Monday 31 December 2012

Why We Need Religion

Why We Need Religion and Religious Communities

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

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

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

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

Best Regards,

Sunday 30 December 2012

Judah Maccabbee - Politically Incorrect

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

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


Guest Blogger
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz
Judah Macabee - Homophobe

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

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

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

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

Something to think about. 

Best Regards,

Thursday 27 December 2012

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

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

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

Best Regards,

Tuesday 25 December 2012

On Violence in Media


The Kal VaChomer is kind of obvious

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

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

Best Regards,

Monday 24 December 2012

Refuah Shlaymah

Please daven for

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

Best Regards,

The Cartoon that Inspired a Generation

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

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


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

Sunday 23 December 2012

For Ivrit Lovers - Avshalom Kor Podcasts

Guest Blogger:
R Mordechai Y. Scher

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

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

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

Warning: the material can really make one homesick.

Best Regards,

Saturday 22 December 2012

Mussar: Show a Happy Face

Courtesy of Derech Emet

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

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

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 21 December 2012

School for Prophets opens in Tel Aviv

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

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

Thursday 20 December 2012

Jewish Tribune: Paved with good intentions

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

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

Rabbi Ben Hecht

A Jewish Edition of the New Testament

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

A Jewish Edition of the New Testament — Beliefs -

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Silence is Golden

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

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

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


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

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

Best Regards,

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Newtown Reflections...

 Guest Blogger
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Regards,

Monday 17 December 2012

"Round up the usual suspects."

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

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

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


How about some others?

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


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


Maybe this is the origin of the moment of silence?


יקרא פרק י

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

Best Regards,

Mishnah at Shivah

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

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

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

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

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 16 December 2012

What is the Purpose of a Peace Treaty?

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Saturday 15 December 2012

Mussar: Speak with Derech Eretz

From Derech Emet

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

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

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

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Friday 14 December 2012

Purim, Chanuka, and the Churban

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

What about Purim and Chanuka?

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

Here is an alternative approach -

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

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

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

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

Best Regards,

Thursday 13 December 2012

Ocho Kandelikas -Sephardic Hanukkah Celebration

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

Ocho Kandelikas
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

Courtesy of Saul Estreicher

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Weberman Whistle Blower gets Whacked

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



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

Best Regards,

R Sh'lomoh Lights Neros Hanukahh

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Tuesday 11 December 2012

RCA's Reponse to Weberman Verdict


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

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Monday 10 December 2012

Hanukkah, and The Closing of Wolozin by the Netziv

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Sunday 9 December 2012

Huffington Post: How Chanukah Became an American Myth

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

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

Please see

Please feel free to comment there or here.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Saturday 8 December 2012

Mussar: A Rubber Band Keeps his Anger at Bay

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

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

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

Shalom and Best Regards,

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The True Challenge

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

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

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Monday 3 December 2012

RCA Response to JONAH

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

Take care
Rabbi Ben Hecht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 2 December 2012

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

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


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

כלי יקר בראשית פרשת וישלח פרק לד

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

Akiva Males

Shalom and Best Regards,

Saturday 1 December 2012

Mussar: Pursuit of Perfection

Courtesy of Derech Emet -

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

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

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


Shalom and Best Regards,