Thursday, May 31, 2007

yerushalmi on obligation of women to eat matzah

The Yerushalmi (pesachim 58 in vilna ed) cites the hekesh of matzah to chameitz to explain why women are obligated in the mitzvah of matzah. The simple pshat in the hekesh that I remember from the Bavli is that the limud is needed to overcome the exemption of zman gerama. The Yerushalmi, however, cites the mishna that exempts women from mitzvos which are zman gerama as a contradiction to the hekesh – very strange, because the whole point is that the hekesh is the exception that proves the rule. The Yerushalmi answers that matzah is different because it is an aseh “she’hi ba’ah m’koach lo ta’aseh”, which stems from a lav. What does that mean?

Kiddushin 34 gives three examples of mitzvos which are not zman gerama which women are therefore obligated in: hashavas aveidah, ma’akeh, and shiluach hakan. Tosfos points out that in each of these three cases there is a potential lav that is violated along with the aseh: there is an issur of lo tasim damim for not building a ma’akeh, an issur of lo tuchal l’hitalem for not returning a lost object, an issur of lo tikach ha’aim by shiluach hakan. Whether or not women are obligated in the mitzvos aseh would seem irrelevant, as women would be obligated to avoid the lavim. Ramban answers that in certain cases the lav is not an independent violation, but is just an extension of the aseh associated with it, an added stringency to enhance the aseh. Had women not been obligated in the aseh, the lav would not apply either.

Perhaps the Yerushalmi is the reverse sevara of the Ramban. Matzah is not an independent mitzvas aseh, but is an extension of the lav of chameitz. In other words, the Torah demands not only that we avoid eating chameitz, but that we go to the opposite extreme an enhance the lav by eating a food which is anti-chamietz. (I heard this sevara in a different context from R’ Friedman from Mesivta Rambam, but I am borrowing it for here).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

secular court coercing compliance with religious law - cases of gittin

There is an interesting discussion on regarding a Canadian case where a Muslim man’s withholding a religious divorce from his wife was considered aggravating circumstances in evaluating a later crime. Is enhancing punishment for failure to comply with religious doctrine tantamount to secular compulsion to observe religion? Eugene Volokh seems to think so. I don’t buy the argument. Evaluating aggravating circumstance seems to not be a question of compliance with some fixed secular standard, but is more of a subjective assessment or attitude - why not consider whether a person used the rules of a religious system to bring harm to another in making that determination? Anyway, Volokh draws a comparison to the NY Get Laws, which he thinks also amount to coercion by the State – I don’t know enough to opine whether the Get Laws violate church-state separation (see here), but coercion by secular court does pose halachic problems (see here).

Someone commenting on the issue tried to distinguish a get from a religious ritual. I am reminded of one of the stupider points (and there were many) made by “Rabbi” Irwin Kula in his book “Yearnings”. Kula claims that some people remain trapped in bad marriages because they see marriage as a sacred bond that is holy. He counsels that Judaism, unlike other religions, holds that divorce can be a sacred experience as well, because it is effectuated by a “holy document”, meaning a get. A get or kesubah is no more holy than a contract to buy a house or car. In fact, I have always wondered, artwork aside, why people hang kesubos on their walls - I have never seen a deed to a home hung on the wall, or a bill of sale for a car. If laypeople knew what they were really getting into by signing a kesubah, they would realize it would be better to have a lawyer by their side rather than a rabbi who is thinking of “holy” documents.

On the same topic, see this article from a few months ago on a bill that was narrowly defeated in Maryland which would have forced husbands to grant a get (similar to NY Get Law). Supporters framed the bill as a women’s rights issue, designed to insure that a woman is fairly granted the right to remarry, while opponents objected on church-state grounds.

would the eidah chareidis accept truth from a maskil?

