Friday, July 26, 2013

For Daf Yomi folks: Scalded bread

The gemara we are about to hit in Daf Yomi (Pesachim 37) talks quite a bit about bread made with "scalded flour" [חלוטה], either by pouring flour into boiling water or by pouring boiling water on to flour.

This is one of the many instances in which one can learn the gemara without having any clue what they are actually describing, but I prefer the interesting findings which turn up with a little research. In this case, take a look at this video; the key point starts at 1:03:

There is much more available on-line; with a little searching, you can find recipes as well as academic papers on the scalded flour phenomenon.

[And are those decorated breads at the start of the video examples of סריקי בייתוס...?]

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Blog Break


I expect to take a blog break over the next couple of weeks. Nothing traumatic is going on, and I'm not on vacation, I just want to break the habit of posting for a while. Otherwise, I fear falling into a state of posting just for the sake of posting.

I am still posting on the daily Torah Thought and Halachah blogs, and if something relevant for this blog does come up that I think is time-sensitive, I'll post it here, Gd-willing.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Unity, Rav Kook Style

I came across Rav Kook's introduction to Shabbat ha'Aretz last week, and just loved it. Here it is in translation; it's perfect for after Tisha b'Av.

The ellipses are because I translated this for the new edition of Toronto Torah, where we have space limitations; feel free to read the full Hebrew, which I have included at the end.

All of the justifications I present on behalf of our brethren… who depend upon the permission and release [of the land] practiced in past sabbatical years from the rulings of sages who found this appropriate due to needs of that time, are only intended to inform people not to equate these labourers, who act based upon proper rulings, with those who violate the laws of Torah, G-d forbid.

It is also to strengthen our brethren, scattered in the diaspora, who yearn to come and settle in the desirable land and would do so if only they would be shown a way to be supported by the labour of their hands. They fear the halt of labour in contemporary shemitah, when the Divine blessing is still hidden until its revelation, may it come speedily. Especially those who desire to invest large sums to establish orchards, vineyards, fields of grain and pleasant gardens… As a result [of their fears] these people withdraw their hands from the holy land and sink themselves into the lands of the nations…

But it would be gravest desecration to deduce from this any laxity in this holy and beloved mitzvah [of settling the land] on the part of one in whose heart G-d has placed a pure spirit and sufficient courage and faith to practice the laws of shemitah fully! He will be blessed by G-d, who dwells in Zion, who wants the desirable land and the sanctity of her mitzvot…

This requires no announcement, but no individual or institution should use our words to compel work during shemitah, G-d forbid, even with the permission and release, on the part of these men of heart who have love of G-d and desire for His mitzvot in them. They desire with all their heart to guard and fulfill the mitzvah of shemitah as it is stated, without any of the leniencies offered due to contemporary difficulties. And certainly, these, too, in whose hands enters full observance of the mitzvah, must judge favourably, with total feelings of honour and love of Israel, all those whose individual or communal circumstances compel them to conduct themselves with this permission and release. "Do not think evil of another in your hearts… and love truth and peace." (Zecharyah 8:17-19)

Original Hebrew (also available on here):

כל הדברים אשר הרציתי ב"מבוא" להמליץ על אחינו יושבי אדמת קדשנו ת״ו הסומכים על ההיתר הנהוג משמטות שעברו ע"פ הוראת חכמים שמצאו את הדבר נכון להורות בו הלכה למעשה להוראת שעה, לא באו כי־אם להודיע שלא להשוות את העובדים הללו העושים את מעשיהם ע"פ הוראה מסודרת לעוברי חק תוה״ק חלילה. וכן למען חזק את רבים מאחינו פזורי הגולה, הכמהים לבא ולהאחז בארץ חמדה אם רק יראה להם דרך איך להתפרנס מעמל כפיהם, ופוחדים הם מפני הפסק העבודה בשביעית בזמן הזה, אשר ברכת ד' עודנה חבויה עד בא עת הגלותה ב"ב. וביחוד אותם החפצים להשקיע סכומי־כסף גדולים לכונן פרדסים, כרמים, שדי־תבואה, גני־חמד, שהם דואגים מאד מפני שביתת המסחר והפסק חבורו בשביעית, שעל־ידי־זה לא יוכל להתכונן במדה הגונה גם בכל ימות השנים
כולם. מתוך כך אלה ואלה מושכים את ידיהם מארץ הקדש ומשקעים עצמם בארץ־העמים, וקדושת חמדת ישיבת ארץ־הקדש ובנינה נעזבת מהם. לפיכך מצאתי לנפשי חובה, לבאר את תכן ההיתר הנהוג על־פי ההפקעה בעת ההכרח, למען דעת, שאם ידרש הכרח ישיבת
אה"ק להתנהג בו, הרי הדבר ערוך ונכון ע"פ יסודות נאמנים, וחלילה לעזוב משוס זה את חמדת ארץ צבי, ומעלות־בקודש העליונות, אל הפרט ואל הכלל האמורים. נזכרים ונעשים בישיבתה ובנינה ע"י עם ד' אסירי התקוה.

