Monday 31 August 2009

Cognitive Dissonance Between Text and P'saq Pt. 8 - Kitzur SA

I often try to learn -Halachah P'suqqah only - before Minchah

Once upon a time, I was learning Qitzur SA before Minchah. One bystander remarked:

"Hassidim learn Kitzur"

I responded: "Do you mean to say they PASQEN like Kitzur?"

He replied: "No, they just learn Kitzur!"

IOW Kitzur was being used in some Hassidic circles as a textbook ON Halachah, not as the final word on Halachic legislation!

When I taught Kitzur SA in my shul, I would note some deviations that we do or points where I differed. My "Yekkes" had a hard time understanding how this written text could be "ignored" or "set aside". I told them: "That's why I get paid the big bucks!" :-)

IOW Kitzur is a good default, a primer. But few rabbis feel absolutely bound by its decisions. Same for Mishna Brura, et al.

AFAIK, there is no one Halachic text that is followed 100% w/o reservation, but many texts and codes are learned systematically.

For the average ba'al habbayit, Kitzur SA may be a better alternative than Mishnah Brurah! Especially when one uses the annotated versions that have been recently published.

Learn the Text, but take a grain of salt with it; and realize that the written word may not Always be the Last Word on a given subject.

Shana Tova!


Sunday 30 August 2009

August Poll Results

During the month of August, we ran the following poll:

The Key to Maintaining the Tradition

In a stark contrast between fundamentalists and traditionalists, let's visualize the following four scenarios:

Scenario 1: A man is trapped by himself on a desert island. A set of Shas is a parachuted down to him. A Bat Qol rings out - study this and do this!

Scenario 2: A young boy or girl is raised by a warm Jewish family. All of the Jewish life cycle is sincerely observed in the home- but the child gets zero booklearning. It's all handed done by tradition, mimeticism, rote, imitation.

Scenario 3: An orphan is raised by a Jewish Community. While there are no loving parents around, the orphan is inducted into a society to learn Judaism by osmosis without any book learning. Questions are answered but no reading takes place.

Scenario 4: An orphan enters into a Rebbi - Talmid relationship, similar to the classic model of master-apprentice. This would be shimush without texts.

We asked:

In your opinion, which of these three scenarios would most likely produce the "best Jew?"

Your response:

Scenario 1 - 04.5%

Scenario 2 - 40.0%

Scenario 3 - 04.5%

Scenario 4 - 51.0%

Answer to "Who Said it? Tzitzis on Display"

In a previous posting, we asked

Who Said it? Tzitzis on Display

Who wrote that the (translation is mine) Main (Iqqar) mitzva of Tallith Qatan is to wear it ON one's clothes in order to always wear it and remember the Mitzvos?

The answer is:

Shulchan Aruch (of R. Y. Caro)
Orach Hayyim 8:11

The Am Ha'aratz - Bava Batra 8

Written 08-29-2009

While giving today's Daf it was apparent that "Rebbe" - Rabbi Yehuda Hannasi had a strong distaste for the "Am Ha'aretz". Essentially he seemed to blame all the calamities upon "them".

One story deals with a [apparently Roman] tax upon Teverya. Rebbe exempted the chachamim, there and the "amei ha'aretz" protested to include the scholars in the tax. They threatened to leave and Rebbe ignored their ultimatum and half left. The tax was halved... Eventually all amei ha'aretz left leaving only chachamim and the tax was rescinded.

Apparently the turn of events confirmed Rebbe's suspicions re; the evil of the am ha'aretz.

Yet we can read between the lines and make a Brisker Hilluq.

I.E. 2 kinds of am Ha'aretz, one explicit one inferred

What kind of am ha'aretz lived in Teverya? The kind that protested giving the scholars a tax break.

Thus we can infer a different kind of am ha'aretz, the one that would stand up FOR the scholars and would volunteer to exempt scholars from taxes. That upstanding am ha'aretz might be a different breed.

And perhaps only the former was the object of scorn while the latter would have been accepted or even respected.

Shana Tova


Friday 28 August 2009

Cognitive Dissonance Pt. 6 - Process vs. Product

I read a recent post by my chaveir Micha Berger

« observation by "Dear Abby" (Pauline Phillips, born Pauline Esther Friedman). She wrote that men are goal oriented, while women are process oriented. This is an alleged gender difference ... probably based on anecdotal evidence, that would fit the roles assumed ..»

Full blog post: »

Back to our subject.

How Product vs. Process can create cognitive dissonances - when comparing original texts [such as Talmud] with more contemporary practice [e.g. Sh'mirat Shabbat k'hilcheta]

Some strict constructionists (including fundamentalists) see Talmudic legislation as the PRODUCT of Talmudic dialectic.

If the Talmud debates X vs. Y, then the matter that is resolved WITHIN the Talmud - or those based upon a strict set of philological guidelines - is the last Halachic word on the subject. Any deviation left or right violates the product!

However, the vast majority of Talmudists, including the Tosafistic Schools and the Schools of Ramban et al. [E.g. Barcelona] See the Hatimat Hatalmud more about Process. The Talmud is not a Shulchan Aruch nor a Kitzur Shuhcan Aruch - rather it is the premier primer on how to use casuistry to arrive at Halachic decision making.

Thus, to strict constructions the Talmud is saying follow my decision [product] ignore my process. Do as I say but not as I do!

To the process oriented dialecticists, the Talmud is saying: I have illuminated your path! Follow my way of arriving at decisions!

Shloymie: But what about Rav Ashi and Ravina - Sof Hora"ah?

RRW: That subject could easily fill a book. Simply said, it means we no longer pronounce hora'ah by means of [apodictic] Statements. But OTOH to Tosafistically cite sources and to engage in dialectic - aderraba. This is the sanctioned Talmudic process as enshrined by Hazal for us to continue using.

By convention, we have restricted ourselves.
Amoraim address Taanaic literature,

Gaonim and Rishonim address Amoraic literature,
Acharonim analyze the Rishonim and Gaonim.

See how Bet Yosef treats Rishonim in much the same manner as the Talmud treats Mishnah and Braitto

Thus the Tur is the functional Process equivalent of the Mishnah of Rishonim, while the BY is the functional equivalent of the Talmud of Rishonim. The Darchei Moshe et al. is the equivalent of the Tosafot on that Talmud

The process as seen as a page in the Vilna Shas has been perpetuated. Perhaps not every decision, rather the functional equivalents have been preserved.

This convention is generally adhered to - except in cases of dire need such as sha'at hadechak or et la'asot. Then exceptions are not only allowed, but welcomed as necessary.


The Hubris of Revisionistic Fundamentalism

There is no question that over the course of time various individual rabbinic passages are highly suspect.

It is hard to list them all but let's start with some rabbinical opinions that have been largely ignored or abandoned.

The Ramban opines that ONLY red wine is Kosher for Qiddush, and that white wine is Passul. (Pink? Don't Ask ;-). While this position is the preferred position for Arba Kossot at the Seder, it is by no means normative year 'round.

The debate regarding rennet less hard cheeses continues. A minority of Rishonim - viz. Chachmei Narbonne - have exempted vegetarian rennet from Hazal's G'zeira against Gevinat Aku"m.

OK - individual rabbis are not infallible. After all even Aaron corrected Moshe in parshat Shemini! However, a "group" a kat, is now claiming that any post-Talmudic decision is inherently fallible. No matter how accepted. No matter how popular. No matter how much history is behind it.

Selichot are now optional - if not an egregious example of Bal Tosif. Fuhgeddabout Tashlich. Why blow Shofar in Ellul? IOW the entire Post-Talmudic evolution of Halachah and Minhag is now "optional"

We may object upon many grounds. But, being Ellul I will focus upon the character trait of Ga'ava - Hubris.

