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Wednesday
Mar072018

THE MAN WHO LED THE FRENCH REVOLUTION IN KASHRUS

The life and work of the gaon and Chassid, Rabbi Mordechai Belinov, a”h, author of Shulchan Mordechai, who was a shliach in Morocco and then Mara D’Asra in the Chabad community in Aubervilliers, France, and Rosh Av Beis Din Lubavitch in France

In a yechidus years ago, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Mordechai Belinov what his learning schedule was. RBelinov said that in his girsa learning, he had just finished the tractate Bava Basra. The Rebbe said, “Just Bava Basra? How is this befitting for someone like you?”

After this yechidus, Rabbi Belinov tried to finish Shas every year.

DILIGENT YOUTH

R’ Belinov was born in the town of Klimovitch in Russia. His father was R’ Shmuel Dovid and his mother descended from a family of Torah giants. In his childhood, the family fled Russia and after much wandering, they arrived in Paris following Pesach 1947.

He was only nine and yet, he was amazingly knowledgeable in Chumash and Rashi to the point that people older and wiser than him would ask him p’shat in Rashi.

In his youth, he learned in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Brunoy where he learned much from the mashpiim R’ Nissan Nemanov and R’ Yisroel Noach Blinitzky. The mashpiim derived nachas from this talmid and were exceedingly fond of him. R’ Yisroel Noach wrote about him at the time, “This bachur toiled all his days in Torah and avoda and is filled to overflowing in all facets of Torah, and aside from this he is also articulate. He has a chayus in this, to give over to a talmid, and he has the influence to be effective …”

On one occasion, R’ Belinov revealed a smidgen of his enormous diligence in his youth: “In yeshiva, when they learned a tractate in the Order of Nezikin, I would learn all the halachos in Shulchan Aruch – Choshen Mishpat that pertained to that tractate, on my own. That was my own initiative. Of course, to accomplish this, I had to learn many more hours than the yeshiva schedule. Beyond the ten hours of learning established by the yeshiva, I added at least another five hours. It took a toll on me and my health, but boruch Hashem, I managed to accomplish this.”

In Sivan 5720, he married Sheina Rivka Levin, daughter of R’ Elchanan (Chanan) Levin.

WEDDING PREPARATIONS

At that time, R’ Belinov wrote to the Rebbe that he was ready for any shlichus assignment the Rebbe would give him. He had an offer to serve as rosh yeshiva in Marrakesh, Morocco, a yeshiva founded by the Rebbe’s shliach, Rabbi Shlomo Matusof.

R’ Belinov was in Crown Heights at the time and had yechidus. During the yechidus, the Rebbe told him it would be a good idea for him to learn shechita because, in light of the existing conditions in Morocco, he should know how to shecht for himself. R’ Belinov studied shechita with his friend R’ Berel Junik. In less than two weeks he was able to prepare a chalaf (knife) to shecht chickens and animals. He also completed his study of all the laws of shechita.

The Rebbe’s concern for him was like that of a father for his son. As the wedding date approached, it became clear that the chassan did not have money to fly back to France. He took a loan of 1000 franc, but that was only a third of the cost of a ticket.

During the yechidus, the Rebbe told him he could have the rest of the money as a loan from the secretary, Rabbi Chadakov. R’ Belinov tried finding two guarantors but only found one, R’ Berel Junik. In a second yechidus before returning to France, the Rebbe asked what happened with the loan. R’ Belinov said he had not yet gotten two guarantors. The Rebbe said, “Don’t worry. R’ Chadakov will be willing to lend you the money with just one guarantor.” And so it was.

The Rebbe told him that after marrying he should go to Morocco where he would give shiurim in the yeshiva g’dola of Chabad in Marrakesh. The Rebbe also instructed him that he work there with energy and enthusiasm, and wished him that the yeshiva develop in a manner of “it will sprout and it will bloom.” The Rebbe also suggested that the kalla work as a teacher in Beis Rivka in Marrakesh.

A SHORT AND IMPACTFUL SHLICHUS IN MOROCCO

Right after their wedding, at the end of Tishrei 5721, the young couple flew to Morocco. R’ Belinov was appointed rosh yeshiva and he gave a shiur klali every Thursday afternoon to the entire yeshiva. Word of his shiurim spread among the Torah scholars, and among those who attended the shiur was the Rosh Av Beis Din, the gaon, Rav Machlouf Abuchatzeira, who would make special trips to the yeshiva to hear the shiur.

