Wednesday 30 January 2008

Mardi Gras - Kosher or not Kosher?

Originally posted 1/30/08, 10: 25 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
I recently chatted with an acquaintance who told me he was headed for New Orleans. Knowing full-well that the major religious event in the USA this Sunday [02/03/08] was the forthcoming Super Bowl XLII - I was curious as to why he would head to NEW ORLEANS and not to ARIZONA!

My curiosity was soon satisfied when my compadre said that he was going to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras and that in addition he he has been doing so for the past 10+ years. We digressed to discuss the impact of Katrina etc., but I was really curious as to how an Orthodox Jew - albeit a very Modern Orthodox Jew - would find it in his busy schedule to celebrate [inebriate?] Mardi Gras as an annual Chag.

Bishlama, if he went just ONCE, I could rationalize his action, and chalk it up to intellectual curiosity. But once he has been there and done that and continues to go for the next decade, is this not a true annual ritual?

Funny, methinks that I protest a bit too much but am I the ONLY Orthodox Jew in North America who suspects his fellows of engage in borderline, or even outright, Avodah Zara? [Oh yeah! So go ahead and mention my longstanding worship of the NY Yankees or of my intense loyalty and devotion to the Bobby Orr era Boston Bruins!] All kidding aside I was not close enough to this fellow to give him any kind of hochacha [and being a Mets fan he would not have listened to me anyway] but I really wonder where are our priorities! At least the Arizona Super Bowl is a secular Avodah Zara that probably could be justified


Monday 28 January 2008

The Shaitl Controversy in Brooklyn

Originally published 1/28/08, 10:24 AM, Eastern Daylight Time
There would seem to be two issues involved in the shaitl controversy and part of the problem is that they are becoming intertwined thus confusing both.

One is the substantive issue itself. A request was made to remove certain pictures and this request was denied. The result was a call to boycott the store. One has to wonder what really is going on, as it would seem to be a poor business decision by the the owner of the store to alienate members of a potential market. I thus make any comments with a recognition that I really don't know what happened and it all seems so strange to me. I am though bothered because the substantive halachic issue has not been approached in what I would deem to be a proper fashion. There is a perception, by certain individuals, that these pictures should be removed. I perhaps disagree. There is, though, a proper way of approaching a halachic disagreement -- by investigating the substantive issue. What is the argument for removal and what is the argument for not removing? On what issue do we disagree? Of interest to me, within this halachic investigation, is not why I think these pictures should not be a problem, but, rather, the argument as to why they are a problem. As that stage I may still disagree but then there is a way to disagree -- as an argument in halacha leading to definitions of important concepts within Torah. From what I have read, there is no attempt to truly investigate this with halachic determinism. It may be that one finds the whole definiton of tznius and pritzus that is being applied here, by those requesting the pictures removed, to be faulty -- I have written on the subject and also find difficulty with many of the modern understandings of tzniut -- but there is a way of approaching it as a halachic issue leading to a discussion that furthers our understanding of Torah. It is the substantive issue that should be, at least, our first concern. What is the debate within Torah? Why the request? Why the refusal? Why the boycott? What are the issues under debate?

Then there is the second issue which is the rhetoric around the debate. Torah is lost as the issue comes down to the question of daat Torah and authority thereby hiding Torah wisdom. As I have written in regard to the Slifkin affair, Rav Moshe Feinstein in his hakdama to Iggrot Moshe says that one should respond to his ideas not his authority. Of course the reason for any action, in this case, is not presented and the defence becomes the argument of authority. What we lose is Torah. This is not to say that there is no argument of kavod HaTorah and the question of how he owner of the store should respond to a leading Rosh Yeshiva is not a further issues. But that also has to be treated as another issue in Torah demanding Torah study and investigation. Those defending the boycott in the extreme almost feel that even giving an argument for the request to remove is demeaning the kavod HaTorah that goes with accepting the authority. And those attacking the request in the extreme belittle the whole enterprise as another example of the dumbing down of the masses. And the problem is that the actual substantive issue is lost in the rhetoric and we have no idea of what really happened and the Torah arguments -- with which one may still disagree -- that led to the request for removal. And we are left with the arguments that emerged from the subsequent rhetoric which only lessens Torah knowledge.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 25 January 2008

