Saturday 31 December 2011

Which Racism is Still Deemed Politically Correct Today?

Q: Which Racism is Still Deemed Politically Correct Today?

A: Racism against anyone considered too "right-wing" be it political or religious etc.

MK Yechimovich: Stop Airing Racist Comments About Chareidim » - The Online Voice of Torah Jewry

Friday 30 December 2011

Jewish Tribune: Clarity of Definitions

With the so-called "Orthodox" same-sex "marriage" ceremony, the issue was not same sex marriages. The issue was the correctness of terms and the clarity of definitions.

In my latest Jewish Tribune article, I develop this idea further. Please see

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 29 December 2011

RCA and OU Jointly Protest "Hooliganism" in Beit Shemesh

December 29th 2011

RCA and OU Join in Condemning Extremist Violence in Beit Shemesh, Israel - and Call for Care to Not Assign Guilt to Entire Communities for the Actions of the Few

The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union join together to strongly and unambiguously condemn the recent violence and intimidation committed by segments of the Jewish community in Beit Shemesh, Israel. As the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis, and the largest organization of Orthodox Synagogues, respectively, we call upon all involved to return to the peaceful ways of our sacred Torah and to respect the dignity of all human beings. It should be clear to all that this hateful activity does not represent Judaism.
We also urge all observers to recognize that the behavior of these hooligans does not in any way represent the attitude or demeanor of the Charedi community at large. The vast majority of Charedi Jews find these actions abhorrent, and the community should not be judged by the inexcusable conduct of a few.
Finally, as Rabbis and national congregational leaders we support the right and the duty of Israel's police to act with the full force of the law in putting an end to these illegal, and dangerous, activities.


The "downward spiral" of zealotry must be reversed.


True Science Cannot Contradict True Torah

Since we affirm that True Science is made by Our Creator and so is True Torah, therefore they can never collide.

However, there CAN be popular misperceptions in either realm that DO present apparent contradictions.

What to do when we detect a conflict? I say dig deeper. Maybe science has still not firmed up its hypotheses; it's also possible [in my way of thinking] that misunderstandings have crept into our M'sorah over time. But the pristine, pure Torah, would never, could never, present a contradiction to True Science.

I perceive that R Micha Berger is pointing in the same direction in this piece on his Blog.


«For similar reasons, these science vs Bereishis questions don't really bother me. Each "theory" works so well so consistently in their own domains, I presume that some resolution will someday be found. I can live until then with the open questions.»

When a Paradox is not a Disproof | Aspaqlaria


Wednesday 28 December 2011

Tandems: Orah v'Simchah, and a Hanukkah Thought

Some terms and expressions seem to come together in tandem

D'risha vaChakira
Kosher v'Samei'ach
Hazzaq uVaruch

One such tandem that intrigues me is "Orah v'Simchah"

This seems to be the most celebrated in the Shabbat Zemer "Yom Zeh l"Yisra'el" where the refrain has Orah vSimchah, [twice when using the Yekke melody!]

Orah and Simchah go so nicely together on Hanukkah. As our Orah increases, so does our Simchah.

On Purim - Layhudim hay'tah Orah v'Simcha - that says it all. Also said at Havdalah, too

On Kol Nidre night - OR zaru'a latzaddik, ulyishrei leiv SIMCHAH, Also said at Kabbalat Shabbat, too!

There is even a concept when lighting Shabbat Candles at Hotels for example, that the More Light the Merrier! And this s'vara allows women to make a b'rachah even where there are already many "Shabbos Lichts"

My inquiry is, just how ubiquitous is this theme of Orah v'Simchah in our classic Literature and Liturgy?

By Literature - Tananch, Talmud, Midrash

By Liturgy - Siddur, Machzor, Piyyutim etc.


Studying Liturgy as a Separate Subject

From the
The Rabbi Network

Within LinkedIn

The Beurei Hatefila Institute | LinkedIn

«. The Institute was founded to encourage the study of the origin of the words and structure of the Siddur. To better understand the mission statement of the organization, allow me to ask a question: Why is it that the book that many of us hold in our hands at least three times a day is not studied in the same manner as we study the Chumasch, the Neviim, the Mishna and the Gemara? Is the expectation that we are all born with an innate understanding of the Siddur?»

Also see
Beurei Hatefila Home


Tuesday 27 December 2011

HHH: Review of R Shimon Eider's Halachos of Chanukah

Note: HHH = Hagahot, He'arot, Hassagot.
Halachos of Chanukah by R Shimon Eider Z"L
Published by Feldheim, Compact Edition October, 2002
ISBN 1-5330-584-x
During the last several years l've been learning various "Kitzur Halachah" S'farim. I have found most of them useful, some have been better than average, and nearly all omit points or have questionable "judgment calls" in a few cases.

Some Comments About the Author's Halachic Series

Around the late 1970's before the Artscroll Revolution took off, I anticipated that R Shimon Eider's Halachah S'farim would soon dominate Anglo Halachic literature.
Even today, his Laws of Passover are IMHO the best of its kind on the subject. However, his other major works on Niddah and Shabbat have since been equaled or even surpassed.
I'm not sure what slowed R Eider Z"L's output down. He seemed prolific enough to become a dominating presence, before he practically stopped publishing.

First of all, I really enjoy his Halachos of Chanukkah, although I would have called it Hilchos Haukkah instead :-). It is quite comprehensive, clear, and his footnotes are quite useful.
I'm only going to "nipick" in order to suggest some improvements that would make it even better from my perspective.

1. R Eider omits little. One case I would have liked to see is a more explicit treatment of the Maftir of 2nd Shabbat of Hanukkah. OTOH, the Haftarah is mentioned [section VI C around p. 50].

