Saturday 26 September 2009

Shabbos Elevators

The present issue in Israel regarding the use of Shabbos elevators is not really about Shabbos elevators but rather the issue is, again, the imposition of a monolithic vision of Torah. There has always been an extensive machloket regarding the use of Shabbos elevators with some poskim allowing their use and some forbidding it. The fact that some rabbis now come out with a declaration that they are assur is not really earth shattering -- but its the language that stands out, both in regard to those forbidding their use and some of those arguing that they are indeed permitted. From what I have seen, there is no presentation of the reality of machloket and that there may be divergent opinions on the subject.
It just seems that the overriding importance in the mind of so many is to maintain this fiction that there is a definite the halacha. This perspective changes the very essence of Torah. Its no longer about the mind and the significance of analysis and decision making in the manifestation of the Torah lifestyle. The reality is that the creation of a new type of Judaism is now being attempted, one that ultimately challenges the very value of Torah study even as it may declare that all males should be solely involved in this pursuit.
The answer is not in promoting Shabbos elevators, thereby challenging the monolithic cry. The answer is also not in passive tolerance of the divergent opinions. The answer is in respectful debate, thereby showing that indeed we must strive to reach the correct halachic view but that process is through confronting an issue in its roots of thought not through avoiding the essence of limud haTorah, halachic debate. Gadol halimud haba lidei ma'aseh.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 24 September 2009

Our Relationship with Hashem

Below is link to a Kol Nidrei Sermon by my student Rabbi Noah Gradofsky


Halachah BeQitzur

I have probably posted on this before so here is an update

The most popular Qitsur is the Qitsur Shulchan Aruch (and I will now revert to using K instead of Q)

But the KSA is neither the first nor the last.

Many books have been condensed.

The Rif condensed Shas

A relatively unknown Kitzur is that of the Tur. Yes the Turim were more-or-less condensed by Sefer Ho'agur.

There are kitzurim of Sefer Hachinuch and even of Chayei Adam - despite wise cracks about shortening one's life!

Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam was condensed by none other than the Chofetz Chaim.

Another handy Kitzur - that is not so well known - is the abridged Mishneh Torah by Philip Birnbaum. I recommend the bilingual edition - and it is hard to get nowadays.

Two of my favorite "kitzurs" are on Hilchos Shabbos
The Chayei Adam's own Zichru Toras Moshe
R Posen's Kitzur Hilchos Shabbos

The former is great for principles
The latter has a lot of modern applications

Have a great 5770!



Wednesday 23 September 2009

Sukkah Stability

Minhag - seen by many as "upsetting the applecart" can actually do just the opposite, and serve to stabilize Halachic practice in the face of aggressively revisionist rabbinical thinking for more see:

Nishma-Minhag : Message: Canvas Sukkos - a Minhag to be Lenient

Chag Somei'ach

On Hechsher Zedek - Several Quick Comments

I'm not clear as to the motives behind the Hechsher Zedek movement. Is it a "Trojan horse" to simply undermine current Kashrus agencies, or is it a sincere effort to promote greater ethics and honesty?

I want to sidestep that issue and to address 2 side points.

• 1) It should not be limited to purveyors of Kosher Food alone. "Zedek" should apply to any and all businesses run by Jews. IMHO The Kosher Industry shouldn't be singled out

• 2) IMHO It shouldn't be limited to monetary ethics. Abuse of employees, customers, or shareholders is also intolerable. Are We OK with simple complicity to the letter of the law while overlooking abusive practices!? I think not! Rather we should consider a more holistic point of view - and not gloss over the Proverbial "Naval Birshus HaTorah".

G'mar Tov


Sanhedrin of 70, and 70 Languages

The two uses of 70 are probably NOT co-incidental! However, I have a "modern" twist to the requirement of Sanhedrin knowing 70 languages

My late teacher Prof. MS Feldblum opined:

[In our modern world] 70 languages could refer to the languages of: biology, chemistry, physics, etc. IOW Sanhedrin needed the languages of the entire world in order to be worldly. Being at least conversant in the jargon of science and technology is part of that equation.

And so some form of Torah Im Derech Eretz [TIDE] or Torah uMadda [TuM] is a prerequisite for such a lofty position

Thus, rabbanim and musmachim need well-roundedness in order to function in a highly technical society.

R MD Tendler is an exemplar of this kind of rabbi. And R M Feinstein could consult him to enable and to empower him to make P'saq compliant to the highest ideals of Torah

Gmar Tov

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Encapsulating the Range of Modern Orthodox Thought

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner
Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits
Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel
Rabbi Benzion Uziel
Rabbi Hayim David Halevy
Rabbi Shimon Shwab
Rabbi Shelomo Danziger

Just to mention a few!

Are discussed in a most interesting way by Michael Makovi
In his Blog

See The Haredism of the National-Religious in Israel

Gmar Tov

Giving 75% vs. Giving 100%

This story is a fictional mashal....

Recently a shul president sent a questionnaire re: a prospective Rabbinical candidate. The previous employer sent back something like this:

«Dear Isaac Sheini, President of Beth Hechadash

Rabbi Ezra is a good person and he gets it right about 75% of the time

However, we had a lingering problem. Whenever something was incomplete, or if he failed to say the right thing the FIRST time, he never bothered himself to fix it, to make it right. Even when we outlined for him how to rectify it - he still had this attitude that "it's 'good enough' as it is. And so why bother following up on suggestions for improvement?"

