Thursday 31 December 2009

Qaddish: Tying it all Together

Let's list some disparate facts

1 Aveilim say kaddish to raise the level of the n'shama of the dearly departed

2 Aveilim also lead Benching for the same purpose

3 The Talmud highly commends saying the "Y'hei sh'meih" "b'chol kocho"

4 Tosafot [and others] see shmeih as shin meim Yud Heih meaning "the name - Kah" instead of simply shmeh [I.e. sans a Yud] which means only HIS name.

I posted a while back about the minhag of Aveilim saying Qaddish and leading benching [points 1 and 2 above iirc on Nishma Minhag] as being connected because they BOTH elicit "Qiddush Hashem" by the responders

And note while With benching it is the Passuq Yehi Sheim Hashem m'vorach.
[Tehillim 113:2]

Notice that there is an apparently tiny gap

Y'ehi shmei translates technically as y'hi shemo

Whils the passuq in Hallel and Benching is Y'hi sheim HASHEM.

Here's the possible nexus. Perhaps Tosafos has a Tradition that y'hei shmeih IS the Targum for Tehillim 113:2 and that this Oral Tradition is the impetus impelling Tosafos to find Hashem's name [albeit the short version] within this responsem Then the reading that appears as shmeih [Aramaic]meaning sh'moth [Hebrew] really means Shem Hashem.

That would tie the response in Benching even closer to that in Qaddish, and make the common denominator of Qiddush Hashem even more compelling.


Tuesday 29 December 2009

What Is the Earliest Source? 2

2. Where may be found the earliest source specifying waiting 6 hours after eating meat in order to eat dairy?


Sunday 27 December 2009

If Ravina and Rav Ashi..

If Ravina and Rav Ashi are "sof hora'ah"
Then what does the Mechabeir mean in YD 334:40 "kach Horah Ha Ro"sh"?

Clearly the Ro"sh followed both Ravina and Rav Ashi! So what's the Mechabeir saying - or what does he mean to say?


Disclaimer re: My Posts

I don't see myself as a poseiq, just a m'lameid. I rarely state a poseiq is wrong unless there is very strong evidence
[See example Below re: the Taz]

Rema Choshen Mishpat 25:1

Y"O if it appears to a dayyan and to the members of his generation - due to the strength of "rayot muchrachot" .... Yachol l'haleiq alav.

However, to raise a lamdusher question, to quote an internal or external steerah, to demand or request a s'vara does not require such a high threshold of proof - Mainly because I am not out to overturn Halachah p'suqah anyway.

As Wolpoe's First Law of TSBP states, we often know the WHAT w/o knowing the WHY

Illustration 1
In a recent Avodah thread, this was apparent in the Rema Orach Hayyim 253 & 315 where he is meiqil if the food has not cooled, and a minimum of 2 contradictory schools of thought were brought to explain the WHY.

Ein Bishul Achar Bishulby Rabbi Howard Jachter

Illustration 2
In YD 69, the Shach and the Taz debate the status of measuring the "issur" quotient embedded in used salt.

Shach: we don't know the volume of issur absorbed

Taz: Haticha naaseeit n'veilah. [HNN]

The Taz is shver beause HNN is NOT applied by the M'chabeir legabei sh'ar issurim. Aiui it's a tiyuvta on the Taz
But there is no nafqa minah AFAIK on how to treat the salt in question - only the s'vara is debated.


I don't need to bring rayos to prove a s'vara WRONG! Rather I only raise difficulties. The threshold is much lower here.

There are many difficult pisqei halachah that I respect l'maaseh - because I have no convincing p'saq to overturn it. But Afaik I don't need to check my brain at the door and not raise questions. That is not Talmudic-Rabbinic Judaism as I was taught.


Tale of Two Rabbis from La Provence

Here's the story of two great Provencal Rabbis - we'll call them Rabbi David and Rabbi Jonathan

Rabbi David was very outspoken. As many other Provencals, he wrote critical comments. But his criticism was honest and could also be turned upon himself. And so, he was constantly learning, revising, and restating his positions based upon increased learning and feedback. While he grew, his works evolved with him.

It's quite possible that Rabbi Jonathan was even more brilliant. His flashes of insight may have indeed be attributed to Ruach Haqodesh. But once Rabbi Jonathan took a position, he was like the Rock of Gibraltar! He would not budge nor waiver. He was steadfast to the point of obstinate. He felt his writings had a finality that one would associate with Scripture.

Which style do you admire more?

And which style resembles your own style? Or like most, you may be an admixture, occasionally flexible and occasionally rigid


Is this Intellectually Honest?

A popular scholar [Professor Jenkins]prominently displays his credentials and scholarly monographs on his website

Professor Jenkins then writes and posts an article on his web-site accusing Ben Franklin of plagiarizing.

But due to his confusion, he actually cited as a source text an article which accused some ELSE of plagiarizing a work OF Ben Franklin's. [IOW he mistakenly blamed the victim instead of the perpetrator]

Now we do have a principle of giving the benefit of the doubt.

However, due to the credentials and professional standing, can this be deemed an honest error due to sloppy research?

Or since Professor Jenkins is a prominent scholar is his error tantamount to "willful negligence" and therefore intellectual dishonesty?

For several references to what I mean by referring to "intellectual honesty" -especially in conjunction with sloppiness or negligence -
please see the following:

«If the person is knowingly aware that there may be additional evidence but purposefully fails to check, and then acts as though the position is confirmed, this is also intellectual dishonesty. »
Which is from

More from the above

«Intellectual dishonesty is dishonesty in performing intellectual activities like thought or communication. Examples are:
• the advocacy of a position which the advocate knows or believes to be false or misleading
• the conscious omission of aspects of the truth known or believed to be relevant in the particular context. Rhetoric is used to advance an agenda or to reinforce one's deeply held beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.[1]

If a person is aware of the evidence and agrees with the conclusion it portends, yet advocates a contradictory view, they commit intellectual dishonesty.
If the person is unaware of the evidence, their position is ignorance, even if in agreement with the scientific conclusion.»

Several Related Links:


Saturday 26 December 2009

The YU Homosexuality Panel

Last week, on December 22, a major program was held at Yeshiva University, entitled "Being Gay in the Orthodox World," which featured a panel discussion that included 4 students or alumni of Yeshiva College who are gay. Over 500 individuals attended with many others being turned away due to space limitations.

The program has subsequently initiated much discussion and debate with a critique of the program being voiced by many of the Roshei HaYeshiva with, perhaps, Rabbi Twersky being the most vocal. His shiur on the subject a few days later drew reportedly 600 students and therein he called upon the talmidei hayeshiva to sign a petition distancing themselves and the yeshiva from the program which he described as a chilul Hashem. A joint letter from President Joel of YU and Rabbi Reiss of RIETS stating effectively that in retrospect they may have been mistaken in allowing the program to proceed. Clearly the program has also received much interest with articles about it in the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Week amongst other Jewish publications. The question for us, though, is how to respond to this debate and discussion.

To gain a further appreciation of what transpired both at the event and subsequently, I direct you to the blog entitled Curious Jew which has an unofficial transcript of what was said at the panel and links to videos of some of the panelists (it seems that one of the panelists did not want to be taped). In addition the blog has a link to the audio of Rabbi Twersky's words and a copy of the petition that was circulated. There is much to discuss and, in many ways, there is actually some value in the variant statements and positions. The real question is: what to do?

There is, no doubt, a thin line between the expression of empathy and the condoning of behaviour. There is also the further question of how to discuss devarim she'b'erva; tzniut demands privacy. Yet, how can we live with incorrect misconceptions that may result in depression and even suicide? The issue may also touch upon other matters of, even, more universal implications. To many on the panel it seems that a great part of the problem was the expectation for them to marry and, even as they may not state it in this manner, the subsequent lack of worth in one who does not get marry. The panel actually opened up many issues that need to examined and investigated.

The fact is that the panel may not have been perfect. Indeed, there may have been problems with it, both in its inception and application. Yet, it must be recognized that it was a beginning. Could it have been done in a different and better way? Perhaps. Were there problems in some of the declarations that were made? Perhaps. Was it a first venture into an area that needs to be faced and encountered? Absolutely. And maybe it was good that there were critiques that followed so that the next time can be better (although, perhaps, the critiques could have been worded differently with a vision to the future and the need).

Still, with all the problems, I have to commend YU, YUTC, Wurzweiller, the organizers, Rabbi Blau, Dean Gelman, Dr. Pelcovitz and the panelists for venturing into the battle. Next time it will be done better because there was a first time -- and this is indeed a topic that needs to be addressed.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

What Is the Earliest Source? Intro and 1

We've had lively discussions on various lists re: the antiquity [or lack thereof] of various Halachot that we now take for granted.

Sometimes I can readily identify the earliest source - and sometimes I can get there with just a bit of research.

And for some, I do not even know the earliest source myself.
And perhaps readers can supply one themselves - thereby saving me the hard work of doing my own research!

I have a long list but in order to stimulate more activity on our blog - I will put them out one at a time.
Actually that is only part of the reason, the main point is to organize discreet posts in order to make research and the comments more focused.

Here goes the first item:

1. Where may be found the earliest source specifying a brachah on Ner Shabbat?


Friday 25 December 2009

Here I go again!

When will I ever learn?

In Elul I wrote

NishmaBlog: If you make people think

Now I'm rocking people's boats again on the Avodah list!

And the amcha do NOT want to have to think about something deeply - especially if it changes their minds about their pre-conceptions.

Machiavelli IIRC warned about shaking people up. The Prince will be hated for making people have to abandon their pet notions!

Well the Torah and the N'viim and the sifrei mussar don't let us off the hook so easily

And so people will react [abreact?] until they get re-conditioned to see things a new way

Or, hopefully, they will suspend their prejudices and learn something new.

Zen saying about learning:

«First you must empty your cup before you fill it»

Sometimes emptying one's cup opens one's cup up to new wisdom!


Thursday 24 December 2009

Two Talmidei Hachamim SA Choshen Mishpat 7:8

See SA Choshen Mishpat 7:8

My translation:
«Two Talmidei Hachamim who dislike each other [perhaps rivals] should not sit together to judge, because due to the rivalry between them, their minds are made-up to merely contradict their colleague.»

Thus we see that even scholars are not free of emotional baggage [pettiness?] And are willing to set aside seeking the truth in order to gain via one upsmanship! This desire produces the emotion of "oppositionalism" which clouds reason

The Halachah at times can be SO psychological incisive and emotionally sensitive.


Wednesday 23 December 2009

The Lieberman Debate: Good or Bad Jew?

It seems that a debate has emerged in Washington -- or more precisely amongst those who watch what happens in Washington -- as to whether Senator Joe Lieberman is a good or bad Jew?


Its not the issue itself that concerns me. Its the fact that this is an issue that I find most interesting. The question is not whether Lieberman is a good person or not. The issue is not even whether one agrees with the Senator's views or not (although this, no doubt, will affect how someone answers the question about his Jewishness). The question concerns Joe Lieberman's Jewishness. One can only define a good or a bad Jew if one has a standard by which to measure this entity. For example, if one asks whether a certain restaurant is good or bad, one has to have a yardstick by which to measure restaurants. So here we have all these people discussing the Senator's Jewishness -- all, as such, declaring that they know and have the standard of yardstick by which to measure Jewishness.

The fact that one believes in one specific yardstick and wishes to apply it is not the issue to me -- nor should it be surprising. After all, Orthodoxy believes in standards of Jewishness and, indeed, Halacha defines such an entity as a bad or good Jew. If we had no standard, we would not have the concept of tzaddik or rasha. What hits me, though, is how all these individuals who, otherwise, argue for pluralism, in this case define a set yardstick which they wish to apply. If pluralism is the key word then the very definition of good or bad Jew is an impossibility, or almost an impossibility. There are even two books that came onto the market a few years ago, one by a Reform Rabbi and the other by a Reconstructionist Rabbi, which maintained that pluralism demanded that Messianic Jews, i.e. Jews for Jesus, should be given status within the broader Jewish community. Yet all of a sudden, there are so many Jews asking this question about the Senator. I guess pluralism is good when it works for you but something that you don't want to apply when it doesn't.

I am not really trying to give an argument in support of pluralism. Obviously, I am not in support of it. What I am really trying to argue is actually the opposite. If someone wants to define Senator Lieberman as a bad Jew, I can live with that. But recognize what you are doing -- you are setting a standard for Jewishness. Recognize, as such, other people may have different standards of Jewishness -- and with the reality of having standards comes the definition of right and wrong.

I can disagree with someone calling Senator Lieberman a bad Jew for his position of the American health reform bill. But this person should recognize that he is moving away from the concept of pluralism that seems to be the mantra of the general Jewish community. You are saying that Jewishness has standards. So understand when others also declare that Jewishness has standards -- even as these standards may disagree with yours.

I would rather live in a Jewish world where people recognize that we disagree in fundamental principles of how we understand our Jewishness -- and therefore be open to debate but also for the recognition that I have a principled opinion -- than to live in the mush of pluralism that leaves everything okay, and therefore gives Jewishness no standard and no punch.

Call Joe Lieberman a bad Jew. Now we can actually discuss the values of Jewishness.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 21 December 2009

Darchei Rema - and a "Perfect" Mis-understanding

Rema's first major foray into sifrei Halachah was apparently his "Darchei Moshe" on Tur and Bet Yosef.

It was planned to be his magnum opus, but as they say

"A Mesnch tracht und Gott Lacht".

And so instead he is most famous for his hagahot on SA titles the Mappah.

Unfortunately some of Rema's critics have [inaccurately] ascribed decisions to the Rema as a "da'at yachid" or as a total hidush w/o support.

The Rema's derech rarely goes in that direction. Usually he bases himself upon Ashkenazic traditions and later posqim.

Here is a possible Perfect Mis-understanding

[See SA Orah Hayyim 32:36]

A Sofeir Sta"m related to me that the Rema unilaterally declared that all Parshiyyot in Tefillin should be P'tuchot - in opposition to the Mechabeir's point that ONLY the first 3 are p'tuchiot but NOT the last [viz. The 4th]

Thus, the Rema is portrayed as "radically" altering Halachah p'suqqah

However a more careful read of Rema reveals he states nothing novel. Rather he is quoting and endorsing the following precedents
• Maharam Padua 87
In the name of Orhot Hayyim
• Bet Yosef quoting the Ittur.

Furthermore, the Mishnah Brurah quotes the GRA as stating this is all bedi'avad [anyway] thus Rema is not endorsing a change in the lechatchila procedure.

Unfortunately, a combination of superficial research and an insufficient level of "betzedek tishpot amitecha" has helped to perpetuate a "mythology" surrounding some of the Rema's decisions. [Note: I myself have not researched all the original texts!]

The Rema here was merely offering a flexibility based upon several precedents that permitted parshiyyot to rely upon those sources b'di'avad. Hardly trend-setting stuff


Thursday 17 December 2009

Torah Law in Israel - Don't Even Think It

Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman made a suggestion in the Knesset that Torah Law be applied in Israel. The suggestion was met with strong criticism by secularists -- as would be expected. Minister Neeman responded that he was misunderstood; he was talking about applying Jewish Law in in regard to civil/monetary disputes. After all, don't we the Jewish People not already have our own sophisticated system of adjudication? This sequence of events in outlined in the following two articles.

The question that bothers me, though, is: whether the secularists could have really believed, at first, that the Minister was talking about Halacha in general and not, the area of his Ministry, i.e. the application of justice? It would have been simply ridiculous for Neeman to propose a broad and universal application of Torah Law given the nature of the public of Israel. It would seem to me obvious that he was referring to the further application of Jewish Law in the civil court system (as it is already applied to some extent).

It would thus seem that the secularists knew exactly what they were critiquing -- i.e. even the further application of Halacha in monetary matters. Was that because they just think that it is archaic and practically inapplicable? Was that because they really don't know about this side of Halacha? Or could it be because of their general feeling towards Orthodoxy and, as such, Orthodox Law? And could this perception be negative because they see such uncivil behaviour by followers of this system? Why would someone want the application of a system whose adherents are seen as generally acting, let us say, incorrectly? It is something to think about.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

On Saying Piyyutim:

The Halachic permissibility of saying Piyyutim has been debated for over 700 years. Here is a contemporary summary of the salient points from Rabbi Daniel Travis

«National Honor

When we speak to Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei, we follow the pattern that applies when speaking to a human monarch. One initiates the conversation with praises of the king, followed by his requests. Before parting from the king, a person concludes with words of thanks (Brachos 34a).In the course of the thirteen middle blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, a person may add personal requests. His requests should match up with the pertinent blessing. One should not make personal requests amidst the first three and last three blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, since they are dedicated to praising and thanking Hashem (Shulchan Aruch 112,1).

Some communities have the custom to say piyutim in the first blessings of Shemoneh Esrei (Rema, ibid.). However, since these piyutim contain national requests and are a deviation from the themes of the first three blessings, Sephardic communities do not recite them (Shulchan Aruch 112,2).

Why do these requests differ from others?The permissibility of piyutim containing national requests is analogous to the approach to human royalty. While it would be undignified for an individual to come before the king and immediately present personal requests, requests made on behalf of an entire nation are consistent with the monarch's dignity. They are a sign of honor, because they demonstrate that this king is both powerful and sought after. Therefore, these piyutim are permitted in the first and last sections of our Shemoneh Esrei (Mishna Berura 112,2)


Perfect Misunderstanding: Kabbalah in Western Ashkenaz

Common Perception:
Following the Shabtai Zvi debacle, Western Ashkenazim outlawed all forms of Kabbalist practices and liturgy

More correct understanding:

[From an email post]

«Western Ashkenazim eliminated much Kabbalah from the liturgy.

Nevertheless R I Horowitz - the Shelah Hakodesh - was a big influence on Ashkenazic Nusach

See EG

"Rabbi Horowitz also wrote the Sha'ar ha-Shamayim siddur (prayer book) which had an influence on the later Ashkenazi Nusach."

Note: German Jews pushed Kabbalah into the background - for individual "yechidei s'gulah" and out of the public sphere.

However, many "yekke" scholars did study Kabbalah in private even after Shabtai Zvi.

EG R Nosson Adler mentored the Chassam Sofer in Frankfort into the ways of Kabbalah.

RSR Hirsch was at least learned in Kabbalastic symbolism

R Simon Schwab learned Kabbalah in private in Wash. Heights.

The opposition to Kabbalah was not absolute, rather the fear that the masses would be tripped up by "false Messiahs" was the guiding principle for guarding this knowledge.

The Rambam himself warns against the study of "maaseh breisheet" [creation] and "maaseh merkava" [the Divine Chariot] to those who are too immature or unlearned.


Tuesday 15 December 2009

Why was the Hanukkah Revolution led Specifically by Kohanim?

[Note I might have posted this in years gone by...]

Q: Why was the Hanukkah Revolution led specifically by Kohanim?

As per my chaveir R. Joel Stern:

A: Because of the g'zeira of "tibo'eil lehgmon t'chilah". For Yisroelim and Leviim
this was bad - but survivable

For Kohanim it meant that every wife would thereby become a "zona-hallah" [even an anussah] and in a single generation the k'hunah would have been history. Hence the sense of urgency - davka for Kohanim.

Gutn Hanukkah

Thursday 10 December 2009

What is Your Mission Statement?

For Nishma:
«So what is it that makes a person a 'Nishma Person'?
If you have an unrelenting desire to pursue Truth through the prism of Torah with the courage to face complex issues and the assistance of a critical eye and a passionate heart, you are a 'Nishma Person'.»

Also see:

For AishDas Society:

For UTJ's
Declaration of Principles

I'm working upon drafting my own mission statement.

In terms of Torah and Judaism it would read
Something like this

To emulate Yosef as a "Tzofnas Panei'ach" * I.E. to make sense of the obscure or of the confused.

To rectify [m'taqqein] common mis-understandings of Torah statements and principles.

While in interpersonal relations to follow my late Brother Ron's advice:

"To be a mensch"

What's your mission statement?

To be a great Parent?
To Serve Hashem with all your heart?
To volunteer your free time to the community?
To Study as much Torah as Possible?
To keep a positive attitude all day long?

Kol Tuv

* Note: this is being drafted shortly before Vayeshev.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

K'vurato Shel Moshe; Avoth 5:9

RSR Hirsch
[siddur p. 493].
«Because no one knows where it may be found, the grave of Moses, too, helps advance our spiritual and moral salvation. For were its site known, ceaseless pilgrimages would have given rise to a cult of quasi-idolatry which would have been most detrimental to our spiritual welfare.»

Dear Readers!
Ladies and Gentlemen!

We Jews, even many of us God-fearing Orthodox frum Jews, are recently in danger of reverting to Egyptian crypt worship! Or becoming prone to R.C. Relic fetishes! We are in danger of losing our way!

The sincere guru is supposed to Point the Way to Worship the True God, and not to become himself become an ersatz object of worship instead.

Let Moses inspire our Divine Service and never let us devolve into a pale, shallow alternative to that most holy service

Amein, kein Yehi Ratzon!


"Modeh al Ho'emet" Avot 5:10

Sometimes when arguing we get locked in a position, so much so that we are too fixated to give way.

Recently I was chatting via e-mail and I got into a tete-a-tete with a chaveir. He agreed with several of my points but noted that my last point lacked evidence. As we argued he noted I was too stubborn to see that I was wrong. That might have been true. And so I enlisted 3 outsiders to comment via a disguised version of our debate.

1 outsider completely agreed with my chaveir, whilst 2 took partially agreed with each of us.

It later occurred to me that my chaveir himself was no less adamant or peristent upon his own point of view, but I had to let that go...

R Hirsch comments:
[P. 493]
"He does not stubbornly insist upon the validity of a statement which he has made once. If he sees, or learns, that he has made an error, he will be ready and willing to concede that he has been wrong."

Of course a real golem is probably too blind to ever see his own error! That means that extreme persistence robs one not only of objectivity but of the memschlichkeit expected of a "ben Avraham"


Tuesday 8 December 2009

Hate the sin, love the sinner

«R' Pinchas said: "One must love even the sinful, but must hate their actions.»

Apparently the Koretzer beat Gandhi to this quote by over a century!

Quote Details: Mahatma Gandhi:
"Hate the sin, love the sinner" -
The Quotations Page

At least within the Jewish people we must "love the sinner" in order to do any Qeiruv [kiruv]. So our Ahavat Yisra'el quotient must allow us to at some level "love the sinner" and our duty to the Torah perforce must make us protest the sin


17. A King to Write a Scroll of Law

--> TB Sanhedrin 21b: “When he goes to battle, it will be found with him; when he returns, it will return with him. When he sits in judgment, it will be with him; when he sits to eat, it will be beside him.”
This mitzvah addresses an important, but not quite revelational, fact: the king is human.
As a human, the king is susceptible to such human weaknesses as conceit, stubbornness and materialism. The great power that is inherited with the throne would, arguably, make any man particularly prone to the kinds of flaws that reflect exaggerated self-aggrandizement.
For this reason, the king writes for himself a Torah scroll and carries the scroll with him wherever he goes. This scroll acts as a constant reminder, to keep him aware of his humanity and his subservience to God.
This type of commandment is not uncommon. Many Torah laws are said to be directed at Imperfect Man. Even if you do not agree with the Rambam's belief that it is possible to have a gezeirah on the de'oraitha level, it is not irregular for a mitzvah to be considered essentially designed to give the flawed Jew an instruction manual for proper behaviour in a given circumstance.
Still, we accept that our humanity should not be seen as an excuse to strive for anything less than perfection. These laws are instituted to assist Man in responding to, but certainly not for the sake of preserving, his imperfections.
This is the classic approach to this mitzvah, and it is the classic approach to many mitzvoth.
Unfortunately, whenever it is suggested that the purpose underlying a mitzvah is human imperfection, the mitzvah takes on the role of walking stick, designed exclusively in response to unfortunate or undesired circumstances. Here, for example, we focus on the king's inadequacies, more concerned with the king we likely will have rather than with the king we actually want to have.
The result of this approach is that Torah-observant Jews view themselves as inherently diseased and decrepit, worthy of existence only because they adhere to the strict regimen presented by the Torah. This view disregards tzelem elokim, that we were crafted in the Image of God, that there is something valuable about the human qua human. We have the capacity to outgrow the walking stick; there is an existence wherein we do not lean on Torah but rather rise alongside it.
Let us examine this possibility by imagining three levels of kingship:
1. The king who does not respond to the Torah scroll. With or without scroll in hand, this king responds the same way. He is immune to the effects of the Torah. This king is beyond help—even with the walking stick, he can't walk. Such a king should never rule the Jewish people.

2. The king who will respond differently with the Torah in hand. This is the king from the classic approach: he needs the Torah scroll to keep him aware of his own humanity and to keep his predilection towards greed and arrogance in check. This can be compared to the man who cannot walk unassisted but responds positively to a walking stick.

3. The king who responds properly with or without the Torah scroll in hand—the man who walks fine without the assistance of a walking stick.

The third category appears to describe the king most removed from imperfection, and one can wonder whether such a king is obligated to write and carry a Torah scroll for anything other than ceremonial reasons.

It is tempting to assume that the best possible king is this third-category king. But this mitzvah may indicate differently. Perhaps the classic approach reflects only one side of this mitzvah, the side that applies to Imperfect Man. On the opposite side is the ideal king, the king that we all want, and this mitzvah may have equal relevancy there.
Consider the direction given to mothers flying with young children: the woman is instructed, in case of an emergency, to put the mask on herself first and then to assist her child. In other words, the mother is instructed to override her natural maternal instinct. Like with the king, we can assume three kinds of mothers:
1. The mother who ignores this direction and assists her baby first.

2. The mother who instinctively is driven to help her baby first but responds to the direction and puts her own mask on first.

3. The mother who does not require the directions and realizes on her own that the logical thing to do is to help herself first.

It might be assumed that the third mother is the best mother: without any external assistance, she is able to properly care for her child.

But we have to ask ourselves: do we really want a world populated by mothers like the kind described in category three? While the natural maternal instinct may at times lead a woman astray, wouldn’t we prefer mothers that need to be told to assist themselves first to mothers that make this assessment on their own? Mothers in the second category, though dependent, more closely resemble the ideal mother than the mothers described in the third category. This mother cares for her child in a uniquely maternal way, and that is particularly what we look for in a mother: that she is good at being a mother.
Something similar applies here: the ideal king is the king who needs the Torah scroll in his arms. As with the maternal instinct, the king-instinct should be of a certain character. We want our kings to be, in a word, kingly. This instinct, though ideal, does not always direct the king along the proper path. This is why he carries the Torah. We do not want a king in battle (or in judgment, or at a meal) who would act the same with or without the Torah in hand. We want our kings to feel indestructible and all-powerful. This is crucial to the king-consciousness. We do not want kings who resist this sensation: such men, though they do not require the Torah scroll in hand, are not meant to be kings.
Economists long-ago recognized the deleterious effects of complete independence. (Yissachar and Zevulun came to similar conclusions.) The mitzvoth have a role to play in assisting the imperfect. But this should not be seen as their limit. Quite possibly, there is a message in the mitzvah that will help to define the ideal. And it may be different than what we would assume to be the ideal. Dependency should not be confused with imperfection—it can arise out of weakness, but it can also arise out of strength. The former kind of dependency is to be avoided, but the latter can be a good thing, allowing mothers to be mothers and kings to be kings. In accepting that the mitzvoth are not designed exclusively for the weak, but are designed specifically to compel the strong to be even stronger, we challenge ourselves as Torah observant Jews to excel and move beyond the cowering archetype of the Feeble Believer.

Monday 7 December 2009

Kashruth and (vs.?) Hashgachah

A lively exchange ensued on Avodah re: Kashruth and Hashgachah. Akiva [Kenneth] Miller posted a valuable set of quotes that I am reproducing with his permission.

Akiva Miller:

«I'd like to begin with a history lesson. When I was at YU in the 1970s, both Hershey's chocolates and Kellogg's cereals were sold in the cafeteria, despite not having any formal hashgacha. I cannot testify who actually ate them, but the fact that they were sold there says a lot about how well their kashrus was accepted.

A while back, someone sent in a post which explains many things to me about that situation. I don't know who it was, because I have searched for that post and I have been unable to find. It may have been listmember R' Rich Wolpoe, because he has written many similar things in the past couple of days.

Whoever it was, he used the phrases "American model" and "European model", where the phrase "American model" describes a situation where supervision is actively given to the factory, and "European model" describes a situation where there is no formal supervision, but only an analysis of the manufacturing after-the-fact.»

[RRW: Note: I didn't recall precisely using these terms rather I did describe those 2 situations; viz. coffee from a roadside cafe may be kosher as is, but once certified, it might indeed need to meet a much higher standard.]

«In the American model, he explained, the company pays a fee to the supervisor, putting the two in a very close relationship identity-wise, while in the European model no such relationship exists. The result is that many actions taken by a factory end up as "b'dieved okay" in the European model, while the exact same action would be called "ain mevatlin issur l'chatchila" in the American model.

This explanation clarified many many things to me. I believe that the entire world followed the European model prior to the 20th century. During the 20th century, the United States frum community developed this new concept of hashgachah. It began in the early 20th century with certain categories of food, and it grew to include other categories of food. Milestones were passed in the 1980s when Hershey's and Kellogg's got formal hashgacha, and I think the next hurdle will be canned and frozen vegetables. The next generation will not understand why we considered it acceptable to buy these products without a formal hechsher. (Actually, from recent posts it is clear that we are going through this currently.) The next generation after them, perhaps, will wonder why *we* did not insist on a hechsher for the glaze on our fresh apples and other fruit.

Many people feel that the practices of the previous generations were unjustifiably lenient. Did "they" feel that way at "that" time? I happen to have a time machine on my shelf. Let's take a look:

I will quote now from a pamphlet entitled "The Foods We Eat", by Rabbi Yosef Wikler, now publisher of Kashrus Magazine, previously titled The Kashrus Newsletter. This pamphlet, copyright 1981, contains several articles which he had previously published. I quote from the article titled "Kellogg Corn Flakes", originally published February 15, 1980. I'd really like to quote the entire article, but because of copyright issues, I will just give some selected excerpts.

"Kellogg Corn Flakes is a familiar cereal in many Orthodox homes, even though it has no rabbi or organization attesting to its kashrus. Actually, most every Orthodox person eats Kellogg Corn Flakes. Do you eat food from a take-out store? [begin italics] Almost Every Take Out Store Uses Kellogg Corn Flakes. [end italics] They are used as Kellogg Corn Flakes crumbs. ... In most cases the heimishe take-out stores do use this product...

"Why do we eat this product without a hechsher?

"Firstly, let me say that no one should feel obligated to trust any food without a hechsher.

"However, a number of cereals and other products enjoy the trust of the Orthodox community. This is no accident. Some reliable kashrus experts have examined these products and found them to be acceptable. In some cases, because of the great need that the Orthodox community has for certain products, these food products are regularly examined. This is in effect almost a free supervision. ...

"Should we rely on Kellogg?

"This question was raised recently by a well-known authority on kashrus. Those kashrus organizations who investigated Kellogg and found certain products to be acceptable have done accurate research. But, how can we be certain that Kellogg will continue to produce kosher corn flakes? ...

"Shall we assume that if they decide to change ingredients in one of the "acceptable" cereals in order to save some money, Kellogg will place a large advertisement in the Jewish papers in order to notify us all. Far from it. The Kellogg company right now has no one to answer to since nobody certifies their kashrus.

"There are literally dozens of other corn flake cereals and hundreds of other cereals being sold that have rabbinical supervision. Why should anyone feel it necessary to rely upon the statements of companies that no animal derivatives are used. Years ago, when there were few products, supervision people felt the need to rely on such statements. There are still many products that people feel lost without. But Kellogg Corn Flakes - will no other brand do? ..."

An update to this article appeared in the Purim 1982 issue of The Kashrus Newsletter, making several interesting points:

"Rabbi Senter of the Chaf K says he attempts to avoid using Kellogg cereals at the hotels under the Chaf K supervision." (I can't help wondering about the implications of the word "attempts".)

That issue included a reprint of the Recommended Cereals list of the Vaad Hakashrus of Baltimore, which included a Kellogg's Corn Flakes and other Kellogg's cereals. "When we inquired how information was obtained for its list, the Vaad Hakashrus of Baltimore responded as follows: The cereal list which we have prepared is based upon information which we have received from reliable sources who have inspected the plants or who are knowledgeable of the process and/or ingredients."

Finally, at the bottom of page 6: "FLASH - Kellogg's has applied for supervision by the V.H. - Vaad Harabonim of Boston. Watch The Kashrus Newsletter for further information." A short while later Kellogg's did receive VH supervision, and is still supervised by them today. I can't help but suspect that these articles contributed to that.

One could still argue: Do such products need supervision or not? Is it a chumrah to insist on a hechsher? Or is it a kulah to eat such food without a hechsher?


Here's a more modern example, with a quote which you can look up yourself easily. Can one eat/drink the Slurpees from a non-supervised 7-Eleven store? Please read the very nuanced article by Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, Kashruth Administrator of Chicago's cRc, at

You can also read what the OU says in an article titled "Drinking Coffee on the Road", In the Dec. 2008 issue of "The Daf HaKashrus", which is not intended for the general public, but is subtitled "A monthly newsletter for the OU Rabbinic Field Representative". The article is online at A PDF of the whole newsletter is at

THE CONCLUSION I REACH from these articles is that there is not one answer. The multiple answers are very situation-based. I often compare it to the many things which have changed in America because of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This law has made many changes in the way public buildings - including shuls - are built, requiring them to be accessible to people in wheelchairs, and many other accommodations. People who have grown up with this law, which is now almost 20 years old, perceive such accessibility to be a birthright. I am not disagreeing. But 50 years ago, to insist on a wheelchair ramp for every school, shul, and bus, would have been laughable.

SO TOO IN KASHRUS. In some situations, we can easily do without a product if we are not satisfied with its kashrus. In other situations, it's not so easy. I recall an ArtScroll biography about some person (I don't remember who) and his role as one of the few genuinely frum U.S. servicemen during World War II. It mentions how careful he was with kashrus, and it mentioned of the name of the breakfast cereal which he ate then. It did *not* mention which hashgacha that cereal had, and I've always presumed (rightly or wrongly) that there were many manufactured products which even the frummest of that generation ate, based on the ingredients and other information. But we have advanced, B"H, and we would no more eat a breakfast cereal without a hechsher, than we would build a shul which the elderly find it impossible to climb into.»

R' Samuel Svarc wrote:
« Kashrus is different then a lot of 'issurim' in that it has 'timtum halev'. ... It is ... excuse the expression, foolish to gamble your neshoma [timtum] over a piece of food.

«I don't dispute a word of that. But I'll note that you used the word "gamble", and indeed, it is a gamble. We don't really know whether or not this food really contains any tarfus. It is quite possible that there is nothing wrong with this food at all. But it is, admittedly, a gamble.

In any gamble, one that weighs the possible risks against the possible rewards. The article above about coffee, for example, was very clear that if one is driving and feels tired, it is more dangerous to continue driving that way, and less dangerous to drink coffee which might have some very minor kashrus problems, real though they might be.

Personally, I do not understand why the take-out stores felt a need to use Kellogg's Corn Flakes when they had no hashgacha, when Post Corn Flakes had already been under the OK for many years. Perhaps Post Corn Flakes were unavailable as crumbs. That might make a very big difference to a take-out store, but to a hotel serving breakfast? Maybe I am underestimating the cachet of the "Kellogg's" brand name. (The "New Coke" debacle had not yet occurred when those articles were written.)»

R' Rich Wolpoe wrote:
«When you buy uncertified products, there may be an entire slew of "bittuls" that may be genuinely relied upon. But when one certifies a product, lechatchilahs take over [EG ein mevatlin afilu issur derabbanan lechatchila] R Schwab used to say: "I'm a lechatchila Jew". IOW WRT kashrus he would not allow any kind of bedi'avads at the outset.»

That's a great soundbite, but when you get into specifics it turns very fuzzy.»

[RRW:Ein hachi nami, I was addressing a question of how the standards of hashgachah might exceed the standards of an approved list. I was not addressing all the specifics.]

« In a given situation, one posek will say, "This procedure satisfies 80% of the acharonim. We can clearly rely on it l'chatchila." And another posek will say, "We'll rely on that b'dieved, but l'chatchilah, we'll use this other procedure, which is only slightly more difficult, and satisfies 95% of the acharonim."

Is the former unjustifiably lenient? Is the latter ridiculously strict? I dunno.

Akiva Miller»

I found the discussion in Avodah quite informative and Akiva Miller gave it a fairly comprehensive synposis.


Sunday 6 December 2009

"I Am Taking Off My Kippah"

Someone sent me an essay, by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cordozo, entitled "I Am Taking Off My Kippah" and asked me for my comments. After reading the essay, I thought it would be interesting to put the link to the essay,, on the blog and ask for comments from others as well.

The essay is clearly most interesting...but the real issue for me centres on our very understanding of the purpose of Torah in general. There is the practical question of whether this practice, or lack of practice, will have a positive effect or not -- but there is another question: whether the goal of Torah is as Rabbi Cordozo perceives it to be?

Please share with us your thoughts and in a future comment I will share mine.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 4 December 2009

V'tain Tal uMatar: Precision in Halachic Analogies

In an private dialogue we discussed how precise analogies must be in halachah

For a highly imprecise analogy, consider that we use the Babylonian "yardstick" for v'tein tal umatar all throughout the golah even though we are only "bavel" by not being EY! Our agricultural climate is very different

[Same for keeping the highly obsolete nusach of yekum purkan which refers anachronistically to Bavel.]

We are "Bavel" in a sense, but in an imprecise sense.

I made a hilluq hypothesis:
To preserve a status quo, an imprecise analogy might work.

OTOH to make a hiddush might indeed require a higher-level of precision in the analogy.



Thursday 3 December 2009

Ethical Dilemma: Blogosphere Honesty

Most Bloggers are highly opinionated. [I guess I'm part of that equation, too! ] We can be sure Tiger Woods recently has been the target of all kinds of allegations and accusations in the Blogosphere. And since it's a free society, honesty, facts, and truth have little to do with it!

Now let's get into an ethical conflict.

Hypothetical scenario:

Let's say a patient is taking "statin" cholesterol medication and is paying a lot of money. [Maybe in Canada this is not the case, but just hang on anyway!]

He then discovers that Niacin instead might do the trick. He then blogs

"Statins are a rip-off! The pharmaceuticals are out to get us! Vitamin B3 does just as well"

OK is this sloppy thinking? I mean he doesn't know it's better or just as good, he is just "opining" so.
is this simply Agenda driven and a bit disingenuous?

IOW since he is ANGRY, his respect for facts and the truth gets compromised.

Im timze lomar "no big deal" for scenario
Then let's say he adds:
"Statins are ineffective"

Then how do we pasqen?

Now let's say the poster is himself or herself a prescribing MD? Would that alter the level of culpability re: the mischaracterization of statins?

Now, what if he is an MD-PhD doing research on these kinds of issues and blogs away w/o doing any instead current research and relies upon 10-year old memories?

What level is he now?
Well within his rights?
Egregiously careless?
Downright dishonest for failing to keep current with the research available in journals and opining anyway?


Perfect Misunderstanding: "D'Oraitto" as used in the Ketubbah 200 Zuz d'Oraitto

A blogger wrote:
«The couple could not find a rabbi who would allow a "change" in the ketubba, the marriage document, that would delete the word de-oraita, as Tosafot claims that the woman's 200 zuz claim upon the husband is Biblical. Since the ketubba is a court enacted institution, a tenai beit din, it seems that the Tosafot claim is hyperbolic, not essential, and based upon reasoning that is given to challenge.»

The institution of Ketubah is a d'oraitto requirement as per Ashkenazim

Correct Understanding:

The d'oraitto Clause is not actually about the origin of the obligation
Rather it refers to the stricter and larger d'oraitto definition of zuz [viz. Zuzei d'Oraitto]

See SA Even Ho'ezer 66:2 Rema, and Levush quoting the Rosh that all state clearly that the issue is the smaller "Zuzei derabbanan" vs. The larger Zuzei d'Oraitto - and do not at all address the institution per se

It's sad that the poster and the attendees at the wedding did not appreciate the accepted philology of the adjective "d'oraitto" in Ashkenazic Ketubbot. A little learning might have gone a long way!


Tuesday 1 December 2009

Funerals and Kohanim

Q: How does a Kohein attend a funeral?

A: By standing outside - showing his sympathy w/o getting "tamei".

Q: So how may a Jew attend a non-Jewish funeral?

A: Since we are [relatively speaking] a mamlechet kohanim, we may also stand outside - showing our sympathy w/o becoming "tamei".


Monday 30 November 2009

Learning Halachah; The principle vs. The Practical

When my daughter returned from Eretz Yisroel, she summed this up best - paraphrasing her instructors in Midreshet Lindenbaum

If you want to master Halachic principles, then learn the earliest sources [E.G. Mishnah, Talmud, or Rambam]

If you want to look up a practical p'saq, then consult the most recent publications [E.G. Sh'mirat Shabbot k'Hilcheta]


Friday 27 November 2009

Aqeida, and Masorah - Rabbis Soloveichik and Rosenfeld

I serve as a rotating Shabbat Chaplain
For Care1 at Teaneck.
I've become friendly with one of the residents whose daughter and son-in-law visit her nearly every Friday Night.

It so happens that this son-in-law is none other than Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld! We have chatted many times and I was quite pleased to see his d'var torah in our local Jewish Paper "The Jewish Standard".

Given R Rosenfeld's background, both the content of the d'var torah and its appearance here on this blog is a bit unconventional. Enjoy it anyway! I'm confident you will.


Thursday 26 November 2009

Doctrine vs. Dissent 2 -Concluding Observations

R Binny:
«Do you really believe that R G'dalya reversed a BAVLI?!»

R Sh'muly:
«I'm sure R G'dalya has a valid point, but the upshot seems pashut to fly in the face of Shas. The only fair way to judge this would be to read R G'dlya's writings w/o his name and ask third parties to render an opinion based upon the content of the writing and not of the author's prominence.»

R Binny:
«R G'dalyah does, b'rov gadluso, claim to understand the Gemara, you claim to understand it better and therefore conclude that he reversed the Bavli?!»

R Sh'muly:
«It appears to ME that he reversed the Bavli because AFAIK there is no precedent in posqim to allow for this hiddush. But, I'm not claiming to be a bigger gadol! I'm just calling it as it I see it!. For a more objective read, use the method above. I fail to see why one should accept every ruling w/o checking it out to see if it holds water or not first!»

R Binny:
«And, of course, you know as well as I do that we do not pasken on the basis of Kabbalah

R Sh'muly:
«Well this seems a red herring! Why?

I was not arguing purely on the basis of kabbalah

The Kabbalah simply buttresses the ideal of not delaying the burial which is after all the point of Shas, too! So when overturning Shas here, one is in addition potentially causing the neshamah
Addi tonal suffering by delaying a swift, prompt burial. That just seems obvious and consistent with Shas' stance.»

«And I imagine you know that the Gemara itself limits burial on Yom Tov where there are countervailing issues»

«Understood. But that was bishas persecution where Jews might be coerced to work on YT if the hostile non-Jews saw Jews burying on YT. At any rate, posqim don't seem to make this operative and it is imho a stretch to invoke it here. Using dormant Talmudic principles to alter normative law is a tremendous slippery slope. Better off LFAD if R. G'dalyah had made a hora'as sho'oh that burial on YT sheini should be suspended due to potential Hillul Shabbos issues, than being m'falpeil a novel read INTO Shas itself.
I think it's more "yosher" to do it that way, and would not trigger any "slippery slope" precedents.»



Of course the unarticulated issue is:
"Are g'dolim to be deemed infallible?". If yes, then we must set aside our minds and wills and simply defer to the R G'dalyas and their reads of sources, etc.

OTOH if G'dolim are subject to the same rules and texts that other rabbis are subject to, then they are fair game for upshlugging.

It would seem al pi mussar NOT to make g'dolim or Roshei Yeshiva above the system but subject to it. After all even Aharon made Moshe subject to Torah in Parshas Sh'mini.

OTOH a gadol MAY make a g'zeira as a syag - which I believe is RS's point.

So R Sh'muly seems to protest and suggest

Protest: Blindly following a Gadol's read or decision w/o considering the normative read

Suggest: Let G'dolim make temporary s'yaggim as needed to protect Halachah w/o
resorting to dochaq reads into classical texts.


Ner Hanukkah on Friday Night - SA 679:1

The mechabeir pasqens to light Hanukkah BEFORE Ner Shabbos

But lich'ora, tadir v'sheino tadir, tadir qodem and Ner Shabbat should come first

MB 1 says while Mechabeir doesn't really hold that Qabbalas Shabbos starts with lighting Ner Shabbos, rather he is merely chosheish for that Sheetah, [aparently that of the BeHaG as quoted By SA himself 263:10]

Lich'ora this should also mean that the mechaber should pasqen to light Ner Shabbos before the Brachah! IOW not over la'assiyasson.

But then I realized that perhaps the mechaber is only chosheish for the BeHaG that LIGHTING starts Shabbos, but not for the Mordechai who holds the BRACHAH starts Shabbos, so "yeish lechaleiq"


The Upright Individual vs. The Machiavellian Rulership

As someone who has been involved in public life on a very minor level, I have had to struggle with the cognitive dissonance in that we aspire to be "Honest Abe's", yet as one rises to higher levels of office, honesty is replaced by "realpolitik", manipulation, and Machiavellian maneuvers.

In reading RSR Hirsch on Lech Lecha [my BM Sidrah BTW] I saw an almost timeless description of the dichotomy between the upright individual and the "sleazy government" spanning Jew and non-Jew alike

VIZ. That society is so geared from the time of Avraham henceforth and I quote Breisheet 12:2 [Hirsch New edition p. 292]

«Honesty, humanity, and love are are duties incumbent upon the individual, but are regarded as folly in relations with nations..

Individuals are [punished] for the crimes of fraud and murder, but countries murder and defraud on a grand scale, and those who murder and defraud [in the national interest] are decorated and rewarded.

«Not like these is the portion of Avraham....»

No wonder Israel is levadad yishkon! We as the children of Avraham may not - and almost cannot - play the games that other nations play! Because we do not subscribe to this Machiavellian "deal with the devil" of being an honest individual while being a a corrupt nation!

It is the legacy of the Jewish State to play by different rules, by principles in our DNA and perhaps ingested with our "mother's milk" to maintain a high level of idealism even whilst negotiating on an international level.

Thus, while the individual delegates at a forum such as the UN might contain individuals who in their private lives are quite humane and enlightened, yet on the international stage will be honoured for furthering the most deceptive, corrupt, and evil agenda possible, and even be decorated davka for this behaviour!

I only wish this sunk in to my consciousness when I was in my twenties, but I guess it takes a lot of life experience to realize that R. Hirsch is saying, that he might as well be penning an op-ed in today's newspapers and be current 130 years after the original publication of his magnum opus!



Results of Poll on Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov

In our last poll, we inquired about:

Steps on the Path: Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov

We are often not called upon to evaluate or choose between two options, one 100% proper and the other 100% improper, but between two options with both reflecting some inherent weakness. Starting with this poll, and in various future polls, we will raise such choices and ask you: which approach is hashkafically superior?

Such questions may arise in numerous situations. It may arise in a case of kiruv, where an answer will impact on the path to greater fulfillment of mitzvot. It may impact on a decision regarding which friend should be the focus of your mussar. By extension, it may also similarly impact on oneself in the determination of which personal behaviours should be the focus of your teshuva. Most significantly, though, how one answers these questions will reflect one's hashkafic thoughts on the general principles of Torah.

Case #1: Sukkah Superiority - Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov

Avraham spends the entire chol hamoed avoiding the chiyuv of eating in the Sukkah. Instead of needing to find a sukkah, he adjusts his diet to eat foods that do not trigger an obligation. He has water, fruit juice, a hard boiled egg, but nothing to kovei'a any s'uda. In the end, he simply does not eat in a sukkah the whole chol hamoed.

Yitzchak OTH religiously washes twice a day and makes hammotzi and benches with an aim of having 14 s'udos mamash over the course of the Chag. But Yitzchak is also much more lenient in what he eats outside the sukkah in addition to these 14 times. Some of them would be described as significant portions of food, some even possibly entailing mamash k'vias s'uda, heterim based upon traveling or being at the office may, though, be applicable.

Hashkafically, Avraham scrupulously avoids a bittul aseh, but does not in any way fulfill the aseh, making no brachah nor eating in a sukkah on chol Hamoed. Yitzchak makes TWO brachos a day with a definite chiyyuv, clearly being mikayem the aseh, but at least flirts with being mevateil the aseh once or twice a day because he has non-sukkah refreshments.

Which behaviour is hashkafically superior?

Your Responses

Avraham - Sur Mei'ra 25% (2)
Yitzchak - Aseh Tov 13% (1)
Neither choice is inherently the better one. My specific response would depend on
the personality of the individuals and the circumstances 25% (2)
Both choices are equally lacking 37% (3)


1) It may be interesting to note that the Chazon Ish in Emunah u'Bitachon favours sur mei'ra over aseh tov but whether his words on the subject apply in this case could still be a matter of debate. He was speaking developmentally that the process of sur mei'ra may have a greater long term effect on an individual than a promotion of aseh tov. The fact is, though, that both, in a vacuum, are problematic in terms of expressions of Torah commitment. In terms of determining a first step taking someone further on a path of Torah, the answer may still be that it depends on the individual. (RBH)

2) Imho Yitzchaq has chosen to own mitzvat sukkah and to honour it. His failings AIVI are all too human. He is at worst mumar letei'avon, while aiming to elevate himself spiritually. Avraham is avoiding evil, but avoiding living the Torah. He is like the one who fasts on Yom Kippur while sleeping in bed, technically compliying but failing to grow. He is too inert, too much into avoidance. Hashkafically means to me "heart level". Avraham might be technically superior, but on the rachmana libba ba'ei I see Yitzchaq of putting more heart and soul into his avodah.Eventually, Yitzchaq may outgrow his lazy indulgences, Avraham "ain't going nowhere" it seems. (My 2 cents RRW)

How could They?

1 P. Hayyei Sarah:
How could Eliezer eved Avraham commit "nichush"?

[See Sefer Hareidim 24:51]

2 P. Toldot:
How could Yaakov [ish emet] deceive his own father Yitzchaq?

Answer: In both cases they could rely on Prophecy for heter "b'Torat horo'at sha'ah"

1 Eliezer relied upon Avraham's guarantee:
"Hashem ...yishlach mala'acho ittach". Eliezer knew a Mal'ach was supervising him, so his Nichush was "kosher" only within that context

2 Yaakov was told by Rivkah. And Rivkah had been told by n'vu'ah ...sHein goyim..v'rav ya'avod tz'air. This prophecy enabled Rivkah to "force" the issue with a deception as a ho'or'at sho'oh in order to conform to Hashem's word


P. Lech Lecha, Skin-Garment-House

An interesting linkage is made by RSR Hirsch on the first verse in Parshat Lech Lecha

New translation P. 288
"A person has 3 protective casings:
The Bassar, the Begged, and the Bayit.

This point dovetails completely with the 3 forms of afflictions listed in Tazria-Metzora viz.

afflictions of the Skin, surface, dermatological

I don't see any explicit connection made by R. Hirsch in Lech Lecha itself, but the parallel is more than skin-deep!

In the cases in Vayiqra, the afflictions [Nega'I'm] proceed from the inner to the outer

When Avraham leaves Haran he is asked to leave
House of your Father

Or from outer to inner which is highly counter-intuitive. And this is a major salient point in R. Hirsch's brief essay


Wednesday 25 November 2009

What is a Jew?

Numerous times, in various articles, I have discussed what I have felt to be the fundamental challenge of Jewish identity. The question that we are constantly encountering is not ultimately "who is a Jew?" but rather "what is a Jew?". Bluntly, before one can define criteria for membership in a club, one first has to define the nature of the club. This is similar with membership in what I would term the Jewish group. Before we can define the criteria for membership in this group, i.e. who is a Jew, we have to really define the nature of this group, what is a Jew. This may come down to the question: are we a nation or a religion? Most Jews like to say both -- but was does that mean?

This is precisely the essence of a case that is now transpiring in England regarding the status of a Jew. See Religion and peoplehood reflect two entirely and qualitatively different types of a group. Its like saying that there is a group that is defined by consisting of people with red hair but it is also defined by consisting of people who play squash. These are two totally unrelated criteria for group membership.
The problem within the Jewish world is not just the difficulty of integrating these apparently different structures of group criteria but that that it doesn't even perceive the dilemma and challenge. That is why this English case is so significant. Its like the English created laws regarding groups that define themselves by the colour of their hair and the group we described above wants to work within this law and apply this law but still wants to primarily describe itself through playing of squash -- and group doesn't even understand the problem.

Born to a Jewish mother simply doesn't make sense as a definition of a religion. That's the problem before the English court. The further strangeness within this case is that the specific issue did not really involve this criteria of Jewish identity but the issue of conversion which is a religion criteria -- except that people don't apply it that way. How often does one say "I converted to Reform Judaism" or to "Conservative Judaism". Its simply that one became a Jew -- but what about the major theological distinctions between the branches of Judaism?

What the English court really did is show us that the vast majority of us do not know what we are talking about when confronting Jewishness. Maybe we should meet the challenge.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Lou Gehrig - Being Grateful when things look bleak

How could a relatively young man -who is staring the "Mal'ach Hammavet" right
in the face -
utter such inspiring thoughts?

"Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."

"So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Makes me blush to think how little gratitude I have by comparison!

In order to connect this to a d'var torah
Here is the charge I gave a Chatan under the Chuppah:

«When after you've been married awhile and you wake up in the morning and feel about your spouse and your marriage the immortal words of the 'Gadol' Lou Gehrig:
"Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.". ...

then your marriage is successful.
Consider this your goal, to continue to feel appreciative every day as you are on your wedding day»

For a full text of Lou Gehrig's immortal farewell see:


Sources and Obligations

A quick thought on 2 diverse points from 2 diverse discussion lists

I recall a recent posting on List 1 to the effect that Aggadah contains "Hilchot Machshava" or something similar.

And I saw another posting re: v'Ten Tal uMatar on List 2 citing only Talmud and Rambam, ignoring a key Ro"sh on point.

Permit me to address both issues with a single approach.

Re: Aggadah. IMHO one may legitimately dispute or dissent from an Aggadic principle. But first, at least one MUST consult the sources and any relevant literature. Only then may one respectfully disagree.

Similarly with the issue of v'Ten. One may legitimately take issue with the Ro"sh's position, but it is still obligatory to see it and any related Halachic Literature

Bottom Line:
One is not obligated to always concur with all relevant sources, OTOH one must consult them first and not intentionally ignore them before arriving at a conclusion.


"Better Laining & "Better Training" - Drafting a Resolution

Unlike many Sephardim and Teimanim, most Modern Ashkenazi day school students are getting [at best] a mediocre background in Laining skills, Masoretic Notations, and know how in Diqduq.

The result? Mediocrity (or worse) whilst laining at their bar mitzvahs and an inability to master the nuances and subtleties of "Miqra" in general. This also implies at best a Bedi'avad reading of Q'riat Shema twice a day. Imagine such a leniency on a mitzva d'oraitto! Unthinkable!

Furthermore, much of Peirush Rashi is lost on students who lack Masoretic Sensitivity and Ibn Ezra, Redaq, and Minchat Shai may become completely out-of-reach.

Furthermore, some parents [and most peers] push the BM boys to read MORE instead of read BETTER, which often may subject the congregation to even more faulty laining.

So I am joining a campaign for heightened awareness and I am participating in drafting a Resolution to address this situation.

The first step is to complete the Resolution document

The second step is to disseminate it to shuls and on the internet.

The third step would be to implement changed attitudes by teachers, parents, and peers. Quantity should be sacrificed in the name of quality. A perfectly read Hafatara and Maftir [with a possible additional aliya or 2] would become the new paradigm replacing the mediocre entire sidra, etc. Expectations should be altered.

The fourth step would be to begin training day school students in good Hebrew diction and cantillation techniques. Q'riyyat Sh'ma with its trop could be mastered by boys and
girls by age 9 or so, even if only by rote learning.

Within a generation, Ashk'nazim would be reading Tanach as accurately as Sephardim and Teimanim do now, and then the quantity of laining could be restored. Teachers would then be better prepared to train future generations in our Masoretic Traditions [pun intended]


P. Noah: Community and Individual, Ayn Rand and RSR Hirsch

A strange confluence just hit me - epiphany like. In reading RSR Hirsch on Dor Haflagah, it struck me how community could be evil - even despite R. Hirsch's high praise for community elsewhere.

I could not make sense of the concept of when egotism is a legitimate
Expression of Moral Indignation, vs. when it is the opposite, i.e. The expression of conceit, arrogance, and unholy defiance.

Migdal Bavel is the paradigm of a peaceful co-operative community BUT one that has set itself up in defiance of the Divine. It sought to sacrifice the individual on the altar of the greater whole, foreshadowing both Fascism and Communism. And this suppression of the individual rightfully sparks the ego to rebel. Why rightfully? Because any collective without sanction of the Al-Mighty is inherently evil when it suppresses the individual!

No wonder Ayn Rand's flew from God-less Bolshevism. Her nature impelled her to rebel. And given the frightening parallels between Migdal Bavel and the Stalinistic 5-Year plans, her flight was well-justified! [Whether her alternative passes muster is indeed another matter.]

And so R. Hirsch emphasizes that the praiseworthy community and culture is the one built around preserving and perpetuating Torah Tradition. He himself led a paradigmatic community in Frankfort when he broke with the local Heterodox Community there. It remains functioning today, albeit in reduced numbers, in Washington Heights. B"H it is not the sole community based upon Torah Values. Thus any community whose mission is "Hirschian"
in nature deserves the deference of the individual

OTOH, any community designed to compete against G-d deserves the uprising of the suppressed individual soul.

The gray area today dear reader, is the society that is neither culturally devoted to G-d nor out to defeat G-d leaving us a tricky conundrum.

As North America WAS, say circa WWII, there was no question of a society and culture who opposed Marxist Atheism in favour of a common non-denominational service to the Al-Mighty and compassion for mankind. This society had the common focus of G-d only in the most generic terms, eschewing the barriers between sects.

Now that Secularism is replacing this non-denominational common-denominator service to the Creator, the society is slipping off of its pedestal, teetering ever so closely to a Godless tilt, Heaven Forbid.

It remains to be seen if we can restore a society that supports a common Deity in a compassionate and mutually supportive fashion as we did 60+ years ago.

Should we tilt away too far, the individuals will rise up and break away to form tiny independent communities re-dedicated to the ideals and traditions that once made us a truly "Great Society". A new Austritt Gemeinder will have to appear to preserve a Torah life-style amid the deterioration of what was once the ideal.

Just as Avraham ho'Ivri crossed over to oppose the Dor Haflagah in his own day.


Thanksgiving - Is it good for the Jews?

Here is some historical tidbits that may help us Jews decide the issue of "Is Thanksgiving good for the Jews?"

Factoid 1:
Go Google "Sukkot and Thanksgiving". It's widely believed that the Puritans observed a form of Sukkot and Canadian Thanksgiving is actually in closer proximity to our Chag than its USA counterpart.

Factoid 2:
I recently saw a History Channel [or similar] documentary on TV re: T-Day as follows:

It seems that the Puritans had banned celebrating Xmas as a joyous holiday and insisted upon a solemn day instead

Well the wives were steaming! They wanted to "cook up" a real feast. What to do? They made their Xmas festival meal on Thanksgiving instead with all the trimmings. L'havdil - An early tashlumin.

Lefi factoid #1 Thanksgiving is Torah-based

Lefi Factoid #2 it is indeed a derivative of the Proverbial Hukkos haGoy"

For more on this controversy


[Check out the comments]


Sunday 15 November 2009

Doctrine vs. Dissent 1

Here is a controversy between 2 Points of View.

This exchange is from way back in 2003 and I have changed the names to reduce the "personal" aspect and to focus upon the issues instead. No need for adding ad hominem attacks..

We will call the more Dissenting protagonist "R Shmuly"
The more Doctrinaire protagonist "R Binny"

The name of a Gadol is G'dalyah

Response to R Shmuly who states
R G'dalya apparently seems to reverse the Bavli re: burial on YT Sheini by invoking chillul YT as a concern - af al pi that the Bavli asserts that legabei Meisim YT sheini is considered kechol...

R Binny:
Do you really believe that R G'dalya reversed a BAVLI?!
Well, If Rabbi X were to say that the gmara re: burying on YT is not applicable due to modern day refrigeration, the Torah world would be up in arms. While when R G'dalyah says it, it gets a pass. ...

Tell me here and now R Binny, of all the Torah-based and Kabbalistic reasons for not delaying a levaya that have nothing to do with the deterioration of the body! I'm sure you can come up with many more than
I can, and I can think of a few myself.
Point? We are not interested in the methodology of how a Halachah is
derived but WHO says it. This of course obviates the need for a concept of a 'To"eh bidvar Mishnah' which becomes impossible in this system. Because the Gadol trumps the P'shat of any Mishna anyway! So its pointless to ever challenge any Gadol! Yet the SA allows for just such a challenge!»

R Binny
Excuse me, I am in utter shock. Because R G'dalyah does, b'rov gadluso, claim
to understand the Gemara, you claim to understand it better and therefore
conclude that he reversed the Bavli?!

And, of course, you know as well as I do that we do not pasken on the
basis of Kabbalah.

And I imagine you know that the Gemara itself limits burial on Yom Tov where there are countervailing issues.

Your assertion is staggering.»

R Shmuly:
«If Chassimas Hatalmud is indeed the last word, then kfiyyas hamitta would
still be a chiyyuv for an an aveil, and kitniyuos and bigamy would be still be optional for Ashkenazim

R Binny:
«Aveilus is mostly minhagim, and no ra'ayos can be brought from minhagim.

Kitniyos and bigamy are still options. You will end up in cherem, that's

Chasimas Ha'Talmud IS the last word. Beyond that there can only be

Ad Kahn the original exchange

R Shmuly asked me to add a few points to bolster his arguments and to undermine R Binn's points. Stay tuned for further posts.

Note: Since I cannot readily contact R Binny, I have altered all the names to reduce any potential for personalities to intervene


Who is a Jew? Jews in the House, and the Senate

So when counting Jewish Representation in Legislatures and in Executive roles, just Who is a Jew anyway?

Jew by birth?
Jew according to Halachah?
Jew despite practicing another religion?

For more on this topic please see:

Rabbi's Corner: Jews in the House, and the Senate


Avot de R. Reuven

Nowadays, in an imperfect society we need a Government to protect us from abuse from evil-doers.

When the entire world is "enlightened" by the Light of the Al-Mighty, we could afford to no rulership. We pray that the words of Yeshaya will come true bimheira b'yamainu.

[See Avoth 3:2 and The Hirsch Commentary
«...But human society is still in the state of moral imperfection...»]


Saturday 14 November 2009

The Rhetoric around Fort Hood

There has been much talk concerning how Major Hasan did not want to go to Afghanistan to kill Muslims, but wouldn't fighting in Afghanistan also involve defending Muslims?

I recently addressed this issue and the events at Fort Hood in my monthly column in the Jewish Tribune (Toronto). It can be seen at

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 12 November 2009

Loyal Opposition; Taking the Minority View, While Abiding by the Majority, Too

A very intelligent friend of mine [Albert] was convinced I was being inconsistent in my Point of View. And in a sense he did detect a contradiction - or at least an apparent contradiction.

The specific case is not the issue here. To simplify matters, I took a minority position of a point of view on a Halachic matter. [For the sake of illustration, let's say that I favored saying the brachah of "Al Netilas Yadayim" prior to washing.]

Albert called me on it.
"Wolpoe, you advocate Halachic Consensus! How can you oppose the practice that has been approved by the vast majority? This is inconsistent with your Halachic thesis!"

For a few minutes, I thought Albert had indeed detected an inconsistency, isolated an anomaly!

Then my mind cleared and I realized he overlooked a significant Hilluq, a major caveat.

My position really did not contradict Halachah on the ground - Since I never had publicly advocated my opposition in order for people to alter their practice! Rather I was voicing loyal opposition to the decision rendered by the majority; and am still willing to abide by the consensus position.

Let's take a Parliamentary example.
The Majority Party proposes to require 40 hours of training to earn a driver's license

The Minority Counter-Proposes only 20 hours instead.

And let's say I hold like the minority [the loyal opposition] that counter-proposes the 20 hours.

After the vote [the nimnu v'gamru] the Majority Party wins the vote and the new law has been duly established.

OTOH I loyally abide by the majority proposal as bona fide new law

OTOH in the arena of opinion I still maintain my view that this law is a "bad law"

Albert apparently seems to have missed this distinction! That despite taking an oppositional opinion, I may still allow for deference to the legal process! He seems to be equating opposition in thought to disobedience in deed! But loyal opposition can split this baby! A minority can oppose a decision yet defer to it nevertheless.

This dovetails with the Elu v'Elu [Ev"E] series dealing with pluralism in thought, and yet conformity in deed.

That we PRACTICE Halachah as Beth Hillel, but in the area of learning and thought Beth Shammai is equally "Divrei Elokim Hayyim"

For an illustration of this kind of opposition combined with deference, see the Aruch HaShulchan on the matter of al Neqiyut Yadayim.