Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Entitled to Success

The faces of the staff and students tell the same story. June is beginning to shed its first rays of summer sunshine, and everyone is working on fumes. Let's get through Shavuos, review week, finals, liberty.

Of course, before skipping town, we have to give grades. As a Limmudei Kodesh Rebbe, grades are about much more than plain stats on tests and quizzes. It's even more than factoring in effort, participation, attitude, Midos. It's about entitlement.

A quick perusal of the GPAs of the seniors at the Senior Awards Commitee meeting revealed an unsettling, if unsurprising, story. The upper crust of the students have great grades in the classes both before and after lunch break. As you go further down the achievement levels, though, the gaps start to widen. A third of a point, a half point, sometimes even a full GPA point spread between the Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Hmph.

"Do you ever give 'D's?"

"Er, no. We couldn't. The kid might get turned off and lose interest in going to Eretz Yisrael. Do you?"

"Yep. An 'F' is rare. But 'D's? Sure."

Grade inflation. And it's not just at the low end of the spectrum that it's done. There was one kid who got an expected A-, and the Rebbe slogged it out with the parent for hours on end. I highly doubt that would happen with the English teacher.

Why? Because. "I send my kid to your school to get a good education that will help him get in to the best college he can. Of course, I want him to have a good Torah education, too. But a man has to make a living, you know. And if his Limmudei Kodesh grades bring down his GPA, what did I throw out all that money for?"

Yeah. You want him to be a good Jew. But, that's not measurable in grades. So the grades are just a nuisance. Just do it. Your range is A to A, for the kid getting 'B's in the afternoon, A-/B+ for the C student, etc. So they don't work half as hard in Torah studies.

But it's not just in grade land that guys feel they can pluck cherries, it's in the curriculum itself. First of all, the morning half of the brain has atrophied, because a decent grade is in the bag. So the classes and tests have to be easier. And now that we've set the bar of success lower, so you get used to working even less.

And, if it's a bit hard - Gemara is too hard. It's boring. I'm not going to Israel. So, we'll make it painless for you. Yep, sadly, Limudei Kodesh is not the arena where you will taste the savory flavor of success. You will be applauded for achievements we both know are fairly pathetic. Run along, dear.

At the beginning of the school year, I showed some of my Talmidim the following quote from Rabbi Yonason Goldson, from Jewish Action(summer 2000):

"Unfortunately, as a teacher, I come head-to-head every day with this generation's aversion to struggle. It's easy to understand why. Today's children have instant food, oven-ready and microwave prepared; they have pre-digested information on the Internet and from English seforim; and they have multi-media entertainment (video games) that the mind absorbs with as little effort as a lifeless body sustained by intravenous drip. Many of them aren't expected to throw away their own trash, or clean up their own messes.

So little is demanded of this generation that they demand next-to-nothing from themselves. IN school, they are often taught to merely regurgitate information without thinking or processing, and the inflated grades they receive confirm their impression that mental effort is a waste of time and energy. They have rarely been called upon to challenge themselves, and tragically, have never tasted the sweet flavor of success.

By living as models of Torah values, by teaching our children through example how to reject quick fixes and convenient rationalizations, we bequeath to them the only enduring pleasure this world has to offer: the satisfaction that comes from working hard and doing well. In this way we can hope to raise children from whom both we and Hashem will have Nachas. What's more, our children will have Nachas from themselves, from their own effort, their own struggle, and their own success."

The effect was: YEAH, he's RIGHT! Of course, the effect lasted until the sub-85 grade on the first Gemara test. That grade is broken, man. Get a new one. It's the cost of a phone call - from the parent. Sigh.

One of my Rabbeim in Israel would say: "Yesh Lachatz SheYotzei Mitz, VeYesh Lachatz SheYotzei Kvetch." ("There's pressure that yields juice, and there's pressure that yields mush")

No pressure yields a rotten fruit.

I'm pretty demanding as a Rebbe. And I've seen kids really latch on to the opportunity to prove themselves in a difficult arena, and I honestly believe that is one of the best fortifications I can give them for life as an accomplished frum Jew.
But there's a deep pang of regret for those who haven't taken the ball and run with it. My Talmid, my son, you should know: I care deeply, and I can give you opportunity, give you encouragement, and cheer from the sidelines. But success must be solely of your own making.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In honor of those who live in Eretz Yisrael...

This week, those of us still living in Chutz LaAretz are going to have a second day Yom Tov, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, there will be a "regular" Shabbos leining of Parshas Naso.

So in honor of those living in Eretz Yisrael, I'll say over a little Machashavah of mine on the Parshah:

In Revi'i (which is one of the longest Aliyos out there; I've been teaching a Bar Mitzvah boy this Parshah, and wow did he have it rough with that Aliyah!), we read three seemingly disparate sections: Sotah, Nazir, and Bircas Cohanim. What do they have to do with each other?

We're familiar with "HaRo'eh Sotah B'Kilkulah Yazir Atzmo Min HaYayin" (One who sees a Sotah in her degradation should abstain from wine) but how does Bircas Cohanim fit in here?

Perhaps the Torah lists these three things, one after the other, as a way of contrasting three Madreigos of Ahavah.

In the Parshah of Sotah, the Torah is telling us what a completely misguided and perverted Ahavah can look like. Here are two people who think that they are experiencing Ahavah, when it is really nothing but the opposite. HaRav Dessler famously explains that Ahavah comes from the word "Hav", to "give". An adulterous relationship is a "Meila", an embezzlement, selfish taking. This is what popular culture may call Ahavah, and people can be fooled into thinking that it is, but it is nothing of the sort.

The Nazir is in a rehabilitative stage of Ahavah in terms of his relationship with Hashem. Here is a person who feels he needs shoring up of his Ahavas Hashem, and the method chosen is one of Perishus. If we can imagine a person who wants to develop a relationship, he would do well to avoid topics of conversation that can easily shift into areas that the other side would find offensive. The abstention from wine, and from cutting hair, shift the focus away from oneself and toward Hashem, He whom the Nazir is trying to rehabilitate his relationship of Ahavah with.

The next Parshah is that of Bircas Cohanim. The ultimate in Ahavah. They bentch the Jewish people, as they were commanded, B'Ahavah. There are no ulterior motives, no need for holding back on anything. We are at ease with each other, B'Kol Ram, Panim Mul Panim, an outpouring of Ahavah and blessing for the best in Ruchniyus and Gashmiyus.

That is what true Ahavah is.

Halevai, we will merit VeSamu Es Shemi Al Bnei Yisrael, V'Ani Avorachem.


Do Chazal get to decide who gets into Olam HaBa?

There was some heated discussion (see point #6 in the post linked) about this topic recently.

I think it is a clear-cut Gemara in Sanhedrin 104b:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בקשו עוד למנות אחד באה דמות דיוקנו של אביו ונשטחה לפניהם ולא השגיחו עליה באה אש מן השמים ולחכה אש בספסליהם ולא השגיחו עליה יצאה בת קול ואמרה להם (משלי כב) חזית איש מהיר במלאכתו לפני מלכים יתיצב בל יתיצב לפני חשוכים מי שהקדים ביתי לביתו ולא עוד אלא שביתי בנה בשבע שנים וביתו בנה בשלש עשרה שנה לפני מלכים יתיצב [בל יתיצב] לפני חשוכים ולא השגיח עליה יצאה בת קול ואמרה (איוב לד) המעמך ישלמנה כי מאסת כי אתה תבחר ולא אני וגו

"Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: 'They sought to enumerate one more (king- Shlomo, as one who does not merit Olam HaBa). At that moment the image of his father (David) came and prostrated itself in supplication before (the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah - begging them not to include Shlomo on the list), but they did not pay attention to it. A fire came down from Heaven and the fire licked at their benches, and they paid no attention to it. A Heavenly Voice came out and said to them - 'Do you see a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before darkened ones'. He who built My House before his own house (as Shlomo did), and not only that, but My house he built in seven years, while his house he built in thirteen years, he shall stand before (righteous) kings, he shall not stand before darkened (wicked) ones. And they still paid no attention. A Heavenly Voice came out and said: 'Is it from you that (punishment) is meted out, that you despise (him)? Shall you choose and not I?'"

Says the ArtScroll Gemara, note #40 there, in the name of R' Avigdor Miller (a similar idea is brought in the Sefer Bircas Avraham by R' Avraham Erlanger from Yeshivas Kol Torah) :

"As a general principle, G-d accords with the decisions of the great Torah sages in each generation. Accordingly, David feared that if Shlomo were included in the Mishnah's list, he would indeed lose his share in Olam HaBa. Moreover, following the principle that the final say in Torah matters was left to the considered opinion of the Sages, the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah ignored David's entreaties, the supernatural fire, and even the first Heavenly Voice.

Only when the second voice informed them that the matter was beyond their jurisdiction did they desist."

So, it's ultimately up to Hashem. But, He'll definitely take the opinion of Chazal into account, which is what David was afraid of. So, it probably isn't wise to roll the dice on G-d deciding in your favor against Chazal and the Rambam's considered opinion that you shall have none.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Is Zionism antithetical to authentic Jewish identity?

In an op-ed piece, Shahar Ilan of Haaretz newspaper sets forth the "Who Is a Jew" problem in all of its magnitude. Here is the opening paragraph of his piece:

"Can a person who does not believe in God, does not observe the Sabbath, does not send his children to religious schools and does not put on tefillin (phylacteries) be a good Jew? Certainly. Even an excellent Jew. It is reasonable to assume that most of the Jewish state's most prominent leaders fit this definition. Can such a person become a Jew? Not from the perspective of the rabbinical courts, to whom the state has given the keys to joining the Jewish people."

