exchanged between him and members of the Badatz such as R’ Meir Bransdofer zt”l, author of Kenei Bosem; R’ Moshe Halberstam zt”l, author of Divrei Moshe; and R’ Naftali Hertzka Frankel, zt”l, author of Imrei Bina.

When he felt more ready, he went back to his hometown of Paris where he began to work in the field of Halacha and dayanus as a member of the Yoru Mishpatecha L’Yaakov – France beis din. He was in touch with the great rabbanim of France, with first and foremost, R’ Hillel Pevsner z”l, whom he considered a first-rate Chassidishe rav who paskened Halachos with an emphasis on the Chassidic approach.

“To me, he is a prime model of a Chassidishe rav. He always emphasized to me the words, ‘Hashem was with him – so the Halacha is like he says,’ that this is if the rav or dayan conducts himself with Chassidus and distance from earthly matters,” he says, fondly recalling those early days.

“He would insist that a rav who paskens halacha should go to the mikva every day and be particular about learning Chitas and Rambam. I also learned from him never to simply pull out a Halachic ruling, but to always look inside s’farim for an answer; not to respond hastily. He gave me smicha for rabbanus and also gave his approbation to my written works in Halacha.”

SPECIAL HEAVENLY ASSISTANCE

Sitting in the judge’s chair in Paris, he was part of a team with R’ Yirmiya Menachem HaKohen, Av Beis Din in Paris. Together, they dealt with many marriage and divorce related files that streamed to them from all over France and Europe, which led to the formation of the Badatz Ichud HaRabbanim Tzorfas, a beis din that was founded in 5762 with the blessings of G’dolei Yisroel across the spectrum, in cooperation with battei din in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, and of course, the Rebbe’s shluchim.

Can you tell us about a special incident from that period?

There are many, but I’ll give you one example without identifying information, of course.

We had a situation with a woman who was an aguna for many years, from Lugano in Switzerland. I went there (where I met the Biala Rebbe, the Rav of Lugano, with whom I talked in learning and earned his trust. He even gave his approbation to my s’farim). We began working on this case until we finally located the husband and convinced him to give a get after many years. I remember this case as a particularly moving one.

It is known that a rav moreh horaa and dayanim have Hashem with them and a special divine assistance. Can you tell us a story that illustrates this?

“A month ago, a Jew from France came with a woman born in the Congo whose mother was from the Ukraine. They wanted to marry, but we first had to check out the woman’s background.

“We asked them to bring documents that proved the Jewishness of her mother and grandmother going back four generations. They produced various original documents. They also brought a picture of her maternal grandmother’s gravestone, a Jewish one. All seemed to be in order, and we set out to investigate in depth in order to clarify the matter properly.

“We sent the documents to a service that researches documents and were told that they are authentic. And yet, I felt uneasy. Why? Because one of the important documents I got had only a translation and not the original source document. There were also other details that were missing that made me uncomfortable. I said that I still wanted to check things out with the shliach in the Congo, my friend R’ Shlomo Bentolila. When we got his answer, I felt better but there were still some details that were missing.

I consulted again with the head of our beis din, Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Schlamme, and he saw the opinion written by the dayanim of the beis din and suggested I make further inquiries, via Ukraine.

“I did that. I took all the documents that proved the mother’s Jewishness and sent them to my friend, Rabbi Aryeh Kamenstein one of the kashrus directors of the Ukraine. I asked him to authenticate them. A few days later, I got a detailed letter from him which said all the documents were forged, quite a good forgery. The pictures of the gravestones were also forged. He checked the archives and discovered the documents were fraudulent. The couple had previously approached a different beis din and was unable to prove her Jewishness. So this time, they did more work and tried their luck with our beis din, through the fiancé who is French.

“So, there were three dayanim here, who checked things out in detail and yet, they still felt uneasy until they discovered the deception and prevented another non-Jew from fraudulently entering the Jewish nation. It was open siyata d’Shmaya.”

KASHRUS UPGRADE

One of the major efforts launched by R’ Yaakov Chaviv under the auspices of the Badatz Ichud HaRabbanim L’Mehadrin in France is a kashrus division that supervises factories and stores throughout France, in the most mehudar way. The kashrus department was established in 5774.

