Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What's cooking, Rebbetzin's Husband?

[This post is for my friend from Chicago.]

I read a piece the other day on, "Why are some lawyers killing themselves?" Scary stuff. This passage, in particular, resonated:

Instead of eight hours of sleep a night I was able to get by on six hours and finally four hours. The next things to go were my hobbies. I didn't have time for reading, so I stopped reading for fun. I didn't have time to take off from work so I stopped taking vacations. Then I stopped socializing because I didn't have time to waste away from work.

I am prone to that sort of thing, so I try to make sure to maintain some non-Rosh Kollel activities, but there really is no time for it. For the past couple of years, one of my only non-"Rosh Kollel" activities has been to cook dinner for my kids once a week.

I've enjoyed cooking since college; when we were first married and my Rebbetzin was in law school, I did a significant portion of the Shabbos cooking. It isn't that I was a homebody - I was holding down 5 jobs, including a part-time shul rabbinate – but I get satisfaction from doing it. Of course, part of that is likely because I don't do it every night, but I think part of it is the opportunity to invest myself entirely in something that isn't routine, that is new every week, that has an opportunity for creativity, and that offers immediate results.

Here are some of the recent recipes, with added notes:

I found this by searching for lemon basil recipes, because we had some growing in our yard. It was great, except for kids who weren't as into the heavy tomato sauce presence.

Good, but too much work – I only have an hour to work with.

I love chard – and surprisingly, so did the kids.

With our newfound love of chard, we went Martha Stewart – and it was a hit!

And another chard recipe – Teriyaki Vegetables. Also well-received!

And again – chard and cheese omelette, and again it went over well.

Shifted gears for a potato and scallion omelette (we do lots of omelettes, although usually winging it).
I tried this twice and I couldn't get it right – there was far too much potato, in proportion to the eggs. I think "boiling potatoes" might mean the small round ones.

This focaccia was very easy to make – and possibly my greatest hit with the kids. I highly recommend it.

Sauteed cabbage as a side dish. I liked it; the kids weren't as into it. But then I started adding cabbage to every soup I made, and they are very into that.

Capellini Pomodoro – now, this was very good. But see above re: kids who don't like a lot of tomato sauce.

Pollo en Salsa, made when our vegetarian child was away. I took the easy route, baking it in the sauce instead of doing all of the time-consuming steps, but it was good enough to make again for Shabbos.

Pasta e fagioli! This went over very well.

Celery soup. Frankly, a dud. Needs way more salt, and the rice turns to mush too quickly, and absorbs the insufficient liquid. Oh, well.

And then there was this beer chulent I made up on the fly, when my Rebbetzin was away. It was based on an internet recipe, but I can't remember where I saw it. The goal was to minimize the starch, to avoid having to spend a lot of time cleaning the crock pot:
3 bottles Guiness Stout
2 onions, quartered
1 potato, cut in thick slices
1 clove garlic
A little soy sauce (I didn't measure, sorry)
Salt and pepper sprinkled on
1/6 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp mustard

Feel free to send more ideas my way…

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Two reflections from a wonderful Shabbos

I had the pleasure of hearing Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg speak three times this past Shabbos, on issues related to advances in reproductive medicine and the question of how we define (1) human being, (2) mother, and (3) father. I've read him and many others on these topics before, but live is different, particularly when you are hearing from a person who has discussed these questions with many of the leading halachic authorities of the past forty years.

Listening to the shiurim brought home a couple of key points I have thought about before, but perhaps not as clearly:

1. The hierarchy of halachic authority when dealing with cutting-edge questions
There are people like me, who read as widely as possible and disseminate the information in classes. Our contribution is in making the information accessible, and perhaps, occasionally, raising a question for those higher up to discuss.

On the next rung up are the people who deal with these issues regularly, perhaps professionally, and not only when preparing a shiur. They are fluent in the relevant Torah and technical sources, and they converse with the major halachic authorities of the day. They raise the questions, provide information on the technical issues, study the work of the major halachic authorities and discuss and challenge and debate with them.

