Monday 30 November 2009

Learning Halachah; The principle vs. The Practical

When my daughter returned from Eretz Yisroel, she summed this up best - paraphrasing her instructors in Midreshet Lindenbaum

If you want to master Halachic principles, then learn the earliest sources [E.G. Mishnah, Talmud, or Rambam]

If you want to look up a practical p'saq, then consult the most recent publications [E.G. Sh'mirat Shabbot k'Hilcheta]


Friday 27 November 2009

Aqeida, and Masorah - Rabbis Soloveichik and Rosenfeld

I serve as a rotating Shabbat Chaplain
For Care1 at Teaneck.
I've become friendly with one of the residents whose daughter and son-in-law visit her nearly every Friday Night.

It so happens that this son-in-law is none other than Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld! We have chatted many times and I was quite pleased to see his d'var torah in our local Jewish Paper "The Jewish Standard".

Given R Rosenfeld's background, both the content of the d'var torah and its appearance here on this blog is a bit unconventional. Enjoy it anyway! I'm confident you will.


Thursday 26 November 2009

Doctrine vs. Dissent 2 -Concluding Observations

R Binny:
«Do you really believe that R G'dalya reversed a BAVLI?!»

R Sh'muly:
«I'm sure R G'dalya has a valid point, but the upshot seems pashut to fly in the face of Shas. The only fair way to judge this would be to read R G'dlya's writings w/o his name and ask third parties to render an opinion based upon the content of the writing and not of the author's prominence.»

R Binny:
«R G'dalyah does, b'rov gadluso, claim to understand the Gemara, you claim to understand it better and therefore conclude that he reversed the Bavli?!»

R Sh'muly:
«It appears to ME that he reversed the Bavli because AFAIK there is no precedent in posqim to allow for this hiddush. But, I'm not claiming to be a bigger gadol! I'm just calling it as it I see it!. For a more objective read, use the method above. I fail to see why one should accept every ruling w/o checking it out to see if it holds water or not first!»

R Binny:
«And, of course, you know as well as I do that we do not pasken on the basis of Kabbalah

R Sh'muly:
«Well this seems a red herring! Why?

I was not arguing purely on the basis of kabbalah

The Kabbalah simply buttresses the ideal of not delaying the burial which is after all the point of Shas, too! So when overturning Shas here, one is in addition potentially causing the neshamah
Addi tonal suffering by delaying a swift, prompt burial. That just seems obvious and consistent with Shas' stance.»

«And I imagine you know that the Gemara itself limits burial on Yom Tov where there are countervailing issues»

«Understood. But that was bishas persecution where Jews might be coerced to work on YT if the hostile non-Jews saw Jews burying on YT. At any rate, posqim don't seem to make this operative and it is imho a stretch to invoke it here. Using dormant Talmudic principles to alter normative law is a tremendous slippery slope. Better off LFAD if R. G'dalyah had made a hora'as sho'oh that burial on YT sheini should be suspended due to potential Hillul Shabbos issues, than being m'falpeil a novel read INTO Shas itself.
I think it's more "yosher" to do it that way, and would not trigger any "slippery slope" precedents.»



Of course the unarticulated issue is:
"Are g'dolim to be deemed infallible?". If yes, then we must set aside our minds and wills and simply defer to the R G'dalyas and their reads of sources, etc.

OTOH if G'dolim are subject to the same rules and texts that other rabbis are subject to, then they are fair game for upshlugging.

It would seem al pi mussar NOT to make g'dolim or Roshei Yeshiva above the system but subject to it. After all even Aharon made Moshe subject to Torah in Parshas Sh'mini.

OTOH a gadol MAY make a g'zeira as a syag - which I believe is RS's point.

So R Sh'muly seems to protest and suggest

Protest: Blindly following a Gadol's read or decision w/o considering the normative read

Suggest: Let G'dolim make temporary s'yaggim as needed to protect Halachah w/o
resorting to dochaq reads into classical texts.


Ner Hanukkah on Friday Night - SA 679:1

The mechabeir pasqens to light Hanukkah BEFORE Ner Shabbos

But lich'ora, tadir v'sheino tadir, tadir qodem and Ner Shabbat should come first

MB 1 says while Mechabeir doesn't really hold that Qabbalas Shabbos starts with lighting Ner Shabbos, rather he is merely chosheish for that Sheetah, [aparently that of the BeHaG as quoted By SA himself 263:10]

Lich'ora this should also mean that the mechaber should pasqen to light Ner Shabbos before the Brachah! IOW not over la'assiyasson.

But then I realized that perhaps the mechaber is only chosheish for the BeHaG that LIGHTING starts Shabbos, but not for the Mordechai who holds the BRACHAH starts Shabbos, so "yeish lechaleiq"


The Upright Individual vs. The Machiavellian Rulership

As someone who has been involved in public life on a very minor level, I have had to struggle with the cognitive dissonance in that we aspire to be "Honest Abe's", yet as one rises to higher levels of office, honesty is replaced by "realpolitik", manipulation, and Machiavellian maneuvers.

In reading RSR Hirsch on Lech Lecha [my BM Sidrah BTW] I saw an almost timeless description of the dichotomy between the upright individual and the "sleazy government" spanning Jew and non-Jew alike

VIZ. That society is so geared from the time of Avraham henceforth and I quote Breisheet 12:2 [Hirsch New edition p. 292]

«Honesty, humanity, and love are are duties incumbent upon the individual, but are regarded as folly in relations with nations..

Individuals are [punished] for the crimes of fraud and murder, but countries murder and defraud on a grand scale, and those who murder and defraud [in the national interest] are decorated and rewarded.

«Not like these is the portion of Avraham....»

No wonder Israel is levadad yishkon! We as the children of Avraham may not - and almost cannot - play the games that other nations play! Because we do not subscribe to this Machiavellian "deal with the devil" of being an honest individual while being a a corrupt nation!

