Thursday, April 27, 2006

Truth? What truth?

Seforim reports the burning of a biography of the Vilner Gaon, by the Klausenberger Rebbe. The reason? It includes a discussion of the GRA's opposition to Hassidut (including the famous tract זמיר עאריצים). IOW, two hundred years later, sensitivities surrounding this episode are still high. What strikes me as odd is a simple question? Does anyone deny the GRA's ferocious opposition to Hassidut? Isn't that why those of us of Lithuanian extraction (pace Lubavitch, Slonim, and Karlin Hassidim) are (proud to be) called misnagdim ('opponents')?

When I read this I thought of my friend, Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter's two articles on Orthodox revisionism, along with a more recent contribution by my colleague Dr. Kimi Caplan.

I was also reminded of a famous vort attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe zt'l, which was a variation of a remark by the Mezritcher Maggid.

שטיט אין פסוק: אמת מארץ תצמח. צו זאג'ן אז אמת ליגט (די ויילע) אין דער ערד. עולם חסד ייבנה . אל'ס וואס מענטשען בוי'ן איז אן אוהל המת אויפ'ן קבר פון אמת.
(If someone could get me the exact quote, I'd appreciate it.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

תקע בצפירה גדולה לחירותנו

Yom haShoah 5766.

I just finished talking to my neighbor who came over very distraught. He told me that he was driving into Jerusalem this morning when he saw a a Haredi man at Gilo junction, who was looking for a ride into town. My friend agreed and he got into the back seat. At 10AM the air was pierced by the siren. The driver stopped the car, got out and stood at attention, as is the custom. The trampist, however, demonstratively stayed seated in the car. My friend described to me how he grew increasingly angry as the two minutes passed. When the siren stopped he opened the backdoor and asked the hitchhiker to please leave his car. "I will not give a ride to someone who desecrates God's Name and the Memory of those murdered in the Shoah." "But our rabbis...." he started to protest. 'Don't know what they're talking about," he replied. The man got out and my friend went on his way.

Now, it seems, his conscience bothered him. Did he do the right thing? Was his indignation misplaced? He wanted to know if there was anything to the Haredi objection to the siren. (I always get asked this kind of question.)

As it happens, I wrote about this issue (Indirectly) in my doctorate and published it as an article. The bottom line is that there is absolutely no formal halakhic reason to object to standing for the siren. The prohibition against imitating non-Jews is confined to cases where a) the action has no clear, rational meaning b) it betokens arrogance and lack of modesty. If, however, it has clear redeeming purpose, it is allowed (Cf. Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 178, 1). More to that, according to the source of Rema's ruling, (Resp. Mahari Colon no. 88) the operative concern is a desire to assimilate (להידמות להם). This clearly cannot apply to the siren because no other nation on earth has this specific practice. [For the purists, this satisfies the objection of the GRA (ibid.) based on Tosafos, Avodah Zara 11a.] QED

So why are the Haredim so vociferous about this? Why do they pound on the table so? I think its a delicate mixture of things. Among others, one might highlight: 1) It's an objection to setting up a separate day for Shoah commemoration, outside of Tisha B'Av, that contains ceremonies that are unprecedented in Jewish tradition. 2) It's an expression of rejection of Zionism and Israeli culture. 3) It's an gut reaction to the existentially grave questions of theodicy that the Holocaust raises specifically in the Haredi community, which bore the brunt of Hitler's (ימשו"ז) war against the Jews. (See Menachem Friedman's important study here.) 4) The prohibition against following בחוקות הגויים is a standard argument in pashkvillim against things that the community wishes to stop.

Did my distraught friend do the right thing? That's for him to decide (and God to judge). However, I did point out to him that Rabbi Lau (who is very careful not to offend the Yeshiva World) recently came out four-square in support of the moment of silence at the time of the צפירה. Even more to the point, there is a growing trend for Haredim to say Tehillim when the siren sounds. Some are quick to dismiss this. I, however, think it's a very significant development. It testifies to the 'judaization' of this ritual, even by Haredi standards (and to the further Israelization of the Haredi community.) This is a very powerful, unifying move, which I hope will continue- at the side of other Haredi responses to the Nazis: Talmud Torah, Tefillah, Tzedaka, Hesed and large numbers of Jewish children (which everyone should imitate more).

The צפירה may well be a harbinger of the שופר גדול. In the meantime as I contemplate the חרבן, following the observation of R. Shmuel Sperber זצ"ל, the צפירה says to me that the only response I have is וידם אהרן.

כל בית ישראל יבכו את השריפה אשר שרף ד'.
ארץ אל תכסי דמם
וניקיתי דמם לא ניקתי וד' שוכן בציון,

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Proverbs 26, 5

The most recent issue of Jewsweek contains an opinion piece by someone named Roberta Fahn Schoffman, who is described as 'representing IPF in Jerusalem, heads MindSet Media and Strategic Consulting.' Her article is, appropriately enough. entitled 'Israelis Just Wanna Have Fun .'

Schoffman centers in on a phenomenon that has been much touted after the recent elections. Israelis, it is argued, are tired of ideology. They just want to eat Hummus, watch soccer and be normal. Moreover, as Ehud Olmert intoned, "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want to be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies."

Very nice. She's probably right about a significant portion of the population (though not the majority, vide infra).

Now let's consider the implications. If she's right, then we are in serious trouble. Why? Well, let's think about it. Israel, in the view of Ms. Schoffman (and other like-minded
geniuses) is a country whose interests lie in self-fulfillment, self-advancement and self-indulgence. However, it is faced, by all accounts, by a highly motivated enemy that is more than willing to sacrifice its own comfort and self-interests in the interests of its goals: the redemption of Falastin and its restoration to the Dar-al-Islam.

