Tuesday 30 November 2010

Turkey Day - A recent Discussion

A Hareidi vs. Modern Orthodox Debate about Celebrating Thanksgiving

Although this conversation took place between two Americans, both attended yeshivot in Canada! :-)

"Avraham" is a Hareidi from Boro Park

"Yitzchak' is Modern Orthodox from "NewTown"

Avraham: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving?

Yitzchak: Yes, we do

A: How do you do it? What's the seder?

Y: Well we usually serve Turkey and all the fixings. I make sure to wash in order to bench and that enables me to recite "Nodeh lecha"

A: That's it?

Y.: Some spell out what they're thankful for. I don't do that out loud, just in my heart. Also sometimes I'll have wine etc. and make a bit of a Simchah out of it.

I've hear that some make their Thanksgiving meal their Friday Night Shabbat meal.

A: I see. In Boro Park we see this as Goyish. And if it's Goyish, it's treif.

Y We Moderns see this as non-sectarian although it is based upon our Torah's Hag Ha'Assif. We think it's meaningful to express our gratitude once a year and we embrace it

A: I see. I never knew from this in Boro Park - though I have heard that some rabbonim allow it.

Y: Understood. We Moderns don't necessarily think it's required, just a nice thing to do


And that pretty much sums up a the gap [chasm?] Between a Hareidi approach to society and a Modern O approach. And IMHO - it's more about sociology than about Halachah


The Hanukkah I Hanukkah II Hypothesis - The Questions

Originally published 11/30/10, 1:06 pm.
Hanukkah is mentioned in the following texts
• Maccabees I + II
• Josephus
Al Hanissim
Megillat Taaanit
Yet the Miracle of the Oil is omitted, excepting the Scholion of the Megillat Taanit.
• Why is there no mention of the Miracle of Oil in the above?
• How is it that the Mishnah does not treat the Laws of Hanukkah at all? It merely mentions Hanukkah in passing - EG Ner Hanukkah in Bava Kama.
• Without the Miracle of the Oil, how did Hanukkah get to be Eight Days Long?
• Given the Absence of the Mizbei'ach why do we still celebrate Hanukkah Nowadays?
• Why is it the Bavli that first mentions the miracle of the oil?


Monday 29 November 2010

Aspaqlaria - The Core Greatness of a Gadol

«...and I realized that he would keep davening the same page over and over if I let him. Sadly, the illness and the medication took away his memory and almost his ability to function. But one thing he knew, something that was in his very bones, was that he wanted to daven. When you strip away all of the learning, all of the accomplishments, what you end up with is a simple, kosher Jew....»

For the entire poignant story see:

What defines greatness



Interesting Vignette Comes to Light

Originally published 11/29/10, 9:19 am.
« Rav Chaim Kanievsky served in the IDF
Yes, you read that title correctly. You can stop rubbing your eyes.»

Life in Israel: Rav Chaim Kanievsky served in the IDF


Sunday 28 November 2010

Mitzvot on a Societal Level - Kibbud Av vo'Eim

What kind of society is fostered by respecting Parents - and by extension the elderly in general?
A Society that Cares for its People in its old age will in turn be cared for by succeeding generations, fulfilling the "L'maan Ya'arichun" in a societal and quite natural fashion.
Rav Saadyah Gaon is quoted by R Chill's Book on Mitzvot [P. 44]
This attitude is l'havdil evident in Confucian Societies whose reverence for the elderly is eventually paid back when that succeeding generation itself takes its turn in the Golden Years - what goes around comes around.


How is Following the BeHaG Less Halachically Authentic than Following the Rambam

•. Halachot G'dolot was written in Bavel closer in SPACE to the Talmud and the G'onim than was Andalus and Egypt
• Given The HG was written 300 years EARLIER than the Mishneh Torah thus closer in TIME to the Talmud and the G'onim than the Mishneh Torah [circa 1170 CE]

So it would seem rational, logical, and natural to see the BeHAG as more akin to Talmudic standards and norms than the Mishneh Torah which was compiled after a significant drift over space and time [different era, different society]

So why do many fundamentalists choose MT over HG? What is their rationale?


Saturday 27 November 2010

Acharei Rabbim L'Hatot in Halachah

In the Halachic Methodology sphere the Kitzur SA supports the concept of "majority [or consensus] of Posqim"

This is almost explicit in KSA 109:1 re: drawn water used to bake Matzah before 12 hours have passed.

The mention of the minority opinion also suggests that it has been rejected as l'chatchilah Halachah, but may be in the tool bag for cases of b'di'avad and Bish'at Had'chaq.

Summary: Majority of Posqim create normative Halachah

Minority opinions are valid in case of emergency only


Friday 26 November 2010

P. Vayeishev - in the End Was Joseph Being Punished?

In the last Passuq [40:23] "v'lo zochar Sar Hamashkim et Yoseif" We are told that the Sar Hamashqim forgets Joseph.

Rashi says "Huzqaq l'ihyot Assur sh'tei Shanim"

Is this a punishment or perhaps something else?

Most understand this as simply a proverbial "2-minute penalty" for lack of Bitachon in Hashem - except Joseph wound up serving 2 YEARS in the penalty box! :-)

What lesson does that tell US? Not to be resourceful and to rely ONLY upon Hashem?

