Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Mussar: Asking for M'chilah - No "Buts" About it

Originally published 8/20/11, 9:52 pm.

Avraham: Rabbi Rich, Yitzi asked me for m'chillah, but I don't feel like giving it to him

RRW: Aren't we taught not to be an achzar and to extend m'chillah when asked? ....

Av: I know, but, I still feel something's not right..

RRW: Is he a repeat offender?

Av: No - it's not that

RRW: Well Av, What is it?

Av: I guess Yitzi did say that he's sorry that he confused me with someone else BUT...he said a BUT in his apology

RRW: ??? Continue

Av: He didn't admit he was completely wrong, he passed the buck and partially blamed me anyway

RRW: Was he right?

Av: Hard to tell. What he blamed me for was something unintentional, hardly worth commenting upon. He seemed to be using blame to rationalize the behaviour that he was expressing remorse over.


Mussar: when apologizing don't qualify it with "BUTS"

If you do need to express a reservation or caveat try using a separate conversation or email to point out that issue. Otherwise, the BUT may be m'vateil the haratah.


Monday, 17 September 2018

Nishma-Parshah: Yom Kippur

Take a look at what's on
for Yom Kippur

Parsha: Noah, "Cappara vs. Teshuva"

Ari Fuld, A Lion of Israel, has Been Murdered

From RRW
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Ari Fuld, A Lion of Israel, has Been Murdered

Today the nation of Israel suffered an unimaginably devastating loss. Ari Fuld was a lion. He was stabbed in the back by a spineless cowardly terrorist, but before leaving the world, Ari was able to chase him down and shoot him. Ari was a warrior through and through.
There are few people in the world of which I could say "at least he is on the job. At least we have him leading us. At least someone is answering the call and fearlessly fighting for Israel with every drop of his strength." Ari Fuld was one of those few.
I still can not believe that I am speaking of Ari Fuld in past tense. This simply could not have been "random." This was the assassination of a general.
All of Am Yisrael is weeping right now. And if we're not, we should be. There are simply no words. No words.
May Hashem exact vengeance on this terrorist. His family. And the entire city of Yatta. Yatta - a nest of vipers that many other terrorists have emerged from. A city that is undoubtedly celebrating at this moment.
May the family of Ari Fuld zt"l be consoled knowing that Ari was a warrior for his people who will be remembered forever.
The Levaya will be at the Gush Etzion Cemetery at 11:00pm.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Meaning of Love

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First   

also applicable to Yom Kippur  
                                            What is the Meaning of Love?

     In the spirit of the recent 15th of Av holiday, I offer the following column.

