Monday, November 29, 2010

The Women’s Section

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here]

One of the classic design challenges for Orthodox synagogues is the matter of the Women’s Section – how to create a space which welcomes and encourages davening, while excluding some of the key components of the shul’s real estate (shulchan, aron) and dealing with the reality that the great majority of Orthodox attendees are men.

Mechitzah design is its own complex issue, of course, but trying to design a good davening area for women by focussing on the mechitzah would be like trying to design a hockey rink by focussing on the placement of the red and blue lines. The lines are important, but it’s the ice that really matters, folks - and in the decades since balconies ceased to the norm, the ice has often been ignored.

I’ve been troubled by this challenge for decades. I once interviewed at a shul which was in the midst of an expansion, and at the grilling I was asked if I had any thoughts on the design they had chosen. I told them I felt their planned layout, which had the women’s section at the back of the shul, should be changed to put the women side-by-side with the men. (I received a standing ovation, I kid you not, but I decided not to continue in the interview process for other reasons.)

Having a choice of shuls and minyanim here in Toronto has heightened my sensitivity to the issue, and to the possibilities – positive and negative.

Of course, you may not particularly want women to come daven in your shul. You may feel that inviting women to shul is inappropriate, since it might lead them to want to lead davening next. If so, this post is not for you. But if you feel that our wives should feel like shul is theirs as well, and if you feel that our daughters need encouragement in their davening, then please consider the following ten suggestions for those designing sanctuaries today:

1. Make it permanent. Aside from the halachic problems with converting a space from men’s use to women’s use and back again [see Minchas Yitzchak 7:8 and Tzitz Eliezer 9:11 and 12:14 for starters], nothing is as discouraging as showing up in shul only to have people create ad hoc space just for you. )This is often an issue in daily-minyan rooms.)

2. Don’t let it become a coatroom, or a shortcut, or an ad hoc spillover section/talking section for men. It’s up to the rabbi and gabbaim to enforce this, but proper layout can help.

3. Keep the section well-lit. If a bulb goes out, don’t let it ride, saying, “We don’t have too many women who come here to daven, anyway.”

4. Similar to #3, make sure the climate control system works well on their side. In particular, check that the women aren’t directly beneath vents; that tends to happen in shuls where the women’s sections line the sides of the shul.

5. Make sure they have siddur and chumash shelves in their area so that they won’t need to ask the men to send them sefarim. And make sure the men’s siddur and chumash shelves are not in the women’s area, as well.

6. Put the women’s area near the front, for reasons of both acoustics and overall feel. Of course, this may necessitate a higher mechitzah, depending on certain halachic issues, but my sense is that a few more inches and placement up-front is preferred over a shorter divider and seating in the back.

7. Design the acoustics to ensure that the davening, Torah reading and haftorah are fully audible in the women’s section.

8. If your shul has a noisy hallway, make sure women have a choice of seating further from the door. Some may want to be near the door to have access to their children or to a quick exit, but not everyone wants to pray to the sweet sounds of squabbling children and the kiddush club.

9. Share the furniture. If your men’s section has comfortable chairs, tables and shtenders, so does your women’s section.

10. Make sure it’s populated. It’s a big turnoff for my daughters, and very uncomfortable for them, if they are the only women present in shul.

Women: Am I off-base here? What would you change, and what would you add to this list?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Re-Post - My White House visit for Chanukah

The post below ran at Chanukah-time three years ago. I look back with a mixture of nostalgia and amusement; enjoy.

I wrote an opinion article regarding my White House/Chanukah trip, and it ran in the Allentown Morning Call on Thursday, December 13. They edited it marginally, just enough to wreck some of the grammar. This is their version:

(Their title: White House Chanukah signals democratic health)

The phrase ''Only in America'' is trite, but apt for the occasion: On Monday evening Dec. 10, my wife Caren and I joined a few hundred other Jewish Americans for a Chanukah party in the White House. The hosts were President and Mrs. Bush, and all I could think was, ''Only in America.''

Cynics carp that such cultural celebrations, like the president's marking of Eid al-Fitr this past October, are essentially political tools, meant to appeal to minority voters.

But, I believe that the cynics are missing the point. The lesson of such occasions is that only in America, and in the societies America has inspired, can a minority gain this sort of political notice, this level of electoral significance.

If the motivation is to win the favor of a cultural minority, that's a good thing, a sign of our country's democratic health. The Chinese government doesn't need to worry about catering to a minority, and neither do Arab nations; only in America does the president have to pause to think about the feelings of each ethnic group. Only in America will the president's staff contact the Orthodox Union and offer it the chance to invite four rabbis to celebrate Chanukah at the White House.

And so, we marked Chanukah with a menorah from the family of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter brutally murdered by terrorists for the crime of being Jewish. Daniel Pearl's parents, wife and family were honored guests for the evening.

And so, we enjoyed kosher food, prepared in the White House kitchen with equipment that had been specially treated to render it kosher. Cookies bore the phrase, ''Happy Chanukah,'' and we munched on traditional Chanukah jelly doughnuts beneath the portraits of past presidents and first ladies.

And so, we heard the Jewish Zamir Chorale, as well as a military band, perform such Chanukah classics as ''Rock of Ages'' and ''I Had a Little Dreidel.'' Those big brass sections really add something to the traditional tunes.

And so, a rabbi and rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) from the third-largest city in Pennsylvania were honored by the Orthodox Union with the opportunity to meet the President of the United States and First Lady and stand beside them for a photograph. (We actually took two photographs; the President explained that he had blinked on the first one.)

And, to return to those cynics for a moment: The Chanukah celebration at the White House was not entirely politically inspired; the White House also marks Chanukah privately, more quietly, with a commemoration for its Jewish employees.In a nation of businesses who stage ''holiday parties'' meant to serve as catch-all celebrations for employees of all ethnicities, this White House holds separate parties for White House staff members on their own holidays. This means that Jewish staff members have their own Chanukah party, not as part of the public celebration and not as part of some generic ''holiday'' celebration, but as a commemoration of their own. Would that our nation's businesses were similarly sensitive!

America, after all of the constitutional legislation and all of the political debate, is culturally Christian. I walk the malls bemusedly staring at all of the red and green. I turn on the radio and hear holiday music, I drive down the street and see lone candles in the windows and chains of lights draped over shrubbery. The White House was filled with tinsel-decorated evergreen trees; even the invitation for the Chanukah party featured a picture of a festively decorated fir tree.

But none of this troubles me. The beauty of America, at least to me, is that the citizens of this great nation can celebrate their own festivities and simultaneously recognize the celebrations of others.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Israel can learn from South Korea’s experience

[Article I'm mulling today: Newsweek's "The DNA of Abraham's Children"]

What does it mean to have the US as a “close ally,” a nation standing by your side and guaranteeing your security? When you’re under attack, will the Obama administration provide instant military aid, or will it dither diplomatically while your civilians suffer?

Israelis have been told for decades that the US would be by their side, and no Arab nation would dare attack, for fear of American reprisal. [1967 and 1973 are distant memories by now; the question is today, not yesterday.] The US would like to see UN troops, or NATO troops, on-site, rather than have Israelis defend themselves. Israelis have been less than confident in these promises, noting how quickly its neighbors could invade and cause serious harm before any help from the United States would be set in motion. Hence Israel’s insistence on demilitarizing any Palestinian Arab state, hence Israel's stance on the Golan, hence Israel’s stance on keeping soldiers in the Jordan Valley, hence the on-going Israeli emphasis on maintaining a qualitative military edge, and so on. [Whether any of this would effectively safeguard Israel from attack is debatable; my point is only that Israel has not wanted to rely on external safeguards.]

South Korea, on the other hand, has relied on the United States for on-site military assistance. Per the US State Department’s website: “Under the 1953 U.S.-R.O.K. Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States agreed to help the Republic of Korea defend itself against external aggression. In support of this commitment, the United States has maintained military personnel in Korea, including the Army's Second Infantry Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons. To coordinate operations between these units and the over 680,000-strong Korean armed forces, a Combined Forces Command (CFC) was established in 1978. The head of the CFC also serves as Commander of the United Nations Command (UNC) and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). The current CFC commander is General Walter “Skip” Sharp.” Although the same article notes that the US presence will be scaled back and shifted south in the coming decade, currently, US troops are there to defend South Korea from attack, and even to coordinate South Korean forces.

