Saturday 29 August 2020

Mussar: Asking for M'chilah - No "Buts" About it

Originally published 8/20/11, 9:52 pm.

Avraham: Rabbi Rich, Yitzi asked me for m'chillah, but I don't feel like giving it to him

RRW: Aren't we taught not to be an achzar and to extend m'chillah when asked? ....

Av: I know, but, I still feel something's not right..

RRW: Is he a repeat offender?

Av: No - it's not that

RRW: Well Av, What is it?

Av: I guess Yitzi did say that he's sorry that he confused me with someone else BUT...he said a BUT in his apology

RRW: ??? Continue

Av: He didn't admit he was completely wrong, he passed the buck and partially blamed me anyway

RRW: Was he right?

Av: Hard to tell. What he blamed me for was something unintentional, hardly worth commenting upon. He seemed to be using blame to rationalize the behaviour that he was expressing remorse over.


Mussar: when apologizing don't qualify it with "BUTS"

If you do need to express a reservation or caveat try using a separate conversation or email to point out that issue. Otherwise, the BUT may be m'vateil the haratah.


Thursday 27 August 2020

Insights into Jewish Names and Modern Israel

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

Insights into Jewish Names and Modern Israel
I base most of this column on an article by Aaron Demsky, “The Hebraization of Names in Modern Israel,” Brown Journal of World Affairs 25 (2018). Demsky was a professor at Bar-Ilan University for several decades.
1. When did Jews begin to have last names (=surnames)? Demsky explains: “The modern history of Jewish surnames begins with the tolerant policies of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II, who in 1787 ordered the Jewish masses to take family names. Other eastern European sovereignties followed: the Polish Kingdom in 1797, the Russian Empire in 1804 and 1835, and, finally, the German principalities. By the early nineteenth century, Jews throughout Europe had adopted family names. This was necessary for imperial states to have an official means of registering their Jewish minority…This development was a positive step toward their recognition as citizens.”
There were a variety of categories of European Jewish surnames. They might be based on one’s father’s name, mother’s name, name of a place, physical trait, personality trait, occupation, heritage, and lineage. There were also artificial names, based on some 30 basic words like “gold.” Several names are acrostical, e.g., Katz (kohen tzedek) and Segal (segan le-kehunah, second to the priest, a name for a Levi). A great priestly acrostical name is אזולי: ishah zonah va-chalelah lo yikachu (Lev. 21:7).
2. An early figure who Hebraized his European surname was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. He arrived in Eretz Yisrael at age 24 in 1882, and was a major force in the renewal of the Hebrew language. He and his wife vowed that they would speak only Hebrew once they arrived. (This agreement initially bound his wife to silence, as she knew no Hebrew! The family would not hire a servant, despite the wife’s ailments, and their newborn son was not allowed to have playmates for several years, so his Hebrew would be “pure.” It took a long time before the child began to say any words. The story is also told that, years later, when Eliezer’s mother finally came to visit from Lithuania, having not seen him in many years, he refused to speak to her in a language she could understand!)
When he arrived from Lithuania in 1882, he abandoned his European name “Perelman,” and registered himself as Ben-Yehuda. (He had used this name before in his literary activities.) His original name meant “Perel’s husband.” His father’s name was Yehuda Lieb. Perhaps his new name was just a reflection of his father’s name. But on a deeper level, the name “Yehuda” symbolized the Jewish people and was an appropriate choice for one with a vision of leading a national movement. (Demsky thinks that Ben-Yehuda was probably aware of a passage at Eruvin 53b, which states that יהודה בני were meticulous in their language, as opposed to Galileans.)
