Friday 30 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 9 - Not Eating Before ...

What is the earliest source that prohibits eating or learning or working in the evening before each of the following cases:

A. Evening Q'riat Sh'ma
B. B'diqat Hameitz
C. Hadlaqat Ner Hanukkah
D. Counting S'fira
E. Hearing M'gillah

Note I would expect that there is a different answer for each case.


Thursday 29 April 2010

Re: What is the Earliest Source? 8 - Egg Matzah Erev Pesach

Rabbeinu Tam says that when Erev Pesach is on Shabbat he would eat "matzah ashira" for s'udah shlisheet up until the 10th hour.

And Given:
Ashkenazim as a rule have a minhag to NOT eat matzah ashira on Passover - except for holim and z'qeinim.

What is the earliest source to extend the prohibition of matzah ashira on Erev Pesach from the 10th hour to the 5th hour?


Wednesday 28 April 2010

19. Grace After Meals

When there are so many people starving in the world, how can we say that God “gives bread to all”?
It is not particularly difficult to imagine this question being the initial catalyst causing a Torah-observant Jew to journey away from Orthodoxy: Reuven one day stops to think about the meaning of the first paragraph of birkat hamazon; he is confused by some of the statements, the above included; he asks his rabbi about the apparent deceit; the rabbi offers an answer, or maybe a few answers, but none of which fully satisfy Reuven—as he sees it, while the answers do address the case, there is nothing anyone can say to change the fact that the text implies one thing and the world as we know it tells us something else. This incites, or unearths, an accelerating, almost stumbling, stampede of questions in Reuven’s mind, and, over time, he moves further and further away from Torah Judaism.

Relatively speaking, it is a simple matter, one that comes up quite often—a case in which the text, as we have it, seems to contradict the reality that we live with. Any investigative, Torah-observant person will be forced to confront such discrepancies frequently. There are many different ways to deal with these questions and not everybody is bothered by all occurrences. But every so often, one apparent inconsistency finds itself, for some reason, in a unique position to overthrow a person’s faith. For someone who cares deeply about third-world children, for example, the statement that “He gives bread to all flesh,” will have a special significance. And this one small infection in an otherwise healthy belief-system may quickly spread until every minor challenge seems inescapable and, eventually, it feels entirely foolish and dishonest to do anything other than abandon Halacha.

But I called it an infection. That’s not right, is it?

In the search for Truth, how do we know when to quell our rebellious voices? We believe that God exists and that He gave us the Torah at Sinai. But this is a belief, isn’t it? It is not an incontrovertible fact. It is possible that we are all practising a false religion, praying to a non-existent God, devoting our lives to a purposeless existence. If this were not possible, it would not be called belief. One of the main reasons we study Torah is because we believe that it will bring us closer to the Truth we all yearn for. But, again, this may be a mistake. And isn’t it our duty to investigate the reliability of these beliefs? If we are, whatever the costs, fighting on the side of Truth, aren’t we obligated to face these potentially-life-altering questions head-on?

But I called it an infection.

When a Jew-for-Jesus disposes of his New Testament and devotes himself to Torah, do we tell him that he is being hasty, that he has not fully considered all the angles, spoken to all the Jews-for-Jesus experts, investigated sufficiently all the literature on the topic? Do we say, “Hey—Jesus could be the son of God—how do I know?” Of course not.

But if we meet someone who is moving away from Judaism—who is, I mean, philosophically, ideologically, intellectually moving away from the tenets of Torah—can we watch passively? No—we have a duty to defend the system.

Aren’t we maintaining a double standard?

So it seems. We are presented with two commitments: one, to the humble, personal pursuit of Truth, and, two, to Torah and the Halachic system. And these two commitments, while we generally take for granted that they are aligned, sometimes diverge. If that happens, what is our first priority: to ceaselessly continue the personal quest for Truth, wherever that takes us, or to follow Halacha and uphold a Torah-centric lifestyle, regardless of the doubts that build?

If you are approached by someone with the above question—‘aren’t there people starving?’—and you sense that this question carries with it a burgeoning, powerful scepticism, do you assist him with his hunt, in the same manner that you would passionately, directly, fearlessly assist a man-of-faith who is committed to Torah to come to the Truth that he pursues, or are you restricted to providing carefully constructed answers, ensuring, first and foremost, that he remains Torah-observant for as long as possible?

Because, quite simply, if there are any answers to the major questions within Torah, they probably require at least a lifetime’s worth of study to find them. To suggest anything less than this is to undermine the entire system. So before you can come to an educated decision about the validity of Torah, in a sense, you have to commit yourself entirely to it from the inside; that is, you have to live an entire life as a Torah-observant Jew before you can accurately decide whether life as a Torah-observant Jew is a waste of a life or not. But when someone asks questions that are pointing in a direction away from Torah, the instinct can be to stage an intervention, as though the move away from Torah cannot possibly coincide with the personal drive for Truth; as though, without any offerings of doubt on the part of the faithful, it is a blunt, straight-forward decision, with an unmistakable right and an irreparable wrong; as though staying Torah-observant carries with it no risk at all.

But, worst of all, in our attempts to keep people within the circle of Orthodoxy, we betray the value that the questioning soul most cares about: the commitment to Truth. And once it seems that Truth is secondary to Halacha—a sentiment that is so vastly disastrous—we lose our capacity to bring light to the nations.

Can any good really come from defending the Torah against Truth, apologising on its behalf as if, somehow, we are in any position to do so? Can any good come from stifling the part of my consciousness that hungers to know the difference between light and darkness, holy and unholy? Isn’t that the part of me that made me a believer in the first place?

