Friday, May 30, 2008

Johnny Depp, Timeaholics and 3.3 seconds

I flew from Allentown to Phoenix this morning, which has made this a very long Friday; I left Allentown at 6:45 AM and landed here at 10:15 AM, and gained an extra three hours somewhere in the middle. I wish all Fridays were this long; that would definitely reduce my into-Shabbos stress load. (Of course, I'll be asleep by the time we hit HaMotzi tonight, but that's another story...)

In any case: I am not a good traveler; I'm far too impatient. I can feel the time slipping away. Sure, I bring sefarim on the plane and write notes for derashos and shiurim. (Today I worked on a class on "women's haircovering" in flight, continually shifting the papers beneath my elbow so that fellow passengers wouldn't take their few glimpses of the text as confirmation of the medievalism of Orthodox Jews...) But it's not the same; I lose a lot of time setting up to work, and the environment doesn't lend itself to real learning anyway.

So as I sat there agonizing over the lost time, I was reminded for the umpteenth time of a line from twenty-something years ago, from the only time I ever watched the television show "21 Jump Street."

There was a murder in a convenience store, and in the heat of the moment Johnny Depp's character failed to prevent it. The event took 3.3 seconds, according to the store video, and Depp spent the entire show watching the store video and obsessing over his inaction, and thinking of the great many things you could do in 3.3 seconds. I remember something about how you could take the toppings off a pizza in 3.3 seconds. In the past 3.3 seconds I found this quote:

Hoffs: How many times have you seen this?

Hanson: 122 times, but I don't watch the whole tape. I watch 3.3 seconds. 3.3 seconds that slipped through my fingers. 3.3 seconds where I could've done a thousand different things, but I didn't move. Do you know how many things you can do in 3.3 seconds? You can take off your shoes, pop a beer and shoot someone in 3.3 seconds.

Hoffs: Come on, Hanson.

Hanson: You can hold your finger down on the remote control and pass 17 stations in 3.3 seconds. You can open a can of tuna fish, shuffle and bridge a deck of cards, or twist the tops off six bottles of ginger ale in 3.3 seconds.

Hoffs: Hanson, please!

Hanson: You can ring a doorbell 22 times, lock and unlock a deadbolt four times, or sing the entire alphabet in 3.3 seconds.

That line has stayed with me over the years, and every time I am in a situation where I'm wasting time, it comes to the forefront of my mind, unbidden. I can't stand wasting time, the feeling that my life is receding from me while I do something foolish. Turning on the television and then "waking up" an hour later to realize that much time has gone by is just unthinkable.

I've been told I'm a workaholic, but that's not it. I'm a timeaholic. It doesn't have to be work - I can be reading a novel or playing with my kids, too - but it does have to be a real use of time, something that doesn't feel like a waste.

I expect that one day, when the day comes for me to report in שמים, I'll ask the מלאך המות for just 3.3 more seconds to finish doing whatever it is I'm working on. And I expect most people will do the same.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Daf: Sotah 6-7

There is a ton here on these pages; see Rashi and Maharsha on pretty much everything.

In my notes here, see especially the note on how we respond to suffering, the significance of clothing color, and the stories of Reuven and Yehudah. As always, having a gemara with you will help.

Abayye is seen responding to Rava here, which is unusual. In general our edition rejects having Abayye, the mentor, question Rava, the student, and Rava’s name רבא is consequently changed frequently to Rabbah רבה – since Rabbah was Abayye’s mentor.

See Tosafot אם; this is an important point regarding the way we handle problems in life. Rather than observe idiosyncratic situations and ask ourselves why they are happening, we tend to explain away idiosyncrasies with pat answers, ignoring warning signals.

It’s odd, to me, that we would destroy a valid korban due to a rabbinic concern. I recall that in Zevachim we specifically say not to do that?

The word כפרה (kapparah) is not specific to atonement for sin; Rashi notes that here, on the gemara’s use of כיפרה.

Rashi’s version of a technical התראה warning, in "דידעי", does not fit the normal format of התראה.

In the first mishnah: If they are going to Yerushalayim anyway, why does the local court get involved at all? Just to provide escorts?! Perhaps this is why the Rambam writes (Hilchot Sotah 3:1 – note that this is mislabeled in the עין משפט on the daf) that the local hears and evaluates the testimony before sending them on.

The black clothing as a sign of mourning is interesting; see Pesachim 109a on colored clothing being joyous, and see Shabbos 114a especially, and see Yoma 19a (Kohanim ineligible for wearing black), Bava Metzia 59b (black for a solemn, sad occasion), Moed Katan 17a (black clothes for the person who wants to sin), and Maharsha to Sotah 22b (black clothes as a sign of mourning), Maharsha to Kiddushin 40a (black clothes against the yetzer hara), and more. Of course, also see Yeshayah 1:18 and Kohelet 9:8 on white and innocence and joy, and Shulchan Orach Chaim 610:4 on white clothing for Yom Kippur.

See the Rambam on the mishnah regarding לבה גס בה – the concern is that being with familiar people bucks up one’s spirit.

What was Yehudah’s sin? Being with a zonah was permitted, and punishing Tamar for apparent extramarital involvement (because the גאולה bond to Shelah and his family was quasi-marital) was legitimate! Note that Rashi and Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 38 both say the embarrassment for Yehudah actually came from giving over such expensive and personal items for the sake of a liaison.

How could we tell her Reuven sinned, of the gemara in Shabbos says explicitly that Reuven did not sin? Rashi here seems to say it’s just moving the bed that is the sin. Rama (in his Responsum 11) has a different view, though – he says we lie about Reuven, giving him a bad reputation, for the sake of restroing shalom in general and avoiding erasing Gd’s Name.

See Rashi on להם לבדם נתנה הארץ.

See Rashi vs Tosafot on לא עבר זר

The idea of reward for Teshuvah fits nicely with the gemara in Yoma on proper teshuvah converting sins to זכויות, merits.

Rashi gives you the very interesting backstory on why Yehudah’s bones rolled in his casket.

The gemara’s idea of the person feeling posthumous pain when his body is harmed is reminiscent of the big discussion in Berachot 18b on whether a person experiences pain while the body deteriorates.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An argument for single-sex education

Don't jump on me just because of the title; you'll see, by the end you'll be nodding your head in agreement.

I attended a day school (Hebrew Academy of Long Beach) which had single-sex classes from first grade and up, although the boys and girls were in the same building and shared lunch and recess periods. I gather that this was more or less normal for "Modern Orthodoxy" in the US in that period, the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Today, I usually see two more extreme approaches: The militantly segregated, separate-buildings single-sex approach, and the militantly mixed, put ‘em together and stir ‘em up and see what happens approached. (It seems to me that this is consistent with much of today’s religious ideology; the middle seems incapable of holding its ground.)

I have generally been firmly on both sides of the fence on this issue. I see the scholastic and religious benefit in separating the kids. I also see the humanizing effect of keeping them together, particularly as it influences the boys.

Yesterday, though, I heard the best argument yet for separating the groups: Boys are better off not understanding girls. If separating them will help confuse the boys as to what the girls think, that will be all the better.

This lesson came from the following event: My six year old daughter told my wife (the esteemed Rebbetzin), “I’ve decided I’m not going to marry X-classmate after all. Instead, I’m going to marry Y-classmate, because he’s serious but he also knows how to have fun, and I think that would be good for me.”

Yes, she’s six years old.

If I had known, as a kid, that this sort of thing was going through girls’ heads… I would have run as far as I could in the opposite direction, and then some. I am very glad that I had no clue at all what the XX’s were thinking.

So, please, keep the boys and girls separate; it’s better for the boys’ sanity.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Kosher Caskets Carnival?

I am glad to announce that the latest edition of the Kosher Cooking Carnival is now available here. Which, with the strange way my mind works, reminded me of one of those things you probably never thought about your rabbi doing: Casket Certification.

About two years ago I was approached by a local casket company, to certify their caskets as kosher. Although the request was logical enough - they wanted to be acceptable for the Orthodox/traditional Jewish market - it still struck me as funny.

My Vaad (LVKC) supervises a bottling company, a couple of supermarket bakeries, a Carvel and a Rita’s, Lang's Chocolates and many events at our local JCC, and over the years I’ve been here we’ve done a nursing home, a caterer, a pizza place and a few other businesses… but caskets? Nope, no experience there.

So I contacted knowledgeable authorities and found out what was involved, and trekked off to the coffin-builders. They were very pleasant, very open and willing to show me everything I asked, and then some. They offered to demonstrate the actual construction of caskets. In a warehouse so large it makes a Home Depot look like a studio apartment, I learned about glues and putties and what goes into them, about dowels, and about the different sizes and shapes and models of caskets (1H01, 1H02, 1H03, 1H04, 1H05, 1H0X) and what’s involved in attaching handles.

I even got a check for it afterwards, which was unexpected and unrequested but nice. I just thought I was helping them out.

Here's an interesting thing: I learned that they give “casket warranties,” which left me wondering about a few things, including whether an unsatisfied customer is required to return the casket … and how long the warranty is good.

On the whole, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to be asked to certify their products; after all, we have halachic requirements for caskets, so why shouldn’t there be certification? And it gave me a fundraising idea:

Perhaps our Vaad haKashrus should make some money by approaching other casket manufacturers (how many are there?) and offering to certify their products. It’s got to be an easier sell than food kashrut; 11% of the local Jewish population says they observe kashrut in their homes, but I’d bet a much higher percentage requests a kosher casket. For many, many American Jews, kosher burial is right up there with a Pesach Seder and Kol Nidrei.

And maybe we could branch out, too… I’m thinking of tachrichin (shrouds) kosher certification, matzeivah (headstone) kosher certification, little-stones-to-put-atop-the-matzeivah kosher certification, water-bottles-for-washing-outside-the-cemetery kosher certification… a whole new industry, indeed.

Think that’s a reach? Well, I’m out of time for blogging today, but remind me to tell you some time about the local branch of an Israeli company who approached me about certifying ornamental casket-inserts made of Israeli earth.

No, I’m not kidding.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Daf: Sotah 4-5

In general, it’s important to keep one eye on Rashi and the other on Maharsha all through Sotah. As we move into the latter two-thirds of the first perek, though, it’s extra-important.

