Tuesday 26 June 2007

How flexible is Jewish Law - pt. 1

Originally published 6/26/07, 3:50 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
See this article first, "Jewish Law on Abortion and its Implications for Stem Cell Research" from the archives of Rabbi Noah Gradofsky.

Then "discuss amongst yourselves!"
Back later.


Note there was an extra period at the end of the URL, now with skipping the period, the URL emerges!

Rashi Learning Leining Tips

Originally posted 6/26/07, 3:28 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
How were YOU taught how to use Rashi on Humash?
Below I have pasted an example from the leining group of how to use Rashi for:
  1. More accurate leining
  2. Better understanding of the peshat
  3. Getting a feel for the nuances of dikduk
Were YOU taught to use Rashi that way?
If not - why not?
What is going on with our modern education? - The World wonders!


RRLT = Russell's Rashi leining tips

Every baal koray knows that there are two MINCHAS KENAOTH in the 4th
aliyah of Naso. One concludes HO and one concludes HE.

Rashi comes to the rescue by stating that the pronoun refers back to
the beginning of the verse.

- Make it a BARLEY Minchah...no OIL..for IT is a vengenance Minchah
(Here IT refers back to BARLEY and is masculine)

- He places the MINCHAH on her hands....IT is venegenance Minchah
(Here IT refers back to MINCHAH and is feminine)

We had a survey a few years ago on whether Baalay Keriah use
surrounding cues while leining. Here is an example where you have to
have the totality of the verse in mind.

One Baal Koray asked me this week: "OK Rashi explains it...IT refers
back to BARLEY...but what is the point of the verse....couldnt IT
equally refer back to MINCHAH---BARLEY MINCHAH...IT IS VENGEFUL"?

Strong question: Actually though Rashi answers this also. Most
Minchahs are WHEAT. Barley, says Rashi, is ANIMAL food. This MINCHAH
is brought on an ANIMAL ACT (Suspected adultery). So the whole verse
reads "...she brings ANIMAL FOOD-BARLEY.

This is a complicated application of Rashi. We have discussed this
before. Some baalay keriah will simply memorize that it is HO vs HE.
But it is nice to know that you can actually see it in the meaning.

- Russell

Sunday 24 June 2007

Who Carries the Ball in Psak?

Originally published 6/24/07, 12:13 AM, Eastern Daylight Time
Rabbi Ben Hecht

The Jewish Week's article on Rabbi Marc Angel, entitled "Modern Orthodoxy's 'Cultic' Influence"
presents a most interesting insight into one of the issues that separates Modern Orthodoxy from Charedi Orthodoxy. In general terms this issue may be defined in terms of Centralization and De-Centralization, with the latter favouring centralization in the hands of gedolim and the former favouring de-centralization in the hands of the pulpit rabbi, the communal rav or the individual's chosen rav.

There are many questions and issues that are subsumed within this topic. My intention is to identify just one. One of the challenges against decentralization is that the gadol is the greater expert and thus should be the one to respond the a Torah question. There is much value in this assertion -- yet this is not the entire issue. Rabbi Angel points to the fact that a pulpit rabbi will consult with Torah scholars in rendering a decision thus availing himself of this greater source of knowledge. The question really is: who is carrying the ball? Whose psak is it? Should an individual be directed to ask the question himself or herself of the gadol, or should the rav consult with the gadol before rendering his decision?

Framing the question this way actually changes the nature of the issue. It is no longer an issue of knowledge. The issue is actually the nature of psak. Who can best render decisions? In regard to this question, there are again many sub-issues. For example, one may favour decentralization because an important ingredient in psak is knowing the specific situation, including the personality of the one asking the question. This demands that the psak stay in the hands of the person's rabbi. He may have an intuitive perception of the questioner that cannot be simply relayed to another. Interestingly, the chassidic model, which favours centralization includes the idea that the rebbe through ruach hakodesh knows the individual situation. (One may wonder how much this argument affected the present perception that da'at Torah is built on ruach hakodesh and not simply greater Torah knowledge.) The argument for centralization may, on the other hand, include the idea that even the process of psak demands the greater expert.

There are many other issues involved in this question of centralization and decentralization but this is one we open for you consideration. Who should have the ball in psak?

Friday 22 June 2007

The Perception of Torah

Originally published 6/22/07, 5:13 PM, Eastern Daylight Time

How are we to be viewed by the world? On the one hand, our laws are seen by many as somewhat odd. Does Rashi not state, in the beginning of parshat Chukkot, that the nations of the world will mock us?

