Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the mitzvah of building a mikdash

The gemara (Sanhedrin 20) writes that when Bnei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael they have three mitzvos to accomplish: 1) appoint a king; 2) destroy Amalek; 3) build a beis habechirah, as the Torah tells us “V’haya hamakom asher yivchar Hashem Elokeichem… shamah tavi’u es kol asher anochi mitzaveh eschem…” (Devarim 12).  The Kesef Mishnah (Beis haBechirah 1:1) cites the SM”G who quotes this as the source for the mitzvah of building a mikdash.   The Rambam, however, quotes the pasuk of “v’asu li mikdash,” and refers not only to the building of the mikdash in Yerushalayim, but to the building of the mishkan as well.  So it sounds like we have a machlokes.

In case you missed the comments to yesterday’s post, someone pointed out that R’ Soloveitchik (essay in Koveitz Chiddushei Torah) learned that the Rambam in fact agrees with the SM”G.  The Rambam agrees that there is a mitzvah of building a beis habechirah in Eretz Yisrael learned out from the pasuk of “hamakom asher tivchar,” but the Rambam adds that there is an additional mitzvah learned from the pasuk of “v’asu li mikdash.”  Hamakom asher tivchar” refers to the mikdash in Yerushalayim, an eternal place of kedusha; “v’asu li mikdash” refers even to building a mishkan.  This would explain the change in language that I noted yesterday.  The Rambam in his title to the halachos refers to “beis habechirah,” because he is discussing the laws as practiced in the mikdash in Yerushalayim.  However, in his list of mitzvos he refers to “beis hamikdash” and in the first halacha he refers simply to making a “bayis l’Hashem” in order to encompass the kiyum mitzvah of making a mishkan as well.

Yesterday I also noted that the Rambam switches verbs from “livnos beis hamikdash” in his list of mitzvos to “la’asos bayis l’Hashem” in the first halacha.  R’ Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Chochma) writes that “la’asos” does not mean to build – it means to see that something is done.  The mitzvah of “v’asisa ma’akeh l’gagecha” does not mean you need to take a hammer and nails and build a ma’akah.  You can hire a contractor, you can move into a house that already has the ma’akah in place – so long as there is a ma’akah there, you have fulfilled the mitzvah.  In that same way, “v’asu li mikdash” does not mean you need to take a hammer and nails and build something.  It means you need to help ensure that there is a mikdash built, whether it is by helping in the planning, contributing money, or doing anything else that helps complete the project. 

The Rambam writes (1:12) that construction of the mikdash can only be done during the daylight hours and cannot be done on Shabbos or Y”T.  In that very same halacha, the Rambam says that women are chayavos in the mitzvah as well as men.  If the mikdash can only be built at certain times, why is it not a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama – why are women not exempt?  R’ Chaim answers that although the actual construction, the livnos,” can only be done at specific times, the “la’asos” of participating in other ways has no time boundary.

What remains unclear to me still is why the Rambam would use the term “livnos” in the mitzvah list if the mitzvah is really “la’asos,” with different gedarim, as R” Chaim sets out.  It is tempting to try to shoehorn this issue into the previous discussion and say that the mitzvah of “livnos” applies to beis habechirah, but “la’asos” is a din in “asu li mikdash.”  I don’t know of any source or reason to draw such a distinction.  I was wondering if perhaps in the list of mitzvos the Rambam wanted to define the mitzvah by its ultimate goal.  Any number of activities may be a kiyum mitzvah of “la’asos,” but ultimately there has to be a building built, or the “la’asos” has no meaning.  Livnos” is the purpose; “la’asos" is the means.  Anyone have a better explanation?

ba'al milchamos, zore'a tzedkaos, matzmiach yeshuos -- one process

R’ Eliezer Melamed quotes a comment in the name of R’ Tzvi Yehudah Kook on the words we say every morning in davening describing Hashem as the “ba’al milchamos, zore’a tzedakos, matzmiach yeshu’os.”  War is tragic.  We cannot understand why Hashem puts us through such trials.  But we have to trust that “ba’al milchamos” goes hand in hand with being “zore’a tzedakos” and “matzmiach yeshuos.”  There will be justice and yeshu’a that will ultimately come out of what is going on.  You have to be a big ba’al bitachon to see things that way, but that’s the way it is.    

