Wednesday 31 August 2011

Teshuvah vs. Kapparah

I define Teshuvah 3 ways

1. Repentance
2. Response
3. Return

Those who've sinned need to Repent

Those who've been challenged by life or by G-d need to Respond

All Jews, Sinners and perfect Saints alike need to Return to G-d. Thus a Tzaddik Gamur does Teshuvah by Returning [even closer] to Hashem

A Teshuva Sh'leimah, undoes all the damage retro-actively. It is as if no evil has been committed at all. Technically speaking, there is no sin left to punish, no damage to rectify anymore


I see Kapparah [CPR] differently. Here too I offer 3 definitions

1. Atonement/Expiation
2. Redemptive Payment
3. Covering or Insulating
[EG Kapores or v'chafarta osah mibayis ...]

Atonement to my way of thinking is LESS desirable than a complete Teshuvah

Teshuvah is like a cure. Kapparah is like a palliative.

EG a person's cholesterol level goes up.

The cure would be a diet and exercise regimen that would both lower the cholesterol and remove any plaque buildup

The "insulating" method would be like taking statin drugs to protect one from any ill effects of the high cholesterol, but would not be a cure of the underlying syndrome, just a treatment.

Ideally we shoot for complete Teshuvah. Kapparah is nice in case when we fall short of our loftiest ideals.


Tuesday 30 August 2011

JVO: Revenge and Scotch Whiskey

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: What is the Jewish thought behind revenge, and how does that apply to the recent decision to boycott a certain whiskey distiller is Scotland because they boycotted Israeli products? "You boycott us, we boycott you" is not necessarily a Jewish response.

Within this question there are actually two inquiries. One concerns the theoretical pinning of the Biblical prohibition of revenge (see Vayikra 19:18); the other concerns the practical application of this concept in this case. Briefly, I will attempt to deal with both.
Two different yet clearly connected prohibitions are actually derived from this verse. One -- recorded in Rambam (Maimonides), Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 304 and Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 241 -- is the more direct one relating to revenge, namely the prohibition of hurting someone simply because he/she hurt you. T.B. Yoma 23a presents, as an example, Person A refusing to lend something to Person B because the latter previously refused to lend something to the former.
The second commandment included in this verse – recorded in Rambam (Maimonides), Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 305 and Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 242 – is of a more indirect nature and is usually referred to in English translation as bearing a grudge. The gemara gives as an example the case when Person A does still lend something to Person B but makes a point of mentioning that this  is unlike Person B who did not lend Person A an item when asked. Sefer HaChinuch points out that the connection of both these prohibited behaviours is the desire to hurt the other in the same manner that this person was hurt. Person A was hurt by Person B because the latter did not lend the former an item. Person A’s motivation for either now not lending Person B an item or lending the item but only after making a point of his/her better behaviour is simply to treat the other badly and/or hurt the other out of grievance. This is what is the essential wrong in both these cases and is at the root of both prohibitions..
In the case of these mitzvot, the nature of this motivation is, thus, of great importance. The previous verse, Vayikra 19:17, informs us that we have a responsibility for our fellow Jew and, as such, we have an obligation to rebuke them, to foster better behaviour in our fellow Jews. If there is a positive purpose in undertaking an action against another, the action does not fall under these prohibitions. So if you say something to another when lending this person an object after he/she did not previously lend you an object, but your objective was not to cause pain but to instruct the other in correct behaviour, with a goal that this instruction will be adopted, you have not violated these commands. It’s the same as hitting another. If you do so because he/she hit you, that’s revenge. If you do so to protect yourself and to stop the other from hitting you, it is not.
As such, it is specifically when an action of a revengeful nature is undertaken to solely cause pain to the other that we encounter a violation of these commandments. An action of this nature undertaken for a positive purpose – whereby the motivation is this positive purpose – does not fall into these categories of sinful revenge. That is why this very same gemara in Yoma states that a Torah scholar who is not vengeful is not a true Torah scholar. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 7:13 explains. When a Torah scholar is belittled, especially in public, it is not his/her personal status that is diminished and/or attacked; it is the very honour of Torah itself that is challenged. In this regard, the Torah scholar must take action for the honour of Torah. The motivation is not personal hatred and/or desire to hurt. The motivation is furtherance of Torah. When action that seems to be vengeful is undertaken for a positive purpose, it is not included in these prohibitions. One must, of course, ensure, though, that the true motivation is this positive purpose and that one is not just finding a rationalization for spiteful revenge.
.So, on the surface, it would seem that this boycott of ones boycotting Israel would be acceptable as the purpose is not just to cause pain to the ones who instituted the original boycott but also to try and effect a positive change in, at least, attempting to thwart the original boycott.
There is, though, a further problem. Is this response truly in keeping with principles of justice and the parameters of how we are to act in response to an act of aggression (which this boycott is)? The answer in this case may clearly be no. The ones who instituted the original boycott against Israel are not the ones affected by this boycott for Israel. There is even a question whether the ones affected by this boycott on scotch whiskey can even influence the ones who started the whole matter by boycotting the purchase of books published in Israel. It seems that the real motivation may be to hurt someone because someone hurt Israel. This would even be a case worse than the simple parameters of revenge. In those cases, we critique a motivation to hurt another because he/she hurt you. What would clearly be even worse would be a desire to hurt someone, almost anyone, because you were hurt. That may be the case here. Is this a case where we are so upset with boycotts of Israel that we just want to do something to express our anger and hatred of these boycotts? If so, it would be clearly wrong and any arguments for such an action would have to be seen as only invented to find some means of justifying the action. This is the core of the issue. Is there a real, positive purpose to this action or is it simply a way of expressing anger and hatred? If the former, it could be justified. If the latter, it would not be. 
(It should perhaps also be noted that a further argument could also be made to justify this reactionary boycott in that it would seem that the original Biblical prohibition is solely on taking revenge on fellow Jews. I do not wish, though, to pursue this argument as it, in turn, raises the whole issue of why there should even be a distinction between Jews and non-Jews in this regard or, in fact, in regard to any ethical standard. This further issue, though, is a most complicated one – generally often misunderstood – and beyond the parameters of this question. It should be stated, though, that while this distinction does exist, an argument for vengeance based on such an argument, would still be seen as fundamentally weak for, while technically a distinction between Jew and non-Jew has some basis, the character trait of being a vengeful person is still clearly perceived to be a most negative one. As such, the literature clearly maintains that it should not be part of our base personality in dealing with anyone. The complex question that then arises, as such, is: why would the Torah then clearly demarcate such a law, in any way, as only applying to fellow Jews when, in fact, such behaviour is expected to be rejected universally? This is the question that unfortunately we are not able to pursue at this time.)

Monday 29 August 2011

Avot de R. Reuven - Three Pillars of Pharisaism

There are three pillars of upon which Pharisaism stands

1. Pietism - K'doshim Tihyu, P'rushim Tihyu

2. Traditionalism - Sh'al Avicha v'Yageid'cha*

3. Textual Liberalism - Z'keinecha v'Yom'ru Lach **


* what previous generations say [M'sorah] counts

** Oral Teachings of the Z'keinim are more important than what's written there.



Sunday 28 August 2011

The "Shelo Asani Ishah" Issue

The presentations on the Morethodoxy blog,, by Rabbis Kanefsky and Lopatin on the bracha of shelo asani ishah and, what we may term, related issues has initiated much discussion within the Orthodox world on what exactly are the parameters of this world. It is my hope, in the near future, to present on the Nishma website a more thorough discussion of this issue. In the meantime, though, there is one item that has been bothering me and, surprisingly, in reviewing much that has been written on the subject, I have not found stated. This is an inherent weakness in the original halachic argument for heter -- which, additionally, truly highlights the whole issue.