Remember that old Joke re: the fellow in the flood to whom Hashem sent a car, a a rowboat and finally a helicopter and he refused each ride and drowned while waiting for Hashem to rescue him? So why should Joseph be PUNISHED for lack of Bitachon! Seems a harsh "blame game" to me to assign blame to Joseph the victim, for being resourceful in own rescue!

Shloymie: Well what's the Alternative?

RRW: Let's digress to a lesson from Abarbanel in the Haggadah It states that - had HKBH NOT rescued us then "M'shubadim Hayyini l'Faroh The Abarbanel's read is - that Had HKBH not saved us from Egypt, that m'shubaddim would mean we would have been INDEBTED - not enslaved - to Par'oh had Par'oh freed us instead of Hashem! Think back, American Slaves felt indebted to Lincoln and not to G-d.

Similarly what if the Sar Hamashqim freed Joseph? He might have been indebted to him. Instead Hashem wanted Yosef indebted to HKBH alone and not to the Sar hamashqim. Thus "Huzqaq" that the sar hamashqim would forget to show Joseph that Hashem alone was his rescuer.

That is to say, Joseph might have learned the wrong lesson had he successfully used the Sar Hamashqim as his rescuer. And IMHO we also might learn the wrong lesson in seeing Joseph as being "blamed" rather than merely "taught".


P. Vayeishev - Who Really Sold Yosef?

Who Sold Yosef?

Pashut: We KNOW the Brothers did it!

But do we really know that for sure? Read Vayeishev 37:28 thru 36 and show us specifically where the brothers did the dirty deed? Also we notice that Reuven [38:29] was clueless about the sale - which seems a bit strange!

Shloymie: Wait a minute, Rabbi! Rashi says so explicitly - that "vayimsh'chu" refers to the brothers!

RRW: Indeed he does. But simple grammar shows no such antecedent!

Shloymie: we also know from Parshat Vaigash 45:4 that Yosef states that the brothers sold him.

RRW: True but what about Binyamin?

Shloymie: AND in the 10 Harugei Malchut it's obvious that the brothers did it!

RRW: Shloymie you must be agreeing with your namesake Rashi!

But I'm not quite "Rashidox" about this! :-)

The simple p'shat is that the Midyanim sold Yosef to the Yishma'eilim - intercepting Yosef while Reuven was on his way!

Shloymie: but what about vayigash and 10 harugei Malchut?!

RRW: What about the simple Read and Rashbam who suggests this is the P'shat - allbeit not so forthrightly? :-)

Shloymie: ???

RRW: OK OK I see WHY Rashi pinned this on the brothers - But probably based upon Vayigash, not here.

Shloymie: And so what's wrong with that?

RRW: Nothing - but I can read it simply here and answer Vayigash etc.

Re: Vayigash - Yosef simply accused them of the sale because -

A. They expressed that they sought to do that dirty deed
B. That deed was l'maaseh done - albeit via Midyanim

So aisi HKBH is "mitztareif machshavah ra'ah l'maaseh" when it actually DOES happen, even when it's via others.

And so Yosef had a right to accuse them of it, because they were guilty of putting the wheels into motion!

Alternatively, maybe Yosef just THOUGHT that the brothers asked the Midyanim to do it and did not realize that Reuven was clueless and that they beat the brothers to the "punch"

So maybe vaymish'chu is not to be taken so literally that the brothers SOLD Yosef - only that they caused it

Look, I'm not saying Rashi is not WRONG, just that we have a viable "davar acheir" here. One that I prefer.


Thursday 25 November 2010

P. Vayeishev - Hotziuha v'Tisareif a Burning Question

In Passuk 38:24 Yehudah pronounces apparently a death sentence on Tamar- «take her out and have her burned»

Recently I had heard about a slight variation of this that Tisareif could mean "BRANDED" - meaning to brand her as a Zonah by means of a firebrand, but not execute her..

With the help of some colleagues I found it!
It's the Torah Temimah 38:24:25 who quotes the "Ba'al Turim" who in turn quotes R Yehudah Hechossid - namely that "roshem paneha" be branded. Not that she be physically burned to death, rather branded as a "Zonah"

And the TT further notes that this firebranding was still taking place in the era of The Rosh and the Rashba objected to this for Jews.

He also explains the diyyuq that led RY Hechossid to revise s'reifaah to mean branding and not executing.


P. Vayeishev - Using a Non-Local Peirush

Once upon a time I gave a peirush on Eiqev based upon a Rashi technique used somewhere else - during a speech at another shul.

One fellow in the audience was concerned:
"How can you set aside what Rashi says HERE - in favour of an approach he uses elsewhere"? Meaning Rashi was implicitly disputing my read.

To me the answer is simple, Rashi is NOT exhaustive, meaning here he is giving but an illustrative subset of all the possible p'shatim that even HE would could have given. Therefore do NOT construe from his omission HERE that he objects to something else...

I found a "Proof-Text" for my approach
In Vayeishev 38:26 Rashi gives TWO definitions of "Yassaf" as in «v'lo yassaf od l'daatah»

The second explanation assumes "v'lo Passaq" and relies upon Targum Onkelos found elsewhere re: Eldad and Meidad in B'haalotcha 11:25.