During the brief time he spent in Morocco, he expanded the yeshiva and the number of students reached 500! However, it seems that the forces of evil were put out, as the local authorities told him that he was suspected of Zionist activity in that he convinced boys to travel to Eretz Yisroel, and a short time later, he was expelled from Morocco.

Upon returning to France in Adar 5721, he began working as a shochet. For 5723, he opened a school for 30 children in the Pletzl area of Paris, which he ran successfully. The goal of the school was to save Jewish children from being lost to Judaism. When he felt that he was having a hard time raising the funds for the school, he gave the school over to R’ Hillel Pevsner. This school grew and eventually became the Sinai network of schools, where thousands of Jewish children have been educated over the years.

RABBANUS OFFERS

R’ Belinov received a number of offers to serve as rav. One of them was to serve as the rav of the official religious community of Paris, but he turned it down despite the pressure exerted on him. He said the job was too big for him since he was still young.

Some time later, in 5722, he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi of Stockholm, Sweden. R’ Belinov went there for Shabbos and even visited the mosdos. At the conclusion of his visit, he met with the heads of the community to establish the conditions of his accepting the position.

The members of the community told him they were pleased with him but had three conditions. 1) That he arrange his beard. 2) That he not wear a long jacket. 3) When he checked the mikvaos, they saw him closely examining the kashrus and he pointed out various issues. It bothered them that he did not care about the showers and baths. They said that nowadays, the main thing is the bath, while the mikva wasn’t that necessary, and that the rabbi of Stockholm needed to project such an image.

R’ Belinov refused the position, but afterward he was uncertain whether he did the right thing. Maybe he should have taken the job and made changes. He reported to the Rebbe who told him he had done the right thing in refusing, and only then was he becalmed.

THE YECHIDUS

When he was a young man, there was an argument between two mosdos in France. The two sides turned to the Rebbe who referred them to Rabbi Belinov for a din Torah, saying that his rulings were absolute halachic rulings.

That is when he began serving as a Dayan and Moreh Tzedek and he later became Av Beis Din in Aubervilliers. He said, “In the yechidus I had around 12 Tammuz 5740/1980, a yechidus which took on an unusual character, I merited to receive an explicit directive from the Rebbe. In general, each yechidus of mine lasted between 40-50 minutes. This yechidus took place at a time when it was already difficult to get a private audience and it lasted 18 minutes.

“I went to the Rebbe with my son, Menachem Mendel (now a rav and shliach in S. Denis) for his bar mitzva. I was suddenly called by the secretary, R’ Groner, who said the Rebbe asked that I have yechidus after Mincha. At that yechidus, the Rebbe demanded strongly of me to accept the rabbinic position of the Jewish Consistory of Paris (the rabbinic council of the official Jewish community) and he demanded that the position be carried out in all the relevant fields, not just kashrus.

“Although there was already a Sephardic rav who was appointed in 5723 in the wake of the numerous refugees who arrived in Paris from Morocco, the leaders of the community wanted an Ashkenazi rav too. The Rebbe wanted me to present myself as a candidate.

“I told the Rebbe that I did not think I was worthy of the position because the council received many difficult questions, especially when it came to Jewish ancestry, questions I was not fit to answer. I said that right after the yechidus, I would make efforts to find someone suited to the job and convince him to accept it.

“Until that moment, the Rebbe’s face was aglow. After I said that, he suddenly turned grave and his face took on a very ominous cast. The Rebbe gave me a strong look and said, ‘Do you want to choose someone who really doesn’t know how to answer these questions?!’ And as far as ancestry, the Rebbe said, ‘I know you have s’farim and when you have a difficult question, you must allow yourself at least a day to ascertain the name of the husband, the name of the wife, the names of the witnesses, and all the pertinent details. During that day, you can also clarify a difficult question!’

“It turned out that at that point in time, the suggestion did not come to fruition. A meeting of the leaders of the community, who headed the Consistory, took place in my presence. Some of them supported me and maintained that an Ashkenazic rav was needed in Paris, while others maintained that since most of the community was Sephardic, a Sephardic rav was sufficient. The latter view was accepted and my candidacy was rejected.

