Tuesday 28 July 2020

Sinat Chinum - Purposeless Hatred

Originally posted July 7, 2010

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 seeming about the concept of sinat chinum brings someone into the general 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

Nishma-Parshah: Tisha B'Av

Take a look at what's on
for Tisha B'Av

  Sinat Chinum - Purposeless Hatred

Haftara of Tisha b'Av - Hacham, Gibbor, Ashir

Liturgical Parallels between Tisha B'Av and Purim

JVO Blog: National Despair

Monday 27 July 2020

Eichah: Hashiveinu, Ma'os M'astanu, Hashiveinu

Originally published 8/19/11, 10:14 am.
The 2 final p'sukkim of Eichah [Lamentations] are very interesting as we read it.

[Tr: Young's Literal]

5:21 Turn us back, O J-HV-H, unto Thee, And we turn back, renew our days as of old.
5:22 For hast Thou utterly rejected us? Thou hast been wroth against us -- exceedingly?
5:21 Turn us back, O J-HV-H, unto Thee, And we turn back, renew our days as of old.

We ask Hashem to return us after he has found us disgusting - Because the last verse may actually be read as a declarative, namely:

5:22 For Thou hast utterly rejected us! Thou hast been wroth against us -- exceedingly!


How does this work?

There are two grounds to divorce a wife, because either

A. She has been "unfaithful"
B. Her Husband finds her unattractive or repulsive.

In the first case Halachah REQUIRES a divorce. Reconciliation and Remarriage are assur
In the second case, the husband may change his mind.

Thus Yirmiyahu points out that we've been rejected as disgusting but not as unfaithful, thus we plead to Hashem to be Returned to Favor

Hebrew Text Below

כא השיבנו ה אליך ונשוב (ונשובה), חדש ימינו כקדם.

כב כי אם-מאס מאסתנו, קצפת עלינו עד-מאד


Rav Kook: "Your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah."

 originally posted July 26. 2012

Tisha B'Av: The Poel Mizrachi Kitchen

Things were not looking good for Avraham Mavrach. It was already the first of the month of Av, and the secretary would not let him present his urgent question to the Chief Rabbinate. The rabbis were in an important meeting, the secretary explained, and could not be disturbed.

The Kosher Kitchen
Mr. Avraham Mavrach was a founding member of the Poel Mizrachi, established in 1922 for religious pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. One of the most important decisions made during the first assembly of the Poel Mizrachi was to open kosher kitchens for new immigrants and workers. This was necessary since the religious workers could not eat in the Histadrut kitchens, where non-kosher food was served and the Sabbath was desecrated. As Avraham later described in the Hatzofeh newspaper:
<Indent this>
The religious pioneers suffered greatly. They could not afford to eat in a restaurant and enjoy a hot meal, and on Shabbat they missed the Jewish milieu and an atmosphere of holiness. Therefore we established the kitchens of the Poel Mizrachi to provide the religious workers with inexpensive and tasty meals, and also to serve as a social center. The workers would read, hold meetings, discuss, attend classes and lectures. They organized Torah classes in the evenings, and they would dance on joyous occasions. The kitchens were filled with singing; especially on Shabbat and the holidays, they sang the zemirot with holy yearnings and great emotion. It is not surprising that these kosher kitchens also attracted many non-religious workers.
Although the food was sold at cost, not all of the diners could afford to eat everything on the limited menu. However, the meat portions and soups were a necessary staple for the hungry manual laborers.

The Problem of the Nine Days
It was regarding these meat meals that a serious problem arose. During the Nine Days of Av, eating meat is prohibited due to national mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The administrators of the Jerusalem branch of the Poel Mizrachi met to find an alternative for the meat meals, especially for the manual laborers. Unfortunately, they were unable to think of an appropriate substitute. Some of them despaired. 'Why should we assume responsibility for this?' Lacking a better alternative, they wanted to close down the kitchen for the duration of the Nine Days.

One member, however, refused to give up - Avraham Mavrach. He suggested turning to the Chief Rabbinate; perhaps the rabbis would find a leniency that would permit the new customers to eat meat so that they would not go back to eating in the non-kosher kitchens. The other members laughed at this suggestion. "Do you really think that the Rabbinate will agree to the slaughter of sheep and oxen during the Nine Days in the holy city of Jerusalem?"

In fact, no one was even willing to accompany Avraham to the Chief Rabbinate. So, on the first of Av, he went alone. The Rabbinate secretary, however, refused to let him interrupt the meeting in order to speak with the rabbis.

"But it is an urgent question," Avraham explained. "I come as a representative of the Poel Mizrachi." At Avraham's insistence, Rabbi Samuel Weber, chief secretary of the Rabbinate, came out of the meeting and listened to the problem. Rabbi Weber suggested arranging for the completion of a Talmudic tractate every day, and then serving meat at the se'udat mitzvah (a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a mitzvah). Avraham responded that such an arrangement would be nearly impossible to implement.

Rabbi Weber then disappeared into the Rabbinate chambers. After a few minutes, he beckoned Avraham to follow.

