Wednesday 29 November 2017

New RBH shiur on Koshertube on YouTube: Why Quote Shammai Before Hillel

The gemara in Eruvin praises Beit Hillel for consistently presenting the opinion of Beit Shammai even before presenting their own view on the subject. This indicates a significant value in presenting an opposing position even before presenting your own. It is more than a matter and lesson in respect; it positively impacts on one's own opinion.

In his latest Koshertube shiur, Nishma's Rabbi Hecht expands upon this idea. We invite you to view Why Quote Shammai Before Hillel at

Saturday 25 November 2017

Jewish Leaders Urge Withdrawal of Bill on Palestinian Minors

From RRW

As published by the Jewish News Service - November 20, 2017


by Rafael Medoff /

   In the wake of an attack by a teenage Palestinian terrorist that left two Israelis wounded last Friday, Jewish organizations and community leaders are calling for the withdrawal of a congressional measure targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors.

   Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and nine other Democrats in the House of Representatives last week introduced H.R. 4391, which would restrict U.S. aid to Israel if the Israelis undertake the “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” The legislation specifies that any Palestinian under the age of 18 should be considered a child.

   Last Friday, a 17-year-old Palestinian deliberately ran over two Israeli civilians near the town of Efrat. One of the victims was a 70-year-old American immigrant. The attacker then exited his vehicle and attempted to stab several Israeli soldiers, who shot and wounded him. 

   The soldiers’ shooting and detention of the teenage terrorist are among the types of actions that would trigger the sanctions mandated by the McCollum bill.

   “I urge Congresswoman McCollum to withdraw her bill, before it helps inspire other young Palestinians to copy the 17-year-old attacker near Efrat,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. 

   “Palestinian youth do need a ‘protection act’—they need protection from Hamas that uses them as human shields for terrorism and who send them to dig terror tunnels,” Cooper added. “They need protection from the brainwashing of the Palestinian Authority that teaches them to deny the rights and humanity of their Jewish neighbors.”

   “The bill is dangerously presumptuous,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin told “It puts Israel in peril. This measure seemingly ignores the assaults on Israelis. It basically calls on Israel not to respond to acts of terror. At a time of heightened awareness to acts of terror everywhere, such legislation is surprising and disheartening.”

   Even if last Friday’s attack had not occurred, “this is an unwise piece of legislation,” Steve Grossman, former president of AIPAC and ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told “If the sponsors don’t withdraw it on their own, I urge them to do so—and if not, I hope the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will report it out unfavorably and make it clear to their colleagues that the bill is unwise and they do not support it.”

   “Israel has a solid system of checks and balances in place” to address any instances in which Israeli soldiers act inappropriately, Grossman said. “Israel, unlike virtually every other country in that region, has a robust and independent judiciary, which steps in if actions go beyond what is appropriate. It’s a central feature of Israel’s open and democratic society and it functions very effectively.” Therefore, Grossman said, “I agree with those who are saying the bill should not see the light of the day. This legislation is hostile to Israel, and hostile to appropriate public policy.”

   The purpose of McCollum’s bill is “to paint Israel in a negative light by presenting issues out of context, and misrepresenting the facts in the Middle East,” said Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in North America. “The truth is that it is the Palestinians who abuse children by putting them in harm’s way and sending them out to commit stabbings, to throw rocks that have killed and wounded, and trained them to be suicide bombers.”

   The McCollum bill’s nine co-sponsors are Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin; Earl Blumenauer and Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon; André Carson of Indiana; John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan; Danny K. Davis and Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; and Chellie Pingree of Maine.

   According to an analysis prepared by the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor, “the entirety of the [McCollum] bill is premised on factually inaccurate claims from anti-Israel advocacy NGOs” such as Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P). Portions of the text of the bill appear to have been lifted directly, without attribution, from a DCI-P report issued last year or from the DCI-P website.

   At least three members of DCI-P’s board—Shawan Jabarin, Nasser Ibrahim and Dr. Majed Nasser—have been affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Balfour Declaration

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                              The Balfour Declaration and its Importance

            Since it is now the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2017, everyone has been writing about it. Even a new book came out: The Balfour Declaration: Sixty-Seven Words, 100 Years of Conflict, by Elliot Jager. I will now add my contribution.
             Even though I went to Modern Orthodox day schools (and many pro-Israel rallies at the UN while attending Ramaz), I was never taught the story of the creation of the Jewish state. (But maybe I just wasn’t paying proper attention the one day or week that it was taught!) Like most people, I thought that Israel was a post-WWII creation by a world that felt guilty about the Holocaust. I had heard of the Declaration but had nothing more than a minimal understanding of it. Then about 15 years ago, while in my forties, I went to a rally and heard Rabbi Shlomo Riskin declare that the plan for a Jewish State was one of the results of the post-war resolutions that concluded World War I. I had never heard this interesting idea before. Then I began to research exactly what he meant. When one realizes that the Jewish State is essentially a result of the post-war resolutions after WWI, one much better understands the justice of our cause.
                 Very briefly, the background to the creation of the Jewish state is as follows. At the end of WWI, Britain and its allies defeated the Ottoman Empire and were willing to give to the Arabs almost all of the vast territories liberated so they could set up their own states. There was a temporary period with a Mandate set up so that the new states could be nurtured towards independence by either Britain or France. This is the story of the creation of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. (As to Arabia, it was too big for a Mandate. Egypt too achieved independence without a Mandate.) Of these vast territories liberated from the Ottoman empire, Britain’s plan was to reserve one “small notch,” one to two percent, to create a region where the Jews could grow into a majority and gradually set up their own state.
                  There were no “Palestinian” people at the time. There were Arabs in Palestine, admittedly many more than there were Jews. (The Jews were about one sixth of the population.)  But Palestine was vastly undeveloped and underpopulated and there were millions of Jews in Eastern Europe who had no future there and needed a place to live.) Given that the Arabs were going to be given vast regions where they could be the majority, they would have no reasonable grounds to complain that in one tiny area, they would not be the majority. As Foreign Secretary Balfour wrote in 1919: “Zionism…is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”  I.e., world Jewry had “needs.” We needed one place where we would be a majority. The Arabs had “desires.” They already had and would now be getting many more places of majority rule. But they desired to be a majority everywhere. By any sense of justice, “needs” trump “desires” and it was correct for Britain to attempt this affirmative action for world Jewry and attempt to carve out one small region for the Jews to become a majority, given Britain’s generosity to the Arabs in the other areas.
            As one high ranking League of Nations official put it at the time: “Was not consent to the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine the price-and a relatively small one- which the Arabs paid for the liberation of lands extending from the Red Sea to the borders of Cilicia on the one hand, Iran and the Mediterranean on the other, for the independence they were now winning or had already won, none of which they would ever have gained by their own efforts, and for all of which they had to thank the Allied Powers and particularly the British forces in the Near East?”
             What primarily motivated the Declaration was Britain’s goal of setting up a state in the area that would be loyal to Britain. Access to the Suez Canal and the paths to India were all important to Britain. If Britain could help the Jews become a majority, Britain would have the loyal state/protectorate in the area that it needed. With regard to the Arabs in Palestine, to quote one government memo from this time, “there is no visible indigenous elements out of which a Moslem kingdom of Palestine can be constructed.” I.e., there was not a sufficiently populated and organized Arab community there at the time, even though the Arab population in Palestine at the time outnumbered the Jewish one.
