Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who Knows What R. Soloveitchik Would Say?

Arutz Sheva has a response by R. Sholom Gold to R. Aharon Lichtenstein's open letter (RTF format) to R. Avraham Shapira about the Disengagement.

R. Lichtenstein wrote:
For example, what would the esteemed rabbi recommend to one of the students of Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevy Soloveichik, o.b.m., who vigorously determined that there is absolutely no transgression involved in handing over parts of Eretz Israel to the nations of the world considering the question of pikuach nefesh [saving of a life in mortal danger], and also established that the opinions of military and political figures may even be taken into consideration.
R. Gold objects:
There is no person alive who can state with any degree of certainty what Rabbi Soloveichik would say if he were alive today. There is absolutely no comparison at all between what he said and our present-day situation...

Who can say that the Rav would have agreed to the Disengagement Plan...?

Were the Rav alive today, he would protest to his talmidim quoting things in his name that have no relevancy at all to the current situation.

Maybe he would shout out loud: "This shall not be done."
I have an idea: If you want to get the best idea of what R. Soloveitchik would say in this situation, why don't you ask his top student and son-in-law, who just happens to be a brilliant talmid hakham and profound thinker in his own right and is probably the single person to most embody R. Soloveitchik's values and complex approach? Someone who is also very careful and precise about what he says in his father-in-law's name. Or do we only do that when his answer fits what we want R. Soloveitchik to have said?

John Johnson's Questionable Methods

John Kremer, noted author and speaker on book marketing, publishing and writing, raised the issue of the ethical appropriatenes of John H. Johnson's early promotions of his magazines...

We asked Rabbi Aaron Levine, author of the forthcoming Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law, for his analysis of the scenario. This is his response...

Continued on the Sefer Ha-Hayim blog.

The Evacuation Tragedies

The devastation in, and now total evacuation of, New Orleans is nothing short of horrifying.

The connection between this evacuation and the recent evacuation of Jews from Gaza has tempted some to consider this a divine punishment. While the attempt to find significance in this seemingly meaningless tragedy is commendable, there seem to me to be no reasonable midah ke-neged midah connection at all between the two events.

However, perhaps one message to extract from this incredible tragedy is how bad things can really get. Being forcibly evacuated from your community for political reasons with which you disagree seems to me to pale in comparison to being forced by overwhelming floods to climb to the roof of your house, watch your entire community disintegrate for no apparent reason, and hope that an army helicopter can rescue you from your rooftop before you die. The evacuation of 9,000 people from their communities to inadequate housing facilities, while heart-wrenching, is not quite the humanitarian disaster of tens of thousands of people currently living in shelters and even a sports stadium. Let me be clear that my heart cries for all those who were forced out of their homes. I am thankful that I don't have to choose between either types of evacuation; but if I did, the clear lesser evil is having the opportunity to pack all my belongings and leave with dignity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ri from Orleans

An occasional name we find in the Tosafos commentary on the Talmud is R. Yosef (Ri) from Orleans. He was a twelfth century student of R. Ya'akov (Rabbenu Tam) and is mentioned in Tosafos to the tractates Shabbos, Yevamos, Bava Basra, Zevahim and Hullin. However, on two occasions we find something quite unusual happening. In Tosafos to Yevamos 25b (top), an explanation is given in the name of the Ri from Orleans. In Tosafos to Makkos 6a (sv. nirva), the same answer is attributed to R. Yosef Bekhor Shor. Similarly, the same explanation is given in Tosafos to Hullin 112b (sv. ve-dagim) by Ri from Orleans and in Semak (no. 205) by R. Yosef Bekhor Shor.

Because of this, Victor Aptowitzer (Mavo Le-Ra'avyah, ch. 8 sv. R. Yosi br' Yitzhak pp. 351-352 n. 2) cites scholars who debate whether R. Yosef Bekhor Shor was the same person as R. Yosef (Ri) from Orleans. Aptowitzer himself argued that they were different people, but remained uncertain on this point. In support of distinguishing between the two, the Pane'ah Raza is cited who quoted contradictory comments from both Ri of Orleans and R. Yosef Bekhor Shor, strongly implying that they are two different people.

Ephraim Urbach, who has generally become the final authority on these matters, concludes that they were the same person (Ba'alei Ha-Tosafos, vol. 1 p. 134). Among his proofs was an incident that occurred regarding a man who semi-married (mekadesh) a nursing woman, attributed to Ri from Orleans in Tosafos to Yevamos 36b (sv. ve-lo) and R. Yosef Bekhor Shor in Tosafos Shantz to Sotah 24a (and elsewhere).

Yehoshafat Nevo, in his introduction to the Mossad Ha-Rav Kook edition of the Bekhor Shor's commentary on the Torah, states that the Pane'ah Raza is frequently imprecise in his attribution of sources. Therefore, he suggests, the Pane'ah Raza's differentiating between Ri from Orleans and R. Yosef Bekhor is unreliable.

R. Aharon Lichtenstein is an Outdated, Anti-Modern, Lithuanian-Talmudo-Centric Closet Haredi but a Really Nice Guy

I initially set aside Dr. Alan Brill's review in The Edah Journal of R. Aharon Lichtenstein's books because its title, "An Ideal Rosh Yeshiva," made it seem overly praiseworthy, the kind of review that rarely adds insight. It was only after I finally read it that I realized that the title was a left-handed compliment -- the presumably intended implication is that he is a great yeshiva dean but as a thinker or communal leader, not necessarily so great. Dr. Brill proceeds with a careful analysis of R. Aharon Lichtenstein's thought as presented in the two volumes of Leaves of Faith (I & II) published to date and the one volume of By His Light. While Dr. Brill's writing is a bit winding and unfocused, and contains way too many offhand technical references for a popular work, his point is very clear.

After a brief but interesting biography of R. Lichtenstein, Dr. Brill makes a distinction that is critical for his essay. He distinguishes between Modern Orthodoxy and Centrist Orthodoxy. While he did not invent these terms, he invests them with his own distinctive meanings that those who took his Yeshiva College course on Modern Orthodoxy probably understand but the majority of his readers do not. He helps us out by providing his unique definition of Centrist Orthodoxy but we are left trying to infer his definition of Modern Orthodoxy from his other points. I'll make my own attempt to reach his definition later.

Dr. Brill's analysis of R. Lichtenstein is quite perceptive and generally right on the money (UPDATE: A student of R. Lichtenstein has privately disputed many of Dr. Brill's conclusions as exaggerated and sometimes blatantly false. I've got no insight into this.). Here are some of his conclusions about R. Lichtenstein:
1. He is Talmudic-centric, to the exclusion (largely) of midrash, piyutim, medieval philosophers and kabbalists. This includes teaching philosophy from halakhah rather than from traditional Jewish works of philosophy.
2. He is a proponent of the Brisker approach to studying Talmud.
3. In conjunction with the two previous points, R. Lichtenstein favors East European talmudic scholars almost entirely to the exclusion of West European rabbis.
4. He believes in the importance of gedolim and roshei yeshivah.
5. R. Lichtenstein, Dr. Brill points out, is not his father-in-law, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. They have different views on certain subjects. (In today's context, these are fighting words, despite being fairly obvious.)
6. He believes that we can only derive values from Torah and not from secular sources. He quotes secular sources only to bolster Torah values or to serve as a contrast.
7. Secular studies are ancillary to Torah study.
8. He is against Wissenschaft des Judentums, i.e. academic study of the Torah.
9. The canon of his secular wisdom is obscure and outdated. He seems entirely unaware of the philosophical challenges to the nineteenth century secular scholars he likes to quote.
10. He seems to be unaware of the current reality in the secular world.
11. R. Lichtenstein is intensely moral and sympathetic. He somehow makes his ideology, that is so full of flaws, work because he is such a great guy. (But what happens when he passes on and his students, who might not live up to his great example, take the helm?)

According to Dr. Brill, all of the above make R. Lichtenstein decidedly non-Modern Orthodox. Rather, he is Centrist Orthodox, which Dr. Brill defines as follows:
This transformation [to Centrist Orthodoxy] involved the transfer of authority to roshei yeshivah from pulpit rabbis, the adoption of a pan-halakhic approach to Judaism, an effacing of a self-conscious need to deal with modernity, and increased emphasis on Torah study, especially in the fashionable conceptual manner, and a shifting of the focus of Judaism to the life of a yeshiva student.
Presumably, Modern Orthodoxy means seeing Judaism as more than just halakhah; gaining (some, perhaps few) values from wherever they emerge, whether Torah or secular sources; greater personal autonomy and more local-rabbinic authority; a more holistic view to Jewish life, emphasizing good deeds over Torah study; acceptance of Wissenschaft des Judentums; embracing secular studies as a valid and primary source of wisdom; being up-to-date in our knowledge of and involvement with the secular world.

If that is what we want, implies Dr. Brill, then R. Lichtenstein is not our leader. He's a great guy, really nice and moral, but not one of ours. He is a leader of Centrist Orthodoxy and we wish that movement well on its charted course to becoming pseudo-Haredim. However, Dr. Brill seems to imply, Modern Orthodox readers of The Edah Journal need to look elsewhere for leadership, if leadership is what they want at all. But R. Lichtenstein's authority should be seen as coming from another camp and not reflecting normative Modern Orthodoxy.

