Sunday 28 May 2017

"Today in Jewish History‎ Sivan 3"

From RRW
Yahrtzeit of David "Mickey" Marcus (1902-1948), an American Jew who volunteered to fight for the Israeli army in the 1948 War of Independence. Marcus was a tough Brooklyn street kid who attended West Point and then law school. In World War II, Marcus rose to the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army, where he helped draw up surrender terms for Italy and Germany. While serving in the occupation government in Berlin, he was responsible for clearing out the Nazi death camps, and then as chief of the War Crimes Division, where he helped arrange the Nuremberg trials. Seeing the Jewish suffering first-hand, Marcus became a committed Zionist, and in 1947 he volunteered to help secure the Jewish settlements which were under attack from hostile Arabs. Marcus designed a command structure for Israel's new army and wrote manuals to train it. His most famous achievement was ordering the construction of the "Burma Road," a winding mountainous path which allowed Jewish convoys to reach Jerusalem and relieve the Arab siege. Tragically, on the day that the war's cease-fire took effect, Marcus was mistakenly shot by a Jewish guard. His story became the subject of a movie, Cast a Giant Shadow, starring Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner.

CBN film, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem.”

From RRW

Guest Reviewer:
Rav Dov Fischer
We had quite a large group from our shul attend the Tuesday Night special “Yom Yerushalayim” screening of the CBN film, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem.”  The film was screened here at a local AMC multiplex at a major local outdoor shopping mall, as it was in hundreds of major theaters throughout the United States on Tuesday night, all at 7-9 pm on a one-time basis, coordinated for the 50th Anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification.

I write to share that it was a wonderful experience, and the feedback has been universally positive.  Very educational, occasionally quite moving, really a wonderful way for people to grasp what Yom Yerushalayim is, how it happened in the backdrop of 1967, and a pretty good mix of historic film footage with dramatic reenactment.  The film focuses on the 55thParatroop Brigade, which liberated the Old City and Har HaBayit.  A really powerful opening scene revisits HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt"l speaking a month earlier at Merkaz HaRav.  Major historic figures revisited include Mota Gur, Moshe Dayan, Levi Eshkol, Yitzhak Rabin, and HaRav Goren zt”l.

At the end of the two-hour movie, Gordon Robertson, the film’s producer, spoke on film as an epilogue for about ten or fifteen minutes, highlighting a series of p’sukimfrom Tanakh that were germane and, given the occasion, deeply moving and riveting for the balabatim.  (All the kinds of p’sukim that we instantly would suggest and instantly could recite by heart in Hebrew, but that nonetheless were quite riveting for the moment, having just experienced the film experience.) The Pat Robertson Christian Broadcasting Network is humongously supportive of Israel, and strongly supports American recognition of a Jewish-unified Jerusalem with America’s embassy moved to the capital, in the way that Chrsitians of that world-view all hold (cf. Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, etc.) — even more passionately, alas!, than do some of our MOTs.

FYI — I that, amid those Tanakh p’sukim, he also cited two verses from his Bible.  For a split moment, feeling the onus as the rav of a shul who had brought some 50 people for the Judaic religious experience, perceiving thatbalabatim were looking to me for whether we should stay or leave if the thing was going to become Christological, I started inching towards leaving.  But I paused a few more moments, and thankfully I can apprise you all that he stops citing his Bible after only those two verses that were cited not to proselytize but to universalize the Chrsitian position that G-d promised the Land of Israel to the Jews, the Jewish prophets forecast that the Jews would return to Zion, and now the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, and we Americans — “Gentiles,” as he called himself — have to get with the program if we American Gentiles ourselves want G-d’s blessings (per Breishit 12:3).  After the verses and that powerful pro-Israel, Pro-Jerusalem message, his epilogue added its own postscript to include film footage of last December’s vile Security Council vote haplessly denying the Jewish right to Jerusalem.  The audience saw “all in favor” garnering 14 votes.  And then the call for “All Against” met with stone silence and indifference, as the American representative kept her hand down at the instruction of her bosses, the former President and his former Secretary of State.  And then “All Abstaining” — she raised her hand.  The chair then announced that the measure had passed 14 to nothing, with one abstention, and the Security Council room erupted into wild cheering and applause.