It is the legacy of the Jewish State to play by different rules, by principles in our DNA and perhaps ingested with our "mother's milk" to maintain a high level of idealism even whilst negotiating on an international level.

Thus, while the individual delegates at a forum such as the UN might contain individuals who in their private lives are quite humane and enlightened, yet on the international stage will be honoured for furthering the most deceptive, corrupt, and evil agenda possible, and even be decorated davka for this behaviour!

I only wish this sunk in to my consciousness when I was in my twenties, but I guess it takes a lot of life experience to realize that R. Hirsch is saying, that he might as well be penning an op-ed in today's newspapers and be current 130 years after the original publication of his magnum opus!



Results of Poll on Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov

In our last poll, we inquired about:

Steps on the Path: Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov

We are often not called upon to evaluate or choose between two options, one 100% proper and the other 100% improper, but between two options with both reflecting some inherent weakness. Starting with this poll, and in various future polls, we will raise such choices and ask you: which approach is hashkafically superior?

Such questions may arise in numerous situations. It may arise in a case of kiruv, where an answer will impact on the path to greater fulfillment of mitzvot. It may impact on a decision regarding which friend should be the focus of your mussar. By extension, it may also similarly impact on oneself in the determination of which personal behaviours should be the focus of your teshuva. Most significantly, though, how one answers these questions will reflect one's hashkafic thoughts on the general principles of Torah.

Case #1: Sukkah Superiority - Sur Mei'ra vs. Asei Tov

Avraham spends the entire chol hamoed avoiding the chiyuv 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. In the end, he simply does not eat in a sukkah the whole chol hamoed.

Yitzchak OTH religiously washes twice a day and makes hammotzi and benches with an aim of having 14 s'udos mamash over the course of the Chag. But Yitzchak is also much more lenient in what he eats outside the sukkah in addition to these 14 times. Some of them would be described as significant portions of food, some even possibly entailing mamash k'vias s'uda, heterim based upon traveling or being at the office may, though, be applicable.

Hashkafically, Avraham scrupulously avoids a bittul aseh, but does not in any way fulfill the aseh, making no brachah nor eating in a sukkah on chol Hamoed. Yitzchak makes TWO brachos a day with a definite chiyyuv, clearly being mikayem the aseh, but at least flirts with being mevateil the aseh once or twice a day because he has non-sukkah refreshments.

Which behaviour is hashkafically superior?

Your Responses

Avraham - Sur Mei'ra 25% (2)
Yitzchak - Aseh Tov 13% (1)
Neither choice is inherently the better one. My specific response would depend on
the personality of the individuals and the circumstances 25% (2)
Both choices are equally lacking 37% (3)


1) It may be interesting to note that the Chazon Ish in Emunah u'Bitachon favours sur mei'ra over aseh tov but whether his words on the subject apply in this case could still be a matter of debate. He was speaking developmentally that the process of sur mei'ra may have a greater long term effect on an individual than a promotion of aseh tov. The fact is, though, that both, in a vacuum, are problematic in terms of expressions of Torah commitment. In terms of determining a first step taking someone further on a path of Torah, the answer may still be that it depends on the individual. (RBH)

2) Imho Yitzchaq has chosen to own mitzvat sukkah and to honour it. His failings AIVI are all too human. He is at worst mumar letei'avon, while aiming to elevate himself spiritually. Avraham is avoiding evil, but avoiding living the Torah. He is like the one who fasts on Yom Kippur while sleeping in bed, technically compliying but failing to grow. He is too inert, too much into avoidance. Hashkafically means to me "heart level". Avraham might be technically superior, but on the rachmana libba ba'ei I see Yitzchaq of putting more heart and soul into his avodah.Eventually, Yitzchaq may outgrow his lazy indulgences, Avraham "ain't going nowhere" it seems. (My 2 cents RRW)

How could They?

1 P. Hayyei Sarah:
How could Eliezer eved Avraham commit "nichush"?

[See Sefer Hareidim 24:51]

2 P. Toldot:
How could Yaakov [ish emet] deceive his own father Yitzchaq?

Answer: In both cases they could rely on Prophecy for heter "b'Torat horo'at sha'ah"

1 Eliezer relied upon Avraham's guarantee:
"Hashem ...yishlach mala'acho ittach". Eliezer knew a Mal'ach was supervising him, so his Nichush was "kosher" only within that context

2 Yaakov was told by Rivkah. And Rivkah had been told by n'vu'ah ...sHein goyim..v'rav ya'avod tz'air. This prophecy enabled Rivkah to "force" the issue with a deception as a ho'or'at sho'oh in order to conform to Hashem's word


P. Lech Lecha, Skin-Garment-House

An interesting linkage is made by RSR Hirsch on the first verse in Parshat Lech Lecha

New translation P. 288
"A person has 3 protective casings:
The Bassar, the Begged, and the Bayit.

This point dovetails completely with the 3 forms of afflictions listed in Tazria-Metzora viz.

afflictions of the Skin, surface, dermatological

I don't see any explicit connection made by R. Hirsch in Lech Lecha itself, but the parallel is more than skin-deep!

In the cases in Vayiqra, the afflictions [Nega'I'm] proceed from the inner to the outer

When Avraham leaves Haran he is asked to leave
House of your Father

Or from outer to inner which is highly counter-intuitive. And this is a major salient point in R. Hirsch's brief essay


Wednesday 25 November 2009

What is a Jew?

Numerous times, in various articles, I have discussed what I have felt to be the fundamental challenge of Jewish identity. The question that we are constantly encountering is not ultimately "who is a Jew?" but rather "what is a Jew?". Bluntly, before one can define criteria for membership in a club, one first has to define the nature of the club. This is similar with membership in what I would term the Jewish group. Before we can define the criteria for membership in this group, i.e. who is a Jew, we have to really define the nature of this group, what is a Jew. This may come down to the question: are we a nation or a religion? Most Jews like to say both -- but was does that mean?

