Sunday 30 September 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Originally published 9/30/07, 8:04 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
The debate goes back and forth. Should Columbia University have invited Ahmadinejad to speak, even given the fact that the University's president attacked him? Many issues enter into the debate. One is the question of freedom of speech. Does freedom of speech not allow one to present even the most grotesque concepts (as long as it does not actually lead to violence) for if you put any limitation of this freedom it will eventually swallow all disagreements? But that really was not the issue. The further question was really whether the university should have invited him. Freedom of speech may ultimately allow someone to speak but that does not mean that I have to provide this person with a forum.

That, though, was also not the real question. Columbia also recognized that it had no obligation, under the concept of freedom of speech to provided this forum. So the further question is why did Columbia provide the forum? The cynical answer would be that it served Columbia's self-interest however the university's president contended that, since it was a controlled environment, it provided the opportunity to challenge and critique Iran and the Iranian president. So that becomes the real question -- is it better to challenge evil head on in debate or is it better to ignore it? Should Ahmadinejad had been offered a forum given that this forum will also provide the opportunity to call him a petty and cruel dictator or is it better to ignore him? That is really a most interesting question.

The history of the Christian-Jewish debates of the Middle Ages would seem to support the latter view. Torah scholars clearly attempted to avoid these disputations and, as greatly evidenced by the Disputation between Ramban and Pablo Christiani, the result of these disputations was negative even as the Jewish scholars clearly one the academic battle. But in these cases, the environment was shaped to ensure this negativity. Perhaps in more objective circumstances, Torah scholars would have been more open to a forum which allowed the expression of the divergent opinion knowing full well that the result would be positive and lead perhaps to a better outcome. After all, does Pirkei Avoth not say to know how to answer the heretic and did not members of Chazal find themselves in situations whereby they debated heretics, or at least answered them. Still there is a great difference between responding to the challenge of a debate and inviting one like Ahmadinejad to speak.

The problem is that once you give a forum you never know what the response will be. Already I have heard that in Iran the invite to Columbia has been given a totally positive spin without mention of how the attack on Ahmadinejad. Alternatively, I have heard that there have been criticism of the U.S. and how rude this country is, without mention of the substantive issues mentioned by Columbia's president.

There is a side of me that still believes that the best way to fight evil may be by placing it out in the open and then showing it for what it is. The potential ridicule of evil through substantial debate may have great value. But there is a great but. The circumstances of debate ultimately rule the debate. The problem with Columbia's theory may be that you cannot control the circumstances and the environment. That was the great ultimate lesson of the Ramban's disputation with Christiani. Ramban really tried to level the playing field, ensure an objective debate. It sadly didn't help because the other side found a way around it and used the very disputation that they lost for their own benefit. In the end, perhaps ignoring is the practically best way.

The issue thought is a real one.

Positive Feedback from a Fan of NishmaBlog

Originally published 9/30/07, 5:05 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Rabbi Ben Hecht's daughter received this comment, from someone who wishes to remain anonymous.

I just wanted to let you know that I've finally had the chance to look at part of the Nishma' blog and it's fabulous. I really enjoy the strong intellectual content, which is untempered by the cynicism, sarcasm and down right meanness that so often pervades solid intelligent writing nowadays. ...It's a pleasure to see Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, halakhic Judaism, discussed with great analysis of the ethical and philosophical issues and without fear of heresy. May it only be strengthened, and may your father only be strengthened in his very noble and productive endeavors.