One can hardly blame a secular Jew for believing that being a good Jew has nothing to do with believing in G-d or Mitzvah observance, when his paragons of Jewish virtue, in service of their people, are far from paradigms of traditional Tzidkus. An excellent Jew can be a violator of Yom Kippur and Bris Millah, as long as he has contributed to the State of Israel. Do you have to be a Jew to be an excellent Jew? Well, sorta, according to R' Shahar. You'll have to undergo some kind of conversion process. What does it entail?

"The main condition for secular conversion should be proof of a genuine and sincere desire to join the Jewish people. The following should be taken into account: immigration to Israel, service in the Israel Defense Forces, contribution to the Jewish state, fluency in Hebrew and integration into Jewish society, community and culture. The accepted argument against this list of criteria is that these are characteristics of Israeliness, not of Jewishness. That is not precise. These are characteristics of Jewish Israeliness."

Yes, the twisting gyrations of utter confusion as to what the Jewish identity of a secular Israeli entails, beyond just being an Israeli, are painful to behold.

More from R' Shahar:

"This need has become more intense as a result of the rabbinical establishment's total failure to cope with the conversion challenge posed by immigration from the former Soviet Union. Some 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants have moved to Israel in the last 15 years. It is reasonable to assume that most of them were prepared to convert to Judaism when they arrived. Some are still ready to do so. However, the rabbinate converted only a few thousand. The immigrants, most of whom are totally secular, are an inseparable part of Jewish society. The time has come for the secular majority to allow them to join the Jewish people as well, and to do so in its own way."

"Leaders of the Orthodox denomination argue that their control over conversion is crucial for national unity. This argument has long been irrelevant. The ultra-Orthodox are not prepared to let their children marry the children of secular people, while the secular willingly accept the children of non-Jewish immigrants."

Oh, L-rd! The secular willingly accept the children of the non-Jewish immigrants! What kind of monstrous perversion has been created here! Perhaps the primary benefit of a Jewish State was the prevention of intermarriage, and now that's going down the tubes too! And, since these are the plain and simple facts, why not just jettison the Orthodox hegemony and "convert" these people into Israelis? The dream of the Zionist elders, of reshaping the identity of a Jew as an inhabitant of, and a socio-cultural participant in, Medinat Yisrael, has found a home.

"When the secular allow the rabbis to control conversion, it is as though they are acknowledging that the rabbis really do know better than they do who is a Jew. This is an unreasonable situation, especially for the fair number of secular people convinced that their Jewishness, and not the extremism of the ultra-Orthodox or the Zionist ultra-Orthodox ("hardal"), is the real, true, up-to-date and relevant continuation of Judaism. If secular people are the real continuation of the continuum of Jewish existence, then they have a responsibility toward those who are knocking on the door of their nation. They must not forfeit conversion."

In the 58 years since the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, this is an issue that has never been resolved.And these suggestions, while radical, would seem to make sense in the context of the determination of a collective identity for the Israeli Nation.

Anyone want to attempt a response to R' Shahar, to explain why his identity as a Jew should be defined by anything other than his Israeliness?

The tragic breakdown in cognizance of what being Jewish means, has been, and, in the age of "Judicial Activism" under Aharon Barak, looms even larger as, a giant shadow of doubt cast on the viability of the experiment of an inherently paradoxical secular Jewish State.

A Conversation I Heard Yesterday

Jew: "Do you believe that G-d gave the Torah to the Jews assembled at Mount Sinai some 3300 years ago?"

Non-Jew: "I do."

Jew: "Do you believe that G-d gave both a Written and Oral Law?"

Non-Jew: "I do."

Jew: "Is there anything in the Written or Oral Law, or among the Rabbinic enactments, or among the customs the Jewish People have adopted over the past thousands of years, that you feel you are unwilling or unable to keep?"

Non-Jew: "No."

Jew: "Whenever you're ready."


New-Jew: "Baruch Ata Hashem, Elokainu Melech HaOlam, Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvosav VeTzivanu Al HaTevilah"

Three Jews: "Mazel Tov!"

Yes, I was on a Beis Din for Giyur yesterday.

Highly recommended Chizuk exercise before Shavuos - the Yom Tov of Kabbalas HaTorah.

Abomination in Yerushalayim

The secular courts have, once again, ruled against the Jerusalem municipality, and forced it to host and fund a Gay and Lesbian parade in the streets of the Holy City.

Yes, all ye Jerusalem property tax payers , here's where $80,000 dollars worth of your hard-earned money is going:

"Jerusalem District Court Judge Yehudit Tzur ruled that the city had set discriminatory standards in its cultural funding practices, thus enabling itself to avoid giving money to the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. Judge Tzur ordered the municipality to pay 350,000 shekels (close to $80,000) to cover its lack of payments for the years 2003-2005."

Now THERE'S something to get out and block the streets for. Burning trash as they go marching by might even make sense - if the marchers have to cough from the smoke and be unable to chant their disgusting slogans.

This march is an open statement of rebellion against Hashem. Of all places in the world to march - Yerushalayim is the place to go? And to pour salt on this open wound - the Jewish sovereign court system forces the municipality to PAY for their march!

Anyone who thinks that burning trash in Ashdod by a few Charedim is a "terrible" Chillul Hashem, should save his superlatives for things like this. In the capital of the Jewish State, identified by the world over as representative of the Jewish People, the messengers of Hashem to the world, we have a city-funded gay parade. A celebration of abomination. It's not כמעט כסדום היינו, we're there. In YERUSHALAYIM!

And then some horribly misguided people wonder - who needs all these people in Yeshiva learning? Oh, no. We'll win wars by merit of gay parades down Ben-Yehuda, surely. G-d has promised no third Churban, we are invincible. Let them all go to the army to protect the fabulous legal system that forces my parents and parents-in-law, who live in Yerushalayim, to fund this תועבה.

And what does this breed? Blogs by ostensibly frum Jews questioning if the Rabbis got their interpretation of the Torah right when they outlawed this abomination! Just like "an eye for an eye" isn't literal, so G-d didn't really mean it when he called it an abomination, or says you have to stone the participants. It's a Moshol of some sort. Because people have to cozy up to every kind of sickness that gains legitimacy. Our Torah can't possibly be so offensive as to exclude the gays from acting upon their natural instincts. How could G-d be so cruel? And so on and so forth.

Well, I say NO! Get help. If you can't, I feel as sorry for you as I do for the single people who aren't married and know they never will get married. Which is sad. But DON'T COME TO MY HOLY CITY AND LEGITIMIZE HOMOSEXUALITY!

And to the Israeli court system which allows this and enforces it, I say:
Shame on you! You can't defend the basic humanitarian rights of those expelled from Gush Katif, who have lost everything by an act of fiat by a government that treated them with less than basic decency, threw them on to the street like canines, but this you can find the wherewithal to do?

So, for all those who say - "Come live in Eretz Yisrael, so you can do something about it", I'll ask - "You already live in Eretz Yisrael, what are you doing about it?"

Burning Trash in Halachah

(Please read this whole post if you're going to read any of it.)

A reaction to this and this.
Namely, trash burning riots by some members of the Charedi community in Eretz Yisrael, in reaction to DNA testing a body of a one-year-old baby.

First, to get my initial need to find the Halachic angle of everything off my chest:
1) If there is a "Prili" yogurt container and some leftover chulent in the same trashbin, and you set it on fire, are you violating Bishul Basar BeChalav?

2) Does every kid get to stoke the flames a bit, or once you are under a certain age you get under a spread-out hefty bag for Kol HaNearim?

3) If a newspaper publicizes the trash burning, are they transgressing Gilui HaRiot?

3a) And if I talk about it, is that Avizrayhu of Gilui HaRiot?

4) Does a Bechor get a double portion of trash to burn?

5) If the trash in Yerushalayim is left for more than two days with a night in between, is there a Gezeira that it must be burnt so as to remember to do this for Nosar when we will merit to bring Korbanos?

6) Is the ash Muttar BeHanaah?

Seriously, has anyone ever heard of the Gedolim put out a Kol Koreh to participate in a trash burning!? Protests are fine, massive demonstrations are great, and putting some political pressure on is fantastic. But what's up with trash burning? It doesn't accomplish anything at all, other than make us look like violent jokesters with too much time on our hands.

To be fair, it is important that this paragraph gets underscored:
"Members of Ashdod's ultra-Orthodox community are assisting police in their investigation. They claim they had no knowledge that a plot to abduct the body was being prepared while they negotiated with police to resolve the crisis."

I daven that one day there will be a sufficient level of trust between the authorities and the Charedi community that these crises get resolved without having to resort to any kind of unpleasantness. I have my doubts as to whether that will happen in my lifetime.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Barry Bonds hits no. 715, passes Babe Ruth!

How appropriate that all the hoopla is on #715.

The same Gimatriya as שטות
Now #716, that would be a פרפורמנס!