In attempting to argue that one could skip the bracha of shelo asani ishah, the argument is made that the bracha of she'asani Yisraeli could be made instead which would thereby exempt one from all 3 shelo asani brachot. To substantiate this argument, it is first offered that there are clearly major authorities who accept a girsah of she'asani Yisraeli. A halachic conclusion, in the name of the Bach, is then presented that if one already made the bracha of she'asani Yisrael, one should not recite any of the 3 shelo asani brachot as they are included in that bracha. As such-- although recognizing there are the challenges due to tradition, the needed use of a minority opinion and the use of a bidi'eved view l'chatchila -- the conclusion can be reached that due to the needs of out times, we should follow the girsa of she'asani Yisrael, apply the Bach's logic that this bracha exempts shelo asani ishah, and instruct people to just say the she'asani bracha thereby circumventing the saying of shelo asani ishah. In response, strong disagreements have been voiced against this conclusion precisely because of the challenges noted above.

My problem, though, is in the very statement, and subsequent analysis, of the gemara. Any shittai emerges from an attempt to understand the language and flow of the text. Positions do not stand on their own and once existent, have a life of their own. They emerge from an understanding of the text and must be seen within this context. As such, the bottom line of all psak is the way that one is understanding the gemara. In that regard, there are indeed possible times that one can rely on a da'as yachid, i.e. a singular way of understanding a gemara text at odds with all the other ways of reading the text. The point here, though, is that the final conclusion reached in this halachic presentation has no connection to the original statement of the gemara in any way. The conclusion simply does not flow from the gemara.

There is indeed girsa'ot that read one of the brachot as she'asani Yisraeli in distinction to shelo asani goy -- but so what? That in itself means nothing in regard to the bracha of shelo asani ishah. The very point of the gemara is that there are 3 brachot with the result that if you actually believe the correct language of the gemara is she'asani Yisraeli, you would have to maintain that one must still recite shelo asani ishah and shelo asani eved even if one recites she'asani Yisraeli. In fact, the Bach's very argument is that the girsah of the gemara must be shelo asani goy for if it was she'asani Yisraeli, the other two brachot would be superfluous. That is the context in which he presents the idea that, if recited bedi'eved, she'asani Yisraeli would exempt the need to recite the other brachot. The bottom line, though, is that the real point of the Bach is that this cannot be the correct girsa for the gemara calls upon the individual male Jew to make 3 brachot including shelo asani ishah.

The bottom line is that there really is no halachic argument from anyway of reading the gemara that can result in forgoing shelo asani ishah. If you hold directly that the girsah is she'asani ishah, it must be that for some reason, againsit the Bach's reasoning, you must still say shelo asani ishah and shelo asani eved. The gemara simply calls for 3 brachot. The argument of the Bach that states that she'asani Yisraeli can bidi'eved exempt one from saying shelo asani ishah actually flows from a contention that this language cannot be the proper girsah in the gemara. The gemara still calls for 3 brachot and they are the 3 shelo asani ones.

Psak has to go back to the language of the gemara. In this case, there is no way of understanding this gemara as stating in any way that one can forego saying shelo asani ishah. The issue of whether the other bracha is she'asani Yisraeli is irrelevant. If that is the girsah of the gemara, the gemara still calls for 3 brachot. If it is not, the gemara still calls for 3 brachot. Any other analysis is just mental gymnastics in a vacuum. The gemara's language is a challenge to that vacuum.

As I mentioned, I do hope to write more on this. The argument is that there may be a place for chiddush and, indeed, as Rabbi Lopatin wrote, Rav Moshe was an excellent example of this -- but there was always the parameter of the language of the gemara. This, to me, is the bottom line of Orthodoxy -- more on this though later.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

K'var Ne'emar l'Mosheh miSinai

A Peirush on R Hannaya Ben Akashya Omeir quotes a Y'rushalmi Pei'ah 2:6

«Afilu mah shetalmid vatiq atid l'horot lifnei rabbo - K'var Ne'emar l'Mosheh miSinai»

What's P'shat - "K'var Ne'emar l'Mosheh miSinai"?

Is it literal? [B'foal] Namely that Mosheh Rabbenu at Sinai literally heard every Hora'ah in history?


Is it Potential? [B'choach] that Mosheh Rabbenu at Sinai heard a system that potentiated every future hora'ah in history?


Is it something else entirely?


Saturday 27 August 2011

Mussar: Private Vs. Public Hochachah

One upon a time we had a discussion on a list about attacking public pronouncements. Here is a story that illustrates that.

Abie: Anything said in a public way is fair game for criticism

Izzie: That's doesn't seem so menschlich. Maybe it's better to ask them to clarify privately first

Abie: that's so unnecessary, and a waste of time

Izzie: I see what you mean but I still think it's darchei shalom to try to prevent embarassment

Later that day

Sara [Abie's wife to a crowd] can you believe these guys they're mamash apikorsim bla bla bla

Becky [Izzy's wife]: what do you mean?

Sarah: did you see what so-and-so said

Becky: I don't think you're facts are correct

Abie intervening: Sarah dear, my I have a private word with you? ...

Izzy: what did you say?

Abie: I quietly corrected her facts and then was ready to read her the riot act, but I let it go and asked her to clarify what she said.

Izzy: Well since Sarah spoke to a crowd why didn't you ream her out in public?

Abie: what are you meshuggeneh? I can't afford a divorce?

Izzy: hmmm there must be some Mussar here somewhere. :-)


RRW: Hameivin yavin
Shalom, RRW

Friday 26 August 2011

Two Classic Perspectives on Birchot haShachar, and How it Matters

Here is a Halachic/Minhag perspective on Birchot HaShachar that could shift your paradigm...

There are two HALACHIC systems in the Classic Poskim with regard to Birchot HaShachar

1. Birchot HaShachar in private - based upon Talmud, Rambam, and the first deiah in SA. Each brachah is said as you get up, etc..


2 Birchot HaShachar in public based upon the 2nd deiah in SA and Rema.

Thus, as Birchot HaSahachar was implemented in Ashkenaz it's a "chidusho shel olam Thing" done b'tzibur where women don't count for the minyan. And the old minhag was often to repeat this series over and over to manufacture amanim.

When seen in THAT context
The spin on these brachot is much simpler, namely -

"Who counts in this Minyan?"
B"H I do because -
A I'm not an "eino yehudi"
B am I an Eved
C am I an Ishah

Therefore B"H *I* count

After 5 years of manning [pun intended] a software hotline, I've learned that the #1 question to ask is "what changed before the problem occurred?"

Given this background it is now wonder that NOW, all of a sudden, these brachot have become controversial - because
Q: What changed?
A: Egalitarianism!

So when you start counting women to a Minyan, VOILA! Houston we have a problem! Which is how/why this has become an issue, because this agenda wishes to include women in the Minyan. And there's the rub!

Shalom, RRW

Thursday 25 August 2011

P. R'eih - Kashrut and Yamim Tovim

The old joke goes about the new rabbi who starts out in his new pulpit

The First week the Rabbi speaks about Shabbat. The Congregation pushes back - please don't preach about Shabbat, it makes the unobservant feel uncomfortable etc.

The second he week he speaks about Kashrut. Again The Congregation pushes back, please don't preach about Kashrut, it makes the unobservant feel uncomfortable etc.

