Wednesday 28 October 2009

Israeli Poll on Religious Law

It seems that there was a recent Ynet - Gesher Foundation poll, conducted in Israel, on religious law within the country. See,7340,L-3793787,00.html. It seems that the respondents were asked questions about which Israeli laws emerging from Judaism should be repealed and, from a list of 4 potential new laws from the same root, which law should be enacted. While many of the findings were quite predicable, some of the them were most interesting.

In response to the questions concerning laws desired to be repealed. the religious law that seems to be the most bothersome is the exemption of yeshiva students from the draft...yet, even this demand was only voiced by slightly over 50% of the population. The numbers reflecting a desire to repeal other laws were much less with only 20% saying that they would want to repeal the law that demands that marriage and divorce be according to Halacha. This may reflect that dissent over religion in Israel may not be as bad an one may think yet the question that was asked was to choose the first law you would wish repealed. It may be that, given a choice to repeal multiple laws, there may be a greater desire to repeal other laws than is shown by this survey. They did find that 86% of the secular population would like to have malls and shopping centres open on Shabbat.

What I found most interesting, though, was the responses to the question of which religious law would they like to see added. There were four choices and the one that garnered the most support was the institution of the death penalty for murderers. That is most strange because the death penalty was rarely carried out within the rules of Torah jurisprudence. As the second most popular choice was a law to honour parents, which was not really enforceable with Torah jurisprudence, it would seem that the choices were not really tied to religious sensitivities per se but rather the mores of the respondents. If the point of the poll was to somehow measure the feelings towards Judaism of the populace, it didn't really seem to serve this purpose.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

P. Noah: Cappara vs. Teshuva

See R.S.R. Hirsch P. Noah

6:15 S.V. "v'chafarta"

New edition p. 182

The basic meaning of CPR is a protective or restrictive covering

In a sense then Copher = Cover! [More or less]

Cappara is a covering.

V'al kol pesha-im techashe b'ahava...

IOW praying for Cappara is to pray that the sins - or better that the negative impact of sins - will be covered up.

Teshuva is Returning to the State Before Sin. It is a retroactive process undoing a sin.

Here is a mashal

A man gains weight and as a result his blood pressure rises

A Cappara would be to take blood pressure medication. The excess weight remains but he is shielded from its deleterious effects.

Doing Teshuva would entail dieting in such a way as to lose the weight and to reduce the hypertension. IOW to restore the body back to the healthy way it was before the weight gain altered its body chemistry.

Of course Teshuva is a more complete process.

Yom Kippur is more of a quick fix. Perhaps since a complete Teshuva might take years, it is necessary to take the palliative of Cappara before the cure of Teshuva is available.


Avoth 1:16 and My Father A"H

Shammai Says:
• Make your study of Torah a regular activity

• Promise Little but do much

• And receive all men with a kindly countenance.

- R. Hirsch Siddur P. 429

Although Shammai has been rejected [for the most part] from normative Halachah, his Words of Wisdom match those of any one else in Avoth. So - who knew that Shammai - portrayed as grumpy by some - would offer such friendly advice?!

These words have personally resonated with me for a long time. Poignantly I used them as the theme of my Hesped for my dear Father [Zvi ben Hayyim]* at his levayah, who was niftar erev Sukkos, 14th of Tishrei 5749.

November 3rd, 2009 marks the 100th secular anniversary of my Dad's Birth. I have not made much of the various milestones before, EG my Dad's 20th yahrtzeit, but I felt that the time had finally arrived to speak-up.

At any rate my Father exemplified Shammai's dictum, albeit it takes some drash to make this work. The last two traits do fit my Dad to the proverbial "T".

OTOH, My Dad was no Torah Scholar. His meager Torah education in a Brooklyn Cheider enabled him to daven well, and not much more.

While my Mother was the outspoken advocate for Jewish Education, my Father in his own quiet way was quite involved in the same goal, serving on the board of the Yeshiva of Hartford and also as President of the Beth David Synagogue.

And so, I darshened "asie toras'cha keva" - not as fixing TIMES for Torah study, because my Dad really did not - but rather as being Kovei'a INSTITUTIONS of Torah Study, which he did big time. IOW his Kevious was about the bricks and mortar that made Torah Schools emerge from blueprint into reality. And as such, he made Torah his Qeva, albeit in my novel "Teitch" of the phrase.

My father's quietness was disarming. Few active community leaders approach public roles with such "anivus". He really did say little. At home, when he did speak seriously**, we listened, because little was stated without a lot of reflection and [by the time I rolled around] many years of experience.

Thus, while my Dad was a quiet man by nature, he could also suppress his strong opinions on issues - when he felt that being outspoken would only be counter-productive.

Nor was my Father shy as to be unfriendly. Aderabah, he was easy-going and smiley when meeting new people, and it was quite sincere. His quiet demeanour was not stand-offish as is often the case with many bashful types. He had a genuine "Dale Carnegie" smile when he said "hi".

Few people I have met have matched my Dad in exemplifying Shammai's immortal advice - albeit in his own way. I only wish leaders nowadays had more "strong silent types" who promised little but delivered much


* My Dad was usually called to the Torah as simply Zvi ben Hayyim

My Father was also called Zvi Hirsch and His Dad - I.E. my Grandfather was also known as Hayyim Haikkel.

We never knew for certain if the Yiddish nicknames were official names given at their respective Brisses, or simply pet names used by THEIR respective parents.

So E.G. My Grandparents called my Father Hirsh'l, but we don't know if that was his "official" given name - or not.

When naming my son, I made it a point to make "Hirsch" my son's official middle name so that there would be no ambiguity.

** although quiet by nature, my Dad had a good sense of humour and enjoyed entertaining people with cute jokes and stories, as well as very punny quips which were often spontaneous. The punny quips were pithy and natural. The funny stories were mostly to break the tension or "to melt the ice" when dining with company etc.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Asei Lecha Rav - Seeking Objectivity

Originally published 10/27/09, 2:52 pm.
Avoth 1:16: "Provide yourself with a teacher and free yourself from doubt"

After reading this with R.S.R. Hirsch's commentary, I finally realized that the three cases of Rabban Gamliel are not really separate clauses at all
Rather, RG proposes that through having a teacher, one frees oneself from doubt.
To me, this begs the question: "Shouldn't even the greatest poseiq submit his own questions to a colleague in order to obtain objectivity?" Wouldn't the best way to avoid any doubt of subjectivity be soliciting an unbiased opinion?


Monday 26 October 2009

CAN Hashem change HIS Mind?

Originally published 10/26//09, 7:43 pm
Using can in this context, I am asking if it is possible that The Divine has a mind that is "changeable"? Or does Hashem's eternal nature preclude this?
Tthe Torah states emphatically that Hashem does NOT change HIS mind in Shemuel I:15: 29
 כט וְגַם נֵצַח יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא יְשַׁקֵּר וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם:  כִּי לֹא אָדָם הוּא, לְהִנָּחֵם.
On the other hand, in Breishit 6:6, it says "Vayinachem Hashem", that Hashem regretted His decision regarding the creation of Adam.
This is apparently a blatant contradiction.

R.S.R. Hirsch, in B'reishit makes an ingenious Diyyuq using Diqduq. In Shemuel, the reflexive Hispael is used, while in B'reishit, the Pi'el construct is used.
As such, in Shemuel the Torah is teaching that Hashem never changes his own mind - meaning in isolation or due to internal ruminations.

However, in B'reishit, Hashem is not altering his internal stance. Rather, He is merely reflecting the external change in Adam-humanity since Creation. Hashem's Mind is actually internally consistent; it is simply that  external circumstances trigger altered responses.