Rav Kook's Decision
As he entered, Avraham saw Rav Kook at the head of the table, with Rabbi Yaakov Meir to his right and other prominent rabbis seated around the table. Rav Kook asked Avraham to approach the table. Avraham stood before the rabbis and explained the purpose of the kitchen, describing the great benefit it provided to the members of the Poel Mizrachi and the workers who remained faithful to their heritage. "I am aware of the importance of the kitchen," Rav Kook responded. He then sank into deep thought. The other rabbis waited in silence for Rav Kook's decision.

Rav Kook turned to Avraham. "Do you think that some of the workers who eat there will end up going to a non-kosher kitchen?"

"Yes," Avraham responded. "They ate there beforehand."

"If that is the case," Rav Kook pronounced, "your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah. 'Let the humble eat and be satisfied' (Ps. 27:22)."

Astounded, Avraham remained frozen to his spot. Rav Kook smiled. "Do you have another question?" Avraham replied that he was uncertain about the Rav's decision. Did this mean that everyone could eat meat there? Rav Kook repeated his words, and explained that everyone - even those who would not be tempted to eat at a non-kosher kitchen - could eat meat in the kitchen because it would be serving a se'udat mitzvah. Despite his amazement, Avraham managed to steal a glance at the other rabbis in the room. It seemed that they, too, were surprised by the Rav's decision, but they raised no objections.

Se'udat Mitzvah for All
Rabbi Zvi Kaplan wrote an article analyzing this unusual Halachic decision at length. For those workers who would have eaten in the non-kosher kitchen, it is clearly preferable that they disregard the custom of not eating meat during the Nine Days rather than violate the Biblical prohibition against eating non-kosher food. But how could Rav Kook permit meat to those who would not have eaten non-kosher food?

Rabbi Kaplan noted that at a se'udat mitzvah during the Nine Days, permission to eat meat is granted not only for those performing the mitzvah (such as a brit milah or completing a tractate of Talmud), but for all who are present. Every Jew is responsible to make sure another Jew eats kosher food. A meal that accomplishes this goal certainly qualifies as a se'udat mitzvah. The simple meals provided by the Poel Mizrachi kitchen in those years saved many Jews from eating non-kosher meals. Rav Kook therefore was able to permit all present to eat, since, as he explained, "your kitchen is serving a se'udat mitzvah."

(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe'iyah, pp. 539-543.)

Shalom and Regards,

Sunday 26 July 2020

Tisha B'av - T'shuvah or Aveilus?

 originally posted July 20, 2012

The Rambam and the Mishnah Brurah both suggest that fast days are for Teshuvah, and that apparently includes Tisha b'Av

Yet IIRC the Rav once contrasted the 5 innuyim on YK with those on 9 Av during one of his marathon Kinnot at Maimonides.

In summary:

Y"K the theme is T'shuvah
9 Av the theme is AVEILUT

I elaborate that as follows, based upon the structure of our liturgy:

We say no tachanun
We say no vidduy
We say no S'lichot [although apparently Rav Amram Gaon DID have s'lichot]

Instead we sit like Aveilim and recite Kinnot.


I only heard the Rav 3 times on 9 Av, so I cannot rightfully claim the mantle of a spokesman on the Rav's Sheetot.

Contrary to what I heard, it seems that the zeitgeist nowadays is to make "one size fit all"

Pick your bogeyman,
lashon hara
• talking in shul,
davening w/o kavvanah
• etc.

And then take that and darshen THE single solution to all of life's woes

Here are my 2 cents

Tisha b'Av is mostly about mourning loss and really not about fixing anything.

When, Chas v'Shalom, a parent dies of EG heart disease, do we get up at the Funeral and preach good diet and exercise to make sure it never happens again!? Instead, we give a hesped over our loss of our beloved relative.

IMHO we have succeeded in distracting ourselves from the Tachlit of the day, viz. Mourning our collective catastrophes.

Shalom and Regards,

Parallel Lives: Three Weeks to Recreate a Bond

From RRW

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the Three Weeks

Friday 24 July 2020

Sheetat Rema re: Aveilut B'Farhesya on Shabbat Hazzon

 originally posted July 12, 2013

The Rema's sheetah seems pashut -

Aveilut b'farhesya on Shabbat becomes a problem only or primarily when some are aveilim and when others are not. All bets are off, however, when ALL are equally aveilim!

  1. The bensching for aveilim is not said on Shabbat, unless all present are aveilim, then it is recited.
  2. Same with taking off shoes, when aveilim are amongst themselves they may take them off, otherwise it constitutes Aveilut b'farhesya.

Regarding various melodies, Ashkenazi melodies often reflect the season. This is analogous to Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbos hol hamoed which take on their seasonal characteristics. At Breuer's, tunes from forthcoming Yamim Nora'im are introduced as early as Shabbat Nachamu.

For example, singing L'cho Dodi to Eli Tziyyon. It's simply before Shabbat anyway, especially for those who accept Shabbat early during the summer

As far as the p'sukkim in the Haftarah read with Eichah Trop, we do this on Purim too during the reading of the Megillah. It's primarily a manifestation of the p'sukkim's sentiment.

Best Regards,

Parshas Devarim - Walk a Mile...

From RRW

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha -- hope you enjoy
Baltimore Jewish Life | Parshas Devarim - Walk a Mile...