A historically approved and sanctioned practice - be it halachah or Minhag - has the tacit approval of the collective Rabbinic Minds of the ages. Of course there exceptions! Some Minhaggim that have been constantly debated - and therefore are another matter

Rather, I am referring to practices that are NOT debated, or are accepted and merely the details are quibbled.


A The completely debated:

Qitniyyot on Passover has always been controversial. Modern dissenters have a history of rabbinic support for their opposition. Modern Protesters may be rebelling, but hubris would not necessarily apply.

B Accepted but Quibbled:

Miqva for men

Rema AFAIK requires Miqva only once before Yom Kippur. One dunk. Many add Rosh Hashanah. Many dunk 3 times.

The dissenters against Miqvah are imho displaying hubris because the principle of Miqvah has been universally sanctioned. Only the "why" is contested. For Rema it is about Tum'at Qeri. For others it is about Teshuvah.

C. The Universally Accepted

Shofar during Ellul

As far as I can tell [AFAICT] Shofar in Ellul meets this criteria. Who would dispense with this as non-Talmudic when AFAICT every community has practiced this "forever"


Add to this the authority of the Shulchan Aruch. Certainly there are individual dinnim that have been ignored or protested. But there is a movement to simply discredit the entire enterprise! The essential SA is not in question - only quibbles on certain passages. Yet some fundamentalists casually toss it aside.
This also is beyond simple rebellion, this is a case of Hubris.

We can quibble with a Taz when the Shach shows us another way. And when Rema states something and the chorus of Nos'ei Keilim protest, we certainly would be prone to set aside that decision of Rema

But to toss out the enterprise? Hubris! I say, Hubris!

Shana Tova!

Thursday 27 August 2009

Mishnah RH 4:5, Where does Malchuyot Belong? Part 1

Mishnah text:


Order of the blessings: one recites the Patriarchs, Powers, and the Holiness of the Name, and includes Malkhuyot, but he does not blow; the Sanctity of the Day, and he blows; Zikhronot, and he blows; Shofarot, and he blows; and he recites Service, and Thanksgiving, and the Priests' Blessing; so Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri.

Rabbi Akiva said to him, If he does not blow for Malkhuyot, why does he mention? Rather he recites Patriarchs, Powers, and the Holiness of the Name, and includes Malkhuyot in the Sanctity of the Day, and he blows»

R Yochahan Ben Nuri:

...and the Holiness of the Name, and includes Malkhuyot, but he does not blow;...

Rabbi Aqiva:

and the Holiness of the Name, and includes Malkhuyot in the Sanctity of the Day, and he blows

Kehatti (and fwiw Bartenura)

«The halakhah follows Rabbi Akiva»

Given the above

Do we all agree halachically speaking - that since we follow R Aqiva and reject RY Ben Nuri -

therefore Malchuyot is to be found exclusively in Qedushat Hayyom and also NOT to be found in Qedushat Hashem?

Please let me know if this is a correct assumption.

For a complete text including Kehatti see:

Shana Tova


Designing My Ideal Siddur - Overview

Most people design siddurim with some kind of innovation in mind. Their claim to fame is the "hiddush". The role is to fill a niche. The need is immortality - to leave a legacy with their own personal stamp.

I plead guilty to many of these, but to me a Siddur is a classic text like Torah or Mishna and therefor an edition should be more about being faithful to the classics than being innovative.

I am going to forgo the issue of translation. For now design is more about a good scholarly or critical edition.

The best scholarly Siddur I know of is the Seligmann Baer Siddur Avodas Yisrael.

My gratitude to Belz School for introducing me to this modern classic.

Along the lines of this Siddur I would have the following components

1 All sources given (meqoroth). Even paraphrases of Miqra, Talmud and Midrash should be footnoted.

Artscroll does a good job on this

2 All Ta'amei Miqra should be restored. This was prevalent in Yekke prayer books until about a century or 2 ago. It is still popular in siddurom from Edoth Mizrach

3 Physical formatting of piyyutim and other rhyming schemes, acrostics and the like should reflect the poetic structure and verse. Koren is really the winner hands-down in physically formatting the page layout to give a visual representation of the Prayers.

4 Preferably mainstream nusach should appear on the text w/o variations. Variations within the text are often confusing. Shinuy nuisachos should be footnoted on the bottom of the page.

5 Optional: an appendix of how certain nusach has "evolved" comparing earlier sources with contemporary ones (masoroth).



Halachic Organ Donation

Will new rabbinic coalitions bring a progressive approach to Halachic Organ Donation?


«While the majority of rabbis in the religious- Zionist, haredi and Sephardic communities – including Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar – agree that brain death is an indication of death-proper, some in the haredi community, especially followers of Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, still oppose the correlation, claiming cardiac death should be the only criteria used. »


Any Rabbi Who Says...

In discussing Ravina and Rav Ashi as sof hora'ah [or was that Rav Ashi and Ravina], let's understand that this is a classic circular argument

Illustration: Let's say that hypothetically that Rav Moshe Isserles states:
The Talmud Bavli is the final word of the Halachic Universe!

Assuming that Rema was not part of the Bavli himself, then his own declaration disqualifies him from having the authority to issue any such statement!

He might say: the consensus is that the Bavli is the last word. Then he would be left scrambling to get Gallup to poll THAT consensus.

If he says Kayma Lan that the Bavli is the last word, then again what is his authority? And can he issue kayma lans that might clash with the Bavli?

The only definitive statements on the matter are that Torah she'b'al peh [TSBP] is the final arbiter of Halacha. Now go define THAT!

Without defining TSBP it would be fair to say that the Bavli is the premier TEXT of TSBP - but of course that too, is oxymoronic.



15. The Mezuzah

I know we’re stereotyping here (well, I’m stereotyping—I won’t drag you into it), but let’s say there’s a type of person—a type of Jew—a type of Orthodox Jew—who puts his fingers to the mezuzah whenever he enters a room and then kisses the digit or digits that touched the mezuzah. We’ll call this overgeneralization of a person The Mezuzah Kisser.

The Mezuzah Kisser is an interesting type of person.

He is passionate and consistent in his observance of this mezuzah-kissing practice. If he is too short to touch the mezuzah with his feet on the ground, he will jump to reach it. On the rare occasion that he passes a mezuzah without kissing it, he will, immediately upon realizing his oversight, dash back to the doorpost to complete the kiss. In a crowded entryway, he will inconvenience himself (and, sometimes, others) to work his way through the masses to reach the mezuzah.

In other words, he is a person trying to do the right thing with alacrity, discipline and fervour.

Unfortunately, his ardour is somewhat baffling from a Halachic perspective.

The Halachic details surrounding the mitzvah of Mezuzah involve, primarily, the writing and hanging of the mezuzah. These mitzvoth, naturally, are relevant usually only once per mezuzah. The recurring obligation is to focus attention on the mezuzah when entering and exiting a room. The mezuzah, then, acts somewhat as a checkpoint so that those entering and exiting pause to conduct a personal examination of their thoughts and motives before proceeding. For some (the tactile among us), focus might be more easily achieved with some physical interaction with the mezuzah. There is precedent for this, as can be found in TB Avodah Zorah 11a, a gemara which is quoted by Halachic sources as evidence of a custom to touch the mezuzah when entering and exiting a room. As we are accustomed to do with most holy objects (the Torah, a siddur, a sefer, etc.), it is logical to assume that after touching the mezuzah, it would be the respectful course of action to then kiss one’s finger. While there is no mention of kissing the mezuzah in the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch, the Aruch HaShulchan (Hilchot Mezuzah, 285:4) mentions a custom to place the third finger on the mezuzah and, after saying a short prayer, to kiss this finger. (If the reader knows of an earlier source for kissing the mezuzah, please comment with it below.)

