It’s easier to execute blessings than to represent a congregation

This might seem to be an odd topic to discuss but I will do so briefly as it comes up from time to time. The interested reader really should learn the laws in Orach Chaim 128 about a Cohen and Orach Chaim 53 about one who wishes to become a Chazan and lead the prayers.

A fundamental difference between the two is that the male who leads the prayers is a representative of the entire congregation. As such, if this is someone who is known to have sinned and has not repented faithfully then they should not be asked to lead the service. Of course, there is nobody who doesn’t sin. We are humans. The Halacha however focusses on someone who isn’t fit by virtue of them being known as doing the wrong thing when that “thing” is a more grave infraction. For example, someone who profanes Shabbos in public is not a person who we allow to be our chosen representative to lead the prayers. (I’m aware that there are Poskim who say that our generation is different and their breaking the Shabbos should not be seen as in the days of yore, however, this does not mean that we choose that person to lead the prayers!) There are many examples: someone who is married and is known to frequent other women is not permitted to lead the prayers; someone who has stolen money and not returned it, should not lead the prayers; someone who is unscrupulous in business etc. The list goes on. In general, the Gabbai (beadle) of a Shule chooses people who have requisite qualities (fear of heaven, being over 30, ideally married, understand what they say and be able to say it well, are capable of growing a beard, have children etc) as opposed to those with a serious question mark. Where there is an issue, one chooses a learned and pious person to lead the prayers, even if they have a poor (but not annoying) voice. Ideally, the voice should also be pleasant to listen to, unless there is nobody else. There is some subjectivity, and this is often an issue where a Gabbay must diplomatically consult the Rabbi. If someone questionable, who has not genuinely repented, insists on leading the prayers in honour of a Yohr Tzeit, this can become most unpleasant. Indeed, our Rabbis teach us that if the person leading the prayers has a serious question mark  concerning them, then all the blessings they make on behalf of the congregation metamorphose into curses (God forbid).

The Cohen is also performing a mini-leading of sorts. The Cohen, however, represents God in the Cohen’s positive Torah command to bless the congregation.  He and his fellow Cohanim are bound by various laws that pertain to their suitability. For example, they should not have killed. [ An interesting question arises about the Cohen who is a soldier in the army. In Israel today, there is in my mind no doubt that each war is a מלחמת מצווה, a war where Israel’s very survival is at stake, and for which even a Groom joins in the defence effort. Defence however entails attack and attack inevitably leads to killing another person.] Another issue is Cohanim with physical defects, but it is not my intent to agglomerate all the laws here.

One interesting qualifier of the Cohen is that when he blesses the congregation, this should be through a blessing of Ahavah; that is a love of their fellow Jew/congregation. A congregation that is unable to remove negative thoughts about a particular Cohen needs to make sure that this Cohen not bless them as part of a group of Cohanim who are blessing. The Aruch Hashulchan (128:21) explains the love pre-requisite of the priestly blessing based on the Zohar.

“Any Cohen who can’t bring himself to have Rachmonus (mercy) on the congregation that he blesses, or about whom the congregation can not muster Rachmonus on him” (should find another community to bless.)

This is brought by the Magen Avraham in his gloss 18 ibid.

In other words, without being able to feel Rachmonus on a community there can be no bounded blessing based on love between the Cohen as God’s representative and that community and that Cohen should bless a community where he does find himself comfortable. Rachmonus is needed because it is rare to discover a congregation where there isn’t a single congregant about whom a Cohen has some doubts, and vice versa.

It is likely a truism, that most people, including Cohanim, feel odium towards the behaviour of some of their fellow congregants. It may even be directly mutual. The key, however, is whether a Cohen is able to concentrate on a community and have positive feelings while he acts as a conduit to blessing the people on behalf of God. If he finds himself unable to muster Rachmonus, most certainly, he should try to remove this impediment in his character. If he cannot stop his thoughts wandering negatively, and the positive feelings do not envelope his blessings, then it is better that he not bless that congregation. At the end of the day, the Cohen is blessed by God himself, on account of the Cohen blessing the people.

He who leads prayers, however, is a single person, who must represent, all the people. In this way, his acts and past acts can serve to invalidate him from performing such representation.

Those who were not born with a voice that is appreciated by others generally don’t get asked and therefore don’t face this challenge of representative acceptance. Fobbing off the Gabbai when trying to avoid being chosen to lead the congregation, as its chosen representative, is also not encouraged.

What should a congregant do if he is convinced that a particular Shaliach Tzibbur is of dubious character? One should consult their Local Competent Orthodox Rabbi for advice.

What should a congregant do if they loathe a particular Cohen who is blessing the congregation? Again, they should ask, although they do have the option of leaving the Synagogue at that time.

These are most uncomfortable situations. Ideally, someone who has not performed as God would want, will confess and repent. A(n angry) Cohen who is unable to muster a feeling of congregational positivity-call it an attachment to the Tzelem Elokim of each Jew if you like-should also ask themselves whether they should be one of the group blessing that congregation.

[Please remember: nothing I write should be misconstrued as a replacement for consulting one’s Halachic decisor/Posek]

How do you deal with the name Zelig זעליג?

This sounds like a strange heading for a blog post. Let me explain. In the last few months, we merited having two grandsons born to my younger two daughters. They and their husbands named both their sons Shaul Zelig, שאול זעליג after my dear father ז׳ל. I was honoured and, of course, this was due to my father’s very close relationship with each and every one of his grandchildren.

In the 1600’s, Rav Eliyahu Shapira in his famous work Eliyahu Rabo, quotes the Beis Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, that just before saying the Oseh Shalom עושה שלום of Shemoneh Esreh, one should say a Pasuk from Tanach whose first letter corresponds to the first letter of one’s  name, and such that the passuk ends with the last letter of one’s name.

One of my sons-in-law, had quickly taken on the custom to say his new son’s Pesukim for both שאול and זעליג as well as his own, until his son was old enough to do so. The other soon followed. I did not know but he had asked some Rabonim in Shule because he could not find a single Passuk in Tanach which started with letter Zayin and ended with a Gimmel. Eventually, it was concluded, thanks to computers, that there was no such Passuk. The question then arose, so what does one say if they practice this custom?

The Arizal and the Shelah Hakadosh both write about this concept and the latter mentions in his Sefer, that it is a tool or device to help one after 120 years, when facing God, and when asked their name (this would be something mystical that is beyond me). We will be in fear and the saying of this Passuk will jog our memory from its expected momentary freeze. (Some say the Passuk 18 times by the way). It is clearly a Kabbalistic/Mystical notion, however, I am accustomed to saying my name as well, because that’s what I was taught when I was a boy, and assumed this was mainstream practice. I don’t know whether Germanic, Oberlander or other Ashkenazic traditions also have this Minhag/practice. I would imagine that Sephardim do.

Either way, the advice one son-in-law was given was a bit of a compromise. He was to say a passuk that had a word in it that began with zayin and ended in gimmel. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work. I saw some opinions that indeed suggest this.

I was intrigued when I learned about this reality and started scouring (I don’t have Bar Ilan or Otzar HaChochma databases though). I found that some have a custom to say one passuk which would starts with a Shin for Shaul and ended with a Gimel for Zelig. This was legitimately sourced, however, both my sons-in-law both follow the Chabad custom, so I set about to find out what, if anything, Chabad does in such a situation (or indeed any group that says two Pesukim for two names).

I immediately thought to ring Dayan Usher Zelig Weiss, Rav of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital and a world-famous Posek. After all, his middle name is Zelig, and I have spoken to him before. I got an answer almost immediately that the Passuk that should be used is:

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּֽיק

which is from Tehillim (112:4)

The reasoning is because in pronunciation the Gimel actually sounds like a Kuf. Indeed it does. I can still hear my father say it that way unwittingly.

Certainly, in Hilchos Gittin, where names and nicknames are most critical, I could see this as being significant. There are various theories about the origin of the name Zelig. In my father’s case (I surmise Dayan Usher Zelig Weiss, the Zelig was considered a coupled/translation of Osher (Usher) as in Dov Ber, Yehuda Aryeh Leib, Menachem Mendel, etc. I knew my father’s middle name came from his grandfather who was also called Osher (who was Yitzchak Osher Amzel or Reb Yitzchak Bogoshitzer) but since my father’s other grandfather was named Yitzchak, and was still alive, he couldn’t get the name Yitzchak Osher. I got the name Yitzchak later, as did my cousin Ya׳akov Yitzchak Balbin ז׳ל.

An oracular friend in the USA, Rabbi Michoel Seligson, sent me the following letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe in response to someone who asked exactly this question (it’s reprinted from a couple’s wedding booklet gift to their guests).

image001And to add, see
where the Kav Noki quotes the Mahari Mintz (need time to look at that) supporting equivalence as in soundex. Clearly, soundex was extended to the Possuk as well, as a device for memorisation.

Zelig more  recently was the same as Germanic Selik or Selig. Rabbi Selig Baumgarten comes to mind. Again, accents/pronunciation are evident. Zelig seems to be derived from Old German meaning “chosen” or “blessed”. It is also found in Old English and may have become the word “select“.

We also find it in Yiddish with this meaning  as in “a zointz un a zelig(ch)s”

Back to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I am intrigued by the last words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe above which state that this is the Pasuk “until you find an exact pasuk”. I thought to myself, there are a finite number of Pesukim. Either it exists or it doesn’t exist. What possibly could the Lubavitcher Rebbe have meant “until you find“. You’d never find it! One could surmise he was hinting that when saying Pesukim in general, never stop paying careful attention to each letter of each Passuk.

I had another thought, for which I have no support. The tradition is that when the Moshiach comes a “new Torah” will sprout תורה חדשה. Perhaps, given the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s single-minded focus on causing Moshiach to come sooner, he was hinting that such a Passuk may come into existence in times to come? I don’t know. I’m certainly not qualified to double guess what he meant. It might be an explanation.

Either way, I found it an interesting tidbit, especially for those who have the name זעליג!

Oh, and here are our two treasures:

img_5315

Pure Tipshus (stupidity)

[Hat tip BA]%d7%a9%d7%92%d7%a2%d7%95%d7%9f-%d7%9e%d7%a9%d7%99%d7%99%d7%97%d7%99%d7%a1%d7%98%d7%99-%d7%97%d7%93%d7%a9

I thought I’d seen just about everything, but this just goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Oh, and if you are wondering whether I’d call out a Tallis that had a Magen Dovid or something woven in the same way on the back, I would do so, if the purpose wasn’t decorative.

In my opinion, and I know this is shared by others in the main Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, the sign up the back has passed its use by date. Indeed, I heard Rabbi Telsner last week in a speech refer to the Lubavitcher Rebbe as Nishmoso Eden נ׳׳ע … given he is a Meshichist, my ears were sensitised. The final decision rests with Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner in my opinion, and it’s time the Shule was normalised to look like Shules always looked, without placards etc.

On my sole visit to 770, I didn’t go downstairs because that Minyan, the main minyan, is just surrounded by placards. Chabad agonise about putting a Tefilla on a wall as it’s not considered Minhag Chabad. Enough of this. If he turns out to be Moshiach, it doesn’t bother me. If it turns out that he’s not, then it doesn’t bother me. In the meanwhile can we give all this constant advertising and chanting a rest? If someone really feels that removing these things is tantamount to a cutting off of their Hiskashrus (connection) to the Rebbe and/or not recognising him as their Manhig, I’d suggest that they concentrate on being a proper Chassid and not being part of all this Chitzoniyus (external stuff) which you are more likely to find in the non-Jewish world, or on bill boards daily in Meah Shearim.

Move on. Bring Moshiach, but move on.

Should one bring young children to Shule?

I was lucky. In both houses that we lived in, we were literally 3-4 minutes walk from the Shule. I had a policy that if a child was to come to Shule and end up playing in the playground, then they would not assimilate the purpose of Shule. I therefore waited until a certain age (and that can change from child to child) and would rush out after Haftora and bring them to Shule to sit next to me quietly until the end of Davening. I don’t know whether my approach had any effect. I sometimes saw people come to Shule with toddlers and even babies and I wondered whether they were coming to Daven, or whether theirs was a combination baby sitting service so Mummy could recover perhaps on Shabbos morning with a good sleep. I never thought it was right. I used to get annoyed when little ones were making noise and the father was not even trying to control the child, or if the child couldn’t be controlled wouldn’t remove them from Shule until they had calmed down.

And yes, I know that there are opinions that in a year of Hakhel even the tiny children would come to hear the Torah recited.

With that in mind, I came across a responsum of Rabbi Re’eim Hacohen
Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi, Otniel, whom I don’t know. I copy it below for any comment. There is a Brisker Torah on Hakhel which I learned and have forgotten, I will look it up and follow-up with it tomorrow hopefully.

Question: Are we allowed to bring small children with us to a synagogue, or should this be avoided because they will often disturb the congregation?

Answer:

Everybody participated in the gathering at Mount Sinai and on the occasion of making the covenant in the book of Devarim, including the small children. It is written in the Torah portion of Yitro, “Be ready for the third day, for on the third day G-d will descend before the eyes of the entire nation on Mount Sinai” [Shemot 19:11]. And as is described in detail later on, “You are all standing today before your G-d… Your small children and your wives… from your woodchopper to the one who draws your water.” [Devarim 29:9-10]. In the passage of the mitzva of Hakhel, it is also written, “Gather the nation – men, women, and small children… so that they will hear and they will learn, and they will fear your G-d” [Devarim 31:12].

Happy is the One who Gave Birth to Him

The Talmud Yerushalmi expands the idea of Mount Sinai, and explicitly views the bringing of young children to the Beit Midrash favorably:

“It happened that the sages came to see Rabbi Dossa Ben Herkines… He saw Rabbi Yehoshua and declared, ‘Who will teach knowledge… [those who have been weaned from milk, grown old from the breasts]’ [Yeshayahu 28:9]. I remember that his mother would bring his crib to the synagogue so that his ears would be influenced by the words of Torah.” [Yevamot Chapter 1].

The Meshech Chochma uses this as a basis to explain why Rabbi Yehoshua was so fond of a lesson taught by Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria:

“We have been taught – It is said about Rabbi Yochanan Ben Beroka and Rabbi Elazar Ben Chassma that they went to greet Rabbi Yehoshua in Peki’in. He asked them what novel idea was discussed in the Beit Midrash that day. They replied, We are your students, and we drink from your well. But he replied, No matter, give me an answer… And they said the passage of ‘Hakhel’ was studied. And what did Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria say? He said: ‘Gather the nation, the men and the women, and the young children’ – The men come to learn and the women come to hear, but why do the children come? The answer is, to give a reward to those who bring them. And he replied to them: You had a precious jewel in your hands, how could you try to keep it from me?” [Chagiga 3a].

Tosafot expanded Rabbi Yehoshua’s idea to include bringing young children to any synagogue. “To give a reward to those who bring them – and this is the reason that people bring young children to the synagogue.”

It is logical to assume that the reward given to those who bring children with them is not merely in return for the direct effort involved, but that there is also an educational benefit for the children themselves. Their ears get used to hearing Torah words and prayer, as we learn from the story about Rabbi Yehoshua.

This can also be seen from the words of the Maharsha, who explains that these comments even refer to children who have not yet reached the formal age of being taught the mitzvot:

“‘Women come to hear, why do the children come?’ – This should be studied further, since after this it is written, ‘and their children who do not know will listen and learn’ [Devarim 33:13]. Does this mean that even children who do not know anything will also hear and learn? We can say that this last verse is relevant for small children who have reached the age of being taught… This means that the small children in the verse of Hakhel must refer to… very young children who have not reached the age of being taught and therefore are not expected to learn. Why are they brought? The only reason is to give those who bring them a reward…

“And the word ‘taf’ – little children – can be viewed as a hint of the benefit. The letters before and after the letter ‘tet’ are‘ chet’ and ‘yud,’ and the letters before and after ‘peh’ are ‘ayin’ and ‘tzadik’ – which spells ‘etz chai,’ a tree of life. The little children who are brought to the Temple in order to support the tree of life…”

The Limitations of the Shelah

However, the Magen Avraham quotes the words of the Shelah: “With respect to small sons, the father must teach them to stand with fear. But those who run around and play in the synagogue should best not be brought.”

This is similar to what is written in the Mishna Berura:

“With respect to the small children, they must be taught to stand with fear. And the very small ones who run around and play in the synagogue should best not be brought, since a habit becomes second nature later on, and they also interfere with the prayers of the congregation. In addition, it is important for a father who brings small children to the synagogue to watch over their sandals and their clothing, to make sure that they are clean, in order not to cause a problem for those who are praying within four Amot of them.”

The Shulchan Aruch also rules: “It is a good custom to bring little boys and girls to hear the reading of the Megilla” [689:6]. And the Magen Avraham adds here too, “To bring children – but not to bring the very smallest children, who can confuse the people who are listening.” The Mishna Berura quotes this and expands on it.

Biur Halacha explains that the “good custom” mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch is referring only to children who have reached the age when they should be taught. It might have been thought that it would be best to leave them at home too and to read for them in private, but in order to publicize the miracle of Purim as widely as possible it is a good custom to bring them to the synagogue.