Rambam: Neither a Literalist Nor a Mocker Be

Originally published 1/25/08, 3:09 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
Dear Readers:

"Yediah" quotes the Rambam re: aggedeta. Yet, this same principle may be applied in all kinds of situations - Namely that at times being naively literal makes the Torah read as silly and similarly being a mocker/scoffer and taking the Torah to be also silly albeit by means of rejection also demonstrates the lack of wisdom.

Only the wise realize that the Aggedita [and other Torah passages] are neither meant to be overly literal nor downright absurd, but are actually communicating profound truths that require reading between the lines.

Some Fundamentalists [mostly on the right but not necessarily so] are K'sillim- fools. Some cynics [mostly on the left but not always] are heretics [kof'rim] masquerading as morally superior somehow.
While those who are mattunim badin - who patiently judge the requisite passages through the lens of intelligent analysis w/o naivite and also without cynicsm will arrive at the underlying truth.

Read More:

Having introduced the literalist groups, the fundamentalists who shame the Torah with their ignorance and the mockers who jump to conclusions and accuse the rabbis of being ignoramuses,

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Yitro: Emunah

Originally posted 1/25/08, 10:52 AM, Eastern Daylight Time
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, 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 Yitro. Topic is emunah, which is generally translated as faith or trust. The question of how to translate the word actually reflects an issue involved in understanding the word. Is emunah something we control or is it a natural response of one's being? We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Kol B'Ishah and Halachic Methodology

Originally published 1/23/08, 10:19 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
From the Avodah List

From: Michael Makovi <>

On Aishdas Avodah, it was said, "that the halacha of 'tzarichl'hisracheik min hanashim meod meod' is based on a totally different societal basis, one where men and women by default were entirely separate, and any contact between the sexes was dangerous. Nowadays,when society is in any case so mixed, I don't think the halacha expects me (or wants me) to be anti-social and davka avoid sitting at a table where a girl is sitting."

Rabbi Yehuda Henkin comes to this exact conclusion in his Equality Lost (Urim: 1999), in chapter nine, "Hirhur and Community Norms". He asks the question, "Is there halachic justification for the relatively open interaction between men and women in much of today's Orthodoxy, and if so, what is it?"

Rabbi Henkin first examines Ketuvot 17a and Berachot 20a, in which two rabbis justify social intercourse with women on the grounds that they personally on are such levels that this poses no problem of tzniut or hirhur for themselves.

Sefer haChinuch 188 says no one today may take such liberties with himself.

But Rabbi Hai Gaon in Rabbenu Yonah to Berachot 25a, Sefer Mitzvot Katan 30, and the Ritva to the end of Kiddushin, all say that if a man knows that he himself is on this level, he can permit for himself the same sorts of acts that the rabbis in the Gemara did.

But this only permits openness for exceptional individuals; what of societal openness? The Maharshal in his Yam Shel Shlomo to Kiddushin, 4:25, says that if an individual knows that he can overcome his impulses, he may speak to an ervah and such; he also quotes the Ritva
in full. But he adds, "The whole world relies on this in using the services of, and speaking to, and looking at, women". Rabbi Henkin notes that this is in contrast to Ritva, he spoke only of exceptional individuals; Rabbi Henkin notes that Maharshal's chiddush is that "When an entire community is accustomed to mingling with and speaking to women, on the other hand, their familiarity may be relied on to forestall sinful thoughts".

Rabbi Henkin notes that Maharshal's source is Tosafot to Kiddushin 82a. R. Acha bar Ada explained his special liberty saying "hakol leshem shamayim", but Tosafot there say "On [hakol leshem shamayim] we rely nowadays [in] that we make use of the services of women". Rabbi Henkin says, "The Tosafot employ this principle to justify widespread practicess. This is precisely the equation employed by Maharshal".

