Thursday 26 June 2008

Controversial Moments At Rav S. R. Hirsch Memorial Celebration

Originally published 6/26/08, 11:02 pm. Link no longer works.
Hot off the Press - The JEWISH Press at that!

Speaking at the 200th birthday celebration of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch this past Shabbos, Khal Adath Jeshurun’s Rav Yisroel Mantel declared that the philosophical credo of Rav Hirsch, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate. Rav Hirsch was a 19th century champion of Orthodoxy and the founder of Khal Adath Jeshurun’s parent community in Frankfurt, Germany.

Rav Mantel’s declaration, which angered many in the community, came at a sit-down kiddush at Dr. Raphael Moller Hall in Washington Heights after Shabbos morning services. He said that only Rav Hirsch, a great man who knew the fine boundaries between what is religiously permissible and what is prohibited, could make Torah Im Derech Eretz workable. Our generation, he said, must follow today’s gedolei HaTorah (great Torah leaders). After Shabbos, Dr. Eric Erlbach, KAJ president for over two decades, resigned. The Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy calls for the active engagement between Torah and culture and society.

Link to Jewish Press Article

My own Brief Comments:
Rabbiner Hirsch was apparently aware of the danger to Torah im Derech Eretz from those on the left who coddled Reform. Yet, he apparently was not so aware that coddling the Right would make Torah im Derech Eretz moribund from within. What a shame. Imagine a movement torpedoed by its own designated Master?


Secular Conversions

Originally published 6/26/08, 11:23 AM.
I recently saw an article, written by a secular Jew, that proposes, in response to the present conversion controversy, that it is time for Israel to develop what this person termed "secular conversions". What an interesting term -- but what does it exactly mean?
In a certain way, we already have something like secular conversion; they are the secular immigration laws for Israel. But that still doesn't define a person as a Jew? But then again, if we term the process of becoming a Jew as conversion, doesn't that imply some religious connotation to the term -- then what is secular conversion?

What is really happening, is that this secular Jew is simply stating that there should be a procedure that allows individuals to become a Jew like him, i.e. a secular Jew. The problem with the present method of conversion, in this person's mind, is that it does not allow this but rather demands people to become, in some respect Orthodox, religious Jews.
He may have a point, but the real issue that this person still is not willing to face  what this actually says about Jewish identity. Behind the conversion issue and this specific controversy is not simply the question of how someone becomes a Jew but rather, what a Jew, what this term, really means.
If we are simply a national entity like every other nation than like every other nation we should simply have an immigration procedure to let people into our land as citizens. But if we think that there is something unique about being Jewish, that it extends beyond national borders and therefore we define entry into this group in terms such as conversion, it is time to recognize the implications of this and to re-examine what it really means to be a Jew.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 22 June 2008

HHH Artscroll Contradiction

Originally published 6/22/08, 12:27 AM.
In general: I am a big fan of Artscroll in these areas:
  1. Liturgy
  2. Torah She'b'al Peh TSBP [viz. Mishnh and Talmud]
I have some significant reservations regarding their works in Tanach, but with the above areas I am very pleased and happy. But even excellence can leave room for improvement. I do NOT mean to slam Artscroll at all. Just to fix a few errors

  • In the Artscroll Schottenstein, Talmud Hullin 104b4 footnote 28 re: "ho'omer davar besheim omro" Schottenstein attributes this to a MISHNA in Avoth 6:6
  • If you look at Artscroll Avoth, you will see that the ENTIRE Chapter 6 is composed of Brasisoss [braittot] - viz. Kallah 8. [se any Artscroll Siddur with commentary. The Inter-linear is on page 582 in the notes
Hence, we have a contradiction! The Siddurim are correct and there is an error in the Talmud - albeit not an egregious error. I DO like to keep Mishnah and Braissa as discreet as possible. The hagahos on the Talmud [such as masores Hashas] are very fussy regarding T'nan's vs. Tanya 'sfor this very reason. I am only perpetuating this fussiness, not inventing it. -smile--


Saturday 21 June 2008

Halachic Texts: More Background

Originally published 6/21/08, 11:35 PM.
Earlier I posted:
Just as the Talmud has been elucidated and somewhat modified by various commentators same for Shulchan Aruch. Generally the Halachic world has accepted the Shulchan Aruch [with Rema] as a Hatima in the same way as Hatimat Hatalmud. This is "Hatimat haRishonim:. E.G.; . in biographies of Rav J. Breuer he constantly refers to Talmud-Shulchan Aruch as being companion volumes of authoritative Halachah. This is a widely held model.