The power of the movie, juxtaposed with the power of that scene, and the power of Gordon Robertson’s final closing words that American Chrsitians stand with Israelfor a United Jewish Jerusalem just made the evening as powerful at the end as at the beginning.

I recommend the film for shul groups.

(Just alert them in advance that there will be two verses at the end during the epilogue, a brief blip, so that they need not squirm in their chairs anticipating that more such verses or proselytizing will follow.)

Dov Fischer
Young Israel of Orange County, CA

Friday 26 May 2017

Justinian's Interference with the Synagogue Service in the 6th century

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

A Decree by the Roman Emperor Justinian
Interfering with the Synagogue Service
          Last week, my column dealt with the recital of the Shema in the Musaf Kedushah. I wrote that various sources from the Geonic period had suggested that there was a decree by the government forbidding the recital of the Shema and that this led to the insertion of the Shema into the Musaf Kedusuah.  Like most modern scholars, I concluded that there was no such earlier persecution and that the recital of the Shema in Musaf Kedushah could be explained in a simpler manner. The author of the Musaf Kedushah believed that the role of the angels is to recite kadosh, kadosh, kadosh daily and that our role as humans is to recite the Shema daily. Thus, kadosh, kadosh, kadosh and Shema can be viewed as parallel prayers. This idea is expressed in the Talmud at Hullin 91b and elsewhere in midrashic literature.                                                    
           This week I will discuss a situation where there is reliable documentation of an ancient governmental decree affecting the synagogue service. A book by Amnon Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation (1987), collects laws enacted by the second through sixth century Roman rulers relating to the Jews. The book includes an interesting law passed by Justinian in the year 553. The background is that there was a dispute among the Jews in a certain area in the Roman empire as to what language should be used in reading or translating the Torah in the synagogue and they asked the Roman government to get involved and decide the issue. The decree of Justinian records:
            “ We have learned from their petitions, which they have addressed to us, that while some maintain the Hebrew language only and want to use it in reading the Holy Books, others consider it right to admit Greek as well, and they have already been quarreling among themselves about this for a long time. Having studied this matter we decided that the better case is that of those who want to use also Greek in reading the Holy Books, and generally in any language that is the more suited and the better known to the hearers in such locality.” The decree continues that when a Greek translation is used, it must be the Septuagint version, because it is more accurate than all the others. Also, the Septuagint is preferable because of the miracle that was described in the Letter of Aristeas: the translators translated separately, but nevertheless came out with the same version. The decree then reluctantly grants additional permission to use the Greek translation of Aquilas, even though it “differs not a little from the Septuagint.”
                But then the decree continues: “What they call deuterosis [= Mishnah], on the other hand, we prohibit entirely…It is an invention of men in their chatter, exclusively of earthly origin and having in it nothing of the divine.” 
               Scholars have been puzzled by this decree prohibiting the deuterosis. Most are in agreement that “deuterosis” is a reference to the Mishnah. But what is a decree forbidding the Mishnah doing in a decree whose context is the synagogue service?  Moreover, the decree seems to prohibit the Mishnah in all contexts, not just the context of the synagogue.
                 One scholar thinks that word deuterosis, in this particular case, includes all the oral law, including Talmud and Midrash. The interpretations of the Bible used in the synagogue drew on the entire resources of rabbinic thought, and perhaps the intent was to prohibit these types of interpretations in the synagogue.  Another scholar thinks that this particular decree reflected an effort by Justinian to close down all the Jewish batei midrashot. It just happened to get recorded in a decree that was mainly about the synagogue service.
                     The interpretation that I found most reasonable was one expressed by Albert I. Baumgarten in his article “Justinian and the Jews,” pp. 37-44, in the Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Memorial Volume (1980). Baumgarten believes that Justinian, a Christian, enacted this law because the Mishnah represented the Jewish claim to have the truer understanding of the Bible. Justinian was here making a symbolic statement against the Mishnah and the Jewish interpretation of the Bible, even though he knew that his prohibition could not be enforced.  The general context of the decree was an attempt to control Biblical interpretation and limit interpretations to acceptable ones. To Justinian, the Mishnah represented unacceptable Jewish Biblical interpretation.
                    As a postscript, it is interesting how this whole scenario developed. The Jews asked the Romans to intervene in a synagogue dispute about a narrow issue. Then the Romans exploited the opportunity and issued a broad prohibition on the study of the entire Mishnah!                                                                                  