(That was just for kicks, don't worry, we're not turning into a sports blog)

Is Medinat Yisrael Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu - Part III

Continued from Parts I and II

Be'Ikvei HaTzon (pg. 215):
"...Churban of the Land", in its Halachic sense, is connected to its desolation in the physical sense, as is stated in the Torah in Parshas Bechukosai (26:32) "And I will make the Land desolate, and your enemies who dwell therein will be astonished at it". Meaning, that as long as Eretz Yisrael is not in Jewish hands, it will be in a state of physical desolation. And in the prophecy of Yechezkel (36:8-12) [Note: I'm quoting the whole section of the Navi here, although in the original it is parsed] - 'But you, mountains of Yisrael, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Yisrael ; for they will soon be coming. For, behold, I am for you , and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, all of it, and the cities shall be inhabited, and the waste places rebuilt. And I will multiply upon you man and beast, and they shall increase and bring fruit, and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and I will do better to you than at your beginnings, and you shall know that I am Hashem. And I will cause men to walk among you, my people Yisrael, and they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance, and you shall no longer bereave them of children.'"
"And it says in Sanhedrin (98a) regarding this Passuk - "There is no clearer indication of the "End" than this". Meaning, that when the Land will no longer be desolate in a physical sense, and the mountains of Yisrael will yield their branches and fruit to the Jewish Nation, this in and of itself is the greatest sign that the Land will be under Jewish sovereignty and have the Halachic status of "Bevinyanah", and then the promise of all the Neviim will apply - "and you will no longer bereave them of children - that there will never again be a destruction of the Land."
"And in Megillah (17b) it says, "And why did they see fit to recite (the Berachah of) the ingathering of exiles (in Shemoneh Esrei) after Birchas HaShanim? As it states: 'And you mountains of Yisrael, you will give your branches and bear you fruit for my Nation of Israel for they will soon be coming etc.' Meaning, that initially the desolation which permeated the Land throughout all the years of Exile will end, and only afterwards will there be a process of ingathering of Exiles, as our eyes behold all this unfold before us in the last 50 years [Note: the article was written in 1988], and regarding this historical process the Navi promised (Amos 9:15) - 'And they will no longer be plucked up out of their Land'. And so, based on the promise of the Neviim, combined with the aforementioned Beraisa from Massechta Sanhedrin, we must determine that the establishment of the State in 5708 is indeed the Atchalta DeGeulah, as explained."
[ End quote from Be'Ikvei HaTzon ]
At the outset, let me say that there seems to be some blurring of the lines in this analysis between Jewish settlement and Jewish sovereignty. But let us take this Nevu'ah of Yechezkel and see how, or whether, it necessarily applies to the present situation:

Passuk 8: 'But you, mountains of Yisrael, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Yisrael; for they will soon be coming.'

And as stated earlier, the Gemara in Sanhedrin says that there is no more open "End" than this.

a) What kind of produce yield is the Passuk referring to?
There are two explanations in the Maharsha to Sanhedrin there:
1) "Because as long as the Jews are not on their Land, the Land does not yield its fruit as normal, but when it will return to giving her fruit, this is an open "End", that the time for Geulah is close at hand, when the Jews will return to their Land."
2) We can also explain based on what is said in Perek BaMeh Madlikin, that in the future trees will be yielding fruit every day... and so too we can explain this Passuk - just as there is a branch each day, so too there will be fruit borne for the Jews every day, and this will be at a time when the Geulah is imminent. And this is a miraculous occurence, certainly an open "End".

So, according to the second explanation of the Maharsha, this Passuk has not yet been fulfilled.

In addition, in VaYoel Moshe (Maamar Shalosh Shevuos, 66), the Satmar Rebbe zt"l states the following:
"Those who follow the Zionists say... that the fact that many people come to Eretz Yisrael and deal with planting and the fruit multiplies, it is on this that the Gemara in Sanhedrin 98 says that there is no more open "End" than this... And this is insanity and complete nonsense ("Shtus VaHevel Gamur"), certainly according to the second explanation of the Maharsha, but even according to the first explanation, it is at least as explained in the Gemara in Kesuvos (112) that R' Yehoshua ben Levi saw (gigantic) clusters (of grapes in the vineyard) that were positioned (in a way that from afar they looked) like calves. He remarked - 'There are calves among the grapevines." [Note: See Gemara there, that this was when the Arabs had risen upon the Jews], and they say there that the land of Egypt is of higher quality than all the Lands in the world, and Tzo'an is the choicest part of the Land of Egypt, and Chevron, which is the most inferior part of Eretz Yisrael, is seven times better than Tzo'an of Mitzrayim, and a Beis Se'ah (an area of 50x50 cubits) yields 70 Kur. There are a number of other things that the Gemara mentions that the produce of Eretz Yisrael was different than that of the rest of the world in a wondrous way... And if all this will return as before, as the Rambam writes at the end of Hilchos Melachin that in the days of the Moshiach, all delicacies will be available like dust, that is a harbinger of Geulah, but that which is natural in the whole world, that based on the amount you plant, so too the yield increases, this is no sign of the Geulah..."

So, we see that using this Passuk in Yechezkel and the Gemara in Sanhedrin as proof positive that this is RTG is questionable.

Even if we were to accept that the present situation is a fulfillment of 'no more open "End" than this', there are still two major problems with terming the Medinah RTG:
a) We should term the Aliyah of the students of the GRA and the Baal Shem Tov as such, not the State.
b) [On a much more basic level] - The Gemara does not say that this is the Geulah or the beginning of the Geulah. It says that it is a harbinger of Geulah.
Let us see the very next statement of the Gemara (Sanhedrin ibid.) for the purpose of illustration:

"R' Elazar says: There is also no clearer indication of the end than this (the following), as it is stated: "For before those days, there was no wage for man and no wage for animals, and to him that leaves and enters there was no peace from the adversary" (Zecharia 8:10)

Rashi explains that this Passuk is talking of times in which economic conditions are so severe that people cannot find jobs, animals are not being leased for work on the land, and it is unsafe to travel from one town to another. When such conditions prevail, one can expect the Moshiach's imminent arrival.

So, should we suggest the Great Depression should be celebrated as Atchalta DeGeulah?

The Chafetz Chaim (Likkutei Halachos, Introduction, pg. 3) states: "We see (the fulfillment of the above Gemara) with our own eyes, that because of the increase of trains and cars [Note: we might add PCs], there is not such a need for workers and animals, and they walk around idly."

Should we celebrate Henry Ford or Bill Gates as those who usher in Moshiach?

It seems that all the Gemara means is that it is a sign that the Geulah, or the ultimate Kibbutz Galuyos, is imminent, not that it is a part of the Geulah itself. It is actually in the Passuk itself - "For they will soon be coming".

HaRav Schachter Shlit"a, later on in his piece (pg. 217) suggests that perhaps the definition of the Land "BeVinyanah" is different: "...unless we will claim and say that as long as most of the Jews are not yet on the Land, meaning, there has not yet been a fulfillment of Kibbutz Galuyos, the land is still considered "BeChurbanah". But this requires delving into ("VeTzarich Iyun"), as this is not the implication of the aforementioned Gemara in Sanhedrin etc."

Based on what we have just set forth, there is no contradiction at all between the produce being the harbinger of the true Kibbutz Galuyos, not part of the "Ketz" itself, and determining "Binyan HaAretz" as most of the Jewish People dwelling in the Land. [Even if we were to accept that today's agricultural situation is a fulfillment of this prophecy, which, as I said before, is questionable]

However, I think we might, perhaps, go one step further than HaRav Schachter in defining positively what irrevocable Kibbutz Galuyos means in the context of the Geulah:

Yechezkel, ibid., Passuk 10: "And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, all of it, and the cities shall be inhabited."

The Ramban in Parshas Bechukosai says the following: "... And (the Torah) promises (Devarim 30:5): 'And He will do good to you, and multiply you more than your fathers', which is a promise to all the tribes of Israel, not a sixth of the Nation." (As was during the time of Ezra, where only the Tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin came back).

The Rambam (Hilchos Terumos 1:26) says:
התרומה בזמן הזה, ואפילו במקום שהחזיקו עולי בבל, ואפילו בימי עזרא--אינה מן התורה, אלא מדבריהם: שאין לך תרומה של תורה אלא בארץ ישראל, ובזמן שיהיו כל ישראל שם, שנאמר "כי תבואו" (ויקרא כה,ב), ביאת כולכם כשהיו בירושה ראשונה וכמו שהן עתידין לחזור בירושה שלישית

It may be that "Yerushah Shelishis" is only such when it is as promised by the Neviim, that all Jews are there.

Perhaps, only after the fulfillment of Passuk 11: "and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and I will do better to you than at your beginnings", will the promise of Passuk 12 - "and they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance, and you shall no longer bereave them of" be irrevocably fulfilled.
Similarly, the Pessukim in Amos 9:13-15 are left ambiguous, at best:
"Behold, days are coming, says Hashem, when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And (only after this amazing phenomenon, which we have yet to witness), I will bring back (or, perhaps "come back with", as in the dwelling of the Shechinah in the Beis HaMikdash?) the captivity of (all?) of my people of Yisrael, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no longer be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, says Hashem your G-d".

In summary:

I humbly submit that there are insufficient grounds to assert that Medinat Yisrael is irreversibly a step in the direction of the building of the Beis HaMikdash, and that judgement in this matter should be reserved.

May the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt and the Moshiach's Shofar be blown speedily in our days, Amen.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Is Medinat Yisrael Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu? - Part II

Continued from here

Be'Ikvei HaTzon (pg. 215):

"And if we will hold that Medinat Yisrael is now considered "BeVinyanah", then we are assured that there will not be a third "Churban", and if so we can conclude that the establishment of the Medinah was a form of "Atchalta DeGeulah". And it seems, that determination of this point - when Eretz Yisrael is considered "BeChurbanah", and when it is considered "BeVinyanah", is clearly defined in the words of the Poskim - regarding the obligation to do Keri'ah on the cities of Yehudah when they are "BeChurbanan", wherein the Magen Avraham writes (in the beginning of Siman 561) that one who sees the cities of Yehudah in a state of Churban must perform Keri'ah, even though Jews are dwelling there, since the Nations are ruling over them, this is called Churban. So we see that the definition of "the cities of Yehudah Bevinyanan" is - at the time that they are under Jewish sovereignty. [Or else, when we have both components, when Jews dwell in them, and they are also under Jewish sovereignty]."