2. Another case I cannot figure out is EG if one eats dinner out-of-town and then goes home to sleep. When one eats in-town, he requires going home first to light. Out-of-town remains fuzzy to me. [Section IV A 7 P.36 does discuss the case of a wedding. Section IV A 10 discusses the same city]

3. He recommends lighting in shul AFTER any speech between Minchah and Maariv [Arvit]. [P. 39 Section IV C 2]. From what I've heard, ipcha mistavra, i.e. let the pirsumei nissa in shul start earlier and therefore last longer

4. His case in favor of lighting on an airplane [p. 37 Section IV A 16] disturbs me because this seems to me as clearly lacking "beito". Lighting on a train with a private compartment or a boat/ship with a private cabin or state room OTOH could make sense to me. But an airline seat, or a seat on a train or bus, makes no sense to me as "beito". To be fair I should check out his sources in fn 37. However, if the Shu"T M'harsham cited there is specifically dealing with a train that has a private compartment, then I will stand pat on my Sheetah

Overall, the book is well-written, well-foot-noted, and a great resource for the average Observant Jew to go a step beyond EG Kitzur Shulchan Aruch on this topic.


The Hanukkah I Hanukkah II Hypothesis - Part 3

«Perhaps we can offer another approach?»
How about a simple hypothesis - with very few kinks to work out?

Hanukkah I -
• Military Victory
• Political Independence
• Re-Dedication of Bet Hamikdash and Mizbei'ach -
Which in turn reflects Hag Sukkot, a celebration of the First Mikdash of Sh'lomoh haMelech
Al Hanissim Account
• Josephus Account
• Macccabees Account
• Early Braittot including opinions of Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel - which are probably pre-Hurban

Then comes the Hurban
• Loss of Independence
• Loss of Mikdash
• No M'gillat Taanit
• No Halachic Hanukkah anymore
• No Need for Mishnayaot re: Hiilchot Hanukkah, only passive mention of what might have become a Minhag

Hanukkah II
• Spiritual Revival
• Miracle of Oil
• Sans Military or Political considerations
Talmud Bavli [and Scholion of M'gilat Ta'anit]
Hashgachah during Galut - reminiscent of Purim
Hallel Now for Miracle of Oil instead of for Mikdash


Thus -

1. Al Hanissim and Bavli have differing accounts because they describe different aspects based upon different eras.

2. The Mishnah was redacted when Rebbi felt that Hanukkah was "out-of-commission" Now, it is indeed possible of course that others differed during that same era...

3. IIRC none of the post-Hurban Tannaim who dominate the Mishnah are named in the Braittot, note the Mishnah re: Getz hayotzei as an exception

4. The Amoraim have a robust set of Meimrot. Suggesting Hanukkah II was in full swing shortly after Rebbi.

Just like an old battleship consigned to "mothballs" only to come back to life in a future conflict, so too Hanukkah came back to life and was refitted with a theme more fitting for Galut rather than for Military/Political Triumph.

We now observe Hanukkah II, with sparse vestiges of Hanukkah I surviving, such as Al Hanissim.


Monday 26 December 2011

Why Potato Latkes on Hanukkah?

The Rema [O"Ch 670:2] reports a Minhag to eat cheese on Hanukkah. Yet throughout Eastern Europe Potato Latkes caught on instead

The Late Professor Arnold Miller A"H [father of the late R Sheldon Miller A"H and Louis Miller] once explained to me that the switch from cheese to potatoes was due to the poverty in Eastern Europe;
that Potatoes were simply a cheap substitute for cheese.

Shalom and Regards, RRW

The Hanukkah I Hanukkah II Hypothesis - Part 2

Although a Bar Ilan search can reportedly find 7 hits on the WORD Hanukkah in the Mishnah, nevertheless, the laws of Hanukkah are entirely absent from Rebbi's magnum opus.
All the more strange is that the Bavli DOES quote braittot about Hanukkah, meaning there WAS Tannaic material to select from, yet Rebbi still omitted it from the Mishnah anyway.

"Drushy" answers I've heard include:
A. There is no Tanachi basis for Hanukkah.
B. Rebbi wanted to punish the Hashmonaim for usurping Malchut Beth David.

Problems include
A Yadayyim does not seem to have a Tanachi basis either. And if you say Kiyyor for Yadayin I can say Parshat N'siim for Hanukkah
B. Rebbi seems to be portrayed as a bit petty or vindictive Chas v'Shalom.

Perhaps we can offer another approach?


Sunday 25 December 2011

The Hanukkah I Hanukkah II Hypothesis - Part 1


A) That the Talmud Bavli Shabbat 21a - 24b describes ONLY the miracle of the Oil in Mai Hanukah - quoting a B'raitto from M'gilat Ta'anit.


B) That the Al Hanissim omits the miracle of the oil entirely

Question: How can we have two authentic sources with such a divergence as to what occurred?

One "Drushy" approach can be found in the Artscroll Book on Hanukkah [page 13]. The same question is raised and the answer proffered there is that of the Maharal; namely that the miracle of the oil confirmed what was only a hypothesis, that the military victory was also due to Hashgachah P'ratit. Without an open miracle, we might have suspected otherwise. The advantage from a Spiritual perspective is "inspiration"

While as a D'rashah, we do not quibble with the Maharal's sentiments, nevertheless we still may wish to continue digging. And because this answer raises many questions of its own, including the absence in other accounts such as Maccabees and Josephus, it makes sense to see if we can find a more historical simplified approach.


Saturday 24 December 2011

Mussar: For the Festival of Lights

Something to meditate on while contemplating Nerot Hanukkah
"The pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom."

~ Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook


Friday 23 December 2011

Hanukkah in Verse

Hanukkah Gratitude
With a rhyming attitude
Hanukkah in Verse
That cannot get much worse

Today Where would I be
without any Maccabee?
When it's dark and dreary
The lights shine bright and clearly!
How about all the food
That tastes awfully good?
Latkes and cheese delights
For 8 days and nights!
A nice dreidle to spin
Some coins we will win
We remember courage and might
And the Miracle of Oil when we light
We sing songs melodious
On-Key and harmonious
Tis the season and the time
To now end this silly rhyme


Thursday 22 December 2011

Xmas Music - is it Good for the Jews?

«Almost everyone knows that America's most popular secular seasonal song ever, "White Christmas," was written by Irving Berlin, whose Jewish parents transported young Israel Baline from Siberia to the Lower East Side some 50 years earlier.

But when the American Society of Composers and Publishers releases its annual list of the 25 most popular holiday season songs, a good half of them have music and/or lyrics by Jewish writers.

Without Jewish writers, we would just for starters not have "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire."

And how did this happen?»

Xmas Music - is it Good for the Jews?

Yes - at least those from Tin Pan Alley!

Jewish songwriters like Irving Berlin, Johnny Marks and Mel Torme wrote the score of modern Christmas  - NY Daily News


Wednesday 21 December 2011

The Hanukkah I Hanukkah II Hypothesis - Intro

There are several anomalies and contradictions within our Hanukkah traditions. This is all the more puzzling because it is the last of the significant holidays to enter our Liturgical Calendar; its history being the most recent - except perhaps for Lag ba'Omer
There are many D'rashot and Spiritual Answers that address these phenomena, I would prefer to offer a simplified explanation based upon Historical Principles.
I mean to introduce nothing radical; nevertheless it still may be outside the "comfort zones" of many who have been conditioned by the "drushy" approach. So rather than take offence, may I suggest to either expand your horizon or just ignore it as the rantings of a frustrated Historian. <Smile>


The Irony of Chanukah

I always have found it interesting that Chanukah, the holiday that marks our victory in the battle against Greek assimilation, is the most assimilated of the Jewish holidays. In the eyes of even some justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, it is just how Jews celebrate this festive season.

I find this ironic...but there must be a purpose and so I thought about this irony of Chanukah. I invite you to read my perceptions at

What are your thoughts on this?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

PS We have actually discussed this issue in 2007 in
Check that out as well but comment here.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The Little Known Chanukah M’gillah

«... whilst Chanukah without its M'gillah is not only possible but taken for granted. Yet there is actually a M'gillah for the festival.

Known variously as M'gillat Antiochus ("The Scroll of Antiochus"), M'gillat Beit Chashmona'i(m) ("The Scroll of the House of the Hasmoneans") and M'gillah Y'vanit ("The Greek Scroll"), it is a post-Biblical compilation in 76 verses, originally in Aramaic, in deliberate imitation of the style of the Scroll of Esther...»

OzTorah » Blog Archive » The unknown Chanukah M'gillah


Monday 19 December 2011

Why Davka did Kohanim lead the Revolt against Antiochus?

Q: Why davka did Kohanim lead the Revolt against Antiochus?
A friend of mine came up with a nifty insight

A: Due to the g'zeira of "tiba'eil l'hegmon" all of the women marrying Kohanim would produce Hallalim and not Kohanim. This threatened to destroy the entire "race" of Kohanim within a single generation.
While for L'viim and Yisra'elim, this egregious g'zeirah did not threaten the yichus of their offspring, hence there was a lesser sense of urgency.


Sunday 18 December 2011

The Jewish Rosa Parks?

Its all over the news in Israel. A woman travelling from Ashdod to Jerusalem refused to move to the back of the bus when asked to by a charedi gentleman. See,7340,L-4163399,00.html

Luckily, the matter did not erupt into violence...but it does reflect a serious issue that is emerging in Israel. Even the charedim have to start recognizing that they are not the only group in the country. I found it interesting that the Jerusalem Post quotes Chief Rabbi Metzger, in presenting this idea,as using the word 'we':
"We [the ultra-Orthodox] don't have the authority to force our ideas on others," he continued. "This state does not belong to the haredi community.
I wonder, though, does he really speak for the charedim, especially those who would act in this manner.

Perhaps, though, there is a more fundamental question that we should be asking, a question that may be quite apropos for this time of year.

What is the Torah view on Freedom of Religion?

(In the Commentary section of our website,, I have some thoughts on this question if you are interested in taking a look.)

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 15 December 2011

Matisyahu Shaves

It even made CNN: Matisyahu, the Chassidic Reggae Superstar shaves.

The question I was wondering was: why.

Was it a statement that he was no longer going to be an Orthodox Jew or was it a statement of transformation within Orthodoxy? From the first photo I saw, I could not tell. In the second one I saw, though, it was clear that he was wearing a kippa. It seems from the interview that he did on WNYC, that he is still religious; see

So the question then becomes: what does this transformation say about his Orthodoxy? There was actually much in this interview that made me wonder not only about his understanding of Orthodoxy but also as to how Torah was even presented to him. This action may truly reflect a positive development in his understanding. Still his statement about a beard representing the Chesed of Hashem being ludicrous made me think of all those who contend that it is ludicrous to believe that God cares about what someone eats. There just seems to be something more going on here then was presented in this interview. Perhaps, given the nature of the audience of this program, he could not really express his thoughts in a better manner. I am just left wondering, though, how he sees Torah and how, in fact, many see Torah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Pirsumei Nissa at a Take Out Restaurant

AFAIK There is no hiyyuv to light at a place of work. However, it seems desirable to be m'farseim hanneis anyway. Since lighting with traditional candles presents a fire hazard, so this is not really a practical solution.

