Monday, January 28, 2008

Flipped Out: Life on the Fringes of Modern Orthodoxy

My “Modern Orthodoxy” has been called into question in personal conversation a couple of times recently, and each time it was odd and unsettling.

It felt odd, because I never would have thought the question would unsettle me. I’ve never liked the “Modern Orthodox” label. It feels somewhat pretentious - “Look at us, we’ve upgraded the system” – even though it usually isn’t meant that way.

And it was unsettling, because I didn’t think there should have been a question. I was educated in Modern Orthodox schools – Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, MTA for high school, Yeshiva University. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox home, in a Modern Orthodox shul with a Modern Orthodox rabbi. I believe in advanced Jewish education for women, in Zionism, in creating kiddush HaShem through involvement in the broader, secular world. I listen to Weezer and Linkin Park. I am part of a Jewish clergy group that runs the gamut, and occasionally speak in reform and conservative temples. I believe in Jewish unity beyond my own narrow frequency on the denominational spectrum.

So I’ve always taken it as a given that I fit into the “Modern Orthodox” mold, to one extent or another, and I don’t think there should be any question.

But then came the questions - not from people who really knew me, but from people who met me for the first time and read a lot into what they saw. I wear a hat for davening. I have a beard. I put my tallis over my head. I believe that some men (and women) should spend their lives in learning Torah. I am not a fan of women’s tefillah groups. I am not willing to support Modern Orthodox schools to the exclusion of supporting all others.

And so, it seems, some have decided that I no longer fit into Modern Orthodoxy.

I half-expect MTA to go back and crop me out of the yearbook photo.

All of this comes to mind as I continue to mull Flipping Out, from Yashar Books.

I read this book when it first came out and recommended it to quite a few people, as a good first look at the statistics and sociology of our children’s “Year in Israel” evolution – but I felt something was missing, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

I liked the statistical analysis by Rabbi Shalom Berger in the first part, and I really appreciated the perceptive psychological analysis by Rabbi Daniel Jacobson in the second part. The book captures much of what parents are wondering about, and it gives them some ideas on how to prepare for, and cope with, the changes their children will likely manifest. I would have liked to have seen more on women’s seminaries – data which the authors did indicate should be coming soon – and I would have liked to have seen more practical guidance, but beyond that I felt something substantive was missing.

Now, I think I know: The book is missing an in-depth contrast between the religious milieu in which today’s teens live, and that of their parents thirty to fifty years ago, when they were teens. It's not the Year in Israel - it's everything that comes before the Year.

President Joel insightfully noted in his Foreword that the year in Israel should be seen as part of an educational continuum, not an end and not an entity unto itself. It is part of a bigger picture of environment and influences and formal/informal education. Following that thought, I think any serious look at this generational shift really ought to begin by asking about the differences between the pre-Israel experiences of the parents and their children. The book does touch on these issues, such as when both Rabbi Berger and Rabbi Jacobson talk about the pre-disposition of our children for change based upon their previous educational experiences, but not in an intense way, devoting a section to this discussion.

Some examples of key areas of difference between the lives of North American Jewish youth 30-50 years ago, and the lives of today’s North American youth:

-The political and economic strength of today’s Jewish community, and a resultant sense that we can be more fully Jewish and less compromising in our integration into society;

-The influence of NCSY, as well as other groups, in giving children a strong Jewish identity;

-The ubiquity of “right wing” influences, which were once seen as anachronistic and all-but-extinct but have now become a powerful voice in North American, and world, Jewry;

-The inculcation of religious ideas, with children growing up hearing – in school, camp, Jewish music, everywhere in the Jewish world - about an emphasis on talmud torah and mitzvos and deveikus to HaShem, and then attending yeshivot where those are presented as attainable goals.

Modern Orthodoxy, in any generation, is as much a product of its surroundings as it is a product of R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch or Rav Soloveitchik. I believe that one of the major reasons today’s youth have a version of Modern Orthodoxy that differs from the version of their parents is simply that they live in a different world, which sets up different poles and different compromises.

This is certainly true for me. As much as my own evolution in Israel was a function of the unique experiences and relationships from which I benefited there (Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh), I think it was really much more a product of these surrounding factors, of my upbringing and education and world. I hope that a future version of “Flipping Out” might add that to the formula as well.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Derashah: Yitro - Two Tablets, Two Approaches to Humanism

This week we saw yet another round in the age-old Israeli battle for survival. Since Disengagement, Palestinian Arabs have fired more than 4200 rockets from Aza into Israel, killing people, traumatizing children, destroying lives as well as property. Israel currently provides electricity to Aza, and they opted to punish and incapacitate the terrorists and their supporters by reducing this supply. The rest of the world protested that this is cruel, and collective punishment. The Israeli government backed down.
It would be simple to say that the world finds it easier to watch Jews suffer than to fight terrorism, but I think this is a much bigger, much more complex issue. We go through the same battle regarding criminal justice in any society – do we punish crime harshly, hoping this will serve as a deterrent, or do we try for a more gentle rehabilitation?
As I understand it, this is really a debate that has its roots in the issue of Humanism, and in the two tablets on which were inscribed the Aseres haDibros.

“Humanism” is a vague term, but when I use this word I mean specifically the idea that humanity has special value and priority, over and above other entities; it’s an anthropocentric view of the world.
This Humanism is, in many ways, consonant with Judaism. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein recently published a long article on exactly this point,[1] but just to present a couple of examples:
We believe that Gd created the world for our sake, for the sake of our Torah and mitzvos.
Dovid haMelech said, השמים שמים לה' והארץ נתן לבני אדם, The heavens belong to Gd, and He gave the world to us.
Although classical Jewish sources disagree regarding the precise role of human beings in the spiritual universe,[2] we do believe that human beings can reach great spiritual heights and commune with the Divine.

But there are two different sides to this humanism:
One side argues that because of our great human value, we must be treated with respect, and all human suffering must be avoided.
But the other side argues that precisely because of our great value, our crime must be punished, even with the infliction of suffering.
Both of those views are Humanist, but they come to it in opposite ways.

The first view is that human life has automatic value. When Gd created Adam and Chavah, He told them פרו ורבו, Bear fruit and become many, fill the world and conquer it. There were no explicit qualifications, such as, “Bear fruit if you will follow My commandments,” or “Become many in order to serve Gd.”
This Humanism takes its lead from the second tablet, the latter five of the Aseres haDibros, the ones that instruct us not to murder, not to steal, not to commit sexual immorality, not to testify falsely about others, and not to be jealous of others. Like Gd in Gan Eden, these dibros offer no limitations – “Don’t murder righteous people,” “Don’t testify against certain people.” All humanity is offered sanctuary, without discrimination, beneath the wings of Divine protection.
This Humanism, on the Torah’s cue, is sensitive to the right of every human life, as a creation of HaShem, as a neshamah, to live with a minimum of pain.

The second view is that human life is valuable only insofar as it relates to the Divine.
True, Gd did not limit פרו ורבו, but He did create us בצלמנו כדמותנו, in a specially assigned image and with an associated spiritual capacity.
True, the second Tablet is non-discriminatory in its protection for all humanity, but the first Tablet explicitly declares the spiritual expectations placed upon each of us. The Dibros begin, אנכי ה' אלקיך, “I am HaShem your Gd.” They continue to warn about worshipping Gd, about honoring the Divine, about commemorating Divine Creation and about gratitude toward Gd. In sum, the message on the first tablet is this: We have a relationship with HaShem.
As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch wrote almost two hundred years ago,[3] “You, son and daughter of Israel, are to be neither plant nor animal but human being, and in this human vocation you must feel yourself to be called upon to serve not yourself but Gd, with all that you are, with all that you have and will have, and with your enjoyments and actions, and dedicate yourself freely with your whole being to Gd.”
This version of Humanism, also on the Torah’s cue, says that our Human value is a function of our relationship with the Divine, and that sundering the relationship will also sunder our natural protections.

In fact, we may read both of these approaches into the beginning of our parshah, and a split between the approaches of Moshe and Yisro.[4]
Yisro, overwhelmed by all he has heard about the miracle-filled escape from Mitzrayim, visits the Jews. As the Torah puts it, וישמע יתרו...את כל אשר עשה אלקים למשה ולישראל עמו - Yisro heard all that HaShem had done for Moshe, and for the Jewish people. Yisro heard about how HaShem split the sea for us, how HaShem provided Mun and water in the desert. ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה אשר עשה ה' לישראל, Yisro was excited by all of the good things HaShem had done for the Jewish people. Yisro mentioned nothing about the suffering of the Egyptians.[5]
But when Yisro arrived, Moshe told him more about what had been happening - with a very different focus. ויספר משה לחותנו את כל אשר עשה ה' לפרעה ולמצרים, Moshe told his father-in-law everything that HaShem had done to Paroh and to Egypt - not the salvation of the Jews, but the punishment of the Egyptians, the humiliation of Paroh, the makkos, the death, the drowning in the sea.
Yisro came to hear the positives, the help HaShem gave us! But Moshe said, “I also want to tell you about how HaShem punished the Egyptians,” this is something we also need to hear about. It may be painful, but this punishment is a critical part of the story, and must be told as well.
No one can question Moshe’s compassion or his sensitivity to suffering; from his youth to his old age Moshe endangered himself to save others from pain. According to the midrash, Moshe was hired to lead the Jews because of his great compassion! Moshe must agree that we treasure human life - but he simultaneously insists that our standards and expectations must be founded on a principle more lofty than DNA and the handy-dandy opposable thumb. Moshe demands that our expectations be founded on the principle of Merit - and so the Egyptians deserve their fate.