L'shanah tovah,

--Gmar Tov,
Best Wishes for 5768,

Saturday 29 September 2007

Re: [Avodah] Arba Minim

Originally published 9/29/07, 9:01 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
A nice Drasha from R Wolberg, 
-  posted this on the Avodah List on 9/26/07, :
In doing research on the arba minim, I've come up with the following:
ESROG: The citron fruit is slow-growing and tends to be short-lived... The fruit has a very thick skin. It is very fragrant and was valued in ancient times for its aroma and its fragrant peel oil, used in perfumes and as a moth repellent. If citrons are allowed to fully ripen on the tree they will be very aromatic. The citron tree is highly sensitive to frost; does not enter winter dormancy as early as other Citrus species.
Application: We Jews have developed a very thick skin over the years. In spite of that, we can be fragrant, and if need be, we can repel our adversaries. We are also a warm people and very sensitive to cold personalities.
LULAV: Palm leaves are prominent and have a characteristic shape. Palms are a monophyletic group of plants, meaning that the group consists of a common ancestor.
Application: Jews have made their mark on humanity and have been quite prominent with unique characteristics. Of course, Abraham is our common ancestor.
HADASSIM: Myrtle leaves exude an aromatic and refreshing smell somewhat reminiscent to myrrh or eucalypt; the taste is very intensive, quite disagreeable and strongly bitter.
Application: We certainly have permeated civilization with an aromatic and refreshing scent. However, as a means of protection and self-preservation, we've distanced ourselves from those who were out to harm us by employing a strongly bitter taste.
ARAVOS The Willows are a family of trees and shrubs which differ greatly in size and habit of growth but are very much alike in other respects. Their roots are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity of life.
Application: Although we are not monolithic and differ greatly in many areas, we are nevertheless much alike in other respects. Our foundation is also remarkable for its toughness and tenacity of life. I am reminded about the tefillin. The Shel Yad has one piece of parchment with the four different Torah passages, but the shel rosh has four separate parchment compartments. What it teaches is that when it comes to thinking, we can think independently and disagree with one another. However, when it comes to action, we are unified (or at least, should be). So though we differ in ideas we are very much alike in our ultimate goals.
Richard Wolberg
Gmar Tov,
Best Wishes for 5768,

Tuesday 25 September 2007

19th Yahrtzeit of my Dad Harry Wolpoe OBM - 14 Tishrei

Originally published 9/25/07, 7:35 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
There is much to say about my Dad. I will be brief and recall the Talmud's irony about the mourning of the individual vs. the celebration of the masses.

My Father passed on Erev Sukkos. While most observant Jews were celebrating Zman Simchoseinu, I was mourning my beloved Father following a two hour Shiv'a. It was a very tough time. How could I be happy in that situation? And yet, how could I completely ignore Simchas Yom Tov? It was a dilemma I do not wish upon others.

OTOH, my son Zvi was born on Rosh Chodesh Av. Zvi is named after my late Dad. His Bris was Erev Tisha b'av. That night, whilst I leined Eicha for my congregation, I betrayed a smile as my personal Joy over-rode the public mourning for our Two Temples, etc.

And so there is indeed a God. or for me it is all too often The God of Cosmic Irony. The Divine King who visits death at the height of Joy and brings Joy at the height of mourning

Chag Somey'ach,

Sukkah Sensitivity

Originally published 9/25/07, 7:10 PM, Eastern Daylight Time

Sukkah Sensitivity

Sukkah Sensitivity (c) 2000 by Rabbi Richard Wolpoe

One of the laws of the Sukkah roof {aka SCHACH} tells us that if the shade is less than 50% it is invalid. And, on the other hand, any thatched SCHACH that is so thick that rain cannot permeate is also not valid. So the cover must be more shade than Sun, yet not so shady that neither rain nor the Starlight can penetrate.

This can be considered a metaphor for how a Jew should deal with the outside world.

A protection or barrier of less than 50% is invalid, as it is too prone to assimilation. It is by definition more outside than inside, it is too permeable to be considered valid protection. However, any barrier that does not allow rain drops or Starlight, that is so thick-skinned as to be totally insensitive to the outside world, is also no good. IOW, avoiding assimilation does not entitle us to erect barriers that completely eliminates sensitivity to the outside world at large.


Triumph of Textualism over Tradition

Originally published 9/25/07, 1:35 PM, Eastern Daylight TIme
Why Wash BEFORE Kiddush? - A Lost Tradition!

Pursuant to an earlier post, "Washing before Kiddush", I received a link to an article by my colleague Gil Student: []...

In the old days, there was a very widespread custom that was stamped out by leading rabbis who felt that it did not sufficiently conform to the Talmud. This despite explicit approval of the practice by scholars of the highest tier.

No, I am not referring to any example of the so-called Haredization of the Jewish community in the twentieth century. I am talking about a development in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the practice is washing one's hands (with a blessing) prior to reciting kiddush over wine and then proceeding directly to reciting a blessing over the hallah.
See the entire article at: Hirhurim, "A Triumph of Textualism."
My online response is "we have lost our way!" :-)

Note: Gil Students' Blog Hirhurim, since moved to Torah Musings - like the Nishmablog - is dedicated in informing and enlightening people re: Torah values . In that sense we have common cause. i.e. To educate and not to infuriate!