“When I was at the Rebbe three years later, he asked me what was happening regarding the rabbinic position in the Consistory. I said I did all that I could, but things did not work out. I noted that one of the rabbanim in Paris said that the suggestion did not pan out because I hadn’t treated the leaders of the Consistory nicely during that meeting. The Rebbe asked me about this and I said that in the opinion of that rav, when the topic of kashrus came up, I should not have said that the state of the kashrus system was no good. Instead, I should have said that I wanted to improve the kashrus system. Then I would have been accepted for the position.

“Hearing this, the Rebbe immediately said, ‘You said the right thing. It says, ‘this is what is impure,’ which means you need to point with a finger and say what is and isn’t kosher.’ I was pleased that at least I had been in line with the will of the Rebbe in this matter.”

LUBAVITCH RABBANUS
IN FRANCE

In 5748, R’ Belinov founded the Vaad Rabbanei Lubavitch in France. He appointed Rabbi Hillel Pevsner as Av Beis Din and himself as assistant. With the passing of R’ Hillel on Tzom Gedalya 5769, R’ Belinov was appointed Av Beis Din.

In this rabbinic position, R’ Belinov was moser nefesh to increase Torah and halacha, serving as the famous address for any and all queries. He would respond clearly and pleasantly with the Torah’s view to numerous inquiries every day.

From among the vast sea of questions that R’ Belinov responded to, some of the responsa were published as Igros Mordechai. It is a treasury of legal decisions to individuals, rabbanim, and leaders of communities across Europe, and France in particular.

Aside from his well-reasoned answers, he also responded to famous rabbanim who would ask him for sources for halachic issues, before the era of computer databases. R’ Belinov was a walking computer and would generally answer right away with several lines of sources.

The Shatzer Rebbe told about R’ Belinov’s special divine assistance in his psakim and his power of rabbanus. Years ago, a sad story occurred within a certain family in the Jewish community in France. The issue made its way to his door, and after delving into the matter, he came to the conclusion that the two individuals were forbidden to marry each other.

After the parties went home, he was concerned lest, in the ensuing years there would come a time when they would want to marry. He wasn’t young and if they wanted to marry down the road, who would stop them? The matter wasn’t well-known and he didn’t want to publicize it to battei din so as not to shame the individuals in question. Moreover, they said they did not intend on marrying, so why shame them for no reason?

With a sense of great responsibility to the community in France, and having long-range vision, he met with a rav in the community and gave him a sealed note. R’ Belinov told him, “If one day the word is out that so-and-so and so-and-so plan on marrying, then open the note.”

Shortly before R’ Belinov passed away, that rav heard a rumor about those individuals. He opened the note and read that R’ Belinov maintained that the two of them were not allowed to marry one another.

This story shows us his wisdom as well as his sensitivity, even towards people whose behavior was improper. The rav showed his wisdom in that he anticipated what would happen in later years, as well as his sense of responsibility for what might transpire within the community in the future.

It was not for naught that R’ Belinov was greatly admired by the Jews of France and by other rabbanim. When the Rishon L’Tziyon, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu z”l visited France, he spoke at length with R’ Belinov in divrei Torah and rabbinic matters and from that point on held the rav in high esteem. Later, it became known that when the Rishon L’Tziyon visited the Rebbe, the conversation also turned to his acquaintance with R’ Belinov.

Years later, in a conversation between his son, R’ Yosef Yitzchok Belinov, Av Beis Din of the Central Beis HaHora’ah in B’nei Brak, and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, he asked the Rishon L’Tziyon to tell him what the Rebbe said about his father. Rav Eliyahu said that he could not say, but he agreed to tell one thing. “When Rav Belinov paskens, you can rely on his p’sak with closed eyes!”

REVOLUTION IN THE KASHRUS SYSTEM

When he was first married, Rav Belinov worked as a shochet in Paris. In 5724, R’ Nissan Nemanov went to the Rebbe and when he returned to Paris, he said that in yechidus the Rebbe said, “In Paris there is a young man who could be a rav or rosh yeshiva. Why should he put his energy into shechting chickens? For the brachos one says on shechita? There are many other brachos that a person can say.”

After this instruction, Rav Belinov stopped working in shechita. At first he was a bochein (tester) in the yeshiva in Brunoy, but a few months later he was appointed head of the shechita department in Paris.

