Saturday 30 June 2012

Live Inspired!

«Live Inspired-

The greatest pleasures in life emerge from discovering the meaning of every moment. When stars are aligned we experience a deep joy and life affirmation. Who can forget the scene on the Empire State Building when Sam and Annie find each other -- it is Heaven on Earth. Yet, Sam and Annie also realize at this moment that all of the twist and turns of fate lead to their destiny. Living Inspired means recognizes the inspiration in every flower or friend. How do we transform a mundane moment into one of radical amazement. ...»

A Tribute to Norah Ephron: Living Sleeplessly - The Huffington Post


Shalom and Regards,

Friday 29 June 2012

Huffington Post: To Be Special You Have to Know What It Means

My latest blog on Huffington Post - Canada concerns David McCullough's commencement speech where he told the graduating students they weren't special. For my thoughts on this, please see

Please feel free to comment there or here.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 28 June 2012

A Response to the Case of the Bus Monitor

I was talking to a true adam chashuv, a leading talmid chacham, and his response to the case of the bus monitor who was verbally abused by some young students truly amazed me and taught me -- leading to me feeling this need to mention it on the blog.

First, for those of you who do not know about this case, you should take a look at  I would, though, think that most of those who read this blog have already heard the story and have come up with their own response or rather responses to the multitude of details. What hit me about this adam chashuv's response, though, was not its extensiveness but rather its focus. He was not commenting on everything that occurred but one particular fact. To be honest, he did not see any of the videos connected to this story and, I know, that if he would have saw them, he would have been even more furious at the behaviour of the kids -- and perhaps may have commented more on this problem. (Again, to be honest, knowing him, he most likely would have stopped watching almost immediately because he would have been so disgusted.) He heard about what happened over the radio -- and his focus, what marveled him was the amount of money that was raised for the bus monitor. He saw that as exceptional -- and indication of a force for good in the world  --  that someone should come up with this idea and that so many people should respond.

Of course, he still saw the behaviour of the children as greatly problematic -- and something that would not have occurred years ago as there is a belittling of authority -- but his focus was still on the good. I told him that for me this was a true lesson in dan l'kaf zchut.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Need a tow for that baby?

Need a tow for that baby? NY Post--6/25/12

A Bronx tow-truck driver gave a big boost yesterday to a stranded couple he delivered their baby.

Antonio Paulino, 50, was driving in East Harlem yesterday afternoon when a man flagged him down.

"He said, 'My wife is giving birth,' " Paulino said. But the Orthodox Jewish father-to-be said his religion forbade him from touching the baby or the mother.

"I reached in and took the baby out," Paulino said.

Shalom and Regards,

Tuesday 26 June 2012

How Mass Media Has Evolved with Twitter, etc.

Thomas Friedman of the NY Times
«The wiring of the world through social media and Web-enabled cellphones is changing the nature of conversations between leaders and the led everywhere. We're going from largely one-way conversations - top-down - to overwhelmingly two-way conversations - bottom-up and top-down. This has many upsides: more participation, more innovation and more transparency. But can there be such a thing as too much participation - leaders listening to so many voices all the time and tracking the trends that they become prisoners of them?»

NYT: The Rise of Popularism  or

Shalom and Regards,

Sunday 24 June 2012

Letter From Bnos Yaakov

This is a 'remarkably' informative video. Do you know how one is punished in the next world? You are forced to do aveiros and suffer therefrom. ???

I could go on about how ridiculous this is but it is just too upsetting to describe in how many ways this statement is a blasphemy to Torah. And, what is even more upsetting (if that is possible), while I could only bring myself to read a few of them, were some of the comments that followed this piece.

To be honest, I am not sure why I am sharing this with everyone. I think we all know the problem, but there is something about this that reveals to me that the problem is much worse than I thought.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Saturday 23 June 2012

Mussar: Quick, Practical Shidduch Advice

Derech Emet


Quick Shidduch Advice from Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman

Often there is a need to compromise. on what we are looking for in a shidduch.

Q: What is the best area in which we should compromise?

It is best to compromise on the notion of:
"What will people say?"

SOURCE: Five Towns Dating Forum by Rabbi Yair Hoffman,
2012 May 25, page 41, from the very recently published
Sefer MeAchorei HaPargud

Shalom and Regards,

Thursday 21 June 2012

Anat Hoffman

I just saw this video of a CNN interview with Anat Hoffman so maybe this response is old hat for many of you. See, specifically, Part 2.

