Tuesday 30 October 2007

For Those Who Don't Not Watch TV (But Still Don't Watch It)

We direct your attention to the following article:
For Those Who Don't Not Watch TV (But Still Don't Watch It)
by Nishma Researh Assistant and Stern College student, Tikva Hecht,
appeared in Kol Hamevaser 1:2 and is available on line at: http://media.www.yucommentator.com/media/storage/paper652/news/2007/10/08/KolHamevaser/For-Those.Who.Dont.Not.Watch.Tv.but.Still.Dont.Watch.It-3021682.shtml

The article raises some important issues regarding the interplay of secular society, specifically culture, and Torah. We look forward to your comments.

Friday 26 October 2007

Do They Really Deserve a Beating?

Another Contribution from Cantor Wolberg!

The willow which symbolizes the Jew without Torah learning and good deeds and also symbolizes the "mouth" is taken in our hands and beaten (havatat aravot) on the floor five times. There are many, many different reasons given for this obscure ritual. I would like to offer my own: I see the beating of the willows parallel to the azazel ritual. In other words, the willows become the scapegoat.

Why five times? Five is a significant number: Five senses, Five Books of Moses, Five pointed star, (this symbol of the five-pointed Star and the corresponding number five have been consonant symbols for Man for as long as there has been written record, dating back to the earliest centuries, Five fingers on each hand, Five toes on each foot and the word "quintessence" means the fifth essence. In physics, quintessence is a hypothetical form of dark energy postulated as an explanation of observations of an accelerating universe. The ancients saw a link of God to man in the number five. Geometrically it is a pentagon. In three dimensions it is a pyramid, like the Great Pyramids in Egypt. So as you can see, beating the willow 5 times may have greater meaning than meets the eye.

Another beautiful thought: The word for willow "aravah" also means "sweet," so that our prayers should be sweet before the Almighty.

So when you beat the willows, be sure to pray for a sweet year and a quintessence of Avodas HaShem.

-Cantor Richard Wolberg

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Etz Hada'as - So What IS So Bad about Knowing Good from Evil Anyway?

Originally published 10/23/07, 6:17 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
Q: So wasn't the nachash [snake] right? After all, what is so bad about knowing Good from Evil?
A: Because now we are stuck in a judgmental paradigm that we cannot escape.

Q: Whatcha mean?
A: I guess, before the "sin," we were all like Zen monks. Everything just IS. We only lived for the present moment. No discussion, no planning, no remembering, just being and experiencing.

Now, we are constantly stuck in the mind game
  • Did I do the fight thing?
  • Did so-and-so do the right thing?
  • Were the Yankees GOOD to Torre?
  • Was Torre's firing good for the Jews?
We are STUCK evaluating every last detail of our existence on this veil of tears and there is no escape!

Q: Wow! So what can we do NOW?
A:Hashiveinu Hashem...Hadesh Yameinu kekdem. Restore us to our original state of ignorant bliss. But, please hurry, it has taken way too long already!


The Proverbial "Fig Leaf" - Is This Torah Hi - v'Llilmod Ani Tzarich?

Originally published 10/23/07, 4:50 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
During my years at yeshiva, there was a small set of students who were interested in Torah but also had certain "voyeuristic" tendencies. In order to satisfy their hormones - and perhaps their intellect too - they would read the sections of Halachah that dealt with marital and sexual relations. For example, Rambam Hilchos Issurei Bia'h, or other related texts, became reading material in the Beis Midrash.

Was this a legitimate channel for the libido? Or was this merely to cover up for their voyeurism and was a violation of the spirit - if not the letter - of "Do not stray after your eyes" - lo sassuro acahrei ... eineichem?
  • On the one hand, reading Shas/Rambam/Shulchan Aruch can be construed as better than staring at centrefolds.
  • On the other hand, are they actually "faking" or "feigning" an interest in Halachah merely to cover-up what they are REALLY doing?
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Monday 22 October 2007

Finally - I have completed Marc Shapiro's Book.

Originally published 10/22/07, 11:57 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
Dear NishmaBlog Readers,

I have finally completed reading Marc Shapiro's book on the 13 Principles of the Rambam. I will do a book review BEH in several installments forthwith.