Tuesday 27 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 7 - "Maariv" on Shavuot

What is the earliest source stating that since s'firah requires "T'mimot" -
Therefore we need to daven Arvit or "Maariv" on the first night of Shavuot after tzeit?


Monday 26 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 6 - The Four Questions

When I posted this earlier, I was not so precise.

What is the earliest source stating that the Youngest Child should recite the 4 questions as prescribed in the Mishnah and the Haggadah?

Caveat, I do not mean to address the case when the child asks his/her own questions such as "Why do we pour a 2nd cup of wine?"


Is This Also Really Tznius?

Originally published 4/26/10, 1:58 pm.
Many, if not most, people assume that the Muslim directives concerning female modesty are inherently similar to the Torah directives of tzniut in regard to female dress. There are, of course, Muslims that are more stringent and those who are less so -- but this spectrum of disagreement is also mirrored in the Jewish world as well. The perception is that the basic concept is the same.
Looking at the following article, this understanding, I believe, may be challenged.
This "suggestion" is, in my opinion, not just an indication of a more stringent view -- that happens not to be found within the world of Torah but theoretically could be as the basic underlying concept is the same -- but, rather, points to a fundamental difference between Muslim modesty and the concept of tzniut. The fact that people can think that both are really one and the same concept, to me, shows a lack of understanding of what tzniut really is.
For those who may be interested in my view of tzniut, I have a series of shiurim on the topic at

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 25 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 5 - Lag Ba'Omer

What is the earliest source to mention "Lag Ba'omer" - the 33rd day of the Omer - as a special holiday?


Saturday 24 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 4 - Saying Aqdamut before Laining

Originally Aqdamut was recited AFTER laining the first passuq of the Shavuot morning laining. This tradtion has been preserved in the Roedelheim Machzor

However, in most Machzorim that have Aqdamut, it's been moved to just before the laining.

What is the earliest source suggesting relocating Aqdamut?


Friday 23 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 3 - from Matzah to Hameitz

Traditionally speaking several Halachah s'farim have told us to hang on to things such the lulav - in order to use it as fuel with which to Bake Matzot.

Nowadays this has morphed into using lulavim and such as fuel with which to Burn Hameitz instead.

What is the earliest source to suggest this transition from using discarded lulavim for baking Matzot to burning Hameitz?


Thursday 22 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 2 - Lechem Mishna on YomTov

The Talmud states that "lechem mishnah" is required on Shabbat

What is the earliest source that extended this to Yom Tov also?

L'mai Nafqa Minah?

Perhaps how one approaches 3 vs. 2 Matzot at the Seder.

For an illustration of this dynamic, see the BeHaG's position re: How many matzot at the Seder.


Wednesday 21 April 2010

What is the Earliest Source? 1 S'firah and Aveilut

NB: I've posted many in this series under the subject Who First Said It?
EG: Who First Said It? - No music during Sefira

Q1) What is the earliest source that requires Mourning During S'firat Ho'Omer?

The Talmud does record that Talmidei R Akiva perished during Sefirah

However, AFAIK the Talmud does NOT prescribe any mourning rituals to commemorate this tragedy.

So - Who First Said It?

What is the earliest source for observing Mourning during Sefira?

Q2) What is the earliest source that prohibits passively hearing Music During S'firat Ho'Omer?

I recently received this fax:

"The counting of the Omer is from Tuesday 3/30 until Monday 5/17.

Please be advised that no instrumental music may be played in the restaurant or catering facility during this time."

Well, much of this is self-evident but let's parse it anyway

A. First of all, what is the earliest source for the prohibition of simply hearing instrumental music during S'fira?

B And what is the specific concern about being subjected to someone else's music and merely listening passively? Is there an issur hana'ah in being around music during s'fira?

[OTOH When I lost my Dad A"H I *did* at times request that my office mate cut off his radio]

C. Notice this is for the entire period, not just 33 days

D. For a catering facility - whose being addressed? Few Customers are to be found in the commissary so it seems only the Mashgiach or potentially a few frum workers are impacted.

E. What about this issur is so important so as to motivate a fax a notice to each facility?

The main thrust is the same, when did S'fira and music first get linked?»

Q3) What were the earliest documented restrictions during S'fira?


Tuesday 20 April 2010

The Two Sides of the "Tikkun Olam" Fallacy

Originally published 4/20/07, 7:16 pm.Links no longer work.
Someone recently sent me the following links to two Jewish Press articles, by Steven Plaut, from a few years ago.

Their value, both in their message and in the analysis and critique of their message, is, though, still most relevant.

There is clearly a trend by many liberal Jews to define their liberal values as inherently Jewish, ascribing to them the term of Tikkun Olam. The application of this term to these values is clearly, as Mr. Plaut points out, contrary to the traditional use of this term. While he demonstrates this by pointing to the usage of this term in the Aleinu prayer -- a use that clearly is not connected to the modern liberal use of the term -- this misapplication is also substantiated by the use of the term in Massechet Gittin where if refers to actions undertaken to stabilize society, not necessarily to assist the downtrodden. The articles have value in pointing out this misuse of this Torah term to substantiate the modern agenda of many Jews.

The analysis and critique of the articles also, though, have value for just as Torah, and the term tikkun olam, cannot be used to substantiate this liberal agenda, a challenge against the use of this term also cannot be used to substantiate a conservative agenda. Conservative values are also not inherently Jewish and the argument that the term tikkun olam is being misused by liberals not necessarily mean that the values their are advocating are necessarily rejected by Torah.

Torah has its own stand and the very attempt to try and fit it into either modern agenda -- liberal or conservative -- is, itself, the problem.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 19 April 2010

The Atheist, the Jewish Paper, and the Book Review

Recently a Jewish News Journal ran a book review about an avowed atheist who happened to be a born Jew, and who wrote a book advocating Atheism. Let's call this paper the Jewish Shanda or JS The Athiest we will call "BS" after his role model - Benedict Spinoza.