After watching this, I believe she is someone of whom we must be aware. It is not only the fact that she is articulate and not belligerent in her style that draws my attention to this. It is also the fact that she is able to 'mix apples and or oranges' that caught me. In her presentation, women having full rights at the kotel became connected to Charedi policy on men learning all day and not working. (Watch what she then said about why these men want women at the back of the bus.) The result is that she makes anyone promoting changes in the Charedi attitude to work as also a supporter of changes in women involvement in tefilla. As people advocating for the former are not even thinking about a possible effect on the latter, they will continue promoting their view which they believe to be a correct Torah view. Then, however, she will start using such statements of support, incorrectly, to promote her view on women in prayer. This is something we have to be aware of.

Rabbi Ben Hecht 

Wednesday 20 June 2012

A Primer on Pauses in the "Trop"

Guest Blogger:Ari Kinsberg
MA, PharmD, RPh
Brooklyn, New York
Member of Google's Leining Group

Introductory Principles
In the absence of punctuation in ancient Hebrew texts, trop assumed the role of dividing up sentences into syntactic units. This is often reflected in the pshat of the mefarshim, although not always (click here for a good example from Josh Waxman using parah adumah temimah).
There are two types of trop: conjunctive (mehaberim) and disjunctive (mafsikim). The disjunctive trop serve the purpose of dividing up each pasuk. The various disjunctive trop are divided into different classes, each of which produces a stronger division (or pause when reading). If I'm speaking gibberish, think of it this way: silluk (sof pasuk) is a period; etnahta is a semi-colon; segol, zakef and tipha are commas; etc. Note that this is important for ba'alei keri'ah, as they must be cognizant of the different levels of trop in order to know how to group words together and how long to pause between each group when leining.
In some instances, the stronger classes of disjunctive trop can alter the vocalization (nekudot) of a word in favor of longer or fuller vowels, often reflecting a pre-Biblical form of Hebrew vocalization. This generally happens with the silluk and etnahta, the strongest of the disjunctive trop, but can also appear occasionally with the weaker trop of zakef, and rarer yet with tipha.
Example: the general pronunciation of יאכלו is yo-khe-LU, but in the "pausal" form with a strong disjunctive trop it becomes yo-KHEI-lu (i.e., in this instance the sheva under the khaf becomes a tzere and the stress shifts from the last syllable to the second-to-last syllable, also known as the pre-tonic position). Compare Gen. 32.32 with Deut. 18:8. Another example is when pesach becomes pasach (i.e., the segol under the het reverts to kamatz).

Pesach vs. Pasach
The word pesah appears in the Bible as the name of a holiday forty-nine times. Generally it is vocalized with segol-patah, but in ten cases it appears with kamatz-patah. (Note that pesah is never spelled with a tzere, even though it is popularly pronounced as peisach.) In nine of these instances with kamatz-patah, the word is cantillated, as expected, with the strong disjunctive trop of silluk or etnahta. In one instance, however, the kamatz-patah appears with a tipha (Num. 9:2).
Looking at Num. 9:2, one is struck that the pasuk lacks an etnahta, which is generally the main pause. The tipha emerges as the most important disjunctive trop and a major pause in the pasuk, and hence the vocalization of the tipha word is altered in the manner normally reserved for when the word carries an etnahta.

Why No Etnahta in Num 9:2?
Now that we understand why pesah is vocalized with kamatz-patah even though it is "only" a tipha, the question remains of why there is no etnahta in this pasuk to being with. Why is it left for the tipha to serve as the strongest disjunctive trop? To answer this, it is necessary to review how a pasuk is divided up with the trop.
The main pausal word of a pasuk generally carries an etnahta as its trop, although on limited occasions it can be a tipha or a zakef.
In a sentence of only two or three words, it is always a tipha (e.g., Ex. 20:13).
In longer pesukim: if the main pause is on the word before the silluk, the disjunctive trop will generally be a tipha (e.g., Num. 9:1), although there can be an etnahta in a few instances to signify a strong syntactic break (e.g., Gen 1:3).
If the main pause is on the second word before the silluk, etnahta becomes more common as the main disjunctive trop (Gen. 1:17), although tipha is still possible (Ex. 15:18). On the third or fourth word before the silluk, the main disjunctive trop can be etnahta or zakef. The farther back in the pasuk that the major pause appears, the more likely there will be an etnahta. At five words before the silluk, there will almost always be an etnahta (with only four exceptions). If the pause is on the sixth word or beyond, there will always be an etnahta.

Efrayim vs. Efroyim
The week after shabbat be-ha'alotekha featured another interesting pausal form. In parshat shelah, the name ephraim with a tipha is vocalized with a kamatz (gadol) under the resh rather than the standard patah (13:8). (I was not sensitive to this particular example until recently because I don't distinguish between long kamatz and patah when leining).
Considering the entire pasuk, it becomes evident that in this instance the tipha is the major pausal trop in the absence of an etnahta (as in the pesah example), and thus the word that carries it shifts in accordance with the rules of major pausal forms (also see Hos. 4:17).

