Thursday 30 June 2011

When Political Correctness Overtakes Torah Values

Originally published 6/30/11, 1:09 pm.
Anti-circumcision call gets London Jewish rep. fired

Perhaps the subject of a new poll would be
"how many of society's values are good to incorporate into a Torah Community?"


Wednesday 29 June 2011

Is Judaism the "Thinking Person's Religion"?

Originally published 6/29/11, 1:14pm.
Although there many serious Jews who are "touchy feely", serious Judaism is a life of constant "examination". It is not the contemplation of a Yogi who meditates on a mandala etc. It is a Hitbonenut on G-d, Torah, Israel, Life; on this World and the Next World.
I haven't completed it yet, but I believe the Kuzari is perhaps the best examplar of this approach

Open Minded Torah: A Conversation With William Kolbrener - Atlantic Mobile

Thanks to R David Willig for pointing me to this link.


Tuesday 28 June 2011

JVO: The "Deceitfulness" of Jacob

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 serves as an Orthodox member of their Panel of Scholars, offering answers from our perspective.

This post is part of a weekly series on the Nishmablog presenting the questions to which he responded and the answers that he gave.

* * * * *

Question: Given the deceitfulness of Jacob in his dealings with Esau and Isaac, how is it that he became a patriarch and his name synonymous with Israel? [I.e., Why should a person who acts in less than an exemplary manner be revered as one of the patriarchs? - Admin.] Werner Knurr, MD

Here are three approaches to the question:

1.     Jacob was appointed Patriarch by the Word of God.  As such it's axiomatic regardless of any [perceived] character flaws
2.     The Power of Forgiveness.  Whatever Jacob's Flaws originally were, they were eventually forgiven.
3.     Jacob in reality usurped nothing.  It was only Esau's allegation that Jacob was a usurper, but that it not [necessarily] the Torah's own perception
i)      Jacob's designation as Patriarch is ubiquitous throughout Tanach and is quite emphatically stated and repeated  in Parshat Sh'mot [Exodus 3] at the "burning bush."  Thus the Booming Voice of G-d HIMSELF chose Jacob, not us
ii)    Everyone Eventually Forgave Jacob  - Thus any wrong Jacob had committed had been righted.
(1)  That Rebecca was OK with Jacob's actions seems obvious
(2)  That Isaac was eventually OK with Jacob's actions is evident during the 2nd blessing in Toldoth freely bequeathed by Isaac. [Genesis 28:1-4]
(3)  That G-d was OK is evident with the man/angel who wrestled with Jacob and changed his name from Jacob [grasper] to Israel.  
(4)  That Esau himself eventually became reconciled is obvious from his Hug and Kiss of Jacob.
iii)   I challenge the premise that Jacob willfully did anything wrong at all, and at most he was a reluctant pawn in a game being played at a Cosmic Level.  I recently blogged my position on this at:

Monday 27 June 2011

Aveilut During Sefirah - How Widespread?

Originally posted 6/27/11, 8:46 pm.
I have just researched Minhag Teiman a bit - and while I did not get all the details - I did finally just confirm with a Teimani Talmid Hacham: that Teimanim do indeed observe a form of Aveilut during Sefirah

He also mentioned their minhag to count Sefirah using Aramaic.

This means that Aveilut in Sefirah, that it is even more widely "nispasheit" than, for example, the restrictions of meat and wine during Hodesh Av, since Teimanim only restrict themselves on Erev Tisha b'av after Hatzot.

A few comments:

A. Both The Teimani and the S'phardic practices seem to be unrelated to the Crusades

B. While The Narrative from the Talmud regarding Talmidei R Akiva probably did not trigger this Minhag immediately, nevertheless,  it seems to have taken hold in East-West Ashk'naz, S'pharad and Teiman, albeit the severity may differ as well as the specific days selected

C. My hypothesis* about Hol Hamoed might explain some of this widespread observance [But it also might not! LOL].


* That is the Minhag to refrain from Nissuin and Tisporet and some m'lachah was originally triggered by Hol haMoed first, and later morphed to Aveilut - probably due to the Crusades.


naomi's question of the day - #25

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 27, 2011

Do you think this life is designed to humble us? Are we born into arrogance and left for the rest of our time to come to know that being is not as great and accomplishment as the realization of what has come before it, time or defeat? Is there a pride that is pointed -- is there a lowliness that elevates us?

Sunday 26 June 2011

Is History Repeating Itself? - Are we C"V the Next Generation of the Flood?‏

Originally published 6/26/11, 10:54 pm.
This is from a Private Email  from "Derech Emet" 
- forwarded with Permission 
Midrash Rabbah,
Parshat Beresheet,
Chapter 26, Paragraph 5:

Rabbi Huna taught in the name of Rabbi Yosef:
The Generation of the Flood was not blotted out of the world until they made official marriage contracts
between people of the same gender…
Derech Emet comments:
New York is only one of 50 states, but it is the state that has the most Jews and most Jewish institutions.

The AIDS crisis, which struck harder in New York City than anywhere else, may have been just a small warning
from G-d concerning this matter. But instead of repenting, New York has become much worse by giving more rights
to gays than ever before.

Another big cause for concern is the fact that Reform Rabbis, Reconstructionist Rabbis, and Conservative Rabbis now
perform so-called gay weddings and officially accept gays as colleagues and equals. There are now Reform gay Rabbis,
Reconstructionist gay Rabbis, and Conservative gay Rabbis.

I know that these people do not represent authentic Judaism, but they are still Jews.

G-d is Kail Erech Apayim, the ultimate Master of Patience.
But even His patience has limits. I shudder with fear when I think about what could happen when His patience. runs out.

Derech Emet
Shalom, RRW

naomi's question of the day - #24

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 26, 2011

If God is the Rofeh Kol Basar -- and yet He is the cause and determination of all suffering and loss -- how am I to view Him with gratitude when He gives to me after He has deprived me?