In Practice

In my humble opinion, it is clear, as the Maharsha wrote, that the Talmud quoted above is discussing bringing very small children who have not yet reached the age of teaching. Thus, the custom of bringing small children to a synagogue even includes these very young children. The reason is that the encounter with the atmosphere of the synagogue and the Beit Midrash will be a good influence on them, in the way that happened to Rabbi Yehoshua. Thus, in practice, there is clearly value in bringing even very small children to a synagogue.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that if a baby causes a disturbance in the prayers, he or she should be taken out of the synagogue. According to the law, this should also be done during the silent Amidah, as can be understood from the words of the Shelah, the Magen Avraham, and the Mishna Berura. However, it seems to me that the words of the Shelah and his followers do not mean that the synagogue should remain free of all babies and thereby lose its connection to the events at Mount Sinai and to the Temple.

Timely Dvar Torah on Noach

(Hat tip BA)

בס”ד

Protecting Ourselves from the Destruction and Confusion of Our Times

Shiur on Parashas Noach by Adina Becker (based on the Nesivos Shalom) 

During the last week, I was in the vicinity of two terrorist attacks, and experienced first-hand the gut-wrenching fear for my life, for my future, for my family. The fear of physical danger was accompanied by a feeling of confusion, as if the purpose of the world suddenly became cloudy and almost impeded my ability to function. I read the statements of the gedolim in Israel, exhorting us to increase Torah study and acts of chesed, and to take Shabbos in earlier. Nevertheless the feeling of confusion remained.

When preparing a shiur on Parshas Noach, I came across the Rashi that interprets the word mabul (flood) as either flood, destruction or confusion (bilbul).” Most of us in Israel have been living in a cauldron of destruction and confusion, and of course our friends and relatives overseas feel it as well.

Hashem saw fit to include the Noach and the Mabul narrative in great detail in the Torah, particularly regarding the building of the teivah (ark). This inclusion is not arbitrary. According to the Nesivos Sholom, the teivah was both a means of surviving the deluge and a tikkun (rectification) of the cause of the destruction, which would stop it spreading and enable future rebuilding. The concept of teivas Noach is more relevant than ever, particularly in these times.

The Nesivos Sholom (Rav Sholom Noach Berezowsky, zt”l, the previous Slonimer Rebbe) elucidates three aspects of teivas Noach as applied both to the individual and the world.

  1. Noach = Shabbos

According to the Zohar, Noach parallels or hints at the Shabbos. How are we to understand this? Firstly there is a clear connection between the name Noach, and the fundamental concept of “menuchah – resting” from productive work on Shabbos (Vayanach bayom hashevii).

Further, Noach’s essential nature parallels the idea of Shabbos. Chazal compares Noach’s tzidkus with that of Avraham Avinu. While Noach didn’t exhibit the drive to exceed his potential like Avraham Avinu and influence positively those around him, Noach stood firm whilst living in three highly corrupted generations and did not become sullied.

In fact the Midrash on Tehillim interprets the first few pesukim in Sefer Tehillim as referring to Noach.

“Ashrei ha’ish asher lo halach be’atzat reshaim -happy is the man who has not walked in the ways of the wicked)” – this refers to Noach not being negatively influenced by dor Enosh (idolatrous generation of Enosh).

“Ubederech chataim lo amad – nor stood in the ways of the sinners” – this refers to Noach not being negatively influenced by the dor hamabul (generation of the flood).

“Ubemoshav leitzim lo yashav – nor sat in the seat of the scornful” – this refers to Noach not being negatively influenced by the dor haflagah (generation of the dispersed builders of the tower of Bavel).

Noach represents stability, standing firm, not being corrupted by outside influences. He was a constant. The Zohar parallels Noach with Shabbos that is a constant in the world, a gift of kedushah fixed in time that comes every week and is incorruptible and accessible no matter what is going on around it.

Shabbos, according to the Nesivos Sholom, can be understood as a “teivah” that Hashem put into the world to both protect us from danger and reconnect us to Hashem in times of great spiritual confusion.

How does Shabbos protect and reconnect? As Chazal tell us (Gemara Shabbos daf 118), “Whoever keeps Shabbos properly, even if he worshipped idols like in Enosh’s generation, he will be forgiven.” This is astounding! The power of Shabbos is so great that it protects Jews even in the worst of times. As we sing in the Shabbos zemiros, “Ki eshmera Shabbos kel yishmeraini – since I keep (preserve) the Shabbos Hashem will watch over (preserve) me.” Or to paraphrase: more than the Jews have kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jews!

How does Shabbos reconnect us? According to Chazal, the root of the degenerate behavior of dor hamabul (that ultimately led to their destruction) which is also the root of all aveiros is bilbul hadaas – confused/scattered/upside down thinking. Since their thinking, and subsequently their actions was so upside down and inside out, the midah keneged midah consequence was that the whole world was turned upside down. If bilbul hadaas is the root of all aveiros, then the tikkun to stop destruction, reconnect to Hashem and rebuild the world is the opposite: yishuv hadaas – clarity of thinking and peace of mind.

How can one find yishuv hadaas while terrorist attacks and pernicious spiritual influences abound? If we think about the words we use to mekadesh the Shabbos on Friday night, we will have a glimpse of the answer. “Vayechulu Hashamayim vehaaretz vechol tzeva’am – and the Heavens and the earth were completed and all of their host.” According to the Midrash Rabba, while Hashem was still in the midst of creating, there was still the concept of tohu vavohu (pre-creation chaos and emptiness), and only after everything was completed and tohu vavohu erased, could the world actually be defined as “Shamayim veHaaretz”.

In other words, the point in time where the purpose of creation and its Creator became clear was on Shabbos. Shabbos, according to the Nesivos Sholom, is the root of the ultimate yishuv hadaas where we disconnect from all the outside influences and worries that cause bilbul hadaas and we can reconnect to the Creator and see clearly the purpose of Creation. To understand the power of this yishuv hadaas, ask any Jewish mother the difference in her composure two minutes before candlelighting and one minute after! Shabbos has arrived, and the stressful mundane matters of a moment ago are now irrelevant.

Teivas Noach had three levels: the upper level for people, the middle level for animals and the bottom level for waste matter. In Teivas Hashabbos, this is represented by three spiritual floors that we can gain access to, depending on our level of emunah. The bottom level is represented by keeping a halachic Shabbos or refraining from doing melachos.

The middle floor is for those for whom the Shabbos permeates their speech – “Let your speech on Shabbos be different to your speech during the week” (Gemara Shabbos 113). This could be manifest by not talking lashon hara, mundane matters or politics on Shabbos at the Shabbos table, or by being careful to compliment and not criticize those around us. In previous generations in the Diaspora, many families maintained the custom of only conversing in lashon hakodesh or Yiddish on Shabbos and not the language of the country in which they resided.

The upper level of Teivas Hashabbos is for those for whom Shabbos permeates their thoughts, which will lead to a true feeling of the pleasantness and sweetness of Shabbos. According to the Nesivos Sholom, the more we have clarity of emunah, the more accessible this level becomes to us. The three levels of Shabbos are also manifest in the three levels of the soul, the nefesh, ruach and neshamah. As we sing in Rav Aharon of Karlin’s Kah Echsof, “Hashabbos noam haneshamos vehashvii oneg haruchos veden hanefashos.”

  1. Torah = Teivas Noach

Like the Shabbos, the Torah also functions as a teivas Noach. Chazal tell us “barasi yetzer hara barasi torah tavlin – I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as the antidote for it” (Gemara Kiddushin daf 30). This means that the merit of learning and keeping the Torah protects from descending to the level of the dor hamabul. The Nesivos Sholom parallels the three floors in the teivah to three stages in a person’s life: youth, middle age and old age. Each stage has different nisyonos, distractions and obligations that require continuous mental adjustment. The Torah is a constant, a slice of kedushah and taharah that is incorruptible. When a person sets a fixed time for learning Torah, he is actually creating a safe place for kedushah to enter and ensure he doesn’t fall prey to impure influences. The only advice for surviving the different stages in life is to ensure one has a connection to Torah.

According to Chazal, Hashem set a condition for creating the world, that the Jewish people would keep the Torah. If not, He would return it to the state of tohu vavohu. Thus Torah also represents the power of maintaining the clarity of purpose of the world, the yishuv hadaas, and the tikkun for the tohu vavohu-like bilbul hadaas that causes physical destruction and spiritual confusion.

  1. Chesed = Teivas Noach

There was no shortage of options for the means of saving Noach, his family and the animals from the flood. Chazal tell us that Eretz Yisrael wasn’t destroyed in the flood. Hashem could have sent the Noach family and the animals to create the first biblical zoo in Yerushalayim and wait out the deluge in comfort. Instead he threw together the people and the animals in an enclosed space for a year. Noach’s family even had to share the upper floor with the birds. Just as there was no private space, there was also no private time. The family spent the entire time feeding and looking after the animals.

Why was keeping out of harm’s way not enough? As aforementioned, the teivah functioned as a tikkun to stop the spread of destruction and enable rebuilding. While the dor hamabul were idolatrous, adulterous and murderous, the point of no return occurred when the earth was full of robbery. In most criminal systems, robbery would not require a life sentence or a maximum security prison. Yet we learn out from Parshas Noach that if everyone is a thief, society cannot continue. A thieving society is no longer a society as the worldview of that society is totally self-centered. Each person is only for themselves, their needs, their desires. There is no room for others. Ultimately this leads to chaos and destruction.

Noach’s family needed to rebuild the world on different lines, a world of giving. Thus they were encapsulated in a crucible of achdus and chesed for 12 months, where they had to share space, accept everyone and live with them with all their foibles and give to others constantly. Avraham Avinu once asked Shem the son of Noach how they merited to survive the flood. The very question implies that even Noach’s tzidkus did not guarantee survival. In times of great destruction and hester panim, as we all know, the righteous are destroyed along with the wicked.

Shem answers Avraham Avinu: “We were worthy to survive by merit of constantly being involved in chesed!” Thus chesed not only protects from great destruction, it is also the ultimate tikkun to rebuild the world.

Through increasing Torah study, acts of chesed and shemiras Shabbos, we are building our own teivos to protect us from danger and confusion, and hopefully enable the ultimate tikkun of Moshiach to come. Bimheira beyameinu Amen.

Rabbi Telsner resigns

He has made a few mistakes, and it makes interesting reading seeing the different reports from the Age Newspaper versus the Sun. They obviously have different sources whispering in their ears. The anti-Jewish News will have the story just in time to splash on the front page and triumphantly blow its horn as the harbinger of morality (sic).

The Yeshivah Centre is undergoing change, no doubt. However, I’m not going to say any thing on the Rabbi Telsner issue because if I do, some will certainly misunderstand my words and it will make no different how I state them.

I am sure Rabbi Telsner has learned from this, and will contribute in a way using the gifts God gave him.

Rabbi Telsner is a card carrying Meshichist, as is his brother in law, R’ Chaim Tzvi Groner. There is no place in a Shule for screaming signs that no longer belong. There is no Mesora for placards in Shules, and it’s also a failure of Maimonides 13 principles of faith which clearly imply that we believe in Mashiach coming. Mashiach is a term for someone God chooses, it is not a euphemism for one and only one holy person in the Garden of Eden. Denying God this choice is in my opinion Kefirah. Meshichisten will not, cannot, and do not believe it is remotely possible for God to decide whomsoever He chooses from the physically living. That is pretty close to Kefirah. It is also a pseudo Kefirah for them to even entertain that there may well be someone else chosen because they won’t appear as a loyal Lubavitcher.

As for me, as I have said many times I couldn’t care less who it is. Eliyahu HaNavi will tell us.

Yeshivah has lurched to the right. It needs to bounce back to the centre and concentrate on quality education. It cannot afford to be a front for a Mesivta. There is obviously a need for a Mesivta. Let them find premises and build themselves on certain backers finances. The School itself needs to stress the qualities unique in Chabad, and there are many. Let the students be known for being fine examples of the Midos that are imparted by this philosophy. By all means it needs to stay a Chabad school, but one grounded in the realities of Melbourne. Failing that it should stop marketing itself as a community school.

Ironically, the School failed dismally to effectively educate Russian immigrants, years ago, and no longer does it serve many who are not religious. That’s their raison detre!

Too many New Yorkers have infiltrated and married in and tried to turn it into a fancier version of Oholei Torah in Brooklyn. Bad mistake. This is not New York.

I think it’s also time to pull down the rather pointless Yechi sign at the back of the Shule. Those who feel the need to scream this message to the world can bounce on the corner of the street, or wear a yarmulka (which they can’t then wear in a bathroom) wave yellow flags, wear cheap badges and all manner of paraphernalia not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch.

It does turn people off, and I include people from outside the Yeshivah centre. Those who really want to experience that type of experience can just go down the road to Dudu Leider’s Israeli Chabad house. They will love it. I’m told they chant Yechi more times than Shma Yisroel, over there, by a factor of 100.

 

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.

ואפילו בהסתרה … even when he is hidden?

There is a moving Breslov melody which is very popular. The words are from R’ Nachman in לקוטי מוהרן although I haven’t ever read that ספר חסידות, but so I am told. The gist of it is that even when God is hidden, as in ואנכי הסתר אסתיר את פני he is still there albeit בהסתרה.

My davening was very agitated at Shule today. In fact, during davening, when I read certain things, tears welled up in my eyes, and for reasons which probably aren’t entirely normal, I didn’t want anyone to notice my distress. I raised my voice for pesukim which condemned רשעים.

I asked a few people, what is the meaning of this song after the tragedy the latest tragedy. Rav Moshe Twersky הי’’ד for example, Rosh Yeshiva, was named after R’ Chaim Brisker’s elder son Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, the Rav’s father, whose Yohr Tzeit falls out on the same day as my father ע’’ה.

I asked others whether Breslav would be bopping in the streets of Beit Shemesh. How can anyone, even a Chossid bring שמחה to the table.

I noted to others, that in this case, they don’t do Tahara, and one is buried in their bloodied clothing. I don’t know what the din is, but my feeling was it would have been appropriate to bury the person in their Tefillin as well as their Tallis. אפילו בהסתרה was sounding so hollow to me. I couldn’t cope with it.

[Hat tip BA]

Here is a post from a lady close by

Some people wake up in the morning to the soft strains of the music on their alarm clock. This morning I woke up to the heart-stopping shrieks of multiple ambulances and police cars racing down my street on the way to Har Nof. Meanwhile my husband was in shule davening Shacharis. I hadn’t even said goodbye to him as he left while I was still asleep and was considerate enough not to wake me. Thank G-d my husband came home from shule. But my friends Chaya Levine and Breina Goldberg weren’t as fortunate. What do you say to a friend, the widow of a holy martyr, whose life has changed drastically in an instant? How can I smile at Salim, the friendly Arab worker at the grocery store across the road, without feeling suspicious? And how do I deal with the fact that for the first time in 24 years in Israel I no longer feel safe in my own backyard? May G-d comfort all of us in these trying times, and may we all appreciate every minute spent with our loved ones.

I just don’t want to hear God’s accountants telling us it is because of a) or b) or c). Do yourselves a favour and adopt וידום אהרון.

At times like these, I’m terribly reminded of horrible holocaust scenes . I’m left with extreme בהלה

What can one do? We can donate money to relevant organisations, but there are families that now comprise some 24 children without a father. What was the Aybishter doing hiding? Can we ask why? I say yes. I say we adopt Moshe Rabeinu’s attitude and say מחיני נא מספרך rub me out from your Torah if you have something against the Jews. This so soon after a Shabbos Kiddush Hashem, it defies logic, and yes, I know “that soul may have completed its purpose in this world” is often used, but I don’t know why that soul wasn’t allowed to complete more. Who does it harm?

Don’t anyone dare suggest it was because we didn’t follow Satmar’s incorrect views.

In Melbourne we have the wonderful CSG looking after Shules and Schools. Ironically, they don’t look after Chareidim who think that their negative attitude to Israel and Torah Learning etc will protect them. This is a reminder that אין סומכין על הנס and you have to protect yourself. Does someone really believe that two or three deranged chevra from this כת הרוצחים these ישמאלים ממזרים aren’t capable of a copy cat style operation. Both major political parties are supportive of improved security, but there is a limit to what can be done. And I hope nobody touches the latently anti-semitic, nevus socialist alliance party. Don’t give them one vote.

Parents, watch your kids. Watch yourselves.  I see kids in the Charedi area of Ripponlea walking at night alone or in two’s. They wouldn’t have a hope of protecting themselves from the type of attack that Zac Gomo endured. Zac was a חייל with training and that saved him. He spoke Arabic and knew how to close a wind pipe.

Maybe we need to introduce קרב מגע in every Jewish School. Obama isn’t going to help us, and neither is anyone else. We can’t be sanguine. We must act, speak up, and look after ourselves. At the same time, improving one’s own personal faults in עבודת השם and עבודת הזולת, which is a very personal thing, should be on everyone’s mind. The world is finely balanced, and as usual, we are on the עקידה and although it is commonly thought that Yitzchak didn’t die on the עקידה the Midrash/Peskikta explicitly says that פרחה נשמתו i.e. Yitzchok died before the knife cut, and when he was saved, a new Yitzchok was effectively born.