Tipha vs. Zakef
Each pasuk in the list of spies at the beginning of shelah (Num. 13:4-15) contains the same sequence of four words (ploni ben-ploni . . . le-mate) and the general trop pattern is munah-zakef tipha-silluk. In this regard the ephraim pasuk (verse 8) once again presents with a problem (see Dikdukian); while it contains the same four-word sequence as the rest of the list, the trop pattern is merkha-tipha munah-silluk. (Verse 11 has an altogether different pattern because it contains six words and is beyond our scope.)
The truth is that verse 8 should not bother us as the exception, but rather it should be the other pesukim that stand out. After all, while we learned above that the main pause is either an etnahta or a tipha, as in verse 8, neither is present in all the other verses in the list of spies. Instead a zakef serves as the most powerful disjunctive trop in those verses!
In fact, there is an exception to the general etnahta/tipha rule stated above when the main disjunctive trop that is expected is a tipha on the second word before the silluk. In situations where either the silluk word or the word that precedes it contains two or more syllables before its trop (or one long vowel followed by a meteg and any type of sheva), the tipha on the second word is replaced with a zakef.
And so it all comes together!
Well not really. There is still a problem with Num. 13:8, but I'm too tired to write about it now.

Tanakh Simanim erroneously has a zakef on shelomo in II Chron. 1:18 instead of a revi'i. A zakef on shelomo in this instance would indicate that it is the dominant pausal trop; if it were indeed the dominant trop, however, it should have an etnahta, being that it is the sixth word before the silluk.
This post is based on the works of William Wickes, R. Mordechai Breuer and Michael Perlman.

Ari Kinsberg
MA, PharmD, RPh
Brooklyn, New York

Shalom and Regards,

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Jewish Tribune: Hakeret HaTov

 While there can be no denying the general generosity of the Jewish community, there is one area of financial obligations that is often overlooked. This is the area that is an outgrowth of hakeret hatov, recognizing good that was done on your behalf. How much consideration do we give when we have benefited at the cost of another? What is our responsibility in that regard?

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

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 18 June 2012

NYS Legislature Amends Health Care Law to Protect Patients

Patients Entitled to be Offered Treatment According to Halacha

«The New York State legislature has passed a vital amendment to the state's Public Health Law, ensuring that patients in the end stages of life will be informed of all their options, including their right to ongoing medical treatments as well as palliative care.

Agudath Israel of America, which advocated for the amendment, hailed the development as "a major breakthrough in our efforts to protect the rights of patients to receive medical treatment in accordance with halacha."»

Baltimore Jewish Life | NYS Legislature Amends Health Care Law to Protect Patients

Shalom and Regards,

Sunday 17 June 2012

Results of Poll Midrashim

In our last poll, we inquired

New Poll: Midrashim

Midrashim are filled with "fantastic" stories. What is the best approach to take when teaching these to teachings children?

Which Method Would You Choose?

1) Hazal took these stories literally, and so should they be taught - literally! Honesty is the best policy.
2) Hazal were teaching lessons via stories, making these stories literal simply misses the point and is a waste of time.
3) If teaching these stories literally causes them to be seen later on in life as "fairy tales", then they're counter-productive. Best not to go there with students, EVEN if they were literally true in the first place.
4) Be pragmatic. Whatever is the most practical way to convey the underlying Torah Message is best, and that would depend upon the audience, the times, the society, etc. There is no rule; it’s all based upon the context of the students.

Your Responses (total 4)
Choice 1 - 25%  (1)
Choice 2 - 25%  (1)
Choice 3 - 00.0%  (0)
Choice 4 - 50%  (2)

Friday 15 June 2012

What to Learn Between Minchah and Maariv

Why do some shuls learn "B'iyyun" between Minchah and Arbit?

It seems that one many only learn Halachah P'sukkah so as not to disturb one's Davening.

Text of: Rambam M"T Hilchot T'filah 4:18

הלכות תפילה פרק ד

יח  וכן אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך שחוק, ולא מתוך קלות ראש, ולא מתוך שיחה, ולא מתוך מריבה, ולא מתוך כעס--אלא מתוך דברי תורה.  ולא מתוך דין הלכה, אף על פי שהן דברי תורה, כדי שלא יהא ליבו טרוד בהלכה--אלא מתוך דברי תורה שאין בהן עיון, כגון הלכות פסוקות.