HaShem appears to take Moshe’s side, and that of the First Tablet: Humanity’s protection is, in fact, linked to its spiritual accomplishment - otherwise, there would not be punishment in the Divine system.
True, we are taught that HaShem is pained when He metes out a penalty, but ה' איש מלחמה, HaShem is a warrior, ready and able to act with violence against those who violate His demands.
And human beings are called to punish as well. Lest one say כי המשפט לאלקים הוא and punishment is reserved only for Gd, look at the parshah we will read in a few weeks, and the חטא העגל, the Golden Calf. Moshe instructed the Kohanim to wield their swords and attack those who had worshipped this idol, to execute without trial or hearing - and HaShem honored those same Kohanim to work in the Beis haMikdash, the ultimate place of peace.

It would be absurd to present practical guidelines for Aza or criminal justice on the basis of this ten-minute, oversimplified armchair analysis. But, to me, one lesson is clear, and that is in the way we deal with ourselves.
With other people, we might err on the side of leniency, but for ourselves we ought to choose the more demanding of the two: The side that says, “Your value depends on what you do with your life.” May our expectation of ourselves and of our children be not the least-common-denominator “Lo Tirtzach,” but “Anochi HaShem Elokecha,” to develop and live in the relationship that Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch described, “to serve not yourself but Gd, with all that you are, with all that you have and will have, and with your enjoyments and actions, and dedicate yourself freely with your whole being to Gd.”

[1] Torah Umadda Journal, Vol. 14
[2] Rambam vs RSG
[3] Horeb, paragraph 100
[4] Based on the sefer חומר לדרוש
[5] Granted Rashi’s midrash על אתר

Class: Angels, Part II - Praying to Malachim

This morning I taught the second part of my two-part class on Angels; here's the source sheet, along with some bibliographic references for those who are interested.

We discussed the long history of addressing angels, and even beseeching their assistance, in Judaism - from Yaakov's request for an angelic blessing, to Rabbi Yochanan's apparent request for angelic assistance in Sanhedrin 44b, to Hitkabdu Mechubadai to Machnisei Rachamim to Barchuni l'Shalom. Then we looked at three reasons why this is a problem - the question of why angelic intercession would be needed, the concern for idolatry, and the concern for mystical danger in mixing with angels.

We talked about the historical elements of the issue of angelic intercession, and we concluded by looking at three different ways to handle angel-seeking liturgy: (1) Delete/Edit, (2) Accept that angels do have some power, and we may seek their help within that sphere, and (3) Modify our understanding of these prayers.

Here is the source sheet:
1. Talmud, Berachot 60b
One who enters the bathroom says: “Be honored, honored ones, sacred ones, servants of Above. Give honor to the Gd of Israel! Leave me until I go and do my desire, and then I will return to you.

2. Machnisei Rachamim
Angels of mercy, bring our plea for compassion before the Presence of the Lord of mercy. … Intercede for us and amplify supplication and entreaty before the King, Almighty, Who is exalted and uplifted.

3. Shoshan Sodot 412
Remember, always, to see at every molad and tekufah under which star they fell, and from the star you will know which angel is appointed thereupon, and from the angel you will know which emanation, and the name which emerges therefrom… And you will first be mashbia the star of the tekufah with its sacred angels, and then the star of the month and its angels…

4. Shalom Aleichem, third verse
Bless me for peace, angels of peace, angels of Above, from the King of kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

5. Psalms 91:11, 121:8
For He will instruct His angels for you, to guard you upon all of your ways.
HaShem will guard your departure and arrival, from now and forever.

6. Exodus 23:20
Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you upon the way and to bring you to the land I have prepared.

7. Talmud, Shabbat 119b
Rabbi Yosi bar Yehudah said: Two ministering angels escort a person on Friday from the synagogue to his home, one of them good and one of them bad.
When they come to his home and find the lamp lit and the table set and the bed arranged, the good angel says, ‘May it be the Will that next Shabbat will be like this.’ And the bad angel is forced to answer ‘Amen.’
If not, the bad angel says, ‘May it be the Will that next Shabbat will be like this.’ And the good angel is forced to answer ‘Amen.’

8. Midrash Tanchuma (Warsaw edition), Vayyakhel 1
Rabbi Meir said: For every mitzvah a person performs, he is given an angel to guard him. If he performs one mitzvah, he is given one angel. If he performs many mitzvot, he is given many angels. It is written, ‘For He will instruct His angels for you, to guard you upon all of your ways.’

9. Talmud, Shabbat 12b
Rabbi Yochanan said: One who prays in Aramaic will not be helped by the ministering angels, for the ministering angels do not know Aramaic.

10. Genesis 32:27
And he said, ‘Send me away, for the morning has come.’
And he said, ‘No, unless you bless me.’

11. Talmud, Sanhedrin 44b
Rabbi Yochanan said: One should always ask for mercy that all should strengthen him, and that he should have no foes above.

12. Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 9:12
Rabbi Yudin said: A human being has a patron. If he encounters trouble, he does not approach the patron suddenly, but rather he stands at the door of the patron’s home and calls the patron’s servant or family member and says… But Gd is not so. If a person encounters trouble, he should not cry out to Michael or Gavriel, but rather to Me he should cry out, and I will answer him immediately.

13. Maimonides, Commentary to Mishnah, Introduction to the 10th chapter in Sanhedrin
…That it is suitable to worship Gd, to exalt Him, and to publicize His greatness. We do not do this to anything beneath Him, among the angels and stars and spheres…and we do not make them intermediaries through which to reach Him…

14. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 2:1
The essential instruction regarding idolatry is that we should not worship one of the creatures, no angel or sphere or star or any of the four foundations or anything created therefrom. Even if the worshipper knows that HaShem is Gd, and he worships this creation as Enosh and his generation did at first, this is still idolatry.

15. R’ Yehudah haChasid, Sefer Chasidim 205
It is not good for a person to pray other than to Gd. One who goes out on the road should not be mashbia angels to guard him on the road, but rather he should pray to Gd for all of his needs…

16. Rama, Code of Jewish Law Yoreh Deah 179:16
Regarding hashba’ah, in which one is mashbia them with names, some permit this altogether, but most who involve themselves with this do not leave it in peace. Therefore, one who would guard his life should distance himself from them.

17. Genesis 19:21
And the angel said to Lot: Behold, I have shown favor to you even in this, not to overturn the city, as you spoke.

18. R’ Shemuel Yaakov Weinberg, Fundamentals and Faith, pg. 59-60
It is a form of idolatry to attribute power or free will to any intermediary. Therefore, believing that one must beg angels to bring his prayers to Gd is idolatry. For this reason, the Maharal and R' Chaim of Volozhin (Keter Rosh #93) forbade the singing of "Barchuni leshalom," since it implies that one is asking the angels to bless him.
Those who do sing this popular prayer on the Sabbath should envision a situation in which the angels will have to bless him. The Talmud (Shabbat 119b) relates that, returning home after the Sabbath services Friday evening, one is accompanied by two angels. If, upon entering one's home, the angels find the table set for the Sabbath meal, they are forced to bless the home with the blessing that this joy and preparation should occur the following week as well. It is for this situation, where the angels must bless him, that one should pray.

19. The First Gerrer Rebbe, Sfat Emet to Rosh haShanah 32bWith every mitzvah the Jewish people perform, an angel is created. In truth, Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur are holidays, so that there is joy in the hearts of the Jews, but they cannot bring that desire into action, to say Hallel. However: From this great longing, angels are also created.

And here is a partial bibliography:

Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 166
Yehudah Yaaleh 1: Orach Chaim 21 - I loved what he had to say here.
Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 5:43
Divrei Yatziv Yoreh Deah 191
Tzitz Eliezer 14:48

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Class: Rambam on Exercise

Last year, we ran a very successful "Maimonides Dinner" in tandem with the Maimonides Society of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. With a great meal designed to follow the Rambam's recommendations on nutrition, we studied the Rambam's ideas on nutrition. We looked at their Judaic as well as secular roots, and we compared them with modern medical ideas.

This coming Sunday we will, Gd-willing, hold Part Two. We will look at the Rambam's views on exercise, while enjoying another great meal modeled on his dietary advice. Again, we will study the Judaic and secular roots of the Rambam's views, and compare them with modern medical counsel.

Here is the outline, as well as the source sheet and a bibliograpy:

The Maimonides Exercise Dinner: Outline and Source Sheet
R’ Mordechai Torczyner -

Brief review: Maimonides on Medicine and Torah

Brief review: Maimonides scientific approach
Predecessors - Greek, Arabic and East Asian
The Maimonidean approach to medical tradition

Maimonides’ predecessors on physical exercise - From Greece to Rome to Arabia
The Greek love of athleticism
Rome is influenced
Galen’s “Maintenance of Health”
Philostratus “Handbook for a Sports Coach”
The Arabic school

Jewish tradition, pre-Maimonides, on exercise
The Importance of maintaining one’s body
Sport and Strength in Tanach
Strenuous strength training
Exercise and digestion
Oil and and then exercise

Maimonides on Exercise
Values exercise highly as a means of maintaining the body and soul
Exercise isn’t always indicated
Two positive effects of exercise - Digestion and Mood
The negative effect of strenuous exercise
The ideal exercise regimen

Matching Maimonides with Jewish tradition
Maintaining the body
Strenuous exercise

Matching Maimonides with modern medicine
Exercise and digestion
Strenuous exercise


1. Proverbs 22:5
Cold drafts are in the path of the crooked; one who guards his life will distance himself from them.

2. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality
4:23 – A city must possess ten things before a Torah scholar may live there: A doctor, a phlebotomist…
4:1 - Having a healthy and complete body is one of the paths of Gd, for it is not possible to understand or know any Divine wisdom when one is ill.

