Wednesday 29 February 2012

The Dating Game - 2

Previously we wrote in
NishmaBlog: The Dating Game

How Daniyyel claimed that 490 years will transpire from Mikdash to Mikdash. Subtracting 70 years for the Babylonian exile, that leaves 420 years. We have a firm Tradition that Bayyit Sheini lasted 420 years.

Scientific Historians tell us that about 586 years transpired

The first Temple was destroyed by
N'vuchadnezzar in 586 BCE
2nd Mikdash was erected 70 years later in 516 BCE
2nd Mikdash was destroyed in 70 CE

So how can 420 = 586?


Response -

Here is a cute model to help explain how we may view the "dichotomy" with greater flexibility

L'.mashal -
In football 60 minutes takes 3 hours

In basketball 48 minutes takes 2.5 hours

I'm guessing here too - that 420 of Bayyis Sheini took 580 years because it was counting ONLY the years it actually [fully] functioned. EG when the Greeks occupied it, it was a "time-out" and the clock stopped


There is also a hypothesis that the 480 years in M'lachim, from Exodus to Sh'lomoh's Mikdash, was about 200 years too long and had to be made up some how.


Tuesday 28 February 2012

Love Your Students - Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran

A young teacher described this episode which occurred early in her teaching career:

"One beautiful Spring morning when I arrived at school, I was surprised to see a youngster waiting at the door. 'It's locked,' he said sadly. His expression brightened as I began to fumble for my keys. 'You're a teacher!" he exclaimed in obvious delight.

"As I slipped the key into the lock and opened the door, I looked at him and smiled. 'What makes you think that?' I asked him, amused and pleased in no small measure by his reaction.

"He looked directly into my eye and spoke softly but with respect. 'You have the key.'»

Teacher! Love Your Students! - Judaism - Israel National News

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as vice president of communications and marketing of the Orthodox Union's Kashruth Division. His most recent book is "Mediations at Sixty: One Person, Under God, Indivisible," published by KTAV Publishing House. He is the author of "Kos Eliyahu – Insights into the Haggadah and Pesach" which has been translated into Hebrew and published by Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem.


Monday 27 February 2012

Massorah and Beit Din Hagadol

The power of Torah sheb'al Peh [TSBP]

הלכות ממרים פרק א

א בית דין הגדול שבירושלים--הם עיקר תורה שבעל פה, והם עמוד ההוראה, ומהם חוק ומשפט יוצא לכל ישראל, ועליהם הבטיחה תורה: שנאמר "על פי התורה אשר יורוך, ועל המשפט אשר יאמרו לך--תעשה" (דברים יז,יא), זו מצות עשה. וכל המאמין במשה רבנו ובתורתו--חייב לסמוך מעשה הדת אליהם, ולהישען עליהן


R Akiva was in Yavneh. Was he on "Beis Din Haggadol"?

מסכת מכות פרק א

א,יא סנהדרין נוהגת בארץ, ובחוצה לארץ. סנהדרין ההורגת אחד בשבוע, נקראת חבלנית; רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר, אחד לשבעים שנה.

רבי טרפון ורבי עקיבה אומרים, אילו היינו בסנהדרין, לא נהרג בה אדם לעולם; רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר, אף הן מרבים שופכי דמים בישראל.


Apparently not


Only after the Hurban and the dissolution of BD Hagaddol did the need for a direct chain of individuals become important to our M'sorah. Before that it was perpetuated by the anonymous 70 Z'keinim of each generation.

EG See Iggeres deRabbenu Sh'rirah Gaon for further elaboration.


Sunday 26 February 2012

The marriage crisis and why singles today don't want to commit. - by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

«The simple truth seems to be that people just don't seem to want to commit. And I have my own theory for this contemporary sorry state of affair.

I know my research is only anecdotal and I have no proof to back up my claim but I think that rather than a new cultural aversion to the state of matrimony there's something else going on here.»

Too Many Options


IMHO - This is the Nissayon of Affluence. A more depressed or repressed society would need to depend more upon marriage and companionship to make do.


Saturday 25 February 2012

The Dating Game

Many of us have fun on dates. Some of us have fun with dates. Some of us date ourselves - remember hula hoops?

Without using spectrometers and doing carbon-dating we still have fun with dates.

Since George Washington's Birthday is February 22, and since Lincoln's Birthday is February 12, it's only fair to mention that GW was actually born on Feb. 11. Strange date is it not?

Then again what about the Great October Socialist Revolution? It took place on November 7. This is probably because the February Russian Revolution took place in March. Now after all one needs to March to make a Revolution

«The February Revolution (March 1917) was a revolution focused around Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).»

Russian Revolution - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


FDR declared that December 7, 1941 is a "date that will LIVE in infamy." But Admiral Yamamoto wired the Imperial Japanese Navy or the Emperor boasting about the IJN's great victory on December 8. I guess he missed FDR's speech!

John Adams presciently described how Americans would celebrate its Independence

«A day later, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.[6]"»

Yes the SECOND of July

«Adams's prediction was off by two days»

Independence Day (United States) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


So now let's see. What about the Jewish Dating game?


In the Brit bein Hab'tarim Hashem tells Avraham that his progeny will serve for 400 years

In Sh'mot P. Bo the Exodus took place after 430 years

And Hazal tell us that we sojourned in Egypt for RDU or 210 years

Achashveirosh and others could not quite pinpoint when the 70 year exile as foretold would actually take effect. And they were SURE that when the deadline passed it would not come again.

