Friday, 7 August 2020

Barach Dayan HaEme

 From RRW 


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ברוך דיין האמת

It is with great sadness that we must inform you of the passing of Rav Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz zt"l.

The impact that Rabbi Steinsaltz had in spreading limmud Torah, enhancing the understanding of our texts and religion, bringing Jews closer to their God and to their faith, cannot be overstated.

Rabbi Steinsaltz's translations and commentaries of Tanakh, Mishna, Gemara, Rambam, and Tanya placed as perhaps the most prolific commentator of Jewish texts in history, drawing comparison to Rashi.  His countless other works on Jewish thought, Hassidut, philosophy, parshanut, and more have touched the souls of thousands and have already taken their place among the core texts of modern Jewish thought.

We are proud to have been partners with and inspired by, this most humble of talmidei hahamim and hope to continue sharing his vast wisdom with the world.

May the Almighty comfort his family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 7

Please see
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 1

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 2

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 3
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 4

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 5
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 6

It has been some time since I last wrote a post within this series and there are two reasons for this. One is that I basically said what I needed to say in regard to this issue. The second is that I became more concerned with another issue within society -- especially American society -- and that was the hostility within their political system. In certain ways, what I presented in regard to weaknesses within the responses to Covid were even further highlighted within the present realm of American politics. There is no thoughtful discussion. It is one group yelling 'I'm right and you're wrong' and the other yelling the same thing. At a time when thought should dominate, reason is so absent in many places within our present world. This was a major theme in regard to my Corona posts. It has now become, for too many, the normative response to almost everything in our world.

This has actually now taken me back to Covid. Our response to this pandemic should be the issue and the objective should be how best to deal with this difficult issue on its many different levels. As we have stated -- the issue is most complex and touches upon various medical, psychological and financial concerns. The further problem is that Corona seems to be -- again, for too many -- just part of another agenda. The American Presidential Election seems to have taken centre stage. The reporting on Corona and the directives concerning Corona seems -- to a, sadly, large extent -- to have more to do with what will best serve to ensure the desired election result than what is the best response to Corona.

This is not to say that the actual experts involved in dealing with Corona are so obviously biased in their responses. With such a complex issue as Corona, we should expect to find divergence in learned opinion. The problem I am addressing actually occurs on the next level -- how people respond to such legitimate divergence in thought. Do you see people honestly presenting both views on a matter? Do you see people being honest about how their choice of the opinion to follow actually reflects agendas in other regards? Of course not, for actually showing the complexity of the matter would only impact negatively on the desired agenda. This agenda is served by presenting the solution simply and without issue.

The result is then conflict. We are not talking about debate, even heated debate. In the honest voicing of disagreement, divergent views are at least presented and, as such, all positions become subject to analysis, critique and evaluation. What we are experiencing today, though, is the dominance of presentations of one viewpoint as the only legitimate position; an advocate of a different perspective is only mocked. There is little if any desire, let alone opportunity, for dialogue and discussion. The result is, therefore, a development of conflict, even hostility. This may not be because those, on this level, maintaining these positions necessarily have the associated agendas. It is because the ones with these agendas are able to voice these underlying views as if they are the only legitimate opinions -- and this is what is passed on. This conflict actually serves their desired goals better. The response to Covid is complex but an agenda is simple -- and it just has to be sold. The one hearing only one side of an issue is an easy person to bring on board. A hostility toward the divergent view actually serves the agenda because it will hinder dialogue and the chance to think which could lead someone to reject the agenda.

The events within the book of  Bamidbar actually reflect this teaching about how the avoidance of dialogue can be used to further negative agendas and how such dialogue, alternatively, can be applied to reach the greater good. The spies and Korach's people not only voiced their agenda but they wanted to prevent any further dialogue and consideration of the issues. This is because their goal was solely their agenda with no consideration of the further issues. In distinction, the cases of the B'not Tzelaphchad and the tribes of Reuvain and Gad actually initiated discussion. This is because, while there were certain positions which were being advocated, a consideration of the broader issues and the greater good was also present. The outcome yielding the achieved conclusion was thus the result of discussion. Thought triumphed agenda. More so, agenda positively transformed into the greater good reflecting the true Will of God through this discussion and thought. (In the case of Reuvain and Gad, this would seem to be clear within the text itself. In the case of the B'not Tzelaphchad, this is, perhaps, more obvious within the midrashic literature on the matter.) Agendas can yield conflict because such distancing from honest dialogue serves agendas. Thought, however, demands true dialogue yielding a real consideration of what is best. This must be our goal.

