Thursday 31 December 2009

Qaddish: Tying it all Together

Let's list some disparate facts

1 Aveilim say kaddish to raise the level of the n'shama of the dearly departed

2 Aveilim also lead Benching for the same purpose

3 The Talmud highly commends saying the "Y'hei sh'meih" "b'chol kocho"

4 Tosafot [and others] see shmeih as shin meim Yud Heih meaning "the name - Kah" instead of simply shmeh [I.e. sans a Yud] which means only HIS name.

I posted a while back about the minhag of Aveilim saying Qaddish and leading benching [points 1 and 2 above iirc on Nishma Minhag] as being connected because they BOTH elicit "Qiddush Hashem" by the responders

And note while With benching it is the Passuq Yehi Sheim Hashem m'vorach.
[Tehillim 113:2]

Notice that there is an apparently tiny gap

Y'ehi shmei translates technically as y'hi shemo

Whils the passuq in Hallel and Benching is Y'hi sheim HASHEM.

Here's the possible nexus. Perhaps Tosafos has a Tradition that y'hei shmeih IS the Targum for Tehillim 113:2 and that this Oral Tradition is the impetus impelling Tosafos to find Hashem's name [albeit the short version] within this responsem Then the reading that appears as shmeih [Aramaic]meaning sh'moth [Hebrew] really means Shem Hashem.

That would tie the response in Benching even closer to that in Qaddish, and make the common denominator of Qiddush Hashem even more compelling.


Tuesday 29 December 2009

What Is the Earliest Source? 2

2. Where may be found the earliest source specifying waiting 6 hours after eating meat in order to eat dairy?


Sunday 27 December 2009

If Ravina and Rav Ashi..

If Ravina and Rav Ashi are "sof hora'ah"
Then what does the Mechabeir mean in YD 334:40 "kach Horah Ha Ro"sh"?

Clearly the Ro"sh followed both Ravina and Rav Ashi! So what's the Mechabeir saying - or what does he mean to say?


Disclaimer re: My Posts

I don't see myself as a poseiq, just a m'lameid. I rarely state a poseiq is wrong unless there is very strong evidence
[See example Below re: the Taz]

Rema Choshen Mishpat 25:1

Y"O if it appears to a dayyan and to the members of his generation - due to the strength of "rayot muchrachot" .... Yachol l'haleiq alav.

However, to raise a lamdusher question, to quote an internal or external steerah, to demand or request a s'vara does not require such a high threshold of proof - Mainly because I am not out to overturn Halachah p'suqah anyway.

As Wolpoe's First Law of TSBP states, we often know the WHAT w/o knowing the WHY

Illustration 1
In a recent Avodah thread, this was apparent in the Rema Orach Hayyim 253 & 315 where he is meiqil if the food has not cooled, and a minimum of 2 contradictory schools of thought were brought to explain the WHY.

Ein Bishul Achar Bishulby Rabbi Howard Jachter

Illustration 2
In YD 69, the Shach and the Taz debate the status of measuring the "issur" quotient embedded in used salt.

Shach: we don't know the volume of issur absorbed

Taz: Haticha naaseeit n'veilah. [HNN]

The Taz is shver beause HNN is NOT applied by the M'chabeir legabei sh'ar issurim. Aiui it's a tiyuvta on the Taz
But there is no nafqa minah AFAIK on how to treat the salt in question - only the s'vara is debated.


I don't need to bring rayos to prove a s'vara WRONG! Rather I only raise difficulties. The threshold is much lower here.

There are many difficult pisqei halachah that I respect l'maaseh - because I have no convincing p'saq to overturn it. But Afaik I don't need to check my brain at the door and not raise questions. That is not Talmudic-Rabbinic Judaism as I was taught.


Tale of Two Rabbis from La Provence

Here's the story of two great Provencal Rabbis - we'll call them Rabbi David and Rabbi Jonathan

Rabbi David was very outspoken. As many other Provencals, he wrote critical comments. But his criticism was honest and could also be turned upon himself. And so, he was constantly learning, revising, and restating his positions based upon increased learning and feedback. While he grew, his works evolved with him.

It's quite possible that Rabbi Jonathan was even more brilliant. His flashes of insight may have indeed be attributed to Ruach Haqodesh. But once Rabbi Jonathan took a position, he was like the Rock of Gibraltar! He would not budge nor waiver. He was steadfast to the point of obstinate. He felt his writings had a finality that one would associate with Scripture.

Which style do you admire more?

And which style resembles your own style? Or like most, you may be an admixture, occasionally flexible and occasionally rigid


Is this Intellectually Honest?

A popular scholar [Professor Jenkins]prominently displays his credentials and scholarly monographs on his website

Professor Jenkins then writes and posts an article on his web-site accusing Ben Franklin of plagiarizing.

But due to his confusion, he actually cited as a source text an article which accused some ELSE of plagiarizing a work OF Ben Franklin's. [IOW he mistakenly blamed the victim instead of the perpetrator]

Now we do have a principle of giving the benefit of the doubt.

However, due to the credentials and professional standing, can this be deemed an honest error due to sloppy research?

Or since Professor Jenkins is a prominent scholar is his error tantamount to "willful negligence" and therefore intellectual dishonesty?