Rabbi Henkin says, "It can be said that the "whole world" of modern Orthodoxy relies implicitly on this Maharshal in using the services of and speaking to and looking at women".

Rabbi Henkin then notes two additional authorities who follow this approach:
1) The Maharshal's student, Rabbi Mordechai Yafeh, in the Levush haTechelet vehaChur (Orach Chayim), no. 36. There, as opposed to Sefer Chassidim 393, he permits saying "shehasimcha beme'ono" at a sheva berachot even when there is mixed seating.

2) Rabbi Yechiel Michal Epstein in the Aruch haShulchan (Orach Chayim 75:7) permits saying Shema in the presence of a woman with uncovered hair, for although she is forbidden to do thus, and although she is technically ervah in this, this has become normal, and men are inured
to it, and he may say Shema in her presence. (Rabbi Henkin notes and vehementally opposes the common misinterpretation, that the AH is permitting women to go without a hair covering - rather, the AH is saying that bedieved, men may say Shema in her presence, but she is still forbidden to dress thusly.)

Rabbi Henkin adds a caveat: "[T]he above applies only to mingling of men and women that is innocent in and of itself. No degree of frequency and familiarity can legitimize what is intrinsically or intentionally sexually stimulating. Examples are immodest or provocative dress, erotic performances and entertainment, and other pitfalls too numerous to be listed".

A second caveat: "[T]here is no halachic imperative to introduce mingling of the sexes where it does not already exist. What we have said here is a justification of community practices, not an agenda. It is much easier to legitimize existing practices than to justify new ones. To do the latter, we would have to take into account the approaches of far more acharonim than just the Yam Shel Shelomoh, the Levush, and the Aruch haShulchan". Rabbi Henkin had indeed previously said, "We have seen then, that there exists a trend - not a dominant trend, but a trend - within halachic thought that in interaction between the sexes that might ordinarily lead to hirhur, frequency and familiarity of contact can be a mitigating factor, and that a community can legitimately rely on this 'in using the services of, and speaking to, and looking at, women', to use the words of the Maharshal".

I am no authority in this, at all. But it occurs to me that when, in Pirkei Avot 1:5, we are told to not have too much sicha with women, many of the commentators say that this is speaking of davka inane or immodest conversation, but not meaningful conversation. At the very least, they say this of the stricture against too much sicha with one's own wife, and since this Mishna speaks of one's own wife and a
stam women as equals, and one's fellow's wife as kal vachomer, then any heterim on one's wife ought to apply to a stam woman, and even to one's fellow's wife (because of dayyo). Thus, it should seem that based on this, if one is sure to limit his conversation to meaningful matters, then social intercourse between the sexes is less problematic. In particular, Rav Hirsch in his perush to Avot makes a large point of the fact that sicha is davka inane conversation. And he
never limits this to only one's wife; one can only assume that Rav Hirsch applies this to the entire Mishna. It is thus interesting that Rabbi Henkin in a footnote says, "Mixing of the sexes at weddings, social gatherings, and even Torah lectures was also characteristic of the strictly Orthodox Germanic-Dutch communities".

As an aside, Rav Hirsch to Avot 3:4 says that divrei Torah doesn't mean davka Torah per se, but rather anything (ANYTHING, even something totally secular) that contributes to a Torah-type lifestyle of goodness and modesty and honesty, etc. The parallel to Torah im Derech Eretz is obvious: just as Rav Hirsch makes a large point of stressing that secular life and matters and learning are elevated to Torah when they infused with and directed based on Torah, so too he says that secular conversations become Torah when they are regarding a life that is conducted along Torah lines. In other words: secular conversations regarding a Torah im Derech Eretz lifestyle, these conversations are themselves divrei Torah.

Mikha'el Makovi

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

A Different Reason for a Jewish Israel

Originally posted 1/23/08, 3:33 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, presents another reason why some may be in favour of a Jewish state -- and its not because it is Jewish.

