Wednesday 28 September 2011

P: NJOP Rosh Hashana ebook now available

From R Yitzchok Rosenbaum

«I am delighted to introduce you to the National Jewish Outreach Program's ( NJOP) latest eBook -Jewish Treats' Complete Guide to Rosh
Hashana! Please consider forwarding this ebook to your entire readership.

This very contemporary guide provides in-depth explanations, delicious
recipes and inspirational thoughts and experiences associated with Rosh Hashana. The Jewish Treats' Complete Guide to Rosh Hashana eBook is designed to engage and inspire your community.

Easily downloadable for even those who are not very computer savvy, NJOP's eBook makes the customs and traditions associated with Rosh Hashana both accessible and meaningful. Jewish Treats' Complete Guide to Rosh Hashana is an invaluable tool for all Jews,

Please click on the link below to download the ebook for your perusal & feel free to forward the link to your entire community.

Best wishes for a k'siva v'chasima tova .
Yitzchak Rosenbaum»


Are High Holiday Sermons putting congregants to sleep? (JTA)

Dozing on the Days of Awe

«What if you "accidentally" hit the snooze button while sitting in Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur services? JTA columnist Edmon J. Rodman says it isn't so terrible -- and could even help spiritually.
Leshanah tovah—& LeSHAYNAH tovah!!! <LOL>


Tuesday 27 September 2011

JVO: Wife Wishing to Watch Pornography

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: My wife wants to watch porn from time to time to help with arousal, where would that fall with regard to the law?

My first response when I saw this question was a reluctance to answer it. This is because these types of questions are regarded, by Jewish thought, to be of a private nature and, as such, public discussions of such issues are deemed to be inappropriate. Yet, perhaps, this very concept of private and public, itself, needed to be imparted – and, in many ways, this idea is, also, the very basis of an answer.
The dominant opinion within Torah thought considers a proper manifestation of human sexuality to be an important ideal. The Iggeret HaKodesh, a medieval work that tradition ascribes to the Ramban (Nachmanides), presents this idea clearly. He begins with an open challenge of the view of Rambam (Maimonides) who maintained a more negative perception of the physical and sexuality in particular. (Maimonides represents a minority view that was rejected by the vast majority of Torah thinkers). The Iggeret HaKodesh states that as human sexuality was a creation of God and was part of His intention for human beings, it must be inherently good. In support of this idea, we may refer to Rashi, Genesis 4:1 who clearly states that, while the verse informing us of the births of Cain and Abel does follow the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the text, they were actually conceived and born prior to this event. A mating relationship with a positive expression of sexuality was God’s intent for humanity.
Genesis 2:18-24 further expresses this idea. In reading these verses what immediately comes to mind is that human sexual experience is not simply a method of reproduction. If the only purpose of sex for human beings was reproduction, God could have created male and female directly as He did with all the animals. God’s unique method of creating Eve was to declare the relationship essence of human mating. Sex is not just a physical act. See Rashi, Genesis 2:23. with Gur Aryeh. It is not even a general form of relating; it is a specific method of personal relating between a man and a woman who are joining together to form a unity greater than themselves individually.
This idea is at the root of the Torah understanding of human sexuality. Permitted sexuality is not just simply a tolerated way for a male and female to satisfy a generic, physical drive. Human sexuality is deemed to be a private concern because the human sexual drive, at its roots, is a specific drive for a specific individual of the opposite sex. Any discussion of sexual behaviour is, thus, not seen as generic. It is not like teaching someone to dance whereby you can just switch partners. Any discussion must, by definition, be private for it is a discussion only about these two individuals and how they specifically relate.
Of course, as with any behaviour that is individualistic, there may be some general directions and parameters to assist the couple to reach their goal of including sexuality as an important, even necessary, part of their relationship. One of these guidelines from a Torah perspective is the mitzvah of onah, marital conjugality. See Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, chap. 76. A husband is commanded, within parameters, to satisfy the sexual needs of his wife and, while this is generally framed in a quantitative manner, it also has a qualitative factor. Pleasure is part of the reality of sexual contact and a concern for his wife’s pleasure is part of his obligation, notwithstanding that this concern should also flow from the love that should be inherent in this union. In support of this positive view of sexual pleasure between husband and wife, see Micah 2:9 and T.B. Eruvin 63b amongst many other sources.
With this preamble, we can now understand the nature of this question before us. A wife’s pleasure in sexuality is clearly important and thus taking appropriate steps to help with her arousal is an important undertaking. The question is whether watching porn is an appropriate step. Pornography is clearly a presentation of the human sexual act as generic and solely physical without any recognition of its significance in the uniqueness of a relationship between individuals. This principle is found in many laws directed to ensure that the arousal between husband and wife is specific to their relationship and emerges and flows from their individualistic relationship. Without entering into a technical discussion of these laws and legal principles, allow me to just cite the following:
a) Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 387 – the prohibition to stray with one’s eyes;
b) T.B. Baba Batra 57b – the prohibition of watching women washing clothes by the river as their movement and dress could arouse;
c) Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 23:3 – the prohibition of watching animals and birds mating.
The result is a conflict of values: while we wish for a wife to have a satisfying, physical relationship with her husband, we also have difficulties with even the observing of a generic act of sex. Encountering and responding to a conflict between values, however, are the norm within a life of Torah. For example, the vast majority of Biblical laws may be violated in a life-threatening situation; what the Torah is really stating is that when there is a conflict between the value of life and most other Torah values, the value of life takes precedence. Such rules abound. In most cases, somewhat serious illness will override most Rabbinic prohibitions; medical treatment such as surgery is not deemed to be a violation of the law against striking another. (See Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 595). Certain individual circumstances may call upon us to follow a more lenient opinion even though the normative practice is stricter. The essential role of the rabbi is, in fact, to adjudicate in all such situations and to determine, given the numerous principles that are to serve as a guide, how one is to behave when there is a conflict of values.
In response to the question, we, thus, would have to conclude that this couple should actually speak to their rabbi about this. This is doubly so because of the private and individualistic nature of a relationship; the answer that may apply to one couple may not apply to another. We do not know the specific circumstances and the underlying reasons for why the wife needs this stimulus. We are not talking about the generic application of sexuality but the specific nature of this relationship. Clearly, our goal would be to assist in the creation of a situation whereby the wife would not need this stimulus. We wish the relationship to be private, individualistic and specific. In the short run, though, this couple should speak to their halahic authority who will direct them how to proceed.

Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project

Michael Poppers on the Leining List:

«I just saw on JTA


"The Israel Museum on Monday launched the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project...."

URL apparently is .

Best wishes for a shanah tovah umsuqah from
Michael Poppers * Elizabeth, NJ, USA»


Monday 26 September 2011

Two Kinds of Teshuvah: Past and Future

Usually when we think of Two Kinds of Teshuvah we think of Teshuvah mei'Ahavah vs. Teshuvah mei'Yir'ah.
Here is another dichotomy that does not seem common to Mussar S'farim but nevertheless does have some support in Rabbinic Literature:
Teshuvah for the Past
Teshuvah for the Future

In TB Kiddushin 49! There is a case of Ham'kadeish al M'nat she'ani Tzaddik Gamur ...shema hirhur Teshuvah b'libo. Quite a feat! How does one become an INSTANT Baal Teshuvah - or Hozeir biT'suvah?
In Avodah Zarah 17a there is also the case of R Eliezer Durdai who acquires "Olam Habba" in a single day
I would like to suggest another two model dichotomy
Model 1 focus upon the PAST.
This approach seems to be ubiquitous to Mussar Sefarim and Rambam MT Hilchot Teshuvah. Namely, steps such as:
• Introspection
• Regret / Remorse
• Confession
• Committing to never return to committing THAT sin again.

There is a completely different approach that seems also to work - the FUTURE oriented Teshuvah what I might term "Epiphany Teshuvah" or "Holy Instant" Teshuvah
Here the person is thoroughly dissatisfied with his past that he seeks to discard it completely. He even refuses to revisit any past misdeed, rather he wishes to wipe the slate clean and adopt an entirely new Way of Living as
a Tzaddik, etc. He finds no inspiritation from his past so instead he focuses upon a brand new life, turns over a "new leaf" and takes on the persona of Tzaddik from now on.
It would seem that the Mussar-based Past-oriented Teshuvah works primarily with the individual who need to gradually address some specific flaws
And that the Future-oriented Teshuvah is about about a total transformation, a renunciation of the past. Perhaps rectifying individual flaws might "suck" this person back to the old "mindset"; and so a brand new clean slate is just the ticket.
So he just
• Goes to the Mikvah,
• forgets everything he knows,
• commences life anew with a different perspective based upon Righteousness and Torah.
I'm not certain that this approach is actually documented as a valid alternative, but we probably see this in the cases of "radical hozrei bitshuvah"

Sources Below

מסכת קידושין פרק ב
דף מט,ב גמרא
על מנת שאני צדיק אפילו רשע גמור מקודשת שמא הרהר תשובה בדעתו
על מנת שאני רשע אפילו צדיק גמור מקודשת שמא הרהר דבר <עבודת כוכבים> {עבודה זרה} בדעתו
מסכת עבודה זרה פרק א

דף יז,א גמרא
והתניא אמרו עליו על ר"א בן דורדיא שלא הניח זונה אחת בעולם שלא בא עליה פעם אחת שמע שיש זונה אחת בכרכי הים והיתה נוטלת כיס דינרין בשכרה נטל כיס דינרין והלך ועבר עליה שבעה נהרות בשעת הרגל דבר הפיחה אמרה כשם שהפיחה זו אינה חוזרת למקומה כך אלעזר בן דורדיא אין מקבלין אותו בתשובה הלך וישב בין שני הרים וגבעות אמר הרים וגבעות בקשו עלי רחמים אמרו לו עד שאנו מבקשים עליך נבקש על עצמנו שנאמר (ישעיהו נד) כי ההרים ימושו והגבעות תמוטינה אמר שמים וארץ בקשו עלי רחמים אמרו עד שאנו מבקשים עליך נבקש על עצמנו שנאמר (ישעיהו נא) כי שמים כעשן נמלחו והארץ כבגד תבלה אמר חמה ולבנה בקשו עלי רחמים אמרו לו עד שאנו מבקשים עליך נבקש על עצמנו שנאמר (ישעיהו כד) וחפרה הלבנה ובושה החמה אמר כוכבים ומזלות בקשו עלי רחמים אמרו לו עד שאנו מבקשים עליך נבקש על עצמנו שנאמר (ישעיהו לד) ונמקו כל צבא השמים אמר אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי הניח ראשו בין ברכיו וגעה בבכיה עד שיצתה נשמתו יצתה בת קול ואמרה ר"א בן דורדיא מזומן לחיי העולם הבא [והא הכא בעבירה הוה ומית] התם נמי כיון דאביק בה טובא כמינות דמיא בכה רבי ואמר יש קונה עולמו בכמה שנים ויש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת ואמר רבי לא דיין לבעלי תשובה שמקבלין אותן אלא שקורין אותן רבי