Mitchell First is an attorney and Jewish history scholar. When he reads the Torah in Greek translation, he does not use the Septuagint or the translation of Aquilas. Rather, he prefers the Greek translations of Symmachus and Theodotion. (Hopefully, at least one person out there will find this humorous!) He can be reached at

Sunday 21 May 2017

The Kushners and Flying on Shabbat

From RRW

Without going into naming names...

Here are the issues as I see it.

It is assur to travel on Shabbos on a Jet plane etc.

An exception can be made for extraordinary or extenuating circumstances

This exemption requires a she'eilas hochom.  Usually one's "poseik"

That poseik - or his "successor" - decides what course of action to take.

What if that poseik is WAY too meikel? I'm not sure what to say. I've refused to use many kullos offered me or to my family, v'ain kan m'komo.


I'm wondering out loud‎: 

‎Assuming no d'oraisso was transgressed,  if "muttav shyihyu shog'gim" might apply. It seems to NOT apply with m'lochos d'oraisso. But what about g'zeiros d'rabbonon?  What are the parameters. EG does it apply to Amira l'akku"m?


My havrussa related an email he got from someone who used to serve in government - who felt that this was NOT a valid heter and that a kiddush Hashem would have been made had they left  a day early.

My havurrsa is a lawyer. I asked him: "do you know the facts of this case?" he replied: "no." the discussion ended there.


What we can do:

We can say to the public that -regardless of whether their actions were acceptable or not - that any POTENTIAL heter would require a special exemption by a qualified posek.

If we make that clear, we can do "damage control". This case can then be used to emphasize how it may be done within Halachah.

IMO, the most positive aspect of this ma'aseh is to make this into a "teaching opportunity".


I recall many years ago when the Satmar community conducted a levaya on the first Day of Shavuos on a Friday. R Mordechai‎ Schnaidman, then of Mt. Sinai in Wash Heights, gave a shiur explaining RMF's sheetah in Igros Mosheh  re: levayos on the 2nd day of Y"T.   

Despite RMF's p'sak, some communities do continue to conduct levayos on the 2nd day of Y"T middina d'gmoro.

The BDS movement: Idealism or anti-Semitism?

From RRW

Wednesday 17 May 2017

How did Shema get into the Musaf Kedushah?

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                 The Origin of the Recital of Shema in the Musaf Kedushah