For more on this, please see Rabbi Hecht's recent article on the subject in the Jewish Tribune (of Toronto). The url for this week's edition of the paper is:

The article is on page 4.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

The Reunion Question

Originally published 1/22/08, 1:40 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
The Yeshiva of Flatbush sent out an e-mail that informed gay former graduates that their partners are not invited to the class reunion to be held in December 2007. Aside from graduates themselves, according to my understanding, spouses or fiances of graduates are also invited to yeshiva reunions but not others such a friends. The Yeshiva was simply making the point that it does not consider gay partners to be in the same category as spouses or fiances, and thus are not not in the category of those invited

From the point of view of political correctness, this is not in line with what many would think is expected. The Yeshiva, though, is an Orthodox institution and was simply acting within the guidelines of Orthodoxy. You might still expect those who challenge Orthodoxy to voice a complaint with Orthodox standards in the same way you have non-Orthodox feminists critique the separation of the sexes in the Orthodox synagogue - but you would expect most to understand that this reflects the view of Orthodoxy and to be expected by an Orthodox institution. That is why what most surprises me about the whole matter is how many graduates of this Yeshiva are joining in the criticism of the Yeshiva's stand. Whether a specific graduate is Orthodox or not, would you not expect such a person to recognize that this is the Yeshiva being true to its Orthodox roots?

You would expect a Yeshiva to have a reception with only kosher food. You would expect a Yeshiva to ask women who attend one of their functions to dress in a manner consistent with Halachic standards. All this Yeshiva did was ask individuals to respect was Yeshiva's values. You may disagree with these values but you can't challenge the Yeshiva for being what it is. Yet, strangely, so many of the graduates are doing just this. It may be a problem with an Orthodox institution attempting to reach out to the entire community as simply a Jewish place. It's time to recognize that there are major points of friction within the broad Jewish world. Many Reform leaders are in favour of same sex marriages, for example. In stating that I am against same sex marriages. I have to make the point that I don't stand for some generic Jewishness but stand for Orthodoxy. And, similarly, Yeshiva of Flatbush is Orthodox -- it should be respected as such.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Chumra and the Challenge to the Torah Ideal

Originally posted 1/15/08, 12:58 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
I draw your attention to the following post, entitled,  "Too Stringent By Half," at The Blog of Garnel Ironheart, (I have reproduced the post below but do still direct you to this blog for interesting posts.)

"I recalled years ago eating at the Shabbos table of a man who davened at the Agudah shul in Toronto. We spoke about various matters, amongst them how hard it was to find chalav Yisroel candy bars (for his kids, me I'm a Mars Bar kind of guy).
He sighed and, in what I can only decribe as a moment of unguarded weakness, noted: "When I was a kid, we used to stop in at the corner store on the way home from school and pick out any candy bar we wanted. We never heard of hecsherim on them. Now I can't buy a candy for my children unless it's chalav Yisroel. When did this happen? Uri Orbach of Ynet notes the same creeping stringency in the ongoing commotion surrounding separate seating in public buses that service the Chareidi population. He correctly points out that concepts and ideas that even the most stringent Jews would not have thought about thirty years ago have now become normative within the Chareidi community which, in turn, is attempting to impose its standards on the rest of the frum world.
This is how the process generally works. Someone comes up with a chumrah (you've all certainly heard of the Chumrah-of-the-Week club). Many times it's either a ba'al teshuvah looking for ways to up his observance so that he doesn't feel inferior to his frum-from-birth friends or it's a rabbi in an outreach setting who has a particular liking for this crazy stringency but knows that preaching to people who know what he's talking about will just get him laughed at. But ba'al teshuvahs? They'll try anything!
The next step is that other people see these stringencies being practised and when they ask about them they receive an innocent look back: "Well, it says in the that you're supposed to." And, either through insecurity or a fear of being left behind, these other people begin to pick up the chumrah. Finally, widescale observance spreads through the community and outsiders who refuse to hop on the bandwagon are categorized as "less frum" because they don't accept this chumrah which was almost universally ignored until recently.
Now, I'm not talking about actual halachos that fell into disuse over the centuries such as shaatnez, a married woman covering her hair, or chalav Yisroel in certain places. What I am talking about is sleeves that must go to the wrist (just below the elbow is fine according to most mainstream sources) and separate seating on buses.
All these little things slowly redefine what's considered normative in Torah observance and leave more and more people who are really shomer mitzvos out of the increasing rigid group of people who believe that it is they who define what a mitzvah is and what it isn't. It behooves us to remember that a way of observance, if supported by legitimate halachic sources, is as legitimate and "strict" as any other, regardless of the external differences."

