Our Obligations to Our French Brethren

For students of history, the scenario is painfully familiar.

Shaken by acts of anti-Semitism in their host country, thousands of Jewish families are now settling in Eretz Yisrael, with many more expected to follow. Upon their arrival, the new immigrants are heavily dependent on the Jewish Agency and other entities affiliated with the Israeli government, who in turn guide them to settle in irreligious neighborhoods and urge them to send their children to schools that are a far cry from the Torah-true chinuch they received in their old country.

This time these Jews aren’t coming from Yemen but from France. While in some ways the details of the current crisis may be different, the underlying danger to the future of these children — many of whom attended schools affiliated with the Otzar haTorah network in France — is very real.

In this week’s Inyan Magazine, we feature an exclusive conversation with the Kalover Rebbe, shlita, who with genuine mesirus nefesh — he suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease and communicates via a special computer program — has dedicated himself to help save the children of the Jews of France.

The Rebbe — who for more than two decades traveled extensively to both France and Eretz Yisrael — has for a long time expressed his concern about the spiritual welfare of the Jews who made aliyah. He saw the same Jews who were wearing a yarmulke in France bareheaded in Eretz Yisrael. In France, their children were attending an Otzar HaTorah school; in Eretz Yisrael, the same children were going to an irreligious government school.

Now with a new school year beginning, the Rebbe issued a fervent plea to Klal Yisrael to do all that is possible to ensure that these children attend Torah schools in Eretz Yisrael.

It is related that a brokenhearted set of parents came to the Chofetz Chaim to seek his assistance. They informed him that their teenage son had taken leave of his senses and had begun acting in an insane manner. They hoped that if the Chofetz Chaim would speak to their son, he could influence him and aid in his recovery.

When the Chofetz Chaim entered the room where the bachur was, he observed the boy walking over to the sefarim shrank with a knife in his hand. In a fit of anger, the teenager proceeded to slash the pages of a Maseches Brachos, and then cut into Maseches Shabbos and into two of the chapters of Maseches Chullin that deal with the kashrus of meat. The Chofetz Chaim looked on in deep anguish, but with the youngster holding a knife, judged the situation to be too dangerous to interfere.

Seeing that no one was stopping him, the boy continued his rampage, this time turning his sights on an infant lying in a crib in the same room.

At that point the Chofetz Chaim could wait no longer. The teenager now had the halachic status of a rodef, and he was obligated to do everything humanly possible to stop him and save the life of the infant. The Chofetz Chaim rushed towards the teenager, seized him and forcibly grabbed away the knife.

Later, the Chofetz Chaim used this story to illustrate a very relevant lesson. He said that there are segments of Jews who have trampled on the teachings of Chazal. They have slashed into Maseches Brachos and have stopped observing the halachos pertaining to blessings. They have trampled on Maseches Shabbos and stopped keeping Shabbos. They have cut deep into Maseches Chullin and stopped keeping the laws of kashrus. But these groups are downright dangerous, and to speak out publicly against them entails pikuach nefesh, so, reluctantly, the Torah world is forced to remain silent.

“But when they seek to harm the chinuch system, it is forbidden to remain silent!” the Chofetz Chaim declared. “For in this case, they are considered to be rodfim! When they seek to thrust a knife into the children, we are obligated to be moser nefesh to save them!”

The children are the future of Klal Yisrael. When it comes to their chinuch, we are obligated to be moser nefesh. Every possible hishtadlus must be made to ensure that these children attend schools that are both compatible with the relatively high level of Torah education they received in France and will also ease their adjustment to living in a new land.