Words do not escape me about my reaction to this article but I'll just leave it as "Oy vey iz mir." (For those of my readers who lack seikhel and basic reading skills, this is intended to show my disapproval.)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Reflections on a Reunion

I'm a sucker for nostalgia and went to an unofficial 15-year high school (Modern Orthodox, co-ed) reunion last night. Probably less than a third of the grade showed up, but I had a great time. Here are some random thoughts running through my head that I probably should keep to myself but lack that kind of discretion.

I remember saying that when you have friends whom you haven't seen in years, you're getting old. At this point, I have friends whom I saw after not having seen for years and then again did not see for years.

Too many people were kvetching about how tired and worn out they are (myself included). It's not old-age; it's lack of exercise. Get to a gym every once in a while and you won't feel that way.

People outgrow their dorkiness (myself excluded). I was surprised how everyone who showed up was much more well-adjusted then we were in high school, although I guess I shouldn't be. One guy, whom I love dearly and have known since we were 10 (and have not seen in years!) but Lord help him he was as much of a nerd as I was (he held the record for shoving the most cans of breakfast juice into his locker until the locker literally could not be opened), showed up with his beautiful wife and pictures of his adorable kids. Others blossomed similarly and seem to be doing great. Although there might have been some selection in the sample of who showed up.

Some people found themselves. The girl on whom I had a crush for most of elementary school (and whom I haven't seen since high school graduation) is a professional artist. One woman could not stop talking about how much she loves her out-of-town frum community (I saw her once since graduation in a pizza store). One guy who did not attend, and who was one of the wildest and craziest guys in school (oh, the stories!), is now reportedly frum and offering free plastic surgery (he's a plastic surgeon) to Jews who marry within the faith. Another guy who didn't show up is having his second screenplay made into a movie (starring Meryl Streep). One rabbi (a real rabbi, not like me) and one rebbetzin (other than the aforementioned rabbi's wife) showed up. Probably the smartest guy in the grade, who I thought would definitely go into a science or math related field, is a professor of Yiddish literature. Bizarre but kind of cool (I'd like to put him in the paragraph of people who outgrew their dorkiness but let's face it, his specialty is Yiddish literature).

Fewer yarmulkas than I expected. I mean, come on, just put one on for the reunion. There were also fewer sleeves on women than I would have expected. But that just might be my having lived in Brooklyn for so long. Thinking about it, there were only a few frumkeit surprises (me being one of them). Religious-wise, most people are pretty much where you would have expected them to be. Granted, the sample is skewed because most of the frummies live in Israel, including most of the "klei kodesh" (teachers, rabbis, talmidot hakham[ot?]*, etc.). And people who went way off the path might have been embarrased to come, which, in my opinion, is a shame. The only female rabbi from our grade didn't come, which is also a shame, because we were good friends once upon a time and I would have liked to see her (it was no shock at all that she became a rabbi).

No surprise here -- I'm terrible with names. There are some people whose names I just could not remember. I made a point of starting conversations by telling people my name so no one would be in that awkward position of saying, "Who are you exactly?" Unfortunately, not everyone was as kind in return. We played a few rounds of "What was his/her name?" about people who didn't show up, especially those who responded that they weren't coming and we had no idea who they were.

Only one guy claimed to be unable to recognize me. After I told him my name and he absorbed the shock of my semi-Haredi attire, he gave me a big hug (he's doing great and his wife is expecting their first child). And, of course, kudos to the woman who said that she didn't notice my lack of hair (I think I was the second baldest in the room, but a distant second). As usual, I forgot to bring an updated picture of my family and only had my 11-year old wedding picture and a 4-year old picture of my kids.

Someone pointed out that in a comment on my blog, I once wrote that my high school was a kiruv school. Evidently, he found that surprising. As I drove home last night, I wondered whether the school was a failure or a success in kiruv. You can point to individuals as either failures or successes, but overall, how did the school fare? Was my grade a net gain to Judaism or a net loss? It seems to me that it was an umitigated success. Aside from my unsubstantiated belief that more people became frum than the opposite, just about everyone there is much more Jewishly aware than had they gone to a public or prep school. If you define success as something less than becoming fully observant, which I think you must, then my gut feeling is that most of the grade is better off religiously than they would have otherwise been. I can think of one fellow who keeps a kosher home and attends a Conservative synagogue regularly. I knew him before high school and, had it not been for the school, he'd be a once-a-year Jew at most. Others are dating/married to Jews because of their experience. Not to mention more than a few who are teaching in yeshivas themselves. The ones who started out non-frum might not be frum now, but they are frummer. Granted, some went the other way. Some of them, unfortunately, due largely to their experiences in high school. That place is certainly not perfect. But I'd still call it a success.

* OK, I've decided that since this is a difference between Mishnaic and Modern Hebrew, it should be either talmidos hakhamos or talmidot chacham.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Exodus Chapter 1

1 Now these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob; every man came with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls; and Joseph was in Egypt already. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.א ואלה, שמות בני ישראל, הבאים, מצרימה: את יעקב, איש וביתו באו. ב ראובן שמעון, לוי ויהודה. ג יששכר זבולן, ובנימן. ד דן ונפתלי, גד ואשר. ה ויהי, כל-נפש יצאי ירך-יעקב--שבעים נפש; ויוסף, היה במצרים. ו וימת יוסף וכל-אחיו, וכל הדור ההוא. ז ובני ישראל, פרו וישרצו וירבו ויעצמו--במאד מאד; ותמלא הארץ, אתם.

Chapter 1: Enslavement of a People
This chapter contains three discrete sections, the first about the beginning of the Jewish nation and the next two about Pharoah's plot against it. Each section contains approximately the same number of verses, contains a description of Israel's plentitude, has a doubled theme, and has a key word or idea repeated seven times (Hakham 17).

1:1-7 The Birth of a Nation
Genesis recounted first the origins of humanity and then the foundation of the Jewish people. Exodus continues the story of the Jewish nation, from the transformation into a people to the exile and redemption that permanently unites and molds the character of this nation. From a literary perspective, this summary of the end of Genesis serves to link the two books and provide continuity from one book to the next (Cassuto). Additionally, the descent to Egypt marks the beginning of the exile. Therefore, it is only fitting that the book of Exodus begin from that point (Ramban). It is certainly significant that the descent into exile and the enslavement of the children of Israel contains no mention of God's name. This amply represents the Jewish people's sense of abandonment by God in this time of suffering (Leibowitz 17-18). This section has two themes: the settling of the family of Israel in Egypt and its vast fruitfulness (Hakham 17).

1. Now these
Compare with Genesis 46:8. Beginning the book with a "vav" indicates that Exodus is a continuation of the prior book (Abrabanel).

2. Reuben, Simeon,...
Genesis 46:8-26 gives a more detailed list of those who descended into Egypt. This summary just lists the sons of Jacob without naming their children, and then provides a general summary of the number of people.

The list in Genesis 46 starts with the sons of Leah and lists them in descending age order, then continues with the sons of Zilpah in the same order, then the sons of Rachel, and then the sons of Bilhah. The list in Exodus follows that in Genesis 35:23-26, in descending age order by mother but after Leah's sons it continues with Rachel's, then Bilhah's, and then Zilpah's. The order in Genesis 46 is in family order, with the full wives' and their maidservants' sons listed next to each other and the two wives separated as much as possible, representing the domestic tensions in Jacob's home. The order here is that of the national social hierarchy, with the wives' sons first and then the maidservants' sons (Grossman).

5. And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls
Compare with Genesis 46:27. Of the seventy people, one is Jacob and all but one of the others are his direct male descendants. If we add to these the wives of all of the male descendants and the husbands of all the female descendants, and all their servants and their families, the total who entered Egypt must have been several hundreds (Hertz). However, the number of seventy descendants is reminiscent of the seventy nations of the world listed in Genesis 10 and implies that the people of Israel are a microcosm of the entire world (Cassuto).

6. And Joseph died
Compare with Genesis 50:26.

and all that generation
This phrase only tells us that all of the seventy descendants of Jacob who entered Egypt died (Rashbam, Seforno). Alternately, it refers to that entire generation, Jew and gentile, alive at the time the family of Jacob descended into Egypt (Saadia, Ibn Ezra, Hizkuni).

7. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty
In comparison with Genesis 47:27, the increase in the children of Israel is described with twice as many adjectives. Genesis states " 1) ויפרו 2) וירבו 3) מאד and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly." Exodus states " 1) פרו 1*) וישרצו 2) וירבו 2*) ויעצמו 3) במאד 3*) מאד were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty." This doubling of phraseology emphasizes the rapidity in and abundance of their reproduction (Samet 157-158). These descriptions are reminiscent of the blessings given to Adam (Gen. 1:28), Noah (Gen. 9:1) and Abraham (Gen. 17:2-6) (Cassuto).

and the land was filled with them
This is reminiscent of the command given to Adam (Gen. 1:28) to subdue the earth and inhabit it This implies that the beginning of this nation is comparable to the creation of humanity. With the land filling with the Jews, in addition to the six phrases of reproduction, the text utilizes seven phrases to describe the abundance of the Jews. This represent completion and harmony, and that all was done according to God's intention (Cassuto).

