Thursday 30 April 2009

Baruch Dayan HaEmet

It is with deep sadness
that we inform everyone
of the passing of
Ronald Wolpoe a"h
brother of Nishma Blogmaster,
Rabbi Richard Wolpoe
HaMakom yenachem etchem b'toch shaar avelei Tzion v'Yerushalayim

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Monday 27 April 2009

Can't call it swine flu?

I was watching the CBC Evening News tonight, a major newscast in Canada, and they had a segment on how different countries around the world are responding to this potential global outbreak of swine flu. There is real concern. In Honk Kong, they are wearing masks at the airport. In Great Britain, there seem to have been cases in England and Scotland already. And then came the final report from a correspondent of the CBC in Israel. In a certain way, I felt it was nice to see Israel included, in such a report, like any other nation. There have been two individuals quarantined in Israel but health officials do not really think it is swine flu -- but that is not why Israel was included in this global report. The report was about how the big issue in Israel seems to be what to call this disease. The pig is "unclean" and, as such, the deputy health minister has asked that this flu be referred to as Mexican Flu, given that the preponderance of cases are now in Mexico.

I thought that perhaps this reference to Israel was going to have something to do with an advancement in treating this disease -- but no -- the issue in Israel was what to call it. And what anyways is the problem of referring to a disease through a reference to its origin in pigs? Here is a world joining together to combat a disease that potentially can be very dangerous -- even China has stated that its going to play ball unlike previous situations of global health concern -- and the issue that the world sees halachic Jews concerned about -- and don't worry, the world recognizes that not all Jews share this concern, only the crazy religious ones -- is what to call this disease because we can't call it swine flu because pigs are tamei, unclean. Gee, I would think that we would want to call it swine flu because doesn't naming a disease this way really show that the pig is tamei?

Do we have another name for chilul Hashem? The world is suppose to see us as an am chacham v'navon, a wise and understanding nation. Maybe we should act that way.

This is simply embarrassing!

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 26 April 2009

The Two Faces of Alien Worship Pt. 1

Some phrases can be quite ambiguous E.G. Slow Children at School
Does this refer to children who attend a school for the intellectually challenged?
Most likely it means X go SLOWly! - CHILDREN are attending or leaving SCHOOL

When in English we say "alien worship" We may imply two different points

  1. Worshipping Aliens (I.E. alien gods) which makes the Alien the Object of worship
  2. Worshipping in an Alien-matter which means alien is an Adverb describing HOW we worship.

Both aspects are discussed in the Torah

In the Ten Commandments we are admonished not to worship anyone but GOD alone. "Thou shalt have no other gods before ME." Thus the proscription for alien worship known in rabbinical literature as Avodah Zarah. AKA Avodat Ellillim / Gellilim / Kochavim flows from basic Torah principles. - And as we see zara means alien.

OTOH alien worship in terms of a "HOW" to worship is not directly or so obviously prohibited. Yet the torah unambiguously condemns such a practice.

The first condemnation is in the passage describing the terrifying and tragic
Deaths of Nadav and Avihu (Lev. Ch. 10). They were burned in front of THE LORD by bringing in an "eish Zara" an alien fire

Now there is no question they were worshipping the ONE TRUE GOD. This is confirmed and reconfirmed 3 more times in the Torah itself!

The point was the how, the nature or the technique of their worship was "alien". This alien worship is termed "eish zara" worshipping GOD by the same means
As idol worshippers.

In Deut. 12:30 we are admonished not to investigate and pursue the techniques of the surrounding pagans. It can mean not worshipping idols. I prefer to read this as not using idolotrous techniques to worship GOD. The very next verse actually describes their TECHNIQUES as abominations.

How does this map out in reality?

  • Worshipping hare krishna would be avodah zara.
  • Worshipping GOD using hare krishna chants would be "eish zara"

  • Worshipping Buddha with Tibetan Chimes - Avodah Zara
  • Worshipping GOD with Tibetan chimes -Eish zara

  • Christians worshipping Jsus of nazareth using an organ - Avodah zara
  • Jews worshipping GOD with an organ (and thereby emulating Chrisitans) - [you fill in the blank]

WHOM we worship is prime.

