Tuesday, 29 May 2018

7 Myths About The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

From RRW
"Know thy enemy"


Comment from RBH

Of course, the article presented in the above link has a very strong bias which, furthermore, reflects many misperceptions and misundertstandings of the underlying facts. It, nonetheless, is important to read as it does show how those who are vehemently anti-Israel attempt to defend their viewpoints. It is, thus, necessary for a supporter of Israel to actually know the arguments that he/she will face and to be able to respond directly to them. For example, as I have pointed out previously, it is not enough to refer to the 1947 UN Partition Plan as providing absolute legitimacy for a State of Israel. What gave the UN the authority to impose its will on the inhabitants of this land? This article makes an allusion to this issue. The fact is that there is an answer to this question and it extends beyond the authority of the UN. In a certain way, the presentation of the status of the people on the land, in this article, is somewhat misleading. There is also the further reality which explains why Palestine had a higher standard of living in 1947 than in 1847 and many Arabs, over that century, thus emigrated to it. 

As Pirkei Avot states, dah mah l'tashiv -- know how to answer the heretic. We present this link in this spirit.

Monday, 28 May 2018

A Contest for My Readers

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First                                         

A Contest for My Readers      
      Due to the positive feedback I received over the past two years (special shout out to Michael Rapoport!), I decided to collect the best sixty of my columns and publish them as a book. The subtitle may be something like: “Sixty Short Essays on Jewish Liturgy and History, the Hebrew Language, and the Holidays.” But I need suggestions for a clever title. I promise a free book to whoever gives me the winning suggestion! The humorist Mordechai Schmutter had such a contest for his book a few years ago. The winning entry: “A Clever Title Goes Here.”  So that title is taken!
       The bad news is that I will have to take a short haitus (2-3 months) from writing columns so I can focus on the book.
        As long as I have your attention, I will now mention some interesting words that I never got a chance to discuss. The first one is the Hebrew word for “sneeze.”  This word appears only once in Tanach.  A little background is necessary. A few years ago, I went to a wedding of a niece in Israel. The wedding took place in Mitzpeh Yericho. So what kind of devar torah is given at a wedding in this locale? The speaker wanted to show how close it is to Yerushalayim, so he pointed to Mishnah Tamid 3:8. Here is found a statement that Yericho is so close to Yerushalayim that the smell of incense from the Temple service could be smelled in Yericho. Then an individual Tanna mentions another site near Yericho and reports that the goats would even sneeze there due to the smell of the incense from the Temple service. For “sneeze,” the Mishnah uses the term “mitatshot.” The root here is “Ayin-Tet-Shin.” It appears in Tanach only one time, at Job 41:10. So I had an entire airplane ride back to the U.S. to think about this word. At some point, I realized that the Hebrew “A-T-Sh” is really the same as the English: “achoo”!  (These are onomatopoeias= words that sounds like what they are.)  (I realized that “A-T-Sh” =”achoo” when the person next to me on the airplane sneezed. Just kidding!)
        On a related note, another interesting word is the modern Hebrew word for cough, “shiul,” which comes from the root “Shin-Ayin-Lamed.” This root does not appear in the Hebrew of the Tanakh or in the Mishnah. It seems to have entered the Hebrew language many centuries later, borrowed from the Syriac language.  Scholars sometimes claim that if something is not in Tanach, then it did not exist in Biblical times. As is evident, one must be careful with such arguments from silence. I have not consulted with any evolutionary biologists but I am sure that people coughed in Biblical times.
            I myself have made the observation that the root Mem-Chet-Lamed for “forgiveness” never appears as a verb in Tanakh. Obviously, it is possible that the verb existed, just that it never made it into Tanach. (In contrast, the root “S-L-Ch” appears fifty times in Tanach.)
            (If someone is aware of a noun or verb for “cough” in the Hebrew of the Tanakh or Mishnah, please tell me. It is possible I have overlooked something here. I would like to thank Rabbi Chaim Sunitsky for pointing out this interesting root “Shin-Ayin-Lamed” to me.)
           Another unusual word is “barburim.” We all know this word from the Mah Yedidut zemer for Shabbat. It only appears one time in Tanach, at 1 Kings 5:3, in a list of food prepared for King Solomon daily: “u-varburim avusim.” “Avusim” means “fattened.” “Varburim” (=barburim) is usually translated with the general word “fowl.” (But the Brown-Driver-Briggs dictionary mentions some more specific possibilities: “capon” and “geese.”)
            Finally, I will mention my favorite unusual word (which I admittedly wrote about once before).  The Rama writes (Shulchan Arukh, OH 603) that during the ten days of repentance “yesh le-khol adam le-chapes u-le-fashpesh be-maasav.” We all know that those last two words mean “examine his deeds.” But where exactly did this root “P-Sh-P-Sh” come from?
              It turns out that “P-Sh-P-Sh” is the word for bedbug! It is found in Mishnah Terumot 8:2 and in both Talmuds. (See Jastrow, p. 1248, entry “pishpash.”).
              In his A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English (p. 535), Ernest Klein writes that the verb  “P-Sh-P-Sh“ most probably comes from the noun for “bedbug,” and that the original meaning of the verb was “he searched for bedbugs.” From this, arose the meaning “he searched in general.” Whoever would have imagined! (But note that Jastrow does not seem to connect the “search/examine” and “bedbug” meanings. He lists them in separate entries.)              
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. When not sneezing and coughing, he spends his time searching for fattened barburim and for mistakes in his past columns so he can correct them in his forthcoming book which needs a title. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

