Monday 31 December 2012

Why We Need Religion

Why We Need Religion and Religious Communities

« To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman's phrase, between thinking fast and slow.

The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.

If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past — »

Best Regards,

Sunday 30 December 2012

Judah Maccabbee - Politically Incorrect

These comments were initiated in response to the following newspaper article in Portland, Maine by the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in that city. See
It is clear why this article has received much critique within the world of the normative Orthodox rabbinate.  We are happy to present such comments from Rabbi Lefkowitz although all his opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Nishma.

History shows us that it was the Syrian Greeks who imposed their Pagan "Liberal" agenda that adhered more to the "Political Correctness" of our time


Guest Blogger
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz
Judah Macabee - Homophobe

"Homosexuality is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love – all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce."

"The noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail."
Statistics evaluating American Jewish religious expression demonstrate the Jewish observance most practiced is the lighting of Chanukah candles. This religious observance commemorates and celebrates the miraculous victory of Judah Macabee, his family and small band of followers who, repulsed by the installation by Antiochus IV of a statue of Zeus in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Monotheism, mounted a guerrilla war against the Hellenized Syrian-Mesopotamian Empire then in control of ancient Israel. Considering the support of so many Jews for gay marriage in America, one wonders how they can celebrate Hanukkah. For today many would label Judah, his family, the Hasmoneans and their followers as homophobes. Yes homophobes. Let me explain.
The Jewish world of the Macabees was completely swallowed up by Hellenism. Its paganism, its emphasis upon the worship of the physical, as opposed to spiritual development, saw young Jewish men exercising in arena on the Temple Mount in the nude. In an attempt to hide the deformity inflicted upon their well-toned "Grecian" physiques by their parents through the rite of circumcision, they would employ various techniques to disguise this Jewish mutilation. Of course Greek names and life style had become the norm of the Jews of that time. There are those, in discussing the contemporary challenge presented by assimilation, who compare American Jewry to the Hellinized Jewish world of the Macabees.

As the quotes from Plato and Plutarch demonstrate, not only was homosexuality widely engaged in by Hellenistic societies, no doubt embraced as well by the Hellinized Jews in the time of the Macabees, it was lauded as a valuable element in the development of a sophisticated society. As Plato states, it is the barbarian and the dictator that seek to stifle homosexual expression. Plutarch reminds us all of the fascination the Hellenists had for the physical body equating love with sexual expression, with engaging with individuals of "special natural endowment" male or female, in stark contrast to Judaism which views love as representative of far more than a chance physical encounter.
It was the Macabees, the Hassidim of their age, who, as a minority, maintained Jewish observance and values in the face of a Jewish world possessed by an alien culture and religion. It was the Macabees who, unlike Plato, were repulsed by the rampant and open sexual promiscuity of the Jewish world of their day, which included homosexuality, seeing it as leading to the destruction of the great "temple" of Jewish thought and religious purity exemplified by the observance of the commandments of the Torah.
And when the fortress of Judaism was breached, when the Temple was defiled, rededicated as a pagan shrine to Zeus, in spite of their small numbers, they felt there was no alternative but to take to the hills and fight to the death for their Jewish beliefs with the call to arms, "Whoever is for the Lrd follow me!" We live in a confused Jewish world where that which is rejected by Judaism, is now an expression of Jewish values as represented by the recent remark of the President of the National Jewish Democratic Council that gay marriage is a step forward in the important endeavor of Tikun Olam, the bringing of balance and perfection to the physical world through Gd's commandments. How could this have happened?
May I suggest that we live with faulty Jewish mathematics? One of the major equations used in Jewish life today states: A Jewish position on a given issue = the opinion of the majority of Jews.
If we truly believe this equation, if we believe that Jewish views are determined by the majority of Jews, then, as the title of this article states, there is no doubt that Judah Macabee was a homophobe. For was he not battling, risking his life and the life of his followers against a superior and well armed force, to reinstate the values of Judaism in Jewish society? Unlike the majority of the Jews of his day who echoed the sentiments of Plato and Plutarch, he saw in the expression of sexuality beyond the sacred bond of marriage between man and woman, a violation of Gd's Divine law. He would give no quarter to such immoral behavior. He was a fanatic, a veritable "Bible thumper" in his day. And yet, we Jews, embrace the victory of the Macabees, their rise to both Kingship and Priesthood, their restoring the values of Gd, as something to celebrate; that Jewish celebration embraced by more Jews than any other in our religious lexicon.
In 1885 the leaders of the Reform Movement met in Pittsburgh to define their sense of Judaism. They issued the Pittsburgh Platform now understood as the encapsulation of classical Reform Judaism. In part it states: "Second – We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. Third – …today we accept as binding only the moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization." By endorsing gay marriage most American Jews have parted company with this liberal expression of Judaism.
As Classical Reform Judaism declares, that "record of the consecration of the Jewish. People to its mission as priest of the one true God" that "most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction" or, in today's terms, that ancient yet eternal Jewish "Rules for Radicals," the Bible, teaches us:
"If a man lies with a man as with a woman both of them have committed an abomination…"
"You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them."

"It is too light a thing for you to be My servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the scions of Israel, and I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth… I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations… And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising."

Something to think about. 

Best Regards,

Thursday 27 December 2012

What Is Pilpul, And Why On Earth Should I Care About It? - The Huffington Post

As I was taught by my Rabbi Jose Faur, the Sephardic tradition, emerging out of the Babylonian academies and finding its definitive form in the many legal works of Moses Maimonides, held the Talmudic texts to be oral literature. Using mnemonics, technical terms, and other rhetorical devices to aid memorization and transmission, Sephardim understood the Talmud to be a colloquy of discussions that were drawn from the proceedings of the great rabbinical Academies of Babylonia. The Babylonian Talmud became the basis upon which the Jewish law would be constructed.

This was a process grounded, as it was in the Muslim Hadith and Shari'a, in tradition and the chain of transmission. Laws were transmitted in the name of rabbinical authorities. It was this chain of tradition, known to Muslims by the Arabic term Isnad, that drew clear lines between the formal authority of what has been passed down to us and the process of codifying these laws. The ultimate purpose of the legal process was to elevate the Law above personal and political concerns so that members of the community would be completely equal and not live at the whim of arbitrary judges.

Best Regards,

Tuesday 25 December 2012

On Violence in Media


The Kal VaChomer is kind of obvious

Media expects that a 30 second message will induce millions of buyers, hence they are eager to pay the big bucks for a super bowl commercial

While media goes into denial about violent behaviour emanating from graphic portrayals of violence in the movies and in the news.

Best Regards,

Monday 24 December 2012

Refuah Shlaymah

Please daven for

Baruch David ben Moisha Chayah
yes Moisha is Mom's name

Best Regards,

The Cartoon that Inspired a Generation

Once upon a time, Shaatnez went virtually forgotten, a "Meit Mitzvah"

Through the efforts of a Single, Bold Jewish Soul, the Mitzvah was revived.


"Treif nisht, uber Shatnez yuh!?"
Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 23 December 2012

For Ivrit Lovers - Avshalom Kor Podcasts

Guest Blogger:
R Mordechai Y. Scher

When I was a younger man, one of my real daily pleasures was the brief radio broadcast Baofan Miluli on matters of lashon by Avshalom Kor. Each segment lasted about 5 minutes or a bit more, and was packed pleasantly with enlightening notions on lashon, culture, Zionist
history, divrei torah and masoret - all in the name of furthering lason haivrit.

Nowadays I listen to his segments as podcasts. They are thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening. I usually listen to two or three while doing dishes or some other such chore. There as hundreds of such podcasts archived. I subscribe to them, so they download with other podcasts whenever I update my iTunes.

If you love Ivrit, I think his podcasts are certainly worth sampling.

Warning: the material can really make one homesick.