Thursday 23 July 2020

Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger

I share this video from 2013 as I believe it imparts a most important lesson at this time of the year and within our present political environment. May with be further zocheh to such defeats of evil. I should also thank Rabbi Wolpoe for first directing me to this video



Wednesday 22 July 2020

JVO: Swimming During the Nine Days

originally posted Sept. 13, 2011

Jewish Values Online (jewishvaluesonline.org) is a website that asks the Jewish view on a variety of issues, some specifically Jewish and some from the world around us -- and then presents answers from each of the dominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars.

This post continues the weekly series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is to one of the questions to which Rabbi Hecht responded.

* * * * *
Question: What is the reason behind the "no swimming during the 9 days" rule? Is it because it's fun? Because it's dangerous? Or because it's bathing? (If it's the last reason, does that really apply nowadays, when people pretty much bathe as usual during the 9 days?)

Before answering the specifics of this question, it is first important to understand the intent of the theme of these “9 Days”. Of course, the core day of this period is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, a day which has been termed, in the language of our modern world, the national day of Jewish mourning. It is a day that we mourn national tragedies. It is thus, indeed, mourning which is at the essence of this day and the periods of time before it, the “Three Weeks” and the “9 Days.” To thus understand the 9 Days – and in specific terms, to answer your question – it is necessary to understand the Jewish expression of mourning. (At the conclusion of my answer, for those who may not be familiar with Tisha B’Av, the 9 Days or the Three Weeks, I will briefly touch upon them.)
Aveilut is the Hebrew term for the practice of mourning that follows the death of a loved one. There are many different considerations that are at the root of this practice but one of the most important of these is the allowance for a proper expression of the grief and sadness that is being felt. In this regard, the mourner is directed to limit actions of simcha, loosely translated as joy, and of pleasure leading to simcha. Included in these prohibitions is bathing – but it is important to recognize that it is bathing connected to pleasure that is limited, not bathing with a different purpose. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 381:61. This is the same rule that applies during the 9 Days when the mourning restrictions include this prohibition of bathing. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 551:16 with Mishneh Brura 551:89 and  Sha’ar Ha’Tzion 551:94. Again, though, it is specifically bathing for pleasure that is prohibited.
An extension of this prohibition to include swimming is found in Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 551:35. The extension is actually very much straightforward for a similarity between bathing for pleasure and swimming seems rather obvious. The definition of bathing for pleasure still needs to be further defined. The Halacha distinguishes between pleasure and an action to remove discomfort. In this regard, for example, to bathe in order to remove a feeling of discomfort would be acceptable. As such, for example, Rabbi Aaron Felder, Moadei Yeshurun I, Laws of the Three Weeks and the Ninth of Av 2:17 states in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that taking a cold shower during a heat wave would be permitted. It is pleasure that is prohibited, not the removal of discomfort. It is within the parameters of such reasoning that some people today, when bathing is more common then it was in the past and people feel discomfort if they do not bathe, bathe almost as usual during the 9 days. Such reasoning would, obviously, not apply to swimming as the purpose of swimming – for sure, over the length of the time of this activity -- is still pleasure rather than removal of discomfort. It should be noted, though, that in the same spirit as other laws of this time period, swimming for a different purpose would be permitted and this is why many Orthodox camps still maintain an instructional swim time during the 9 days even as free swim times are cancelled. One medically instructed to swim for exercise, of course, may also continue to swim.
So, in response to your question, it would simply seem that swimming is prohibited as an extension of the prohibition on bathing. The other two possible reasons mentioned, though, should not simply be discounted. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 551:1 states that with the beginning of the month of Av we lessen simcha and we also take into consideration the fact that this time period is one of “bad luck” for the Jewish People. Even as bathing for pleasure is a concern at this time, all activities of simcha are also to be undertaken under scrutiny. This does not mean that all activities that are pleasurable or fun are prohibited but lessening such activities during this time period is appropriate. Thus, even as swimming falls into the prohibition of bathing for pleasure and, as such, is directly prohibited, the fun nature of swimming in itself would be a consideration even if it wasn’t a derivative of bathing. In terms of the “bad luck” that is also a consideration during this time period, it is common for people to be more careful in their activities at this time and refrain from doing things that have a component of danger. In this regard, Rabbi Aaron Felder, Moadei Yeshurun I, Laws of the Three Weeks and the Ninth of Av 1:5 states that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would also tell people to avoid swimming in very deep water during the Three Weeks in consideration of the “bad luck” which surfaces for our people during these times. By extension, while swimming is prohibited for other reasons during the 9 days, there would also be a concern for danger. 
* * * * *
Tisha B’Av, our tradition tells us, is a day on which many great tragedies befell the Jewish People. (See, further, Mishna Ta’anit 4:6.)The most horrific of these were the destructions of both Temples, both occurring on this day. Our tradition also informs us that it was on this day that the edict against the spies and the generation of the desert – that they would have to wander in the desert for 40 years and not enter the Land of Israel— was pronounced by God. In relatively modern times, amongst the other terrible events that occurred on this day was the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
Three weeks before Tisha B’Av, on the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day that commemorates the breeching of the walls of the Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the Second Temple (amongst other tragedies – see the above noted mishna), was established. This day also initiates a Three Week period of mourning that, culminates in Tisha B’Av. This period of mourning, unlike our normal practice of mourning which wanes with the passage of time, then intensifies as we approach Tisha B’Av. This intensification is marked by further restrictions during the 9 Days before Tisha B’Av beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av, the start of the new month.Thus there are practices which are forbidden within this whole three week period – such as haircuts and celebrations -- and some which are only forbidden for 9 days – such as the above noted bathing for pleasure.