This is different than humans who may indeed change their minds without external stimuli. Human minds can be fickle -
While G-d's mind cannot! However, His mind may appear to change - given a corresponding change in Circumstances - but never due to mood, etc.


The Root of all Evil as Per R.S.R. Hirsch

«The expression is commonly misquoted as simply "Money is the root of all evil"»

Properly the original Quote is actually:

«"The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10, KJV)»
[See Root of all evil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Thus a "perfect misunderstanding" - I.E. It's not the money that is evil, it's obsession with money or greed that is being castigated.

So the New Testament sees the Fault as "Greed, Love of Money."

[While Shakespeare would have it:
«"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141).»

Nevertheless, R.S.R. Hirsch has a different take on the Root of Evil

Breisheet 5:1 P. 151 new edition, commenting on R Aqiva and "v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha" R. Hirsch emphasises:

"Indeed the truth is that there is only ONE Aveira; selfishness, egoism. Once a person has freed himself from egoism, and his fellow man is dear to him[self] as his own soul, he is capable of performing ... All Mitzvos"

And so as per R. Hirsch

The fault lays not in money or the stars but in ourselves in that we think of ME and not of WE.


Kashrus and Trust

A customer walked in and queried me about certain Kashrus Issues Re:

• Cleaning Broccoli

• Trusting Gentile owned Restaurants


• Trusting restaurants owned by non-observant Jews etc.

I basically said that one cannot generalize in this day and age or in this [viz. North American] society - despite what might be said in Classic Texts on the subject.

IOW you may have trustworthy Gentiles and "sleazy" Jews or vice versa. And so
each case and situation has to be evaluated individually.

I then regaled him with some examples.

I worked in several "Israeli-grill" or shwarma restaurants.

In one case the owner was obviously sleazy and I refused to work there except as a "Temp".

In another case, the owner was a "prince" and everything was done "just-so". As nice as the owner is, his wife is even nicer and they were very straight and kind people.

Bottom line, you really cannot accurately judge "books by their covers" even in the field of Kashrus.



Thursday 22 October 2009

Torah MiSinai, Then and Now #1

Originally published 10/22/09, 11:32 pm.
This is a reprise of an earlier post. There are several new comments as a result of a discussion on Avodah
First, let's reset the table.
There are two different perspectives regarding Torah MiSinai that put things in stark, black-and-white contrast.
Conservative Rabbi Jacob Agus (brother of Irving Agus) stated this in an article in the 1950's.

The strict Orthodox perspective: All of Torah is MiSinai. Period. No qualifications. Since every imperative is Divine, there's not much to talk about...
(NB: Agus broad-brushed ALL Orthodox as subscribing to this thesis)
With regards to Conservatives, J. Agus gave a more Leftist Perspective: Torah is simply NOT MiSinai. It might have Divine inspiration or influence but it is a human product. This view gives modern rabbis carte-blanche to dispute anything they need to dispute.

There are many more "gray" positions between these two. Let's start with Positive Historical. PH does not deny Torah MiSinai, nor does it subscribe to it either. It's kinda' agnostic.
What it does propose, is that antiquity, history, and tradition give some sanctity and much legal weight to Torah Traditions. The older the statute, the less it may be challenged. But the Sanctity or Divinity of any given law is fuzzy. It is legally very conservative and traditional, but not really Orthodox. It makes no claim that any law is really that Holy.
PH should have, in practice, provided a position on Halacha fairly close to the Orthodox one. Why it has not, is beyond the scope of this post.
So consider PH the far right of Conservative Judaism, the most loyal to Torah but not necessarily to its Sinaitic pedigree

What about Orthodox?
There are several brands of Orthodox somewhat to the left of the hardline of above. Some call them by names like Modern Orthodox, Neo-Orthodox, Liberal Orthodox, etc.
Let's go back to the common starting point of Ma'amad Har Sinai. Let's take a hardline stance, that as Moshe Rabbeinu descended the mountain, all of the Written Torah and all of the Oral Torah was MiSinai, meaning Divine, Holy.
What might have occurred that would make the common denominator across the Orthodox spectrum to diverge over time?

Stay tuned for future posts addressing this point.


Shepherds vs. Farmers

We had a lively discussion on the virtues of Shepherds vs. Farmers on the Avodah List

One of my Professors at YU - IIRC Dr. Irving Agus - extolled the virtues of Shepherding as breeding more idealistic people, with more time on their hands to contemplate the Divine.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a similar ideal promoted by RSR Hirsch in Breishis re: Hevel vs. Qayin.

Here was my first post on this thread:

«FWIW R. Hirsch Breishis 4:2 S.V. "Vayhi Hevel Ro'eh Tzohn" strongly support the widely held POV that pastoral life is more conducive to spirituality and contemplation than is agricultural Life.»

A lively debate ensued.

Dear Readers: please note that I exhort you to read R. Hirsch - as much as is possible - in the new edition of his Humash; and to NOT draw too many conclusions from my posts! IOW I am trying to simulate MORE learning and research into this topic, so please don't shortcut that!

Based upon the shaqla v'tarya [give and take] I had a flash of insight that I would like to share:

Assuming Arguendo
That - Hevel as Ro'eh tzohn is superior to Qayin and Noah as anshei Adamah...

Then, Let's posit that the Avos and the Shevatim were all superior to the farmers in Egypt when the "70" descended to Mitzrayin and SHOULD have been on a very high Madreiga.

What Happened?

This exalted level was compromised somewhat when
The Brothers grew jealous of Yoseph and some wished him to even be executed. They then adopted Qayyin's evil trait of Violent Jealousy and compromised [at least some of] their moral superiority

Nevertheless when the "70" went to Egypt they remained on a high enough level to be equal to Par'oh, and far above that of the average Egyptian.

Woefully, after 210 years, The Israelites descended to the low level of average Mitzrim.


At this point HKBH was "matzileinu miyadam" both physically and spiritually. And
While most credit for the G'ullah must go to HKBH, who is our corresponding human "rescuer"? Is it not Moshe - the ro'eh Tzohn? Isn't he the one chosen to elevate the now depressed Israelites and to restore them to become "spiritual nomads" - after their "redu shama" descent?

Moshe's Successor

How does Moshe pray to HKBH. Send a leader lest they be:

"Katzohn - asher ein lahem ro'eh."

While Yehoshua was the immediate response to this request I suggest that the long-term solution was not Yehoshua bin Nun!

Rather the ultimate Roeh Tzohn was David Hamelech! It is he who founds a dynasty as a ro'eh tzohn, revitalizing the Nation that had slipped under Sha'ul WRT Amaleik and ITS kol hatzohn!

Thus we have modeled our leadership in the mold of the 7 Shepherds


Paradigms of Jewish Leaders And Shepherds all.


Wednesday 21 October 2009

5770 - What I'm learning (and Why I'm telling you)

Selecting what to learn for me is often a moving target. Priorities constantly shift. Chavrusos come and go. Selected S'farim sometimes do not meet my expectations.
Nevertheless, after some introspection and planning I have set up some goals for this year.

The reason I share these with readers, is to understand what texts are triggering many of my posts! Oftentimes my learning triggers an idea, an insight, or a hiddush.

My highest priority is to cover the entire Shulchan Aruch and Mappah using the SA Yomi program. But I am not sticking to the exact yomi portions. Since I have done patches here and there already, I am jumping around a bit WITHIN the volume of the month. So I am now working on finishing the last third of BOTH Tishrei and finishing Marchesvan (Hilchos Shabbos).

So in any chodesh, I plan to start the new month's limmud and continue to complete the previous month's volume, too.

Also, I am focused on doing Mishnah yomis/yomit as well. In addition, I participate in our shul's siyyum mishnayos, and this year I volunteered to do Ohalos. I also sign up for Ohalos in conjunction with siyyumim for yahrtzeits and I plan to cover the text with several different peirushim, EG Kehati, Bartenura, Blackman, and Tavnis Ohalos.

