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Nothing but the Truth

Aryeh Ehrlich

Rav Yaakov Yeshaya Blau had the quick wit and sharp tongue of a seasoned Yerushalmi, yet he also had the patience to field every query that came his way. What motivated the Eidah HaChareidis’s preeminent dayan, who worked as a bank manager for years before the Minchas Yitzchak was able to persuade him to join the Eidah? And what made him run away from certain cases, as if from fire? A tribute to the Torah world’s venerated posek in business halachah.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Jerusalemsun was low in the western sky as my photographer and I waited on the steps of the beis din at Kikar Zupnik, the center of the old chareidi yishuv. This spot is often the scene of protests, demonstrations, clashes, and funerals, but this afternoon it bore the quiet monotony of routine.

We were to meet Rav Yaakov Yeshaya Blau ztz”l, one of the elder dayanim of the Eidah HaChareidis and one of its most respected leaders — a communal leader who served as a rav and halachic guide for the masses, both those within the ranks of the Eidah, and those outside.

If Rav Blau had not shunned honor, his name would have been preceded by a string of titles reserved for the most illustrious gedolim of the generation. But Rav Blau, who passed away last week at 84, preferred to remain behind the scenes, although he was considered the Torah world’s foremost expert on monetary law. As rav of the Sanhedria neighborhood in Jerusalem, he was accessible to anyone who needed his psak, receiving the public without using gabbaim as intermediaries and keeping no set reception hours.

Back to the steps of the beis din: I was assigned to a story about the Badatz, and Rav Blau had agreed to speak to me. As the Rav climbed up the steps, he watched as the photographer alongside me did his job from a safe distance.

“This is the photographer’s parnassah,” I hesitatingly told the dayan, nervously anticipating his reaction. But Rav Blau was exceptionally pleasant. He stood still for a moment or two, smiled, and straightened out his coat, in an effort to help the photographer get a better shot — even if it displeased some of the other askanim.

“Nu, you took the picture?” he asked the photographer in that raspy, nicotine-infused voice of the old-style Yerushalmi Yid. Upon being answered in the affirmative, Rav Blau hurried to join the Minchah minyan that preceded another grueling session in the beis din

As I still stood on the steps, two distinguished-looking figures appeared on the beis din’s porch: Rav Chaim Weiss, the shamash of the beis din, and Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Blau, the beis din’s scribe and Rav Yaakov Blau’s grandson.

“Rav Blau asked us to tell you,” they said somewhat apologetically, “that you can’t write about the beis din, so that you shouldn’t sin or cause others to transgress the prohibition that blinds the wise and corrupts the words of the righteous.”

I didn’t get it. “What’s this all about?” I asked. “Rav Blau received us with such warmth. He knew in advance that I would be coming, and he even agreed to be photographed.”

“The Rav just remembered,” Rav Chaim Weiss explained, “that someone related to a person involved with your magazine currently has a case in the beis din. The Rav is concerned that this situation may involve a trace of shochad, bribery. You will have to wait. It is not advisable to disobey the Rav.”

Last week at the shivah house in the now-forlorn apartment at Rechov Elasah 3 in the Pagi block of the Sanhedria neighborhood, Rav Blau’s grandson Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Blau reminded me of that incident, and recalled many others like it. Once, someone gave his zeideh a ride in his car. The next day, that same man appeared in the beis din for a court case. Rav Blau literally trembled, fearing that he would be in violation of the Biblical prohibition of shochad. He refused to see the man in his beis din.

About a year ago, as Rav Blau’s health declined, a certain piece of medical equipment was purchased for his use. An expert in this particular device offered his services, volunteering to come once a week to Rav Blau’s home to help him operate it. The day before the appointed visit, the man appeared in the beis din to register for a din Torah. Rav Blau summoned the man and told him, “I’m sorry, but I cannot let you come to my home to help me. I’m concerned that it may be a form of shochad.”

Said Rav Yitzchak Shlomo, “If my grandfather ever caught someone in a lie, the person didn’t have a chance.”

“My father was a man of truth,” eulogized his son Rav Chaim Yosef Blau — a dayan in the Eidah HaChareidis — at the funeral. “Many years ago, when international calls were prohibitively expensive, someone called him from abroad and kept him on the phone. My father, concerned that the call was costing him so much, wanted to make it as short as possible. But the caller explained that he’d discovered a trick to keep the call cheap, and when my father realized it was illegal, he raised his voice and said, ‘So you are a thief and a cheat and I have nothing more to say to you,’ and slammed down the phone.”


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