Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Monday, 20 January 2020

‘Meet A Jew, Make A Friend’

First see

Tensions between the Afro-American community and the Jewish community have grown in the past year as evidenced by the increase in anti-Semitic attacks especially in the New York area. In this regard, we must commend what a group of Orthodox Jewish individuals, both men and women, are doing in this regard. Is this the total answer? Of course not. Are there possible problems in this approach? The answer again is of course. But it is a step in the right direction.

Hate, extreme hate, does not develop in a vacuum. This type of response is not going to affect the already virulent anti-Semite but it can change the nature of a community which could then affect the development of such hate. If one knows nothing about Jews, it is possible to lie about their nature. If people know and have experienced positive connections with Jews, it is impossible for any such garbage to take root. It is in this regard that this effort is to praised. It is about Jews doing what they can to fight the problem.

Republican Muslim candidate Dalia al-Aqidi looks to unseat Omar

From RRW

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Mussar: Justifying Anti-Social Behaviour

First published March 1, 2014

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

~ William Shakespeare


Sometimes, it's the Yetzer Hara that encourages certain Behaviour even though it can be justified by Holy Texts.

How can we discern?

Try Hillel's criteria -
D'alach Sknei, l'Chavrach lo Ta'aveid. That can sometimes be enough.

Kol Tuv,

Thursday, 16 January 2020

The Meanings of "Mas" and "Miskenot" Ex. 1:11

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
                                             “Mas” and “Miskenot” (Exodus 1:11)

