COVID-19: Chassidim vs Non Chassidim

Sadly, perhaps even surprisingly, there are reports of clandestine Rosh Hashana minyanim that took place across the houses of Melbourne despite these being against Government rules. Perhaps it’s a function of my circles, but it appears that these Minyanim involved Chassidim or those who identify themselves as Chassidim.

Prior to Rosh Hashana, the word was out that such Minyanim were being established or considered. Though various voices of “the Rabbinate” were heard clearly in the press and e-news/social media, I likely missed new strong warnings to reinforce that

“though it is heart-breaking and unprecedented for Melbourne’s Shules to be locked for Rosh Hashono and the ensuing Yomim Tovim, we stress and re-stress that it is forbidden to flaunt the Government rules and establish clandestine minyanim.”

I did come across other communication:

  1. Useful compendiums describing what should be said, not said, how, and when.
  2. Laudable pre and post shiurim and recordings designed to inform and migrate people “into the mood”
  3. Comparatively banal interviews with football coaches mischaracterising the Yomim Noroim as a Grand Final series, coupled with the now ubiquitous indiscriminate use of the Shofar as the “Jewish digeridoo”
  4. Opportunistic perversions of the Halachic process by a tiny minority of misaligned rabbis who deemed it sufficiently populist to kasher electronic conferencing.
  5. Clear opinions, such as from the Non-Chassidic Rabbi Moshe Heinemann of the StarK who opined that the sham support group minyanim concept was a Chillul Hashem in the making, for which Yom Kippur would not atone.

At this stage, you may be thinking that I am alluding to Chassidic groups identified by the “Vayatzev Avruhom” shtiebel-Satmar and Munkatch Chassidim who broke away from Adass Israel and whose “exploits” were splashed over the secular press, creating a Chilul Hashem.  I don’t have any information about this group vis a vis the Yomim Noroim, but I would be pleasantly surprised if their need for “support group sessions” somehow abated.

Sadly, I am referring to pockets of minyanim whose membership is seemingly from other Chassidic groups. To be sure, these are not sanctioned by local poskim of the same persuasion and are “unofficial”.

Notwithstanding that fact, one might well ask some questions:

    1. Is there something peculiarly Chassidic or grounded in Chassidism which compels people to ignore Government Health regulations? (and no, it isn’t the case that Chassidim aspire to be “imprisoned and released” as some process of redemptive purification)
    2. Is there a continued antinomian-style approach to Halacha which somehow “supersedes” the will of Shulchan Aruch and perhaps their own Poskim?
    3. Is the binary phenomenon of “Level 1” for a Rebbe and “Level 0” for everyone else responsible for “every man for himself”?
    4. Are there some under intentionally quiet clandestine Rabbis associated with these groups who are ultimately responsible? Who are these Torah Giants who so confidently claim that it is not necessary to worry about the ספק סכנה and whose learning exceeds Poskim like Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Osher Weiss and others?
    5. Is it that non-Chassidim are less likely to pick and choose a local orthodox Rabbi and focus instead on a quasi-official “Daas Torah”?
    6. Do some Chassidim consider themselves better informed, to the extent that they just know it really is God’s wish that they stand apart and ignore Health directives and שומר פתאים ה׳. (Rav Osher Weiss is a Chassid).

I don’t know the answer to these questions.

I am definitely not inviting people to “name and shame” or “dob in” those who have been involved in such.

PS. On a more personal note: like many, I struggled to teleport a communally inclusive Rosh Hashana davening into the lonely experience of a private Yom HaDin. Screened by the privacy of the four walls of the dining room, if anything, I probably shed more tears, to the extent that experiencing Simcha on Rosh Hashana was comparatively daunting. Then again, I am also an Avel, mourning my dear mother הכ’’מ and that is a factor.  I doubt I was alone or that my experience was in any way unique.

The Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: a halachic perspective

There is no doubt that many people will be inclined to watch the nuptials of the latest Royal Wedding. Some will feel magnetised by the moment, others will be eager to see the habilment. One needs to remember, though, that even clothes will include vestments and the marriage is a formal Xtian marriage in a Church (כנסיה).

Those who may watch the wedding ceremony will do so through their Television or the Internet. Is there any halachic issue?

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:129) stressed that it is not permitted to enter a Church, even if one only intended to admire the architecture or art. In Yoreh Deah (3:77) he goes as far as not permitting the use of Church facilities for a Talmud Torah where that Talmud Torah had difficulty finding accomodation. Mori V’Rabbi, the Rav was asked after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, whether it was permitted to watch the service on the Television. Rav Soloveitchik responded that in the same way that it was forbidden to enter a  כנסיה, it was equally forbidden to bring the כנסיה into one’s house. He noted that the clergy at the time encouraged those who were not able to attend, to avail themselves of participation in the service by watching through the Television.

In summary, it is best to spend one’s time on permitted activities, and how much more so, by having a Shiur or learning from a Sefer at that time.

STOP PRESS: I am advised that this Wedding is being held on a day that one is forbidden to watch ANY Television (Melacha). That being said, many will I estimate wish to “catch up” and watch some highlights.

Chalav Yisrael by Video Surveillance

Contrary to what many may have assumed, this issue, and allied issues of non direct eye-ball supervision, have pervaded in various guises in Halacha.

Some examples include:

  1. Testimony of the appearance of the new moon through a reflection (Rosh Hashono 24a. the Rambam 2:5 Kiddush Hachodesh and Acharonim)
  2. Sound waves for promulgation of Brachos or Megila reading (Igros Moshe (vol 2 and 4, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Minchas Shlomo 1:9), Minchas Elozor and more.
  3. Amen to a Brocho (Rav Kook in Orach Mishpot 48)
  4. Gett via webcam (Beis Yitzchok Even HoEzer 2:13)
  5. Photographs and Aguna (Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, Ein Yitzchok Even Hoezer Vol 1:31)
  6. “Digital witnesses” for Kiddushin (See Ketzos (241:1)
  7. Webcam based Chalitza to release a lady from marrying the brother of a dead husband (Shevus Ya’akov (Breish, 126)
  8. Brachos over Royalty via a TV (Chida 22 regarding through a glass view)
  9. Protection against Yichud

Consider though why one would do this in the context of Chalav Yisrael. Let’s assume, which it is according to some authorities (cf Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 107), a valid substitute for a human being watching the milking. Even Reb Moshe who is one of the two prime permissive positive rulings in respect of Milk from Companies, explicitly says that a Baal Nefesh, (someone who is extra punctilious) should be Machmir.

