Saturday 31 July 2010

Ethical Dilemma #3 - Midvar Sheqer Tirchaq?

A question came to me as follows:

«Dear Rabbi Wolpoe, when my dear Mother passed I put up a plaque in shul

In Memory of Mom, OBM
In Honour of Dad.

My Dad died several years ago. I've asked the shul to replace that plaque with a new one

In Memory of
Mom And Dad OBM

I've offered to cover expenses AND in addition to add a modest donation.

Bur, Rabbi Wolpoe, this process has dragged on for years

People reading this plaque think my Dad must still be alive.

Rabbi Wolpoe, please tell me - is this obsolete plaque violate midvar sheqe tirchaq by implying my late father is STILL with us?


How do you think I should have answered this sh'eilah?

Kol Tuv

Previously published May 8th

Friday 30 July 2010

M'vatlin Dairy l'Chatchilah? 1

Yeish m'vatlin Dairy l'chatchilah?
Ein m'vatlin Dairy l'chatchilah?

This question has fascinated me for over a decade.

Equal used to come in tablets that were certified OU-D

Halachic question:
After eating meat, may one drop this OU-D equal tablet into one's coffee or tea w/o having to wait the proverbial 6 hours?

What's the Potential Heter?

The amount of dairy in the tablet is probably rather small - furthermore when measured against the cup of coffee/tea it's almost surely less than 1:60. All this is still "heter". Now may I proceed to consume this coffee/tea w/o having to wait?

Fast Forward:

Whilst preparing Hilchot Pesach in the Mishnah Brurah et. al, I chanced upon a parallel case. [BTW this is no co-incidence because I've been aware for some time that there is a large conjunction of Halachot between Passover and Issur v'heter - especially bassar b'chalav]

See first O"Ch Rema 487:6 then Ba'er Hetev and Sha'arei T'shuva 447:26 talking about [ex-Yankee Hideki] "Matsui" See the Ba'er Hetev who quotes the Tzemach Tzedek 86 that
"It's prohibited to add Milk of an animal or Cream of Wheat to wine to make it white and clear... Even if less than 60 because it is m'vateil issur l'chatchilah"

Surprisingly enough, some posqim disagree! Including Magen Avraham and Pri Hadash, but apparently the Hoq Yaakov is with the Tzemach Tzedeq

The Shaarei T'shuvah quoting the D'gul Meirvavah splits the baby - Hametz no dairy yes because "adayin heter hu" [see above re: the Equal Bittul]

The entire genre here is a BIT different than my Equal case - because - All things being Equal - we are m'vateil once and drink it. In adding minute amounts of "milk" to wine, there remains a slight possibility of future enhancements - chazi l'itztarufei.

BE"H I plan to research this further, but in the meantime here's the opening gambit.


Thursday 29 July 2010

Venus Williams Helps Shahar Pe'er Serve

CAMERA Snapshots: Venus Williams Helps Shahar Pe'er Serve

Kudos to Venus Williams for serving Humanity

Jeers to the international community..

To quote a comment

«Why does the Women's Tennis Association participate in the Barclay's Dubai Tennis Championships? Why is this hypocritical double standard not made an international issue and embarrassment for all concerned?»

Amen, Sister!


Wednesday 28 July 2010

Thoughts on the Rubashkin Case

Although many have asked me my take on the whole Rubashkin case, I have been reluctant to comment. With all the different reports and presentations on the matter, I can't seem to get a clear indication of the facts. While I expect to hear different versions of what occurred from the different sides, usually in such cases I can still get a feel of what really happened. In this case, I can't seem to even get this feel. There is such a divergence in what is being presented. After reading one article, I am drawn to say this view is totally right. Then, after reading an article that presents an opposing view, I find myself saying that this view is totally right. But they can't, of course, both be totally right. (We aren't talking eilu v'eilu here.) I simply didn't comment because I simply was perplexed. I had no idea of what really happened.

Recently, it occurred to me, though, that my inability to come to an understanding of what really happened actually essentially reflected the real issue in the case. The reason there is such a difficulty in understanding what really happened here is because the opposing sides themselves have differing perceptions of what happened and is happening. The facts themselves are thus seen so differently. And the further reason that this case spiralled into what it became is because the opposing sides could, thus, not even dialogue between themselves.

The essence of the problem is not simply that both sides perceived themselves as being correct but that they also perceived the other side as obviously knowing that it was in the wrong. So what you had was a clash of moral yardsticks with two sides believing, not that they were the correct arbiters of what was moral but, that they were simply applying what everyone must perceive to be the correct and moral view. In this light, the other side can only be described as following an immoral position -- criminals, rishayim. In this light, there is no attempt to understand the other side, try to see a different perspective. At the essence of the case is that both sides believed that they were following the moral high road -- and that the other side must, as such, be following an immoral path.

This conflicting perspective is what, I then saw, made it so difficult to follow what was happening in the case. Perspectives colour the facts. Here the two perspectives were so violently in the opposite. The result is that not only could the two sides not hear the other side but that they also already believed that they knew what the other side was thinking -- and that all that was being said by the other side was just fancy verbal gymnastics.