Shalom and Regards,

Thursday 14 June 2012

The "5th Cheilek" of the Shulchan Aruch

In collaboration with Rav Avraham Herzog.

Rav Herzog:
«I too, as a talmid of Rav Ahron Soloveichik in Yeshivas Brisk, was impressed when he would often put halachos in perspective.  That is, as rigid as he often was, the fifth cheilek meant as much to him as the other four, which, by the way, he could recite in his sleep.»

A M'lamed and a Rav often approach Halachah with differing "perspectives"
L'mashal: physicists/mathematicians vs. engineers
The theorists are often rigorous as to how things work. Period.
Those who apply this in real life do so with some "flexibility" -sometimes even l'humra. EG the Brooklyn Bridge has 3 "redundant" systems while 2 would have sufficed. There is a roadway, a suspension mechanism, and "guide wires" addressing twisting in the wind.
When one TEACHES the 4 chalakim of SA, ideally one should be rigorous with:
• The precise SOURCE or Precedent in Talmud or Poskim
• The accepted bei'urim in nos'ei Keilim [EG Shach, Taz, etc.]
Ad kan theory
When APPLYING this to real live situations, THAT'S when flexibility and common sense need to weigh in
I find two common "errors" in real life P'sak
1. The poseik who is too "slavish" to the 4 chalakim of SA. He applies black-letter law too rigidly to life's complexities.
2. The Poseik who tries to read his flexible chiddush back into the original sources - which were never intended to be understood that way academically. This tends to dilute, alter, or C"V corrupt the Traditional meaning of the Classic texts.
A great illustration of the "5th Cheilek" imho is when the Rambam in his Shu"t dispensed with Chazorat HaShatz. Reading the Yad, one might detect a black-and-white rigidity. But l'maaseh, when the Rambam saw the need to "suspend" a practice as counter-productive, he did so. Yet, he Rambam did not emend his Yad to make way for his chiddush. He left the principles intact. Rather he override them in practice.
I'm guessing Rav Ahron Soloveichik Z"L was similar, viz.
Rigorous in teaching,
Flexible in application.

RAH responds:
I can attest this assertion of R' Wolpoe as accurate.  Rav Ahron was known to be quite rigid for the hamon, but on an individual basis was quite flexible.

Case in point:  Rav Ahron genuinely felt that one *could not* be more meikil than shitat Rabeinu Tam vis a vis the end of Shabbat.  He did accept 72 clock minutes for hamon am. [In Yeshivas Brisk we davened at 72 and ended Shabbat at 90.  And he himself waited 90 z'maniyot or an "achdel" (1/8 of the daylight hours), whichever was longer].  But anything less, despite the fact that the Gr"a felt quite differently, was simply not acceptable to him.

I once had a private meeting with him in which I asked him:  What do I do when I go home to Mpls., where my father is the rav of the community?  How can I wait longer than my father, the rav?  Wouldn't that be chutzpah?  Rav Ahron explained that this did not apply to me in Mpls. for this reason.  I then asked him about Camp Moshava (Wisconsin).  How can I wait longer there if I'm to be a madrich and when Shabbat ends we have responsibilities such as a night activity?  He again said: "O.K., so not at Camp Moshava".  (He had long given up on trying to persuade me and others not to go to Moshava in the first place, but that's for a different discussion).

This was a trait of Rav Ahron which I will always esteem.

RRW comments -
*Could not* here seems to be the rigorous p'sak because Safeik D'oraito l'humra
The practical reality seems more like:
*Ideally should not*

Shalom and Regards, RRW

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Frum Academics, Hareidi Rabbis

«Kalir, False Accusations, and More
by Marc B. Shapiro

1. I now want to return to Kalir and the criticism of me. To recap, I had earlier mentioned how Artscroll originally correctly identified Kalir as post-tannaitic, but later changed what it wrote in order to be in line with Tosafot's opinion that he was a tanna. Some think that it is wrong to criticize Artscroll by using academic methodology instead of judging them by traditional sources, since they don't recognize the academic approach.

My first response is that this is nonsense and a textbook example of obscurantism. If there is evidence of a certain fact, one can't say that it is only a fact if it appears in some "traditional" source, and therefore one who ignores this evidence gets a pass.

Furthermore, when it comes to Kalir one can also date him using traditional sources.[1] One of these sources is quite fascinating....»

the Seforim blog: Kalir, False Accusations, and More

Shalom and Regards,

Tuesday 12 June 2012

The Midnight Sun Of Benjamin Blech | The Jewish Week

The Midnight Sun Of Benjamin Blech A rabbi's encounter with death.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Jonathan Mark 
Associate Editor

« ..Blech recalled Hemingway saying, "I'm not a religious man, but I've tried to learn something about religion, and the one I thought the most rational, was Judaism." Other religions, said Hemingway, were too much about the afterlife and rejecting the world, while Judaism, he said, "is the only religion I know that is primarily concerned with life rather than death."..»