What Do We REALLY want?

originally published July 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen
Mesdames et Messieurs!

What to you really want?

The right to attack and to demonize others?


To have the G'ulah and Y'mot Hamashiach and to learn to get along with each other peacefully?

Best Regards,

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Holding -- A Poem by Tikva Hecht

Recently, the Jewish Literary Journal did a podcast with my daughter Tikva in regard to her poem "Holding" which concerned prayer and Israel. I invite you to listen at https://anchor.fm/thejlj/episodes/4---Tikva-Hecht-ego1kf

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Monday 20 July 2020

The Anti-Semitism We Didn’t See

Jemele Hill's article in the The Atlantic


is worth noting for many reasons. There is much we can all learn from all this.

In this regard, we, of course, have to also mention Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who initiated positive endeavours such as this article by bravely confronting what was a troubling and most negative development. Righteous Gentiles have always existed throughout history and also exist in our times and it is our duty to acknowledge them and commend them for their righteous actions.

Rabbi Ben Hecht.

Sunday 19 July 2020

Meaning of "Miklat" in the phrase "Arei Miklat"

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
What is the Meaning of “Miklat” in the Phrase “Arei Miklat”?
We all know the term “arei miklat.” The word “miklat” in various forms (miklat, ha-miklat, le-miklat, and miklato) appears 20 times in the Tanach, always in the context of the “arei miklat.” The root of course is Kof-Lamed-Tet. But K-L-T never appears as verb. What does K-L-T mean? The typical English translation of “arei miklat” today is cities of “refuge.” But is this translation the most accurate one? Perhaps they should be translated as cities of “gathering”? (Or the closely related concepts of “collecting,” “receiving,” and “accepting?”)
There are really two distinct ideas here. One is the idea of “refuge/asylum/rescue.” The other is the idea of “gathering/collecting/receiving/accepting.”
Joshua 21:13 and several other verses include the phrase “ir miklat ha-rotzeach.” This phrase seems to support a “gathering-collecting-receiving-accepting” meaning. Would not a “refuge” meaning require “la-rotzeach”?
Do we have any other clues?
A word with the letters Kof-Lamed-Tet does appear in a context of blemished sacrifices. At Lev. 22:23 we are told that a “shor” or “seh” that is “sarua” (sin-resh-vav-ayin) or “kalut” cannot be brought as a vow offering.
Ibn Ezra makes an interesting observation here. He thinks that the two words must reflect opposite blemishes. (One does not have to learn this way.) Regarding “sarua,” this root only appears three times in Tanach, but its meaning is easily seen from Isa. 28:20. It means “stretch.” The verse talks about a bed that is too short for a person to “histarea,” stretch himself. So the “sarua” blemish in the sacrifice would seem to be that the animal has an overgrown limb. According to Ibn Ezra’s logic, “kalut” would have to be the opposite of this. Ibn Ezra does not explain what the opposite is but he does cite to the phrase “ir miklat.” Although Ibn Ezra’s comment here is unclear, I have seen it interpreted as the limb is too short, as if it was gathered into itself. If so, Ibn Ezra seems to interpret the city as a “gathering city.”
Of course, there is no proof that the K-L-T of Lev. 22:23 has the same meaning as the K-L-T in the context of the “arei miklat,”and no proof that the two blemishes in Lev. 22:23 are opposite ones.
The root K-L-T has been used in modern Hebrew in many contexts (e.g., video cassettes, records, floppy disks, and compact disks). Also, for those (unfortunately) ubiquitous “shelters.” But we have to realize not to transport the meanings from modern Hebrew into the Biblical meaning.
What about the references to K-L-T found in early rabbinic literature such as the Mishnah? This is the Hebrew of several hundred years after the Tanach. In general, there is an issue of how useful this is to understanding Biblical Hebrew. Think how much English has evolved over several centuries.