3. Talmud, Bava Metzia 107b
Rabbi Chanina said: Ninety-nine people die of colds, and one at the Divine command.

4. Talmud, Bava Kama 90b
One is not permitted to harm himself, although he is exempt from judicial punishment.

5. Talmud, Shabbat 140b
The prohibition against damaging one’s body is worse.

6. Rashi to Melachim I 1:9 "אבן הזוחלת"
This was a large stone, with which youths would test their strength by moving and dragging it.

7. Talmud, Gittin 67b
Rav Yosef busied himself with a mill. Rav Sheshet busied himself with [carrying] boards, saying, ‘Physical exertion is great, for it warms its practitioner.’

8. Midrash, Bamidbar Rabbah 14:4 (Vilna edition)
Rabbi Berechiah haKohen said [in a play on the biblical word ‘Kidarvonot’ to read it as ‘kadur banot’]: It is like the ball that young girls use, which they pick up and throw here and there. So are the words of the sages, one saying his reason and the other saying his reason.

9. Talmud Yerushalmi, Taanit 4:5
Why was Tur Shimon destroyed? Some say because of sexual immorality, some say because of ball-playing.

10. Tosefta, Shabbat 17:16
A person may not run on Shabbat to strain himself, but one may stroll in an ordinary manner, even for the entire day.

11. Talmud, Shabbat 41a
One who eats and does not walk minimally [four cubits] afterward will have his food rot in him.

12. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 17:4
One should not neglect physical exercise for the body, as do people of learning who diligently study the entire day and night. Rather, it is proper that the body and all limbs be moderately active, and that each limb perform its movement, so that all organs, both external and internal, receive benefit therefrom.

13. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:16
If a short quartan fever occurs which is not severe, then no harm exists in the patient doing mild exercises.

14. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 4:14
As long as a person exercises and greatly exhausts himself and is not full and his innards are loose, no illness will come to him and his strength will build - even if he eats bad foods.

15. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 4:2
As a general rule: One should oppress his body and exhaust it each morning until his body warms up, then rest for a bit until his spirit returns, and then eat. Bathing in hot water after exhaustion is good; then wait a bit and eat.

16. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 1:4
One should not be frivolous or full of laughter or sad or mournful, but rather one should be happy all of his days, gently and with a pleasant demeanor.

17. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:2
The most beneficial of all types of exercise is physical gymnastics to the point that the soul becomes influenced and rejoices, such as hunting and ball-playing, because emotions of happiness often suffice to heal just by their presence. Thus, rejoicing and happiness alone will make many people’s illnesses milder. For others, both the illness on the one hand, as well as the emotional upset that led to it, disappear.

18. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 1:1
A sensory or motor nerve coming to a muscle originating from the brain and spinal cord inserts into every muscle either at its origin or at a point between its origin and middle section....

19. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 1:2
Moses says: ... when one's inclination is to move a specific limb, it sends a physiological force to the nerve in the direction of a particular muscle, the latter contracting in the direction of its origin, thus moving the limb....

20. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:1
If the exercise greatly exerts him, then a satisfactory diet alone will no longer suffice and he will then also need to consume healing medications.

21. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 1:4
The straight path is the intermediate path in every human trait, which is the trait that is equidistant from each extreme and not closer to either one. Therefore, the early sages instructed that a person continually evaluate his traits and guage them and guide them in the intermediate path, so that he will be whole in his body…

22. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:14
It is proper to precede physical exercise by rubbing and massaging the body. After this one exercises slowly and increases it until one reaches an optimum level of exercise. One should continue this as long as one’s facial appearance remains well, and movement is rapid, and as long as body temperature is normal, and sweat is flowing. However, as soon as one of these conditions changes, one should cease the gymnastics immediately.


 Athletics and Literature in the Roman Empire, Jason König
 Gd’s Word for our World, J. Harold Ellens
 Greek Athletics in the Roman Empire, Zahra Newby
 Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides, Rosner ed.
 Medicine in the Bible and Talmud, Fred Rosner
 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deiot, Moses Maimonides
 Sports Medicine for the Primary Care Physician

On-line Articles
 Ancient Pankration, Steve and Gareth Richards
 Eating before exercising, Ori Hofmekler
 Effects of Exercise on Adult Cognition
 The Effects of Exercise on the Brain, M.K. McGovern
 Forget Crossword Puzzles - Study Says 3 Hours of Exercise a Week Can Bolster Memory, Intellect, Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2006, Sharon Begley
 Postprandial lipemia: effects of intermittent versus continuous exercise, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 30(10):1515-1520, October 1998
 The Real Olympics - The Guessing Games, Dr. Martin Brookes
 Review of Konig, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.02.24
o, John Scarborough
 Review of Newby and Konig, Classical Journal On-Line 2007.10.01, Donald G. Kyle
 Sports Nutrition
 Weightlifting & Exercise, Adam Kessler, USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Class: Rashbam's approach to Chumash

On Shabbat, after kiddush, we'll look at Rashbam's approach to commenting on Chumash. After some basic biography, we'll focus on his objective as a commentator, and some of his key themes. Specifically, we'll look at his involvement in Jewish-Christian polemics, his sensitivity to poetic structure in the Torah, and his bold adherence to a grammatic/etymological read.

Here is some material from Rashbam's commentary, which we will use as sources:

Rashbam's Objective
Bamidbar 15:39, ציצית
This ‘Tzitzit’ will be a vision for you, that you will see; like “meitzitz from the cracks.”

Devarim 26:17, האמיר
[Rashi: There is no other word in Tanach to indicate what this means. It appears to me that this is an expression of separation and distinction.]
You caused HaShem to say this, to be appeased to be your Gd, for the fulfillment of this matter is dependent upon Gd, for Him to be made your Gd and to save you, as a result of your acceptance of His mitzvot.
And He he’emircha, He caused you to say it and to be appeased to be His nation, for He performed miracles and deeds of might until you were appeased to be His nation.

Bereishit 37:1
And even Rabbeinu Shlomo, father of my mother, who illuminated the eyes of the exile who explained the Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim, put his heart to explain the simple meaning of the verse. And I, Shmuel ben R’ Meir his son-in-law of blessed memory, argued with him and before him, and he acknowledged to me that if he had the time, he would have to prepare additional commentaries according to the peshat.

Jewish-Christian polemics
Bereishit 1:1
Moshe began with this entire portion of the tasks of six days in order to explain what Gd said when presenting the Torah, ‘Remember the day of Shabbat… for in six days HaShem created…’

Devarim 7:9
Lest you say, “Since He promised our ancestors to give us the land, why should we need to keep the mitzvot any further? He will do what He promised, in any case,” to this I reply that if you do not guard His mitzvot you will not inherit the land. He will not violate his oath, but rather…

Devarim 11:10
You must guard the mitzvot of HaShem your Gd, for this land is better than Egypt to those who guard the mitzvot, and worse than any other land for those who do not guard the mitzvot.

Devarim 18:22
Such as if he says that there is no such thing as repentance or good deeds to cause Gd to change His actions for their sake. Chizkiyah’s prayer helped him, and Ninveh was helped when they returned from their bad path.

The Evening and Morning controversy with Ibn Ezra
Bereishit 1:5
It is not written, “And it was night and it was day,” but rather, “And it was evening,” that the first day reached evening and the light ended, and it was morning - the morning of the night, the dawn rose, and that was the completion of the first of the six days which Gd mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Then the second day began.

Pshat in the face of midrash
Shmot 13:9 לאות
[Rashi - The departure from Egypt.]
According to the depth of its simple explanation, this will be a continuous memorial for you, as though it were written on your hand.

Halachah and Aggada, the Divine Voice and Moshe's voice
Shmot 13:15
Moshe did not address this pasuk to the Jews himself. Why would Moshe need to tell it to the Jews, “This will be a sign on your arm because Gd removed us with great strength…?” Rather, the father tells this to his son.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In the beginning… there were billboards

Along a semi-rural highway, just yesterday, I was taken aback by a LARGE billboard mural of the cosmos – planets, sun, various stock images that convey ‘intergalactic’ – with two outstretched arms flanking it, and the logo, “In the beginning, GOD created heaven and earth,” running across the picture. There may have been stigmata on one of the hands; I drove past too quickly to be sure that wasn’t just a large bird dropping.

The mural, presumably sponsored by some local church or national Evangelical Christian organization, said many things to me.

A Plus: Cultural respect for religion
As a rabbi I respect noted to me recently, it’s easier to be religious when surrounded by a religious culture, even if it’s not your own. (Of course, this is not as true if the external religious society is directly, overtly hostile to your own… say, living as a Jew in downtown Mecca…)

I agree with him. It’s certainly easier to live in, and interact with, a world in which belief in Gd is not intellectually associated with subtle insanity. When observers’ reaction to your ritual practice is a sincere interest and respect rather than hostility, cynicism or a patronizing smile, the religious life is easier to maintain.

A Minus: Lumping us in with the Evangelicals
That said, I’m still not comfortable with the billboard; as a highly visible representation of Bible-based religion, it will likely be among the first images in local people’s minds when they read about, or encounter, people who believe in the Bible.

When people who have seen this billboard associate me with biblical religion, they will assume that I am one of those people who would put up such a billboard, who would attempt to foist his own belief on society, who denies the validity of scientific method, who wants children to study Creationism (or its not-distant-enough cousin, Intelligent Design) in the public schools, who believes that the United States of America should ban all abortions, etc.