Monday 24 September 2007

An Enlightened View From a Traditional Jew

Originally published 9/24/07, 11:22 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
From the Avodah List. Posted with Daniel Eidensohn's permission

On 9/24/07, Daniel Eidensohn wrote:
I just came across an interesting article written 30 years ago by Blu Greenberg - "Judaism 27:3 1978 p. 351-363."
Rabbi Jacob Emden:
The views of an enlightened Traditionalist on

page 358 "In his commentary Eitz Avos (40b-41a) on Pirkei Avot (4:11), Emden describes Christianity as a "religion in the service of God," a religion which God sees as good and, therefore, He sustains it; it came to spread the word of God to those 'who, until then, had worshipped wood and stone, who denied the existence of God altogether, who did not believe in good and evil, or in the afterlife. Christianity spread the notion of one God, one Ruler of all the universe who metes out justice to His creations. Christians accept the seven Noahide Laws and many other mitzvot which they voluntarily take upon themselves. In addition to these good qualities, God also gave them prophecy through their righteous ones, and through these prophets gave them laws and commandments by which to live. Because of all this - because they met these tests of a holy community-their religion was upheld and maintained by God. Emden continues: these two families, Christianity and Mohammedanism, which God selected as vehicles to bring faith into the world, were never brought under the yoke of mitzvot of the Torah; their fathers never gave it to them, nor did they stand at Sinai; neither were they slaves in Egypt; therefore, they are not obligated for the 613 mitzvos and are thus exempt from the prohibition of shittuf. Emden concludes with the repetition of a previous theme: though some of their evil ones cause us sorrow with their violent actions and false accusations, there are righteous ones who protect us from those who rise up against Jews, and wise ones among them who search for truth in our works and find no fault in our faithfulness to our Torah and mitzvot. "

Shailos Yaavetz (1:41):

*… *Non‑Jews who have not been acquired as slaves are not comparable to animals and have familial relations and this is surely true concerning these nations which have religion and a legal system and they believe in the Creator of the world who runs it and gives reward and punishment as well aas believing in a number of other fundamental principles. So even though they worship many deities they are not in fact prohibited to do that - as our sages have said that non‑Jews are not prohibited concerning shituf (Devarim 4:19)… They believe that there are intermediaries that G‑d uses to run this world such as stars and angels as well as many other agents for G‑d's providence over the world. Thus they include these agents in their worship of G‑d saying that it is G‑d's will that they give some honor to G‑d's servants and in a sense the servant of the king is like a king. This is the religion of most idolators in the world as is well known…

Daniel Eidensohn

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Why Do Some Yekkes Wash BEFORE Kiddush?

Originally published 9/18/07, 5:25 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
My daughter e-mailed me as follows:
PS we were discussing customs and such in our Hilchot Shabbat class, and I wanted to know, what is the basis for washing before Kiddush again? I couldn't remember from the last time you explained it...

The Rema states that, despite everything, we DO wash before Kiddush; the question is WHY?

The Mishna Brura explains it as follows:
  • Since people often did NOT have wine they made Kidush on Bread. Thus, they needed to wash about 50% of the time anyway. So this became standard [SOP} to ALWAYS wash in order to make it consistent. [Lo Plug]
[BTW, the History Channel had a long show on the impact of the "little" ice age on Europe etc. Beer and liquor replaced wine as the drink in ALL of Northern Europe. There probably were very few grapes around the time of Rema outside of Italy and Spain, etc.]

I have another spin on this. The Talmud says about Rav:
  • When he felt like it he made Kiddush on Wine
  • When he felt like it he made Kiddush on Bread.
Most people see that as implying a different time for washing - the wine case AFTER Kiddush and the Bread case BEFORE However, It is possible to read Rav as being MUCH more spontaneous. Therefore if he ALWAYS washed First - then could make his preference impulsively RIGHT at the time of Kiddush without any earlier preparation. This takes Rav's feeling to mean RIGHT ON THE SPOT he made up his mind and therefore the Rema's practice has a Talmudic basis.

The problem with this explanation is that the Talmud itself elsewhere seems to say that once one has already washed, he/she should make Kiddush on BREAD instead. I could counter-argue that this passage might be disputing the other passage as far as the Rema is conerned and that by ALWAYS washing one ALWAYS has the option at the very last second to choose between bread and wine. The practical reasons are immense. We need to make Kiddush in the place of the meal. By walking back from the sukkah to the house to wash or in the case of a large dining room it compromises the continuity of the kiddush to the meal. The logistics of doing it continually makes a lot of sense, to go to the Dining room or Sukkah ONLY when the meal is ready to go without having to retreat to the kitchen to wash again. As far as eating later courses, that's OK because the BREAD - Hamotzi - Constitutes a meal! As long as the Kiddush and Hamotzi are one long continuous process then whatever comes later is OK.