Yet the Local Targum says otherwise! Viz. "V'lo Ossif"

Sh'ma Mina - that Rashi himself felt empowered to quote the Targum elsewhere to bolster his local read of p'shat despite the LOCAL Targum saying otherwise.

And so what I did was the same to employ Rashi to give p'shat in Eiqev from a non-local Rashi despite the local Rashi saying otherwise.

Now it remains possible the local Rashi WAS objecting to the non-local read. We can't know for sure. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate technique to use a non-local source as per Rashi himself


P. Vayeishev - Another Slap at Yaakov

It seems obvious to us in hindsight that the actions of the Brothers of Joseph towards Joseph seemed to have damaged Yaakov even more so than Joseph. We see that Yaakov suffered mightily from his perceived loss.

Yet, curiously to me, there seems to be a dynamic that seems to have been lost on most commentaries - at least the ones I've seen so far. And that is in THIS scenario, the brother's attack on Joseph was a DIRECT [as opposed to an indirect] slap at Ya'akov.

How so?

Permit me to expound

Joseph KNEW his brothers hated him, and so how did he go with alacrity to look for them? What made Joseph risk his own safety.

It seems that he felt compelled by Yaakov's instructions. This takes on several aspects

A. Due to Kibbud Av


B. Joseph probably was relying upon "sh'luchei Mitzvah einan nizaqin"

Thus both Yaakov and Joseph had expectations that no harm would befall Joseph despite the enmity of the brothers - because he was an agent of Yaakov himself. And yet harm happened anyway or at least Yaakov was so led to understand.

Let's illustrate some plausible contrasting scenarios

1 Let's say Joseph had actually gone on his OWN accord to check up upon his brothers. And add to that, the tattle-tale nature of Joseph, and the probability that he would blow the whistle back to Father. Then, the brothers might have felt justifiable provocation in manhandling Joseph when seen as a threat.

2 Let's say the brothers had "ASKED first and shot later" and then inquired:
"Joseph what are YOU doing here?"

And then had Joseph answered "Dad, sent me, otherwise I would be minding my own business".

Then, conceivably, the brothers MIGHT not have molested him - out of respect to Yaakov, NOT necessarily out of love for Joseph.

Joseph in this scene really IS an agent of Yaakov, but the brothers ignore that. As such we now see

A. They in fact struck a blow not just at Jospeh but also at their own father's agent!


B because they neglected to discern how Joseph came about catching up them they probably took it the wrong way
Shloymie: so what's the difference?

Let's see. Later on, Yaakov grows mistrustful - even paranoid? - about sending Benjamin. Where is his bitachon? Well, since Joseph was perceived to have been previously killed during his sh'lichut, Yaakov had unfortunately "learned" to lose his trust!

But of course, Joseph DID survive and actually DID thrive so he was NOT really "Nizzaq"! [Well he did suffer as a slave but we digress...].

Had Yaakov KNOWN that Joseph was merely MISSING but not seriously harmed, his angst might have been different. He might have had faith that Joseph was really OK and that he - viz. Yaakov - was merely punished by being deprived of Joseph's company. And he might have understood this as simple payback for having left HIS father Yitzhak!

He might have suffered but not to the point of "VAYMO'EIN L'HITNACHEIM". He might have been sad, but not depressed.

Tangentially we see these dynamics in the two reactions from the brothers

Reuben who merely wishes to return Joseph. His concern is NOT brotherly love, but concern for his Father

Judah, seems not concerned about Yaakov's feelings , but did have some mercy on Joseph as a brother.

Thus, the two dynamics are dealt with separately by the responses of Reuben and Judah.


Wednesday 24 November 2010

How Did Turkey Become Kosher?

I'm taking Turkey's Kashrut as axiomatic and then asking "how did it come about"?

«For some reason ... when the turkey question was posed it often took the form of "why is it eaten?" rather than "may it be eaten?". As has been shown, despite the fundamental difficulty with permitting turkey virtually all of the responsa are permissive...»


Is Turkey Kosher?

And in particular

Is Turkey Kosher?

«A possible explanation as to how the turkey came to be accepted despite the Ramo's position is that it came via Sephardic lands. The Spanish and Turks were the first to bring it to Europe, and Sephardim, who were not constrained by the Ramo, accepted it as kosher. When turkey then made its way to eastern Europe the knowledge that there was a mesorah traveled with it. The origin of this mesorah was jumbled, and hence the references to mesorahs from India and the like. »

This has been my favourite explanation
That having been accepted by S'phardim the Ashkenazim took on THAT M'sorah, also probably in that it has a poultry "look and feel" made such acceptance Palatable [pun intended]


The Need for Policy

Originally published 11/24/10, 3:10 pm. Link no longer works.
The nature of Torah education is to focus on detail. There is a need, however, to also focus on the big picture, the macro vs the micro. I further develop this idea in my latest Jewish Tribune article.

In the upcoming year, the need for policy will be an important focus of Nishma. With this in mind, I invite you to read this article and to participate in this investigation of policy.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

P. Vayeishev - The Case of "Minhag Attiq"

"Every Ancient Minhag has a Root and a Source In Israel's Literature"

Who said this?

Why it's the Torah Temimah on P. Vayeshev 38:10 re: a "Minhag Ta'ut" to not mourn a b'chor the first born son!