For several references to what I mean by referring to "intellectual honesty" -especially in conjunction with sloppiness or negligence -
please see the following:

«If the person is knowingly aware that there may be additional evidence but purposefully fails to check, and then acts as though the position is confirmed, this is also intellectual dishonesty. »
Which is from

More from the above

«Intellectual dishonesty is dishonesty in performing intellectual activities like thought or communication. Examples are:
• the advocacy of a position which the advocate knows or believes to be false or misleading
• the conscious omission of aspects of the truth known or believed to be relevant in the particular context. Rhetoric is used to advance an agenda or to reinforce one's deeply held beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.[1]

If a person is aware of the evidence and agrees with the conclusion it portends, yet advocates a contradictory view, they commit intellectual dishonesty.
If the person is unaware of the evidence, their position is ignorance, even if in agreement with the scientific conclusion.»

Several Related Links:


Saturday 26 December 2009

The YU Homosexuality Panel

Last week, on December 22, a major program was held at Yeshiva University, entitled "Being Gay in the Orthodox World," which featured a panel discussion that included 4 students or alumni of Yeshiva College who are gay. Over 500 individuals attended with many others being turned away due to space limitations.

The program has subsequently initiated much discussion and debate with a critique of the program being voiced by many of the Roshei HaYeshiva with, perhaps, Rabbi Twersky being the most vocal. His shiur on the subject a few days later drew reportedly 600 students and therein he called upon the talmidei hayeshiva to sign a petition distancing themselves and the yeshiva from the program which he described as a chilul Hashem. A joint letter from President Joel of YU and Rabbi Reiss of RIETS stating effectively that in retrospect they may have been mistaken in allowing the program to proceed. Clearly the program has also received much interest with articles about it in the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Week amongst other Jewish publications. The question for us, though, is how to respond to this debate and discussion.

To gain a further appreciation of what transpired both at the event and subsequently, I direct you to the blog entitled Curious Jew which has an unofficial transcript of what was said at the panel and links to videos of some of the panelists (it seems that one of the panelists did not want to be taped). In addition the blog has a link to the audio of Rabbi Twersky's words and a copy of the petition that was circulated. There is much to discuss and, in many ways, there is actually some value in the variant statements and positions. The real question is: what to do?

There is, no doubt, a thin line between the expression of empathy and the condoning of behaviour. There is also the further question of how to discuss devarim she'b'erva; tzniut demands privacy. Yet, how can we live with incorrect misconceptions that may result in depression and even suicide? The issue may also touch upon other matters of, even, more universal implications. To many on the panel it seems that a great part of the problem was the expectation for them to marry and, even as they may not state it in this manner, the subsequent lack of worth in one who does not get marry. The panel actually opened up many issues that need to examined and investigated.

The fact is that the panel may not have been perfect. Indeed, there may have been problems with it, both in its inception and application. Yet, it must be recognized that it was a beginning. Could it have been done in a different and better way? Perhaps. Were there problems in some of the declarations that were made? Perhaps. Was it a first venture into an area that needs to be faced and encountered? Absolutely. And maybe it was good that there were critiques that followed so that the next time can be better (although, perhaps, the critiques could have been worded differently with a vision to the future and the need).

Still, with all the problems, I have to commend YU, YUTC, Wurzweiller, the organizers, Rabbi Blau, Dean Gelman, Dr. Pelcovitz and the panelists for venturing into the battle. Next time it will be done better because there was a first time -- and this is indeed a topic that needs to be addressed.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

What Is the Earliest Source? Intro and 1

We've had lively discussions on various lists re: the antiquity [or lack thereof] of various Halachot that we now take for granted.

Sometimes I can readily identify the earliest source - and sometimes I can get there with just a bit of research.

And for some, I do not even know the earliest source myself.
And perhaps readers can supply one themselves - thereby saving me the hard work of doing my own research!

I have a long list but in order to stimulate more activity on our blog - I will put them out one at a time.
Actually that is only part of the reason, the main point is to organize discreet posts in order to make research and the comments more focused.

Here goes the first item:

1. Where may be found the earliest source specifying a brachah on Ner Shabbat?


Friday 25 December 2009

Here I go again!

When will I ever learn?

In Elul I wrote

NishmaBlog: If you make people think

Now I'm rocking people's boats again on the Avodah list!

And the amcha do NOT want to have to think about something deeply - especially if it changes their minds about their pre-conceptions.

Machiavelli IIRC warned about shaking people up. The Prince will be hated for making people have to abandon their pet notions!

Well the Torah and the N'viim and the sifrei mussar don't let us off the hook so easily

And so people will react [abreact?] until they get re-conditioned to see things a new way

Or, hopefully, they will suspend their prejudices and learn something new.

Zen saying about learning:

«First you must empty your cup before you fill it»

Sometimes emptying one's cup opens one's cup up to new wisdom!


Thursday 24 December 2009

Two Talmidei Hachamim SA Choshen Mishpat 7:8

See SA Choshen Mishpat 7:8

My translation:
«Two Talmidei Hachamim who dislike each other [perhaps rivals] should not sit together to judge, because due to the rivalry between them, their minds are made-up to merely contradict their colleague.»