אני הקטן don’t have anything of real value to contribute in this blog post except an outpouring of = extreme angst and aggravation that MY God was אפילו בהסתרה and if so, I say, no I beseech, that this game of hide and seek needs to stop through full גילוי אלוקות במהרה בימינו.

In the meanwhile, I would, even though it’s against intrernational law, not only demolish the houses, but evict all members of the family on a one way passage to Gaza. Let them rot there. I would investigate and include any Imam/Sheik who had influenced them (if they did) and do the same to them. The Balad party and all parties should swear allegiance to a JEWISH State, and if they can’t, they should leave to an Arab state.

End of Story.

Can you daven with a seriously accused criminal or criminal?

There was an interesting article which appeared in Tablet Magazine (c) by Joshua Berman. In it he essentially questioned the opening stanza before Kol Nidrei wherein we accept all sinners to join us in prayer to God.

I reproduce the article below. Some time ago, I had a related problem. An accused and charged criminal, who was waiting for his day in court, and was on strict bail conditions, appeared in our Shule to daven. My personal feelings were that of revulsion. In the end, I convinced myself that perhaps if they sat in a back corner of the Shule, came and went quickly, and didn’t make  themselves conspicuous that it was questionable. I rang my Rav, for his opinion, and he felt that it was no worse than a Cohen who transgresses but still has to perform Mitzvos Bircas Cohanim (the positive command remains), and it is commonly the case in many Shules that Cohanim who are less than committed to Halacha, Duchen. There is a special law in respect of Bircas Cohanim but that depends on the particular kehilla. In essence then= this person shouldn’t be denied davening with a minyan. He stipulated however that if that person “extended his welcome”, then it would be better for him to Daven at home. With difficulty,  I accepted the Psak, and discussed it with the local Orthodox Rabbi, who agreed. Unfortunately, those who have been party to certain sinful proclivities rarely sit quietly minding their own business. It’s as if some מחלה has overtaken them and they are no longer in control of what we call common sensibility.

One day, I had a less than friendly interchange with said person, because I felt, as did others that he had exceeded his task thereby resulting in what might be called a less than quiet moment. He didn’t return after that. It’s a very difficult question from an emotional point of view, even for those who aren’t directly affected, and I was not one of these.

With the consent of the Almighty and with the consent of the congregation, in the assembly of the Heavenly Court and the assembly of the earthly court, we sanction prayer in the company of the delinquent.
I always took comfort in that line, the opening line of the prayers of Yom Kippur night. Despite my shortcomings — which seem to persist over time — the liturgy welcomed me to Yom Kippur. I was one of those “delinquents” with whom those around me could legitimately pray.

But this Yom Kippur eve, I’m experiencing that opening line of our liturgy in a more profound way. Friday night, I’ll be leading Kol Nidre services in my synagogue. Ask anyone who leads prayer services over the High Holidays what it’s like to prepare and they will report the same experience: When you rehearse the lines and the melodies in the days leading up to the service you commune with the rabbis, cantors and teachers who instructed or inspired you in the art of leading the service. You aren’t merely recalling a tune; you recall their voice, their passion, their expression. As you reach mid-age, these days of preparation can be more powerful than the actual synagogue service itself. Recalling the passion and personality of beloved teachers who have since passed on, you cherish the days of preparation as an opportunity to revel in their melodic presence in collective service of the Almighty.

In my mind’s choir I sing along with Rabbi Yehoshua Kreiser and Rabbi Avraham Weiser of blessed memory, the European born rabbis of the small congregation in which I grew up. And I sing along with my beloved Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Amital of blessed memory, also of European birth. I sing and tear-up in disbelief that my children will probably never experience an old shtetl Jew leading the High Holiday services.

I also sing along with the cantor who prepared several hours of tapes for me when I first led services as a college student 30 years ago. Let’s call him Shlomo. Shlomo taught at the yeshiva day school I attended as a youngster. We were members of the same small congregation. Shlomo had a beautiful voice and everyone in the community felt it a treat when he lead the services.

As I communed this week with all the wonderful rabbis and teachers of my mind’s choir, I paused as I came to a particular bar of Kol Nidre that I identify as a “Shlomo” bar in my repertoire. I recalled the link an acquaintance sent me a few years back documenting that Shlomo had years later served time for sexually abusing young boys.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra boycotts the music of Wagner because of the role of his music in the rise of the Nazi regime. Should I now “boycott” the music, nay the high-holiday melodies, of a pedophile?

For me, Shlomo was a beloved teacher. In fact, the first time I ever experienced a full traditional Shabbat setting was in his home when I was 11. He had a bunch of boys over for Shabbat. Perhaps with today’s sensitivities such a gathering might never take place. But forty years ago, not much was thought of it. I still remember the chicken fricassee he prepared and the songs around the Shabbat table. But above all I remember his love for liturgy and his generosity in preparing hours of liturgy on tape cassette for me .

I have had no contact with Shlomo in several decades. I can’t imagine what such a meeting would feel like. Of course, I am sickened by the actions for which he has served time, and cannot begin to imagine the justified loathing felt toward him by his victims or by their parents. They were the victims of his darkest impulses. I was the fortunate recipient of his brightest. Shlomo gave me an exposure to Shabbat and a melodic path with which to relate to the Almighty on the High Holidays.

Thinking of Shlomo, the darkness of his personal struggles and the melodies he has passed on to me lead me to new insight into that opening line of the Yom Kippur evening service – “we sanction prayer in the company of the delinquent.” The liturgy does not say, “We sanction prayer in the company of sinners — chot’im. In Hebrew the word I’ve translated as “delinquent” is avaryanim, which is much stronger than just “sinners” — chot’im. Even in medieval rabbinic Hebrew, avaryanim comes much closer to its modern Hebrew meaning of “criminal.” And the term is even stronger, as it is paired here with the definite article, “the avaryanim, implying not merely those many who are imperfect, but those few guilty of the worst deeds.

On Yom Kippur there is no easy ethos of “forgive and forget.” The opening line of the liturgy affirms the functioning of a heavenly court and an earthly one. Each shall mute out justice in its respective realm. But that opening line speaks of a third body – that of the congregation. On Yom Kippur the congregation must find a way to include in its midst not only mere “sinners”, but indeed “the avaryanim.”

And it is in that spirit that through the inspiration of all my teachers I shall lead the services, confident in the knowledge that I ”have sanction to pray with the delinquent.”

Clarify your systems and policies El Al and stick to them

An article appeared in the Jerusalem Post by Sharon Udasin (reproduced) below. It is effectively in many papers, and I’d imagine it will end up in the non-Jewish press in time.

More than a thousand people have signed an online petition calling on El Al Airlines to protect female passengers from harassment by ultra-Orthodox men.

More than a thousand people have signed an online petition calling on El Al Airlines to protect female passengers from harassment by ultra-Orthodox men.

The petition on Change.org was launched Sunday, days after an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed in taking off when haredi male passengers refused to sit next to women. As of Tuesday afternoon, the initiative had more than 1,100 supporters.

Sharon Shapiro of Chicago, who initiated the petition, said she wanted to stop the phenomenon of “passenger shaming.”

“Some men become belligerent if their demands aren’t met, and spend flights bullying and harassing women who refuse to change seats,” she wrote.

The petition recommends that El Al “reserve a few rows of separate-sex seating on every flight, where for a fee, those passengers who need such seating can pre-book their seats and not annoy or coerce other passengers before take-off to change seats with them – thereby avoiding arguments, bullying, and delayed take-off.”

While El Al did not provide a reaction to this specific petition, the company responded to last week’s incident, stressing that the airline “makes every effort to provide its passengers with the best service all year round.”

“Traffic is currently at its peak during this Jewish High Holiday season to and from Israel and representatives of the company, in the air and the ground, do their best to respond to every request,” a statement from the company read. “El Al makes every effort possible to ensure a passenger’s flight is as enjoyable as possible while doing our utmost to maintain schedules and arrive safely at the destination.”

It added that the airline was “committed to responding to every complaint received and if it is found that there are possibilities for improvement in the future, those suggestions will be taken into consideration.”

 

My views are:

  • It isn’t halachically necessary to ask to move to a seat next to men, but if you feel you need to or want to, or you have been so directed by your Posek/Rabbi, then you must ask extremely courteously. This is not a right, this is a privilege that someone who may have carefully chosen their seat earlier for a range of reasons (unknown to you) may wish to extended to you as a courtesy. If this causes a mass kerfuffle of people moving all around the plane and bags being shlepped to other overhead lockers, think carefully about what may be caused by you together with others who are doing the same thing as you. You might even consider giving a gift of thanks. No doubt you will thank the person/people several times with a cheery disposition. If the person is not Jewish, if you do give a gift later, then I do not think you are transgressing לא תחנם
  • El Al really should not get involved in these issues en masse at the beginning of a flight; there has to be a better system. As an airline, any airline, all requests about food and seating should be made beforehand. One could even add a question about seat preferences along gender lines with the rider that there is no guarantee. They might consider some rows at the back of the plane as male only and female only, and if those fill up, study patterns adjust, but there can’t be a guarantee.
  • Flights should never leave late because of such things. This is a major discourtesy to fellow travellers.
  • If there is even the slightest sign that the person/people are reticent to move, then one has an opportunity for a Kiddush Hashem, and to be friendly and not show even the slightest umbrage at their desire to sit on their allocated seat and accept their decision with a smile. Failure to do so, may cause a Chillul Hashem, and that is far more severe than what the person was attempting to avoid.
  • If somebody cannot afford to buy three seats so that the one on their left and right are empty, or upgrade to those business/first class seats which are separated, then they should consider travelling on Muslim airlines, where they are more likely to be seated in male only areas.
  • Create your own Charedi Airline if you have the patronage
  • I’m presuming that the people, most of them at least, are not simply Anti Charedi or Anti Religious. I think this is a reasonable assumption given the description of circumstances presented.

Finally, as noted by many Poskim, daven sitting quietly in your seat and forget about disturbing people with “minyan, minyan”.

Make up your own mind or ask your Local Orthodox Rabbi!

A Jewish mode of verbally induced meditation

This year, was a first for many a year, when I was not a שליח ציבור. I was also in a Shule where you could hear a pin drop. The combination of these two led to a slightly embarrassing moment on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Our Nusach, and that originally of my father ע’ה, is Nusach Sephard (not to be confused with the Nusach of Sepharadi Jews and their variations). My trusty Machzor, is small and was purchased decades ago when still a lad learning in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavne. I was excited to reuse it, and happy that unlike some of my Seforim which are lent in good faith, and seem to have found a new home, this Machzor was exactly where it should be, and readily accessible. It was easy to hold, not being thick with salubrious translation and commentary. It was plain, much-loved, but hardly used in over three decades; certainly for Shachris or Mussaf.

As a Shaliach Tzibbur/Chazan, I followed the Nusach of the Shule. This was Ashkenaz, and with the exception of the Avoda of Yom HaKippurim, the differences were not evident, as perhaps one might expect.

As I know most of the Tefilla by heart, I found myself sitting wrapped in a Tallis, keenly trying to concentrate on each word in a way that had not been amenable beforehand when I was the שליח ציבור. I was free to use as much time as needed to navigate the words and their meaning.

As I write, I remembered Mr Hoppe ז’ל, a family friend, and fellow Cohen, with a gutturally deep voice, who was an Alexander Chossid before the war with long peyos, and at whose home in Tomashov, the Aleksander Rebbe stayed on occasion. I remember him asking me one year after I had returned from Kerem B’Yavne,  (in yiddish)

“why are you davening so much, what are you saying, I don’t know how you can stand so long”

I recall that I didn’t answer. My reasons were private, I wasn’t able to answer anyway, and many of my thoughts remain private, until this day.

Hoppe+Dad
Mr Hoppe (left) and my father עליהם השלום

Because I am acutely sensitised to Nussach, and was davening in a Shule that used a Machzor based on the Ari (and finalised by the Ba’al HaTanya, I presume) there were times that I was juddered by a different word, or in some cases (such as at the conclusion of הנני העני ממעש) a set of additional lines that were not present either in Nusach Ashkenaz or Nusach Sefard when they suddenly entered the arena. I haven’t looked into their etymology.

Much of the time, my eyes were shut, and I was concentrating, as well as I could. There was the unusual fact that in Chabad there is no בעל מקריא to call out the Shofar notes. In fact, I was surprised that on the first day, the very first set of notes were not repeated as I felt (but I’m certainly no Rabbi) that they were questionably executed.

Ensconced in the repetition of the Amida (which ideally I should have stood for throughout, except that this would have disturbed my concentration) I waded off into the worlds of מלכיות , זכרונות and שופרות. I use the word waded because probably for the first time in my life I managed to control my thoughts and focus, almost subterraneously, on what was being sai, occasionally fluttering at the odd word that was different from the Nusach I was used to. Even then, my thoughts were trying to reconcile differences in my expectation.

I had always been jealous of people who were seemingly able to “meditate”. The jealousy stemmed from their ability to divest from what was occurring around them and focus solely on (often) something inane. It could be an exercise in mindfulness, or an approach that allowed one to concentrate on something else. I could never do it, despite many efforts and having five one on one lessons based on a non religious approach. My mind was forever bubbling and thinking, and I was unable to temper its tempestuous foray into areas that I did not want to go. I simply concluded that it was just one of those things: some could manage this exercise and other could not. I just wasn’t blessed to turn off, so to speak. I often joke with my students and alumni that my “off” switch is rusty, and can’t be repaired.

Amazingly, this year, while I was “unshackled” from responsibility, and was also in a conducive environment, I was able to turn off the switch controlling the outside world and immerse myself in Tefillah.

The embarrassing moment occurred when it came to שופרות. By that stage, the Cohanim, of which I am one, had left the Shule just prior and returned on time so they could ascend immediately after ארשת שפתינו. Alas, because I had been a שליח ציבור for so long, I was used to having a Levi bring me the Kvort and tissues, while someone else led the Cohanim. I was rooted to my spot on the Bima at all times, except that I jumped around to face the Kehilla. (And yes, I’m aware of different views in the Acharonim about this matter, but I have never lost my bearings and been unable to continue cleanly thereafter).

Suddenly, someone tapped me and pointed to the Machzor (one being unable to speak at that point). I was deep in thought and was literally startled. At first I thought it was a Pesicha, something which doesn’t interest me. Finally, I realised, after noticing the Cohanim ready to ascend, that I was too late. The Priestly blessings were about to commence!

I made a quick exit, as my hands hadn’t been washed, my shoes were not removed, and according to the Din, one is meant to make their move before רצה.

In a curious way, whilst I was later mirthfully called the absent-minded professor, or asked “were you sleeping?”, I was neither. I had actually succeeded for the first time in my life to meditate at some level.

Suffice it to say that on the second day, when I saw Rabbi Cohen walk past , I followed him and performed ברכת כהנים to the best of my ability, even though I had felt somewhat “disturbed” to leave the Shule for hand washing.

In summary, it was a strange experience, and I missed out on ואני אברכם on the first day, but I was surprised and pleased with myself that I had reached a level of obliviousness that brought me to Tefillah-based meditation.

Not sure why, but this Selichos is enchanting

There is something so genuine about Sephardic davening. I was most exposed to it in Bombay. (I once was in Bombay on Selichos on Motzei Shabbos in the original old Chabad House of R’ Gavriel and Rivki הי’’ד.

I guess if I had to put my finger on it, it is the constant involvement of individual Mispallelim (or should that be Mitpallelim) and less of a focus on the Hazan. The latter, of course, is more like the leader and not a sole performer, operatic or otherwise, and will not necessarily stand at the front like Ashkenazim. (Hat tip MT). There is also more audience participation, from all types, and there are colours other than black.

Certainly beats the rushed reading of the sets of Anenu’s, as you hit the home stretch before finishing.

Statement to clear the air and set the record straight

This may be relevant only to the dwindling number of members at Elwood Shule. Our family has been associated with Elwood for 60+ years. My father ע’’ה was Vice President and a very long-term board member, as well as regular mispallel. I joined the board several years ago, and functioned as the Ba’al Tefilla on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur for many years. I accepted the role of leading Musaf and Kol Nidrei the year prior to the untimely death of Chazan Levy ע’’ה, the Shule’s last, full-time Chazan, in the year before he passed away. He then passed away on Rosh Hashono itself.

I worked assiduously at Board Level, and oversaw and edited the updated version of the constitution and assisted in the unfortunate but necessary legal fight for survival with our tenant. I was involved at many other levels.

I came to the conclusion, some 6 months ago that my tenure as a board member was no longer tenable. It had preyed on my mind for longer, but only emotional ties kept me going. I will not use this blog to discuss a range of issues that contributed to my decision. I later resigned from the board, as did three other board members, and of course, my father passed away, thereby making the board four fewer people than when it was constituted years earlier. When I informed long-term President Fred Antman that I had finally resigned, his comment was that I should have done so long ago, for reasons I won’t go into. He had encouraged me to resign many times and said my father would have told me the same.