I  want to share with a quote from a post on Israel Matzav:
Maybe this explains why 78% of American Jewry voted for Barack Obama - his non-support of Israel notwithstanding. Because to them, being Jewish isn't about joining their lives and fate to that of the Jewish people, including by supporting Israel. It's about liberalism and liberal values and not seeing the basic goodness and morality embodied in the Jewish state.
I couldn't have said it better myself.  Events in Israel have brought about a certain moral clarity.  Some people who otherwise identity with certain liberal values have suddenly woken up and see the anti-semitism of the left for exactly what it is.  Other people have dug deeper into their shells, twisting themselves into a pretzel to come up all kinds of justifications for castigating Israel.  When the seforim talk about the process of birur, is this what it means? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

beis hhabechira / beis hamikdash / bayis l'Hashem -- why three terms for the same thing?

The Emergency Committee for Israel put out a statement in response to Obama’s call for a cease fire yesterday that has a gem of a line in there: “Israel does not need a mediator.  Israel needs an ally.”  So true.  

When I read that the US will give close to 50 million to Hamas for “humanitarian aid” even as they continue to fire rockets at Israel, I wonder: are Obama and Kerry really that naïve as to believe that this money will not be used for weapons, are they incompetent, or is it a calculated and deliberate attempt to once again undermine Israel’s interests?  (I ask myself that question about a lot of the things this administration does.)

I mentioned the Shmira Project yesterday, but there are many other things you can do to help Israel in this time of crisis.  I see A Mother In Israel has a helpful post with 21 suggestions.

A few weeks ago, before the latest round of fighting started, my wife and I visited the NY Historical Society (a small, overlooked museum that is really worth a visit if you’ve never been there) where there is a new exhibit celebrating the centennial of the JDC, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.  You probably know the JDC helped in the relief efforts after WWII, but the organization is far older than that and it still exists, doing important work around the globe. Anyway, a telegram displayed in the exhibit caught my wife’s eye.  This message was sent from someone in Germany in 1933 to the JDC in NY, and it said (I’m sorry we did not copy it word for word) that the situation was not salvageable – instead of relief for those inside Germany, all efforts should be focused on getting as many people out as possible.  My wife could not believe that already in 1933 there was such certainty of impending doom.  Her own father’s family did not leave Germany until a few years after that.  I told her it’s no surprise.  20 or 30 years from now G-d forbid people will look back at the articles in the news that we read almost daily about the situation of Jewry in France and other European countries, the articles we dismiss as alarmist, as right-wing extremism, the calls to get out that people have begun to act on in small measure while others delay, thinking there will always be time to run when things get really bad, and we will wonder why more was not done sooner, why so many failed to act when the anti-Semitisim was so clear, when the barely repressed violence was already evident.  Of course I hope and pray that things don't come to that...

Maybe someone from CAIR can help me here, but I am just wondering how many mosques have been firebombed by Jews in response to events in the Middle East, or how many Moslems had to call the police to protect them from riots?  Just curious.

Let me end off with some Torah.  The first set of halachos the Rambam covers in his Sefer haAvodah is titled “Hilchos Beis haBechira.”  The Rambam lists the mitzvos covered in that section, first of which is “livnos beis hamikdash.”  The first halacha starts off, “Mitzvas aseh la’asos bayis l’Hashem…”  I don’t know what to make of it (if anything), but within just a few lines the Rambam introduces three completely different terms for the same thing: 1) beis habechira, 2) beis hamikdash, 3) bayis l’Hashem.  Now, true he uses the term “beis habechira” in Sefer haMitzvos, which is the groundwork upon which Mishneh Torah is built, but if consistency is the goal, then why not continue to use that term?  Why use it only in the header for the halachos and then change to something else?  And while we are being nitpicky, what do you make (if anything) of the switch in verbs from “livnos beis hamikdash” to “la’asos bayis l’Hashem?” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

tnai kaful and a few other points

1) On Friday I mentioned that when the Bnei Reuvain and Gad consented to the terms Moshe presented for their receiving Eiver haYarden, they first referred to those terms as the words of “adoni Moshe” and then, after Moshe presented the agreement in public with all the formality of a tnai kaful, they referred to the terms as “es asher dibeir Hashem.” Ramban explains that the Bnei Reuvain and Gad wanted to emphasize that they saw Moshe’s words as coming from G-d, and therefore they would respect the terms of agreement even without a formal tnai kaful.