The Rema YD 374:11 terms this Minhag a "Minhag Ta'ut" - flowing from a Shu"t Rivash. And as the TT says - all the acharonim remain silent

Nevertheless, Targum Yonatan [TY], is the apparent source for this - apparently because Yehudah named his SECOND son ONAN

And as the TT says:

«It is known that all of his [TY] words flow from Braitot and Midrashim»

Of course we might not actually pasqen like this Targum Yonatan, but at least it has a solid Torah Source Text. And we are not surprised to learn that the TT is the son of the Aruch haShulchan who frequently searches for m'qorot for questionable minhaggim.

We should also distinguish between ANY "Minhag b'alma" and a Minhag Attiq. I, would presume a Minhag Attiq has greater peer approval and it's source might have grown more obscure over time.


Tuesday 23 November 2010

Results of Poll on: Avodah Zara or Atheism

In our last poll, we inquired:

Poll: Avodah Zara or Atheism?

What is more antithetical to Judaism and Monotheism:
Avodah Zara or Atheism?

1. Avodah Zara is worse because it substitutes true Monotheism with an ersatz form of spirituality that is highly seductive and substitutes another being for the Truth. Atheism does not offer this enticement

2. Atheism is worse. It teaches the masses to narcissistically worship themselves instead of having deference to a Higher Power. Nothing will foster more evil than the worship of Humans as a Supreme Being and nothing is more enticing.

3. Both are equally antithetical to Judaism and Monotheism in that they worship either humans or deities made in the IMAGE of Humans. For example - Marxism and such similar movements - ultimately projects its own value structure as a deity. And even their founders - such as Marx, Lenin and Mao are equated to Saints.

Which do you choose?

Your Responses (total 11)
Choice 1 - 46% (5)
Choice 2 - 18% (2)
Choice 3 - 36% (4)


Rabbi Hecht
It seems that, from our small survey, the overwhelming view is that avodah zara is worse, or at best equal to, atheism. Simply stated, belief in something incorrect is worse than no belief at all. There are views within the Torah literature, though, that would seem to support any of the three alternatives. Rav Avraham Price questions whether a non-Jew who is an atheist violates the Noachide Code for, while he does not believe in God he also is not worshipping avodah zara. The implication is that avodah zara is clearly worse than atheism. Rav Kuk, on the other hand, when questioned about what good there can possibly be in avodah zara stated that we can still, at least, learn from them the passion and devotion that should be in our avodat Hashem. The implication is that there is a value, albeit obscure and of minimal significance, that still exists in avodah zara. The Rav maintained, however, that there is no such thing as atheism. A human being needs a cause, an ideal, and those who are atheists just substitute a belief in a divinity with a belief in a value or movement such as Communism. In a certain way, the Rav is really seeing them as of an equal nature. There are arguments for all three positions.

Rabbi Wolpoe
While all three arguments have validity, it seems to me that Atheism is no doubt worse because it denies a spiritual dimension to human beings completely.
While Avodah Zarah [AZ] does at least acknowledge a "higher power" and simply perverts it either intentionally, or more likely neglectfully. I think as bad as AZ is, the path back from it [T'shuvah] is easier.
Spiritual people tend to share a common mindset that the Rav called "homo religioso"
Atheists and Communists are too cynical to appreciate that.

My 2 cents

P. Toldot, - Quid Pro Quo?

It is often assumed without question that Yaakov bartered the Bechora from Esav for the payment of "Lechem unzid adashim" - I.E. Lentil Soup

Well, I question that premise! The passage does lend itself to that interpretation, but IMHO that is a bit imprecise.

Take Esav's Reaction, it indicates dismissal of Yaakov's proposal as opposed to consent! Esav was seeming to say Take the Bechorah and shove it, and give me dinner because I'm starved! He did not say "Deal!"

So given Esav's reaction - then what WAS Yaakov's proposal? My interpretation is simple. Yaakov was only proposing to NEGOTIATE for the Bechorah WHILE having dinner. And he delayed Esav's dinner long enough to induce Esav to enter into negotiations. Only then Esav dismissed the negotiation completely and GAVE Yaakov the Bechorah - because Esav deemed it worthless anyway. Only then Yaakov proceeded to feed Esav

Go over and parse the P'suqim carefully and see which model you prefer.

To "quid pro quo"
NOT to "quid pro quo"

Did Esav Swap lentils for Bechorah?

Or did he simply refuse to be bothered with any haggling while he was starving and tossed the Bechorah aside.

To be fair to the common perception, Yaakov was taking advantage of Esav's condition, and Esav might have had "seller's" remorse after his appetite had been sated. So the bottom line may SEEM to amount to a "quid pro quo" anyway.