Thus we see that even scholars are not free of emotional baggage [pettiness?] And are willing to set aside seeking the truth in order to gain via one upsmanship! This desire produces the emotion of "oppositionalism" which clouds reason

The Halachah at times can be SO psychological incisive and emotionally sensitive.


Wednesday 23 December 2009

The Lieberman Debate: Good or Bad Jew?

It seems that a debate has emerged in Washington -- or more precisely amongst those who watch what happens in Washington -- as to whether Senator Joe Lieberman is a good or bad Jew?


Its not the issue itself that concerns me. Its the fact that this is an issue that I find most interesting. The question is not whether Lieberman is a good person or not. The issue is not even whether one agrees with the Senator's views or not (although this, no doubt, will affect how someone answers the question about his Jewishness). The question concerns Joe Lieberman's Jewishness. One can only define a good or a bad Jew if one has a standard by which to measure this entity. For example, if one asks whether a certain restaurant is good or bad, one has to have a yardstick by which to measure restaurants. So here we have all these people discussing the Senator's Jewishness -- all, as such, declaring that they know and have the standard of yardstick by which to measure Jewishness.

The fact that one believes in one specific yardstick and wishes to apply it is not the issue to me -- nor should it be surprising. After all, Orthodoxy believes in standards of Jewishness and, indeed, Halacha defines such an entity as a bad or good Jew. If we had no standard, we would not have the concept of tzaddik or rasha. What hits me, though, is how all these individuals who, otherwise, argue for pluralism, in this case define a set yardstick which they wish to apply. If pluralism is the key word then the very definition of good or bad Jew is an impossibility, or almost an impossibility. There are even two books that came onto the market a few years ago, one by a Reform Rabbi and the other by a Reconstructionist Rabbi, which maintained that pluralism demanded that Messianic Jews, i.e. Jews for Jesus, should be given status within the broader Jewish community. Yet all of a sudden, there are so many Jews asking this question about the Senator. I guess pluralism is good when it works for you but something that you don't want to apply when it doesn't.

I am not really trying to give an argument in support of pluralism. Obviously, I am not in support of it. What I am really trying to argue is actually the opposite. If someone wants to define Senator Lieberman as a bad Jew, I can live with that. But recognize what you are doing -- you are setting a standard for Jewishness. Recognize, as such, other people may have different standards of Jewishness -- and with the reality of having standards comes the definition of right and wrong.

I can disagree with someone calling Senator Lieberman a bad Jew for his position of the American health reform bill. But this person should recognize that he is moving away from the concept of pluralism that seems to be the mantra of the general Jewish community. You are saying that Jewishness has standards. So understand when others also declare that Jewishness has standards -- even as these standards may disagree with yours.

I would rather live in a Jewish world where people recognize that we disagree in fundamental principles of how we understand our Jewishness -- and therefore be open to debate but also for the recognition that I have a principled opinion -- than to live in the mush of pluralism that leaves everything okay, and therefore gives Jewishness no standard and no punch.

Call Joe Lieberman a bad Jew. Now we can actually discuss the values of Jewishness.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 21 December 2009

Darchei Rema - and a "Perfect" Mis-understanding

Rema's first major foray into sifrei Halachah was apparently his "Darchei Moshe" on Tur and Bet Yosef.

It was planned to be his magnum opus, but as they say

"A Mesnch tracht und Gott Lacht".

And so instead he is most famous for his hagahot on SA titles the Mappah.

Unfortunately some of Rema's critics have [inaccurately] ascribed decisions to the Rema as a "da'at yachid" or as a total hidush w/o support.

The Rema's derech rarely goes in that direction. Usually he bases himself upon Ashkenazic traditions and later posqim.

Here is a possible Perfect Mis-understanding

[See SA Orah Hayyim 32:36]

A Sofeir Sta"m related to me that the Rema unilaterally declared that all Parshiyyot in Tefillin should be P'tuchot - in opposition to the Mechabeir's point that ONLY the first 3 are p'tuchiot but NOT the last [viz. The 4th]

Thus, the Rema is portrayed as "radically" altering Halachah p'suqqah

However a more careful read of Rema reveals he states nothing novel. Rather he is quoting and endorsing the following precedents
• Maharam Padua 87
In the name of Orhot Hayyim
• Bet Yosef quoting the Ittur.

Furthermore, the Mishnah Brurah quotes the GRA as stating this is all bedi'avad [anyway] thus Rema is not endorsing a change in the lechatchila procedure.

Unfortunately, a combination of superficial research and an insufficient level of "betzedek tishpot amitecha" has helped to perpetuate a "mythology" surrounding some of the Rema's decisions. [Note: I myself have not researched all the original texts!]

The Rema here was merely offering a flexibility based upon several precedents that permitted parshiyyot to rely upon those sources b'di'avad. Hardly trend-setting stuff


Thursday 17 December 2009

Torah Law in Israel - Don't Even Think It

Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman made a suggestion in the Knesset that Torah Law be applied in Israel. The suggestion was met with strong criticism by secularists -- as would be expected. Minister Neeman responded that he was misunderstood; he was talking about applying Jewish Law in in regard to civil/monetary disputes. After all, don't we the Jewish People not already have our own sophisticated system of adjudication? This sequence of events in outlined in the following two articles.