One of the first modern words that Ben-Yehuda created was מלון =dictionary, from the Biblical word: מילה. He is said to have broken his vow only one time, as he spoke French with Baron Edmond de Rothschild on one of the latter’s visits to the country.
3. David Gruen arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 1906. He chose the name “Ben-Gurion.” “Gur” is a young animal in Tanach, usually a lion. Also, Josephus tells us that Joseph son of Gorion was a Jewish general in the war against the Romans (Jewish War, II, 563). Also, the tenth century work Josippon (based on Josephus) erroneously referred to Josephus as “Joseph ben Gorion.”
Among Ben-Gurion’s associates, Shkolnik became “Eshkol,” and Shertok became “Sharet.” Shimon Persky took the name פרס. This is the name of a Biblically forbidden bird. It only appears twice in Tanach. Perhaps it comes from the “break” meaning of this root. It is often identified with the “ossifrage,” Latin for “bone breaker.” In his youth in Israel, Peres had seen a huge bird called by this name and had been impressed by it.
4. The second President of Israel was Yitzḥak Ben-Zvi. His prior name was “Shimshelevitch.” His wife, Golda Lishinsky, chose the new name “Rachel Yannait.” She based her last name on the Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai (c. 100 B.C.E., great-grandson of Matityahu). With that added “-it” ending, she expressed her independence and gave the name a feminine touch.
In 1933, Ben-Zvi wrote an article: “Remove the Foreign Names From Among You.” He argued that the foreign surnames testified that the Jews were still strangers in their own land, and called upon the leaders of the Zionist movement to abandon these names. He renewed his call after the Jewish State was created. He believed that Hebrew names would help bind the various communities. To promote the policy, guidebooks on how to Hebraize one’s name were published.
5. In 1944, an official of the Jewish Agency proposed a detailed plan for the Agency to Hebraize the names of large sections of the Jewish population. For example, he proposed that all with the name “Goldberg” would become “Harpaz.” His plan never went into effect. (This official had changed his own name to “Nimtsa-Bi.” It had originally been “Netsabitski”!)
On an individual basis, changing one’s surname is not as easy as it sounds. Siblings might disagree with your new choice or feel strongly about keeping the family name.
6. In June 1948, the provisional government declared: “The citizens of a Hebrew state cannot continue to appear in personal and public life with foreign names…A radical change is required.” Accordingly, officials, health workers, teachers and youth leaders set about Hebraizing the names of young arrivals, often without their approval and without even attempting a connection. (E.g., Fairuz, Jean, and Sa’id all might become “Yitzchak.”)
7. In the mid 1950’s when Ben-Gurion became prime minister and minister of defense, he instituted a requirement to Hebraize one’s surname for those representing the young state overseas in the diplomatic corps (and beauty pageants!) and for officers serving in the military. (I believe these requirements no longer exist.) Golda Meyerson became ”Meir” but refused to change her given name.
One notable Israeli leader who did not change his surname was Menachem Begin. Ezer Weizman and Chaim Herzog resisted official pressure to change their names because of the importance of their relatives in the early history of Israel.