Which land was filled with them? Ibn Ezra, in his two commentaries to this passage, is conflicted over whether the Jews filled only the land of Goshen, as implied by Exodus 9:26, or that the Jews spread throughout Egypt while maintaining a strong family base in Goshen.

(full bibliography after the last post in this series)

Tehillim 49:18

I received this e-mail. The story sounds dubious and I have changed it to remove the name of the man it discusses. However, I'll add that my mother-in-law and her family left the USSR in 1967, just as the Six Day War was breaking out. Because of the war, their plane was not allowed entry into America and landed in another country, where this deceased man's family picked these total strangers up from the airport right before Shabbos and allowed them to stay in their home until the situation could be resolved.
An extremely wealthy Orthodox Jew passed away this summer, leaving 1 billion dollars.

He left two wills, directing that one be opened immediately and the second be opened at the Shloshim (after 30 days).

Among the instructions left in the first will was a request the he be buried with a certain pair of socks that he owned. The deceased man's children immediately brought the socks to the Chevra Kadisha, requesting that their father be buried in them. Of course, the Chevra Kadisha refused, reminding the family that it's against the Halacha, They pleaded, explaining that their father was a very pious and learned man, and he obviously had a very good reason to make this request. The Chevra Kadisha remained firm in their refusal.

The family frantically summoned the Chevra Kadisha to Beis Din, where the Rov gently explained to them, "Although your father left that request when he was on this world, now that he's in the world of truth, he surely understands that it is in his best interests to be buried without the socks.

The gentleman was buried without his socks.

30 days later, the second will was opened, and it read something like this; "My dear children. By now you must have buried me without my socks. I wanted you to truly understand that a man can have 1 billion dollars, but in the end, he can't even take along one pair of socks!

What a man!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Seeking Truth

R. Michael J. Broyde on truth-seeking:
[W]hen I look back at my experiences at YU, I see that a number of different people at a number of different times reinforced to me a sense of the complex mission of YU. That complex mission was to truth-seek, and not to be content with half-truths or incomplete truths (never mind to be repulsed by falsehood).

No single person sold me on that mission -- but many shared it with me. I still remember speaking to R. Michael Hecht (an unsung hero of Yeshiva, if there ever was one) when I was in eleventh grade about a complex topic that I was troubled by. He turned to me and said "truth seeking is complex, and a lot of hard work. Think about this topic some more and then we can speak again." It was then that I began to understand that frequently the goal of YU was not to point me to a specific result, but rather to force me to develop a set of truth-seeking skills that allow me to discern the difference between truth and falsehood. Dr. Barry Potvin similarly shared with me a sense that scientific research was really a search for truth (and not just a tool to get into medical school). Dr. Moshe Bernstein shared the same vision in the context of Bible study, and that was surely the vision of Talmud study in R. Mordechai Willig's shiur, where I was privileged to sit and learn for a number of years -- exposed to the hard analytical learning of gemara and halakha on a daily basis, with truth being the currency of the realm...

Even as a student, I sensed that this search for truth was somewhat disquieting to many. Many students simply wanted to go on their merry way not plagued by any doubts, examination of the world around them, or digression from their professional goals, and this created some social tension within the community. Other students had already searched for truth and had found it and spent their time at Yeshiva not searching for truth but proselytizing for the truth that they had found and needed to share. Both of these results, I now realize, are inevitable in a healthy environment that seeks truth.

Metzitzah VI

From The NY Times:
[New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden] said the department regarded herpes transmission via oral suction as "somewhat inevitable to occur as long as this practice continues, if at a very low rate"...

Defenders of oral suction say there is no proof that it spreads herpes at all. They say that mohels use antiseptic mouthwash before performing oral suction, and that the known incidence of herpes among infants who have undergone it is minuscule. (The city's health department recorded cases in 1988 and 1998, though doctors in New York, as in most states, are not required to report neonatal herpes.)

Dr. Kenneth I. Glassberg, past president of the New York section of the American Urological Association and director of pediatric urology at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, said that while he found oral suction "personally displeasing," he did not recommend that rabbis stop using it.

"If I knew something caused a problem from a medical point of view," said Dr. Glassberg, whose private practice includes many Hasidic families, "I would recommend against it."

Ur of the Chaldeans

Dr. Charlie Hall asked about how Abraham could have lived in Ur of the Chaldeans when the Chaldeans did not exist in that part of Mesopotamia until much later. The following is from Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis Chapters 1-17, pp. 363-366:
Scholars debate the precise identification of Ur of the Chaldeans from which Abram moved. The excavations of Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur in the 1920s and 1930s have led many to assume that the Ur from which Abram departed in the Sumerian Ur, that is, the great city in Lower Mesopotamia located on the Euphrates...

Other scholars have challenged this identification and suggested that Abram's Ur is to be located in Upper Mesopotamia [cf. Speiser, Genesis, p. 80; Stigers, Commentary on Genesis, pp. 133-134]. Before Sumerian Ur came to light, writers were already equating Abraham's Ur with Urfa (now called Edessa), which is about twenty miles northwest of Haran. A more recent proposal is to identify the Ur of Gen. 11 with a town called Ura in Hittite territory.

The evidence in favor of the northern location are: ...(3) Sumerian Ur could never have been called "Ur of the Chaldeans." The Chaldeans were an ethnic group related to the Arameans. They did not penetrate southern Mesopotamia until the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. Note that they do not appear in any of the venerated genalogies of Genesis. Not until Gen. 22:22 are they linked with their ancestor Chesed...

Most scholars still maintain the identification of Ur with the Lower Mesopotamian site... In our opinion, however, none of these arguments is decisive, and the balance of evidence favors a northern Ur.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Torah Tour of the Bronx Zoo II

Reminder about the tour this Sunday. There are still some spots open.

Metzitzah V

(Continued from here: I, II, III, IV)

I don't know how I missed this release from the RCA, dated June 7, 2005:
It is well known that there is a dispute among poskim regarding the obligation to engage in metzitza be'peh. Four major viewpoints exist, and we provide some sources for each below. More complete reviews are summarized in many sources, including Nishmat Avaraham, Vol. 2., Yoreh De'ah 263:8 (p. 176) and 264:5 (pp. 182-183), and elsewhere.

The first view is that of Tiferet Yisrael (Commentary to Mishnah Shabbat 19:2), who regards metzitza as strictly a medical matter. The Talmud requires metzitza to avoid medical danger. Even though Tiferet Yisrael affirms that doctors in his day stated that this danger no longer exists (in keeping with the principle of nishtaneh ha'teva) and that, to the contrary, the act of metzitza itself might pose potential danger to the child, Tiferet Yisrael nonetheless advocated metzitza be'peh because he believed that doctors of his day agreed that it also provided a medical benefit to the child.

The second view is that metzitza is required and may be performed with any device - mouth or even sponge - that draws blood from the wound. (Chatam Sofer cited in Rav Pirutinsky's Sefer Habrit, pp. 216-217).

The third view is that metzitza be'peh is required, but the requirement of be'peh may be fulfilled through suction generated by the mouth through a tube. (Proclamations by Rabbi A. Hildesheimer and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch to their respective communities, and the latter's Responsa Shemesh Marpeh 55; Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, Responsa Har Tzvi 214; Rabbi A. Y. Hakohen Kook, Responsa Da'at Kohen 142; others cited in addendum to p. 222 at back of Sefer Habrit).

The final view is that metzitza be'peh actually requires suction from the mouth directly onto the site of the circumcision. (Responsa Binyan Tziyon 1:23-24; Responsa Maharam Schick Orach Chaim 152; Responsa Avnei Neizer 1:338).

The poskim consulted by the RCA (Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Av Beit Din of the Beth Din of America and of the Chicago Rabbinical Council; Rabbi Hershel Schachter of RIETS/YU and the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America; and Rabbi Mordechai Willig of RIETS/YU and Segan Av Beit Din of the Beth Din of America) agree that the normative halacha undoubtedly permits the third view, and that it is proper for mohalim to conduct themselves in this way given the health issues involved in the fourth view. Rabbi Schachter even reports that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik reports that his father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, would not permit a mohel to perform metzitza be'peh with direct oral contact, and that his grandfather, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, instructed mohelim in Brisk not to do metzitza be'peh with direct oral contact. However, although Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik also generally prohibited metzitza be'peh with direct oral contact, he did not ban it by those who insisted upon it, and neither does the RCA advocate any such ban. Those who wish to follow their customs in accordance with the above-noted authorities are certainly entitled to do so, but the RCA is firmly of the opinion that in light of current realities and medical knowledge it is proper, and preferable, to use a tube.

