Saturday 30 August 2008

Dear Bloggers
This is the fruit of a Debate on the Avodah list. Contemplate and enjoy!
Shavua Tov and Chodesh Tov

[Please excuse the formating!}
Ask yourself the following questions and contemplate their implications:
1. Based upon Torah Principles:
a. Do we want a subjective or objective ps’aq?
b. Avos: Ein Dan yechid ela Echad.
c. Does not the Halacha in Tur/SA 25 refelct the need for the possibility of a To’eh bidvar Mishnah?
d. Given circular approval of Posqim [i.e. since the poseiq says it it MUST be OK!] then how can we have a to’eh bidvar Mishnah? A poseiq is ALWAYS right because he combines sniffim to make himself correct regardless of Meqoros
e. The Torah and Maseches Horyos demands the possibility of a Sanhedrin that is mistaken. How can that EVER be - with Posqim whose sniffim and Heruistics automagically make them right?

2. From a s’vara point of view:
a. Do you prefer a Poseiq to subscribe to principles
b. Do you prefer submitting to a poseiq who makes subjective decisions based upon his feelings w/o regard to objective criteria or cherished precedent?
c. Do you prefer a Poseiq who lords himself OVER the Halachah and goes where he feels his Predetermined heuristics bring him?
d. Do you prefer a poseiq to say with the modesty of a Rema to say: “Well, my conclusion is really X but I defer to Y because it has been established or he is greater etc”
e. Do we want a system of LAWS?
f. A system of men? Certainly RMF welcomed people to dispute his conclusions. Why are “ketannim” - instead of “gedolim” opposed to this?

3. Re: Rackman and Agunos
a. See YD 98. What is the ONE CASE in SHAS and POSQIM that Meisi’ach Lefi Sumo is believed on a D’orraiso level?. [note, it sure ain’t issur v’heter!]
b. Given Hazal’s disregard to rules of Kosher eidus, does this set a precedent for disregarding OTHER principles in the same sugya?
c. Have I ever Personally endorsed R. E. Rackman’s P’sak?
d. HOW IS it specifically that RER”s shita is mor eradical than what is often found in Teshuvos nowadays?

4. Re: Algorithimics
a. In which post did I ever propose an algorithmic solution to p’sak/
b. Is this not a simple straw man to make me “wrong” or IOW accuse Wolpoe of subscriping Alogithimics then attack that position and totally ignore Wolpoe’s actually stated points?
c. If Algorithmics is off-limits please describe the techniques ascribed to:
i. Rif [yes the Rif followed VERY strict rules of p’sak]
ii. SA [BD of Rif/Rambam/Rosh]
iii. Rema [What’s accept by consensus in Asheknaz based upon a finited list of posqim]
iv. SMA [viz. see Choshen Mishpat 25, we always follow RIF except when Tsoafos Argues]
v. Kitzur SA [BD of Chayei Adam, SA harav and Derch hachai’m,]
d. Search or scan the Major Posqim – Tur, BY, SA, Rema, MB Ahs Etc,.
i. Do they frequently use terms as sniffim to build a case?
ii. Do they use terms like Rov Posqim, Rov Acahronim , Maskanas Haposqim etc.[e.g. see Maggid Mishneh Rambam Hilchos Shabbas 5:1]

5. Re: eilu v’eilu
a. Since both BS and BH are Ielu V’eilu then can we apsken EITHER way
b. Does it simpley man that both are valid Torah in a limud sense but p’saq is only ONE way
c. Can RE Racman therefore be a valid opinion EVEN if rejected lema’aseh or is ho objectivlye worse then Beis Shammai. And if so, do we have a bas Kol to Says so

6. Re: Acceptablity
a. IF posqim are right simply because they are popular than how is that ANY different than schectherian Cahtolic Israel?
b. And if Accepted Psaq is ALWAYS right how could the GRA ever oppose it? Or the Rav? Etc.
c. Does the majoprity of Posqim trump the majority of amcha?
d. Vice versa

7. Re: Attacking certain O Teshuvos
a. Do you think that cricisizing O teshuvos that lack Obejctivity a DEFENSE of C teshbuvos
b. Do you think that given that C teshuvos are Flawed, nevertheless some O teshuvos are equally flawed and so thy should ALSO be criticized.
c. Do you think all C teshuovs are ipso facto flawed and all O TEshuvos are ipso facto wonderful! And that therefore we should attack a C teshuvo even if it calls for decorum in Shul and defend an O teshuva even if it leads to “krum “halachic priniciples, just because WHO says it?