This does not mean that both sides were right. Just because you believe that your position is the correct one is not a justification for maintaining it. Eidat Korach all thought they were in the right -- to act as they did even as Moshe Rabbeinu warned them not to. The fact is that what one really has to learn is to listen, to hear the other side. Maybe if one person would have said, in this case, that maybe the other side believes that it is following the high road, the outcome would have been different. This might have led to one side then also questioning themselves as to whether their position was the black-and-white correct perspective. Maybe if both sides tried to understand each other from the other perspective, this case would have been solved much earlier and in a much better way.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 26 July 2010

Results of Poll on Tisha B'Av b'zman hazeh

In our last poll, we inquired:

POLL: Tisha B'Av b'zman hazeh

The gemara in Rosh Hashanah already introduces a distinction, in regard to the halachic force of fast days, between periods of exile that are accompanied by persecution and such periods that are not accompanied by persecution. Nevertheless, the minhag Yisrael and thus the normative halacha is to fast on these days.

Within our age, though, a new situation has emerged. While also not being, in general, a period of persecution, the establishment of the State of Israel, while still clearly not marking the end of our Exile, does practically introduce within our consciousness a certain expression of Jewish dominion. How does this affect the halacha?

In regard to the observance of the Three Weeks within our present age, should we see the halacha -- as codified in the Books - the minimum or the ideal? Should we see our mission to fulfill the "letter of the law" or go beyond it?

Please select the best response to the following:

A. This is still a time of sadness and national catastrophe. We should set aside the minimum and feel as much pain and sorrow as we can for the Loss of our Beit HaMiqdash.

B. The Halachot in Shulchan Aruch have always sufficed for me. I have never seen a reason not to go to the shore or an amusement park when permitted.

C. Same as B but Only due to the current restoration of the state.

D. I have always seen the Halachot in Shulchan Aruch as a guideline. Those who feel motivated to mourn more should do so. Those who are not so motivated, should simply do what is meaningful for them as individuals - since this is mostly "Minhag" anyway.

E. Same as D but only due to the current restoration of the state.

F We don't pasqen by the Shulchan Aruch. We need to live up to the standards set down by one's Moreh d'atra. Any desired deviation should be based upon consultation with one's personal Poseiq.

G. One may be as strict or as lenient as one wants, today, because now that we have a restored State of Israel, all bets are off.

H. Same as G, but one should not be "poreitz geder" in public.

Your Responses (total 2)

Option A - 00% (0)
Option B - 00% (0) Option C - 00% (0) Option D - 00% (0) Option E - 00% (0)
Option F - 00% (0)
Option G - 50% (1)
Option H - 50% (1)

Rabbi Hecht
Obviously, given the low number of responses, this poll cannot have scientific significance yet there may be some assumptions that we could draw even from this low number of responses. Some people may have just simply found the question of the poll itself problematic. It is so obvious that the halacha regarding Tisha B'Av is not affected by the existence of the State of Israel that even a question of this nature some may find offensive. There is clear halachic validity to that position. Still, of those who responded, the existence of the State is clearly deemed to have made a distinction. This cannot be ignored. It may be that halachic practice itself cannot change but our motivations and thoughts when following these laws do have to change. It may be that our observance of these laws must continue to be similar to the observance 500 years ago or 200 years ago. Our thoughts that accompany this observance nevertheless must be different given our present circumstances.

Sunday 25 July 2010

The Vilna Gaon and the BhM

Apparently the Vilna Gaon longed to witness the Temple service very much. Let's say metaphorically: "he would have given anything to see the Avodah in the Beth Hamiqdash live and in person."

The question I have is: What was the GRA's motivation?

One colleague on a list suggested it was spiritual. IE The GRA wanted to soak up the Q'dushah like a sponge. Another colleague suggested it was educational. Instead of hearing [sometimes disputed] accounts re: the Avodah and the Middoth of the Keilim, he wanted to see it for himself how Seder Kodoshim worked in person.

What do YOU think?


Saturday 24 July 2010

Here Come The Neo-Cons

Well this title is a bit disingenuous! Because I'm NOT referring to the Neo-Conservative Political Movement spearheaded by Norman Podhoretz. While that movement seems to have a large Jewish component, I'm referring to another version of Neo-Con. Actually I mean to say there is arising a new version of the OLD Conservative Movement

As per Mordechai Kaplan, the origins of the C movement were rooted in the following coalition

  • The most Traditional Wing of the Reformers
  • The most Liberal Wing of the Neo-Orthodox.

W/O going over the entire history, it is obvious to MOST that today's C movement has lost touch with its Positive Historical [PH] Roots.

Because this PH balance has tilted far to the left - and admittedly Orthodoxy has moved to the right - a large vacuum has occurred.

I'm not sure WHAT would best fill this vacuum. But I do see the following pattern emerging. The most Traditional elements of the C movement and the most revisionist wing of the Modern Orthodox Movement has seen to make Common Cause. And History may be repeating itself.

Instead of the OLD-CON we may have a Neo-Con emerging Phoenix like from the ashes. And this LW-RW coalition will preserve enough Halacha to satisfy the disaffected RW old-cons and be cutting-edge revisionist enough to satisfy the Modern O's who want a mild "Reform". That is those Orthos who disdain Minhag Avot or anything other than a purely scientific Orthodoxy. In effect, I suspect that they will resemble the old "Breslau" crowd circa 1860, a reborn PH movement hearkening back to 150 years ago.

The question remains, what will THEY become 150 years from now? Will they stay rooted in Halachic Judaism or perpetuate just enough cynicism to make that unlikely? Stay tuned for another 1 and 1/2 centuries!


Friday 23 July 2010

Ethical Dilemma #1 - Two Rabbis and 1 Stranger

Once upon a time, there was a shul with a young lady dating a Gentile. The lady wanted her beau to be Jewish and so he underwent a conversion process. That June, the old rabbi married the couple.