P. Korach - John Lennon, and Spiritual Anarchy

Originally published 6/26/11, 1:00 pm.
Guest Blogger - R David Joseph Mescheloff

«...Korach is the father of spiritual anarchy. Korach argues against all forms of spiritual authority and leadership, and against any proscribed role in the spiritual community. Korach aspires to create a society free from distinctions, borders and categories. We are all divine, and hence we are all one.»
[Apologies to John Lennon's lyrics from "Imagine" ]

Imagine. Imagine there was no Moses, no Aron, no Sanctuary, no Kohanites, Levites or Israelites, and no religious authorities too. It's easy if you try. And the Jews would live as one.»

Korach and John Lennon ::


Also see a related post
For more background -

NishmaBlog: P. Korach Ki Chol Ho'eidah


To be fair, John Lennon - unlike Korach - was apparently dreaming of a Utopian Society, somewhat analogous to our own Messianic Age, when no Yetzer Hara would prevail. Even we Torah Jews could imagine anarchy in that kind of society, when we are to become more "angel-like" but not in our current reality.


Friday 24 June 2011

The BIC Korach II:1, T'imat K'feila

Originally published 6/24/11, 3:23 pm.
A while back I had to disabuse my students of the popular - but highly oversimplified notion - that Ashkenazim ALWAYS follow Rema and that Sephardim ALWAYS follow the m'chabeir! In the real world, there is far more gray area ambiguity in these matters for simplified "slogans". Rather these rules of thumb are but defaults and are not absolutes.
Pursuant to the above -
The Ben Ish Chai Korach 2nd Year s'if 1 says that - despite that the M'chabeir in SA-YD 98 relies upon T'imat "Eino-Yehudi", and that the Minhag [in Baghdad anyway] follows the Rema to NOT allow for this and to use shishim only
Is this the common prevailing Minhag amongst S'phardim and Eidot Mizrach today to NOT rely upon T'imat K'feila?
Note - I was recently informed that this IS the case in some communities. Can anyone confirm one way or the other with further examples?


P. Korach Ki Chol Ho'eidah

Originally published 6/24/11, 10:11 am.
Korach to Moshe Rabbeinu -
"Kee Chol Ho'edah Kullam Q'doshim uvtocham Hashem - umadua titnass'u al Q'hal Hashem"?

Rabbi EX [REX] to G'dolim such as R Moshe -
"Kee Chol Yisroel Kullam M"lumadim uvtocham Torat Hashem - umadua titnass'u al Klal Yisrael"?

Could it be that the Yeshivishe devotion to "g'dolim" and the Hassidishe devotion to their respective Rebbes a device to prevent
"Bayamim haheim ein Melech b'yisroel - eesh hayyashar b'einav Yaashe"? [Last verse of Sefer Shoftim]
And that it is better to submit to some authority figure -even if imperfect as opposed to having anarchy.


Thursday 23 June 2011

P. Korach - Arguments for the Sake of Heaven

Originally published 6/23/11, 6:19 pm.
«The argument was brewing for five minutes when they all began to smile and instructed me to say the prayer as I had planned. Before I continued the service I sauntered over to the old Shammash who was sitting quietly through the tumult and asked, "what is the minhag (custom) of this shul?"

He surveyed the scene and beamed. "This shul is 100 years old. This is our minhag."»

Drasha - Korach, 5756 -


naomi's question of the day - #23

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 23, 2011

We see often that the great ones -- 10 of the meraglim, Nadav and Avihu, Miriam, Korach -- fail and are punished (albeit to different extents and consequences). If they, though, are so mighty and fall -- what are we to expect of ourselves? And how are we to achieve it?

Tuesday 21 June 2011

JVO: Non-Jews and Kabbalah

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 serves as an Orthodox member of their Panel of Scholars, offering answers from our perspective.

This post is part of a weekly series on the Nishmablog presenting the questions to which he responded and the answers that he gave.

* * * * *

Question: The latest rumor of a celebrity practicing Kabbalah is supermodel Naomi Campbell. What is the celebrity draw to Jewish mysticism and can a non-Jew legitimately "practice" Kabbalah?

First I will start with the issue of sharing Torah with non-Jews
There are essentially two approaches I will take
  1.    Traditional
  2.    Modern yet still maybe reconcilable with   Halachah

The Traditional approach is simply not to teach Torah - ANY Torah - to Non-Jews.  Jewish Law proscribes teaching Torah to Gentiles based upon Psalms 147:20....

Traditionally, there have been few exceptions
Such as
• Prospective Converts
• Certain limited inter-action with Gentile Biblical Scholars [see below]

According to this approach there is no loophole to teach any Torah - especially  Kabbalah - to a Gentile.


With the advent of Christianity we have a full-fledged non-Jewish group that pledges allegiance to our Scripture - the Tanach - albeit they supplement it.  Since Tanach is also part of their Canon, Judaism has relaxed rules regarding sharing ideas about scripture.
However strictures still remain with regard to Oral Law.

What has mitigated that restriction has been the printing press and other modern media.  And the Internet overwhelms them all.

At this point the reality is that all sorts of obscure and esoteric literature is available to the entire public-at-large.  Thus,  Christian Scholars have already written scholarly tracts on Mishnah and Midrash
The barriers have been blurred

It has come to be permitted  to share information on these otherwise "Private" texts in order to prevent misunderstandings and mis-portrayals.  Meaning:  better to violate the restriction against sharing data then to have masses misconstruing our Torah.


Kabbalah was compiled by mystics and was expressed in esoteric language.  This cuts several ways

The Talmud restricts learning Kabbalah to only those who satisfied their appetite for Talmud and related texts.  Usually the requirement is age 40 in order to allow only stable, sober, and mature Jews to partake.  Strict compliance with Torah and Halchah is a given

On the other hand, Kabbalah IS out there. A case could be made for teaching Kabbalah in a correct manner so as to prevent a counterfeit Kabbalah from taking hold.

