Strident words on the limits of inclusion

The following is from Rav David Rosen, Dean of the Zomet Institute.

The Torah spoke of four sons: One who is wise, one who is evil, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask. What does the evil one say? What is this service to you – to you and not to him. And since he removed himself from the community he has rejected the essence. Dull his teeth… If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.” [From the Haggada of Pesach].

Family Inclusion

Homiletic experts from all the generations have delved into and analyzed the four sons: the essence of their questions, the suitability of the replies we give, and mainly the fact that they have all been invited to the same place – our Seder table. Speakers of the last generation have added a fifth chair, meant for a son who doesn’t even make it to the Seder. Not only doesn’t he know how to ask the questions, in fact he has no interest in asking, and he might well block his ears so as not to hear anything. And even so, our speakers tell us, and rightly so – we maintain a warm corner in our hearts for him. “For as I speak of him, I will yet remember him. Therefore my insides pine for him, I will have pity on him…” [Yirmiyahu 31:19]. Women speakers of the last generations, who are working hard to translate the Torah into a feminized format, will also present a group of four daughters, in an effort to maintain equality. (What do you call the bad daughter? Evil? A shrew?)

Sermons will be made, and I will make my own attempt to add my words to the issue which is called “inclusion” – that is, everything can be included, everything is treated in the same way. This word, which comes from the realm of psychology, is today used to denote acceptance of and compassion for the “other” – whether he or she is different, strange, and even a bit eccentric – just a s they are, without any hint of rejection, without preaching to them, and without trying to make them change their behavior or their outlook. I can partially identify with this concept, but with one important limitation: The “other” must be aware that he or she is different and that his behavior is wrong as far as I am concerned. In this case, there is indeed room for friendship, a partnership, a combination, and a conversation. From my point of view I do not flatter him but act in accordance with the definition: “inclusion.”

Let us return to the Seder table and to family containment. Many religious and Torah-true families find it difficult to accept sons and daughters who have strayed from the path, and who have removed the yoke of the mitzvot (partially or completely). However, the Seder table calls out to all of them and “includes” them, placing special emphasis on the “evil one” who sits on the sidelines. We must have only praise for the communities of the east, who during many generations have developed the techniques of “including” those who stray from the path of Torah – people who come to the synagogue on Shabbat and then continue as on a weekday, but they still define themselves as “traditional.” Reform Jews, on the other hand, who parted in anger from the Ashkenazi communities, do not exist in the eastern communities, and they are certainly not “included” in the communities of Ashkenaz.

Community Inclusion?

I have in front of me a document with the title “Halacha and Inclusion,” by the “rabbis of Beit Hillel and their wives,” which was distributed in the synagogues on Shabbat Hagadol. (Since containment in Hebrew is “hachala,” the Hebrew title is a play on words: ” Hachala V’Halacha.”) The rabbis of this modern-Orthodox enterprise produced a “position paper in the spirit of halacha,” as they put it, which calls for opening the hearts and the gates of the communities to people with a homosexual orientation. If I understand correctly, this would even include same-sex “marriages” of either men or women. Well, the son might ask, but in this case the father totally rejects such “inclusion” using the building tool in his hand, as Shammai once did under other circumstances!

I am not opposed to some simple elements included in the document about the need and the positive effect of outreach to sinners and not to reject them, and about the positive halachic attitude towards those who sin because of an innate urge, and about such things as “spiritual rape,” and more. 

However, I have sharp criticism about subjects that do not appear and as a result about the inclusion approach, which has evidently led to instability of the 14 rabbis (including some I know personally, and whom I do not understand) and the 7 women who signed the “ruling,” as it is called. (I note in passing that the title “ruling” on a halachic position which is mainly based on a world outlook reminds me very much of the rulings of the “Conservative Rabbinical Court.”)
Just what is missing in this document? As is noted in the Haggada, we should “remove from the community” all those who pride themselves in sporting a peacock’s tail in order to make their sins into a banner for all to see . We cannot “include” one who is proud of his or her sin and is a member of a sinful organization. The goal of such a declared organization is to draw other people into the circle of sin, and to provide legitimization of a forbidden pathway. Anybody who is part of such an ostentatious group cannot be accepted, and they should not be “included” in any of our communities (the family or the Seder table is different, and this should be discussed separately). This absolute diagnosis is totally missing from the above “ruling,” and it is clear from publicized material that the purpose of the document is to show appreciation for the progressive approach of Beit Hillel, which knows how to “include” everybody!

Here is the main point in summary: It is not possible to “include” institutionalized single-sex “families” within a community (and it is unclear whether this applies to a family grouping around a Seder table). “Chessed hu – It is a sinful act” [Vayikra 20:17]. “Tevel hu – it is an abomination” [18:23]. And it is also “hevel” – a vain approach. 

I wonder: Will these people react in the same way to men who marry Gentile women? Perhaps the answer is yes, who can know the spiritual depths of Beit Hillel? I want to note for the authors of this “ruling” that even among the abominations of Egypt, they never stooped to “writing a Ketuva for men” [Chulin 92b].

(Written after the end of Shabbat Hagadol.)