It would be of interest whether during the reign of Antiochus, the Jews tore Keri'ah over the cities of Yehudah or over Yerushalayim. If they did, then this would certainly be considered a "Churban", according to Rav Schachter's definition, and the rule of the Romans a "Churban Shelishi", which is an impossibility.

But if they did not, then this would mean one of two things:

a) They did not hold that Keriah on the cities of Yehudah/Yerushalayim depended on sovereignty, but rather on the existence of a Beis HaMikdash [see Be'Ikvei HaTzon pg. 105-108 for a discussion of this issue, wherein the Halachah is decided that regarding the cities of Yehudah, sovereignty is the key issue, (Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim IV:70:(11)) held that nowadays, while we have not yet been redeemed,* there is no Halachah of rending garments over the cities of Yehudah, since they are under Jewish sovereignty. Things may have changed in some cities since that Teshuvah was written in 5739) whereas regarding Yerushalayim, there is considerable debate, with Rav Soloveitchik of the opinion that it depends on having a Beis HaMikdash, whereas Rav Moshe Feinstein in the above Teshuvah places Yerushalayim in the same category as other cities of Yehudah. As an aside, R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach felt that since there are still structures of Avodah Zarah in Yerushalayim, Keriah is still warranted.]

b) They did not feel that there was a loss of sovereignty. However, this is very difficult to reconcile with the language of the Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Chanukah:

א. בבית שני כשמלכו יון גזרו גזרות על ישראל ובטלו דתם ולא הניחו אותם לעסוק בתורה ובמצות. ופשטו ידם בממונם ובבנותיהם ונכנסו להיכל ופרצו בו פרצות וטמאו הטהרות. וצר להם לישראל מאד מפניהם ולחצום לחץ גדול עד שריחם עליהם אלהי אבותינו והושיעם מידם והצילם וגברו בני חשמונאי הכהנים הגדולים והרגום והושיעו ישראל מידם והעמידו מלך מן הכהנים וחזרה מלכות לישראל יתר על מאתים שנים עד החורבן השני

(This is the version of the Frankel Rambam. According to this version, it is explicit that there was Greek sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael at the time. Some others have "K'SheMalchei Yavan" in the first line. However, even if we were to accept this version, from the end of the Ramban it seems clear that prior to those "more than two hundred years", there was no Jewish sovereignty.)

[Another option, according to this version, is that the Rambam is speaking specifically about Malchus, "monarchy", not "sovereignty". However, one of the building blocks of Rav Schachter's analysis, as mentioned in Part I, is not to distinguish, from a sovereignty perspective, between the two.]

It is also worth noting that, at the end of that Halachah, the Rambam refers to the Roman conquest as "Churban HaSheini", despite his shifting of sovereignty from the Greeks to the Chashmonaim to the Romans.

It is possible that, according to the Rambam, there was no "Binyan" until the Chashmonaim, although this would be against the Ramban in Parshas BeChukosai, cited in Part I (which forms the basis of Rav Schachter's idea that "Churban" means loss of sovereignty) that the "Geulah" of this period occurred during the time of Ezra.
More likely, the term "Churban" in the Rambam here means the Churban of the Beis HaMikdash (as the "more than 200 years", or 206 to be precise, is the number given in Masseches Avodah Zarah 9a from the beginning of the rule of the Chashmonaim until the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and that Gemara seems to be the source for this line in the Rambam). This is meant to be taken as the benchmark for the generic use of the term "Churban", as in the context of Galus and Geulah, not loss of sovereignty.
To be continued...
*One is tempted to speculate that Rav Moshe goes out of his way to include this in his Teshuva to Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt, who certainly was aware that the Moshiach had not arrived by 5739, as an explicit statement of disassociation between this Halachah and any component of the Geulah.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is Medinat Yisrael Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu? - Part I

In a recent comment thread on Hirhurim, some of the commenters brought up HaRav Hershel Schachter Shlit"a's position that Medinat Yisrael should be considered Reishit Tzemichat Geulateinu (RTG).

The analysis which HaRav Schachter uses in this regard, brought in his Sefer B'Ikvei HaTzon (Simman 32), is brilliant.

The structure of his view is, roughly, as follows:

I. Geulah = the building of the Beis HaMikdash, as evidenced by the Ramban in his preface to Sefer Shemos.
Atchalta DeGeulah - a fulfillment of the Mitzvos which must precede the building of the Beis HaMikdash, namely, to appoint a king and destroy the seed of Amalek.

HaRav Schachter is of the opinion that a Jewish sovereign State is a fulfillment of the Mitzvah to appoint a king. Hence, the Jewish State is a fulfillment of RTG or Atchalta DeGeulah.

[ Destruction of Amalek - destruction of the enemies of the Jews who seek their annihilation as a nation. And since we are still at war with nations who seek to annihilate us, there is as of yet no obligation to build the Beis HaMikdash. ]

II. However, continues Rav Schachter, this is only truly RTG if this State indeed an inexorable, irreversible step toward the building of the Beis HaMikdash. What is the guarantee that we will not have to relinquish the entire State to foreign sovereignty, and only later will we reconquer the Land and build the Beis HaMikdash?

His answer is, since we are promised that there will be no third Churban, which means, in HaRav Schachter's view, not even a loss of Jewish sovereignty, we can rest assured that the Medinah is irreversible.

However, I have to admit that I feel uncomfortable accepting his approach lock, stock and barrel, for two reasons:

a) There are major luminaries who denied terming the Medinah as such. Not just the Satmar Rebbe, but also the Chazon Ish (as quoted in Pe'er HaDor vol. 4, that "this is not the beginning of the Geulah but rather the end of the Galus" - meaning it has no Geulah component), the Steipler Gaon (who writes, as brought in Karyana D'Iggarta, that "this is not the Geulah nor the beginning of the Geulah, but rather a transition from Galus to a more bitter Galus, the Galus of the 'Yevsektzia'"), HaRav Shach, and others.

b) I feel it is imprudent to mortgage, and potentially endanger, the Emunah of throngs of Jews on a particular interpretation of the sources, which may or may not be true.

So, KeTalmid HaDan Bifnei Rabbo, (and I doubt I am worthy of even being called that), let us attempt to see if there is room for alternative analysis of the sources HaRav Schachter brings to bear. I will focus on Part II of his analysis.

(Be'Ikvei HaTzon, pg. 214) :

"It would seem (as follows): the words of the Ramban in Sefer HaGeulah are well known, that the two Tochachos in Parshas Bechukosai and Parshas Ki Savo parallel the two destructions, and that there will not be a third. And, B'Peshuto, it would seem that he means to say that not only will there not be another Churban Beis HaMikdash, but that there will not even be another Churban of the Medinah. And this is clearly set forth in the Ramban in his commentary on the Torah to Parshas Bechukosai (Bamidbar 26:16), where he shows that the Tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo is talking about the destruction of the Second Bayis, "in that there is no mention of the Beis HaMikdash and 'the pleasant odor' (of the Korbanos being consumed) as is mentioned here (in Parshas Bechukosai), since there was no fire coming down amd consuming the Korbanos in the second Beis HaMikdash, as they testified in Massechet Yoma..." . We see that the Ramban comments that in second Tochacha there is no mention of the Churban HaBayis at all, [since even when it was built, it was not so much in its glory, and there were no sacrifices to provide a pleasant odor], rather only the destruction of the Medinah is mentioned there, and so we find, based on this, that the promise of the Torah and the Neviim was, that there will only be two destructions of the Medinah, and the Medinah will not be destroyed again, Chalilah".

Let us quote the Ramban on the Torah there:
שכן היה בבית שני, כמו שאמרו שבית ראשון מפני מה חרב, מפני עבודת כוכבים וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים, בית שני שאנו בקיאים בהם שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב, מפני שנאת חנם שהיתה ביניהם ולא הזכיר שם המקדש וריח ניחוח כאשר הזכיר כאן, שלא היתה האש יורדת ואוכלת הקרבנות בבית שני

The Ramban is bothered by the fact that the Gemara explicitly mentions that the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sin'as Chinam, yet the Torah makes no mention of that in Parshas Ki Savo? The Ramban answers that it is not mentioned because the Beis HaMikdash was not in its full glory.
This can be interpreted in one of two ways:
a) As Rav Schachter Shlit"a does, that the destruction of the (less-than-full-glory) Beis HaMikdash is not a critical component of Churban.
b) The destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash is a critical component of Churban, but is not emphasized in the Tochacha of Ki Tavo due to its deficient glory.

According to this second reading, we have no proof that Churban is anything less than the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, as is the simple Pshat in the Gemara in Yoma 9 - "Bayis Sheini Al Mah Charav", not "Memshala Sheniyah..."

Additionally, even if we accept the reading of HaRav Schachter, it may be that "Churban" is a flexible term, which means a reversal of the maximum potential achieved. Meaning, that in the context of Bayis Sheni, which was deficient, or, perhaps, for the sake of this discussion, as if there was no Mikdash at all, a loss of sovereignty would be considered "Churban". But in the context of the Geulah Asidah, which clearly includes building of the third Beis HaMikdash in full glory, anything less than the full Geulah of the Beis HaMikdash is not immune to reversal, as it is not considered Churban in the context of the final, full-blown, Geulah.

