Sunday 30 July 2017

JVO Blog: National Despair

Jewish Values Online ( 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 denominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars. Nishmablog, over the years, has also featured the responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. 

The Jewish Values Online website now offers a new service -- a blog which presents comments on various topics within Judaism and the Jewish world. See Rabbi Hecht is also a blogger on this blog.

His latest post 

National Despair
is now available at
A link is also up on Facebook at

Friday 28 July 2017

Meaning of Ezrach and Ger

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                               What is the Meaning of “Ezrach” and “Ger”?

               These words appear many times in the Torah. Since they often appear in the same sentence, it is appropriate to address them together.
                 As to ezrach, it seems that the root is zayin, resh, chet (=shine). But what does “shine” have to do with citizenship? In English, we have the expression “an illustrious citizen,” so I always thought facetiously that there may be some connection. But better than my facetious thought was the suggestion of the Radak (Sefer Ha-Shorashim) that the ezrach is someone who has been in the city so long that who he and his family are has already been meguleh (=revealed) to all. But this still seems farfetched.
                As further background, the word ezrach has a very unusual distribution. Sixteen times it appears in Tanakh as a category of person. But one time, at Psalms 37:35, it means a tree (“ezrach raanan,” a fresh tree). Traditionally, it has been assumed that the “citizen” meaning came first and then Psalms 37:35 is interpreted in that light, e.g., a fresh tree in its native soil.
                  More recently, however, some have been taking the opposite approach and suggesting that the “tree” meaning of ezrach came first. If so, when ezrach is used for a category of person, the meaning may be a person who is fixed or rooted to the land like a tree. See the Daat Mikra to Ps. 37:35, note 26, and to Ex.12:19.
                 Other scholars go a bit further in their analysis. Instead of hypothesizing that there were originally two separate ZRH roots: one meaning “shine” and the other “tree,” they suggest that there may have been one original root with the meaning of “sprout and appear.”
                   If the “tree” or “sprout” meaning of ezrach really preceded the person meaning of ezrach, it has been suggested that the better  English translation of the word would be “native,” rather than “citizen.” The latter focuses on the person’s relationship to the government, while “native” would more correctly focus on the person’s relationship to the land.
                    Of course, I cannot leave this root without mentioning that the word mizrach means “east” and is related to our root: zayin, resh, chet. The east is where the sun begins to sprout/rise and to shine.
                   Regarding the word ger, from the time of the Mishnah and thereafter, the word is typically used to mean “convert.”  But what did the word mean in Tanakh? We know from Gen. 15:13, “ger yihiyeh zarakha be-eretz lo lahem,” that on the simplest level the word means someone who dwells in a foreign land. Almost certainly, ger comes from the root gimmel-vav-resh, which means something like “to dwell as a sojourner.”  (I have seen other derivations but they are very speculative.)
                  Also, a key passage is Lev. 19:33-34: “When a ger lives with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The ger that lives with you shall be as the ezrach among you, you shall love him as yourself, because you were gerim in the land of Egypt.”  
                 Based on the last clause, the simplest understanding of the word ger here is the dweller who comes from a foreign land.  (See, e.g., the interpretation in the Hertz Chumash.) This is so because if one attempts to interpret ger here with a meaning like “convert,” the ger vs. gerim in Egypt parallel does not work. (This same parallel is also found at Ex. 22:20, 23:9 and Deut. 10:19.)
                Furthermore, when many of the other Biblical references to ger are examined, the meaning seems to be merely someone who comes from a foreign land to dwell within the Israelite-ruled area, under their protection. In America today, we might use the term “resident alien.”  (The ger seems to occupy an intermediate position between the ezrach and the nachri/zar. The latter were the real foreigners.)
                 But when you look further at the Biblical references to ger, you find some surprising verses.The ger contracted impurity and was governed by the rules of the parah adumah (Num. 19: 10). He was obligated to bring a sacrifice for an unintentional sin (Num. 15:29). He was subject to the incest laws (Lev. 18:26). He was subject to the prohibition of eating blood (Lev. 17:10). He was expected to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10). He was expected to participate in the holidays of Shavuot and Sukkot (Deut. 16:11,14), and to observe Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:29). He was to be present at the Hakhel reading (Deut. 31:12). Can all these laws be referring to mere resident aliens? This seems difficult.
             Critically, at Ex. 12:19 we are told “Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats that which is leavened, ve-nikhretah ha-nefesh ha-hi me-adat yisrael ba-ger u-be ezrach ha-aretz.” Here the clear implication is that the ger is one who is already part of the Israelite community.
             Based on verses such as these, the Sages understand the Torah to be referring to two different types of ger.  I.e., many of the Torah’s references to ger are to a “ger tzedek,” one who is already fully part of the Israelite community, albeit being foreign born.
               As I mentioned earlier, the plain sense of Lev. 19:33-34 is that it is referring to all  dwellers who comes from a foreign land. As S. D. Luzzatto points out, “not every ger is a ger tzedek...thus our obligation to love the ger and not to oppress him [ =Leviticus 19:33-34 ] applies to any ger in general, even if he is not a ger tzedek” (translation from Daniel Klein edition, Ex. 12:48).  (The Hertz Chumash consistently makes a point of contrasting the moral Israelite laws with those of other societies. Here, on Lev. 19:33-34, it points out that the Romans had one word “hostis” which meant both “stranger” and “enemy.”)
            I will close with a very unusual (= highly unlikely!) interpretation on our topic. We have seen that ger sometimes means “resident alien,” i.e., a protected citizen. A scholar wrote that translations generally assume that “gur” has the meaning of “dwell,” but that one can sometimes get a deeper understanding of a passage if the meaning “protected citizen” is kept in mind. He then decided that in Is. 11:6 (ve-gar ze’ev im keves) the meaning is: “the wolf is the protected citizen of the lamb”!
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 admits that his discussion of ger is an oversimplification of a complex topic. Regarding his discussion of ezrach, he would like to acknowledge the site as the source for much of the material.