Kesiva vaChasima Tova,
Best Wishes for 5768,

The New Dilemma of Freedom of Religion

Originally published 9/18/07, 11:05 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Someone just sent me an e-mail featuring some statements made by political leaders in Australia. There was praise, within this e-mail, for these statements -- and in many ways I shared this positive feeling towards these statements - they basically attacked Islamic fundamentalism, and declared that if someone wanted to live in Australia they had better accept the values of Australia. Of course, these values reflect secular humanism and generally provide for a tolerant society that will still be welcoming to most. Yet, there is still a reason for concern.

In the past few years, often in response to Islamic fundamentalism, there has been a reaction by various societies, declaring that for one to live within the society, one has to abide by the values of the society. This leads to encroachment on minorities, specifically in regard to religion, where concern develops that the religion is challenging the dominant values within the society. In my own mind, places such as France, Quebec and now Australia come to mind. In Ontario I just wrote an article in this regard concerning the fair funding debate that is a major issue within the province's present election campaign.
The problem is, that on one hand, I also share the concern that allowing any religion to present its values can lead to problems, including specific problems for the Jewish community. Yet placing restrictions on religious expression simply because this religion's view may challenge the values of the dominant group in society may cause other problems, including great problems for the Jewish community. The expulsion from Spain ultimately occurred because the Catholic leadership did not want a group within the country that presented values contrary to the dominant group.

So we now face a real dilemma. The dominant value structure in Secular Humanism, which does have greater values of tolerance than medieval Spain's Catholic Church, but the rhetoric is getting dangerously close. Yet, under the veil of freedom of religion, we do find expressions of values that indeed are challenging even to this tolerance. We have to work out not a practical, case by case, solution. We have to work out how to maintain this dominant value of freedom of religion, that has allowed the Jewish community to blossom in many places (the question of the problems this freedom has brought upon Torah within these communities, albeit that Torah has in many ways also flourished within this world -- thus prompting Rav Moshe to refer to the U.S. as a country of chesed -- is beyond the parameters of this post), while still limiting the expression of negativity that may also arise.

Monday 17 September 2007

Another Shemittah Year, Another Headache

Originally published 9/17/07, 12:43 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
"Garnel Ironheart"
(Garnel Ironheart is a the mythical hero from "The Unending War Trilogy" [see] and the pseudonym for a new addition to those posting on the Nishma Blog.)

Rosh HaShanah 5768 is the start of another Shmittah year in Eretz Yisrael with all the regulations and restrictions that implies. Every seven years the Yishuv prepares for this holy time by engaging in the traditional Jewish practice of --- in-fighting.

In the case of the Shmittah year, it surrounds the question of whether to observe the Heter Mechirah, OR whether to reject this understanding of the halacha and follow the traditional restrictions of the halachah on agricultural work in all its fullness. The Heter Mechirah is a process in which Jewish-owned land in Israel is sold to a non-Jew (something like Mechiras Chometz on Pesach) thereby permitting Jews to work the land during the Shemittah year.  Naturally, disputes like this bring out the worst in us.
Two sides form every seven years. On one side are those who strictly oppose the use of the Heter Mechirah but also represent, basically, a community far removed from the world of agriculture. On the other side are people who actually farm for a living and their supporters. They feel that not relying on the Heter would result in financial hardships they would not be able to overcome.

This Shemittah year has been no exception. In recent days, the Israeli newspapers have been carrying stories of the conflict between the two sides. First was the announcement ( that the anti-Heter leadership, through its proxies in the national and regional branches of the Rabbinate, have forbidden any of their rabbonim from giving a kashrut certificate to an institution or business that uses Heter Mechirah produce. Then the other side decided to use the national court system and even the Attorney General stepped into the fray [Link to Jerusalem Post Article] . It's a safe bet that neither side invited the other over for dinner on Shabbos Shuvah.

Now, I'll admit my bias up front - I personally am not convinced by the arguments for the Heter Mechirah's validity and therefore, personally, don't recognize it. On the other hand, I'm not an Israeli business or farmer who faces bankruptcy in the coming year if I can't rely on it. Of course, such a concern cannot affect a psak but it can affect our motivations and sensitivities in regards to a psak.