8. Many Holocaust survivors wanted to preserve their last names as they were the last remaining members of the family.
9. The most popular first name in Israel for years has been “Muhammad.” This is because 20% of the population in Israel is Muslim and in Muslim tradition everyone is obliged to have at least one person in the household with this name. (The name Muhammad is related to the Hebrew root חמד. It means “praiseworthy” in Arabic.)
10. For regular Israelis, the ten most popular first names among newborn boys in a recent year were: Ariel, David, Lavie, Ori, Yosef, Eytan, Noam, Daniel, Itai and Judah. For girls: Tamar, Avigail, Yael, Adele, Noa, Sara, Shira, Noyah, Esther and Taliah. (Demsky finds it helpful to divide these names into: traditional biblical names, renewed biblical names, and new names.)
Finally, for those who are torn between past and future, an interesting solution is to create a hyphenated surname! (Examples are the Hebrew linguist Moshe Goshen-Gottstein and the general Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.)
Mitchell First will of course change his last name to “Rishon” if he makes Aliyah (but perhaps he will choose “Rishon-First”). He can be reached at

Monday 24 August 2020

Hilary Clinton on Arafat

From RRW

Year 2000

Speaking about the possibility of moving the embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the first lady said, “I’d like to see that move made by the end of the year.”

Thursday 20 August 2020

Eglah Arufah

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                  “Eglah Arufah” (Breaking the Neck of the Heifer)

     Parshat Shoftim ends with an unusual mitzvah. If a slain man is found in an open area in Israel, and the murderer is unknown, the elders of the nearest town conduct a ceremony with a heifer that has never been worked. They bring it to a “nachal eitan” (meaning in dispute) and break its neck there. They then wash their hands over it and recite the phrase: “Our hands have not shed this blood nor have our eyes seen it.” Another verse, 21:8, is then recited, this time perhaps by the kohanim: “Atone for your nation...and do not let innocent blood remain in the midst of your nation Israel.” Verse 21:8 ends with a comment: “ve-nikaper lahem ha-dam“=[this procedure] will have atoned for them the [victim’s] blood. The last verse reads: “You shall remove the innocent blood from your midst….” The implication is that this ritual does that.

      What is the reason for this mitzvah? Rambam includes it as a חק at Me’ilah 8:8. There he defines “chukim” as commandments whose reason is not known.   (It is not listed in the standard text of Yoma 67b where the Sages list a few chukim, but is included in the version of R. Chananel. It is also included in the list at Tanchuma Mishpatim 7.)

      In his later work Moreh Nevuchim (III, 40), Rambam suggests a reason. “The beneficial character of the law… is evident. For it is the city that is nearest to the slain person that brings the heifer, and in most cases the murderer comes from that place…The investigation, the procession of the elders, the measuring, and the taking of the heifer, make people talk about it, and by making the event public, the murderer may be found out …”

        But Rambam’s explanation of the law does not fit the plain sense of the verses where the ritual itself seems to be the goal.

        In order to understand this law, we must first understand the meaning of “nachal eitan.” The simplest understanding of “nachal” is a valley that has a continuous water flow, and “eitan” means “strong.” (See, e.g., Rambam, Rotzeach 9:2.)   Accordingly, R. Hertz explains that the ceremony is taking place in an area with a perennial brook and “its running water would carry away the blood of the heifer, and thus symbolize the removal of the defilement from the land.” Many agree with R. Hertz here that this is the explanation of the ritual. 

       The problem with this approach is that there is nothing explicit in the verses about the blood of the heifer. The verses only refer to the breaking of the neck of the heifer. There is no sacrifice of the heifer being performed.

       Others understand “nachal eitan” the same way, but view its symbolism differently, not involving any carrying away of blood. Because there was a continuous flow of water, the area remained uncultivated. The symbolism of the ritual is that just like the heifer used in the ritual is one that was never used, so too the procedure takes place in an area that could never be cultivated.

      In an alternative translation of “nachal eitan,” Rashi  understands it as a valley that is a hard one that has never been worked. In this approach too, there is nothing in the ritual about water carrying the blood of the heifer away. Rashi bases his interpretation on the Talmud. (Its citation at Sotah 46b to Numbers 24:21 supports Rashi’s interpretation. But Rambam’s interpretation is perhaps a simpler understanding of the term at Deut. 21:4.)


       If the ritual does not involve the heifer’s blood being carried away and removing the defilement in this manner, how do we understand it? And does the heifer symbolize the murderer, the victim, or perhaps neither?

        The Talmud at Sotah 46a offers an explanation for the ritual: The heifer symbolizes the victim. An  animal that has not become fruitful is killed on a place that is not fruitful and shall atone for one who has been robbed of the possibility to become fruitful, i.e., to do mitzvot.

        But R. Hirsch suggests that Sanhedrin 52b seems to view the killing of the heifer as symbolizing the killing of the murderer. The Talmud is willing to learn general rules about killing murderers from how this heifer is killed: e.g., at the neck. It also seems to me that the simplest understanding of the ritual is that the heifer represents the murderer.

        S. D. Luzzatto sees several educational purposes in the ritual. The heifer is killed as a substitute for the murderer being killed and this reinforces the lesson that the Jewish people are responsible for one another, and that the land will not atone for a death without the death of the murderer.  Second, because of their new understanding of how serious an offense a murder is to the land, they will make sure not to kill the one suspected of this unsolved murder without clear proof.