I don’t want to have to find clever ways to inject into routine conversation, “You know, Judaism doesn’t agree with the Church on many issues.” Or, “Isn’t it interesting to note the significant philosophical and practical differences between different Bible-based religions?” These don’t really lend themselves to snappy dialogue.

A third point: Public religion
And a third thought: Even if I disagree with their substance as well as method, I appreciate and respect their pride in expressing their religious belief publicly. Maybe it’s just that they don’t realize how the rest of the world sees them, but I don’t think so – I think they are proud of their religion, and they have no qualms about letting people see it.

So many Jews rely anachronistically on questionable justifications for keeping their yarmulka, their tzitzit, their menorah, their mezuzah, invisible. Anti-Semitism is certainly not gone, and a public yarmulka may well earn a Jew odd looks in certain contexts, but, really, how dangerous is it to have a menorah in my window, in 95% of the USA? How hazardous is it to have a mezuzah on my doorpost (assuming I don’t live in one of those stubbornly resistant co-ops)?

In this, perhaps we could take a lesson from the Evangelicals’ billboard, even if it is overdone. Religion shouldn’t be a subject of shame, and a good way to dispel people’s misconceptions about Judaism – aren’t you like those Evangelicals? - is to expose them to the real thing. Perhaps we could benefit from becoming ‘billboards’ of our own, living Kiddush HaShem, in daily life.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Grateful Grandma

This past Shabbos my family held a mass confab in honor of my grandmother, who is celebrating, thank Gd, her 90th birthday.

In my dvar torah at this get-together (written in verse which, mercifully, I will not inflict upon you, lest you never come back to this blog), I focussed on one of the lessons my grandmother has modeled for me: Eternal gratitude. My grandmother escaped the camps in Europe and came to America, raised three daughters with her husband, lost her husband thirty-plus years ago, has dealt with all sorts of challenges, and throughout all of it, she has thanked Gd for all that she has.

I was reminded of the Shirah which we read in shul on Shabbos, the Jews’ song of praise to Gd, with which they celebrated their passage through the Sea and the final destruction of their Egyptian slavedrivers. But I was also reminded of the lack of song after so many other Divine favors – after the plagues, after escaping Egypt, after the bitter water was made sweet, after the Mun fell from the heavens, after water came from the stone, etc.

It seems to me that the nation thanked HaShem only for final victory, and not for partial victories. When they were nervous about tomorrow’s bread and water, they didn’t thank for today’s. When the Egyptians yet lived, they didn’t thank for today’s freedom. There was no trust. It was only after a complete victory that they were able to feel comfortable and safe, and express gratitude.

This is natural, of course. Sincere thanking is difficult, as an expression of both humility and trust. But my grandmother has always expressed thanks, for whatever she has received – and this is a lesson we see in many elements of Judaism.

We are instructed to eat and be full and thank Gd for our meal, even though we will need another meal in just a few hours.

We are, per Rabbi Yosi, גומרין את ההלל בכל יום, we say the Psukei d’Zimra of Tehillim every morning to thank Gd for our world, and we say Modeh Ani to declare thanks for our lives.

And each day we recall the שיר של יום, the daily song the Leviyyim sang in the Beit haMikdash. They sang, day in and day out, no matter what was going on personally, no matter what was going on communally. They might have had health issues or money problems. The Greeks might be encroaching on the population, the Romans might be at the doorstep – and yet, the Leviyyim sang.

There’s more to say on this – see the gemara regarding Chizkiyah’s failure to properly thank HaShem after the Assyrian invasion was miraculously driven off, for example.

It’s a remarkable trait, this ability to sing, to say Thank You. This is one of the lessons my Grandma has taught me, and all of her grandchildren.


And a separate note: I was struck, this week, by HaShem’s instruction to Moshe at the Sea. HaShem says, “נטה את ידך על הים ובקעהו, Raise your arm out over the sea, and split it open.” One could say that HaShem meant, “Make a splitting gesture,” but that robs the text of its strength. Rather, HaShem is saying to Moshe, “Stop davening to me. Go ahead – you have the power to do it. Raise your arm over the sea, and split that sea wide open.” And so, indeed, it happened.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Class: Angels

I expect to teach the first of a two-week class on "Judaism's view of Angels" on Sunday morning, Jan. 20th, at 10 AM, at Brith Sholom in Bethlehem.
My thesis is that angels are actually "our-worldly" rather than "otherworldly." They represent the closest that the material universe can come to fulfilling Divine desire. I base my view on various biblical sources, as well as the writings of the Rambam.
I also believe that, in this sense, the existence of Angels presents a challenge to us, in terms of how we use our own Free Will.

Here is the outline/source sheet I plan to distribute:

Angels - Week I – Angels: “A Challenge to Priorities and Settled Ways”

For our purposes: Angel = Malach
Time Magazine weighs in (Dec. 1993)

Key Questions
Why do Jews and Christians disagree in characterizing angels?
Where do angels come from?
What can we learn from angels?

The narrowest definition of a Malach: Gd’s task-oriented agent
The earliest biblical angels
Simple etymology

But we find angels in other roles: An expression of Gd’s desire for this world
Acting in Heaven
Acting independently
The common denominator
An expression of an interventionist Gd’s desire for this world
The “Guardian Angel” concept

The holes in this definition
People becoming angels?
Angels becoming corrupted?!
What exactly does “Divine desire” mean, anyway?!?

A Jewish definition: An expression of this world’s desire to draw closer to Gd
Angels: Our representatives in Heaven
Physical beings of suspended Free Will

Maimonidean support

The charge to us: Are we supposed to become angels?

Source Sheet

1. Time Magazine, 12-27-93, Angels Among Us, Nancy Gibbs
This rising fascination is more popular than theological, a grass-roots revolution of the spirit in which all sorts of people are finding all sorts of reasons to seek answers about angels for the first time in their lives. Just what is their nature? Why do they appear to some people and not to others? Do people turn into angels when they die? What role do they play in heaven and on earth? While the questions have the press of novelty, they are as old as civilization, for the idea of angels has hovered about us for ages.
Glancing around the gift shops, one might imagine that their role is purely decorative. Holiday angels are luscious creatures, plump and dimpled, all ruffled and improvised. In their tame placidity they bear no relation to the fearsome creatures in the Bible and the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and Wallace Stevens.
Biblical angels are powerful creatures; in Genesis they guard the east gates of Eden with flashing swords; in Ezekiel they overpower the prophet with awesome visions, four-headed, multiwinged and many eyed; in Revelation they do battle with a dragon. Milton describes the "flaming Seraph, fearless, though alone, encompassed round with foes." And Rilke wrote, "If the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us, our own heart, beating higher and higher, would beat us to death." Every angel, he declared, "is terrifying."
In their modern incarnation, these mighty messengers and fearless soldiers have been reduced to bite-size beings, easily digested. The terrifying cherubim have become Kewpie-doll cherubs. For those who choke too easily on Gd and his rules, theologians observe, angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental. And they are available to everyone, like aspirin. "Each of us has a guardian angel," declares Eileen Freeman, who publishes a bimonthly newsletter called AngelWatch from her home in Mountainside, New Jersey. "They're nonthreatening, wise and loving beings. They offer help whether we ask for it or not. But mostly we ignore them."
Only in the New Age would it be possible to invent an angel so mellow that it can be ignored. According to the rest of history, anyone who invites an encounter with an angel should be prepared to be changed by it. By scriptural tradition, angels pull back the curtain, however briefly, on the realm of the spirit. In offering a glimpse of a larger universe, they issue a challenge to priorities and settled ways…

2. R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra’s Introduction to Chumash
Regarding any word for which you seek the explanation, in the explanation of its first appearance you will find it.

3. Genesis 3:24
And He exiled Man, and He placed before the Garden of Eden the cherubs…

4. Genesis 6:2
And the bnei haElo--him saw the daughters of Man…

5. Genesis 16:7
And a malach of Gd found her…

6. מלאך = מלאכה

7. Isaiah 6:3
And one called to another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy…’

8. Talmud, Shabbat 89a
Moses asked: What else is written in the Torah? “Do not kill,” “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not steal.” Do you have any jealousy? Do you have any desire to commit sin?

9. Genesis 5:24
And Chanoch walked with Gd, and then he was gone, for Gd had taken him.

10. Otzar haMidrashim pg. 285
Chanoch is Metatron.

11. Ezekiel 1:4-14 (mostly JPS translation)
And I looked, and, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire flashing up, so that a brightness was round about it; and out of the midst thereof as the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.
And out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings. And their feet were a straight foot; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass.
And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and as for the faces and wings of them four, their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle.
Thus were their faces; and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward; whither the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not when they went.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like coals of fire, burning like the appearance of torches; it flashed up and down among the living creatures; and there was brightness to the fire, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

12. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed Volume 2 Chapter 6
Should you tell one of those people who consider themselves Sages that Gd sends an angel into a woman’s womb, and that this angel creates the form of a fetus and its functions, he would accept this and think that this is part of the glory of Gd. He would believe, at the same time, that the angel has a body of burning flame, and that this angel has a body which is as large as one-third of this whole planet.
However, should you tell him that Gd put the power of creation into a tiny drop of fluid, the power to create the form of a fetus’ limbs, and that this fluid is the angel, he would say that this is impossible, and he would not believe!
Our Sages have already explained that each of the body’s functions is considered an angel, for such is the case with all of the forces in the universe.

13. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fundamentals of Torah 2:3
Everything Gd created in His world fits into three units.
Some are combined from substance and structure, and they are created and destroyed continually, like the bodies of people and animals and plants and metals.
Some are combined from substance and structure, but do not change from one body to another or one structure to another as the first do. Rather, their structure is eternally fixed in their substance and they never change as these do. These are the spheres and stars…
Some are just structure, without any substance; these are angels, for angels have neither body nor physicality, only structures that are separate from each other.

