Torah Musings Mon, 04 Aug 2014 13:37:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Daily Reyd Mon, 04 Aug 2014 13:37:03 +0000
Can Modern Orthodoxy Survive?
How the IDF chief rabbinate determines death of a soldier whose remains are not found
My great-grandfather’s chumash and siddur with piyutim
Jews will not be silenced: Chief Rabbi Goldstein
▪ Very important: Advice to Young Scholars
Limudim Continue At Ponevezh Yeshiva
Lakewood yeshiva adds special bein hazmanim seder due to matzav facing klal yisrael

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Lessons from Jewish History in a Time of Crisis and Transition Mon, 04 Aug 2014 01:30:13 +0000 judeWe saw the Moon in the Morning in the East, but in the Evening in the West:

On the Destiny of Contemporary Jews and Judaism:

Lessons from Jewish History in a Time of Crisis and Transition


An early Yahrzeit Lecture by Rav Joseph D. Soloveitchik

Edited by Rabbi Basil Herring

Part II

Rising Anti-Semitism:

How and Why the Modern Variety Differs from that of the Past


Editors Introduction

In the first part of this shiur, delivered in 1943 as the horrific contours of the Shoah were becoming clear, the Rav embraced the campaign to create a Jewish State in the land of Israel. In so doing he became a leading voice of modern Religious Zionism. In this next section, the Rav turned his attention to the question of how the massive persecution of European Jewry could have come about, and in particular to understand the nature of the unprecedented anti-semitism that was at its core.

Modern anti-semitism had been on the rise throughout Western and Eastern Europe since the late nineteenth century. Most perplexing to Jews was that this had occurred precisely in highly civilized and cultured societies where Jews had reached pinnacles of cultural and intellectual influence, and contributed in every way to the enrichment of their societies. In this section, the Rav sought to explain this unprecedented hatred and persecution of the Jewish people under such paradoxical circumstances. What had changed in modern times that might account for the Shoah?

Herein lies the importance of his analysis 70 years later. For in 2014 we are once again confronted with rising anti-semitism, in particular in Europe, but elsewhere too.


Holiness versus Wisdom, the Heart versus the Mind

A precious homiletic jewel is hidden in the luggage of the Sages, for they declared that Jews sin against God by substituting the mind for the heart. Instead of a vital, beating heart that instinctively longs for its beloved, they embrace a placid mind that belittles emotion and feeling. Yehudah Halevy described this precisely when he invoked the midrash that the Jews are the heart of mankind, and that in the heart of every Jew there is a hidden love for God. The modern secular Jew substituted for this warm heart a cold mind, one that is bereft of the glory of Judaism.

In referring to the Jewish heart and the mind, we are referring to the separate goals of holiness and wisdom, respectively. The Torah teaches us, as described at the revelation at Sinai, what makes the Jewish people special: namely, being a goy kadosh, a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). What makes our people different from all others is our longing to embrace the transcendent world of holiness. The search for holiness is at the very center of the spiritual life of Israel, infusing infinite light into its mundane daily existence. By declaring that we are a holy nation, the Torah taught us that we are distinguished by dedicating our actions, desires, and aspirations to achieving sacredness. In this we are to serve as an example for the entire world of a life of purity in each succeeding era, transcending the crude values of those among whom we might live. The task of Israel is to embody the ideal of a holy nation, known for the modesty of its ways, the harmony of its character, and the nobility of its spirit. Our duty is to embody an elevated sensibility, a purity of thought, and a glorious will, as a nation filled with holiness, purity, and an upright soul.

This idea was expressed by the midrash (Lev. Rabbah 30) that “the fruit of a splendid tree – pri etz hadar (Lev. 23:40) – this is the esrog which is like the heart.” This reflected the Sages’ world-view that the power and charisma of the Jewish nation are to be found in its heart, as symbolized by the heart-shaped esrog. When a Jew takes an esrog and recites a berachah on it, he experiences the light of eternity which in turn causes him to praise God by immediately reciting the Hallel. Thus does he transcend the physical universe to enter the domain of the Shechinah. Note that there is nothing among the four species of Sukkos that might symbolize the mind, for the intellect is irrelevant to the process by which man realizes his spiritual aspirations.

For the same reason R. Yitzchak in the midrash declares that “the Torah should logically have begun with ‘this month will be the first of months’ for that was the first commandment to the Jewish people (see Rashi to Gen 1:1).” That is, it is only when Jews sanctify the world that God created by performing His mitzvos, and are themselves sanctified in the process, that the world finally achieves the purpose for which it was created.  Conversely, when Jews fail to live holy lives the cosmos too remains formless and empty.

What the Jews of Modernity have Changed

But what has the modern Jew wrought? What have liberal and secular nationalistic Judaism brought about?

They have embraced a different view of what makes the Jew special. To them, Jews are above all an am chacham venavon, “a wise and understanding people (Deut. 4:6).” Modern Jews have substituted wisdom for sanctity, and instead of being a “nation of priests” (Ex. 19:6) they preferred to be a nation of the wise. Rather than being a holy people they have sought only understanding. Worse yet, they have replaced real wisdom with a much more limited “knowledge,” which itself has been reduced to a mere utilitarianism, pragmatism or know-how.

Judaism of old declared that “the foundation of wisdom is the fear of Hashem” (Proverbs 111:10), and the source of understanding is purity of the soul. It furthered crucially proclaimed that the nations of the world would come to recognize that our wisdom as a great nation derives from our adherence to kol ha-chukim ha-eleh, i.e., all of the laws and statutes of the Torah (Deut. 4:6). But the Jews of modernity have rejected these teachings by rebelling against the centrality of holiness. Instead they declare that the foundations of wisdom can only be found in pragmatism and functionality, in which the measure of the good life is in its utilitarian results, as man searches for earthly happiness and the pleasures of this world.

As a result modern Jews have taken inordinate pride in their many contributions to modern culture. They are proud to proclaim that Jews are the essential catalysts and agents of society’s highest cultural achievements, and that our sons and daughters having enriched the Western European spirit, while contributing greatly to its civilization. And indeed it is true that many of the intellectual and cultural giants of modern times have been Jews born within the walls of the Jewish ghetto who went on to embrace the worlds of science, literature and the arts.

The problem is that the so-called wise men at the helm of our people in recent generations did not fully comprehend what was happening. They thought that by contributing their many tithes to the cultural treasuries of society the Jews would receive appreciation and respect from the nations of the world. They thought that the nations would graciously appreciate these gifts. But were they right? Did those contributions strengthen the Jews’ political situation, or improve its fragile standing? Was the Jewish people rewarded with more secure basic rights?

The truth is that had our so-called wise men of modernity realized that love and appreciation of the Jew would not result from the contributions of its scientists or intellectuals, and that civic acceptance would not ensue from the efforts of its artists, actors, or politicians seeking to improve the world, they would never have exchanged holiness and a life of separation and elevated living, for the meager rewards of cultural utilitarianism.