Friday 29 August 2008

Re'eh: To'eva

Originally published 8/29/08, 6:20 PM.
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 Re'eh and the topic is the the term to'evah, usually translated as abomination. The term is often used by proponents of different ethical perspectives as a further indication of the significance of their ethical stance. The fact is, though, that the use of this term in the chumash itself may not actually provide support for such asserions. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Welcome Back from Beijing and Come 'on Baby Light my Fire!

Dear Readers:

I have "officially" returned from Beijing and the Olympics!
You mean YOU were in Beijing AT the Olympics?
Well yes and no.
What do you mean by yes and no?
Well I was in A Kosher Chinese Restaurant during ALL of my working hours
and WATCHING the Olympics on TV during my spare time!
You mean to say this restaurant is IN Beijing?
Not exactly, but most of the people that work there ARE from the People's Republic of China and DO speak Mandrain!

OK now that we have learned not to take things TOO liberally.
Liberally? you mean literally!
Yes, that too!.

Here is some Olympic/Chinese/Mashgiach Humor.

Mashigach: [to Chinese Restaurant owner] Did you see how that they began the Olympics by lighting the Olympic torch?
Owner: Yes I saw it on TV. It was quite a display!
Masjhgiach: Did they have their Mashgiach light the fire in Beijing OLympics, too? [just like here at the restaurant?]
Owner: LOL [Laughing Out Loud]

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Monday 25 August 2008

Beyond Hekhsher Tzedek

The aftermath of the Rubashkin affair has brought about a call for ethical considerations to be included in hekhshers given to companies for the observance of kashrut. The call is that it is not enough to sanction purchasing from a company simply based upon the observance of the narrow laws of kashrut but rather this sanction should include a declaration that this company also observes other ethical laws that define it as a exemplary corporate citizen.

There has been many responses to this call. One is that kashrut certification is, and should be, exactly that -- a certification regarding the specific laws of kashrut. Rabbi Aaron Levine, though, in article in the Jewish Press which can be found at presents a fundamental problem, though, with this concept in terms of its practical applicability. Rabbi Levine's words can be applied to much of Torah in general. There are certain halachot which are defined solely in practice. Whether a piece of meat is kosher or not is clearly definable in a set manner -- albeit there may be disagreements in the yardsticks to be applied in this set manner. You can clearly state, based on the facts alone, whether a piece of meat is kosher or not pursuant to a certain halachic standard. In the case of matters of tzedek though, all you can pass on to the person is the methods of evaluation but you cannot clearly state the conclusion in practice that needs to be specifically applied. In regard to these types of halachot you can't fully legislated specific behaviour because the specific facts of the case may demand a different evaluation. If one thinks about this, this concept can explain why ritual law dominates Orthodox Jewish mindsets rather than ethical law. People like to be told specifically what to do. Ethical laws within Torah can only teach methodology -- actual practice has to be determined in a case by case manner.

This, according to Rabbi Levine, is what would make a hekhsher tzedek very unwieldy to administrate although in principle it may be a good idea. It is, in my opinion, also why people in studying and observing Torah stress the ritual over the ethical. The former can have clear dos and don'ts. The ethical demands an evaluation in every case dependent on the rules of Torah. That calls upon us to think on the moment and accept the responsibility for our decision. And that is something we often shy away from

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Initially Yours

OK: below plz find sum commonly abbreviated cyber-terms. I.E. people get confused by terms e.g. "FWIW" so I thought it would be a good idea to get it a list started WRT these terms.