But the ends don't justify all means. HOW we worship the TRUE GOD has also halachic (and possibly aggadic) boundaries.



As I often do, I took a look today at the news sources mentioned to the left on the blog. One caught my eye -- an article, I thought, on the Torah view of torture. This subject actually came up recently in my conversation with someone and the conversation touched upon many topics dealing with the extent that one can force another to act in a proper fashion (obviously as the one applying the force defines it). The question touched upon the rights and power of the individual and those of a beit din and discussed many different cases from the extent that one can be forced to eat matzah on Pesach night to methods that can be applied to extract information that could be life saving, the present general case where torture is applied. So, knowing the extent of the issue, I was interested in what this article would say.

To my surprise, I found myself directed to a blog dealing with Jewish issues on a website entitled Beliefnet, which offers something touching upon nearly all religions including, it would seem, secularism. The actual piece to which I was directed presented a short section from a greater article on the topic by Rabbi Michael Broyde. As such, what was presented obviously reflected much thought -- as do all of Rabbi Broyde's articles -- yet the synopsis presented in the blog did not give the topic its true justice. All we read were Rabbi Broyde's broad conclusions without the full presentation of the thought that must have led to these conclusions. Neither did we have the chance to see the many sub-issues and permutations of the topic that Rabbi Broyde, no doubt, had considered.Well, its only a blog you might say. But what really got me was the way that the author of this blog described Rabbi Broyde. No mention of him being a Chaver of the Beit Din of America, remarkable talmid chacham and posek but rather he is just mentioned as a member of the faculty of Emory Law School. This secular position is also clearly an achievement but, in regard to question of Torah law and ethics, is that the description that you most care about? I would want to know his status in Torah.

I then decided to take a short trip around this website. I am not sure how I feel about a multi-faith website even thought the Jewish parts of it seem to be independent. Of course, Judaism is also bundle together into one platform and anyone who knows my views on the subject knows that I am adamant about the need to defined the different denominations of Judaism as independent entities with their own parameters. Otherwise one has confusion. One doesn't expect a Methodist and a Catholic to be similar so why is there this assumption that there must be some common link between the views of Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism? But isn't this the whole problem with this type of website in general. By grouping all religions together, there is this impression that all religions really share some common point, be it a common desire for spirituality or some common ethic. The differences between the religions is thus only in some method of presentation or in other minor issues. Viewing Judaism from the perspective of generic religion creates a parameter on its teachings and theories. To truly understand Torah it must exist within its own perspective. That is a problem I have with sites that try to group all religions together and then with sites that try to group all branches of Judaism together. Am I against all unity? Of course not. But everything has to be seen and understood within its own world -- and tying Torah to all religions limits it.

And a further example of this is describing Rabbi Broyde solely by his secular credentials. I really don't care what a professor at Emory Law School has to say about the Torah view of torture. I do, though, have an interest in hearing what Kvod Harav Michael Broyde shlita has to say.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 24 April 2009

Tazria/Metzorah: Childbirth and Circumcisions

Originally published 4/24/09, 11:34 am.
To many, the insertion of the mitzvah of mila, circumcision, in the presentation of the laws of the yodedet, the woman who gave birth, may just seem to be a narrative coincidence. Once the Torah was taking about the birth of a boy, it also mentioned mila. The commentators, however, find it bewildering. What does one have to do with the other?
Rabbi Hecht addresses this issue in an Insight from 5756 available at

Wednesday 22 April 2009

13. The Phylactery of the Arm

The question is the same in both cases: “If a man does not have an arm, is he still obligated to wear the teffilin of the head?”

But in the first case, the question is asked by a student in his yeshiva’s beit midrash.

In the second case, the question is asked by a man whose son lost his arm in a car accident.

In the former case, the student will be directed to the first mishna in the fourth chapter of Menachot. He will read that the teffilin of the head and the teffilin of the arm stand alone as separate entities. If he is interested, he will pursue the matter further. He will look at TB Menachot 44a and, most likely, will be intrigued by the gezeira presented there by Rav Chisda. He may consider looking at 36a, which discusses a connection between the teffilin of the head and the teffilin of the arm, and Rashi and Tosfot there. He will see that Sefer HaChinuch (421, 422) and Sefer HaMitzvoth (12, 13) count two separate Biblical obligations. This should be enough for the student: he has his answer.

In the latter case, the question is asked not out of curiosity but out of necessity. A practical issue has presented itself. The father would much rather not be asking the question. He gains no joy from the process of the investigation, feels no pride in finding an interesting Tosfot on 36a, no satisfaction in the hunt. When the answer is given to him, he does not bask in the sensation of a completed circle, a mystery solved. Instead he asks a follow-up question that the student did not ask:

“Can I help him?”

When you think about the case in real terms, this corollary halachic question flows naturally from the previous question. With only one arm, the process of putting on, taking off and wrapping the teffilin of the head could be challenging; what, if anything, must be done exclusively by the wearer of the teffilin to fulfill the mitzvah and permit the recitation of the bracha? When presented with this question, the student might ask, “How did I miss that?” But, unsolicited, will such a question be asked in the world of the modern beit midrash? (I refer to the ‘modern’ beit midrash not to intimate a study hall decorated with state-of-the-art computers or flat-panel television screens, but to distinguish between the beit midrash I have witnessed in reality and the longed-for beit midrash of the gemara and Jewish lore.)

And even if the question is asked, will it contain within it the emotion evident in the father’s question? Will it be weighed down by the density of human frailty and mortality? Will it press forth from the mouth of the student solemnly, directly, quickly? Will the student know the relative insignificance of this one question in the face of all that is lost, will be lost, cannot be regained? And will the student recognize the importance of this question, its essentiality? Will the student ingest this duality and breathe it?

Or will the student hide behind the walls, tables, books and see only a game, a Mensa challenge of the mind, a contest to determine who is wisest, who is sharpest, who belongs and who does not?

We have a religion now that is so largely untouched practically: we do not have a Sanhedrin; we do not offer sacrifices to God, neither daily nor as a means of individual penitence nor on holidays; we cannot observe the majority of the laws pertaining to ritual purity; et cetera. How can we study the minutia of tzara’at or the idiosyncrasies of Pesach Sheini and feel involved? How can we expect that this detachedness won’t infiltrate even the most practical matters of Halacha today?

There is a contention that a person cannot attain knowledge of something until he/she has experienced it. There is, obviously, some validity to this argument. But it can also serve to excuse indolence or cowardice in thought. No one can experience everything. But the brave, steadfast soul will know far more than can be marked by its experiences.

There is no need to disregard the aspects of Judaism that now appear irrelevant. The opposite: to ignore these significant facets of Orthodoxy is to consciously dismiss crucial parts of a unified system. But we have a tendency to allow the ‘dead’ parts of our religion to remove the life from the ‘living’ parts when in fact it should be the reverse.

In every halacha, every moral lesson, every story in the gemara, there is life—tragedy and ecstasy—but it’s our choice whether and to what extent we choose to experience this life. If we choose to avoid the reality of what we study, if we turn Halacha into a theoretical exercise, we do a disservice to the system. It is not designed to exist, certainly not designed to thrive, isolated from nature and society. But even more so, we do a disservice to ourselves. If we avoid the truth of what we learn while we are in the holy structure of the beit midrash, we will form a disconnect between the (apparently) abstract world of the study hall and the concrete world outside. The beit midrash should prepare us for existence but it is powerless to do so if we do not let the words of Torah enter and affect us.

Torah can be used to uplift or distract or, even, to entertain. But to use Torah in this manner shows a great disrespect for the Halachic system. It is not meant to provide us with a world to turn to when the world we live in proves difficult. If you cannot bring your shoes with you into the beit midrash, there is something wrong with your shoes. And if you have encountered something distressing, sit it next to you while you learn. Perhaps you will find that you have been investigating that very issue in the gemara you are studying. And you will wonder, “How did I miss that?”