Yet, does Devarim 4:6 not also declare that the nations of the world will also see us, through our laws, as a "wise and understanding people"? So what is it? Should we expect to be mocked by the world or praised by the world, in our observance of mitzvot?

We invite you to look at the following Nishma Spark of the Week for a response to this question.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Talmud - What's the Rush? Ben Hamesh, etc.

Originally published 6/19/07, 4:54 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
The Mishnah in Avoth outlines the following "pedagogical" program:
  1. Ben Hamseh [5]LeMikra [Tanach]
  2. Ben Esser [10] leMishna
  3. Ben Shlosh Esrai [13] leMitzvoth
  4. Ben hamesh Esrai [15] liGmara
And - so what is our rush to commence learning G'mara so much younger? It is clear that every Amora had mastered all of Tanach and all of Mishnah and a scattered smattering of Braitot BEFORE engaging in Talmud! If that was required of them THEN all the more so [kal vachomer] for US!

I could concede the idea of leaving gaps in Tanach and substituting Rashi on Humash instead. This has been recorded by various Poskim as a valid trade-off. [E.G. [See Shulchan Aruch Harav.] But I am not so willing to compromise other trade-offs made in our educational system at the expense of a broad base. Certainly a wide ranging knowledge of TaNaCh and Mishnah, or alternatively, Humash/Rashi & Mishnah would serve the novice Talmudic student well in both the short run and long run.


Now for a little spin on learning Mitzvoth at thirteen  from a pedagogical perspective. Traditionally the understanding of thirteen for mitzvoth is to PERFORM them. How about considering that from age 13-15, one might spend two years learning mitzvot, e.g. Sefer haChinuch, Rambam's Sefer haMitzvoth with some fine commentaries, Sefer Mitzvoth Hashem, the Chofetz Chayim's Sefer haMitzvot haKatzar etc.

The Shulchan Aruch Harav on Talmud Torah states that each Jewish soul must perform all 613 Mitzvoth. This is, of course, physically impossible in a single lifetime because some mitzvoth are restricted by caste and by gender! The alternative to physical performance is the intense learning of the mitzvoth. Certainly, a great background in performing Mitzvoth - and helpful Beqioth for Talmud as well - can be obtained by an intensive two-year program of mitzvoth to supplement the five year program of Mishnah.

I would start with the Rambam's Sefer haMitzvoth, then proceed to the Chinuch. At the pace of only two mitzvoth a day- all 613 can be easily covered in a single year. Thus, both books could be covered in two years.

Alternatively one could start with the latest books first working backwards. Take the Sefer Mamizoth Hakatzar, then Sefer Mitzvoth Hashem, etc.

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 17 June 2007

Two Palestines?

Originally published 6/17/07, 7:20 PM, Eastern Daylight Time

Rabbi Ben Hecht:

I just want to venture a little way from theology and look at what's happening in Eretz Yisrael, although whatever is happening in Eretz Yisrael is part of the realm of Torah. What has occurred this past week is most interesting -- and what has emerged is possibly, let us call them, "two Palestines."

How are we to look at this development? Does it improve the situation for klal Yisrael or does it cause greater difficulty? I am not one to venture to say what is the intention of Hashem but I think that there is value in attempting to figure out how we are to respond to this present situation. Gaza is in control of Hamas. Fatah is effectively the Palestinian authority or government in the West Bank. What is emerging are two distinct Palestinian entities with two different governmental agencies. What does that mean for Israel?

This is not a discussion touching on the larger issue of how Israel should deal with the Palestinians in general. I am not talking left or right. I am not talking land for peace or not. I am basically questioning whether this situation is a good one for Israel or not, regardless of what one thinks the solution should be. Given what you believe the goal for Eretz Yisrael should be, is this situation potentially more beneficial to the realization of this goal or not? Of course, all depends on how Israel responds to this situation. How should, then, Israel respond?

Personally, I wonder. Even though the terrorists of Hamas control Gaza (and this is not to say that Fatah are not terrorists), I think that this "division of Palestine" may be good for Israel. But ultimately I cannot say this definitively. What do you think?

Saturday 16 June 2007

Women and Gemara

Originally published 6/16/07, 11:18 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
If you say that women should not study Gemara, what are you saying about the study of Gemara itself? If women can be righteous Jews without the knowledge of Gemara, aren't you also stating that the knowledge of Gemara is not necessary for one to be a righteous Jew?