Best Regards,

Saturday 22 December 2012

Mussar: Show a Happy Face

Courtesy of Derech Emet

Sefer Pele Yoetz, chapter Kabod HaBeriot [honoring people]:

Every wealthy person who shows a happy face to the poor. and speaks to them in a way that gives them honor, [he or she] is credited with a big good deed, because he revives the hearts of the crushed [people] and brings happiness to sad people;
and especially when your relatives are lowly poor people, do not be embarrassed to show [people] that they [poor people]
are your relatives; instead, be close to them and attend
their celebrations.

Pele Yoetz was completed by Rabbi Eliezer Papo (Sefardi Tahor). in Bulgaria on April 28, 1824; he lived from 1785 CE to 1826 CE.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 21 December 2012

School for Prophets opens in Tel Aviv

«But Shmuel Hapartzi insists he is completely serious. "I'm not a freak. I have solid answers to every single question on this subject. I have been collecting material for the school for several years now. I am proficient in the material and I have translated most of it from Russian to Hebrew."»
School of prophets opens in Tel Aviv - Israel Jewish Scene, Ynetnews,7340,L-4314881,00.html

Maybe he's no freak, but he might be in it for the PROFIT ;-)
Best Regards,

Thursday 20 December 2012

Jewish Tribune: Paved with good intentions

Too often, a label of anti-Semitism is simply an easy way to dismiss a problem. To correctly respond to perceptions of the conflict in the Middle East, it is necessary to go further.

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

Rabbi Ben Hecht

A Jewish Edition of the New Testament

Is this New Jewish Edition of the New Testament Good for the Jews or Bad for the Jews? :-)

A Jewish Edition of the New Testament — Beliefs -

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Silence is Golden

From My Neighbor R Steven Pruzansky
«I'm not sure what the relevance is to this tragic incident. To me, it seems more like saying something so we should say something, and trying to grasp at something to explain the inexplicable. Sometimes, silence and grief are the best and most appropriate options. 
The govt can pass new laws. [Look] This nut broke 41 laws in his act. Would another law have mattered? How?

Would making guns illegal change anything ? Drugs are illegal. Yet people who want them get them. Same with guns. The criminal will always find a way. 

Maybe we should wait before offering any policy prescriptions. [But I do] think we [could] denounce video games...


Reacting out passion may lead to ill-considered actions with highly unintended consequences

Banning Assault Weapons makes sense on its own merits, but is IMHO just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We might windup taking solace in an ersatz symbolic gesture that resolves little and avoid pursuing the more embedded issues underlying this symptom.

Best Regards,

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Newtown Reflections...

 Guest Blogger
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

"... and may our acts be considered loving (chayn) and wise in the eyes of G-d and people."
Grace after meals
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

After shopping for Shabbos. I came home only to hear the horrific news of the slaughter of some 20 innocent kindergarten and first grade students together with several teachers in Newtown, CT
I know this area quite well as my brother at one time lived near Danbury. Beautiful tree-lined roads, houses set back from the roadway, rock walls lining the borders of many properties having been placed there hundreds of years ago - one could not find a more tranquil place to live. In fact, while this area with its small towns, town squares, replete with flagpole and flanked by the local Methodist and Presbyterian churches was once the exclusive domain of the shrinking population of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans, W.A.S.P.S., it is now inhabited, ever more populated by, folks more commonly associated with big city life. Folks from various ethnic backgrounds have fled to these oases of tranquility to escape the harshness, the coldness, of American city life. As evidenced by the names of the deceased and those interviewed on TV, folks traditionally associated with the city - Italians, Irish and Jews are finding these "Yankee" towns to be their proverbial heaven on earth.

However,there is no escaping the fact that the cold reality of the anonymity of city life infects the entirety of our nation. So many folks live in their own bubble, passing us on the street unnoticed, weighed down by their own misery and affliction. No one seems to care. Doors are locked, windows are shuttered, even outside the tumult of the big city. And then a calamity of the proportions of Newtown occurs. Suddenly, the closed-door opens, the shade is lifted, and we feel the pain and suffering of others and reach out with sympathy and warmth.

Over the next few weeks we will be learning more about the perpetrator of this heinous act – he himself but barely out of his teens. Already, the media is placing his life under a microscope attempting to analyze what would motivate a person to commit such an atrocity. Was it his family life? Did he suffer from some emotional problem or mental challenge? And if he did, is there anything we can do to ensure that this ever increase in mass murders of innocent victims can be dealt with?

In the grace after meals, which we recite every time we break bread, there is an interesting request. We ask of G-d. "...and may our acts be considered loving and wise in the eyes of G-d and people." The word for loving used in Hebrew in this request is chayn. What is chayn?

I know you may have heard this word used in Yiddish and understood it to mean, sweet, ingratiating. It is used to describe the nature of an individual. Yet, it means far more than that. It is the sense felt by OTHERS that you exude a sincere love and affection for them, that you in the very essence of your being, are sincerely concerned about their welfare.

I know this type of approach, that of absorbing the feelings of another to the extent that the person actually, in a visceral way, feels that connection you have with him, is frowned upon in certain schools of counseling. We are told the counselor must be objective, aloof, if he\she is truly to guide and help the individual. Not only is there a concern that objectivity may be compromised through such compassion, there is also concern that connecting on such a level will bring untold pain and misery to the counselor. How can he\she continue their personal life if in fact their being, their essence, their very soul is burdened by the pain of others?

We are told that the great Chassidic leader, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, had the capacity to ""feel the pain" of another to such an extent that the pain was more real to him then it was to the person afflicted. Can you imagine the tears pouring down the face of this Tzadik as he listened to you unburden your soul to such an extent that you knew he is one with you? That was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. The comfort, the sense of belonging, being part of someone else, who loved and revered you to such an extent that your pain was felt in him as more real than it was felt by you, is the answer, is the soothing balm, for the isolation and sorrow you felt.

We are as well told that this unique quality of compassion of this great Rebbe came with a terrible cost. When his soul was so weighed down by the pain of others it could no longer stay in this physical world, it left this physical world through Histalkus; his soul finding peace before the throne of G-d.

Please don't misunderstand. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak enjoyed a very happy life, a life filled with simcha, true joy, as through his unusual connection with his fellow human beings, he was, in a real sense, connecting with G-d Himself. For each human being has, as expressed in Genesis, the very breath of life breathed into his being by G-d. G-d is in each of us. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak felt that he was continually in the presence of G-d during his sojourn on earth – he experienced constant union with G-d through his human encounters. That is the ultimate joy.

That is true chayn, true expression of love for another individual. It is a love that is not only expressed in sincerity , but is palpable to the other individual.. I have found in my nearly 50 years in the rabbinate that my shedding tears, sincere tears brought about by my emotionally feeling the loss another experienced, not merely commiserating but actually deeply feeling that loss felt by the bereaved, was far more effective in reaching out, in ameliorating their pain, then all the eloquent words I could muster. Yes, it wore me out. It was exhausting. Yet , in reflection, I understood that this expression of emotional connection was the most purest part of my human experience in this life, the closest connection I could have with G-d. In the end it gave me true inner peace.

Could this young man's encounter with an individual in his life who could really express true chayn that reached through the walls that surrounded him, forestalled this horrible act? Something in my heart tells me that the answer to this question is yes. For true tranquility can never be found in a New England rock wall or tree-lined roadway. It is found in the embrace and love one feels emanating from another human being through chayn.

Best Regards,

Monday 17 December 2012

"Round up the usual suspects."

There are many favourite lines in Casablanca, a recurring line that's a lot of fun is "Round up the usual suspects."

Regarding Newtown, the media and blogosphere are going to Town!

• Blame the NRA
• Blame competitiveness
• Blame Obama
• Blame Republicans


How about some others?

Since -
• Lanza's Mom supplied the guns, so condemn Motherhood
• The victims were all in schools, let's close the schools
• Lanza was mentally disturbed, so let's lock up all of the Mentally disturbed in Hospitals


How about our Beloved Aharon Hacohein when he lost his 2 eldest sons - what was his d'rashah?


Maybe this is the origin of the moment of silence?


יקרא פרק י

א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי ה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם.  ב וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי ה.  ג ....וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן. 