The preferred alternative seems to be to light an electric M'norah. However, these M'norot can get pricey, and, since the owner is not Jewish, he would not likely spend money on this

The simple alternative I use is to set up a cheap Hanukkiyah with old fashioned candles, but without lighting them. I set a shamash with the amount of candles that would be lit as per Mehadrin etc., set them up, but leave them as is

This presents several advantages

1. They last all evening long
2. They trigger no brachah
3. They are quite visible
4. A form of pirsummei nissah is accomplished
5. There is no fire hazard
6. It's economical

The disadvantages are apparent, eg no lamp is lit!

This might also work for travellers who cannot light on a bus, train or plane, or in a car. Consult your Poseik first.

Hag Samei'ach
Shalom and Regards, RRW

Tuesday 13 December 2011

JVO: What is a Jew?

Jewish Values Online ( is a website that asks the Jewish view on a variety of issues, some specifically Jewish and some from the world around us -- and then presents answers from each of the dominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars.

This post continues the weekly series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is to one of the questions to which Rabbi Hecht responded.

* * * * *
Question: I hear the question asked, but I have not heard a good answer to it: for both purposes of inclusion, and for Israeli citizenship, what is a Jew?

I would begin by first noting that you say you hear this question asked but, if you pause for a moment, you will recognize that, in the actual way you framed the question, it is generally not asked. What you usually hear asked is the question of ‘who is a Jew’ but the question, as you framed it, ‘what is a Jew’, is actually rarely asked. This is really most unfortunate, in my opinion, and may be the first problem that must be faced in approaching this subject. This may also explain your disappointment in the answers you have heard.
Asking the question of ‘who’ before the question of ‘what’ is like asking how one becomes a member of a certain group before describing the exact nature of this group. Of course, how one answers the ‘who’ question may inherently indicate how this person would also answer the ‘what’ question, but it does so with a lack of clarity and in a roundabout way. The question of ‘what’ is clearly not tackled head on. It may just be that people think the answer is so obvious and shared by everyone – when in reality it is not. It may, however, also be that people are wary of facing this question because they are not sure of where a subsequent discussion will take them. There may be a concern that the result may be a clear recognition of the extent of the difference in viewpoints that exist on this fundamental question – and that such a clear enunciation of the differing views would have strongly negative consequences. It is my belief, though, that the opposite is actually the truth. For us to meet this challenge – the challenge of Jewish identity and unity – it is actually important to confront this issue, rather than avoid it. We must ask the question ‘what’.
To fully approach this question, though, we must recognize that it really has two parts. First, it asks of the individual to present his/her answer to the question. This would demand of me to present my theoretical understanding of the nature of the group termed ‘the Jews’ pursuant to my belief in the principles of Orthodox Judaism. In a certain way, with this answer I would be explaining what I think this term should mean. Second, though, in that this definition is not shared by all Jews but, rather, in that there are other definitions of this group termed ‘the Jews’, there would be an additional demand to consider whether it is possible to arrive at a further definition that could combine these other definitions into one whole. On a certain level, this would represent a more practical issue with an answer attempting to formulate if these variant definitions can connect – and if yes, how.
As a starting point, we must recognize the challenge that is before us. Jewishness seems to combine religion and nationhood (or ethnic identity) but what we often do not recognize is the difficulty presented by this combination. How can religion and nationhood combine: they refer to different constructs? Nationhood refers to some shared genetic or social construct. Religion reflects a different type of bonding based upon an ideological position, a certain view of life and reality. Some may contend that such a combination is not really so strange, after all many national entities would seem to combine the two. For example, when we think of Italians, we think of Roman Catholics. There are, however, many differences between this combination of nationhood and religion and that expressed by the term Jew. There are Roman Catholics who are not Italians and there are Italians who are not Roman Catholics. They are two different types of groupings that happen to converge, to a large extent, in a certain population. The term Jew, though, would seem to inherently reflect these two types of groupings in themselves – Jew defines religion, Jew defines ethnic grouping. How can this one term ‘Jew’ mean both?
To answer this question pursuant to Halacha, we must first recognize that Orthodox Jewish Thought perceives its theology as actually universal. It is expected that all human beings should know and accept the One God as defined by the tenets of this theology. As such, the term Jew may categorize an individual as a believer in, what we may term, this universal religion of Judaism; being an adherent of Judaism, itself, would not necessarily define one as a Jew. The fact is that throughout history there have been individuals who believed in this universal religion of Judaism who were not Jewish. In our present time, such individuals are referred to as Noahides (or Noachides); a simple Google search of this term will reveal approximately 279,000 responses (see,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=ce27fe47b2a800b8&biw=984&bih=533).
What this universal religion of Judaism then does is distinguish between two different groupings of humanity, Jews and non-Jews, presenting different directives (Codes) to each. The specific term Jew, as such, refers to a specific grouping, specifically nation, within this religious perspective that has a specific code of conduct that is different from the rest of humanity. This nation is formed out of the religion and is identified to further serve the goals of this religion in a special significant way. The term Jew thus identifies an individual as a member of this unique nation to which God has given a special code of conduct.
This recognition is necessary to fully understand the two different standards that are applied in defining members of the Jewish group. According to Halacha, the first definition of a Jew is one born to a Jewish mother (T.B. Kiddushin 66b). This would seem to point to Jewishness as an ethnic identity. In that being born to a Jewish mother would not seem to reflect any ideology, this definition would actually seem to challenge a perception of Jewishness as reflecting a religious perspective. What the Halacha is really stating is that, within this universal religious perspective, one way we can identify members of the Jewish nation who are bound to the unique Code of Torah is that they include those who are born to a Jewish mother. What of someone born to a Jewish mother who does not believe in this religion? That person is still Jewish, i.e. an individual who is Divinely commanded to meet the standards expected of members of the Jewish nation.  
This leads us to the second definition of a Jew, according to Halacha: one who has gone through a process of gerut, generally translated as conversion. If we understand Halacha as perceiving Jewishness as defining those who are bound to a special code of conduct, gerut would thus be the process by which one outside this group, not so commanded, can become a member of this group and become commanded. It could thus be expected that the essence of the process would be the verification that this person wishing to enter this group indeed will meet these standards of this group. This brings the matter back to the realm of religion and may explain why this process is described as conversion, a process by which one joins a different religion. As mentioned above, it is actually expected of non-Jews that they should also accept the tenets of universal Judaism so gerut is not a process, really, by which one changes his/her faith. Gerut, though, still demands the acceptance of this theological perspective for, to be part of this process -- whereby one, not within this nation with this special Code, can join this special nation -- there, first, has to be an acceptance that this nation has this special Code. As such, Halacha perceives as the first necessity of one wishing to become Jewish a commitment to meet such obligations. It is kabbalat mitzvoth, acceptance of the commandments, which is the prime focus of conversion for within the purview of Halacha, this is what it means to be part of the Jewish nation.
So what is a Jew according to Halacha? A Jew is a member of the Jewish nation, a nation that was distinguished by God and given unique tasks in His service as defined in the Halacha. One born Jewish is one born with these responsibilities even if he/she does not recognize it. To become Jewish, though, someone must recognize what it really means to be Jewish – bound to these responsibilities – and accept this obligation.
Now we can go on to the second part of this answer. It is clear that not every person who calls himself/herself a Jew would accept this definition. There is a reality of differing definitions even as people may not be able to articulate them. Indeed, over the past few centuries since the beginning of the Haskalah, we have seen extremes in both directions: some even declaring Jewishness to be solely a religion and rejecting any element of nationhood (early adherents to Reform Judaism); others declaring it to be solely a nation with religious practice simply being this nation’s cultural expression (secular Zionism and, to some extent, Reconstructionist Judaism).
Further diversity in theological principles also emerged. This is an essential issue in the controversy over conversion. If one converts pursuant to Reform Judaism, for example, that person would be declaring an acceptance of the theological principles of Reform Judaism, principles that are in disagreement with, let us say, Orthodox Judaism. As Orthodox Judaism would demand as a prelude to gerut the acceptance of its theological principles, by definition it cannot accept a conversion based upon acceptance of principles with which it disagrees. The challenge is further complicated by the attempt to avoid a recognition of such differences and their consequences. (In "Adjective and Non-Adjective Jews”, available at, I maintain that it is actually necessary for us to confront these differences and consequences if we are to have any chance for unity.)  Essentially what this all represents are different understandings of the nature of the Jewish group, leaving us with a further challenge of seeing if there is any way of devising a feasible, pragmatic definition that could integrate all those (or most of them) who define themselves as Jewish into one working, understanding of this grouping.
To this part of the question, I really can’t give an answer. It is a challenge – a challenge that we must face and solve. This is the real issue in Israel regarding Jewish identity. There is value in accepting Orthodox standards for they are the most restrictive and, as such, almost anyone defined as Jewish within these standards would also be accepted as such by those maintaining other definitions. Maybe, though, there is a need for new terminology reflecting, for example, one who would be accepted as part of the Jewish group by certain definitions but not so accepted by others. Such an approach may be very relevant for Israel. Perhaps the reason you have not heard a good answer to the question of ‘what is a Jew’ is because the question is actually more of a maze than one may think. 