Interesting tshuva in Even Israel (vol 8 #9) from R’ Yisrael Fisher, who was one of the dayanim of the Eidah haChareidis. He was asked his opinion of a certain kuntres which advocated saying mashiv haruach u’morid ha’geshem (segol under the gimel) instead of morid hagashem (kamatz under the gimel) because the use of gashem had been proposed by a certain Yitzchak Satnow (see the reference in this article from seforim’s blog in footnote #37) who was known as a maskil. R’ Fisher writes that he had actually been approached by the author of the kuntres, but refused to give a haskama (!). Aside from marshalling sources other than Satnow to support the use of gashem over geshem, R’ Fisher notes that just because an idea was advanced by a maskil is no reason to reject it outright without evidence that it is wrong.

definition of "whole loaf" for lechem mishne

To properly fulfill the requirement of lechem mishne on Shabbos requires two whole loaves, but a glance at your typical challah roll smushed into the bag among others will inevitably reveal flaking crust, bits of dough hanging over from where it was broken away from its neighbor, etc. How whole does whole have to be? As far as I know you won’t find a standard in hilchos lechem mishne, but you do find a standard in hilchos eiruvin. The gemara (eiruvin 81) says that an eiruv can be made with a whole loaf but not a partial loaf, even if the piece is greater than the whole. The reason for the din is eivah, to avoid an argument between parties over why one person only gave only a piece and the other gave a whole loaf. The gemara says that the shiur challah (for a baker: 1/48) can be removed from a loaf and it is still considered whole. Tosfos assumes that this is only true id the shiur challah actually needs to be removed for the purpose of mitzvas challah, otherwise, the parties may still fight over who gave a whole vs. who gave a part, but the Rosh argues and assumes that the reason why a small part is missing is irrelevant. Once people are willing to make a concession and allow a small part to be missing for the sake of challah, whether that small part was actually taken for challah or just happens to be missing is not important. The Korban Nesanel interestingly writes that this is true only with respect to eiruv where the criteria for wholeness is dependent on people’s tolerance (the purpose of the din was to avoid argument), but not with respect to lechem mishne. However, the Shmiras Shabbos k’Hilchisa in a footnote writes that R’ Shlomo Zalman disagreed and assumed that the same standard applies in both cases.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

should teachers emphasize process or facts?

Let’s say you wanted to teach a student about the history of music – clearly, a large # of dates, places, and names must be absorbed to have any knowledge of the subject matter. On the other hand, if you wanted to teach a student to play music, having his/her memorize facts about the instrument is not going to do anything – the way to go about it is to practice playing. Obviously, studying history also involves the process of placing ideas into a conceptual framework, and playing music needs knowledge of facts like how to read notes, but I think it is fair to say there is a difference in emphasis, in defining the means vs. ends in achieving these different goals. When elementary school age kids are taught gemara, is the goal to impart facts, or to impart the process of gemara thinking and study? When students are given tests, homework, etc., does the work ask them to simply spit back vocabulary words or facts from the page, or does it call upon the use of process-skills? When a teacher speaks with parents, is the emphasis on how many pages of material are covered, or what new skills he/she has practiced with students? What do you look for in your kids' school?

skeptics want to avoid bechira

The more I read in bloggerland the more I am convinced that skeptics are most uncomfortable not with mitzvos per se but with the basic concept of bechira chofshis. The whole search for unassailable proof is a desire to escape the most basic choice any religious person makes – the choice to believe.

undermining your own message

Just saw on the top of another website/blog an ad which reads “When people think Louis Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, there’s not enough art in our schools.” I wonder if the foundation which paid for this ad and advocates increased funding for the arts considered that if kids really think Louis Armstrong was the first man on the moon, we should perhaps be spending more on science education? Talk about undermining your own message…

Monday, May 28, 2007

schoolyard halacha

My son had a practical halachic question that stems undoubtably from his learning (by himself) mishnayos baba kamma. His class was playing kickball at recess and as he kicked the ball, it popped. As he put it, the ball was "meisa machmas melacha" (after all, he argued, the ball was quite dead). Is he chayav to pay the school for a new ball? I was about to tell him a katan is always patur, but that doesn't fly because he is over bar mitzvah now!