14. Talmud, Yoma 30a
The Torah was not given to the ministering angels.

15. Pirkei Avot 2:4
Nullify your desire in the face of His.

Class: The Making of the Jewish Calendar

This coming Sunday evening, at 7 PM, we'll be looking at the Making of the Jewish Calendar, and specifically the question of what it was that Hillel II enacted in the year 359. The class is part History, part Calendar, and should be fascinating; preparing for this has made me a big fan of the work of Prof. Rachamim Sar-Shalom.

Here is a rough outline, as well as the source sheet I expect to distribute:

The Making of the Jewish Calendar

What were the original rules of the calendar?
Roots of the calendar - Creation through Egypt

The witness system
Mistaken courts
A response to Sadducees?

Who set the calendar?
Small groups
Hoshana Rabbah announcement

What are the 5 rules of today’s calculated calendar?
Leap years
Length of years
Length of months
Rosh haShanah gets pushed off in four situations

When was calculation instituted?
Cairo Genizah
Muhammad ibn Musa Al Khawarazmi (early 9th century)
Exilarch’s letter of 836

Hillel’s timeline and influences
325 - Council of Nicea
352 - Rava dies
359 - Hillel makes his enactment
Rav Hai Gaon’s testimony

But what, exactly, did Hillel institute?
A system with many rules, until 840
What Hillel has
Rosh haShanah can’t be Sunday - 7th century
3-6-8-11-14-17-19 is mid-8th century
Al Khawarazmi's 3-5-8-11-14-16-19, and how it may be matched to our 3-6-8-11-14-17-19 based on the three different "Year 1" counts
Full calculation of moladot

Evidence for Sar-Shalom’s theory
Al Khawarazmi’s 825 article is missing the initial molad point
Langerman's challenge, and Sar-Shalom's reply
The Exilarch’s letter
Rav Saadia Gaon vs Ben Meir

Sar-Shalom’s theory also explains the 642 chalakim in the battle of RSG and Ben Meir

Levinger’s challenge and Sar Shalom's reply

The lunation problem

Sources1. Bereishit 1:14
And Gd said: There will be luminaries in the heavenly sky, to distinguish between day and night and to serve for signs, appointed times, days and years.

2. Bereishit 7:11, 8:14
In the second month, on the 17th day of the month, on this day all of the springs of the great depths broke open, and the heavenly stores opened…
And in the second month, on the 27th day of the month, the ground dried.

3. Midrash, Pirkei d’R’ Eliezer, Chapter 7
On the 28th of Elul the sun and moon were created. The counts of years and months and days and nights and times and seasons and machzorot and intercalantions were before Gd, and He intercalated the year, and then passed these to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as it is written…

4. Talmud, Rosh haShanah 25a
The verse states three times (Vayyikra 23:2, 4, 37), “You shall call.” It is you - even in error. It is you - even intentionally. It is you - even if fooled.

5. Divrei haYamim I 12:33
And from the children of Yissachar were those who knew wisdom for the times, to know what Israel will do…

6. Talmud, Ketuvot 111a
Gd made them swear that they would not reveal the secret to idolaters.
Rashi: This is the secret of the ibbur or the secret of the explanations of Torah (or trop?).

7. Midrash, Shmot Rabbah 15:20
Intercalation of the year is done with ten elders… and so was done in the days of Solomon, when Solomon intercalated the calendar he brought in seven elders, as it is written…

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Rabbi's Benevolent Fund hits the modern age

Two trends in Jewish philanthropy, and how they affect my Rabbi's Benevolent Fund:

To my mind, one of the greatest innovations in Jewish philanthropy in the past decade-plus is the trend toward financial transparency. It's been a slow process of catching up with this global trend, but the change is long-overdue. In order for gabbaei tzedakah to have the credibility demanded by Shulchan Aruch, they must be willing to account for their distribution of tzedakah funds.

The shul rabbi bears that responsibility, too, vis-a-vis his Benevolent Fund; this is a communal fund meant to help the community meet its members' needs, and so it should be responsible to its stakeholders, the community.

In that spirit, I distribute annual reports documenting how I have spent the past year's contributions. No names of beneficiaries, of course, but a listing of how much went for tuition, for special collections, for loans vs. gifts, for Maos Chittim, etc. (For a sample report, feel free to email me.)

I must admit that I first did this for an entirely selfish reason: I was concerned lest people think the "Rabbi's Benevolent Fund" was a fund to help the rabbi, a wink-and-nod system in which people could give me tips and claim a tax write-off. So I decided to show everyone how the funds are used.

Interestingly, the report has become a tool, indirectly, for fund-raising. When people make substantive gifts to the fund, I send them a Thank You letter incorporating the annual report, and that encourages future contributions.

Verifying Tzedakot
The other trend is toward verifying the validity of tzedakah organizations before contributing to them. This is explicitly required in Shulchan Aruch, but it is rarely done - largely because it requires significant effort and a degree of research sophistication.

Of course, va'adim in largish communities around the world check out the bona fides of meshulachim who come to make the rounds, but that doesn't help smaller communities, like my own. Further, it doesn't cover the myriad email, snail-mail and telephone solicitations, which come in by the bucket and often represent real needs.

Two standard resources are very good:
Guidestar offers financial data on many would-be recipients. The only major drawback is that shuls don't have to file the tax forms archived on the site, and many tzedakah organizations register as shuls.
Just Tzedakah is another organization offering research; check out their "Jewish Non-Profits in the Sunshine" project.

And then, last month, I met a new one: The Olam haTorah index. They sent a notice to a whole list of rabbis offering their services, and I found an immediate use for them.

A meshulach came to me collecting for a certain institution, and he said he knew me from previous years. I had no record for that institution from previous years, and I told him so. He promptly produced receipts under the names of two other institutions, saying his institution had been known previously by other names. Olam haTorah thoroughly researched the previous institutions and the current one, and provided me with a response in a timely fashion. I was very impressed.

In truth, I don't bother checking out the $5 recipients - but for serious tzedakah, I believe this is a requirement. Thank Gd we have organizations to help us with this mitzvah.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ibn Ezra, Part II: The Secret of the Twelve

In this week's class on Ibn Ezra, we'll take a look at his approach through the prism of his commentary on the Eigel, and then we'll look at his Secret of the Twelve. In the latter discussion we'll see two opposite approaches - that of Spinoza, and l'havdil that of Rav Yosef Tuv Elem in his 14th century commentary to Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Torah.

You can find much of my thinking on Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Eigel here.

Here are some sources to prepare for our "Secret of the Twelve" discussion:

Talmud, Makkot 11a
It is written (Yehoshua 24), ‘And Yehoshua recorded all of these things in the book of the Torah of Gd.’ R’ Yehudah and R’ Nechemiah disagreed - one said this refers to the [last] 8 verses, the other said it refers to the cities of refuge [in the book of Yehoshua].

Talmud, Menachot 30a
It is written, ’And Moshe, the servant of Gd, died there.’ Can it be that Moshe was alive and yet he wrote. ‘And Moshe died there?’ Rather, until this point Moshe wrote it, and from then on Yehoshua ben Nun wrote. This is the view of R’ Yehudah, or perhaps R’ Nechemiah.
Rabbi Shimon replied, ‘Can it be that the Torah was missing even a single letter? It is written (Devarim 31), ‘Take this scroll of the Torah and place it!’ Rather, until this point HaShem spoke and Moshe recorded it and recited it aloud. From here on, HaShem spoke and Moshe recorded it with tears.’

Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a
It is written (Bamidbar 15), ‘For he has disgraced the word of Gd and annulled His commandment; he shall be cut off’ - This refers to a person who says that Torah is not from Heaven…
It is written (Bamidbar 15), ‘For he has disgraced the word of Gd’ - This refers to a person who says that Torah is not from Heaven. And even if he says, ‘The entire Torah is from Heaven except for this verse which Gd did not say but rather Moshe said it on his own,’ that is ‘For he has disgraced the word of Gd.’ And even if he says, ‘The entire Torah is from Heaven except for this lesson or this logical deduction or this pleonasm, that is ‘For he has disgraced the word of Gd.’

Comment of Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 12:6
It is possible that the Canaanites took Canaan from others. If not, then there is a secret, and one who has insight will be silent.

Comment of Ibn Ezra to Devarim 1:2
And if you will understand the secret of the 12, and ‘And Moshe wrote (Devarim 31:22),’ and ‘And the Canaanite was then in the land (Bereishit 12:6),’ and ‘On the mountain Gd will be seen (Bereishit 22:14),’ and ‘His bed is a bed of iron (Devarim 3:11),’ you will recognize the truth.

Comment of Ibn Ezra to Devarim 34:1
In my opinion, Yehoshua wrote from this verse onward, for after Moshe ascended he did not write; Yehoshua wrote it in the manner of prophecy. The proof is ‘And Gd showed him,’ and ‘And Gd said to him,’ and ‘And He buried.’

Comment of Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 36:31
Some say that this portion was written in the manner of prophecy. Yitzchaki wrote in his book that this portion was written in the days of Yehoshafat, and he explained the generations as he wished. For this is his name called Yitzchak, for all who hear will laugh for him; he said Hadar is Hadar the Edomite and Meheitavel is the sister of Tachpanches. Chalilah v’chalilah that it should be as he said, from the days of Yehoshafat; his book deserves to be burned!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Salvation Sprouts: Davening in Yeshiva Day Schools

My older son, who is 8 years old, davens beautifully in Hebrew, but he doesn’t comprehend much of what he is saying. I've been encouraging him to read along the English translation rather than the Hebrew. The English is often too unvernacularish for easy understanding, but it’s better than a total lack of comprehension.