Soon rumors began to spread. This young man was bragging to his friends that he had in fact "pulled a fast one on the old man" viz. the old Rabbi. The word got back to the old Rabbi and it broke his heart. Not being in robust health, the old rabbi soon passed on.

The shul went out and hired a brand new rabbi. It was soon that he faced a real dilemma. The young Convert was a regular in shul. There was no doubt that his predecessor had married legally them - and thus the conversion was presumably valid.

Yet the ugly rumors persisted. And they came from various independent sources. Shul members were quite skeptical about the entire affair. No one wanted to insult the Old Rabbi's memory, but people said "let's face it, had the old rabbi been about 10 years younger this scoundrel could have Never pulled the wool over his eyes."

The new rabbi is in a dilemma. There is no hard evidence to support the fact that this conversion was a scam. On the other hand, there was a good deal of circumstantial evidence that pointed in that direction.

What should the new rabbi do? Should he open up an investigation - and a can of worms! Can he afford to ignore the obvious sticky situation?


Previously Published 5/15/07

Remembering the Sabbath Day - Keeping it Holy

Originally published 7/23/10, 10:14 am. Link no longer works.
Cultural Studies - Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World -

Thursday 22 July 2010

Anti-Semitism and “Owszem” - 3

The third case of "Owszem" is its most virulent form. And this took place in Nazi Germany itself during the Holocaust era. It seems from interviews with former members of the Hitler Youth their line went something like this

We saw no need, no reason to murder the Jews. This was beyond the pale. Thus we were genuinely shocked to learn the revelations of the brutality of the camps However when it came to either forcefully exiling the Jews or enslaving them in labour camps - "Owszem"

Here brutality was Kosher, but Jewish life still had some human value. So forced exile or forced labour - brutal as it was - remained the Kosher option for the more "genteel" Nazis


Anti-Semitism and “Owszem” - 2

In America a certain disdain for Jews was termed "country-club" anti-Semitism. This genre is reminiscent of the "Caste System" in that it put Jews on a lower rung on the social ladder. This phenomenon was well-documented in the Novel and Motion Picture -
Gentleman's Agreement:
The World-Famous Novel About Antisemitism in "Respectable America":
One of the clever lines in this post-war piece is that Hitler made anti-Semitism disrespected via the Nazi Atrocities. IOW w/o Hitler, Country Club Anti-Semitism would have never been confronted.
There we have it, in the USA, anti-Semitism - so long as it did not involve pogroms or physical abuse - was perfectly Kosher. That is the American Owszem.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Anti-Semitism and “Owszem” - 1

One of the survivors in West Hartford used to describe to me the Polish version of Anti-Semitism.

It seems that Marshal Pilsudski had no use for ethnic labels, racial profiling or religious affiliations. His sole criteria was "Are you loyal to the Polish Republic or not" as such Jews who WERE loyal, flourished quite a bit. After Pilsudski's death the rise of Nazism permeated Germany. Its Anti-Semitism was of a virulent, violent nature - witness Krystallnacht. Poland took a different turn. It decried brutal anti-Semitism, decried Nazism but embraced another policy viz. "Owszem" [Pronounced Offshem] Briefly the declaration was Violence towards Jews is despicable, but boycotting and shunning - Owszem!"

It literally means YES but in context It roughly translates to the English Aderabbah or Au contraire. [Well they aren't English are they] - on the contrary.

Here is a poignant view of a shtetl that had bening owszem which reigned from 1935-39.

Goworowo, Poland (Pages 14-27)

During Polish rule and up to the outbreak of the last war life in the shtetl was relatively peaceful. There was no noticeable public antisemitism. Only with the latest "Owszem" policy[7] of the Polish government, when it officially called for suppression of Jewish commerce and businesses, was a quiet boycott and picketing of Jewish shops called. The friendly relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors, long dear to the hearts of both, did much to weaken the boycott plans. Most of the antisemitic agitators came from outside the town. They looked resentfully at the peaceful relations between the Jewish and Christian populations.

[7] "The infamous owszem or economic boycott politics began in June 1936, after being suggested in the inaugural speech of the new Prime Minister of Poland, General F. Slawoy-Skladkowski. This policy encouraged Polish customers to boycott Jewish businessmen, shops, handicraftsmen, and factories. Actively implemented by the nationalist extremists, the policy consisted of more than propaganda. It involved picketing Jewish stores and threatening Poles who dared enter, smashing store windows, overturning stalls and pushcarts, destroying merchandise, and knifing and beating Jewish owners. " See

"As the Polish economy deteriorated during the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler and the collapse of the League of Nations in the 1930s underscored the fragility of Polish security, Polish society became increasingly concerned about unity and safety. Thus the Jewish situation deteriorated , especially after PiƂsudski's death in 1935. Although Poland never passed anti-Semitic legislation, discrimination against Jews was widespread in administrative practice, including restriction to institutions of higher learning. Public outbursts of anti-Semitism, including economic boycotts and occasional street violence, were quite frequent in the late 1930s. It was a sad last chapter in the ancient tradition of Polish-Jewish cohabitation in the lands of the old Commonwealth." From The History of Poland by M. B. Biskupski.


More on this theme.



Is Ostentation Assur?

