Monday, October 31, 2005

Meaning in the Kitzur

During my first year in yeshiva, I fell into an obvious trap that I later learned to avoid. That trap is taking seriously a rule that no one else follows. Yeshiva College requires (or at least in my day required) students in the Yeshiva Program to study a large section of Shulhan Arukh with Mishnah Berurah each semester and sit for a comprehensive test at the end of the term. So in my first semester, I took the requirement very seriously and set aside a good deal of time every day to prepare for this exam. Little did I know that very few students take the requirement seriously. In later semesters, I still adhered to the curriculum but not as thoroughly as in that first semester.

The section assigned was all of the laws of Yom Tov. After studying it carefully, I reviewed as the exam drew near. On the day before the test, I took the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, R. Shlomo Ganzfried's summary of the Shulhan Arukh, and used it to review the related laws. To my great surprise, R. Ganzfried's summary is much more than just an abbreviation of the Shulhan Arukh. It is an original work that is actually much stricter than the Mishnah Berurah. In fact, I was extremely dismayed by the work's stringency and set it aside.

As the years passed, my relationship with the Kitzur developed and I think I now have a more mature understanding of its nature. I have learned to appreciate it for what it is and not expect it to be something else. Originally published by R. Shlomo Ganzfried in Ungvar, Ukraine in 1864, the work was in many ways an attempt to fill the breaches of Reform by making available to the masses a simple and concise guide to Jewish practice. The book was wildly successful, seeing 13 printings in the author's life and hundreds subsequent. It has become a staple of rabbinic scholarship. Even in the Conservative synagogue I attended as a child, the rabbi taught from the Kitzur during se'udah shelishis on Shabbos!

However, the Kitzur has its limitations and one should recognize them before deciding to use the book in contemporary times. There are three issues that one should consider:

1. The Kitzur represents normative Orthodox practice in the greater Hungarian region in the mid-nineteenth century. Today's Jewry, outside of Hasidic circles, generally follows other rulings. In particular, the Kitzur is generally very strict while other works that are more mainstream -- Mishnah Berurah, Hayei Adam, Arukh Ha-Shulhan -- are frequently less strict. This can be seen most cleary in the 1978 edition of Kitzur Shulhan Arukh with the rulings of the Mishnah Berurah printed in footnotes. The notes almost always point out leniencies. Just two examples from the laws of Yom Tov (ch. 98): The Kitzur prohibits the lighting of a yahrtzeit candle on Yom Tov (par. 1) and the burning of wood to warm a house (par. 29), both of which the Mishnah Berurah -- not known itself as a particularly lenient work -- permits.

2. The Kitzur was intended to relay laws relevant to daily life, including those outside the Orah Hayim section of Shulhan Arukh. Because life has changed in many significant ways since R. Ganzfried wrote his classic work, the book often focuses on areas that are not particularly practical today. One example is his emphasis of the laws of kosher slaughtering, something that is no longer relevant to the average Jew now that slaughtering has been centralized.

3. As an abridged book of laws, the Kitzur intentionally neglects the "why"s of religion. What is this practice supposed to mean to me? Why do we do this? To a highly traditional laity that inhales such issues from birth, these questions do not need to be addressed in a systematic manner. And even if they did, this would not be the book for it. If it were, the book would become overly long and unwieldy, thereby undermining its primary goal.

For these reasons, the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is an entirely inappropriate book for the newly observant. Translations of the work into English (I & II) are, in my opinion, to be lamented. What is needed is an adaptation. R. Gersion Appel has attempted to remake the Kitzur in his The Concise Code of Jewish Law. Based only loosely on the Kitzur, the book condenses contemporary Jewish law, focusing on matters relevant to the average Jew and incorporating more mainstream views. If done successfully, this alleviates the first two concerns. However, the book is still lacking in explanations of the important "why". Particularly in today's age, people want to know what meaning there is in observance and why God wants us to follow these laws.

Rabbi Asher Meir has tried to fill this lacuna with his new book Meaning in Mitzvot. Following the order of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Rabbi Meir offers insights into the meaning behind various observances and the symbolic significance of the laws. Culled from the literature of ta'amei ha-mitzvos -- the reasons for the commandments, that includes the Sefer Ha-Hinukh and the writings of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, R. Meir's explanations provide both background and depth so that the novice will see beyond the "do"s and "don't"s and recognize the spirituality that encompasses Judaism's ritual observances. Those familiar with this literature will see much that he has seen before, but will still find occasions of profound insight and originality.

Given the generally rationalistic and symbolic sources of the book and the author's general adherence to that pattern in his own insights, I found it jarringly inconsistent when R. Meir quotes a Hasidic-style mystical explanation to a law. For example, the mystical explanation of cooking on Shabbos (pp. 381-382) seems entirely out of place in this book, as does the similarly mystical approach to the redemption of the firstborn son (pp. 717-719).

As an independent book, Meaning in Mitzvot has much to offer and would make an excellent introduction to Judaism for those wishing to become acquainted with traditional observance. As a companion to the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, the book becomes almost indispensable, adding flavor and reason to the Kitzur's intentionally dry list of laws.

Quotes about Hirhurim

In anticipation of the half-millionth hit on the Hirhurim blog, I am collecting testimonials about the blog. Here is what I have so far:

"Gil Student -- the king of frum online batalah [time-wasting]" -- R. Aharon Ross, faculty, Yavneh Academy, Paramus, NJ

"Considered by many to be the 'Chief Rabbi' of the Jewish Blogosphere" -- and

"Examines Torah issues in a rather rigorous and intelligently written manner" -- Jason Maoz, Senior Editor of The Jewish Press

"A base censor, a rabbinic coward" -- Scott Rosenberg, St. Paul, MN

"Gil Student is an anagram for sin-glutted" -- Anonymous commenter

"You're not still doing the blog, are you?" -- Dr. Peter Steinherz, Director of Leukemia and Lymphoma Studies, Memorial-Sloan Kettering Hospital

"Tell me if you ever put something interesting on the blog and I'll read it" -- Mrs. Miriam Student, wife of Hirhurim author

What's His Name?

The following is a true story. Identities have been changed to protect the innocent.

I was asked the following question. Actually, the guy sitting next to me was asked the question and when he didn't know the answer, I uncharacteristically butted in. A learned man said that he wanted to say a "mi she-beirakh" prayer for a sick, elderly neighbor whose Hebrew name he does not know. Given his English name, what Hebrew name do we think he has? Granted, this is a fundamentally flawed exercise because parents sometimes give misleading English/Hebrew names (eg. Nathan/Nachman) and sometimes totally unconnected names (eg. Samuel/Yerachmiel). But given the admitted pitfalls, what do we think this gentleman's Hebrew name is if his English name is Emanuel? Is it Mendel? Meir?

I suggested that, perhaps, his Hebrew name might be Emanuel. It is, after all, a name mentioned in Isaiah (7:14).

"Hey boys," the man said to his sons, "this guy says that Emanuel is a Hebrew name mentioned in Yeshayah."

After he left, the gentleman sitting next to me asked if I know Rabbi X, the questioner. "Rabbi?" "Oh yes, he's a rebbe in yeshiva." "Elementary school?" "No, high school. But he teaches Gemara, not Navi."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Fish, Bones, In-laws and Mimeticism

My first major surprise after getting engaged occurred at the Shabbos lunch on my first time with my soon-to-be new family. My mother-in-law-to-be offered "regular" fish or gefilte and I, being risk averse, chose the gefilte option. Everyone else enjoyed my wife-to-be's grandmother's authentic Hungarian fish (my mother-in-law's parents live upstairs from them and, at the time, made the fish for the whole family). You can imagine my absolute shock -- hidden only by sheer will -- when everyone started picking bones out of the fish before eating it. I mean, is that not a classic case of the forbidden borer labor, separating "bad" from "good"? What's next, are they going to drive to synagogue? But I kept this to myself and looked into the issue. It turns out that the matter is not so simple and they were simply eating the fish the way their Hungarian ancestors did.

A few months later, Dr. Haym Soloveitchik published a now-classic article (ironically, his most famous article is totally removed from his area of expertise, medieval Franco-German Jewry) in which he mentioned this issue (see here and in notes 2 and 3). I have tremendous respect for Dr. Soloveitchik, and am one of the few people I know who is not terrified of the man, but I don't take his halakhic proclamations as authoritative and he does have some family baggage in this issue, as I'll mention later. I find it surprising that he cites the Hazon Ish's critique of the Mishnah Berurah when it has been shown to be incorrect (see below).

