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.


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”.

Bircas Hamazon and Shira

The Rav explained that according to many Rishonim, there is no Torah based imperative to recite Bircas Hamazon unless the meal included bread (a wheat based product). Even according to those Rishonim who opine that reciting the after-bracha of Al Hagefen or Al Hapeiros is also a Torah based imperative (eg wine, pomegranates and figs) there is no Zimun for these latter  products; Zimun is reserved solely for recitation after the consumption of  bread (eg from wheat). Clearly, then, all Rishonim agree that there is a special Torah category reserved for bread alone.

We know that bread is a staple, and ironically in our days of diets and glycemic indices, many, ironically, avoid bread. Hilchos Brachos is complex enough, and many will b’davka choose to eat bread so that they are not confronted with complex questions about the relative prioritisation of brachos.

What is the secret of bread that raises it to this important place in Halacha?

The Rav explains that bread is the one staple which requires the active cooperation of a range of people before it can be readied for consumption. Although its roots (sic) are also from the ground, one doesn’t simply consume raw wheat. Of the other fruits which the land of Israel was blessed through, only bread (eg via wheat) requires this cooperative preparation. One reason why either a special thanks is due through Bircas HaMazon (or according to the other opinions through Zimun) from a Torah perspective, is that God has allowed us or necessitated us, so to speak, to partner him in the formation of this particular foodstuff.

Finding dry wheat for matza

Based on this insight, the Rav contends that this is also one reason Bnei Yisrael didn’t immediately sing the Shira upon leaving Egypt and instead waited until the miracle of Krias Yam Suf. Comparatively, the act of leaving Egypt didn’t involve the Jews so much as “having to put their hands into cold water”. In contradistinction, when they reached the challenge of crossing the impenetrable Red Sea, they were explicitly commanded through Moshe to “travel” דבר אכ בני ישראל ויסעו and through this, like the preparation of bread, they actively partnered God in effecting this salvation through the miracle.

From  Mipninei Harav.

Interestingly, this primary thanks that we give is after the eating of the bread. Yet, when it comes to Torah learning, the primary Bracha is recited just prior to learning Torah.  Rav Kook in Ein Ayah to Brachos 20, explains that the thanks due after eating bread is tied to the sustenance that is attained after eating the bread. For this reason, one can still recite the Bircas Hamazon as long as the food has not been digested. By contrast, when it comes to Torah study, the lessons learned after the Torah study, which can be thought of as the practical halachos leading to the ability to do Mitzvos, are of secondary importance to the Torah study itself. The Torah study itself, immediately attained at the commencement of the learning process, is the highest level of sustenance for the Neshama. For this reason, the bracha for Torah study is made just prior to this experience (at the beginning of learning).

When one examines the temporal efficacy of a miracle, the Shevach VeHodaa that one gives is only meaningful as long as the miracle hasn’t been “digested“. If the miracle has been digested, then it loses its impact and it isn’t natural to exalt through the recitation of Shira.

Living our daily lives, we encounter miracles: some through nature which can be explained through scientific principles and others which are elusive and will likely stay that way. The pursuit of science can have two effects. For those who fear the study of nature through science and logic, science challenges their sensitivity of the miraculous. Science is an ogre, something to be avoided, as it may act to desensitise the Neshama through its human explanations of Godly activity . For others, Science is a tool which is also used to meet the Creator and understand His world. Even the most explainable manifestation of his majesty serves to enthuse the Neshama and bring the Jew closer to his Maker.

It all boils down to one’s weltanschauung, the level of their secular education, and their exposure to the world.

כן נראה לפי עניות דעתי

The honour of the Chafetz Chaim

The Chafetz Chaim

One of my beloved Rebbes, Rav Baruch Abaranok z”l, was a talmid and musmach of the Chafetz Chaim. Rav Abaranok was a pioneer in the Melbourne Jewish Rabbinate, and possessed Midos and an Adinus HaNefesh which made me feel that I was in the midst of a real Radin personality.

I am currently reading Rav Hershel Schachter’s new sefer, “Divrei Harav”. I was somewhat surprised to read the following episode.

During the time when there was consideration given to the closing of the Volozhiner Yeshiva, a special meeting of many Rabbonim was called by the Ohr Sameach.

The Ohr Sameach

The Chafetz Chaim was not invited to this momentous meeting, but travelled nonetheless to attend. When the Chafetz Chaim reached  the Ohr Sameach, he  announced to the Chafetz Chaim that he had only invited “great Rabonim from large cities” and that since the Chafetz Chaim was a “small time Rabbi from a small town”, the Chafetz Chaim should not attend the meeting!

Apparently feeling rejected, the Chafetz Chaim turned to R’ Chaim Brisker (who was invited to the meeting) and expressed his angst at the searing words of the Ohr Sameach, while also expressing the Chafetz Chaim’s personal view that the Volozhiner Yeshivah should not be closed. R’ Chaim (according to the Rav) advised the Chafetz Chaim that he agreed with the Chafetz Chaim’s view about the non closure of the Yeshivah and advised him to “gate-crash” the meeting and express his view, despite the Ohr Sameach’s express opposition to the Chafetz Chaim’s attendance.

Rav Schachter believes that the meeting commenced with a pilpul from the Ohr Sameach on the question of whether a person who finds a lost item and  is in possession of the said item, has a din of Shomer with all the concomitant responsibilities. When the Ohr Sameach had completed his pilpul on this topic, Rav Chaim asked his son, Reb Moshe, who was then a lad, to answer the Ohr Sameach. Reb Moshe pointed out that the person who found the lost item could not be considered a Shomer with responsibility of such to the person who had lost the item, because normally a Shomer effectively takes over looking after an item from the hands of the owner, because he takes it out of the hands of the owner. The same applies to a Gazlan who also (forcibly) takes it out of the hands of an owner and therefore must also assume the responsibility to the owner (as a Shomer) in having to guard the item appropriately. However, in the case of someone who finds a lost item, since they have not taken the item out of the hands of the owner (willingly or unwillingly) then, based on Sevara, he can’t be expected halachically to look after the item in place of the original owners (since the owners themselves were in no place to look after the lost item at the particular time the person found it).

Apparently, R’ Chaim asked his son Reb Moshe to respond, to show that even a lad could answer the ‘so called’ pilpul of the Ohr Sameach. Rav Chaim wanted to  “show up” the Ohr Sameach, and thereby show that the Ohr Sameach was also not right in refusing to allow someone of the calibre of the Chafetz Chaim to the meeting of Rabonim.

Ad Kan.

I found this snippet fascinating. Even if the Ohr Sameach had an opposing view to both R’ Chaim and the Chafetz Chaim, why did he deny the Chafetz Chaim entry to the meeting? R’ Chaim it would seem was most aware of the Chafetz Chaim’s stature. Certainly it is true that in those days, the Aruch Hashulchan was considered the Posek Acharon, but that ought not diminish the stature of the Chafetz Chaim? Also, given the gravity of the decision that was to be made, how could a so-called “Daas Torah” be achieved without the Chafetz Chaim’s advice?

If the stature of the Chafetz Chaim grew much later, what changed? Surely it could not all be because of the Aruch Hashulchan’s comments about davening in front of a woman with her hair uncovered or his comments (possibly censored) on Dina D’Malchuso?  Every Posek has their more controversial positions. Even the Chafetz Chaim was criticised for his definition of Shok as the knee area (and not lower down the leg).

What gives?