Monday 22 November 2010

RD Sperber and the Defitiniton of Modern Orthodoxy

Originally published 11/22/10, 9:32 pm.
First see:
In Good Faith: Sperber: Less modern, more Orthodox - In Good Faith: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and World Religions - baltimoresun.com
R Daniel Sperber [RDS] laments that Modern orthodoxy is losing it's Modernity at the expense of its Orthodoxy. RDS seems to be suggesting that Modern means "change" and that Modern Orthodoxy means a revised Orthodoxy - molding it to modern times
I would counter that Modern [or Centrist] Orthodox means more about having a positive attitude towards secular learning and being friendly to the world instead of being hostile to it.
Most of the Modern Orthodox "revisions" have been cosmetic in nature and centred about such issues as using the vernacular in preaching, using Mehitzot instead of balconies, modernizing modes of dress, etc.
The thrust of the Newness of Modernity has been more about accepting, for instance,  "Kant and Sartre" in our philosophic discussions.  My supposition is that, while neither Rema nor Rambam would go for major revisions in practice, they were quite open to modern ideas.
So Modern Orthodox does not necessarily mean revising the Shulchan Aruch - not its Halachah nor even its Minhaggim. Rather it's about an "openness" instead of an insularity.
I think of the The Leaders of the Berlin Seminary or of YU as paradigms of what that means. Would Rabbis Revel, Belkin, YD Soloveitchik or N. Lamm ordain women or have them lead Qabbalat Shabbat? Yet all the above had PhD's and thought in a modern way.
As far as Slippery Slopes go, whodathunk that "Modern Orthodox" circa 2010 would go for women's ordination when the Conservative Movement split over this very same issue just 25 years ago! How much more slippery can a slope get!
Modern Orthodox does indeed reject Hattam Sofer [HS] that all change is bad. But it does not mean that it is an advocate for change either! This is a straw-man approach.
RDS: Since HS Opposes ALL change
And since Modernity opposed HS
Ergo, all change [that can somehow be slightly justified] is good!

One would suppose that even Modern Orthodoxy would presume all Halachah and Minhag as valid and be highly reluctant to revise, unless somehow it ran into strong reasoning.
As far as not adding heaters or other technology, we see Hassidim engaging in modern technology regularly. So while this aspect of the HS has historical interest it really does not relate to the reality.


P. Noah - The Flood Waters were "Boiling"

See the Torah Temimah on Noah 8:1 "Vayashoku Hamayyim" that the flood waters were "boiling"

This begs the question: given that the Flood drowned all life on the dry land, why is it necessary to add "boiling" water to the mix? If it were to kill the fish - the Agaddah already tells us that the fish had been exempted from punishment anyway?

And so what value is it to US to know that the drowning waters were ALSO boiling?

I heard this d'var Torah many years ago

It was to teach US that there were TWO distinct cleansing processes at work here in order to PURIFY the earth

Process #1
Immersion or T'vilah - as in a Miqveh. These drowning waters were to cleanse the earth by immersion

Process #2
Hag'alah - all the impurities would be purged by boiling water - similar to kashering pots and utensils for Passover

And so we needed an Insight into how a dual cleansing works, E.G. when we need to purify ourselves or our environment


Sunday 21 November 2010

Debate over the Rambam's 13 Principles - Post 4

This will sound strange but I studied under R. Parnes, and I'm
acquainted with Dr. Shapiro.  I don't know R. Leff but I did read his 

As I see it [aisi], they are not so much arguing as talking past each
other. R Parnes and R Leff are asserting a generality that all 
Observant Jews have come to accept the "13 Principles" Dr. Shapiro 
argues that the 13 Principles as specifically articulated by the Rambam 
has been quibbled with for centuries.

IMHO - both sides are essentially correct.

The acceptance of the 13 may be summarized - for example - By Yigdal.
Everyone seems to accept these in principle. The original version as 
articulated by the Rambam was - as I understand it - never accepted by 
everyone without at least some objections.

To Reject the 13 as understood EG by R Parnes would indeed be beyond
the pale. To reject the very specific formulation of Rambam and quibble 
about P'rattim would probably be quite acceptable. EG Anyone who 
recites Machinsei Rachamim or Borchuni L'shalom is rejecting the strict 
construction of the Rambam's formulation. Rather, those who recite 
these have a looser construction of the 13, one that in Yeshivishe 
Circles would not be deemed a "rejection".



Hillel's Mitzvah to Bathe

Hillel declared that he was on his way to perform a Mitzvah. And subsequntly we learn that that Mitzvah was to bathe

No one questions Hillel's intention to maintain proper hygiene as a valid Torah Value. Yet
what seems "odd" is that Hillel's proof text is a Qal VoChomer from how Romans grace their idols. It seems strange to me that we would learn Torah values, and especially legislate behaviour, based upon non-Jewish norms.

After all, the Hanukkah Rebellion was a revolt against assimilating Hellenistic ideals. It would seem that - even if Hillel's practice is 100% valid - that his "drashah" is quite radical

What say you readers?


Saturday 20 November 2010

Debate over the Rambam's 13 Principles - Post 3

To round out your knowledge of the subject, you may wish to talk a look at Credo 13, a tv series on the 13 principles that featured various Torah personalities including Nishma's Rabbi Hecht as well as Dr. Shapiro. The series is now available on Koshertube at http://specialnishmaforumoncredo13.blogspot.com/.

Friday 19 November 2010

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

Originally published 11/19/10, 2:38 pm.
Q: Why was the Hanukkah Revolution led specifically by Kohanim?
A: Because of the gzeira of "tibo'eil lehgmon". For Yisroelim and Leviim this was bad - but survivable.  For Kohanim it meant that every wife would thereby become a "zona-hallalah" [even as an anussah] and in a single generation the k'hunah would have been history. Hence the sense of urgency - davqa for Kohanim.

- As per my chaveir R. Joel Stern.