This would now seem to be a further problem in our world today in regard to Covid. It is being used to serve other agendas and, thus, the issue is not being addressed with a true consideration of its depth but in the light of these other agendas. Conflicts, as such, which may arise in our lives due to Covid may have some legitimacy but they would then be recongnized as really demanding of us, for the betterment of all, to recognize the need for further dialogue and investigation of the issue. We are now, though, encountering conflicts whose sole purpose is to foster conflct and avoid such discussion, We must be truly careful of an outside agenda furthering its goal of hostility to serve its objective.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday, 3 August 2020

Meaning of Yad in "Yad Va-Shem"

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
The Meaning of יד in “Yad Va-Shem
The name of this Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem comes from Isaiah 56:7. Here is the first part of this verse: “Ve-natati lahem be-veiti u-ve-chomotai yad va-shem…” A standard translation for “yad va-shem” here is: “a monument and a memorial.” Why is יד being translated this way?
The explanation is that יד seems to have the meaning of “monument” in two other places in Tanach: at 1 Sam. 15:12 and 2 Sam. 18:18.
The context at 1 Sam. 15:12 is that Saul had just defeated Amalek. Verse 12 reads: “Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning; and it was told to Samuel, saying: Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he is setting up for himself a monument…” The monument was surely to commemorate his recent victory over Amalek. The Hebrew for the last phrase is: “ve-hineh metziv lo yad.
(What follows shortly thereafter in verse 14 is Samuel’s famous rebuke of Saul: “u-meh kol ha-tzon ha-zeh….” Many have observed that the “meh”of “u-meh” was likely meant to sound like the sound of sheep!)
The context at 2 Sam. 18:18 is the killing of Absalom and that a heap of stones was built over his dead body. (Soncino comments: “as a monument of shame over the rebel’s grave.”) We are then told, in a contrast, that Absalom had in his lifetime set up a מצבת (=monument), because he had no sons. The verse continues “va-yikra la-matzevet al shemo, va-yikarei lah yad Avshalom ad ha-yom ha-zeh” (=it is called Avshalom’s monument until this day”).
As to why the word יד expanded to mean “monument,” this is difficult. It has been suggested that monuments in ancient Israel originally had the shape of a raised hand (i.e., the upper part of the monument is rounded), with evidence attempted to be brought for this from the cities of Hazor and Gezer. Alternatively, the term might have originated with monuments depicting hands, such as one found in Hazor. For further details, see the article by M. Delcor, in Journal of Semitic Studies 12 (1967), pp. 230-34. See also the Soncino comm. to Isa. 56:5. I also have one more suggestion which I will make a few paragraphs below. (Note also that the cognates to יד in the other Semitic languages do not have the “monument” meaning.)
Going back to Isaiah 56:5, the context here is also of interest. The “yad va-shem” that God is giving is addressed to the “sarisim” (=eunuchs) who kept the commandments and presumably did a lot of good deeds, but had no children. God promises to establish them a “yad va-shem” which is “better than sons and daughters.” As the Daat Mikra commentary points out, probably it was a big זכות for them that the memorial would be in God’s Temple and walls.
(Perhaps the “yad va-shem” term from verse 56:5 was also thought to be appropriate for the Holocaust Remembrance Center because many of the people murdered in the Holocaust had no children.)
(I translated “yad va-shem” above as “a monument and a memorial.” This is how the phrase at Isa. 56:5 is translated in the 1917 Jewish Publication Society of America translation. The implication of this translation is that the two nouns have similar meanings. Others suggest that “yad” refers to a physical structure and “shem” refers to oral praise. Another suggestion is that “yad va-shem” means a “yad” that serves as a “shem.” For the various views, see, e.g., the Daat Mikra comm. on the verse.)
There is another interesting use of the word יד at Deut. 23:13. The context here is the holiness of the military camp. At verse 14, we are told to have a יתד to use to dig and cover up our excrement. Verse 13 tells us what to do when we have to urinate in the military camp: “ve-yad tihiyeh lecha mi-chutz la-machaneh, ve-yatzahta shamah chutz.” (This is the view of Daat Mikra. But it may be a reference to both bodily functions.)
“Ve-yatzahta shamah chutz” is such innocuous language, I never realized it was alluding to relieving oneself! (R. Hirsch translated: “thither shalt thou go out.” The ArtScroll Stone has “to there you shall go out, outside.” At least The Living Torah of R. Aryeh Kaplan uses the word “lavatory” in its translation.)
But what is the meaning of “yad” in the first phrase: “you shall have a “yad” for yourself”? The meaning from the context is “place.” But how did it get his meaning? One view is that “yad” here means “sign,” the implication being a sign pointing to a place, and the further implication perhaps being a “designated place.” (See, e.g., Targum Onkelos.) But the view I prefer is that “yad” here is shorthand for “makom al yad”= a place on the side. See, e.g., Brown-Driver-Briggs, p. 390, and Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 5, p. 402. In many places in Tanach, “yad,” “al yad,” and “el yad” are used to mean “side.” See, e.g., Ex. 2:5, Psalms 140:6, Prov. 8:3, and 1 Sam. 4:13 and 4:18.
Now that we are reminded that “yad” sometimes means “side,” I will offer the suggestion that in the case of monuments, perhaps they were originally placed on the “side” of the objects they were commemorating. Hence, “yad” came to be a term for a monument.
There is a famous kibbutz in Israel near Gaza called “Yad Mordechai.” (I wrote about it previously.) It fought valiantly during the War of Independence and its tenacious defensive fighting for six days was able to significantly delay the Egyptian invasion. If not for that delay, the Egyptian army could have quickly reached Tel Aviv. The “Yad Mordechai” kibbutz was founded by two groups from Poland and named for Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. He fell in a battle in May 1943. The meaning of the name of the kibbutz is “A Memorial to Mordechai.” (The kibbutz first started near Netanyah, with a different name.)
Margaret Larkin wrote a book in English about the kibbutz and its role in the War of Independence. The book is titled: “The Six Days of Yad-Mordechai.” As seen from page 50 of the book, she understood the meaning of the name, “Monument to Mordechai.” But if you look online, sometimes the book is erroneously called “Hand of Mordechai”!
Mitchell First can be reached at For more of his articles, please visit his website at He hopes there will be an interesting monument at his grave. Perhaps it can be called “Yad Rishon.”

Sunday, 2 August 2020

How can the Rambam's Eighth Principle of Jewish Faith be believed in light of Hazal? - Mi Yodeya

From RRW

R' Yaakov Weinberg, in an audio recording, addressed this issue (as an issue with the ani maamin, which R' Weinberg, like you, rejected), and he explained that the point of the Rambam is not to say that the specific texts which we have now are identical to the one transmitted to Moshe. Rather, the point of the Rambam is to say that Moshe was a faithful transmitter of the Torah, and did not err nor alter the Torah as it was told to him. Thus the Rambam writes:
כלומר שהגיע אליו כולה מאת ה' הגעה שקורין אותה על דרך השאלה דבור
Which means to say that the entire Torah reached Moshe from Hashem on a level which we call "speech"
and the Rambam's proof text for this Yesod is
בזאת תדעון כי ה' שלחני וכו ולא מלבי
With this (the earth swallowing Adas Korach) you shall know that Hashem has sent me ... and I did not make it up
In other words, the source text is a verse stating that Moshe did not make up the Torah. The point of this Yesod is the accuracy of Moshe's transmission

IIRC Professor MS Feldblum A"H said something similar...

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Sinat Chinum - Purposeless Hatred

Originally posted July 7, 2010

We are told that the churban Bayit Sheni, the destruction of the Second Temple, was a result of sinat chinum. But what does this term mean?
Most define it in the realm of "cause", focusing on a negative cause for hatred -- which is then expanded by many individuals to include any reason for hatred.
Is it true that there are no possible acceptable or even good reasons to hate? More significantly, though, is one able to control this emotional response of hatred?

Reviewing the sources seeming about the concept of sinat chinum brings someone into the general halachic discussion on hatred in general.  This discussion focuses on how one should deal with this emotion, and what is the correct effect of hatred, not on hatred's cause. In this light, the term sinat chinum may not really be describing anarchy in the causes of hatred but rather anarchy in the effects of hatred.

Further on this subject, I invite you to read a further discussion of this issue in Nishma Insight 5757-22,23: Defining Sinat Chinum on the Nishma website.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Nishma-Parshah: Tisha B'Av

Take a look at what's on
for Tisha B'Av

  Sinat Chinum - Purposeless Hatred

Haftara of Tisha b'Av - Hacham, Gibbor, Ashir

Liturgical Parallels between Tisha B'Av and Purim

JVO Blog: National Despair

Monday, 27 July 2020

Eichah: Hashiveinu, Ma'os M'astanu, Hashiveinu

Originally published 8/19/11, 10:14 am.
The 2 final p'sukkim of Eichah [Lamentations] are very interesting as we read it.

[Tr: Young's Literal]

5:21 Turn us back, O J-HV-H, unto Thee, And we turn back, renew our days as of old.
5:22 For hast Thou utterly rejected us? Thou hast been wroth against us -- exceedingly?
5:21 Turn us back, O J-HV-H, unto Thee, And we turn back, renew our days as of old.

We ask Hashem to return us after he has found us disgusting - Because the last verse may actually be read as a declarative, namely:

5:22 For Thou hast utterly rejected us! Thou hast been wroth against us -- exceedingly!


How does this work?

There are two grounds to divorce a wife, because either

A. She has been "unfaithful"
B. Her Husband finds her unattractive or repulsive.

In the first case Halachah REQUIRES a divorce. Reconciliation and Remarriage are assur
In the second case, the husband may change his mind.

Thus Yirmiyahu points out that we've been rejected as disgusting but not as unfaithful, thus we plead to Hashem to be Returned to Favor

Hebrew Text Below

כא השיבנו ה אליך ונשוב (ונשובה), חדש ימינו כקדם.

כב כי אם-מאס מאסתנו, קצפת עלינו עד-מאד


Rav Kook: "Your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah."

 originally posted July 26. 2012

Tisha B'Av: The Poel Mizrachi Kitchen

Things were not looking good for Avraham Mavrach. It was already the first of the month of Av, and the secretary would not let him present his urgent question to the Chief Rabbinate. The rabbis were in an important meeting, the secretary explained, and could not be disturbed.

The Kosher Kitchen
Mr. Avraham Mavrach was a founding member of the Poel Mizrachi, established in 1922 for religious pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. One of the most important decisions made during the first assembly of the Poel Mizrachi was to open kosher kitchens for new immigrants and workers. This was necessary since the religious workers could not eat in the Histadrut kitchens, where non-kosher food was served and the Sabbath was desecrated. As Avraham later described in the Hatzofeh newspaper:
<Indent this>
The religious pioneers suffered greatly. They could not afford to eat in a restaurant and enjoy a hot meal, and on Shabbat they missed the Jewish milieu and an atmosphere of holiness. Therefore we established the kitchens of the Poel Mizrachi to provide the religious workers with inexpensive and tasty meals, and also to serve as a social center. The workers would read, hold meetings, discuss, attend classes and lectures. They organized Torah classes in the evenings, and they would dance on joyous occasions. The kitchens were filled with singing; especially on Shabbat and the holidays, they sang the zemirot with holy yearnings and great emotion. It is not surprising that these kosher kitchens also attracted many non-religious workers.
Although the food was sold at cost, not all of the diners could afford to eat everything on the limited menu. However, the meat portions and soups were a necessary staple for the hungry manual laborers.

The Problem of the Nine Days
It was regarding these meat meals that a serious problem arose. During the Nine Days of Av, eating meat is prohibited due to national mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The administrators of the Jerusalem branch of the Poel Mizrachi met to find an alternative for the meat meals, especially for the manual laborers. Unfortunately, they were unable to think of an appropriate substitute. Some of them despaired. 'Why should we assume responsibility for this?' Lacking a better alternative, they wanted to close down the kitchen for the duration of the Nine Days.

One member, however, refused to give up - Avraham Mavrach. He suggested turning to the Chief Rabbinate; perhaps the rabbis would find a leniency that would permit the new customers to eat meat so that they would not go back to eating in the non-kosher kitchens. The other members laughed at this suggestion. "Do you really think that the Rabbinate will agree to the slaughter of sheep and oxen during the Nine Days in the holy city of Jerusalem?"

In fact, no one was even willing to accompany Avraham to the Chief Rabbinate. So, on the first of Av, he went alone. The Rabbinate secretary, however, refused to let him interrupt the meeting in order to speak with the rabbis.

"But it is an urgent question," Avraham explained. "I come as a representative of the Poel Mizrachi." At Avraham's insistence, Rabbi Samuel Weber, chief secretary of the Rabbinate, came out of the meeting and listened to the problem. Rabbi Weber suggested arranging for the completion of a Talmudic tractate every day, and then serving meat at the se'udat mitzvah (a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a mitzvah). Avraham responded that such an arrangement would be nearly impossible to implement.

Rabbi Weber then disappeared into the Rabbinate chambers. After a few minutes, he beckoned Avraham to follow.

Rav Kook's Decision
As he entered, Avraham saw Rav Kook at the head of the table, with Rabbi Yaakov Meir to his right and other prominent rabbis seated around the table. Rav Kook asked Avraham to approach the table. Avraham stood before the rabbis and explained the purpose of the kitchen, describing the great benefit it provided to the members of the Poel Mizrachi and the workers who remained faithful to their heritage. "I am aware of the importance of the kitchen," Rav Kook responded. He then sank into deep thought. The other rabbis waited in silence for Rav Kook's decision.

Rav Kook turned to Avraham. "Do you think that some of the workers who eat there will end up going to a non-kosher kitchen?"

"Yes," Avraham responded. "They ate there beforehand."

"If that is the case," Rav Kook pronounced, "your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah. 'Let the humble eat and be satisfied' (Ps. 27:22)."

Astounded, Avraham remained frozen to his spot. Rav Kook smiled. "Do you have another question?" Avraham replied that he was uncertain about the Rav's decision. Did this mean that everyone could eat meat there? Rav Kook repeated his words, and explained that everyone - even those who would not be tempted to eat at a non-kosher kitchen - could eat meat in the kitchen because it would be serving a se'udat mitzvah. Despite his amazement, Avraham managed to steal a glance at the other rabbis in the room. It seemed that they, too, were surprised by the Rav's decision, but they raised no objections.

Se'udat Mitzvah for All
Rabbi Zvi Kaplan wrote an article analyzing this unusual Halachic decision at length. For those workers who would have eaten in the non-kosher kitchen, it is clearly preferable that they disregard the custom of not eating meat during the Nine Days rather than violate the Biblical prohibition against eating non-kosher food. But how could Rav Kook permit meat to those who would not have eaten non-kosher food?

Rabbi Kaplan noted that at a se'udat mitzvah during the Nine Days, permission to eat meat is granted not only for those performing the mitzvah (such as a brit milah or completing a tractate of Talmud), but for all who are present. Every Jew is responsible to make sure another Jew eats kosher food. A meal that accomplishes this goal certainly qualifies as a se'udat mitzvah. The simple meals provided by the Poel Mizrachi kitchen in those years saved many Jews from eating non-kosher meals. Rav Kook therefore was able to permit all present to eat, since, as he explained, "your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah."

(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah, pp. 539-543.)

Shalom and Regards,