This is precisely the essence of a case that is now transpiring in England regarding the status of a Jew. See Religion and peoplehood reflect two entirely and qualitatively different types of a group. Its like saying that there is a group that is defined by consisting of people with red hair but it is also defined by consisting of people who play squash. These are two totally unrelated criteria for group membership.
The problem within the Jewish world is not just the difficulty of integrating these apparently different structures of group criteria but that that it doesn't even perceive the dilemma and challenge. That is why this English case is so significant. Its like the English created laws regarding groups that define themselves by the colour of their hair and the group we described above wants to work within this law and apply this law but still wants to primarily describe itself through playing of squash -- and group doesn't even understand the problem.

Born to a Jewish mother simply doesn't make sense as a definition of a religion. That's the problem before the English court. The further strangeness within this case is that the specific issue did not really involve this criteria of Jewish identity but the issue of conversion which is a religion criteria -- except that people don't apply it that way. How often does one say "I converted to Reform Judaism" or to "Conservative Judaism". Its simply that one became a Jew -- but what about the major theological distinctions between the branches of Judaism?

What the English court really did is show us that the vast majority of us do not know what we are talking about when confronting Jewishness. Maybe we should meet the challenge.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Lou Gehrig - Being Grateful when things look bleak

How could a relatively young man -who is staring the "Mal'ach Hammavet" right
in the face -
utter such inspiring thoughts?

"Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."

"So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Makes me blush to think how little gratitude I have by comparison!

In order to connect this to a d'var torah
Here is the charge I gave a Chatan under the Chuppah:

«When after you've been married awhile and you wake up in the morning and feel about your spouse and your marriage the immortal words of the 'Gadol' Lou Gehrig:
"Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.". ...

then your marriage is successful.
Consider this your goal, to continue to feel appreciative every day as you are on your wedding day»

For a full text of Lou Gehrig's immortal farewell see:


Sources and Obligations

A quick thought on 2 diverse points from 2 diverse discussion lists

I recall a recent posting on List 1 to the effect that Aggadah contains "Hilchot Machshava" or something similar.

And I saw another posting re: v'Ten Tal uMatar on List 2 citing only Talmud and Rambam, ignoring a key Ro"sh on point.

Permit me to address both issues with a single approach.

Re: Aggadah. IMHO one may legitimately dispute or dissent from an Aggadic principle. But first, at least one MUST consult the sources and any relevant literature. Only then may one respectfully disagree.

Similarly with the issue of v'Ten. One may legitimately take issue with the Ro"sh's position, but it is still obligatory to see it and any related Halachic Literature

Bottom Line:
One is not obligated to always concur with all relevant sources, OTOH one must consult them first and not intentionally ignore them before arriving at a conclusion.


"Better Laining & "Better Training" - Drafting a Resolution

Unlike many Sephardim and Teimanim, most Modern Ashkenazi day school students are getting [at best] a mediocre background in Laining skills, Masoretic Notations, and know how in Diqduq.

The result? Mediocrity (or worse) whilst laining at their bar mitzvahs and an inability to master the nuances and subtleties of "Miqra" in general. This also implies at best a Bedi'avad reading of Q'riat Shema twice a day. Imagine such a leniency on a mitzva d'oraitto! Unthinkable!

Furthermore, much of Peirush Rashi is lost on students who lack Masoretic Sensitivity and Ibn Ezra, Redaq, and Minchat Shai may become completely out-of-reach.

Furthermore, some parents [and most peers] push the BM boys to read MORE instead of read BETTER, which often may subject the congregation to even more faulty laining.

So I am joining a campaign for heightened awareness and I am participating in drafting a Resolution to address this situation.

The first step is to complete the Resolution document

The second step is to disseminate it to shuls and on the internet.

The third step would be to implement changed attitudes by teachers, parents, and peers. Quantity should be sacrificed in the name of quality. A perfectly read Hafatara and Maftir [with a possible additional aliya or 2] would become the new paradigm replacing the mediocre entire sidra, etc. Expectations should be altered.

The fourth step would be to begin training day school students in good Hebrew diction and cantillation techniques. Q'riyyat Sh'ma with its trop could be mastered by boys and
girls by age 9 or so, even if only by rote learning.

Within a generation, Ashk'nazim would be reading Tanach as accurately as Sephardim and Teimanim do now, and then the quantity of laining could be restored. Teachers would then be better prepared to train future generations in our Masoretic Traditions [pun intended]


P. Noah: Community and Individual, Ayn Rand and RSR Hirsch

A strange confluence just hit me - epiphany like. In reading RSR Hirsch on Dor Haflagah, it struck me how community could be evil - even despite R. Hirsch's high praise for community elsewhere.

I could not make sense of the concept of when egotism is a legitimate
Expression of Moral Indignation, vs. when it is the opposite, i.e. The expression of conceit, arrogance, and unholy defiance.

Migdal Bavel is the paradigm of a peaceful co-operative community BUT one that has set itself up in defiance of the Divine. It sought to sacrifice the individual on the altar of the greater whole, foreshadowing both Fascism and Communism. And this suppression of the individual rightfully sparks the ego to rebel. Why rightfully? Because any collective without sanction of the Al-Mighty is inherently evil when it suppresses the individual!

No wonder Ayn Rand's flew from God-less Bolshevism. Her nature impelled her to rebel. And given the frightening parallels between Migdal Bavel and the Stalinistic 5-Year plans, her flight was well-justified! [Whether her alternative passes muster is indeed another matter.]