The question that bothers me, though, is: whether the secularists could have really believed, at first, that the Minister was talking about Halacha in general and not, the area of his Ministry, i.e. the application of justice? It would have been simply ridiculous for Neeman to propose a broad and universal application of Torah Law given the nature of the public of Israel. It would seem to me obvious that he was referring to the further application of Jewish Law in the civil court system (as it is already applied to some extent).

It would thus seem that the secularists knew exactly what they were critiquing -- i.e. even the further application of Halacha in monetary matters. Was that because they just think that it is archaic and practically inapplicable? Was that because they really don't know about this side of Halacha? Or could it be because of their general feeling towards Orthodoxy and, as such, Orthodox Law? And could this perception be negative because they see such uncivil behaviour by followers of this system? Why would someone want the application of a system whose adherents are seen as generally acting, let us say, incorrectly? It is something to think about.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

On Saying Piyyutim:

The Halachic permissibility of saying Piyyutim has been debated for over 700 years. Here is a contemporary summary of the salient points from Rabbi Daniel Travis

«National Honor

When we speak to Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei, we follow the pattern that applies when speaking to a human monarch. One initiates the conversation with praises of the king, followed by his requests. Before parting from the king, a person concludes with words of thanks (Brachos 34a).In the course of the thirteen middle blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, a person may add personal requests. His requests should match up with the pertinent blessing. One should not make personal requests amidst the first three and last three blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, since they are dedicated to praising and thanking Hashem (Shulchan Aruch 112,1).

Some communities have the custom to say piyutim in the first blessings of Shemoneh Esrei (Rema, ibid.). However, since these piyutim contain national requests and are a deviation from the themes of the first three blessings, Sephardic communities do not recite them (Shulchan Aruch 112,2).

Why do these requests differ from others?The permissibility of piyutim containing national requests is analogous to the approach to human royalty. While it would be undignified for an individual to come before the king and immediately present personal requests, requests made on behalf of an entire nation are consistent with the monarch's dignity. They are a sign of honor, because they demonstrate that this king is both powerful and sought after. Therefore, these piyutim are permitted in the first and last sections of our Shemoneh Esrei (Mishna Berura 112,2)


Perfect Misunderstanding: Kabbalah in Western Ashkenaz

Common Perception:
Following the Shabtai Zvi debacle, Western Ashkenazim outlawed all forms of Kabbalist practices and liturgy

More correct understanding:

[From an email post]

«Western Ashkenazim eliminated much Kabbalah from the liturgy.

Nevertheless R I Horowitz - the Shelah Hakodesh - was a big influence on Ashkenazic Nusach

See EG

"Rabbi Horowitz also wrote the Sha'ar ha-Shamayim siddur (prayer book) which had an influence on the later Ashkenazi Nusach."

Note: German Jews pushed Kabbalah into the background - for individual "yechidei s'gulah" and out of the public sphere.

However, many "yekke" scholars did study Kabbalah in private even after Shabtai Zvi.

EG R Nosson Adler mentored the Chassam Sofer in Frankfort into the ways of Kabbalah.

RSR Hirsch was at least learned in Kabbalastic symbolism

R Simon Schwab learned Kabbalah in private in Wash. Heights.

The opposition to Kabbalah was not absolute, rather the fear that the masses would be tripped up by "false Messiahs" was the guiding principle for guarding this knowledge.

The Rambam himself warns against the study of "maaseh breisheet" [creation] and "maaseh merkava" [the Divine Chariot] to those who are too immature or unlearned.


Tuesday 15 December 2009

Why was the Hanukkah Revolution led Specifically by Kohanim?

[Note I might have posted this in years gone by...]

Q: Why was the Hanukkah Revolution led specifically by Kohanim?

As per my chaveir R. Joel Stern:

A: Because of the g'zeira of "tibo'eil lehgmon t'chilah". For Yisroelim and Leviim
this was bad - but survivable

For Kohanim it meant that every wife would thereby become a "zona-hallah" [even an anussah] and in a single generation the k'hunah would have been history. Hence the sense of urgency - davka for Kohanim.

Gutn Hanukkah

Thursday 10 December 2009

What is Your Mission Statement?

For Nishma:
«So what is it that makes a person a 'Nishma Person'?
If you have an unrelenting desire to pursue Truth through the prism of Torah with the courage to face complex issues and the assistance of a critical eye and a passionate heart, you are a 'Nishma Person'.»

Also see:

For AishDas Society:

For UTJ's
Declaration of Principles

I'm working upon drafting my own mission statement.

In terms of Torah and Judaism it would read
Something like this

To emulate Yosef as a "Tzofnas Panei'ach" * I.E. to make sense of the obscure or of the confused.

To rectify [m'taqqein] common mis-understandings of Torah statements and principles.

While in interpersonal relations to follow my late Brother Ron's advice:

"To be a mensch"

What's your mission statement?

To be a great Parent?
To Serve Hashem with all your heart?
To volunteer your free time to the community?
To Study as much Torah as Possible?
To keep a positive attitude all day long?

Kol Tuv

* Note: this is being drafted shortly before Vayeshev.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

K'vurato Shel Moshe; Avoth 5:9

RSR Hirsch
[siddur p. 493].
«Because no one knows where it may be found, the grave of Moses, too, helps advance our spiritual and moral salvation. For were its site known, ceaseless pilgrimages would have given rise to a cult of quasi-idolatry which would have been most detrimental to our spiritual welfare.»

Dear Readers!
Ladies and Gentlemen!

We Jews, even many of us God-fearing Orthodox frum Jews, are recently in danger of reverting to Egyptian crypt worship! Or becoming prone to R.C. Relic fetishes! We are in danger of losing our way!

The sincere guru is supposed to Point the Way to Worship the True God, and not to become himself become an ersatz object of worship instead.

Let Moses inspire our Divine Service and never let us devolve into a pale, shallow alternative to that most holy service

Amein, kein Yehi Ratzon!


"Modeh al Ho'emet" Avot 5:10

Sometimes when arguing we get locked in a position, so much so that we are too fixated to give way.

Recently I was chatting via e-mail and I got into a tete-a-tete with a chaveir. He agreed with several of my points but noted that my last point lacked evidence. As we argued he noted I was too stubborn to see that I was wrong. That might have been true. And so I enlisted 3 outsiders to comment via a disguised version of our debate.

1 outsider completely agreed with my chaveir, whilst 2 took partially agreed with each of us.

It later occurred to me that my chaveir himself was no less adamant or peristent upon his own point of view, but I had to let that go...

R Hirsch comments:
[P. 493]
"He does not stubbornly insist upon the validity of a statement which he has made once. If he sees, or learns, that he has made an error, he will be ready and willing to concede that he has been wrong."

Of course a real golem is probably too blind to ever see his own error! That means that extreme persistence robs one not only of objectivity but of the memschlichkeit expected of a "ben Avraham"


Tuesday 8 December 2009

Hate the sin, love the sinner

«R' Pinchas said: "One must love even the sinful, but must hate their actions.»

Apparently the Koretzer beat Gandhi to this quote by over a century!

Quote Details: Mahatma Gandhi:
"Hate the sin, love the sinner" -
The Quotations Page

At least within the Jewish people we must "love the sinner" in order to do any Qeiruv [kiruv]. So our Ahavat Yisra'el quotient must allow us to at some level "love the sinner" and our duty to the Torah perforce must make us protest the sin


17. A King to Write a Scroll of Law

--> TB Sanhedrin 21b: “When he goes to battle, it will be found with him; when he returns, it will return with him. When he sits in judgment, it will be with him; when he sits to eat, it will be beside him.”
This mitzvah addresses an important, but not quite revelational, fact: the king is human.
As a human, the king is susceptible to such human weaknesses as conceit, stubbornness and materialism. The great power that is inherited with the throne would, arguably, make any man particularly prone to the kinds of flaws that reflect exaggerated self-aggrandizement.
For this reason, the king writes for himself a Torah scroll and carries the scroll with him wherever he goes. This scroll acts as a constant reminder, to keep him aware of his humanity and his subservience to God.
This type of commandment is not uncommon. Many Torah laws are said to be directed at Imperfect Man. Even if you do not agree with the Rambam's belief that it is possible to have a gezeirah on the de'oraitha level, it is not irregular for a mitzvah to be considered essentially designed to give the flawed Jew an instruction manual for proper behaviour in a given circumstance.
Still, we accept that our humanity should not be seen as an excuse to strive for anything less than perfection. These laws are instituted to assist Man in responding to, but certainly not for the sake of preserving, his imperfections.
This is the classic approach to this mitzvah, and it is the classic approach to many mitzvoth.
Unfortunately, whenever it is suggested that the purpose underlying a mitzvah is human imperfection, the mitzvah takes on the role of walking stick, designed exclusively in response to unfortunate or undesired circumstances. Here, for example, we focus on the king's inadequacies, more concerned with the king we likely will have rather than with the king we actually want to have.
The result of this approach is that Torah-observant Jews view themselves as inherently diseased and decrepit, worthy of existence only because they adhere to the strict regimen presented by the Torah. This view disregards tzelem elokim, that we were crafted in the Image of God, that there is something valuable about the human qua human. We have the capacity to outgrow the walking stick; there is an existence wherein we do not lean on Torah but rather rise alongside it.
Let us examine this possibility by imagining three levels of kingship:
1. The king who does not respond to the Torah scroll. With or without scroll in hand, this king responds the same way. He is immune to the effects of the Torah. This king is beyond help—even with the walking stick, he can't walk. Such a king should never rule the Jewish people.

2. The king who will respond differently with the Torah in hand. This is the king from the classic approach: he needs the Torah scroll to keep him aware of his own humanity and to keep his predilection towards greed and arrogance in check. This can be compared to the man who cannot walk unassisted but responds positively to a walking stick.

3. The king who responds properly with or without the Torah scroll in hand—the man who walks fine without the assistance of a walking stick.

The third category appears to describe the king most removed from imperfection, and one can wonder whether such a king is obligated to write and carry a Torah scroll for anything other than ceremonial reasons.

It is tempting to assume that the best possible king is this third-category king. But this mitzvah may indicate differently. Perhaps the classic approach reflects only one side of this mitzvah, the side that applies to Imperfect Man. On the opposite side is the ideal king, the king that we all want, and this mitzvah may have equal relevancy there.
Consider the direction given to mothers flying with young children: the woman is instructed, in case of an emergency, to put the mask on herself first and then to assist her child. In other words, the mother is instructed to override her natural maternal instinct. Like with the king, we can assume three kinds of mothers:
1. The mother who ignores this direction and assists her baby first.

2. The mother who instinctively is driven to help her baby first but responds to the direction and puts her own mask on first.

3. The mother who does not require the directions and realizes on her own that the logical thing to do is to help herself first.

It might be assumed that the third mother is the best mother: without any external assistance, she is able to properly care for her child.

But we have to ask ourselves: do we really want a world populated by mothers like the kind described in category three? While the natural maternal instinct may at times lead a woman astray, wouldn’t we prefer mothers that need to be told to assist themselves first to mothers that make this assessment on their own? Mothers in the second category, though dependent, more closely resemble the ideal mother than the mothers described in the third category. This mother cares for her child in a uniquely maternal way, and that is particularly what we look for in a mother: that she is good at being a mother.
Something similar applies here: the ideal king is the king who needs the Torah scroll in his arms. As with the maternal instinct, the king-instinct should be of a certain character. We want our kings to be, in a word, kingly. This instinct, though ideal, does not always direct the king along the proper path. This is why he carries the Torah. We do not want a king in battle (or in judgment, or at a meal) who would act the same with or without the Torah in hand. We want our kings to feel indestructible and all-powerful. This is crucial to the king-consciousness. We do not want kings who resist this sensation: such men, though they do not require the Torah scroll in hand, are not meant to be kings.
Economists long-ago recognized the deleterious effects of complete independence. (Yissachar and Zevulun came to similar conclusions.) The mitzvoth have a role to play in assisting the imperfect. But this should not be seen as their limit. Quite possibly, there is a message in the mitzvah that will help to define the ideal. And it may be different than what we would assume to be the ideal. Dependency should not be confused with imperfection—it can arise out of weakness, but it can also arise out of strength. The former kind of dependency is to be avoided, but the latter can be a good thing, allowing mothers to be mothers and kings to be kings. In accepting that the mitzvoth are not designed exclusively for the weak, but are designed specifically to compel the strong to be even stronger, we challenge ourselves as Torah observant Jews to excel and move beyond the cowering archetype of the Feeble Believer.

Monday 7 December 2009

Kashruth and (vs.?) Hashgachah

A lively exchange ensued on Avodah re: Kashruth and Hashgachah. Akiva [Kenneth] Miller posted a valuable set of quotes that I am reproducing with his permission.

Akiva Miller:

«I'd like to begin with a history lesson. When I was at YU in the 1970s, both Hershey's chocolates and Kellogg's cereals were sold in the cafeteria, despite not having any formal hashgacha. I cannot testify who actually ate them, but the fact that they were sold there says a lot about how well their kashrus was accepted.

A while back, someone sent in a post which explains many things to me about that situation. I don't know who it was, because I have searched for that post and I have been unable to find. It may have been listmember R' Rich Wolpoe, because he has written many similar things in the past couple of days.

Whoever it was, he used the phrases "American model" and "European model", where the phrase "American model" describes a situation where supervision is actively given to the factory, and "European model" describes a situation where there is no formal supervision, but only an analysis of the manufacturing after-the-fact.»

[RRW: Note: I didn't recall precisely using these terms rather I did describe those 2 situations; viz. coffee from a roadside cafe may be kosher as is, but once certified, it might indeed need to meet a much higher standard.]

«In the American model, he explained, the company pays a fee to the supervisor, putting the two in a very close relationship identity-wise, while in the European model no such relationship exists. The result is that many actions taken by a factory end up as "b'dieved okay" in the European model, while the exact same action would be called "ain mevatlin issur l'chatchila" in the American model.

This explanation clarified many many things to me. I believe that the entire world followed the European model prior to the 20th century. During the 20th century, the United States frum community developed this new concept of hashgachah. It began in the early 20th century with certain categories of food, and it grew to include other categories of food. Milestones were passed in the 1980s when Hershey's and Kellogg's got formal hashgacha, and I think the next hurdle will be canned and frozen vegetables. The next generation will not understand why we considered it acceptable to buy these products without a formal hechsher. (Actually, from recent posts it is clear that we are going through this currently.) The next generation after them, perhaps, will wonder why *we* did not insist on a hechsher for the glaze on our fresh apples and other fruit.

Many people feel that the practices of the previous generations were unjustifiably lenient. Did "they" feel that way at "that" time? I happen to have a time machine on my shelf. Let's take a look:

I will quote now from a pamphlet entitled "The Foods We Eat", by Rabbi Yosef Wikler, now publisher of Kashrus Magazine, previously titled The Kashrus Newsletter. This pamphlet, copyright 1981, contains several articles which he had previously published. I quote from the article titled "Kellogg Corn Flakes", originally published February 15, 1980. I'd really like to quote the entire article, but because of copyright issues, I will just give some selected excerpts.

"Kellogg Corn Flakes is a familiar cereal in many Orthodox homes, even though it has no rabbi or organization attesting to its kashrus. Actually, most every Orthodox person eats Kellogg Corn Flakes. Do you eat food from a take-out store? [begin italics] Almost Every Take Out Store Uses Kellogg Corn Flakes. [end italics] They are used as Kellogg Corn Flakes crumbs. ... In most cases the heimishe take-out stores do use this product...

"Why do we eat this product without a hechsher?

"Firstly, let me say that no one should feel obligated to trust any food without a hechsher.

"However, a number of cereals and other products enjoy the trust of the Orthodox community. This is no accident. Some reliable kashrus experts have examined these products and found them to be acceptable. In some cases, because of the great need that the Orthodox community has for certain products, these food products are regularly examined. This is in effect almost a free supervision. ...

"Should we rely on Kellogg?

"This question was raised recently by a well-known authority on kashrus. Those kashrus organizations who investigated Kellogg and found certain products to be acceptable have done accurate research. But, how can we be certain that Kellogg will continue to produce kosher corn flakes? ...

"Shall we assume that if they decide to change ingredients in one of the "acceptable" cereals in order to save some money, Kellogg will place a large advertisement in the Jewish papers in order to notify us all. Far from it. The Kellogg company right now has no one to answer to since nobody certifies their kashrus.

"There are literally dozens of other corn flake cereals and hundreds of other cereals being sold that have rabbinical supervision. Why should anyone feel it necessary to rely upon the statements of companies that no animal derivatives are used. Years ago, when there were few products, supervision people felt the need to rely on such statements. There are still many products that people feel lost without. But Kellogg Corn Flakes - will no other brand do? ..."

An update to this article appeared in the Purim 1982 issue of The Kashrus Newsletter, making several interesting points:

"Rabbi Senter of the Chaf K says he attempts to avoid using Kellogg cereals at the hotels under the Chaf K supervision." (I can't help wondering about the implications of the word "attempts".)

That issue included a reprint of the Recommended Cereals list of the Vaad Hakashrus of Baltimore, which included a Kellogg's Corn Flakes and other Kellogg's cereals. "When we inquired how information was obtained for its list, the Vaad Hakashrus of Baltimore responded as follows: The cereal list which we have prepared is based upon information which we have received from reliable sources who have inspected the plants or who are knowledgeable of the process and/or ingredients."

Finally, at the bottom of page 6: "FLASH - Kellogg's has applied for supervision by the V.H. - Vaad Harabonim of Boston. Watch The Kashrus Newsletter for further information." A short while later Kellogg's did receive VH supervision, and is still supervised by them today. I can't help but suspect that these articles contributed to that.

One could still argue: Do such products need supervision or not? Is it a chumrah to insist on a hechsher? Or is it a kulah to eat such food without a hechsher?


Here's a more modern example, with a quote which you can look up yourself easily. Can one eat/drink the Slurpees from a non-supervised 7-Eleven store? Please read the very nuanced article by Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, Kashruth Administrator of Chicago's cRc, at

You can also read what the OU says in an article titled "Drinking Coffee on the Road", In the Dec. 2008 issue of "The Daf HaKashrus", which is not intended for the general public, but is subtitled "A monthly newsletter for the OU Rabbinic Field Representative". The article is online at A PDF of the whole newsletter is at

THE CONCLUSION I REACH from these articles is that there is not one answer. The multiple answers are very situation-based. I often compare it to the many things which have changed in America because of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This law has made many changes in the way public buildings - including shuls - are built, requiring them to be accessible to people in wheelchairs, and many other accommodations. People who have grown up with this law, which is now almost 20 years old, perceive such accessibility to be a birthright. I am not disagreeing. But 50 years ago, to insist on a wheelchair ramp for every school, shul, and bus, would have been laughable.

SO TOO IN KASHRUS. In some situations, we can easily do without a product if we are not satisfied with its kashrus. In other situations, it's not so easy. I recall an ArtScroll biography about some person (I don't remember who) and his role as one of the few genuinely frum U.S. servicemen during World War II. It mentions how careful he was with kashrus, and it mentioned of the name of the breakfast cereal which he ate then. It did *not* mention which hashgacha that cereal had, and I've always presumed (rightly or wrongly) that there were many manufactured products which even the frummest of that generation ate, based on the ingredients and other information. But we have advanced, B"H, and we would no more eat a breakfast cereal without a hechsher, than we would build a shul which the elderly find it impossible to climb into.»

R' Samuel Svarc wrote:
« Kashrus is different then a lot of 'issurim' in that it has 'timtum halev'. ... It is ... excuse the expression, foolish to gamble your neshoma [timtum] over a piece of food.

«I don't dispute a word of that. But I'll note that you used the word "gamble", and indeed, it is a gamble. We don't really know whether or not this food really contains any tarfus. It is quite possible that there is nothing wrong with this food at all. But it is, admittedly, a gamble.

In any gamble, one that weighs the possible risks against the possible rewards. The article above about coffee, for example, was very clear that if one is driving and feels tired, it is more dangerous to continue driving that way, and less dangerous to drink coffee which might have some very minor kashrus problems, real though they might be.

Personally, I do not understand why the take-out stores felt a need to use Kellogg's Corn Flakes when they had no hashgacha, when Post Corn Flakes had already been under the OK for many years. Perhaps Post Corn Flakes were unavailable as crumbs. That might make a very big difference to a take-out store, but to a hotel serving breakfast? Maybe I am underestimating the cachet of the "Kellogg's" brand name. (The "New Coke" debacle had not yet occurred when those articles were written.)»

R' Rich Wolpoe wrote:
«When you buy uncertified products, there may be an entire slew of "bittuls" that may be genuinely relied upon. But when one certifies a product, lechatchilahs take over [EG ein mevatlin afilu issur derabbanan lechatchila] R Schwab used to say: "I'm a lechatchila Jew". IOW WRT kashrus he would not allow any kind of bedi'avads at the outset.»

That's a great soundbite, but when you get into specifics it turns very fuzzy.»

[RRW:Ein hachi nami, I was addressing a question of how the standards of hashgachah might exceed the standards of an approved list. I was not addressing all the specifics.]

« In a given situation, one posek will say, "This procedure satisfies 80% of the acharonim. We can clearly rely on it l'chatchila." And another posek will say, "We'll rely on that b'dieved, but l'chatchilah, we'll use this other procedure, which is only slightly more difficult, and satisfies 95% of the acharonim."

Is the former unjustifiably lenient? Is the latter ridiculously strict? I dunno.

Akiva Miller»

I found the discussion in Avodah quite informative and Akiva Miller gave it a fairly comprehensive synposis.


Sunday 6 December 2009

"I Am Taking Off My Kippah"

Someone sent me an essay, by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cordozo, entitled "I Am Taking Off My Kippah" and asked me for my comments. After reading the essay, I thought it would be interesting to put the link to the essay,, on the blog and ask for comments from others as well.

The essay is clearly most interesting...but the real issue for me centres on our very understanding of the purpose of Torah in general. There is the practical question of whether this practice, or lack of practice, will have a positive effect or not -- but there is another question: whether the goal of Torah is as Rabbi Cordozo perceives it to be?

Please share with us your thoughts and in a future comment I will share mine.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 4 December 2009

V'tain Tal uMatar: Precision in Halachic Analogies

In an private dialogue we discussed how precise analogies must be in halachah

For a highly imprecise analogy, consider that we use the Babylonian "yardstick" for v'tein tal umatar all throughout the golah even though we are only "bavel" by not being EY! Our agricultural climate is very different

[Same for keeping the highly obsolete nusach of yekum purkan which refers anachronistically to Bavel.]

We are "Bavel" in a sense, but in an imprecise sense.

I made a hilluq hypothesis:
To preserve a status quo, an imprecise analogy might work.

OTOH to make a hiddush might indeed require a higher-level of precision in the analogy.



Thursday 3 December 2009

Ethical Dilemma: Blogosphere Honesty

Most Bloggers are highly opinionated. [I guess I'm part of that equation, too! ] We can be sure Tiger Woods recently has been the target of all kinds of allegations and accusations in the Blogosphere. And since it's a free society, honesty, facts, and truth have little to do with it!

Now let's get into an ethical conflict.

Hypothetical scenario:

Let's say a patient is taking "statin" cholesterol medication and is paying a lot of money. [Maybe in Canada this is not the case, but just hang on anyway!]

He then discovers that Niacin instead might do the trick. He then blogs

"Statins are a rip-off! The pharmaceuticals are out to get us! Vitamin B3 does just as well"

OK is this sloppy thinking? I mean he doesn't know it's better or just as good, he is just "opining" so.
is this simply Agenda driven and a bit disingenuous?

IOW since he is ANGRY, his respect for facts and the truth gets compromised.

Im timze lomar "no big deal" for scenario
Then let's say he adds:
"Statins are ineffective"

Then how do we pasqen?

Now let's say the poster is himself or herself a prescribing MD? Would that alter the level of culpability re: the mischaracterization of statins?

Now, what if he is an MD-PhD doing research on these kinds of issues and blogs away w/o doing any instead current research and relies upon 10-year old memories?

What level is he now?
Well within his rights?
Egregiously careless?
Downright dishonest for failing to keep current with the research available in journals and opining anyway?


Perfect Misunderstanding: "D'Oraitto" as used in the Ketubbah 200 Zuz d'Oraitto

A blogger wrote:
«The couple could not find a rabbi who would allow a "change" in the ketubba, the marriage document, that would delete the word de-oraita, as Tosafot claims that the woman's 200 zuz claim upon the husband is Biblical. Since the ketubba is a court enacted institution, a tenai beit din, it seems that the Tosafot claim is hyperbolic, not essential, and based upon reasoning that is given to challenge.»

The institution of Ketubah is a d'oraitto requirement as per Ashkenazim

Correct Understanding:

The d'oraitto Clause is not actually about the origin of the obligation
Rather it refers to the stricter and larger d'oraitto definition of zuz [viz. Zuzei d'Oraitto]

See SA Even Ho'ezer 66:2 Rema, and Levush quoting the Rosh that all state clearly that the issue is the smaller "Zuzei derabbanan" vs. The larger Zuzei d'Oraitto - and do not at all address the institution per se

It's sad that the poster and the attendees at the wedding did not appreciate the accepted philology of the adjective "d'oraitto" in Ashkenazic Ketubbot. A little learning might have gone a long way!


Tuesday 1 December 2009

Funerals and Kohanim

Q: How does a Kohein attend a funeral?

A: By standing outside - showing his sympathy w/o getting "tamei".

Q: So how may a Jew attend a non-Jewish funeral?

A: Since we are [relatively speaking] a mamlechet kohanim, we may also stand outside - showing our sympathy w/o becoming "tamei".