The rabbi asks then what SHOULD I talk about?"

They answered: "Judaism!"


We know that you need not be Jewish to love Rye Bread nor to be a "good person"

So what makes us distinct?
Shabbat and Kashrut, to name a few, pillars of our Observance

Similarly what KEEPS us from assimilating into the Alien Culture?

Furthermore, why in P. R'eih in R'vii the Torah discusses Kashrut and in Sh'vii it discusses the Haggim?

I would suggest that the two bulwarks against assimilation in our society are Kashrut and Yamim Tovim. Few practices keep us apart from einam Y'hudim than our dietary laws and Observance of Our Calendar. In a 5-day work week setting, Shabbat is not quite such a distinguishing marker with regard to "taking off of work". But when one needs to Observe the various Haggim, THAT immediately sets us apart. And so it is with dining and socializing. We simply do not dine or drink together.

Note that the connection between Haggim and Kashrut occurs elsewhere in the Torah,too; EG in P. Mishpatim and Ki Tissa.

Summary: Kashrut and Yamim Tovim are how we differentiate ourselves as a Torah People. The Torah connects them because especially in Chutz La'aretz these are the markers that makes us distinct from all other peoples.


My Faith: Sen. Joe Lieberman embraces 'the gift of the Sabbath'

I saw the following on the CNN website

and wanted to put up this link on the blog to see what others thought of it.

Overall, there is obviously pride in seeing an observant Jew in such a position -- and viewed positively for his commitment. There were some items in the report that bothered me, though. One, for example, was that what is presented as violations of the Sabbath -- such as his voting in the Senate on Shabbat -- may actually not be violations. It is not that he is, at these times, choosing other concerns over his religion but is still following his religion. I think this should have been presented more clearly because it is an important principle that has to be enunciated in this modern world. Even as people are more open to divergent religious expressions, they are often seen as simply acceptable discretionary behaviours. It must be emphatically pronounced that it is not discretionary. Of course, CNN itself may not have that agenda and thus said what it wanted. It just to me identifies some issues even in this world of greater tolerance and acceptance.

I am just wondering if others also saw these issues or whether I'm just being picky.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Diverse Approaches of Rambam and Rav Kook

I have long considered Rambam and Rav AY Kook as prototypes of two diverse hashqafot

Rambam -
On an Aristotelian quest to define the ONE unique truth. And as a corollary, to dismiss other points of view as valueless or worse. His middah is of EXCLUSIVITY

Rav Kook -
On a Mystical Quest to seek and to find the good and value in each member's contribution to the whole. And as a corollary, debating Torah is an end in itself since the process refines the multi-faceted nature of Torah. His Middah is INCLUSIVITY As Rashi says, a blacksmith strikes the anvil and 70 sparks fly out in different directions.


What I have been unable to do is to reconcile these approaches. B"H I have met those rarest of individuals who don't see these two approaches as irreconcilable.
In the meantime, I find those stuck on ONE definable exclusive "Truthers" to be very difficult to debate with. They seem to go beyond saying "I'm right" and add implicitly or explicitly "And You're wrong". For some reason I find quibbling with such people difficult and/or annoying. Maybe someone in the readership can help me past this chasm?


Tuesday 23 August 2011

JVO: Balancing Israel Policy and Domestic Policies

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: In President Obama’s recent speech on the Middle East, he endorsed Palestinian demands for a two state solution based on pre-1967 lines that bring fears to Israelis making Israel vulnerable to repeated attacks that occurred between 1948 and 1967. As a Jew, how can I vote for a President that is pressuring Israel to withdraw to indefensible borders even though I support the President’s domestic policies?

Before responding to the substantive nature of this question – which is the role of a Jew as a citizen in a Diaspora land – it is first important to verify the facts. This is indeed also an important halachic obligation. Before one can render a decision based on the law of the Torah, one must first ensure that his/her understanding of the facts is as clear as possible. Within Jewish Law, the drisha v’chakira, the examination of witnesses, is very thorough. One cannot render a correct psak, legal decision, without an understanding of the facts to the best of one’s ability.
Having said all this, it is now important, before answering this question, whether what is reported to be Pres. Obama’s position is actually his position. It seems clear, both from what he explained afterwards and from subsequent analysis of his initial speech, that he does not believe that Israel should return to these indefensible borders. As such, the exact formulation of this question is problematic. It may be, though, that President Obama’s position regarding Israel still is one that a person may find to be problematic and the intent of this question still stands. We can thus ask: what is one to do when the politician one is thinking of supporting has views regarding foreign policy, in particular, regarding Israel, with which one disagrees but has domestic policies with which one agrees? We could also possibly ask: how is one to vote if President Obama does have this view regarding Israel’s borders yet one appreciates his domestic policies? How is one to integrate his very specific Jewish views into his role as an American citizen?
In Canada, the question is actually framed in the opposite way and indeed in our recent election people did raise this issue with me. We are most fortunate in Canada to have as our Prime Minister a man who has taken a principled stand in favour of Israel. While this may have resulted in some political gain in that Prime Minister Harper’s party did win some predominantly Jewish ridings that were previously held by the opposition Liberal Party, it is generally felt that, especially given the larger Muslim population in Canada, his views regarding Israel are not politically expedient. It is also generally recognized that Canada was furthermore recently denied a seat on the UN Security Council because of the Prime Minister’s views on Israel; this was used by political opponents to contend that the Prime Minister was hurting Canada’s good name internationally. The question I was thus asked was: whether one could vote against Prime Minister Harper given his stand regarding Israel because one strongly disagreed with his domestic policies? A different situation but essentially the same question – how do you balance views regarding Israel, or essentially any specifically Jewish issue, with views regarding a general policy matter that would affect the voting constituency as a whole? How are you to be a Jew in a Diaspora nation?
In certain ways, the essence of this question is clearly an old one and there is a substantial amount of material on this general subject within the sources. We are told numerous times in the Talmud (for example, T.B. Baba Kamma 113a) “Dina d’malchuta dina”, the law of the land is the law, meaning that the law of the country in which one is living is binding also within Jewish Law. There are, though, many limitations within this principle; a primary one being if they conflict with Torah law. As an extreme example, a national law forbidding circumcision would, of course, not have any status within Jewish Law notwithstanding this principle. The concept of dina d’malchuta is actually generally understood to apply specifically to monetary laws with even some debate as to the extent of this application. There are those, though, who also do apply the principle to other laws, within a country, which serve the proper functioning of society. As with many if not the vast majority of areas within Jewish Law, this subject is a most complex one. One who wishes to read more about it may wish to begin his/her study with an excellent article on the subject by Rabbi Herschel Schachter entitled “Dina De’malchusa Dina”: Secular Law As a Religious Obligation found in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Vol. 1, No. 1. Another possible starting point for study is the Encyclopaedia Talmudit entry on the subject.
The bottom line, though, is that it is expected of the Jew to be a good citizen within the Diaspora land in which he/she may find himself/herself. Tractate Avot 3:2, building on Yirmiyahu 29:7, instructs us to pray for the welfare of the government of the land in which we reside. We are clearly to do what we can to further the positive functioning of the society in which we live. There are also those who contend that the concept of dina d’malchuta dina reflects a recognition of a social contract that we have with the people with whom we live. We are, clearly, to maintain our end of the agreement. The question posed here, though, is different than the general question posed throughout the centuries. In the past, the charge to a Jew was to be a good citizen. That is not the issue here. The question here is how are we to let Jewishness affect the way we vote?
Democracy offers a new perspective to this issue. Before we can explain the Jewish view on the subject, we have to formulate what is expected of us from the mores of the society in which the question is asked. If the society maintains that a person can vote in whichever manner the person wishes even if it only matches the perspective or meets the needs of a particular group within the society, then a Jew voting in line with Jewish self-interests would be totally acting within the parameters of the society’s rules. It would seem to be difficult to contend that a Jew could not vote in this manner. But that wasn’t the precise question here. The question here is: whether one could vote against Jewish self-interests because of the needs of the society?
The answer to this question would most likely be a factor of weighing. Clearly what may be good for the society in general may also, most likely, be beneficial to the Jewish community within this broader society as well. It is thus difficult to define any question simplistically as presenting two positions, one good for the Jews and one not. As such, one must weigh the benefits of any position versus its costs. In this analysis, though, the fact that we have a social contract with the people with whom we live must also be considered as a factor within this weighing. One wishing to vote for a politician’s domestic policy must believe that it would serve the best interests of the constituents, Jew and Non-Jew. This is why the person is voting in this manner. The question is: what is one to do when this politician also has a policy that will harm another specifically Jewish group of non- constituents (as well as Jewish constituents)? The first demand must be to evaluate the extent of harm and the extent of benefit.
We clearly do have a responsibility to our fellow Jews and to Israel. Given that with the power of the vote we are given the liberty to vote simply as we wish, we have a right pursuant to the laws of our lands to vote in the best interests of Israel. We also, though, do have a responsibility to fellow Jews in our immediate society as well as, in fact, to all within our society. We thus, from a Jewish perspective, also have an obligation to evaluate the costs and benefits to our immediate society in our consideration. Obviously, at the extreme, if a politician has policies that will clearly, powerfully harm Jews anywhere in the globe, this politician’s positive domestic platform cannot sanction voting for this person. But if this politician’s policy may have some limited negative effects on Jews elsewhere such as in Israel, it is hard to totally outlaw voting for this individual if his domestic policies would have excellent results for his constituents. The specific question and circumstances would have to be evaluated. Hopefully, all our fellow citizens are also attempting the same evaluation. Of course, ‘I love my neighbour but he doesn’t care for me’ might change the entire criteria. This is, after all, a social contract.

