Tuesday 29 December 2015

More on Vatican Statement‏

From RRW

Why couldn't Christians simply make a "Grandfather Clause" for Jews to continue their ways and for Christians to focus upon Heathens, Pagans, and Idol Worshippers, and to leave other Abrahamic Sects alone?

This IMHO shows a weakness in their theology that requires an intolerance for competition and a "My Way vs. The HIghway‎" thinking. Classic "I'm OK You're not OK" thinking, which is essentially hostile at its core.

Whereas Judaism only opposed Idol Worship etc. And never imposed Judaism on others, only the 7 Noahide Commandments. This seems a more balanced position of imposing minimalistic Abrahamide Monotheism without the need for rituals etc. Quite a balanced and mild approach I would say. What say you?

Who really died at Auschwitz?‏

From RRW

As you read this please take a minute to reflect on what is happening to the world in the name of political correctness.

I walked down the street in Barcelona , and suddenly discovered a terrible truth - Europe died in Auschwitz ... We killed six million Jews and replaced them with 20 million Muslims. In Auschwitz we burned a culture, thought, creativity, talent. We destroyed the chosen people, truly chosen, because they produced great and wonderful people who changed the world..

The contribution of this people is felt in all areas of life: science, art, international trade, and above all, as the conscience of the world. These are the people we burned.

And under the pretense of tolerance, and because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were cured of the disease of racism, we opened our gates to 20 million Muslims, who brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty, due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride...

See, further...
Of course, we must still also recognize that the Muslim world is itself divided and that the critique of one group within this world should not be presented and/or understood as a critique of all Muslims. Nonetheless, Europe and the promoters of the values of rights and freedoms must also recognize that there must be some acceptance of a certain standard in order for one to be deserving of a claim to these rights and freedoms.  -- RBH 

Monday 28 December 2015

JVO: Circumcision

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: Even though circumcision is to enter into the covenant of Abraham, what about aesthetics, health, hygiene, and sanitation? Isn't circumcision for those things, too?

What exactly is your question? If circumcision indeed has many other benefits, what is the problem? What is your issue with saying that “circumcision is to enter into the covenant of Abraham” but it may also have benefits touching upon “aesthetics, health, hygiene and sanitation” and thus may be “for those things, too”?
What you may be addressing, though, is the question of: bottom line, why are we to be doing this? The issue is not the many benefits that may also flow from circumcision and the various reasons why individuals may wish to choose this procedure for their sons but why we, as Jews, are to undertake this commitment. It is in this regard that we are to say that THE reason why we adopt this behaviour is because it is God’s commandment to thereby enter into the covenant of Abraham. There may be other motivations and outcomes but, bottom line, we to commit to this behaviour solely because of this reason.
The issue really is tied to a powerful Talmudic discussion (see, for example, T.B. Rosh Hashanah 28b) of whether mitzvot, commandments, need proper intent (kavana) or not. If we say that mitzvot do not need proper intent, then all that is necessary to fulfill a commandment is the performance of the act, regardless of the reason one is undertaking this action. If that were the case, one who circumcises his son for any reason, without even any recognition of its religious value, would be considered to be fulfilling the Divine command.
The actual dominant conclusion, though, is that commandments do need proper intent in order to be deemed fulfilled. Proper intent means undertaking the action because it is so commanded by God. As such, pursuant to this perspective, for a circumcision to be deemed as having religious value, it must be performed because it is a Divine commandment. One may still recognize other benefits but the necessary motivation must be God’s command. (The issue of what one is then to do if a circumcision was not undertaken with proper intent and the responsible person now wishes the correct religious value of circumcision is actually a most pertinent one. I do not want to get into details in this regard but suffice it to say that there is actually a simple solution to the problem and one with this issue need only to consult a local Orthodox rabbi in this regard.)
So what about these other reasons? While we must always recognize our limitations in achieving a full understanding of why God gave us a specific command, such reasons can serve to some extent as partial explanations for the command. They can also be used to make our fulfilment of the command a bit easier; it is easier to do what we are being told to do when we can also see a benefit. There is nothing wrong in seeing the benefit(s) of a Divine command. It can even, as stated, make it easier and nothing wrong in that. There is a challenge, however, in that we still cannot thereby allow these other reasons to cause us to lose sight of the real reason we are doing this: to fulfill the Will of God. The point is that we must never to lose sight of the fact that circumcision is a Divine command and that it is the sign from Abraham of our covenant with God – and this is bottom line reason for this act.