And so R. Hirsch emphasizes that the praiseworthy community and culture is the one built around preserving and perpetuating Torah Tradition. He himself led a paradigmatic community in Frankfort when he broke with the local Heterodox Community there. It remains functioning today, albeit in reduced numbers, in Washington Heights. B"H it is not the sole community based upon Torah Values. Thus any community whose mission is "Hirschian"
in nature deserves the deference of the individual

OTOH, any community designed to compete against G-d deserves the uprising of the suppressed individual soul.

The gray area today dear reader, is the society that is neither culturally devoted to G-d nor out to defeat G-d leaving us a tricky conundrum.

As North America WAS, say circa WWII, there was no question of a society and culture who opposed Marxist Atheism in favour of a common non-denominational service to the Al-Mighty and compassion for mankind. This society had the common focus of G-d only in the most generic terms, eschewing the barriers between sects.

Now that Secularism is replacing this non-denominational common-denominator service to the Creator, the society is slipping off of its pedestal, teetering ever so closely to a Godless tilt, Heaven Forbid.

It remains to be seen if we can restore a society that supports a common Deity in a compassionate and mutually supportive fashion as we did 60+ years ago.

Should we tilt away too far, the individuals will rise up and break away to form tiny independent communities re-dedicated to the ideals and traditions that once made us a truly "Great Society". A new Austritt Gemeinder will have to appear to preserve a Torah life-style amid the deterioration of what was once the ideal.

Just as Avraham ho'Ivri crossed over to oppose the Dor Haflagah in his own day.


Thanksgiving - Is it good for the Jews?

Here is some historical tidbits that may help us Jews decide the issue of "Is Thanksgiving good for the Jews?"

Factoid 1:
Go Google "Sukkot and Thanksgiving". It's widely believed that the Puritans observed a form of Sukkot and Canadian Thanksgiving is actually in closer proximity to our Chag than its USA counterpart.

Factoid 2:
I recently saw a History Channel [or similar] documentary on TV re: T-Day as follows:

It seems that the Puritans had banned celebrating Xmas as a joyous holiday and insisted upon a solemn day instead

Well the wives were steaming! They wanted to "cook up" a real feast. What to do? They made their Xmas festival meal on Thanksgiving instead with all the trimmings. L'havdil - An early tashlumin.

Lefi factoid #1 Thanksgiving is Torah-based

Lefi Factoid #2 it is indeed a derivative of the Proverbial Hukkos haGoy"

For more on this controversy


[Check out the comments]


Sunday 15 November 2009

Doctrine vs. Dissent 1

Here is a controversy between 2 Points of View.

This exchange is from way back in 2003 and I have changed the names to reduce the "personal" aspect and to focus upon the issues instead. No need for adding ad hominem attacks..

We will call the more Dissenting protagonist "R Shmuly"
The more Doctrinaire protagonist "R Binny"

The name of a Gadol is G'dalyah

Response to R Shmuly who states
R G'dalya apparently seems to reverse the Bavli re: burial on YT Sheini by invoking chillul YT as a concern - af al pi that the Bavli asserts that legabei Meisim YT sheini is considered kechol...

R Binny:
Do you really believe that R G'dalya reversed a BAVLI?!
Well, If Rabbi X were to say that the gmara re: burying on YT is not applicable due to modern day refrigeration, the Torah world would be up in arms. While when R G'dalyah says it, it gets a pass. ...

Tell me here and now R Binny, of all the Torah-based and Kabbalistic reasons for not delaying a levaya that have nothing to do with the deterioration of the body! I'm sure you can come up with many more than
I can, and I can think of a few myself.
Point? We are not interested in the methodology of how a Halachah is
derived but WHO says it. This of course obviates the need for a concept of a 'To"eh bidvar Mishnah' which becomes impossible in this system. Because the Gadol trumps the P'shat of any Mishna anyway! So its pointless to ever challenge any Gadol! Yet the SA allows for just such a challenge!»

R Binny
Excuse me, I am in utter shock. Because R G'dalyah does, b'rov gadluso, claim
to understand the Gemara, you claim to understand it better and therefore
conclude that he reversed the Bavli?!

And, of course, you know as well as I do that we do not pasken on the
basis of Kabbalah.

And I imagine you know that the Gemara itself limits burial on Yom Tov where there are countervailing issues.

Your assertion is staggering.»

R Shmuly:
«If Chassimas Hatalmud is indeed the last word, then kfiyyas hamitta would
still be a chiyyuv for an an aveil, and kitniyuos and bigamy would be still be optional for Ashkenazim

R Binny:
«Aveilus is mostly minhagim, and no ra'ayos can be brought from minhagim.

Kitniyos and bigamy are still options. You will end up in cherem, that's

Chasimas Ha'Talmud IS the last word. Beyond that there can only be

Ad Kahn the original exchange

R Shmuly asked me to add a few points to bolster his arguments and to undermine R Binn's points. Stay tuned for further posts.

Note: Since I cannot readily contact R Binny, I have altered all the names to reduce any potential for personalities to intervene


Who is a Jew? Jews in the House, and the Senate

So when counting Jewish Representation in Legislatures and in Executive roles, just Who is a Jew anyway?

Jew by birth?
Jew according to Halachah?
Jew despite practicing another religion?

For more on this topic please see:

Rabbi's Corner: Jews in the House, and the Senate


Avot de R. Reuven

Nowadays, in an imperfect society we need a Government to protect us from abuse from evil-doers.

When the entire world is "enlightened" by the Light of the Al-Mighty, we could afford to no rulership. We pray that the words of Yeshaya will come true bimheira b'yamainu.

[See Avoth 3:2 and The Hirsch Commentary
«...But human society is still in the state of moral imperfection...»]


Saturday 14 November 2009

The Rhetoric around Fort Hood

There has been much talk concerning how Major Hasan did not want to go to Afghanistan to kill Muslims, but wouldn't fighting in Afghanistan also involve defending Muslims?

