Revisiting The Pesach Hotel Controversy

It started with this article by Rabbi Jonathon Rosenblum titled Five Star Pesach:
I will never forget an address by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman at an Agudath Israel of America convention on the topic “Living a Life of Ruchnios amidst Gashmius.” I had never before heard Rabbi Wachsman, and I practically jumped out of my seat when he thundered: This topic represents a fundamental mistake. There is no ruchnius amidst gashmius. To the extent that a person is living in the world of gashmius he is removed from ruchnius!

I was reminded of those words recently on a recent trip to Los Angeles, where I had a rare opportunity to speak with a rav whose wisdom has always impressed me. In the course of our conversation, he asked to me, “What would you say is the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit today?” I leaned forward eagerly, confident that he would mention one of my favorite subjects. But I must admit that his answer would not have been on my top ten-list.

“Pesach in hotels,” turned out to be the winning answer. And my friend’s central criticism was similar to that of Rabbi Wachsman: the Pesach hotel industry takes what should be one of the ultimate spiritual experiences of every Jew’s life and encases it in a thick wrapper of materialism. Read the advertisements, he told me: “No gebrochts” right next to “24 hour tea bar;” “Daily daf hayomi” next to “Karate, go-carts, and jeeping for the kids.”

Rabbi Horowitz had his own take on this in The Greatest Threat to Yiddishkeit:

My dear chaver and colleague Reb Yonoson Rosenblum (#204; Five-Star Pesach) describes how he “practically jumped out of his seat,” listening to Rabbi Wachsman “thunder” that there is “no ruchniyus amid gashmiyus.” Well, I practically jumped out of my seat when I read Reb Yonoson’s quote of a Rav who claimed that Pesach programs are “the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit today.”

I do not know which Rav he was referring to, but I will gladly forward my home phone calls and those of Project YES to that Rav for a month. After listening to the terrible and very real challenges that we face individually and communally for thirty days and sleepless nights, I dare say that he may reconsider his thoughts as to what “the greatest threat to Yiddishkeit” is.

Rabbi Rosenblum continued with Pesach Hotels: A Second Look and Rabbi Horowitz published an opposing opinion in Rabbi Horowitz, I Beg to Differ.

Which leads to Azriella Jaffe’s take on the subject in a Yated letter to the Editor:

5/5/08
To: Letter to the Editor, Yated

I felt I needed to respond to the strongly worded sentiments of late that sounds something like: “I-would-never-go-to-a-hotel for Pesach! What is the frum world coming to, that Jews with money pay to escape the workload of preparing for Pesach, and thus, miss the entire spiritual meaning of the holiday?”

Until this Pesach, I was one of those who felt something between envy, disdain, and plenty of negative judgment towards the hotel-Pesach crowd. I’ve done a 180 degree turn, and I hope that Hashem will forgive me for my regrettable, previous inability to give benefit of the doubt. Allow me to explain.

I am an author and speaker on Jewish topics by profession, and I was contacted by the organizer of a Pesach hotel program with this offer: “If you’ll give over workshops/speeches for our attendees on the Shabbos and Yomim Tovim of Pesach, we’d love to have your family join us as well.” Now, I had a dilemma. This was a magnificent opportunity for a professional and family experience we would never have otherwise; how could I turn it down? But I was philosophically against the hotel scene, so what should I do? After consulting with my husband and my Rav, we agreed to give it a try this year. Not only were we all pleasantly surprised, I see the entire scene differently now.

What I didn’t realize until I met, and talked with, numerous guests, is that none of the guests in the hotel that I met were there because they are lazy. They are there with a story. A mother with cancer who can’t possibly make Pesach. A divorced father whose kids are with their mother for Pesach. A Bubbe in her late seventies who realizes that she can no longer handle 27 extended guests in her home for the Yomim Tovim, and they have the financial means to treat the family for a gathering at the hotel instead, so why not? Elderly couples whose married children are now making Sederim with their inlaws. Older singles who don’t want to be spending all of Pesach at relative’s homes who look with pity and disdain at their single status. Houses under renovation, Jews who had some kind of major nisayon this year, (or in some cases, two or three major nisyonos!) and they just “need a break.” Jews who find the shiurim and nightly entertainment particularly uplifting, and they realize that their spirits need an infusion of “spark.”