Thursday 18 October 2007

P'sak: Using Talmud vs. Using Secondary Sources.

Originally published 10/18/07, 10:12 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

The idea of midgets on the shoulders of giants goes back to at least medieval times. In a monograph by R. Dr. E. Kanarfogel [RDEK] on Progress and Tradition in Medieval Ashkenaz, this topic came up several times.

I want to focus on a Ri Migash. The Ri Migash is quoted as recommending that rabbis are better served by using Gaonic works [secondary sources] than by going back to examine the Talmud itself. This is a classic "midgets on the shoulders of giants" argument. The problem: The Ri Migash disregarded this rule himself.

Well, as the article goes on to say, such programmatic or formulaic statements are meant to be disregarded at times at the very outset. In other words, no one takes such generalities as absolutes.

What was the Ri Migash REALLY saying?
 One explanation is simple. Unless one is a a master of the entire Talmud, it is better to use secondary sources. Secondary sources have already predigested the entire corpus and so can provide a more holistic point of view on any issue.

As such, as I see it, only the GREAT masters of Talmud have the right [maybe the obligation at times] to go back to the Talmud to render Halachah.

The Rosh seems to recommend that approach for everybody. IMHO the Rosh simply over-estimated the gravitas of the average or mediocre rabbi. Few of them are even CAPABLE of using this methodology. Many that do are likely subject to errors of omission or perhaps even hubris.

I would posit that even for masters of Talmud, it is a slippery slope to go back to the Talmud if it overturns precedent. Once a GREAT rabbi uses this method to overturn tradition, it becomes fair game for other rabbis - of admittedly lesser stature - to follow suit. Given that a certain Poseik may have the RIGHT to go back to the Talmud, he should not necessarily exercise that right.
 Why? He is opening up a Pandora's box for other rabbis. Hachamim hizaharu b'divreichem. In this case, be careful of what techniques you use lest you send others on a problematic path.

Now I can think of 2 caveats where going back to examine the Talmud is desirable:
  1. New case law. Issues that have little "common Law" type precedent.
  2. Urgent issues or Hora'as sho'ah issues. E.G. to help out Agunos.
In fact, most Poskim do factor in Rishonim and Acharonim even when they do go back to the Talmud. It is always a good idea.

The Aruch Hashulochan limits himself in p'sak. Regarding  the issue of al nekiyyus Yadayim he favors the logic of the Rashba to use the original formula of al netilas Yadayim and not to be meshaneh the matbie'a to al nekiyyus.
However, he submits himself to the rulings of the Rosh and Tur. This might be due to his humility. Or perhaps he sees precedent as binding in a way analogous to that of Common Law. This is the technique favored by Ashkenazim throughout the period of the Rema.

Shach YD 1:1 ratifies this. Lo Ra'inu IS a Raya in the realm of Minhag. Introducing new practices is contra-Tradition. The fact that women Halachically are ABLE to slaughter does not mean we should change the Minhag to allow them to slaughter. Why not? Since it is a time-honored tradition, granting this permission would break with common Law Precedent and act to repeal of 'settled case law "to do so."

If you were to ask why Ashkenazim refrained from permitting women to slaughter, and was this due to some misogynist agenda? The answer is, according to the Levush - it is due to women being subject to fainting. This kind of G'zeria is common to the Talmud. Something goes wrong, and if Hazal see it as a potential problem in the future, they then make a g'zeira not to do it in the future .[ e.g see Hullin regarding: omitting Mayyim aharonim might lead to eating hazir]

 Primary sources would have ignored this g'zeira. So did Bet Yosef - probably because Sephardic communities did not have this situation as a precedent in Sephardic communities.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
Please Visit:

Noah's missing year

According to the Torah:
  1. Noah lived 600 years before the Flood
  2. The Flood lasted 1 full solar year
  3. Noah lived 350 years AFTER the flood
  4. Noah's total life-span is 950 years.
  5. But - Since 600 + 1 + 350 = 951, Therefore Noah SHOULD have lived 951 years!
Where is Noah's missing year?
What Commentaries deal with this?
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Tuesday 16 October 2007

YC's The Commentator - Are You 'Rabbi' Enough For Young Israel?