FWIW - For what It's Worth
IIRC - If I recall correctly
AFAIK - As far as I know
IMHO -- In my Humble [hubris?] opinion
AIUI - As I understand it
AISI - As I see it
OTOH - On the Other Hand - or sometimes on the ONE Hand [e.g. when used in pairs]
WRT - With Regard To

Some Jewish/Hebrew ones:

KT- Kol Tuv
TSBP - Torah She'b'al Peh
RWO - Right Wing Orthodox
LWO - Left Wing Orthodox
O - Orthodox
C- Conservative
R- Reform
O/C/R - [obvious from above]
LFAD - lefi aniyat da'ati [see AISI or AFAIK above]
HLMM - Halachah Lemoshe MiSinai
OBM - Of Blessed Memory
IM - Igrot[s] Moshe
MB - Mishna Brura
SA - Shulchan Aruch
BY - Bet Yosef
AhS - Aruch Hashulchan

Some Famous Jewish Personalities

RYDS - R Yosef Dov Soloveichik
ROY - Rav Ovadiah Yosef
RMF - Rav Moshe Feinstein

I plan to add to the list on as as needed basis.


Tuesday 19 August 2008

The Ethical Rift

Fifty years ago, being frum meant basically that you had the same ethical standards as the general population but that you were more committed to what people called the ritual laws of Judaism (Shabbat, kashrut) and expected to be more scrupulous in observing these generally accepted ethical and moral standards (although the general population loved to find frum people who did not meet these standards).

Today, though, it has changed. Being frum now often means to be at odds with many moral and ethical views that are becoming more accepted. From gay rights to women's rights to abortion to euthanasia and so on, the world is in flux over many ethical and moral issues. It can no longer be said that there is even one generally accepted moral standard in the general population so for sure it cannot be assumed that frum individuals share basic ethical outlooks with the general population. The question is: how does this impact on our presentation of Torah? Does everything now become a chok even as we feel it is a mishpat?

The strangest problem, though, may be that those I, for example, side with in many conclusions are not necessarily the ones I side with in general outlook, even in general ethical/moral outlook and those with whom I disagree may also be the ones that I find more like me in general outlook. For example, I clearly am disgusted by the way the Taliban and other extremists treat an adulterer and, especially, an adulteress but in attacking such people I find myself joining with those who don't even think adultery is that wrong if wrong at all. And I express my views on adultery, I am, furthermore, almost immediately categorized with the Taliban. That is especially true in the matter of gay rights. If I express any opposition to homosexuality based upon my religious principles, I am branded as homophobic and racist.

I wonder where this will all take us in the future as I believe we are entering into a new dynamic in relating to the world.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 15 August 2008

V'etchanan: Yashar and Tov

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 V'etchanan and the topic is the the terms yashar and tov, specifically the source of ethics. In our ethical behaviour, do we search solely for Divine approval or is there a value in human approval? We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Reflections on The 3-week Season

Something to Ponder! FWIW I heard a great lecture on this Sugya.


Time for courage

By Shammai Engelmayer

(C) 2002 - all rights reserved by the author

An Orthodox colleague approached me recently with a request. The Three Weeks are about to begin, he said; perhaps it is time to reprise a column I wrote over four years ago.

The Three Weeks, of course, is that period between the Fast of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz (17th of Tammuz) and Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) that is marked by an escalating level of mourning for the sacking of Jerusalem and the razing of the Temple both in 586 BCE and 70 CE. This year, that period began on Thursday (June 27) and will end well after 9 p.m. on July 18.

The column in question had to do with why Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Of specific interest to my colleague was not the story itself, but the lesson it taught for future generations. The recent UJA-Federation study of Bergen County Jewish life, my colleague said, is not the triumphant document of vibrant Jewish life that it is being made to appear. Its references to the high number of unaffiliated Jews in the county and other statistics, such as the number of Jews under age 35 who have Christmas trees in their homes (it is over 30 percent), only reaffirm that American Jewry is in the midst of a demographic nightmare. American Jewry may disappear entirely in a generation or two, if the horrifying trends continue.

Yet, my Orthodox colleague said, the streams continue to fight among themselves as if there is nothing wrong. The story of why Jerusalem was destroyed, he said, had something to say about that.

What was most interesting (other than that a 4-year-old column had made such an impression on him) was that the story he was referring to usually is cited inaccurately. In fact, we have heard the inaccurate version so many times that we accept it as fact: Jerusalem was destroyed because of the sin of “baseless hatred” (sinat chinam); the Talmud says so, so it must be true.

Actually, the Talmud offers many reasons for why Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman. In the Babylonian Talmud tractate Shabbat (119b), for example, it offers a laundry list of reasons. Among them are that “Shabbat was desecrated there”; “Jerusalemites neglected reading the Shema”; “neglected [the education of] school children”; acted without concern for how their actions looked to others; acted as though the most ignorant of the law were the equals of those most knowledgeable; “closed their eyes to the evil around them and did nothing to correct the situation”; or “that scholars there were despised by the general population.”

The Jerusalem that these scenarios conjures up was one rampant in secularism and disdain for “the religious.” A picture of another sort is painted in BT Yoma (9b), and it is here that we are given the most popular reason for Jerusalem’s destruction: “But the second Temple -- during which period they occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvot, and gemilut chasadim – why was it destroyed? Because there existed there sinat chinam. That is meant to teach you that baseless hatred is considered even worse [a sin] than the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed combined.”

That is strong stuff, but especially since the three sins it outranks are the only ones for which the Talmud insists a person should suffer martyrdom rather than be forced to commit the offense.

What is absent here, however, is an explanation of this “baseless hatred.” For that, another talmudic text, BT Gittin (55b-56a) is usually cited, the infamous tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. There is only one problem with this citation: It has nothing to do with “baseless hatred” and makes no such claim. Those who cite it either have never studied the text, or deliberately cut off the tale at its knees to distort the true message before it reaches the general Jewish public.

“The destruction of Jerusalem came through a certain Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza in this way,” Rabbi Yochanan explains in this section of Gittin. “A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, ‘Go and bring me Kamtza.’ The man went and brought him Bar Kamtza instead. When the [host] found [Bar Kamtza] there, he said, ‘Behold, you are the one who tells stories about me. Why are you here? Leave.’ Said [Bar Kamtza to the host]: ‘Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.’”

The host said no, and all the efforts of Bar Kamtza to avoid being embarrassed proved futile. He even offered to pay for the whole party, but the host took him by the hand and threw him out, while all of Jerusalem’s elite reportedly stood by in silence.

“Said [Bar Kamtza], ‘Since there were Rabbis sitting there and [they] did not stop him [from behaving so boorishly], I understand from this that they agreed with him. I will go to the [Roman] government and inform on them.’”

Thus, according to the testimony of Bar Kamtza, the reason for his perfidy was the silence of the Rabbis, not the animosity shown to him by the anonymous host. That animosity, in fact, may not have been baseless, at all. The host cites his reason: that Bar Kamtza spread tales about him, presumably of an evil nature. Bar Kamtza does not deny the charge. Rather, he pleads not to be embarrassed in front of Jerusalem’s elite.

The story, however, is not over. Rabbi Yochanan has more to say:

“[Bar Kamtza] went and said to [the local governor, personal representative of] Caesar, ‘The Jews are rebelling against you.’ [The Roman] said, ‘How can I tell?’ Said Bar Kamtza to him: ‘Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar].’”

Bar Kamtza, of course, had a plan. He knew that the Romans would choose a perfect calf for the offering. He hoped that he would be the one to take it to the Temple, and he was. “While on the way,” said Rabbi Yochanan, Bar Kamtza “made a blemish on its upper lip, or some say that it was on the white of its eye, in a place where according to our way of thinking it is a blemish [thereby rendering the calf ineligible as a sacrifice], but according to [the Roman] way of looking at it, it is not [considered a blemish].”