                   Last year I read a book by someone very familiar with Rabbinic Hebrew and modern Hebrew who ended up studying the King James Bible and writing a book about the inadequacies of its translations.
                     When she got to Exodus 1:11, “sarei misim,” she was shocked at its translation: “taskmasters.” She wrote:  “But ‘taskmasters’ is not what the literal Hebrew says. The Hebrew word means ‘tax masters.’…This tax, in Exodus 1:11, is a most unpleasant one. It is a tax so high it cannot be paid in money; it must be paid in bodily labor.”
                     I thought her comments were clever and mentally filed them away for a future column. Now that I have researched the Biblical word “mas,” I realize that she erred. The word “mas” occurs 23 times in Tanach (in either its singular or plural form). If we focus on the earliest 22 of these references (and ignore the latest reference at Esther 10:1), all 22 times the word means something like “forced labor.”  (See, e.g., the Brown-Driver-Briggs work which does a good job of showing this.) Even as late as Eikhah 1:1, “forced labor” is probably the meaning. See, e.g., Brown-Driver-Briggs, and the Anchor Bible.
                     In other words, the “tax” meaning is a later meaning of the word. I think the word does mean “tax” at Esther 10:1, and most sources agree. (But Soncino suggests “imposed forced labor” even here.)   But this is all beside the point. Fundamentally and originally, the word means something like “forced labor on public works without pay.” The sophisticated word usually used to convey this idea is “corvée. See, e.g., the Hertz Pentateuch to Ex. 1:11. Similarly, the Daat Mikra on Ex. 1:11 defines “mas” as: “gius la-avodat kefiah.” See also Daat Mikra to 1 Kings 4:6. See also Tosafot, Chagigah 8a, “va-yasem.”
                     The author I mentioned above is not the only source to make this understandable error in translating “mas.” If you look at the Even-Shoshan concordance, the only definition it gives for “mas” is “tashlum chovah le-otzar ha-medinah”(=obligatory payment to the government treasury). It seems that anyone overly influenced by modern Hebrew and Rabbinic Hebrew will make this same translation error.
                      If one assumes that the word “mas” comes from Hebrew and tries to figure out its root, the theories abound. Very briefly, some suggestions are: 1) MSS, 2) MNS, 3) NSS, 4) Nun-Sin-Aleph, and 4) shortened form of Mekhes. See, e.g., the suggestions made in the concordance of S. Mandelkern. But most likely, “mas” is just a foreign word and perhaps not even a Semitic one.  E. Klein writes that the word is “of uncertain origin,” but then makes only one suggestion. He relates it to an Egyptian word that means “bear, carry.” (Egyptian is not a Semitic language). See Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, p. 359.
                   As long as we are on the subject of Exodus 1:11, I am going to discuss another difficult term in the same verse: “arei miskenot.”   This is the only time this term appears in the Chumash. But “miskenot” appears 6 other times in Nach, in various forms. (Usually it appears with the word “arei”=cities.)
                   From the various contexts (see especially 2 Chr. 32:28), it seems like the meaning is “store cities.” But what is its root? S. D. Luzzatto is willing to postulate a switch of letters. He wants to understand the word as if the root was Caf-Nun-Samekh (=gather), instead of Samekh-Caf-Nun. But this farreaching switch is farfetched!