Since the Advent of the Shulchan Aruch, the VAST majority of Halachic works are indexed by ITS indexing as opposed to the Talmud or Rambam. Even Teshuvot are usually divided and indexed by the 4 Turim . There are an estimated 350 published commentaries written on the Shulchan Aruch. Plus at least a dozen review books on issur v'heter follow this model se'if by se'if.

Note: Hermann Strack in his work on Talmud and Midrash specifically states [19th century]
Now the task of the poseiq is to consult the codes and to work BACK to the Talmud.

IOW, Halchic methodology has evolved since the 12th Century [Though I am acquainted with several rabbis who like "Chone hame'agel were probably born just before 1204 and just woke up!] Maybe the Rif and Rambam did not have enough Codes to consult so they still went to the Talmud. Nevertheless, it is evident in MANY cases that Rambam went back to the Rif and NOT to the Talmud itself. [see Kessef Mishna in Rambam's intro]. It is absolutely true that both Rosh and Mordechai used the Rif as their basic text and the Bet Yosef used the Tur as HIS basic text

Now the Shulchan Aruch has been canonized as THE TEXT. That does not mean we always FOLLOW it, We don't always follow the Mishna either even though it is the cornerstone of BOTH Talmuddim

A story I have mentioned before...
I was learning Kitzur Shulchan Aruch [KSA] one day before mincha and I had a conversation with a fellow:
He: Hassidim learn Kitzur!
I: Do you mean they pasken like the Kitzur?
He: No they just learn it.

IOW this is the text book of Halachah for many Hassidim - and for yeshiva Boys THE textbook is Mishna Brura. But MOST intelligent Yeshiva students do not follow EVERY Mishna Brurah lehalachah. [one Yeshiva boy at Breuer's couldn't believe that the Hazzan says BAtzitzis [hataf] instead of B'tzitzis [sheva] because this is against the Mishna Brura. Apparently, he did understand that the Minhag of KAJ/Breuer goes back to the ear of PRE-Shulchan Aruch!]

So WHY learn Talmud NOW?
Good Question! There are many answers. I would say that this is in order to understand Tosafos! --smile-- All kidding aside, after say the 1500's the MAIN reason is to read the commentaries ON The Gmara. The Halachic action is there, between Rif/Rosh/Ran etc.

Artscroll has done a masterful job in BOTH its Mishna and Talmud to connect the texts with the CODES such as Rambam/Tur and especially Shulchan Aruch . One of the earlier works to do this was the Tiferes Yisrael on the Mishnah. A VERY new book called "Hazarat haShas" [pun intended] by the Sephardic Hacham Rabbi Avrahm Portal collects references from Ein Mishpat and puts them in book form - plus some key Me'eerees. I call this a modern day Rif. NB: Steinsaltz actually paraphrases Rambam and SA in his Halachic commentary - but this sefer QUOTES them.

Rav Kook began a project of showing Halachah from the Talmud. Actually, I agree with the Rambam on this. Halachah is to far removed from Talmud nowadays, Talmud is more for the THEORY, and the CODES are more for practice. At times, you need both of course. But Bet Yosef changed everything  by giving the sources you need. If you add Darchei Moshe et. al. you have 98% of all bases covered.

More on this series about the future, etc.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Evolutionary Patterns in Halachic Texts

Originally published 6/18/08, 11:55 PM.
Below, I have outlined a very simplistic model. The common theme is expansion and contraction or condensation - much like a Chiastic structure. Let's start with the era of Tanna'im and Amora'im:
  1. Rebbe redacts the Mishnah
  2. This was vastly expanded, mostly into the two Talmudim etc.
  3. It was re-condensed by Rambam into Mishnaic form
    1. Ashkenazim add Hagahot Maimoniyyot to make code acccessible to is own community
Now a secondary pattern emerged during the era of Rishonim. [Treat early Rishonim as analogous to Tanna'im and later ones as analogous to Amora'im.]
  1. Tur redacts a NEW Mishna - Mishnat Rishonim
    1. It includes diverse opinions - unlike Rambam
  2. Bet Yosef VASTLY expands this into a virtual "Talmud" of Rishonim etc.
    1. Rema [Darchei Moshe] redacted a quasi alternative Talmud - similar to above
  3. And RY Karo then condensed it to a Mishna form in the Shulchan Aruch -
    1. Expanded by Rema's Hagaho
    2. lRema paralles Hagahot Maimoniyyot
Just as the Talmud has been elucidated and somewhat modified by various commentators, same for Shulchan Aruch. Generally, the Halachic world has accepted the Shulchan Aruch [with Rema] as a Hatima in the same way as Hatimat haTalmud. This is "Hatimat haRishonim:. E.G.; . in biographies of Rav J. Breuer he constantly refers to Talmud-Shulchan Aruch as being companion volumes of authoritative Halachah. This is a widely held model.