On the highest rung are the top halachic authorities. They have achieved this role by dint of their breadth and brilliance, demonstrated in their publications. They possess the creativity and diversity of knowledge to find precedents for dealing with new issues, and the depth of analytical skill to either pick apart those precedents or defend them against challenge.

This is important for someone in my position to remember; there is a real difference between the levels, and it should not be blurred.

2. The centrality of Israel
To the best of my recollection, the only non-Israeli halachic authority from the past 100 years to be mentioned in any of the three presentations was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – and then only briefly. To my mind, this was not because Rabbi Dr. Steinberg was biased against any of the great halachic authorities of the Diaspora, but because the ones who are dealing with these issues, and publishing articles and teshuvot on them, tend to be in Israel. 

Depressingly, most of the names cited were of authorities who have left this world – Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Shaul Yisraeli, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Unterman, Rav Neuwirth… but the point remains strong: This is yet another example of the fact that Jewish life in Israel is strong, and Jewish life outside of Israel is only, as it should be, a satellite.

Yet another reason for aliyah.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Professional Confidentiality: Jewish Law and Ontario's Law Society

I am scheduled to offer a session on Professional Confidentiality, comparing and contrasting halachah and the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Law Society of Upper Canada, this Sunday. Here are the source sheets, for anyone interested; recordings should end up on and KosherTube.

The Principle of Confidentiality
1.         LSUC, Rules of Professional Conduct (2000), Rule 2.03(1)
A lawyer at all times shall hold in strict confidence all information concerning the business and affairs of the client acquired in the course of the professional relationship and shall not divulge any such information unless expressly or impliedly authorized by the client or required by law to do so.

2.         LSUC, Rules of Professional Conduct (2000), Commentary to Rule 2.03(3)
Although the Rules of Professional Conduct make it clear that the lawyer shall not knowingly assist or encourage any dishonesty, fraud, crime, or illegal conduct (rule 2.02 (5)) and provide a rule for how a lawyer should respond to conduct by an organization that was, is or may be dishonest, fraudulent, criminal, or illegal (rules 2.02 (5.1) and (5.2)), it does not follow that the lawyer should disclose to the appropriate authorities an employer’s or client’s proposed misconduct. Rather, the general rule, as set out above, is that the lawyer shall hold the client’s information in strict confidence, and this general rule is subject to only a few exceptions.

3.         LSUC, Rules of Professional Conduct (2000), Rule 2.03(2)
When required by law or by order of a tribunal of competent jurisdiction, a lawyer shall disclose confidential information, but the lawyer shall not disclose more information than is required.

4.         LSUC, Rules of Professional Conduct (2000), Rule 2.02(5.1)
When a lawyer is employed or retained by an organization to act in a matter and the lawyer knows that the organization has acted or is acting dishonestly, fraudulently, criminally, or illegally with respect to that matter, then in addition to his or her obligations under subrule (5), the lawyer for the organization shall
(a)    advise the person from whom the lawyer takes instructions and the chief legal officer, or both the chief legal officer and the chief executive officer, that the conduct was or is dishonest, fraudulent, criminal, or illegal and should be stopped,
(b)   if necessary because the person from whom the lawyer takes instructions, the chief legal officer, or the chief executive officer refuses to cause the wrongful conduct to be stopped, advise progressively the next highest persons or groups, including ultimately, the board of directors...

5.         Talmud, Yoma 4b
מניין לאומר דבר לחבירו שהוא בבל יאמר עד שיאמר לו לך אמור שנאמר "וידבר ד' אליו מאהל מועד לאמר"
How do we know that one may not repeat something told to him until he is told, "Go tell it"? It is written: "And Gd spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, to go tell."

6.         Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Oaths 5:15
הנשבע לחבירו שלא אעיד לך עדות זו שאני יודעה או שלא אעיד לך אם אדע לך עדות הרי זה לוקה משום שבועת שוא מפני שהוא מצווה להעיד.
One who swears to another, "I won't offer regarding you the testimony I possess," or, "I won't testify regarding you if I do know testimony," he is lashed for a vain oath, for he is commanded to testify.