אבל הלילה וחלילה לדון מזה איזו התרשלות מקיום המצוה הקדושה והחביבה הזאת, לכל אשר נתן ד' רוח־טהרה בלבבו ודי אמץ ובטחון בנפשו לעשות ולקים את כל פרשת דבר השמטה, כהלכתה וכמאמרה   ברוך יהיה לד' שוכן ציון החפץ בארץ חמדה ובקדושת מצותיה התלויות בה, אשר בהם אוצר חביון גנוז ושרש גאולת עולמים לגוי קדוש על אדמת הקדש.

וכגון דא ודאי אין צריך למודעי, שלא ימצא שום יחיד או מוסד, שישתמש בדברינו, לכוף חם ושלום לעבוד בשביעית, אפילו ע"פ סדרי ההיתר בדרך ההפקעה, את אלה אנשי לב אשר רוח אהבת ד' וחמדת מצותיו נוססה בהם. והם רוצים בכל לבם לשמור ולקיים את מצות השמטה כמאמרה בלא שום דרכי הקולות שנאמרו מפני דוחק השער. ובודאי ידעו גם אלה אשר תעלה בידם שמירת המצוה במילואה לדון לכף זכות בכל רגשי כבוד ואהבת ישראל את כל אלה שמצבם בפרט או מצב הישוב בכלל מכריח אותם להתנהג ע"פ סדרי ההיתר וההפקעה, "ואיש את רעת רעהו אל תחשבו בלבבכם והאמת והשלום אהבו."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Yom Kippur and Tishah b'Av: Individual and Community

Of course, Yom Kippur and Tishah b'Av are nothing like each other. On both days we don't eat or drink, wear leather shoes, etc, but the days are of radically divergent spiritual characters.

On Yom Kippur we are [guardedly] optimistic; on Tishah b'Av we are miserable.
On Yom Kippur we are forgiven; on Tishah b'Av the world comes crashing down.
On Yom Kippur we declare our relationship with Gd, כי אנו עמך, "For we are Your nation"; on Tishah b'Av we say סתם תפלתי, "HaShem blocked my prayers."

But this year I came to an unsettling realization about a way in which Tishah b'Av and Yom Kippur do, indeed, run parallel to each other: They are both Days of Judgment.

Rosh haShanah is a day of judgment of each individual, and Yom Kippur is the day when each individual is again weighed. We prepare for the day by assessing our conduct, taking a personal accounting, and making amends and apologizing for our wrongdoing while trying to chart a more positive path.

And Tishah b'Av, it seems to me, is a day of judgment for the Jewish world. We are taught (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1) that if the Beit haMikdash is not rebuilt in a generation's time, we view it as though the Beit haMikdash had been destroyed in that generation's time. So each Tishah b'Av, as we mark again the devastation of the Beit haMikdash, we are judged and we are found collectively guilty.

It's an unsettling thought, because we believe that every Yom Kippur ends with forgiveness for the individual, while every Tishah b'Av ends with a declaration of our community's guilt.

But then I had another thought: Why can't we end Tishah b'Av with forgiveness, as we do on Yom Kippur? What if we had, hypothetically, a leader who could deliver a "State of the Union" in the days leading up to Tishah b'Av, identify the elements needing fixing and apologize for wrongdoing, and so on?

Even if Tishah b'Av marks the time of Divine obscurity and blocked prayers, perhaps with proper preparation we could have a Tishah b'Av which ended with a Divine declaration of סלחתי, "I have forgiven," just as the original Tishah b'Av did? (Bamidbar 14:20)

Of course, such a thing is far from where we are today, in a world in which rabbis are assaulted by followers of other rabbis, in a world in which one Jew can easily call another Amalek, in a world in which… oh, forget it. You don't need me to run down the list of every bit of strife playing out on the Jewish world's polluted stage.