Elwood is at a cross-road, where it says goodbye in the next years to Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, and welcomes a new Rabbi. Rabbi Karnowsky, the outreach Rabbi is assuming some of Rabbi Gutnick’s functions. Rabbi Karnowsky has a documented plan of what he was going to achieve as outreach Rabbi when he joined, and I assume remaining members of the board express a level of confidence in his achievements thus far.

Years ago, It was long-term President Fred Antman, who prevailed upon me, literally tens of times, to assume the function of Ba’al Tefila for Yomim Noroim. I also stepped in as needed on other occasions, willingly. I did not and never wanted to be the Ba’al Tefila. To be honest, I know my personal imperfections, and never felt worthy of representing this (or any) Kehilla. My children know too well, how, after members of the Shule passed away later during the year, that I took it personally. I might arrive home on Shabbos with bloodied knuckles and in tears or sloshed because I considered that Hashem had not listened to my prayers of מי יחיה or מי ימות and that this was due to me not being up to the spiritual level required to be a Ba’al Tefilla (or Chazan). I felt I wasn’t listened to and that my prayers were vacuous.

I was blessed with a good voice. This is not my achievement. My father ע’ה sang in the choir in the Rawa Mazowiecka Shtiebel with the Amshinover, R Zishe Shochet הי’’ד. My mother’s father played violin (as do I). These are not my achievements, they are some of Hashem’s Brachos.

A great source of personal happiness was descending the steps after Mussaf on Yom Kippur and spontaneously dancing with “Gandhi”, R’ Yossel ע’ה, a Buchenwald boy, as he was affectionately known. Of course, there was the scene of some 15+ Balbin offspring males sitting around my father on Kol Nidrei night, after he had carried the Torah during Kol Nidrei which I had intoned, and my father’s occasional glances at me. Upstairs a similar contingent of Balbin female offspring were present. My sons have beautiful life-long memories of walking with me and Zayda through thick and thin on a Shabbos (my father was, together with Rabbi Gutnick and Viggie Aron the only three people who walked a real distance on Shabbos to get to Shule and actually kept Shabbos). Nowadays, on Shabbos, Viggie only comes for layning, and Rabbi Gutnick mainly for Shabbos Shachris.

I vividly recall some feedback one year. I didn’t seek feedback. If proffered feedback I was happy to hear and sometimes listen. One man, whose face I knew, but whose name was not familiar, asked me why I kept stopping and starting during הנני העני ממעש. He sat in the front area, so he could presumably see my face, although I wear a Tallis over my head, as opposed to the more German style ecclesiastical headwear. Returning to the story, I couldn’t believe that this man hadn’t noticed that I was unable to resume my comportment at certain phrases, and often struggled not to weep. I am not talking about the iconic Chazanishe Krechtz or an “Oy yoi yoi” punctuated with a perfectly timed trill as choreographed according to the score (or iPod recording). I am talking about raw emotion.

I was shocked. That year, I decided I needed to “control myself”. I am sure I was wrong, but I consciously stopped myself thinking, perhaps over-thinking, about the meaning of the words I was uttering. At the same time, Rabbi Karnowsky approached me about incorporating his new sons in the service. I agreed (although musically, I felt they were young and raw). Nevertheless, it would be cute and perhaps would appeal to a majority of congregants who cannot follow or read a Machzor (we have 3 versions at Elwood and the Gabbay uses a fourth, and Davening is punctuated by annoyingly constant page call outs of different versions. I hope they have fixed this and settled on the magnificent Soloveitchik Machzorim, but I digress.)

Now, recall that I resigned from the board months before the High Holidays. In my letter of resignation, I also made it clear that the board should not feel encumbered in any way using my services as Ba’al Tefilla. I asked only that they inform me as soon as possible whether they required my services; a reasonable request.

Unfortunately, I was to find out that Mark Oyberman had asked around for people in Melbourne available to replace me, after which they settled on Shimon Wallis. I actually wrote to the board to confirm this as they had not communicated they were even looking let alone that they had already made a decision! Shimon has a fine voice, and his Nusach is derived from his grandfather ע’’ה, whom I enjoyed listening to on his rare visits. He was a Ba’al Tefilla with an authentic Yerushalmi Nusach. I wish him success.

What prompted me to post this article, was an Elwood promotional video I saw yesterday. I genuinely feared that some might assume that my absence from Shule was due to this new appointment.

Nothing could be further than the truth. I kept a seat at Elwood. I will hopefully be able to daven quietly and with some purpose this year. The reasons for my resignation as a board member are seemingly as valid now as they were then, and they will not be discussed in this blog post.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Synopsis of Slichos and related items

The prolific R’ Reuven Brauner of Ra’anana has much good free material that he compiled and authored available for download at http://www.halakhah.com under eclectic compilations as you scroll down. Of present interest is the synopsis of Selichos for Elul and Tishrei.

It is certainly worth noting that Reuven has recently been unwell, (ראובן בן רצה הלוי), pronounced Ratza) and is recovering well now ברוך השם …

On a good note, he and is wife Rachel (our distant cousin) have just been blessed with twins, a grandson and granddaughter. Mazel Tov! May this portend only good things.

Update: In an interesting quirk, one of Reuven’s sons is one of our youngest son’s Rabonim in Yeshivah in Israel. It just clicked between the two of them! In our son’s previous Yeshivah, the Rosh Yeshivah was our cousin, also on my mother’s side. Such a small world.

Slichos with a guitar and other shticks?

Call me old-fashioned, but the איש ההלכה, the quintessential בעל מסורה, cannot digest a ceremonial alternative indie style of davening. This is not supported by the Rav, Rav Soloveitchik who was implacably opposed to innovations which essentially mimic the אומות העולם at the expense of מסורה.

Yes, there are clearly delineated sections of davening where one is permitted to innovate musically and use a tune of choice. This is a positive thing. However, הלכה does not tolerate the decimation of נוסח and I am vehemently opposed to anyone who feels that reinventing נוסח is even in their purvey.

Personally, when I was a boy, I didn’t enjoy Selichos at Elwood even though people came from everywhere to hear my teacher Chazan Adler (Selichos allowed anyone to drive and listen). It was a tad too operatic for me, and no doubt I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. Later, I preferred listening to Rabbi Groner ז’ל with his Nusach derived from רעים אהובים in Brownsville, NY, where he davened as a youth. חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין

I copy a piece from Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz (recently retired Av Beis Din of America). There is plenty of other material, including a description of exactly which sections are “free” and which may simply not be changed.

The diversity of Jewish communities in different parts of the world has had its effect on the application of halakhah and the establishment of minhagim particular to each community. Especially in the matter of customs relating to the nusah and modes of prayer there are many distinct differences. We are all aware of the main streams of nusah known as Ashkenaz and Sephard and the reality that even in these two divisions there are nuances and changes that are ascribed to the different groups of each respective general nusah. Ofttimes a hazzan is caught in the center of controversy over proper nusah or sequence of tefillot and even in the matter of traditional tunes acceptable to the congregation. During the course of this article an attempt will be made to give some guidelines and insights relating to minhag regarding niggunim in their traditional forms and whether changes are permitted to be made. The major source cited by Poskim regarding the fixing of the norms of tefillah is from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Eruv. III, 9.),’ “Rabbi Yose sent and wrote to them (i.e. to the people dwelling in the Diaspora), although they (Le. the sages in the land of Israel) wrote to you the order of the prayers of the holidays, do not change the custom of your fathers whose souls repose in place.” This is the version cited by the Haga’ot Maimoniot (Seder Tefillot Kol Hashanah, 5) and the Magen Avraham 68. However, another version reads: “… although they wrote to you the order of the holidays do not change the custom of your fathers, etc.” In this textual change the meaning refers to the observance of the two days of Yom Tov outside of Eretz Yisrael. This textual variance is extremely important due to the divergent opinions which arose concerning the possibility of changing from one nusah to the other. This divergence is pointed out by the Gaon R. Yisroel of Shklov, one of the great talmidim of the Vilna Gaon, in his work Pe’at Hashulhan.( Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael III, 31.) He cites the responsum of R. Shmuel Demedina of Salonika (She’eilot u-Teshuvot Marashdom, Orah Hayyim, 35.) who ruled that any community may change its nusah of tefillah if the majority so desires because the prohibition of Shinui Minhag only applies to the category of issur, that is, prohibitory laws etc., and not in regard to such a category as tefillah. Consequently he ruled that the Ashkenazic community in Salonika may change to Sephard if the majority of its constituents are in favor of the change. Yisroel of Shklov comments that according to the version in Yerushalmi that prohibits the change in the mode of prayer, this ruling is not acceptable. He quotes the aforementioned Magen Avraham and the Ari Hakadosh who were opposed to any change based primarily on the Yerushalmi, especially since the Haga’ot Maimoniot mentions the text as restricting any change in prayers. The Pe’at Hashulhan attributes Meharashdom’s decision to allow such a change because he must have had the version proscribing any change in the status of the two days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora. It is interesting to note that R. Menachem Hame’iri of the thirteenth century preceded R. Shmuel Demedina in stating that there is no prohibitory regulation for changing the nusah of tefillot for the individual, and publicly if the minhag was different he should not pray differently than the tzibbur, implying that if it was the will of the congregation to change, they could. (Teshuvat Hame’iri, Magen Avot, II.) However, since the Magen Avraham also mentions in his above statement that the verses one says in the piyyutim should be sung in the matter one sings the kerovot (I.e. the piyyutim chanted in the Amidah), he is indicating that he is including within the context of not changing any nusah that one should not change the tune also. This inclusion of niggun as part of the rules prohibiting shinui or change in nusah is in keeping with the clearly stated ruling of the Maharil cited by Rema, (Orah Hayyim 619,1.) “One must not change from the custom of the city even in regard to the melodies and piyyutim that are recited there.” However, the Magen Avraham comments on the Maharil, saying that such a change should not be made because the change of tune will “confuse the congregation.” It would seem from this observation of the Magen Avraham on the Maharil’s ruling that if the tzibbur were not confused or upset by any change in niggun by the hazzan, there would not be any restriction. This raises the question on the Magen Avraham himself who has accepted the version of the Yerushalmi, as mentioned, rigorously opposing any change in tefillot. Perhaps the Magen Avraham interprets the Yerushalmi as meaning that if one is certain about the minhag of his forefathers then he is not permitted to deviate, but if there is uncertainty then it would be permissible. Thus, in communities where doubt and even prevailing ignorance as to the mode of prayer exists as to any definite tradition, changes would be acceptable as long as no violation of halakhah takes place and there are no consequences of bilbul da’at hakahal (confusion in the congregation). (Cf. Teshuvat Minhat Eliezer I, 11, for a novel interpretation of the Yerushalmi and an extensive discussion of changes from Ashkenaz to Sephard, etc.) However, where a change of niggun for example, would cause upheaval, then the words of Maharil and Magen Avraham would apply to all services and not necessarily for Yamim Nora’im, since the primary sources do not differentiate in regard to any particular season. Tangential to this, may I mention an interesting incident which happened to the Ga’on and Tzaddik Reb Zalman Bardn of Yerushalayim of blessed memory, who, once, while attending a Shabbat Minhah tefillah in a shul that had no regular hazzan, heard someone davening as the sheliach tzibbur using a chant that had no relationship whatsoever with the known niggun for the Shabbat Minhah. After waiting for the hazzan to finish, he left the shul and entered another shul to hear the repetition of the Amidah in the traditional mode. He went so far as to say that the “niggun of Shabbat should not be the niggun of the weekdays”! (Paraphrasing the statement of: “Your speech on Shabbat should not be for weekday speech”).(Shabo 113; Macy Nulman apprised me of this excerpt from Eliyahu Kitov’s Hassidim and Anshe Ma’aseh, Sefer Revi’i, p. 160.) This would perhaps be an example of an aspect of bilbul da’at hakahal because of the reaction incurred. As to the type of niggun introduced into prayer that would not cause any bilbul da’at hakahal, it definitely cannot be one that is identified with any non Jewish worship. This is clearly prohibited by many Poskim (Darkhay Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ab 142,27 citing several sources.) Even a tune that, although not connected to any non-Jewish worship, but is recognizable as belonging to a prevailing non-Jewish culture, would not be acceptable. This would be indicated as improper, especially in the synagogue, based on the Talmud’s criticism of Elisha ben Abuya or “Acher” as constantly singing Greek tunes, even when not in the synagogue. (Hag. 15b, viz. Rashi also.) If a shul is faced with the question ofengaging a cantor who does not know the traditional niggunim, known as scarbova nusah, if the makeup of the congregation is such that they willaccept the prayer leadership of such a hazzan and if there is no controversy regarding his being engaged, then it would be permissible to do so. The principle of merutzah lekahal (acceptable to the community) is enumerated by the Rema (Orah Hayyim 581,1.) regarding the qualifications of a sheli’ah tzibbur, although he may not meet the high standards of piety and sincerity demanded for this position. Disputes over this must be avoided. (Cf. Mishneh Berurah, ibid., 11). It is most interesting to note that in the enumeration of conditions pertaining to a sheli’ah tzibbur, the emphasis is placed on the individual’s piety, sincerity, and Torah knowledge and no mention is made of knowledge of niggunim or musical inflection. (Eleph Hamagen to Matteh Ephra’im 581,54.) However, knowledgeable congregations should seek the combination of piety and a mastering of traditional musical nusah which is part of the spiritual fabric of tefillah, particularly on the Yamim Nora’im. The absence of these hallowed niggunim during the davening would be unthinkable to any worshiper who has an inbred affinity for the feelings and stirrings of the heart, rendered by the proper nusah. Just as the Avodah in the Bet Hamikdash was accompanied by a certain order of shir or music, primarily vocal. (Ar. 11a.) so must our Avodah in the synagogue maintain a proper contact and order of shir, of niggun and nusan as we, in our way, make our offerings of prayer.

Army Clothes for Davening

[Hat tip MD with my additions]

Rav Soloveitchik (the Rav) was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. He often cited the Rambam (Tefillah 5:1) that eight specific aspects of prayer must be adhered to while standing for Shemoneh Esrei. The first four are:Amidah, standing; Nochach HaMikdash, facing Eretz YisraelTikun HaGuf, feet together and clean body; and Tikun HaMalbushim, proper and dignified attire.

This went to the extent that the Rav held that Chazoras HaShatz was Tefillas HATzibbur, and as such stood with his feet together facing the front. My own opinion is that this view of the Rav is even more relevant today in Shules where the majority simply cannot Daven, and are subject to a continuous set of announcements saying “we are on page number n in this edition, and page m in this edition etc”. The importance of the Shatz as being connected to and an actual Shaliach, as opposed to some performer seems to have been lost.

The Rav was once visited by a student who served in the Israel Defense Forces who asked the Rav the following question: He worked in the tank division and his job was cleaning and maintaining the tanks. Often, his uniform would get covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change clothing before davening Mincha. He emphasized that it would be possible to do so but it would be quite inconvenient and difficult. The Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud,

“Why would you need to change? You are wearing bigdei Kodesh, holy clothes”!

That is how the Rav felt about someone serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ

I don’t know where Thisbe from, my daughter in law sent it. Uplifting!

A soldier on the border writes:

What’s happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and begs the imagination.

Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, v backgammon and more. They’re coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon.

Every intersection on they way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but be residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation b organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.

They’re writing letters and blessings, how they’re thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they’re as perfect and comforting as possible.

Of course representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Cha’Ta’Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) for every troop transport and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy.

The Chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers’ names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area.
Soroka Hospital (in Be’er Sheva) today looks like a 5 star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the MasterChef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded.

It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously Kosher. Shachrit, Mincha, and Maariv with Sifrei Torah. They’re giving out tzitzit and Tehilim by the hundreds. It’s become the new fashion! The Rabbi of Maglan [Special Forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat. They’re gaining both a Mitzva and a high quality undershirt. We’ve started calling them “Shachpatzitzti” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). We’re having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff.

We’re making lots of jokes at Hamas’s expensive and without politics. There’s lots more to add but my battery is running low and the staff has been requesting someonekm give a class on Likutei MoharaN (Breslov).

How happy is the nation that is like this.

Give us back our boys!

I just attended the community Tehillim event at Caulfield Shule, and I felt ill at ease.

Let me explain. I do not understand what Hashem wants from us. On the one hand he wants us to follow Him and we do, to the best of our ability amongst swirling stormy seas of שונאי   ימח שמם, ישראל,  and the vicissitudes thrown up by the modern world of temptation and diversion.

I have a son in Israel, whose birthday is tomorrow עד מאה ועשרים and who is barely older than the three captives, and who was in that area a few days earlier with my daughter and son-in-law. Another son had been there a few weeks earlier with my grandson enjoying the beauty that only the Holy Land can produce.

We said Tehillim. I concentrated with all my might. I was gratified to see a good cross-section of people from the religious community in attendance, including a number of representatives from Adass. I felt we were one, but I found myself questioning why Hashem was abandoning us. קלי למה עזבתנו. Didn’t we all suffer enough from Gilad Shalit’s ordeal and the tendentious decision to release murderers in return. Will that kid ever be a “normal” person?