     Surely you realize that I am not going to write some deep psychological article here. (In my generation, there was that strange definition: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”) Rather, I am going to discuss the etymology of the Hebrew word “ahav” (=A-H-B).
     It is generally agreed that abstract verbs are later developments that arise from concrete verbs. I discussed one example a few weeks ago. The verb for “decree,” G-Z-R, originally meant “cut” before it developed into its more abstract meaning of “decree.”  This is a phenomenon that occurs not just in Hebrew, but in all languages. (Another example in Hebrew is Kof-Shin-Resh for “conspire.” This “conspire” meaning grew out of the concrete meaning “tie, connect.”)
    A-H-B (=love) sounds like an abstract verb. Our question then is what is the concrete verb that originally underlay this abstract verb? The relevant essay in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament first states that the original meaning of the root is uncertain. But it then offers some suggestions. One suggestion notes that in Arabic there is a word “habba” that means “breathe heavily, be excited” and theorizes that this was the original meaning of A-H-B. Another suggestion notes that in Arabic there is a word “ihab” that means “skin, leather.” Based on this, the suggestion is made that A-H-B may have originally had to do with some positive feeling that you felt in your skin and that it was then applied to the emotional stimulation that produced it.
      There is an interesting use of the word “ahavah” at Shir Ha-Shirim 3:9-10. We are told that Shlomo made himself an “aperion” with gold and silver and that it was “ratzuf ahavah,” e.g., inlaid with “ahavah.” Perhaps “ahavah” has a concrete meaning here. But we do not know what it is.
     A common “devar Torah” that is given at wedding times is that the word A-H-B is related to the word “hav” (H-B), which means “give.” I.e., the foundation of “love” is giving to one another. Is there a basis for this beautiful idea?
      It is generally agreed that the root of “hav” and “havu” (=”give,” singular and plural) is Y-H-B.  (Both the Mandelkern and Even-Shoshan concordances make this point.) “Hav” and “Havu” are just command forms. (“Havu” occurs many times in Psalms and in our prayers.) In Hebrew, the first root letter often (but not always) drops in the command form. Another example is the command “kach” =take, from L-K-Ch.
      On a scholarly basis, there is no ground to relate the roots A-H-B and Y-H-B (even though the purported connection is beautiful). In contrast, when the first two letters of a root are the same there is some basis to argue that the roots are related. 
     (There is a verse at Hoshea 4:18 where words based on A-H-B- and H-B are used right next to one another. But this is mere wordplay.)
           So, not surprisingly, I cannot find the meaning of “love.” (And I am not ready to move on to the next question: what is the concrete physical verb that underlies the meaning of Sin-Nun-Aleph=”hate”!)
            The good news is that I can provide some explanation for the modern Hebrew word “agvaniah.” You will see the connection shortly.
            The tomato has a very interesting history. It was first brought to Europe from its native South America in the 16th century. Initially most Europeans were afraid to eat it and believed it was poisonous, so it was used mainly for decorative purposes. The Italians were the first Europeans to eat it extensively.
             For whatever reason, one of the tomato’s affects was thought to be as an aphrodisiac. Already in the 16th century, we find it referred to in English as a “love apple,” and in French as a “pomme d’amour.”
             So what was it going to be called in modern Hebrew? This is how the language expert “Philologos” summarizes what happened: “As Hebrew was being revived as a spoken language in the late 19th century, an argument broke out between two of its great champions and rival word-coiners, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Yechiel Michel Pines. Ben-Yehuda wanted to call the tomato a “badura” from Arabic “bandura,” which itself is from Italian “pomodoro.” [Arabic lacks the letter “P.”] Pines rejected that as non-Hebraic and came back with “tapuah agavim” =love apple, which he then shortened to “agvaniya.” To this, Ben-Yehuda countered, correctly arguing that the Hebrew verb “agav” meant to lust, not to love, and suggesting “ahaviya”…For whatever reason “agvaniya” won out, and generations of Israelis have eaten “lust” apples ever since.” See Philologos’ column in the Forward, 2/25/09.
             If you are not familiar with the Biblical verb “Ayin-Gimmel-Bet” for “lust,” this is not surprising. The verb only appears a few times: ten times in the book of Yechezkel and once at Jer. 4:30.
           However we all should be familiar with the Biblical noun “Ayin-Vav-Gimel-Bet”: a kind of musical instrument. It is perhaps a flute, or pipe, the exact meaning in the Bible is unclear. (In contrast, in modern Hebrew, it means “organ.”). “Ayin-Vav-Gimel-Bet” (or “Ayin-Gimel-Bet) as a word for a musical instrument appears four times in the Bible and two of these times are well-known to us: Gen. 4:21, and Ps. 150:4 (praise Him with “minim” and “ugav.”) According to many scholars, the name for this instrument may derive from “A-G-B=lust” due to the sensuous tunes that come from it! 
            But admittedly, not everyone agrees with this etymology for the musical instrument. S.D. Luzzatto, for example, thinks that Ayin-Vav-Gimel-Bet is a shortening from Al-Gav “on the back” (related to the position of the musical instrument).
             There is voluminous interesting material on line about the history of tomatoes. For more on the background to the Hebrew word “agvaniah,” see the post at balashon.com of April 16 2010.
            Since I am an attorney, I am going to end this column on a legal note. The tomato, although botanically a fruit (a type of berry), has many of the qualities of a vegetable. This led to a major legal dispute in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century. As summarized on Wikipedia (entry “tomato”): “In 1887, U.S. tariff laws imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits, causing the tomato’s status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled this controversy on May 10, 1893, by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use --they are generally served with dinner and not dessert. Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304. The holding of this case applies only to the interpretation of the [above tariff]….and the court did not purport to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes.”  (Of course, we make a “bore pri ha-adamah” on tomatoes, regardless of whether they are botanically considered a “fruit” or a “vegetable.” For our purposes, all that matters is that they grow from the ground.)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. While lustily eating tomatoes, he searches for the meaning of love.

