Drinking coffee from a cafe. Is it permitted?


Melbourne, Australia is renowned for the quality of its coffee and the abundance of chic cafes. My parent’s generation religiously quaffed a good cup of tea after dinner. This was a ritual. Coffee in Europe was perhaps more the domain of the “more cultured” countries, including Italy, Austria, and Greece. The shtetl in Poland wasn’t exactly a place where one could obtain a more refined cup of “Kaveh”. Over time, coffee consumption increased even for Holocaust survivors, who would start the day with a cup accompanying their breakfast. Of course, the coffee was often instant coffee, but it succeeded in nourishing a “caffeine hit” and fueled the ubiquitous Yom Kippur withdrawal headache. As time marched on, and new generations were born, a more sophisticated approach to coffee made its way into homes. Multiculturalism also gave rise to a range of cafes strategically positioned to entice a passerby.

These days, fancy coffee and cafes are everywhere. Indeed, even in Israel, I noticed an improvement in quality, though Israel still has some catching up to do in this regard. Homes now commonly employ a Nespresso-style coffee pod machine (or in the USA a Keurig machine).

Milk Alternatives

Another significant change has been the rise of nonlactose (non cow-based) milk. Let’s call them “alternative” milk. The demand for such milk has grown due to a number of factors-lactose intolerance, vegetarian and vegan demands, and somewhat unproven theories linking milk to a bevy of illnesses. One other benefit of alternative milk is that it is potentially Pareve. Unlike the older style parve coffee creamers, which were a chemical mash-up of all manner of “delights”, alternative milk, in theory, is basically derived from a grain or legume and the addition of water.

To be sure, it isn’t the case that every alternative milk is simply kosher. Every reputable kosher agency publishes a list of alternative milk products which are acceptable from a Halachic standpoint. Indeed, even those which are kosher are sometimes also designated as “DE-Dairy Equipment” which means that they should not be consumed together with a mouthful of meat or chicken.

For those who drink only supervised Chalav Yisrael cow’s milk and do not rely on the leniency of Chalav Stam, alternative milk can be a blessing. However, a DE designation may still change the rules. For them, even though the alternative milk is kosher since it may have shared an equipment line with non-Chalav Yisrael equipment, the DE classification would be moot. This isn’t universal. Non-Chassidim, who otherwise only consume supervised Chalav Yisrael, may nonetheless follow the rulings of Rav Henkin z”l (Teshuvos Ibra 43), as quoted by the CRC), Rav Kaminetsky (Emes LeYaakov p308 as quoted by Rav Jachter) Rav Belsky and others who do not extend the stringency of Chalav Yisrael to vessels/Kelim. For others, notably Chassidim, DE is meaningless if it shares equipment with Chalav Akum and has the same prohibition as Chalav Akum.

So where does this leave us vis-à-vis the contemporary barista coffee shop?

Barista Coffee

A typical machine looks something like this.

Essentially, coffee beans are ground and placed in the portafilter and then attached to the group head. Hot water is then pumped through the portafilter dripping freshly brewed coffee into a cup placed on the tray. Assuming that the coffee beans are not flavoured or oiled in some unacceptable manner, this part of the process ought not to present a Kosher concern. Therefore, someone who orders an espresso or a long black in a disposable cup should be pretty safe from a kashrus perspective. As in all such questions, one should not assume that this blog functions as a Halachic arbiter. Readers should discuss this with their competent local orthodox Rabbi. For Sefardim, a glass cup may be acceptable. Regular crockery presents more of a problem.

The plot thickens (sic) when we introduce the frothed milk or frothed alternative milk. Firstly, is all the regular milk used in the Cafe (especially for those who rely on Chalav Stam) actually Kosher Milk? These days, milk isn’t always “just milk” from the cow. Various additives are commonly introduced and one would need to be sure that the brand of regular milk being used is actually approved by the local kosher authority. Let’s assume that things are simpler and that the Cafe always uses a common brand of milk which is also Kosher (one would need to eyeball the milk and note that they use a fixed brand).

Next, the milk (regular or alternative) is poured into a stainless steel pot that looks like this

The steam wand pictured above is inserted into the pot and, using the steam control, the milk is frothed (yes it could be for a cappuccino, flat white, latte, macchiato, כפה הפוך, and more). The frothed milk is then poured over the freshly brewed black coffee and served in a disposable cup (as above). It’s yours after you part ways with 4-7 dollars.

Introduction of alternative milk

These days the alternatives to cow’s milk are ubiquitous. Almost every coffee shop offers a choice of soy, oat, almond milk, and more. The coffee is made in the same way except that the alternative milk that is now frothed in the pot (which is commonly rinsed in between cups with a hot gush of water) is one of the alternative milk, and shares the use of the steaming wand.

The reality is that some of the alternative kinds of milk are simply not approved by a local kashrut authority. In my experience, after asking which brand of alternative milk a given shop is using, it is very common for at least one of the above alternative kinds of milk to be not approved or not kosher. This reality presents a major problem. Even if one were to ask for a soy latte, and observe that the soy milk being used is of the kosher variety, since that pot and wand is used to froth at high temperatures with one or more non-kosher varieties (and the pot is obviously not kashered in between cups) then the resultant soy latte presents a serious kashrus question.

I know that many יראי שמים do buy a takeaway non-black coffee (with milk or a parve otherwise kosher alternative milk). I wondered whether perhaps I was not across all the halachic parameters and was needlessly alarmist in my thinking.

I discussed the matter with a number of local Rabbis who were somewhat silent but acknowledged the issue. Eventually, I wrote to Rav Yosef Rimon, a respected Posek and educator, who has visited Melbourne on a number of occasions. Rav Rimon answers promptly.

Rav Rimon answered (my adapted translation)

According to your description, some of the milk may not be kosher. If so, it is very possible that non kosher cooking within a 24 hour period occurred, and if so it [the pot] cannot be used anyway. Even if it is known that the pot hadn’t been used for 24 hours, in the first instance (Lechatchila) it would not be permitted and any Heter might only be permitted after the fact, BeDieved.

Therefore, it is difficult to permit and one has to make sure that all types of milk used there are kosher or that they use utensils that never contain milk of any type about which there is a kosher concern.

Personal communication March 9, 2023

In conclusion

It appears to me that unless a given coffee shop or cafe is absolutely known and verified to not be using any brand of non-kosher/approved milk or milk alternative, it would be forbidden to purchase a takeaway cup of non-black coffee. This must be checked, and indeed, a proprietor might be given a list of kosher milk to use as this would benefit religious Jews who wish to patronise their establishment.

If your Posek has a different view, do let me know in the comments section.

Record of correspondence

Here is the text of the question that I sent.

כבוד הרב,

אני כותב אודות בתי קפה בחו’’ל

לפני כמה שנים המצב היה פשוט יותר. למי שסמך על ההיתר של הגרמ’’פ זצ’’ל בדין של חלב ישראל ואחרים שסברו וסוברים כמוהו במדינות מתורבתות עם חוקים נוקשים לגבי מרכיבי מזון וזיוף, היו שנכנסו לבתי קפה וקנו כוס קפה שהוגשה בכוס חד פעמית או בכוס זכוכית (אני מתאר לעצמי שכוס רגילה היא יותר בעייתית) הקפה נעשה על ידי טחינת הפולים, מים חמים ותוספת חלב מוקצף. החלב המוקצף נעשה על ידי החדרת זרבובית מחוממת שהתיזה אוויר חם לתוך סיר מתכת קטן המכיל חלב. כמובן, היו וריאציות על כמות החלב והסגנון, ואלה נקראים בשמות שונים כולל ’’קפוצ’ינו, אמריקנו, לאטה’’ ועוד. יש אנשים אחרים, כולל כאלה אינם מקילים אל פי הפסק של ר׳ משה, ושותים רק קפה שחור.

(אגב אני יודע שיש חשש במדינות מסוימות בנוגע להליכים וטרינריים המקלים על הצטברות גז בפרות, כך שהנהלים הללו יכולים להפוך את הפרות לטריפות ויש שסוברים שזה דין רוב ואינו מיעוט שאינו מצוי. אני לא כותב אודות פרות כאלה ––– פה, הזנת הפרה היא דשא, והבעיה אינה שכיחה כלל.)

עכשיו אני פונה לשאלה בזמנינו.
ידוע, קיימים כיום סוגים חלופיים רבים של חלב ללא לקטוז, ביניהם סויה, שקדים, שיבולת שועל ועוד. כאשר מכינים קפה באמצעות חלבים אלטרנטיביים אלה, התהליך זהה, אלא שסיר הפלדה המשמש להקצפה של החלב מכיל את מוצר החלב אלטרנטיביים האלה. מוט ההקצפה שמרסס את האוויר החם משמש במשותף עם חלב רגיל ובין החלב באלטרניטיביים, אך מנוקה בין כל כוס עם סמרטוט, ולפעמים עם פרץ של אוויר חם מהמוט לפני ניגוב על ידי הסמרטוט.

כאן, ובמדינות מערביות אחרות בחו’’ל, לא כל סוג של סויה, שיבולת שועל, שקדים או חלב אחר מקבל הכשר. יש רשימה של חלבים כשרים ידועים, ובחנות ספציפית, כל אחד מהחלבים האלטרנטיביים שבהם הם משתמשים עלולים להיות לא כשרים. אפשר וצריך כמובן לשאול באיזה חלב אלטרנתיבי ספציפי שהם משתמשים, וגם לראות את קופסה. זה לא כך רגיל שבית קפה ישתמש רק בסוגים הכשרים של חלב אלטרנטיבי. סביר הרבה יותר, אם לא כמעט בטוח, שלפחות אחד מהחלבים האלטרנטיביים שהם משתמשים בהם אינו כשר.

ולכן, על פי הנאמר למעלה, יש שאלה על קניית קפה בבתי שפה אפילו עם חלב רגיל כשהשתמשות בסיר הפלדה ומוט ההקצפה בין כוס קפה לכוס קפה יכול להיות לפני כן עם חלב אלטרנטיבי לא כשר. שניהם––המוט וסיר הפלדה הם בוודאי בחום של יד סולדת. בדרך כלל, איך שאני ראיתי, שותפים את הסיר בין כוס קפה על ידי זרם מים.

הנה, בשולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות הכשר וטבילת כלים סימן קכב סעיף ו כתוב:

“אף על פי כן אסור לומר לעובד כוכבים: בשל לי ירקות בקדרתך, וכן לא יאמר לו: עשה לי מרקחת, שכל האומר: בשל לי, הרי הוא כאלו בישל בידיו”
(גם אם הבליעה יהא בטל, או אינו בן יומו, או טעם פגום או בטל)

שלכאורה, לפי זה ועוד, יהיה לכאורה אסור לקנות קפה בחנות כשידוע שמשתמשים באפילו סוג אחד של חלב שאין לו הכשר? (לפי הועדת הכשרות במדינה).

(כאמור, בחנויות הם שותפים את סיר הפלדה מהר בזרם מים בין כל כוס וכוס … והם מנגבים את מוט ההקצפה בין שימוש לשימוש)

and here is the response

מקווה שעבר עליכם פורים בטוב
לפי הנתונים שלכם חלק מהחלב איננו כשר. אם כך, ייתכן מאוד שהיה בישול אפילו בן יומו לא כשר, ואם כך ממילא אי אפשר להשתמש. גם אם ידוע שזה לא בן יומו, ההיתר יהיה בדיעבד ולא לכתחילה.

לכן קשה להתיר וצריך לדאוג שכל סוגי החלב יהיו כשרים או שישתמשו בכלים שבוודאי לא היה בהם חלב מכל סוג שיש לגביו חשש כשרות.

בהצלחה רבה בע”ה

יוסף צבי רימון

Should we visit grave sites?

לעילוי נשמת אמי מורתי מרת אלקה בת ר׳ צבי ע’’ה

The following is written in memory of my mother, Mrs. Elka Balbin a”h on the occasion of her second Yohr Tzeit, כ”ט שבט.

I miss her incessantly, and not a day goes by without reflecting on her as my biggest supporter—a constant force of positivity and giving. She was a מעיין חי— a living spring—who doled out and infused us with love with every interaction.

During the first year, there was a period during the pandemic, when the Shules were closed, and I could not personally recite קדיש. Like many in this situation, this was disturbing. I looked here and there to make sense of the situation and to see what could be done to “compensate”. I had some ideas and rang מורי ורבי רב שכטר שליט”א, expressing my angst. רב שכטר responded with a comforting thought.

“What are you concerned about? Hashem asks us to follow the Halacha, and He has His ways. We say קדיש for Aliyas HaNeshama, to raise the level of the Neshama and to give a זכות to the נפטרת. Your mother was clearly a type of Neshama who didn’t need such “heavy lifting” and the fact that you couldn’t say קדיש for some time, no doubt had no negative effect above.”

He didn’t know my mother, but his comment was entirely apt.

Surely, everyone visits the בית עולם?

At first glance, based on mimetic tradition, people clearly do go to the בית עולם and visit the graves of their relatives. Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik famously wrote an important essay (with a recent follow-up, which is on my seemingly ever-growing “to be read” list) about the importance of mimetic tradition. It would, therefore, appear to be an open and shut case. Ironically, the mimetic tradition of the Soloveitchik family was not to visit the dearly departed at the בית עולם. That mimetic tradition can be traced back to the Vilna Gaon, who was against the practice of visiting the dead at their resting place. The Gaon wrote a letter to his wife (some have claimed this was specifically to women, though the practice of his students does not support that claim) stating:

“ותישמר שלא תלך לבית הקברות כלל וכלל

Be careful. Do not go to the Cemetery, ever.

אגרות הגר”א ט

Indeed, Rabbi Dr. Soloveitchik’s illustrious father, the Rav זצ’ל, wrote:

“The Gaon of Vilna, R. Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, his son R. Hayyim, his grandson, R. Moshe, R. Elijah Pruzena [Feinstein] never visited cemeteries and never prostrated themselves upon the graves of their ancestors. The memory of death would have distracted them from their intensive efforts to study the Torah.”

Halachic Man (page 30)

On both sides of the Rav’s family: Soloveitchik and Feinstein, there was no tradition to visit the בית הקברות. There are two things of note in this statement of the Rav.

  1. He describes two separate categories: (a) visiting a cemetery and (b) prostrating upon a grave at a cemetery
  2. He provides a reason for not visiting.

I think both of these points are noteworthy in the context of this ensuing discussion. Are there some who visit (perhaps more than four Amos from a grave) but do not prostrate? Is there a problem for a simpler person, who is not as intense with their Torah studies, to visit the cemetery? I do not know the answer to these questions, though they can be interpolated into the analysis.

Interestingly, the Rav found this restriction exceedingly difficult to sustain once his wife passed away, and felt it necessary to visit her grave in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, admitting to breaking with his family tradition. This was not automatic: the Rav kept his Brisker family traditions, zealously.

It would perhaps be intellectually lazy to assume that the reason one ought not to visit a cemetery is because of the frequency of pervasive metaphysical קליפות – impure forces of Halachic Tumah – at a cemetery. It would appear that if one kept four Amos (about two meters or 6.5 feet) away from an actual grave (as we Cohanim do anyway) then a concern of Tumah impurity is not germane. Therefore, if Tumah was the underlying reason for avoiding the cemetery, one could qualify the advice by saying “You may visit but don’t get too close”

I have often wondered whether a Cohen needs to wash his hands when leaving the בות עולם given that he doesn’t approach within the four Amos. (I found that both the Pri Megadim, in his Eshel Avraham 21, states that in such a circumstance a Cohen would not need to wash, see also the Chayyei Adam in 135:25)

The Gemara in Brachos 3b states that it is forbidden to say any Dvar Torah near a grave. This is codified by the Rambam (הל’ אבל פ”יג ה”ט) . Tosfos (ב”ק טז:, ד”ה שהושיבו) explains that this is okay as long as it is at a distance of four Amos. The Shulchan Aruch, however, does permit it even within four Amos (יו”ד סי’ שד”מ סעיף י”ז). Some Acharonim were careful nonetheless and distanced themselves by four Amos. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch itself states (and is supported by the Shach (סי’ שס”ז ס”ק ג’)

שאחר שנגמר סתימת הקבר נעפר… מרחיקין מעט מבית הקברות ואומרים קדיש

After the burial one moves away a little from the the cemetery (!) and says Kaddish

יו”ד שע”ו סעיף ד’

R’ Chaim Vital (1542-1620) quotes his teacher the AriZal (also recorded by the Magen Avraham (או”ח סוף סי’ תקנ”ט))

ותמיד צריך להיות רחוק ד’ אמות מן הקברות

One should always be at least four Amos from a grave

שערי רוח הקודש, תיקון י”ב

Leaning on and/or touching the gravesite/Matzeyva would possibly be considered akin to prostrating, though I hasten to add that this is not necessarily so, especially outside of Israel, where the dead are buried in a coffin. I won’t go into detail here, but note that there is a Halachic question whether טומאה בוקעת – Tumah escapes upwards – when there is a gap within the structure of a coffin. I know of at least one local Rabbi who is a Cohen who does approach the tombstone, based on this question. In addition, there is a question of whether something buried deeper than Ten Tefachim is in a separate רשות, but this beyond of the scope of this post.

Tumah/Impurity, though, was seemingly not the source for the practice of the Vilna Gaon and his family, and those who follow the Brisker tradition on this (like מורי ורבי ר׳ שכטר שליט”א). As is well known, rulings of the Rambam are often a reason to adopt a stricture for those whose mimetic tradition derives from the practices of the Vilna Gaon.

The position of the Rambam

It appears then that the source for that tradition is a lesser-known statement by the Rambam in הלכות אבל (which curiously is inserted in the ספר שופטים of the Rambam’s משנה תורה)

והצדיקים אין בונים להם נפש על קברותיהם …ולא יפנה אדם לבקר הקברות

רמב”ם הלכות אבל ד: ד

Rabbi Touger’s excellent translation of the Rambam renders this

Markings are made on the graves. A tombstone is placed on the grave. For the righteous, by contrast, a tombstone is not placed, because their words will cause them to be remembered; a person will not need to visit in the cemeteries.


According to the Rambam, the reason that we put a tombstone on the grave is to remind and inspire us about the person who is buried there, presumably through some choice words etched on the tombstone. However, since the words of a Righteous Tzadik remind us of their memory and inspiration, no tombstone should be placed on the grave of a Tzadik! Indeed, R’ Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe (יורה דעה ד:נז) interprets this Rambam as implying that it is forbidden to do so and can be seen as insulting to the Tzadik!

Another reason for Tombstones, not brought here, is to mark out the perimeter of the grave so that Cohanim don’t accidentally wander and become impure (see ריש לקיש היה מציין קברי תלמידי חכמים, רש’’י בבא מציעא פה, ב).

We make the following observations:

  1. Touger appears to interpret the Rambam’s advice not to visit gravesites as pertaining to the graves of Tzadikim. That is, one might be able to visit an ordinary person’s gravesite.
  2. Touger appears to reinterpret or qualify the Rambam’s words as somewhat less than a prohibition. Touger interprets the words ולא יפנה as a person “will not need” to visit a gravesite. In other words, according to Touger, the Rambam isn’t expressing a black and white view of what a person is permitted and not permitted to do. Rather, a person is permitted to visit a grave. A/The (prime) purpose of visiting a grave is to be inspired by the deeds, words, and memory of the person buried there. In the case of an ordinary person, this is a side effect induced by reading the Matzeyva. In the case of a Tzadik, however, visiting the grave in order to be inspired is not necessary. The Tzadik’s monumental legacy and inspiration is not their Tombstone, but rather the Torah and good deeds that they have spread in this world. That Torah is prevalent at all places and time without needing a visit to the cemetery in order to be (re)exposed and (re)inspired.

Simply speaking, dare I say rationally speaking, one can read the Rambam’s choice of words of ולא יפנה differently. The Rambam is giving advice to the person who seeks inspiration and/or motivation. Though it is true that reading the Matzeyvos of ordinary people may well prove to be stimulating, it is better for a person to not “choose to frequent” the Cemetery [for this purpose]. Certainly, the greatest inspiration is in the memory of the Tzadikim, and the greatest stimulation is not provided by their graveside. Rather, one should study the Torah of Tzadikim. That Torah is accessible at any time. One need not be involved looking for a פנאי – an opportunity – to visit the cemetery in order to be energised and invigorated by their memory and Torah.

Examples of this phenomenon abound. Indeed, in the Rav’s own writings, he constantly refers to the Torah and examples of his forebears with palpable inspiration. According to the Rambam then, what is to be gained by actually visiting the gravesite?

The commonly cited source of the Rambam for not building a monument over the grave of a Tzadik is

תַּנֵּי. רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר. אֵין עוֹשִׂין נְפָשׁוֹת לַצַּדִּיקִים. דִּבְרֵיהֶן הֵן זִכְרוֹנָן

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, one does not build mausoleums for the just; their words are their remembrance

Yerushalmi Shekalim

And a source for his view to avoid visiting the cemetery is possibly

כל המקבל עליו ארבעה דברים [מקבלין אותו] להיות חבר אינו הולך לביתהקברות

Anyone who accepts upon himself four things [will be accepted] into the fellowship: that he will not go into a cemetery

אבות דרבי נתן מא ח

Did the Rambam’s view become the common Halacha? What do the commentators on the Rambam write?

Position of the Radvaz

The Radvaz (1479-1573) explains

פירוש “לבקר הקברות” הוא לפתוח הקבר לפקוד את המת וזה יש בו מדרכי האמורי, אבל לפקוד הקברות מבחוץ אין חשש בזה וכן נהגו כל ישראל לפקוד את מתיהם ולהשתטח על קבריהם

רדב”ז הלכות אבל ד:ד

that the Rambam was certainly not discouraging people from visiting a gravesite. The Radvaz focuses on the word לבקר הקברות from which he derives that the Rambam was concerned that people were copying the ways of the אמורי which is forbidden. The “ways of the Emori” pertains to practices and superstitions that are forbidden but were occasionally temporarily practised by ignorant Jews. The practice of the אמורי in this context is recorded in the minor tractate of שמחות as

יוצאין לבית הקברות ופוקדין על המתים עד ג׳ ימים ואין חוששין משום דרכי האמורי

We go out to the cemetery and examine the dead within three days and do not fear [being suspected of] superstitious practices

מסכת שמחות פרק שמיני

The practice used to be that the “”lid of the coffin” was opened during the first three days after death to double-check that the person was not buried alive. Apparently, there were cases where someone was incorrectly assumed to be dead. According to Mesechta Semachos, it is okay to perform this check for the first three days because it would not be assumed that it is being done for superstitious reasons (דרכי אמורי) however after three days this practice was forbidden. The Rambam, based on the understanding of the Radvaz, interprets the meaning of the word לבקר as opening the coffin at any time after burial. The Radvaz explains that this is what the Rambam meant when he expressed the view that one should not visit the grave. Visit here means for the purpose of opening the coffin, as above. According to the Radvaz then, it would appear that an ordinary visit, these days, was not something that the Rambam was writing about. In order to make this interpretation, the Radvaz would need to consider the previous statement about Tzadikim not having Matzeyvos, as something completely independent and not at all linked to the prohibited form of visitation. The interpretation of the Radvaz is not the only one.

The view of the Chasam Sofer

The Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) makes important points about both מסכת שמחות and the רמבם in his responsa (יורה דעה של”ח, בד”ה וע”ד הברייתא). He contends that a daily visit for the first three days is far-fetched and most unlikely to discover the unfortunate case of someone who was effectively buried alive! Surely, the fact that they were covered with earth (even in the days when they buried people in caves) would make it nigh on impossible to discover a mistaken burial. In the least, one would need a full-time guard for all of three days who was highly attuned to any slight movement of soil, reacting quickly. Quoting the Yerushalmi, at the end of the second chapter of Sanhedrin, the Chasam Sofer writes that there was a time when the custom was to have a two-stage burial. The first stage was a “temporary” stage, at which time there was no formal burial under the earth. This could have been achieved by secreting the body in the caverns in a rock face or similar. At a later stage, the bones were extracted and traditionally buried. During that first stage, claims the Chasam Sofer, it was possible for an occasional error, and so they used to visit for the first 3 days to be sure. However, since that time, this practice was no longer observed. As such, the Rambam writes, based on the explanation of the Radvaz, that after burial, one should not visit the grave to open the grave in order to check if the person actually died. Anyone doing so was clearly following דרכי אמורי (who also did this for a lot longer than just three days because they attributed some mystical experience around the spirit of the dead) and therefore such visitation is clearly forbidden.

Based on this explanation of the Radvaz, through the lens of the Chasam Sofer, the immediately preceding comment of the Rambam about not placing a tombstone on the grave of a Tzadik, is a separate and disconnected Halacha. Following on from that Halacha, the Rambam adds that one should not visit the cemetery for the purpose of checking, as above.

Islamic Practice

There are some who postulate that the word לבקר of the Rambam is a translation of the Arabic זיארה Ziara which was perhaps the practice of pilgrimage in Islam (outside of the Hajj according to some) and it was this practice that the Rambam was concerned about. Interestingly, it is the Shiites who have the practice of visiting graves. The Sunnis consider this practice heretical. In the Rambam’s Egypt, the vast majority were Sunni.

The position of the Rivash

The Rivash (1326-1408) in his Responsa תכ”א draws our attention to a question of differing versions of the Rambam’s text. We had explained that some interpret the word לבקר in our text of the Rambam to be about visiting and checking to see if the person is possibly alive. The Rivash notes another נוסח which excludes the word לבקר—to visit.

ולא יפנה אדם לבית הקברות

and therefore plainly means

“don’t turn towards the cemetery”.

What does “turn” mean in the context? It means don’t turn your attention to the cemetery. Why not? Based on the preceding comments: in the case of a Tzadik, one would be better advised to be inspired by the Torah and spiritual output of the deceased. In the case of an ordinary person with a formal tombstone and fancy wording, the Rambam is saying “don’t be distracted by such things”. The Rivash considers the comments about monuments and visiting a cemetery as strongly linked to each other, as opposed to independent statements.

The Chasam Sofer eventually concludes his treatment and states that the statements are linked and that the Rambam extends the words of Mesechta Semachos and prohibits going to the cemetery even before three days have elapsed.

The author of the Shulchan Aruch, R’ Yosef Karo (1488–1575) in his Kesef Mishna commentary on that Rambam, learns plainly like the Rivash before him that the Rambam discourages if not “prohibits” visiting a cemetery. I have used italics because the Rambam doesn’t express this using clearly normative prohibitive language.

Given the above, how are we to understand the Rambam elsewhere?

אַחַר שֶׁמִּתְפַּלְּלִין יוֹצְאִין כָּל הָעָם לְבֵית הַקְּבָרוֹת וּבוֹכִין וּמִתְחַנְּנִים שָׁם

[ In all places where these seven fasts are decreed ] all the people go out to the cemetery after praying and weep and offer supplication


Clearly, the Rambam has no problem with going to the Cemetery on a Fast day in order to be inspired by the spectre of death, in order to motivate repentance. What is the intention of going to the cemetery on a fast day? The Gemara in Taanis 16a describes two reasons given by Tanoim: (a) the spectre of death induces Teshuvah, or (b) so that the dead will ask for mercy on our behalf. The Rambam adopted the first view, that the atmosphere was conducive to Teshuva, as opposed to the suggestion that one might “interact” with the departed while there. This can be seen as consistent with his previously mentioned view. One should avoid going to the cemetery unless there is an external factor (such as the need for Teshuva on a fast, or giving honour on a Yohr Tzeit). That is, do not frequent the Beis HaKevaros.

According to the Radvaz, there is seemingly no issue to visit if there is no intention to open the coffin. Based on the Kesef Mishna, Rivash and others, one could say that perhaps the Rambam was opposed to using the motivation of the בית הקברות in general, and most specifically, in respect of visiting the graves of Tzadikim—special people. Instead, the Rambam encouraged connecting and being inspired through their Torah instead. This would not preclude going on a Fast day, such as one held due to a lack of rain, or seemingly other occasions, such as a Yohr Tzeit.

Sources for visitation

The earliest example of visiting a gravesite is brought in :סוטה לד regarding Calev who went to Chevron to pray at the Mearas Hamachpela so that he wouldn’t fall under the spell of the spies. Another example is in :בבא מציעא פה regarding someone who prostrated himself on the grave of Rav Chiya, as well as the story about Rav Mani in :תענית כג who was persecuted until he too went to prostrate himself.

At the end of Yevamos, the Gemara describes the story of a certain lady, whose husband had apparently been murdered, who went to the Rabbis on three occasions to obtain permission to remarry. What were those three occasions? Rashi writes:

– שהיו תלמידי חכמים נקבצים לשמוע דרשה הלכות פסח בפסח והיתה שואלת מהם. ובתשובת הגאונים מצאתי כל הנך ריגלי דאמוראי היינו יום שמת בו אדם גדול קובעים אותו לכבודו ומדי שנה בשנה כשמגיע אותו יום מתקבצים תלמידי חכמים מכל סביביו ובאים על קברו עם שאר העם להושיב ישיבה שם

בד”ה תלתא ריגלי

Rashi quotes the responsa of the Geonim which states that these three occasions were a time when the great Rabbis used to gather each year on a famous Yohr Tzeit, at which time they gathered at the grave in honour of the day. Clearly, according to Rashi quoting the Geonim, there was a custom to go the gravesite on a Yohr Tzeit. Was the Rambam arguing with the Geonim and Rashi? Perhaps the Rambam’s advice not to visit graves is limited to those times where it is not traditional to go, such as on a fast day or a Yohr Tzeit. Perhaps this is why he used the words ולא יפנה which might mean “don’t clear your diary” on a given day, so to speak, and go to cemeteries, even if your motive is to be inspired (as opposed to grieving). This idea is perhaps expressed by the Mishna Brurah (quoting the Maharil)

דבית הקברות הוא מקום מנוחת הצדיקים והתפלה נתקבלה שם יותר, אך אל ישים מגמתו נגד המתים אך יבקש מהש”י שיתן עליו רחמים בזכות הצדיקים שוכני עפר ויקיף הקברות ויתן צדקה קודם שיאמר התחנות

The Cemetery is a place of rest for the Tzaddikim and one’s prayers are accepted there more readily, however, one should not place his expectations “on the shoulders” of the departed, but rather, one should ask Hashem to be merciful in the merit of the Tzadikim who reside in the earth and he should walk around the graves and give Tzedaka before he utters supplications.

(משנה ברורה (תקפא, כז

The Ramoh (ibid) mentions the good custom to visit the Beis HaChaim on Erev Yom Kippur and Erev Rosh Hashana.

Moshe’s Gravesite

Yet, the greatest Navi and leader, Moshe Rabenu’s resting place was purposely hidden from us

א”ר חמא בר חנינא, מפני מה נסתתר מקום קברו של משה מעיני בשר ודם, שגלוי וידוע לפני הקב”ה שעתיד ביהמ”ק לחרב וישראל יגלו מארצם, שמא יבאו לקברו של משה ויבכו ויתחננו ועומד משה ומבטל את הגזירה, מפני שחביבים צדיקים במיתתם יותר מבחייהם

:עין יעקב סוטה י’’ד

because the was a real fear was that if we visited Moshe’s resting place, then Hashem would be forced to listen to our Tefillos on account of Moshe’s merit (and his intercession). Clearly then, even though Tzadikim today are not at the level of Moshe and we know where they are buried, perhaps it does make sense that we should daven there? The Rambam would not agree, of course.

The position of the Bach

מיהו כבר החזיקו במנהג זה ואין מוחה ויש לזה סמך בספר הזוהר, ודווקא להשתטח על קברי אבות ולהתפלל לפניו יתברך על כל צרה שלא תבוא בזכות אבותיו הנקברים פה וכיוצא בזה, וכבר נתקנו סדרי התפילה למשתטחים על קברי אבות ואין לשום מורה למנוע ולבטל מנהג זה

Be that as it may, people have already adopted this Minhag (of going to Graves) and nobody seeks to prevent them. They have support from the Zohar. Specifically, they can prostrate themselves at the gravesites of their ancestors and to pray to Hashem [to save them] from every tragedy that might otherwise have come if not for the special merit of the ancestors who are buried there. And there have been special prayers constructed for this purpose … and no Posek should seek to annul the practice.

יורה-דעה סו”ס ריז

It is noteworthy that the Bach (1561-1640) adopts the approach that one should pray that “the merit of the ancestors” should save/assist them. This is in contradistinction to those who ask that their prayers be carried to Hashem through the agency of the person who is buried there. Poskim differ on what is the correct mode of prayer.

There is no doubt, however, that one needs to be exceedingly careful that their words not be understood as making supplications to the dead person. It is a very fine line and one needs to be careful not to transgress דורש אל המתים.


The Munkatcher, in his responsa, was known to defend the customs of the Chassidim, especially when these appeared to be different to past practice. Towards the end of my research on this topic I came across a most comprehensive responsa which lists most of the sources I have above and many others. He wrote:

והוא צורך גדול ותיקון לנפש… ולפי המנהג אף בצדיקים בונין נפש והכל מתקבצין אצלה להתפלל…

This (going to the grave of a Tzadik) is a great need and heals the soul, and according to the Minhag, even for Tzadikim we build a Tombstone/Mausoleum … and people gather there to pray

שו”ת מנחת אלעזר א:סט

The Minchas Elazar (as expected) strongly defends the practice of Chasidim to visit the grave of the Tzadik. Strangely, however, I didn’t see the Minchas Elazar in that responsa discuss and consider the Rambam quoted at the beginning of this post. He was certainly aware of it, and his words “even for Tzadikim” are well understood in the context of the Rambam, above. That being said, I do not understand why he didn’t quote and discuss the Rambam explicitly. He extends the consideration in his response to discuss the issue of דורש אל המתים – the prohibition of “supplicating” to the dead. He argues that this does not include asking the Tzadik to intervene on one’s behalf. Rav Moshe Feinstein does not agree with the Minchas Elazar. He states:

אין להפקיע הקרא דדורש אל המתים מפשוטו, דהוא איסור גם מלבקש מהמתים שהם יתפללו בעבורינו

… It is also forbidden to ask the dead to pray on our behalf

שו”ת אגרות משה חלק או”ח ה סימן מג.

The famous non-Chassidic Shulchan Aruch of the Chayei Adam (1748—1820) is explicit:

איסור דורש אל המתים… וכן עמי הארץ שהולכין על קברי מתים וכאילו מדברים עם המתים ואומרים להם צרותיהם

The prohibition of “supplicating” to the dead … and the simple people go to the gravesites and it is as if they speak with dead and relate all their problems

סי’ פ”ט ס”ק ז’

The issue extends to whether someone can leave Israel in order to visit the grave of a Tzadik. One might expect that this would elicit a positive response from Chassidim and a negative response from those who are not Chassidim. The issue transcends Chassidim and non-Chassidim. Rav Kook also writes about this problem in his responsa. Rav Sternbuch, who is generally a follower of the Brisker approach, basing himself on Rav Elyashiv’s grandfather, the Leshem, who was not a Chassid but a great Kabbalist

אם מרגיש התעוררות מיוחדת לצדיקים מיוחדים, שלומד מתורתם, לבוא על קברם ממש, יש בזה מצווה

If someone feels a special awakening when visiting the specific grave of a Tzadik, where they also learn the Torah of that Tzadik, to visit that grave, this is a Mitzvah (!)

תשובות והנהגות, ח”ג סימן סא

Rav Yitzchak Yosef in his Yalkut Yosef, Yoreh Deah on page 254 writes that

It is forbidden to go the cemetery except for a Levaya … but it is permitted to prostate oneself on the graves of the righteous or to visit the grave of one’s father or mother to honour them …

סימן י, שו”ע ס׳ שמג–שסא

So, how does one make sense of all of the above, taking into account the view of the Rambam? I think one can summarise the issues as follows:

  1. The Beis HaChaim/Cemetery is full of impurity and not somewhere to “hang out”. Someone who does so because of extreme grieving should also liaise with a professional.
  2. Visiting graves on a Yohr Tzeit or for special occasions is an ancient practice. It would appear that the Rambam was not opposed to this, although the Brisker tradition would suggest otherwise.
  3. Visiting the grave of a Tzadik can provide inspiration, especially when one also learns the Torah of that Tzadik. We see this phenomenon perhaps even more than any period of time, with visits to the graves of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and R Nachman of Breslav particularly popular. As we have discussed, some would recommend the gravesite should inspire, but no direct interaction should take place.
  4. Visiting the grave of a Tzadik can potentially be problematic in the sense that one may speak in a manner which somewhat bypasses Hashem. Ultimately, the Tzadik was (and is, in the sense that they are “more alive” after they have passed away) a conduit. Some say that addressing the Tzadik is forbidden. When I visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s gravesite -long story- I followed the formulaic text of the מענה לשון.
  5. Those who are not Chassidic and whose inspiration primarily was through learning Torah (in the main) without frequenting a Tzadik for inspiration etc will not use visits to the Beis HaChaim as a source of inspiration and growth. One could argue that this is the Rational School of Judaism as opposed to the more Spiritual/Mystical School, and that the Rambam, who is often considered the prime Rabbi of Rationalist Judaism, therefore did not encourage, if not prohibited, the practice of visiting graves, especially those of Tzadikim.

I’m not advocating one approach over another. Both approaches are rooted in Chazal.

Generating Speech through traumatic silence

The following constitutes a דבר תורה that I said at a קידוש on Shabbos Parshas Va’era held in honour of the forthcoming Yohr Tzeit of אבי מורי
ר שאול זעליג בן ר׳ יהודה הכהן בלבין ע’’ה
on the 3rd day of Shevat.

It is documented here לעילוי נשמתו.

The Pesukim in the Parshiyos that we read over this period are well known due to their ubiquity in the הגדה and the discussions arising thereof. In one of these, וארא, we read that Hashem commanded משה to speak to פרעה in order to secure the release of the בני ישראל.

בֹּ֣א דַבֵּ֔ר אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֖ה מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרָ֑יִם וִֽישַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאַרְצֽוֹ

Come and speak to Pharaoh the King of Egypt so that he will send out the Children of Israel from his land

Shemos 6:11

Moshe, rather forthrightly, seemingly seeks to avoid doing as Hashem asks by disqualifying himself as an appropriate person for the task at hand! Hashem had commanded that Moshe seek the release of the Jews through the power of speech. Moshe had no confidence in his ability to generate a powerful speech and responded

הֵ֤ן בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֣וּ אֵלַ֔י וְאֵיךְ֙ יִשְׁמָעֵ֣נִי פַרְעֹ֔ה וַאֲנִ֖י עֲרַ֥ל שְׂפָתָֽיִם

“Behold, the Jews didn’t listen to me and so how [do you expect that] פרעה will listen to me, [after all] I have a speech impediment”.

