Are we being misled by Kashrus Authorities-Quinoa revisited

Quinoa (pronounced Kin-wa). It’s not a grain; it is related to spinach. Its ברכה is האדמה. Its seeds may or may not be ground in the same way as Potatoes maybe ground and everyone eats potatoes (despite the חיי אדם trying to make them אסור on פסח because of Kitniyos). There are, of course, others, who assert that the גזרה of Kitniyos on Pesach doesn’t apply in Israel, but we won’t go there in this article. Let’s just look at Kosher Australia.

Quinoa

Recently, a letter was circulated by Kosher Australia, explaining the reasons for food items becoming non kosher “suddenly” together with an explanation denying a sudden lurch to “the right.” It was a well written letter and I am a supporter of Kosher Australia aligning their standards with the OU. The OU, in my opinion, is the premier and most trusted Kashrus Authority in the world. Okay, I’m  biased because I ask (major) questions to Rav Schachter, who happens to be one of the two Poskim for the OU.

On the matter of Quinoa on Pesach, Kosher Australia advised us that it was following the practice of the OU and that as a result Kitniyos were not to be used. Coincidentally, I had printed out the 2011 OU Pesach Guide and was reading it. I found that the assertion by Kosher Australia vis a vis Quinoa and Kitniyos was false! In earlier years, the OU had been negative, but this year they decided (quite correctly in my opinion) that the issue of whether to use Quinoa was a matter for individual kehilos.

Let’s face some facts. Determining whether something is or isn’t Kitniyos is not the same as telling us whether treyf is used as an ingredient in foodstuff. Kitniyos is in many ways a more complex question and one that requires a Psak from one’s own Rabbi who I believe will consult with his own Posek Muvhak given the nature of the question. I think the OU got it right. If you want to use Quinoa you should ask your Rav unless you happen to also have a family Minhag of חדש אסור מן התורה. This was also the basis for Rav Moshe’s permissive ruling on peanuts, but of course it didn’t matter if it was Rav Moshe, the Machmirim on the right eventually squeezed out a universal issur on peanuts (and peanut oil). I can remember in the old days we had oils that eventually “became” kitniyos. And no, we never had those nuts in Poland!

Kosher Australia has no business determining what is and what is not Kitniyos.

In fact, they have done a good thing by listing a table of items which some consider Kitniyos. This is the way it should be with Quinoa as well. This episode is a very subtle way that Rabonim are attempting to create a Minhag in Australia by default, by “trying to be all things to all people”. Yes, we are Machmir on Pesach. But even Rabonim said not to be Machmir on Potatoes. I know, Potatoes are a European staple and this avant-garde  Quinoa stuff is something Charedim can’t spell or say, let alone know how to integrate into an oily cholent.

Yes, it is true that the London Beth Din don’t allow Quinoa, equally, the  Star K and Chicago cRc do allow it. Kosher Australia should have adopted the stance of the OU and kept out of this. Rabbi Sprung in Melbourne paskened for Mizrachi that it was fine as long as it was supervised.

By the way, the list of “maybe Kitniyos” listed in Kosher Australia’s booklet is also wrong. It claims that carrots are not Kitniyos according to all. That’s not true. I understand that Belzer don’t eat carrots.

PS. My wife over-ruled me and she won’t let me use Quinoa unless it has a hechsher. I tried to tell her that Eden were certified as one of the brands that had no grain whatsoever in the fields or processing plants and, therefore, it was okay. She wouldn’t hear of it. “Where is the Kosher stamp?”.

Ah, for Shalom Bayis ….

What on earth is going on in their heads?

I first saw this Video posted elsewhere.

Even though I have seen this type of thing before, I watched with incredulity and astonishment. The images of these young kids passing the table is an utter nonsense.  It is no less than cultic brainwash. Undoubtedly, there are some who will say

“if we protest they will get more press than they deserve”

I don’t buy that argument. After watching this video, I am flummoxed. How can people who are supposedly intelligent beings get involved in such a foolish, unavailing and ignominious enterprise? Don’t people understand that davening with a sign such as these at the back of a shule only conjures up images of absurd behaviour? Why would anyone want to be under a banner that conjures anything remotely like the video above?

I know that at Yeshiva College in Melbourne, it is very much hip and trendy for boys to travel to 770 for Tishrei for inspiration; I sure hope the school also has a policy that no boy is permitted attend such circuses or derive “inspiration” therefrom. There is at least one teacher in the School who proudly wears a yarmulke with yechi emblazoned in vibrant living lettering.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל did not deserve demeaning and vacuous chassidim besmirching his holy memory.

Gedolim and Rav Kook ז’ל

I received an email from a reader who asked if all that stuff mentioned in a comment by Yisroel was true. We need to understand the times. The difference between the secular zionists and the haskolo was miniscule, except that the latter were not nationalistic. Accordingly, they removed themselves from the yoke of heaven, tried to assimilate and removed themselves from their land. Rav Kook was wise and spiritual enough to understand that the secular zionists, by virtue of still being associated with the land, were associating with Kedusha. Once a Neshama is touched by such Kedusha there is every chance it can be further stirred and influenced. Rav Kook, accordingly, never turned his back on secular zionists. Many other Gedolim, and here it spans most groups including Chabad via the Rashab, thought that the secular zionists were a dead loss and one had to fight them with polemics and protestation.

Rav Kook fought them with love; he overcame many of them with unadulterated אהבת ישראל (and that is not because his mother was from kapust 🙂

Yisroel would know that the Rayatz came to Rav Kook soon after he arrived in Israel and before leaving Rav Kook visited the Rayatz.

Here is a collection of material from other web sites and blogs (mainly via R’ Aviner).

“R. Yitzchak Gerstenkorn, the founder of B’nei Brak, told this story: In 5694 (1934), the Rav [i.e., Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook] was invited to the groundbreaking ceremony of the Beit Yosef (Novardok) Yeshiva in B’nei Brak…At the ceremony, which the Chazon Ish also attended, Rav Kook spoke at length…Throughout the Rav’s address, the large crowd sat quietly in their seats–everyone but the Chazon Ish. He remained standing throughout the speech, listening attentively to every word. He only sat down when the Rav finished speaking and took his own seat.”

“R. Tzvi Kagan, who was present at the event, added this revealing piece of information: When the Rav’s address began to draw out, people approached the Chazon Ish and suggested that he sit down. The revered rabbi refused, however, saying, ‘The Torah is standing!’”

from An Angel Among Men, by Simcha Raz, p.375; translated by Rav Moshe D. Lichtman

It’s worth noting that, in his review of this work, Rav Berel Wein stated, “There is so much about Rav Kook that is misunderstood and misportrayed in the Jewish world, that a book that portrays him accurately is invaluable and necessary. This is such a book.”
In a letter from the Chazon Ish to Rav Kook that is seen on p. 374 of this work, we see that the Chazon Ish opened by saying, “HaRav HaRoshi HaGaon Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Hod K’vod Maran Shlita.” (“The Chief Rabbi, the consummate Torah-scholar, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the glory of the honor of our Master, may he live a long and good life.”)

“Rav Shlomo Zalman, in his earlier years, enjoyed a warm relationship with Rav Avraham Yitzchak [HaKohen] Kook, the first [Ashkenazi] Chief Rabbi of Israel. He would visit with him, observe his actions, and learn from him. Their relationship was so close, in fact, that Rav Kook officiated at Reb Shlomo Zalman’s wedding… Reb Shlomo Zalman’s respect for Rav Kook was evident from the numerous stories he would tell which highlighted the brilliant and charismatic attributes of the Chief Rabbi… Reb Shlomo Zalman never ceased to speak of him with the very highest admiration.”

“Reb Shlomo Zalman’s classic work Me’orei Esh contains approbations from Rav Abba Yaakov Borochov, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. The approbation which appears first is that of Rav Kook.”

“Considering Reb Shlomo Zalman’s aversion to matters of a political nature, it was startlingly unusual when he intervened in the internal affairs of a particular organization. Needless to say, the Gaon’s advice was always sought and welcomed, but in the area of organization politics, no one had ever succeeded in eliciting his response in the past. The issue at hand was whether to accept a certain candidate for a key position in this Torah organization. Reb Shlomo Zalman had recommended not to accept the nominee. His unprecedented intervention was triggered by the fact that the candidate in question always referred to Rav Kook as simply ‘Kook.’”

“Once the Gaon was riding in a taxi with one of the rabbanim from Kol Torah. His companion began to relate that he had found the explanation of a complex subject under examination at the yeshiva, in a particular book. But when he mentioned the name of the sefer, Reb Shlomo Zalman stopped him and refused to hear the explanation, saying that the book contained denigrating remarks about Rav Kook.”

from “And From Jerusalem, His Word,” by Rav Hanoch Teller, pp.196-198

I take issue with what Rapoport writes on p. 92, that when R. Kook passed away, R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, the Hazon Ish, declared that he would have no portion in the World to Come. The source for this is Aharon Rosenberg, Mishkenot ha-Ro’im (New York, 1997), vol. 3, pp. 1120-1121, who cites a well-known London anti-Zionist. This is hardly an unimpeachable reference. (This same source also claims that the Hazon Ish insisted that R. Ben Zion Uziel’s Mishpetei Uziel be left on the floor, since it is muktseh mei-hamat mi’us. See ibid., p. 1198; Elyakim Schlesinger’s haskamah to Aharon Rosenberg, Torat Emet [Monsey, 1992]). The truth is that while the Hazon Ish asserted that R. Kook’s philosophical works should not be read, he saw nothing objectionable about his halakhic writings and certainly did not regard as R. Kook as a heretic. See Shelomo Kohen, Pe’er ha-Dor (Jerusalem, 1969), vol. 2, p. 34.  Indeed, one of the first things the Hazon Ish did when he arrived in the Land of Israel was to write R. Kook a letter, asking him to decide a halakhic problem he was confronted with. See R. Ben Zion Shapiro, ed., Iggerot ha-Reiyah (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 448-449. Even with regard to R. Kook’s philosophical writings, the Hazon Ish sometimes expressed a more positive view, depending on whom he was speaking to. See Binyamin Efrati, “Shenei Bikurim Etsel ha-Hazon Ish ZT”L,” Morashah 6 (1974): 62-63.

from “Of Books and Bans” by Prof. Marc Shapiro

The Netziv – Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva – said about Maran Ha-Rav Kook: “He is equal to everyone else [in the Volozhin Yeshiva]”, “There was never a student like this in Volozhin” and “If the Volozhin Yeshiva was established only for this great student – it would have been enough.” Ha-Rav Reuven Bengis – Av Beit Din of the Edah Charedit – similarly said that the most important [student] in the Yeshiva is the son-in-law of the Rav of Ponevezh (Ha-Rav Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Te’omim, Ha-Aderet – Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s father-in-law).
[Tal Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 59-60, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 45 and Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 189]

The Chafetz Chaim: Know that he is holy and pure and anyone who impinges on his honor will not go unpunished.

The Chafetz Chaim once came to Ponovezh in his effort to organize Torah scholars who were Cohanim to learn matters relating to “Kodashim” (the sacrifices in the Temple), since the Temple would soon be built and therefore there would be a need to know the practical Halachah. He turned to Maran Ha-Rav, who was a Cohain (and who was stayed in his father-in-law’s house), and asked him to focus on the laws relating to the Temple and sacrifices. A few days later, Maran Ha-Rav visited the Chafetz Chaim in the place where he was staying. The Chafetz Chaim said to him: “I have a request of you, but promise me from the outset that you will fulfill it.” Maran Ha-Rav responded: “Since I trust that his honor will not request anything which is inappropriate from me, I promise to fulfill your request.” “This is my request” – said the Chafetz Chaim – “When a Rabbinic offer comes before you do not refuse to accept it.” Maran Ha-Rav, who had decided not to involve himself with the Rabbinate, found himself in a difficult position, and wanted to free himself and said: “In order to accept a Rabbinic position I would have to involve myself with the halachic authorities who discuss the issues involved, and I already promised his honor to involve myself with ‘Kodashim.'” Chafetz Chaim thought hard and said: “I give up on your first promise, your Rabbinate is more important”…
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 218, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 122, Tal Ha-Re’eiyah p. 90, Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 231 and 550, Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim pp. 32-33 and mentioned in Bishelosha Be-Elul vol. 1 p. 35]

After Maran Ha-Rav Kook had served a while in the Rabbinate in one of the holy communities in the Exile, he received an invitation from the Chafetz Chaim to help him prepare a work on the service of the Cohanim when the Temple is standing. Maran Ha-Rav replied: If his honor permits me to remove the yoke of the Rabbinate which is upon me, I can fulfill the request which is extremely dear to me. The Chafetz Chaim answered: I have not found an individual as talented as you in administering a Rabbinate in Israel!…
[Ha-Re’eiyah Kook ztzvk”l of Ha-Rav Shmuel Baruch Shulman p. 36]

At a huge Rabbinical Conference in Vienna in 5683, one of the Rabbis made disparaging remarks about Maran Ha-Rav, the Chafetz Chaim (who was sitting at the dais) stood up shocked and said: “You insulted the Mara De-Atra (Rabbinic authority) of Eretz Yisrael.” He left the conference and decided not to return to it. The Chafetz Chaim waited in his hotel to return to his city, and many people came to visit him or receive a blessing. When the members of delegation from Eretz Yisrael wanted to enter, he said: “I will not say ‘Shalom’ to those who caused dispute with the Rav of Yerushalayim (Maran Ha-Rav)!” And he added: “Know that he is holy and pure and anyone who impinges on his honor will not go unpunished.”
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 225-228, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 26-127, Malachim Bivnei Adam p. 211 and for additional information on the subject see Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah chap. 11 and Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim chap. 4]

In the year 5681, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook (Maran Ha-Rav’s son) traveled to Poland to meet with Rabbis and Chasidic Rebbes to convince them to join the “Degel Yerushalayim” movement which Maran Ha-Rav established to infuse the Zionist movement with Torah and holiness. At that time, the Chafetz Chaim came to Warsaw, and our Rabbi, who yearned to see the splendor of the most righteous person of the generation, went to where he was staying. He found him surrounded by people. After over an hour, our Rabbi approached to take leave from him. The Chafetz Chaim asked: “Are you a local?” Our Rabbi responded: “No, from Jerusalem,” and he added: “Your honor was close with Reb Eliyahu David (the Aderet), father-in-law of my father.” When the Chafetz Chaim heard whose son was standing before him, his face lit up and he joyfully said: “Your honor is the son of the Rav of Zimel, the Rav of Boisk, the Rav of Yafo, the Rav of Jerusalem? Then why does he speak about his grandfather? Tell me about your father! How is he? We are long-time, dear friends.”
[Bisdei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 221, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 126, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 157-158, Be-Derech Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet p. 97, Tzvi Kodesh p. 146 and Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim pp. 36-37]

See Bisdei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 217-231, Sichot Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 120-133 and the book “Bein Shenei Cohanim Gedolim” which discuss the special relationship between the Chafetz Chaim and Maran Ha-Rav Kook

On Shavuot morning after davening Vatikin, Maran Ha-Rav Kook was walking in one of the alleyways near the Kotel and met Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld. Ha-Rav Sonenfeld blessed him that he should merit serving as the Cohain Gadol in the Temple.
[Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 303-304 and see another blessing of Ha-Rav Sonenfeld to Maran Ha-Rav ibid.]

It once happened that Ha-Sonenfeld was honored to be a Mohel at a Brit Milah and Maran Ha-Rav was honored to act as the Sandak. The two Rabbis met at the door of the apartment where the Brit Milah would occur. After they exchanged friendly greetings, a problem arose: Who would enter the house first? Maran Ha-Rav respectfully suggested that Ha-Rav Sonenfeld enter first. But he responded: “His honor is a Cohain and the Chief Rabbi [of Jerusalem] – and the basic halachah is that he should enter first.” Maran Ha-Rav humbly answered: “But his honor is greater in Torah than I am.” They stood at the door without a decision as to who should enter first. The older houses in Jerusalem were built in such a way that there were two doors in each doorway – the left one was bolted closed and the right one opened and closed, allowing one person to pass through it. Maran Ha-Rav approached the opened door, struck his arm through it and unbolted the left door – and both of them entered at once!
[Melachim Kivnei Adam p. 64]

When the Chazon Ish left Vilna to make aliyah, Rav Chaim Ozer sent a letter to Maran Ha-Rav requesting his assistance. He began the letter: “The Glory of Honor, My Dear Friend, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon, Ha-Gadol, the Famous One… The Prince of Torah, Our Teacher, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook Shlit”a…”
[Bisdeh Ha-Re’eiyah p. 236, Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah pp. 388-389, Igrot Le-Re’eiyah #316 and Melachim Kivnei Adam pp. 106-107. Maran Ha-Rav’s response is found in Shut Da’at Cohain #223]

There was a wedding in Elul 5696 in which Rav Chaim Ozer, Ha-Rav Shimon Shkop and many other great Rabbis attended. When news arrived that Maran Ha-Rav had died, Rav Chaim Ozer instructed Ha-Rav Shmuel Markowitz, Av Beit Din of Turatz to eulogize him. And this is what was done.
[This is quoted by Ha-Rav Tzvi Markowitz in Kovetz “Achiezer” #2 from the year 5628 and Davar Le-Dor – Kovetz Hespedim Al Rav Kook ztz”l p. 89]

See Igrot Le-Re’eiyah where there are tens of letters by Rav Chaim Ozer to Maran Ha-Rav with great respect and honor, and where it is possible to see the close relationship which existed between them.

Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer: We are Gedolim until we reach his doorknob

Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Yeshiva of Eitz Chaim in Jerusalem, said: “I was young when I arrived in Volozhin, and I looked with great respect at the greater students who sat on the eastern wall, and among them were prodigies who would become Gedolei Yisrael. But I remember well that looking at him [Maran Ha-Rav Kook] was completely different – even among the special he was distinguished by his uniqueness!”
[Tal Ha-Re’eiyah p. 71, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 101 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 13]

Ha-Rav Meltzer once visited Ha-Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and Ha-Rav Meltzer said about Maran Ha-Rav: “We are Gedolim until we reach his doorknob.”
[Mi-Toch Ha-Torah Ha-Goelet vol. 2 p. 170, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 2 p. 101, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiah p. 202, Bisadeh Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 274, Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 430 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 22]

Ha-Rav Meltzer said many times: “If only I could daven during Ne’eilah on Yom Kippur, with awe of holiness and feeling, like Ha-Rav [Kook] davens during weekday Minchah.”
[Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah #51, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 2 p. 102, Orot Ha-Tefillah of Ha-Rav Y. Epstein (student of Ha-Rav Meltzer) p. 26, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 200, Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 256 and the booklet “Az Nebabru Yirei Hashem” p. 29]

In the eulogy which Ha-Rav Meltzer delivered for Maran Ha-Rav in the Churva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, he said: “The True Torah was in his mouth” and “With the passing of Ha-Rav – the spine of Klal Yisrael is broken.”
[Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 12, Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol 2 p. 101, Shivchei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 15, Bisadeh Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 275 and Malachim Kivnei Adam p. 430]

Ha-Rav Shabatai Rapaport, Ha-Rav Feinstein’s grandson, related that in the year 5739, during Sukkot in Monsey, NY, Ha-Rav Feinstein was involved with writing a contrary view to a responsa of Ha-Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer). Ha-Rav Rapaport showed his grandfather a statement from Maran Ha-Rav Kook (relating to the issue) which Ha-Rav Rapaport found amazing. Ha-Rav Feinstein responded: “What is surprising, he was the Gaon of Geonim!”
[Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 59]

Ha-Rav Nisan Alpert, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, Rabbi of Agudat Yisrael, author of “Limudei Nisan” and Ha-Rav Feinstein’s student for forty years, was one of those who eulogized his Rav in New York. He also spoke at a memorial evening for Ha-Rav Kook, on the 50th anniversary of his passing. When he was asked about the connection between his Rav and Ha-Rav Kook, he answered that Ha-Rav Feinstein was a “Chasid” of Ha-Rav Kook. Ha-Rav Feinstein said to learn his books and one will find great things. He also added, rhetorically, that he did not understand what people wanted from Ha-Rav Kook ztz”l.
[Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah p. 60]

Maran Ha-Rav Kook was the Mesader Kiddushin at the wedding of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Ha-Rav Auerbach’s brother-in-law, R’ Shemuel Zelig, recalls how Maran Ha-Rav was honored with officiating at the wedding in the Jerusalem neighborhood of “Sha’arei Chesed.” Although there were zealots who did not look upon this kindly, the groom’s father – Ha-Rav Chaim Leib Auerbach – did not give in, because of the close relationship and deep respect between them.
[Ha-Torah Ha-Mesamachat p. 41 and Sefer Rabbenu p. 140 from the newspaper “Ha-Tzofeh”]

Ha-Rav S.Z. Auerbach said: If I say to you ‘Maran’ in Yiddish [Der Rov – Ha-Rav], know that I am referring to Ha-Rav Kook zt”l. I only use the term ‘Der Rov’, Maran, for Ha-Rav Kook.
[Sefer Rabbenu ibid. and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 24 and see note 34 where various testimonies to this fact are quoted]

Ha-Rav Auerbach honored Maran Ha-Rav with being the Sandek at the Brit Milah of his eldest son, R’ Shmuel, who today serves as the Rosh Yeshiva of “Maalot Ha-Torah” in Jerusalem.
[The booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 21]

Maran Ha-Rav’s picture hung together with pictures of other Gedolei Yisrael in Ha-Rav Auerbach’s sukkah.
[The booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 28]

Ha-Rav Chaim Shteiner related that someone once published a book about Ha-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector which also included disgraceful words about Ha-Rav Kook. Ha-Rav Auerbach said that it is forbidden to buy this book until it is corrected, and he also wrote a letter to the author asking him to fix it. He also met the author a few times and would always ask if the book was being fixed.

Ha-Rav Avigdor Neventzal related that Ha-Rav Auerbach would not hear the rulings of a particular Torah scholar because he besmirched Ha-Rav Kook’s honor.
[Ha-Torah Ha-Mesamachat p. 308 and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 30]

Ha-Rav A. Yehoshua Zuckerman related that when someone mentioned in a talk about the horrible behavior of certain individuals against Maran Ha-Rav Kook, Ha-Rav Auerbach responded with great distress: I recommend that those who were brazen and dishonored Ha-Rav should go to his grave and ask forgiveness.
[Ve-Alehu Lo Vibol vol. 1 p. 83 and the booklet “Or Shlomo” p. 30]

And see further in the booklet “Or Shlomo” by Amichai Kinerati for the close relationship between Ha-Rav Auerbach and Maran Ha-Rav.

R’ Aryeh Levin, who often visited Ha-Rav Shlomo Eliyashuv, the author of “Leshem Shevo Ve-Achlama,” met the latter’s young grandson there – R’ Yosef Shalom. Even then, R’ Areyh recognized the unique greatness of R’ Yosef Shalom. R’ Aryeh once spoke with Maran Ha-Rav Kook about his sorrow that there was a wonderful, righteous, young Torah scholar who would a great match for his (R’ Aryeh’s) daughter, but the young man did not respond favorably to his suggestion (either because he thought he had better options or he was not ready to marry). Maran Ha-Rav asked for the identity of the young man, and told that is was R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Maran Ha-Rav called for the young man and spoke to him. The younger R. Eliyashuv then accepted the proposal and the couple married. Maran Ha-Rav Kook served as the Mesader Kiddushin. When Maran Ha-Rav’s name comes up, Ha-Rav Elyashiv often said that he was honored that Maran Ha-Rav performed his wedding.
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #31] 

Ha-Rav Yosef Buxbaum, the director of the journal “Moriah” and student of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach related:
It once happened that one of the editors of the “Otzar Mefarshei Ha-Talmud” (Treasury of Talmudic Commentators) included a ruling of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, but another editor removed it. I asked him why he removed the ruling: was it because he raised a difficultly with it and it required further study? He answered: “I didn’t even look into the issue. I just think that a ruling of Ha-Rav Kook is not appropriate for ‘Otzar Mefarsehi Ha-Talmud.'” I said to him: “From this moment, you are fired!” The editor did not accept his decision, and they went to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Ha-Rav Elyashiv was shocked and said to the editor: “Did you know Ha-Rav Kook?! You should know – he was holy. He did not belong to our generation, and in his generation, they did not properly understand him. Reb Yosef was certainly permitted to fire you. I would have done the same thing.”
[Weekly parashah sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #31 and #50]

It is related that Rabbanit Elyashiv once heard words which impinged upon Maran Ha-Rav’s honor, and it caused her so much pain that she physically suffered from it for many days.
[Tzadik Yesod Olam p. 232 and Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

Ha-Rav Elyashiv once wrote a halachic ruling, and after he finished someone showed him a different opinion which Maran Ha-Rav had written on the subject. Ha-Rav Elyashiv immediately ripped up his ruling and changed his opinion to that of Maran Ha-Rav.
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

Ha-Rav Elyashiv once mentioned a particular teaching of Maran Ha-Rav. Someone who was present said that Rabbi so-and-so, one of the greatest Rabbis of the generation, sayid otherwise. Ha-Rav Elyashiv simply responded: Ha-Rav Kook was greater than us!
[Parashah Sheet “Shevet Ha-Re’eiyah #50]

I highly recommend Simcha Raz’s book. Things have changed, but people’s understanding of history and the present is in a time warp. As the Rav used to say, history has a way of paskening for us. I submit that history has paskened quite clearly that those who considered R’ Kook outside of the pale, were simply wrong.

יהי זכרון האי גברא רבא איש קדוש ותמים—ברוך

Is this why the Geula is delayed?

This never ceases to shake me up. I did a nice wedding last night. There were  a number of members of the local Adass Israel congregation present. Most were the modern/litvish type but a number were your run of the mill hungarian chassidim from Adass. They are unmistakeable because they stare. They stare and stare at you. Their kids stare at you. Only their wives don’t stare, but that’s because you can’t see 🙂

I went outside to have a breather during the main course (and to hear the cricket score) and two young guys, probably abut 25 years of age were standing nearby. I asked them what type of chassidim they were: the first was Satmar and the second was Munkacz. I asked the Satmar guy if he had read any of the rejoinders to ויואל משה the well-known critique of Zionism by the first Satmar Rebbe, R’ Yoel ז’ל.   He said he had heard of them but hadn’t looked. I asked him why would he not engage in Torah and delve into the item from the point of view of someone who had an alternative view, if only to make sure that one had a rounded perspective. Looking at me uncomfortably, his offsider from Muncaz, who was much more aggressive, decided to chime in and interrupt my comments.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ז'ל

We spoke about a number of things. I told him some stories and then he told me some. He was more widely read than his Satmar friend. Our discussion though was about to face an abrupt end. He acquainted me with a story about “Kook”. I said,

“I beg your pardon, are you referring to Rav Kook”.

At which point he said “who gave him Smicha.” I had a mental blank and could not recall, but I told him that he should read what the Netziv said about him in Volozhin and ask himself why the Aderes chose him for an Eidem. He persisted and said, do you want to hear the story about “Kook” or not. I looked at him and said,

“you can disagree with someone, you can even completely disagree with someone, but don’t ever drop a title from a Rav who so many held and hold in the greatest esteem. This is not Kavod HaTorah. Do I call your Rebbes, “Yoel or Eloozer? God forbid. Don’t you have any simple manners. Can you just talk like a Mench?”

His response: “You either hear it the way I say it or ” … I walked off.

I was sad, very sad. Here you have 2 guys who have been fed a one tracked line all their lives. Fine. It’s their business. They have an intense feeling of Yiras Shomayim which they define as following the path of their Rebbe without deviating even one micrometer.

Rav Kook was consumed by an incredible level of אהבה.  Everyone knows that Rav Kook’s love for the Holy Land of Israel was passionate in the extreme. He saw it bound up with אהבת התורה in a vigorous symbiotic relationship. What many forget, however, is that Rav Kook’s simple love of every Jew was extraordinarily vehement. His love of Yidden stemmed from his acute spiritual sensitivity to Elokus. Rav Kook felt the Tzelem Elokim reflected in every Yid whom he saw. It wasn’t a campaign or some hachlata (decision) or a daily utterance that inspired him. His was an innate automatic attachment to anything exuding spirituality. Rav Kook would have loved those two Mevinim. He would have been Mochel his Kavod. He would never have been offended by them. He would have seen them, and their Rebbes as items of Kedusha. Yet, these miniscule proverbial warts have the temerity to show a level of disrespect that is offensive to me, in the extreme.

Imagine Hakadosh Baruch Hu looking down and observing. The estrangement of so many shpitz yidden from kedusha is astonishing. If they had any semblance of kedusha they could not ever speak in the way they did about an איש אלקי, a Gaon and Tzaddik, Rav Kook z”l? Why should he send Eliyahu HaNovi to come and announce ובה לציון גואל to us? If we continue in this path of שנאה the only way we will be redeemed is through Yisurin God forbid and through בעתה as opposed to אחישנה.

Woe to us. We have no common language of respect.

במחילת כבודו this is just grotesquely ridiculous

You know, when the Earthquake hit Japan killing thousands of innocent people I had this horrible thought that someone would come up with an apparent reason—the arrest and imprisonment of the Jewish drug mules in Japan. And so it has passed, here is the article.

?מעשי ידי טובעים בים ואתם אומרים שירה

My interaction with the Twersky Chernobyler Dynasty has always found them to be brilliant people. I don’t understand the Rachmastrivka Rebbe R’ Dovid Twersky from Yerusholayim. I know one person who is a Chassid of his. I  could never be.

Measuring Quality in Jewish Education

Why haven’t we developed benchmarks that can be applied across any Jewish school to measure literacy outcomes? Subjectivity of material certainly is an issue, but I feel that there are enough objective materials that can be used to fill an important gap.

Let’s start with something basic: vocabulary. You would want to define a basic set of words which  each student graduating from year 6 should know like the proverbial back of their hand. In English, these words were originally described as dolch words, catering to year 3.

There have been attempts to put together Hebrew/Jewish Dolch lists. We have computers, ipods and ipads. We can fine grain this activity. For example, imagine you are going to teach your class Parshas Noach. Before you start, organise an online flash word type activity which is based on the, say, 150 words that most appear in Parshas Noach. Apart from improving vocabulary, the student’s ability to deal with the text is greatly enhanced. They are comfortable learning in their own skin. Comprehension then becomes the main focus of the learning.

You are teaching Perek אילו מציאות in Gemora. Assume that the students have already completed and graduated from R’ Aryeh Carmel’s well known list of words for Gemora. Now, you find the 100 most used, or even the 100 most unique words in the Perek. This can be continued to incorporate Rashi and more. It’s not a replacement for textual learning but an adjunct; a measurable adjunct.

How many times do we see children graduate and not have a basic command of hebrew (or aramaic) words?

I don’t have any doubt that there could also be made available software programs to drill students about basic halacha based on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Again, use the software to create and measure—non negotiable—basic knowledge.

Yes, it’s important that schools train children to be Menchen and have יראת שמים but this needs to also include basic measurable outcomes in jewish learning.

Why don’t we measure across a common worldwide benchmark?

Unsophisticated Education Contraindicated

You are a teacher. You are now teaching a (mainly) frum class of  students who are 17 years of age. You are teaching Halacha. In and among your lesson you ask someone “What is Halacha” and you get the ubiquitous answer “It’s Jewish Law”. Fine. One student then says

it’s not really Law because unlike non-Jewish Law where there is no choice and every body must follow the Law, Halacha is couched within a system of free choice and it is the person who chooses to accept the yoke of heaven for whom Halacha becomes Law (albeit Divine Law)”.

Some teachers would be taken aback with this answer.

Sounds fine to me. Shabbos is not like a speeding law. You choose to keep Shabbos and we hope you do, and we try to educate you to appreciate Shabbos so that you do, but it isn’t like a speeding law which must be kept whether you agree or not. Indeed, one of the oft quoted answers to the question “Why is God invisible” has always been “because if he was visible, you’d have no choice but to keep His Laws (Halacha)”. Put simply, if He was visible, it would be like the proverbial policeman standing there with the speed gun wherever you were driving; you’d be hard pressed deciding to speed. Where would בחירה חפשית free choice be? Without בחירה חפשית there is no reward system and we may as well be מלאכים.

Sadly, I think that many teachers lack the basic sophistry to use the aforementioned non standard answer as a pick up point to actually engage the students into a deeper discussion that also expound on the actual term הלכה and what this means vis-a-vis the journey and way of life.

I’d suggest many teachers when faced with such an answer would exclaim

ה’ ירחם, God have mercy on us all! I thought you came from a religious house, how could you possibly present a view which implied that Halacha was anything but mandatory Law”.

It’s lamentable. We need teachers who understand our youth and have enough sophistication to capture any moment or insight and make it a positive educational experience. What we often have instead is outmoded fossils who can only yell and condemn in response and thereby actually turn more people off than they turn on.

The importance of being outwardly Jewish

I work in a University environment at RMIT. I’ve noticed over the last few years an increasing number of Jewish students. Traditionally, Jews populate Melbourne and Monash Universities because of their stature and that they house both Law and Medicine. Jewish kids are diversifying now. It’s no longer the case that parents kvell solely when they can say “my son is doing medicine” or “my daughter is doing law”.  The modern parent knows that the age-old dictum of חנוך על פי דרכו — educate according to the needs/capabilities of the student/child — is critical. Furthermore, the old notion of one degree, one profession is stale. Commonly, people move not only from one employer to another, but often from one profession to another. Generic skills and capabilities, such as clear thinking, problem solving and social aptitude are important.

"Macho Man" Randy Savage (yes, he's Jewish)

RMIT has world-class strength in Design (Art, Architecture, etc), Computer Science & IT and Engineering so I am not surprised that we are now seeing more Jews at RMIT. But how do I know there are Jews? Sure, I could fool myself that nobody will notice me and stand near a Chabad student stand, or an AUJS stand or similar, but hey, I’m more likely to be accused of being a schnorrer or pervert at my age if I hang out over there! No, the reason I know there are Jews relates to my office door. This story has happened more than once; especially over the last few years.