Monday 12 December 2011

Will New Jersey become the Mecca for North American Jewry?

« ... "I would not be surprised if in the not-too-distant future Rutgers* overtakes [the University of] Florida as the number one destination school for Jewish undergraduates," said Getraer.

Rutgers recruiters target Jewish high schools around the country, he said.

"We now have students active in Hillel from California, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Ohio — and we actually are now getting a lot of students from Israel and even students from Europe and Latin America." ...»

Rutgers builds reputation as Jewish destination | New Jersey News | NJJN

* Rutgers is the Official State University of NJ

Sunday 11 December 2011

Declaration Against Same Sex Marriage Ceremony

In response to the "Orthodox" same sex marriage ceremony performed recently, the Algemeiner Linkprinted a Declaration, signed by 100 Orthodox rabbis (an my understanding is that more have now signed it) declaring emphatically that this action has nothing to do with Orthodoxy and an offense to Orthodox principles and values. See
I am proud to say that I am one of the rabbis who signed this document.

However, that is not the end of the story. This week, I received a phone call from a reporter at the Forward informing me that they went through this list of rabbis and also the list of those who signed the "Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation inLinkLink Our Community" (see and they found only one rabbi on both lists -- yours truly. They wanted to know why I signed both lists and also why there were no other rabbis who overlapped.

As followers of the blog know, I expressed some regret in signing the Statement but specifically because of the way it was, I believe, misinterpreted. See and In essence, though, I agreed with basic substance of the Statement as I did with the Declaration -- and so had no difficulties responding to this reporter's questions. The answer was really very simple, and the reporter understood this -- there was no contradiction between the Statement and the Declaration. To read further about this. I invite you to read the Forward article at

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Saturday 10 December 2011

Jews, Israelis and Zionists: Thoughts about a Discontinued Ad Campaign‏

From Guest Blogger: DOUGLAS ARONIN


   Israel has enough problems to deal with right now, so it was hardly an opportune moment to pick a fight with the institutional leadership of American Jewry.  Then again, Israel's Ministry of Absorption didn't realize it was picking a fight with American Jewish leaders when it launched an advertising campaign aimed at persuading Israelis living in the United States to return home. The ensuing brouhaha reminds us, in case we needed further reminding, that Israelis and American Jews really don't understand each other.
   The ad campaign targeted Israeli expatriates, commonly known as yordim (literally those who descend), not native born American Jews, but it apparently touched a raw nerve among American Jewish leaders.  Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called it "heavy-handed, and even demeaning."  The leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America, the national umbrella for local Jewish federations, reportedly sent a letter of protest to the Ministry, calling the ads "insulting".  Once Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned of the controversy, he promptly stopped the ad campaign and sent Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, to do damage control.  Oren asserted that Netanyahu had not known about the ad campaign in advance and assured American Jews that "[t]he prime minister deeply values the American Jewish community and is committed to deepening ties between it and the State of Israel."
   What was it about this ad campaign that caused such a furor?  One of the ads depicted Israeli-born parents and their young daughter talking via Skype to the child's grandparents in Israel.  When the grandparents ask the girl what holiday it is, she responds "Christmas" as her parents look uncomfortable. The tag line of the ad follows in Hebrew: before Chanukah turns into Christmas, it's time to come home to Israel.  Another similar ad depicts a young boy trying to wake his sleeping father, calling him "Daddy" several times; only when he calls out "Abba" does the father  wake up, as a voice intones in Hebrew the tag line: Before Abba turns into Daddy, it's time to come home to Israel.
   It's easy to understand why some American Jews found ads like these offensive. Though it was directed at the yordim,, almost the same ad campaign (without the Hebrew) could have been used to target American Jews. The message is a familiar one, the same basic message that has been used to encourage aliyah (immigration to Israel) among Diaspora Jews since the early days of Zionism.  In the Diaspora, even in America, that familiar message goes, assimilation is inevitable.  Only in Israel can the Jewish future be assured.
   That message is a gross oversimplification, of course, but it contains more than a grain of truth.  The notion that the organized Jewish community is on the verge of extinction is wildly exaggerated.  It's reminiscent of the famous 1964 Look Magazine cover story, "The Vanishing American Jew", which predicted that the American Jewish community would disappear by the end of the twentieth century.  When that century ended, of course, the American Jewish community was still there; it was Look Magazine that had disappeared.  To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.
   But that doesn't mean that the fears of assimilation are pure alarmism; I only wish that they were.  The experiences of the last half century have taught us that those Jews who place a high priority on Jewish continuity and build their lives accordingly can usually succeed in passing their Jewish commitment to the next generation.  But it has also taught  us that those whose lives do not reflect a substantial commitment to the Jewish future -- which almost always includes some form of religious commitment -- are at high risk of demographic disappearance.
   I suspect that it was the grain of truth underlying the ill-advised ad campaign, not the exaggeration that many Jewish leaders found so offensive.  Who wants to have their flaws pointed out to them?  How many of the prominent Federation leaders who were so quick to take offense live lives so infused with Jewish content that they can be confident of the Jewish continuity of their own family trees? How many of them, indeed, already have children who have intermarried?
   The specific examples reflected in the ads summarized above are laughable.  Transmitting the notion that Jews celebrate Chanukah, not Christmas, is one of the few indicators of Jewish identity that many marginally committed Jews do manage to pass on. It's really not that difficult to teach children to call their parents Abba and Eema, if that's what the parents want, even if most of their friends do not.  The problem is that such gestures by themselves are not enough to make transmission from one generation to the next likely, and many American Jews -- including, I regret to say, a fair number of American Jewish leaders -- are not willing to do much more than that.
   Offensiveness aside, the ad campaign was probably a waste of money.  I say this not because I don't believe that Israel should be trying to lure back its expatriates; of course it should.  But it's hard to imagine that long-term yordim are likely to be influenced by an ad campaign that somehow manages to be heavy-handed and trivial at the same time..   If they were that easily susceptible to Jewish guilt trips, they probably wouldn't have left in the first place.
   While we're on the subject, why are there so many expatriate Israelis living in North America, and elsewhere?  That question is something of a sociological Rorschach test, telling us more about the person answering than about the phenomenon he's supposedly analyzing. A particularly egregious example is an opinion piece published on line by Roger Cohen of the New York Times, who is (to put it mildly) no friend of Israel.  He claims to know "several Israeli expatriates or would-be expatriates" and he insists that they are leaving because of "the illiberal drift of Israeli politics, the growth of a harsh nationalism, the increasing influence of the ultra religious [and] the endlessness of the 'situation.'"  I am sure that some Israeli expatriates are motivated by such factors, and I have no difficulty believing that all of those with whom Roger Cohen is acquainted fall into this category.  With whom else would you expect him to be acquainted?   But Cohen's analysis, if you can call it that, ignores the inconvenient fact that the phenomenon of yerida (emigration from Israel) is not a new one.  Large numbers of Israelis have lived abroad throughout the State's history.  If yerida is, as Cohen appears to believe, primarily the fault of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman (the foreign minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party), then how do you explain the large number of Israelis who emigrated before the current political leadership came on the scene?
   The primary reasons for yerida are really not that hard to figure out.  Israel is a small country, and living there can produce a sort of claustrophobia; that's why in recent years, it has become de rigueur for secular Israelis, after completing their army service, to trek to remote parts of Asia for a while before returning home to commence the rest of their lives.  Considering its size and the circumstances in which it has lived, Israel's economy is remarkably robust, but highly educated Israelis in many fields can find better professional opportunities outside the country than inside it -- or at least they could before the onset of the current recession. (This is not so unusual in our increasingly mobile and interconnected world.  There are plenty of Americans living temporarily or permanently abroad, and many citizens of other countries as well.) And of course, while Israelis seem to bear up well under the strain of the security threats that are a normal part of life there, living in a constant state of siege with no end in sight can take its toll...
   Most Israelis living in the United States come here intending to stay for a while and then return, or at least that's what they tell their families and friends in Israel.  Some have gone back, but others, not surprisingly, have found the comfort and relative safety of the US hard to give up; such is human nature.  It is certainly appropriate for any country to seek to reduce the "brain drain" resulting from the emigration of highly educated citizens by encouraging its expatriates to come home.  For Israel, there is the added concern of the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs among its own citizens.   In his opinion peace, Cohen claims that "[t]he ads play to Israeli patriotism, but it’s not patriotism that expatriates lack."  By framing the issue as one of "patriotism", Cohen manages to evade the issue that is at the heart of both the ad campaign and the American Jewish response to it -- the issue of Jewish identity.  If the ad campaign was addressed merely to Israeli patriotism, then why would American Jews who are not Israeli citizens take offense?  But the risk of Chanukah morphing into Christmas is not a matter of the expatriates' patriotism, but rather of their core identity as Jews.  Maintaining that identity despite the temptations of assimilation in a pluralistic open society like ours is a challenge that faces yordim and native born American Jews alike -- and the implication of the ad campaign is that it can't be done in the Diaspora, even in America, an implication that many American Jews understandably find offensive.
   Only in a Jewish homeland, classical Zionists have always insisted, can Jewish identity be sustained in the long run without dependence on religion.  Secular Jewish identity, they have argued, has no future in the Diaspora.  In this argument classical Zionism was partly right but fundamentally wrong.  It was right that secular Jewishness in the Diaspora is ultimately unsustainable, but it was wrong in assuming that it was the Diaspora rather than the secularism that was the problem.  What has become apparent over the decades of Israel's existence is that in the long run secular Jewishness is not sustainable in Israel any more than it is in the Diaspora.   In the absence of religious commitment, secular Zionism is simply too weak a foundation on which to build an ideology capable of motivating the sacrifice necessary to defend a state under siege.  It is hardly surprising that Zionism as a serious ideology, at least among secular native Israelis, has been weakened almost to the point of disappearance.  Indeed, for many, the very word Zionism has developed pejorative connotations.
   I do not mean to suggest that secular Israelis are not loyal to the State of Israel.  The vast majority serve in the army, often heroically.  But allegiance to the country where you were born and in which you live, and even willingness to risk your life in its defense, does not require an ideological commitment.  It is, rather, the normal human instinct to which we attach the label patriotism. Most secular Israelis remain patriotic citizens, who are loyal to the State.  A growing number, however, have little sense of Jewish identity beyond their identity as Israelis.  They know little of Jewish history before the birth of modern Zionism and have no knowledge or understanding of the Jewish communities of the Diaspora.  They are patriotic Israelis but they are not Zionists.
   The problem with relying solely on patriotism as the glue holding the people together is that patriotism is not immutable.  Over the course of the last century, after all, many millions of people have left the lands where they were born and settled in other, often distant countries.  Some came to escape persecution, others to better themselves economically.  Many have retained cultural or nostalgic ties to the countries of their birth, but after an adjustment period (admittedly, one of variable length), they have usually shifted their primary political allegiance -- their patriotism -- to the countries in which they live.   Of course, human experiences are varied, and human emotions are complex.  Not everyone who has emigrated from the countries of their birth has initially intended that move to be permanent.  Many temporary migrants, for a whole host of reasons, do return to their native countries; others consider it for a while and ultimately decide, whether consciously or by inertia, to stay where they are.  Those countries who wish to avoid "brain drain" by enticing their expatriates to return home are far more likely to meet success during each emigrant's emotional adjustment period, before his or her primarily allegiance has shifted.
   Historically, this basic paradigm of the immigrant experience has applied to Jews a little differently than to others.  Most Jews had little or no residual allegiance to the countries from which they had emigrated and little or no temptation to return there.  Indeed, during the largest period of Jewish immigration to the United States, the so-called Third Wave (1880-1924), most Jewish immigrants were not native speakers of the languages of their native countries but instead spoke Yiddish, a language unique to the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.  Thus there was little adjustment period in the usual sense before Jews who immigrated to the United States became, in their own estimation, American Jews, patriotic citizens of the United States.  To the extent that they retained any other residual loyalty, it was to a land they had never seen, one that their ancestors had left centuries earlier.  That residual loyalty arose not from instinct but from ideology -- the ideology we call Zionism.