Pesach and the Jewish Calendar

Guest Post from R’ Meir Deutsch (c) [lightly edited by me]

© מאיר דויטש ניסן ה’תשע”ו
את חג המצות תשמור […] למועד חודש האביב
The Hebrew calendar is based on a combination of the lunar and solar calendars, as written in Bereshit:

“יהי מאורות ברקיע השמיים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה, והיו לאותות ולמועדים ולימים ושנים.” 

Our calendar is based on the Babylonian one. The names of the months are very similar, and the Babylonian calendar has also a leap year with ADARO SHENI. The Hebrew Calendar, according to Rav Ada (lived in the third century in Pumbedita) has a cycle of 19 years to merge the lunar and solar years. In his calendar we have:

365 days

5 hours

55 minutes

25 seconds.

The length of a year as known today is: 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds, a difference of just 6 minutes and 39 seconds.

For order’s sake, I want to mention, that according to Shmuel  in Eruvin 56a the solar year is 365 days and 6 hours.

ואין בין תקופה לתקופה אלא תשעים ואחד יום ושבע שעות ומחצה.

In HALACHA Shmuel’s calendar was adopted. According to his calendar the ברכת החמה is fixed. Shmuel’s calendar is based on the Julian calendar. As the HALACHA is based on Shmuel’s calendar, the calendar of Rav Ada is not mentioned in the Talmud, but most of the calculations are based on his calendar.         

Today we are in the Jewish year 5776 = ה’תשע”ו, and it is a leap year. When do we add another Adar to our calendar to match the two calendars? According to the formula of the Hebrew calendar the leap years in the 19 year circle are גו”ח אדז”ט, meaning that the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years are leap years.

What do our sages say in that matter? The Talmud in Sanhedrin 12a says:

“תנו רבנן: אין מעברין את השנה לא בשביעית, ולא במוצאי שביעית.”

Don’t we have a problem this year with that? Last year we had a Shmitta year, if so, how come that the current year is a leap year? This problem can be solved by the Yerushalmi:

מסכת פאה פרק ה הלכה א: “ר’ יונתן ברי’ דר’ יצחק בר אחא שמע לה מן הדא אין מעברין את השנה לא בשביעית ולא במוצאי שביעית ואם עברוה הר”ז מעוברת.”

We mentioned earlier which years are leap years according to the formula. Does this formula match the learning of out sages?

Let us have a look at Sanhedrin 11b:

“ת”ר על שלושה דברים מעברין את השנה: על האביב, ועל פירות האילן, ועל התקופה”.

Why do we have to make a year a leap year?

We are ordered to celebrate Passover. We have a date on which we should celebrate it, but we have a condition for fixing the date – the season. The Torah, in Shmot (23, 16) says:

“את חג המצות תשמור […] למועד חודש האביב”

And in Devarim (16, 1) we find written:

“שמור את חודש האביב ועשית פסח לה’ א-לוהיך”

The dates are; for the Pesach sacrifice the 14th of the month (Nissan), and Chag Hamatzot the following day. These dates are according the lunar calendar, but the condition that it should be in the [first] month of spring is determined by the solar calendar. The Rambam writes on this matter:

(רמב”ם הלכות קידוש החודש פרק ד הלכה א): “ולולא הוספת החדש הזה היה הפסח בא פעמים בימות החמה ופעמים בימות הגשמים.”

We have four seasons, Autumn/fall, winter, spring and summer, we call them:

תקופת תשרי, תקופת טבת, תקופת ניסן ותקופת תמוז.

As we are dealing with seasons, they are fixed by the solar calendar.

Tkufat Nissan – 21st March (length of day and night equal)

Tkufat Tamuz – 21st June (the longest day)

Tkufat Tishrei   – 23rd September (length of day and night equal)

Tkufat Tevet – 21st December (the shortest day).

Rashi in Mesechet Rosh Hashana 21a explains the saying of Rav Huna:

“ואביב הוא יום תקופת ניסן, שניסן של חמה נכנס בו, שניסן קרוי אביב על שם בישול התבואה, ובישול התבואה אינו אלא לחשבונה של חמה, שהקיץ והחורף אחר חשבון החמה הם, […] ואילו היה תקופת ניסן ביום חמשה עשר – לא היינו צריכין לעבר את השנה, אלא נעבר אדר ונדחה את ניסן יום אחד, ותפול התקופה ביום ארבעה עשר, אבל כשהיא באה ביום ששה עשר בניסן – לא די לן בעיבורו של אדר, וצריכה השנה להתעבר […].”

And the Rambam writes on this matter:

(רמב”ם הלכות קידוש החודש פרק ד הלכה ב)

“על שלשה סימנין מעברין את השנה, על התקופה ועל האביב ועל פירות האילן, כיצד? בית דין מחשבין ויודעין אם תהיה תקופת ניסן בששה עשר בניסן או אחר זמן זה מעברין אותה השנה, ויעשו אותו ניסן אדר שני כדי שיהיה הפסח בזמן האביב [שהוא 30 יום הראשונים של תקופת ניסן], ועל סימן זה סומכין ומעברין ואין חוששין לסימן אחר.” 

Tkufat Nisan starts on 21st March must start by the 14th of Nisan. If it starts on the 15th we add one day to Adar, and if it starts on the 16th or later we make it a leap year and add the second Adar, otherwise Passover will not be celebrated in the spring, which is the first month of Tkufat Nisan.