The Mishnah Berurah (319:4) addresses the issue of removing bones from fish in a long Bi'ur Halakhah (sv. mitokh) in which he concludes that there is room to be melamed zekhus -- justify but not advocate -- the practice. His reasons for defending the practice are as follows:

I. What Kind of Bones?

If the bones are soft enough to eat, then there is room to say that they are not "bad" and that one who separates bones from fish is separating "good" from "good", which is permissible.

Furthermore, even with hard, inedible bones, if the bones have some fish or juice on them, one can consider them to also be "good". It would not hurt to, every once in a while, eat the fish meat or suck the juice off of a bone to prove the point.

II. Part of Eating

In the preceding Bi'ur Halakhah (sv. ha-borer), the author quotes the Birkei Yosef who cites a dispute between Mahari Abulafia and Maharit Tzahalon. According to the former, one may separate "bad" from "good" immediately prior to eating the "good", despite the prohibition of borer. The latter prohibits it. The author suggests that the Ramban and the Rosh disagree on this issue, quoting a Rosh that seems to prohibit it and a Ramban that seems to permit it. While we may not follow this ab initio, the lenient opinion seems authoritative enough to justify the practice of those who separate bones from fish while eating.

However, upon reading the Rosh, it seems to me that the Mishnah Berurah/Bi'ur Halakhah is finding a prohibition where there is really the exact opposite -- a permission. See how the Shulhan Arukh (319:16) quotes the Rosh and, even more explicitly, the Tiferes Yisrael (Kalkeles Ha-Shabbos, borer). The explanation that this is not me'ein melakhah is precisely why separating when part of the act of eating is permissible. Certainly the Tiferes Yisrael understands the Rosh as I do, that he is permitting separating when part of the act of eating.

R. Yitzhak Maltzan, in his Shevisas Ha-Shabbos (borer, n. 20), quotes his mentor, R. Hayim Leib of Stavisk, as reading the Ramban differently from the Mishnah Berurah. According to R. Hayim Leib, the Ramban says the exact opposite of what the Mishnah Berurah suggests, prohibiting separating even when immediately prior to eating. However, R. Maltzan found another place in which the Rashba and Ramban seem to permit separating immediately prior to eating.

The Hazon Ish (Orah Hayim 53) rules like the Maharit Tzahalon in disagreeing with the Taz, who permits removing a fly from a cup of wine if one also removes some wine with the fly. Since one is removing both good (wine) and bad (the fly) together, the Taz does not consider this to be separating between the good and the bad. The Maharit Tzahalon and the Hazon Ish dispute this Taz. However, the other posekim overwhelmingly follow the Taz on this issue and it is a major precedent in later halakhic literature.

Therefore, according to this lenient view, one may separate bones from fish either immediately prior to eating the fish or at least when the fish is on the fork and being lifted to one's mouth. While later posekim rule contrary to this view, it is sufficiently well established to justify an existing practice.

III. Connected Items

The Mishnah Berurah/Bi'ur Halakhah proceeds to bring a proof from the Magen Avraham (510:4). The Rema (Orah Hayim 510:2) writes that one can separate a broken nut from its shell if the nut is broken but the food is still connected to the shell. The Magen Avraham quotes the Maharshal who explains that since the shell and the nut are connected, one part cannot be considered "bad" and the other "good". Therefore, separating the two is not considered separating the bad from the good. The Mishnah Berurah makes the natural extrapolation from that case to fish and bones, that are connected. The bones cannot be considered "bad", and therefore one may separate them from the fish meat.

The Hazon Ish (ibid. 54:3) dismisses this suggestion as only applicable to nuts. The case of fish and bones, he contends, is entirely different. Furthermore, R. Hayim Leib of Stavisk (P'nei Aryeh Ha-Hai, cited by Shevisas Ha-Shabbos, ibid.) points out that the entire context of the Magen Avraham and Maharshal is Yom Tov. Perhaps, he suggests, Shabbos is different.

However, R. Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Ha-Levi 1:83) demonstrates that the Hazon Ish's distinction is impossible. The original source of this discussion, R. Yeruham's Toledos Adam Ve-Havah, explicitly applies the ruling to fish bones. Any speculation about distinguishing between nuts and fish bones is, therefore, impossible. Both the Shevet Ha-Levi and the Shevisas Ha-Shabbos point out that R. Yeruham applies his ruling to both Shabbos and Yom Tov. Therefore, R. Hayim Leib's distinction between Shabbos and Yom Tov is also imposible.

The Shevisas Ha-Shabbos also cites the Tel Oros and the Arukh (sv. dash 3), who state explicitly that the prohibition of separating (borer) does not apply to two items that are attached.


Here is how the Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah (3:13) phrases its ruling on this issue:
[T]here are some who are in the habit of removing bones from fish or meat in the normal way on Shabbath and they have rabbinical authorities to support them, but, if this is done, it should only be done in the process of eating and not before.
Interestingly, the Shevisas Ha-Shabbos rules leniently more forcefully and concludes that one who wishes to be strict, "a blessing will come upon him." He relates that R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the author of Beis Ha-Levi (great-grandfather of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik and great-great-grandfather of Dr. Haym Soloveitchik, quoted earlier in this post), when he was given fish with bones, would make sure to eat the bones rather than separate them from the fish! However, the Minhas Shabbos (80) has another tradition about R. Soloveitchik, and writes that he would separate the bones but then make sure to suck some juice off of them.

R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orah Hayim 4:74) permits removing bones from fish when it is impossible to adequately separate them in one's mouth (which I think is the case with my wife's grandmother's fish), and even then only immediately prior to eating.

Nevertheless, after over 11 years of marriage I have still never tried the Hungarian fish and probably never will.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Torah and Science: Conflict or Convergence?

A Torah In Motion lecture with speakers Professor Nathan Aviezer, Rabbi Michael Broyde and Rabbi Natan Slifkin.

Sunday, December 4, 9:30am-4:00pm
Shaarei Tefillah Congregation, 3600 Bathurst St., Toronto, Ontario

Explore how Judaism grapples with forms of scientific knowledge and discovery. Is science an enemy or an ally of religion, or neither? How can we understand the Creation story in light of contemporary cosmology and evolutionary biology? How does one reconcile scientific assertions that conflict with Talmudic statements?


Just a reminder about two posts from last year about giving out candy on Halloween: I & II

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Maker of Bronze and Iron Tools

Genesis 4:22 "Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools."

Was Tubal-cain the originator of the forging of bronze and iron? He seems to have lived in the middle of the Bronze Age and long before the Iron Age.

Unlike Jubal and the lyre (v. 20), Tubal-cain is not called the ancestor of all who forge bronze and iron tools. There might very well have been those who made tools and utensils out of these metals prior to Tubal-cain. However, the biblical figure is identified as someone who greatly improved the process (Radak).

While the Iron Age did not start until approximately 1,500 years after Tubal-cain's life, there is evidence of meteoric iron being used at that time and even earlier which can explain Tubal-cain's expertise in its forging (Hamilton).

Blessing Ecclesiastes

Apropos of nothing, a quick post. On Shabbos Hol Ha-Mo'ed morning, I attended a Chaim Berlin minyan. I was not expecting the following to occur and it was the first time I ever saw it. They read Koheles from a scroll -- not so unusual, some synagogues read every haftarah from a scroll -- and recited a blessing of "al mikra megillah" prior to reading. I was so surprised that I actually said "Wow" audibly (I don't normally react that way). And then they said a "she-he-heyanu"! Sure, I knew immediately that they were following the practice of the Vilna Gaon. I just had never actually seen it. Cool! It was worth walking all that way in the pouring rain just for that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Quick Musing On Simhas Torah

Simhas Torah is about the only time I'll submit to the claims of how allegedly discriminatory Orthodox Judaism is against women. Simply put, it stinks to be a female on Simhas Torah.

I mean, look at them! They just sit or stand and stare at the men dancing. How lame is that? How boring is that? I understand, in our community most women either have little children of their own or grandchildren who keep them busy. But what about the teenagers and older singles? And those grandmothers who don't have grandchildren with them at that time or the women all of whose children are old enough to dance with the men? I see them in shul staring at us and if they're not bored, I'm bored for them.