Yes, the food is delicious, and it’s superb not to have to wash a dish, or scrub the house down before Pesach. It certainly is a vacation. Yes, the Sederim are different when you aren’t in the privacy of your own home, and perhaps not ideal for some families. No question about it – there is truth to the concern that we mustn’t abandon our responsibility to pass along to our children how Pesach, (and all of its relevant mitzvos), is prepared in one’s own home. The hotel scene may not be necessary, appropriate or even enjoyable for many of us. But I urge all of us, as a community, to withhold judgment. I now understand that for many in our community, Pesach in a hotel does not substitute for a spiritual Pesach experience, but rather, it makes a kosher, meaningful Pesach possible.

Originally Published June 2, 2008

20 comments on “Revisiting The Pesach Hotel Controversy

  1. While I still like staying at home for Pesach-there are many programs that do offer great Talmidei Chachamim as scholars in residence. Perhaps, a pshat in Ha Lachma Manya is that we not only have the ability to welcome guests to our homes, but we even have the ability to go where we want for Pesach.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Ellen, who states that the only problem she has with hotel Pesach programs is jealousy, wanting to go but being unable to afford it. I no longer have the kochos I had twenty years ago to scrub down the kitchen, so now the burden falls on my youngest son, who is 19. Although he always helps with a smile, I still feel unhappy about shoving the work on him. Too bad I can’t afford these Pesach programs. I also agree with Rabbi Horowitz, who said he wished he could forward his phone calls for a month to that Rav. Those frantic, anguished phone calls to Rabbi Horowitz are not about the evil of Pesach programs. My guess would be that most of those phone calls are about teenagers abusing alcohol and/or drugs. Probably Rabbi Horowitz’ opinion about the “greatest threat to Yiddishkeit today” would be either the Internet or the easy availability of controlled dangerous substances.

  3. Nobody, at least not I, is arguing that Pesach hotels are necessary for many people (though I pray to Hashem that He give me the ability to make Pesach at home for many more years.It is my favorite Yom Tov.) What people are wondering about is the extreme, extreme, extreme lavishness and gashmiyus that is advertised by most of these venues. Of course they mention the shiurim, etc. But in much bolder font is the atmosphere (not the ruchniyus one) and the food and the exoticness.

  4. Certainly the new BT is learning and looks to others to how to conduct themselves. But there comes a point when we have to also have understanding that people are all different and come close to Hashem in different ways. The Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinaas chinum. By being a little more accepting of other people maybe it will make the Geulah that much closer.

  5. Thank you Ron for that last perspective. We definately need to process this issue with our peers and chachomim, which if done properly most definately will facilitate Geula. This is ahavta l’REI’echa k’mocha: to attend to the ra (brokenness, as in tRuA shofar blasts) in one another so that they can serve to improve (Shofar – shipur) us.

    Nevertheless the concern with whether we’re sitting in judgment is valid. We’ve heard it before and this time of the Sfira is certainly one in which we should be sensitive to it.

    Personally, what I’m trying to add to this discussion is NOT that staying home in itself is any solution (as Bas wonders), but that the escape into polishing up the this-worldly side of things is certainly not.

    Modesty… modesty… modesty… and inner growth.

  6. That goes for everything, reserve judgment, like we have the right.

    And really. Wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to look forward to Pesach?

  7. I had always felt that the making Pesach marathon was the only way to achieve spirituality, particularly as a female, oh whom (I believe)the ability to truly observe this yomtov rests. I’d always experienced a sense of strong satisfaction after I’d sucessfully made it past the erev Pesach wire. And then engineering and carrying through the Sedarim, meals, and chol hamoed activities gave me a peculiar high for having completed the Pesachathalon. I knew that no hotel experience could compete with that feeling (ladies, think labor resulting in delivery of baby).
    But I ain’t getting any younger, and the politicking of which of my married children show up at which set of parents and in-laws (and in the case of my youngest, he had to split up Pesach between both sets of divorced and remarried parents) left a little less than a savory taste in my mouth at Pesach’s conclusion. Today my only objection to Pesach hotels is the cost (which I can’t afford). And if I’m to be truly honest at this stage of my life, any other objection I’d have to Pesach at hotels would stem from one of my character defects, i.e. jealousy.

  8. Bas, a lot of people look around them and see people doing things they never thought of doing. This is especially true of BT’s. They wonder whether this is something they would like to do. Or they are surprised that anyone would ever want to do that.

    They are human, and they react to it. They want to know more. They want guidance from their religion. They want to talk about it with their friends. They want to see what leaders of their community say, because it intrigues them. They write it about it, in newspaper columns and on blogs. They discuss it among their friends. They seek understanding, clarity, resolution, peace.

    This pushes off the arrival of Moshiach? I can’t see how.

  9. I feel it is not for us to sit and judge where people go and what they do. That is the job of only G-d. I see people doing things and spending money on things I don’t but I am different than them. Instead of examining what others are doing and not doing, better I examine my own actions. In order for moshiach to come we need ahavat yisroel and to stop judgeing others so critically. It is a real turn off to me how critical people are to one another.

  10. WADR to R Tauber and his analysis, R Mordechai Kaminetsky recently stated in the Yated that his zeide RYK ZTL viewed with grave suspicion speakers who added onto Chazal’s concepts which either aided or delayed the Messianic era from arriving. One can argue that comments as to the meaning of 9-11 can fall into that realm as well.

  11. One can easily maintain that the key to a meaningful Pesach-both at home and a hotel-is how one spends Yom Tov. If you use your time to enhance your Avodas HaShem with your family, that is all fine and well. OTOH, if you view Yom Tov as a vacation with long days and nights at shul and a seder, then there is no greater Zman Bitul Cherusenu u Toraseinu in either locale. I think that one can enjoy a hotel setting if you know who are the rabbanim and other speakers and at least some other guests. As far as materialism is considered, one can argue that ruchnius need not conflict with enjoying a spiritually enhancing vacation. By comparison, a Yarchei Kallah or a convention of the OU or Agudah, which costs more than a few bucks to attend, has an element of spiritually recharging one’s batteries. Unfortunately, we live in a world where attending even such a worthwhile event is a pretty good reminder that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

  12. “You fail to mention what is to me an important point.
    Where exactly was this hotel located?”

    G’s point is an excellent one. There is a big difference between (1) going to a hotel in a modest area within a couple of hours of home and (2) some of the very exotic locales I have seen advertised in even the frummest magazines. Pesach on the Riviera? In the Carribean? On a cruise ship? The latter strike me as excessive materialism.

  13. And if you stay home for Pesach that makes you wear the crown of ruchnius? I have been to several hotels for pesach attended by very choshuv Rabbanim. The atmosphere was wonderful. When these Rabbonim stop going, then we will have what to discuss. Until then…see ya at Friar Tuck (hopefully moshiach will come and we will all be in Yerushalayim).

  14. not just a “move towards”, Mark, but a plunge into… and then wrapping it with glattkeit.

    Undoubtedly there are needs for many yidden to relatively relax and be provided with a virtual community on Pessach and other holydays. But if the accomodations were only for that, the price and the glitz wouldn’t be half of what it is. THIS is the general malaise that these very substantial Rabbonim are bemoaning: legitimate needs for this-worldly ease are being hijacked as an excuse for indulgence.

    Rabbi Tauber once mentioned that he saw this symbolized in the Twin Tower catstrophe. It was a Sign, he said, of the need for American YIDDISHKEIT to take down their competing towers of gashmius and ruchnius.

    Only one king can wear the crown and it should be ruchnius.

  15. I think one point of those who voiced opposition to the Pesach Hotels was seeing them as symptomatic of a move towards materialism in the frum world.

  16. Chana Leah…I am sure that the tuition committees are don lekaf zechus. I have a friend who Boruch Hashem has a large family, and cannot afford to pay full tuition and has to deal with the tuition committees every year. She often goes away to a hotel for pesach because her in laws want the whole family together. Her in laws pay for the entire family, but wouldn’t pay her kids tuition.
    For a baal teshuva, Pesach can be a very lonely time, and I think going to a hotel is a lovely option, if you can afford it. For those people who loudly proclaim the atrocities of pesach hotels, I hope that they invite plenty of non relatives to their homes, including some BT’s.
    As a side point, the pesach hotel industry provides parnosah to many yidden and to ossur it is taking away their parnosah.
    I say to each his own! If you want to stay home, go for it, but don’t knock what others feel is best for them. If it’s good enough for Pesach Krohn, it’s good enough for me!!!

  17. Interesting points. I just hope the hotel patrons are not asking for tuition breaks. It makes the tuition committees skeptical when dealing with those who couldn’t dream of Pesach in a hotel.

  18. G: Why is this an important point? It was in NJ. You mean, it makes a difference if it’s here in the USA or an out of the country exotic spa kind of experience? This one attracted people from all over the east coast who could meet centrally with family from all over the place.

  19. You fail to mention what is to me an important point.
    Where exactly was this hotel located?

  20. Good for you. The one time that we spent Pesach at a hotel I’d been diagnosed with placenta previa and by being able to avoid the physical exertion of the holiday, I possibly saved my pregnancy. Three cheers for hotel Pesachs!!!

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