I recently addressed this issue and the events at Fort Hood in my monthly column in the Jewish Tribune (Toronto). It can be seen at

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 12 November 2009

Loyal Opposition; Taking the Minority View, While Abiding by the Majority, Too

A very intelligent friend of mine [Albert] was convinced I was being inconsistent in my Point of View. And in a sense he did detect a contradiction - or at least an apparent contradiction.

The specific case is not the issue here. To simplify matters, I took a minority position of a point of view on a Halachic matter. [For the sake of illustration, let's say that I favored saying the brachah of "Al Netilas Yadayim" prior to washing.]

Albert called me on it.
"Wolpoe, you advocate Halachic Consensus! How can you oppose the practice that has been approved by the vast majority? This is inconsistent with your Halachic thesis!"

For a few minutes, I thought Albert had indeed detected an inconsistency, isolated an anomaly!

Then my mind cleared and I realized he overlooked a significant Hilluq, a major caveat.

My position really did not contradict Halachah on the ground - Since I never had publicly advocated my opposition in order for people to alter their practice! Rather I was voicing loyal opposition to the decision rendered by the majority; and am still willing to abide by the consensus position.

Let's take a Parliamentary example.
The Majority Party proposes to require 40 hours of training to earn a driver's license

The Minority Counter-Proposes only 20 hours instead.

And let's say I hold like the minority [the loyal opposition] that counter-proposes the 20 hours.

After the vote [the nimnu v'gamru] the Majority Party wins the vote and the new law has been duly established.

OTOH I loyally abide by the majority proposal as bona fide new law

OTOH in the arena of opinion I still maintain my view that this law is a "bad law"

Albert apparently seems to have missed this distinction! That despite taking an oppositional opinion, I may still allow for deference to the legal process! He seems to be equating opposition in thought to disobedience in deed! But loyal opposition can split this baby! A minority can oppose a decision yet defer to it nevertheless.

This dovetails with the Elu v'Elu [Ev"E] series dealing with pluralism in thought, and yet conformity in deed.

That we PRACTICE Halachah as Beth Hillel, but in the area of learning and thought Beth Shammai is equally "Divrei Elokim Hayyim"

For an illustration of this kind of opposition combined with deference, see the Aruch HaShulchan on the matter of al Neqiyut Yadayim.


Quality vs. Quantity - Torah Reading

This is an outgrowth of a discussion on the Mahpach group re: strategies for Torah Readers

The thrust of the discussion was how to combine two goals which often conflict

Goal 1
To get a higher quality of accuracy and detail in Torah Reading

Goal 2
To be more inclusive. To afford more people the opportunity to read the Torah

My comments below are tangential to those goals, not essential. Upon reflection, I realized I was articulating a bit of my Hashqafa RE: Quality vs. Quantity and so I am sharing it with the readership.

Nehemiah Klein:

Remember the ba'al koreh was instituted because not everyone was able to read on their own, which means not everyone feels the motivation or interest to learn it properly - that is fine, just like I am not a mohel. The answer is to teach kids and even adults the importance of accuracy.

My Response:
The analogy breaks down a bit
"Mohels" are almost always professionals
While with Torah Readers, every Bar Mitzva boy wants to do "be one of the boys" and "there's the rub"

And so I would prefer the bar mitzvah boy to do
1 or 2 aliyot with "hyper-accuracy"
As opposed to doing the whole parshah with mediocrity.



The peer pressure to lain the entire parshah is tremendous. I think it's worth resisting in favour of a more highly concentrated effort to teach the minutia of how to lain at a more "granular level". Once mastered, it will empower young men in their future laining endeavours.

As such, I advocate sacrificing quantity for the sake of quality

My 2 cents

Tuesday 10 November 2009

P. Noah: Fathers and Sons - RSR Hirsch on 9:24

Years a go I came up with a cute, pithy idea:

That Poqeid Avon Avot al Banim refers to visiting the sins of the parents THROUGH, or by means of, the children.

Hirsch new edition P. 243 applies this to Noah's curse of Ham

This constitutes a serious warning: "Honour your father and your mother, lest you be punished though your children"
[Quotes in the original]

Meaning Ham's dishonour of his father Noah would be punished by means of his son K'na'an.

Sins that children commit against their parents will be punished by the manner in which their own children, in turn, will deal with them!

This is mamash my own P'shat on

Poqeid Avon Avot al Banim

Baruch Shekivanti!

Avos de R. Reuven

Go forth and see which is the good way to which a man should adhere

1 A man who readily concedes when he's wrong or mistaken
2 A man who readily apologizes when he has wronged his neighbor

Go and see which is the evil way which a man should stand apart

1. One who is too conceited or stubborn to change his mind in the face of all evidence to the contrary
2 One who cannot apologize when he's done harm to his fellow - especially when he is informed of the harm.


Sunday 8 November 2009


From Cantor Richard Wolberg - a post in the Avodah List


One of the most beautiful comments on the scene of Avraham and the three men (malachim) was given by R. Shalom Roikeach of Belz who noted that in 18:2, the visitors are spoken of as standing above Avraham [nitzavim alav]. However, in verse 18:8, AVRAHAM is described as standing above them [omed alehem].

R' Shalom points out: At first, the visitors were higher than Abraham because they were angels and he a flesh and blood human being. But when he gave them food, drink and shelter, he stood even higher than the angels.

R'shut Harabbim and 600K, Part 2 the Hilluq


A The Talmud in several Braittot on Shabbat 6 mentions the status of Midbar

B The Rambam states it's a RhR

C The Tur AND SA omit Midbar [maybe it deserted them?]

D The SA is ambivalent WRT the 600K issue

Next topic:
Shabbat 6, the Braittot, the question of the Talmud, and Abbaye's answer»

TB Shabbat 6a
«Tannu Rabbanan Arba Reshuyot leShabbat


[6b] vlachshov nami midbar?

