Tuesday 31 December 2013

Drug kingpin granted release from house arrest to visit Rebbe's Tomb,

«Staten Island drug kingpin granted release from house arrest to visit rabbi's tomb, prepare for wedding
By John M. Annese/Staten Island Advance
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on December 24, 2013 at 6:55 PM, updated December 25, 2013 at 2:30 AM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A Staten Island pot kingpin will be allowed to leave his house arrest so he can prepare for his upcoming wedding to his pregnant fiancee, including a trip to the tomb of a prominent Hasidic rabbi.
From 2007 through 2010 Jonathan Braun traded in more than 110 tons of marijuana as the kingpin of a billion-dollar international drug ring that smuggled the contraband from Canada into the U.S. through a Native American reservation on the New York state border, according to federal authorities.
He did so all while living in his parents' Meiers Corners home on Buchanan Avenue, prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors said the enterprise generated more money than the Gross Domestic Product of a small country, and in 2011, he took a plea deal. He faces a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison when sentenced.
Earlier this month, Braun requested the court grant him "permission to leave his residence for various activities related to his wedding and his fiancee's pregnancy," according to a letter drafted by his attorney, John Meringolo. He was released to home confinement on $8 million bond.
Braun is an Orthodox Jew and a "staunch observer," according to an earlier filing by Meringolo.
U.S. District Court Judge Sandra L. Townes granted the request, which includes:
A trip to the tomb of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, at the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Queens.
A visit to his future in-laws' house to make the official announcement of the engagement.
Permission to attend his engagement party, his wedding, and a seven night ceremony referred to as "Sheva Brachot," where, according to his attorney's letter, "close family members gather at a home or restaurant and recite blessings for the newly married couple."
Leave to shop for a wedding rings, attend tuxedo fittings and conduct other wedding planning-related activities.
Permission to accompany his fiance, who his four to five weeks pregnant, to medical appointments.»

Staten Island drug kingpin granted release from house arrest to visit rabbi's tomb, prepare for wedding | SILive.com

Kol Tuv,

Searching for God in Stamford, CT. Shopping Centre

Rabbi Daniel Cohen
Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudath Shalom
Stamford, Ct.

Kol Tuv,

Monday 30 December 2013

Is Today a Jewish Holiday?



Kol Tuv,

End of Life Guide

Comments are from a colleague

Please note that ..
«for physicians and rabbanim there is a piece called Halakhic Guidelines for Physicians in Intensive Care Units that I have found very helpful.  

Written by Prof. Avraham Steinberg, MD, a well-known talmid hacham and medical ethicist at Shaare Zedek in Yerushalayim; it appeared in Jewish Medical Ethics Vol. IV, No. 1, February 2001.  The original Hebrew piece was republished a few times.  

The introductory note says:  "The following guidelines were formulated in consultation with the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach and Rabbi Shemuel ha-Levi Wosner, who reviewed the original Hebrew and gave their approval."


Kol Tuv,

Sunday 29 December 2013

If the Talmud Looked Like Facebook


Kol Tuv,

Just Who is a Torah Rebbe?

Guest Blogger -
Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen
* * * * *

Who is a Torah Rebbe?

In numerous passages of the Prophets the phrase "B'nai HaNa'vi'im",which literally means the children of the Prophets, is cited. This literal translation cannot be the true meaning of the phrase for there is no relevance to the prophecy or to the incidents of the story to note that the Prophets had numerous children. Don Isaac Abarbenel, contended that the phrase referred to the students of the Prophets who studied ethical and moral conduct from the Prophets. The professional goal of these students was to become ennobled by their ethical conduct that they may be Divinely selected to serve as Prophets by G-d. Thus, the Prophets served as teachers of ethical conduct to students.(see Commentary of Don Isaac Abarbenel, Shmot)
 The pragmatic impact of the above interpretation may be gleaned from the ruling of the Rambam pertaining to the basic Mitzvah of Talmid Torah. The Rambam states that "every Jewish scholar has a Mitzvah to teach Torah to students as it is written- 'V'Shinantam L'Vanecha'.[Devarim 6;7 The literal translation is that "one should teach (Torah) to your sons or children.] Tradition has it that "L'Vanecha" means students, for students are called sons (or children) as it says, 'Vayatzu B'nai Hanevi'im, and the students of the Prophets departed'. " (Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:1)

Thus, the Rambam explicitly rules that the obligation to teach Torah to students is derived from a verse that deals with the students of Prophets. To the extent that the basic curriculum of the students of the Prophets was ethical and moral behavior, indicates that a teacher of ethical behavior is as much a Rebbe [Torah teacher] as one who imparts textual Biblical or Talmudic Torah principles. In other words the Rav in Yeshivot that teaches morality (the Mashgi'ach or Mash'pia) is to be classified as a teacher of Torah to be afforded proper respect.
 A further extension of this concept may be to suggest that parents who imbue their children with "Mentshlich'keit" and standards of moral behavior are also to be classified as Rebbe's to their children and afforded the respect due Rebbe's of Talmud Torah.

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 28 December 2013

Mussar: The Zohar Decries Abortion

Paraphrasing the Zohar as cited in Hok l'Yisra'el, Vo'eira Yom Sheini Mussar section
Causing the death of the fetus causes sorrow in the world, and Hashem's Withdrawal. Pestilence and plagues are visited.

Praised be Israel, that despite the Decree the of Par'oh to kill all the baby boys, none of the Israelites aborted their children. And Bizchut this, Israel merited the Exodus from Exile.

Kol Tuv,

Friday 27 December 2013

The Taliban and the US Judge

Guest Blogger:
A Friend who chooses to remain Unnamed
* * * * *

"Firstly, a disclaimer. I am not a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, a Buddhist, an American war veteran, or a constitutional attorney. I'm just an interested observer.
Back in the days when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, there were two huge statutes of Buddha carved in the mountain. These were considered part of Afghanistan's cultural heritage and treasures of world civilization. But the Taliban claimed that under their interpretation of the Shari'a (Islamic law), these statutes are idols and thus are forbidden and must be destroyed. Despite the international outrage, they went ahead and destroyed the statutes.
As a mitigating factor, the Taliban claimed that no one worships these statutes any longer. They went as far as to imply that if this were not the case, they would let the statues remain. They also claimed that their laws are divine and thus cannot be altered.
Fast forward to the USA. On Mount Soledad, which overlooks La Jolla in San Diego, California, there is a structure in the shape of a huge cross, which serves as a memorial for American war veterans. The only issue with this structure is that it stands on public ground. It is a cultural icon and a memorial for heroes. In short, it is a treasure of civilization.
A federal judge has ruled that, according to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, this structure cannot remain there and must be dismantled. (True, he would permit the structure to be moved elsewhere, but in reality, if his ruling is upheld, the structure will be destroyed.)
This judge's opinion did not contain any mitigating factors. Thus, he did not state that if someone still worships the cross, it might be allowed to remain. Nor there is any claim that since the United States Constitution was written by humans and judges are humans, perhaps an exception could be made for this cultural icon that has stood there, harming nobody, for so many years. The judge did not even mention the possibility that since, at the time it was built, it was perceived to be permissible to erect this type of structure where it stands, it could be "grandfathered" and allowed to remain, even if a new structure in the same location would not be permitted.
One may argue that there are differences, but all such differences are mere nuances. The bottom line is that the United States is going to order a treasure of civilization to be destroyed for (anti-)religious reasons. So what is the difference between us and the Taliban?"

