Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Rabbi's Right to Refuse

Does a rabbi have the right to refuse to answer someone seeking his guidance? If someone asks him an halakhic question, may a rabbi choose not to answer? Or is he, like a doctor, duty-bound by his special skills to serve the public that needs his services?

Friday, May 28, 2010


From Bloom County. Change some of the details and this makes a great Chassidic story.

(click on image to enlarge)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Audio Roundup XCV

by Joel Rich

HELP WANTED- "A friend" is looking for a psychologist/psychiatrist/counselor. OK truth is it's me, and to the disappointment of many who know me, it's not to help me figure out why I'm a few degrees off. Rather I want to discuss the sugyot of adam bahul al mamono ( a man gets confused over his money) and the differing impacts on halacha (i.e. sometimes we're matir and sometimes assur certain actions) in the light of current psychological understanding. Please email me at

A Modern Orthodox View of History

I. What is History?

If you look at history dispassionately, building up the facts from evidence into a coherent story, you are missing the point. Yes, history as a discipline has to be practiced without bias and following strict methodologies. But you also have to take a step back and look at the larger picture, interpreting the facts and stories into larger trends and themes. I look at history through the lens of a religious Jew and see it through that perspective.

Weekly Links

Rules: link
  • Quebec wants Montreal yeshiva closed: link
  • No more kosher slaughter exceptions to New Zealand pre-stunning requirement: link 1, link 2
  • More confusion about who said what regarding worms in fish (this is why you never rely on articles for halakhah, always ask your rabbi): link 1, link 2

  • Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    Jews vs. Jesus

    After the death of a famous Christian missionary to Jews, a blogger for the Chicago Tribune asks why there is so little debate from Jews about the divinity of the founder of Christianity (link). I don't know what he is talking about. There are many books on the subject. Here are some of them. I found the first two in particular to be useful:

    Parashas Roundup: Beha'alosekha 5770

    by Steve Brizel

    The Reassurance of Aharon HaKohen
  • R Yissacher Frand , based on a reading of Rashi, suggests that Aharon HaKohen was depressed over his not being able to participate in a mitzvah: link
  • The Nesivos Shalom, as explicated by R Yitzchak Adlerstein, illustrates why we should always remember to keep our goals in Avodas HaShem in front of us so that we may avoid the pitfalls that will confront us in life even when we are faced with challenges: link

  • Eruvin and Non-Participants

    The theory of an eruv is that it is the joining of homes and property together into a communal area. There is a problem, however, when the community includes non-observant Jews or those who do not wish to be a part of the eruv.

    I. Gentiles in an Eruv

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Agudah and the Internet

    I may be mistaken but my impression is that the official policy of Agudath Israel of America is not to have any web presence. This is, I believe, in order to avoid the appearance of legitimating usage of the internet or looking hypocritical by telling others not to go on the internet but still maintaining a presence there. This is a principled stand that demonstrates how strong they consider the well-known dangers of the internet.

    Announcements #155: Wyschogrod Lecture at First Things

    First Things invites you to attend a lecture by

    Professor Michael Wyschogrod:
    A King in Israel: A Theological Approach to Israel's Constitutional Problem

    June 3, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.
    35 East 21st Street, 6th Floor

    Introduction by Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun

    "Brich Shmei"

    By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

    Whenever the Torah is taken out to be read, the enigmatic Aramaic prayer of Brich Shmei is recited as it is removed from the Aron Kodesh. Taken from the Zohar, [1] Brich Shmei is a prayer which asks for God’s compassion and mercy upon His people, and that He rebuild the Beit Hamikdash. It is also a very powerful and potent declaration of faith in God and His Torah.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Hirhurim Get-Together

    We are starting to plan a Hirhurim get-together in the first week of July, to mark the occasion of the hundredth audio roundup. Initial plans are to hold it in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Food will be served; admission will be free; and a few interesting activities are in the works. More information to follow in the coming weeks.

    There might be a Hirhurim-branded trinket or two, possibly something major.

    Announcements #154: YCT 2010 Yemei Iyun on Bible and Jewish Thought

    Where can you have the opportunity to choose from 60 Tanakh and Mahshavah shiurim in less than 48 hours?

    At the eighth annual YCT Rabbinical School Yemei Iyun on Bible and Jewish Thought to be held on Sunday, June 27-Monday, June 28, 2010 at the Maayanot Yeshiva High School,Teaneck, NJ.

    A Call for Autonomy

    The story of modernity is the struggle for greater individual autonomy. But a religion with obligations, such as Judaism, is about the individual submitting to an outside authority. Balancing these directly competing priorities is the complex task of the modern Jew.

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Weekly Links

    Rules: link
  • Facing financial, identity crises, JTS to reorient historic mission: link
  • Ex-Charedim challenge school system: link
  • Artscroll, Inc.: link

  • Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Audio Roundup XCIV

    by Joel Rich

    Question 1
    The Chavos Yair wrote that seems to be the first sh"ut on women saying kaddish. He lived in the 1600's. IIUC it's generally assumed that the saying of kaddish by yatom was in response to the crusades (100's of years earlier)
    Any insights on the reason it took so long for the question to come up?