What fate awaits such an encounter? History suggests an answer.

In the fourth and fifth centuries, the world knew no greater power than Rome. Like a colossus, it bestrode the West from the Pillars of Hercules to the Euphrates, from the Danube to the Sahara. The Romans, however, were tired. They were tired of fighting and winning. They just wanted to enjoy themselves. So, when Germanic tribes starting pressing upon their security border (that was largely a fortified wall), the Romans hit on the idea of co-opting German tribesmen and relying upon them to defend the Empire, in return for Roman citizenship. As it turned out, the new border guards didn’t particularly care to die for Rome and the Romans did not really care to defend themselves. Indeed, they were
shocked when Roman legions were defeated by the newcomers at the Battle of Adrianople.. The result was the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (made famous by Gibbon, and now online here). [UPDATE: See here and here. Thanks to Richard Landes]

Now as it happens, I summarily reject both Schoffman’s analysis and her conclusions. The leadership of this country, along with its various elites, may be tired. They might want to drown in self-indulgence. The general population, however, is not. Israel’s history since the start of the Oslo War has shown definitively that its Jews want to be Jews. They will fight for their security and for a vision of their country as qualitatively Jewish. Eighty-five percent of the Jewish population is either religiously observant or traditional in one sense or another. There is broad support for a frock-wearing, black hatted former Chief Rabbi for President (see below). [Note: The Knesset has 36 Orthodox members. Obviously, someone voted for them.]

As an historian, all of this tells me that Israelis do not just want to have fun.

‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’

  • George Santayana

‘Civilizations are not murdered. They commit suicide.’
- Arnold Toynbee

Here and There in the Land of Israel

I just finished reading R. Yisrael Meir Lau's Autobiographical memoir, אל תשלח ידך אל הנער. It's very well written (and often, extremely moving). Today's NRG effectively announced his candidacy for President of Israel. I'm all in favor of his candidacy (on its own rights, never mind the totally awful alternatives). He reaches all sectors of society and would fill a crucial role in rejudaizing the country.

Ben Chorin has a great take on Pesah in a Dead Sea Hotel.


Shahar Ilan reports on important sociological changes in the Haredi community, as a result of more Haredi men entering the work force. I think it's important to keep in mind that this is likely an expression of confidence and not an example of incipient assimilation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Mitzva in Time...A Nice Haredi Story

This afternoon, we went to the Kotel for Aliyah le-Regel (zekher le- for the purists). Afterwards, we boarded a very crowded 1 bus to return to the car. There was nowhere to sit. Next tome was sitting an elderly man (a Gerrer Hassid, to judge from his spodik). Next to him sat his grandson, a boy about nine. All around, were haredi kids sitting down with adults standing. It never occurred to any of them to get up for their elders, or to their parents to tell them to do so.

I said to my wife, not sotto voce, that it's amazing how they learn so much Torah and don't know how to fulfill mitzvot.

The grandfather obviously heard me, took his grandson on his knee and offered me the now vacated seat. The truth is, he put me in a spot. 1) I did not want my comment to be self-serving. 2) There were mainly older women around and I would normally offer them the seat. The problem was that if I did that, I'd be forcing the older man to get up. I decided to take the offer and I thanked the young boy for his gesture.

I always wonder when tokhaha is in place, and how to do it. [Pushing people till they hit you no longer works.] I'm glad that this time everyone learned a lesson, בנחת.

Creating Shavuot

One of the striking things about Shavuot is that he Torah provides no exact date for its celebration. It simply pegs its observance to Pesah:

‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the omer of the waving; there shall be seven complete weeks; to the day after the seventh week shall you count fifty days; and you shall present a new meal-offering to God….And you shall proclaim on that very day that there shall be a holy convocation unto you; you shall do no melekhet avodah; it shall be a perpetual statute in all your dwellings, throughout your generations’ (Lev. 23, 15 and 21).

I think it was the Avne Nezer, R. Avraham Bornstein of Sokhochovזצ"ל (though a quick check of his responsa did not elicit a source), who suggested that the sanctity of Shavuot is only indirectly related to the usual calendar. It is actually created by the enumeration of the days of the Omer by the Jews. If they don’t count, there is room to say that the qedushat ha-yom of Shavuot is (at the very least) impugned.

On Shabbat it struck me that since the mitzvah to count the Omer is an individual obligation (i.e. it can’t be performed by someone else on your behalf), then every Jew contributes to the qedusha of Shavuot. The more Jews who count the Omer, the greater will be the sanctity of the holiday. Since Shavuot is זמן מתן תורתנו, it follows logically that the most proper way to prepare for, and to contribute to, the sanctity of Shavuot is to intensify one’ Torah learning beyond the norm. A התמדה drive, as it were, is required. [HT: R. Dovid Lifshitz זצ"ל.]

Especially today, החושש בראשו (ובנשמתו), יעסוק בתורה.

Monday, April 17, 2006

אנו לי-ה ועיננו לי-ה

On the same day as the Seventeenth Knesset is to be sworn in...a deadly פיגוע in Tel Aviv (despite the fence)...a revolt among Golani soldiers...and an important, trenchent analysis of the deadly implications of the elite's fanatical devotion to retreat.

Would she want her daughter to be one?

Yael Mishali is a true believer. She's in favor of whatever is politically correct, or religiously provocative. Today, however, she outdid herself.

She's emphatically in favor of concubinage and polygamy. She read Zvi Zohar's article. She followed the debate. She wants in. She even wants to become a a concubine (or to have her husband marry another wife).

What the hell is wrong with her?

I'd like to see her suggest this for her own daughter.