But maybe one day we'll turn Tishah b'Av into a national version of Yom Kippur.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On feeling a profound absence of generosity

[The Nine Days make me terribly grim; I apologize in advance. Please forgive the darkness of these pre-Tisha b'Av musings.]

A rapid series of knocks at the door on a Friday afternoon – I get up from my computer where I am trying to finish preparing a source sheet for a Shabbos shiur, grab the checkbook and walk to the door. But not without a krechtz [sigh] at the untimely intrusion.

A car noses its way in front of me, trying to force its way into the lane, not even bothering with a turn signal – I pause to let him get in front of me. But not without a glare.

I give the tzedakah, I let the car in. I am not Sdom; I do what is right. But the feeling of generosity isn't there, and it scares me. It's only human to sigh and glare, but that doesn't mean it's right or healthy.

People hear about a public figure speaking on a charged topic, and immediately want the dirt on what was said. Who insulted whom, and how strongly? What was the reaction? What will be the political fallout? This is such an unwholesome approach to other people's lives.

I am reminded of a note by Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz in his Yaaros Dvash (drush 10) – the translation here is from one of our avreichim, Adam Frieberg, in this week's Toronto Torah:

This is not to say, Heaven forbid, that each Jew doesn’t love his friend's physical person. If harm were to befall him, or if the government would falsely charge a Jew, all of Israel would be quick to help him, with their lives and resources. We don’t even need to mention saving a life, he will surely redeem his brother. They would completely affix themselves, with their lives and with their resources, day and night, and would not quit. And if one would become sick, all would pray and visit, and any possible help they would not withhold, they would even race three kilometers through sand. If a woman would have difficulty giving birth and suffer pain, would not all of the wealthy, complacent women rise in the darkness of the night, and go to be with her to help! Can there be greater love, brotherhood and friendship than this?! Your portion is meritorious, holy nation, before the holy King!

My experience matches Rabbi Eibeschutz's glowing description of the way we go to great lengths on each other's behalf. However, I still sense a problem in myself, and I suspect I share this with others: A profound absence of generosity. Of love.

One can daven without concentrating;
One can learn Torah without being emotionally attached to the text;
One can observe Shabbos without feeling מעין עולם הבא (that one is thereby connected to the Next World);
And one can visit the sick, bury the dead and give tzedakah to the needy without an inner pull of "I love to help" generosity.
But to me, this last deficiency is potentially even more destructive than the previous three - and if the bliblcal and talmudic emphasis on social relationships is to be trusted, it makes us far less worthy of ultimate redemption and an end to these Tisha b'Av fasts.

I sense that acts of generosity without generous feeling are hard to sustain – they are more likely to fade as excuses present themselves.

I sense that acts of generosity without generous feeling are hard to transmit to our children – our children are more likely to absorb the sigh than the check.

And I sense that generous feeling is necessary for overall religious commitment. People who feel a need to guard their preserves are less likely to open their hearts, homes and wallets in the way that religion demands, whether in their relationship with Gd or in their relationship with others. Children who absorb that mentality are, in my opinion, less likely to find the "derech" attractive.

How, then, do we build generous feeling? Certainly, the point made by the Sefer haChinuch (216) that generous deeds will help inspire generosity of spirit, is a start. Perhaps this is also part of the talmudic statement (Berachos 6b) that the central reward for fasting comes from the tzedakah we give – when we take the food out of our mouths and give it away, that may help inculcate or reinforce generosity of spirit. But I would like more. How can I make myself a more generous person?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Reb, z"l

I entered Yeshiva University expecting to major in English; I had a vision of becoming a writer. That changed, for numerous reasons beyond the scope of this post, but in my freshman year at YU, before I went to Israel to study, I had the opportunity to take a course with Rabbi Dr. Maurice Wohlgelernter, who passed away last week.

I don't have that much to write about Rabbi Dr. Wohlgelernter, to be honest. I remember him vividly, of course; it would be hard to remember him in any other way, with his energy and his arch humour. I can see him in front of me. We called him The Reb; I remember him telling us, on numerous occasions, that the administration wanted to "get rid of the Reb." I remember him talking about the challenge of writing, about how he had difficulty writing because he would review his work and want to change every sentence. And I remember, to a certain extent, the way he taught us about symbolism in poetry - the meaning of death, actually, for example.