Why can't they just dance in the women's section? It's not like they need Torah scrolls to dance. They should just do something because they really freak me out, and have for years, just sitting there for hours staring at the men dance. If my wife could tell from up above that the cuff on my pants needs fixing and she was embarrassed on my behalf, she must have been really bored.

Rashi the Egg Salesman

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Dr. Haym Soloveitchik has pointed out that there is no evidence to support the common claim that Rashi was a vintner. Here is the exact quote from Dr. Soloveitchik's article "Can Halakhic Texts Talk History?" in AJS Review 1978, pp. 172-173:
Jewish communities were generally tiny, averaging from a handful to a score of families and tended (in the county of Champagne) to make their own wine. As the crude state of barrel making made the ageing of wine and its long-range storage impossible, wine was usually produced anew every fall. An entire year's consumption had to be provided for in the treading of September and early October, but since the High Holidays and Sukkot fell in these months, the time available for grape pressing was limited indeed. In contrast, the quantities of wine consumed in this age was (as we have already noted) enormous, and it was taxing in the extreme to tread so large a quantity in so short a time with little manpower. It is difficult to see how this was accomplished without the concerted effort of the entire community.[54]

[54] It is this (rather than any professional occupation as a vintner) that explains Rashi's oft-cited remarks (Teshuvot, no. 382), הלב יודע טרד המצוי באגור ביקבים, על כן לצדק יכריעני אדוני ר' עזרא את קוצר מילי. The average Champagne household in the month of September very much resembled our own before Passover. The second passage usually cited in support of Rashi's supposed occupation (Ha-'oreh, p. 214, Teshuvot, no. 159) refers most probably to R. Isaac b. Judah. In the literature of his school Rashi is never called רבינו הגדול, but the former scholar is regularly referred to this way by the Makhirites in the Ma'asei ge'onim. Indeed the presumption is against anyone being a winegrower in Troyes. Its chalky soil to this day is inhospitable to viticulture, and not surprisingly Elizabeth Chapin has fonud no references to vines in local documents (Les villes des foires de Champagnes des origines au debut du XVIe siecle [Paris, 1937], pp. 97-98. Contrast this with their frequent mention in the Bar-sur-Aube region, ibid., pp. 77-92.). A generation or so before Rashi there seems to have been one solitary owner or, perhaps, more accurately, only one major owner of vineyards among the Jews of Troyes (Teshuvot R. Me'ir mi-Rotenburg [Budapest, 1895], no. 941 and note ad loc.). Undoubtedly there were some local vines, probably for private use (Rashi's words almost imply as much), but that they should have regularly produced a surplus sufficient to afford a living is asking a great deal of them. Despite all this, Rashi may have been a vintner; but by the same token he may have been an egg salesman.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Learning vs. Knowing II

Almost exactly one year ago, I blogged about the importance of mastering the entire Torah. I know, easier said than done.

Interestingly, I found that R. Moshe Hayim Luzzatto (Ramhal) states that, from a kabbalistic perspective, studying the entire Torah is important. In Derekh Hashem (4:2:4, Kaplan translation), he writes:
There is no element in all creation that is not rectified through the Torah. Furthermore, each element of the Torah has the ability to perfect some part of creation.

An individual who wants to serve his Creator with complete devotion must therefore involve himself in every aspect of the Torah to the best of his ability. Through this, he can take part in the rectification of all creation.
In the most recent issue of Hakirah, a sponsor of this blog, the journal's editor, Heshey Zelcer, writes about this topic in reference to studying with the Daf Yomi cycle (article here - PDF).

While studying the entire Talmud is certainly a desideratum, and Zelcer quotes R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 2:110) who emphasizes this specifically regarding Daf Yomi, one must both understand one's learning and retain it subsequently. If Daf Yomi facilitates this process then it is a success. If it hinders it, then not. Zelcer concludes:
If a person spends the proper amount of time on each daf so that he can analyze it, understand it, and have it sink into his memory so that he will not forget it, the obviously it does [meet the definition of ideal Torah study]... However, the current method of Daf Yomi, as practiced by many, of covering an entire daf [page of Gemara] in a single hour and then not reviewing that daf until the next cycle, seven and a half years later, is clearly not the ideal type of Talmud Torah. It is impossible for most people to properly analyze and understand two sides of Gemara in a single hour. It is even less likely that the concepts contained in the daf will sink into one's mind and be remembered the day after tomorrow.
However, and I doubt that Mr. Zelcer will disagree with this, those who attend Daf Yomi lectures who would not otherwise be learning at that time are unquestionably progressing in Torah and enriching their lives. Even the most thick-headed and attention-challenged individual will not fail to learn something in a week's worth of lectures.

Furthermore, the Mishnah (Avos 5:14) lists four types of people who attend a study hall, the first being one who goes but does not practice. According to many commentators, this is someone who attends a study hall but fails to study Torah. The Mishnah states that while he does not receive reward for the Torah study he does not do, he is rewarded for the effort he made to attend the study hall. Clearly, someone who wakes up and goes to synagogue an hour earlier than normal in order to attend a Torah lecture deserves reward for his effort, even if he fails to learn anything at the lecture. The devotion changes not only his daily routine but his attitudes and the example he sets for his children.

Is Daf Yomi for everyone? Certainly not. But I think that many, probably most, participants should be encouraged and applauded.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Torah Currents has an article by R. Michael J. Broyde about cloning. Here's an excerpt:
While some religious traditions, most notably Roman Catholicism, view all tampering with nature in the reproductive area as wrong, that is by no means true for most religious or ethical traditions, including Judaism... Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a religiously neutral reason why cloning would be intrinsically bad in cases where other means of treating infertility would not work...

Cloning, like artificial insemination and surrogacy when they first appeared, has narcissistic possibilities. In reality, however, it will most frequently be used as a treatment for drastic infertility, and like all forms of of assisted reproductive technologies has its place in one of the central missions of humanity: to make the world a better place for its inhabitants.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Vomiting in Halakhah II

Let's say that you are in bed, reading magazines and recovering from a stomach virus. You think you're well enough to have a go at some toast but then discover that your stomach is not yet strong enough for it. After you lose your lunch, you go back to sitting in bed and reading magazines. You are clearly not too ill to bentsch (recite the grace after the meal) but should you? Or let's say, as my wife pointed out to me, that you are pregnant and suffering from "morning sickness". Vomiting is so frequent that it is a non-event. You eat lunch and then get nauseous. You vomit and are immediately back in action. Should you bentsch?

On the one hand, once a full meal has entered the stomach for even a short time, one seems to be obligated in bentsching. Therefore, even if one later vomits it, one has already enjoyed the food. On the other hand, there is a rule that one may no longer bentsch after one has fully digested the food (generally considered to be 72 minutes after finishing to eat). Is vomiting the equivalent of digesting?

R. Tzvi Pesah Frank (Responsa Har Tzvi, Orah Hayim 163) suggests that the Hasam Sofer and Panim Me'iros are of the view that one must still bentsch even if one vomits the food. However, he quotes the Imrei Binah (Orah Hayim, no. 14) who disagrees and rules that one should not bentsch.

R. Frank reaches no conclusion and I am not sure which view is preferred. Ask your rabbi for guidance.

Kuntres She-Lo Ya'alu Ke-Homah IV

Do Not Ascend Like A Wall

by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Rabbi of Beit El and Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim, Yerushalayim

translated by Rabbi Mordechai Friedfertig

printed with permission

(continued from here)

3. Violation of the Nations of the World of their oath, nullified all of the Oaths

In the Talmud in Ketubot, among the Oaths, "The Holy One, Blessed be He, made the idol worshippers swear not to subjugate Israel excessively." And it is written in the Shulchan Aruch: "Two who swore to do something, and one of them violates the oath, the other one is exempt and does not require a release [from the oath],"[125] and since the non-Jews violated their oath, we are exempt from our oath.

1. Thus wrote the students of the Rashba that if the non-Jews subjugate Israel excessively, this causes that Hashem awakens His love for Israel much earlier on account of His love for us.[*125]

2. Similarly wrote Rabbi Shlomo Kluger.[126]

3. And Ha-Rav Hillel Kolomeir: "Two who swore...and if the king and the government violated the oath and pursues Israel and subjugates them, then Israel is also permitted to violate their oath."[127]

4. And Ha-Rav Natan Tzvi Friedman.[128]

4. Ascending in stages is not like a wall

Rashi explained "'Do not ascend like a wall' - together by force." If everyone therefore does not ascend together[129] but rather in stages, there is no wall.