Die Settlers Sind Unser Ungluck

Kassam rockets (courtesy of the Palestinians) have been falling like rain all over the Negev and to the south of Ashdod (fired from the destroyed communities of Ale Sinai, Dugit and Nisanit). Yesterday, a rocket crashed into the Sports arena of Kibbutz Yad Mordekhai. The Radio reported today that the army sees no way to stop the terror from the skies, without reconquering the northern part of the Gaza strip. The populace within the range of the missiles has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to force the government to protect them.

Does anyone pay attention? Not if you judge from the lack of reportage in the press or the statements of our feckless Acting Prime Minister (whose number was called by Ari Shavit the other day). He's busy destroying the economy in order to cobble together a coalition, while storming ahead with his brilliant plan to drive 70,000 more people from their homes, with no funds to resettle them, employ them or rehabilitate the. Why? It's because Die Juden (opps, I mean 'die settlers') sund unser umgluck. Let the rockets fall! They're only falling on Franks and Russians. They haven't reached Rishon or Tel Aviv, Herzliah Pituah or Haifa. Why worry. When the occupation is done and the settlers are no more, everything will go well (Here there is what to debate with Ari Shavit, though he's far from an extremist). How? It's a mystery.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sitemeter (or not)

Over Shabbat, I received a 'hit' from 'Palestinian Territory, Occupied.' Following up the server, I discovered that the hit came from PaLTel in Ramallah/El-Bireh, the capital of the Palestinian National Authority.

This really ticked me off. It's a simple ממה נפשך. The Palestinian cities that the PA rules are, by definition not occupied. The rest of the area beyond the Green Line is (according to international law) of undetermined status. Hence, it is not occupied. It is only occupied according to Palestinian maximalists (and the Israeli Left). The bottom line is that Sitemeter should not be taking sides in a political dispute.

I have sent a protest to their website. If you see another counter here soon, you'll know why.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

In Your Heart, You Know He's Right

I'm no fan of Rabbi Metzger, but Ben Dror Yemini's critique of AG Mazuz and his Barak-inspired agenda of judicial autocracy, is right on the mark. I am so sorry that Maariv dropped it's English edition.

מצגר, אל תתפטר
בן-דרור ימיני על הבעייתיות שבהחלטת היועץ המשפטי לממשלה בעניין הרב מצגר

נניח, רק נניח, שנגד הרב יונה מצגר, שזכה לאירוח בבית מלון על חשבון הגורם המזמין, היה מוגש כתב אישום. ונניח גם שכצפוי, לגמרי כצפוי, כפי שיודע מראש אפילו התובע הראשי של מדינת ישראל מני מזוז, בית המשפט היה זורק את התביעה מכל המדרגות ומעניק זיכוי מלא לרב. אם היה השופט היושב בדין שייך לאסכולה הפורמליסטית, הוא היה מוסיף הערות חמורות על עצם הגשת כתב האישום. זה כבר קרה בעבר. אם הוא היה שייך לאסכולה האקטיביסטית, שחושבת ששופטים הם גם שוטרי מוסר, הוא היה מוסיף הערות בלתי מחייבות בעליל על התנהגות פסולה. וגם במקרה כזה, אין שופט במדינה, גם מהאסכולה הצדקנית-מוסרנית, שהיה קובע שיש קלון במעשי הרב. במקרה כזה, הקל והחמור, היה הרב מצגר נשאר בתפקידו. אבל היועץ המשפטי לממשלה קיבל החלטה שכולה אבסורד: דווקא משום שאין ראיות לכתב אישום, העונש יהיה חמור יותר מאשר במצב שבו היה מתנהל הליך שיפוטי. ובמילים אחרות, מזוז בחר במסלול של טריבונל מוסרי, לא עלינו, במקום טריבונל שיפוטי.
במסלול המוסרי מזוז הוא גם התובע וגם השופט, והעונש - של הדחה - נקבע בהליך חדש ומיוחד. אין מסלול כזה בשום מדינת חוק, אבל מה לנו עיסוק בקטנות. חסידי הפיכת המשפט למשמרות הצניעות והמוסר, בנוסח האיראני, מוחאים כפיים בהתלהבות. הג'ינג'י, קרוב לוודאי, ירוץ לבג"ץ. ובג"ץ, שהפך לראש חץ של משמרות הצניעות, יכריז על פסלותו המוסרית של מצגר. מה שקורה לנגד עינינו איננו משפט. זה לינץ, שהרי בתחום המשפט אין חיה ששמה "קלון ללא הרשעה", עד שבא מזוז.אין לי מילה טובה לומר על מצגר. אני פשוט חסיד של הזכות החוקתית העליונה - חזקת החפות. ועם כל הכבוד לכותרות בעיתונים, או לדוחות של היועץ, שהוא תובע ולא שופט, זו לא הדרך הראויה לבירור אשמתו של אדם. וחוץ מזה, בסרט הזה כבר היינו. הוגשו כתבי אישום שבהם חפותו של הנאשם נרמסה מראש ואשמתו היתה ידועה מראש, בעיקר לעיתונאים ולצדקנים ולטרחנים שמציפים את בג"ץ בעתירות סרק. ובהמשך התברר שלא רק שלא כצעקתה, אלא שלא היו דברים מעולם.
רדיפה סלקטיבית
עכשיו נגיע לעיקר: האם איש ציבור, ובוודאי אדם המכהן בכהונה משפטית, שהתארח על חשבון הגורם המארח, רשאי להישאר בתפקידו? אני מסרב להתרגש מהפשע הנורא הזה. ראשית, משום שאם מדובר בטריטוריה המוסרית ולא הפלילית, אז יש עניינים הרבה יותר חמורים - עניינים מתמשכים, כמו מינויי קרובים של שופטים, כמו הופעה של עורכי דין בפני ידידיהם השופטים וכמו עניינים הקשורים בשופטת עדנה ארבל שטויחו, מעשה אמן, על ידי בכירי מערכת המשפט ולא נבדקו עד היום. ולא שמעידה מוסרית אחת מעניקה הכשר למעידה אחרת. אבל אם יש משהו שאמור לעורר את חמתו של כל דורש צדק, להבדיל מצדקן מקצועי, הרי שהוא רדיפת צדק סלקטיבית. שנית, רק לפני שנים לא רבות חשף העיתונאי דני ישראל, אז בעיתון "גלובס", פרשה זהה לחלוטין: שופט מחוזי התארח בבית מלון יוקרתי באילת, הוא ומשפחתו ומשפחת בנו, רק משום שהוא שימש שם כחזן. השופט כבר לא מכהן, כך שאין שום צורך להזכיר נשכחות ולפגוע באיש. היועץ דאז לא עשה מזה עניין. אף אחד לא רץ לבג"ץ כדי לדרוש הדחה. זה לא בסדר, אבל לא כל מעידה מחייבת פטיש של חמישה קילו על הראש. אגב, מדובר בשופט ששמו הלך לפניו כשופט מצוין. שלישית, רק השבוע התבשרנו ששופטים רשאים להתארח בכל כנס שאליו הם מוזמנים להרצות. גם הח"מ הוזמן להרצות, למשל, בכנס לשכת עורכי הדין. ובדיוק כמו שופטים שהשתתפו כמרצים, גם הח"מ זכה לטיסה ולאירוח על חשבון הלשכה. נכון, יש מי שיטען שזה לא אותו דבר, אבל ההבדל הוא אולי כמותי ולא איכותי. ורביעית, היועץ הנוכחי פתח את כהונתו עם פרסום הדוח שניקה את ראש הממשלה דאז אריאל שרון. זה היה דוח אמיץ, יסודי ורציני. כאשר טענו נגדו שהניקוי המשפטי אינו כולל גינוי מוסרי, הבהיר מזוז באומץ שהתפקיד שלו מצוי בתחום המשפט ולא בתחום המוסר. והנה, אותו מזוז הופך פתאום את עורו. הרי גם אצל שרון אין רבב פלילי, אבל יש אינספור סימני שאלה מוסריים. בדיוק כמו אצל מצגר. אבל מעשה פלאים, דינו של מצגר שונה מדינו של שרון. כך שיש לי רק קריאה אחת לרב מצגר: אל תתפטר. אל תשתף פעולה עם אלה שרומסים בראש חוצות זכויות חוקתיות, שהרדיפה שלהם היא סלקטיבית, ועוד עושים את זה, צבועים שכמותם, בשם שלטון החוק.