         I grew up using the Birnbaum Siddur. For years I stared at a line in its commentary about a prohibition of the recital of the Shema in the fifth century and an explanation of how Shema ended up  in the Musaf Kedushah: “In the fifth century…special governmental officials were posted in the synagogues to prevent the congregational proclamation of [Shema]. Towards the end of the service, when the spies had left, the Shema was [added] in an abridged form…”   Something similar is repeated in the ArtScroll Siddur, pp. 28 and 465. I always wondered about the historicity of this 5th century story. (Especially the detail of the spies leaving early. Wouldn’t they have wanted to  stay for the kiddush?) Eventually, I decided to research this topic.
        A story about the fifth century Persian king Yezdegerd prohibiting the Shema is found in the Shibbolei Ha-Leket, writing in 13th century Italy. But let us look at an earlier version of this story, that of R. Sar Shalom Gaon (9th century Babylonia, quoted in Seder Amram Gaon). Here we find that there is a statement that Shema ended up being added by rabbinic enactment to the Musaf Kedushah to commemorate an earlier period of prohibition of the recital of Shema in Shacharit, but there is no mention of who ordered this prohibition. (Nor is there any mention of spies leaving early!)
        Eventually, I realized how the anonymous prohibition of the Shema referred to by R. Sar Shalom Gaon later got attributed to Yezdegerd. In the Letter of R. Sherira Gaon (987 CE), there is a reference to Yezdegerd issuing a decree prohibiting the observance of the Shabbat in the year 455.  At some point later, either the Shibbolei Ha-Leket or some source prior to him, decided to combine the two separate prohibition traditions and assign the anonymous Shema prohibition to Yezdegerd as well.
          Once we realize that there is no ancient tradition that the 5th century king Yezdegerd issued a prohibition against the Shema, we can look anew at the question of why we are reciting Shema in the Musaf Kedushah. Let us review. There is a concept of a Kedushah prayer. In its basic form, a verse from Isaiah chapter 6 (kadosh, kadosh…) and a verse from Yechezkel chapter 3 (baruch kevod…) are recited parallel to one another. The two verses have something fundamental in common. Both are phrases about God’s glory that are recited by celestial beings.
             The Kedushah prayer that we recite in the daily and Sabbath repetitions of the Amidah, at both shacharit and minchah, adds a theme based on a third verse, yimlokh Hashem le-olam. This verse comes from Psalm 146, and is not integrally related to the other two verses. The Shabbat Musaf Kedushah, the one that concerns us, has a Shema section added, before the Psalm 146 section.
              Now let us look at our earliest sources about the recital of Shema in Musaf Kedusuah. R. Sar Shalom Gaon, in 9th century Babylonia, explained that Shema was added to the Musaf Kedushah to remind us of an earlier period of prohibition of the Shema in shacharit, but he did not identify who issued the prohibition. Another 9th century Babylonian source, Pirkoi ben Baboi, took the position that the recital of Shema in Kedushah was an unjustifiable Palestinian custom that originated at a time of persecution by “malkhut Edom” in Palestine. Pirkoi is vague about the time of this persecution. All he states is that it occurred during some period of “Edomite” [=Roman] rule in Palestine. This could be any time in the several hundred years prior to the Arab conquest of Palestine in the early 7th century C.E.
           Most scholars today do not take these “persecution” explanations seriously, as neither of these sources is claiming to be an eyewitness to a persecution. Nor do these sources date the supposed persecution with any specificity. Moreover, with regard to Pirkoi, this is viewed as a polemical Babylonian Jewish source that is overly critical of Palestinian traditions.
       How do scholars today explain the presence of Shema in Musaf Kedusha? The scholar Meir Bar-Ilan (Daat, vol. 25) views the Kedushah as having evolved over time, yielding different versions of Kedushah. The Musaf Kedushah with the Shema verse just reflects a version that added a verse with a theme of kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim. In a similar manner, the verse from Psalm 146, with its own separate theme, was added to the original two verses. In Bar-Ilan’s view, the Musaf Kedushah with multiple verses is just a collection of verses with disparate themes (something like ”The Bible’s Greatest Hits”!)
      Other scholars note that a Kedushah with Kadosh, Baruch Kevod, and Shema looks like a repetition of the earlier part of the service: the kedushat yotzer and the Shema. The suggestion is then made that the Musaf Kedushah with its Shema section originated as a brief repetition of the earlier part of the service for the benefit of latecomers.
       But the most likely explanation for the Shema passage in the Musaf Kedushah is an entirely different one. The author of the Musaf Kedushah was expressing a parallel between the role of Israel in this world and the role of the angels in heaven. Both are essentially engaged in the same activity, sanctifying and coronating God. But in the view of the author of the Musaf Kedushah, the angels fulfill their role daily by reciting kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, while Israel fulfills its role daily by reciting the Shema. Such an idea is expressed at Hullin 91b and elsewhere. (The shirah of Israel referred to at Hullin 91b is most likely the Shema.) This is all discussed extensively by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin, in his “Kedushah, Shema, and the Difference Between Israel and the Angels,”akirah, vol. 16, citing earlier scholars such as Ezra Fleischer and Israel Ta-Shema. See, for example, Ta-Shema, Ha-Tefillah Ha-Ashkenazit Ha-Kedumah, pp. 112-114.
       Our focusing for hundreds of years on an imaginary persecution caused us to lose sight of the idea that was being expressed!   (The ArtScroll Siddur does briefly suggest this explanation as well: “Israel joins the angels by proclaiming Shema Yisrael, our own declaration of God’s greatness,” p. 464.)
       Note also that the ArtScroll Siddur states that the Musaf Kedushah is derived from Pirkei De-R. Eliezer. But the truth is that the Musaf Kedushah likely preceded the material in Pirkei De-R. Eliezer by several centuries. Pirkei De-R. Eliezer is merely following the format of the Musaf Kedushah.
       Finally, on the subject of interference by the government with our synagogue service, sometimes we do have reliable documentation of this occurring in ancient times. In a future article, I will discuss a law decreed by the Roman ruler Justinian in the year 553 which interfered with the synagogue service.
Mitchell First is a personal injury 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 He would never leave shul early before Musaf Kedushah and miss the kiddush.