Lots of interesting material in these pages; I have noted a few items here. As always, best to have a gemara in front of you for this.

The gemara connects one who eats bread without first washing נטילת ידים with one who lives with a זונה – a rather remarkable comparison! The Maharsha explains that they are related in that both result in poverty.

See Tosafot נעקר.

The gemara here translates the biblical term יקרה as “valued.” This is reminiscent of Sanhedrin 38b, in which the use of the word יקר is brought as proof that Adam haRishon spoke Aramaic; it seems that this word means slightly different things in Hebrew and Aramaic – valued vs. heavy. Of course, the two meanings are related, directly as well as in slang.

Rava says that learning Torah will not save a person from Gehennom if he sins. See the mishnah later on 20a about learning Torah to delay – but not eliminate - the effect of the Sotah water.

See Tosafot כל, who is bothered by the fact that the mishnah in Perek Chelek in Sanhedrin, which lists those who do not merit olam haba, doesn’t include the arrogant person mentioned here.

The gemara recommends an eighth of an eighth of arrogance. The Vilna Gaon famously pointed out that the eighth pasuk in the eighth parshah in the Torah begins with קטנתי מכל החסדים, Yaakov’s humble declaration that he does not deserve all that HaShem has done for him.

I also wonder about the eighth of an eighth being 1/64 – marginally less than 1/60, the shiur for nullification in a mixture… (for a similar idea, see the gemara in berachos about dreams having 1/60 of prophecy, and of Shabbos being 1/60 of olam haba, etc.)

The gemara says that one who evaluates his path, calculating his actions, will merit great things. But what if he were to calculate and decide that it would be better for him not to do a mitzvah? The same question may be asked of Pirkei Avot 2:1, which encourages calculating a cost/benefit analysis of mitzvot and aveirot!

Some of the commentaries to Avot 2:1 don’t take it as a literal recommendation; further, the game is fixed, since the reward for mitzvot and for avoiding aveirot is always supposed to be greater than any earthly benefit. For another view, though, see Terumat haDeshen 5 regarding a man who elected to skip minyan in order to claim a debt owed to him. Terumat haDeshen justifies the calculation (although he disagrees with its conclusion).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Matter of Educational Values

Professor Yitzchak Levine writes here about a disturbing encounter at this year’s Torah Umesorah convention:
After Rav Levin had made his remarks about the 5 boys from non-religious homes who had become exceptional Torah personalities, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said, "You realize, I am sure, that today these 5 boys could not get into most of the yeshivas in Brooklyn." He replied, "It was a different tekufah [era] then. We are no longer concerned with parents who send their kids to public school. If someone wants to start a yeshiva for public school kids, then let him. It was a different tekufah."

Unfortunately, מעשה שהיה כך היה, several years ago a young man from my shul left his yeshiva high school in mid-year for health reasons, and attended public school for a matter of days until his family could find an appropriate yeshiva for him. The Brooklyn yeshiva they eventually found was willing to take him, but only if he would first attend another yeshiva, even for just a couple of weeks. Why? Because they didn’t want the parents of his future classmates worry about this child's public school influence. [Student-laundering - a logical extension of money-laundering…]

I was livid, of course, as were the poskim I called to weigh in. But the yeshiva pointed to the parent body, arguing that enrollment competition was intense, and that they needed to meet parent demands.

I’m glad to say that the student went elsewhere. I was happy to see him a yeshiva where they cared more for the welfare of each bochur than the welfare of their bottom line.

That said, I think this issue requires greater examination, because I believe these parents and yeshivot are not entirely in the wrong. We are obligated to provide our children with the strongest possible Jewish education, not just in curriculum but also in environmental values. After all, the Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and many others discuss the problem of bad peer influences on children in yeshiva.

We are supposed to aim as high as possible for our children: Rav Herschel Schachter has pointed out that the Shulchan Aruch says one should not hire a nursemaid who eats treif. Why? Because the gemara (Sotah 12b) says that Moshe Rabbeinu couldn’t nurse from a woman who had eaten treif, since he was going to speak with the Shechinah. The Shulchan Aruch is warning us that in case our children might be suited to become Moshe Rabbeinu, we should choose the right nursemaid!

So on that basis, we could argue that parents are correct to be extreme in their demands for their children’s peer environment.

Then why was I livid about the yeshiva which wanted to run a student-laundering operation before taking my congregant?

Because it's not about aiming high; it's about the definition of "aiming high" and what that requires. These parents and yeshivot are assuming that exposure to students of a certain background will harm their children, will detract from their education, will weaken their emunah, will make them vulnerable to who-knows-what. It’s the “lock the door” school of parenting, taking what appears to be the easy way out to raising Torah youth.

I can’t agree with that approach. I don’t think that locking everything out produces stronger children; if anything, it produces children who lack self-control - all decisions are made on their behalf. It produces children who lack self-awareness - they live their most impressionable years in a homogeneous environment, never really becoming aware that there are others who see the world differently.

My children, here in Allentown, go to a day school which is 60%-70% non-Shomer Shabbat. I must acknowledge that this presents great challenges, and I’m never entirely sure that this is a good derech for them. It may be that the Allentown approach is one extreme, at the opposite end of the Brooklyn-cited extreme which locks out the “outside” entirely.

I look at the goals of each side, and this is what I see:

In the Brooklyn model’s version of success, the kids grow up without experience making decisions and value judgments for themselves. And all the kids who ever attended public school, or come from the wrong type of home, are left to their own devices.

In the Allentown model’s version of success, the kids grow up with an awareness of right and wrong and the ability to choose between them, without having others make the choice on their behalf. And the kids who attended public schools are welcomed into the yeshiva system, and offered the opportunity to learn as well.

And that, to me, is a major goal of religious education.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Derashah: Bechukotai - The Beauty and the Beast within ourselves

Polar Bears were declared an Endangered Species this past week, presenting a chance to tell the following story:
A man was arrested and taken to court for shooting an endangered bald eagle.
The judge said the man would be jailed unless he had a VERY good excuse.
The man said he would never have done it, but his children hadn't eaten a decent meal in weeks, so he killed the bald eagle to feed them. The judge said he'd let the man go with just a warning if he promised he would never kill an endangered species again. The man agreed.
As the man was leaving, the judge stopped him and asked: “Well, what does a bald eagle taste like?”
The man answered: “Well, something like a cross between a California Condor and an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.”

The dodo is gone, the saber-toothed tiger has disappeared… and, according to our parshah, some day soon we might see many more species go extinct. The parshah predicts that when we follow the Torah, we will have peace and plenty in Israel, and והשבתי חיה רעה מן הארץ, HaShem will eliminate wild animals from the land. So what will HaShem do with all of those animals?

In the midrash, R’ Yehudah says מעבירם מן העולם - HaShem will remove them from the world. The UN’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre will be furious, of course, but on the whole, it’s probably better to let Gd deal with the UN anyway.

R’ Shimon, on the other hand, says משביתן שלא יזוקו, HaShem will prevent them from causing harm.

Note that while R’ Yehudah’s view does fit the pasuk’s language of והשבתי better, R’ Shimon’s view matches Yeshayah’s prediction of וגר זאב עם כבש - that the wolf will lie down with the lamb. Per R’ Yehudah, there will be no wolves to lie down with any lambs!

R’ Yehudah and R’ Shimon are relevant to more than the saber-toothed tiger; their two visions, the eradication of evil and the conversion of evil to good, describe two distinct eschatological views regarding the ultimate end of evil in a Messianic age. R’ Yehudah sees the Messianic era as a time when evil will simply be annihilated. R’ Shimon, on the other hand, anticipates reformation, a popular return to beneficence.

Both views, of course, have ample basis in Tanach’s descriptions of our national fate, and the fates of other nations.

• Our parshah presents a tochachah, a warning of punishment to befall the Jews if they stray from the Torah. A second version of this tochachah appears in Parshat Ki Tavo, but with a major difference. Our parshah’s warning ends with repentance, או אז יכנע לבבם הערל, we will be humbled and return to Gd; this is R’ Shimon’s view. The warning in Ki Tavo, on the other hand, ends with the eradication of evil-doers as they are defeated and sold into slavery, full stop. No teshuvah; that’s R’ Yehudah’s take.

• Fast-forward to the city of Nineveh, in the day of Yonah. Yonah warns the population that HaShem is going to punish them - and they repent, and are forgiven. R’ Shimon’s view. But then, a generation or two later, they fall back into sin and the prophet Nachum comes to tell them that this time, they are going to be destroyed. R’ Yehudah’s view.

• Zecharyah, at the start of the second Beit haMikdash, predicts an ultimate messianic time heralded by an apocalyptic war in which one-third of the population will be killed. R’ Yehudah’s view. But Malachi, a generation later, foretells a possibility of והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם, when those who have strayed will become united in teshuvah and in service of HaShem. R’ Shimon’s view.

But R’ Yehudah vs. R’ Shimon is more than an angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin dialogue about what Gd will or will not do; we may read this as a debate about the basic character of Gd’s Creations - animals and humans alike:

• The possibility of Annihilation means that Good is not eternal, that there is a point when we declare the Good to be dead, when we say Enough. שובו בנים שובבים חוץ מאחר, repentance is a privilege which may be withdrawn.

• Reformation means that there is always an enduring remnant of Good within every being, that we can always return, that the Divine temper can and will bide its time as long as is necessary for us to act on the good within.

Within this debate, we must always opt for the optimistic view of R’ Shimon.

In dealing with community and family, we must choose the optimistic view. Like Beruriah arguing that we should pray for the wicked to repent rather than to disappear, like the Rambam ruling that we must work with even the most recalcitrant students to bring them to the point where they are suited to learn Torah, we must believe in that ultimate good.

• This means we invite back relatives and guests who don’t know how to share control of a conversation, and we try to sensitize them to polite society.

• This means we associate even with people who are insensitive in their language, and hope to help them become more careful.

• This means we continue to offer children, spouses, siblings, another chance. And another. And another.

Please note: I’m not talking about dangerous situations, about accepting back an abusive spouse or otherwise imperiling personal safety. In those cases, giving another chance is generally a terrible mistake. But where personal safety is not in question, we side with R’ Shimon and believe that no person is irredeemable.