Sunday 19 April 2009

A New Response to "Kosher Sex"

When Rabbi Shmuely Boteach's book "Kosher Sex" hit the stands, it raised a commotion. Most people thought the problem many rabbis had with the book was the content. Yet when many rabbis were asked the question of what bothered them about the book, their main problem was not the content but the form. This is not to say that every rabbi agreed with Rabbi Boteach's views but rabbis are familiar with arguments -- and the question of halachically proper sexual conduct is just another question in which machloket, as we often find within the Halacha is to be expected. What bothered many rabbis, though, was the form. A book about proper sexual conduct is simply just not within the realm of tzniut. This is a topic, as the gemara informs us that is to be discussed in private. A public discussion of the topic through a book is a problem.

The only problem with this, though, is that many are not receiving proper Torah teachings on this important subject. Even in private, people are reluctant to talk about sex with their rabbis or Torah teachers, be them male or female. A book, for many, is the only way that they will broach the subject -- in the privacy of their own readings. This, of course, is still not the best way to learn but from a book, one can also learn an attitude that will possibly lead to being able to discuss this subject with another. Notwithstanding this problems with Rabbi Boteach's book, there are reasons for why a book on the subject is necessary. Was it possible for Rabbi Boteach to have written the book in another way that would have made it more acceptable?

Well it seems that there are individuals who believe that the answer to that question is yes -- and the result is new works in Israel on the subject of proper halachic sexual conduct in marriage, with the involvement of poskim. See The only problem I still have is I am still not sure if these new works really tackle the issue that people had with the form of Rabbi Boteach's book. As I have not seen these new works, I cannot really answer that question but there would seem to be indications in this article that they may not have. The only problem with evaluating the new works based on this article, though, is that the article -- much like Rabbi Boteach's book -- was written for the general audience and thus may have tried to be more risque than needed. This, I think, was also the problem with Rabbi Boteach's book -- he was trying to show that Torah Judaism is 'with it' and is the best sexual morality for everyone -- based upon the yardstick that everyone wants to apply. The demand should be how to meet the ideals of Torah regardless of whether everyone likes these ideals or not. For that there is a need for a book -- but specifically for the frum who simply want to know what the Torah wants. In this regard, these new works may be exactly what is necessary -- and the fact that they are sold in sefarim stores and not large, commercial bookstores may be the best indication that they are a solution because they were written for us.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Psak from Primary Vs. Secondary Sources

The idea of midgets on the shoulders of giants goes back at least to medieval times. In a monograph by R. Dr. E. Kanarfogel [RDEK] on Progress and Tradition in Medieval Ashkenaz, this topic came up several times.

I want to focus on a Ri Migash. The Ri Migash is quoted as recommending that rabbis are better served by using Gaonic works [iow secondary sources] than by going back to the Talmud itself. This is a classic “midgets on the shoulders of giants” argument. The problem: The Ri Migash disregarded this rule himself.

Well, as the article goes on to say, such programmatic or formulaic statements are meant to be disregarded at times at the very outset. In other words, no one takes such generalities as absolutes.

What was the Ri Migash REALLY saying? One explanation is simple, unless one is a master of the entire Talmud, it is better to use secondary sources. Secondary sources have already pre-digested the entire corpus and can provide a more holistic point of view on any issue.

As such, only the GREAT masters of Talmud have the right [maybe the obligation at times] to go back to the Talmud to render Halachah.

The Rosh seems to recommend that approach for everybody. In my humble opinion, the Rosh simply over-estimated the gravitas of the average or mediocre rabbi. Few of them are CAPABLE of using this methodology. Many that do, are likely subject to errors of omission or perhaps even hubris.

I would posit that even for masters of Talmud, it is a slippery slope to go back to the Talmud if it overturns precedent. That is because once a GREAT rabbi uses this method to overturn Tradition, it becomes fair game for other rabbis - of admittedly lesser stature - to follow suit. Given that a certain Poseik has the RIGHT to go back to the Talmud does not mean he should exercise that right. Why? He is opening up a Pandora’s box for other rabbis. Hachamim hizaharu b’divreichem or in this case be careful of what techniques you use lest you send others on a problematic path.

Now I can think of two caveats where going back to the Talmud is desirable:

  1. New case law. Issues that have little “common Law” type precedent.
  2. Urgent issues or Hora’as sho’ah issues. E.G. to help out Agunos.