Next paragraph in Be'Ikvei HaTzon:
"And even though Bar Kochva established a Jewish government in the Land and even minted coins [which is impossible to do - Al Pi Din - unless there is a Halachic status of a government, with practical ramifications regarding redemption of Maaser Sheni, and also regarding the laws of interest], and in the end his government was negated, there is no contradiction from this to the promise of the Neviim [that there will be no third Churban in the Medinah], since history has already ruled on Bar Kochva that his government did not really have the status of a "Memshala", rather he tried to stage a "rebellion" against the Romans, and he failed in his rebellion. As opposed to the government of Medinat Yisrael in our times, (which) is certainly a "Memshala" which is recognized by the UN, and it has the status of all the other governments in the world. And this is how all the Gedolim of our times held, that one can redeem Maaser Sheni in Eretz Yisrael with the coins of the Medinah, and this matter is simple and clear as the sun in midday."

A number of questions:
1) Were the coins of Bar Kochva used for redemption of Maaser Sheni? We find nothing which says that in the period of Bar Kochva they were limited exclusively to the Roman minted coins. [UPDATE: See comment section regarding Bava Kamma 97b] Did R' Akiva support Bar Kochva as a potential Moshiach, yet decline to use his coins for fear of his rebellion failing? Bar Kochva, as far as I know, did achieve sovereignty for a short while. [UPDATE: See Sanhedrin 97b, where the two-and-a-half year Malchus (that is the term used there) of Bar Koziva is placed on par with the highest level of complete and total independence of that of the Chashmonaim (70 of the 103 years of the Chashmonaim) and Herod (52 of his 103 years). In light of this it seems very difficult to assert that it should not count as a Malchus]

But this is conjecture alone. There is a much more fundamental point:
2) The Ramban in his commentary to that Passuk discusses the first Galus and Geulah as well. It is clear as day that he refers to the return of Ezra and the exile of Bavel as Geulah. According to Rav Schachter, prima facie, this must mean one of two things:

a) Whatever autonomy the Jews had at the time counts as sovereignty for Geulah. [UPDATE: See Rashi to Sanhedrin 97b s.v. Od Achas, where Rashi refers to the time of Ezra as one of "limited glory"]
Hence, according to Rav Schachter, any reversal of this status would be termed Churban.

b) The building of the Beis HaMikdash. If this is the case, then it would seem that the reversal of that, namely, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, is considered Churban. Not lack of sovereignty, for this is not what was achieved by Ezra in the first place!

We are familiar with the words of the Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Chanukah, that the Greeks ruled over the Jews, and issued harsh decrees, and then, under the Chashmonaim, sovereignty returned to Jewish hands.

If we accept interpretation a) of Ezra's Geula - autonomy - then this was surely eradicated at the time of the Greeks, and should be termed Churban. Sovereignty then came back under the Chashmonaim, and was lost again when the Romans took over. According to Rav Schachter, this should be termed Churban Shelishi, which is against all the promises of the Neviim.

We must therefore, it seems, accept interpretation b) of Ezra's Geula, namely, the building of the Beis HaMikdash, and its destruction, Churban. This lends much weight to the alternate reading of the Ramban I suggested in the previous segment - that the destruction of Mikdash Ezra is what is termed Churban, and the promise of the Neviim is only that there will be no third Churban Beis HaMikdash.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

HaRav Shach's Hakaras HaTov

HaRav Shach zt"l's son-in-law, HaRav Meir Tzvi Bergman, related the following about HaRav Shach in a Hesped he delivered during the Shiva:

When R' Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l passed away and was buried on Har HaMenuchos, that section where the Gedolim are buried was still empty. R' Isser Zalman was among the first to buried there, and HaRav Shach, whose soul clung to that of R' Isser Zalman, expressed a desire to be buried there, not far from his Rebbe (and uncle), and he went ahead and bought a plot near R' Isser Zalman's.

Some years later, R' Yitzchak Epstein zt"l passed away when he was still young. He was a Dayyan on the Tel Aviv Beis Din and had a close relationship with R' Isser Zalman. At that time there was no longer an open plot in that section. HaRav Shach felt a sense of gratitude toward R' Yitzchak Epstein, because when HaRav Shach came to Eretz Yisrael (8 Teves, 5701), R' Yitzchak came, sent by R' Isser Zalman, to pick him up from Rosh HaNikra (on the northern border with Lebanon) to bring him to Yerushalayim. HaRav Shach gave up the plot near R' Isser Zalman, which he had purchased, and said that R' Yitzchak should be buried there.


Next time someone picks me up from the airport, I'll try to keep that in mind.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The J-blogosphere - capital of the validation seekers

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Talmudic fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Welcome to the new world.
The melting pot.
Civil War.

As for me,
G-d bless ancient lands.
My home sweet home.

When "better late than never" just ain't the case

Speaking at a joint press conference following their first meeting, US President George W. Bush promised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that America will respond if Israel is attacked by Iran.

Paintball in Halachah

Is it OK for a group of nice Jewish boys to go paintballing?

The answer would seem to depend on how to understand a Rambam (Hilchos Chovel u'Mazik 5:1) -

א אסור לאדם לחבול, בין בעצמו בין בחברו. ולא החובל בלבד, אלא כל המכה אדם כשר מישראל--בין קטן בין גדול, בין איש בין אישה, דרך ניציון--הרי זה עובר בלא תעשה,

"It is forbidden to injure (i.e. inflict a wound), whether himself of his friend. And not only one who injures, but anyone who hits a fellow observant Jew - whether an adult or a minor, man or woman, in a (belligerent? quarrelsome?) manner - has violated a negative commandment"
( Most manuscripts of the Rambam have this version. The Sefer Mitzvos Gadol (Asin, 70) has it as "Derech Bizayon" or "in a degrading manner")
There are a number of interpretations as to what this phrase in the Rambam means:
a) The Shu"t Maharalbac"h (Kuntress HaSemichah, Kuntress 1 s.v. "V'Od Ani Omer") understands the Rambam to be excluding a circumstance where the person upon whom the blow is being inflicted has agreed to it.
Other Acharonim also agree with the position that there is no violation of this Aveira if the victim is Mochel (Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 48, Turei Even to Megilla 28a).
b) However, Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlau in his comments on the Sefer HaMitzvos of Rav Saadya Gaon, in a lengthy refutation, does not accept this reading of the Rambam. He understands the Rambam to be excluding situations where there is explicit sanction of hitting, such as a father to a son, a Rebbe to a Talmid, or in order to heal the person. He does not accept the permissibility of inflicting a wound or hitting where the victim consents.
Concurring with the prohibition being in force, even in this circumstance of Mechilla, are:
Shu"t Chavos Ya'ir (163), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Hilchos Nizkei Guf VaNefesh 4), Chazon Ish (Choshen Mishpat 19:5) and Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim III:78).

It would seem to follow that the permissibilty of paintball playing should depend on this Machlokes Acharonim whether Mechilla works to obviate the prohibition of hitting another person. Considering that this is a Torah prohibition, presumably one would have to be stringent in this matter. Additionally, this may not be a clear-cut Mechilla. No one goes out there wanting to get hit in the chest with a pellet. While there is an understanding that this may very well happen, I am not certain that putting yourself in a situation where you know you may get hit is analogous to telling someone it is OK to hit you.

c) Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat II:66) has a responsa regarding the permissibilty of a girl undergoing plastic surgery in order to enhance her appearance. In that Teshuva, Rav Moshe seems to have a third approach to the defintion of "Derech Nitzayon UBizayon". Rav Moshe allows the girl to undergo this surgery, since the purpose of the surgery does not have any belligerent overtones. On the contrary, it is meant to enhance her appearance.
Rav Moshe proves this from the behavior or Rav Chisda, brought in Bava Kama 91, that when he would go among thorns he would lift up his cloak and allow the thorns to scratch his legs, saying that his body would heal, whereas his clothing would not. Since, presumably, Rav Chisda's walking among the thorns was for some constructive need, that removes the "Derech Nitzayon Ubizayon" element of the prohibition of injuring oneself (or others).
While Tosafos to Bava Kama 91b (s.v. Ella) prohibit injuring oneself even "Letzorech", Rav Moshe avers that this is only in regard to things that are done with the intent of self-inflicted pain, ( similar to tearing garments over a deceased relative, where the purpose is to cause yourself to suffer more over the loss), not where the wound is knowingly inflicted, but the person would prefer that there be no pain at all, as with Rav Chisda.

It is not clear to me whether shooting paint pellets at another person, in the context of a paintball game, would fall under Derech Nitzayon Ubizayon according to Rav Moshe:
a) Is this a "Tzorech", or at least a defintion of purpose other than wound infliction, which renders it non-belligerent but "all in fun"?
b) Is the game in and of itself of a belligerent nature?
c) Is there a bit more "geshmak" to the game if there is some pain inflicted - rendering the shooting Assur even if we were to consider it a Tzorech?

Share your thoughts!

This post is food for thought - not LeMaase!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Guidelines for bloggers who feel they have to criticize the Gedolim

Here's my comment over at Harry for those who meet the description of the title of this post:


When criticizing, your level of rhetoric and of public expression can only be at the level of your Rebbe's, assuming he is worthy to be considered a Bar Pelugta (an adversary of equal stature) of those Gedolim subject to the criticism.

Meaning, don't use words like "cantankerous" or "small-minded", Chas VeShalom, if your Rebbe, who is a Gadol, has not, and don't publicly criticize where your Rebbe has not.

And if you're not LeShem Shamayim, be quiet.

Should cut down the amount of comments on some of the blogs by a good 50%.

Do you really think they would care?

