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The Teimaner Rebbe

Yisroel Besser

He’s a Yemenite rav who wears a round chassidish hat and silk beketshe. He runs his yeshivah as a typical litvish institution, and his students include both chassidim and Sephardim. Rav Avner Halevi Afghin is a kabbalist who stresses practical halachah, a man who asks for no honor but whose adherents are strong and growing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It’s 4:30 a.m. on Yom Kippur morning, and the spacious beis medrash in central Rosh Ha’ayin is starting to fill. By the time dawn breaks, every centimeter of the space is occupied and the aisles dissolve into the crowd. Many of the women in the ezras nashim have come with baby carriages in tow. Rav Avner Halevi Afghin stands throughout the day, leading the tefillos with a passion and energy that drains him to the point that both his sons stand next to him, holding him by his arms so that he won’t fall. He cries, he sings, he chants, and he shouts, melding Yemenite paytan with chassidic rebbe. It takes the Rav half an hour to recite the piyut composed by the Ibn Ezra, Lecha Keli, steady sobs forming the background track to his words. Yemenite Jews do not have the minhag of saying Yizkor on Yom Kippur. They don’t say Unesaneh Tokef in chazaras hashatz as Ashkenazic Jews do, either. Yet there is a large contingent that leaves the beis medrash twice during the long day, once to recite Yizkor, once for Unesaneh Tokef. The group is composed of chassidim — Satmar, Belz, and Vizhnitz visitors from abroad, men dressed in holiday beketshes and streimels — followers of the Rav. But they are not his chassidim. Rosh Ha’ayin is not a court, and Rav Afghin is adamant that these adherents, so different from the Rav and yet so much the same, remain connected to their own chassidic groups in dress, outlook, and ritual. The admor they call him. Though the term is generally used for a chassidic rebbe, and goes better with the name of an Eastern European village or town, in this case, it’s affixed to the Yemenite stronghold in central Israel. The Admor M’Rosh Ha’ayin, Rav Avner Halevi Afghin, wears a silk beketshe with velvet lapels and a round chassidic hat like a rebbe. He is well versed in chassidic seforim and, in conversation, drops the names of the tzaddikim of Kerestir, Sanz, and Munckacs as if he’d been raised in the shtiebel — though he does so with a soft Yemenite lilt. Yet the yeshivah he leads is firmly litvish, in the tradition of the great yeshivos. The recent wedding of his son provides a good example of the fusion of styles, traditions, and hashkafos at the Rav’s court. The chasunah might have been the only event in the country at which not only theRishonL’Tzion,RavYitzchakYosef, graced the dais, but also the Gaavad of theEidahHachareidis,RavYitzchokToviaWeiss. The Rav belongs to everyone — but also, to no one.

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