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The Real Shlomo

Was Shlomo, or as some called him affectionately, Shloime’le, arguably the last century’s greatest Jewish singer and composer, a Habad Hasid? 1 How was he influenced by Habad? What was his relationship with Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the Raayatz? Did he depart from Habad and if so, how did that manifest itself?

1 I interviewed one of Shlomo’s nieces on December 20, 2013. She answered my question this way:

“One could not describe Reb Shlomo as a Hasid of the Rebbe. But he often came to the Rebbe’s Farbrengens throughout the years, though more so in the early years. He would arrive some time when the Farbrengen was already underway (late, as was his wont). He would come with a small hevrah, group of his followers, and soon could be heard the whispering (I’d hear it all the way in the ladies’ section), ‘Shloime’le is here, Shloimele is here.’” Conversely, Shlomo’s younger twin brother, Eli Chaim was a Hasid of the Rebbe, at least until the mid-1960s as a relative told me: “Reb Eli Chaim Carlebach (called Eli Chaim by friends, Eli’le by close family) in the mid-1960s had been a Hasid of the Rebbe’s for many years during which time he organized the Index for Volumes 1 – 4 of Likkutei Sihot. He kept his notes on index cards in boxes, and one day the box turned over and all the cards fell, ‘helter skelter’ to the floor. ‘Daven, pray for me please,’ said Eli Chaim, ‘that I should be able to get them back in the right order.’ (He was a big believer in the power of prayer.) I guess he was able to reorganize them because it all worked out. In the mid 1960s he began visiting other Rebbes, especially Bobov. He was a Torah scholar, who loved the study of Hasidism —all kinds-- and who collected holy books. The last time he saw the Rebbe, in 1990, the Rebbe was so delighted to see him, he was laughing with pleasure.”

For Reb Eli Chaim’s family, it felt like coming full circle, as it happened shortly before Reb Eli Chaim passed away. One of the reasons Reb Eli Chaim distanced himself from Lubavitch starting in the mid 1960s was because he was accustomed to the personal warmth showered upon him by the various Rebbes he knew. He had this with the Raayatz and the Bobover Rebbe. He also had this type of relationship with the Rebbe as well in the 1950s and early 60s. However once the Rebbe’s schedule became overwhelming in the mid 1960s, he reduced the time he spent with his Hasidim in private. Another example happened when the Rebbe stopped, as a general rule, writing long letters in responding to peoples questions. Reb Eli Chaim needed that extra warmth and relationship but the Rebbe could not give it to him due to time constraints. So he sought out other Rebbe’s for that warmth. In particular, Eli Chaim became close to Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe. Reb Eli Chaim was very connected to the Raayatz. He felt towards him like a son to a father, and the Rayyatz reciprocated. Reb Eli Chaim also was a good friend of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, the Raayatz’s and Rebbe’s emissary to the West Coast of the United States. Whenever Eli Chaim came to Los Angeles, years before his daughter and her family moved there, he would visit with the Raichiks. They would farbreng together, Shmuel Dovid and Eli Chaim, and the Rebbetzin would serve a tasty meal. (She was famous for her cooking and baking.) Some say, Rabbi Raichik and Reb Eli Chaim shared the same room in the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Brooklyn during the late 40s.

History

The Carlebachs were a famous rabbinic family in Germany. They were in the vanguard, together with Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Oppenheimers and the Breuers in combating the reformers, which had taken strong hold in that country.

Shlomo’s maternal grandfather was Rabbi Asher Michoel Cohen of Switzerland, one of the founders of the Agudah Israel organization. Shlomo’s mother, Pessia, surrounded by learning desired that her children be Torah scholars or, in the case of her daughters, marry Torah scholars. She encouraged her husband to learn and write his weekly sermons. She ran their Shul and supplemented his income as the Rabbi. The Carlebachs had three children. The oldest was Shulamis who was born in 1919. The next two were twins, Shlomo and Eli Chaim who were born in 1925. Shlomo was twelve minutes older than Eli Chaim.

Shulamis was engaged to marry the son of Rabbi Kahanenmen, the head of the Ponevitz yeshiva but he perished in the Holocaust. 2 She married a Torah scholar, Reb Simha Zisel Levovitz, the son of the European Mir yeshiva Mashgiah, spiritual guide, Ruhni, Rabbi Yeruham Levovitz. 3 , 4

Shlomo was born in Berlin in 1925. In 1939 he immigrated to the United States. From 1939-1943 he studied in yeshivas Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn under the guidance of Rabbi Shlomo Hayman, the Rosh Yeshiva. The Torah Vodaas yeshiva was in Williamsburg which is near the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn where 770 is located. 770 was walkable from Torah Vodaas. The dean of Torah Vodaas, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, was open to Lubavitch and Hasidut in general. He was a descended of Hasidim. Therefore he had no qualms sending his students, to visit and learn from Hasidic Rebbes throughout the greater New York area.