7.         Jared A. Mackey, Privacy and the Canadian Media, Western Journal of Legal Studies 2:1 (2012)
With the recent recognition of the new tort of "intrusion upon seclusion", Canadian privacy law has experienced a fundamental and modernizing shift. In Jones v Tsige, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that a person is liable for an invasion of privacy, if "he or she intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns [...] if the invasion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person."

8.         Rabbi Yehoshua Falk (16th century Poland), Sefer Meirat Einayim 378:4
משום דשם (בסי' קנד) הראיה מצד עצמה אין עושה בהן היזק אלא שגורמת היזק, כגון שחבירו לא יעשה עסקיו בחצר מכח הבושה ממנו...
In 154:3 sight [of the property] itself does not harm, but it causes harm, as the other cannot go about his business in his yard due to embarrassment.

9.         Rabbi Aharon haLevi (13th century Spain), Sefer haChinuch 236
משרשי המצוה, כי ד' חפץ בטובת הבריות אשר ברא, וצונו בזה כדי להיות שלום בינינו, כי הרכילות סיבה לריב ומצה.
Among the roots of this command is that Gd desires the good of His creations, and He instructed us in this so that there should be peace among us, as gossip is cause for quarreling and strife.

10.      Michah 6:8
הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב וּמָה־ד' דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלֹקֶיךָ:
He has told you, Man, what is good: What does Gd require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk privately with your Gd?

11.       Law Society of Upper Canada, Confidentiality versus Privilege
Though the term "privilege" is often used to refer to a lawyer's duty of confidentiality, the duty of confidentiality must be distinguished from solicitor-client privilege. Privilege is an evidentiary rule of law that refers to the legal right of an individual to withhold information from an opposing party, a court, a tribunal, and investigations, including law enforcement officials.

The Special Roots of Confidentiality in the Solicitor-Client Relationship
12.      LSUC, Rules of Professional Conduct (2000), Commentary to Rule 2.03(1)
A lawyer cannot render effective professional service to the client unless there is full and unreserved communication between them. At the same time, the client must feel completely secure and entitled to proceed on the basis that, without any express request or stipulation on the client's part, matters disclosed to or discussed with the lawyer will be held in strict confidence.

13.      Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Needy 8:12
אין פודין את השבויים ביתר על דמיהן מפני תקון העולם, שלא יהיו האויבים רודפין אחריהם לשבותם,
We do not redeem captives for more than their value, for society's sake, lest the enemy pursue them to capture them.

The Duty to Rescue
14.      Midrash, Sifra Kedoshim 2
ולפני עור לא תתן מכשול לפני סומא בדבר... היה נוטל ממך עצה, אל תתן לו עצה שאינה הוגנת לו
"Do not place a stumbling block before the blind." This means: Before someone who is blind in a given matter… If someone asks your advice, do not give him improper advice.

15.      Talmud, Sanhedrin 73a
מניין לרואה את חבירו שהוא טובע בנהר או חיה גוררתו או לסטין באין עליו שהוא חייב להצילו תלמוד לומר לא תעמד על דם רעך
How do we know that one who sees another drowning in a river or being dragged by a beast or being beset by bandits must act to save him? The Torah says: You shall not stand by the blood of your peer.

16.      Talmud, Avodah Zarah 6b
אמר רבי נתן: מנין שלא יושיט אדם כוס של יין לנזיר, ואבר מן החי לבני נח? ת"ל: ולפני עור לא תתן מכשול
Rabbi Natan said: How do we know that one may not extend a cup of wine to a nazir, or a part from a live animal to a Noachide? "Do not put a stumbling block before the blind."

Case 1: Potential Physical Injury
I am counsel for an individual who has been found guilty of molesting a child on three separate occasions. My client moves across the province, applies for a position as a nanny, and is accepted. Am I prohibited from, permitted to, or obligated to, inform the prospective employer of her past?

17.      LSUC, Rules of Professional Conduct (2000), Rule 2.03(3)
Where a lawyer believes upon reasonable grounds that there is an imminent risk to an identifiable person or group of death or serious bodily harm, including serious psychological harm that substantially interferes with health or well-being, the lawyer may disclose, pursuant to judicial order where practicable, confidential information where it is necessary to do so in order to prevent the death or harm, but shall not disclose more information than is required.