In Melbourne at least, and I assume throughout the world, it is mainly Chassidim who are careful and do consider themselves as Baalei Nefesh  not relying on the permissive rulings of the Chazon Ish and Reb Moshe Feinstein regarding government supervised milk. Those people, will follow their Poskim. Their poskim have shown in allied issues that they are often not prepared to rely on video surveillance as a halachic mechanism. Note: just as there is Chemical Halacha, Kashrus Chemistry, Shabbos Chemistry, there are also Kashrus stringencies. These are adopted by communal organisations so that there is a unified acceptable standard. On several occasions Rav Schachter of the OU disagreed with Rav Belsky ז’ל of the OU on matters of Psak, however, when it came to Paskening for the OU, something which a mega-community could rely on, they adopted the less inventive stance. This is sensible unless one wishes to branch off. Branching off may mean less supported Kashrus ends up not being accepted and then it creates situations where people are forced not to eat at houses where the non standard form of supervision or maverick schemes are adopted. A pirud, a limitation of joining one’s friends at the table ensues. This only benefits those non standardised more maverick supervisory bodies, many of which are also run as personal financial fiefdoms.

The only application I can think of is export. But those Hashgachos don’t export. Note, for example, if you go to Costco, you will find the plain Lay’s chips with an OU, but the barbecue do not have an OU. Instead the triangle K is the Hashgocho (this is also true of other products with Triangle K; be careful) . In general, the frum world does not trust the standards of the triangle K (and we don’t bring it in the house). It has a place. Where there is a need to find leniency so that people have access to food! This is similar to the law of Pas Palter, if you will.

Let us not forget that Chassidim ascribe a supernatural concern with ingestion of questionable milk and will be unlikely to consider compromise. The others simply rely on the Chazon Ish or Reb Moshe anyway!

I remain baffled by the motives behind the venture, its clientele, and the motive of those who seek such innovations when the prospective clientele are already the Baal Nefesh and won’t accept the Psak. Is this just grandstanding?

The charedi press distorts Judaism

They, and I explicitly exclude myself from their interpretations of Judaism, have a right to publish their own newspapers (even though they fight anyone who brings historical proof that the Netziv, R Chaim Soloveitchik and many more Gedolei Torah read the newspapers).

They don’t need to have pictures, and here I find myself in agreement with Uri Regev when they distort the image of a female. In a bizarre way they are in fact using what is new to present a distorted world.

Now, you might ask why it bothers me? Well it bothers me because I try to follow Torah, not some new invention. As such if it was a picture of Amalek there might be a positive command to erase him etc (practically we don’t know who Amalek is Lehalocho). Charedim might cogently argue that they won’t publish a picture that shows knees. Ok. If their clientele prefer digital burkas covering the face, that’s not ok. It’s not halachic and those people should never leave their houses let alone read any newspaper. 

So, in summary, the Charedim have created a mitzvas aseh (a positive command) to digitally distort women in pictures so they are not there, where in fact there only exist negative commandments. Such negative commandments can be fulfilled by not including the picture.

Ah, but it’s got nothing to do with Halacha in fact. It has everything to do with POLITICS. They must somehow show that they are in government visually, so they want to show their male members of the government of the state of Israel.

I have no time for such false religiosity.

Dipping food

I must say that there is a general tendency on my part to not auto review prayers or things I’m used to saying or thinking. This Pesach was no different. As a child when it came to Karpas, I’d always have no issue aligning what I had said in the Hagada with what I did. In particular, the idea of dipping a food item such as a vegetable in water is something that only happened on Pesach.

This year, after the Seder, it dawned on me that my culinary predilections had been augmented. I wasn’t quite the new age guy or tree hugger who lovingly waxed lyrically of ‘vegetarian‘ cholent (there’s nothing wrong with that dish but calling it CHOLENT is sacrilegious) I am certainly happy to try new types of potato stews, but unhappy when these aren’t recognised as Nuevo dishes forcibly cast into a skillet of tradition when there is no tradition associated with them.

So, despite the fact that I had augmented and savoured many a new style of food, they had not regstered in my halachic mind when I absent mindedly read from the hagada one more time.

Specifically, I am reminded of the fact that “finger food”, including sushi varieties are ubiquitous at Simches. A common aspect amongs all types (and  I confess that Peter Unger’s Potato Piroshki is a trophy winner with me and the band for many years due to its unsurpassed delectablity) is that they are all served with a dipping liquid. The actual liquid or semi liquid (yes, I also have a weak spot for the rare real wasabi, which is not probably classified as a liquid unless it is the texture of the common fake variety that is essentially horesraddish mayonnaise with green dye.

There is, of course, the healthier variety of finger food which is raw vegetable dipped in water (much like karpas.)

These thoughts led me to wonder whether times had changed and we were now returning to dipping again and typically, this hadn’t registered with me despite my healthy expanse.

Shulchan Aruch doesn’t except any liqid for dipping  as requiring the ritual (and practical) dipping 158:4. This is limited to wine, honey, olive oil, milk, dew, fish blood, and of course water. We don’t make a bracha on this washing but it is curious that even if one doesn’t touch the finger food the Mishna Brura 158:12  requires a washing of the hands despite the fact that they might be accessed via a tooth pick, fork or the like.


I’m not sure of the reasoning since where one is unable to wash for bread itself, then ensuring one’s hand’s don’t touch the bread (eg via a serviette or gloves) obviates the need to wash.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting vinaigrette  (pardon the pun) given an ingrained notion that I didn’t eat foods that were dipped. Practically speaking one should always ask their LOR, as with some dips, it will depend on the percentage of unaccepable liquid in the mixture.