And in fact most Poskim do factor in Rishonim and Acharonim even when they do go back to the Talmud. It is always a good idea.

The Aruch Hashulchan limits himself in p’sak. Re: the issue of al nekiyyus Yadyayim he favors the logic of the Rashba to use the original formula of al netilas Yadayim and not to be meshaneh the matbie’a to al nekiyyus. But he submits himself to the rulings of the Rosh and Tur. This might be due to his down-to-earth humility. Or perhaps he sees precedent as binding in a way analogous to that of Common Law. This is the technique favored by Ashkenazim for through the period of Rema.

Shach YD 1:1 ratifies this. Lo Ra’inu IS a Raya in the realm of Minhag. Introducing new practices problematic is contra-Tradition. The fact that women Halachically are ABLE to slaughter does not mean we should change the Minhag to allow them to slaughter. Why not? Since it is a time-honored tradition it would be a break with common Law Precedent and a repeal of settled case law “to do so.”

If you were to ask why did Ashkenazim refrain from permitting women to slaughter? Was this due to some misogynist agenda? The answer is according the Levush - it is due to women being subject to fainting. This kind of G’zeria is common to the Talmud. Something goes wrong, the Hazal see it as a potential problem in the future and they make a g’zeira not to do it in the future [e.g. see Hullin re: omitting Mayyim aharonim might lead to eating hazir]. Primary sources would have ignored this g’zeira. So did Bet Yosef - probably because they did not have this as a precedent in Sephardic communities.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe

Monday 13 April 2009

Mendel Hirsch on the Jewish State

Forwarded with permission
Sobering thoughts about the condition of the SPIRITUAL State of Israel Today.

"The following is from Dr. Mendel Hirsch's commentary on the Haftoroth. Dr. Hirsch was the eldest son of RSRH. The selection below comes from his commentary of the Haftorah for Shabbos Chol Moed Pesach pages 592 - 593. ( Written in 1896 I.L.)

"So that even if to-day, through some miraculous chain of events, Palestine were to be placed at the unconditional disposal of the Jews, and they could return to the "Land of their Fathers" and found an independent state there: nothing, nothing at all, would be gained as long as the causes have not disappeared which once brought about the downfall of the state and the destruction of the Temple, yea which made that downfall unavoidably necessary for the preservation of Judaism and thereby Jewry.

A Jewish National body without Jewish spirit would be, and remain, dead; a Jewish State, that does not, in making the laws of the Torah a reality, present a picture of the realisation of the eternal laws of justice and love of one's neighbour based on the sound foundation of purity of morals, would be a still-born creation, and irretrievably doomed, to dissolution, even as it was thousands of years ago. But this is just by way of parenthesis!

Gutn Mo'ed

Rabbi Hecht: Guest Post for Garnel Ironheart

We invite you to look at a guest post, entitled The Two Loci of Orthodoxy, by Nishma's Rabbi Hecht on The Blog of Garnel Ironheart at

Sunday 12 April 2009

The Challenge of Kitniot

Let me first say that I am not, by presenting a link to this article, advocating this position of kitniot. While I understand why many people find the halachic insistence on following the minhag of kitniot problematic, I still feel bound by halachic requirement to observe this minhag. Yet, at the same time, I also recognize that there is a process for change, albeit slowly and over an extended time, within certain parameters within the halachic system. To me this process begins with radicals who when they first present their viewpoint are not of the mainstream -- but whose viewpoints over time may eventually extend to the mainstream. That may be what is happening with the minhag of kitniot. I cannot be one of these readicals for I do not believe that the minhag can be easily dismissed and do not share the halachic arguments of these individuals who do believe that the minhag can be dismissed within the guidelines presented. But they do. And that is how Halacha works. Over time the new viewpoint may gain more backing but that is not to mean that one originally opposing the new viewpoint is simply to be dismissed for not being responsive to a problem or accepting a new view. One must do what one feels is right. Change starts with people who really believe that this new view is the proper halacha. It is only when more people accept the feeling that this is the proper halacha, not simply that it is the halacha they wish, that halachic movement occurs. I cannot allow kitniot because that is not the way I understand the halacha but I can believe that some people believe it is -- and I can recognize that over time more people may think like that and this new viewpoint will spread.