The issue of "conspicuous consumption" comes up as a Hashqfah issue from time to time. Does the Halachah have anything to add to the debate?
I'm glad you asked...In SA Hilchot Tisha B'av siman 560 we are taught to make a " zeicherl'churban"
See there the Baer Hetev 2
"And so with women's ornaments, who adorn themselves "to the hilt"
1. They Transgress a d'rabbanan
2 They cause many evils from the Nochrim who are jealous
3 See the Sh'LaH
It would seem that conspicuous consumption, even in the case
when passing the FIRST test, may always fail the 2nd test - at least in a society surrounded by Nochrim
And so the voices of the Posqim do not seem to approve.
Disclaimer: Moderate adornment with jewellery may not only be permitted, but even be deemed optimum. Extreme austerity brings its own baggage.


Tuesday 20 July 2010

Rema Ch"M 25:1, How to Dipsute Accepted P'saq

Originally published 7/20/10, 10:12 pm.
Some on the left might tell you that anything not in Talmud is fair game for disputation.

[See Bei'ur Hagra on disputing what is in the G'mara]

The Right might tell you nothing any accepted Poseiq or Gadol says may be challenged.

How about a Centrist Approach?

The Rema in Choshen Mishpat 25:1 [that]

« If it appears to the dayyan and members of his generatoon [that] from the force of "Rayot Muchrachot" that the Halachah goes against the posqim - one may dispute it following that it is not mentioned [specifically] in the Talmud»

Now some caveats and expansions

1. This is technically about Choshen Mishpat. My extrapolation to all parts of SA is not a slam-dunk - but the SM"A 2 seems to see it as applicable to issur v'heter too.

2. Rema is saying the status quo is indeed with Posqim. It takes a burden of proof to pasqen otherwise G'dolim are indeed Presumptively correct, but not infallible or immune from analysis.

3. Halachah can be changed but not willy nilly. It takes study and investigation. The system is stable, yet flexible.

4. AISI The Rema is giving us a Centrist Template, no cynical rejections, nor knee-jerk "genuflections" towards the status quo rather judiciousness and sagacity instead. A reasoned approach based upon SOURCES.

And any well-reasoned opinion cannot be dismissed as a "toeh b'shiqul hada'at" [see Shach 2 v'nireh afilu k'toe'eh ... Nami lo havi"]

Thus, To me the Rema is a great Paradigm for Centrism in general - given his balance as both a devotee of Traditionalism and an advocate of "golden age" education including secular science.

In fact Rema's balance might not only be ideal, it might be required. EG Anyone. Who is into "scientific" investigation and who is NOT at heart a traditionalist, is well-nigh prone towards revisionism.


Nishma Minhag Links to Three Week

Links for Nishma Minhag 3 Weeks Blog Posts

You may need to right click on these - RRW

Dividing Meals [Se'udah Hamfseket]

Tisha B'Av and Purim - Liturgical Parallels

Learning Erev Tisha B'Av

Tziyyon beMishpat Tipadeh

A 9 Days Shower - The Navy to the Rescue?

Shabbos Hazzon - Lechah Dodi and Eli Tziyyon

Various Customs Refraining from Meat

SA O'Ch 551:11 - and Poreitz Geder

Monday 19 July 2010

Forks in the Road of History: The Significance of Tisha B'Av

Many wonder about the significance of observing Tisha B'Av in our post-Holocaust present world marked by the State of Israel. Their feeling is that if we should mark anything, it is the Holocaust, the presence of which we still feel. Their question, though, is if we should still mark anything as we now do have the State.

In this recent Jewish Tribune article, I respond, in a sublte way, to these two challenges.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

V'nahapoch Hu

Well many consider me a contrarian anyway, but my personal aveilut and Yamim Tovim certainly go "against the grain"

My father A"H was niftar Erev Sukkot, 5749 And so after my 3 hour shiva I had z'man simchateinu. Aveilut d'yachid and YT d'rabbim. 

Fast forward 5 years and my son was born on Rosh Hodesh Av. Which means his Bris was erev Tisha b'Av. And so as I leined Eicha in my shul [COS] that same night, I had a big grin on my face and my son was named after my dear Father. Aveilut d'rabbim and YT d'yachid.

And so dear readers we know that Tisha b'Av will be turned into a YT d'rabbim. And let's pray that this turnaround will be soon - Bimheira b'Yameinu

Sunday 18 July 2010

The Struggle Against Dumbing Down - 1 Hebrew

Just as Control and Chaos are locked in an eternal struggle,* so is the struggle between ascending and descending when it comes to our Traditions

Let's Take Case 1 the struggle for better Hebrew Ivrit Ivris or even Ivrith.

B"H the Teimanim have preserved a wide array of distinctions. Every vowel and every consonant - both soft and hard is unique. The one exception is the "Sin" and the Samech. So it is no sin to be someich the samech to a Sin ;-)

As I best understand it, the more detailed the distinctions, the more authentic it is, or the more likely it is to be authentic...

We Ashk'nazim have preserved vowels fairly well, and even differentiated the Tav and the Sav. But lost the soft Gimmel and Daleth, the ayyin [mostly] and the cheit or heit..

S'phardim lost little in the consonants but lost the qamatz, and - I'm not clear on this - sometimes mix the segol and the tzeirei.

At any rate Eliezer ben Yehudah came and rewrote the book on pronunciation. Note: I'm not impugning his intentions

Throw out the Ashkenazi vowels and the S'phardic consonants and "dumb it down" to the lowest common denominator.

After 100 years of going down hill, you MIGHT think it's time to ascend back. To restore the lost nuances and subtleties that were lost by engineering to simplicity.