The following is the comment I entered in response to the post.

"Why someone adopts a chumra of a certain nature reflects an overall gestalt in the person's understanding of the Torah ideal. Why someone does not adopt a certain chumra should be of the same nature -- reflecting one's perception of the overall Torah ideal and the perception that abiding by this chumra would detract from an ideal. We, throughout Shas, encounter many members of Chazal being described as having a specific chumra. Two important observations emerge. One is that the other members of Chazal who did not adopt this chumra still had respect for the person who had this chumra, recognizing that it reflected a specific value that this person desired to highlight in his observance of Torah. Two, that the other members of Chazal who did not adopt the chumra did not feel that they were missing something in their religious observance thereby. They understood that this chumra was not for them and would detract from their path to the Torah ideal that they wished for themselves.
"The difficulty of this new world of chumras, besides the obvious ridiculousness of some of these 'chumras of the month' is that they envision a monolithic vision of the Torah ideal for everyone, thus weakening the real dynamics of Torah. There is an ideal beyond the chumra; in fact there is a spectrum of ideals beyond a specific chumra and we have to find the ideal that connects to us -- and that incorporates a specific individual mixture of chumra and kullah that furthers the ideal. For example, it is strongly suggested that a talmid chacham not accept additional fasts -- as fasting will negatively impact on his learning. Thus for one person, a fast is a good thing, for another it is not. A monolithic vision that maintains that fasting is always inherently an act of tziddkus in simply wrong.
"But the reaction to chumra must include a recognition of a value in the kullah towards creating a specific Torah ideal. The case of the chocolate bar is on point. If the desire to have more chocolate is simply seen as a hedonistic, animalistic drive that wants to be satisfied and the kullah is simply allowing this over a higher religious commitment to chalav Yisrael, then the chumra will win and the kullah will be seen as negative -- and to some extent rightfully so. But if one perceives a value in the lifestyle that includes the ability to have easier access to chocolate and one understands the Torah ideal that includes this value and constructs a Torah lifestyle that includes the value, one has an argument to withstand the monolithic pressure of the chumra world.
"What is necessary is not the argument that the kullah is okay too. What is necessary is the argument that the kullah is part of an overall Torah ideal that one wishes to strive for, against the monolithic and narrow vision of the Torah ideal of the chumrah world."


Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 14 January 2008

Belief, Conversion and the Mashichist

Originally posted 1/14/08, 10:12 PM. Link no longer works.
A conversion issue has emerged in Israel regarding an individual who believes that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe was the Mashiach. This individual wishes to convert and the Bais Din supervising the conversion did not know how to rule. They have passed the issue on to the Chief Rabbi to render a decision. For further info, see

The issue has reinvigorated the debate regarding the Mashichists, those who believe that the Rebbe is Mashiach, and whether this belief is outside the pale of Orthodoxy. What is perhaps more significant about the issue in this case, though, is that it also forces us to truly consider the whole issue of conversion. The case here concerns belief, not action This individual will be a practicing Orthodox Jew -- the question is whether his beliefs meet the standards of Orthodoxy.While that is also a halachic question, we generally avoid such issues, especially in the determination of Orthodox affiliation. Now the issue is on the table. To be Orthodox demands adherence to a specific belief system, albeit in broad in definition. The very fact that the question was and is asked is, in a certain way, more significant than the answer. Orthodoxy has belief parameters.