Best Regards,

Mishnah at Shivah

Q1: How do we reconcile Learning Mishnah at a Shiv'ah with the Halachah that an Aveil is Assur in Talmud Torah?

Q2: How may we teach Hilchot Aveilut at a Shiv'ah w/o sacrificing the Minhag of Learning Mishnayot?

A: My resolution is simple:
Learn Mishnah Elu M'galchin [M"K 3] with the Peirush haRambam. The Rambam summarizes Hilchos Aveilut in his commentary w/o much Lamdut, mainly just Halachah P'sukah.

Thus -
1. There is no issur attached to the Aveil learning these inyonim

2. For the unlearned, this amounts to a pithy introduction to Hilchos Aveilut, Aveilut 101 so to speak,

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 16 December 2012

What is the Purpose of a Peace Treaty?

Islam Review - Presented by The Pen vs. the Sword Featured Articles . . . Islam: the Facade, the Facts The rosy picture some Muslims are painting about their religion, and the truth they try to hide.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Saturday 15 December 2012

Mussar: Speak with Derech Eretz

From Derech Emet

Sefer Pele Yoetz, chapter Kabod Chachamim [honoring Torah scholars]:

Included within [the commandment to give] honor, to parents, or to Torah scholars, or to the synagogue, is that he. [a correct Jew] will not speak even with other people before them in a loud voice, and obviously he should not disgrace or curse anyone in their presence, because this
indicates that he does not consider them important and does not revere them, as he would if he stood before a ruler.

And behold, it is as if he disgraced them; therefore, your words in their presence must be in a low voice [kol namuch], and with respect [derech kavod] and proper manners [derech eretz].

Pele Yoetz was completed by Rabbi Eliezer Papo (Sefardi Tahor) in Bulgaria on April 28, 1824; he lived from 1785 CE to 1826 CE.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 14 December 2012

Purim, Chanuka, and the Churban

After the Churban Habayit, the principle of Bat'lah M'gillat Ta'anit was applied to several days that had been celebrated during Bayyit Sheini

What about Purim and Chanuka?

One approach to take is that Purim had been instituted by N'vi'im - hence it was not subject to Bittul...

Here is an alternative approach -

Purim never gave us Political Independence nor a Hanukkat Hamizbei'ach; whereas Chanuka did.

As such, when the Churban ensued there was no reason to be M'vatiel Purim, since after Purim we were Avdei Achashveirosh, and after the Churban we were still Avdei Rome

OTOH l'gabei Chanuka, the most significant gains had indeed been lost - "Batlah M'gillas Taanit" so to speak, either literally or metaphorically. And so there was no imperative to continue Chanuka.

This helps to explain Chanuka's virtual absence from the Mishnah.

Best Regards,

Thursday 13 December 2012

Ocho Kandelikas -Sephardic Hanukkah Celebration

Hanuka linda sta aki Oco kandelas para mi. O... Una kandelika Dos kandelikas Trez kandelikas Kuatro kandelikas Sintju kandelikas Se kandelikas Siete kandelik...

Ocho Kandelikas
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Ocho Kandelikas" (English, Eight Little Candles) is a Jewish song celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah. The song is sung in Ladino, a Spanish-derived language traditionally associated with the Sephardic Jewish community, whose ancestors lived in Spain before the 15th century CE.[1] The song is often performed in an Argentine tango-rhythm with accompanying accordion and violins. Despite its traditional-sounding tone, "Ocho Kandelikas" is a modern composition, written by the Jewish-American composer Flory Jagoda in 1983.[2] The lyrics of the song describes a child's joy of lighting the candles on the menorah. The song has been recorded and performed by the Portland-based lounge orchestra Pink Martini, the multilingual rock group Hip Hop Hoodios, the female a cappella ensemble Vocolot, Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi ("the Pavarotti of modern Jewish cantorial music") and Yasmin Levy, an Israeli singer-songwriter of Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) music.

Courtesy of Saul Estreicher

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Weberman Whistle Blower gets Whacked

Satmar crusader against molestation says bleach was splashed in his face, following Nechemya Weberman's landmark sex abuse conviction  - Daily News



It's harder today to suprress the truth in the insular communities

Best Regards,

R Sh'lomoh Lights Neros Hanukahh

Below is a link to a YouTube Audio of the late R Sh'lomoh Carlebach lighting Neros Hanukkah.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Tuesday 11 December 2012

RCA's Reponse to Weberman Verdict


In czarist Russia it made sense to circle the wagons to protect ourselves from pogroms.

In Western Societies, such behaviour tends to backfire against us, and to actually exacerbate a tenuous situation.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Monday 10 December 2012

Hanukkah, and The Closing of Wolozin by the Netziv

I'm aware of at least three versions as to how and why the Netziv closed the Woloziner [Volozhiner] Yeshiva in the face of a Russian Government edict [ucase?]
From Right to Left

1. The Netziv would simply not permit ANY secular studies at all in Wolozin. When the Czarist regime imposed them, they shut down instead.

2. The Netziv would simply not permit any secular studies at Wolozin, without having a say as to WHICH subjects were taught and HOW they were taught. Since, the Autocrat of all the Russias allowed him no such input, and so he refused to risk exposing his talmiddim to "Treif" Secular Studies.

3. The Netziv had no problem with the quality of the proposed secular courses. However, the sheer quantity made serious Torah learning difficult to impossible to manage. Thus, continuing the Yeshivah was futile.


Using the above as a "mashal", let's look at Hanukkah. For simplicity, let's omit #3 for now and stick to numbers 1 and 2.

1. The Hashmona'im rebelled against ALL Hellenistic culture. There was nothing of value in Greek Culture and so they rose up against Antiochus IV who imposed Hellenistic Culture.

2. The problem wasn't ALL Greek Culture. The issue was, who would have a say as to which parts of Greek Culture were Kosher and which ones were not? So long as Antiochus did not allow the Jews a say in filtering the Greek Culture from its objectionable aspects, revolution ensued.


Number 1 in each case may be seen as coming from a Torah-Only agenda. Anything aside from Torah MUST be resisted.

Number 2 is more of a Torah im Derech Eretz [TiDE] agenda. TiDE embraces the Kosher aspect of non-Jewish culture while eschewing the non-Kosher.

Note, history is often colored by the school of thought that retells it.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 9 December 2012

Huffington Post: How Chanukah Became an American Myth

In my latest blog on Huffington Post-Canada,  I present the idea that the way the vast majority of people see Chanukah -- as a battle of freedom of religion -- is not really correct and, in fact, it is this same mythology that is leading many people to also misread what is happening in Egypt.

This post was actually the featured blog post on the front page of HP Canada.

Please see

Please feel free to comment there or here.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Saturday 8 December 2012

Mussar: A Rubber Band Keeps his Anger at Bay

«I personally have had very good results with a rubber band.  When I feel that I may lose my temper, I put on a rubber band, which I usually carry in my pocket, and I find that it soothes my urge to become angry.  I was once honored to be a witness at a chasunah.  Usually they choose two people with similar backgrounds to be eidim together. Either two Rabbonim or two business men.  My fellow eid this time was a youngster who had met my daughter for a shidduch.

We stood together for a few silent moments and he said "it must be a terrible embarrassment for you to be an eid together with me!"  "It is," I answered.  "How can you bear it?" he asked. "I'm wearing my rubber band", I said showing him my hand, "and nothing bothers me."

He looked at my hand in wonder and then asked "is that a magic rubber band?"  It is not magic.  For me it works, and many others have also found that it works.  It works by reminding me of what I truly wish to remind myself.»
Parshas Vayeitzei, Yeshiva of Far Rockaway

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The True Challenge

Nishma's first article, entitled The True Challenge, was described as a Nishma Position Paper in that it expressed an essential aim of the organization. Written, however, when I was still young, even soon after I wrote it, I felt it, perhaps, expressed a youthful bravado that was inappropriate. Having recently re-read it, though, I found that despite its tone, it still best encapsulated much of what we are. In fact the issues emanating from the greater society to which I referred are even more existent today.