Tuesday 25 July 2017

Tzaras rabim chazi nechama

From RRW
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

 A profound insight from my grandfather ZTL...Does misery really love company? Does that make sense ?

Monday 24 July 2017

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 551:11

 originally posted July 2, 2013

Mei'inyana d'yoma during the "Three Weeks" - some thoughts re: Accepted Practice in conjunction with Black Letter Halachah

My translation:
«Anyone who eats meat
in a place where they practice a prohibition
• tears down a boundary and
• will be bitten by a snake alternatively
may he be bitten by a snake.»
See B'er Hagolah 20 - Source is Shu"T Rashba

See Bei'ur haGRA 50 who cites 3 passages from the Talmud Bavli
• N'darim End of ch. 1
• Shabbat Ch.14
• A"Z ch. 2

How can anyone unilaterally permit something that has already been accepted as assur in a given place?

Perhaps if one has a Vaad such as in the 4 Lands of Poland they could do a Nimnu v'Gamru. Outside of that how can it work?

<The Hamburg Temple circa 1810>

There are at least 3 approaches to the installation of an Organ in the Hamburg Temple...

1. They were wrong because they overruled their contemporary G'dolei Haddor.

2. They were wrong because they were Poreitz Geder as above.

3. Since they technically complied with the letter or the law, they did nothing wrong at all.

Can we apply this to the issue of Semichah for Women?

1. It is wrong because it contradicts the G'dolei Haddor?

2. It's wrong because it's Poreitz Geder as above?

3. Since they technically comply with the letter or the law, they are doing nothing wrong?

Best Regards,

Saturday 22 July 2017

Mussar: Sinat Chinum

originally posted Aug. 2, 2014

We are told that the churban Bayit Sheni, the destruction of the Second Temple, was a result of sinat chinum. But what does this term mean?
Most define it in the realm of "cause", focusing on a negative cause for hatred -- which is then expanded by many individuals to include any reason for hatred.
Is it true that there are no possible acceptable or even good reasons to hate? More significantly, though, is one able to control this emotional response of hatred?

Reviewing the sources regarding the concept of sinat chinum brings someone into the halachic discussion on hatred in general.  This discussion focuses on how one should deal with this emotion, and what is the correct effect of hatred, not on hatred's cause. In this light, the term sinat chinum may not really be describing anarchy in the causes of hatred but rather anarchy in the effects of hatred.

Further on this subject, I invite you to read a further discussion of this issue in Nishma Insight 5757-22,23: Defining Sinat Chinum on the Nishma website.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Friday 21 July 2017

Wordplay in Tanakh

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                           Wordplay in Tanakh