Let us take for example this year – 5776. If we did not add the second Adar, the 14th of Nisan, would fall on the 24th of March, which is within the first month of Tkufat Nisan, and Passover would be celebrated in the month of spring. Did we have to add, according to Rashi, the Rambam or the Talmud, the second Adar to the calendar this year? Do we celebrate Passover this year in the first month of spring? 

חג מצות שמח.

Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopes-Cardozo on the Hagodo

I’m amazed at Dr Cardozo’s  latest piece. You can read it. I found it facile. I will summarise my reaction

  1. We are the people of the book. It is called the Torah. It can’t be “read” away. It is immutable.
  2. There purposely has always been an oral component, handed down at Sinai. We don’t need Plato for the insight of reading and understanding.
  3. The text is called HAGODO which means “telling/saying”. In other words, the point is dialogue. The text is the starting point. Not having a locus to commence from leads to the neo style evenings which turn Pesach into yet another commemoration of the Holocaust, something Rav Soloveitchik railed against vociferously. The left will of course humanise the story of Jews and turn it into “the evening of social justice” where we commemorate Darfur, Slavery, and what have you. Sorry. This is about Yetzias Mitzrayim which is indelibly woven both rationally and Kabbalistically  with Matan Torah. Matan Torah is what it’s all about. The former, Pesach, is the journey.
  4. Reading doesn’t require verbalising. The Hagodo does as he notes, but doesn’t amplify
  5. Rebbi Yehuda Hanosi wasn’t concerned with pharmakon! He was concerned that the oral discussions not be lost. Learning Gemora is the quintessential exercise in trying to piece together any contradictory mesoras that were transmitted
  6. I’m not at all clear what Dr Cardozo’s message means in the context of an audience that doesn’t understand the basics of what was written, and to expand that into dialogue. As I alluded to above, this is not ab nihilo. The Baal Hagodo gave us a starting point. If one isn’t even at the level of the starting point, then the starting point becomes exactly what should be taught this year, so that new insights are introduced in the following year. The beginning is most definitely reading and more reading and more reading. We most definitely do start from a point. It is called Mesora.
So much for Plato


Methodologies to attract members: ARK — revised

Over the weekend, I was strongly encouraged  to repost my article. I had one comment which was valid in retrospect, and I am taking that fully into account in this revision. I was not aware, but a number of people have mentioned that R’ Shneur Zalman Waks is involved in conversions, including one involving the marriage of a Cohen. I was informed he has his own Beth Din and does not involve the Melbourne Beth Din. That’s not to say his conversions are invalid. I can’t give an opinion without knowing details. If anyone knows, do tell. We have RMG Rabi’s Beth Din which does conversions, R Schneur Zalman’s ARK Beth Din for conversion, Adass which has always been separatist, in addition to the standard and fully internationally accepted Melbourne Beth Din. In my opinion, a community should only have one Beth Din and it should be modelled on the Melbourne Beth Din, with its checks and balances from a lay committee, including a separation from money issues.

The original reason for this post, however, was that someone sent me emails that Shneur Zalman sends to his ARK community (of which I know little) and I’m commenting on the last one that I received.

Shneur Zalman of ARK, is someone who is different and seemingly diverse. That, in of itself, isn’t a problem provided he is sincere and maintains a fidelity to strict Halacha. I’ve decided to intersperse commentary on his most recent article because I found it vexing. The quotes below are verbatim from what was sent to me.

Growing up in a strictly Chabad home in the days before internet meant that my information sources were rather limited. We weren’t allowed to listen to radio, watch television, or read ‘secular’ books, so I became a Jewish History buff.

This is a questionable representation. There are plenty, including Rabbis, who were and stay intimately involved in many issues and who have strongly different views than Shneur Zalman. The statement that bothers me is that it is crafted to convince ARK congregants that Shneur was born into a prison-like idyllic “crown heights” or “kfar chabad” standard Chabad home of a most orthodox type. This has been a matter of discussion by members of that family itself. I do not know if ARK members have been exposed to counter claims. This is contextually important.

Shneur Waks and wife Lisa

The issue of Chabad in particular is profoundly misplaced. All ultra orthodox groups encourage minimisation of interaction with the outside world unless necessary.  Of all the ultra groups who have a higher percentage who are exposed to the outside world, Chabad is clearly the one most exposed and experienced (and pilloried as a result). That being said, it might be that Shneur Zalman’s  parents had no hidden TV or other devices, and a computer was locked for use for “business” purposes. I do not know. Perhaps he was denied access to the world.

It is ironic though that Shneur Zalman’s claimed TV and Radio-avoiding family chose to agree many years ago and feature in full length documentaries for SBS about how they get on with life!  I assume these were motivated primarily for the benefit of the non Orthodox and gentiles who do watch TV and whom the family they wished to influence to adopt their “idyllic Amish-like lifestyle?  I’m sure the parents felt this was prototypical Chabad Chasidism encouraging others to have double-digit children while demonstrating how it could be done with dynamic results. My band members (non Jewish, watched it with incredulity). Maybe this was a form of outreach, though, using the very medium Shneur Zalman claims was discouraged to engage with. I assume Shneur Zalman was part of that documentary. Based on his description, he might appeared like a rabbit in bright lights not knowing anything about the outside world, save his claim to be a self-made “Jewish History buff”, appearing bewildered by the brouhaha.  I have not seen the video, as the topic per se had never been of interest to me.