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 26 December 2013

"Blunt" Edgar Bronfman Sr. OBM Dies at Age 84

«Pope John Paul II making Waldheim a papal knight was "like giving a rotten structure a fresh coat of paint," the billionaire head of the World Jewish Congress wrote with his customary directness.

He received no reply to his 1987 letter — but the same blunt approach helped him persuade the Soviets to allow Jewish emigration and the Swiss to acknowledge that their banks had swallowed up the life savings deposited by Holocaust victims.

Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram's whiskey empire who later in life led a global campaign for Jewish causes, died Saturday at his New York City home, according to an announcement from his family's charity, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. He was 84.
Edgar Bronfman Sr. dies at 84; ex-Seagram's chief led World Jewish Congress - latimes.com

Kol Tuv,

Huffington Post: As a Man of God, I See the Value in Atheism

How does one accept value in freedom of religion even as it permits someone to be an atheist?

For my view on this, I invite you to take a look at: As a Man of God, I See the Value in Atheism

My original title for the post, btw, was 'The Value of Atheism' but it was changed by the editors.

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Is Christmas Good For the Jews? - R Benjamin Blech

«I hear it all the time. Jews verbalizing their displeasure with public displays of Christian observance. Jews worried that somehow a department store Santa Claus will defile their own children. Jews in the forefront of those protesting any and every expression of religiosity coming from those with a different belief system than ours. Christmas, they claim, is by definition a threat to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

And I believe they are mistaken. »

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 24 December 2013

JVO: Performing on Shabbat

Jewish Values Online is a website that presents the Jewish view on a variety of issues. Some of these issues are specifically Jewish, and some relate to the world around us --  then presents answers from each of the denominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster, Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members on their Panel of Scholars.

This post continues our series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is about one of the questions to which Rabbi Wolpoe responded.

* * * * *
Question: I am a performer, and sometimes i have a show on Shabbat. What do I do if i want to celebrate Shabbat, but I already have a prior commitment? What about when I feel really bad about not following the Jewish Law?

At first glance, it depends upon one's commitment to Shabbat.

From an Orthodox perspective, all Jewish souls are already bound by an oath at Mt. Sinai to keep the Shabbat. The only exemptions that come to mind would be in cases of life and death - EG Medical or Military Emergencies.

An Orthodox role model may be found in the great singer and cantor -Dudu Ficher
Dudu Fisher - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
«He played the role on New York's Broadway during the winter of 1993-1994, and later at London's West End, where he was invited to perform before Queen Elizabeth II. At both venues, Fisher was the first performer excused from Friday night and Saturday performances, as he is an Orthodox Jew and was not able to perform because of the Sabbath.»


In the ideal situation, commitment to Shabbat trumps commitment to perform.

I'm not clear as to the nature of the performance.  Possibly some loopholes exist that would allow one to perform without  violating  the core 39 Labors prohibited on Shabbat. And so, a consultation with a highly qualified rabbi might find just a "loophole".

That said, I would not recommend that path for any committed Jew. Even if technically feasible, it would
violate many Shabbat principles, etc. that go beyond the core prohibitions.

The Christmas Eve Kiddush Hashem

«Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. After introductions had been made, the editor told him the following story.
His mother, Mary, had immigrated to America from Ireland as an uneducated, 18-year-old peasant girl. She was hired as a domestic maid by an observant family. The head of the house was the president of the neighboring Orthodox shul.
Mary knew nothing about Judaism and had probably never met a Jew before arriving in America. The family went on vacation Mary's first December in America, leaving Mary alone in the house. They were scheduled to return on the night of December 24, and Mary realized that there would be no Christmas tree to greet them when they did. This bothered her greatly, and using the money the family had left her, she went out and purchased not only a Christmas tree but all kinds of festive decorations to hang on the front of the house.
When the family returned from vacation, they saw the Christmas tree through the living room window and the rest of the house festooned with holiday lights. They assumed that they had somehow pulled into the wrong driveway and drove around the block. But alas, it was their address.
The head of the family entered the house contemplating how to explain the Christmas tree and lights to the members of the shul, most of whom walked right past his house on their way to shul. Meanwhile, Mary was eagerly anticipating the family's excitement when they realized that they would not be without a Christmas tree.
After entering the house, the head of the family called Mary into his study. He told her, "In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did." Then he took out a $100 bill -- a very large sum in the middle of the Depression -- and gave it to her. Only after that did he explain that Jews do not have Christmas trees.
When he had finished telling the story, the editor told Rabbi Wein, "And that is why, there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and never will be as long as I am the editor."
The shul president's reaction to Mary's mistake -- sympathy instead of anger -- was not because he dreamed that one day her son would the editor of a major metropolitan paper, and thus in a position to aid Israel. (Israel was not yet born.) He acted as he did because it was the right thing to do.
That's what it means to be a Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify God's Name. It is a goal to which we can all strive.»
The Christmas Tree

Kol Tuv,

Monday 23 December 2013

Kashering Your Keurig

«Q: In my heimishe office, someone by accident treifed up the Keurig Brewer. Can it be kashered?
A: The Keurig machine is mostly made of plastic. While there are differing opinions as to whether plastic can be kashered for Pesach, the prevailing opinion is that for year-round use one may kasher plastic. Therefore, if one purchased a used Keurig machine they may kasher it by cleaning out the cup holder, making sure it has not been used in 24 hours and then kashering by running hot water through the system.

Q: The other week I was driving, and saw a sign for a garage sale. Naturally, I pulled over to see what they had. Lo and behold they had a used Keurig machine for sale. Can I buy it and kasher it?
A: According to what we just said, if one purchased a used Keurig machine, they may kasher it by cleaning out the cup holder, ascertaining that it has not been used in 24 hours and then kashering by running hot water through the system.»
OU Kosher Addresses Kashrus of Keurig (Including Pesach) | | Orthodox Union

Also see:

Hyperlinks courtesy of Rabbi Y Seplowitz.

Kol Tuv,

When a Student Doesn’t “Fit In” - R Eliyahu Safran

«We are blessed to be living at such a time, at a time when politicians are genuinely and fervently concerned with "Jewish issues."  At the local and national levels, policy makers are truly supportive of the needs of the Jewish community and of Israel.

We are indeed blessed.

And yet… and yet with all these blessings so many of the leaders of our schools and our communities seemingly act cold and hard, rather than with openness and understanding.  The irony is damning.  No place has this been more apparent than in the way that yeshivot treat and "manage" their so-called "difficult" students, those students whose needs and behaviors often cry out for attention.