Now Daniyyel claimed that 490 years will transpire from Mikdash to Mikdash. Subtracting 70 years for the Babylonian exile, that leaves 420 years. We have a firm Tradition that Bayyit Sheini lasted 420 years.

Scientific Historians tell us that about 586 years transpired

The first Temple was destroyed by
N'vuchadnezzar in 586 BCE
2nd Mikdash was erected 70 years later in 516 BCE
2nd Mikdash was destroyed in 70 CE

So how can 420 = 586?

Stay tuned!


Thursday 23 February 2012

A Time to Rethink Adult-Ed

It's interesting that her work happens in the world of adult education. Americans obsess about K-12 education. The country has plenty of religious institutions. But adult education is an orphan, an amorphous space in-between. This is a shame, but it also gives Brown the space to develop her method.

This nation is probably full of people who'd be great adult educators, but there are few avenues to bring those teachers into contact with mature and hungry minds. Now you hear about such people by word of mouth.»

The Arduous Community -


Is this Times article telling us that it's time to throw out the secular model of 12-16 model of Jewish Ed and to substitute a Halachic based model of Jewish Ed as a lifetime pursuit?


Wednesday 22 February 2012

Tuesday 21 February 2012

JVO: Jewish Values

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: Should we look for or expect to see “Jewish values” in US presidential candidates?

This is a most interesting question for it involves many side issues that need to be elucidated.
First, we must clarify the exact nature of the question as the two verbs that drive this question – ‘look for’ and ‘expect to see’ -- reflect two very distinct undertakings. The former is of a more active nature, asking of us, it would seem, whether we should be searching for Jewish values in the candidates. The latter would seem to be of a more passive nature, asking of us, it would seem, even if we should be able to identify Jewish values in the candidates. The further implication of this distinction could be in the role we assign to the integration of Jewish values in our evaluation of a candidate. The former, asking of us whether we should actively look for Jewish values in a candidate, would seem to imply that this should be an important criterion in our selection process. The latter, asking of us if we should even expect to see an integration of Jewish values in a candidate, would seem to imply that this, at least for pragmatic reasons, may not be a significant factor by which to render a decision. It would seem that before we even tackle what we may describe as the substantive question of the role of Jewish values in an election, we may have to consider the nature of the very relationship those outside of the Jewish world may have with Jewish values.
Second, of course, is the very issue of defining what Jewish values are. Regular readers of the Jewish Values Online website will no doubt recognize the powerful challenge this question presents for there are significant value differences between the branches of Judaism. I remember watching President Obama’s recent address to a convention of Reform Judaism, noting the powerful applause he received – and expected to receive – in response to certain comments. I also noted that if these same statements were made to a convention of Orthodox Judaism, the response to these very same statements would be the opposite and most negative. To those attending the Reform convention, the statements of President Obama would be presented as reflecting Jewish values; at an Orthodox convention they would be perceived to be attacking of Jewish values. So before we answer as to whether we should look for or expect to see Jewish values in US presidential candidates, we have to first define what we mean by Jewish values.
Continuing along this chain of thought, we may also wonder about what may even be the distinction between what we may term Jewish values and general universal values. When President Obama spoke at the Reform convention, he knew what to expect. There was no doubt that in the minds of the delegates – and perhaps even the President – there was a perception that he was maintaining Jewish values as defined within the parameters of Reform Judaism. Yet these values were not unique to Jewishness but reflected the values of many members of the general population. They could be said to reflect a certain perception of what would be a universal value consciousness. So the question is not simply what are Jewish values but also what makes these values distinctively Jewish so that they can be defined by this particular term.
It may be that we wish to describe certain values as Jewish because the root of such values emerged from the Jewish world; indeed many of the values within Western society did begin within the ancient Jewish world. Is this, though, what we now mean by the term Jewish values; they are the values that originated within the societal confines of the Jewish People? But so what? Why is it important for us to identify these Jewish values – except, perhaps, to feel the pride of being the originators? From his perspective, we may wonder why it would even be important to identify the Jewish values within a candidate. All that should really matter is whether we agree with his/her values regardless of their origin. We clearly would want to identify the values that are the basis for a candidate’s decisions – but why care if the origin is Jewish? We should just care if we agree or not.
There is, though, perhaps, another way of defining what we may mean by Jewish values that would reflect a more specific, and narrower, understanding of the term and could have a more specific relationship to the Jewish People – and thus could be of a more particular purpose to us. By the term Jewish value, we could be referring to positions that are favourable to the Jewish People. For example, in this context, the support of Israel could be considered a Jewish value. Our question in that case would then be whether we should look for or expect to see the assurance of such support in a US presidential election.
Again, in this context, the difference between ‘look for’ and ‘expect to see’ would be significant, but on the surface, we could offer a simple answer that we would clearly want a US presidential candidate to have such a value, i.e. a positive disposition toward the Jewish People. The exact nature of this support, though, may still be a question. There may be different ways by which a person could promote his/her support of the Jewish People, i.e. express such a Jewish value, with some positions expressing this stand being in conflict with others expressing this very same stand. It may actually be that two individuals, honestly declaring their support of the Jewish People, could adopt two diametrically opposite practical positions. Again we would be left with the need for us to determine our support for a candidate based upon our personal perceptions of the values maintained regardless of generic terms.
There is, however, one more point I would like to make in this regard and this is one that I offer specifically as an Orthodox rabbi. Maimonides, Shemona Perakim, Chapter 6 presents a distinction between two different types of mitzvot: Chukkot, the commandments whose sole basis is Revelation itself, and Mitzvot Sichliyot, the commandments which have a rational basis. For example, the prohibition of eating pork would be an example of the first category – the only reason we observe such a command is because God has so directed us. Maimonides goes so far as to state that we are not even to develop moral feelings in regard to such mitzvot – for example to feel that it is intrinsically disgusting to eat pork – but we are to even perceive that this action in itself is not problematic; we solely desist because that is God’s Will. An example of the second category would be the prohibition of murder. In regard to such directives, we are not only to abstain from such behaviour because God has so ordered us but we are also to feel the immorality of such an action. Unlike eating pork, we are to feel that murder is disgusting and inherently wrong.
This recognition is, in my opinion, very important in the context of this question. There are times where we, as Jews bound by Torah commandments, may share certain standard conclusions with others yet would still not share the same moral structure and thought processes. There are cases where, for example, we may observe a certain standard because it is a chok even others from a different religious perspective may believe this standard to be a correct moral outlook – a view we may even find challenging to accept. It is thus important for us to recognize that, even as we may wish to define another as having a ‘Jewish value’ because we both share the same conclusion, this may not actually be the case. There still may be a wide chasm in underlying moral concepts.
The bottom line may be that there may be a point in looking for or expecting to see Jewish values in a US presidential candidate but there may be an even further point in being able to identify and articulate how we, as Jews, do not share underlying moral and ethical concepts with someone even as we may reach, for completely different reasons, the same action conclusion.