So now I'm told the supreme authorities of Ivrit are dumbing down the orthography [spelling] to compound the travesty of the lost nuances by Yudding every Hiriq etc.

IOW now that Ivrit has sunk low enough, let's sink it even deeper! Reminds me of the Romans Plowing under the ruins of the Holy Temple to add insult to injury!

Instead we should be zealously guarding our M'sorah, and not tossing out the nuances

Shloymie: Rabbi Wolpoe, Hebrew has evolved many times.
Rabbinic Hebrew is not Biblical Hebrew and Medieval Hebrew is not Mishnaic Hebrew.

RRW: Good point and I guess one might get overly fastidious at times. Still, the trend is disturbing, and not one we should welcome but mourn. We may have to accept our losses at times, but NOT celebrate them

Shloymie: You're no stick in the mud! Why are you fossilizing Hebrew?

RRW: I'm not! I'm trying to improve the quality by restoring "atarah l'yoshnah" and putting forth a better quality product! I'm actually an advocate for change not unlike R. Hirsch in his time.

Shloymie: Still a living breathing language needs room to maneuver

RRW: Fine in colloquial speech. Can't we maintain a higher standard in LITURGICAL Ivrit! Can't we have leining and davening to Hashem in "better than" the vernacular? Would anyone l'havdil re-write Shakespeare or
The Gettysburg Address in slang?

Shloymie: We're not rewriting here.

RRW: OK you're correct, but we can do better and therefore we should do better, and we BE"H shall do better!

Shloymie: Shall?

RRW: Ok we're gonna do better :-)

Future topics
• More on Hebrew Nuances
Kashrut Certification
• Older, Lost Traditions
• It's for the Birds
• Purging it Best


* this is a humorous reference to the struggle of Kaos and Kontrol in TV's Get Smart

Saturday 17 July 2010

Oasis for Orthodox Women?

I invite you to take a look at this letter to the Jewish Week. The author, in response to the National Council of Young Israel's stated position of women in leadership roles in the synagogue, wishes to inform the "wider Jewish community" that there is an oasis for Orthodox women -- not his words but the title given for his letter by the paper -- in his shul in the Lower East Side which expands "the role of women as much as possible within the guidelines of halacha."

I had two gut reactions.
(1) Why inform the "wider Jewish community?" Is their approval of those outside the realm of Halacha to be even considered within any debate on a halachic issue? Perhaps yes, based on such concepts as hayashar b'einei adam, but also perhaps no, based simply on the reality that Halacha is not always popular. The point is, though, while I can see potentially bringing the attitude of the general population into an internal discussion on a halachic or hashkafic principle, the discussion and debate should nevertheless still be internal. I think it is inappropriate to inform the world, in this manner, that there is an Orthodox place that meets their standards.

(2) While it is true that the charedi world is often criticized for ignoring the concept of eilu v'eilu -- and often rightfully so -- the left also suffers from this desire, when it serves their interests, to define Torah in monolithic terms. I would venture to even say that every Orthodox institution wishes to expand the role of women "as much as possible within the guidelines of Halacha" -- there is just a disagreement about these guidelines. The implication of the use of this term is that there is this group that is following the real guidelines of Halacha which allow women to do all these things while there are others in Orthodoxy who, for some other reason outside of Halacha, are ignoring these guidelines in order to keep women down. The reality is that there is variance of opinion within Halacha on numerous issues. This must be conveyed to all and, most importantly, that this disagreement is not to be compared to a similar type of disagreement that may exist in the general population. I, for example, always find it difficult when I fine myself maintaining a position that is similar to Christian fundamentalists because someone may thereby think that I actually also share their mores and thought processes. Halacha is different and must always be seen as different.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 16 July 2010

Israel after the Flotilla Debacle - R. Dov Fischer

The Futility of Appeasing the Leftist Media

"Omrim Shalom Shalom v'ein Shalom"

I actually solicited this link. Thanks to Rabbi Dov Fischer for "telling it like it is".


Thursday 15 July 2010

Marrying off one's Daughter

Originally published 7/15/10, 10:30 pm.
See Companion Mishnayot Masechet Niddah P. 161 citing Rambam Mishnah Torah Hilchot Ishut 3:19 "Ein rauy laasot keinl

The Torah permits a father to marry off his daughter before she achieves Bagrut.
Nevertheless, Hazal advise him not to do so and instead - to let one's daughter mature and let her marry a groom whom she chooses.
Question: Why didn't Hazal simply outlaw this practice and "close this loophole" so to speak?

Without directly answering that question let's go off on a tangent - namely: "Can one somehow be a Naval Birshut HaTorah?" [NBT] This topic was recently and hotly debated on the Avodah list and I think I have found an illustration that had been eluding me
Again - Can one be a Naval Birshut HaTorah? [NBT] It seems by definition - if the Torah allows it - it therefore can't really be "disgusting"
EG because d'racheh darchei no'am....
Now let's try testing a similar dictum, namely
- "Can one be a Naval Birshut HaHalachah?" [NBH] - notice this subtle shift.
I think that a simple resounding yes can be said in THIS case.
Let's see how
EG Let's say a father goes ahead and wantonly ignores Hazal's advice as codified by Rambam and marries off his minor daughter. Is he not an NBH? Yes he is an NBH because Halachah permits it but Hazal warned against it! He IS compliant with Halachah and yet a "Naval" anyway.
OTOH, he cannot be NBT! Because since he is after all outside the pale of Hazal's Aggadic recommendations, he HAS actually transgressed Torah - albeit not Halachah.
This distinction or dichotomy is very useful because the topic is potentially so broad. But with this tool, we can demonstrate that compliance with Shulchan Aruch is not necessarily compliance with Torah.
Thus it appears axiomatic to me that Halachah is a narrower subset of Torah in general.
Exactly, how the Ramban meant NBT remains elusive. But a Naval can indeed comply with the SA. Thus the SA may be a necessary, but an insufficient barometer for being a "Good Jew"
As to WHY Hazal did not ban a practice that they had "censured" I'm not sure of that answer. What can be said with relative certainty is that Halachah itself does leave room for sub-optimum behaviour.