Many years ago, I wrote to R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (through his right hand man R’ Yossi Efrati, and this was well before he assumed the Litvish mantle of Posek or Gadol HaDor) and asked whether my office door needed to have a מזוזה. I argued that I basically “lived” in my office from the early morning, till the evening. I ate there, I davened there, and sometimes I even learned Torah there. It wasn’t my office per se in the sense that I was the only person who had a key (there always being a master-key, as in any organisation) but I was the only person with a personal key. I can go through all the reasoning upon request, together with R’ Elyashiv’s answer. Let me know. R’ Elyashiv replied that I should affix a מזוזה but that I should do so without making a ברכה because of the doubt.

It’s 10am on a Friday morning and I am coming and going through my office door, and notice a curly-haired, blue-eyed, student who is sort of hanging around. I don’t think anything of it. There is a lecture theatre near my office and students often meander the corridor waiting for a lecture. I enter my office and leave the door ajar. I often do that, especially on a Friday, when traditionally there aren’t as many students and it is quieter. After a few moments he appears in the doorway and says:

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice your מזוזה, do you mind if I come in”

He asked where there was a Shule nearby for Shabbos! I informed him that East Melbourne was the closest but that I’d put him in contact with Rabbi Daniel Ravin (the Chabad Shaliach on campus). Ha! The student was from Venezuela, and had been to Rabbi Ravin’s house for lunch the previous Shabbos. Anyway, I looked up and found a mobile number for Rabbi Dovid Gutnick of East Melbourne and passed it on. He then said:

“is there any way that I can go to Rabbi Ravin’s house without driving on shabbos”

I was taken aback. I wouldn’t have picked him as a Yid as he stood near my office, and now he’s trying not to drive on Shabbos! It touched me. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to fraternise with students on a social level according to University rules, so I’m out of the picture. I responded that he should speak to Rabbi Ravin about this problem. I suggested he was living in the wrong end of town; he is only here for a semester, though.

He kissed my מזוזה as he left.

So, I’m a somewhat a sentimentalist—I looked up at my מזוזה  and thought how different this morning might have been if there was nothing on my door. ‘ברוך ה

Am I over-reacting?

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

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

Chabad, amongst others, say Lizman and Bizman.

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

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

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

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

Anachnu Machmirim B’nei Machmirim?

In respect of the title: apologies to Mordechai Ben David and the Dairy Company.

The Rosh Yeshiva of my alma mater published a thoughtful piece on stringencies חומרות in this week’s Shabbat beShabbato from Machon Zomet

As Shabbat Approaches Unnecessary Stringencies

Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg, Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B’Yavne

“To distinguish between the ritually impure and the pure” [Vayikra 11:47]. The Natziv writes, “Separating between the impure and the pure is a positive mitzva. Thus, if there are any doubts that can be analyzed in order to decide whether to permit something or prohibit it, the Beit Din is obligated by a positive mitzva to clarify the matter. Just as it is wrong to be lenient in a case where it is proper to be stringent… so it is forbidden to be stringent in a case where it is possible to be lenient.” [Haamek Davar].

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, the sage of moral teaching in our generation, wrote an entire chapter about this subject in his book “Alei Shur.” He writes that “frumkeit” (exaggerated stringency) is an egotistical urge which is not related at all to surrender to a higher power and that it does not lead to a closer approach to the Holy One, Blessed be He. This is because it is clear that the holy Shechina will not be revealed through selfishness, and anybody who bases his or her service of G-d on “frumkeit” is acting selfish. And even if he piles on himself many stringent actions — he will not become a pious person, and he will never reach a level of doing things for the sake of heaven.

The subject of stringency appears in the Talmud. For example, “Mar Ukva said: With respect to the following matter I can be compared to vinegar that was made from wine. When my father ate cheese he would not eat meat for the next twenty-four hours, while I do not eat meat during the same meal but I will eat it in the next meal.” [Chulin 105a]. The conclusion is that a person who is not at as high a level as his father was should not be as stringent as his father was.

This issue is discussed in “Pitchei Teshuva” where the author quotes from a book named “Solet LeMincha,” that one who wants to be stringent and take on a prohibition that was not accepted by the Amora’im, the rabbis of the Talmud, such as ignoring something prohibited if it is less than one-sixtieth of the total amount of food, is “like an apostate, and his loss outweighs any possible reward for this action” [Yoreh Dei’ah 116:10].

In “Chiku Mamtakim,” a book published in memory of Rabbi S.Z. Auerbach, a story is told of a student who asked if he was allowed to use a material for a succah that was permitted by the rabbis of Jerusalem but which was not approved by the Chazon Ish. Rabbi Auerbach replied that it is permitted, and he added: How can you be stringent? You are only a young student, you are not allowed to be stringent using your parents’ money, and you should also not cause extra expenses for your wife by being especially stringent. Rabbi Auerbach taught his students that if they wanted to be stringent they must first study the matter in depth. And they should be stringent only if they reached a conclusion that it was a halachic necessity, but they should never simply imitate somebody else. He said that the GRA was surprised to be considered to be pious. It is true that a pious man burns his fingernails after they are cut (Nidda 17a), but not everybody who burns his fingernails (as the GRA did) is necessarily pious.

Rabbi Amital said that a student once asked him why he was not stringent in a certain matter about which the Mishna Berura writes that a G-d-fearing person should be careful. Rabbi Amital replied that it is indeed written that a G-d-fearing man should be stringent in this matter, but that it is not written that stringency will lead to a greater fear of G-d.

In a letter to the ultra-religious Badatz organization in Jerusalem, Rabbi A.Y. Kook wrote, “It is important to note how careful we must be when we try to be stringent in matters for which we can be lenient according to the law, so that we will not incur a greater loss than what we gain.”

Psak from R’ Schachter שליט’’א on blessing a gentile

In respect of my earlier post on this topic, I spoke with Rav Schachter and he suggested that as long as it wasn’t a מתנת חינם for the gentile, as per the תוספתא quoted by the מאירי, then a ברכה should be okay. He told me that a gentile had asked them to pray for her husband who was ill. She gave them $100 towards this end. This was permitted, because there was no מתנת חינם. Rav Schachter then told me a cute story about R’ Grossman from Migdal HaEmek when R’ Grossman was asked by an Indian Swamy for a ברכה.

Rav Schachter said that one side to be מתיר was possibly as a result of the ברכה the student will speak highly about me and I’ll get some benefit from that down the track. In addition, if I used a לשון which also blessed the student “to become a good בן נח” then this was definitely מותר and was a better proposition thaנ wishing he would not stay an idol worshipper 🙂

 

Rav Hershel Schachter

 

 

What did the Lubavitcher Rebbe really think of the Rav?

In an earlier blog post I wrote:

The Rebbe felt that the Rav was wishy-washy because he was susceptible to changing his mind on issues based on political or societal pressure. As such, he felt the Rav could not be relied upon.

This is not the type of statement one makes without some type of evidence. Suffice it to say, that I wouldn’t simply write something like this unless I had seen evidence supporting it. In truth, I had the evidence for over a year. However, the person who gave it to me did so on the condition that I not disclose the evidence. Recently, I obtained the snippet from a new source. This source didn’t restrict distribution in any way.

Here it is (click in the image to enlarge):

Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז'ל mentioning the Rav ז'ל

In summary, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asserts that:

  • In important matters of halacha/politics, if “they” warn the Rav that his opinion will not be appreciated, then the Rav will refrain from making his opinion publically known. The Rav will also find ways to interpret the halacha leniently in such cases. For example, there were a few years when the Rav allowed microphones to be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov and then the Rav changed his mind.
  • The Rav is “wishy-washy/susceptible to changing his mind” when put under pressure, except in respect of his own personal Yiras Shomayim and his own adherence to Halacha
  • The Rav is a person who changes his mind by nature.

There are those who would argue that the Lubavitcher Rebbe has at best oversimplified his understanding of the Rav’s personality as the iconic Ish HaHalacha and at worst ignored the complexity therein.

On the matter of microphones, Rav Schachter explains the Rav’s view in this way:

“Rabbi Soloveitchik once spoke at an RCA convention, and dealt with the issue of shuls that permitted the use of a microphone on Shabbos.  He said that, with regard to those who permitted the use of a microphone, he wondered whether they understood the Halakha well enough to permit this; with regard to those who prohibited the use of a microphone, he wondered whether they understood physics well enough to prohibit this.”

My impression from a number of rabbis who asked the Rav about taking shul positions with microphones was that the Rav was against their use on Shabbat, but felt that the mekil position was legitimate, and could be relied upon in cases of need.   This is consistent with the fact that he refused to comment [my emphasis] on Rabbi Unterman’s heter for the Shabbat microphone developed by Prof. Zev Lev, as documented by Julius Berman in Mentor of Generations, p. 141. This is in contrast with Rav Moshe Feinstein, who concluded his teshuva on microphones (Igrot Moshe OC 4:84) by prohibiting a rabbi from taking a position in such a shul.”

Clearly, what the Lubavitcher Rebbe attributed to weakness under pressure or an inability to decide was more complex. The Rav navigated through a gordian path of conservative temples many of which were run or being taken over by ostensibly modern orthodox Rabbis. The Rav’s aim was, and he largely succeeded, to move those temples to the halachic right (sic). There were some innovations, despite the so called societal pressures, that did not affect the Rav’s public and unwavering Halachic opinion (e.g. Mechitzos). The Rav submitted himself  to the altar of Halacha at all times. On matters about which there was some interpetation, the Rav encouraged his Talmidim to get to a stage where they could decide what should be done. He was never shy to give his opinion when asked but would rarely force his own opinion on his Talmidim. The Rav gave his Talmidim some freedom and encouraged them to think and decide, whilst bound by the limits of Mesorah.

In my opinion, it is a simplification to assume that this was some character flaw. On the contrary, this was the Rav’s pedagogy through active learning.

They want to touch my feet

Over the years, in professional University life, I am exposed to an interesting Hindu ritual, known in Sanskrit as Upasangrahan. An informal survey of alumni suggests that most Indians don’t know it by name, but they all know what it is. They rarely perform the ritual, and most do not perform it in Australia. I would estimate that in Australia it’s only 1 out of every 100 Indians who have the “guts” or  להבדיל frumkeit to act it out. Here is one nice description:

“Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc. In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivaadana, which serves to introduce one-self, announce one’s family and social stature.

Man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which has been one of India’s enduring strengths.
The good wishes (Sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvaada) of elders are highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have a tremendous strength. When we prostrate with humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders, which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.
The different forms of showing respect are :

  • Pratuthana: Rising to welcome a person.
  • Namaskaara: Paying homage in the form of namaste
  • Upasangrahan: Touching the feet of elders or teachers.
  • Shaashtaanga: Prostrating fully with the feet, knees, stomach, chest, forehead and arms touching the ground in front of the elder.
  • Pratyabivaadana: Returning a greeting.

Rules are prescribed in our scriptures as to who should prostrate to whom. Wealth, family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in ascending order of importance qualified men to receive respect. This is why a king though the ruler of the land, would prostrate before a spiritual master. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect.”

Upasangrahan: Touching the feet of a revered person

Picture the scene if you will. An Indian (Hindu) student has arrived in Melbourne and enrols in RMIT’s Masters of Computer Science degree. It’s likely I interviewed and selected the student on one of my trips. After discussing various electives that suit the student’s background and ability, the session is over. As the student rises to leave my office, he asks if he can touch my shoes and receive a blessing. The first time it happened, I was taken aback and the process felt unnatural. After gently exhorting the student that there was no need to touch my shoes as I was not to be seen in any way as exceptional, it was easy to sense that the student was deflated. The student associated this ritual as a natural pathway before embarking on their two-year study at RMIT.

Having been born a כהן, conferring ברכות is second nature to me. This time, the נוסח needed to be somewhat more “free form” or avant-garde.

It never occurred to me that this episode might be part of a Hindu ritual. I always assumed that it was simply a sign of respect more akin to a stylised cultural handshake. The ברכה which I give is always a simple one wishing them הצלחה with their studies. Okay, I try to make it sound a bit more meaningful than that 🙂

These days I don’t proffer much enrolment advice; I tend to handle the more difficult cases where more questioning to ascertain the student’s level is required. One such student saw me last week. I had seen him in Bombay two years earlier. He had just landed after his Visa had been approved. It had been a struggle for him to show his finances. He seemed to be on cloud nine and had a dreamy smile etched on his face. We discussed his study plan, had a short chat, and then as he got up, he asked for a blessing. I knew the scene, so I stood up to give him a blessing. He placed his hands on my shoes and I tried to muster some meaningful words. After he left, I wondered if there was any halachic issue involved in what I had just done.

The מגן אברהם in אורח חיים סימן קפט:א writes:

כשיש עכו”ם בבית נוהגין לומר כלנו יחד בני ברית, וכתב הט”ז ביו”ד שאינו נכון דכיון שאומר כולנו יחד הכל בכלל אלא יאמר אותנו בני ברית כולנו יחד, והטעם לפי שאסור לברך עכו”ם דכתי’ לא תחנם

In other words, if there is a non-jew at one’s table during Benching (ברכת המזון) when we reach to the section of הרחמן, how should the הרחמן be phrased? This section of benching is about us blessing all those around the table. To take into account the non-jew, the words “he should bless all of us together, the children of the covenant” is suggested. The Taz writes that this is not an acceptable alternative wording because as soon as we say “all of us” that includes the non-jew and non-jews are not “children of the covenant”. Instead, the Taz suggests, “he should bless all the children of the covenant; all of us” and thereby this would exclude the non-jew from that ברכה!

Now, I can almost hear you say “hold on, what’s the problem here. Why can’t we bless a non jew at the same time as we are blessing jews. What’s the harm in giving a ברכה to a non jew!” The Magen Avraham quotes the Kol Bo and Mateh Moshe that giving “favour” or חן is part of the biblical prohibition of לא תחנם as mentioned in דברים פרק ז and described in עבודה זרה כ

כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ, ה’ אלקיך, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ; וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי–שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ.  ב וּנְתָנָם ה’ אלקיך, לְפָנֶיךָ–וְהִכִּיתָם:  הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִים אֹתָם, לֹא-תִכְרֹת לָהֶם בְּרִית וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם

When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land to to which you are coming to possess it, He will cast away many nations from before you: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful that you. And the Lord, your God, will deliver them to you, and you shall smite them. You shall utterly destroy them; neither shall you make a covenant with them, nor be gracious to them.

Other sources for this include:  מחזור ויטרי סימן פג וסימן תצו, and ארחות חיים, הל’ ברכת המזון סי’ נז.

The שולחן ערוך הרב who generally follows the Psakim of the מגן אברהם writes this explicitly (ibid)

כשיש נכרי בבית נוהגים לומר ‘כולנו יחד בני ברית’ – להוציא הנכרי מכלל הברכה, שאסור לברך הנכרים שנאמר ‘ולא תחנם’. ויותר נכון לומר ‘בני ברית כולנו יחד’, שלא יהי’ בכלל הברכה אפילו רגע

See also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:18.

Based on the ruling above, it would seem that I should not have blessed the student. Even according to those ראשונים who say that this prohibition only applies to idol worshippers, given that Hindus are arguably idol worshippers, for a Jew to perform a blessing as part of upasangrahan would seem to be forbidden because of ולא תחנם. Tosfos in ‘עבודה זרה כ also adds fuel to the fire by explaining that although there are really three prohibitions that evolve from וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם:

  1. Not to sell land in Israel to a non jew
  2. Not to give gifts to a non jew
  3. Not to be gracious (e.g. to give a blessing)

Only the first one is limited to the שבעת העמים the seven nations mentioned in that Pasuk. The latter two—not giving gifts or being gracious— according to Tosfos apply to all non jews. The בית יוסף in חושן משפט סימן רמט paskens that the only exclusions are a גר תושב—someone who not only keeps the שבע מצוות בני נח but does so because they are commanded to by Hashem! In effect, if we follow the Psak of the Beis Yosef, בפשטות one would be forbidden to give gifts to a non-Jew, and would be forbidden to be gracious through praise, blessings etc. Now, if one lives in the State of Israel, you could perhaps find a way to live your life without ever confronting the latter two איסורים. A Jew who lives in the Diaspora, and who rubs shoulders with fine and upstanding non jews on an almost daily basis, either is doing the wrong thing or needs another Rishon to disagree with the בית יוסף and for their own Posek to decide to pasken like this Rishon against the Beis Yosef. There are other opinions such as the ספר החינוך, מצווה תכו who opine that the last two dinim of לא תחנם only apply to עובדי עבודה זרה which presumably includes Roman Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus.