Monday 20 February 2012

Obama Care and the Catholic Church

Guest Blogger:
Rabbi Phil Lefkowitz


Whither Ecclesiastical Abstention?

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

"Indeed, it is the essence of religious faith that ecclesiastical decisions are reached and are to be accepted as matters of faith whether or not rational or measurable by objective criteria. Constitutional concepts of due process, involving secular notions of 'fundamental fairness' or impermissible objectives, are therefore hardly relevant to such matters of ecclesiastical cognizance." United States Supreme Court in McClure, in Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 725 (1976)

This decision was issued in a case involving the defrockment of a Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court had ruled that the defrockment had to be set aside because it was done in violation of the Church's own procedures. The Supreme Court reaffirmed the important role of separation of church and state, even when the actions of the church "are not rational or measurable by objective criteria."

The Separation of Church and State embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution has long been a bedrock value unique to the very establishment of the United States of America. Based upon the First Amendment, the concept of Ecclesiastical Abstention was put forward; the State has no role to play in any aspect of the function of a religious institution.

And now comes Obama Care – When Obama Care was first put forward, most Roman Catholic Bishops gave it their full support. There was an "understanding" that this legislation would be tweaked in some fashion so as to avoid any impingement upon the religious values of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church today maintains or has built 625 not-for-profit hospitals in the U.S. with about 1 in every 8 hospital visits made to Catholic Hospitals. This represents the largest share of the American health care industry. Additionally, the Catholic Church plays a major role in education and in caring for the needy and underprivileged. In all of these functions many if not most of the folks utilizing these services are not Roman Catholic. In Chicago, for example, a goodly number of Jews, Orthodox Jews, use the excellent facilities of St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois even, at times, receiving financial consideration.

President Obama has now confirmed that the government will force the Church's institutions including hospitals, schools, charities to purchase insurance for their employees which includes birth control, sterilization, and drugs that act as abortifications, in opposition to Church doctrine. The Church feels that their providing, their paying for these insurance options, makes it complicit in these acts when one of their employees opts to utilize them. The Church sees this as a clear and obvious violation of separation of church and state. As I write almost 200 Bishops across the United States, with the support of other religious Faiths, have issued statements in opposition to this demand by the President.

Here in Chicago Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago's Archdiocese, the largest archdiocese in the United States, wrote in a letter read in all Catholic Churches:
… unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics must be prepared either to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration's sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply. We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.
How should the Jewish community react to this major confrontation with a religious denomination that now accounts for nearly 50% of the American population?

Attacks on Jewish observance are not unknown in Jewish life. They have been couched in many forms. Several hundred years ago, in response to "swooning," the idea that people can seem to be dead but in reality are not and given time will revive, become animated once again, resulted in laws being enacted to protect individuals from being buried prematurely, while they were yet alive. Some societies required that burial not take place for a week or more. The fear of being buried alive was so rampant that individuals were buried with a string attached to a bell above ground so that, when they revived from their "swoon," they could ring the bell and be "resurrected." With Jewish tradition requiring burial as quickly as possible, these laws created tremendous anguish for the Jewish population.

In my lifetime, there have been repeated attempts to outlaw Shchita, Jewish ritual slaughter even here in the United States mounted by those claiming to protect animals from torture. In societies such as the United Kingdom, ritual slaughter, Kosher and Hallal, are allowed through a special exemption in the law providing for religious ritual. Many countries in Western Europe have totally outlawed Shchita.

A movement to outlaw ritual circumcision is now receiving new support particularly on the West Coast. Like anti-shchita advocates it is premised upon the need to protect the innocent child from a primitive rite that inflicts pain and long-term trauma upon the innocent babe. Sadly there are as well those on the left in Reform Judaism who are in support of this movement.

The issue of separation of church and state is rife with pitfalls. It is at times extremely difficult to draw that line in the sand. With the increase in our American Muslim population, with their own rites and rituals that conflict with some Americans' sensitivities, and with their own ecclesiastical authorities turned to for determinations that at times conflict with civil law, we can expect the issue of the First Amendment and its concomitant concept of Ecclesiastical Abstention to become an ever more volatile issue in American life.

