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Shabbos with Gaavad

Aryeh Ehrlich

Ten years ago, the Eidah Hachareidis of Jerusalem selected Rav Yitzchok Tovia Weiss, dayan in Antwerp, as its next leader. People wondered how the mild-mannered European rav, a child survivor of the Holocaust, would lead the most vocal and unbending group of the Holy Land. But Rav Weiss emerged as a fearless warrior for everything sacred. During a rare Shabbos in the Gaavad’s home, he reflected on the personalities and experiences that shaped his aristocratic manner — and his relentless insistence on tru

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A soft voice welcomes us. Standing in his doorway, RavYitzchokToviaWeiss, the Gaavad of Yerushalayim, is resplendent in a long, gold caftan that is topped by a lightweight brown coat known as a jubeh. A decade ago, when the dayan from Antwerp accepted his new role as the Gaon Av Beis Din (Gaavad) of Jerusalem’s Eidah Hachareidis, he also adopted their traditional mode of dress. As Shabbos nears, he dons a special yarmulke and eyeglasses designated solely for the Holy Day. Slovakian-born, Gateshead-educated, the Gaavad lives and wars for Satmar ideals, has close connections to the great Lithuanian roshei yeshivah, and has maintained ties with houses of chassidus across the spectrum. As he invites me into his home for Shabbos, he allows me to learn of the varied influences and experiences that have shaped his unusual persona.   Set in Stone Jerusalem’s Rechov Givat Moshe, where Rav Weiss lives, is located on the border between the profane and the sacred, between the high-tech offices of the Har Hotzvim industrial park and the neighboring citadels of Torah. A lengthy siren sounds, signaling the arrival of Shabbos in Yerushalayim, and the Gaavad emerges from his house. He will now make his way to the small shul built in the courtyard of his home — “the kollel,” as they refer to the Gaavad’s private beis medrash here. When the Gaavad first arrived, he was greeted by Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik of Brisk. “I will give you a piece of advice,” the son of the Brisker Rav told the newly appointed Gaavad. “Open a kollel and get chavrusas and set your learning seder in stone. Otherwise the politics and strife of Yerushalayim will sweep you in.” The Gaavad followed the advice, and spends the first half of his day surrounded by close to fifty diligent yungeleit. Woe to anyone who disturbs him during his seder with his chavrusa. “It is strictly forbidden to interrupt the Gaavad while he is learning,” proclaims a large sign hanging at the entrance to the beis medrash. On this Friday night, the shul is filled with a wide variety of people: local chassidim, Jews of Hungarian ancestry who daven in nusach Ashkenaz, litvishe Jews, and guests from abroad who see the Gaavad — one of “theirs” — as a source of pride. The Gaavad greets all of them with a warm “Gut Shabbos.” Other than his position at the front of the shul, there is no sign that he is the rav here. He is uninvolved in the distribution of kibbudim and refrains from taking part in any management decisions, leaving them to a group of young, diligent Yerushalmis. In fact, the Gaavad’s shul does not even daven in his nusach — everyone in the shul davens in nusach Sfard, while the Gaavad himself davens in nusach Ashkenaz.

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