It seems that the JS has taken a nazi-style definition of "who is a Jew" IOW so long as one has a single Jewish Grandparent [even if this single grandparent happens to be intermarried! ;-) ] So the atheist, BS, got his name in this paper the JS

Being acquainted with an associate editor, I asked him:
"Would you:

  • Publish favourable review s of the Xtian Gospels - just because they were authored by Jews and had a Jewish flavour?
  • Promote Jews for J books?

  • OR Would EG a Catholic paper print a nice review of a Catholic who went Atheist?
I think not"

"And so have we know Jewish self-respect!? How is this Jew more Jewish than EG Marx or Trotsky?! Who wants to have nice review of a book promoting a belief system that crashes into the top of the 10 Commandments? If we condemn Tiger Woods for violating #7 [which might not be the case technically speaking] why praise a book slamming Commandment #1? What a Shanda!"

I'm still waiting for a reply.


Choosing to be Chosen - Rabbi Steven Saks

Originally published 4/19/10, 1:00 pm.
Choosing to be Chosen
By Rabbi Steven Saks
Jews have often been criticized for referring to themselves as “the chosen people.” After all, the referring to oneself as chosen does sound pompous and elitist.
The idea of choice is central to the holiday of Shavuot. God chose to reveal himself at Mount Sinai to the Israelites and the Israelites chose to accept the Torah. The Israelites when offered the Torah accepted with enthusiasm responding naaseh v’nishmah literally meaning we will do and we will listen. In other words the Israelites were so eager to accept the Torah they pledged to fulfill its precepts before they had the opportunity to hear them. It’s like signing a contract first then reading it. Regardless, the Israelites accepted upon themselves God’s mitzvoth commandments as spelled out in the Torah.
Through the performance of the mitzvoth the Israelites were to become a Goy Kodosh a holy nation. In other words simply being an Israelite does not make one a holy person. Rather the Israelite becomes holy by acting in a holy manner, by performing the mitzvoth. The idea that the Israelite is holy simply because he is a member of the chosen people is firmly rejected by the prophet Amos.
Bible Scholar Bernard Anderson points out that the prophet Amos repudiated the idea that the God of Israel was a national God that Israel could mobilize in the service of the nation’s own interest. According to Amos, being chosen by God did not entitle Israel to special privilege and protection rather it meant that Israel had accepted upon herself the responsibility to serve God. According to Amos, God is a universal God who is active in the histories of all nations as demonstrated by Amos 9:7.
Are you not like the Kushites to me, O people of Israel? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?

The other nations have not realized this because they have not shared the intimate relationship with God that Israel has been allowed to.
Rabbi Hertz in his commentary on the Bible explains that two teachings are enunciated through Amos 9:7. The first is that God has guided all other nations as well as Israel. All races are equally dear to him, and the hand of providence is evident not only in the migration of Israel but in every historical movement. The second teaching is that God’s special relationship with Israel rests on moral foundations. A degenerate Israel is of no more worth to God than other immoral nations.
Amos is believed to have prophesized between the years 765-750 B.C.E during the reign of Jeroboam the Second, a time of great affluence for the northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet condemns the people for engaging in hallow religious ritual while failing to care for the poor.
So we see that choosing to be “the chosen” means accepting additional responsibility. In part, potential converts are discouraged from converting to Judaism because of this added responsibility. Yet, one can chose to become a member of “the chosen people” if he or she desires.
The Rabbis teach that the Torah was given in the dessert, in a barren area, because it is hefgar unclaimed property. In other words anyone can accept the yoke of the Torah upon him or her self. The Book of Ruth which is read on Shavuot tells the story of Ruth, the Moabite who is considered the quintessential convert to Judaism. Many female converts choose Ruth as their Hebrew name. Ruth did not have yichus an impressive lineage. The Moabites were enemies of Israel and descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter as detailed in Genesis 19.
Yet, Ruth chooses to follow her mother in law Naomi back to Israel and becomes an Israelite. Ruth is not shunned for becoming an Israelite; rather Jewish history views her as an exalted figure. Ruth is the great grandmother of King David from whom the Messiah will emerge. So we see that the Messiah will be a descendant from a woman who was born a non-Jew.
Anyone who believes that he/she is superior to others because of his/her Jewish birth misses the message of the Book of Ruth. Being chosen does not confer any sort of genetic superiority rather, being chosen means that we choose to develop our relationship with God.
As we celebrate the giving of the Torah lets us choose to strengthen our relationship with God by climbing the ladder of mitzvoth. No matter what we consider ourselves, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or other, we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our ritual observance (such as attending services more often). Just as importantly we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our observance of laws which govern our relationships with fellow human beings (such as giving charity and conducting business honestly).
By climbing the ladder of mitzvoth we are ascending the heights of Mount Sinai and in the process become better individuals. May we all reach new heights this Shavuot.
Note: Rabbi Saks is one of my students - Rabbi Rich Wolpoe

Sunday 18 April 2010


There has been some definitional confusion as to how I'm using this term.

Webster's 9th collegiate p. 1008

«Retrofit - to furnish (a computer, airplane, or building) with new parts or equipment not available at time of manufacture

As I am using "retrofit"

Retrofit to furnish (a minhag, a svara or a chumra ) with new explanations or practices not available at the time of ('manufacture') original propagation

If any readers have a better term, I'd welcome their input.


1) to treat Qitniyyot as "issur" in a taarovet instead of mere minhag/humra/ch'shash.