It seems that a way to navigate the parameters of this difficult situation may be the interesting and somewhat controversial opinion of the מאירי on ‘דף כ in עבודה זרה. It’s worth quoting the Meiri in full:

כבר ידעת כמה החמירה תורה להרחיק עובדי האלילים מארצנו ומגבולנו ומבינותינו ובכמה מקומוח האריכה להזהירנו להתרחק ממעשיהם מכאן אמרו לא החנם, לא תתן להם חן, ר’ל לשבח ענינם ומעשיהם ואפילו יופי צורתם ותבניתם, וכן דרשו מכאן שלא נתן להם חנייה בקרקע, כדי שלא להתמיד ישיבתם בינותינו, וכן דרשו ממנו שלא ליתן להם מתנת חנם, שלא לגזלה למי שאנו חייבים לה ביותר כגון נר תושב והוא בן נח הגמור לקיים שבע מצות כמו שאמרה תורה לגר אשר בשעריך תתננה ואכלה או מכור לנכרי, ומכל מקום פרשו בתוספתא דוקא לגוי שאין מכירו או שהיה עובר ממקום למקום אבל אם היה שכנו או חברו מותר שהוא כמוכרן לו, כל שהוא מן האומות הגדורות בדרכי הדתות ושמודות באלהות אין ספק שאף בשאין מכירו מותר וראוי, וכבר אמרו שולח אדם ירך לנכרי

In simple terms the Meiri is saying that the reason we can’t give them gifts is because this is tantamount to stealing the gift from the Ger Toshav who is the one who is meant to get such gifts. In other words, instead of giving to the Ger Toshav, as the Torah commands us, we choose to give to סתם a non jew (who is not a בן נח/גר תושב) and this is not correct according to the Meiri’s understanding of the prohibition of לא תחנם. This is a  controversial view because the מאירי brings no source for this insight, and to the best of my knowledge there isn’t another ראשון who shares this explanation. Meiri amplifies his view by further stating that even if the non jew is not a גר תושב but he is someone you know, as opposed to סתם a gentile, then you may also give them gifts. Why? Because it’s not a gift when you know the person. Normally, when you give something to someone whom you know then that person will reciprocate as time goes by. This is especially true in business relationships. Since they reciprocate, the (other)  גר תושב doesn’t really miss out on anything because your financial situation has stayed neutral during this episode with סתם a gentile.

The מאירי continues and says that if we are wanting to praise a gentile, then it’s how we praise, that is the נוסח that we employ is the key to whether it is permitted or forbidden. If we see nature and praise the nature by showing nature’s connection to God , this is the desired approach and the particular blessings which חז’ל provided for us to use, do employ words which link back to God. In practical terms, if one was at a music concert and was overawed by the jazz piano of Keith Jarrett, then as long as one praised Jarrett and sought to link his ability as a blessing from Hashem, then this would seem to be permitted. However, to somehow imply that Jarrett alone, without any connection to The Creator had some Darwinian ability to play jazz piano, would be questionable according to הלכה. Poskim raise questions about the מאירי and his source (a Tosefta) and it would seem that nobody has the נוסח that the מאירי had. Others question the מאירי based on a ירושלמי but I’ll not get into that.

An interesting question was posted to Rav Waldenberg ז’ל, the previous Posek for שערי צדק hospital and one of the great Poskim of the previous generation, whose Tshuvos are always beautifully constructed. In 16:47 Rav Waldenberg was asked how the Rambam could praise Aristotle in the way that he did and at the same time rule that one is forbidden to praise a gentile! Rav Waldenberg finds a number of ways to permit praising, including the one we mentioned above: limiting the prohibition to those who are idol worshippers; having it only apply when you say it and like the person, and more.

I’m left with considerable feelings going both ways on this issue and I’d probably need to spend two solid weeks studying it in some detail in the hope that I can understand the various views with a deeper clarity. Even then, at the end of the day, I think it’s not a straightforward  issue, and I’ll look to ask a renowned posek (e.g. Rav Hershel Schachter) whether I am indeed allowed to give a bracha assuming a wording נוסח along the lines of:

“May God, the only God, the King of the World, shine His countenance as you recognise Him and thereby grant you continued success in your studies, health and life.”

As always, I value your contribution.

New York – Why Arranged Marriages Go the Distance — VosIzNeias.com

New York – Why Arranged Marriages Go the Distance — VosIzNeias.com.

I read articles like this and feel that I’m left with more questions than answers.

  1. Are people from arranged marriages more or less likely to admit that they are ‘more‘ in love? One is greater than zero, and two is twice 1.
  2. Have the arranged marriage respondents been divided amongst the Misnagdic American types (who have some sort of secular education/exposure) and the Chassidic American types who can barely write coherent English? Do we expect the latter to be happier in their marriages than the former? Israelis are another category altogether as the Misnagdic types have less secular education than their American co-religionists.
  3. Is it about the marriage being arranged that is the issue here or is it about the type of person who agrees to an arranged marriage that is the subject of this study! Do they have different expectations and happiness levels?
  4. Do the authors of this study believe that if you took centrist orthodox types and created arranged marriages for them, that they would be happier 10 years after marriage as opposed to if they mutually decided on marriage themselves?
  5. Have the authors differentiated between types of arranged marriage. There are those who use an arrangement simply for a meeting or two or three. Either the boy or the girl can pull out of the arrangement freely whenever they wish without stigma. There are others for whom an arranged marriage means one meeting, at most two meetings, and rarely if ever do they turn down the proposal.

Admittedly, I have not seen the so called “science” behind this sociological study, but I am willing to lay odds that such studies are unscientific and cannot be used to conclude anything.

The one who solely uses arranged marriages will read this and say

“I’m so glad I follow (my) Gedolim. They are right about everything. This is the only way to plan marriage and חדש אסור מן התורה”

The one who doesn’t specify whether arranged or non arranged is the “right” way will say

“Ho hum, another bit of Charedi propaganda. How shallow are these people.”

What say you?

We are what we eat?

There are clear effects on a Jewish soul. The effects, both positive and negative, stem from actions and environment. We normally understand actions as constituting the performance of Mitzvos and good deeds (מעשים טובים). Mitzvos include the principal Mitzvah of Talmud Torah that underpins all Mitzvos and leads one to action (ideally).

Kabbalistically inclined Jews amplify claims that there are effects on the spiritual Neshama (טמטום הלב) stemming from the physical food we put into our mouths.  Jews who are inclined towards rational interpretations of Judaism, are less likely to be concerned about meta side-effects to a soul from a physical item. Let’s take a concrete example. These days we mostly eat Glatt meat. Glatt means that the internal membranes of the animal are “cleaner” and, therefore, don’t attract attendant questions about whether a particular type of faulty membrane renders the animal Treyf. So called pious Jews prefer not to confront the question in the first place. If the animal is Glatt, then it is squeaky clean,  there is no question about its kashrus, and one can be 100% sure that it’s Kosher לכל הדעות. Continuing this theme,  the pious Jew may also contend that even if there is a questionable membrane that is considered kosher by 99% of Poskim, since 1% of Poskim consider the animal Treyf, then there is a 1% likelihood that it’s not kosher and one ought not take the 1% risk of damaging one’s soul by ingesting Treyf.

Rationalists or Halachic purists will dismiss such pious concerns. They may argue that the Torah presented a divine mandate for a Posek to decide Halacha. If a Posek then determines that the animal is kosher, then it is 100% kosher. This is a binary system; it’s either kosher or it’s not. There is no statistical likelihood of a soul being damaged by opinions which the Posek has determined do not influence his Halachic decision.

To put it a different way: the more kabbalistically inclined Jew considers that there is an empirical truth about the kashrus of each item we put in our mouths. Rabbis determining Halacha are mortal and do their best to decide whether that food item is kosher or otherwise. They “get it right” some times and they may “get it wrong” other times perhaps because they dismissed a minority opinion which may well represent the empirical kashrus status of the item. The more rationally inclined Jew will contend that this line of reasoning is baloney (sic). Food with a questionable status isn’t empirically kosher or otherwise. It is rendered Kosher by the decision of the Posek. The Halacha is famously not in  heaven: לא בשמים היא and once food has the halachic kashrus imprimatur of a Posek, eat it gezindt aheit.

Machmirim milk products (yes, it's real) with 4 Hechsherim.

In keeping with Brisker Lomdus, there is another way to view this conundrum. The kabbalistically inclined may consider that Kosher is only ever about the food item itself (the חפצא). Even if a Posek (a גברא) declares that the food is Kosher, as long as  a solitary opinion of note contends it is not Kosher, the חפצא cannot be transformed into Kosher by the Halachic determination of a גברא, and remains on the outer. On the other hand, those who adopt a solely rational approach to Halacha may argue that the חפצא has no independent status. The גברא imparts a status to the חפצא through determining Halacha according to the tradition, learning and shimush (apprenticeship) of the Posek. Once the גברא decides, the חפצא takes on an identity. It cannot have a dual identity vis-a-vis the single Posek.

The Ramo writes in יו”ד סי` פ”א ס”ז that when a baby ingests unquestionably non-kosher food, the food has a negative effect on the spiritual development and character traits of the child (See the Shach ס”ק כו). This is also mentioned in Shulchan Aruch but only in the context of a baby drinking milk of a nursing woman who has consumed non-kosher food. The Vilna Gaon (ibid) teaches that we learn this from baby Moshe who refused to nurse from a non-Jewish source (שמות רבה א, כה). The Yerushalmi at the beginning of the second perek of  חגיגה relates that Elisha ben Abuye (Acher) went off the derech because Elisha’s mother had once succumbed to a sweet smell from Avoda Zara and this had permeated Elisha’s body and tainted his character traits. I just found a nice summary of  the issue of the after effects from eating Treyf, on page 3 and onwards here.

A question arises on the Pasuk in Parshas Ekev, “על כל מוצא פי ה’ יחיה האדם” where the implication is that through the spiritual emission of Hashem, man lives. How does man live from spirit? Man lives from food. The Ari ז’ל explains that all things physical also have a spiritual component. Therefore, when a human ingests Treyf, the spiritual aspect of that food is also ingested by the Neshama of the person. As the Pasuk in Parshas Ekev goes on to say “כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם” Man does not live just from bread alone. That is, man is not only sustained by the physical aspect of bread. After ingestion, Treyf will also nurture the soul.

What motivated me to blog on this topic, was a story I read last night about R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל (as an aside the disgraceful revisionist artscrollesque wikipedia article about R’ Shlomo Zalman carefully avoids mentioning Rav Kook even though R’ Shlomo Zalman said, “When I say Maran or Der Rav, you should know that I only use this term to describe R’ Kook”. It is useful to compare the Hebrew wikipedia article which prominently mentions R’ Kook!)

Someone approached R’ Shlomo Zalman with a question on behalf of Seminary girls who are commonly invited to various houses for meals, especially over Shabbos and Yom Tov. Should the girls seek out houses which they know only rely on chosen Hechsherim? It is known that some houses will use Hechsherim which some will not touch with a barge pole.  R’ Shlomo Zalman replied that God forbid we should suspect that Yidden are eating Treyf. As long as these are Frum people who use a Hechsher from a Rav who is a Yirei Shomayim, the girls should eat there. The questioner went on to ask, “but some people will not eat from some of the out-of-town Rabanut Hechsherim”?. R’ Shlomo Zalman replied in the same way: as long as the Rav Hamachshir is a Yirei Shomayim, the girls should eat from such Hechsherim. The questioner persisted and with more than a touch of Chutzpah asked, would you eat from such Hechsherim? At this point, R’ Shlomo Zalman became agitated and said

“definitely yes. If I go to a Bris or other Simcha and there is a Rav Hamachshir who is a Yorei Shomayim, even though I don’t personally use that Hechsher in my own home, I will even eat chicken from this Rav Hamachshir at the Simcha. חס ושלום to publicly cast aspersions on the kashrus of food being eaten at a Simcha let alone insult the בעלי שמחה. I know that even R’ Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld  ז’ל ate meat from Sefardim at a Bris even though this was not his Ashkenazic tradition.”

This was R’ Shlomo Zalman. This was why he was one of few universally acclaimed personalities of the previous generation, despite the fact that he issued some controversial and innovative Piskei Din.

I asked myself after reading the story, wasn’t R’ Shlomo Zalman worried about the effect on his Neshama (טמטום הלב) after eating under the authority of a Hechsher that he didn’t normally use? The Kabbalistically inclined would perhaps have to agree with the more rationally inclined and answer that the food was Kosher מעיקר הדין so there could not be any damage to the Neshomo?

Perhaps the only danger would be to human beings who might be hurt by the implication that they were damaging their Neshomos after they see a Rav refusing to eat at their Simcha?

It is Adar, but I am sad and angry

Like many of you, I have just watched the funerals of the five kedoshim of Family Fogel from Itamar. I don’t have words to describe the sickening feeling I had when I watched the pictures here (warning: graphic images)

They say everything is השגחה פרטית and I don’t deny it. My feelings have moved from utter despair and sadness to extreme anger. Just released on youtube is this footage from Iran TV from several years ago.

It is a most uncomfortable and disconcerting segue to the murder of the five Fogels הי’ד in Itamar. You watch it and ask yourself what can we do about neanderthals who parade themselves as supporters of those who encourage, cheer and perpetrate the butchering of innocent children in their beds on Shabbos Kodesh.

Do we have Neturei Karta supporters in Melbourne? Is the  Adass Charedi offshoot of שומרי אמונים closely aligned with this Neturei Karta offshoot? Are the שומרי אמונים the self-same people whose cars brandished anti-zionist sentiment driving around Melbourne “in protest” at Zionist activities in the State of Israel.

There is arguably a חיוב to protest against these types of מחללי שם שמים but how?

I just realised that this type of Jews has a collective noun, straight out of the מגילה

מתיהדים

Update: our own daughter was planning to be in Itamar that Shabbos. The seminary had other plans.

Purim: giving without due diligence, Part 2

I knew I had seen a reference to the Rav’s thoughts on this matter.  I’ll paraphrase R’ Schachter in דברי הרב.

To understand the connection between the מצווה of  צדקה and specifically the Yom Tov of Purim, we need to to understand the general מצווה of צדקה. The Rambam in the beginning of the tenth chapter of הלכות מתנות עניים exhorts us to be more careful in the degree of our observance of the מצווה of  צדקה than all other positive commands. This is because  צדקה—vis a vis the propensity to give—is an identifying trait of Avraham Avinu. As the Pasuk in בראשית יח יט states:

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ד’ לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט לְמַעַן הָבִיא ד’ עַל אַבְרָהָם אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר עָלָיו

“For I have known him, that he commands his children, and his house after him and they have kept the way of Hashem, to do Tzedaka and judgment, that Hashem may bring on Abraham that which He had spoken concerning him.”

The Rambam’s statement is extraordinary. We could be forgiven for thinking that the defining characteristics of a Jew is seen through the Mezuza on their door, or through their observance of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, Tefillin, Kashrus, and similar. Giving Tzedaka, however, is a universal humanistic value that is not just the domain of Jews, so why did the Rambam specifically choose Tzedaka as the characterising hallmark of the Jew?

In the second סעיף the Rambam goes on to say that if someone exhibits cruel or uncaring characteristics, then we might suspect that persons יחוס (intrinsic DNA) as a Jew. As is well known (and more recently popularised in Avraham Frieds’ ביישנים song) , the Gemara (יבמות מט) says

“סימני ישראל האומה הקדושה: בישנים, רחמנים וגומלי חסדים”

“The signs of the holy nation of Israel are that they are milquetoast, pitying, and bestowers of kindness.”

The Rambam stresses that all Jews are siblings and if one sibling does not look out for another, who will?

In this regard, the Megillah states the inspiring words:

 

וירא המן–כי אין מרדכי, כרע ומשתחוה לו; וימלא המן, חמה. ויבז בעיניו, לשלח יד במרדכי לבדו–כי הגידו לו, את עם מרדכי; ויבקש המן, להשמיד את כל היהודים

that Mordechai refused to cow tow to Haman. Haman was enraged, and whilst he would ordinarily have materialised his rage solely through punishing Mordechai, once he realised that (consistent with the Rambam’s view) Mordechai was an iconic symbol conjoined with Jews, כי הגידו לו, את עם מרדכי as a unified whole, then ויבז בעיניו he despised Mordechai more, and decided that he’d take it out on all Jews—להשמיד את כל היהודים.

This is also what Mordechai reminded  Esther of when he said:

״אל תדמי בנפשך להמלט בית המלך מכל היהודים כי אם החרש תחרישי בעת הזאת ריוח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר ואת ובית אביך תאבדו

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish.’’

Mordechai was stressing to Esther that Jews are responsible for each other; they are a singleton. It cannot be that a Jew’s fate is detached from other Jews anymore than a Jew can absolve themselves from their responsibility to another Jew. This theme, of the unity of the proverbial Jewish body is also channeled to a prospective גר. After detaching themselves from any prior nation or peoplehood,  the גר is informed that they will now face anti-Semitism in the same way as any born Jew. The proverbial Jewish body has absorbed the גר and they are now a vital component.

This message—the importance of perpetuating the unity of the Jewish nation—as echoed by the מגילה and מרדכי and המן himself, motivated the Rabbinic enactment of the מצווה of מתנות לאביונים.  Enveloped with this theme,  the מצווה is not simply one of צדקה but is now the materialistic expression of a unifying act which by its purpose is consistent with not checking the credentials of the person one is giving the money to. On the contrary, the body is in tact, knows no difference, discerns no hierarchy and for this—the theme of כל ישראל עריבים זה לזה and אחדות—it is consistent to give to any Jew and not to question their bona fides.