It was, as such, with this in mind that I felt it would be appropriate to re-circulate the article. In this regard, I thought that a link to it should be posted on the Nishmablog with this invite to read The True Challenge at We do invite you to read this article.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Monday 3 December 2012

RCA Response to JONAH

I posted the following on the RCA Rabbinic Forum regarding the RCA's recent press release on JONAH (copy of press release to follow if one hasn't seen it). I look forward to your comments.

Take care
Rabbi Ben Hecht

With the recent RCA press release regarding JONAH, I think that there is an underlying issue that we need to address. This is not to say that I disagree with the RCA's position. In fact, in reading about the present law suit against JONAH (as described on -, there would seem to be many reasons, from a Halachic perspective, for why we should be concerned. Nevertheless, there was still a reason for why the RCA and others, including, it would seem, Rabbi Lamm, originally looked upon JONAH in a positive light. It is difficult, from a Torah perspective, to believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu simply created a drive for which there is no acceptable outlet.

I wrote about this, over 20 years ago, in an article (see http:'//, maintaining that there must be a halachically acceptable outlet for a homosexual drive and calling for a further investigation of this idea. Obviously, defining the homosexual drive as a mis-application of the heterosexual drive offers a solution to this problem -- but with the critiques now being voiced against organizations such as JONAH, this answer is no longer easily available. This leaves us with an issue. Either we have to believe that homosexuality is a mis-application of heterosexuality that can be corrected in a process of teshuva -- which would mean that we would have to agree with JONAH's underlying position but not with their tactics and process, leaving us with the task of finding a correct process -- or we have to find -- in the same light that a murderer should become a mohel -- a halachically acceptable (even mitzvah fulfilling) application of the homosexual drive.

Rabbinical Council of America's Statement Regarding JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality)
In the years since the Rabbinical Council of America's first comment about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), "the only Jewish based organization dedicated to assisting individuals with unwanted same sex attractions move from gay to straight" in January, 2004, in which we suggested that rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy, many concerns about JONAH and reparative therapy have been raised.

As rabbis trained in Jewish law and values, we base our religious positions regarding medical matters on the best research and advice of experts and scholars in those areas, along with concern for the religious, emotional, and physical welfare of those impacted by our decisions.  Our responsibility is to apply halakhic (Jewish legal) values to those opinions.

Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America decided in 2011, as part of an overall statement on the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality, to withdraw its original letter referencing JONAH.  Despite numerous attempts by the RCA to have mention of that original letter removed from the JONAH website, our calls, letters, and emails remain unanswered.  As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated in 2011, "We want it taken down. JONAH said it was a letter of support, but if you read the letter it is not. They took an informational statement and reprinted it, and the use of that as an endorsement is an error."

We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients.  The RCA believes that responsible therapists, in partnership with amenable clients, should be able to work on whatever issues those clients voluntarily bring to their session.  Allegations made against JONAH lead us to question whether JONAH meets those standards.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and author of the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article, "Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality," the first contemporary article to address the issue from the perspective of Jewish law and philosophy, had originally commended the work of JONAH.  In response to the negative reports about JONAH's activities and concerns expressed to him by respected mental health professionals, Dr. Lamm withdrew his endorsement of JONAH.

Sunday 2 December 2012

P. Shlach - Why Have Anshei Sh'chem Get a Milah?

Guest Blogger: R Akiva Males
I recently read a talk from Rav Soloveithik regarding Shimon & Levi's attack on Shechem.
He said the reason why they insisted on having the town's men preform Bris Milah first was so that the neighbors would identify the town of Shechem as Jewish rather than Canaanite
That way, when attacked, the neighbors wouldn't care about the fate of the inhabitants of Shechem.
I seem to remember seeing this P'shat in one (or more) of the Meforshim as well.


[It turns to be] the 2nd Peshat in the Kli Yakar to Bereishis 34:25.

כלי יקר בראשית פרשת וישלח פרק לד

כה) ויבואו על העיר בטח. פירש רש"י שהיו בטוחים על כוחו של זקן, ויש אומרים כי זקן זה היינו
אברהם זקנם שהתפלל על בני יעקב כשיבואו לשכם, כמו שפירש רש"י בפרשת לך לך
(בראשית יב ו) על ויעבור אברם בארץ עד מקום שכם. ויתכן לפרש בטח שהי ובטוחים שלא יבקשו הכנעני והפריזי לעשות נקמה בעבורם, כי יאמרו מאחר
שנכנסו בדת הנמולים אינם משלנו ויתיאשו מהם:

Akiva Males

Shalom and Best Regards,

Saturday 1 December 2012

Mussar: Pursuit of Perfection

Courtesy of Derech Emet -

Sefer Netivot Olam, volume 1, chapter Emunah, chapter 2, page 209:

Man was created to add perfection upon perfection through [correctly performing] good deeds [mitzvot]...

Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague lived from 1525 CE to 1609 CE.


Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 30 November 2012

Rav Dov Fischer on The UN Vote

«We Jews created this Authority.  Look how much HKB"H has intervened to stop us from giving up Judea and Samaria.  Rabin tried to give it up — he was murdered (an unspeakably horrible thing that was horribly unforgivable).  Peres stepped in and immediately inherited 95% popularity, so called for early elections, announcing he would negotiate giving up Yesha after he would get a new lopsided Knesset.  So HKB"H hardened the Arab hearts, and they started bus bombings like crazy.  Peres could not stop the bombings, his popularity plummeted, and even terrified liberals voted in Bibi so they could ride on buses again.  Bibi was wildly popular, and then he signed the Wye Accords that compromised Hebron.  HKB"H overnight drive down his popularity, and Ehud Barak was elected.  Barak was wildly popular, and HKB"H allowed him to cede South Lebanon prematurely and unilaterally, but Barak next started negotiating with Arafat in Clinton's house to give over Judea and Samaria, and even East Jerusalem, and even Har HaBayit . . . and HKB"H hardened Arafat's heart, and he miraculously rejected everything for which he had been fighting since he rose to lead the PLO and Fatah in 1964.  A horrible Intifada ensued with horrible images like the Arab with the hands of blood in Ramallah, and Barak was driven out by a landslide for Sharon.  Sharon came in wildly popular, and HKB"H allowed him to cede Gush Katif and Gaza prematurely and unilaterally, but Sharon next started focusing "Kadimah" to cede Judea and Samaria unilaterally.  He first sustained a mini-stroke, perhaps a makah of warning, perhaps yisurim shel ahavah because of his z'khuyot from the 1973 War and before.  Perhaps.  Who among us possibly can know?. He recovered and immediately returned to his prioritized focus on ceding Yesha, and he sustained a wallop of a stroke that removed him from the scene.  Not to kill him, perhaps because of z'khuyot remaining for his past acts for Eretz Yisrael — much as Omri HaMelekh merited kingship because he acquired one hill in Samaria — so the stroke did not kill him, just sidelined him for good.  Maybe it was just bad medical care and excessive blood thinners caused by the best team of physicians in one of the most advanced medical societies.  Maybe it was just bad luck, bad personal health practices.  Who among us can know?  In came Ehud Olmert.  Initially, wildly popular — until he started trying to cede Judea and Samaria.  Then, unexpectedly, the kidnapings started, and he ended up getting prodded into a war in South Lebanon against Hezbollah, even as he proved utterly unlearned in matters of war, even as he also had the least qualified Israeli Defense Minister in the country's history, Amir Peretz, a union leader who temporarily led the Labor Party.  Between Olmert and Peretz, they failed to enter South Lebanon for too long, perhaps born of Peretz's hesitation to cross picket lines, and sustained tons of rocket attacks in the north. When a rocket finally reached Haifa, they were cooked, even as Olmert suddenly came under fire for financial defalcations.  Full cycle back to Bibi.  Under Bibi, who talks the talks but does not walk the walk because he does not understand the meaning of Am S'gulah, we end up with a pseudo-war with Hamas, with Hamas rockets flying into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, effectively forestalling any future prospect of any Israeli government ceding Judea and Samaria.»
The UN Votes for An Observer

Shalom and Best Regards,

Thursday 29 November 2012

'If the Jews didn't exist, we would have to invent them'.