18.      Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (20th century Israel), Tzitz Eliezer 13:81:2
ובודאי הברור שמותר וגם חייב למסור על מחלתו לשלטונות
It is of the greatest certainty, one is permitted and also obligated to inform the authorities of this person's illness!

Case 2: Potential Financial Injury
As counsel for a public corporation, I become aware that they are moving rapidly toward filing for bankruptcy. A neighbour of mine has invested her retirement funds in corporate stock. May I inform her of the danger?

19. Proposed Rule 2.03(5), Special Convocation, May 2000
Where a lawyer has reasonable grounds for believing that there is imminent risk that a fraud that may cause substantial financial injury to another is likely to be committed, the lawyer may disclose confidential information to prevent the fraud, but shall not disclose more information than is required.

20.      Why not?

21.      Talmud, Bava Metzia 33a
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: אמר קרא אפס כי לא יהיה בך אביון - שלך קודם לשל כל אדם.
Rav Yehudah cited Rav: The text say, "But there shall be no pauper among you" – Yours precedes that of all others.

Case 3: Jewish Law vs. the LSUC

As counsel in a case of medical malpractice, I become aware that a certain cardiac surgical team has a poor track record. A neighbour is planning on using them for her heart bypass surgery. I confer with my own counsel and learn that this does not rise to the level of risk permitting disclosure. However, I do believe that I am obligated to warn her, under the Jewish law requiring that I interevene to prevent harm to others. Do I inform her?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Of Toys and Treasures and Hagbah and High School

[If you are interested in the Controversial Talmud panel discussion I mentioned here, it is now available on here, and should be on soon as well.]

I was recently asked for counsel on explaining to high school-aged boys that hagbah should not be a weight-lifting contest. I came up with the following idea:

The entities surrounding us may be defined, in their relationship with us, as either Treasures or Toys. Treasures are entities we serve; Toys are entities we use to serve ourselves. Or to say it more accurately, it's probably a spectrum of Treasures/Toys, and these entities fit somewhere on that spectrum. And of course, this is not only true regarding objects; this is also true regarding people.

Certain entities begin as Treasures, but evolve into Toys; familarity breeds contempt, after all. Therefore, we establish principles to guard ourselves from forgetting that these are Treasures: Human Dignity (כבוד הבריות), Honouring our Parents (כיבוד הורים), Domestic Peace (שלום בית).

When it comes to religion, we have the honour of the Torah (כבוד התורה), too, so that we don't touch the Torah directly, we don't sit on the same surface with it, and we lift it in a way that displays it to the community with respect. This is important; a religion that becomes a Toy is a poor religion, indeed.

Of course, the division between which items are Treasures and which items are Toys doesn't say much about the items themselves; after all, one man's Toy is another man's Treasure. However, it says a great deal about ourselves. If everything is my Toy, what does that say about me?

So here is my question to you, reader: I think this is a serviceable way to explain the special ways we conduct ourselves around and with a Torah scroll. But is it accurate? Or are there things which are neither Toy nor Treasure?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Starting from the Stratosphere

Presumably, G-d was capable of splitting the Sea of Reeds prior to the Jews' plea for salvation (Shemot 14:21), there was no lack of water in the Divine reservoir before the Jews beseeched Moshe for something to drink (ibid. 15:26), the manna was available before the Children of Israel gave voice to their hunger (ibid. 16:3), and the Divine defeat of Amalek was no less possible before Moshe raised his hands toward heaven (ibid. 17:11). Why, then, were our ancestors compelled to plead for Divine assistance no fewer than four times in our parshah, and for the most basic of human needs – water, bread, and the defeat of their foes?

One might answer by citing the Talmud's explanation for childlessness of our ancestresses. (Yevamot 64a) The sages suggest that G-d calibrated His treatment of the matriarchs based upon the prayers he expected from those paragons of righteousness. However, this seems a cruel exercise for a nascent nation. Surely, a ragtag group of slaves, newly emancipated and entering an environment both foreign and hostile, could have been afforded the bare essentials of life while they found their equilibrium!