And this clarifies and solidifies the whole issue of conversion. Orthodox conversion really demands adherence to the spectrum outlined by these broad parameters. The essential problem with non-Orthodox conversion is that the ones supervision the conversion generally do not these belief parameters, so how can they be the ones who have to make the decision that the prospective convert does? It is so interesting that, as evidenced by this article, people can understand an issue of whether a belief in a dead Messiah is acceptable within Judaism -- but they can't seem to understand that there are other issues of belief that also can't be ignored. It just seems that we define Judaism in terms of not being Christian -- and forget all the other issues of belief that are also fundamental in describing the belief structure of Torah. Of course, if we discuss these issues we will have to confront the beliefs arguments within the Jewish world and start understanding the real challenges that are before us. That is why this case is important. It makes us think about what we believe. It is unfortunate, though, that it still can allow us, as shown by some of the comments in this article, to think that the only faith issues that we may have is in comparison to Christianity.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 13 January 2008

Launch of Yad HaChazakah

Originally published 1/13/08, 4:12 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
On Sunday, Jan. 13, the Official Launch of Yad HaChazakah - The Jewish Disablilty Empowerment Center was held in Brooklyn. As the Rabbinic Advisor to Yad, I was invited to participate in the program but unfortunately I was unable to attend. The following greetings to those who attended were , though, read for me. I now share them with you. More information about Yad is available at its website,, now

"First, I wish to thank my daughter Dodi-Lee for reading my Greetings and I would also like to congratulate my daughter Tikva for her work on the Launch on behalf of Yad. I am sure that this event is most glorious and it deserves to be, for the launch of an organization such as Yad HaChazakah – The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center is significant. I am truly sorrowful that my health considerations caused me to personally be unable attend today but I look forward to attending Yad events in the future as we continue to mark the success of this organization.

"I first met Sharon and Wayne Lacks over 20 years ago as I was living in the New York area at the time. Sharon attended the various weekly classes that I gave – all of them! -- as she ran about in her motorized wheelchair. Through her participation in the shiurim, her brilliance was obvious. Her energy was contagious. Her commitment to Torah and Torah study was emphatic. In the close friendship that has developed over the years between my wife, Naomi, and I and the Lackses, we have gotten to know a couple whose dedication to Torah and humanity is a model and inspiration for all of us – and it is with deep feelings of pride and joy that I am able to voice these greetings as Sharon fulfills her dream of establishing a Torah organization to empower people with disabilities within our community,.

"Empowerment is the key word – and it has been a matter of discussion – sometimes heated discussion – between myself and Sharon and Wayne over the years. What does the Torah say in regard to people with disabilities? What does the Torah say about the secular, legal understanding, and actualization, of empowerment? The answers are not simple. The Torah response to the problems faced by people with disabilities may not be necessarily similar to the responses presented by American society – but that is not to say that we, the Torah community, do not have a problem or that there are not Torah responses to these problems. Yad HaChazakah’s mandate is to identify the problems that we must face and to determine the proper Torah response to these problems. This is its unique mandate. It is committed to act – and so it shall act, but al pi Torah.

"There is much work to be done. Unfortunately, the Orthodox community, at times, has a tendency to apply objective standards of evaluation that do not truly define the individual merit of each person. We look at the disability, not the person. This demands education and Yad is committed to this end. We also, often, lose sight of the full range of sensitivities that the Torah demands of us – including being sensitive to every individual’s right of dignity. We often, motivated by a drive to do chesed, lose sight of the fact that in our giving, we can often belittle the taker. The Torah call to help demands of us to also empower an individual so that he/she does not feel the negativity of this belittlement but rather is celebrated as one with inherent value. Yad is committed to this end as well.