Shalom and Regards,

Monday 11 June 2012

Of course Zuckerberg didn't 'like' Judaism - why should he? By Rabbi Dov Fischer

Jewish World Review
Of course Zuckerberg didn't 'like' Judaism --- why should he?
By Rabbi Dov Fischer

On 'losing' Facebook's founder and CEO |

«There is no way to reach everyone. Then, even as some sweet Jewish kid finally is reached by a dynamic rabbi — well, even as someone lost is being found and reached, someone else from within our world is disappearing. Maybe because of an intolerant rabbi at a school, an abusive parent, a cold-hearted bullying classmate. Some self-righteous "pillar" who drove away a budding Torah scholar.

We reach so many. We lose so many. Even within our congregations, many gamely concede to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Factory phenomenon because the bar mitzvah celebrations of Charlie and Willy Wonka fund the temple programming. It gets their parents to join and pay dues for two years, while the kids are between ages 11-13. It gets them to fund the Hebrew School. It gets pews to be kept warm as they are vacated by parents of others who have just reached age 13 . . . and a week. If someone were to stand in temple and declare "No more BM Factory at this shul," would parents respond by saying "OK, I guess I now have to enroll my kid in a yeshiva"? »
Shalom and Regards,

Sunday 10 June 2012

Reform Rabbi Calls for "Cheshbon haNefesh" of His Own Group

«We failed Zuckerberg and will continue to fail young people like him because the pluralistic theologies of Reform Judaism articulated since the 1960s make it difficult to grasp what we Reform Jews believe on any given issue. Our faith is too amorphous. Math and science nerds, in particular, may be the type most likely to bolt. This is ironic because one of the raisons d'être of Reform Judaism was to create an approach to Judaism that would be scholarly and scientific. But we have lost our way, ignoring scholarship in favor of any type of "spirituality," no matter how vacuous.»

Losing Zuckerberg – The Jewish Daily Forward

Shalom and Regards,

Friday 8 June 2012

On Religious Freedom and Solidarity with other Faiths

Guest Blogger: Rabbi Phil Lefkowitz

Rabbi Lefkowitz's comments regarding the upcoming national rallies on Friday for religious freedom printed in the June 3rd edition of the National Catholic Register -

"At Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation will share the podium with Catholics and Protestants and a Muslim attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, another partner in the umbrella of organizations supporting the rallies.

"Religious freedom for Jews is a very sacred thing," said Rabbi Lefkowitz, "and we don't want to see encroachment by the government upon the religious community. I'm honored to be asked to speak."

He noted that many conservative and Orthodox Jewish organizations, such as the Rabbinical Council of America, are "wholeheartedly supporting the Catholic Church's courageous stand" for religious liberty and against the HHS mandate. But he is concerned about this being seen as a Catholic issue when it is an "issue for every religious person."

"The idea that the Church, the collective religious community, must constantly be on the defense is quite obvious today," said Rabbi Lefkowitz, founding chairman of the Legislative Commission of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. "There is a war on religion, and if you add to it the fact that America is no longer a Judeo-Christian society, we've got a very difficult situation to contend with. But we have to draw the line and make sure everyone understands that the separation of church and state means protecting the church from the state, not the other way around, or else it'll be an absolute calamity."

Phil Lefkowitz


Rallying Cry for Religious Freedom Goes Out This Friday | Daily News |

Shalom and Regards,

Thursday 7 June 2012

IDF, Chareidim, and Unintended Consequences - Part 2

The views of our Guest Bloggers -- including those of Douglas Aronin -- do not necessarily reflect the views of Nishma. Rather, we post them to spark reflection and discussion

Guest Blogger:
Douglas Aronin, Esq.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the function of the IDF is to defend the State of Israel against its all- too-numerous enemies.  Although, like any human institution, it is unavoidably imperfect, the IDF has on the whole performed its function exceptionally well throughout Israel's turbulent existence as a modern nation state.  Israel continues to face -- and the IDF must be prepared to confront -- numerous serious threats to Israel's security, among them Iranian nukes, Syrian unrest, Egyptian instability, attempts by meddling foreigners to break the blockade of Gaza and potential missile attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel will surely be better served if the IDF's senior staff spends its time and effort  figuring out how to counter these threats rather than focusing on how to overcome the obstacles to the integration of chareidi soldiers into mainstream army units.

