Thursday 30 March 2017

Parshat Vayikra: Oops! is No Excuse

From RRW
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha -- hope you enjoy
Oops! is No Excuse - OU Torah

Rav Belsky On How to Do Heseibah

From RRW

Megan Phelps-Roper: I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here's why I left

I first want to thank Rabbi Michael Skobac for directing me to this.

This presentation, as one watching it will clearly see, is most informative and enlightening and it is for that reason I have chosen to blog it. Please see

I, though, want to point to one subtle statement which she makes, almost in passing, as it is most significant in relating to the challenge of religious dogmatism which we are facing today. This is doubly important because the argument she is challenging has also seeped into some segments of the Jewish world and this is something we must also confront from within.

Towards the end of her talk, she mentions that as she was questioning her faith in the final months with her family, her mother instructed her that she must be careful to still be humble  The implication was that it was her arrogance that was driving her to question and that if she just accepted, with humility, the fact that she was simply a human being, she would recognize that she is not all-wise and accept the proper morality of her faith and the instruction of her deity. Faith is humble; Questioning and reason reflect arrogance. Is there, though, no greater arrogance than this acceptance of such a faith based solely on a perception that 'I believe' and what I believe MUST be right. Where was her mother's humility? Is it not strange, though, how those who advocate for such dogmatic faith through a call for humility are, perhaps, the most arrogant?

As I have expressed on numerous occasions, questioning of the nature that Megan Phelps-Roper undertook is ultimately a challenge of self. Am I correct in accepting this faith simply because I believe or should I question my perception and the teachings to which I was subjected as I, and they, may be wrong? The greatest arrogance is to say that I am right because I am right. What you see in the mother's challenge to her daughter is how people are so fast to turn it around. The arrogance and lack of humility was actually with the mother -- but she tried to attack her daughter for challenging the deity and thus not being humble. The daughter's attack, though, was not really, objectively, on the deity -- as the deity never really spoke directly to Mrs. Phelps-Roper -- but on what people were saying in the name of the deity. How arrogant to proudly not question whether you're getting this right. What she is really not questioning is her self.


Wednesday 29 March 2017

Sources on Tzedakah

From RRW
Some Sources on Tzedakah from R Gil Student

You might find interesting R. Menachem Kasdan's Yesodei Tzedakah, which I reviewed here:

The son-in-law of the author of Piskei Teshuvos recently published a similar sefer on sections of Yoreh Deah, including the laws of tzedakah. I believe the book is titled Pesakim U-Teshuvos.

R. Chaim Kanievsky's Derech Emunah is a Mishnah Berurah-style commentary on Rambam's Hilchos Matnos Aniyim.

Note from RBH
In presenting any list of material on Tzedakah, we should not forget 
Beyond Tzedakah: Understanding the Torah Expenditure
from Nishma Journal 