P. Vayishlach - Do Shimon and Levi = Nadav and Avihu?

An Interesting Rashi notes that Shimon and Levi acted recklessly when they attacked Sh'chem - in that they failed to consult their father Yaakov Avinu first.
See Rashi, Bereishit 34:25 D"H "Sh'nei V'nei Yaakov"
That "They failed to act like sons [of Yaakov] in that they didn't seek advice from him [namely Yaakov]"

This represents an interesting parallel to Nadav and Avihu - two "righteous" brothers - who failed to consult their elders - namely their father Aharon and their Uncle Moshe before bringing an "eish zarah" into the Sanctuary.

While Shimon and Levi were only castigated and were not executed, the parallel is nevertheless worth mentioning.

Recklessness COULD have been prevented by a simple consultation with the elders that they SHOULD have consulted in the first place.

Thus, in addition to the improper behaviour, one must also factor a form of insubordination or usurpation of authority into the equation


Thursday 18 November 2010

Debate over the Rambam's 13 Principles - Post 2

Dr. Shapiro then, in the Seforim blot,
presented a response to Rabbi Leff.
See http://seforim.blogspot.com/2007/07/

Quick Comment by RRW
Interesting take on Rambam and the Holy Names

R Sadyah Gaon saw Sefer Yetzirah; I wonder if Rambam did?

Please "stay tuned" for some follow up philosophy

P. Vayishlach - Yaakov and The Taryag

"Im Lavan Garti"
"V'taryag Mitzvot Shamarti"

Question: How can any ONE Jew do all 613 Mitzvot? It's physically impossible! EG How can one be a "Koheim Gadol, and a Levi, etc. etc.

The answer may lie in the Unique Nature of Yaakov Avinu. As Patriarch of all the Tribes, only Yaakov contained the DNA of every future Israelite. As such he had the unique potential to encompass every possible Mitzvah as the progenitor of Am Yisroel


Wednesday 17 November 2010

Debate over the Rambam's 13 Principles - Post 1

The present-day debate over the Rambam's Principles and its force in Orthodox Jewish life really began with Rabbi Parnas' article in the Torah U'Madda Journal and Dr. Mark Shapiro's response to it in a subsequent edition of that Journal. Subsequently, though, Dr. Shapiro expanded upon his article in his book "The Limits of Orthodox Thought" which, in turn although not surprisingly, brought forth responses itself.

One of those responses, to some extent, was Rabbi Zev Leff's article in a recent edition of Jewish Action on "The Thirteen Principles of Rambam." This article can be viewed at

We hope, in subsequent posts on this subject, to follow the debate from this point and to offer our own comments

Qodoshim: Degrees of Separation

Originally published 11/17/10, 9:44 am.
During the time of the Beth Hamiqdash the "sacrificial cult" was a given.

Despite any "alleged" protestations by N'viim, there was, as far as I recall, no call to recall Qorbanot. Hanukkah was, in fact,  a restoration of the Mizbei'ach.
Sacrifices had been terminated with the Hurban. Aside from the possibility that there may have been a brief restoration during the Bar Kochba Revolt.
What was the attitude of Hazal to the new circumstances? Apparently, they resumed this practice spiritually via "unshalmah farim s'fateinu". This has apparently manifested itself in several ways:

  1. Prayers [Amidah in particular]
  2. Recitation of Passages dealing with various sacrifices EG Olat Tamid
  3. Study of Seder Qodoshim and related material on Qorbanot.

Tangentially, I'm looking to quantify how much of Seder Moed involves "Qodoshim."

So after "Temple" Judaism was destroyed, Rabbinic Judaism sought to continue Qodoshim via alternate means. Even the Talmud Bavli preserved about 90% of Qodoshim while ignoring many practical Masechtot in Z'raim and Tohoroth, like Miqvaot, Yadayim, etc..
This is the first degree of separation: preserving the sacrifices through just Text and Study.

What's fascinating is that Liberal Judaism thinks that "unshalmah" can be fulfilled without any mention of Qorbanot at all. This is apparently based upon "Prophetic" Judaism. Some of these Liberals even appeal to the authority of Bavli over Rishonim in other matters. Yet it is an anti-Traditional stance in that the Second Commonwealth rejected this read of Judaism, as did all of Rabbinic Judaism clear up until the 19th Century Reformation. Appealing to Prophetic Judaism to trump Rabbinic Judaism - given a 2500 year history to the Contrary seems a bit disingenuous - wouldn't you say?
So we have the second degree of separation, evolving away from ANY memory of Sacrificial Rites and using Prayer as a complete substitution - severing the link to its roots.

Will Sefer Vayiqra be sacrificed next? :-)


Tuesday 16 November 2010

Times have changed, not kashrut laws

Originally published 11/16/10, 10:24 pm. Link no longer works. 
Nishma's Rabbi Hecht is quoted on the "serious lack of understanding of kashrut and of Jewish law" that exists in the Jewish community in this Canadian Jewish News article.

Mevazeh et HaMo'adot

Kitzur SA 104:1,2 quotes several Talmudic passages re: disgracing Hol Hamo'ed, it is even tantamount to "Oveid Avodah Zarah"

P'sachim 118a
Makkot 23
Avot 3:15

The question is how did Hazal equate disregard for Hol HaMo'ed as "Idol Worship"?