But I don't remember enough, and hearing of the Reb's passing, hearing people's reminiscences about him, reminds me that this is entirely my fault, and the fault of the immaturity I shared with my friends in our college years. Part of it was that I went to YU "early admissions", skipping my senior year in high school and starting college before going to Israel; the result was that I was younger than my classmates, and still very much in a high school mindset of getting away with as little work as possible, instead of maximizing my opportunities. And part of it was my own superficiality; despite some good teachers in high school, I didn't really think about what a quality learning experience could mean for me.

The result is that I am now in what I suspect is the July of my years, and I look back in wonder at the way I have wasted certain opportunities, like those years in college. No courses in astronomy or oceanography or Chinese culture. Credits crammed in, courses cut. Worthy professors whose words I listened to only for the sake of excelling at exam time. What a foolish young man I was; I've spent years since then reading up on many of the subjects I missed, but all of the reading I do now cannot replace what could have been, and how it could have impacted upon my growth.

Note to self: I hope that well before my children go to university I will sit down with them and encourage them to be smarter than I was. It would be a shame if they, too, missed out on their Rebs.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Leaving Israel to visit the graves of righteous people

A few weeks ago, I received a request to publicize a website which lists the graves of righteous people, "throughout Israel and the world."

Visiting the graves of righteous people, and praying to Gd there, is an ancient Jewish practice. Of course, the standard objection to visiting graves is the concern for praying to the dead, as opposed to asking their aid for our prayers to Gd; this topic has been done to death, so to speak. But there is another issue, for Israelis: leaving Israel in order to visit a grave.

Here is a partial translation from a responsum of Rav Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidbiru 12:28) on the topic; I find the arguments he cites fascinating.

[The translation was done by R' Ezra Goldschmiedt, an avreich in our Beit Midrash, for an issue of Toronto Torah several weeks ago.]

...And here is the place for me to point out concerning those who have begun to travel from the Holy Land to visit graves of righteous ones in foreign lands, that this is an insult to the Land of Israel and to the holy forefathers, the tannaim and amoraim, giants of Israel who are buried here. The custom was that people would come here to visit, particularly from nearby lands, and they did not go elsewhere to visit those buried there! This is certainly so for us, who merit to dwell in the field of G-d! 

Also from the perspective of law that one may not leave the Land of Israel to travel outside the Land of Israel, I find no allowance for this.

Also, every trip is associated with great loss of  Torah study and with financial expenditures which could have been used to sustain the poor. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz has already explained that when they say (Avot 2:1), "Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards," that speaks of when both [possibilities presented] are mitzvot. In a moment of [improper] inclination and desire to tour, every individual must consider with himself whether his intent is only for the sake of heaven.

Further, all of [these considerations] are not worth [this compromise], even when one's intention is that the non-Jews should [be induced to] guard the graves of the righteous...

It seems that there is in this [desire] an inappropriate mixture with outlooks that have not been received from Sinai, and which men have fabricated from their hearts. In such a case we believe that the Torah will never be replaced!

The original Hebrew is available here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Rabbi, be nice!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a shul rabbi, asking for advice on dealing with a particular type of congregant. The characterics of such a congregant are that (s)he is: influential in the community, known to be a baal chesed (generous person), and eager to spread complaints and gossip about the rabbi behind his back. The congregant doesn't complain to the rabbi, such that the rabbi could address the issues directly. So what can/should the rabbi do?

My advice was for the rabbi to ignore the gossip and be nice to such a congregant, for the following reasons:

1) You won't win a mudslinging fight, both because you know better and because you will be seen as defensive;

2) Trying to hunt down the mudslinging will be frustrating and ineffective, and make you look unhealthily weak and insecure even if that is not reality;

3) People who see that you are good to him may come to recognize that his comments are unfounded;

4) You see yourself as a baal chesed - it's one of the reasons you entered the rabbinate. Pursuing this with hostility will only make it hard for you to look at yourself in the mirror;

5)  In time, being nice to this person will help you come to see him in a positive light, and his comments will bother you less.

I don't know that this is the best advice available, but it's what I can come up with. What would you advise?