The "riches" of having more students than they can fit in their classrooms has made them greedy and more than willing to simply "weed out" any student who does not hew perfectly to strict and rigid rules.  After all, what could be easier than to simply remove a student who, for whatever reason, needs or demands more time or attention, and replace him or her with some other student who will be more compliant, better-behaved?  With a metzuyan!

Easier?  Perhaps.  But right?»
The Disposable Student: When a Student Doesn't "Fit In" » Matzav.com - The Online Voice of Torah Jewry

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 22 December 2013

F.D.A. Finds 12% of U.S. Spice Imports Contaminated

«The shares of imported spices contaminated with insect parts and salmonella were twice those found in other types of imported food, federal food officials said.

The agency's findings "are a wake-up call" to spice producers, said Jane M. Van Doren, a food and spice official at the F.D.A. "It means: 'Hey, you haven't solved the problems.' "

The agency called spice contamination "a systemic challenge" and said most of the insects found in spices were the kinds that thrive in warehouses and other storage facilities, suggesting that the industry's problems result not from poor harvesting practices but poor storage and processing.»
F.D.A. Finds 12% of U.S. Spice Imports Contaminated - NYTimes.com

Kol Tuv,

Principles and Peace: thoughts on the passing of Nelson Mandela By Douglas Aronin

«What makes Atticus Finch so extraordinary is his ability to stand up for principle despite the hostility of his friends and neighbors, while at the same time refusing to demonize those same friends and neighbors no matter how strongly they oppose him.  When his daughter Scout, the book's narrator, tells him that he must be wrong to defend the accused man because "most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong," his response sums up who he is: "They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions…but before I live with other folks, I've got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

The example of Atticus Finch came readily to mind these last few weeks as I followed the world-wide outpouring of admiration that followed the death at age 95 of Nelson Mandela, the first black President of South Africa.  People who are able to take principled stands against determined opposition without losing  sight of the fundamental humanity of their opponents are not easy to find anywhere.  To find such a person at the highest levels of his country's politics is almost unheard of.  And Mandela did not merely become president of his country.  He became the first black president of a country that had long been divided by race and whose white minority regime had imprisoned him for twenty-seven years, yet he achieved what few if any other post-colonial leaders have managed to achieve – a peaceful transition to democratic governance without provoking a mass exodus of the white minority.»
Principles and Peace: thoughts on the passing of Nelson Mandela | Douglas Aronin | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 21 December 2013

Nusach of Baruch Hammavdil

There is an apparent machloket between the Kitzur SA and the Mishnah B'rurah re: the Nusach of the Baruch Hammavdil phrase (outside of Shemona Esreh) which permits M'lachah before Havdalah.

1. The Mishnah B'rurah 299:34 has simply "Baruch Hammavdil bein Kodesh L'chol"

2. The Kitzur SA 96:5 continues with the rest of the paragraph recited during Havdallah on a kos, "Baruch .... Bein Ohr l'choshech... Baruch Hamvdil..."

Do you know of anyone who uses the longer version of the KSA in pratice?

Kol Tuv,

Friday 20 December 2013

Eating in Shul

Some Background: S"A O"Ch 151:4
Ba'er Hetev 7
Mishnah B'rurah 20

Does "shalashudos" / s'udah sh'leesheet constitute enough of a S'udat Mitzvah in order to allow us to eat it in Shul?

Here is an answer courtesy of R Eitan Kupietsky
לסיכום, במקום שרגילים לערוך סעודה שלישית בבית הכנסת, אין כל איסור להמשיך במנהגם. וכן במקום שרגילים לערוך סעודות ברית מילה ופדיון הבן בבית הכנסת, מותר להם לערוך שם כל סעודת מצווה, כולל סעודת בר מצווה, וסעודת חתונה ושבע ברכות. וכל זה כמובן בתנאי שייזהרו מאוד לשמור על קדושת בית הכנסת, ויימנעו מכל שיחה בטלה וקלות ראש. וכן ייזהרו מעירוב גברים ונשים בבית הכנסת.

אבל במקום שלא נהגו לערוך סעודות מצווה בתוך בית הכנסת, מלכתחילה עדיף להחמיר כדעת ה'מגן-אברהם', שלא לערוך בתוך בית הכנסת סעודות מצווה גדולות שמגישים בהם יין. אבל הרוצים להקל רשאים, שכן דעת הרבה פוסקים.

ח – סעודות מצווה בבית הכנסת | פניני הלכה

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 19 December 2013

Results of poll on: Neis Chanukah

Results of
New Poll: Neis Hanukkah

Please choose one.

The essential miracle that triggers our observance of Hallel is

A. The Miracle of the Oil

B. The Military Victory

C. Political Independence

D. Hanukkat Hamizbei'ach.
Resource Notes for Poll
Here are some of the "proof texts"
A. As described in Talmud Bavli Shabbat 21b
B. As suggested in the Al Hannisim Prayer.
C. As Suggested by the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah Hilchot Hanukkah.
D. As suggested by the Poem "Ma'oz Tzur"

Your Responses (total 2)
Choice 1 - 00%  (0)
Choice 2 - 50%  (1)
Choice 3 - 00%  (0)
Choice 4 - 50%  (1)

Obamacare and Freedom of Religious Practice

Dear Readers, especially those in the USA - 
A group of Rabbis are currently working with a top constitutional law firm in DC to file an important brief with the Supreme Court. Right now, the Obama administration is trying to establish a precedent that Jews or other religious people can be forced to violate their religion, simply because they are operating a business. In May 2012, the Rabbinical Council of America admirably led on this issue and passed a convention resolution against Obamacare forcing many employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception coverage regardless of religious objections. Here is the link to the resolution:
Unfortunately, the Obama administration did not change its mind. A lawsuit is now advancing to the Supreme Court. 
See: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/26/politics/obamacare-court/
There is a good possibility that this brief would be cited by the Supreme Court. This would allow Traditional Jews to play a leading role in safeguarding religious liberties not only for Jews, but for all Americans. This effort is very expensive, and could normally run into the six-figure range. These rabbis have been able to secure top-quality help for a tremendous discount, but it will still cost about $25,000 to put together and publish the amicus brief for the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court's filing deadline is fast approaching. This is a chance to show Orthodox Jewish leadership on a critical religious freedom issue. 
Please consider donating a few dollars to the effort at: 

Please spread the word to your friends or relatives.
Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Conformity, Uniformity, and Individualism

«We pursue "sameness" with daunting vigor.  In some communities, sameness renders each almost indistinguishable from the other.  Same hat.  Same clothes. Same curriculum.  Lots of same!

Pity the poor outcast in such a community.  Pity him the vile looks and whispers.  Pity him the various ways a group imposes its will both overtly and subtly. 

But when goodness, learning and holiness are the goal, shouldn't everyone share it?  Of course.  That is the individual and collective mission of the Jew.  It is the reason why Yaakov not only blessed the individual with unique blessings but assured that the twelve would form a prototype community to usher in all Jewish communities of the generations to follow, communities that would support and reinforce each of their individual members.»
To Confer a Blessing - Judaism - Israel National News

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 17 December 2013

To Confer a Blessing - Judaism - R Eliyahu Safran

«In conferring his blessings, Yaakov focused first on the inspired, caring leadership that would, among its other goals, encourage and allow for each of his sons and tribes to reach for its unique potential. As Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches, such leadership calls for the "courage of youth with the prudence of age"; that is, it calls for the inspired and admired Yehudah. 