My late Rav, R William Cohen of W. Hartford told us a possible reason whilst studying Masechet Makkot. That is during the early Xtian era, disregard for the Jewish Holiday Cycle was one of their first breaks with Jewish Tradition.

Thus by dissing our Calendar, they were Crossing Over [pun intended] to the Greco-Roman Calendar and abandoning the Torah Yearly Cycle. This abandonment was tantamount to abandoning Torah Judaism altogether, because had they kept the Mo'adot, they may have found a path back towards Torah Judaism


Naaseh v'Nishma 6 - Torah Lishmah 2

Previously we discussed how Brisker methodology might make sense for "lamdut" but might be problematic for Halachah l'maaseh.

Now I will focus on the Left Wing version of academics. This is known by various names:

Scientific Method
Critical Method
Hochmat Yisra'el
Wissenshaft [W-T]

Generally speaking When W-T is used for Parshanut, i.e. to understand the original meaning of a given text, it can be seen as just another valid way of textual interpretation. It is engaging, interesting, and often enlightening

Almost ALL LW Orthodox that DO use Critical Method either explicitly or intuitively know to draw the line and do NOT apply it to Halachah l'Maaseh.

But many DO apply it to Halachah l'maaseh, and imho they are not really Orthodox anymore when they do that. They have traversed a boundary into the realm of Traditional Conservative [or perhaps into other "Liberal" streams"]

EG R Dr. MS Feldblum explicitly told me that his scientific techniques were NOT intended to undermine the "Shulchan Aruch" though many might actually use those techniques to undermine it

Similarly, Rav Dr. D W Halivni has made it a point to emphasize that we LEARN "Bet Shammai" even though it we do not follow his opinion, because it's still "Torah Lishmah" This means the same is true for RDWH's scientific method - it is Torah Lishmah, not geared for Halachic Revisionism.

Left Wing Orthodoxy since Hildesheimer-Berlin days have been OK with this system of academic theory so long as it was not applied to revise or to undermine Halachic Practice. OTOH, RSR Hirsch had his reservations and MOST of the Hareidi world condemned it entirely.

There are also several Flavours of Criticism
Higher Criticism
Lower Criticism

W/O going into details Lower Criticism addresses innocent scribal and printer's errors.

And there are two arenas for Criticism
1. Tanach-Miqra-Scripture
2. Talmud or Torah SheB'al Peh [TSBP] in general

Few Orthos - if any - apply Higher Critical Methods to Tanach.

Lower Criticism has already been applied regularly to Talmud EG Hagahot haBach and Hagahot haGRA

Now the middle cases include R Feldblum and R Halivni who have applied Higher Methods to the Talmud, which has attracted much controversy

There are also Ortho Lower Critics Bible, we will set that topic aside for now.

Yet, AISI, if one draws the boundary and uses it for theoretical purposes it should be OK for Orthos to better understand Talmud via Critical Methods. There remains the risk of extrapolating and applying it to Tanach which could endanger "Emunah"


Monday 15 November 2010

Haredi university program marks 5 year anniversary

We invite you look at this article from the Jerusalem Post about a program in Israel for Haredi men that teaches them skills that can be applied in the marketplace. See http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=191765.

The idea is most interesting. The question is: will it be successful? in the short run? in the long run? What do we even me by success? The real, underlying question for me, though, is: what do we mean by the term haredi? I had the same question in regard to Nachal Haredi. In a certain context, the very attendance at this program would challenge certain individuals' very definition of haredi in the same way that one's involvement in Nachal Haredi would challenge it. The extended question thus is: how will this type of program impact the very definition of the haredi community?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Mishnah P'sachim 3:1 and Peirush Rashi There

Here is the text of the Mishnah

מסכת פסחים פרק ג   ג,א  אלו עוברין בפסח--כותח הבבלי, ושכר המדי, וחומץ האדומי, וזיתוס המצרי, וזימא של צבעין, ועמילן של טבחים, וקולן של סופרים
; רבי אליעזר אומר, אף טיפולי נשים.  זה הכלל--כל שהוא מין דגן, הרי זה עובר בפסח; הרי אלו באזהרה, ואין בהן משום כרת.
My original Problem:

See the G'mara on this mishnah daf 42b beginning "Harei elu b'azharah" When learning the G'mara above - a light went on and I suddenly realized I had not yet fully grasped the Mishnah at the beginning of the Perek.  So, I went back - Lo and Behold - Rashi subtly makes a comment which makes the Mishnah mysterious to me.

In the reisha - Rashi asserts that the concern is Bal Yeira'eh and Bal Yimatzeh.  Thus "kareit" is not applicable

While In the Seifa during the Zeh hakklall, Rashi SHIFTS to "im ochlan"

Ostensibly because the klal deals with Kareis - which is not shayyach to bal eiraeh etc.