My son reasoned that he was a shoel, as the class had borrowed the ball for use at recess, and a shoel is chayav even in a case of ones. Sounds reasonable, but not so easy on his pocketbook. I helped him out a bit and suggested some other possibilities: 1) since he (or we) pay tuition for use of the school's property and materials, he might actually be a socheir, not a shoel; 2) since his rebbe was supposesdly supervising the class, the case may be one of ba'alav imo; 3) there is an implicitly mechila on the part of the school for these things otherwise they would be billing students for every broken piece of chalk, spilled milk at lunch, and other little calamities that are overlooked as par for the course of a school day (this is admittedly the weakest argument).

I told him to ask his principal, as I think the discussion he could have about applying dinei nezikin would be a real learning experience (not too many of those, unfortunately, in the school day). Anyone have any other sevaros on this one?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

listening to l'shon hara and nivul peh

I recently did a series of posts on shome'a k'oneh, and just came another reference. The gemara says that one who listens to nivul peh and is silent (i.e. does not protest) is as culpable as the one speaking. Maharal (Nesiv haTzniyus, end ch 4) explains through shome'a k'oneh it is as if the listener were the speaker. I assume the same could be said about listening to l'shon hara as well - it is not an independent issur, but an extension of the issur of speaking through shome'a k'oneh. (Parentheticaly, the Maharal makes an interesting distinction between nivul peh, which is inherently wrong, and l'shon hara, which is wrong because it is a subcategory of mazik, it brings harm to another person.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

bikurim - zman gerama? (part 2)

The second point raised by the Turei Even, that bikurim are zman gerama because they are only brought between Shavuos and Chanukah, is easier to answer. Zman gerama is a limitation on when a chiyuv applies. By bikurim, the chiyuv applies 24x7. However, to fulfill that obligation requires a certain type of good fruit, i.e. a proper cheftza shel mitzvah. The time span of Shavuos to Chanukah is when such fruit is available, a demarcation of the cheftza shel mitzvah, not a limitation on the chovas hagavra.

The Sefer haChinuch interestingly writes that women are exempt from the mitzvah of bikurim. One could argue that the Chinuch’s position is motivated by either of the two questions of the Turei Evev. However, this position is still difficult to understand. Recall that the Mishna only said women are exempt from reading the parsha of viduy bikurim, implying, that they are obligated in the mitzvah of bringing bikurim. Even if one argues that this obligation is only Rabbinic, it begs the question of why the Rabbis would obligate women in this mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama and no other (Minchas Chinuch).

bikurim - zman gerama? (part 1)

The Mishna lists women among those who are m’vi’im v’ainam korin, obligated to bring bikurim, but exempt from reading the parsha of viduy bikurim because they cannot refer to “adama asher na’sata li”, the land which they received, as the land of Eretz Yisrael was apportioned to men and not women. The Turei Even asks why women should be obligated to bring bikurim – isn’t it a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama, a time bound mitzvah? Bikurim require tenufah, being waved like a korban, and the act of tenufah could only be done during the day and not at night, and bikurim could only be brought from Shavuos up until Chanukah, but not throughout the year.

The Turei Even answers the first point by suggesting that a mitzvah which is done daily, even if it cannot be done at certain times of the day, is not called zman gerama. For example, milah is not a zman gerama mitzvah because even though it cannot be done at night, the obligation is in effect every day to insure a milah is done. This chiddush is open to challenge. I would suggest an alternate approach. The Mishna (Kiddushin 36a) lists tenufah among a long list of preparatory acts to bringing a korban which women are exempt from performing, all of which are derived from pesukim. The Rishonim ask why specific limudim are required to exclude women – every act of bringing a korban should be zman gerama because korbanos can only be brought during the day. The Ritv”a answers by distinguishing between a mitzvah and a machshirzman gerama exempts women from having to perform a mitzvos, meaning unavoidable obligations, but acts which are just preparatory toward some goal, machshirim, are not covered by that blanket dispensation. Tenufah is therefore not necessarily included in the exemption of zman gerama, and where bikurim themselves are not subject to a time constraint, perhaps women should not be excluded on the basis of zman gerama.

As for the second point, stay tuned…

Monday, May 21, 2007

minhagim of lighting yom tov candles - avoiding a tartei d'sasrei

There are two different customs women follow when lighting Yom Tov candles. Many first say the bracha and then light, as opposed to on Shabbos where they first light and then say the bracha. The logic behind the switch is as follows: the bracha on lighting constitutes a kabbalah of shabbos/yom tov – on shabbos, saying the bracha first would mean shabbos has started and the act of lighting would be prohibited, so we light first and then say the bracha; on yom tov, lighting a candle is permitted, so there is no problem in saying the bracha first (in fact, there is the added benefit of it now being over l’asiyasan) and then lighting. Others do not reverse the order because lo plug – the custom established saying the bracha after lighting as a universal rule, and we avoid creating any differentiation between Shabbos and Yom Tov.

There is an additional difference in customs as to when to light the Yom Tov candles. Some women light a number of minutes before shkiya, as is done on Shabbos. Others follow the custom of lighting after dark before the meal – since lighting a candle on Yom Tov is permitted, there is no reason to push the lighting back to before sundown like we do on Shabbos.

The Shmiras Shabbos k’Hilchisa points out that one should not err and adopt mutually incompatible customs. The whole reason for saying the bracha after the lighting is to not differentiate Yom Tov from Shabbos. Yet, lighting after dark by definition is possible only on Yom Tov and not on Shabbos, a clear differentiation between the two. It would make no sense to light after dark but to only say the bracha after lighting.

tikun leil shavuos=ta'aroch lefanei shulchan

I noticed a local shule has printed on its flier with its schedule of shiurim for tikun leil shavuos a quote from the Belzer Rebbe, R’ Shalom, that the roshei teivos of ta’aroch lifanei shulchan is the same as tikun leil shavuos, meaning one can be achieve the same tikunim through eating as though one’s learning – of course, refreshments will be served all night. I am not a chassid, but I am willing to grant that perhaps the Rebbe R’ Sar Shalom could accomplish with his eating cheesecake the same tikkunim I accomplish with my learning. But that I can accomplish with my eating cheesecake the same as with my learning – that I can’t believe!

shlichus to deliver bikurim (II)

To return to the issue I left off with last week, Rashbam and Tosfos disagree whether the owner of bikurim can read the parsha of viduy bikurim if the fruit is brought by a shliach. Rashbam invokes the rule of shlucho shel adam k’moso to justify the owner saying “heyveisi es pri ha’adama’. Why does Tosfos disagree?

I think the key to understanding the issue is a yesod of the Dvar Avraham touched on once before. There is a minhag to deliver mishloach manos through a shliach, and usually people ask a child to be the delivery boy. The Dvar Avraham asks why this accomplishes anything, as a katan is excluded from shlichus? The D.A. explains that where shlichus requires that the shliach be representative of the sender, a katan is excluded, as we cannot invoke shlucho shel adam k’moso, but where all that is required is delivery, even a katan can serve as a means to that end.

In our case, perhaps Tosfos would argue that the shlichus of bikurim is simply a means to the end of delivery, and not a function of shlucho shel adam k’moso. Rashbam disagrees, because the idea of ‘heyveisi’ implies the actual presence of the owner.

Once we invoke shlucho shel adam, as Ezra noted in a comment, why does having to recite 'adamah asher nasata li' preclude the shliach reading the parsha himself - isn't he the equivalent of the owner? I would suggest that shlucho shel adam k’moso can be invoked when the shliach represents the owner in performing some act; however, the parsha of viduy bikurim requires not just a delivery act, but a status of landowner, and for that shlichus is insufficient. IIRC, one cannot apply the din of ‘ba’alav imo” if a shliach of the owner if present because ‘ba’alav imo’ is a status, a state of being, not an action.