In the beginning his pleasing personality won us over. Over time all the loose ends became unraveled

You will no doubt be fine with Rabbi Ezra during the first 2-3 years of the honeymoon period. You may find that after that things get messy


President of Qehillat Rishon»


This coming year, are you aiming to be a 75%-er or a 100%-er?

Are your goals more about excellence or more about mediocrity?

Gmar Tov


Avinu Malkeinu

Quick thought:

Hashem is "Avinu" due to Ma'aseh Breishis; RH

While Hashem is "Malkeinu" due to Yetzias Mitzrayim; Pesach

Thus, RH - one half year from Passover, represents 2 sides of the same pole.

This balance is in the 2 versions of the luchos

Shabbos in Zachor (Maaseh Breishis)


Shamor (Yetzias Mitzrayim)

Also it is reflected in Shabbos Qiddush:

Zikkaron lema'asaseh breishis

Zeicher leyetzi"as Mitzrayim



Monday 21 September 2009

The Two Faces of a Master Educator

I often avoid naming names but this story is just too fascinating to omit the names of the players

R Yosef Dov Soloveichik [RYDS] aka Reb Yoshe Ber aka Reb JB, was known as a fierce rebbe in his Talmud class. He demanded very sharp preparation, and I learned at his shloshim hazakara, that he himself prepared 5-6 hours for every Talmud Lesson @ YU-RIETS.

His son described him like a "crouched tiger", waiting to pounce on a student for a mis-step with the sources or with the Svara.

My former rabbi, Rabbi Kanarfogel [RDEK], also described him this way - as a a Talmud Rebbe. Yet as a Professor in Graduate School, he was the model, the paradigm of urbane civility. When students brought up points, he would often be graciously accommodating, openly receptive to various points of view.

The difference? Was this a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality? Not at all. As RDEK goes on to explain, RYDS was fiery when it came to getting the Torah transmitted properly. Even a nuance of deviation might undermine or compromise a Talmudic principle. With Torah, the transmission had to be precise, to the point of unforgiving. The plus was that students HAD to sharpen their minds, and few were offended personally by RYDS "not suffering fools graciously"

OTOH, in the realm of philosophy, diversity was tolerated, if not outright welcomed. Any reasonable analysis was treated cordially.

Q: What did Torah studies possess that secular studies lacked?

A: Qedushah

I'm always a bit surprised when "BT's" expect a rebbe to be highly indulgent of all kind of "reasonable" approaches. I guess that there lies a degree of "assimilation" of secular learning.

Torah learning is more complex. A reasonable sounding Svara in place X can make serious problems in area Y. Torah is so tightly enmeshed that a great deal of mastery is needed before validating the novel, the innovative, and the radical. And the wiggle room for the casual, the sloppy, the half-baked is so much less.

And even when Torah has an elu v'elu concept in general, almost no rebbe would lechatchila teach in a way that would allow for 2 diverse schools to sprout forth from a given lecture or monograph. The concept of rebbe-talmid transmission almost demands greater conformity to the specific points of the rebbe, and not the loose ramblings of the talmid.

So if Marxism can be understood quite differently by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin And Mao is one thing. But to understanding R Chayyim Brisker 4 ways would be another matter entirely


Newton's laws of motion - Wolpoe's Corollary

''To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction:.."

Wolpoe's Corollary
"For every Revolutionary - there is always an equal and opposite reactionary"

For details on
Newton's laws of motion - see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia's_laws_of_motion

Gmar Tov

If you make people think

«If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you. If you really make them think, they'll hate you. Don Marquis»

Recently I was trying to Force People on a list to Really Think. Boy did I learn the hard way!

With Elul approaching, I used several ploys and tactics in an attempt to shake people from their complacency. The goals were twofold

• A) Stimulate reason and analysis re: certain issue

• B) Stimulate introspection re: certain modes of reasoning and attitudes.

What motivated me?

I'm glad you asked! There was some pontifications on the list that either AISI:

• A) Led into certain untenable results in the long run

• B) Reflected a flawed attitude towards life that was both self-destructive and harmful to others in that it presented a false portrait of reality

Notice the A's line up with each other re: issues and stances, and the B's about attitudes and characters.

Perhaps the Internet is not a good forum for asking or [more properly] demanding that people take a good look and WHAT they say or WHAT they believe or HOW they say things.

RSR Hirsch explains that Rivka had Yaakov masquerade as Esav in order to "unmask" Yitzchak's naivete or paternal blind spot. This ploy eventually worked - but not before Yitzchak himself intensely trembled as his fundamendal paradigms shifted!

Yitzchak had been forced to confront himself by his own wife using their son as a proxy.