From my religious study I already knew about the suffering of the Jews as they were enslaved by the Egyptians, nearly annihilated by the Persians, and oppressed by the Greeks and Romans. But added to that I discovered the long history of Christian antisemitism; peaking during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Pogroms, and of course culminating in the devastating Holocaust.

Shneur Zalman has been selective. He implies that his “History buff” knowledge informed him of Xtian antisemitism, the inquisition, pogroms and the holocaust, but these were denied by his education. I find this derisorious. All these events save the last, are covered in formal long lamentations  on Tisha B’Av, and spoken about on Pesach. Either Kinos wasn’t said, or understood, or Shneur Zalman met teachers throughout his entire Jewish education who always put a full stop at the Roman Conquest.

Everyone is aware of the Holocaust, including the ultra orthodox  and the survivors who occupied the pews. Does Shneur Zalman not know what happened because of his religious upbringing at home?. Even Satmar knows!

Shneur Zalman is disingenuous about modern-day events. He most definitely would have heard how his namesake was persecuted by the Communists and dreaded NKVD. Strangely, Shneur Zalman doesn’t seem to mention the systematic attempts at destroying Torah Judaism to eradicate the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. The Nazis attempted it physically, the Soviets were happy if one abandoned Judaism spiritually and adopted a (ironically Jewish sourced) Stalinism or Marxism, that considered a Jewish text, to be poison and to be eradicated.

Shneur Zalman tells us that

I read every book I could get my hands on which told the story of the darkest years in human history and heard the story from the mouths of many survivors. When we then sang the Vehi Sheamda on Seder night, which basically translates that in every generation there are those who want to kill us, it was felt in a most immediate fashion.

Shneur Zalman’s  own Chabad School has a very good free lending library almost next door to his house. Are we to assume that his parents forbade him to borrow books from that library (let alone his excellent School library) or perhaps they they vetted the books lest they would corrupt their son with hatred to those hell-bent on killing Jews at any time or place? I think not. Is Shneur Zalman being purposefully disingenuous here or just tardy? I’m not sure.

I surmise that Shneur Zalman is  naïve  if he considers himself a “Jewish history buff” and yet could write

At some point I came to question the point of this message. Granted, we should never be complacent about antisemitism. We have suffered too deeply to be so naïve. But I personally never experienced antisemitism. Sure there were Saturday morning drunks who could scream out “bloody Jew”, but to rate that at all would be to belittle the traumas inflicted on our people. So what relevance does the story of antisemitism have to me, my generation, and the ones younger?

How did Shneur Zalman know that only drunks screamed this message from their fast-moving car? Is he superman with X-ray vision?

It is incredulous that anyone could emerge as a self-proclaimed ” Jewish History buff” and yet feel that because in the short cloistered walk of 1 minute from his house to his School (remember, he claims he was forbidden to be exposed to the real world) he concluded that people who called out “bloody jew” in that moment, were not hard-core anti-Semites. What a strange intuition. It in fact contradicts the beginning of each and every blood bath the Jews faced. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that they all started with small voices of “bloody Jew” and then grew into a society unfettered by morals and ethics proceeding to death and destruction. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that if he took a number plate and reported it to the police that those who said those things would be prosecuted for hate crime? Was Shneur Zalman blind and deaf  to a prominent incident, next door to his home, where one of his chassidic colleagues was beaten by off-duty police. It was all over the papers and the talk of the centre. Did Shneur Zalman miss the articles or was he forbidden to read them.

I contrast that with my experience which is philosophically diametrically opposed

Walking with my father to Elwood Shule, we stood in the middle of Brighton Road on the tram tracks. A car load of “young and restless” passed us, rolled down their window, and called out “Bloody Jews”. To me, standing next to my elderly father, a holocaust survivor, this was simply not on. I took off on a fast run down the tram tracks of Brighton Road in my suit, hoping that their car would be stopped by a red light. Luckily, it was. I reached their car, thumped hard on their window and bonnet. Startled, they turned their heads and heard me yell at the top of my voice.

If you filthy scumbag anti Semites ever say that again, I will smash your bones and report you to the police. Don’t ever take a Jew lightly. I will break every bone in your body if you dare say that again

I went to the same school as Shneur Zalman. I don’t attribute my then reaction to the school in totality, let alone should Shneur Zalman be insinuating that his lack of understanding of the beginnings of anti-Semitism had anything to do with his home or his school. This was Shneur Zalman’s  reaction, and his alone. His sad misunderstanding of anti-Semitism, is there for all to I see in that paragraph.

By the way, my father later asked me why I reacted with such crazed venom. I explained that precisely because of the message of Pesach and his place as a survivor, I for one was not ever going to be a  Jew who minimised such vituperation in the way that Shneur Zalman seemingly professed to his ARK community in tame words and wonderful sculptures.

