Friday 27 February 2009

Standards Demands Two Yardsticks

There was an article I recently saw on the Jerusalem Post website, concerning two Orthodox women's organizations sending letters to Bibi Netanyahu requesting that he limit the jurisdiction of batei dinim, religious courts. See My initial reaction was: how could an Orthodox organization make such a request? Attendance at batei dinim rather than secular courts is a Torah command. Is it proper for an Orthodox organization to approach a secular power to, effectively, limit this attendance? Then I had my second reaction. What does this say about the batei dinim that these women are referring to? Is there not an obligation on beit din and its dayanim, judges, to be positively perceived by those that they judge? This is not to say that every litigant is going to feel good about the verdict -- but is it not incumbent of a beit din to positively present itself as a place of justice and fairness?

When someone receives a critique, this person cannot always assume that it is do to the yetzer hara of the other, that the other is doing an aveira in critiquing me. While the other may not be totally blameless, there still may be something within your behaviour that led to this critique. One also has to look at oneself. As much as the supporters of these batei dinim can critique these women's groups for challenging a halachic standard, it also incumbent on these supporters to evaluate themselves and the batei dinim they support to see if their is merit to these women's charges. The world is not black and white. Actions generally are neither totally good or totally bad. Its time to see the grey and accept the critique inherent even in action that one will also challenge.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 25 February 2009

10. Reading the Shema

Any Psych-101 student can describe the psychological effects of repetition. Told something often enough, the average subject can be manipulated to believe countless falsities.

In this sense, repetition probably takes advantage of a part of the mind that builds up a sense of reality based on reliability: burn yourself once, it could be a fluke, but touch a fire for the third time and you accept the fact that there is a correlation between the fire and the consequential burn. But our mind might have a hard time distinguishing between the repetition of a lie and the repetition of something true.

The closest thing that Orthodox Judaism has to a mantra is the first sentence of the Shema. We repeat it twice daily in prayer, before bed, when we feel threatened, prior to death, etc.. It compresses the most essential aspect of our faith—belief in our God as a singular, universal God—into six words.

But the obligatory repetition could make even the most devout members of our faith a little cynical. Every time you say Shema, you’re using basic psychological tactics to convince yourself that “Hashem is God, Hashem is One.” There’s a good chance that part of the reason we believe in God is because we’ve been psychologically conditioned to believe in Him through the use of repetition.

No one wants to have a faith tainted by human weakness. But is there a way out?

The main problem is that if there is a psychological trap built into our religion, it’s built very well:

1. As long as we repeat the Shema regularly, we are conditioning ourselves to believe in God.
2. As long as we believe in God, we recognize the obligation to repeat the Shema.
3. As long as we repeat the Shema, we cannot test our faith.

But what if the repetition is the test?

There is a classic acting exercise developed by Sanford Meisner that calls for two actors to say the same word or phrase back and forth to each other until they are somehow internally compelled to change. The exercise is known as Repetition.

The theory behind the exercise is that the most important aspect of acting is listening. The somewhat meditative process of repeating the same phrase over and over allows both actors to become focused on the ‘reality of the moment’ rather than the self. Though the rules of the game are simple, it is, in actuality, quite a difficult task to master. Two well-trained actors engrossed in a round of Repetition is an impressive, and often inspiring, thing to watch.

Interestingly, the six-word first paragraph of Shema is two words too long. There’s no reason, as a mantra, for the words “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear, Israel”) to be expressed. But if the repetition of Shema has a purpose similar to Meisner’s intent regarding his acting exercise, the very essence is hearing and understanding. This may also be why, unlike any other prayer, we cover our eyes when we say Shema, to help us concentrate on what we hear, not what we say.

Perhaps the reading of Shema is a conversation. You say to Israel: “Hear: Hashem is God, Hashem is One.” And the Shema is repeated back to you when someone else calls out to Israel. And this continues, constantly testing the sincerity of your statement. Does Israel believe you? Do you believe Israel? Are you compelled to move? Are you really listening?

Monday 23 February 2009

Tobacco and Abortion - The Halachic Parameters

This is the result of a dialogue on the Halachic Parameters of hot-Button issues such as Tobacco and Abortion. Can we employ reasonable techniques or will politically correct emotion overwhelm our best efforts at objective analysis?