PS. If you ever see someone double dipping, there is no doubt in my mind that apart from it beng a gross practice, it is forbiden according to Halacha (but ask you LOR)

On the Age of 20 in Judaism

One of my readers commented (with his usual vitriolic language) about this age in the context of halachic maturity (which was the essence I was discussing in that original article in respect of Yossi Feldman focussing on age 13 at the Royal Commission as being the transition from a minor to something else). I felt this was disingenuous, but be that as it may, another reader sent me the following which I present as of interest. If I find some time over Shabbos, I may add to this from the Tzitz Eliezer as I had mentioned in the comments section.

גיל הבגרות המלאה 

אף שהבגרות ההלכתית לזכרים הוא גיל 13, מצאנו במקורות רבים שגיל הבגרות המלאה הוא 20. 

בתנ”ך מצאנו במספר מקומות את גיל עשרים שנה כגיל הבגרות המלאה:

בתרומת מחצית השקל: שמות פרק ל פסוק יד, וכן בפרק לח פסוק כו.

בערכים: ויקרא פרק כז פסוקים ג, ה.

במפקדים: במדבר א, פסוקים ג-מה, פרק כו, ב, ד, דברי הימים א כז,כג, ב כה, ה.

בחטא המרגלים: במדבר פרק יד, כט, פרק לב, יא.

בגיל הלויים לעבודת המקדש: עזרא ג, ח, דברי הימים א כ, כד-כז, ב לא, יז, אך ראו במדבר ח פסוק כד: “זאת אשר ללוים מבן חמש ועשרים שנה ומעלה יבא לצבא צבא בעבודת אהל מועד”, חולין דף כד עמוד א, ורמב”ם כלי המקדש פרק ג הלכה ז.

ביוצאי מצרים מצאנו מחלוקת בין הפרשנים בגילם של ה”גברים” וה”טף” יוצאי מצרים:

“ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כשש מאות אלף רגלי הגברים לבד מטף”. (שמות פרק יב פסוק לז). 

מה היה גילם של הגברים, ומה היה גילם של הטף?

בעוד האבן עזרא (בפירושיו הארוך והקצר) מתייחס לגילם של הטף:

“לבד מטף שהוא פחות מכ’ שנה”. 

הרי רש”י בפירושו מתייחס לגילם של הגברים:

“הגברים – מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”. 

לדעת הרב מנחם כשר, (תורה שלמה חלק יב, הערה תקפ”ב), מקורם הוא במכילתא דרבי שמעון בר יוחאי פרק יב פסוק (לז) ויסעו:

“מטף מלמד שעשו עמהן פחות מבן [עשרים שנה]”. 

בשיר השירים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ג ד”ה ד ורבנן פתרי:

“ששים גבורים, אלו ששים רבוא שיצאו ממצרים מבן עשרים שנה ולמעלה. מגבורי ישראל, אלו ששים רבוא שיצאו ממצרים מבן עשרים שנה ולמטה”. 

הרמב”ן כתב, (שמות פרק ל פסוק יב):

“והנה ישראל כשיצאו ממצרים היו כשש מאות אלף רגלי (שמות יב לז), לא שש מאות, ומתו מהם עד המנין ההוא, ונתרבו במשלימים שנותיהם. ואולי “הגברים” אינם בני עשרים, אבל כל הנקרא איש מבן שלש עשרה שנה ומעלה בכלל, כי הוא להוציא הנשים והקטנים בלבד, כאשר אמר לבד מטף”. 

[בספרות החיצונית מצאנו שבהקרבת קרבן הפסח חייבים רק בני עשרים שנה ומעלה.

במגילת המקדש (יז, ח), נאמר:

“מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה יעשו אותו ואכלוהו בלילה”.

בספר היובלים (מט, א, יז) נאמר:

“בדבר הפסח לעשותו בעתו בארבעה עשר לחודש הראשון… כל איש אשר בא ביומו יאכלוהו בבית המקדש אלהיכם לפני ה’ מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”].

בתלמוד מצאנו במספר מקומות איסור למלא תפקיד ציבורי על מי שאינו “בן עשרים”:

בעבודה במקדש:

מאימתי כשר לעבודה? משיביא שתי שערות, רבי אומר, אומר אני עד שיהיה בן עשרים … ת”ר: מאימתי כשר לעבודה, משיביא שתי שערות, אבל אחיו הכהנים אין מניחים לו לעבוד עד שיהא בן עשרים”. (ספרא אמור פרשה ג, חולין דף כד עמוד ב), וראו רמב”ם הלכות כלי המקדש פרק ה הט”ו.

כשליח-ציבור ועלייה לדוכן: 

“… אינו עובר לפני התיבה, ואינו נושא את כפיו, ואינו עומד על הדוכן עד שימלא זקנו. רבי אומר: וכולהם מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה, שנאמר ויעמידו את הלויים מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”. (ירושלמי סוכה פ”ג הי”ב, וראו תוספתא כפשוטה (ליברמן), חגיגה פרק א הלכה ג, חולין דף כד ע”ב, מסכת סופרים פרק יד הלכה יג).

לדון דיני נפשות: 

לדברי רבי אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן, מי שהוא פחות מגיל עשרים פסול לדון דיני נפשות (ירושלמי סנהדרין פ”ד ה”ז), וראו שו”ת הרשב”א חלק ו סימן קע”ט: “… לפי שעדיין אינו בשלימות דעתו … “.

אף אדם וחוה “כבן עשרים שנה נבראו”. (ב”ר פרשה יד ד”ה ז, שהש”ר פרשה ג),

אלא שמצאנו שאף שמשה היה בהגדרת “גדול” באותה עת, הוא לא היה “איש”.

על הפסוק “ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו” (שמות ב, יא), נאמר במדרש:

ויגדלבן עשרים שנה היה. (שמו”ר ( א, ד”ה כז).

את הפסוק (שמות פרק ב פסוק יד): “ויאמר מי שמך לאיש שר ושפט עלינו הלהרגני אתה אמר כאשר הרגת את המצרי …”, מפרש רש”י: “מי שמך לאיש – והרי עודך נער”.

