The Milkman (Helban) Cometh

Back in Elul someone emailed to me a schedule of classes given by the new Mashgiah of RIETS, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger and the one that struck him was the class for smicha students on the writings of Rabbi Haim Cohen, nicknamed the “The Milkman (Helban).”

Back in 2005, he was described in a Haaretz article listing “The 10 leading kabbalists today are young, charismatic people who feel comfortable on the capitalist playing field. ‘Opium for the masses,’ the 21st-century version.”

Rabbi Haim CohenThe search for new attractions gives rise to a need for new names, more concealed tzaddikim, for those in the know. Rabbi Haim Cohen of Givatayim is such a new name, and he is gathering influence. He is an older man, a simple worker in a factory, without a beard, and he is known as “The Milk Man.” His believers speak of a unique quality in his blessings, and of his healing abilities. He organizes tikkunim and purifies himself in the mikveh (ritual bath). Pedigree: None.

helbanpicture1

In many aspects, he is the wonderworker for the Religious Zionist world. And from the pictures of his audience, he is attaching a wide range of them. His approach is to connect different verses to an esoteric sod. This verse is the secret of that sefirah and gives this power, this verse is the secret of creation from sefer yetzirah, and this verse shows our current task to build the land. He is able to draw forth imperative not explicit in the text such as the whole mission of Mordechai in the Esther story was to rebuild the Temple.

The Helban builds on the writings of his ancestry Rabbi Itamar Cohen of Smyrna’s Midrash Talpiot which offers the same associative method and the same ability to draw conclusions from these association. His thought should not be confused with the grand project of Lurianic exegesis and kavvanot, rather it is of a more popular variety. For his writings and those of his ancestors- see here. If you want to hear his shiur in person- here are the details. Here are weekly audio and visual recordings of his shiurim.

Some of his ideas capture the spirit of segulot. Such as his suggestion to eat Matzah on Rosh Hashanah because matzah has the power of redemption and we can use some of that when we are doing teshuvah. (This should not be confused with the Pri Megadim suggesting to eat matzah the first night of Sukkot because a hekesh).

The Helban receives prognostications, I assume not by tyromancy, that Netanyahu has to bomb Iran now and the Helban offers other unilateral political visions on a regular basis.

helban2

My question is not about the effect of this in Israel, but the effect on Centrist Orthodoxy. If this is the teaching for smicha students then we will start hearing this from the pulpits in about 10-12 years. I am expecting the biggest resistance is going to be from those educated in the 1990’s by Rav Schechter and his students. This world of blessings, inner voices, segulot, sodot, and kabbalah creates a new playing field little in harmony with the language of mesorah, practical halakhah, and polemics. The baby-boomer’s who knew Rav Soloveitchik still hear their teacher saying that Jewish thought has to be done by the trained mind, by the intellectual, by the dialectics of mind and heart, universal and particular, individual and community, grandeur and humility. They will not enter into this discussion. But will the late 30’s and early 40 somethings say this is not our mesorah?

I know many who like the new Haredi Neo-Hasidism and several who love it and were instrumental in bring it to RIETS. Will the new generation be one of Neo-Hasidut from the milkman and the authors discussed here? Blessed Are the Cheesemakers!

Here is some Passover Torah about redemption. There are several good pamphlets of his material online as well as some free volumes of his works. Here is his Yamim Noraim volume. Here are soem chapters of his Devarim volume.

Here is a nice 5 minute example of his shiurim from this past Elul.

Here he is cool enough to sign with Ehud Banai

Go watch and read some of his material and then come back.

8 responses to “The Milkman (Helban) Cometh

  1. I recently came across a haskamah written by ‘the Halban’ for a sefer. The book is a new edition of the Leshem’s “She’arim ve-Hakdamot” with comments, punctuation, and summary captions:
    http://www.kabbalah-sefer.co.il/—–/249——-.html
    (see, in the sample pages, the 3rd page, for his haskamah).
    What you say mention in your post regarding a teaching that emphasizes the mishkan seems relevant, as the editor of the book receiving the haskamah, Menahem Makover, seems to have focused mainly on the beit hamikdash in his other work.

  2. I miss the milkman we used to have drive down our street in his milk-float every morning, too bad these things are not economical anymore so we will just have to do with our higher standard of living.

    I don’t think this is correct:
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B19ZfhqBwHBtblRHM0Q4clh1ckk/edit
    The rav writes that the chesed prior to Adam’s creation is greater than that after his creation.

    It does not seem that Adam would have got much out of this without the chesed of his own creation.

  3. After listening to some of the material it does not seem very radical or exceedingly creative. I’m wondering what the allure is.

    Whatever the case I’m more perplexed by the fear of Rabbi Weinberger’s influence. Is there really an apprehensiveness that some shiurim from Rav Weinberger will change the nature of how YU’s students view yiddishkeit? I think I heard similar concerns voiced elsewhere a year or two ago when some articles were posted about the presence of chabad at YU events and in the beis medrash. (examples: http://crownheights.info/chabad-news/40352/a-closer-look-at-chabad-life-in-yeshiva-university/ and http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2010/12/modern-orthodox-jews-and-lubavitch.html)

    Is this concern really substantiated?

  4. I’m with Isaacson. I listened to several of his shiurim, and they seem rather mediocre and pedestrian to me. As drush they are so so. And it is this that Rabbi Weinberger will be teaching to Semichah students??? I known I an out-of-date baby boomer, but when one compares this OK but rather thin gruel to the rich and meaty shiurim of the Rav or the Maamarim of Rav Hutner, I just don’t get it. Let me make it clear, I am not referring to his segulot and the berakhot, but to the content of his Mahshavah.

  5. I have just started reading the Helban on Bereshit. Based on a few days of reading, I do not think its fair to say that its “rather thin gruel.” To me, it seems like he unpacks cryptic statements of modern Kabbalists like R Kook or the Besht using mostly classical (Zoharic, Ramak, Arizal) sources. It is basic in the sense that it helps you work backwards and see where some of these statements of the “Achronim” are coming from. He also begins with questions that, to me, are more redolent of Modern Orthodox or Dati Leumi parshanut (eg “How can Yaakov love Eisav so much?”) which are more relatable or psychologizing questions on the parsha. The footnotes have helpful excurses for someone beginning to learn kabbalah, eg contrasting the Ramak vs. the Arizal or discussing divergent Kabbalistic shitot to the ones he is explaining. If I were to judge on what I’ve read so far, I’d say that his goal is to get people to engage with the sources more than it is to put forward a single idea or ideology. Its not fair to compare this to R Hutner, who generally writes more in the style of the texts the Helban unpacks and explicates. If anything he wants you to see the seams in a Beshtian statement you might have otherwise just mindlessly repeated. Its a really congenial book and I’d recommend it as a way to ease into Kabbalistic learning and see how Kabbalistic disputes are reprecussive to later authors.

  6. lawrence kaplan

    Josh: I was referring to the audio shiurim I listened to. Perhaps his written material is richer. I’ll give it a try. Thanks for your reaction. I may have been premature in my rather sweeping dismissal.

  7. I think that R Weineberger was brought to RIETS for a wonderful reason-to help talmidim who view Chasidus as a wondererful Hashkafic tool explore the same. Yet, the notion that either Chasidus or Musar can displace Lomdus and breeaking one’s head over a Gemara or Rishon as a means of becoming a Talmid Chacham has always been viewed with skepticism by anyone who has that aim.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s