Hitler's 'Final Solution' to the 'Jewish Question' was the elimination of the Jewish race from the European continent. During the Holocaust six million Jews were murdered.

Hitler once remarked 'If the Jews didn't exist, we would have to invent them'. This is one of his most revealing comments on Nazism. Nothing creates more unity than a common enemy. The hatred of the Jews was the backbone of Hitler's power.

BBC - History - World Wars: Audio: Hitler and the Jews


And Stalin had Trotsky

There is apparently a deep need in the human psyche to identify and to demonize a "scapegoat", often in order to rally and to focus the energy of the masses, especially so that they ignore common cause and "brotherhood"

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Proposed Pre-Talmud Preparation Plan

Without addressing the debate of who should learn the Talmud and who should not - here is an outline of a pre-Talmud curriculum.

1. Tanach
A. Humash and Rashi
B. Selections from Nach

2. Halachah + Mitzvot
A. Kitsur Shuchan Aruch or its equivalent
B. Mitzvot - Either the Rambam's ShM or Sefer HaChinuch

3. Mishnayot

4. Hashkafah - Selections from EG Sefer Madda, Kuzari, Horeb, etc.

5. Ivrit
A. Tanachi
B. Rabbinic

6. Midrash or Aggadah. EG Tanhumah or Ein Yaakov

Shalom and Best Regards,

Tuesday 27 November 2012

JVO: Wills

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 our 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 Wolpoe responded.

* * * * *
Question: Is a Jewish parent required or obliged by Jewish law or Jewish values to leave anything to their children in their will?

This Begs another question. Is there such a thing as a WILL in Jewish Law?
1.  Most WILL's from great rabbis were ethical wills, a mini-book of ethics. EG Iggeret haRamban [Nachmanides] and Iggeret haGRA [Vilna Gaon] come to mind.
2. The probating of a Jewish estate is covered in the Torah [Parshat Pinchas] and throughout the Talmud [EG Bava Batra and K'tubbot]. The presumption is no will, just debts and obligations, EG the K'tubah, etc.
3. The Talmud has a concept where a man who is dying [sh'chiv meira] may "WILL" property. In order to afford him peace of mind, his verbal orders are given the force of a a written contract.  These come close to a WILL, but I think they're a bit different.
4. Just like with "Selling Hameitz" there are circumventions.  A WILL can override the Halachic divisions if/when it can be so construed to take effect before passing on. Then it is not quite a will, but a form of gift-giving. As such, a parent can give his/her property as he/she sees fit - because  the parent is technically gifting prior to passing.
5. I'm not familiar with the literature on this point, but the common wisdom is to never cut the children out,  unless there are extreme or extraordinary circumstances. Perhaps in the case of a criminal, a psychopath or a self-destructive type.  Most children should NOT be left out of the WILL.
6. How to make best use of what the family gets is tough to outline here.  IMHO Education - especially Jewish Education - should come first.  Thus, tuition for the grandchildren's Jewish/Hebrew education would typically be my top priority.  Of course, each case must be tailored as necessary.
7. The Talmud gives a guideline of allotting 10-20% towards charity. This makes sense, and can be implemented as scholarships, etc.  For example,  an estate whose net worth is $1 million might see $100k towards various charities, $100k for scholarships for the grandchildren, and $800k divided amongst the children and other worthy family members as appropriate.

No Representation Without Taxation

"You know, there's this old American dictum: no taxation without representation. What is sometimes overlooked is that the converse is also true: no representation without taxation. And with our revenues, they didn't need taxes; therefore, they didn't need assemblies to levy taxes. And they were made independent of public opinion in their own countries with this untold wealth accruing from oil revenues. This greatly strengthened the power of autocratic governments, far greater than it had ever been in the past. Now if traditional Islamic government is authoritarian, but it is not dictatorial or despotic, it is governed under certain rules and so on.

In modern times, the power of the ruler has been vastly augmented by these huge revenues so that he doesn't need public support or public approval of his taxes. It has also been increased by all kinds of modern devices for surveillance and repression so that any tin pot dictator today wields far greater powers than were ever wielded by Suleyman the Magnificent or Harun al-Rashid or any of the legendary rulers of the Islamic past."
Bernard Lewis Quotes

Shalom and Best Regards,

Monday 26 November 2012

L'shon T'filah and L'shon Mikra

Many of the leading redactors of Liturgy [Siddurim and Machzorim] during the 17th-19th centuries favored l'shon Mikra over l'shon Hazzal.

Is there any basis for promoting this preference?

See EG SA 53:4 and Kitzur SA 16:12 [copied below] that advises the Shatz to regularly read Tanach. Yet there is no corresponding mention of reading EG Mishnah and Midrash.

Sh'ma Minah that reading Tanach is a priority and prerequisite for proper diction for the Sha"tz, which in turn implies that the L'shon Tefilah is closer to L'shon Mikra. Of course it's not proof positive. One might say that Tanachi Hebrew requires more attention. However, imho the more likely implication is to take this at face value.


Shloymie: But RRW, what about L'shon Mikra L'chood L'shon Hazzal L'chood?

RRW: Good Question. Quickly and Simply - I see that as a dechiya b'alma to answer questions such as "why not say "Loshevet Bassukkah" instead of "Leisheiv Bassukah"? But it was not originally meant as a global, normative statement. That imho came later and is imho a questionable application of the statement.

Shloymie: How so?

RRW: as noted above - there is no recommendation for a Shatz to master L'shon Hazal


סימן יד – דיני פסוקי דזמרה
סעיף יא
השליח צבור צריך שיהיה הגון, ... ואיזה הגון, זה שהוא ריקן מעבירות, ופרקו נאה, פירוש, שלא יצא עליו שם רע אפילו בילדותו, ושהוא עניו ומרוצה לקהל, שיסכימו לתפלתו, ויש לו נעימה וקול ערב שמושך הלב, ורגיל לקרות בתורה נביאים וכתובים, כדי שיהיו הפסוקים שבתפלה סדורים בפיו. .

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 25 November 2012

Vegetative patient Scott Routley says ‘I’m not in pain’

Vegetative patient Scott Routley says 'I'm not in pain'
Here is an article describing something quite fascinating that could change how we view people in vegetative states.

By Fergus Walsh
Medical correspondent
«It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care.

Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine.

His doctor says the discovery means medical textbooks will need rewriting.

Vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world.»

Vegetative patient Scott Routley says 'I'm not in pain' | The World of Pastoral and Spiritual care

Shalom and Best Regards,

Saturday 24 November 2012

Mussar: Don't Gossip!

From Derech Emet....
Larry Winget said:

Do not listen to people who talk bad about other people.
Do not listen to office gossip.

SOURCE: Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life
(chapter 1, page 7) by Larry Winget, year 2004,
published by John Wiley & Sons Inc, Hoboken, New Jersey

Derech Emet's

Larry Winget is not Jewish and knows nothing about:
Rambam, Ramban, Rashi, Tosefos. Vilna Gaon or Baal Shem Tov.

Yet he clearly understands that it is wrong to listen to
slander or gossip (in Hebrew: Lashon HaRa and Motzi Shem Ra).

Let this be a reminder for all Jews: to not speak slander or gossip, to not listen to slander or gossip, and to not believe slander or gossip.

Otherwise, how will we defend ourselves on the Day of Judgment [Yom HaDin] when the True Judge shows us that even Gentiles understood the wrongness of listening to rumors, but we who studied Torah did not?

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 23 November 2012

For Dikduk Fans

«I thought that people on this list may be interested in this e-book...»

3300 Hebrew Verbs

Shalom and Best Regards,

Thursday 22 November 2012

Changing Middle East looks depressingly like what it replaces

I think what hit me most about this article is that I found it on -- and then to boot in "Fareed Zakaria GPS". The fact is though that it makes for interesting reading.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Addressing the International Conference of Chabad Shluchim » Office of the Chief Rabbi

«I never said this in public before. There was a point when I was a little involved – the hanhola [board of directors] in Lubavitch in London asked me just to get involved a little bit – there was a point in the 1970s and 80s, when the Rebbe developed a very interesting campaign – the sheva mitzvos benei noach campaign – to reach out not just to Jews, but also to non Jews.