The Ohr Sameiach and Rogatchover add a halachic dimension to the point.  They quote the view of the Shi’ilitos who says that tnai kaful is only necessary when there is an agreement directly between party A and party B.  However, where one of the parties is acting through a shliach, even without tnai kaful, any condition that is not met voids the shlichus and m’meila voids the agreement.  At first the Bnei Reuvain and Gad thought that Moshe was acting as G-d’s agent, so to speak, and they therefore addressed Moshe as an independent actor, as “adoni Moshe.”  However, when Moshe made a tnai kaful, they realized that Moshe was not simply an agent, because agreement with an agent doesn't require tnai kaful.  It was as if Shechina m’daberes m’toch grono, G-d was speaking through Moshe, and their agreement was being made directly with G-d.  Therefore, they rephrased their consent to “es asher dibeir Hashem.”

Technical details aside, Ralbag sees a moral lesson in the fact that Moshe framed the agreement in the formal terms of tnai kaful and did not just seal the deal with a handshake.  Unless terms and conditions are spelled out up front, parties can wind up disagreeing later as to what was meant; each side may think the other is in the wrong – even if that other side being questioned is Moshe Rabeinu.  Sure, we would give him the benefit if the doubt, but the greatness of Moshe is that he leaves no doubt.

2) Rashi writes that sheivet Levi participated in the war against Midyan.  The GR”A, however, had a different girsa in the Sifri and opines that Levi did not participate.  You could try to reconcile the two positions by saying they did not participate directly in battle but still contributed to the war effort.  We once discussed the Rogatchover’s sevara that the battle against Midyan was an act of nekamah and did not fall into the formal halachic category of milachama, with all is various rules.  This may be the point of the machlokes.  Sheivet Levi did not participate in milchama (Rambam, end of Hil Shemita), but this may not have been a milchama.

3) The Tosefta writes that the “klei kodesh” taken out to battle was either the aron or the bigdei kehunah.  The Netziv back in Parshas Beha’aloshecha (10:9) in the parsha of chatzotzros writes that the pasuk there of “v’nizkarten lifnei Hashem Elokeichem” teaches that the chatzotzros may only be blown in the presence of the aron or the tzitz (which had the shem Hashem on it).  This perhaps explains the view of the Ba’al haMaor who writes that blowing chatzotzros on a ta’anis, as opposed to on Rosh haShana, is only a din derabbanan.  What about the pasuk in chumash that says there is a mitzvah to blow at a time of tzarah?  It could be that the Ba’al haMaor is talking about blowing outside the mikdash, outside the presence of the aron.  The mitzvah d’oraysa, as the Netziv explains, is only in the mikdash when the aron is present.  (R' Soloveitchik quoted here suggested that the Ba'al haMaor of course holds that tekiyas chatzotzros is d'oraysa; what he meant is that you cannot say mitzvos lav lehenos nitnu on the mitzvah of chatzotzros because it is a chovas hatzibur, not a chiyuv on each individual to blow).

4) If anyone does not know about the Shmira Project, please check out their website   It's wonderful to say tehillim or learn or do mitzvos in the zechus of our soldiers in general, but the shmira project goes a step further and will pair you with a specific person in whose zechus you can learn, daven, do mitzvos. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moshe's terms or G-d's?

Ramban observes that when the Bnei Reuvain and Gad first consented to the terms presented by Moshe that in exchange for their taking lands in Eiver haYarden they lead the nation in the battle to conquer Eretz Yisrael, they used the expression, “avadecha ya’asu ka’asher adoni mi’tzaveh.” (32:25).  However, when Moshe then presented their agreement before Yehoshua and the leaders of the other tribes, the Bnei Reuvain and Gad responded with a slightly different expression: “asher y’daber Hashem el avadecha kein na’aseh.” (32:31).  Why the change in phraseology?

I think this answer of the Ramban is one of the biggest yesodos in the parsha:

 אמרו לו, אין אדוננו צריך לצוות עלינו בתנאי כפול, חלילה לעבדיך מעבור על מה שאדוני מצווה כי הם דברי ה' ולא נעבור על מצוותו. וזה טעם "את אשר דבר ה'", כי מתחלה אמרו (פסוק כה): כאשר אדוני מצווה:
In other words, the tribes of Reuvain and Gad first response, “ka’asher adoni mi’tzaveh,” implied that the terms to which they were agreeing were Moshe’s own.  How do you make an agreement between two parties enforceable and binding?  You go to a lawyer and draw up a contract.  Moshe proceeded to create a formal tnai kaful, putting their agreement in “legaleze” so it would carry all the force and authority of a binding contractual agreement.