במדרש תנחומא, (ורשא) שמות סימן ח:

” … א”ל אחד מהם מי שמך לאיש ועדיין אין אתה איש מלמד שהיה פחות מבן עשרים”.

במדרש שכל טוב, (שמות פ”ד):

“ומסורת בידינו שבן עשרים שנה היה משה כשהרג את הנפש … שדתן הרשע אמר לו מי שמך לאיש … כלומר עדיין לא הגעת להיות איש …”. 

לדברי המדרש שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה א ד”ה ל, היה אז או בן עשרים ואיש הוא במשמעות מבוגר, או בן ארבעים, ואיש משמעותו שליט:

“ויאמר מי שמך לאיש שר וגו’, ר’ יהודה אומר בן כ’ שנה היה משה באותה שעה אמרו לו עדיין אין אתה ראוי להיות שר ושופט עלינו לפי שבן ארבעים שנה לבינה, ור’ נחמיה אמר בן ארבעים שנה היה, אמרו לו ודאי שאתה איש אלא שאי אתה ראוי להיות שר ושופט עלינו”. 

בילקוט שמעוני, (שמות רמז קסז, מקורו מדרש אבכיר) נאמר, שגיל הבגרות להקרא איש הוא 25:

“… שבאותה שעה לא היה כי אם בן עשרים שנה … ואמרו מי שמך לאיש, שאין אדם נקרא איש עד כ”ה שנים, כלומר עדיין לא הגעת לאיש …”.

הרב מנחם כשר מביא בתורה שלמה (שמות פ”ב סוף הערה פ”א) 9שיטות לגילו של משה באותה עת: בן 12, 18, 20, 21, 29, 32, 40, 50. 60.

ר”י אבן שועיב כותב בדרשותיו, (פרשת ויחי בד”ה בישישים חכמה), שגיל הבגרות הוא עשרים:

“… והילדות הוא מעט משנולד אדם עד עשרים שנה, ובזה הזמן יש בו גידול תמיד”.

What can you “say” at a grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blotting out women

I have a little “shiur” each Sunday with my grandsons. I looked for a set of books which were considered better than “little midrash says”. Short enough to keep their attention and informative. It’s been fine, and I notice that the pictures are a great incentive for their concentration.

One grandson today, after I mentioned that Sarah was hidden in a box by Avraham, (Sorai, Avram), asked me “where is Sarah”. I said she’s in the box in the illustration. He persisted but where is Sarah. There are pictures of Avraham, Moshe and Yehoshua etc and admittedly the illustrators tended to not show faces of these people, but it dawned on me that women seemed to have disappeared from every Parsha as far as illustrations were concerned. Now Sarah was good looking. That’s why she was hidden. That’s essential to the story. How you capture that in an illustration is not my problem.

The solution however is heavy-handed. The other ridiculous aspect is that everyone seems to have peyos. From where  do they know this? Ironically the evil people during Noach’s time, look like common criminals in our time.

I’m very strongly attached to the truth. That doesn’t mean to say that one needs to breach Torah Law to tell the truth or draw the truth. They did illustrate idols, ironically! It reminds me of wedding invitations where the female is lowered to the level of רעיתו and her name has disappeared into thin air. Let me note, that R’ Chaim Brisker (Soltoveitchik) signed his son’s wedding invitation as

Chaim and Lipsha Soloveitchik. He didn’t even call himself HoRav, even though he was undeniably one the Torah geniuses of all generations.

Picture from vos is neias

There is probably a good answer to this but …

On Shabbos, while in the male urinal, I stood next to a guy who was wearing his gartel. I admonished him and said that the gartel was a הכנה for davening. I don’t believe it is necessary today, but I wear one because my Zayda Yidel HaCohen Balbin ע’’ה did (and on Yom Kippur I wear his Gartel, as he passed away on Yom Kippur)

ר׳ יהודה הכהן בלבין before WW2

The guy thought and said, “you know, you’re right”

Anyway, when I was younger and devoted some time each day to Mishna Brura, I remember being inspired by his words regarding wearing Tzitzis out, as opposed to in. I don’t include the uncouth manner of some who wear their shirts out of their pants as well today, something I don’t understand unless one wears a Kapote covering it (I see boys from the local Yeshiva all dressed like that, and personally I don’t agree with that practice).

Getting back to the Mishna Brura, in his usual way (not Litvish) of quoting all opinions he wrote very strongly that one should wear the Tzitzis out, as if he was a proud member of Hashem’s army. That was when I was in Kerem B’Yavneh. From that time on, I followed the Mishna Brura. (Ironically, the major Posek was actually the Aruch Hashulchan, but he was then considered controversial for very bad reasons by Hungarians, but in Lita and elsewhere they followed the Aruch Hashulchan).

Anyway, to my question. I don’t wear a suit jacket to work. My Tzitzis have always hung visibly at University. I am sure it didn’t help, but I don’t and didn’t care. I wear a shirt and pants, generally. In winter its warm and in summer it’s cool. It’s natural.  I walked into the bathroom, and went to the urinal to do what men do. In Universities, they don’t exactly smell “wonderful” once the students are in season. I left the Urinal and asked myself for the first time (I don’t know why) whether I should have tucked in my tzitzis before entering. At the end of the day, although the Mitzvah of Tzitzis is not a Chovas Gavro but a Chovas Cheftza, the Tzitzis themselves are M’aaseh Mitzvah. I haven’t looked to see  if this has been discussed anywhere (many Poskim/Haredim wear jackets and Yibitzes which cover the Tzitzis).

For Sephardim who follow the Zohar and Ari, this isn’t a question because they aren’t allowed to wear their Tzitzis out from memory because it’s considered Yuharo (showing off).

Am I asking a silly question?

PS. I’ve also mentioned to Meshichisten who have the advertisement on their Yarmulka that they should turn it inside out before entering a bathroom in my opinion.

Which Melocho?

[Hat tip BA]


How would it be possible, someone does this Melocho on Yom Tov he is Chayav Malkos. If he does the exact same Melocho on Shabbos , not only is he not Chayav, he may go ahead and do it Lekatechila?