Article about Orthodox Blogs

Miriam directed me to an article in The Forward about Orthodox Jewish blogs. Fine, they don't have to mention Hirhurim. But to not mention the sensational and anti-authoritarian Godol Hador is simply mind-boggling. Granted, I'm boring and, despite objections by many readers, too frum. But he's got a story that fits perfectly with the perceived editorial agenda of The Forward! At least Dov Bear got mentioned.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Philistines in Gaza

In an op-ed in today's NY Times, Dr. Benny Morris writes about the origins of the Philistines:
In antiquity, Gaza was part of Biblical Pleshet or Philistia - the domain of the Philistines, a non-Semitic "sea people" hailing from the Greek isles who probably invaded and settled along the coast in the 12th century B.C. (more or less simultaneous with the arrival in the Holy Land of the Hebrews from the east).
The implication here is that the Philistines did not live in the land of Israel prior to the Jewish conquest of the land, i.e. in the times of the Patriarchs and the Exodus. Yet, the mentions of Philistines in the books of Genesis and Exodus imply that they were.

R. Shalom Carmy directed my attention to an answer given by the late Prof. Yehoshua Grintz. In a lengthy exposition on the subject in his Motza'ei Doros (pp. 99-129), Prof. Grintz argues that there were two Philistine peoples with different origins, regions and time periods. See here for a summary of his arguments (rather, the simpler of his arguments that do not deal with non-biblical texts).

Interestingly, I saw that Prof. Grintz's mentor, Prof. Umberto Cassuto, quotes approvingly this suggestion of his student in his commentary to Genesis 11:14 (From Noah to Adam, pp. 207-208). While I have not seen it inside, Kenneth Kitchen is quoted as also making a similar argument (Peoples of Old Testament Times, p. 56). Gordon Wenham (Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 11:14 p. 225) writes:
That the Philistines are linked both with the Cretans and the Casluhim suggests a close association between these two groups. Or it may be that the Philistines of Genesis represent a different group from the Philistines of the post-conquest period.
The Philistines of the Patriarchal period did not live in Gaza. They lived in the Negev.

UPDATE: I found the following two articles from Bar Ilan's Parashat Hashavua Study Center that take the same approach: Dr. Michael Avioz and Menahem Ben-Yashar. I'm not sure if they were included in the book Professors on the Parashah.

Religious Zionism XI

Frumteens is back from a mid-summer hiatus. On Zionism, the moderator writes this:
The hashkofos are not the main problem at all. All the Gedolim who have discussed that have said that even if the Chofetz Chaim were running the State of Israel it would still be a problem. Although they often teach in Zionist institutions that objextions to the State were based primarily on the irreliosity of its founders or governors, that is patently false and a total misrepresentation of the traditional Torah stance on the matter, which leads to a situation where, when someone like yourself sees articulaed in simple English, in a forum to whic hyou have easy access, an accurate representation of the opponents of Zionism, you are surprised.
Let's dissect this and point out some of the moderator's errors. First, "All the Gedolim who have discussed that have said that even if the Chofetz Chaim were running the State of Israel it would still be a problem." See, this is just incorrect. When R. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz discussed the newly founded state of Israel, he absolutely did not object to it and very clearly did not believe that if the Hafetz Hayim were running the state it would be a problem. Furthermore, he explicitly taught in public (as is recorded in his Artscroll biography) that there is a positive reason that the non-religious have played such a large role in the establishment of the state. R. Reuven Grozovsky agreed with the uncertain position of R. Avraham Weinfeld, as published in the journal Ha-Ma'or. The Netziv certainly had no objection to returning en masse to the land of Israel. R. Eliezer Silver and R. Pinchas Teitz both publicly supported the state of Israel, as did R. Tzvi Pesah Frank, R. Isser Zalman Meltzer and many others. The very claim that "The Gedolim" oppose the state of Israel is so obviously and demonstrably false that (as people have told me) it is almost redundant to try to prove it.

"Although they often teach in Zionist institutions that objextions to the State were based primarily on the irreliosity of its founders or governors, that is patently false and a total misrepresentation of the traditional Torah stance on the matter..."

I spent four years in a co-ed Modern Orthodox high school and longer than that in Yeshiva University. I can't recall ever hearing that the objections to the state of Israel were due to the irreligiosity of "its founders or governors." It was always couched in terminology of establishing a state in Israel before the arrival of the messiah. The anti-Zionists claim to be privy to the exact order of the Redemption and object to the state of Israel because it does not fit in with their notion of how the Redemption will occur. But please, feel free to create a straw man and then knock it down.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Talking Politics

May a Jew discuss politics? Not necessarily on Shabbos but any day. Why not? We read in last week's Torah portion "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." (Deut. 6:7)

The Gemara in Yoma (19b) states:
"And you shall talk of them" -- of them you have permission to talk and not of other matters... Rava said: One who speaks mundane talk (sihas hullin) transgresses a positive commandment, as it says "And you shall talk of them" -- of them and not of other matters.
If that is the case, perhaps we are not allowed to talk about mundane matters such as politics.

R. Yitzhak Sorotzkin (Rinas Yitzhak Deut. 6:7) quotes two views on this matter. R. Zalman Volozhiner, the brilliant younger brother of R. Hayim Volozhiner, reportedly analyzed this issue in depth (as discussed in his biography, Toledos Adam ch. 7). He concluded that one may not speak about mundane matters when an obligation to learn Torah is in force. However, in places where on may not study Torah, such as in the bathhouse, one may speak freely. Therefore, he personally would talk about world events and tell stories while in the bathhouse but immediately upon leaving would speak about only Torah matters.

Over a century later, R. Barukh Ber Leibowitz had a different approach. He held that even when earning a living, and therefore exempt from the obligation to study Torah while working, one may not engage in mundane matters. According to R. Leibowitz, the prohibition against sihas hullin is separate from the obligation to learn Torah and is in force even when the obligation to learn Torah is not. This is in contrast to R. Zalman Volozhiner, who held that the prohibition against sihas hullin is only the flip side of the obligation to learn Torah. When the latter is not in force, neither is the former.

According to R. Leibowitz, we must also say that the prohibition is not on all non-Torah matters. If that were the case, one would be unable to learn a living! Clearly, speaking about, for example, the price of diamonds is permissible for a diamond merchant. One must merely take care to choose a profession that is about serious matters, excluding (perhaps) being an entertainment reporter and other jobs that deal with frivolous matters. There is, evidently, a lower level of discussion that revolves around lesser topics and is called sihas hullin. However, mundane non-Torah matters that are inherently neutral are not forbidden as sihas hullin. According to R. Zalman Volozhiner, anything that is not Torah is sihas hullin and is only permissible when one is exempt from learning Torah.

According to R. Leibowitz, it could be that politics is not considered sihas hullin. While obviously one must learn Torah, it could very well be that there is no prohibition against talking about politics. However, according to R. Zalman Volozhiner, it seems that there is a prohibition against talking about any non-Torah matters.

This disagreement seems to be a dispute among rishonim. Rashi (Yoma 19b sv. ve-lo bi-dvarim aherim) writes that the prohibition is specifically against childish and lightheaded talk. In other words, silliness and nonsense. Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah (Rif, Berakhos 9b sv. ve-dibarta 2) seems to hold that anything other than Torah is prohibited, with a special exemption for work-related matters because one is allowed to earn a living. Thus, R. Leibowitz seems to follow Rashi's approach and R. Zalman Volozhiner the approach of Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah.

Significantly, the Magen Avraham (156:2) quotes this prohibition as forbidding "insulting matters and lightheadedness." This is in line with Rashi and R. Leibowitz, and would presumably allow discussion of matters that are not Torah-related but still serious.


Special fund to help former residents of Gaza and Northern Shomron

OU is Collecting Funds to help Former Residents of Gaza and Northern Shomron

The Orthodox Union is collecting funds for families who were removed from their homes in Gaza and Northern Shomron, both for their short-term needs, and in order to help them rebuild their lives elsewhere. The funds will be distributed through the OU's Seymour J. Abrams Israel Center in Jerusalem.

The staff of the OU Israel Center is actively involved in assisting these people, but funds are needed now. All funds collected will initially be spent on providing for these immediate needs, and subsequently for any long-term support that may prove necessary.

Many of the families expelled from Gaza in the last few days have been put into crowded and inadequate living conditions. Some are being housed temporarily in hotels, with entire families sharing one room. This arrangement is to last for only 10 days, after which they will have to fend for themselves. Many do not yet have access to their household goods and personal items that were left behind, and need emergency support.

Contributions may be made through our website, or by sending your check, payable to Orthodox Union Gaza/Shomron Fund, to Orthodox Union, 11 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10004. Please write "Gaza/Shomron Fund" clearly on both the check and the envelope.

Credit card donations may be made here.

Downloading Music II

Following up on this post, the following article is of interest:

R. Israel Schneider, "Jewish Law and Copyright" in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, No. XXI, Spring, 1991, Pesach 5751.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Communal Prayer

I had been thinking about a post but Marvin Schick beat me to the topic. However, since my perspective is radically different from his, I'll offer it despite being late.