Since Qitniyyot were originally construed as ch'shash and not as issur, to assign them the valence of issur is "retrofitting" - or retrospectively seeing it through modern lenses instead of through the lenses of its own origins

2) Aveilut of S'fira - To assign issurim such as music, movies etc., as pertaining to the aveilut of s'fira; when original sources only ascribe
a) nissuin
b) tisporet
c) m'lachah of some kind
And nothing else

When this aveilut is not added for new reasons but read into original sources, it's retrofitting. If it has evolved due to subsequent tragedies, then it has evolved by taking on new aspects. It has been enhanced by history. That would not constitute "retrofitting" AIUI.

3) Shebchal halaylot anu ochlin hametz umatza.

Original sources assign this to "aviv m'lamdo" IE the Father or leader teaches this.

Since we now assign this reading to the youngest child, reading this new practice back into the mishnah is a form of retrofitting, because EG Rishonim were unaware of this p'shat

4. Waiting to NIGHT to daven maariv on first night of Shavuot.

Rishonim were unaware of this humra. If one reads this mamash back into the passuq - then one is "retrofitting" this term to use it in a way not originally anticipated.

5) Similarly adding Corn Syrup and Peanut Oil to the g'zeira of Qitnoyyot

6) In American History
Construing America's founding fathers as racially oppressive because they either tolerated slavery or engaged it in themselves could be retrofitting the 13th Amendment back to the 18th century

Indeed, while we should not applaud this behaviour, we cannot use today's post-Civil War yardstick to judge them fairly as they were THEN.

EG G Washington freed all his slaves at his death. Seen by today's standards, what took him so long? That would be a retrofit

Yet, seen by standards of his era, he was quite enlightened. EG T Jefferson himself failed to emulate this noble act.

7) In American Constitutional Law
to ban the use of the term "God" due to the 1st amendment, when the US motto is "In God We Trust" and it appears in the national anthem etc. IOW to see separation of Church and State to this extreme is revisionistic. To read it into the first amendment is simply "retrofitting" a Politically Correct state Atheism into the text of the Bill of Rights.


Saturday 17 April 2010

Is Sefirat ha'Omer One Mitzva or Two?

The Rambam firmly construes Sefirat Ha'Omer as 1 Mitzvah. Sefer HaHinuch concurs with the Rambam's read. Abbaye affirms in the Talmud: Just as it is a Mitzva to count days – so it is a Mitzva to count weeks… This Passages strongly suggests TWO separate Mitzvot

Furthermore, the Mitzva to count days in Parshat Emor states:

Tisp'ru Chamishim YOM

While the Mitzva in Parshat R'eih states:

Sheva Shavuot Tispar Lach!

Isn't it obvious that the 2 verse in the Torah describe two separate but equal actions!?

Problem: How can an individual nowadays simply argue with the Rambam - especially any further support? Furthermore, must I not I construe the silence of so many peer reviews that as implicit acquiescence? AHA! In a recent shiur in Teaneck, a rabbinic intern provided an informative Rabbeinu Yerucham: he indeed considers Sefirah as 2 separate Mitzvot!

He also posits that it is indeed TWO mitzvoth. I have my suspicions confirmed by research; it now has supporting evidence!

I queried the speaker how did he find this relatively obscure source?

He noted that the new edition of the Minhat Hinuch has this source cited in the footnotes. This indicates that the matter assumed to be a slam dunk by the Hinuch is in reality a matter of dispute. And I need no no longer be concerned about the silence of the peer review in that this voice of opposition has been already articulated by Rabbeinu Yerucham early on.

Case Closed
Comment On Original Post

Aside from a bit of Talmud Torah - why did I post this comment?

In attempting to master rational thinking, I came across the concept of "not jumping to conclusions". I.E. sometimes we see somrthing and we assume it to be axiomatic, mutually agreed upon. After All if Jews are always questioning, so why was the Rambam's ruling of only 1 mitzva never questioned? It seemed likely that seeing it as 2 Mitzvoth was an equally good read.

Failing to research this myself, I Humbly concluded that Rambam wins by acclamation & Case Closed, QED.. However, after attending a Shiur in which the rabbi found a source that DID cahllenge this Rambam, I had to recant my conclusion. Now I realized that my question - my observation - had some validity in classic sources. And since Rabbeinu Yerucham had already made this observation, it was no longer necessary for other sources to pose the same challenge to the Rambam. I could NO LONGER construe their silence as acquiescence to the Rambam's decision.

In fact I now could conclude nothing from this silence. Although, I now suspect that the silence is possible confirmation that both reads are about 50-50 and therefore no one needs to enter the fray to reject either side as off-target.

This is an important principle to realize; that just because we have not seen a competing source does not mean it is not there!

And I must also confess to not researching the matter in depth. It therefore has taught me a bit of humility, too


Friday 16 April 2010

A Vertel and a Vort

My salient point - Mussar haskeil - is that at times we may confuse "cute" apologies or rationales with the meat and potatoes of Halachah. Or iow
« in Yiddish there is a term a "vertel" which is not the same gravity as a vort. This is a case where a vertel turned into a vort»

One of the problems is that in repeating a pithy quote from the Ragachover - or others - the little wink may have been omitted. And thus, small points may become over-weighted.

This is like taking an asmachta and making it into a bona fide d'oraitto. Sometimes off-the-cuff remarks, or cute vertlach are assigned the gravity of full-blown scholarly research. Sometimes a grain of salt is required but forgotten.


The Mahpach group has been discussing a Minhag for the TZIBBUR to read the 10 sons of Haman

Quoted with permission:

«From: Chaim Spielman <>

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2010
Subject: Reading the Ten Sons »

«What Is the requirement of n'shima achas?
It's a minhag that it should be read bn'shima achas.