Ve-Shinantam Le-Vanekha

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                         Ve-Shinantam Le-Vanekha (Devarim 6:7)  
         As part of the Shema, we recite:  ve-shinantam le-vanekha, ve-dibarta bam. But what exactly does that first word mean? From the context, we would expect something like “teach” or “make known.”
          How does Rashi explain our word? First, he writes that ve-shinantam has the meaning of chidud (sharpness). Then he explains the idiom. The words should be sharp in your mouth, so that if someone asks you something, you should be able to answer him immediately. (In this interpretation, the le of le-vanekha has the meaning of “for the sake of” vanekha.)
         Why does Rashi provide this unusual interpretation? He does so because this interpretation of our verse is expressed in the Talmud at Kiddushin 30a. The interpretation is not recorded in the name of an individual Sage, but as a tanu rabanan, perhaps giving it even more authority. (This interpretation is also found at Sifrei Devarim 34 with a major variant that is probably an error.)
          There are two main aspects to this interpretation. First is the interpretation of the root as Sh-N-N, “sharpen,” and second is the idiom that is implied based on this interpretation. It is true that the root Sh-N-N appears a few times in Tanakh, and it always means something like “sharpen.” (Indeed, it is related to the word shen=tooth.)
          But what about the idiom that the Talmud and Rashi chose? It is a bit of an unusual one. Therefore, when other commentaries explain ve-shinantam, while they do often view the root as Sh-N-N and the meaning as “sharpen,” they often suggest a different idiom. For example, Seforno believes that the meaning is teach them with sharp explanations that explain matters intelligently. Alshikh believes that the meaning is that the words should penetrate the listeners’ hearts like arrows. Rav S.R. Hirsch believes that the meaning is “imprint it in short, sharp, concise sentences.”  A scholarly work, Brown-Driver-Briggs, translates: “teach the words incisively.” This expression may reflect the same idea expressed by Alshikh, or perhaps it refers to providing sharp explanations, as suggested by Seforno. The aspect of penetration can be that the idea effectively penetrates the subject matter, or that it effectively penetrates the listener! 
            Most interesting is Ibn Ezra. He first cites Mishlei 25:18 which refers to a chetz shanun (a sharp arrow). But he adds:  “it is known how an arrow is sharpened.” Most likely, what Ibn Ezra means is that the process of sharpening involves going back and forth over the item. So in effect the instruction of ve-shinantam is an instruction of teaching by repetition. A scholarly work I saw interprets ve-shinantam similarly: “incise, engave (by incessant recitation and explanation).”
            Despite my recording all the above suggestions, the purpose of this column is to see if there are other approaches that avoid the “Sh-N-N=sharpen” interpretation entirely. Indeed, some of our traditional sources did not follow the “sharpen” interpretation. For example: 1) Targum Onkelos translated: u-tetaninun (=and you shall teach/repeat them), 2) Targum Yerushalmi translated: tigmerinun (=and you shall teach them), and 3) Radak (Sefer Ha-Shorashim, entry Sh-N-N) interpreted ve-shinantam as: ha-dibbur ha-temidi. (See also Sifrei Devarim 34, davar acher, and R. Saadiah Gaon to Devarim 6:7.)                                                              
         There are two approaches that scholars today take to avoid the “Sh-N-N=sharpen” interpretation.
         The first approach is based on a finding in Ugaritic, which is another Semitic language. This language first came to light in the early 20th century, based on archaeological finds in Syria. It was discovered that Ugaritic has a verb T-N-N, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew Sh-N-N, and that the Ugaritic T-N-N can have the meaning “repeat.” So perhaps “repeat” can be the meaning of our Sh-N-N at Deut. 6:7.
           The second approach is suggested by S.D. Luzzatto, a 19th century Italian Bible scholar. He believes that the word ve-shinantam ultimately derives from the word shenayim (=two), but that the doubling of the nun in ve-shinantam implies a third repetition and, in effect multiple repetitions until the matter is familiar. There are also modern scholars that agree with such an approach. See, e.g., The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, entry Sh-N-N, p. 344.
           Luzzatto was able to bring some evidence for his approach from a Talmudic statement at Kiddushin 30a: al tikri ve-shinantam ela ve-shilashtam. This statement effectively interprets ve-shinantam as if it said ve-shilashtam. As Rashi explains there, if verse 6:7 meant to instruct to do something exactly twice, the word used would have been ve-shinitem (=only one nun), and not ve-shinantam.
           To summarize, I have offered three different approaches to ve-shinantam. One approach views the root as Sh-N-N with a meaning of “sharpen,” and offers various ways to understand the idiom. A second approach views the root as Sh-N-N, and believes that this root can mean “repeat.” A third approach views Sh-N-N as implying “continuous repetition and familiarity.”
            All agree that there is a different root Sh-N-H, which meant “repeat” in Biblical Hebrew. (In post-Biblical Hebrew, it developed into “learned” and “taught,” since all this was done through repetition.)
           Finally, I have to mention that it is possible that the root “Sh-N-N=sharpen” derives from the root “Sh-N-H=repeat.” As alluded to by Ibn Ezra above, there is a close relationship between the two verbs, as sharpening is produced by way of repetitive actions.
           Postscript:  At Devarim 28:37, the Torah uses the word sheninah. Rashi writes the following there: leshon ve-shinantam, yedabru bekha.  In interpreting this word sheninah, Rashi seems to be telling us that it has the same meaning as the ve-shinantam of Devarim 6:7 and that it means “speak about you.” He does the same thing in his comments on sheninah at I Kings 9:7. But there is no mention of chidud in either of these two comments. So what happened to Rashi’s chidud/sharpness interpretation? He certainly did not forget that he offered this interpretation at Devarim 6:7!
        Of course, it is possible that Rashi changed his mind and no longer believed in his chidud interpretation. (See, e.g., his comments quoted in Rashbam’s commentary to Gen. 37:2. Here Rashi admits that if he had time, he would revise his commentaries, due to the new understandings that arise every day.) But we would like to assume that Rashi did not change his mind between the time he composed his commentary to the 6th chapter of Devarim and the time he composed his commentary to its 28th chapter. (Another example of an inconsistency between two different comments of Rashi is found in Rashi’s interpretation of the root lamed-heh-tet. He gives a certain interpretation of lahat at Gen. 3:24. Then, at Exodus 7:11, he gives a different interpretation of the lahat of Gen. 3:24.)
       I have discussed this with many others. Based on these discussions, my conclusion is that we just have to admit that Rashi gives himself some freedom to express different word interpretations in different places. He likely had an underlying reason to choose each interpretation in its place. We are just going to have to live with this.
Mitchell First is an attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at
His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy
(Kodesh Press, 2015) His children consider him to be very sharp. But his wife instructs that things must often be repeated to him.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Online library sets Talmud 'free' with full, no-charge translations