[Noting that Midbar is omitted from an apparently comprehensive list]

deha tanya eizohi RhR? ..."v'hamidbar"
[Contradiction to Braita #1]

Amar abbayei lo kashya!
A. Kan bizman sheyisrael shruyyin bamidbar
B. Kan bizman hazzeh
This issue of which way is which is debated by Rishonim
Is case A of Abbayei the RhR or the Carmelit? And Converse for Case B

At any rate the SA and the Tur take no sides and omit - apparently consciously[!] - the case of Midbar completely!

While the Rambam is very strange in that he calls EVERY Midbar a. RhR (as per Braitto #2)

This omits Abbaye's Hilluq and seems to make the plain Tanya "trump" a Tanu Rabbanan!

[NB: Tanu Rabbanan's are usually slightly higher in the pecking order than a vanilla Braitto]

A the G'mara is split between 2 Braittot re: Midbar
B As per An undisputed Abbaye, there is a definite Hilluq and the braittot are not in dispute, rather they address 2 different scenarios.
C. SA and Tur are silent WRT Midbar
D Rambam re: Midbar takes one side in apparent disagreement with the Talmud's Hilluq

Preview of coming attractions:

What say Rashi and Tosafot?

And what light do they shed upon the Rambam's position?


Saturday 7 November 2009

Disagreeing Respectfully; Dissent with Honour 1

There are many paths to dispute. Some take the high road and some don't

Without belaboring, those who IMHO were less than generous in their dissent - and at times rude and malicious - include:

• The Ra'avad on Rambam's Mishneh Torah
• The Re'ah on Torat Habayyit
• The entire anti-Maimonidean movement in the 12th and 13th centuries. An episode of mega-embarrassment

Let's let those go and think positive!

Can we find respectful debate and dissent?

YES we can! In preparing a series on Reshut haRabbim and the issue of 600,000
[600K] I found that the Beth Yosef outlines both schools in a fair-minded and balanced way. Despite his Sephardic Background, he reports quite objectively how the schools hold and how-where they differ.

In the Ashkenazic Tradition, 3 Classic supplementary texts were written that embody respectful dissent, or simply complementary information that mitigate the simple read of the text.

Perhaps the finest Gentleman of that Genre was the Rema. His respectful dissent in his Hagahot are not only lessons showing how Ashkenazim disagreed on point, but he accomplished Two tangential accomplishments

1. Rema made the SA an almost universally accepted text. [Not so for Teimanim, but quite so for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim]. [Also note R Mordechai Eliyahu did much the same for the Kitzur SA]. Rema's alternative might have been to either "bash" the Mechabeir, or to author a competing text. He chose not to. [While his Talmid the Levush did that exactly]

2. Second, he acted like his Namesake Moshe and taught us anivut. He made no claims to being a superior poseiq, only a preserver of a Tradition that was being short-changed. And his manner was done with elegance and class in terms of his respectfulness.

The second respectful dissenter is going back in History to the Maharam miRothenburg and his student the Hagahot Maimoniyyot.

The Maharam was enamored with the Rambam's Mishneh Torah's clarity and organization, and so he latched onto to the bandwagon by commissioning his student - the Hagahot Maimonoiyyit - to produce an Ashkenaz-friendly supplement. The Hagahot here did not catch on in big way as did the Rema's Hagahot several centuries later. Nevertheless a path was made towards both admiring Sephardic codes w/o trampling Ashkenazic sheetot.

NB: just as the Darchei Moshe on the Tur was short-shifted into a "kitzur" apparently the Hagahot M suffered a similar fate

The Darchei Moshe is being restored in the new editions of the Tur and the Hagahot Constantine are now in the back of the Frankel edition of the Rambam.

The least obvious is Tosafot. This deserves more than a sound-byte, but to a great extent, Tosafot finessed a reconciliation between the Bavli and Early Minhag Ashkenaz in such a way that made the Bavli the premier text of TSBP and made it more palatable to Observant Jews whose tradition was at times in conflict with the text.

We primarily covered 3 texts:
Mishneh Torah
And their corresponding respectful "hagahot"

The Rif and beyond


Torah MiSinai, Then and Now - #2 Bayit Sheini


«Let's go back to the common starting point, Ma'amad Har Sinai. Let's take a hard line stance, that as Moshe Rabbeinu descended the mountain all of Written Torah and all of Oral Torah was MiSinai, meaning Divine, Holy. What might have occurred that would make the common denominator across the Ortho spectrum to diverge over time?

Stay Tuned for future posts addressing this point.»

There are 2 events and several processes that could cause a divergence of The Pristine MiSinai

Event #1

The second the Torah was "lo bshamayim hee" when leaders [IE before there were rabbis] started interpreting Torah. Here are 2 POV's WRT to that process

A. Since it is authorized by the Torah itself - A Bona Fide Sanhedrin [BD Haggadol] has the same authority as Sinai

B. Let's face it a Sanhedrin may be commissioned by the Torah itself in Parshat Mishpatim, nevertheless a human element has entered - thereby diluting the Original Sinai quotient.

Thus According to Model A: Anshei Knesset Hag'dolah [AKhG] - which included nevi-im - was indeed miSinai. This explains the ability to make a G'zeirah Shavah [Prazi Prazi see TB Megillah]] between Megillat Esther and Humash - even though GS's normally should stem miSinai only. IOW, AKhG equates to miSinai - because they canonized Megillat Esther; AND therefore COULD create a bona fide Masorah for any GS.

We can see however, that this term MiSinai might imply 2 levels of understanding already in the AKhG era.

1 the Fundamentalist literal read suggest by Jacob Agus - as Divine


2 the looser read suggested by R Shimshon of Sens suggesting both antiquity and being axiomatic, but not necessarily literally Divine in nature.
[NB: This looser read is fundamental to R Zecharyah Frankel's take on TSBP in general]

These interpretations may even have d'Oraitto authority in a Halachic sense, but hashqafically we may see them as diverging from Pristine Sinai the Divine.