Why do I pray? Because I have to; it's the halakhah. But more than that, I pray because directing my needs to God brings me closer to Him and strengthens my belief. However, the only reason I can pray is that I believe it works. I believe that God hears my prayers and sometimes, when He deems it proper, grants me my desires. It's happened in the past to me personally and to many I know; God has answered our prayers in the affirmative. Can I prove it? No. I have no evidence that these occurences were above statistical possibilities. That notwithstanding, I still believe that God answers prayers. If I did not, my prayers would feel meaningless to me and they certainly would not bring me closer to God. It is only the possibility of being answered that allows me to experience prayer.

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote (Worship of the Heart, p. 35):
When man is in need and prays, God listens. One of God's attributes is shomea tefillah: "He who listens to prayer." Let us note that Judaism has never promised that God accepts all prayer. The efficacy of prayer is not the central term of inquiry in our philosophy of avodah she-ba-lev. Acceptance of prayer is a hope, a vision, a wish, a petition, but not a principle or a promise. The foundation of prayer is not the conviction of its effectiveness but the belief that through it we approach God intimately and the miraculous community embracing finite man and his Creator is born. The basic function of prayer is not its practical consequences but the metaphysical formation of a fellowship consisting of God and man.
However, without the possibility of God answering the prayer, the basic fellowship cannot be formed. It's just me saying the words without meaning them.

In my experience, communal prayer is not answered. Thinking back to every communal prayer gathering I can remember, every single one yielded no positive results. Because of this, I simply do not get excited about communal prayer gatherings. How can I pray when I see no possibility of it being answered? I'm not saying that God can't answer communal prayers. He just doesn't seem to. I'm sure He has in the past, just not any time in recent history. I know, according to the Gemara communal prayers are more effective than those of individuals. But let's face reality. For some reason, we aren't witnessing this.

Here are a few possible reasons why our communal prayers consistently go unanswered:

1. Of all the communal prayer gatherings I can remember, only one strikes me as not being politically motivated. Generally, though, they seem like political rallies with prayer as the excuse. Perhaps God does not approve of our using prayer as a political tool.

2. Maybe we are so spiritually impoverished that we do not deserve the great merit of having a communal prayer answered.

3. Communal priorities might not be optimal. Perhaps we should focus our efforts in other directions. How about a prayer rally for the sake of orphans and widows?

4. Maybe, precisely the opposite, our communal prayers are for issues that are of such importance that God's plans cannot be changed.

I don't know why. Maybe my memory is faulty and we have, on a communal basis, prayed for things that have actually come to pass. But to me, a communal prayer gathering is about many things: communal unity, hinukh, being cool, but not effective prayer.

UPDATE: To clarify, as the comments imply I should, I am referring here to big community prayer gatherings, like when they cordoned off a few blocks in downtown Manhattan about six or seven years ago. Not to regular community prayer or reciting Tehillim for someone sick.

My Disengagement Dysfunction II

This article in, of all places, Haaretz says it all. Betrayed by all, not leastly by our own leadership.

UPDATE: Two thought-provoking posts by the Out of Step Jew (I & II).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Help Wanted

An intelligent, articulate and Jewishly well-educated person is needed for phone sales for major distributor of Jewish books. Involves calling bookstores across the country and describing books that are available for sale to the public, developing and maintaining relationships with customers, keeping track of communications and following up on orders.

Required skills: Good phone skills, outgoing personality, understanding of basic Jewish concepts, ability to relate to Jews across the religious spectrum.

Hours: Flexible. Part-time arrangement is available.

Location: Brooklyn (Boro Park, near Flatbush)

Salary: Commission-based

Contact: Gil Student

Prayer in English

R. Yehiel Mikhel Epstein, Arukh Ha-Shulhan, Orah Hayim 185:1-3:
The grace after meals is recited in any language, as it says "And you shall bless the Lord your God" (Deut. 8:10) -- in any language that you bless (Sotah 33a). It seems to me that this is only when one does not understand Hebrew, and so it seems from the Jerusalem Talmud...

In the prior generation, a wicked group outside of our country arose to pray and recite the grace after meals in the vernacular and their source is the Mishnah in Sotah "These are recited in all languages..." The great Torah scholars of that generation refuted their claims. I say that this wicked group did not understand at all the words of the sages of the Talmud. That Mishnah lists many things that are recited in any language and the Gemara adduces for each one reasons why it may be recited in any language. The Gemara also lists many things that are recited specifically in Hebrew and brings reasons for each one why this is so. However, it is unclear because if logic dictates that everything should be said in any language, why does the Gemara give a specific reason for each one that may be recited in any language? And if logic dictates that everything should be said in Hebrew, why does the Gemara give reasons for each one that must be recited in Hebrew?

The matter is as follows: Since the Torah was given in Hebrew and Hebrew is the holy language through which the world was created, it is certainly an obligation that anything related to Torah require Hebrew for one who understands it. And we would not permit another language for one who does not understand Hebrew if not for specific verses that permit it... Therefore, the use of Hebrew is not an absolute requirement and one who understands Hebrew and improperly prays or recites grace in another language fulfills his biblical requirement even though he committed a sin. Because it does not make sense to say that one who does not understand Hebrew can use another language ab inition while one who understands Hebrew may not even ex post facto. Therefore, we need specific reason to permit one who understands* Hebrew to use another language ab initio. And we need specific reason to require Hebrew even post facto.

It is clear that it is absolutely forbidden for us to pray and recite grace in the vernacular.

* The text reads one who does not understand Hebrew but I believe it to be a mistake and should read: one who understands Hebrew.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Torah Tour of the Bronx Zoo

Experience the Wild Side of Judaism...


For adults and older children

Led by Rabbi Natan Slifkin,
the world-famous "Zoo Rabbi,"
author of Nature's Song, The Science
of Torah
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Sunday, August 28th, 2005
10 am and 2 pm
Price: Adults $25, children $20
(does not include admission)
For schedule and registration (required),
Only 30 spots available!
For details, see

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Eating of the Forbidden Fruit

The Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 1:2) explains the consequences of Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit in a way that has always been difficult for me to understand. Here is it in Friedlander's translation:
Through the intellect man distinguishes between the true and the false. This faculty Adam possessed perfectly and completely. The right and the wrong are terms employed in the science of apparent truths (morals)... After man's disobedience, however, when he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites, as it is said," And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes" (Gen. iii. 6), he was punished by the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed. He therefore transgressed a command with which he had been charged on the score of his reason; and having obtained a knowledge of the apparent truths, he was wholly absorbed in the study of what is proper and what improper...
In the past, Adam was capable of distinguishing between truth and false. After eating the fruit, he was only capable of distinguishing between proper and improper. Is that such a bad change? Couldn't one argue that it is even an improvement?

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Worship of the Heart, pp. 46-48) disputes this translation and suggests that rather than "the right and the wrong," the terms should preferably be translated as "the pleasant and unpleasant, the comfortable and uncomfortable, or the delightful and the ugly."
[Maimonides] set up an opposition between the cognitive-ethical truth and falsity, on the one hand, and propriety and impropriety, what is pleasing or displeasing in an aesthetic sense, on the other hand. The terms tov va-ra constitute homonyms in Hebrew, having both ethical and aesthetic connotations...
In other words, prior to Adam and Eve's sin, they understood the world in terms of truth and false. Afterwards, their intellects were overpowered by aesthetic considerations. I can see that as being a tremendous fall.

The enormous joy I experienced on reading this explanation was later tempered by concern over whether this explanation is consistent with the Rambam's original Arabic. R. Yosef Kafah, in his translation of the Rambam (n. 16), implies that it cannot. However, I was wrong to impute my own ignorance of Arabic on R. Soloveitchik. I subsequently found that the Munk translation has it as "le laid et le beau" and the new Schwartz translation has it as "meguneh ve-yafeh." Marvin Fox (Interpreting Maimonides, p. 136) also translates it as "beautiful and ugly."

A Destroyed Synagogue

Mishnah, Megillah 3:3 (from here):
And Rabbi Yehudah further said, If a synagogue has been destroyed, they may not eulogize within it, and they may not twist ropes within it, and they may not spread nets within it, and they may not spread produce on its roof, and they may not make of it a path, as it is written, "and I will bring your sanctuaries unto desolation" (Lev. 26:31) - their sanctity, even when they are desolate. If weeds grew in it, he may not pluck, on account of grief.

My Disengagement Dysfunction

A few commenters seem to think that I've gone crazy over the Disengagement and they are probably correct. I just posted the following as a comment to a thread but decided to edit it and make it into a post. (Note that I'm adjusting the time on a previous post about a destroyed synagogue because I want it to be on top of the blog for the rest of the day)

I guess this is me trying to deal with the mind-blowing tragedy I see unfolding that is hurting me so deeply. How did we get here and why are we here? This is something that haunts me constantly.

I was just dragged against my will to a cocktail party that had CNN Headline News in the background with repeating footage of the Disengagement. It made me nauseous and I left as soon as I could. It's not just guilt of being here and not there, because even if I were there I would not be there.

But what's going to happen to all the people once they are evacuated? Expecially the people who refused to pack or make any preparations. Where are they going to spend this Shabbos? What are they going to wear tomorrow? Why won't the children have their teddy bears? Or clean underwear? Because their parents were trying to prove some point by not packing or preparing? And couldn't we, as a community both in Israel and in America, have done much, much more to make the transition going on right now so much easier for them? But we've done nothing for them.