A Tale of Two Fences

As I was watching the American news reports marking the establishment of the U.S. embassy in Yerushalayim, it just seemed to me that the reporting on this momentous day in Israel's capital was  continually and, seemingly,  inherently always intertwined with what was happening at the Gaza border. On a certain level, I guess I had to accept that they were intertwined. But there was more; somehow the word 'fence' always seemed to fill the reporting on Gaza. I began to wonder: was this just a coincidence in that the American news reporting of the previous week was also dominated by the word 'fence' -- in that case, the one between the U.S. and Mexico?

Of course, these two events are clearly not connected. The only similarity is that the two events did actually include a fence. Yet, I seemed to see a subtlety in the reporting that reflected some intent on comparison. Somehow, there seemed to me to be some intent to connect the Palestinians with these people from Central America and Israel with the U.S. Border Patrol. The somewhat subtle message of some of these reports eventually became clear to me. Sympathy for the Palestinians was often the argument for they were portrayed just like these Central Americans seeking refuge in America.

Clearly, what the Hamas backed 'protestors' were doing was, in no way, similar to what the Central Americans were doing. Whether the U.S. Border Patrol, then, acted correctly or not is an issue in itself but, regardless of our view on that matter, there was still absolutely no connection in how the Palestinians and Central Americans acted and in how the Israeli forces had to act and how the U.S. authorities had to act. My further question was then: how and why would anyone even create such an obvious fallacy of comparison?

American politics seems to have gotten to the point where the actual merit of an issue may no longer be the focus. When issues are analyzed on their own, they maintain their independence. The actual merit of the specific issue is the clear topic. When such tenuous attempts at creating connections between variant events are developed, such as in this matter, this is lost. Some other agenda is taking precedence with an intent on ignoring the independence of the issues and the actual specific merits of each matter. Especially given how the actual issue becomes basically ignored, why would there be such a rush to join matters together?

It may be that the answer, in this situation, lies in a desire by some to attack all things connected with President Trump, regardless of the specific details and merits of each issue.. In that he was the one who, finally, moved the embassy to Yerushalayim -- a position originally advocated with overwhelming bi-partisan support -- there were those against it, not on a principle within the issue, but because he was the one who did it. We are now facing a new argument -- if Trump did it, it must be wrong (or, for others,- and this should be stated as it seems like this lack of thoughtful analysis of independent issues exists across the spectrum -- it must be good). Everything has become simply and solely defined as pro or against Trump.

This, of course, is potentially problematic for Israel. The real issues affecting Israel are no longer the major focus of any analysis or study. What is occurring is that, for some people, if Trump adopts a view, there is strong motivation to simply declare it as wrong and the search will be solely on to find arguments to support this position. And don't think that the Palestinians don't already see this. They can adopt the most foolish of positions but, if it is against Trump, they know that there are people who will support them. Portraying themselves as against Trump is becoming their new argument for support. And how lucky can you be; you don't even have to deal with the fact that their positions lack merit in their own rights.