In an Arutz 7 interview, Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, a well-known member of the Chief Rabbinic Council in Israel has stated that certain "red lines" must be demarcated in the battle with the Israeli Supreme Court over various aspects of Israeli society.
Rabbi Arusi is of the opinion that, "we have reached a point at which we must set a red line, and say that if the State of Israel crosses it, the entire religious community will resign from the Knesset. This will truly shake the foundations, even of secular society."
What has yanked Rabbi Arusi's chain?
"The rabbi says that of late there have been several instances that are bringing the said "red line" closer. He named the following:

The Disengagement Plan - which "passed in the Knesset by a formal majority which merely masked the deception on which it was based."

The objections to the Tal Law, which regulates the army exemptions of yeshiva students, but which is still being challenged in the courts and facing public attack. "The secular public doesn't realize that this law deals with a gradual process; they want 'now.' This causes tensions, and could lead to an explosion. Instead of allowing the process to take its course and enable yeshiva students to find their place in society, they push and push, causing the hareidi-religious world's antagonism to increase."

The collapse of official religious institutions. "They did away with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and didn't establish an alternative. The mikvaot [ritual baths], kashrut, and yeshivot are in mortal danger."'
I certainly understand his frustration, but it seems to me that an act of mass resignation of all the religious MKs would be a declaration that the religious parties have come to the realization that there is no chance of them having any significant effect on Israeli society. It would not "truly shake the foundations", but merely verify an opinion that I have held for a long time. Namely, that it is an axiomatic building block of Medinat Yisrael that the religious sector have no say in what goes on in Israel on a national level.
Many times people call for massive Aliyah of the religious from the West so as to affect change in Israel. While I do think that, since moving to Eretz Yisrael is a Mitzvah, it should be encouraged where feasible, I absolutely do not buy the above rationale for doing so. I truly believe that the Israeli establishment would rather hand over the reigns of power to a moderate Arab than a religious Jew. If there would be a massive wave of religious Aliyah, which actually threatened the secular hegemony, one of two things would happen:
a) The Supreme Court would find some grounds for disqualification of the religious parties, as being theocratic or some other trumped-up allegation.
b) The government would import another few hundred thousand Russian immigrants, or grant citizenship to foreign workers, or some other demographic reshifting to tip the scales in their favor.
In fact, the Israeli media would make merry, and the oligarchs would orgy, as the need to contend with the number one competing vision for the national identity would all but vanish, by the religious parties exiting the Knesset stage left.
Better to be a thorn in their side than a rose on your own grave.

Friday, May 19, 2006

An Open Letter to the Predator


Plain and simple fiery rage.

Nothing else, not yet. It'll have to wait.

Destruction of a child's purity, his innocence, his aidelkeit.

He looks to you, Rebbe, as a model of trust.

Not, O ill one, for a coddle of lust.

Have you forgotten your charge, your mission?

What do you think gives you the right, the permission?

The pain, the hurt, the shame, the fear.

Could they have possibly been any more clear?

The Chillul Hashem. Ashen-faced Rabbanim.

Rebbe, Lo Sikach Ha'Eim Al HaBanim.

Bein Adam LaMakom

Rashi on Parshas Bechukosai, on the Passuk of וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי דֶבֶר בְּתוֹכְכֶם, וְנִתַּתֶּם בְּיַד-אוֹיֵב quotes the Toras Kohanim that there is a cause-effect relationship between the two halves of this phrase.
Since there would be pestilence, and the Halachah (Bava Kama 82b) is that one may not leave a corpse unburied overnight at all in Yerushalayim*, the pallbearers carrying the deceased out of the besieged city would be attacked by the enemy.
[See Chiddushei R' Meir Simcha M'Dvinsk to Bava Kama there who understands that this Halachah must be kept even at some risk of life. R' Yechiel Michel Tuckachinsky in Ir HaKodesh VeHaMikdash vol. III Perek 11, while not relating directly to the words of RM"S, has serious doubts about that]
The question is - we are talking about terrible sinners, who have committed the most serious Aveiros. And this particular Halachah they keep? [See Sifsei Chachamim to Rashi here]
Some suggestions:
a) It is reminiscent of what a certain Gadol said about the situation of Yahadus in recent times: "Many people think that lighting a Yahrzeit candle is a Mitzvah De'Oraysa and everything else is a Minhag Tov". When it comes to a Meis - people want to keep all the customs. [Interestingly, the Gemara in Bava Kamma says that this Halachah is a "Gemara", which Rashi there explains as "a tradition which has no reason". Apparently, when it comes to the Meis,even sinners will be Makpid on the minutae which have no reason, but when it comes to everything else, they say they need to know the reason.]
b) [And here's the reason for the title of the post]:
It is possible to get so caught up in the maintenance of the Kedushas HaMakom of Yerushalayim, that that becomes the focus of one's Avodah, while forgetting all other avenues of Avodas Hashem. Instead of there being a commitment to "Bain Adam LaMakom", there is a singular emphasis on "Bain Adam La(physical)Makom".
Perhaps it is Min HaShamayim that we generally read this Parashah before Yom Yerushalayim, as a reminder - yes, we have been Zocheh to be able to go to the Kosel, to the Old City of Yerushalayim. But there is a danger of getting engrossed in this holy Makom, and forgetting about the Mekomo Shel Olam. We should continue to bear in mind the unfortunate reality of Galus HaShechinah, and do what we can to allow Hashem to return to Tzion.
Speedily. We could sure use it.
"Yerushalayim Orah Shel Olam, U'mi Orah Shel Yerushalayim, HaKadosh Baruch Hu."
Good Shabbos.
*There is some discussion how this differs from the regular Halachah of not leaving a deceased unburied overnight, which applies universally. One approach is that in Yerushalayim it is prohibited even Lichvodo (to accord honor to the Meis). [Shitta Mekubetzes Bava Kamma there, and Radva"z to Rambam Beis HaBechira 7:14]. There are others.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Which Gemara does this remind you of?

Taken from Fox News report regarding Iran's nuclear program:

European nations have weighed adding a light-water reactor to a package of incentives meant to persuade Tehran to permanently give up enrichment — or face the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

But in a nationally televised speech before thousands of people in central Iran, Ahmadinejad cast scorn on the proposal.

--> "Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give some walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?" he said.

(I don't mean to take the Iran situation lightly. Frankly, it scares me. This might be my way of dealing with it.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Zionism and the Shoah - Part II

Continued from here

Criticisms of the Labor Zionists activities immediately prior to the Shoah

a) Morris Ernst (1888-1976), a human rights activist with close ties to President Roosevelt, reported the following remarks from the President:
"Well, they're right from their point of view. The Zionist movement knows that Palestine is, and will be for some time, a remittance society. They know that they can raise vast sums for Palestine by saying to donors 'there is no other place this poor Jew can go'". "But", said Roosevelt, "if there's a world political asylum for all people irrespective of race, creed or color, they can't raise their money. Because the people who don't want to give the money will have an excuse and say, 'what do you mean there's no place they can go but Palestine?' They are the preferred wards of the world".

Mr. Ernst set out to test the veracity of what he had heard and informed his Zionist friends of the White House initiative. "I assure you that I was thrown out of parlors of friends of mine. And they said very frankly, and they were right from their point of view. 'Morris', they would say, 'this is treason - you're undermining the Zionist movement.' I'd say, 'Yes, maybe I am. But I am much more interested in a haven for half a million or a million people - oppressed throughout the world." The New York Times editorialist went on to comment: "Why in G-d's name, should the fate of all those unhappy people be subordinated to a single cry of Statehood?" [Elmer Berger (no Zionist sympathizer to be sure) quoted by Rabkin, pg. 180]

b) In July 1938 President Roosevelt convened the Evian Conference to consider the problem of Jewish refugees. At that time a German offer was made to release Jews at $250 per person. The Jewish Agency, headed by Golda Meir, decided to ignore the offer.At this conference, the delegation from the Jewish Agency made no effort to influence the United States or any of the 32 other participating nations to open their gates to admit German Jews. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Awake My Glory)

c) Here is an excerpt from a 1938 speech of Haim Weizmann:
"Palestine cannot absorb the Jews of Europe. We want only the best of Jewish youth to come to us. We want only the educated to enter Palestine for the purpose of increasing its culture. The other Jews will have to stay where they are and face whatever fate awaits them. These millions of Jews are dust on the wheels of history and they may have to be blown away. We don't want them pouring into Palestine. We don't want Tel Aviv to become another low-grade ghetto."

{So, I, great-grandson of victims such as these at Auschwitz-Birkenau, must interject and ask:

Who dares ask of me to celebrate the day of the establishment of the State of Israel, with Weizmann as its first President, its face and 'model citizen'?

And who has the unmitigated gall to judge my loyalty to the Jewish people by whether I recite Tachanun on this day or not?

Dost thou perhaps begin to understand the Chazon Ish's statement "Shema Raui Haya LeKov'o Yom Taanis" (Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to establish it (the fifth of Iyyar) as a fast day)?

I would expect that at the very least you respect the genuine feelings of those who cannot wipe away the memory of the ignominious nascent stages of the State-to-be.}

A year earlier, Weizmann had used similar terms: "The elderly will disappear, their fate awaits them. They have no significance, either economic or moral. The elderly must reconcile themselves to their fate."

And human rights advocate Leonard R. Sussman, in The Christian Century publication, April 3 1963, states the unstatable: "Who can tell how many Jewish lives might have been saved from Hitler's claws if these anti-Jewish pressures exerted by Jews had not been effected?" [Rabkin, 181]

UPDATE: These posts make no attempt at dealing with the other side of the argument regarding the attitudes of those mentioned, because I am not aware of what proponents for the other side have to say in their defense, other than, "Yes, this was their position and they were correct in their assessment of the greater good." Or, "We cannot judge that period of history from today's vantage point".
I accept neither of these as valid. The first is terribly immoral, and the second is sickeningly amoral, in the face of evil.
If there are other avenues of defense, I look forward to hearing them.