I am reminded at such times of the genuine tears and wailing of my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Goldvicht ז’ל, who repeated over and over and over צעקו והשם שמע ומכל צרותם הצילם at times like these: we are behoved to audibly cry out in anguish, and God must listen and save us from all our Tzores. The atmosphere then at Kerem B’Yavneh was one of numbness. I often still feel it. I visualise it. None of us were remotely close to the essence of the Rosh Yeshivah’s cries to Hashem.

I vacillate between feeling like a speck asking Hashem to listen to my wishes, and the power of the whole, the קדושה of oneness displayed when people are conjoined by external trouble. Rav Soloveitchik wrote that this causative oneness is admirable and natural, but he exhorted that the challenge was to have such feelings when we are not drawn together by Tzaros.

The Rav felt that this higher level of קדושה was the עצמות of what קדושת העם is meant to be. It is our collective existential submission to Hashem that is qualitatively superior to individual pain or external causes that draw us together. This oneness existed at the time of the Beis Hamikdash through individuals literally being לפני השם. This then is the challenge: to feel לפני השם even when things are nice and comfortable and all is comparatively well. I’m certainly not near that level which is probably why I felt rather ill at ease. I know,  like everyone, where I need to improve and what I need to do. The challenge is doing it, and doing it as a team.

Keep

Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah
Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim
Eyal ben Iris Tesurah

uppermost in your Tefillos

[Hat tip to BA] for the following

Adass vs Mizrachi

The following correspondence is making the rounds of email on the internet. It sheds light on the basis of the disagreement.

Disclaimer: Ian is my brother-in-law

First, we have a letter from Adass

Dear Ian
I am receipt of your email statement of behalf of the Mizrachi Organisation.
I am astounded that you would issue such a notice without the courtesy of enquiring about the aim of this gathering
You labelled this “a protest” which was “designed to attract the attention of the general community and the media” organised by opponents of the state of Israel
Unfortunately your statement is totally incorrect.
This was not a “protest” but rather a gathering of Jews – Shomrei Torah uMitzvos from most communities – to say Tehilim and Tefillos against recent decrees aimed at harming the Torah world.
We mirrored the call of the ENTIRE Torah leadership worldwide – Chassidim and Litvaks, Ashkenazim and Sfardim.
The Gedolei Hador are pained at new legislation which further erodes Achdus and Shalom between fellow Jews.
How can anyone sit back and watch as a Jewish State legislates that one Jew will put another Jew into jail for studying Torah?
This is something that saddens all of us and we pray that Hashem should bring us together as one people.

This was not a protest. No one spoke, there was no speeches. No banners or signs – Just tehillim and tefila

It was most specifically NOT done to attract the media. It took place inside a Shul – the most appropriate place for prayer.
There was no contact with the media and no street signs.

You have stated the exact opposite of what we were aiming.   We came for prayer for unity peace and you interpreted it as the opposite.

I think you owe the organisers a public apology for your words.
Wishing you a Good Shabbos and Simchas Purim
BINYOMIN KOPPEL
President
Adass Israel
 
PS Please note that I am responding on behalf of our Shul.
Mizrachi’s response is produced below
Dear Binyomin,
I refer to your email of 14 March 2014.
Your letter raises a number of complaints concerning the statement I made on 13 March 2014 which I will attempt to deal with.
First, you say that you are astounded that I would issue such a notice without the courtesy of enquiring about the aim of this gathering.
The aim of the gathering was readily apparent from the poster that was widely distributed. The poster depicted a Sefer Torah wrapped in barbed wire conjuring up the very worst images from our recent history. It called upon men, women and children aged 9 and over to “show solidarity with our embattled brethren in Eretz Yisrael regarding the proposed new law”. It contained images of large outdoor rallies held in Jerusalem and New York.  Although you assert that I should have made enquiries about the aim of the gathering before making any statement, no attempt was made to consult with the Mizrachi Organisation (or to obtain Rabbi Sprung’s signature) prior to organising the event. Presumably that was because it was anticipated by the organisers that Mizrachi would have objected in the strongest terms to what was being planned.
Secondly, you say that I mischaracterised the event by calling it a protest.
When people are called upon to assemble in large numbers to voice their opposition to legislation enacted by a democratically elected government, they are in effect being called upon to protest. A protest need not involve speeches or banners, although I note that similar events held in other cities included such features. You say that the event “took place inside a Shul – the most appropriate place for prayer”. However the poster announced that the rally would take place in the Adass Gutnick Hall.
Thirdly, you state that in organising the gathering you “mirrored the call of the ENTIRE Torah leadership worldwide”.
It is disappointing and troubling that you do not consider Mizrachi and our ideological affiliates around the world, who did not participate in any such events, as part of the Torah leadership community.
Fourthly, you assert that the legislation will mean that “one Jew will put another Jew into jail for studying Torah”.
A cursory reading of the legislation or the available summaries of it will reveal that the law has no such purpose or effect. Its intent is to gradually implement a more equitable sharing of the responsibility for protecting and defending the State of Israel and all of its inhabitants. The law does not come into effect until at least 2017. In the meantime, there is a full exemption for anyone over 26 who did not register in the past and an exemption for anyone aged between 22-26. There will be an option to perform national service rather than serve in the armed forces. Exceptional students will be completely exempt.
Fifthly, you write “We came for prayer for unity (and) peace and you interpreted it as the opposite”.
Scheduling the event on Ta’anit Esther and using the words “Gezeirot Kashot” (ie. harsh decrees) to describe the legislation recently enacted by the State of Israel plainly sought to equate that legislation and those responsible for it with with the terrible edicts decreed against the Jews by Ahasuerus at the instigation of Haman. Actions and statements such as these are plainly calculated to erode achdut. Referring to the Government of the State of Israel as “Shevet HaRasha” (the evil tribe) erodes achdut. How can you claim that you were seeking “unity” and “peace” when you describe fellow Jews in these terms.
I note that, since receiving your letter, two of the seven Rabbis who signed the poster have since expressed deep regret and emphatically dissociated themselves from the document.
You conclude your letter by saying that I owe the organisers of the event a public apology. For the reasons set out above I am not able to apologise for the statement that I made on behalf of the Mizrachi Organisation.
Yours sincerely,
Ian
__________________
Ian Waller SC
President
Mizrachi Organisation

Egalitarianism is Treyf and can’t be cooked

The following is a Dvar Torah from Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter שליט’’א via Torah Web. Rav Hershel is not an Agudist, and is clear thinking Posek par excellence who importantly follows the methodology of Psak that he inherited from his teacher, the Rav, R’ Soloveitchik זצ’’ל and who is the Doyen Posek for the Poskim at YU, and co-chief Posek for the OU. He has been outspoken on a number of issues (and I have written about them in the past). For example:

  • He unambiguously says that suspected pedophiles be reported to the police and there is no Din of Mesira
  • He supports pressuring recalcitrant husbands who don’t want to give a Get, using Rabbeinu Tam’s method, and does so on a case by case basis

He is not an academic. He doesn’t need to look up Bar Ilan CDs or Otzar Hachochmo. He has Kol HaTorah Kulah at his finger tips. When one actually speaks to him, one is struck by his incredible humility and ehrlichkeit. He is softly spoken, and isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know”.

About fifty years ago the Yiddish press carried a news item that the Vaad Halacha of the conservative movement issued a “psak halacha” that one may drink Welch’s Grape Juice. Their reasoning was that Talmud states that there is no prohibition of stam yainom on yayin mevushal and the grape juice was cooked.

Rav Soloveitchick came into his class the next day, related to the students what he had read, and asked if anyone knows what was incorrect with the statement. The only one among the students who knew anything about the topic at the time was Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein who had a smile on his face. The Rov asked him to explain to the other students where the error was. So R’ Aharon explained:

The main reason Chazal prohibited stam yainom was out of fear that it could possibly lead to intermarriage; the concern that perhaps the nochri may have been menasech the wine and then later allow someone to drink it was very farfetched. However, once Chazalinstituted the prohibition out of concern of chasnus, they extended the issur to include even kosher wine handled by a nochri lest the nochri was menasech it for avodah zora. In the event that the wine had previously been cooked, it would be even more unlikely that thenochri would be menasech it, and therefore in that case magah ha’nochri would not make the wine prohibited. But since in the case of Welch’s Grape Juice the wine was processed by nochrim before being cooked, the fact that they cooked it afterwards was irrelevant. The wine was forbidden because the concern of b’noseihem (intermarriage), which is the primary reason for the issur of stam yainom to begin with, still applied even though the farfetched concern of nissuch no longer applied.

The fatty parts of the sacrifices that have to be burnt on the mizbeach must to be raw; if they are first cooked, the kohein does not fulfill his mitzvah of haktorah. This haktorah lacks the element of raiach nichoach because the smell will simply not be the same. Similarly, the blood of a korban may not be cooked before being sprinkled upon the mizbeach; if it is cooked first, it’s not considered dam (blood) but merely the “juice of the meat”. It is for this reason we assume in Shulchan Aruch that eating dam shebishlo is only forbiddenm’dirabbonon – such blood would not be acceptable in a korban, and that is the entire basis for the biblical prohibition forbidding dam.

The same is true regarding wine. Yayin mevushal is considered inferior and would not be accepted for nisuch on the mizbeach. Since it would not be accepted on the mizbeach in the Beis Hamikdash, we assume that the nochrim would probably also not use it for their avodah zora. For that reason, if a nochri handled kosher wine where there is no issue of “binoseihem” but only the concern of nissuch, if the kosher wine had already been mevushal the chachomim never prohibited it.

One must remember that in the old days, the Conservative movement had a number of people who were Talmidei Chachomim. There were also a number of Orthodox Rabonim who worked in their JTA because it was a job, and it paid. Of course, their method of Psak via democratic vote doesn’t turn them into some quasi Sanhedrin.

In our day, we have the academic Professor, Rabbi Sperber who is cited as the authority to permit partnership minyanim. Tradition magazine recently featured a destruction of Sperber’s permissive ruling for places like Shira Chadasha, and their neo-modern egalitarian inspired mode of service by the famous erudite academic brothers, Professors Frimer, who have written on many of these topics over decades.

As far as I know, the Melbourne Shira Chadasha don’t have minyanim three times a day. Why? I guess one only has to be egalitarian on Friday Night and Shabbos? Whilst there are some misguided and ernest people who attend there, they stay outside the pale of normative Psak and Mesora and Orthodoxy. The majority from what I can tell, struggle with many of the normal non-egalitarian Mitzvos, that  Prof Sperber would say are non negotiable and would consider completely forbidden.

What is striking about the articles over the years on various egalitarian topics involving the “rights of women” in Judaism by the Professors Frimer, is that they undertake a painstaking analysis of topics, and then discuss these with Gedolei HaPoskim. They will quote R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and his famed son-in-law R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg et al. These are not “immovable right-wing poskim” but innovators who call a spade a spade when it comes to Halacha, but who maintain adherence to Mesora that has been the link between generations since Moshe Rabbenu (whose Yohr Tzeit is tonight if you follow the opinion that you also commemorate the second Adar).

Like the Grape Juice, the issue of these partnership minyanim was Treyf Lechatchila. As R’ Moshe noted, it was born not from Judaism, but the modern feminist movements. It cannot and should never be decided by the Sperbers and Kaplans of this world. The former is famous for his erudite academic work on Minhagei Yisrael, but that does not catapult him into the position of a Posek, let alone one who is qualified to make far-reaching changes to the definition of Kvod HaTzibbur. His opinion has been negated by R’ Yehuda Herz Henkin as well, and Rav Henkin is not exactly a Posek who remains beholden to a dormant lack of momentum. He and his wife head Nishmas. My cousin, is a Yoetzet Halacha and knows a heck of a lot more than I do. Speaking to her many times, I find a woman who is not driven remotely by feminism or egalitarianism. She is a Torah Scholar who doesn’t need the Avi Weiss Maharat denomination, and is most effective helping and answering and referring questions for women, as need be.

Rabbis are torn on how to deal with Shira Chadasha. They all agree that this is not an Orthodox prayer service. It could be classed as a right-wing mode of Conservative prayer service. If the membership are attacked, this may strengthen their resolve. If they are ignored, they may grow unfettered. They latch onto anything “modern” and are happy to adopt Carlebach style sing-song (Davening is much more than a sing-song. Chazal mandated strict rules) or Eastern influenced forays into Parks to daven/meditate in concert with nature.

The correct mantra is חדש ימינו כקדם

“Modern” Orthodoxy faces an internal schism

Rav Schachter, Shilita, doesn’t like the term Modern Orthodox. Many don’t. If the term is to be used, it means the type of Orthodoxy that is ready to deal with modern issues using modern knowledge. Rav Schachter believes this is nothing new in the sense that dealing with modern issues is something most groups with Orthodoxy undertake. They have to. When a question comes before a Rav, he needs to either answer it, or send the questioner to a different Rav who may be more qualified to answer that type of question.

Whilst Rav Schachter is also a Rosh Kollel, and in general a Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel doesn’t make the “best” Posek for a Ba’al Habayis, because they often live in a surreal world which is cut off, at best from the vicissitudes facing the man and woman who are immersed in Olam HaZeh, and not looking at Daled Chelkei Shulchan Aruch for most of their day. Rav Schachter is different. His interaction with an ordinary Ba’al HaBayis is palpable when he speaks, although stylistically and on occasion his oratory is more Yeshivish. He has a modest and respectful charm, which I can testify is very much real and uplifting.

Like his own teacher, the renowned Rav, Rav Soloveitchik ז’ל, Rav Schachter has an enormous and unshakeable attachment to Mesora/tradition. Mesora isn’t always that clear, of course. For example, simply looking at last week’s Parsha, when discussing how the Jews had access to Shitim wood in a dessert, Rashi quotes a Tanchuma and Yerushalmi (from memory) that Ya’akov Avinu foresaw that the Jews would need Shitim to build the Mishkan and ensured that these were planted in Egypt and then transported. Yet, Ibn Ezra says words that

If these thoughts of the Amoraim and Geonim are a Kabolo (Mesora) in learning that they received, then we must accept it. If they are not, but rather constitute a more homlitic interpretation by Chazal, then we (he, the Ibn Ezra) has another suggestion. His view is that there was an Oasis near Har Sinai, and it was from there that they took Shitim Wood

What’s obvious to the Ibn Ezra is that he is completely respectful to the Mesora. He just doesn’t have (from his own teachers) a definite teaching that Rashi’s sources constitute a definite truth, as opposed to a possibility. He does not dismiss this view as “far-fetched” and not to be accepted. Rather, he qualifies his comments with an “If then else”.

In terms of dealing with new questions, or indeed old ones, in a “modern” framework, what makes Modern or Centrist Orthodoxy different is really two things

  1. A rejection of the Hungarian view espoused by the Chasam Sofer, that “all that is new is forbidden”. In other words, if you don’t know about a new proposal or approach, then in a void of Mesorah, it is safest to always pronounce that the answer is “NO”
  2. The use of modern knowledge to aid us in understanding and further bringing Kavod LaTorah.

The latter is scary for the Aguda and those to the right of the Aguda. It represents a precipice. There is no question, that when, ironically, it comes to questions of Kashrus, all agencies rely on modern science. Science is respected, and the knowledge of the food chemist is critical. When it comes to questions of electricity and Shabbos, the Posek again must understand the physics. The Posek of a certain generation will indeed Pasken according to the modern understanding of the Science of their time. However, the modern orthodox Posek will not be afraid to also PERMIT something which was once forbidden because of a faulty model that was understood in yesteryear.

Another divide can be seen in issues involving the types of items identified in the Sefer, Hilchos Shmiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh. This has a list of many things that should be avoided because they may be injurious to health. Some are from the Gemora, others are more Kaballistic.

Rav Schachter contends that on matters of health, for example, THE MESORA itself, was to use the best knowledge of doctors of the time. In reality, when we are sick we all do that. However, when it comes to some “dangerous” things, Rav Schachter will often say that we don’t need to worry about it, as it only represented the best medical/scientific knowledge at the time. Now, we know better. We, however, must according to the Torah, use the best knowledge available in coming to a cogent and relevant (read modern Psak) as opposed to taking the Hungarian/Chassidic line of forbidding more and not less.

That being said, there are lines, and there always have been lines. Some of these lines can be argued with on the basis of “modern NEEDS” as opposed to modern knowledge or science. This constitutes the basis of articles involving  R’ Haskel Lookstein.

It is ironic, that the vast majority of ladies who want to include male mitzvos, do not routinely keep female mitzvos. One only has to look at the practices of those in Shira Chadasha style prayer organisations (I can only speak somewhat about the Melbourne manifestation). If only, if only, egalitarianism wasn’t the petrol in their Jewish Car, and comprehensive attempts at all Torah and Mitzvos, especially those already germane to women and men, were adhered to scrupulously. Alas, they appear not to. The emphasis is on egalitarianism, the catch cry of the conservative, and the idea that people like the Rav, R’ Moshe warned about. These cannot and must not change the existing Mesora.