While Shlomo and Eli Chaim were studying at Torah Vodaas, Rabbi Aron Kotler started his Lakewood yeshiva. They were handpicked by him to be two of its first students. Simultaneously, both had exposure to the Raayatz who came to America in 1940. They also met such fine Habad Hasidim as Rabbis Shmuel Levitin and Yisroel Jacobson who were students of the Raayatz’s father, the Rashab, Shalom Ber Schneersohn. Levitin and Jacobson were the Mashpiim, Hasidut teachers in 770 from the day the yeshiva opened up on March 20, 1940.The two Carlebach brothers

2 Rabbi Kahenenmen was very close to the Carlebachs. See Rabbi Kopel Brailovsky’s interview printed towards the end of this chapter.

3 Rabbi Yehuda Olebaum told me he remembers that Shlomo came to her house on Purim and played the guitar. The Levovitz family lived in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashgiach_ruchani.

began frequenting 770. They studied Hasidut there and made friends with the 770 students who naturally encouraged them to become Lubavitcher Hasidim.

Eli Chaim did not return to Lakewood after Shavuot 1944. He and Shlomo were on a bus going to Lakewood and before the bus entered the New Jersey tunnel it stopped to pick up and drop off passengers. Eli Chaim turned to Shlomo saying: “Now is our last chance to get off and go back to Brooklyn and join the Lubavitcher yeshiva.” Shlomo responded that he did not want to do that but Eli Chaim did get off the bus and went back to Brooklyn. Eli Chaim had been learning Habad Hasidut on his own time in Lakewood but Rabbi Kotler did not approve. He wanted him to learn Talmud exclusively.

Despite this disapproval, Eli Chaim joined a yeshiva which embraced Hasidut. This was the Lubavitcher yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. He learned there from May 30, 1944 until the beginning of the next semester in September 1944. On July 12, 1944 Rabbi Shemaryahu Gurary, the Rashag, the dean of the yeshiva sent Rabbi and Mrs. Naphtali Carlebach a letter saying that the yeshiva staff decided not to accept Eli Chaim as a student in yeshiva without his parents’ consent. 5 It appears that the letter was written due to pressure from several sides. The Rashag wrote that letter due to pressure from his large financial supporters including a Mr. Joseph Schapiro who threatened to withdraw his large donations to the yeshiva if he allowed Eli Chaim to learn there. He told the Rashag that it was against Eli Chaim’s parent’s wishes. The pressure on the Rashag also came from Lakewood because Lakewood and Lubavitch yeshivot shared some of the same financial supporters. Lakewood convinced those supporters to pressure the Rashag not to allow Eli Chaim to learn in his yeshiva. Even so, Eli Chaim was committed to learning in “770.” He went into yeshiva and joined a class. When one of the staff members noticed this he asked him to leave because he had been instructed by Rabbi Gurary that unless his parents agreed to him learning in “770” he has no permission to be there.

Eli Chaim had no choice but to leave the yeshiva. He went to yeshivas Chaim Berlin led by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner. He was not happy there and a few months later went back to “770” and this time was accepted as an official student. He learned there until his wedding in 1949.

Why would the Rashag consent, knowing that his father-in-law the Raayatz, his superior, had said that these are his “children” and he wanted them in his yeshiva? The Rashag seemingly wanted to pacify his supporters so he covered himself and wrote the letter. I would venture to say that there was an unwritten agreement between Raayatz and Rashag that an official letter be sent from Rashag saying that

5 Letter in author’s archive.

Eli Chaim (not Shlomo because he continued learning in Lakewood) was not accepted in the yeshiva. This would satisfy Mr. Schapiro and others. And if Eli Chaim shows up in “770” he should be asked to leave. Then he would go to another yeshiva for a few months and return on his own. At that point no one would ask him to leave because the fervor of the financial supporters would be diminished. As far as his parents were concerned, seemingly, they too calmed down and realized that learning in “770”was not that bad and they grudgingly agreed.