               At the time the Declaration was issued, it was a statement of future policy by the British government, issued on the eve of their invasion of Palestine. The Prime Minister at the time was David Lloyd George, and the Foreign Secretary was Arthur James Balfour. Before it was issued, the declaration had to be approved by a special War Cabinet composed of Lloyd George and a few other members.
               Here is the language of the Declaration: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
             That the vision of the Declaration was to create a Jewish majority is seen from the  sentence: “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…” There was no reason for that sentence unless the goal was create a Jewish majority.  Moreover, Britain would have had no reason to create a conflicted state in Palestine, one with Jews and Arabs vying for control. How would that have helped Britain? Critically, the Declaration said nothing about protecting the “political rights” of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. That was the entire point, to override the political rights of the Arabs in Palestine, in one small corner of the region. Looking at the entire picture of the Mideast, this was more than fair, given that Britain and the Allies were giving the Arabs majority rule throughout 98-99% of the liberated territories.
            The language of the Declaration was not as explicit as it could have been because it had to satisfy every member of the War Cabinet, not all of whom shared the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary’s goals. Also the language needed to be ambiguous, so it could be reinterpreted if necessary, in the event circumstances changed.
              So if there was a plan for a Jewish State at the end of WWI, why did it not come into existence? 
               Essentially, the Declaration and the period from 1917-1922 took us from point zero to point 9 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the goal of a Jewish State. Indeed after the war, in 1922, the text of the Declaration was incorporated into Britain’s legal obligation to the League of Nations. This was approved by 52 nations.
               But around this same time in 1922 Britain issued a “White Paper” and reinterpreted its obligation under the Declaration. In this White Paper (with different British leaders now running the government), they suddenly declared that the purpose of the Declaration had never been to create a Jewish majority in Palestine. Rather, the goal had been merely to create a national home for the Jewish people within Palestine, a center that world Jewry could take pride in. They also began to severely limit the Jewish immigration to Palestine. So even though the Declaration and its incorporation into Britain’s obligations to the League of Nations took us to point 9, this 1922 White Paper knocked us a few steps back. It was only with the UN approval of the Partition Plan in 1947 that we got to point 10 (a state that we still had to defend with a military victory). Of course, during the period from 1922-1947, as a result of the Declaration and the period of British governance under the Mandate, the Jewish population in Palestine grew significantly and there already was a de facto Jewish State in large areas of Palestine by the time of the 1947 UN vote legitimizing it.
                Even with the reinterpretation in the 1922 White Paper, the ramifications of the  Declaration being incorporated into Britain’s obligations to the League of Nations is that all Jewish settlement on the entire West Bank up to the Jordan River was within the area designated for the Jewish national home with the approval of the League of Nations. (Initially, Britain was even willing to include a large section east of the Jordan River in the area of the Jewish State. But by 1922, it was decided that the Balfour Declaration would not apply east of the Jordan River.)
             All rights of states and peoples granted via the League of Nations are preserved today under Article 80 of the U.N. Charter.  So today, when Jews settle on the “West Bank,” this is not  merely an ancient claim to Biblical lands. Rather, it is a settlement on lands that were already designated with international approval for Jewish settlement. 
            I would like to close with the inspiring words of Hayyim Nahman Bialik in his speech at the inauguration of the Hebrew University in 1925: “The Books of Chronicles, the last of the Scriptures, are not the last in the history of Israel. To its two small parts there will be added a third, perhaps more important than the first two...The first two books of Chronicles… end with the Proclamation of Cyrus…The third will undoubtedly begin with the Proclamation of Balfour and end with… redemption to the whole of humanity.”
Mitchell First is an attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at