The Orthoprax Rabbi

Thanks to Garnel Ironheart, I found out about this blog from a practicing Orthodox Rabbi -- an individual who has this title and position and thus portrays himself as an Orthodox Rabbi -- who actually is an atheist. For his opening description of himself in his first post on this blog, see

I share this with you because there are so many issues that ensue from such a presentation. At the heart of the issue, though, is not just this person but what does this say about the state of Orthodoxy today. Read between the lines. Its not just about what he is doing but how he justifies what he is doing.

As you consider this matter and come to your own thoughts on this, I would also like to share with you two responses that I found in other blogs.

From Rabbi Harry Maryles in Emes Ve-Emunah

Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner in The Rebbetzin's Husband

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Micha Berger's Aspaqlaria on RNLC and Halachah

Balancing Simplicity and Authenticity | Aspaqlaria

R Micha and I have hotly debated this over the years and I can say much, but I think he said plenty for now


Heroic or Divisive and Disruptive?

Originally published 7/14/10, 12:51 pm.
Dear Readers:
It's your call - is the title "Rabbah" good for the Jews or Bad for the Jews?

And what would have been the impact had the title "Maharat" been left alone?

How Avi Weiss's Ordainment of the First Woman in Orthodox Judaism Sparked an Outrage -- New York Magazine


Tuesday 13 July 2010


Considering how extensive the attraction of popularity of spectator sports are within our society, I have always found an analysis of the Torah perspective of it to be of interest. Of course, on the simplest level, any involvement in spectator sports can be labeled bitul Torah, a waste of Torah time. Yet we do not spend our entire days learning and we also do need forms of relaxation so, within that perspective, the question becomes more complex.

My first foray into this subject is an article on the Nishma website entitled The Popularity of Spectator Sports: A Torah View which I invite you to read. The events involving Lebron James, the basketball star, last week have further interested me in the topic, specifically because of the reason he presented as to why he was going to a new team. It wasn't the reason per se that caught my attention, it was he further explanation for why this reason should suffice that interested me. He simply stated that he made his decision considering simply what was best for him. It is true that he also mentioned that he was concerned about how his mother would respond to his decision but when she said she was happy with it because it was what would make him happy, he was overjoyed.

This is something we must consider in our contemplation of the general moral climate and our further investigation even of Torah values. We are all told to be concerned about selfishness. Here we have a case, though, where the individual explained his decision by stating that his focus was selfish. Its about me. What was even more fascinating about this was that this was even his explanation for why would should accept his decision. Its about me and because of this and that I made the decision solely in consideration of what I want, you should accept it.

Being one who advocates for the grey, I cannot simply state that this attitude is necessarily morally problematic. On the other hand, I also cannot say that it was a reflection of the moral highroad. Oftentimes balancing self-interest or need with the needs or interests of others is a difficult challenge. Its not that Lebron made a decision considering his desires over those of others. What is of interest is that he stated that this balancing was not even a concern-- it was all about himself and his desires. Does this, in the long run, really matter? Not really -- but the language of explanation must still be a focus.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 12 July 2010

On the Passing of Dr. Kaminetsky's Widow

I was first trained at the Yeshiva of Hartford [now the Bess & Paul Siegel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford]. It was directed in its formative years by the late Rabbi Charles Batt, a colleague of Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky and a fellow talmid of R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the founder of Torah uMesorah.

Dozens of Day Schools in North America owe their very existence to the labour and vision of these men. Virtually all the rest were touched and supported by their work.

I highly recommend the bios of both R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt"l, and of Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky zt"l , his successor.

Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky zt"l, On His 11th Yahrtzeit, 29 Adar
-- - The Online Voice of Torah Jewry

Y'hi Zichronam Baruch

Sunday 11 July 2010

Resuts of Poll on: Rebbe - Talmid Communication

In our last poll, we inquired:

Poll: Rebbe - Talmid Communication


A Student/Talmid asks a good question

The Teacher/Rebbe answers that question, but the Student doesn't "get it".

The Student then says "Rebbe, YOU still did not answer the question!"

The Rebbe proceeds to explain and to provide illustrations.

The student remains dissatisfied until he sees that Rashi gives the very same answer! All of a sudden it clicks.

Please choose a comment that - in your opinion - best critiques the situation.

A. It's the Rebbe's responsibility to explain his answer - therefore the unexplained answer is as good as not answering - and the Student was correct in saying "You did not answer..."

B. The Talmid needs "emunat Hachamim" and humility. If he failed to grasp the Rebbe's answer, then he should say "lo heivanti" - I don't get it and request the Rebbe to explain it better. He should NOT presume the Rebbe has failed to provide an answer, rather he should admit that he does not GRASP the answer.

C. The Rebbe should cite authorities and not rely upon his own logic or authority. And thus, by omitting Rashi as a proof-text, his answer was inherently flawed.