As an anonymous man told R’ Elazar b”R’ Shimon in the gemara, “If you think there is something wrong with me, go tell my Creator that He erred.”So long as we are not in personal danger, we take every step to help others redeem themselves.

And there’s another time when we must opt for R’ Shimon: When assessing ourselves, when evaluating the traits we have trouble controlling, the temptations that chip away at our resolve until we surrender. Rather than give up the beast within ourselves as evil, a la R’ Yehudah, we take the view of R’ Shimon and seek out the good, robbing the beast of its fangs by turning these traits in a positive direction.

• __________ gave a great dvar torah at Seudah Shlishis a while back, arguing that lazy people can use their laziness for good: If we’re drawn to an aveirah, we can contemplate how much time and effort it would involve, how comfortable our bed is, and so on, and procrastinate until the opportunity is gone.

• Hyper-critical people? No problem. We can use that trait to identify our own flaws, and to learn from the weaknesses of others and identify them in ourselves.
• Stingy? We can use that trait to motivate ourselves to avoid self-indulgence and extravagance.

R’ Shimon’s approach of finding the good can help us salvage more than personal ego; it can help us act on the positive potential implanted within us.

The Torah follows up its dramatic Tochachah warning with a dry technical discussion about ערך. An ערך is a personal price, a shekel amount assigned to every human being, based solely on age and gender, not righteousness or wealth or family or wisdom or skills. The Torah describes how a person might choose to donate his or someone else’s ערך-amount to the Beit haMikdash.

Don Isaac Abarbanel explained the Torah’s transition from graphic warning to dry legal code: After all of those dire predictions of punishment, we might question ourselves, our legitimacy in the covenant, our value as human beings and Jews. To this the Torah responds - everybody has an ערך, everybody has a value.

Perhaps, one day, HaShem will take the route of R’ Yehudah and eliminate the animal and the animalistic - but we, within our own capacities, apply R’ Shimon’s idea. משביתן שלא יזוקו, we recognize the good and use it to turn the animal - in our neighbors, in our relatives, and in ourselves - to the best.

1. I started out writing an entirely different derashah, about the Conversion Crisis, but I didn't like the way it was coming out, so I turned to this one. Kind of dry, I have to admit. I am into the core idea, though, and it's 3 PM on Friday afternoon.

2. The midrash with R' Yehudah and R' Shimon is in the Sifra to Bechukotai (1:2).

3. Of course, Avraham does exile Yishmael, but this is at Divine decree, so I consider it a justified exception to the rule.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Daf: Sotah 2-3

First: I am so glad to have Rashi back.

Second: I'm not going to note every time Maharsha has something to say in his חידושי אגדות, but it's a good idea to make it a habit of reading his notes for Sotah. He has a ton to say on these דברי אגדה.

As always, these notes will make a lot more sense if you have a gemara in front of you. The issues of shidduchim/bashert, as well as the meaning of קנאה, are interesting.

Tosafot Shantz challenges the gemara’s interpretation of המקנא as בדיעבד language, based on other cases of similar language in the gemara, which is not read as בדיעבד. He offers two approaches: (1) The assumption here is that this is בדיעבד because there is logical reason to think it ought to be בדיעבד, and (2) The gemara asks the question only where it has an answer available.

See the Bach, note ה, on the word בכושרות

The comparison of shidduchim to Yam Suf is fascinating; see the discussion in Tosafot Shantz. In particular, his explanation addresses the question that splitting the Yam Suf was not at all קשה (difficult) for Gd in the first place!

Tosafot הא points out that in Moed Katan 18b we say that one may do kiddushin on Chol haMoed, lest someone else beat him to it, and the gemara there asks that if all is bashert, one shouldn’t have any such concern. Tosafot asks why the answer there isn’t simply that the gemara there is talking about a second marriage. However, I am not clear on why any of this is a problem – HaShem leaves us room to make mistakes, and so a person might yet miss out on his bashert! Tosafot appears not to agree with this idea.

If the husband were believed on his own say-so to say he did קינוי, he could always claim falsely that he had done קינוי!

Rashi איכא עיקר is very important – he indicates that legitimate קינוי is not done in rage, but rather is a rational declaration.

Rashi also notes that קנאה means anger here. It also fits better than “jealousy” when we see terms like א—ל קנא. (HaShem doesn’t get angry, of course, but He shows signs of anger.)

I didn’t do a CD-ROM search, but I believe it’s usually רב יימר בר שלמיא, not רב יימר בר ר' שלמיא.

Rav Yeimar’s approach explaining קינוי as something which causes strife between her and others fits Nedarim 83a-b in which we say that a man is not able to prohibit his wife from being involved with burying others, because it will cause her pain. (Note that in Nedarim we see other reasons it will cause her pain.)

Rashash says that when Reish Lakish says a person won’t sin unless gripped by a spirit of foolishness (רוח שטות), he is tying that into קינוי, for which the Torah says ועבר עליו רוח קנאה. This fits the view that a husband is not allowed to do קינוי.

The rendering of ועבר as “before” calls to mind the discussions of עבר meaning “before” regarding עובר לעשייתן.

R’ Akiva’s statement that a kohen is obligated to become tamei to bury his wife fits the Rambam, who explains the permission to become tamei for her as an issue of מת מצוה, which is obligatory.

Tosafot לה notes a difference between חובה and מצוה, in that if it’s only a mitzvah, one who is engaged in another mitzvah may be exempt from this one. If it’s a chovah (requirement), though, then he is obligated to drop everything and do this one. This has interesting ramifications for the way the gemara and poskim have classically viewed Shabbat candles as a חובה, over and above its status as a מצוה of honoring Shabbat. (See Teshuvot Rav Natronai Gaon 66, for example, as well as the gemara in the second perek of Shabbos on נר ביתו overriding other mitzvot.)

Tosafot למשרי points out the origin for following patrilineal descent among people who are not Jewish.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Impatience does in the rabbi/baker

My mother made sure to teach me how to cook, a trait which served me well in various Shabbos-preparing situations. Spending Shabbos in a shul in Massapequa as baal keriah, or making Shabbos in an apartment in Yerushalayim, I knew I could rely on my stand-by gefilte fish and chicken soup and potato salad and tomato/onion roast chicken and Israeli salad.

Then I became a shul rabbi, and Shabbos cooking came to an end. The gemara (Kiddushin 41a) reports on various amoraim preparing for Shabbos, cooking the fish and cleaning the house, but today’s shul rabbi, or this one at any rate, has very little time once the calendar switches to “Wednesday.” 70% of all Jewish community emergencies occur from Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon, believe it or not. You could look it up.

So I have been a frustrated ex-chef for over a decade, but recently I decided that enough was enough. If I can’t cook because the last days of the week are too hectic, I’ll bake Challah. Prep in advance, bake it on Wednesday, sure, why not?

So I found a recipe I liked, and set about doing it. And I learned something: Baking is much less forgiving than cooking. You can’t play around with baking, or at least I can’t play around with baking. When I cooked, I added whatever ingredients looked interesting, or whatever I had at hand, to save myself a trip to the supermarket. I played with the timing based on my schedule. And in the end, it was always at least edible.

Challah, on the other hand, has made me pay for my impatience:
I used a bowl that was smaller than the recommended size, because it was near at hand.
And I used rapid-rise yeast, because that’s the one I found quickest in the supermarket.
And I didn’t knead it that long, because I had to get to an appointment.
And I didn’t let it rise as long as they recommended, because I was using rapid-rise yeast and because it looked big enough for me and because I had to get to a Bar Mitzvah lesson.

You get the (impatient) idea.

The result: A loaf of challah you could have tied to a mob rat’s ankle instead of bothering with cement shoes. Seriously dense - think brick - not exactly light and fluffy.

Lessons learned
Be patient.
Follow the directions.
Be patient.
Use the recommended ingredients.
Be patient.

Yeah, right. It seems that impatience is as disastrous for a baker as it is for a rabbi.

Well, this week I’m going to try again, if for no other reason than that I think it’s important for my kids to see that I don’t give up in the face of difficulty.

And, yes, I’m going to try to follow the directions. And be patient.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mockery: The self-immolating fire of poor educators

Over the years, I have heard some very, very good Torah speakers.

Some have been more entertaining, some less. Some have offered deeper content, some more shallow material. Some have offered great oratory, others have been down-to-earth. Some have gone for gematria, others for philosophy, others for law, others for psychology; some I have agreed with, others I have not. Chacun a son gout; it’s fine to have variety, so far as I am concerned.

But I draw the line at one flaw in a speaker, and particularly in an Outreach speaker: Arrogance. Specifically, the arrogant assumption that there is only one way – not just in Torah, but in life in general – and that all who disagree deserve to be mocked.

Three examples:

1) Cultural values: The speaker who assumes that everyone should share his cultural values.

We once hosted a speaker who wanted to discuss the evolution of secular ethics. As part of his presentation, he talked about a Greek preference for gay soldiers – and then he did a brief parody of a gay greek soldier, with feather boa and mincing walk, leading a military charge.

Aside from the fact that the display was unprofessional and unimpressive, it was an offense to anyone who might not believe in mocking people for their sexual orientation. Further, it would certainly have offended gay attendees.

This is not the same as pointing out the Torah’s prohibition against homosexual activity. Point out the prohibition all you like – but don’t mock people who don’t follow it.

2) Israel values: The speaker who assumes that all Torah-believers automatically agree with his views on Israel and Zionism.

It is quite possible that a speaker will get a round of applause in some arenas by just mentioning Jonathan Pollard, or mocking Shalom Achshav.

That said, I know many Jews – Torah observant, knowledgeable Jews – who come down on the side of saying that we should not promote a Pollard pardon, and that we should actively seek territorial compromise in Israel. I do not necessarily agree with them, but I know they exist.

Therefore, an outreach speaker should not presume that the crowd will be on his side in these issues. He certainly should not – as I have seen done – argue that his view on these issues is the sole acceptable Torah view.

3) American Political values: The speaker who assumes that everyone agrees with his view of American politics.

When I hear a rabbi blast Barack Obama and mock Democrats, as though this was the only way a Torah-observant Jew could think, it makes me cringe. Yes, the junior senator from Illinois has some big question marks and exclamation points on his record, but do you really believe that all right-thinking people must agree with you?