It is true that the Ragatchover said that. But in Yiddish there is a term a "vertel" which is not the same gravity as a vort. This is a case where a vertel turned into a vort»

The issue is a bit obscure. Essentially the Talmud says to read the 10 sons in a single breath. The Ragachover suggests that while "shomei'a k'oneh" is fine for the words, nevertheless the minhag was to manifest the "single breath" via every individual by having everyone read this themselves.


And so at times we need to know when it is a VORT and when it is a VERTEL.


Thursday 15 April 2010

Minhag Yisroel vs. Gra : 2 Matzot vs. 3 Matzot

Rav Herschel Schachter states:

. A matter of halacha which has been accepted for centuries can not be overturned, unless one can demonstrate that there simply was an error involved from the very outset.


  1. Rif Rambam paskened 2 matzos at the Seder as per simple read of the Talmud.
  2. Gaonim have a tradition for Lechem Mishnah on Yom tov
  3. Rosh/Tosafos say 3 - that sugya is superseded by the requirement of Lechem Mishneh
  4. Rema says 3 ratifying Minhag Ashkenaz
  5. Bet Yosef says that minhag is like Tosafot and Rosh and paskens 3 despite his stated rule re: Rif/Rambam - Minhag Yisrael prevails nevertheless
  6. Shleah - as cited by kaf Hachayyim says the only way to be yotzei lechal hadei'os is to use 3.
Question: how did the GRA revert it back to 2?
  1. Were Rosh, Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Shelah all beta'us?
  2. If so does this impact their reliability on other matters of Halachah?
  3. Did the Gra feel bound by the norms Minhag Yisrael - or by his read of the Talmud?
  4. For those who have already switched to 2, should they switch back to 3 - since the shita of 2 goes against the norms of Halachic canons as posited by RHS? ""one can demonstrate that there simply was an error" . i.e the error here is going against Minhag Yisroel.
  5. Is there ever a time limit on overturning Minhag based upon error? IOW how many centuries of practice makes perfect or is it ALWAYS subject to revision based upon a better read of Talmud.
  6. How do recently discovered girsaos of old manuscripts play into this? Are they demonstrative of earlier errors and therefore dispositive of minhaggim?
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

Goldstone Ban

Should we tolerate Goldstone as having a right to his opinion


Should he willingly accept the consequences of his convictions?


Zionist group bans Goldstone from grandson's bar mitzvah - Haaretz - Israel News


Wednesday 14 April 2010

Humrot, Left and Right

Originally published 4/14/10, 11:00 pm.
My problem with Right-Wingers is that they conflate Humrot with baseline halachah, thereby undermining credibility in the Halachic System. Since they draw the line in the sand too aggressively, the entire system may lose its hold on the Observant Community.
My problem with Left-Wingers is that they presume every Humra is nonsense regardless of its history or wisdom. They ignore assu s'yag l'Torah or define it down to being worthless.
Humrot should be evaluated from time to time. Some are more approrpriate than others.
And Rememeber that we should NEVER generalize --BIG GRIN--


Tuesday 13 April 2010

Will History Repeat itself?

Have we returned to Munich 1938?

Or Mid-east pre-June 1967?

Read on - see comments section, too!

Yonkers Tribune : Ed Koch Commentary: A Dangerous Silence By Edward I. Koch


Discernment - b'sheim R. Hutner

A visitor recently shared this story...

In an early version of the "seed program" circa 1963 talmiddim asked R Hutner's advice re: whom to focus upon and who was a waste of time R. Hutner suggested to ask them about the origins of WWI.

If they expressed curiosity about the assassin Prinzip's motives, they were the desirable students. If they poo-poohed Prinzip and said he was just "a nut" - then don't bother...


In zen the maxim is:
First you need to empty your cup in order to fill it.

People may be either

  1. know-it-alls
  2. full of themselves
  3. too cynical or skeptical

to learn something new. With these people, one simply wastes one's time teaching.

R AKiva had held a cynical view of Hachahmim before he changed his attitude. Once he dropped this "holier than thou" posture Torah flowed to him as rivers flow to the sea.


Monday 12 April 2010

A Modified "Ellul Z'man" Curriculum

Earlier I posted:

«However, isn't it reasonable to scale down that lofty requirement to have the Students learn all the Mishnayot of the entire Masechta first?A fairly in depth look at the Mishnayot will take a lot less time than covering every Daf in the Gmara itself, yet, nevertheless, yield a fairly substantial subset anyway»

And so here is a proposal for Yeshivot to use during Ellul z'man

Instead of starting the year's masechta using Gmara, cover the Mishnayot instead.

Since removing G'mara would yield extra time I would supplement it with some introspective material such as Rambam MT Hilchot T'shuva or Rabbeinu Yonah's Shaarei T'shuva, etc.

Furthermore, I would cover a Halachic text on the Halachot of

1 Ellul
2 RH
3 YK
4 Sukkot
5 Lulav
6 Yom Tov
7 Chulo Shel Moed

To round out the Ellul Z'man Program

Any incompleted areas could be assigned during Sukkot vacation


Sunday 11 April 2010

Improving Chinuch

If I had to change or improve upon just ONE aspect of contemporary Jewish Life - it would be the education system. I found this post while looking for something else. But it was bashert...

The biggest complaints frum teenagers have today - even more than about their parents - are about their schools. Not about too much homework, or mean teachers, or the typical "teenage" complaints. Rather, they express anger, bitterness, disbelief, shock, and even tears, over what they feel is an abandonment of their needs by their schools, in favor of what is more beneficial for the school's public image.

Teenagers are losing faith in their role models because they feel they are not cared for by them. In this, teenagers and adults are not at odds. Whenever I speak about chinuch, the audience never fails to express their dissatisfaction with our educational "system"...»

