Rabbi David Bar Hayim
Jerusalem - In an explosive interview, a well known but controversial Israeli Rabbi and lecturer came out strongly against the custom of going to Uman for Rosh Hashana, calling both the practices of needing an intermediary to approach Hashem and of flocking to the Ukraine for Rosh Hashana “a distortion of authentic Torah Judaism.”
Rabbi David Bar Hayim, head of Jerusalem’s Machon Shilo, who prefers to be known as a Halachic Jew instead of an Orthodox Jew, has been at the center of central hotly contested issues, having made a claim in 2007 that all Jews are permitted to eat kitniyos on Pesach and that Israeli Jews should use their lulavim when the first day of Succos falls out on Shabbos.
He is also a proponent of reviving the ages-old Nusach Eretz Yisroel and abandoning traditions of Eastern Europe and those established during the Babylonian exile in favor of ancient Israeli minhagim.
R’ Bar-Hayim blasted those who make the pilgrimage to the kever of the Breslover Rebbe, R’ Nachman, particularly on Rosh Hashana, saying that while the Torah does not command us to make the annual trip to the Ukraine, it does instruct Jews to live in Israel.
“Of all days you would think on Rosh Hashana a Jew would want to be, if he could be, in Eretz Yisroel.”
R’ Bar Hayim suggested that claiming that Jews need to be in a location outside of Israel on Rosh Hashana is a concept that is foreign to Torah teaching and is akin to “adding a new mesorah to the Torah.”
Saying that the notion that the only proper way to approach Hashem is by connecting with a “super-tzaddik” such as R’ Nachman, the Lubavitcher Rebbe or any other holy individual “smacks of Christianity”, R’ Bar-Hayim cautioned that many are attracted to Breslov as a means of protecting themselves from the harsh realities of life.
“This kind of approach is essentially a religious and, as it were, sanctioned form of escapism,” said Rabbi Bar Hayim. “But in fact it is not a sanctioned form of escapism. There is no such thing as sanctioned escapism.
Escapism is escapism. Whether it is drugs or whether it is going to Uman, whether it is believing in a certain individual who died many years ago that he is the moshiach and insisting that this is the case.
No matter how many times you repeat such statements it doesn’t make it any more true. No matter how many times a person goes to Uman it doesn’t make it any more correct.”’
R’ Bar-Hayim acknowledged that when R’ Nachman’s followers were still living in the Ukraine, making the trek to his kever on Rosh Hashana was a logical move, meant to inspire and unite Bresolver chasidim in the absence of their rebbe.
But he expressed doubt that R’ Nachman, who frequently mentioned Israel in his writings, ever intended for his followers to leave Eretz Yisroel and travel to the Ukraine for Rosh Hashana.
“This is something quite ludicrous and flies in the face of everything the Torah teaches us,” observed R’ Bar-Hayim.
Noting that many find themselves uplifted by the pilgrimage, R’ Bar-Hayim suggested that they look to a closer source for inspiration, the words of Dovid Hamelech, designed to foster a deeper connection with Hashem and an essential part of every tefilla.
“Rather than looking for some strange, foreign and very, very devious substitute, let us turn to the real McCoy, the true source of tefilla which begins with Sefer Tehillim.”
R’ Bar-Hayim blasted the Ashkenazi Rosh Hashana davening, charging that many find it lengthy, cryptic, tiring and replete with “many piyutim which are not required by halacha” and are “extraneous to the core of tefilla.” Suggesting that it be modified to a shorter nusach based on the teachings of chazal, gaonim and rishonim which would be shorter and more meaningful, R’ Bar-Hayim expressed his opinion that doing so might prevent people from looking to Uman for inspiration.
“Running away to Ukraine to escape problems of Ashkenzai davening is not the answer,” warned R’ Bar-Hayim. “It is simply creating another problem.”