1. Rabbi Avraham Yellin: "For as a wall is only all of Israel together, and not when hundreds or even thousands ascend each time, since in the return from Babylonia when many tens of thousands ascended together, and we say in Yoma 9b that they did not ascend like a wall."[130]

2. And similarly Ha-Rav Blumberg that like a wall is only all of Israel and everyone together.[131]

3. And Ha-Rav Meir Blumenfeld[132] wrote that "'as a wall' means the ascending of the Nation at one time and certainly more than half," based on the words of the Talmud in Yoma 9b and Rashi ibid.[133]

*[But the ascending of ten thousand is already considered a [Divine] remembrance,[134] and then there is no wall as explained above section 2C].

5. The wall only surrounds Babylonia

Ba'al Ha-Hafla'ah wrote[135] that the Tanach was strict that they should be in Babylonia in particular as it is written "They are brought to Babylonia and there they will be until the day of My remembering," and not regarding other lands since the honor of the Divine Presence and the Torah are there and not in other lands,[136] and similarly what was written "I made you swear," this is do not leave the holiness that dwells in Babylonia.[137]

6. The wall stands for only a thousand years

Rabbenu Chaim Vital wrote: "'I made you swear, daughters of Jerusalem...', this great oath to God was that they should not arouse the Redemption until that love will be desired and with good will, as it is written 'until I desire,' and our Sages already said that the time of this oath is a thousand years, as it is written in the Baraita of Rabbi Yishmael in Pirkei Heichalot..., and similarly in the Zohar Va-yeira pg. 117...that it is one day of the Exile of the Community of Israel..."[138]

And Rav Mordechai Attiah: "Since from this it is close to nine hundred years, the decree of Exile[139] is ending but we are continuing it."[140]
Notes to be posted at the end of the series.

Michelle (Daman) Wasserman z"l

Barukh Dayan Ha-Emes

A high school classmate, married to a high school classmate.

I'll b"n post shivah information when I get it.
UPDATE: Shiva information here

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Musings on Prayer Texts

I decided to see some more local scenery today so instead of going to my regular synagogue, I went to one of the other 11 synagogues (that I know about) within 5 blocks of my house. I went to the synagogue my neighbor -- of bris and eruv fame -- attends, and an interesting thought occurred to me while there. This is the part where I offend half my readers, so let me first wish a hearty mazel tov to my neighbor's entire family on their joyous occasion (while I'm at it, I'll wish a mazel tov to R. Daniel Z. Feldman, whose son Ya'akov Simcha was circumcised Monday afternoon).

The synagogue starts services at 9am -- a ridiculously late time to start for people who normally pray at 7am or earlier, but tradition is to pray later on Yom Tov (Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 529:1) and, regardless, when in Rome... Since it started so late, I had extra time for some traditional learning in my sukkah and to get close to finally finishing David Ellenson's 500+ page book After Emancipation outside of the sukkah (I can't bear to bring a book by the president of Hebrew Union College into my sukkah; sorry if it's not politically correct). The book is rich in fascinating topics and interesting sources, and incredibly poor in analysis. He spends a good deal of time discussing halakhic topics and has a remarkable grasp of the responsa literature for a Reform scholar. But he always almost gets it, but not quite. But I'll leave that for another time.

The last chapter of the book I read before going to synagogue is an article that reviews a 1998 prayer book by the Israeli Conservative (Masorti) movement. In that article, Ellenson discusses the various reforms/changes to the prayer book that have been instituted over the past 200 years. He writes (p. 473), "[T]he Jewish prayer book has hardly remained static. Flexibility and freedom have always marked its texts." "Come on," I thought to myself, "do differing traditions about the text and various insertions clearly marked as such give anyone the right to make blatant and explicit changes to the text, crossing out phrases, changing others, and creating new phrases out of whole cloth and inserting them in?"

Then I went to shul. Somewhere around the middle of the blessings prior to the Shema, as I recited the prayers by heart, I looked down at the prayer book in front of me which was turned to the correct page but from which I was not reading, and it struck me that, well, case in point! Nussah Sefard. That is basically a combination of the basic Ashkenazic text, some Ashkenazic customs that over time were lost to the mainstream and, to a large extent, intentional tinkering with the text by kabbalists to fit in with their worldviews and their ideas of the ideal text. (On this, see Responsa Hasam Sofer, Orah Hayim 15-16. Yes, I know, the Divrei Hayim disagreed with the Hasam Sofer.)

Granted, the non-Orthodox movements are tinkering with the text based on their rejection of fundamental Jewish beliefs (e.g. resurrection). However, the changing of texts in itself... I don't know how much we, the Orthodox community, can argue with that unless we are willing to take on Nussah Sefard.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Meme

This meme* has been going around the Jewish blogosphere and DovBear asked me to continue it. So here goes (those looking for profundity should stick to posts about kugel and vomiting):

[Significantly updated]

7 Things I Can Do:

* Recite the English alphabet backwards really fast
* Clap using only one hand
* Spell
* Remember lyrics to songs and detailed plot lines from TV shows, movies and books I haven't seen or heard in decades
* Write clearly and concisely, despite my abysmal grades in English courses
* Listen
* Make my wife and kids laugh

7 Things I Can't Do:

* Speak in one foreign language at a time
* Stop from cracking up when my daughter translates Humash into Yiddish
* Finish a project
* Clear my e-mail inbox
* Call friends and family members on a regular basis (as my mother nods while reading this)
* Confront/argue well in person
* Make anyone other than my wife and kids laugh

7 Things I Hope To Do In My Life:

* Become a mentsch
* Change the world
* Finish one of the many books I've started writing
* Finish the Talmud a few times
* Retire young
* Watch my children blossom into well-adjusted, independent, religious individuals
* Learn Torah with my children

7 Things I Say Often

* Whatever
* If you say so
* Eleven years of marriage and you still can't read my mind?
* What, am I supposed to read your mind?
* And, therefore...?
* Did you hear what I just said!?!
* Don't even TOUCH your brother! Yes, touching his clothes is touching him!

7 Celebrity Crushes


People I'd like to infect with this meme:

* MO Chassid
* Joe Schick
* Mordechai Schiller

*What's a "meme"? From Merriam-Webster's:
Main Entry: meme
Pronunciation: 'mEm
Function: noun
Etymology: alteration of mimeme, from mim- (as in mimesis) + -eme
: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
Yeah, I'm still not sure either.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

You might notice the advertisement on the right, featuring a picture of R. Moshe Eisemann. Rabbi Eisemann humbly tells the story of the yeshiva in Kishiniev and his involvement with it here. Please take the time to visit the yeshiva's website, enjoy the free Torah from Rabbi Eisemann, and donate to the yeshiva.

(More on this blog's other sponsor, the journal Hakirah, in the near future)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Love Letters from a Rosh Yeshivah

The title of this post, Love Letters from a Rosh Yeshivah, is a fake-out. Sorry. I'm not sure who started the rumor that R. Nosson Kamenetsky's Making of a Godol contains a report about R. Aharon Kotler's love letters to his fiance, but that is entirely false. What follows is the entire short passage in the book and it is a far stretch to suggest that the letters are love letters. The suggestion of the author is that the letter discussed R. Kotler's popular lectures to fellow students in the yeshivah he was attending, an action that does not fit the highest rung of modesty. From the "Improved Edition" of Making of a Godol, p. 802 n. v:
A reliable source reported that R' Aaron wrote a letter to his fiancee of which her father, R' Isser-Zalman Meltzer, disapproved. When it was shown to the Alter, he rejoined, "I did not tell you he was a tzaddiq; I said he had other qualities. But his frumkeit will yet become so great that everyone will suffer his brunt." This author conjectures that the letter concerned an impressive haburah he had delivered -- see Ch. 3, beginning of n. 127... On June 26, 2003, R' Ya'aqov Hirschmann summarized R' Aaron's eventual frumkeit by repeating what Rebbetzin Kotler remarked to talmidim returning from her husband's funeral: "Everyone spoke about a great gaon who died; and I say a great tzaddiq passed away."

The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax V


The author of the critique writes: "I squarely deal with the issue of the Torah -via the Talmud- claiming knowledge of an exhaustive list of animals with one kosher sign."

Whatever. Not worth debating.