Originally published 10/16/07, 12:55 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

For the past century, attendees of Young Israel synagogues dotting the country have known what to expect: junior congregations that excite kids, congregational singing and a commercial-free environment which enliven adults and shomer Shabbat policies to ensure an Orthodox atmosphere for all.
Read Full Article
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Copyright 2007 The Commentator and College Publisher

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Football, Tailgating, and Jewish Pride

Originally published 10/16/07, 12:25 pm, Eastern Daylight Time

Despite some controversies surrounding Chabad in particular and Hassidim in general, there is no question that they are "unapologetic" Jews. They wear their Yiddishkeit on their sleeves and have no problem dealing with the outside world on their own terms. Read on:

Have prayers and Packers, too

Orthodox Jews worship at Lambeau tailgate

Posted: Oct. 14, 2007
Green Bay - If you're going to have a kosher tailgate at Lambeau Field, you might as well go all the way. That means you light up the coals of the kosher grill and bring out the kosher hot dogs, beef, chicken and brats. And you recite morning prayers in Hebrew, even if a rock band is on a nearby stage blaring "Brown Sugar."
So Sunday, Rabbi Shais Taub of the Chabad Lubavitch of Wisconsin led a group of 10 Orthodox Jews on a pilgrimage from Milwaukee deep into Packerland. They tailgated across the street from Lambeau, in a grass-covered parking lot, next door to Kroll's West, where butter burgers - definitely not kosher - are a specialty. And they prayed, with some of the men and their sons donning a prayer shawl called a tallit and phylacteries, two small leather boxes containing verses of Scripture....

For the rest of this story See:

Note: There is a bona fide minyan prior to the New York marathon and Glatt Franks are served AFAIK in both NYC ball parks as well as in Baltimore and Cleveland. My son's Day School davened Mincha at Yankee Stadium several years ago near the Glatt Frank stand. During the Amidah, Bernie Williams hit a home-run that was heard over the p/a system. Our Prayers had been answered!


Friday 12 October 2007

Noach: The Question of Dual Moralities

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at http://www.nishma.org/, we have chosen 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 Noach and the topic is the Noachide Code. Most individuals believe this Code to be an abbreviated form, a subset, of the Taryag Code that applies to Jews. In fact, the Noachide Code is a fully independent system which, at times, yields conclusions that are in conflict with the Halacha that Jews are suppose to follow. One example of this is found in the rules of judgement and justice and the noted Insight investigates this surpristing reality, for how can two moral systems originating in the Divine have such distinctions. The Question of Dual Moralities is at http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/insight5758-01.htm

Tuesday 9 October 2007

A Grandfather Clause, Halachah and Minhag in Yemen

I just came across an interesting post on the web:
Where the Halacha is not like Rambam" (See file in the group's File Section, in folder entitled "Customs which are Different")
Although the Yemenite Jews accepted as a whole the halachic rulings of Rambam, especially where Rambam came to contend with other exponents of Jewish law over difficult halachic issues, still, where they found contradictions between their own halachic traditions and those prescribed by Rambam in his Code of Jewish Law, the practices and customs bequeathed unto them by their forefathers were those that were generally upheld by the community- despite their great love and respect for Rambam. This only goes to show that the Jews of Yemen were not devoid of Torah in themselves, before the light of Rambam shone upon them in Yemen. Rambam's epistle to the Yemenites, as also the following selection of thirty-two, so-called, anomalies found amongst them proves this fact beyond any reasonable doubt. By their persistence in their own particular customs, they showed thereby that halacha and religious observance did not begin for them with Rambam.

For more details see

From the above we can clearly make the following observations::
That local custom is not necessarily superseded by canonical text. Au contraire, at least SOME earlier customs remain as a legacy - grandfathered in DESPITE the subsequent canonization of a code such as the Rambam's Mishneh Torah was in Yemen.