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Monday 22 August 2011

Torah T'mimah D'varim 1:13,15- Why Were No N'vonimAppointed? - 2

The point of departure between the TT's approach and mine is simply this -

The TT's premise is that any Navon [must have] had all the rest of the middot, too.
I'm questioning that way of thinking and saying "lav davka"
One can be a navon and still be lacking other traits

EG In baseball.
Just because a guy hits for average does not prove he hits for power; or vice versa!

Re: Shoftim
Just because X is a lamdan does not mean he's upright
And Vice Versa
Just because Y is upright does not mean he's a lamdan

Therefore the failure to appoint N'vonim does not PROVE that none existed, rather it may be that they DID exist but none of them otherwise qualified.


Torah T'mimah D'varim 1:13,15- Why Were No N'vonim Appointed?

Hebrew Sources Below

The Torah T'mimah, Devarim 1:13,15 [TT] quotes a G'mara in Eruvin 100b
Since in 13 "N'vonim"" was a qualification for becoming a shofeit
Q1 - How come no n'vonim were appointed in verse 15?
A1. - No N'vonim were found in Moshe's era

Q2 - But B'nai Yissachar were Yod'ei Vina and therefore it's mistavra that was so even in Moshe's era?
A2 [TT] - Indeed they appointed n'vonim from Yissachar but Moshe could not find n'vonim from other sh'vatim; and so the adjective was omitted in v. 15
A2 [RRW]. - Indeed Yissachar might have possesed n'vonim in Moshe's era. But perhaps those n'vonim in that era failed other criteria. So Moshe was force to appoint the best he could find; perhaps excluding existing n'vonim as unworthy due to lack of other qualities.

But in other eras, N'vonim from Yissachar might indeed have fully qualified.

Source texts below
דברים פרק א
יג הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבנים, וידעים--לשבטיכם; ואשימם, בראשיכם.
טו ואקח את-ראשי שבטיכם, אנשים חכמים וידעים, ואתן אותם ראשים, עליכם: שרי אלפים ושרי מאות, ושרי חמשים ושרי עשרת, ושטרים, לשבטיכם

דברי הימים א פרק יב

לג ומבני יששכר, יודעי בינה לעתים, לדעת, מה-יעשה ישראל--ראשיהם מאתים, וכל-אחיהם על-פיהם

מסכת עירובין פרק י
דף ק,ב גמרא

א"ר יוחנן כל אשה שתובעת בעלה לדבר מצוה הווין לה בנים שאפילו בדורו של משה לא היו כמותן דאילו בדורו של משה כתיב (דברים א) הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבונים וידועים לשבטיכם וכתיב ואקח את ראשי שבטיכם אנשים חכמים וידועים ואילו נבונים לא אשכח ואילו גבי לאה כתיב (בראשית ל) ותצא לאה לקראתו ותאמר אלי תבוא כי שכר שכרתיך וכתיב (דברי הימים א יב) ומבני יששכר יודעי בינה לעתים לדעת מה יעשה ישראל ראשיהם מאתים וכל אחיהם על פיהם .

Shalom, RRW

Sunday 21 August 2011

Shelo Assani Blogger?

Originally published 8/21/11, 11:52 am.
«What is most noteworthy and disturbing about the article is not its source material, argumentation or conclusion. What is of greatest concern is the ideological bias that directs the "innovative" reasoning and undermines the independence and rationality of the halakhic process. Most striking about the blog post is not the unusual recommendation that emerges from it, but the unorthodox and ostensibly heretical methodology that leads the author to that recommendation.»

Vesom Sechel: When "More" Is Less


Friday 19 August 2011

P. Eikev - Tamid Einei Hashem Elokecha Bah

Originally published 8/19/11, 5:20 pm.
See Mishnah Sukkah 2:9 (below)

Given: Rain on Sukkot is a rejection of us..
Question: does this apply to us in a Non-Jewish Society, too? or
Does it apply only to conditions in Eretz Yisroel where this Mishnah was composed?

The answer I believe is - this is Limited ONLY to E"Y.
My proof-text is from P. Eikev 11:12 Source supplied below

Only E"Y merits a Divine Barometer. Those Jews in the Golah are not being scrutinised due to the nature of Chutz La'aretz and due to the predominantly non-Jewish nature of the surrounding society


מסכת סוכה פרק ב

ב,ח [ט] כל שבעת הימים עושה אדם את סוכתו קבע, ואת ביתו עראי. ירדו גשמים, מאימתיי מותר לפנות--משתסרח המקפה. מושלים אותו משל, למה הדבר דומה--לעבד שבא למזוג לרבו, ושפך הקיתון על פניו.

דברים פרק יא

ארץ, אשר ה אלהיך דרש אתה: תמיד, עיניה אלהיך בה--מרשית השנה, ועד אחרית שנה.

Shalom, RRW

Thursday 18 August 2011

Mishnah Hagigah 2:2 - perpetuating the S'michah Controversy

It is no wonder today that there are so many controversies over S'michah. It is the one documented dispute between the Zugot, and when M'nacheim refused to disagree with Hillel, it seemed pre-ordained that he would leave in favour of Shammai who was only too willing to continue the squabble.
And so it is today. We still squabble over S'michah!
Please do not rely or lean upon this version of S'michah for P'shat! <LOL>


Wednesday 17 August 2011

Counterfeiter, Rodeif, Hatra'ah

Originally published 8/17/11, 7:19 pm.
Kitzur SA 184:9
Based upon Rema Cho"M 388:11

Paraphrasing Goldin Translation

«A person who is engaged in counterfeiting money ... Is a "rodeif" ... And should be warned to desist from his practice [lest he jeopardize the community]»

Q1 : If the counterfeiter is indeed deemed a rodeif, why should he even get hatra'ah? What are the Rema and the Kitzur SA teaching us?