Friday, April 14, 2006

I am so moved

to read Lisa's extraordinary posting about here memories of seder's past and the wonderful seder she had with An Unsealed Room.

Moadim le-Simha.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Eisen to JTS

I'm actually relieved that the new chancellor of JTS is an academic and not a rabbi. Arnold Eisen is a first rate academic, and his election as chancellor (which makes him the head of the rabbinical school) merely underscores what I've known for decades. The Conservative movement is not, and likely never was, an halakhic movement (though the Seminary tried for years to convince itself that it was. They were very unhappy when the late Marshall Sklare, who affiliated with the Conservative moveent, showed that the emperor had no clothes.)

Some are quick to equate Eisen's appointment with that of Richard Joel to the presidency of Yeshiva University. In the sense that the Yeshiva Board was thinking 'out of the box' in drafting President Joel, and thereby enlisted one of its most energetic resources to reinvigorate and extend the reach of Yeshiva's message, there is some room to make the analogy.

On another level, it is totally misplaced. President Joel is not the Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS (R. Nahum Lamm is). He is, in addition, a moqir rabbanan who is a deeply, check that: profoundly, committed shomer Torah u-mitzvot. That constitutes a critical difference from JTS' appointment.

It's also the reason that YU will go מחיל אל חיל, while the Conservative movement will continue being a judaization of what ever trends are popular among its members.

Hag Kasher ve-Sameah

בא"ה אמ"ה אשר גאלנו וגאל את אבותינו ממצרים והגיענו ללילה הזה לאכול בן מצה ומרור. כן, ד' א' יגיענו למועדים ולרגלים אחרים הבאים לקראתינו לשלום, שמחים בבנין עירך וששים בעבודתך, ונאכל שם מן הזבחים ומן הפסחים אשר יגיע דמם על קיר מזבחך לרצון ונודה לך שיר חדש על גאולתנו ועל פדות נפשנו.

חג כשר ושמח מאחלים לכם ולכל בית ישראל,
ג'פרי, טובי, אבי, אריאל, חנה, אלישבע ומוריה וולף

Wishing you, your family and all of Israel a Hag Kasher ve-Sameah,
Jeffrey, Toby, Avi, Ariel, Chana, Elisheva and Moriah Woolf

לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנוייה והמאוחדת

Monday, April 10, 2006

Between Metzger and Sharon

Yisrael Harel is a man of great integrity. He still expects others to have integrity too. Halevai!

A Skewered Survey

Haaretz reports the Central Statistics Bureau finding that 44% of the Jews in Israel define themselves as 'secular.' I am sure that's accurate. It is also deceptive in extremis. The word 'secular' (חילוני) bears two distinct meanings in contemporary parlance. 1) Ideologically secular, axiologically cosmopolitan and (usually) anti-Orthodox in some way 2) Non-Orthodox (for whatever reason), but interested in having a distinct, Jewish element in their lives.

According to the Guttmann Study, this 44% subdivides into 10-15% that belong to Group no. 1 and around 30% belonging to Group no. 2. In other words, as I've noted before, the important figures (as Israel struggles with its identity) are that fully 85% of the Jewish population want a distinctively Jewish State, while only 15% (a very vocal, media/academic/influential minority) want a cosmopolitan 'State of all its Citizens.'