The tradition of "blessing of the first born" would have Yaakov conferring the blessing of leadership on Reuven, or even Shimon and Levi.  And yet, the father knew his sons well; he loved and appreciated their differences.  He knew Reuven to be impetuous, Shimon and Levi to tend toward violence and insensitivity.   He knew that they were not capable of leading a community in need of sensitivity and sympathy; not capable of recognizing each individual's worth and potential. 

In their eyes, the individual would be lost in the sea of community rather than fully integrated as an individual.

Yaakov's sons and their tribes share a common destiny, a destiny that relies on each and every one of them.  ...»

To Confer a Blessing - Judaism - Israel National News

Kol Tuv,

Atheists Face Death Penalty In 13 Countries, Discrimination Around The World According To Freethought Report

«(Reuters) - In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday.

And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West's apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offenses dubbed blasphemy, it said. »


Kol Tuv,

Monday 16 December 2013

Critique of Halachic Prenups - R Jeremy Stern's Response

December 9, 2013
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Letter to the Editor

To Whom it May Concern:

If one were to apply the logic of Talia Lavin's article on halachic prenups ("For many agunot, halachic prenups won't break their chains" Nov. 27 2013) to road traffic safety, one would conclude that airbags and seat belts are ineffective measures in preventing fatalities on the road. Just as some people got married before the invention of the halachic prenup and others continue to marry without it, so too some older cars were built without airbags and not everyone buckles up. So why tout the effectiveness of such safety measures?!
What Ms. Lavin did not include at all in her article, despite our extensive conversation on the topic when she interviewed me, was the fact that we at the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), as well as the staff at the Beth Din of America, have found the halachic prenup to be 100% effective in assuring that a get is given unconditionally and in a timely fashion. While we have seen over 500 cases of get refusal, we have yet to see a case where a properly signed halachic prenup did not work, whereas we have seen several cases in which it did ensure the timely and unconditional issuance of a get. In almost all cases in which the halachic prenup is invoked the case never reaches the civil courts because the husband knows that he would be fighting (and paying for) a losing battle. That is undoubtedly a win. We do not need more test cases like Rachel Light's to prove that the prenup works, because very few husbands are so self-defeating that they would challenge the civil validity of the prenup when they have every reason to believe that they will lose and pay dearly for it.
Ms. Lavin's article argues that the halachic prenup is unsatisfactory as a solution to the plight of agunot because it is not utilized throughout the Orthodox world. The fight for Tamar Epstein's freedom, which made international headlines two years ago, spurred widespread interest throughout the Modern Orthodox world in the halachic prenup. Now, in light of Gital Dodelson's case, which has shocked the Orthodox world writ large, we are starting to see significant interest beyond the Modern Orthodox community in implementing the halachic prenup. Rather than be discouraged, now is the time to redouble our efforts in standardizing the use of the halachic prenup at every Jewish marriage!
Since Ms. Lavin did not include it in her article, I would like to delineate the reasons why we have seen the halachic prenup to be so effective:

1. As a binding arbitration agreement to the Beth Din of America, it eliminates the forum-shopping between different batei din which is a tremendous source of frustration and game playing when trying to determine where, under what circumstances, and under what conditions, a get is issued. At ORA, we have encountered countless cases where women spend years without a get because the two sides cannot agree on a beit din.

2. The enforcement mechanism creates a burdensome financial disincentive for a husband to refuse to give a get. Even for extremely wealthy couples, if they are battling each other in a contentious divorce (in which couples fight over nickels and dimes) then the obligation of paying his wife $55,000 per year will weigh heavily on a recalcitrant husband. I will note here that this financial obligation is above and beyond anything that the wife would otherwise be entitled to in Jewish or civil law. Thus, her waiving her rights to that money in exchange for the get is not extortion, but rather using the agreement to do what it is supposed to do: take the get off the table and ensure that all other contentious issues of the divorce can be addressed on their own terms.

3. With a halachic prenup, a woman is able to pressure her husband to give her a get early on in the divorce process, before he becomes entrenched in his stance of get-refusal, and before other contentious divorce matters are settled (when he may try to use the get to reverse settlements or decisions that are not entirely to his liking).

4. Putting aside the civilly binding element of the prenup and enforcement mechanism, with a prenup a groom signs his name that he will do the right thing and promptly give a get in the event of a divorce. Few people like to be called liars. Additionally, the psychological commitment that the husband has made at the start of the marriage may impact his attitude with its dissolution.

5. The refusal of a prospective groom to sign a halachic prenup can serve as a red flag to a prospective bride of controlling and abusive attitudes which her fiancé possesses. This should alert her to the fact that he may not be someone with whom she should bind herself in matrimony.

We may find that the halachic prenup will not work in every single case. But, so far, it has, and we anticipate that it will work in nearly all cases. While every agunah case is a tragedy, if we can prevent the vast majority of such situations we will have done a tremendous service to our community, and, most importantly, to our sisters, mothers, and daughters.

Rabbi Jeremy Stern
Executive Director, ORA
Kol Tuv,

Critique of Halachic Prenups - Talia Lavin

For many agunot, halachic prenups won't break their chains

By Talia Lavin November 27, 2013 2:50pm

NEW YORK (JTA) — For years, Rachel Light felt like a hostage, worried she would be forever trapped in her marriage to Eben Light.
Even in April 2012, after Eben was arrested for allegedly threatening her and was slapped with a restraining order, Rachel was unable to get a writ of Jewish divorce, or get.
That made her an agunah — Hebrew for "chained woman" — putting her in the company of hundreds of other Orthodox women who cannot remarry because their husbands refuse to grant them divorces according to Jewish law, or halachah.
Fortunately for Rachel, who was Modern Orthodox, she and her husband had signed a halachic (Jewish ritual) prenuptial agreement. In 2013, hers was the first such prenup to be enforced in a U.S. civil court. Light obtained her get and a substantial financial settlement in Connecticut.»

For many agunot, halachic prenups won't break their chains | Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 15 December 2013

RCA Condemns Refusal to Deliver or Receive a get

«The Rabbinical Council of America strongly condemns the refusal of spouses to participate in the delivery and receipt of a get, the Jewish religious divorce process, when the marriage is functionally over and the relationship between the husband and wife has irreversibly ended.  We deem the withholding of a get under such circumstances to be an exploitation of the halachic process and a manifestation of domestic abuse.»

Kol Tuv,

Anti-Semitic Carol on Romanian TV

«Sung by the Dor Transilvan ensemble, it featured the lyrics: "The kikes, damn kikes, Holy God would not leave the kike alive, neither in heaven nor on earth, only in the chimney as smoke, this is what the kike is good for, to make kike smoke through the chimney on the street."

In a statement Tuesday, TVR3 said it did not select the carol but only broadcast songs that were chosen and compiled by the Center for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture, which belongs to the eastern county of Cluj.