For Humash I am using the new set of Hirsch. It is also part of my machshava program. In addition I plan to cover one mishnah a day in Avos using Hirsch also. Thus, some Hirsch immersion. Future years, I plan to cover Horeb and Hirsch on Tehillim.

I like to cover 1 sefer on Mitzvos each year. This year it's Hareidim.
It also is involved in "Machshava".

I have a chavrusa in issur v'heter. We are doing Tur and Shulchan Aruch on bassar bechalav. Recently we have integrated Rambam with his nos'ei keilim into the mix.

I also have a "drop in" chavrusa who learns when he gets a break. We are covering SA Harav on Hilchos Sukkah. SA Harav is very well written and the new editions with nekuddos and updated footnotes are a real pleasure.

I also am learning Halachos G'dolos on Shabbos. We decided to focus on Hilchos Pesach in general and the Seder in particular.

Occasionally I will dip into minhagim to update nishma minhag. The SA and SA Harav may be useful here too

So I am using 3 beqios tools
Mishnayos with Kehatti
Shulchan Aruch
Halachos G'dolos

I am light on iyyun as of now, except with issur v'heter and Ohalos.


Tuesday 20 October 2009

R.S.R. Hirsch and Abandoning the Masses | Cross-Currents

A modern day editorial founded upon Hirschian thought

The Hirschian snip:

«Several passages in parshas Bereishis always excite me. In one of them, RSRH detects not only meaning in the names in the genealogies of both Kayin and Shais, but treats them as a pattern that governs the pendulum swing of societies.

That pattern invites comparison with our own times. Here is the basic sequence. Forgetting the special relationship between G-d and Man, (אנוש) even while retaining belief in Him, must lead to dissatisfaction with religious life.

This leads in a following generation to an excessive preoccupation with material things simply for the sake of possession (קינן).

Finding this vacuous and devoid of meaning, the next generation tries again to connect with G-d by asserting His existence and honoring Him with pious proclamations (מהללאל). Alas, the service of G-d through praise of the lips without subordinating one's life to His dictates is bound to fail, so the next generation declines (ירד) once more.

Detecting the stumbling, some look to educating a new generation (חנוך), ennobling them with something more meaningful. Such intensive education, however, remains the province of only a minority. The next generation is therefore one of "giving up the masses," מתושלח.

Here I find his words particularly compelling. "They believe they have achieved their goal if they have saved themselves and elevated themselves only. To them the masses were מתים whom they שלח, »

This dialectic seems right out of Hegel!

For the complete article please see



Beth Hillel - from a Pedagogical Perspective

Many, even many great Rabbis, have a tendency to view their own school of thought as THE exclusive way to understand a Halachah or a Minhag

EG Ashkenazim usually presume Qitniyyot as an axiomatic given
OTOH Sephardim presume just the opposite.

The Basic Story of Beth Hillel as Traditionally Understood

A lesson in Humility is taught by the Talmud; I.E. That Beth Hillel deferentially taught Beth Shammai's opinion FIRST before moving on to teaching its own school's opinion. W/O a doubt,
The Talmud is emphasizing a sense of Humility. [Also, derech eretz, elu v'elu, Win-Win, I'm OK You're OK, etc.]

An Insight - Reading Between the Lines

Here is an insight, a drash, from an educational standpoint. BH is not just being humble, BH is also teaching OPEN-MINDEDNESS. That is to say

Here is another school's opinion, one which we [respectfully] reject
And now here is OUR opinion, the one WE embrace.

Subtly, the minds of BH are conditioned away from rigidity into a more flexible approach to learning!

This is borne out by the number of times BH eventually did an "about-face" and taught like BS. Having been exposed in a fair-minded manner, they were not fixated nor locked-in to a single paradigm.

[Note: a Colleague of mind terms this: "binocularity"]

It does NOT appear that Beth Shammai shared this approach. In fact, this approach seems to have been the exception, not the rule. EG It seems the Rambam had one exclusive Viewpoint.

And While this approach is not the typical, it does
Come up now again.

E.G. Both the Mishnah and the Tur present different opinions, but rarely explain them in depth. Yet with the full range of conclusions available, a dialectic is easily created by analyzing the various opinions.

Perhaps the paradigmatic Poseiq that follows this approach is the Beth Yosef who usually expounds the multi-faceted POV's of a given Halachah.

The Shukchan Aruch Harav aims to take 2 approaches to a given while still arriving at a single conclusion. It makes the SA Harav quite a bit more readable than most dry Posqim.

As a Master Melamed, R YD Soloveichik was outstanding at showing how a sugya in the Talmud can be parsed by 2 different Rishonim. This tension between 2 approaches was exploited by the Rav to make for a very exciting Shiur. Talmudic Tennis so to speak.

OTOH, the Kitzur SA reverted to the Rambam's single POV. And so R Mordechai Eliyahu sought to remedy this by expanding it with 5 more approaches

• 1 Mishnah Brurah
• 2 Misgeret Hahsulchan [following SA Harav]
• 3 BY-SA
• 4 Ben Ish Hai
• 5 Kaf HaHayyim

Thus a narrow POV is expanded. "Binocularity is achieved"

Hagahot Maimoniyyot
Expanded the Rambam
And Hagahot HaRema
Expanded the Shulchan Aruch.

All of these authors and teachers followed in the pedagogical footsteps of BH, to enable seeing a Sugya or a Psaq from at least 2 perspectives

Talmud Teachers often do this using Rashi and Tosafot

We would be well served to balance Rashi on Humash with an alternative POV. Ramban is one, but often complex. Rashbam comes to mind but perhaps Sipporno is the most educator friendly.

Indoctrinating Students with Rashi's peirush as the exclusive definitive read of a Passuq, serves to limit their flexibility later on in life


Monday 19 October 2009

Bishul AKu"m and Assimilation

Rabbi Binyamin Forst has a stimulating piece of Machshava on the rationale for Bishul AK"uM and related g'zeiros See Artscoll "The Kosher Kitchen" PP. 247-261. It is a very cogent and well-written piece and is really must reading for the Halachic Jew who is not already steeped in this literature.

I concur with most of what Rabbi Forst said and especially applaud his "elu v'elu" approach re: the respective roles of Jews and Gentiles in the world.

My post on Sukkah Sensitivity, supports a mildly higher level of interaction between Jews and Gentiles than does R. Forst's chapter. But this is but a quibble.

On this issue of interaction one may understand the Halachic restrictions as effecting 2 different positions. And perhaps both positions are equally legitimate, but would be applied differently based upon the circumstances "on the ground".

• Attitude 1 Complete "levadad yishkon"

Hazal have enacted rules not only to prevent intermarriage, but to avoid assimilation. Therefore, the ideal is no interaction at all. Exceptions are only made for absolute necessity.

• Attitude 2 - Raising Awareness

Aderabba, interaction is OK and at times desirable. Thus, the enactments of Hazal are really mnemonics reminding us to always be aware of our unique separateness lest we get carried away by being overly chummy. So these are g'zeirot keeping our natural friendliness from over-stepping boundaries that keep us as the am hanivchar. The g'zeiros are about engendering "mindfulness".

In our society, I would favour somewhere in the middle. Too much standoffishness is AISI counter-productive to being a positive influence. Yet with the rate of assimilation, a high degree of mindfulness must also have some "restraint" WRT even being overly chummy.

Tangent on Shemen AKu"M.

I never understood the need for hashgacha on Olive Oil due to the bittul of the g'zeira on Shemen AKu"M. R. Forst explained it simply.