Purim: giving without due diligence

The three weeks and nine days, during the months of Tamuz and Av respectively, are popular in Melbourne.  The days are short, it is winter, and as a result we attract many Meshulachim, Hunters and Collectors (MHC). If you spend Tisha B’Av in Melbourne it’s certainly an easier fast than in Yerusholayim or להבדיל Monsey or New Square. The community in Melbourne is relatively small and tends to live in proximate enclaves.  MHCs are generally ferried from house to house by local drivers equipped with potential donor lists made available (sometimes for a fee) to those MHCs who haven’t formulated their own list. Local drivers levy a percentage of the takings and tend to be exclusively from the Hungarian Charedi community of Adass because most MHCs seem to be of the Charedi persuasion. The local vans are  generally strategically stationed 2 or 3 houses down from the house the MHC is visiting so that the home owner won’t see the local driver. During the high seasons, one can easily have 2-6 MHCs in an evening.

Meshulach

There are different approaches employed when dealing with an MHC.

  1. Some good-hearted souls make time and sit down and listen to the MHC’s story and read their recommendation letters, offer a drink, give a donation from their M’aaser allocation for Tzedaka and then send them on their way, with or without a receipt, sometimes with cash and other times via a cheque
  2. Some will do the same as 1., but do it quickly by not listening to the particular MHC
  3. A new system has evolved in Melbourne whereby MHCs are able to get Chesed certificates which attest to their legitimacy. Many will now only give to MHCs who make the modest effort to obtain a Chesed certificate. Such systems exist in many other countries in the world and are designed to lessen the chances of fraudulent crooks masquerading as MHCs.
  4. Some only donate to people or causes with whom they can identify. For example, they will not give to an anti-zionist kollel or to someone from Toldos Aaron or a Meshichist etc
  5. Some will tell the MHC to “go and work for a living like I do”. After a while, they no longer get MHC visitors. These people can also be seen running out to the driver warning him not to bring such MHCs to their house again.
  6. Others choose to pre-allocate their Maaser to chosen charities and have little left for casual MHCs.
  7. I know of one Jew (wasn’t frum at that time) who used to have a large nude painting at the doorway of their home. Their clientel dropped dramatically after that expose.
  8. I know of another Jew who suggests that the MHC  “sing Hatikvah” as a precondition to his donation.

The last two approaches, and variations on such themes, are not recommended, despite their effectiveness 🙂

MHCs themselves can be convivial. Sometimes they are rude and uncultivated. We all have stories about the MHC who abused us or our wives because we didn’t “give enough”; or we “gave more last year”; or we refused to answer the door after the MHC woke up the family, pressing the doorbell after 10pm.

Most MHCs are “he”, although I have struck the odd (sic) “she”. In my case, I’m pretty sure she was fraudulent.

For over two decades, my personal approach was to

  1. rarely listen to what they were collecting for (I didn’t need the justification)
  2. never let someone leave empty-handed
  3. give everyone a modest sum.

When the Chesed certification was mooted, I was opposed to the concept; I didn’t need to know anything about an MHC. Even if they were involved in chicanery or deceit, I concluded that they were a Nebech since they felt compelled to travel from door to door collecting. Most Melbourne Rabbis signed on to support Chesed, with the notable exception of some Charedi Rabonim. Those Charedi Rabonim provide their own letters it would seem which makes their behaviour incongruent unless their policy was to support “anybody”.

After some time, and after hearing stories about MHCs who had fleeced members of the community of many thousands of dollars, I began to slowly come around to the concept of giving exclusively to those who had allowed themselves to be scrutinised by the Rabbis of Chesed. I do make exceptions for those whom I know personally, of course, but will encourage them to obtain the certification nonetheless.

With Purim approaching there is a well-known מצווה of מתנות לאביונים. This is derived from the פסוק in the מגילה

כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים

What is the nature of this מצווה? Does it have the same strictures as the מצווה of צדקה? Is it different מצווה functioning under its own rules? The Aruch Hashulchan in סימן תרצד סעיף א notes, based on the Rambam in the second perek of Hilchos Megila and Chanuka:

ואין מדקדקין במעות פורים, לומר “זה ישר” ו”זה רמאי ואין צריך ליתן לו”. אלא כל הפושט יד ליטול – נותנין לו, ואינן צריכין לדקדק אחריו

  • We don’t exercise due diligence with our Purim Gelt.
  • We don’t scrutinise so that whoever stretches out a hand, we do give them something.

Why is Purim different? Is it so difficult to find two people who are genuinely in need of the monetary equivalent of two portions of food (the Gemara learns this out from the use of plural מתנות and then the plural אביונים) in the פסוק.

Note that for מתנות לאביונים a husband and wife or family is considered one unit for this purpose. A man is able to  fulfill the מצווה through the prior donation of his wife, and vice-versa. On the other hand,  if one gives two portions to a single husband and wife unit, then one has not fulfilled the מצווה because it is as if it was given to one entity.

The מצווה of מתנות לאביונים is considered more important than משלוח מנות in that if one is wondering whether to put more into their סעודה or more into  משלוח מנות as a הידור then the הלכה states that it is preferable to spend more on מתנות לאביונים.

There is a cute apocryphal story about two Brisker בחורים who, as is well-known, are punctilious with the precise  mode of discharging of each מצווה. As Brisker they are accustomed to subjecting minutiae to considerable scrutiny. In their zeal to fulfil the מצווה of מתנות לאביונים they proceeded to scour the local village to find a truly poor person (אביון). Unhappy with one couple because that couple’s house seemed to be not shabby enough to be qualified as “poor”, they searched on. They were unhappy with another couple who did live in a suitably decrepit tent of a house but seemed to have a couch that was too “nice”  and hence under Brisker standards there was a question of the degree of their impecuniosity. Finally, at the very edge of the town, they chanced upon an old and sick couple living in a ramshackle abode, with the plainest of accoutrements. Now this was a “real” poor couple with all the הידורים according to כל הדיעות. With great joy, they informed the couple that they would present them with their money so as to perform the מצווה. Upon leaving, they were careful to also inform the couple:

“Please make sure that during the year, you don’t accept any money or help from anyone else so that next year we can come back and fulful the מצווה again through you!”

On Purim, there is a long-standing custom to give money to so-called כלי קודש: Rabonim, Chazonim, Shamoshim and the like (I wonder if that includes Kolel Yungerleit or not so Yungerleit these days!). Interestingly, the Aruch Hashulchan suggests that one does not fulfil מתנות לאביונים when passing on the envelope to this category of person because it is considered more of a חוב. There is an expectation as opposed to the more care-free and unpredictable mode of making somebody happy on Purim by providing them with enough money to make their Purim a happy one.

What if I want to use the money I have set aside for Tzedaka each year? Can one use their מעשר money, the money they have set aside for צדקה, and use this to fulfil מתנות לאביונים? This is an interesting question discussed by the מהריל. The  מהריל concludes that one may not use מעשר money for this purpose. מתנות לאביונים needs to come from a different proverbial pocket. This separation of מתנות לאביונים from צדקה is perhaps consistent with the other הלכה of not performing due diligence in ascertaining who is genuinely poor for מתנות לאביונים.

What about poor people themselves? Do poor people have to perform מתנות לאביונים? If we say they do have to perform מתנות לאביונים then we can infer that מתנות לאביונים is like any other מצווה and just like a poor person must perform any other מצווה they must also perform the specific מצווה of מתנות לאביונים. This is the opinion of the ט”ז in או”ח סימן תרצ”ד. On the other hand the פרי חדש opines that a poor person does not have to perform מתנות לאביונים because מתנות לאביונים is really just a special class of צדקה for the day of Purim, and just like a poor person doesn’t have to give צדקה they also don’t have to give מתנות לאביונים.

צדקה

Another הלכה is also germane in respect of whether מתנות לאביונים is its own מצווה or is really a specialisation of צדקה on the day of Purim. Is one able to fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving the money to a non-Jew? The  Tur paskens that one can fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving to a non-Jew. The Beis Yosef supports this with a quote from Gitin 61A where the מצווה of  צדקה can be fulfilled by giving to a non-Jew. We observe then that the Tur holds that מתנות לאביונים  is another example of the מצווה of  צדקה and therefore מתנות לאביונים enjoys the same details in the halachic effectuation of the מצווה. Many argue with the Tur, and opine that one can not fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving the money to a non-Jew because מתנות לאביונים is a separate מצווה for Purim which is tied to the word רעיהו in the Pasuk, which means רעיהו במצוות.

Of course, I am not a Posek by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pretty certain that on Purim those of us who do submit to a determination of a poor person’s bona fides through a Chesed certificate, should suspend such considerations on Purim day itself.

Ask your own Local Orthodox Rabbi, of course (perhaps when you slip him an envelope on Purim 🙂

Balance and Tolerance in Religious Education

It is entirely natural and expected that a school advances a particular leitmotif . Indeed, some would argue that a school that doesn’t have or project a particular bias is like a body without a soul, wandering aimlessly from issue to issue, approach to approach, without a guiding rudder. Parents choose a particular school for their child, and apart from the expected quality of education, another ingredient contributing to their choice is the compatibility between the philosophy at home and the Weltanschauung  imparted by the school.

In Melbourne, the so-called religiously inclined schools are arguably four:

  1. The Hungarian Charedi, Adass Israel Schools
  2. The Chabad Chassidic, Yeshivah Beth Rivkah Schools
  3. The Mizrachi Religious Zionist, Yavneh College
  4. The Misnagdic/Lithuanian, Yesodei Hatorah School

I am sure that some educational leaders of Mt Scopus College would consider Scopus  a religious school, however, this is not the popular street-view. There are a number of other secular-oriented Jewish Schools in Melbourne and of course elsewhere, but these aren’t the focus of my thoughts.

The Melbourne experience is not atypical. In Israel and the USA one sees more choice but I’d suggest that the choice  is generally an expansion of different shades of the same broad categories above.

My issue with many schools is that they do not promote balance or tolerance. To be specific, I’ll describe some topics which I think would not be dealt with adequately, or at all, within  the above schools. I’m not so much focussing on the particular schools in Melbourne, but rather the type of school.

  1. A Hungarian/Haredi style School would not cover
    • the approach of Torah im Derech Eretz per R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. They wouldn’t even do so in the context of הרבה עשו כרשב’י ולא עלתה בידם.
    • a rejoinder on the שלש שבועות and an understanding of the philosophy of religious Zionism
    • Chabad Chassidus
    • Torah for women
  2. ָA Chabad Chassidic style School would not cover
    • a comparative study of the Nefesh Hachaim and Sefer HaTanya
    • an understanding of the philosophy of religious zionism
  3. A Mizrachi Religious Zionist School would not cover
    • the philosophy of the Satmar Rebbe ז’ל vis a vis ויואל משה
    • chassidus (although that has changed of late with the emergence of חבקוק (but not in Melbourne)
  4. A Misnagdic/Lithuanian would not cover
    • anything that remotely resembled Chabad
    • an understanding of the philosophy of religious Zionism
    • Gemara for women

Now, you might say that’s a short list of items. They aren’t exactly fundamental issues. There are more important things to focus on. What’s the big deal?

The topics above are just indicators—sign posts. The general issue of balance and tolerance runs deeper than these specific matters. In fact, what prompted  this post relates to none of the aforementioned issues!

Our youngest daughter, who attends a respected Chabad School, was learning the halachos of women wearing a head  covering. Sadly, the lesson style was not a textual study, even though the girls are in year 12. The teacher adopted a more informal—Balabatish—study based on short essays and articles on the topic. I chanced upon the material at home and read it with interest. This material, which the girls passively read in class and then discuss, is comprised of

Warning against those who wear a Sheytel

What struck me about the coverage, however, was the complete and perhaps wilful omission of the not insignificant opinions of those who consider the wearing of a Sheytel to actually be forbidden! This view is held, of course, by Chacham Ovadya Yosef  at one end of the spectrum and various Chassidic Poskim at the other end, who held that if one does wear a Sheytel it needs to also include a hat or kerchief. Others who are against Sheytels include: R’ Yaacov Emden ז’ל, the Vilna Gaon ז’ל, the Chasam Sofer ז’ל, the Divrei Chaim of Sanz ז’ל and R’ Shlomo Kluger ז’ל. Maharil Diskin ז’ל and Rav Elyashiv are opposed to particular styles of Sheytels (those that are “too real”) whilst in Beis Ya’akov Schools I am told that a teacher who wears a Mitpachat (a Tichel instead of a Sheytel) will not be admitted. In Charedi Leumi circles, full tichels are the order of the day, and unlike the claim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, many women simply do not remove their tichels.

I urge you not to misunderstand me. I am decidedly not taking any sides here in the debate about proper modes of hair covering. Indeed, when we were married, many moons ago, I told my wife that she should use whatever style she was comfortable with. I was never about to dictate the style of hair covering; I felt it was a difficult enough thing to live with and there was really no concensus.

What I am against, however, is imbalance and lack of tolerance in education. The children should have been exposed to alternate Torah-based views even if they aren’t the views of the School. Sure, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל was very pro-Sheytels and anti-Tichels, even in the house, but if a teacher is going to teach children about the concept, why wouldn’t she also cover the sizeable alternative views?

There seems to be a lack of balance, let alone tolerance, in our school systems. It cuts across all the four broad types of schools I mentioned above.

Do you agree with me?

Mezinke Oysgegayben Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Mezinke Oysgegayben

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

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

Musicians of yesteryear

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

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

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

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

or

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

or the perhaps more stretched explanation

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

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

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

and which went on further to note that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not about the internet, Rabbi Ginzberg

In an article reprinted in Matzav.com, Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg admirably goes to lengths to show how comments on articles on the internet can be so horribly insensitive. He is right. He then calls them “digital murder”. Rabbi Ginzberg is on the money when he notes that comments can be off and grossly insensitive. So what do I object to? After all, he’s urging people to be more sensitive and nice?

I don’t disagree with the notion of people displaying a more civil and generous tone when they address topics, but what has this to do with being “digital?”. I discern the spectre of  a new ogre. Yes, that big bad internet is responsible for all this digital loshon hora and digital rechilus and proverbial digital murder.

Hello? This has little to do with the internet. If people make these comments on blogs they make them at home, at school, in the yeshivah or in the alley way.  Is this the first time we have met people making snide remarks behind other people’s backs? It’s really about poor chinuch, fake chinuch, corrupt chinuch found in our “holy” schools and our “holy” homes. If we or our children are making insensitive remarks then it is deflective to focus on the vehicle that enables the promulgation of those remarks, as if  in some way the vehicle might be (partly) responsible. The vehicle changes from generation to generation. The problem is ubiquitous.

Pen and Paper. Yes, they can be used to write chidushei torah but they can also be used to promulgate insensitive remarks and yes, even pornography. Ban the pen, ban the paper?

Telephones. Yes, they can be used to carry nice messages and blessings and Torah and all things good. They can also carry the worst loshon horah that can destroy someone’s life. Ban the phone?

And now we have the Internet. Well, the internet can be used as a kiddush hashem. Will we ever read about an askan or gadol praising the incredible harbotzas hatorah that has occurred because of the internet? I doubt it. People will just concentrate on the negative side and seek to ban it. This “digital murder” is another attempt to put a nail in the internet coffin. It won’t work.

The web is here to stay. We should worry about our children making such comments, not the type of paper they use.

PS. Starting a chabura in mussar is  not the answer to this general problem. It’s about חינוך at an early stage and an example at home.

Is this the Satmar that R’ Yoel z”l envisaged?

For many of you, this post is nothing new. Indeed, for me it should have been nothing new. Nonetheless, the incident shook me up. Yesterday I was about to get into my car in a street which has a sizeable number of Hungarian Haredi residents. From the distance, a boy on a bike called out, “Mr Balbin, Mr Balbin, do you remember me from xxx’s wedding? Do you still do weddings”. I waited till he and various other boys who were riding on their bikes approached. After apologising that I didn’t recognise him because I perform at many weddings and it’s hard for me to remember a single face in a crowd, we continued chatting amiably. There were 6 to 10 boys on their bikes in total. Their ages spanned (what looked to me to be) from 7 to 12 years of age. By now, each boy was staring at me. I asked each what type of chasid he was, expecting a range of responses. It turned out that they were all Satmar. We chatted and I informed them that I wasn’t a fan of Satmar ideology vis a vis the State of Israel and Satmar’s attitude towards people who were not yet frum. I explained that Hakadosh Baruch Hu had effectively paskened that the State of Israel is part of his plans and this is plain for all to see. I added that I don’t (at least I  try not to) “hate” any Jews. I wasn’t quite ready for the outpouring of pre-canned volcanic hate that subsequently erupted, although I hear you saying that I was asking for it by daring to question their views.

Satmar Rebbe ז’ל

I was informed (in rather yelling tones) that

  • the ציונים are Kofrim
  • the ציונים dig up kvaros to build hospitals
  • the ציונים caused the holocaust because they went against the Shalosh Sh’vuos
  • the ציונים should be hated not loved
  • and did I know Lubavitchers think their dead Rebbe is Moshiach (I think they brought this up because I said all Yidden should be loved)

Big deal, I hear you say. Haven’t you ever been to Meah Shearim or Williamsburg or “name a Satmar enclave”? This is Melbourne, though. Melbourne is/was unique. Even the Haredim are more tolerant of each other.

Where else in the world would you find a single Haredi Shule where Satmar, Belz, Viznitz, Slonim, you name it daven together? I always thought that Melbourne was different. I think it was different. It is quickly becoming no different, at least as far as these brainwashed boys is concerned.