Sunday 25 September 2011

Avot 4:11 Hayyei Adam 10:11 - "Kol Hamkayeim Divrei Torah"

The usual explanation given for this Mishnah is that:

A) when one is poor and fulfils his obligation to learn Torah, eventually he will fulfil it when [he becomes] wealthy;


B) when one is wealthy and fails to learn Torah, eventually he will fail to do so when [he becomes] poor

This interpretation presumes it's a function of material wealth.

I once heard an interpretation that presumes it's a function of intelligence or "mental wealth":

A) when one is poor in intellect and fulfils his obligation to learn Torah, eventually he will fulfil it when [he becomes] wealthy in intellect - Talmud Torah will grow his mind;


B) when one is wealthy in intellect and fails to learn Torah, eventually he will fail to do so when [he becomes] poor in intellect, his mental faculties with decrease Cv"S.

To keep your brain youthful, Learn Torah Now

Source Supplied Below


מסכת אבות פרק ד

ד,יא  [ט] רבי יונתן אומר, כל המקיים את התורה מעוני, סופו לקיימה מעושר; וכל המבטל את התורה מעושר, סופו לבטלה מעוני.


Saturday 24 September 2011

Mussar: R Yonah on Humility

Shaarei Teshuvah, Shaar 1, End of Paragraph 29:

Signs of humility include:
a soft answer, a low voice and lowered eyes.

These will remind him [a Jewish person]
to humble his [or her] heart.


Rabbi Simeon ben Zemah Duran (born 1361, died 1444) said in the introductory section of his book Magen Avot:

«None has arisen like him [Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona]
to speak about fear of G-d, to draw the hearts of
the people to the paths of piety.»


Friday 23 September 2011

Reflections upon 23 Elul, 5761

It's been 10 years, a decade, since the traumatic events surrounding the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Crash into the Pentagon.
Time tends to heal - for most of us. And for others, the wounds are still fresh, and so PTSD still impacts many of the survivors.
Here I reflect upon my own experience of the aftermath - as I lived it vicariously through the eyes of the survivors. B"H since I personally did not know any of the murdered victims myself nor was I personally near the catastrophe. However, I did know many victims who were traumatised and shared their suffering.


It was a few minutes before 9:00 AM on that Tuesday Morning, primary day in NYC, but just a beautiful day in Teaneck. I had "slept in" and missed Minyan. [Note: I had left my IT job just about 2 months before]
Suddenly, on the radio, John Gambling was alarming us about the unfolding events. Then our family proceeded to watch the TV together. I don't recall those details, but my daughter has since assured me that we were collectively glued to the Television Set...


A buddy of mine had a Yahrzeit that day. He had catered a big tikkun in shul [which I missed] but that date [23 Elul] would now be etched in our collective memories. It was a Tuesday, one week to the Day to the upcoming Rosh Hashanah, 5762.


My immediate frame of reference was the Feb., 1993 WTC bombing - when I was just 2 blocks away as that bomb exploded on an Erev Shabbos. I had to make my way to Washington Heights with a Subway and then shared a taxi with a friend...


Soon the stories flowed in. That Shabbos was a shocker. Rav Gelly of KAJ blessed me just before Shabbos that my prayers should be answered for the upcoming year. [5762]. I lamented that apparently I had not done so well with my prayers during the previous Yamim Noraim - referring to the tragedy. He essentially told me not to go there....


Shabbos morning we had at least 2 people Bensch Gomel in Shul. One was "Yosef" A"H our Down Syndrome minyan man who was a messenger in the building next door.
The other was Jai R [Yair] an EMT for the EMS-FDNY whom I asked to address us with his recollections. His company was in China Town, the 2nd closest fire station in NYC. He saw the aftermath with his own eyes.
3 times he would recite "Sh'ma Yisroel" -
Once when the 2nd plane hit
Twice more, as each tower crashed above his "head".
His epic description was horrific. He barely survived the cascading debris. He was never the same and eventually had to leave EMS work.
My niece survived by running away.. Whilst in flight, a large tire from the jet bounced nearby as she made her way to the Brooklyn Bridge. She never got passed that and soon moved to Florida to avoid downtown Manhattan forevermore.
My cousin survived from the 39th Floor of WTC. He would later bensch Gomeil at the annual family barbecue. To this day, he is quite reticent about the entire incident. Only a few days ago did I find out that his own older brother had witnessed the planes striking the WTC from nearby, while realising that his younger brother was in the very buildings being struck. Whose ordeal was the greater?
S'lichos was said with great trepidation. R"H was intense as was Shabbos Shuvah
That Y"K my dwindling minyan saw an influx of about 20 young people from the Middle East. The Seniors became quite panicky. Yet we couldn't have been safer, because they were all Israeli, likely veterans of Tzahal. They had come just before N'ilah out of solidarity with NYC Jewry. I invited them to return for Sukkos, but we never saw them again.