I had written that "[t]he author states that the identification of the shesu'ah as a separate creature is part of the Oral Torah and cannot be denied."

He responds: "This is not my personal opinion. It is of Rashi on Chumash..."

Nowhere does Rashi state that it is a part of the Oral Torah.


I had explained that there is a specific category of Torah explanations that have been received from Sinai and which tell us exactly what the Torah means in a specific instance. We are not allowed to deviate from that explanation and offer alternatives. However, when lacking such a tradition, we are free to offer different ways to explain the text (see this post for more on that).

The author claims that the explanation of the Gemara of the term "shesu'ah" as a distinct creature was received from Sinai and is the definitive meaning of the term. No alternatives may be offered.

I countered, basing myself on R. Slifkin's book, that the fact that Targum Onkelos translates "shesu'ah" as an adjective rather than a noun -- i.e. deviates from the supposed Sinaitic explanation of the Scriptural term -- indicates that the explanation was not received at Sinai. If it were, how could Onkelos deviate from the tradition?

The author responds that Onkelos is no proof: "This is patently false. The mother of all perushim mekubalim has got to be "Ayin Tachas Ayin" which Onkelos consistently translates as "an eye instead of a eye". No mention of monetary compensation anywhere! Onkelos consistently translates the most literal meaning possible except for poetic or clearly metaphoric passages. He is simply translating from Hebrew to Aramaic and totally ignores any meanings received by the oral tradition."

However, there is a difference. Regarding "An eye for an eye" (Ex. 21:24), which the Sinaitic tradition explains means "The monetary value of an eye for an eye," Onkelos merely translates literally without adding in the received elaboration. He is simply taking the Hebrew words and turning them into Aramaic words. This is ignoring the tradition and leaving in the ambiguity that is present in the Hebrew.

Here, however, Onkelos is not just ignoring the received tradition; he is deviating from it. The tradition -- or what the author of the critique claims is a tradition -- is that the word "shesu'ah" means a creature that has two backs and two spines. Onkelos does not leave in the ambiguity of the Hebrew by leaving the word as "shesu'ah" or finding an Aramaic equivalent of the animal. Rather, Onkelos renders it as an adjective describing the preceding sign of cloven hooves -- "fully separate" -- and not as an animal in itself. Onkelos here does not ignore the supposed tradition; he contradicts it. That, it would seem, is highly problematic to the author's thesis. Had Onkelos truly believed that the meaning of the word "shesu'ah" is a specific animal, he should have left it as a noun and not rendered it as an adjective, thereby totally changing its meaning.

Furthermore, the report in the name of R. Moshe Meiselman -- "Rav Meiselman explained that Targum Onkelos was written before the dispensation of Rabi Yehudah HaNasi to make public written records of the Oral traditions that explain the written Torah. Onkelos had to confine himself for the most part to literal translation come what may." -- even though it is entirely consistent with what R. Slifkin wrote, and setting aside the debatable assumptions underlying the thesis (Targum Onkelos was written, in a form that is prohibited, and includes Oral Torah in a prohbitied context), is difficult for me to reconcile with the report by R. Hershel Schachter in the name of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik regarding the punctuation of the 13 Scriptural attributes of God (see Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 289-290). See also Peri To'ar 87:1 and R. Menachem Genack, "Basar Be-Halav Bi-Vesar Nevelah" in Mesorah, no. 3 (Nisan 5750) pp. 94-95 who implicitly reject this thesis.


I had written in my previous post that R. Slifkin believes that the Gemara's explanation of "shesu'ah" is either one of many possible peshat explanations or an explanation on the level of derash. R. Slifkin has since clarified his position on his website (here, scroll down). He has clarified that he was arguing the latter, that the Gemara is offering a derash. He also cites the Netziv, who in his commentary Ha'amek Davar (Deut. 14:7) offers the same explanation and even explicitly states that his is peshat and the well-known explanation in the Gemara is derash. According to the author of the critique, the Netziv -- the great Volozhiner rosh yeshivah -- has contradicted a received tradition from Sinai and is a heretic.

I should go further in arguing with this critic, but the time is late and I have to finish my sukkah. Od hazon la-mo'ed.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Torah Currents

The past few weeks has seen a flurry of activity over on Torah Currents. It's probably worth your while to print out some of the material for reading (I've only read some of it so far).

Learning Torah on the Subway III

Following up on this post, I saw that the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh (150:2) explicitly states that one may think (have hirhur) about Torah while facing nakedness.

The Grand Blog Name Contest Extravaganza! II

The results are in from the vote on this blog's name. Of the 200+ votes, almost two-thirds don't want me to change the name of the blog and the other third are very divided about what new name they want. So, I'm leaving the blog named Hirhurim but it is also accessible via the URL for the name that came in second, Torah Musings. It seems some wiseguy already bought the URL for but hasn't done anything with it yet.

As to the contest, it seems nobody won the most excellent book Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker (more about the book here; buy it here).

I'll have to come up with a new contest over Sukkos so I can give the book away to someone. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bris in a Sukkah

Mazel to my neighbor, whose recently born son will be welcome in my home even on Shabbos, thanks to our new eruv.

The bris will God-willing be held on the second day of Sukkos. Interestingly, this case emphasizes a surprising point. A bride and groom's sheva berakhos need not be in a sukkah if there is not enough room for all of the invited guests, which there probably will not be. However, the Rema (Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 640:6) writes that the meal for a bris must be held in a sukkah. What is the difference between a sheva berakhos and a bris' meal?

In the responsum of the Maharik (quoted in the Beis Yosef and Magen Avraham) that is the source for the Rema, the Maharik writes that a sheva berakhos is a great mitzvah while a meal at a bris is "just" a custom. The Vilna Gaon, in his glosses to the Rema, adds that a meal at a bris is not a biblical mitzvah. This is in contrast to rejoicing with a bride and groom, which is a fulfillment of the biblical command to "Love your fellow as yourself" (cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Avel 14:1). Since when we are a bride or groom we want people to rejoice with us, we must rejoice with others. However, it is hard to say that when we are circumsized we want others to rejoice with us. Probably not. Therefore, the biblical mitzvah does not apply to the meal at a bris.

And, indeed, the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 265:12) writes, "It is customary to make a meal on the day of the circumcision."

Therefore, if the sukkah is too small, invite fewer guests.

Ironically, and this is something I don't fully understand, the Gemara (Pesahim 113b) says that someone who does not eat at the meal of a bris is considered cut off from Heaven (menudeh la-Shamayim). So which is it, a big deal or not?

A number of years ago, I attended the bris of a friend's son on a sort-of legal holiday. It was either Dec. 24th or 26th on a Monday or Friday, when most companies had vacation but mine didn't. So the bris was a little late and I wanted to leave without eating. I asked my rabbi at the time, a huge talmid hakham, and he asked why I wanted to leave. When I said so I won't be late to work, he said that it isn't a good enough reason not to eat something. I hear -- menudeh la-Shamayim -- but don't we pasken in the case of Sukkos that it isn't really a big deal? Yesh le-halek.

Honor Roll II

All is forgiven. It was actually forgiven long before Yom Kippur, but the public recognition is much appreciated. Jason Maoz, senior editor of The Jewish Press, added to his list of blogs after "a disconcertingly large number of e-mails and phone calls." Hirhurim and Menachem Butler's AJ History blog were added and Dov Bear was mocked without being named (see the paragraph starting, "In the sour grapes department").

I bumped into R. Yaakov Klass on Yom Kippur and he greeted me, as usual, with his typical joyous salutation, but I thought I saw an extra smile on his face (granted, it was dark and pouring rain, so it could have been imagined). This might explain it.

Now I'll just have to wait and see how long until my mother-in-law, who reads every issue of The Jewish Press from cover to cover, calls to tell me about it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Yom Kippur

Gemar hasimah tovah! May you be sealed for the good!

Blogs and Lashon Ha-Ra IV

R. Dr. Asher Meir on writing negative reviews: here.

"Honest and informative criticism is a vital contribution to the progress of art. But caustic, one-sided criticism is virtually certain to fail to do justice to the artist and, even more importantly, to the audience."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lulav Shopping

I bought my set of four species tonight. I think the whole set was only a little more expensive than usual. I paid separately and more for a lulav, but the esrog was cheaper. Overall, I think the whole set was about 15-20% more expensive than in previous years, which is not bad considering the reported shortage of lulavim.