        Luzzatto agrees with Rashi that the “nachal eitan” is a dry, hard place. This is so the blood of the heifer that ends up on the ground will remain and leave an impression. This blood will also placate the blood of the victim that calls out from the ground (see Gen. 4:10.)

          Nechama Leibowitz views the rite as designed to shock all the residents with the news that a murdered man had been found in the vicinity. There is a general tendency for individuals to be indifferent upon hearing tragedies. They shake theirs head initially but then go on their way. God set up this elaborate ritual with the participation of the elders and the priests. In this way, the people would take seriously the loss of even one individual. It would shock their complacency and summon them to severe self-scrutiny, and hopefully reduce the number of murders.

             Among modern scholars, a very creative explanation is found in the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry, “Eglah Arufah.” There is an idea in Tanach that the land, when polluted with the blood of murder victims, punishes the people with famine. By killing the heifer, the murder is reenacted and the pollution is transferred from the area of the corpse to a different area: the area of the killed heifer, which is either a rough area that can never be ploughed, or an area whose constant stream prevents the area from being ploughed.  By this transfer of the location of the pollution, the area where the murder occurred can become fertile again.  My response to this explanation is that this idea of a transfer of the location of the pollution from one location to another is farfetched and not expressed in these verses.  For a similar approach, see the article by R. Patai, at JQR 30, pp. 59-69.                                                                

          Other instances of neck breaking in Tanach are at Ex. 13:13 and 34:20 (both regarding חמור פטר) and Isa. 66:3 (neck of a dog). The last is a practice that God seems to view as an abomination. It has been suggested that it was associated with idolatry. 


Mitchell First can be reached at As a personal injury lawyer, he knows to be slow and careful when walking so he does not fall and break his neck.  For more of his articles, please visit his website at

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Nishma Website Updated

Been having problems with the Nishma website but some have now been worked out. 

As such was just updated.We invite you check out our website on a regular basis.

Friday 14 August 2020

The Root G-D-D and the Prohibition of "Lo Titgodidu"

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

The Root G-D-D and the Prohibition of “Lo Titgodidu”

There is a root in Biblical Hebrew גדד. It often appears in the “hitpael” form and means “cut,” i.e., “cut oneself” (=self-mutilation). The “hitpael” form appears one time in the Torah (Devarim 14:1) and a few more times in the Nach. (The verb גדד also appears two times in the Aramaic part of the Tanach, in the book of Daniel. There it is not in the “hitpael,” and it refers to cutting a tree.)

In contrast to the above, Biblical Hebrew also has a root אגד that has a “join/group” meaning. This root appears four times in Tanach, e.g., 2 Sam. 2:25: “agudah echat.”

In English, we have a word “ahistorical.” Here that initial “a” negates what comes after. (This is patterned on what happened in Greek.) Is it possible that the initial “aleph” of AGD does that to GDD? I.e., it is not cut, but joined? This is very unlikely. Almost certainly, there is no relationship between these two opposite roots AGD and GDD.

Thirty-three times in Tanach we have a noun “gedud” that refers to a military unit. Where does this noun come from? There are two ways to relate it to GDD=cut. In one view, it represents military men who invade the land of others, cut it into sections, make inroads, etc. In another view, it represents military men who were sectioned off from the rest of the Israelites. For advocates of the first view, see R. Hirsch to Gen. 49:19, and M. Clark, Etymological Dictionary, p. 35: “penetrating armed force.” See also Brown-Driver-Briggs, p. 151.

From the noun “gedud,” it is widely agreed that there developed a verb “yagodu,” to “gather against” and that is its meaning at Psalms 94:21. See, e.g., Daat Mikra to this verse.


Most interesting is the discussion at Yevamot 13b regarding Devarim 14:1. The verse reads: “You are the children of the Lord your God; lo titgodidu and you shall not make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.” (“Between your eyes” is an idiom that means something like: “on your head.”)