And isn't this better than the IDF just pulling out and letting the residents fight it out with Hamas and the PA? Would that have made anyone happier?

And why is no one talking about the soldiers and the impact this is having on them? Don't you see those Jewish kids struggling to deal with this in the best way possible? Do you think that this is making them more sympathetic to Judaism or is this widening the gap even more between the secular and the religious? Why are we forcing our brothers and sisters to tearfully drag us out of our homes, against our wills and against theirs?

So, yes, I'm grappling with our leadership, our goals, our present and our future. I can only hope we do better but the skeptic in me doubts it. Maybe I should just close my eyes to politics and pretend that the world outside of my Gemara doesn't exist.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Disengagement II


I was asked in an e-mail about the following in my earlier post:
How anyone can take seriously the pronouncements of holy Kabbalists in Israel, such as [deleted], who declared that the Disengagement will not take place, I don't know (I, II, III, IV).
The question posed to me by this rabbi is:
3 days after Tisha B'av you had to make these ridiculous comments? What exactly is your point?
Very simple: Kabbalistic predictions about the future are misguided. They are either based on bad kabbalah, bad interpretations of good kabbalah, or total shams. How do I know that this was not based on a deep understanding of the Torah? Because it didn't come true, like anyone who can read a newspaper would have told you.

Statements that something will definitely happen are not only foolish but, when given improper religious authority, are an embarassing hillul Hashem. The only thing that can come from them is distancing people from Yiddishkeit when the predictions don't come true.

In other words: Don't take such predictions seriously and don't judge our religion based on such predictions.

UPDATE: [deleted]

FURTHER UPDATE: A reader directed me to comment number 71 on the photo essay to which I linked yesterday. It reads as follows:
i don't think tfillah is going to help, especially if [deleted] said it would. he's the chap who said that god would not let the disngagement happen. seems he was wrong about that. so he's probably wrong about god wanting to hear tehillim on this issue also. if i were you i would do what i'm doing: have a cold beer to celebrate the triumph of democracy and donate some money to help those who have had to leave their homes in the interests of israel's democratic and jewish future. oh, and resolve never to listen to rabbis pretending they know what god wants. they don't. period.

Responsible Leadership

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner instructs youth to refrain from resisting the expulsion, saying, "Victory is not everything."

(Taken from this heart-rending photo essay)

The Disengagement

I finally understand the point of Gush Katif residents remaining in their homes. They are demonstrating to the world their love of the land of Israel and that they won't leave without a struggle (a struggle but not a fight). The images and sounds emerging from there are heart-wrenching. May they see comfort in the near future.

How anyone can take seriously the pronouncements of holy Kabbalists in Israel who declared that the Disengagement will not take place, I don't know (I, II, III, IV). If he/they had meant it as a mere rhetorical flourish, like saying "We shall not be moved" when everyone knows that you will be moved, then I could understand. But that's not what it seems like to me (nor to this foolish lady).

And, finally, unfortunately, prayer does not always help (I, II, III, IV, V).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Language Purity

R. Moshe Eisemann, of the Ner Yisrael yeshiva, is also associated with the Kishinev Yeshiva. In order to help support the Kishiniev Yeshiva, R. Eisemann has taken to writing into book form a number of his famously thought-provoking lectures.

He added the following brief explanatory note to the beginning of his most recent book that serves as a victory to language purists:
For this book I have made a small change in style, which I want to explain to you.

In the earlier books I wrote in a kind of "yeshivishe" English, freely using Hebrew expressions as part of the text. There are, however, people who are not fluent Hebrew readers who have been frustrated by this intrusion of a second language. I have been asked a number of times to stick to English.

So, at the cost perhaps of losing a little "heimishkeit," I have eliminated the informal use of Hebrew. It now appears only in the form of longish quotes for which a translation or paraphrase is always provided.

I apologize to those of you who enjoyed the earlier, less formal style. Still, I am sure that it is a small sacrifice to make so that more people can enjoy the books.

Thanks to all of you.
It seems that R. Eisemann is taking the advice given to me a few months ago after a shi'ur out-of-town that I gave: Choose a language and stick to it.

I suspect that this is a wise choice that will only help to spread Torah.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Call To Teshuvah

From TorahWeb:
A Call to Teshuva

A fast day is a time for teshuva (repentance), especially bein adam lachaveiro (in the realm of interpersonal relationships). "Surely this is the fast I choose: to break open the shackles of wickedness, to undo the bonds of injustice, and to let the oppressed go free, and annul all perversion. Surely, you should break your bread for the hungry and bring the mourning poor to your home..." (Yeshaya 58:6-7)

Aveilus (mourning) is also a time for teshuva. "One who does not mourn as the Sages commanded is a cruel person. He ought to fear, worry, scrutinize his actions and repent." (Rambam Hil. Aveilus, 13:12).

Aveilus and ta'anis (fast day) converge on Tisha Be'av. Thus, Tisha Be'av is a time for personal and communal introspection and teshuva.

This year as Tisha Be'av approaches, Kelal Yisroel faces an eis tzarah (a time of crisis) of great proportions. Regardless of one's political stance regarding disengagement, this Tisha Be'av must be a day of hisorarus le'teshuva (awakening to teshuva). We should not look to pass time; we need to seize the opportunity for teshuva.

May Hakadosh Baruch Hu grant peace and security to our brethren in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Hershel Schachter
Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another Hundred Thousand IV

Just noting another milestone in terms of hits.
(I, II, III)

Tisha B'Av and Havdalah

From the Ezras Torah calendar:

The Chazzan says: "Baruch Hamavdil Bein Lechol" without mentioning the Divine Names. He removes his shoes before beginning Borchu. The congregation removes their shoes after Borchu. (We remove the curtain from the Aron HaKodesh, we dim the lighting, and we sit on the floor or on a low stool. We do not sit on regular chairs or benches until after midday. We recite Maariv in a low and subdued voice; Shemonah Esrei with Atah Chonantanu; Kaddish Tiskabel after Shemonah Esrei; when we see candle-light (before the reading of Lamentations) we make the full Bracha Borei Me’oiri Ha'aysh. The rest of Havdalah is not made until Sunday night after the Fast. We have a public recitation of Eichah -- the Book of Lamentations, followed by several Kinos for the night of Tisha B'Av; Va’atah Kodesh; Kaddish Tiskabel without Tiskabel; (we do not say Vihi Noam and Vayiten Lecha) Aleinu; Mourner's Kaddish...

We recite the usual weekday Maariv. After services (some maintain that we should eat first) we sanctify the New Moon of Av.
Havdalah Borei Pri Hagafen andHamavdil.

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai

Amram Tropper, in an article (PDF) on Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai in the new issue of JSIJ, begins with this question:
In a famous rabbinic legend, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai flees besieged Jerusalem, surrenders to the Romans and heartens the Roman leadership by predicting their military success and Vespasian’s promotion to emperor. This very same legend, in three of its four versions, also describes how Vespasian enabled Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai to establish a rabbinic academy in Yavneh, the academy that would come to be viewed retrospectively as the central core of the burgeoning rabbinic movement. Thus the foundation myth of Yavneh, the story designed to describe the providential establishment of the rabbinic academy in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, risks depicting its central hero as a deserter, perhaps even as a defector and a traitor. Why would the rabbis have portrayed one of the most important sages of the formative period in rabbinic Judaism in this apparently unfavorable manner?
After a long 10 pages, he answers:
The missing element, the sufficient condition, which I believe explains why the rabbis were comfortable with depicting Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai as opposing the war and fleeing Jerusalem, is Jeremiah. The rabbis internalized the story of Jeremiah and superimposed Jeremiah’s role during the destruction of the First Temple onto Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai.
Not such a good question, but his answer is interesting. He then proceeds to outline a comparison between Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and the prophet Jeremiah. It is because of Jeremiah's precedent, Tropper proposes, the Rabban Yohanan was not considered a traitor for abandoning Jerusalem and his story was proudly retold rather than hidden.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Orthodox Salaries

According to this report (PDF) (p. 10) by Jacob Ukeles, 73% of Orthodox Jewish households in the New York area have household incomes below $100,000 and 52% below $50,000. Is this before tax? If this is even remotely accurate, it kind of makes you wonder how the vast majority of Orthodox parents can afford tuition.

Why Was The Second Temple Destroyed?

We have posted another item to Open Access, a timely essay by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin about the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. This essay, posted just in time for Tisha B'Av, is an excerpt from Rabbi Henkin's 1999 book Equality Lost.

The essay can be downloaded from the Open Access webpage.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Answering Machine Messages

I once heard R. Feivel Cohen comment on the common message on answering machines "I'll call you back as soon as possible." Are you really going to call that person back as soon as possible? Isn't it likely that you might make a few detours and perhaps delay a little before returning the phone call? R. Cohen stated that he personally does not say on his answering machine that he will call the person back immediately.