Shemos 6:12

This is not the first time that Moshe attempted to disqualify himself as an orator, Hashem’s chosen messenger, on account of a speech defect. At the episode of the burning bush, Moshe also expressed his speech impediment by saying that he was כבד פה וכבד לשון (Shemos 4:10). Commentators discuss the nature of the impediment, though that is not germane here.

How are we to understand

  • The significance of speech per se in this context
  • Moshe’s attempts at avoidance

Rav Soloveitchik (in Redemption, Prayer and Talmud Torah pp 58-60, as quoted in Chumash Mesoras HoRav) draws our attention to the Zohar, whose author is troubled by this interchange.

The Zohar states:

תָּא חֲזֵי, כְּתִיב (שמות ו׳:י״ב) הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם, מַאי וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם. וְהָא בְּקַדְמִיתָא כְּתִיב (שמות ד׳:י׳) לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי וְגוֹ’ כִּי כְבַד פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן אָנֹכִי, וְקוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא הֲוָה אוֹתִיב לֵיהּ, (שמות ד׳:י׳) מִי שָׂם פֶּה לָאָדָם וְגו’, וְהוּא אָמַר (שמות ד׳:י״ב) וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִם פִּיךָ, סַלְּקָא דַּעְתָּךְ דְּלָא הֲוָה כֵּן, וְהַשְּׁתָּא אָמַר וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם, אִי הָכִי, אָן הוּא מִלָּה דְּאַבְטַח לֵיהּ קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא בְּקַדְמִיתָא

Zohar 2:25b:5

Paraphrasing: is Moshe trying to “pull the wool over Hashem’s eyes”? Moshe had already stated in Shemos 4:10 that he had issues with his speech and Hashem had responded “Who do you think put a mouth on man” … In other words, don’t worry about any speech impediment. I [Hashem] can fix that for you! And yet, here we are, says the Zohar, and Moshe is again repeating (albeit using different words to describe his speech impediment) the excuse that he ought not be the person to represent the Jews in their quest to be freed from Egypt because of his speech impediment.

The Zohar continues:

אֶלָּא רָזָא אִיהוּ, מֹשֶׁה קָלָא, וְדִבּוּר דְּאִיהוּ מִלָּה דִּילֵיהּ, הֲוָה בְּגָלוּתָא, וַהֲוָה אִיהוּ אָטִים לְפָרְשָׁא מִלִּין, וּבְגִין דָּא אָמַר, וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה, בְּעוֹד דְּמִלָּה דִּילִי אִיהִי בְּגָלוּתָא דִּילֵּיהּ, דְּהָא לֵית לִי מִלָּה. הָא אֲנָא קָלָא מִלָּה גָּרַע, דְּאִיהִי בְּגָלוּתָא, וְעַל דָּא, שָׁתַּף קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא לְאַהֲרֹן בַּהֲדֵיהּ.

Zohar 2:25b:6

Here the Zohar begins to unravel the secret of the back and forth between Moshe and Hashem. There is a difference between “having a voice” and being able to choose the right words and “construct an appropriate oratorial speech”. Moshe felt that he was enveloped and constrained by the existential Galus/Exile. He felt that a Jew who was overcome with an intrinsic sense of exile could not have the self confidence in his ability to forge a charismatic sequence of powerful sentences which would sway פרעה and convince him that the Jews were no longer “servants in exile.” Could he convince Pharaoh through compelling oratory, that they had grown to be a more mature people, on their way to becoming a free nation, who would no longer tolerate being under the thumb of an oppressive regime? In short, Moshe argued that his impediment effected a speechless voice, a voice that could make sounds and indeed did make sounds on behalf of the Jewish people. Nonetheless, it was not the commanding voice of an orator capable of projecting a commanding influence.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that the arrival of Moshe had indeed advanced the cause of the Jews. Prior to his re-apperance, there was a deathly silence, the silence of extreme servitude, oppression and cruelty. In Egypt, the price of a Jewish life was cheap, and the oppression so great, that the Jews had lost their voice. Based on the descriptions in the Midrash, any Jew who mustered the temerity to issue a complaint or give voice to the inhumane conditions and extreme suffering that they had to endure, was quickly silenced through a death sentence. At best, ויאנחו בני ישראל the Jews issued a collective groan. That is, until Moshe came.

Forging Jewish destiny, when Moshe was confronted by the Egyptian man who killed a Jewish man, Moshe discovered a voice of lawful punishment. Courageously, Moshe killed the Egyptian and, suddenly, emerging from the silence of oppression, his lone voice manifested itself amongst the people. This was a brave voice, the voice of Moshe the leader – a voice which inspired the downtrodden Jews.

Moshe was a marked man after this episode and had to hide. Though Moshe had begun the process of revolt, and through these small steps the process of redemption from Egypt had commenced, even Moshe only considered himself an ordinary voice. Moshe did not feel that he possessed an imbued or acquired charisma which would give rise to an oratorial presence powerful enough to compel Pharaoh to understand that he was no longer dealing with a downtrodden rabble of servants. Moshe was lacking feelings of מלכות, feelings of national self-esteem, without which he did not have the tools to be the nominated speaker for the Jews.

And the Zohar expresses this

תָּא חֲזֵי, כָּל זִמְנָא דְּדִבּוּר הֲוָה בְּגָלוּתָא, קָלָא אִסְתְּלַק מִנֵּיהּ, וּמִלָּה הֲוָה אָטִים בְּלֹא קוֹל, כַּד אָתָא מֹשֶׁה, אָתָא קוֹל. וּמֹשֶׁה הֲוָה קוֹל בְּלא מִלָּה, בְּגִין דְּהֲוָה בְּגָלוּתָא, וְכָל זִמְנָא דְּדִבּוּר הֲוָה בְּגָלוּתָא, מֹשֶׁה אָזִיל קָלָא בְּלָא דִּבּוּר, וְהָכִי אָזִיל עַד דְּקָרִיבוּ לְטוּרָא דְּסִינַי, וְאִתְיְהִיבַת אוֹרַיְיתָא, וּבְהַהוּא זִמְנָא, אִתְחַבָּר קָלָא בְּדִבּוּר, וּכְדֵין מִלָּה מַלִּיל, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב, (שמות כ׳:א׳) וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה. וּכְדֵין, מֹשֶׁה אִשְׁתְּכַח שְׁלִים בְּמִלָּה כְּדְקָא יֵאוֹת, קוֹל וְדִבּוּר כַּחֲדָא בִּשְׁלִימוּ.

Zohar 2:25b:7

It was only when Moshe went up to Har Sinai and the process of nation building was forged through the receiving of our Divine “Constitution” – the Torah – that Moshe grew to the extent that he felt possessed with the confidence and ability to express himself in the charismatic and powerfully effective manner of a leader of a people who had grown into a nation infused with a sense of מלכות self-esteem.

My father ע’’ה was a Holocaust survivor. Together with his parents, two brothers and sister, and through the agency of two righteous gentiles (Pictured: Felka (Feliksa) Galach with my father in Zawady in March 2000 with her medal)

Family Balbin of Rawa Mazowiecka was holed up for 27 months, literally under the ground, in a hole, covered with straw, at the back of a barn in Zawady.

Those 27 months, akin to suffering in servitude, a monotonous but tremulous silence pervaded. Apart from my Zayda’s constant murmuring of Tehilim, there was only ויאנחו בני ישראל – the groans of suffering.

My father ע’’ה was not one of those survivors who was characteristically left with either a quiet or pained voice, void of speech. At the same time, he was certainly not an orator nor did he speak about his experience unless pressed. His post Holocaust speech could be described as “emancipated”, to the extent that he had stepped out of what was into what needed to be. There was a time when a courageous voice was needed and my Booba Toba’s defiance and bravery helped forge what he became.

At one stage, cousin Avraham הי’’ד and his parents הי’’ד, were also hiding in a nearby farmhouse down the road, and were slaughtered by the gentiles who had been harbouring them because those gentiles feared being killed. Jozef Galach, the father of Felka, also heard that those harbouring Jews would be executed and he confronted the family one day demanding that they leave. Suddenly, the relatively quiet and uncharismatic voice of silence morphed into a defiant roar. Booba Toba ע’’ה, who was all of 5 feet tall in high heels, stood up to the Galachs and exclaimed:

You will die if you don’t continue to allow us to hide. Everyone will know what you have done. You must remain silent and allow us to stay. If we live, you will live. If we are killed then your fate is sealed”

A compromise was reached and for the next six months, Family Balbin emerged from the hole and hid, lying in nearby corn fields (and many close calls), while the Nazis conducted farm to farm searches in the area. Thank God, that passed and they returned to “the hole”.

Six million Jews were stifled and silenced without voice in unspeakable conditions — seemingly a continuation and escalation of the historical experience in Egypt. There was no charismatic Moshe to excise the Jews from the iron furnace of the Nazis ימח שמם וזכרם. Some lone voices, especially in a rare uprising or in the forests among partisans, were manifest, though they were few and far between. A proud nation had lost its collective voice.

During this deepest silence, submerged below the earth, my father ע’’ה found a voice. In an inspired moment of clarity, influenced by constant pining for redemption, my father discovered not only a voice but a defiant articulated sentence. He related his discussion with God:

“As I sat there, I made a solemn promise, a vow, to God. If he would spare me to live then I would undertake to build a home with children that identified with Judaism and continued the tradition.”

With those simple sentences, in a moment of hope, my father discovered charismatic speech. His silence begat an oratory that was compelling and thank God, he was spared to fulfil his part of the bargain. In the words of Rav Soloveitchik, he had acquired “the logical understanding of the teleology of the Galus experience, as well as firm faith in the destiny of of the slave-community”.

It didn’t end there. To this day, though my father was not an orator, a week doesn’t go by where a child or grandchild doesn’t exclaim “Zayda would have said … “ in response to a circumstance. Zayda didn’t stay silent. He rebuilt, and his voice found the avenue of speech, without impediment, as needed. His voice continues to envelop our living experience with an unending vitality.

יהי זכרו ברוך

What’s the Halacha Rabbi Goldstein?

Many of us read the English version of various Israeli press outlets on a daily basis. It is to be expected that some reports or articles will upset us and we will disagree with others. This morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein castigated the Israeli Government for tightening entry rules on account of the COVID pandemic, especially in light of the Omicron mutation, which is reportedly rife in South Africa. The article disturbed me. Not wanting to rely solely on a newspaper report, a search of the Chief Rabbi’s website, however, elicited no alternative statement.

This Israeli Government is certainly not to everyone’s taste. A veritable pastiche of political extremes, sandwiched in a central mid-riff, it is an interesting and curious example of how compromise and cooperation can function in a utilitarian manner. At the end of the day, it is the result of a rigor mortis induced by successive inability to clearly choose one direction: either Netanyahu’s Likud aggregation or that of his opponents.

The Israeli Government was voted in by Israeli citizens, most of whom are Jewish. The connection to Israel from the Diaspora is inalienable, Halacha-based and subsequently enshrined in the Law of Return. Though imbued with Halacha it does not extend to proffering a formal vote to Rabbi Goldstein or indeed to any of us “Diasporans”, who find themselves awaiting the final redemption. Indeed, traditionally, when it came to rendering formal Halacha, the great sages of our generation, such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל and others, avoided issuing rulings which affected the Jews of Israel and deferred to the Poskim of Eretz Yisrael.

We are free to make comments, though the wise man will always consider his or her audience lest opinion is hijacked by a political enemy who has no respect for the Jewish State.

The aftermath of the tragic murder of Eli Kay הי’’ד, where some visitors from South Africa were denied entry to Israel and forced to transgress Shabbos on account of unacceptably hyper vigilant airport officials was calamitous and inexcusable. Apparently, complaints from many, including Rabbi Goldstein, have not elicited any response from Prime Minister Bennett, himself a Shabbos observer. Silence is not acceptable. A proper review of the incident is warranted. Prime Minister Bennett needs to address this shameful and reprehensible incident.

Based on the report, Rabbi Goldstein would like the COVID protection regime of “right of re-entry” to apply to all Jews and not solely to Israeli citizens. He would like the Government to reframe its protection of Israeli society and its institutions to apply to any Jew who wishes to visit the country. If an Israeli citizen returning from South Africa, for example, is permitted to land in Israel then according to Rabbi Goldstein “any and every” Jew from South Africa should be afforded the same privilege. Rabbi Goldstein’s thesis is essentially that the right of return should be extended to a “right to visit during a pandemic”.

Despite the unbecoming bragging from then Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel was leading the way with Vaccines and defeating the Virus, the reality is that the vaccination rate in Israel is poor when compared to other Western countries, and Vaccines remain the most potent defence against the virus. The potential for a catastrophic Omicron-based outbreak is tangible and something that needs to be considered by those who are responsible for running the country in concert with the best medical advice. Rabbi Goldstein professes to know that medical advice is that “it’s okay to allow tourists”, though he doesn’t provide a source for this advice.

Whilst Rabbi Goldstein and many of us in the Diaspora pray for the success of Israel and the health and safety of its citizens on a weekly or even daily basis, we are not responsible for running the country and we are not privy to the ability or otherwise of the Israeli Medical system to deal with an Omicron outbreak. One thing is certain: each country forges its own path trying to minimise risk to human life and does so in a very delicate balancing act.

What is the nature of the equality between Israeli citizens and Jewish tourists and their “rights” to land in Israel during a health crisis? Rabbi Goldstein refers to this as a moral issue. Is this a western-cum-egalitarian notion of morality or is this a Jewish-Halachic concept? Given that the comments emanate from the office of a Chief Rabbi, once would and should expect that the view is firmly rooted in a Halachic imperative. I do not know of any Halachic imperative or quasi Halachic morality that should lead to the conclusion that a Jew has the “same rights” as an Israeli citizen. Indeed, the Diaspora Jew doesn’t even have the designation of a Ger Toshav.

Is Judaism afraid to differentiate between different types of Jews, vis a vis the Halacha? Decidely not. Even the laws of Charity are framed in a manner that discriminates openly between Jews. If I live in Israel and have a choice between giving my last dollar to a poor man visiting from outside of Israel versus a poor man who lives in Israel, the Halacha is clear: you give the poor man who lives in your neighbourhood.

Making decisions often involves discriminating and not all discrimination is wrong. A world without discrimination is (halachically) amoral.

So what are the choices here? One extreme is to not even allow one’s own citizens to land in a country when a pandemic is threatening to grow, uncontrolled. This extreme was the one we experienced here in Australia. It resulted in some very cruel outcomes because there were no allowances for compassionate cases, which could have been handled, objectively. The Government here was trying to be “equal to all, with no exceptions” — an extreme form of nonsensical egalitarianism and a hallmark of a misdirected society. Another extreme is to open up to all citizens and Jewish tourists. A middle ground, however, the one which Rabbi Goldstein objects to, is to permit one’s own citizens until such time as it is possible to reopen. This middle ground is the one apparently being considered by the Israeli Government. Does Rabbi Goldstein truly think that if the Government had a magical way to deal with a tourist influx during a pandemic that it wouldn’t do so?

If there is a Halachic justification behind Rabbi Goldstein’s view, I’d appreciate being exposed to it.

Even if one were to agree to disagree with Rabbi Goldstein, what prompted this blog post was his other alleged comment that

“The consequences, if nothing is changed, will start to emerge over the coming months and years, because the relationship has been changed. You can’t fundamentally change the relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora and then expect everything will proceed as usual”


Got Fun Avrohom! On the one hand Rabbi Goldstein appeals to the innate, intangible and God-given relationship between the Jew and the Land–Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael–to the extent that he expects equal rights between citizens and Diaspora Jews. But such a relationship is transcendent–it cannot be changed. It cannot be tainted. It cannot be lessened. It cannot be “mutilated” by a temporal pandemic. If a Jew becomes estranged from his country because he doesn’t agree with or understand a health-based decision that is designed to keep its medical institutions afloat, then the basis of his relationship was not a Divinely inspired one. Without any Divine imperative in the first place, it beggars belief that “equal landing rights in a pandemic” are some axiomatic, God-given, halachic imperative, let alone a moral one.

The stolen lulav

Image from https://www.talmid-chaver.com/p/the-stolen-lulav


In regards using stolen items to fulfil Mitzvos during Succos, there are two primary sources in the Gemara Talmud Bavli1, one considers the use of a stolen Lulav while the other concerns the use of a stolen Succah. Everyone agrees that using a stolen Lulav on the first day of Succos, is unacceptable. The Mitzvos of the first day are Torah obligations, as opposed to Rabbinic obligations. There is a disagreement whether a Lulav that has been stolen may be used after the first day of Succos.

On the first2 day of Succos, the Torah3 demands that the Lulav be לכם — halachically owned by the person performing the Mitzvah. Taking the Lulav on the other days of Succos4 is a Rabbinic requirement. The nature of that Rabbinic requirement is discussed herein. One possibility is that the use of the Lulav on the other days is also forbidden. The Talmud Bavli Succah expresses the view that the Rabbinic Mitzvah of Lulav was established with similar5 parameters to the Torah Mitzvah and, therefore, if the Lulav is not לכם6 — halachically yours — it may not be used for the Mitzvah after the first day. An alternative approach is that the Rabbinic Mitzvah is fashioned on the Torah requirement but doesn’t precisely ascribe all the same details, such as לכם (for example, one might be able to use a borrowed Lulav on the last days but not on the first day).

Either way, if the performance of a Mitzvah has been achieved through the agency of a sin — stealing — we commonly apply the dictum of מצוה הבאה בעבירה — disqualify the act of taking a Lulav in such circumstances, on that basis.

As we will see, the Talmud Yerushalmi7 also expresses the view that using a stolen Lulav is forbidden, though it may be that when the Talmud Yerushalmi expresses the rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה – a Mitzvah that is achieved via an Aveyra/Sin — it considers the disqualification of the Mitzvah that is enacted through theft as a Torah law. In other words, according to the Yerushalmi it is possible that מצוה הבאה בעבירה is not a Rabbinic enactment/dictum itself; rather the Torah itself prohibits or rejects the enablement of a Mitzvah if it materialises through the agency of a sin (such as stealing).

It is important to note that in any event — whether someone has or has not fulfilled a Mitzvah which involves using stolen goods — there is an independent requirement to return those goods to the rightful owner8. Consideration is also given to the person fulfilling a (Rabbinic) Mitzvah but being unable to make a Bracha over the Mitzvah on account of the act of a sin.

Let us consider the sources in some detail.

The stolen Succah

The Bavli in Succah 9a discusses the case of a Succah that has been stolen. The Torah states in Devarim 16:13, חג הסכת תעשה לך — you should make (a festival of) Succos — from which we deduce that if it’s not your Succah, for example if the Succah is stolen, then you have not fulfilled the Mitzvah. Tosfos9 ask an incisive question. Since we have a general rule that מצוה הבאה בעבירה, a Mitzvah borne through sin, is disqualified — as is the case with a stolen Lulav — then why does the Gemara seek a specific Pasuk from the Torah in order to disqualify a stolen Succah? Surely, it would (also) be disqualified through the aegis of מצוה הבאה בעבירה. Tosfos answer that the rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה is one that the Rabbis enacted — מדרבנן — and the Gemara would prefer to invalidate the use of a stolen Sukkah through a Torah verse, rather than invalidating through the Rabbinic rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה.

What we may conclude based on this Tosfos in 9a, is that the rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה is a Rabbinic application10 that can be used to disqualify a Mitzvah.

The Stolen Matza

The Yerushalmi11 describes

מצה גזולה אסור לברך עליה. א”ר הושעיא על שם (תהילים י) ובוצע ברך ניאץ ה’. א”ר יונה הדא דתימא בתחילה אבל בסוף לא דמים הוא חייב לו. רבי יונה אמר אין עבירה מצוה. רבי יוסי אמר אין מצוה עבירה. א”ר הילא אלה המצות אם עשיתן כמצותן הן מצות ואם לאו אינן מצות

the case of someone eating Matza that was stolen. In such a case, we are not permitted to make a Bracha on that Matza. There are four explanations given for not being permitted to make a Bracha. R’ Hoshaya quotes a verse in Tehillim to the effect that a person who steals reviles Hashem and it is anachronistic to bless Hashem while concomitantly reviling Him. R’ Yona states that in the first instance לכתחילה one should not make a Bracha, however, if someone did make a Bracha after the fact בדיעבד, then it is acceptable because that person technically now owes the monetary value of the Matza as they have sequestered that Matza for their own needs. R Yona and R Yoisi12 both disqualify the Bracha based on the idea of a מצוה being performed via an עבירה. R Hila learns that one needs to do a Mitzvah “properly”. If it’s not done properly, it is invalid.

The Ridbaz (ibid) concludes from this Yerushalmi, that all opinions disqualify that Mitzva of Matza because effectively it is  מצוה הבאה בעבירה. The Aruch Hashulchan13 asserts that this Yershalmi would appear to support the claim that מצוה הבאה בעבירה is a פסול מן התורה — disqualified by as a Torah principle — as opposed to the aforementioned Tosfos who contend that מצוה הבאה בעבירה is a Rabbinic enactment.

The Stolen Lulav

We have discussed a stolen Succah. What of a stolen Lulav? The Mishna in Succah 29b states, without qualification, that a stolen Lulav is invalid. The fact that the Mishna didn’t limit itself to the first day of Yom Tov or to a Lulav within the walls of Yerushalaim (where one would have a Torah command to take the Lulav for all seven days of Succos) would suggest that סתם the Mishna disqualifies such a Lulav on all days of Succos. With that premise, the Gemara then asks, why should the Lulav be invalid after the first day. Seemingly, the need for לכם — a Lulav which is owned by the holder — is only a requirement from the Torah on the first day.

If the Torah only required the Lulav to be taken on the first day, why do we take the Lulav on the other days? There was a Rabbinic enactment תקנה from R’ Yochanan Ben Zakai, as a זכר למקדש—a reminder of the process/pageantry in the Beis HaMikdash—to take the Lulav on the other days of Succos. Is the מצוה מדרבנן precisely the same as the דאורייתא on the first day? The Gemara answers in the name of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai that although the notion of לכם is a Torah requirement for the first day, the Rabbis invalidated an act of a זכר למקדש when that is performed through the agency of a sin — the sin of stealing in this case. That is, one is performing the Rabbinic command of זכר למקדש through a מצוה הבאה בעבירה. Shmuel disagrees. Seemingly, as noted by Tosfos15 and the Rosh16, Shmuel ddid not learn that מצוה הבאה בעבירה applied to a Rabbinic מצוה and that as a principle it only ever applied for a Torah based Mitzvah.  The Sefas Emes (ibid) goes further. He claims that even R’ Yochanan Ben Zakkai who prohibits the use of a stolen Lulav on the Rabbinic last days, also agrees that the principle of מצוה הבאה בעבירה does not apply to a Mitzva DeRabanan. The reason that a Lulav is prohibited in this case is because R’ Yochanan Ben Zakai enacted a specific זכר למקדש which only permitted a Lulav which was owned by the user. In other words, according to R Yochanan Ben Zakai, the act was not one of a זכר למקדש.

The Noda BiYehuda in his commentary (:צל’’ח כט) asks a great question based on the opinion of Shmuel. Generally speaking whenever the Rabbanan enacted a Mitzvah they sought to mimic the DeOrayso Torah approach to that Mitzvah —כל דתקון רבנן כעין דאורייתא תקון. Since Shmuel held that מדאורייתא one may apply מצוה הבאה בעבירה on the first day and prohibit a tainted מצוה then surely when the Rabbanan enacted their מצוה — Lulav on the other days of Succos — they too would have incorporated the outcome of מצוה הבאה בעבירה and forbidden the use of the tainted Lulav. The צל’’ח explains that according to Shmuel the concept of מצוה הבאה בעבירה is itself not a Torah objection to a tainted Mitzvah but is a Rabbinically enacted objection. As such, since taking Lulav is already one Rabbinic מצוה enacted as a זכר, we have a rule that doubly applying Rabbinic enactments תרי דרבנן — is not an accepted approach in Halacha, in general. Therefore, to (doubly) qualify a Rabbinic מצוה with another Rabbinic proscription isn’t an acceptable approach. As opposed to Shmuel, R Yochanan doesn’t have the problem of תרי דרבנן — two Rabbinic enactments — because R Yochanan holds that מצוה הבאה בעבירה is a Torah derived imperative.

It is evident then that where there is a Rabbinic Mitzvah which is derived from a Torah Mitzvah (as opposed to an unlinked Rabbinic enactment) there is an argument between Shmuel and R Yochanan Ben Zakai as to whether we apply מצוה הבאה בעבירה. According to Shmuel we do not because it is תרי דרבנן, as above, and according to R Yochanan we do because כל דתקון רבנן כעין דאורייתא תקון. 

What does the Yershulami17 say about the case of the stolen Lulav? The Yerushalmi also forbids it and quotes the Pasuk of לכם after which R Levi says that the person who utilises a stolen Lulav is “like someone who feeds an overlord with food that already belongs to the overlord”. In such an event, the food, which was meant to be a source of appeasment and a defender of the Jew is transformed into a prosecutor who cries out that the Jew has effectively used stolen food to feed the overlord. 

The Pnei Moshe (ibid), explains that the reason of לכם only applies to the first Torah enacted day, however, the second reason (of the defender appearing as the prosecutor) applies to all the days of Succos and is forbidden on the same basis as מצוה הבאה בעבירה. Furthermore, other commentaries explain that the Yerushalmi presents the same disagreement as the Bavli vis a vis R’ Yochanan and Shmuel. According to the first opinion of the Yerushalmi, we do not say מצוה הבאה בעבירה because the other days are דרבנן and like Shmuel, we don’t apply מצוה הבאה בעבירה to a דרבנן. On the other hand R Levi’s view is that we do apply מצוה הבאה בעבירה to a דרבנן and the enactment already precluded using a tainted Lulav. 

In respect of Halacha, the Ramo in תרמ’’ט:א invalidates the use of a stolen lulav on all days and we invoke the dictum of מצוה הבאה בעבירה in this regard. The words of the Ramo and Shulchan Aruch are streamlined according to the Magen Avraham and confirmed in the Mishna Brura (ibid). To understand the parameters of the Halacha with crystal clarity, as is often the case, the phraseology employed by the שולחן ערוך הרב is highly recommended. 

The case of the stolen lulav has many more twists and turns and has occupied many Acharonim. The above is perhaps a bite sized description of the major issues at play. Another example is that of the stolen Shofar. The Rambam concludes that one does fulfil the Mitzvah of hearing via a stolen Shofar because the sound emanating from the Shofar was never stolen. There is no “alternative morality” that would disqualify any outcome of using a stolen Shofar.

In an article in the Australian Jewish News, Nomi Kaltmann in a perhaps provocatively titled article “There is a moral underpinning to mitzvot” postulates that the so called difference between the Yerushalmi and Bavli regarding the stolen Lulav has something to do with which of these two Talmuds applied a higher form of “morality” underpinning their decisions versus (more) drier technical considerations. Kaltmann claims the Yerushalmi “seems to have a superior moral position” and then attempts to link her thesis with more general statements perceiving this issue as one of “the letter of the law versus the spirit”. In my reading and understanding of the Sugya hereand there is much more ink on this topic than I have presented, and consistent with the Yerushalmi on Challah and Succah, the underlying considerations relate to nuanced halachic categories and their applicability to the cases discussed, including:

  • מצוה הבאה בעבירה
  • כל דתקון רבנן כעין דאורייתא תקון
  • תרי דרבנן לא אמרינן
  • יאוש (although I didn’t mention this above)

and how these play out according to all the different opinions in both the Bavli and Yerushalmi. Indeed, after analysis, I’m not sure I can see a fundamental difference between the Bavli and Yerushalmi that could be described in terms of some “higher morality”: the disagreements gravitate along the same boundaries considering the same issues in my view.


  1.  Succa 9a and Succa 29B
  2.  Within the walls of Jerusalem this would apply to all seven days
  3.  As opposed to the Rabbonon
  4.  There is some conjecture about the second day itself. See Noraos HaRav, Volume 9 for a general essay on that topic.
  5.  Exactly how similar is the issue we work through here
  6.  This would admit for example a Lulav which was borrowed
  7.  Chalah 1:5, Shabbos 13:3, Succa 3:1
  8.  This is the case in general. There are instances where the monetary value instead is used for payback—for example if the stolen good has been improved in value by the robber then the original monetary value mst be returned, as opposed to the (now modified and improved) stolen goods.
  9.  בד’’ה ההוא
  10.  It could be argued that this Tosfos differs from the Tosfos בד’’ה משום on Succos 30a regarding a stolen Lulav. Tosfos learns that מצוה הבאה בעבירה is a Torah rule of disqualification of any מצוה act that is enacted through a sin. That being said, it is difficult to understand how to superimpose a Torah disqualification on a Rabbinic Mitzvah (the Lulav is Rabbinic after the first day). 
  11.  Chalah 1:5, Shabbos 13:3
  12.  They use slightly different words and I’m not sure if there is a practical difference emanating from their phraseology.
  13.  או’’ח תנד:יא
  14.  Bavli
  15.  בד’’ה מתוך, ל.
  16.  פרק ג, סי׳ ג
  17.  סוכה ג:א
  18.  יפה עינים שם וביאור הגר’’א תרמ’’ט א 

A preamble to the Shir Shel Yom

The following is dedicated in memory of my mother מרת אלקה בת ר׳ צבי הכ׳׳מ on her first Yohr Tzeit, כ׳ט שבט.

I know that the quality of my understanding of certain portions of the daily davening is suspect. In particular, over the last few weeks, this was brought into focus when I found myself suddenly alerted to what seemed to be an anachronistic few sentences in the Shacharis davening associated with the daily Shir Shel Yom. I have said this all my life but have done so in a rote/mechanical way.

In Nusach Sefard, the Nusach of the Edot HaMizrach, and Nusach Chabad, the daily Shir Shel Yom is preceded by two paragraphs. The first is תפילה לדוד. This is omitted on a day when Tachanun is not recited, such as when there is a Bris Mila or a Siyum Sefer Torah and the like. The second paragraph which commences with בית יעקב is omitted on days when Musaf is recited, such as Rosh Chodesh.

Apparently, the first mention of these paragraphs as a preamble to the Shir Shel Yom is from R’ Moshe Ben Yehuda Machir in the late 1500’s in his Seder haYom. It is subsequently mentioned in the Abudraham and Tur, though not in the Shulchan Aruch.

Seder HaYom is a halachic-kabbalistic work which according to Wikipedia describes, according to its introduction, “the order one should follow in his days and nights, on Shabbats and holidays, the order of the entire year when sitting at home and walking on the way, when retiring and rising”. It was first printed in 1599 in Venice and again in 1605 in Venice. It is the source of many currently practiced customs, including the Modeh Ani prayer.

R’ Machir was a resident of Tzfas and a contemporary of the Arizal serving as the Rosh Yeshiva of Ayin Zetun. Apparently Rabbi Machir’s work shows no influence from the Arizal and is an important document in that it records others systems of Kabbalistic practices and meditations other than the Arizal’s system. Notwithstanding this fact, the Arizal firmly encouraged the saying of these two paragraphs before the Shir Shel Yom, which accounts for its recitation by the Edot HaMizrach and Chabad via the Siddur compiled by the Alter Rebbe, the Baal HaTanya.

Though the two paragraphs are printed in Siddurim which follow Nusach Sefard, it is my no means universal that they are recited. Many Chassidic Minyanim who daven Sefard, omit these and start from the Shir Shel Yom as in Nusach Ashkenaz.

The first sentence of the first paragraph also has a more recent import. The first letters of the first four words “בית יעקב לכו ונלכה‎” spell ביל”ו or Bilu which was a movement in the late 1800’s dedicated to the agricultural settlement of then Palestine.

The second paragraph, which is the subject of this post, commences with the words בית יעקב and begins as follows:

בֵּית יַעֲקֹב לְכוּ וְנֵלְ֒כָה בְּאוֹר ה׳

House of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of Hashem.

כִּי כָּל־הָעַמִּים יֵֽלְ֒כוּ אִישׁ בְּשֵׁם אֱלֺֽהָיו, וַֽאֲנַֽחְנוּ נֵלֵךְ בְּשֵׁם־ה׳ אֱלֹקינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

For all the nations walk in the name of its god, but we walk in the name of Hashem, our God, forever.

The translation above is consistent with what I saw in the translations offered by Koren, Metsudah, Artscroll and Chabad.

These are in fact two sentences from different parts of Tanach. The first sentence is from ישעיהו ב ה and describes the prophecy at the time of the ingathering of exiles. At that time, the House of Jacob will go, but they will go in the light of Hashem. The implication is that others will also go up to Yerushalayim, but they will not necessarily progress through the prism of the light of Hashem. They will go in the name of their gods.

I was struck by the word כי which is commonly translated as “because”. I read it as: Because all the (non Jewish) people will go in the name of their (false) gods, we will go in the name of Hashem forever.

What is the connection between them going on the basis of their false gods and we going in the name of Hashem. Surely, our travelling to Yerushalayim at the time of the Geula stands on its own merit and is not some “strange reaction” to the fact that others are also going, albeit for different reasons. Our trodden path will surely be independent. It is true that the others will eventually be convinced by Melech HaMoshiach and follow the honest path to Hashem, and that is a part of the prophecy, but the word כי doesn’t appear to fit.

Even if we use the word “for” as a translation for כי as is commonly used in the standard translations, it made no more sense to me. I felt the word was jarring and last night I decided to dig a little in order to see if there was an explanation that made sense to me.

The second paragraph which commences with בית יעקב is drawn from Micha in chapter 4:5. The prophecy is common to that of Yeshayahu. The Radak explains that at that time the nations of the earth will still be unconvinced until the Melech HaMoshiach sets them straight following the war of Gog and Magog. Indeed, after discussing this with R’ Shea Hecht, he looked up a few sources who seemed to imply that these were two “stand alone” Pesukim, with a common theme but the word כי was “just there” as part of the Pasuk and Meforshim didn’t really touch on a solution to its meaning in the context.

It then occurred to me that there might be an explanation as follows.

At the time of Moshiach, it won’t simply be a case that we are believers and the rest of the world are not believers. It won’t simply be the case that because there is a stark difference between Godlessness and True belief in Hashem, that we will merit and be enthusiastic to travel to Yerushalayim. It won’t be a case of Black and White; those who do versus those who do not do. Rather, the world will be a much more challenging arena. There will be all sorts of “isms”. These isms, or false gods, will present in the guise of new ethical moralities that are born from the invention and consideration of man’s limited mind. The motive for various ethical behaviours will be varied. They will challenging because they are dressed in the language of equality and more. They will appear as the “high ground”. Those mores will lead some people of the world who don’t follow Hashem, and even some Jews, to presume and conclude that they occupy a higher morality than that defined by the Torah, which is the Torah of Truth. The Torah of truth is not a set of conclusions and standards developed through current/modern ethical philosophies and political correctness. It was, is, and will be, the basis of our values and actions.

We can now read these verses as follows:

בֵּית יַעֲקֹב לְכוּ וְנֵלְ֒כָה בְּאוֹר ה׳ … Jews! Believers! Go up, rise, and travel to Yerushalayim [purely and meritoriously] in the light of Hashem.

[Why do we merit the light of Hashem in this way?] Because [in future days, Jews will be challenged, they will be challenged by the “isms” of their day and these will be powerful rational-man made concepts] others will [appear to be harbingers of a higher morality and ethic, but] they come with their (false) gods, [whereas] we come purely and solely in the name of Hashem [and our religious edifice is built on simple faith, Emuna Peshuta, via Toras Emes] and we do so לעולם ועד [forever and a day].

COVID-19: Chassidim vs Non Chassidim

Sadly, perhaps even surprisingly, there are reports of clandestine Rosh Hashana minyanim that took place across the houses of Melbourne despite these being against Government rules. Perhaps it’s a function of my circles, but it appears that these Minyanim involved Chassidim or those who identify themselves as Chassidim.

Prior to Rosh Hashana, the word was out that such Minyanim were being established or considered. Though various voices of “the Rabbinate” were heard clearly in the press and e-news/social media, I likely missed new strong warnings to reinforce that

“though it is heart-breaking and unprecedented for Melbourne’s Shules to be locked for Rosh Hashono and the ensuing Yomim Tovim, we stress and re-stress that it is forbidden to flaunt the Government rules and establish clandestine minyanim.”

I did come across other communication:

  1. Useful compendiums describing what should be said, not said, how, and when.
  2. Laudable pre and post shiurim and recordings designed to inform and migrate people “into the mood”
  3. Comparatively banal interviews with football coaches mischaracterising the Yomim Noroim as a Grand Final series, coupled with the now ubiquitous indiscriminate use of the Shofar as the “Jewish digeridoo”
  4. Opportunistic perversions of the Halachic process by a tiny minority of misaligned rabbis who deemed it sufficiently populist to kasher electronic conferencing.
  5. Clear opinions, such as from the Non-Chassidic Rabbi Moshe Heinemann of the StarK who opined that the sham support group minyanim concept was a Chillul Hashem in the making, for which Yom Kippur would not atone.

At this stage, you may be thinking that I am alluding to Chassidic groups identified by the “Vayatzev Avruhom” shtiebel-Satmar and Munkatch Chassidim who broke away from Adass Israel and whose “exploits” were splashed over the secular press, creating a Chilul Hashem.  I don’t have any information about this group vis a vis the Yomim Noroim, but I would be pleasantly surprised if their need for “support group sessions” somehow abated.

Sadly, I am referring to pockets of minyanim whose membership is seemingly from other Chassidic groups. To be sure, these are not sanctioned by local poskim of the same persuasion and are “unofficial”.

Notwithstanding that fact, one might well ask some questions:

    1. Is there something peculiarly Chassidic or grounded in Chassidism which compels people to ignore Government Health regulations? (and no, it isn’t the case that Chassidim aspire to be “imprisoned and released” as some process of redemptive purification)
    2. Is there a continued antinomian-style approach to Halacha which somehow “supersedes” the will of Shulchan Aruch and perhaps their own Poskim?
    3. Is the binary phenomenon of “Level 1” for a Rebbe and “Level 0” for everyone else responsible for “every man for himself”?
    4. Are there some under intentionally quiet clandestine Rabbis associated with these groups who are ultimately responsible? Who are these Torah Giants who so confidently claim that it is not necessary to worry about the ספק סכנה and whose learning exceeds Poskim like Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Osher Weiss and others?
    5. Is it that non-Chassidim are less likely to pick and choose a local orthodox Rabbi and focus instead on a quasi-official “Daas Torah”?
    6. Do some Chassidim consider themselves better informed, to the extent that they just know it really is God’s wish that they stand apart and ignore Health directives and שומר פתאים ה׳. (Rav Osher Weiss is a Chassid).

I don’t know the answer to these questions.

I am definitely not inviting people to “name and shame” or “dob in” those who have been involved in such.

PS. On a more personal note: like many, I struggled to teleport a communally inclusive Rosh Hashana davening into the lonely experience of a private Yom HaDin. Screened by the privacy of the four walls of the dining room, if anything, I probably shed more tears, to the extent that experiencing Simcha on Rosh Hashana was comparatively daunting. Then again, I am also an Avel, mourning my dear mother הכ’’מ and that is a factor.  I doubt I was alone or that my experience was in any way unique.

Qualifying Hiddur Mitzvah

Like many, we are somewhat entombed in the four walls of our home. On my drive this morning to pick up fresh bread,  I reflected on something that I had noted on previous occasions. While Charedim seek to ensure that their separate identity is buttressed my distinctive dress, during the COVID pandemic, ironically, they too were going about their daily chores wearing the ubiquitous mandatory mask, common to all and sundry (yes, I know about the Rebbishe Gold Mask). As far as the virus was concerned, there is no distinctive garb associated with a mask.

Yet, I have also noticed a pattern. For some reason, and I hope I’m unwittingly exaggerating, many Charedim don’t wear these masks properly. I too have a rather long beard at the minute, which makes the challenge of “hermetically” wearing a mask somewhat more difficult. The basic requirement, though, to encase the nose and not just the mouth, seems to be lost.

I contrasted this apparent carelessness to the comparative punctiliousness with which we examine an Esrog for the remotest sign of a blemish, even brandishing a magnifying glass (which is unnecessary according to my Poskim). Why would someone be so praiseworthily careful in fulfilling one Mitzvah, ensuring that it is performed according to every possible opinion and Hiddur, and yet not wear the mask with anything approaching that same level of exactitude?

The same Torah exhorted us: ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם – and it ought to be natural to understand that מאד means מאד and parametrising this surely might mean standing in front of the mirror and ensuring that there is a good fit around the mouth and the nose before venturing out?

I surmise that the difference between the two cases can be broadly understood in the context of the Esrog’s Hiddurim being a matter of opinion based on Rishonim and Acharonim whereas the “requirements surrounding a mask” being connected to the “outside world”, the human world of doctors and other experts. Is the difference justified?

It can only be justified if fails to adequately discern Godliness cum Halacha in matters that are not entirely Kodesh. The “best opinion” of “human experts” is somehow relegated to a lower level in determining Halacha when compared to Halachos, such as those associated with the Esrog, which do not “need” a חכמה חיצונית. And yes, I am aware of Esrog research informing the “purity” of the breed; but that is generally supplanted by a מסורה (viz, the Calabrian variety).

The lack of fidelity to a Halachic corpus that is chained to Human research and the best Science of the time is troublesome. We know that Hashem implanted the רפואה before the מכה and that He did so in our world.

What am I missing?

Do you understand Achinoam Nini?

I saw this article and cringed, majorly. What are Nini’s thoughts when she sings? Assume she respects the man as a leader of a particular religious group. Assume then that she is not disturbed enough by the allegations that he has possibly known about abuse amongst his clergy during his tenure, and that his promotion of a now disgraced Archbishop was “under his radar”. Assume then that she is not disturbed by allegations that he has not done much to address major abuse issues. Assume that she wants to expose her daughter to a leader of a religious group. Assume then that she also exposes her daughter to leaders of her own religious group. Assume then that she is not caught up with her own ego and self promotion.

Perhaps she was most impressed by his comment that

Beneath every Xtian there is a Jew

Of course we must be civil, courteous and tolerant. That does not mean that we should appear in the Vatican singing “Maria”. Surely there are alternatives.

Perhaps Nini could and should have sung the great Yonatan Razel song below, and translated the lyrics into English/Spanish for Francis’s benefit. I could have coped with that.

On the 10th Yohr Tzeit of Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner ע׳ה

I wrote the following a few hours after Rabbi Groner passed away. I feel that it should be recorded on my blog, rather than occupy a few kilobytes in the cloud. As this serves as a historical record of what I wrote, I’m not taking comments.

A Rabbinic giant with a special soul

We were all terrified of him. He was a huge man with a powerful and melodious voice. Coupled with that steely determined look in his eyes, students literally melted in his presence. On one occasion when sent to his office because of a classroom misdemeanour, I waited in the hallway, my knees quivering with fear. I was fortunate to be spared. Rabbi Groner z”l was much more than the Principal and Director of the Yeshiva. Waiting for my moment of judgement, it seemed like the entire Melbourne Jewish community were ringing or shuffling in and out of his office. Rabbi Groner was in a state of tireless perpetual motion, directing with certitude and conviction. I felt that he had a soft spot for me. Rabbi Groner loved Chazonus and personally ensured that Yeshiva had a “professional choir” to perform at the Yeshivah dinner and other events. I was the soloist assigned to sing the famous and haunting “Ovinu Malkeinu” of the Alter Rebbe, the first Rebbe of Chabad. This Chassidic Niggun was a personal favourite of Rabbi Groner, and nobody sang it with the soulful enveloping power of Rabbi Groner. Our choir sang in the lunchroom adjoining his office, and each week when I sang that uplifting Niggun, Rabbi Groner would rush out of his office and nod approvingly. He was quick to also warn me that my voice would break after my Bar Mitzvah and that I needed Hashem’s blessing to ensure that my ascent into manhood would preserve the gift that had been bestowed.

[I saw a video clip of the הקמת מצבה of Rebbetzin Groner on the Yohr Tzeit of Rabbi Groner last night and fittingly, אבינו מלכינו was sung around the graves]

Rabbi Groner seemed to maintain a keen interest in everybody’s pursuits and this continued even when he was infirm and he always asked whether my cantorial duties at Elwood Shule on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur had been successful, and what Rabbi Chaim Gutnick z”l had said in his drosha.

One day, when I was in my mid-teens, I had forthrightly declared in an Ivrit class that the (then new) campaign of “Mitzvah Tanks” was potentially a catalyst for anti-semitic foment. I had argued that whilst it was important to “spread the word”, there was no need to publicly “take it to the streets.” The Ivrit teacher sent me to Rabbi Groner, and it seemed that my days at Yeshivah College were numbered. This time, I was sure I had no chance of wriggling out. Leaning back with a physical presence that filled his most modest office, I expected a spirited joust followed by an inevitable reproach. Instead, I was exposed to the soft, caring and loving side of Rabbi Groner, which was to comprise the longer-lasting impression that now occupies my memory. After listening to my lengthy diatribe, Rabbi Groner leaned forward, gazed into my eyes, and said

“Yitzchok, when you are older, you will understand.”

He couldn’t have been more correct, but I was far too immature to appreciate his message or subtle approach.

In the early days, Rav Perlov z”l was the Posek in Chabad. A venerable elder Chossid who had the zechus to pass away on Yom Kippur, like my Zeyda Yidel. Rabbi Groner’s innate charisma drew people to him. I can still hear him thundering

“Rav Perlov is the Posek, don’t ask me Shailos, ask Rav Perlov”.

His sense of Kovod HaTorah and modesty was also exemplified by the fact that he sat in an ordinary seat, three rows down from where our family continues to sit.

He seemed to remember everybody and anything, drawing on an incredible knowledge of Chassidic Dynasties, no doubt also gleaned from his days in the“Rayim Aheevim” Shule that he frequented in his youth in Brownsville. When I brought our elder son, Tzvi Yehuda for a Brocho before his Bar Mitzvah, I mentioned our connection with Amshinov, and as if in auto-pilot, he regaled us with stories and impressions that only he could bring to life in the modest office of his home.

One year, after I had returned from learning in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, a group of us decided to gate-crash Chabad’s Simchas Torah revelry and augment the usual repertoire with our own “tunes”. We had seemingly “conquered” and taken over the dancing when all of a sudden I felt this big hand on my shoulder. Hovering behind me was the towering figure of Rabbi Groner, who quickly “advised” me that this was his Shule, and he was “calling the shots”, and if we didn’t like it, we could always “decide” to leave. Suffice it to say that the ambience efficiently reverted to more traditional Chassidic overtones.

You always knew exactly where you stood with Rabbi Groner. He was both vigorous and forthright, and yet displayed special attributes of tenderness and compassion. I vividly recall the manner in which he conducted and directed the funeral of my Booba Toba in Carlton before he escorted her body to Essendon Airport, ironically on her own final journey to Yerusholayim. I was only a little boy, and the trauma of Booba’s sudden death etched indelibly in my memory together with the countermanding vision of Rabbi Groner’s strength, compassion and forbearance. Rabbi Groner always remembered the date of her passing. He seemed to remember everyone’s special events and somehow managed to ubiquitously support people during the height of their Simcha, or sadly at the depths of their despair. I used to tell my children that Rabbi Groner exemplified possibly the most important educational lesson that cannot be adequately transmitted in a classroom or drosha setting.

Rabbi Groner was a living paragon of unwavering commitment (otherwise known as Mesirus Nefesh). Fringe dwellers such as myself could only observe and aspire to such lofty levels of achievement from afar. Rabbi Groner’s axiological belief system and weltanshauung was never compromised. He and his Rebbetzin (may she be spared many years of health and nachas) personified utter selflessness and devotion. Rabbi Groner and his Rebbetzin stood like proverbial soldiers ready to perform the will of the Almighty through the prism of Chabad, as directed by its mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

As I write this, a few short hours after his passing, I reflect on the muted tone of our elder son who informed me of Rabbi Groner’s passing. I hear the tearful sobs of our youngest daughter who felt the need to ring me from Camp, overcome with sorrow. I feel the vacant and stunned silence from my wife, and the sighs of pain and tears of my parents. I reflect on all this and recall my last moments with Rabbi Groner on a Monday afternoon, shortly before his penultimate journey.

My cousin Ya’akov, a long-time student of Rabbi Groner was visiting from Israel to participate in the Bar Mitzvah of our younger son, Yossi. We are a family of Cohanim and Rabbi Groner took our blessings most seriously, always asking to remember “Yitzchok Dovid ben Menucha Rochel” while we Duchened. The combination of these three factors allowed us the privilege to spend a few short moments with him in the Hospital.

Barely able to speak, Rabbi Groner’s eyes lit up when he saw my cousin. After asking about our Yossi, my father, cousin and I recited the priestly blessings. Ya’akov then asked Rabbi Groner a difficult halachic question. Even though Yaakov had been living in Israel for over 30 years, he still considered Rabbi Groner his Posek. Rabbi Groner slowly looked up, and with a motion of his hand, said in Yiddish, “That is a very difficult question, I will need to look into that.” I wished Rabbi Groner a speedy recovery and suggested that when he comes out of hospital, he would answer the question. He looked up at us and exclaimed a single word “Moshiach!”.

This epitomised his essence. His is a void that cannot be filled. My few words do not, and are not, intended to portray Rabbi Groner’s legacy or contribution to the Jewish Community in Melbourne and beyond. Indeed, as he was want to say

“LaMefoorsomois Lo Tzrichim Raaya”
“things that are known and famous do not require any proof or support”.

I feel sure that Rabbi Groner has ascended to a special Gan Eden reserved for only the best of us. May his memory be a blessing to all of us, and may all the mourners receive comfort from the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Short word on parshas korach

Human logic-based Egalitarianism is Halachically problematic and is inconsistent with the stratified roles defined by the Torah.

Korach is the philosophical progenitor of postmodern egalitarianism. Suffused with self-allocated, chimeric rank, Korach attempts to deconstruct the assigned and stratified roles legally ordained through Moshe’s direct Godly interaction. There is a biblical prohibition, with tenure today,

“not to be like Korach and his assemblage.”

The parameters of this prohibition are not singular. One parameter is defined as negating the importance of every Jew attaching themselves to an exemplary teacher and role model of Torah.

This morning as I watched an unrelated youtube snippet sent to me, the

“next suggested youtube”

was of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe z’l, whose Yohr Tzeit is on Shabbos. I clicked.

Fortuitously, the Rebbe asked,

“the Talmud says that the teacher one should adhere to, is the imitato dei (as characterised by a holy angel). However, if one has never even seen a holy angel how does one choose the virtuous teacher?”

He answered, quoting the Talmud in Yevamos, that the archetypical Jew exudes the traits of mercy, self-effacedness and kindness. Furthermore, these traits are self-evident and not “advertised”.

Indeed, after he left his father’s house, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s own role-modeled teacher became his father-in-law, the Rayatz. As noted by Rav Soloveitchik* (whose role model after he left his father’s house, was Rav Chaim Heller), based on an explicit Rashi in the book of Bereishis, even after a prime teacher’s demise, one should implant the teacher, who is spiritually a part of the mosaic soul, in front of him and interrogate that behavioural reality to determine major decisions we confront in life.

There is no antinomian expression intended in the above. Both sides of the coin: the Baal HaTanya and the Nefesh HaChaim describe the soul of the Tzadik teacher and mentor through the same prism.

  • the source for this view of the Rav is in Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter’s Nefesh HoRav.

Peter McCutcheon and I performing a ballad

I’m still on about this topic having attended a memorial service (void of any religious connotation or indeed coffin — I am a Cohen). It was a moving affair with a “who’s who” of music in Melbourne in attendance. I hadn’t seen many of the musicians in a while and some of them seemed to have aged less gracefully than others. It did occur to me that they were likely thinking the same about me. I met Wilbur Wilde who graciously introduced himself to me and seemed to know all about the band.

Schnapps’ tenor saxophone player, William Leonard Horowitz,  presented a musical history of Peter’s life, peppered with amusing anecdotes. Peter had performed on literally just about every live Channel Nine program, going way back to the Bert Newton show and much more. He’d played on well-known Australian movies all the way down to the “Pot of Luck” live talent show (and yes, Young Talent Time too).

I was just looking at my iTunes library and noticed a ballad, מהרה ה׳ by Shwekey, which I had performed with him four years ago. Remember, Peter was close to deaf, and there was no chart, and we hadn’t played this in a while. Please excuse my mistake at the end  [ … my head was somewhere else. It was my daughter’s wedding and I sang and danced live … not easy]

Vale Peter Ian McCutcheon

My career with the Schnapps band began some 35 years ago. I didn’t run the band then but was brought in as the singer when the wedding was Frum. In those days the lineup and style was different. Norman Czarny ז׳ל was the accordionist and his particular sound was distinct. When Schnapps back then began to wind up, I took over the band and remodelled it, bringing in a more regular line up. Whilst Norman could read music, Schnapps in the old days used to ‘know the songs’ and play from memory. I didn’t have that luxury and needed to find musicians that were both excellent readers, and able to adapt to the genre. I encouraged re-interpretation, spontaneity and soloing. Alas, whilst I wasn’t a good fiddle player, I was blessed with a good ear and could not tolerate a musician unless they were absolutely top shelf.

Peter on the far right of picture

My trumpet player suggested that the best person to anchor the band on keyboards was Peter McCutcheon. Peter was known visually and personally to those who watched the well-regarded Hey Hey it’s Saturday live show and especially its Red Faces segment. I spent lots of time preparing for my first transition Gig, trying to better organise the existing repertoire. I recalled how Schnapps would sometimes struggle to find the right tune amongst a heap of one or two page scores. After coming up with my system, the stage was set.

I was nervous and although I don’t remember the reason, I felt I needed to call Peter before the gig. So, one morning, about 10am I called Peter’s house. The phone call was some 5 minutes duration. At first Peter seemed stilted, but I attributed this to musicians tending to be late risers. Some years later (perhaps 8 years), when Peter was ensconced as the pianist and Schnapps was getting regular work, he casually mentioned to me at a Wedding we were doing, that I had called him on Xmas morning! Of course, for me it was just the next day, and I wasn’t duly sensitised to consider not ringing on that morning! He noted, gently and using his dry wit, that it was a bit of a strange encounter for him. He was such a giant of spirit though, that he was sensitised (despite not having yet done a gig) to realise that I practiced another religion and was simply clueless as opposed to bulldozing through sensitivities. Suffice it to say that I was mortified when he brought this to my attention years later. With a smile on his face, those band members within ear shot had a healthy chuckle. By now, Peter knew my character and was sure that I had not intended anything.

Peter was like a musical computer. Some musicians are jazz oriented; others are Rock oriented, and others are great classical pianists who have marvellous reading skills. I used to marvel at the interpretation of songs that Peter would create. He mentioned that he always intended to have a most diverse musical experience, and as I recall he had worked in a Bavarian restaurant for a several years. As I settled into my role as band leader and singer, I allowed myself to bring, through my voice and fiddle, my own overlays onto songs. I used to stress to the band members that though many of the tunes we played were rather simple, and had simple Concert Melody/Chord charts, I wanted them to “let go” and wander through the tapestry of the progressions.

Peter was a great reader of music. I was most jealous. He was literally like a computer. Sometimes a ‘must play’ song materialised in the middle of a wedding. The band members were gentiles, except for me. They didn’t know the song. I turned to Peter to write the song out. Little did I realise that as I sang the tune into his ear, while he was perched over his keyboard with a pencil and blank score, he would translate my voice into a perfectly formed chart. On the odd occasion where he would need to rub something out, that was mostly due to me not intonating properly or not remembering the song routine well enough. His skill in this regard, in real-time, was mind-blowing. Other musicians would sometimes watch on from the side, and when I shook my head in amazement, they would shake theirs as well, mumbling “he’s a monster”.

Musicians are a strange lot. They range from the bohemic to the fastidiously rigid. They mostly wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are notorious for being “too precious” over what I thought were the most trivial of matters. Sure, it’s a right royal pain to come to a venue with your heavy gear, only to be told by some over officious attendant that you had to park your car further away and could not park near the loading bay. I got used to frustrated musicians, with furrowed brows mumbling inanities and hurling invective because of a logistic problem. It was in my interest to calm the musicians down. A happy musician is a well-performing musician. Incredibly, irrespective of what the logistic or other issue was which may have interfered with a smooth set up on stage, Peter never showed the slightest inkling that he was annoyed, let alone affected. In early days one took this for granted. After a while, it was plain that his great nature as a human being meant that he rose above these impediments. He appreciated that the band leader had much stress at this time and was professional enough not to add to that pressure. The most I ever heard from him was after a few decades. One venue was notoriously difficult. They seemed to delight in placing more and more ridiculous impediments in front of professional musicians. I was fed up myself. One day, Peter mentioned that he could not play at that venue unless his gear was delivered earlier on stage. In fact all musicians felt this way, only Peter was one of the last to say so, and he never did this bombastically.

Especially in the early days, there were some venues/caterers whose food may have been kosher, but the kitchen therein wouldn’t have survived a health and safety audit. One Sunday we had a midday gig. The Saxophone player had already crossed words with the caterer (who was notorious). The caterer had made the musician feel like a little boy and was ordering him around. When the food arrived, and it was always 2 minutes before we were due to go back on stage, it was an experience in crazed ׳wolfing׳ down the already frazzled foodstuff on the plate.

Peter and (a half asleep) me

After the first course, some of the band members were feeling ill. By the time the main course had been consumed, the singer for the secular music was running from the stage to the toilets and back. The rest of the band had stories to tell about ‘the day after’. I vividly recall sitting down at the next gig with the musicians relating how their stomachs had been abused. Only one musician, Peter, had no problems. We called him ‘garbage guts’. He could eat anything. Indeed, he would go back for seconds of a dessert buffet with a plate that initiated engorgement by just looking!

Chuppas are a focus for musicians. We don’t have many instruments. It is usually very quiet and any mistake is certainly noticed (by those blessed with a degree of musical ear). We have certainly done our fair share of these, ranging from the grandiose Chuppa where we did have 5 Musicians or more serenading each separate entry, through to the more usual variety where it was just Peter on Keyboard and me on Violin (and sometimes Voice).

Peter setting up for a Chuppa

Sometimes there is a special request for an obtuse or not well-known tune as the Kallah circumnavigates the Chosson, or similar. I recall one event in a swish hotel with all the guests decked out in their evening wear. Peter arrived and we had zero time to look at the score. It was, as I recall some 4 pages long and had changes in tempo with brief 1 or 2 bar interludes to boot. I always relied on Peter to cover my less than wonderful Violin playing, and on this occasion, I didn’t know the tune off-hand and so I was reading as well. I had an advantage in that I knew the feel and the changes. To say I was nervous was an understatement, even if I had imbibed a couple of quick schnapps beforehand. As usual Peter was perfection personified. Every nuanced change, be it from me leading in a little early on my violin, or motioning with my head or indeed using other gesticulatory cues were picked up while at the same time Peter’s left and right hands glided across the keyboard.

We even had fun at “Adass” gigs

When I did Jewish dinner music, I had a penchant for re-interpreting old, but beautiful songs. Even the decidedly aged “Amar Rabbi Akiva” became a Phrygian jazz experience. I only had to gently intimate a “feel” and Peter would be “onto it” immediately, adding his lavish chords and arpeggio runs. Just to mind: one crowd favourite for many years was “Al Kol Eleh” or
“Uncle Ayley” as my band called it.  The ending was something that just came to be and was our unique blend. One evening, my voice was in fine form and we must have gone up a half a tone at least six times. Peter just smiled as I indicated “up” yet again, and accompanied me with his usual aplomb.

How many times did the great Schnapps band accompany visiting world stars, including Avraham Fried, the Chevrah and many more. We don’t forget the functions where there was also a youth choir. On the latter, Peter wrote some beautiful charts. I remember (at my suggestion) he converted the legendary Pirchei song, “Eleycho” into 6th Chords and the Asian feel was just magnificent (I’m sure some ears thought it was “wrong” though).

Chanuka in the Park. It was rarely easy to get into the venue, let alone get out. I just remember when we had to support Lipa Schmeltzer one time and the late Piamenta flautist. Let’s just say the charts were “challenging”. Peter never complained. He was the consummate professional. 

It is easy to write about Peter. Just over two weeks ago I organised a lunch at Spot On for the immediate band members and Peter. Peter, who had a bout of prostate cancer several years ago, and recovered, suddenly found his body wracked with cancer. His rather emaciated figure emerged from the car and I found it terribly sad to see him in this situation. We had a wonderful meal, laced with GlenSomething and some great wine. When the time came for it all to end, Peter’s eyes welled up with tears. I don’t think I had ever seen him teary. I can’t repeat the collective noun he used for the members of the band, but he effectively said

It’s hard for me to imagine that I’m not going to see you guys again

I retorted that he should be positive (cheap words from me) and allow the new treatment to perform a miracle. Peter knew what was coming. I did have an opportunity 2 or 3 days before he passed away, a few short weeks after, but decided that I didn’t want to see him struggling for air, in and out of drug induced sleep.

Peter was not a religious man, but gave enormous respect to those who were sincerely religious. Melbourne has lost one of its finest musical figures and I have lost a wonderful friend and colleague.

The Hey Hey it’s Saturday team, led by Daryl Somers, produced a nice facebook post about Peter, and published a video tribute  which can be seen here.

PS. I will let you in on a secret. Peter had congenital deafness (no, nothing to do with the band volume). For approximately the last ten years, he played “deaf”. He could hear the bass and drums, and followed the charts as need be. That sort of challenge can only be overcome by Peter Ian McCutcheon, of blessed memory.

ברוך דיין אמת


The Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: a halachic perspective

There is no doubt that many people will be inclined to watch the nuptials of the latest Royal Wedding. Some will feel magnetised by the moment, others will be eager to see the habilment. One needs to remember, though, that even clothes will include vestments and the marriage is a formal Xtian marriage in a Church (כנסיה).

Those who may watch the wedding ceremony will do so through their Television or the Internet. Is there any halachic issue?

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:129) stressed that it is not permitted to enter a Church, even if one only intended to admire the architecture or art. In Yoreh Deah (3:77) he goes as far as not permitting the use of Church facilities for a Talmud Torah where that Talmud Torah had difficulty finding accomodation. Mori V’Rabbi, the Rav was asked after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, whether it was permitted to watch the service on the Television. Rav Soloveitchik responded that in the same way that it was forbidden to enter a  כנסיה, it was equally forbidden to bring the כנסיה into one’s house. He noted that the clergy at the time encouraged those who were not able to attend, to avail themselves of participation in the service by watching through the Television.

In summary, it is best to spend one’s time on permitted activities, and how much more so, by having a Shiur or learning from a Sefer at that time.

STOP PRESS: I am advised that this Wedding is being held on a day that one is forbidden to watch ANY Television (Melacha). That being said, many will I estimate wish to “catch up” and watch some highlights.

On the 25th Yohr Tzeit of HaGaon HaGadol Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik זצ׳׳ל

It is impossible to allow such an auspicious day pass without reflecting on the contribution of האי גברא רבא, פה מפיק מרגליות, חכם בקי וחריף, איש החסד, גזע תרשישים מורי ורבי הרב יוסף דוב הלוי למשפחת Soloveitchik.

I am indebted to Yeshivas Yitzchok Elchanan (RIETS) for its incredible resource yutorah.org an organic burgeoning library of Torah.

Nothing I can write from a second or third hand indirect ‘knowledge’ can do justice to the legacy of ‘the Rav of Rabonim’.

I highly recommend this discussion Chaired by Rabbi Brander, including three prime and great Talmidim, מורי ורבי ר׳ Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Menachem Genack and Rav Mayer Twerski, one of the Rav’s auspicious grandsons. The parent link is here.

Rav Soloveitchik delivering one of his famous Teshuva Drashos, on ג׳ שבט––שהוא גם יום הילולא של אבי מורי ז׳ל

What does a Rabbi tell a Bar Mitzvah in 2018?

It is natural that a lad be addressed on his Bar Mitzvah by the Rabbi. It is also expected that a lad  be more attuned to happenings in the modern secular world. A Rabbi’s holy task then, a most difficult task, is to bring the Parsha of the week, a Jewish happening, or an aligned Jewish teaching to the pulpit and to translate this into a modern, inspiring message using the language of the lad. Speeches at Bar Mitzvah ceremonies have witnessed a decaying level of Jewish content. This is manifest in “themes” that are invented and shallow.

Filling the Jewish void, is an unenviable task. It is one of the modern roles and challenges of the Rabbi. How can he steer the discussion to items of Jewish importance? It is after all a Bar Mitzvah, one of the classic days in the life of a Jewish male. The opportunity manifests itself at Shule. It’s not really the ideal place, but that’s the way it is. These days the Rabbi is unlikely to be invited to the party celebration; more evidence of Jewish decay. Imagine. The moment has come. The Rabbi has this unique and perhaps only chance to inject an authentic Jewish message into the ensuing celebration of ‘coming of Jewish age’.

It is also the week that physicist Professor Stephen Hawking dies. The Rabbi decides to couch his message in the framework of a Bar Mitzvah by adopting “role models”. Here is a great opportunity: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivkah, Jacob, Rachel, Miriam, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and Deborah; there is no shortage of personality whose example can be taught as an inspiration. It is precisely the Rabbi, who is relatively deep in Torah learning, who is able to expertly weave these Jewish role models into the tapestry of society today.

For some inexplicable reason the Rabbi chooses not to employ a Jewish role model on the day a boy becomes Jewishly relevant! Instead Nelson Mandela and Stephen Hawking are revered on the pulpit. Elements of the audience, those who have a good working relationship with Judaism, are somewhat uncomfortable given that Mandela and Hawking are paraded as the “Torah’s message to a Bar Mitzvah”.

I’m not writing to “attack” Mandela or Hawking or anyone. The two had many fine attributes. For the Jew, however, in context, let’s consider the challenges these gentlemen present to a Rabbi, and a fortiori, a Bar Mitzvah.

  1. Mandela embraced the terror-king Arafat
  2. Mandela considered Zionism as Racism and the Palestinians as the indigenous “blacks of Palestine”.
  3. Since Mandela, South Africa boycotted trade with Israel
  4. Mandela laid a wreath on the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian revolution, warmly greeting his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  5. In 1990. Mandela aroused the anger of Australian Jewish groups upon his arrival in Canberra, likening Israel to a “terrorist state” and accusing her of “slaughtering defenseless, innocent Arabs
  6. Two South African Jewish groups criticised Mandela’s meeting with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam famous for anti-Semitic remarks in the U.S.
  7. South African Jews petitioned Mandela about his approval of a $650 million sale in tank-firing systems to Syria, a move that the U.S. said would threaten foreign aid to South Africa.
  8. Mandela’s relationship with Libya was criticised by the South African Board of Jewish Deputies.
  9. The American Jewish Committee canceled a luncheon honoring Mandela, after the former president’s statements in support of Iran’s trial of 13 Jews on spying charges.
  10. In Durban, Mandela retracted statements supporting the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and comments labelling Osama bin Laden a terrorist, upsetting the Jewish community.
  11. Of course, Mandela’s legacy is South African support for BDS.
  12. Stephen Hawking does not believe in God. (not an issue, but misplaced for a Bar Mitzvah!)
  13. Stephen Hawking decided to boycott Israel and Israeli goods whilst hypocritically only being able to function due to his use of Israeli technology (“Do as I say, not as I do”)
  14. Stephen Hawking had a macabre personal life where it is alleged he was involved in bondage style sexual machismo with his second wife.
  15. Professor Alan Dershowitz said: “Let me put it this way, Stephen Hawking would not refuse to attend a conference in a country that was equally oppressing another country, say China and Tibet, or Russia and Chechnya– it’s all about the fact that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. You cannot understand the hatred of Israel if you eliminate the fact that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. Is that anti-Semitism? You know– you name it, I’m describing it”
  16. Although many musicians and artists have declined to visit Israel as a way of showing solidarity with the Palestinians, Hawking was the first scientist of his stature to embrace the boycott movement.
  17. In 2009, in an interview with Al Jazeera, he condemned the recent Israeli military operation in Gaza, saying it was “plain out of proportion… The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”

Stephen Hawking and Nelson Mandela

Now, to be fair, there will be those who consider Hawking “unwise” but not an anti-Semite, and those who will consider Mandela similarly. Perhaps this is something they discuss in Limud Oz.

My question though is, does a Bar Mitzvah have any knowledge about these issues? Are these going to build his authentic Jewish identity? Why does an Orthodox Rabbi not use other strings to his bow when trying to unearth a role model for a Jewish boy’s coming of age–as a person who is now commanded to keep Torah and Mitzvos.

Yes, Stephen Hawking was a brilliant physicist, but let’s keep things in perspective, perhaps? We know that Jews have been recipients of more Nobel prizes in science than any other minority group on the face of the planet! Some examples are Adolf von Baeyer, Robert Lefkowitz and Serge Haroche. As for development of contributions to science, Hawking knew all about the great Jewish scientific minds, including Albert Einstein, John Von Neumann, and Leó Szilard. Indeed, Hawking’s arguably most important result was through the modern orthodox, Kippah wearing Jew, Professor Jacob Bekenstein ז׳ל! Some consider the young Bekenstein the man who “taught Hawking a thing or two about black holes“. Hawking detracted Bekenstein’s PhD thesis at a conference and ganged up on him with two others to berate Bekenstein that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Eventually Hawking embraced the Israeli scientist’s groundbreaking ideas, which served as the basis for his own revolutionary theory that black holes give off radiation. That’s not to minimise Hawking’s contribution!

Likely, the Rabbi wanted to use Hawking as an example of someone able to overcome horrible physical constraints? Sadly, Israel has a  myriad of institutions set up to aid both financially and technologically, the disabled and maimed of Israel? These are over represented because of War. Perhaps the people who run these institutions or finance them or serve in them are inspiring examples that someone blessed to be able to walk unaided and talk unaided should follow?

Why Mandela? Was it because he sat in prison due to the fact that he was not white? Yes, that’s something we can respect: courage and commitment. In context though, I wonder if one could have used, say, the example of Chief Rabbi Lau and his imprisonment as a Jewish child in Buchenwald? The story of Rabbi Nisan Mangel in Auschwitz is another horror story of triumph. Perhaps the boy could have been encouraged to seek out and together with his friends (who will be celebrating their Bar Mitzvah in the year) support those Israelis who spent time, long time, in dark, terrorist prisons? Perhaps telling the young Bar Mitzvah boy the story of Gilad Shalit and contrasting his prison conditions to Mandelas? I have specifically mentioned examples that are recent. No doubt there are better suggestions than the ones I have mentioned. What about re-telling the towering, inspirational story of the famed Rabbi Meir of Rotenburg and his personal refusal to be freed for money.

From my vantage point it seems as if some Rabbis feel there is “no personality that is worthwhile” from an authentic Jewish religious experience that is seen fit to be employed as part of a modern sermon. Please tell me I’m wrong?

[Postscript. One of my readers and contributors, R’ Meir Deutsch davened in the same Shule as Professor Bekenstein ז׳ל and he relayed the following vignette]

I just want to mention Prof. Beckenstein who was a member of our synagogue. Had he not died suddenly he probably would have been nominated for the Nobel Prize.

During one of my lectures in the synagogue on Parashat Bereshit, I asked for his acknowledgment of some facts. Here is the interchange:

As the liturgical poet ר’ משולם ברבי קלונימוס wrote:

“אך יסדת תבל על בלימה: בהיות עולם חושך וצלמוות.”  
“Even the foundation of the world is on the brink: the world of darkness and the shadow of death.”

Chazal said (Haggiga 11: 2):
אין דורשין בעריות בשלושה, ולא במעשה בראשית בשניים”
Our Sages also say (ibid.): “Anyone who investigates  four certain things, it is better if he did not come into the world: [what are the four?] what is above, what is below, what is ahead and what is at the back.”

Tosafot interpret there “what is ahead as what was before the world was created“.
Neither the physicists nor the cosmologists know or discuss what happened before the big bang.
Professor Bekenstein!
Is it true that the whole theory begins only when the dense and hot body disintegrated and began to disperse and cool?
Professor Bekenstein responded:
“I do not want to go over Chazal’s words, so I will not discuss the subject, but I will only try to think about it.”

It is eery, once more. 

  1. When I attended Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, there were two Israeli guys on the other side of the room, in the block known as “Sheraton”. One was Ze’ev Roitman הי׳׳ד and the other Chovav Landoi הי׳׳ד. I see their faces very clearly and their voices still resonate. I felt closer to Ze’ev than Chovav. I seemed to get on well with those of Sephardic extraction. Ze’ev had lost his father. They lived in Rechovot, near the Yeshivah. One day, Ze’ev’s father, who was Ashkenazi, went to the local clinic for an injection. Unfortunately, the needle he was given was not new, and had been used on an Arab with yellow fever, just prior. Ze’ev’s father contracted the disease and passed away. Ze’ev was brave. I admired him. He had an M16 in his cupboard, and he and Chovav were in year 3 (if my memory serves me correctly) of their 5 year combination Hesder program of 3.5 years in the Yeshivah and 1.5 years in the army. Chovav was dating at the time, and though I can’t remember the name of the girl, whom he married, I recall her name started with ‘P’. I returned to Australia and continued postgraduate studies (I had returned to the Yeshivah after my Bachelors degree for a rejuvenative time). The first Lebanon war intervened. I was to learn, to my horror, that the Yeshivah lost exactly two boys: Ze’ev and Chovav. They were in a tank that scored a direct hit and were incinerated. Chovav’s wife was heavily pregnant with their first and only child, a boy. This event played on my conscience and laid fallow any attempt to find reason, and to this day, I don’t stop thinking that while I was on the other side of the room back then, the grizzly מלאך המוות was sizing up his prey. I wondered what right did I have to live in comparative luxury and peace. I didn’t have any answers, and to be frank, the less I thought about it, the more able I was to deal with life, as it unfolded.
  2. Take 2. I was singing at a wedding on a very humid evening, overseeing the picturesque Albert Park Lake. My band Schnapps was pumping, and the atmosphere electric. I had just returned from India where I had travelled on University business less than 2 weeks earlier. In particular, over Shabbos, as was my custom, I stayed at the Chabad House of my friends R’ Gavriel Holtzberg הי׳׳ד and his wife Rivki הי׳׳ד.  They were gunned down in cold blood by Muslim terrorists whose aim was to kill peaceful Jews who were in a hidden, difficult to find, building surrounded by  chickens and all manner of domestic animal. As the news trickled in, I was beside myself with worry. Between music sets, I was ringing R’ Gavriel’s cell phone incessantly. I did get through once, but alas, the subterranean neanderthal creäture-terrorist on the other end didn’t respond, and then hung up, despite my entreaties. I have spoken and written about this episode too many times, regrettably.
  3. Fast forward. Many of us will have read about the tragic stabbing murder news of two young Rabbis: Raziel Shevach, a father of six and Itamar Ben-Gal, a father of four. Rabbi Ben-Gal

    Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal הי׳׳ד

    was from Har Bracha. Rabbi Shevach’s murderers were captured a months ago. A few moments ago my watch buzzed and I saw that they had captured Rabbi Ben-Gal’s murderer. Last week, I chanced on an article in twitter about Rabbi Ben-Gal, where his father Rabbi Daniel was also mentioned. I noticed that next to Ben-Gal, there was the name “Buzaglo” in brackets. My heart missed a few beats. My afternoon Chevrusa at Kerem B’Yavneh was Daniel Buzaglo.

  4. Speaking into the Microphone, Rabbi Daniel BenGal (Buzaglo)

  5. I remembered him very well, and his good friend and morning Chevrusa, Michael Ten-Ami.  Daniel had become Rabbi Daniel and Michael had become Rabbi Michael. I lost contact at least 35 years earlier. I scrambled to see if any of the news articles contained pictures, and yes, it certainly looked like the father of Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal, was indeed my Chavruso, Rabbi Daniel Buzaglo. I was, as they say, בהלם. I contacted the Yeshivah and emailed the secretary. Sure enough, it was indeed R’ Daniel’s son. I obtained his cell phone and email address. Entering the information into my contacts, I tentatively tried to see if the number was on “whatsapp”. Sure enough R’ Daniel was on whatsapp. What should I say? What could I say? What wouldn’t sound rehearsed or trite? I chose my words very carefully and pressed send. The next day, there was a response. He remembered me very well and reminded me that I had complained that my head was still spinning from the flight the first time we had learned together. I wrote back and hoped my simple words could achieve anything at all. I was excited when R’ Daniel wrote that I was giving him strength through my contact. I did not mention that I have a son with three young children not much younger than R’ Itamar הי׳׳ד. Erev Shabbos, I sent R’ Daniel a short message about the tradition that when we take out 3 Sifrei Torah, the Tanna R’ Yishmael tells us that this moment when the Aron HaKodesh is open is propitious for answering our entreaties. I thought this would be an appropriate  opportunity for supplication to relay to R’ Daniel. I was sure he had many things that he “wanted done”, so to speak. This early morning, R’ Daniel wrote back to me that he had used that time to daven for what was needed. Less than 12 hours later, my watch buzzes with the information that the terrorist who murdered R’ Daniel’s son, had been caught.

It is eery, once more

Guest Dvar Torah, Parshas Vayikra

[Thanks to R’ Meir Deutsch שליט׳א]


© מאיר דויטש

פרשתנו, פרשתויקרא, מונהסוגיקורבנות, ביניהםנפשכיתחטא“, “אםהכהןהמשיחיחטאולבסוףואםכלעדתבניישראלישגו […] ואשמו“. אנונתרכזבאחרון.

1.     ימין ושמאל

בספר דברים נאמר: ” כי יפלא ממך דבר למשפט בין דם לדם בין דין לדין ובין נגע לנגע דברי ריבת בשעריך וקמת ועלית אל המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלהיך בו. ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים ואל השפט אשר יהיה בימים ההם ודרשת והגידו לך את דבר המשפט. ועשית על פי הדבר אשר יגידו לך מן המקום ההוא אשר יבחר ה’ ושמרת לעשות ככל אשר יורוך. על פי התורה אשר יורוך ועל המשפט אשר יאמרו לך תעשה לא תסור מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך ימין ושמאל.”[1]

רש”י מפרש:” ימין ושמאל – אפילו אומר לך על ימין שהוא שמאל ועל שמאל שהוא ימין, וכל שכן שאומר לך על ימין ימין ועל שמאל שמאל”. והספרי אומר:” לא תסור מן התורה אשר יגידו לך, מצות לא תעשה, ימין ושמאל, אפילו מראים בעיניך על ימין שהוא שמאל ועל שמאל שהוא ימין שמע להם. “[2]הרמב”ן כותב על פסוק זה: ” ימין ושמאל – אפילו אם אומר לך על ימין שהוא שמאל או על שמאל שהוא ימין, לשון רש”י. וענינו, אפילו תחשוב בלבך שהם טועים, והדבר פשוט בעיניך כאשר אתה יודע בין ימינך לשמאלך, תעשה כמצותם,

וחתך לנו הכתוב הדין, שנשמע לבית דין הגדול העומד לפני השם במקום אשר יבחר בכל מה שיאמרו לנו בפירוש התורה, בין שקבלו פירושו עד מפי עד ומשה מפי הגבורה, או שיאמרו כן לפי משמעות המקרא או כוונתה, כי על הדעת שלהם הוא נותן (ס”א לנו) להם התורה, אפילו יהיה בעיניך כמחליף הימין בשמאל, וכל שכן שיש לך לחשוב שהם אומרים על ימין שהוא ימין.

כאן נקבע כי יש לקבל את פס”ד הסנהדרין, אפילו אם לדעתנו הם טועים. היש לנו הסכמה? 

2.     אחרי רבים להטות

ספר החינוך – ועל דרך ענין זה שעוררתיך בני עליו אפרש לך אגדה אחת שהיא בבבא מציעא בסוף פרק הזהב [נ”ט ע”ב] גבי ההוא מעשה דרבי אליעזר בתנורו של עכנאי המתמהת כל שומעה.

בברייתא, ב”תנורו של עכנאי” בבא מציעא (נט, ע”ב) “, “השיב רבי אליעזר כל תשובות שבעולם ולא קיבלו הימנו” למרות כל ההוכחות בניסים וגם בת הקול מהשמיים שאמרה שהלכה כמותו. “עמד רבי יהושע על רגליו ואמר: לא בשמיים היא … שכבר ניתנה תורה מהר סיני אין אנו משגיחין בבת קול, שכבר כתבה תורה – אחרי רבים להטות”. והגמרא שואלת: “מאי עביד הקב”ה בההיא שעתה? אמר לי קא חייך ואמר: נצחוני בני, נצחוני בני”. 

3.     מפי שמועה והליכה לפי הרוב

את החשיבות בעמידה בפסיקה שנשמעה מפי הרבים אנו יכולים לראות אצל עקביא בן מהללאל: “עקביא בן מהללאל העיד ארבעה דברים, אמרו לו עקביא חזור בך מארבעה דברים שהיית אומר (ששמע מפי המרובים) ונעשך לאב בית דין לישראל. אמר להן: מוטב לי להקרא שוטה כל ימי ולא להעשות שעה אחת רשע לפני המקום שלא יהיו אומרים: בשביל שררה חזר בו”.[3] מה שעבר על עקביא בן מהללאל בגלל שעמד איתן על הדעות ששמע מפי רבים הרי הם ידועים. עקביא רצה בכל זאת לשנות את הפסיקה ששמע מפי הרבים ומצא דרך לעשות זאת, כך אומרת המשנה: “בשעת מיתתו [של עקביא] אמר לבנו חזור בך מארבעה דברים שהייתי אומר. אמר לו [בנו]: ולמה לא חזרת בך? אמר לו [עקביא]: אני שמעתי מפי המרובים והם שמעו מפי המרובים, אני עמדתי במשמועתי והם עמדו במשמועתן, אבל אתה ששמעת מפי היחיד ומפי המרובין מוטב להניח דברי היחיד [דברי] ולאחוז בדברי המרובין”.[4]

המשנה אומרת: “ולמה מזכירין דברי היחיד בין המרובין הואיל ואין הלכה אלא בדברי המרובין, שאם יראה בית דין את דברי היחיד ויסמוך עליו, שאין בית דין יכול לבטל דברי בית דין חברו עד שיהיה גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין. היה גדול ממנו בחכמה אבל לא במנין, במנין אבל לא בחכמה אינו יכול לבטל דבריו עד שיהיה גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין”.[5] לפי דעת המשנה שלפנינו יכול בית דין לבטל פסיקה קודמת אם יעמוד בתנאים המוכתבים.[6]          אחרי רבים להטות, בכל פס”ד.

4.     סמכות בי”ד

יש שתי גישות לפסיקת ההלכה – השמרנית: שאינה מאפשרת כל שינוי בנושא שנפסק בעבר, גם אם חל שינוי בעובדות או שחלה התפתחות בשטח. לעומתה, הדינמית: שרואה בהתפתחות ובשינויים שחלו צורך לדון מחדש בשאלות שכבר נפסקו בעבר.

לפי השיטה השמרנית דיון בהלכה אפשרי רק בנושא שלגביו טרם נפסקה הלכה. הלכה שנפסקה אין אפשרות לשנותה, גם אם התנאים והטעמים לפיה נפסקה השתנו או הופרכו. הטעמים השונים המהווים את גרעין הפסיקה קיימים כל עוד לא נפסקה ההלכה, לאחר מכן אין עוד לדון באותה הלכה פסוקה.

נעיין במשנה בסנהדרין[7]: “(דברים יז) כי יפלא ממך דבר למשפט וגו’, שלשה בתי דינין היו שם. אחד יושב על פתח הר הבית ואחד יושב על פתח העזרה ואחד יושב בלשכת הגזית. באים לזה שעל פתח הר הבית ואומר כך דרשתי וכן דרשו חבירי כך לימדתי וכך לימדו חבירי, אם שמעו (פסק דין בנושא) אומרים להם ואם לאו באין להן לאותן שעל פתח העזרה ואומר כך דרשתי וכן דרשו חבירי כך לימדתי וכך לימדו חבירי, אם שמעו אומרים להם ואם לאו אלו ואלו באים לבית דין הגדול שבלשכת הגזית שממנו יוצאת תורה לכל ישראל שנאמר (דברים יז): מן המקום ההוא אשר יבחר ה”. ממשנה זו אנו רואים כי כל בתי הדין רשאים להורות רק לפי הלכה פסוקה (אם שמעו), מלבד בית הדין הגדול שרשאי לפסוק בנושא שטרם נדון ואין לגביו הלכה פסוקה. מתוך המשנה נראה כי לא קיימת הגבלה שבית הדין הגדול ידון גם בהלכה פסוקה.

לעומת המשנה שלפנינו הדיון בתוספתא בנושא הוא שמרני “הולכין לבית דין הגדול שבלשכת הגזית … נשאלת שאילה אם שמעו אמרו להם ואם לאו עומדין למינין. רבו המטמאין טימאו, רבו המטהרין טהרו משם היה יוצאת הלכה ורווחת בישראל”.[8] לפי התוספתא גם בית הדין הגדול לא יכול לשנות שאלה שנפסקה (אם שמעו אמרו להם), רק אם לא שמעו עומדים למניין וקובעים הלכה.

במחלוקת בתוספתא: “לעולם הלכה לפי המרובין. לא נזכרו דברי היחיד בין המרובין אלא לבטלן. ר’ יהודה אומר: לא הוזכרו דברי היחיד בין המרובין אלא שמא תיצרך להן שעה ויסמכו עליהן”.[9] לפי הרישא דברי היחיד הוזכרו כדי שנדע שנדחו מפני הרבים וישארו דחויים לעולם.

  1. שמרנות קלאסית

את השמרנות הקלאסית נוכל לראות אצל רבי אליעזר בן הורקנוס, ואצטט ברייתא: “תנו רבנן: מעשה ברבי אליעזר ששבת בגליל העליון ושאלוהו שלושים הלכות בהלכות סוכה, שתים עשרה אמר להם שמעתי, שמונה עשר אמר להם לא שמעתי. רבי יוסי בר’ יהודה אומר: חילוף הדברים, שמונה עשר אמר להם שמעתי שתי עשר אמר להם לא שמעתי. אמרו לו: כל דבריך אינן אלא מפי שמועה? אמר להם: הזקקתוני לומר דבר שלא שמעתי מפי רבותי. מימי לא קדמני אדם בבית המדרש, ולא ישנתי בבית המדרש לא שינת קבע ולא שינת ארעי, ולא הנחתי אדם בבית המדרש ויצאתי, ולא שחתי שיחת חולין ולא אמרתי דבר שלא שמעתי מפי רבי מעולם”.[10]

ממה שאנו רואים עד כאן; יש לקבל את פסק הדין של הסנהדרין אפילו אם אנו בדעה כי טעו.

אנו מוצאים גם דעות חלוקות בין התלמוד לבין התוספתא, אם הסנהדרין היושבת בלשכת הגזית, יכולה לשנות הלכה שנפסקה כבר בעבר. יש לקבל את דעת הרוב בפסקי הדין.

האם היסודות מוצקים דיים בנושא? אם כן אנו יכולים להמשיך.

6.     קורבנות חטאת

“וידבר ה’ אל משה לאמר. דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר נפש כי תחטא בשגגה מכל מצות ה’ אשר לא תעשינה ועשה אחת מהנה. אם הכהן המשיח יחטא לאשמת העם והקריב על חטאתו אשר חטא פר בן בקר תמים לה’ לחטאת.”[11]

“ואם כל עדת ישראל ישגו ונעלם דבר מעיני הקהל ועשו אחת מכל מצות ה’ אשר לא תעשינה ואשמו.”[12]

כבר ראינו למעלה, מספר החינוך, כי “אפילו יהיו הם טועים”. מה קורה כאשר הם טועים? מתוך קטע החטאת שבספר ויקרא אנו רואים בפסוק יג האומר: “ואם כל עדת ישראל ישגו וגו'”. מי הם “כל עדת ישראל”? נעיין בספרא: “עדת ישראל יכול בכל העדה הכתוב מדבר תלמוד לומר כאן עדה ולהלן נאמר עדה, מה עדה אמורה להלן ב”ד, אף כאן ב”ד, ת”ל עדת ישראל, העדה המיוחדת שבישראל ואי זו זו, זו סנהדרי גדולה היושבת בלשכת הגזית.”[13]

גם רש”י מפרש את הפסוק כך:

“עדת ישראל – אלו סנהדרין:

ונעלם דבר – טעו להורות באחת מכל כריתות שבתורה שהוא מותר:

הקהל ועשו – שעשו צבור על פיהם”.

לפיכך, כמו שכותב הרמב”ם ” כל דבר שחייבין על שגגתו חטאת קבועה אם שגגו בית דין הגדול בהוראה והורו להתירו ושגגו העם בהוראתן ועשו העם והם סומכין על הוראתן ואחר כך נודע לבית דין שטעו, הרי בית דין חייבין להביא קרבן חטאת על שגגתן בהוראה ואע”פ שלא עשו הן בעצמן מעשה שאין משגיחין על עשיית בית דין כלל בין עשו בין לא עשו אלא על הוראתן בלבד, ושאר העם פטורין מן הקרבן ואע”פ שהם העושין מפני שתלו בבית דין.”[14], אם הסנהדרין טעו הם מביאים פר בן בקר לחטאת והעם, שקיבל את הוראת בית הדין, פטור כי סמך על בית הדין, ולמרות שעשו דבר שאסור הם לא שוגגים.

האם על כולם להסתמך על פסיקת בית הדין? האם כל העושים כפסיקה פטורים? לכאורה נראה מהנאמר כי כך הדבר, אולם ננסה לבדוק העניין. ראשית נברר:

7.     מי היא סנהדרין כשרה לפסיקה

הרמב”ם מרחיב בנושא: ” וכן אם הורו בית דין הגדול שדם הלב מותר ולא היה ראש ישיבה עמהן או שהיה אחד מהן אינו ראוי להיות ממונה בסנהדרין כגון שהיה גר או ממזר או זקן או שלא ראה בנים וכיוצא בהן ועשו העם על פיהם ואכלו דם הלב הרי בית דין פטורין וכל מי שאכל מביא חטאת קבועה על שגגתו. ומנין שאין הכתוב מדבר אלא בבית דין הגדול שנאמר ואם כל עדת ישראל ישגו וגו’, ומנין שעד שיהיו כולן ראויין להוראה שנאמר ואם מעיני העדה עד שיהיו להם כעינים, ולהלן הוא אומר ושפטו העדה מה העדה האמורה בדיני נפשות כולן ראויין להוראה אף עדה האמורה בשגגה זו עד שיהיו כולן ראויין להוראה “.[15]

מכאן נראה כי יש לבדוק את כשרותה של הסנהדרין ולברר מי ישב בדין לפני שנפעל לפי פסה”ד.

8.     האם על כולם לקבל את פס”ד לפי הרוב?

האם על כולם להסתמך על פסיקת בית הדין? האם כל העושים כפסיקה פטורים? לכאורה נראה מהנאמר כי כך הדבר, אולם ננסה לבדוק העניין.

בירושלמי אנו מוצאים כבר פירוש אחר על הפסוק ימין ושמאל ” דתני יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהיא שמאל ועל שמאל שהיא ימין תשמע להם תלמוד לומר ללכת ימין ושמאל שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין ועל שמאל שהיא שמאל מאי כדון רבי יוסי בשם רבי הילא לפי שבכל מקום שוגג פטור ומזיד חייב וכאן אפילו מזיד פטור מפני שתלה בבית דין.”[16], אבל עדיין מי שתולה בבית דין פטור.

  1. מי הוא תולה בבי”ד

התלמוד מנסה לקבוע מי הוא זה התולה עשייתו בפסיקת בית הדין: “הורו בית דין לעבור על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה, והלך היחיד ועשה שוגג על פיהם, בין שעשו ועשה עמהן, בין שעשו ועשה אחריהן, בין שלא עשו ועשה – פטור, מפני שתלה בב”ד. הורו ב”ד, וידע אחד מהן שטעו או תלמיד והוא ראוי להוראה, והלך ועשה על פיהן, בין שעשו ועשה עמהן, בין שעשו ועשה אחריהן, בין שלא עשו ועשה – הרי זה חייב, מפני שלא תלה בב”ד. זה הכלל: התולה בעצמו – חייב, והתולה בב”ד – פטור.”[17]

כאן אומרת המשנה כי אם אחד הדיינים, או אפילו תלמיד ראוי להוראה, ידע כי בית הדין טעה בפסיקתו אינו רשאי לקבל את דעת בית הדין ואם עשה כפי שהורו הוא חייב כי לא תלה עשייתו בבית הדין כי לדעתו בית הדין טעה.

נביא גם את הרמב”ם בנושא:

“כיצד הורו בית דין לאכול חלב הקיבה כולו, וידע אחד מן הקהל שטעו ושחלב הקיבה אסורואכלו מפני הוראתן, שהיה עולה על דעתו שמצוה לשמוע מבית דין אע”פ שהם טועים, הרי זה האוכל חייב חטאת קבועה על אכילתו, ואינו מצטרף למנין השוגגים על פיהם, במה דברים אמורים כשהיה זה שידע שטעו חכם או תלמיד שהגיע להוראה אבל אם היה עם הארץ הרי זה פטור שאין ידיעתו באיסורין ידיעה ודאית ומצטרף לכלל השוגגים על פיהם.”[18]

חכם, או אפילו תלמיד שהגיע להוראה אינו יכול לסמוך על פסיקת הסנהדרין אם לדעתו טעו. 

10.  האם פסיקה לפי הרוב מחייבת את כולם?

הרמב”ם – (באותו מאמר שלעיל) וכן אם הורו [הסנהדרין] וידע אחד מהן שטעו ואמר להם טועים אתם ורבו עליו המתירים והתירו, הרי בית דין פטורין וכל מי שעשה על פיהם חייב להביא חטאת קבועה על שגגתו, שנאמר ואם כל עדת ישראל ישגו עד שישגו כל הסנהדרין.

ידע אחד מן הסנהדרין או מיעוטן שטעו המתירין ושתקו הואיל והורו ולא היה שם חולק ופשטה ההוראה ברוב הקהל הרי בית דין חייבין בקרבן וכל שעשה על פיהם פטור, ואלו ששתקו אם עשו על פי אלו שהורו הרי אלו חייבין מפני שלא תלו בבית דין,

וכן אם נשאו ונתנו בדבר ואמרו דבר זה מותר הוא ולא הורו לעם ולא אמרו להם מותרין אתם לעשות ושמע השומע מהן בעת שגמרו מותר והלך ועשה כפי מה ששמע הרי כל העושה חייב חטאת קבועה ובית דין פטורין שהרי לא הורו להם בפירוש לעשות, וכן אם הורו ועשו מיעוט הקהל על פיהם ונודעה השגגה, הרי בית דין פטורין ואלו המיעוט שעשו חייבין וכל אחד ואחד מביא חטאתו.”[19]

כאן מובהרת לנו הפסיקה של הסנהדרין.

  • על כל השופטים – חברי הסנהדרין להיות ראויים להיות שופטים, ואם לא אין הם פוטרים את כל אחד מהעושים לפי פסיקתם מלהביא חטאת על שגגתו.
  • אם אחד מהדיינים חלק על הרוב ואמר שהם טועים, אין קביעת הרוב פוטרת את העושה לפי פסק הדין של הרוב מלהביא חטאת על שגגתו, ובית הדין פטורים. דהיינו, אין העושה יכול לתלות עשייתו על בית דין שאחד או המיעוט חולקים על הרוב.
  • אם אחד מחברי הסנהדרין או מיעוטם, או תלמיד הראוי להוראה גם שאינו חבר בסנהדרין זאת, ידע שהרוב טעה אבל הם שתקו, העושה על פי הרוב פטור ובית דין חייב. אבל המיעוט או התלמיד הראוי להוראה שידע שבית הדין טעה אם עשה על פי אותה פסיקה של הרוב, הוא חייב כי לא תלה בבית דין – יוצא מכאן כי אינו יכול להסתמך על אותו פסק דין או להתנהג על פיו.
  • אם בית הדין דן בנושא והגיע למסקנה שמעשה מותר, אין להסתמך על המסקנה עד שבית הדין יקבע להורות לפי אותה מסקנה.
  • הורו בית דין ועשו רק המיעוט על פיהם, בית הדין פטור והעושים חייבים. יוצא מזה כי הפסיקה מחייבת רק אם הרוב של הציבור, לא רק מקבל אותה אלא עושה על פיה[20].

11.  מורה הלכה לפני רבו

כאשר אנו אומרים שתלמיד הראוי להוראה יכול לחלוק על הסנהדרין, האין כאן איסור של “מורה הלכה בפני רבו”? ננסה לבדוק נושא זה.

רבי יעקב בן צבי (הירש אשכנזי) עמדין כותב בנושא: “דשייך בכל ההוראות שאם התלמיד לפי דעתו רואה שרבו טועה בדין. צריך וחובה הוא עליו לאומרו ולא ישתוק כדי שלא יכשל בהוראת טעות (והא נמי נפקא מקרא דמדבר שקר תרחק דכייל כל דבר שקר). ואפי’ מילי דעלמא בכלל כדאיתא פ”ב דכתובות כ”ש מילי דאורייתא ולא הוי מורה הלכה בפני רבו בהכי דאיתסר ליה משום כבוד רבו דמיחזי כי אפקרותא שקופץ להורות ואינו ממתין לשמוע דברי הרב דאכתי לא ידע מאי דקאמר רביה. […] אי לאו בר הכי הוא כי לא כל הרוצה ליטול את השם יטול דחיישינן ליוהרא אבל אם שמע דעת רבו וכסבור התלמיד שטועה הוא בדין והוראה מותר לו לסתור דבריו ומצוה היא דהויא לאפרושי מאיסורא כי אין עצה ואין תבונה לנגד ה’. ולאו דוקא לאפרושי מאיסורא אלא אפי’ היה רבו טועה לחומרא שרי לי’ לתלמיד’ לאודועי’ ואיכא נמי מצו’ שכשם שאסור להתיר את האסור כן אסור לאסור את המותר וכל שכן כי אית ביה דררא דממונא והפסד שלא כדין בהוראתו, דודאי מצוה שלא לשתוק.”[21]

כך אנו רואים כי אין בעייה עם “מורה הלכה בפני רבו”.

12.  זקן ממרא

השתלשלות העניינים להגדיר חכם המגיע להוראה כזקן ממרא מוצגת ברמב”ם כך: ” […] בעת שיפלא דבר ויורה בו חכם המגיע להוראה בין בדבר שיראה בעיניו בין בדבר שקבל מרבותיו, הרי הוא והחולקין עמו עולין לירושלים ובאין לבית דין שעל פתח הר הבית, אומרים להן בית דין כך הוא הדין, אם שמע וקבל מוטב ואם לאו באין כולן לבית דין שעל פתח העזרה ואומרים להם גם הם כך הוא הדין, אם קבלו ילכו להן ואם לאו כולן באין לבית דין הגדול ללשכת הגזית שמשם תורה יוצאת לכל ישראל שנאמר מן המקום ההוא אשר יבחר ה’, ובית דין אומר להם כך הוא הדין ויוצאין כולן, חזר זה החכם לעירו ושנה ולמד כדרך שהוא למוד הרי זה פטור, הורה לעשות או שעשה כהוראתו חייב מיתה ואינו צריך התראה, אפילו נתן טעם לדבריו אין שומעין לו […]”[22]

מי הוא זקן ממרא? הגמרא אומרת: “אמר אביי, אף אנן נמי תנינא: חזר לעירו, שנה ולימד כדרך שלימד – פטור, הורה לעשות – חייב.”[23] במסכת סנהדרין אנו רואים כי גם אם לא הורה לאחרים אלא רק עשה כהוראתו הוא נעשה זקן ממרא: “חזר לעירו ושנה. תנו רבנן: אינו חייב עד שיעשה כהוראתו, או שיורה לאחרים ויעשו כהוראתו.”[24]

לפי ר’ זעירה אם רצה בית דין למחול לזקן ממרא הם רשאים למחול: “דאמר רבי יאשיה: שלשה דברים סח לי זעירא מאנשי ירושלים. בעל שמחל על קינויו – קינויו מחול בן סורר ומורה שרצו אביו ואמו למחול לו – מוחלין לו, זקן ממרא שרצו בית דינו למחול לו – מוחלין לו. וכשבאתי אצל חבירי שבדרום, על שנים הודו לי, על זקן ממרא – לא הודו לי, כדי שלא ירבו מחלוקת בישראל”.[25]

גם הרמב”ם אינו מקבל את דעתו של ר’ זעירא, ומגדיר “זקן ממרא” כך:

“אבל זקן ממרא האמור בתורה הוא חכם אחד מחכמי ישראל שיש בידו קבלה ודן ומורה בדברי תורה כמו שידונו ויורו כל חכמי ישראל שבאת לו מחלוקת בדין מן הדינים עם בית דין הגדול, ולא חזר לדבריהם אלא חלק עליהם והורה לעשות שלא כהוראתן, גזרה עליו תורה מיתה ומתודה ויש לו חלק לעולם הבא, אף על פי שהוא דן והן דנים הוא קבל והם קבלו הרי התורה חלקה להם כבוד, ואם רצו בית דין למחול על כבודן ולהניחו אינן יכולין כדי שלא ירבו מחלוקת בישראל.

היה חכם מופלא של בית דין וחלק ושנה ולמד לאחרים כדבריו אבל לא הורה לעשות פטור, שנאמר והאיש אשר יעשה בזדון לא שיאמר בזדון אלא יורה לעשות או יעשה הוא בעצמו.”[26]

זקן ממרא הוא “חכם המגיע להוראה” ויש החולקים עליו. הם מופיעים לפני בית דין הגדול בלשכת הגזית הפוסק הלכה כדעת החולקים עליו. עם הוא ממשיך ללמד כדרך שלימד בראשונה, המנוגדת לפסק הדין של הסנהדרין, אין הוא זקן ממרא עד שיורה לעשות (לפסוק) כהוראתו, המנוגדת לפסק הסנהדרין.

אבל הרמב”ם, המאמץ את הנאמר במסכת סנהדרין (פח, ע”ב), אומר גם דבר נוסף “או שעשה כהוראתו”, דהיינו, הוא עשה דבר הנוגד את פסק הדין של הסנהדרין, גם אז הוא זקן ממרא.

כאן אנו בבעיה. המשנה אומרת:

“הורו בית דין לעבור על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה, והלך היחיד ועשה שוגג על פיהם, בין שעשו ועשה עמהן, בין שעשו ועשה אחריהן, בין שלא עשו ועשה – פטור, מפני שתלה בב”ד. הורו ב”ד, וידע אחד מהן שטעו או תלמיד והוא ראוי להוראה, והלך ועשה על פיהן, בין שעשו ועשה עמהן, בין שעשו ועשה אחריהן, בין שלא עשו ועשה – הרי זה חייב, מפני שלא תלה בב”ד. זה הכלל: התולה בעצמו – חייב, והתולה בב”ד – פטור.”[27] דהיינו אם הראוי להוראה בדעה שבית הדין טעה אין הוא יכול להיתלות על פסק בית הדין ועליו לעשות כדעתו אחרת יהיה חייב. אבל

אם יעשה כדעתו הרי הוא יהיה “זקן ממרא”. כיצד יצא מהמילכוד?

רציתי רק לגעת בנושא הפסיקה של הסנהדרין, החכם, התלמיד שהגיע להוראה (גמיר וסביר) ואת מי מחייבת פסיקת הסנהדרין.

מה שאנו יכולים לראות מהנדון כי יש בקרה וביקורת תמידית על פסיקות ביה”ד.

ראינו במסכת הוריות כי תלמיד הראוי להוראה אינו מקבל את פסקי הדין של הסנהדרין היושבים בלשכת הגזית כדבר המובן מאליו. אם הוא בדעה שבית הדין שגה בפסיקה עליו לדחותה ולנהוג כפי שהוא רואה לנכון. יוצא מזה, כי ההתייחסות לפסיקה של בית הדין היא שונה עבורו לעומת שאר פשוטי העם. אם הדבר נכון לתלמיד הראוי להוראה, הוא ודאי כך לגבי חכם המגיע להוראה.

במחלוקת אם בית דין יכול למחול לזקן ממרא הרמב”ם מאמץ את הדעה שאינו יכול למחול. לא מצאתי מה קורה כאשר ביה”ד משנה פסיקתו ומאמץ דעת הזקן ממרא.

אנו רואים:

  • היזון חוזר של תלמיד הראוי להוראה, בעלי דעת המיעוט וזקן ממרא. חולקים על פס”ד.
  • חובה על כל מי שיודע תורה להורותה, גם אם היא מנוגדת לפסיקה.
  • תלמיד לפני רבו לא ישתוק אם לדעתו רבו טעה (סנהדרין ו ע”ב).

כל הנאמר הוא בזמן שהייתה סנהדרין שישבה בלשכת הגזית. סנהדרין שמחוץ ללשכת הגזית אינה מחייבת שנאמר מן המקום ההוא. היום הכל השתנה: לכל עדה ולכל חסידות יש פוסקים משלהן, האין זה מרבה מחלקות בישראל. אנו לפני חג המצות. יש הכשר לספרדים, יש הכשר לאוכלי קטניות, יש הכשר לאוכלי לפתית, ויש הכשר לאוכלי קנולה. אבל זה לא הכל. שמן בוטנים בפסח היה מותר לאשכנזים ופתאום נאסר בשנות הששים של המאה שעברה. או,  למשל: בישראל אין לאשכנזים הכשר למרגרינה לפסח. בית דין לונדון הכשיר את המרגרינה שם, כאשר היא מכילה את אותם המרכיבים של המרגרינה הישראלית. עולי בריטניה בארץ מייבאים לפסח את המרגרינה בהכשר בי”ד לונדון. הבנתם!


[1]  דבריםפרקיזפסוקיםטיא

[2]  ספרידבריםפיסקאקנד

[3]  עדויותפרקהמשנהו

[4]  שם

[5]  עדויותפרקא, משנהה

[6]  גםתנאיזהאינומחויבתמידכפישאנורואים: “יהיהגדולבחכמהוכו‘” אאעיטורשוקיירושליםבפירותקשיאעליהשהראשוניםתקנוהווריוחנןבןזכאיביטלהלאחרחרבןמפנישנתבטלהטעםלראשוניםולאהיהגדולכראשונים (השגתהראבדרמבםהלכותממריםפרקבהלכהב). כאןאנורואיםבטלהטעםבטילהההלכה. אבלהרמבםכותב: “אפילובטלהטעםשבגללוגזרוהראשוניםאוהתקינואיןהאחרוניםיכוליןלבטלעדשיהיוגדוליםמהם” (רמבםשם). אבלאםנמצאלסתורפסקדיןאומרהרמבם: “בדגדולשדרשובאחתמןהמדותכפימהשנראהבעיניהםשהדיןכךודנודין, ועמדאחריהםבדאחרונראהלוטעםאחרלסתוראותוהריזהסותרודןכפימהשנראהבעיניו, שנאמראלהשופטאשריהיהבימיםההם, אינךחייבללכתאלאאחרביתדיןשבדורך (רמבםשםהלכהא).

ראהגםשותהרידסימןצגדהוראיתישכתב: “ואעגדהןיחידורביםוהלכהכרביםהנימיליבדלאפסקיאמוראיהלכהכיחיד, אבלהיכאדאמוראיפסקיכיחידאאמוראיסמכינןושבקינןלכללאדיחידורביםהלכהכרבים (אעגדגםעלהאמוראיםמקשההתלמודדשביקרביםועשהכיחידכדמצינובסוכהיט, ב: אבייאשכחילרביוסףדקאגניבכילתחתניםבסוכה, אמרליהכמאןכראשבקתרבנןועבדתכרא, אמרליהברייתאאיפכאתני, מממצינוהרבהפעמיםבשסדאמוראיםפסקיכיחידבמקוםרביםולאמקשיםעליהם, עייןהמאורומלחמותבקצו, ב.)”

[7]  פרקיאמשנהב

[8]  תוספתאסנהדריןפרקז, הלא

[9]  שםעדויותפרקא, הלד

[10]  סוכהכחעא

[11]  ויקראפרקדפסוקיםאג

[12]  שםפסוקיג

[13]  ספראויקראדבוראדחובהפרשהד

[14]  רמבםהלכותשגגותפרקיבהלכהא

[15]  רמבםהלכותשגגותפרקיגהלכהא

[16]  ירושלמימסכתהוריותפרקאדףמהעמודד /הא

[17]  תלמודבבלימסכתהוריותדףבעמודא

[18]  רמבםהלכותשגגותפרקיגהלכהה

[19]  רמבםהלכותשגגותפרקיגהלכהא

[20]  והסנהדריןעצמןשעשובהוראתןאינןמצטרפיןלרובהקהל, עדשיהיוהרובשעשוחוץמןהסנהדרין, עשורובאנשיארץישראלעלפיהם, אעפשאלוהעושיםשבטאחד, וכןאםעשורובהשבטיםאעפשהןמיעוטהקהל, ביתדיןחייביםוהעושיןפטורין, כיצדהיויושביארץישראלששמאותאלףואחד, והיוהעושיןבהוראתביתדיןשלשמאותאלףואחדוהריכולןבנייהודהבלבד, אושהיוהעושיםבנישבעהשבטיםכולןאעפשישבהןמאהאלף, הריביתדיןחייביןוכלהעושיםעלפיהםפטוריןואיןמשגיחיןעליושביחוצהלארץשאיןקרויקהלאלאבניארץישראל, ושבטמנשהואפריםאינןחשוביןכשנישבטיםלעניןהזהאלאשניהםשבטאחד (רמבםהלכותשגגותפרקיגהלכהב)

[21]  שותשאילתיעבץחלקאסימןהדהוכיתימא

[22]  רמבםהלכותשגגותפרקיגהלכהח

[23]  תלמודבבלימסכתהוריותדףבעמודא

[24]  סנהדריןפחעמודב

[25]  סנהדריןדףפחעמודא

[26]  רמבםהלכותממריםפרקגהלכהדו

[27]  תלמודבבלימסכתהוריותדףבעמודא

Left wing Modern Orthodox ignore the facts

In their haste to show they are sensitive new age religionists, the Hartman name has been known to leak across acceptable boundaries. I won’t go there. Consider two articles, one is the easy, feel good, new age sensistive approach from a Hartman, and the other is a fact based analysis by someone who is scientific in their approach. I know who is correct.

  1. Hartman’s emotional plea
  2. The sane rational approach from Dr Navon

I am sure there will be a number of Melbourne Rabbis too quick to jump on the Hartman #metoo wagon, in the name of ‘tikkun olam’. Pity they don’t consider the facts.

Malka Leifer and Extradition

There is zero tolerance for the Leifers of this world. There is great sympathy for those who have suffered under the hands of the Leifers of this world. Who would not like to see each Leifer prosecuted in a fair trial? I have blogged exasperatingly about Leifer and the situation which led up to her perpetrating and leaving, from day one.

Notwithstanding all the above, is it reasonable to imply that the Israeli Court System and its Judges are in any way inferior to the Australian Court System?  Can one rule that Israeli psychiatrists are in any way less able to make an informed judgement on Leifer’s state of mind and ability to take part in a fair trial than Australian psychiatrists? Is not any nuanced comment that ultimately reflects negatively on the Israeli judicial or medical system misplaced, and when stated by someone who was not a victim, offensive?

It is very important, for many reasons, that Leifer stand trial as soon as possible. The decision rendering her unfit, should be revisited regularly without an expiry date. Reading about ‘pressure’ on Israel over this issue leaves me with a bad taste. This is not a decision of Government. There is no Charedi judiciary, and the psychiatrists are not (all) Charedi either (seemingly).

As horrible as it is for victims and more, the pursuit must not be given up, but the notion of “applying pressure” needs to be retired. Is it really proper for Dan Andrews, a Premier of Victoria to pressure Israel? Is it right that Malcolm Turnbull or Mark Dreyfus make guarded comments?

We have full faith in the Israeli Judiciary and Medical Fraternity and look forward to Leifer facing the music, sooner than later.  Politics has no place in this domain, and should be rejected.

The importance of Centrist Orthodoxy: a case study in genetic screening

I was surprised and then annoyed with myself for not adequately appreciating the differences between Charedi Orthodoxy and Centrist (or Modern) Orthodoxy, in practical terms. Often, we try to understand the difference between these groups through slogans: eg. תורה לשמה and תורה עם דרך ארץ and תורה ומדע. In particular, when one identifies with Centrist Orthodox, unless they also have a deeper understanding of its approach to Yahadus, it can easily become a club or vehicle for those who promote left-wing, more compromising, approaches to Halacha,  or regrettably, boundaries outside of accepted Halacha.

Sadly, first steps are often after the fact. Individuals first assume an approach to Jewish Life and then identify themselves as Centrist (or Modern) Orthodox because they perceive more opportunity to mould that philosophy to accommodate their behaviours. Subsequent attempts to study Hirschian תורה עם דרך ארץ (a virulently anti-Zionist approach) or תורה ומדע (as described by Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm) are forays seeking to ascribe post facto legitimacy to existing behaviours and beliefs, some of which may well fall outside the Orthodox boundaries. There is much more to Centrist Orthodoxy than that, however. A failure to respect the solid foundations upon which Centrist Orthodoxy stands, is also an unfortunate, regrettable, hallmark of those who are identified with the right-wing.

It’s often easy to lose track of the importance of Centrist Orthodoxy because of the complex Weltanschauung it weaves and the friction it must deal with due to Centrist Orthodoxy not being an isolationist approach. Indeed, as a result, many who were Centrist become more Charedi, because the latter is actually simpler on the surface and perceived to be ‘more religious’. A seriously grounded and informed Centrist Orthodox Jew, however, is just as likely to have more fidelity to Halacha than a Charedi Jew! I won’t expand on this point in general terms; it’s pointless. Instead, I will reflect on a  burning issue which is being actively discussed. Through this issue, it is possible to discern an important difference in approach of Centrist versus Charedi, and, in my view, the superiority of the Centrist view is clearly manifest.

The Charedi community, influenced by a פסק from Rav Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל about testing for genetic markers, gave birth to the laudable and groundbreaking organisation Dor Yeshorim. The premise of Dor Yeshorim is not medical. Its aim is to

  1. construct and maintain a panel of genetic tests such that, based on Rabbinical advice, if two people are recessive carriers of a gene on that panel, they would be advised not to court each other.
  2. test two people, each of whom is identified by a secret unique number, and give a binary answer of yes or no, in respect of whether they may court each other (as defined by the particular panel of tests).

There have been two great achievements by Dor Yeshorim.

  1. Dor Yeshorim have been almost singularly responsible for removing certain genetic diseases from Jewish people. An example that is cited is Tay Sachs disease. I do believe this is true of the USA, however, in Israel there were and perhaps still are people who are ready to “roll the dice” and go out without knowing if they carry a deadly disease (this could be described as a misdirected exercise in תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלוקך. [In this vein, when Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי׳׳ד confided that his first son had Tay Sachs, I asked him whether he and his wife had been tested prior to marriage. Unfortunately, they had not. Their two eldest boys passed away miserably רחמנא ליצלן in a home for terminally ill children in Israel. The third son, the highly celebrated miracle Moshe Holtzberg, is a story in of itself and this post isn’t the place to discuss it. The point being though that (in my estimation) the more Charedi a couple is (unless they are Chassidim and their Rebbe has made a גזירה) the more likely they are to be חסידים שוטים and rely on תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלקיך and שומר פתאים ה׳ and take easily avoidable and unecessary mortal risks, as Dor Yeshorim has demonstrated to date.
  2. Dor Yeshorim has managed to protect the privacy of couples, one or both of whom are carriers, and in this way engineered a much safer Shidduch environment. Indeed, if one loses their identification number, they will need be re-tested all over again. Since the testing regime is entirely anonymous, Dor Yeshorim cannot connect a person with their test results, were they to misplace their identification number.

How does Dor Yeshorim decide what to test? Their website claims

Dor Yeshorim’s panel of tests therefore currently screens for debilitating and recessive genetic diseases most commonly occurring within the Jewish community. These specific tests have been painstakingly researched and chosen based on their frequency and severity of symptoms. The decision to add a disease to the Dor Yeshorim panel of tests is not a simple one. We are forever mindful of our mission to ensure healthy families. At the same time, we must employ a balanced approach to adding a test to the panel; just because a test exists for the disease, does not mean it warrants screening.

The issue of what can and should be tested has hotted up, of late. There are apparently some 39 life-threatening Ashkenazic diseases, (the number 39 and its connected to מלקות is chilling) made up of hundreds of mutations. Dor Yeshorim has chosen to focus on some 14 diseases. Since the diseases are life-threatening, one might assume that Dor Yeshorim has made the halachic call to screen for all 39. It should be noted, and this is important, that it is no more expensive for a testing laboratory to scan and report on 200 versus 39 versus 14. Therefore, there ought be no argument of cost vis-à-vis less prevalent carriers of disease. In the Dor Yeshorim system, nobody knows which of the two (or both) is positive for any particular marker. In addition, the set of tests is determined by Dor Yeshorim in consultation with its Poskim. The reality is that Dor Yeshorim has not extended to many more markers even though this ought be cost neutral. A result of Dor Yeshorim’s stance is that there is a new agency, known as JScreen.

JScreen looks at some 200+ diseases. The list is here.

The question now becomes, should one prefer JScreen as this is medically and scientifically a more expansive panel that will show up less prevalent diseases? Note, even if a disease is very rare, for example there is only a 1/10000 probability that a person is carrying the disease, then, for both the male and female to both be carriers, the chance of that occurring is, therefore, 1/100000000 (= 1/10000 squared=0.0001), nevertheless, it is a  25% chance! that the couple’s offspring will have the disease! This probability is constant and does not relate to the prevalence of the disease, and importantly does not impinge on the “Shidduch Crisis” because the chance of both people being carriers is 0.0001! I fear that some Poskim are simply not aware of the statistics and have an arcane notion that the more one tests the greater the effect on the Shidduch Crisis. This is not the case. Indeed, if a disease is incredibly remote (say one in a million probablity), but horribly destructive,  then

the chance of a prospective couple going on a Shidduch date both carrying this rare gene, is 0.000000000001 !!!

Should anyone be afraid that this will cut them out of Shidduchim? Not in my mind.

With the above in mind, I was listening to a fascinating podcast hosted by the impressive Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein on this exact topic.

Rabbi Lichtenstein invited two world-famous Poskim to be live on his podcast. The first was מורי ורבי HaRav Hershel Schachter שליט׳׳א and the second was HaRav Binyamin Forst שליט׳׳א. Rav Schachter was gently firm and stated that there really ought to be no reason we aren’t finding out whatever we can to prevent a calumny. (It should be noted that it is estimated that couples who have a seriously ill child, have a 50% divorce rate, due to the incredible and inevitable pressure on a marriage).  In Rav Schachter’s eyes, it is the plain Halacha in Shulchan Aruch אבן העזר, סימן ב which determines practice:

לֹא יִשָּׂא אָדָם אִשָּׁה לֹא מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת מְצֹרָעִין וְלֹא מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת נִכְפִּין, וְהוּא שֶׁהֻחְזַק שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים שֶׁיָּבוֹאוּ בְּנֵיהֶם לִידֵי כָּךְ:

A man shouldn’t marry a women from a leprous family nor from a nekafim. If a family has three instances the next children will have the presumption of being this way.

Rav Hershel Schachter שליט׳׳א

Seemingly, the only counter-argument is that we should be careful not to ‘play God’ and if we use medical research to such an extent, it could be viewed as “interfering” with creation. (We do interfere with creation  though—we’ve basically eradicated Polio … is that a bad thing!?)

Rav Forst, who is a widely accepted Charedi Posek in the United States, was not happy about using JScreen over Dor Yeshorim, and advised that he cannot understand why one should look for such uncommon diseases, and that we should have more faith in Hashem. He goes as far as stating (I assume that he didn’t know Rav Schachter had been on before him) that no respectable Posek would suggest that couples undertake a larger panel of tests, per JScreen. Indeed, not only Rav Schachter but also Rav Dr. J. David Bleich are strongly in favour of wider testing. It could be argued that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל would also have agreed with that stance. Critically, I am not sure whether Rabbi Forst knew the מציאות that if the male and female carry the remote disease, that there is always a constant 25% chance (one in four!) that a child will inherit it.

This is a poignant example which amplifies a difference between Centrist Orthodoxy and Charedi Judaism. The Charedi approach appears to be reluctantly using Science as an ingredient in a kosher Jewish existence. When they do engage with Science, they are careful to limit this so that uncommon cases are not tested. There is a latent Charedi feeling (הרגש) that too much science implies that God is lessened in the equation of השגחה. Accordingly, they quote the verse of תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלוקיך. It is important to be über pure in one’s relationship with God, and testing for “remote” diseases expresses a lack of faith in God’s choices and a lack of Bitachon!

Rav Binyamin Forst שליט׳׳א

Rav Schachter, however, uses the poignant example of a blind person who is playing near the seashore and is easily swept into the water. If we can see: that is, Science is able to help us, then there is no excuse to make oneself ‘blind’ and ignore what is easily found out. Rav Schachter is not challenged by Science. In his worldview, the Doctor has been given the Torah right to heal. Yes, they do interfere with the progression of illness! Furthermore, a Doctor who does not use the best medicine of his or her time is grossly negligent. Rav Schachter sees the advice of Tannaim in the Gemora in respect of Medicine, and the same applies to the Rambam, as being the best medicine of that time. We don’t follow that today! We also continue to follow the best medicine of our time. That is the Halachic imperative.

This chasm between the reality of medical-cum-scientific endeavour and the feeling that it is external to our Torah mandated Halacha (because its source is secular) is an important and critical distinction between Centrist (or Modern) Orthodoxy and Charedi versions of Orthodoxy.

Reb Moshe, himself, was never a predictable “all is forbidden” style Posek. This is one of the things that made him so very great. Reb Moshe would often rule in a lenient way and buttress his argument with prime sources, as opposed to later Acharonim. He is described as having ‘broad shoulders’. Consider this: even though Reb Moshe, for example, was stringent on himself not to use milk which was produced under the regulation of a Government, he had such milk at home, and his family partook of it. Indeed, his son Reb Dovid, who is a prominent Posek, still does. Reb Moshe was certainly not a ‘standard’ Charedi Posek. On this matter, Reb Moshe in a responsum on Tay Sachs balances these opposing concepts in his discussion about genetic testing before marriage (Igros Moshe EH 4:10). First, he writes, since the probability of both spouses being carriers is minute it may be included in the precept of “תמים תהיה according to Rashi, which instructs us not to delve into the future. However, he then writes, since the test is easily available and if an inflicted child is born it is devastating, the public should be educated about their options! Reb Moshe was the real deal, a truly great Posek, without fear or favour, and with a sensitive social understanding.

We close noting that Rabbi Forst advocates that women not test themselves for the BRCA gene, a gene associated  רחמנא ליצלן to breast and ovarian cancer, until they are 40+. The illness is not dependent on a husband. Rabbi Forst argues that the knowledge serves no real purpose since the women can have surgery at 40+ and remove the chances of cancer. I am not sure I understand. The surgery is radical and not at all easy for a woman. Rabbi Forst comes across as if it’s another (routine) surgery (Tonsilectomy?). Secondly, I would have thought that if we can aid medical and scientific research by attempting treatments on people before they are 40 (after finding out through a test) then we should do so! Imagine if they come up with a simpler treatment via some injection of specially designed stem cells. Would we not be involved in that from day 1? As I understand it, there is a higher incidence of problematic BRCA genes in Jewish people. Indeed, Rabbi Bleich suggests that we should, if possible, find out as much as we can by testing at birth. Of course, we do now test at birth, but only for those illnesses that can be treated.

In summary: one in four ought never be שומר פתאים ה׳ and the importance of Halacha engaging with the quality Science we have available, is critical!

The more the better? ‘בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ’

לעלוי נשמת אבי מורי ר’ שאול זעליג בר׳ יהודה הכהן בלבין
נפטר ג’ שבט תשע״ג
In memory of the fifth Yohr Tzeit of my dear father,
R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen Balbin ז׳ל

בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ 
The splendour of a King (God) is manifest through fulsome participation

This phrase appears in Tanach, Mishlei (14:28). שלמה המלך notes that the quality of a מצווה is enhanced when that מצווה is performed in the context of a bigger group of people. The commentary מצודת דוד supports this plain understanding, which is also the simple meaning implied in the גמרא Pesachim 64B.

What are the parameters of this phrase? What is bigger? Is three enough? ten? As many as possible? Is such a larger participatory group to be understood as a הידור מצווה, a better way to do a מצווה or is it intrinsic to the required quality of said מצווה to the extent that it is required. For example—and this example motivated this essay—assume a person is davening in a Shule which has twenty people for Maariv. Of those twenty people, two are חיובים (such as one may be a mourner in the 11 months and the other may have Yohr Tzeit on that night). Assume that both have a custom to lead the davening and say קדיש. There is now a choice:

  • either split the מנין into two groups of ten and daven in two separate rooms;
  • or one בר חיובא leads Maariv for twenty, and the other בר חיובא leads Mincha for twenty on the next day.

Assuming the interpretation that בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ is a הידור מצווה one may rationalise splitting the מנין on the grounds that a person affects a הידור only once the fundamental מצווה has been established. Given that two people consider it their fundamental need to lead the davening (because they wish to give נחת to the נפטר so that they will have an עלית נשמה), perhaps one could argue that every group of two additional people who may subsequently arrive, ought to be split evenly between the two מנינים, so that each has ‘maximised’ its size vis-à-vis בְּרָב עָם. The other approach, which perhaps sits a little easier?, is that a-priori, when one has a מצווה to fulfill, one should do that מצווה with as many people as possible לכתחילה. Of course, if there aren’t many people then the basic מצווה is still achieved. Its beauty, however, is enhanced, like the beauty of an אתרוג, when it is possible to meet the “A grade” version of the מצווה through a bigger crowd or participation.

Consider this example. The Midrash (תורת כהנים (9:2 describes the process of קמיצה, where the כהן takes some fine flour for the קרבן מנחה and with three of his fingers holds onto a blob of flour, while the top and bottom fingers (index and pinky) are used to ‘smooth off’ any protruding flour. In that process, it is possible that the one כהן performs all the actions of קמיצה.  That  כהן happens to be on scheduled guard duty. There are, however, other כהנים who potentially can help. Consequently, the Midrash quotes בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ and suggests that each step of the process be performed by a different כהן, and in this way, since more people are involved in the real מצווה of קמיצה, God’s majesty is enhanced. (One כהן passes the flour, another holds the special vessel and another performs the rounding off the flour. Alternatively, where oil is mixed with the flour, one measures, another kneads with the oil, and the third rounds off the flour, see (תוספות ר’’ש משאנץ שם). The Midrash derives this approach from the פסוק which states והביאה אל בני אהרן הכהנים. The plural indicates a Torah preference for more people to be involved.

The plural is used to increase the number involved in the מצווה. It seems that the preference to have more people involved in a מצווה is more than a qualitative improvement. Since the תורה explicitly advises that more כהנים are required, we might learn from this that in all cases “the more the merrier” is a fundamental aspect of the מצווה. On the other hand, one could argue the opposite. The תורה had to tell us to use more כהנים here (as per גמרא Menachos 7a) because בְּרָב עָם on its own, is not an imperative in general, but rather a better way to do things.

An example involving the sprinkling of the blood: the משנה in Pesachim (5:6) states explicitly that once the blood of a קרבן was collected and passed from one כהן to another, this is performed through a chain of Cohanim until the last Cohen nearest to the מזבח performs the זריקה sprinkling. The גמרא Pesachim 64B states that the reason many כהנים are involved is to make sure as many people are taking part in the מצווה as per the פסוק of בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ .

Indeed the אור זרוע: קטח is of the view that for every מצווה that can be broken up into parts (eg תפילה בציבור) it is better if partial honours are undertaken by different people, as opposed to one person doing all the davening, layning, and then saying haftora.

Another example is brought by the רמב’’ם in (הלכות בכורים (4:16, where the רמב’’ם notes that as the farmers approach ירושלים to present their first fruits, they pause and gather together in the central town of the regional area and then march en masse in the morning to ירושלים עיר הקודש to offer their first fruits. Why don’t they go up in the order that they happen to arrive? Why do they gather in a central town first and arrive in a block? The רמב’’ם explicitly states that it is required that they come as a larger block and not as individuals. Again, we see the importance of involving a crowd in the performance of a מצווה. One might argue that the רמב’’ם needed to tell us this law because we would not have done so in a large group otherwise. Alternatively, one could argue that בְּרָב עָם is always a requirement. However, sometimes we are directed in the method through which many people can indeed be involved.

An unrelated but similarly qualitative approach to a מצווה is the concept of זריזים מקדימין למצוות—those who are punctilious observe a מצווה at the earliest opportunity. A well-known example is that of ברית מילה which is done first thing in the morning, even though it might be easier for people wishing to attend an accompanying סעודה to have the ברית in the evening. We learn this from אברהם אבינו and וישכם אברהם בבקר.

What do we do when זריזים מקדימין למצוות clashes with בְּרָב עָם? For example, if there is a small crowd on time for מעריב during the week, should they wait a little longer as there would certainly be a bigger מנין? On the other hand, since the gazetted time has been reached and there is a מנין there is excitement to daven מעריב (yes I know it’s a רשות) so perhaps one should Daven immediately at the first opportunity. The חיי אדם in  הלכות זהירות מצווה 58:7 states that זריזים מקדימין למצוות has preference over בְּרָב עָם based on the גמרא Rosh Hashana 32B.  The גמרא asks about the place for the saying of הלל in שחרית. If we do so at the first opportunity then it is immediately after שחרית, and is an example of זריזים מקדימים. On the other hand we could have delayed הלל  to מוסף where there would be more people and בְּרָב עָם. We see from this משנה and גמרא that we prefer זריזים over בְּרָב עָם.

Another example of בְּרָב עָם occurs when one wishes to bless the Moon after ראש חדש. We know that one is able to do so until the 10th of the month. Imagine it is day 8, and one observes a clear moon. In such a case a person is able to say the blessing over the moon without any crowd, on his own. Should he wait until מוצאי שבת that is approaching where, if the moon is visible, there will be a nice crowd of people => בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ saying it together? The ביאור הלכה on הלכות ראש חדש ס’ תכו:ב states explicitly that לכתחילה, in the first instance, it is better to say it בְּרָב עָם. In other words, wait until מוצאי שבת (if it is before the 10th) and do away with זריזים מקדימים!

We could argue that the limits for בְּרָב עָם are that the מצווה itself is not a private מצווה. Therefore, for ברית מילה there would be no בְּרָב עָם whereas for a מצווה which is done for a ציבור or by the ציבור we do have בְּרָב עָם. An example of the ציבור would be saying בורא מאורי האש for many people as opposed to few. Others say that בְּרָב עָם doesn’t apply to ברכות הנאה (like בורא מאורי האש) and only to ברכת המצווה.  That is a separate topic.

One more example is in the שולחן ערוך Orach Chaim (90:9) where the מחבר recommends that a person should try to daven with a מנין in Shule. The משנה ברורה 28 (ibid) notes that if one has two Shules nearby and one Shule has a bigger מנין, and otherwise both מנינים are decorous, then one should daven in the מנין that has the bigger crowd because of בְּרָב עָם. (This also finds its way in Halacha where people make Minyanim in their houses, say, on Friday Night instead of davening in a nearby Shule. One should ask their Local Orthodox Rabbi. From where I stand, it would appear to be a practice that is contraindicated according to Halacha. This is also similar to layning the Megilla privately when it could be done בְּרָב עָם at Shule)

I have not in any way exhausted the different considerations with respect to this notion. The topic certainly isn’t done justice by this short essay. That being said, let us now return to the example mentioned initially:

where there are twenty people and two are חיובים, and as a result the twenty is split into two מנינים of ten, should one split the מנין or is it better to split the service itself where possible between two חזנים!

It could be argued that the חיובים of a mourner are not a true Halachic imperative. Rather, they are מנהגים that have been adopted with the single aim of giving נחת to the departed, so that the נפטר will attain an עלית נשמה. Accordingly, if the מנין is split, and there is (apparently) no הדרת מלך, we need to ask ourselves if in fact the נפטר would draw נחת from an act which ignores the הדרת מלך of הקב”ה and creates small adjacent minyanim?

There is an interesting text in גמרא Succa 51B. The Gemora describes an enormous Basilica Synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, which could hold six hundred thousand people, or even twice that. That number may be an exaggeration; I don’t know. Either way, the Synagogue held very many people to the extent that there was no way to actually hear the חזן and know when to answer the חזן’s קדיש. The solution to this problem was to use flags, which acted as a semaphore, so that the people knew when to say אמן. A raised flag might have meant “time to say אמן”. Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter שליט”א informed me of the פירוש of the חיד”א in his פתח עינים on עין יעקב, in reference to that גמרא in Succa 51B. The חיד”א asks a good question. Surely, if there were so many people in that Alexandrian Basilica Shule, the solution to the problem of the חזן being inaccessible would be to split the מנינים into smaller parts such that each חזן was heard and there would be no need for flags. I don’t know how that would work logistically, but it’s certainly a logical approach to ameliorating the problem. Answers the חיד”א, this solution was not permitted, that is, they were not permitted to split the large מנין. Why? Because a large מנין personified the majesty of a great and large crowd, all davening at the same time. That is, it would have been prohibited to split given בְּרָב עָם הַדְרַת מֶלֶךְ!

Whatever the case, it is somewhat difficult to understand why some split מנינים. This is especially so when one can hear parts of the davening from a split מנין that is within ear shot.

After I finished this essay, I came across a talk from Dayan Osher Weiss on this topic. If your hebrew is reasonable, you should be able to understand. (At the time of writing, I haven’t yet listened to the Shiur). I also found that the נטאי גבריאל brings two Responsa which give permission to split the minyan. Alas, I haven’t yet looked into these via hebrewbooks.org)


Rare footage of Carlebach Davening in Leningrad 1989

[hat tip Anon]

(I refrain from commenting on the permissibility of davening with instruments and assume without probity that עת לעשות לה׳ הפרו תורתך)

Ban Carlebach Now

[Hat tip Fendi]

There is a new definition of moral hypocrisy. This is (especially an egalitarian neo orthodox minyan) a Shule, Minyan, Temple or women’s service that still utilises Shlomo Carlebach’s tunes.

His daughter clearly knows of her fathers misdeeds and suffered herself as a victim.

See Here for the story.

His tunes are stained and belong in oblivion. They cannot conjure spirituality. The analog of a person dipping in a Mikva while holding something impure, readily comes to mind.

There is no defence.

Taking things for granted: Trump’s advice

I am as guilty of this phenomenon as anyone. When one stops to think for a moment, these choices are the last any ‘diplomat’ would feel comfortable with.

What do

  • Jared Kushner
  • Yael Kushner
  • Jason Greenblatt, and
  • David Friedman

have in common.

  1. They are Yidden
  2. They are Frum
  3. They all work for President Trump
  4. They all work on Middle East Peace

It’s amazing and I’m not sure we stop and think about it and soberly give הכרת הטוב adequately.

If you were Abbas, you could be forgiven for thinking that things aren’t going your way. That being said, happenings, as opposed to the ineffective wait and see of Obama, and useless shuffling of John Kerry, have caused realpolitik to materialise.

  1. It is no secret that the West Bank and Gaza cannot agree to become one entity with shared policies.
  2. Gaza is now led by Yahya Sinwar, a terrorist, who is open about his alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, and his total anti-recognition of Israel is not hidden.
  3. Sinwar sat in an Israeli prison and has realised that pretending is not effective and he is best to state that he seeks the destruction of Israel, openly.
  4. The latest episode where other countries have a vote to decide against the wishes of the American people, is ridiculous. Everyone knows that unless Trump decides to place the embassy in East Jerusalem, that this policy is entirely consistent with what the left and right contend. It has no real bearing on peace.
  5. The only real thing ruled out by Trump’s move is for Jerusalem to be an ‘international‘ city. That will not occur under any Israeli Government, and I consider such a notion grossly anti Semitic.
  6. History plays no role in today’s crooked politics.
  7. Sinwar is waiting for Abbas to die. There does not appear to be a replacement. The only replacement is sitting in prison for multiple murders. He will not be released. Dahlan is a possibility but time will tell. Much will depend on the pace with which any Reform takes place in Saudi Arabia.

All these happenings appear to be consistent with an eschatological redemptive process. I find the lack of precedent for such a quartet of advisors, truly stunning. The anti Semitic elements in the State Department will be doing everything to undermine Trump.

Kaddish on עשרה בטבת

I recall, in my twenties, that the Rabbanut in Israel had chosen the Tenth of Teves as an appropriate day for which Kaddish should be recited for those who were murdered in the Holocaust and about whom we do not have the date of their cruel demise. If I remember correctly, it was also when I learned Rabbi Chaim David Halevi’s עשה לך רב, that I came across this idea. That background also prompted me to buy and read his biography, more recently. If you haven’t come across R Chaim David Halevi’s scholarship, I recommend it.

What is the importance of the Tenth of Teves? It is one of the minor fasts that are described explicitly in Tanach. The siege of Yerushalayim our Holy City, during the 1st Temple, began on the 10th of Teves. Symbolically this represented the beginning of a tragic, calamitous, series of unfolding Galus-oriented historical events. Indeed, the 8th and 9th of the Month are also recorded as days identified as sorrowful. This fast represents our existential Galus state and is observed even if it turns out on Friday, Erev Shabbos.

The words used by God to describe these events to the Prophet Yechezkel were the same words used in conjunction with the description of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, on which we fast even if the day falls out on the Shabbos: the words “On this very day” “B’etzem hayom hazeh.”

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate saw in that date, an appropriate day to add the mourning for those who were murdered in the Holocaust. In particular, that date was also chosen as the one to say Kaddish for those whose date of murder is unknown. The policy has been that we have enough sad days and associated fasts, and whilst the Holocaust is surely the major calamity in our history after the temples were destroyed, commemorating it during Nissan isn’t recommended (via Yom Hashoa) because we don’t utilise Nissan for sad events.

The link between the Tenth of Teves and the Holocaust is clear. The fact that the Jews were removed from their Capital Holy city of Jerusalem, and its Holy Temple represents the existential Galus which we find ourselves in today, and which will only be  terminated once the Redeemer comes upon Zion, gives it a pointed segue.

In the past, this detail didn’t mean too much to me because I didn’t say Kaddish and sadly, I don’t see many Shules choosing this day (or the ninth of Av) as formally remembering the Holocaust. I do not know why the 10th of Teves would be objectionable to anyone.

These days, I say Kaddish on my father’s a’h Yohr Tzeit, and those of my parent’s parents, and other members of the family who for whom nobody says Kaddish. Accordingly, I now ask myself whether I should also say Kaddish on the Tenth of Teves for members of our family who were murdered on an unknown day during the Holocaust. I can’t think of a reason why I would not. Indeed, I ask myself why anyone who is able to say Kaddish, and knows they had family members who were murdered on an unknown date, would not say Kaddish? It seems straightforward that they should. The only reason  I can think of is that this fast is mentioned in Tanach and tacking on other reasons might not be appropriate. I don’t agree however. History for Jews is a chain reaction. It is not the outcome of disparate discrete events.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski ‘comes’ to Melbourne, Australia

What a great surprise.

I had to obtain an item and the gentleman on the other end of WhatsApp and I  arranged for a time when I would pick up said item.

Let’s call this gentleman Mr. M.

Mr. M asked if I wanted to pick the item up from his house or from his workplace. It transpired that he lives around the corner, so I suggested that if it wasn’t a problem, to nominate a suitable time/day and I would pick up the item from his home. A day and time were chosen and I went to M’s home.

M is a Holocaust survivor in his nineties, most articulate, speaking an impeccable English. Sitting in his living room, it was apparent that his wife had passed away and M lived alone. I have a nostalgic attraction to older people who can describe the world prior to the Holocaust, and in Mr. M, I had a survivor who had not lost the sharp mind of his youth, and who seemed to remember everything.  Stemming from our conversation, it was plain that Mr. M was struggling with the meaning of the Holocaust and the role of God. Indeed, this was subsequently confirmed at our second meeting today.

We didn’t speak Yiddish, although I suspect we could have. In fact, I know we could have. Mr. M was born in Vilna. Every person  I had met from Vilna, was super proud that they came from Vilna. This was a badge of honour. Vilna! One thinks immediately of the great Gaon of Vilna, Rav Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, the Gra, זצ׳ל.

The Gaon of Vilna. Illustration.

Facing this holocaust survivor, I didn’t mention the Gra as Mr. M would have heard about him but not seen him, of course. Instead, I said

“Vilna! let me tell you that you had the world’s number one Posek at that time, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, after which I mentioned some of Rav Chaim Ozer’s famous Piskei Halacha (see שו”ת אחיעזר). I sensed some satisfaction from M, that I had a theological connection with Vilna”

Rav Chaim Ozer on the right, in discussion with Rav Shimon Shkop (who spent a year at YU and sadly returned to his Talmidim only to perish in the Holocaust)

I could tell that he was somewhat drawn to me because I was “modern”, in the Secular world of academia,  and yet committed. It was clear that his view of religious Jews was limited to the Charedi style of Jew.  I mentioned Rav Chaim Ozer’s view about electricity. Rav Chaim Ozer held that a bulb with a filament was no different to a candle, and as such, he (like Rav Chaim Brisker and others) used an electric bulb בדווקא for Havdala, and with a Bracha.

Here I was, a middle-aged upstart, trying to impress this survivor with my knowledge of Vilna; a tad anachronistic. Rav Chaim Ozer was an immense scholar, and מורי ורבי, Rav Soloveitchik ז׳ל gave a momentous hesped after Rav Chaim Ozer passed away, when Rav Soloveitchik was still senior in the Aguda.

Casually, Mr. M exclaimed

“I knew Rav Chaim Ozer personally.”

Flabbergasted, I asked

“how did you come to know him?”

to which he answered

“he was our next door neighbour.”

I was floored! Feeling mostly trivial, I asked if he could relay a story about Rav Chaim Ozer and himself. He had mentioned that his grandfather was very religious, as was his father. Mr. M remembers as a little boy, people coming over and there were huge disagreements about a Talmudic question.

One Shabbos afternoon, a young Mr. M, was famished. He was not yet Bar Mitzvah and decided to sneak into the nearby forest to find some food. Chancing on some mushrooms, Mr. M gathered the mushrooms and realised that because it was Shabbos, he would be unable to bring the mushrooms back to his house without people noticing. This was not something one did on Shabbos, especially living next door to Rav Chaim Ozer. Mr. M noted the tallest nearby tree and dug a hole to bury his booty at the base of the tree. The forest didn’t present any formal pathways, and the tree served as a semaphore in retrieving the mushrooms the next day. As. Mr. M was starting to bury the mushrooms, he was startled to hear someone trudging through the forest nearby. Looking up,  mushrooms in hand, he was face to face with the great Gaon, Rav Chaim Ozer! (Mr. M noted that Rav Chaim Ozer would often go for a walk every day, alone, and this was not unusual.) M’s face turned bright red with embarrassment, as he stood up slowly, allowing the mushrooms to slip from his grasp. Rav Chaim Ozer, sensing that Mr. M was embarrassed to be ‘caught’, put his arm on the shoulder of Mr. M and said,

“Don’t worry, this is not work”

I was struck by Rav Chaim Ozer’s sensitivity. He had chosen the right words because Mr. M said that after he heard this from the mouth of Rav Chaim Ozer, he felt more comfortable with his religion. (he had mentioned that people talking in Shule in Vilna, annoyed him because they seemed insincere, and he seemed hypersensitive about hypocrisy)

I sensed that Mr. M didn’t appreciate that Rav Chaim Ozer was diplomatically placating him, rather than stating a coarse halacha to a boy. It didn’t matter.

We spoke again today for another 1.5 hours, at his request, and I was rather pleased that our discussion apparently went some way to alleviating some lingering questions that he had.

For example, today, he asked me point-blank “Who perpetrated the Holocaust, God or man?” I answered that the Holocaust was a tragic exercise of free will, given to humanity. He appeared surprised and was glad I didn’t answer that it was “a punishment for burying mushrooms on Shabbos”.

Sadly, there aren’t too many Mr. M’s remaining. I will make an effort to revisit him.

Radical Muslim Response to Melbourne Carnage

[hat tip ZAB]

I don’t know that the tragic events of today are even related to a Muslim nor do I have a sense that it was a terrorist attack at this stage (it certainly has all the hallmarks). Yet, this Imam seems somehow convinced and offers his solution. The one thing I will say about him, is that he comes across as very sincere.

Judge for yourself

Jewish Studies experts opposing the statement concerning ירושלים!

[Hat tip Krakower]

I’m scratching my head trying to understand why it is that seemingly only academic left wingers fail to understand the bleedingly obvious realpolitik of Jordanian Arabs who live in Israel and who post 1967 considered themselves the only Palestinians. Even if I don’t understand why the chardonnay left shuns their own basic identity in favour of some feel-good Reconstructionist manifesto, they would do well to listen to Israel’s left-wing paragon, David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion didn’t live outside Israel in the plush and dislocating comfort of a University Judaic Department. Let them listen to the father of the left-wing, and what he has to say about giving ירושלים עיר הקודש or הגולן

After consuming that video, even the secular Ben Gurion felt it was a bridge too far to abandon even part of ירושלים עיר הקודש.

As self-described University Scholars, they can be expected to have read basic history. Here is the case, laid out in simple but compelling terms. Is Danny Ayalon wrong?

By now, you must be asking yourself, Nu!, what is this statement all about. [Edited emphasis is from me].

We write as Jewish Studies scholars to express our dismay at the Trump administration’s decision to reverse decades of bipartisan U.S. policy by declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and authorizing the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, outside of a negotiated political framework that ends the legal state of occupation and ensures respect for the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is of immense religious and thus emotional significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. It is the focus of national aspirations for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope one day to see a world in which all inhabitants of the land enjoy equal access to the city’s cultural and material resources. Today, unfortunately, that is not the case.

As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem* has documented, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem endure systematic inequalities, including an inequitable distribution of the city’s budget and municipal services, routine denial of building permits that are granted to Jewish residents, home demolitions, and legal confiscation of property for Jewish settlement. In addition, Palestinians in the West Bank, unlike Jewish Israelis resident in that territory, require a special permit to visit Jerusalem’s holy sites.

In this context, a declaration from the United States government that appears to endorse sole Jewish proprietorship over Jerusalem adds insult to ongoing injury and is practically guaranteed to fan the flames of violence. We therefore call on the U.S. government to take immediate steps to deescalate the tensions resulting from the President’s declaration and to clarify Palestinians’ legitimate stake in the future of Jerusalem.

You can see the embarrassing list signatories here. (Can you find the well-known Melbourne signatory in the first ten? Shocked?) Perform a search across random names, you will find a common thread, and it isn’t ירושלים עיר הקודש.

We in Australia, should feel ‘honoured’ and not surprised by the current number 5. Even the Saudis suggested that Abu Dis had as much meaning for the Arab Palestinians as Jerusalem. Obdurate countries will admit privately that only Israel can guarantee religious freedom to all religions as they have done.

Let’s make just a few observations about the highlighted emphases in the letter.

  1. It is not alike
  2. B’Tselem! Funded by the New Israel Fund (for those who aren’t aware, they considered the existing charities “too right-wing”. In addition, B’Tselem received NIS 30,950,388 from foreign governmental bodies between 2012-2017! As sensationally noted by ngo-monitor: “In October 2016, B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai Elad appeared before a special session of the UN Security Council initiated by Egypt, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Angola, asking the UN to take “decisive international action” against Israel. In his presentation, Elad made no mention of Palestinian terror attacks or incitement.”
  3. Yes, they do need a special permit because they regularly commit terror acts and cannot simply be let loose on the peaceful civilian residents.
  4. Ongoing injury? It will always be that way because they will never agree that Israel is the Jewish Homeland. End of Story.
  5. Guaranteed? Hardly. After the expected “rage” from that paragon of democracy, Erdogan of Turkey and his mates, one can hardly say that this has given birth to massive flames of violence. It will settle and that is known.

One more thing: the Scholars write about decades of USA “bi-partisan” agreement about Jerusalem. That is true. Both the Democrats (too right-wing?) and the Republicans had actually voted to move the Embassy. It was only successive presidential fiat that stopped this happening. Why did presidents not carry out the democratic will of the Congress and Senate?  Was there a letter from the Scholars about the threat to democracy?

Finally, unless Trump is going to build the embassy in East Jerusalem, why would anyone but a self-hating Jew have an issue with the reality that a modern state of 70 years has a right to host embassies on unoccupied (according to the holy UN) tracts of Western Jerusalem. Clearly not doing so has failed miserably.

It can be most cogently argued that the only way to make peace is for the other side to accept the reality that Israel is the homeland for all Jews.

Surely the Scholars aren’t bluffed and know that settlements aren’t the reason Arafat and Holocaust-denier Abbas, fail to accept this fact! For them, we all know that Tel Aviv, Haifa etc are also settlements.

Even J-Street were forced to come out and make statements condemning those who consider Tel Aviv … West Jerusalem as settlements.

The argument is patently simple. If an embassy is built at non settlement Tel Aviv, then why oh why should it not also be moved to non settlement (West) Jerusalem in the least? The answer is obvious. Tel Aviv is a settlement too in their eyes.

Mark Dreyfus come clean

Technically speaking, Mark Dreyfus QC, of the Australian Labor party, wonders whether Josh Freydenberg, a member of the Liberal party may have dual citizenship because Josh’s mother was evicted from Hungary during the holocaust and arrived stateless to Australia.

It is true that Hungarian law may consider Freydenberg himself an Hungarian citizen as a child of his pre-Holocaust Hungarian mother’s citizenship and thereby Freydenberg would be considered as an Australian and Hungarian citizen and ineligible to hold his seat.

Dreyfus, whose paternal grandfather was Jewish fled Germany after Krystallnacht and is the shadow attorney general.

Everyone is well aware of the level of complicity afforded to Hitler by Hungarians. Even if there is something salivatingly purist in Dreyfus suggesting that Freydenberg needs to show he isn’t a Hungarian citizen, surely one Jew would never make such a suggestion against a fellow Jew especially in this context?

This episode where he excites in pursuing Freydenberg for political and/or legal reasons is unsurprising and typical of politicians.

In simple terms, if Mark wants to engage in punctilious discovery of Josh’s roots, he might expect the same in return.

Carlebach #metoo long overdue

While everyone talks about the positives after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo hash tag, we need to wake up to a reality that cannot be ignored.

Shlomo Carlebach is the love child of postmodernist left and right wing Jews. A brilliant man with oodles of charisma, his only defence against potent and cogent #metoo is that the dead can’t defend themselves.

The cloud over his activities though has been ignored by the sanctimonious left #metoo for whom his songs appear to be the ‘holy of Holies’

It is hard for me to understand how the egalitarian ones at Shira Chadasha and the Open Orthodox types still continue to regale in his production. How dare they preach while they choose to ignore #metoo #rebshlomo

The Lubavitcher Rebbe z’l clearly said that Carlebach material should not be used in any Chabad Shule and, when Shlomo was still alive, he said efforts to bring him to Repentance should take place, but not within Chabad.

Another link in this old chain was published in the forward.

It’s time to call out the tree huggers and right wingers who cleave to his music as if it is the pinnacle of ‘spirituality’.

Is Carlebach beyond #metoo?

If so, why so?


A reaction to same gender marriage vote in Australia

Unsurprisingly the majority of voters decided that they were in favour of homosexual marriage. Perhaps thirty years ago the vote would have been different, but lots of things were different then.

So, how should the Jew react. I do not address myself to those whose religions are based on Orthodox Judaism. They aren’t interested in my opinion, and I feel sorry that they harbour certain beliefs that they do.

I ask the question of Orthodox, practicing or otherwise, Jews. I believe the answer to this question will be addressed from the pulpit by the Orthodox Rabbis of our Shules; at least most of them (especially those who speak more about the goings on in the world than the weekly portion of the Torah).

I predict there will be (at least) the following five approaches:

The safe option: Say nothing. Congregants who are against it will remain so, and those who are for it, may come to dislike the Rabbi and/or Judaism and move to greener pastures. This is halachically שב ואל תעשה. It has a place and is an approach with some basis.

The bold option: Say that we live in a democracy and this allows us our freedoms, including our freedom to practice our own religion. That society (and yes, the ‘Jewish’ seats of Melbourne Ports and Wentworth were very strong supporters of homosexual marriage) chose this new path means that we should hold on ever so much more forcefully to the unambiguous Torah Law, and never allow these arrangements in a Jewish (Orthodox) setting.

A variation of the bold option, is the populist option. It is akin to the Rabbi who is more of a friend than a spiritual mentor who is friendly. They will talk about democracy as above and free choice, but will stop short of making statements which unambiguously present the view that the choice itself is not in accordance with Halacha, be it Jewish or Noachide.

The delusional option: these will be words along the lines of the populist option but without any whiff of negativity. Remember, a child “doesn’t get dirty at school”, rather, “one part of their clothes comes home clean”. The delusional ones oversee a void of suitable educational programs. Their congregants come only three times (now it’s two, and yizkor is all but forgotten) a year. Every manner of schtick is used to herd them to an event. In the end though, congregants cannot navigate the basics of a siddur, the true spiritual transmission from the well-intentioned Rabbi approaches zero and the role occupies a cross between a popularity contest and a feel good eloquent sermon.

The marginal option: this one is seemingly akin to the delusional approach but falls outside that boundary. It is known as Open Orthodoxy. They actually announce Mazel Tovs and the like for such unions. This is beyond the Orthodox pale.

Where will your Shule/Synagogue/Shtiebel/Temple align itself?

[There is a sixth approach of ‘fire and brimstone’ but I consider that approach a waste of time]

Free Choice is a critical component of Judaism. Without free choice, there is no notion of reward and punishment. However, free choice does not mean that the actual choice taken must be supported or considered in keeping with a God-defined morality. As such, a choice antithetical to Torah must be respectfully disagreed with as being incongruent with Torah.

[ Ironically, it wasn’t long ago that people were downplaying the importance of the marriage institution and strongly promoting the “partnership”/”de facto” model.  Even today’s society wouldn’t say that one must get married, would it?]

We don’t have marriage anyway. We have Kiddushin. We also respect those created in the image of God, but we do not have to agree with all that they propose or practice.

That’s THEIR choice

If it ever got to a point where a religious functionary had to carry out a homosexual marriage according to secular law, then it would be ייהרג ואל יעבור and pack your bags and hop onto a flight to ארץ הקודש sooner.

On the dwindling support for exclusively heterosexual marriage

Although many social studies are by their nature bound to be imperfect due to the preponderance of unknown variables and the law of the excluded middle, there has been a consistent statistic that over 95% of men and women are heterosexual. Despite the sweeping feeling that marriage was ‘unnecessary’ and fewer were ‘bothering’ to engage in the ritual, preferring the ‘de facto’ status, these numbers represent an existential reality that attracts foul-mouthed, uncouth, violent, intolerant and extreme undercurrents of pseudo-fascist protest that have given birth to scenes reminiscent of the drug infested, psychedelic 1960’s where “no war” was the catch cry. In some work places, those who had “Vote No” signs on their doors, found these signs violently torn asunder. So much for the death of Stalin and Marx.

This blog is not and has not ever been a blog void of the influence and directives of Centrist Orthodoxy. Wherever possible, I have attempted to both write the mainstream centrist Orthodox view on contemporary issues and resisted the temptation to assume that I had some ‘holier than though’ view which transcended it. I have also attempted to avoid a metastasized Torah void , Masoretically vacuous view that purports to vaguely occupy the pedestal of organised, resilient, religion-את גאון יעקב אשר אהב סלה.

There are many places of work who have felt compelled to emblazon rainbows and posters, and principally declared a “collective” view that distances itself from  the institution of heterosexual marriage, though such predictive sexual attraction stands at 95%. Contrary views are anathema and stand accused of a homophobic, cruel, uncaring, anti-civil rights opposition. Who is the judge and who is the jury? Who stands condemned without trial? Who are the harbingers of Judaism as opposed to secular mandrakes?

Truth is the first casualty in such emotive and redemptive moments?

I steer away arguing from a point of personal preference or philosophical bent. My life only allows personal preference in as much as the ד׳ אמות של הלכה permits within its hallowed inviolable boundaries.

Curiously, there seems to be a correlation, or is it a causation, that removing elements of עול מלכות שמים in Open Orthodox, Shira Chadasha outliers, leads to a steady succession of less mainstream and über emancipated strains of Judaic practice hovering between Open Orthodox and Conservative movements.

I have been disappointed that so many Jewish brethren and sisters fail to see their lives and life choices through the prism of a collective corpus of rich Jewish Religion. What else has been the mainstay of untainted Jewish and remotely Jewish culture.

Let us begin from the simple to the more complex.

A man comes home and informs his parents that he has met a lovely non-Jewish girl at University. Now turn back the clock fifty years. The door would be firmly shut. The man would be on one side of the door or on the other side of the door. Rarely, and this most certainly does happen in our day, the girl (or indeed male) is genuinely attracted to Judaism and wishes to become one of our people, in the same way that Ruth became a righteous convert and was the progenitor of the Messiah the son of David, no less.

Now let us turn the clock forward only 20 years. It’s a new world. What was holy, inviolable and intractable, is now quite common. The male or female gentile is invited to the traditional Friday night dinner with gefilte fish and chicken soup as the remnant of a transmogrified epicurean cholesterol enema.

The children have רחמנא ליצלן shacked up with their new “partner”-a euphemism for a possibly “penultimate” marriage, union, coupling, conjugal bond, civil partnership, hookup, defacto, or other synonym connoting anything but the legal entity of ‘shudder’ marriage. Pseudo spouses are now welcomed with a shrug of the shoulders and the refrain “what can I do? I can love them or lose them”. Echoes morbidly in the silence of Springvale.

It’s never quite as tragic if the female is Jewish, but you need to ask why the über modern types haven’t overturned the תורה שבעל פה and decided the הלכה according to the discarded view of the Tanna so that they adopt the equanimous male lineage!

Let’s now turn out attention to today’s burning issue, in Australia, where our surveys, ironically filled in by not yet religious people of all shades, are now empowered to redefine a uniquely religious concept! Do they care about religious concepts? If it’s all about having the same rights, then there are enough unemployed lawyers to re-jig laws where mummy and daddy, mummy and mummy, and daddy and daddy, mummy/daddy and daddy/mummy will soon enjoy the same cornucopia of legal rights. Why, the family court already recognises the dog and cat and their gender is quite irrelevant unless there is a brood.

If this was a vote of Jews only, I am afraid to break the news to fringe dwellers that it is מושבע ועמד מהר סיני. Your view, Jew or Jewess, is irrelevant. This isn’t feel good, anything goes, Reform. That is now acknowledged demographically as a dying appendage.

There is a middle ground here. One could argue that this is a vote of Jews (albeit a tiny minority) and non-Jews (including various religionists). In such a case, perhaps שב ואל תעשה might be the (typically diasporan) response.

“Let’s stay out of this, after all, we want to practice our own religion in freedom”.

I hear this argument but it needs to be buttressed by Halachic underpinnings. Whether we like it or not, Maimonides has coded that non-Jews are encouraged to adopt the minimalist Noachide laws. The Noachide Laws prohibit non-heterosexual sexual acts. The question really is, does one need to teach the Noachide laws or make gentiles aware of these? (Note, these need to be done out of a belief in God, and not some “morality”.)

I wonder whether you find it deliciously ironic, that those Jews who love to quote Yeshayahu (42:6) that we must be a “light unto the nations”

 אני ה׳ קראתיך בצדק ואצרך ואתנך לברית עם לאור גויים

I ask them to read what Rashi (and others) says about this Passuk. It will surprise them (Radak excluded)

A perhaps more pertinent verse (49:60)  is

והלכו גויים לאורך

See the following via Chabad who championed this outreaching approach, which was endorsed by President George W. Bush.

Now, I am not one who is in a position to say whether this approach or the more insular approach taken (at least in Melbourne) by other Chassidim, and of course Litvaks from the Lakewood Kollel is the correct approach. Mizrachi is an unknown, as they have a long history of not giving respect to halachic pronouncements of their Rabbi unless it is in the ritual sphere alone.

The left-wing of Rabbi Ralph Genende’s Caulfield Shule who want a bit each way (and who unbelievably caused a massive חילול השם when they invited Stephen Greenberg to the edifice in which Rabbi Genende has halachic oversight), and Rabbi Shamir Kaplan of Beit Aharon who makes Rabbi Ralph’s views appear right-wing, are nothing short of incredulous. Clearly, Rabbi Shamir felt the need to not only state his view, but take a secular view. He’s a very likeable man, but if he could tell us which Posek advised him, I’d be obliged.

Is Rabbi Ralph game to tell us whether he voted yes or no, and on what halachic basis he did so? If he’s not, why not? Who Paskened that it’s indeed not an halachic imperative to state a view whether one is a member of the COSV or not.

Nothing I have written above is new or startling, although many are terrified of weighing into the issue if they are classed as bigots or attacked by murky clam-shells dragging their anatomy through the mud.

I do not include the “Open Orthodox” cum Shira Chadasha in this context, where the

“I’m a functionary, no, I’m not really a functionary, but I advertise on facebook that I will “marry anyone” who breathes some form of Judaism, as long as I find at least one pseudo-orthodox minister who I can “blame” for the emancipated, emasculated service of vows that I feel ‘educated’ to perform.

Some of you will be “new” to Open Orthodoxy (YCT) especially in Australia. Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Elton of the Great Synagogue is a right-wing member of this group. He has distanced himself from some of the more extreme YCT members, to his credit.  I wonder how many more members have joined or participated since Steven Greenberg felt he had to publicise a personal issue in the edifices, under the aegis of Rabbi Ralph.

Here are a group of choice quotes from the “open” neo-manifesto YCT Open Orthodoxy (sources available upon request)

In 2010, rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of YCT (Open Orthodoxy) participated in the LGBT change prayer breakfast in Chicago Illinois, “The focus of the event was to unite (thus used) local faith-based leaders in a rare gathering that galvanised renewed support and affirmation from the faith community for same-sex civil unions and equality for LGBT people. Lopatin delivered the following message:


Master of the Universe, you instructed us in your wisdom and your understanding in the Torah, in the book of Genesis
“לא טוב היות האדם לבדו“. God in your mercy you told us to establish a society and a community in a way that allows for a person to find a life partner to live a life of companionship and love, with equality, and without discrimination (?) So God bless our public servants to find that life filled with love for themselves and to be able to work hard to make sure that our state and community lives up to God’s merciful and just standards to make sure that everyone has a “right” to seek out that life partner and to live and love together with the full “right” with that person.  “לא טוב היות האדם לבדו“. Every person has a right to togetherness and a life filled with love. A life blessed by God, our fate, and our society Amen.

It is perhaps ironic that Lopatin leaves all mention of the word “sex” in his feel-good “between the lines”, new Open  non Masoretic “Torah She Bal Peh”.

Professor Daniel Sperber, one of the dwindling few, who Open Orthodoxy lean on as a spiritual guide, entertains the possibility that Orthodox rabbis may perform same-gender marriages. rabbi Ysoscher Katz does not believe Rabbis will ever agree to these alternate unions, though.

I wonder if there is now an halachic imperative to remove Sperber’s books, valuable as they may be, from every Kollel?

It beggars belief that someone like Professor Sperber, who compiled a magnificent work on the etymology of Jewish Minhagim could so profanely and wilfully “white-out” an explicit law in Even HoEzer which (in my reading, for our time) prohibits Yichud  during times of חשד.

There is plenty more outrageous material from Open Orthodoxy, but I will limit myself to the above.

This then brings us to the question of do we have to make our views known to the B’nei Noach? Doing so, is clearly a fulfillment of teaching them Torah that they need to know. Certainly we don’t do that filling in a Survey, but a Rabbinic Body should not be afraid to state the Jewish view.

There is a Tosfos in Chagiga 13a and a Gemara in Baba Kama (38a) which seeks to take the opposite view. See R’ Moshe Feinstein in Yoreh Deah (3:89) and others, who take the Tosfos in Chagiga’s view as the final definitive Halacha.

Your mileage may, however, vary. But for God’s sake, don’t make up your own views or be less than careful with your language. Speak to your Competent Local Orthodox Rabbi (CLOR). R’ Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Charedis (Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:37) takes a different view to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Moshe, Rav Elyashiv and others. I would imagine that insular view matches most Charedim in Melbourne.

It comes down to the old insular shtetl view versus the אור לגויים approach, except that on this issue those who want us to spread the light ironically, would prefer if we turned down the dimmer. Go figure. איפכא מסתברא!

To young, well-meaning Rabbis, I say, leave the personality contests and the point scoring within your communities.

I wouldn’t give the Jewish News a single quote! What for? They are avowed anti-Orthodox. They are not your friends. They never do you any good. Choose your words very carefully, and behave with real warmth, but let’s not pretend that by using lovely prose and soulful apologies we do anything.

I close with the powerful eternal words of my teacher מורי ורבי הרב Soloveitchik ז׳ל

It is my opinion that Orthodoxy cannot and should not unite with such groups which deny the fundamentals of our Weltanschauung. It is impossible for me to comprehend, for example, how Orthodox Rabbis who spent their best years and absorbed the spirit of Torah She Baal Peh and its traditions, for whom Rabbi Akiva, The Rambam, the Rema, the Gra, Rav Chaim Brisker and other Jewish Sages are the pillars upon which the spiritual world rests, can join with the spiritual leaders for whom this is worthless… From the point of view of the Torah we find the difference between reform and Orthodox much greater than what separated the Perushim and the Tzedukim in the days of the Bayis Sheni, and between the Karaim and the traditionalists in the Gaonic era. Has Jewish History ever recorded an instance of a joint community council that consisted of Karaim and Torah-true Jews.

[from the 1954 Yiddish article in Der Tog Morgen Journey]

Wasnt it a matter of some mirth to find the JCCV (Jewish Community Council of Victoria) taking a view on same-sex marriage! Not only aren’t they democratically elected, and not only did they not seek the views of their constituent members, they didn’t have the common sense to say nothing (שתיקה סייג לחכמה) If it was going to oppose thousands and thousands who do adhere to our tradition, who needs their opinion? Are they that deluded to think that their regal proclamation will make people change their vote? I guess the National Council of Jewish Women (who also only allow left-wing lectures on their premises should hang their heads in shame).

The Holocaust survivors who funded infrastructure would have baulked at the left-leaning Marxist tendencies now being promulgated in the name of “equality” and “human rights”.

[Some source material has been gleaned from the excellent Headlines books by Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein]

Playing with fire?

The story of the two sons of Aaron, who played with fire, but followed their own mode of worship is one of the best-known tragedies.

Recently, I chanced upon a piece by Shneur Zalman Reti Waks, current Rabbi of the Ark Centre, here in Melbourne. Reti Waks has also been outspoken about conversions outside the aegis of the Melbourne Beth Din and for strange practices as part of services at the Ark Centre. He wrote:

He wrote in regards the well-known view of the Ibn Ezra on the verses describing the death of Moshe:

The ‘secret of the twelve’ is a reference to his opinion that the last twelve verses of the Torah were not written by Moshe but by Joshua, because they speak about Moshe’s death and the mourning of the Israelites. What we can understand from Ibn Ezra here is that the last twelve verses of the Torah are an example of a broader phenomenon of later editorial comments in the Torah.

I’ve often referred to certain Eureka moments I experienced along the way during different aspects of my education. Well, this Ibn Ezra is a Eureka as good as any other.

Let me explain why this is so. Growing up I was taught, consistent with ultra-orthodox philosophy, that that every word, every syllable, and every letter in the Torah is the word of God, verbatim, as dictated to Moshe.

What we can understand the Ibn Ezra to be is saying is that there is another view. The belief that the Torah is from God, a basic tenet of Judaism, is not at all at odds with the idea that the Torah as we have it contains many passages which were only recorded much after the death of Moshe.

This is perhaps very unsettling to some which is precisely why the Ibn Ezra speaks about it in the most coded fashion.

I believe this teaching to be truly liberating and magnificent. Liberating, because it allows us to divest ourselves of the intellectual straight-jacket imposed by some of the more narrow views of the divine authorship. And magnificent because it has the potential to answer so many seeming inconsistencies in the Torah which hitherto have often been answered inadequately. This idea of a third-party narrator has the promise to explain so much of that away, and it predates modern biblical scholarship, which arrives at a similar conclusion, by 800 years or so!

The Ibn Ezra is most certainly not “another view” which questions “that the Torah is from God”. חס ושלום! To say I was flabbergasted reading Reti Waks’s “discovery” is an understatement. This transcends the Ibn Ezra! It is an open Gemara in Baba Basra (15b) where two Tannaim argue concerning who wrote the verses describing Moshe’s death, as dictated by God Almighty!

It seems Reti Waks, through the Ibn Ezra, has discovered the view of Rabbi Yehuda in the Talmud. This opinion is part and parcel of every “ultra orthodox” curriculum! I am not sure where Reti Waks discovered the “intellectual straight jacket” that he describes, and why it is an affliction.

It would be remiss of me, in context, if I didn’t mention that the Ibn Ezra’s view is not universally held. That is part and parcel of almost every verse in the Torah vis a vis the different views of Rishonim. It would also be remiss of me to fail to note that Reti Waks’s later statements are not those of the Ibn Ezra, or indeed any Orthodox commentator that I can find. When Reti Waks describes a third-party narrator akin to the later “modern biblical scholarship” and attempts to line this up with R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra, Reti Waks is not describing an Orthodox view held by either opponents of Ibn Ezra or the Ibn Ezra himself. Indeed, it could also be considered insulting to the so-called “modern biblical scholars!” Does Reti Waks imagine that these (mostly heretical) scholars were ignorant of the discussions in the Talmud and various commentators?  [ Eight of the twelve verses are also the subject of a disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad about whether they require a minyan (see Menachos 30). ]

What is clear, however, is that Reti Waks is treading along the exact path which the Or HaChaim Hakadosh warned us against, in the precise context of the Or HaChaim’s comments on these verses and the Ohr HaChaim’s own disagreement with the Ibn Ezra. The Ohr Hachaim states

It is not appropriate to write these thoughts (i.e the view of the Ibn Ezra) because I (the Ohr HaChaim) have heard people discussing these verses and becoming entangled in them, to the extent that they end up expressing views which can only be described as heresy.

Rabbinic scholars wondered why the Ohr HaChaim used such strong language. After all, it is the view of Rabbi Yehuda in Baba Basra (ibid). Having read the piece from Reti Waks, I see (once more) that the Ohr HaChaim certainly deserves the honoured prophetic appellation of “HaKadosh”.

My view regarding Rabbi Riskin’s take on תועבה is shared

[Hat tip NB]

I received the following article by Rabbi Baruch Efrati?

Rav Baruch Efrati

I had not heard of him until today.

According to the internet, Rabbi Baruch Efrati is a prolific writer. Rabbi Baruch Efrati is also the head of the ‘Rabbanei Derech Emuna’ organisation, and teaches in a number of High level Yeshivas, and is (ironically) a Rabbi in the town of Efrat. I found the article sent to me, in Arutz Sheva.

I admit to feeling somewhat justified when I noted that Rabbi Efrati also brought the example of Yichud from Shulchan Aruch, as I did (and which some commenters questioned in regards to my blog post on the ill-advised hosting of Steven Greenberg in Melbourne).

Here is the article from Rabbi Efrati..

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s remarks on homosexual relations: A response

This response to a controversial interview given by Rabbi Riskin, translated from the Hebrew press, was written by a young rabbi who heads the Israeli Rabbanei Emunah mainstream Orthodox young rabbis’ group.

Recently, there has been a whole spate of articles on Jewish attitudes to homosexuality, some of them using the subject as an opportunity for self-praise, lauding the writer’s empathy and love of humanity, subtly hinting that this is in contrast to the attitude of mainstream Modern Orthodox and haredi communities. Others have lashed out openly at these two mainstream Orthodox sectors for what they call backwardness, closed mindedness and lack of inclusivity, alleging humiliation of homosexual partners.

This is certainly a way to gain approval from people who do not know the fact that mainstream Orthodoxy does not reject people with homosexual natures, but that Orthodoxy does strongly reject the homosexual act, calling it an “abomination.”That is what the Torah says – and it does so explicitly. Modern Orthodox and haredi rabbis are therefore against the recognition or public display of same-sex relationships.

Two names of world-renowned rabbis who have dealt with the issues are Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, head of the prestigious religious Zionist Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and Rabbi Aharon Feldman of the also prestigious haredi Ner Yisrael Yeshiva of Baltimore. Both have had the forthrightness to explain the Torah way of looking at same-sex relations: There is no loophole to allow the act, they say, and observant people who cannot overcome such tendencies are faced with the need to refrain from acting upon them, difficult as that may be. Rabbi Meidan has said that he considers the students who told him that they have decided to live celibate lives because of this prohibition, “tzaddikim.”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Gush Etzion, was interviewed last week in Hebrew by the Israeli liberal-religious Makor Rishon newspaper, where his unprecedented words on homosexuals caused a strong backlash in the mainstream Orthodox rabbinic world in Israel – and abroad.

Response to Rabbi Riskin:

I beg to differ absolutely with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s claim that a person with same-sex tendencies cannot be called a transgressor, a declaration in which he says that  this person is in the halakhic category of “Ones Rachmana patreh” –“someone who is coerced to commit a transgression and therefore unaccountable,” as, after all, he was born that way. This is a basic error in the way halakhic decisions are made, and one which can cause this prohibited behavior to proliferate among the people of Israel.

In an interview with the Makor Rishon newspaper, the rabbi said other things I found unacceptable, some philosophical and others halakhic, some with regard to great Torah Sages. However, the same-sex relationship topic is such a basic one that it is impossible to remain silent in the face of the misinterpretation, some might say distortion, of Torah laws by someone who is the rabbi of a city in the state of Israel.

Rabbi Riskin is known as a Jewish thinker and exceptional orator on many subjects as well as a rabbi with a wonderful rapport with his followers. However, he is not known as a major and expert halakhic decisor.  I do not know of any books of halakhic decisions on Orach Chaim, Even Haezer or Choshen Mishpat (three of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law, ed.) published by Rabbi Riskin. I have not heard of any general halakhic decisions made by him on topics of kashrut, ritual purity, the Sabbath or washing one’s hands for bread.

How unfortunate it is if rabbis are only heard from on halakhic issues when they decide to twist them to suit imported liberal culture, lacking organized halakhic sources and sans halakhic precedents.

If the “Torah is as a light unto our feet,” we must study its laws in their entirety, not just the ones that are of sudden interest in liberal circles..

The rabbi’s error springs from several basic premises:

1.It is important to note that same-sex tendencies are not always inborn but can be a result of the pressures of secular culture and society. Some are, however, innate, and those whose tendencies are innate and who withstand the temptation to engage in those relations, are truly holy.

There are also some people who choose this way of life intentionally, and their attempts to create a society that chooses to sin (an abomination in the Torah’s words) must be fought openly.

2.Despite the fact that there are inborn tendencies for same-sex desire, there is no way to permit the act to take place, certainly not using the halakhic expression, as Rabbi Riskin did, of “he who is coerced is not responsible [for his transgression].” On the contrary, strength and willpower must be doubly increased in order to withstand the temptation to sin with those of the same sex.

Maimonides writes in Laws of Repentance that everyone has free will. He writes that someone who says he has no choice other than to sin because G-d created him with powerful inclinations and other weaknesses that leave him with no free will and force him to sin – is a person denying a basic premise of Torah, the free will granted to all of creation.

3.Modern science does not set our values. It draws a map of reality, but cannot interpret it. Moral interpretation and halakhic teachings are the exclusive purview of G-d’s Torah for Jews.

The phenomenon of homosexual inclinations is as old as the world, but in all the halakhic responsa of our sages there is not one instance of a rabbi allowing homosexual relations because the person “is coerced by his inclinations” – just the opposite is the case. There is a strong call to be of courage and resist committing sexual transgressions even when this way of life is extremely painful and difficult to attain.

The author of the Code of Jewish Law publicized a special degree for his geographic area prohibiting a man from being alone in a closed room with another man. Commentators explained that homosexuality was rampant in his area, causing him to declare this new limitation so as to prevent people from sin. But couldn’t the Rema have said such men “are coerced to commit a transgression,” as Rabbi Riskin does, and allow for leniency on this prohibition??  Why did he declare limitations to prevent homosexual relations?

4. G-d willed us to have lust, desire and inclinations, but G-d also told us the permissible way to gratify them. If there is no halakhically lenient way to allow something, no matter how much it is desired, it cannot be done.  Halakhic morality is above the reality of the present. Sometimes man finds himself at a dead end, and we must offer him every support, but not to the extent of permitting that which is forbidden in order to make his life easier.

Rabbi Riskin’s words are in direct contradiction to those of the saintly religious Zionist icon Rabbi Isaac HaCohen Kook in Orot Hakodesh, paraphrased here, but appearing in full in his work, Eight Collections:Collection 6, 99:

Modern science’s revelation that homosexual tendencies are natural and inborn, leading them to uproot the moral protest against them, will be met by “our G-d’s words are eternal.”

Those who believe that if there is a natural tendency discovered by science, the sinner is not responsible for his actions but is “coerced,”  are mistaken and do not realize the place of Torah vis a vis science.

Science describes the world, while the Torah directs it.

That is why, whether or not science defines homosexual tendencies as innate traits, is irrelevant. It does not obviate the moral responsibility we have to protest acting upon this tendency. It says so clearly in the Talmud (Tractate Yevamot 53 and Tosaphot there):

‘This is not considered “coercion.”‘

That is what our sages continued saying in decisions generation after generation (Rishonim and Achronim).

And the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Kapra said the Hebrew word for abomination,Toeva, can be seen as an acronym for Toeh Ata Ba – you are going astray on this issue –meaning that this is a negative tendency, which man must combat.

It is a mistake to think that there is no choice because a desire is natural or inborn, that things are permitted morally or halakhically in that case. On the contrary, one must fight the inclination and overcome it.

Continuing, Rabbi Kook relates to the Talmud (Nedarim), saying that there are some unconquerable inclinations which the rabbis allowed a priori by allowing them to be gratified within a normative marriage. This ruling is meant for someone with inborn desires for whom the sages had pity, ruling that a man and his wife’s personal sexual preferences are acceptable and can be a way to find release for someone with same-sex tendencies.

The Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, writer of the Ashkenazi Code of Law) made the same halakhic decision in Even Haezer 25, pp. 2, positing that it is preferable to avoid unnatural forms of conjugal relations even with one’s wife, and attempt instead to remain holy by overcoming such desires. The lenient possibility exists, however, and is only allowed in situations where the person’s inborn tendency is for same-sex relations and this is an outlet for them.

So I ask, why should someone with same-sex tendencies be considered “coerced” and “free of prohibition” – someone who is above judgment? Since when are halakhot (rather than specific instances of unavoidable sinning from  whence the concept arises) decided on this premise?  There is truth and there is falsehood, good and bad, there is always individual choice, especially in the case of sexuality and sin.

For years now, I have been guiding tens of men and women with same-sex inclinations. I know how difficult their world is and I counsel them on how they can keep halakha despite their strong inclinations. Many of them are G-d fearing, wonderful people who struggle and manage to control their desires. Rabbi Riskin’s words are in contradiction to the Rambam, the Rema and Rabbi Kook, but just as seriously, they are not said in a vacuum and may cause some of the people I help – to fall.

We trust the words of the Talmud in Yevamot, we trust the words of Rabbi Kook – therefore, the rabbis who protest those who transgress are correct in their moral protests against the trend to be inclusive towards openly living an alternative lifestyle. Rabbi Riskin is entirely mistaken in proclaiming that those with same-sex tendencies are in the halakhic category of :”coerced and therefore not accountable.”  This can cause many good people to err.

We do not make halakhic decisions based on the spirit of the times, but according to the eternal words of G-d.

Rabbi Riskin has unfortunately crossed the line

[hat tip BA]

I am shocked at the latest pronouncement of Rabbi Riskin. The things we should all agree with are:

  1. We should show compassion towards someone who has non heterosexual desires/tendencies.
  2. We should treat all Jews with respect, including during their attendance and participation at Shule.
  3. We should not be in the business of being God’s Policemen by determining who does and who does not have tendencies; it is none of our business.
  4. The Torah forbids non heterosexual forms of intimacy (it is Rabbinic in the case of females according to many).
  5. There should not be fashioned  Minyanim of solely Heterosexuals and as a corollary there should not be fashioned Minyanim of solely Homosexuals. All should daven together.
  6. There is no evidence that the prevalence of Homosexual tendency is more so today than it was in past history.
  7. The Torah refers to the Homosexual act as a תועבה. The Torah does not delineate different types.
  8. Science has not unearthed a new reality in respect of non heterosexual tendencies or their aetiology. We do not say there is a “new reality” viz נשתנו הדורות.
  9. It is true that if person is an אונס, that is,  they are threatened into committing an עבירה, that the Torah does not consider the act as a wanton sin, but rather a forced act for which one is not punished.
  10. There is no link to my knowledge, in Torah SheBaalPeh, to indicate that a person’s proclivities ought be considered as an אונס. There is no מקור to state that non heterosexual activities are divided into two categories:  תועבה and non תועבה!
  11. To create a new understanding of an ancient prohibition, albeit wrapped in a concept (אונס) is creating a new Torah SheBaalPeh without any rights thereby.
  12. I would consider such a qualification beyond the pale, and something one would ordinarily hear from open orthodoxy or conservatives.
  13. I call upon the Tzohar Rabbinic Assembly to call an urgent meeting to decide on the continued membership and role of Rabbi Riskin given these statements. (It is a great pity that Rav Lichtenstein ז׳ל is no longer with us; he would have played an important role).
  14. Rabbi Lamm’s 1960’s view that “the warped family background of the genuine homosexual is considered אונס, the homosexual act may possibly lay claim to some mitigation by the Halakhah” is not considered a normative current explanation for the “source” of homosexuality. Current secular scholarship describes homosexuality as a reality rather than a “condition” that is caused by nurture.
  15. The Rambam identified that people may have certainly proclivities which may lead to sin. The Rambam suggested that these proclivities be channeled to permitted activities. For example, someone who had a tendency to violence/blood letting, should instead become a Shochet.
  16. I call upon the Chief Rabbinate to distance themselves from Rabbi Riskin’s views and to take action that they deem appropriate.
  17. I call upon any Diaspora Rabbi who subscribes to Rabbi Riskin’s opinion, to reconsider their membership of the Orthodox Rabbinate.
  18. Commitment ceremonies have no source in Torah. According to the Vilna Gaon they would be Biblically prohibited as חוקת העכום.
  19. Where someone has such tendencies, Shulchan Aruch explicitly proscribes יחוד contact; the Dinim of יחוד are a reality that are being ignored by most writers on this topic! I do not understand why they gloss over חזל!

Rabbi Riskin’s pronouncements have already led to Steven Greenberg penning an article of excited support. This is hardly surprising.

I close with the immortal words of Rav Chaim Brisker (Soloveitchik) ז׳ל

“נעבאך אן אפיקורוס איז אויך אן אפיקורוס’’

On the Haftora of Parshas Eikev.

The MALBIM would seem to have the cogent literal and contextual interpretation of the Pesukim in the Haftora of Parshas Eikev. It would seem (to me Isaac Balbin) that other Rishonim and Acharonim had a Pshat based on a Mesora of Torah She Baal Peh?

[By Meir Deutsch, with light editing]
© מאיר דויטש –  מנ”א התשע”ז
We just reached the second SHABBAT of the NECHAMA SHABBATOT. The verses of Nechama are in the Haftarot, all of them from the book of YESHA’YAHU/Isaiah. Let us see what he says. Here are the first verses of the Haftara of ‘EQEV:

ישעיהו פרק מט
(יד) וַתֹּ֥אמֶר צִיּ֖וֹן עֲזָבַ֣נִי ה’ וַאדֹנָ֖י שְׁכֵחָֽנִי:
(טו) הֲתִשְׁכַּ֤ח אִשָּׁה֙ עוּלָ֔הּ מֵרַחֵ֖ם בֶּן־בִּטְנָ֑הּ גַּם־אֵ֣לֶּה תִשְׁכַּ֔חְנָה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א אֶשְׁכָּחֵֽךְ:
(טז) הֵ֥ן עַל־כַּפַּ֖יִם חַקֹּתִ֑יךְ חוֹמֹתַ֥יִךְ נֶגְדִּ֖י תָּמִֽיד:
(יז) מִֽהֲר֖וּ בָּנָ֑יִךְ מְהָֽרְסַ֥יִךְ וּמַחֲרִבַ֖יִךְ מִמֵּ֥ךְ יֵצֵֽאוּ:
(יח) שְׂאִֽי־סָבִ֤יב עֵינַ֙יִךְ֙ וּרְאִ֔י כֻּלָּ֖ם נִקְבְּצ֣וּ בָֽאוּ־לָ֑ךְ חַי־אָ֣נִי נְאֻם־ה’ כִּ֤י כֻלָּם֙ כָּעֲדִ֣י תִלְבָּ֔שִׁי וּֽתְקַשְּׁרִ֖ים כַּכַּלָּֽה:
(יט) כִּ֤י חָרְבֹתַ֙יִךְ֙ וְשֹׁ֣מְמֹתַ֔יִךְ וְאֶ֖רֶץ הֲרִֽסֻתֵ֑יךְ כִּ֤י עַתָּה֙ תֵּצְרִ֣י מִיּוֹשֵׁ֔ב וְרָחֲק֖וּ מְבַלְּעָֽיִךְ:
(כ) ע֚וֹד יֹאמְר֣וּ בְאָזְנַ֔יִךְ בְּנֵ֖י שִׁכֻּלָ֑יִךְ צַר־לִ֥י הַמָּק֖וֹם גְּשָׁה־לִּ֥י וְאֵשֵֽׁבָה:
(כא) וְאָמַ֣רְתְּ בִּלְבָבֵ֗ךְ מִ֤י יָֽלַד־לִי֙ אֶת־אֵ֔לֶּה וַאֲנִ֥י שְׁכוּלָ֖ה וְגַלְמוּדָ֑ה גֹּלָ֣ה׀ וְסוּרָ֗ה וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ מִ֣י גִדֵּ֔ל הֵ֤ן אֲנִי֙ נִשְׁאַ֣רְתִּי לְבַדִּ֔י אֵ֖לֶּה אֵיפֹ֥ה הֵֽם:
(כב) כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר אֲדֹנָ֣י ה’ הִנֵּ֨ה אֶשָּׂ֤א אֶל־גּוֹיִם֙ יָדִ֔י וְאֶל־עַמִּ֖ים אָרִ֣ים נִסִּ֑י וְהֵבִ֤יאוּ בָנַ֙יִךְ֙ בְּחֹ֔צֶן וּבְנֹתַ֖יִךְ עַל־כָּתֵ֥ף תִּנָּשֶֽׂאנָה:
(כג) וְהָי֨וּ מְלָכִ֜ים אֹֽמְנַ֗יִךְ וְשָׂרֽוֹתֵיהֶם֙ מֵינִ֣יקֹתַ֔יִךְ אַפַּ֗יִם אֶ֚רֶץ יִשְׁתַּ֣חֲווּ לָ֔ךְ וַעֲפַ֥ר רַגְלַ֖יִךְ יְלַחֵ֑כוּ וְיָדַ֙עַתְּ֙ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י ה’ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יֵבֹ֖שׁוּ קֹוָֽי:
(כד) הֲיֻקַּ֥ח מִגִּבּ֖וֹר מַלְק֑וֹחַ וְאִם־שְׁבִ֥י צַדִּ֖יק יִמָּלֵֽט:
(כה) כִּי־כֹ֣ה׀ אָמַ֣ר ה’ גַּם־שְׁבִ֤י גִבּוֹר֙ יֻקָּ֔ח וּמַלְק֥וֹחַ עָרִ֖יץ יִמָּלֵ֑ט וְאֶת־יְרִיבֵךְ֙ אָנֹכִ֣י אָרִ֔יב וְאֶת־בָּנַ֖יִךְ אָנֹכִ֥י אוֹשִֽׁיעַ:
(כו) וְהַאֲכַלְתִּ֤י אֶת־מוֹנַ֙יִךְ֙ אֶת־בְּשָׂרָ֔ם וְכֶעָסִ֖יס דָּמָ֣ם יִשְׁכָּר֑וּן וְיָדְע֣וּ כָל־בָּשָׂ֗ר כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י ה’ מֽוֹשִׁיעֵ֔ךְ וְגֹאֲלֵ֖ךְ אֲבִ֥יר יַעֲקֹֽב:

Let us look at the translation:
14. But Ziyyon said, The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
The explanation of verse 17, given by most MEFARSHIM always surprised me. “מִֽהֲר֖וּ בָּנָ֑יִךְ מְהָֽרְסַ֥יִךְ וּמַחֲרִבַ֖יִךְ מִמֵּ֥ךְ יֵצֵֽאוּ.”. They interpret the מְהָֽרְסַ֥יִךְ וּמַחֲרִבַ֖יִךְ מִמֵּ֥ךְ יֵצֵֽאוּ as some kind of collaborators, evil people or criminals, even traitors. If we look at רד”ק, he interprets it: there will not be amongst you an evil person or criminal. The “מצודת דוד” says: the evil amongst you… We see the same in many Responsa books.

Here are a few examples:

כת הקראים נוצרה וקמה לרועץ מקרבנו בבחינה של מהרסיך ומחריביך ממך יצאו בערך מסביב לשנת ד’ אלפים תקי”ב לבריאת עולם[…] (שו”ת ציץ אליעזר חלק ה סימן טז – הרב אליעזר יהודה ולדנברג).

ובארתי בזה הכתוב – “מהרסיך ומחריביך ממך יצאו”. ישעי’ (מט) הרצון בזה – שיש שונאים הנראים כאוהבים ומתאחדים עם שלומי אמוני ישראל וטובם כחדק נהפך למרורת פתנים ומסך רוח, עושים להפריד בין אחים ובין אביהם של ישראל. והמה מהרסיך כאיש שונאי ישראל בגלוי.  (שו”ת מהרא”ש הקדמה ותוכן עניינים – רבי אלכסנדר שמואל ב”ר פינחס דוד היילפרין).

והרבה יש להתאונן כמאמר הנביא מהרסיך ומחרביך ממך יצאו אשר גם בקהלות קטנות ימצאו העורבים המצפצפים ומהרסים לתקנת דת ישראל שתיקן הרב מרא דאתרא. (שו”ת מנחת אלעזר חלק ג סימן לו – רבי חיים אלעזר ב”ר צבי שפירא).

Let us try and understand what the Prophet Yesha’yahu said. He said: Do you think that the Lord left you, his people, no – I will not forget thee. The walls are continually before me. Thy children make haste [to come back to Zion], as the [enemy] that destroyed and wasted it will go away from thee [the city].

We can see that the prophet continues:
18. Lift up thy eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together and come to thee.
The settling again in the waste and the destruction will expand and “shall be now too narrow for the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away”.

Do we see any connection to traitors amongst the population in the prophet’s saying? I cannot find one. Yesha’yahu does not mention any punishment or condemnations of them. All he is telling us that the enemy that destroyed the city will leave it. If he was talking about traitors, than what does he mean by the beginning of that verse: Thy children make haste… where too? What for?

The IBN EZRA writes: “Here your sons came and your destroyers left”. It might be not clear enough what he means by “your destroyers”, but he translates ממך יצאו = “leave you” and not “originate from you”. The MALBIM is clearer, and says: “your enemies that destroyed you have left. Here we see clearly that the MALBIM sees here the enemies of Israel that destroyed Zion and not traitors amongst you.

Let us go back to our quotation.

(יז) מִֽהֲר֖וּ בָּנָ֑יִךְ מְהָֽרְסַ֥יִךְ וּמַחֲרִבַ֖יִךְ מִמֵּ֥ךְ יֵצֵֽאוּ:

And in English:
17. Thy children make haste, thy destroyers and they that made thee waste go away from thee.

Does the translation into English of verse 17 sound clearer?

The translator knew both languages well. The English translation is from: Koren, The Jerusalem Bible, Jerusalem 1969, with the English text by Harold Fisch.

Were the Hebrew words taken out of context?

We still refer to the text מְהָֽרְסַ֥יִךְ וּמַחֲרִבַ֖יִךְ מִמֵּ֥ךְ יֵצֵֽאוּ as referring to the destroyers among our people. Are we following our Mefarshim and Responsa and using them to describe traitors of the nation or fifth columnists?

It reminds me of another verse – in TEHILIM:

כָּל־כְּבוּדָּ֣ה בַת־מֶ֣לֶךְ פְּנִ֑ימָה מִֽמִּשְׁבְּצ֖וֹת זָהָ֣ב לְבוּשָֽׁהּ (תהלים פרק מה, יד):

To whom does this verse refer to?

From the previous verse there, we see it is the daughter of the king of Zor, not a Jewish princess. The verse says: KVUDA (with a SHURUK), but some Meforshin and many Responsa = שו”ת read it as KVODA.

Were they reading it without the vowels = NIKUD? Let us look at some examples:

אבן עזרא: כל כבודה – וטעם פנימה שהיתה שוכנת לפנים בארמונה ולא היתה נראית לכל:
מצודת דוד: כל כבודה – כל אשה מכובדה ובת מלך היושבת פנימה
בחדרה לפי רוב כבודה אשר לבושה עשוי ממשבצות זהב.

I think that the MALBIM, as in our Haftara, is the only one whose explanation is consonant with the context.

We have got his interpretations:

1.     כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה, בארגז שהביא למנחה הונח פנימה כל כבודה של בת מלך, כל דברים היקרים ונכבדים הראוים לבת מלך, תכשיטין יקרים וכדומה, וגם הונח שם לבושה ממשבצות זהב, לבוש יקר הנעשה ממשבצות זהב, זה המנחה שהביאו עשירי עם:

2.     ומה היא המנחה כל כבודה בת מלך, דברים מכובדים וענינים נפשיים הראוים לבת מלך, שבתוך הארגז של המנחה נמצא לבושה ממשבצות זהב, לבוש מלכות שבו תלביש הנפש שהם מדות יקרות מאד מזהב ומפז:

3.     מלבי”ם ביאור המילות: כבודה כמו ואת הכבודה לפניהם (שופטים י”ח). פנימה, בתוך דבר. ר”ל בפנים של הארגז נמצא כל כבודה של בת מלך:

The verse is literally about a container – chest (or a suitcase as the airlines call it today) = Kvuda; not about honour or dignity = Kavod

Let us go back to our Haftara. We should not forget that it is one of the NECHAMA HAFTAROT, dealing with the return to Zion. Based on a contextual literal reading it has nothing to do with fifth columnists.

Lift up thy eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together

שְׂאִֽי־סָבִ֤יב עֵינַ֙יִךְ֙ וּרְאִ֔י כֻּלָּ֖ם נִקְבְּצ֣וּבָֽאוּ־לָ֑ךְ…

If we look further, verse 22, who is going to be punished: הִנֵּ֨ה אֶשָּׂ֤א אֶל־גּוֹיִם֙ יָדִ֔י וְאֶל־עַמִּ֖ים אָרִ֣ים נִסִּ֑י. It is not your people, not the traitors.

The South Head Shule controversy

South Head Shule is in Sydney, Australia. It has had a Chabad Rabbi for 30+ years. He is Rabbi Bentzion Milecki, who I recall from School Days at Yeshivah College in Melbourne. I also recall that he got straight A’s in his Year 12, and is very bright. His father used to have a well-known health food store in Carlisle Street, also in Melbourne. Indeed, when I returned from studying in Israel, many moons ago, I used to pick up Rabbi Milecki from his apartment in Melbourne, to give a Gemorra Shiur, in the board room of Mizrachi.

I have seen interchanges, back and forth. It would seem that the issue of a “younger Rabbi” is a concern for the President, and most members. It is claimed that membership is falling, and they seek “renewal” with a younger Rabbi, to arrest this claimed decline.

Whoever was in charge of South Head when Rabbi Milecki was hired may have let their community down. The contract was for a salary, which if true, could be described as ‘astronomical’ . In addition, they agreed that disputes surrounding the Rabbi’s tenure would be dealt with according to Halacha.

The issue reached a stalemate.

The Court in Australia upheld the view that Halacha was consideration of the contract, and Rabbi Milecki’s disembowelment from his position was considered illegal by the secular court which upheld the initial contract requiring the Halacha to determine the outcome.

In the meanwhile, there were all sorts of legal attempts at cutting off Rabbi Milecki from his position. Rabbi Milecki was quick to defend himself on many occasions. Rabbi Milecki claimed that he is entitled to tenure on the basis of Chazoko, and whilst there have apparently been attempts to pay Rabbi Milecki out, it would seem that he sees himself as the main Halachic presence in any new arrangement, whereas most members wish to pay him out and retain him in an emeritus role, removed from decision making.

I was asked why I haven’t stated my view. In essence, I was waiting for this issue to play out. It seems that it has, with the Shule now sadly in liquidation.

My view is:

Where any community hires a Chabad Rabbi, they need to realise that it is not a regular appointment. Any Chabad Rabbi around my age or older will have received a blessing from the last Lubavitcher Rebbe נ׳ע. As such, their position is interpreted as one of an emissary to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This status is higher and more cogent than any contract or position in the eyes of such a Rabbi.

Ironically, nobody expressed the view that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was too old for his position! He was, however,  an expert in relating to people of all ages. This is the key. In addition, even when older and more feeble, he kept up a punishing timetable of learning and consultation with which a younger person would have struggled.

If a Chabad Rabbi, who is hired by a community, as opposed to running his own Chabad house, is asked to move on because ostensibly the younger generation is apparently not relating to him or his leadership is losing its impact, and that Chabad Rabbi has received blessings for success from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, then there is little chance, since the Rabbi is “connected” to his Rebbe, that he will give up his post. Doing so, is an abandonment tantamount to cancelling his position as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe! Being an emissary is the highest status for a Chossid.

Notwithstanding all the above, there is, in my view a higher imperative. That higher imperative is the possibility of a Chillul Hashem, or a Zilzul (cheapening) of the status of a Rabbi (and indeed Chabad).

The tax-free salary in this case can be argued to be beyond the pale and not conducive to כבוד התורה.

Most importantly, a Rabbi should not find himself in a situation where he has lost most his congregation. These might still be members, but there has been a process of alienation and loss of real authority. If this occurs, then there should be consideration of compensation/pay out in keeping with the years of faithful service. Following this, a Rabbi should leave quietly rather than fight a battle for the minority.

In short we have a clash of cultures: a western style appointment to a position vs a Rabbinic appointment vs a Chabad Rabbinic appointment.

My view is that Rabbi Milecki should start an actual Chabad House of his own, in South Head. They might daven in his house initially. If he has support, he will acquire premises and he can function in this more traditional Chabad way where the Rabbi is CEO and unimpeachable except in the worst circumstance. In such an arrangement, he will have life tenure and pass the baton on to one of his children after 120.

I contend that he needs to forget about South Head per se because a person should not force himself on a Kehilla. The fact that many people came together and davened elsewhere should indicate that his time was definitely up.

Melbourne has other examples of Rabbis who appear not to enjoy support. Rabbi Riesenberg of Central cannot be dismissed, as per the constitution he apparently oversaw. Whilst he is legally correct, perhaps he should re-ask himself if he is raising the crown of Torah by staying in his position, as opposed to a pay out and moving elsewhere.

My former Shule, Elwood, did the right thing with Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick. Rabbi Gutnick also offered the honourable thing and stepped aside for an incumbent youth Rabbi. The incumbent has plenty of work to do if success is measured by paid members and attendance on a Shabbos. We wish him success!

Ironically, my mind goes back to Rabbi Silberman ז׳ל who ironically used to be the South Head Rabbi, and then retired to the Gold Coast, where he was very careful not to step on the toes of the Rabbi of Surfers Paradise (also from Chabad). Rabbi Silberman managed to move sideways creating a Kiddush Hashem.

Rabbi Milecki wins against his board

This is a remarkable decision. Rabbi Milecki, a Lubavitcher, and long time Rabbi of South Head Synagogue, was effectively sacked by his board through some clever manoeuvering involving the Shule going into liquidation.

One assumes that Rabbi Milecki tried to take the Board to a Din Torah and failed. He then received permission to take it to the secular court in New South Wales, Australia.

The Supreme Court ruled, quite incredibly that the South Head Board had wrongfully dismissed Rabbi Milecki and they needed to take the case to a Din Torah.

This shows that the court is culturally sensitive and doesn’t want to trample on such mores, unless forced.

One implication for this, and I assume the decision will be appealed to a higher court, is that if we want to get the court to assist us in having compulsory Halachic prenuptial agreements whereby a male or female could not withhold a Get/divorce, may be more difficult as they may not wish to be involved.

You can read the ruling here.

[Update: in case you thought this was a new precedent. As per legal advice, it follows Gutnick v Mizrachi where court sent matter to Din Torah 

Also in Mond v Caulfield Hebrew Congregation where the court granted injunction and sent matter to a Din Torah.

Very strange that Shul’s administrators argued that the contract with Rabbi Milecki was not subject to Halacha. ]

Who is schnorring to fund Steven Greenberg’s trip?

The prime supporter and collector to fund Steven Greenberg is allegedly non other than that famous Jewish personality, who spoke at Habonim on Shavuos about how he ‘finally managed to break away from Orthodox Judaism’ -Mark Cherny.

We love you Mark, not just because you are a mad St Kilda supporter, but because despite what comes  out of your mouth, you cannot break away. No Jew can give away their essence, which contains Godliness. Yes, I’m aware that Science maybe your god, and I’m not getting into that topic here.

It is ironic that Mark who disavows Orthodoxy, is finding the funds to enable the non Orthodox Steven Greenberg to speak at an Orthodox Shule! Can you see what I see? As I understand it, all Orthodox Shules turned down Mark, except for Caulfield. Perhaps Steven Greenberg himself can convince Mark to remove the shade covering his glowing inner Jew-the Neshoma he disavows because it’s not in a test tube.

What I don’t understand is why Rabbi Genende was seemingly seduced by cheap populism. Modern Orthodoxy opposes Steven Greenberg and his husband. I’m sure Rabbi Genende will vigorously oppose Steven Greenberg, but is a function for young adults the correct address for this discussion?

By now, everyone knows that the ARK Centre and Shira Chadasha are the two outliers that have welcomed Steven. No shock horror in those two places opening their arms.

Bottom line: It should have stayed with ARK and Shira Chadasha and Michael Barnett’s group, which includes ‘intermarried homosexuals’, no less. Maybe Steven will try to convince intermarried homosexuals to stop their relationship because they are assisting a Ben Noach to sin?

The Rabbinic Council of Victoria (RCV) and Rabbi Genende

Stop press:  Those who we’re going to protest are no longer going to do so. They had mistakenly asssumed that the RCV were complicit in turning a blind eye to their Vice President Genende. This is untrue. Rabbi Genende either goes his own way or has a Psak he has not yet shared.

Firstly let’s be clear without wishing to sound condescending. It is the  EASIEST thing on earth to give the go ahead for Steven Greenberg if you simply go your own way. Rabbi Genende has done that. Let him publish the names of those Rabbis in the RCV who agree with him? If, however, Rabbi Genende is brave he should easily be able to demonstrate to everyone at the talk that Steven Greenberg is nebach not Orthodox. Yes, be polite, and put it diplomatically but this is a clear example of

עת לעשות לה׳ הפרו תורתיך

Rabbi Genende has tacitly resisted all attempts to suggest that he ‘pass’ on the event of Steven Greenberg’s heresy, to another organisation. 

The following was sent to me. Hat tip WK.

This is from the Algemeiner Journal

In response to a recent “Orthodox” same-sex marriage ceremony conducted in Washington, D.C. by Rabbi Steve Greenberg, – who is openly gay, and married Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan at the 6th & I Synagogue (non orthodox temple) in Washington in November – over 100 Orthodox Rabbis – among them some of the most prominent rabbinic figures in the Modern Orthodox Jewish world, including Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Hershel Reichman of Yeshiva University and Rabbi Elie Abadie of the Safra Synagogue – issued a statement declaring that, “By definition, a union that is not sanctioned by Torah law is not an Orthodox wedding, and by definition a person who conducts such a ceremony is not an Orthodox rabbi.” They also dispelled any doubt over possible flexibility on the matter in the future, writing, “We strongly object to this desecration of Torah values and to the subsequent misleading reportage…the public should not be misled into thinking that Orthodox Jewish values on this issue can change, are changing, or might someday change…any claims to the contrary are inaccurate and false.” (For the full statement and list of signatures see below)

Many Orthodox congregations have homosexuals as members, and generally speaking, they are accepted without reservations. One Orthodox rabbi – who did not wish to be named – who has homosexual and trans-gender members in his congregation told the Algemeiner: “There is no such thing as a Jew who does not have spiritual struggles and challenges. We accept Jews who do not fully observe the Sabbath and do not keep kosher, and we accept those who struggle with sexual issues. However, just as we cannot accept someone who promotes desecration of the Sabbath and abandoning the laws of kashrut(kosher), or actively advocates adultery, we cannot accept someone who actively and publicly, promotes the practice of homosexuality.”

Although the 100+ rabbis take a firm stand against same-gender marriage, they are also sympathetic to to those of alternate sexual orientation, describing them as “challenged” they add, “We as rabbis, lovingly play a crucial role in helping Jews who may be facing great personal challenges to feel comfortable and welcome in our communities…some individuals experience deep inner conflict as they seek a holy path to serve God…we devote our lives towards helping all those in our broader community achieve their loftiest spiritual potential, while fully upholding the timeless values expressed in our Holy Torah.”
The full statement and list of signatures:
Orthodox Rabbis Stand On Principle

Recently, an American Jewish clergyman officiated at a matrimonial ceremony that is incorrectly being reported by some in the media as “the first time that an ordained Orthodox Rabbi has officiated at a same-sex marriage in the United States.”
We, as rabbis from a broad spectrum of the Orthodox community around the world, wish to correct the false impression that an Orthodox-approved same-gender wedding took place. By definition, a union that is not sanctioned by Torah law is not an Orthodox wedding, and by definition a person who conducts such a ceremony is not an Orthodox rabbi.
Jewish tradition unequivocally teaches that marriage can only exist as a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of a homosexual relationship. It is a distortion of Torah to confound that sacred principle. We strongly object to this desecration of Torah values and to the subsequent misleading reportage.
We appreciate the sensitive nature of intimacy. We, as rabbis, lovingly play a crucial role in helping Jews who may be facing great personal challenges to feel comfortable and welcome in our communities. Rabbis are always available to discuss congregants’ personal issues, including intimacy. We understand from our experiences in offering pastoral care that some individuals experience deep inner conflict as they seek a holy path to serve G-d and to fulfill their spiritual needs. As rabbis, we devote our lives towards helping all those in our broader community achieve their loftiest spiritual potential, while fully upholding the timeless values expressed in our Holy Torah.
The public should not be misled into thinking that Orthodox Jewish views on this issue can change, are changing, or might someday change. The Rabbinical Council of America recently declared that “the Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.” This is the only statement on this matter that can reflect Orthodox Judaism. Any claims or statements to the contrary are inaccurate and false.

Rabbi Elie Abadie – New York, NY

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein – Los Angeles, CA

Rabbi Eitan Allen – Fairfield, CT

Rabbi Sol Appleman – Woodsburgh, NY

Rabbi Moshe Averick – Chicago, IL

Rabbi Ian Bailey – Silver Spring, MD

Rabbi Yisroel Bendelstein – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Etan Berman – New York, NY

Rabbi Azriel Blumberg – Brighton, MA

Rabbi Heshy Blumstein – Hewlett, NY

Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky – San Diego, CA

Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin – Portland, OR

Rabbi Zev Cinamon – West Hempstead, NY

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen – West Palm Beach, FL

Rabbi Judah Z. Cohen – Hewlett, NY

Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen, New York, NY

Rabbi Mordechai Cohen – Milwaukee, WI

Rabbi Yosef Cohen – West Hartford, CT

Rabbi Nissim Davidi – Los Angeles, CA

Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz – Valley Village, CA

Rabbi Ari Enkin – Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein – Cherry Hill, NJ

Rabbi Aaron Feigenbaum – Memphis, TN

Rabbi Dovid Feinberg – Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman – Jerusalem, Israel

Rabbi Ilan Feldman – Atlanta, GA

Rabbi Eliyahu Ferrell – Passaic, NJ

Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Shmuel Fink – Lawrence, NY

Rabbi Dov Fischer – Orange County, CA

Rabbi Arie Folger – Munich, Germany

Rabbi Barry Freundel – Washington, DC

Rabbi Zvi Friedlander – New York, NY

Rabbi Cary Friedman – Passaic, NJ

Rabbi Zev Friedman – Lawrence, NY

Rabbi Mallen Galinsky – Jerusalem, Israel

Rabbi Benjamin Geiger – Forest Hills, NY

Rabbi Avraham Ginzburg – Forest Hills, NY

Rabbi Saul Gold – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Jay H. Goldberg – Far Rockaway, NY

Rabbi Chaim Goldberger – Minneapolis, MN

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer – New York, NY

Rabbi Shlomo Grafstein – New York, NY

Rabbi Alan Greenspan – Jerusalem, Israel

Rabbi Yonah Gross – Wynnewood, PA

Rabbi Yosef Grossman – Monsey, NY

Rabbi Ben Hecht – Toronto, Canada

Rabbi Ari Jacobson – Monsey, NY

Rabbi Ari Kahn – Givat Ze’ev, Israel

Rabbi Howard Katzenstein – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski – Richmond, VA

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg – Passaic, NJ

Rabbi Pinchas L. Landis – Cincinnati, OH

Rabbi Eliezer Langer – Austin, TX

Rabbi Levi Langer – Pittsburgh, PA

Rabbi Avi Lebowitz – Palo Alto, CA

Rabbi Yonah Levant – Queens, NY

Rabbi Menachem Levine – San Jose, CA

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz – Chicago, IL

Rabbi Yaakov Luban – Highland Park, NJ

Rabbi Avraham Maimon – Sunnyvale, CA

Rabbi Reuven Mann – Phoenix, AZ

Rabbi Harry Maryles – Chicago, IL

Rabbi Baruch Pesach Mendelson – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Jacob B. Mendelson – Bridgeport, CT

Rabbi Yossi Mendelson – Queens, NY

Rabbi Lester Miller – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Yerachmiel Morrison – Lakewood, NJ

Rabbi Jonathan Muskat – Oceanside, NY

Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer – Forest Hills, NY

Rabbi Gavriel Price – Passaic, NJ

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky – Teaneck, NJ

Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet – Jerusalem, Israel

Rabbi Michael Rapps – Far Rockaway, NY

Rabbi Hershel Reichman – New York, NY

Rabbi Rachmiel Rothberger – New York, NY

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein – Riverdale, NY

Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs – Teaneck, N

Rabbi Yackov Saacks – Dix Hills, NY

Rabbi Nosson Sachs – Pittsburgh, PA

Rabbi Nachum Sauer – Los Angeles, CA

Rabbi Hershel Schachter – New York, NY

Rabbi Moshe Schapiro – Bergenfield, NJ

Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld – Queens, NY

Rabbi Zev Schostak – Queens, NY

Rabbi Tsvi G. Schur – Baltimore, MD

Rabbi David Shabtai – New York, NY

Rabbi Dov Shapiro – Spring Valley, NY

Rabbi Jay C. Shoulson – Long Island City, NY

Rabbi Zecharia Sionit – Dallas, TX

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason – St. Louis, MO

Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff – Queens, NY

Rabbi Aryeh Spero – Great Neck, NY

Rabbi Reuven Spolter -Yad Binyamin, Israel

Rabbi Leonard Steinberg – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Gil Student – Brooklyn, NY

Rabbi Michael Taubes – Teaneck, NJ

Rabbi Moses David Tendler – Monsey, NY

Rabbi Benzion Twerski – Milwaukee, WI

Rabbi Michel Twerski – Milwaukee, WI

Rabbi Avrohom Union – Los Angeles, CA

Rabbi Noach Vogel – San Jose, CA

Rabbi Gedalia Walls – Potomac, MD

Rabbi Yaakov Wasser – East Brunswick, NJ

Rabbi Philip Weinberger – Teaneck, NJ

Rabbi Matan Wexler – New York, NY

Rabbi Ari Zahtz – Teaneck, NJ

Rabbi Asher Zeilingold – St. Paul, MN

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler – Jerusalem, Israel

I am acquainted with some of the Rabbonim on the list; and it’s a compelling list. 

I know of no list where Orthodox Rabbis agree that Greenberg is Orthodox. 

I was also sent a video of Steven conducting a homosexual union service. He can do what he wants but he cannot call this Orthodox by any stretch. It is simply an halachic fraud.

Those of you who want to hear what he has to say without going to Caulfield Shule’s Hall,  can hear him here. I listened for about 5 minutes and the dangerous thing is his misguided sincerity. Even his comment that his invitation to speak was ‘hachnasat orchim’, I believe is halachically not correct. He is a charmer, and seems like a nice, but challenged individual.

Is Steven being paid from Melbourne? If so, is Caulfield contributing? I can certainly think of more important speakers to sponsor in terms of influencing young adults to re-connect with their identity/religion. I wonder how many people who will go to the talk will be influenced by Rabbi Genende to attend Genende’s shiurim.

I wonder if Rabbi Genende would invite Pastor Margaret Court and one of his Muslim Imam colleagues to address whether they would host somebody who espouses different religious view  than them and claims fidelity, in the walls of their organisation? If he is to be consistent, I expect that Rabbi Genende would not be a Margaret Court critic in terms of her views being out of bounds? She should ‘be treated with compassion and inclusiveness’.

I wonder, given the gravity of the question, whether Rabbi Genende asked his own Posek. Rabbis as great as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z’l, who was more than capable of deciding Halacha, went to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z’l to ask more grave questions. There is no shame doing so. I know that Rav Hershel Schachter sometimes discussed important matters with Rav Elyashiv z’l, but in the end he has the shoulders to disagree, and when he does, he explicitly mentions Rav Elyashiv, explains his view and explains his own.

I stress and restress, homosexuals should not need their own place of worship. Orthodox Shules perhaps with the exception of Adass, Rabbi Donenbaum’s  Shule and the Gerrer Shtiebel would treat them no differently to anyone else. That being said, if they come with their partner, then it will be akin to a man sitting with his wife and other women!  There must be awfully difficult temptations for those so inclined. ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם would  apply, I believe.

For those who might not see society swimming openly into new waters, be aware of this and this as they may also be genetic dispositions, nebach, רחמנא ליצלן.

PLEASE Do not protest at Caulfield Shule over Steven Greenberg

I am aware of an email with certain people exhorting sincere Jews to protest the purported ‘justification’ of Homosexuality in Judaism by Steven Greenberg, under the watch of Rabbi Ralph Genende.

  1. Some of the people asking others to protest are carrying some very serious baggage. They know who they are. They should back off now and stop the charade.
  2. Rav Schachter, senior Posek of the OU, Rosh Yeshivah and Rosh Kollel of YU for the last 50 years, and widely considered the senior Posek of both the Rabbinic Council of America and Centrist/Modern Orthodoxy stated that it would be a very bad idea to protest. The only thing a protest would achieve is to harden the hearts of participants and Rabbi Genende; give more publicity to the event; cause a חילול שם שמים if the non-Jewish Secular Press, as well as the Jewish Secular Press (the Australian Jewish News) were to blow up the issue so they can foment further division and sell more papers; and finally it would be met head on by the ‘we think we are Orthodox too’ left wing Jews of Golus Australis, who would relish the opportunity to counter protest.
  3. There is no חיוב today to give תוכחה in this way today.
  4. The best way to win over people’s hearts is to engage their minds. At least one person of Torah knowledge should be there and ask Rabbi Genende to speak at another event once Greenberg has departed on the topic of ‘Why Steven Greenberg is not Orthodox’.

I want to stress and repeat. I have only heard good things about Steven as a human being and his keeping of other commandments. He was created in the Image of God, as  were we. Therefore, irrespective of him espousing the likely heresy he is known for, one should behave properly and not display antipathy towards him. Nebach, he has a tendency. In his hearts of hearts I am sure he’d rather have no controversy and have heterosexual tendencies, as per the existential immutable reality of Yahadus.

I repeat, please do NOT protest and if you agree please spread the word; I implore you.

On Steven Greenberg & Rabbi Genende

We are enjoined not to judge anyone until we are proverbially ‘in their shoes’. Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, with the agreement of its Senior Rabbinic Authority, Rabbi Ralph Genende, have invited members of the community to hear a self-professed homosexual, and self-professed Orthodox Jew, once ordained at YU, named Stephen Greenberg, to address his homosexual struggle, contextualised with his ‘partner’ and ‘daughter’. 
If we accept the theory that Steven was born with a predisposition of sexual attraction to the same gender, then we must ask  whether he consulted his teachers at YU. As someone who was ordained, this is even more of an imperative given the gravity of the issue and the world trip, crusader-like approach.

The Shulchan Aruch is acutely aware that some will have a tendency to be attracted to the same gender. It is unambiguous in describing what a person should do if they are indeed inclined that way.

There are well-known prohibitions in respect to a heterosexual male being alone with a heterosexual female. Whether this is a Torah infraction or a Rabbinic one, is a dispute between the Rambam and other Rishonim. Whatever the case, the laws of Yichud, being alone,  are there to protect against a potentially more serious consequence, that may lead to prohibited sexual relations.

What is not well known is that the Shulchan Aruch codified the self-same laws of Yichud, in regards to same gender seclusion/Yichud (See Even HoEzer 24:1) 

If a male has a homosexual predilection, then it is forbidden to be halachically alone with another male. There is no argument about this Halacha and there can certainly be no argument of its applicability in our age. 

The Rambam in his glosses on the Mishna in Sanhedrin 7, states that a Jew is not suspected of homosexuality or bestiality as they are both unnatural. The Rambam could not envisage someone with a Jewish Soul having such proclivity.

As I understand it, Steven claims to adhere to all laws of Judaism give or take the odd stumble that we all experience. If Steven lives with his male partner he most certainly is choosing to ignore a Halacha. I am not referring to the likely outcome of homosexual sex; rather, Yichud—being alone. If he does not, then kudos to him.

I would assume that Steven, who Rabbi Genende also describes as an Orthdox Rabbi, does not live under the same roof as his partner, and they perhaps take turns looking after the daughter? If that is not the case, it is difficult to accept the description of Orthodox.

Technically, one or both males, might not be the biological father, which also raises another hornets nest in respect to Yichud with an adopted child. The Lubavitcher Rebbe amongst many others had grave problems giving permission for Yichud with an adopted child. Others are more lenient, including Rav Soloveitchik, to whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent some Lubavitch couples (see Nefesh HoRav from Rav Schachter) who wanted to adopt and needed the Psak Din of a World renowned Rabbi.

At this point I trust that even the far left are not churlishly dismissing me as homophobic, based on what I have written.

One expects that the otherwise religiously-oriented homosexual Jew feels more self-guilt than the secular homosexual Jew. This is not because people are more derisive to the religious one. Rather, it’s because he feels he has been born with an impediment to keep Halacha. 

 Some will deal with it by disappearing into new social circles where they potentially practice less Judaism as time goes by. Others, such as Steven presumably blame their genetic marker for their predilection and will wrestle with God about why they weren’t given heterosexual genes.

I would hope that if Steven was asked, ‘Would you have preferred if God had made you heterosexual’, that Steven would answer in the affirmative. If he does not, I’m not sure why Rabbi Genende as Vice President of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria would invite him to espouse his views!

We should consider why Stephen isn’t addressing one of the homosexual groups where he may encourage people to keep all the other laws of Judaism and give them confidence to do so. Perhaps he will do so. I do not know, but I think that would be a positive thing.

I have not ever come across anyone not being welcomed in Shule because they were homosexual. I would imagine they are shunned by Hungarian Chassidic communities.

To be sure, even Chabad who welcome all, have some restrictions. When Shlomo Carlebach started diverging from an Orthodox path, Rabbi Y. D. Groner z’l, who had been a study partner of Shlomo, asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe נ׳ע whether he should try and bring Shlomo ‘back’ through Kiruv. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should do so, but never within the walls of a Lubavitch institution lest anyone think that what Shlomo does is acceptable etc. Why did Steven have to speak within Caulfield Shule’s property? Having Steven at a congregational function definitely stretches the boundaries of what is tolerable. Given Rabbi Genende’s professed opposition to Steven’s approach in a letter to his congregants one wonders why Rabbi Genende didn’t choose to debate Steven?

The menagerie of congregants at Caulfield on a standard Shabbos will not likely include the young adults who will attend Steven’s talk. Caulfield do a great job, given their ability to pull in big donations to lure world class performances via a choir from Israel. They are a vibrant Shule with an active and dedicated committee. 

I’m sure these activities are roundly enjoyed, but will a ‘voyeuristic’ gaze into the house of a religiously inclined homosexual Jew translate to attendance at Shule or Rabbi Genende’s educational programme? I think not, especially if Rabbi Genende disagrees with Steven’s interpretation of Scripture anyway!

Imagine, if you will, that instead of Steven, the guest speaker was a ‘religious’ adulterer/womaniser. Perhaps not a Rabbi, but someone well known. Imagine this person wanted to speak about his problem of wandering eyes which lead to covert forbidden sexual relations. It could be argued that he too has a proclivity. Is there a genetic link? My question then to Rabbi Genende is, would you give such a person a podium to speak of his struggles to keep his pants on when his eyes wander? Something tells me that Rabbi Genende would not allow such a talk. Why? Marriage is sacred and such acts are abominable and don’t deserve a podium. If I am right, the podium should be reserved for the types of Jews who are inspirational. I am more inspired to hear of those homosexual religious Jews who courageously don’t give in to a basic tenet.

Did Rabbi Genende consult leading centrist/modern Poskim. It would appear that his colleagues in the Rabbinic Council of Victoria are far from enamoured by his  ‘go it alone’ approach. If he has support from a Posek who knows Steven then Rabbi Genende should at least inform his colleagues in the Rabbinate.

I have heard that some intend to protest. In my mind this is not only stupid in the extreme, but halachically questionable.  On that matter I also have Rabbinic agreement. Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter שליט׳א made it clear in our phone call that one should not go to Caulfield, either to protest or to listen to Steven.

There is a valid question about calling up to the Torah someone who advertises their homosexuality and the acts which result. These types of questions arose in the Halachic literature regarding those who have married out and those who publicly break the Sabbath in a ‘look, Shabbos doesn’t mean anything’ attitude. I know that in Elwood Shule, there is a Shule goer who married out. He comes on Shabbos fairly often. Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick instructed the Gaboim not to give him an Aliya, as I recall. This is consistent with the view of R’ Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל.

Turning our attention towards Sabbath desecrators, I know that the late Rav Chaim Gutnick z’l would wait in his office until everyone had left and then walk home. He knew that his community of Holocaust survivors were theologically and psychologically challenged and displayed peculiar traits: they came to Shule but drove there. They didn’t eat Kosher but would never eat Pork. When such a damaged person came to Shule, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick only saw their holy soul and did not see any infractions.

What about Steven Greenberg? To my mind, he does not need an audience of voyeuristic heterosexuals. The need to treat people as created in the image of God should be taught by those who are not involved in Torah infractions. I interact every now and again with a homosexual Talmid Chacham, who I believe to be celibate. 

Does one give Steven Greenberg an Aliyah? My personal answer would have been yes, if he was a ‘mind your own business’ private type. If however he was advertising his homosexuality and seeking acceptance according to the Torah then I would be inclined not give an Aliya to the Torah. I don’t rely on my own feelings in such a grave case, and discussed this with my Posek today. He fully agreed with me that protesting was definitely not the correct approach. It would also not be advised for an Orthodox person to attend such a talk. In respect of giving him an Aliyah he opined that in a Shule where people have lots of different baggage of aveyros, and wouldn’t be alarmed in the slightest, then he is not considered an outlier in that particular congregation and can be called up.

In the end, we must try to focus on the Godly soul of individuals who face big challenges to keep Torah and Mitzvos and try to have them attend davening, go to Shiurim etc.

My view is that this is for the ‘ordinary’ person. The one who has ordination and travels the world talking about his anti Torah proclivities should not be afforded an outlet connected to an Orthodox Shule.  

It is ironic that many of those making noise against him are defending the despicably accused Malka Leifer. I just hope that she isn’t duping the psychs in Israel who are evaluating her state of mind and that she be promptly  brought to face Justice in Melbourne, and should she be found guilty, they could put her in a psychiatric prison if she is indeed impaired in that way.

PS. YU does not revoke Smicha, but would have revoked Steven’s if they had that policy. I discussed this with those who give YU’s respected and high standard Smicha today.

On the Kashrus of Bénédictine Liqueur

It is well-known that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, זכותו יגן עלינו, liked this drink and had it on his table for the tish. It is also well-known that it (once) had some Xtian cross emblazoned and supposedly someone mentioned that there might be a wine (סתם יינם) issue with the drink. I am told the drink suddenly disappeared from the Tish where the Lubavitcher Rebbe used to farbreng. The reason it disappeared was explained later by the Rebbe himself “due to those מרה שחורה’ניקעס (party poopers) who have cast aspersions on it”. I am not going to pretend that I understand why that bothered the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I won’t second guess him.

Now, like Coca-Cola, the actual recipe of Bénédictine is a secret. The most reputable Kashrus Agencies in the world, however, advised consumers that it was not to be quaffed. In Melbourne, the Rabbi who is the Chief Posek for Kosher Australia is Mordechai Gutnick and he is a Lubavitcher. However, he pronounced that it was not recommended. I spoke to the head chemist of Kosher Australia, Kasriel Oliver, also a Lubavitcher, he told me in no uncertain terms that it was not to be consumed irrespective of what the Lubavitcher Rebbe had done in days gone by.

The Chicago Rabbinic Council do lots of investigating of spirits and liqueurs as does the London Beth Din. If Chicago pronounces that something is not recommended, other respectable agencies follow their finding. (I don’t include the private little (not to be trusted) Kashrus agencies where the person giving the hechsher is also paying himself a tidy wage). Proper authorities, like Kosher Australia, cRc, OU and a host of other respectable agencies still do not recommend Bénédictine.

On the right is what the cRc Kosher app said today on my iPhone.

Now, I read an essay from the cRc about Bénédictine here and apart from Rabbi Moshe Gutnick’s view (which was not based on visiting the premises) it seemed they were having it a “bit both ways”. Moshe is one of Mordechai’s younger brothers and oversees a large Kashrus organisation in Sydney for many years.

I am not a lover of liqueurs in particular, but I thought that something just wasn’t right. Were the Dominican Monks not allowing any agency in? That seems incorrect. If so, why hadn’t any of the European agencies gone in and investigated it properly. Why hadn’t the Lubavitchers investigated? Were they afraid it might be forbidden? I sent an email to the cRc and copied it to Rabbi Gutnick where I wrote

I read the article on this
and do not understand why R Msika doesn’t drink non B&B.
Is this because of the cRc comments or is it because he only drinks Mehadrin with a Mashgiach at least Yotze VeNichnas, is it political, or a personal Chumra.
Does the Beth Din of America accept it?
In Melbourne it is not recommended
I have never had it
I am not a Lubavitcher
My Posek is Rav Schachter
They didn’t answer my email or it is still flying in the ether or ended up in their spam. I decided to be “clever” and emailed the head of kashrus of the cRc in Europe. Let’s just say that his last email to me was a tad bizarre and didn’t shed any light on the issue even though the responsibility fell on his shoulders.
In the meanwhile, I couldn’t understand Lubavitchers who drank it with wanton abandon. I wondered how they could be confident the recipe hadn’t changed even if it was Kosher once. I had also been in touch with the Israel Rabbinate’s expert on spirits and he emailed me that some was kosher according to Rav Lande of Bnei Brak and others were not.
I’d had enough of the mirky issue, so on a whim, I emailed one of the heads of Rav Lande of Bnei Brak’s Kashrus division. I knew him from Melbourne where he resided once and went to the same school as me. He is Rabbi Motty HaSofer. Motty was nice enough to respond immediately. He had investigated it personally several times and explained that the product was 100% Kosher. 
Which product?
Well, in the picture below you will see
from right to left, their cask liqueur. It is Kosher. The one in the middle which has B&B on it is 100% NOT Kosher. They add Brandy hence the B&B. Then there is the common one on the far left with the word DOM which is their regular liqueur. It is 100% Kosher. So you are wondering what about the bottling and the Brandy (wine) from the “B&B” version as it is all made in one factory? Rabbi Hasofer informed me that
All are bottled in the same bottling machine, but there is a full
cleaning cycle between each product bottled.
He also told me that Rav Lande himself served the product at his own Simchos! Now, every one trusts Rav Lande’s Hechsher as far as I know, in the same way that they trusted his father’s hechsher.
In summary, the major Kashrus agencies have it WRONG. You can drink two of three Benedictines, as above; not because the Lubavitcher Rebbe drank it decades ago, but because it is known now to be checked like anything else and is Kosher. End of Story.
I suggest that Kosher Australia inform the cRc to change their determination. I will send the email I received. What I can’t understand is why could I do it, and they couldn’t/didn’t?