Dealing with the Passionate vs. the Reasonable

Originally published 10/9/07, 1:45 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
From the Avodah list:
On 10/7/07, regalkit@aol.comwrote:
The sefer, [i.e. Vayoel Moshe] in my humble opinion, is full of these misrepresentations; can someone guide me as to how I can understand a Godol Hador's writings?
Thank You.
Binyomin Hirsch

Never having  read this sefer, I cannot comment on the specifics...
Let me quote these principles on the general question:
  • "As soon as passionate advocacy enters, reasonable judgment and fair-minded balance exits"
  • "One can be either an advocate for a position, or be a dispassionate objective observer but it is well-nigh impossible to serve both causes justly."
  • "Hevu masunim bedin"
  • and al Tadin Yehcidi, etc.
Maybe the best check for any published work is constant peer review and to never accept the position of a "gadol" by his own authority alone.

Example: The Rambam was a Gadol but he stated many controversial positions. AFAIK only Teimanim accept his positions [almost] wholesale. Certainly, R. Yosef Karo did not. The beauty of the Beis Yosef and the Rema is that generally they surveyed a wide-consensus of "gedolim" and rarely relied upon a single idiosyncratic view. I endorse that methodology wholeheartedly. In that sense I would state of myself that I am accepting of Gedolim in general and a skeptic regarding any specific Gadol 's pronouncements.
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Halacha - Stability and Revision Pt. 1 Parallels from American Law

Originally published 10/9/07, 1:21 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
 I generally see three schools of Judicial thought:
  1. Fundamentalism
  2. Traditionalism
  3. Activism
The original intention of the earliest canonical sources RULES. This actually can provide a great deal of activism in the sense that Fundamentalism can lead to a form of REVISIONISM.
In the USA this might read like this: Since the First Amendment NEVER put up a wall between Church and State, and only addressed Congress' ability to establish religion, therefore any law that requires a GREATER separation is either null and void, or at least VOIDABLE.
To stick to canonical documents. To highly restrict revisionism of original intention, in favor of revising laws that fail to conform to fundamentalistic reads of the tomes.

This is based upon the principles of Common Law. The rulings of course are all factored in to make the law. The higher the court the more influential the precedent. Texts and tomes are secondary to how the courts rule in practice. New rulings can introduce new law, but ONLY if other courts ratify this as precedent. Otherwise, Stare Decisis [let the decision stand] is the underlying assumption. Illustration:
In the USA this might read like this: Since Roe vs. Wade is SETTLED LAW, and has even been used as a basis to create other law, the decision stands DESPITE the fact it might have been flawed or not in consonance with fundamental texts.
To create a stable, albeit evolving society, businesses need stability upon which to project their decisions. Property needs protection in order to encourage improvements. Protect values that created the society and to perpetuate these values across generational boundaries.
Since the principles of Liberty and Justice for all are META-LAW, all texts and Traditions may be disregarded in favor of a liberal agenda of maximizing liberty Illustration:
In the USA this might read like this: Since traditional marriage has been restricted for generations to heterosexual couples, we may wish to liberalize these laws and let gays and polygamists have the SAME rights as traditional hetero-marriages. This is in order to spread the most rights to the most people. Fundamental readings of text, as well as history and tradition - take a back seat. They may even have a voice, but not a veto.
To pursue a liberal or a libertarian or a libertine] agenda. To promote progressivism. Maximize rights for the people.

NB: Since I first authored this, I have been informed that there can be more than 3. For Example: "reactionary" - where one would do things OUR way as opposed to the ways of other cultures.

BEH I will stick with these 3 American Models for now. When I do a Jewish parallel, I will add a 4th Jewish/Religious Model.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards, RabbiRichWolpoe@Gmail.com

Ad hominem as Formal Folly

Originally published 10/9/07, 12:27 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
While it is true that many bloggers, propagandists etc. seem to appeal to human's lower, baser nature - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem.

Nishmablog, on the other hand, is doing its best to appeal to our higher nature. Our meta-goal is V'chal dracheha darchei no'am.


Monday 8 October 2007

A Tale of Two Skeptics

Originally posted 10/8/07, 11:35 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Recalling earlier posts on Nishmablog about Faith and Doubt, I decided to relate this story to our readership.
Once upon a time, three people discussed the history of Megillas Esther
  1. Rabbi W
  2. Mr. X
  3. Rabbi Y
Rabbi W gave possible proofs about the origins of the story; he showed how it could mesh well with some of the points made by Herodotus.