What was the result? It was that the life-giving wellsprings that had watered our soil for centuries dried up, leaving us in a spiritual wasteland, deprived of the sources of our intellectual vitality and faith. We forfeited the joys that crowned the love of young marrieds in their devotion to each other, and the love of parents and children that were found in the ancient “tents of Jacob.” The Shabbos queen, that was so pure, holy and blessed, went into exile. The national life of Israel was emptied of the old wine and pomegranate nectar of tradition. Diminished were the reflections of chesed, and pale was the star of compassion that had served to illuminate our paths from generation to generation. The flame of refined thought was extinguished, while purity of feeling was replaced with a polluted soul. We became preoccupied with the pursuit of many disciplines and sciences, including philosophy, metaphysics, ethics, esthetics, and politics, none of which can or will restore the glorious crown of our people, nor form the dew that might revitalize our dry bones that are so dispersed over the secular landscape.

The Key Difference between Classical and Modern Anti-Semitism

Recognizing this is the key to understanding the difference between classical and modern anti-Semitism.

In earlier times the nations did indeed recognize the glory of our holiness, even if they did not respect our wisdom. In earlier ages our detractors saw us as an exotic and foreign people, accusing us of being strangers who were very different from all other nations. They came at us alleging that we deliberately chose to be different and apart, as they noted that the openings of our tents did not face those of our neighbors, and that we had marked off the outer perimeters of our domains. Classical anti-semitism faulted the Jews for standing apart, but it never came to despise or disrespect Judaism. Never did ancient Jewry experience their enemy’s abhorrence. Jews knew that deep down their enemies respected and admired them. The old Jew, burdened by the weight of adhering to the laws of the sabbatical and jubilee years, went about in the land with a raised arm and unbowed head. The hatred of his detractors was the result of their envying his hidden strengths and the beauty of his existence. On the one hand the anti-semite never understood the eternal Jew, and was unable to penetrate into the inner dynamic of his world. This failure to comprehend the Jew led to perpetual hatred for this eternal people. But on the other hand the anti-semite did not deny the Jews’ transcendental strength or the elevated beauty that God had bestowed on this people to ennoble its life with radiance and dignity. Our enemies knew that in spite of our lowly condition and physical poverty, we stood astride the cosmos and attained eternity. They may have attacked Knesset Yisrael, but against their will they recognized the holiness and dignity of its soul. In the words of King Solomon, in their eyes Israel was black (shechorah) – but it was also beautiful (naavah) (Song of Songs 1:5.)

But now the cursed eternal Jew who was also so mysterious and incomprehensible, whose impenetrable existence could not be figured out, is no more. In his stead there is the modern Jew, all suited and perfumed, his soul and spirit revealed to all, filled with intellect and modern thought. How does the anti-semite respond to such a person of high culture? The anti-semite now deals with a cultured man who seems similar to all men, and inhabits the same sphere with them. No longer are there differing values, spiritual strangeness, or withdrawal from the world at large. The Jew is not distinguished by a unique spiritual quality. He has no specific philosophical outlook to set him apart. Instead he seeks the approval of his peers. He generously contributes of his spirit and intellect to general culture, as an artist, scientist, politician, philosopher, author and journalist, participating in cultural creativity with every fiber of his being. He is open to many ideas and worships many gods. And yet – he is no less hated by his intellectual peers and colleagues, by the students who benefit so much from his wisdom, and by the world of culture that surrounds him.

This new hatred differs from other forms of bigotry that have arisen in our time. This hatred is not the result of envy but the result of disgust and abhorrence.  The anti-semites mock us, saying “where now is the eternal and mysterious Jew who used to possess transcendental aspirations and lofty ideals? Where is his spiritual courage, pride, strength and humility? Where the ancient glory and the eternal radiance that once characterized him? It must be that the eternal Jew who saw visions of the divine has become just another citizen of the marketplace, one who has absorbed all of the dirt of the public domain, in his yearning to embrace a life of ease and comfort. That mysterious Jew who was the hero of ancient tales, and whose exotic visage cast such fear upon us, now stands revealed to us as a simple creature of flesh and blood who aspires merely to the enjoyment of physical pleasures and the joys of this world. He has none of the fire of the prophets, or the stubbornness of the Maccabees, or the sanctity of the Nazirites. Neither does he rise ethically or in his life-style above his contemporaries, so why did we fear him?”

Thoughts such as these bring such people to a hatred and enmity that amount to nothing but loathing. Our contemporary anti-semitism contains no awe, fear, or envy that are the result of admiration, but instead expresses disdain and revulsion that bring shame and indignity upon our people.

So, as between hatred that is the result of envy, or hatred that is the result of disdain, which is preferable?