Since the advent of the Shulchan Aruch, the VAST majority of Halachic works are indexed by ITS indexing ,as opposed to the Talmud or Rambam. Even Teshuvot are usually divided and indexed by the 4 Turim . There are an estimated 350 published commentaries written on the Shulchan Aruch, plus at least a dozen review books on issur v'heter follow this model se'if by se'if.

This, too shall pass. I will BEH post on this in the future what to do next.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Rabbi Riskin on Conversion

Originally published 6/18/08, 12:16 AM. Link doesn't work.
A provocative posting by Rabbi Shlomoh Riskin
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

My favorite night of the year has always been the night of Shavuot, when I go from hill to hill of the seven hills of my beloved city of Efrat, giving Torah study class after Torah study class until the early-morning daybreak service.

This year, however was different. Instead of joyous songs, I heard jarring sobs. Instead of the Torah scrolls in the arks and the Torah books on the shelves dancing with rapture and rejoicing, they reeled with dismay and disappointment. The very letters of black fire were weeping, the very parchment of white fire was wilting.
Yes, this Shavuot night, my beloved Torah was crying.

For the remainder of this article please visit:
Jerusalem Post Article

Sunday 15 June 2008

Disturbing Article Regarding Ba'alei Teshuvah

Originally published 6/15/08, 12:58 AM.
The Yeshiva World and the Children of Ba'alei Teshuva:
The Ugly Secret,

By Catriel Sugarman,
Researcher on Jewish Issues, Social Critic, Lecturer,
Ba'alei Teshuva—sometimes translated to mean "penitents," but, more commonly used to refer to Jews from secular backgrounds who have become religiously observant, often hareidi, or ultra-Orthodox—have been held in high regard by Jewish tradition. In the Talmud (Berachot 34b), Rabbi Abbahu says: The [elevated] position that ba'alei teshuva attain, tzadikim gemurim [those who were always righteous] are unable to reach." Try telling that to Avigail Meizlik, who recently wrote a controversial article in Mishpacha, a highly regarded English hareidi magazine, about "issues" a'alei teshuva (BTs) face when they try to affiliate with various hareidi communities in Israel. According to Ms. Meizlik, when it comes time to register their children in mainstream hareidi schools, the BTs are rejected, finding, to their dismay, that they were never really part of their chosen community after all. This  is true not only in Israel. In the United States, too, the children of BTs—along with the offspring of Jews of Sephardic background—are increasingly denied entry into mainstream hareidi schools.

For details see:

In your PDF readers, go to page 29.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Thursday 12 June 2008

You be the Poseik: Are Two Kiddushim Better Than One?

Originally published 6/12/08, 9:22 AM.
Are Two Kiddushim Better Than One?
OR To Make Kiddush or NOT to make Kiddush?
  1. There is a Friday Night minyan in a shul at a Nursing Home.
  2. The Minhag there is to make Kiddush at the Minyan in the shul.
  3. Recently, the few residents who DO attend this minyan want to have a 2nd Kiddush for themselves in the adjacent dining room after minyan.
Q: Given the fact that the residents will be making Kiddush later anyway in the same building - should Kiddush be made at In the Shul anyway?

Two Rabbis are in dispute on this issue: Rabbi Avraham [RA] & Rabbi Yitzchok [RI]
Rabbi Avraham says:Say Kiddush twice. First, the one in shul is due to Minhag only. Second is a real Kiddush for residents.
Rabbi Yitzchak argues and says say only once in the dining room, Since the original Takanah of Kiddush for orchim is actually being ignored by the only people subject to it.
RA says that Minhag is to say, original Takanah is ignored, anyway.

RI says: does a shul say Kiddush twice on Sukkos once in the shul and again in the Sukkah in order to keep up the minhag of saying in shul?
RA counters that regarding Sukkah, it over-rides the Minhag
RI then asserts that given that those who benefit from kiddush in shul are mochel this benefit it's a bracah levatalah. That the second Kiddush over-rides the Minhag of the first Kiddush. PLUS since in Yeshivos, Kiddush is said on premises in the dining room it exempts the minyan in Yeshiva from saying Kiddush in the Beis Midrashl. This analogy exempts Kiddush from shul given that it will be repeated for locals in dining room.
RA opines, but not all those in minyan eat in dining room so for THEM, Kiddush in shul is needed.
RI then argues that since the main takkanah is for Orchim in the shul, those who daven there but do not eat there don't really count anyway. And since the residents are taking the role of Orchim the Kiddush is levatalah.
And on it goes. So YOU make the call!
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Sunday 8 June 2008

Kinder, Gentler Orthodoxy?