Yes, if there is a particularly enriched and scrupulous woman, who is like the women of yore, with Tehillim on their lips, Torah in their hands, and Yiras Shomayim in spades, who objects to such exceptions fulfilling a natural progression. Ashreichem, if you reach such a Madreyga. Men don’t need to. We are enjoined to do these things, even if we haven’t reached such heights. Woman, however, are enjoined to focus on their important orthogonal role, and if they are special, so be it.

Rav Schachter, and his colleagues, are debating these issues behind closed doors, and doing so in a spirit of Torah and not through the press with hot loaded statements, that really don’t constititute adequate Tshuvos on the topic(s) (especially when they have erroneous sources, but let’s not go there).

I pray that Rav Schachter and his Chaverim are able to peacefully negotiate the issues with Ramaz and the like, and keep true to the firm and unshakeable weltanshauung of Rav Soloveitchik when it comes to “ceremony” and Shule. Shule was never about a mode of ceremony for the Rav. It was all about Hilchos Tfilla, and the Lonely Man of Faith, never lost sought of this.

I see no renaissance in female Jewish observance surging through the modern orthodox world. On the contrary, they seem to struggle with “why is sending sms’s on shabbos forbidden”.

Enough. I don’t want to cast aspersions on many good people.

Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin

[Hat tip from Krakover]

This is from the forward.

Two SAR Students Break Ritual Barriers

Published January 20, 2014.

SAR High School, a Modern Orthodox institution in Riverdale, New York, is now allowing girls to wear tefillin.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, head of the school, sent out an email explaining that two girls were granted permission to wrap tefillin at the school’s daily all-girls meeting,reports the Boiling Pot, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in LA.
 
“I have given permission to two female students… to put on tefillin during tefilah,” Rabbi Harcsztark wrote Dec. 8, in an email to the school’s faculty, obtained by The Boiling Point. “They do so every day and have not been permitted to do so in school until now. “I believe that it is halachically permissible although it is a communally complicated issue.”
 
Ronit Morris (‘15) and Yael Marans (‘16) will now be wearing tefillin every day, the SAR Buzz reported.

“(This mitzvah) has been very important to me for a very long time and I’m really glad to be doing it at SAR,” Morris (‘15 told the Buzz. “I started putting on tefillin after my bat mitzvah. I lay tefillin for three years straight at [Solomon] Schechter every morning, and then I came to SAR and it did not seem like that was a thing that the school was going to go for at the time, and we put it off for a while.”
 
Marans (‘16) told a similar story, adding that her mother also wore tefillin every day. “Just before my bat mitzvah, I began putting on tefillin. It was just what my mom did, and, of course, what my brothers did,” she explained. “But I was one of a few girls in my grade that did. It made me think a lot about individuality, and eventually, when I wasn’t so overwhelmed by this new ritual, I realized it was making me think about God. I’m not going to say that every time I lay tefillin I feel a renewed awe of God, but sometimes it really makes me think. It’s just something in my day that makes me really conscious and concentrated.”
 
According to a Ricki Heicklin, a senior at SAR, meetings with every grade were held to address the reasoning behind the controversial decision.
 
“There were a handful of students who saw tefillin as something strongly correlated with the Conservative movement.” Heicklen told The Boiling Point, adding: “I strongly support the girls and I think it’s absurd that anybody would be upset about Rabbi Harcsztark’s decision.”
 
“Regardless of my personal choices, I think everyone at SAR should be allowed to connect to Hashem in whatever way they find meaningful, as long as it falls within the scope of halacha, which this clearly does,” Heicklen said.
 
Praying with tefillin — boxes containing the Shema prayer that are wrapped around the head and arm — is an obligatory mitzvah for boys. 
 
Girls are not forbidden to do so by halacha, but rabbis from different streams of Judaism disagree as to whether or not they should.
My opinion on this and similar matters has remained steadfast over many years. It is greatly influenced by the views of the Rav and R’ Moshe Feinstein.
There will always be people who do things which are permitted according to Jewish Law, when performed in earnest, not as a temporal manifestation of a Jerusalem Syndrome or the like, and most certainly not motivated in any shape of form by the populist egalitarianism and equality arguments bandied about by the left, as if they are the two missing links of the ten commandments.
Let’s call it as it is. Men and Women are existentially different. Period. The Torah  also provides for different roles and responsibilities. This is a legally grounded Mesora.
There are degrees of freedom. They are applied, also based on Mesora, to those who have attained a certain level of kedusha. That’s not the same as saying that every man already has that kedusha when they are born, of course. They do not.
There have been female Rebbes. Read about it. There have been and are women who put on Tefillin. Maybe some want to wear Tzitzis etc. Those who are at that level, consult a Rav, and act accordingly. Judaism hasn’t censored these acts or hidden them. It is condoned, but it is controlled.
What I do object to, is the institutionalisation of such practices. No school or similar should allow these things to be done with the style of pomp and ceremony implied by the article above. Those girls are quite capable of doing these things, in a modest way, without their school or they advertising their predispositions.
I don’t say Tikun Chatzos. If I did, frankly, I’d be a complete joke. Why? I’m simply not at a level that I could meaningfully sit and cry each night at midnight about the Churban. Those who do, do so in private. Sure, some of their family will know, but they do not make it known, nor do they announce a Tikun Chatzos evening.
One of my daughters who attended Lindenbaum (Brovenders) started to get sick and tired of her Halacha class. I asked her why. She said, because they were learning the laws of Tzniyus and most of the girls (from the USA) who are extremely bright, were attempting every which way to argue with the Rav, about sleeve lengths, hem lines, and neck lines. They started with the premise that the lines (sic) were too long, and then tried to argue their way through the sources to find support for their views. The Rav who taught, engaged them, quite correctly, explaining the various views etc. Eventually, my daughter stood up in the class (as an Aussie would) and said
“Hey, I came to learn Halacha. I didn’t come to spend months arguing about skirt length and pants etc. Many of you don’t keep these Dinim anyway, and you argue. Just accept what the Halacha is, and if you can’t/don’t keep it, then it’s your business with Hashem. Can we move onto other topics please.”
I was proud of her. That’s not to imply that my daughter was a paragon of Tzniyus etc. Rather, her balance was there, and she was more comfortable knowing what Halacha and Mesora were, and their parameters, than trying to somehow stretch and play with it so that they matched her parameters of comfort.
Ten females will never be considered a Minyan. That’s another halachic axiom. If you have Yiras Shomayim, you accept it. If your religion is egalitarianism/equality, you won’t.
It reminds me of words my father ע’’ה used to say in Yiddish when I asked him a question he didn’t think he should answer:
Do you have to know, or do you need to know

The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors

[Apologies as this may seem like a repost for some readers. WordPress seemed to get confused, so I have re-published as a new article]

There is seemingly a trend that has taken hold in the last 12 months or more. We’ve seen it employed by Orthodox Jews, some Orthodox Shules, and the Conservadox Shira Chadasha. The trend is to move out of the Shule and into the outdoors, presumably for a heightened, perhaps more “spiritual” davening. To be sure, it’s not (yet) regular, and is something that is utilised at chosen times. Many of these services revolve around music, and “nature”.

I am a musician. I’m not a “mathematical” musician in the sense of analysing a score and declaring it a piece of genius. Rather, I was blessed (I guess) to have a special חוש/sense for music to the extent that I can play a piece after I have listened to it.

I am inspired by music. I find that it touches my Neshama. It’s something that can uplift me, or just as importantly it can solemnise my feelings to the extent that I’m “at one” with those ambient feelings. Feeling melancholy I may choose Rachmaninov, for example; I love Russian classical music as it seems to accurately reflect the oeuvre of the tragedy of much of Jewish history. On Yom HaShoah, when I hear the ‘Partisan Song’, it never fails to stir and uplift.

Halacha discusses what type of music is acceptable. Obviously, love songs, as mentioned by the Rambam, aren’t in the frame. Some, such as R’ Moshe Feinstein based on the fact that he felt the Pshat in a Gemora was more in tune with the R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber, than the Ramo) went as far as prohibiting pleasurable music all year around as an expression of זכר לחורבן. This view is not widely accepted.

As I always reiterate, my pitputim are just that. Ask your own Rov if you have any questions or concerns. Rav Ovadya also had interesting Teshuvos on this (I can’t recall whether it was in Yabia Omer or Yechave Daas). If my memory serves me correctly, he even permitted muslim prayer tunes to be set to Jewish words and used as part of Tefilla!

I’m a traditionalist, especially when it comes to authentic Jewish expressions of connection with Hashem and preserving the Mesora via modes of accepted expression, additions and location.

I’m lucky enough to also feel exhilaration when learning, and I prefer delving than more surface-oriented coverage. The latter is instructive and important, in the sense of המעשה אשר יעשון but it doesn’t perhaps titillate me when compared to the combination of intellect/neshama as elicited by חכמת התורה. That for me, provides a tangible connection to אלוקות. Your mileage will vary, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. There have always been at least two approaches. הרבה דרכים למקום

Many of our current youth seek tangible and immediately perceived connection through their senses. Some are limited in their ידיעת התורה armoury, and the soul-like, metaphysical connection through song, works effectively as a catalyst. A catalyst towards what, one might ask? Is it a means or an end? Effectively in my Weltanschauung, is when this leads one to the level that they can meditate on Shmoneh Esreh in the very least, and through that seek to “connect”. Shmoneh Esreh is Tefilla.

As Rav Soloveitchik always pointed out, Judaism has never been reactive or temporally focussed on modes of pomp and ceremony and new forms of worship: these cross the line of Mesora. We are bound, happily, through our Mesora. To Chazal, Mesora is Halacha, and it regulates accepted methods and modes of Tefilla and delineates the unacceptable.

We don’t make up new integral prayers (as opposed to תחנות and בקשות) or modes of prayer. We follow the Nusach of our Mesorah, and we do not deviate. It is, of course, well-known, that when faced with the rising influence of conservative temples in the USA, the Rav stood steadfast, and would only allow “innovation” that didn’t step beyond Mesora and Halacha. Sometimes, protective mechanisms were needed to entrench a barrier against a temporal but threatening breach. These need to be approved by an expert Posek. One does not innovate on the basis of a more academically inclined analysis of sections culled from the Bar Ilan responsa DVD. That does not a Psak make.

There is the story recorded by Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter, of a Baal Teshuva who would have offended his family by not attending the Bar Mitzvah of his brother. The Bar Mitzvah was to be held in a conservative temple. The Rav, whose Psokim one may not generally extend to their own situation, ruled that the Baal Teshuva should attend so as not to cause Agmas Nefesh and Machlokes on the strict proviso that in respect of the conservative service he:

  1. Daven in a proper Orthodox Minyan beforehand
  2. Sit when they stood
  3. Stand when they sat
  4. Not answer Amen

In no way, should he give the impression that he was participating in davening per se at a conservative temple. Each situation is different, of course, and a Posek needs to be appraised of the complete circumstance before issuing their Psak Din.

R’ Shlomo Carlebach, a controversial figure, is in vogue, especially in sing/song style prayer. Allegations, about him, abound. Some are most concerning and sinister. Yet he was also proffered love by the Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א, widely considered as one of the “holiest Rebbes” of our generation.

A young Amshinover Rebbe with R’ Shlomo Carlebach

At the same time, in Igros Moshe, Even HoEzer (in the middle of a Tshuva), Reb Moshe Feinstein intimated that nigunnim performed before a certain period in Reb Shlomo’s life were acceptable, but those after that date were not to be played or sung.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל personally told me that he was a chavrusa/learning partner of R’ Shlomo. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, after Reb Shlomo diverted to a more controversial path, how to interact with him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should be Mekarev R’ Shlomo, but never under the umbrella or Mosdos of Chabad per se.

I once used a Carlebach melody at Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, and Rabbi Groner advised me not to do it again, for these reasons. He, of course, told me this privately and quietly after Shule, as I walked out after ravening. I know that Rabbi Groner’s son, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi also adheres to this approach in the Chabad House where he is Rabbi.

Many of our youth seem to seek spirituality. Authentic Jewish spirituality can be achieved in a number of Masoretic ways. I’m not sure, though, whether home-grown techniques of spirituality lead towards מעשה בפועל or if they are all permitted anyway. One would hope so, even if contraindicated, as per Reb Moshe or others. We should assume that seekers are earnest in their quest for interaction with אלוקות. The method of T’filla and the place of T’filla however, must remain the mainstream Chazal-mandated approach. Yes, there is a place for התבוננות, reflection and meditation. The Breslaver Chassidim require it once a day, the Baal Shem Tov himself did it—each to their own.

Lately, I’ve noticed various Orthodox groups (I consider Shira Chadasha conservadox in my nomenclature despite spirited sound-bites on a Melbourne TV show attempting to convince us that they are Orthodox) seek to leave the sanctuary of Shules and Shteiblach, or even house-minyanim and seek the outdoors through the aegis of an open area/park or similar setting.

I am not enamoured halachically by house minyanim on a regular basis during, say, summer months. There are shules close by.

ברוב עם הדרת מלך

is not a platitude. It is a halachic requirement.

Sometimes, perhaps mostly, so-called alternate services are accompanied by a Carlebachian inspired sing-song. As a musician, I know this can stir the heart. The effect is amplified when there is a knowledge of Pirush Hamilos. [ I cringe if the wrong style of tune is used for a passage or chapter. I even cringe when commas are placed at the wrong places: a sure indication that a basic understanding of the structure of Tefilla and Pirush Hamilos needs serious attention. ]

But what does Halacha say about davening in an outdoor setting? I’m assuming that Dina D’Malchusa is followed and council permits are obtained. Parks are not normally designated as places of worship. Imagine if Muslims, Xtians and Buddhists also decided to utilise parks for their places of worship. I, for one, do not think it is appropriate.

The encounter with Hashem is a private one (in the sense of occurring in a house of God), that should be constructed through the agency of a quorum of ten males and a suitable separation of males and females. Dogs, children playing, plain schmutz and the like, do not appear environmentally appropriate. As summarised in Shulchan Aruch Siman 90 S

לא יתפלל במקום פרוץ כמן בשדה

Shulchan Aruch (‘סע’ ה) rules that one should not daven in an open area, for example, a field. The rationale he gives for this halacha is that when one davens in a place that is closed one will have more awe for the King and will have a broken heart which is advantageous for davening. Mishnah Berurah writes that if a place is surrounded by walls it is an acceptable place (ס”ק י”ב מובא דבריו בחיי משה) to daven even if there is no roof.

Shulchan Tahor maintains that l’chatchila, ideallyone should daven in a place that has a roof in addition to walls. However, if the walls extend ten tefachim higher than the average person’s height, one could daven there in a pressing circumstance.

Eshel Avrohom adopts a more lenient approach and contends that it is sufficient if there is a wall in front of the person davening even if there are no walls on his sides. He also adds that this requirement is only for shemone esrei but for pesukei d’zimra one may even daven in an open area.

Sefer Toras Chaim (סק”ז) asserts that this halacha applies when someone davens by himself but it is acceptable for a tzibbur to daven in an open place since the experience of davening with a tzibbur will cause him to have a broken heart and awe of the King. Kaf HaChaim (אות ל”א) cites Ritva who rules that if a minyan is davening together this issue does not apply.

Sha’arei Teshuvah (סק”א) implies, however, that this issue applies to a tzibbbur the same way it applies to an individual.

So, while there is room to be lenient I would think, and this is borne out by opinion, that praying in a park/field is perhaps a stepping stone to the ideal, which is to pray in an ascribed place, viz, a Shule with all its concomitant Kedusha (ironically) and regulation. At the end of the day, it is the iconic Mikdash M’at, a miniature of the Beis Hamikdash itself. See especially the Kitzur Minyan HaMitzvos from the Rambam where he clearly describes this as a D’Orayso, a Torah imperative. We are enjoined to simulate the Beis Hamikdash through both the prayer, the behaviour and the building structure!

A certain man rushed to daven Maariv but missed borchu. Naturally, he wished to daven with a minyan that was just beginning so that he could answer borchu in the beginning of the tefillah. There actually was another Maariv which began a few minutes later but the minyan was outside the sanctuary, in a place without walls. This man wondered what he should do. On the one hand, he knew that it is preferable to daven in a place with walls as we find on today’s amud. On the other hand, he was loath to miss borchu. When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that davening in the shul with walls is preferable. “Even if you will miss borchu it is still better to daven with the minyan inside. Even though the davening outside is complete with borchu, davening without mechitzos is less than ideal.” אבני ישפה, תפילה, פי”א, ס”ו, ובהערה ז

In another place they would pray Minchah in a largish stairwell. Although a minyan always stayed inside, some of the people would wind up joining them outside the building. Since there were no functional walls out of doors, one of the group protested. ”The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to daven in a place without mechitzos. It is therefore b’dieved to daven outside.” But those who stood outside disagreed. “As long as you are part of a minyan which davens inside it shouldn’t matter what you yourself do. It is not as though I have less kavanah, so why assume that inside is superior for every individ- ual?” When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, he ruled that they should indeed pray with the minyan inside. “Those who daven in a stairwell should remain together inside, and not have some people davening inside the building while others are outside.” תפילה כהלכתה, פ”ב, הערה פ”ה

Pardon the pun, but we need to see the wood from the trees. If it is desirable in our age to enfranchise those who would otherwise not seek to daven, through Carlebachian/Breslav, outdoor or “spirit grow style” techniques, then that is an intermediate level, and an expert Posek must be consulted. However, it should always be understood that this level is a stepping stone to the ideal. The ideal is to daven in a Shule or Beis Medrash and to be become a Doogma Chaya, a living example, of how one should comport oneself in a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature version of the Beis Hamikdash. The laws of a Beis Knesses and Beis Medrash are directly derived, according to many, such as R’ Chaim Brisker, from the Beis Hamikdash itself. The Rav gave many examples of this in his Torah.