There is a chareidi problem in Israel, but the draft exemption is a symptom of that problem, not its cause. The essence of the problem is that chareidim and secular Israelis increasingly live on what sometimes seem to be different planets. They perceive the world from wildly different ideological perspectives and view  each other with suspicion  if not contempt.  They speak (figuratively and sometimes literally) diferent languages.

Many chareidim believe that the push to draft chareidi yeshiva students is a ploy, that the real intention is to create a mechanism for pressuring chareidi youths to abandon their faith.   This belief may seem paranoid to most secularists, but from a chareidi perspective it's understandable.  The draft exemption is not the only issue on which secular Israelis have directed increased anger toward the chareidim of late. Collectively, these issues understandably appear to the chareidim to be a coordinated attack on their way of life.  The secularists' argument that all citizens should share the burden of defending the State will continue to ring hollow to chareidim unless the issue of army service by Israel's Arab citizens is also addressed.

The issue of the yeshiva draft exemption has never been primarily about the IDF's manpower needs.  From the secular perspective, it has been about the responsibility of citizens to share equitably the burden of defending the State while to the chareidim it has been about government encroachment on what they see as a religiously mandated way of life.  What makes this issue so volatile is that it grows out of an atmosphere of mutual distrust in which neither side believes that the other is being honest about its motivations.

Those secular Israelis inclined to dismiss chareidi distrust as a product of paranoia should at the very least ponder the implications of current demographic trends.  Simply put, the chareidi birthrate is significantly higher than the birthrate of the rest of Israel's Jewish population as a whole. If that trend continues, chareidi political power is likely to grow, regardless of what changes to the electoral system may be adopted. Alleviating the mutual distrust and integrating the chareidim, to the extent possible, into Israel's economic life should be an urgent priority, but it  is neither the function nor the expertise of the military. The IDF needs to handle any influx of chareidi soldiers in a manner that would be as respectful as possible of chareidi religious life while causing a minimum of disruption to the IDF's military mission. And other Israeli government agencies and nongovernmental organizations need to address the larger issue of improving relations between Israel's chareidi and secular populations

Douglas Aronin

Wednesday 6 June 2012

IDF, Chareidim, and Unintended Consequences - Part 1

The views of our Guest Bloggers -- including those of Douglas Aronin -- do not necessarily reflect the views of Nishma. Rather, we post them to spark reflection and discussion

Guest Blogger:
Douglas Aronin, Esq.

Be careful what you wish for, the old adage goes; you might get it.  With a government coalition so large that the chareidi parties cannot bring it down by themselves and a Supreme Court-imposed deadline rapidly approaching, the bulk of Israel's more or less secular majority is close to achieving a goal that has long eluded it -- the end of the virtually automatic exemption of chareidi yeshiva students from the military draft.  With what has previously been a seemingly utopian vision now tantalizingly close to becoming a concrete reality, some of its long-time advocates are coming face to face with the law of unintended consequences.

According to a report on the front page of the 5/25/12 issue of the Forward (yes, I know I'm a little late in reacting; Shavuot threw my schedule off), there is particular concern that a large-scale draft of the chareidim would have "unintended negative consequences for the tens of thousands of women serving in the military."  So serious is this concern that Anat Hoffman, who heads the Reform movement's Israeli lobbying arm, is quoted as saying that "maybe the cost of having [chareidim] in the army is not worth it."  The particular problem to which Hoffman alludes is that the chareidim would undoubtedly refuse to serve in mixed gender units, forcing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) either to maintain separate chareidi units or else to limit the military assignments open to female officers and soldiers.

Both the IDF's leadership and the leadership of the Kadimah party -- whose recent decision to join the government coalition has made the elimination of the exemption a realistic possibility, and whose leaders are expected to be the point people for the resultant legislation -- do not want separate chareidi units.  Moreover, as the Forward article makes clear, there is concern about other unintended consequences of drafting chareidim in large numbers, including the logistical difficulties of providing food that meets the enhanced kashrut standards  of the chareidim and the various costs involved in integrating the chareidim into the army.  (One of these costs, which had never crossed my mind before, arises from the fact that married soldiers are paid more than unmarried soldiers.  There are relatively few married soldiers today, but a larger proportion of draft-age chareidim are married.)  And let's not forget that the Forward article deals only with those unintended consequences that the IDF has thought of and is trying to address up front. It is likely that other complications that no one has yet thought of would arise once a chareidi draft went into effect.