D. The Talmid should have presumed that the Rebbe has a valid source, even if the Rebbe cannot put his finger on it right away. The Rebbe - having seen many sources - should presumptively know his stuff even if he cannot connect all the dots right away.

E. Both the Rebbe and Talmid need to increase their empathy for each other. They are clearly not-so sympatico.

Your Responses (total 10)

Option A - 00% (0)
Option B - 40% (4)
Option C - 00% (0
Option D - 10% (1)
Option E - 50% (5)

Rabbi Hecht
It would seem that responders to this poll either believe that success in studies is either the responsibility of the talmid or the talmid and rebbe but cannot be placed solely on a rebbe. That is actually a most positive sign for the more one takes responsibility for one's success the more one assumes control over one's destiny. Teaching a student to look at oneself first and foremost ensures the possibility of the greatest long term success for the one person the student has control over is oneself.

Friday 9 July 2010

Newsweek - How the Recession is Affecting The Jewish People

Thanks goes to R Doniel Kramer for his assistance on researching this..

«How the Recession is Affecting The Jewish People - Newsweek

The Cost of Being Jewish--
How the recession affects religion

It sounds like a Catskills-era joke with a Jewish lawyer in the punchline, but among Jewish leaders it's deadly serious. Why does it cost so much to be Jewish? At a time when American families are tightening household budgets, does it really make sense to continue to charge thousands of dollars to participate in Jewish life? "Sheer institutional survival now preoccupies the heads of Jewish institutions," wrote Jack Wertheimer in Commentary in March.


But on the day-to-day level, the high cost of the basics — synagogue membership, in particular — is troubling, both outdated as a business model and onerous to families having to choose between Hebrew school and math tutoring.»

See full article


Tuesday 6 July 2010

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud Pt. 3

In the Summer of 1974 I took 2 courses on Scientific Techniques in Talmud from Professor MS Feldblum OBM In an early class, Professor Feldblum offered several radical, innovative, and perhaps revisionist perspectives on how to read a sugya.

The majority of the students - many in YU's semicha program - jumped up in protest: "This will overturn the Shulchan Aruch!". And left in a huff as class ended. Probably to be a contrarian - and also out of sympathy for a man under attack - I stayed after class.

The dialogue with Professso Feldblum [MSF] went somewhat like this:

RW: Is it true that your methods will overturn SA?

MSF: Not at all! The SA [practical Halacha] remains as it is; I am only using science to better understand the sugya

RW: So why bother revising the understanding of the sugya

MSF: Over time, this will INFLUENCE how Halachah is interpreted.

He might have said "Torah Lishma" but he did not. Revised THINKING was important to him, but so was loyalty to Halachah. Many at YU could not handle this form of cognitive dissonance.

IOW MSF's goals were influence and evolution, and neither dogma nor revolution. As MSF saw it philology of Talmud and Psaq Halachah will converge over time, probably over many generations. Meanwhile Halachah is what it is.

He also taught the importance of understanding even "incorrect" girsaot and mis-understandings in order to better empathize with how Rishonim VIEWED the text - even when mistaken from an absolute sense.

IOW, the Rashba might have "run" with a faulty decision based upon a faulty girsa. It is also my thesis that Rambam would often concur with Rashi and Tosafot had he had their version of Talmud Shabbat.


Sunday 4 July 2010

Sing the Fourth on the Fourth [Not for Canadians] :-)

When I was asked to give the invocations at the Hartford Memorial Day Services - I frequently used the 4th Verse of the The Star Spangled Banner as part of my speech. [FWIW I alternated this with Psalm 144]. The Veterans loved it. They found inspiration in the stirring words of Francis Scott Key. Yet, even those who were say anti The Vietnam War could identify with the stated sentiment that an American war must be a JUST war. I like that kind of balance. God should help us win - WHEN our cause is just.

And despite the secularists trend to remove God from the USA under an extremist vision of "Separation of Church and State", we should note that the motto of the US comes directly from this verse below. If I could create a new MINHAG I would sing this - the 4th verse - every Fourth of July. See If you agree!
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave


Last Published Last Year

Saturday 3 July 2010

New Cycle of Mishnah Yomit

«The Mishna Yomit program, which involves learning two mishnayot each day, will start a new cycle this Sunday, July 4th, when it will once again begin with the first mishna in Masechet Berachot.»

I highly recommend this program

Shavua Tov

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud 2

How Halachah grew INTO being the Talmud Bavli and then subsequently outgrew the Talmud

See Professor Ezra Chwat's article: "Great Rabbis of the Muslim Empire"

Snip #1

"In Fatimid North Africa, the Babylonian Talmud shared equal stature with the Jerusalem Talmud. Thus, an important nuance in the works of R. Hananel and R. Nissim is their side-by-side comparison of the two Talmuds, often using the Jerusalem Talmud to supplement the Babylonian. "

Snip #2
Bavli is superceded by "sifrei Halachah"

"that the Halakhot books actually dethroned the Talmud as the standard text used by law-makers, to the extent that they evolved into texts that could function as an updated Talmud."



Friday 2 July 2010

Cognitive Dissonance Between Halachah and Talmud 1

Many yeshiva students realize that the Talmud and the Halachah sometimes match elegantly
And sometimes, the differences can be staggering!

I may not identify every case of dissonance, but as an instructor, I will show some basic cases

Case 1

Peshat and Halachah

Most people study Talmud based upon Rashi's Point of View [POV]. Rashi's read is often the most straightforward

However the Halachic process pretty much bypasses Rashi's take.