There is the act of studying Torah -- a ma'aseh hamitzvah that has its own place in the world of Torah. Not every Jew has to do, or even can do, every possible mitzvah.  I thus can understand if one states that this action is only for men or kohanim or leviim or women etc. But beyond the act of studying Torah, there is the knowledge to be gained from this action.
Once you state that one cannot do this action, you are making a statement about the knowledge as well. You are making a statement about the role of the knowledge gained through this action in being a Jew. If the argument is that there are differing definitions of the ideal for men and women, that also needs to be explained.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 14 June 2007

Women, Gemara and the Other Issue

Originally published 6/14/07, 10:18 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
Ynetnews.com is reporting the following:

Rabbi Eliyahu: Women shouldn't study Gemara.
Prominent leader of Zionist-religious public rules girls should not engage in Gemara study due to risk of obscuring differences between genders. Details may be found here.

Obviously an article such as this brings out all the issues of Women and Judaism.  I invite you to look at the substantial material on this subject at Nishma, both in the Online Library through our subject index on this topic, as well as in our Research section reflecting our on-going research on this subject. Both are available through links on the home page. The latest entry in the Research section on whether men and women are to be seen, in halachic terms, as separate entities, or two parts of the generic entry of Jews, is actually to the point. The answer to that question reflects greatly on one's attitude to women within the corpus of Torah.

Rabbi Eliyahu's remarks, and similar remarks by Rabbi Aviner, actually raise another issue that may even have greater repercussions. I remember reading a comment by a noted Torah educator in the USA. He  wrote that the issue of women studying Gemara was no longer an issue within the Modern Orthodox community once the Rav gave the first shiur in the Stern beis medrash. It was not just that the Rav said it was okay; he did it. Now, of course this educator knew that someone could still disagree with the Rav -- after all many of the Rav's talmidim are on record as disagreeing with their rebbi regarding various halachic issues.

 It's the way that disagreement is voiced, though, that is the key. The position of the Rav cannot be summarily dismissed, without even being raised. Usually, when one disagrees with the Rav, the position of the Rav is mentioned and then, with respect, the disagreement is voiced. The reality of differing views within Torah, the non-monlithic nature of the community, is recognized.

I have not seen what either Rav Eliyahu or Rav Aviner actaully wrote or said. As such, I am at a disadvantage in even voicing these comments. The question I have, though, is whether these opinions were voiced with the recognition of the Rav's opinion voiced. If not, we have the potential for schism within the two worlds of Modern Orthodoxy.

Of course, there is a great distinction between Israeli Modern Orthodoxy, which is really built on the hashkafa of Rav Kuk and focuses, in distinction form the charedim, on its view of the State of Israel, and American Modern Orthodoxy, which is really built on the hashkafa of the Rav (Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik) and focuses, in distinction, on its view of the outside world. Certainly, there is some overlap, but there is also room for distinction. This distinction is sometimes not recognized. In the words of Rabbis Eliyahu and Aviner the distinction emerges -- and the question is what will occur with this recognition of distinction?

Of course, Torah is not monolithic. We want a world of divergence under the principle of Eilu v'Eilu. But such a world begins with the recognition of the principle that Beis Hillel quoted Beis Shammai first. That, sadly, does not exist in the broader Orthodox world. The question is whether this sadness of greater Orthodoxy is also going to be part of "the world within the world" of Modern Orthodoxy?
Further in regard to this topic, you may also want to take a look at the discussion on this topic at the following blog.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Korach - The Motivation of Torah

Originally posted 6/14/07, 10:07 PM, Eastern Daylight Time

With this post, we offer a new service.

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library,  we will choose an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Korach. The question: what motivates someone to be Torah observant. Why does one follow Torah, observe mitzvot, and identify with an Orthodox or Jewish lifestyle? There are many possibilities. This dvar Torah, The Motivation of Torah, will present some, and more importantly, offer itself as a starting point for thinking about this.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Rambam's 13 Ikkarim - Original Intent vs, .Yigdal

Originally published 6/13/07, 12:01 PM, Eastern Daylight TIme

[Posted in Viewpoint at 11:38 am by RabbiRichWolpoe]
Many years ago, when I was active in the Aishdas.org Avodah group, we debated the 13 ikkarim of the Rambam.

Questions arose:
  1. Were these principles ever made normative?
  2. Was our version of the 13 ikkarim the correct version?
  3. What was the original intent of the Rambam on several points?
  4. Are we sticking to those original intentions - and if not why not?