לז”נ האשה צארטל בת ר’ אליעזר הלוי הי”ד


                                                             יום השנה ח”י מנחם                                                                    

1)There are two fruits, one is attached to a tree in a Reshus Hayachid the other one is not attached to a tree but is in a Reshus Harabim

2)There is a Choleh  (in the Reshus Hayachid) who needs to eat the fruit.

3)On Shabbos there is no difference which fruit the Choleh is given and one is allowed to be Mechallel Shabbos Lekatechila

4)On Yom Tov one must take from the unattached fruit in Reshus Harabim (no Chilul Y.T.) and may not take from the attached fruit in the Reshus Hayachid. On Shabbos you may remove the fruit from the tree Lekatechila

On Yom Tov you may not  remove the fruit from the tree, because you can bring the cut fruit from the Reshus Harabim (no Chilul Yom Tov) If he removed the fruit from the tree, he is Chayav Malkos.

Guest post from Meme: Parshas Beshalach and more

Comments welcome.

ויהי בשלח פרעה את העם. שבט העבדים יוצא לעבוד את ה’ שלושת ימים במדבר. הוא לוקח עימו את הנשים, הילדים, הצאן והבקר וצידה לדרך. כאשר עברו אותם שלושת ימים מבין פרעה כי “ברח העם” והוא עומד להפסיד את עבדיו. העבדות של בני ישראל הייתה עבדות משונה. מצד אחד נוגשים ועבודת פרך, ומצד שני אותם עבדים הם הבעלים של צאן ובקר, שהם סמל הסטאטוס באותם ימים. זו הייתה מאין עבדות של עבדים קפיטליסטים. ייתכן שגם להם היו עבדים שטיפלו בצאן ובבקר שלהם כאשר הם עצמם עבדו בפרך.

בני ישראל נוסעים מסוכות ויחנו באיתם בקצה המדבר, ופרעה אומר: “סגר עליהם המדבר“. התורה ממשיכה ואומרת “וישובו” (על עקבותיהם) “ויחנו […] בין מיגדול ובין הים“. האם כבר עברו את הים והגיעו לקצה המדבר ונצטוו לשוב ולחצות את הים בכיוון ההפוך ולחנות ליד הים, בצידו המערבי, בצידה של מצריים? כבר אמרנו שפרעה אומר “סגר עליהם המדבר” ולא סגר עליהם הים. לאחר קריעת ים סוף הם ממשיכים אל מידבר שור ומשם מרתה, שם משליך משה עץ הממתיק המים המרים. משם אלימה עם 12 עינות מים ושבעים תמרים. האם יכלו להצטייד כאן במזון להמשך הדרך? האם שבעים עצי תמרים נותנים כמות פרי המספיקה לאותם 4 מיליון נפש יוצאי מצריים? מאלים נוסעים למדבר סין אליו מגיעים חודש לאחר יציאתם ממצרים, ב-15 לחודש השני.

אחר חודש של מסעות, במדבר סין, הם מרגישים רעב. אזלו המצות שנאפו בחיפזון, הצידה שלקחו עמם, והתמרים מנוה המדבר שבאלים. הם אומרים למשה ולאהרון:

“מי ייתן מותנו ביד ה’ בארץ מצריים בשיבתנו על סיר הבשר, באוכלנו לחם לשובע, כי הוצאתם אותנו אל המידבר הזה להמית את כל הקהל הזה ברעב.” טענה מוצדקת אחר הצמא של המים המרים ושהייה במדבר הצחיח. לא בכל מקום היה נווה מדבר עם תמרים. גם החלב מן הצאן והבקר שברשותם, החמאה הגבינות ואולי היוגורטים לא הספיקו. אבותינו היו כנראה אוכלי בשר, ולכן ביקשו בשר ולחם.

אז אומר ה’ למשה כי הוא “ממטיר […] לחם מין השמיים.” ה’ מבטיח למשה כי ייתן לעם לחם, אבל משה, על דעת עצמו, מרחיב את ההבטחה ואומר לבני ישראל:

“ויאמר משה בתת ה’ לכם בערב בשר לאכול, ולחם בבוקר לשבוע, בשמוע ה’ את תלונותיכם…”

תלונת בני ישראל על הרעב הייתה סיר הבשר ולחם לשובע שבמצריים. ה’ מבטיח לבני ישראל רק לחם משמיים. כדי לרצות את העם ולתת להם את כל מה שביקשו, משה מרחיב את ההבטחה לבשר וללחם. האם היה למשה סמכות או כיסוי להרחבת ההבטחה של ה’? בכל אופן, ה’ בא לקראת משה ואומר בהמשך:

“שמעתי את תלונות בני ישראל, דבר אליהם לאמור: בין הערביים תוכלו בשר ובבוקר תשבעו לחם וידעתם כי אני ה’ אלו-היכם.”

כאן ממשיכה התורה ומפרטת את המנה היומית של המן, עומר לגולגולת, וכדי שידייקו מציינת כי העומר הוא עשירית האיפה. התורה ממשיכה כי ביום השישי ייקחו מנה כפולה. אנו רואים פירוט רב על ההתעסקות במן. האם נאמר דבר על הבשר? כמה בשר עליהם לאסוף? האם גם את הבשר צריך להכין ביום השישי עבור שבת? האם ימצאוהו במחנה ביום השבת?

כאשר אני עובר מפרשתנו אל פרשת “בהעלותך” שבספר במדבר, אני נתקל בבעיה.

בפרשת “בהעלותך” שבספר במדבר נאמר:

והאספסוף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאווה וישובו ויבכו גם בני ישראל ויאמרו: מי יאכילנו בשר? זכרנו את הדגה אשר נאכל במצריים חינם, את הקישואים ואת האבטיחים ואת החציר ואת הבצלים ואת השומים. ועתה נפשנו יבשה, אין כל בלתי את המן עינינו.” יש להדגיש שהתורה אומרת שהאספסוף  התאווה, ואליו הצטרפו לאחר מכן גם בני ישראל.