From RRW

Petition · Keep the Israeli Embassy in New Zealand

From RRW

In Memory of: Dr Louis Feldman Z'l

From RRW
Guest Blogger
Rabbi Daniel Yolkut
For those who has not heard, Dr Louis Feldman, professor of classics at Yeshiva College for half a century, was niftar over the weekend.
Dr Feldman was a scholar, a mentch, an ענו and a ירא שמים, and while I was zoche to study with him in the 90s, I felt a connection to his many distinguished students starting in the 50s. The five courses I took with him were among the finest educational experiences of my life. 
יהא זכרו ברוך

Comment from RRW 
Dr. Feldman was from the South End of Hartford and was a "lantzman"‎ in a sense to me

He was a regular speaker at the Men's Club Breakfasts in my former Congregation Ohav Sholaum in Upper Manhattan.   He was a brilliant speaker on Classics, Jospehus, and History. He will be missed.

Monday 27 March 2017

​Insects: What, and How to Check | Revivim

From RRW​insects-what-and-how-to-check/

Jews and Native Americans: 7 Fascinating Facts

From RRW

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld on Mistaking Liberalism For Religion

From RRW

An article from New York Jewish Life 1:3, March 22-28, 2017 NYJLIFE.COM

The Danger to Judaism When Liberalism Is Mistaken for Religion

Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld

The contentious political climate in which we find ourselves today places a majority of Jews in some combination of liberal / leftist / Democratic spheres. Combined, they represent nearly three quarters of American Jews. The enthusiastic participation of so many of these leftist Jews in causes of very questionable interest to the future of Jews in America is something I find gravely disturbing.
Surely I have mercy (rachmunis) for innocent Syrian refugees, the victims of mass chaos in the Middle East resulting from the gross foreign policy mismanagement of the Obama years. The former President’s false “red lines” have resulted in the mass migration to the West of a population apart from western values, history, and institutions. Through proper vetting, individual refugees merit the historical promise of America, but not the fomentation of the type of ethnic imbalance we’ve seen in most European nations. Do liberal Jews ask why it is in the Jewish interest to invite large numbers of people to the US who intrinsically despise them, and Israel?
My parents, and my wife’s parents, all survived the Holocaust. For them, and for those like them, “welcome the stranger” in scripture referred to those eager to integrate into their new homes, or at least not undermine it.
But now I see things getting confused, and inappropriately linked. I see a Jewish majority proudly marching, working, and making coalitions with spurious partners—assisting the Black Lives Matter movement, cooperating with jihadists like Linda
Sarsour (a virulent anti-Semite who would deny Jews their self-determination), and supporting participants in the BDS movement—in short, a potpourri of anti-
Semites. Where is the simple instinct of dignity to at least demand reciprocity for Jewish goals in exchange for Jewish support? It’s not quid-pro-quo, it’s basic
coalition maintenance. It’s not extortion, it’s decency.
In the name of “social justice,” those very Jews whose descendants are increasingly unlikely to be Jewish fight government tax incentives which would benefit Jewish education, while also being pro-choice advocates, and in the forefront of opposition to public charter schools. I am certainly pro-choice, but, for example, how twisted is it that liberal Jews march with Islamists alongside Planned Parenthood when those Islamists have no tolerance for Zionism?
And now Linda Sarsour, the Brooklyn organizer with an increasingly national profile, insists that one cannot be a feminist if also a Zionist. Her Stalinist insistence on litmus tests for ideological purity has liberal Jewish feminists - likely a redundant term, as
there are probably no liberal Jews who aren’t feminists - twisting themselves in academic knots rather than simply being outraged.
There are many more “symptoms” of this wretched Jewish world view, but I am more interested in attempting to describe the cause: Jews who came to America over a century ago were infused with a Bundist, leftist ideology. As Jews had been so persecuted throughout Europe, some believed that communism would be their savior. These Jews