Editors Comments

  1.  It is remarkable how thoroughly the Rav embraced the primacy in Judaism of the heart over the mind, the predominance of warm feelings over cold logic. After all the Rav was a leading practitioner of Brisker intellectualism, whose forebears followed in the austere footsteps of the Vilna Gaon. Even his academic studies and degrees were steeped in Kantian logic and rationalism. And yet the Rav here places emotion and feeling at the very center of the religious life, relegating intellectual speculation to a secondary role. In this he explicitly chooses R. Yehudah Halevy (“the Jewish people is the heart of the world”) over Rambam, joining with the former in seeing the Jewish people as the unique “heart” among the nations. The acquisition of wisdom is not the defining characteristic of the Jew – rather it is the pursuit of a life of holiness and purity through the mitzvos of the Torah. To think otherwise is to fall into a modernist trap that betrays a fundamental teaching of the Torah.
  2. We can also note the anti-elitist corollary of this position: a Jew embraces the Shechinah by reciting a brachah and then holding the Four Species of Sukkos. He transcends the physical world by reciting the Hallel, esrog in hand. This is a religion for the masses, not just for the intellectual or moral elite, or for the talmid chacham. This is far indeed from the elevated standing of the chosen few described in the parable of the palace found in the Rambam’s Guide for the Perplexed (Guide 3:51).
  3. This brings us to the central thesis of this section. For the Rav, in opposition to many Jews of modernity, anti-semitism is a constant, a given, a matter of fate. Nothing the Jew does can prevent its emergence. Not assimilation or the embrace of non-Jewish values and behaviors. Not even unparalleled Jewish contributions (read “Nobel Prizes” et al) to the well-being and progress of humanity in every imaginable sphere. Surely the rise of Hitler was proof that those Jews who thought that by being good citizens of the world who had cast off their Jewish markers they would be freed from the scourge of anti-semitism, were completely mistaken. To the contrary, says the Rav, the more Jews transcend their Jewish otherness or (as he calls it) “exoticism,” and the more they reject the life of holiness and mitzvos, the less the anti-semites respect them. At least in the past, the bigot grudgingly recognized the holiness, purity, and eternity of the Jewish soul. But now that so many Jews are indistinguishable from their fellow citizens, and bereft of the unique spiritual qualities that were always the source of Jewish strength, the anti-semite for the first time in history has nothing but scorn and disgust for the Jew, irrespective of all that individual Jews have contributed to the enrichment of the cultural life of society at large. Paradoxically, it seems, the more the Jew contributes and assimilates, and the more he loses his unique otherness and distinctive identity, the less he is respected, and the more he becomes an object of disgust and revulsion.
  4. An instructive recent illustration of this point can be found in the recently released Notebooks of Martin Heidegger. To the dismay of all those who have admired his work, this eminent German philosopher now stands revealed as a thorough and unrepentant Nazi. Most interesting, is Heidegger’s characterization of the modern Jew, in which he writes “contemporary Jewry’s increase in power finds its basis in the fact that Western metaphysics – above all in its modern incarnation – offers fertile ground for the dissemination of empty rationality and calculability…” He accuses the Jews of excessive intellectualism, and the loss of loyalty to their historical “national community.” In the past, Heidegger wrote, the Jews lived as a separate nation or “race,” but now as Jews seek to assimilate and be accepted by other peoples, there is a world-wide cosmopolitan Jewish conspiracy to alienate the world’s peoples from their rootedness in soil and nationality. (See Richard Wolin, in The Jewish Review of Books 5:2, pp. 40ff.)
  5. Hence, for the Rav, we can understand the emergence of an unprecedented persecution of the Jews. In this respect it is the discarding of Jewish separateness and holiness itself which leads to the heightened oppression of the Jew, who is now not only hated. The Jew is also an object of disgust in his utter loss of community and nationality on account of his excessive “rationality” and “calculability.”
  6. The Rav’s analysis of classical versus modern anti-semitism, written during the unfolding of the Shoah, has many ramifications for the modern Jew. One might argue that much of the recent growth of anti-semitism is connected to the State of Israel in relation to the Moslem world, and thus the Rav’s thesis has only limited application to such changed circumstances. On the other hand, if one views the State of Israel (or modern Zionism) as a stand-in for the historical Jew, one can argue that the Rav’s analysis remains quite relevant to the realities of today. If the State of Israel is to be seen as merely a state of the Jews, one in which Jews can live securely and in freedom like every other nation-state, contributing in a variety of not particularly Jewish ways to world-culture, and without the state bearing an essentially Jewish character, then the Rav’s critique of the modern Jew in relation to anti-semitism remains intact in application to this “state of the Jews.”
  7. But if Israel can be a specifically “Jewish State”, one that preserves the uniqueness of the Jew and of Jewish life, seeking to enhance the spiritual and moral identity of the Jewish people by strengthening all that has always identified the Jews as a special or holy nation, both ethically and religiously. If Israel is such a state then it will be a country and a society that will be respected and recognized as the modern-day embodiment of the ancient and glorious Kingdom of Israel, filled with justice and goodness both within and beyond its borders, even if it has the ineluctable fate of always being beset by cruel enemies and detractors.
  8. In that respect, which path the State and the Jewish people will follow is the ultimate issue that confronts the State of Israel, and the Jewish people, in our time.
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Daily Reyd Fri, 01 Aug 2014 12:24:17 +0000
YUTorah Tisha B’Av to Go
▪ From 2006: RCA: The Palestinian Responsibility for Civilian Deaths in Gaza
▪ Ancient coin found: Judea Captured
Sharansky: European idea will die here and survive in Israel
Hindus Want Kosher-Like Certification
▪ I don’t understand this argument at all. Easy Reform conversion is already available–certainly easier than any Orthodox conversion will ever be–and that still hasn’t stemmed the tide of assimilation: Zohar: Pew, Continuity and Conversion

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Havdala With Wine During The Nine Days Fri, 01 Aug 2014 01:30:58 +0000 havdalah cupby R. Asher Bush

The communal mourning practices during the period preceding Tisha B’Av have changed over time, now challenging the performance of an important mitzvah. The Talmud1 teaches that as part of our mourning in the period leading up to Tisha B’Av, a number of restrictions were imposed. When the month of Av begins, joy should be limited; during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls, it is prohibited to launder or cut hair. A prohibition to eat meat and drink wine was only formally made for the Seudah HaMafsekes (the final meal before Tisha B’Av).2 Throughout the generations each of these mourning practices was extended by communal custom, leading the Rambam3 to record that the universal practice is to refrain from eating meat during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls, while some communities refrain from the first day of Av. Three practices are recorded in the Shulchan Aruch4 regarding the eating of meat and the drinking of wine: to refrain from the 17th of Tamuz, to refrain from Rosh Chodesh Av (with a Sefardic variation of eating these foods on Rosh Chodesh but not after5) and to refrain during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls. The universal Ashkenazic practice is to refrain from Rosh Chodesh.

Does this also apply to Mitzvos?

It is clear from all sources that the custom of refraining from meat and wine never applies when there is a mitzvah involved. The Maharil explains that the reason for this exception is that there is no formal prohibition on consuming meat and wine. Our practice is based on a binding community minhag (custom), which the communities never accepted when the food is part of a mitzvah.6 The most significant and obvious example of this is the Shabbos meals themselves, which are not subject to any such restrictions, even if one would start the Friday night meal before sunset or extend Seudah Shlishis into the night.7

Yet we do find that the consumption of meat and wine in various other mitzvah situations generated significant discussion among the poskim. The basic rule is reflected in the words of Rav Yosef Karo who wrote that one may drink the wine of Havdala and Birkas HaMazon.8 This is consistent with the idea that the custom never precluded meat and wine when their consumption was part of a mitzvah.

The Ramo, however, records that the Ashkenazic practice is to refrain from drinking wine for Birkas HaMazon and Havdala. Instead, he writes, the practice is to give the wine of Havdala to a child to drink; absent a child, an adult may drink it. He also adds that at a Seudas Mitzvah, a celebratory meal for a mitzvah such as a bris, pidyon haben or siyum, it is permitted for all attendees to eat meat and drink wine.

Following the Ramo’s comment not to drink wine for Birkas HaMazon and Havdala, a parenthetical note is found in the text of the Ramo which references the Responsa of the Maharil as the source of this practice. However, this is not at all what is written in the Responsa of the Maharil–he writes that he never saw his own teachers refrain from drinking wine for Havdala. He does, however, quote those who also allowed drinking wine for Birkas HaMazon, about which he expressed discomfort. Similarly, in the Minhagim of the Maharil,9 it is recorded that he permitted wine for a bris, pidyon haben or siyum, but would not use wine for Birkas HaMazon, even when it would be given to a child.10

Ostensibly, this ruling of the Ramo seems confusing and perhaps even problematic, since the practices he records do not seem to match the rulings of the Maharil at all. Before proceeding, it is important to note that Rav Moshe Isserles was well aware of the full text of the Maharil, which he quotes fully in his earlier writing, the Darkei Moshe.11

While there are several resolutions offered to this dilemma, Rav Moshe Feinstein’s12 is the most straightforward. Rav Moshe explained that today the common practice is for an adult to drink the wine even if a child is present. This is not a rejection of the ruling of the Ramo, but rather a reflection of the fact that wine was not readily available so throughout the year Havdala was commonly recited on other beverages. This is not true today where wine is readily available and is generally used for Havdala.