The classical case generally referred to in separation of church and state is the famous peyote case. Native American religions utilize marijuana in their rituals. The peace pipe may not always bring peace but will always brings a state of euphoria. That case brought before the United States Supreme Court saw the Jewish community filing amicus briefs in support of the Native American religious rite of marijuana use. For the American Jewish community their support of the rites of a nature religion was based primarily upon the concern that, were the Supreme Court to reject the Native American appeal, such a decision would open the flood gates of attacks upon Jewish rites, i.e. shchita and circumcision.

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church's contribution to education and social welfare in America is substantial. For example, in Chicago the Catholic School system provides a wonderful education for thousands upon thousands of children in the worst of neighborhoods. The only alternative to a failing public school system, the Catholic system graduates students who go on to be reputable and contributing members of society. For many in the African American community, non-Catholics, the Catholic School is their very lifeline, their only hope for an education that will set them in good stead for a successful future.

To be sure, this confrontation by the Obama administration with the Church is a watershed moment in American history that will affect a notable change in our American way of life if allowed to stand. For years many in the religious communities have warned of an ever increasing attack upon religion in the United States. Those who are attempting to minimize this confrontation state that it is not about religion, it is about individual rights, for example in the current conflict, citing statistics that a majority of Catholic women use birth control. A false argument,, the same approach could be used against shchita citing statistics that the majority of those professing Judaism as their religious affiliation eat non-kosher meat.

The Jewish community must not remain silent on this issue. We must see this confrontation not as a Catholic issue but as a matter reflecting upon the important principle of religious freedom in America; a principle that has been of singular importance to our own community. As a matter of practicality, similar to the peyote case, we know full well the many disguises those who wish to attack our religious practices have donned in the past. I cannot help but feel that there are those advocating this demand upon the Church as a response, as pay back, for the vociferous stand of the Catholic Church on the issues of abortion and gay rights.

As the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the O.U. and Agudath Israel, the entirety of American Jewry should support the stand of the Roman Catholic Church on the importance of the First Amendment.

Sunday 19 February 2012

How a Boston Rabbi Turned the NY Knicks Fortunes Around*

*Harvard had something to do with this, too!

The odds are that Lin will never figure it out because the two moral universes are not reconcilable. Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays "The Lonely Man of Faith" and "Majesty and Humility" he argues that people have two natures. First, there is "Adam the First," the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is "Adam the Second," the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.
Soloveitchik plays off the text that humans are products of God's breath and the dust of the earth, and these two natures have different moral qualities, which he calls the morality of majesty and the morality of humility. They exist in creative tension with each other and the religious person shuttles between them, feeling lonely and slightly out of place in both experiences.

NYT: The Jeremy Lin Problem


Saturday 18 February 2012

Mussar: Forget and Forgive

From - NarrowBridge.Org

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught...

Most people think of
forgetfulness as a defect.
I consider it a great benefit.
Being able to forget frees you from the burdens of the past.
(The Empty Chair, p. 108*)

What does this mean to me?

"If only I could forget the wrong that my neighbor did me ten years ago."

"If only I could forget all of the old baggage that I'm carrying from my childhood."

"If only I could stop reacting negatively to the situations that I face every single day. I wish I could just put all of my old patterns behind me and start fresh."

The truth is that we can, because we were given the great gift of forgetfulness. Every capacity within the human character has its potential for holy expression, and forgetting has its place too. One of the words in Hebrew for a human being is an enosh, and its root is in the Aramaic inshi—to forget. How do I learn to forget the memories and ways of thinking that harm me? First of all, I have to really want to let go of them! After that, I have to develop the habit of asking G-d to remove the memories from me whenever they come up. Little by little, I will find myself liberated.

Rebbe Nachman said, "When a person is caught in a morass of clinging mud, he can't get out all at once. He has one foot in, one foot out; one foot in, one foot; one foot in, one foot out—and then he's out!"

A prayer:

Teach me, dear G-d,
to make a fresh start;
to break yesterday's patterns;
to stop telling myself
I can't—
when I can,
I'm not—
when I am,
I'm stuck—
when I'm eminently free.
(The Gentle Weapon**, p. 101)

When we Forget the Hurt, it is so much easier to forgive.


Thursday 16 February 2012


 I just want to draw your attention to these two articles written in Ha'aretz concerning Gur's highly restrictive rules for conduct between the sexes even within marriage.

This is not a new issue. In fact, as one of the articles points out, the Steipler already was critical of these practices within marriage and wrote a pamphlet against them (although he published  it anonymously, it was well known that it was from the Steipler). What I find interesting, though, is the underlying current, though, regarding eilu v'eilu. It would seem that there is not even the portrayal of any hint within Gur that there policies are actually critiqued by other segments of Orthodoxy. They are not looked upon as a chumrah but as wrong and kneged Torah but that is not even perceived. What does that really tell us about the world's understanding of Torah and the depth inherent in the concept of eilu v'eilu -- and perhaps why many cannot relate to this fundamental Torah concept. What we seem to further see is that those who leave Gur over this issue become totally not religious because they can't even recognize that there are those within Torah who share their grievances and concerns. Would it not be better for there to be a presentation that there is another way within Torah -- and those who wish to leave Gur do not have to leave Torah? There may be other factors in why a person totally drops Torah besides this reason -- but I do wonder about the negative consequences of trying to present this viewpoint as the sole Torah viewpoint (i.e. that it is the most righteous way) when it is in fact not and open to its own criticism within Torah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Results of Poll on: What Would You Do Differently

In our last poll, we inquired

New Poll: What Would YOU Do Differently?