So what will happen now? After the apparent sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan by North Korea last year, and initial American denunciations, the US did nothing. Now the North has overtly shelled the South - what aid will the US provide? Will the Obama administration provide its typical analytic, slow and measured response, long on press releases and statements but short on action, which has won it such contempt in previous crises like the BP oil spill? Or will it move swiftly and decisively to demonstrate, with more than press releases, what the US does for the allies who depend upon it?

To be sure, there are many good reasons for the US to hold off on instant military action on the Korean peninsula. Aside from North Korea’s nuclear capability, there is the matter of China, and the uncertainty in South Korea’s own government and population about where they want this to go. But there are many such justifications for delay in the Middle East as well – Iran, nuclear concerns, internal Israeli dissonance and so on. And where North Korea has few friends to stall American action, the Arab nations are a bloc that controls international institutions as well as the western oil-based economy. So a delay in action in the Koreas certainly signals that there would be delay in action in the Middle East.

You can bet Israel is watching.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Large Rabbi

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here]

Last night I attended a celebration for a rabbi’s retirement, after three decades of serving a shul. Aside from the fact that the evening was beautiful, it also reminded me of one of the things I love most, and miss most, about the rabbinate. A shul rabbi is forced to become Large.

I watched the rabbi walk through the room and interact with people, shaking hands and exchanging hugs and receiving well-wishes, and I thought of all the things he knew about these people, perhaps even more than they knew about themselves. He remembered their celebrations and their shivah houses, their disputes and their reconciliations. He knew their children and their grandparents, and their uncle who liked to receive shishi when he visited. He knew their businesses, and he knew how close their businesses had once come to collapsing, until he had come up with a last minute loan arrangement. He knew what they had said at the funerals of their loved ones, and he knew what they had not said as well. He knew which shiurim they had attended, and with whom they had connected. He knew the committees they had served on, what they had done, what frustrations they had encountered and what successes they had achieved. He knew beside whom they sat in shul, and what they discussed before, during and after the derashah. He knew their favorite food and drink, and whether they lingered at the table after shabbos lunch or whether they went for a nap as soon as they could.

And, as was noted last night, he had loved all of them. There is no way a shul rabbi survives without loving them all, whether in a shul of ten members or a shul of one thousand members. You can’t fake it, and you wouldn’t want to try; the needs of all of these lives are too consistent, too all-encompassing, too permeating of every aspect of life. To be the rabbi of a shul is to expand beyond yourself, to include a community in your soul.

The shul rabbinate makes you large in another, internal dimension, too: It forces you to grow up, or, again, you won’t survive. To learn discretion, to squelch indignation, to develop patience, to abandon the idea of a comfort zone, to organize your thoughts and find ways to explain your mind to the world. To help people who will never acknowledge what you’ve done, and who may not even recognize it. To learn sound process and administration, and practice it. To swallow hard when something is against your grain, but you know it’s necessary. To push yourself to the limits and beyond in diligent effort and in emotional strain.

I assume the rabbinate is not the only experience that does this for a person. On some level, of course, marriage does it, as you welcome another into your soul and as you accept a new and less selfish way of doing business in order to build the relationship. And having children does it, too, in a bigger way than marriage. And public service of any kind does it. My point is not to claim that the rabbinate is the only way to experience these kinds of growth.

But there’s no denying it: The Rabbi is large.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Falling for my children

[Enjoyed this post today: Video Roundup at the Muqata]

Having high-achieving ancestors is good for us; as the midrash (Tana dvei Eliyahu Rabbah 23) tells us, we are obligated to challenge ourselves and ask, “מתי יגיעו מעשי למעשי אבותי, When will my deeds match those of my ancestors?” But there’s a flip side, too: The more we beatify our ancestors, the more out of reach their deeds become - and the less hope we have for ourselves and our own accomplishments.

We praise Reb Zushe when he says his goal is not to be Avraham Avinu or Moshe Rabbeinu but only to be Zushe, but I wonder whether we should not also mourn the loss of ambition that comes with deciding we cannot be Moshe Rabbeinu.

That lofty thought comes to mind because of an experiment I embarked upon last Sunday: I went ice skating for the first time in some 25 years.

I was never a real skater, despite being a serious hockey fan in a family of serious hockey fans. (Trivia: I was interviewed on MSG before the Rangers’ Game 5 against the Canucks in the 1993-1994 Stanley Cup Finals.) I don’t think I was on blades more than a dozen times, if that many. I stopped playing hockey when everyone else switched to roller and then ice; I couldn’t hack it. I had a poor sense of balance, and a strong sense of self-preservation. I took up cross-country and weight-lifting instead.

Why, then, did I return to the ice this past week? For my children, actually, to help them avoid Reb Zushe’s pitfall.

Most young children rarely see their parents struggle with anything. They don’t know the kid who swung his bat any number of times in the backyard in order to teach himself to hit. They don’t know the kid who was so shy in elementary school, who walked into high school on his first day incredibly intimidated, and so on. They don’t know the kid who wore glasses from kindergarten through sixth grade, and had braces twice. They don’t know the kid who entered shiur in the 9th grade and heard the Rebbe assign the Rif and Nimukei Yosef for homework and had no idea what the Rebbe was talking about.

My kids don’t really know of my more modern struggles, either. They were too young in my shul rabbinate days for me to share with them my emotional challenges over hospital visits, nursing home visits, and funerals. They don’t understand how hard it was for me to write derashos week after week, and they don’t get the stress and pressure of meeting my shiur schedule or running our kollel. I describe to them my anxiety about public speaking, but they don’t really believe me.

Many children think things come easy for their parents, and I want my kids to see me struggle, so that they will view my accomplishments, whatever they are, as within their grasp. And so that they will be inspired to struggle as well, with their own challenges.

And so I went out on the ice, poor sense of balance and high sense of self-preservation and all, along with my children who have now been taking lessons for over a year. I was kind of hoping to fall, just to make the point and be done with it.

Surprise! I actually enjoyed it, when I wasn’t being terrified. It was fun. It was great having my kids coach me.

And, in fact, I didn’t fall (thank Gd!).

But, then again, there’s always next Sunday…

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The man who mistook his religion for a hat

[Post on my mind today: Not so easy to contain the disgust, from Orthonomics]

with apologies to Dr. Oliver Sacks for the title

I was up on a chair at my Bar Mitzvah celebration when the offer was made. A friend of our family asked me which gift I would like: A Shas [set of Talmud] or a Borsalino hat? [Borsalino is a high-end, expensive brand, although I didn't know that at the time. In 1985, both a Borsalino and a Pninim Shas probably ran between 100 and 130 dollars.]

I chose the Shas.

I wish I could say it was an educated, ideological decision, substance over style, Shas over shtick. But, in truth, I didn't really see much of a choice. The men of our family didn't wear hats for davening or Shabbos, and I didn't know anything about why anyone would wear one. It was more ignorance than anything else.

I received that Shas as well as another one for my bar mitzvah, and I'm glad I have both; I've scribbled notes in the volumes of both over the years, and carried them all over, to the point where bindings are frayed and gone, and some pages are covered with more of my own writing than the original. I'm really attached to it, far more attached than I've ever been to a piece of clothing, even a piece of clothing associated with a mitzvah. Score one for the Shas, in terms of utility.

And score another for the Shas: I didn't end up putting on a hat for another five years, until my second year in yeshiva in Israel, when I started wearing one in honor of Shabbos. It would be another twelve or so years before I would start wearing a hat for davening in general (as a way to enhance the jacket and tie I was wearing all day). So from a 'years of use' perspective, my decision certainly made sense.

Beyond years of use, though, and beyond my general attachment to that Pninim Shas, I'm glad of my decision because now that I am of age to make an informed decision, I can't see trading Torah for a hat. In truth, I'm not really sure why there was a question in the first place.