Based on Rav Moshe’s explanation, it is clear why the Ramo’s ruling never contradicted the Maharil’s. Given the difficulty in acquiring wine, it was generally not used for Havdala. Accordingly, if a person were to use wine for Havdala it would be viewed as a treat to enjoy, which is most unlike the reason the Maharil permitted its use in the first place.13 Accordingly, there is no contradiction between what Rav Moshe Isserles wrote in Darkei Moshe and in his glosses to Shulchan Aruch. One reflected the ideal while the other reflected the reality that wine was an uncommon commodity and viewed as a special pleasure.

So what should be done for Havdala?

Based on Rav Yosef Karo’s ruling, the universal Sefardic practice is to use wine as usual.14 Based on all of the above, it would be assumed that the Ashkenazic practice is to either give the wine to a child or to drink it oneself. However, another possibility is also found. Until now, the thrust of this discussion focused on the permissibility of wine. Some took this matter in an entirely different direction, using beer or other alternative beverages instead of wine.15

While the Ramo recommended giving the wine to a child, the Mishna Brurah ((651:70)) pointed out that this cannot just be “any child.” The child utilized must have reached the age of training for brachos and will drink the proper amount, but not yet reached the age of training to mourn over Yerushalayim.

Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal16 pointed out in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that it is generally difficult to find such a child who understands brachos but not the mourning for Yerushalayim. Accordingly, Rav Shlomo Zalman would drink the wine himself. It should also be added that given that Tisha B’Av falls in the middle of the summer, by the time Shabbos ends most such children will be asleep by that time as well.

Additionally, it might be suggested that even though for all purposes in Halacha (such as Kiddush, Havdala, Four Cups, etc) grape juice is considered wine, it still does not provide the joy of wine and might be a better choice of beverage on which to make havdala during the nine days.

  1. Taanis 26b 

  2. Taanis 26b, OC 652:1 

  3. Laws of Fasting 5:6 

  4. OC 651:9 

  5. Kaf HaChaim 651:125, 126 

  6. Minhagim of the Maharil, Laws of Tisha B’Av #5 & #6. This is also the reason that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 4:102) permits shaving during the three weeks before Tisha B’Av for business purposes. His reason is not that a prohibited action is permitted since it will result in the loss of money but that the custom was never adopted in such cases. This perspective is important from the point of view of Halacha and perhaps even more importantly philosophically. 

  7. Mishnah Brurah 651:56 

  8. OC 651:10 

  9. Minhagim of Maharil (Laws of Tisha B’Av #6)  

  10. Ibid (#8)  

  11. OC 651:9. He quotes the Maharil saying one is permitted to drink wine at a Seudas Mitzvah, and all the more so for Havdala. The logic of this would presumably be that if we permit eating meat and drinking wine at a meal, where the intent is for pleasure, all the more so drinking wine for Havdala should be permitted since the wine is not primarily consumed for pleasure.

    The Ramo’s logic would seem to be quite the opposite, since he permitted wine for a bris but not for Birkas HaMazon or Havdala. The likely explanation for this approach is that were a Seudas Mitzva to be eaten lacking the normal celebratory foods of meat and wine it will be a noticeably deficient meal, while that is not true in the cases of Havdala and Birkas HaMazon. In the case of Havdala, where the ideal choice of the Ramo is for a child to drink, there will be nothing lacking in the mitzva if a child and not the one who recited Havdala drinks. Regarding Birkas HaMazon, it seems that the Ramo is following the opinion which regards the use of a cup of wine as preferable but not required. 

  12. Quoted by his student Rav Aharon Felder in Moadei Yeshurun (vol. 1 page 154 footnote 64). 

  13. As noted above in note #11. 

  14. Kaf HaChaim 651:152 

  15. Aruch HaShulchan 651:26. Even though ordinarily the use of alternative beverages is only recommended when wine is not available (see Mishna Brurah 296:8), this practice considers the undesirability of wine during the Nine Days as sufficient reason to view these other beverages as preferred.

    It should be noted that while this seems to be a commonly followed practice, it is not noted by most poskim

  16. Yerushalayim BMoadeha, (vol. on The Three Weeks, #167)  

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Daily Reyd Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:07:36 +0000
32 nations back Yom Kippur as UN holiday
Jewish groups file briefs in Jerusalem passport case
▪ New head of London Beth Din: Gelley gets head role
The Case Against A Kosher Casket
Preparing for Tisha B’Av During War
▪ Letters to an earlier self: Dear Me

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Responding to Catastrophe Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:30:20 +0000 Ben Zakkaiby Aron White

The destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash was a devastating catastrophe for the Jewish people. The Gemara (Bava Basra 60b) records the sense of lethargy and depression that set in – Jews were so demoralised, they did not see any reason to continue Judaism. Beyond the initial depression, the long term questions of the future of Jewish identity and observance loomed large. What does Jewish life look like in a post Beis Hamikdash world? The Beis Hamikdash had been the centre of religious life for centuries. The Jewish calendar featured the pilgrimages of Aliya LaRegel. The agricultural cycle involved bringing the first fruits, the Bikkurim, to Yerushalayim. At many important moments in one`s life, such as the birth of a child, and salvation from a potential danger, one would bring a sacrifice. The absence of the Beis Hamikdash meant there had to be a paradigm shift in Jewish observance and identity.

The leader who charted a course forward at this point was Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai. He interacted directly with the Roman authorities, such as when he famously made three requests from the Roman leader outside Yerushalayim (Gittin 56a). However, it is in his Takkanos, enactments, that he made at this time, that we can see the direction he set for Jewry.

One can find within Orthodoxy today all three elements of the reaction of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana records that he made eight Takkanos after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash (a ninth was made at an unspecified time). These rulings spanned a broad range of areas, such as the rules of conversion, the setting of the calendar and the agricultural cycle. However, the enactments were not haphazard, but rather represent three different elements of the reaction to the destruction.


Some of the rules were made “Zecher LaMikdash”, to remember the Beis Hamikdash. Various practices that had previously been taken place in the Beis Hamikdash were now to be performed by Jews everywhere. The Lulav, which had previously only been taken all seven days of Succos in the Beis Hamikdash, was now to be taken for all seven days everywhere. The Shofar, which had only been blown on Shabbos in the Beis Hamikdash, was now to blown on Shabbos in religious courts outside the Beis Hamikdash. These enactments were intended to be a reminder of the Beis Hamikdash – as Jewish life developed and changed, we could not forget our roots.