The original g'zeira was about assimilation and was similar to Bishul AKM, Gvinat AKM
IOW it was about assimilation and had little or nothing to do with the actual ingredients. Now that the g'zeira has been rescinded, that is still true. Gentiles may produce Olive Oil w/o and Jewish Participation. Thus our Hashgachah today is ONLY about insuring no unKosher contamination via Ingredients or Keilim does not concern hands-on Jewish intervention.


B'reisheet - "B'etzev Teil'dee Banim"

Originally published 10/19/09, 3:09 pm.
B'reishit 3:16 - B'etzev Teil'dee Banim...

Itzavon in modern Hebrew can mean "depression"

Could this Passuq refer to Post-Partum depression?
So as to render this phrase, "With [or in] "depression" shalt thou bear children..."


Parsha B'reisheet - Word Play #2 CHWH[Y]

Chavah [HWH] is named by Adam [Breisheet 3:20] after the incident with the Nahash. Until then she is merely "ha'Ishah"

R.S.R. Hirsch points out an interesting word play with the Aramaic word "Chivya" [Hiwyah].

The root of the Hebrew Chavah and the Aramaic Chivyah [snake] are virtually the same. This suggests a very different approach to Chavah's name than the text's own reason [viz. Eim kol Ha]. At any rate, both reasons are apparently the result of the Nahash incidedent

See R.S.R. Hirsch Breisheet 3:6 p. 99 s.v. Sa'avah in the New Edition.


R.S.R. Hirsch on Avot 1:11

Q: Why does careless or reckless speech trigger the punishment of Galuth?

A: Just as careless behaviour may inadvertantly lead to manslaughter and be punished by Galut, similarly careless speech may lead or cause a similar snowballing of events "moral maslaughter"

Also see R.S.R. Hirsch who shows how Golah is leaving the sheltered waters and veering off into the perilous Waters. (Siddur p. 426) Yishar KIach to R. Hirsch who has made this parallel come alive


Parsha Breisheet - Word Play #1 ARM

Continuing my Study of Breisheet with R.S.R. Hirsch...

End of Chapter 2:25
Vayihyu sh'neihem "Arumim"

Beginning of chapter 3:1 "v'haNachash hayah "Arum"

Of course the words convey different meanings, the former "nakedness" the latter "cunning." Nevertheless the [apparently] common root - juxtaposed so closely together - seems to be an obvious literary device.

NB: While R. Hirsch does indeed mention "Eryeh" in conjunction with the earlier term "Arumim", he does not seem to focus upon that definition.. Yet Arayot - as in "Giluy Arayot" - seems to be the obvious focus of the Nahash's meddling into Havvah's business. And this is so indicated by the Midrash.


Sunday 18 October 2009

R.S.R. Hirsch on Holding High Office

A Point to Ponder:

R.S.R. Hirsch on Avos 1:10 (P. 425 in Siddur)

«Hate the holding of High Office for the office holder quickly becomes a slave to his position. He will do things - or he will believe that, for the sake of his position he MUST [emphasis mine] do certain things - which actually are contrary to his own view and inclinations, and which he would never do if he were free to follow his own personal philosophies of life.»



Saturday 17 October 2009

Beqi'ut Poll Results

In our last poll, we inquired about:

Poll: The Best Method to Acquire Beqi'ut

Goal: To Gain as much Beqi'ut as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Parameters: Assume 1 free hour a day and a moderate background

In your opinion which course of study will produce the"Biggest Bang for the Buck"?

Option A - Daf Yomi with Shottenstein Edition
1 daf (complete two-sided folio) per day - a 7.5 year course.

Option B - Mishna with Kehatti
1 chapter a day - a 1.5 year course

Option C - Rambam Mishneh Torah
3 chapters a day (no commentaries) - a 1 year course

Option D - Rambam MT with commentary [such as Rambam L'am]
1 chapter a day - about a 3 year course.
Note: Rambam L'am is more than just MT

Option E - Humash with Torah Temima
1 aliya a day - a 1 year course

Option F - Shulchan Aruch Yomi
1 year program

Which of the above, would you recommend as a first option for improving beqi'ut?

Your responses:

Option A 2% (2)
Option B 2% (7 )
Option C 2% (3)
Option D 2% (7)
Option E 2% (3)
Option F 2% (5)
Total Responses 27


1) It may be noteworthy that the most common study pattern of daf yomi scored the lowest. An additional interesting fact in this regard is that it was also the last item to be marked. Of course, people who do daf yomi may not intent for it to serve the needs of a quick accumulation of
biqi'ut but it is interesting that responders to this poll did not see it as a good method of acquiring biqi'ut.

2) While it would seem that the study of mishnayot and the study of Rambam equally led all choices, if one considers that there were actually two choices for Rambam -- one with commentary and one without -- it would seem that the study of Rambam in some way is perceived to be the best method by which to acquire beqi'ut.

3) A comment was made on one of the postings at the time that we launched this poll, that an important option was not considered -- i.e. the study of the Aruch Hashulchan. Indeed that, and a study of the Tur, may have been other options that should have been offered.

Friday 16 October 2009

A Mazel Tov from Christianity Today?

I am not sure how to respond. Should I find this interesting, have a positive response? Should I perhaps be upset thinking that if Christianity is looking at something in a positive light I should be concerned from a Torah perspective? Or should my response be total indifference?

Take a look at this link. What is is about is pretty much in the wording of the link. Its actually a congratulatory note on the Yoetzet Halacha program at Nishmat in Israel (no connection) celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The one fact, and say this unfortunately, is that one of the criticisms of the program and, in fact, many of the innovations that have been applied over the years to women, as well as in many other areas of Halacha, is that they are motivated by "outside" influences and are not from a Torah true source -- and articles such as this one fuel that critique and make the whole process actually more difficult. Of course, one response to the critique is to just argue that it is not true, "outside" perceptions have nothing to do with them. On the other hand, maybe there is a place for "outside" influences to some extent within the world of Torah. After all, chachma b'goyim ta'amin. In many ways, this very congratulations may really reflect the general wisdom of the age and not the inherent values of this religion -- which itself is going through a transformation.

But bottom line, this congratulations still is strange.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Picking and Choosing - Setting up new "Batei Din"

The early 20th century presented us with several monumental works on Halachah. The top 3 stars in the firmament seem to be:

1 Mishnah Brurah [MB]

2 Aruch haShulchan [AhS]

3 Kaf haHayyim [KhH]

It may be too late. The ship may have sailed. Many newer posqim probably have superseded the Big 3

What if someone circa 1950 created a new Kitzur using those 3 as his Beth Din? *

And Is it too late NOW to do a modified version?

How about a newer BD that would combine a later generation?


1 R Moshe Feinstein [RMF]

2 R Ovadiah Yosef [ROY]

3 ???

Perhaps we could create a Kitzur based upon the latter BD

Why bother?

It would be nice to synthesize the opinions of the dominant posqim. And at times a synthesis, a blend can produce a balanced outcome

See the R Mordechai Eliyahu edition of Kitzur SA for a sampling of what I am advocating.



* NB RY Caro set up a hypothetical BD of Rif, Rambam, and Rosh

Also Kitzur SA - RS Ganzfried - set up a similar BD of SA haRav, Hayyei Adam, and Derech Hayyim (R Yaaqov of Lisa)

Also note:
How slavishly these authors followed their own rules - is beyond the scope of this post.

Teshuva Now, Geulah Now

Recently, I saw this as a quote from the Friedicker Rebbe, RYI Schneersohn OBM on a Chabad Calendar.

It triggered a few random thoughts

First after learning Rambam's Hilchos Teshuva, I humorously quipped: "it may be summed up in 3 words: 'Do Teshuva Now!'"

Now I realized that I was mechavein to an even pithier summary,

Viz. "Teshuva Now!"