The idea that a zeh hakklal that is summarizing a Mishnah and  is dealing with a completely different LAV strikes me as mysterious.  It suggests that the Seifa [as per Rashi] is really as non-sequitor to the Reisha and dealing with a slightly different issue connected to Kareis

OK - after 3 sessions with my Havruta we finally had a "breakthrough" and hammered out p'shat in this Mishnah.
Here are some prep Questions:
  1. What does Elu Ovrin mean?
  2. How do we parse The Zeh Hakllal?
  3.  What Lav Normally does have Kareis that does NOT have Kareis Here

Originaly I struggled with this Mishnah as Per Rashi because I assumed one continuous text
Rashi and Rambam assume Elu Ovrin is "on these one trnasgresses "Bal Yeira'eh and Bal Yimatzei" [BY BY]

And Zeh Haklal refers to EATING Hametz al y'dei Taaroves OR Hametz Nuqsheh.. To me this was problematic. the summary is summarizing a DIFFERENT point from the Reisha.


Reisha BY BY
Seifa Achila of Non-kareis

Lich'ora Making the Zeh Haklall a NON-SEQUITUR

Rabbeinu Tam [RT] - as Artscroll explains him - resolves this entire conflict while mainiaining a unified Mishnah. He does that by translating Ovrin as transgressing EATING.
  Thus the Reisha and the Seifa are congruent in that they BOTH deal with eating Hametz that is NOT Hayyav Karies - I.E. Either a taaroves or Noqsheh

My Havruta finally came up with the definitive read of the Mishnah as per Rashi- Rambam etc. Who claim that the Reisha is about transgressing BY BY

That is that the Zeh Haklal is STILL really dealing with the Reisha's case

Rather the shift to achilah begins LATER with an independent statement of "Harei elu b'azharah..."  Only THEN is there a shift. Thus, the zeh haklal including Zeh Over is still addressing BY BY.

There is a hint that the Harei begins a new thought in that the ein mishpat has a superscript "Teis" [9] there indicating that this clause starts a brand new P'saq
So here is the Mishnah Reformatted

מסכת פסחים פרק ג   ג,א
  אלו עוברין בפסח--כותח הבבלי, ושכר המדי, וחומץ האדומי, וזיתוס המצרי, וזימא של צבעין, ועמילן של טבחים, וקולן של סופרים; רבי אליעזר אומר, אף טיפולי נשים.  זה הכלל--כל שהוא מין דגן, הרי זה עובר בפסח;

 הרי אלו באזהרה, ואין בהן משום כרת
Now the Zeh Hakklal IS Congruent with the Reisha and the switch to Achilah takes place AFTER the "Zeh Hakklal"!

Sunday 14 November 2010

Naaseh v'Nishma 5 - Torah Lishmah 1

R Hershel Grossman [RHG] has advocated a dichotomy - one to which I also have subscribed to for a long time. Namely that Talmud is for theory and that Shulchan Aruch [and similar codes] are for practical Halachah

In Yeshivishe this is stated "we don't pasken from the G'mara"

And as my daughter brought back from Israel - if you want to UNDERSTAND the principles of a Halachah the older the book - the better! If you want to know modern/current practice the newer the book the better. Or as the Talmud says: "hilcheta k'batrai"

In the cognitive dissonance arena there are two similar illustrations. One comes from the Right-wing of Orthodoxy and the Other from Left-wing Orthodoxy

This post will focus upon the Right Wing case of Brisker Torah.


Brisker Torah modernized "pilpul" and dialectic into an almost laboratory replicable analytic system. By using dichotomies such as "gavra cheftza" distinctions or "tzvei dinim in X" it revolutionized analysis of Talmud and Rambam. So far so good.

As such Brisker Torah was originally a breath of fresh air in the Yeshiva World and injected Talmudic Learning with new enthusiasm.

In this sense, Brisk can produce that "spiritual high" suggested by RHG. It sets up incredible elegant solutions that at times can make a Litvak kvell with ecstasy.

Halachah l'Maaseh:

The problem? While RHG realizes that Talmudism is not about halachah p'sukkah - Brisk ignored that boundary and produced a system that could seriously revise Halachic practice and undermine trust in Mesorah.

This comes in two main flavours

The "Vanilla" flavour is that Brisk - following the GRA - DOES pasken directly from g'mara! As such, all this new sophisticated casuistry could pose a challenge or threat to all current practice - a right wing form of revisionism.

The secondary flavour - "Chocolate" - is about embracing the Rambam for practical Halachah, something neither the SA of RY Karo nor the Mappah of Rema did regularly. Only Teimanim do this regularly. And so Imposing a Maimonidean platform for PRACTICAL Halachah undermines the entire Halachic Mesorah in Ashkenaz.
Reductio ad absurdum If you want Brisker P'saq, read Rema or Kitzur SA and do just the opposite and there you have it - so to speak!

My Rebbe "muvhaq" R Yeruchem Gorelick was an arch-brisker, but he refused to teach us Hullin. At first he said ONLY if we do NOT learn it Halachah l'maaseh. Later he even backed off from even this and went back to Bava Kama and I went to the Rav's Shiur.

He did not articulate his reservations, but imho he didn't have to. AISI - he simpy realized that applying Brisker Torah to Hullin would clash with Yoreh Dei'ah as we know it and set up a case of cognitive dissonance that he felt was dangerous for us students to deal with.

More Dissonance

The oddball in this is that several "lefty" Rabbis I that I know regularly embrace the Rambam and oftentimes the GRA - as opposed to current mainstream practice. And in a sense - Brisk is but an amalgam an embrace of Rambam and GRA.

But these Rabbis vehemently oppose Brisk. I suspect they don't mind the revisionism at all - rather they don't like the Right-Wing Political Tilt