So last week my son was working with some half-plant, half-human figures he had created, and he named them Mr. and Mrs. Salvation Sprout. He had read in his Artscroll Siddur about how salvation sprouts, and he was inspired by their high-minded English to nickname these the Salvation Sprouts.

That incident aside, I am disappointed at how little time many yeshiva day schools spend on teaching children the meaning of davening. I don’t mean the “How To” or when to bow and when to stand and when to sit and how to say the words, I mean the meaning, the sense that Dovid haMelech is talking to me in Psukei d’Zimra, the stern commitment that comes with Shma, the impassioned plea of the Shmoneh Esreih, the gloriously anthemesque Aleinu l’Shabeiach.

There are many reasons why schools don’t spend a lot of time in this: Kids are often too immature to grasp the concepts. It takes a lot of creativity to do this right. There is so much else to teach. The teachers themselves have a hard time with their own kavvanah. No one has yet developed a neat, standardized, Tal Am-esque curriculum for teaching davening.

But it is so necessary. Of all the Judaic lessons our children will learn, how many will be as important, on a daily basis, as davening? Perhaps some basic halachah, but that’s it.

We want our sons to put on tefillin, to daven with kavvanah, to enjoy sitting in shul.
We want our daughters to feel connection in davening, whether we are on the part of the spectrum that sends them to shul or we are on the part of the spectrum that doesn’t encourage female shul attendance.
How’s that going to happen if we don’t teach them to feel the davening?

Perhaps the schools think the parents will teach it, but that’s unlikely. And the result is generation after generation of children who grow up thinking Psukei d’Zimra is twenty repetitive paragraphs of “Praise Gd for this, Praise Gd for that,” who can sing every word of Shma but can’t translate it, who feel Shmoneh Esreih is boring, who live for the days when we skip Tachanun.

One of the reasons kids “flip out” in Israel and come back with a low tolerance for their hometown shuls is that they remember what it was like to grow up in those shuls. They remember that they felt weak or no connections to the davening. They remember people talking. And they contrast that experience with the way they saw davening in yeshiva, they contrast it with the small bits of kavvanah they picked up here and there in Israel, and they don’t want to go back to the schmoozing and the rote recitation.

If we would teach them better in the first place, they would have fonder shul experiences to remember, and they wouldn’t need to fear returning home.

We can do better than this. And if we want our children to love shul, we had better do it.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Class: Autopsy

Gd-willing, I'll deliver a basic class on Autopsy issues this coming Tuesday, at Lehigh Valley Hospital (Cedar Crest). We'll be in Education Room 2.

Here are some useful sources, whether you'll make it or not:

Talmud, Chullin 11b [In the context of a discussion of how we know, biblically, that we work with majorities in adjudicating cases]
Rav Kahana said: We may deduce it from murder cases: The Torah said to kill the murderer, but perhaps the victim was a tereifah! It must be that we follow the majority. And if you will say we do examine the body, that would degrade it. And if you will say the loss of a life should override degrading the body, we would still have to be concerned that there might have been a wound in the spot where the sword entered [and so investigation is impossible - and yet, we kill the alleged murderer].

Talmud, Bava Batra 154a-b
The following once happened in Bnei Brak: A male sold his father’s property, and later died. Family members later objected that he had been a minor at the time of his death [and therefore at the time of the sale, which would invalidate the sale].
They asked Rabbi Akiva about examining the body. Rabbi Akiva replied: “You are not permitted to degrade his body. Further, signs of puberty change after death.”

In this case, the property was held by the purchasers, and the family was protesting. This is logical, for he said to them, “You are not permitted to degrade his body,” and they were silent. If the family was protesting, that is why they fell silent. If the purchasers were protesting, why would they have fallen silent? They could have said, ‘We paid him money, let him be degraded!’
But this may not be proof; perhaps Rabbi Akiva said to them, “First, you are not permitted to degrade him. Further, if you will say he took your money and so let him be degraded, there is still the point that signs of puberty change after death.”

Talmud, Erchin 7a
Rav Nachman said, citing Shemuel: If a woman sits on the birthing table and dies on Shabbat, we bring a knife and cut open her belly and produce the child.

There are also a few actual autopsies mentioned in the gemara; see Bechoros 45a and Niddah 30b, for example.

Teshuvos: Nodeh b'Yehudah 2:Yoreh Deah 210; Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 336; Binyan Tzion 1:170-171, 3:103; Har Tzvi Yoreh Deah 278; Tzitz Eliezer 4:14; Sridei Eish 2:92; Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:151; Minchas Yitzchak 5:9; Mishpitei Uziel I Yoreh Deah 28-29

There are many more teshuvos, of course (see Steinberg's Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics under "Autopsy" for a nice collection), but those were particularly useful.

Here's a quick rundown of the major issues:

Reasons to prohibit
Honor of the deceased / Degradation of the body
Paining the soul when the body is disgraced
Delaying burial
One may not benefit from a corpse

Reasons to permit
Saving a life
The deceased forgives his honor

And, finally, a popular set of practical guidelines for autopsies, when the autopsies are halachically required:
1. In all instances, every effort should be made to expedite the release of the body as quickly as possible.

2. The entire autopsy should be performed in a body pouch.

3. The autopsy procedure should be as minimal as possible:
Avoid incision whenever possible.
Samples for pathology should be as small as possible.

4. Replace all organs in their proper place; e.g. brain in suitable small plastic bag in the skull.

5. All instruments should be wiped clean with a cloth and the cloth should be placed in the body pouch.

6. Suture all incisions as tightly and leak proof as possible.

7. All blood or articles of clothing containing blood that are not needed for pathological or evidence purposes should be sent along with the remains to the funeral home.

8. When possible the entire body and especially the genitalia should be kept covered at all times.

9. A member of the Sacred Society or designate thereof or a Rabbi will be permitted to attend the autopsy upon request.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Derashah: Vaera 5768: Nature, Nurture and Free Will

An old Time Magazine article on identical twins reported on the case of twins Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, who were separated in 1940 when they were four weeks old. They grew up 45 miles apart. When they were reunited in 1979, they discovered that both drove the same model blue Chevrolet, chain-smoked Salem cigarettes, chewed their fingernails, vacationed at the same 3-block strip of beach in Florida and owned dogs named Toy.

This is incredible! You realize what this means! It means that people who own dogs named Toy are likely to drive the same car, prefer the same cigarette, chew their fingernails and be identical twins! Amazing!

Sorry, it’s the writers’ strike; I have to do my own jokes.

More seriously, that story of the “Jim twins” illustrates the power of Nature: Our natural traits determine the path of our lives.

Judaism has always given space to the idea that Nature determines many of our decisions. The Gemara (Niddah 16b) says that before we are born, a malach brings our blastula before HaShem, and our intellect and our physical abilities are determined for us.

However, Nature and even our ethical Free Will are not the entire Jewish picture - Nurture is the third ingredient, informing Free Will and potentially overriding Nature. Our parshah provides an ideal illustration.

In delineating the lineage of Moshe and Aharon, the Torah mentions that Aharon’s wife, Elisheva, had a brother Nachshon ben Aminadav. The gemara (Bava Batra 110a) was troubled by Nachshon’s inclusion; Nachshon would later become the head of the tribe of Yehudah, but the Torah doesn’t usually note people’s siblings unless they are relevant to the story at hand!

The Gemara explains that Nachshon is relevant to the marriage of Aharon and Elisheva. Aharon looked at Elisheva’s brother, Nachshon, when planning to marry her, because, “רוב בנים דומין לאחי האם,” “Most sons resemble their mother’s brothers.” Aharon expected that Elisheva would reproduce the home she had known as a child, and so her sons would turn out like her brothers.
In fact, this did happen. Nachshon, Elisheva’s brother, was an impetuous leader; the midrash credits Nachshon as the first to enter the Yam Suf. When the nation was afraid of the water, Nachshon jumped in and marched forward.

Now look at Elisheva’s sons. Two of them, Nadav and Avihu, jumped in first to bring personal offerings when the Mishkan was dedicated. Their impetuous character worked against them, since their offering was a mistake, but it clearly matched the seize-the-initiative character of their uncle Nachshon.

The Torah presents many examples of this. Yaakov’s uncle was Lavan, and in a few instances he showed the same traits as his uncle, although he used them in more positive ways. Yishmael had the characteristics of his mother Hagar’s Egyptian kin.

Our Nurturing shapes the next generation. Nurture owns no guarantees, of course, but the potency is there.

But there’s more: Our great potency generates our great responsibility. Because our Nurturing influence is capable of shaping the next generation, we are obligated to use it to produce a righteous world.

That responsibility is illustrated by the Torah’s very first mitzvah, Pru Urvu, multiplying and filling the earth. This is not simply a mitzvah of procreation; rather, as the Sefer haChinuch explains, it’s כדי שיהיה העולם מיושב, that the world should be settled. Breeding is only part of the mitzvah; the complete mitzvah, whether through biological procreation or through raising the biological children of others or through educating the community’s children, is to nurture the next generation to become good Jews and good citizens.

Part of this is a Jewish obligation, to nurture Jewish citizens. We say in Ashrei, דור לדור ישבח מעשיך, each generation will praise HaShem’s deeds. Radak explains, “יספר זה הדור שהולך, טרם לכת, לדור אחר המעשים הנוראים שראו בימיהם... לפי שישבחוהו הדור הבא, The older generation must inform the next generation of the amazing things they saw in their day, so that the next generation will also praise HaShem.”