A wedding at ARK. (I’m not sure who the second witness is, based on this picture)

Jumping back to where Shneur Zalman was heading, he informs us

The most prominent response I came across when I was younger was that we should never trust the Goy. We were even taught in the first chapter of the Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad philosophy written by my namesake, that non-Jews are inherently incapable of good deeds, that whatever seemingly kind acts they perform are for their own selfish gain.

I see this as sloganeering. The lack of definition and intentional misrepresentation is breathtaking. Firstly, he claims this was the most “prominent” response. Response to what? Response to anti-Semitism? What is the context of trust here? Was it trust in business? Trust in Tae Kwan do? Even a young Shneur Zalman would know that this is not manifestly practiced by any ultra orthodox people (who may have more tangles in business with many Jews than they do with non Jews.)

What was he getting at, I thought? Was he saying that he was taught that a non-Jew was more likely to thrust a knife in his back than a Jew? If so, statistics would say that this is entirely correct whether one is ultra orthodox or not. Does Shneur Zalman not know of a gentile reporter who recently donned a Yarmulka and found that this immediately made him a magnet of hate, violence, and derision. Heck, the reporter was featured everywhere.

Does Shneur Zalman still not read the popular press? Perhaps he subscribes to the doctrine that it’s all because of the “settlements”. I guess the prime settlement of Tel Aviv, which is still claimed by Hamas and their ilk as the problem as well as the mere existence of Jews? Or perhaps Shneur Zalman sides with Neturei Karta or Mahmoud Abbas, that a Jewish homeland, should never exist? Alternatively, he might be one of the mixed up clerics who think that sharing bread and holding hands with clerics of other religions espousing “social justice” will solve the latent hate blatantly expressed in the texts of their religions, while clasping hands for photo ops. Will Shneur Zalman change that? It has never solved anything. I don’t see a “Jewish history buff”.

Now, I do not profess to have more than a simple passing knowledge of Chabad metaphysics as described in Tanya, but I do know that it is not a Shulchan Aruch as Shneur Zalman had his ARK members misunderstand. One of its tenets, which isn’t universally held (I hope Shneur Zalman is able to transmit authentic  other Orthodox approaches and that he isn’t still in the “imprisoned cloistered” youth that he painted, Tanya is a collection of older texts rewritten coherently and beautifully. Jews do have an element of Neshama that non-Jews do not. The oldies used to call it the “pintlele yid”. This has ramifications to understanding conversion, and whilst it most certainly is a valid understanding of Judaism, I’d hope Shneur Zalman isn’t on some populist anti-Chabad rant  presenting it as the only  Orthodox approach to understanding the metaphysics of the soul. It seems that Shneur Zalman either forgot, or chose not to mention many Talmudic statements which, if understood in a simple way are far more contentious. More importantly, projecting other Orthodox approaches would be a great idea if he didn’t “like” the Tanya’s sources.

What I can say without any doubt is that his namesake was an absolute giant of an intellect on par with the Gaon of Vilna, and was possessed with a love of Jews and the future of Judaism that was legendary. That he chose sides in the Russian/French non-Jewish conflict is remarkable. Perhaps Shneur Zalman should tell his ARKers about how his name sake  made the right choice and that almost single-handedly saved Soviet Jewry from obliteration. To this day, moderate Rabbis such as Rabbi Riskin make kiddush on Vodka on Shabbos because of the incredible legacy that Shneur Zalman’s  name sake left in Russia. Shneur Zalman will readily admit he isn’t a boot lace compared to his name sake: either in matters of standard Jewish Law, or in matters of Jewish Metaphysics or as a Jewish History buff. Is there anybody today?

Next Shneur Zalman makes what seems to be a leap of logic from his earlier statement, that confounds understanding.

But that is a very depressing message. Moreover, it contradicts our experience. And most importantly, that message is precisely the message propounded by the most evil of people. I mean isn’t that precisely what Hitler was saying in the inverse? Surely that can’t be the moral of the story.

Shneur Zalman, it would be profoundly incorrect to assume that every non-Jew is an anti Semite. It would also be wrong to assume that many non Jews are indeed anti semitic but it’s definitely on the rise. I have personally experienced it in today’s age of the culturally sophisticated.

Hitler? Has Shneur missed out ? Has he taught ARK about Amalek? We read it today in Shule. I know of no Jewish gangs who take baseball bats to Lakemba or Coburg with the aim of obliterating Lebanese Muslim anti-Semites who openly say Jews should all die (as does Hamas). Again, perhaps Shneur Zalman has not caught up with current events? He seems to live in a utopian but unrealistic world.

Over the last two weeks, ARK Centre has been hosting an incredible exhibition put on by Courage to Care that provides an answer to this question most profoundly and resolutely. We must remember the suffering of our people not in order to perpetuate trauma but to learn the evils of bigotry and what happens when good people stand by and allow it to happen. We must learn to be up-standers, not by-standers!

The exhibition contained a number of evocative pieces. The one that affected me most deeply was a piece by an incredibly inspiring, youthful, and optimistic, 89 Year old Sarah Saaroni. It is a sculpture of Dr Janusz Korczak, a paediatrician and head of an orphanage, who had an opportunity to save himself but decided to stay with the children as they were gassed to death. In the sculpture he is holding, embracing, and comforting a dozen children or so as they are standing in the gas chamber. The image really is heart wrenching and now, as a father of two beautiful children I love so dearly, it really is difficult to process.

But the sculpture is more than a statement about the unbelievable depravity of the Nazis who could do this to pure children. It is a tribute to the spiritual depth of the doctor who, in the midst of absolute darkness, was able to radiate a beam of holiness, of love. His facial expression left me, and I dare say anyone who sees it, with a sense of warmth and serenity.

I’m not sure how Shneur Zalman’s  religious education seems to have forgotten the concept of the other Chassidim. Yes, the חסידי אומות העולם.  The righteous gentiles. Note: they are called Chassidim, Shneur Zalman.

I do hope Shneur Zalman exposes ARK to that concept. It was there well before the cultured sculptures, and has a history as long as the history of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, his namesake writes about them and their reward in the world to come. Is Shneur Zalman trying to turn  his congregation into populist left-wing tree huggers? Let Shneur Zalman break bread and condemn Senator Lee Rhiannon of the loony greens to ARK. Would he? Perhaps he should remind ARK about German Jewry who were more German than the Germans, and that it did not help them in the “advanced” socialist democracy of Germany.

Don’t misread me. I interacted with 400+ non Jewish alumni on my Facebook. I didn’t have family or friends on facebook. I recently lent a significant amount of money to a non-Jewish colleague who had to fly back from overseas because her father and uncle dropped dead. The message I give Shneur Zalman is, rather than the seemingly post-modern one he is giving ARK, one can be centrist orthodox with an absolute fidelity to Halacha and live in this world peacefully, especially with tolerant non Jews. I can tell Shneur Zalman, that if I ever meet an intolerant or anti semitic type who threatens me overtly or covertly, I turn into a different persona. I don’t sit down to “break bread” with them. I know exactly with what I am dealing, and any “Jewish history buff” will affirm this.

Shneur Zalman writes:

This is a message that is so relevant and extremely positive. This is, in fact, what the Jewish tradition is all about. We are not the Chosen People of a superior race as I was taught. Rather we are a people who have, unfortunately, experienced immense suffering as a result of bigotry and the absence of enough up-standers in our midst. This experience of being a stranger in a strange land endlessly persecuted compels us to be the preachers of light; to declare that all human beings are created in the image of God and, therefore, all equally deserve to be treated with compassion, dignity, and humanity.

To the whole team at Courage to Care, thank you for your vision and dedication to fulfil it.

With hope and prayer that we internalise this message and turn our horrible history into a reservoir of inspiration to become more sensitive and caring human beings especially to those who are very different to us.

I couldn’t disagree more with this contorted configuration of childhood and this message. My own family was saved by righteous gentiles who were honoured in Yad Vashem. I have visited them. For close to 70 years, the extended Balbin family still sends all our surplus clothes to their extended family. A number of their family are anti Semites. They hid the fact that they saved Jews. When the husband of the girl found out, he beat his wife constantly. She held it a secret for some 30 years because she knew he was a depraved anti-Semite. We send them money and medicine too. (One of the family couldn’t even stand being in the room with me and my father, and left). This, despite the heroic efforts of his mother and her father). Some morality!

In short Shneur Zalman, I find this newsletter message rather populist, misleading, and simple. I’d rather if it was more learned and candid and more informed and realistic. The simple reading of history today, actually matches the claimed simple education Shneur Zalman claims to have received!

He didn’t receive a simple education.

He sounds populist.

Is he a member of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria?

If not, why not?

Why doesn’t he  break bread with them and convince them of his views and how they conform with Halacha. This is the Rabbinic way.

I take that back if he does not consider himself or ARK Orthodox.

Bnei Brak rabbi calls for gefilte fish boycott

The following article is from Yediot. I’m assuming it’s correct as it quotes Hamodia, the Haredi newspaper.

What’s holy about gefilte fish as opposed to Shmura Matza? The latter costs a fortune, and so many impoverished families struggle to find the money to buy them even with Maos Chittin contributions. In regards to Shmura Matza, even the [just as kosher, if not better] machine variety costs at least $11 a box in Melbourne. Why? I saw that in Johannesburg, Rakusen’s Machine Shmura Matza was going for some $3.50. Is it also under the BaDatz? Why the variance? Yes, it is meritorious to have meat (is chicken enough?) and wine on Yom Tov, but apart from the “Basar Vedagim Vchol Mataamim” is someone not Yotze Yom Tov (Pesach) without Gefilte fish?

In Melbourne, the cheapest way is to do it yourself, and buy whole fish from the market, but these days, everyone buys those logs (which you probably have to wash for, except on Pesach when they don’t add flour, which is perhaps why they are either more expensive or smaller). All this to avoid Hilchos Borer and bones in fish? Eat some veggies instead if it’s too expensive. or simple egg and onion (hopefully you aren’t paying a fortune for egg shells that don’t have ink on them)

Although I don’t have a problem with Rabonim getting involved in saving Jews money: Indeed, I think a number of Chassidic Rabbis have declared that one should not buy real fur Shtreimlach or Spodiks, I don’t buy all of this brouhaha until such time as the money side of Hashgochas are all managed by lay bodies of unimpeachable honest professionals. No Rav, especially today when Emunas Chachomim is at a low ebb, should be involved with money, except as part of a set wage and the books should be open to all. By all means, build in KPIs and reward, but never because you give a hechsher, as this is prone to corruption.