I realized that in my new position as Chief Rabbi I could do just that. So I started broadcasting on the BBC, on radio, on television, writing for the national press. I wrote books read my non Jews as well as Jews and the effect was absolutely extraordinary. The more I spoke the more they wanted to hear – which certainly proves they weren't Jewish. (Laughter.) The more I wrote the more they wanted to read, and you know what that experience told me – not only the wisdom, the vast foresight of the Rebbe in understanding that the world was ready to hear a Jewish message – but it taught me something else as well. And I want you never to forget these words.

Non Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism.»

Addressing the International Conference of Chabad Shluchim » Office of the Chief Rabbi

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 21 November 2012

What's New with Hamas?

The answer:
Mursi instead of Mubarak!

Wall Street Journal
10 Jan., 2009
«Mr. Mubarak has good reason to want to see Hamas humbled: As the Palestinian franchise of his own suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, it poses a direct threat to his rule. The same goes for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Sunni regimes like Saudi Arabia, which see Hamas as another Iranian proxy in the Sunni heartland. Their views, too, are being expressed sotto voce.»

Muslims Against Hamas

Shalom and Best Regards,

Washington Post - Morning Bits

«Unsurprising. "Fifty-seven percent of Americans said Israel's current military campaign in Gaza is justified, while a quarter said it isn't, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll released Monday. Seventy-four percent of Republicans said the action is justified, compared with 59 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats." Greater support for Israel among Republicans than Democrats has been going on for some time.»

Mobile Link:

Shalom and Best Regards,

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Mid-East War 2: A Second Comment

The End of War:
An Open Letter to Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
By Rabbi Jeffrey Woolf
«There is a serious flaw in your argument, however. It lies in assuming that ultimately 'people have the capacity to love and care for anyone.' I assume what you mean is that if we all sat down to speak as equals and friends, that differences of opinion would be resolved and war avoided. Your sentiments are certainly representative of the way most people in the West think today. However, your sentiment (and theirs) is seriously flawed. You (and they) have fallen into the logical fallacy that my friend and colleague, Professor Richard Landes, calls 'cognitive egocentrism.' In other words, you project your own mentality, values and "way of seeing the world" onto others. The result is an attitude that is, albeit innocently, disrespectful and paternalist.»

The End of War: An Open Letter to Rabbi Eliyahu Fink | Jeffrey Woolf | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

Shalom and Best Regards,

The Mid-East War

 A Comment from Menachem Pritsker to
War Baffles Me | Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi

Do you have any idea what's going on here?

First of all, the idea that there are naive 18 years olds fighting the wars of an older generation is just plain false. I'm 30, and I'm one of the younger guys in my unit. Most of the army is in fact made up of reserve units like mine.

Second, you're treating this war as if it's some far off Vietnam, where we only hear about it in news reports (as you are). This is a war that's being experienced by everyone in the country! You think there's a corner somewhere in this country where the there's a gan yeladim without a contingency plan in place in case there's an air raid siren?

The "18 year olds" who are off to fight this war are just as worried about their mothers at home as their mothers are worried for them. If I get called back up, and I pray I wont (having just gotten home last week from a month of miluim), I'll be marching off with the intent to kill the people who are trying to kill me and my family. Nothing more, nothing less.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Monday 19 November 2012

How should we pronounce "ibn" as in "ibn Ezra"?

«Before I outline the problem, let's lay out some assumptions and facts.

First, there is no doubt that the Hebrew אבן, sometimes written as ן'י, used as part of the name of many Spanish Jews and their descendants is the Arabic word ابن, son of. The usage is equivalent to the Hebrew בן, although it need not always refer to the person's father. It often refers to a grandfather or other ancestor, which is also an accepted, expanded use of בן. Furthermore, in Arabic the word is pronounced ibn, subject to an important qualification. The qualification is that it appears that the Spanish Arabs did not pronounce it ibn, but rather pronounced it aben (please note, incidentally, that the vowel shift here is the same as that between two of the possible pronunciation of the word רבי). The following entry is from E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 1: ...»
On the Main Line: How should we pronounce "ibn" as in "ibn Ezra"?

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 18 November 2012

Can Reform Judaism Get Its Mojo Back?

«In 1969 Rabbi Richard Levy, later to become president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, wrote that the American Reform synagogue has "defaulted" on all three of its traditional functions: building community, nurturing study, and engaging in meaningful worship.  Since he wrote, the default has only deepened.  If it is not addressed now, there may be no future opportunity for repair.»

Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features » Can Reform Judaism Get Its Mojo Back?

Shalom and Best Regards,

Saturday 17 November 2012

Mussar: Enlightening Words to Live By

Words to Live By
from Rav Kook Z"L:

על-כן הצדיקים הטהורים אינם קובלים על החושך, אלא מוסיפים אור; אינם קובלים על הרשעה, אלא מוסיפים צדק; אינם קובלים על הכפירה, אלא מוסיפים אמונה; אינם קובלים על הבערות, אלא מוסיפים חכמה.

Therefore, the pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom. (From "Arpilei Tohar", p. 27–28)

Courtesy of
Joel Zeff  ישעיהו זף 
And Re-posted with his kind persmission

Echoed by:
"Better to Light One Candle than to Curse the Darkness"

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 16 November 2012

Goin' to the Kiddush

This song was inspired by The Dixie Cups' famous hit, "Goin to the Chapel"

Goin' to the kiddush and we're
gonna eat cholent
Goin' to the kiddush and we're 
gonna eat cookies
Gee I really love meat and we're
gonna eat fruit and cake
Goin' to the shul for kiddush.

Shabbos is here
The sky is blue (hopefully)
The chazzan will sing
as if he knew
Saturday's the day
for cake and cholent too
and we'll never be hungry anymore.

Because we're
Goin' to the kiddush and we're
gonna eat cholent
Goin' to the kiddush and we're 
gonna eat cookies
Gee I really love meat and we're
gonna eat fruit and cake
Goin' to the shul for kiddush.

Tzibbur will sing
The sun will shine (hopefully)
I'll have cake, cookies and wine.
We'll eat until 
the end of time
and we'll never be hungry anymore.

Because we're 
Goin' to the kiddush and we're
gonna eat cholent
Goin' to the kiddush and we're 
gonna eat cookies
Gee I really love meat and we're
gonna eat fruit and cake
Goin' to the shul for kiddush.

~ This song was inspired by The Dixie Cups' most famous hit in 1964, "Goin' to the Chapel"

Shalom and Best Regards,

Thursday 15 November 2012

More On Storm Sandy - the RCA Response

Posted with permission

The response of RCA members and their communities to the victims of Hurricane Sandy has been and continues to be gratifying.
We received the following from our chaver Jonathan Muskat of Oceanside, NY:
The building of the Young Israel of Oceanside was heavily damaged. We lost three Torah scrolls and thousands of sefarim. All of our youth program furniture and toys were destroyed. Insurance proceeds will not cover all of our losses. Additionally, we will need to financially help a number of families who have been devastated by the hurricane. We have therefore set up an emergency Young Israel hurricane relief fund. If members of your community would like to make a donation or if you would like to make a donation from your charity fund, you may either go to our website www://
and make your donation online or send your checks directly to the Young Israel of Oceanside, 150 Waukena Avenue, Oceanside, NY 11572.
Please make your checks out to the Young Israel of Oceanside and mark your envelope Hurricane Emergency Fund. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Rabbi Jonathan Muskat at 516-670-2699. Thank you for caring.
The RCA Health Care Chaplains, under the chairmanship of our chaver Zev Shostak, are prepared to visit communities to offer counseling and support.  Anyone interested in pursuing this meaningful service should contact Rabbi Shostak at 914-603-1964 or at

Shalom and Best Regards,

P. Toldot - Alay Kil'latcha B'nee

As per p'shat Rivkah took the onus of any punishment due Yaakov upon herself ...