    Books Received XXV

    I don't always have the chance to review each book, so I'll list the books that I receive. Some of them will be quoted or reviewed in future posts. Here are the books I've received recently:

    Rus and Boaz: Funny Business?

    The scene is late night on the threshing floor. Rus and Boaz are all alone. They spend the night together, with the scene ending "And she lay at his feet until morning" (Rus 3:14). Does this mean that they slept together? Is this a euphemism for marital relations?

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Starting Shavuot Early

    By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

    While many people choose to begin Shabbat earlier than required in the summer months, there is a general hesitation to do so on Shavuot. Rather, common custom is to wait until nightfall before reciting maariv or kiddush.[1] The reason for this custom is because the omer period, the period between Pesach and Shavuot, must be "seven complete weeks."

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    New Periodical: Kol Hamevaser 3:7

    There is a new issue of Kol Hamevaser: The Jewish Thought Magazine of the Yeshiva University Student on the topic of "Halakhah and Minhag." The whole issue is available here: link. Also, those who would like to subscribe to automatically receive a PDF version of new editions of the paper should send an e-mail to If you wish to receive a hard copy of the paper for the price of shipping and handling, please e-mail them your contact information and home address.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    The Shavuos Get

    On Shavuos 1831, a man in Brody, Galicia lay deathly ill. R. Eliezer Landau, grandson of the famous Noda Bi-Yehudah and author of the Yad Ha-Melekh commentary on the Rambam, had an idea that would save this childless man's impoverished soon-to-be widow from being unable to remarry unless she made the improbable journey to Rome in order to perform chalitzah with her soon-to-be deceased husband's only brother. R. Landau advocated writing a get on the second day of Shavuos, which would free the wife from an inevitable life of solitude.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Audio Roundup XCIII

    by Joel Rich

    Question: Reuvain and Shimon are in the desert. Reuvain has a jug of water. If they share the water, they will both die; if only one of them drinks, he will live. Shimon steals the water and refuses to return it.

    Weekly Links

    Rules: link (Note that this post will move every day until the end of the week. 3 most recent links show on the home page.)

  • White House meets with rabbis: link
  • Studying Nechama Leibowitz: A new essay with many pictures: link
  • Settlers launch interactive Web site: link

  • Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Doubtful Belief III

    In this post (link), we discussed R. Norman Lamm's theory that doubt is not considered disbelief, even if it obviously is not ideal. I was informed that a similar approach can be found in R. Avraham Weidenfeld, Lev Avraham (1:142:4), who also quotes the Chazon Ish (Emunah U-Vitachon, ch. 2) who says that those "of little faith" are still considered to have faith. I also found that R. Yehuda Amital adopts this approach.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Texting While Praying

    I. Walking with God

    Are you allowed to text or check your e-mail while praying or reciting a blessing? The Taz (Orach Chaim 191:1) writes in strong language that you must pay full and complete attention while reciting a blessing. He compares it to "walking contrary with [God]" which can also mean walking with God carelessly. This leads to a punishment of "And I will walk contrary with you" (Lev. 26:23-24). This seems to conclusively answer the question but it is actually more complicated.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Hallel On Yom Yerushalayim: To Say Or Not To Say?

    My article in last week's Yom Yerushalayim supplement in The Jewish Press:
    Sometimes, it's brief and simple statements that best capture man’s deepest aspirations. What Neil Armstrong’s memorable words after landing on the moon said about human progress, Col. Motta Gur’s three words on army communications on 28 Iyar 5727, “Har HaBayit b'yadeinu – The Temple Mount is ours,” said about spiritual achievement. They declared the fulfillment of nearly 2,000 years of prayer and the vindication of an even older biblical worldview.

    Parashah Roundup: Bemidbar/Yom Yerushalayim 5770

    by Steve Brizel

    An Overview of Sefer Bamidbar
  • R David Horwitz explores the introduction of Ramban to Sefer Bamidbar: link

  • Kriah at the Kotel

    By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

    There is a widespread custom to tear kriah upon seeing the Temple Mount, as well as any of the ancient cities of Judea.[1] While there is a view that kriah should be performed when seeing all cities of ancient Israel,[2] the consensus among the authorities is that only the cities of Judea are 'special enough' to warrant it.[3]

    Sunday, May 09, 2010

    Setting The Record Straight: Rav Schachter's Comments At The RCA Convention

    Guest post by R. Kenneth Brander (light editing and translation of key terms by me - GS)

    I want to share my concerns regarding the way Rav Hershel Schachter’s shiur (lecture) at the RCA convention is being reported. In Rav Schachter’s shiur about ordination of women he did not, chas ve-shalom, equate this issue to the three cardinal sins and yehareig ve-al ya-avor (better to be martyred than violate them).

    Friday, May 07, 2010

    Weekly Links

    Rules: link (Note that this post will move every day until the end of the week. 3 most recent links show on the home page.)