Now Rabbi Yochanan gets to his point:

“The Rabbis reasoned that it should be offered, in order to keep peace with the government, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to this: ‘They will say [in the future] that blemished animals are offered on the altar.’ [The Rabbis] then suggested that Bar Kamtza be killed so that he could not go and inform against them [a second time], but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to this, ‘They will say [in the future] that someone who makes a blemish on consecrated animals should be put to death.’”

On both points, apparently, Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas was able to sway the majority to his viewpoint. Said Rabbi Yochanan: “Because of the humility of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, our House was destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.”

We are not certain who this Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas was, because he never again appears (at least by that name) in the entire Talmud, although a Rabbi Zechariah ben Eucolos makes a solo appearance in BT Shabbat in a discussion of how to get rid of the kernels of Syrian dates. The traitorous Jewish historian Josephus, who ascribes the beginning of the war to the refusal to accept the offering of the emperor in 66 C.E., mentions someone with a similar name and says he was an important figure in the rabbinic circles of the day.

Who he is, however, is less important than what Rabbi Yochanan meant by humility. From the context of the story, it is clear that he meant that Rabbi Zechariah refused to bend the law even though refusal to do so could lead to tragic consequences. It is as if he said, “Who am I, a mere human, to change God’s immutable law even this once?”

That is, in fact, how most sources understand Rabbi Yochanan’s use of the word humility (both the English Soncino translation and the Hebrew Steinsaltz translation define it as “stubborness”). For Rashi, the great commentator of the Middle Ages, this was an unacceptable definition, however. In his world – the world of Ashkenaz, the Crusades and the mass murder of Jews – extremism was the route to holiness. When offered the choice of “convert or die,” the Jews of Ashkenaz were instructed to choose death, even at their own hand. Rashi, therefore, offered his own translation of humility: patience. It is not a definition that makes sense in the context of the story, but it was one that suited Rashi’s world view. (This world view is reflected in the ArtScroll translation, which uses the word “tolerance” directly in the text, avoiding “humility” altogether.)

Rabbi Yochanan’s point, however, is clear: Jerusalem was razed and the Temple set afire because one rabbi insisted that God’s law was immutable and uncompromising, and the consequences be damned.

The true lesson of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, is that the consequences must be considered. If God was the ultimate author of the calamities of 70 C.E., then it was God Himself who rejected following a strict interpretation of halachah in the face of impending disaster. It was He who punished His people for not allowing a more liberal interpretation of the law to hold sway long enough to avert disaster.

Sometimes, God was saying, religious authorities must set aside their aversion to compromise. When the fate of the People Israel is at stake, they must be more accepting of other views and must be more honest in admitting that their views may not be the only ones that will please God. They can hold to their views, but they must neither demonize nor delegitimate those who think differently.

Put into the context of the demographic nightmare facing us, which was the point of my colleague’s request, it will take all three streams working together to stem the tide of disaster. Each must revisit its hardened opinions and decisions. Each must find ways to recognize the validity of the other and the usefulness of the other in trying to reawaken Judaism in the hearts of the born-Jewish. Each must set aside its triumphalism and its competitiveness, and sit together in formulating the battle plans for saving the Jewish future.

What was lacking in the Kamtza/Bar Kamtza story was rabbinic courage. The Rabbis at the party did not have the courage to stand up to the anonymous host. They lacked courage again in the face of the stubbornness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkilus.