I don't think that the generous person offering the gift really thought a hat was the equivalent of a Shas. Maybe he was doing it to tease my family, who were not hat-wearers. Or maybe he just wanted to see where I was, mentally. Or, perhaps, he was just joking. Don't know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kollel Study

Gd-willing, I'll be delivering a shiur (first of two parts) on Wednesday evening, on the topic of Kollel Study. It's part of my series on Responsa that changed Jewish History (although I'll discuss in the shiur whether the responsa involved in this history actually changed anything).

Here is my source sheet for the shiur. There is nothing novel in it, but I suspect you won't find a translation of the Tashbetz, free of charge, anywhere else:

Responsa that changed Jewish History, Topic 4a: Rambam vs. Tashbetz on Kollel Support

R’ Mordechai Torczyner –

1. Rambam’s commentary to Avot 4:5

דע, כי זה כבר אמר: אל תעשה התורה קרדום לחפור בה, כלומר: אל תחשבה כלי לפרנסה, ובאר ואמר שכל מי שיהנה בזה העולם בכבוד תורה שהוא כורת נפשו מחיי העולם הבא. והעלימו בני אדם עיניהם מזו הלשון הגלויה, והשליכוה אחרי גוום, ונתלו בפשטי מאמרים שלא הבינום - אני אבארם - והטילו להם חוקים על היחידים ועל הקהילות, ועשו את המינויים התוריים לחוק מכסים, והביאו בני אדם לסבור שטות גמורה, שזה צריך ומחוייב, לעזור לחכמים ולתלמידים ולאנשים העוסקים בתורה ותורתן אומנותן. וכל זה טעות, אין בתורה מה שיאמת אותו, ולא רגל שישען עליה בשום פנים. לפי שאנו אם נעיין בתולדות החכמים, זכרם לברכה, לא נמצא אצלם לא הטלת חובות על בני אדם, ולא קיבוץ ממון לישיבות המרוממות הנכבדות, ולא לראשי גלויות ולא לדיינין ולא למרבצי תורה ולא לאחד מן הממונים ולא לשאר האנשים, אלא נמצא קהילותיהם כולן יש בהם עני בתכלית, ועשיר רב הממון בתכלית, וחלילה לה' שאומר שהם לא היו גומלי חסד ונותני צדקה, אלא זה העני אילו פשט ידו לקחת היו ממלאים ביתו זהב ומרגליות, אבל הוא לא היה עושה כן, אלא מסתפק במלאכה שיתפרנס ממנה, בין ברווח בין בדוחק, ובז למה שבידי בני אדם, הואיל והתורה מנעתו מזה. וכבר ידעת כי הלל הזקן היה חוטב, והיה חוטב עצים ולומד לפני שמעיה ואבטליון, והוא בתכלית העניות, ומעלתו - עד כי תלמידיו הם אשר הושוו למשה ויהושע, וקטן תלמידיו רבן יוחנן בן זכאי. ולא יסופק לבר דעת שאילו היה מסכים לקבל מבני דורו, לא היו מניחים אותו לחטוב עצים. וחנינה בן דוסא, אשר קול קורא עליו: "כל העולם כולו אינו ניזון אלא בשביל חנניה בני וחנניה בני דיו קב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת", ולא ביקש מבני אדם. וקרנא דיין בכל ארץ ישראל, והוא היה משקה שדות, וכשהיו באים בעלי הדין, היה אומר: או שתתנו לי מי שישקה במקומי כשאני מתעסק עמכם, או שתתנו לי שעור מה שאבטל מעבודתי, ואדון לכם. ולא היו ישראל בני דורם של אלו וזולתם לא אכזרים ולא שאינם גומלי חסדים, ולא מצאנו חכם מן החכמים שהיה מצבם דחוק שיגנה אנשי דורו שאינם מרחיבים לו, חלילה לה', אלא הם בעצמם היו חסידים, מאמינים באמת לעצמה, מאמינים בה' ובתורת משה, אשר בה הזכיה בעולם הבא, ולא יתירו לעצמם זה, ויסברו שהוא חלול השם אצל ההמון, לפי שהם יחשבו התורה למלאכה מן המלאכות אשר מתפרנסים בהן, ותתבזה אצלם, ויהיה עושה זה "דבר ה' בזה" +במדבר טו, לא+.

ואמנם טעות אלו המתגברים כנגד האמת והלשונות המפורשים, בלקיחת ממון בני אדם ברצונם או על כורחם - הן המעשיות אשר ימצאו בתלמוד באנשים בעלי מומים בגופותיהם, או זקנים באו בימים עד שלא יוכלו לעשות מלאכה, שאין תחבולה להם אלא לקחת, ואם לא - מה יעשו, הימותו? זה לא ציוותו התורה...

וכבר שמעתים, הניפתים, נתלים באומרם: "הרוצה להנות יהנה כאלישע, ושלא להנות אל יהנה כשמואל הרמתי". וזה אינו דומה לזה כלל, ואמנם זה אצלי סילוף ממי שמביא ראיה ממנו, הואיל והוא מבואר ואין בו מקום לטעות. כי אלישע לא היה מקבל ממון מבני אדם, כל שכן שלא היה מטיל עליהם ומחייבם בחוקים, חלילה לה' מזה, ואמנם היה מקבל הכיבוד בלבד, כגון שיארחו איש אחד, והוא בדרך, נוסע, וילון אצלו ויאכל אצלו בלילה ההוא או ביום, וילך לעסקיו. ושמואל לא היה נכנס בבית איש, ולא אוכל ממזונו. ובכגון זה אמרו החכמים, שתלמיד חכמים, אם רצה להדמות לזה, עד שלא יכנס אצל איש - יש לו לעשות כן, וכמו כן אם רצה להתארח אצל איש בהכרח נסיעה או כיוצא בה - יש לו לעשות כן. לפי שכבר הזהירו מן האכילה ללא הכרח, ואמרו: "כל תלמיד חכמים המרבה סעודותיו בכל מקום" וכו', ואמרו: "כל סעודה שאינה שלמצוה אסור לתלמיד חכמים להנות ממנה".

ולמה אאריך בזה הענין, אני אזכור המעשה אשר התבאר בתלמוד, והמתעקש יעשה כרצונו: היה איש שהיה לו כרם, והיו באים בו גנבים, וכל אשר היה פוקדו בכל יום, היה מוצא ענביו מתמעטים וחסרים, ולא היה לו ספק שאיש מן הגנבים שמהו מטרה. והיה מצטער מזה תמיד כל ימי הענבים, עד שבצר ממנו מה שבצר, ושטחו עד אשר יבש, ואסף הצמוקים. ומדרך בני אדם, שכאשר יאספו הפירות המיובשים, יפלו גרגרים מן התאנים והצמוקים, ומותר לאוכלם, מפני שהם הפקר, וכבר הניחום בעליהם למיעוטם. ובא ר' טרפון במקרה יום אחד לזה הכרם, וישב, והיה מלקט מן הצמוקים הנופלים ואוכלם. ובא בעל הכרם, וחשב שזה הוא אשר היה גונב ממנו כל השנה, ולא היה מכירו, אבל שמע שמו. ומיהר אליו ותפשו, והתגבר עליו, ושמהו בשק, ורץ עמו על גבו להשליכו בנהר. וכאשר ראה ר' טרפון עצמו אובד, צעק: "אוי לו לטרפון שזה הורגו". וכאשר שמע זה בעל הכרם, הניחו וברח, ליודעו כי חטא חטא גדול. והיה ר' טרפון בשארית ימיו מאותו היום דואב ומיליל על מה שארע לו, בהצילו נפשו בכבוד התורה, והוא היה בעל ממון, והיה יכול לומר לו: הניחני, ואני אשלם לך כך וכך דינרים, וישלם לו, ולא יודיעהו שהוא טרפון, ויציל נפשו בממונו, לא בתורה. אמרו: "כל ימיו שלאותו צדיק היה מצטער על דבר זה ואומר: אוי לי שנשתמשתי בכתרה שלתורה, שכל המשתמש בכתרה שלתורה נעקר מן העולם". ואמרו בזה: "משום דר' טרפון עשיר גדול הוה, והוה ליה לפיוסיה בדמים".

