On a warm evening on July 31, 1980, on a pine-carpeted spot of ground with the sound of crickets in the background, I sat down with a tape recorder in Moshav Meor Modiin and interviewed Meor Modiin’s founder, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. In this interview, Shlomo Carlebach discussed a variety of topics, including:
This document reveals Shlomo Carlebach’s thoughts expressed clearly on a number of issues of central concern to him, and should be of interest to all those who are interested in Shlomo Carlebach and in the issues that he is dealing with.
PS Someone else made a few comments during the course of the interview. Because he didn't give permission to publish his comments, I've deleted them and referred to him as "Ben Adam."
YDS: What are you doing here, and what is the moshav [cooperative settlement] doing here?
SC: I’ll start with the moshav. (pause) You know what a good baal habayis [householder] is? A good baal habayis is somebody who utilizes every space in his house. Imagine someone has a house with eight rooms and he only uses four rooms, leaving four rooms empty—it’s just…
The thing is what the moshav is doing here. First of all, there’s a whole generation and there is something in the Holy Land, there are certain holy buttons here which have not been pushed at all on a holy space level. And there are thousands of kids who haven’t been reached yet. Their buttons have not been pushed.
And even when they come to Israel, they walk away empty because nobody reaches—nobody touches them.
I’ll tell you something else. A rich man can maybe afford, in his hundred rooms, a whole wing: he doesn’t use it. A poor man cannot afford not to use something. If you’re desperate, you use everything. When you’re desperate, why do you become so strong? Because you use everything you have. Now I want you to know something very deep: The Maharal says something unbelievably deep. Let’s say I have a hundred buttons, right—if I push only eighty, I’m leaving twenty empty; it’s sad, right. But something else happens when I push all the buttons: something happens which is more than just the hundred buttons, because everything together has a tremendous power.
Today what we are missing is two things: first of all, we don’t have the strength of the all. And we’re also missing those twenty buttons. I’m saying twenty buttons, I’m lying. We’re missing eighty buttons.
So what we’d like to do is push all the buttons—in depth and in height—and also get the all.
You know, there are two ways of reaching people. You can start from outside and work your way inside, or you can start deep, deep, deep inside and work your way slowly to the outside.
Basically, the difference between me and most of the so-called baalei teshuvah rebbelekh [diminutive of “rabbis”] is that they start from outside: put on tefillin, keep Shabbos, do this, do this, do this—slowly you get inside. Sometimes you make it inside; most of the time you don’t, and you stay an outsider. You see, we have enough of outside Jews. I mean, we need all of them, but what we are missing is not another outside Jew, not another Borough Park yiddeleh [diminutive of “Jew”]—as much as I love them. We need inside yiddelekh [diminutive of “Jews”].
I try to do this mamesh [really] from inside. First, you push the deepest button there is. and then, slowly, you work your way to the outside. If you have the inside button working, hopefully then it goes.
On the strength level, the more deep the button is, the stronger it is, the more electricity. I push the outside button, there may be a little electricity. The deeper it gets, the stronger is the energy.
You see what it is, the establishment today is so anti-depth, anti-depth in the most awesome way. So the sad truth is, we have not been sponsored or patronized by the so-called Jewish establishment.
It’s very crazy: we are outsiders only because we are insiders. Ok, I hope we will make it. Take this moshav: maybe on the outside it’s not so perfect yet, it has problems. But inside, it’s just so good. And on Shabbos, when the infinite is shining—and Shabbos is yoma denishmosah [the day of the soul]—on Shabbos the outside is finished, is [?] the inside. There’s no place in Israel on Shabbos like the moshav. You’ve got to come.
Ok, now let’s hear from "Ben Adam": some holy words.
SC: Can you let me help with what "Ben Adam" said? "Ben Adam" touched on something very special.
I always say the difference between us and Meir Kahane is like this. Meir Kahane always says, “Never again.” And my thing is, “Never before.”
You see what it is—the so-called rebbelekh of the baalei teshuvah [newly-religious Jews], what they want to do is take all the so-called non-religious kids and make them into the same Jew which already exists. They don’t have the vision that maybe God needs something much deeper, much holier and much more loving, and much more sensitive. You see what it is—those non-religious kids come back with so much energy.
SC: Also something. You know, you touched on something deeper which I didn’t even yet--
You see what it is: the religious Jews first of all want to make you into the same religious Jew that was already before: keep Shabbos, have a sheitel [wig for a married woman], learn a little bit, do this a little bit.
And we want to go much deeper, much holier. Let’s put it this way: if God gave us back the Holy Land, if God is bringing mashiakh [messiah], it means a great light is coming down from heaven. A great light is coming down from heaven. And I have a feeling that nobody picked it up yet. Can you imagine how much light came down after the Six Day War? Do you know what was going on, mamesh, how much light?