It still makes little sense to me to initiate any one, especially non-Jews before they have attained a firm foundation in Torah learning - and observance

Monday 20 June 2011

Spreading the Gospel

There are a number of Xtian Groups who feel the need to spread the "Good News". Gospel means good news

A friend of mine is a Talmid of the Rov R Yosef Dov Soloveichek [RYDS]. Once this talmid was preaching one of the Rov's Minhaggim. The Rov asked him "who told you to spread the Gospel"

Yet many of my friends and colleagues do that to me on an ongoing basis

R Avraham is trying to convince me that his Rebbe is the Melech haMoshiach

R Yitzchok tries to convert me to the Gospel of the Rambam. Viz. Only the Rambam knew Halachah and Mussar correctly.

R Yaakov tells me that the Halachah unconditionally follows the Mishnah Brurah

R Moshe tells me that S'phardim and S'phardic culture is great and that the Ashkenazim got it all wrong

R Aharon tells me that the Arizal encompasses all of Torah - so follow him

R David tells me the same about R AI Kook

R Sh'lomoh insists that R Nachman is the greatest thing since sliced bobka

What is going on?

Shloymie - Rabbi Wolpoe, WADR, you need a new set of friends

RRW: Suggestions?

Shloymie: EG there is a group publishing the collected works of RYDS - maybe join them?

RRW: Indeed!


Superman renounces his American citizenship

Originally published 6/20/11, 10:51 am.
It seems that in the world of comics (specifically "the DC universe") Superman is going to renounce his Amercian citizenship. See

What is happening in this world of comics is not really what is bothering me about this entry. What concerns me is what this says about the moral attitude in our world today. To be honest, I don't really know this story line and so what I am about to present may be off.  It seems that Superman is considering giving up his American citizenship so that the Iranians cannot accuse him of being an agent of the U.S. Another response could have been Superman stating that while he did not act at the insistence or even bequest of the U.S., he nonetheless is proud of having his actions connected with a nation that shares his values. This comic's storyline informs us what the world thinks today.
 Perhaps not all the world but enough of an element that it can influence the development of such a storyline. It would be one thing if the political leaders of the U.S., fearing Iranian retaliation, told Superman that he should not act without their prior approval. That's not what the story line is about. It's Superman not liking the potential for people like the Iranians to declare that he is American, limited by American values. He has to be open, perceived to be more tolerant and accepting.
And that's precisely the problem. It seems that it is not okay to stand by your values and declare that you are connected to those who share these values.

I think that there is something inherently wrong in the way the general population today approaches the world of ethics and morals. Its almost that the value of tolerance is perceived to top everything and maintaining a strong conviction has become problematic. The story line of this comic seems to infer that there is a problem with taking a specific stand in a world of differing stands. Its a problem for Superman to be perceived as upholding American values and positions for that would infer that he is not truly universal.
What happened to the concept of believing that you are correct and that your value position should be the one that is implemented by the world? There is a place for tolerance but not when it obliterates the possession of other values.

If I stand for a certain value and that associates me with fellow Jews, my response should not be one of concern but rather of pride. My values are Jewish. They may also be values that other members of the world community share but for me they associate me with the Jewish people.
I should not be concerned by that commitment because it limits my appeal. I should declare that this similarity in values is precisely why I identify with the Jewish people and drives a rift between me and members of other groups that negate these very values.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 19 June 2011

RYD Soloveitchik on The Issue of Giyur and Kabbalat Mitzvot

« Therefore, if we know that the convert, at the time of immersion, is willing to accept the yoke of the commandments, the immersion effects conversion even though there was no special act of informing the convert about the commandments and his consenting to fulfill them, since the convert intends to live the holy life of an observant Jew.»

Rav Soloveitchik on Insincere Conversion | Hirhurim – Torah Musings


naomi's question of the day - #22

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 19, 2011

It is one thing to fight your enemy but are we now actually fighting our brothers more? What does this signify, what's its effect and aren't we irrevocably weakening our core with this devisiveness? How, though, is it possible to be tolerant concerning the violence against ideals that you hold to be true and the weight and shape of hope?

Saturday 18 June 2011

Mussar: Being Above Suspicion

Originally published 6/18/11, 9:55 pm.Link only good if you have a yahoo account.
Although Humrot at times can be excessive, it is prudent to avoid behaviour that would lead to unnecessary suspicion. Ramch"al in M'silat Y'sharim might term this middah as "Z'hirut"

A Merchant once taught me not to put the customer's large bill into the register right away
Rather, keep it on top;
Then make the change; and only then, after the customer is satisfied, put it into the register. This can avoid a dispute in a case when a customer hands you a $10.00 and claims to have given you a $20.00. By NOT depositing it right away, one is being PRO-active.
Be careful to be Zahir! ;-)


Friday 17 June 2011

Fungibility of Z'chut and T'nai Kahal

Originally published 6/17/11, 5:37 pm.
I first encountered this in the Hayyei Adam part 1 17:35 regarding exclusive z'chut to build a Beit Midrash. The HA there cites his source as Ta"z 11 - see below.

HA: If the z'chut is given as an honor, he may not sell it
However, If he paid for it, he may in turn sell it.
Note - No discussion is made here re: if someone were to thwart this z'chut and thwart the agreement. Recourse apparently would be an issue in Choshen Mishpat
Bottom line - we see an intangible right has market value under certain conditions. Here the condition seems to be tied to an investment.

Additional sources:

See SA O"Ch 153:12
Baer Hetev 22 quoting Ta"z 11
MB 76 first quoting the L'vush then the aforementioned Ta"z

Also note that as Per MB there are strings attached to the sale of the z'chut. It's not unconditionally fungible rather "davka l'hagun kamohu."

This seems to imply that a seller - even though he sells something- may reserve rights regarding subsequent sales. In this case, it seems that either public or Halachic interest creates this reservation, and NOT the seller's stipulation.