Essentially, the kissing of the mezuzah is a byproduct of a byproduct of the actual mitzvah: the fundamental mitzvah is to concentrate—the outgrowth of this is a custom to touch the mezuzah—the outgrowth of this outgrowth is to kiss the finger(s) that touched the mezuzah.

If the Mezuzah Kisser was determined to kiss the mezuzah because he recognized the underlying role of this action in relation to the actual mitzvah, his behavior might be understandable. But this is not the case. We witness that his attention is on the kiss, whereas the duration of time that his fingers actually rest on the mezuzah is minimal.

The Mezuzah Kisser is so entranced by the gestures of Orthodoxy that he has allowed the routine to gain superiority over the purpose.

Do we laud the Mezuzah Kisser for his devotion or do we condemn him for his misguidedness?

Generally, we try to do both: we encourage him where appropriate while redirecting him as necessary. We do not want to diminish his zeal but we would like to see that zeal applied as accurately as possible.

But this solution addresses the Mezuzah Kisser’s actions; it does not concern itself with his personality. The Mezuzah Kisser is committed but impetuous; he is meticulous but surface-oriented; he is excited to learn but satisfied with the knowledge he has.

The Mezuzah Kisser has many relatives. For example, there is a weightlifter in the gym that never misses a day’s workout. He does not talk to anyone while he exercises, his mind entirely focused on the task at hand. He pushes himself constantly to lift heavier weights and to increase the number of repetitions he does. But to all the professional trainers on the floor, he is viewed as a fool. His form is terribly flawed. Despite all the effort that he is putting into his workout, he will not see significant results. In fact, if someone doesn’t correct him soon, he has a very good chance of injuring himself, perhaps seriously, perhaps permanently.

Now what question comes to mind when such a person is encountered? Do we question the person’s actions or do we look to the source, to the person’s character?

Why would someone undertake a potentially dangerous activity without first acquiring the necessary information to do it properly? Why would someone expend that kind of energy without first determining whether the energy was being used efficiently?

A friend may approach the novice weightlifter and correct his form. But when the weightlifter starts a new exercise, he will be prone to the same errors as before. It is a character flaw, not only a behavioral flaw.

Our mind has the ability to separate certain intermingled entities to see each part as an exclusive whole. But it is often the case that our minds deceive us, that these two parts are interdependent.

Proper passion in Torah observance is unquestionably essential and praiseworthy. But passion can be cultivated in many different ways. The Torah system is a study-based system. The fundamental drive of the Jew is the uncovering of the mystery of God and Torah—in other words, the pursuit of Truth. When this drive is the source of the Jew’s passion, he is permitted to step back from the moment and see a larger picture. Sometimes, this passion drives the Jew to action. Sometimes, this passion tells the Jew to “go and learn.” There is a purity to this passion. It is not bred with the desire for immediate spiritual gratification or with the need to feel Holy or with any number of other contaminants that regularly plant the seed for passion. In truth, these factors do not merely infect passion but they engender an entirely different strain of passion. The Mezuzah Kisser’s devotion cannot be detached from his impetuousness because the latter is integral to the former.

Is there some Mezuzah Kisser in all of us? Perhaps. It is not difficult to lose sight of the essence of a mitzvah and focus instead on its byproducts, especially when it is culturally acceptable to do so. We can be quick to act sometimes when deliberation would have been more appropriate. We can find ourselves so determined to achieve a certain goal that we actually sabotage that goal. These mistakes are apparent in action but they stem from a person’s character. We undermine the Teshuva process if we limit it to the realm of action. If the proper passion for Truth is found, the actions will follow. Our internal Mezuzah Kisser should not be reduced to a series of mistaken actions, repairable with instruction. He has the ability to change at his core. But if we exonerate his zeal while denouncing his mannerisms, we will merely be putting a mask over what he will still be underneath: the Mezuzah Kisser, unscathed. And how long before we are all contented to be masked?

Wednesday 26 August 2009

I, You, He

Elul is the month for introspection. Here is something to ponder

I have gift of gab.

You are quite chatty.

He is a run-on bore


I am a gourmand

You enjoy your food

He is a glutton


I take a moderate position

You play games with Halachah

He is an out-and-out heretic.

These games we play can be harmless and even amusing at times

Here is a game a friend of mine played with me.

A When Rambam adds bracha for ner shabbat he is merely conforming to Talmudic norms! Its absence from the Talmud is irrelevant

B. When the Mechaber of the SA adds the bracha on ner hanukkah in a bet knesset - he is merely in error. Because this bracha exists, only its use in shul and not at home is a minor issue

So the fact that he fails to conform to Talmud is an error but no big deal


C When Abudarham adds the bracha "sheassani kirtzono" for women which does not exist in Talmud he must be an outright reformer!



Culling Halachic Norms from Aggadic Passages

There seems to be an understanding that Aggadic Passages are not normative within Halacha.

That may be true - yet it may also be an oversimplification.


A. Darach R Simlai ...613 mitzvot

Halachot G'dolot did not take this as a normative passage and proceeded to list 613 mitzvot of all shapes and sizes

However, Rambam took this obvious Drasha and assumed it was predicated upon 14 separate axiomatic conditions!

B Standing for Qiddush Levanah.

Based upon DRASH, we greet the Shechinah whilst reciting Birkat Levana. Yet, Abbaye rules that we must stand.

C. Glass is Smooth.

The issue of glass absorbing "treif" is discussed in Avot de R. Nattan [ADRN] yet the Rashba issues his permissive ruling using an aggadic source text.

D Women wearing Tallit.

Many Posqim object to women wearing a Tallit because it violates "lo tilbash kli gever". The source text used is Targum Yonatan ben Uziel [TYBU]- a midrashic work.

However, this is a "perfect mis-understanding". Of how this is used. TYBU is not producing binding p'saq as a precdent - rather Posqim are using his text to determine if Lo tilbash applies to Talit. And they accept his Meisi'ach lefi tummo as normative that Tallit is indeed a man's garment. NOTE: this norm could be subject to change over time and place.



Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday 24 August 2009

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud Pt. 6 - Culture Clash

Historically speaking It would seem that different cultures handled Cognitive Dissonance differently.

The Rif and the Rambam - following the Gaonic Codifications - preferred a separate tome - thereby weaning the public away from the text of the Talmud towards works of Halachah. By this separation - if not outright divorce - Peace of Mind is attained. IOW the conflict is not camouflaged, it's sent away to a different venue entirely.

Both Rashi and Tosafot OTOH stayed with the Talmudic text and chose to comment upon it instead of to avoid this dissonance. Yet even with this common ground, they diverged for the most part.

Rashi - for the most part - makes highly subtle deviations from the text - so subtle only a sensitive scholar would notice.

Illustration: The Talmud in Shabbat 51b says that one may not crush snow or ice with one's hands - rather to place it in a cup. NB: This suggests a passive process is OK. Rashi [s.v. Aval notein letoch hakkoss] adds a subtle caveat - [only] when that cup contains wine [or perhaps another liquid]. Thus the issue morphs from passivity regarding melting ice - to issues of nolad by the subtle insertion of a word or 2.

Tosafot OTOH is rarely subtle. Tosafot's interpretations often SEEM or APPEAR at odds with the texts. This is unsettling for many. Fundamentalists chafe at Tosafot, while analytical or dialectical types celebrate it. Tosafot refuses to give up on the text - and also refuses to give up on "his" vision of how the Halachah should be.- no matter how disparate the two are. Tosafot doesn't avoid or side-step Cognitive Dissonance - rather "he" celebrates it!