Thursday 22 September 2011

Jewish Tribune: The Attack on Jewish Values

During the past summer, we again faced challenges to both milah and shehitah, for former in San Francisco, the latter in the Netherlands. What is often overlooked, though, is that these challenges are not just forms of anti-Semitism against the Jewish People but are also attacks on our values. We must not forget that we stand for something.

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

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Showering on YT - week before RH

Is it Muttar to take a Shower On Yom Tov?

Some online info

cRc: Bathing on Yom Tov

Torah on the Web - Virtual Beit Midrash - Torah

Yom Tov Hygiene " The Hot Shower | Hirhurim – Torah Musings

Hirhurim - Torah Musings » Yom Tov Hygiene " The Hot Shower II


Tuesday 20 September 2011

JVO: Opposing the New York State Same Sex Legislation

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: If New York state is not forcing Jewish institutions to perform same-sex marriages, why are Jewish groups still against the gay marriage bill?

At the base of this question would seem to be an assumption that if Jewish individuals, groups or institutions are not imposed upon by a law, it is not their place, or there is no reason for them, to oppose this law. In terms of this specific case, it would seem that the one asking this question is assuming that since the New York state gay marriage bill will not cause any Jew to act contrary to his/her religious principles, there is no reason for Jews to oppose this law. Thus the question why a Jew would fight against this law. Is this assumption, however, correct? That is the real issue within this question.
Before commenting on this, we should, perhaps, first clearly outline Orthodox Judaism’s view of same-sex marriages. As is generally recognized, homosexual behaviour* is understood by Orthodoxy to be clearly prohibited by Torah law, both for Jews and for Non-Jews under the Seven Laws of Noah (the Noahide Code) which is deemed to be binding on all humanity. (In regard to this Code in general, see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim chapters 9 and 10; in regard to the specific prohibition regarding homosexual behaviour, see Halacha 9:5.) What many do not know, though, is that the institution of same-sex marriage is actually looked upon, within the literature, as an even lower form of immorality. See, for example, Rashi, Chullin 92b. See, also, Sifra, Acharei Mot 132 which includes same-sex marriages as practices of the Egyptian and Canaanite societies, deemed to be, by Sifra, Acharei Mot 131 and other sources, the most immoral of all societies. It is thus clear within the Torah literature that the practice of same-sex marriage is highly problematic.
Notwithstanding this moral position, is it still proper for Jews to attempt to impose this value – a value emerging from their religious perspective – on the general American society? There are two parts to this question. One is from the perspective of Judaism: should Jews care, halachically, about the moral practices of Non-Jews if such practices have no bearing on Jewish individuals or Jewish society? Presenting an argument that Jews do not proselytise, many people may answer with a simple ‘no’. The answer really is not so simple. While Jews may be restrained in promoting Non-Jews to convert to become Jews, Jewish thought may have a different understanding of the attitude Jews should have in regard to promoting the observance of the Noahide Code amongst Gentiles. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 8:10 seems to clearly outline an obligation upon Jews to promote observance of the Noahide Code amongst Non-Jews. Rabbi Michael Broyde, The Orthodox Forum: Tikkun Olam, The Obligation of Jews to Seek Observances of Noahide Laws by Gentiles: A Theoretical Review, however, maintains that Maimonides’ view actually represents a minority position and that the majority of scholars do not perceive an obligation. This, however, does not mean that there is still no religious value in promoting observance of the Noahide Laws amongst Gentiles. One of the important defining characteristics of our forefather Avraham was that he did spread the knowledge of God and the observance of His ways throughout his world. See, for example, Rashi, Bereishit 12:5. It would thus seem proper for Jews to, at least, be concerned about the moral values of the general world and, to some extent, promote values of a universal nature found within the Torah.
There is, however, a second part to this question and that concerns the promotion of Torah values within America which prides itself on the value of freedom of religion, a value that has also served the Jewish community well. There are again two parts to this sub-question, one - the theoretical, the other - the practical. These are both most complex issues and even a preliminary investigation of these matters would be too extensive for this forum. Yet, if we consider the original question, the demand was not to decide whether Jews should be actively against the same-sex legislation or not, but rather to explain why would various Jewish institutions continue to be against it when Jews will not be forced to violate their principles thereby. This question can be answered more concisely. The above sources clearly show that there is a strong view within Jewish thought that Jews are to be concerned about the moral behaviour of Gentiles as defined by the Noahide Code. As such, it should not be surprising to find Jews who would challenge a law clearly contrary to this Code.
The problem, though, is the practical side of this issue. Is it not dangerous to the furtherance of Jewish life in this society to attempt to impose our values on the society for could this not lead to another group attempting to impose their values on society at our expense? If we attempt to stop gays from marrying because of our values, even though it would seem that such behaviour does not actually directly affect us in any way, what argument could we have against individuals attempting, because of their values, to prevent the circumcision of children, terming it ‘male genital mutilation’, even though it does not personally affect them? The very idea of freedom of religion is the allowance to let others follow their value constructs (within certain parameters) – and such a standard has served the Jewish community well. It is actually well known that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein maintained that protecting the Jewish community’s ability to practice Torah in an unhindered manner is more important than siding with a position that may be more in line with our universal ethical standards yet may also possibly hinder this ability. It is for this reason that Rabbi Feinstein instructed Jewish institutions to side with the Pro-Choice camp in the abortion debate because this position will enable Jews to make any such decision with a consideration solely of the halachic criteria while the Pro-Life position may impose other value determinants, contrary to the Halacha. (I am sorry, while this decision is well known and I have heard it stated numerous times, I do not have a non-oral source for it.) So is there not a practical concern with challenging this law given its present parameters?
Those who continue to oppose this law, however, believe that this is precisely the point. Who is to say that the present limitations on the extent of this law will continue into the future? There is a concern that as a moral standard in opposition to Torah strengthens, there is a possibility that these new standards could lead to an eventual direct imposition on Torah standards. When one hears gay activists comparing religious opponents to same-sex marriage to Southern Baptists in the first half of the eighteenth century who opposed the abolition of slavery, this concern would seem to be very real. There is also another concern that the advancement of these values could change the societal milieu, creating subtle and indirect yet problematic circumstances for observant Jews. As such, it is difficult to fully maintain that the advancement of the values in support of same-sex marriage could not eventually be harmful to the lifestyle of Torah committed individuals and their families.
Opponents of same-sex marriage also contend that they are careful to frame their arguments within the context of general moral structures and not Torah per se. In this regard, they maintain that, while they are promoting their religious values, they are, as citizens, simply entering into a general discussion that concerns society as a whole. The issue of when such arguments cross the line of challenging freedom of religion and when they are simply part of the general discussion of a society’s mores is hard to define. Nonetheless, it can be expected that one voicing an opinion in the context of society’s standards will be affected by his/her background and tradition, and the call to discount this reality is simply unrealistic. My objective in this answer is not to express my view on the issue but simply to offer a possible Torah reason for continuing to oppose same-sex marriage. They maintain that, if done in a proper fashion, their opposition is an expression of their Jewish values and in the protection of their rights while simultaneously not challenging their parallel commitment to America’s standard of freedom of religion.