Indeed, the same question may be asked at the very start of the Torah. Adam and Chavah are formed on the morning of the sixth day of Creation, and given one instruction (Bereishit 2:16-17): Eat from all of the trees, except one. G-d places that one prohibited tree in the middle of the garden, where it is certain to attract their attention, and He assigns it great beauty. Why place such a challenging test before Adam and Chavah for their first day on the planet?

One answer might be found in a talmudic debate (Menachot 89a) regarding the way the kohanim calculated the amount of oil needed each night for the menorah in the Beit haMikdash. One view is that the kohanim started with a small amount, and added as needed until they determined the necessary quantity. A second view is that they started with a large amount, and reduced as they were able until they determined the necessary quantity.

The Talmud's focus on how the kohanim calculated their quota is odd; normally, the Talmud says of such discussions, "mai d'hava hava!" "What happened, happened!" Why do I need to know whether the kohanim started with a teaspoon of oil and worked their way up, or whether they started with a litre and worked their way down?

The answer may be that we are meant to learn from the philosophies behind each of the two oil-measuring approaches. As the Talmud continues to explain, the approach of beginning with a small amount is predicated upon the idea that G-d cares about the means of the Jewish people, and He does not wish to waste their property; therefore, the kohanim tried to use as small a quantity as possible. On the other hand, the approach of beginning with a large amount is predicated upon the view that the Beit haMikdash is a luxurious setting, and the poverty expressed by stinting on oil would be inappropriate for that venerated venue. The fundamental distinction between the two approaches is where we place our focus: Meeting our needs, or Rising to a majestic occasion.

Perhaps this is why G-d tested Adam and Chavah immediately after their "birth". Certainly, Hashem could have been patient with them, starting them slowly and having them work their way up to their full abilities. However, the Divine plan set the tone for their growth immediately, informing them that they were "a luxurious setting", like the Beit haMikdash. The spiritual poverty implied by early coddling would be inappropriate. G-d assigned them the highest possible test, and only after their failure did He make allowances for a lower bar.

Perhaps, too, this is why the Jews confronted thirst, starvation and the intimidating force of two separate foes in our parshah, all while taking their first, wobbly steps. Allowing a gentle "getting to know You" period out of concern for their welfare and emotional health would have been a case of what American President George W. Bush termed "the soft bigotry of low expectations". The Divine preference was to set the tone for our national existence by making the greatest of demands, establishing us as a luxurious setting, in which spiritual poverty would be unseemly.

The natural question, then, is how we will develop our own spiritual lives. Will we add a little bit of oil at a time, scraping by with a minimum of investment out of mercy upon our means? Or will we aim high, starting from the stratosphere and reducing only when we find it necessary? Let there be no poverty in our luxurious spiritual setting.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My take on "Controversial Talmud"

Following up on my previous post, here is the source sheet I plan to use to address the three controversial sources. My thinking may already be evident here; Gd-willing, the audio of Sunday evening's program will be uploaded to YUTorah.

Berachot 20a – Freedom of Religion
1.         Berachot 17a
מרגלא בפומיה דאביי: לעולם יהא אדם ערום ביראה, מענה רך משיב חמה ומרבה שלום עם אחיו ועם קרוביו ועם כל אדם, ואפילו עם נכרי בשוק, כדי שיהא אהוב למעלה ונחמד למטה, ויהא מקובל על הבריות.
Abbaye was wont to say: One should always be clever in [developing] reverence; a soft response dispels rage; one should increase peace with his brothers, relatives and all people, including an outsider in the market, to be beloved above and pleasant below, and he will be accepted by people.

2.         Rashi to Berachot 20a
כרבלתא - שם לבוש חשוב כמו פטשיהון וכרבלתהון (דניאל ג').
Karvalta – The name of a garment of status, as in Daniel 3:21.