Why the Irish Support Palestine

From RRW

Saturday, 15 September 2018

MUSAAR: R Chaim Vital in Happiness

From RRW 
"Take the anger and sadness out of your heart because these traits will be obstacles to the light. Make every effort to love the people around you and be happy even when not everything goes as you want."

~ Rav Chaim Vital
 ( Leading scholar of The Arizal )

Thursday, 13 September 2018


From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First  

                        Two Interesting Old Siddurim With Aleinu
                  Aleinu was part of the Rosh Ha-Shanah musaf Amidah for centuries before it began making its way into the end of the daily shacharit service in France, England and Germany in the 12th and 13th centuries. One of the interesting questions in Aleinu research is when and why it first entered the end of the daily shacharit.

                  We have documentation that in 1171 the martyrs of Blois (a town in northern France) chanted Aleinu with their last breaths as they were being burned to death. Many scholars have theorized that this is what led Aleinu to penetrate the hearts of the people and be incorporated into the daily shacharit.
                   But is this theory true?  The earliest source that we have that records Aleinu at the end of daily shacharit is a manuscript of Machzor Vitry which had been estimated to date to the 12th century. (Machzor Vitry is a work usually attributed to R. Simcha of Vitry, a town in northern France. R. Simcha was a student of Rashi.)

                   But can this manuscript be more precisely dated? After all, handwriting analysis is not that precise. Fortunately, this manuscript had some calendars attached to it. Two scholars, Sacha Stern and Justine Isserles, did a detailed study of this manuscript, and published their conclusions in 2015 in the journal Aleph. Based on the calendars found in the manuscript, they were able to narrow down the date of the manuscript to between 1123/4 and 1154/5.
                  This enables us to disprove the theory that Aleinu entered into the daily shacharit as a result of the events in Blois in 1171. (Of course, the events of 1171 may have contributed to the spread of the custom to recite Aleinu in shacharit daily.)

                 Once we reject the Blois-origin theory, what are we left with? Most likely, Aleinu was introduced into the daily shacharit as a prayer meant to express a rejection of Christianity. Its introduction probably came as a response to the Crusades of 1096 or due to the general feeling of downtroddenness that the Jews of France felt while living as second-class citizens in a Christian land. (See, e.g., the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry for Aleinu, last sentence, 2:559.)

                Interestingly, there is an instruction given in Machzor Vitry that the daily Aleinu is to be recited silently. The reason for this instruction may be that the Jews understood that the Christians would view the prayer as an anti-Christian one. (Whether Aleinu was originally composed as an anti-Christian prayer is a separate issue, and depends on when and where Aleinu was composed. Certain statements in the Jerusalem Talmud imply that Aleinu was composed by Rav, early 3rd century C.E. See my book Esther Unmasked, pp. 18, and 26-27 for more details.)

               The scholar Israel Ta-Shema has a different theory to explain the entry of Aleinu into the daily shacharit. But there is insufficient evidence to support his theory.
              An interesting sidelight on the Machzor Vitry manuscript I just discussed is that the manuscript was formerly known as “MS. Sassoon 535,” named for the previous owner David  Sassoon. Since 1975, it has been owned by a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. Thus Stern and Isserlses refer to the manuscript at “MS ex-Sassoon 535”!

         Now I am going to focus on a different old siddur with Aleinu, a manuscript known as Corpus Christie College #133, preserved in a library in England.

          Today, if any of us went on a trip to collect business loans and took along a siddur that had blank pages at the end, we would feel intuitively that it would not be appropriate to use these blank pages to record the business loan payments that we collected.  Fortunately, a Sephardic Jew who traveled to England with a siddur at the end of the 12th century did not share this view. Now I am going to tell the story of this fascinating siddur.

            Based on the method of binding of the siddur, it can be guessed that it was produced in England.  Its texts reflect the nusach of northern France, which probably spread from there to England. This siddur includes Aleinu three times: once at the end of the daily shacharit, once in the musaf Amidah for Rosh Ha-Shanah, and once in a different section (which I do not want to discuss now). The siddur is undated, but the individual who acquired the siddur used the blank pages at its end to record the payments he received from his money-lending business while in England. He recorded these payments in Arabic. This suggests that he was a Sephardic Jew. The Arabic was written in Hebrew characters, as was their custom.