TVR considers the selection "an uninspired choice and therefore notified the Cluj County Council of this," the broadcaster's statement read.

MCA Romania, a local watchdog on anti-Semitism, has written to Romanian President Traian Basecu and to Prime Minister Victor Viorel Ponta, to complain about the broadcast.»
No-one takes responsibility for anti-Semitic carol on Romanian TV
- Jewish World NewsIsrael News - Haaretz Israeli News source

Kol Tuv,

Friday 13 December 2013

When Do I Need a Mezuzah?

Hyperlink Courtesy of
R DJ Mescheloff

See under the heading "When Do I Need a Mezuzah?" at
«When purchasing a home, affix the mezuzahs, with the blessing, immediately upon moving in.

If you are renting the home or apartment the obligation to install a Mezuzah applies only after thirty days. However it is obviously preferred not to be without a Mezuzah, therefore many have the custom to affix all of the mezuzahs immediately upon occupancy, without reciting the blessing. Once the 30-day period has elapsed, one of the mezuzahs (from a room that has a door) should be removed, checked and replaced. That mezuzah may also be replaced with a new or upgraded one. The proper blessing is then recited on the new Mezuzah while having in mind the other Mezuzahs as well.

Some have the custom of temporarily affixing the mezuzahs immediately upon occupancy using tape, and nailing them in on the 31st day. The first mezuzah that is nailed in should be on a room that has a door. The blessing is recited at that time.

The above applies only outside the Land of Israel. In the Holy Land, the mezuzahs are affixed immediately with a blessing.» 

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 12 December 2013

Hashkafah: What are you Noticing?

No matter what you are looking at, you can find something wrong with it, something imperfect, something
that is not okay with you. Don't worry, if you look hard enough you'll find it.

There is also something 'right' with everything. No matter what you are looking at, you can find something right with it, something perfect.

There remains, then, only one question:
What are you going to look at? What are you choosing to notice? What is your perspective?
~ Neale Donald Walsch

Kol Tuv,

Using Rashi as Part of Sh'nayim Mikra v'Echod Targum

The Shulchan Aruch in O"Ch 285 mentions using Rashi in lieu of, or perhaps in addition to, Targum Onkelos.

What is the origin of this practice?
- - - - -

Guest Blogger
R Yaakov Jaffe 
* * * * *

This idea is cited in the Smag, who says "danti lifnei rabosai" who agreed to his position (as cited in Beis Yoseif 285).

Interestingly, we know that Rabbi Yehudah Sir Leon was the Rebbe of the Smag, and we also known that Rabbi Yehudah Sir Leon is the author of Tosfos to Brachos - so the Smag must be understood in light of Tosfos in Brachos (8a), where a non-aramaic translation may be used.   Tosfos there take the first step away from the Divinely-inspired Targum Unkelos as the only option for "echad targum," allowing for whichever translation works best for the reader, and so the natural progression taken by his Talmid shortly thereafter is that Rashi's translation and interpretation is no worse than a French translation.    

Thus, perhaps it is appropriate to say "The Smag - working off of a statement of his Rebbe in Tosfos"


Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 11 December 2013

After Netanyahu, Peres back out

«Knesset Speaker to head Israeli delegation at memorial as PM, Peres can't attend for financial, security reasons.

The US sent its president and three former presidents to Tuesday's memorial service for anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela. The UK and France sent its prime ministers, as did another nearly 90 countries. Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama were set to attend. Israel, however, came close to sending no one, in a near diplomatic fiasco that started Sunday and developed throughout Monday.

In the end, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein flew Monday night to the memorial service, along with the first female Ethiopian MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid), as well as MKs Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu) and Hilik Bar (Labor).»
After Netanyahu, Peres back out, Israel sends Edelstein to Mandela funeral | JPost | Israel News

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Teaching Santa in Our Schools

«I don't particularly want to sound like Sarah Palin, but the term "holiday season" irks me.  It smacks of a pernicious movement to homogenize society that hearkens from a time in my youth when America was a melting pot rather than a salad bowl. "We're all really the same because we all celebrate holidays in December," the phrase seems to suggest.


I don't celebrate "the holidays." I celebrate Chanukah. The irony of the typical coincidence of Chanukah and Christmas (and Kwanza, even more profoundly, I think) is that Chanukah is a holiday of separation, of standing out, of not blending in with the SDC (Surrounding Dominant Culture). When Hallmark tells us it's time for the holidays, we should protest.»

Kol Tuv,

The Mitzvah to Talk in Shul

Guest Blogger
R Marc Dratch
* * * * *

The Mishnah, Berakhot 13a, teaches,

בפרקים שואל מפני הכבוד ומשיב, ובאמצע - שואל מפני היראה ומשיב, דברי רבי מאיר. רבי יהודה אומר: באמצע שואל מפני היראה ומשיב מפני הכבוד, ובפרקים שואל מפני הכבוד ומשיב שלום לכל אדם.

Is this ruling a dispensation bedi'eved which merely permits a person to extend a greeting or to respond appropriately when circumstances require it despite one's being in the middle of keriyat Shema, or is it a din le-khatihilah, which actually requires a person to greet others davka in the middle of keriyat Shema? In other words, is talking tolerated in shul, or is it mandatory?

The consensus, halakhah le-ma'aseh, is that these interruptions are tolerated. After all, one's focus and intention during davening must be undistractedly and uninterruptedly on God and prayer. This directive is supported by, among many other sources, the ruling of Rema,
Orah Hayyim 98,
ואסור לאדם לנשק בניו הקטנים בבהכ"נ, כדי לקבוע בלבו שאין אהבה כאהבת המקום.

The Mishnah teaches that for reasons of kavod or yirah, greetings are tolerated.

However, Arukh ha-Shulhan (OH 66) rules that even these dispensations are no longer allowed:
ויש מן הגדולים שכתבו עוד דהאידנא לא ראינו מי שיקפיד על זה כלל ולכן אין לנו אפילו להשיב שלום ואין דרכינו בכך אף לאביו או לרבו ואפילו בין הפרקים לא יפסיק [שם בשם החינוך] ואדרבא עתה נחשב לקלות מי שמפסיק והרי אנו רואים אפילו שר כשיבא לבית יהודי ומוצאו מתפלל לא ידבר עמו וימתין עד שיסיים תפלתו ולכן עתה כל מין הפסק אסור עד גמר התפלה וכן המנהג פשוט:

Nonetheless, on a theoretical level one could argue that this is a din le-khathilah and that these interruptions are not an interruption at all, but are welcomed as an integral part of keriyat Shema. This is because ahavat Hashem, as expressed in the Shema, is conveyed not only through the proper recitation of the prescribed words with the requisite kavanah, but is equally expressed through the amiable interactions between one Jew and another.
The Talmud, Yoma 86, states:
אביי אמר: כדתניא, ואהבת את ה' א-להיך - שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך, שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש תלמידי חכמים, ויהא משאו ומתנו בנחת עם הבריות, מה הבריות אומרות עליו - אשרי אביו שלמדו תורה, אשרי רבו שלמדו תורה. אוי להם לבריות שלא למדו תורה, פלוני שלמדו תורה - ראו כמה נאים דרכיו, כמה מתוקנים מעשיו, עליו הכתוב אומר ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר. אבל מי שקורא ושונה ומשמש תלמידי חכמים ואין משאו ומתנו באמונה, ואין דבורו בנחת עם הבריות, מה הבריות אומרות עליו - אוי לו לפלוני שלמד תורה, אוי לו לאביו שלמדו תורה, אוי לו לרבו שלמדו תורה, פלוני שלמד תורה - ראו כמה מקולקלין מעשיו וכמה מכוערין דרכיו! ועליו הכתוב אומר באמר להם עם ה' אלה ומארצו יצאו.