ופתח רבנו הקדוש, עליו השלום, אוצרות חיטה בשנת רעבון, ואמר: כל מי שרוצה לקחת פרנסתו יבוא ויקח פרנסתו, ובתנאי שיהיה תלמיד חכמים. ובא ר' יונתן בן עמרם ועמד לפניו, והוא אינו מכירו, ואמר לו: פרנסני, ואמר לו: באיזו גדר אתה מבחינת הלימוד? ואמר לו: פרנסני ככלב וכעורב, רצונו לומר: אפילו אין לי חכמה, וכמו שיפרנס ה' חיה טמאה ועוף טמא פרנסני, שאין עם הארץ פחות מהם. ונתן לו...

ואמנם הדבר אשר התירתו התורה לתלמידי חכמים הוא, שיתנו ממון לאדם, יעשה להם סחורה בו בבחירתו, אם ירצה - ועושה זה יש לו שכר על כך, וזה הוא מטיל מלאי לכיס תלמידי חכמים - ושתמכר סחורתם תחילה למה שיימכר, ותתפס להם ראשית השוק דוקא. אלו חוקים שקבע ה' להם, כמו שקבע המתנות לכהן והמעשרות ללוי, לפי מה שבאה בו הקבלה. כי שתי הפעולות האלה יש שיעשו אותן הסוחרים קצתם עם קצתם על דרך הכבוד, ואפילו לא היתה שם חכמה, ולכל הפחות יהיה תלמיד חכמים כמו עם ארץ מכובד. וכן פטרה התורה את כל תלמידי החכמים מחובות השלטון כולן, מן המיסים, והאכסניות, ומיסי הנפש, והם אשר יקראו כסף גולגלתא, יפרעום בעבורם הקהל, ובנין החומות וכיוצא בהן. ואפילו היה תלמיד החכמים בעל ממון רב לא יחוייב בדבר מזה. וכבר הורה בזה רבנא יוסף הלוי זצ"ל לאיש באנדלוס, שהיו לו גנות וכרמים שהיה מחוייב עבורם אלף דינרים, והורה לפוטרו מהמס, להיותו תלמיד חכמים, אף על פי שהיה משלם המס ההוא אפילו העני שביהודים. וזה דין תורה, כמו שפטרה התורה הכהנים ממחצית השקל, כמו שבארנו במקומו, ומה שדומה לזה.

Know that the mishnah already stated, “Do not make Torah into a blade with which to dig,” meaning, “Do not consider Torah a tool for support.” The text explained that anyone who benefits from the honor of Torah in this world is cutting off his soul from life in the next world.

People have hidden their eyes from this clear language, casting it after their bodies, relying on interpretations of passages they do not understand, but I will explain. They have placed laws upon individuals and communities, and they have turned the Torah’s positions into the law of tax collectors, and they have brought people to believe total foolishness, that it is necessary and mandatory for them to aid sages and students and people who are involved in Torah and whose trade is Torah.

All of this is in error, and there is nothing in Torah to validate it, and there is no leg upon which they could rely in any way. Were we to examine the chronicles of the sages of blessed memory, we would not find that they ever placed obligations upon people, or gathered money for the exalted and honored yeshivot, or for the exilarchs or judges or spreaders of Torah or appointed leaders or others.

In all of their communities there were people at the height of poverty and people at the height of wealth; Gd forbid to say that those wealthy people were not generous and were not philanthropic! Rather, had this pauper extended his hand they would have filled his house with gold and gems, but he did not do so. Rather, he survived with the work from which he was supported, whether with ease or under strain, and he disdained that which came by the hand of man, since the Torah prevented it.

You already know that Hillel the Elder was a woodchopper, chopping wood and studying before Shemayah and Avtalyon. He was at the height of poverty, and he was so great that his students were compared to Moshe and Yehoshua, and the least of his students was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai! Let no intelligent person be in doubt that had Hillel agreed to receive from the people of his time, they would not have allowed him to chop wood…

In truth, the error of these people who rally opposite truth and opposite the clear expressions [of the law], taking people’s money with their agreement or against their will – these are deeds found in the gemara regarding men who are physically wounded, or elderly people who could no longer work, who had no means other than to take. Otherwise, what could they do? Should they die? This is not the Torah’s command…

I have already heard what the fools depend upon when they cite, “One who wishes to benefit may benefit like Elisha, and one who wishes not to benefit may not benefit like Shemuel haRamati.” But this is not relevant, and to me this is corruption for one who uses it as his proof, since the matter is clear and there is no room for error. Elisha did not accept money from people, and he certainly did not put upon them and obligate them in his portion. Gd forbid! He did accept the kibbud, that one would host him when he was travelling on the road, and he would stay there and eat that night or that day and then go about his business. And Shemuel did not enter anyone’s home or eat his food. Regarding this the sages said that Torah scholars who wish to imitate this, not to enter anyone’s home, may do so, and if they wish to be hosted by someone because of the needs of travel or similar needs they may do so. They were already careful not to eat when unnecessary, as it says, “A Torah scholar who increases his meals everywhere…” and “A Torah scholar may not benefit from a meal which is not a mitzvah meal.”

Why do I go on at length on this matter? I will mention the Talmudic account, and one who is stubborn will do as he wishes: A man had a vineyard, and thieves would enter it. Daily, he found the grapes reduced, and he was certain that thieves had targeted it. He was upset all through the season, until he finally harvested what he could collect, and he laid it out to dry, and he collected the raisins. Generally, when people gather dried fruit some of the figs and raisins fall away, and one may eat them for they are hefker, abandoned by their owners because they are few. R’ Tarfon happened by this vineyard one day, and he sat and collected the fallen raisins, and he ate them. The owner of the vineyard came, thought he was the thief and did not recognize him, although he knew the name of R’ Tarfon. He rushed to catch him, overpowered him, put him in a sack and rushed with R’ Tarfon on his back to throw him in the river. When R’ Tarfon saw he would be lost, he cried out, “Woe to Tarfon, that this man would kill him!” When the vineyard owner heard this, he put down R’ Tarfon and fled, knowing he had committed a great sin. And for the rest of his life, R’ Tarfon mourned and wailed for what had happened, that he had saved his life through the honor of Torah. He was a person of means, and he could have said, “Leave me be and I will pay you X dinar,” and he could have paid without letting the man know that he was Tarfon, and so he could have saved his life through his wealth rather than through Torah…

And Rabbeinu haKadosh opened stores of wheat during a famine and declared, “Any who wish to take their means may come and do so, if they are Torah scholars.” R’ Yonatan ben Amram stood before him, and Rabbeinu haKadosh did not recognize him, and he said, “Support me.” Rabbeinu haKadosh asked him, “What is your level of learning?” And he said, “Feed me as a dog or raven,” meaning, “Feed me even if I have no wisdom, just as Gd feeds non-kosher animals and birds, for an am ha’aretz is no worse than them.” And so Rabbeinu haKadosh fed him…

That which the Torah permitted for Torah scholars is that they may give a person money and have him engage in business of his choosing on their behalf. One who does this for them receives reward, and this is the meaning of, “putting merchandise into the wallet of Torah scholars.” Their merchandise is sold to whomever, and they receive the first of the market, specifically. These are the portions Gd established for the sages, just as He established gifts for the kohen and tithes for the levi, as is our tradition. Merchants already engage in these activities for each other, as a show of respect, even if there is no greater wisdom involved; let Torah scholars be no less than a respected am ha’aretz.

And the Torah also exempted Torah scholars from the obligations of the ruler, from taxes and billeting and head-taxes, which the community pays on their behalf, and the construction of walls and the like. Even a wealthy Torah scholar would not be obligated in this. Ravna Yosef haLevi aleady ruled thus for a man in Andalusia who owned gardens and vineyards which required [tax of] one thousand dinar, and he exempted the man from the tax because he was a Torah scholar, although even the poorest Jew paid that tax. This is the law of the Torah, just as it exempted kohanim from the half-shekel.

2. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10-11

כל המשים על לבו שיעסוק בתורה ולא יעשה מלאכה ויתפרנס מן הצדקה הרי זה חלל את השם ובזה את התורה וכבה מאור הדת וגרם רעה לעצמו ונטל חייו מן העולם הבא, לפי שאסור ליהנות מדברי תורה בעולם הזה, אמרו חכמים כל הנהנה מדברי תורה נטל חייו מן העולם, ועוד צוו ואמרו אל תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהן ולא קרדום לחפור בהן, ועוד צוו ואמרו אהוב את המלאכה ושנא את הרבנות וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה סופה בטילה וגוררת עון, וסוף אדם זה שיהא מלסטם את הבריות.

מעלה גדולה היא למי שהוא מתפרנס ממעשה ידיו, ומדת חסידים הראשונים היא, ובזה זוכה לכל כבוד וטובה שבעולם הזה ולעולם הבא שנאמר יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא שכולו טוב.

One who sets his goal to involve himself in Torah and not engage in work, and to be supported by tzedakah, desecrates Gd’s Name, disgraces the Torah, extinguishes the light of religion and causes evil for himself and removes his life from the next world, for one may not benefit from words of Torah in this world. The sages said: One who benefits from words of Torah removes his life from the world. They further instructed, “Do not make them a crown in which to be elevated or a blade with which to dig.” They further instructed, “Love work and hate authority,” and, “All Torah that does not include work with it will be nullified and will lead to sin, and in the end one will become a bandit.”

There is a great level in supporting one’s self with the work of one’s hands, and this was the trait of the early pious ones, and through this one merits all honor and goodness in this world and the next, as it is written, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are fortunate and it is good for you.” You are fortunate in this world, and it is good for you in the next world, which is entirely good.

3. Tashbetz 1:142

לפי שראיתי הרבה בני אדם מגמגמין על מה שנהגו בכל קהלות ישראל בכל הדורות לתת פרס לחכמיהם ונתלים בזה במ"ש בזה הענין הרמב"ם ז"ל בפירושיו למסכ' אבות (פ"ד מ"ה) על כן אחקור בזה הענין כאשר יראוני מן השמים ומהגמ' וממקומות אחרים אם הדבר הזה רשות או מצוה או חובה או יש שם נדנוד עבירה ואני בטוח בכחן של ראשונים שנהגו לעצמן היתר בדבר זה שלא אכשל בדבר הלכה ושיתבררו ושיתלבנו הדברים בענין הספק הזה:

ואומר כי חובה על כל ישראל לפרנס דרך כבוד לחכמיהם ולדייניהם שתורתם אומנות' כדי שלא יצטרכו להתבטל ממלאכת שמים בשביל מלאכתם וכדי שלא יזדלזלו בפני עמי הארץ מפני עניים ושינהגו בהם כבוד ושורש דבר זה יוצא לנו מן התור' ע"פ מדרש חכמים. אמרו בפ"ק דיומא (י"ח ע"א) ובהוריות פ' כהן משיח (ט' ע"א) הכהן הגדול מאחיו שיהא גדול מאחיו בנוי ובכח ובחכמה ובעושר אחרים אומרי' מנין שאם אין לו שאחיו הכהנים מגדלין אותו ת"ל והכהן הגדול מאחיו גדלהו משל אחיו... וכן למדו מזה לתלמיד חכם שיכול ליטול מעצמו ממון שיתעשר בו ואין גנאי בדבר דאמרי' בפ' הזרוע (קל"ד ע"ב) ההוא שקא דדינרא דאתא לבי מדרשא קדים רבי אמי זכה ביה והיכי עביד הכי והתניא ונתן ולא שיטול מעצמו ואסיקנא אדם חשוב שאני ותני' והכהן הגדול מאחיו שיהא גדול מאחיו בכח ובנוי בעושר ובחכמה אחרים אומרי' מנין שאם אין לו שאחיו הכהנים מגדלין אותו שנא' והכהן הגדול מאחיו גדלהו משל אחיו. השוו בעלי הגמ' דין אדם חשוב שחייבין ישראל להעשירו לדין כ"ג. וכן מדת הדין נותנת מק"ו שהרי הוא קודם לכל דבר להחיות ולהשיב אבדה לכל אדם שהרי משנ' שלימה שנינו בפ' בתרא דהוריות (י"ג ע"א) כהן קודם ללוי לוי קודם לישראל וגו' אימתי בזמן שכל' שוים אבל אם הי' ממזר חכם וכ"ג עם הארץ ממזר ת"ח הוא קוד' לכ"ג ע"ה... ובפ' סדר תעניו /תעניות/ אלו (כ"א ע"א) במעשה דאלפא ור' יוחנן אמרינן התם מלך ר' יוחנן פי' שעשאוהו ראש ישיב' וכתב שם מאיר עיני הגולה רש"י ז"ל בלשון הזה מי שהוא ראש ישיבה היו נותנים לו הרבה כדאמרי' גבי הכהן הגדול מאחיו גדלהו משל אחיו עכ"ל ולפ"ז כשהיו פרנסי הדורות רואים ת"ח דדחיק להו עלמא טובא היו משתדלי' למנותם בראש כדי שיפרנסו' הצבור דרך כבוד כדאמרי' בהוריות פ' בתרא (י' ע"א) דר"ג ור' יהושע הוו קאזלי בספינתא בהדי רבי יהושע הוה פתא דסולתא בהדי ר"ג הוה פתא שלים פתא דר"ג סמך אסלתא דר"י א"ל מי הות ידעת דאית לך עכובא דאייתית נמי סולתא א"ל כוכב אחד יש שעולה לשבעים שנה ומתעה את הספנין אמרתי שמא יעלה ויתענו א"ל כ"כ יש בידך ואתה יורד לספינה אמר לו עד שאתה תמה עלי תמה על ב' תלמידים שיש לך ביבשה ר"א חסמא ור' אלעזר בן גדגדה שיודעים לשער כל טיפות שבים ואין להם פת לאכול ובגד ללבוש נתן דעתו להושיבם בראש כשעלה ליבשה שלח להם ולא באו חזר ושלח להם ובאו אמר להם כמדומין אתם ששרר' אני נותן לכם עבדות אני נותן לכם שנא' וידברו אליו לאמר אם היום הזה תהיה עבד לעם הזה ועבדתם. הרי שר"ג שהיה פרנסן של ישראל לפי שידע דחקן של ת"ח וכל אותו פלפול שלהם בכל אות' השיעורי' לא עמד להם לפרנס עצמם הושיבם בראש כדי שיגדלו' ישראל בעושר משלהם וכן פי' שם רש"י ז"ל והם לא רצו לקבל מפני חשש קבלת שררה עד שדרש להם ר"ג שאין להם לחוש ליוהרא מפני השררה כי אינ' אלא עבדות וכיון שאינה אלא עבדות ולא שררה יש להם לישב בראש כדי שיתפרנסו בכבוד כראוי להם ולפי שדבר זה מוטל על פרנסי הדורות אמר ר' יהושע לר"ג אוי לו לדור שאתה פרנסו שאי אתה יודע צערן של ת"ח במה הן מתפרנסין כדאיתא בפ' תפלת השחר (כ"ח ע"א) דמשמע התם דר' יהושע היה מתפרנס בדוחק ור"ג חזא אשייתא דביתי' דמשחרן א"ל מכותלי ביתך ניכר שפחמי אתה כלומר שעושה פחמין או נפח שאין שחרות הכותלים מדבר אחר ונראה שר' יהושע היה עושה מלאכתו בצנעה שהרי בפרהסיא היה אסור לו שהרי אב ב"ד היה כדאיתא התם (שם) וכדאיתא בפ' החובל שמנהגם היה שהנשיא היה ראש ישיבה וממנה תחתיו אב ב"ד לכל ישראל כדמוכח הת' בשלהי הוריות (י"ג ע"ב) וכיון שאב ב"ד היה לא היה אפשר לו לעשות מלאכה בפרהסיא כדאמרי' בפ' עשרה יוחסין (ע' ע"א) כיון שנתמנה אדם פרנס על הצבור אסור לו לעשות מלאכה בפני שלשה ופרש"י ז"ל שגנאי הוא לצבור שיהיו נצרכין לזה וכיון שבפרהסיא לא הי' עושה אלא בצנע' משום הכי לא היה יודע ר"ג שאומנותו פחמי שאם היה יודע חלילה לו לרבן גמליאל שלא היה משתדל עם הצבור לגדלו משלהם שהרי לרבי אלעזר בן חסמא ולר"א בן גדגדה... והרי דבר זה הרבה מפורש בתלמוד שהצבור חייבין להושיב בראש לחכמיה' כדי לפרנס' דרך כבוד ודבר זה מוטל על פרנסיהם ומנהיגיהם להתעסק בעניניה' עם הצבור ולא יוכל אדם לחלוק בזה כלל ואפי' התלמידים העוסקים בתורה כל ימיהם אע"פ שאינן ראשי ישיבות חייבין הצבור לפרנסם דרך כבודם כדאמרינן בפרק ואלו קשרים (קי"ד ע"א) איזהו ת"ח שבני עירו מצוין לעשו' מלאכתו כל שמניח עסקיו ועוסק בחפצי שמי' למאי נ"מ למיטרח לי' בריפתיה. ואמרי' ביומא (ע"ב ע"ב) ר' יוחנן רמי כתיב ועשית לך ארון עץ וכתיב ועשית ארון עצי שטים מכאן לת"ח שמצוון /שמצווין/ בני עירו לעשות מלאכתו. וכבר היתה להם קופה מיוחדת לקבץ בה ממון לחלק לתלמידי' לפרנסם דרך כבוד' כדמוכח בפ' הנזקין (ס' ע"ב) כדאיתא התם ההוא שיפורא דמעיקר' הוה בי רב יוסף ולבסוף בי רבה ולבסוף בי ר' יוסף ולבסוף בי אביי ולבסוף בי רבא. וראיתי בתשובה לר' שרירא גאון ז"ל שכ' שפירש שיפורא תיב' כמו י"ג שופרות דשקלים ואמר הגאון ז"ל שהיתה תיבה לקבץ בה ממון לחלק לתלמידי' ופירושו יותר נכון מפרש"י ז"ל שפי' שופר של תקיעות ערב שבת והביא הרב ז"ל ג"כ פי' הגאון ז"ל בפירושיו והוא הראוי לסמוך עליו שדברי הגאונים ז"ל קבלה הם והרי ענין זה נהוג בימי חכמי התלמוד ז"ל כפירוש קבלתנו ולמה יקשה עלינו זה והלא אפי' למלמדי תינוקות אמרי' בבתרא פ' השותפין דמסייע להו ממתא ולמה לא נלמוד ק"ו מזה לת"ח ואף לראשי הישיבות זה מצינו בתלמוד מפורש... ומצינו שבימות הגאונים ז"ל היתה קופה מיוחדת לישיבות משלחין מכל הקהלות ממון קצוב לראשי הישיבות ותלמידיהם. מצינו כתוב בס' רב עמרם גאון בתחלתו וז"ל שגר לפנינו רבנא יעקב בן רבנא יצחק כ' זהובים ששגרת לישיבה חמשה שלנו וחמשה עשר לקופה של ישיבה וצונו וברכנו אותך ברכות שיתקיימו בך ובזרעך ובזרע זרעך ע"כ ונרא' שרבנא יעקב כששגרם כך כתב לו בפי' שיתנו לו חמשה לראש ישיבה וט"ו לקופה שאל"כ אלא כך שלח שינתנו לראש ישיבה ולכל הישיבה מן הדין הי' יוכל /יכול/ רב עמרם ליקח עשרה זהובים וכמו שדרש ר"ע בפ"ק דע"ז (י' ע"ב) והיתה לאהרן ובניו מחצה לאהרן ומחצה לבניו ובפ"ק דיומא (י"ז ע"ב) איתה והכי קי"ל בפ' מי שמת (קמ"ג ע"א). אי נמי מנהג חסידות נהג בעצמו רב עמרם ז"ל שלא ליטול אלא חמשה זהובים אבל מ"מ מכאן נראה שמנהג הי' ג"כ בימות הגאונים ז"ל ליחד קופה של ישיבה וגם בימות האחרונים ז"ל מצינו זה המנהג מתפשט. וכתב הר' יהודה אלבר'גלוני ז"ל והביאן בספר החשן סי' ט' ונהגו ברוב מקומות לעשות לב"ד קופה שפוסקין מזון ב"ד ופרנסם לכמה עול' בשנה ומגבין אותו בתחלת השנה או בסופה ואין בזה משום תורת שוחד ותורת אגרא כי חוב' על כל ישראל לפרנס דייניהון וחכימיהון ע"כ. גם בדורות שלפנינו עד דורינו זה ראינו הדבר ממשמש והולך ומנהגן של ישראל תורה היא וכ"ש שהדברים מפורשים בתלמוד ובמדרשות ואין בדבר ספק ונר' שהחכם עצמו יכול לתבוע חלקו בפיו והכי מוכחא ההיא דרבי אמי דפ' הזרוע (קל"ד ע"ב) כדלעיל ואפי' למישרי תיגרא ברישא אמרינן בפ' קונם (ס"ב ע"א) דשרי לי' למימר צורבא מרבנן אנא שרי לי תגראי ברישא שנ' ובני דוד כהני' היו מה כהן נוטל חלק בראש דכתיב וקדשתו לכל דבר שבקדושה אף ת"ח נוטל חלק בראש כ"ש בדבר שיש בו חיי נפש וכבוד תורתו שיש לו לתבוע בפיו ואין בזה משום יהורא כלל. והנה נתבאר צד אחד של חיוב בענין הזה והוא שהצבור חייבין לפרנס חכמי דורם לפי כבודם וכבוד תורתם וזה דבר תורה:

Because I have seen many people hesitate regarding the practice of all Jewish communities, in all generations, of paying their sages, and in this they depend upon what the Rambam wrote in his commentary to Avot, therefore I will examine this issue as Heaven guides me, from gemara and other sources, to see whether this is permissible, mitzvah or obligatory, or whether it involves some element of sin. I am confident in the strength of the early authorities who customarily permitted this, so that I will not stumble in a matter of law, and all of the relevant issues will be cleansed and clarified.

I say that the Jewish people are obligated to support, with honor, their sages and judges whose livelihoods are their Torah, so that they will not need to cease their heavenly work for the sake of melachah, and so they will not be disgraced before amei ha’aretz because of their poverty, and so they will be treated with honor.

The root of this comes from Torah, as explained by the sages. They explained in Yoma 18a and Horiyyot 9a: “It is written, ‘The kohen who is greater than his brethren’ – He should be greater than his brethren in beauty, strength, knowledge and wealth. Others said: If he lacks this, then his brother kohanim elevate him, as it is written, ‘The kohen who is greater than his brethren’ – elevate him from that which belongs to his brethren.”… They also deduced from this passage that a Torah scholar may take money to enrich himself, and there is no disgrace in it, in Chullin 134b: “A sack of coins was brought to the beit midrash [for the students’ use]; R’ Ami took it first. How could he do this? Did we not learn, “‘And he shall give’ – And not that one should take [the gifts for the kohanim] for himself!”” And they answer, “An important person is different, as we learned, ‘The kohen who is greater’… The sages equated the law of an important person, whom Israel are obligated to enrich, with the law of a kohen gadol.

This is also logical, for he precedes others to be given life and to have his lost property restored to him, as it is learned (Horiyyot 13a), “Kohen precedes Levi, Levi precedes Yisrael… This is when all involved are equal, but a mamzer who is a Torah scholar precedes a kohen gadol who is an am ha’aretz.”…

And in Taanit 21a, the story of Ilfa and R’ Yochanan, they say that R’ Yochanan reigned, meaning he was made head of the yeshiva, and Rashi, who illuminates the eyes of the diaspora, explained thus: “They would give much to the one who was head of the yeshiva, as is seen regarding the kohen gadol…”

Because of this, when the leaders of the generations saw Torah scholars who were in tight straits, they appointed the scholars as leaders so that the community would support them in an honorable way, as is seen in Horiyyot 10a, “Rabban Gamliel and R’ Yehoshua were travelling on a boat. Rabban Gamliel had bread, R’ Yehoshua had flour. Rabban Gamliel’s bread was finished, and he depended on R’ Yehoshua’s flour. He said to R’ Yehoshua: Did you know we would take this long, that you brought flour? He replied: There is a star which ascends every seventy years, and it fools the sailors. I said, ‘Perhaps it might ascend and fool us.’ Rabban Gamliel said: You knew all this, and still you entered the boat?! He replied: Before you express shock at me, express shock at your two students on land, R’ Elazar Chisma and R’ Yochanan ben Gudgida, who can estimate the drops in the sea but who lack bread to eat and clothes to wear! Rabban Gamliel decided to appoint them at the head…”

And because this was a matter for the leaders of the generations, R’ Yehoshua said to Rabban Gamliel, ‘Woe to the generation you lead, for you do not know the pain of the Torah scholars, how they are supported,’ as is seen in Berachot 28a where it seems that R’ Yehoshua was narrowly supported, and Rabban Gamliel saw that the walls of his home were dark. Rabban Gamliel said, ‘From the walls of your home it seems you are a charcoaler,’ meaning that you make charcoal or you are a smith, for nothing else would blacken the walls. It appears that R’ Yehoshua performed his labors in private, for he was head of the Beit Din and he would have been prohibited from working in public… as Kiddushin 70a says that when one is appointed as leader, he may not engage in melachah before three people. Rashi there explained that it is disgraceful for the community if its leaders need to do this. So because he engaged in this in private and not in public, Rabban Gamliel did not know he was a charcoaler. Had Rabban Gamliel known, it would be a desecration to suggest that he would not have worked with the community to elevate R’ Yehoshua, given what he did for R’ Elazar Chisma and R’ Elazar ben Gudgida…

The gemara is explicit, then, that the community must establish their scholars at the head in order to support them in an honorable way. This obligation rests upon their leaders and directors to take care of matters for them with the community. None can disagree with this at all.

The community is even obligated to support students who learn Torah all of their days, even though they are not heads of yeshivot, as seen in Shabbat 114a, “Who are Torah scholars, such that the people of their city must perform their melachah? Any who leave their affairs and involve themselves in the needs of Heaven. What is the practical application of this? To work to provide bread for him.” And in Yoma 72b, “R’ Yochanan asked: It is written, ‘And you shall make an ark of wood for yourself,’ and, ‘And they shall make an ark of shittim wood!’ This teaches that the people of a Torah scholar’s city must perform his melachah.”

They had a box designated for collecting funds to distribute to students, to support them in an honorable manner, as is found in Gittin 60b, “The shipura was in the house of Rav Yehudah, then the house of Rabbah, then the house of Rav Yosef, then the house of Abbaye, then the house of Rava.” I saw a responsum of Rav Sherira Gaon stating that the shipura was a box, like the 13 shofarot used to collect half-shekalim, and this box was used to collect funds to distribute to the students. This seems more correct than Rashi’s explanation that it was the shofar used to blow [warnings] before Shabbat, and Rashi also cited the view of the Gaon in his commentary, and upon this we should depend for the words of the Gaonim are received tradition. This practice dates back to the Talmud.

And why should this be difficult for us – even teachers of children, per Bava Batra 21a, were helped by the city, so why should we not deduce logically to a Torah scholar?...

We have found that in the days of the Gaonim they had a collection box designated for the yeshivot, and they sent it to all communities to provide a fixed amount for the heads of the yeshivot and their students. We found recorded in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon, at the start, “Ravna Yaakov ben Ravna Yitzchak sent us twenty gold coins which you sent to the yeshiva; five are ours, and fifteen went to the yeshiva’s box. We have instructed and blessed you with enduring blessings, for you and your children and your children’s children.” It appears that Ravna Yaakov must have written to him to give five to the head of the yeshiva and fifteen to the general box, for [had he not specified this,] Rav Amram could have taken ten for himself, as R’ Akiva taught (Avodah Zarah 10b), “‘And it shall be for Aharon and his sons’ – half for Aharon and half for his sons.”… Alternatively, perhaps Rav Amram acted with extra piety. In any case, we see that the custom in Gaonic times was to designate a box for the yeshiva.

We also found this common practice in the days of later ones. Rav Yehuda Albergeloni (11th century Spain, aka Al-Barceloni), cited in (Tur) Choshen Mishpat 9, wrote, “In most places the practice is to prepare a box for the beit din, to provide food and support them annually. They collect it in the start of the year or its end. There is no issue of bribery or payment, for all Israel are obligated to support their judges and sages.”

Also, in the generations before us, until our own day, we saw this practice continue, and the practice of Israel is Torah, certainly when it is explicit in Talmud and midrash, and there is no doubt in the matter.

It appears that a sage may even demand his portion verbally, as is seen in the case of R’ Ami cited earlier.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Haveil Havalim #291 - The Tribute to Stephen Harper Edition

It’s hard for me to believe this is my sixth Haveil Havalim, but here it is! The Stephen Harper Tribute Edition, Haveil Havalim #291.

First, the boilerplate:
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by the formidable Jack.

Now: Why is this a tribute to Stephen Harper? And who is Stephen Harper, anyway?

Stephen Harper is the prime minister of Canada. I don’t blame you for asking, though; when I moved to Canada I barely knew this country had a prime minister at all, and I couldn’t have told you his name for all the loonies in the world. But there it is – Stephen Harper is the head of Canada’s Conservative Party, and he runs the government, and here’s why I am paying tribute to him:

Stephen Harper defends Israel, on November 8:

In a country with a large and vocal anti-Israel lobby, Harper has nothing to gain from this stance. And as he said in the speech above, he has the bruises to show for his history of support of Israel in the UN; as Israel Matzav wrote last month, Canada lost its shot at a UN Security Council seat because of its support for Israel. So I salute this man for his courage.

I’m glad to note that Harper’s speech did not go unnoticed in the Jblogosphere; here are a few of those who blogged it:
Ruti Mizrachi
We are for Israel
Jewish Internet Defense Force
Israel Matzav
The Jerusalem Connection Report

Thank you, Prime Minister Harper!

And now, on to the week’s posts:

Three years into aliyah, rutimizrachi presents Three-Year Mizrachi Report.

I think Protektzia may have been the first Israeli word I ever learned; if it wasn’t, it should have been. Mrs. S. presents Protektzia at its very best .

Some don’t need Protektzia, just the encouragement not to back down. See A Living Nadneyda’s post, Don’t worry, the blogosphere is behind you.

Wow – Israel’s post office launches a tax for package recipients! New heights/lows in chutzpah there. Check out Stop mailing us stuff before January, at the Muqata.

This was a fascinating read: Cosmic X presents The Awesome Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Interview - in English!.

For a bit of Israeli fashion, Harry presents A Green Fashion Event Green Inspired by the Sea of Galilee.

Cats in Jerusalem? Really?! (Heh.) Harry presents Mewling visitors.

I stopped reading Debka years ago; they remind me of the Jewish Press of my youth, the headlines of which declared imminent war with Syria every week, non-stop, for a decade or so. SnoopyTheGoon presents Oy vey, Debka... and a missile fired from an American warship.

Oy. SnoopyTheGoon presents The village of Ghajar: torn apart by politics and apathy.

Yisrael Medad has photos from his diplomatic meeting in A Bit of Diplomacy.

Cosmic X presents Mazal Tov! Margalit Har-Shefi Engaged.

Joel Katz presents links to many articles in Religion and State in Israel - November 8, 2010 (Section 1) and Religion and State in Israel - November 8, 2010 (Section 2).

Maya talks about her first post-aliyah trip to the US in On going home again....

Jameel does India and airline food (a bad mix, apparently) in Rant of the Day. I think he should invest in chocolate bars. Lots of them.

How about a little bit of Europe? Ilana-Davita presents 10 Things I Love About Antwerp.

Going somewhere by sea? Life in Israel answers one of your biggest questions: Does a yacht need a mezuzah?

This one includes a piece about non-travel: Marilyn Stowe talks about Israeli leaders who cannot visit the UK in Faith, the law and freedom of speech.

Risa travelled to Tel Shilo, and she writes about it in Protection on the ground and in our hearts.

Running a marathon doesn’t really count as travel, but I liked this category for my brother’s Of Marathons, Missions and Meanings.

And one of my favorite bloggers, the inestimable Jack, returned from a road trip in The Road Warrior Returns.

Nils J. Sandback offers Piano Humour: A Victor Borge Tribute.

Yisrael Medad presents I Can Finally Fit Pamela Anderson Into My Blog. I'm happy for you, Yisrael.


Risa presents KCC #60 Kislev Cooking Carnival.

Chavi talks about how she is dealing with a challenge in the conversion process in What to Do When You're Craving Treif.

Ilana-Davita talked about Belgium above; well, my brother reviewed a beer called New Belgium Skinny Dip at his Kosher Beers blog. Apparently it’s lime-flavored; I wonder who came up with that idea…?

I am an olive-lover, so I appreciated Harry’s Foto Friday – Olives take center stage.

Got Elk? Take a look at Tzvee’s post, Is Elk Meat Kosher? to find out where you can get it.

I loved this idea: The 5-Second Rule, at Modern Uberdox.

Beit din requirements are front-and-center in Converts & Fear: Is a Beit Din on Halachic Thin Ice?.

Susan Barnes talks about her first taharah at She is Pure. I love the nail polish remover line.

To shake or not to shake? Cosmic X presents The Old "Shaking Hands With a Woman" Controversy.

Judaism ought to be flexible for Uncle Hymie’s sake, don’tcha think? Frume Sarah presents The Inconvenient Truth. Been there, done that (although not with a bris, that I can recall)…

Hebrew lessons here: Jacob Richman presents Uploaded New Learn Hebrew Video - Handheld Items.

The Jewish Community
ProfK has a plan for re-structuring tzedakah organizations at One solution to the tzedakah problem.

Want to know about Jewish Homeschooling? Jennifer in MamaLand presents Jewish Homeschooling Blog Carnival #2: Kislev 1, 5771.

I posted a piece on the most senior members of minyanim around the world: 139.

A Mother in Israel has a long-running series on Marriage in Israel today; her latest installment is Fearful Parents Promoting Young Marriage.

Jacob Richman offers Chanukah Educational Resources and 175 Chanukah Videos.

phyllis anticipates Chanukah’s light in winter’s darkness, at Rosh Chodesh Kislev.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz, a friend and colleague, passed away this week; Yisrael posts about it here.

sheva offers pictures and gratitude to HaShem in Birthdays and little miracles.

Galit Breen (Minnesota Mamaleh) also has pictures, along with a contest, in Minnesota Mamaleh: Family Pictures.

Denise L. Eger sends a message of hope in Here is my It Gets Better video.

Rabbi Michael Lemming presents Reflections On T'shuvah and True, I Am Religious, But.....

Batya presents New Blood in Moetzet YESHA (Council)?.

Batya presents "Hear, Hear" for Hair-Covering.

Batya presents Nu, For This I Made Aliyah.

Batya presents Celebrating Rosh Chodesh Kislev at Tel Shiloh.

Batya presents Women's Hair Covering, Lots to Say.

Batya presents Tzachi Hanegbi, What Happened?.

Batya presents Reminds Me of My Youth.

Batya presents Beautiful Music for A Package From Home.

And that concludes this week’s edition of Haveil Havalim. I hope that you enjoy reading these posts as much as I did!

Next week will be hosted by To Kiss a Mezuzah. You may do so by using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Which would you rather [your child] be?

[Post on my mind today: I'm proud of my Prime Minister, and disappointed that I'm not eligible to vote for him.]

My kids have a book that asks, “Which would you rather be?” and then gives choices:

• Stick or stone?
• Thunder or lightning?
• Cat or dog?
• Grownup or kid?

and so on.

Someone, somewhere, has probably done a poor-quality Jewish rip-off of that book:

• Kiddush or Havdalah?
• Avraham or Sarah?
• Boro Park or Lakewood?
• Rabbi or Rabbah?
• Chametz or Matzah?
• Mordechai or Matityahu?
• Alef or Tav?
• Rabban Gamliel or Rabbi Akiva?
• Eretz Yisrael or Ever haYarden?
• Rashi Tefillin or Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin?
• Eruv Chatzeiros or Eruv Techumin?
• Beruriah or Kimchis?

More substantively, though: As a parent, and a Jewish parent, I find myself asking the same question when prioritizing what to emphasize for my kids. And as in choosing between thunder and lightning, cat and dog, and so on, I’m often unsure.

Assuming you had to select one or the other (which is not always true, I know), which would you rather your child be:

• Athletic or Bookish?
• Learned or Giving?
• Questioning or Faithful?
• Giggly or Stern?
• Stubborn or Flexible?
• Whimsical or Steady?
• Popular or Independent?
• Socially Clued-In or Clueless?
• Follower or Leader?
• Strait-Laced or Loose?
• Intellectually Creative or Structured?
• Broad or Focussed?

The answer is usually some sort of balance, I know, but I still find the questions interesting, and challenging. And sometimes, when I am caught up in concern that I’ve chosen wrong, I put my faith in the advice I once received from a wise mentor: Children’s personality will win out; in normal situations, parents have limited capacity to corrupt it…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


[Post on my mind today: Another Elementary School Closing, at Orthonomics]

The other day, when I turned to Hallel in my siddur I saw the following code pencilled in: 632 AS / 565 B / 139 Goody.

My shul rabbi readers, certainly those from shuls which welcome people who have less background, may be able to parse the first two-thirds of the code. 632 is the page number for Hallel in the Artscroll siddur, and 565 is page number for Hallel in the Birnbaum siddur. I always announced the page number, to the point that I had them memorized, but I was concerned about forgetting them and so I inscribed them in my siddur. But what is 139 about?

The third number was from Goody Miller’s siddur. Every month, when I was in Allentown, I would say, “Hallel is on page 632 in the Artscroll siddur, 565 in the Birnbaum,” and Goody would lift a finger and say, “139, Rabbi,” because that was the page number in his siddur.

Seeing that code was poignant for me today, because Goody passed away several weeks ago; this was the first Rosh Chodesh since his death that I used this siddur, and saw the notation.

Goody was in his 90s – probably 94 or 95 – and until a couple of years ago he came to shul every day, regardless of the weather, in his old pickup truck. A gentle man, always grateful for any small favor, never complaining about his ill health (although he wasn’t happy if the heat in shul wasn’t working properly), quick to smile and greet people. Colds and deafness and snow and rain rarely stopped him until he finally moved to be closer to his kids. He passed out, at least once, in shul. He was the unsinkable Goody.

Shuls around the world are blessed with “Goody”s. In my shul in Rhode Island we had Yankel Faust and Joe Zalusky, both now of blessed memory, both with incredible life stories and a devotion to making the minyan. In Allentown we had, in addition to Goody, an incredible man named Leo Ritter, of blessed memory. (I can still hear Leo, our nonagenarian gabbai who passed away seven or so years ago, asking, “Has anybody yahrtzeit?”) And there are more, those who have moved to the next world and those who, thank Gd, are still with us… I would expand here, but I’m not certain what people want to keep private.

We would benefit greatly if someone would take it upon himself to write a book, or at least create a website, dedicated to these octagenarians and nonagenarians who keep minyanim going in communities far and wide. They daven, they serve as gabbai, they inspire men one-third their age, and they make sure the tenth will be there. That would be a great book, a snapshot of these minyan anchors from a moment in time.

Just make sure Goody’s listing is on page 139, please.