Other studies back up this finding (despite the wishful thinking of the Haaretz staff and its Cafe pseudo-Intellectuals). Israelis overwhelmingly define themselves as Jews first and Israelis second. Israelis overwhelmingly believe in God. 99% of Israelis circumcise their children. 99% put mezuzot on their door(s). 95% attend a Seder (of some sort). 75% fast on Yom Kippur (and the 25% includes those too ill to fast). [On an anecdotal note, I wish I had NIS10 for every secular student who told me that they have come to respect and identify with Judaism, and that it's the rabbinate that turns them off.]


Canola, Canola, Canola

My friend Rabbi Ari Kahn informs me that rapeseed is grown near wheat fields. Hence, he avers, no reasonable Passover supervision is feasible for rapeseed oil.

What does one do? One Googles.

What does one find? Overwhelmingly the Kashrut supervision sites say: Besser Nisht.

I'm still not convinced. Isn't possible Hametz (assuming that's true), battel before Pesah? The oil is denatured and re-processed. Doesn't that militate against both a kitniyyot designation and a ruling of חוזר וניעור? R. Moshe paskened that even in cases where it's difficult to sort out the species, the prohibition is restricted to legumes that were originally banned. וואו שטייט אין דברי הראשונים אש מאן טאר ניט עסען רייפ-סיד אוף פסח? [UPDATE: No Rishonim, but a מחלוקת אחרונים. See Resp. Avne Nezer, Orah Hayyim no. 373 and Resp. Maharsham I no. 183. The latter explains the odd formulation on the הכשר. See the next update.]

I welcome any and all responses.

I'm grateful for all of the responses. Despite the fact that the בעסער נישט opinion is quite common, there is a very strong case to be made for allowing Canola Oil. The major points are provided in a review by the Rav of Alon Shvut (2), R. Yosef Zvi Rimon. The article is not on the VBM website. I'll be happy to send it along to anyone who asks. (Thanks to Rabbi Professor Dov Frimer שליט"א for sending it along to me.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

While you're taking out the Hametz...

1) Henry Siegman is a real phenomenon. He is a true the deep-seated willingness of the Arabs (and Muslims, generally) to make peace with Israel. Nothing they say, nothing in the Qur'an and its attendant literature will deter him from his Orthodox belief that Muslims will (given the right amount of candy) forego all of their religious ideals in order make peace. Erev Pesah, 5766 he strikes again. (I don't get it. The man is part of a think-tank. Don't they read? Don't they think? Maybe the think is subsidiary to the tank.)

2) Even Allison Kaplan Sommer, whose blog I visit regularly and generally enjoy reading, has produced Hametz for the bonfire. I don't understand how an Anglo, who knows that intermarriage is a cancer on the body politic of the Jewish people, can write like this.

Qitniyot Redux

Pesah is almost upon us and so is the perpetual Qitniyyot debate. In fact, yesterday's HaZofe published an excellent review essay on the subject. (Hayuta Deutsch, by the way, is doing a superb job in upgrading the cultural section of the newspaper.)

In any event, it occurred to me (and this is likely no great hiddush) that two, perhaps unrelated, factors are responsible for the incredible expansion of the parameters of qitniyyot. First, of course, is the global tendency to be strict in all matters related to Hametz, due to the fact that the most infintissimal amount is forbidden (משהו). Second, I have no doubt that while the original practice (probably not even גזרה ) was directed at the mode of consuming legumes, it was natural that the legumes themselves should ultimately be considered prohibited, per se. This, in turn, led to the unprecedented prohibition of oil derived from qitniyyot.

One step further, also logical in terms of the inner life of law, was to base future determinations upon the genre of the legume and not upon the specific types that were originally included in the avoidance. This led to the inclusion of legumes in the ban that the sages of Ashkenaz could not possibly have included, because they never heard of them (corn, peanuts and, a fortiori, soy beans). As Reb Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל, however, points out, the consistency of thought is flawed since potatoes should (by rights) also have been included. [Go tell that to the guy I saw a few years ago driving toward Teqo'a with three tons of potatoes on the roof of his car.]

Personally, I drew the line at Canola Oil.

1) שמן קטניות is questionable anyway.

2) There is no way that rape seed fits any of the criteria for qitniyyot.

3) Palm Oil (like cottonseed oil) is absolutely dangerous for consumption. You might as well paint your arteries with poly-saturated fat and wait for the heart attack or stroke. Canola Oil, on the other hand, is actually good for you.

4) Walnut Oil is obscenely expensive והתורה חסה על ממונם של ישראל. (This, obviously, is irrelevant as far as real, bonafide prohibitions and traditional restrictions (מנהג) are concerned. However, when it comes to a nebulous חומרא it seems perfectly legitimate to invoke.)