However, I have determined that there is a perfect compromise to be made. Mostly, this problem between the two sides revolves around money. The farmers and business stand to lose a lot of gelt if the Heter Mechirah is banned. I happen to know where there's a lot of money to be had.
Here's my suggestion. Every year Israel spends tens of millions of shekels (if not more) paying able-bodied individuals to sit around and read books all day. The response to this government initiative has been less than grateful. In fact, I'm not aware of any of these individuals showing any heker panim at all.
So I would suggest to the Israeli government: Take every last shekel in the budget meant for this sector and hand it out to the people who stand to lose everything from the banning of the Heter Mechirah. That's right, now the farmer can afford to take the year off, maybe also read a couple of books (isn't one of the reasons for Shemittah to allow time to learn?). And the restaurateur? Why, he can use the "grant money" to pay for imported fruits and vegetables.
What about those who are now not going to get any money? I'm not worried about them. After all, they're the ones who always say "God will provide." Isn't that there argument in regard to the Heter Shmittah, as well?

Tuesday 11 September 2007

The Evolution of Hebrew Abreviations

Originally published 9/11/07, 11:42 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Reprinted with permission from the author, R. Seth

Background Comments Primarily to the Group

It greatly pleaseth me that others of our esteemed chevra pick up on these items. I do not claim that I am always m'khawwen to the'emeth when I leave my trail, but I do have the general kawwoanoa (how doth that please the the chevra to represent a qoamatz?) to leave a trail. In addition to the issue of hakhoamenu (not -meinu) zikhroanoam livroakhoa, I left other crumbs. Since R DB, alas, who inhabiteth a divers time continuum, hath not yet i-picked up mine trail, I do wish to point out other crumbs:
  1. A spelling 'QWM is exceedingly strange for something spelled 'KWM, and, forsooth, is not comely.
  2. The word 'akum meaning crooked is only pronounced such in 'ABaZit. In classical Hebrew, the word is 'oaqom, with an implicit double m at the end, as is true of most adjectives of that mivneh. Although not attested in the T'NaKh, it is fairly common in the Hebrew of HaZaL.
Substantive Comments on Hebrew Evolution
Regarding R. Akiva's comment, "Does R' Seth really expect me to believe that the people who read this would have read it as "Harav Moshe Ben Maimon", and not as "Harambam"?":
I expect no one to believe anything. After seeing in my own lifetime how thousands of Jews have abandoned one of the tenets of our faith that was affirmed for two thousand years, I have despaired of expecting people to believe anything. All I expect to do is to bring supporting evidence for my position, and then people can believe as they wish. Unfortunately, I have no recordings of people reading Jewish texts and "talking in learning" two hundred years ago, much less 500 (I do think that we would have some difficulty understanding the MaHaRiL, who attests that in his time people were still distinguishing the h.eth from the kaf). I deliberately gave two examples, however, to make a point. The readings "akum" and "rambam" may be old, but the reading "shlita" is a new invention. My beard is grey, but not so long, and I remember a time when the reading "shlita" did not exist. 'Twas only written, and in speech a locution such as "zol zain gezunt un shtark" was employed.

I can still remember the first time I ever heard anyone say "shlita": it was on the radio, when Butman or another Lyubavitcher was saying over something that the late Lyubavitcher leader had said on a "farbrengen" carried on the radio. It sounded very strange to me (being a curmudgeonly nitpicker even when I was in kurtze hoyzen) then and still sounds strange. Once one has witnessed the change of a written abbreviation to a spoken pseudo-word before one's eyes, the idea that once upon a time, far far away, Jews did not pronounce abbreviations as words but pronounced the actual words represented by the abbreviation does not seem so strange. True, American government-speak excels in inventing new words from abbreviations, such as NASA (although the real name is still uttered) and Humvee (I have not heard the real name for a long time). But there are multiple shards of evidence that Jews did not pronounce most abbreviations as words. One is that most old manuscripts write out numerical abbreviations: "dalet ammoth" is written as "arba' ammoth." Another, even more telling, is that many old manuscripts vocalize the abbreviations to indicate how the real words are to be read: HaZaL is written HaZiLi.

Unlike changes like geshem to goashem, I am not claiming that the change to pronouncing abbreviations as words was due to a single person who thought he knew diqduq, nor that the change occurred for all words at the same time. I am sure it was a gradual process, with readings such as HaZal getting into vogue earlier, since it saveth many syllables. As the American government-speak shows, this is a tendency that has established itself in other languages. But the final incontrovertible proof lies in the realization that until the advent of printing, most Jews did not view Hebrew so much as a written language, but as a holy tongue. Jews shared manuscripts of mishnayoth, with many clustering around the one copy extant in the Beth Medrash, and some just listened. If one is not looking at the written text, but reciting half by heart, the impetus to "read" abbreviations as if they were real words is minimal. And unlike the situation since the 18th century, when abbreviations have been standardized, before printing and in the period after printing was first developed, an abbreviation such as 'KWM alternated with printings/writings such as "'ovde kokhoavim," whereas nowadays one will only find "hoaloav 'KWM" printed. And other abbreviations, not standard nowadays, were also employed. This indicates that abbreviations were still viewed as such, rather than actual words.