3.         Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, HaDarom 61, pg. 46-50
בתקופות קדומות בזמן שכל אומה ואומה לבשה מלבושים לאומיים ומיוחדים, אם יהודי שינה את מלבושו למלבוש של האומה היתה סיבתו שלא רצה להזדהות עם כלל ישראל, שלא יכירו אותו בתור יהודי, וזה אסור. אבל היום שכולנו לובשים אותם הבגדים הוא מפני שכבר נעלם המושג של בגדים לאומיים. לכן יהודי שלובש מלבוש קצר אין כוונתו שלא רוצה להזדהות עם היהודים. רק, אסור ליהודי להתבייש ביהדותו ולהסתירה, כי זה היה המעשה של ״כרבלתא״, הוא יהודי שמתבייש מיהדותו אף שבביתו הוא מתנהג כיהודי הכי יפה, וכיהודי נאמן, רק שמבחוץ הוא מתבייש עם זה.
In earlier times, when each nation wore a unique national costume, if a Jew altered his garb to the nation's garb it was because he did not want to identify with the Jewish nation, lest people recognize him as a Jew. This is prohibited. However, today we wear the same garb [as others] because the concept of "national costume" has vanished. Therefore, a Jew today wears short garb without intending to avoid identifying with Jews. However, a Jew may not be ashamed of his Jewishness and conceal it; this was the case of the karvalta, a Jew who was ashamed of his Jewishness. Although in his home he acted like the finest Jew, like a loyal Jew, outside he was ashamed of it.

4.         Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook, Letters of the Ra"ayah II pg. 186
ומש״כ מר לתמוה עלי במה שאני מקרב את הכל, גם את פושעי־ישראל כדי להחזירם בתשובה, וכתבתי לו ברמז כונתי, שכל מי שהוא מוכשר לעסוק בפנימיות רזי-תורה הוא מתמלא יותר מאור־החסד של תורת חסד, ועליו החובה לעסוק בתיקון נפולים ובקירוב רחוקים
Regarding my practice of drawing everyone near, including Jews who sin, in order to bring them to repentance: I have written a hint at my meaning to his honour, saying that anyone who is capable of involving himself in the inner secrets of Torah will be filled with the light of the Torah's generosity to a greater extent, and is obligated to involve himself in mending the collapses and bringing near those who are distant.

5.         Rabbi Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz, Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 2:16
בזמן ההעלם שנכרתה האמונה מן דלת העם אין במעשה הורדה גדר הפרצה אלא הוספה הפרצה שיהי' בעיניהם כמעשה השחתה ואלמות ח״ו וכיון  שכל עצמנו לתקן אין הדין נוהג בשעה שאין בו תיקון ועלינו להחזירם בעבותות אהבה ולהעמידם בקרן אורה כמה שידינו מגעת.
At a time of [Divine] invisibility, when faith has been cut off from the poor of the nation, punishment does not mend the gap, but only increases it, for it appears like a deed of destruction and coercion, Gd-forbid. Since our entire goal is to repair, the law [of punishment] does not apply when it does not repair. We are obligated to bring them back with ropes of love, to bring them to the radiant light to the extent we can.

Sanhedrin 76b – Non-Discrimination
6.         Talmud Yerushalmi Bava Metzia 2:5
שמעון בן שטח הוה עסיק בהדא כיתנא. אמרין ליה תלמידוי, "ר', ארפי מינך ואנן זבנין לך חדא חמר, ולית את לעי סוגין!" ואזלון זבנון ליה חדא חמר מחד סירקאי, ותלי ביה חדא מרגלי. אתון לגביה, אמרין ליה, "מן כדון לית את צריך לעי תובן!" אמר לון, "למה?" אמרין ליה, "זבנינן לך חד חמר מחד סירקיי, ותלי ביה חדא מרגלי!" אמר לון, "וידע בה מרה?" אמרין ליה, "לא." אמר לון, "איזל חזר." לא כן אמר רב הונא ביבי בר גוזלון בשם רב... "כל עמא מודיי שאבידתו מותרת!" מה אתון סברין שמעון בן שטח ברברין הוה? בעי הוה שמעון בן שטח משמע "בריך אלקהון דיהודאי" מאגר כל הדין עלמא.
Shimon ben Shetach engaged in the flax trade. His students said to him, "Our master! Ease your involvement, and we will purhase a donkey for you, and you will not need to exhaust yourself so much!" They purchased a donkey from an Arab, and they found a gem hanging from it. They came to Shimon ben Shetach and told him, "With this you will no longer need to exhaust yourself!" He asked, "Why?" They said to him, "We bought you a donkey from an Arab, and a gem was hanging from it!" He said, "Did the donkey's owner know?" They said, "No." He said to them, "Return it."
But didn't Rav Huna bar Bibi bar Gozlon cite Rav as saying… "Everyone agrees that his lost item is permitted!"
Do you think Shimon ben Shetach was an ignorant boor? Shimon ben Shetach wanted to hear him say, "Blessed be the G-d of the Jews," more than all the profit in the world.