From a speaker's perspective, mockery is just a sign that you've run out of ways to support your own argument, so you'd like to make light of someone else's argument.

From an halachic perspective, all of this mockery is certainly unjustified. Megilah 25b discusses permitted mockery - and does not include mockery for cultural values, Israel values or American political values.

And from a practical perspective, the mockery is self-defeating: The result is that the Torah message gets thrown up because of the cultural/Israel/American political arrogance. And that’s a shame, because the real value is in the Torah.

Present your point of view, articulate it and back it up with sources and argue it – but leave the mockery to the talk show hosts. We can do better.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Daf: Sotah and Misogyny

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

Our Daf Yomi is starting to learn Sotah. Sotah is mostly aggadata on a broad array of topics, and many key philosophical discussions, such as regarding the nature of Divine reward and punishment, are rooted in this masechta.

However, Sotah is also a magnet for misogyny allegations; after all, the Sotah is exclusively female, and she is made to suffer a greaty humiliating ordeal, when she might actually be innocent! It is true that if a woman were to be found guilty in her Sotah orderal, her male partner would suffer the same Sotah fate as she – such is predicted in the Gemara – but he would not face the Sotah ordeal itself.

So at the start, I feel it necessary to explore both of those points: The female-limitation on Sotah, and the possibility of the Sotah’s innocence.

1) If the Sotah might be innocent, why is she put through such a humiliating ordeal?
The Sotah becomes a Sotah if her husband warns her (rationally rather than in a fit of rage - Rashi Sotah 2b איכא עיקר) not to be alone with a certain man, and then she is secluded for a period of time with that man, with a witness to their entry into seclusion. Technically, there may not have been a sexual act at all.

However: Whatever one may say about the Sotah, this is not a case of innocence. There is a bibical prohibition against a man being secluded with another man’s wife, and a rabbinic prohibition against seclusion of unmarried an man and woman together (see, for example, Sanhedrin 21b). Therefore, in being secluded with this man, she has already violated a biblical law.

2) Why can’t a man become a Sotah?
The bottom line: Because, shocking as it may seem to us, the biblical text does not view a man’s extra-marital relationship as inherently adulterous and harmful to the household.

The proof of this is the Torah’s permission for polygamy.

Taking polygamy on the most straightforward, pshat level: Polygamy is biblically permitted because it maximizes the first Divine instruction, of פרו ורבו procreation. Multiple husbands with one wife (polyandry) would minimize fertility, but multiple wives with one husband (polygamy) will maximize fertility.

Yes, the Torah does present us exclusively with examples of polygamous households which self-destruct, starting with Lemech-Adah-Tzilah and running right through Shlomo haMelech, and yes, the chachamim saw and identified the psychological disaster that is polygamy, but the biblical permission chooses the nation (through procreation) over the needs of the individual.

Therefore: If a man is secluded with a woman other than his wife, he does not become a Sotah; it is not considered as great an attack upon his wife. Instead, if she is single, they may wed. If she is already married to someone else, then if there are two witnesses to the act he is killed (because of the damage he rendered to that other marriage), but if not, then she may become a Sotah.

I am well aware that this does not entirely settle the mind; why should her extra-marital involvement be more offensive to her husband than his extra-marital fling would be to her? Is it a product of biblical permission for polygamy? Is it a human nature observation? I don't know.

But with all of that in mind, we begin Sotah.

R’ Shirman vs. R’ Druckman made simple, with the whole transcript


I have been asked to re-publish the transcript of R' Shirman's ruling in one piece instead of 9, so it is here, below. But first, a quick summary:

It seems to me that R’ Shirman has two specific claims against R’ Druckman’s conversions:
1) That R’ Druckman lechatchilah does not require full acceptance of mitzvot at the moment of conversion (Section 2, 5, 10). (In this R' Shirman relies primarily on rulings from several halachic authorities of the past century, declaring conversions invalid even ex post facto if there was never any intent to fulfill mitzvot.)

2) That R’ Druckman does not qualify as a judge, for three alleged reasons:
a) He accepts, as a matter of lechatchilah policy, conversion without full acceptance of mitzvot at the moment of conversion (Section 2, 5) (it is in this that R' Shirman terms R' Druckman an apikorus, for accepting this view as a lechatchilah);
b) He signs on במותב תלתא conversion documents when he was not present for the conversion, or he has others sign his name in his absence (Sections 6-9) (it is not clear to me whether these are symbolic signatures or functional signatures);
c) In converting people who do not accept mitzvot, he causes Jews to stumble in assuming those people are Jewish, and so he is sinning in the very act of judging. (Sections 3, 5)

[Separate from this, R’ Shirman engages in a long discussion of a court’s ability to re-visit the decisions of another court, and the application here in both theory and actual cases (Sections 11-16)]

I think a lot of this is really about one major issue: Defining “lechatchilah” and “bedieved” :
In the public responses to R’ Shirman’s position, such as the Tzohar paper, it has been noted that there is a minority view that full acceptance of mitzvot at the moment of conversion is not required, bedieved.

This is not R’ Shirman’s point, though – rather, he specifies (Sections 2, 5) that the problem is that one who accepts this approach as a שיטה, as a lechatchilah approach to conversion, is flouting rabbinic tradition and therefore is disqualified as a judge.

It seems – and see the sources cited to this effect in Section 5 – that there is a basic disagreement about whether we are already in a בדיעבד situation, or not.

R’ Druckman seems to believe that the שעת הדחק is already here, because of assimilation problems. In this R’ Druckman is actually consistent with the view of Eternal Jewish Family, interestingly; despite their vocal support for R’ Shirman, they actually argue for aggressively pursuing non-Jewish spouses of Jews for conversion!

R’ Shirman, on the other hand, takes a much more narrow view of “bedieved,” accepting it only – and even then possibly not – ex post facto.


Section 1
R' Shirman cites the claims of each side, specifically:

R’ Attiyeh’s claim that the woman and her children are not Jewish, because:
a) the court which converted them is pasul and the judges are pasul, such that the conversion itself is invalid, and
b) the woman never accepted mitzvot, and does not observe central mitzvot to this day.

The woman’s response is that her conversion was valid, with valid judges, and that she does observe mitzvot to some extent, including Shabbat candles, Yom Tov celebration, fasting on Yom Kippur, avoidance of chametz on Pesach and sitting in a Succah on Succot.

There is also a further issue, in which the court wished to list the woman and her children in the registry of people who may not wed. The woman contends that the court has no standing in this matter, for one court does not have the ability to overturn the conversion of another court.

The woman also contends that the court cannot list her children in the registry, for she is not personally credible to disqualify her children, with their chazakah of Judaism.

The woman concluded her charges by declaring that R’ Attiyeh’s court is guilty of the severe prohibition of Onaat haGer, oppressing the convert.

Section 2: ביטול גיור משום פסול בית הדין המגייר
The court examines the possibility of rescinding a conversion based upon disqualification of the converting court. This is based upon the charge that R’ Druckman’s court frivolously discounts the halachic requirement of קבלת מצוות, acceptance of mitzvot, and in disregarding this law they are guilty of מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה, knowingly misinterpreting Torah and its laws, so that they are rendered “intentional sinners and apikorsim.”

If so, then per Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 268:3, which requires three כשרים for a court, the conversion had no court.

R’ Attiyeh also cited R’ Moshe Shternbuch’s Teshuvot v’Hanhagot disqualifying conversion which will not lead to mitzvah observance. R’ Shternbuch himself cited many authorities, and said that a court which accepts such converts is causing them to stumble and guilty of great sin. He added that such a court would not be a legitimate court, since they give inappropriate rulings. Therefore, if a court would know that that converts will not maintain their mitzvah observance, their conversions would be invalid.

R’ Shternbuch further argued, in another responsum, that all courts operate for conversion as proxies of the courts which had true semichah, and that courts which would accept non-observant converts would lose their ability to be proxies of those older courts.

In a third responsum, R’ Shternbuch refused to grant an aliyah to a sincere, observant convert, because he had converted previously in a court which accepted converts who did not accept mitzvot. He wrote that the man is a נכרי by letter of the law.

R’ Shternbuch did write that perhaps we could accept him, if we were stuck, until he could immerse before proper judges, if we could argue that the judges thought they were doing a mitzvah.

R’ Attiyeh then brought further, similar material from the Teshuvot Migdal Tzofim.

As far as the possible acceptance of the judges because they think they are doing a mitzvah, this would likely not be relevant in our case. The source for that principle is the acceptance of witnesses who bury people on the first day of Yom Tov, a sin which does not relate directly to functioning in court. Here, the transgression relates directly to their function as judges. It’s like disqualification for taking a bribe.

Section 3: ביטול גיור כשבית הדין המגייר עובר על איסור דאורייתא של לפני עור
R’ Attiyeh also brought the view of the Migdal Tzofim that judges who accept ineligible converts violate לפני עור, the prohibition against putting a stumbling block before the blind. Therefore, they are disqualified as judges.

R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo 35:3) wrote that judges who accept converts who clearly have no intention of keeping mitzvot are violating לפני עור even if the conversion is valid, for now this convert will be liable for his sins.

R’ Shirman then noted that he had found the same in Rav Kook (Daat Kohen Hilchot Milah v’Gerut 154), that accepting such converts is a violation of לפני עור, either because the conversion is invalid and so people will think erroneously that they are Jewish, or because the conversion is valid and now they are liable for their sins.

R’ Shirman also cited the Sridei Eish (2:96) regarding conversion of a minor in a non-mitzvah-observant household, where the child also will not observe mitzvot. He wrote that the conversion is invalid, and causes a stumbling block for people.

R’ Shirman then digressed into an interesting discussion of the nature of לפני עור, and the question of whether the prohibition applies only to aiding in the transgression, or even in making the transgression possible by creating the stumbling block. (I recall an interesting article on this in HaDarom a few years back, regarding a travel agent selling a Jew a ticket for a Shabbat plane flight. - TRH) The application here is that in labelling this person a Jew one is not actually forcing anyone to marry him/her. He compared the case to a discussion of the Netziv regarding marrying off a couple who will not observe niddah.