became a mainstay of the Democratic Party and the left. The American descendants of Jews who remained in Europe through the Holocaust, and those who lived under the communists of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, become more Republican.
The strange alliance between lefty Jews and Islamists—including such luminaries as Bernie Sanders, George Soros, the notorious Blumenthals, Jill Stein, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and many other self-haters, is unfathomable to other faiths and communities. You can imagine outsiders thinking to themselves “who does this to themselves?” Jewish liberalism and leftism may have made sense in the era before labor unions, social security and other components of the basic social safety net. In fact, Jewish liberalism can be responsibly described as the booster rocket that propelled those vital social services into being. But today, the inheritors of that activist legacy are the backbone of the BDS movement and other causes inimical to Jewish survival. What’s
Jews in the reform, conservative and orthodox movements used to be mostly in sync on core Jewish survival issues. However, as the conservative and reform movements began to see largely empty pews on Sabbath, their leaders concocted an expanded concept of “tikkun olam,” without the self-respect of insisting on reciprocity. Instead, “tikkun olam,” as opposed to the direct and simple injunction of God’s sovereignty in daily prayers, has morphed to Palestinian rights, Black Lives Matter, and “intersectional” partnering with deeply questionable causes. Legitimate social movements, even very discomforting ones, have become intertwined with violence against police officers, and now bizarrely under the umbrella of Jewish liberalism.
I am not some perfectly-practicing orthodox Jew, but the fact is that the conservative and reform movements are disappearing, with their leaders having created an alternative religion through what the late Professor Stephen Plaut of Haifa University dubbed
the “tikkun olam fetish.” We NEED the conservative and reform movements’ members—we need them to be more Jewish-focused—but the movements suffer
from a self-destructive “replacement theology.” As Jews, we end up advocating for our enemies, and expecting no reciprocity, nor receiving it. I call it “tikkun olam for thee, but not for me.”
What other racial / ethnic / religious / national group would foolishly do for others while receiving betrayal in return? For our critical role in the Civil Rights movement, because it was right thing to do (not because of the tikkun olam fetish), we now merit Black Lives Matter partnering with our enemies?
Aside from some prosperous demographic zones such as Great Neck, Roslyn, Dix Hills, and White Plains, how many conservative and reform synagogues remain in the NYC communities where so many of us live or are from? Again, this is NOT to denigrate the
conservative or reform movements, a person’s level of observance is their own business, but to make clear that people should go to synagogue for authenticity, not politics that undermine.
As Mort Himmelfarb opined, “Jews like to live like Episcopalians, but they vote like Puerto Ricans.” Norman Podhoretz (not orthodox either) was more pointed, noting, “The problem with reform and conservative Judaism is that it’s become too much like the Democratic Party with a few holidays thrown in. It’s kind of like the Democratic Party at prayer.” If there are a majority of American Jews who wish to proclaim their liberalism or leftism, that’s their business – just don’t falsely attribute their philosophy and actions to scripture. Our scripture DOES remind us, “your enemies shall emerge from within you.”
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, is a wealth manager and former senior aide to Governor George E. Pataki, Senator Al D’Amato, Mayor Ed Koch, Congressman Tom Manton and Borough President Claire Shulman. He sits on the board of several national Jewish organizations

Sunday 26 March 2017

Kos Eliyahu: Insights on the Haggadah and Pesach

From RRW

Kos Eliyahu: Insights on the Haggadah and Pesach by
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
...containing over 30 essays, dealing with all facets and themes in the Passover Haggadah and the major Passover ideas and ideals. "Based on sources both old and new, Kos Eliyahu is well suited for scholar and layman alike, and is a treasure of ideas, interpretations and approaches to the many and varied Passover themes. Your Passover will be the richer via this superb volume."
order from - $15 per copy includes S/H

Is Yom Kippur More Festive; Rosch haSchanah More Awesome?