What happens if we look in the Mishnah? Here, aside from the “refuge” meaning and the “gathering” meaning, a new meaning of the root K-L-T is found. It has a meaning of “closed.” I.e., a kosher animal has hooves that are split. But the opposite of this are hooves that are “kalut.” (This is how Rashi understands the verse at Lev. 22:23.) Accordingly, based on early Rabbinic Hebrew, one could suggest that an “ir miklat” be translated as a “closed” city. But this meaning does not fit with Josh. 21:13 and other of the Biblical verses.
After reviewing all the Biblical verses on “arei miklat,” I note that both Numbers 35:12 and Joshua 20:3 use the phrase “le-miklat mi-goel ha-dam” (=from the goel ha-dam). This points to the “refuge” meaning. But as I mentioned earlier Josh. 21:13 and several other verses include the phrase “ir miklat ha-rotzeach,” which supports a “gathering-collecting-receiving-accepting” meaning.
The conclusion must be that one of these fundamentally different meanings was the original meaning, and the other developed later. But it is hard to pick which was original.
How does the scholarly world deal with the root K-L-T? The older work Brown-Driver-Briggs has two entries for the root. The first entry defines the root as “take up, in, harbor.” Within this entry, they have an entry for MKLT, which they define as “refuge, asylum.” The second entry, the one covering Lev. 22:23, uses the word “stunted,” and suggests (with a question mark) a relation to the first meaning “be drawn in.”
The more modern scholarly work, Koehler-Baumgartner, also has two different entries for the root K-L-T. One entry is for the word at Lev. 22:23, where they write that the meaning is uncertain and suggest a few possibilities. They do not suggest any connection to “arei miklat” here. They have a second entry for the root in the context of “arei miklat.” Here they define the root as “to take in, accept, esp. into a MKLT refuge.” They also have a separate entry, in the mem section, for “miklat,” which they define as “refuge, asylum.” So they seem torn between the “take in, accept” meaning and the “refuge” meaning.
P.S. I looked for an essay on the root K-L-T in The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. But there was none. As I have mentioned previously, this work only has essays on “theological” words. The root K-L-T was not deemed “theological” enough! (The essays in this work are useful because they discuss all the Semitic languages. Perhaps those would provide helpful clues to the original meaning here. But I suspect that there is little of use in these other languages because the Koehler-Baumgartner work, which looks at other languages, cannot point to the original meaning here.)
Last week, I wrote about words for “stick” such as “makel.” In response, I received an email from Abby Leichman, formerly of Teaneck, now living in Maaleh Adumim. She wrote that my article reminded her of the first time she saw “makalonei pasta” in a supermarket in Israel. She was sure that “makalonei” was a poor transliteration of “macaroni.” But then someone explained to her that it meant “sticks of pasta” (=from “makel”)!
As a Jewish history scholar, Mitchell First gathers up his etymological books and takes refuge in them. While eating his “makalonei pasta,” he can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.

Saturday 18 July 2020

RCA and OU Tisha B'Av Call for Mutual Respect

 originally posted July 16, 2013

July 15, 2013

RCA and OU Tisha B'Av Call for Mutual Respect
In the shadow of the mournful fast of Tisha B'Av, a day which marks the destruction of our sacred Temples in Jerusalem and the onset of countless years of tragedy for the Jewish people, the Rabbinical Council of America issues a heartfelt plea. We call upon all Jews throughout the world to reclaim the glory of our people by refraining from language that divides us and promoting language and deeds that unite us.

Recently we have witnessed a frightening exacerbation of internal discord and an ominous intensification of inflammatory rhetoric. We have heard vile insults, offensive name calling - including the inciteful invocation of the name 'Amalek' -- and vicious personal attacks emanating from all sides on the various troublesome issues which we now confront. We have even witnessed physical violence.  Indeed, in recent months we have seen precincts of Jerusalem's Old City - in the shadow of the destroyed Temple for which we mourn today - become a venue for provocation and insult, rather than a place of unity for the global Jewish community.

We urge all Jews to celebrate the diversity of our Torah community, whatever our ideology or choice of headcovering. Each of us, men, women and children, is a cherished member of our people and we must educate all members of our community to honor and respect each other. We pray that all will one day soon glory in the rebuilding of our nation and our Temple.

We recall the teaching of our sages who noted that the Second Temple was destroyed due to the sin of "sinat chinam" - unprovoked enmity. We therefore, on this eve of Tisha B'Av, call on all individuals and organizations to join us in in seriously dedicate our efforts to creating a world filled with "ahavat chinam" - unqualified love for one another.

May each of us who this year mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, merit to see it rebuilt speedily in our days.