Next phase, Post-Hurban and its aftermath. For a sneak preview see Rambam MT Mamrim 1:1



New Jews

The recent article on the "New Jews"
ostensibly praised this variety of new innovations that individuals have undertaken to express their "faith and ethnicity", i.e. their Jewishness.I'm just wondering: what does that mean?

Let's first deal with the issue of faith. If one has new ways to express a faith, one has to question
whether they are actually new ways to express the faith or changes in the faith. CNN seems to imply that all these changes fall into the former category. It can easily be argued that this is not so -- these new expressions reflect a change; the question is how far a change and whether these changes actually reflect the creation of a new religion. Maybe this is really what CNN is trying to say: Jews are changing Judaism. But then understand what you are doing and why there may be opposition to what you are doing. People may also wonder: why do you still insist on describing this new religion as Jewish? Its the same question with Jews for Jesus. You want to follow this faith, that's between you and God. But call it as it is -- its Christianity. But why is it so important for these people to see themselves as Jews and their faith something Jewish?

Similar questions to some extent can be asked about ethnicity. Are there borders on ethnicity? What does it mean to express your ethnicity? If an Italian said he/she was now going to express his Italian ethnicity by eating sushi, what would you say? What if he/she said this was done by colouring the rice in the sushi in the colours of the Italian flag? The further question is: what is the motivation to do this? A punk rocker who breaks a beer bottle over his head is so proud of the Jewishness within his act for he quotes Torah in it -- but is that not like toivel v'sheretz b'yado? Can quoting Torah make an act that may be inherently contrary to Torah values become Jewish because of these quotes? If a person wants to be a punk rocker, that's the person's business -- by why is it so necessary for this person to be a Jewish punk rocker when Jewishness challenges this whole expression? Maybe its about wanting to change the definition of Jewishness? But then say that. But then what makes the new expression Jewish? What is this Jewishness? And if you are trying to change it, why bother -- just go do it not as a Jew?

Its not that the boys in the picture have tattoos all over their bodies that specifically bothered me about the premise of this article. I mean, I don't know why people get tattoos but, on the personal level, that's their business. But why tattoos of a magen dovid? Because they want to express their Jewishness? But isn't a tattoo itself a challenge to Jewishness itself? I'm not even referring to Halacha. Doesn't a negative feeling to a tattoo permeate the Jewish world? So things are changing, you might say. So why keep Jewishness anyways?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

The Limits of Elu v'Elu - Introduction

I have a fairly expansive Point of View [POV] regarding Elu v'Elu [E"vE].

From Rabbi Ben Hecht's writings, one can sense his disappointment when he senses intolerance or "delegitimization" of other opinions within the Halachic universe

I posted about allowing for tolerance with regard to [WRT] the Lower East Side [LES] Eruv. The sons and successors to R Moshe Feinstein [RMF] wanted to ban any attempt at an Eruv in Manhattan - which after all their late father had banned one many decades ago.

The argument FOR tolerating the LES is more subtle. It is after all not IMPOSING an Eruv. Rather it is merely enabling it for those who wish to - or need to - rely upon it. AISI - the Feinsteins are well within their rights to say:

"We oppose this Eruv and forbid our community to rely upon it"

But if they say:

"Anyone relying upon this Eruv has transgressed Shabbos" is over the line because it really implies

"Anyone relying upon this Eruv has UNCONDITIONALLY Transgressed Shabbos". Because IMHO no poseiq acquires exclusivity - absent a Sanhedrin.

There are many tricky areas to this E"vE concept. The first point I want to make is that it has been attacked by some non-Jewish systems.

Rabbinic Judaism does not always see things in black-and-white. While we might say that Hashem has a definitive read - we say "lo bashamayim hee" and humans have grayer perceptions.

Also Judaism is a bit more Eastern when it comes to paradoxes than are pure Westerners. We don't completely invalidate Western either-or thinking, nor are we slaves to it either. We allow for many paradoxes that Greek-style thinking will not condone, while more Eastern thinking has no problem with the same.

At this point, I have not discovered any definite parameters for E"vE; hopefully some of these boundaries will emerge as a result of the posts and feedback



Alternate Programs for Beqi'us; To Daf or To Daf Not

As in our recent poll we're assuming a moderate level of learning and about an hour a day to devote to learning beqi'us

Alternative 1
Simple. Cover Daf Yomi using Shottenstein with footnotes, or a similar daf yomi tool (Such as other user-friendly editions with comments)

When covering all of Shas with any kind of notes expounding the sugyos, you get a bit of just about everything.

Alternative 2
A 7.5 year program
(Note I expect this program to evolve based upon feedback)

First year

Mishna Yomis with Kehatti (or other commentary) (6 year cycle). This is the single most important aspect of the program.

Kitzur SA Yomi (1 year cycle). This covers the bare minimum of Halachah

Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam using commentary (EG Rambam l'am or Rav Chavel's vsersion with Ramban) 1 positive and 1 negative a day. When positives run out do the 14 shroshim. This gives a great overview of Taryag by the Master.

Year 2
Do Humash and Rashi one aliya per day. (1 year cycle). Rashi on Humash is as basic as one can get

Sefer Hamitzvos Hakatzar - a Kitzur of the Rambam by the "Chofetz Chayyim"

Year 3
SA Yomi (1 year cycle)
The entire range of practical halachah. Tur, Levush, or Aruch Hashulchan are alternatives to be considered.

Sefer Hachinuch about 2 mitzvos a day (1 year cycle)
This expands the Rambam' ShM with a lot of input from Ramban.

Year 4
Humash and Torah Temima one aliya per day. (1 year cycle). Building upon Rashi's method of connecting TSBP to the Humash.