R’ Shirman at first concedes that he does not believe a biblical violation of לפני עור has occurred, because the judges do not aid in the actual aveirah. However, he notes that he presented this argument to R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and did not succeed in swaying him. R’ Shirman then writes that he reconsidered his own position and realized that in the conversion case the link between the conversion and the aveirah is very close, closer even than in the marriage of two people who will not observe the laws of niddah, and therefore the title of לפני עור is more appropriate there.

He then cited the Beit Ploni for further support that converting such people is a problem of causing others to stumble. The Beit Ploni did not use the term “לפני עור,” though.

Along the way R’ Shirman discusses whether it is beneficial for a child to be converted to Judaism without mitzvah observance.

R’ Shirman then concludes that this issue of לפני עור is sufficient to disqualify the judges entirely - not only as a violation of Torah law, but as an aveirah which runs counter to the essence of a converting court’s nature.

Section 4: מעשה בית הדין המגייר כמצוה מגדיר מהות הגדר
R’ Shirman now cites Yevamot 47b which states that conversion of a candidate is a mitzvah.
The Tashbetz asks where this fits into the 613.

The issue comes up, as well, in the discussion of reciting the berachah on a convert’s immersion before the conversion itself, and the text of אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצונו, that Gd has instructed this mitzvah. The Raavad discusses this regarding a minor’s conversion, and labels it a mitzvah.

R’ Shirman then cites R’ Albertsaloni who lists this as part of the mitzvah of loving the convert. This is difficult, though, given that such a mitzvah applies only post-conversion.

R’ Shirman analyzes this based on two approaches to the mitzvah of loving the convert: The Rambam’s view (Aseh 207 and further cited locations) that this mitzvah is because of the convert’s special spiritual level, vs. the Chinuch’s view (Mitzvah 431) that this mitzvah is because of the convert’s special social status.

R’ Shirman argues that based on the Rambam’s view, we can understand R’ Albersaloni’s view that helping the ger convert is part of expressing that love.

R’ Shirman then offers another approach to the Tashbetz’s question from the Raavad’s words regarding the berachah; he sees here the idea that helping the ger to convert is a fulfillment of אהבת ה', loving Gd.

R’ Shirman adds that if this is the mitzvah, then the merit for a minor in converting is dependent upon him becoming connected to HaShem, the Torah and its mitzvot.

R’ Shirman then embarks on a tangent regarding inappropriate conversion of minors, such as in adoption cases, before returning to his central point: That since conversion of candidates is a mitzvah, and since the mitzvah is dependent upon increasing their connection to HaShem, therefore conversion of candidates who will not follow the mitzvot is not the mitzvah of conversion at all.

Section 5: בית דין מגייר שעובר בגיור על לפני עור אין לראותו כשוגג
R’ Shirman then returns to an earlier theme, from Section 2: That a court which ignores the serious results of inappopriate conversion cannot be excused as erring in pursuit of a mitzvah. Therefore, he writes, “Any act of conversion they perform is lacking a kosher beit din, and therefore there is no strength or effectiveness for their conversion.”

R’ Shirman rejects, as he did in Section 2, any comparison between this case and people who bury on the first day of Yom Tov.

R’ Shirman also again rejects any claim that there is a mitzvah in bringing these people into בני ישראל.

R’ Shirman then quotes a member of the conversion courts (ר' פריס) who had written that we live in a time when we must look to the future of the Jewish nation.

He quotes another member of the conversion courts (ר' רוזנפלד) who had written that because of intermarriage concerns we are in an עת לעשות לה', and we must help them convert lest they become mixed into the population in Israel without conversion.

He quotes a third member of the conversion courts (ר' בס) who writes that closing the doors to converts today is in act of opening gates to the outside and to assimilation. He writes that conversion is a public need, and there should be no piling of obstacles in the way of the convert.

R’ Shirman adds that the judges on these courts see conversion as a mitzvah due to national responsibility and public need.

R’ Shirman then tries to contend that this is different from the Yom Tov gravediggers because the Yom Tov gravediggers see the actual deed of digging a grave as a mitzvah, whereas the courts see a mitzvah down the road from their conversion, but then he recants.

R’ Shirman concludes the section by arguing that the idea of converting as a social need is dlawed, for these candidates do not begin to function as Jews.

Section 6: תאור פרשיות זיוף תעודות מעשה בית דין לגיור שנעשה על ידי אבה"ד הרב דרוקמן וסגנו הרב אביאור
In addition to his ruling, R’ Attiyeh asked R’ Shirman to confirm his finding that the converting court is pasul, and so the conversion is invalid. R’ Attuyeh cited the case brought by Attorney ש. יעקבי against R’ Druckman for forging a conversion document for a court in Warsaw, by signing on it when in fact he was in Israel on the date of the conversion. R’ Druckman acknowledged, in a hearing, that he was not in Warsaw during the conversion, and was not part of a group of three as noted in the document on which he had signed. He explained that he had promised the woman to convert her, and so he had signed on the deed.

Attorney יעקבי added that R’ Avior, a member of the conversion courts, was also actively involved in the creation of that forged document.

Attorney יעקבי also contended that this was not a lone incident, and mentioned another, similar case. He said that R’ Druckman had been summoned to a hearing over that, and had pledged not to do this again.

Attorney יעקבי also contended that he had tens more cases like this.

R’ Atiyyeh also included ifnromation from a journalist Elazar Levine, from a website, on the investigation into R’ Druckman.

R’ Shirman said that after analyzing Attorney יעקבי’s information, he found a frightening picture of false documents and false testimony on acts of the conversion courts and confirmation of Jewish status in close to 200 conversion documents from 1999 through 2005.

R’ Shirman cited a letter from 2000 from R’ Yisrael Rosen, then the head of the conversion courts, to R’ Mordechai Eliyahu, on forgery he had uncovered from an unnamed judge who had signed on documents for conversions for which he had not been present – documents which said במותב תלתא etc. R’ Rosen said the signing rabbi did not deny the allegations. R’ Rosen said he thought the signing rabbi was simply careless in signing papers that were put before him without examining them.

R’ Shirman contends that R’ Rosen sent the letter to R’ Druckman and received no reply.

R’ Rosen said he asked R’ Druckman directly about what would be required in order to be able to sign a document, and R’ Druckman said being present for tevillah would suffice. R’ Shirman argues that this should not be sufficient to be able to sign the paper, given that the paper mentions having investigated and clarified the desire of the conversion candidate.

R’ Shirman goes on to detail the process of the investigation of R’ Druckman, the rest of the beit din, and specifically R’ Avior who is accused of signing R’ Druckman’s name on conversion documents.

The reason given by R’ Rosen for these signatures is that R’ Yisrael Meir Lau required that a qualified dayyan be present at every conversion.

R’ Rosen’s lengthy file concludes with three questions asked of R’ Mordechai Eliyahu as well as R’ Avraham Shapira z”l:
1) What to do with court documents that are now known to be false and have not been given to the converts yet
2) What to do with court documents that are now known to be false and have been given to the converts already
3) What to do with court documents from the past half-year since these allegations have come to light.

Section 7: מעשה זיוף מעשה בית דין לגיור כעילה לפסלותם של הרב דרוקמן והרב אביאור מלהיות דיינים בבית דין מגייר

R’ Shirman first addresses the question of whether false signatures disqualify R’ Druckman and R’ Avior from serving as judges for conversion, such that all of their conversions would be invalid.

R’ Shirman points out that Rambam, Smag and Shulchan Aruch all list love of truth as a criterion of a judge, and Kenesset haGedolah says the criteria listed are requirements. R’ Shirman concludes that a judge who tricks, and engages in lies and forgery, would then be invalid.

R’ Shirman notes that Birkei Yosef says the traits are not requirements, and that it’s only that when such judges are available, we must use them rather than other people. However, R’ Shirman contends that all would agree that were a judge to conduct himself in a manner opposing these traits, and the conduct would be in the course of his role as a judge, then the judge would not be acceptable.

R’ Shirman draws analogies to shochtim who dealt in improper meat certification, and who were therefore disqualified from continuing to serve. R’ Shirman acknowledges that in this case there actually is, possibly, a conversion process before three judges - but since R’ Avior is among them, and he is a forger, this cannot be considered a proper conversion process before three judges.

R’ Shirman concludes the section by again noting that since the disqualification is conversion-related, it cannot be compared to other cases in which judges have general sins on their records.

Section 8: מעשה זיוף תעודות הגיור כאסורי דאורייתא של גניבת דעת ליחיד ולציבור ולמדינה, גניבת ממון, לפני עור וחילול ה'

R’ Shirman states that executing documents with forged signatures violates serious biblical violations: fooling the public, fooling the conversion candidates, fooling the national government regarding status and rights and citizenship and thereby violating dina d’malchuta, placing a stumbling block before the blind, and chillul HaShem.

Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:6 cites Chullin 94a on the prohibition against fooling people, and Ritva on that gemara says it is a biblical prohibition from לא תגנובו ולא תכחשו. Other authorities consider this a d’rabbanan.

R’ Shirman cites additional authorities on this, and contends that regardless of whether fooling people is biblical or rabbinic, these courts’ actions constitute a biblical violation of לפני עור (per the earlier discussions).

R’ Shirman adds that there is also a financial aspect of causing loss to individuals, communities and the country, and that would be a violation of biblical law against theft. He cites Igrot Moshe regarding students stealing the answers to government exams; Rav Moshe wrote that this is prohibited under dina d’malchuta as well as fooling people and stealing money when one seeks a job on the basis of these test scores.

R’ Shirman cites R’ Menashe Klein in Mishneh Halachot regarding forged diplomas; he ruled that this is fooling people, and that because it enables employment it is also theft of money.

R’ Shirman continues to cite the case of a hotel kitchen employee who is a non-observant convert, and who cannot be employed in that kitchen - so that the false conversion document costs both the hotel (in having to fire him) and the employee.

R’ Rosen further raised the issue of chillul HaShem when he discussed these problems with R’ Eliyahu Shapira z”l and R’ Mordechai Eliyahu. R’ Shirman notes that this chillul HaShem has come to pass, in the wake of the case in Warsaw.