7.         Talmud, Gittin 61a
מפרנסים עניי נכרים עם עניי ישראל, ומבקרין חולי נכרים עם חולי ישראל, וקוברין מתי נכרים עם מתי ישראל, מפני דרכי שלום.
We support needy outsiders along with needy Jews, and we visit ill outsiders along with ill Jews, and we bury deceased outsiders along with deceased Jews, in pursuit of peaceful paths.

8.         Rashi to Sanhedrin 76b
השווה וחבר נכרי לישראל, ומראה בעצמו שהשבת אבדה אינה חשובה לו מצות בוראו, שאף לנכרי הוא עושה כן שלא נצטווה עליהם.
He has equated and joined outsider and Jew, demonstrating that he does not view returning a lost object as a mitzvah of his Creator. He does it even for an outsider, for whom he was not instructed.

9.         Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sanhedrin 24:10
ובכל יהיו מעשיו לשם שמים ואל יהיה כבוד הבריות קל בעיניו שהרי הוא דוחה את לא תעשה של דבריהם וכל שכן כבוד בני אברהם יצחק ויעקב המחזיקין בתורת האמת
In all matters, the judge's deeds must be for the sake of heaven, and human dignity must not be light in his eyes for it overrides rabbinic prohibitions. All the more so regarding the dignity of the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who embrace the Torah of truth!

Talmud Yerushalmi Shekalim 5:4 – My Money, My Choice
10.      Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 163:1
כופין בני העיר זה את זה, ( אפילו מעוט כופין את המרובים) (רבינו ירוחם נל"א ח"ו), לעשות חומה, דלתים ובריח לעיר; ולבנות להם בית הכנסת; ולקנות ספר תורה נביאים וכתובים, כדי שיקרא בהם כל מי שירצה, מן הצבור
The city's residents compel each other (even the minority compelling the majority) to build a wall, doors and a bolt for the city, and to build a synagogue, and to acquire a Torah, Prophets and Writings for anyone who wishes to read them, from communal funds.

11.      Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, Aruch haShulchan Yoreh Deah 249:19
בירושלמי מבואר שם דהוה כמה בי כנישתא שאומר דהוי "מטיילין באילין כנשתא דלוד" ע"ש, ולפ"ז אין ראיה כלל, די"ל דלא נחו דעתייהו בריבוי בתי כנסיות. ועוד משמע קצת שהיו מקושטים הרבה, ועל זה אמרו ולא על עצם בניין בהכ"נ.
It is clarified in the Yerushalmi that there were many synagogues; it says they were "strolling among those synagogues of Lod." Thus there is no proof from there [regarding the relative value of the mitzvah of building a synagogue]; one could say the sages were displeased due to the proliferation of many synagogues. Further, it sounds as though they were lavishly decorated, and this was what the sages addressed, not the actual construction of synagogues.

12.      Rabbi Eliezer Pappo, Pele Yoetz ערך
כשמוציא מעותיו לדבר מצוה יעיין איזו מצוה היא יותר חשובה לפני המקום. וידוע מאמר הירוש' על אותן בתי כנסיות שאמר "כמה נפשות שקעו אבותיך בכאן, מי לא הוו בני נשא דילעון באורייתא?" ובפרט מי שאין ידו משגת לעשות פזר גדול, יראה במה מוציא את מעותיו שיהא למצוה היותר חשובה, כסוחר טוב שמבקש להלביש מעותיו בסחורה שיש בה ריוח יותר.