                Let’s see what happens if we stick with the Hebrew root that we have. S. Mandelkern tells us that there are three different Samekh-Caf-Nun roots in Tanach.  One is S-C-N with the “danger” meaning. But this meaning only appears one time in Tanach, in the book of Kohelet (10:9). (Based on the language of Kohelet, the scholarly consensus is that it is a late book.) Moreover, this “danger” meaning of S-C-N seems to come from Aramaic. In any event, it does not seem to explain our word “miskenot.”
              Mandelkern lists a second root S-C-N with a meaning like “pauper.” This root appears a few times in Kohelet, and once at Deut. 8:9. On the simplest level, this also does not seem to have anything to do with our word “miskenot.” But Rav Hirsch (at Ex. 1:11) comes up with a very clever connection: “miskenot” means “years of need.” The cities were built for years of need (=hunger years)!
               The third S-C-N root is the main meaning of the root S-C-N in Tanach. It means something like:  “useful, benefit, be accustomed to.” (E.g.,the sokhenet to David at I Kings 1:2). Moreover, there is one place that this root seems to imply economic management. This is at Isaiah 22:15: “Go, get yourself to this ‘sokhen’…asher al ha-bayit.” Therefore Rashi and many others cite this verse as an explanation for our “miskenot.”  Of course, I would feel better about this explanation if there were more occurrences of this root in Tanach where it implied economic management.
           But there is an entirely different approach that one can take to “miskenot.” It relies on Akkadian, but only as a first step towards seeing the original Semitic and Hebrew root.
             Specifically, there is an Akkadian verb “shakanum” that means “to deposit, to lay an object down.” This verb led to certain nouns like “mashkantum,” a storage place. This is likely the same word as our “miskenot,” just that it utilizes “sh” instead of “s.”  But we can recognize the Semitic and Hebrew root Sh-C-N in “shakanum.”
             Accordingly, our looking at an Akkadian word that is probably related to “miskenot” makes us realize that perhaps the root of our word was really Shin-Caf-Nun. We all know this root. It means “dwell, lay down.” Now we understand our word! A storehouse is where things are laid down! (Note also the Hebrew word “mashkon”=deposit.)  See further E. Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, p. 361, and M.Z. Kaddari, Milon Ha-Ivrit  Ha-Mikrait, p.  634. Of course, this relation to Shin-Caf-Nun is only a suggestion, but it is a very promising one. This approach to “miskenot” is also adopted in the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon, p. 606. (But there is an embarrassing typographical error here. Instead of writing that “shakanum” meant “deposit,” the word erroneously printed is “defeat.”)
Mitchell First is an attorney who pays his taxes. He can be reached at new book Roots and Rituals (2018) is not stored in a storehouse. Rather, each book that is ordered is specially printed by Amazon: “Print on demand.”

“Burning” Questions: Rambam and Rashi on the Sneh

From RRW

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Mussar: What Are Our Priorities

 originally posted Feb. 15, 2014

See R Zelig Pliskin Gateway to Happiness p. 185

R Yisro'el Salanter [RYS] once came to Kovna and found a Torah student bedridden due to illness. RYS asked the people who prayed in the young man's synagogue, "Why aren't you taking better care of him?"

They replied: "Our community doesn't have any money."