There have been several hot proposals for changes in the status quo that have been debated amongst the Jewish Blogsters during the last several months. They include:

1. That unmarried men should also wear a Tallit Gadol as men in the Eidot Mizrach and Yekkes already do. This would make amcha compliant with a Mitzvah d'Oraitto;

2. That we should restore daily Birkat Kohanim everywhere - which conforms to the presentation of the Talmud and Eidot Mizrach;

3. That we should eliminate the bracha of Shelo Assani Ishah and/or Shelo Assani Goy. This would avoid embarrassing most of the world. If we worry about the busha of challah, then koll shekein our fellow human's feelings should be factored in

4. That we make all marriages annullable so as to eliminate Agunot. The Agunah problem is obvious. Those who favour the status quo have vetoed R. Shaul Liberman's and R. Emmanuel Rackman's resolutions.

In regard to these issues, we asked the following two questions:

A) Assuming YOU had total control of the Halachic Process on just ONE of these issues, which one would you modify? Caveat: remember - you are ALSO responsible for any "un-intended consequences"

1) I’d have even unmarried men were a Tallit Gadol

2) I’d have Birkat Kohanim said daily everywhere

3) I’d eliminate Shelo Assani Ishah and/or Shelo Assani Goy

4) I’d make all marriages annullable

5) I’d maintain these four items as they are but with such a power, there is clearly something else that I would do.

6) I'd leave everything as is. Tampering with the system either might or will cause it to unravel
Your Responses (total 10)
Choice 1 - 00.0%  (0)
Choice 2 - 00.0%  (0)
Choice 3 - 20.0%  (2)
Choice 4 - 50.0%  (5)
Choice 5 - 00.0%  (0)  
Choice 6 - 30.0%  (3)

B) Assuming, again, YOU had total control of the Halachic Process and could modify any or all of these four items, which one or ones would you modify? (not limited to one choice)

1) I’d have even unmarried men were a Tallit Gadol

2) I’d have Birkat Kohanim said daily everywhere

3) I’d eliminate Shelo Assani Ishah and/or Shelo Assani Goy

4) I’d make all marriages annullable

5) None of them.

Your Responses (total 10 / 7)

Choice 1 - 10.0% / 14.3% (1)
Choice 2 - 00.0% / 00.0% (0)
Choice 3 - 20.0% / 28.6% (2)
Choice 4 - 20.0% / 28.6% (2)
Choice 5 - 20.0% / 28.6% (2)

Rabbi Hecht
In Part A, I am not really surprised that the one item for which there was the most desire for change concerned the aguna. That is a problem that bothers almost everyone with many truly feeling the restraints of Halacha in not being able to do more.
I am not sure how to respond to Part B. The question opened the possibility of even more responses; instead we got less. I really do not know why. In that there were even less responses than the number of people who responded, we put down both figures representing the percentage for each response -- but we cannot explain this. The only thing that one may find interesting is that no one seemed concerned about Birkat Kohanim yet this was a most important concern for the Vilna Gaon.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

When Democracy and Halacha Collide

There was a recent article in the Forward entitled "When Democracy and Halacha Collide" that reported that in a recent poll in Israel "44% of those questioned replied that if there is a contradiction between democratic values and Halacha (Jewish law), the latter should be upheld."
The article, written by a professor of history at Ben Gurion University, expressed concern over this. Of course, others may be concerned about the opposite, that 56% of the population would favour democratic values over Halacha.

The numbers, though, are not really the issue. What this article further shows is not only the reality that there may be a conflict between democratic values and Jewish (i.e. Torah) values but the further reality that most people do not even want to confront this truth. What has emerged in Israel for years is a promotion of Israel as a Jewish state and Israel as a democratic state without actually facing the reality that these two desired definitions of the state may actually be in conflict. It is not the result of the poll that actually bothers me -- how many who responded fully understand the depth of this question? It is the article itself that is most telling about the challenge that faces us. This author decries this 44% of the population favouring Halacha because such a position challenges the very foundation of Israel -- even as a Jewish state. The real question is: how many people perceive Israel to be a Jewish state because it is democratic? Perhaps this 44% of the population is beginning to see the challenge of this definition but the author of this article -- and possibly many North American Jews -- are bothered by this response not because they favour democracy per se but because they favour a Jewish state being defined as Jewish because it is democratic. The argument against Halacha, as such, would be because it is not Jewish -- and see how this author develops such a position.

In Jewish Tribune article from Jan. 2008, I pointed out further aspects of this challenge. In the article, I wondered how many Jews in Israel favour a Jewish state because that entity would also protect Western freedoms and it is these rights that they want, not necessarily a Jewish entity. See
On a certain level, it may be good that this is an issue that is finally coming out.

At the same time, though, we must also recognize that how Halacha connects with democratic rights and freedoms is a most complex issue. We have benefited from Western values so we cannot simply dismiss  these values. Rav Moshe did refer to the US as a medina shel chesed. The perceived conflict between democracy and Halacha cannot be simply answered by choosing one over another. Further on this issue, specifically as it involves Freedom of Religion, see my latest series of shiurim on this topic on Koshertube (

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 13 February 2012

Putting Midrashim in their proper perspective

Guest Blogger:

Rabbi Jacob S. Jaffe


I can only weigh in as a high school teacher, and not as an elementary teacher, but here it goes -
I agree that Rav Yoel Bin-nun, and Rav Yaakov Medan, have tried to develop a third approach to Midrash: They do not reject it, axiomatically, if it is not peshat. They do not accept it, axiomatically, as if it was written.