The plain sense of “lo titgodidu“ is a prohibition on self-mutilation. The Talmud understands it as referring to a grieving practice, but it is possible that it is a more general prohibition (see below). In any event, aside from this prohibition, the Talmud derives an additional prohibition from Devarim 14:1: the Israelites are prohibited from dividing themselves into factions. Without getting into the details, the conclusion of the passage at Yevamot 13b is that both prohibitions derive equally from Devarim 14:1 (and are derived from those two tavs in the word). This is a very odd claim, as the “factions” interpretation does not fit the context of the verse at all. Put another way, the Talmud is giving two interpretations of a verse which interpretations supposedly coexist, but the interpretations do not have anything to do with one another. The Maharal, in his Gur Aryeh commentary on this verse, asks how this is possible. (He suggests an answer but his answer is too homiletical for my taste.)

What does Rambam do with this sugya? In his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, negative prohibition #45, he enumerates both prohibitions under this negative commandment but remarks that the second is “kemo derash.” (This is a Hebrew translation of what he wrote in Arabic.) But later, in his Mishneh Torah, he does make it seem that both derive equally from the verse. See Avodah Zarah 12:13-14. Interestingly, Rashi on Devarim 14:1 only discusses the self-mutilation interpretation.

Going back to the plain sense of verse 14:1, the word למת (=for the dead) does not necessarily relate to the “lo titgodidu” prohibition. Therefore, the prohibition on self-mutilation can be a general one, not related to grieving. Also, it is evident from the story at I Kings 18:28 that self-mutilation was practiced even outside of grieving contexts. As set forth in the Soncino commentary there: [Cutting oneself is] “a form of worship common to several cults with the purpose of exciting the pity of the gods, or to serve as a blood-bond between the devotee and his god.” See also the Daat Mikra commentary on 14:1.


There is one more interesting thing about the passage at Yevamot 13b. When the Talmud discusses the “factions” interpretation, it uses the following phrase, in the name of Reish Lakish: “lo taasu agudot agudot.” We mentioned above that גדד is a root that means “divide,” while אגד is a root that means “join/group.” When deriving a prohibition from “lo titgodidu,” we would have expected Reish Lakish to use a word from the root גדד! Why the choice of “agudot”? Perhaps Reish Lakish believed that “agudot” was derived from the root גדד, and was just an Aramaic form of this word. (It is also significant that Sifrei 96 on “lo titgodidu” cites to Amos 9:6 which uses the word “va-agudato.”) There may not even have been a Hebrew or Aramaic word that meant “factions” that was clearly derived from the root גדד in the time of Reish Lakish.

There is a ramification here: how should one translate “lo taasu agudot agudot”? Is the proper translation: “Do not form groups [and] groups”? Or “Do not form factions [and] factions”? Most translations prefer the “factions” word, implicitly connecting “agudot” to the root G-D-D. See, e.g., Jastrow, p. 11, and the ArtScroll Yevamot 13b.

With regard to the reason for the “lo titgodidu”-factions interpretation, Rashi writes that the purpose is to avoid giving the impression that there is more than one Torah, while Rambam writes that the purpose is to prevent conflict.


Now that you are all prepared on the root גדד, I will assign some homework. Look at the blessing for Gad at Gen. 49:19: “Gad gedud yegudenu, ve-hu yagud akev.” How would you translate it? Just to start you off, R. Kaplan in The Living Torah translates: “Raiders shall raid Gad, but he will raid at their heel.” R. Kaplan is translating all three of those words with a “raid” meaning, and has Gad as the object in the first phrase. But there are many other ways to translate this sentence. For example: 1) Raiders shall raid Gad but he will cut off their heel; 2) Gad shall go forward and attack, and he shall attack the [enemy’s] heel, and 3) Good fortune will pursue Gad, and he will have good fortune in the end. (This last interpretation is based on the “fortune” meaning of the letters G-D. “Gad” seems to have been the name of an ancient deity in charge of a man’s fortune. See Isa. 65:11 and Daat Mikra there, Encyclopaedia Judaica 7:249, and Shab. 67b. For many other possible translations of the blessing to Gad, see the notes in The Living Torah.