Reuvain and Gad then rephrased their original consent.  “No need for all the formalities, no need for the ‘legaleze’ to get us to keep our word.”  They recognized that the terms were not Moshe’s own, but were “asher y’dabeir Hashem,” what G-d had dictated, and therefore they could not and would not back out of the deal.

The chassidishe seforim see the stylistic differences between Sefer Devarim and the other books of the Torah as a function of that sefer being a bridge between torah she’b’skav and torah sheb’al peh.  That bridge actually begins in our parsha of Matos.  Noticeably missing from the opening of our parsha is the usual declaration of, “Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor...,” that we read so many times in chumash, yet, Moshe nonetheless says to the roshei hamatos, “Zeh hadavar asher tzivah Hashem…” (30:2)   This is the idea the Ramban is teaching us.  The Bnei Reuvain and Gad recognzied that the voice of Moshe, the voice of Chazal, is the ratzon Hashem. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

muflah ha'samuch l'ish, or when is a katan not a katan?

There is a chiddush in the parsha of nedarim that the vows of a child a year under bar mitzvah, a muflah hasamuch l’ish, have validity.  There are two possible ways of understanding this din: 1) does the Torah mean that even though the child is still a minor, when it comes to hil nedarim his/her vows are taken seriously, or, 2) is the Torah redefining the age of majority viz a viz hilchos nedarim?

The gemara (Nidah 46) quotes Rav Huna that if a muflah hasamuch l’ish makes a neder and then violates that neder, he/she would get malkos.  If the chiddush haTorah of muflah hasmauch l’ish was just that even a neder of a katan has validity, then Rav Huna’s din wouldn't make sense – a katan is exempt from punishment.  It must be that the Torah treats a muflah as a gadol.  The same can be seen from the Rambam’s formulation (Nedarim 11:4):

 הואיל והגיעו לשני הגדולים, נדריהן קיימין--אף על פי שלא הביאו סימנין, ועדיין לא נעשו גדולים לכל דבר; ודבר זה מדברי תורה--שהמופלא הסמוך לאיש, הקדשו הקדש ונדריו נדרים.

The words “higi'u l'shanei hagedolim" imply that a muflah is considered (viz a viz nedarim) a full fledged gadol.

We discussed a similar issue once before.  R’ Chaim (al haRambam) asks how the gemara can have a hava amina that the age at which child can become a ben sorer u’moreh is under 13 – a minor cannot serve as a defendant or plaintiff in beis din!  R’ Chaim therefore concludes that the gavra of the ben sorer u’moreh is technically never found guilty of any crime.  Beis din simply finds as a matter of fact that he has the status of a ben sorer, and because of that status he is given a punishment for the inevitable future crimes he will commit (ne’herag al shem sofo).  R’ Shach in Avi Ezri sees this as a distinction without a difference.  How can a person be punished without being guilty of some crime?  Rather, explains Rav Shach, even though normally a minor cannot come before beis din or receive punishment, the chiddush of the parsha of ben sorer u’moreh is that viz a viz this particular parsha we treat the individual as a gadol from an earlier age. 

My son showed me that the Shitah Mekubetzes in Archin 3a asks why a pasuk is needed to exclude a katan from punishment for the issur of being metamei mikdash – a katan is never liable for punishment?  The Shitah gives two answers: 1) since a katan is included in the parsha of tumah, i.e. he can become tamei, I might have thought the issurim and punishments extend to him as well, kah mashma lan; 2) the exclusion is needed for someone who becomes tamei as a katan and then becomes a gadol and enters the Mikdash.  Could the two answers of the Shitah hinge on this chakirah?  The first answer seems to accept at least in theory that a katan could be liable for punishment, which would imply that viz a viz the parsha of tumah he is treated as a gadol.  The second answer perhaps holds that a katan remains a katan, irrespective of whether certain dinim apply to him at an earlier age.