See - Torah for Teenagers


Saturday 10 April 2010

A Proposed Course In Liturgy using Artscoll - Module 3, Shalosh Regallim and Qinnot

BiPolars Beware!
Studying Simchat Torah to Tisha b'Av back to back may be dangerous to your emotional well-being

For others, it's just the kind of balance recommended by Qoheleth ch. 3! Times to rejoice and times to weep.

The Artscroll cycle of Shalosh Regallim Machazorim contains a wealth of liturgical text and commentary.

This Module may take longer than even Yamim Norai'I'm because - unlike the High Holidays - the Piyyutim are unfamiliar to most.

Plus there is a good chunk of supplementary Halachot and Mishnayyot. So poetry is juxtaposed with dry legalism. Another balancing act!

The Qinnot doesn't bring us much joy. But since Tisha b'Av is also a Mo"ed, it gets lumped together here. And we look forward for the day when it will join the other joyous Festivals

Plus the Torah Readings from all 4 occasions and their corresponding haftarot make for a great panorama of Jewish history - its ups and downs - from the construction of Shlomoh's Bet Hamiqdash to its destruction at the time of Yirmiyahu.

From Yehoshua's Passover until Yehezkel's vision, about 8 centuries are spanned.

And the Qinnot consist of a survey of virtually everything that has gone wrong for the Jews in History. Which makes the book both lengthy and intensely depressing. B"H we have telescoped several thousand years of suffering into a single day, and dedicated to it just one book.

But when Moshiach comes, please don't throw the Qinnot into the Geniza! There is too much history and poetry to ignore. Knowing from whence we came is a function of the Passover Seder - from Servitude into Freedom

Similarly when Mosiach comes keep your Qinnot to fulfill remembering "miyagon lesimcha; mei'evel leyomtov"

The Artscroll gives a vast amount of background on both the Qinnot and their composers. I find nothing finer to highlight the sheer multi-tasking genius of El'azar haQallir, then to see his embroidered 6-part acrostic structures - while simultaneously weaving several scriptural themes into the mix. Had Qallir been a chess grandmaster he probably could have handled a hundred concurrent matches.

Beyond the Qallir, an entire line of rabbis follow, from Maharam miRothenburg to R Shimon Schwab. It's too rich an anthology of Rabbinic thought in verse to miss out.

I don't know how long it would take to complete all 3 modules - but lo alecha ham'lachah ligmor.


Friday 9 April 2010

A Proposed Course In Liturgy using Artscoll - Module 2, Yamim Noraim

The Second Module Comprises the "High Holiday" Cycle

2A - Rosh Hashanah
2B - Yom Kippur
2C - S'lichot leemay Teshuvah


2A + 2B have some additional "dividends"

1 Brief Laws of the Customs of the Holidays

2 Mishnayot RH and Yoma

3 Commentaries on:
A Teqi'at Shofar
B Tashlich
C The Avodah

4 Loads of "Extra" Liturgy e.g.:
A Sheer HaYichud
B Tefillah Zakkah
C Vidduy of R Nissim

The Artscroll S'lichot has a structural description of how the S'lichot vary in format and theme
Aqeidah, Shlishiyah, etc.

Plus a good deal of biographical and historical info lay embedded in the introductions and commentaries.

Cross Referencing may be made between the S'lichot of Ellul and those of "Ta'anit Tzibbur". Both works overlap in form, structure, etc.

Once completing Modules 1 and 2, the student will have mastered virtually all the foundational principles of how the Tefillot are structured, and how the optional Piyyutim fit into the milieu.

There is also a wealth of Hashqafa information as well as many tear-jerking pleas for forgiveness, etc. Plenty of poetry and prose, drama, and even some joy here and there.


Results of our Poll on Pesach

In our last poll, we inquired:

Which Answer bests sums up your own Passover Experience?

And we asked you to choose between the following:


Passover is a chore

The Seder is a bore

I can't take it any more

I'd rather go to war!


Passover is great

I like staying up late

The foods are a treat

The four cups are neat.


Passover leaves me with mixed moods

While I do enjoy the foods

Yet seder till dawn is absurd

And the cleaning is for the birds.


Passover sets me free

I sing the songs with glee

The cleaning might make me uptight

But it also increases my appetite


Passover is not about me

It's about celebrating with family

The hardships we gladly weather

Because it's so great to be together.

Your Responses (total 9)

Option A - 11% (2)
Option B - 33% (3)
Option C - 11% (1)
Option D - 11% (1)
Option E - 22% (2)


RBH - It would seem that most people truly enjoy Pesach and the Seders.

Thursday 8 April 2010

A Proposed Course In Liturgy using Artscoll - Intro and Module 1

While Artscroll's Shottenstein edition of Shas might be their most famous work, their siddurim and machazorim probably touch more people's lives

Formal study of Jewish Liturgy is not common, but it is highly under-rated. Our prayers are not only about communing with the All-Mighty, it is also a repository of normative beliefs and hashqafot.

As such, knowing the liturgical cycle will teach more about accepted Perspectives than say En Yaaqov or Midrashim. Ironically many piyyutim are founded upon those very texts, Talmudic and Midrashic Aggadah.

Examples, think of the dozens of S'lichot known as "Aqeidah" for examples of poetically mining numerous aggadot on a single subject.


At first I perceived a 6-8 year course of study. Now I am reconsidering that time-table and restructuring this as modules instead.