Vote for a New Name

Please only vote once. I reserve the right to ignore the results of this poll.

Which of these names do you think is best for this blog?


Free polls from

The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax IV


There is a critique circulating of some of R. Nosson Slifkin's books by an anonymous self-described student of R. Moshe Meiselman, speaking for himself and not for his mentor. This post will deal with his review of The Camel, the Hare, & the Hyrax. (No link provided because the author decided, on the day after Rosh Hashanah, to post online personal insults directed at R. Slifkin and me)

Oddly, the author chooses to deal with a section of about 10 pages (out of a 200+ page book) that deals with a side issue not really part of the book's main topic. The main theses of the book remain entirely unchallenged, other than the personal insults of R. Slifkin which presumably apply to the book as a whole.

The topic chosen by the author to contest is an analysis of the following passage from Hullin 60b (in R. Slifkin's translation):
Rav Chanan bar Rava said: The shesuah is a distinct creature, which possesses two backs and two spinal columns. But was Moshe a hunter or trapper? From here there is a refutation of one who says that Torah is not from Heaven.
R. Slifkin quotes two ways of explaining this passage: That the Talmud proves that the Torah is from Heaven from Moshe's knowledge of the existence of this odd creature called a shesu'ah or that the proof is that Moshe states that there are only four animals that have only one kosher sign, which is an amazing claim given the wide variety of species in the world.

The former is given by Tosafos and the latter is given by the Ramban and a number of Aharonim (Netziv, Malbim, Maharatz Chajes). The author of the critique harshly criticizes R. Slifkin for questioning Tosafos' explanation based on the argument that the simplest explanation (peshat) of the term shesu'ah in the verse is not as a distinct animal. The author states that the identification of the shesu'ah as a separate creature is part of the Oral Torah and cannot be denied. But countering this claim is exactly why R. Slifkin cited Targum Onkelos, which translates the verse differently. Clearly, if the Oral Torah defined the peshat in this verse (i.e. if this is among what the Rambam in his introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah calls perushim mekubalim), then Onkelos would render the verse as the tradition has it. The fact that he does not implies that Tosafos' explanation is not one that was received from Sinai, but is either a suggested (rather than received) peshat or a derash that fits into the words of the Torah (see Rashi, Gen. 3:8). R. Slifkin seems to favor the latter, that it is not a peshat but a derash. This does not mean that it is not part of the Oral Torah, in its expansive definition. But it is not a perush mekubal and, if it is a derash, it is not the simple meaning of the verse.

Furthermore, this citation of Onkelos undermines the author's explanation of Tosafos' argument. Because the explanation of shesu'ah was not a tradition received from Sinai, one cannot give it the same status as other explanations that are Sinaitic traditions. Therefore, there is no proof that the Torah is from Heaven. The Tosafos remains difficult.


The other explanation offered is that Moshe listed the only four animals that have only one kosher sign. This explanation, given by the Ramban and some Aharonim, and made popular by some contemporary outreach workers, is why R. Slifkin raised this entire issue. The simple fact, and this is not some theoretical exercise that can be disproven by a new theory but an observable matter, is that there are other animals that have one kosher sign just as much as some of the four listed -- for example, kangaroos, koala bears and capybaras. The existence of such animals poses a very difficult, seemingly insurmountable, challenge to this approach to the Talmudic passage.

What we are left with is a difficult Gemara. R. Slifkin, therefore, offers another explanation that he believes can be discerned in Rashi's commentary to the Talmudic passage. Namely, that the proof is from Moshe's intimate familiarity with the animals listed, not that he was familiar with every single animal in the world. After all, as the Gemara asks, was Moshe a trapper or a hunter that he should know such details about the eating habits of these animals? R. Slifkin then offers another possible explanation -- that the list of four is meant to be exhaustive of all animals found in the world of the original recipients of the Torah, i.e. the Near East.

Kakh hi darkah shel Torah (this is the way of Torah)! You analyze a passage, evaluate the commentaries, and if you are still not intellectually satisfied you offer your own explanations. Open any of the most popular commentaries on the Talmud (e.g. Hasam Sofer, Sefas Emes, Turei Even,...) and you will see the exact same approach.

The author of the critique takes great umbrage at R. Slifkin's dismissal of the claim that the list of four animals is exhaustive. However, the author ignores why R. Slifkin does so. If a hare is included in the list, then a kangaroo should be included as well. The author fails to explain why this does not make the claim of the exhaustiveness of the list of four at least "appear to be flawed."


More than anything, though, the critique is one that fails to acknowledge that different people use different language in expressing themselves. How dare R. Slifkin, the author asks, not use more deferential language when speaking of such great people? The simple answer is that there are different styles of writing. Compare, for example, the way the Meiri disagrees with the Rambam and the way the Ra'avad does. Different styles. Is R. Slifkin the Meiri or the Ra'avad? No, but that's not the point. Allow people some latitude in writing styles because if we start criticizing people based on their styles and not their ideas, then no one is free from attack.

As an aside, note that in my last post on this subject, back in June '04 and before any of this controversy, I linked to a correspondence between R. Slifkin and R. Zushe Blech (here) in which the latter writes: "I thoroughly enjoyed your book, and I find your explanations and theories beautifully explained and cogent."

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Grand Blog Name Contest Extravaganza!

Here at corporate headquarters, the marketing department* has convinced management** that this blog's maximum potential is being hindered by the unwieldy product name. After careful market research***, management has yielded to the request to change the product's naming scheme.

To further this goal, this blog will be holding a CONTEST EXTRAVAGANZA for a new name, the winner of which will receive a FREE COPY of the excellent book Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker (more about the book here; buy it here).

Here are the rules:

1. Either:
A. Think of a good name and post it in the comments section with your e-mail address
B. E-mail me the name here with "Contest Submission" as the subject

2. The name should have an available URL that is either exactly like it or close enough (e.g. or

3. After a while, I'll arbitrarily choose whichever name I like best.

4. Whoever submitted that name wins the book.

Enter the contest now and enter it often. Losers will have to pay to own this most excellent book.

* A guy down the block
** That would be me
*** Asking my wife, who doesn't really care

(moved to the top)

Respect for Torah Teachers

The Baraisa Kinyan Torah (Pirkei Avos ch. 6) no. 3 states:
One who learns from his fellow a single chapter [of Torah], a single law, a single verse, a single statement, or even a single letter must treat him with honor. For so we find with David, King of Israel, who learned from Ahisofel two things alone and he called him his teacher, his guide, and his intimate, as it is said: "And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate" (Psalms 55:14). And does not this matter allow for an a fortiori (kal va-homer) logical deduction: If David, King of Israel, who learned from Ahisofel two things alone, called him his teacher, guide and intimate, one who learns from his fellow one chapter, one law, one verse, one statement, or even one letter, all the more so must he treat him with honor.
This is a very difficult passage. King David learned two things from Ahisofel and respected him. Therefore, we deduce using a kal va-homer that one must respect someone who teaches him even one thing. However, since we are learning from two things, how can we deduce that it applies to even one thing? The deduction is flawed!

The Maharal offers two solutions to this difficulty. Both center on the idea that we are not deducing from David about over how much Torah one must show respect to a teacher. That is learned from elsewhere. What we see from King David is either that he did not really learn anything substantial from Ahisofel but still respected him, so kal va-homer one who learns actual Torah from another. Alternatively, we see that even a king -- who commands respect himself -- must respect someone who teaches him Torah, so kal va-homer that we commoners must respect a Torah teacher.

Frum Nobel Prize Winner

Prof. Robert J. (Yisrael) Aumann of Hebrew University was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his research in game theory (link). He's not just an Israeli-American, but he is also Orthodox and has written on mathematical issues in the Talmud (as reported in Ha'aretz). I'm sure I saw somewhere that his brother-in-law was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Sha'alvim (UPDATE: Here's where I saw it).

There is an extensive interview with Prof. Aumann available on the Hebrew U website (link).

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Vomiting in Halakhah

This is the first in a series of brief posts about the status of vomiting in halakhah. While this might seem like a somewhat bizarre topic, the issues are actually quite relevant. The current topic -- vomiting on Yom Kippur -- is hopefully not an issue for most readers. However, the two subsequent topics will probably be issues that arise every once in a while in the average observant Jew's life (although hopefully not too often).