When I mentioned this to R. Daniel Z. Feldman, he wasn't too sure that this analysis is correct (note that this was just in conversation and he might have changed his mind after thinking about this further). After all, does anyone take the statement in that context literally? Does anyone expect you, after you hear the message, to immediately drop everything and return the call as soon as physically possible? No. If so, there is no deception and no need to avoid the conventional phrasing.

While he made a good point, I've still tried to maintain R. Cohen's stringency simply because I prefer to be as precise as possible.

I recently saw that R. Aaron Levine, whose book Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law will be published shortly by Yashar Books, discussed this in an earlier book of his, Case Studies in Jewish Business Ethics (pp. 321-327). R. Levine's case is whether someone who states in a message that he will return phone calls is obligated to return the call of everyone who left a message. He writes (p. 323):
The determinative factor is not Wolfgang's [the home owner's] intentions, but the understanding of those who are exposed to his recording. Undoubtedly, their opinions will differ. What counts is the opinion of the average or reasonable person in the group. If the average opinion among those exposed to the recording does not take Wolfgang's promise to call back to be directed to the caller at hand, but instead see it merely as a promise to someone whose call Wolfgang has invited, then Wolfgang's recording is not morally objectionable.
See that section of the book for more details.

Duncan Hines To Become Dairy

I have received so many e-mails about Duncan Hines' recent decision to become dairy that I'm more than a little disappointed. Is this what it takes to get us outraged? Our favorite dessert becoming unavailable after a Shabbos meal? So eat a different cake or don't have any dessert at all!!!

Come on, people. There are Jews being expelled from their homes (for good or bad reasons, depending on one's perspective) and we're kvetching about cake mix becoming dairy?

(And about cake mix, this article adds an interesting perspective about it. In particular, I found this quote amusing:
With added eggs and creative frosting, says Shapiro, cake mixes "still taste like a chemical plant, but it feels like you're doing something in the kitchen."

Human Cloning

R. Michael J. Broyde, "Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnoisis, Stem Cells and Jewish Law" in Tradition 38:1 (Spring 2004), pp. 63-63:
[T]he Jewish tradition would not look askance at the use of genetic engineering to produce individuals when they are created primarily to be of specific assistance to others in need of help. Consider the case of an individual dying of leukemia, in need of a bone transplant, who agree to participate in a cloning experiment with the hopes of producing another like him or who, in suitable time, can be used to donate bone marrow and save the life of a person (and even more so, the donor). The simple fact is that Jewish law and tradition view the donation of bone marrow as a morally commendable activity, and perhaps even morally obliatory such that one could compel it even from a child. Jewish law and ethics see nothing wrong with having children for a multiplicity of motives other than one's desire to "be fruitful and multiply." Indeed, the Jewish tradition recognizes that people have children to help take care of them in their old age, and accepts that as a valid motive. There is no reason to assert that one who has a child because this child will save the life of another is doing anything other than two good deeds--having a child and saving the life of another. The same is true for a couple who conceive a child with the hopes that the child will be a bone marrow match for their daughter who is dying of leukemia, and is in need of bone marrow from a relative. While the popular press condems this conduct as improper, the Jewish tradition would be quite resolute in labeling this activity as completely morally appropriate. Having a child is a wonderful, blessed activity; having a child to save the life of another child is an even more blessed activity. Such conduct should be encouraged rather than discouraged. Motives for genetic engineering ought not to be seen as so important.
UPDATE: In response to a question about the status of a clone, here is what R. Broyde wrote earlier in the article (p. 63) about someone who is the result of genetic engineering, which I am assuming is equivalent to a clone:
One could imagine a rabbinic authority, aware of the possibility of ethical lapses in our society, arguing that as a temporary measure based on the exigencies of the times, genetic engineering should not be engaged in until such time as the appropriate educational activity can be embarked on to teach people that genetic engineering is a form of medical treatment and products of genetic engineering are human beings entitled to be treated with full and complete human dignity. (emphasis added)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Special Breaks

When in yeshiva, a friend (who I think is now a rabbi) told me that when he once went to return an overdue book to the library, the librarian told him that she was waiving the overdue fee. He had then argued that she had no right to waive the fee and that he wanted to pay it. She wasn't going to argue about it so accepted it. Was this friend correct that the librarian had no right to waive the fee?

According to R. Yisroel Belsky, no. Employees are given a little leeway in giving customers extra or charging them less, in order to encourage the customer's use of the facilities. Specifically in regard to libraries, R. Belsky writes:
It could be that the librarian may feel that you're such an excellent customer that he'll waive the fee... Still, if you feel that the person is causing a loss to the library, you should pay the fine and not accept the favor.

Favors are not something that's outside of proper behavior in a business context. When limited to areas that create good will, the small amounts of favors that are done are not only proper and acceptable, but they're chiyuvim (requirements) as well.
The same applies to waiters who give you a few extra french fries or charge you a little less in order to create a pleasant atmosphere. Big favor, however, might be theft.

Solving the Agunah Problem III

The new Edah Journal is out and it contains continued discussion of R. Michael J. Broyde's review in the previous issue of Dr. Aviad Hacohen's book Tears of the Opressed (original review essay - PDF, continued discussion - PDF). I was privy to this debate long before publication (R. Broyde was kind enough to thank me in his acknowledgments for my minimal contributions to his response). When I first saw this exchange, I hoped that the journal's editor would utilize his prerogative and strongly edit the back-and-forth. Unfortunately, his editing was minimal.

In my opinion, Dr. Hacohen's response to the book review -- the very idea of an author responding to a review is more than a bit unconventional -- should have been confined solely to the contents of his book. He claims that R. Broyde misunderstood his book and that Dr. Hacohen does not, in fact, claim that defects in a husband that arise after marriage can nullify the marriage and obviate the need for a religious divorce. R. Broyde counters that Dr. Hacohen states this explicitly in his book and, if he is retracting, should make it clear that the relevant passage is incorrect. If I were the editor of the Edah Journal, I would have chopped up Dr. Hacohen's letter and only allowed this portion of the debate to take place.

The rest of Dr. Hacohen's letter contains ad hominem attacks on R. Broyde and the American rabbinate in general that are totally inappropriate and almost entirely factually incorrect. The truth is that the American rabbinate struggle with agunos and free most of them. According to this chart, published by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the Beth Din of America resolves some 97% of divorce cases each year. As R. Broyde attests, this beis din uses many different approaches to resolve cases, including nullifying the marriage when appropriate (R. Broyde, a member dayan of this beis din, has written extensively about when this method is appropriate and when not).

Dr. Hacohen also admits that his book is purely theoretical and cannot be used as a defense of any practices, such as those of R. Rackman's beis din. His arguments that the book has nothing to do with R. Rackman's beis din are easily rebutted by R. Broyde, who has much more evidence from the book's publicity than he presents in his response. Regardless, a "review essay" is expected to move beyond the mere contents of the book and venture into the essay's author's thoughts on broader issues that the book raises. That is almost the definition of a review essay, as opposed to a mere review (see, for example, here).

A point that Dr. Hacohen repeats a number of times is that there are thousands of women who are agunos. I don't doubt that this is true, but the statement is largely meaningless for the simple reason that Dr. Hacohen fails to define the term agunah. Is a woman who is in the midst of a long divorce but whose husband will definitely cooperate in the same category as a battered woman whose cruel husband refuses to cooperate? What about a woman who demands a divorce without evidence of any fault on the part of the husband? To my knowledge, there has been little discussion in the Jewish community about the pros and cons of no-fault divorce and, perhaps, we should not label a husband who refuses a request for divorce without reason as recalcitrant. Perhaps not. I'd like to know what is included in the statistic of "thousands of women".

One of the most significant contributions in this exchange is the appendix to R. Broyde's response in which he reviews the scientific literature about whether abusive behavior can be assumed to be caused by a latent personality defect, an assumption underlying the current reasoning of R. Rackman's beis din. As R. Broyde demonstrates, the experts on this subject consistently rebut this claim through study after study.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Children and the Disengagement

Some poignant comments from Chayyei Sarah: I & II

Sunday, August 07, 2005

When Did Rashi Live?

As mentioned in a comment to an earlier thread, the standard dates given for Rashi's life are 1040-1105. However, Victor Aptowitzer (Mevo Ha-Ra'avyah pp. 395-397) questions the year accepted for Rashi's birth. He gives the following reasons for an earlier year of birth:

1. An early source connects Rashi's birth in 1040 to the death of Rabbenu Gershom in that same year. However, it is not at all clear that Rabbenu Gershom died in 1040. It is possible that he died in 1028 and, therefore, the connection might remain with the year changed.

2. There is a tradition that Rashi died at the age of 75. If we accept his date of death as 1105, his year of birth would be 1030.

3. Rashi asked a number of question to R. Nassan, author of the Arukh. Rashi certainly would not have asked a question to a foreign rabbi while studying in the greatest yeshivas in Europe, so he must have asked before he entered the academies in Germany. There is also a text that implies that Rashi asked a question to R. Nassan before R. Ya'akov ben R. Yakar died (in 1064). Since Rashi studied under R. Ya'akov ben R. Yakar for a number of years, and asked serious questions of halakhic practice appropriate for a practicing rabbi before studying under R. Ya'akov ben R. Yakar, he must have asked those questions at least a few years before 1064, let's say in 1060. Therefore, Rashi must have been old enough, in 1060, to be a practicing rabbi.