Unfortunately, my own good intentions seemed to pave the road to ... As people were more annoyed, than amused, and failed to find these tactics as challenging. Instead they were seen perhaps as meddlesome or irritating. «Sigh»

Hopefully some day the light will dawn that my failed attempts to make others REALLY THINK was a wake up call and not a reason to be hateful

Gmar Tov



For more

Favorite Quotations - Quotes on Human Nature

Sunday 20 September 2009

Cognitive Dissonance Pt. 13 - Rambam and Briskers

Here the cognitive dissonance impacts Talmud vs. Halachah only indirectly

Background and Digression

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik [RYDS]used a dialectic technique to teach Talmud. Simplified he would take 2 rishonom and play them off each other.

It was like sitting in a theater. Stage left was Rav and Shmuel or Rava and Abbayei from the Talmud and stage right were Tosafot and Rambam each describing in turn the narrative of Shas. It was very much alive and engaging.

Over the course of years, RYDS would play it like this

Rashi Vs. Tosafot

Rashi Vs. Ramabam

Tosafot Vs. Rambam

Thus his shiurim on each sugya would always vary. In baseball this is like a 3 game series with 2 identical line-ups - but with different starting pitchers each day.


All of this academics using dialectics with Talmud was a joy to me.

However, Briskers are prone to jumping the boundary and applying this to practical Halachah, too. This is where I jumped ship from Brisker Derech.

The biggest area of conflict is simple - Ashkenazic Halacha vs. Sephardic

Sephardim - and more so Teimanim - pretty much follow Rambam in a straightforward manner - Wysiwig

However, Briskers - using Rambam - take a POV that would probably orient Oriental Jews, and see Shas thru that prism. Then they would develop - using Brisker principles - a new Halachic Hiddush.

Problem? Ashkenazi Masorah uses Tosafot, and a lot of "Western" Minhag as its foundation. While Tosafot also uses dialectic, he is not doing so viewed through a Maimonidean prism.

Loose Example, RYDS states to sit for Ashrei before Minchah based upon a statement in the Rambam. But both the premise, and its understanding, are alien to basic Ashkenazic practice. See Tur. And Sephardim do not require it either - see BY on the Tur.

Thus, RYDS has about 100 deviations from common Minhag documented in the RYDS RH machazor, some using this Brisker method.

For a future topic, we will touch upon the GRA as similar

Gmar Tov


Ambiguity Tolerance

Talmud and Rabbinical Literature is replete with ambiguity. This is actually not only a mode of Eastern Thinking [Think Zen] it's a sign of a healthy psyche.

«Definitions of Ambiguity tolerance on the Web:

• Ambiguity tolerance is the ability to perceive ambiguity in information and behavior in a neutral and open way.»

«Wilkinson's Modes of Leadership is largely based on ambiguity tolerance.

Mode one leaders have the least tolerance to ambiguity with mode four leaders enjoying and preferring to work in ambiguous situations. In part this is due to what Wilkinson calls 'emotional resilience'. The converse, ambiguity intolerance,[4][5] which was introduced in "The Authoritarian Personality" in 1950,[6] was defined in 1975 as a "tendency to perceive or interpret information marked by vague, incomplete, fragmented, multiple, probable, unstructured, uncertain, inconsistent, contrary, contradictory, or unclear meanings as actual or potential sources of psychological discomfort or threat."»

In other words, the lower the quotient for ambiguity tolerance, the more authoritarian the personality.

Gmar Tov


On Taking the Moral High Ground

"How to Win Friends and Influence People"


How to hate the sin and still love or tolerate the sinner:

"Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people"
Eleanor Roosevelt

My Pontification

We will never win the moral high ground
Using ad hominem attacks from the low road

Let's take the high road and present our vision of a better Judaism and leave the low road to the others

In the end, we'll attract an idealistic compassionate following.

I see this in the ideals of Rav Kook and the Besht. But I think it goes back to Beth Hillel being the kinder, gentler point of view.

Gmar Tov

Cognitive Dissonance Pt. 12 Yerushalmi Vs. Bavli

A chaveir of mine responded to part 10:

«However, I believe the fundamental difference lies in the popular (either from Yeshivot or Rosh Yeshivot) choice of texts to canonize
[Thus] whenever there is a choice ie Bavli vs Yerushalmi, Levush or Tur vs SA, Aruch Hashulchan vs MB -the choice is to go with the more ambiguous text.»

Continuing via Paraphrase:

« [Perhaps this] will afford more latitude in future pronouncements or afford more plasticity or wiggle room.»

My chaveir's take was slightly different than mine as I prefer to view this to simply mean that Rabbis do not wish to "paint themselves into proverbial corners." Thus, tight, precise, parameters may rob them of the latitude to handle future contingencies.

My chaveir continues
«The Yerushalmi states that "learning" must be practical (Halacha) rather than academic (Drush)....
[This is] Radically different than Bavli which advocates Academic Learning.»

I don't see Bavli as purely academic - just more theoretical. Meaning parameters developed in a theoretical context can have applications in real Halachah

Given: Hazal more-or-less nullified [no-oped] eer hanidachas. Yet the parameters of eer hanidachas - something that perhaps never occurred - teaches us lessons about residents versus visitors! This is clear from Bava Batra 8 - the daf I gave on the previous Shabbat Ki Teitze. The Bavli distinguishes between the [theoretical] treatment of those in the city for less than 30 days and those that were there 30 or more. That distinction from the realm of theory has real-world applications elsewhere.