We will explore this from another angle re: L'asuqei shmaat'ta aliba dehilcheta



Book Review: Sefer Mada - a Halachic approach to Middot and Hashqafa - Overview

Most approaches to character development and to Machshava/Hashqafa/Weltanshaung involve Sifrei Mussar.

If not Mussar, then Qabbalah or Hassidus come to mind. But there are just bits and pieces of Halachic texts that outline thought, repentance, character improvement etc.

As part of my proposed 8 semester course on Jewish Machshava, I have included Rambam's Sefer Mada. It is a treasure-trove of nuggets of wisdom. Along with Rambam's own Shemoneh P'raqim, it represents an expansion of Pirqei Avos.

The Edition I am reviewing is the Moznayim - Touger edition. The commentary may be a big factor later on as we shall see.

Seven hundred years ago Sefer Mada was quite controversial! It was even banned [and burned] along with the Moreh Nevuchim. Today's modern society considers 90% of it as mainstream with elements of Yesodei Hattorah [chapters 1-4] still holding out as controversial even today.

For the rational, modern, thinking person, the Rambam's presentation is clear cut, concise, and using emotion sparingly - but with great effect nevertheless


I plan to review the component volumes in future reviews, perhaps 1 or 2 volumes per review.



Sunday 23 August 2009

Re: Thoughts on Kashruth Certification Policies

An intersting post on Rabbi Marc Angel's website:


The Fundamentalist, the Traditonalist, The Activist

In conjunction with Supreme Court Nominations, I wish to review and reiterate how certain ideologies impact judicial decisions.

The parallels to Halachah are obvious, nevertheless I will BEH articulate them in a followup post


Simply stated there are three main trends amongst Jurists (some say there are even more, but for simplicity we'll stop at three!

1 The Fundamentalist
2 The Traditionalist
3 The Activist

Disclaimer: Rare is the individual that adheres exclusively to these prototypes.

1 The Fundamentalist approaches law from the written text In the case of constitutional law the "original intent" is everything. Philology and a thorough knowledge of the framer's milieu is key.
Thus the USA constitutionality of a law is Judged by the framers of 1787 or its amendments by their respective eras.
Thus, nothing evolves.
Also individual laws are treated by how they are written. No accounting is made for subsequent changes in society or newer laws or interpretations. Nor is consideration made for the original IMPLEMENTATION of a law - only its original intent.

Illustration: The US first amendment can be seen as so strictly prohibiting religion from involvement with the government that prayer invocations and military chaplains must be unconstitutional, no matter what the history of how the Bill of Rights has been implemented

Bottom line: Adherents may be summed up as "Reactionary".


2 The Traditionalist bases himself on the legacy of the law. In the case of the Constitution - what is the HISTORY of the interpretations of the various courts. The key here is precedent and case law. This is closely parallel to the English concept of "Common "Law". Thus case law of the jurists trumps the original wording of any legislators.

Bottom Line: In addition to being traditionalists these are "Evolutionary".


3 The Activist

Here the law takes a back seat - usually to political correctness. Thus what chiefly counts is what social engineering is most desirable?

Do I want to see the most people Vote? Then strike down any law that restricts voting!

If I want to socially engineer integration - and not just remove segregation - I legislate busing from the bench.

In order to protect expectant mothers - I strike down laws designed to protect not-yet-born fetuses. And so it goes.

Bottom line: This approach exceeds evolutionary and approaches "Revolutionary"


Consider which position is the best?

Consider which position adheres to the "golden mean?

Which - if any - serves society best in the long run?


Friday 21 August 2009

Health Care

A little while ago, President Obama had a conference call with 1000 rabbis in the U.S., the vast majority Conservative or Reform. The Rabbinical Council of America was actually invited to participate in the call as well but, for a variety of reasons, turned down the invitation. This post, though, is not about this invitation and the refusal to participate. There were reasons to participate and reasons not to -- I actually would be more interested in the debate over this issue rather than the conclusion, for that could be most interesting and yield various important insights into the community and our understanding of Torah. One issue, for the RCA, that specifically interested me was that differing viewpoints on the subject would not be presented. The president would just present his plan and call upon the rabbis to help him execute it. The RCA felt that this, for different reasons, was problematic. One of these reasons may have been the very need to discuss the issue.

Within the RCA on-line forum for rabbis to discuss important issues, most of a halachic nature, there actually were requests to discuss public health care from a halachic perspective. There are many issues involved from rationing to the possible imposition of certain demands upon a health care practitioner that demand halachic scrutiny. What I, though, have found interesting is that the very issue of public health care itself is not, in itself, seen as a halachic issue. What is society's responsibility to cover the cost of health care for one who personally cannot pay? What is an individual's responsibility to cover, or partially cover, the costs of a service from which he has benefited? The answers are not so simple.

One of the rabbis who brought up this issue on the RCA forum mentioned that, while there are many individuals who simply are so impoverished that they cannot afford proper health care, there are others who are not covered because they have made a decision to spend their money in a different way. They may have felt that they could not par the health insurance premiums but part of the reason was that they felt it was necessary to buy a new car, and not necessarily because their old car no longer worked or was using too much gas. Yet, if we undertake this concern for universal health protection, is it right for us to thereby judge each and every person's financial decisions? Is it right for us, though, not to?

Living in Canada, I know the benefits (and weaknesses) of universal health care. I, personally, find it to be a positive. On the other hand, I also recognize the fundamental moral question that must surface with such a system: where do we draw the line on altruism? When does charity and concern for another become the promotion of selfish, self-interest in this other? The issue goes far beyond health care.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

SheLaH - an Overlooked Double Entendre

Most everyone realizes that the Shelah is the acronym for his magnum opus viz.:


What few realize is that it alludes to the intials of the authors name as well. Viz.


I.E. by calling him SHAYA instead of Yeshaya

How many other subtleties, nuances, and double entendres are overlooked right in front of our noses?


Thursday 20 August 2009

Cairo Genizah and Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah

Perhaps the 2 most famous subjects associated with Jewish Cairo are the Rambam and the Cairo Genizah

It even appears that Manuscripts in the Rambam's own hand have been discovered there.

The Rambam in Yesodei HaTorah 6:8 seems to require Genizah ONLY for Sifre Torah. While the Touger edition cites SA YD 282:23 as well as the Magen Avraham 154:9 "differ and require all sacred texts to be entombed."

This Humra seems to go beyond the Rambam's requirement. However the Genizah in Cairo had many holy texts aside from Sifrei Torah. Was the Cairo community Machmir despite the Rambam? Or did the Rambam himself communicate a more strict version of this Halachah outside the precincts of his Mishneh Torah and this extra-textual version survived.

Or perhaps there was another dynamic at work here?


Positively Historical

I have been construed as being a devotee of the "historical school". However, this is not quite true

What is true is that I do approach Judaism (and baseball) from a traditional-historical perspective. EG do you realize that Teixara is the best defensive Yankee first baseman since Mattingly? Better than Tino?! (It's offensive to talk about Giambino's defense! ;-)

My friend Micha has opined that Positive Historical was inherently flawed - because it conflated Wissenshaft and Torah. He has a point

However, to me the fatal flaw of The P-H School was the attitude of its founders

Perhaps if it had been founded by Traditionalists like Aruch Hashulchan or Hassam Sofer, it might have remained "frum" all along. IOW the nature of its critical attitude set it off on the wrong path, not the mix of scientific methods to investigate Torah.

I am drafting BEH a post on the proper boundaries between Torah and W-shaft. So please withhold comments on that aspect until posted



Wednesday 19 August 2009

Cognitive Dissonance Pt. 5 - East vs. West

Hasiba is a given at the Seder Night. Then there are the exceptions - students, women, etc.