Instead, the approach is basically "Most Midrashim really reflect pshuto shel mikra, but if you can't see it - it's probably because you haven't learned the pshat correctly."
And, as a high school Tanach teacher, I think that this derech, is the single most important thing to teach HS students in the US today: All midrashim are really explaining pshuto shel mikra - but if you can't see it, its because you aren't reading closely.

How do we know Nachson jumped in first? Not from Beshalach, but from a close reading of Psalm 114.
How do we know the angels came to Lot on Pesach? Not from the Matzahs, but from the literary parallels to Makat Bechorot.
How did we know the mountains all moved to be the one the Torah was given on? From Psalm 68.
How do we know Yehudah set up a Beit Midrash in Egypt? Check a concordance for the word "lehorot."
How do we know Menashe did Teshuvah? From Divrei Hayamim, of course.
How do we know angels were created on the second day of creation? From Nechemiah

The list goes on and on.

Last year, we did a three week lesson in Maimonides school on the Gemara in Sanhedrin about Shevnah's rebellion, and after the first week, all of my students were saying "the Midrash is fabricated, where did they get that from" - until we studied all the psukim more carefully and they all recognize that the Midrash's literary, linguistic, and textual sensitivity was so advanced, that many of the 'creations' of the Midrash can be revealed as just closer readings of the text.

I think in 2012, too many of our students will go to colleges (Be them YU, or secular colleges), Yeshivot and Seminaries - where they will meet teachers who criticize Midrash Aggadah; and this will lead too many of our students to then take the next step - that if we can ignore Midrash Agaddah, then we can Midrash Halacha too - and once they make that step, we've lost the battle. Instead, I think we must reaffirm their faith in the Chachmei Ha-mesorah; but not through asserting that it is so, rather, by showing how it is so, and where the Midrash comes from.

In more than half a decade teaching this way, I have yet to find a class or a Midrash when the students did not walk away with a refined, committed embrace of Midrash after we studied them the right way - and I've challenged students to find Midrashim and we work together on them to explain how each and every one is really the pshat.

I am troubled by teachers who insist on teaching "pshat only;" because that implies that the Midrash isn't pshat when it often is. Imagine the teacher who will never refer to Bas-Paroh by name "Bitya" because 'that's a midrash' - when it's really the pshat of the passuk in divrei hayamim. I think teaching "pshat only" gives our kids a not-so-subtle message that the midrash as less authoritative, or less worthy.

So, my vote, for what it's worth - is that we continue to teach Midrash together with pshat. And when someone objects, we just show them how the Midrash is really just the pshat itself.

Yaakov Jaffe
Tanach Department Chair
Maimonides School
Brookline, Mass


Rabbi Jaffe's words resonate with those of my colleague R Sacha Pecaric - namely that when Midrashim are properly understood they are addressing "P'shat" issues within the text itself

If I might add, it appears that Rishonim "got it" intuitively, but we don't. That is to say we don't "connect the dots" so easily. B"H some S'farim address this, and the Torah T'mimah is one of them, because the TT often shows HOW the Midrash got there

Shalom and Regards, RRW

Sunday 12 February 2012

Stuck? Just Pray Your Way out of it!

From NarrowBridge.Org

Reb Nosson wrote:
In every sphere, the only thing a person can do is to wait for G-d's salvation and, in the meantime, to petition G-d to send him what he needs. Be it small or large, whatever our needs; whether food or drink, clothing, shelter, eating utensils, furniture, domestic help, tuition money, or anything else, there is no advice and no strategy other than to throw our burden on G-d, begging Him to send us what we need. If we have to take some action, or to discover some advice or strategy about what to do, we should ask and rely on G-d to help us and to supply us with good advice at the proper time.
(Healing Leaves, p. 71)

What does this mean to me?

There are people who don't like to hear that prayer is the answer. "What about having a duty to make effort? What about being realistic about the way that this world works?" they ask, exasperated. Reb Nosson shows us that there is no contradiction between our need to make effort and the fact that prayer and patience is the solution. Whatever we need—and he is so specific, down to the tuition!—we must turn to G-d for it. Until the help arrives, we exercise the quality of patience. And before we make any decision or take the steps that we see laid out before us to secure those needs, we ask for Good, Orderly Direction—whose initials spell, what else? G-d.

A prayer:

G-d of patience,
teach me patience.

Help me learn
to wait-
• for the good
that is just around the
• for the assistance
that will soon be within
• for the relief
that is just a moment away

(The Gentle Weapon*, p. 52)


Saturday 11 February 2012

Mussar: The person who rejoices with what he has is happy forever.

Sefer Mitzvot Katan, Mitzvah 19:

The Ten Commandments [Aseret HaDibrot] end with
the prohibition against coveting [Lo Tachmode]
to teach that a person who covets violates all of them.

And woe to the person who covets, because all of
his days are painful and unhappy; but the person
who rejoices with what he has is happy forever.

DerechEmet : Message: Quick Jewish Quote for 2012 February 4


Friday 10 February 2012

T'filah: Request vs. Demand

Guest Blogger

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen


On demand Tefila

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

As to whether Tefila is a request or a demand, the following related article published this month in my latest book, "Jewish Prayer-The Right Way, Resolving Halachic Dilemmas (Urim Publishing)suggests at times it may be a demand.(See pp.21-22)

Different Approaches To Prayer

Question: Are there different mindsets and approaches to prayer?

Response: Yes.The following response was culled from a taped shiur of HaRav HaGoan R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik,(ZL) Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva University which was recorded over fifty years ago at Congregation Moriah in Manhattan, NY.