The central passage to this issue is Hullin 103b, which states that for most prohibitions of eating the violation is the enjoyment of the taste (hana'as gerono) rather than the settling of the food in the stomach (hana'as me'av). Therefore, if one eats a ke-zayis (olive's worth) of a prohibited food and then vomits it, one is liable for violating the prohibition because one has enjoyed the taste even though the food never settled in one's stomach. [The Gemara raises the case of someone who eats half a ke-zayis, vomits it (or, as Artscroll translates it, it becomes disgorged), and then eats it again. Somewhat farfetched, but that is how Talmudic logic works, searching for extreme cases that define theories.]

However, Yom Kippur might be different. On Yom Kippur, the prohibition is a function of affliction rather than eating per se. Therefore, one could say that without the satisfaction of having the food settle in one's stomach one is not liable. The Minhas Hinukh (313:2) reaches the conclusion that this is proper but stops short of issuing a lenient ruling on this basis. The Hasam Sofer (Responsa, Orah Hayim 127) writes confidently that the prohibition on Yom Kippur requires enjoyment of the stomach. Therefore, one who eats a ke-zayis and then vomits it before it has a chance to settle is not liable. Similarly, one who eats half a ke-zayis, vomits it, and then shortly eats another half a ke-zayis is not considered as if he has eaten a full ke-zayis.

The Or Samei'ah (Hilkhos Shevisas Asor 2:4) agrees with this and brings a proof from Kerisos 14a. The Mishnah there suggests a case in which someone who eats a particular food violates four prohibitions that require a hatas sin-offering, including eating on Yom Kippur. The Gemara asks why the Mishnah does not add a simple condition in which a person would violate nosar also, making it five prohibitions, and answers that the Mishnah was dealing with a case of someone eating only a ke-zayis. If so, asks the Gemara, how could he be liable for eating on Yom Kippur, since that requires eating a kha-koseves (date's worth, which is double a ke-zayis)? The Gemara then attempts to solve that problem. A solution that is not offered, the Or Samei'ah points out, is if someone ate a ke-zayis, vomited it up (or it becomes disgorged), and then ate it again. In that case, one could eat a kha-koseves of food from only a ke-zayis, thereby also violating the prohibition of eating on Yom Kippur. From the fact that the Gemara does not offer this solution, and it is a reasonable enough solution that it is offered elsewhere in the Talmud, the Or Samei'ah finds evidence that this scenario would not entail a complete violation of the prohibition of eating on Yom Kippur.

One is not liable for eating on Yom Kippur if the food is vomited shortly. (This only impacts whether one is liable, not whether this is a permissible action. That discussion involves other issues.)

Timely Dikdukim

I. Hemes or Heimes?

In the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the word חמת (bottle/skin) appears three times: Gen. 21:14, 15, 19. In the second place, it is punctillated with an esnahta mark, which implies a comma/pause. Vowels at an esnahta are frequently elongated.

The Koren Tanakh punctuates חמת in verse 19 as hemes (חֶמֶת ), with an elongated vowel, as opposed to how it appears in the other two verses (heimes חֵמֶת ) and contrary to what is found in most printed Bibles. The Artscroll Machzor for Rosh Hashanah includes this variant spelling/pronunciation in its presentation of the Torah reading for the first day.

I checked the Breuer Tanakh and it has the word as heimes (חֵמֶת ), without an elongated vowel. Mechon Mamre does also.

II. Those Who Wait

This morning's selihos quote a phrase from Isaiah 40:31 -- "וקוי יהוה יחליפו כח - But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength." Radak and Minhas Shai point out that the word וקוי is pronounced with the tzeireh on the "yud" -- ve-koyei -- and not on the "vav" -- ve-kovei. (See how Mechone Mamre has it vocalized.) I rarely hear a ba'al korei pronounce this correctly.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Clergy Appreciation Day

This Sunday is Clergy Appreciation Day. I assume the makers of the holiday wanted to wait until after the Shabbos Shuvah derashah so we can decide whether or not we want to appreciate our clergyman.

Yashar Books in YU Review

Details here.

Random Rosh Hashanah Reflections

1. For the past ten years, I've spent Rosh Hashanah with my parents (in Modern Orthodox-land) and Yom Kippur in Brooklyn (in Ultra Orthodox-land). This year, since my grandmother did not fly up from Florida for the holiday, my wife suggested finally staying home for Rosh Hashanah and I insisted that we not. Here are some of my reasons:

A. My parents enjoy us being there (and we enjoy it also -- I know you're reading this)

B. The level of hazzanus simply cannot be compared. The MO shul has many more attendees so can afford an expert cantor. In my UO experience, we end up with some-guy-from-kollel who can manage to get through the service (which is much more than I can do). A number of years ago, the MO shul hired a cantor who I later kept bumping into in Brooklyn. He is -- hands down -- the best hazzan I have ever heard (granted, I'm no maven in the music area). In general, in MO-land my silent prayer is longer than most other's so the hazzan starts the repetition while I'm still finishing up. That presents no problem because I'm good at ignoring people (just ask my wife). But when this hazzan started, I was simply entranced by his praying. He didn't sing, like most cantors do, but rather prayed in song. Maybe it was his raw lack of polish (like I know) that lent honesty to his praying or some unique style, but he emphasized the most important parts of the prayer in ways that just made the words so much more meaningful. To this day, I still talk about him and when I bump into him, ask him when he's coming back (he got a local MO job that paid the same). I'll add that if you want to hear him, he sings with Shalsheles.

C. Shul ends at a decent time in the MO world. Starving on Rosh Hashanah does not add to my concentration on prayers, especially when the shlep is in the cantor's repetition of the prayer (and eating before shofar is not an option in my book). And, frankly, I don't understand how anyone can pray as long as they do in some shuls which I have attended. In previous years, when I prayed on Yom Kippur in a yeshiva-type setting, I would finish my silent prayer, walk home and check on my wife and little kids, return to shul and still wait for the repetition to begin. Plus, in the MO shul I attend they skip a lot of the piyuttim that have crept into the service over the centuries, making it much longer. In my opinion, the more of those you can get away with skipping, the better.

D. The shofar blowing is more interesting in the MO shul I attend. It's kind of like the Passover seder, with my sons asking (afterwards) why the shevarim blasts had three at first but then five, or why the blower is taking a breath in the middle of the shevarim-teru'ah blasts. It keeps their attention.

2. Over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, for different services I went to three shuls that I had attended -- in their various incarnations -- as a youth. I've been told that the neighborhood has developed over time so that the three shuls represent different places within the spectrum of MO, each one being more to the right or left than another. I don't get it. I know all three rabbis personally (one is a lifelong friend and another was a study partner in yeshiva) and they are all essentially in the same place ideologically. As to the attendees, I couldn't tell much of a difference. Like any MO shul, the groups in each of the three were very heterogenous, spanning across the spectrum. I simply couldn't see why any of the shuls is farther to the left or right than any of the others. Either it's all a matter of perception or, as an outsider, I can't tell the difference. I guess I've turned into a racist because the MO all look alike to me.

3. One thing I haven't seen outside of a yeshiva-style service is something that, at the time, annoyed me greatly but I now miss: the screamer. On Yom Kippurs past, I used to sit next to a man who, at any point that required congregation participation, would shout out the passages at the top of his lungs. No exaggeration; as loud as he possibly could. It seemed quite bizarre but I now realize how much it adds to the feeling that you are praying for your life. I'm not a screamer. I just don't have it in me. But it's good to have a few screamers in the service to create an atmosphere of awe and devout prayer. I have never seen a screamer outside of a yeshiva-style service, even in ballebatishe UO services.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jewish Action on Frumteens

Some sharp letter about Frumteens in the current issue of Jewish Action (here -- PDF). R. Yitzchok Adlerstein refers to the moderator's positions as "so extreme that we should be more than wary of anything he says." He also mentions "the reprehensible attitudes that Frumteens displays towards a variety of important Orthodox personalities and institutions."

Letters from two frequent commenters to this blog, Nachum Lamm and Steve Brizel, prompted this frank and explicit statement by R. Adlerstein.