              Scholars can give a rough estimate of a 12th century date to the siddur based on the texts of the prayers, the paleography, and the method of binding. But can they be more precise?

              Here is a translation of the first lines of what is written on the blank pages at the end:

                           The year commencing first of July…
                           all that I have since being here in England:
                           from the Bishop of Exeter one mark, twice;
                           also from the Bishop of Bath half a mark;
                           also from the Count two and a half marks, twice;
                           also from William Chemillé, three times four and a half marks;   
                           from the Bishop of Winchester five marks, twice;
                           from Sir Walter Aud Luna half a mark, twice…
                           from Rau Bruyerre five paid…

             A certain scholar did the research on the individuals listed and was able to estimate a date for the siddur. Not all of the individuals could be identified and dated. But regarding William Chemillé, he served as the arch-deacon of Richmond and in other positions, and is known to have died in 1202. Since the payment seems to have been taken from him while he was alive, this siddur must have been composed in 1202 or earlier.

              For anyone interested in the detective work on medieval England that was done here, see M. Beit-Arié, The Only Dated Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Written in England (1189 CE), Appendix 2.  (The title of this book is not describing manuscript Corpus Christie College #133, but a different manuscript. This has misled many into believing that the undated Corpus Christie College manuscript was dated to 1189 CE!)
              I mentioned at the outset that we have early evidence for Aleinu in daily shacharit in France, England and Germany. The evidence from France is Ms. ex-Sasson 535 that I discussed above, from the 2nd quarter of the 12th century. The recital of Aleinu at the end of daily shacharit in England (evidenced by Ms. Corpus Christie College #133) was almost certainly an outgrowth of its recital in France. Its recital in Germany may simply have been an outgrowth of its recital in neighboring France, or its recital may have developed independently in Germany for other reasons. (It is too hard to discuss this issue here.) The earliest source for Aleinu in daily shacharit in Germany is Siddur Hasidei Ashkenaz, a work which reflects the order of prayers of R. Judah he-Hasid (d. 1217).           

        Up until now, I have been addressing Aleinu’s recital at the end of the daily shacharit in Europe. But what was going on in Palestine and its surrounding areas? One of the most interesting finds from the Cairo Genizah is a Palestinian siddur which includes Aleinu in the middle of the daily Pesukei De-zimrah. (Genizah texts generally date from the 10th -13th centuries.) Almost certainly, Aleinu was introduced into their daily Pesukei De-zimrah because a prayer that begins with the theme of “shevach” (Aleinu le-shabeach) was thought of as appropriate for Pesukei De-zimrah, a section whose purpose is one of “shevach” and which begins and ends with blessings which focus on the theme of “shevach.”
        Finally, regarding the entry of Aleinu into daily minchah and maariv in Europe, these are later developments.

Mitchell First can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.  He tries not to write notes on the meanings of words in the blank pages at the end of his siddurim. But you never know what might happen centuries later if he would!

Sen. John McCain: A ‘Brave Hero’ and a ‘Stalwart Friend’ of Israel

From RRW 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

JVO Blog -- High Holy Days: On Communal Teshuva

Jewish Values Online (jewishvaluesonline.org) is a website that asks the Jewish view on a variety of issues, some specifically Jewish and some from the world around us -- and then presents answers from each of the denominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars. Nishmablog, over the years, has also featured the responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. 

The Jewish Values Online website also offers a blog which presents comments on various topics within Judaism and the Jewish world. See http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/jvoblog/index?aid=0. Rabbi Hecht is also a blogger on this blog.

His latest post 

High Holy Days: On Communal Teshuva
is now available at http://jewishvaluescenter.org/jvoblog/communal-teshuva

A link is also up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JewishValuesOnline/  

Saturday, 8 September 2018

MUSSAR: no two are alike

From RRW   
"Just as we accept that our neighbor’s face does not resemble ours, so must we accept that our neighbor’s views do not resemble ours."

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Meaning of "Shanah"

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First   

                  The Multiple Meanings of the Word “Shanah” 

             The root Sh-N-H has two meanings in Tanakh. On the one hand, it means “to repeat.” (Of course, the word sheni, second, comes from this meaning.) On the other hand, it means “to change.”  A fundamental question is whether these seemingly opposite meanings, “repeat” and “change,” originated from the same Sh-N-H root. A further related question is the origin of the word shanah=year.

