The Rov of Shklov

A Yungerman applied for the Rabbonus in a small European shtetl. A large and influential contingent of its Jewish population were Lubavitcher Chasidim and so any potential candidate required the approval of the Rebbe Maharash.

When the aspiring Rov met the Rebbe, the Rebbe made his approval conditional that he receive Smichoh from the Shklover Rov. The yungerman raised an eyebrow for the Rov of Shklov was known to be a fierce opponent of the Rebbe, but he heeded what he was told.

The Rov of Shklov was no less stunned to hear what brought the yungerman to him. He quizzed him and was satisfied with the young man’s replies but was still perturbed by the Rebbe’s strange stipulation. He instructed the yungerman to return in the evening for his smicho.

In the evening, the Rov continued the interview in an attempt to uncover the Rebbe’s possible reason. He finally advised the Yungerman that he’ll need to sleep over it and he’ll give the young man his reply the next morning.

The Rov spent the entire night attempting to get to the bottom of the matter. He started to wonder whether he possibly met the applicant before. Then, he remembered something. Years ago, he traveled on a wagon with another passenger. During the trip, the wagon was stopped by a Russian soldier who requested access to the wagon. The driver let him aboard.

The soldier, turning out to be a cross-dressed woman, began conversing with the other passenger. The Rov from Shklov was dismayed to hear the dialogue get progressively vulgar. Now, he recognized the young man who came to him for Smicho as that passenger.

The next morning, the Rov asked the yungerman whether he ever traveled with a Russian soldier and a third passenger and told the yungerman, “You’re not getting any Smicho from me…”

(Heard at a Montreal farbrengen.)

The Baal Kore with the Biur

I believe this story was published in the המאור journal, but considering that not everyone necessarily has easy access to המאור, I’ll reproduce it here.

Rabbi Amsel visited some city in the States for ש”ק. He was the second person to walk into שול on  שבת morning. The שמש was already there preparing the לייענען as was his wont. To the Rabbi’s consternation, the שמש was using a חומש with Mendelsohn’s Biur. Now, in the אלטע היים, the Biur was used for nothing but שריפת חמץ and BBQ’s.

When, as expected, Rav Amsel was called up to the תורה, he declared that this שמש will not לייען his ‘עלי. Either he read it himself, or he won’t accept an ‘עלי altogether . The שמש protested the great בזיון displayed against him, but the גבאי advised him that Rav Amsel was a respected רב whereas he was only a שמש; he had no real option other than comply.

That night, after שבת ended, the שמש called on him. The visiting Rov admitted him into his apartment and the שמש began: The visiting Rabbi apparently saw through his very religious appearance and understood that he had a dark past:

When he first arrived at this שטעטל, he had difficulty finding פרנסה. But, then one day, the local conservative congregation approached him to be their Rabbi. You need to remember that the the conservative synagogue of that era closely resembled the average Modern Orthodox Synagogues of the era. At any rate, he accepted the position. When telling his wife of his new vocation, he of course did not disclose to her what kind of “House of Worship” this was. Yet, one Shabbos, his wife decided to surprise him So she stealthily followed him to “Shul”. Yet, as she sat there, the bitter truth hit her.

From great depression, she took ill and weeks later passed on. Needless to say, her husband was broken and guilt-ridden by her untimely demise. He gave up the Conservative pulpit and decided to devote himself working for Yiddishkeit. With time, he landed his current position. Now he’s asking the Rov how hw can rectify his past.

Rav Amsel explained that he knew nothing of his past. He disqualified him from reading his ‘עלי simply because he prepared it out of a חומש with the Biur. He instructed the שמש never to use it again.