Wednesday 30 April 2008

Things are not always as they seem to be!

Originally published 4/30/08, 12:39 AM
Interesting comments upon the history of some masorah.

brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Yerushalayim
Rosh Kollel: Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld


General: The Three Zechusim

Barry Robinson asked:

Dear Kollel,

I have been asked to find the mekor for the well-known statement that Klal Yisroel were saved from Mitzrayim B'Zechus of the three things they kept - they did not change their names, their language and their clothing.

I have found several variants on this maamar in various Midrashic sources. Almost all of the variants list four Zechusim - for example, many of the variant versions remove mention of clothing and add that Klal Yisroel did not speak Lashon Hara and were careful about Arayos.

But everyone I talk to seems to remember learning the first version in school. Were we misled by our teachers or does this form of the Midrash really exist?

Thank You.
Barry Robinson
Cong. Or Torah, Skokie, Illinois, USA

The Kollel replies:

The earliest source seems to be Eliyahu Bachur (c. 1500), who quotes it the way we often hear it in the introduction to his Sefer Meturgeman. Shlomo Buber, in his notes to Pesikta d'Rav Kahana (Parshas Vayehi Beshalach fn. #66) makes your point and says Eliyahu Bachur has absolutely no source in Midrash. (It is not clear to me how the quote became so popular, perhaps it was used to defend Chasidic garb.)

There is one Midrash (Lekach Tov to Shmos 6:6) which counts among the four Zechusim that they didn't change their names or their "Salmos" (clothes). However, almost certainly the Lamed is a scribe's mistake. In either case it doesn't use the word "Levushan."

To me it would seem that the truth is Eliyahu Bachur's source is Bamidbar Rabah 13:20 where 3 (not 4) Zechuyos are counted and the third is that they were Gedurim Min ha'Ervah (and not that they were not Parutz b'Arayos - as it appears in every other Midrash). Gedurim means they took measures to prevent Arayos and it might refer to adopting the immodest Egyptian mode of dress. We find such Gedurim m'Ervah in practice in Chazal, such as in Rashi,
Sanhedrin top of 74b.

May we be Zocheh to fulfill all these Midrashim ourselves!

Best wishes for a Chag Kasher v'Same'ach!

Mordecai Kornfeld,
Kollel Iyun Hadaf

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Tight Clothing - You Know it when You See It

Originally published 4/29/08, 1:33 AM.
Another insight into Tight Clothing from Cantor Wolberg: [yes the double entendre was quite intended!] -RRW

Cantor Wolberg wrote:
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 stated: "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it." Obviously, his perception would be quite different from our perception.

Prohibition against tight clothing would be our "I know it when I see it" but it's all a matter of how high (or low) our individual bar of morality is. We certainly have much higher moral standards than the Constitution of the United States and yet, da'as Torah doesn't necessarily give us the unequivocal, definitive answers.

The Constitution doesn't contain chukim, so its orientation is quite different from ours. Living in a country such as the U.S. presents tremendous challenges in being able to deal with cognitive dissonances, and it's no wonder that we can't agree on many things with each other. This, IMHO, is what gives fertile soil for potential sinas chinam.


Monday 28 April 2008

Compulsary and Voluntary

Originally published 4/28/08, 1:20 pm. Link no longer works.
The following is a most interesting article on a distinction, presented by the author, between compulsory and voluntary presentations of Judaism or Jewishness.
The author concludes that what is needed is a mixture of the two. What is so strange about this conclusion is the perception that accepting Judaism as compulsory or voluntary is a choice.
If it is compulsory, it is in fact a decision not based on choice but on external forces that impose this perception of reality upon someone. Rather than describing a distinction between compulsory and voluntary Judaism, the author would have done a more important service in attempting to define why someone wishes to define himself/herself as a Jew.
That may also bring one back to a discussion of whether one feels compelled to be Jewish or simply chooses to be Jewish but in attempting to define the basic motivation for Jewishness, there is greater potential for discussing the issue and describing the underlying motivations for any type of Jewishness.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 25 April 2008

HHH Hagaddah: What is the point of Ilu Keir'vanu lifeni Har Sinai, Vlo Nasan lanu es HaTorah?