Thus, acknowledging another, extending greetings, and interacting pleasantly is not only not a hefsek, but is a grand gesture of ahavat Hashem...during the recitation of keriyat Shema as well as throughout our day. Let them talk!
Mark Dratch

- - - - -

RRW Comments:
Caveat - Nowadays a handshake or a nod of the head might suffice INSTEAD of saying Shalom, which tends to support the position of the Aruch Hashulchan.

Kol Tuv

Monday 9 December 2013

Thoughts on Thanksgivukah

Doug Aronin:

« Thanksgiving is actually a much better fit with Chanukah than Christmas could ever be.  Both are holidays of gratitude in which we recognize that even those blessings that appear to be the result of our own efforts — whether a successful harvest or a successful rebellion — are possible only with God's help.»
The Value of Calendrical Coincidence: a Post-Chanukah Thought | Douglas Aronin | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

Kol Tuv,

Can Judaism Transcend Labels?

«I enjoy reading Aish.com and I am wondering what stream of Judaism do you subscribe to?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Aish students come from the spectrum of the Jewish world – left, right, secular, observant, affiliated and not. Aish synagogues observe Orthodox standards, but then again Aish seminars have been presented in Conservative and Reform temples.

Aish was founded to combat assimilation, alienation and indifference among Jews. We welcome Jews of all affiliations, beliefs, and traditions. We seek unity among all Jews. As educators, our goal is to re-ignite Jewish pride by teaching Jews about their heritage and its contribution to humanity.

Aish avoids labeling Jews as one type or another. That's because every Jew is in some respect "observant." ...»
Is Aish Orthodox?

Kol Tuv,

* * * * * * *

At the same time, though, we should also note the somewhat opposing thought presented in our article  Adjective and Non-adjective Jews, on our website and originally published in Nishma Introspection 5761-2
For want of a better term, labels also reflect philosophical/theological distinctions and this article argues that rather than trying to avoid labeling, we should actually be encouraging individuals to consider their true, substantive label based on thought. It is contended therein that this will further the pursuit of Jewish unity and commitment, for thereby individuals will have to confront the thought of Judaism. Avoiding labeling often simply increases the obscurantism which eventually increases the challenge of unity and lessens commitment.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday 8 December 2013

President Obama's Hanukkah Reception


Kol Tuv,

Chanukah: The Greek Side of the Story*

(This article originally appeared as "On Chanukah, We Met the Enemy, and they Was Us," 21st December, 2001.
* See "Hanukkah Reconsidered" by Louis H. Feldman)

(The American Mizrachi Woman, Vol. 54, no.3 (6-7), Dec., 1981) for a full discussion.)

«It was Antiochus IV's bad luck to ascend the throne in a time of both internal political conflict in Judea and of strife with Egypt and Rome.  The hereditary high-priesthood, a powerful position indeed, was at the time held by the pious Onias III, who (unluckily for him) was pro-Egyptian/Ptolemaic in his sympathies.  Onias's brother, Jason, knowing that Antiochus needed huge sums of money for his campaigns against the Ptolemies and the Romans, promised the king substantial cash if the high-priesthood were transferred to him.  Antiochus agreed.  Jason, a committed Hellenist, instituted or permitted many Hellenistic and indeed pagan practices, without any compulsion by Antiochus.

Three years later (171 B.C.E.), Antiochus dismissed Jason as High Priest and replaced him with Menelaus, who had offered even greater sums of money.  Menelaus, who was not even a priest, was backed by the financially-powerful and highly-assimilated Tobiad family.  Antiochus of course "went with the money."  Menelaus inaugurated his high priesthood by murdering Onias III and by plundering the temple treasury, and proceeded aggressively to advance the agenda of Hellenization.  That agenda, it must be remembered, represented a crossing of cultural lines, and potentially a total collapse of Jewish identity.  The First Book of Maccabees suggests that it was the Jewish Hellenizers—not the Greeks—who initiated the imposition of pagan culture in Judea.»

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 7 December 2013

Mussar: Squeezing Shabbat for Immediate Gratification

Why do people order food from a Glatt Kosher restaurant and demand that it be delivered by 7:00 PM on Motzo'ei Shabbat when Shabbat ends about 5:40?

Don't "Shomer Shabbat" people understand that it takes time for:
• The Mashgi'ach to get to the restaurant,
• The Mashgi'ach to light all the fires,
• The cooks to cook,
• the Deliverer to deliver!

If they're sincerely ordering Glatt Kosher food, why squeeze Shabbat?

Can't they wait to eat a few more minutes out of respect for Shabbat, and so that others don't have to rush, sometimes in traffic?

I find this a distasteful practice when ordering good food. Give it time to get it right and exercise some deferred gratification.

Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Online Book(s) of Maccabees

Kol Tuv,

How Long Should the Candles Burn?

Would the Rambam require Ner Hanukkah in NYC to last all night long?

הלכות חנוכה פרק ד

* וצריך ליתן שמן בנר, כדי שתהיה דולקת והולכת, עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק;*

ה  אין מדליקין נרות חנוכה קודם שתשקע החמה, אלא עם שקיעתה--לא מאחרין, ולא מקדימין.  שכח או הזיד ולא הדליק עם שקיעת החמה, מדליק והולך עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק; וכמה הוא זמן זה, כמו חצי שעה או יתר.  עבר זמן זה, אינו מדליק.  וצריך ליתן שמן בנר, כדי שתהיה דולקת והולכת, עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק; הדליקה וכבתה, אינו זקוק להדליקה פעם אחרת.  נשארה דולקת אחר שכלתה רגל מן השוק--אם רצה לכבותה או לסלקה, עושה.

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 3 December 2013

JVO: Accidental Swallowing

Jewish Values Online (jewishvaluesonline.org) 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 this series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is to one of the questions to which Rabbi Hecht responded.

* * * * *
Question: If a medicine is applied to the skin near the mouth, and some is accidentally swallowed, is it a problem if the ingredients may not be kosher?

To properly answer your question, I really have to ask you what you mean by a problem. Are you asking if this person has committed a sin? Are you asking what someone should do in this type of situation? Are you asking if medicine has to be kosher? To be honest, it is very strange for me as a Rabbi to respond to a question framed in this manner. What people generally ask me regards their behaviour – what they should do given a certain set of facts. This may be your question as well; asking, through this word ‘problem’, what should be done in such circumstances. Framing the question in this way, though, does detract from what I believe should be the focus of following Torah guidelines – i.e. our behaviour.