Where would the relatively tiny BaDatz be if they opened their books. What a ridiculous situation we have when you buy something and it has three hechsherim on it. Why? It’s all business, and not Kashrus. It’s the same with private hashgochas (as we regretably have in Melbourne, and which are not trusted by the majority of orthodox Jewry).

If people would worry at least as much about what comes out of their mouths, as what goes in them, we’d have a much happier world.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern issues unusual halachic ruling in bid to prevent stores from charging exaggerated prices for carp fish ahead of Passover.
Akiva Novick
Published: 03.23.14, 01:41 / Israel Jewish Scene
An unusual halachic ruling published Wednesday calls for a consumer boycott on carp fish and the traditional gefilte fish dish, in a bid to prevent fish merchants from charging exaggerated prices ahead of the Passover Seder.

In about three weeks, the Jewish people will gather around the table for the Seder meals. Many homes, particularly Ashkenazi ones, will enjoy a dish of ground carp with a piece of carrot on top – also known as gefilte fish. Yet quite a few stores have the habit of raising the price of that particular fish right before the holiday.
A halachic ruling issued by Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern of Bnei Brak seeks to prevent that from happening. The rabbi is calling for a gefilte fish boycott, stating that “all halachic rulers believe that the unfair exaggerated raising of prices must be stopped.”

The ruling, which was published in ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia, explains that after receiving information on fish prices, the rabbi suggested “a regulation of the generation’s great sages to forbid the purchase of fish for a limited period of time, until all those involved understand that they must back down on the unjustified price hike and reduce the prices to a reasonable and appropriate level.”

The rabbi further describes how one of the rebbes of the Chabad Hasidic movement announced a fish boycott hundreds of years ago, which lasted about two months.

According to Yehuda Ashlag, who owns a Bnei Brak delicatessen called “Leibale,” gefilte fish sales soar every year ahead of Passover. “It’s really part of the holiday tradition,” he says. “Some people cannot do without gefilte on Passover, and the sellers use it to their advantage. I personally don’t raise the price,” he says.

Aviad Nurieli, a fishpond worker in northern Israel, says that “it’s all a matter of supply and demand, and these are the market rules.”

A concise guide to the basic laws of the Korban Pesach

This is one of many works by Reuven Brauner of Ra’anana (who is married to a cousin of ours on my mother’s side)

I recommend you download it, if you have an interest. It is in English and can be downloaded here

Maos Chittin and the definition of requirements

Here is my question for today. We know that there is a Mitzvah on everyone of us (unless we are destitute so to speak) to donate money for Chittim before Pesach for the needy people of our city.

As we know, the price of Shmura Matza is going up each year. I’ve even heard that “Brisker” Matzos cost $50 a pound. This is perhaps a new definition of Lechem Oni, bread which makes one poor.

Now, technically, it’s the first night (and sometimes second) that Minhag Yisrael is to have Matza Shmura. Standard Kosher Matza suffices for the rest of Pesach, although there is no command to actually eat Matza if you don’t want to after that.

What does a Maos Chittin fund do if the recipient specifies that they will not eat anything but Matza Shmura for the entire Pesach, and they are accustomed to Matza X for this purpose. Do they have to provide this to the recipient as per Dinei Tzedaka, or do we say this is different?

It could be argued that if the recipient normally eats Matza Shmura and doesn’t on the later days of Pesach, then they might have to have Hatoras Nedorim (annul a vow) because after having a Chazaka of a Chumrah/practice, it becomes like a vow/Neder.

On the other hand, one might also argue that Matza Shmura does not need to be hand baked (some, as we know are machmir not to have hand baked for kashrus reasons, and others are machmir to only have hand baked for the reasons of Lishmo (for the Mitzvah of Matzo which they don’t feel is satisfied by utterances at the time of pushing a button on a machine)

Would it be acceptable halachically to use machine shmura for those in need for Chol Hamoed and the last days? After all, you don’t need Lishmo then, do you? Or do you say that the implicit Neder applies to the Cheftza of a particular style of Matzo? What if a fund could feed more people this way or provide more to a particular family this way?

Of course, one could annul their implicit vow, but we’d not want a person to do so unless there was no choice.

Kosher LePesach Eggs

Some are concerned that the ink stamps, when boiled, will permeate the pot, and the allegedly chametz part of the ink will make the food Chametz.

Is this a scam?

The international beis din lohoroh notes:

The Shulchan Aruch (442:10) writes that there is no problem in using ink made from chametz, and the Mishnah Berurah (44) explains that the ink is inedible and that there is therefore no problem in using it.

The Mishnah Berurah writes that one must not intentionally eat the ink, but eggs that are stamped will not be considered “intentionally eating ink” even if they are cooked with the ink (see also Shulchan Aruch HaRav 442:34).

The London Beth Din notes:

The ink used to print on eggs is made from two components, a colouring agent and the solvent. The colouring agent is purely synthetic and does not present a problem for Passover.