In a tangential way, even though there is leeway to innovate in respect of melodies during the Nusach HaTefilla, one must remember that some elements are inviolate. Can anyone imagine singing Kol Nidrei to another tune? Cantor Be’er from YU’s Belz School of Music has written a wonderful article where he delineates the Tefillos and categorizes those which one may innovate, tune-wise.

I remember as a boy that both L’cha Dodi and Kel Adon were sung, but this took place in the Masoretic mode of the Chazan and congregation pausing between stanza in the form of “saying and answering” (Davar Shebikdusha, as expounded by the Rav)

Mesora must be protected and cherished.

שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך

Mesora must be protected and cherished. It alone provides the protective borders within which we can serve through an authentic Jewish service.

Carlebach in prayerful bliss: From Ha’aretz

Davening etiquette/halacha (Part 2)

In Part 1, I wondered about someone who was consistently finding that they were not able to be with the Minyan at Shmoneh Esreh for a variety of reasons, such as davening slowly or coming late to the extent that they can’t get to Shmoneh Esreh whether they follow the Mishna Brura or the Ari (based on the Zohar) about davening in order without skipping. See details in Mishna Brura Orach Chaim 52: 1.

There is a Sha’arei Tshuva (ad loc) that writes in אות א, that if someone finds themselves davening with Kavono and can’t achieve the above, that they should not skip in any case. That, however, is clearly not the issue of someone who does this on a daily basis.

It is, in my opinion (not LeHalacha and not LeMaaseh) that if one finds oneself davening in such a minyan on a daily basis that they have three choices

  1. Come earlier so that they reach Tefilla B’Tzibbur with the rest of the Minyan, so that nobody is waiting for them (see Rav Stern in Be’er Moshe 4:9 where he permits starting early not to miss a Kaddish, Yabea Omer O.C. 2:7, Also Lekach Hakemach Hachodosh 90:66.
  2. Skip parts if they can’t make it earlier
  3. Daven elsewhere

I also saw this sentiment confirmed by R’ Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe Chelek Daled, Orach Chaim, as quoted in Tefila Kehalacha by Rav Fuchs, and this is also understood as the opinion of R’ Elyashiv in Avnei Yushfeih. See also Chayei Adom 19:1,  Halichos Shlomo Tefilla 8:7, Dinim V’hanhogos of the Chazzon Ish 4:5

In conclusion, it is logical to conclude that if you are one of basically ten or eleven or twelve, in a minyan that davens at a non Yeshivish pace, so that people can get to work then you are simply not entitled to impose your slower davening pace (as well-intentioned as it may be) or following the Ari/Zohar (Shulchan Aruch HoRav) about not skipping Psukei Dzimra or entitled to constantly come such that you aren’t one of the 6 who are commencing Shmoneh Esreh (six is the opinion of a vast array of Poskim).

Davening etiquette/halacha

Being in Aveylus, of course, sensitises me to such issues. I am sure I am not the first nor am I the last. It’s not a unique situation, of course, so I’m interested to hear others views. Disclaimer: I haven’t reviewed the halachos, which I will hopefully on the weekend, and am working off memory.

The Mishna B’rura (and others) point out that if someone comes late to Shule (let’s say Shachris), then depending on how late they come, they should skip certain pre-tefillos, and make sure that ultimately, they commence Shmoneh Esreh with the Chazan. Shmoneh Esreh is Tfilla, and all else is a preamble, although we have to say Krias Shma before its appointed time. In such a situation, one who has skipped sections, ideally should return to them and complete them later.

Shachris often presents a dichotomy, especially in older established Shules. Some Mispallelim work for a living. They daven, then may go home to eat breakfast, help out with the kids and then ensure that they are at their workplace on time. Many start work at 9am, some start earlier. There are others, who either don’t work (perhaps they are retired or unemployed or incapacitated) or have less of an issue about being at the workplace at a particular time.

It is not always possible to have a Minyan that davens relatively slowly and starts at the crack of dawn. Many different issues come into play. It is quite common to find minyanim that daven at a brisk rate. When I say brisk rate, I don’t mean a pun on the city of Brisk. Rather, I mean, at a rate where one can say each work, but do so quickly, and without much time to meditate on words/phrases. Shma and Shmone Esreh tend to be different. Shma is meant to be said so that one can audibly hear oneself and ideally said with the Trop. Shmoneh Esreh (the silent one) usually is a bit slower, as I pointed out above, it IS Tefillah, ultimately.

Now, this view of the Mishna Brura and others is not universal. Minhag Chabad based on the Alter Rebbe, the Baal HaTanya and Shulchan Aruch HoRav, is to always daven in order. That is, not to skip. If that means that one isn’t up to the minyan at Shmoneh Esreh, so be it.

I’m not sure, however, that the view of the Alter Rebbe was that if one finds oneself davening in such a minyan, that one should never say Tefillah B’Tzibbur. Perhaps, and I am stretching with no Mekor, he would argue that in such a situation one should begin davening privately and come earlier so that when Shmoneh Esreh came along, one was with the rest of the Minyan. Either that, or he’d say find a Minyan that davens at your pace.

On the flip side of the coin, the Yeshivish/Litvishe types who tend to say each work aloud (not just Shma) and/or extend their own quiet Shmoneh Esreh for a longish time, may cause those who have to go to work, to wait for them to have a minyan answering Amen. Perhaps, they too should come earlier to Minyan so that they can “kill two birds with one stone” so to speak?

I discussed this issue with one Mispallel where I daven, who happens to learn in a Kollel each day, and he said to me that he saw somewhere that the Mishna Brura’s advice of skipping is only when one comes late. But, if someone didn’t come late, then he should daven at his normal pace, even if this means that the rest of the Minyan might be waiting for him so that they can start Shmoneh Esreh (quietly) or for Chazoras HaShatz. He couldn’t recall where he had seen this difference.

Given that I daven for the Amud, as an Avel, I’m acutely aware that those who have come to the minyan include people who need to leave by a certain time, and I try to keep things moving.

The above two categories of Mispallelim can sometimes cause angst in that it makes it harder for the Minyan to be “worker friendly”.

Your thoughts?

Image from shulcloud.com

Women’s Prayer Protests at Western Wall Are Just Childish Provocation

[Hat tip to MT]

This is from the Forward. I’ve always enjoyed Hillel Halkin’s articles. I think I used to read them in the Jerusalem Report. Article reproduced below.

I am, in my religious behavior, somewhere between what Israelis would call ahiloni or “secular” Jew and a masorti or “traditional” one. My wife and I light candles on Shabbat, we celebrate the Jewish holidays with our children and grandchildren, and now and then, for one reason or another, I find myself in a synagogue. (Preferably, an Orthodox one. It’s the only kind I know how to pray in.) On the whole, though, the religious customs and rituals that I don’t observe vastly outnumber those that I do. And of course, I don’t bother going around with my head covered, as observant Jews do, unless it’s raining.

Why am I telling you this? Because in certain places — on a rare visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, for example — I’ll put on a kippah even though I resent having to do it. As a Jew and an Israeli, I feel that the Wall is as much mine as anyone else’s; being forced to place a round piece of fabric on my head, or the ridiculous cardboard substitute that’s handed to me if I’ve forgotten to bring one, irritates me.

Why do I have to meet religious standards that aren’t mine for the right to stand in a public place that resonates with my people’s history and that I respond to with genuine emotion?

Why am I telling you this? Because if someone were, improbably, to come to me and say, “Listen, next week there’s going to be a demonstration of bare-headed Jewish men at the Wall; we’re going to pray and sing and keep coming back every month until our rights are recognized — and we’d like you to join us,” I’d politely tell him to get lost.

First, though, I might say: “What kind of stupidity is that? I don’t like having to wear a kippah at the Wall any more than you do. But we have the whole world to go around bareheaded in — why insist on doing it in the one place where it’s going to offend the sensibilities of hundreds or thousands of people and perhaps even cause a riot? If you need to go to the Wall, just cover your head and don’t indulge in childish provocations.”

The Women of the Wall, as they’re called, are childish provocateurs. They have all of Israel in which to pray with tefillin and tallitot. Doing it demonstratively at a site that is and always has been heavily frequented by observant Jews who find the spectacle of women in traditionally male ritual garb repugnant has nothing to do with religious freedom. It has nothing to do with any sane kind of feminism. It has nothing to do with rational political protest. It has to do only with the narcissism of thinking that one’s rights matter more than anyone else’s feelings or the public interest.

This is a narcissism that’s typical of our me-first age. An Orthodox Jew is hurt by how I behave in his presence? That’s his problem. (If he were black, gay or transsexual, of course, it would be very much my problem — but that’s another story.) Large numbers of Jews coming to pray at the Wall have their experience spoiled by me? That’s their problem. I’m besmirching an Israeli government that’s simply trying to keep the peace by portraying it throughout the world as reactionary and misogynist? That’s its problem. I have my rights! And indeed, the Women of the Wall do have their rights, because Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that there’s no legal hindrance to their singing and dancing at the Wall in tallitot and tefillin all they want. In democratic countries, we all have our rights. I have the right to stand with a group of evangelicals outside a Catholic Church during Sunday mass and sing Baptist hymns. I have the right to make insulting remarks to a woman walking in my ultra-Orthodox neighborhood with bare arms. I have the right to publish a dumb cartoon making fun of the Prophet Muhammad in a country with millions of Muslims. These rights are important. The police and courts should protect them. But does that mean I have to flaunt every one of them?

The Women of the Wall believe that the cause of Judaism can be advanced by abolishing all traditional Jewish gender distinctions. Many Jews agree with them. Many (of whom I happen to be one) do not. The argument is a legitimate one, but the Western Wall should not be its venue. It isn’t, despite what many American Jews seem to think, Selma or Montgomery. No woman who tries to turn it into that can really care about it as much as she pretends to.

Hillel Halkin is an author and translator who has written widely on Israeli politics and culture and was the Forward’s Israel correspondent from 1993 to 1996.

Populist revisionist excursions into Jewish ritual

As per the web page of “Uri Letzedek”,

Rabbi Ari Hart is a co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek and rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. A leader of several initiatives that bring together Orthodoxy, the Jewish community, and the world at large to make positive change, Ari launched Or Tzedek, the Teen Institute for Social Justice, served on multiple community boards and social justice organizations, and has taught at schools, synagogues, and summer camps around the country. He also served as a Nadiv Social Justice Fellow for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and as Court Appointed Special Advocate for neglected and abused children in Cook County. Ari was recently selected by the Jewish Week as one of the 36 under 36, a list of “forward-thinking young people who are helping to remake the Jewish community,” and his work bringing the Hispanic and Jewish communities of Northern Manhattan together was profiled by the Jerusalem Post. Ari learned at Yeshivat HaKotel, Machon Pardes, and graduated from Grinnell College in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition.

The controversial figure, Rabbi Avi Weiss, stated

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, as an Orthodox institution, requires that its students daven only in synagogues with mechitzot [partitions for the separation of men and women]. The phenomenon of women receiving aliyot in a mechitza minyan is currently being debated on both a halachic and communal level within the Modern Orthodox community. YCT Rabbinical School does not currently take a position on this issue.”

Well excuse me Rabbi Weiss, why don’t you take a position. You are either for it halachically or against it. You may qualify your response if you wish, but in Halacha, Shtika KeHoda’a, silence is acquiesence.

It is little wonder then that YCT alumni are refused membership of the Rabbinic Council of America (the RCA). The history of Rabbi Weiss’s on again, off again Rabbinic ordination of a woman by any other name, is well documented. He is entitled to his opinion, but his opinion is not in accord with Rov Binyan and Rov Minyan of the Gedolay HaTorah of even the RCA (who the Aguda consider to be too left wing and accord no status).

As Rav Soloveitchik expressed so eloquently many times, there is an existential truth and a halachic boundary within the sinaitic transcendental framework which can not and may not be discarded or dislodged. Although one may find meaning through the prism of modern thought, and the catch phrase of “Social Justice” aka “Or LaGoyim”, these are not Halachic terms, and the meaning one finds cannot rerospectively metamorphose fundamentals of Halacha. In particular, on matters of  most enormous ramification, one must have exceedingly broad Halachic shoulders, to assume a new solitary position. We are not beholden to some quasi Daas Torah, but we are beholden to a hierarchy in the reputation of a Posek and their arguments.

Another example is the Nuevo Shira Chadasha style service. In my observation, the frumkeit exhibited through the gymnastic attempts to equalise female participation in davening one day each week, is contraindicated. This is the opinion of Gedolay HaPoskim, including the head of Nishmat, HaRav Yehuda Herzl Henkin (whom nobody would describe as misogynist artefact of yesteryear)

So, it comes as no surprise that the Huffington Post of all places, has a piece from Rabbi Ari Hart [Hat tip to RYL]. I will copy Ari’s short huff and puff, and intersperse my own quick reaction.

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” — Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, p. 12.

I’m supposed to say that each morning. If I were a woman, I would recite this instead: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will.”

These difficult, even painful blessings are a part of a series of otherwise beautiful meditations thanking God for the everyday gifts of sight, clothes and freedom.

Difficult? Painful? So the Anshei Knesses Hagdola instituted difficult pain and “supposed” us to recite it each morning? Would Ari have been happier if they had formulated it as “thank you for making me a man?” Nope. He wouldn’t have been happier. Ari would only be happy if the blessing was couched in the neo-humanistic style of “Blessed are you good for having created me a Human who is equal to all other Humans, Jewish or otherwise”.

Well, clearly they chose not to do so. Why? To use Ari’s subsequent logic, perhaps one could bless Hashem that one was chosen for their particular role, which is to be the prayer spokesperson for their family in a daily minyan?

Does he want a new prayer added “Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvosav VeTzivany Lihyos Or LaGoyim“.

It’s all fine. The Reform movement would probably do that for the infinitesimally few days that they frequent their temples.

Those other blessings roll easily off my tongue, the praise genuine and sincere. But for years I’ve struggled with praising God for not making me a woman. And I’m not the only Orthodox rabbi who struggles with it.

And if you were the only Orthodox rabbi who struggled with it, would your remarks be any less valid? If you use that logic, then the vast majority of Rabbis do not struggle with it, so perhaps there is something deficient in your understanding of this Bracha. But no, there can’t be anything deficient in one’s own logic, it must be that there is some misogynist agenda at play here. What else could it be? (And yes, I am aware of different versions of the  Brachos)

As a committed Orthodox Jew, I have accepted the entirety of halacha — the Jewish path of law and tradition — upon myself. This includes guidelines on rituals, holidays, charity, legal matters, sex and, yes, prayers. Not only do I accept it on myself, but as a rabbi, I teach it to others.

There are parts of halacha that I love, and parts that I struggle with. This blessing though, this blessing is really tough. Written by male rabbis nearly 2,000 years ago,

There you go: the argument of age. Funny, when it suits us we are ancient, and when we don’t like something ancient is an evil word. It was written 2000 years ago. Forget the fact that  other parts codified 2000 years ago roll nicely off Ari’s tongue. Forget the fact that they were also written by males, that’s okay. What would Ari do if it was written by a committee of males and females 30 years ago, and they decided that it was appropriate for the male who was “encumbered” with a myriad of different responsibilities to never ever show disdain for the fact that he happened to be born into his gender and associated role and bless God in a similar vein to blessing God with Dayan HaEmes when God forbid someone passes away. Oh yeah, Ari, don’t forget this same group of men, 2000 years ago, also agreed universally that if God forbid a little girl or little boy was murdered in some anti-semitic attack while trying to distribute charity to a group of homeless refugees from Africa, that the parents have to bless God with Dayan HaEmes. Should we do away with that blessing? Should we come up with some new interpretation? Or is the correct approach to study the metaphysical meaning behind such statements if and when we have trouble rolling such off our tongues.

I didn’t want my father הכ’’מ to pass away. I could not understand why he “deserved” to leave this world in the quick and sudden way that he did, thereby causing so many of us to grieve in the most painful of ways. Yet, I knew, that I was in a chain, a continuing chain, and that although I am by definition limited, I must recite and bless a truthful and righteous God and find the strength and meaning therein. How more misplaced can that prayer be to the fragile human motif?

these words evoke for me the sexism too prevalent in the Orthodox world and beyond.