* It should be noted that, technically, one could contend that this statement actually only applies to male homosexual behaviour and that my ensuing arguments are not, as such, applicable to lesbianism. To be honest, there is some basis to this argument yet there is also no doubt that lesbianism is clearly looked upon negatively by the Torah as well. See, for example, Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 20:2. The technical discussion of the distinction in Halacha between male and female homosexuality is, however, an extensive topic in itself and beyond the specific parameters of this issue. As such, we will not elaborate upon it. It is sufficient for our purposes to outline, from these sources, the general attitude to homosexuality and same-sex marriage within Orthodoxy, so that we may respond to a question that touches upon how we are to maintain our ethical viewpoint on this subject in a world in which the general attitude is changing.

Jewish Sources and Resources on the Net

The following extensive list of Torah material on the Internet was developed by Dr. Melech Tanen here in Toronto.

It has received much attention recently and we are proud to add to this attention by  putting it up on our blog for our readers' use. (Of course, Nishmablog and the Nishma website are listed.)

Rabbi Ben Hecht 

Sunday 18 September 2011

Aspaqlaria - Reflections on Elul

Does Your Soul still have its "Heartbeat"?

«"If the boy would give just one small cry, some sign that there is activity in the brain, we would do everything in our power to try to save him. But without any activity in the brain, there is nothing to do.

[Then] it struck [him] how much this is a metaphor for Elul. Hashem would do anything ... to save us. But He is waiting: Is the soul still alive; does the person still have spiritual function? »

Just One Small Cry | Aspaqlaria


Saturday 17 September 2011

Mussar: How much Time for Mussar Study?

A Chaveir of mine does not study Mussar - EXCEPT during Hodesh Elul he takes a Mussar Sefer and studies that as a preparation for Yamim Noraim.
I have a proposal loosely based upon his premise
1. Take one Classic Mussar Sefer for intense study during Hodesh Elul
2. For the remainder of the year take another sefer or collection, and learn THAT just a few minutes a day, enough to keep one's Mussar Mindset going all year long, w/o straining one's schedule.


Friday 16 September 2011

P. Ki Tavo - Why "Arami Oveid Avi?"

I once heard a Shabbat Haggadol D'rashah by a Lamdan in which he posed the following Query: "Why did Hazal choose to Darshen Arami Oveid Avi for the Seder? Why didn't they choose other p'sukkim of G'ulah?"

Note: Many years earlier I had been bothered by another question. The Tosefta says that those who could not say Hallel by themselves gathered in Shuls so that they could hear it being led by the Sha"tz, etc. My question was, "If one could conduct a seder alone, couldn't he handle Hallel, too?"

The answer to the first question answered my question, too. That is viduy bikkurim was well known to the amei ho'oretz who recited it annually in the Beit Hamikdash. And so Hazal selected that in order to make it easy for the amei ho'oretz because these p'sukkim were already well- known.

And since these p'sukkim were well- known, the were probably also more familiar than Hallel, too. Which explains how an am ho'oretz could conduct a seder and stilll not lead Hallel.