Best Regards,

Monday 13 July 2020

The Various Meanings of the Root Samekh-Peh-Resh

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

The Various Meanings of the Root “Samekh-Peh-Resh”
This root has a few meanings in Tanach: the verbs “count,” and “tell a story,” and the nouns “sefer” (= letter or scroll), and 4) “sofer” (scribe). A major issue is whether all these meanings are related.
Let us first address the easy question. Is there a relationship between “count” and “tell a story”? There is such a phenomenon in English as well: “to count,” and “to recount” a story. Also, an “accountant” works with numbers, but a newspaper “account” is a retelling of a story. The word “tell” also had an original meaning of “count.” Think of a bank “teller.”
A relationship between the words for counting and telling a story is found in other languages as well, such as German, Dutch, Danish, French, Italian and Spanish. See, e.g., the column of Philologos of Jan. 12, 2014 in the Forward and E. Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, p. 626. These languages are Indo-European languages, not related to Hebrew and the other Semitic languages.
The simplest explanation for all of this is that a story is the sum of details and in telling a story, there has been an enumeration and ordering of all the details. In Hebrew, it means “to count” in the kal construct and to “recount, enumerate, tell a story” in the piel construct.
Now let us move to the hard question. Are the nouns “sefer” and “sofer” related to the “count” meaning?
First we have to define the nouns properly. The meanings of “sefer” in Tanach are: an inscription, a document, a letter, and a scroll (e.g., texts gathered together in the format of a scroll). Let us assume that the fundamental meaning of all of these is a “writing.” (The word “sefer” appears 185 times in Tanach. It never means “book,” like a bound modern book, but sometimes means “scroll.”)
As to “sofer,” it probably originally meant one who produces such a “sefer.” (A “sofer” may typically have been someone employed at a high level in the government. See Soncino comm. to Ezra 7:6. Interestingly, the word “sofer” does not appear in the Torah. It only appears in Nach.)
Modern scholars early on took the approach that the word “sefer,” with its assumed fundamental meaning of “writing,” was probably derived from Akkadian. See, e.g., the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon (1906). There was a word in Akkadian “shipru”=message/letter, derived from the verb “shaparu”= to send, write, and this was viewed as the source for the Hebrew word “sefer.” More recently, it was discovered that S-P-R was also used in Ugaritic with the meaning “document.” See H. Tawil, An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, p. 267. So in this approach, the Hebrew word “sefer” was derived from either Akkadian or Ugaritic.
Those who took the above approach did so because there was no verb in Biblical Hebrew “S-P-R” that meant “to write.” They further rejected any connection between the “writing” and “count” meanings. See, e.g., the Philologos column cited above.
But a widespread view today is willing to assume a connection between the “writing” and “count” meanings. See, e.g., the Kohler-Baumgartner lexicon, p. 765, and E. Klein, p. 439, entry for “sofer.” Unfortunately, neither of these two sources give an explanation for their thinking.
One suggestion I have seen is that “Biblical writings in general….were meticulously composed according to compositional techniques in which counting played a crucial role.” I do not like this vague suggestion.
The Kohler-Baumgartner lexicon is willing to claim that Ps. 87:6 is a verse where the verb S-P-R means “make a written record.” This is likely one of their reasons for assuming a connection between the verb S-P-R and “writing.” But I disagree with their reading this “written record” meaning into this verse. Since there are 106 other verses where the verb S-P-R does not mean “write” (or “make a written record”), there is a very strong presumption that that is the case in Ps. 87:6 as well. (Even if the verb did mean “write” here, this might simply be a later meaning of the verb that evolved from the noun “sofer.”)
A suggestion that deserves consideration is that the earliest writings were markings where items were being counted. Then the “writing” meaning of the verb S-P-R expanded to “counting.” Or perhaps the noun “sefer” originally meant “list” or “collection of words/ideas,” before it expanded to mean “writing.” Then we could connect it to the “count” and “recount, enumerate” meanings of the verb S-P-R. See, e.g., Rav S.R. Hirsch to Gen. 5:1, and Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. II, p. 806.
A few other observations on this issue:
- At Ps. 56:9, we have both the “count” meaning (second word) and the “scroll” meaning (last word). But this is likely just wordplay.
-There is a passage at Kiddushin 30a that “soferim” were called this because they counted all the letters in the Torah. The passage then gives a few examples, e.g., the vav in the word gachon (Lev. 11:42) is the midpoint of all the letters in the Torah. Of course, the Biblical word “sofer” appears even outside of Torah writing.
- The word for “count” in some of the other Semitic languages is Mem-Nun-Yod (or Mem-Nun-Vav), related to the Hebrew “M-N-H.” Based on this, we can at least speculate that MNY/MNV/MNH was the original Semitic word for “count,” and that “S-P-R” could have meant “write” initially.
To conclude, whether the nouns “sefer” and “sofer” are related to the meanings of S-P-R as a verb is still a matter of dispute. See Theological Dictionary, p. 309. But it is very reasonable to take the position that all these words were originally related, just that the details of the original relationship have not been precisely determined yet. In this way, we do not have to look to Akkadian or Ugaritic for the origin of the word “sefer” and its derivative “sofer.”
What about the “cut” meaning of S-P-R? This meaning is not found in Tanach. It is found in Aramaic and, like many Aramaic words, it became integrated into Hebrew. See, e.g., Mishnah Avodah Zarah 2:2 (haircuts by idol worshippers). Of course, I am not denying that a lot of storytelling goes on in a barbershop (=misparah), as my friend Yehuda Miller suggested to me!
We also have “sapir” (=sapphire, a gemstone) several times in Tanach. Most likely this is a shortened form of “sanpir” and not a Semitic word. (It means “dear to Saturn.”)
What about the Kabbalistic terms “sefira” and “sefirot”? These derive from the Greek word “sphaira” meaning “ball, globe, sphere” which gives us English words like “sphere” and “atmosphere.”
Finally, Arabic has a word “safar”= journey, related to the Akkadian/Ugaritic “send” meaning mentioned above. This led to the Swahili word: “safari.”
Mitchell First is an expert in counting (chronology) and writing (etymology). He does not (yet) travel the spheric world and go on safaris. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com

Saturday 11 July 2020

Mussar: Shalom Al Yisroel

first published March 29, 2014

Or Shalom in Washington Heights

OT1H Rav Yosef Breuer was an outspoken opponent of Zionism and also of YU

OTOH My predecessor R Ralph Neuhaus invited speakers from YU all the time, EG Dr. Israel Miller, Dr. Louis Feldman, etc. His shul proudly flew the Israeli flag opposite Old Glory.