Then it occurred to me:

What if the whole world did a complete Teshuva would it:

• Bring the Moshiach instantly?

• Or would we have geulah and Moshiach zeit even w/o a Moshiach - IOW would worldwide Teshuva obviate the need for a Moshiach?

Either way, it's a win-win option.



Talking Torah and History 3 - La'asukei..

In our series re: Cognitive Dissonance we covered 2 versions of "La'asukei Sh'mat'ta aliba d'hilch'ta"


• 1 Determining the Halacha based upon the "P'shat" of a given Sugya
• 2 Determining the "P'shat" in the Sugya Based upon the way the Halachah is in practice

My friend the Historian quipped:
"#2 is indeed congruent with "La'asukei Sh'mat'ta aliba dehilch'ta"
But #1 is really more Congruent with 'La'asukei Hilch'ta aliba dishmat'ta'!

Hmmm I said.
I soon realized that his insight really changes everything...

Shalom RRW

What Would I change about "Judaism" [or Jewish Culture] - Introduction

Many of us have soap-boxes or "rants" to discharge. This series has an interesting Genesis - which is the Parsha of the Week as I write this!


About 2 years ago a Hassidisher Yid asked me: "What would you change about Judaism?"
It was not the kind of question I expected from a Hassid and I stammered. I finally said that my biggest passion for change centres about Hinuch - education of our next generation.

Later, I realized that I DO have several issues that I "rock the boat" about. Most of those are quibbles.

Further Background

Re: Jewish Education.

This was my late Mother's [OBM] Passion. The Hebrew Academy of Hartford was one of her 4 children - so to speak. Note, today as I write this, is October 14, 2009 my Mom's 99th birthday.

So BEH, we will be focusing about Improving and "turbo-charging" Jewish Ed and Hinuch so that future generations of Jews will enjoy a higher level of Jewish Experience.

There will be a few other "quibbles" about certain practices that require introspection, too. Self-examination is a worthwhile endeavor Year-'round

Happy Birthday Mom!


The Who Said vs. The What Said


Many years ago RM Hecht gifted me a "Hirsch Pirkei Avos". I am in the process of reviewing this topic.

Avos 1:8*

Hirsch's Commentary includes a very wise quote about litigants:

"For there are disputes in which even the best man may be in the wrong and the worst man in the right."

(In the Hirsch Siddur p. 425)

Isn't this also true re: Halachic disputes between Posqim? VIZ. That the minor Poseiq gets it right and the major Poseiq does not?

IOW doesn't the Truth of the WHAT trump the Opinion of the WHO?



* for text and Kehatti in English see
Torah Community Connections | Mishna Yomit

Snip from Kehatti:

«"and while the litigants stand before you look upon them as if they are guilty -"

during the investigation of their arguments retain a critical attitude towards both parties, since either might be making false claims, and probe the case thoroughly to arrive at the truth;

Tuesday 13 October 2009

RH - Three "Quickies"


Descriptive or Prescriptive?

See Breishit ch. 24 v. 3 and V. 7

Rashi sensitively points out that Hashem is in v3 God of Heaven and Earth
And in v7 just God of Heaven

Rabbi Shmeul Goldin of Englewood - in a Humash class - pointed out that it was Avraham's mission to MAKE the God of Heaven into the God of earth too!

I adapted this to a RH sermonette on Malchuyot. That is malchuyot is not JUST Descriptive but also Prescriptive. That we sons of Avraham are on a mission to spread the word - to Make Hashem God of the earth!

On RH we ritually coronate God with the Shofar. While During the year we "spread the word"
[metaphorically] by our acts and deeds as "ohr lagoyim".


Elul Preparedness

[Adapted from Talk: Elul - Themes of Teshuva]

This question arose in Yeshivat Ner Israel:

If YK is the day of forgiveness
And if RH is the day of Judgment

Then why not have YK precede RH? That would provide forgiveness BEFORE the judgment - and we would be Judged favourably?

There were several answers given

Here is my take:

That's why we do selichot BEFORE RH [earliest customs started AFTER]

And the special LONG Selichot on Erev RH - one of the few weekdays that Aveilim are allowed to attend shul - is a form of YK Qatan.

So the Custom of Pre-RH Selichot addresses this very dilemma - we don't wait, we don't procrastinate, rather we pro-actively address the problem. We pre-empt it.


Themes of Dignity vs. Themes of Subservience

See Mishna RH CH. 3, Mishnayot 2-5

There is a plugta between Tanna Qama and R Yehudah Re: the shape of the RH shofar

TQ: straight
RY: curved, bent

All have straight hatzotrot

All have bend Shofar for Taanit Tzibbur

Straight - emphasizes straight
Thinking but also the DIGNITY of human kind [strictly speaking RH is birth of ADAM-Havvah, not of the physical universe]

Bent symbolizes subservience to God

Which theme best represents RH? Dignified Coronation of God. Or bent subservience TO GOD.

It seems the psaq favors R Yehudah, curved wins

But there is AISI a legacy of Dignity

See Mishna RH 1:2
Kol .. Ovrim befanav kivnei Maron

We all are reviewed as a shepherd tends his flock

Yet alternatively the Bavli cites khayyalot Beth David as soldiers This dovetails with Albeck's girsa - kivnumerion which paints the scene as a "Caesar inspecting his legions". This emphasises the dignity of TQ

While the curved Shofar prevails Halachically, both themes are interwoven into the liturgy

Also see earlier version:
NishmaBlog: Competing Images of Rosh Hashana


Parsha Breisheet: She'amar l'Olam Dai! & Darwin

HKBH completed creation by saying DAI (DIE?). See RSR Hirsch B'reisheet 2:1. Thus creative activity ceased.

It seems that during the 6 Days of Creation, a certain Creative Force Reined, until S-D-Y [the Almighty] terminated it.

Yet it would appear that Creativity and even Evolution continues! So What precisely has ceased?

Here is a possible case of terminated creativity. AFAIK no human has personally witnessed a specie morph into a more evolved specie. No one sees mice becoming rabbits or deer. [Microbes might be an exception.] Yet within species, adaptation has been witnessed...

My big "kasha" on Darwin has long been the following: Where did Darwin dig up adaptation as applicable with regard to evolving from one specie to another? This is AFAIK unknown!

Now - with RSR Hirsch's assistance - I can approach a reconciliation.

When Our CREATOR made the world during the 6 days, such evolution from one specie to the next may have indeed reined upon the earth. [Or perhaps something virtually its equivalent.] As such, when HKBH created specie X, HE may have done so in such a way as to evolve X into species Y and Z etc.! And this pattern is coded into the Original Creation Process's "DNA". Conceivably, Darwin may have detected a legacy of that process or its equivalent.

HOWEVER, once S-D-Y said "DIE", this aspect of the creative process was terminated and what had already been made - and was also making - became fixed, locked. No new species would ever emerge.

Nevertheless, A Remnant, a Legacy of the Original Creativity and Adaption remains, but the species have been fixed and limited - as perhaps other aspects of Creation.

And so since Vayachulu, the Original Creative process was terminated, and but a shadow of it remains



Monday 12 October 2009

B'reishit: Pru uRvu & Yishuv ha'Olam

Originally published 10/12/09, 2:10 pm.
This idea is extrapolated from Hirsch Humash Breishis 1:28, New edition pm 46, S.V. "Umil'u"

It seems bepashtus that the mitzva of pru urvu is about populating the world by reproducing more humans than what were there before. This does not mean merely replacing, but adding on through increasing the numbers.
While women are technically exempt from this mitzva, their participation is essential nonetheless. Lasheves yetzarah also implies a quasi obligation upon women to participate in this goal.
Now let's step back and ask: what about those [men and women] who unfortunately are not birthing children due to various circumstances and limitations? What should the childless Jew do?
Approaching this from a communal focus - instead of from an individual focus - the resolution seems also "pashtus". Men and women who are not blessed with offspring can assist others in this noble endeavor.