I tried to tell them that

  • they should consider loving all Jews because all Jews were created B’Zelem Elokim (to which the response was “except the Zionim”)
  • there are people who question whether there are indeed Jewish graves being dug up, but more importantly there are authoritative Poskim who say that it’s okay to dig up and even if they disagree and their Poskim say that they shouldn’t, it’s no reason to “hate” and “carry on” against Yidden who are acting according to a written Psak Din
  • that the Shalosh Shvuos is widely held to be not L’Halacha but either way, I suggested that they acquaint themselves with the views of those who hold that the Shalosh Shvuos doesn’t apply and to “open their eyes”.

They looked at me like I was from planet mars, and asked me “where do you daven”. I saw this as a leading question. It would lead to the criticising of any Shule/community I davened with, as a means of discrediting anything that I said. This is how the ’thought’ processes worked. I told them that I daven “wherever people let me in”. That threw them off the track.

Perhaps what bothered me most was that the younger the kid, the more yelling took place about the ציונים. I asked myself where were they learning to espouse views with such a hatred and lack of tolerance? Is it at their School? Perhaps these kids are part of the so called new דברי אמונה school which has opened up because the local Haredi Adass school is no longer considered extreme enough. Is this what their Melamdim teach? Even if they hold these views, why are such views being inculcated at an age where they simply do not know enough to make head or tail of weighty issues? Are they being encouraged to speak like this at  home? Perhaps. I do know that at least one of their parents refused to buy a blue and white havdala candle because it’s too much like the colours of ציונים. If a child is with their father in a store and hears that attitude, then of course plenty of unbridled hate must rub off.

Ironically, they asked me “if it wasn’t the ציונים then why did the holocaust happen” to which I answered וידום אהרּן. We were speaking throughout in Yiddish, and it was clear that they didn’t know what I was talking about. I retold them the story of Aaron’s sons, and Aaron’s reaction. I got into my car with their wide eyes following my every move. I couldn’t help but be overcome with genuine sadness. Is this חינוך? Was this the vision of R’ Yoel? Did R’ Yoel envision the creation of robotic, hate-filled, automata?

Against Bans, Harassment and Threats

A little over a month ago, a number of rabbis signed onto a ban that forbade advertising on or otherwise working with the website VosIzNeias. This ban singled out one website without addressing other websites or public forums like newspapers or magazines. The singling out of a solitary website raises many questions, particularly when newspapers in the same community regularly publish arguably libelous stories and online discussion forums for the community are essentially unbounded by civility. Additionally, VosIzNeias has publicly stated that it has already raised its standards and is willing to do even more with rabbinic guidance, provided the same guidelines are applied to its competitors.

Bans of this nature are generally brought into fruition by activists and this one is attributed to a specific activist who seems to have business and political interests in this ban. He ignored VosIzNeias’ request to meet with the rabbis in order to explore ways to satisfy their concerns. With this ban, the activist is threatening the commercial viability of the VosIzNeias business.

We have now received reports of continued harassment by this activist, who is threatening to publicly denounce people, companies and charitable organizationswho continue to cooperate with the website. He has also reportedly threatened to remove the kosher certification of companies that fail to adhere to the ban. However, on being contacted, the activist behind the ban denied all knowledge of this harassment and attributed it to someone acting without authorization. We are, therefore, making no formal accusation as to who is conducting this campaign of harassment.

To the best of our understanding, this activity is illegal. One individual told us he reported that harassment to the police.

Harassing good people with threats is illegal and inexcusable. We call on rabbis and people of good faith to denounce this behavior, and we encourage victims to respond to this activist as follows:

If he calls or e-mails you or your organization, thank him for bringing the ban to your attention and say that you will decide how to proceed after consulting with your rabbi or other advisor. And because there are rumors that there is harassment involved in this matter, add that if he contacts you or anyone else in your organization again, you will have to report him to the police.

There is a copy of an e-mail forwarded  by people involved, which includes a pseudonym and phone number, and we have been told of intimidating phone calls. Note that at this time we are withholding this activist’s identity. If he continues harassing people, we will have to be less discrete.

Signed,

pitputim and other bloggers

(please sign your own name and post this to your blog if you agree)

The courage of your convictions part 2

In a previous post, I bemoaned the fact that Haredi anti-zionists who declared that the State of Israel and those who supported it were responsible חס ושלום for the Holocaust, hid behind a proverbial rock and were seemingly afraid to assert their views publicly. This was later buttressed by the observation that the video of Melbourne’s R’ Beck was pulled from the youtube site (although I have retained a copy for download). Many of us are uncomfortable stating our views publicly and unambiguously (where possible). I understand perfectly well that it’s not always wise to do so. I also accept that we are not always wise 🙂

Most of us are cognisant of the fact that it is challenging for a Hasid to consistently exist as part of a Hasidic framework without a (physical) Rebbe. With the tragic departure of a Rebbe to עולם האמת, there is a dearth of live Torah. There are no private audiences. The room is barren and the seat is void. The atmosphere spasmodically mourns the electric ambience that was. Assuredly, the memory lives on. The mission carries on and may presume a new strength and, of course,  דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים. Visits to a Kever

מצבה of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז'ל

are harrowing and melancholic—some may even refuse the experience while others will be inveigled by proximity. Torah from a Rebbe is demoted to unpublished or hidden archives, new compilations, exercises in synthesis and newly organised anthologies of existing material. Those seeking essential counsel resort to second and third-best options, including the somewhat questionable practice of randomly opening volumes of old letters in order to seek the elusive advice to a new problem.

The sense of emptiness is not exclusively the domain of the Hasid, although one expects that reliance of a Hasid on their Rebbe is more amplified than the interdependence of the non-Hasid and their own רב המובהק. All Jews are distressed by a grim feeling of dislocation when a רב המובהק, a mentor, a guide and sage, travels to another world leaving an incontestable void

On several occasions, the Rav, a scion of Brisk, also gave testament to the importance of retaining an important Rabbinic figure as one’s guide, in keeping with the dictum of  עשה לך רב. This phenomena is, of course, not new. Poignantly, the Rav added that even after the פטירה of one’s רב המובהק, it is paramount to attempt to envision what the רב המובהק  might have advised. The Rav evinced the loneliness he succumbed to when his own guide(s) had passed on to another world. One of those apart from his father, was undoubtedly, the Gaon Rav Chaim Heller ז’ל.

מצבה of Rav Chaim Heller ז'ל

See this 2007 link from Mississippi Fred McDowell’s great blog for more about Rav Heller. Both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav used to meet regularly at the home of Rav Chaim Heller in Berlin, but I digress.

When a Jew, Hasid or otherwise, has difficulty dealing with the loss of their mentor, there are perhaps three principal reactions:

  1. Deny that the נפטר  has passed onto another world; or
  2. Accept that the נפטר had passed onto another world, but consider this phenomenon a temporary dislocation in the sense that the  נפטר will return at the time of גאולה as part of the somewhat undefined process of redemption—תהליך הגאולה; or
  3. Accept that the נפטר has passed onto another world and aspire to meet again with the advent of תחיית המתים, the resurrection of the dead.

Amongst Hasidim, the two groups who have not replaced their Rebbe and continue to flourish are Breslav and Lubavitch. Breslav is not a new phenomenon. Habad Lubavitch is  comparatively new and its overt asssertion that the late and last Rebbe was the Mashiach to be, attracted much controversy.

We are led to believe that Habad is split between those who believe he is [still] Mashiach and those who do not. How many are in each camp? I feel that most Habadniks actively conceal their views. Why? Why do they not display the courage of their convictions? Why would they be ashamed to state their  opinion on such a matter? Is it because they are not sure, or is it because they do not want this to be a known opinion because it may turn others off?

People who accept approach 1, above, constitute a group that I do not even begin to comprehend. Some would suggest that this group would benefit from psychiatric therapy. Let’s put them to one side.

Approach 2, in my estimation, encapsulates some 95% of Habadniks whilst the remaining 5% associate with approach 3. These are just my feelings. They are not supported by statistics. They cannot be supported by statistics given that Hasidim are reluctant to state their views unambiguously and on the record.

Within approach 2, though, I assert there are 3 nuances:

  1. The Rebbe will come back as the Moshiach and it is impossible for anyone else to be Moshiach since the Rebbe is the Nosi HaDor and the Dor HaShvii (I don’t know the definition of Dor, but no matter).
  2. The Rebbe may come back as Moshiach. He is also likely to, but it is not certain. הקב’ה may decide that Moshiach is someone other than the last Rebbe.
  3. The Rebbe is not Moshiach, but he will greet Moshiach, resurrected, together with other great figures of Judaism.

I posit that most Habadniks subscribe to nuanced position number 1. Nuanced position number 1 is also most attuned and consistent with the chanting of  יחי אדונינו וכו

Let’s consider the difficulty in eliciting clear statements of conviction by looking at my own stomping ground, the Yeshivah Center in Melbourne. Where does the Yeshivah Center stand? It is a matter of interpretation. In my opinion, most in the Center do not have the courage to express their convictions publically. Instead, they camouflage behind the bold  יחי sign hanging at the back of the main shule and allow this to passively stand testament to their views. Why should this be an issue captured by a sign?

It has always been policy to never disenfranchise people by having the courage of one’s convictions to state one’s views on non halachic matters where those views may not be accepted. There are things that are only said in whispered tones amongst אנשי שלומינו (i.e. card carrying Hasidei Habad) and things which are concealed from עמך—the rest of us.

A good example is the tendency to add the following words to the bottom of a wedding invitation or other appropriate announcements:

ונזכה זען זיך מיט’ן רבי’ן דא למטה אין א גוף ולמטה מעשרה טפחים והוא יגאלינו

Have a close look next time you get a wedding invitation with these words on them. Do they appear in the English text as well? Why not?

Consider these anachronisms as support for my thesis that as long as nobody is looking they will express the courage of their convictions:

  1. The boys’ school casts a blind eye to the daily chanting of יחי, three time after the obligatory היום יום. This chanting would seem to me to be diametrically opposed to the psak of Rabbi Groner ז’ל. Transparent games are being  played when it is claimed that  “it’s not the main shule” or it’s “not an “official” minyan of the school“. Of course, both of these propositions are just fallacious deflections.
  2. The boys’ school has a יחי sign in the Mesivta room proper. Did Rabbi Groner allow two signs? When? I heard his psak with my own ears.
  3. At Chabad Youth Camps, יחי is chanted not once but three times a day, after שחרית מנחה and מעריב. When asked about this, the response is that “it’s not official policy“. Sure thing! Can we expect spontaneous tolerance for the singing of התקוה three times a day as well?
  4. Each שבת during the time of סעודה שלישית young budding chassidic boys sing traditional and haunting melodies which serve as a great source of inspiration. I used to experience this myself as a boy and fondly remember singing beautiful niggunim בצוותא.  And now? The words of יחי are cleverly overlaid onto various traditional niggunim. This is the new התקשרות
  5. On a Friday night, when the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedola is not in attendance the בחורים, sing יחי. When he is there, they won’t. Does the Rosh Yeshivah not know what goes on? Is there an innate tension in the air?
  6. New reprints of older publications fail to remove שליט’א even when it’s obvious it’s not a simple reprint of a שיחה. Indeed, one recent publication for י שבט listed the period of each Rebbe’s “reign” or נשיאות. Unsurprisingly, the last Rebbe did not have an end date nor was the ubiquitous שליט’א elided.
  7. How many parents put יחי yarmulkas on their children, but don’t have the fortitude to wear them themselves.

I’m not one of those, like Professor David Berger, who allegedly contends that the יחי chanters are idolators or apikorsim and Chabad should be marginalised as a result. I’ve read Rabbi Berger’s book and I don’t find many of the arguments compelling. The chanting of יחי does bother me—it bothers me to a great extent. I know, though, there is nothing I can do about it except present my views. I know those views are largely ignored and inconsequential.

What I have difficulty with, though, is the pretence. Let’s call a spade a spade. The Yeshivah should come out openly and either say they support the saying of יחי as per nuance 1, or outlaw it across the organisation. If they wanted to outlaw it, they could. They hold the purse strings and salaries of many in the organisation.

Have the courage of your convictions. Pull out those yellow flags and wave them with gay abandon?

What did R’ Chaim Brisker really tell his grandson the Rav?

In his youth, the Rav lived in Khaslavich, White Russia, where his father R’ Moshe was Rav.

R' Moshe Soloveichik ז’ל

Most of the inhabitants of the town were impoverished Hassidim of Habad. There is a well-known story about the Rav and his Melamed, the (Habad) Hasid Reb Baruch Yaakov Reisberg ז’ל. The Melamed should have taught the Rav, Baba Metzia. Instead, the melamed was secretly teaching the Rav and other תנוקות של בית רבן, Sefer HaTanya, by the Alter Rebbe of Habad. Consequently, the Rav apparently could recite pages of Tanya by heart. When R’ Moshe brought the Rav to visit his illustrious grandfather, R’ Chaim in Brisk, R’ Chaim noticed that his grandson wasn’t as knowledgeable as he ought to have been in Talmudic studies. To quote the prose of the Rav’s eloquent son-in-law, Rav Aaron Lichtenstein שליט’א (see Tradition 30:4, p. 194)

“For the better part of a year, young Soloveitchik’s Talmudic progress was impeded while the study of Tanya accompanied by enthralling stories of Hasidic lore proceeded merrily apace. While Rav Moshe was somewhat slow to detect the tre state of affairs, his wife — herself the learned daughter of an outstanding rabbinic scholar — was more perceptive. Detecting the slow rate of growth in her son’s Talmudic knowledge, she prodded Rav Moshe to remedy the situation. Failng to obtain proper satisfaction, she finally complained to Rav Haym and upon the family’s next visit to Brisk, the budding scholar was duly examined and found wanting. The result was that Rav Haym recommended that Rav Moshe henceforth take personal charge of his son’s Talmudic education, and it was from that day that the period of rigorous mutual study dated.”

I have read and re-read this story many times in different books. On Motzei Shabbos, I was alerted to an article commemorating the 70th Yahr Tzeit of R’ Moshe Soloveitchik. The article appeared in shturem.net an Israeli Chabad news website. In among the article the story above is retold only this time it is a new version of the same story:

מהעורך, הרה”ח ר’ אהרון דב הלפרין שי’, שמעתי בזמנו סיפור מעניין שסיפר לו הרב חדקוב ע”ה, בשם בנו הגדול, ממלא מקומו, הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק מבוסטון זצ”ל; סיפור אשר היו מעורבים בו גם הסבא ר’ חיים מבריסק, גם האבא ר’ משה, וגם הנכד עצמו, כמובן, מספר הסיפור. היה זה בחודש טבת תשכ”ז, כשנפטרה אמו של הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק מבוסטון, והרבי זי”ע שלח משלחת נכבדה לנחמו, כשבראש המשלחת עמד המזכיר הנודע החסיד הרב חיים-מרדכי-אייזיק חדקוב ע”ה.

המשלחת ישבה אצל הגרי”ד סולובייצ’יק שעה ארוכה, ותוך כדי הדברים הוא סיפר להם כדלהלן: “כשהייתי ילד, אבי כיהן כרבה של חאסלאוויטש שהיתה ברובה עיירה חב”דית. באחת השנים, המלמד בחדר היה יהודי נכבד חסיד חב”ד, תלמיד-חכם. המלמד, ‘גנב’ מפעם לפעם מהזמן שהיה עליו ללמד גמרא ולימד תניא וגם סיפר סיפורים חסידיים. איך שהוא הדבר נודע לאבי, והוא לא שבע רצון מכך. בהזדמנות, כשביקרנו בבריסק אצל הסבא [ר’ חיים], סיפר לו אבא את אשר אירע. הסבא גער בי ואמר שזה לא טוב מה שאני עושה וכי צריך ללמוד כל הזמן עם המלמד רק גמרא. אחר-כך רמז הסבא לאבי שהוא רוצה להישאר בחדר לבד רק איתי.

כשאבא יצא מהחדר, אמר לי הסבא ר’ חיים: “תשמע טוב מה שאני אומר לך: תמשיך ללמוד עם המלמד שלך תניא. אתה עוד תזדקק לזה מאוד!”…

“כעת אתם מבינים” – אמר הגרי”ד בחיוך לחברי המשלחת בראשות הרב חדקוב – “מה זה ‘חכם עדיף מנביא’?”…

In summary, some Hasidei Habad were sent to the Rav represent the Rebbe and perform the Mitzvah of Nichum Avelim, after the Rav’s mother passed away. The Hassidim were with the Rav for an hour. The head of the group was the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Hodakov. Rabbi Hodakov allegedly retold a version of the story that the Rav had allegedly said to Rabbi Hodakov at the Shiva. This version was relayed from Rabbi Hodakov by R’ Aaron Dov Halperin ‘שי.  In this new version, R’ Chaim Brisker privately told the Rav that he should continue learning Tanya since he (the Rav) would need to draw from the Tanya later on his life. The Rav apparently used this story to illustrate that חכם (R’ Chaim Brisker) עדיף מנביא.