Module 1
Simply cover the standard Artscroll Siddur "cover-to-cover".
In addition to liturgical insights one will learn

1. Simplified Hilchot Tefillah

2. 7 chapters or Mishna
• Avot 5 chapters
• Shabbat ch 2
• Zevachim ch. 5

3. 2 chapters of Braittot
• Avot ch. 6 from Kallah
Braitto de R. Yishmael

4. Selected Piyyutim and Selichot

5. Selections of Torah Readings

Module 1a
Using Artscroll's "Siddur Nechemat Yisra'el"

This will supplement the regular Daily-Shabbat siddur with
1. Basic minhaggim of Aveilut
2. Many more Mishnayyot
3. Various Prayers for the cemetery and Yahrtzeits, etc.



Wednesday 7 April 2010

8 Semester Course on Machsheves Yisrael

Tanach era:
Semester 1
Misheli and Qoheles

Semester 2
Iyyov and Tehillim (selections)

Talmud era:
Semester 1
Avos and Avos De
R. Nassan

Semester 2
Selections from En Yaaqov

Semester 1
Rambam Sefer Mada
Hil. Deios, Teshuva
Also Talmud Torah
Avodah Zara and Yesodei hattorah

Also shemonah peraqim

Semester 2
Selections from Hinuch
Hovos Halevavos
Selections from Ramban on Humash

Semester 1
Maharal (Selections)
Rmachal (selections)

Semester 2:
RSR Hirsch
19 Letters - Dayan Grunfelds's intro to Horeb - selections from Horeb

Michtav Mei'eliyau

Rav AI Kook

RYD Soloveichik on Teshuva

Tuesday 6 April 2010

P. Shmini - Punishment or Consequences?

OK let's start with Acharei Mot What does "v'lo yamut" imply? Here's my p'shat:

Coming into the proximity of the Qodshei Qodshim - requires protection . For Aharon - that meant a proper Q'toret - while an improper Qktoret - even b'shogeig - could have left the Kohen Gadol w/o his "radiation suit" and thereby be exposed to an overwhelming dose and risk death. Not due to a transgression, but - rather like an electician with a leaky rubber glove - the shock would be overhwelming.

Back to Nadav and Avihu. AISI they were consumed by the fire primarily because their ersatz Q'toret failed to protect them and therefore Aharon was commanded how to avoid such a similar catastrophe.

And as for Uzah - in the Haftara of Sh'mini - AISI he wasn't punished so much as overwhelmed by the Q'dusha and lacked protection.

Bottom line - AISI it's not "punishment" it's consequences. Like a kid sticking his finger in an exposed socket. Hashem is not punishing the child. We have been fixated with seeing din as punishment. Din sometimes is teva, and electicity, radiation, high places all entail physical risk.

Punishment or Consequences?


Ch-Ch-Changes! (Apologies to David Bowie)

This really has little to do with Passover per se but several years ago on Passover a chapeau noir (CN) friend and I had a spirited debate on Passover re: this subject so here goes

His meta-premises were:

  1. That The torah pre-dates creation
  2. That The Torah is unchangeable/immutable.

Ergo what is unkosher NOW was always unkosher.

I tried to show that there is a Meta-Mitzva in Leviticus 18:3. It is our torah reading for Yom Kippur afternoon. Viz. Thou shalt not behave as the Egyptians and the Cananites. Narrowly construed it deals with incest, etc. As found in Lev. 18. However, it appears to explain several other prohibitions as well

  1. No leaven on Passover
  2. No Leaven with Sacrifices
  3. No honey with Sacrifice.

My CN friend said that if the torah prohibited it now, it was always prohbited. Then he insinuated that anyone who thinks that mitzvot have evolved after Creation are into heresy....

I then stunned him by showing him Rashi on Devarim 16:22 (re: stone monuments)
"... This one HE hates because it was a Canaanite statute; EVEN THOUGH it was beloved during the era of the Patriarchs.." IOW for Abraham et. Al. It was desirable, but the Canaanites contaminated it by using it for their worship. NB: He didn't appreciate having insinuated that Rashi was saying something heretical :-)

My main contribution to this is that this falls under the rubric of the meta-Mitzva of Lev. 18:3How leavening/sourdough and how honey acquired baggage from Egypt is the topic of another post BEH soon.

The point is that certain Mitzvot WERE generated as a response to events and were NOT necessarily legislated before Breishit (the Beginning; or better: the BIG INNING :-) as baseball approaches)

And my CN friend may have been correct in principle; viz. that the torah indeed predates Creation and is indeed imutable. However he erred in understanding its implications. A more nuanced - and more accurate - understanding would take an essay.

Meanwhile, on this earthly plane my CN friend should be advised not to take certain things (such as a Midrash) too literally or rigidly. :-). And that what was OK once upon a time may have accumulated baggage making it no longer OK

Zissen Pesach

published 4/2/09

Sunday 4 April 2010

4 Year Rambam B'qiut Program

Year 1: Sefer Hamitzvot - use any major peirush EG Rambam L'Am or Chavel

Years 2-4: 3 year Mishneh Torah Program 1 Chapter a day using either Rambam L'am or Touger edition

Google Rambam Yomi to find out details re: how this program works.


D.A.F.'s Dafyomi Central Headquarters


Orthodox Women Rabbis - Is the timing right?

The mashal:

Star Date:
11-2008 African American Barak Obama is chosen freely as President over fierce competition with Hilary Clinton and John McCain... Since Barak was shown few favors - except maybe for a fawning press :-) - little backlash was experienced. Barak has either been embraced or grudgingly accepted.


Parallel Universe: (prime = ')

Parallel stardate Fall, 1872 Party Bosses' - knowing what's best - impose Barak Obama' as Dictator of USA' In the aftermath of its Civil War' in order to FORCE an end to racism

KKK learns of this - and its Recruitments go up. Crosses' are burned. Linching of Blacks' is rampant. Civil Rights' Is set back 200 years in USA'


The imposition was immature Fools rushed in where wise men hesitated. Not being able to be "roeh es hannolad", USA' suffered a virulent backlash...



Only you can determine if the Orthodox Jewish society is ready NOW, or needs more time.


Yes NOW is a PUN!

Saturday 3 April 2010

Shulchan Aruch B'qiut Program - 2nd 4 Years

Year 1: All 4 Turim

Years 2-4 complete SA with:
Be'er Hagolah
Ba'eir Heitev
Pitchei T'shuvah

Year 2 - Yoeh Dei'ah
Year 3 - Even Ho'ezer
Year 4 - Choshen M-shpat

After 8 years the student should now be ready for yore yore or yadin yadin


Friday 2 April 2010

Shulchan Aruch B'qiut Program - First 4 Years

Year 1: Kitzur SA Yomi

Year 2: SA Yomi - all 4 Halaqim

Year 3: SA Orach Hayyim with
B''er Hagolah
Ba'eir Heitev
Shaarei Teshuvah

Year 4: SA Orach Hayyim with
Mishnah Brurah
Bei'ur Halachah
Sha'ar Hatziyyun


Some Holiday Humour

Originally published 4/2/10, 1:00 pm.
This is simply Cute - albeit Sick - Humour I received over the net

Jewish holidays are for people with illnesses:
  • Purim is for alcoholics
  • Pesach is for OCDs
  • Shavuos is for insomniacs
  • Lag B'omer is for pyromaniacs who weren't satisfied with Chanuka.
  • Tisha B'Av is for manic depressives
  • Rosh Hashana is for people who obsess over dying.
  • Yom Kippur is for anorexics
  • Sukkos is for the homeless
  • Simchas Torah is for those in their happier stages of bipolar
Mi K'Amcha Yisroel!
... and people still wonder why the Jews invented psychology.
Wishing you a happy, kosher Pesach.


An Open Letter to President Obama

From Our Friend - Rabbi Steven Saks:

Dear President Obama:

Israel made an error in announcing that it would be constructing new housing in East Jerusalem during V.P. Biden's visit. That being said, Israel has apologized for this gaffe committed by a low level official. Turning this into a crisis by stating that Israel has to show it is serious about peace as Secretary Clinton did will only embolden already unrealistic Palestinian ambitions even further.

Mrs. Clinton should remember that it was Yasser Arafat that walked out of the Camp David talks convened by her husband after Ehud Barak opened with a generous offer. Therefore, it is the Palestinian leadership whom refuses to negotiate directly with Israel. It should be noted that the Palestinians have still not prepared themselves for peace. Its leadership has not denounced the use of violence against Israel and children are encouraged to martyr themselves. America will be perceived to be weak and waffling in her commitment to fight terror if she pressures her democratic ally to make further concessions before a true peace partner emerges.

Rabbi Steven Saks
Spiritual Leader of Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth,
Wilmington DE
President of the Delaware Association of Rabbis and Cantors

VP Biden,
Senator Carper, Senator Kaffman, Congressman Castle


Note the list of cc:'ed people above are all from Delaware

Also Note:
Rabbi Steven Saks is a participant in Nishma's
"Rabbinic Literacy Project."

Thursday 1 April 2010

Hanukkah Questions - with a bit of Mah Nishtana!

There are indeed many miracles associated with Hanukkah! Perhaps the greatest Halachic miracle is that the Sephardim adopt the Tosafistic definition of Mehadrin min Hamehadrin whilst the Ashkenazim follow the Rambam's definition! A true v'hahapoch hu!

There are two great anomalies in Sephardic p'sak re: saying brachot that are not in consonance with the Talmud:
  1. Hallel in Shul on the first night of Passover is said WITH a brachah!
  2. Hadlakat Nerot Hanukkah is done in shul with a bracha.
In the former case Hallel on Passover certainly generates a bracha but NOT at night! The fact is that the seder specifcally HAS Hallel sans Bracha!

In the latter case, the Shulchan Aruch gives the reason as "Pirsumei Nisa." Howver the Talmud's paradigm is strictly ner, ish uveito, and a synagogue fails this paradigm. This is quite an anomaly! However, the pirsumei Nissa model could be used to explain the brachot for BOTH Lighting Candles and Hallel; and this is indeed the Gra's approach.

Conversely, when it comes to saying Kiddush on Shabbat on Friday night IN SHUL, the Shulchan Aruch recommends better NOT TO -despite the fact that this custom has a Talmudic pedigree!

Were you to pose the answer of lighting candles on Hanukkah in shul for guests - this argument would be weakened by the anti-Kiddush decision which pre-supposes that we no longer house guests in shul anymore!

I have a novel approach to the 3 cases of kiddush, Hallel, and Neirot Hanukkah based upon a Tosefta in Pesachim. I spoke this out last week Friday night at the Minyan at Care-One in Teaneck. Anyone in cyber-space willing to venture a guess?


Hameitz Contracts - a Purim Approach

Originally published 4/1/10, 5:45 pm.
Recently, a group requested to compare their Sale-of-Hameitz contracts. Here is my approach to these contracts - an approach I find superior - at least in the realm of humour! I myself have a simple approach to contracts - namely, after Purim, I take out a contract to destroy all hameitz!
I simply give some cash to several gentlemen with names like Tony, Vito. Big Al, and Guido. They just whack all the Hameitz until no Hameitz remains. This is not a really new approach at all! In fact - this type of contract has been helping families solve their hameitz problems for years - as well as addressing several other difficult situations
Usually Tony, Vito et al. Leave no trace of Hametz behind. AND they enjoy their work so much that they have a blast doing it. Whatever, if you choose this method, don't let Elliot the miracle-man know ;-)

In the spirit of Purim,