משה פונה אל ה’ ואומר: “מאין לי בשר לתת לכל העם הזה…”. ה’ משיב: ” ואל העם תאמר: התקדשו למחר ואכלתם בשר כי בכיתם באוזניי […]  לא יום אחד תוכלון ולא יומיים לא חמישה ימים ולא עשרה ימים ולא עשרים יום. עד חודש ימים, עד אשר יצא מאפכם…”

משה, כלא מאמין למשמע אוזניו, שואל את ה’: “600 אלף רגלי העם… ואתה אמרת בשר אתן להם ואכלו חודש ימים? הצאן והבקר ישחט להם ומצא להם? אם כל דגי הים יאסף להם ומצא להם?” ה’ משיב לו בשאלה: “היד ה’ תקצר? עתה תראה היקרך דברי אם לאו.” ה’ מביא רוח שבעקבותיה באים השלווים אל המחנה.

הבעיה שלי היא: אם בפרשתנו, פרשת בשלח, קיבלו בני ישראל, כבר כעבור חודש מיציאתם ממצריים, את הלחם – המן, ואת הבשר – שלווים, מדוע בכו בפרשת “בהעלותך” כי אין להם בשר “בלתי המן”? הרי יש להם שלווים כבר מהחודש הראשון ליציאתם ממצריים? יש שלווים ועדיין מבקשים בשר? אולי בשר אחר? אבל גם שם לא קיבלו בשר אחר אלא שלווים.

חיפשתי תשובה לשאלתי אצל מפרשי התורה. ה”בכור שור (רבנו יוסף)” רואה את השלו של פרשתנו כסיפור השייך לפרשת “בהעלותך”. לדעתו, שניהם סיפור אחד הם. ולמה נכתב כאן? כי פרשתנו מדברת על המן וגם ב”בהעלותך” מדובר על המן, הכניס הכתוב את השלווים לפרשתנו. פירוש זה נראה דחוק. בפרשתנו העם רעב ורוצה אוכל, מבקש בשר ולחם ומקבל מן ושלווים. בפרשת בהעלותך העם אוכל כבר מן ומתאווה לבשר. בפרשתנו אין העם הרעב נענש בבקשו מזון, שלא כן ב”בהעלותך”, שם “ויך ה’ מכה רבה מאוד” את העם המתאווה לבשר.

חזקוני אומר כי השלו של פרשתנו פסק אחר שנה. האומנם? בפרשתנו נאמר בערב יאכלו בשר ובבוקר לחם – מן. האם כתוב בתורה שהבשר פסק והמן המשיך? האם פסקו בני ישראל לאכול ארוחת ערב? חזקוני מסתמך על דעתו של יוסף קרא שבתוספות בערכין. על מה מסתמך אותו ר’ יוסף קרא לא פורש!

הרמב”ן,  בהסתמכו על דברי רש”י במסכת ערכין (טו ב), ובניגוד לדעת יוסף קרא בתוספות שם,  אומר “שהיה השלו עימהם מן היום ההוא והלאה כמו המן”. הרמב”ן הוא גם הפרשן היחיד שמצאתי שדן בשאלתנו. הוא זהיר בדבריו ואינו בא לקבוע אלא אומר כי ייתכן והבשר שקיבלו בני ישראל החל מהחודש השני ליציאתם ממצריים לא היה מספיק לכולם. לא נאמר שכל אחד אסף אותו ולא באיזו כמות לנפש הוא נאסף כמו במן. האספסוף כנראה לא הצליח לאסוף, וכאשר הם התלוננו הצטרפו אליהם גם מבני ישראל שלא הצליחו לאסוף מן השלו ולאכול בשר. לפי דבריו יוצא כי איזה מסכנים או חלשים שלא הצליחו להידחף ולאסוף “מהסוכריות שנזרקו על החתן”, בא כל הכעס של ה’ והוא הכה בהם מכה רבה מאוד. קברות התאווה.

זאת הייתה שאלתי הראשונה לפרשת הבשר שבפרשת “בהעלותך”. אסיים בתמיהה נוספת.

אם, כאן בפרשתנו, נותן ה’ בשר שלווים להאכיל את בני ישראל מידי יום, ומשה רואה זאת במו עיניו כדבר יום ביומו, מדוע בפרשת “בהעלותך” אינו מאמין אותו משה, או מפקפק,  ביכולתו של ה’ לספק בשר, לא בכל יום אלא לחודש ימים בלבד ואומר: “הצאן והבקר ישחט להם ומצא להם? אם כל דגי הים יאסף להם ומצא להם?” בפרשתנו מרחיב משה על דעת עצמו את אספקת המזון ליוצאי מצריים. ה’ מבטיח לחם ומשה מרחיב את ההבטחה לבשר ולחם. לא זו בלבד שמשה מבטיח מה שה’ לא הבטיח, אין משה מפקפק כאן ביכולת להאכיל את העם בשר, ואין הוא שואל: “מאין לי בשר לתת לכל העם הזה…”.


Davening etiquette/halacha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

Image from

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

[Hat tip to MT]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask your Posek and report back

It is my strong halachic opinion (I am not a posek, and my comments are not LeHalacha and not L’Maaseh) that any male who is (also) attracted to the same gender, should be absolutely forbidden to go to the Mikvah, other than in exceptional circumstances where it is necessary and only then, when they are the only person in the Mikvah, and supervised from outside, to be so (in a quiet tzniusdik way so as not to embarrass)

Ask your Rav for his Psak on such a matter. Point out that Shulchan Aruch already wrote that it is forbidden to stay alone (Yichud) with a male, if there is a concern that they have proclivity towards same gender attraction. Your Rav may not want to reveal his name (everyone seems to want to go under the radar today) but I’d be interested to know what your Posek, anywhere in the world, feels is the Halacha for someone in the class above.

(If Mikvaos are re-architectured, things may change. I’ve argued they should be)

Answering Amen before Krias Shema

I daven in the morning in a Beis Medrash which allows the Shliach Tzibbur to daven in their own Nusach, with a few “universal” compromises.

