The inaugural issue of a new glossy Orthodox Jewish magazine appeared last week on newsstands across the country and around the world.
Ami Magazine, a beautifully designed and well-written weekly, is under the editorial leadership of Rabbi Yitzchok and Rechy Frankfurter, formerly the editors of the Israeli-based Mishpacha magazine.
The first issue’s cover story is a comprehensive feature on the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach of Jerusalem, Israel.
“In the Inner Chambers of Belz” includes a fascinating account of a 1980 visit of the then-33-year-old Belzer Rebbe to Lubavitch Headquarters 770 in Crown Heights to discuss “Kiruv” with the Rebbe, who was 78 at the time.
The article’s author, Rabbi Frankfurter, refers to the Rebbe as “perhaps the forefather of contemporary outreach.”
Here is an excerpt from the article:
The Belzer Rebbe’s directive to engage in outreach struck many of his inward-looking followers as a bolt-from-the- blue.
It may have surprised them, but soon enough the [Belzer] Rebbe opened a new yeshiva for the fresh adherents. Ever mindful of the spiritual needs of his Chassidim, in order to insulate Belz from any foreign cultural influences that the new baalei teshuvah may have brought along, he had them learn in separate educational facilities.
Several years later, in 1980, the [Belzer] Rebbe paid a visit to Crown Heights to meet with the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, perhaps the forefather of contemporary outreach. The hour-long conversation that ensued between the 78 year old Lubavitcher Rebbe and the 33 year old Rebbe of Belz, was a fascinating exchange between two brilliant minds.
Of particular interest is their give-and-take regarding outreach, as it sheds much light on their different ideals and perspectives.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe remarked that, in light of the secular and even anti-religious education girls were obtaining in public schools there was a need for a higher-level religious education for girls than what was once customary.
The Rebbe of Belz: Do our children attend schools of that sort?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe: That depends what you call “our” children! Please forgive me, but I think that when you say “our” children, it should have a far broader meaning. I know that you don’t believe in narrowness.
The Rebbe of Belz: Notwithstanding that, “each person to his own camp, and each to his own flag.” We cannot mix pious girls with those whom we still need to draw closer to religion.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe: I’ve been told that you established special yeshivos for baalei teshuvah.
The Rebbe of Belz: Yes.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe: When you separate a baal teshuvah from another bochur, you in effect pronounce that he was formerly a sinner, which is prohibited.
The Rebbe of Belz: Would the Rebbe suggest integrating the Chassidim who are standing here with those we still have to draw closer to Hashem?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe: I think that it would have no negative effect, but rather on the contrary, they would gain, gleaning additional insights and coming to a higher degree of worship.
As their conversation continued, the two leaders agreed to disagree on this essential point of immediately integrating new adherents into to the existing religious community. This divergence of approach is intriguing for anyone interested in the dynamics of outreach and in the history of these two Chassidic movements.