Let us begin with the assumption that you are asking if the person in this case committed a sin. Sin within Halacha is somewhat similar to our criminal law system which generally demands mens rea, a certain type of criminal intent, for someone to be liable. This is not to say that this halachic concept of intent is fully similar to mens rea but it is clear that to commit a sin within the parameters of Halacha, there has to be a certain level in the intent or weakness in the concentration that surrounds an action.

One has clearly sinned if one does a forbidden act, with intent to do such an act, knowing that it is forbidden. That is referred to in the literature as meizid, intentional sin. One is also deemed to have sinned if one is negligent in his/her duty to ensure that he/she does not sin. This type of sin is referred to as shogeg, negligent sin. This case would seem to clearly not be a case of meizid, as the person did not intend to swallow something non-kosher (We will deal later with the question whether kashrut is even an issue in this case). Would this then be a case of shogeg? This would involve the question of whether the person took normative steps to ensure that he/she would not swallow the non-kosher item (if kashrut is an issue) given its proximity to the mouth. As this seems to involve medicine which a person would naturally try to avoid swallowing, and from your use of the word ‘accident’, we can perhaps assume that such steps were also taken – thus it was through no fault of the person that this non-kosher item was swallowed. In such cases, Halacha applies the term anoos, meaning non-responsible, and T.B, Nedarim 27a informs us that anoos Rachmana patur, that God does not hold an individual culpable for behaviour for which he/she had no control.

So if your question was whether this behaviour was a sin or not – still putting off the issue of kashrut itself -- it would seem most likely not, unless the person, knowing the item to be non-kosher and that there was a possibility of swallowing it, was sloppy in putting on the medicine and this resulted in the consumption. But, still, so what? So this happened? The real question, thus, should be what to do and the answer to this would be to do teshuva, repent. This would mean, in this case, to consider and regret what one did and, in such circumstances in the future, take steps to ensure that one is not similarly sloppy.

This is still only part of the necessary discussion. Your question also states that there may be non-kosher items in the medicine. This raises the question of how we are to approach items when the kashrut of the item is in question. The above discussion assumes we are dealing with an item that is not kosher. Your question concerns an item that is not definitely non-kosher. Does that change the response?

In addition, even if the item contained non-kosher items, does the issue of kashrut even apply in such circumstances, to this type of medicine? The kosher laws apply to foodstuffs and for something to be defined as not kosher it has to meet certain standards of being edible. Right from the beginning there would actually seem not to be an issue for we are talking about some type of lotion and not a food product. Assuming it not to be edible, the whole issue of kashrut would seem to not even apply. On the other hand, we should still note, there is a mandate also within the Halacha to take care of oneself (see Devarim 4:15) and thus, if this lotion applied on the skin could make someone ill, aside from a general health directive, there would also be a halachic directive to try and put on the lotion without consuming it for one could get sick thereby. Is there a problem? Yes and learn thereby to be more careful.

What about the question of whether there really was a non-kosher item in the item or not (assuming it to be food). Lack of surety regarding a substance can, at times, indeed lead to a distinction in the halachic conclusion. There are times when a substance for which one is unsure of the kashrut is to be treated exactly the same as if there was absolute knowledge that it was not kosher. There are other times, though, where a question of surety of substance can yield a different conclusion. The application of these laws, though, can be complicated so I won’t go further into this topic at this time; my purpose being to simply point out this issue.

There is, perhaps, one other concept I should also point out before concluding. While our case here did not involve a foodstuff, there is law involving food that has some application to the concepts we have discussed. From what I have presented, we can conclude that eating something not kosher is only a problem if done in a sinful manner, be it meizid or shogeg. The fact that one consumed something not kosher accidently is not a problem, i.e. the person has done nothing wrong. There is a question in the literature, though, regarding a Jewish baby nursing from a non-Jewish woman (with the assumption that she has eaten non-kosher food, albeit, as a non-Jew, she is permitted to do so) and/or a Jewish baby nursing from his/her mother after the mother ate, with halachic permission because of illness, something not kosher. Even though no sin would be involved in this, Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 81:7 still states that this should still be avoided if possible as non-kosher items, even if consumed in a manner without sin, can still be detrimental to our souls. Thus, pursuant to this viewpoint, when it comes to issues of kashrut, our concern can even go beyond the issue of sin. Others, however, still disagree with Rema’s view and permit the nursing of a baby by a mother who, with permission, ate something not kosher for such an item is only detrimental if its consumption is done in sin. Further to our purposes, I would still like to point out that Rema is still dealing with a question of behaviour. What should a nursing mother do? You still don’t find a question of what to do with a baby who nursed from a non-Jewish woman.

The Special Experience of Chanukah Lighting at Khal Adas Jeshurun (‘Breuer’s’) – הדלקת נר חנוכה בק”ק קהל עדת ישורון, וואשינגטאן הייטס, ניו יורק | TREASURES OF ASHKENAZ


Kol Tuv,

Monday 2 December 2013

Not one, not two, not three… Who Counts for a Minyan?

Nowadays with High Tech, even basic questions can become very exciting when scholars can muster a wide array of sources to illuminate a given topic.
Instead of quick "catchismic" style answers, we can read an article with a sampling of scholarship literally spanning several thousand years.
- - - - -

Guest Blogger:
R Matthew Mintz
* * * * *


תהלים פרק פב פסוק א
מִזְמוֹר לְאָסָף אֱלֹהִים נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת אֵל בְּקֶרֶב אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁפֹּט:
1. A Psalm of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of God; he judges among the judges.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כג עמוד ב
משנה. … ואין נושאין את כפיהם, ואין קורין בתורה, ואין מפטירין בנביא,…וברכת חתנים, ואין מזמנין בשם פחות מעשרה,….
גמרא. מנא הני מילי? אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן: דאמר קרא +ויקרא כ"ב+ ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל - כל דבר שבקדושה לא יהא פחות מעשרה. מאי משמע? - דתני רבי חייא: אתיא "תוך" "תוך", כתיב הכא ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל, וכתיב התם +במדבר ט"ז+ הבדלו מתוך העדה, ואתיא "עדה" "עדה", דכתיב התם +במדבר י"ד+ עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת, מה להלן עשרה - אף כאן עשרה.
GEMARA. Whence these rules?— R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Johanan: Because Scripture says, But I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: every act of sanctification requires not less than ten. How does the verse denote this? — As R. Hiyya taught: We explain the word 'among' here by reference to its use in another place. It is written here, 'But I will be hallowed among the children of Israel', and it is written elsewhere, Separate yourselves from among this congregation; and we further explain the word 'congregation' here by reference to what is written in another place, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation. Just as there ten are indicated, so here.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ו עמוד א
תניא, אבא בנימין אומר: אין תפלה של אדם נשמעת אלא בבית הכנסת, שנאמר: +מלכים א' ח'+ לשמוע אל הרנה ואל התפלה, במקום רנה שם תהא תפלה…. ומנין לעשרה שמתפללין ששכינה עמהם - שנאמר: אלהים נצב בעדת אל;…
It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says: A man's prayer is heard [by God] only in the Synagogue. For it is said: To hearken unto the song and to the prayer. The prayer is to be recited where there is song. … And how do you know that if ten people pray together the Divine presence is with them? For it is said: 'God standeth in the congregation of God'. …

תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת מגילה פרק ד הלכה ד
תני שמואל אין קידוש החדש אלא בעשרה רבי בא רבי יסא בשם רבי יוחנן נאמר כאן עדה ונאמר להלן עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת מה עדה האמורה להלן עשרה אף כאן עשרה אמ' ר' סימון נאמר כאן תוך ונאמר להלן ויבאו בני ישראל לשבור בתוך הבאים מה תוך שנאמר להלן עשרה אף כאן עשרה אמר ליה רבי יוסה בי רבי בון אם מתוך את למד סגין אינון אלא נאמר כאן בני ישראל ונאמר להלן בני ישראל מה להלן עשר' אף כאן עשרה
ידיד נפש על תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת מגילה פרק ד הלכה ד

Kol Tuv,

Chanukah and Secular Education

Guest Blogger:
R Shimshon Nadel
* * * * *

Recently, the topic of secular education has become the subject of public discourse and debate in the State of Israel, as the Ministry of Education seeks to implement its core-curriculum (tochnit ha-liba) in religious schools. New legislation would make the funding these schools currently receive contingent on their adopting this core-curriculum. The program consists of basic instruction in language, mathematics, science, and history. The hope is that students will achieve a level of proficiency in these subjects, giving them valuable skills for the future.

But these changes were met with tremendous opposition in parts of the religious community. For some, teaching children secular subjects is seen as somehow being in conflict with Torah values. Which begs the question: What is the place of secular education in Jewish life? Is there a value in secular knowledge? How do we as Jews relate to the dominant, secular culture that surrounds us?

These questions are at the heart of the holiday of Chanukah, when we celebrate our victory over Hellenism; the influence of Greek culture on our People.

A famous interpretation of the Menorah, often attributed to the Vilna Gaon, speaks to these very questions. Aharon is instructed, "When you kindle the lamps, towards the center of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light" (Num. 8:2). According to the Gaon, the branches of the Menorah represent the pillars of secular wisdom and knowledge. The center lamp, to which all of the other branches face, represents the light of Torah. Torah is at the center, but its study requires illumination that can only be gleaned from the light of secular knowledge (See also the Netziv's Ha-Emek Davar to Ex. 27:20, Ex. 37:19, Num. 8:2).

For many, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman of Vilna (1720-1797), the Vilna Gaon, personifies the perfected Torah personality, with his complete, unflinching dedication to Torah study. Yet the Gaon also possessed a profound knowledge and deep understanding of secular studies, even encouraging the study of secular subjects.

In their introduction to Adderet Eliyahu, the Gaon's own children attest to the fact that, "by the time he was twelve years old, he had mastered the seven branches of secular wisdom..." One of the Vilna Gaon's closest disciples, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, writes:

He [The Gaon of Vilna] explained that all secular wisdom is essential for our Holy Torah and is included in it. He indicated that he had mastered all the branches of secular wisdom, including algebra, trigonometry, geometry and music... (Pe'at ha-Shulchan, p. 5a)
The Gaon travelled between Athens and Vilna effortlessly. And according to written testimony, the Gaon openly encouraged his students to pursue secular knowledge. Rabbi Baruch Schick of Shklov translated Euclid's Elements into Hebrew. Euclid, considered the 'father of Geometry,' lays down the major principles of Geometry in this classic work, written around 300 BCE. In the preface to the Hebrew translation, Rabbi Schick writes: "I heard from his [the Gaon's] holy lips that to the extent one is deficient in secular wisdom he will be deficient a hundredfold in Torah study, for Torah and wisdom are bound up together." He continues and writes that the Gaon "commanded" him to "translate into Hebrew as much secular wisdom as possible." Should anyone question the veracity of this account, it was published in the Hague in 1780, during the Gaon's lifetime.

This should not be shocking, as the Talmud is full of examples of how our Sages used science and mathematics to assist in their understanding of Torah. Like when Rav spent eighteen months among the shepherds to study what types of blemishes on animals heal and which do not (Sanhedrin 5b). Or how Rabbi Zeira was hesitant to rule on issues of family purity, without requisite knowledge of the physiology involved (Niddah 20b). The Talmud (Shabbat 75a) even offers criticism for one who knows how to calculate the calendar and positions of the constellations, but does not.

And throughout Jewish History, many of our great thinkers and leaders were broad, worldly. Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Yehudah HaLevi were physicians and philosophers. Don Yitzchak Abravanel, a statesman. These great men possessed an intellectual prowess and curiosity, absent in many corners of religious life today. They embodied the ethos of Torah U'Madda. They understood, like Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, that the beauty and wisdom found in Western Culture can dwell in the tents of Torah (see Rav Hirsch's comments to Gen. 9:27).

A 'Torat Chayim,' a living, breathing, healthy Judaism is a balanced Judaism. A balance of tradition and modernity. But finding the perfect balance is not simple. In his classic work on the subject, Rabbi Norman Lamm warns, "The intersections of Torah and Madda are not always clear; indeed they are more often than not elusive and indeterminate" (Torah Umadda, 3rd ed., p. 10). Rather than flee, however, we embrace the struggle, the conflict, the dialectical tension inherent in the modern religious experience. When we confront the challenges of the modern world, the fruit of our labor is a richer, fuller, and deeper Judaism.

As the Vilna Gaon taught, the light of Torah and the light of secular wisdom can exist on the Menorah side by side, with the Torah at its center, of course.

Chanukah Same'ach,

Shimshon HaKohen Nadel

Sunday 1 December 2013

USA's March Towards Secularism

[The RCA is] concerned about a recent judicial ruling declaring parsonage unconstitutional:

Judge Declares Tax Exclusion For Clergy Housing Payments Unconstitutional 
Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court For The Western District Of Wisconsin has ruled that a substantial tax benefit enjoyed by many thousands of clergy - ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others - is unconstitutional. Code Section 107(2) provides that the gross income of a "minister of the gospel" does not include:
the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.
In the introduction Judge Crabb wrote:
With respect to the merits, I conclude that § 107(2) violates the establishment clause under the holding in Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U.S. 1 (1989), because the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.
However, my sources tell me: "District Courts (lowest level among federal courts) do the darndest things. It's a non-event until it's affirmed by a circuit court, which it likely won't be."  We will be keeping an eye on this.

Kol Tuv,

Huffington Post: A Lesson From Hitler About the Iran Deal

When hearing of the latest deal with Iran, one must obviously think of Chamberlain. 

I invite you to take a look at: A Lesson From Hitler About the Iran Deal 

My original title for the post, btw, was 'In the Shadow of Chamberlain' but it was changed by the editors.

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht