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.

Stuck in a time warp

I couldn’t believe the article I read in yediot, where the Aguda’s Rabbi Litzman had reservations about the legislation to limit the volume of the call to prayers, mainly used by Muslims, but also to usher the Shabbos.

When I travelled to India, I disliked my trips to Hyderabad. My hotel was decent, one of the few, but each morning I was woken by a cacophony of calls for prayer coming from outside, far away. I also heard this in Kochin (where the Muslims and Hindus said it at the same time and it was a war of blaring stupid sounds). Why should anyone who is asleep be woken by an antiquated method to remind people of the time(s) of prayer? At 3am and 4am and whenever?

People used to have a “Shabbos Zayger (timepiece)” which was more ornate so that they could wear it in a place where there was no Eruv because  it was a piece of Jewellery as well as being functional and according to most opinions permitted to wear. I know that some Charedim forbid “smart phones”, but even dumb phones can get an SMS. I can think of many other ways of alerting people to Shabbos. There could be lights that go on and off, and change colours. They could even indicate when Shabbos was out according to both opinions. These don’t cost the earth. They could easily be installed in the entrance of Shules and Shtieblach for those who are chronologically challenged and unable to discern that the widely known time for Shabbos coincides with the timepiece on their hand.

Charedi/Muslim Entrepreneurs this is a business opportunity!

In days of old, there was a custom for someone to knock on the doors of each house to announce Shacharis, the morning prayer. It made sense. They didn’t all have clocks, and even today, an alarm clack is used by many, even in the guise of a smart phone alert. When I learned at Kerem B’Yavneh, the last people on guard duty knocked on each door to arouse us from our slumber. Okay. That’s fine. It didn’t wake up the people in Kibbutz Yavneh a few kilometres away.

There is no place, in my view, to disturb anyone’s sleep in today’s age, because of one group (be it any religion—the Hindus do it in India to counter the Muslims) wanting to announce prayers. Let me correct that, there is a place: in a village where everyone wants it, and the sound doesn’t disturb neighbouring areas, that’s acceptable. But if one person objects (they might even be sick!) then they should desist and find another solution.

All this does is reinforce in my mind, that people have taken mimesis to a level that goes well beyond the concept of Mesora. There are Halachos which pertain to sounds: shofar, trumpets for war etc. These are not daily occurrences nor are they simply mimetic. It seems that it’s not only the medieval style of dress, which Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t wear, and which is Kodesh Kodoshim is now being extended to a siren as THE only way to make sure people are aware that Shabbos is happening. Halachically, it might even be better not to blow such a siren in areas of irreligious. It’s better they do things unknowingly, than knowingly.

Rabbi Litzman should go to Machon Tzomet, and arrange for a pocket tiny device to be put in the hat and tichels/sheitels of those who wish to have personal shabbos alarms, send them a mild electric shock heralding that Shabbos is coming in. It could be sold to Muslims to insert for their times of reminding. Come on, we aren’t living in the dark ages. We are fully able to observe Shabbos without disturbing anyone else, and Muslims are fully capable of finding ways to wake up for prayers without someone yelling across the mountains from a fancy modern sound system which is hooked up (heaven forbid) to electricity (another new innovation).

Ultra-Orthodox minister blocks ‘Muezzin Bill’

The “Muezzin Bill,” which aims to prevent mosques from using loudspeakers to announce prayer times, is raising a great deal of opposition, with Arab MKs and activists protesting Tuesday in the Arab city of Sakhnin and planning additional protests on Wednesday in Jaffa and the Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye.
A surprising bit of opposition, though, has emerged from among the ultra-Orthodox community, with Health Minister Yakov Litzman filing an appeal on Tuesday to prevent the Knesset from voting on the Muezzin Bill, thereby sending it back to the government for further review. This will also force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already voiced his support of the bill, to weigh in on the matter.

In his appeal, Litzman referred to the similarities between the muezzin calls and the call announcing the beginning of Shabbat. “For thousands of years, different instruments have been used for this purpose, including the shofar and trumpet. With the advancement of technology, loudspeakers are now used to announce the beginning of Shabbat while respecting the allowed volume and in accordance to the law.”

The appeal continued by saying, “The bill in its current phrasing and following the discussions that it will bring on may harm the status quo, and so in accordance to governmental protocol, this appeal is hereby submitted for further review.”

While Litzman’s concern is mainly over breaking the status quo, the bill has angered both Arab MKs, Arab activists and the country of Jordan. The Jordanian Head of Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Endowments, Abdullah Al Awadi, expressed his objection by saying, “In accordance with international law, the occupier cannot make any historic changes in the city that it occupies and it is required to leave things as they are,” he continued. “This proves that any Israeli decision on Jerusalem is null and void.” MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint List) objected to the bill, as well. “This is a law against Palestinian presence in our homeland. It isn’t the noise that is harmful, but the outspoken presence of the Arab language that emphasizes the place’s identity, along with a certain level of controlling the space. It is a fight over it and control of it. If the will pass, we won’t respect it. We won’t lower our voice in our own space.”
Another MK to raise his voice was Jamal Zahalka (Joint List), who targeted Netanyahu in his objection. “Netanyahu has shown clear signs of chronic Islamophobia and needs immediate help, because his episodes are beginning to become dangerously combustible.” He added that “This isn’t Europe. This is where the muezzin has been making his voice heard for over a thousand years, and where Muslims will go on living …

Whomever can’t stand the sound of the muezzin is welcome to go back to where they won’t hear such sounds.” The Palestinian Authority also criticized the bill. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office warned against the ramifications of voting the bill into law and threatened to turn to the UN Security Council and other international organizations if this were to happen.

I can’t wait for Abbas to bring this issue to the Security Council. He’d better dress up his representative as a clown when he brings the issue forward. Can people get real. Freedom of prayer is sustained. Methods of waking people up have and do change and are not part of ANY religion that I know of. Sheesh.

Maybe Rav Litzman thinks he needs a Beis Din to annul the Siren minhag on Shabbos because it is halachically a practice akin to a “vow”.

Maybe Abbas needs Arafat to rise from his grave and address the security council about this grave matter (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)

Probably in Gulf states they have sound proof rooms for international guests or give them sound cancelling ear plugs 😦

Oh, and don't make smart comments about Schnapps. I've heard much louder bands of late :-)
Oh, and don’t make smart comments about Schnapps. I’ve heard much louder bands of late 🙂

Dealing with two Adars

I came across this beautiful piece of Torah from מורי ורבי, Rav Hershel Schachter שליט’’א, (c) TorahWeb 2008, and think it is well worth sharing.

Will the Real Adar Please Step Forward

If one dies during the month of Adar in a shanah peshuta (a non-leap year which has only one Adar), when do the children observe the yahrzeit during a shana meuberes (a Jewish leap year which consists of thirteen months, two of them called Adar)? Should the yahrzeit be kept during the first Adar or the second? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 568:3) quotes a difference of opinion on this matter. The sephardim follow the view of the Mechaber (Rav Yosef Karo) that the yahrzeit should be observed in the second month of Adar, while the Ashkenazim follow the view of the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles) that it should be kept in the first Adar.

The presentation of this dispute in the Shulchan Aruch runs as follows: (I) the whole idea of observing a yahrzeit is a matter of minhag (custom) (II) customs are binding (rabinically) because they are considered as if the individual had taken a neder l’dvar mitzvah (a vow regarding a mitzvah) (III) when it comes to nedarim the determination of what is and is not included depends on lashon beni adam (the common language usage in the place and time of the neder) (IV) the gemara in Nedarim (63a) quotes a dispute among the Tanaim whether in common usage it is the first or the second Adar which is referred to simply as “Adar” without specifying “first Adar” or “second Adar”. The Mechaber and the Rama are arguing about which view of the Tanaim is the accepted view, i.e. do people have in mind the first or second Adar when they refer to Adar during a leap year?

We are still left with a major problem. Given that all languages change over time, just because in the days of the Tanaim in Eretz Yisroel the common usage of the term “Adar” during a leap year may have meant one or the other of the two months, perhaps over the years the usage has changed. The Meiri in his commentary to Maseches Nedraim repeats many times that the interpretations of lashon bnei adam as given by the Mishna and the Gemara only applied at that time and in that part of the world. It is quite possible that the usage of terms has changed.

The Rama concludes that one should observe the yahrzeit in a leap year during both months of Adar. We would probably understand this to be based on the Talmudic dispute regarding what is indeed the lashon bnei adam, and because of the doubt we recommend that one be machmir. However, Rav Solovetichik was fond of pointing out the explanation given by the Vilner Gaon for this position. The Gaon said the yahrzeit should be observed in both months of Adar not because of a safek (a doubt) but rather b’Toras vaday (as a certainty).

The Tanaim (Megillah 6b)had a major dispute regarding the observance of Purim during a leap year. Should the Megillah be read on the fourteenth day of the first month of Adar or of the second month of Adar. In this context the Talmud does not refer to the aforementioned dispute between the Tanaim regarding a neder. The issue of what is included in a neder is a function of lashon bnei adam, but the reading of the Megillah is a function of which day is the real Purim, which in turn depends on which month is the real Adar. The Tanaim give seemingly tangential reasons for their views of when the Megillah should be read, and don’t tackle the crux of the issue: which day is the real Purim? Therefore it would appear that both Adars are really Adar, and the fourteenth of both months is really Purim. In fact, the fifteenth of each month is also considered a day of Purim and thus a regular year has two days of Purim and a leap year has four days of Purim.

The Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch point out that it is forbidden to fast or to deliver a eulogy on any of the days of Purim, whether one lives in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. We leave out tachanun in a leap year on all four days of Purim. The question of when one reads the megillah is not really a question of which day is the real day of Purim, but rather on which of the four days should one observe the mistvos of Purim. Pesach is a seven day yom tov in Eretz Yisroel but one can only observe the seder on the first night. Rosh Hashana is (biblically) a twenty four hour yom tov, but the mitzvah of shofar can only be fulfilled during the day. Similarly, all four days are really Purim but one can not read the Megillah on whichever day he chooses. One tana is of the opinion that we should not postpone reading the Megillah to the second month, since we are not allowed to forgo an opportunity to do a mitzvah – ein maavirin al hamitzvos. The second tana insisted that we read the megillah on the second Purim, which is closer to Pesach, to connect the geulos of Purim and Pesach.

And now the punch-line: the observance of the yahrzeit is not purely a matter of minhag. Rather the assumption is that since a person died on this day, perhaps this day is still a day of judgment (yom hadin) for the deceased (or perhaps for his entire family)[1], and as such ought to carry with it certain observances (fasting, reciting of kaddish, learning mishnayos, etc.) in order to mitigate the din. If we assume that both months of Adar are really Adar, then both possible days of the yahrzeit may be viewed as yemei hadin, and hence the yahrzeit ought to be observed in both Adars, not merely out of doubt (meisafek) but rather as a certainty (b’Toras vaday).

[1] See Chaim Uvracha Lmishmeres Shalom on the topic of yahrzeit, #15.

The beautiful custom of greening the Shule on Shavuos

This is an old custom that is, thank God, still kept by many. Here you can see in typical Yekke style the care and result of the decorations from Kehal Adas Jeshurun (KAJ) aka Breuer’s Shule in the United States. Of course it’s not the exclusive domain of Yekkes, but certainly a hallmark of Shules that daven Nusach Ashkenaz. It is absent in Chabad and elsewhere, and I missed it, being limited in my movements due to my broken ankle and ribs.

Watch and enjoy

When does a Woman not exist?

its old news that Adass chassidic will not write even the first initial of a lady. My wife would be known as ‘mrs I Balbin’ this is certainly a hall mark of Hungarian chassidic practice as well as some Russian/Polish chassidic.

contrast this to the wedding invitation that R Chaim Brisker used for his son Mishe’s wedding (Moshe Soloveitchik was the father of the Rav. He had signed it as ‘Chaim and Lifshe Soloveitchij’. No appellations and her name was ‘out in the wild’, heaven forfend. 

Our holiday. Part 2: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

Dear Readers,

Herein part 2.

As stated in part 1, our trip, although planned, was somewhat up in the air awaiting various confirmations. As it turned out, Baruch Hashem these came through and we arrived on a Wednesday in Crown Heights, New York, for the first leg. I had never been to crown heights, nor, as I have stated did I ever have a great interest in visiting there. And this, despite the fact that I went to a Chabad School, and daven in Chabad. I’d heard things about the place, but admittedly, I really only listened with one ear, but for me, spending time in Yerusholayim, Ir HaKodesh, was and remains the focus of my heart and mind. Our son, Yossi is currently learning in Israel, and both my wife and I felt that despite our yearning to visit Israel once more, it would be better not to disrupt Yossi’s progress with our ever presence for a few weeks. So, based on my wife’s previous year’s experience, and her suggestion I acceded without rancour to a visit to Crown Heights en route to Montreal, and then our holiday in Miami.

It was difficult to pack because one encountered  the cold winter cold of Crown Heights and colder winter of Montreal and then the physical warmth of Miami; a contradiction in weather patterns, it say the least. My wife expertly found us what is known as a ‘basement’ for our lodging. Observing the architecture, it became clear that basements are a regular fixture of narrower houses that invariably are built on an incline. I was reminded of parts of Sydney. Down the steps we went, and into a basement. It was nightfall already, and the flight via Hong Kong had been longer than expected because our Melbourne to Hong Kong leg departed late, and we missed the connecting flight. I did enjoy a few scotches in the Cathay lounge in stuporous compensation. Marc Schachter was also present, and he was a more experienced flier to these regions, providing sound advice. It was impossible to get food into the airport, and while there was the usual sprinkling of OU Nash, that wasn’t exactly what we were after. This also meant there was no Kosher food on the long missed subsequent leg to New York, as they require 48 hours notice. That God, my wife had a few Wurst Sandwiches which we devoured early on the flight. I did contact Chabad close by, but there wasn’t enough time to effect any changes.

Arriving in Crown Heights, New York, the basement was neat and clean and had amenities for those who maintain a fidelity to Halacha. We quickly grabbed a sandwich from a 24 hour place near vt. It was overpriced, but tasty nonetheless and we were hungry. I mentioned to my wife, that despite sleeping on the plane, I had no idea what time I would wake in the morning and hopefully it wouldn’t be too late for a minyan.

As it turned out, I managed to wake in the morning hours at a reasonable time, grabbed my tallis and  tefillin and noticed lots of chassidim in the street walking in a particular direction. I followed them and then found myself literally 2 minutes later standing in front of 770. We were obviously very close to 770. I recognised it, ironically, from the 770 facade in Caulfield!

I wasn’t sure what to do. I am not comfortable davening with meshichisten, and I wondered if I would end up in a Shule therein bedraped with signs, people taking dollars from nobody, drinking Kos Shel Brocho from nobody, or pretending to make a pathway for nobody to walk through. These are scenes I don’t want to be ever be connected with. I become aggravated weekly from the unnecessary single sign at the back of Yeshivah in Hotham Street Melbourne which effectively states that there cannot be a Moshiach other than the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a nonsense by any stretch of normative Judaism. There is nobody who can or should state who the Moshiach must be. It isn’t part of our Mesora to do that. I am not going to get into the issue from a learned perspective, but an interested and serious reader would do well to read the work of HaRav HaGaon R’ Yechezkel Sofer in his important Kuntress Yisboraru Veyislabnu, for which he was ridiculed and called R’ Yechezkel Kofer (a disgusting pejorative).

That sign grates on many people, but remains up because the Chassidim who run the Shule in Melbourne, including the clergy, don’t actually follow the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directives which included the point that if such a thing causes one person not to come in or feel comfortable, then they should be discarded as they are not the essence of Chabad. Those people have their own rules for what is term Hiskashrus and that concept seems to supersede even what their own Rebbe stated clearly and plainly. I will stop there on that topic.

All these thoughts were in my mind as I stood at the doorway, wondering whether I should go in. I knew I’d be able to find another Shule, but my sense of direction is so woeful, I feared walking further. In addition, I had just finished reading the three recent books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and these had an effect on me. I decided to brave matters and enter.

Opening the door and there was a narrow corridor, and I noticed some people milling about. I recognised Rabbi Shem Tov; he has distinctive eye brows! He was rather self-effacing and pointed to a room and said a minyan would start there in 15 minutes. I searched for a place to put my coat, such that I might find it again and then the door opened and I walked in and readied myself for davening. I noticed that it was an office and that the bookshelves has been sealed. In front of me was a small desk, and it then became obvious that I was in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s office, the room where many a famous yechidus/discussion took place. When a few men turned around and briefly eye-balled me, I realised that the Rebbes’s three secretaries were also in this minyan. My mind wandered to the many stories described in the three books (a draft review of which I have had for some time but have not managed to complete) It was a surreal experience finding myself in that very room. Some people strangely were davening just outside the room even though there was space therein. I was to learn later that this was their way of according respect, because they had no “permission” to enter. Not being a Chabad Chasid myself, I didn’t feel uncomfortable davening in the office and entered as I would in any circumstance.

I looked at the chair, and felt some sadness that there was nobody occupying it. At the same time I was made to feel very welcome. There were no shrieks of Yechi here, no emblazoned Yarmulkas, and no yellow lapel badges, all of which continue to annoy me as they are expressions of a false reality. Instead, call it by divine providence, my first encounter was with those who I consider “normal,  level-headed” Chassidim who were no less connected to their late Rebbe than the type who feel the need to advertise their views. We are lucky that tattoos are forbidden. If not, I would imagine Hiskashrus would be akin to tattooing the Rebbe on one’s back, forehead, and anywhere else.

Being a Thursday, there was layning. It was also Chanuka. The Gabbay, whose son-in-law is the Rabbi of Central Synagogue in Sydney, is a warm man, and when he called out “is there a Cohen”, I answered in the affirmative. I follow the Psak of Rav Soltoveitchik that these days, it is highly questionable whether one should make a Brocho of Gomel after flying as it happens to be safer than crossing a road (statistically). I am a stubborn type in the sense that I don’t like to deviate from what I have been taught to be clear halacha. Accordingly, I made the Brachos on an open sefer torah (and not closing it as per many including Chabad). The Baal Koreh didn’t interfere, and I respect him for that. I felt a bit cheeky doing so, but it is how I do it naturally. When I finished the second bracha, I decided that I would bench Gomel. When I think back why I did so, I think the primary reason was that it was a tad fortuitous and pre-ordained that I should immediately be in the Rebbe’s Yechidus Room, and I felt that Minhag Hamakom should prevail. I wasn’t consistent, because I used the Brocho of Gomel of Nusach Sfard instead of Chabad, but impressively, not a single person blinked an eye lid or issued any complaint. This seemed to be the type of inclusive environment I was used to as a youth, and although my actions were contradictory, I felt a feeling of “acceptance”. At the conclusion of davening, which was undoubtedly more meaningful for me because I was, where I was, and thereby able to commune more effectively with God, I was asked who I was etc.

I couldn’t really answer in any meaningful way except to say I was a Mechutan of Rabbi Yossy Goldman and Rabbi Shabsy Chaiton, both of whom everyone seemed to know. It probably sounded like I was trying to brandish Yichus, but that wasn’t my intention at all. Isaac Balbin, is a meaningless name, although I was to find out that a few people were readers of my blog and enjoyed it. That’s a bonus, but not the reason I write. Indeed, I am writing now, after visiting my father’s Tziyun at Springvale, and whilst I should be learning more Mishnayos, this post is what I am capable of doing at the minute  in my state of mind.

I continued returning to this Minyan later for Mincha etc. It seems it isn’t always available but being Chanuka, I was fortunate. I love the haunting Haneyros Halolu from Chabad, and enjoyed that immensely. Each time I noticed a few more rooms and then it dawned on me that one had to go downstairs to see the “main shule”. I forgot that everything is below ground here!

I didn’t want to go there. I had seen pictures. I had seen the Tzfatim outside, and that atmosphere as opposed to the one where I davened, provided no attraction to me. I didn’t go downstairs.

Shabbos was looming, and Ari Raskin’s aufruf was also to be upstairs, and that was lucky (for me at least). That day is a Parsha in of itself and will be Part 4 of the trip.

What can you “say” at a grave

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי ר׳ שאול זעליג הכהן בן ר׳ יהודה הכהן,  מקדושי ניצולי השואה האיומה בשנה ב׳ להסתלקותו לרקיע השמימא

My father, Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל
My father, אבי מורי,  R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל ּBalbin

(At least) One of my readers, is a Talmid Chochom, and a genius. I don’t have permission to publish his name so I will not do so. However, on this particular matter I disagree with him perhaps, and I believe that my opinion is the accepted one, and his thinking is somewhat skewed for whatever reason (which is generally not like him).

There is a הלכה that say אין דרורשין על המת one doesn’t “ask from” the dead.

It is an ancient tradition to visit the graves of Tzadikim. For example, Kalev prayed at Meoras ha-Machpeilah before confronting the meraglim (Sotah 34b). See also Ta’anis 23b.

There are also Minhagim brought in Shulchan Aruch and many other places to go on fast days, Erev Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur etc since going at such times can affect the person to repent and minimise their own self-importance.

The Gemora in Taanis also mentions a second reason (16a) and that is to ask the dead to pray for mercy on our behalf. Reading this one would automatically assume one may ask a Tzadik to pray on our behalf  at auspicious times, according to various Minhagei Yisroel and Mesorah/tradition.

It would seem that according to this second explanation, one may pray to the dead in this fashion. Yet, we are also taught that it is strictly forbidden as a Torah Law! One who prays with such a singular intention transgresses the Torah command of “You shall not recognize the gods of others in my presence (see the authoritative Gesher ha-Chayim 2:26). One may also be transgressing the Torah command against “one who consults the dead” (see Shoftim 18:11 and Eliyohu Rabbah 581:4).

Now, the Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 581:16 (and others) explain this conundrum as meaning that  it is okay to speak directly to the dead to ask them to daven or beseech to Hashem on our behalf. This is in keeping with the style of Selichos that we recite and whose authors were not plain poets. Some also ask Malachim (intermediaries) to beseech Hashem on our behalf. The Melachim aren’t able to do anything but they can be a more effective mouth piece according to Mesorah/tradition. Others don’t accept this explanation and say that even this is forbidden (see Bach and Shach Yoreh Deah 179:15) and the authoritative Maharil, Hilchos Ta’anis as quoted in the Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 581:17).

Instead, their take on this is we pray directly to Hashem that in the merit of the Tzadik/Dead person, Hashem should extend mercy to us. We are inspired to visit graves to “remind” Hashem of the holy tazddikim who are physically buried there. This view is accepted as normative Halacha by a bevy of Acharonim including the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Be’er Heitev, Chayei Adam, Mateh Efrayim and others.

The Chofetz Chaim in the Mishna Brura (581:27) says that we visit, because a cemetery where tzaddikim are buried is a place where Tefillos are more readily answered. But one should never place his trust in the dead themselves. He should instead just ask Hashem to have mercy on him in the merit of the tzaddikim who are interred here.

That being said, the Munkatcher Gaon, the great defender of Chassidishe Minhohim, the  Minchas Elozor, who was a great defender of Chassidic customs, and is commonly quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, seeks to defend those who use a more direct discourse with the dead (see his Teshuva in 1:68). He, of course, makes reference to the Zohar and says that this is a positive practice.

Practically speaking, all opinions agree that it is strictly forbidden to daven directly to a dead person or Malach so that they should help us. The most that is permitted is to ask them to act as emissaries to Hashem, so that Hashem will look favourably upon us.

The Maharam Shick, Orach Chaim 293, and prime student of the Chasam Sofer, explains this nicely. He explains that there must be nothing between a Jew and Hashem. However, it is permissible for a Jew to ask another Jew to be an intermediary between him and Hashem.

The Maharam Shick goes on to  explain the apparent anomaly in the name of his teacher: When one Jew approaches another and tells of the pain he is suffering, the other Jew feels it just as he does. Now they are both in need of prayer. The Jew does not feel he is praying for an “other”–he is praying for himself.

In other words, all Yidden are Guf Echad (one body) so that if the toe is hurting, it needs the head and the heart to help it. So too, if we are in need, we can call upon all other Jews–and especially those who are the head and the heart of our people—to pray for us as well. Because if one Jew is hurting, we are all hurting.

According to the Talmud (and the Zohar), those righteous souls who have passed on from this world are still very much in touch with their students and family and care for them and their problems. We petition them to pray on our behalf—and they do and often their prayers are more effective than our own.

Praying at a gravesite does not mean you are asking the dead to rise from the grave and appear before you. That is the abomination to which the Torah refers. Neither are you, God forbid, praying to the dead—a practice that is most certainly forbidden. But you are able to connect with these souls, since, when it comes to the soul, all of us are truly one.

One is simply expressing faith that the Tzadikim never really completely die, and a grave cannot prevent one from connecting to their teacher. Just as this tzaddik cared and took care of others during his lifetim—not as “others” but as he cared for his own soul—so too now, his Neshoma still can feel your pain and pray with you but this is directly to Hashem.

The Zohar tells us that the tzaddik is here with us after his passing even more than before. In life, he ignored the boundaries of “I and you,” so now he can ignore the boundaries of life and afterlife.

This is the fundamental reasoning behind beseeching those in the grave to intercede on our behalf and assist. And this, in fact, has been the common practice in Jewish communities around the world (although not all, for example Beis HoRav (Soloveitchik)  based on the view of the Gaon that all this can be achieved in other ways and not in essentially a Makom Tumah.

Rabbi Chaim Paltiel of Magdeburg (Germany, fourteenth century) a Rishon, said that the burial-place of a Tzadik is Holy. Regarding Chabad in particular, I found this comprehensive piece which is of interest

In addition, some quotes from the last Rebbe זי’ע

אלו שביקרו באהלי צדיקים יודעים שישנם “אוהלים” שמעוררים קו מרירות וכיווץ, וישנם “אוהלים” שפועלים קו השמחה ועלי’. האוהל של כ”ק מו”ח אדמו”ר הוא מסוג זה, שבהגיע לאוהל, הנה עוד טרם שמתבונן, כבר פועל עליו האוהל עלי’ והגבהת הרוח ששייכת לשמחה מפני עבודתו שעבד בה כל ימי חייו הי’ באופן כזה שקירב והרים  כל יהודי אף הבריות, בדרכי קירוב ונועם, עם הכוונה לפעול בהם גם “ומקרבן לתורה” )לקו”ש ח”ב 50

The broadly respected Chabad Halachist and Chassidic Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. said as per the testimony of the Rayatz, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe that:

בדרך כלל יש ה’ מדריגות, הא’ מה שמבואר
בשו”ע או”ח הל’ ט”ב וז”ל ומה שנוהגים לילך על הקברות הוא כדי לעורר האבילות ולהכניע היצה”ר ולשוב בתשובה. והב’ הוא ג”כ נזכר בשו”ע הל’ ר”ה נוהגים ילך על הקברות ולהרבות שם בתחתנונים. ושם הטעם משום דבית הקברות הוא מקום מנוחת הצדיקים, ומתוך כך הוא מקום קדוש וטהור והתפלה מתקבלת שם ביותר כו’. והג’ מה שהולכים אל מקום מנוחת אביהם וכדומה שמעורר הבכי’ והספד ועושה פתיחות הלב לגמרי עד שיוכל לבכות על חטאיו ממש ג”כ בלב נשבר ונדכה ובבכי’ רבה ויכול לבוא לידי תשובה שלימה. והמדריגה הד’ הוא מה שהולכים על קברי צדיקים שהיו יודעים ומכירים אותם בהיותם חיים אזי מצד תוקף האמונה שהי’ מאמין בו בעודו בחיים חיותו שהוא איש אלקי וכמו”כ כשהולך על מקום מנוחת קדשו מתבטל שם

This morning, before Shachris, I briefly looked this issue up in the Encyclopaedia Talmudis, a Sefer that is also quoted extensively by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and looked well worn in his Yechidus room when I was there. Rav Zevin emphatically classes Dorshin Al HaMeisim as a clear Issur. I won’t go through it, one can look it up. It’s under the second Chelek of  Daled and is beautifully set out as per Rav Zevin’s genius.

In summary, the way I see it, you ought not only go to a grave or write a letter and “speak” to the dead. This is pagan.

Sending a letter is long distance travelling to a grave, but the wording needs to include Hashem and comply with accepted Halacha

One can either ask for help from the Tzaddik or allow oneself to be either B’Yirah or B’Simcha to the extent that they are more enthused to engage separately or together with the Tzaddik, but this must always involve Hashem.

I haven’t read this article from Hakira Journal (yet), but just found it. It seems germane.

Finally, it’s aptl to close with the beautiful and apt prose of Rabbi Jakobovitz, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Jakobovits, in the foreword to the then new Singers Prayer Book, contemplates “The Jewish idea of prayer” and disapproves of petitional prayers. He wrote “What purpose can be served by formulating our pleas to God? Does the all-knowing God, who knows our needs better than we do, require their articulation of what we feel in our hearts? Still more difficult theologically, how can we hope by prayer to change His will? Our very belief in the efficacy of our petitions would seem to challenge God’s immutability, and (they) even question His justice, since we should assume that whatever fate He decrees for man is essentially just; why, therefore, do we seek to reverse it?” “But such questions are based on a false, indeed pagan, understanding of prayer as a means of pacifying and propitiating the deity and thus of earning its favours. It was against these perverse notions that the Hebrew Prophets directed their denunciations so fiercely when they fulminated against the heathen form of sacrifices, the original form of worship later replaced by prayer.” “Like sacrifices, prayer is intended to change man not God. Its purpose is to cultivate a contrite heart, to promote feelings of humility and inadequacy in man, whilst encouraging reliance on Divine assistance. Through prayer, the worshipper becomes chastened, gains moral strength and intensifies the quest of spirituality, thereby turning into a person worthy of response to his pleas.

More on the mystery of the Kittel for Geshem or Tal

I had sent a few Yekkes that I knew, a publication about the customs in Frankfurt. It is comprehensive and revised yearly. It was sent before Rosh Hashono. I noticed though that it stated that the Kittel was not worn by the Shaliach Tzbibbur on Shmini Atzeres.

I do not know if Hamburg had a different Minhag, nor what Berlin let alone Poland/Russia followed, but [hat tip RDS] the following seems to also confirm (unless I have misread) that it was something that was generally worn originally on Yom Tov, over the clothes, as a special Malbush Yom Tov (which is a Halacha). [Those of you with access to one of those white cylinder style hats can wear those 🙂 I can remember the days when there were heaps of them adorning the heads of Mispallelim … they used to get yellow over time, as I noticed] I couldn’t find a picture of one but they are like a flatter floppier version of the Chazan style tall hat (not to be confused with the Shloof Yarmulke, which is another story)

 

The kittel during Tefillas Geshem and Tal

We can all easily work out the sense in the Shaliach Tzibbur wearing one. A sense of extreme humility and awe should envelop the Chazzan while he recites such critical requests on behalf of the congregation.

On Erev Succos, an acquaintance of mine discussed the concept with me and asked me what the SOURCE of this MINHAG is. I said I’d look and email. I don’t have access to the Bar Ilan program because they refused my offer to port the program to a Mac or an iPad. I was hoping it might run under a PC virtual machine on my Mac. They have progressed from the time warp of DOS and XP and now like you to subscribe to online access.

Either way, I searched and searched and couldn’t find it. I was sure that if I looked at the Nitei Gavriel he was bound to find SOME primordial source for this. Alas, even he stated that he didn’t know of a source as pointed out to me by a Zurba Derabonnon.

I did find in my limited research that the Minhag in Frankfurt (and perhaps Hamburg and other parts of Germany) was NOT to wear a Kittel!

There was an older Minhag, about which I’m unsure why it ceased, to wear a special white gown cum kittel as one’s Bigdei Yom Tov. Many seem to forget that one should wear something extra special on Yom Tov.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the real reason why people wore it at the seder. I don’t really know and I’ve read many of the reasons including Rav Moshe Soloveitchik’s (R Chaim Brisker’s son who married into the Feinsteins) reason, and who was the Rav’s father.

Anyway, I’m throwing the question out to the Oilom who read my blog. I guess that someone like Rav Sraya Deblicki might know, but if Rav Tzinner, the author of Nitei Gavriel and Rav Hamachshir of Melbourne’s Eruv doesn’t know ….

Of course the kittel didn’t appear to exist amongst the Sephardim.

It’s a pity Rav Ovadya has left us, as he was a walking encyclopaedia kipshuto.

Policing Tznius

The halachic definition surrounding the limits of Tznius are the discussion of many a book and Responsa in Halacha, let alone Shulchan Aruch. In general, though, these tend to focus on the female aspect of Tzniyus. A good recent fundamental discussion of the issues (although it is technical and deep) is that of R’ Yehuda Herzl Henkin, author of שו’’ת בני בנים who is a grandson of the great Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ז’ל, and who undertook shimush with his grandfather.

There are a range of views in the arena of female Tzniyus. Some relate to more fundamental aspects, and other relate to what we term Minhag HaMakom (the custom in a given place). I am certain that if someone lived in the New Square, or Williamsburg enclaves, there are strict minhagim of those micro Makomos. That does not mean that anybody from outside such communities needs to follow their dictates. It’s a free world, bound by Halacha.

It is well-known, that the Orthodox world accepted the lenient definition of Shok (section of the leg) as enunciated by the Mishna B’rura, and, as such, defined it as “over the knees” in a sitting situation (if the knees are visible while sitting then one would need to make sure they always stood?). Others, such as various Chassidim, Chardal and more are stricter and only accept skirts which are extended to the calf area. In general, none expect that the skirt should be “skin-tight” to the extent that it advertises the outline of the anatomy. Each to their own Rav HamuvHak, and one should not blithely condemn anyone for following an acceptable Psak. To do so, is the antithesis of the halachic process and an insult to the honour of respected Poskim who established their criteria with the permission of the Torah (even if we arguably no longer have Smicha today).

Other areas of the anatomy are always a matter of Minhag. I’m not aware of a Minhag that a female has to wear gloves. Her hands from the wrist bone to the tips of her fingers are never considered Erva by any opinion I have come across. If a reader knows of one, please tell. On the other hand, from the ankle down, is a matter of rather strange contention, with some saying that unlike hands, the foot area is a matter of Tzniyus, while other say it is a matter of the Minhag of the place, and others stating that since there is generally no accepted minhag in a larger city, one may follow any minhag. Some are careful on this matter on Shabbos, but not during the week. That is usually a matter of being elegantly dressed or a function of the heat in a particular place. Each to their own. To criticise someone for clearly halachically valid views is not effective and according to most Acharonim, even when a practice is halachically invalid, a stranger would have no liability to admonish, as their words would not be listened to, and we have lost the “art” of admonishment. Certainly, the Satmar Rebbe, who was extreme in all matters, and who one does not have to accept as the yardstick Rabbinic authority, specified a curious view of stockings, in particular:

“The rebbe taught that even 70-denier stockings should not be worn. The numerical value of sod (secret) is 70, so the secret is out that this [stocking] is also transparent.” There then follows a lengthy account of Teitelbaum’s creation, with the help of a Brooklyn businessman named Lipa Brach, of an exclusive line of fully opaque women’s hosiery:

Money in hand, Reb Lipa Brach began to work on the project. He went to several hosiery manufacturers, collected samples, and brought all of them to the rebbe to inspect. The rebbe was very pleased with the progress, and he tested each sample by pulling it over his own arm. If his hair showed, it was no good…. The new stockings were given the brand name, “Palm,” the English translation of the Rebbe’s surname…. To this day every Satmar woman and girl wears Palm stockings.

Fast forward to schools and acceptable Tzniyus practices as recently described here. This is not only applicable to Schools, but also to camps (where I have a reliable source to confirm that often girls have to put on socks as soon as they emerge from a women-only pool, and cannot even walk to the bunk house in any other fashion).

I do think that it is critical that Schools (and Camps) enunciate what is acceptable, and anyone who enrols their child in a school should not complain about that level. They do have a choice. They might wish to send their children to another school if views on Tzniyus are considered too right-wing. Often Schools are either inconsistent and/or lax. This can be constant or may reach a crescendo, from time to time. In such a case, the question is how one now educates existing girls about the need to adhere to the standards in the shadow of inconsistent practices of enforcement.

I am opposed to the approach of having non-Jewish (or even Jewish) Tznius “police” casting their eyes up and down girls as they enter the gates and either expelling or calling them out if they breach an aspect. If the school had been inconsistent in the past, then it needs to take a far more sophisticated and educative approach than simply policing with halachic batons. Such policing will simply turn people off, possibly forever, and make them respect no Tznius Police style people or their comments.

What would I do? For a start, I wouldn’t try to single girls out especially publicly. I would take silent note of what the issues are, and away from the school gaze, enunciate the views of the school and source these in a halachically mature and respectful way. That way should not disqualify other approaches but should contextualize the varied approach(es) adopted. It may be necessary to have a weekend seminar, and bring in thoughtful and soft people who are knowledgeable both about the halacha and mind-set of those who sometimes get excited only by these issues. Failure to do that (and there may be other solutions) are likely to be doomed and disenfranchise and cause more underlying dissension than had existed before.

Once a consistent standard has been in place for a few years, a different approach can be adopted, but, again, I’d try not to shame someone in front of their peers.

There are halachic views, as I recall, mentioned by Chacham Ovadia Yosef stating that if the approach in a Xtian country is for a unmarried girl to wear a hat to Church as a matter of modesty and respect, that a Jewish girl should do so no less!  It cannot be that the אומות העולם grab the high ground. At the same time, there are limits. Burkas and the like are not within the confines of reasonable halachic parameters (although we see demented people in Yerushalayim and Beit Shemesh following such antithetical and condemned practices).

Women may well argue, and do argue, that there is a degree of misogyny on display. Why is it that the focus appears to be largely on females and not males? This is a good question. I recall in Malaysia and Indonesia where I often saw a poor (hot) female dressed from top to toe (inclusive) in a gown that allowed only her eyes to peak out. Her husband and kids were walking along in tow. The often bearded husband ironically wore shorts, a singlet and flip flops! That is, the type of clothing many people wear in hot weather. I couldn’t understand why Islam seemed to have two standards. Does Judaism have the same attitude? It could be argued that a man wearing floppy shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops isn’t technically breaking any law of Tzniyus, save a possibly “Minhag HaMakom” where “Makom” doesn’t purely exist, such as in places like Melbourne, where a multiplicity of views is extant. Sure, during davening, men have dicta, some of which are relativistic, but it seems that the female folk are the ones who are getting all the attention. There is a level of existentialism in this, although some may argue.

Is the approach taken by a school and others that “yells” and “calls out” right? Is it fruitful? More importantly, is the shouting, embarrassing, policing style approach likely to achieve anything positive?

I think not. Most attitudes are formed at home. That is the place for education, and it needs to start early.

Our country, our people, our struggle and extremism

I was not going to post about this topic because I know there are many at Adass Yisrael, the Melbourne Chassidic Charedi organisation, who were upset at what happened and I didn’t want to pour petrol on a raging fire.

Then I received the following video [hat tip MD]. It shocked me to my core. If you understand Ivrit, just a little it will likely do the same to you. Make sure you turn on annotations and captions in youtube for English.

The Palestinian Arab rendition of Hatikva

It is plain to see that they have butchered the words of Hatikva to issue calls for the destruction of our homeland and annihilation of our people. We are sixty short years away from a scourge that made no difference between a Rebbe or Mechalel Shabbos. A scourge that didn’t care if someone was from Satmar or from Mizrachi. The common theme is that

עם לבדד ישכון

But who is the עם?

Two incidents occurred with the approval of Rabbinic decree at Adass on Yom Haatzmaut. Now, nobody is saying that people have to give שבח והודאה to Hashem if they feel that the state is a cataclysm for עם ישראל but is this אחיך בלבביך?

Both incidents are outside the rules of Dinim Mefurashim in Shulchan Aruch according to all Rishonim.

  • We don’t say Tachanun at a Bris Mila (שו”ע, סימן קלא, סעיף ד). The Kaf Hachaim says that even other minyanim in that building don’t say Tachanun כה”ח, סימן קעז. The Mishna Brura says that even if the Ba’alei Simcha aren’t there  (משנ”ב, שם, ס”ק כב). Yet, when a recent Bris was held on the 5th of Iyyar (yes, we can assume that they didn’t accept the 6th of Iyyar this year because that was designed to lessen the chance of עבירות) yet at Adass, the Rabbi declared vocally that Tachanun had to be said. The SADNESS and CALAMITY of the establishment of a State overrode in his unpublished and unsourced opinion (I know about the Chazon Ish 60 years ago) the clear requirement not to say Tachanun because there was a Simcha. Perhaps they should have worn sack cloth at the Bris and said Kinos on the floor? When I look at this action in the context of the youtube link above, I feel sick in my stomach. Isn’t it clear to one and all that Tachanun would not have been said because of a Bris? Isn’t it known that the right-wing Satmar branch of Adass are closer to Neturei Karta and the breakaway than they are to the rest of the community and Adass has lurched to the right over the years, especially as the sane voices of holocaust survivors dwindle.  Would this happen at Chabad? No. Would this happen at Beis HaTalmud? I’d venture to say no. Even though Rav Kotler was no uber supporter, he had a fidelity to Halacha. Someone correct me if they say Tachanun at Lakewood on Yom Ha’atzmaut if there is a Bris.
  • There was a poor Adass fellow who was sitting Shiva for his father. During the Shiva,  the Halacha is clear that we do not say Tachanun. Nobody is talking about Hallel with or without a Brocho or anything like that. Tachanun is not said in the mourners house. Yet, because it was Yom Ha’atzmaut, they decided to say Tachanun in contrast to an open halacha שולחן עורך אורח חיים סעיף ד’ ובמשנה ברורה סק”כ. This is a time when the Midas HaDin is threatening and we dare NOT mention sin (Tachanun) in the house of an Avel. But here, the existence of a State of Israel and the possibility that this might be seen to be supporting Yom Ha’atzmaut, was seen (unpublished and unsourced) as more important than the fearful notion of מידת הדין מתוחה, וצריך ליזהר שלא להגביר מידת הדין עליו

So what does one do? My suggestion is that all who are friendly with people from Adass and who agree with my viewpoint express objection in strong terms and ask them why those who were not happy with the unhalachic ruling, decided to say Tachanun. This is not a הוראת שעה from a נביא.

במקום שיש חילול השם אין חולקים כבוד לרב

I fully accept that the Rabbi(s) who must have issued this ruling are careful with the minutest detail of Halacha and are honest and ehrliche Jews, but I simply cannot reconcile this alleged breach of Halacha in the context of that sickening youtube video.

Nobody says one has to agree with ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו … I know many Rabonim who cleverly say סמיכת when it is politically wise to do so, or who add the word שיהא. These are eschatological matters which really don’t concern me too much. I’m happy with plain גאולה as soon as possible.

I consider these actions as tantamount to matching the antics of the ערב רב who visit and visited those despots who seek to dismantle the only Jewish homeland we have, and have had for thousands of years.

It’s a Shame and a Shande ואין פוצץ פה

Visiting their “Rebbe” Arafat’s Tziyun
Holocaust survivor, Moshe Ber Halevi Beck, with Ahmadinajad, ימח שמו וזכרו

L’Dovid Ori

[Hat tip Benson]

This is from here.

Starting from Rosh Chodesh Ellul till Shmini Atzeres , there is a Minhag to say twice a day

”Ledovid Hashem Ori”.

This Minhag is not mentioned in Shas, Shulchan Aruch, Kisvi Ha’ari Zal or in the original Machzorim.

One of the first Poskim who brings this Minhag, is the Mateh Efrayim. (R. Efrayim Zalmen Margulios).

There were Chasidic dynasties who didn’t follow this Minhag. (Choze Milublin , Zidichoiv, Apte, Sanz & Ropshitz.

The Ma’ase Rav writes that the Vilna Gaon didn’t say it. Today almost all Yeshivishe and
Chasidishe Minyonim, do say it. The one exception is, Chasidim from the Sanzer dynasty.
(Bobov, Klausebburg etc.)

There are different reasons given for not saying it. The true reason is, because
The first mention of this Minhag, is brought down in a Sefer called “ Chemdas Yomim”.
The Chemdas Yomim was probably the one who started this Minhag.
The Sefer Chemdas Yomim has no name of the Mechaber (Author) on the Shar Blatt.
The Yavetz and many Chassidic Rebbes, claimed that the Mechaber was Nosson Hoazosi

(Nathan from Gaza). Nosson Hoazosi was Shabsai Zvi’s Novi Sheker and right hand man.

Mishloach Manos and Aveylus

As everyone knows, an Avel (mourner) is still required to give Mishloach Manos, but is not meant to be given Mishloach Manos. What is the essential difference? Clearly, an Avel is still someone who must do good deeds, including Chesed (kindness) and acts of goodness. This is claimed to not only be good for the Avel, so to speak, but is something the Neshama (my father, הכ”מ) gets an Aliya/Nachas from. So far so good.

We can understand why someone should not be involved in giving to an Avel. Likely, the Mishloach Manos is (meant to be) a contribution to the Avel’s Purim Seuda. The Avel’s Purim Seuda, though, in a year of Aveylus, isn’t what it normally is. One isn’t supposed to go (based on the Ramoh) to someone else’s Seuda. Rather, it should be a relatively “quiet” and home-bound one, much like the rest of Aveylus of the 12 months, which is characterised by an avoidance of more public modes of enjoyment and celebration.

An interesting question arises in regards to a family Seuda. What is the Halacha, if customarily, the wider family, including siblings, who are also Aveylim, get together each year for Purim Seuda under normal circumstances. Should they also get together in a year of Aveylus? You can always argue that the “Niftar would prefer that”, but it’s not that simple. Like many laws of Aveylus, one may well get two different answers from two Rabonim. We also say that הלכה כמיקל באבילות. There is also a fair amount of grey area. If you open up a Nitei Gavriel you can probably find every type of a הנהגה under the sun, but that doesn’t really help when you seek direction and clear Psak. Telling me that in the community of “bochunovich” they did XYZ doesn’t offer Psak. Nitei Gavriel is a wonderful “encyclopedia”. It’s often difficult to “pasken” from unless of course one is from “bochunovich”.

So, I was pretty convinced that it should be okay: Aveylim with Aveylim at a Purim Seuda, without the usual dancing and banter, what could be wrong. I asked the question to מו’’ר Rav Hershel Schachter, and he replied that it is better during the year of Aveylus, that the Aveylim have their seudos individually in their own homes.

Purim, being a Yom Tov from the Rabbis, somehow places itself in this Halachic “no man’s land”. It’s not a Torah Yom Tov, nor is it a normal Yom Chol. You are meant to drink, be merry, etc to a level of עד דלא ידע. This means that although it’s a happy day with certain Mitzvos it’s perhaps not quite as important enough in terms of Toraitic שמחה. It’s a day of perhaps “wanton” happiness for want of a better word. This isn’t the natural domain of the Avel. Instead, they should partake of this סעודה meal at their own home with one’s direct family, in the first instance.

Ironically, as I delivered some Mishloach Manos today, I was pleased in a macabre way that some people could not give me Mishloach Manos in return. You know the scene, you give, and then they scurry out the back and give you one “in return”. This time, I had pure giving. I was the initiator. I didn’t need anything in return (thank God). It might sound weird, but that’s how I felt. I actually got some strange comfort out of it.

Neutered correctness gone mad?

Am I getting old(er) to the extent that I simply cannot fathom the sentiments expressed in this article?

I have been working at University for over two decades. I have seen all manner of extremism, exhibitionism, sexism, racism … you name it, I’ve seen it. One expects this at a University where there is (or at least there ought to be) a license for free thought, wrapped up in a veritable cornucopia of wildly differing personalities amongst both the student and staff body.

Nonetheless, this quote floored me:

Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them.”

I looked up the term sexism to refresh my understanding, and found:

1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

I think there are three key terms here:

  • discrimination
  • stereotyping
  • inferiority
  • Now, discrimination on its own isn’t a pejorative term. It connotes difference. I’d argue that if the difference leads to an act or comment which implies that women are promoted as inferior in any way, then it is wrong. In this instance, surely an act of chivalry or good manners need not be interpreted as an expression of inferiority, weakness or the like?

    I understand that stereotyping is a dangerous weapon in the mouth of someone consciously or subconsciously motivated to demean, demote or demography the “role” of a woman in society. Again, I have difficulty understanding how a gesture which could also be understood as consciously or subconsciously honouring and elevating the stature of the feminine gender, should solely be interpreted as an act of sexism.

    I’m unconvinced why such an act need also be interpreted as ascribing an inferior feminine position.

    Of course, I wasn’t there. It’s possible that she was sufficiently riled by other incidents to the extent that she had become over-sensitised by her feminine identity.

    If a man (or woman) suggested that an older person enter or leave a lift first, or opened the door for that older person, would this also be seen as ageism?

    Students commonly suggest I enter a lift first, or wait for me to leave a door. My response is either to say “thank you” or “please, there is no need, after you”.

    Surely a better approach than to criticise this type of “etiquette” is to say

    “Thanks, but there is no need. I’m quite comfortable not being treated differently to males.

    Your thoughts?

    To meat or meet?

    What would or should you do?
    You are one of a bunch of madrichim/counsellors at an American style summer camp for young primary age kids, many of whom have limited exposure to Judaism.
    To show their gratitude and hospitality, the parents of one child, who keep a kosher home, invited the counsellors to dinner, during the nine days.
    Unfortunately, they didn’t consider the need for milchigs, and a nice meat meal was served.

    Do you politely decline, and all claim to be vegetarians?
    Can attending a Siyum after the event help?
    Should you consider that embarrassing the hostess is worse than keeping one part of Minhag Aveylus?
    I’m aware that there are leniencies when one encounters royalty and the like during the nine days; does this count?

    I hear some of you quoting the “fifth” chelek of Shulchan Aruch which encourages you to be a mensch at all times.

    I haven’t looked into this. Any insights?

    Preserving family customs

    What group do you belong to? Are you a Chasid or a Misnaged? Are you Chassidic Lite or a Snag? Are you Satmar or Belz? Are you a Meshichist or anti? Are you Dati Leumi or Charedi Dati Leumi? Are you Zionist or anti-Zionist? Do you support the left or the right? Do you wear a hat and jacket for davening or don’t you? Do you wear a Tichel or Sheitel? Do you wear thick stockings or normal stockings? Do you wear open toes or only closed shoes? Do you drink Chalav Yisrael or is Chalav HaCompanies your Chalav Yisrael? Will you send your children to University or will they only do courses via correspondence?

    Some of these questions, if not all of them, are used by potential Shadchonim to match people up. If it is indeed necessary to have a one to one match between the answers to these questions before a meeting takes place, then I wonder how many of those issues are really fundamental? This is a deeper question which I am not dealing with in this post.

    Societal pressure to conform has negative and positive aspects. The positive aspect is that people feel part of a community. The negative aspect is that a level of individuality or existing family minhag is lanced.

    On Shavuos, there is an Ashkenazi custom to sing Akdamus. In my youth, there were probably only two occasions each year when I heard Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’ל lead the davening in some form. One was Neilah, where his authentic Nusach was no doubt the one he heard in Telz as a Yeshivah Student, and elsewhere in Poland and London. I will never forget him reciting “Enkas Mesaldecha”. (As an aside, I can’t grok the “man made, popular hit songs” approach to Nusach. How can one sing Enkas Mesaldecha to “a little bird is crying!?!) . The other time I heard Rabbi Chaim Gutnick lead, was on Shavuos when he was called up for the first Aliya, and before commencing, he sang the ancient Akdamus Milin to its authentic tune.

    In the main Shule at the Yeshiva, for many years, R” Hershel Klein ז’ל used to say the Akdamus. Those were the days when there were a significant number of Baal HaBatim who davened in the Shule who were not Chabad Chasidim. The Shule had no problem accommodating these customs and didn’t feel it had to follow the practice at 770. When R’ Hershel Klein was ill, he asked me to say it on his behalf. These days, R’ George Marcus has taken on the role but he passes the baton to me because I have a louder voice.

    Interestingly, I read that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל did say Akdamus, but he did so in between the Aliyos. Apparently, his father, R’ Levik ז’ל had the custom to say Akdamus as in normative minhag ashkenaz (as did other branches of Chabad) but his father-in-law, the Rayatz  z”l did not say Akdamus loudly in a responsive manner as per minhag Ashkenaz. In order to somehow satisfy both practices, the last Rebbe said Akdamus quietly. This is reported in the name of people who stood close enough to hear it.

    Why did he do so? Was it because of respect for his father or was it because it was a minhag and we are enjoined  אל תטוש תורת אמך  and לא תגדודדו? I suspect that the last Rebbe was not ready to completely cancel his own father’s Minhag even if it was not the Minhag of his father-in-law the previous Rebbe, whom he revered, all his life.

    In trying to become “accepted” by a particular group or feel like a card-carrying member of that group, how many family minhagim are discarded in the process? Does membership of a particular group mean you have to throw away all or most family minhagim which are not known by that particular group?

    We have a Minhag to only eat Milchig on Shavuos. Yes, there is such a Minhag, and no, it’s not in contradiction to שמחת יום טוב. I guarantee that my wife or mother’s milchig dishes will leave you completely בשמחה. To me, as a second generation holocaust survivors’ child, I feel that it is even more important to ensure that what Hitler ימ’ש didn’t manage to destroy, doesn’t get erased in the process of “becoming part of something”.

    Precious Pesach Minhag in danger of extinction!

    Seek out that fine “Americanishe” vaybel, or the Yisroo-ldike vaybel or indeed the second or third generation Oystralishe vaybel. Ask them if there is a Minhag to eat certain types of food at lunchtime prior to the Seder. I’m betting that apart from some hungarian charedi circles the Minhag is in a grave (sic) state  of decline bordering on extinction. More people know about the connection between Quinoa and Pesach than Gribbenes and Oylom Habo let alone its holy role in our Pesachdike folklore.

    Minhag Avosaynu needs to be re-established, re-publicised, re-JEWvinated, and re-envigorated.  If you speak to today’s urban, upwardly mobile, modernishe husband, he is so far gone, he isn’t even aware there are specific delicacies gracing culinary Jewish tables from the days of the snake, that he is missing out on.

    Yes, it’s a very busy time—the proverbial calm before the storm. The women are exhausted. The men are buying the Yom Tov gift for their wives and heading off to the Mikvah. All is ready for the Seder, or it should be by now. Breakfast had been a quick gulp and greps, any itinerant kids are carefully corralled so they don’t bring or spread chametz into the house. The last bit of unsold chametz is burnt.

    You look at your 2011 “new” Haggada with a “Moiredik” set of new pirushim that will finally have you acknowledged (by ignorant guests) as the true genius of the Pesach Seder, worthy of the mantle of the חכם פון דער מה נשתנה.

    Lunchtime approaches. It’s been a hectic day. You won’t be eating till after מגיד, and if those pesky know it alls start showing off, and the Ba’al HaSeder loses control of time or is himself a know it all, you’ll be tipsy and famished by the time that coveted salt water and hard-boiled egg dish makes its annual academy award appearance from the bowels of the kitchen.

    But what did you eat for lunch on Erev Pesach?

    There is no מצה and normally your wife isn’t going to cook any special פלייש … so let me guess, you were given this anemic bowl of green rabbit food carefully checked to make sure that worms or quasi kitniyos were nuked. Maybe you were lucky and were thrown a shtickle fish (you know, the piece that looks a bit “off” or anorexic and shouldn’t be served to the guests at the seder)

    Rabosay! That’s not the way it was, nor was it the way it’s meant to be. Let’s return to our roots. Begin the revolution.

    שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תיטוש תורת אימך

    The minhag is easy, nutricious, filling and is common across all different groups: chassidic, misnagdic, sefardic, centric, and I-Don’t-Know-nic. All Major Poskim have re-approved the Minhag, and even has a tick from the Heart Foundation as long as you begin with a cholesterol pill and finish with another cholesterol pill (yes, to be sure even your neighbours meshigenneh dog won’t eat the pills, wrap them in kosher lepesach glad wrap, as approved by the gastroenterological guild of gubernia)

     

    • Laybalach
    Leybalach (Fried Liver)

     

    • Kartofle
    Kartofle

     Note: Some modernishe houses have now invested in chip making machines (Rachmono Litzlan). Please note that this was never allowed in Europe as it didn’t exist, and חדש אסור מן התורה and in any case, it’s questionable whether such devices can fry in a way that allows the Nefesh Elokis to puff with real Ruchniyus. Rumour has it that the Nefesh HaBehamis, the Yetzer Hora, is strengthened by these chip machines. To be safe and keep up fealty use a simple cooked Kartofle, with lashings of fried onion and schmaltz.

    • Borscht
    Roiten Borscht

    Listed by the Gemora to be good for pimples, there are some who prefer the greeny/white schuv borscht extracted from lip-smacking sorrel leaves. Me? I vomit after a mere glimpse of schuv borscht as it reminds me of my first ever enema. Well, I didn’t know it was an enema until my Booba cajoled it past my epiglottis using the same wristy technique employed to stuff the gizzard of the gantz.

    Quinoa revisited

    Commendably, Kosher Australia has revised its earlier information and now tells us:

    Subsequent to the printing of the 2011 KAPG, we noted that both the OU and the Star-K have altered their respective positions regarding the acceptability of quinoa. The OU now recommend consulting with one’s Rav and the Star-K now require formal Pesach supervision due to the concern of likely contamination from chometz. However, the London Beth Din and the Eidah Charedis, among others, maintain that quinoa is kitniyos. Based on information from the OK, those people who use quinoa on Pesach may purchase Eden brand quinoa which we have confirmed is free of cross-contamination with Chometz.

    This is good. The Eidah Charedis’ stance isn’t surprising. For them, חדש אסור מן התורה and so there is no need to even find out what Quinoa is.

    I still take issue with Kosher Australia’s wording in respect of the Star K position. The Star K did not state that Quinoa is likely to be contaminated by Chametz! What they did say, was that it was possible that Quinoa came into contact with Chametz. That’s true. Guess what, though, that applies to just about everything we buy because of the nature of food lines and cross contamination. In particular, we also get Potato flour with a Hechsher! The salient point is that the Star K do NOT consider Quinoa to be Chametz. Here is what they do say:

    Tired of potatoes, potatoes, potatoes for Pesach? Try quinoa (“Keen-Wa”), a sesame-seed-sized kernel first brought to the United States from Chile nineteen years ago, according to Rebecca Theurer Wood. Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for thousands of years, growing three to six feet tall despite high altitudes, intense heat, freezing temperatures, and as little as four inches of annual rainfall. Peru and Bolivia maintain seed banks with 1,800 types of quinoa.

    Quinoa was determined to be Kosher L’Pesach. It is not related to the chameishes minei dagan-five types of grain products, nor to millet or rice. Quinoa is a member of the “goose foot” family, which includes sugar beets and beet root. The Star-K tested quinoa to see if it would rise. The result was as Chazal termed, sirchon; the quinoa decayed – it did not rise. However, recent investigations have found that there is a possibility that Quinoa grows in proximity to certain grains and processed in facilities that compromise Quinoa kosher for Passover status. Therefore, Quinoa should only be accepted with reliable Kosher for Passover supervision

    The Psak from the Star K mirrors the Psak from my wife 🙂 Although, I had noted, as per the advice from OK, that Eden Quinoa has no Chashash of Chametz because it is an organic company that has nothing to do with wheat as per the OK checking including the milling.

    The bottom line is that it’s best to either have a Hechsher on any ground Quinoa. Then again, some of you also boil your sugar 🙂

    For Chabad I’d say no Rebbe ever found grains in their Quinoa, but since none except for perhaps the last Rebbe  z’l, was exposed to Quinoa you’d better not use it 🙂 I wonder what Chabad would say about someone who washed Quinoa before Pesach and checked there was no inadvertent grain therein?

    R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל unlike the Edah Charedis, held that we do not create new types of Kitniyos.

    I hasten to add that in my opinion, which is not להלכה nor למעשה (ask your Rabbi), it is desirable to use (certified or at least Eden) Quinoa for babies and little children who have a hard time eating on Pesach, let alone the unfortunate ones who are gluten intolerant and elderly people who have issues with their digestion and stomach.

    Regards from Kuala Lumpur where I haven’t seen any Quinoa as yet 🙂

    Am I over-reacting?

    If you have never noticed, there are two traditions about how to pronounce לזמן  at the end of the Bracha of Shecheyanu. Most Ashkenzic Jews in my experience pronounce it as Lazman with a patach under the Lamed (ל). This is also what you will find in most standard Nusach Ashkenaz Siddurim today. The other pronunciation, which is supported by the משנה ברורה and the ערוך השלחן based on the opinion of the רמ”א and מגן אברהם is to pronounce it as Lizman with a chirik under the Lamed. Apparently, this latter form is more grammatically correct. The same is apparently true of Bazman and Bizman.

    I am no grammarian. I know almost nothing about grammar. I do harbour a trenchant fidelity towards Mesorah/Tradition, however. This is one of the rare cases where the אחרונים say one thing and the Minhag (Ashkenaz) is not to follow these אחרונים and to follow the סידור אוצרות התפילה

    Chabad, amongst others, say Lizman and Bizman.

    Picture the scene. It’s an Ashkenazi Shule, always has been. It uses an Ashkenazi Siddur (these days Artsroll but in times gone by Singer). The Rabbi of the Shule is a Chabadnik. He decides to direct the reader of the מגילה on Purim to say Lizman Hazeh and not Lazman Hazeh. When challenged, he says “innocently” that this is the opinion of the מגן אברהם etc.

    Will the Lizman vs Lazman kill me? No. Will it make a huge difference in עולם האמת … I doubt it. But it works both ways. If it won’t make that much of a difference, why insist on a מנהג which clearly seems to not be מנהג אשכנז and use the paradox of אחרונים who are Ashkenazim as support? After all, for a Chabadnik, when there is a contradiction between their Siddur and the שולחן ערוך הגרש’’ז they follow the Siddur 🙂

    It’s the thin edge of the wedge; that’s what bothers me. You just don’t go about lancing an established Mesorah with a chirik.

    Disclaimer: I don’t daven Nusach Ashkenaz myself. I have always said Lazman, but I’ve noticed lately that my father seems to say Lizman, so I may well have to change to Lizman myself.

    Mezinke Oysgegayben Part 2

    Okay, so I’ve received a short essay that researches the origins of the Mezinke. I’m advised that the essay is available in some libraries. It is entitled “Mizhinke” and is by R’ Levi Cooper (ex-Australian, ironically). I’ll summarise some new information gleaned therein.

    1. The custom appears to not be mentioned in any Jewish sources (as we surmised)
    2. The song appeared in a compendium of songs by Warshavsky in 1900 under the yiddish title “Notes to the Jewish folksongs of M.M. Warshawsky”.
    3. It is alleged that the song became well-known through Theodor Bikel’s recordings (Click here if you want to listen to a preview through iTunes)
    4. It would seem that Warshavsky intended the song to be performed at the Bedeken. The song was originally known as “Di Rod” (The circle). Indeed, the phrase “Di Rod Di Rod macht gresser” is part of the first verse (that I sing) although it is the third verse in the original. I only sing two verses (those that mention Hashem) not that any of the other verses are “wild” in anyway. My own feeling is that it was moved from the Bedeken to the wedding party itself because the Bedeken is an halachic religious ritual (indeed, I think the Rav would sometimes announce the Eidim for the Bedeken to be sensitive to the position of the מרדכי as brought by the ט’ז who held that the Bedeken was actually the נישאוין, the wedding proper!) and this tune really didn’t fit in at the Bedeken.

    I understand that R’ Cooper hopes to further update his booklet at some stage.

    In conclusion, I stand by what I wrote in the first part, namely, that I can see no reason halachically why this practice may not be performed and indeed continued. As some have pointed out, they see it as one of the more beautiful parts of a wedding party and they hope to be healthy and do it at their own simcha. That being said, there is, so far, no evidence to suggest it was some ancient מנהג ישראל. In all likelihood it was (as Joel Rich put it) an acculturation, like the practice of Rabbis giving drashos every Shabbos.

    If I get a chance to ask Rav Hershel Schachter, I will do so, but in the meanwhile, I will happily continue doing it, although I won’t call it a מנהג ישראל. What will I call it? Stay tuned to that next Simcha.

    Mezinke Oysgegayben

    I’d like a dollar (Tzedaka of course) for each time I’ve been asked to perform the Mezinke. For those who haven’t come across the Mezinke, it comprises of a special tune, lyrics, and little ceremony performed when the youngest daughter is married (די מיזינקע אויסגעגעבן).

    It is generally presumed that children, especially girls, are married in order of age, and when that last girl has “flown the coop,” it is a happy occasion signalling a milestone for parents and any grandparents. The custom has evolved so that some also perform this dance when the youngest male is married. In that case, the same dance and little ceremony takes place, except that the word Mezinig instead of Mezinke is used in the lyrics.

    Musicians of yesteryear

    Recently, I performed at a nice Chabad wedding. Of course, in keeping with their הנהגה  the wedding was segregated in respect of both dancing and seating. At the commencement of the 3rd dance bracket (yes in Australia we even have a 4th dance bracket), I announced (in keeping with a request from the בעלי שמחה) that the Mezinig ceremony would now take place. I announced that it was a מנהג ישראל in some places to perform this dance. The parents of the חתן sat down on the women’s side of the dance floor and the children performed the traditional dance around their parents. Normally the dance is accompanied by brooms signifying that the youngest is now proverbially swept out of the house. Some put garlands on the head of the parents, although that is rare.

    At the end of the evening, as I was packing up, a respected Rav approached me and informed me that I was gravely mistaken. Not only wasn’t it a מנהג ישראל the practice was likely derived from עבודה זרה. In the least it was a מנהג הגוים and in this Rav’s opinion it was אסור to host the dance/ceremony because of חוקת העכום. Taken aback by this sudden cause célèbre, I asked the Rav how he knew it wasn’t a מנהג ישראל. He responded that his own מחותן had researched the matter and discovered that the Mezinke had no source in יהדות and was derived from גוים. I was somewhat shocked. I hadn’t heard this in over two decades! I responded meekly that this is something that was done for many years and I had simply assumed that it was a מנהג ישראל or at least מנהג from Ashkenazim. I don’t recall ever doing it for Sephardim, and there is no Ladino equivalent 🙂

    An internet search proved to be interesting but somewhat inconclusive. The well-known mendele group which revels in the yiddish language, had various contributions:

    “Martin Stern [Mendele 14.039] asks about “mezinke” and “mezinik.” His Belzer neighbor had it sort of correct, and I cannot weigh in on local pronunciations there, particularly in Ukrainian. But Harkavy refers “mezinke” to “mizinke” and “mezinik” to “Mezinietz”, and that gives us the origin.. “Mezinietz” is the littlest finger or the littlest toe”

    or

    “One probably needs to first go to the masculine form, which is muzhinyik. This appears to be “The little(est) man” from the Russian, moozh, for a man. This is the root for muzhik, which is a peasant. It was probably feminized in Yiddish by the usual mechanism of attaching a German suffix to a male noun.”

    or the perhaps more stretched explanation

    “I always thought ‘mezinek’ to be a corruption of the posik, ‘ki ven zkinim hi loy’. It is in berayshis (Genesis) where it tells the story of Yosef and his brothers. It says that Yankev liked Yosef more than his other sons because he was a child born to him in old age. The keyword here is ‘zekinim’ which has its root in ‘zokayn’, Hebrew for ‘old’. I always took it for granted that ‘mezinek’ is a corruption of the above with the ‘n’ changing places with ‘k’. Is this normal in language development? And is it possible that the Ukrainian and Russian words cited in connection with ‘mezinek’ have their roots in the Hebrew? I also think that the image of the mezinek may have its origin in the above biblical story. Yosef and Binyomin, two children born to their old father, are given special treatment. Yosef gets a special shirt while Binyomin is never allowed out of sight. The whole story is built around Yosef being punished for behaving like a spoilt kid, a trait of a mezinek, Yankev’s reluctance to let Binyomin go and Yehuda’s intercession on behalf of his youngest brother. As regards the tradition of dancing with a broom, mentioned by Fay Lipshitz [6.223], the minheg is alive and dancing all over the world in frim communities. As the weddings have a mekhitse I only see the father dancing with the broom.”

    Then there is this archived post from the respected hirhurim blog:

    “According to Hankus Netsky, founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band and professor of Jewish music at the New England Conservatory, the dance is a Ukrainian custom, brought to America by Ukrainian Jews

    and which went on further to note that

    And yet there is one puzzling thing about this, which is that while the mezinke tantz is said to be a traditional one, the lyrics and music of “Di Mezinke Oysgegebn” were written in the second half of the 19th century by the songwriter Mark Varshavsky, who also composed the much-beloved “Oyfn Pripetshik.” Is the dance not as old as it is thought to be? Or was it (as is more likely) performed to different music before “Di Mezinke Oysgegebn” was written? I would be curious to know.

    Let’s assume the “worst” scenario, namely, that it’s really derived from the Ukrainian Krenzel (Crown) dance, and that the words were Judaised by Mark Warshawsky. Interestingly, we see that despite the seeming secular origin, one of the correspondents on mendele gave testimony that the Mezinke was indeed practiced among “frim communities.”

    I have played at all manner of wedding: from the most extreme chassidic to the most extreme secular. I don’t recall performing the Mezinke at a Chassidic wedding of any variety so it’s likely that it’s not part of the Chasidic panoply for weddings. That’s only a Melbournian observation though. The Chassidic weddings I play at are either the Hungarian variety where חדש אסור מן התורה or Chabad. I don’t have any reference to the Mezinke taking hold in Hungary. There are, of course, unique quirks belonging to Melbourne that are indeed derived from Poland,  such as the singing of “Lo Mir Aleh”

    although we don’t do it with the pomp or groove in the youtube above 🙂

    Certainly the idea of a father and mother being seated on either the men’s or women’s side with the children (men and/or women) dancing around them and kissing their parents as they circumlocute is not something I’d expect to see at a Chassidic wedding, Chabad or otherwise. If anything, Chabad are stricter in that they don’t even have a tradition to do the controversial Mitzvah Tantz at the end of the evening, where the Rav and others dance with the כלה via a connecting Gartel, carefully avoiding a furtive glance at the כלה.

    On the other hand, Litvaks or Misnagdim often encourage the bride to be brought into the men’s side so that the men may dance around her and be able to fulfill כיצד מרקדים לפני הכלה. My understanding is that Litvaks insist on this practice to be sure that they are מקיים a מצווה to be משמח the כלה and not just the חתן. Chabad doesn’t practice either of these two מנהגים. The most I have seen is the lifting of the כלה on a chair or table above the Mechitza at some stage.

    Over the weekend I discussed this with a few people, and they affirmed that they had seen the Mezinke performed at frum weddings in the USA.  Of course, I have seen this at centrist orthodox style weddings. I don’t have the time to conduct a proper exhaustive academic search revolving around the origins of the Mezinke, beyond what I quickly found and presented above. I have, however, emailed a number of world-renowned academics who I expect might know.  At this stage, I think it is fair to say that there is no evidence to suggest that it is a(n old) Jewish מנהג.

    What about the allegation that dancing the מיזינקע constitutes an act of  חוקות העכום  and is therefore prohibited? My feeling is that unless there is an explicit link between the מיזינקע and a ritual of עבודה זרה it is difficult for me to understand how this could be construed as חוקות העכום.

    Tosfos in עובדה זרה י’א contend that one of two conditions need to hold in order for a custom to constitute חוקות העכום:

    1. The custom has a link with idolatry
    2. The custom has no link with idolatry but is foolish (eg the Ukrainian Wedding Custom of abducting the bride!).

    We don’t pasken like Tosfos, however, even if we did, one would need to illustrate that there is a link with perhaps Roman Catholicism or Pagan rite given a derivation from the Ukraine, or other form of idolatry if not these. I don’t think anyone considers the מיזינקע ceremony “foolish” with the possible exception of some Hungarian Charedim who consider anything derived from Goyim as foolish (unless one can make a dollar from it).

    The רמ’א in יורה דעה קעח:א paskens like the מהרי’ק  that as long as a custom

    1. has no link with idolatry
    2. has a reasonable explanation

    it does not constitute חוקות העכום. Again, unless a link between the מיזינקע and idolatry is found, I cannot see how it can be considered חוקות העכום.

    It is known that the Vilna Gaon יורה דעה קעח:ז  is extreme with his definition of חוקות העכום to the extent that he argues with the רמ’א. According to the Gra one must show that a מנהג has explicit Jewish roots, otherwise it is always considered to be חוקות העכום (by default) and prohibited. I think I saw in the name of Rav Menashe Klein in his משנה הלכות that the Gra’s reasoning was that in the absence of alternative information, the Gra is concerned that there might be an etymology from idolatry and so the Gra is always prudent to be מחמיר.  Rav Y. Y. Weinberg in the celebrated שרידי אש ג:צג lists those who disagree with the Gra. According to the Vilna Gaon the מיזינקע would seem to be אסור as we have no evidence that it was a מנהג ישראל מדור דור. From my experience, however, we don’t follow this opinion of the Gra in normative halachic practice.

    There is perhaps one more consideration. What is the הלכה if there is a ceremony that is no longer in use by גוים? In other words, even if we assume or are concerned that a practice used to be performed as part of some idolatrous service (and there is no evidence to suggest this is the case with the מיזינקע) what does the הלכה say about such a practice in our day and age, when the practice is no longer performed by גוים. In other words, how can something be considered חוקות העכום if the practice no longer has anything to do with גוים!  Additionally, the widely held opinion seems to be that the פסוק of ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו is parametrised around both space and time: if we live in a different time or different place where a מנהג or חוק is no longer practiced then the איסור doesn’t apply (see מנחת חינוך, רנא:א).  It could well be argued that perhaps the only people in the world who now practice the מיזינקע are Jews, and as such, it should be considered completely מותר?

    Disclaimer: I am not a Posek. All of this is simply me thinking out loud. Ask your posek, for an authoritative Psak.