Note: Rema adds "v'im eino mashgi'ach" , so we expect that sometimes the counterfeiter will heed that warning.

Q2: Do we have sources re: Pinchas and Zimri? IOW did Pinchas warn Zimri first?


Is Sefer Iyyov a Model of Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained?

Originally published 8/17/11, 11:07 am.

During the past Nine Days, I've been casually going through Sefer Iyyov. I realize that this is a very profound work, and that much remains to be done to fully appreciate this masterpiece.
That said, on a really simple, structural level,  a pattern emerges.
Namely, Iyyov's life starts out wonderful, the middle is filled with pain, angst, and suffering; but finally his previous, prosperous life is restored to something even better than before.

Does not this structure resemble the pattern of
1 Paradise [Gan Eden]
2 Paradise Lost [Geirush]
3 Paradise Regained? [Moshi'ach or Hashivenu?]


Tuesday 16 August 2011

JVO: The Royal Wedding

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: Watching the Royal Wedding, I was struck by how different it is to a Jewish wedding. Traditional Jewish ceremonies seem not to include vows to each other, for example. How can that be? Isn't that the whole point of the ceremony?

Maybe the place to start is with the word “ceremony.” The Oxford dictionary defines ceremony as “a set of formal acts, especially those used on religious or public occasions.” Our starting question may thus be: are “traditional Jewish ceremonies” ceremonies as defined by this dictionary?
Our initial response may be that they certainly are. Are they not formal acts used on a religious occasion? But is a Jewish wedding a religious occasion as we generally understand this term? Within the context of the religions that surround us, weddings most certainly are, for it is a clergyman that is the active individual, marrying the couple. Within the world of Halacha, Jewish Law, though, this is not the case. Rabbis do not marry. The technical function of a Rabbi at a Jewish wedding is simply to ensure that all the legal (halachic), technical details marking this formation of a contractual entity of marriage are met. I know, this doesn’t sound too romantic. Yet isn’t this what marriage is really all about? You wonder why there are no vows in a traditional Jewish marriage ceremony for as you question: “Isn’t that the whole point of the ceremony?” Well isn’t the whole point of a marriage the formation of a new contractual entity, formed by a man and a woman, which defines the variant rights and obligations of these two parties to this new entity? The objective of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony is thus to mark the exact moment that this new entity is created, not to define the nature of this commitment. That is already inherent to the formation of this entity.
It is within this context that we can understand the Jewish wedding. At its basic simplicity, at a Jewish wedding, a man and a woman marry each other. They are the participants in this activity. They marry themselves -- another, such as a rabbi, does not marry them -- just as in any contractual arrangement, the parties to the contract are the ones who form the contractual bond. The first mishna in Tractate Kiddushin thus informs us that there are three ways that this bond may be formed. The mishna’s use of the Hebrew root verb of koneh, generally translated as acquire, is often misunderstood. The mishna states that “is acquired (niknit) in one of three ways,” but what the root of this word koneh really reflects is a change in legal status due to a new association and what the mishna is stating is that a new marital unit can be formed in one of three ways. The practice today is to do so through a monetary transaction, namely the giving of a ring (an object of value) from the man to the woman done so with a statement that this transaction is done so for the purpose of marriage, i.e. to create this contractual entity. See, further, Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’ezer 27:1. The universal practice of using a ring is already mentioned in Tosfot, Kiddushin 9a, d.h. V’hilchata.
We still, though, should be able to refer to this undertaking as a ceremony for, albeit it is not performed by clergy per se, it is still of a religious nature. Further discussion of this issue would take us into a whole investigation of what we mean by the term ‘religion’ and that is clearly outside the parameters of this response. The fact is, though, that the term ceremony may still be most applicable to this event for a wedding is clearly a public occasion. There is the further necessity that this action of marriage be done in the presence of two witnesses. On one hand, a traditional Jewish marriage ceremony is a private action undertaken by the parties to a contract that formalizes the exact moment that this new unity is formed and thus new rights and obligations emerge. It is done, however, in public – as indicated by this need for two witnesses and by the very nature of weddings to have guests – to inform the world of this new entity which must now act as so in the public domain as well. There are no vows in this “ceremony” for any responsibilities of the parties of this new contractual entity are already understood by the parties as inherent to the creation of this very entity. The ceremony simply marks the new entity’s institution.
The fact is, though, that the ketuba, the marriage contract, which explicitly outlines many of these obligations (especially those of the husband to the wife) is still read at a traditional marriage ceremony. The ketuba, in Aramaic, is, actually, an interesting focus of traditional weddings in that, in addition to being publicly read, it is signed publicly, prior to the wedding, by witnesses who are assured by the groom of his acceptance of his obligations. For more on the ketuba, one may wish to read The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, pp. 197-206. The reading of the ketuba and its public signing by witnesses, however, are not necessary parts of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. These activities should not be seen as supplanting the vows found in other wedding ceremonies. The simple fact is that the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is qualitatively different than other wedding ceremonies. The purpose of other, religious wedding ceremonies is to sanctify the union within the context of the religion. This is done by invoking the religion’s acceptance of this union through the declared vows within a religious context and the declaration of the officiating clergy that this union is indeed sanctified. Traditional Judaism, however, believes that a marriage union is inherently sanctified if the parties to this new entity themselves form this union in a proper fashion and with proper intent, accepting the rights and obligations that are inherent to this new union. It is then the public demonstration of this private commitment which marks the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony.

KSA 184:11 Halachic Insights on Abortion

For RC's the Ubbar's life always takes precedence
For Feminists, the Mom's life always takes precedence

Black and White

Halachah has a more nuanced view - pithily summarized by Kitzur SA 184:11 [following SA Ch"M 425:2]

It seems it's all based upon hazzakah.

Until Birth, the Ubbar has no Hezkat Hayyim, therefore the Mom's life would always takes precedence
After Birth - namely when the head emerges - it's "even Steven" and we actively attack neither

And this is the "Nature of the World" - Seems a Natural to me.


Monday 15 August 2011

Hair Covering, R MJ Broyde and Dialogue

Originally published 8/15/11, 7:06 pm.

Is This Really Dialogue? | Hirhurim – Torah Musings

My utterly simplistic take is

1) that HEAD covering is Dat Moshe [because it says "ufara et ROSHAH"]

But that

2) Covering other Hair is dat Yehudit, and how much hair may be exposed or must be covered would be subjective


Ahavat Yisrael 1 - Rav Aviner

Originally published 8/15/11, 11:12 am.
R Chaim Volozhiner turned aside from Cheirem to fight Hassidism, and seized education instead.