Raayatz’s Unprecedented Letter

Rabbi and Mrs. Carlebach senior wanted Eli Chaim to continue learning with Shlomo in Lakewood. This is evidenced by a letter their father wrote to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the Raayatz in early May of 1944. 6 He told the Raayatz that although he and his wife were not Hasidim, he allowed his twins to become Hasidim. However he wanted them to learn in Lakewood. The Raayatz responded in a very sharp and forceful letter dated May 27, 1944. 7 In it he stated that: “You brought your boys to me in Vienna (in 1933 or 1934) for a blessing. I blessed them that they be diligent in studying Torah and be G-d Fearing Jews. G-d helped and to a certain extent, the blessing was materialized. They were granted by G-d the recognition that true diligence of Torah and Fear of G-d is attained by the student only in yeshivas Tomchei Temimim.”

He continued that he, based on Torah law, would argue his point to a rabbinic court, if need be, that the students Eli Chaim and Shlomo should be free to study in his

yeshiva. However he hoped that this would not be necessary and that the parents would accept and allow their sons to study in the yeshiva of their choice, “770.” This letter gave Eli Chaim the courage to leave Lakewood against his parents’ wishes.

However Shlomo, who at time was more cooperative, stayed in Lakewood.

Raayatz’s desire of Eli Chaim and Shlomo to be his yeshiva students and his sharply

worded letter to Rabbi Carlebach senior made the relationship more strained. Shlomo capitulated to his parents’ wishes, and returned to Lakewood. Eli Chaim, who was more of a Habad Hasid already in 1944, did not listen and went to “770.”

The

One wonders why the Raayatz took such a tough stance. Why would he oppose the parents’ wishes so vehemently? One could understand his opposition to Lakewood and its desire to keep the twins from the study of Hasidut. But why write so

6 I saw and read the letter.

7 Igros Kodesh MaHa’Raayatz, vol 8, 309-310. The letter as printed does not say to whom it is written and the names Eli Chaim and Shlomo are removed. However I have a copy of the letter in my archives with their names. I corroborated this with a Carlebach relative and they corroborated the story.

stridently to their parents. Knowing the Raayatz from his writings and hearing from the Rebbe about his illustrious father-in-law, it appears that he had nothing against the parents or Lakewood. He simply felt that the twins should have free will and, according to Jewish law, choose where to find spiritual succor for their souls’ hunger. Lakewood’s attempt to make the Raayatz “insignificant” by saying that he only knows Midrash and Hasidut, but not the depths of Talmud, was not the reason for the Raayatz’s opposition. 8 That would be revenge which is forbidden according to Torah.

Shlomo’s Unofficial “770” Learning

Although Shlomo continued learning in Lakewood after his brother left in 1944, he frequented “770” whenever possible. In 1948 Shlomo’s father had a heart attack and Shlomo spent much of his time helping his father and was away from Lakewood a large part of the year. He also spent a great deal of time during that year learning as an unofficial student in “770.” 9 He wrote a letter to the Raayatz voicing his complaint that his parents were forcing him to continue learning in Lakewood though he wanted to transfer to “770.” In a letter that the Raayatz wrote to him on October 15, 1947 the Raayatz responded, “You are not to consider anything” (referring to his parents and Lakewood’s wishes that he stay in Lakewood and not go learn in “770”); “are you better than the first group of Hasidim who worried for their spiritual life?” (Meaning, that the parents of the first Hasidim, also objected to their studying in Tomchei Temimim, and yet these first Hasidim did so because they were anxious to receive spiritual nourishment by learning Habad Hasidut in Tomchei Temimim,) “Surely, you should be concerned as well and go to “770.” 10 May G-d help you on overpowering ‘form’ over ‘substance,’ spirituality over materiality and it will be good for you in all spiritual and material matter.”

8 For example, they would bring proof to their argument by citing various Raayatz’s Hasidic discourses in which he interprets various sections of the Mishnah with a Hasidic interpretation, taking it out of its literal context. They looked at that as shallow because it, in their opinion, diminished the literal Talmudic interpretation.

9 Possibly the reason that he never was accepted as an official student is because his brother Eli Chaim was accepted as an official student although not initially. The negative impact it had on everyone was enough of a reason not to officially accept Shlomo but allow him to learn there as an “unofficial” student. This way the “770” administration could defend itself saying: “we never officially accepted him.” Another possible reason is that Shlomo, knowing the opposition of his parents and Lakewood, did not desire to upset them more and chose to be an unofficial student. This way, he could always excuse himself although he did spend most of the year in “770.”

10 In author’s archive.