I would like to thank Rabbi Ezra Frazer for suggesting this topic to me and for some of the references.


Mitchell First can be reached at Please visit his website for more of his articles. As an attorney, he is a divisive force. But as a scholar, he tries to unite his readers around correct interpretations.

Monday 10 August 2020

On July 3 1861 the Pasha Gave the Keys to Jerusalem to the Chief Rabbi

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

On July 3, 1861, the Pasha Gave the Keys of Jerusalem to the Chief Rabbi

In this column, I am going to summarize an article from Hakirah, vol. 25 (2018) by Meir Loewenberg. (The article is online at hakirah. org).


On June 25, 1861 the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire died and there was a new Sultan.

Eight days later, on July 3, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem was presented with the keys to Jerusalem and held them in his home for one hour. This is what occurred, according to one account:

“The Jews waited with all formalities on the governor Surraya pasha and requested him to restore to them the keys of Jerusalem, according to a right which they claimed on the death of one sultan and the accession of another….They brought forward such proofs of the justice of their demand that the pasha did not refuse it, but referred it to his [council]…. Their decision was in favor of the Israelites, the whole council being aware that they were the ancient owners of the country.

“The ceremony was accordingly performed in the following manner. Said pasha, the general of the forces, accompanied by the officers of his staff, and some members of the council… went to the Jews’ quarter, where he was met by a deputation of that nation and conducted to the house of the chief rabbi, who received the pasha at the door, and there was publicly presented with the keys. The pasha was then entertained with the utmost respect…; refreshments, coffee and tobacco were served, and then the rabbi (not having a garrison to defend the keys) restored them with many thanks to the general, who was escorted back by the chief men of the Jews to the governor of the city… to give an account of his mission, and shew him that none of the keys were missing. So, in 1861, the Jewish nation possessed for one hour the keys of Jerusalem, which were delivered over to them by the Arabs in consequence of the unvarying tradition which they had preserved.”

Why in the world would the Turkish authorities present the keys of the city to the chief rabbi of Jerusalem for even a short period?

The account above was written by the Italian engineer Ermete Pierotti in his Customs and Traditions of Palestine (English tr., 1864). He had been working in Jerusalem, hired by the Ottoman authorities as a consultant. He had no background on Jewish laws and customs. He wrote above that the “decision was in favor of the Israelites, the whole council being aware that they were the ancient owners of the country.” This is how he understood the ceremony. It reflected a publicly expressed conviction by the Muslim leaders of Jerusalem that the Israelites were the ancient owners of the country.

After the 1967 war, Pierotti’s account became frequently cited about what happened that day. For example, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. cited this account at a Security Council meeting in 1968 and in 1969 Abraham Heschel quoted it to support Israel’s claims to the new territories.

But Pierotti’s explanation for the ceremony was just his mistaken impression and had no basis.

Another explanation for the ceremony was presented by James Finn, the British consul in Jerusalem from 1845-1863. In his book he mentioned the ceremonies of 1839 and 1861. He explained: “For the exercise of this traditional custom they make heavy presents to the local governors, who allow of a harmless practice…It is a matter of bakhsheesh to them…the Jewish feelings are gratified for their expectation of the future is refreshed, and the Jerusalem Rabbis are enabled to boast all over among their people that they [allow] the Sultan of Turkey to keep possession of the Holy City.”

Another explanation was offered by a monk who lived in Jerusalem in the 1860’s. He wrote that the ceremony symbolized that the Jews were given permission by the new Sultan to live in Jerusalem and travel all over Palestine.


What is the true explanation for the ceremony? It was stated by Elizabeth Finn, wife of James Finn. (Women always know best!) This is what she wrote in 1869: “ Some of [the Jews] termed [the custom] “hiring the city,” and said that it was done in connection with the laws of Eruv, for Sabbath observances; for that when a city is thus hired as a whole- all within its walls is considered by their law to have become one house- within which they are then free to pass on the Sabbath from dwelling to dwelling, even though bearing slight burdens, without infringing any of the laws…”.