Drosh v'qabeil sechar may yield real tangible benefit in a different and real-life context. Just as theoretical physics may yield practical engineering when properly applied.


•A) Practical and theoretical "sugyot" may not always be on the same wavelength - yet at times the theoretical does impact or influence the practical

•B) Yerushalmi and Bavli may have differing approaches to Talmud Torah

•C) Posqim may desire or even NEED flexibility and therefore are reluctant at times to take a highly specific stance

Gmar Tov

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud Pt. 11 - La'Asuqei Shma'at'ta aliba deHilcheta 3 Vs. 2 Matzot

Case #1: 2 Vs. 3 Matzot @ the Seder

There are a number of approaches to this Shma'at'ta

Let's start from a traditional Yeshivishe perspective. This perspective presupposes that the requirement of Lechem Mishna On YT is the same from Talmud through Rishonim]

La'Asuqei version #1

The Rambam holds that Lechem Mishnah applies to YomTov [YT]. Hil Chametz uMatza

Nevertheless the sugya suggests taking just 1.5 Matzot at the Seder for motzi-matza. [See possible reason below]

La'Asuqei version #2

Tosafot and The Rosh also accept Lechem Mishna as a requirement for YT and so using method #2 they apply the axiomatic Halachah of Lechem Mishnah to the Shma'at'ta - thereby revising and retrofitting it to match the reality on the ground - so they recommend 2.5


The GRA sees 1.5 as per method #1 and in addition sees 2.5 as lacking in lechem oni

The Arizal does 3 al pi sod - which works on a different dimension.
However, when "voting" his vote joins the threesome.]

Let's re-approach the Shma'at'ta from a critical, chronological perspective. ["Historical" Method]

It is likely that the Talmud never knew about requiring Lechem Mishna on YT. Rather this was an alter Gaonic interpretation and extrapolation.

This dovetails with
the BeHaG who rules
2 matzot on Chol and 3 on Shabbat! Ostensibly he holds: (shma minah tlat)

A) Lechem Mishna is NOT required on YT Alone ONLY when it's Friday Night

B) Lechem Mishna IS required on Shabbat

C) Since B Therefore the Shabbat requirement supersedes any lechem oni concern or even the simple read of the Sugya - which he would relegate to chol only.

Thus BeHAG is mildly advocating La'Asuqei #2. That the Shma'at'ta is partially modified in light of external contemporary halachic standards.

Now, by the time of Tosafot and Rosh, Lechem Mishnah on YT is axiomatic! Being indispensable the simple read is no longer tenable - instead La'Asuqei #2 prevails and the sugya is retrofitted to contemporary Norms.

Rif-Rambam [and later the GRA] stick with La'Asuqei #1. That is the sugya is seen as originally intended

Yet the BY overrules his default to rule like
Rif-Rambam - because the overwhelming consensus matches Tosafot-Rosh

[Note: As I See Halachah, the matter has been closed and we have arrived at "Settled Law"]

The GRA is more interested in overturning established practice in favour of NOT revising the original intent of the Sugya.

Yet the Kaf HaHayyim notes that the Shlah favours 3 as the Sole Method of covering all the bases, plus the consensus of Acharonim concur - overriding the GRA and original intent in favour of Tradition, Consensus and Settled Law


La'asukei #1 handles cognitive dissonance by revising the practice to match the original intention of the text

La'asukei #2 revises [not the text itself rather] the UNDERSTANDING of the text to match accepted or established norms

NB: the Talmud itself frequently does this to the Mishnah. So in-depth Talmudic students are quite used to this technique

Gmar Tov

Nishma-Minhag : How may we make a B'rachah on Tefillin?

Gmar Tov

The Fundamentalist, the Traditonalist, The Activist - Pt. 2 the Kuzari

Refer to this recent post for part 1:

The Kuzari of R Yehudah Halevi deals with polemical debates with various representatives





In the 1964 Schocken Paperback edition of the Kuzari pp. 168-169 The Rabbi bemoans the fate of the Qaraite

With ONLY a fundamental text -- and no tradition of HOW to interpret or apply that text in real life -- the Qaraite must constantly decide every question anew

Furthermore, they exhibit zealotry due to their insecurity, whereas the Rabbi is secure in the established Tradition. The Qaraite is loud and boisterous, the Rabbi at ease [smug perhaps?]

Thus the Rabbi - having a tradition - has the Peace of Mind of how to handle most every situation via Traditional Halachah.

If we were to substitute another ancient text for Tanach - be it Mishna or Yerushalmi, etc. We would be in the same dilemma the Qaraites were a millennium ago! W/O a living tradition, we'd still need to refer to the ancient text and do what Qaraites did 1,000 years ago.

Furthermore, if R Yehudah Halevi was of the opinion that HE had a single text that trumped the Qaraite single text - he would have argued that "my text trumps yours" - Just as Muslims argue that Mohammed Trumps Moses or as Xtians claim that Jesus-Paul trumps Moses! But he did not. He referred to Tradition! Now of course classic texts such as Mishnah are components of that tradition - no doubt about it! But if they were used fundamentally, then the Peace-of-Mind argument withers away. They would need to return to shrill insecurity, argumentativeness stemming from cognitive ambiguity, energetic yet hostile


If you see a fundamentalist who is loud, remember this lesson from the Kuzari and relax into the secure foundation of a multi-millennium structure! And merely dismiss the exhortations with Shakespearean aplomb:

"Methinks that thou dost protest a bit too much!"