The Talmud (Berachot 34b) reports the following:

Rav Gamliel's son was ill. To pray for his son's recovery, Rav Gamliel sent two Torah scholars to Rav Chaninan ben Dosa. Upon viewing the scholars approach, Rav Chanina went up to his attic and solely prayed for recovery. When they came before Rav Chanina, he informed them that the sick person was already cured. Subsequently, the scholars were able to substantiate not only the cure but also the time the cure took place.

Some issues of concern. Why did Rav Gamliel send two students? Why not one? Why the necessity to send Torah scholars? Also, why did not Rav Chanina wait for the scholars to formally make the request?

Subequently, Rav Chanina ben Dosa became a student of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai. Once Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai's son was ill and Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his student, Rav Chanina to pray for his ill son. Rav Chanina ben Dosa put his head down by his knees and prayed and cured the illness.

At issue is the rationale for Rav Chanina's bizarre mode of prayer.Why did he put his head down by his legs? What message did such a prayer impart?

HaRav Soloveitchik (ZL) gave the following analysis of these Talmudic incidents. Rav Chanina's mode of prayer expressed a unique orientation towards requests or petitions made to the Rebono Shel Olam. Who walks with his head down near his feet? Not humans. Humans walk with their head held high. The posture of a head hanging near one's feet is symtomatic of animals. Rav Chanina's mindset was to plead with G-d to sustain his creations with health as he sustains the animals in the field. He gave life to the person who is ill, therefore, He owes them health. As it is written "Umasbia l'chol chai- and He sustains all life". Animals are given life and health regardless of their nature to do good or otherwise. The prayer for the ill has nothing to do with the character, personality, Torah knowledge or religious observances of the person. Rav Chanina felt that all humans due to the fact that G-d gave them life deserve to be granted health comparable to the health given to the animals of the field. To emphasize this quality, Rav Chanina put his head between his legs to manifest the animal aspect of all mankind. In other words, care should be given to human creations at least in the same format that it is provided to the animal world.

Rav Gamliel had a radically different approach to prayer. His position was that people of merit had a right to demand considerations from G-d. For this reason he sent to Rav Chanina not one but two students who were Talmedai Chachamim, Torah Scholars. He believed that a request to heal his son should be through the process of a Bet Din. Serving as the leader of the Torah world he felt that he deserved some consideration in return.The prayer for recovery was to be a P'sak of a Bet Din ruling that he, Rav Gamliel merited compassion from G-d for his son.

Rav Chanina understood Rav Gamliel's intention when he noted that two scholars were coming to his home. Consequently, he prayed for the recovery of Rav Gamliel's son by himself; for his approach to prayer was one of great modesty and not a religious demand for payment due to the performance of Mitzvot.

(Any error or misstatement should be attributed to my understanding of the Sheur and not to HaGoan HaRav Soloveitchik (ZL).)


Thinking out loud I wonder if we may legitimately distinguish between different kinds of DEMANDS
EG personal demands may be always construed as "selfish"

However, demands that are Lichvod Shamayim - such as "v'timloch aleinu" - might be
entirely different because it is not for OUR selfish needs etc.



Thursday 9 February 2012

Toss Candy in Haste - Repent at Leisure?

Does it take a real live accident to react to a danger, a sakkanah? Or can we use common sense first and be pro-active?


Aufruf Ends at Hospital After Chosson's Sister Gets Hit » - The Online Voice of Torah Jewry


Gabbai Almost Blinded By Auf Ruf Pekelach » - The Online Voice of Torah Jewry


Disclosure - My own son was hit in his eye by just such a missile when he was a young child. Do you think it actually took that for me to realize how dangerous this practice was? Not to mention how disrespectful it is towards K'dushat Beit K'nesset?


Wednesday 8 February 2012

Tu b'Shevat ט״ו בשבט



Tu b'Shevat - ט״ו בשבט: Tues. Evening Feb. 7 / Wednesday Feb 8 -

Backround, significance, and customs

Tu b'Shevat ט״ו בשבט ‎ is a minor Jewish Holiday that marks the New Year of the Trees - Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanos ראש השנה לאילנות. It is also called Chamisha Asar B'Shevat (חמשה-עשר בשבט), also meaning the fifteenth of Shevat.

The Fifteenth of Shevat is the midpoint of winter and we are looking forward to the spring. The sap of the trees is beginning to flow and rise in the roots of the trees, though unseen by man, and as a result the fruits are manifesting their first stage of formation. The Rosh Hashana for Trees is a time of Tefilla (Prayer). We joyously celebrate this day in asking Hashem to continue to shower his benevolence on his children, the Bnei Yisrael as well as the rest of his creations in the world as it says in Bircas HaMazon "Hazon es HaOlam Kulo Betuvo" (He Nourishes the entire world in his goodness).

Tu b'Shevat is one of four "New Years" mentioned in the Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah 1:1 as one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar. The discussion of when the new year for trees occurs was a source of debate among the Rabbis. The Rabbis ruled in favor of Hillel on this issue. Thus the 15th of Shevat became the date for calculating when the agricultural cycle began or ended for the purpose of (a) Orlah , (b) Neta Reva'i, (c) Maaser Sheni and Maaser Ani, involving trees and fruit.

(a) Orlah refers to a Biblical prohibition on eating the fruit of trees produced during the first three years after they are planted. Orlah remains to this day in essentially the same form it had in Talmudic times and uses Tu Bishvat in the same way. For a tree in its final year, fruit ripening before Tu Bishvat is considered orlah, while fruit ripening on or after Tu Bishvat in the final year is permitted.