Section 9: פסילת הדיין כתוצאה ממעשה הזיוף והמרמה חלה משעת מעשה העבירה

R’ Shirman again (!) notes that disqualification of judges for forgery of signatures would disqualify all of their acts of conversion, for lack of a kosher beit din during the conversion process. It would be retroactive to the time of their disqualification. Therefore, it would extend back to the revelations of R’ Rosen.

The conversion case before the court is from 1992, years before those revelations, and so R’ Rosen’s revelations would not disqualify that conversion. As R’ Shirman cites from the Rama, disqualification of witnesses and judges is only on the basis of definite knowledge, not doubt, such as in a case in which people testify to the non-observance of witnesses after those witnesses have presented testimony, and it is not known which occurred first. (Choshen Mishpat 34:23)
However, R’ Shirman contends that the revealed forgeries demonstrate powerfully that these courts ignore halachic requirements of conversion courts.

Section 10: דחיית שיטת הרב דיכובסקי וקביעתו העקרונית שלא ניתן לפסול גירות בדיעבד לאחר שנעשה
The plaintiff claimed that R’ Attiyeh is in error in listing the woman and her children in the register of those who are ineligible to wed. That claim is based on R’ Daichovsky’s comment in another case, that we examine a convert’s mitzvah acceptance only at the moment of conversion.

R’ Shirman first points out that since the disqualification is actually on the grounds that the court was ineligible, even a full acceptance of mitzvot by the convert would not be relevant.

R’ Shirman continues to examine R’ Daichovsky’s point, though, because R’ Attiyeh did additionally wish to disqualify the conversion on the basis of lack of mitzvah acceptance.

R’ Daichovsky’s point rests on the contention that we are only concerned with intent at the moment of conversion, and that any later examination can only reach doubtful conclusions about what happened, whereas the court which was present at the conversion itself was definitely convinced of the conversion candidate’s sincerity. Later doubts do not override earlier certainty.

R’ Shirman argues that this ignores the substantial literature by halachic authorities who discussed the strength of the mitzvah-acceptance requirement in conversion. R’ Shirman says he had shown R’ Daichovsky a 1984 halachic ruling from R’ Yaakov Kanaeivsky (the Steipler), R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R’ Shach and R’ Elyashiv, in which they warned that conversion without Torah and mitzvah acceptance is invalid even ex post facto. R’ Ovadia Yosef also wrote this, saying that if it is known from the start that a convert does not accept Torah and mitzvot, and only pays lip service, then the conversion is not even valid ex post facto.

R’ Shirman then contends (on his own, not quoting anyone) that the test of intention to accept mitzvot is in the lifestyle led by the candidate until the moment of conversion. In the case under discussion, life with a man who is separated from Torah and mitzvot, in a community which does not practice Torah and mitzvot, indicates what was in her mind at the conversion. Further, he notes that she continued to live with that man for months after the conversion, without chuppah or kiddushin. They did not join an observant community or a shul, and the husband never wore tefillin. The litigant’s claim that she observed mitzvot as she could indicates, says R’ Shirman, that her behavior was limited to external tradition and not truly religious conduct.

Section 11: דחית עמדת הרב ש. דיכובסקי והרב ע. בר שלום שבית דין רבני אינו מוסמך לבטל גיור שנערך על ידי בית דין מיוחד

The plaintiff claims that the local beit din in deciding to list the woman and her children in the registry for people who cannot marry, for a court lacks the standing to overturn the conversion of another court. This is based on a majority ruling from R’ Daichovsky and R’ Bar Shalom in a case in which a Rechovot court tried to overturn a conversion.

R’ Daichovsky cited a decision from R’ Bakshi-Doron stating that marriage registrars will accept copies of conversion certificates from licensed rabbinic courts and the courts of conversion, and that all other conversions must receive approval of rabbinic courts or the department of the Chief Rabbinate dealing with this issue. This indicates that the two court systems – rabbinic and conversion-specific – function independently, and one cannot nullify a decision of the other.

The plaintiff further cited the principle בית דין אחר בית דין אחר לא דייקי, that one court does not investigate the actions of another.

R’ Shirman notes that this issue is relevant far beyond the actions of R’ Attiyeh’s court, and would affect past decisions involving “many tens and perhaps hundreds” of conversions in which courts have found flaws in the conversion process, tied to the central factor of accepting mitzvot, and have on that basis overturned or cast doubt upon the conversions. The courts in those cases have not been concerned about the cited procedural and halachic challenges to their authority.

Section 12: במעשה בית דין ואישור גיור לא נאמר הכלל של "בית דין בתר בית דין לא דייקי"
The principle of non-investigation comes from Bava Batra 132, and is brought as halachah in the Shach Choshen Mishpat 19:2. However, R’ Shirman contends, based on an earlier ruling of his own court, that the principle that one court does not investigate the actions of another court does not apply to conversion today.

R’ Shirman cites the 1984 ruling (already cited in Section 10) from R’ Yaakov Kanaeivsky (the Steipler), R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R’ Shach and R’ Elyashiv, in which they warned that conversion without Torah and mitzvah acceptance is invalid even ex post facto, and should not be accepted by marriage registrars. R’ Shirman notes that this ruling does not distinguish between courts of different locales or levels of name recognition, and he says that if registrars must investigate, then courts certainly must investigate.

To back up his ruling that a court may investigate an earlier court’s conversions, R’ Shirman cites an argument from his court’s earlier ruling from R’ Isirer, arguing that since the overturning of the conversion is based on information to which the original converting court did not have access, the rule of non-investigation does not apply.

R’ Shirman bases this assertion on a statement of the Rambam. The Rambam recorded the rule of non-investigation (Hilchot Edut 6:5), and added that this principle is based on the assumption (חזקה) that the original court was expert and would not err. In presenting that logic, the Rambam opens up the possibility that new information would warrant re-opening a case, since the חזקה of expertise would no longer be relevant. R’ Shirman cites a similar conclusion from R’ Chaim Pilaggi’s סמיכה לחיים.

R’ Shirman contends that if a woman declares acceptance of mitzvot before a Beit Din, saying that she doesn’t turn on electric lights on Shabbat although she does not do kiddush or havdalah, and she is told to get married (halachically) immediately after the conversion, and then four months later she acknowledges in a Beit Din that she turns on lights on Shabbat, and justifies her actions by saying observance is difficult, and her husband says there has been no meaningful (משמעותי) change since the conversion aside from niddah observance, this is information that, had it been known to the converting court, would have caused the court to refuse her conversion in the first place. This is considered new, relevant, information to justify re-opening the case. The court is indeed obligated to re-open such a case, to prevent stumbling blocks for individuals and for the community.

Section 13: בירור בגדרי כלל בית דין בתר בית דין לא דייקי

R’ Shirman presents the context for the principle that a beit does not examine the deeds of another beit din: Rava tells Rav Pappa and Rav Huna bereih d’Rav Yehoshua to consult him before countering a verdict of his; if he cannot justify his ruling, he will recant (Bava Batra 130b). The Shitah Mekubetzet there, from Ra”ah and Ran, explains that Rava would recant if he had erred in a dvar mishneh, not in a matter of opinion, for the latter type of error stands.

Based on that, R’ Chaim Pilaggi ruled that even if a court is expert, a court could challenge it, despite the rule of not examining another court’s actions.

It appears, says R’ Shirman, that the rule of not re-opening a court’s case applies lechatchilah, specifically when one knows nothing bad about it. He also finds support for this idea in Radvaz 1:279 (who bases himself on the Rashba) and Chatam Sofer 6:50. The latter responsum dealt with an attempt to justify the openness to overturning a verdict in Bava Batra 130b against Rabban Gamliel’s rejection of R’ Yehoshua’s challenge in Rosh HaShanah 25a.

R’ Shirman then again cites R’ Chaim Pilaggi, to show that if a second court investigates and finds reason to contradict the first, its ruling stands.

R’ Shirman mentions that R’ Chaim Pilaggi did note an apparent contradiction in the Radvaz, for in one case Radvaz wrote as mentioned above, and in another he wrote that one court may actually revisit another court’s actions, and he didn’t mention anything about needing revelation of new facts. R’ Chaim Pilaggi resolved this by suggesting that Radvaz held that a court may, today, investigate an earlier court’s rulings. In the case where he mentioned the new court’s discovery of new facts, he did so in order to show that even if one held that a court could not revisit another court’s rulings, that would not apply if new facts were discovered.

R’ Shirman does note that the Beit Yosef cited the view of Radvaz (in Responsa Avkat Rochel) and rejected it, based on his own reading of the Rashba. However, he points out that the Beit Yosef agreed with Radvaz regarding cases in which the earlier court’s judges were not expert in the law under discussion. R’ Shirman then cites numerous others, including R’ Yisrael Meir Lau, who support the general rule that courts do not revisit the decisions of other courts, although they would support revisiting the decision of an inexpert court.

R’ Shirman concludes that the view of Radvaz is rejected, and so a court could not rely on the argument of Radvaz to justify revisiting the decisions of a municipal court.

Section 14: על בתי הדין לגיור שבימינו לא נאמר הכלל בית דין בתר בית דין לא דייקי
R’ Shirman begins by saying that, as he had said above, even if the principle that courts do not revisit the decisions of other courts remains in force, if the second court finds problems and weaknesses in the earlier ruling, that rule does not apply. Therefore, in light of the discovery of problems in mitzvah acceptance, the chazakah of the ruling is weakened and their decision may be re-eamined and nullified, as seen from Rava’s declaration in Bava Batra 130b.

R’ Shirman then contends that most halachah-observant courts involved in conversion, whether in Israel or not, lack a chazakah of correct decisions and rulings – not in terms of deficient halachic knowledge, but in terms of not accurately perceiving the reality of the individual conversion case. He cites the Chazon Ish on the procedure of determining law and analyzing the circumstances in which the law is to be applied.

R’ Shirman cites his own experience, in seeing converts who never intended to accept mitzvot, but simply said they would.

Therefore, R’ Shirman argues, even the Beit Yosef, who balked at the positions of Rashba/Radvaz, would agree to apply them to conversion and say that the courts’ decisions could be re-opened for examination.

R’ Shirman then return to his earlier point, saying that even if we would say a court cannot re-open another court’s decision, we would have to accept the new court’s finding once it did re-open the decision and it did find flaws.