But I am sure that the reading of some abbreviations as words began in the 18th century, and gradually became more wide-spread, among more people and over more words, during the past 250 years.

Monday 10 September 2007

Cardinal Lustiger - NPR RAdio Broadcast

Originally published 9/10/07, 11:08 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
The following commentary was given by Scott Simon in NPR radio,
on Saturday morning August 11, 2007:

"There used to be a joke in Paris, what is the difference between the chief rabbi in France and the Cardinal of Paris? The Cardinal speaks Yiddish!
Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger was buried yesterday; he died this week of cancer. He was born almost 81 years ago to Polish parents who ran a dress shop in Paris. When the German army marched in his parents sent him and his sister into hiding with a Catholic family in Orleans. Their mother was captured and sent to Auschwitz.
In 1999 as Cardinal of Paris, Jean Marie Lustiger took part in reading of the names of France's day of remembrance of Jews who had been deported and murdered. He came to the name Gesele Lustiger, paused, teared and said, my mama. The effect in France during a time of revived anti-Semitism was electric. He was just 13 and in hiding when he converted to Catholicism, not to escape the Nazis he always said, because no Jew could escape by conversion, and not of trauma, he said. Among his most controversial observations, I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyem. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.There were a great number of rabbis who consider his conversion a betrayal - especially after so many European Jews had so narrowly escaped extinction. Cardinal Lustiger replied, to say that I am no longer a Jew is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers. I am as Jewish as all other members of my family that were butchered in Auschwitz and other camps. He confessed to a biographer that he had a spiritual crisis in the 1970's provoked by persistent anti-Semitism in France. He studied Hebrew, and considered emigrating. He said I thought that I had finished what I had to do here, he explained and I might find new meaning in Israel. But just at that time the pope appointed him bishop of Orleans. He found purpose he said in the plight of immigrant workers. Then he was elevated to Cardinal.

The Archbishop of Paris.
Jean Marie Lustiger was close to the Pope. They shared a doctrinal conservatism. He also battled bigotry and totalitarianism. For years Cardinal Lustiger's name was among those who was considered to succeed John Paul. Without putting himself forth, the Cardinal joked that few things would bedevil bigots more than a Jewish Pope. They don't like to admit it he said, but what Christians believe, they got - through Jews.The funeral for Cardinal Lustiger began at Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday, with the chanting of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead." Sometimes there are profound inconsistencies in our world.

Kesiva vaChasima Tova,
Best Wishes for 5768,

Rabbinic System vs. Ethical Integrity

Originally published 9/10/07, 6:00 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
This Post is forwarded with Permission from the author -RRW
[nb: Daniel Eidensohn is author of the Yad Mose Index of Igros Moshe]

Kesiva vaChasima Tova,
Best Wishes for 5768,

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Daniel Eidensohn
Date: Sep 10, 2007 1:26 AM

There is a dispute in the fourth perek of Bava Metzia between R' Yochanon and Reish Lakish concerning aquisition of objects with money. R' Yochanon holds that money is a doreissa technique but it was invalidated rabbinically to ensure that the merchandise being purchased would be protected until taken by the purchaser. On BM 47b the gemora tries to refute Reish Lakish who does not accept money as a doreissa technique. It argues that it only makes sense that beis din should curse someone retracting from a deal involving money - which is good on a doreissa level - but is only invalid on a rabbinic level. The curse makes sense because it prevents people from taking advantage of the rabbinic invalidation of kinyan with money. On the other hand the gemora initially states that it doesn't make sense to curse someone just because he doesn't keep his word.

The conclusion of the gemora which is brought in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch is that the mi shepora curse only applies in cases where there was some transfer of money. Where there was only a verbal agreement then there is no mi shepora but only a statement that the chochomim are not happy with someone who breaks his word.

Question: Does that mean that -
1) Preventing people from taking advantage of a rabbinic ordinance is of greater importance than the mere ethical consideration of keeping one's word and that's why a curse is used to protect the rabbinic system but not to prevent breaking promises?