The continuing failure to confront radical Islam

From RRW

Arutz Sheva Opinion
Kislev 30, 5776, 12/12/15 11:01
The continuing failure to confront radical Islam

Matthew M. Hausman

After a recent trip to Israel, former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann reportedly called upon Christians to step up efforts to convert the Jews.  Her pronouncement was met with indignation from across the Jewish political spectrum – and deservedly so, as it displayed a patronizing and flawed understanding of Jewish scripture and history.  But as misguided as it certainly was, it was not a call to pogrom or massacre; and while Jews have every right to be offended, such comments are benign, albeit insulting, and pose no threat to Jewish life, limb, or belief. 

Ironically, few of those who criticized Bachmann would ever chastise those Muslims who preach doctrinal supremacism or reject the very concept of a Jewish state.  Nor would they denounce leftist ideologues who defend progressive anti-Semitism as political speech or delegitimize Israel.  The question, then, is how they can reconcile assertive condemnations of Christian missionary zeal with apologetic attitudes towards radical Islam and a refusal to acknowledge the religious basis for much of today’s terrorism.

As suggested by ongoing dialogue between the nontraditional movements and dubious Muslim advocacy organizations, and by liberal support for progressive groups like the New Israel Fund, there seems to be growing tolerance for agendas that conflict with Jewish sovereignty and national claims.  There is also a tendency to express admiration for Islamic values while ignoring troubling dogmas that discourage free speech and demonize Jews. 

Sunday 27 December 2015

The Mesora: Beyond the Issue of Women Rabbis

 The gemara praises Beit Hillel for quoting Beit Shammai first. The reality its that there is a vast difference when people present their opinion as the only one and when they do so within the context of a disagreement on the subject. There is clearly greater depth and ultimate understanding in the latter context but a decision regarding the options also clearly becomes more difficult. In addition, it is important to also further recognize that Beit Hillel still did not present the Tzadduki view on the subject. The further parameters of Orthodoxy must always also be considered. All in all, though, the recognition of possible disagreement does open up the world of greater depth.

It is thus interesting in that the present discussion of the place of women rabbis within Orthodoxy, the discussion has generally not followed the process of Beit Hillel, with neither side, most often, (1) presenting their arguments while also presenting the divergent the views or, (2) if they believe the opposing argument to be beyond the pale, presenting why this is so.

See, for example:
the following shiurim arguing, from the Mesora, against women rabbis from Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman

and the following article from Rabbi Avi Weiss obviously in favour of women rabbis


My point is not to equate the two sides but to raise the issue of why the arguments do not include the obvious depth of the broader issue and disagreement that is inherent to the discussion.

In this regard, I should also mention the article from Rabbi Hershel Schachter at
which does attempt to present the greater depth of the issue in showing the complexity of it. It is because of this very complexity that Rabbi Schachter points out that it is, thus, most necessary that such decisions be made by a gadol.

The problem then becomes, though, defining who is a gadol, which is already a continuous and contentious issue within contemporary Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, Rabbi Schachter does not address this issue. In this regard, many people do not recognize that those who favour women rabbis actually maintain that they are following the view of a gadol in their eyes as they consider Rabbi Daniel Sperber in that category. No wonder that removed, objective looks at what is happening in regard to this issue are raising questions not on the issue itself but how the issue is being addressed. See, for example:

Alan Krinsky's article in the Forward at

and Garnel Ironheart's post on the subject on The Blog of Garnel Ironheart at

(I must say, it is with pride that I state that both authors actually have a connection with Nishma.)