Nevertheless, the Neuhaus family and the Breuer family had a cordial relationship. Rebetzin Neuhaus's father taught at the Breuer Yeshivah.

Is there something we can learn from this?

Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 8 July 2020

True Unity with Diversity

Someone showed me an article about achdus, which argued correctly that it demands a unity which must include diversity -- but then presents a method of achieving this goal which is highly problematic. The result would thus not be a good and positive unity. The reality is that most people when they think of unity fundamentally associate it with homogeneity. Yes, if all individuals were the same, we would connect much more easily. But how damaging would that be to society and even the very individuals themselves. Society to work must have diversity, the strength of individuality. The challenge is in how to best achieve this. The answer within this article was not the answer.

The author was specifically talking about how people are responding to the different practices we find in minyanim in response to the pandemic. There are shuls which have minyanim which follow very strict rules in terms of the contact between people. For example, masks are an absolute requirement. There are other shuls which are much more lenient, basically preceding as they did before. This includes not a mask in sight. What bothers the author are the people in the one shul who are critical of the practice in the other shul and vice versa. We should all be respectful of each other; in other words, we should let everyone 'do their own thing.' He compares it to the embracing of different minhagim. Achdus, he declares, must mean the acceptance of different 'minhagim'* such as how we daven during this pandemic.

The truth is that Torah does indeed value the acceptance of distinction within its parameters -- Eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim Chayim. Yet, first it demands adamant debate and discussion between the variant viewpoints. As T.B. Kiddushin 30b states, at first, within the study of Torah, as different individuals present opposing viewpoints, they will be enemies one to the other. In the end, though, there is love. In that truth is at issue, we must be truly thoughtful in our opinions and be willing to strongly promote them in the face of challenge. We are fighting for the truth. We must though, also recognize that our opponent is similarly committed to his/her opinion and in this search for the truth we must also hear the other side. In the end, though, there is love because, even as we may end in disagreement, as Rav Moshe Feinstein states, we recognize that we are both committed (within the limits of our own human understanding) to God's Truth. Unity is not just about letting someone do their own thing. It demands a commitment to the search for Torah truth. It is after thoroughly debating the issue in regard to which view is right, if variance in conclusion honestly remains, we are called upon to accept such distinctions with love.

The argument over such issues as masks is not just a matter reflecting a personal, desired conclusion. They contain real concerns in thought, both in science and in Halacha. True achdus thus demands debate and discussion even as we may conclude in diversity. This is actually the diversity that Torah demands within unity. It is the honest diversity in thought and mind that marks our unique individuality which necessarily has its place within the Divinity of Torah. To reach the essence of true unity, we actually must first subject our ideas to the whirlwind of honest discussion and debate so that they have reason to stand. We do not simply accept and promote every opinion. The opinions that remain indeed then have a most important accepted place within achdus.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

* One should notice that I placed apostrophes around this word in this context as it would be improper to refer to this behaviour as a minhag. In order to achieve this status as reflected in the famous maxim minhag Yisrael k'din, which gives a custon quasi-legal standing, a minhag must be long-standing and observed in the presence of Torah scholars. In other words, it must be substantial and have withstood challenges if there were some -- implying the kind of intellectual investigation which we are discussing. What we may say, though, is that we do have disagreements in halachic practice as these various minyanim may be following the psak of different rabbonim but that should open the door to the kind of halachic debate we are advocating, not the simple acceptance of any opinion as is. This is doubly so if the practice of the minyan in this regard is simply determined by the participants without any consideration of the halachic literature on the subject.

Monday 6 July 2020

Was Rashi Motivated by Non-Exegetical Factors in his Torah Commentary?

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
Was Rashi Motivated by Non-Exegetical Factors in his Torah Commentary?
             As we all know, Rashi generally took his answers from the midrash, instead of offering suggestions of his own.  In the view of Nehama Leibowitz, Rashi was strictly an exegete and consistently chose the midrash that best fit with the plain sense of the verses, and adapted it slightly if necessary.  No other considerations influenced him.
               But perhaps Rashi did have goals in his commentary other than correct exegesis. Much ink has been spilled on this issue. I am going to base my discussion on an article by Rabbi Hayyim Angel, in Peshat Isn’t So Simple (2014) and on a book and article by Avraham Grossman. Grossman discusses this issue in his book Rashi (2006; Eng.tr. 2012). Earlier he discussed the issue in an article “Religious Polemic and Educational Purpose in Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah.” It is included in Pirkei Nehama (2001).
                We are going to focus on Rashi’s Torah commentary. That is where the battle among the Rashi scholars really occurs. (In his Nach commentaries, there are times that he explicitly states that he prefers to give explanations to answer the heretics rather than give the interpretations of the Sages.)
               Grossman writes (Rashi, pp. 84-85): “All agree that Rashi devoted much care to selecting the midrashim that he incorporated into his commentary. He referred to his method at several points..[Although] he is not fully consistent in applying the method, he clearly imposed certain standards in selecting the midrashim. Were those standards solely exegetical, or were they also aesthetic and conceptual? Did Rashi ever cite a midrash for which there was no exegetical need, doing so solely for literary or pedagogical purposes?...”
                One place in which Rashi sets forth his standard for including midrashim is his commentary on Gen. 3:8: “I come only [to deal with] the plain meaning of the text and with aggadah that resolves the words of scripture, davar davur al afnaiv (Prov. 25:11).” The precise idiom intended in those last four words is unclear. A standard translation of the phrase is: “as a word fitly spoken.”
                Grossman writes that “other statements made by Rashi suggest that the term ‘as a word fitly spoken’ encompasses two principal components: an interpretation that adheres to the rules of grammar and that corresponds to the subject and compositional context.” See also Rashi’s comm. to Isa. 26:11.
                 But a close examination of Rashi’s commentaries shows that he sometimes uses rabbinic midrashim that fail to meet his two criteria of linguistic and substantive compatibility. He sometimes cites midrashim that are far removed from the plain meaning, linguistically and substantively.
                  Here is one example that Grossman cites. I am now quoting from his Rashi, pp. 86-87:
                             “The injunction against eating forbidden foods begins as follows:  ‘These are the living things [haayah] which ye may eat among all the beasts [habehemah] that are on the earth’ (Lev. 11:2). The difficulty is obvious: why are ‘beasts’ referred to initially as ‘living things’? Rashi [later] offers a plain-meaning interpretation…according to which ‘beasts’ are included within the category of ‘living things,’ that is, hayah is a general noun that includes behemah. But Rashi…first offers a rather remote midrash: ‘These are the living things’-it refers to life, for Israel is bonded to God and ought to be alive. He therefore separated them from impurity.’
                              “In other words, the statement “These are the living things which ye may eat’ means that the commandment instills life into the Israelites…. Is it conceivable that Rashi did not sense the magnitude of the divide between the midrash and the plain meaning of the verse? It is evident that he- like the author of the midrash- was motivated by pedagogical considerations whose purpose was to energize the Jews to avoid forbidden foods and to emphasize the advantage that they enjoyed over the non-Jews who ate them. That… is what led Rashi to make use of this midrash.” (See the parable from Midrash Tanchuma that Rashi cites at the end about the physician.)
                        Grossman concludes that Rashi had certain goals that exceeded that of linguistic and substantive exegesis and led him to stray from his declaration of intent. These goals were “to educate Jews and to fortify them and equip them for the difficult confrontation with Christian supercessionist propaganda…  When he found a rabbinic midrash that promoted one of these goals, he did not hesitate to cite it, even if it was far removed from the plain meaning of the verse.” Rashi, pp. 87-88. Grossman also concludes that it is evident that Rashi sometimes felt deep affection for some of the midrashim and found it hard to refrain from citing them, even if this clashed with his declaration of intent.
                        Rabbi Angel (p. 41) summarizes the view of Grossman: “Rashi saw assimilation and persecution among French Jews, and therefore used his commentary to inspire them during the grim period surrounding the First Crusade…Rashi may have selected Midrashim he knew were far from peshat in order to convince his community that they are loved by God and should remain faithful to the Torah and mitzvot.”
                        Another scholar Yitzchak Gottlieb adopts a similar conclusion. He concludes that Rashi cited certain midrashim instead of others as part of his desire to provide comfort for persecuted Jews, to affirm God’s love of Israel, and to defend Judaism against Christian polemical accusations.
                         One of the most famous Rashi’s in this regard is his reinterpretation of Jacob’s statement to Isaac at Gen. 27:19. Rashi offers a change in punctuation so the words should be read: “anokhi. Esav bekhorekha.” As Rabbi Angel writes (p. 42, summarizing the view of Grossman), “Rashi knew he was deviating from peshat in this instance…He did so, in all likelihood, because Christians regularly accused Jews of being deceitful in business, emulating their ancestor Jacob. By writing that Jacob did not use deceit (even translating “mirmah” as “wisdom” on 27:35), Rashi deflated the Christian indictment at its roots.”
                       Angel continues: “Grossman also demonstrates that Rashi consistently quoted Midrashim that defended the character of Jacob and those that lambasted Esau….Rashi used Jacob as a symbol for the Jews, and Esau represented a combination of Edom, Rome, and Christianity. Although several of Rashi’s comments [on Jacob and Esau] also may address textual anomalies, the consistent pattern of midrashic selections can be understood more fully against the polemical backdrop.”
                       Angel concludes (summarizing Grossman’s conclusion): “The primary, overarching goal of [Rashi’s] commentary was to provide religious guidance to Jews. If his educational goals coincided with peshat- which they usually did- then Rashi could teach biblical text and Judaism simultaneously. If not, Rashi favored religious teaching over a sterile, ‘scientific’ response to the biblical text.”
                       Rashi’s repunctuating of Esau’s statement at Gen. 27:19 reminds me of a passage in a book by Ezer Weizman, The Battle for Peace: “The switch from peace to war could be sharp and swift. Sadat would not have to retract a single word; even his famous declaration in Jerusalem: “No more war!” only needed repunctuating to read: “No more! War!”
I can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. Last week, I alluded to a joke about Rashi’s tie. I realize now that I erred. There are two versions to the joke. In one version, the reference is to academic scholars knowing what color shirt he wore. In the other version, academic scholars know what kind of tobacco he smoked. This is all in contrast to traditio