The great Ashkenazic Poseiq Raaviyah posited that hasiba is no longer applicable - we simply do not formally dine that way anymore. Apparently, that was restricted to the Roman Persian societies.

Certainly this does not jibe with the Bavli that gives elaborate rules of how to do hasiba and how NOT to do it! EG don't lean on the right, etc. Thus the Raviyyah reads as either quite revisionistic or as a Liberal.

OTOH there is an East-West split on HOW hasiba is accomplished

The Bavli seems to persist on a particular reclining on a cushion.

The term in general usage seems to simply be an idiom for "formal dining"

The Yerushalmi's take is most informative. Why is hasiba required? In order not to eat standing like an eved (I.E. servant or slave). Thus the Western Talmud requires mere sitting down!

Thus the Raviyyah dovetails with this version. And the apparent dissonance with Bavli may be attributed to an East-West split



Who Said it? Tzitzis on Display

Who wrote the following?
(translation is mine)

The Main (Iqqar) mitzva of Tallith Qatan is to wear it ON one's clothes in order to always wear it and remember the Mitzvos

A) Rambam
B) SA Harav
C) SA of R Y Caro
D) Mishnah Brura
E) None of the above


A Bad First Impression - and a Happy Ending

I work as a mashgiach in a Chinese Take-Out Restaurant

I have a bookcase, a high-back office chair and a shtender/table that belong to me.

One day I stepped out briefly for minyan and when I came back a gentleman [Joe] was sitting on my chair doing paperwork on my shtender...

While I was NOT makpid that he was using it, I did wish to get it back. Lo and behold the guy. [Joe]got confrontational! He wanted me to "prove' that I owned the chair and shtender!

I was able to show him an address label but he would not budge. We had some words, and he left.

The owner was upset that I gave the customer a hard time. I was upset that he didn't stand up for me and to point out [politely] to the customer [Joe] that indeed it WAS my chair + shtender...

Fast-forward a few months later.. A gentleman walks in and orders food. We talk some politics and we are fairly sympatico. We're having a good time chatting when he asks me to step outside to tell me something privately.

Then he proceeds to apologize profusely for his bad behavior over the shtender! Me? I hadn't forgotten the event but I had not remembered Joe's face.

Joe explained that something must have been bugging him that day, and he was being difficult. I told him it was no big deal that he sat there, I just wanted it back - And that I appreciated his [profuse] apology.

Anyway, his ability to say "I'm sorry" healed a fractious situation. And A word to the wise - to promote more shalom and healing as well as Teshuva and Mechila during the upcoming Yamim Nora'imm season, be modeh al ho'emes.

And two antagonists became quite friendly after all!

The End.



On Torah, Literalism and Evolution

Rabbi David Willig:

"But to argue against the evolutionary process completely on the basis of the literal meaning of the bible is to argue.."


Actually if you follow the pattern of Creation in Breisheet, it starts from the most simple (grass) and ends with the most complex (woman :-) - which really does parallel Darwin as I understand it.

I also find dinosaurs in "taninim g'dolim"

So w/o working hard on apologetics, the Humash narrative matches the general scientific view in several ways.

And I think the Torah WAS being general.

So Rabbi Willigs suggestion of taking Torah seriously - but not literally - can be quite informative. You need some flexibility and to ignore dogmatists on both sides of the debate.

We also know from the Torah text that literal 24 hour days make no sense for days 1-4 when the Sun and Moon were first created. Again not apologetics, just simple analysis within the text.

So a fundamental read of the text cannot really match what PASSES for a fundamental read anyway.

If a were teaching a Martian - I would say that Darwin was being technical and the Torah more poetic - but both were describing the same events. More a gap in style than in substance.

Even our 9th grade science teacher in Yeshiva Day School - a secular Jew - taught us classic evolution with the possibility that God was pulling the strings. I think most of us students were quite comfortable with that perspective. AFAIK None of us felt that it threatened our belief in Humash



Was the Nazi Holocaust Uniquely Jewish? History and Tradeoffs

I once posted

"The allies we potentially lose are those interested in ending genocide in general who may have nothing invested in JUST saving a single minority for persecution

OTOH there was a unique anti-Semitic aspect. Pragmatically what is best? Eradicating anti-Semitism or eradicating all forms of genocidal tendencies and inhumanities?

That is what I ponder! What are the trade-offs!"

This issue can be approached from several distinct yet complementary positions.

A The factual history of the Nazi Holocaust

B. The current benefits to the victims and to the Jewish People

C The future legacy

Assumption 1

The Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish event and it virtually excludes Gentiles as victims.

A this may or may not jibe with the facts. Others were persecuted

B+C While it may elicit sympathy for Jews, it also means that only Jews have a vested interest. That means that Gentiles have no vested interest in countering Holocaust deniers. It also means that the future emotional investment would be exclusively a Jewish one.

Assumption 2

The Holocaust was not a uniquely Jewish event and it includes many other minorities

A Facts seem to support this

B Other Minorities will take ownership, too. Instead of centering upon Jewish victimhood, it focuses upon inhumanity.

C while this won't be an exclusively Jewish tragedy like Tisha B'av, it will resonate as a universal tragedy to remind all peoples about the evils of brutality and genocide

Thus it may lose its potency for us, but increase its longevity via a more universal appeal



Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud Pt. 4


"Snip #2

Bavli is superseded by "sifrei Halachah"- the Halakhot books actually dethroned the Talmud as the standard text used by law-makers, to the extent that they evolved into texts that could function as an updated Talmud."

Ever teach Talmud to a Jew who knows ONLY Kitzur Shulchan Aruch? It's a real challenge - because the student thinks that every Halachah in Kitzur is an axiomatic given, and he cannot fathom how it is - that Rabbis in the Talmud debate this stuff!

There is a historical parallel. The arrival of the Bavli to Western Europe probably occurred around the year 1,000. Aside from oral and mimetic traditions - what Halachic texts did they have?

Apparently in Ashkenaz the She'iltos, the Halachos G'dolos, and similar Gaonic Halachic compendiums arrived earlier. They took root as normative texts, although local Minhag may have prevailed.

I discussed this idea with Rabbi E. Kanarfogel, a PhD in Medeival Jewish History. He found the idea "interesting" that the earlier arrival of later texts may have "idea framed" how Ashkenazim read the Bavli as it trickled into Europe. IOW, their minds were pretty much made up Before
The Bavli
came - and every attempt was made to read the Bavli based upon the pre-existing texts and traditions.

Thus, dissonance grew between the simple read of the without any pre-conceived notions, and the read of the Bavli framed by incorporating Gaonic Texts as well as mimetic culture.



Tuesday 18 August 2009

Proposal: Encyclopedia Maimonidit

I once posted:

«I want to propose that there should be a encyclopedia Maimonidit that would collate at least 4 of the Rambam's works on any topic -particularly in machshava



Mishneh Torah - Yad

Peirush mishna (esp. 8 P'raqim)

And Sefer Hamitzvos

Touger does a bit of that. But I am talking about something more comprehensive

At least the mitzvos in the Yad should be hyperlinked to the Sefer Hamitzvos!
I did this myself once for Hilchos Hametz Umatza which is but 8 mitzvos

I don't know the feasibility but...

Imagine reading Hilchot Dei'ot and having all related passages from "Shmonah P'raqim" and Moreh Nevuchim.

Or collating all of Rambam's eschatological comments - including his Igrot into a comprehensive article?

In cyberspace, hyperlinks could be made between key words and phrases that would allow both basic cross referencing and serious in-depth research.



Approaching Diversity

Most Talmudists and Halachists approach diverse sources with every attempt at reconciliation. Admittedly there are many scores of reconciliations that go beyond dochaq

On the other hand, what about the approach aimed at producing the highest dissonance between sources?