The solvents most commonly employed are isopropanol, ethanol or a combination of both. The solvent is of such nature, that within a fraction of a second after applying the stamp, it completely evaporates. A moist stamp would lead to unwanted smudges.
It is therefore very safe to assume, that not a trace of solvent remains within a short time of application to the egg. To sum up:
It is not certain if ethanol is used in stamping eggs. Even if ethanol is used, it is not certain that it is wheat derived.
Even if wheat derived ethanol was used, none of it remains after the ink has dried and it no longer constitutes part of the ink.

The OU have paskened:

Q. Is there a problem to use eggs that have a stamp on them on Pesach?

A. One can use eggs with a stamp on them on Pesach without concern.

And yet, we hear about people looking for unstamped eggs, or in Israel, eggs made with KLP ink and a Mashgiach watching each stamp occur, thereby raising the price. Why? Is this an example of a Shtus Chumra?

Quinoa on Pesach (again)

I have pitputed about this in the past. At the OU, the two senior Poskim are Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Yisroel Belsky. They agree on most things. Let me state first, that my personal posek (on matters that are complex and/or not clear in Shulchan Aruch etc) is Rav Schachter, so I do have a bias. On very rare occasions, I have not “understood” the reasoning of a Psak, but I am not a Posek, and he is, and so I listen. That’s our Mesora. That’s what we are meant to do.

As the article from the JTA below shows, they disagree on Quinoa. My earlier views on this matter happily are consonant with Rav Schachter’s Psak. The OU however as a policy will follow the stricter opinion of the two Rabonim disagree. There is in fact a private kuntres, in the spirit of Milchamto Shel Torah, where the two give formal Psokim and their reasoning, for the occasions where they disagree. I haven’t seen it. The kuntres is only available to recognised Rabonim who are formally or informally affiliated with the OU standards.

Kosher Australia (correctly in my opinion) advises people to check with their own Rabbi about Kitniyos, and notes that it doesn’t approve/use Quinoa in any of its own supervised products for Pesach.

Personally, if someone in Melbourne, brought in supervised Quinoa (eg from the Star K), I’d have absolutely no problem consuming it.

By Chavie Lieber · March 11, 2013

NEW YORK (JTA) — On any given day, a wind might blow through the farmlands of South America, pick up an errant grain of barley and deposit it nearby among the vast rows of cultivated quinoa. If that barley manages to make its way into a sifted batch of quinoa, and avoid detection during repackaging, it could wind up gracing your seder table on Passover night.

However dubious it might seem, the scenario is among the reasons that the world’s largest kosher certification agency is refusing to sanction quinoa for Passover consumption, potentially depriving Jewish consumers of a high-fiber, protein-rich staple that many have come to rely on during the weeklong holiday.

The Orthodox Union announced last year that it would not certify quinoa as kosher for Passover out of concern that quinoa falls into the category of kitniyot, a group of legumes forbidden because they look similar to grains proscribed on the holiday.

Menachem Genack, the CEO of O.U. Kosher, also cited the danger of quinoa crops grown in close proximity to wheat and barley fields.

Star-K, a rival kosher certification company based in Baltimore, has been certifying quinoa as Passover-friendly for years and dismisses what it sees as an outlandish prohibition.

“Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed decisor of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume.”

Long a staple of the Andean diet, quinoa has earned a reputation as “the mother of all grains,” celebrated for its high nutrient quality and as an alternative for those following a gluten-free diet. But quinoa is not a grain at all. It’s a member of the goosefoot family, and closely related to spinach and beets.

On Passover — when wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley are all prohibited — quinoa has emerged as a popular substitute.

That could change, however, with the world’s major kosher certifier refusing to give quinoa its Passover seal of approval.

“We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused,” Genack said. “It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the O.U. for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”

The O.U.’s non-endorsement is the result of a debate within the organization’s own ranks.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, the head of Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and a consulting rabbi for the O.U., maintains that quinoa qualifies as kitniyot because it’s used in a manner similar to forbidden grains. Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the heads of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school and also an O.U. consultant, agrees with Rosen that the category of kitniyot should not be expanded.

Rosen said the Star-K certifies only the quinoa that has no other grains growing nearby. This year, for the first time, the company sent supervisors to South America to supervise the harvesting, sifting and packaging of the product.

“Whenever there’s a new age food, there’s always a fight between kosher factions,” Rosen said. “But we should be worrying about other things, like all the cookies, pizzas and noodles that are Passover certified but appear to be chametz. Quinoa is the least of our problems.”

The O.U. is recommending that kosher consumers look to their local rabbis for guidance on the quinoa question. But for Eve Becker, risking a rabbinic prohibition on a staple food probably won’t sit too well in her house. A Jewish food blogger who maintains a strictly gluten-free kitchen because her daughter has Celiac disease, Becker said quinoa is one of the most important foods.

“It’s a tiny powerhouse packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, and it’s an important grain alternative, especially on Passover,” Becker said. “It’s great to have it on Passover instead of the usual potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Most of the Passover foods just end up tasting like Passover, so we rely on quinoa to be that side staple.”

Ilana S., a mother of two who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said she trusts the O.U. and will refrain, begrudingly, from buying quinoa this Passover.

“These rabbis are always changing their minds, so I’m confident they’ll have a new statement next year,” she said. “Until then, its only eight days.”

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