2) Does it mean that keeping your word is so obviously important that it just needs the awareness of our Sages disapproval of breaking commitments. On the other hand preserving rabbinic improvements to the system is not so obvious a value so it requires a curse to arouse
awareness of its importance?

Daniel Eidensohn

Sunday 9 September 2007

More on Ad Hominems

Originally published 9/9/07, 7:49 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
I just saw a recent TV special concerning Stalin on one of the History channels. It was chilling. Those interviewed made cogent cases for how Stalin was more evil than Hitler. Just a quick thought on evil...

The road to Hell is [indeed] paved with good intentions. Stalin's desire to industrialize the Soviet Union led to the violent deaths of millions, perhaps in excess of 20 million all told! Stalin's underlying thesis was "The Ends Justify the Means!"

On the other hand, I saw a quote attributed to Gandhi. [I have been unable so far to confirm this] I recall that my Mom OBM had it posted on the kitchen whiteboard near the phone.

"Just take care of the Means
and the Ends will take care of themselves."

I think the Chofetz Chaim would agree to this. No matter the good intentions, the Hell will be there when one's speech does not conform to "Toras Hessed." What about the truth? in the 13 Middos, [attributes] Hessed preceds Emet, Truth. Besides, we are not talking about covering up, just avoiding bad speech. No one need excuse bad behavior. There is no honor in Gossip-mongering!

People associate kindness with cash; perhaps with helping you shlep some furniture. Yet it also extends to the way you talk and treat people, even those with whom you disagree.

Betzedek tishpot Amisecha - Judge your fellow favorably as defined by Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos. Don't condone evil behavior, just don't assume the behavior you see is really evil. And when it is, address it in private without publicizing the sin. Remember Tamar and Yehudah?

Bottom Line

Feel free to speak out against evil behavior, just don't pin that evil on any individual by name; or by naming groups of individuals [as in racism].

Shana Tova!

Thursday 6 September 2007

Chumra of the Week #2 Harav - Yosheiv al Kisei ...

Originally posted 9/6/07, 10:05 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Within days of my first Chumra of the Week, someone shared another one with me that MAY top the first one. I say MAY because this next is "urban legend "or apocryphal..

Once upon an Erev Pesach in the Holy Land, a prominent rabbi found out that his toilet seat was cracked. So he proceeded to his local supply store and bought a replacement. Soon the entire community was in hot pursuit buying their own spanking new toilet seats.

Q: Any Connection to Rosh Hashana?
A: Perhaps, Hamelech Yosheiv al Kisei?

Shana Tova,

Dividing Meals [Se'udah Hamfseket]

Originally posted 9/6/07, 4:36 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
There are several interesting similarities found in the Final Meals before the fasts of Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur:
  1. The most obvious parallel is that both fasts last for a full day - about 25 hours - as opposed to other fasts which last from early morning until night.
  2. Both Final Meals traditionally follow the Minchah Service.
  3. Both Final Meals have several customs and rituals unique to these meals.

What makes these meals so special?
Nearly every holiday has a special mealtime ritual. The most obvious is the Passover Seder. On the New Year, we eat special symbolic foods to start the year off right. At Sukkos we eat in the Sukkah. On Shavuos, we have the custom of eating dairy meals.
We cannot possibly engineer a meal symbolizing either Yom Kippur or Tisha b'Av. The problem is obvious. They are both FULL DAY fast days. 
That is where the final meal comes in. The reason we eat it after Minchah is to connect as closely as possible to the upcoming fast day. This explains, perhaps, why we specifically recite the confession at Minchah before  the meal on Yom Kippur eve.
This final meal is somewhat festive since Yom Kippur is, after all, a Yom Tov. We eat Challah, some have honey and we eat meat - although it is wise to eat bland and easily digested foods to prepare for the fast.
On the other hand, Tisha b’Av is a day of mourning. Mourners coming back from the burial normally DO have a special Mourner's Meal. Since we cannot eat on Tisha b’Av, this Mourners Meal takes place before the Fast.
Therefore, these final festive meals function as substitutes for the meals that should have been consumed on the days themselves, but could not be eaten due to the fasts.
The Talmud teaches us that whoever eats on Yom Kippur Eve for the sake of the Yom Kippur Fast Day is considered to have fasted Both Days.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Chumra of the Week #1 - A Mad Dash to the Dashboard!