From RRW

Anti-Semitic post uploaded to social media every 83 seconds

From RRW

Friday 24 March 2017

The Multiple Meanings of the Word Shanah

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                  The Multiple Meanings of the Word Shanah
             The root shin-nun-heh has two meanings in Tanakh. On the one hand, it means “to repeat.” (Of course, the word sheni, second, comes from this meaning.) On the other hand, it means “to change.”  A fundamental question is whether these seemingly opposite meanings, “repeat” and “change,” originated from the same sh-n-h root. A further related question is the origin of the word shanah=year.
             Let us answer the second question first. I have seen sources that relate shanah=year to the “change” meaning. For example, Ernest Klein, in his A Comprehensive Etyomological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, believes that the year was called shanah because it was a “period of changing seasons.” But an alternative view, which I prefer, is that the year was called shanah because it is fundamentally based on a concept of repetition. Many scholars accept this view. Among traditional Jewish sources, we can find something like this in Radak (Sefer Ha-Shorasim), Rav S.R. Hirsch (comm. to Exodus 12:2), and S.D. Luzzatto (comm. to Gen. 41:1).
            I also saw a source that believed that the year was called shanah because of both the “repeat” and the “change” aspects. It cleverly defined the year as: “the repeating cycle of seasonal change.”  I also saw some sources that took the position that shanah=year was a primary noun and did not derive from either the “repeat” or “change” aspects.
            Let us now return to our fundamental question. Could sh-n-h=repeat and sh-n-h=change have come from the same source? In his concordance, S. Mandelkern attempts to unify them by pointing out that every time something is repeated, there is always a slight change. I was told, for example, that when the earth rotates around the sun, the exact position that the earth travels in its rotation is not the same as the position it traveled the year before.
              Also, we all know that when you used to make a copy of a piece of paper, the copy did not look exactly the same as the original. (This was before today’s superb technology!) There was once a movie based on this principle. The movie was Multiplicity, starring Michael Keaton. It was about a father who realized that the multiple demands on his time were getting too hard for him. He befriended a scientist and they came up with the idea of making two copies of himself by cloning. This way, he could be in multiple places at once (e.g., job and family)! But the premise of the movie was that when you make a copy of something, there is always a slight change. So the movie had one of the clones come out with a more masculine personality than regular Michael, and the other come out with a more feminine personality, creating all kinds of difficulties for everyone! (The two clones also made a copy of Michael from the first clone. The personality of this new clone was really off, because this was a copy made from a copy!)
              Ok, so should we conclude that the principle set forth by Solomon Mandelkern and reflected in the Michael Keaton movie, namely, that every repetition results in a change, is grounds to conclude that sh-n-h=repeat and sh-n-h=change have a common origin?
               My intuition tells me that the above principle is not a true explanation of a common origin. However, there is another way of looking at the matter. Every time you change something, you are still doing a repetition.  You are just repeating the activity with a change. This sounds like a better explanation for a common origin.
              It has also been observed that usually the “change” meaning of sh-n-h is in expressed in the piel stem, while the “repeat” meaning is expressed in the kal stem. So perhaps the basic meaning of the root was “repeat,” and the piel stem is just modifiying the basic meaning and giving it a different spin.
                I have looked at several etymology books to see if they believe that sh-n-h=repeat and sh-n-h= change had a common origin. (These books look at all the Semitic languages when they make their decision, as it is often not enough to look at Hebrew.) Most view the two verbs as not having a common origin. But a widely respected source, The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, concludes that “we must reckon with the possibility that the close relationship between the two meanings suggests that one could have developed from the other.” So the matter still remains unresolved.
                 I also saw the point made that in Aramaic, shanah=repeat is tanna, while shanah=change is shana. If the roots had a common early origin, it is argued, they would not have gone in separate directions as they did here.
                 It is important to mention that the “repeat” meaning of shanah later developed, in post-Biblical Hebrew, into the meaning “study” and “teach,” since the fundamental method of studying and teaching was repetition.                                                                      
                 Let us now address a different noun: shenah=sleep. Is this related? This seems to come from a different verb y-sh-n. But I have seen a claim made that it is related to sh-n-h=repeat, since sleep is fundamentally an event that is repeated every night!
                Finally, let us address the word in modern Hebrew for a small unit of time: shniah. This word is based on the English word “second.” But why do we use this word in English? The answer (based on Latin) is that the second is meant as the second small part of the hour, in contrast to the first small part of the hour, the minute.
Mitchell First is an attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (Kodesh Press, 2015). He can be reached at Although he repeats this little bio at the end of every column, he always tries to change it a bit.