1. Is the exclusive right to Publish analogous to the exclusive right to Build?

A. Could a Rav Halachically sell exclusive publication rights? Let's say Rav Breuer approaches Philip Feldheim and offers him exclusive rights to PUBLISH his Hiddushei Torah?

B Could Feldheim in turn sell that right?

C. Similarly, could a Kahal Halachically sell exclusive its publication rights to its "Pinkas"?


Thursday 16 June 2011

Oh, Oy, Ow | Hirhurim – Torah Musings

And don't forget the Litvisher AY - eh?

naomi's question of the day - #21

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 16, 2011

The Torah Sages don't seem to complain about the human existential condition. Do you agree? Why don't they complain? Where is their existentialism?

How it is possible to love and revere and doubt God?

Wednesday 15 June 2011

How Israeli Know-How is making the world a Better Place

«June 5, 2011 - Hebrew University researchers have discovered how a single gene can keep malignant cancer cells from spreading to healthy tissue.»

Did You Know | didyouknow


The Problem: Is it Stringency or Simplicity?

Originally published 6/15/11, 10:39 am.
Recently, I was directed to an article on the Jewish Ideas and Ideals website by Rabbi Alan Yuter on Sefirat HaOmer and the minhag of practicing some form of aveilut during intervals of this time period.
Rabbi Yuter wrote the piece  in response to a statement by a leading Rosh Yeshiva that critiqued various new halachic innovations, perceived by individuals as meeting the technical requirements of the law but, in this Rosh Yeshiva's assessment, clearly did not meet its spirit. His argument, further, was that, in many cases, regardless of the attitude of the community at large, they also did not even meet the technical requirements.
As an example of this, he focused on the development of 'voice only' musical tapes marketed as permitted during Sefirah since there are no musical instruments in the arrangement. The very fact that people would even consider listening to such tapes during Sefirah, displayed to this Rosh Yeshiva the weakness of people wishing to circumvent the law. It seems his argument further was that listening to such tapes during Sefirah also violated the technical requirements of the halacha. In any event, "many of the gedolei rabbonim [great rabbis]  have ruled that one should not listen to this type of music during Sefirahand The Three Weeks" and this is what the community should implement.

In response, Rabbi Yuter contended that this was, in fact, a gross simplification of the spirit of the law and also its technical requirements. Given the relatively recent development of this prohibition on music during Sefirah itself , especially in tape form, such a hard line view as presented in this statement, he found, in itself, to be problematic.
While Rabbi Yuter's presentation was technically sound in many ways, I began to wonder what it was in this Rosh Yeshiva's statement that really bothered him. Was it that this Rosh Yeshiva was overly stringent or overly simple?

There is an interesting aspect to the split that seems to be developing within the Orthodox world. In the minds of those who, let us say, are more to the left of the spectrum, those that maintain more stringent positions are also perceived to be more dogmatic. They, in turn, while also advocating for more lenient positions also define themselves as more intellectually critical.
There is actually some truth to this assertion for the argument for leniency is often built on a recognition of disagreement, machloket, in the fabric of Halacha, a fact that clearly points to the inherent intellectual nature of it. These assertions, though, are much more rigid then they need be or even should be. There is, in fact, great sadness in this formulation of distinction in the two camps, that stringency is immediately associated with dogmatism and that leniency is presented as inherently associated with intellectual fortitude.
The question, though, is not whether this need be. This I would contend is obviously not so. The model of Beit Shammai should also be in our mind; they were deemed to be the more intellectually deeper as well as the more stringent.The question, though is: why is this so?

I obviously touched upon one reason for this. Dogmatism offers support to the more stringent position while recognition of divergent viewpoints, reflecting the more intellectual nature of Torah, offers support for the more lenient.
The further question, though, is: which is the more dominant motivation. Do we desire leniency (and that is not necessarily bad, but that is for a different discussion) and such embrace greater intellectual understanding? Or is it that we wish to meet higher intellectual standards which inevitably lead to greater leniency because of the greater understanding of possibilities?

A similar question I do not believe could be asked concerning the stringent/dogmatic side. I don't think anyone would contend that the motivation is really dogmatism and thus they are more stringent. The very fact that often proponents of such views try to claim that they are not being dogmatic would seem to support a contention that the drive is not for dogmatism, at least on a conscious level. There may, though, be a drive for simplicity resulting in a desire for clear answers, a drive for that leading to the more stringent view. This perhaps should be considered a possibility.
In fact, though, arguing that there is a drive for stringency leading to a desire for greater simplicity would also seem to be a problem. Of course, we see with the further embracing of chumrot that there may, in fact, be somewhat of a drive for greater stringency -- for various ancillary reasons -- but I think that the greater drive is not stringency but rather consistency and tradition. I think that we could easily contend that the psychological motivation of this camp -- what we have termed the stringent/dogmatic side -- is actually pretty easy to define.
There is a desire for a specific answer deemed to be clearly correct and this, inevitably, must lead to dogmatism. This is one side of the present frum world.

It is the intellectual/lenient world that raises the greater question of what is the motivation. Is it, bluntly, a disgust with dogmatism or a desire for leniency? With the disgust for dogmatism we can include an anger at the misrepresentation of truth and/or the authenticity and value of Torah study, limud haTorah. This drive, though, as mentioned above, does not necessarily have to lead to leniency. (I guess we should also have noted that dogmatism does not always have to lead to stringency. There are dogmatic liberals. The final point about dogmatism, though, is that it does necessarily lead to a perception of solitary answers.)
What is happening, though, is that it is often being presented in a matter that it does. This is becoming the exact problem. I have no way of knowing, bluntly, the answer to the above question. What essentially bothers me is that a perception of an inherent link between leniency and intellectual honesty is developing -- and this has its own problems and dishonesty.