"When Moshe Rabbeinu is approached by Hashem to lead Klal Yisrael out of Egypt, he responds by questioning who will listen to him as he has a speech impediment, a disability. Hashem responds by saying that Aharon can speak for him. The message would seem to be that the person with a disability has to live with his/her limitation and that one with a speech impediment, in order to be heard, should get someone else to speak for them. The Sfas Emet has a different understanding of Moshe’s concern – and it is only to this concern that Hashem finally listens. The Sfas Emet says that Moshe’s concern is the people’s ability to listen. Moshe has a speech impediment because communication demands a speaker and a listener and that, in this case, he is limited in his speech because the people are limited in their ability to hear. Similarly, Moshe Rabbeinu had a similar problem with Pharaoh – one for which he always needed someone to state his message for Pharaoh. But in regard to Klal Yisrael, Moshe eventually was able to speak directly to the people without another speaking for him. The people had learned. Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech impediment was effectively removed for the people learned the importance of listening to him – they understood this importance.

"We learn in the gemara in Sanhedrin, the importance of every single Jewish life – according to some girsa'ot, readings, of every single human being. This calls upon us to help every individual to achieve their Divine potential and their singular importance. Disabilities, though, do not only exist for the one who is disabled. They also can be impediments to our ability to see this simple value of the importance inherent in every person. We must overcome this impediment in ourselves as well. This is a message of Torah – and to this end Yad is also committed.

"My brachot for the success of Yad and my congratulations are extended to Sharon, Wayne and the entire Board of Yad on a successful launch. Mei chayil l’chayil. It is mine and my family’s – Naomi, Dodi-Lee, Chai, Tikva and Razi’s -- prayers that this launch will bring Yad to ever increasing heights as it continues its Torah mission for the Jewish community."

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

Saturday 12 January 2008

Shoot First or Question First?

Originally published 1/12/08, 11:53 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
A colleague of mine posted on a list the following:

Quoting from:
the new RCA Bet Din Guidelines

What to Expect/Do when Moving to a New Jewish Community
i. A ger, or family of gerim, should inform the local rabbi of their status shortly after moving into the community. This is especially important where a woman converted after she had children (and the children converted together with her), or, as is not uncommon, where the female converted in a non-Orthodox manner before marriage and/or children, and later converted ke'halachah. As the female children in such a situation could not usually marry kohanim, this fact would be important for them – and for the rabbi – to know. If circumstances warrant, the regional Beit Din shall indicate in the conversion document that a female convert was pregnant at the time of conversion.

He then issued the following comment [judgment]:

I'm assuming I don't need to explain how evil this is to the present audience?

I find the tone of this judgment as a bit too judgmental! (Think of it now - ironically, I am now the one being judgmental!)

First of all, there is the sin of labeling. Why use an ad hominem like "evil" in this case? I would think that "evil" is an epithet reserved for the Hitlers or the Osama bin Laden's of the world...

But even if this is indeed evil:
  1. Why not post:
    I find this evil - how about you?
  2. Or perhaps even a bit less offensive:
    Isn't this evil? Or am I missing something here?
  3. Or maybe a bit LESS strident:
    This type of statement seems to lack good judgment. It comes across to ME as offensive and I am sure to many others!
Why do people need to jump to conclusions?

Is it really better to shoot first and ask questions later -
Perhaps is it better to ask questions first and then only shoot later on ONLY when REALLY necessary?

E.G.: Why not check WHY the RCA issued these guidelines, and do research to see if they have a valid agenda and Halachic considerations? If this indeed lacked the proper due diligence in substance or form, THEN tell them privately FIRST before going public?
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

On Torah And Superstition

Originally published 1/12/08, 11:35 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
Despite the Ghetto in Eastern Europe, North Americans are even MORE likely to accept superstition as a part of Torah Judaism.