             Let us answer the second question first. I have seen sources that relate shanah=year to the “change” meaning. For example, Ernest Klein, in his A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, believes that the year was called shanah because it was a “period of changing seasons.” But an alternative view, which I prefer, is that the year was called shanah because it is fundamentally based on a concept of repetition. Many scholars accept this view. Among traditional Jewish sources, we can find something like this in Radak (Sefer Ha-Shorasim), Rav S.R. Hirsch (commentary to Exodus 12:2), and S.D. Luzzatto (commentary to Genesis 41:1).

                I also saw a source that believed that the year was called shanah because of both the “repeat” and the “change” aspects. It cleverly defined the year as: “the repeating cycle of seasonal change.” On the other hand, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (vol. 15, p. 325) surprisingly took the position that shanah=year was a primary noun and did not derive from either the “repeat” or “change” meanings.
              Let us now return to our fundamental question. Could Sh-N-H=repeat and Sh-N-H=change have come from the same source? In his concordance, Solomon Mandelkern attempts to unify them by pointing out that every time something is repeated, there is always a slight change. I was told, for example, that when the earth rotates around the sun, the exact position that the earth travels in its rotation is not the same as the position it traveled the year before.
              Also, we all know that when you used to make a copy of a piece of paper, the copy did not look exactly the same as the original. (This was before today’s superb technology!) There was once a movie based on this principle. The movie was Multiplicity, starring Michael Keaton. In the movie, Michael portrayed a father who realized that the multiple demands on his time were getting too hard for him. He befriended a scientist and they came up with the idea of making two copies of Michael by cloning. This way, Michael could be in multiple places at once (e.g., job and family)! But the premise of the movie was that when you make a copy of something, there is always a slight change. So the movie had one of the clones come out with a more masculine personality than regular Michael, and the other come out with a more feminine personality, creating all kinds of difficulties for everyone! (The two clones also made a copy of Michael from the first clone. The personality of this new clone was really off, because this was a copy made from a copy!)
              Ok, so should we conclude that the principle set forth by Solomon Mandelkern and reflected in the Michael Keaton movie (=every repetition results in a change) is grounds to conclude that Sh-N-H=repeat and Sh-N-H=change have a common origin?
               My intuition tells me that the above principle is not a true explanation for a common origin. But there is another way of looking at the two verbs. Every time you change something, you are doing a repetition.  You are just repeating the activity with a change. This sounds like a better explanation for a common origin.
               Then I looked at how the scholars treat the two Hebrew roots today. The widespread view is to treat the two Hebrew roots as separate ones. Scholars make this determination based on a review of all of the Semitic languages. For example, I saw the point made that in Aramaic, the verb for “repeat” is Tav-Nun-Aleph while the verb for “change” is Shin-Nun-Aleph. If the roots for “repeat” and “change” had a common origin, it is argued, they would not have gone in separate directions as they did in Aramaic.
                Therefore, for a variety of reasons, the widespread view of scholars today is that the Hebrew root Sh-N-H has combined two different earlier roots. But let us closely analyze the  conclusion in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (p. 327):  “It is possible to say with assurance that two Proto-Semitic roots have coalesced in Hebrew…although we must reckon with the possibility ‘that the close relationship between the two meanings suggests that one could have developed from the other, as in Ugaritic...’ .” In other words, it is clear there that were two different roots for “repeat” and “change” before they coalesced in Hebrew, both using the letters Sh-N-H. But the author is still willing to consider the possibility that at some earlier point, one of the two roots developed from the other.
                 It is important to mention that the “repeat” meaning of shanah later developed, in post-Biblical Hebrew, into the meaning “study” and “teach,” since the fundamental method of studying and teaching was repetition.                                                                     
                 Let us now address a different noun: shenah=sleep. Is this related? This seems to come from a different verb Yod-Shin-Nun. But I have seen a claim made that it is related to Sh-N-H=repeat, since sleep is fundamentally an event that is repeated every night!
                Finally, let us address the word in modern Hebrew for a small unit of time: shniah. This word is based on the English word “second.” But why do we use this word in English? The answer (based on what was done in Latin) is that the “second” is meant as the second small part of the hour, in contrast to the “first” small part of the hour, the minute.
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. This article is a repeat of a previous Jewish Link article, but it was changed it a bit.