Or as a corollary - what kind of personality would desire to make as many sources "come out wrong"?


Nefesh Achat - Adam or Yisroel?

I snipped this from Mike Makov of the Avodah List. Used with permission.

«Regarding Sanhedrin 4:5, about saving a life saving the world: does it

read nefesh ahat mibnei adam or miyisrael?

I have collected some sources on this at

Teaser: One of my sources about the Mishna's correct reading, is the KORAN!

Michael Makovi»

Cognitive Dissonance - Subtracting from Talmud 2 (and adding)

The Mishna Model is to say 1 bracha at the beginning of laining and a closing bracha at the end.

The Talmud revised this to 2 brachot per aliyah - instead of 2 per q'riah

Issue #1: Number of aliyyot


On the Mishnaic level, there is no problem,

A) since there is no issue of adding extra brachot

B) and there is no upward limit to aliyot on Shabbat


On the Talmudic Level

since The Talmud revised this to 2 brachot per aliyah

we have the following questions:

A) how can we be assured that the Mishnaic license to add olim applies on the Talmudic level?
Since s'feik brachot lehakeil - how can we be safe to add aliyot that trigger additional brachot?

B) Is this discussed in the Halachic Literature?


Issue #2

The Mishna and Talmud require a Meturgemman. Since we are no longer literate in Aramaic, we have suspended with this Talmudic requirement


A) how come we still lain w/o following the Talmudic format?

B) more importantly - Since s'feik brachot lehakeil - how can we recite brachot on the Torah when laining in a nonconformist fashion?

C) I'm timzei lomar we can lain and even do so with a bracha even "sans" Meturgeman, why not revert to the Mishnaic Model and reduce the brachot back to the [future] Mishnaic model?

Since no bracha would be involved - perhaps this would also therefore empower women and children to get an aliya again w/o issues of K'vod Tzibbur?



Monday 17 August 2009

Rhetorically Speaking

Someone - The Riddler - was trying to point out to my friend Shloymie that rhetorical questions were "put downs" or "power ploys"

Shloymie: "What's wrong with rhetorical questions?"

RRW: "Who says there is anything wrong with rhetorical questions?"

Shloymie: "didn't the Riddler say they are wrong?"

RRW: You mean wrong like as in the Torah Wrong?

Shloymie: what other wrong is there?

RRW: Was Avraham wrong?

Shloymie: whatcha mean?

RRW: Do you know how many rhetorical questions he asked Hashem to save Sodom?

Shoymie: but how about Korach's hutzpah question to Moshe "madua tisnas'u al Qehal Hashem?"

RRW: How about Moshe's rhetorical question: "hatzon uvaqar yishacheit..."?

Shloymie: is that why Moshe was punished?

RRW: maybe Moshe shouldn't have seen Qorach's question as hutzpah? Maybe he should have understood it literally?
Maybe he should have answered it straightorwardly

Shloymie: But what about the Riddler?

RRW: Good Questions!



Righteous Indignation vs. Anger

Micha Berger of Avodah in discussing Rambam's Hilchot Dei'ot:

" I [Micha] once argued that Avraham Avinu's "ha'af tispeh tzadiq im rasha" --
throwing out a rhetorical question in complaint to the RBSO [Ribono shell Olam (about Sedom
et al) was not only justifiable anger, but actually *laudible* anger at the RBSO!"

Sometimes a prophet or saint needs anger to attack injustice.

And sometimes this can be an over-reaction

Sammy the Gabbai tells me this story.

I onced asked "Speedy" to daven mincha. Speedy said tachanun a bit too fast

So "Aryeh" got up and yelled at Speedy - in front of the whole shul - to "slow down". Indeed - Aryeh had a right to be upset but not a right to humiliate Speedy in public! Aryeh should have either addressed him quietly or later on privately. But Aryeh's
Temper clouded his judgment


Touched by The Babe

Yesterday [August 16] marked the 61st yahrzeit of George Herman Ruth, Jr. - effectionately known as The Bambino.

Yesterday I was looking up information on the Sultan of Swat and I came a cross a "fascinating" photo of Babe Ruth with a young college baseball captain

Babe Ruth George Bush.jpg -
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Whodathunk that the young Yale BB captain receiving Ruth's autobiography would grow up to be President and father of a President?

But then again - he was touched by the Babe!


Subtracting from Talmud

An interesting Tefillah exists in the Talmud and in the Tur but was deleted from our daily cycle by the Bet Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch

The Tefillah is recited PRIOR to entering the Privy and maybe found AFAIK verbatim in TUR Orach Hayyim 3

The SA OH 3:1 mentions it and states "now we are no longer accustomed to say it"

The quoted sources in Be'er Haggolah
1 to say: Talmud Brachot 60
2 to omit: Bet Yosef

[Note: I have not recently seen this BY inside]

1 How can the BY omit a Talmudically mandated prayer?
2 Why don't we restore it?*

A) The Shaarei Teshuvei quotes Arizal to restore it.
B) Artscroll and others restored the Talmudic "birkat Ba'al habayyit" which was neglected for a long time


Parsha Shof'tim - To King or Not to King

Canadians undoubtedly will favour the Royalist Position whilst Americans will undoubtedly favour the Republican Position!

The Torah states WHEN you ask for a KING you shall surely place one -
Even [or especially] when asking to be like the surrounding nations.

Sh'muel [with Hashem's approbation] protests that his people requested a King just like "the Goyim"

If our Sidrah-Parsha is telling us that this appointment is optional and subjunctive to a request, this all makes perfect sense. Then, the objection was to the Request for appointing that King. But, once requested, that request Must be Honoured as per Torah Law in our Parshah.

However, Rambam Sefer Hamitzvot et. al. REQUIRE a King. And by implication require asking for one. Then Sh'muel's protests seem difficult to fathom.

I have some answers but I was wondering what you readers might say?


Sunday 16 August 2009

The Poseiq with the Caveat

A Major Poseiq made a sweeping caveat in his introduction

"My decisions are NOT meant to overturn existing customs"

Who said it?
A) Rema
B) Rosh
C) Bet Yosef
D) Tosafot
E) Rambam

Given this caveat which makes the most sense?

A) the poseiq was catering to concensus
B) given this caveat he was free to speak his mind freely w/o regard to hurting anyones feelings
C) This caveat was not meant as serious
D) none of the above

Shavua Tov

Two Rav Moshes - and Oral Traditions

It is interesting how "non-Ashkenazim" accept w/o much ado that R Moshe De Leone's publication can deviate from Talmudic norms - because after all the Zohar is predicated upon a Masorah!

Yet some of these same supporters of textless Masorah are clueless how R Moshe Isserles can publish halachos that apparently contradict with Talmud though based upon Masorah and even published Teshuvos - such as Maharil or T'rumas Hadeshen.

What Gives?

Whose ox has R Moshe Gored? :-)


Intellectual Honesty and "Cherry Picking" Quotes

In Tur + SA YD, there is a debate about the "minhag" of excluding women from shechita.

Agur says that women are excluded as no one sees them slaughter.

Bet Yosef protests:
Lo Ra'inu eino raya. Lack of witnessing an event is no proof that it did not happen nor that it could not happen

Shach counters BY
By minhag lo ra'inu is a Raya. IOW granted in the realm of Halachah the BY is correct - but this is about Minhag. In this context construe Minhag as "Policy".
I have heard the BY quoted by some people as proof positive that women may not be excluded from doing "X" simply because women haven't done it. This is true and fair

Q: Is this Fair and "Balanced" to quote the BY and consciously Omit the Shach? Is this type of "Cherry Picking" Intellectualy honest?


SA + RYDS - Chol Hamoed and Shaving

Two Halachot seem innocent enough - yet subjected to closer scrutiny may trigger some questions

1) SA 531:1 it is a mitzva to shave erev Yom Tov

Q: What kind of Mitzva is this?

What's its source?

(Be'er Hagolah says it is "pashut" I.E. Implicit in Moed Qatan 14.

Is SA exceeding his authority to state this as a "mitzva"? After all there is no explicit positive act of legislation!

How would this Mitzva be construed if R JB Soloveichik [RYDS] or Rabbi Herschel Schachter had declared this a "mitzva"?

2) 531:2 one may not shave on Chol Hamoed EVEN if one shaved before YT started

Source: Be'er Hagolah 531:2 Tur, Hagahot Ashrei besheim Or Zarua, and "remaining posqim

I am told that RYDS disputed this and suggested shaving if one shaves regularly and has complied with se'if 1 and shaved before Yom Tov

Q: Has RYDS exceeded his Halachic authority by revising Halachah codified by SA based upon a consensus of Posqim


Is RYDS within his authority in that no dispositive statement in Talmud prohibits this case - and what is NOT prohibited explicitly by Talmud is...

Ergo permitted?



Thursday 13 August 2009

Divine Command Theory

Micha Berger - along with Rabbi Hecht - is one of my main "rebbes" or mentors on Jewish philosophy.

This is student command theory in that this posting is a "command" or "demand" performance in that I requested Micha to compose this article.

Here is a teaser:
"In his essay "Euthyphro", Plato has Socrates ask a young student named Euthyphro, "Is what is righteous righteous because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is righteous?"

The Jewish spin would be to ask: Is an act good because Hashem chose to make it a mitzvah, or did Hashem command us to do it because it is good? What is the Source of morality?

The problem is that if you say that an act is good solely because Hashem commanded it, then He had no moral reason to tell us to do one set of things and not another. Can mitzvos be the product of Divine whim, the decision between "Thou shalt murder" and "Thou shalt not" entirely without any reason on His part? On the other hand, if there is an overarching definition of good and evil that Hashem conformed to, then we placed something "over" Him, something that even He is subject to.."

Now get yourself a block of time
And sip some coffee, tea or wine and

See the remainder @


Wednesday 12 August 2009

Humility in Criticizing from Rabbi Asher Lopatin

For Modern Orthodox or Liberal Orthodox to have the proper "cache" or gravitas in critiquing to the right, they must step up their level of commitment, lest their criticisms serve as

See more on this at:

"Rabbi Asher Lopatin on Morethodoxy: Exploring the Breadth, Depth and Passion of Orthodox Judaism"



PS My 2 Cents:

AISI: CENTRIST orthodoxy addresses this issue. It is a modern approach intellectually with the same "diqduq" in Observance as Hareidim.

The problem with the LW of Orthodoxy is they are perceived - fairly or unfairly - as "O-Lite". Thus, Centrism is Modern O w/o the Lite



Tuesday 11 August 2009

Arrests in New Jersey

The following is an article I wrote, on the events that transpired a few weeks ago when various rabbis were arrested in New Jersey and Brooklyn. Your comments are most welcomed.
(The article appeared, originally, in the Jewish Tribune (Toronto) and can be seen on line at
* * * * *

We must ask ourselves: What can I do to affect change?

I was – as were so many others around the world – truly stunned, embarrassed and troubled by the recent arrest of a group of Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn and New Jersey. How could this have happened? How will antisemites use this information to cause further harm to the Jewish community? What will people say about Orthodoxy? These were questions that I heard asked and that I read in numerous articles. Comments further abounded: these rabbis profaned the Name of God; they caused a great chilul Hashem; they reflected so much of what is wrong within their specific communities. They did this and they did that – yet it still is we who will all suffer the consequences of their behaviour.
On the theological plane, we could ask: if they are the wrong-doers, why must we all suffer? If antisemitism is, lo aleinu, strengthened because of the actions of these few individuals, the entire Jewish community is the potential victim. We can thus wonder about the Divine justification for the many to suffer because of the actions of the few, of the very few. My issue, however, is not theological; it is much more practical. Whether we like it or not, we all still suffer the consequences. What then is the benefit of simply responding by solely distancing ourselves from the perpetrators of these acts? Yet, the responses I kept reading in regard to these events were developed with just this agenda. The overriding motivation seemed to be this desire to distance oneself from the accused parties – that’s them, that’s not me or not us. As if the antisemite will distinguish between you and other Jews, especially such visible Jews.
If we all suffer together, we are all in it together. This is not to say that we should not identify evil and the roots of this evil, yet maybe our response should also include a reflection of this reality of our interconnectedness.We may ask: to whom were these individuals – with their attempts to distance themselves from the perpetrators of these crimes – directing their comments? We may also wonder about a possible hidden agenda behind some of these variant statements. In the most basic sense, those attempting to distance themselves from the perpetrators are attempting to tell others not to include them in any negative responses towards the perpetrators. Does one really think, though, that proclamations that you are not part of this villainous group will cause another, who originally sees you in this light, to change his/her perspective? In the broadest context, do we actually think that by proclaiming that Jews who do criminal acts are not representative of the greater community, we can actually change the mind of the antisemite who already views the Jewish community with contempt and thinks that all Jews really are criminals? Even as we know that the truth is that there may be a wide divide between the general Jewish community and its few members who act with criminal intent, we cannot let ourselves be satisfied with stating the obvious, believing that it will solve all the potential problems. We will all still face potential consequences together, as a we. Thus, we must respond to the problem as a we.
This also applies within narrower contexts, when we attempt to distance ourselves from perpetrators such as these by declaring them members of a particular sub-group within our people and distancing ourselves from that sub-group. They are Orthodox, it’s a problem in Orthodoxy; of course, I am not Orthodox and, thus, not part of the problem. They are ultra-Orthodox or haredim, it’s a problem in ultra-Orthodoxy or the haredi culture; of course, any critiques are inapplicable to me since I’m not haredi. This is not to say that we should not identify negative behaviour emanating from certain groups within the Jewish world or that we should not be virulent in promoting the expression of values in which we believe in the Jewish world. But how often do we turn to such a solution, choose an explanation built upon distancing ourselves from the other, because it promotes our specific group? And how often do we not, thereby, recognize that parts of the problem may arise, to some extent, because of our own inherent friction? Declaring that a negative event may reflect, specifically, a haredi problem, for example, may have some legitimacy yet such an answer may also allow non-haredi individuals to ignore any challenges to themselves and their viewpoints as well, because they simply found the answer in blaming the other.
There is another potential consequence in this process of attempting to distance oneself. I read of one person who stated that people should not judge the entire Syrian Jewish community by the actions of these men. I never even thought of this possibility, that these actions were potentially reflective of a possible moral weakness within this particular community. These comments, presented as a defence for the community, actually made me start to contemplate what the possible problems are, within this community, which would make people think that the actions of these men were indicative of this community’s general mores. If there is a perceived need to defend a community from specific attacks, the problem is not simply the attacks themselves, but also, the very perception that such attacks could be justified.
There is a classic tale of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the saintly Chofetz Chaim, in which an accusation of wrong was made against him by some evil individual. The story, though, continues that it was immediately rebuffed because of the very ridiculousness of such an accusation. That must be our communal goal. It should be that there is not even the need to distance ourselves from the perpetrators because it is obvious that these perpetrators were deceiving everyone by representing themselves as members of the Jewish community – for everyone knows that Jews, committed to their Jewishness, do not act in this manner.
My argument ultimately is not that there is no need to distance ourselves from perpetrators of such criminal acts nor to identify weaknesses within specific sub-groups within our people that may be, advertently or inadvertently, spreading a message that may give rise to such behaviour. While the antisemite will not hear such arguments, it is important to present such messages to ensure that naïve individuals within the greater population do not become fodder for these racist pronouncements.
Similarly, it is important to identify weaknesses within various sub-groups so that they can, and hopefully will, confront and rectify them. Unfortunately, the actual response will, rather, often be to simply grow defensive and ignore the challenges, as one often notes only the attack. In any event, what is the very purpose of this process of distinguishing? Does the average member of our society note the distinction between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews? Does the average secular Jew note the distinction between haredi Orthodoxy and non-haredi Orthodoxy? We all suffer the consequences of such events as those that transpired in New Jersey together. Our response must reflect this reality of interconnectedness.
In more specific terms, there are challenges we all face when attempting to maintain a strong and identifiable Jewish community within a broader, open society. This demands a balancing of forces of inclusion with forces of exclusion. Sometimes the desire for strength in Jewish identity can, though, yield a negation of the mores of the broader society. When the law of the land is broken, it can reflect such a weakness – the result of a view that the standards of the general society need not be respected because they are not Jewish. Our response, though, cannot simply be to attack those within the Jewish world who we perceive as advocating such a “solution” to the challenge of finding our balanced place in society. The broader need is to further articulate this challenge and advocate how we must all be careful to ensure that we properly balance the necessary respect for the greater society with the necessary respect for our Jewish uniqueness.
Of course, realistically, there are still “bad apples” within the Jewish people who, sadly, can wreak havoc on our community’s image and, regarding which, we can do little or nothing. The majority can suffer because of the acts of the minority, even the miniscule minority. Yet, when we attempt to find something that we can do, we empower ourselves. We must ask: how do these events identify weaknesses that I tolerate within myself and my community; and what can I do to affect change? No matter how difficult it may be for us to ask this question, it is one that we must face – and answer.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Rabbi Angel's Blog on Geirut