R’ Chaviv began developing his expertise in kashrus back when he was meshamesh his Rebbi, R’ Hillel Pevsner, who was one of the first to raise the level of kashrus in Paris and throughout France. R’ Chaviv often went along with him to factories, dairies and wineries. He also sat for years with the Av Beis Din of Lyons, Rabbi Yaakov Poltorak zt”l, later the Av Beis Din of the Badatz Ichud HaRabbanim in France, one of the pioneers in kashrus in France and an expert in the laws of kashrus, in addition to being a chemist and food technologist. He gained his knowledge of kashrus from these two giants.

The “Ichud HaRabbanim L’Mehadrin” supervision integrated into its ranks other rabbanim like the Av Beis Din of Lyons, Rabbi Yaakov Poltorak; Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Schlamme, rav of the Adas Yisroel Paris community and the elder of the dayanim of Europe; Rabbi Yirmiya Menachem HaKohen, Av Beis Din Paris; Rabbi Sholom Eisenberger, dayan of the Sanz community; Rabbi Amram Edery, a world renowned expert in kashrus; and Rabbi Dovid Shoushana, rav of Charenton.

The kashrus division began providing solutions to meet the kashrus needs and created a real change throughout Jewish life in Europe. Jewish communities, rabbanim, balabatim, students, businessmen and tourists were able to start buying kosher l’mehadrin, readily available food at reasonable prices in many supermarkets. The Badatz provides kashrus certification on hundreds of products including meat, chicken, turkey, wine, fish, matza, canned goods, candies, cookies and many other products.

WORLDWIDE REACH

These days, R’ Chaviv lives in yishuv Kochav Yaakov, near Yerushalayim, but he continues his rabbanus and dayanus work as a member of the Badatz Ichud HaRabbanim and works in collaboration with all battei din in Eretz Yisroel and abroad. He is widely esteemed. He lives part of the time in France and part of the time in Eretz Yisroel.

While in Eretz Yisroel, he is a posek for French Jews and French-speaking communities. He responds to questions on all parts of Shulchan Aruch. He is also a regular participant on Halacha websites that respond to questions from French-speakers.

Today, with advanced technology, many people, including shluchim all over the world, send him Halachic questions on a wide array of topics. For example, R’ Chaviv showed me a text he got minutes before our meeting in which a shliach asked for his help in providing source material for specifically covering the hair with a wig, as the Rebbe holds. The shliach said he would be speaking in the local shul on Shavuos where the rabbi maintains that a wig is an inferior hair-covering.

The day before, a shliach in Russia consulted with him about the kashrus of a get that was given several years earlier in a complex case. This is aside from questions in matters of tahara, kiddushin, yuchsin, mamzerus, gittin, giyur, and kashrus – complicated questions that he regularly receives. At the last Kinus HaShluchim, he addressed shluchim about the need to be alert and careful about a wide range of issues. “The goal was, and still is, to help shluchim all over the world, not just in France, by providing Halachic responses to their difficult questions.”

It is hard to understand how R’ Chaviv finds the time to answer hundreds of questions that he gets every month via Machon Halacha Chabad, through their text and phone services, providing Halachic guidance for all members of Anash.

R’ Chaviv was one of the first to join the text message based project under the auspices of the Machon Halacha Chabad. From the earliest days of the explosion of the virtual world, he used electronic media in order to make himself available to all. “I see in it tremendous possibilities,” he says. This is why, when Machon Halacha asked him to respond to questioners via text, he was happy to oblige.

As a rav who invested years into clarifying Piskei Halacha, do you not find that short text answers negatively affect the quality of the answers?

“It is one of the problems associated with the media explosion of our times, and this is why, despite this, I am not brief with my answers. With every t’shuva I add as much as possible, reasoning and sources. We also need rabbanim who can answer ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘allowed,’ ‘forbidden.’ The generation today wants the bottom line, i.e., what they can or cannot do.”

R’ Chaviv is also one of the esteemed guests at the confabs that take place every so often between the rabbanim of the Machon Halacha and Admurim and poskei Halacha.


“Our meetings, for example with the Sanzer Rebbe, one of the Torah greats of our time, were replete with learned discussions in Nigleh and Halacha. Or the visit that the rabbanim of the Machon Halacha made to the Rosh Av Beis Din in Yerushalayim, Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, who was impressed by the tremendous brilliance and dedication of the rabbanim. The next day, he spoke excitedly about the meeting at an event attended by hundreds of people.

“I see these meetings as an enormous Kiddush Hashem, where these people get to see what the Rebbe produced in terms of Chabad rabbis of stature, who are literally versed in every area of Halacha. At these meetings, matters of shlichus and spreading the wellsprings also come up. I have no doubt that this gives the Rebbe tremendous nachas ruach.”

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