A second group of enactments were made, not to remember what was, but to adapt to the new reality. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai made five rules, each of which are based on the fact that the situation on the ground has changed. (Many of these rules are quite technical, so I will attempt to simplify them)

  1. During the time of the Beis Hamikdash, witnesses reporting the new moon would come to the Beis Hamikdash. Now, without a Beis Hamikdash, there was a requirement to provide a central place for them to go. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai legislated a central place that witnesses should always come to.
  2. The Beis Din could only accept witnesses reporting the new moon if the witnesses arrived at specific times, because of the cycle of the sacrifices. There were now no sacrifices, so these limitations were removed.
  3. Previously, witnesses who had seen the new moon could violate Shabbos to arrive on time to report it to Beis Din, in order to ensure the sacrifices of Rosh Chodesh were brought correctly. Now, in the absence of sacrifices, this permission was removed.
  4. One element of the conversion process had been the bringing of a sacrifice by the new convert. Immediately after the destruction, new converts had been told to set aside money for the sacrifice, even if they could not bring it. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai ruled that converts should not even set aside money for the sacrifice. This money was likely to be misappropriated, because it could not be used for a sacrifice, so it was better not to set it aside.
  5. Rules had been in place regarding the tithe of produce that was brought to Yerushalayim. Certain people had to bring fruit to Yerushalayim, in order to make Yerushalayim look beautiful, as a mark of respect for the city. Now the city was desolate of the presence of God, and such rules were removed.

The destruction of the Beis Hamikdash had changed many things about Jewish life. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai adapted those practices that had to reflect the new reality.


The eighth enactment is the most astonishing. (Once again, this rule is quite technical, but the explanation below, which is the crux of the idea, can be understood without understanding the full rule.) When the Beis Hamikdash was in existence, the new produce of a field could only be eaten after the Omer sacrifice was brought on the second day of Pesach. In the absence of the sacrifice, the new produce can be eaten from daybreak of the second day of Pesach, a number of hours earlier than it could be eaten when the Beis Hamikdash existed. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai removed this permission to eat produce earlier than during the time of the Beis Hamikdash. He stated his rationale –“Next year the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, will people not say “Last year we ate at daybreak?””

Not content to remember the past, and change in the present, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai looked to the future. As everything around him crumbled, on the back of the worst calamity and depression the Jews had faced, he also looked towards a better future.

Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai`s vision was complex and nuanced. Simultaneously, he required that we remember the Beis Hamikdash, make the changes necessary to the world without the Beis Hamikdash, and look forward to rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. In responding to catastrophe, the Jews needed to hold on to their past, adapt in the present, and look to the future. It was such a vision, simple as a cliché but far more difficult in the midst of a tragedy, which Rabi Yochanan Ben Zakai enacted, providing a direction for the Jewish people.

In Our Days, As Then

Since that event, one of the few equivalent catastrophes that has happened to the Jewish people is the Holocaust. The centre of Jewish life for the previous three hundred years was destroyed in less than a decade. Millions were killed, millions were refugees who had to rebuild their lives from nothing. As with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, beyond the short term mourning and desperation, there was also the more long term question of how to rebuild Jewish life.

One can find within Orthodoxy today all three elements of the reaction of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai. There has been a move to ensure a continued connection to our past, a move to make the necessary changes in the present, and a move to look towards our future.

Three Ways

In many parts of Orthodoxy, there has been a pronounced effort to maintain a connection with our past. Many students today learn in yeshivos named Mir, Ponevezh and Grodno, named after the famed yeshivos of pre-war Europe. The great rabbis of pre-war Europe, such as Rav Elchonon Wasserman, the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yerucham Lebowitz, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, loom large over the discourse of much of Orthodoxy. The wearing of hat, jacket, streimel and Kappote have been maintained, despite the demise of the cultures that gave rise to them. Sometimes, the Holocaust is consciously or subconsciously repressed in an attempt to maintain a feeling of connection, not a break, with pre-war Europe. In many ways, the great past of European Jewry has been maintained and perpetuated within Orthodoxy.

There has also been a movement within Orthodoxy to adapt to the new situation. In many parts of Orthodoxy, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people have been consciously introduced into discourse as these topics became more central in our current situation. Yeshivos have been established in Israel where students serve in the Israeli army, with names like Sderot, Petach Tikva, HaKotel, Mitzpe Ramon. In the Diaspora, yeshivos have been established that allow students to learn in yeshiva whilst earning a degree or a vocational qualification. Changes in women`s education and the increase in the study of Tanach are further examples of the changes that Orthodoxy has made as it adapts to its new environment.

There has also been a movement in Orthodoxy which is future oriented. Just three years after the Holocaust, Jews had fulfilled that hope of two thousand years – to live as a people in their land. Now was not a time to merely respond to society, but to build one. Jews threw themselves into professional and academic occupations, not merely as a way of adapting to a foreign society, but as a way to build one of their own. Jewish perspectives on society have been formulated, the fields of Mishpat Ivri and Jewish political theory have been developed, aiming to build the Jewish State in a Jewish way. In the Diaspora, Jewish perspectives have been formulated in more universalistic terms, also aiming to be proactive in building of wider society.

Three Sides Of The Same Coin

One could put names on these sectors – The first is largely Charedi, the middle National Religious and the third Modern Orthodox. However, what this framework can do is break down the barrier we generally erect between these three. All the above elements of Orthodoxy are not yet working in tandem, but they are all reading from the same script. Just as Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai two thousand years ago, Orthodoxy has seen catastrophe and responded in a similar way. It has maintained a connection to the past, adapted to its new situation and has continued, even after facing a great catastrophe, to look towards the future.

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IDF Uniforms Wed, 30 Jul 2014 23:30:50 +0000 Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Rav Soloveitchik was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. He often cited the Rambam (Tefillah 5:1) that eight specific aspects of prayer must be adhered to while standing for Shemoneh Esrei. The first four are: Amidah, standing; Nochach HaMikdash, facing Eretz Yisrael; Tikun HaGuf, feet together and clean body; and Tikun HaMalbushim, proper and dignified attire.

He was once visited by a student who served in the Israel Defense Forces who asked the Rav the following question: He worked in the tank division and his job was cleaning and maintaining the tanks. Often, his uniform would get covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change clothing before davening Mincha. He emphasized that it would be possible to do so but it would be quite inconvenient and difficult. The Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud, “Why would you need to change? You are wearing bigdei Kodesh, holy clothes”!

That is how the Rav felt about someone serving in the the Israel Defense Forces.