Friday, May 18, 2007

shlichus to deliver bikurim

The gemara B"B (81) quotes R’ Yosi bar Chanina who derives from the juxtaposition of "v’lakachta...v’haveisa" that the lekicha and hava’ah of bikurim must be done by the same person – i.e. if the owner harvests the fruit but it is delivered by a shliach, or a shliach does the harvesting and the owner delivers it, the parsha of bikurim cannot be read. Tosfos and the Rashbam disagree as to whether lekicha refers to the harvesting of the fruit (Rashbam) or to taking the fruit from the house and setting out on the trip (Tos.)

The Minchas Chinuch assumes that if the shliach or owner did the lekicha and started on the trip, even if someone else took over in the middle, as long as the same person who started the journey completes it, the parsha of bikurim may be read. Completion of the trip is defined as arriving at the azarah.

Rashbam writes that even if a shliach delivers the bikurim, the owner personally must recite the parsha of viduy bikurim. The shliach cannot read on behalf of the owner because he cannot refer to “adamah asher nasata li”, the land given to him, as he is not the owner. The owner, however, can still say “hinei hayveisi es reishis…” even if the fruit is brought by a shliach because shlucho shel adam k’moso, and it is as if he did deliver the bikurim. Tosfos disagrees and says the owner cannot read the parsha unless he personally delivers the fruit as well, as he cannot say "hayveisi". According to Tosfos, R' Yosi's chiddush is that even if the owner delivers the fruit, he still cannot read the parsha unless he also had harvested it or taken it from his house.

Why would Tosfos not apply the principle of shlucho shel adam k’moso in this case? I have an idea, but I’ll just throw out the question for now.

good book on Israel's moral right

I just finished reading and would highly recommend “Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel’s Wars” by Yaakov Lozowick, an archivist at Yad vaShem. Lozowick reviews the history of Israel from its inception until the present time, and presents the reasons for his own transformation from a supporter of the Oslo accords to his acceptance of the stark reality that the Palestinians are unwilling to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East under any terms. I usually don’t write about this issue it because the facts are obvious and depressing – the world at large (with a few exceptions, of course) has never had a need for the Jews or any sympathy for them, and not much has changed in 2000 years except now the Europeans allow Hamas or Hezbollah to do their dirty work for them instead of taking the direct approach. Ain lanu l’hishaein elah al Avinu shebaShamayim.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

acharayus for bikurim - until what point?

Rambam (2:20) holds that someone who brings bikurim which then are lost/destroyed/became tamei is chayav in achrayus unless the bikurim arrive intact to har habayis. Why har habayis – the mitzvah of bikurim is to bring them into the azarah (see Radba”z)?! R’ Chaim explained (as quoted in R’ Reichman’s “Reshimos Shiurim” on Sukkah) that the din of achrayos is not a function of insuring the kiyum mitzvah of bikurim, but is a separate din that one must attend to the bikurim, which has an independent shiur until one reaches har habayis (he brings a makor in Toras Kohanim for such an idea).

ra'uy v'nidche by reading the parsha of bikurim

Nu, so should we get back to the real stuff? In a previous post I mentioned the halacha of not reading viduy bikurim if you are bringing fruit from a tree which has been chopped down; you cannot refer to “adamah asher nasatah li” if you don’t have the tree any longer. The R"Sh learns this Mishna as referring to a case where the tree was chopped down before you harvested the fruit. However, if the tree was standing when you plucked the fruit and then it was chopped down, not only can you not read the parsha, but you can’t bring the bikurim either. His rule: if the fruit was originally unfit to have the parsha read, the reading is not m’akeiv, but if it was fit to have the parsha read and became nidche, the reading is m’akeiv. The Rambam quotes the Mishna k’peshuto, indicating that in either case the fruit can be brought. Apparently, the Rambam does not hold of this chiddush of ra’uy v’nidche disqualifying the fruit.