I was always asking around. I’d love to hear from those so-called—I don’t want to say anything bad—all the great rabbis: what did they say? Are you learning Gemara differently now, is your Shabbos different now? Everything has to be different. You cannot live through such a thing and be the same. I’m not even touching at the six million, you know.
But as far as I’m concerned, the major difference between before the six million and after the six million is very, very deep. Before the six million, maybe the most important thing for a Jew was not to be connected to the world. Because of the holiness [?] of those Jews who were living in exile, living in ghettos—even if they came out of ghettoes, a Jew was just an am levadad yishkon [a nation that dwells alone]—he had no communication with the world. And I’m not even talking about the goyishe [gentile] world—just the world, as it is. There is a world, right? And even if the goyishe power is against us, I’m not talking about that. We still say that letakein olam bemalchus Shakai [to rectify the world in the sovereignty of the Almighty]—I want the whole world to become more aware that there is one God, mamesh become servants of God. That’s all the against the world [?] for persecuting us—it doesn’t matter.
Their shitah [approach] is that you disconnect yourself from the whole world. Ok—let’s assume that a person says, I want to become religious. “Don’t talk to your father, don’t talk to your mother, disengage from this…” disconnection, disconnection—they cut off your wings. Like tailors, right, sweet and cute—but most of the time they’re bad tailors. They don’t know where to cut. And those kids walk around with wounds all over the place.
I wish it could be different [?]. First of all, there is a world—the world is so beautiful. Let me tell you something. Imagine I love this girl very much, and she has also a friend who’s very beautiful. And she says to me, “I don’t even want you to look at my friend, because if you look at my friend you won’t love me anymore.” That means my love for her is not so great. But if she says, “You can look at my friend because you love me so much”--
Is the Torah so not-beautiful that if we look at the world we forget the Torah? Isn’t God’s Torah more beautiful? Isn’t Shabbos more beautiful than anything in the world? Isn’t to daven [pray] before God more beautiful than any pleasure in the world?
On Shabbos, these kids are connected to the world in the deepest way. Their heart is open to everything in the world.
And you know—in Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] you cannot afford not to be open to the whole world.
And I saw, when they came to the holy Wall they were lost—they didn’t now what to do. So I walked up to them, and, like, I gave them back their soul, because they wanted to connect to those Jewish people, because they know that it’s our wall.
And I went up to them and talked to them, invited them to stay with us for kiddush Friday night—it was a gevalt [wonderful].
After that, I went back to daven, and the people wanted to stone me, mamesh.
Moshav resident: The people wanted to what?
SC: To stone me.
Moshav resident: To stone you?
SC: Sure—what’s going on there? “Oy, an apikoyrus [heretic]—he talks to goyim.”
Moshav resident: Right at the Wall?
SC: Yeah, why not?—listen, it’s no problem. With some people, it’s no problem.
SC: Yeah. (laughter)
I’m not here to knock the others [?]—I just want to give you a taste of their [?] doing.
Also, I’ll tell you something so much deeper. Shabbos is mamesh the deepest depth of the world—or yontef [holiday] is the deepest depth of the world. Can you imagine how many gates God opens every Shabbos?—the deepest depths.
And every year you can see in the portion of the week how so much more depth there is. Now can you imagine, since God gave the Torah on Mount Sinai, every Shabbos, the same portion has been read maybe thousands of times. And it’s new things that are coming down.
And the beautiful thing about our khevrah [community] is, they’re mamesh picking it up. They’re mamesh picking it up in the deepest depth there is.
There are some young people here who can say Torah on the portion of the week—it would put any great rabbi to shame. A hundred per cent.
Also, something else—something very deep down [?]. you know, basically we Jewish people are very much children-oriented—very, very much. The Torah says, daber el benei Yisrael [speak to the children of Israel]—God always talks to the “children of Israel”—however you translate it. But God is children-oriented. Everything is children-oriented. And yet, with all of us being children-oriented, I never heard the great rabbis really talk about children so much.
And we’re putting so much energy to talk about [?] children [into our children?] all the time, because before mashiakh is coming, when Elijah comes to make peace [?], this is the time to talk about children.
And you see, I’ve never heard the great rabbis talk about the awesome holiness of children. I hear them saying to parents, “Educate the children, they should be frum and cute” and so on. That’s all cute and sweet—this is not where it’s at, you know.
You should shiver before you children—mamesh to shiver.
I don’t want to say anything bad, but I heard some great rabbi, he said to his wife—he is really a great rabbi—he said, “Until the child is seven, eight years old, it’s just a piece of flesh, so I cannot relate to it.” This is already a great rabbi. Ok, I’m sure he learned a little bit—this was before he got married—I’m sure he learned after. But this is a person who learned in yeshivas. Yeshivas don’t have this holiness yet.