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Daily Reyd Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:16:02 +0000
Continuing to Study Torah is ‘Part of the Battle’
Exodus: Why Europe’s Jews Are Fleeing Once Again
Hassidim to cancel summer vacation activities, keep studying because of war
Mirsky: Learning to argue on Tisha b’Av
One Group’s Proposal for Mideast Peace: Build the Third Temple
Torah Journalism
Wolpe: Knowledge Base

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Torah From Sinai Wed, 30 Jul 2014 01:30:27 +0000 imageQuestions about the laws in Deuteronomy in comparison with those in earlier biblical books assume a process of prophetic transmission at Mt. Sinai and in the Sinai Desert. However, without even minimally exploring that transmission, we can never even begin to answer those questions. Jewish tradition teaches a dual transmission–the Written and the Oral Torahs. Distinguishing between these two traditions helps us understand the law and resolve texts that otherwise appear contradictory. What follows is a section of R. Yehuda Copperman’s Peninei Meshech Chochmah. R. Moshe Schapiro translated the text, which was not reviewed by R. Copperman and contains additional paragraph breaks and section headers.


The point of departure for the study of Torah is the belief in the transmission of the Torah by the Holy One, blessed be He (HKBH) to Moshe and the nation of Israel, at the occasion which is called Maamad Har Sinai. The point of departure, however, is not the biblical text, as is usually the case with literary study, but the will of the Giver of the Torah, HKBH. While an examination of a text composed by human beings can suggest any interpretation that is loyal to the principles of grammar and syntax, style etc. and any such interpretation is perforce legitimate – even though it may generate new meanings that the author had not even considered!- but such is not the case with the words of Torah. Here the Giver of the Torah, HKBH, is central and one must study the text that He gave us “from HKBH’s mouth to the ear of Moshe” (introduction of Ramban to Torah), as an expression of the general will to teach Torah to the Children of Israel- that “Torah” which was transmitted partly in writing and partly orally.

Transmission of the Oral Torah

As is well known, the Oral Torah preceded, from a historical perspective, the Written Torah. This is not only expressed through the commandments that were given orally to the forefathers of the nation, but also through the simple fact that when Moshe Rabbenu ascended Mt. Sinai (if we exclude from our discussion the Ten Commandments which have a different status) he received the Oral Torah before the work on the Written Torah had begun. We can understand this if we distinguish between the terms “Torah from Sinai” and “Torah from Heaven”. It is clear that we do not intend to obligate the great ones of the generations (medieval and modern) to use this terminology (for example, Rambam in Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:8 writes about “Torah from Heaven” when he means “Oral Torah”). We are using this distinction here between these two terms in order to emphasize that the receiving of the Written Torah and the receiving of the Oral Torah are two distinct categories, related to different disputes in Chazal and the medieval commentators, as will be explained further on. For the sake of simplicity alone we will use the term “Torah from Heaven” to mean the Written Torah and the term “Torah from Sinai” to mean the Oral Torah.

It makes sense to relate the term “Torah from Sinai” to the Oral Torah, for this is the language of Chazal: “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua etc.”1 On this matter there is a difference of opinion between two schools of thought, R. Akiva and R. Yishmael.2 R. Akiva maintained that the Torah was given in its entirety – its general principles, derivatives  and details – from Sinai, while R. Yishmael maintained that the general principles were given at Sinai, but the details were given [later] in the Tent of Meeting and on the Plains of Moav. This dispute between R. Akiva and R. Yishmael applies, as stated, only to the receiving of the commandments orally by Moshe Rabbenu, but is not relevant to his writing down of the Torah.3

It would seem that the dispute between these two schools of thought of the Tannaim is echoed much later in history, in the dispute of Ramban and Arbarbanel with Radvaz regarding the question of Deuteronomy. Ramban’s opinion4 is that Moshe Rabbenu received all the commandments orally at Sinai, but only taught the commandments that appear in Deuteronomy to the Children of Israel shortly before they entered the Land of Israel. He is therefore troubled to explain why HKBH held back Moshe’s prophecy for all those thirty-nine years. In a slightly different vein, Abarbanel5 argues that Moshe Rabbenu received and taught to the children of Israel all the commandments that he received while they were still at Sinai (and this is the point of contention between him and Ramban).6 In opposition to Ramban and Abarbanel, Radvaz7 argues that the Deuteronomic commandments were not only introduced for the first time to the Children of Israel shortly before they entered the land of Israel, but also to Moshe Rabbenu.

Radvaz stretches the line of the “Torah from Sinai” to the maximum, in that Moshe Rabbenu was in the process of receiving the Oral Torah from the mouth of HKBH, starting from the giving of the Torah at Sinai and ending at the end of his life on the plains of Moav.8 It appears that Abarbanel explains the concept “Torah from Sinai” according to R. Akiva’s approach, whereas Radvaz explains it according to R. Yishmael. It is hard to know, according to Ramban, who distinguishes between the receiving of commandments by Moshe and their transmission to the Children of Israel. All this, as stated, relates to the question of “Torah from Sinai”, in other words the question of the transmission of the Oral Torah from HKBH to Moshe.

Writing the Torah

In comparing “Torah from Sinai” to the concept of “Torah from Heaven” we should note the process by which HKBH dictated the Written Torah to Moshe Rabbenu. The process is defined by Ramban in this way:9 “But it is true and clear that the entire Torah from the beginning of the book of Genesis until the last words “Before the eyes of all Israel” came from the mouth of HKBH to the ear of Moshe.”

Parallel to the dispute in Chazal about “Torah from Sinai” (the Oral Torah), we find in Chazal another dispute about “Torah from Heaven” (the Written Torah), namely the question if the Torah was “given scroll by scroll” or “given complete.”10 Explaining the concept “scroll by scroll,” Rashi11 writes: “When a portion was spoken to Moshe he would write it down, and at the end of forty years, when all the portions were finished he connected them with sinews and sewed them together.” Explaining the concept “given complete,” Rashi12 writes: “It was not written until the end of forty years, after all the portions were spoken. And those that were said to him in the first and second years where arranged by him orally until they could be written down.” Rashi explicitly says that one should not think that the entire Torah was written at Sinai in a form that it is written today, in contrast with R. Akiva’s opinion that the entire Oral Torah was given at Sinai –“its general principles, derivatives and details.”13

What emerges is that “Torah from Sinai” preceded, from a historical perspective, “Torah from Heaven”; in other words, the Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah.14 This is the basis upon which we contended that the point of departure for the study of Torah is not the Torah text, rather the act of the transmission of the Torah by HKBH to Israel. Indeed, it’s important to know that there was a possibility that the Torah would not only have been given orally to Moshe Rabbenu at Sinai like the opinion of R. Akiva, but also that it would remainoral in its entirety. It was HKBH, Who first gave it orally, Who decided to organize it in the form that we have today, namely, the lesser part in written form, but the greater part in oral form. Any deep study of God’s Torah must perforce bring the student to a fundamental question – what is the foundation for this division between the Torah which is written and that part which remains oral? This question is discussed by the great commentators, but this is not the place for a lengthy discussion of that issue.15

From Oral to Written

Part of the Oral Torah remains oral, while a certain part of the God’s Torah was transferred now to the status of the Written Torah. We find this process of “transference” of Oral Torah to Written Torah in all the “newest” commandments in the Deuteronomy, and in the “explicated” commandments therein, as (according to Ramban and Abarbanel) they were written now but were already known to Moshe (and maybe even to the Children of Israel) these forty years. And thus indeed wrote Rashi (Gittin 60a) that “those that were said to him in the first and second years were arranged by him orally until they could be written down.” For example, even according to the opinion that the Torah was given “scroll by scroll” – and already at Mt. Sinai the portion of Mishpatim was given in written form, and there it was written “and in the seventh year he shall go free for no charge” – they knew and learned the content of the commandment “Adorn him generously from your flocks, from your threshing floor and from your wine cellar” which appears in Deuteronomy. It’s possible that they also knew how to derive this law from the Written Torah (without Deuteronomy), through the particular hermeneutical principles through which the Torah is interpreted.