Torat HaRav Aviner: Take Away from Tisha Be-Av: There is No "Us" and "Them"


Sunday 14 August 2011

Mishnah P'sachin 4:3 G'zeirah and Minhag

1. The orignal G'zeira was to prohibit selling "B'heima gassah" etc.

2 The local Minhag was to extend that to B'heimah Dakkah too, sort of a g'zeriah onto a g'zeirah, See Bartenura there.

3 Alternatively - it's simply a broader re-definition of the g'zeirah.

A. Local Minhaggim as Humra are often Harchakot for Issurim, s'yagim
B This helps to explain the Minhag of not eating fowl during the 9 days


Saturday 13 August 2011

Mussar: A Simple Holocaust explanation al pi nistar

Originally published 8/13/11, 9:46 pm.
I served at a K'heillah of Holocaust survivors, mostly from Germany and Austria
The pain and suffering of survivors is too much for words to describe, kol shekein for the victims...

In my feeble attempt to soften the blow - I drew from Jewish Spirituality; saying the Nazis YSv"Z could kill ONLY the body, but the soul is "eternal". The body is like an overcoat, removed painfully from the person, but that "person" walks away.

Baruch shekivanti. In Chaim Vital's Shaarei K'dusha - 1:1 at the beginning - he calls the Guf a L'vush that is removed at death.... Ayein Sham

Notwithstanding this beautiful insight, I do not wish to minimize the pain and suffering of the victims. It was fully ugly! Rather, I wish people to take a Nechamah that nothing suffered PERMANENT damage. L'mashal a House that burns down is a tragedy, but it does no permanent harm

Billa mavet lo'netzach...


Friday 12 August 2011

Kitzur SA 123:2 Why No Learning on the Afternoon ofErev Tisha b'av 2 - M'qorot

Earller I wrote -
«The Minhag is not to learn erev Tisha b'Av after Hatzot
Even when Tisha b'Av is observed after Shabbat. »

See Moadim b'Halachah, "Hatzomot" "Topic 4 Eichah"
Hebrew edition pp. 355,6
The M'qor in fn 4 is a Yerushalmi Shabbos 16:1

Fn5 cites Rema b'sheim Maharil

Summary - Classic Ash'knazi methodology for Minhag
Yerushalmi - Maharil - Rema


Part 3 BE"H Taz, GRA, Hayei Adam

Difficulties with Rif and Rambam on Masechet Shabbat - 1 Intro

In teaching and learning Masechechet Shabbat I've [so far] run into 3 or 4 difficulties with both Rif and Rambam

Here is my working list -

1. The famous case re: hatmanah at the end of Chapter 2 on the Mishnah of "tomnin et hachamim" bein hasmashot [lit. S'feiq hasheicah s'feiq einah chaseichah]

The difficulties here are well documented as early as Ro"sh and B"Y. More later BE"H

2. The missing insertion in Aramaic in a Braitta at the end of Chapter 4. This explanatory comment in Aramaic is clearly not native to this Braitta. The issue is when did it get there? And Why do Rif and Rambam SEEM to ignore it?

3. TB Shabbat 6b Abbayei makes a Hilluq between deserts being r'shut harabbim or a carmelit to [dialectically] address the Talmud's conflict between two braittot. Neither Rif nor Rambam have this Hiluq. Furthermore Rambam takes the puzzling position that Midbar [at least by default] is a R'shut Harrabim. That issue is also important, but not as critical to me as - "How come Rambam does NOT have Abbaye's differentiation at all?" For that matter Rif does not either, though it's conceivable that he may have seen no need to have it.


The common denominator leads me to suspect a "generality" a Klal.

Hypothesis: Rif and Rambam had a poor quality edition of Masechet Shabbat

Ergo many difficulties can be answered by attributing this at the root cause.

There are of course other possibilities. I simply intuited this when researching the Rambam by using the Rif. The Kessef Mishnah advocates using the Rif to ferret out the Rambam's methodology. It usually works.

I will BE"H outline my findings on each case. AFAIK there are other approaches to addressing these issues but no hard evidence that Rif/Rambam had a girsa/text like ours.


Thursday 11 August 2011

KSA 167:12 v'sheim Elohim Acheirim Lo Sazkiru

I posed this query on the Kitzur List -

«Kitzur SA states it is assur to use the names of idols

Tammuz is the name of a Babylonian god

Q: What's the heter to use that name for a month?»

Here is a fascinating Response

Astro Torah: Avodah Zarah in our Calendar?

Also I'm told Sefer Hatoda'ah address this


Wednesday 10 August 2011

Results of Poll on: Feelings About Tisha B'Av

Originally published 8/10/11, 10:25 pm.
In our last poll, we inquired:

New Poll: Feelings About Tisha B'Av

Which expresses your innermost feelings about Tisha B'Av [TbA] the best? 

1. TbA is about the Hurban, period. While we commemorate and observe other 
tragedies, to me they're just a distraction from our central purpose, namely 
to wail the loss of the Mikdash.
[Music: Im Eshkocheich...]

2. Since TbA is about ALL of our tragedies, it's high time we remember the more 
recent ones such as the Holocaust and put those older events into the background 
where they belong.
[Music the Partisan song, Or Oyfn Pripitchik...]

3. TbA should be about introspection. Forget about mourning! I make it a day of  
Teshuvah. I just sit in the corner, take stock of myself and do my own Tikkun  
Hanefesh. I rebuild the Mikdash in my own heart.
[Music: Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh...]

4. We survived the Holocaust. We established Israel. We've mourned too much 
already. It's about time to leave the Kinnot in Sheimot and instead to look 
forward towards Moshiach and G'ulah. Let's stop "wallowing in our misery".
[Music: Techezeknah y'dai kol acheinu...]   

Which One Do You Choose?

Your Responses (total 7)
Choice 1 - 57% (4)
Choice 2 - 29% (2)
Choice 3 -
00% (0)
Choice 4 - 14% (1)

Rabbi Hecht
I share with the majority that answered 1 or 2 as I do believe that Tisha B'Av is about mourning as distinct from 3. There is indeed a difference between mourning and teshuva, although I do admit that the latter does have somewhat of a place on this day. The point is that teshuva is ultimately uplifting; it is an inherent part of our human experience. We were created to grow and, while we may be upset with our weaknesses that demand introspection and then improvement, the process of teshuva is an ultimate expression of this aspect of our being. The difference with mourning is that the focus is not on our line of growth but rather simply on the failing. I believe the Rav points out that a reason that an onein cannot do mitzvot is because he overtaken with the defeat that is death. The dignity of the human being is attacked and, as such, the greatest mark of human dignity, the performance of mitzvot, is no longer available to that person at this point of the greatest low. Tisha B'Av is that mark for the nation. As aveilut is the response to aninut thereby drawing a person out of these depths through a process of mourning, of responding to defeat through first acknowledging it and accepting its reality, then moving from this point, Tisha B'Av and the Three Weeks is a time for this experience of mourning, confronting defeat.
The question between 1 and 2 is upon which we should focus, the earlier tragedies or the later ones. The latter are closer to us and clearly touch us more openly; the wound is still so open. Yet, I side with the proponents of 1, for it is in the beginning that we truly understand the fall. It is with the Churban that we truly confront the removal of our dignity. Yet, this is not to say that we should not consider the later tragedies at all. The Kinnot correctly draw them into the total picture that tragically began with the Churban.
I have to disagree with the person who answered 4. Our dignity has not been fully restored. There is still reason to mourn

KSA 180:1 - Darchei P'sak

Some times Poskim give us a glimpse of how they arrive at decisions
Here Kitzur SA illustrates 3 methods:

1. "Haskamat Rov Happosqim"
Sh'mittat haK'saffim is noheig nowadays [hutz la'aretz]. See Hinuch on "acharei rabbim l'hattot"

2. Some poskim were "tarchu l'lameid z'chut." While mainstream Halachah follows #1, it's still good to avoid condemning meikilim by limud z'chut

3. "Uvifrat sheyuchal l'takkein."
No one should use a kula when the alternative is a simple, cheap option/fix to write a prozbul!