I close with a Reb Moshe זצ"ל's responsum of peanuts and peanut oil (OH (3) no 63). I think it speaks for itself. הבו להו דלא להוסיף עלה. (For those who don't know, R. Moshe was an Orthodox rabbi too.):

הנה בדבר הפינאט שכתבתי שבהרבה מקומות אכלו אותם בפסח וכתר"ה תמה בטעם הדבר משום ששמע שעושין ממנו באיזה מקום גם קמח וגם שמע שנזרעין בשדות כשאר קטניות, אבל ידע כתר"ה שאין זה ענין כלל, שכל הדברים העושין מהם קמח נאסרו ממנהג זה, דאין לך דבר העושין ממנו קמח כתפוחי אדמה לא רק במדינה זו אלא גם ביוראפ במקומותינו וגם בדורות הקודמים ומעולם לא חשו לאסור זה. וכן הטעם שמיני חטים מתערבין בהם שכתב הטור נמי אינו כלל שכל המינים שיש לחוש למיני חטים ושעורים שיתערבו נהגו לאסור, דהא עניס וקימעל שמתערבין בהן מיני חטים ושעורים כמפורש בט"ז סק"א ובמג"א סק"ג וגם איתא שם דקשה לבודקם ובח"י סק"ט כתב שלא יסמוך על בדיקת נשים וקטנים מצד קושי הבדיקה, ומ"מ לא אסרום כמפורש ברמ"א, וחרדל כתב הרמ"א בסימן תס"ד שנוהגין לאסור דהוי כמיני קטניות אף שאין בו הטעמים. ולכן אין לנו בדבר אלא מה שמפורש שנהגו לאסור וכן מה שידוע ומפורסם. וגם יש ליתן טעם דדין מה שנאסר במנהג הא אין זה דבר הנאסר בקבוץ חכמים, אלא שהנהיגו את העם להחמיר שלא לאכול מינים אלו שהיה מצוי לאוכלם מפני הטעמים דחשש מיני דגן שנתערבו שקשה לבדוק ומפני שעושין קמחים, אבל כיון שלא תיקנו בקבוץ חכמים לאכול דברים שיש חשש שיתערב בהן מיני דגן ודברים שעושין מהם קמח, אלא שהנהיגו שלא לאכול איזה מינים לא נאסרו אלא המינים שהנהיגו ולא שאר מינים שלא הנהיגו מפני שלא היו מצויין אז, שלכן תפוחי אדמה שלא היו מצויין אז כידוע ולא הנהיגו ממילא לאוסרם אינם בכלל האיסור דאלו מינים שנהגו לאסור אף שיש אותו הטעם ממש דאין למילף ממנהג לאסור גם דבר שלא נהגו לאסור, וכשנתרבו תפוחי אדמה במדינותינו לא רצו חכמי הדור להנהיג לאוסרן, אולי מפני הצורך, ואולי מפני שהטעמים קלושים, עיין בב"י ר"ס תנ"ג, שהר"י קרא לזה מנהג שטות, וגם משמע שהר"ר יחיאל ושאר גדולים היו נוהגין בהם היתר אף במקום שנהגו איסור דהרי ע"ז כתב וקשה הדבר להתיר כיון שאחרים נהגו בהם איסור, לכן חכמי הדורות האחרונים לא רצו להוסיף לאסור עוד המינים שניתוספו אח"כ רק שא"א להתיר מה שכבר נהגו לאיסור. וכן בעניס וקימעל אפשר לא היו מתחלה רגילים לזורעם במקום שזרעו מיני דגן ולא היה טעם להנהיג איסור ולכן אף אח"כ שהתחילו לזורעם במקום שזרעו מיני דגן שלכן צריכים בדיקה לא רצו לאוסרם שוב. ולכן גם הפינאטס לא אסרו בהרבה מקומות עוד מכ"ש. ובמקום שליכא מנהג אין לאסור כי בדברים כאלו אין להחמיר כדאיתא בח"י. ולאלו שיש להם מנהג ביחוד שלא לאכול פינאט אסור גם בפינאט אבל מספק אין לאסור. ולכן שייך שיתן הכשר שלא נתערב שם חמץ ויאכלו אלו שלא נהגו בזה איסור. וכן ראיתי שנותנים הכשר על פינאט אויל מהאי טעמא. ידידו, משה פיינשטיין.
After rereading the responsum, I remembered that the label on the Canola Oil reads:
לאוכלי קטניות בלבד לפי המנהג. This, prima facie, is in blatant contradiction to R. Moshe's ruling.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Rav זצ"ל: Thirteen Years Later...

Yeshivat Har Etzion recently published R. Aharon Lichtenstein's remarks describing Rav Soloveitchik's view of Religious Zionism (just in time for 18 Nissan, which marks his thirteenth yahrzeit). Not that he requires my haskamah, but I did find myself agreeing with almost every word.

The 'almost' is insignificant to the article, per se, but important to the evaluation of the Rav's legacy, generally. RAL begins by referring to a review of David Hartman's book, Love and Terror in the God Encounter: The Theological Legacy Of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, entitled 'Remaking Soloveitchik in His Own Image,' by Lawrence Grossman.

R. Lichtenstein opens by expressing his distaste for the rampant revisionism that seeks to force the Rav into various procrustean beds. I totally agree with him, as I do with Grossman's concluding remarks, citing Rabi Lamm, "He was who he was, and he was not a simple man."

However, I am less than thrilled with Grossman's review. First, I feel he misreads Professor Hartman. (My remarks on said book will, IY"H, appears in the next issue of BaDaD.) Grossman argues that Hartman is trying to remake the Rav in his own image, I think he actually restrained himself and was open and honest to the fact that he radically diverges from his teacher on a plethora of issues. Others are far less honest. Each of us, of course, is entitled to his interpretation of Hartman's book.

What really set me off was the downright nasty (and somewhat supercilious) tone that Grossman adopts toward Modern Orthodoxy and towards those who studied under R. Soloveitchik. Some examples:

Although the enterprise of carving out an intellectually respectable place for Orthodox Judaism in the modern world had already fallen into steep decline in the 1970s, the passing of its leading thinker and unanimously acknowledged halachic authority was a blow from which Modern Orthodoxy has never recovered....

Even granted the much vaunted 'move to the right,' this process has never ceased and (indeed) continues apace both here and in the Diaspora. In Israel, it is really just beginning and the Rav's writings are spurring it onward.