According to a slightly earlier report in Haaretz, draft proposal for legislation that will be submitted to the government as a replacement for the Tal law (which was nullified by the Supreme Court) does not contemplate a wholesale draft of chareidi men into the IDF. Rather, the proposed legislation would allow chareidi men to retain their exemption until age 20, at which time they would be inducted into police or firefighting units, although they could choose IDF service or civilian national service as an alternative. Some yeshiva students would remain exempt past that age, but the number would be capped.  Whether such a plan, if it in fact becomes the legislation proposed by the government, would satisfy either the public or the Supreme Court, remains to be seen.

I am by no means an apologist for the chareidim or a supporter of the yeshiva draft exemption.  It is easy to understand the anger of secular Israeli parents whose children risk their lives in defense of their country while charedi men of draft age spend those years studying Talmud full time.  It is no doubt particularly galling for those parents to hear chareidim defend the draft exemption by insisting publicly that their full-time Torah learning does as much to protect the State as does the soldiers' military service.  It's hard to imagine any defense of the draft exemption that would be less persuasive or would bring more discredit to the Torah in the eyes of the secular majority

But while I agree that the massive yeshiva draft exemption of today cannot be justified, I am instinctively skeptical of symbolic politics.  Running a democratic country is hard enough when all concerned are genuinely seeking pragmatic solutions to pressing problems.  When different sectors of society use political issues to score symbolic points in an ideological battle that is clearly beyond the competence of political institutions to resolve, the potential consequences of the ensuing estrangement can be catastrophic.  Anger, it pays to remember, is an emotion, not a  policy

Tuesday 5 June 2012

JVO: Cemeteries

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: Is it possible to consecrate private property for a burial site? What are the requirements, according to Halachah - Jewish law (as opposed to secular law)? And if so, what kind of rituals does the consecration consist of and who may do so?

These type of questions are actually most interesting for they allow us to investigate how we have been influenced by the general Christian society around us and how our – the Halachic -- understanding of various matters is different. How we respond to death is one of these areas in which the distinctiveness of the Jewish perspective is often not truly recognized. People will, of course, note such things as shiva, the seven days of grieving, happening after burial while Christians generally pay their respects before burial but how many know that the focus of Jewish Law in response to death is the actual burial. I always find it interesting to see people attending a funeral, from the chapel even going to the cemetery, but then being upset if there is any delay because the grave is being covered. The perception is that the essence of a Jewish funeral are the eulogies and prayers. While not taking away from their importance, within the essence of a Jewish burial, from a Halachic perspective, it is clearly more significant to cover the grave – for family and members of the Jewish community to complete this most important mitzvah of laying someone in his/her final resting place – than to do anything else. The focus of a Jewish funeral is the practical necessity, and important obligation, to bury the deceased. Everything else is add-ons; important additions but not of the essence.
I mention this in regard to this question, for the underlying mindset of the Halacha, as indicated by this law of burial, is important to recognize in order to respond properly to this question. The idea of consecration seems to imply that ground must be somehow distinguished, made holy, in order to use it for burial. This is not the case within the Halacha. What distinguishes a Jewish cemetery in Jewish Law is that it is a place where Jews are buried. It is the graves themselves that declare this land to be distinguished, not any consecration ceremony. There are specific rules to guide us in response to how to treat a grave and a cemetery, i.e. a collection of graves, (see, for example, T.B. Nazir 64b, 65a) but it is the reality of graves that must be treated with respect, that ‘consecrates’ the land, not the other way around. This reflects the simple concept that the focus of Jewish burial is the practical burial.
Having said all this, though, in the same manner that we do have eulogies and prayers incorporated in our funeral service – in order to maintain the proper, Torah focus on what we are doing – we also do find a service that is recited when a Jewish cemetery is delineated. See Rabbi Hyman Goldin, HaMadrich: The Rabbi’s Guide. It consists primarily of the recitation of certain Psalms and other sections of the Bible. While this service may be referred to colloquially as a consecration ceremony, one should still recognize that that it is really not comparable to what may be referred to as consecration within other faiths. Such a service is not intended to change the land but, rather, it could be said, its focus is to direct the minds of individuals in relating to this land, in recognizing the significance of a cemetery. In fact, while there may be some issue in Jewish Law whether preparation alone (i.e. opening a grave before the placement of a corpse) may create a status of a grave with consequent restrictions, the conclusion of the Halacha is that it does not. See, further, T.B. Sanhedrin 47b,48a and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 349:1. In any event, the discussion concerns actual preparation in action, not simply the recitation of prayers.
Given all this, let us now return to the original, opening question. Rather than asking whether private property can be so consecrated, the real question is whether one can bury on private property – and the clear answer within the Halacha is yes. A perusal of the Bible will show that Jews had family burial plots on ancestral land and that is where members of a family were buried. Rema, Shulchan Aruch 363:2 states, even today, that if someone wishes to be buried at home -- i.e. on his private land -- we listen and do not bury the person in a communal cemetery. Of course, if this is done, steps must be taken to ensure that the grave is treated with proper respect.