For a Halachic review of Geirut - the ideal and the practical

I knew a ger who kept all mitzvot AFAIK

But on December 25 he would disappear and do XMAS, he simply could not give up that early experience.

Any Comments?


Orthodox Women Clergy

"The best way to accomplish this is for our community to start many different training programs for Orthodox women who wish to work as clergy. " Rabbi Michael Broyde

More on this interesting perspective may be found at:


Monday 10 August 2009

Using Spirituality to Explain the Horror of the Holocaust

It's really tough to fathom the depth and breadth of sueffering incurred during the Sho'ah

It's even tougher as a rabbi to deal with it; to confront survivors who lost so much. What can one say?

Lulei demistefina! While we cannot describe or ascribe the fundamentals of the dynamics - nevetheless Lessons CAN be learned and MUST be learned! It is our job as thinking analytical creatures to contemplate and reflect upon these grand events - whether they be the Triumph of the Exodus - which requires a night of reflection. Or the catastrophe of the Holocaust which make take us 2-3 generations to process.

One spirtual insight helps us put some distance from the suffering. This is reflected in most Spiritual Traditions, and in Judaism mostly via Qabbalah.

And that is - "We are NOT our bodies!" Thus take the Jewish martyr Rabbi Aqiva - his body was destroyed but not the soul, not the persona. R Aqiva himself, what makes him R. Aqiva is invulnerable to any harm from any human.

The body of R. Aqiva and his fellow martyrs are like the parchment, but that saming burning parchment releases its letters into the ether. A Mashal to body and spirit!

Another mashal is that our bodies are like a robe or an overcoat. What is destroyed during martyrdom is finite and mortal

Nevertheless, bodies have feelings and senses. So the analogy is by no means exact, perfect. The Jews who died suffered! It was not like they died peacefully under anasthesia.

Perhaps a better mashal: like bandages being ripped of one's skin in a most painful manner. The bandages are NOT the body, nevertheless their removal is painful

Similarly one's body is not one's essence, but as martyrs its removal was most painful.

Nevertheless nothing of "consequence" died - except perhaps the communities and institutions that furthered a vibrant Jewish life in pre-war Europe. They were victims of this Hurban - just as our Beis Hamiqdash was

May HKBH yemalei chesroneinu

Bmeheira beyameinu!



Friday 7 August 2009

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - Out of Order?

In Ner Israel many thoughtful students pondered the meanings and the messages of the High Holy Days - Yamim Nora'I'm

A very provocate question went as follows:

Given that RH is a day of judgment - Yom Haddin

Given that Yom Kippurim is a Day of Atonement and forgiveness.

The wouldn't it make MORE sense to Have Yom Kippur FIRST so that we would FIRST be forgiven all our trespasses and THEN go into the New Year with a clean slate?

Why have this "reverse" order.

Several responses were given.

A lengthy response will be given BEH during my Scholar-in-Residence Shabbat. For source material, I will focus primarily upon Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128.


Thursday 6 August 2009

Aroch haShulchan and A Tale of Two Humros

In YD 89:11 AhS seems to accept the premise of the Rema - namely that we wait after Hard Cheese to eat meat, just like we wait after meat in order to eat dairy. Although he does acknowledge that
"Rabbim ein nizharin bezeh.."

However, in YD 89:17 he objects to a gzeira about kashering a keli back and forth from meat to dairy

A it's a humra yeseira
B ein lanu ligzor gzeiros midaateinu

Q: Mah nafshach! Siman 89 has many humros and gzeiros not found in the Talmud! Why pick on this one?

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Eqev: Who Inscribed the Second Luchos?

Originally published 8/5/09, 6:45 pm.
Hashem both carved and inscribed the First Luchos.
Moshe hewed the Second set of Luchos
Who inscribed this second set?

We have some ambiguities in the text.
We can resolve them by means of the 13th principle of Rabbi Yishma'el, "Vechein sh'nei ch'suvim  amach'chishim ze es zeh.."

First the conflicting bit:
1. Shnei Ch'suvim:
Shmos 34:1, HKBH writes the Second Luchos: "V'chasavti al halluchos"

2. Sh'mos 34 "K'sav lecha.." Moshe is writing on (luchos? Or something else?)

Although the two do not completely contradict each other, they do seem ambiguous.
This week's Parsha, Eqev, to the rescue!
The scale tipper: Hakkatuv hashlishi:

3. Dvarim Eqev Ch. 10:2-4 "v'echtov al halluchos" where it is clear that HKBH wrote on the 2nd Luchos.
I think this structure is clear. Therefore, in #2, Moshe probably wrote something else or wrote the dibros upon something else, like parchment.


Eqev, Mishnah, Sukkah - Perfect Misunderstanding

Originally published 8/5/09, 3:08 pm.
The Land Of Israel is unique:

D'varim 11:12:

A land that the L-rd Your G-d always Seeks
Always Hashem's Eyes are upon her.

Rashi s.v. Tamid to see what she news and to INNOVATE edicts, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the evil.


The mishnah was developed and redacted in the Land of Israel.

Thus, it is logical and reasonable that the above supposition is a given premise - at least running in the background of the minds of the Tannaim.


Mishna Sukkah 2:9

When it rains - they made a parable: like a servant who fills the goblet for his master and the master dumps it in his face.

Based upon Rashi, this is a case of a negative Gezeira that HKBH might, C"V, create when Israel misbehaves in the Land of Israel.


Perfect Misunderstanding

That is to assume when it rains in the Golah - such as in North America, that Hashem is altering the weather pattern of the masses to smite the few Jews - say in North America. This may be beyond misunderstanding and approaching hubris that the weather in exile - Sukkos or not - is only Jewish-centric.

This is because the context of this Mishnah has been ignored! Reasonable premises about a Jewish Society are illogical when applied to Jews living in a Gentile Society!


May we all Merit to sit in the Sukkah in our Holy Land, EY, bimheira beyameinu.