Friday 12 May 2017

From Time Immemorial – The Everlasting Jewish Tie to the Land of Israel

From RRW

Insights into the History of the Haftarah

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                            Insights into the History of the Haftarah

     1.  Although there are many theories, no one knows when and why the practice of the Haftarah was instituted.
          The ArtScroll Siddur includes the following statement:  “The practice of reading from the Prophets …was introduced during the reign of the infamous Syrian-Greek king Antiochus…[who] forbade the public reading of the Torah.”  But this statement is very misleading. The idea that the Haftarah started during a period of prohibition of the Torah reading is merely a suggestion first made by the Abudarham in the 14th century.  Most people who think seriously about this suggestion have trouble accepting the idea that the persecutors would have made a distinction between a reading from the Torah and a reading from the Prophets. The ArtScroll Siddur should have presented the “origin in the period of Antiochus” idea as a mere theory.  A much fairer presentation is made in the Hertz Chumash, p. 20: “We possess no historical data concerning the institution of these Lessons.” The Hertz Chumash then presents the “origin in the period of Antiochus” explanation as merely a statement by a “medieval author on the Liturgy.” (The period of Antiochus’ persecution was 167-164 B.C.E.)
     2. With regard to the earliest references to the practice of reading a Haftarah, the practice is mentioned several times in the fourth chapter of Mishnah Megillah. But we  cannot tell from these mishnayot whether the practice existed already before the churban in 70 C.E. (See also the story at Megillah 25a involving a Haftarah read in front of R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. This story could perhaps have occurred before the churban, but it cannot be precisely dated. R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was an early Tanna who was a teacher of R. Akiva.)
    Fortunately, the New Testament helps us with regard to dating the Haftarah practice. Acts 13:15 states that “after the reading of the law and the prophets” on the Sabbath, Paul was invited to deliver an exhortation. (See similarly Acts 13:27.) Paul died a few years before the churban in 70 C.E.
      A few decades earlier than this, Jesus is mentioned as reading (at least) two verses from Isaiah out loud in synagogue. See Luke 4:17. This also seems to be a reference to a Haftarah reading in its earliest form.
     3. The earliest reference in rabbinic literature to specific Haftarah selections is at Tosefta Megillah, 3rd chapter. Here, the Haftarot for the four special Sabbaths are given (shekalim, zachor, parah, and ha-chodesh). Also, a baraita at Megillah 31a gives the Haftarot for Hanukkah and for all the festivals, and for other special occasions. All of this does not mean that the practice of holiday Haftarot preceded the practice of Haftarot on a regular Shabbat. Rather, it only means that the idea of a fixed reading for the holiday Haftarot preceded the idea of a fixed reading for the Haftarot on a regular Shabbat.
      Nowhere in the Talmud are the Haftarot given for ordinary Sabbaths. Very likely, there was no fixed Haftarah for each ordinary Sabbath parshah in Talmudic times. A fixed Haftarah for each ordinary Sabbath parshah was a later development and, as we all know, has only been partially accomplished. Variations in custom still exist between Ashkenazim and Sefardim, and within each of these communities.
      It is well-documented that in the Amoraic and Geonic periods in Israel, the widespread practice was to read the Torah on a cycle that took approximately 3 ½ years (loosely referred to as the ”triennial cycle”). Accordingly, in Israel they had over 150 different Torah reading sections. As a consequence, many more Haftarot were in use in Israel in those periods than are in use today. From documents discovered in the Cairo Genizah, we can now reconstruct the Haftarot that they were using on this triennial cycle.