Part 1

There are those who believe regarding Tobacco:
Since even one cigarette does physical damage to the body;
Therefore even a single cigarette violates Jewish law.
Q: What about the psychological relief from that cigarette? Apparently - this argument goes - psychological relief in the presence of physical damage has no standing.

Now let's take abortion.

Given any fetus who imposes a physical threat then the mother has the right or obligation to abort. Why? The fetus is deemed a pursuer and forfits its physical right to exist so long as it physically threatens its mother.

Conversely, if the fetus poses no physical threat but rather a psychological one, then combined with the first principle the mother may not abort. This is since psychological relief does not justify definite physical harm, killing or even physically harming the fetus would be off-limits.

Part 2

So if Joe Camel gets a psychological lift from lighting up, then who are we to stop him based upon the physical damage?

Ladies and Gentlemen, can we have consistency?

Or are we REALLY saying:

Since abortion is politically correct, therefore we find Jewish sources to support our agenda
AND conversely
Since smoking is politically incorrect therefore we outlaw even a single cigarette by applying laws of kashrut?
Well Rabbi Rich What's the alternative?

Here is a suggestion:

Get read of sweeping generalizations, platitudes, sloganeering, and propoganda and judge each case on its own merits. But what's the fun if we cannot impose our authoritarian beliefs upon others than ourselves? (Smile)

Part 3

Mr. Ed Frankel Saw through my straw man and responded as follows

I believe that there is a major difference. There is no doubt that those who do smoke get some pleasure from the action, even if it is addiction induced. If it was not enjoyed, it would not be done. Pleasure, I sense, is the psychological lift to which the questioner alludes.

However, deriving pleasure and suffering mental illness are not two sides of the same coin. If we accept that mental illness is an illness, with potential lethal side effects if not treated or if improperly treated, then mental illness ought not be treated differently from any other physical malady.

That does not suggest that every woman who has some stress in her life ought to use that stress to legitimate having an abortion. Heck we all have stresses, and those stresses are part of living. As a father, I also remember the concerns when preparing for the birth of all three of my children. Would any have been construed as rationales for my wife to have an abortion, if she even shared the same doubts?

However, if a woman truly believes her life will be in jeopardy if she gives birth. If bringing a fetus to term presents insufferable hardship that no person in his/her right mind would normally face, is that not an adequate reason for pikuach nefesh?

I in no way suggest that abortion ever become an alternative to birth control. To my mind that would be heinous. However, to compare having an abortion with smoking a cigarette is at its best a reduction ad absurdum.

Ed Frankel
Part 4

FWIW, I think Ed Nailed the reply in a most rational fashion,
however the question remains

Given that pork is prohibited even in minute quantities:
Are cigarettes equally forbidden?
Are cigarettes only forbidden on a habitual, consistent bases but an occasional smoke is OK unlike pork; in that the short-term pleasure is not intrinsically outweighed by long term risk - just like fatty pastrami?


Sunday 22 February 2009

On Being a Rabbi's Child and On Being

It is three o'clock in the morning and, having slept so much this week of illness and fever and delirium, and with so many thoughts racing through my head, I cannot sleep. So, instead, I have read a post on my uncle Avrum's blog. It was an older post, about growing up the son of a rabbi, growing up in a small town, growing up with danger and adventure and anti-Semitism and parents with a mission. It has got me thinking.

Now anyone who knows me knows that thinking is what I do - constantly, like breathing - and when I run out of thoughts then I start thinking about the emptiness of my brain or the world that I see or the people around me - and if I can't find something to latch onto among all that then I will find solace in thinking about numbers. But, still, for all my thinking, my uncle's stories got me thinking in a way that made me want to write. And so here I am, telling all who read this the intimate details of my brain at 3 am.

I am thinking of what my uncle and I share - life as a rabbi's child. It is funny that one man's choice can brand a whole group of people with a title. My father and my grandfather chose to become rabbis - they studied, they passed tests, they dedicated their time and their lives. My mother and my grandmother just fell in love. And me and my siblings? All we did was be born. And yet, here we are - rabbi's children. And we take it very seriously.