Mussar: Hafach Bah.... Sometimes learning Y helps us to better understand X. An answer to another question, served to answer my question, too.


Thursday 15 September 2011

Is it Frum vs. Fun or Frum AND Fun?

Torah im TV?

Does TV corrupt, or is it a Window on the World?

Does Modern Orthodoxy Not Believe in Fun? | Hirhurim – Torah Musings


Wednesday 14 September 2011

R'fuah vs. S'gulah -Mishnah Yoma 8:6

See Mishnah Yoma 8:6

Ikkar Tosafot Yom Tov #16

«Since [the eating of the mad dog's liver] only works by means of S'gulah [we may not violate Halachah to do so] and we may only transgress the Mitzvot for a R'fuah...

But to use s'gulot is assur because their power is weak and they are not "mitzad hada'at"...»

Sh'ma Mina

1. R'fuah is objective [Sichli?] and works better

2. S'gulah indeed may work, albeit in an inferior way

3. Therefore R'fuah may set aside an issur

4 But S'gulah may NOT set aside an issur

Mishnah Source Below


מסכת יומא פרק ח

ח,ד  [ו] מי שאחזו בולמוס--מאכילין אותו אפילו דברים טמאים, עד שייאורו עיניו.  מי שנשכו כלב שוטה, אין מאכילין אותו מחצר כבד שלו; רבי מתיה בן חרש מתיר.  ועוד אמר רבי מתיה בן חרש, החושש בפיו, מטילין לתוכו סם בשבת--מפני שהוא ספק נפשות, וכל ספק נפשות דוחה את השבת.


Tuesday 13 September 2011

Holiness for the People

It's long been my thesis that the Torah was given primarily to Sanctify the Community as a Whole and not for the individual per se. Individuals have always had access to sacred pursuits, even independent of Mattan Torah, think Yisro or Sheim vo'Ever

And so the principles of Mamleches Kohanim v'Goy Qadosh and Q'doshim Tihyu were primarily addressing the Community as a whole. Of course some Y'chidei S'gulah do need to perfect themselves as role models or facilitators on behalf of the community. So I concede tha some individuals need to "self-prefect". Yet IMHO the focus of the Torah was not as Mussar Sefer for the individual; rather that the Torah addressed the Am, the people, the community, the tzibbur at large to create a Just, Moral, and Holy Society.

Now, go see for yourself which paradigm fits best with the following -

[Aspaqlaria] Portraits in Holiness

«We will soon get to Rav Shim'on Shkop's explanation of the mitzvah "qedoshim tihyu – and you shall be holy."

It appears according to my limited knowledge, that this mitzvah includes every foundation and root of the purpose of our lives. All of our work and effort should constantly be sanctified to doing
==> good for the community.
We should not use any act, movement, or get benefit or enjoyment that doesn't have in it some element of helping another….»*

* Hebrew Source Below

נלענ׳׳ד, שבמצוה זו כלול כל יסוד ושורש מגמת תכלית חיינו, שיהיו כל עבודתנו ועמלנו תמיד מוקדשים לטובת הכלל, שלא נשתמש בשום מעשה ותנועה, הנאה ותענוג שלא יהיה בזה איזה ענין לטובת זולתנו


Monday 12 September 2011

Ist is 9/11, 11/9 or 23 Elul?

In the USA September 11 is 9/11. Since 911 is the number for emergencies this makes sense.
Using European style, it's 11/9 And If you start the Jewish Months from Tishrei, then Tisha b'Av is also a kind of 11/9 -- I.E. Av the 11th month; 9 the 9th day

In general. I wonder out loud, why don't we Observe the Hebrew Date, namely 23 Elul?

Full disclosure: my old shul observed Krystallnacht on the Secular Date, too, but Breuer's used the Hebrew Date, 15 Marcheshvan iirc.

Shanah Tovah,

Sunday 11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11

To mark the tragedy of 9/11 ten years ago today, may we direct you to the following Nishma articles from our website:

Saturday 10 September 2011

Mussar: Mishlei 1:10; Chatta'im vs. Chot'im

«The form chattaim, as distinct from choteim, signifies men habitually addicted to crime»

A Habitual Sinner entices others since he is "omeir muttar" an occasional sinner Knows Better


משלי פרק א

י בני-- אם-יפתוך חטאים, אל-תבא.

Shalom, RRW

Friday 9 September 2011

Reacting to Critics - Silence vs. Response

The Maharal expressed confidence in the Torah and saw no need to be defensive

«... Thus the ancient sages, even when they found things in books which were against their religion they didn't simply reject them. The intellect requires that one not react to criticism – especially concerning religion – by simply silencing the opponent. One needs to keep in mind that what is published in a book is typically for the sake of knowledge and is not meant to destroy. Therefore don't reject and block out criticism. We do not find that in previous ages that people prevented and rejected discussion of religious issues at all ..»