(b) Neta Reva'i refers to the Biblical commandment to bring fourth-year fruit crops to Jerusalem as a tithe.

(c) Maaser Sheni was a tithe which was eaten in Jerusalem and Maaser Ani was a tithe given to the poor. Both were also calculated by whether the fruit ripened before or after Tu Bishvat. Maaser Sheni and Maaser Ani are observed today by a ceremony redeeming tithing obligations with a coin. Because the form of redemption is the same for both of these latter obligations, the year of the fruit no longer matters for these tithes.

Customs of Tu b'Shevat ט״ו בשבט
By Rabbi E. Wenger

• It is customary to increase in the amount of fruits one eats on the 15th of Shevat, in order to praise G-d who created all these species of fruits.
• In particular, one should include among the fruits one eats on this day the species of fruit which the land of Israel is praised for: grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates.
• One should make an effort to eat at least one fruit which one has not eaten that entire season, and would require the blessing of Shehecheyanu. When eating such a fruit, the Shehecheyanu should be said prior to reciting the blessing of "Haetz." {Some have the custom to recite the blessing of "Haetz" first and then the blessing of Shehecheyanu.} If he has already partaken of other fruits (at that particular sitting) than he only needs to say the Shehecheyanu upon eating the new fruit.
• Many also have a custom of eating carob on this day. (1) There is yet another custom which many have and that is to eat the Etrog from the previous Succos, either in the form of preserves, sugared slices, etc.(2) {Some pray that they will be worthy of a beautiful etrog on the following Sukkot.}
• It was the custom of the famed Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria ("Arizal") to eat 15 varieties of fruits on the 15th of Shevat. {Rabbi Luria and his disciples also instituted a Tu Bishvat seder in which the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel were given symbolic meaning.}
• On this day Tachnun is omitted from the Shacharis and Mincha prayers as well as from the Mincha prayer on the afternoon beforehand.
• Just like on three of the New Years a Taanis is forbidden (The first of Nissan, The first of Elul and the first of Tishrei), so too the fourth, which is the Fifteenth of Shevat, it is forbidden to fast. Even a Chasan on the day of his Wedding is not to fast on Tu B' Shevat.
• We also don't say Kaal Erech Apiem on Monday and Thursday in addition to not saying Av HaRachamim on Shabbos as well as Tzedkesecha Tzedek by Mincha on Shabbos.
• Many are accustomed not to give Eulogy's (Hespeidim) on Tu B'Shevat.

(1) It is questionable whether one says a Shehecheyanu when eating carob, since it is inedible when fresh. One must wait until it hardens a bit before it becomes edible and then the new carob is no longer distinguishable from older stock and thus would be similar to nuts upon which no Shehecheyanu is said (see Sefer Bircas HaShir Vehashevach for further elaboration).
(2) It seems that the consensus of opinions is that no Shehecheyanu is said on the Etrog. One reason given is that the Shehecheyonu has already been said over the Esrog on the first day of Succos. (see Nitei Gavriel, Laws of Tu Beshevat 2:7).


Tuesday 7 February 2012

Definition - "A Jew is one who feels hurt when another Jew is in pain."

Douglas Aronin in describing his late Aunt May:


She was not an ideologue and had little patience with those who allowed ideology to eclipse what she saw as common sense. Her approach to her Jewishness, like her approach to life in general, was more instinctive than cerebral. I remember a discussion with her, about one of the recurring "who's a Jew" debates that arose periodically during those years. ==> Her definition was a simple one: "A Jew is one who feels hurt when another Jew is in pain."


Tangentially, when we were discussing Jews who practice other Monotheistic Beliefs EG Unitarianism, despite the lack of Avodah Zarah, one must question their loyalty to their Peoplehood. While Aunt May's definition may be insufficient from a Halachic perspective, it still may be a quite valid criteria for "what a Jew needs to be"


Sunday 5 February 2012

Issur V'Heter Review Books - Bassar b'Chalav 1

Rambam MT Maachalot Assurot 9 with Rambam La'am or Moznayim Touger
Sefer Hasheetot
Maarechet Hashulchan
Hochmat Adam
Pischei Halachah Kashrus - R Forst


Saturday 4 February 2012

Mussar: Anyone can criticize, Uplifting Others takes effort

A Regular Dose of Hope, Meaning and Courage
Further information below

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught...
It's easy to criticize others and. make them feel unwanted. Anyone can do it. What takes effort and skill is
picking them up and making them feel good.
(The Empty Chair, p. 31*)

What does this mean to me?
It's easy to break something down; it's hard work to build. I try to remember these words of Rebbe Nachman whenever my deep-seated tendency to offer "constructive" criticism comes to the fore. I always need to think it over: will my words help? Are they the kinds of words that will make my child, my spouse, my relative, my friend, neighbor, co-worker or student feel their goodness more powerfully so that they will want to build on that good, or will they just feel judged? It's not a question of, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." That's too simplistic; sometimes what's called for is not praise or a comforting word, but something with a little more direction. I need to remember that while it may be harder to find the words that will build, they are the only ones that will serve.
A prayer:
Save me from all strife and conflict. May I harbor not even the slightest trace of negativity toward anything holy or toward any good person. Let me become a true vehicle for goodness and holiness. May I love and feel true affinity for every good person, every true tzaddik and all worthy beings in the world...


The Flame of the Heart P. 82

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*"The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy – Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov" by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Adapted by Moshe Mykoff and The Breslov Research Institute, 1994. Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT, <> .