         An interesting fact is that the Haftarah that we read today on Shabbat Ha-Gadol, “ve-arvah…minchat yehudah,” started out as the Haftarah on the triennial cycle for a section of parshat Tzav (6:12) that had to do with a minchah offering! When the triennial cycle began to fall out of use in the period of the later Geonim and early Rishonim, ve-arvah nevertheless managed to survive as a Haftarah because it evolved into becoming a Haftarah for Shabbat Ha-Gadol. (As evolutionists will tell you, adaptation is the key to survival!)
 4. Now I would like to engage in some speculation as to the origin of the practice of reading a Haftarah.
    One possibility is that the Haftarah reading was originally enacted to exhort us to improve our conduct. The Neviim were perhaps a better fit for this than the Ketuvim. Another possibility is that the goal of the enactment was simply to increase our study of Nach. But since it was also felt that the readings should match the parshah, the readings were limited to the Neviim; there were more opportunities for such matchings in the Neviim. An alternative idea is that the primary goal of an enactment to read the Prophets was to provide honor to the deceased individual prophets.
       Another theory is that the Haftarah was instituted after some act of persecution or other disaster in which Torah scrolls were destroyed or ruined. It was forbidden to read the Torah portion from any but a ritually fit parchment scroll, but there was no such requirement about a reading from the Nach.  The temporary substituted practice then remained. (Again, perhaps the Neviim were chosen, rather than the Ketuvim, due to the better matches to the Torah portion.)   All of these theories have been suggested, and many more. For a collection of many of these theories, see the article by S. Weingarten in Sinai 83, 1978.
      I think that a different theory that has been suggested is the likeliest one. Today, we have a formal reading of a relatively large section with a special Haftarah blessing. But this was probably not how the practice started. Rather, it probably stated with a short derashah after the Torah reading, where a few verses from the Neviim were read and discussed, in an effort to elucidate the parshah. (As suggested earlier, the Ketuvim do not match the parshah in the same way that the Neviim do.) Then, over time, the practice slowly evolved into a formal reading of a larger section, with an introductory blessing.
     5. As to the meaning of the words “Haftarah” and its synonym “Maftir,” most likely they mean something like “conclusion/end.” (This is similar to its meaning in the famous passage: “ve-ein maftirin achar ha-pesach afikoman.”) Theoretically, the reference could be to the conclusion of shacharit, the conclusion of the reading sections (Torah and Haftarah), or the conclusion of the entire synagogue service. As I began to investigate this, I realized that the meaning “conclusion of the entire synagogue service” is the most likely one. The Haftarah originated in the pre-70 C.E. period. Scholars now understand that, in this early period, synagogues were places of studying and of Torah reading, but not usually places of formal prayer. According to most scholars, there was no Amidah at all in this pre-70 C.E. period, neither Shacharit nor Musaf. See the article by Allen Friedman in Tradition 45:3, 2012. (Alternatively, even if there was an Amidah pre-70 C.E., it was only for limited occasions and perhaps only in limited areas.) Thus, in the pre-70 C.E. period, after the reading of the Torah and the Prophets, the “service” in the synagogue was typically concluded. (This is also evident from Acts, chapter 13.)
         Many other interpretations of the words ”Haftarah” and “Maftir” have been offered, but they are all much less likely.
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at He looks forward to the discovery of a new Dead Sea Scroll that might shed  light on the origin of the Haftarah.