On the new view in Israel regarding Ashkenazim who eat kitniot, see

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Kadesh u'R'chatz - 14 steps or 15 steps?

At the beginning of the Seder, we chant Kadesh uRchatz. Many Haggadot have this arranged as 14 steps and others have 15 steps. The key difference is: Motzi-Matzah? Are they two separate steps or one compound yet single step?

Arguing the merits of Motzi-Matzah as either a single compound step or as two distinct steps has some value. However, I will ignore the intrinsic aspect of Motzi-Matzah and come up with a completely extrinsic reasoning. How is the number 14 significant vs. the number 15?

The number 14 has its merits. 14 is the Gematria of Yad - Hand - it could correspond to mighty Hand. However I can think of no connection to "steps." Can you? How about the number 15?

  1. the Temple of Old in Jerusalem had 15 steps.
  2. For each step we have a special Psalm hence ther are 15 Shir Hamaalot- song of ascents or steps
  3. The same term - Ma'alot - are used in the preface to the song Dayenu. "Cama Ma'alot Tovot Aaleinu!" This indicates that each step from Ilu hotzianu is mentioned. There are actually 14 verses in Dayeinu, however there are 15 separate steps enumerated in the summary that follows. The last step an allusion to the Temple i.e. the Bet Habechira.
  4. There are 15 terms of praise in Yishtabanc [Source: Tur]

It is clear to me that the number 15 is magical this night - and indeed in general - as a significant number of steps in ascending.

This leads me to believe that the number must be 15, not because I am convinced that Motzi and Matzah are definitely two separate steps, but rather that it is highly suggested by the entire structure of the Seder that steps would match some magical number. In this case that magical number is most likely to be 15.

True, 14 can be made into a special number. The echod mi yuodei'a ends at 13, and therefore perhaps making 14 a special number would add to it a bit of symmetry or completion. However, it is far more likely that the concepts of steps requires 15. This theme recurs too often and is to entwined and enmeshed within the haggadah itself to ignore. While the eating of Motzi and Matza does take place concurrently, the separate, individual brachot suggest TWO separate steps - albeit accomplished simultaneously.

There are 15 steps to the Seder, Motzi and Matzah are therefore separate.
First Posted on the Avodah list @ on Thu, 29 Mar 2001 09:46:27 -0500
(c) 2001 Richard Wolpoe

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Monday 6 April 2009

Seder Strategy - Getting There without Dragging

Every family has different goals for their seder. Some want to stay up late some want to eat early. Some want in depth discussion. Most focus on kids, but many have few kids in attendance.

Briefly here is my strategy.

  1. Keep the Seder moving.
  2. Have everyone take turns reading
  3. Liberally translate key passages
  4. Sing as much as possible. - Keeps people awake and adds energy.
  5. Limit in depth discussions to 1 or 2 key points per seder
  6. Yet still allow kids to ask a lot of questions.
  7. Ask a few difficult questions to ponder w/o necessarily resolving them
  8. We go fast through Hallel and Nishmas while reciting but singing whenver possible.
  9. Aim to get to 4th kos by about 12:30 am and sing the songs at the end as we start drifting off into sleep.
  10. "Rotate" singing echod mee yodei'a and chad gadya by going in a form of round

Zissen Pesach

If 80% of Israelites died in Egypt then...

If 80% of Israelites died in Egypt during makkas hosech... Then How did Hashem let wicked people like Dassan and Aviram survive?

The simplest answer is:
Hashem didn't smite all wicked Israelites per se. Rather HE smote those who were so immersed in Egypt (mitzrayim) that they wouldn't leave for Israel.

Thus the chessed n'urayich of Yormiyahu is "Lechteich acharai bamidbar". The zechus was the willingness to forgo Egypt and follow Hashem into the wilderness. It did not preclude that amongst those who left there were those with OTHER character flaws.

Sometimes in a crisis it is that ONE essential character trait that overshadows other failings to the point that one earns redemption. And conversely, one fatal flaw may way heavier in a given context. Those Israelites not ready to leave Egypt might have been left alone had the Exodus not forced the issue!