Thursday 16 November 2017

Agudath Israel of America: “Jewish Pluralism” Undermines True Jewish Unity

From RRW

Agudath Israel of America: “Jewish Pluralism” Undermines True Jewish Unity
In advance of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s address to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, that group passed a resolution on “Jewish pluralism” in Israel, opposing a bill to enshrine a single conversion standard in the country and asserting that the Israeli Government’s decision to freeze an agreement about the Western Wall has “deep potential to divide the Jewish people.”
It is sadly ironic, although not surprising, that leaders of heterodox movements that have in fact undermined true Jewish unity and continuity by inviting intermarriage and breaking away from the Jewish religious heritage have of late been lecturing others about Jewish unity.
More disappointing still are the unity-cries of the Jewish Federation movement. The historic role of Jewish federations has been to provide support and solace for disadvantaged or endangered Jews and to mobilize the community to come to Israel’s aid when it is threatened. Taking sides in religious controversies anywhere, and certainly in Israel, egregiously breaches the boundaries of that role.
The Jewish Federations of North America, moreover, has traditionally sought to represent all of American Jewry, but here it entirely ignores the feelings of the substantial and growing American Orthodox community.
The Reform and Conservative movements, despite their great efforts over decades, have few adherents in Israel. Most of their members do not visit or settle in Israel, nor do they visit the Western Wall in large numbers. And yet their leaders seem prepared to offend the religious sensibilities of their Orthodox brethren, who regularly visit and move to Israel, and who come to the Kotel to pour out their hearts to G-d there. A holy place should not be balkanized, nor wielded as a tool to advance partisan social goals.
And the patchwork of standards for conversion that exist in America has created an Ameican Jewish landscape where those who respect halacha as the ultimate arbiter of personal status cannot know who is in fact Jewish. Creating in Israel a multiplicity of “Jewish peoples,” as is the tragic reality in America, would not foster unity but its opposite.
To our dear Jewish brothers and sisters, we say: Please do not push for changes at the Kotel that will only cause discord and pain to the vast majority of Jews who worship there. And please realize that the conversion standards that have ensured Jewish unity for millennia are the only ones that can preserve it for the future.
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Agudath Israel of America |


Monday 13 November 2017

The meaning of the word "Mishtaeh"

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                What is the Meaning of  Mishtaeh” (Gen. 24:21)?