My uncle was right in his blog - a rabbi's family doesn't know the privacy of just being, without an audience. In many ways, though, the rest of the world is forgetting that level of privacy too. With things like blogs and Facebook, camera phones and YouTube - the privacy of unexamined (by others) moments seems to be something of the past. Whether as a rabbi's daughter or as a citizen of the 21st century - I am being watched by people. It is unbelievably scary.

But as a rabbi's daughter, it just seems more intense. I remember the first time I entered a shul and I was just a congregant - one of many - someone who wasn't expected to know the answers to all the questions or help those who needed assistance - someone who was, foremost, responsible for her prayers and not the comfort and prayers of everyone around her. I was 21.

Sometimes I get asked halachic questions and I want to say: why are you asking me? Sometimes I don't get asked halachic questions and I want to say: why aren't you asking me? Sometimes, although I'm never proud of it, I will pull out the "rabbi's daughter" card in an argument to shut up someone who is stupid enough to warrant me playing dirty - those are the kinds of people who will respond to my "title" before listening to the wisdom or stupidity of my words and so, although I'm not proud to do it, I’m also not ashamed.

When I was in college, I was the unofficial posek for most of my chevra (excluding the other rabbis' kids, of course); it was a scary and awful responsibility but not one I was unused to. Lucky for me, my father was on speed dial.

I have more respect for rabbis than the average Jew because I lived with one my whole life and I saw all the sacrifices he's made to be a scholar and moral leader for our people. I have less awe for rabbis than the average Jew because I lived with one my whole life and I know they are not gods - they are men - they make jokes and root for basketball teams, they stay up worrying when their daughters go out. I have empathy and sadness and pride for all rabbis' children. We understand each other.

When I was interviewing for law firms I had to answer the question what made me get interested in the law. My answer always began with the fact that I was raised in a rabbi's home, at which point I would have to explain the implications of that and how it factored in. one time though, as soon as I said that I was a rabbi's daughter, the interviewer - a black woman with the hint of the southern lilt of one of the Carolinas - said to me: say no more, I’m a preacher's kid. I liked her choice of terms because that's the truth more clearly than one can ever get out of the word rabbi.
My father is a preacher - I mean, he's a rabbi but he, predominantly, preaches. Rabbis say a lot of beautiful things that people like to hear but where their job gets tough is when they have to preach - they have to say the unpopular stuff. They have to say assur and treif because the world can't always be kosher and mutar. They have to weave mussar into sermons and sermons into mussar. And, most difficult of all, thy have to find a way to say to a student "respect me" and they have to find a way to explain that they only say it because Gd commands that his scholars be respected.

I have watched men of ignorance insult my father and I have watched him walk away and cry, not for his feelings or his ego but because he feels that he did not defend the Torah within him and he cries for the Torah. And I cry for him.

Rabbis’ kids have great stories - my uncle is right about that. We get to see a part of the world that other people don't. Some of my favorite childhood memories are definitively the moments I was a rabbi's kid.

And as to the psychological theory that the clergy's children can be a little screwed up? Well, I haven't done studies but every rabbi's kid I’ve ever met, including myself, is a little weird and I think we'd all admit it.

But it is the tears that, I think, bind us more than anything else. To be a rabbi's child is to be witness to struggle and sorrow. Even the most beloved of rabbis has followers who leave him and, given the dark side of eilu v' eilu, all rabbis have enemies (most often those followers of another rabbi who are foolish enough not to understand that disagreement is meant to stay in the beis medrash).

So, I sit here at three in the morning and wonder about my brothers and sister and my mother and her siblings and all my friends who, like me, are preachers' kids. How many times have we each seen disrespect? How many times have we watched our fathers mistreated? And how many times did we watch our fathers whisper promises to the Torah, to try to protect it better, to be a better vessel for it, less of a target? I sit here and wonder.

My mother used to say that the problem with some congregations is that everyone wants their rabbi to be a shepherd but they also want him obedient. No one would go to a doctor and say to the doctor: look, I’m paying you for this so you better say I’m in perfect health. You pay the doctor for the truth, for advice on how to be healthy. Rabbis aren't treated like that. Part of it is in the system - rabbis want to be able to give people the answer they want to hear. Every rabbi I’ve ever met has pulled more than his fair share of all-nighters in search of the elusive heter for a distraught student. But "no", to many people, often does not mean no - it means find another rabbi.

I guess what it boils down to, all my musings, is right there in the Torah:
If you ever want to understand why Yitzchak redug his father's wells - ask a rabbi's son. It's not easy following a top act.
Want to know why Moshe hit the rock - ask a rabbi's daughter (and stand back). Followers are never easy to deal with.
But ask a preacher's kid why Moshe defended his nation to the death. They are a stiff-necked bunch but their leaders love them, no matter what.

And, ask me if I wish my father was a lawyer or doctor or accountant. No, I don't.

Sometimes I don't understand why my father loves Jews as much as he does, why he doesn't want to "hit the rock" more often. Sometimes I want to hit every rock in sight. And being a Yitzchak makes me want to scream more often than it makes me want to laugh.
But every once in a while I remember how lucky I am.

I have a rabbi on speed dial. And I get to be a Yitzchak. I get to help represent Torah scholarship. Hopefully I do a good job. Sometimes I’m scared I really don't. Then I take a deep breath and dig some wells, walk a bit on a well worn path, in my father's footsteps - slowly tentatively branching out from there.

And, more often than not, when I get really frustrated or scared, I remember that I’m not just a rabbi's daughter, I’m also a daughter of Israel. And, whether as one or the other, I represent the Torah of my teachers and my Gd.

And sometimes, at hours like this, I curl up in some of my favorite memories - moments when, as a little girl or young woman - I watched my father talk Torah with other rabbis - their faces alight with passion and wisdom; I remember that I once went shopping with my father and he ran into another rabbi and they began to argue and discuss Sinai - right there in the canned vegetable aisle - and I could have grabbed the list from my father's hand because I knew there was no way he was going to be involved in the shopping from that moment on - but I chose, instead, to come back with each item and then run off for the next one - and just so I could have the chance to catch bits of their conversation and so they would have more time to talk. Great thoughts were dissected in that store - and my father shared it all with me on the ride home - and I think, ironically, we forgot to get canned peas.

I remember one Shavous I got into a fierce argument with the daughter of a Lubavitch rabbi - no minor debates for us - we went at the notion of tzimtzum with full force, calling each other heretics at least once each in the course of it all. Next to her stood her father and next to me stood my father - they were good friends; as the conversation continued, our fathers subtly steered us through the great philosophical debate that we were acting out - the classic mitnagid-chassidic dance - we did not change each other's minds but we were friends by the end and, I feel, had properly welcomed Sinai. Our fathers discussed us afterwards, each complimenting the other's daughter, each voicing philosophical loyalty to the views espoused by his own child.

It’s now almost five in the morning - I do not know what these ramblings tell me. I guess I miss my family and I miss my childhood. I miss when being a rabbi's daughter meant nothing more than getting to sit at the front of the shul. But I also don't.

~ dodi-lee hecht

Saturday 21 February 2009

The Communications Divide

How people read and respond to a column in a newspaper is the focus of Rabbi Hecht's latest column in the Jewish Tribune (Toronto). Many responded to Rabbi Hecht's previous column regarding protests by Jews against Israel's action's in Gaza. That previous article is available at His latest article responds to these responses, in many ways questioning how they understood what they read.

To view this latest article, go to

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Normative Reality

It just seems to me that so many of the arguments that exist regarding certain behaviour in the Torah world can be reduced to divergent viewpoints in response to one simple question: how does Torah connect to, what I may term, normative reality?

Let us assume that there is a normative behaviour that exists in this world in response to a specific situation. For example, if two people wish to get married and raise a family, they have to be concerned about their livelihood and the physical needs of this family. So, in deciding to marry and when to have children, they have to consider their financial resources. Once, though, someone accepts the truth of Torah, how does this person respond to these same issues? Now, the truth is that there are divergent halachic viewpoints and my issue is not really the halacha per se. My question is: what are people really looking for? In other words, when someone accepts Torah, what consequence do they really want in terms of this issue? Some would still maintain the same concerns as most other people in the world recognizing that Torah could affect the decision somewhat -- the Torah Jew cannot just take their time as may be the normative response. Other, though, will see in the view of Torah a desired direction to break from normative cause-and-effect and operate on a different plane.

These two poles actually represent to me the essence of so much of the disagreements that exist within the Torah world. There is a normative cause-and-effect that Torah will affect. The question is: how we relate to such a circumstance. Some want this to be so, that Torah takes you to a different plane of existence and the more that Torah leads you to reject normative cause-and-effect, the more desired that conclusion. There are others who, while recognizing that Torah will, at times, reject the decision of normative cause-and-effect, wish such situations to be limited as they would still rather work within this plane. So much of the debate within the Torah world seems to revolve around this issue. Some want normative cause -and-effect to be the base. Some specifically do not want this normative structure to have much voice. This core difference in outlook just seems to permeate throughout the Torah world and explains, in my opinion, so much.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 15 February 2009

Journalism, Fairness, and Soapboxes

Journalism has a standard that has been recently blurred News on the news pages. Opinions on the editorial pages. Honest people who are vigilant would like to restore this kind of reporting.

Stating opinion as fact and especially controversial opinion as fact undermines fairness. When I taught MPA courses for FDU, I extended this doctrine of distinction as follows:

  • When the Bible says x it is a source. When you use a spin or interpretaition then label it such and do not pass it off as source but as spin/interpretation.

  • Illustration: the 2 eldest sons of Aaron were burned to death for introducing an alien fire into their service. This appears in the Pentateuch at least 4 times. The first in Leviticus 10:1

Someone once used this source as a proof text to not add to the service of God in general.

It violates both fairness and honesty:

  1. Fairness because it's a spin on the text and many commentators do not see it this way at all.
  2. Honesty because it uses the Bible as a source instead of honestly citing the commentator that originated the spin.

If my student did this I would have pointed it out as such. Using interpretations was fine but I would fine them a grade for passing it off as source text.

  • So if for example the Hertz commentary had this particular spin then cite Hertz and not the 5 Books of Moses else one is playing fast and loose.

Partial quotes can be harmful in removing context. So one ought to b e thorough.


Friday 13 February 2009

Yitro: The Flow of Sinai

Originally published 2/13/09, 11:45 AM.
To many, the goal of religion is to attain a greater and greater religious or spiritual experience. Within the realm of Torah, though, the Jewish nation has already reached the pinnacle of religious experiences, the Revelation at Sinai. So what then is the Jewish religious experience or process through life?

Rabbi Hecht addresses this issue in an Insight from 5758 available at

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Irony or Hypocrisy?

Many years ago whilst touring Faneuil Hall in Boston, the guide remarked that it was here that brewmaster Samuel Adams would passionately advocate free speech. And when anyone bothered to debate him he would shout them down and heckle them.

Robert Moses was all about helping the masses of people. When the Cross Bronx Exeressway threatened to destroy middle class neighborhoods in The Bronx, he said that progress to help people is more important than the damage to those neighborhoods.

When popular revolutions in France and Russia were not fanatic enough, freedom was co-erced by the likes of Robespierre, Bonaparte and Bolsheviks! Did co-ercing freedom work? And will it work in Iraq?

Here is a quickie word of Torah:

Zedek zedek tirdof!
Tr: justice justice shalt thou pursue.

Q: Why is justice repeated? Is that not redundant?

One A: the first "Zedek" is an adjective so it SHOULD read: JUST justice shalt thou pursue.

Iow the ends do not justify the means.

On my Mom obm's note board:

Gandhi: take care of the means and the ends will take care of themselves!

Kol Tuv Best Regards,

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Centrism - Eizehu Meqoman

Let's make a few general principles:

  1. The problem with left wingers is that they throw away the baby with the bathwater:
  2. The problem with right wingers is that they keep both baby and bathwater!

Eizehu Mekomam is CENTRAL to Qorbanoth, nevertheless it is usually davened up with such haste that one is not really yotzei limud mishnah at all.

Most Left Wing siddurim simply omit it.

Many Right Wing Minyanim say it @ warp-drive speed.

How about a "Centrist Solution?"

Eizehu Meqoman has mishnayoth. Instead of rushing through all 8 daily, say it once with care over the span of a week. In other words {IOW} Say 1 mishnah ever weekday and double up and say 2 on Shabbath.

  1. You have fulfilled your daily dose of mishnah
  2. You cover an essential core of Qorbanoth instead of benign neglect
  3. You need no longer rush
Kol Tuv

Monday 9 February 2009

9. Sanctifying God’s Name

Would you die to defend God’s Name?

It really doesn’t come up much in our daily lives, thankfully. Our faith is not generally held at gunpoint. The positive side of this is obvious and we should be constantly aware and appreciative of this relative luxury. But what might we lose in a world that doesn’t mortally threaten us at the core of our religious beliefs?

What does it take to be religious in modern times? Eating restrictions? Who, in our world today, is not on some kind of diet? Daily commitments? You go to synagogue, he gets piano lessons, she volunteers at the orphanage—everyone has commitments. Structured behaviour? We all have our hobbies and idiosyncrasies.

You study the Torah while they study ancient architecture—so what? We rest on Saturday while they go the spa or meditate in the garden—so what? She won’t wear pants and she won’t wear skirts and he won’t wear shirts—so what?

It’s what we call a lifestyle. And the fact is, everybody sacrifices to maintain one, not just religious people. What makes your lifestyle decisions distinct from anybody’s lifestyle decisions?

A friend of mine never wore a kippah. I didn’t have to ask him the reason. I knew why he never wore a kippah: he didn’t believe in God. He was raised religious, went to religious schools, had religious friends, but at some point in his life he realized he didn’t believe in it. One night, a couple of years ago, he was particularly excited about a woman he was going out with. She was, as he described her, everything he wanted: “Smart, funny, beautiful…frum.” As he left for the date, just after spraying cologne on his neck, just before putting a mint in his mouth, he pulled a kippah out of his pocket and clipped it to his hair.

Later that night, after the date was over (and the kippah was off again), my friend explained: “You’re right. I don’t believe in it. But it’s still the best way I know to raise your kids, to have a family, to be part of a good community.”

Now if my friend were put in a position where he had to choose between death and defaming God’s name, the choice would be easy. He’s an atheist. It’s about lifestyle, and, as the name suggests, without life there’s not much to style.

But what about us, the so-called Believers? Could we face death eye-to-eye for God?

From where we stand, our religious practice is, by outside standards, indistinguishable, in essence, from any other lifestyle-choice. Your actions cannot prove your motives. Everything we do can be done for multiple reasons. How removed are we, in truth, from my friend’s drive for a lifestyle?

Although it’s certainly not always easy to follow Halacha, what ulterior incentives might compel us to adhere to it, regardless of faith?

Put yourself ten feet from a six-man firing squad. Beside you is a short, stout gold statue depicting a creature you’ve never seen before. You have thirty seconds to decide: bow down and declare the statue god or stand and await execution. What do you do?

Thursday 5 February 2009

The Perceived Issue is not the Real Issue: Rabbi Haskel Lookstein and Yossi Fackenheim

Much has been made of two recent events that have stirred up the Orthodox world if not the entire Jewish world. One is the case of Yossi Fackenheim and his gerut kattan, conversion as a child, which has been challenged by a bet din in Israel. The other is the attendance of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein at an interfaith prayer service, in a church, marking the inauguration of Presiden Obama. The truth is that each matter should initiate Torah debate and discussion. That is actually the way of limud haTorah. And the differing sides should be adament in their positions, fighting it out in the ring of halachic analysis, as they advocate for their respective positions. The problem is, though, that halachic machloket is, also, supposed to leave room for acceptable dissent, for the acceptance of a divergent opinion, with which one may still vehemently disagree, as part of the realm of Torah.

That is not what seems to be occurring in either of these cases. Rabbi Lookstein's position seems not to be accepted as a position -- with which one may still vehemently disagree, presenting numerous halachic arguments against it -- that is still considered part of Torah. This can be identified in the way that Rabbi Lookstein's view is being approached. If Rabbi Lookstein believed that he was acting pursuant to Halacha, we should still be relating to his behaviour as an action al pi Torah, even as we feel that decision is wrong. This is a subtle point within the Halacha. Even as we may feel, and decide, that a certain piece of meat is not kosher, if another competently determines that this piece of meat is kosher and then eats it, even as we disagree with this conclusion, we must see this person as following the law and not transgressing it -- for the person was not rejecting Torah but defining it in a different manner (we are , of course, assuming that this person has competancy in making such decisions). This is even more so in the case of a bet din. Piercing the veil on another bet din's decision is highly controversial. Yet in this case this is precisely what was done. The view with which this bet din in Israel disagreed was not perceived as part of Torah yet a position with which they disagreed. It was defined as outside of Torah. This problem is not, with each day, coming to a critical point.

Yet, we may now have the opportunity to see what the root of this problem is and what we truly have to challenge, and for what we must truly advocate. Rabbi Avi Shafran is quoted as saying, in response to the Israeli bet din's decision to negate the conversion of Yossi Fackenheim, that:

"“It indicates that the single standard of Halachah – which is the sole true unifier of the Jewish people – is being taken seriously by Israel’s rabbinate.”


So, therein, lies the problem -- the mistaken belief that Torah unity is based upon a "single standard of Halachah." Adamency in a narrow range of halachic understanding actually can yield disunity and worse. The famed last Rosh Yeshiva of the great yeshiva of Volozhin, Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the Ntziv, wrote in numerous places that such narrowmindedness was the basis for the sinat chinum, the free hatred, that led to the destruction of the Temple. The "sole true unifier of the Jewish people" is the concept of eilu v'eilu -- of course, applied correctly within the directions of the halachic spectrum -- and the true source of dissension and animosity, unfortunately, arises from statements such as this.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Another Priest with an Attitude - Wagging the Dog

The reinstatement of a priest who is a Holocaust denier by the Pope has generated, and rightfully so, a tremendous outcry from the Jewish world. It seems, though, that he is not the only priest with a problem with the Holocaust. Ynet reported of another priest who, while not a Holocaust denier and while admitting that there were 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, still felt it appropriate to compare the recent Israeli defensive incursion into Gaza to the Holocaust. (See,7340,L-3664042,00.html.) After all, he maintained, what is the difference between 6 million and 1 thousand? In a certain way, that is true; the gemara does compare the life of a single person to the entire corpus of humanity -- but the comparison is ridiculous and not simply because of the numbers. In a certain way, I feel that even presenting the numerous ways why this comparison is more than ludicrous is an affront to the Holocaust itself. The real question is how could this priest, how could any sane person, make such a statement?

Ah, but the answer is actually also presented in the Holocaust. In the last paragraph of the Ynet article, it quotes the priest as referring to Jews as killers of God and calling upon them to repent and accept Jesus. So that's the point. It really is a case of the tail wagging the dog. If non-believers in Jesus are going to Hell, such non-believers must be evil. If they are evil, they must do evil acts. It is very difficult to contend that non-believers are going to Hell if they actually act in a good fashion. Why would a deity send such fine doers of good to Hell just for not believing in him? Must be that they don't do good things. In the end, this priest wants Jews to be labeled as evil -- it goes with his religious perspective. It thus serves his religious perception to compare Gaza to the Holocaust. And if you have a problem with that, remember the great Catholic proclamation of faith credo qui absurdum est, I believe because it is absurd. This priest is just practicing his faith.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Transplant Query

Ynews presented this article, at,7340,L-3663653,00.html, regarding the comments of the father of an 8yr. old Charedi girl, in Israel, who received a heart and lung transplant. The father stated that while it was permitted for the family to accept an organ transplant, they would never donate one of their organs as that would be in contravention of Halacha. The article then quoted the comments of one of the doctors involved in the transplant who found this position to be unethical. The question is how to respond to such a challenge?

There were actually many variant issues addressed in the article, some introduced, I believe, to attempt to embarrass the Charedi world. I actually found myself quite impressed with many of the presented statements of the father who had to deal with many questions which were attempted assaults on his belief. For example, there was an attempt to make an issue out of the fact that the organs came from an 8yr. old Arab boy and how the father and family may feel about the daughter now having Arab organs. The father dealt with that, in my opinion, in a very proper way, making a point of his sympathy for the loss of the Arab family, sending them a note to express his thanks but also his condolences on their terrible loss. Yet, there was still the issue of the transplant itself. In stating that he would accept an organ transplant but not donate an organ, the father opened himself, and the Torah world, to potential criticism for being takers and not givers, for not being, essentially, fair.

To be honest, I found much confusion in the article. There is a distinction between heart transplants and other organ transplants and this distinction was not clear in the article. While there is still some controversy regarding general organ transplants, there is a more intense debate regarding heart transplants as the halachic definition of death, a matter of great controversy, is at the centre of this issue. The article seemed to treat the entire issue of transplants within the confines, though, of this latter issue. Thus, one is left unsure whether this family was specifically talking about heart transplants or whether they were also, effectively, saying that they would follow the stringent opinion in regard to all organ donations. This, though, would a matter of interest to one knowledgeable of the halachic issues. The real question is, though: how to deal with this in the face of a public that would look upon it in negative terms?

Concepts such as chilul Hashem or m'pnei eiva immediately come to mind. What is permissible in the deviation of the prima facie halachic position due to these broader halachic constructs? To what extent should we be concerned with the view of non-Jews or non-halachic Jews when their viewpoint is not technically cognisant with the position of Halacha? Rav Moshe makes a distinction between a value that a non-Jew broadly perceives to be part of Torah and one that arises simply from the non-Jew's personal value system. We are not concerned that the non-Jew doesn't like our values; we are concerned that the non-Jew believes that we are not abiding by a value that they believe is in Torah. This parameter would seem to apply in this case. How much do we consider how others will look at us in cases such as these? How much weight would this consideration have in the halachic decision-making that would surround such a case?

One thing did hit me though? In situations where there is a recognized disagreement, machloket, in the Torah Law, these types of concerns may be a factor in considering the use of a more lenient position albeit that the normative decision follows the more stringent opinion. If this is true, whether we see the disagreement over death as a machloket in Halacha or whether one side views the other side as outside the pale could have a great significance in approaching this issue. Let us postulate a rule that one who has had a close family member receive a transplant should accept a lenient view and become a donor in order to avoid the possibility of a chilul Hashem. This would avoid a condemnation such as in this case. The application of such a rule, though, would depend on whether one sees the divergent opinions as a machloket within Torah or simply as the presentation of the proper view while others present an incorrect view.

The application of the concept of eiva to these type of cases may also be of interest. If Shabbat is affected by this concept, then what would be the affect of this concept in this type of case. The fact that this may concern retzicha, murder, though, in the case of heart transplants abiding by the view that cessation of heart beat is the only determinant of death, may make the application of this concept here, albeit its application concerning Shabbat, most difficult. It should also be noted that, even regarding Shabbat, there is some controversy regarding this concept. See, for example, the Mishna Brura on the subject.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

The Intersection of Halacha and Aggadah


Micha Berger - The esteemed moderator of the Avodah list - and I have oft bitterly disagreed on the conflation of halachah and aggadah. Recently we discussed Rabbi Soloveichik's original takes on several points. I asked permission to share his thoughts on this list.


Part 1

" A side effect of the loss of "erev Shabbos Jews" (which is RYBS's : term, not mine) iýs that they don't know how to relate to the notion of : something done to aid avodah, but isn't a chiyuv/issur.
: As one fellow put it on scjm recently: I don't like "shades of d issur".
I countered -- and you would NOT agree to my seifa, I presume -- that not only must one accept chumros and not only walk shuras hadin, but the shurah between din and chumrah is therefore blurry.
Part 2

"You have my permission, although I would prefer being quoted by name. Even if your point is to present it as a hava amina to reject. (And U would also enjoy seeing the responses.)

I think chumros are part of qadesh es atzmekha bemah shemutar lakh, ve'saisa hayashar vehatov, and Rabbah bar R' Huna's obligation to pay the workers who broke his barrels. And recall that the gemara ends up saying the lattermost is both a chumrah and a chiyuv -- at least for RbRH. (It's BM 83a.)

Chumros are a place where aggadita and halakhah meet, where each person is obligated to live up to their own ideals, regardless of whether it can be spelled out as a blanket statement for all of Kelal Yisrael with shiurim or whatnot"

--Micha Berger
Moderator of. Avodah and Areivim