Please see UTJ.org's Viewpoints for the remainder of this topic.
If you got there through here, please comment HERE! (You can comment there, too!)


Monday 11 June 2007

Jewish Identity

Originally published 6/11/07, 5:41 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

The Jewish Tribune (Toronto) is publishing a two part series on Jewish Identity by Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht. Part 1 appeared in the May 31st edition of the paper and Part 2 will appear in this week's (June 14) edition. The articles are also available on the newspaper's website.

We invite you to look at these articles as well as Rabbi Hecht's article "Adjective and Non-adjective Jews."  voice your view on the definition of Jewishness. The question is not "Who is a Jew?" but rather, "What is a Jew?"

There may actually be two parts to your response. One is your theoretical definition of Jewishness -- what it essentially is. The second is your practical definition within the world we live. For example, you may have a clear halachic definition of Jewishness; this is your essential, theoretical definition. But what definition do you use to keep Messianic Jewish entities, i.e. Jews for Jesus, out of broad communal organizations such as Federation? Will your halachic definition also demand the exclusion of Reconstructionist entities? How do you then work with these two definitions?

Friday 8 June 2007

History, Philology, & FOOLology

Originally published 6/8/07, 10:28 AM, Eastern Daylight Time

A Rabbinical Colleague of mine - let's call him Rabbi Philo - posited based upon philology:
Emunath Chachamim is the Emunah possessed BY Chachamim
NOT faith IN the Chchamim!
I counter that this means the following: according to the logic above:
  1. Yi'rat hashem is the FEAR posssessed by God for something else (implicit heresy)
  2. Bedikat Hametz is the inspection conducted BY the Hametz itself
  3. Beth Hamidkash is a house OWNED by the Sanctuary
  4. etc.
I did a reality check. I consulting 18 separate sources starting from Mahzor Vitry and forward, as to how to parse the meaning of this phrase.  R. Philip Birnbaum was the only dissenting voice. He translated "Emunath Chachamim" as "intellectual honesty."

Nevertheless, I do see my R. Philo's point. Hassidim and other Chareidim have unfortunately transformed Emunath Chachomim into worship of Sages instead of simply "trusting the Sages".

That said, I don't see how  his philology is accurate. Were his peshat accurate, the phrase should be "Emunatan shel Chachamim," the Faith possessed by the Sages. I consider this not Philology but FOOLology.

However, the bigger question lingers. How can one reject 800 years of commentary and go back and give a revisionist spin on a classic text? Is this within the parameters and boundaries of P'Sak as outline in the previous post?

Is it legitimate to go back and spin the meaning in order to drive even a VALID modern Agenda?

Tuesday 5 June 2007

What Are the Proper Boundaries of P'sak?

Originally published 6/5/07, 6:10 PM, Eastern Daylight Time

The Meta-question in Halachic decision making is:
Does a Poseik have to adhere to any objective standards?

Related questions:
  1. How subjective may a Poseik be?
  2. What are the parameters of making P'sak?
  3. Are there any hard and fast rules to P'sak?
  4. Is the only real limitation to P'sak some kind of "Peer Review" or "Rabbinical Consensus?"
  5. What is the role of binding precedent? I.E. is there such a "settled law?"
  6. Does every P'sak need to conform to the Talmud Bavli?
    1. And if so, how so?
    2. When can a minority opinion trump a majority opinion?
  7. When may a Poseik Trump any/every Acharon?
    1. Rishon?
    2. Gaon?
    3. Talmud?
    4. Shulchan Aruch
  8. Assuming there are objective rulse, what is the recourse to a P'sak that is "out-of-bounds"?
  9. When Did the Talmud Bavli feel bound by precedent? When did it feel it had the authority to over-rule precedent?
  10. Outside of the Bavli - What texts -if any - are deemed authoritative?
  11. How does the decision of one community impact another community?
  12. I.E. Is North America now subservient to "G'dolim" in Israel?
  13. Is a local rabbi subservient to G'dolim?
  14. When is one obligated to follow one's own rabbi and when is one permitted to go "outside the box?
    1. E.G. Congregant MB always follows the Mishnah Brurah as a matter of personal policy - must he follow his local rabbi in the confines of his own home?
    2. A Sephardic congregant joins an Ashkenazic Shul: When must he conform to local custom and when is he allowed to conform to "Minhag Avoth" or family custom?