As far as the procedural level cited earlier in Section 11, R’ Shirman argued again, as he did in Section 12, that the 1984 ruling (already cited in Section 10) from R’ Yaakov Kanaeivsky (the Steipler), R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R’ Shach and R’ Elyashiv, in which they warned that conversion without Torah and mitzvah acceptance is invalid even ex post facto, and should not be accepted by marriage registrars, shows that conversion certificates must still be investigated where there is a concern about the acceptance of mitzvot by the conversion candidate, or a concern about the status of the converting beit din.

Section 15: טעונים פורמלים פרוצדוראליים אינם גוברים על דברים מהותיים שסותרים להם
R’ Shirman returns here to the procedural issue cited in the beginning of Section 11:
In an earlier litigation, R’ Daichovsky cited a decision from R’ Bakshi-Doron stating that marriage registrars will accept copies of conversion certificates from licensed rabbinic courts and the courts of conversion, and that all other conversions must receive approval of rabbinic courts or the department of the Chief Rabbinate dealing with this issue. This indicates that the two court systems – rabbinic and conversion-specific – function independently, and one cannot nullify a decision of the other.

The majority of the court in that litigation agreed with R’ Daichovsky and recognized the conversion, ignoring the challenges to the mitzvah-acceptance of the convert.

R’ Shirman argues that this decision runs counter to the 1984 declaration cited above at the end of Section 14 from R’ Kanaeivsky, R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R’ Schach and R’ Elyashiv, instructing marriage registrars to review conversions. If registrars should be able to review conversions, then expert courts certainly should be able to do so.

R’ Shirman further argues that within Torah it is unheard of to allow formal procedures (פורמליות פרוצדורליות) to trump substantive issues.

R’ Shirman supports this, again, with R’ Chaim Pilaggi’s comments (cited above in Section 13) regarding the ability of a court to review decisions of another court.

R’ Shirman notes that the court in the earlier litigation also based its view on the rule that certificates from the conversion courts must be recognized, and argues against that procedural position based, again, on the 1984 declaration cited above.

R’ Shirman turns to his colleague, R’ Bar Shalom, who supported R’ Daichovsky, to ask for the halachic basis for taking the procedural position over the halachic doubts regarding a conversion.

Section 16: אין להשען על דעת הרוב שעברה שינויים ותהפוכות
Note: I think I have all of the voices right in the following section, in which R’ Shirman cites an opinion from the third judge in the earlier Rechovot litigation mentioned above in Section 11 - but the text is unclear about where the third judge’s opinion ends, and R’ Shirman’s notes begin. I have done my best with this.

R’ Shirman then notes that the majority decision in the earlier litigation did not remain with formal authority as its justification, but instead added the idea of R’ Daichovsky (Section 10 above) that acceptance of mitzvot is gauged at the moment of conversion (and not based on later behavior).

As was noted in an additional opinion sent to Rishon l’Tzion Rav Amar by the third judge, to explain why he had decided to vote “I don’t know” rather than take a stance in the case:

The majority in that earlier litigation came to its conclusion after first being of radically different views. One view wished to uphold the rejection of the conversion, the second view accepted the conversion with the justification that conversions cannot be annulled, and the third view argued that the local court had no authority to revoke the conversion, but that the case should go before the Chief Rabbinate for their verdict. The holder of the second view then joined with the holder of the third view, and together they established that until the chief rabbinate nullifies the conversion, the conversion stands.

The writer then asked what might be the halachic basis for removing conversion from the jurisdiction of an existing court, when the courts had always handled conversion and conversion is a matter of the courts, and handing it over to the office of the Chief Rabbinate.

R’ Isirer of Rechovot also challenged the majority view on this basis, and added that the three views among the judges do not constitute a consolidated verdict, but are actually three different views, and therefore two judges should be added to the court.

The writer then noted that this means the original decision was not at all clear, and that there was no dialogue among the judges, which is required in Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 18:1 "וישאו ויתנו בדבר" and that the Beit Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 13) rules that we do not follow a majority unless the majority is reached after debate among them.

The writer then asked how one could say that the couple should be able to marry pending the decision of the Chief Rabbinate; what if, as R’ Isirer asked, the Chief Rabbinate would then annul the conversion?

R’ Amar rejected these challenges without addressing the substantive issues raised in the letter, and said we rely on the majority.

The majority then recanted their original decision and wrote that no one could nullify a conversion until the original converting body would revoke it.

The writer contended that this verdict lacks all halachic basis, violates precedent, and did not involve any discussion among the members of the beit din, since the majority judges did not respond to the minority’s objections.

After an extended period the court issued a new decision, in which they no longer relied on the majority view of R’ Daichovsky and R’ Bar Shalom that the court which overturned the conversion had no jurisdiction, but instead relied on the view of R’ Daichovsky [cited above, that we only work with the convert’s intent at the moment of conversion], and R’ Bar Shalom joined him in this, again without debate among the judges. The writer noted that he again did not receive a response to his challenges.

This is why the third judge decided to rule “I don’t know” - because without any explanation from the other two judges, he couldn’t claim to understand their view. Therefore, two judges should be added, to obtain clarification [as is done when the judges cannot come to a decision].
Rav Amar stated that the third judge did count toward the decision because he had expressed a view on the case, but the third judge argued that without any understanding of the position of the others, and without debate, and with all of the changes in their positions, he could not say anything other than “I don’t know.”

R’ Shirman then recaps some earlier points related to our case:
• That the rule of not re-opening another court’s decision does not apply here, because that rule, as explained by the Rambam, relies on the assumption that the earlier court was expert. The whole challenge of R’ Attiyeh was that the earlier court was not expert.
• As far as the formal claim that the municipal court lacks authority to overturn the conversion, that is not relevant, because the original court’s authority is void due to their ineligibility as a court.

R’ Shirman adds that the original ruling from R’ Attiyeh did not actually disqualify the woman’s conversion or her status as a Jew, and it did not nullify her children’s status as Jews. Section 12 of the ruling specified that the woman may pursue a further judgment regarding her status; the court’s ruling was only insofar as the get which had been requested. R’ Attiyeh was only requesting that they be registered as ineligible to marry until their conversion could be examined anew by a proper court, because of the flaws which had been identified in the original .

R’ Shirman then notes that the plaintiff’s sources about accepting a conversion where the convert sinned afterward are not relevant here, because they assume that the initial conversion was done properly.

R’ Shirman adds that the Shulchan Aruch’s statement accepting a conversion where the court had not properly investigated the convert’s intent is not relevant here either, for that refers only to a court that has not examined the convert’s intent. Where the intent does become clear, and we see that there was no acceptance of mitzvot, or the court itself has been disqualified, the conversion is nullified.

Based on all of the above, there is room for doubt regarding the conversion of the litigant and her three children. The certificate of conversion should be nullified, and the woman and her children should be listed in the register of those who are ineligible to wed.

The court sees no reason, though, to include the (ex-)husband in the registry of those who are ineligible to wed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My Jblogging Troll rates this post a 2

I had a spare ten years or so while in a doctor’s waiting room this afternoon. Having finished reviewing the parshah (not too hard for Behar, but I could have done Matos-Masei there and still finished…), I drafted this post about my Jblogging troll.

I’m not one for popularity contests (rabbis who worry about those are in deep, deep trouble), and I almost never looked at my JBlogCentral listings until I learned of my troll... but I was glad when my blog cracked the Top 20 on JBlogCentral. It meant more people would see my site, and I hoped that would translate to a bigger audience.

I also hoped that people would now refrain from rating my posts at all. My posts tend to be 400+ words, so I get an automatic 5 for each post, so my average would improve if people just left my posts alone.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that once a day, or every couple of days, some troll would come through and rate all my posts a “2”. All my posts from the past couple of days would go from 5 to 7, in a matter of one or two minutes.

I wasn’t the only one to experience this - I soon noticed, for example, that someone was ranking all of Frumstepper’s posts with 2’s, also. My troll was two-timing, at least! Either it was someone trying to knock us down the rankings, or it was someone with an issue with orthoblogs...

The troll has a lot of time available, that’s for sure - the “2” ratings came in blocks at the same time for all of my posts, sometimes mornings, sometimes evenings. (Never Shabbos - a Shomer Shabbos troll!) Perhaps her (his?) own blog would do better if she (he?) spent more time on improving it, instead of bashing those of others.

I emailed the folks at JblogCentral, who were sympathetic but felt they couldn’t do much about it. They said they are volunteers, and don’t have the time to scan logs. (I’d simply require a login for voting, so that every vote would appear with an ID - but I suppose they are concerned about discouraging voter participation.)

So I deal with it by not taking it too seriously, and I've gone back to not really looking at my rankings much. In a sense, though, it's nice to be noticed. It’s like having someone who goes around complaining about the rabbi (not that I have anyone who does that) - if you don’t take the bashing too personally, it’s fun to have a “fan.”

One interesting last note: The troll probably ends up bringing me more traffic, and better ratings. When he (she?) rates a post, other people will see the title pop up and they'll come visit it as well. More traffic, which is what I wanted in the first place.

...and the doctor is still not ready to see me...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Derashah: Behar - Iron Man, Shimshon and Us

[This dvar torah doubles as the introduction to our Daf Yomi siyyum on Nazir.]

Iron Man. A Batman sequel. An Incredible Hulk sequel. Hancock. Narnia. Indiana Jones. Is it just me, or has heroic testosterone hijacked Hollywood?

During the past seventy years, American entertainment has actually gone through three periods of focussing on larger-than-life heroes, and, interestingly, each period has come at a time of grave crisis:
• The first was during the 1940’s and World War II;
• The second was during the 1960’s, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War;
• And now we’re in the third, at a time when America’s future, and even its present, seems more fragile than it has in a generation.

The focus on heroics and saviors is understandable: When we feel uncertain, when we sense that our world is dangerously out of control, we seek a hero to save us.

Judaism actually encourages us to feel that the world is out of our control, and to look specifically to a Hero with a capital H - HaShem - to save us. הכל בידי שמים, the Gemara says - all is in the hands of Heaven - and the corollary is that it’s not בידי אדם, not in our hands.

In fact, our parshah reminds us of that message, with the mitzvah of Shemitah. Under the laws of Shemitah, which apply specifically in Israel, we go for a year without planting our fields, and we abandon any wild growth for anyone and everyone to take.