Originally published 6/8/08, 5:01 PM. Link is dead.
Article of Interest...
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,


June 6, 2008 – The inaugural issue of the journal Conversations includes an article by Targum Shlishi's director, Aryeh Rubin, entitled "Toward a Kinder, Gentler, More Tolerant and Flexible Orthodoxy." The article, which is pasted below and also linked to, contends that the modern Orthodox should play a leading role in healing the rift between different denominations, and should provide guidance and direction to a much wider range of Jews than only the modern Orthodox.

Conversations is published by the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, which offers a vision of Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually sound, spiritually compelling, and emotionally satisfying."

Link to article: Link Here
Text of article:
Toward a Kinder, Gentler, More Tolerant and Flexible Orthodoxy
By Aryeh Rubin

Since the end of World War II, both in America and Israel, Jews have been at odds with one another for political, ethnic, ideological, religious and/or denominational reasons. That different groups have divergent worldviews has been the case since Biblical times. But the competing factions today appear more hostile than ever before. The Orthodox -- particularly the ultra-Orthodox with their high birth rates, expanding schools systems, and increased political clout, coupled with a sense of triumphalism -- are often perceived as the most vociferous and intolerant participants in these internecine squabbles of our people. ...--

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Assorted Quotations from RSRH On Avodah

Originally published 6/4/08, 11:59 PM.
Some interesting selected quotes from Rabbi SR Hirsch. They were collected by Gershon Seif and posted on the Avodah List.

On Fri, May 30, 2008 at 2:37 PM, Gershon Seif; wrote:
"I was recently sent these and I thought many readers would appreciate this as much as I did. I am seeking the sources of these quotes...."

"We should not wonder at why the Torah does not conform to the times, but rather why the times do not conform to the Torah"

"Never must we think that the Jewish element in us could exist without the human element or vice versa."

"There is one particular danger which is to be feared by a Jewish minority. It is what we would like to call a certain intellectual narrow-mindedness . . . it may easily come to regard all other knowledge in 'outside' domains as unnecessary, or even as utterly worthless. It may reject all intellectual activity in any field outside its own as an offense against its own cause . . . Rather, it has cause to regard all truth, wherever it may be found on the outside, as a firm ally of its own cause, since ALL TRUTH STEMS FROM THE SAME MASTER OF TRUTH."

"But it would be a mistake if . . . we were to educate our children only for isolation and keep them from all contact with the nations. We must teach them to understand and appreciate the genuine values of the nations and not only to fear them. no matter what we do, our children will certainly be thrust upon a life among the nations. We have to prepare them for this test."

"Why should others respect Jews and Judaism if the Jew himself bears his Judaism unwillingly, if the Jew himself does not serve his God with a joyful heart, if the Jew himself is always eager to make comparisons between his own Judaism and non-Jewish values and consistently seeks to infuse his own Judaism with non-Jewish admixtures?"

"I think, therefore I am." - Rene Descartes
"I am thought about, therefore I am - my existence depends upon the thought of a Supreme Being Who thinks me." - Rabbi S.R. Hirsch

"I know my own limitations . . . But I believe that, in a time of such profound significance, and for a cause which is to us the most sacred, it is every man's duty openly and honestly to express what he sees as the truth."

"Man can aspire to spiritual-moral greatness which is seldom fully achieved and can easily be lost again. Its fullfilment lies not in the final goal, but in an eternal striving for perfection."

"The Torah is not a mere credo to be satisfied with a few philosophical concepts and declarations of faith . . . Torah is the law for all life; it seeks to embrace man in his entirety. It lays claim to all his inclinations, needs, sensations, and emotions, to all his thoughts and words, his pleasures and his actions at every moment of his life."

"Every transition or change entails pain. For in every change for the better, old ties must be broken so that new ties may be formed. Everything to which we are accustomed is pleasant, but everything new is alien."

Tuesday 3 June 2008

School revival, with an Unusual Twist

Originally published 6/3/08, 12:32 AM.
A Fine contribution by Douglas Aronin Esq:

On Sun, Feb 10, 2008 at 10:37 PM, daronin wrote:

Some of you probably read the New York Times regularly, and a few might even be willing to admit it. But for the benefit of those who don't generally see the Times, or who somehow managed to missed the feature story that began on its front page this past Friday, I'd like to call your attention to that story, which is one of the more interesting -- and unexpectedly heartening -- narratives I've seen for a while.