When one spends his money for a mitzvah, he should examine which mitzvah is of greater importance before Gd. The Yerushalmi is known, regarding those synagogues, "How many lives your ancestors sank here! Were there no people exhausting themselves in Torah?" And especially one who does not have the means to spend in great ways, he should see to it that he spends his money for the more important mitzvah, like a good merchant who seeks to clothe his money in the most profitable merchandise.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Controversial Talmud

I expect to participate in a panel discussion next week on "Controversial Talmud" - dealing with three talmudic passages which seem to be in direct conflict with modern western ethics. It should be fun.

Here are the selections; I'd be very interested in your thoughts:

1.       Berachot 20a – Freedom of Religion
אמר ליה רב פפא לאביי: מאי שנא ראשונים דאתרחיש להו ניסא, ומאי שנא אנן דלא מתרחיש לן ניסא?...
אמר ליה: קמאי הוו קא מסרי נפשייהו אקדושת השם, אנן לא מסרינן נפשין אקדושת השם. כי הא דרב אדא בר אהבה חזייה לההיא כותית דהות לבישא כרבלתא בשוקא, סבר דבת ישראל היא, קם קרעיה מינה; אגלאי מילתא דכותית היא, שיימוה בארבע מאה זוזי...
Rav Pappa said to Abbaye: Why were the early ones different, such that miracles happened for them, and why are we different, such that miracles don't happen for us?...
He replied: The early ones gave their lives for the sanctity of the Name; we do not give our lives for the sanctity of the Name. As in the time when Rav Ada bar Ahavah saw a non-Jewish woman wearing a karvalta in the market, and he thought she was Jewish, and he tore it from her. It turned out that she was not Jewish, and restitution was set at 400 zuz.

Question: Modern western society believes in freedom of religion. How do we reconcile that with the Talmud's advocation of coercion to comply with our religious sensibilities?

2.      Sanhedrin 76b – Non-Discrimination
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: המשיא את בתו לזקן, והמשיא אשה לבנו קטן, והמחזיר אבידה לנכרי - עליו הכתוב אומר למען ספות הרוה את הצמאה לא יאבה ד' סלח לו.
Rav Yehudah said, citing Rav: Regarding one who marries off his daughter to an elderly man, one who marries off a [mature] woman to his young son, and one who returns a lost object to an outsider, the Torah says, 'To join the quenched with the thirsty, G-d will not forgive him.' (Devarim 29:18)

Question: Modern western society prohibits discrimination between one human being and another on the grounds of race, gender, religion, etc. How do we reconcile that with the Talmud's apparent favouring of discrimination?

3.      Talmud Yerushalmi Shekalim 5:4 – Economic Freedom
דלמא רבי חמא בר חנינה ורבי הושעיא רבה הוו מטיילין באילין כנישתא דלוד אמר ר' חמא בר חנינה לר' הושעיא כמה ממון שיקעו אבותי כאן אמר ליה כמה נפשות שיקעו אבותיך כאן לא הוה אית בני נש דילעון באורייתא?
רבי אבון עבד אילין תרעייה דסדרא רבא אתא ר' מנא לגביה א"ל חמי מאי עבדית א"ל [הושע ח יד] וישכח ישראל את עושהו ויבן היכלות לא הוה בני נש דילעון באורייתא?
Once Rabbi Chama bar Chanina and Rabbi Hoshia Rabbah were strolling among those synagogues of Lod. Rabbi Chama bar Chanina said to Rabbi Hoshia, "How much money my ancestors sank here!" He replied, "How many lives your ancestors sank here! Were there no people exhausting themselves in Torah?"
Rabbi Avun decorated the gates of the great study hall. Rabbi Mana came to him, and Rabbi Avun said, "See what I have done!" He replied, "'And Israel forgot its Maker, and built palaces.' (Hosheia 8:14) Were there no people exhausting themselves in Torah?"

Question: Modern western society licenses every individual to decide how to spend his money, and what causes to support. How do we reconcile that with the Talmud's condemnation of someone's spending, which was actually for a mitzvah?