As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explained it, this Shemitah mitzvah acknowledges our lack of control. He wrote, “In order that Israel’s land, intended for the realization of Israel’s task, should not, through the sin of pride of possession become the cause of Israel’s downfall, Gd ordained shemittah” and other land-oriented mitzvot. We surrender our power and turn to Gd to orchestrate our future.

Taking it a step further, the Torah’s description of Shemitah explicitly demands our surrender, predicting that as the Shemitah year approaches and we contemplate surviving without the produce of our fields, we will ask, “But how are we supposed to survive? הן לא נזרע ולא נאסוף את תבואתנו!” And the Divine Hero replies, “וצויתי את ברכתי לכם, I will provide blessing for you.” That’s it - just rely on the ultimate Hero, HaShem.

But we don’t always look to HaShem to save us.
There is a second half to the Hebrew phrase I quoted before about Divine control. I said הכל בידי שמים, that everything is in the hands of Gd, but the end of that phrase is חוץ מיראת שמים - not everything is in Gd’s Hands, Gd left our awe of Gd, our self-control and self-discipline, our choice to observe mitzvot and live Torah lives, in our own possession. We will never be forced to discipline ourselves, we will never be forced to keep mitzvot. Control of the world may be in Gd’s hands, but control of ourselves is in our own. We are the heroes.

This heroism is not the Hollywood definition, the gamma ray-irradiated, ninja-trained, technologically amped-up muscleman. Instead, it’s the message of Pirkei Avot: איזהו גבור? הכובש את יצרו Who is mighty? One who controls himself. It’s the message of Mishlei: ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר, One who controls himself is mightier than the conqueror of a city.

When a Jew realizes that he is out of control - that he’s spiritually erratic, that she’s losing her temper, that he’s making bad decisions, that she’s getting so caught up in various pursuits that she has no time to work on internal growth - then it’s time for the Jew to become a גבור, and to get himself under control.

Perhaps the best example of this comes from the gemara just completed by our Daf Yomi: the gemara of Nazir.

A Nazir vows not to drink wine so that he won’t become intoxicated; not to cut his hair so that he will be repellent to others; and not to become tamei from dead bodies so that he will have to separate from human society.

The Gemara asks, “Why does someone become a Nazir?” And it answers its own question, saying, “He sees the results of sexual immorality, and decides to swear off wine.” The Nazir feels that he is losing control of himself, and decides to become the hero. The Nazir asserts control of his life.

The best example of this is the most famous Nazir in Jewish history: Shimshon.

As Rav Tzaddok haKohen of Lublin explained, Shimshon was destined to be a great Jewish leader, he had the potential to move mountains both physically and spiritually, but his sole weakness was a congenital lack of control. He had a natural wild side. And so HaShem told Shimshon’s mother to raise him as a Nazir, to have him stay away from intoxication, and from society, in order to keep himself under control.

For many years this nezirut worked and Shimshon served as a righteous judge, but ultimately, tragically, the nezirut did not keep Shimshon in line forever. He became involved with Philistine women, went to parties, brawled, and ended up squandering his significant talent.

Shimshon’s life warns us of what happens when we don’t keep close watch on ourselves. We leave the world up to HaShem, as the uber-Hero, but when we see that we are making mistakes, when we realize that we’ve lost focus, it’s time for us to step up and be our own heroes.

We generally don’t take on nezirut today, for the simple reason that without a Beit haMikdash, we cannot bring offerings to end the nezirut period. However, the concept of Nazir is still very relevant.

The Nazir takes control by imposing self-discipline in his eating, in his grooming, and in his assocations. The applications for our own day are obvious. A Jew can impose a limit on his gastric indulgence, can determine to stop dressing to impress, can retreat from society’s constant embrace. Not indefinitely, but for a period of time, in order to take charge of her existence.

To a certain extent, the members of our Daf Yomi have already taken the Nazir step. No, we aren’t teetotaling, long-haired, hermitish Nezirim, but dedicating an hour a day - the same hour every day - is a powerful statement of self-discipline.

I applaud the members of our Daf Yomi for their commitment to this sort of control. They are, in their own right, heroes.

But this is a heroism which anyone can take on. We don’t need gamma rays or a bullwhip; all it takes is the determination to direct our lives in the way we wish to go.

(And here I will do the siyyum on masechet Nazir...)

Note: For more on Shimshon and his Nezirut as self-control, see R' Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer's Bigdei Shesh to Shoftim 15, elaborating on the writings of the Tzidkat haTzaddik.

Note 2: Of course, the gemara is ambivalent regarding nezirut, despite the fact that HaShem included it as an option in the Torah. It seems to me that this is a matter of "In case of emergency, break glass."

Daf: Nazir 64-66

This concludes our Nazir comments. Some interesting material in here, but - as always - it will be more intelligible with a Gemara in your hands.

Pseudo-Rashi, at the bottom of the page, says that water containing the ashes of the פרה אדומה would be dense, and therefore would float atop regular water. I’m not sure of the science here, but that seems a bit odd. Rashi was an experimenter, as noted in his commentary to the chumash (such as in his comments to Shemot 16:14 on the evaporation of dew from inside an eggshell), so I’m not sure he would have written this at all.
Perhaps the ashes would have some grease from the פרה אדומה, and would therefore have a floating film?

The words ותיפטר משתיהן seem very odd here.

Also, we should probably have ואמר רב כהנא just below that, since it’s mid-sentence.

See Tosafos אחד on why we would, or would not, identify an area as a cemetery based on one known body and two newly discovered bodies.

The description of Yosef’s removal from Egypt is cited as a source, or perhaps אסמכתא, for taking out more than just the body itself, but some area around it as well. This is problematic for two reasons:
1) Yosef was embalmed, and therefore he would not have decayed.
2) As the Tosafos Yom Tov (cited in the inside margin) notes, the midrash says that Yosef was not buried in earth at all, but in a box in the Nile.

The verb of פירש associated with R’ Elazar reminds me of פריך ר' אחאי and Tosafos’s comment (Ketuvot 2b) about specific verbs being associated with specific sages.

Note the debate between Tosafos and pseudo-Rashi as to the definition of קססות. The Rosh has a view that these are spices placed with the body; this was done in Talmudic times in order to dispel the aroma of decay.

Note the debate between pseudo-Rashi and the Rosh about the definition of the word עילא. The "cause" definition takes it as עילה.

On the list of 7 things which may cause זיבה, one of them is called מראה. Pseudo-Rashi and Rosh (printed on 66a) disagree as to the nature of מראה.

It seems that Chanah prays for Shemuel to not fear other people; this seems to indicate that many traits of character are Gd-given, or at least Gd-influenced. This fits the idea that HaShem creates us with traits, and our job is to balance those traits. Our Free Will is in the balancing act we perform.

Note that in translating מורה as fear, we equate it with מורא, a very different root.

The Rosh says that the rule here for grabbing the “cup of blessing” applies not just here, but to all blessings.

The issue here of whether it is better to recite a blessing or to listen and respond Amen is particularly interesting in light of the view of Aruch haShulchan and Mishneh Berurah that when many families dine together, only one should recite Kiddush and the rest should answer Amen.

On to Sotah!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sh’ma Magazine article: Blame the Jews for Domestic Abuse

At the outset, let me speak plainly: Domestic abuse is a horrible crime, deserving of jail or worse. A horrible disease, it exists in every culture on earth, including among Jews of all types of observance, and the leaders of every society must do everything in their power, and then some, to root it out. Within the context of Orthodox Judaism, that means that rabbis, as supposed social leaders, must take concrete steps, including speeches and classes as well as personal counseling, to eradicate this crime.

Having said that, I was deeply disappointed by Naomi Graetz’s column, Silence is Deadly, in the February/March 2008 issue of Sh’ma Magazine. Graetz took an earthshatteringly important issue and cheapened it into political fodder.

Graetz starts strong, talking about the problem of domestic abuse and the need to eliminate it, and the extent of its presence in Jewish and Arab populations in Israel. But then she veers off into something that sounds an awful lot like anti-Jewish hate speech:

Where does the attitude come from that physical and mental abuse against women is acceptable? Does it start at home, in school? Is it supported by the rabbinate? What gives some men the right to think that silencing women is permissible? Is it because, as our sages say, a woman would prefer any marriage to not being married at all?

As Graetz presumably knows quite well, and as I stated above, domestic abuse exists in every society on earth - Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Atheist, Aboriginal, European, South American, Eskimo, you name it. Any decent psychologist can tell you that it is a product of human dysfunction, traceable to insecurity or depression or childhood trauma or chemical imbalance or a combination of other ills. So why allege that rabbis support it, or silence women? Is Torah responsible for Hindu domestic abuse, perhaps? Are rabbis fomenting misogynist behavior in Iceland or Indonesia? And no basis is presented for her suggestion - only that insidious, hideous allegation.

And Ms. Graetz continues:

Some religious leaders choose to ignore the distress of battered women; family stability and obedience to rabbinic law trumps the suffering of the individual. These sages are silencing women’s voices. In Israel, jurisdiction in matters of personal status is given to the Orthodox rabbinical courts, which means that all matters of marriage and divorce are adjudicated according to the interpretations of Jewish law. Although ample precedents exist for interpreting halakhah in a way that might favor women, rabbis who sit in today’s rabbinical courts have no such incentives.

Notice the “some religious leaders” and “these sages” in there? No names, no cases, no statistics or specific data, just a broad-brush stroke attacking nameless leaders and sages.

Graetz then reveals her rabbinic target as she turns the second half of the article into a diatribe against the Israeli rabbinate, alleging that they are biased against women and that they don’t admit the problem - even as she grudgingly admits that “Orthodox and Haredi” communities have now set up safe houses for women. Despite this and associated steps to address the problem (there are now “some rabbis who don’t automatically side with the husband,” to cite Graetz’s damning praise), her solution includes the important charge to “dismantle the rabbinate’s monopoly on divorce.”

And that will solve this problem? Come on. I am no fan of כפייה דתית, religious coercion, but the real issue is addressing mental illness and protecting the vulnerable, not shuffling the rules of which agency processes an application for divorce.

I’m disgusted. I’d rather fight domestic abuse than use it for political agitprop.