For example:

  • There is always a gap in time to enable those (Ashkenaz and Sefard) who say Baruch Hashem Lo’Olom before Shmoneh Esreh at Ma’ariv to do so
  • Tachanun is said in a way to accomodate those (Ashkenaz) who fall immediately onto their arm and not start with Ashamnu, by leaving the parts from Ashamnu until then said quietly.
  • Yehalelu is said immediately after Hagba but before Ashrei at Shacharis (with no loud U’Venucho Yomar)

It is well known that there are three practices in respect of the Bracha immediately before Krias Shema at Shacharis and Ma’ariv.

  • Chazan says the Bracha in its entirety out loud, and the Kahal say that Bracha word for word with the Chazan, and so they don’t answer Amen
  • Chazan says the Bracha in its out loud, and the Kahal answer Amen
  • Chazan breaks off that Bracha at the end by reciting it inaudibly (Chabad)

Now, I say the Bracha out loud, as Chazan.

The issue is briefly sourced in Brachos 45b.

Sefardi Rishonim consider it fine to answer Amen after your own Bracha (eg Rambam Brachos 1:16). Ashkenazi Rishonim, such as Rabbenu Tam (see Shulchan Aruch OC 215:1, 188:1,2) holds that the only Bracha we answer Amen to, even though we say it, is Boneh B’Rachamov Yerushalayim Amen (in Benching).

For the Bracha before Shema, the Rishonim say that since this is the second of the Birchas Krias Shema we do not need to say Amen. Shema is integrated, and the final Bracha (for Shacharis) is Go-al Yisroel. It’s not clear why one couldn’t, however, say Amen. For example, after Yotzer Or U’Voreh Choshech, one may say Amen, and many are careful to do so.

Minhag Chabad is not to say Amen for any of these Brachos. My question is as follows: if you daven according to Minhag Chabad in the Beis Medrash that I daven in, and I say the first of the Birchas Krias Shema out loud, (Yotzer Or U’Voreh Choshech) should you stay silent and choose not to answer Amen to this Bracha? In addition, if the Chazan says “Habocher B’Amo Yisroel Behava” loudly, should you say Amen. Clearly, Chabad Minhag seems concerned about it, because they say the second bracha quietly and don’t say any part of the first Bracah out loud.

So what do Chabad do? Do they simply say no Amen? Do they try to say the Bracha with the Chazan? Does anyone know?

[Apologies I fixed the last sentence … I was a bit off colour yesterday and my last sentence was almost random letters]

Real or imagined?

I got this story from yeshivah world news. See below. My questions are:

  • What percentage of errors exactly like this did not cause problems with Sons? Surely this isn’t the first example that Machon Pe’er found of this error?
  • Would Hakadosh Baruch Hu condemn the sons because the father’s T’efillin were faulty?
  • I thought Mezuzos provided Shmirah specifically, not Tefillin
  • Does Hakadosh Baruch Hu act according to mistakes in our Tefillin? At worst, we aren’t performing a Mitzvas Aseh, surley
  • Don’t misread me. I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t have their Tefillin checked based on the advice of their Rav regarding how often to do so. I’m also not suggesting that Hakadosh Baruch Hu acts in strange and mysterious ways. I’m just trying to get my head around the concept of tragedy manifest on children due to a Sofer error in the Tefillin of the father.

    The following story is circulating in the chareidi media throughout Eretz Yisrael.

    A well-known Yerushalayim talmid chacham bought a pair of tefillin 18 years ago. After 12 years, after one of his sons-in-law lost his own tefillin the rav gave his pair to him (the son-in-law) and he used them for six years.

    The talmid chacham used the tefillin for 12 years, during which time he lost two sons, one 6 and the second 12. While the son-in-law used the tefillin he experienced a number of “incidents” involving a son, which almost ended in disaster. One of the “incidents” involved the son being badly burned.

    This week, the tefillin were checked by the sofer and then sent to מכון פער to check for additional or missing letters/words and they discovered that in the second parsha of the של ראש the posuk וכל בכור… was missing the word בני.

    The computer checking lab, מכון פער, asked to have the story circulated as widely as possible in the hope of encouraging people to have their tefillin check, by a sofer and by computer.

    Brushing teeth on Tisha B’Av

    I know that most Poskim forbid it. If my hands are dirty, then I am permitted to remove the dirt with water and soap if necessary, preferably up to the knuckles if possible.

    Now that we know that our teeth are actually dirty with plaque.

    From Wikipedia

    Components of plaque

    Plaque consists of microorganisms and extracellular matrix.
    The microorganisms that form the biofilm are mainly Streptococcus mutans and anaerobes, with the composition varying by location in the mouth. Examples of such anaerobes include fusobacterium and actinobacteria.
    The extracellular matrix contains proteins, long chain polysaccharides and lipids.
    The microorganisms present in dental plaque are all naturally present in the oral cavity, and are normally harmless. However, failure to remove plaque by regular tooth brushing means that they are allowed to build up in a thick layer. Those microorganisms nearest the tooth surface convert to anaerobic respiration; it is in this state that they start to produce acids.
    Acids released from dental plaque lead to demineralization of the adjacent tooth surface, and consequently to dental caries. Saliva is also unable to penetrate the build-up of plaque and thus cannot act to neutralize the acid produced by the bacteria and remineralize the tooth surface.
    They also cause irritation of the gums around the teeth that could lead to gingivitis, periodontal disease and tooth loss.
    Plaque build up can also become mineralized and form calculus (tartar).

    I understand that on Yom Kippur we have an additional issue of Inuy, afflicting oneself.

    ילמדינו רבינו
    Why isn’t plaque considered like “dirt” that may be removed?
    It could be argued that nobody, even a dog, would swallow tooth paste let alone listerine.
    Why not allow brushing with a half a cupful of listerine or similar?