4. When Rashi returned to France from the yeshivas in Germany, he changed an ancient French practice. Could a young rabbi make such a significant change? He must have been known as an outstanding scholar BEFORE going to Germany.

These all indicate that Rashi was at least 30 years old by the year 1060, i.e. he was born around 1028-1030.

5. Rashi asked a question regarding removing the gid ha-nasheh from an animal in preparation for his daughter's wedding from R. Yitzhak Ha-Levi. The latter passed away in 1070. Thus, Rashi must have had a daughter old enough to get married before 1070. If Rashi was born in 1040, he would have been only 30 when R. Yitzhak Ha-Levi died and could hardly have had a daughter of marriageable age.

However, Avraham Grossman (Hakhmei Tzorfas Ha-Rishonim pp. 122-123) points to the strong manuscript testimony to Rashi's birth in either 1040 or 1041 (Grossman prefers the latter and suggests that the former is just a round estimate). He points out that the tradition in #2 above is from a frequently inaccurate and untrustworthy source. #1, #3, and #4 are mere speculation, insufficient to alter a date that is backed up by strong manuscript evidence. #5 is based on incorrect information. As Grossman proved elsewhere (Hakhmei Ashkenaz Ha-Rishonim pp. 267-270), R. Yitzhak Ha-Levi passed away somewhere around 1075-1080.

Messianic Meshugas

From NY Newsday:
A new billboard on the West Side Highway and 44th Street proclaims "Moshiach" - Messiah - "Is Here" under a picture of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Crown Heights, the charismatic Jewish leader known as the Rebbe who died 11 years ago...
Their foolishness makes us all look like idiots (or pseudo-Christians). To the outside world, Jews are all the same, especially if they are wearing black hats and have beards. This is my religion they are distorting!

Compare with the prior post. Is this how the Messianic Era is supposed to be? A dead rabbi who needs the PR efforts of some women's group who believe that "publicly acknowledging Schneerson as the Messiah would hasten the process leading to the End of Days"???

Visualizing the Temple

Do you believe that the Messiah will come? Can you picture it? What will life be like in the Messianic Era? How will a monarchy/theocracy function in the modern world? How will the Temple work in a world with advanced telecommunications and complex securities markets?

It's hard to visualize it.

R. Dr. Gidon Rothstein does us all a favor in presenting his vision of the transitional period at the onset of the Messianic Era in his recent book Murderer in the Mikdash. Set within the plot of an exciting murder mystery that takes place a few years after the arrival of the Messiah, while the world is still in transition, R. Rothstein's book outlines a functioning model for a benign theocratic monarchy in which the laws of the Torah are followed. Levites, trained in public relations and pedagogy, guard the Temple Mount from the impure while educating the public. The police carefully monitor infractions of Torah law, preferring counseling to punishment. Expulsion from Israel is the last resort for serious offenders. Stoning and other forms of execution are unsurprisingly absent, given the Mishnah's statement of how rare such punishments are meted out. A two-class system of citizens exist -- haverim, who have officially accepted upon themselves strict observance of all laws, and non-haverim. The limitations and privileges of priests are described, including the care they need to take in what objects they can touch, particularly when handed over by a non-haver. The finances of the Temple, in particular, are described. How is money raised for all those utensils and sacrifices? The Temple's coffers must be constantly maintained and, let's face it, many people would prefer to give money to orphans than to a Temple in Jerusalem.

It can, realistically, be done, and this book makes it clear how life would not have to change too drastically for it. This is, to me, the single most important message of the book and is why I am glad that I read it before Tisha B'Av. It is easier for me to mourn a Temple that I can see as a realistic possibility.

Most powerful in the book are the moving descriptions of the neck-breaking (eglah arufah) ceremony after an unknown death is discovered and the city of refuge (ir miklat). How can a society allow family members to chase after murderers and try to kill them? Through what processes can this occur in a civilized community and what are its positive and negative repercussions? These are all explored.

The book is written from the perspective of a non-observant Jew, a woman who recently gave birth, whose husband has been mysteriously missing for months and whose best friend recently died under suspicious circumstances. Her lack of education in Jewish matters gives the author the opportunity to explain everything properly, allowing the book to be entirely understandable to someone with little Jewish background. However, there are bonuses for those with more knowledge of Jewish sources. Occasional references to Talmudic texts are made that the casual reader will miss. Some characters will have you recalling specific examples from the Talmud. Many obscure laws are laid out in practice, all according to authoritative sources (none of which are cited in the text, of course).

R. Rothstein's fidelity to Jewish tradition has him focusing on the Messianic Era and not the personality of the Messiah himself. There is very little mention of the Messiah, which I think adds to the message of the book. We have never really cared who the Messiah will be and have, instead, focused on the society that he will create. This book is all about that society and, to my knowledge, is the only book to realistically explore how it will function.

One note of caution: A major weakness of the book is the all-too-frequent transparent names of characters. A helpful man whose last name is "HaOzer"; a police officer named "Yoshor"; a lording priest whose name is "Moshel"; etc. Towards the end of the book, it gets even worse. This is just too cutesy for me and annoyed me greatly. But it should not stop you from reading the book and experiencing the beginning of the Messianic Era.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Why Do We Do Mitzvos?

I saw another blogger ask the question: Why do we do mitzvos?

The primary answer, and not the one we give to people who are looking for something comforting or emotionally satisfying, is simple: Because God told us to.

The rest is commentary.

Hirhurim and Copyright

Due to a recent glaring violation of my copyrights to blog posts, let me make it clear that the little Creative Commons logo on the right, at the bottom of the archives links, describes the license given to readers in reproducing blog posts. To summarize, they are as follows:
You are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work under the following conditions:

1. You must attribute the work properly.
2. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
3. You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.

Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from me.
Details available here.


Today is the nine hundredth anniversary of Rashi's passing.

Some online biographies:
Jewish Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia Britannica

Additionally, as R. Haym Soloveitchik has pointed out (in his essay "Can Halakhic Texts Talk History?" [AJS Review 1978] and in his book Stam Yeinam, neither of which I have in front of me to give an exact citation or quote), there is no evidence that Rashi was a winemaker. Everyone in that time and place made their own wine. Could Rashi have been a winemaker? Yes, but for all we know he could also have been an egg salesman.

These Are The Journeys

The weekly portion of Masei starts off with almost 50 verses listing the journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. Why the extensive list that some might find boring and uninformative?

My old friend R. David Silverberg quotes the Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 3:50), one of whose explanations is:
The Torah feared that later generations might deny the miraculous nature of this experience by claiming that Benei Yisrael traveled a route either close to inhabited regions or equipped with necessary resources for survival. By specifying the particular route Benei Yisrael took during this period, the Torah makes it perfectly clear that they could not possibly have survived this journey without the Almighty's supernatural protection and provisions. For this reason God instructed Moshe to record in detail all the stations that comprised Benei Yisrael's travel route from Egypt to Canaan.
However, Rabbi Silverberg offers his own answer to this question:
As the Rambam observed, this list demonstrates that Benei Yisrael traveled a route did not even come near any inhabited areas. Perhaps, then, its purpose was to emphasize the cultural autonomy of the Torah which Benei Yisrael received and studied during these years. It precludes any attempts to dismiss the Torah's laws as an adaptation of other codes prevalent among the various nations and cultures of the time, emphasizing that the Torah that Benei Yisrael brought with them to Canaan had been acquired in isolated, desert terrains. By extension, then, it is not subject to changing trends or cultural developments in surrounding civilizations. Just as it was born in isolation, so must the Torah be preserved in isolation, independent of the cultural forces around us.

Bloom County Classics V

(click on the image above to enlarge)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

My Uncle's Favorite Joke

I actually don't know if this is my uncle's favorite joke, but he's told it to me so many times that I am taking the liberty of assuming that it is. For background, my uncle is a Holocaust survivor who still, every time he sees me, tells me stories about "The War" that I have yet to understand. He was in "the camps" (I think a labor camp) with someone who later become a YU rosh yeshiva, and has since left YU.
Seymour and Hilda Rosenberg became very wealthy and decided to move uptown where they could consort with a more refined crowd. However, after the move, they found that they were not allowed into the finest clubs because they were Jewish. After much discussion, they decided to convert to Christianity. They made a big affair of their baptism and, after a nice dinner that was attended by all their new high-society friends, they returned to their fancy uptown apartment for a good night's sleep.

In the morning, Hilda found Seymour wearing his tefillin and mumbling the morning prayers. "Seymour, you don't have to do that anymore. We're not Jewish!" Seymour replied, "Oy, I forgot. Nebach, such a goyishe kop."
Note that cultural misunderstandings are blamed on gentile stupidity, a mainstay of ghetto-Jewish humor. Deeper, though, is the idea that one can never escape one's Jewishness. The ironic claim that Seymour is no longer Jewish really means the exact opposite: Once a Jew, always a Jew.

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