RYS screamed at them, "You should have sold the fancy cover on the Ark... and used the money to help this person!"


Where is our money best spent?
Kol Tuv,

Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Blessing to Naftali

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                                 The Blessing to Naftali

          At Genesis 49:21, Naftali is given the following blessing: “Naftali ayalah sheluchah, ha-noten imrei shefer.”  Here is the translation in the ArtScroll Stone Chumash: “a hind let loose who delivers beautiful sayings.”

           An “ayalah=hind” is a female deer.  The simplest interpretation of “imrei” is that it derives from “A-M-R” with the meaning “say” and the simplest interpretation of “Sh-F-R” is that it derives from a root that means “beauty, pleasant.”
            But what is the import of the entire verse, and is there a connection between the two different phrases?
            Nachmanides writes that in ancient times there was a custom for kings to communicate using deer. For example, a deer born in a northern kingdom would be raised in a southern kingdom. Then when the king of the southern kingdom wanted to send a message to his counterpart in the north, he would attach the message to the horns of such a deer and let it loose. The deer would then return swiftly to its birth region and the message was communicated! (How clever they were prior to postal systems and the internet!)  The verse is referring to such a deer sent with good news. Nachmanides cites a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud that refers to this method of communication. He further explains the symbolism: From the land of Naftali will come news to all of Israel that the land of Naftali has produced fruits abundantly.
              One problem with this interpretation is that there is nothing in the verse to suggest that it relates to abundant produce.
             What about that word “sheluchah”? We just gave a “messenger” interpretation. But another widespread and very reasonable interpretation of the first three words is an image of swiftness. See, e.g., Sotah 13a, the Hertz Chumash and the ArtScroll Stone Chumash.
            But Ibn Ezra takes a different approach. He suggests that the symbolism of “sheluchah” is “sent as a gift”(see I Kings 9:16), and that the second phrase reflects the words of thanks expressed by the recipient.
             Ibn Ezra’s explanation is too brief. (Ibn Ezra’s explanations are often brief and cryptic.) One interpretation of his explanation notes that there is an expression “ayelet ahavim” at Mishlei 5:19, and suggests that Ibn Ezra meant that Naftali is as beloved and beautiful as a deer that is sent as a present between lovers. (But “ayelet ahavim” at 5:19 is not describing a present between lovers.) Another explanation is that Ibn Ezra is referring to the produce of Naftali being sent as a gift. In any event, Ibn Ezra’s interpretation does not read well, as there is nothing in the verse that suggests that it is the  recipient that makes the “imrei shefer” statement.
            Rashbam suggests that the first two words allude to military men who are as fast as deer. They  return from war quickly to announce the glad tidings of victory. The problem with this interpretation is that there is nothing in the verse referring to war.
             Abravanel and others view “ha-noten imrei shefer” as alluding to the eloquence of the tribe. But what would be the connection with the first phrase? (Admittedly, there does not have to be a connection.)
            A very simple interpretation is found at Bemidbar Rabbah 14:11. Naftali was very good at honoring his father, so he went wherever Yaakov sent him and accomplished his tasks quickly. His statements to Yaakov were also very pleasant.
             S. D. Luzzatto brings down many interpretations. At the end, he suggests the one he prefers: Naftali was a jovial man who would run like a deer as joyful people do. With regard to the last three words, they should be understood as “he who gives praise to his God.” The blessing here is that Naftali and his descendants should always remain joyful and thankful to God. (See also Moses’ blessing to Naftali at Deut. 33:23). But query whether a deer that is let loose/sent out reflects an image of “joy.” The image seems to be one of “speed.”
              Until now, we have been assuming that “imrei” meant “words” and that “shefer” mean “beauty.”  But there are other ways to translate these words.
              As to “imrei,” from Isa. 17:6 and 17:9, we see that A-M-R can mean something like “branch of a tree” (in the form A-M-Y-R). In this view, the meaning of the second half of the statement relates to beautiful branches. Some also translate “ayalah” in the first phrase with a “tree” meaning. See, e.g, Malbim. But translating “ayalah” as a tree is a stretch. “Alah” and “Elah” are words for tree in Tanach, not “ayalah.” Also, “sheluchah” fits better with the animal meaning. Since the first phrase is not referring to a tree, the second phrase probably has nothing to do with trees either.
           There is another way to translate “imrei.” An “imer” is a lamb in Aramaic. Accordingly, I have seen the suggestion that in our verse “imrei” has a “deer” meaning. For example, the Drazin-Wagner edition of Onkelos translates the latter phrase in our verse as “that bears lovely fawns.” A fawn is a young deer. This is before it gives the translation of Onkelos himself. (“Sh-F-R” as “beauty/splendor” is also fundamentally an Aramaic word. It appears rarely in Tanach.)  The Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon also mentions “beautiful young animals” as a possibility. But is it not the female who bears the newborn animals? The verse should have read “ha-notenet”!
          With regard to the root Sh-P-R, a different approach is to connect it with the word “shofar” and its “horn” meaning. If A-M-R is given its “tree, branch” meaning, the result is something like “branched antlers.” This interpretation is one of several mentioned in Koehler-Baumgartner and in the Daat Mikra. It is also mentioned in the concordance of S. Mandelkern, in the entry for “ayal.” He suggests that it is an image of “hod” and “tiferet.” But the word “ha-noten” (=gives) is difficult in this interpretation. Something like “grows” would have been better.
           As you can see, I have not suggested a preferred interpretation. In order to do that, it is necessary to analyze all of Yaakov’s blessings and see whether they generally point to qualities of the son, qualities of the tribe, or qualities of the land. Or perhaps they typically predict particular events or individuals. Also, perhaps they should be understood in light of the blessings that Moshe gave. All of this is beyond the scope of this limited presentation.
            (An interesting approach to all the blessings is suggested by Abravanel: Each of Yaakov’s blessings is insinuating why the tribe is not fit for royalty, unlike Yehudah.)                             
           One midrashic tradition is that Serach daughter of Asher was the one who first informed Yaakov that Yosef was alive. But there is another such tradition that Naftali was the one who delivered this message of good news. See Targum Yonatan to Gen. 46:17 and to our verse. Surely this midrashic tradition derives from our verse!
Mitchell First can be reached at As an attorney, he tries to move his litigations quickly. As a Jewish scholar, he tries to write beautiful columns.