I have to say that I was surprised to read this allegedly new version. I do not understand how or why this version, if true, didn’t come to light while both the Rav and the Rebbe were still בעלמא הדיין. If this version is true, surely Habad would have wanted this particular version to be known. Would the Rav have been embarrassed by it? I doubt it. The Rav was seemingly never embarrassed by his past connection with Habad. Indeed, he gave a shiur in the Alter Rebbe’s לקוטי תורה in Boston for some time.  One would have to also conclude that the Rav never told anyone in his own family about this version of the story or that he did tell them and they concealed it; most unlikely.

This new version smells fishy to me. Can anyone shed some light?

Have the courage of your convictions

People do not agree. This is a fact of life. There are, and always will be, emotive issues which evoke strong disagreement. Sometimes the disagreement can result in feelings of aggression even hate between antagonists. Jews are no different. If anything, because there are many issues of substance lingering around our Daled Amos, there is perhaps more opportunity, perhaps even propensity, to viscerally agree to disagree.

Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hevron

Two recent examples of differing approaches to courage and expressing the truth of one’s convictions confronted me this week. The first involved Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hevron, and Rosh Yeshiva and head of the Rabbinic Council for Judea and Samaria. Rav Lior is considered to be a star pupil of Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, z”l, and one of the  brightest among Gush Emunim style adherents of the concept of a greater Israel. Born into a Belzer family and subsequently orphaned, Rav Lior was touted as an Illuy even amongst the Charedi population of the State of Israel. Rav Lior and others gave their Haskama to a book which was considered to be “inciting” by the police and other authorities. Refusing to back down, Rav Lior is now likely to be arrested. Rav Lior claims that the arrest warrant interferes with his right to offer religious approbation to a book related to Torah thoughts and principles.

You can agree or disagree with Rav Lior, but you will never die wondering what his views are on a particular topic. He says it like it is, and his views are like he says. There is no diplomatic licence employed to bury his thoughts or camouflage his principles for fear of a physical or financial backlash. Rav Lior, his supporters and students, do not cower underneath rocks like proverbial green moss, afraid of the consequential glare of sunlight. Rav Lior subscribes to a philosophy that sees the hand of God in the creation of the State of Israel.

Diametrically opposed to his views are those who endorse the position of the late Rebbe of Satmer, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum z”l. Rav Teitelbaum held that the primary (perhaps only) reason for the Holocaust was God’s “retribution” against the actions of zionists who dared transgress the 3 oaths. These views, largely held by the Hungarian charedi population, are considered utterly abhorrent by many. It is simply beyond comprehension to fathom the concept of 6 million Jews murdered, gassed and burned and amongst them תנוקות של בית רבן who were hurled against walls to have their skulls fractured, all because God was angry that they dared defy British anti-semites and seek to re-inhabit ארץ אבותינו. Whatever the case may be, we know where the Satmer Rebbe stood on this issue in the same way that we know the views of people like the Neturei Karta’s  R’ Moshe Beck.

In summary, one will not die wondering what Rav Dov Lior or להבדיל R’ Moshe Beck’s views on issues are. They have the courage of their convictions to openly state their opinions. Fast forward now to the following video of a local identity, the brother of R’ Moshe Beck, Rav A. Z. Beck, the Hungarian Rabbinic leader of a separatist Haredi group in Melbourne.

STOP PRESS:

It seems the video above was removed from youtube. In some sense that says plenty. Those of you who wish to see the video, may download it

What are their views? Do they think Hitler and the SS were sent by Hashem because of the Zionists and their rebellion against the Shalosh Shavuos? Is this the view of that community as a whole? To be sure, there are exceptions, but is this the mainstream view? Do they contend that since most Jews in Melbourne consider themselves Zionist or pro State of Israel that these Jews are all Kofrim (apostates)? Is it permitted to engage in business with regular Jews in Melbourne, or is there some blanket overarching permission when it comes to making money? It is alleged that the Melbourne Rav Beck distanced himself from his brother. To what extent? Is it only the fact that the brother openly states his opinions and demonstrates the courage of his convictions? Is it only because the Monsey brother kissed Ahmadinajad ימח שמו? Is what is said in private also said in public?

Help! the power is off

Some of you would have read that there has been calamitous flooding in parts of Northern Australia (Queensland). The tail end of some of that activity reached Melbourne on Friday. Of course, such events always occur either on Shabbos or 2 minutes before Shabbos comes in. It’s like the injuries that people seem to find; those last-minute emergencies couldn’t have occurred 2 hours before Shabbos, they have a way of happening 2 nanoseconds into Shabbos. Hakadosh Baruch Hu seems to have an unnatural sense of humour כביכול and wants to make sure the Torah is always relevant and that we have to wrestle with Hilchos Shabbos together with all its consequent complexity.

Torrential Rain in Melbourne

We had an honoured guest on Friday Night, and as Shabbos dared impose itself on the torrential downpour, we realised we’d be sitting under the sole illumination of the Shabbos licht, once the electricity flickered and departed.

The electricity returned about 1.5 hours into the meal. My wife usually transfers the soup pot from the flame into the oven just before shabbos. This meant that given the “ovenly”  insulation, her delicious lockshen mit yoech were not cold.

We started to wonder about food that would subsequently be “warmed up” once the electricity came back on when I was informed of an incident that had occurred the previous week. At a family lunch after the Aufruf of my cousin, a fuse decided to fail thereby endangering the obligatory Glezele Teh following lunch. At worst there would be no glezele and at best it would be rendered a tepid taciturn excuse for a hot drink. The lunch was formally catered under the supervision of the hungarian charedi establishment in Melbourne. There were ample goyim to enlist should that have been deemed appropriate. The mashgiach was a young unmarried man, no doubt a Yorei Shomayim, but I am not sure whether he had come across or been trained to address this situation before. I had already gone home, so I don’t know if the caterer himself was still there. The caterer would undoubtedly have come across this issue in the past and would have discussed it with the Rav Hamachshir of the Hungarian Charedim, Rabbi A. Z. Beck, Shlita.

It seems (I haven’t been able to ascertain whether this is precisely what happened) that a goy was enlisted to save the urn by flicking the fuse switch. Subsequently, it was ruled (I assume through the authority of the mashgiach), much to the chagrin of those pining for a Gloos Tay, that the Urn could no longer be used, and that no tea of coffee would be available.

I had  a few simchas to perform for during the week (ברוך השם) and coupled to my day job, you can well imagine that by the time our Friday Night Seuda was over, I was snoozing ever so comfortably with my Neshoma Yeseira. On Shabbos morning I began looking to see if the urn sheyla had been addressed in the halacha seforim. Eventually, I did find it in ספר מאור השבת in חלק א at the back in the letters to R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l where the author, Rav Yadler, had asked a similar question to R’ Shlomo Zalman.

In a short response, R’ Shlomo Zalman wrote that if a Goy was asked about the fuse and he understood to flick the switch so that (in the Goy’s mind) a range of appliances (eg lights) would come on, then as long as the Goy was not specifically doing it for the purposes of the urn (food) and the re-ignition of the urn was simply a side-effect, it would be permitted to benefit from the hot water of the urn. On the other hand, if the fuse was tripped and panic set in and the goy was effectively asked to fix the fuse so that the urn would go back on (very likely if the goy was in the room hearing all the commotion) then according to R’ Shlomo Zalman, in the latter case it would then be forbidden to benefit from the Melacha of the Goy.

Of course, this doesn’t factor in if we say יש בישול אחר בישול with a דבר לח even if  נצטנן לגמרי  for which there are some Rishonim who are lenient but whose Halacha we don’t follow. It also doesn’t factor in if there was a need for hot water for a חולה שיש בו סכנה in the form of a young baby, etc.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting. Your thoughts? Mekoros?

The Rav and Chabad and the Rebbe

My sweeping and largely postulating interpretations are that:

  1. The Rav appreciated the emotional and warm element of old-time and simple chassidim, the emotional part of which was missing from his own upbringing and its purely intellectual approach to Yahadus
  2. Chabad chassidus is an intellectual branch (Tanya in particular) and the Rav could more likely associate with some elements.
  3. The Rav had no time for “incredulous” chassidic stories of mofsim and pilei ploim. The Rav thought that most were exaggerated at best.

    Alter Rebbe
  4. The Rav was closer to the Rayatz than he was to the last Rebbe.
  5. The Rayatz respected the Rav greatly.
  6. The Rav had a great appreciation of the Ba’al HaTanya and thought that the Alter Rebbe was the equal of the Gaon and the greatest of all the Chabad Rebbes.
  7. The Rav felt that the Rebbe thought he was Mashiach and was delusional in this regard.
  8. The Rav felt that much of the so called machlokes between the Gaon and the Alter Rebbe and others was due to “askonim” on both sides who were basically clueless and had an agenda (what has changed?)
  9. The Rav felt that the Rebbe wasn’t able to be as effective as he could have been because he simply lacked enough quality chassidim and had failed to produce these.
  10. The Rav felt that many if not most chasidim didn’t really understand Tanya let alone were in a position to teach it to the masses
  11. The Rebbe felt that the Rav was wishy-washy because he was susceptible to changing his mind on issues based on political or societal pressure. As such, he felt the Rav could not be relied upon.
  12. The Rebbe had a very high regard for the Rav’s intellect and personal yiras shomayim
  13. The Rav held that the Rebbe had a Geonishe Kop and was the icon of a manhig
  14. The Rav was a follower of elements of both the Vilna Gaon and the Alter Rebbe, but in the end was his own man.

    Vilna Gaon
  15. The Rav felt the differences between the Nefesh HaChaim and Tanya were not significant, and most people didn’t have the acumen to properly understand the differences.
  16. The Rebbe was implacably against the concept of a “State” of Israel vis-a-vis any religious connotation. For the Rebbe, any part of the world could be transformed into “Israel”.
  17. The Rav was against the State being seen as the “beginning” of the redemption, but was a strong supporter of the State as a religious entity embodying the “psak” of hakadosh baruch hu.
  18. The Rav and Rebbe had wives who were both strong and unique people in their own right.
  19. Both the Rav and the Rebbe were severely affected after their wives passed away.

Standing for a מכתב ברכה?

Like me, I’d imagine that many readers have found themselves at a Simcha of some sort, where the בעל שמחה directs that a letter conveying blessings (מכתב ברכה) is read at a pre-determined moment. I’ve only seen this at Chabad Simchas; perhaps it happens elsewhere. Of course, the so called letter, today, is not real in the sense that it was written to the בעל שמחה by a living person, כמלא המובן. That is not the issue, however, that I’d like to discuss here. Let’s rewind the clock to the days when the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל was in good health and the בעל שמחה had received a personal מכתב ברכה.

What happens, in my experience, is that all those present at the Simcha are requested to stand as a measure of respect. Someone is then chosen (it is considered a כיבוד) to read the letter and (usually) translate it. The person who reads the letter will generally don a hat and jacket, and will often gird himself with a Gartel. I surmise that this is because they see the ברכה from a Rebbe as being on par with the formal utterance of a תפילה, for which they would also normally be attired with hat, jacket and (once married) gartel.

What about the rest of us? How should we relate to this phenomenon? Is it like להבדיל when people are asked to stand for the national anthem at a Simcha? What occurs when we hear the audio of the Torah/Bracha of a great Rav, or even see the video of the same? Do we also stand? In my experience, we do not stand. Indeed, after the last Rebbe of Chabad passed away,many Chabad Shules play videos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, immediately after Havdala. I am happy to stand corrected, but I haven’t seen too many people standing at attention throughout the presentation of such videos. So, it can’t be the mere fact that a Bracha is heard or a Rebbe is seen. There is more to it than that. Why is it different at a Simcha?

I postulate that the person reading the letter is a quasi-shaliach of the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe, and, as such, since שלוחו של אדם כמותו, they perceive a level of holiness in delivering a message and dress appropriately. Those who hear the message imagine that the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe himself is standing there and delivering the ברכה to the בעל שמחה.

Sephardim have a custom to kiss the hands of a Talmid Chacham

It might then be considered rude then for others to choose not to stand at such a time if they are specifically requested to stand. One could, of course, argue that now that things have changed, and the ברכה is no longer explicitly written for the purposes of the particular שמחה and בעל שמחה that by standing one is perpetuating denial, at best. Some might argue that one should davka sit to make this point and attempt to cajole people into accepting a reality that they are understandably uncomfortable with.

I have always had a different issue. Not for any reason of present צדקות but simply because it’s a הנהגה that I accepted בימי חרפי when I was learning in Israel, I stand during קריאת התורה. Yes, it’s a חומרה and doesn’t match what I’ve become since those days, but I digress. I wonder, then, how could it be that those people who don’t stand during קריאת התורה do stand during the reading of a מכתב ברכה?

The גמרא in :מכות כב says אמר רבא כמה טפשאי שאר אינשי דקיימי מקמי ספר תורה ולא קיימי מקמי גברא רבה. The message from that Gemora is that there are silly people who stand for a Sefer Torah but don’t stand for a great person (Talmid Chacham).  The Beis Halevi in his introduction to his Tshuvos, הקדמה לשו”ת בית הלוי states דהת”ח לא הוי בבחינת תשמיש קדושה רק בבחינת עצם הקדושה

In the words of the Beis Halevi, certainly not a Chassid, the Talmid Chacham is to be considered Kedusha personified. I imagine that this perhaps explains why there is a specific mitzvah to stand in the presence of a Talmid Chacham in the same way that one would stand in front of a Sefer Torah. It is true that a Talmid Chacham can be Mochel on that Kavod and tell you not to stand for him, and there is no such concept of Mechila for the honour of a Sefer Torah, but that is parenthetical.

An explanation then is perhaps that when a Chassid reads/hears a letter and then “sees” his Rebbe,  he or she stands in the “presence” of their Rebbe, כביכול.

I wonder then whether it might also be proper to stand for קריאת התורה on this basis. At least one should be able to see (the original) Moshe Rabenu in front of one’s eyes, transmitting Hashem’s word, and standing thereby accordingly?

But it’s not their נוסח?

Melbourne, Australia became home to many Polish Jews after World War 2. According to some, the number of Polish Jewish refugees who landed on Melbourne’s shores, was second only to the State of Israel. What נוסח did they or their parents daven at home? Regrettably, it’s probably too late to answer this question accurately. To be sure, most such Jews were religiously estranged and caught between feelings of disbelief that Hashem’s world did co-exist with a devastating Holocaust designed to wipe out our and their loved ones, and feelings of benign thanks for the fact that they had been spared and survived. In among these competing and contradictory feelings, the Polish Jewish survivor, in the main, maintained their connection with organised Jewish prayer. In the least this was manifested by attendance at Yizkor services, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.

For most of my formative years, I sat among this harrowed and harrowing older generation of Polish Jews at Elwood Shule in Melbourne. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick

Rabbi Chaim Gutnick

was the shepherd to that flock of Holocaust survivors. This is etched indelibly into my psyche and looms as a pervasive shadow tracking many of my thoughts and actions.

After returning from learning in Israel, I became accustomed to engaging in conversation with many of the survivors. They, of course, were only too happy to regale with stories of their Yichus—how holy their Zeyda/Booba or Tatte/Mama was.

Melbourne’s established Shules, derived from Anglo communities all davened נוסח אשכנז. I had suspected that many, if not the majority, of the survivors, however, had davened נוסח ספרד at home. Yet, they had seemingly quietly accepted נוסח אשכנז as “close enough” and didn’t make a fuss. There were one or two shules that were exceptions to this rule and there were “celebrated” splits or machlokesin over the choice of נוסח. For example, Mizrachi Shule, under Rav Abaranok z”l, used to allow either נוסח depending on who occupied (forcefully or otherwise) the Amud. This was based on a personal psak to Rav Abaranok by R’ Moshe Feinstein z”l. I remember Rav Abaranok telling me that Reb Moshe had told him that it was better that there were no fights and a mixed up נוסח, rather than ongoing fighting and an unaccepted נוסח. Rav Abaranok, of course, was Eidel. A Musmach of the Chafetz Chaim was never going to co-exist with Machlokes. It was anathema to Rav Abaranok, which is why his legacy and his memory is universally acclaimed across Melbourne, by all types, to this day.

Rav Baruch Abaranok

Returning to Elwood Shule, I used to approach the different mispallelim and ask a simple question  (in Yiddish)

“what did you say at home “כתר or נעריצך?”

I found that probably 7 out of 10 said כתר. My father also said כתר in his home town of Rawa Mazowiecka, but at Elwood Shule he just davened the נוסח of the Shule. Many children mistakenly assumed that their family tradition was to actually daven אשכנז. In reality, my experience based on the Elwood microcosm (which may well also be a statistically sound sample) was that the majority actually derived from families that davened נוסח ספרד. This was yet another example (at least in my mind) of the peripheral damage to Mesorah that had been caused largely by the dislocation due to the Holocaust. I wasn’t ever going to buy into it, as it would be a capitulation to the damage caused by the tyrant, yimach shemo vezichro.  שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תיטוש תורת אימך

As an aside, I sometimes played a little game during Kedusha. If I started saying כתר audibly, I found many of the older survivors around me automatically said כתר as well. It was an exercise in  pavlovian reactivity, as if to prove to myself that I had discovered some recessed mesora and was responsible for bringing it out to the open once more. But what is the Halacha? What should you say in קדושה if you daven a different נוסח to the ציבור?