The issue comes up in other places l’shitasam. If someone sold land the fruit grew on, the Mishna says that the seller cannot read the parsha of bikurim because he cannot refer to “adamah asher nasatah li”. R”Sh learns that the sale had to have taken place before the fruit was harvested from the tree, otherwise the fruit was ra’uy v’nidche and would be disqualified. The Rambam (Bikurim 4:5) again quotes the Mishna as-is, rejecting the qualification of the R”Sh.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

more thoughts on YU vs. hesder

Some more thoughts on some of the issues raised in the past post on rav kook and comments. I cannot write much on the hesder/dat-leumi world because I live here in the US, but I think mixing it with the YU world is comparing apples and oranges. At the risk of oversimplification: the dati-leumi/hesder world springs from the ideology of Rav Kook, developed by his son and talmidim for three generations. There are many yeshivos which are part of the hesder network, many talmidim of Rav Kook who claim allegiance to some form of his ideology and who actively try to inculcate it in their talmidim. Dress does not define a person, but practically speaking, show me a kipah seruah wearing yeshiva bachur who can cite Orot, and I am willing to bet he is not learning in the Mir. As the number of yeshivot under the banner of this hashkafa has increased, their effect has spread to communities built around its ideological framework which in turn feed back to the yeshivot.

One would think I could just as quickly summarize the YU ideology considering that I attended the institution from HS through college, one of its grad schools, and got smicha there. But when I think of YU I think of ideological muddle. The philosophy has never spread to a yeshiva gavoha outside the original institution, with the exception perhaps of Chovivei Torah, which YU disassociates itself from. Rav Soloveitchik never formulated Torah U’Mada, arguably the defining philosophy of YU; that was left to Rav Lamm, someone who is certainly an intellectual and talmid chacham, but, without meaning any disrespect, not a gadol of the caliber of Rav Kook or even the Rav (a fact I think he would admit). The Roshei Yeshiva (at least while I was there) make no attempt to communicate any ideological framework – there is no positive spin to Torah u’Mada, never a discussion of the positives of liberal arts or Modern Orthodoxy, only derech shlili, a passive acceptance that certain allowances exist under the banner of MO. Very few, if any, of the Roshei Yeshiva will speak of the value of literature or liberal arts, issues like women taking a positive role in orthodoxy are increasingly downplayed (compare R’ Twersky or R’ Shachter’s approach to the issue with R’ Henkin’s), and there is little to distinguish the Yeshiva portion of YU from its chareidi counterparts. If there is an ideological mission to the institution, the “better” bachurim, aside from a small %, generally eschew fully identifying with it. As far as community impact, I have seen with my own eyes a 2/3 empty shule in my neighborhood when R’ Hershel Shachter and R’ Rozensweig came to speak, this in a community that is not usually identified with the far right. It is not that the message is disagreed with – it’s that modern orthodoxy embraces a passive nonchalance that undermines its own message. When they came to speak, R’ Rozensweig chose as his topic “Da’as Torah”. Why do I need YU for a da’as torah ideology – the RW offers the same thing in stronger doses without apologizing for it? Where is the YU equivalent of communities with kipa-seruga Orot quoting talmidim - i.e. talmidim with a distinctive derech of avodas Hashem that is the result of having been reared in YU's system? The community hosted R’ Alon a few years ago, and R’ Goldvicht earlier this year, and I heard unabashed enthusiasm for Eretz Yisrael beyond what the RW world offers. It was not RW-lite, but a completely different spin. One is not moved to embrace MO from any ideological fervor, but simply it offers a convenient set of heterim for things like college, and on a communal level, identifying onself as MO provides convenient cover for a host of halachic practices the movements leaders would condemn.