I guess this specifically bothers me because of its effect on Nishma. Its becoming that if you project yourself as analytical and thoughtful -- specifically in the presentation of spectrum of opinions -- it becoming assumed that your real motivation is leniency. Nishma, as such, is often labelled in this camp while it definitely is not.
This is not to say that it is in the stringent/traditional camp either. Its interest is solely the veracity of limud haTorah. It has no agenda aside from thought. Given the climate of our present world, this is hard for anyone to imagine. Presenting spectrum -- you must be to the left.

And then there is the other side of this problem -- if you are to the left, i.e. lenient, the assumption is that you must be intellectual. This further leads to the portrayal of advocates of left positions as specifically intellectual and/or intellectually motivated. And this further keeps the general fallacy in our world continuing.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Tuesday 14 June 2011

JVO: Tattoos and Jewish Burial

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 serves as an Orthodox member of their Panel of Scholars, offering answers from our perspective.

This post is part of a weekly series on the Nishmablog presenting the questions to which he responded and the answers that he gave.

* * * * *

Question: Can a Jew be buried with a tattoo or body piercing? How has this changed over time, if it has, and what is the reason behind the prohibition?
I really lucked out
Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky just addressed this in his "legal-ease" series in OU's Jewish Action
Magazine - Summer 2010

What’s the Truth about . . . a Jew with a Tattoo Being Buried in a Jewish Cemetery?

MISCONCEPTION: A Jew with a tattoo may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

FACT: This belief has no basis in Jewish law. Just as a Jew who violated other Torah laws may be buried in a Jewish cemetery, so too may one who violated the prohibition against being tattooed

While Tattoos are a violation of Biblical Law, the idea that this would exclude one from Halachic Burial is highly tenuous at best.

At any rate, those who are out-of-the-pale are not denied burial per se, rather they are relegated to the fringes of the cemetery. In my native town, an executed murderer was buried on the fringe

naomi's question of the day - #20

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 14, 2011

When Moshe says:
O that all the people of  God were prophets, that God would place His Spirit upon them
it seems to suggest that there is a state of prophecy that exists before God involves Himself --what is this state, how is it achieved, how is it exemplified?
Ans who are 'the people of God'?

Monday 13 June 2011

Online OU Shiurim on Yoreh Dei'ah

From OU's R Avraham Gordimer - posted with permission
A few months ago, the OU began to electronically broadcast an ongoing series of Yoreh Deah shiurim for internal use. As a result of very positive feedback, it was decided to take these shiurim to the public and to make them public features on the OU websites.

These shiurim may be of interest to those wishing to review Yoreh Deah, and the ease of portable electronic download makes them of great appeal to those of us ''on the go".

Here is an explanatory message about the shiurim which I sent to the OU kosher rabbinic staff a while back, in case the program may be of interest to you:

As part of our ongoing professional development initiatives, b'chasdei Hashem, I am privileged to announce a new OURadio and OU Torah program program: Yoreh Deah Mini-Shiurim delivered by our own Rabbi Eli Gersten.

The mini-shiurim go through Yoreh Deah, starting with Hilchos Basar B'Chalav (siman 87), with each mini-shiur covering approximately one s'if. The presentation is clear, thorough, and is both simple and advanced enough to serve as excellent chazarah and furtherance of learning on various levels.

I am indebted to Rabbi Elefant for authorizing and encouraging this new project, to Rabbi Gersten for putting in so much time and effort to expertly prepare and present the shiurim, and to Dan Jeselsohn for his amazing work to get everything together, set up, on line, with great pleasantness and professionalism.

Dan has set this system up for podcast feed:

The Yoreh Deah shiur is now available as a podcast. You can subscribe using iTunes (free music and podcast management software available here or any other RSS Feed reader/podcast software. If you are using iTunes you can simply click on the iTunes logo below the podcast feature box at the top of the Yoreh Deah page ( and you'll be able to subscribe automatically.
You can also subscribe to the podcast feed manually in iTunes. To do so, in iTunes click on the "Advanced"menu in the top left hand side of your screen. Select "Subscribe to Podcast..." from the drop down menu. Then cut and paste this url- into the text box that appears and click on "OK". This will make all the shiurim appear in the podcast section of your iTunes. From the podcast section of your iTunes you can then download all the available shiurim by clicking on the arrow to the left of where it says "Yoreh Deah" and then selecting "Get All".
Additionally each shiur can be downloaded as an individual mp3. You can right click on any "'download mp3" link and select "save as..." from the drop down menu. Once you've saved the file to your computer you can burn a CD or drag it into whatever software or mp3 player you'd like.

Avrohom Gordimer

Yishar Kochecha R Gordimer and the OU for being Marbitz Torah


naomi's question of the day - #19

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 13, 2011

There would seem to be a strengthening in reasoned repetition yet many people crave the excitement of constantly distinguishable happenings. Why? What leads Torah Jews to pursue reasoned repetition?

Sunday 12 June 2011

Results of Poll on: Tikkun Leil Shavuot

In our last poll, we inquired:

New Poll: Tikkun Leil Shavuot

It has become customary to stay up all night Shavuot to learn
Torah especially in wake of the Sh'lah Hakodesh's story
about that famous "all-nighter" in Z'fat.  Here is a
survey of several possibilities, please feel free to
pick more than one

1. Staying Up all night is nice, but davening with
Kavvanah in the morning is even MORE important

2. Similarly it's better to go to bed on time and arise
early and learn before davening - even though that's
not the minhag

3. Staying up all night is a rite of passage for
youngsters. Adults should learn a bit and then get a
good night's sleep.

4  Since, it's Minhag Yisroel therefore everyone should
stay up all night learning unless they have a medical

5. One should stick to learning the Tikkun as
instituted by the Sh'lah Hakoseh himself. And only
when it's been completed may one learn other subjects

6. Echad hamarbeh v'echad hamam'it - uvilvad 
she'y'chavein et libbo lashamayim.  
What's your choice?

Your Responses (total - 7 respondents; 10 selections)
Respondents were allowed to mark more than one choice

Choice A - 29% (2) 20%
Choice B - 14% (1) 10%
Choice C - 43% (3) 30%
Choice D - 00% (0) 00%
Choice E - 00% (0) 00%
Choice F - 57% (4) 40%
Rabbi Hecht
I found it interesting that no one choose D or E which would clearly seem to imply that individuals considered there to be a greater value in the effect of this minhag versus the form. The form, though, at least in terms of staying up all night learning, was given value as a right of passage indicating that experiencing Tikkun Leil Shavuot has its place as a positive effect in a lifetime although not perhaps on a yearly basis.