To be continued...


Shabbos Leniencies of the Chazon Ish II

Continued from here:

O) The Chazon Ish would go outside on Shabbos with his coat draped around his shoulders, without inserting his arms in the sleeves.

P) The Mishnah Berurah (308:63) writes that clothing which were wet during Bein Hashemashos may not be moved for the duration of Shabbos since we apply the rule of "Miggo De'Iskatzai L'Bain HaShemashos Iskatza'i Lekulei Yoma" (Since it was Muktza during Bein Hashemashos it is Muktza for the entire day) [Note: wet clothes may not be moved because of a Gezeirah Shema Yischot - he may come to squeeze out some of the water].

The Chazon Ish held that laundry which was hanging on a clothesline, even if it was wet, during Bein HaShemashos, may be taken down off of the clothesline (Bari - once they are dry, I assume) if there is a need. Not only for the purpose of wearing the clothes, but even if the clothes were hanging in strong sunlight and getting ruined - one may take them down.

The Chazon Ish also felt that if the situation is that if he would leave the clothing hanging, they would be wet by Motzaei Shabbos, that is considered a legitimate need and one may remove those clothes on Shabbos.

Q) The Mishnah Berurah (318: 113) writes that one should be stringent in not removing food from a cooked dish which is on the fire even if it is completely cooked.

The Chazon Ish writes (Orach Chaim 37:15) that if the pot is on a stovetop which is uncovered, such that if he takes it off of the fire he will not be able to return it (due to the prohibition of Hachazarah on to an uncovered flame), and he wishes to remove some food from the pot while leaving it on the fire - his only option being taking food out while it is still on the fire, one can be lenient and remove food from the pot while it is still on the fire. (Assuming the food is fully cooked).

The reason why the Chazon Ish is lenient in this matter is, since:
1) There is a dispute among the Rishonim whether there is any prohibition at all of Hagassah (stirring) by a fully cooked dish.
2) This is not bona fide stirring, since no mixing is taking place, rather removing food from the pot.

[ The Chazon Ish felt that it was better to do the above than rely on a metal blech as a sufficient cover to allow Hachazarah ]

R) Rabbi Adlerstein reports (on the previous section of this, in the comments) that while the Mishnah Berurah is stringent in placing almost anything into a Keli Sheni, the Chazon Ish allowed placing lemon into a Kli Sheni tea.

S) The Chazon Ish allowed making ice on Shabbos.

T) The Chazon Ish allowed liquid soap, even if viscous, to be used on Shabbos, and there is no prohibition of Memachek.

U) The Mishnah Berurah (326:19) allows the placement of a hot bottle of water on the stomach on Shabbos only in a case of great necessity.

The Chazon Ish held that placing it on one's feet in order to warm up was permitted.

V) The Mishnah Berurah (340: 27) brings the opinion of the Korban Nesanel that one may not attach a safety pin to a garment.

The Chazon Ish questions the Korban Nesanel's view and holds that if in the manner the safety pin is placed it is clear that the attachment is only temporary, with the intent to remove it, there is no prohibition, since it is not considered Tofer.

Based on the Chazon Ish, it is permitted to use a safety pin to attach a pacifier to a young child's garment, if it is done in a temporary fashion.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rav Lau for President?

Harry posts today about PM Olmert perhaps backing Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, the highly respected Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, as his choice candidate for President of Israel.
Harry says that this indicates that the claims of PM Olmert being anti-Torah are thus dispelled.
I tend to disagree.
Call me cynical, but I see it as nothing more than a brilliant tactical move. Get a well-respected consensus Rabbi to calm the people down with soothing Achdus talk when Olmert carries out his disengagement plan which primarily targets the religious Zionists - the circle where Rav Lau is most respected. The President can do nothing but promote unity and tone down any threats of violence or a second Amona. It will go down as smoothly as PM Olmert can hope for, with Rav Lau condemning the violence in no uncertain terms. He will have no choice, as the "Mamlachtiut" of the position demands no less.

I would strongly urge the aristocratic Rav Lau to turn down the unenviable job of having to rubber stamp an action which may turn out to be a great Bechiya L'Dorot, especially in light of the grave, unresolved, humanitarian injustices committed against those who were expelled from Gush Katif.

Where is there an allusion to electronically delivered Divrei Torah?

This week's Torah reading!

"Im Bechukosai Teileichu"

Zogt Rashi:

"Shetihyu e-mailim BaTorah"


Artscroll Gemaras and the Holy Grail

This past Shabbos, someone asked me if there is a problem using a Kiddush cup with Hashem's Name engraved on it. (I'm not a Posek, but occasionally people ask me questions just on a preliminary basis, before they ask a Rav. I guess I look Rabbinic.)

At first thought, I wasn't sure if there would be any problem.
Here's where the ArtScroll Gemara project comes in. I teach Gemara Beki'us to twelfth graders for night Seder. The guys tend to use the Artscroll Gemaras as a bit of a crutch, so I wanted to teach a Massechta that had not yet been elucidated by ArtScroll. Massechet Arachin, being one of the last to come out, had not yet been published in the beginning of that year, so Arachin it was. The guys were a bit shocked that we were going to learn a Massechta from Seder Kodashim, but it's short enough to easily cover in a year, and it has some important Sugyas such as regarding Chinuch, Lashon Hara, Tochacha, Shira in the Beis HaMikdash, and others. It also goes a very long way in getting a good understanding of this week's Behar- Bechukosai Torah reading.
[Of course, they had the galleys from the publishing house by the time January rolled around. Some boys had an 'in' with one of the ArtScroll board members. I was a bit upset, but at least I got four months of non-crutch Gemara in. ]

So the Gemara on Arachin 6a, taught due to it being at the end of the Schottenstein Talmud project, flashed through my head. The Gemara says that if there is a Shem Hashem written on a handle of a vessel or the legs of a bed, one should remove that section with the Shem and bury it, and then one may use the rest of the vessel.

The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 6:6) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 276:13) decide the Halachah as follows:
"A vessel which has a Name of Hashem on it - one should cut off the section which has the Shem and bury that section".

[The Rambam adds that one should also excise the part of a metal vessel which has the Shem engraved upon it].

The Pischei Teshuvah (Yoreh Deah 276:(25)) brings a responsa from his grandfather, the Panim Me'iros:
An undertaker society (Chevra Kadisha, I'm assuming) had glass cups which were used for drinking, upon which were engraved some Pessukim with the Shem Havay"a as it is spelled, and one Rav prohibited them from drinking from it, as explicit in Shulchan Aruch.
He (the Panim Me'iros) discusses this point. In truth the language of the Gemara is "on handles of vessels". One could claim that (the problem is) specifically on the handles, which is a Makom Bizayon, since they are constantly being handled, and it may come to be erased, and so too on the legs of a bed (is a Makom Bizayon), but on a respectable vessel one can say that it is permissible to use since a Shem when not in its place (such as in a Sefer Torah or Tefillin) does not consecrate the entire vessel, and there is only a prohibition of using it because of Bizayon of the Shem, but where there is no concern of Bizayon of the Shem it is permissible to make use of the vessel.
If so there is a difficulty as to why the Rambam and the Mechaber write a vessel which has (a Shem) written upon it.
At any rate, the Panim Me'iros concludes that one should not be lenient in drinking from those vessels, and he leans toward the solution of wrapping gold or silk bands around the area which has the Shem, and then one may use these vessels with no need for concern.
Seemingly the same should apply to the Kiddush cup I was asked about.
If anyone out there has other information about this - share it!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Is "Hotmail" Muttar?

I have a hotmail email account, which I am switching away from. I don't know if it's like this in all locales, but I get popup ads just alongside my inbox that are unsavory.

It would seem that if there is another option for web-based email, it should be used, in line with the Gemara that states that one should not go by the women doing laundry in the river when there is another option, even if he does not gaze at the women.

That's why I switched my email account on this blog to gmail, which is Kosher (and much better anyway).

I have two gmail invites left. If anyone wants one to switch away from hotmail, or some other problematic one, email me.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Zionism and the Shoah - Part I