See the follow direct quote from Wikipedia

Own criticism of his students

Soloveitchik stated that although he felt that he successfully transmitted the facts and laws of Judaism to his students, he felt that he failed in transmitting the experience of living an authentic Jewish life. He stated that many of his students "act like children and experience religion like children. This is why they accept all types of fanaticism and superstition. Sometimes they are even ready to do things that border on the immoral. They lack the experiential component of religion, and simply substitute obscurantism for it....After all, I come from the ghetto. Yet I have never seen so much naïve and uncritical commitment to people and to ideas as I see in America....All extremism, fanaticism and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist." (A Reader's Companion to Ish Ha-Halakhah: Introductory Section, David Shatz, Yeshiva University, Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute).
We are commanded: Tamim Yihyeh Im Hashem Elokecha - Be STRAIGHTFORWARD, don't use magic etc. It is sad how many abuse superstition in the name of Religion!

Is there such a thing as an esoteric side to Torah and to Life? Yes, but as the Rambam warns us: this is province of the select few. The masses are not intellectually or emotionally ready to tread those grounds. As the Talmud itself has warned us - four entered Pardes - only ONE left unscathed.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Launch of Yad HaChazakah - The Jewish Disability Empowment Center

Originally published 1/12/08, 6:41 PM.
On Sunday, Jan. 13 at 11:00am, Yad HaChazakah marks its official launch in Brooklyn. More details are available at, now

As the Rabbinic Advisor to Yad, I invite you to attend this event marking the establishment of an important Torah organization.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 10 January 2008

Re: [Avodah] Prohibition of Eating Blood

Originally published 1/10/08, 11:52 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
From our Friend, Richard Wolberg:

On Jan 10, 2008 6:47 PM, Richard Wolberg,, wrote:
It is interesting to note that with modern forensic medicine we have found that once the slightest amount of blood is left on any object, there is no way of removing every trace of it. There is a substance called luminol. Luminol is a versatile chemical that exhibits chemiluminescence, with a striking blue glow, when mixed with an appropriate oxidizing agent. It is a white to slightly yellow crystalline solid that is soluble in water and most polar organic solvents.

Luminol is used by forensic investigators to detect trace amounts of blood left at crime scenes. It is also used by biologists in cellular assays (tests) for the detection of copper, iron, and cyanides . There is no way in which one may eliminate every trace of blood once it has appeared.
It would seem to me that perhaps the prohibition of blood centers around the fact that the tum'ah it conveys can never be fully eliminated.
I see a parallel between the paradox of the ashes of the para aduma and blood. As the ashes can render someone tahor who is tamei, and someone tamei who is tahor, likewise, without blood already inside of you, you would die. And conversely taking blood from the outside in, will cause a spiritual death.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Parsha: Hayei Sarah

This came from the Morasha list:

This past Shabbat, totally out of the blue, a congregant came up to me and asked me a question. Apparently I must have missed that class, because I did not know the answer. Forgive me as I post my ignorance, but as I do not have the answer, I turn to you...

When Sara hears that she will become pregnant, her response includes the fact that she says Abraham is old- the implication is that he is not exactly the stallion he may have been in his younger years.

Much later on, we discover that Abraham has married Ketura and had more children. How did he do it?

---A Morasha member

Here are 2 approaches:
  1. Both Abraham and Sara had a rebirth/rejuvenation [reJEWvenation?] when their names got changed. A Convert is like a newborn [ger shinisgayer kekatan shenolad dami]

  2. Ein mukdam um'uchar batorah. This story is out of sequence and it is simply catching up with old news that Abraham HAD Had in the past taken another wife named Keturah. This passage is a flashback to when Abraham "sowed" his wild oats and it is put here in juxtaposition to Abraham designating Isaac as his successor [to the exclusion of Isaac's half-siblings] before Abrahma's own death.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Sunday 6 January 2008

Is There a Unique Torah Understanding of Morality

Originally published 1/6/08, 10:43 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
I recently read an article on good and evil that I found in the Dec. 3 edition of Time magazine. As I read the article, I found that I had somewhat of an issue with the very definition of good and evil. The article never really defined it but it clearly presented a view of what it thought was good and evil. My problem with the article, though, was that I felt that I had a different definition as a result of my Torah studies. This led me to a question I posed in a Nishma publication many years ago:
Is There A Distinctive Jewish Ethical Perspective?
( See

What do you think?

Rabbi Ben Hecht