Running under the headline "In Bronx School, Culture Shock, Then Revival", Friday's feature story was largely typical of a journalistic genre that might best be called the school revival story. Written by Elissa Gootman, a Times reporter with extensive experience on the New York education beat, the article had most of the usual elements common to that genre. It started with a school in a dangerous inner city neighborhood, filled with mostly minority students and almost completely dysfunctional. Then there came a new principal who cared a lot, worked very hard and was willing to try unconventional approaches. The heroic principal faced the usual collection of stereotypical naysayers: time-serving teachers, skeptical parents and students used to defying authority with impunity. And as usual, after a significant but relatively brief period of time (about three years in this case), there was noticeable progress in turning the school around.

Friday's feature story about Junior High School 22 in the South Bronx, had all of these usual elements, but it also had another element, one that is decidedly unusual: the heroic principal, Shimon Waronker, is, as the story straightforwardly describes him, "[a] member of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism with a beard, a black hat and a velvet yarmulke."

Far from hiding this unusual twist, as most of us probably would have expected it to do if it ran the feature at all, the Times seemed to go out of its way to highlight that component of the story. The lead focuses, as the leads of such narratives almost always do, on the chaos that pervaded the school before the new principal arrived, but the focus quickly shifts to the rather unlikely identity of its hero. Not only is the cultural disconnect between the principal and the school community a prominent theme of the article, but the Times reinforces that theme by including four pictures -- including one on the front page -- in none of which would Waronker's Orthodoxy have been easy to miss.

The Times article doesn't exactly hide its motivation for focusing on Mr. Waronker's unusual role. Our self-styled newspaper of record, after all, has been a vocal supporter of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's takeover and attempted shakeup of the New York City public school system, and Friday's story notes approvingly that "the Bloomberg administration has put principals at the center of its efforts to overhaul schools." One apparent result of the Times's desire to play cheerleader for the Mayor's educational leadership is that one archetype that gets at least a cameo appearance in most school revival narratives -- the turf-protecting upper level education bureaucrat -- is completely absent from the Times's JHS 22 story.

Another result of the Times's determination to tout the Bloomberg's educational leadership is that the article is unusually direct in stating, in only its fifth paragraph, the moral that the Times wants its readers to draw from the story: "[T]he tale of Mr. Waronker shows that sometimes, the most unlikely of candidates can produce surprising results." Regardless of the Times's motivation for its prominent placement of the story, however, the inescapable fact is that its front-page feature story about JHS 22 depicts a visibly and unmistakably Orthodox Jew putting his heart and soul into the task of improving the education of public school students among whom, it's safe to assume, are few if any Jews and seeing positive results for his efforts.

Waronker's background is highly unusual in ways that presumably made his task easier. He is a native of South America who spoke no English until moving to the United States at the age of 11, and his fluent Spanish no doubt helped him connect to the school's many Hispanic students and parents. His military background -- he is an ROTC graduate with two years of active duty service, including six months studying tactical intelligence -- appears to have provided an appropriate frame of reference for overcoming some of the obstacles he has faced; at one point in the article, he is quoted as referring to his encouragement of student government as "textbook counterinsurgency." (If he ever gets tired of the Bronx, he might be useful in Iraq.)

But the Times story does not shrink from acknowledging the fact that Waronker, for all his obvious uniqueness, is very much, and unabashedly, an Orthodox Jew. (Not surprisingly, the unrelated controversy that has led some Orthodox Jews to question Chabad's Orthodox bona fides appears to be nowhere on the reporter's radar screen.) At one point in the story, Waronker cites an incident involving the late Lubavitcher Rebbe as inspiration. At the article's end, he gestures to one of the classrooms full of students and says "I feel the hand of the Lord here all the time."

The Times reporter may have seen the story of Shimon Waronker, from the classic journalistic perspective, as a man-bites-dog story. Her editors probably see it as an example of the success of the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Bloomberg created to train promising candidates for principal positions and which Waronker attended. Most Times readers will probably view it mostly as an inspiring example of the triumph of hope in an unlikely circumstance.

The story of Shimon Waronker may well be all of those things, but to me at least, it is at its heart something far more important -- an example of Kiddush HaShem (the sanctification of God's name). Shimon Waronker, by his dedication and determination, has created that Kiddush HaShem in the minds and hearts of the school community that he serves. What is truly remarkable, though, is that the scope of Waronker's Kiddush HaShem has now been greatly magnified by the editorial decisions of none other than the New York Times. Waronker's Lubavitch connections aside, perhaps Mashiach is closer than we think.

Douglas Aronin