At a later time in history we find a similar process (but not identical) when words of prophecy were spoken orally at a particular time in the life of a prophet (“the fruit of the lips”), part of them were copied down to be written (in general close to the end of the life of the prophet) based on the criterion of “that which is necessary for the generations” (Megillah 12a).

According to this understanding that the Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah, we can perhaps suggest didactically that instead of posing the question: “how did Chazal derive this or that law from the verse,” we should reformulate the question and say “how is the oral component of this commandment connected with the written part of this commandment?” This novel formulation would have spared us many of the problems that accompanied the pure, holy study of Torah and its commentaries in the last few centuries.


  1. Avot 1:1 

  2. Zevachim 115b 

  3. See Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Mishpatim (21:1) why, according to R. Akiva, it was necessary to repeat the entire Torah to Moshe Rabbenu at Sinai, the Tent of Meeting and the plains of Moav, and one time was not sufficient. 

  4. Introduction to Deuteronomy 

  5. Introduction to Deuteronomy 

  6. It is upon Abarbanel to explain how Deuteronomy is essentially different from the other chumashim, since the commandments contained in it are apparently equal to the other commandments both in terms of when they were received by Moshe Rabbenu and when they were transmitted to the Children of Israel. See there, at length, in his introduction. 

  7. Responsa, 2143 

  8. According to the approach of Radvaz it is better understood why the Torah emphasizes, when speaking of Moshe Rabbenu at the end of his life, that “his eye was not dimmed, nor his natural force abated,” in other words that also at the end of his life, his ability to absorb the commandments of the Torah were not one bit less than his ability to absorb them at the beginning of his career at the giving of the Torah at Sinai 

  9. His introduction to Genesis, there. 

  10. Gittin 60a 

  11. Ad loc 

  12. Ibid  

  13. We have emphasized the Written Torah as it is found in our hands today, to the exclusion of the Written Torah in the sense of “the names of HKBH” (according to the language of Ramban in his introduction to Torah), and this is according to the opinion of those commentators who see the Written Torah as being given in its entirety to Moshe Rabbenu in a “closed” form. In other words, with the letters mixed up, not like the peshat or midrash today. See about this in the commentary of R. Ovadyah Seforno to Exodus, Mishpatim 24:14, s.v. “Asher katavti” , and see also in the words of the Netziv of Volozhin there, s.v. “veha-Torah” and see also in the words of the Maharitz Chajes, Yoma 75a. 

  14. And there is no contradiction to our words from the words of Maharal to Exodus, Beshalach 15:25 regarding the commandments at Marah which preceded the giving of the Torah at Sinai about which the Maharalwrites: “For behold the Oral Torah did not precede the Written Torah”- look there very carefully! And see about this in the article by R. Mordechai Gifter “The Writing of Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim” in the memorial book for ha-Gaon R. Y. Weinberg.  

  15. See R. Eliyahu Mizrachi to Numbers, BeHaalotecha 10:11 s.v. “le-Mishpechotav”. And see our master the Chazon Ish, 125 to Moed, the essay: Siddur Ketivat Parshiyot HaTorah , and also in our article Signon HaKatuv part 3, at length. 

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Audio Roundup Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:30:00 +0000 by Joel Rich

A letter recently published in our local Federation paper. Comments?

Kaddish and meaning

July 10, 2014

Re “Local women reflect on saying Kaddish,” June 18

Your recent articles on Kaddish confirm the Jewish people’s ability to infuse a prayer with meaning. (“Local women reflect on saying Kaddish,” June 19). Kaddish itself is essentially a powerful prayer for our ultimate redemption, which most likely became associated with mourning in an attempt to give those in need of hope something to cling to. There are those who posit that this occurred as a response to the tragedy of the Crusades.

The issue of a daughter saying Kaddish is primarily a meta-halachic issue in that the specific result is bounded by the range of halachically defensible options and the general weltanschauung of the community in question.

My general sense is that in the Modern Orthodox community the practice is to support women who wish to say Kaddish. There is often an additional requirement that a man be saying Kaddish at the same time although I believe this is also for meta-halachic reasons.

There’s a lot more to be said on this issue. A few years back our congregation had a three-hour study session on the topic, sources available upon request.

I think it’s worthwhile to conclude any discussion about the saying of Kaddish with a quote from the Chayei Adam, a 19th-century decisor of Jewish law: “Though saying Kaddish and prayers are helpful to the departed, in any event, they are not of primary importance. Rather it is essential that the children proceed in the path of righteousness, for by this, they bring merit to the parents.”

While Kaddish may well have beneficial effects on the sayer, our real focus should be on the results for the departed.
In the last two paragraphs of kaddish we say aleinu v’al kol yisrael. I remember learning that once it’s said as a complete phrase and the other time with a comma after aleinu. Does anyone know the source (I thought it was mishneh brurah but was unable to locate)

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 23-1 and 24-1

    Rules concerning wearing tzitzit in a graveyard (details). One should try to wear a garment which obligates them to wear tzitzit.
    Specific rules concerning tzitzit and brachot, as well as tzitzit and kriat shma.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Assorted Interesting Shailos

    A potpourri which begins with some insight into psak methodology (e.g. rabbinic vs. Torah issue, ancillary issues vs. primary issues, consult peers):
    • Friday night lights (fireworks by a Jew, can you watch them?)
    • Can you sign a false affidavit?
    • Allowing your music (Maccabeats) to be used in a recorded Shabbat service on Shabbat?
    Kallah teachers pushing vow to give tzedaka each time a couple attempts to fulfil pru – a good practice?

