Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz
Maggid of Cannabis Chassidis, PopCartoonKabala

The Gadlus and Tragedy of Rabbi Joshua Fishman, B”DE, ZYA

The depth of Torah that is possible
to give over and share, somehow
amidst a profound popular disinterest, cynicism
wound and trauma, unspeakable, literally unfathomable

A way of hearing and a way
of speaking
that lets the depth of the thing
be heard.

R Joshua/Yehoshua/Shea Fishman, BD”E Z”L was the rabbi of Brooklyn’s longest running Orthodox Minyan and Community in my childhood, and guided my education in The Judaism almost entirely for my entire childhood, with supplement by the עדות נאמן of the assorted holocaust survivors and americanshe tough guys, more contentious and serious, unlike the holocaust survivors who were really more both serious and yet playful.

His day job was Head of Torah Umesorah, but to us, who he was left holding space and holding court for and with, as the neighborhood dynamics changed and the non-hasidic orthodox started moving outwards to other places, he continued giving over and thus making accessible mostly the Torah of his rebbe, R Yitchok Hutner Z”L
that he learned at Torah Vodaas and Chevron/Slabotka
through which he gave over
chassidis galore
Because R Hutner loved, heard, pursued, learned and saw
from his rebbe, the Alter of Slobodka
Deep Torah,
deeper than the institutions they inhabitted
worked and strove within
would have had access to, or been interested in digesting or incorporating
into their corporate legalistic gospel
the stories of The rebbe Rev Elimelech of Lzynsk, his brother Zusha, his student The Chozeh
Levi Yitzchak ben Sara Sasha
and even bolder, the Kotzker especially!
as a standard that all honesty and wholeness-with-holiness would be tested towards
even “unfathomably”
on so many things

of implicit and understood Torah
Fundamentally so much about education of the kids, me and us

I remember so viscerally the hope of making a scary Purim moment
a masked creep in a werewolf mask
being stared down, waved down, and then hugged through
The power and glory of a rabbi, at it’s most home

the institutions that demanded him to do
what they did

to be patur from power
and just be a good soldier
of the Agudah
and just settle into neighborhood rabbi
after heading the entire organization
for much of my childhood
the Orthodox Union
Torah Umesorah
all the Day Schools
עד עדי עד

The things they had to be responsible for!
Like the Church
is our Agudah
responsible for all the kids
that they can

My entire childhood,
school as well as summer camp
the depth and range of my Torah education
and immersion
is incalculable
in light of… everything B”H

I had ultimately such a positive experience about the whole thing
treasured the sense of deep encouragement and validation
within and through the holy.

and the connection to find both language and extended care
the depth of the thing
really felt like so much of what R Fishman had to share

In every way, all the time. Really working on and manifesting the work of that first paragraph of the Shma so deeply, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.

On a given shabbos morning
when everyone would just stop davening and Torah reading
just to have the rabbi speak

It would always be with a full heart

when I confronted teachers in Day School later on
just for being awful

he always encouraged my writing

until eventually
he really couldn’t
because the questions were too big
and his answers too angry

He tried to warn me about Shlomo Carlebach
“He’s not such a tzaddik”

I asked what he meant and he wouldn’t say so much more
except that it was in the context of mixed seating at social organizing
in earnest plea that I could just do the shabboses the way we received it from Shlomo
in Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalaim

Rabbi Fishman laughed darkly
he tried so to acknowledge how much the malchus of Torah is always in Yerushalayim
as the head of the whole Orthodox Union at some point
whatever that could possibly mean
remembering being in Chevron

When an apple was something the community could only invest in
for Rosh Chodesh
or if someone was sick

Quoted Rav Kook, arguing for the need to keep the genders separate
I reminded him Rav Kook also opposed Women’s Suffrage
maybe not in the redeemed future

He scoffed, and leaned in
“Shlomo wasn’t so good like you think he was.”

At the time I laughed
we were so used to dismissing Shlomo criticisms as obnoxious piety
but he was right

but why keep it a secret? When there’s so much more Torah in understanding what even gedolim do and have done wrong.

But the problem is the things gedolim are still, actively doing wrong
or just defending those that are from accountability
in the hopes of staving off any change at all


It really is a shame, the general unmediatable atrocity the Agudah stands in front of
and what they ask of
not just good people
but the best people
the biggest tzaddikim, with the best names
to go and tell parents not to submit reports
about what happened to their kids

To carry that on their souls
from this world until the next

R Fishman was such a good Rabbi, that my parents and me really wanted to be religious
and believe that it could help us build a coalition for a better world with the kosher institutions, the ones that had been checked and gone through.

He always supported my family with conflicts in school, accounting for the goodness of our intentions, and in that, like any real tzaddik, he projected his own deep lishma commitment to us all, but alas: he projected it on the institutions that guided him, that he was trained in, served through, and came to be responsible for, in whatever ways possible, and even more tragically, avoided.

The first time I googled Rabbi Fishman, I was stunned
the story was told in ye old blogs of 2004
of how he came to earn the position of President of the OU
what he had to do
which was convince parents to keep quiet
and not go to the courts
about the things that had happened

That was the gig.
Daas Toireh
trust the people above you
they know what you cannot
but even the Alter of Slobodka argues
the power of money, what we live from, our work, our honey-source
is the bribery that takes away our capacity to judge

Rabbi Fishman retired around the same time the internet started to make some of the narratives and accusations more well established
forgetting… details.

Conflicts erupted in the shul in his family’s absence, subsequent rabbis deeply failing us all by their mercenary predation and pure economic hopes, of either just flipping shul property or demanding money for unrealized projects, sometimes from the city of New York rather than from the shul itself, but some from the shul itself. The factories that had helped create him, the yeshivas of Chaim Berlin have turned into dark vulture processings, quietly just staying afloat through inheritance after inheritance. R Hutner is iconic, and deeply recognized as aspirationally connected to a Torah beyond that he could find easily nearby to comfort or discipline himself through. There really was a context where the modeled work was signity, presence and service.

My sister remembers the day he told my dad she should stay out of the men’s side of the sanctuary, and she never wanted to go to shul in America again.

I know how much the good in the heart of the best of the best of the kids in religious schools, growing up hoping and longing and just being to be the best kind of tzaddik anyone ever was, or at least, that I myself could be. I really felt that with and from Rabbi Fishman… until the later years, where he was angrier and quieter. Deeply shamed by his own explosions, at me and I suppose others, the Torah pivoted to the industrial seasonal list of rules, also called Torah, the most arcane in their boring familiarity. Some traditions try to find meaning and resonance in them all, all the time, for the sake of their very purpose… but some prefer the quiet of the big long list, and the urgency which silences all disturbing questions.

The hope of being right with the holy rules
the good hierarchy and the humble truth in surrender to Just the rules themselves
have long been the legalists dream
the lie that that’s what the Torah is for
and not the other thing
“Love your neighbor”
“These are the generations of people”

The best of Rabbis all know this
and the best of us all are crushed under a wrong hearted faith in a rule out of context
like follow orders
keep quiet
it’s better

The best of Rabbis really do try their best to educate and protect us all
I can’t imagine how hard that is
but I wish we were all a little more open to noticing
the kind of compromised our frumkeit is

Our faith in being good soldiers
good workers
to constructed institutions
אלה אלוהך ישראל
is what makes us so easy to control
and use to oversee each other
אשר הוצתך מארץ מצרים

I don’t know how much the Agudah could be different
Or the Church
Or the Police
Or the Militaries
Or the Hospitals
The structures that we serve through
and are served through
schooled and raised
in the good ideology
that’s supposed to make us righteous
enough to feel good about every taste and every sip

It’s a shame
how compromised we are
by what we live from

We are so lucky
to have anywhere to go
to be fed
from concern and wisdom
the whole Torah
and from there
the hope is just that we can listen better to what the kids themselves are saying
and need

Thank you Rabbi Fishman
for sharing so much for so long

Once I complained
about some failure of the system or another
and R Fishman got so mad

“You don’t realize how much good they’re doing
the frum world
how much chesed
how much tzedaka”

And he was always right about that
how could I ever know?
how much actually happens through these machines
the unspeakable, unknowable good
along with the worst of the abuses
covered up and never dealt with
but maybe just moved
and maybe not even

A rebbe at his best
would rather know
than not
in this world or the next.


Rabbi Yehoshua Fishman zt”l

About the Author
Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz a.k.a. Yoseph Leib Ibn Mardachya is the author of "Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs" (Autonomedia press, 2012) an epic devotional study of Cannabis and other ethneogens in Judaism and its heresies throughout history, into super-modernity, in the hopes of passing on a useful counsel with regards to their use beyond "do" or "don't." He is currently working on a book about Pop Cartoon Kabbalah, and alternates between leading services and sermons in Williamsburg Brooklyn at Cong. Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, and living in Israel's Elah Valley.
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