May 6, 2005

Published May 06, 2005, issue of May 06, 2005.


• A scandal has broken out in a block of tenement houses right in the middle of the Jewish quarter on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Because the police have not yet been notified, names of suspects are not being reported. Apparently the superintendent of one of the tenement houses, a woman, has been running a brothel in three buildings on the block. She began by convincing the wives of sweatshop workers to work as prostitutes during the day while their husbands were at work. She receives a percentage of their pay. A sweatshop worker discovered the entire operation. He had returned home after arriving at work and discovering that his shop had burned down. When he entered his own building, he saw his wife, the super and a strange man. His wife broke down and told him everything, but embarrassment has kept him from contacting the police.


• The Gerer Rebbe is to Congress Poland what the Belzer Rebbe is to Eastern Galicia is what the Bobover Rebbe is to Western Galicia. All three leaders of these huge Hasidic dynasties control large courts, and each holds sway over thousands of Hasidim. The current Bobover Rebbe, Ben-Zion Halbershtam, utilizes his organizational capabilities in order to attract large numbers of yeshiva students, among whom are many who have gone so far as to leave universities in order to become Hasidim. The rebbe has his own political orientation and lets no one dictate terms to him. This became evident at the recent Rabbinical Assembly meeting in Lemberg, where the Bobover Rebbe refused to agree with the Belzer Rebbe and staged a walkout. He also refused to participate in the last Rabbinical Assembly in Warsaw, which had been organized by the Gerer and Belzer courts. The Bobover’s fiercely independent nature and his dislike of other courts are well known. To Bobover Hasidim, all other Hasidim are considered heretics and sinners. So when Halbershtam married his daughter to a common Sandzer Hasid instead of a young man of rabbinic stock, it was a shock. Perhaps more of a shock, however, was the fact that the match wasn’t arranged and that the Bobover’s daughter married for love. Also, the groom’s family, wealthy hoteliers from Cracow, paid the rebbe a huge dowry — instead of the other way around. All these issues clouded the atmosphere at the wedding, and many of his Hasidim refused to countenance the match. As a result, fists flew among Bobover, Sandzer, Dzhikover and a few errant Belzer Hasidim during the wedding celebrations.


• These days, people don’t think twice about girls who know Bible, Rashi, and even Talmud and Rambam. And that there are female teachers who impart all this knowledge to their students. But the fact is that it wasn’t always this way in Jewish life. Girls simply didn’t go to school. They would sit at home with their mothers and grandmothers and read the Tsene-rene or the Kav ha-yoysher. But about 40 years ago, a revolution occurred in Jewish life that demanded equal rights for women. This revolution was led by Sarah Schenirer, who started a small school for girls in her Cracow seamstress shop — a school that would eventually take the name Beys-Yaakov.

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