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Building Bridges in Ramat Shlomo: A Conversation with Rav Mattisyahu Deutsch

Yisroel Besser

In Ramat Shlomo, Jerusalem, a rav schooled in the classic Yerushalmi school of thought has succeeded in building bridges with the elites of secular society. Son-in-law of Rav Moshe Halberstam, ztz”l, Rav Mattisyahu Deutsch is very much a product of his upbringing; he also espouses a broadminded approach, thorough knowledge of medical innovation, and appreciation for the differences underlying the segments of Israeli society. Rav Deutsch contemplates the experiences that have colored his own worldview.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

 At the end of the winter, a diplomatic uproar rocked the world when leading American politicians referred to the beautiful Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo as an illegal settlement.

The irony of the situation was that the population of the disputed neighborhood — the so-called “settlers” — were for the most part oblivious to the entire affair. Ramat Shlomo, or Reches Shuafat, on the northern ridge of Yerushalayim, is home to thousands of Torah-observant families, most of whom are wholly unfamiliar with the breaking headlines of the New York Times. The relatively new neighborhood carries the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a lover of peace and unity, and it is a home to all sorts of Jews, where one equally likely to hear chassidishe Yiddish, Sephardic Hebrew, or American English.

Appropriately enough, the neighborhood’s rav is a man of great breadth, possessed of encyclopedic knowledge and an appreciation for the diversity of his clientele.

In fact, when I meet Rav Mattisyahu Deutsch, rav of Ramat Shlomo, in the beis hora’ah he established, he proudly points out that the dayanim there include one chassid, a Litvak, a Sephardi, and an American. He himself — the presiding rav — is a Yerushalmi, and son-in-law of the great gaon and dayan of the Eidah HaChareidis, Rav Moshe Halberstam, ztz”l. As his father-in-law’s closest talmid and assistant, Rav Deustch effectively became heir to a rich legacy of halachic direction and advice. That knowledge came along with responsibility to all the communities that make up Israeli society, in keeping with his father-in-law’s mission.

Our conversation could not come at a more opportune time. On the hills facing peaceful Ramat Shlomo, garbage bins were aflame, symbolic of the rising tensions in the nearby chareidi neighborhoods. Throughout the duration of this year, the chareidi public has felt an increasing sense of estrangement from the government, evident in the unusually high number of protests. A tipping point seems likely sometime soon.

There are few better equipped than Rav Deutsch — a man identified with the uncompromising approach of the Eidah HaChareidis, yet one of the most tranquil, soft-spoken people you’ll ever meet — to lend perspective to the issues currently facing Israel’s chareidim. 

 

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