The last mitzva in the Torah -  kesivas Sefer Torah - is assigned to the individual. Yet, it is rarely accomplished by the individual anymore. It usually takes a a sofer, and often it "takes a village."
So too, with bringing up the next generation. The physical parents are analogous to the sofer, and so there is room for more participation. Several tasks that can be parceled out to the community at large include:
• Assisting the new parents by providing meals or "baby-sitting" relief.
• Medical and Nursing Assistance.
• Training or Coaching "new parents."
• Training children in Talmud Torah or in parnassah.
• Participating in synagogue youth work, such as minyanim, etc.
• Giving rides when necessary for parents or children - such as to the doctor or shopping.
• Playing surrogate "grandparents" when the children have none handy.
Anyway, the list goes on. The point of this exercise is to afford an opportunity for the community to adopt this mitzva so that all may be a part of yishuv olam. So those that cannot do for themselves can still enable others in this essential Mitzva.

A childless woman, "Tzipporah," has dedicated her life to teaching children in a Jewish Day School. In addition, as an aunt, she helps her nieces and nephews by playing the role of "surrogate grandmother". Thus both her personal and professional life participate in participating in or enabling the mitzva of Yishuv Olam.


Thursday 8 October 2009

Mishnah RH 4:5, Where does Malchuyot Belong? Part 3

See: Post: Mishnah RH 4:5, Where does Malchuyot Belong? Part 1 Link:
And Post: Mishnah RH 4:5, Where does Malchuyot Belong? Part 2 Link:

Assumption: So if Malchuyot Belongs in Qedushat Hayyom as Per R. Aqiva

Question: What is going on with the Malchuyot in Qedhushat Hashem as Per R. Yochanan ben Nuri?

Answer: R. Yochanan was apparently not 100% rejected and a small subset remains as a legacy based upon his alternative opinion Thus, When R. Aqiva trumps RYBN, it is not a black-and-white issue, and we have preserved a balance of about 95% R. Aqiva and 5% RYBN


Talking Torah and History 2.1 - Perfect Mis-understanding RE: the Rambam

In Part 2.0, I wrote, based upon my chat with the Historian:

«"Rambam takes ONE sugya as the controlling sugya. It might be Bavli or Yerushalmi or Tosefta etc. But the Rambam loyally sticks to his selected sugya without deviation.»

«I found this point very enlightening. So Rambam can be a strict constructionist in the sense of staying in the box without straying. Yet Rambam is not at all confined JUST to Bavli. Rather he has a broad range of sources to select from.»

Here is a point of possible "Perfect Mis-understanding"

Here are 2 Premises or Presumptions re: Rambam. The first is based upon the previous post.

• 1 [as above] the Rambam is a strict constructionist re: Sugyot

• 2 That given multiple sources - that the Rambam bases himself upon the Bavli to the exclusion of other sources. IOW if say Bavli and Sifre have a conflict, Rambam invariably would choose the Bavli.

With this version #2 in mind, the Rambam comes off as in conflict with the simple read of the Bavli in numerous cases.

• "Es haNochri Tigoss" - Is charging Ribbis for a loan to an eino Yehudi optional or required? [Sifre Vs. Bavli]

• Is Mishna Yadayim 1:1 discussing mayyim rishonim or sheniyyim
[Tosefta vs. Simple read of Mishna]

If one presumes #2 to be true, then one must eventually question #1. Because #2 would make the Rambam a liberal constructionist in many places.

So Let's instead substitute #2A

• The Rambam pasqens from selected* Sugyos - whether Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, etc.


Rambam follows straight read of Bavli re: women reading Megillas Esther. Viz. Women are equally obligated as are men.

[Tosafos, OTOH, throws a contradictory Tosefta into the mix and comes up with a proposed synthesis - women must listen but no need to read.]

The perfect misunderstanding is that the Rambam would hold that the Bavli ALWAYS supersedes Tosefta

The more correct understanding is:

• That once Rambam selects a sugya - be it Bavli, Sifre or otherwise - that Sugya supersedes all w/o conflating it with other sources.

So instead of
Perfect Mis-understanding:
The Bavli overrules Tosefta

Better Understanding:
The selected source [including Bavli] rules w/o compromise.

* The exact nature or criteria of the Rambam's "selection" process is subject to further research and debate - and is beyond the scope of this post.


Parshah B'reisheet - Na'aseh Adam

There are many interesting interpretations [and apologetics] for the meaning of the First Person Plural

While Notzrim allege a multi-faceted Divinity, [Heaven Forbid! L'havdil]

RSR Hirsch counters with the Royal We reading.

Rashi favours Hashem u'veit Dino - due to HIS Humility.

I have a simple read. I.E. Hashem partnered with all that had already been created. Thus Hashem created Adam as the SUM of all that went before, and contained components of every step of creation.

Adam is thus, part Light, water, earth, reptile, bird, beast etc. - as well as heavenly and angelic. HKBH is "quarterbacking" or exhorting the entire "team" of creatures to pull together to make Adam Harishon.

And so Na'aseh is addressed to All Creatures, heavenly and earthly to pitch into the process.


Parsha - Breishis and "Religulous"*

Quote from Rabbi David Willig:

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

RRW's response

Actually when one follows 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.

Furthermore Rabbi Willig had suggested taking Torah seriously - but not literally. This approach may be quite informative. You need some flexibility in order to ignore dogmatists on both sides of the debate.

We also know from the Torah text that literal 24 hour days make no sense regarding 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 writing from a technical perspective, while the Torah was approaching the same sequence from a more spiritual and poetic perspective - yet both were describing the same events [more or less]. So it's primarily a gap in style than in substance.

Even my 9th grade science teacher - a secular Jew - taught us classic evolution and allowed 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


* For more on "Religulous" see

Nevi'im BeQitzur

Don't have the time or energy to study all of Nevi'im?

Study the weekly and holiday Haftarot instead! Consider the Haftarot as Qitzur Nevi'im.

Some good commentaries include

Mendel Hirsch


Wednesday 7 October 2009

Sukkah Sensitivity - 2

Sukkah Sensitivity (c) Rabbi Richard Wolpoe
One of the laws of the Sukkah roof (aka SCHACH) tells us if the shade is less than 50% it is invalid. And on the other hand, any thatched SCHACH that is so thick that rain cannot permeate is also not valid. So the cover must be more shade than sun, yet not so shady that neither rain nor the starlight can penetrate.

This can be considered a metaphor for how a Jew should deal with the outside world.

A protection or barrier of less than 50% is invalid; it is too prone to assimilation. It is by definition more outside than inside; it is too permeable to be considered valid protection. However, any barrier that does not allow rain drops or starlight, that is so thick-skinned as to be totally insensitive to the outside world, is also no good. IOW, avoiding assimilation does not entitle us to erect barriers that completely eliminates sensitivity to the outside world at large.


Tuesday 6 October 2009

Hamevazzeh es HaMo'adim..

TB Makkos 23a
"Hamevazzeh es hammoadim, k'illu oveid avodah zoro."

This admonition re: scorning the moadim seems rather harsh, extreme, maybe a bit over the top!

As a youngster I attended the Shabbos Afternoon Talmud class given at shul by our local rabbi. I was there for most of Makkos. When he taught this, he put it into historical perspective given the times of the Talmud.

Apparently when the early Xtians first broke away from Judaism one of the first "victims" to get jettisoned from their sect were the Holidays. Shabbos was preserved - albeit on a different day, but the Torah ordained festivals were dropped.