a) The Shoah is a highly emotionally charged subject. The criticisms laid out here may be painful to those who have been scarred, either directly or as descendants of survivors, by this most traumatic event, who find solace in the existence of a Medinah that they can call home, and that gives them a sense of Jewish pride. If you feel that criticism in this realm is painful, please accept my profuse apologies in advance, as I beg you to understand that this is not, in the slightest, my motivation for putting forth this post.
b) This post is not at all any kind of mitigation of the blood-guilt of the accursed Nazis and their collaborators, Yemach Shemam. We still await G-d's vengance upon the evildoers.
c) This is not a "Bari" post. It is a "Shema". Meaning, that the angle presented here is not one which can be empirically proven. It is an approach that some theologians and historians have taken as highly plausible, and should be part of any debate, without it being subject to summary dismissal as 'idiocy'.
d) It is important to point out that the State of Israel, until the rise to power of Menachem Begin in 1977, was run with a heavy hand in terms of which materials were permitted to be read. One could not purchase a copy of "Perfidy", by Ben Hecht, which delineates the severe actions of some of the Labor Zionist leaders in the hindrance of rescue efforts during the Shoah. The public agenda was set, firmly, by the Bolshevik Labor Zionists. Therefore, an entire generation of Jews were raised on the cause-effect relationship spin most desirable to the Zionists. Namely, that the Shoah was an inevitable outcome of the lack of a National Homeland, and that the National Homeland is the best guarantee of "Never Again". This point is abetted by some, such as Rav Herzog, claiming that this is the Third Commonwealth, which is guaranteed by the Neviim never to be destroyed. However, it is clear that there are those who debate both this cause-effect relationship, and the veracity of the 'invincibility' claim. Many luminaries, from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch down to HaRav Shach, deny the claim that the present Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael was, in the 1930s, or is, at present, immune to catastrophe, irrespective of the depths of sin we may sink to.
e) I do not wish to get into the theological placing of blame for the Shoah on the Zionist movement and the massive inroads they made into the hearts and minds of our Nation, leading them down the destructive path of Kefirah, Kochi Ve'Otzem Yadi, socialism, nationalism, and other idolatries. It does bear remembering, though, that there were great leaders of our nation who felt this way, and it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the stinging words of Rav Elchanan Wasserman in Be'Ikvesa DeMeshichah:
"Nowadays, the Jews have chosen two "idols" upon which they offer up their sacrifices. They are Socialism and Nationalism... These two forms of idol-worship have poisoned the minds and the hearts of Hebrew Youth. Each one has its tribe of false prophets in the shape of writers and speakers, who do their work to perfection. A miracle has happened: in Heaven these two idolatries have been merged into one - National-Socialism. There has been formed from them a fearful rod of wrath which hits at the Jews in all corners of the globe. The abominations to which we have bowed down strike back at us."
What is 100% clear, in my view, is that this irrational, bloodthirsty, sick, vengeful, sadistic murderous Europe-wide mega-pogrom was not due to the political and military powerlessness of the Jews, but due to the severity of the Aveiros committed by Jews. To suggest otherwise borders on heresy.
Singling out which particular iniquities brought this about is where we lack clarity, and I bring up R' Elchonon's view merely as one striking vantage-point where the Middah Kenegged Middah fairly stares one in the face. I acknowledge that there are others.
Criticisms of Zionist activities prior to the Shoah:
a) Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau were actively propogating the idea, among European leaders, that "the Jews constitute a foreign, destructive element for the countries in which they live". A minister in the government of the Emperor Franz-Joseph is quoted as follows: "If the malicious propaganda that would cast Jews as a danger to the world and as revolutionaries continues, instead of establishing a Jewish State the Zionists will bring about the destruction of the Jews of Europe". [Prof. Yakov Rabkin, A Threat From Within, pg. 174]
b) Prior to the war, in Ze'ev Jabotinsky's broadcasts over the official polish radio and in articles published in the press in several countries, he lashed out at Germany. Nazi leaders mentioned his articles published and speeches as those of someone who had quite openly "revealed the plans of his race" and who, "to the horror of the other Elders of Zion, spoke more plainly than they would have liked" (Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet; quoted by Rabkin, 176)
c) "At that time these unthinking (the Jewish “leaders”) rose up in their places of security in the free lands and they cast ridicule upon Hitler and enraged him by their irresponsible demonstrations and speeches…and they kindled his wrath by the reckless boycott. All this was in the year 5693 (1933) when the nations were still at peace with this evil one (Hitler) and there was no way other than humility and negotiation by persuasion. But these self-ordained leaders acted according to the opposite of wisdom and the opposite of the oath imposed by G-d (not to arouse the nations by open opposition), and they had a great share in arousing the frenzy of the mad dog to the highest degree” (Min Hametzar, Rabbi M. D. Weismandl).
[I should note that this is hard to comprehend due to our sensibilities being offended by being "led as sheep to the slaughter". But we may want to consider viewing this period of time (1933) as a lone sheep biting one of the rabid, slumbering wolves ready to pounce on her]
d) Several influential Rabbis, including Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, who taught at the time at the prestigious Berlin Rabbinerseminar, opposed the boycott and the anti-German propaganda that accompanied it, both of which they saw as dangerous and irresponsible. The American historian Marc Shapiro writes that a considerable number of rabbinic authorities, including Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, Rav Elchanan, and the Satmar Rebbe, rejected the boycott as an attitude contrary to Jewish tradition. [Rabkin, 176]
e) Rabbi Yosef Zvi Duschinsky, representing the traditional Ashkenazi community before the UN in 1947, declared that Zionism had been the root cause of violence and friction with the [local - my own (Bari's) addition, as per testimony of Jewish inhabitants of Chevron] Arabs , which forced the British government to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine from 1930 on. Zionism is thus presented as an obstacle to the salvation of millions of Jews from the Shoah:
"the colossal massacre of millions of of our brethren at the hands of Nazism during the second world war might have been averted to a very substantial degree for many of them might have been able to live peacefully in the Holy Land as there would not have been the slightest justification for the limitations of Jewish immigration as have in fact been enforced during the last decade." (Rabbi Duschinsky's statement at the UN, as quoted by Rabkin, 174).
To be continued...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rabbeinu Yonah on Darfur

Rabbeinu Yonah, Commentary to Pirkei Avos, Chapter 3 Mishnah 2:

"Rabbi Chaninah Segan HaKohanim says, pray for the welfare of the monarchy, for were it not for trepidation of it, a man would swallow his fellow alive."

'This statement is meant to express the idea that a person should daven for peace in the entire world and to feel pain when others suffer; and this is the way of the Tzaddikim, as David Alav HaShalom, said (Tehillim 35:13) "And I, when they take ill, my clothes are sackcloth, I afflict my soul with fasting".

For a person should not make his supplications and requests solely for his own needs, rather he should daven for all human beings that they be in a peaceful environment, and when there is peace of the monarchy, there is peace in the world.'

Amen Kein Yehi Ratzon.

Good Shabbos.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Problematic Legacy of Rav Soloveitchik

The orange embers of a thirteen year old controversy have been fanned. The echoes of the '93 Jewish Observer obituary of 'Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Zichrono Livracha' have reverberated once again, for those with an ear to the J-Blog world to hear, with the aid of some amplification by those most offended by the obituary, or others who would speak in their name.

At the outset I want to express my opinion that the timing for such an obituary, which undeniably contains many points which are 'not-so-subtle' digs, as R' Gil calls them, was unfortunate and insensitive.

However, since thirteen years have passed since then, let us examine a sore point in the legacy of this great Rosh Yeshiva, and see if we can understand some of the frustration of those who mis-utilized the occasion of his passing to paint a less-than-perfect picture of the man so many thousands refer to as their Rav.

Yes, many thousands. And among them, people who feel they have absorbed the core elements of Rav Soloveitchik's philosophy in regard to Orthodoxy's role in the modern world. People who, in the view of the overwhelming majority of the Roshei Yeshiva who sat at his feet and toiled over his Torah thoughts, have distorted what 'the Rav' stood for both beyond recognition, and beyond the pale of Torah-true Orthodoxy.

"Edah Conference Claims Legacy of Rav Soloveitchik" blared a February of '99 headline of the Forward newspaper. Edah, guilty, in the view of five of the most prominent Roshei Yeshiva at RIETS, of Ziyuf HaTorah, breaches of Tzenius, and a haughty accusatory finger pointed at Rov Minyan Ubinyan of Shomrei Torah UMitzvos as somehow lacking sensitivity to the need for additional avenues of 'spirtiual expression and equality' for the women who feel 'unfulfilled' in their traditional, box-seat-in-Olam-Haba-earning, role.

Advocates who rush to the defense of Rav Soloveitchik will be quick to point out that many other Roshei Yeshiva have had Talmidim espouse philosophies incongruous with that of their mentors. They will point to such figures as Philip Berg of the Kabbalah Center, attendee of Torah VaDaas; a long list of Conservative Rabbis hailing from the hoary Torah institutions of America; and perhaps even hark back to the pre-War era of Europe, citing name after name of students of Volozhin, Slabodka, the Mirrer Yeshiva, and other citadels of Torah who were decidedly not representative of what those Roshei Yeshiva stood for.

These advocates would be missing the point entirely. Of course many Talmidim of the greatest Roshei Yeshiva in history have fallen into philosophies antithetical to, or distorting of, that of the Torah. But not one of them would lay claim to being the true bearers of the legacy of those Torah leaders. Bialik would never claim to be the true banner bearer for the Netziv, nor Berg for Rav Gedaliah Schorr, nor any Conservative Rabbi alumnus of Chaim Berlin for Rav Hutner.

Saul Berman and his group unabashedly lay claim to being the true Torah heirs to Rav Soloveitchik's weltanschaung.

The ability of MeZayefei Torah to lay claim to being his legatees, leaving the right wing segment of his Talmidim unable to categorically refute this claim as illegitimate, is testimony to the veracity of the assertion that Rav Soloveitchik did not do enough to cement his legacy as an unyielding defender of the Messorah.

Let us closely examine one element of Rabbi Moshe Tendler's indignant refutation of the 'digs' at Rav Soloveitchik sprinkled throughout this obituary:

"g) Wolpin cites the Jewish Week -an anti-Torah, Orthodox-bashing publication - to denigrate the Rav as one who vacillated on major issues confronting the Jewish community. In his zeal to belittle the Torah and its learners, he is prepared to accept the Jewish Week as a source of truth. How cheap can you get!?"

I understand this. But, where is the refutation of the substance of this claim? Wolpin is quoting the Jewish Week as an apt expression of his own feelings, not as a source for factual information. Why was the assertion not disproved in toto, instead of questioning the use of this publication as the source for it?

Apparently, there is some difficulty in expressing a categorical denial of the seeming lack of zeal on the part of this Marbitz Torah par excellence (no cynicism intended at all) to discredit all illegitmate pretenders to the mantle of leadership of the Modern Orthodox world.

Unfortunately, it seems that the wild-growing weeds not tended to by this masterful gardener of the 'vineyard of Yavneh', will mar the beauty of the Orthodox landscape for the foreseeable future.
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