YT Sheini shel Pesach vs. YT Sheini shel Sukkot

Originally published on 6/12/11, 11:11 am.
On the one hand, we begin YT Sheini, starting with S'firat ho'Omer and we also recite those Maaroviyot that deal with K'tzirat ho'Omer which took place on the 16th of Nissan - See EG Kitzur SA 120:5 for some details.
On the other hand, regarding YT Sheini of Sukkot, we are told NOT to mention the Korban of the 2nd day in Mussaf that should be mentioned due to s'feika d'yoma - because that would be a zilzul of YT Sheini d'Galuyot.
See O"Ch Ba'er Hetev 663:2 quoting a Rashi in Megillah 30
Also Mishnah Brurah 663:3
Sha'ar haTziyun 2

So - why does reciting the Maaraviyot of Ketzirat ho'Omer during YT Sheini of Pesach does not pose the same issue of zilzul YT as does reciting the korban "Uvayom Hasheini" on YT Sheini of Sukkot?


Friday 10 June 2011

How the Universe has Always Been there - Since the Beginning ofTime - 2 Retraction

Originally published 6/10/11, 3:46 pm.
Upon reflection, and further clarification, I realize that my original post was oversimplified and overstated.
Therefore I'm withdrawing the original piece, pending something better. So, please consider this retraction a Tzimtzum! :-)

In the meantime, I will leave a "baale batish" simplification
Since we perceive matter as of function of time as well as of space - [just think of Einstein's 4th dimension] therefore - whether the universe was at one time not there - is beyond the perception of almost all humans. Thus, it's  a point only relevant to highly sophisticated Philosophers and Mystics.
I won't pretend that I myself have a definitive perception of this.. Rather, let me simply say that it is apparent to me that as most people deal with it - it really IS a semantic issue [Though that may not be true of the highly sophisticated "Mavens"]


Jewish Tribune: Defining a Mensch

Originally published 6/10/11, 10:15 am. Link no longer works.
What bothered me in Rick Salutin's article questioning the use of the word mensch in connection to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not Mr. Salutin's view of Mr. Harper per se but rather his view of Judaism. Why does every Jew just by the fact that he or she is Jewish believe they are an expert on Judaism or even Jewishness? One of the hallmarks of this thought, as the Maharal points out, is that nothing is black and white. In my latest Jewish Tribune article, available at I further develop this thought in connection to this critique of Mr. Harper.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 6 June 2011

Shavuot - Akdamut and Y'tziv Pitgam - 2 the Research‏

Originally published on 6/6/11, 7:55 pm.
Guest Blogger: Joseph Lauer
Reprinted with permission 

    R. Rich Wolpoe asks, "With Y'tziv Pisgam as an intro to 
Targum, what is the real meaning of "Y'honassan g'var inv'san"?
Does the inv'san mean that Y'honassan is "Moshe" Or is Y'honassan
a reference to the author of the Targum - Yehonassan ben Uzziel 
- and it was he who was the anav here?"
    According to R. Yonah Fraenkel, who prepared the Machzor 
l'Regalim - Pesach and the Machzor l'Regalim - Shavuos 
(according to the method of his late father-in-law R. Dr. Daniel 
Goldschmidt), "Y'honassan g'var inv'san" refers to "the author 
of the Targum - Yehonassan ben Uzziel"  See Fraenkel Pesach, 
pp. 632-34; Shavuos, p. 570-72.
    This is contrary to, e.g., ArtScroll (Shavuos 559, English) 
and Kol Bo Hebrew Publishing Co., Shavuos 317, Yiddish), that 
translate "Yehonassan" as Moses/Mosheh.
    With respect to Yonasan's anivus, the Fraenkel Machzorim's 
note to line 16 refers to TB Megillah 3a, where Yonasan ben 
Uziel is quoted as saying that he did not write the Targum for 
his own glory or for the glory of his father's house but for 
Hashem's glory so that dissension would not spread in Israel.
    R. Fraenkel also notes (Pesach 632, Shavuos 570) that the 
author of Yatziv Pisgam was Rabbenu Tam, R. Yaakov ben Meir.
    This is contrary to the ArtScroll (Shavuos 556) and Kol Bo 
(Shavuos 316) Machzorim that ascribe it to R. Yaakov ben Meir 
ha-Levi, in accordance with the acrostic that they show.
    However, the acrostic of the end of Yatziv Pisgam in the 
Fraenkel machzorim does not spell Levi and has an additional 
line (beginning k'qa'eimna) between the yehon (not vehon) line 
and the Yehonasan line, in accordance with Davidson, [Otzar 
ha-Shirah v'ha-Piyyut], 3527.
    The Birnbaum Machzor l'Shalosh Regalim (p. 310) also 
translates "Y'honassan g'var inv'san" as "To Moses, the meekest 
of men, [let us give thanks]" but notes (309) that "[Yetziv 
Pisgam] has been attributed to Rashi's grandson Rabbenu Tam, 
whose name acrostic [(Yaakov b'Rebbe Meir)] appears in the 
first twelve lines in the poem. The last three lines, however, 
which bear the acrostic [(Levi)], are considered as a later
addition. (Zunz, Literatur geschichte, page 266; Davidson, 
[Otzar ha-Shirah v'ha-Piyyut], II, 420."
    Which leaves the question of why "Yekkes" don't recite 
Yatziv Pisgam if it was written by Rabbenu Tam. Perhaps because 
the Targum to the Haftarah is not said, there's no reason to 
recite Yatziv Pisgam.
    Best wishes to all for a 
Good Yom Tov - Gut Yontif - Chag Sameach!
    Joseph I. Lauer
    Brooklyn, New York 

Results of Poll on: 5 Iyyar

Originally published 6/6/11, 5:26 pm.
In our last poll, we inquired:

New Poll: 5 Iyyar

We just either observed or ignored Yom Ha'atzma'ut

Which approach makes the most sense to you?