Thus, one whose demeanor was to treat the Moadim as "just another day" was certainly suspect as being a "min" (heretic) and was at least guilty of mar'is ho'ayin if not something more substantial.

This makes the apparently "over-the-top" equation quite realistic for them


Cognitive Dissonance 15 - Rules [that] Are Made to be broken

A proposed "rule" to explain a set of Masoretic patterns was questioned on the MAHPACH list

I changed the name of the proposed rule change to X to make this statement more generic.

« The most logical explanations for exceptions to the X rule is that the X rule is not really a rule, and so the exceptions are not really exceptions.

Let us face it: even the rules proposed by rishonim, which we have to accept are really rules, have exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions, and in the final analysis are merely guidelines and not inflexible Torah Misinai rules.

So why would we expect a rule newly invented in 5769-5770 to hold, and why should we think it strange that these rules have exceptions that need explanations?»

Indeed in Talmud we have rules that seem MADE to be broken! By way of illustration: let's use the rule of making the Brachah BEFORE doing the Mitzva. [Oveir La'asiyyasan]

Here are some notable exceptions where the bracha is deferred a bit and does not [completely] precede the act.

First 3

Tevilah of a Ger• Tevilah of a NiddahNetilas Yadayim

These 3 on tevillah and netillah AIUI are directly related

In the first case of Ger, the brachah is not possible before the prospective Ger is Jewish - hence the NEED to make the brachah AFTER the initial tevilah, there is no alternative.

The next 2 cases reflect an IDEAL [not a necessity] that it is better to do the brachah whilst "pure" then to do it "on time" before the purifications process. Thus the rule of order is sacrificed, and the precedent of tevilas ger poses as a "fig leaf" to make this adjustment more halachically palatable.

And so these last 2 cases flow from the first case.

[Cont']• Yeshivas SukkahHadalaqas Ner Shabbas• [Magein Avraham even proposes extending this principle of "light first - brachah later" to hadlaqas ner YomTov due to "lo plug"!]

Sukkah - birkas leisheiv follows entering the sukkah

With candle lighting, the concern is that once the brachah is made - that it's too late to light! This is difficult to fathom given that "oveir la'asiyyasan" is a given - so how could the brachah inhibit the hadlaqah?

Yet this is perhaps a perfect mis-understanding.

The word KLAL means a generality - not a hard-and-fast rule.

As such, "oveir "a'asiyyasan" is a default setting - and is readily over-ridable when it conflicts with other concerns - though I do confess the candle-lighting sequence is tough to understand.


Monday 5 October 2009

Talking Torah and History 2

Another topic we discussed was Rashi vs. Tosafos vs. Rambam

Rashi was not privy to much of the Yerushalmi.

However, both Rambam and Tosafos make extensive use of Yerushalmi and Tosefta.

With this common denominator, I had presumed that Rambam and Tosafos had a similar approach to the Talmudical Sugya

And how Halachah is derived forthwith.

But the good Historian disabused me of my simplistic understanding.

Essentially he said the following [these are paraphrases and not literal quotes]:

"While it's true that both Rambam and Tosafos add Yerushalmi and Tosefta to the mix with the Bavli - but how they use them is different.

"Rambam takes ONE sugya as the controlling sugya. It might be Bavli or Yerushalmi or Tosefta etc. But the Rambam loyally sticks to his selected sugya without deviation.

"OTOH Tosafos, conflates and uses dialectics to come up with a synthesized approach. Instead of the Rambam's pure sugya, a hybrid of several sources emerges as the controlling sugya for Tosafos.

I found this point very enlightening. So Rambam can be a strict constructionist in the sense of staying in the box without straying. Yet Rambam is not at all confined JUST to Bavli. Rather he has a broad range of sources to select from.

Next topic BEH:

Another quick look at la'asukei shma'ateta...



Talking Torah and History 1

I had the pleasure of dining in the sukkah with a noted historian who specializes Medieval Jewish History. He made several comments I would like to share. We focused upon contrasts between Ashkenaz and Sepharad.

Both Ash and Seph had brilliant Talmudists and Paytanim.

Seph Talmudists included Rif, Rambam, Rashba, Re'ah, etc.

Ash included, Rashi and literally dozens of Tosafists

Seph. Paytanim include many classic poets

Avraham and Moshe Ibn Ezra, Ibn Gabirol, and Y'udah haLevi

Ashk, had the K'lonymides, Baruch of Mainz etc.

However, there was a significant difference.

Sephardim seemed to specialize, E.G., the 4 aforementioned Seph paytanim were not known as leading Talmudists. And the Seph Talmudists were not known as leading Paytanim.

OTOH in Ashkenaz, the famous Paytanim were often outstanding Talmudists, and vice versa. IIRC Rabbeinu Tam wrote a few pieces himself.

We did not discuss the pluses and minuses of the two cultures, just the contrasts. Seph was more compartmentalized. Ash. Had more "kol bo" types.

Next: the similarities and contrasts between Rambam and Tosafos.


Sukkah Superiority

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

OTOH Yitzchak religiously washes twice a day and makes hammotzi and benches. He aims to get in 14 s'udos mamash over the course of sukkos over the course of the Chag

But Yitzchak also eats several significant portions of food outside the sukkah in addition to these 14 times. Some of them would be mamash k'vias s'uda, but maybe he has a "heter" when traveling or at the office.

Hashkafically Avraham has scrupulously avoided a bittul aseh, but makes no brachah on hol Hamoed

Yitzchak makes TWO brachos a day with a definite chiyyuv, but at least flirts with being mevateil the aseh once or twice a day because he has non-sukkah refreshments.

Which approach is hashkafically superior?

[One might equate this question with Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov]


Haredi Takeover of Zionism

I would like to direct you to the following Toronto Globe and Mail article entitled "A hostile takeover of Zionism" at:

The article, of course, is not perfect. For example, the author, I believe, presents Haredim as, basically, a monolithic group, not fully understanding the reality of the spectrum of views found within the group and the impact of these distinctions on his subject. I, though, believe it to be important to read this article for it encapsulates what really is a major shift in the general Haredi view in regard to Israel, specifically in its political role within the country.

I once heard a noted Rosh Yeshiva, who has since passed away, present the following distinction between Mizrachi and Agudah vis-a-vis their role in Israeli politics. He said that Mizrachi saw itself as trying to influence the religious nature of the State, i.e. bring Orthodox practice into the day-to-day workings of the State. It was thus Mizrachi that insisted that marriage and divorce be in the hands of the religious and demanded certain national rules in the areas of kashrut and Shabbat. He then said that this was not Agudah's interest which he defined as protecting the rights of the dati to observe Torah. A focus of Agudah was thus, for example, the exemption of women, specifically religious women, and yeshiva students from the draft, He then raised a most significant issue in the further defense of the Agudah position. For two reasons, he added, Torah, in any event, should not be imposed in the manner that Mizrachi is advocating. The end result is not a Torah state but a hybrid of Torah and the secular leaving a entity that does not truly represent Torah and, in fact, misrepresents it. In addition. Torah should be imposed in this manner on a populace.

I did not have the ability to further discuss his words with him, but this Rosh Yeshiva raised significant issues within my mind and now that I read this Globe and Mail article, my questions and concerns become intensified. First, I find it interesting that the Haredi world has gone through this transformation from the Agudah perspective, at the beginning of the State , that its role was simply to protect the dati to the present role that has been adopted by many Haredim to impose its perspective on others even with more intensity than with which Mizrachi initially undertook this role. Mizrahi still saw a certain value in Am Yisrael even without observance that the present Haredim do not share and thus the need to impose their values on the populace is ever more necessary and more obvious for these Haredim. There is no reason not to impose. What I find interesting is exactly this point. These Haredim do not see any reason for not acting in the manner that they are undertaking -- and therein lies the problem on so many levels. My contention would be that an imposed Torah in this manner is not Torah -- both in regard to the people upon which this behaviour is being imposed and in regard to the ones who are imposing this behaviour.

