Wacky Rabbi

by Brian on October 7, 2009

in In the News,Jewish Holidays and Culture,Only in Israel

What non-leather footwear did you don this Yom Kippur? Crocs, you say? Oy va voy! You just violated the latest fashion halacha from none other than esteemed Lithuanian leader Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliayshiv who banned the popular rubber shoes for being “too comfortable. “

The ruling, according to an article in Ynet, came in response to a question from an apparently misguided yeshiva student in a classic case of what’s known in Hebrew as a “she’alah kitbag.”

The term originates from army lore. A soldier asks his commander before a long training hike if they should be carrying their “kitbags” (or backpacks). The commander responds yes of course. If the soldier hadn’t asked, the answer would most probably have been no.

I remember – in the pre-Crocs days – wearing these very uncomfortable cloth shoes. I’d feel every pebble on the walk to synagogue which, before moving to Israel, was a considerable distance. It was like walking barefoot across hot coals. I thought we were supposed to be celebrating Yom Kippur not the book of Job.

I did a spot check during services this year in my local shul and the Crocs clearly outnumbered any other type of footwear. If Rabbi Elyashiv hasn’t reversed this ridiculous ruling by next year, I say we take up arms…er, feet. Power to the Crocs!

No less than a week after Elyashiv’s Crocs ruling, that wacky rabbi was at it again The latest? He’s now banned Shabbat elevators.

The Shabbat elevator, for the uninitiated, is a regular elevator that on the Sabbath operates automatically, opening and closing its doors for approximately 30 seconds on each floor without the rider needing to press a button which would be prohibited on Shabbat.

Shabbat elevators have been essential for allowing religious residents to live in tall buildings. The skyscrapers in Manhattan immediately come to mind, but there are also retirement homes in Israel, like Tovei Ha’Ir in Jerusalem, as reported this week in Haaretz.

I was once in Las Vegas for a convention and I had to stay over the weekend. I went to meet with an observant colleague whose room was on the 24th floor of a large casino hotel. We wound up hiking the stairwell together. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly presentable for the meeting. And don’t get me started about the “electronic” key that my friend refused to use.

Haaretz quoted two residents at Tovei Ha’Ir who were not exactly jumping up and down (hopefully not in the elevator itself) in support of the latest humra (a particularly stringent take on Jewish law). “What changed suddenly? What was kosher until now is suddenly treif?” asked one genial gentleman. Another was less confrontational. “Lucky for me that he isn’t my rabbi. I only follow the Gerrer rebbe,” the resident quipped.

It’s not exactly clear what Rabbi Elyashiv expects here. That elderly residents living in a penthouse sell their digs and move to a one-floor walk up? And to whom would they sell those apartments? Perhaps young seminary students studying in one of the yeshivas that follow Elyashiv’s rulings? Ah, but that would be too cynical…

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