Rav Belinov, as was his way, did not make do with the existing state of things. Over the years he made enormous changes in shechita in France. Until he took the position, the kashrus system was run only by the Consistory, under the “Beis Din Tzedek of Paris.” Rav Belinov fought so that not only religious Jews could obtain all necessary products with a hechsher, but every Jew in France, who wanted it, would be able to eat kosher. This goal was his guiding light in his work in kashrus.

Rav Belinov put an end to the exclusivity of the Consistory and made sure other fine kashrus systems were established. Today, one can buy kosher products in all the big supermarkets in France. He also made a big change for the better in the slaughtering of chickens and meat under the kashrus of the Consistory.

With toil and great devotion, he put enormous energy into establishing a proper system of kashrus.

With every improvement he sought to make, he devoted his time to many conversations to explain and convince all the relevant parties. He almost always traveled on his own to supervise and check the shechita system, which kept him away from home for many nights, because shechita is generally done early in the morning.

Often, he woke up to leave the house at 3-4 in the morning and sometimes he slept in the slaughterhouse the night before he was scheduled to meet with the shochtim. He did this even when he had small children at home, while his wife stood at his side in support of his work.

When he wanted to lower the price of meat so everyone could afford it, he came up with the idea of shechita outside of France, in Poland or South America. He convinced butchers to slaughter animals abroad. In order to persuade them, he had to do the due diligence from a business perspective, and first check all the prices and the rest of the details, down to the nitty-gritty, how much meat would cost per kilo, and how much the dealer would earn when he sold the meat to the stores. He also had to find out how much would be needed to pay the shochtim and mashgichim and how much the flights would cost. It was only when he arrived at a total and he concluded that this shechita was worthwhile as a business endeavor, that he tried to convince the big dealers to get involved because it would be worth it financially from their perspective too.

Then Rav Belinov looked for Chassidishe shochtim and bodkim, yerei Shamayim. Since the shochtim in France worked locally, he had to import shochtim from Eretz Yisroel and the U.S. This entailed hours of work, checking into every single suggestion.

Whenever he returned from a long distance shechita trip, after succeeding in providing glatt kosher meat, he would be very happy. The times that he wasn’t successful in arranging a shechita run, he was very upset.

Rav Belinov considered his involvement in running the kashrus system as a shlichus from the Rebbe, who told him to be involved in establishing proper kashrus. Whoever saw him at work, sensed the power of the meshaleiach in the shliach, and this radiated to all those around him.

DOING CHESED PERSONALLY

On Chanuka 5748, someone from the Chabad community in France went with his family to the Rebbe. While there, he was informed that his father died in France. He arranged a ticket and flew back to France while his family remained in New York, for it was expensive to change all the tickets.

The funeral took place in Fonteneau. The son was very concerned about arranging a minyan for the funeral, as none of the family was religious. When he arrived at the funeral, he saw Rav Belinov who had brought R’ Mendel Deitsch a”h with him. Together with them, there was a minyan.

The next day, a minyan for davening was arranged at the mourner’s house when Rav Belinov arrived among the first to show up. To the amazement of the mourner, the rav took out a bag of meat and put it into the refrigerator, saying that the mourner was not allowed to go out to buy meat, and his family was at the Rebbe, so he had nobody to buy it for him. He wanted to make sure he had chicken so he would have what to eat. He also invited the man to eat at his home on Shabbos.

The man was so surprised by everything the rav did, at the funeral and during the Shiva, all of it being done without his asking for anything. It all came from the rav’s sensitivity and caring.

During the Shiva for R’ Belinov, one of the people who came to console the family worked as a cook in the yeshiva in Brunoy. This man told about the time that the financial situation at the yeshiva was so dire that the Portuguese cleaning lady wanted to quit since so much was owed to her. The suppliers also refused to provide more merchandise after not being paid for many months.

It was at this time that this person was offered the job of cook and kitchen manager in the yeshiva, but he turned it down because of the financial problems.

Then one day he got a phone call from Rav Belinov, who asked him to take the job. Rav Belinov promised him he would take responsibility to arrange his monthly salary. Rav Belinov also arranged the payment for the cleaning lady and he said that her salary would be increased to include payment of what they owed her. He also said he would immediately pay any supplier who brought merchandise. However, Rav Belinov told the cook that he could not tell anyone where he got the money from.