I thought maybe the din of tumas mikdash is different.  It’s not an issur gavra of entering the mikdash while tamei, but rather a din in the cheftza shel mikdash not being a place where tumah is brought.  It doesn’t matter whether the vehicle for the tumah coming in is through a gadol or a katan.  By way of analogy, the S.A. paskens that a katan can light ner Chanukah for the family even though normally a katan cannot be motzi a gadol in mitzvos.  There too, the idea may be that the mitvah of ner Chanukah is the cheftza shel menorah being lit (as R’ Chaim al haRambam explains by neiros mikdash), irrespective of who is doing the lighting.  Essentially I am trying to have my cake and eat it too – like R’ Chaim explains by ben sorer u’moreh, I am essentially opening the door to giving out a punishment absent any chovas hagavra, simply by virtue of a certain situation being created.  Now that I’ve written this out, I’m less convinced that this makes sense, but I’ll throw it out there anyway for your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramban on musafim of the moadim

The Ramban at the end of last week’s parsha contrasts the parsha of the musafim of the moadim described there with the parshiyos of korbanos that appear at the beginning of Vayikra.  Instead of focusing on what Aharon and his sons had to do – their avoda – as the Torah does in VaYikra, the Torah here makes no mention of the kohanim and instead focusses on the responsibility of Bnei Yisrael to see that korbanos are brought, “tishmireu l’hakriv li b’mo’ado” (see this post on Beis Vaad for more on that).  Ramban explains:

אבל כפי פשוטו, בא הכתוב לומר כי אע"פ שהפרשה הזו בתורת הקורבנות לא ייחד בה אהרן ובניו כאשר הוא בפרשיות שבתורת כוהנים, אבל אמר אל כל בני ישראל יחדיו ככל אשר ציווה ה' את משה - בין בדין שביתת המלאכה בין בתמידין ומוספין ובנדרים ונדבות, כי כן נאמר לו (לעיל כח ב): צו את בני ישראל.
והטעם מפני שהמצווה לאחר ביאתם לארץ, והיא אזהרה לישראל כולם שישמרו במועדם התמידין והמוספין ויקריבו הנדרים והנדבות. ועוד כי עיקר המצווה להיות הימים נזכרים ונעשים לשבות בהם מכל מלאכת העבודה. והפרשה הזו שווה עם פרשת המועדות שבתורת כוהנים (ויקרא כג), שם נאמר בתחילה דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם ובסוף וידבר משה את מועדי ה' אל בני ישראל, ובכאן ככה בתחילה צו את בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם ובסוף ויאמר משה אל בני ישראל ככל אשר ציווה ה'. ולא הזכיר "מועדי ה'", בעבור שהוזכרו בכאן בפרשה דברים אחרים שאינן במועדי ה', כגון תמידי החול ומוספי השבת וראשי חדשים
Let’s take the first point first: why does the fact that the musafim are brought only after Bnei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael make a difference?  The korbanos are still brought by kohanim, even if the nation as a whole had a role in overseeing the process?  Was there a difference between the midbar and Eretz Yisrael in terms of whether the kohanim acted as shluchei d’shemaya or sheluchei didan?  I wouldn’t read the Ramban in such technical terms, especially when he is addressing peshuto shel mikra.  What I think the Ramban means is that the moadim are national holidays.  It’s only once we were in Eretz Yisrael that our national identity was fully formed and that idea could be expressed.  It’s like l’havdil fireworks on July 4.  The Grucci brothers may be the ones shooting the fireworks, but we are the ones celebrating.  Sure the Grucci brothers (if they were around then) could shoot fireworks when there was only thirteen colonies, but the act has a different meaning entirely once it is done as part of a national celebration.    

That ties in with the second point:

ועוד כי עיקר המצווה להיות הימים נזכרים ונעשים לשבות בהם מכל מלאכת העבודה.
What does resting from melacha have to do with the korbanos?  I think what Ramban is saying is that there is a certain kedushas hayom to the moadim that expresses itself primarily in the issur melacha.  The offering of korbanos is part and parcel of establishing that kedushas hayom.  It’s not just an avodah that you do on the day of Yom Tov; it’s an avodah that makes the day into a special day of Yom Tov. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