The prime sources for Halachah are:

  • Rif
  • Tosafot

Rif is the rockbed of Andalusian Halachah and is the prime source for Rambam and by extension R Yosef Karo.

As R JB Soloveichik was wont to say, without Tosafot we would not have Halachah

Sefer Me'irat Einayin in SA Choshen Mishpat 25 sums this up:
The Halachah follows Rif - except when Tosafot disputes him.

Rosh and Mordechai built their codes around Rif as embellished primarily by Tosafot. (Sometimes others EG. Rashi and Rambam)

Ran's commentary on Rif makes Rif axiomatic and makes Tosafot one of many sources to expound upon the Halachah.


  • The simple read of Talmud is through the prism of Rashi
  • The Halachic read of the Talmud is through the prism of a synthesis of Rif and Tosafot.

The bad news is this breeds cognitive dissonance

The good news is that the halachah for the MOST part is not in conflict with the "raw" Talmud, rather it is conflict with ONE POV on Talmud - albeit the most popular POV.

Thus, the common denominator indeed exists for the most part on the Pages of Shas


Rescue me

Rescue Me from Me And from ???

I recently saw this quote on the web

Rescue me from the desire to win everyargument and to always be right.
- Rav Nassan of Nemirov

To which I penned a corrolary:
Rescue me from others [including friends] who act contrary to me - even though they secretly agree with me.

Upon further reflection I penned this:

Rescue me from my automatic need to react to statements [from either friends or foes] designed to stimulate my response

What say you? Form whom do you need to be rescued?


Thursday 1 July 2010

Cognitive Dissonance - R' Berkovits = Conservative Halacha?

Michael Makovi wrote:
: The topic moved to discussing Rabbi Berkovits's halachic approach,
: compared to Conservative.

Micha Berger wrote:
"Compared to" doesn't mean equated, despite your choice of new subject

RRW: I myself have only read a smattering of R.E. Berkovits

My general impression is that either he is advocating or better yet perhaps some are saying in his name the following:
"So long is one is sincerely a frum ma'amin, halachah is quite plastic" Or iow the problem with Cs playing with Halacha is their lack of emunah in the ikkarim, But Os armed with a solid emunah would comply and any valid interpretation is still Halachic [iow there is no Orthopraxy].

For many years I have been advocating a converse position: Namely:
So long as one is Orthopractic and accepts a minimal set of Emunah Axioms, then belief is quite flexible

This is largely similar to the late Professors Feldblum's defense to me one-on-one on his methodology:

So long as one is loyal to the Shulchan Aruch, one can use all the modern scientific methods to understand the original meaning of the Talmud and not worry that the new conclusions will undermine existing Halachic practice- just the theoretical Torah lishma will be changed.

It is my understanding that Rav David Weiss halivni is more-or-less of a like mind, that scientific method is about being intellectually honest and NOT about altering halachic praxis

It is quite clear to me that [after reading the bio of Rabbiner Hirsch] that RSR Hirsch would NOT buy any sort of cognitive dissonance and I would venture the GRA [and perhaps Rambam] would never accommodate this dichotomy between theory and practice. But I would venture that many WOULD. That would probably include not only many of the Hildesheimer and YU universe but also probably Tosafos and many others in Ashkenaz who lived with a divergence between text and mimetics. Sephardim and the Gra [and many yekkes] seem to find this untenable.

I think R. Berkovits had a point though. Halachah is SO far removed from its origins that some flexibility seems reasonable. Example, explain why does hag'alah require boiling nowadays when a dishwasher with soap will poseil any ta'am absorbed in any kasherable keili [kli cheres exempted]. I cannot give a solid halachic reason except inertia.

[As regarding ein mevatlin issur lchatchila lets' face it: if you are allowed to do hag'al in keilim why should it matter HOW?]

So even I - who is in a sense a polar opposite of R. Berkovits could concur on such an issue.

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,

R Sh'muley Boteach on What's Important about Religion


Religion, the pope, and the summer of discontent - The Jewish Standard

...mainstream religion is being discredited, becoming increasingly irrelevant to the lives of modern men and women.

The main reason for the deterioration of modern faith is not its sins of commission but its sins of omission. People can forgive scandal in religion so long as, the rest of the time, religion guides and inspires them. But secular people see religion's main goal today as self-perpetuation, more concerned with its timeless institutions than with the pressing needs of its flock....

Something we religious people need to ponder

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Using Archaeology to Pasqen Halachah - Makkot 11a

While doing the daf on Makkot 11a I came across this [loosely based upn Shottenstein]

Rav states:
I saw the Tefillin ... Of my uncle [R Hiyyah] that were sown with linen>
But the Halachah is NOT like that [rather they must be sown with sinews]

OK sh'ma minah

A. We don't take archaeology as proof positive of what normative Halachah should be. Otherwise discovering R Hiyya's T'fillin should create normative Halachah - but it does not, it is no better [and perhaps no worse]than recording an opinion

B. Was R Hiyya ever yotzei Mitzvat T'fillin with linen sown T'fillin?
While there is no evidence here, it IS likely to say the the Hilch'ta at the end of the sugya was NOT meant as retro-active, and is ONLY a go forward decision. Thus at one time allowing linen might have been a valid sheetah

C. If so, then my point years ago about Josephus seeing Torah scrolls written with "gold" ink would be similar. Maybe the halachah was still Rofefet in his time WRT to "Black Ink Only"