Al pee Remez ALAY may be understood as Roshei Teivot for:
Ayin - Eisav
Lamed - Lavan
Yud - Yosef

The three main "crises" of Yaakov's career. Yaakov's "curse" would consist of difficulties associated with these three individuals.

I wish to acknowledge my source, the late R Yehudah Hilewitz Z"L, a fellow RIETS musmach who passed away at a relatively young age. May his memory serve as a Blessing for his Family and for all Israel.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Tuesday 13 November 2012

JVO: Intermarriage

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: We have made decision not to attend weddings between Jew and non-Jew as a statement that we do not approve of intermarriage. But now that our Jewish nephew has married a non-Jew, we felt that we should give him a wedding gift since it was after the fact. We felt that not attending the wedding was enough of a statement. I know that it sounds illogical, but we didn't want our family to think that we are mean people, but rather we were only making a statement before the fact and would not change the situation. Were we wrong in giving a wedding gift after the fact in this situation?

In my first draft of a response to your question, my focus was on the inherent conflict in values that you felt and which I believed motivated you to ask this question – your question not really being whether to inherently give a wedding present or not but rather whether to do so given that you had already decided to make a statement in not going to the wedding. You obviously felt that it was inherently proper to give a present but wondered about the effect of this action on your previous stance. I saw in this desire to give a gift a recognition of the value of tolerance within our society – and from which we Jews have greatly benefited – which calls upon us to respect the right of individuals to make personal decisions of this nature even though we may disagree. So I saw your question in the broader sense of how one can balance a personal value stance on an issue with the value which you also accept of tolerance of another who acts in disagreement with this viewpoint.
While I still believe that this issue is still very much part of your question, upon further reflection I began to recognize that in providing what I believe to be a Torah response to your issue, beyond simply responding to the conflict in values that you experienced, it would be first important to actually also look at the singular issues in themselves. Should one attend an intermarriage? A similar question could be asked in regard to attending a wedding between two Jews where non-kosher food is served or attending a same-sex wedding. At issue is the involvement one should have in an event that inherently includes an expression of a position with which one disagrees. Does my attendance reflect some acceptance of this position? Is it thus proper for me to attend?
The matter of the gift raises similar questions but also touches upon the more private issue of how one is to relate to another’s personal feelings. Your nephew experienced a joyful event, from his perspective, and you wish to share in this joy. On this level, you do not necessarily see this as reflecting a public expression of your stance and thus wish to give a gift. The more inherent question, though, may be whether it is proper to still share in this joy. Is it right, thus, in any such circumstance to give a gift? This individual is still your nephew.
The conflict of values that you are experiencing is still clearly a major part of this issue and there is a challenge in balancing one’s views with tolerance and respect for an opposing viewpoint. The essential question, however, is how the Torah views the entire situation. How are we to view a Jew who acts contrary to our understanding of how a Jew should behave? How are we to act in response to such behaviour? What we may find is that the various value considerations that we must undertake in response to such questions may actually yield what could be perceived to be contradictory behaviour.
Our first obligation is to follow Jewish Law so our initial question may be whether there is any violation of Halacha in attending an intermarriage. I am not speaking at this time in regard to the impression that one would be giving through this attendance but simply whether it is wrong simply to attend in its own right. There is an important distinction between the two. In regard to the latter perspective, we are solely focused on the behaviour itself. In regard to the first perspective, we are focused on the perception of others. If we state that a behaviour is inherently wrong, than the answer that we should not undertake this behaviour is pretty straightforward. If, however, we state that the issue really concerns the perception of others, than the evaluation of this perception is of major significance in regard to answering this question of behaviour.
To illustrate this issue, we could ask whether it is wrong for a person to watch another Jew eat a ham sandwich. We are not discussing in any way assisting this Jew in the consumption of this sandwich; that would involve concerns for the prohibition of lifnei ever and the further Rabbinic edicts to not assist an individual in sinning (see Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 232). Is there a problem with just being a spectator of a sinful action? It seems that there could be – that viewing something negative should be avoided – and there is also a concern for being in the company of sinful people but these are not absolute prohibitions but rather guides that must be considered in the greater context. (We could also ask the question of what exactly is the sin in the actual intermarriage wedding ceremony.) I would contend that you could not really say that it is absolutely forbidden to attend an intermarriage ceremony but that it should be something that someone should refrain from attending. The further question would then be the second part of this issue – the perception of others.
In this regard, there are actually two considerations that must be kept in mind. One is the perception, through attendance, that one is in agreement with what is occurring. This touches upon the issue of ma’arit ayin, of giving an impression about Jewish Law and one’s relationship to it that is negative. If people will assume, through attendance at an intermarriage that one is okay with it than this is a problem. It is a value not only to be observant of Jewish Law but also to be perceived as one who is so committed. So there is a concern in attending an intermarriage that you will be seen as one is believes it to be okay.
There is, however, also a duty of care in regard to other Jews, to assist in ensuring their observance and continued association with the Jewish world. This is found, in its simplest terms, in the command to rebuke other Jews if they act in violation of the law. See Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 239. A more thorough study of this command would show, though, that the command is not simply to rebuke but to take steps that would draw people to observe the law – and, as such, to specifically not rebuke if that will have negative consequences. See, further, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Jewish Outreach. In this regard, there could even be an argument to attend an intermarriage if there is a concern that non-attendance would create a rift that would drive the Jewish member of the couple further away from the Jewish community. (This is actually a further concern when it is the woman who is the Jewish partner for at issue would also be any future children of the union.) It is within this perception that we would also be highly concerned with issues such as tolerance and respect for individual decision-making. Showing disrespect to another is clearly a way to drive someone away from having any interest in Torah. The ultimate concern is the long term effect, not solely the short term perception.
In conclusion, what we find is that situations such as these demand true analysis and sensitivity to all the issues involved. In the end, the proper behaviour may be contradictory in its various details – and as such it may be that not attending yet giving a gift was the proper final conclusion in regard to what to do. On one hand, you wish to show your allegiance to the Jewish world. On the other hand, you wish to show your love for your nephew, not just abstractly but to you nephew. Both of these objectives indeed have value and so determining what to do is essentially most complex. 

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Shalom and Best Regards,

Monday 12 November 2012

P. Chayyei Sarah - "Sh'nei Chayei Sarah"

The word Sh'nei literally means "Years of"

However it is also a homophone for the Hebrew word for "two" [f.]

Thus, we have d'rashot on the question - Just what were the TWO lives of Sarah Immeinu?

1. Perhaps the most popular m'haleich is that Sarah had one life in this world, and a second life in the World to Come - Olam Habba.

I'd like to go even further -

2. Sarah had two Careers
The First was as Avraham Avinu's wife

The Second was as Yitzchok's Avinu's Mother.

One may see how protective Sarah became in P. Vayeira 21:10 re: the expulsion of Hagar and Yishma'el

3. From a Historical Perspective Sarah also had two roles

The First was as a living, breathing human, a Tzadeket in the flesh.

The Second is her LEGACY, after she passed she became Sarah Immeinu, a matriarch and an icon for all future Israelites forever.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 11 November 2012

The Poppy

On this day, Nov. 11, Canada marks Remembrance Day, a day the nation remembers the many who fell in the wars that the nation fought. Nov. 11, of course, is the anniversary of the end of the First World War, which for Canadians has special significance in that this was the first war in which Canada fought as an independent nation.

Throughout the country -- indeed throughout it would seem the British Commonwealth -- preparation for the day is marked by the wearing of a 'poppy' -- a cloth rendering of the flower that, for Canadians, is intertwined with this day and World War 1. It was a Canadian who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields which speaks of the graves of soldiers who fell in this war -- these graves being in fields where the poppies grow. The poppy has thus become a sign of remembrance, of the soldiers who have fallen in defense of the country and its values.

This leads to my reason for posting this note on the blog. It has always been my belief that Jews should emphatically ensure that they participate in this memorial and wear a poppy. Once I see the stands of these 'poppies' available a few weeks before Nov. 11, I make sure to get one and to wear it on my outer coat. I think that it is proper for all Canadians to do so -- and if you watch a Raptors game in the days leading up to Nov. 11, you will notice all the coaches wearing one -- but I think that it specifically important for us as Jews to do so. It is our way of being makker tov, of joining in the respect that we have for those who fought for our freedom -- and in me wearing it noticeably as Jew with my kippa, I show the world that I am appreciative of this fact.