Monday 8 August 2011

Paradise Lost, Back to the Future

Originally published 8/8/11, 3:44 pm.
Most Jews look FORWARD to y'mot haMashiach. We hope to have evolved so as to be ready for a Messianic "utopia" by our growth in Torah and Mitzvot.

I look BACK to the future. I take my cue from Yirm'yahu, "Hashiveinu Hashem Eleicha v'nashuvah, Hadeish Yameinu k'Kedem"
Return us
Restore us
To when? to Y'mei Kedem!
Al Pi Drush - to Gan Eden miKedem!

Yes, we ask to be restored to the era before Paradise had been lost! It was the Geirush from Gan Eden that was our very first Hurban, our very first Exile!

We pray to Hashem to have Paradise Regained as it used to be - like Adam Harishon Kodem [kedem] hacheit
So may we go back in time
Speedily and in Our Days
Hadeish Yameinu k'Kedem


Kitzur SA 123:2 Why No Learning on the Afternoon of Erev Tisha b'Av?

Originally published 8/8/11, 11:13 am.
The Minhag is not to learn erev Tisha b'Av after Hatzot

Even when Tisha b'Av is observed after Shabbat. In that case, one may eat meat and drink wine until sh'qiah, yet not learn Torah! How so?

Here is my approach
Apparently it's due to the nature of Eating vs. Learning Torah
The pleasure of eating meat ends when one eats it. While digesting it, it is no longer such a [significant] pleasure.
OTOH,  Torah, while it is being "digested" and absorbed, the afterglow Simchah remains for hours. Thus, even on Shabbat one must refrain from Hatzat lest one STILL enjoy that Torah Learning after Tisha b'Av has commenced later on that evening

Kein Nireh Lee


Sunday 7 August 2011

YU Tisha B'Av program

Originally published 8/7/11, 7:17 pm.



Dear Colleagues

I hope this email finds you well. We are gearing up for our annual Tisha B'av webcast with Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, and while we hope this year this program will not be necessary, nevertheless we have prepared this meaningful program for shuls. Rabbi Schacter's shiurim and kinot discussions will be webcast live this Tisha B'av through YUTorah and will be available free of charge for you show to your synagogue. This year's webcast will be broken into pieces so you can either show the webcast in its entirety, from 9:30am (EST) to 5:30pm (EST), or you can choose to tune in for the special afternoon shiur from 2:00-3:30pm on the topic of A Different Conception of Tisha B’Av: The Dialectic of Exile and Redemption. In addition to the webcast, we have contracted with an AV company to arrange rentals of LCD projectors, laptops and speakers at a special reduced rate if you need to rent equipment to show the webcast, and I will be available as well to walk you through the technical aspects of it. We will also have prepared flyers and posters that can be customized by you to use to promote the webcast or shiur in your synagogue, which you can see here and here, and we will be happy to include your synagogue in the list of participating synagogues on our own promotional materials and on our website. I look forward to hearing from you and I do hope you join us this year for this meaningful and worthwhile event.

Please also keep an eye out for emails about the upcoming Tisha b'av To-Go 5771 publication for your shuls shortly.

Rabbi Robert Shur
Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future
500 West 185th St Suite 413
New York, NY 10033
212-960-5400 x 5313

Friday 5 August 2011

More on Tikkun Olam

Further to RBH's recent post on Nishmablog-
Jewish Tribune: Tikkun Olam

and his Jewish Tribune article -
Tikkun Olam


Here is another op-ed on this subject -

• Is Judaism More than mere Tikkun Olam?

• Is Jewish Education a bulwark against assimilation?


Op-Ed: Judaism is more than 'tikkun olam' | JTA - Jewish & Israel News


Thursday 4 August 2011

Jewish Tribune: Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a term that has become a standard, for many people, for Jewish behaviour. What does this term, though, actually mean as it was use throughout Jewish history? Why not in anyway invalidating the many different projects that may be labelled with the use of this term, the term is often misused -- with the result that the values that this term is actually promoting are often overlooked.

In my latest Tribune article, I weigh in on this issue. See

Possible Perfect Misunderstanding - "AltNeu" Mishnah M'gillah 3:2

Originally published 8/4/11, 11:11 am.
The Great Synagogue in Prague is called AltNeu. Literally translated this would be German/Yiddish for OLD/NEW

In Mishnah Megillah* we have ein mochrin beit k'nesset ela "al t'nai"

This expression gives a possible alternate meeting to the term - it might really be "al t'nai"

* Source Text

מסכת מגילה פרק ג

ג,ג [ב] אין מוכרין בית הכנסת, אלא על תנאי אימתיי שירצו יחזירוהו, דברי רבי מאיר; וחכמים אומרין, מוכרין אותו ממכר עולם, חוץ מארבעה דברים--למרחץ ולבורסקי ולבית הטבילה ולבית המים. רבי יהודה אומר, מוכרין אותו לשם חצר; והלוקח, מה שירצה יעשה.


Wednesday 3 August 2011

Marcel Marceau, Holocaust Hero

Marcel Marceau was Holocaust hero

NEXT GENERATIONS of Holocaust Survivors - news011407

FWIW - He was niftar on Yom Kippur


9 Days - Why no Fowl?

Originally published 8/3/11, 10:13 am.
The Or Zarua addresses this issue. I have the new MY edition on Hilchot Tisha b' Av. He goes into detail how "fowl" became prohibited DESPITE not triggering simchah as does meat from sacrificial type species.

He even says this Minhag was promoted to Issur.(V. 2 P. 574-575)
«uldidan v'hoidna ha assur mishum bal "titosh torat imecha"»

Also See fn 14 citing SA O"Ch 552:1,2

Note: I believe someone says "Torat Imecha" is darshened as "Torat AMecha." Meaning it's not just Minhag Avot but rather the Minhag of the Q'hal at large, which would seem to include Geirim who join.

And this seems to make a genuine issur. I'm not sure if al Titosh creates a Hiyyuv to do something - EG Kapparot or Tashlich. But they can prohibit things BY Extension.


Tuesday 2 August 2011

JVO: Sibling Fighting

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 has served as an Orthodox member of their Panel of Scholars for some time now and recently, Nishma's Founding Director, has also joined this panel..

This post continues the weekly series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO with a presentation of one of the questions to which Rabbi Hecht responded and the answers that he gave.

* * * * *

Question: I have two boys close in age who are constantly fighting. I know this is normal, but I have tried everything. The normal rewards and punishments don't work. I was wondering if there were any Jewish-values-based approach to sibling rivalry that I might try as a parent, or that I might try to tell the boys; Perhaps something "Divine" will have more of an effect....