In a certain way, I, to some extent, accepted this Rosh Yeshiva's words regarding Mizrachi although I also recognized the necessary value in the Mizrachi position. It is a most difficult dilemma. What is an Israel without some semblance of Halacha although this partial imposition of Halacha may create and has created new problems (and the answer is clearly not full imposition). Mizrachi, however, still saw the greater picture and the complexity of what is the present Klal Yisrael.

I remember when Khoumeni first came to power in Iran, a chassidic friend of mine commented that it is too bad the we do not have a leader like Khoumeni who would bring Torah to the forefront. I responded: chas v'sholom. For many reasons, I truly believe that this is not the way of Torah (and, from writings I have read from the Rav, I think he would share this viewpoint). If what this article is contending is happening in Israel, my greatest sadness is for Torah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Cognitive Dissonance Pt. 14 - Written and Oral Torah

Torah Shebichtav - TSBK or Miqra
Torah she'b'al peh - TSBP

The dichotomy of this hybrid system goes away back in history

Those who failed to tolerate ambiguity during Bayit Sheini might have signed up with Zadokites or even "Essenes"

Yet as we see in the famous Aggadic passage in T.B. Shabbat about the Roman converts confronting first Shammai and then Hillel, that the only apparent common denominator between them seems to be the dual Torah.

And indeed, the two seem to be in conflict at times - and the "WHY" for this may be addressed BEH in future posts.

At any rate, the heritage of Pharisaic Judaism is of a complex nature, and does not readily resonate with those seeking a simplistic approach to life or to Judaism

See NishmaBlog: Life is complex. Decisions are complex. Torah is complex.


Thus the dual Torah provides a dual authority, and much decision making is a synthesis of the 2

Here is a general approach to Miqra Vs. TSBP

The TSBK has the Middat Hadin

The TSBP manifests Middat harachamim

Or - we as a society refuse to execute TSBK as is due to the human fallibility of any Beth Din shell Mata.

Therefore we "punt it" to the Beth Din shell Ma'alah


Order of Texts

When teaching young students We usually

• Teach Humash [or Tanach] first

• Then we proceed to Mishnah

• Then we proceed to teach Bavli and Rishonim - such as Rashi and Tosafot.


• Why do we bypass Tosefta?

• Why do we bypass Yerushalmi?

IOW Shouldn't we cover the texts in chronological order?

Illustration of chronological order:







Friday 2 October 2009

16. The Assembly During the Feast of Tabernacles

Every seven years (the first year after shemitah), on the second day of suckot, the entire Jewish community, during the days when there was a monarchy in Israel, would assemble to listen to the king read a set of specific verses from Devarim. The underlying purpose, as Rambam explains, is to create a sensation in every individual reminiscent of Sinai.

I try to put myself into this reality. A crowded space. Jews of every denomination. One man at the front. The sense that it is not enough just to hear the words—in fact Rambam says that even if you can’t hear the words, you can still fulfill your obligation—but that I must experience something. How can I ensure that I will experience what I am obligated to experience?

What is the essence of the ‘Sinai Experience’? Of course, the giving of the Torah. But to say that Sinai was about the transmission of God’s Word does not fully encapsulate the extent of what occurred there.

It was not just that we each interacted with the Divine but that we each interacted with the exact same Divinity.

Although we are members of the same religion, and we live our lives according to the same basic laws and read from the same Torah, the psychological reality is that we each have a unique mind and, therefore (if not certainly then at least probably), a unique conception of God. When we discuss ‘God’ in an abstract sense, we often ignore this fact. But when we separate and each address God on our own, we do not address the same entity. You pray to your God and I pray to mine.

This fact is at the heart of the inescapable solitude of Man. I am tragically isolated from you, at least in part, because you cannot prostrate yourself to my God and I cannot prostrate myself to your God. When I yearn to be known by you, I yearn for you to recognize and acknowledge the same God that I recognize and acknowledge. This is the God that is with me when I fall asleep at night, when the regrets of the day overwhelm me, when my ambitions inspire me, when my fears distract me, when I plan, when I think, when I say “Hello,” and “Good-bye.” This is the God that I thank for my existence, the God that is with me when I am alone. And when I doubt that there is a God, this is the only God that I doubt. Without knowing and understanding the particular mysteries inherent to this God—my God—you cannot occupy the same metaphysical reality that I occupy.

But at Sinai, we all had the same God. Our metaphysical realities overlapped.

Does this mean that at Sinai the personal God was supplanted by an objective God? Should that be our goal, to eliminate the personal God?

It is unlikely. The personal God seems to be an integral part of Jewish existence. Even as we pray in a group, the most important prayer (shemoneh esrei) is said in silence; and when we sin against God, it is known that our confession of these sins is done privately. It is also impossible to read the God of Adam HaRishon as the same ‘character’ as the God of Avraham Avinu, or the God of Avraham Avinu as the same ‘character’ as the God of Moshe Rabeinu. To Bible critics, this may indicate inconsistency or proof of multiple authors. In truth, it indicates the reality of a personal God—a positive result of the proper interaction between a unique person of faith and the Almighty.

This is the conflict that is presented by communal worship. I am tempted to join with the masses in recognition of God because the solitude of worshipping a personal God—and so being alone in my metaphysical reality—can be agonizing. But, if I am honest, I recognize that, though we have congregated, we are each, conceptually speaking, addressing a different God. As the communal prayers progress, the end result for any contemplative individual is an increased sense of isolation. This sense of isolation is enhanced when the prayers reach a climax at shemoneh esrei. I am then aware that the God I turn to is exclusively mine. The relief that is sought in finding a community of believers has not been found and, in fact, the opposite has occurred: the more people that I see worshipping God, the more isolated I feel.

I believe that this is partially the purpose of communal worship: counterintuitively, to enhance the sense of a personal God. But there is also the Sinaitic God, the objective God. How can we find this God amongst a multitude of personal Gods?

If we assume that the Sinaitic God is coincidentally the same God for everyone present—that is, we assume that the objective God could have been exposed anywhere at any time under any circumstances and it so happens that it was here, at Sinai—we do not find an affiliation between the personal God and the objective God. But it is axiomatic that God’s revelation to Man cannot be coincidental. It can be deduced, therefore, that the revelation emerges consequentially from the circumstances: the key to the unearthing of the objective God is found within the assemblage of all verifiable personal Gods. (Which may be partially why the midrash states that 'all Jewish souls’ were present at Sinai—not miraculously, but necessarily: this is the prerequisite for the manifestation of the objective God.)

But how does this work? We cannot combine Gods—we will quickly discover mutually exclusive characteristics. But we can find God through the process of elimination: we maintain only the characteristics that are consistent with all Gods. Logically, the resultant God will be a God basically devoid of any qualities. He will be known, as Rambam has said, by what He is not.

This objective God cannot replace the personal God—we cannot relate to Him. But we can accept Him as the True God, removed from the psyche. He is the God emergent from negation. I imagine that being in a crowd of the entire Jewish population might, if things went well, result in the sensation of a universal Divinity (though it would, of course, lack the incontestable veracity of Sinai). Although this is not the God that we address on a regular basis (this mitzvah is only incumbent upon us once every seven years), it is important to remember that this God is the God that we knew at Sinai. In this way, the isolation that we feel in worshipping a personal God finds a modicum of relief: the metaphysical reality that seems to live and die trapped within each of us has relevance to the objective metaphysical reality; the personal God is vital to recognizing the presence of the Sinaitic God.