So I would say, our moshav is maybe two million steps ahead of them on that thing.
There are so many kids who have been spiritually-oriented all of the world—Jewish kids. Some kids who were hanging out six years with Rajeneesh, this one was serving Swami Satchinananda for ten years. They they’re coming to Israel.
I cannot walk up to them and say, “I want you to know you’re pagan, so far you did nothing, you’re a pagan, you’re wrong; and now you have to do teshuvah and return to God.” It’s cute and sweet. Most of the time I’d push them away. And they experience God in their way. It may not be the Jewish way.
Ok. It’s like Yisro [Jethro]. When Yisro came to Moshe [Moses], did Moshe tell him, “Listen, brother, I want you to know you’re the dirtiest pagan, I want you to do teshuvah.” The first thing is, mamesh, he greeted him with a gevalt. You know what Moshe said to Yisro? “Mamesh, I’ve been waiting for you because God couldn’t speak to us on Mount Sinai until you came.”
Imagine we would greet those kids and say, “God wants to reveal to us the deepest secrets. He was just waiting for you to come here.” It’s a different kind of approach—a shalom aleykhem [welcome].
And also, I tell you, they’re still doing this. Imagine a boy comes with long hair, whatever, he has a hundred beads hanging on him. dose it really matter if he has long hair, or fifteen beads or no beads? Do you know how many thousands of kids have been pushed away from yeshivas because the first thing they tell them is, “Get a haircut, look like me.” Is that important?
YDS: I was speaking to one of the moshavniks [moshav residents], and he said, “We’re pretty halachic here.” So I asked him, “Where are you going to be on the left side of ‘pretty halakhic’?” so he said, “With women—for instance, we don’t have such a big mechitzah [divider between men and women in the synagogue].”
SC: Let’s face it. Let’s face it in (unclear). In the religious circles the woman didn’t have much of a choice. She was a sweet mother—cooking, taking care of everything, but she really, she had nothing to say.
I cannot imagine being invited to a big rosh yeshiva [head of yeshiva] or anybody in those circles—when it comes to worldly affairs his wife opens her mouth, but when it comes to--
I’ll tell you something very strong. I was invited somewhere. We talked about everything in the world, the women were there—they could join us. When we started talking about something high and deeper, the women right away got together to talk about their blintzes and their things, and the men were talking.
That means the women really have no part in the situation. They have no part.
I cannot imagine a rosh yeshiva talking about the portion of the week and saying to his wife, “Let’s hear what you have to say about it.”
The holiness of this place is that mamesh every girl and every woman—mamesh, they are connected to the Torah and they’re learning. [unclear] when the men speak on Torah, they speak on Torah too and sometime they say better things than the men.
So what it is: a lot of things have changed—not for the worse, for the better.
There is a Torah of the holy Baal Shem. The Baal Shem said that before the mashiakh is coming, Eve will find her place back in the world. Eve was pushed out. The way I see it is like this: that because Eve did something to Adam, Adam is getting back at Eve. And he says to her two things: “You wanted to teach me all about God.” Basically, Eve had started [?] getting involved in the depths of it. she said to Adam, “I want to show you something about God which you didn’t know yet.” But nebekh [sadly], it was the wrong teaching. So Adam says to Eve, “You know something? Don’t ever talk to me about God again. Don’t ever. I don’t trust your teaching.”
And also he felt very guilty because of her—we were driven out from paradise and we wear garments. In paradise we didn’t have to wear garments because our body was a garment to our soul. So Adam pushed her out of the spiritual world—“Don’t talk to me about God.” So all she’s talking about is food and garments—because that’s all that’s left for her; the apple and what to wear.
But when Eve finds here place back, she can talk to Adam again about God. And like the holy Ishbitzer says, in the very end, obviously God didn’t want them to stay in Paradise. It says, velailah lelailah yekhaveh daas [“night to night expresses knowledge” (Psalms 19)]: “showing you daas [knowledge],” he says. Yekhave daas [“expresses knowledge] means that Eve [in Hebrew, Khava—related to yekhave] showed Adam something which he would never have gotten by himself. This is very, very deep.
We are living in a different world now. It’s not bad, or worse. Maybe there was a time when it was very holy that the man sits by the table and the woman sits at another table with her daughter. Today this is not holy anymore; it’s obnoxious. At that time it was holy. Today holy means that parents have the [unclear].
And I also feel so much that the relation between husband and wife and children, everything—the house—has to be so much different, so much different—God should give us the strength to do it.