This question raises many issues. What actually is the question even asking? Does Jewish thought perceive something unique or special in “sibling rivalry” that demands a specific response? Could the question not just be: how does one deal with any boys, close in age, who are fighting? In any event, could one answer even fit all? How is it possible to give advice, not knowing the personalities of the two boys, their ages, their environment?
            Our starting point should, perhaps, be exactly this, the environment, specifically the environment of the family. While we all desire a close family with strong bonds between its members, this cannot be taken as a given. The entire book of Genesis is a clear indication of this. Close family relations or even emotions cannot be assumed. At most, it can be an objective. Yet, our Matriarch Sarah’s direction to Avraham to send Yishmael away in order to protect Yitzchak (Genesis 21:9-15) also clearly indicates that it is not necessarily an overriding objective.
There is a viewpoint in the Tosephta of Sotah, chap. 6, that could be interpreted as defining the issue between Yismael and Yitzchak as one of sibling rivalry, with Sarah, as the mother of Yitzchak, siding with her son over Yishmael, the son of Hagar. Such a position would seem to even indicate that the import of family harmony is actually limited. This view, however, would seem to be a minority one. Indeed the majority viewpoint, and the one that Rashi quotes, is that Sarah’s concern was the immoral behaviour of Yishmael and the effects such conduct might have on her son. Notwithstanding the value of family harmony, and even against Avraham’s feelings for his two sons, it was the directive of God that our Patriarch should listen to his wife and send his older son away. The lesson is that there is a value beyond family harmony and that must have priority. A goal of family harmony is not enough. There must be a goal beyond family harmony. The further lesson from the Torah may also be that service of this greater goal might actually encourage the development of family harmony.
            We are told of Yakov’s two sons, Yissasschar and Zevulun, who formed a pact whereby the former would devote his life to Torah scholarship while the latter provided for the physical necessities of both (Bereishit Rabbah 72:5). In this way, both would actually gain in that the benefits of the advanced Torah scholarship, in terms of its positive effects on the society and the person, would also be shared. It was the shared goal of both these brothers that brought them closer together.
            Maimonides in his Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh 3, in discussing the commandment to love God, states that a person who loves God will also try and encourage the development and expression of this love in others. We can add that such focus will also further the love between human beings. This may be the first advice that the Torah can bring to this situation between these two boys. Present them with a purpose, an objective, a value beyond themselves and in encouraging the necessity of the participation of both, in their own particular way, in the goal, this shared endeavour could bring them closer and lead to more harmony rather than rivalry.
            This is, however, only part of the answer. The challenging, contradictory dialectic of parenting can never be forgotten. We are told that one of the reasons for the enmity between Yosef and his brothers was the special coat (“of many colours”) that Yaakov, their father, gave Yosef. Parents are thus instructed, in T.B. Shabbat 10b, to treat all their children equally. Favouritism for one child, even if not real but only perceived by the other children, can cause friction within a family. The necessary focus, as such, in correcting this situation with these boys may not be on the children themselves but on those around them.
Proverbs 11 22, however, instructs us also to teach the child according to his/her way. The Vilna Gaon comments that this verse is informing us that we must always be cognizant of another’s personality and form our connections with others in line with this. The direction does not solely concern teaching but also the very structure of our relationship. We must, as such, also relate to each child as an individual with uniqueness in our interaction with each of them. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch in his commentary to Exodus 25:27, in fact, states that the problems that emerged with Yaakov and Esav could possibly be traced back to the need for Yitzchak and Rivka to have had related to the latter differently, in line with his personality. The task of a parent is, thus, most challenging.  They must, effectively, treat all their children the same, to ensure that there is no perception of a disparity in parental love; yet, parents must also relate to them distinctly, in line with each one’s own unique personality. Intense sibling rivalry may call upon the parents to re-evaluate the way they are interacting with their children – as well as how their children truly understand each other.
Family closeness is not a given; it must be an objective, one which demands effort. A review of the story of Yosef and his brothers (Genesis 37:2 – 45:16), applying the words of  major commentators such as Rashi, will indicate that this whole episode is a lesson in responding to and correcting, if possible, friction within a family. The question is often asked: why did Yosef, on becoming viceroy of Egypt, not send a message to his father that he was still alive? One possibility is that he did not simply wish to re-create the same reality of tension. He wanted to wait for the opportunity to perhaps correct the underlying problems in his relationship with his brothers before re-introducing himself into the family circle. Seeing his brothers before him in Egypt gave him this opportunity. This opportunity must also be sought here.
It is never a simple matter to help our children to trust, with affection in the air and beyond deliberation – still, we can teach patience, insight and the mighty attempt to emulate God.

Nonsense of a High Order

Nonsense of a High Order is a new work on the market by Rabbi Moshe Averick that presents a response to the challenges of modern day atheism. Nishma, as noted in the Acknowledgements, was happy to have assisted in bringing this work to the light of day. Modern day atheist have become very pro-active in promoting their view of reality. There is clearly a need to respond. This work is one such response.

Rabbi Averick has been a friend of Nishma for many years. An early draft of his book's chapter on the Euthyphro Argument was actually published as a Commentary article on our web site at People are invited to take a look at this article to gain an appreciation for his work. His tone is not just defensive with a goal simply of answering the atheist's questions of the theist. He goes on the offensive, actively challenging their beliefs. He, thus, in many instances, shows the illogical base structure, the nonsense, inherent in many of the assertions of these self-appointed purveyors of reason. (In this regard, it should be noted, that while Rabbi Averick's presents his book as simply an argument for believers over non-believers, it is clearly the God of Torah that is his focus.)

To find out more about Rabbi Averick and this book, we invite you to look at the following:

1) the author's own website at


We should also note the following haskamot:

Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz:
Kollel Yerushalayim

When Chazal taught, dah mah lehashiv lappikorus, they were not referring solely to one who would expect to debate the heretic.  It is the obligation of every Jew to attain absolute certainty as to the Ikrei Emuna to the best of his ability.  This work presents a clear picture of the true face of contemporary apikorsus, in a style that satisfies Chazal’s leitsanusa d’avoda zara.
I would strongly recommend that every English speaking ben-Torah find the time to read the book, and be sure – as never before – of there being no logical alternative whatsoever to the Ikrei Emuna.
Yitzchak Berkovits

Rabbi Michel Twerski:
Milwaukee, Wi.

I have had an opportunity to read Nonsense of a High Order by Rabbi Moshe Averick, and wish to add my approbation to the enthusiastic voices that have preceded me. Nonsense of a High Order is an uncommonly literate, trenchant, and entertaining volume. Rabbi Averick has done a stellar job of researching the field and presenting the positions of leading exponents of atheism, revealing them in all their preposterous and specious glory. While one should not generally delight in another’s discomfort, it is difficult not to be amused by what happens to these implausible arguments under Averick’s penetrating scrutiny and excoriating analysis. Most importantly, I believe that Nonsense of a High Order is an important Jewish work. It should be of signal utility to Rabbis, Kiruv Professionals, and Torah Jews in general who seek to relate to issues of emunah with greater depth and clarity. This exposition is by far one of the best things I have read in a very long time, and I heartily encourage b’nei Torah to supplement their religious reading with this very informative and compelling work.


Rabbi Michel Twerski

Nonsense of a High Order can be ordered through the author's website or through Amazon at

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 1 August 2011

Three Quick Lessons from the Holocaust

Originally published 8/1/11, 7:46 pm.
Here are three quick lessons that I picked up from pre-Holocaust Nazi Germany that have remained with me on a very deep level

1. Demonization. The Nazis made an orchestrated campaign of demonizing Jews. A constant barrage of belittling paved the way for subsequent acts of brutality

2. Charisma. Charismatic leaders sometimes hold a hypnotic sway on the masses and cause them to bypass their use of reason.

3. True Believers. The followers of the charismatics outlined in #2 tend to reciprocate charisma with blind devotion choosing to suspend themselves in favour of their leader. This might work favourably when that leader or guru is a saint. Otherwise, it is a recipe for disaster.


R Jachter: The Parameters of Kol Isha

Originally published 8/1/11, 10:24 am.
The Parameters of Kol Isha

R Jachter's structure is the best I've seen since the Beit Yosef in presenting the various sides of a given issue.