Mr. X felt intrigued. He listened to hear more.

Later on, Rabbi Y came along. He stated firmly that Megillas Esther never actually happened and, like "Iyyov," was merely a religious story, a myth, a legend to teach a lesson.
Furthermore, Rabbi Y asserted the following: "If Rabbi W were so certain about the authenticity of the literal existence of Megillas Esther, he would need not speculate about Herodotus etc. this PROVES that Rabbi W. is just as skeptical as I am." Then Rabbi Y left the discussion.

Mr. X felt shaken, He liked what Rabbi W had to say but now he had doubts himself. He wondered if ANYONE believes The Esther story to be true.

"Say it ain't so Rabbi W! I want to believe that the story of Esther REALLY happened. Do YOU harbor any doubts?" asked Mr. X.

Rabbi W. thought for a few minutes. He then proceeded to explain his position.
"I'd like to believe it is true, too. And it is true that Rabbi Y and I do share a sense of skepticism about certain events and texts. We can both be critical of "conventional wisdom" and we both enjoy to promote a new angle on old ideas. BUT - and I must emphasize this - you must NOT confuse our very different positions re: Megillas Esther!"

"Rabbi W, you are a skeptic, and so is Rabbi Y! So how are any different after all?"

"You ask a good question Mr. X! I will explain. You see Rabbi Y is not JUST skeptical, he is also a bit cynical. It is not like he finds historical problems on Megillas Esther, and therefore has a doubt about its authenticity. Rather, he has FIRMLY MADE UP HIS MIND, that Megillas Esther CANNOT be historical! And following that conclusion he is now adamant about not listening to any proofs to the contrary! On the other hand, I have some doubts. I am not certain it IS historical and I am not certain it is NOT historical. But as a skeptic - and NOT a cynic - my mind is far from made up. I am researching and looking for more and more points. In fact I would prefer to find solid evidence that it IS historical after all. On the other hand, I do share some of Rabbi Y.'s doubts about some of the accounts. So my mind is not 100% certain that this book is to be taken literally! Can you see the difference?"

Mr. X pondered it a bit. "I think I can understand a distinction... but it seems neither of you are believers!"

"Well, it seems that way. I am actually saying that I AM a believer to an extent but that I harbor some doubts. Let's say I keep my options open."

Mr. X persisted: "What's the point of that?"

"Let me give you an example. Let's say that the story DID happen, but not 100% as reported in the Megilla. Rather, let's say there was a dose of literary license, a bit of hyperbole, or perhaps some symbolic messages embedded in the way the text is presented. IOW, like many legends, the story has been embellished. By taking a wait and see attitude I can find out just how much of this story is history and how much is allegory. Let's say there are about 3 categories:
  1. Almost 100% historical
  2. Almost 100% non-Historical
  3. Somewhere in between!
This is like during the 10 days of Penitence. There are:
  1. 100% righteous people
  2. 100% evil people and
  3. The vast majority in between.
God immediately deals with the 100% people first. With the majority in between - God HIMSELF takes a wait and see attitude. On the other hand, Rabbi Y. has given up. He has made up his mind. And perhaps those that firmly believe the story is 100% true have done the same thing at the opposite end. They really do not care about the history of the event from any other source. I am trying to get to the truth of what happened and what is so-called "legend". I realize that harboring doubts is not necessarily the ideal for a religious person, but I am not a denier either. I am just human and trying my best to sort things out."

Mr. X tugged at his chin. Rabbi W.'s points were sinking in after all It had been a bit of a shock for him to see any Rabbi as not having 100% faith, but now he kind of understood that faith can allow for some doubt, and that not everyone was 100% filled with faith. He also realize that Rabbi Y in a way WAS filled with a strong faith, but his was a faith in the negative sense. And he could see how Rabbi Y.'s cynicism blinded him from seeing any new facts emerging from archaeology that might give a more positive historical spin on this story. Mr. X also appreciated that faith, reason, doubt, skepticism, etc. could be gray and not so black-and-white - and that there was room for variety of perceptions. He also appreciated Rabbi W.'s candor, realizing that other rabbis might have doubts, too but are not up-front enough to admit them.