 I just wish to add my voice to this concern. Beyond women rabbis, we have to recognize the true depth of Torah. I have great concerns when I hear those arguing for women rabbis in a manner which
negates the vast majority view of Torah scholars that have a problem with this issue in, at least, some ways. And I have similar concerns when I hear those arguing against the concept not having any recognition that those who are supporting this view also have their arguments. This doesn't make it right -- but its not so simple.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Saturday 26 December 2015

Mussar: Bill Clinton on our Common Humanity

From an 0ld draft

How can we belong to a group or sect and still live beShalom with the world at large?
Similarly, how can Jews who belong to distinct group still have a sense of Eilu f'eilu towards their fellow Jews?

Years ago, I heard Bill Clinton express this on a late-night talk show. While I could not narrow him down to one solitary quote on this subject, it seems that he has expressed this again and again at various commencement exercises. I will cite remarks made at Harvard and University of Michigan as exemplars of this view:

And so I leave you with that thought. Be true to the tradition of the great people who have come here. Spend as much of your time and your heart and your spirit as you possibly can thinking about the 99.9 percent. See everyone and realize that everyone needs new beginnings. Enjoy your good fortune. Enjoy your differences, but realize that our common humanity matters much, much more.
- The entire article is available at the Harvard Gazette, here.
For the purposes of your being here today, what makes you a community? ... Because you think your differences are important. They matter. But on this special day, what you have in common matters more. That is the ultimate simple test of humanity's future. Are our important differences or our common humanity more important? You have to decide. You have to decide for our common humanity,
- Umich

Permit me to reduce and paraphrase this idea as follows:
While you should treasure the differences that make you and your Tradition unique, nevertheless, it is even MORE important to treasure Your Common Humanity
and to Transcend those differences.
 Now let's spin it regarding Jewish groups:
While you should treasure the differences that make you and your Tradition unique,
nevertheless, it is even MORE important to treasure Your Common Heritage
and to Transcend those differences.
  • If you think of fellow Jews as US vs.THEM, then your particularism is overcoming your ahavat israel. For instance, my rebbe is better than your rebbe, my way is better than your way, etc.
  • If your ahavat israel is on target, then you will transcend your differences regarding others without losing respect for that which makes YOU unique

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
Please Visit:

Friday 25 December 2015

Structure in the Works of the Choffetz Chaim‏

From RRW

I like to find and discuss underrated things.

IMHO the most underrated aspect of the works of the Choffetz Chaim Z"L is the structure found in several of his classics

1. Shemiras Halashon is an amazing anthology of Aggadah, Midrash, Zohar and Mussar on a single theme. This to me is an excellent paradigm of logically assembling sources to make a point.  ‎It reads quite smoothly.

2. The Sefer Choffetz Chaim. The opening begins with a "Sefer Hamitzvos "‎ on the topic. He them proceeds to pasken and to provide either his sources, or his sevoros, to back himself up.   Great combination of Halachah P'skukkah with Mekoros by the author himself.

3. The "Mishnah B'rurah". The idea of a bi-level Halacha Sefer may go back to the Rashba's Toras Habbayyis Ho'oruch v'hakatzar. Also D'reesha P'reeshah, et al.

The M"B's 3-tiered approach - which included adding "Sha'ar Hatziyyun" -. seems an innovation of his. B"H the Oz v'hodor edition (and perhaps others) has expanded the mar'eh m'komos to an even more user-friendly level.

There are already newer Seforim in our day that emulate that 3-Tiered approach (EG Badei Hashulchan)

Probably not since the Rambam, has an author put in so much energy into the structure of the presentation. 

Thursday 24 December 2015

Im Tirtzu to NIF donors: Demand end to support for defamation of Israel

From RRW
Israel News from The Jerusalem Post‏

“Their actions, the things they say and write against the State of Israel and IDF soldiers in the foreign press, feed anti-Israel and anti-Zionist campaigns, and even terror organizations such as Hamas quote from things Breaking the Silence say during Hamas actions against the State of Israel on the international stage,” they said...