Gmar Tov


Wednesday 16 September 2009

Zichron T'ruah

In a private discussion Offline - we discussed that by NOT blowing Shofar this Shabbat, we are really not missing anything

How so? [I haven't seen it in a while but] the Yerushalmi states Zichron T'ruah implies NOT to blow Shofar on Shabbat. [Note: This may be d'oraito or asmachta, either way] it is not quite the Bavli's take of "shema yaavirenu"

The upshot? That by Recalling the Shofar Blast is tantamount to actually Having a Blast! Thus, on Shabbat the Zichron Truah is in lieu of sounding the Shofar itself.

This dovetails well with "uneshalma parim sefateinu". We do this "graphically" during the avodah of YK

There are several other approaches

• A) That Following Hazal equates to Blowing the Shofar. This seems to fit with the Bavli.

• B) A more mystical approach is: that the qedusha of Shabbat makes up for the Mitzva of Shofar - so it manifests a "spiritual trade off" so to speak.

Shana Tova


Sunday 13 September 2009

Perfect Misunderstanding: Machnisei Rachamim Apologetics

Perfect misunderstanding:
Addressing an angel equates praying TO That Angel

This article corrects that perfect misunderstanding by differentiating between the target of the message from the messenger

So the messengers may indeed fail in Aramic, but the ADDRESSEE does not

Shana Tova

Nishma-Minhag : Message: Proposed New Minhag for RH

Something Old
Something New
Something proposed
To sweeten the year
For You


Nishma-Minhag : Proposed Innovation for Yamim Noraim

Here is a clever "work-around" for addressing the cognitive dissonance between minhag-nusach and a strict-construct of Halacha regarding hefsek

Shana Tova

Monday 7 September 2009

Mishnah RH 4:5, Where does Malchuyot Belong? Part 2

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

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

Assuming that the Halacha does follow R Aqiva and rejects R Yochanan ben Nuri, then our p'suqqim of Mallchuyot make sense where they are.

However, what [apparently] does NOT make sense is how did the paragraph "v'Timloch" makes it's way into Qedushat Hashem? This seems to follow the opinion of R. Yochanan ben Nuri by introducing a theme of Maluchuyot there

Shana Tovah


Sunday 6 September 2009

Trustworthiness and the Two Cardinal Sins

[See Aroch Hashulchan Yoreh Dei'a 119 also Shulchan Aruch etc]

In the area of trustworthiness for Kashruth purposes - as well as other forms of trustworthiness -- A Jew is trusted unless suspect in the self-same area

E.G. a suspected adulterer would be trusted in Kashruth matters - but not in marital testimony. Also Vice Versa. An eater of an occasional "treif" snack would be suspect in Kashruth but trusted in other matters.

However, a Jew who is suspect in two areas is beyond the pale:

A Idol Worship

B Violation of Shabbat

Thus a Mechaleil Shabbat is Halachically tantamount to an Oved Avodah Zara.

And these are apparently the only two cardinal sins that get global treatment tantamount to being a Gentile

The other cases may include other sins when done habitually.

Although some liberals see Kashruth and Shemirath Shabbath As distinct. However - Halachically-speaking - this is not the case.

Rather they are intimately enmeshed.

Shana Tova


Friday 4 September 2009

The "Authentic Judaism" Blog

From viewing our good friend Garnel's blog,, I found out about a new blog in cyberspace that is most disconcerting, "Authentic Judaism", The posts are infuriating, to say the least, and, on Garnel's blog, the comments were so critical that they included criticism of Garnel for even mentioning this blog and thereby giving it publicity. Garnel, in response, actually removed his first post regarding this blog although, for reasons that will be soon apparent, he now does have some posts regarding the blog.

The problem with this blog is that it presents a charedi vision in such a way that it is insulting and malicious of any other form of Orthodox Judaism. The blog actually preaches hatred towards individuals who deviate from Torah, which to this individual means anyone outside his narrow parameters of Torah thought, and makes statements regarding Rav Kuk and the Rav that are, to say the least, are inappropriate and demeaning. It is not surprising that people responded to the blog in such a powerful way. It is vile and disgusting and presents a view of Torah that is horrendous and sad. It truly is a sad day that this type of presentation is considered "Authentic Judaism" by anyone.

It now comes out, though, that the whole blog may have been a joke perpetrated by some industrious teenager bent on satirizing charedi Judaism. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief -- TG it was not real -- that was expressed in response to this revelation (although this theory has not, from my understanding, been confirmed). It would seem that it's just back to business as usual. The problem is that this blog, even if it was simply an attempt at satire, reveals two items that are still of grave concern:
(a) the fact that people even could have thought that it was real; and
(b) the dishonourable description of the gedolei Yisrael even in jest.

Until the presentation that this blog was the work of this teenager came out, people thought that it was real, a presentation of some charedi Rabbi. This is not to say that people thought all charedim thought this way or even that most did, but it did indicate that people thought that it was possible for someone to think this way, that some person could adopt such beliefs and attitudes given the real presentations of the charedi world. That, in itself, is a major problem. There is that old adage that it is not enough that justice be done but it must be perceived that justice is done. Perception does matter. In Pirkei Avot, we are told that chachamim must be careful with their words lest someone mistakes their meaning and, as a result, acts inappropriately. There is a problem that people even thought, for a moment, that this blog could have been real, that it would be possible for someone within the charedi world to have written it (albeit perhaps accepting that such a person must be somewhat unstable). That it may have been a joke does not necessarily remove the problem.

The fact still remains that the blogs statements against Rav Kuk, the Rav amongst others was disgusting. Jest, or even satire, cannot simply be an explanation for such bizayon haTorah. It may have been the intent of the author, by making such presentations, to eventually promote the proper kavod haTorah for these gedolei Yisrael, but still, can this intent justify the disgusting statements made about them? Humour does not justify everything and bizayon haTorah is still bizayon haTorah. Inherently there just is a lack in kavod haTorah and yirat chachamim with such a presentation, even done in jest and with the intent to attack those who are disrespectful to individuals such as Rav Kuk and the Rav. It can be asked: how could anyone, even as a joke, write such things? The very fact that we don't see individuals with Torah stature with such awe is, itself, a problem.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 3 September 2009

New is Not always Improved -So Think First

Novel ideas and fads often attract a following for no other reason than being on the "cutting edge" [Sometimes bleeding edge!]

In debating a hot topic related to political correctness - I sent the following missive in response to the simple observation: "Not sure what your point is"

My Point? To get people to reflect - introspect.

To think "critically" in the sense of NOT drinking the Kool-aid

Rav Gorelick implored us: "Ich vill nisht kein frum torah"

So if academic X says Model A supersedes Model T - who says that this is fact? Maybe it is opinion!

Why just the other day - the newspapers showed a picture of Ford's Model T tooling around NYC and getting better gas mileage and polluting less than most contemporary cars! So who says A is actually better than T?

Ford insisted the model T was ideal and by sticking to black paint he saved the consumer a bundle of money. But consumers favored GM's colorful cars and efficiency gave way to faddy aesthetics and prices got jacked up just for "style" points!

Volkswagen made the same point in the 1960's - why pay for re-engineering every year? It's a waste!

So when people see change as superior - I question this "mass hysteria" for the idolatry of "new and improved"

True Story

I served on a co-op board for many years
NYC said: "incinerators pollute the air" so use compactors instead.

And so we did. Within months the cockroach infestation was unbearable! Thank G-d for the city because with cleaner air - a boon was created for exterminators. They then began spraying powerful chemical insecticides to quash the roach population boon! Do you really think those chemicals make for a "healthier atmosphere" then the smoke and soot from incinerators? I dunno but I DO know it cost us a bundle and the quality of life was reduced - forcing us to share our quarters with uninvited "guests".

Now I'm no Luddite, but sometimes one really must question "progress". With academics we get nonsense like the Civil War was not about slavery. What academics often (but not always) thrive on is revisionism - not necessarily better models but putting a valuable kankan around some grape juice and selling it as fine wine!

Now thinking people who are introspective will not swallow that Grape Flavoured Kool-aid.

So my job is to question the popular "Avodah Zara" that new = better.

The emes is that better = better. New may or may not be better.

Shana Tova

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud Pt. 10 - La'Asuqei Shmaat'ta aliba deHilcheta

Growing up in the Yeshiva World - Talmud was more Theoretical and Halachah had branched off into popular codes EG
Hayyei Adam
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
Mishnah Brurah.

In fact I finally was gracefully granted to set aside Talmud and learn Halachah at my last 2 weeks @ Ner Israel in Baltimore. I took Shulchan Aruch,
Taz-Magen David, and Magen Avraham and learned hilchot Tisha b'Av [really the entire 3 weeks] b'iyyun - no Mishna Brurah!

But I digress! Those of a philological and/or fundamentalist mindset have an approach to Halachah that requires going to original texts and working forward. And when approaching those texts [Mishna, Talmud, etc.] They usually employ a [Gaonic] techinque - viz. "L'asuqei shmaat'ta aliba dehilcheta"

Here the approach is to learn the sugya b'iyyun and to ferret out the correct Halachah Going Forward. Thus, since Qitniyyot is permitted by Talmud on Passover, there is no Halachah re: Qitniyyot. At most, a minhag.

This is a classic approach to text.

However I finally heard articulated this same phrase to explain the more POPULAR approach to Halachah. This is meaning #2 of
"L'asuqei shmaat'ta aliba dehilcheta", IE.
To start with the Halachah as axiomatic and to FIND its roots in the sugya!

This technique is used by Tosafot and others - and BEH we will post a follow up

In Hermann Strack's Intro to Talmud and Midrash, he states that this is the current technique in vogue; IE to consult the codes and to work BACK to the Sugya! That the Talmud is no longer in the foreground of Halachah but is in the background. Thus the codified Halachah is NOW assumed to be axiomatically correct and the Talmud is re-worked or retrofitted so as to conform. This is pretty much what we do to Mishnah TODAY! The simple read has been set aside at times by the Talmud and this is reflected in Bartenura et al.