    CPAP Machines on Shabbos/Yom Tov

    Medical research into sleep apnea and what it can be responsible for is established and continuing to develop. Sleep apnea can cause:

    • Heart arrhythmias
    • Heart failure
    • High blood pressure
    • Stroke
    • Depression
    • Hyperactivity

    The use of CPAP (or these days APAP machines) is now widespread and the relief that the devices provide is real, including:

    • Restoration of normal sleep patterns.
    • Greater alertness and less daytime sleepiness.
    • Less anxiety and depression and better mood.
    • Improvements in work productivity.
    • Better concentration and memory.
    • Patients’ bed partners also report improvement in their own sleep when their mates use CPAP, even though objective sleep tests showed no real difference in the partners’ sleep quality.

    Current machines are turned on by pressing a button and then “wait” for you to start breathing. Once you breathe, air is pumped into you (at a pre-set measured level depending on whether you are moderately or severely impaired) and this keeps a flap open so that the air you breathe during the night is unobstructed. The obstruction is also one cause of snoring. The machines are relatively quiet.  Some machines build up to the required pressure gradually. There is an LCD or LED style readout on the machine that is activated once it is turned on. There is no “visible” fire/filament. Some patients also use a humidifier which is attached to the machine. This warms and wets the pumped air in patients who are unable to breathe through their nose, and whose mouths become dry and irritated as a result.

    Can these machines be used on Shabbos/Yom Tov? Let’s note first that the accepted opinion is that of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל that Electricity is forbidden מדרבנן unless there is flame involved (or filament, as opposed to incandescence). The Chazon Ish isn’t disregarded, but his opinion that all electricity is forbidden דאורייתא is not followed when it comes to medical issues.

    What about the status of the patient? Is he (most patients are men 40+) a חולה at the time he is using the machine? What type of חולה is he? Is he a חולה שיש בו סכנה or שאין בו סכנה?   Is he considered “sick all over”, that is חולה של כל הגוף? Perhaps he is a ספק סכנה? The answer to these questions will probably depend on the severity of the apnea. For example, it might be questionable if the patient was only “mild” as opposed to moderate or severe. On such matters, one needs to consult with experts, that is, Doctors. Preferably, one should see a Sleep Physician.

    Using a shabbos clock doesn’t really help. It can’t turn on the machine. Furthermore, many machines turn off automatically anyway if left on.

    I am pretty sure that if you asked a Brisker Posek, they would tell you that there was no שאלה and to go ahead and use it. There is a tradition from R’ Chaim Volozhiner through to R’ Chaim Brisker, the Griz and the Rav, that the Brisker way is to be מחמיר when it comes to looking after health and avoiding illness. There are many stories told in this regard. One that comes to mind was R’ Chaim making his eldest son R’ Moshe Soloveitchik (the father of the Rav) absolutely swear that he would never ever be מחמיר on issues of סכנת נפשות or ספק סכנת נפשות. Only after R’ Moshe did that, was he given permission from his father to take up his first Rabbonus.

    There have been a few articles written on this topic. R’ Moshe Heineman (who was close to R’ Moshe Feinstein) from the Star K, is lenient, see here. See the opinion of R’ Halperin and R’ Prof. Abraham over here and here who are also lenient.

    One is required to turn on the machine with a שינוי (change) to minimise any infraction. [I also think one could consider getting two people to turn it on together].

    I rang R’ Hershel Schachter to ask his opinion. He stated that if there is no choice but to use such a machine, then what can one do. He quoted the שולחן ערוך of the Baal HaTanya  who is lenient in Dinim of a חולה and said that this opinion is defended by the אגלי טל from Sochatchow (the Kotzker Rebbe’s son-in-law). He also suggested turning it on with a Shinui.

    Some might argue that “what is one night” although this year we know it can be three nights as it is this evening. It seems that the Poskim are wary about interrupting medical treatment and consider such interruptions as contributing cumulatively to the danger (סכנה).

    I haven’t considered the issue of the humidifier and whether it boils the water to יד סולדת and if there are ramifications thereby.

    Does anyone out there know of other Psakim?

    Disclaimer: The above is not L’Halacha and not L’Maaseh. Ask your own Rabbi for advice if you have an issue.

    Piskei Din from מוה”ר הרב שכטר שליט”א

    I feel good this morning. After almost 6 weeks of chasing, I managed to speak with רב שכטר. He is in Tannersville during the summer and basically learns all day. I felt uplifted speaking to a גאון בתורה who is also so Menshlich and unassuming. We discussed a range of issues, not all of which I will publish here, of course.

    1. The מצווה of ובערת הרע מקרבך  implies that there is no so-called time limit against alleged criminal activity. They must be investigated.
    2. There is no איסור of חילול השם involved in re-opening and investigating something which happened in the past. On the contrary, especially when the אומות העולם do this as a matter of procedure and process, by not doing so, that of itself is a חילול השם because it gives the impression that their moral system is superior to ours.
    3. There is no din of  מסירה in cases of a possible public menace. The determination of what is a public menace is guided by the best possible advice from specialists in the field. Since specialists agree that recidivism is the unfortunate norm in some known categories of crime, even if the מלכות של חסד may mean that the punishment is greater than Torah Law and therefore problematic, we must submit the possible public menace to the authorities. וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו ולא יזידון עוד.
    4. He did not know what a “french press” was, and whilst we discussed the views of the חזון איש in הלכות שבת we agreed that he would investigate this matter after someone showed him a french press and he properly understood how it works etc.
    5. On the matter of headlines on blog posts or newspaper posts which used the generic term “Charedim” and then processed to discuss a particular group within the Charedim inside the article, where that group/organisation/members have performed eg revisionism and a hiding of the truth, he said that it was a מצווה to be מוכיח those who distort the truth. He wasn’t sure whether writing “Charedim” in general in a headline and then expanding on the particular group in the body of article was an איסור. He said he would think about it further.
    6. He said that the Rav davened a Nusach which was a quasi Nusach Ari sprinkled with elements of Volozhiner Nusach.
    7. He hadn’t heard of a Minhag to only eat Milchigs on שבועות but mentioned there was a recent publication from קרלין סטולין entitled בית אהרון וישראל that was comprehensive in tracing the various שבועות מנהגים. If anyone has this, I’d be obliged.

    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.

    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



    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.

    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.

    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?

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