Zissen Pesach

Sunday 5 April 2009

Sefira and Temimot - Back to Front

Zissen Pesach!

How can we make a blessing on the counting of the Omer?

Following the destruction of the Temple, the Counting of the Omer is Rabbinic in nature. This can be deomonstrated as follows:
The Torah states to count following the offering of the Omer. Since there is no offering anymore there cannot be a Torah Level obligation to COUNT days following an event that no longer takes place!
Nevertheless, even many Rabbinic rituals do trigger a blessing. Therefore, there would be every reason to count with a blessing EVEN nowadays.

However, outside Israel every day is construed as doubtful. And when in doubt we do NOT bless (S'feik brachot lehaqeil). This is because the commandment to "NOT take the NAME of thy GOD in vain" any doubtful blessing is verboten. So even when you see the Talmud itself requiring us to bless on the Omer, then logically we would have to presume that this requirement is tied to Israel or any land in its environs that has no doubt. And therefore we, in North America for example, remain in doubt, and when in doubt don't bless?!

Zissen Pesach!

Friday 3 April 2009

How is Psaq defined In the Absence of the Sanhedrin?

There are many models on this. Best resource books is Menachem Elon's "Mishpat ho'Ivri" As best I understand Professor Agus's approach; post hurban halacha is analogous to "Common Law" iow based upon legal or judicial precedent. Therefore any decision without providing reasoning behind it carries little weight AS PRECEDEMT. My experience is that most posqim subscribe to this Agus Common Law Model - some to a greater degree than others. My favorite posqim - viz. Beth Yosef, Rema, kaf haChayyim and Aruch haShulchan predominantly use this method.

But of course this is more complex because sources include Talmud etc. Which is not exactly Common Law. There is also "minhag" which has a big impact in certain areas of Hoshen Mishpat.

When I was @ Ner Israel in Baltimore some talmiddim of Rav Ruderman ZTL stated that his beqius in Teshuvos was advantageous in Psaq based upon his ability to cite precedent; - as opposed to other posqim who relied upon their interpretations of Talmud which often may be speculative or debatable. And FWIW - many codes are laden with Shu"T. The Sha'arei Tehuva, Pischei Teshuva, Darchei Teshuva and Bar Ilan CD are all products of this methodology.

Zissen Pesach,

Thursday 2 April 2009

Es Hashem ...Tira - Es llerabbos Talmidei Hachamim

A while ago I suggested on the Aovdah list that we should revere "gdolim" collectively and not so much individually. Baruch. Shekivanti! Read on.

Source: En Yaqov hamefoar pesachim 22a pp. 53-54

Shimon/Nehemyah ho'Amsoni arrived at es Hashem Elokecha Tira and gave up on darshening "etin" Odd sheba R Akiva lerabbis talmidei hachamim.

The peirush states that due to k'vod shmayyim hoKamsani stopped. R Akiva includes Talmidei Hachamim as follows
  1. Yehi k'vod rabcha k'mora shamayim.
  2. Power of missa: viz. she'nechishasan neshichas nachash.
  3. Yeish meforshim that this drasha led to R Akiva's brutal martyrdom! (Besheim Iyyun Ya'aqov)
  4. Rebbe Akiva was talking about the general category of Talmidei Hachachamim and not regarding any individual talmid Hacham! (Implying that is OK) said in name of Hasam Sofer!

This last peshat dovetails with my statement on G'dolim; respect that class of people but we may legitmately quibble with any individual Talmid Hacham (respectfully!) on any given opinion.

Zissen Pesach

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Applying Shared Fate and Shared Destiny

A few months ago, Rabbi Hecht wrote an article, in the Jewish Tribune (Toronto), regarding Jews who protested again Israel's recent intervention in Gaza. (This article can be seen at In response, Jews who did protest challenged his assertions against them, arguing that anti-Zionist views have always been prevalent within the Jewish People and that they are no different than their predecessors who identified strongly as Jews yet were anti-Zionist. Zionism and Anti-Zionism though, Rabbi Hecht responds in his latest article in the Jewish Tribune, is not the issue. The issue, applying the words of the Rav, is shared fate and shared destiny.

To view this latest article on line, go to