Daas Torah - Issues of Jewish Identity: Maharal: A healthy religion doesn't silence critics but answers them


Thursday 8 September 2011

Results of Poll on: Drawing the Line in Halachah

In our last poll, we inquired

New Poll: Drawing the Line in Halachah

Where do we draw the line in Halachah?
We would clearly define anyone who says "Tanach
is Holy, but Talmud does not count" as a "Karaite"
and outside the pale but where would you actually
draw the line

Here are some possible models to choose from.
Pick the one that matches your preference
A. I accept all Normative Halachah as currently
defined by my rebbe, by my mara d'atra, or by
my community.
B. I accept the Mishna Brurah as poseik acharon.
C. I accept the National Consensus of Shulchan
Aruch and Rema with nosei keilim. No more,
no less.
D The Rambam's Mishneh Torah is a perfect
restatement of all of TSBP. I embrace that w/o
E. I accept the National Consensus of Talmud Bavli
as Poseik Acharon. Everything else is mere opinion,
interpretation or custom, but not legally binding

What is Your View?

Your Responses (total 10)
Choice A - 30% (3)
Choice B -
00% (0)
Choice C - 20% (2)
Choice D - 30% (3) 
Choice E - 20% (2)

Rabbi Hecht

The first thing that hits me about this overall response is that Choice B did not receive any votes. When I was in yeshiva, the generally accepted view was that the Mishneh Brurah was the poseik acharon and was the definitive view that had to be followed. With these responses, we seem to have moved to the right and to the left. With Choice A, by saying that one is bound to the psak of a rebbi or even a community, one's personal view -- even one's personal reading of a statement in the Mishneh Brura -- is overridden. In contrast, with Choices C and D, one is extending one's realm of personal decision making, with E obviously more extensive that C. 
E is actually an interesting choice that could be challenged, by many, as even a legitimate choice. While there may be some debate and disagreement over choices A, B, and C, I don't think many would contend that any of these three choices are outside the pale. In the case of Choice E, I think many would say that it is.  It may be interesting to run the same poll in the future but, rather than asking which view you prefer, asking which views you believe to be outside the parameters of Orthodoxy.
One may have noticed that I haven't commented on Choice D. I find the results regarding this choice to be most interesting. What does it mean? Of course, Teimanim would clearly make this choice but I doubt that all the respondents who chose Choice D were Teimanim. One could contend that many Sefardim could also have made such a choice and that is a possibility, but only because they would find this choice to be the closest to their real choice, that is that they follow the Beit Yosef. In that Choice C includess references to the Rema and the nosei keilim of the Shulchan Aruch, they may have not liked that choice and concluded that they would rather choose D over C. In the end, though, this choice may just simply show the extent of the influence of the Rambam in our learning world, either because of the influence of Brisk or perhaps the influence of the academic world. I find it interesting, though, that whatever the influence, it has affected the world of psak to the extent that there are some who would even place the Rambam ahead of the Shulchan Aruch.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Pick Your Parshanut Preference - Just Who was that ARAMI anyway?

Background -
The Passover Haggadah [quoting the Sifrei on Ki Tavo] assigns the identity of that Arami as Lavan ho'Arami

Referring to Soncino Humash P. 1118

Rashi follows the Traditional Rendering which is "..Laban.."

Ibn Ezra and S'forno identifies him as Yaakov Avinu
Rashbam as Avraham Avinu

So - believe it or not - the Rabbis do not concur about the identity of the missing Arami. :-)


At any rate - the underlying issue here AISI is in dealing with the disputing Hazal with regard to Parshanut in general.

System A
Hazal HERE were talking ONLY al pi D'rash. Thus

1 As per Hazal - The Arami could have been someone other than Lavan al pi P'shat.

2. Ibn Ezra and Rashbam were free to fill in the p'shat which in Hazal omitted

3. Had Hazal indeed been talking on a P'shat level, we don't know if Ibn Ezra or Rashbam had the authority to contradict Hazal

[This assigns Rashi as saying D'rash and not P'shat]

System B
Hazal were indeed talking "al pi P'shat".

1 Dorshin here refers to Midrash Halachah [Sifrei] - which is or can be P'shat as opposed to Midrash Aggadah

2. Ibn Ezra, S'forno, and Rashbam were free to dispute the P'shat because of shiv'im panim l'Torah, so Hazal's parshanut is not exclusive.