1. 5 Iyyar Is just another day. If Behab falls out on 5th of Iyyar, say sl"ichot and ignore the Zionistic holiday.
2. 5 Iyyar is an important date. But W/O a Sanhedrin the best we can do is to treat it like Lag B'omer - omit tachnanun, take haircuts etc.
3. 5 Iyyar is a modern Hanuukah or Purim. We should have a similar liturgy replete with Hallel
4. 5 Iyyar is a modern passover. We should promote it as a full-fledged Yom Tov.

There were no responses.


The question becomes: why did no one respond to this poll? I am not sure why but I am wondering how much has to do with the view of the other opinions. It just seems to me that, more and more, people are just refusing to even goreis the other opinion. It is even beyond strong disagreement. Its more an attitude of simple dismissal -- and this applies to all the opinions.

The Mystery of Taryag "MiSinai" - 2 Approaches

Originally published on 6/6/11, 11:38 am.
Here is the approach I used at [Cong] Mt. Sinai -

Moshe was not given all 613 mitzvos at Mt. Sinai per se. This is in apparent contrast with Rashi in the opening of B'har 25:1

Rather Moshe was given some Mitzvot in detail on Sinai and Hashem told Moshe:
"Moshe when all is said and done there will be a total of Taryag Mitzvot altogether "

But Perhaps HKBH never enumerated them and therefore allowed them to unfold.

Thus, the Sum Total of 613 is indeed a tradition from Mt. Sinai, but not necessary any enumerated list

This addresses all the above questions. And it was only the Rambam who first concerned himself with a DEFINITIVE list. Until then, while the total was axiomatic, the enumerations thereof were in flux.


For an alternate, but radical, hypothesis -

613 were literally given at Mt. Sinai [opening Set]
Those Mtzvot given in the Midbar at Ohel Moed were NOT included. [2nd Set]
Note: That might include all given in the Midbar, or may be limited to only those originating in the Midbar W/O roots from Sinai
At any rate, the 613 later encompassed both sets somehow

I also highly recommend this book by
Abraham Hirsch Rabinowitz
TaRYaG: a study of the tradition that the written Torah contains 613 mitzvot


Sunday 5 June 2011

Shavuot - Akdamut and Y'tziv Pitgam

Originally published 6/5/11, 7:30 pm.
How come Akdamut is recited BEFORE the brachah of the Torah and Y'tsiv Pitgam AFTER the brachah of the Haftarah?
Note: Yekkes don't recite Y'tziv Pitgam but they do recite Akdamut following the first passuk of the leining just as Y'tziv Pisgam follows the first passuk of the Haftarah [except for those who preface the haftarah with Vashem]

Thus, This is the original structure for both Ak and YP
1. Brachah
2. Lein a passuk
3. Recite Aramaic poem
4. Resume Leining

The Ta"z and others protested, that the Piyyut is a hefsek.

But, as Artscrolls's Akdamus suggests, the Aramaic poems were introductions to their respective Targumim. Hence • the first passuk had to be leined
and hence
• its Aramaic nature.
If so IMHO citing Kabbalah as THE reason for the Aramaic is a red herring. After all there's already Plenty of Hebrew Kabbalah in piyyutim.


With Y'tziv Pitgam as an intro to Targum, what is the real meaning of "Y'honatan g'var inv'tan"?

Does the inv'tan mean that Y'honatan is "Moshe"

Or is Y'honatan a reference to the author of the Targum - Y'honatan ben Uzziel - and it was he who was the anav here?


The Mystery of Taryag "MiSinai" - 1 The Questions

Originally published 6/5/11, 12:45 pm.
A number of years ago I gave this over as a talk during a Shavuot Program at Cong. Mt. Sinai in Wash Heights...
Here is a brief summary

The difficulties -
If we presume that ALL Taryag Mitzvot were given literally at Mt. Sinai, then:

A. How did at least two mitzvot first occur in the midbar
1. Pesach "Sheini" ?
2 Y'rushah for B'not Zlaphchad?

B. How could the BeHaG, one of the first "listers" of Taryag include so many Mitzvot mid'Rabbanan?

C. How come apparently no lists of 613 Mitzvot were kept by Hazal?

D Similarly - how come Hazal were not concerned when arguing if a given mitzvah was one or two? After all it should have messed up their individual lists?

BE"H I will give my approach from Mt. Sinai and then another possible hypothesis


Saturday 4 June 2011

Mussar: On a Different Form of "Texting"

Originally posted 6/4/11, 9:53 pm. Second link no longer works.
From R Micha. Berger - esteemed moderator of the Avodah List
First see this.
" This brings up the meta-issue of how halakhah works. And therefore gives me an opening to re-post what I wrote on the 5 Towns Jewish Times site and RDE's blog.
Rabbi Yair Hoffman writes on 5TJT
which opens:
So what do you do when you open up the newspaper and find two diametrically opposed Kashrus rulings and letters from leading Poskim? The newspaper was Wednesday's issue of the HaModiah and the two ads appear on pages D5 and D14 respectively.
That paragraph frankly scared me.
What a sad comment on the fall of normative halachic process! We apparently have gotten so used to deciding things for ourselves based on English popularizations of the halakhah that the obvious answer is missing. You aren't supposed to decide halakhah from letters in the newspaper. Halakhah is detemined by consensus, not majority. You don't need to find
the one true halakhah -- if there are still conflicting letters from gedolei haposeqim, there isn't one. (And even that's unclear, one of the signatores is also on record refusing to pasqen about anasakis.) So what do you do?
Go to your own poseiq! Yes, that's right, Judaism is supposed to be based on a personal relationship with one's mentor. You get a pesaq from someone whose path in Torah observance is similar to yours, who you know, and who knows you well enough to know where you are holding and what you're capable of.
Pesaqim in newspapers? It just doesn't work that way. The ads have value, informing LORs that there is an issue to research. But you can't decide halakhah for yourself from newspaper ads!
We have become neo-Karaites, we turn to texts. No concept of the value of shimush rabbanim -- the quality that recommended Yehoshua as Moshe's successor and the loss of which created such doubt and confusion in the days of Batei Hillel veShammai. Judaism is supposed to be a living tradition; Oral Torah is after all, oral. "Asei lekha rav"!
Tir'u baTov!