This means that our homes and communities must convey spiritual values to our children. It means that the children of our community must see the adults learn, must see the adults daven, must see that the adults take their religion seriously. If a child comes up from Youth groups in time for Anim Zemiros and sees the men taking off their tallitot and the women chatting with their neighbors, what kind of message does she receive? What kind of nurturing is going on?

And part of this is a secular obligation, to nurture contributing citizens. יישוב הארץ, the settling of the world, is not only about Torah and Mitzvos and furthering the Jewish people. Rather, as the Gemara defines יישוב הארץ, it’s about providing a service which in some way contributes to civilized life. Whether that service means manufacturing cars or teaching Torah or treating patients or selling widgets, we can raise the next generation with the selfless orientation that will encourage them to contribute to the world around them.

This means that our homes and communities must convey social values to our children, it means that the children of our community must see adults engaged in communal life and in the greater world, with seriousness and without cynicism. If children hear us talking about politics or about working with constant negativity and a sense of resigned bitterness instead of positive commitment, what kind of message does he receive? What kind of nurturing is going on?

We can nurture our children to be strong Jews of דור לדור ישבח מעשיך and strong citizens contributing to יישוב העולם. It takes modeling and education and reinforcement, and it takes a positive atmosphere, without anger and rancor. It takes an Elisheva and Aharon, as we saw in our parshah.

The last prophet in Tanach, Malachi, uses his last pesukim to promise that HaShem will send us Eliyahu haNavi, the herald of Mashiach, and והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם, HaShem will return the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents.

We often emphasize the second half of that passage, noting that in the time of Mashiach children will return to their parents with love and respect - but in order to get there, we need to first fulfill the first half of the sentence. והשיב לב אבות על בנים, we must restore the parent generation to its children, and make sure that we Nurture those children properly, as Jewish citizens and as Contributing citizens. Then we will merit the יום ה' הגדול והנורא, that great day of HaShem.

Additional thoughts:
1. See also Wondertime, Nov 2007, Darwin's 18-Wheeler" by Mark Cherrington, on the power of Nature's influence in primate gender identity.

2. Re: Nature's influence, see also Tzidkat haTzaddik #130 on changing one’s basic nature.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Class: Isla-Jews, Gaonim, Karaites and Ben Meir

Below is the outline I expect to present at Sunday morning’s Women’s Class on “Isla-Jews, Gaonim, Karaites and Ben Meir.” We’ll be looking at the Calendar Controversy of 1100 years ago, in which two different groups of Jews actually celebrated competing dates for Pesach and Rosh haShanah.

The basic question I hope to address is why the Gaonim and Rabbeinu Saadya (who was not yet a Gaon) crushed Ben Meir and didn’t address the issue of his specific change to the calendar.
My answer is that this event fits into a period of dysfunctional schism within Jewish history, coming after “Isla-Jewish” sects who hybridized Judaism and Islam, and the Karaites. His claim also smacked of Karaism, as he challenged rabbinic adjustment of the calendar and contested a basic masorah. Therefore, aside from the whole issue of Babylonian/Israeli authority, the Gaonim and Rabbeinu Saadya were compelled to oppose Ben Meir flat.

For some interesting theories on why Ben Meir picked the calendar change that he did, see Henry Malter as well as an article by R’ Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer and R’ Ari Z. Zivotofsky.

Isla-Jews, Gaonim, Karaites and Ben Meir

Ben Meir, in a nutshell

Major questions
Why does Ben Meir never present anything to justify his 942 chalakim?
Why is the response to Ben Meir so harsh?

My central thesis
Israel vs. Babylon?
Isla-Jew/Karaite aftershocks

The schisms of the 7th-9th centuries
Economic unrest (taxation)
Stratified population
Intellectual commotion from clashes of empires
Religious unrest from charismatic leaders

The Gaonic/Exilarch system

Influence of Islam
Growth of Islam

Jews undergo change in status

Isla-Jewish sects, such as Isunians and Yudganites

The Gaonic/Exilarch system


Political tension between the two

A new Gaonate in Israel?
Origins – two views

Karaite Differences
Islamic influence
    Biblical interpretation
    Human role in determining law
    Jewish practices with Muslim parallels, like washing and bowing
    Reincarnation and mysticism
Limited rabbinic authority
    Chanukah and Purim
    Oral traditions

The Great Calendar Rift of the 920s
History of the Calendar
Israeli courts
The fixing of the calendar

The rise of Aharon ben Meir
The decline of Sura and Pumbedita
The rise of Aharon ben Meir

Ben Meir takes on the calendar
Summer of 921 – rumors begin
Rav Saadia Gaon’s letters
The official Ben Meir proclamation

What was Ben Meir’s issue?
Basic calendar rules
    Rosh HaShanah – לא אד"ו ראש, לא בד"ו פסח
    If Molad is after midday, Rosh Chodesh must be postponed
    The halachic hour contains 1080 chalakim

The year 923
    Anticipating Rosh HaShanah in 923; 642 chalakim
    Why 642?
      Noon in Bavel is 56 minutes earlier than in Yerushalayim?
      Reducing the number of postponements
      A masorah
      Israel vs Bavel

The resulting conflict
Official letters to Ben Meir and the Jewish community
Ben Meir counters aggressively
Pesach 923
More warning letters
The fights spread

The end
Rosh HaShanah 923/4683
Going to the government?
Sefer haZikkaron
Rav Saadia Gaon’s book puts an end to it

Many sources of strife

Historical context
Calendar manipulation
The masorah of the gemara
The authority of the Gaonim

Ben Meir is crushed

Class: Ibn Ezra, Pashtan Extraordinaire

This Shabbat I will begin a series of classes on two Pashtanim (biblical commentators who gear their commentary toward the literal text, as much as possible): Ibn Ezra and Rashbam.

Our first class will be about Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra; I'll offer a brief biography and then give an overview of his style. If there is time, we will begin to look at his introduction to his commentary on the Chumash.

Here is the outline I expect to distribute:

R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra, Pashtan Extraordinaire - Week I

Early years

Toledo, 1092

Family and contacts in Toledo

Five children? (Shmot 2:2)

Secular knowledge, poetry

Wandering (1138-1140)

Post-1140 - life on the road
Shunned in Salerno

Commentary to Tanach




Gd and Divine control



Old age
Bitterness (Bereishit 12:4)

Crater on the moon

Basic overview of his style in Peirush haTorah
Grammar and context
(Bereishit 2:2, Bereishit 5:24, Devarim 33:6)

Jewish philosophy (Shmot 6:3, 31:17)

Sharp, even personal comments (Bereishit 29:17, Shmot 21:35)

Mysticism (Zecharyah)

Mussar (Shmot 20:13)

Some Riddles of Ibn Ezra

Who am I?
עשירית הכף בראש השם
עשירית הכף באחריתו
והשנית בחשבון כף
בחסרון כף ומחציתו
והאות השלישי כף
ותבוא עד אחריתו.

אם תהפוך מילה למצוא שמו תראה,איך תחשוב כי הוא נעלם, והוא נראה.

A calendar joke
וכי יכה איש את עין עבדו
ועשה פסח לה'
לא תאבה אליו ולא תשמע בקולו.

אבי א--ל חי שמך, למה מלך משיח לא יבא?
דעו מאביכם כי לא בוש אבוש, שוב אשוב אליכם כי בא מועד!

For those who won't be there, here is a quick run-down to solve the riddles:

The first riddle
The first letter in the name is 1/10 of the numerical value of "Kaf". "Kaf" is כף is 100, so the first letter is 10, or י.
The last letter in the name is 1/10 of the numerical value of "Kaf". "Kaf" is the letter כ, which is 20, so the last letter is 2, or ב.
The second letter is "Kaf" minus Kaf-and-a-half. That's כף minus כ and then minus half of כ, or 100-20-10, which is 70 or ע.
The third letter is just "Kaf" or ק.
So the answer is יעקב.

The second riddle
Turn the word around and you will see the name you thought was hidden - this is נראה.
Rather than translate נראה as "visible," read it is the word to be 'turned around'. Scramble its letters, and you get the answer: אהרן.

The calendar joke
On the first line, the pasuk about what happens if you remove the עין of a servant, take the 'עין' as a letter. Thus you have taken the ע from עבדו, and the remainder is בדו.
You can't fulfill the second pasuk, celebrating Pesach, on בדו - because Pesach cannot begin on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday (בדו).
Therefore we have the third pasuk - 'You shall not listen to him' if he tells you to eat the Pesach on Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

For some interesting on-line references with Ibn Ezra biographical information:



Class: Mikvah Use for Men

Below are Mareh Mekomot (references) for a class I expect to deliver this evening, on "Mikvah Use for Men." Our focus will be on weekday morning immersion, use before Shabbat and Yom Tov, and use before Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur.

I might post audio from the class; we'll see.

Mikvah for Men -

Mikvah before Shacharit in the morning
1. Talmud, Berachot 22a
R’ Yehudah ben Beteirah said: Words of Torah cannot become impure. Once a student was mumbling above R’ Yehudah ben Beteirah, who said to him, ‘My son, open your mouth and let your words shine forth! Words of Torah cannot become impure.’

2. Talmud, Berachot 22a
It is written: ‘And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children’s children. The day on which you stood before HaShem your Gd at Chorev.’ Just as that day was experienced with awe and fear and trembling and shaking, so now it should be experienced with awe and fear and trembling and shaking. Based on this, they taught… that a baal keri may not learn Torah.

3. Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 3:4
R’ Yaakov bar Avun said: They only enacted this immersion so that Jewish men would not be found with their wives like these roosters…
R’ Chiyya bar Va said: They only enacted this immersion for the sake of study. If you were to tell him it was permitted, he would say, “I will do my needs and then come learn as needed.” Now, because you tell him it is prohibited, he comes to learn as needed.

4. Talmud, Berachot 22a
A baal keri who has 9 kav of water poured upon him is tahor.

5. Rambam, Mishneh Torah Hilchot Tefilah 4:5
This enactment for prayer has also been annulled, because it did not spread through all of Israel and the tzibbur lacked the strength to uphold it.

6. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah to Berachot 22a (13b in their pages)
All of the rashei yeshivot in Bavel expressed amazement at him for being lenient regarding the immersions of a baal keri, and he replied that he never missed that immersion, even for a moment, but that he couldn’t write anything in his Code other than that which emerged as the halachic law.

7. Rosh to Berachot 3:21
There is a view that the statement , “They have annulled immersion,” refers to immersion for Torah study as well as for prayer. Another view says the nullification was only for Torah study, but prayer requires immersion, or at least bathing in 9 kav. Rav Hai Gaon wrote that since this isn’t in the gemara, take the practice of all of Israel in your hand, that a baal keri does not pray until he can wash, even if he has no water.

8. Talmud, Berachot 22a
R’ Yehudah taught that a baal keri is permitted to learn Hilchot Derech Eretz.
Once, R’ Yehudah experienced keri and was walking afterward by a river when his students asked him to teach them a segment of Hilchot Derech Eretz. He descended and immersed and then taught them. They asked, ‘Didn’t you teach us, our master, that one may learn Hilchot Derech Eretz? To which he replied, ‘Although I am lenient for others, I am strict for myself.’

9. Rambam, Mishneh Torah Hilchot Tefilah 4:6
The common practice in Shinar and Sfarad is that a baal keri does not pray until he has bathed himself entirely in water, under ‘Prepare to greet your Gd, Israel.’ This is true for one who is healthy, or for an ill person who has engaged in sexual relations. One who emitted keri unwillingly, though, is exempt from this act of bathing, and there is no custom for this.

10. Talmud, Berachot 22a
R’ Yannai said: I have heard that some are lenient in it (immersing rather than using 9 kav) and I have heard that some are strict in it. One who is strict in this matter for himself will have long days and years.

11. Tosefta Yadayim 2:9
The Boethusians said: We complain against you, Pharisees! If the daughter of my son, who is a result of his strength, can inherit from me, then my own daughter, who is a result of my strength, should logically be able to inherit from me!
The morning immersers said: We complain against you, Pharisees! You mention HaShem’s Name while impure!

12. Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 3:4
R’ Chanina passed the gates of Dimusin early in the morning and asked, ‘What are these morning immersers doing here? Let them go learn!’ When he passed them later in the morning he said, ‘One who has work to do should go work!’

13. R’ Chaim Vital, Hakdamah to Eitz Chaim
Nothing helps a person’s grasp of Torah like taharah and tevillah.

14. R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein, Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 326:10
A person may immerse in a Mikvah on Shabbat morning, though; this is especially true for a person who ordinarily immerses after exposure to keri. This would not be an act of mending; the sages annulled the requirement for this type of immersion. There are those who argue against immersion in a Mikvah on Shabbat, but people have not been concerned for that; this custom has spread in all the reaches of Israel. People should take care not to wring out hair, and not to make the Mikvah too hot; that would involve a full-fledged prohibition against bathing in hot water. The water should be cold or lukewarm. It would be appropriate for an unlearned layman to abstain from immersion; he could easily violate the law in wringing out his hair, as I have seen happen with my own eyes.

Mikvah on Fridays and Erev Yom Tov
15. Talmud, Shabbat 25b
Rav Yehudah reported, in the name of Rav: This was the practice of R’ Yehudah b”r Ilai: On Fridays they would bring him a bowl filled with hot water and he would wash his face, hands and feet and cloak himself and sit in tzitzit-fringed sheets and resemble an angel of Gd.

16. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 260:1
Mechaber: It is a mitzvah to bathe one’s face, hands and feet in hot water on Friday. It is a mitzvah to wash one’s head and to shave one’s nails on Friday.
Rama: This means washing one’s whole body. If that is not possible, then one washes one’s face, etc.

17. R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein, Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 260:1
Some customarily immerse in a Mikvah for the sanctity of Shabbat; their lot is praised, for in this way they bring upon themselves the sanctity of the holy Shabbat.

18. R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein, Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 242:41
They go to bathhouses for the honor of Shabbat, and many immerse in a Mikvah as well, to purify themselves for the sanctity of Shabbat.

19. Mishneh Berurah 551:95
Even if one regularly washes his whole body in hot water every Friday, on Erev Shabbat Chazon he may not wash his whole body, even in cold water. As far as immersion, one who immerses every Friday may do so, but one who fails to do it occasionally, because of business or cold, may not do it.

Erev Rosh haShanah and Erev Yom Kippur
20. Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 16b
Rabbi Yitzchak said: One is obligated to purify himself at the regel.

21. Tur, Orach Chaim 66
So is found in Pirkei d’R’ Eliezer, chapter 15: “Samael sees that no sin can be found for a Jew on Yom Kippur, and he says, ‘Master of the Universe, You have one nation in the land that is like the angels; just as the angels are barefoot…' The practice is to immerse on Erev Yom Kippur, and Rav Amram says to immerse in the 7th hour and daven minchah… My father and master the Rosh said one should not recite a blessing for this immersion, for no hint to this immersion is found in the Talmud, and it is not an establishment of the prophets or a custom of the prophets… and if it were from Rabbi Yitzchak’s statement that one must immerse for the regel then that would mean purification from all impurities, even that of the dead, with sprinklings on the 3rd and 7th, and now we do not have that purification, and since baal keri doesn’t immerse all year, there is no obligation for it and one should not recite a blessing. It is just that people customarily purify themselves from keri for Yom Kippur, and they link it to the midrash that we are clean like the angels on Yom Kippur.

22. Rama, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 606:4
One need immerse only once, without viduy, because of keri. Having nine kav poured upon him is also effective.

23. Mishneh Berurah 606:21
Some say that the reason for immersion is for teshuvah, according to which one should immerse three times.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

“Peace by Piece” deluding our youth

I don’t align myself uniformly with political lefts or rights; I am allergic to inanity at either end. This week, my ire has been raised by the foolishness promoted to our teens through “Peace by Piece.”

The latest issue of “The Jewish Georgian” carries an article on this program, in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim high school students learn about each other and, hopefully, break down the barriers of prejudice.

So far, so good. But the article, written by a graduate of the program, makes it clear that Peace by Piece is not interested in presenting an accurate portrayal of Jewish/Christian/Muslim beliefs and interactions; rather, it is interested in whitewashing serious enmity in the pursuit of a blind sense of universal harmony.

The columnist’s version of Peace by Piece accomplishes its ends through two means: (1) using Straw Man caricatures to discredit the political center-right, and (2) substituting anecdotal positive experiences for scientific study of reality.

First, the Straw Man caricature:
The article begins thus: Imagine yourself watching the news on TV one night. Suddenly, a story about an Islamist-fueled terrorist attack on a bus in the Middle East materializes. Perhaps your initial reaction is an angry shout along the lines of, “See? This is proof that all those Arabs just need to die!” Or, say you read a news story about a Jewish area in France being desecrated. Do you immediately assume that the French, as a people, are anti-Semitic jerks? Or do you take a more moderate, thoughtful approach to both scenarios and assume that the perpetrators of these crimes are but small groups within their respective religions or societies?

So, per the article, there are only two points on the philosophical spectrum:
(A) An Archie Bunkeresque, racist, “All Arabs just need to die,” and
(B) A sweet, “The perpetrators are but small groups within their respective religions/societies.”

I’d rather choose a middle option – but the author doesn’t seem to be aware of any such middle ground. Those who disagree with “Piece by Peace” have all been lumped into (A).

Second, substituting anecdotal experience for scientific study:
The columnist writes at the end of the piece: [D]uring each meeting, the students of all three religions discussed theology and were able to do so without condemning one person to hell and eternal suffering. And we had plenty of time to talk about what most teens talk about: sports, politics, entertainment, and the like. This goes to show that the message preached by Peace by Piece is a valid one: With enough understanding and awareness, all religions can easily coexist in peace, and each of us can be an ambassador for peace.

In other words: I can talk calmly with my American peers, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim, within this small, highly selective club; therefore, all religions can easily coexist in peace.

Presumably, this is the same thinking that led him to “assume that the perpetrators of these crimes are but small groups within their respective religions or societies.”

Perhaps the columnist should read the September 2006 poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in which more than two-thirds of Palestinian Arabs opposed Hamas recognizing Israel.

Or another poll, conducted by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the PCPSR, in which 57% of Palestinian Arabs supported terrorist attacks upon Israeli civilians, 75% of Palestinian Arabs supported the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers to obtain the release of jailed Palestinian terrorists, and 63% said they are inspired by Hizbullah and seek to emulate it.

Or the July 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center, in which 23% of Jordanian Muslims view suicide bombings as justified, 42% of Nigerian Muslims feel likewise, as do 34% of Lebanese Muslims and a whopping 70% of Palestinian Muslims.

Are these “small groups” within their society?

Why claim that the self-selecting Peace by Piece group of Americans reflects reality more than these sociological studies of Middle East reality?

Training high schoolers to ignore prejudices and coexist peacefully is noble.
Training high schoolers to believe that the political middle and right are foolish bigots, and that utopian visions trump scientific reality, is anything but.