It’s not so simple, brother—the devil sharpens his teeth. It doesn’t come on so easy even if you want to do it. But at least if we all have the vision here--
I’ll tell you a way-out toraleh [diminutive of Torah teaching]. You know, Nadav and Avihu [Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron] didn’t get married. So why didn’t they get married? The answer is like this. Nadav and Avihu mamesh only wanted to get married like the level before the tree of knowledge. They mamesh wanted to fix the world. Because they were so much into fixing the world, they were angry at Moshe and Aharon that they take it slow. In other words, they were saying [Hebrew, unclear] mati yimla’u “When will they die already? They are happy with the world the way it is, but we mamesh want to force God to fix the world.” And they went into the Holy of Holies, and it says in chassidus [Hasidic teachings], even if they took off [unclear] but you now what? They are bringing mashiakh. [Hebrew-unclear]. They mamesh want the world to be again the way it’s supposed to be.
And we want in this moshav that, hopefully, our little Eves will be like Eve in paradise, but not giving us from the tree of knowledge—because if Eve can give us the tree of knowledge, why she can also give us the tree of life. And that’s what it’s all about.
In all the shuls, let’s face it, the mekhitzah is very thick, but you know what happens to the women? Back to their food and their clothes, right? They don’t daven. Go to all the frum [pious] shuls. They don’t feel responsible to daven. They definitely don’t feel responsible.
We have a mekhitzeh in the moshav shul. You know why we have a mekhitzeh? For one other [?] reason: because I want to be connected to all the synagogues in the world. If this is the way they do it, it’s enough reason for me—beyond reasoning, right? If this is the way mamesh for two thousand years we build a synagogue, that’s the way it’s [unclear] supposed to be. But we’re not putting our energy into it—“the mekhitzah has to be bigger!” it’s just a mekhitzah, that’s enough. When it comes to the time to learn, we take away the mekhitzah so girls should be able to say something else.
YDS: I’ve been reading this week a book by this great Hasidic rebbe, and he goes on about the difference between men and women. He says that women are much lower than men.
SC: Ah, he doesn’t say that. You have to know what he says and how he says it. You have to know exactly--
And I’ll tell you something: there are certain things which are meant for ever and there are certain things which at that time…
I tell you, before Eve found the place [unclear], maybe it was like this, but she worked her way back.
You know, a good cook is not one who knows what to put in the soup. A good cook is really someone who knows what not to put in the soup. You have to be very delicate. If I make a soup, I may put in everything, sardines, [unclear], gefilte fish, fleish [meat], milk, everything! It’s beautiful, right, but it doesn’t fit. It’s cute, but it’s not soup any more.
You have to know exactly: every generation needs its soup. You have to know exactly how to make it. You know how much: I say, listen—sugar is the sweetest thing in the world; let’s put in a hundred pounds of sugar. You can’t eat it. You have to know exactly how much sugar, how much salt.
Also, it’s so important: when a person comes back, you have to give that person the sweetness of the Torah without the sourness. Later on--mimino eish das lamo [“from His right side, a fiery teaching”]—you can give him fire, a little bit of heaviness also. You have to know exactly.
I’ll tell you something very deep. Imagine you meet a girl. You love her very much. Four weeks later you realize she also has a few bad things. It doesn’t matter. You still love her very much. But imagine, if the first minute you meet her, you see all the terrible things she has. Who needs it, right?
So the first time you meet the Torah, it has to be completely beautiful.
YDS: What is your idea of the relation of Jews and non-Jews?
SC: The relationship is that [unclear], like Avraham Avinu--
The Gemara says [unclear]. Before the mashiakh is coming, we go back to the holiness of Abraham. We are responsible mamesh for every human being in the world so that they should know that there is one God. We don’t have to convert them to Judaism, but wherever I go, I want to the non-Jews to think better of the Jewish people, to think, gevalt, it’s such a holy thing that there are Jews in the world. that I’m responsible to [?], with all my heart and all my soul.
And I just hope and pray that we should have better messengers for us Jewish people to the goyim to let them know how holy we are, especially now [?]. Most of the Jews the goyim meet are not such good messengers—I don’t want to say anything bad, but they’re not. This is another thing [?] on the moshav: I want to train people to know to talk [interruption].
We don’t have to assimilate the goyim, we don’t have to lick them. it’s enough to [?] wear the crown of God on my head when I talk to them. But I want every goy who meets a Jew to be uplifted a little bit out of the world, to a higher world.
Because we Jews: we are really God’s messengers. We are God’s light to the world. I wish we would—I wish we would do it. we’ve got to do it.
SC: Please don’t misunderstand. We are not, God forbid, knocking the yeshivas. God needs about a thousand more yeshivas; God also needs a thousand more moshavim like ours. Between all of us, I hope we’ll do it. Everybody’s reaching their people. God knows already who to send to whom. Like if some people need a dentist, some people need a shrink, some people need a kishkes [intestines] doctor—everybody goes to his doctor.
Yaacov David Shulman