The Moral High Ground or excessive Idealism

«Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.»

Fourteen Points - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shalom and Regards,

Monday 4 June 2012

Yated on IRF/YCT

«The satirical mocking of the structure, hanhagos and mitzvos of the bais haknesses is incredible. Has any other Orthodox rabbi ever dared write such things? ...his irreverent depiction of [Halachah] and of our mesorah are startling. It seems that he has serious problems with the halachic system and the mesorah of tefillah and the bais haknesses, and/or he totally fails to understand the halachic underpinnings of what goes on in a shul. What does this tell us about the future leadership and direction of Open Orthodoxy?

Yated Newspaper

Shalom and Regards,

Sunday 3 June 2012

Ruth, Geirut, Yibbum, A Proprosed Answer

NishmaBlog: Ruth, Geirut, Yibbum, Questions


We often presume current Halachah equates to ancient Halachah, but this is not always the case.

EG Erusin used to precede Nissu'in by about a year.

Here, too we may be witness to a drawn out "two step" process

Step 1.
This was a Conditional and Revocable Conversion [Gerut]
Ruth and Orpah were valid but temporary Giyorot with the right to return to their original status.

Similar to a Ger Katan or to a K'tanah who has been married
off by her mother or brothers. Both have a right of revocation when they come of age.

Step 2.
This is the joining of Am Yisroel permanently. While Orpah did a form of "Mi'un" by returning to Mo'ab, while Ruth accepted Israel and Hashem permanently. Apparently by doing so, she became a valid wife to Machlon and was entitled to a form of Yibbum

Possibly Ploni Almoni was concerned that Ruth still had the right of revocation - hence he expressed concen: "pen ashchit nachalati" OTOH Bo'az either realized that this was either not Halachically possible, or even if possible, that Ruth's commitment was irrevocable anyway.

Shalom and Regards,

Saturday 2 June 2012

Mussar: B'chirah on S'firah

The following is a fictional story..
2 Departed N'shamot [Yachin and Boaz] were discussing S'firah, its aveilut, the conflicts between R Akiva's Talmiddim

Yachin said, "I wonder when the wonderful day will come when the end of Aveilut during S'firah is finally at hand!

Boaz: It can end ANY time that B'nai Yisroel will it

Yachin: What do you mean?

Boaz: The Aveilut ends with a simple Tikkun, viz. To rectify the disrespect between the Talmidei Hachamim and fix the downfall of Talmidei R Akiva by overcoming jealousy and pettiness!

Yachin: And Nu what is holding THAT up?

Boaz: The learned Jews have chosen to debate the minutia of HOW to observe and preserve this Aveilut instead of focusing upon ending the cycle of lack of respect

Yachin: Please Explain!

Boaz: The Jews have consciously or unconsciously decided to take on the Aveilut and focus upon their past defeats, rather than to move forward and to end the suffering forever, by modifying their behaviour! That is their B'chira on S'fira 

Shalom and Regards,

Friday 1 June 2012

Rema on Shavuot - 1 Meal or 2? - Part 2

Our Chevra came up with 4 approaches:

1 The Rema simply changed his mind from DM to Hagahot

2 The Rema never meant the same meal as implied in his Hagahot and relied upon D"M

3 . D"M was quoting humrot and minhag hassidut but not ikkar haddin, so there is no actual conflict.

4. Rema made a special exception for Shavuot and for the minhag of shtei halechem, but otherwise he would be machmir.


Some Implications:

1. Between writing the Darchei Moshe and the Hagahot, the Rema saw things differently due to a change of mind or perhaps after seeing more sources, etc.

2. Despite suggesting one meal in his Hagahot to O"Ch, the Rema presumed that the reader would "know better" based upon Y"D and presumed the reader would know he was consistent over time.

3. The Minhag of dairy/meat does not factor in these various Minhag Hassidut etc.

4. The Rema in DM Y"D is giving the normative position, but that is also context dependent, thus, special exemptions are allowed EG Shavuos. This is akin to the minhag not to kasher keilim from Dairy to Meat and vice versa, but allowing for an exemption during Passover Kashering.


Mar'eh M'komot
Hagahot Rema 494:3
Ba'er Hetev 8 [both 1 Meal and 2]
MB 14,15,16

DM 89:2


I consulted Rav Ephraim Kanarfogel WRT this Rema and he conceded it is indeed a difficult issue to determine

Shalom and Regards,