Originally posted 9/2/07, 5:24 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
I hate to start a thread on Chumra of the Week with possibly the BEST of all stories I have heard so far, but I could not resist the temptation.  :)

A friend of mine confirms this as true. Several years ago - in an Israeli neighborhood that began to turn "hareidi" - everyone covered virtually their entire kitchens with Aluminum, or Tin Foil.

This one fellow - in order to protest this mindless, over-the-top, yet trendy chumra - one morning decided to cover his automobile's dashboard with tin-foil. Not to be out-done, the entire neighborhood emulated his car and each person covered his or her own dashboard with tin-foil by the very same evening. I insist on calling this the Chumra of the DAY instead of the week because it spread like wild-fire within its first 24 hours!

IMHO - this one tops the "hoaxy" ethanol chumra and beats a tongue-in-cheek chumra I once tried to plant on the Internet myself. For reasons of safety for myself and my family, I will not publish online this proposed preposterous chumra, but you can reach me offline at the usual address to find out more details.


Teshuvah - Positive or Negative

Originally published 9/2/07, 5:20 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
Reprinted with permission of the author -
Johnny Solomon -

The high Holy Days are, by their nature, misunderstood. They are high – unreachable to all but a few, and supposedly holy – although no student or teacher or philosopher has ever been able to define this word meaningfully to me. This confusion regarding the nature of these days means that the youth we encounter in our synagogues, as well as pretty much everyone else in shul, come with baggage, and generally the wrong type of baggage.

Our generation are not the first to misunderstand the nature of Rosh Hashana. We find in Sefer Nechemiah (8:10) that on Rosh Hashana, Ezra read the Torah to the people, who responded by mourning and weeping. His response, with Nechemiah and the Leviim, was "Go your way, eat fat foods, and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Some Mefarshim say that the reason they cried was because the curses from the Torah were being read, and this made the people realise how much they had sinned. However, according to the Malbim, the regular Rosh Hashana Torah reading was read. Only when hearing this did the people even realise that it was Rosh Hashana! Like many of the youth we encounter in shul, it did not hit the people that Rosh Hashana was coming until that very day. The people immediately reacted – they started to cry. They wanted to fast. They realised that this was a once a year opportunity that was soon going to pass. However, Ezra and Nechemiah responded by stating “Go your way, eat fat foods, and drink sweet beverages etc.” What the Malbim implies is that when you have the ‘infrequent fliers’ – those Jews who only realise the enormity of Rosh Hashana on Rosh Hashana (which I think describes the majority of the kind of kids we encounter), don’t let them mess about with the heavy stuff that takes serious preparation. Such a Jew does not have the stamina to revisit their wrongdoings. Instead, all that kind of Jew has is their faith and their desire to do something positive. In my opinion, we have a responsibility to actualise this desire. Such a Jew can achieve more by doing acts of chessed such as sending “portions to them for whom nothing is prepared” than dwelling on their past misdeeds.

This idea reminds me of one of the most famous Talmudic debates (Eruvin 13b) between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai…"For two and a half years were Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel in dispute, the former asserting that it was better for man not to have been created than to have been created, and the latter maintaining that it is better for man to have been created than not to have been created. They finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, but now that he has been created, let him investigate his past deeds (y'fasfes) or, as others say, let him examine his future actions (y'mashmesh).

What’s the difference between the two final opinions? Somebody with time to reflect, who makes time to reflect, who prepares for days such as Rosh Hashana should rather investigate their past misdeeds as that Rambam demands of us. However, like the people listening to Ezra, and like our kids, their limited time deliberating spiritual ideas should focus more on their future actions. That is, not what they have done, but what they can be. What we have just done, whether or not you realise it, is define our goal and the goal of our kids during these busy and complex days.

So, how can we make our activities productive in formulating and planning the future spiritual activities of our students post Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? There is an important idea in teaching. Something you might all know but you might not have considered far enough. This is that theory of multiple intelligences. That is, we all learn differently; our brains are more effective with more individualized teaching to our learning style. Rav Kook, reflecting on this idea, noted in his Orot HaTorah (9:6) "There were those that went off the path of the Torah because they rebelled against a method of learning which ran counter to their unique individual nature". That is, unless we recognise the individual needs of the youth we encounter, we can actually have a negative effect on their Jewish education.

Where do you get the "10" in the 10 commandments?

Originally posted 9/2/07, 12:05 AM, Eastern Daylight Time
How are the 10 commandments to be parsed [i.e. enumerated into different commandments] according to:
  1. Hazal?
  2. The Masoretic text - [two different answers?]
  3. Wolf Heidenheim?

Kesiva vaChasima Tova,
Best Wishes for 5768,
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