Originally published 4/25/08, 5:35 pm.
In Dayeinu we have a line:
Ilu Keir'vanu lifeni Har Sinai, Vlo Nasan lanu es HaTorah - Dayyeinu?
If YOU had brought us near Har sinai but had NOT Given us the Torah - Dayyeinu?

What is the point of going to Sinai without receiving the Torah? What value is there to be at Sinai alone without even being commanded by G-d?

  1. What are the TWO Haftoros associated with the Parsha of the Asseres Hadevarim in Yisro?
  2. What theme have they in common?
  3. What theme do they omit?
Given that Ma'amad Har Sinai without the Torah has some significance:
Q: How is that significance manifested in Jewish Practice?

Hint: What Minhag-in-common is manifest during:
  1. The Reading of Shiras Hayaom
  2. The Recitation of Kiddush Levanah
  3. The Reading of Asseres Hadibros

Moa'dim Lesimcha!
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Thursday 24 April 2008

HHH, Anti-Xtian Polemics and the Third Blessing of the Haftara

Originally published 4/24/08, 11:22 PM.
During the recent first weekend of Passover, my sister pointed out to me that the theme of the third blessing of the haftarah is apparently an anti-Xtian polemic. Viz. Al kis'o lo yeshev ZOR v'lo yinchalu ACHEIRIMM es k'vodo...

I peeked into my Baer's Avodas Yisroel. Sure enough, he quotes Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam as having the nusach paraphrasing Es Tzemach David Avdecha Meheira Satzmi'ach. It seems to be the same theme, but doesn't seem aimed at  the Xtians.

Could it be that since both Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam lived in Moslem societies, they had a different nusach which didn't need the anti-Xtian polemic; while those who did live in Xtian societies inserted this anti-Xtian polemic into their nusach?
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

HHH - Who is suposed to read Mah Nistanah? Why?

Originally published 4/24/08, 1:19 pm.
Q: Who is supposed to lead the Mah Nishtana?
Q: Why?

Kol tuv,

Hagahoth, Hasgoth, and He'aroth

Originally published 4/24/08, 1:15 pm.
Dear Readers,
I am planning a new series of quick comments mostly on liturgy and Halachah called:
  1. Hagahoth [glosses]
  2. Hasagoth [challenges] and
  3. He'aroth [notes or insights]

They will be prefaced by HHH (with apologies to the late Hubert Humphrey).

Mo'adim Lesimcha,

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Lying to protect the simple of faith [From Avodah]

Originally published 4/23/08, 3:04 pm.
A very provocative post from the Avodah list:
Note: I have been procrastinating my review of Dr. Marc Shapiro's book and at times procrastination pays because you get to gather more data and information! --smile--

On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 2:03 AM, Michael Makovi wrote on the Avodah list:
I've been having a debate on the Zohar at: Facebook Article Link
and at one point, I brought up ibn Ezra saying that there could be post-Moshe pesukim, and Dr. Marc Shapiro of course came up. I made the following post, from which, for Avodah, I would like to discuss my second point regarding a Torah authority lying to protect the simple
of faith (but I'll post my entire post).

I had previously there brought up an article by Dr. Shapiro that mentions this opinion of ibn Ezra, but then...


Just this past Yom Tov Pesach, I saw Marc Shapiro's book, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, and I saw that it truly is a magnificent sefer - basically, he collects classical Torah opinions that controvert Rambam's 13.

I opened it up, and what do you know, but the page on ibn Ezra is what it immediately opened to! In this chapter, he makes several points:

1) When Rambam says the Torah we have is the same as given by Moshe, Rambam cannot possibly believe that this is literally true, for Rambam was extensively involved in textual study of different texts, and even advocated certain Masoretic texts (ben Asher, I believe) over others. Moreover, Rambam's son refused to pasken on which scroll is kosher, because there are so many, and who are we to advocate one over the other.

1a) Rather, then, Rambam is saying that no deliberate additions were made after Moshe. However, while Rambam is saying that this is the case, he cannot possibly be saying it is heretical to say otherwise. For ibn Ezra, as interpreted by a large list of authorities, held that
many verses are post-Moshe. Rabbi Yehuda heChasid went even further, and said that entire narratives could be added to. According to one authority, Ezra (not ibn Ezra) had the ability to add to narrative (not mitzvot-ic) sections of the Torah. Most importantly, the Gemara itself opines that Yehoshua wrote the end of the Torah - surely Rambam cannot declare Chazal to be heretics! So while Rambam says no post-Moshe additions were made, the contrary opinion is not heresy. As one prominent rabbi, quoted by Marc Shapiro (I forget his name), says, the basic principle is that "for all intents and purposes", the Torah we have is what Moshe gave, but in certain details and pesukim, it very well may differ. And the Gemara doesn't say that one must hold the Torah is from Moshe, but rather only that it is from Heaven, and this includes any divine source.