  • Badatz forbids investing in Israeli companies: link
  • Audio: Sara Hurwitz on Zev Brenner show: link
  • R. Asher Lopatin clarifies his respect for Conservative Rabbi Shai Held (for what it's worth, I have respect for plenty of Conservative rabbis and even some Post-Orthodox rabbis): link

  • Thursday, May 06, 2010

    Announcements #153: Six Kosher DVD's

    GET AN ENTERTAINING KOSHER EDUCATION in the convenience of your home, synagogue or school with these six invaluable DVD's:
    • KOSHERKIDZ Takes children on an engaging tour through the basics of kosher certification
    • THE KOSHER FISH PRIMER Show kosher consumers the ins and outs of identifying kosher fish

    A Genius Theology

    There are many theological approaches to the religious idea of God having chosen the Jews. These range from mystical concepts of inherent holiness to historical explanations of Jews having bonded with God (see these posts: I, II, III, IV, V). Yet I have never seen in this discussion a suggestion that the result of this chosenness is greater intelligence. Having a covenant with God does not mean being smarter than gentiles.

    Audio Roundup XCII

    by Joel Rich

    The Talmud (e.g. horiyot 12b) discusses cases of forbidden nichush (divination) (e.g. a black cat implies don’t do business today) and permitted simanim (good omens? – e.g., dip the apple in the honey). The commentators strive to extract an underlying rule to differentiate the cases.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2010

    Bar Mitzvah Is Only The Beginning

    My speech at my son's bar mitzvah this past Shabbos.

    Let's talk about what a bar mitzvah is and what it's supposed to be. A bar mitzvah is when a boy turns into a man, when he becomes personally obligated in the mitzvos. But is he really a man? Would anyone suggest that a 13 year old is fully mature? Is that really something you'd expect a high school teacher, for example, to say? Compare a 17 year old and a 13 year old. The difference in maturity is vast. So what is this bar mitzvah?

    New Periodical: Emor 1 (Jan 2010)

    A new issue of the journal Emor (no. 1, January 2010). The inaugural issue (link) was in English and Italian. This one is in English and Hebrew.
    • Remembering Rabbi Prof. Emanuel Rackman - Brief excerpts from One Man's Judaism
    • The Sanctity of Space, Time and Persons: A Jewish Perspective by R. Daniel Sperber - Taking the mystical side of Menachem Kellner's dichotomy (link) and ascribing sanctity as an inherent quality.

    Parashah Roundup: Behar-Bechukosai 5770

    by Steve Brizel

    Parshas Behar
  • R Berel Wein explains why Torah Mi Sinai , both as to Torah Shebicsav and Torah SheBaal Peh, remains the point of departure for all deviationist movements: link
  • R Yonasan Sacks explains how Shemittah and Yovel reflect the Kedushah of Shabbos and Yom Tov: link

  • Tuesday, May 04, 2010

    The Next Frontier II

    Further to the discussion of the next step for women in halakhah (link), I found the following discussing by Prof. Tamar Ross in a recent article -- "The Feminist Contribution to Halakhic Discourse: Kol Be-Isha Erva as a Test Case" in Emor no. 1 (January 2010), pp. 56-57, quoting R. Yoel Bin-Nun (more on this article and its connection to Hilkhos Teshuvah 3:8 coming soon). Of particular interest is footnote 45, in which Prof. Ross, to the credit of her awareness, makes an explicit connection to the Conservative approach.

    Short Takes

  • Charedi Education in Israel: Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (link) is absolutely correct that Charedim in Israel educate their students towards ignorance -- they don't teach basic math, science or language.

  • Announcements #152: Casting for Feature Film

    Casting for Feature Film

    We are casting for a feature film that will be filmed in July of this Summer. Many of the roles for the film are Orthodox Jewish roles. No acting experience necessary. We actually prefer real Rabbi's and Yeshiva boys to try out for the roles. It will be an amazing experience and an important film about race and heritage.

    Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai vs. Moshe Rabbeinu

    By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

    Although Lag Ba'omer has passed, a few final thoughts on the day are still in order, as we are taught that the three days following a yartzeit are considered to be a part of the yartzeit, as well.[1] The question is widely asked: Why is it that the 7th of Adar, the yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, is observed with somewhat of a mourning flavor, while Lag Ba'omer, the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, is a day of celebration and festivities?

    Monday, May 03, 2010

    Books Received XXIV

    I don't always have the chance to review each book, so I'll list the books that I receive. Some of them will be quoted or reviewed in future posts. Here are the books I've received recently:Note that sometimes I will include a book that I have purchased but think will be of interested to readers (such as the Bloom County book).

    Announcements #151: Rabbi Saul Lieberman z''l Memorial Lecture

    Rabbi Saul Lieberman z''l Memorial Lecture

    This coming Wednesday, May 5, 6:30 p.m.

    Rabbi Wayne Allen will speak on "Rabbi Lieberman's Analysis of the Term 'Halakhah' and Its Implications for Jewish Life"

    Sunday, May 02, 2010

    Silence Is Not Enough

    This past Shabbos we had a small celebration to mark the bar mitzvah of my son (name intentionally omitted to preserve Google-privacy), the first of his generation in the global Student family to reach that milestone. Below is a lightly edited version of his speech, in which he explains a talmudic insight from R. Yehudah Leib Graubart which he published while he was the rabbi of Makov, hometown of the Student family in Poland (link).

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