A commentator asked, if I send my son to a chareidi yeshiva, how will he learn of the Rav or Rav Kook? But I went to YU, and had it not been for my personal reading and growth since, I would have never been exposed to Rav Kook either, nor would I have any sense of the Rav’s distinctive ideology from what I heard from the Roshei Yeshiva. The ideology of Rav Kook animates the sichot and hashkafa writings of the Roshei Yeshiva of hesder; can anyone point to a single work of machshava from a YU Rosh Yeshiva that develops the hashkafa of the Rav? This is all by way of personal reflection, and there undoubtedly are communities where the YU world has made a greater impact in the ruchniyus and hashkafa (I never lived in Teaneck, but from what I understand it is such a community), and I hope I have not been too critical. However, it seems to me that while hesder has created passion and ideological fervor and communicated a distinctive ideological vision, YU has failed in the same task. At the same time, in the US, the RW world has grown and continues to grow, and sprout institutions which do communicate a fervor for learning, an clear ideology of Torah, and a committment to avodas Hashem, for which they deserve tremendous credit.

same or different?

Weren't convinced by yesterday's post? Maybe this will do it...tzama lecha nafshi

(Or course the classic clip is the Lubavitcher Rebbe's rendition, but I couldn't paste it in. You can hear it here.)

an appreciation of R' Shurin, author of Olameinu's "Mador Ivri"

My mother is a “saver”, including storing all things that had to do with my education from elementary school onward, and that is how I happen to have a whole stash of Olameinu magazines from when I was in elementary school for my kids’ reading pleasure. I generally find most Jewish periodicals wanting in some way or other, but have always been impressed with Olameinu as a well written age-appropriate collection of simple Torah goodness, with no political overtones or agenda other than teaching kids about Judaism. When I once taught talmud torah I used to regularly photocopy articles from these old magazines to pass on. My girls now have their own subscription and I still look over the magazine each month. One of the sections that I appreciate more as an adult than I think I did as a kid is "Mador Ivri", the column written in Hebrew on the inside back cover. These columns usually contain a bio of a gadol or tzadik, or some short story or vort, written in simple Hebrew, with translations of a few difficult words at the end. When my girls first began to bring home the magazine I immediately turned to the back and sure enough "Mador Ivri" was still there, and I noticed it was written by Rabbi Shurin, the same writer who had been doing it when I was a kid! At first I thought it was reprints, but the articles were actually all new. It is hard to write concisely in a simple, understandable format using what is essentially a foreign language to elementary age yeshiva kids, yet month after month R’ Shurin rose to the task. For the past few school years my kids’ Olameinu always made it to my hands so I could enjoy "Mador Ivri". I just saw the latest Shavuos issue last night and was saddened to see the "Mador Ivri" bio focused on R’ Shurin himself, written by his son's son-in-law a month after his passing. For over 50 years R’ Shurin wrote these columns that I have grown to enjoy and appreciate, and that was the least of the man’s many accomplishments that I learned about. I hope his grandson continues the legacy of "Mador Ivri", and I hope Olameinui continues its mission as a wonderful educational resource.