It was time for an Administration to break the foreign policy 'rules'

From RRW

Please note that this is the opinion of JNS and Mr. Tobin and does not necessarily reflect the views of Nishma.

It was time for an administration to break foreign-policy ‘rules’

by Jonathan S. Tobin, editor-in-chief,, January 3, 2020
What follows next is unclear, but by killing Iranian arch-terrorist Qassem Soleimani, Trump has broken the wheel of appeasement that enabled Tehran’s ongoing aggression.
For 20 years, he had sowed terror and confusion throughout the Middle East with impunity. As head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassem Soleimani was the mastermind of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, as well as the second most powerful person within that oppressive Islamist theocracy. No matter how much mayhem he spread, he believed that he was untouchable. And three American administrations run by both Democrats and Republicans validated that belief, forgoing opportunities to kill the man who had the blood of many Americans and countless Syrians, Lebanese, Israelis and others on his hands.
But following the orchestration of attacks on American forces in Iraq and the staging of an assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Soleimani’s get-out-of-jail free card that he had been given by the international community and successive American presidents expired.
When an American drone killed him along with the leader of Iran’s Iraqi terrorist auxiliaries, what happened was more than a settling of scores. It proclaimed to the world that the old rules by which Iran had been able to do its worst against the United States, Israel and the West—never to face any consequences—were no longer valid.
Much like his moves to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there, Trump’s authorization of the attack on Soleimani proclaims that he has thrown out the foreign-policy rulebook that had restrained America in the past—rules that wound up shielding bad actors like Soleimani.
There’s no way of knowing how far the Iranian regime will go in order to retaliate for the major blow they have received. American citizens and assets are now at risk. Yet it is also possible that, as was the case with Trump’s pro-Israel policies, predictions of the world blowing up over this will be exaggerated.
What we do know is that this is likely to prove a crucial moment in the history of the modern Middle East. For 40 years since the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran, the regime has been able to go on pursuing its agenda of regional hegemony via terror and subversion with the West acting as if it could not or would not try to do much about it.
Indeed, the guiding principle of the Obama administration’s foreign policy was an effort to appease and accommodate the Iranians, no matter what they did. While President Barack Obama said he hoped that the nuclear deal he negotiated with Tehran in 2015 would enable the regime to “get right with the world.”
But the ayatollahs didn’t want that opportunity. What it wanted was the West’s seal of approval for their nuclear program and access to foreign markets to sell the oil that would finance their pet terrorists like the IRGC. It bluffed Obama into conceding point after point in the negotiations to where the pact actually guaranteed that Iran would eventually get a nuclear weapon, while at the same time enriching and empowering the regime. And after that, it doubled down on its adventurism laying waste to Syria while consolidating control in Lebanon and attempting to do the same in Iraq.
*The premise of much of the criticism of Trump’s decision on Soleimani rests on a false assumption. Those who lament the president’s trashing of conventional wisdom act as if he has upset a tradition that safeguarded American interests and lives. But it did nothing of the kind.*

What happened in Syria as Iran and its ally, President Bashar Assad, lay waste to that country was the direct consequence of American appeasement. The same is true of Iran’s ability to essentially take over Lebanon through its Hezbollah henchmen. And in recent weeks, Tehran’s efforts to do the same in Iraq involved direct attacks on Americans, culminating in the assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad ringing up troubling memories of both the 2012 Benghazi debacle and the seizure of American hostages during the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.
The argument against Trump’s foreign policy is that his actions are ill-considered, disregarding the advice of both experts and allies, and endangering the peace of the region and the world. Obama administration alumni, in particular, are saying that Trump is squandering chances for peace that the nuclear pact created.
No matter; the opposite is true. Killing Soleimani won’t start a war; Iran has been waging a hot war against America and its allies for years. Like Trump’s much-needed action in pulling out of a dangerous nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran—and even adding some new ones—the Soleimani operation makes it clear to Iran’s leaders, perhaps for the first time, that the costs of their provocations are now going to be borne by them, and not only their foes or the helpless population that groans under their despotic rule.
Playing by the rules—rules that served the interests of a rogue regime—is what endangered American lives and interests by making Iran stronger and feeling less constrained about employing its brutal and bloody tactics.
It is to be hoped that Iran’s remaining leaders are chastened, as well as angered by what has happened to their indispensable man of terror. Perhaps they will comprehend that the tables are turned, and it’s now time for them to start backing down, lest they find themselves embroiled in a conflict in which they will have far more to lose than the United States.
Whether or not happens, it’s also time for the chattering classes to stop pretending that Trump is the problem. It was high time that someone had the nerve to break the wheel that perpetuated Iran’s power and violence. Whatever happens next, a world in which the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is afraid of the United States can’t be much worse than one in which the ayatollahs have nothing but contempt for the Washington’s resolve to defend American interests.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

New RBH shiur on Koshertube: Social Orthodoxy and Social Judaism: Whatever happened to the Authority of God?

While it may be true that Orthodox commitment has, in general terms, been defined in terms of practice, there was always the clear perception that this also reflected acceptance of the basic theological principles of Orthodoxy. There could be disagreements; there could be questions: but why would anyone follow Halacha if that person did not accept the giving of the Torah at Sinai? This, it seems, is now changing -- on many fronts and in many ways -- and the very definition of Orthodoxy is now under the microscope. It is this issue that Rabbi Hecht addresses in his latest shiur on Koshertube on Youtube.

We invite you to view Social Orthodoxy and Social Judaism: Whatever happened to the Authority of God?  at