If they lack the courage now, we are doomed.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Comparing the Holocaust and Assimilation

I believe it was Emil Fackenheim who said that we must vigilantly attack assimilation so that we do not give Hitler a posthumous victory. Bluntly, I have always had problems with that argument. I could contend that, in line with this type of argument, assimilation and more specifically intermarriage could be the best way to ensure that Hitler is not posthumously victorious. One of the first laws that the Nazis introduced were the Nuremburg Laws that made intermarriage between an Aryan and a Jew a criminal offense. The essence of Nazism was narrow racism built upon a belief that one person is inherently superior to another. The way to defeat such a concept, it would actually seem, is through the promotion of universalism and the treatment of all human beings as not only equal but inherently the same. Thus, if our sole concern is to defeat Hitler, the call should really not be to encircle ourselves in separate groupings and maintain distinctions between different people and peoples but to promote the common essence of all humanity and universalism. Of course, this is not what I advocate but then again my point in being Jewish is not to prevent Hitler from having a posthumous victory.

I have similar feelings in regard to a comparison between modern assimilation and the Holocaust. Such a comparison, in many ways, seems to me to be solely an attempt to bring the emotions a person feels towards the horror of the Holocaust into one's perception of assimialtion. As with most cases where the word Holocaust is used in comparison to some event, it is often just a marketing tool to try and evoke the passionate response that the user of this term desires. Is it truly comparable, though? The Holocaust was the imposition of one group upon another against the will and desire of those being imposed upon. Assimilation and intermarriage are, on the other hand, the actions of one group, based upon their will and desire, that is not viewed favourably by another person or group. Again, I am not, of course, promoting assimilation. What I am calling for, though, is seeing things honestly.

Of course, Torah calls upon the Jewish people to maintain a separation between us and other peoples; Inherently, there is thereby a challenge to universalism. Of course, Torah calls upon us to fight assimilation and to see the loss of Jewish identity and expression within a person as a tragic event, even if the person has so decided. Inherently there is thereby a challeng to the value of autonomy that is so significant within the realm of liberty. Does this mean Torah is against universalism and liberty? I believe that, of course, the answer to this question is no -- but to clarify the Torah understanding of universalism and nationalism, of imposition and liberty demands much work and effort.

Comparing the Holocaust and assimilation is such an easy thing to do -- and to thereby evoke emotions that would promote Jewish identity. The cost, though, is Jewish thought. The comparison is really inappropriate. There are reasons why the comparison is inappropriate. The comparison ultimately weakens the essence of what Torah really is all about. Such comparisons are used because their easy. Such comparisons, though, ultimately hurt Torah and Jewishness because what God has given us is not easy but demands much thought.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Controverisal Op-ed in the New York Times from the RCA

One quick comment:
If this institution were brought down, prices of Glatt Kosher meet would rocket higher than did Gasoline earlier this year.

Dark Meat
Shmuel Herzfeld

ACCORDING to the Jewish calendar we are now in the month of Av, a period of increasingly intense mourning that culminates with a total fast on the Ninth of Av, which this year coincides with Sunday, Aug. 10.

One of the customary practices in these nine days is the avoidance of meat: it's the way we commemorate the destruction of the Temple, where daily animal sacrifices were once brought.

Refraining from food is symbolic, of course. The idea is not just to avoid meat but to limit ourselves so that we can better focus on the spiritual.

Unfortunately, this year kosher meat has become a different type of symbol, one not of mourning and spiritual devotion but of ridicule, embarrassment and hypocrisy. In May in Postville, Iowa, immigration officials raided Agriprocessors Inc., the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country.

What began as an immigration sting, however, quickly took on larger dimensions. News reports and government documents have described abusive practices at ...

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Monday 4 August 2008

Principles and Tolerance - Part 2

The second part of a two part presentaion on balancing principles and tolerance, by Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, is available in this week's edition of the Jewish Tribune (Toronto). To view the article on line, go to

Friday 1 August 2008

Sinat Chinum

While most may wish to translate sinat chinum as "baseless hatred", I prefer to translate it as "purposeless hatred". It is learning how we are to deal with what we may refer to as our more negative emotions that must be our goal during the Three Weeks.

To understand why I translate sinat chinum in this manner and to further understand the lessons that are to learned through this term, I invite you to read the following articles from the Nishma website:
Defining Sinat Chinum (Part One)
Defining Sinat Chinum (Part Two)

Rabbi Ben Hecht