Issues need to be analyzed independently with a full allowance for honest, thoughtful investigation. This seems not to be happening in our present world. It is very frustrating when people check their brains at the door.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Nishma-Parshah: Shavuot

Take a look at what's on
for Shavuot

Yitro Vs. Ruth

Naaseh v'Nishma 2 - The D'var Torah

Choosing to be Chosen - Rabbi Steven Saks

RBH Shavuot Videos on Koshertube on Youtube

We invite you to check out these video shiurim on Shavuot from Rabbi Hecht.
Chag Same'ach

Ruth - Committed to God and Mother of Moshiach

Kabbalat HaTorah - Part 1

Kabbalat HaTorah - Part 2 

Revelational Ethics and Natural Ethics?

God Offers The Torah To Other Nations First?

How Did Sinai Change Ethics - Or Did It?

Kabbalat HaTorah (A Mountain Over Their Head)

Kabbalat HaTorah - The Relationship of Torah

Passages with Nishma's Rabbi Hecht in discussion with Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz

Passages with Nishma's Rabbi Hecht in discussion with Prof. Oona Ajsenstat and Dr. Michael Kigel

Monday, 14 May 2018

Nishma Policy - Jewish Identity: The Tension of Definition, Unity and Choice

NISHMA: Policy is devoted to analyzing policy issues within the world of Torah.

I have just uploaded the latest post, entitled Jewish Identity: The Tension of Definition, Unity and Choice which continues our investigation of the nature of Jewish identity.

I invite you to take a look...and comment.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday, 7 May 2018

Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘M Project,’ America’s Answer to the ‘Jewish Question’

From RRW

As World War II's horrors became more apparent, FDR secretly asked his government to launch the M Project, to study the possible resettlement of millions of European refugees in Africa and South America. His goal: for Jews to be 'spread thin all over the world.'

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Halachah and Modern Plumbing

From RRW
See R. Ari Zivotofsky, “Halacha and Modern Plumbing” in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society XXIX, Spring 1995: 


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Interesting Words in the Daily Amidah

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                          Interesting Words in the Daily Amidah