Year 5
Rambam Mishnah Torah and commentary (EG Rambam L'am) 1 chapter a day (3 year cycle) Alternative Programs might do 3 chapters a day in one year - EG the 7th year after covering all of Mishnayos.

5 Megillos with Torah Temima (can be completed over 2 years)

Year 6
Continue Mishnah Torah

Finish Mishna Yomis and any loose ends from previous years

Year 7
Continue Rambam

Shmiras Halashon Yomi classic Mussar with a sampling of Zohar and Midrash

Year 8 (half year)
Sefer Chofetz Chayyim Yomi (4 months)

Sefer Mitzvos Hashem
(30 day cycle). Another good review of mitzvos with a Halachic bent.

Alternative 3

Give yourself about 15 years and do BOTH!


P. Noah: R.S.R. Hirsch, Inuits, and Vegetarianism

There is a lot of discussion about the desirability of vegetarianism, etc. It was the original antediluvian ideal etc.

Yet the Torah's permission to consume flesh is unambiguous

"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; as with the green herbs have I given you all these" ( Hirsch Breishis 9:3 New Edition P. 222)

The Torah simply equates flesh and herbs! No hierarchy of preference.

R. Hirsch elaborates as to what changed climatically to make this so. Certainly "Eskimos" [Inuit] would be hard-pressed to become vegetarians, and any cold climate could present a similar challenge


Thursday 5 November 2009

R.S.R. Hirsch on Avoth 2:5; Community Uber Alles

Living in the KAJ-Breuer Community and the surrounding "Yekke" community, I could not help but FEEL that Judaism was understood to be practiced as a "Kehilla" that individual spirituality was subservient to making a "Mamlechet Kohanim v'Goy Qaddosh". I have sought sources from R. Hirsch himself and I found one today

P. 436 in the Siddur
«It is not to the individual, but to the community, "morash kehillat Ya'akov" that God entrusted His Torah as an inheritance for all generations to come."

Thus the primary goal is to serve Hashem as a member of the task force, not as individual.

However, R. Hirsch Himself goes on to make a Caveat - what if the community is off-track?

Hirsch did not pen a definitive "How-To" for every situation. Yet he maintained that a person who notes that the Tzibbur is deviating should be sincere - and not out to make egotistical statements. Furthermore, whilst remaining ATTACHED to the Tzibbur, he must steadfastly point out how-where the community has erred. IOW, one may be IN opposition, but LOYAL opposition, such that - that one's membership in good-standing is not in question

[NB: Knowing R. Hirsch's Austritt position, there must be times when breaking away from a community is necessary. Hopefully it's not about whether shibboleth shual is - or is not - OATS! Such Shibboleth's seem hard-pressed to justify a secession!

In the main, sticking with a network of committed, loyal, Observant Jews is superior to going it alone. In fact, the R Shimon B. Yochai method of hermitage, is strictly the exception. Monasticism is not a desirable approach. Aderabba A Societal Endeavour to learn Torah is the superior way [or maybe the Superior Lake


R'shut Harabbim and 600K, Part 1 the Desert

There is a long-standing dispute amongst posqim - To 600K or to NOT 600K? Or in English, does a R'shut Harabbim require 600,000 people traversing it or not in order to be so construed halachically speaking?

It's highly unlikely that I will resolve this 800+ year dispute online, but I will offer a radical paradigm shift. So stay tuned, and get ready to fasten your safety belts!

I will be going down two parallel paths.
1. The status of desert
2. The issue WRT 600K

There are many sources to start with. I choose to begin with SA Orach Hayyim 345. [If you own a Mishna Brura it's the beginning of Vol. IV]
There the Four Domains are listed, defined and illustrated [The Number *4* itself is a curious anomaly. There is at least a 5th domain - viz. Qarpeif!] But since the SA follows a Braitto in TB Shabbos 6 and keys off of it, therefore it stays with its opening Intro that there are 4 domains....

Note: In 345:7 the Mechabeir takes his ambiguous stance on the 600K Prerequisite. Dear Readers, you are invited to research from that point.

Meanwhile I would like to post what I *Don't* see! And that is the status of a Midbar or Desert. What is most curious is the TB. Shab. 6 *DOES* have midbar! So what does the SA indicate from silence?

Furthermore, [Working backwards] the Tur in 345 also is silent WRT Midbar

But the grand-daddy of the Halachic Codes is not ambiguous at all! The Rambam in Hilchot Shabbat 14:1 mentions deserts . And there he unequivocally declares it to be the very First in a list of R'Shut Harabbim [RhR] cases!

A The Talmud in several Braittot on Shabbat 6 mentions the status of Midbar

B The Rambam states it's a RhR

C The Tur AND SA omit Midbar [maybe it deserted them?]

D The SA is ambivalent WRT the 600K issue

Next topic:
Shabbat 6, the Braittot, the question of the Talmud, and Abbaye's answer


P V'a'eira: Hagar's Eyes Open

Originally published 11/5/09, 4:18 pm.
This question has bothered students of Torah for many generations:
How could Avraham Avinu, the epitome of Hessed, fail to provide adequate water for his son and estranged wife?

The commentaries address this using several approaches. Some maintain that that Avraham was generous to Hagar after all.
Let's look at the text and see.

It says that Hagar's Canteen ran out of water. And she gave up - so to speak - and fell into melancholy.
After Yishma'el's prayer, it states that Hashem opened Hagar's eyes - and behold, there was a well!

Well!  Perhaps all was well all along. Maybe Avraham had given them sufficient water to make it to a well, but when Hagar ran out of water, her emotions overtook her and she suppressed her own ability to see the well in front of her. In response to her prayer, Hashem removed Hagar's self-imposed blinders and she could see the well all ended well!
All along,  Avraham had well-planned the rationing of the water, anticipating that Hagar would reach that well. But Hagar was not emotionally well enough to see well.