Alex Fein is defamatory; so what’s news?

  1. I never knew her husband prayed at Emmy Monash before the question was asked
  2. I was approached by the Rabbi of that institution, to ask a revered Modern Orthodox Rabbi (not Chareidi or Chabad) to get an unbiased view given the Rabbi was Chabad (I’m not, of course) but I happened to be learning Torah close to that Rabbi for a few months and he knew I regularly was in touch with Rav Schachter based on other discussions that arose daily. Rav Schachter was not told any names as it is not relevant and in fact, it wasn’t the only question asked. Rav Schachter was quick and firm in his response (he’d obviously come across it). Guess what? Mizrachi had this same Psak from their Rabbi at the time (no, not Rabbi Sprung) about a different functionary, so it’s hardly a new issue.
  3. There is no line about female circumcision and is just some inflammatory nonsense from someone purposefully deflecting from the issue because she has been exposed. She also knows that what I was asking her, was about whether should she should have a SON and whether she would offer the choice of him having a circumcision or she would force him, like the fundamentalist she accuses me, and my Rabbi and others to be, and have it at eight days. I simply noted that she didn’t have to face that question because she has only females to date. It is rather sick to contort that in the way that she has, but on the other hand, it is revealing, because anyone normal can read what she has written and seen what I have written and see immediately the falsehood she spreads.
  4. Alex is ageist. That is clear in her response as sent to me by someone.
  5. She wouldn’t have a clue, but I visited old people in those homes every week for over two decades (they are dead now), so don’t think I’m some person who hangs around with youngsters like Alex only.
  6. Frankly, if she wants to defame me in public and get excited about that, good luck to her. I am not responding to her gutter sniping, foul language, and lies.

Ho Hum. Take a Bex and lie down for a rest Alex.

Oh Yvonne Fein, you can do a lot better better than that pithy response

Someone just sent me your response to what I wrote. (I will reproduce it below) I understand that a mother, like a lion, looks after her cubs; one has a natural inclination to protect, but I can assure you that:

a) It didn’t take me long to write; and

b) I have read gone with the wind; and

c) I have four University degrees, including a PhD, so please don’t place me in your preconceived bed pan of medieval street sweepers; and

d) I have met you and found you pleasant and have actually written a piece in Generation which I believe you were involved with; and

e) A cousin of Yaron is a cousin of mine.

If you want to argue facts or claim I have been unkind, then I’m all ears.

Failing that, enjoy your Matza Balls (if you are allowed them … I have to wait till the last day)

My goodness, Cousin of Yaron. It was such a pleasure to read your response to Alex’s post. The fact that it was only slightly shorter than “Gone With the Wind” (that’s a secular book you may have been forbidden to read) is a clear indicator of how much you respect her thoughts and ideas. Taking so
much time to reply – and I’m a writer so I know these things -must have
taken you hours. We are indeed privileged to share your acumen and erudition. I hope there’s more on the way. Also, if you feel compelled to reply, please know that I will not re-engage. I’ve said my piece.
(Disclosure: I am Mother of Alex.)

Sigh. Another nihilist post from Alex Fein

I need to start with the disclaimer. I bear no personal antipathy towards Alex. She is married to my cousin Yaron Gottlieb, and I remember their wedding fondly (the band in particular were incredible).

I’ve been busy of late, involved in matters that rather wouldn’t have required my attention. Such is life. Today, however, I received an email  (allegedly) being an article just written by Alex. I don’t feel an imperative to read Galus Australis given the stack of things I haven’t read next to my bed. (I was chuffed to see its roots though included the daughter of a colleague of mine, Dr Ron Sacks-Davis. Ron is a mild-mannered lovely person who recruited me to RMIT more years ago than I care to admit.

I read a few lines of Alex’s alleged comments and saw that it involved my Rav Hamuvhak (my primary Rabbi and teacher), the world-renowned Halachic Decisor for the OU (currently the only Halachic Consultant since Rav Belsky’s recent passing), the Rabbi of the Rabbis of the Rabbinic Council of America, someone who just celebrated 50 years as a Rosh Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel at Yeshivah University, who has a degree in Science, the youngest Rosh Yeshivah appointed by Yeshivah University, the brilliant Rabbi who could recall just about every word he heard from his teacher, the enormous father of Centrist Orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז׳ל. More recently, three of his books have been published where he recounts the Mesora, approach and words that he heard either with his own ears, or from someone else (always naming his source). He also had a serious of Halachic treatises. One includes his decision that it is forbidden according to Halacha to return parts of Israel. No doubt, that of itself would be something that Alex would not accept, though she could not build a counter halachic argument, despite frequenting partnership minyanim which seek to raise the prominence of women in all facets of Judaism (perhaps with the exception of circumcision, although I suspect Alex might be against it because the male child hasn’t been asked whether they actually want it). Alex and Yaron now have two charming daughters.

I have a copy of every book that Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter has written. Steve Jobs can be credited with introducing me, and even forcing me (due to a bluetooth firmware bug in some 3rd party radios used in today’s cars) to listen to my iPhone in the car for some 40 minutes each day driving to works and then back. I’m sorry I was using green house gasses, however, I was fulfilling כיבוד אב ואם. I now use more green house gasses, via the public tram system, but let’s not go there.

Despite being a musician for longer than I’ve been an academic, the only song that might be on my iPhone at a given moment is one I need to learn for a wedding and require a refresher. 99.9% of the 128 Gigabytes, yes, Gigabytes, contain Torah Shiurim. Due to the bug in the blue tooth, as soon as I turn the car on, a random Shiur starts (or sometimes the Shiur I was listening to resumes). I just checked my iTunes list and found that I had downloaded locally 1000 Shiurim. If one visits yu.org, which is one of the biggest sanctifications of God’s name, one finds that Rav Schachter has 4,880 Shiurim. Now Alex is good with her pen (although I find her descent into profanities unbecoming and bordering on unfitting illiterate Bogan culture, let alone something that is forbidden by the Judaism that Alex loves (even by “non” fundamentalists).

My first question is, how many of the published 4,880 Shiurim of Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter, has Alex listened to? I would venture to say that two digits would be a stretch. As such, her personal exposure to his style, character, integrity, let alone his learning and dignity, is approaching ZERO.

My next question is, how many of Rav Schachter’s Seforim has Alex learned or studied with or without someone. Again, I venture to say none given that since they don’t seem to fall under the rubric of a quote from Wikipedia (I got a shock when I saw she has an entry)

In one article, a conservative community activist whom she had criticised accused her of an ‘evidence-light prosecutorial indictment of the community.’ Fein responded to this criticism by saying that it was this very style of argument that was driving away an entire generation of young Jews.

Fein, for example is certainly unaware that Rav Schachter is the Halachic authority that is relied upon by a movement which rallies against outing men (not sure if they are involved in women not accepting a Gett) and putting them under pressure, demonstrations etc. I will leave Alex to find out about that. Rav Schachter, though, doesn’t do things because he thinks they sit well with his “feelings”. He does them because Halacha and his feelings coincide, with the former being the last words. He is afraid of nobody and states his opinion without fear or favour.

My next question to Alex is how many times she has spoken to Rav Schachter?  I speak to him semi-regularly. I gather the questions that I have (which are not klotz kashes) and late in the evening in New York he always takes my call, and did so the first time without knowing me from a herring. He speaks with incredible humility and I have never, I repeat, never, heard a Rav say “I don’t know”, as often as I hear Rav Schachter say that in Shiurim, and sometimes on the phone. So Alex, being such an accomplished writer and journalist would you like to ring him cold and ask him your questions? You might want to read him one of your diatribes where you state

For some reason, I consent to be a part of a congregation that does not count me as an adult human.

Only adult men can form the quorum required for certain prayers. Every time I set foot in my synagogue or participate in Orthodox Jewish life, I leave my civil society feminism at the door and therefore comply with something that erases a massive part of myself.

There are plenty of rabbis prepared to insult our intelligence. They’ll tell us that all the things women cannot do in Orthodoxy—bearing witness and initiating divorce being two of the biggest—are simply because women are more spiritual than men and should not have to dirty themselves with… what? Real life and power, among other things.

How can I consent to this oppression in any intellectually honest way and still call myself a feminist?

Alex, maybe you can’t call yourself a feminist. Instead, try Jewish Orthodox person, and learn from prime sources. You do know that Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Schachter’s prime teacher encouraged women to study the Torah including the Talmud. Undoubtedly you also know that Rav Moshe Feinstein z’l explicitly forbade anything that remotely smelled of feminism. I’m not sure why that defines you more than Judaism? Does it?

By the way, just to set the record straight if you may have received the message incorrectly: Rav Schachter ruled that any functionary of a partnership prayer group, should be banned from leading services in an Orthodox Shule. Now this was one of a batch of questions on my list to ask. A number of Rabbis know that I have access to Rav Schachter, and they ask me to ask him a question on their behalf. And no, they don’t always like the answers. The issue of your own husband not being permitted to be a functionary, is an outcome of that halachic decision. It was not initiated by me in any way whatsoever. I’m sure it gnaws at you though, incessantly.

Okay, let me now get to your article Alex. You are an intelligent girl, and I know you mean well and I have zero negativity towards you.

My comments in response to your prose will be in red

Good morning kvetchers.
There’s a rabbinic shit fight* going on that we all need to pay attention to, even those of us who are not Orthodox or have no interest in religion.**

Dear Alex, we don’t use words like that. Get a thesaurus. They are online. Furthermore, we certainly don’t have to pay attention to it when we haven’t got the foggiest idea what is behind it.
This fight represents a broader struggle for the soul of our worldwide community.

Alex, your knowledge, or should I say complete ignorance of Rav Schachter is showing ingloriously. This has nothing to do with the soul, nothing to do with the worldwide community. Rav Schachter happens to have definitional and methodological problems with the other Rabbi, and feels very strongly about those, in the same way that his teacher Rav Soloveitchik felt about Reform and Conservative, and how his approach decimated their charlatan forms of our religion.

It is a clear cut case of fundamentalist intolerance versus moderate reason.

Define your terms please Alex. What is a fundamentalist? Someone who ascribes to the Rambam’s 13 fundamentals or the 620 Mitzvos, 613 +7. And who in God’s name or his writings defines moderation as being abandoning fundamentals. You really can’t write cheap one liners like that. You are more intelligent than to descend into the one line headline grabbers of the Greens.
This fight has material implications for our collective long term future because of the current Orthodox stranglehold in Israel and over many communities, (including Australia) regarding personal status (who is a Jew, agunot, etc.)
It has personal ramifications for Orthodox, frum women like me who have felt asphyxiated by rabbinic irrationality and abrogations of historicity.

Can you please give us examples of your eruditely researched Rabbinic Irrationality. Without it, your statement is vacuous despite its clarion call to history.
What started with Rabbi Herscel Schacter – a major (fundamentalist) figure at Yeshiva Uni – tearing down the posters advertising a lecture by a rigorous but moderate rabbi, Aryeh Klapper, is transforming into a very exciting story.

Hmmm, we don’t know what fundamentalist means, but Alex has crowned Rav Schachterwith the term; someone who ordains Rabbis after a four year course fir the last 50 years! (give me a call Alex, I will tell you some of the fantastic innovations they have there which are being introduced elsewhere). 

The Rabbi Klapper incident is a Machlokes L’Shem Shomayim. Rav Schachter will have his reasons, and they will be most cogently argued as to why he doesn’t think Rabbi Klapper isn’t following Mesora and thereby should not speak at YU. To be honest, it doesn’t even interest me. That Rav Schachter took off the posters? Big deal. He felt it was a Bizayon HaTorah. 

But you know Alex, there is a thing called Divine Providence, which doesn’t have a special relationship with feminism or fundamentalism. I hopped into my car tonight to get home. As I mentioned above, a random Shiur started. Guess what, the Shiur was from Torahweb.org (he has Shiurim there and elsewhere as well) and the speaker was Mori V’Rabbi Rav Schachter. Guess what his topic was? “Why are Jews so intolerant”. He dissected the issue nicely, and I urge you to find it (I will send it if you can’t) and you will find a man who has one thing greater than his learning. His Middos. He is one of the most self-effacing humble people I have met, and he is the real thing.

This now about Orthodox Jews saying to a cabal of intolerant rabbis: enough!

Do me a favour the new Victorian Rabbinate Leadership is hardly a cabal let alone intolerant. You’ve been accused before for making statements without back up. You have done so again. If you were my student, I’d give you zero for that statement. It’s just an attack.

You do not have a hotline to God that you can steamroll opposition to your dystopian, misogynist, racist, and homophobic view of our religion.

Alex, are you working for Richard Di Natale? You have simply trotted out a series of “modern” slogans and have not linked them to an allegation that you made. It does not become someone of your intelligence to descend into cheap sloganeering.

Some important points:

The rabbi tearing down the posters, Rabbi Schacter, is considered by many a giant of Torah learning.

You can say, He IS a giant of Torah learning. The world knows that. He is a prodigy.

.He has, however, an unfortunate world view. He famously told a group of rabbis that informing the police of child rape would endanger the rapist by placing him “in a cell with a shvartze, in a cell with a Muslim, a black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

You and the forward are so damned misinformed. You take the quote and you don’t actually listen to his Halachic analysis which is valid and in-depth. Rav Schachter actually says that they must be reported to the police, however, he raised the halachic issue of sending someone to the type of prison which is against the Torah (e.g., where they get raped and beaten up). He suggested the Prison System needs to be reformed. There you go Alex, how about taking that on. I think they should be reported and if found guilty go to prison, but I do not think it is halachically (or morally) correct that they are subject to rape, and sticks up their behinds, and beatings. Do you? 


. Schachter also believes women have *zero* role in public life *at all*. He doesn’t just oppose women’s ordination; he opposes their presence as public figures full stop.

You’ve dropped his title and simplified the issue to a two liner. He has many Shiurim on this topic where he dissects Rishonim and Acharonim. This isn’t about a western line of equality nor is it about sticking to medieval practices. It is about interpreting Halacha for our times. Let me remind you, Rabbi Schachter is exactly that-the biggest Talmid Chacham in Centrist/Modern Orthodoxy. Guess what Alex. His wife has Shiurim on yutorah.org (heaven forbid!) You really have zero idea and just shoot with no bullets in your pop gun.

.Rabbi Klapper is a straight down the line Modern Orthodox rabbi who sees a need to balance rigorous adherence to law with intelligent interpretations of that law. He is sympathetic to women’s desires not to be marginalised.

I’m not going to argue with you. I don’t know Rabbi Klapper from a bar of soap. However, Rav Schachter certainly knows his methodologies


. He is also someone who pauses from discussion of Halachic minutiae to think about other crucial, practical things impacting Jewish life, such as the cost of school fees

Are you just bigoted? This morning I heard a Shiur ALSO from Rav Schachter on this topic. You can call it minutiae but it is bemoaned by many and case in terms of Hilchos Tzedoko. If you like I can send you the Shiur. It was on the topic of Zikkuy HaGett but he went on a tangent (as he often does). You think these things don’t bother him and he’s only worried whether you eat Meir Rabbi’s mayonnaise for Pesach?


So it’s not surprising that a man like Schacter is not going to like a man like Klapper.

Like? Please educate yourself. Rav Schachter would have nothing to do with notions of whether he likes or doesn’t like Rabbi Klapper. Any objection would be firmly based on Halachic principles (things you seem to love like to denigrate and call minutiae). Rav Schachter says explicitly that when two Talmidei Chachomim have sound approaches which disagree on a conclusion, both conclusions are God’s word. I heard him say that in the car this afternoon. Rav Schachter will have his reasons. He didn’t just have a 50th year celebration and Sefer Torah dedication at YU because he’s some simple-minded automaton.

It’s also not surprising that a woman like Alex who knows ZERO about the Halachic/Mesora reasons Rabbi Schachter may have against Rabbis who take certain paths (which by the way may have to do with Ben Pekuah and not women) will make such a sciolistic and ignorant Gzeira Shava.

What *is* surprising, is that Schacter thought it was appropriate to refer to Klapper as an apostate and crazy person, when Schachter was asked why he ripped down posters advertising Klapper’s lecture.

Rav Schachter’s words are a matter of conjecture, as I expect you know by now. He can sometimes use inflamed expression. On the other hand, if he really believed Rabbi Klapper was an Apikorus (which you aren’t) he would be able to explain why but no doubt do that behind the closed doors of the RCA. He has a right to deny certain speakers, or do you deny him that too?

Schachter also said inviting Klapper to speak was as bad as inviting a Reform rabbi.

He uses that analogy all the time. It means, it’s as bad as inviting someone who doesn’t display fidelity to Mesorah and makes Judaism fit their world view and not the other way around.

I don’t know about you, but I’m personally thoroughly sick and tired of this disgusting attitude to people who have different religious beliefs.

I know a few Doctors if you are “thoroughly sick” but I suggest you educate yourself so that you don’t sit like one of the four daughters at the Pesach table.

I’m sick of bullies in positions of rabbinic power.

You mean people who said your husband’s involvement with partnership services is not kosher? It wasn’t my question, but I most certainly accept the answer, especially in Melbourne where many of the women eat out, and don’t keep many basic Mitzvos, but demand “a pulpit” to expectorate from (unlike the Jerusalem chapter where those women are consistently frum.

I’m sick of rabbis who hate women; who are openly racist; who think it’s OK to protect child rapists.

So am I, but I don’t know any now in Victoria.

. I’m sick of these men deciding on matters crucial to the future of our people.

If they were women, you’d feel better?

But this whole episode has a very, very bright side: I had never heard of Klapper before this incident, and neither had a lot of other people.

And how many of his shiurim have you listened to now? You should start by calling him Rabbi Klapper, otherwise we may need to resort to calling you Rebbetzin Gottlieb.

Schachter’s disgusting behaviour has done the exact opposite of what he intended: it has introduced us to a great Jewish thinker of our time.

Well go and ask Rabbi Klapper about Melbourne’s partnership services. One look at that service and it would not surprise me that he will be on a flight out.

This is not to say I agree with everything I’ve read (to date) of Klapper’s opinions. But his reason, rigour and blatant decency are so refreshing.

So is the furious response from young people who are enraged that Schachter tried to shut Klapper down. This whole incident makes me more optimistic than I have been for a while.

Young people? You think older people defer to the old sage. Oh boy, you have zero idea. Rav Schachter’s knowledge is idealised by boys of 18-24. Y.U. has a left wing and Commentary can easily inflame a situation, better than you can.

PS. You aren’t young anymore, Alex.

Great, I hope you have a nice Seder

We are just at the beginning of all of this.

I’m excited.

I hope you are too.

Well no doubt you will regale both sedarim with fantastics divrei torah devoid of politics, sensationalism, and various modern appendages.


*It must be emphasised that the fight is very one sided. Klapper, as far as I know, has not engaged in any way. It is just Schacter calling him an apostate.

You could learn to spell Rav Schachter’s name, especially as there are two at YU who are not related. Finally, make it you next task to try and understand exactly why Rav Schachter does not like the approach to Halacha that Rabbi Klapper utilises.

Enjoy the Charoses. I hope its consumption doesn’t offend the green emission lobby.

PS. I haven’t read this. I just typed it in in one go, so there are bound to be English errors and typos. Forgive these please.
PPS. I just got a new book on the Parsha written by one of his students. Let me know if you want to borrow it.

Dr Mark Baker and the Neturei Karta boycotters of the Left Wing

I was sent this article, written by Mark Baker, an academic at Monash University (and family friend). Mark is alleged to have posted the article below on his facebook page. I received it by email and have never visited Mark’s facebook page. My reaction, over a few days, was that we had the mirror image of the boycott tactics used by Neturei Karta against the State except unlike Neturei Karta, this wasn’t about religion (Halacha doesn’t get a guernsey in Marks article). Rather it was the exasperated groans of a left-winger indelibly married to two “states”, even if one is effectively the mamzer Amalek.

I interspersed his facebook commentary with my understanding of why some of Mark’s views are blind post-liberal, and left-wing economic terrorism. The tone sounds an awful lot like the failed rhetoric we hear from J-Street, Bernie “the shhh I’m a Yid” Sanders, American reform and the Tikun (sic.) Olamniks of this world. They stem from superimposing a left-leaning view of the world, into some plasticine-like Zionism (and Judaism) as opposed to the other way around. In the other way around, Zionism and Judaism are already defined. They react to the world. They do not metamorphose to become something else to fit into some world views.

I will variegated Mark’s emotive outbursts with a critique of his post-liberalism. The rhetoric sounds like the extreme left views we hear from J-Street and Bernie “I’m not sure if my grandchildren will even be reconstructed cultural Jews” Sanders, feel-good American Reform clergy,  and of course, the Tikun (sic) Olamniks of this world. I don’t mention the infamous Norman Finkelstein because Mark appears to be even more radical than Norman on BDS. Norman, one of many communist inventions of the Holocaust, actually opposes the very BDS that Mark claims he “quietly supports”. The left-leaning start with their vision of the Olam (world) which they conjure to appease an already morally corrupt world and then mould (sic) Judaism into having plasticine-like spinal characteristics that can be contorted any which way.

My comments are interspersed and not in italics. The original article from Mark is in italics. This should not be understood as an ad hominem attack on Mark; I’m sure he believes what he says and he is no Norman Finkelstein anymore than I am a Dershowitz or Benny Morris.

I was living in Israel in 1995 with my family. From our apartment, we could hear the crowds at Zion Square baying for Rabin’s blood, and holding up placards of the PM dressed as a Nazi and a terrorist. Bibi Netanyahu was standing on the balcony, whipping up a frenzy, which culminated in the assassination of Rabin.

Long time ago! This description is mendacious.  Both the left and the right engaged and engage in spirited demonstration, but  implicitly opening with a remark that is designed to ascribe the assassination of Rabin to Bibi is confounding and offensive, while it is woven indirectly as a deflection. Clearly  this imagery and its conclusion is out of context. It was designed to paint the entrance to the rest of the article. First, “Bibi is responsible for Rabin’s assassination”. Now we’ve got you hating him for that episode, let’s continue.

Nothing has changed about Bibi in 22 years, except that he has stood at the helm of a government that has led the country literally into a dead-end.

People who don’t change their views in the face of unchanged oppression and rejectionism should not be held to ridicule. Let’s see what else hasn’t changed in 22 years.

  1. Arafat hopelessly let his people down (apart from Mrs Arafat’s fat bank account and the years of siphoning money to his cronies and the 1 Billion spent on the 1st intifada, 1/2 of which was funded by Saudi Arabia, and the massive corruption, which makes James Packer’s gifts insignificant. Even now, it is a brave person who claims that Abbas actually distributes international money to non political causes.
  2. He had Rabin, not Bibi, and Arafat still couldn’t bring himself to sign on for a two-state solution! Wasn’t there a proposal for this in 1948 too and before that? Note: it was in Arafat’s hands; not Bibi’s. What do we learn from that? That Israel didn’t offer enough? Come now! Everyone knows that simply wasn’t true. Arafat wanted to live another day. Peace would have meant his savage opponents would lop his head off-ISIS style. In the end, I believe this is why Arafat didn’t sign. Mark, perhaps tell us why you think Arafat didn’t sign off? Was it because he was actually born in Cairo and didn’t think he had the authority. Goodness me.
  3. They still want ALL of Israel. Is anyone in any doubt? When push comes to shove, Arafat, Abbas, all of them, simply do not accept the concept that there is a distinctive JEWISH Homeland. Does Mark really believe they don’t want to push us into the sea? What does “the” occupation mean? Mahmoud “Holocaust denier” Abbas, calls the idea of a Jewish Homeland “Racist”. A Chutzpa. Let him try to live in Jordan where most of his DNA-brethren live and where his genome is found.  Perhaps he’d like Saudi Arabia or Yemen; maybe Syria?
  4. Post-holocaust, especially, endangering Israeli sovereignty is not negotiable. Not 22 years ago, while Mark sat on balconies sipping coffee, and not now. Since most Arabs still don’t accept that reality, we are delusional if we think otherwise. Instead they engage in diplobabble. Mark, falling for this, is no different to someone who takes all of Trumps rhetoric seriously.
  5. They should seek to confederate with the Hashemites in Jordan, most of whom are their blood cousins. Why do you respect Jordan so much Mark? When does Monash’s library make a big deal of that tribe. Is the Palestinian in Jordan different somehow or are you as afraid of the Hashemites as they are. Call the historic truth, not some temporal Ottoman historical relic.
  6. Israel is probably at its strongest point (although it should have listened to Bennett in respect of the Hamas tunnel tactics and not Bibi. Certainly Mr Morality Ya’alon is now finished in politics for his clumsy left-wing handling of the mortal threat of death tunnels.
  7. One cannot talk about a two state solution! One must talk about a three state solution. When someone can make Abbas, Hamas, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Hizbollah, Da’esh and Turkey’s dictators kiss and make up, they can cut the number to consideration of two states. Don’t hold your breath. Make sure you have done a course on disentangling diplomatic babble before you fall for the type of nonsense, that Rabin and Clinton did.
  8. And yet, we don’t hear anything about “the right” of return. Is this deemed acceptable by Mark? Is he expecting Abbas to move back to Tzfat and vote in the municipal elections and avail himself of Kupat Cholim for his hemorrhoids? Maybe he wants not an international Jerusalem, but an international Israel where we pay jizya or become Dhimmis. (Who were the first to call for an “international Jerusalem”? Of course, it was the Pope. Study Xtianity and the chosen people and you will understand why they had to say that).
  9. Palestinian PhD students in Melbourne who I talk to, make it VERY clear. They don’t want a Palestinian state under Abbas. I was actually shocked. They say they want ONE state (not two). They say that Abbas and Hamas and the lot of them are corrupt criminals. They say they are happy to live along Israelis and Jews and vote in elections. Sorry guys, that’s not a Jewish Homeland. We aren’t stupid. I didn’t say that in response, of course. I just listened to their view.

While he wasn’t the first to build settlements, he has deepened and permanently institutionalised the occupation, eroded Israeli democracy, continued to whip up racism against Arabs, propagated the myth that there is no peace deal to be made, turned Israel into a partisan issue in Congress and among Diaspora Jews, launched brutal wars that could have been avoided, created a diversionary campaign to fight the delegitimisation of Israel when he more than anyone has contributed to its delegitimisation, alienated Israel from world leaders by shunning international law, abused Holocaust memory by playing the victim card, exploited real threats in the region for his own political expediency, undermined the civil rights legacy of his own Likud party in exchange for a fascist impulse; created a settler state and given free rein to Jewish thuggery; and worst of all, he has paid lip-service to the two-state solution while creating a one-state reality, leading Israel (as warned by every PM before him) down the path of apartheid.

Now that’s a looong expectorating sentence, even if interspersed by stray semi colons. Lets take the allegations one by one so they can be swallowed slowly.

  1. Bibi wasn’t the first to build a “settlement”. I guess that’s a feather in Bibi’s cap. Indeed, tell us please what a settlement is. Is Efrat a settlement or are you upset only about 10-20 families in caravans on a hill-top? I trust you boycott Rabbi Riskin as well as Gush Etzyon. He’s here now. Go and demonstrate against him? Define your terms. I believe 2-3% of land is taken up by “settlements”. Are you going to tell Rabbi Riskin to pack up and go back to Lincoln Square because Arabs listened to their mufti in 1948 during a war?
  2. “The occupation”? I’m sorry, it’s disputed land. You live in an occupation. This is Aboriginal land. Have you bought it from them? I don’t know which of your teachers failed to teach you that Jews are the closest thing to indigenous natives, and Palestine is a recently promoted modern term used to confuse the neurone-deprived UN. Warren Mundine knows it. Why doesn’t Mark Baker?
  3. How is Israeli democracy eroded? Have people gotten into power unelected? Perhaps Trumps victory has you so upset that you’ve forgotten he was democratically elected. Maybe you want a new J-Street constitution?
  4. Where does Bibi whip-up racism against Arabs! He’s been hobnobbing with Sunni Arabs who are all too eager to join him and not face the brutal Shiite regime of Iran and its satellite terrorist puppets. Perhaps if God forbid one of their rockets hit your balcony in the 90’s you would have a more sober view of them. I know: Sunni, Shiite, what’s the difference, they are all fine people, full of democracy and tolerance. Did you know Iran is building underground factories for Hezbollah. You think Hezbollah care about Palestinian Arabs or Lebanon? The only thing that unites these people is hatred for YOU, yes you Mark Baker. Go back and look at the beheadings from ISIS. Do you think these savages would spare you?
  5. “Launched brutal wars?” What newspapers were you reading Mark, the Anarchist nonsense given out near Melbourne University or the Trade Union? Did you forget what the D in IDF stands for? That is the motive behind every interlocution. Oh, and don’t forget to read how the soft and fuzzy democrat Ya’alon and his mate Gantz let Israel down with their dismissal of the Hamas Tunnels. Would you ask them to resign. The report is out. Only Bennett comes out looking normal. You won’t enjoy reading how it placed Israelis in grave danger.
  6. “Abused Holocaust memory by playing the victim card.” Nobody is playing cards Mark. Did you borrow this line from Finkelstein? His parents were communists. Yours aren’t. This is for real, just like the Holocaust. How many times do you need “we will drive them into the sea repeated to you? Don’t you watch memri.org or is that also just a load of baloney? Guess what? Holocaust survivors like your parents Mark, actually like Bibi and support Jewish strength; not the pathetic ‘my grandchildren will never be Jews, Bernie Sanders nebachs’, and the libertarian, egalitarian Diaspora pontificators.
  7. You’ve chosen to only focus on the political machinations in the Likud. You think that the Labour party or the Mapai or the Mapam would stop at any political method to keep power? I have no doubt your new darling is Yair Lapid. Why? Because the left-wing is so morally bankrupt, even left wingers don’t take them seriously. Only Shimon Peres could get some attention with his one liners, but we know his part in Oslo. That wasn’t about power either, was it? He was as power drunk as the next politician. Jealous of Rabin?
  8. Alienated leaders? Oh spare me. Is Obama now your love child? Obama will go down as one of the most useless Presidents that existed. Yes, a nice fellow, smart, and great orator, but anyone who can stand and watch 450,000 Syrian casualties (those who do need Tikun Olam) and the best Obama can do in response is send the odd drone, smells morally corrupt and makes Obama a gutless wonder: take your pick. Oh, did you notice how the Africans are now lining up. Perhaps Mark you’d be more impressed if that English anti-Semite Corbyn or the genius Richard Gere was “happy” with Israel.
  9. What is a settler state? Define your terms. Stop with hyperbole. Maybe you mean the Charedim of Betar? Oh, we better not mention Betar. It’s a Jewish place, after all, and the Charedim are iconic “settlers”! I think it’s four minutes to cross Israel by plane. I imagine your microwave achieves more in less time, Mark.
  10. Free reign to Jewish Thuggery. I am a scientist. Perhaps you will quote some figures for us. Let’s go with statistics. You know you are wrong, and that’s even if the soldier who shot the dying terrorist was pardoned. Ask your acquaintance Zev Slonim why Zev’s son was held in prison without representation and democratic rights. He’s a right-winger. I thought Bibi only did that to lefties. Think again. Was that a ruse?
  11. Apartheid. Let’s see. I didn’t see it in Jerusalem. Did you see it while you were watching with your family on the porch, as you stated or while walking down Mamila? You obviously have a better understanding of how to defend ISRAELI cities and civilians from thugs, terrorists and murderers. Those who live their lives peacefully do so and nobody is bothered by them. There are plenty of Palestinian settlements (and Jewish ones) that are peaceful.

He is a liar like Trump, who will speak in Australia tonight by using his oratory skills to trade in fear, eternal victimhood, and despair – while claiming the high-moral ground that Israel is a beacon of light unto the world.

Trump is a liar. Okay, maybe, perhaps he is also a fool. Or maybe he is a clever non politician who has read the mood of the American people better than unelectable Clinton. I decided to judge Trump on what he does. What he says, is all part of the political game. Perhaps you think that Malcolm Turnbull was a sycophantic fool when he acknowledged that Israel had high democratic standards. I think your rhetoric Mark is more akin to the liar Richard Di Natale and his band of merry tree-hugging anti Semites or the repetitive letter writers in the  Jewish News (e.g. Henry Herzog). I hope no Jew ever votes Green. The assimilated ones will. I have no doubt. The tree will be more important than the rotted root. The tree lives on. The rotted root stays that way. (By the way Mark, do you consider Mark Dreyfus Jewish? You claim to be “Orthodox” albeit partnership style. Ask Melanie Landau? )

He will go down in history as having unleashed the dark demons of hyper-nationalism that will kill the Zionist dream.

I can see exactly what Trump and Bibi are doing. I’m surprised you can’t. Either Abbas will come to the party (he’s gutless so forget that) or the status quo will continue. The Palestinians will have their own Arab global warming. They will fight: Fatah and Hamas and Dahlan and say “enough is enough” we don’t hate Jews like you’ve taught us.

It is not the anti-Zionists who should be shunning him, but those who care deeply about Israel and its future.

Those who care deeply about Israel can support Bibi whole heartedly unless he is found guilty of breaching ministerial standards.  Why is the implication that only a Zionist lefty is a true Zionist. Now, that’s apartheid and bias. That’s the killing of democracy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about a “two state” solution. That arose in 1948 and was rejected by Hitler’s Mufti.

Nothing has changed for the better, it’s only become worse. Can I suggest concentrating on supporting the indigenous people of Australia? That’s where you and I live. Maybe we should give back their land, and their right of return (as Jews deserve in Israel).

Leave the defence of Israel and its decision-making to those who put their lives on the line–not me, nor you. We are just pontificating, opinion-bearing people. We are irrelevant.

Hey Mark, watch this video. Give me a mark out of 10 for the pathetic apologist.

But none of this is as expressive as your mentor, Mark, the venerable David Ben Gurion. Watch him here. If he heard you admit that you boycotted Israel “quietly” I suggest he’d call you a fool. As to why you continue to be funded through the community at Monash. That’s a mystery to me and I call on the community to redirect their money away from extreme left wingers.

Mark, what do you have to say about the difference between Ben Gurion and Bibi as per this video?

Perhaps, Mark, it’s time you stopped pretending and joined Noam Chomsky as a fully fledged egalitarian member of the Jewish Community where the notion of identity is erased, as per a communist manifesto and has little hope of surviving the next century.

PS. Anyone whose Hebrew isn’t good enough to understand Ben Gurion’s interview above MUST find someone to translate it to them. He didn’t sit on balconies sipping coffee.






רפואה שלמה ליהודה בן טובה גיטל תיכף ומיד


Heichal HaTorah needs to meet the real world

I read the publication put out by this Minyan because I’m halachically curious by nature and Rabbi Donnenbaum puts in a good effort.

One can have the odd quibble, and some are worth mentioning and others are probably not. For example, he mentions the custom to have a special reading of Parshas Zachor for women (even though they don’t need to hear it according to many opinions). There is a comment in bold that it is preferable that 10 men “be present” during the reading. The source is in Halichos Bas Yisroel which I have and just looked at. (I don’t own a Shevet Halevi so I didn’t check). Indeed, the author of Halichos Bas Yisroel notes that Rav Elyashiv z’l (among others) said to have ten men present. I had remembered, however, that Rav Gavriel Tzinner in Nitei Gavriel thought that was nonsensical unless the men had not heard Parshas Zachor. Those are minor things.

I was outraged however when I read the following

Women who want to participate in the first Megilla reading … and have arranged a non frum jewish baby sitter (eg Russian, Israeli), must ensure that the baby sitter not perform any Chillul Shabbos in order to arrive on time.

If someone can please explain to me why a Russian Jew or Jewess or an Israeli Jew or Jewess should be explicitly listed as examples of “non-frum”, I’d be interested. Indeed, why do I need examples?

This is what is wrong with some segments of Jewry. They are too quick to call people non-frum, too quick to make conclusions about who is likely to be non-frum and then do or say little positive in this regard, let alone Kiruv.

Why assume they don’t know what to do especially if they work for you and live within walking distance etc Why even mention Russian or Israeli. That is a massive put down and totally unnecessary. Sure, if it’s not a regular babysitter, then one needs to make sure they don’t cause them to sin, but if it’s a regular babysitter, you’ve probably already told them so much (“don’t warm up anything for the children?”, Meat and Milk and the list goes on.

Here is a better approach: pay the babysitter extra money and encourage them to hear a later reading of the Megila (when you come home) and invite them to your Seudas Purim (especially if you are so certain they are non-frum and clueless). Maybe tell them what Purim is all about? Drop off Shalach Monos? Perhaps Matonos LoEvyonim?

Really! We can be a bit more sophisticated and positive about doing good in this world than focussing on minutiae when bigger issues stare us in the face? What if the babysitter is indeed a Russian emigre with a husband (you have never seen), and both have never seen a Purim Seuda?

Sorry, Heichal HaTorah, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity, something that prevents Geula, rather than encourages it. Frankly, in the next edition, there should be an open apology. I think that’s at least as important as whatever else is written in the next edition.

Postscript: When I pressed post, WordPress the blog infrastructure suggested that “non-frum” be replaced with “no-trump”. I nearly fell off my chair.

A Freilichen Purim to all, frum and not yet frum.