3. Even we [might] have the authority to offer our own version within certain parameters of good sense and good taste.

Pick your Parshnanut Preference


Thanks go to RDJM who assisted in this Post


Tuesday 6 September 2011

JVO: Movies

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: Tell me where I can find information or examples about Jewish values in the movies.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht's answer
It is first important for us to clearly define this request.
Many years ago, I was asked to lead a Hebrew High School class on Jewish movies. The movies that were to be covered included ones such as “Fiddler on the Roof” or “The Fixer.” Indeed, these are what are ones commonly referred to as Jewish movies – i.e. movies with Jewish themes or openly Jewish personalities or stories – and these were the types of movies that were to be discussed in this class. If the present request is simply how one can find out about these types of Jewish movies, the answer really is very simple. All one needs to do is simply google ‘Jewish movies’ and one will find many websites that focus on such Jewish movies.
This request, though, was for “information about Jewish values in the movies.” It would seem to be about more than Jewish movies but, rather, about Jewish values. Around the same time that I was leading this class on Jewish movies in this Hebrew High School, I was also approached by the New York Jewish Board of Education to become involved in a new project which they were considering. Their objective was not to look at Jewish movies per se but rather to develop a curriculum on Jewish subjects that would use popular movies or television shows to initiate discussion and subsequent education. In this regard, they asked me to review the movie “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” – the theme of which was euthanasia -- and develop a piece on how this movie could be used in teaching Jewish values on this subject. In this vein, when I find someone referring to information about Jewish values in the movies my thoughts immediately are upon such studies and so it is in this case. As such, this request, from my perspective, is not on how one can find information about Jewish movies but rather on how one can find Jewish value critiques and studies on modern movies..
I have already mentioned that the New York Board of Jewish Education many years ago was considering the development of curriculum material of this nature. I unfortunately do not know what happened to this project but one may wish to contact this Board to see if they have further material on Jewish values in movies. Personally, though, I have continued my interest in this study for a variety of reasons and have extended this interest into my present work with Nishma. In this vein, on the Nishma website ( one will find a column (under the general authorship of my daughter Dodi-Lee Hecht) entitled “Hollywood and Sinai” which, as presented in the Introductory essay in this column, will “examine various films in light of Jewish thought and a Halachic/Hashkafic framework.” In this column, one will find at least some information on Jewish values in the movies.
Of course, in any presentation on a subject of this nature, it must be stated that there is much debate and discussion within the Orthodox world regarding movies -- even regarding even the question of whether one should watch them or not. There are many sources throughout the Torah literature, including such directives in the Torah itself such as Numbers 15:39 (not to follow after your heart and eyes – a verse in the Shema) and Exodus 23:7 (to distance oneself from falseness), that inform us that we should be careful as to the stimuli that we allow ourselves to encounter. Clearly, this must be a consideration when viewing movies and determining what one should allow oneself to watch. Yet, movies provide us with glimpses into the world and, for many of us, worlds with which we are not familiar. One could clearly also argue that there is value in confronting such circumstances and consider how to properly respond and react to them. Movies can articulate values, some of which are consistent with Jewish thought and some of which are directly in opposition to it. Such consideration is worthy of study and thus a request for information on Jewish values in the movies is an important one. There may be other resources besides the ones I mentioned but this is, at least, a starting point.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Are There Limits to Genius?

Let's grant - arguendo - that R Chaim Soloveitchik aka R Chaim Brisker was the greatest Torah Genius of all Time


A. Does that confer infallibility onto his various writings?

B. Does that imply that his methods or the Brisker methodology are infallible?

C. Does that mean we must EG accept his every read of the Rambam as THE correct read? Or can we still offer alternate reads as plausible?.

Either way what is the correct approach here?

1. If Total Acceptance WHY? What principle is at work?

2. If partial rejection again - WHY? What principle is at work?

Or IOW just what does Genius confer or bestow upon a given author in terms of
• Authority?
• Reliability?
• Methodology?


Or perhaps does it simply mean that a Genius has a higher PROBABILITY of being correct, but it does not address any specific observation or technique?

To use a baseball metaphor, Babe Ruth had the highest probability of hitting a home run in any given at-bat, but this did not preclude his many strike-outs.


Saturday 3 September 2011

Mussar: The "Why Bother?" Mindset

Psychologically we are tied to NEEDING results from our actions

If we learn something we expect to KNOW it

If we give tzedakkah, we expect the Oni to be better off for it.

L'havdil -The Greeks have a myth of Sisyphus in which he is condemned to roll a boulder up a hill, but to no avail as it will roll down again.

The Torah in many ways is not so concerned about "results", provided one has given it his/her best shot.

Thus, "Why bother?" Is no excuse not to learn Torah because one will never finish [See Avos de R. Nattan 27:3, also sefer Chosen Yehoshua]
Also - "Lo alecha ham'lacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben horin l'hipateir mimena"

Same thing with Mastering laws of Lashon Hara. [The Choffetz Chaim Lesson a Day p. 59 - which is also the source for quote above from ADRN]

I claim the same point with regard to Hochachah. We cannot give ourselves a "Why Bother" heter to avoid a d'oraitto! Logic is not an excuse to avoid an obligation. After all, we could easily rationalize away a number of Mitzvot.

The Talmud requires Hochacha "afilu mei'ah p'amim". I would be happy with even just ONE sincere effort before giving up, regardless of the prospects of success.


Friday 2 September 2011

KSA 197:1 - Burying with Tachrichin and Tallit

KSA 197:1

We bury the Niftar in Linen Shrouds in order to affirm our belief in T'chiyat HaMeisim

We also Bury the deceased in a Tallit YET there we invalidate one of the Tzitzit

Question: Since we are affirming out belief in resurrection with the shroud, wouldn't it be better to also keep the Tallit kosher with all of its Tzitzit intact?



Thursday 1 September 2011

New Archaeology Resolve the Shelo Assani Ishah Broua-HaHa

News Flash!

The controversy re: shelo assani ishah has been resolved amicably and hopefully for evermore.

As a result of the numerous DIGS on the subject - the original correct nusach from anshei k'nesset hagdolah has been unearthed.

That nusach during the time of the Beit Hamikdash was:

"Shelo assnai ISHEH"

Unfortunately due to the Hurban and the many exiles and sufferings of Our People - later generations spawned 2 millenia of controversy by simply mis-pronouncing this brachah

Now that we know now that all we want is to avoid becoming an Isheh, Hashem sent us 10 inches of rain via the Mal'ach "IRENE" to put out the fire, thereby triggering our thanksgiving Baruch Hashem shelo asani ISHEH