The clearest evidence of Soloveitchik's intellectual domination has been the inability of his successors to move beyond him. Much of what passes for Orthodox thought today consists of quarrels over what the great man said (a great many things, some of them apparently contradictory, at different times and to different audiences) and, more important, what he meant.

Grossman is correct but totally misses the point. The words of giants take many years to digest. Seminal thinkers always set new intellectual agendas, about which his/her students debate. Those agendas serve as the framework for further work. That's exactly what happened with Maimonides, Nahmanides, the Ari, the Besht, the Gra, and mutatis mutandis Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Ockhem, Decartes, Voltaire and Kant. Without hesitation, I have no doubt that the Rav זצ"ל belongs in this category. Grossman seems to be smitten with the Modern affection for starting everything de novo. Every intellectual historian, and not just those of us enamored of Arthur O. Lovejoy, knows that it doesn't work that way. As Whitehead famously said: 'The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.' [It also reminds me of the exchange between Al-Ghazali's Tahafut al-Falsifa and Averroes' Tahaful al-Tahafut.]

Orthodoxy would be well served, Jewry would be well served, if we take the Rav's writings (both in Halakhah and Jewish Thought) as a point of departure for further, creative thought (including differing with our master, something of which he generally approved).

Sof Sof...

Readers of this blog can guess what kind of nahas I got when I read this, on Arutz Sheva (which comes out of Bet El):

"After a generation of settlement and army-building, the time has come for a new Zionism: building true Jewish identity based on Jewish values." So said Rabbi Shimon Cohen at a Jerusalem seminar.

Educators and rabbis convened at a seminar sponsored by Machon Meir in Jerusalem this week, spotlighting the topic of "Face-to-Face" - meeting Israelis in their homes and re-introducing them to observant Zionist Jews and observant Judaism.

Rabbi Cohen, the head of the Beit Moriah Kollel in Be'er Sheva, said, "In today's world, taking up more space and attention than before is the 'individual.' We must talk the language the people speak, and show that we are on the same side. We must work on the simple fundamentals that we are familiar with from our upbringing and study, and turn them into the inalienable assets of the entire nation."

So True, So Shortsighted

I understand that this is a doctored photo. Nevertheless, if it doesn't really exist, it's often so true that we must invent it (apologies to Voltaire and Hat Tip to Rochel Levmore).

Jews and the Chimney Problem

A young man asked a rabbi, "What is Talmud?"

"Consider two men who climb inside a chimney," said the rabbi. "One comes out clean, and the other comes out dirty. Which man washes himself?""Obviously the one who's dirty" said the young man." No, the clean one washes," said the rabbi, "because he sees the dirty man,and thinks he must be dirty, too, whereas the dirty man sees the clean one, and thinks that he, too, must be clean.

Now, two men climb inside a chimney. One comes out clean, and the other dirty. Which one washes?" "Oh, I get it now, the clean one because [as above]," answered the young man."No, you don't understand Talmud. The dirty one washes," replied the rabbi. Each man looks at himself. The clean one sees that he is clean, the dirty one sees that he is dirty, and the dirty one washes.

Now, two men climb inside a chimney. One comes out clean, and the other dirty. Which one washes?""OK, now I get it. The the dirty one because [as above]" said the young man."No" replied the rabbi. "You don't understand Talmud. In Talmud, if someone asks a question about which one would wash, the response would be another question 'How could it be that two people come down a chimney and only one gets dirty?'"

(Courtesy of Rabbi Professor Yosef Tabory)

Yes, But....

Israel's Supreme Court has, once again, clipped the wings of the Rabbinical Court system. In one sense, it's a further step in Aharon Barak's attempt to oust Jewish Law from the Israeli legal system and to turn the latter into an ideologically pure post-modern, liberal organ.

On the other hand, I can't get away from the nagging feeling that the unprofessional, obtuse, insensitive behavior of so many dayyanim paved the way for this development.

We will long be paying the price for humiliating the Torah and for choosing to send our children into the professions and not into the rabbinate (preceded, of course, by acquiring a decent general education alongside Yoreh Deah and Hoshen Mishpat. That would have allowed them to deal with the world. It would even have put them at an advantage over the secular judges, whose knowledge outside of the law is terrifically underwhelming.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006


About twenty years ago, I was officiating at Yom Kippur Mussaf services when I had a radical idea. I went over to the Shamash, a wise (but cynical) Hungarian rov, and told him that before Tiskabel Kaddish I was going to bang on the Almemar and announce that lunch would be served in the next room. 'Are you crazy?' he asked incredulously. 'It's Yom Kippur!' 'I know,' I replied. 'But so many people seem so self-satisfied, so far from the idea that religious people really sin, that it's really not necessary for them to fast for more than half a day.'

I thought of that story when I read this. וכל העם יראו וייראו.

Added Note:

There was a lot of misinformation about R. Re'em HaKohen's observations about said rabbi. The papers noted that he compared his election to an Ashera, but were clueless as to what that meant. (Of course, given the abysmal ignorance of so many reporters of Western culture, and a fortiori, Judaism that was to be expected.) Obviously, R. HaKohen was referring to this Gemora (Sanhedrin 7b): 'Resh Lakish said: He who appoints an incompetent judge over the Community is as though he had planted an Asherah in Israel, for it is written: Judges and officers shalt thou appoint unto thee, and soon after it is said: Thou shalt not plant thee Asherah of any kind of tree next to the altar of God' (Deut. XVI. 18-19).

Timna was a Concubine

I have been debating with myself for a few weeks whether to weigh in on the pilegesh (concubine) proposal raised by Zvi Zohar in the recent issue of Aqdamut. I had thought that there had been quite enough reaction thereto, including responses that were contained in the same issue. (See here, here, here, here, here, here and here. This is aside from blogosphere discussions, especially here.) However, since I see that Ben Chorin has offered his opinion on the subject (for the second time), I decided to offer a few thoughts of my own. (I’ll add sources later.)