Rabbi W told Mr. X. "Now let's have some tea and cake, something in which we can BOTH believe in equally!"


Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

The Year of Living Biblically

Originally published 10/8/07, 6:59 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Maclean's magazine featured an interview last week. with A. J. Jacobs. The book he wrote, "The Year of Living Biblically," is based upon the author's year of living according to the literal word of the Bible. His interview is available on line here.

I have not seen the book but I found the interview most interesting. I am still not sure how to respond. Obviously, this person's year of following the Bible literally does not really reflect Orthodox Judaism. It most likely was closer, in practice, to the Karaites or the Sadducees. Nonetheless, Mr. Jacobs' comments are still worth noting. I found myself torn in my reactions.

I would be most interested in your comments.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Ahmadinejad Meets Neturei Karta Rabbis

Originally published on 10/3/07, 11:57 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
First, I invite you to view the video of Ahmadinejad's meeting with some Neturei Karta rabbis here.  You may find it somewhat disturbing but it is clearly something worth watching.

I have dealt before with the issue of members of Neturei Karta meeting with Ahmadinejad, specifically their attendance at that infamous conference at Tehran. My position is actually quite simple -- as far as I am concerned there is no justification for meeting with someone who wishes to attack Jews. Even if Neturei Karta has "all" the Torah arguments in the world to justify their theological positions including their view of Israel, in that the majority , the vast majority of Jews, even the vast majority of Torah Jews, do not share this view and those who oppose this mainstream Jewish view have declared a willingness to harm these Jews, there is no explanation for sitting with a sonei Yisrael, one committed to harming Jews.

Having said this, though, this video is the first time I have actually seem these members of Neturei Karta present their views, and opens new issues that demand investigation.

1) Eilu v'Eilu -- In the Sifkin Affair, people argued Eilu v'Eilu in the name of tolerance. Would these same people argue it in this case -- afterall are these NK people not making Torah arguments. But they do not invoke Eilu v'Eilu so why should we? Is that the way Eilu v'Eilu works? Do you know that Reform Judaism also invokes Eilu v'Eilu? Don't we still apply this concept in other cases while rejecting it in regard to Reform? Don't we apply and not apply Eilu v'Eilu? Is that not what these NK people are also doing? Eilu v'Eilu is a problematice concept and one cannot fully comprehend its depth and its difficulty until we confront situations like this one when we recognize that we have to be tolerant to other Torah positions but also understand that Torah tolerance still only works within certain parameters. Working out those parameters, and recognizing the possibility of arguments regarding those parameters For further insights on this topic see my various articles on the Slifkin Affair which are available in the Nishma website's Index to Commentaries.

2) Religion v.s. Nationalism -- If you follow the words of the NK spokesman, you truly see an aspect of the Jewish world that is often overlooked -- the difference between religiously motivated Jewish identity and nationally motivated Jewish identity. If you look at Islamic fundamentalists without a consideration of their anti-Israel stand, do you not find a group close to religious motivated Jewishness? There is a belief in One God. There is some semblance of a sexual morality albeit its actual manifestation is not in line with Jewish values even for the most right-wing Orthodox Jew (and more so for more liberal views within Orthodoxy). But think about this. In America, we are siding with the Christian fundamentalists against secularists but vis-a-vis Muslim fundamentalists we seem , to some extent, to find ourselves siding with secularists.
Israel is a major reason for our definitions of allegiance -- but think about what we would be thinking if Israel was not the issue. What you see in the video is one monotheist praising another monotheist against secularism. How do you respond to that? Is it not interesting that in so many ways we side with the secularists against monotheists? Is that not something to ponder? And what about this generic view of religion anyway? I find it also strange that Israel has drawn individuals closer to Christian fundamentalism. In any event viewing this video does also raise issues of our identity as well.