This eruv explanation was corroborated by Rabbi Eliyahu Bechor Chazan who wrote in 1875 that what happened in 1861 was part of the eruv procedure. He was the grandson of the rabbi who received the keys in 1861.


Loewenberg then gives further background to the Jerusalem eruv. The need for an eruv in Jerusalem began in the 17th century. That is when the Jews began to spread to different areas within the city walls. Prior to that, usually each courtyard had a majority of Jews. This made a citywide eruv unnecessary.

A necessary step for the eruv to work was a lease of the city from the Sultan or his representative. It became the custom to enter a lease for a long period like 50 years. But what happened when the lessor dies in the interim? In the middle of the 18th century, some began to question whether the lease would still be effective and recommended a new lease on each succession.

None of the 18th century rabbinical authorities in Jerusalem mentioned taking possession of the city keys for any period as part of the eruv lease signing. But the Jerusalem rabbinate adopted this chumra in connection with the successions and signings of 1839 and 1861. Prior to this, this chumra had been followed in some Mediterranean cities at the end of the 18th century. (This is reported by R. Chaim David Azulai.)

A problem arose in 1876 when Sultan Murad V was deposed after 3 months (on a 50 year lease). The Jewish community of Jerusalem did not have the funds for a second round of bakhsheesh. The Ashkenazic rabbinate ruled that no new lease was necessary. The Sephardic rabbinate arranged a lease with a minor official who was willing to do so for a smaller amount of money.

At the end of the 19th century, the halachik status of Jerusalem changed. It was no longer a “walled city.” This change occurred because Jaffa gate and the other gates were kept open 24 hours in order to facilitate the interaction with the new Jewish neighborhoods outside the wall. Later, in 1898 a permanent breach was made in the wall near the Jaffa gate to permit Kaiser Wilhelm to enter without dismounting from his horse. By the time of the next Sultan in 1909, obtaining the city keys was no longer relevant. Other means were used for the Jerusalem eruv.


Mitchell First can be reached at As an attorney, he is a believer in giving bakhsheesh to the Judge (but it is important to give more than the opposing attorney gives!)

Saturday 8 August 2020

Mussar: The Wisdom of "K'shot Atzm'cha"

originally posted July 20, 2013

The Talmud Teaches:

K'shot Atz'mcha
v'Achar Kach
K'shot Acheirim

Here is a L'Havdil a Taoist parallel

"If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself, if you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation
-- Lao Tzu

Lesson #1:

If you want to fix the world, fix yourself first.


Furthermore, The Talmud's version has an additional implication, Namely-
Without fixing oneself first, there is little or no credibility to impose one's Mussar upon others.
Thus, a preacher needs to walk the walk as well as to talk the talk.
Both Senses are captured in the K'shot Atzm'cha phrase.


A third Talmudic aspect may be understood as follows:
"Change Your Thoughts
And You Change Your World"
~ Norman Vincent Peale

Meaning: after fixing one's self - or more precisely one's own thinking - the natural by-product would be a brand new view / Hashkafah on the Outside World. IOW once one's outlook is fixed, the World is then Seen as OK - as in - I'm OK You're OK.


This is powerful stuff and can create total harmony with "What Is".

Sources from Talmud

מסכת בבא מציעא פרק ט
דף קז,ב גמרא
אנא היכי עביד הכי
והכתיב (צפניה ב) התקוששו וקשו ואמר ריש לקיש
קשוט עצמך ואחר כך קשוט אחרים

מסכת בבא בתרא פרק ג
דף ס,ב גמרא 
ולימא ליה זיל קוץ דידך והדר אקוץ דידי משום דריש לקיש דאמר (צפניה ב) התקוששו וקושו
קשוט עצמך ואח"כ קשוט אחרים: 

Best Regards,