Friday 9 December 2011

When to Omit Birkat Me'ein Sheva [Magein Avot]?

I see various Minhagim WRT Omitting "Magein Avot"
1. At Rav Shimon Schwab zt"l's private minyan in his apartment on Friday Night, he had them omit "Magein Avot"
- supposedly because when he was absent, the Minyan did not convene.

2. I've heard that in many summer bungalows that they DO recite it, even though there is no minyan there year 'round
3 In Teaneck - There are TWO private Minyanim nearby for Friday Night
A. One is for a person with a disability. There, Magein Avot is omitted
B The other is a Carlebach Minyan in a private home There, they do say it despite the fact that about once a month they daven elsewhere.
What are the proper parameters here?
Someone on Davening Discussions suggested that this is a "judgment call"


Thursday 8 December 2011

Vayishhlach: Binyamin: A Definition of Youth

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Vayishlach and the topic is the concept of na'ar. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Can a Divorcing Couple Remain "Friends"?

«...At the conclusion of the session, I stated the following: "I have just one question for you." One of the parties quickly provided the question I was pondering, i.e. "Why are we getting divorced?"

I nodded in a manner that indicated this was indeed my question. The response was one I quote often:

"We are really good friends. We are just a lousy husband and wife." ...»

Why Does Gittin Precede Kiddushin? A Plea for Divorce Ethics » - The Online Voice of Torah Jewry


Tuesday 6 December 2011

JVO: Downloading

Jewish Values Online ( is a website that asks the Jewish view on a variety of issues, some specifically Jewish and some from the world around us -- and then presents answers from each of the dominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars.

This post continues the weekly series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is to one of the questions to which Rabbi Hecht responded.

* * * * *
Question: I know many friends—honest, God-fearing people—who have no problem “stealing” entertainment in the form of illegal downloads. Why have we let our attitude toward this kind of theft become so permissive? Can we stop it? Should we? Or, as many people claim, since they wouldn’t have paid for the show/music in the first place, it’s not like anyone lost money on their download. What is right? What is the Jewish view?

The issue of intellectual property, of which this is a case, is one that has challenged every legal system. How do you assign proprietary rights to an intangible? This is clearly also an issue within Jewish Law, however the nature of Halacha is such that it need not approach this issue solely from a perspective of property. The questioner asks whether downloading is a form of stealing or theft which, to answer, would first demand a determination of a property right in the intangible download. The issue within the realm of Halacha, though, is much broader; the question being whether it is right or wrong – and this answer may have little to do with the establishment of proprietary rights.

It should not be surprising, as such, to find that over the centuries there have been many variant approaches undertaken to answer these types of questions, namely to what extent, if any, can someone benefit, without pay, from another person’s labours or financial outlay. This is essentially what is happening when one downloads a form of entertainment, one is benefitting from someone else’s efforts. The challenge, though, is that one is still not causing the other to actually expend more time, energy or money by downloading an item. In addition there may be other policy or ethical reasons for allowing this download. It is with a recognition of all these and other factors that Halachists have attempted to approach these questions.
There is a key shift, however, that occurs with the formulation of the issue with Halacha. In the language of Halacha, we would say that the prime focus of the issue becomes no longer one of cheftza, object, but gavra, person. What this means is that we are no longer focusing on the object – i.e. the download and its ownership – but the people involved and whether it is proper behaviour to download items without paying for them. The answer to this question may have little or nothing to do with actual ownership of the object but simply emerge from an ethical view of the behaviour itself. Is downloading objectionable behaviour?

This brings us to a key concept in the Halacha’s determination of the ethics of financial interaction. What is asked are the questions of whether one has benefitted (nehneh) and/or whether one has lost something including an opportunity cost (chaseir). The underlying broad values are that one should pay for a benefit and one should cover the cost of a loss that he/she has imposed upon another. Of course, the Halacha also recognizes that there are numerous details and further concerns that have to be considered and evaluated before these broad principles can be applied to any specific case. For example, one can only be held liable for a loss if one is responsible for causing it – what makes someone responsible? In many ways, Jewish financial law is an investigation of the many such details.

It would be first important, though, to understand the essential distinction between nehneh and chaseir in their legal ramifications. Mishna Baba Kamma 2:2 presents a good example. The case involves an animal eating the produce of a merchant in the public domain. As animals were common in the public domain in Talmudic times, it was deemed to be the responsibility of the merchant to protect his wares from animals. As such, an owner of an animal was not deemed responsible for what the animal ate in terms of the financial damage that was caused to the merchant i.e. he was not responsible for chaseir. Yet the Mishna informs us that he is responsible for the benefit he received through having his animal fed with the merchant’s produce i.e. he should still pay nehneh. The Gemara informs us that the owner does not have to pay the merchant for the price of the fruit but rather must pay him for the benefit he received in not having to feed his animal i.e. the amount he would have paid on the cheaper feed he would have used of the same quantity. It’s not always about what you cost the other but sometimes you have to consider your benefit. This would seem to be an important principle in regard to downloads for, while people contend that they are not directly causing a lost, they do cause opportunity costs and they do benefit. This approach to establishing copyright law was actually taken by Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the Noda B’Yehuda.

Consideration for chaseir may even be broader. While the topic is actually complex as the Halacha also values competition, there is concern for activities that may impact on another’s business. For example, T.B. Baba Batra 21b states that once a fisherman has marked out an area for himself, perhaps putting out feed to attract fish, other fisherman cannot fish in this area. Again the issue is not propriety rights; this place and the fish are not owned by this fisherman. It is simply a recognition that you are causing loss – the fisherman has extended time, effort and, perhaps, even money to mark this area. It is, as such, improper to fish there and take a fish that this fisherman may have otherwise caught.  Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Chatam Sofer, applied this idea in his discussion of copyright.

 The reality is that Jewish Law takes a serious approach to issues of intellectual property while in many ways not focusing on the property question but rather on the conduct that should be expected from the ethical individual. Consideration for Dina d’Malchuta Dina, that the law of the land has standing in Jewish Law, also is to be considered. Nonetheless, especially when the secular law has such exceptions, there are opinions that would consider the extent of the download and whether it is just for personal use before absolutely declaring it forbidden. Other ethical motivations for a download may also be considered. 

The bottom line is that the issue is much more than a question of stealing with implications that you are taking something. The definitions of taking are much broader than an object of something. In addition there is the fact that you have benefitted. I would not say that this means that every action of downloading is forbidden but that the issue is one that needs to be approached seriously.

For further investigation of Halacha’s view of copyright, see:

Rabbi Israel Schneider, “Jewish Law and Copyright”, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society XX1 (

Rabbi Chaim Jachter,  “Halachah and Copyright Laws”, Gray Matter: Discourses in Contemporary Halachah (

Rabbi J. David Bleich, “Chapter 6, Business and Commerce: Copyright”, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Volume 2