What changed?

In the Gaonic era defintion #1 had to prevail. Except for a few rudimentary codes - such as Halachot G'dolot - the Bavli was THE primary text!

Later, Gaonic decisions, the emrgence of Yerushalmi and Gaonic decisions from Eretz Yisrael served to make the Bavli less a hands on Halachic text and more of an encyclopedic resource book. That's why Rif and Rambam move AWAY from Bavli as a pragmatic Halachic source.

Rif created a Mini-Bavli alternative, and Rambam reduced Oral Law back to Mishnaic form, resmebling the redaction of R. Yeudah Hannasi.

See SA Choshen Mishpat 25:1 where "to'eh bidvar Mishnah" has been extended to "Posqim". See nos'ei keilim particularly Sefer Me'iras Eynayim.


L'asuqei shmaat'ta aliba dehilcheta may actually imply two techniques which may be complementary or often in conflict.

#1 The original intent of primary sources - which may be used to revise current practice.

#2 The acceptance of current norms as axiomatic and then applying normative Halachah as a template for re-reading the Talmud. This can be similar to "deconstructive" reading.

Follow up:
We will BEH show several cases of how these cases diverge in real life


2 Vs. 3 Matzot @ the Seder


Jewishness in the World

Recently, I have found myself, over and over again, contemplating a matter that, while different in every specfic situation, forces me to consider the circumstance of being Jewish within the context of a broader realm, be it the host country we find ourselves or the world in general. How are we to respond when the greater society singles out either a solitary Jew or a segment of the Jewish community or the State of Israel for condemnation or criticism? On one hand, we can look at the very merits of the issue and evaluate the matter in an objective manner. That would seem to be the simple, correct way of responding. But what if the merits of the arguments are not so easy to decipher? As the complexity of a situation is more and more recognized, our concern that Jews are specifically targeted becomes more and more acute. How much of the condemnation or criticism, we may begin to ask, is then the result of anti-Semitism?

Two cases may illustrate the issue, albeit both are vastly different. The Toronto International Film Festival is presently under attack for focusing on Tel Aviv in its City to City spotlight. Many individuals in the entertainment industry, many of them Jews, in protest of the Israeli excursion into Gaza earlier this year. have criticized the Festival for doing this. Charges of anti-Semitism have, in ture, been voiced against these protestors. They, in turn, retort that they are simply presenting their moral perspective and point to the many Jews who are part of the protest as a clear indication that their motivation is not anti-Semitism. The issue for me is not the moral question, per se. There are many, also in the entertainment industry, both Jews and non-Jews, who have come to Israel's defense based on moral grounds. The question, for me, rather is the role of anti-Semitism in the the motivation of the protestors. Perhaps they are motivated solely by their moral/ethical perspective, albeit a perspective that I think is wrong and simplistic. But how much of a role does anti-Semitism play in the development of this perspective? Would they have the same view if the object of their protests was not Israel? And what about the Jews who have joined in this protest? How much of their motivation is connected to a desire to ignore anti-Semitism and make-believe that it is non-existent? The further question for me is not the personal viewpoints of these individuals but how they can ignore the fact that there are anti-Semites who will use such an argument to further their evil goals? What do you do when you think that a fellow Jew has acted inappropriately but if you highlight this, you will be giving ammunition to the anti-Semite who is not really interested in the moral/ethical issue but in simply attacking Jews?

This same issue emerges, albeit in a vastly different way, in the Rubashkin case. There are those who yell anti-Semitism in response to how this has transpired. On the other hand, there are legal and ethical issues that need to be addressed. Was anti-Semitism a motivation in how this case was handled or did the police and prosecution solely deal with it on its legal merits? Was there both? The further issue is our very value of justice. If there is a case, then we, as Jews, also should want justice to prevail. This linked article by Avi Solomon outlines, in this vein, what must be our obligations to the legal system of our host society But a Jew is still being singled out and that always must leave us wondering?

The issue is how we are to view Jews in their relationship with a host, secular (non-Jewish) environment, specfically when we are accused of violating the norms, values or laws of this host environment, especially if these laws would be supported within the ethical structure of Torah. On one hand, we are to share in the enforcement of these laws. On the other hand, we are to be concerned with the specific well-being of our fellow Jews. Does that mean that we are to protect fellow Jews even at the expense of proper legal perspectives? I would say, of course not. But how much did their Jewishness play a role in their evaluation by another?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

A Lesson from Zen

I read a book on using Zen and martial arts to improve one's sports performance

One story had the author playing tennis with his mentor. He was winning points with trick shots, drop shots, and not volleying back and forth the way most casual tennis players do.

The zen master told him to "lengthen his game". IOW win by hitting BETTER shots, not by undercutting the other guy. Meaning you can win a competition by outperforming the other by skill and effort, or you can undercut your opponent and make him/her lose - like that figure skater who had her competitor bashed in the shins.

OK, Readers! Are there Torah Sources that teach this same lesson? That winning is about improving oneself and not about undermining the other?

Shana Tova

Life is complex. Decisions are complex. Torah is complex.

This is one of the mottos or slogans of our blog's parent, - founded By Rabbi Ben Hecht

Slogans usually should be taken with a grain of salt.

Yet this slogan advances the notion that things are not always so simple. And is a very "unslogan" slogan!

Reducing Judaism to a slogan was tried By Hillel HaBavli. Yet even he added the caveat "zil g'mor" Go Learn!

Talmud Torah k'neged Kullam is perhaps another simplified slogan with a complex implication.

Slogans and Dictators:

Lenin came to power by sloganeering:
"All Power to the Soviets". But it was a dishonest ploy. He actually meant to say "All power to the Bolsheviks"

Hitler gained power with slogans such as "the Jews are our misfortune". IOW get rid of the Jews and utopia will ensue.

Stalin monopolized power by stating "It's all Trotsky's Fault". A simple slogan

Both Hitler and Stalin were particularly evil - in part because their over-simplified slogans were founded upon demonetization of "the other".

A Hypothetical Hareidi version might sound like "it's all the fault of the Zionists". Strangely, and ironically the Palestinians would probably have a similar slogan. Overly simple demonetization of "the other"

Beware of the overly simple slogan - especially when it involves a demonetization and always remember:

"Life is complex. Decisions are complex. Torah is complex."

Shana Tova


Wednesday 2 September 2009

FDR's First Inaugural Address: "This Great Nation will endure as it has endured; will revive and will prosper."

Inspiring words during these bleak economic times!

"I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."

Wishing everyone a better 5770 than 5769


The Limits of "Azzut Panim"

When should one stand up for Halacha?

When should one defer to the sensibilities of the Tzibbur?

When is Minhag Hassidut desirable?

When is it undesirable?

The following discussion is culled from the Avodah list:

Dov Kaiser's Hilluq - quoting Ramchal's Mesilat Yesharim - is quoted with permission


«If the halacha had said that one should not answer Kaddish too loudly because it disturbs the kavana of other people, I would understand that. But merely because they are laughing? I don't get it.»

"See Perek 20, Mesilas Yeshorim, where Ramchal explains that although must one perform mitzvos, ie strict obligations, even though people will laugh at him, this does not apply to chumros.

In the case of chumros, making oneself an object of mockery involves lifnei iver vis-a-vis the mockers. Therefore, it is sometimes inappropriate to go beyond the letter of the law in public. One might easily have adopted the position that we need not be concerned with mockers, but this is clearly not the Ramchal's position. It is possible that this would not apply to the mockery of non-Jews, but I think that the gist of Ramchal's shita does not make any distinction.

PS from RRW

Furthermore, see Shulchan Aruch Orach Hayyim 1:1 where the Rema quoted the Moreh Nevuchim on this subject

Also see there the Mishnah Brura's Bei'ur Halachah, S.V. V'lo yitbayesh

Slifkin, Wolpoe on Elu v'Elu

Once upon a time - one Sunday evening - I had to meet someone @ Cong. Beth Aaron

That night Rabbi Slifkin was the featured speaker. I had a 10 minute window in which to listen to him and - as it turned out - to open my own big mouth.

Rabbi Slifkin was reluctant or simply refused to condemn his Hareidi Critics. He said that they were entitled to their POV [point of view] due to the Principle of Elu v'Elu.

I "snuck-in" one challenging question:

"But, Rabbi - where is THEIR Elu v'Elu towards you?"

I don't recall his reponse - if any

Of course he could have simply said "I choose the moral high-ground and refuse to fight fire with fire!". Or something of that sort.

My point was not to ad hominum Hareidim back, rather to make it abundantly clear that any ad hominem attack upon him was unfair and illegitimate. OTOH, they have every right to dispute him, or even to condemn his POV as illegtimate.

However, Rabbi Bashing by Rabbis can come back to haunt. What goes around comes around. Thus, Zilzulei deVei Dina is a 2-edged sword.

More on Elu v'Elu and Zilzulei devei dina re: Mishnah RH 2:8,9

Shana Tova


Tuesday 1 September 2009

Rambam, Zohar, and Several Halachot

An interesting Rambam Mishneh Torah quotes [or paraphrases] a Braitto [apparently Sh'vuot 35A] re: the HOLY names that may not be erased and prefaces it with "There are Seven". See Yesodei Hattorah 6:2

Touger notes that while the list stems from a Braitto the Rambam's Preface "there are seven" is not in that Braitto at all

Rather it appears in the Zohar [Vol. III 272b]

The subtle implication is that Rambam got if from the Zohar. OTOH we can also say that since the Zohar was publicly PUBLISHED after the Mishneh Torah; therefore it's feasible that R Moshe de Leone borrowed that phrase from the Rambam - rather than Vice Versa


The Rambam insists on waiting "about 6 hours" after meat in order to eat dairy.

However, the Zohar demands ONLY that meat and dairy not be consumes during the same hour or the same meal. [NB: "Same Hour" may really mean "Same TIME" in this context]

And so - if the Rambam saw the Zohar why is he so Machmir to go all the way to 6 hours?

Conversely, if the Zohar saw the Rambam - why is he so meiqil to NOT require 6 hours?

Of course this can be answered, but it does put a bit of "fly in the ointment" with regard to the relationship between the two.

Shana Tova