The cook kept it a secret all those years and only revealed it after the passing of Rav Belinov.

HISKASHRUS TO THE REBBE

Rav Belinov was greatly mekushar to the Rebbe heart and soul, and with a tremendous bittul. As R’ Yisroel Noach Blinitzky testified about him in his youth, “devoted to the Rebbe in everything that he would tell him,” and this was the central thread that ran through his entire life.

So too with his devotion to the “holy war” for the kashrus system in Paris and in learning the “Chassidishe parsha,” which he did every week. Rav Belinov once told one of his grandsons that he was told by the Rebbe to finish Likkutei Torah and Torah Ohr every year. Indeed, over the years, one could see him sitting and regularly studying these s’farim. When he went on vacation in the summer, he took Likkutei Torah with him.

He had a particular chayus in the Rebbe’s mivtzaim. Whenever he took a taxi in France, and the driver was Jewish, he got into a conversation with him about mitzva observance and about putting tefillin on every day. When he stayed in Eretz Yisroel, he would talk to every driver about this. In France, he bought pairs of tefillin and gave them to those who went on mivtza tefillin every Sunday, so he would have a share in it. So too with the other mivtzaim of the Rebbe.

Rav Belinov even mentioned this in his will, in that he asked that as soon as he passed away, they should give over a message to the Rebbe, and included in what they should say, he wrote, “I tried to constantly fulfill all his holy directives.”

One time, when in yechidus with the Rebbe, he poured out his heart about his inability to go to the Rebbe for the Yomim Nora’im, because he had to supervise the increased shechita production at that time. The Rebbe said that he understood that he also could not come Sukkos time because of the questions about the sukka and the Dalet minim. The Rebbe concluded by saying, “So what? You can come for 19 Kislev, as they are great and general days, and it is like coming for the Yomim Nora’im.”

After that, Rav Belinov made efforts to go to the Rebbe for 19-20 Kislev.

NEWS FROM HEAVEN

An amazing story took place when R’ Belinov was by the Rebbe for Shavuos 5723/1963. He went in for a yechidus and asked the Rebbe for a bracha for his pregnant wife, who needed to undergo a tooth extraction with full anesthesia.

The Rebbe said to have the tooth removed without any concern, because everything would be fine. R’ Belinov sent a letter home immediately with the Rebbe’s response.

When he entered for a second yechidus before returning to France, the Rebbe asked him how his wife was doing as far as the tooth extraction. He answered that he did not know, because in those days it was hard to reach people by way of an international phone call. The Rebbe expressed surprise, and afterward added the following, “Nu, I can inform you that the extraction already took place and everything went smoothly!”

When he returned home, he investigated whether anyone had reported to the Rebbe on the matter and discovered that nobody had done so.

They could only conclude that the Rebbe used other “sources.”

HE DOES THE WILL OF THOSE WHO FEAR HIM

In 1966, R’ Belinov became ill and very weak, to the point that every few days he would feel like he was going to faint.

The doctors checked him and diagnosed that he was suffering from a hidden ulcer. They wanted to transfuse him with a few units of blood, but he strongly refused, since the blood likely originated from a gentile. He told them that he would take the necessary steps to recover more slowly without a transfusion, but the doctors were unhappy with that. They called in R’ Hillel Pevsner, who after much importuning, convinced him to accept the transfusion.

When he finally agreed, something incredible happened. After the transfusion, they suddenly noticed that his arm had swelled up and become very red. It was discovered that the line had not been inserted in the proper place, so that the blood remained trapped under the skin and did not enter the bloodstream. This was considered a bizarre freak occurrence, since the hospital performed many transfusions on a daily basis, and they never had such a thing happen before!

“He does the will of those who fear Him.”

**********

Towards the end of his life, he moved to Eretz Yisroel, which he acquired with suffering, contracting an illness and being hospitalized in his final days. He passed away on 14 Teves 2017, in his 79th year, and is buried on the Mount of Olives in Yerushalayim.

His published works include his collected responsa under the title, Igros Mordechai, and the work Shulchan Mordechai vol. 1, analyses on the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, which was arranged by his son R’ Yosef Yitzchok Belinov, the rav of Central B’nei Brak.

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