Questioning, investigating, analyzing should not be understood as in any way giving value. I find this video disturbing, period. But it is still worthwhile to contemplate.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Just what Makes Sukkot Z'man Simchateinu? Pt. 3

Originally published 10/2/07, 11:24 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Note: This is along the lines of why the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur are described as the TWO happiest days of the year in Mishan Ta'anit. In an earlier post, I showed the SPECIFIC connection between those 2 dates in contrast to the catastrophic dates of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av; thereby showing that contextually in Ta'anit, these dates are all inter-related. In other words, the dates of the TWO happiest days are SPECIFICALLY IN CONTEXT of Masechet Ta'anit

Similarly, I am seeking a specific Sukkot-timed event, not a generality that we might be told to observe during Sukkot such as God's Divine Protection. While it may be TRUE that the Sukkah DOES remind us of God's protection it does not point to the 15th of Tishrei as a time of Simcha per se; it is NO anniversary! After all, Z'man means z'man! Thus, my goal is a specific temporal-historical anniversary. Anything LESS than this goal is imho NOT a satisfactory answer but a rationale to justify "regnant culture" as a friend of mine would say!
Reprise, parts 1 and 2
On 10/2/07, Richard Wolpoe rabbirichwolpoe@gmail.com wrote:

Why is Sukkot termed Z'man Simchateinu [time of rejoicing]?

The 3 Regalim [pilgrimages] correspond to at least 2 holiday matrices; i.e. historical and agricultural. [While, there may be many more, let's address these two based upon Torah and Oral Tradition.]

Agricultural [All in the Torah]

  1. Passover - Barley -Omer - Barely
  2. Shavuot - Wheat - Minchah hadashah shtei Halechem
  3. Sukkot - Hag Ha'assif [also Geshem!]
  1. Passover - Exodus
  2. Shavuot - Giving of the Torah [primarily oral but hinted in text]
  3. Sukkot - ?????
If you say that the historical event was the Clouds of Glory I would counter that that took place ALL year 'round. What was SPECIAL about Sukkot as a DATE in history?
The Part 2 Questions, with the answers interwoven.
  1. What is the SADDEST day of the year?9th of Av
  2. What MADE that day the saddest day of the year?
    The Destruction of the 2 Temples
  3. What would its converse be?
    The Construction of the Temple -e.g. by a King Like Shlomoh!
  4. What liturgical texts support this hypothesis?
    The haftarot of Day 2 And Shmini Zteret in the Golah
    The "yakim lanu et Sukkat DAvid Hanofelet.." which is found in both Birkat Hamazon and the Zulat [a type o Piyyut] by Kallir
  5. How is Hag haSukkot translated in older Bibles?
    Tabernacles - a possible reference to the Temple's predecessor


Part 3
Thus Sukkot is the Rejoicing of the Mikdash like 9th of Av is the Mourning of the Mikdash. Makes sense to celebrate the positive as much as it is to Mourn the negative.

The only weakness to this model is that is not in Humash but in the Nevi'im. And so possibly Sukkot had not yet earned the title Simchateinu until later on! It is obvious that the Construction of the Bet haMikdash is the culmination of the model of the First Commonwealth as outlined in Devarim.

Completing the above Matrix
  1. Passover - Exodus
  2. Shavuot - Giving of the Torah [primarily oral but hinted in text]
  3. Sukkot - Construction of Solomon's Temple [as documented in the Haftarot] This also explains how Shmini Atzeret is ALSO Z'man Simchateinu.
All of the above give cause for celebration indeed.

So, Rabbi Wolpoe, why isn't this the OBVIOUS reason! Why is this reason not better publicized? Well, after the destruction of the Temple, pushing this theme to the fore would offer a mixed message.

Any Evidence of this phenomenon?
Well, some see the "Harachaman who yakim" as problematic on Yom Tov. They therefore do not say it then because it recalls that the Temple is in ruins. And so it is that this reminder, while depressing on Yom tov, is OK during Hulo Shel Mo'ed.


Freedom of Religion

The Province of Ontario is now involved in an election campaign with one of the major issues being the funding of faith-based schools. As Catholic schools are already funded in the province, other religions are demanding equal treatment for their schools. (Catholic school funding, though, is part of the Canadian constitution.) The debate continues as has become the issue of the campaign.

In an article I wrote for this week's Jewish Tribune in Toronto, I argued that the issue is not solely equality. The fundamental issue, from my perspective, is freedom of relgion and the issue extends beyond this one particular issue to include a major shift in consciousness that is now engulfing the Western World. I invite you to look at the article and to comment on this blog.