                  One of my favorite examples of wordplay in Tanakh is at Gen. 18:23, where Avraham is negotiating with God about the destruction of Sodom. Avraham says: ha-af tispeh tsaddik im rasha? The literal translation is: “will you even destroy righteous people with evil people?” But “af” also means “anger,” so the statement simultaneously means: “will your anger destroy righteous people with evil people?” Rashi presents both interpretations as if they are alternative choices, but one does not have to choose between them. Both can coexist, as it is wordplay.
                Now let us deal with a different kind of wordplay. At Gen. 2:25, Adam and Chavah are described as “arumim.” In precisely the next verse, 3:1, the nachash is described as “arom.”  Arumim means “naked,” from the root ayin, resh, heh, which means “bare” (like “ervah”). “Arom,” on the other hand, means “wise” or “cunning.”  The text has cleverly used two similarly spelled words that have different meanings, playing a little joke on us without any substantive import. (But there is one source that believes that both words are used here with the same meaning. That is TargumYonatan, who interprets the 2:25 reference as meaning “wise.”)
               Ibn Ezra is one commentator who comments on the wordplay here. He points out some similar instances of wordplay in Tanakh. For example, at Judges 10:3-4. we are told about Yair the Giladite: He had thirty sons that rode on thirty “ayarim,” and they had thirty “ayarim.” The first “ayarim” is a kind of animal. The second “ayarim” means “cities.” Both are spelled exactly the same way.
                Going back to Gen. 2:25-3:1, I have to mention a humorous comment. The first mem in “arumim” has a dot (dagesh) in it, strengthening it, while the mem in “arom” has no dot. The post-Talmudic Masoretes, who were responsible for these dots and other symbols, had an interesting mnemonic here: “The “wise” are weak and the “naked” are strong.”
                Another example of wordplay is at Ruth 2:10. Here Ruth says to Boaz: Why have I found favor in your sight “le-hakireni, ve-anokhi nakhriah?” Here the wordplay is subtler, since there is no visible nun in le-hakireini (since the original root nun dropped). But both “hakireni” and “nakhriah” come from the same root: nun, caf, resh. Yet they have opposite meanings: “recognize” and “strange.”  (Whether this is coincidence or not is still debated. It has been suggested that the process of recognizing something begins with recognizing its strangeness/uniqueness.)
                  Now I am going to mention a wordplay that will surprise you because it is generally unnoticed, even though it is literally right under our noses. I am referring now to the text of the Chumash regarding the mitzvah of tzitzit. At Numbers chap. 15, the word tzitzit is used three times:   ve-asu lahem tzitzit…, ve-natnu al tzitzit ha-kanaf..., ve-hayah lachem le-tzitzit u-reitem oto…
              The root tzade, yod, tzade has various meanings, all related.  One of its meanings is something that protrudes outward and blossoms. Another meaning is something that is visible, (e.g., the tzitz on the forehead of the high priest). While the first and second uses of tzitzit in parshat tzitzit are referring to the literal mitzvah object (which protrudes outward), the third use is relying primarily on the other meaning: something that is visible. Now all of a sudden we understand the flow of the sentence: ve-hayah lachem le-tzitzit, u-reitem oto u-zekhartem…(The conventional translation: “And it shall be for you tzitzit” is obviously very awkward.)
                One commentator who noted the wordplay on the third reference to tzitzit was Rashbam. See his comment on the third reference at 15:39:  petil ha-tzitzit ha-zeh yihiyeh lakhem le-reiah she-tiru oto.
               The English translations are faced with a dilemma here. Even though some probably realize that there is a wordplay here, they cannot show it. Because the three uses of the word “tzitzit” are in close proximity to one another, they all feel the need to translate the word tzizit the same way throughout (whether as “tassels”, “fringes,” or merely “tzitzit”).  
              (I will also note that Rashi, in his comment on the first use of tzitzit, mentions both the “protruding” meaning of tzitzit and the “visible” meaning. But it is Rashbam, by making his comment on the third use of tzitzit, who clearly emphasizes that there is a wordplay here with the third instance having a different meaning.)
               A most dramatic wordplay is found in the story of Yosef and his interpretations of the dreams of the chief butler and baker at Genesis chapter 40. When Yosef interprets the dream of the chief butler, Yosef says that in three days “yisa Paroh et roshekha” and he will return you to your position. But a few verses later, when Yosef interprets the dream of the chief baker, Yosef says that in three days “yisa Paroh et roshekha me-alekha” and he will hang you on a tree! The term “yisa et rosh” (literally: “lift the head”) has a few different meanings and the text has dramatically juxtaposed a positive one with a negative one!
                 Finally, another wordplay is the reference to the “nachash ha-nechoshet” at Num. 21:9. Most likely, the Hebrew words “nachash” (=snake) and “nechoshet” (brass/copper/bronze) are not related to one another. What we have here is mere wordplay. (Whether  n-ch-sh=snake is related to n-ch-sh= divination is a separate issue. The suggested connection is that the divination ritual was originally done with snakes. But most scholars today reject this connection.) 
                  Since we just mentioned some metals, I am reminded of something I learned recently about the English word “cop” for policeman. I had always wondered about this word. I imagined, without any basis, that it was an abbreviation for “commander of police.” Then I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal which reported that originally each policeman in New York City wore a copper star and that this led to “coppers” and finally to “cops.”  But then I found that there is an alternative view that “cops” comes from a verb “to cop,” meaning “to seize or to capture.” Of course, perhaps both explanations are correct, each one explaining what happened in a different region (New York City vs. England). But this all deserves more research and a separate column.                  
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 is thinking of a third profession, a diviner, to finally determine whether snakes are an integral part of the ritual.