2) As an alternative to point 1 above: Rambam knew that there were textual variants in our Torah scrolls, but he could very well have lied about this, saying that there were no variants, and that we today have the exact same scroll as given by Moshe. In fact, in his Iggeret Teiman, Rambam makes exactly such an explicit lie. Back then, the Muslims were accusing us of falsifying the Torah, and any admission on our part would have harmed the faith of the ignorant and led them to heresy, for they would be unable to understand the complex picture as shown in points 1 and 1a. Better then to lie to the ignorant and simple of faith and tell them that we have the same scroll as Moshe bli safek; those who are more learned, and can accept the complex truth, will learn it.


So I'd like to discuss my second point above, which seems ripe for controversy.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Why Do We Lean at the Seder?

Originally published 4/23/08, 1:20 AM
Q: Why do we lean at the Seder?

A: With all that food at the Seder, if it weren't for the lean we might become fat! --smile--

Zissen Pesach,

Tuesday 22 April 2008

The Chametz Battle: Policy Concerns in Halachic Reasoning

Originally published 4/22/08, 9:34 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.Link no longer works
To be honest, I have only marginally been following the debate in Israel over the chametz law, so in many ways, I am really not prepared to comment. I found it interesting, though, to have found out that the judge who sparked this whole debate is actually observant. See
This fact must inform us that the issue is not simple a battle between leftist forces attempting to liberalize Israel and observant forces attempting to foster a fully observant Israel. There is much more to the debate. In many ways, it may really be about how Orthodoxy should relate to the non-Orthodox.

Of course, at the root of Orthodoxy is a principle that observance of mitzvot is a requirement of all Jews. Kol Yisrael aravin zeh l'zeh. We all are guarantors for each other before God. The question is how to achieve this goal.
The law of lifnei iver, causing another or assisting another to violate halacha is pivotal in this regard. An investigation of this law, though, reveals a most interesting perception of the law by various commentators. They understand the law to be based on policy rather than the usual technical understanding of the law. In general, a law is concerned with specific behaviour without contemplation of the consequences of this behaviour. With policy considerations, consequences become important considerations.
So the question emerges in the mitzvah of lifnei iver. Is the prohibition technical, ie is its focus the specific technical behaviour before us? IOW is it absolutely forbidden for me to pass a piece of pork to another Jew (given the specific circumstances of lifner iver)? Or is the prohibition to consider policy considerations? Am I thus to consider how the person will respond to my not passing the pork and evaluate whether in not passing the pork, I will develop a negative response to Orthodox Jews that will ensure that this person will continue eating pork in the future, rather than passing the pork in this circumstance and developing a relationship with this person that may have more positive Torah implications in the future? Technical means the only concern is the battle; policy means the concern in the entire war.

Now of course, the issue in not black-and-while. Of course, if you can politely not pass the pork without evoking a strong negative reaction from the other person, that would be best. There must also be the consideration that in passing the pork, the person may incorrectly interpret your behaviour as permitting him/her to eat the pork and that you accept a pluralism of Jewish standards that is incorrect -- with further potential negative consequences.
Understanding lifner iver as a policy statement actually makes it much more complex, demanding more thorough analsyis of each situation. It may be that because we want things to be simple, we tend to gravitate to the technical -- that way we have the one right answer. The reality may be though that the issue is actually a policy one and what is really demanded is thought.

As I do not know the actual details of the chametz law, I really don't have a definite position on it. There are policy reasons for both sides. The key though is to recognize that it is, according to many commentators, a policy matter and, as such, demands thought and analysis. The rhetoric on both sides must end, in order to fulfil the goal of obseving the mitzvah of lifnei iver.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Saturday 12 April 2008

Hasiba, the Raaviya, and a Potential Halachic Sea Change

Originally published 4/12/08, 11:18 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
Given the Raaviya takes a very Liberal view regarding Hasiba [Reclining]. He declines to recline because, after all, in our day and age, we do not formally dine on cushions on the floor! This position is well and good - but is it a a truly Orthodox position to do away with a time-honored Halachah in the Talmud merely due to changed external circumstances?

The Bavli gives very demanding parameters, lean to the right not the left, lest one choke etc. Hasiba is very formal and very specific. How did the Raaviya ignore this? Was he acting like a proto-Liberal Rabbi?

A change occurred to me last year. Whilst slugging through the Bavli's 10th chapter of Pesachim [arvei pesachim] I took a short-cut detour and I did the much more compact Yerushalmi instead. There it was - Lo and Behold:

Q; Why must one do hasiba at the seder?
A: Lest one eat STANDING UP like a servant!

Could this alternate Talmudic source have coincided with the Raaviya's position?
Today, I ate my second S'eudah with Rabbi Dr. Kanarfgoel, a PhD in Jewish Medieval history and I mentioned this idea. While he did not respond specifically, he noted that the Raaviya was the FIRST Ashkenazic source to have a complete Yersushalmi at his disposal and he used it widely!

On a completely different topic, we have manuscripts in the Rambam's own handwriting. At times, he crosses out a Halachah and replaces it with the alternate read in the Yerushalmi. The Rambam USUALLY is very RIF-centric, but at times he follows Yerushalmi, probably AFTER considering the RIF first as the likely Halachah [as above]


What does this portent in the future? As Artscroll Shottenstein is publishing a user friendly Yerushalmi, people may see many concepts in a brand new light. Granted that MOST commentaries attempt to get the Yerushalmi to jibe with the Bavli, nevertheless, there will be brand new insights garnished from sources perhaps more ancient than the Bavli. Will this bring about a Sea change not only in how people view the Talmud, but will it impact pesak -as it apparently did for the R'a'aviyah and the Rambam?
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Monday 7 April 2008

You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Hillel!

Originally published 4/7/08, 8:41 AM, Eastern Daylight Time. The link no longer works.
Hillel is opening up its facilities to non-Jews! Think of the Reprecussions!

To quote Attorney Douglas Aronin
But one thing that both the excerpt and the full JTA article make clear is that the change in orientation is one that Hillel professionals on many campuses feel is being forced upon them by the realities of campus life. If you want to attract Jewish students who are not already actively Jewish, you're going to need to offer something that they find attractive. In the pre-Richard Joel era, Hillels generally were satisfied with just serving the Jewish needs of those who were already actively Jewish. Would we be better off going back in that direction?
And to 1uote Rabbi David Willig:
I wonder what would happen if a group of Whites wanted to join the BLACK STUDENT ASSOCIATION, or Jews join the Moslem Student Union. DW
For full details see:

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Leining: Is it zeikher or zekher?

Originally published 4/2/08, 11:06 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
I looked up ZECHER in the Even Shoshan Concordance - and in it I located 2 occurences of Zecher - and BOTH were proper names!

Zecher is clearly wrong. Rav Mordechai Breuer OBM has confirmed this with unassailable research While the Ma'seh Rav attests to this idea of Zecher Rav Haim Volozhiner protested this very attestation [albeit very politely]. In NO way were TWO readings ever suggested

But if safeik D'd'oraiito lehumra re: Zachor why not go all the way? [Reductio ad absurdum indeed- after all it is read around Purim time! So why not

  1. Read it from BOTH a Sephardic and Ashkenaic Torah...
  2. Read BOTH Scrolls with every permutation of pronunciation [e.g. litvisher, Hungarian, Yekkish, Sephardic, Yeminite etc. etc.]?

The Vilna Gaon himself made fun of multiple pairs of Tefillin as ludicrous and came up with 32-64 possible permutations. Ironically we are beginning to perpetuate such a practice in his honor. [Incidentally, this proves there MUST be a God, or else it would make no sense to practice such a minhag to honor the one who felt such permutation was unnecessary.]

One Rabbi insisted that whilst reading Ki Tetze both Zeicher and Zecher must be read TWICE, one for Shevii'i and once for Maftir! His argument? since we have changed the form [tzura] for Zachor therefore THAT becomes THE normative way to read it EVERY time we read the Torah, including Ki Tetze! No, I am not kidding; I had a bar mitzva student who HAD to do it this way!

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,