The article is available on the Jewish Tribune website at:

A Hassidic Thought about the Sukkah

Note: I don't recall which rebbe first said this, but if anyone in Cyber-space knows, I will update this post accordingly, BEH
Q: How is The Mitzvah of Sukkah so unique [almost] - in that it shares a quality in common with only 1 other mitzvah nowadays.

A: Just like the Mikvah, the Sukkah encompasses our entire body. In the time of the Temple , we could experience being encompassed by the sanctity of the Bet Hamikdash, now we have only Mikvah and Sukkah.

Gmar Tov,

Shmini Atzeret - why Sukkah YES and Lulav NO?

Originally published 10/2/07, 4:00 PM, Eastern Daylight TIme.
Why do we sit in the Sukkah in the Golah on Sukkot but do not take the Lulav etc. on Shmini Atzeret? This question has bothered me since I was a kid - AND there are MANY reasons given.

  1. Why are Hanukkah and Purim observed only 8 and 1 day respectively in the Golah? Why not add a day?
  2. Why is Sefirah done on the 2nd day of Passover as definite and not done on both 2nd and 3rd keeping 2 counts out of doubt?
Answer: The above are only Derabbanan. Extrapolate to Sukkot. Sukkah is D'orraito through ALL 8 Days while Lulav is Derabban after day 1. [Except in the Mikdash, but the mikdash, of course, never has a sfeika d'yoma anyway.]

So Sukkah on the 8th day in the Golah is a "S'feik D'oraitta l'humra" while Lulav is a "S'feik Derabbana l'kulah."

Q: But Rabbi - why isn't this answer given?
A: Wolpoe's Rule #1 of Oral Law -
We often know the WHAT to Do, but we do not always know the WHY!
This model seems to me more straightforward than the various answers I have seen given over the years!

Gmar Tov,

A New Twist on an Old Theme and A Fire Hazard

Originally published 10/2/07, 12:34 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Question: Why does the lady of the house cover her eyes during the blessing over the Shabbat Candles?

Answer: Well, that all depends...
  1. Sephardim actually say the Blessing FIRST and then light. This in keeping with the principle of doing the Bracha PRIOR to the act [over la'asiyatam].
  2. Ashkenazim [apparently based upon the Mordechai*] consider the blessing as an acceptance of Shabbat. So in order not to light after the start of Shabbat the lady of the house says the Bracha first.
  3. The reason USUALLY given for the above practice is that the women do not wish to USE the light before the blessing as above in #1. So, if one performs the act before the blessing, nevertheless one does not derive BENEFIT from that act until after the Blessing.
  4. Richard Wolpoe's Oral Law #1 states: we often know WHAT to do without knowing the WHY. Thus, the reason offered might not be the ORIGINAL reason at all, rather it might be a retro-fitted rationale.
  5. And so an alternative model came to me whilst working at a nursing home. An astute resident informed me that in Roman Times people worshiped fire. I interpret this to refer to Zoroastrians [prominent in Bavel] who are recorded in the Talmud as "fire-worshipers." Thus it emerges that whilst reciting the blessing, the women are careful NOT to gaze upon the flame lest thy be construed as fire-worshipers
  6. This explanation - while quite illuminating [pun intended] - is problematic with regard to Saturday Night's Blessing of borei m'orei hoa'eish.
Despite the limitations of this explanation, it is an interesting possibility. This would somewhat presuppose that the covering of the eyes originated sometime during the era where Jews and Zoroastrians lived in a common locale. It is also remotely possible to have come about later for the same reason.

[*] NB: The Halachot Gedolot [BeHag] records that the LIGHTING the candles is tantamount to accepting the Shabbat. Note: Tosafot objects to this model. What I find that is strange is that this principle SEEMS to have been morphed by the Mordechai to refer to the BLESSING over the candles rather than the LIGHTING of the Candles - as was originally recorded by the BeHaG! Did the Mordechai misconstrue the BeHag ? Or was he merely recording a widely accepted practice of his era that predated him by generations? It is difficult to know for certain.