Friday 31 October 2008

Noach: The Question of Dual Moralities

Originally published 10/31/08, 2:13 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 Noach and the topic is dual moralities. Some believe that the difference between the 613 mitzvot incumbent on a Jew and the 7 mitzvot incumbent on a non-Jew is simply 606 mitzvot. There are many problems with such an understanding. One is the very fact that there are actual differences in the two Codes with, it would seem, distinct moral directives. For a further discussion on this idea, see

Sunday 19 October 2008

Why do we celebrate Simchat Torah on Shemini Atzeret?

The day we refer to as Simchat Torah in the Diaspora is actually the second day of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret so the question can be asked, both in the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael where the celebration of Simchat Torah is on the (only) day of Shemini Atzeret, why do we celebrate this occassion on a day that is already a holiday? In other words, why do we make the siyum of finishing the yearly reading of the Torah on this day? When one considers the idea that we are not to create another occasion of simcha (joy) on a holiday which has its own reason for joy, this question is even more potent. While we can technically argue that the making of a siyum does not technically violate the principle of mixing joys, the underlying thought is still most significant. Why not mark another day with the joy of the siyum of finishing the weekly readings of the Torah? Why specifically make this siyum on Shemini Atzeret?

There are many sides to this question. It may be something you want to ponder that may give you a greater appreciation of the nature of the day.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Jewish Tribune: Discrimination and Evaluation

Balancing the conflicting rights of individuals has now become a hot topic in Canada with discussions even of whether a doctor can refuse to do an abortion or whether this refusal in a violation of the rights of an individual. An article on this broad subject, by Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, was recently published in the Jewish Tribune (Toronto). To view the article on line, go to

Friday 10 October 2008

Zman Simchateinu

The Nishma website at presents various "Hot Topics" regarding important Torah concepts. One of these is simcha which has specfic importance to the holiday of Succot as this is to be the happiest time of the year. We invite you to look at the Nishma Hot Topic on simcha at, read the material sited and comment here as you wish.

Wednesday 8 October 2008


From the on-line library at, in concert with the theme of the day, we invite you to take a look at Tshuvah by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman at

Gmar tov!

Thursday 2 October 2008

Halachic Query: Conjoined Twins

Recently, someone watching The Learning Channel in the United States called me to ask for my opinion on the theoretical halachic consequences that could emerge in regard to the story that they were watching. It seems that the program was about conjoined twins who are only distinguishable from the neck up. In other words, while there were two heads, the rest of the body was shared between them. In regard to marriage and other matters of personal law, what would be the halachic status of such a person or persons if Jewish?

I was able to find clips about these two girls, Abby and Brittany, on YouTube, at, as I wanted to see for myself the exact nature of this case. It seems that medically the matter is quite complicated. There are clearly two personalities with two heads sharing what would seem to be one body. Doctors have found, though, that there are also two hearts, two sets of lungs, two stomachs but somehow everything merges so from the colon, there is only one. It would seem to be that there are similar distinctions in the limbs in that each girl controls only one arm but somehow the legs come under one neurological system. One of the clips indicate that the girls are now 16 and are talking about their desires to be mothers. Thus the question: if the girls were Jewish, could they marry? What would Noachide Law say for non-Jews?

There would seem to be some literature on the subject of Siamese twins in general in regard to marriage. In these cases, though, the bodies are much more distinct and, as in the case of the original Siamese twins who married two different women, each one of the twins would have separate relations with their spouses. The basic question would thus be more one of tznuit in that relations would have to happen in the presence of another person, namely the attached other twin. In the case of Abby and Brittany, though, the sexual organs are shared. Could they, thus, marry two different men? The fact is that even marrying one man could be a problem in that a man cannot have relations with his wife's sister. Would this not be similar to the case of a chatzi shifcha chatzi bat chorin with a combined status of being both Abby and Brittany applying to their combined being. The result would thus be that any sexual act would be defined as incest, according to the Halacha, since they are two sisters and the act would thus inherently be defined as having relations with your wife's sister (at the same time as having relations with your wife).

There is a case in T.B. Menachot 37a,b that actually deals with a case of a two-headed boy in regard to the question of pidyon haben, redeeming the first born. The gemara also raises the question as to how the mitzvah of tephillin for the head would be performed. It is unclear if the gemara views such a two-headed person as one person or two. Abby and Brittany are clearly two distinct personalities but the fundamental halachic question must be whether they are seen by Halacha as two distinct beings or one person. The gemara's discussion does not necessarily answer that question. The gemara also seems to imply that such a two-headed person is not really viable and would die soon after birth (not necessarily within 30 days, though). Abby and Brittany clearly do not fit into the gemara's profile and, thus, it may be argued that the gemara's presentation does not apply to them. There are further indications that these two girls are more separate beings than the being described in the gemara given the duality of many of their internal organs. The gemara seems to be indicating that this two-headed person under discussion only has two heads with everything else similar to the case of one individual. Yet, knowledge of whether the boy under discussion in the gemara had two hearts would not really be available to the authors of the gemara.

I thought that, if Abby and Brittany are defined as two persons by Halacha, one possible, halachically permitted way they may be able to have children, if they were Jewish, would be through the application of the law of pilegesh, concubine. There are major commentators, including the Ramo, who permit a pilegesh and I do not believe that the sister of one's pilegesh is forbidden to the man. Thus if this extenuating circumstance came up under Jewish Law there may be a way to let these girls become mothers. But maybe we would still not follow this route as it does challenge some basic general views on marriage. The fundamental question still remains: what is the definition of an independent being?

I don't really have answers to these questions. I am just posing this case as a halachic query for you to think about and comment.

Rabbi Ben Hecht