Pope Francis and the Renunciation of Jewish Conversion

From RRW


Tuesday 22 December 2015

Baruch Dayan HaEmes: RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yosef Weiss ZT"L

From RRW

I join with his other talmidim in mourning the passing of my Yoreh Dei'ah Rebbe - RRW
The Yeshiva University - Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Family mourns the passing besavya tova of our Rosh Yeshiva and chaver,

Rabbi Yosef Weiss, ZT"L
אברהם יוסף בן חיים ישעי

Husband of Rebbetzin Miriam Weiss.
Father of Hershel, Chaim Yeshayah, Shamshon, Rivka Taub, Rochel Gottesman, and the late Esther Alster, a”h.
Grandfather and Great-grandfather.
Son-in-law of long-time president of the Breuers KAJ Kehilla in Washington Heights, Dr. Raphael Moller z"l.

Hespedim took place on Monday in the Glueck Beit Midrash in Yeshiva.  Recordings are available here.

Shiva is being observed at the Weiss home in Manhattan:

473 West End Ave (@ 83rd St.)
New York, NY
Tel: 212-873-9497
Tuesday Mincha at 4:10 PM
Wednesday and Thursday Shacharis at 7:15 AM
Minchah 4:20 PM

Born in Hungary in 1920, Rabbi Weiss immigrated to America with his family as a young child. Rabbi Weiss graduated from Yeshiva University High School, Yeshiva College, and received his semicha from RIETS as a student of Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik. He was a world renowned Talmid Hacham and Rosh Yeshiva. He began his teaching career at YU as early as 1938, when he delivered Rav Moshe Soloveichik’s Chazara shiur. Rabbi Weiss was the Perez F. and Frieda Friedberg Chair in Talmud at RIETS. In the mid-1960s, Rav Weiss took the helm of Kehillas Moriah on the Upper West Side and quickly became one of the community’s leading poskim. (Read more here.)

May Hashem comfort the family among all those who mourn for Zion and Yerushalayim.

Friday 18 December 2015

Jews Flee Muslim Attacks in France for Israel

From RRW

"Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, when 6 million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. Jews have been targeted in Belgium, Denmark and other European countries, but France has seen the worst of it. Jews have increasingly reported assaults and intimidation, mostly from Muslim extremists. While some attacks have been linked to anger at Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, most have been of an anti-Semitic nature."

Thursday 17 December 2015

Czar Nicholas II and Anti-Semitism

From RRW
Please see:
Question to ponder:
Had Hitler YS"V never lived would Nicholas II bad been deemed the worst Anti-Semitic ruler of the 20th Century?

Friday 11 December 2015

Why Hanukkah is the perfect festival for religious freedom

From RRW

From The Washington Post
" More than half a century ago, the Oxford philosopher John Plamenatz noted that religious freedom was born in Europe in the 17th century after a devastating series of religious wars. All it took was a single shift, from the belief that “faith is the most important thing; therefore everyone should honor the one true faith,” to the belief that “faith is the most important thing; therefore everyone should be free to honor his or her own faith.”
This meant that people of all faiths were guaranteed that whichever religion was dominant, he or she would still be free to obey their own call of conscience. Plamenatz’s striking conclusion was that “Liberty of conscience was born, not of indifference, not of skepticism, not of mere open-mindedness, but of faith.” The very fact that my religion is important to me allows me to understand that your quite different religion is no less important to you."

Friday 4 December 2015

Huffington Post: We Must Move Beyond Rhetoric To Solve The Refugee Crisis

The Challenge of the Syrian Refugees is a real one. On one hand, there is legitimate concern that within their midst are people with malevolent intent. On the other hand, they are in need and how can we, a people defined by chesed, not respond with caring. The situation presents a real dilemma.

See further on this in my latest Huffington Post blog: We Must Move Beyond Rhetoric To Solve The Refugee Crisis.

My original title for the post, btw, was 'The Syrian Refugees: Are We Finally Beyond the Rhetoric on Both Sides?' but it was changed by the editors.

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht