Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Lo Bashamayim Hee

Originally published 5/27/08, 12:37 AM.
Some give and take on Avodah:
First Cantor Wolberg:

The Sages relate that the angels complained to Hashem when He chose to share His precious
Torah with His people. They argued, "Your glory (Your Torah) should remain among the Heavenly beings. They are holy and Your Torah is holy, they are pure and Your Torah is pure and they are everlasting and Your Torah is also." One of the answers to that is three words from the Torah: "Lo bashamayim hee".

However, Midrash Shochar Tov 8 says that Hashem responded that the Torah could not remain amongst them because they are perfect spiritual beings with no mortality, impurity or illness. Hashem's true glory would ultimately come from man plagued by impurity and mortality.


Then Yours Truly:

Hazal wanted us to know that once the Torah left the heavens it would no longer remain the pristine Perfect Handiwork of HKBH, but would henceforth be managed and interpreted by error-prone humans. Nevertheless - despite the loss of innocence for the Torah - this step was necessary. The time had come for the innocent Torah to mix it up with the mortals and to help us even if if would not remain in its original state.

> RabbiRichWolpoe@Gmail.com

Now for Michael Markovi:
A much-expanded version of a previous post of mine to this thread, regarding my...err...radical view of TSBP:

Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner makes a large point of this, saying that the truth of Torah She'be'al'pe is not what Hashem says but what we say (Rabbi Eliezer and the oven), in line with Drashot haRan #5 on theoven and Sefer haChinuch on the mitzvah of following the judges, that
we follow our rabbis even when they're wrong.

See also Rabbi Gil Student's "Halachic Responses To Scientific Developments"
citation of Yad Yehuda 30:3, quoting Rambam Hilkhot Shekhita 10:12-13, that we cannot question Chazal's decisions regarding which animals are treifa, because all we have is Chazal's decisions, and they are sealed.

According to Rambam, drashot can be overturned by a later Sanhedrin.

In fact, Rabbi Glasner, quoting the Midrash Shmuel on Avot, "aseh sayag laTorah", says that the Oral Law was oral davka to make it flexible and subject to change. This explains the Gemara's apocalyptic permission to write the Oral Law, viz "eit la'asot lashem"; by writing the Oral Law, to save it, a vital piece of it was destroyed, part of its raison d'etre in fact! Because once a piece of the Oral Law was written, it became authoritative, and no longer subject to change and
evolution as was previously the case.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (who received semicha from Rabbi Glasner's son, Rabbi Akiva Glasner) expands extensively on this point, that the writing of the Mishna, Gemara, and the Codes successively ossified the halacha in a way that the Oral Law was never meant to be, making us Karaites of the Oral Law.

See Rabbi Glasner's hakdamah to his Dor Revi'i, perush on Chullin. It is partially translated by Rabbi Yaakov Elman at
See also the biography by David Glasner at
As for Rabbi Berkovits, he makes his points in a variety of locations, including Not in Heaven: The Nature and Function of Halakha (aimed at secularly-educated scholars), Halakha: Kocha v'Tafkida (aimed at rabbinical scholars), Towards Historic Judaism, and Crisis and Faith.

Rabbi Glasner simply takes this entire philosophy a bit further than most. Likewise Rabbi Berkovits on Moshe seeing Rabbi Akiva's class and not understanding and learning from this that Torah does evolve overtime; both are more extreme than most, but the gist of what they say is quite normative, as far as it seems to me. In fact, once we say that

1) halachot could be forgotten and had to be recovered by humans, 2) many drashot were in fact used by humans to actually derive the law(often **but not always** they were asmachtot for laws already knownas kabbalot)

(See, for example, Dynamics of Dispute by Rabbi Zvi Lampel, "Interpretation" by Menachem Elon in Encyclopedia Judaica, Rabbi Isidore Epstein's introduction to the Soncino Midrash Rabbah, Rabbi Gil Student "Midrash Halakha" at

we are admitting the human element of many halachot, and we can no longer say it is purely m'Sinai as most say Torah She'be'al Pe is, and we are forced, as it seems to me, to adopt some sort of opinion similar if not as extreme as those of Rabbis Glasner and Berkovits, as least as far as theory goes (Rabbi Berkovits's actualization of this philosophy is a matter for a separate debate.)

Therefore, for example, we ought to realize that an Amora's explanation of a Tanna may be his own personal thoughts, similar to any rav's understanding today of the intent of a prior authority. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his Essential Talmud remarks on the peculiar Talmudic method of okimta, remarking that it aspires not for historicity, but rather, it attempts to make as many pieces of evidence agree as much as it possible.

There is thus no guarantee that a creative drasha is the correct intent of Torah, nor is there any guarantee that an Amora correctly understood a Tanna - see Tosafot Yom Tov Nazir 5:5 for permission to permit mishna differently than the Gemara.

Evidently, the Shadal (Shmuel David Luzzatto) held similarly to this whole line of thought, that Chazal's drashot on mikra are not necessarily "correct". See Shmuel Vargon's "Samuel David Luzzatto's Critique of Rabbinic Exegesis Which Contradicts the Plain Meaning of Scripture",
(note: my Hebrew is
insufficient to have read this article yet, so I am relying on the abstract).

Rabbi David Bigman, rosh hayeshiva of Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa (on Har haGilboa in the Jezre'el), for example, advocates critical Talmud study, asking, for example, what the Tanna meant independent what the Amora thought he meant; what different codifications of Oral Law say (Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, etc.), each in their own light. See his "Finding a Home for Critical Talmud Study",

The Kuzari in 3:41 opines that the omer could be brought on any date chosen by Chazal, and it was Chazal who chose the second day of Pesach. If so, then it means the contrary opinions of the Tzadukim (that it was to fall on Sunday, as the literal mikra indicates) is wrong only insofar as it goes against the binding ruling of Chazal, and not because it was an invalid drasha. It seems to me that perhaps alternatively, we simply don't listen to Tzadukim even if they are correct; there is a story in the Gemara of one rabbi being put to death, and he realized it was because he once found a drasha of a min to be pleasing; even though the drasha was valid, he still should have ignored it. In any case, we can extrapolate that in general, freedom of midrash is restricted more by Chazal's binding decisions than any claim of theirs to being the only correct opinion.
I thank Rabbi Yaakov Elman of Yeshiva University for providing me with sources (most notably, he introduced me to Rabbi Glasner when I mentioned Rabbi Berkovits), as well as having extensive discussion with me on their implications. It should be noted, however, that this philosophy is still a work in progress by me, especially as I continue to learn more Chumash, Gemara, and Halacha. It should also be noted that any errors are mine, not Rabbi Elman's, as he has already pointed out certain errors in my thinking, and no doubt there are still more to be found.

Mikh'el Makovi

Monday, 26 May 2008

Parsha: Sh'mini - Olam Chesed Yiboneh

Another D'var Torah from Cantor Wolberg
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

There's a verse in Parshat Shemini (Lev. 11:13) which states: "These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten; they are an abomination..." In other words, fowl that are cruel are not eligible to be kosher. One will not always find cruel fowl necessarily exercising cruelty (we see this in the human species as well). It would therefore have been impractical and impossible to have positively identified a specific bird as being unfit. Therefore, the Torah must list all the fowl that are unsuitable for eating.

There is an overriding concept in the laws of kashruth that the characteristics of what we eat somehow have a great influence on the way we behave. The old saying: "You are what you eat." We do not want to associate ourselves for instance with cruelty, therefore we are forbidden to eat cruel animals, and in this case, some species of fowl. Among the fowl that are listed as being non kosher is the chasidah, the white stork. You may ask what cruel character trait does the stork possess. Rashi mentions that the reason it is called a "chasidah" is because it does chesed only with its friends regarding the food it finds. On the surface this seems strange. If the stork acts kindly with its food, why is it disqualified as being kosher?

A beautiful explanation to this difficulty has been given by the Chidushei Harim, in which he explains the nature of the stork. He says that the fact the stork only shows its kindness with its friends defines its cruelty. A fowl who is not in the circle of the stork's good buddies is excluded from getting any help from the stork in finding food. In other words, the stork is very selective in its kindness. This type of kindness is misleading. We, as Jews, are commanded even to help our foes. If we come across someone we dislike intensely who needs help, we are commanded to help. The stork, on the other hand, helps only his inner circle of friends. It is this character trait of differentiating between close friends and others when it comes to providing food that makes the stork non-kosher.

Chesed means reaching out altruistically, with love and generosity to all. The process of maturing involves developing our sense of caring for others. This is crucial for spiritual health. The Talmud likens someone who doesn't give to others as the "walking dead." A non-giving soul is malnourished and withered. It is only through unconditional love that our successful future will be built. In the words of King David (Psalm 89:3): Olam chesed yiboneh - "the world is built on kindness." The more this kindness dissipates and degenerates, the more danger of the foundation collapsing.


Saturday, 24 May 2008

A Friend Returns-- A True Story

Originally published 5/24/08, 10:44 PM.

I eceived this e-mail on the Internet and it has been reported as true. It is VERY touching,
Am Yisroel Chai By Rabbi Baruch Lederman
The gabbai's eyes moved rapidly across the familiar faces of the men packed into shul on this sunny shabbos morning. Shloime Kaufman, the gabbai, the grandfather of a beautiful, Torah-observant family, had been going through this routine for the past twenty years, looking out over the congregation and glancing, face by face, at his many friends and neighbours.
Mr. Kaufman scanned the rows of men as the Torah was removed from the ark. His eyes rested upon an unfamiliar face, a man about his own age with a short grey beard. He hadn't seen him in shul before. But there was something very familiar about this face. Suddenly, the man's features and expression jarred loose a powerful flash of recognition in Mr. Kaufman's mind.

It was Menachem Reiner, his closest childhood friend. It was Menachem, the boy with whom he had grown up in their small Polish shtetl, with whom he had attended yeshivah in Bialystock. It was Menachem, the young man to whom he had clung, and who had clung to him, as they began their cattle-car journey into the fearsome blackness of Auschwitz They had promised each other to stick together, they had given each other courage and hope. Bearing the numbers the Nazis had tattooed on their arms, they had found in each other the strength to hold onto their humanity and resist becoming only numbers. They had vowed to help each other survive, both in body and soul. And they did survive, Boruch Hashem.

But when the war ended, each went his own way, eager to begin anew. Menachem had settled in Israel , and Shloime Kaufman had obtained a visa for America . That was forty-two years ago. Now, with unbelieving eyes and trembling hands, Mr. Kaufman beheld the unmistakable face of his friend once again. Shlomie decided in his mind: Menachem Reiner would get the sixth aliyah. As the Torah reading began, the gabbai felt as if his heart could not be contained in his chest. He wanted to leap across the rows of men and fall upon his friend in a mighty embrace. 'This must be how Yosef felt when he finally saw his brother Binyamin,' he thought to himself. 'All these years!'
Nevertheless, he clamped a tight lid on his emotions and performed his duty, calling up each aliyah with the traditional chant of 'Ya'amod' followed by the honoree's Hebrew name. By the fifth aliyah, however, beads of sweat were sparkling on his forehead and tears were welling up in his eyes. He prayed that when the time came to call up number six, his voice would be able to break free of his tight throat.

There was no need to ask Menachem his name because he could never forget Menachem ben Yehoshua. For the first time, he began to wonder how would Menachem react when they came face to face?

It was time to call him up, but Mr. Kaufman could not open his mouth. The congregation began murmuring and looking toward Mr. Kaufman, fearing that the pale, trembling man was becoming ill. Mr. Kaufman turned in the direction of his friend and at last found his voice. 'Yaamod, 57200148!' he called.

The baffled men in the shul did not understand what had happened. What was this number? What had become of Mr. Kaufman? But in the back of the room, one man understood completely. The number was Menachem's number, tattooed on his arm as a lifetime reminder of the darkest period of Jewish history.

Menachem moved slowly toward the bimah. Finally, as they saw him approaching his long-lost brother, they understood the scene that was unfolding in front of them. Menachem needed no introduction. With tears coursing down his face, he cried out, 'Shloimele! Shloimele! Is it really you?'

'Yes, Menachem, it's really me!' Mr. Kaufman answered, embracing his friend. They wept into each other's shoulders, rocking gently. 'Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay,' Mr. Kaufman breathed. Words were powerless to carry his chaotic emotions.

As these two men stood together it seemed that the Heavens had opened up to declare, through them, that Hashem would never forsake His people. Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish nation is alive, and Torah has been rebuilt in America. The Holocaust survivors who came to America planted the seeds, and it is up to us to reap the fruits of their labour and continue their legacy.

NB: The foregoing is documented in Stories for the Jewish Heart by Binyomin Pruzansky)

Friday, 23 May 2008

Autonomy in Authority - The Choice of Rabbi

Originally published 5/23/08, 6:50 PM.

Of course, to an extent, many societies elected dictators or even leaders with less power. E.G. the king of Poland used to be elected by the nobles who formed an "electoral college" of sorts.

But there is another issue. Autonomy as to when to consult an Authority! That is to say, when you choose to ask the Rabbi is also a factor in p'sak.

I had a lively debate with a member of Breuer's about this. I said that ultimately, everybody is their own posiek because they pick and choose when to consult the Rav and when to just look into the issue on their own. Sometimes consulting a Kitzur or Mishna Brurah represents a choice of which authority to choose instead of the Rabbi

Recently at a nursing home Minyan, I had to tell a fellow with Yahrzeit that a Shiva trumps Yahrzeit and we had a "Shiva" person there. The rather learned fellow did not accept my p'sak so readily but he did give in when I showed him the Kitzur SA on point. Baruch Hashem, we were able to split into two minyanim and make even King Solomon happy.

Good Shabbos

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Conversion "Crisis"

Originally published 5/22/08.
As anyone who has studied the laws of conversion knows, the topic is most complicated. It is understandable why there are many different understandings of the theory behind these laws and, as such, the many disagreements within Halacha in regard to halacha l'ma'aseh. The present "crisis" in Israel in regard to conversion, that is halachic conversion, based on differing opinions, i.e. machloket, is thus most distressing.
The issue is not gerut per se. The issue is how we respond to legitimate machloket in Halacha and the proper response to a psak with which one may disagree or, more correctly in this case, since gerut, conversion, is a decision of a beis din, to a din Torah of another beis din with which one may disagree. This is its own area of the Halacha and needs to be further elucidated. Suffice it to say, in general terms, that a decision of a beis din has its own weight and demands its one respect. It is this issue that really is the issue, not gerut.

After saying all this, though, and recognizing that anyone who has studied the laws of conversion and the laws regarding the authority of beis din must recognize all this, a need does emerge to truly explain what is going on in this matter of conversion. Beyond the question of the authority of a beis din in general, in the case of conversion there actually seems to be great leeway given to a beis din, specifically, at least, in regard to the post facto acceptance of a beis din's decision. So the question, even more so, is what is really going on?

Conversion ultimately would seems to be a policy decision of a beis din. It is the beis din who converts someone and while there are some technical demands that are made upon a potential convert, some of which if not met does prevent a beis din from converting someone even if the beis din wants to convert this person, it is really the beis din that makes the decision of whether it wants to convert a person or not. This is, ultimately, a policy decision as it reflects the theory of a beis din on how to respond to the various reasons why someone may wish to convert, especially in this modern world. I believe that this is really the point of essential difference in how people are responding to the present conversion situation.

The question is the value of non-Halachic Jewishness. Someone wishes to become a Jew, truly identifying with the Jewish People and, in the words of Rabbi Soloveitchik, truly committed to the fate of the Jewish People --- but this person does not wish to follow Halacha. His or her understanding of the essence of the spirit of our people is vastly different than the Halacha envisions, not based on Torah mi Sinai, which is, sadly, the prevalent reality of our people in general. The question is not simply how we view this person but how we view this person's desire and and connection to the "group" known as Bnei Yisrael on the whole. Within the halachic world there is a major disagreement on this issue. There are those who give no value to any non-halachic presentation of Jewishness and there are those who see in it some value albeit wishing for the eventual observance of Torah by all Jews.
How we respond to the issue of conversion, where halachic conversion is also the method by which someone joins the general Jewish "group" (a situation that we also seem to want) is all part of the issue. If we give no value to colloquial Jewishness then we may be strict in our standards of conversion and demand only a full commitment to the observance of Torah from a potential convert. If, though, we see some value in colloquial Jewishness and feel that, as such, a method of conversion that will serve the general Jewish world is necessary as well, then we may find reasons to be more lenient in our response to conversion.

I am actually torn in regard to this issue. Should we maintain relaxed standards on halachic conversion and thereby ensure that most people converting will turn to Orthodoxy in order to convert which will lessen the questions on Jewish identity into the future? Or should we, for the sake of Torah observance, maintain strict standards, thereby effectively sending people to Conservative and Reform rabbis for conversion and raising the potential for an identity crisis within our people in the future? The answer to that question does depend on how one understands the halachic standards of conversion itself but it, also, has much to do with this policy issue. As mentioned, I am really torn.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday, 19 May 2008

Eric Hoffer -- Prescient Prophet or Political Prognosticator?

Originally published 5/19/08, 10:22 PM.
enjoy this time capsule
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
WRITTEN IN 1968 - Astonishing

Do you remember Eric Hoffer?
He was a longshoreman who turned into a philosopher, wrote columns for newspapers and some books. He was a non-Jewish American social philosopher. He was born in 1902 and died in 1983, after writing nine books and winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His first book, The True Believer, published in 1951, was widely recognized as a classic. Here is one of his columns from 1968. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

This article was written 40 years ago!!! Some things never change.

ISRAEL'S PECULIAR POSITION by Eric Hoffer (LA Times 5/26/68)

The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchman.

Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese and no one says a word about refugees. But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab.

Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious, it must sue for peace.

Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world. Other nations, when they are defeated, survive and recover but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June [1967], he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews.

No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on. There is a cry of outrage all over the world when people die in Vietnam or when two Blacks are executed in Rhodesia. But, when Hitler slaughtered Jews no one remonstrated with him.

The Swedes, who are ready to break off diplomatic relations with America because of what we do in Vietnam, did not let out a peep when Hitler was slaughtering Jews. They sent Hitler choice iron ore, and ball bearings, and serviced his troop trains to Norway.

The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources. Yet at this moment, Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer, [1967] had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war, to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us all.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Jewish Pirate, Jean Lafitte

Originally published 5/16/08, 6:05 PM.
A bit odd, but interesting. Vive Lafitte!

This recent article is about the most famous Jewish Pirate, Jean Lafitte.

It was written by a former professor from Temple University, Professor Bernard Glick:

Many of the pirates of the Caribbean were Sephardic Jews who turned to piracy to get revenge on the Spanish Catholics who expelled them from Spain in 1492, murdered their families and stole their property. Six of Barbarossas chief officers were Jewish! This article sheds light on one of the most famous Jewish Pirates: Jean Lafitte the Jewish Pirate.
One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century old history of piracy whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World. A few weeks before my first gig, I sent a draft of the talk to my history buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte. I told her I didn't include him because I intended to deal with the economics, the sociology, and the politics of piracy. She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique. He was a Sephardic Jew.

In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison, or on the gallows. Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since. I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me wore a skullcap and he began chatting with me in Gaelic-accented English. Though born in France, the friendly passenger now lives in Switzerland. We quickly established that we were both Jewish and that both of us had taught in Israel.

Then we had the following conversation:
What are you doing on this plane? I asked.
I'm a mathematician. I work for an American company and I'm flying to Norfolk today because it has the US Navy's largest naval base and my company is trying to get a Navy contract. Now, what are you doing on this plane?
My wife and I are picking up a cruise ship in Norfolk.
Taking a vacation?
Not entirely. I'll be giving lectures on the ship...... as many, in fact, as there are full days at sea.
What do you lecture about?
Since cruise lines frown on controversial topics. I have talked about Israel once or twice, but I usually talk about Latin America, which is my second specialty, or the Panama Canal or Mexico's Isthmus of Tehantepec, or the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific. But I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it and the old folks like it too.
Are you going to talk about Jean Lafitte?
No. And I repeated what my sister had told me.

He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had Melvyn J. Lafitte written on it. Then he said, I am a direct descendent of Jean Lafitte. Your sister, Phyllis, is absolutely right. Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When Ferdinand and Isabella re-conquered Spain and expelled the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardic Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans. Eventually he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.
In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans. However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet President, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And, by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?
I was flabbergasted, not so much by the saga of Jean Lafitte as retold by a proud descendant, but by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia. Melvyn Lafitte lives in Geneva and I live in Portland, Oregon. These cities are 5,377 miles apart. Unlike him, I am mathematically challenged, so I don't know what the statistical probability is that a descendant of the Franco-Jewish-American pirate Jean Lafitte would board an airplane and sit next to me as I was agonizing over whether to mention his famous ancestor in my forthcoming talk.

Jewish history is replete with vivid coloring

An Unintentional Intermarriage - OU Article

Originally published 5/16/08, 5:39 PM. Link no longer works.
What can happen in this society!
"A strange thing happened on the way to my becoming a ba'alat teshuvah: I
discovered I was not a Jew."
For more details see the entire article

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Potential Split in Orthodoxy?

Originally published 5/13/08, 12:52 PM. Link to The Jewish Week no longer works.
Dr. Marc Shapiro's recent comments in the Jewish Week -- See

http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c55_a9351/Editorial__Opinion/Opinion.html# have initiated much discussion and debate. There is no doubt a growing friction between the Charedi and Modern Orthodox world, yet Dr. Shapiro's suggestion that MO should, so to speak, break away from the Charedi world has an essential problem for MO. It will demand the MO not maintain one of its fundamental principles.

The essence of Modern Orthodoxy can be viewed from two perspectives. One is the specific behaviour of MO that distinguishes it from the behaviour of, let us say, the Charedi world. For example, MO is more favourable to the State of Israel. Of course this distinction is not absolute. There are Charedi individuals with positive feelings for the State and MO individuals who are more distant from the State but this distinction in behaviour generally stands. In a variety of behaviour there is a distinction between the Charedi world and the MO world and how one personally behaves will define which world he or she is in or he or she is put in.

There is though another major distinction between the MO world and the Charedi world and that is the distinction based on wisdom and authority. The Charedi world advocates for the value of authority -- thus its fostering of commitment to the Gedolim simply in their person of Gadol. The MO world values wisdom, thus even as they also have Gedolim, it fosters allegiance to these Gedolim because of the arguments that these Gedolim present to support their positions. Of course this dividing line is not absolute and, as there is value in both authority and wisdom, one may find the advocacy of each value, at some time, in both communities, yet there is a greater stress on authority in the Charedi world, and in wisdom in the MO world. (For more on the issue of authority and wisdom, see my article Authority and Wisdom: the Slifkin Affair.

The result is the following. The Charedi world has an easier time discounting the opinion of one scholar, even a great Torah scholar, outside of its orbit. What it ultimately values is allegiance to the position of its Gedolim, simply as authority and discounts the value of wisdom, per se, especially wisdom that points to an opposing position. Yet in the MO world, the opinion of even a singular scholar cannot so easily be dismissed, for the wisdom that may be found in this viewpoint is valued and desired. MO scholars study the Satmar Rav, the Chazon Ish and other similar Charedi gedolim because MO wishes to embrace the entire spectrum of opinions and gain an appreciation of the entire realm of Torah thought. As such, the Charedim can more easily set up parameters that push their viewpoint for the wisdom in an opposing viewpoint falls in the face of the authrity the the Charedi position and the person of the Charedi Gedolim. That is not so for MO. It will always see value in knowing and studying the position of all Torah scholars even those out of the Charedi world and, as such, give respect to all Torah scholars.

So to call for what Dr. Shapiro is asking really presents a problem for, in a way, it is a call for MO not act as MO.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Responsa on Mother's Day and Kibbud Eim

Originally published 5/11/08, 9:12 PM.
Question: Since we are required to Honour our Mothers every day, is it appropriate to have a Mother's Day?
Response: We have a mitzva to remember the Exodus at least once or twice a Day. Is it appropriate to do more once a year? The answer is yes, one or two evenings a year we recited the story of the Exodus with a lot of pomp and circumstance. this in now way negatively impacts our daily obligation. Aderabbah, it enhances it!

Honouring one's Mother is a daily obligation. but there is no need to give her flowers, a card, and to treat her to dinner etc. There is only a need to honour and revere her. Once a year, we can add on to the daily obligation by going beyond the letter of the law [lifnim mishurat hadin]

Question: Would this also apply to thanksgiving?
Response: yes but I can make that into an extra Post on the Blog - so let's wait for that one!
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Friday, 9 May 2008

Ivrith - back to Fundamentals or Evolving New Styles

Originally published 5/9/08, 4:45 PM.
Dear Readers:

Here is a really interesting debate on proper Ivrith Articulation from the "Leining Group"

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

From: bearpecs@aol.com
Date: Fri, May 9, 2008 at 10:12 AM
Subject: [Leining] Tiberian
To: Leining@yahoogroups.com

I think we should keep in mind that no community pronounces Hebrew just as the Tiberian Masoretes did. We need to balance the competing priorities of accurate and consistent reading on the one hand with preserving the legitimate and established minhag of communities on the other hand. In some cases (e.g. zekher/zeikher) accuracy and consistency must take precedence (although in that example it has been shown that it was not truly a reliable "minhag"); in others (e.g. thaw/tav/saf) minhag must take precedence. The goal is not to read Torah as the Tiberians did. The goal is meaningful reading that preserves grammatical and articulate Hebrew.


On Fri, May 9, 2008 at 11:23 AM, Jeremy Rosenbaum Simon jeremy.simon@nyu.edu wrote:

I would disagree. At least in term of the phonetic distinctions made, I think the goal is to come as close to Tiberian as possible without sounding odious to the congregation. From my first and second hand experience, in a modern askenazi shul, you can pronounce dagesh chazak and ayin, but not, soft gimels and dalets. Tiberian Hebrew represents the masorah that has been universally accepted, and we should strive to stay as close as possible. Of course, languages change in their phonetics, but kri'at hatorah is a specific kind of ritual performance, and so a certain degree of deviation from standard spoken Hebrew is acceptable and as it happen desirable. How else are we to make sense of the rambam's strictures on who can lein, the most famous one being that one must be able to distinguish between an ayin and an alef. Clearly, already in his time and place had been lost among routine speakers of Hebrew, and nonetheless, he felt the need to insist on in in kri'at hatorah.

- Jeremy

Controversy at the Chidon

Originally published 5/9/08, 1:56 AM.
To be honest, I have always had somewhat of a problem with the Chidon HaTanach. Of course, such knowledge of the Tanach is important and I am very impressed with the knowledge of Tanach that participants gained. But something always bothered me -- the written Torah can never stand alone. The very mark of our Torah, the uniquely Jewish understanding of Torah, is that it consisted of, right from the beginning, an Oral Torah and a Written Torah. The focus on the Written Torah in the Chidon, especially in all the preparation leading up to the contests, simply bothered me. Its not the Jewish way.

What occurred this week with the controversy over the Messianic girl who was a participant in this year's quiz only proves my point. The Written Bible is deemed to be significant to many beyond just the Jewish world. It was the fundamentalist Christian faith, in the guise of Messianic Judaism, that led to this girl's proficiency in the Bible. For the Chidon to be uniquely Jewish, it must apply the uniquely Jewish understanding of a written Tanach that cannot stand apart from the Oral Torah.

I am not sure how it would be implemented, but, to be uniquely Jewish, the Chidon must include the Torah She'b'al Peh. There must be questions from midrashim on the pesukim as well as from aggadata on the pesukim. This way, we would not again have a problem with a Messianic in the contest. More importantly, though, the contest would be uniquely Jewish.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday, 2 May 2008

Haggadah - Back to Basics [from Avodah]

Originally published 5/2/08, 5:39 PM.
Sometimes Gedolim are great because they focus on the simple things. As Grand Master Sober once said, in a real-life situation you will probably save your life with a simple technique like a Front-kick as opposed to some fancy advanced technique
The "Minhogei CS" [10:15] writes that the CS spent the entire Seder talking to the young children - translating every word of the Hagada and explaining 'tochen ha'inyan' to them. He didn't say any Drush at all during the Seder.

He was clearly following the psak of the Rema 473:6.

In his Droshos, he writes that the Seder is not for giving pilpulim etc, but purely to talk about the Nissim veNiflaos of Hashem. The fact that he had to point this out shows that even in his days people were saying Toros and pshetlech at the seder - rather than concentrating on poshuteh pshat.


Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Tzvia Greenfield of Meretz

Originally published 5/1/08, 12:57 AM. Link no longer works.
Left-wing firebrand via haredi seminary

In the fall of 1968, Tzvia Greenfield, an intense 19-yearold philosophy student, stood on the lawn of the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus warning her peers that it would be a big mistake to keep the newly conquered territories.

Most, intoxicated by the miraculous victory and dreaming of the fulfillment of ancient biblical promises, resisted Greenfield's passionate arguments, which seemed incongruous with her appearance.


When asked by The Jerusalem Post what a "nice Haredi woman" was doing in Meretz, Greenfield said, "For years Meretz has been saying what I believe in. Literally everything on Meretz's platform is in line with my opinions. I believe in the individual's rights. I believe in
citizens' rights. I believe in rights for everyone, including Arabs. I believe in peace. And I also believe in working toward an agreement with the Palestinians. "I believe in the right to protection for both rich and poor. Society has an obligation to all citizens to foster solidarity, to make sure people are not thrown out on the street because they cannot support themselves.

"I am a social democrat," she continued

For Further Details see: Jerusalem Post Article

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,