shem olam etein lo - Tzelafchad's eternal reward

Rashi writes in Parshas Pinchas that the Bnos Tzelafchad had the special zechus of the parsha of hilchos nachalos being transmitted through them.  What did they do to deserve this special merit? 
Chasam Sofer (here) answers with a pasuk from the haftarah we read today at mincha.  Hashem promises to the “sarisim asher yishmeru es shabsosai” a “yad v’shem tov m’banim u’mibanos,” better than any children.  Chazal (according to one view) tell us that the mekoshesh who violated Shabbos was Tzelafchad.  He did so not for his own benefit, but to show the rest of Klal Yisrael that even though they were punished and would have to wander for 40 years, the mitzvos, especially the mitzvah of shabbos, still needed to be obeyed.  Tzelofchad’s actions were actually motivated by a desire to preserve the mitzvah of shabbos, not to desecrate it.  Therefor, thetorah of parshas nachalos was given through his daughters as an eternal remembrance for his good deeds.

I thought this Chasam Sofer fits perfectly with a gemara in Sanhedrin (93b) that darshens the same pasuk about Chanaya, Misha’el, and Azarya, and Daniel.  The gemara writes:

מאי שם עולם אתן לו אשר לא יכרת אמר ר' תנחום דרש בר קפרא בצפורי זה ספר דניאל שנקרא על שמו
The “shem olam” they were rewarded with is Sefer Daniel. 

You see from the gemara that having divrei torah transmitted in your name counts as an eternal reward and remembrance.  This is exactly what the Chasam Sofer is saying as well – the transmission of parshas nachalos in the name of the Bnos Tzelafchad is the best remembrance Tzelafchad could have.
Parenthetically, my wife observed that in the list of families, the Bnos Tzelafchad are listed as (25:33):
 וְשֵׁם בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד מַחְלָה וְנֹעָה חָגְלָה מִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה

Yet, later, in the parsha of nachalos (27:1), they are listed as:

וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֹתָיו מַחְלָה נֹעָה וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה

Notice the difference of where the "vuv"s that makes the conjunctions are placed.  It's a detail, but every kutzo shel yud has meaning.  I have no idea why there is such a difference.

Another question from my wife: given that the women did not sin in the cheit hameraglim or the cheir ha'eigel and were not included in the punishment gezeiros for these sins, wouldn't they have far outnumbered the men?  I would also add that a large number of females were captured in the war for Midyan as well.  Seems like there should have been a major shidduch crisis...

aveilus, teshuvah: the two themes of ta'anis

The Rambam opens Hil Ta’anis by telling us that there are days set aside for fasting in order “to awaken hearts and open the gates of repentance.”  The primary goal of a fast day is to elicit teshuvah.

It would seem that other Rishonim disagree.  The Ran in Ta’anis quotes the Ra’avad as explaining that the reason there is no added prayer of neilah on fasts like 10 Teves, 17 Tamuz, etc. is because these days are set aside for mourning the tragedies that occurred on them.  Neilah is only added to fasts that are set aside as days of prayer. 

The Chasam Sofer proves that this view is correct from the gemara’s explanation of why we do not move these fasts to an earlier date if they fall on Shabbos – “akdumei puranisa lo makdiminan,” we do not move up a day of tragedy.  These fasts are days of aveilus, not simply days of prayer or teshuvah.

Once upon a time we discussed the view of Ramban, who holds that the takanah of the ta’anis of 17 Tamuz and the other fast days included prohibitions against bathing, washing, wearing leather shoes, etc.  However, that takanah was put in place only for times of tzarah.  When it is not a time of tzarah, there is no obligation to fast.  The choice whether or not to do so is ours as a community.  Ramban concludes that we have been mekabeil as a community only not to eat and drink on these fast days, but have not been mekabeil any of the other prohibitions.  (Considering events in Eretz Yisrael, could one not make the case that we are in an eis tzarah now and the original takanah should be in effect in full force?  Anyone know if this issue was raised by poskim?) 
What kind of strange compromise does this kabbalah amount to?  Were we mekabeil the day as a fast day or not?  If yes, then how can we bathe or wear leather?  If not, then why can’t we eat?  R’ Yitzchok Sorotzkin explains the Ramban based on these two themes, aveilus and tefilah, that characterize the chiyuv to fast.  The issurim of bathing, of wearing leather, etc. are part and parcel of designating the day as a day or tragedy and mourning.  This was the original takanah of fasting, which only applies when there is an eis tzarah – a time of tragedy.  Our kabbalah amounts to accepting the day as as a day of teshuvah and tefilah.  For this end, it is sufficient to give up eating and drinking alone.