We know that if one is the Chazan in a Shule that davens a different נוסח to one’s own, that you should adopt the נוסח of the Shule. During the year after the Rav lost his father Reb Moshe Soloveitchik z”l, the Rav paid one visit to the Rayatz z”l of Lubavitch. After they had completed their meeting, they went into the Lubavitch Beis Medrash to daven Mincha. The Rav, being a chiyuv, went to the Amud to act as שליח ציבור. Just prior, the Rayatz “reminded” the Rav that even though the Rav followed the customs of the Vilna Gaon, that he had to say the loud Shmoneh Esre, Al pi Nusach Ari (the version of Ari that Chabad uses). The Rav immediately replied that the Gaon’s talmidim, such as the Peas Hashulchan and R’ Chaim Volozhiner testified that this was also the Psak of the Vilna Gaon, and so the Rayatz had nothing to worry about 🙂

So, if you find yourself in, say, an אשכנז Shule, and you daven נוסח ספרד, are you permitted to audibly answer כתר in Musaf Kedusha and not נעריצך? Should you say נעריצך like the ציבור? Should you say כתר but do so quietly? May you blurt out כתר even though everyone is saying נעריצך? This question was addressed by Reb Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:23) where he paskened that one should say exactly what the Chazan says, in responsive Kedusha. So that if the Chazan/ציבור says נעריצך it would be wrong to blurt out כתר. Reb Moshe’s reasoning is that since it is a Davar Shebikdusha that has to be said with a minyan, and since the minyan or the ציבור daven נוסח אשכנז, the real Chiyuv to say the Kedusha only comes about because of the ציבור entity and since the ציבור is effectively formed or composed of נוסח אשכנז, he should also only say his Kedusha in the same נוסח as the enabling entity. If he said it in נוסח ספרד, for instance, then according to Reb Moshe, he would not be entitled Lechatchila to say that version of Kedusha because that version of Kedusha didn’t derive from the ציבור entity, and is therefore illegitimately assumed to have been “born” into existence as a manifestation of that ציבור. This opinion of Reb Moshe was preceded by the  שבילי דוד  (Siman 125) in a Pirush on Orach Chaim (cited by Rav Ovadya Yosef) from the 19th Century, whose opinion is identical to Reb Moshe.

On the other hand, Rav Ovadya Yosef, in Yechave Daas (3:6) in discussing a question about נוסח אחיד in the long footnote on page 22 (in my edition) agrees that it is not proper to say a different קדושה to that of the ציבור. However, Rav Ovadya parameterises קדושה into two components: its textual essence and its pre-amble. According to Rav Ovadya, the essence of Kedusha is the same across all נוסחאות. It comprises of the פסוקים of קדוש and ברוך (and according to some, also ימלוך). Accordingly, he argues that only the essence is enabled by the ציבור and the pre-ambles are just that—a pre-amble. Rav Ovadya adduces proof for this argument by observing that someone who has to interrupt his Tefilla (eg during ברכות קריאת שמע) to answer קדושה is only permitted to interrupt using the bare minimum of קדושה. That is, he is permitted to recite the essence (as above) but not the pre-amble. Why? Because the pre-amble (such as כתר or נקדישך) is exactly that. It isn’t really the קדושה per se. Therefore, according to Rav Ovadya, one is entitled to feel free to say כתר while the rest of the קהל are saying נקדישך because the pre-amble doesn’t derive its legitimacy from the ציבור

Rav Moshe in his Tshuva (cited above) also notes the difference between the pre-amble and the actual קדושה but he is of the opinion that the pre-amble is linked to the real קדושה and is only said because of the קדושה and is what we answer (albeit prior) to what the Chazan says. Accordingly, it isn’t “שייך” to use a different נוסח to the ציבור.

In Divrei Harav, Rav Schachter Shlita relates in the name of Rabbi N. Turk of Miami (who was an aide to the Rav for many years) that the Rav did not agree with Reb Moshe and that the Rav felt that one was entitled to say the pre-amble in whatever נוסח was the Mesorah. I do not know, however, if the Rav’s reasoning was like that of Rav Ovadya.

Multiculturalism: an extrinsic reality only?

Australia is a relatively young country. To define its unique identity or examples of cultural specificity is difficult. The shared history is really only shared among white Anglo Saxons and of course indigenous aboriginals, whose culture has been traumatised by the incursion of the white man. Migrants, and this includes Jews (mainly from Poland) after World War 2, did not share that history.

How do you create an identity without a real shared history. One approach is to enforce the study of Australian History into each school class. Creating an awareness of history, though, is not a substitute for sharing in that history. The collective history of Australians in terms of the shared experience is actually a conglomeration of individual histories tied to original home lands.

Assimilation of the various groups of immigrants is seen as a good thing by those who share the proposition that unbundling past attachment will cause a fusion of the various parts, thereby melding into a new whole. Proponents of multiculturalism often feel that a keen respect for difference attained by respecting and experiencing other cultures will offer the glue that keeps the disparate parts in harmony. Even those who can be termed pro-multiculturalism, predict that over time, osmosis induced by a “next” generation will mean that a natural cohesion will potentiate. Respect for difference affords the best chance for the cultural glue to set.

In this week’s Parsha of Yisro, the Torah tells us: ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש

What is the meaning of the word גוי. We say  אתה אחד ושמך אחד, ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ and this associates the idea of unity juxtaposed with the word גוי. The Jew is enjoined to share a certain bond of unity with their people. What is the nature of this bond in the context גוי. We see that Jews are also called (among other things) an עדה. The terminology עדת ישראל is also well established. גוי is normally translated as “nation” or “people” whereas עדה is normally translated as congregation. The root of the word עדה is עד — testimony. The interrelationship between the people comprising the עדה is their join testimony. This testimony is the witnessing and participation of the

  • creation of the world
  • going out of Egypt
  • receiving the Torah
  • entering the promised land
  • the worship during the reign of two temples
  • the promise of future redemption beginning with the coming of the Mashiach.
Conjoint destiny

There are those who are not as religiously inclined and for whom the concept of redemption is a distant memory of great grandparents. They do not (currently) recognise or feel part of this joint testimony, a testimony which intersects with our formation as a people and its final redemption as a people. Those who are distant from this vision are not and would not consider themselves part of the philosophically attuned Edah—congregation. They are, however, part of a גוי, the nation of Israel. The Rav explains that there need not be a common philosophical agglutinant to be considered and feel a member of the גוי component of Jews. What then binds the group into an Goy is the experience of its common history. We have all saw the fact that the anti-Semite targets the גוי. The anti-Semite makes no difference between Charedi, Mapay, Mapam, Left wing, Right Wing, Bundist or Agnostic Jew. The fact that one has experienced the chain of joint persecution as evinced by the phrase עם לבדד ישכון means that they are irrefutably conjoined with their people.

A Goy entity can get together and deal with common issues that are not in the realm of  the Edah. They can rally against anti-Semitism. They may remember recent cataclysmic events or celebrate such. They will form networks for social justice and welfare and seek to morph into a light for the nations.

This ideal is one which multiculturalists would like to see as the bedrock of a nation such as Australia. It is achievable as long as there are common causes to grieve over (such as the Bali bombings) or to exalt over (such as Australia performing well in the Olympic games etc). Multiculturalism inevitably ideally leads to the formation of a nation—the Goy.

In this Parsha of Yisro, Hashem tells us that this is not enough. He wants us to be וגוי קדוש. Holiness, or Kedusha, is by definition derived from a Godly experience. This is the experience of the עד — the Jew who carries and believes the testimony of their grandparents and great grandparents and seeks to evince the Kedusha thereby and leading inexorably to the final redemption in our day.

Lehavdil, neither assimilation nor multiculturalism will lead Australia to be a  גוי קדוש in the form of an עדה. This can only come through a joint historiology developed over many years. But Australia, like most Western Societies has a level of division between the State a Religion and so the aim ultimately is to be a גוי sharing a common concern and identity rather than an עדה.

Adapted from Divrei HaRav

Bias of the right wing?

In a post at Matzav.com, Rabbi Adlerstein seemingly bemoans a new trend whereby Rabbis seek to garner support for their opinion on brain stem death vis-a-vis organ transplants. He argues, cogently, that rather than seeking to gain popular votes for their views, those Rabbis who oppose the RCA’s published  position would do better if they presented a learned halakhic discourse to counter the views of the RCA (and indeed other Poskim).

Whilst his point is well made, I can’t help but ask why Rabbi Adlerstein doesn’t equally speak out against all those who keep advising us that we have to follow a Psak on item X, because the “Gedolim” follow that Psak and  it alone is Daas Torah.

Let me take a recent example: that of fish worms. Whilst Rabbi Adlerstein has noted elsewhere that this issue is indeed a matter of halakhic debate, I have not seen him or others emerge and criticise the myriad of posters and opinion-machers who decry those who follow the so-called lenient view (eg that of Rabbi Belsky) that such worms pose no problem. Despite Rabbi Belsky satisfying the criteria of Rabbi Adlerstein in publishing his views in a halakhic discourse, we don’t find Rabbi Adlerstein condemn the populist pressure applied by the right which seeks to disenfranchise and delegitimise all those who follow so-called lenient views, irrespective of whether those views do include and are buttressed by  a published halakhic stance.

What is the difference between so-called left-wing Rabbis suggesting that people follow the views of say Rabbi Tendler, an approach that Rabbi Adlerstein decries, and that of right-wing Rabbis and Askonim who seek to actively squash all opinions which are to the left of theirs (as in Anisakis worms) despite the fact that יש להם על מה לסמוך?

Why is this populist style pressure bad if it emanates from left wing Rabbis, but it’s perfectly okay if it comes from right wing Rabbis?

Have I missed his point?

Who is a Posek?

The ready-made access to Sforim means that a student of Torah is able to muster sources which are relevant to a particular Halachic issue at will. Whether it is through Bar Ilan’s excellent resource, hebrewbooks.org, or plain google/bing searches,  those who have the will may well find a way through the halachic maze. There are many “ask the Rabbi” style websites, ranging from the askmoses variety, through to wesbsites featuring personalities such as Rav Aviner and Rav Ovadya, to kollelim with a halachic branch whose members are ready and able to respond to curly questions. There are a range of online mailing lists, of open and closed variety that one can approach and thereby interact with people , past psokim and mekoros related to the question at hand. There are also the encyclopaedic style Nitei Gavriel seforim or specialist seforim devoted to just one area of halacha in a compendium.

Clearly, the concept of “your local orthodox Rabbi” is important. To answer a halachic question, the context of the questioner is often critical. A Posek may issue a different answer to the same question depending on who the questioner is and their particular context. This aspect is often lost on those who read quotes ascribed to various Poskim.

Whereas in the past, Psokim have exclusively been published L’Halacha and U’LeMa’aseh, in learned responsa, we  now have exposure, in both English and Hebrew, to what I would call halachic surveys. Rabbi Bleich of YU may have been one of the earliest to publish regular quality reviews of recent halachic responsa. The Rabanut also has publications devoted to this purpose. Everyone is acquainted with articles in Tradition of a halachic variety and the RJJ journal and more.

It seems to me that whilst ready made access is a great thing, it may also induce a dangerous sciolism where para-students convince themselves that they can research and pasken. They may feel that they can use such resources to be Medameh Milsa LeMilsa or to ascribe a Mesora or find a Tana D’M’Sayeyah.

To be sure, aspects of pure ritual, even complex ones, may be dealt with in this way. Matters which are clear in Shulchan Aruch don’t need a Posek. They need a Talmid! For example, one can research where it is permitted to interrupt prayer. Other issues, even seemingly mundane, are more complex. For example, may one wear sunglasses on Shabbos? This question itself depends on various factors: the health needs of the questioner, the scientific data on the risks of exposure to the sun in a particular locale, the determination of what is considered “clothing” and what is considered an appendage, the style of sunglasses in respect of whether they are commonly removed outdoors or whether they are commonly perched on the head when not in use, and indeed whether giving a permissive ruling for one locale or person may cause others to be Moreh Hetter for themselves. This last point cannot be stressed enough.

I remember reading about the question of giving a Hetter to an establishment to remain open on Shabbos through the device of shutfus with a Goy. This issue came up recently and one Rabbi allegedly said words that “it’s done everywhere”. Rav Soloveitchik, however, did not permit it under any circumstances. The reason given by the Rav was that whilst one may be able to ensure that the current owner’s quality of Shabbos and adherence to Shabbos will be unaffected, who can decide whether such a practice will have an effect on the children and grand children? The credentialed Posek must make a determination that transcends the particular question and examine, perhaps with a value judgement, the effect of such a Psak on future generations. These are not lightweight matters and they are not the domain of the “ordinary” Rabbi.

More recently, we have witnessed certain practices and innovations that can be considered as חדש according to any definition. Two examples include the ordination of women to a quasi-rabbinatic position and the emergence of Shira Chadasha style services that push the envelope of acceptable Tfilla B’Tzibur to, or beyond, a limit. What type of Posek is qualified to deal with such issues? The issues are discussed online, of course, and survey-style articles have been written discussing various aspects, but these articles in of themselves do not qualify as Psak. At best, they can be L’Halacha but certainly not L’Maaseh. The careful author will always state this. A professional with Smicha for whom Toroso is not Umanoso, and who seemingly has little credentials heretofore in Psak across all 4 Chelkei Shulchan Aruch is not someone who can simply parachute down into an issue and render a binding decision or a Psak that should be relied on, both LeHatir or LeIssur on matters of such gravity. Similarly, an halachic academic who  may well be brilliant and has Smicha, but who does not devote their time to Psak across the 4 Chelkei Shulchan Aruch, is possibly also not the type of person who should render momentous and critical Piskei Din.

I am an academic, albeit not in the sphere of Judaism. A Posek learns how to pasken especially through the shimush he undertakes which is a continuation of a Mesora. At University, there is no Mesora by definition. We can and should choose an argument because it makes most logical sense as long as we can justify it to (some) peers. The study of halacha is an intellectual exercise, but the determination of halacha by a Yid transcends the intellectual exercise. It must envelop a fealty to a Mesora that began from Moshe Rabeinu. It must be brave enough on Pesach to say that although one can’t see a reason to be Machmir on item X, since that is the Mesora of one’s family, that family is choshesh to this chumra and on Pesach, Yidden have a specific Mesora to be Machmir.

On the other hand, one cannot also be frozen by so called Daas Torah. The Rav notes that in pre-war Europe there was no such concept of Daas Torah. This is a new innovation, ironically, which some, like Rav Nachum Rabinowicz have said is also ill-defined. A Rav HaMuvhak, however, is a concept which is explicit in Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah Hilchos Kvod Talmidei Chachomim (see the Aruch Hashulchan for example).

There are three categories of Rabbi.

  1. The Rav Hamuvhak
    Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin: a leading posek in America before R' Moshe Feinstein

    who one normally (but not necessarily) has learned most of one’s Torah from

  2. A Rav, Talmid Chacham who has taught you.
  3. A Rav, Talmid Chacham who hasn’t taught you.

In general, our local Rav is not category 1. Indeed, in our day, there is not a single person in category 1; rather  a range of Rabbi’s who are Muvhakim, and who are now called Gedolim. Who can say that Rav X is greater than Rav Y? The bottom line is that your Rav, or local orthodox Rabbi will consult a Rav in category 1 on a needs basis. Indeed, knowing when one needs to consult is one of the primary reasons R’ Moshe Feinstein apparently directed his Smicha program towards.

So where does it leave us, the lonely man in the street? I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, of course. Innately, when I read or speak or hear a Rav who seems to be category 1, I just know they are. How? You can ask them a question and they don’t just blurt out a set of Tshuvos and then inform you that on the balance of matters, one should act like this. This a category 2 Rabbi in my mind. A category 1 Rabbi immediately sees Gemoras. He sees how those Gemoras interrelate to the question. He has to reconcile Gemoras and then Rishonim and Achronim. He is able to do that at will. He will develop his thoughts, often out loud . He may well change his mind between the bottom of a stair case until he reaches the top of the stair case (as was alleged by Rav Tendler about R’ Moshe). He has access to primary sources. He isn’t a prisoner to Acharonim. He considers himself an Acharon (albeit humbly in most cases). As an example, consider the case of brushing one’s teeth on Shabbos with tooth paste. Some will tell you straight away that it’s a machlokes between the Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchoso and others. Fine. You can read that in an English compendium of Hilchos Shabbos today. Rav Soloveitchik however, was Mattir toothpaste on Shabbos. Why? Because he said that toothpaste didn’t qualitatively constitute the Melacha defined in the Gemora and later codified in Shulchan Aruch. Some call this “Breyte Playtzes” or “wide shoulders”. That is true, but you have to be able to back it up. Peer review and analysis has to be something that a Rav can stand up to and argue his way through.

On the other hand, when a talmid of Rav Soloveitchik, came to ask whether he could invite a Mechallel Shabbos to his house, even though there was a high likelihood that the guest would drive, the Rav would not budge. He said it was absolutely Assur. The Talmid tried to explain there was a chance of Kiruv etc. The Rav didn’t budge. The Talmid then told the Rav that the Shoel U’Meyshiv was lenient in such a situation (as is R’ Shlomo Zalman, apparently). The Rav’s reply was educational:  “Nu, the Shoel U’Meyshiv is an Acharon and I am an Acharon. I say it’s Assur”.