To begin with, the proposal, which is hardly novel, is absolutely a non-starter for a number of reasons.

  1. I’m not convinced that the status of concubine is a legal option. While it is pretty clear that we accept the opinion of Rabad that concubinage is not restricted to kings, it is not totally clear that it does not involve Qiddushin, and the attendant status of eshet ish. True, many Posqim do (apparently) rule that way. However, the severity of the issue (humra de-eshet ish) militates in the opposite direction.

  2. On the other hand, if there is no Qiddushin involved, the creation of pilagshut involves a Biblical prohibition of illicit sexual relations, according to the Rambam. Even the argument that one may allow a less severe prohibition in order to avoid a more serious one (להציל מידי חמורות) is less than convincing.Creating the pilegesh as an alternative, if it does not allow for Qiddushin, would constitute the wholesale allowance of a Biblical prohibition. That is not a legitimate halakhic option.

  3. This raises a broader issue of religious policy, which is also an halakhicconsideration. With all due dismay at the proliferation of humrot, the last two centuries have taught that legitimizing highly problematic (not to mention, illegitimate) behavior through some sort of halakhic contortionism (even if legally plausible) will not increase overall observance. On the contrary, it will (as the Rav זצ"ל pointed out) lead to a lessening of respect for Torah and its representatives. [The sad story of Conservative Judaism and its ‘loyalty’ to Jewish Law is proof of this.]

  4. Who says that our job is to ease the guilty consciences of those who fail to abide by the Torah’s dictates. Human freedom, according to Judaism, does not include total human autonomy (though in some circles, this appears to be the aim). One pays one’s money and takes one’s chances. ( This last point is confirmed by an unexpected party.) The celebratory headlines with which the proposal was greeted (see above), further underline this and the previous point. To invert an image created by Tchernihovsky, at least when it comes to sexual ethics, Judaism is absolutely not interested in placing phylacteries on the statue of Apollo. (Cf. לנוכח פסל אפולו: ויאסרוהו ברצועות של תפילין".). [See the comments by Rav Soloveitchik here and the discussion here and here.]
  5. From any way you look at it, while concubinage was plausible in pre-industrial society (when slavery and indentured servitude also existed), it is no longer. In a feminist (or even post-feminist) age, can anyone imagine that putting a woman in a relationship in which she has no legal protection might be seen as a positive good? (Remember, a pilegesh has no ketubah.)

  6. Finally, given the undetermined nature of the status of the pilegesh, I don’t think it can serve as the basis for civil marriage in Israel. The solution there would need to be based, it seems to me, an a priori commitment to not creating a relationship that is halakhically viable.

That's it for now....

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ibrahim's Mirror

My neighbor, Treppenwitz, has penned a penetrating, chillingly accurate, description of the nuances of disputes over land in Eretz Yisrael (and the hypocrisies that accompany them). Absolutely required reading.

Two added points:

1. Most of the local Arabs are really named Ibrahim. Their village is, in fact, called Sheikh Ibrahim.

2. If only these guys would read it. (But then, they are only concerned with human rights.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Rahmanus on the Dogs...

At the end of tractate Sotah, the Mishnah (9, 15) says that in the days of the Messiah, 'the face of the generation will be like that of the dog' (פני הדור כפני הכלב). Well, if that's a criterion...Consider this.

The present occupant of the position of Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Rabbi Yonah Metzger, will not be indicted for bribery and improper conduct (Whew!). Haaretz reports:

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided Monday to close a criminal investigation into Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yoni Metzger but will ask him to resign from his position.Mazuz will not seek an indictment against Metzger for fraud and breach of trust related to a stay in a Jerusalem hotel. Nevertheless, due to findings that emerged during the criminal probe into the affair, Mazuz called on Metzger - who lied to investigators - to resign from his position as chief rabbi....

"Given his flawed conduct, it is only right for Rabbi Metzger to take personal responsibility and decide - on his own accord - to step from his position as rabbinical judge and chief rabbi," Mazuz said. "The continuation of his tenure is liable to seriously hamper the public standing of the chief rabbinate and the main rabbinical court."

Now everybody knows that Metzger should never have been elected in the first place. He was only placed there in order to further humiliate the rabbinate. However, פני הדור כפני הכלב.

Of course, one could argue that the people get what they deserve. Consider this. The former Miss Israel, Linor Abergil is engaged to marry a Christian Basketball player, Sarunas Jasikevicius, who now plays for the Indiana Pacers of the NBA. The papers, the reporters (and the talkback participants) are all agog with joy for Ms Abergil's happiness. Wonderful. The Israeli branja is now totally up to date with American Jewry. They are now applauding, celebrating, swooning over intermarriage and national suicide. Amor gratia amoris.

Truly, a Rahmanus on the Dog...

Silver Lining

Contemplating the Israeli scene from 6,000 miles away, it hit me that there was a fundamental difference between this election and the past three.

There was, as far as I can see, no noticeable anti-Jewish/anti-semitic element to it (with the exception of the campaigns of the unlamented Shinui and Hetz paries, much of which were disqualified for pandering to hatred and racism). On the contrary, there are as many (if not more) religious and traditional MK's in the Knesset than ever before. More importantly, despite the best efforts of the media after Amona, it appears that the populace has settled on the idea that they are Jews. This is very significant, as it opens up the possibility of undertaking the strengthening of Jewish identity and awareness (never mind observance), in the country.

The ball, Ladies and Gentlemen, is now in the court of the educators (and, God help us, the rabbis). I hope they're up to it. I hope the enthusiasm generated by the YU convocation carries over into action.

A lot of lives and souls depend upon it.