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Waiting for the Rabbi to Finish Shemonah Esrei Before Starting Chazaras Hashatz

    Waiting for Godot The Rabbi for davening in general and Shmoneh Esrai in particular. Many sources reinforce the concern for tircha d’tzibura (communal bother) and not making the tzibbur wait (apparently unknown to some “frum” guys who in a suburban minyan where there are only 10 participants and the 1 guy is still saying Shmoneh Esrai 3 minutes after the other 9 finish). It all boils down to what’s a reasonable amount of time!
    LOL when R’AL mentioned the shatz waiting for Rabbi not just to take 3 steps back but to finish yhi ratzon – I do that and hear a lot of coughing behind me! (hamevin Yavin)

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 24-2 and 25-1

    Wearing a nice tallit/tzitzit is a good thing but putting a verse from Tanach on them may not be a good idea. Then on to tfillin and tallit wearing interaction rules. Ein maavirin (one shouldn’t pass over a mitzvah) is a Torah prohibition.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 25-2

    Having proper intent when putting on tfillin is important. Discussion of rules of brachot for tfillin and explanation of tfillin donning procedures.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 25-3

    Rules on touching head tfillin first when taking them from their container as well as interruption between tfillin putting on rules. One shouldn’t talk between donning head and arm tfillin even if not making a bracha.

  • Rabbi Baruch Simon -Yoreh Deah: Sfek Sfeika

    Some technical discussion of sfek sfeika (double doubt) rules.

  • Rabbi Azarya Berzon -Introduction to the right of privacy in Jewish Law, Hezek ReIyah

    Discussion of basic rules of hezek riah (visual damage). There are two issues – the damages inflicted by the watcher by preventing the watchee from engaging in normal activities plus a prohibition against the watcher looking at things he shouldn’t be seeing. Then a discussion of how things have changed over time (architecture, society) and rationalization of why these rules seem not so closely followed. Then on to respect/saying Kaddish for a non-ben brit.

  • Rav Shurkin – Shiur 62 Bircas Sheva Brochos BeSeudah Shenimshecha BeSoif Yom HaShvii

    Discusses whether sheva brachot is a mitzvah in birchat hamazon or a totally separate mitzvah. In general, a priori, the starting time of the meal determines the meals halachic time status. Then some issues with bracha achrona (after eating) for wine in cases of doubt.

  • Rav Shurkin Aseres Hadibros – Shiur 44

    Discussion of standing for Torah reading in general and specifically for Asseret Hadibrot (and why Ten Commandments is a misnomer).
    Some technical discussion of defining particular types of idol worship activities.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Washing Hands After Bloodletting, and Cutting Fingernails, Hair and

    Bloodletting, shaving, haircuts and nail cutting – when is washing thereafter needed?
    Nail biting in general is a bad habit!
    When dvar segulah (supernatural?) practice is quoted as halacha, we don’t extend it past its quoted scope.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 25-4

    More on the relative priorities of Tallit and Tfillin. Best to put on at home or in anteroom to Shul (per Zohar). You must have them on for Shma and Shmoneh esrai.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 25-6

    Taking off tfillin or moving them; the original practice was to make a new bracha each time but now (similar to tallit) we have in mind from the start the possibility of taking them off or moving them and thus don’t need a new bracha. [I’d love to know what changed and why]

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Shopping at Jewish Stores

    There is a priority to give a Talmid Chasham your business (me – must he be a practicing one?). There is a medrash to give priority to amitecha (ben brit? Religious?) Rationalizations as to why this is routinely ignored (but it shouldn’t be!).

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Slicing Bread Before Cutting

    Should one cut their bread before making the bracha so as to minimize the pause between the bracha and eating? How much should one cut? Do you do this on Shabbat? (no)

  • Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz -Rambam’s 13 Ikkarei Emunah: Introduction

    There are two types of beliefs – emunot (belief in) and deot (belief that). First in a series on the Rambam’s take on all this.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Wearing Tzitzis While Playing Ball

    Should you wear tzitzit if you’re going to get all sweaty? Background provided concerning balancing going out of your way to subject yourself to doing a mitzvah versus doing so in extreme conditions.

  • Rabbi Ezra Schwartz -The Gra and Chasidim

    Some more on the Gra and science as well as the Gra and Israel.
    Why was he so vehemently opposed to Chasidism and why was his opposition buried by frum historians. Various versions of history explored, is it possible the Gra was somewhat misinformed (and somewhat human)?

  • Rabbi Reuven Brand-Beginnings of Spirituality and the Light of Shabbat

    We live in two worlds – physical and spiritual, an ultimate goal is to unify them. Shabbat as reflective of this dual reality.

  • Rabbi Yehuda Balsam -Giving more than 20 percent of your money for Mitzvos

    Analysis of sources and force of the 20% limitation on charitable donations. Interesting Yerushalmi quoted on this limit originally being a halacha Moshe misinai which was lost and reinstituted by Chazal. Is the goal of avoiding impoverishing oneself prescriptive or descriptive?
    Interaction with other mitzvoth (e.g. pidyon habein) also discussed.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 25-5

    Tfillin brachot redux – interruptions between them and the impact of Shomea K’oneh (hearing is like saying). Then physical specifics of putting them on. Interesting summary of what to do when kabbalah and halacha (me – seem to) conflict (see – I’m frum!).

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Tzitzis 25-7

    Brachot rules – borrowed or stolen tfillin. Number of opinions on when it’s appropriate to take tfillin off at the end of tfila.

  • Rabbi Azarya Berzon -Masechet Makot 10b: The status of the Goel HaDam

    Goel hadam issues, when can the goel hadam act? Warning (hasraah) issues, which court (beit din) acts when (separate for determining whether there will be trial?). Very technical.

  • Shemita’s Inner Message #6, Kabbalat Shabbat HaAretz, by Rav Binyamin Zimmerman

    Preparation for a mitzvah is important and how we do so is telling on us as individuals and communities. Comparing Shabbat and Shviit in this regard.

  • Rabbi Reisman- Parshas Naso – Gadlus HaAdam and Kabalas HaTorah

    Two schools of mussar – shiflut (lowliness) vs. gadlut (greatness) of man. In learning you need only gadlut (I don’t agree). 11 is an unlucky number – it’s at the edge of shleimut (completeness) as in a minyan.

  • Rabbi Binny Freedman -What Happened to Moshe’s Children – The Challenges of Jewish Education Today

    You have to be there for your kids.

  • Rabbi Shalom Baum -How Parents & Educators Can Engage the Half Shabbat Teen

    We need to make our kids understand that being less than perfect is OK. BTW, most kids eventually end up being their parents (based on anecdotal observation).

  • Jonathan Ziring-The Inherent Ambiguity of Texts and the Role of Intuition in Psak

    There are no 100% proofs in Torah learning. Some examples are where it’s not clear whether the gemara is being sarcastic. You need context and intuition. (Me – how do we put ourselves in their culture to really know?)

  • Jonathan Ziring-How to Function When Multiple Halachic Traditions Are Practiced in the Same Place: Ashkenazim, Sfardim, and Bishul Akum

    With our remixing of communities (e.g. ashkenaz and sfard) how do we deal with differing halachic standards? Either convince “less strict” to keep the “more strict” standard or find a heter for the more strict. Example of R’OY and bishul akum. [me – another example of halacha not being purely algorithmic]

  • Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein -Ten Minute Mussar: Surviving & Thriving in Israel

    The message of Iron Dome and being part of the Land of Israel family, not a tourist.

  • Please direct any informal comments to

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