The Problem of Unrequested Forgiveness

From R. Daniel Z. Feldman, The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations, pp. 145-146 (buy the book):
Were a waiver of claims the only goal of the [forgiveness] process, it would follow that if the victim would forgive of his own initiative, without waiting for his oppressor to seek his pardon, the latter gesture would become redundant. Nonetheless, many authorities who concern themselves with this issue indicate that a request for forgiveness is necessary even if the other party has already excused the offense. R. Binyamin Yehoshua Zilber, among others, maintains that the obligation to seek mechilah is operative regardless.[10] However, R. Yehoshua Ehrenberg is inclined to believe that unrequested forgiveness is enough.[11]

A story related by the Talmud[12] is cited by those who agree with R. Zilber as support for their position. Rav had been offended by a certain butcher, and, following the passage of some time, they had still not reconciled. As Yom Kippur was approaching, Rav took pains to make himself available to the butcher so that the latter may apologize. R. Yitzchak Blazer[13] observes that in doing so, Rav was engaging in a form of imitatio Dei, as God also brings Himself closer to facilitate repentance during the Ten Days of Penitence between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.[14] That aside, the very necessity of accessibility on the part of Rav is troubling; as he is clearly prepared to forgive and forget, there should be no need for the butcher to ask. It seems, then, that the act of apologizing is integral to the forgiveness granted on Yom Kippur.[15] Similarly, R. Eliezer Ginsberg[16] writes that the mechilah would be ineffectual, lacking genuine penitence on the part of the sinner.

This element is relevant to another issue of concern among authorities. Yom Kippur, mentioned as a motivation to seek mechilah, is seemingly superfluous; if an offense has been committed, forgiveness must be sought irrespective of the time of year. R. Ephraim Zalman Margoliyos, in his classic collection of the laws relevant to the High Holy Day period, Matteh Ephraim,[17] writes that this is, of course, the case; however, Yom Kippur is noted as the final deadline for this obligation. R. Pinchas A. Z. Goldenberger[18] suggests an approach in line with this. If an interpersonal violation is committed, pardon must be sought immediately; nonetheless, if the victim bears no grudge, then this action is of less necessity. However, the impending arrival of Yom Kippur imposes an additional requirement of obtaining mechilah that is not suspended in the event of unsolicited forgiveness.[19]

[10] Responsa Az Nidbaru 2:65.
[11] Responsa D’var Yehoshua 5:20.
[12] Yoma 87a.
[13] Kokhvei Ohr 5.
[14] Isaiah, ch. 58, as per Yevamot 49a.
[15] See also R. Shlomo Zalman of Volozhin’s Toldot Adam.
[16] V’Atah B’Rachamekha HaRabim, Hilkhot Teshuvah 2:9.
[17] Matteh Ephraim, 606.
[18] Responsa Minchat Asher 3:32.
[19] See the similar interpretation in R. Moshe Shternbuch, Responsa Teshuvot V’Hanhagot 2:285.

Honor Roll

Yet another Jewish newspaper doesn't include Hirhurim in its list of blogs.

The funny thing is that after a speech I gave a few weeks ago, an employee of the weekly -- who oddly took slight offense at a mention of the paper that was entirely neutral* -- implied that my blog is read there. But at least DovBear and Godol Hador weren't listed either.

On the other hand, Cross-Currents was. As were both Joseph and Marvin Schick, the latter's blog consisting mainly of his columns in The Jewish Week.

* In listing the reasons that I find writing a blog preferable to writing a column in a newspaper, I used that paper as an example. (If you want to know the reasons, you'll have to come and hear me speak sometime.)

Hilkhos Teshuvah

Rambam's Hilkhos Teshuvah: Hebrew, English

Monday, October 03, 2005


I wish you all a wonderful, sweet and meaningful new year. May you be inscribed and sealed for good (and your three friends Alter, Hayim and Shalom).

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Simana Milsa

A rationalist explanation of simana milsa by R. Yehuda Prero (link):
The Gemora in the tractate of Kerisus (6a) states "Abaye said 'Now that you have said that an omen is significant, at the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates...'." Because of this Gemora, it is a custom to eat these listed foods, as well as other foods, which represent good things. (We will soon explore how exactly these foods are representative of good things.) The issue that must first be addressed is why do we "indulge" in omens at the beginning of the year, on Rosh HaShana? As we will soon see, there are many, many different omens and customs. Why do we eat these foods on this occasion?

The goal of these omens is to act as a reminder. By eating all of these foods that have positive connotations, a person realizes that now is the time he needs to be asking for these good things, because now is the time he is being judged. As soon as the person realizes that now is the time that he is being judged, he will realize that omens alone will not be enough for his salvation, and that repentance is needed. Therefore, eating these omens, which are a reminder that now is the time for repentance, is extremely appropriate for Rosh HaShana.

Another reason given for why we eat these "omens" has to do with the "spirit" of the holiday of Rosh HaShana... By eating these omens (and with some, saying the accompanying liturgy), we are covertly asking Hashem for our needs. We do not want to do such blatantly, as that is not in the strict spirit of the day. However, as it does demonstrate that we have accepted Hashem as our king, and today is the day we are being judged, we "ask" Hashem that we be remembered for a good year in a fashion that is not outwardly a request.

Dr. Brill on R. Aharon Lichtenstein

I wrote a review -- or really, just gave my impressions in a blog post -- of Dr. Alan Brill's review essay of R. Aharon Lichtenstein's three recent books over a month ago (here) and I've been thinking about it ever since. For most of the few weeks, I've been carrying around the article with me and I've read it numerous times and underlined it extensively with various notations.

I don't know Dr. Brill. I've never met him and I know very little about him. I think that I read his essay with relatively few preconceived notions and arrived at my opinion of it based on what I saw and nothing else. But R. Ari Kahn, an old friend of Dr. Brill's and someone whom I like and respect, wrote in the comments that I misread the article. Did I? Did I improperly malign Dr. Brill and his work?

For starters, it seems pretty clear that I misunderstood the title of his essay. A commenter pointed out that "The Ideal Rosh Yeshiva" was a reference to the school of thought called Idealism. Woosh! That went right over my head. But did I misread the article itself?

This post is neither an apology nor a retraction. I've reread the essay many times and believe that I am still reading it correctly. If I'm not, it could either be my thickness, Dr. Brill's (or his editor's) literary imprecision or a combination. Regardless, he put his essay in the public domain and I wrote my honest impressions based on my best efforts to understand it. That's all I can do and that's all anyone can expect from me. So I'm not apologizing and I'm not retracting. All I'm saying is to take it for what it is: Just this one man's opinion.

You all have the ability and the option to read the essay for yourselves and arrive at your own conclusions (the article is available here -- PDF). I was told (after I published my post) by others whom I respect that they reached the same conclusions as I did from reading the essay (before they read my post). But that doesn't mean that we are necessarily correct.

(NOTE: This post is not an invitation to discuss whatever political affiliations or motivations you think Dr. Brill has)

Blogs and Lashon Ha-Ra III

In my previous post, I wrote: "One may discuss negative stories about general public leaders provided that one is certain that the stories are true (or adds appropriately worded caveats)"

A commenter asked where permission is mentioned to relay stories about which one is not entirely certain, as implied by the parenthetic remark above. See Hafetz Hayim, Hilkhos Rekhilus, chapter 9 note 9 and note the important details and caveats.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Another Book on Open Access

We have another book up on Open Access! This one is just in time for the Yamim Nora'im / High Holiday season.

About half a year ago, we posted Rabbi David Jay Derovan's haggadah on Open Access and it was quickly downloaded by many people. Rabbi Derovan was kind enough to make available a collection of his essays on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot for Open Access as well.

It is available for free download at


The Course in Mussar

Unpaid advertisement:

MUSSAR is a little-known but ancient Jewish spiritual tradition that provides practical tools for soulful living. Recently, hundreds of people have been rediscovering the beauty, power and wisdom of Mussar teachings and practices, under the guidance of Alan Morinis (author of "Climbing Jacob’s Ladder") and Shirah Bell.

The goal of Mussar practice is to foster a personal sense of "shlemut," Hebrew for "wholeness." Mussar shows you the steps to take to work through your personal spiritual curriculum and to move closer to the inner wholeness that is your potential and your calling.

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (1876-1970) defines the work of Mussar as "Making the heart feel what the mind knows." Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (1914-2005) calls it "building your interior world."

THE COURSE IN MUSSAR is a highly regarded Distance Learning Program that offers practical Jewish spiritual wisdom to transform your life. There are no prerequisites of any kind.

A new session of THE COURSE IN MUSSAR begins October 30, 2005.

For more information or if you have questions, email or visit our website, where you can also register online or download a registration form.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More