That’s your problem Ari. You’ve understood that the Anshei Knesses Hagedola were a set of “men” who caused you through this blessing to think about sexism. Wanton discrimination on the basis of gender, race and colour is not permitted, though. To be sure, discrimination is most definitely part of the Jewish religion. A King who witnesses a murder cannot testify. A woman cannot be Moshiach. Are you comfortable with the 12th Ani Maamin Ari? Perhaps they should be rewritten. Maybe the Cohen Gadol’s wife should share turns in entering the Kodesh Kodashim? If they had an operation which caused Ari to menstruate through his genitals would he feel more equal by also being Tameh for seven days and decree it incumbent on males to do so in the name of equality? If and when Medicine makes it possible for men to carry a fetus in a sterile implanted bag, will people do so in order to feel the pain of Eve? What about justice for the snake? After all, he did us all a great favour by causing us to have free choice. Shouldn’t he get his legs back so he doesn’t slither like some criminal in the night?

These words have echoes of the religious misogynists who throw chairs at a woman for praying at the Western Wall or force women to sit at the back of Israeli buses.

You can do a whole lot better than that Ari. What about the Satmar maniacs who kiss Ahmadinajad? I guess your esteemed colleagues at YU don’t count. Are they a pack of bigots? But wait, what argument would you use if the women prayed at the wall, and throwing chairs was outlawed. Where would you run to in order to try and make us feel guilty for being a male Orthodox adherent?

This blessing helps enable the religious sexism that silences women’s voices, keeps them from positions of communal leadership, and denies them study of our sacred texts.

Oh Ari, such lines are really poor. Women’s voices where I come from are most certainly never silent. Yes, I’m not meant to hear them sing individually in public. Are you? Or has that changed? Yes, there is the Din of Serara which we can debate. But, I know many boards which have female representation, even in 50/50 divisions, and you know, I don’t know how many men are part of the Woman’s Mikvah Committee.

Do I want any part of that sexism? No.

Judaism isn’t. What religion are you railing against?

So do I say the blessing? Yes.

Here’s why:

Sadly, there are some excellent reasons to be grateful for not being a woman in this world. For example:
As a man, I will most likely make more money working at a job than if I were a woman. And as an Orthodox rabbi, I couldn’t have my job if I were woman.

Great, but where I work, my boss is a female who makes almost ten times as much as me. Shall I stop saying the blessing?

Being a Rabbi is not a job. It is a role. Understand the difference.

So long as I stay out of jail, the odds that I will be raped are very low.

Not if you are in prison, kiddo. You will be attacked from the rear in ways you wouldn’t believe. Maybe men should take drugs so that they are no longer physically stronger than women. Would you take them if available?

If I were raped, I probably wouldn’t be blamed for it.

We need Rabbis to continue to ensure that Jews never attempt such that modern defence.

I can be ambitious professionally and no one will question my gender.

They may well question your religion. Why not abandon it?

Most political, religious and cultural leaders are guys, just like me!

Then quit? There will be one less. Give your wife? a go?

In most prayerbooks and Bibles, God and I share a gender.

Don’t read those Bibles. Read the ones which tell you God has no gender.

There aren’t billions of dollars spent every year trying to make me feel bad about how I look and selling me things to change my appearance.

That’s business. You think the hair restoration folk for males and the viagra peddlers are doing things for equalities sake, or some religious imperative. Get real.

I get to be a hero if I change a diaper or spend time with my kids, and most people won’t look down on me if I don’t.

Really? You should read about the number of people who send their kids off to childcare at an early age so as to enable both parents to earn enough to get by. I know a few Mr Mums. They often get snickered at. Funnily Mrs Mums don’t. Fix that.

Saying this blessing every day challenges me to face these and other difficult facts about men and women in today’s world. It forces me to remember that work as a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community would not be possible if I were a woman (though that is changing thanks to the pioneering work of Yeshivat Maharat, but not without a fight).

Nonsense. My cousin is a spiritual leader. She is a woman. She learns Shas and Poskim better than I do, is a Yoetzet Halacha and graduated from Nishmat. Difference is, she isn’t a feminist. She wouldn’t even be bothered with these meaningless titles. She isn’t there for “equality”. She is there because she has a spiritual role to play, entirely within the gamut of Halacha, and what is more she is more than comfortable in her own skin. Oh, and her husband changes nappies.

This blessing calls me to recommit to building a world where inequality and oppression do not exist.

What about male oppression? How do you recommit to that. Yes, it does exist. What about introducing a special additional prayer for the homosexual? What about the handicapped man? What should he say? What about the Cohen who cannot duchen? That’s not fair. What about Orei Miklat? Surely, harmless criminals should be repatriated within the same society? We can go on and on and on.

It calls me to recommit each day to building a world where saying “thank you God for not making me a woman” will disappear, not because it is offensive, but because it is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then you have simply not understood the axiological basis of Orthodox Judaism which is founded on differing roles. Why not call yourself conservative? Why bother with affiliation with the RCA.

Making sense of Slichos Timing

Tomorrow morning, for example, we say Selichos for Taanis Esther. There are various minhagim about when you say the Selichos. I am not sure anyone says it before davening?

During Davening, it’s said at the time of Tachanun, and yet it looks like Tachanun is embedded within it. I’ve almost got the feeling that perhaps (and I have to admit gross ignorance on this topic as I’ve not had the time to look into it, nor have I done so in the past) it was meant to be a substitute for the standard Tachanun. I say that because at least for Nusach Sfard and Chabad and I think Sefaradim, we already say Oshamnu and Nefilas Apayim. For Ashkenaz it makes more sense as an add on because they don’t ordinarily say Ashamnu. I believe Chabad say it just before the last stanza of Tachanun, immediately after Nefilas Apayim?

Has anyone looked into this and made sense of it? It’s like spaghetti …

How do you respond to sirens?

Benseon in Jerusalem described the following scene

In the middle of the Alenu of Minchah on erev Shabbos the sirens sound in Jerusalem. Everyone in the shul stops davening and starts looking around unsure of where to go or what to do. Suddenly, someone starts shouting at the chazan telling him to finish Alenu so he can say kaddish! And then, while some of us are leaving the shul to go to the bomb shelter, the rest act as if nothing has happened and proceed with Kabbolos Shabbos!

I’m not quite sure whether they were realists and decided that the rockets from Gaza had little chance of reaching central Jerusalem, or if they had supreme emunah that HaShem would protect them from the rockets if they continued with their davening!

Suffice it to say, those of us who went to the shelter returned later on feeling a bit sheepish that we had missed half the davening!

The description was disturbing to me. Does “Emunah” mean that people make some judgement call on whether Hashem could not possibly allow a situation where Hamas terrorists procured and sent a missile that just happened to hit their shul?

Is this Emunah or arrogance? The Levush in Yoreh Deah 116 clearly understands that the command of

ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם

Includes the consideration of physical danger. This is only suspended for Avoda Zara, Giluy Arayos, and Shfichus Damim. In addition it has no place when one is involved in physically fighting in a Milchemes Mitzvah. I seem to recall there is a Tshuva from Reb Moshe about the danger of playing baseball … in case one gets hit in the head.

I don’t think there is a Mitzvah to become a statistic. Tefilla is important, but it would be a fool who assumed that Hashem couldn’t hear his Tefilla in a bunker or that saying Kaddish with a minyan was worth ignoring a directive from the IDF.

Those who returned may have felt sheepish, they would have felt very different if a (stray) missile had hit the Shule and their colleagues died.

Lack of Emunah? I think not. Perhaps those who chose not to run to the bunker have too much Emunah in the Iron Dome or the proclivities of Hamas.

Ask them if they got a Psak to ignore the siren. Do tell us which Posek answered them.

Gartels on Yom Kippur

It is questionable during the year whether one needs to wear a Gartel. Let’s assume that it is your family minhag or acquired minhag to continue to do so even today. This article is not about the need to wear one.

On Yom Kippur, certainly those who wear a Gartel also wear a Kittel. Almost every Kittel I have seen, includes a white gartel, made of the same material as the kittel. If so, on a day when we are meant to wear white (via a Kittel) largely because it reminds us of the deathly shrouds (which is why Shulchan Aruch paskens that even women can wear a Kittel) why is it that people also put their black gartel on top of their kittel. That is, a gartel on a gartel?

On Rosh Hashana, when I am the Ba’al Tefila for Musaf, I wear a Kittel. I don’t wear an extra Gartel. On Yom Kippur, I confess that I also wear a black gartel over my kittel. The reason that I do so has nothing to do with Halacha. It is an emotional expression. My Zeyda Yidel Balbin passed away on Yom Kippur. As a young man, when I entered the room that he was in when he passed away on Motzoei Yom Kippur (he had already been removed by the Chevra Kadisha). I stood there alone for quite some minutes feeling the emptiness of the room. His hat and walking stick were in the room. As I walked around, I also found his Gartel. I took that Gartel and I wear it on his Yohr Tzeit (Yom Kippur).

Why do others wear a black gartel on top of their kittel? If they do so because their Rebbes did so, then why did the Rebbes do so?

Along these lines, why don’t some Chassidim substitute their black yarmulkas for white yarmulkas?

Does anyone know?

Typical Kittel

Sefer Shimush Tehillim

My cousin’s husband, Reuven Brauner has another worthwhile compilation published. You may download it here.

What is it? The introduction states:

Sefer Shimush Tehillim is a short and relatively little-known treatise attributed to Rav Hai Gaon (according to the Sedei Chemed) which describes the Kabbalistic uses of particular chapters and verses from the Book of Psalms for prophylactic or healing purposes. These selections are meant to be either recited alone, frequently multiple times, or in conjunction with some other action or prayer. Shimush Tehillim is mentioned in Teshuvas HaRashba (413), by the Chida, and others. This work is not to be confused with bibliomancy which is the use of Biblical verses for predicting the future.

There are numerous instances cited in the Talmud and other sources regarding the utilization of Biblical verses to ward off demons and the Evil Eye, against bad dreams, against the effects of drinking water uncovered at night, and other more serious calamities. Verses were employed to lighten the pain at childbirth, as protection against danger on a journey, fierce dogs, bleeding and wounds, and the effects of fire and fever. Verses were recited to gain favor or improve one’s memory, and so on. (See Sanhedrin 101a and Shulchon Oruch, Yoreh Deoh 179:8-10, et al.)

Yet, it must be noted, there was great opposition to use of the Torah for magical, curative purposes. The Rambam, the Tur (Yoreh Deoh 179), and the Shulchon Oruch (Yoreh Deoh 179:10) forbade such usage. The Rambam in Hilchos Avodas Cochavim 11:12 pointedly writes:

“Regarding one who incants over a wound or reads a verse from the Torah, and so one who reads verses to calm a frightened child or places a Sefer Torah or Tefilin on a child so that he will sleep – it is not bad enough that these people are numbered among the sorcerers and diviners, but they are also counted as heretics to the Torah by using words of the Torah to heal the body. The (words of the) Torah are for healing the soul only, as it is written, ‘and they shall be life for your soul’. However, it is permitted to recite verses and chapters from Tehillim for protection against troubles and harm – by merit of their recitation.”

Protection – yes, curing – no.

Since Tehillim, more than any other Sefer from Tanach, was used to defend against the effects of all types of predicaments and saving from danger, as recorded in Shimush Tehillim, I thought that it might be interesting to prepare the following table1 to illustrate which chapters it suggests be used for which ailment and condition. For the convenience of the reader, I have also added a cross-referencing index.

Nevertheless, since this monograph is meant for general educational purposes only and not practical application, and in deference to the dissenting opinions, I have only provided a selection of chapter usage from the book, and did not list the use of single verses nor what other actions are required in addition to the recitation of the chapter to affect the desired results. For such purposes, the interested reader must consult an actual edition of Shimush Tehillim and ask his rabbi as to how to employ it, if at all. All this aside, it is commendable to recite Tehillim anyway for the efficacy of it as prayer is well-known.

Finally, I made no attempt at trying to determine why each chapter has the effect claimed, as there is no indication of this in Shimush Tehillim itself.

Saying Tehillim for the sick

It is proper and laudable when concerned brothers and sisters pray for those who are dangerously ill. We say private prayers in the Amida, make a Mishebeyrach, say an extra chapter of Tehillim, sometimes privately, and other times as a collective group.

Recently, several prominent Rabbis continue to be dangerously ill. These include: R’ Ya’akov Yoseph, R’ Yisroel Belsky, and R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Rav Aviner recently addressed a question about R’ Elyashiv, who is 100+, and as I understand, on a ventilator and in need of רחמי שמים.

R Ya'akov Yosef

The question was:

Should we pray for Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to heal from his illness, or – as one Rabbi suggested – should we pray for Hashem to take his soul on High since he is suffering so much?

This is a very bold question to ask (I think that most people who ask such questions either are on an exceedingly high level or are asking להלכה and not למעשה.

Rav Aviner’s answer was:

It is correct that the Ran writes in Nedarim (40a d.h. Ain. And see Baba Metzia 84) that if a person is suffering terribly and seems to have no hope of recovery, it is permissible to pray for him to die. The source for this idea is the Gemara at the end of Ketubot (104a), where it is told that Rebbe Yehudah HaNasi was suffering terribly; his maidservant saw and prayed that he should die. Even though she was not a Torah scholar, but a maidservant, the Sages greatly respected her and the Ran rules according to her example. In Shut Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 5 Ramat Rachel #5, 7:49 Kuntres Even Yaakov chap. 13, 9:47), it is written that this applies only if one is davening for the benefit of the sick person who is suffering a fatal illness, and not in order to lighten our own burden. It is clear that our intent in this case it is to lighten the burden on Ha-Rav Elyashiv.
The Ran writes that it is permissible to pray for a person’s end in such a situation, but he does not write that one is obligated to do so. After all, the Gemara itself relates that while the maidservant prayed that Rebbe should die, the Sages prayed that he should not die. In the book “Midbar Shur,” in his eulogy for Ha-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan (pp. 332-336), Maran Ha-Rav Kook asks: Why did the Sages pray that he should not die? Their view is difficult to understand. After all, Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi was bed-ridden, suffering, could not teach or give halachic rulings, and was seemingly of no benefit to this world. If he would ascend on High, he would continue to teach Torah there. So why didn’t they pray for him to die? Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that the influence of a great Torah scholar is not only through his teaching, halachic rulings, etc., but also in the presence of his holy soul in this world. The fact that his soul is located in this world brings blessing, even when he is unable to provide practical benefit, is closed in a room and cannot converse with others. This is similar to the Vilna Gaon, who for many years was closed in a room learning Torah. This world with Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi is not the same as a world without Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi.
When Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught us this idea, he would say that Maran Ha-Rav Kook also suffered greatly, and he told him: Each and every moment that Abba is in this world, despite the suffering, he brings it light. And our Rabbenu would relate this with tears in his eyes.
If so, the same applies in our case. This world with the Ha-Tzadik, Ha-Gaon, Ha-Gadol, Ha-Rav Elyashiv is not the same as a world without him, even though he is currently unable to teach, give rulings, etc. The Rabbis who called on us to pray for Ha-Rav Elyashiv’s healing are therefore correct, and we hope that he will truly be healed and will once again actively bring the blessing of Torah and holiness to this world.
May Hashem send him a speedy and complete recovery.

R’ Hershel Schachter recently discussed the question of davening for a Refuah Shelema for someone who is close to being a גוסס—basically on their deathbed with no hope of survival, short of a miracle. R’ Schachter notes that the Mishna in Brachos is clear that one is forbidden to pray for a revealed miracle. As an example, he describes a man rushing home from work after being told that there is a major fire burning around his house. While driving, the man prays that his house is not one of those engulfed by flames. R’ Schachter notes that such a תפלה is ridiculous. Either the house is, God forbid, in flames or it is not in flames. Asking that it not be in flames is tantamount to praying for an overt miracle to transform a readily observable occurence.

R' Shmuel Rozovsky ז'ל

R’ Schachter then to retells a story that he experienced when visiting the Ponovitzer Yeshiva in B’nei Brak, during the time that Reb Chatzkel Levenstein ז’ל was the Mashgiach. Apparently, someone was very sick due to a certain cancer, רחמנא לצלן, and there was a request that everyone say Tehillim for a Refuah Shelema. Reb Chatzkel, who was sitting in Mizrach, refused and exclaimed that it was forbidden. The mood was incredulous; who would refuse such a request? At that time, the famed Rosh Yeshivah, R’ Shmuel Rozovsky ז’ל was seen leaning over to Reb Chatzkel and talking to him. Tehillim commenced. R’ Schachter was to subsequently learn that R’ Shmuel had explained to R’ Chatzkel that there were people who were successfully treated for the particular cancer afflicting the person for whom Tehillim had been requested, and it wasn’t one where there was “no hope” because the doctors had no more new ideas or one where the patient was effectively in palliative care. Had it been someone in palliative care, R’ Chatzkel would have been right.

Importantly, R’ Schachter explains that it is still proper to say Tehillim. However, one does not ask for a רפואה שלמה. Rather, one should ask for רחמי שמים, mercy from Heaven.

In reflecting on the question to R’ Aviner, in light of R’ Schachter’s insight, I think it’s most appropriate, when someone is effectively in a palliative state, to ask for רחמי שמים and not assume that we should suggest to Hashem how that רחמנות should be manifest (e.g. by death חס ושלום).

Let’s hope that we don’t need to say Tehillim for anyone because we have merited the realisation of the pasuk of אני ה’ רופאיך, “I am God your Healer”.