      This week’s parshah has a very interesting word: M-Sh-T-A-H. The entire phrase is: “ve-ha-ish mishtaeh lah.” The man is Eliezer and the “lah” refers to Rivkah. So what exactly is Eliezer doing? We will learn a lot about Biblical Hebrew by attempting to decipher this word.
       The first step is to realize that the word should be understood as if it was written M-T-Sh-A-H. M-T is a standard hitpael prefix, but sometimes the T of the hitapel and the first root letter have ended up in switched positions (for reasons related to ease of pronunciation). This is what happened here. Therefore, we have to reverse the order of the second and third letters to properly decipher the word, and pretend we are looking at the word M-T-Sh-A-H.
       As to the meaning of the hitpael stem, many of us are taught in our youth that the hitpael stem means “to do something to yourself.” But it has other functions as well. For example, sometimes it means “to do something continually.” (An example: “hit-halech”= to walk continually.)
      We have now gotten over the preliminaries in our attempt to decipher M-Sh-T-A-H. We see that our word has a root Sh-A (aleph)-H and is in the hitpael stem (and that the hitpael can serve a few different functions).
         Do you know this root Sh-A-H? Of course you do, it is the same root as the word shoah. This word was chosen to describe the destruction of European Jewry because the root Sh-A(aleph)-H appears many times in Tanakh and often means “to ruin, lay waste, make desolate.” See, e.g., Is. 6:11.  (This root has other related meanings as well, e.g., a noisy, roaring tumult. This probably preceded the “ruin-lay waste-make desolate” meaning.)
       The reason we are not so familiar with the Biblical root Sh-A(aleph)-H is that all the occurrences of this root are found in Nakh. The only time this root appears in the Chumash is here at Gen. 24:21, and it is hard to fit the “ruin, waste, desolate” meaning into this verse.
        R. Saadiah Gaon saw the root of M-Sh-T-A-H as Sh-T-H. The phrase would then mean that Eliezer was waiting for or accepting a drink from Rivkah.  But this approach does not account for the aleph, so most authorities reject his approach. The widespread understanding of the structure of the word is that the M-T is there to indicate that the word is in the hitpael, and the root of the word is Sh-A-H.
         Rashi provides a lengthy attempt at explaining our word. He takes the position that the root of the word is Sh-A-H, which had an original meaning of “ruin, desolation.” How does that fit into the context? Rashi notes that there was another root Sh-M-M which meant “ruin, desolation,” and that root developed a secondary meaning of “confused, silent and deep in thought.” See, e.g., Job 18:20, Jer. 2:12, and Dan. 4:16. Rashi believes that the same thing happened in the case of our Sh-A-H root.
         “Ruin and desolation” evolving into “confusion/silence/astonishment”? Initially, I disliked this approach. But then my dentist Richard Gertler reminded me of the modern English expression: “blew my brains away.” So we see that in English a term of ruin can be a metaphor for “astonishment.” (Due to their familiarity with teeth and tongues, my experience is that dentists have very good linguistic abilities!)
           Rashi’s view is followed by many, such as Rashbam and Ibn Ezra. Rav S.R. Hirsch writes something similar. He takes the position that the fundamental meaning of Sh-A-H is “bleak, dull, desert,” and from that we get “unclearness of mind.”
          If you are not satisfied with Rashi’s approach (and I am not completely satisfied), there are alternatives. The Daat Mikra mentions that R. David Tzvi Hoffman suggested that the root was Sh-H-H, which means “delay.” But there is no such root in Tanakh. This root entered Hebrew later, from Aramaic.
         The best alternative is to understand the aleph of M-Sh-T-A-H as if it were an ayin. The Biblical root Shin-Ayin-Heh means: to look. See e.g., Gen.4:4 and Is. 31:1. Many scholars advocate this approach. See, e.g., Ernest Klein (A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, p. 633). This approach is also mentioned in the Daat Mikra. It is significant that Targum Onkelos uses the word “mistakel” (=look), but we do not know what led the Targum to this conclusion.
           Although we do not ordinarily want to understand words by postulating switches of alephs and ayins, such switches are not uncommon. For example, many times in Tanakh the root Gimmel-Aleph-Lamed appears with a negative meaning and clearly does not mean “redemption.” Biblical Hebrew has a root Gimmel-Ayin-Lamed that means “loath, reject.” A widespread view today understands all those Gimmel-Aleph-Lamed occurrences with a negative meaning as if they were spelled Gimmel-Ayin-Lamed. For some examples (there are twelve such occurrences), see Malachi 1:7 and 1:12. Aleph and ayin must have originally been very close in pronunciation. Also, spelling in ancient times was probably much more fluid than it is today.
           If we understand the aleph of M-Sh-T-A-H as if it were an ayin, and if we adopt the meaning “look,” we have a simple understanding of the role of the hitpael as well. M-Sh-T-A-H would mean “continually looking” towards her. This fits the context well.
           We all know that Shin-Ayin-Heh (=sha’ah) is also as a measure of time. But this meaning is only found in the Aramaic portions of the book of Daniel. It is nowhere else in Tanakh. It originally meant “a short period.” Most likely it has no relation to Shin-Ayin-Heh =look. S. Mandelkern, in his concordance, attempts to connect the two Shin-Ayin-Heh meanings, but most scholars would not accept his suggestion.
             Earlier, we mentioned the root Sh-T-H=drink. I would like to mention an interesting phenomenon related to this root. The root Sh-K-H is another verb that means “to drink.” But there is an important difference between Sh-T-H and Sh-K-H. When you drink yourself, the root is Sh-T-H. But when you give a drink to someone else, the root is Sh-K-H. In other words, in the hiphil (=causative), the tav becomes a kof:  H-Sh-K-H. (There are other examples of verbs which have similar meanings with tav and kof. An example is Peh-Tav-Chet and Peh-Kof-Chet. Both mean “open.”)

              One day, when I understand this exchange of T and K better, I will write a column on it. I even recall that my dentist Dr. Gertler had some insight on this one as well!  Meanwhile,
I have to stop writing now. I am having too many ruinous and astonishing thoughts and am also getting thirsty.   
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