           Compared to some of our other prayers, the Hebrew in the Daily Amidah is fairly straightforward. Nevertheless, there are some interesting words. I will now present a selection (in the order the words appear in the Amidah):
          Gomel: In Tanach, the root G-M-L has several meanings. Sometimes it means “to ripen.” Other times, it means something similar: to “wean a child from its mother’s milk.” (Both of these meanings are probably related to the root G-M-R.)
              However, other times G-M-L means something completely different: “to give/pay back” (e.g., giving someone back what they deserve).
            The interesting issue relates to this “giving/paying back” meaning. For years I had discussions with friends based on the assumption that this meaning was related to the word “gamal” (=camel).  For example, did it mean giving something you had stored up, like camels store water? Or does the fact that it often connoted a “pay back” come from the fact that camels go back and forth?
            Now that I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I am less willing to make the camel connection. I see that most scholars do not make it and believe it is just coincidence that the verb G-M-L for “giving/paying back” has the same letters as the word for camel. I vividly remember a friend of mine giving a shiur that began: “What does it mean to be camel chesed?” But I do not think that this is a relevant inquiry anymore. (Of course, I may be wrong. There are no clear answers here.)
              I will also add that the the giving and actions that are done via G-M-L in Tanach sometimes affect people favorably and other times affect them unfavorably.
           Mashiv: The root of this word is N-Sh-B. This root means “blow.”  We are supposed to understand “mashiv” as if it was written “manshiv.”  This root only appears three times in Tanach, and at two of these times, Gen. 15:11 and Ps. 147:18, the nun is not even there. The one time the nun is there is at Is. 40:7. The root does appear in the Rosh Ha-Shanah service: “ruach noshavet.” “Mashiv” (to be understood as “manshiv”) is in the hiph’il form. It means “causes to blow.”  I.e., God causes the wind to blow.
            Mechalcel (M-C-L-C-L): The word C-L-C-L appears in Tanach a few times in various forms. I have seen two different approaches to it.  Jastrow sees it as derived from the root C-L-L= “complete” (and its derivative “kol”= all), and sees the meaning as “to provide with everything.” This is what I had always thought. Similar is the view of Rav S.R. Hirsch. See his comm. to Gen. 45:11.
            But I have seen other scholars take a different approach. There is a Biblical root C-Vav-L, which means something like “contain.” It is used for example in the case of vessels that contain things. These scholars suggest that C-L-C-L derives from this. Since the original meaning “contain” is the equivalent of “holding something within,” this evolved into a “sustain, support” meaning. (The doubling of letters, going from C-L to C-L-C-L, usually reflects some form of intensification.)
          Matir Asurim: God does not permit the forbidden! Rather, the explanation is as follows. The root A-S-R means “bind,” so “asurim” here means “bound individuals.” (Related to this is the word “issur”= a binding obligation.)
            But what does “matir” mean? It turns out that its root is N-T-R, which means “release.“ The nun dropped out from the initial position, as often happens in Biblical Hebrew. The word is in the hiph’il form and should be understood as “mantir”= causes to be released. The two words together mean that God releases bound individuals.
           Selah, Mehal: (I am using “H” and “h” in this discussion to represent the letter Het.)
            -M-H-L never appears as a verb in Tanach. (Admittedly, there are several names in Tanach that seem to derive from the letters M-H-L. But most likely these M-H-L names were given based on the “joy” meaning of the letters M-H-L, which ultimately derives from a different root: either Het-Lamed-Lamed or Het-Vav-Lamed.) The letters M-H-L with a meaning like “forgive” first appear in a Dead Sea text. Later the word is found in the Mishnah.
            -S-L-H is the word for “forgive” in Tanach.  But in Tanach it is always God doing the forgiveness or being asked for forgiveness. How did individuals ask other individuals for forgiveness in the time of Tanach? We do not know!  Unless of course, the verb M-H-L was used but never made its way into Tanach.
         - When we look at the letters M-H-L in the word mehilah, a main issue is whether that initial M is a root letter. Perhaps the root was H-L-L, in one of its several meanings, like “open space, emptiness.” Alternatively, the Tanach includes a root M-H-E with a meaning like “erase, remove.” Perhaps M-H-L was derived from this root.
            H-M-H (yehemu): Regarding various types of righteous people (and ourselves!), we ask “yehemu rachamekha.” It is evident from the context that it means “may your mercy be aroused.” But what precisely does the root H-M-H mean?  This root is found various times in Tanach, including in the well-known verse of Jer. 31:19: “Is Ephraim a darling son to me?...Therefore ‘hamu meiai’ to him. I will have rachamim on him…”
           To answer the question, I would first like to quote Mandelkern’s definition at the beginning of his concordance entry for the root H-M-H: “The essence of this word is a natural noise that living things emit at a time of activity and feeling.” Then forgive me, but I will rely on Homer Simpson.  I have not had a TV in my house for over 10 years but I still have vivid memories of Homer enjoying the smell of his anticipated dinner and murmuring joyously: “HMMM, rump roast!”  This “HMMM” sound is undoubtedly the meaning of H-M-H. It surely is an onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like what it is).  So asking for “yehemu rachamecha” is asking for an arousal of God’s mercy with some accompanying sound signifying the arousal. (Of course, admittedly by the time the Amidah was composed, the word could have developed into “arouse” without any accompanying sound.)
        M-G-R  (temager). This root means “cast down.” The root appears in Tanach at Ps. 89:45 and at Ezra 6:12 (in a section of Tanach that is in Aramaic). There is one other instance in Tanach where we find a word that might have the root M-G-R. This is at Ez. 21:17. But some view the root there as G-Vav-R. (See, e.g., Rashi.)              
           Ve-Arvah:  pleasant, sweet. The root A-R-B means “mix.” E.g., erevrav is a mixed multitude and the plague of arov is a mixture of animals. (The root A-R-B has other meanings as well.) Many have suggested that A-R-B with the meaning “pleasant, sweet” comes from the A-R-B “mix” meaning and originally meant “mixed well.”
        According to most scholars, the daily Amidah was composed and instituted around the late first century C.E. (See the article by Allen Friedman in Tradition 45:3, 2012.) Much of the Mishnah dates from this same period. Yet the Mishnah includes hundreds of words derived from Greek and Latin, while all such foreign words are lacking in the Amidah. Evidently, as observed by the Israeli scholar Moshe Bar-Asher, there was a desire to compose the prayer in pure Hebrew, drawing virtually exclusively on words with roots in Tanach. (I learned from Allen Friedman that the only foreign word in the Amidah is the word “ligyonot” (=legions). This word derives from Latin and is part of the “Nachem“ insertion for Tisha Be-av. But the “Nachem” insertion may be Amoraic in origin. See J. Talmud Berakhot 4:3.)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com  He tries not to get too distracted by interesting words when reciting the Amidah.