There are times that we must see beyond the narrow concept of rejecting all that is outside of us. There are times for us to show that we see what is outside of us and recognize it for its value.

Take care

Saturday 10 November 2012

Mussar: Sleeping Lishmah

From Derech Emet Group

Turei Zahab commentary on Shulchan Aruch, chelek Eben HaEzer, Siman 25, near end of paragraph 1:

He who sleeps more in order to strengthen his mind for Torah [study], the Holy One Blessed Be He grants him his portion in Torah, the same as [He does for a] person who reduces his sleep and makes himself suffer [to increase his Torah study], because everything follows after the intentions...

EXPLANATION: This probably refers to going to sleep earlier, not waking up later, which could cause a Jew to miss the correct time to recite Shema.

CHRONOLOGY: Rabbi David HaLevi was born in 1586 and died in 1667.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 9 November 2012

Far Rockaway, 5 Towns Update

From Rav  Yehuda L. Oppenheimer, re-posted with permission

Shalom and Best Regards,

Although I already sent money from our Shul Discretionary Fund and have asked from the pulpit last Shabbos that people contribute, we did not receive much of a response, unfortunately.
 I decided that both לשמה and for the ability to do more effective fundraising, I should go myself to some affected areas and see what I could do to help.  Overcoming the fear that I need to preserve the half tank of gasoline that I had left, I went yesterday to the Five Towns.
My first stop (after passing numerous mile long gas lines) was at Yeshiva Sh'or Yoshuv on the border of Far Rockaway and Lawrence.   One was struck ,when entering the very elaborate and fancy building, and knowing of the general affluence of the area, how many people were there in the middle of the day, picking up their laundry from a communal cleaner, getting some canned food, charging their cellphones, (some actually learning in the Beis HaMedrash, and most of all, gratefully taking advantage of the catered breakfast, lunch and supper that had been provided by local caterers (yesterday it was Shick's) and served by local volunteers.  Similar operations have been set up in other locations, including but not limited to Young Israel of Woodmere (I understand that Rav Billet suffered major damage to his home), Young Israel of Long Beach, Chabad of Five Towns, and others.
 Achiezer had a table set up for coordinating volunteers, and I reported ready to be helpful in any way that they could use me.  They tried to call several on their list of requested needs.   This list was compiled from forms that had been distributed with an extensive questionnaire asking what type of help was needed, including: food, clothing, blankets, help with cleaning basements, generators, sump pumps, moving furniture, rides (for those whose cars were totaled), place to stay (Shabbos/weekday) etc etc.   The needs are mind-boggling.
 It was difficult to reach anyone as so many phones are down and cellphones uncharged, but eventually I was sent with three yeshiva fellows to a lakeside home in Woodmere.   Passing many homes with large piles of garbage and discarded items all over, we came to an affluent home, which was obviously previously quite gracious.  I would guesstimate that two weeks ago it would be described as a $4 million home.  In the front yard were endless large piles of wood, refuse, ruined furniture, clothing, etc etc.   Walking inside the home, there were piles everywhere of endless stuff in varying states of salvagability, and a shell-shocked older couple who were being assisted by their grandson.   They had flood insurance on their homeowners policy, as they lived near a lake, but it covered only the actual structure, none of the contents.   The business that they owned nearby, including a new bakery completed only a few months ago, is a total loss.   Although they had managed to find a few construction workers to help, they critically needed help in getting the wet and ruined flooring and sheet-rock out of the basement before rot and mildew set in, which would be much harder and very expensive to clean, if at all possible given the extensive damage.   Hence, the call for help.
 For the next three hours, the four of us knocked down sheet-rock, shoveled debris, and carried bag after bag of garbage out of the house, stripping down the floor to the concrete and discarding the shmutz.   It was hard work, but it felt wonderful to actually be doing something to help another Yid, presumably people who up until now had been givers but now were in a position of having to take.   Baruch Hashem we finished most of the work before it got too dark to do anymore, and returned home exhausted, trying to drive carefully in the snow that had come in the new storm which functioned as a "sucker punch" to these communities while they are down.
 I am writing this not for accolades, but to encourage others to do the same.   If you are in the area, perhaps you can organize a crew of some able volunteers to come down and help.  Not only are all hands on deck needed  but it gives the hard hit people, many of whom are by now suffering for close to two weeks with no power or heat or housing, knowing that they have suffered huge losses, some much needed chizuk.
 If you want to organize a group to go help, you can be in touch with Achiezer at, or call them at 516-791-4444.
May הקב"ה bless us, help the victims and יאמר לצרותינו די!

 Yehuda L. Oppenheimer

Thursday 8 November 2012

Important Message from National Council of Young Israels

Forwarded with Permission from the RCA ...

Shalom and Best Regsrds,


Our community has been hurt and very badly. You have certainly seen the news, videos on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter posts, heard the reports or spoken and been in touch with friends and relatives on the Northeast coast. Perhaps you are even hosting some family, friends or 'new' friends for a few days or a weekend as the community begins to cleanup and heal. The devastation both physically and emotionally is beyond words. The weather has quickly turned cold and the gas lines continue for hours on end. There are moments when it seems that the despair will not end. Individuals, families and communities alike have, in many cases, lost everything they had from clothing to homes to shuls.
Neighborhoods that have been the envy of our collective community have been shattered by Sandy. Some 20 feet from where I write this my neighbor is having the foundation of his home inspected and overhauled. There are no explanations.
Some of our fellow Young Israels took a beating. The Young Israel of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn suffered major water damage which resulted in an electrical fire knocking out their entire system for the foreseeable future. The Young Israel of Oceanside lost three sifrei Torah, thousands of seforim and all of their youth furniture and toys and sustained heavy damage to the main sanctuary. There are many more similar reports.
On the ground many wonderful and inspiring people and families have provided living space, clothing, food, water and gas for those who are in need. Many local organizations, including local Young Israels and not-so-local Young Israels have mobilized crews to cleanup or provide heat and generators for those who are in need. One set of examples is the Young Israels of Woodmere, Long Beach, Wavecrest & Bayswater, among many others in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut that have been severely damaged by the storm that have nonetheless become storm shelters and resource centers, as they gather food and clothing, provide heat, light, phone chargers, meals and some respite from the damage and devastation. Hundreds of people each day are coming in through their doors to partake of the generosity and benevolence both from the community and from other faith communities as well. The Young Israel of Shomrei Emunah Greater Washington hosted a busload of people for Shabbos and is looking to do so again. The Young Israel of Flatbush offered to host members of Young Israel of North Woodmere for Shabbos as well. The leaders of these Young Israels have been inspiring and have moved many in the area to push forward and to do more for others even as they suffer their own losses.
At the moment it is still far from enough. With bad weather forecast for today and tomorrow we may be in for some additional flooding and damage.

The needs are massive. We are therefore asking you in your respective shul and community to hold Emergency appeal campaigns this Shabbos, November 10th, Parshas Chayei Sara, on behalf of the shuls and communities in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area that have been impacted by Sandy. There are many and their needs are growing. We are asking that you send donations to our 'Young Israel Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund' through our website (click here <
==> ). The funds will be distributed directly to shul leadership who have the best knowledge of the needs of their shuls and members.

One final note. This week's parsha, Chayei Sarah builds on the theme of last week, Hachnasat Orchim and Gemilut Chasadim, and tells the story of a young woman who provides water to an unknown and weary traveler, someone not of her land, language or location. It was an act of truly selfless loving kindness, one which is still inspiring us today. The people impacted by the hurricane are not 'Eliezers' but our family, friends and community. At this time we ask you to help us out and give generously.

Click here to donate <
==> .

Thank you in advance.

B'vracha and wishes for Besorot Tovot,

Bini Maryles
Associate Executive Director, Young Israel