RRW comments:
I have even found such people that have told me that they would trust what's written in a sefer of R Moshe over what R Moshe said to them in person!
Sometimes I wonder if these people really want to do away with Rabbis and Communities and live on a desert island and have a Shas or Shulchan Aruch parachuted from Heaven and call THAT Torah sheb'al Peh!
Well, said R Berger


Friday 3 June 2011

P. Nasso, The Nazir - Living in Moderation

Originally published on 6/3/11, 4:32 pm.
The Nazir: Live in Moderation - Judaism - Israel National News
R Eliyahu Safran:
"Perishut is an attitude to live by, not necessarily a way of life to live with. It is a personal, not a universal, goal. So too Nezirut is a personal and temporary goal, to be used when necessary. It is not a rule to be imposed upon the community. It is not Torah."


After Which Cheeses Need I wait to eat meat?

Originally published on 6/3/11, 1:37 pm. Link no longer works.
After Which Cheeses Need I wait to eat meat?
I'm glad you asked. As per a common Minhag the following list has been prepared. Thanks to R Avrohom Gordimer for the "heads up"

Aged Cheese List |


naomi's question of the day - #18

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 3, 2011

Often I am faced with situations that demand a decision and I am unclear about the halachic determinations and unable to ask a Rabbi. For example: Walking, last Shabbos, I saw an objection the road that was muktza but that was surely a danger to on-coming traffic. Should I move it or not? -- I felt my own ignorance to be reprehensible but I am not a scholar, on a trying Jew: what is one to do in such a situation? Is there a clear and substantial route for the lay-person who cares to understand the hierarchy that is demanded by Halacha?

I remember I once read that the Rav ztz"l said that we are not nearly anxious enough about adhering to Halacha. Clearly, the anxiety is not enough, not without precision and encyclopediac availability of the structure and details of Halacha. What does an individual who is anxious about Halacha but limited in an apprehension of it to do? Not everyone can be a scholar.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Confessions of a Halachic "Independent Thinker"

Originally published on 6/2/11, 7:37 pm.
For years, on the Avodah List, I often posted novel ways of looking at Halachah. One fellow was even disappointed once when I could not come up with a hiddush, when he expected me to.
Fellow: RRW you are one of the Independent thinkers in HalachahRRW: ME?!
Well how did this all come about? Later on - upon reflection - I realized what he was saying
From my "Independent" perspective, Halachah centres about the Tur, Bet Yosef, Darchei Moshe, SA and Rema. I sprinkle in some Levush and Aruch Hashulchan for "spice"
So how is it that I became "independent"? [Radical?] Probably because I usually come across as ignoring the Mishnah Brurah, Magen Avraham, and Taz.

However, the Yekke system that I usually follow is much more Rishon-centric. This is true,  as well, of most of my Yeshiva Training.
And so, I don't think I'm so much "independent" as much as I'm a bit old fashioned and not folllowing the current ZeitGeist. I guess that seems Independent to many.


naomi's question of the day - #17

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 2, 2011

I knew of a Torah-observant boy at the university who once ate 5 minutes before a (minor) fast was over. He told me he had a class in ten minutes, a lab -- that he wouldn't be able to eat for 2 hours if he didn't eat then. I asked a Rabbi I respected about this -- he said: if the astronauts are off the entry course by 5 inches, they will be lost. He said that Halacha is a precise science as well.

When I told my friend this, he angrily said: The details don't matter. I might have become ill and I couldn't be late for class. I made a decision. Certainly, I don't wish to be righteous fool.

Is Halacha an exact science? How can we know what it is to be a righteous fool?

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Exploring Parameters of Halachah for our Time

Originally published on 6/1/11, 8:12 pm.
Certainly we see changes in Halachah towards Humrot. For example, who grew up with a Fleishig Oven? Thus leaving Traditional Halachah behind poses risks of going-out-of-bounds
Yet the alternative presented by the Left of "Halachic Fundamentalism" is no solution either. How can we address the shifts in technology? Do we become Luddites in order to enshrine a "status quo we can believe in"?

Here are some topics I'd like to address over the next few weeks

  1. Intellectual Property as addressed by Torah
  2. Microwave Cooking
  3. Brain Stem Death
  4. New Behaviours in the realm of Human Sexuality
  5. Bicycles on Yom Tov

The common thread is how to apply or to expand existing Torah principles without doing violence to Halachah or even Hashqafah? Some principles may fall outside strict Halachic guidelines but well within Aggadic Values.
A Corollary to this is exploring any Naffqa Minah between expanding old existing Halachah for new situations vs. Brand new Social Policy Legislation.


naomi's question of the day - #16

"naomi's question of the day" is a new feature of the Nishmablog featuring a question for you to ponder, extend and/or respond to through your comments.


June 1, 2011

I find it often un-nerving to listen to the mountainous politicking of religion -- sharing a meal with Orthodox Jews and Jews who once were Orthodox and are now non-observant (which happens more and more frequently), I do not know where to stand. Do I involve myself in the defense of Orthodox practices which I myself accept and adhere to and yet find difficult or confusing? Is there a halachic directive concerning this? (Is silence an option -- but if 'silence denotes acquiesence', both sides will assume my alliance.)