rav simcha hakohen kook on yerushalayim and some thoughts on chinuch

Rav Simcha Kook was in our neighborhood for Shabbos and my son decided he wanted to hear him speak so we davened at a different minyan than our usual haunt. My son has been reading the bio of R’ Aryeh Levine, which touches in a few places on criticism R’ Aryeh received for being close with R’ Kook [the present R’ Kook’s grandfather's brother], so I think he may have been curious to see what someone with the last name Kook would look like and have to say. Rav Kook more than adequately lived up to his 13 year old’s impression of what a gadol b’yisrael must look like (peyos, beard, black frock). Rav Kook spoke about the name Yerushalaim – the name is a combination of yirah, taken from Avaham calling the mountain b’har Hashem yera’eh, and shalom, taken from Malki Tzedek, melech shaleim. Rather than choose one name over the other, Hashem combined the two to make peace, ir shechubra lah. Asked R’ Kook, but wouldn’t Malki Tzedek still have a ta’anah, as he came first, so it should be called shaleimyeru? He answered that yirah=mesirus nefesh, and even Malki Tzedek recognized that for a Jew, mesirus nefesh comes before shalom. With tears in his eyes, R’ Kook then told the story of the bravery of Roi Klein. After hearing Rav Kook speak about Yerushalayim, my son asked me what Yom Yerushalayim is, because in his school, which as he puts it “is non-zionistic”, they had learned nothing about it. Here in the US, the world of Torah is dominated by chareidi or pseudo-chareidi (or as my wife puts it, "limousine chareidim") bnei torah and one really has little opportunity to see a world of torah like the hesder/dati-leuimi/chardal world of Eretz Yisrael. At the risk of a false generalization, I don't think its unfair to say that aside from YU and literally a handful of other institutions, there is no parallel or substitute in the modern orthodox world for the environment of deep immersion in talmud torah and spirituality that has been created by hundreds of RW yeshivos. It leaves people like myself with a torn identity. Philosophically, I take my queue from the Rav, R’ Kook, and their talmidim. But practically, I spend my "keviyus ittim" time in a bais medrash where hallel is not recited today, and if I want my children to grow up in an environment without the influence of TV, where talmud torah is overemphasized so that it becomes ingrained in their thinking, where the base materialism and lower aspects of American culture are at least recognized as bad even if the bulwarks against their influence are not fully effective, then I have no choice but to send them to schools where sadly, today is just another day on the calendar, and Rav Kook is just a name in a history book or a figure viewed with at best pareve indifference.

fruit, trees, and earth - stira in rambam from hil brachos to hil bikurim

The Mishna in Brachos (40a) writes that if one says the bracha of borei pri ha’adama on a fruit, one is yotzei and need not repeat the bracha because “ikar ilan ar’a hu”, a tree is nourished by the ground. The gemara explains that the Mishna is R’ Yehudah’s view l’shitaso: There is a dispute whether the parsha of bikurim may be recited over fruit from a tree which has since been cut down – Tanna Kamma says no, because once the tree is removed one can no longer refer to “ha’adama asher nasata li”, as adama refers to the tree itself, but R’ Yehudah says yes, because adama refers to the earth which nourishes the fruit tree. Here too in hilchos brachos, R’ Yehudah holds adamah refers to the earth which nourishes the fruit and b’dieved one is yotzei with such a bracha.

Many Achronim asks: The Rambam in hilchos brachos (ch 8) paskens like the stam mishna in that one is yotzei by reciting borei pri ha’adama on a fruit, indicating (per the gemara) that he accepts the reasoning of R’ Yehudah. Yet, the Rambam in hilchos bikkuim (ch. 4) paskens like the Tanna Kamma against R’ Yehudah, that if a tree has been chopped down the parsha of bikkurim cannot be read. Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

similar or different?

From Chassidic court

To the other end of the world:(Watch the first 2-3 minutes to get the flavor)

To me the similarities far outweigh the differences - avodah b'hislahavus!

do we need permission of the UN to rebuild the Mikdash?

The Netziv interprets as a double punishment ‘v’hashimosi es mikdisehichem’, which refers to the destruction of the Bais haMikdash, ‘v’lo ariach b’reiach nichocheichem’, which refers to Hashem’s refusal to accept our korbanos. Even though theoretically korbanos could be offered on the mizbeyach without the Bais haMikdash standing, the tochacha prohibits doing so. The only exception would be to offer the korban pesach, which is never described as ‘reiach nichoach’. (There exists a whole literature in achronim on the possibility of offering a korban even without the bais hamikdash standing – if I recall correctly, R’ Yechiel m’Paris, of the ba’alei hatosfos, suggested such a possibility, and it was widely debated in the 18th century by the likes of R’ Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, R’ Akiva Eiger, and others).

According to the Netziv, it would be permissible to bring korbanos once this curse of ‘lo ariach’ is lifted even before the actual Bais haMikdash is completed, but what struck me is the condition he sets up for thaqt occurring - “ad sheyhiyeh he’ara min hashamayim v’rishyom m’umos ha’olam livnot beit hamikdash”. I am not sure if this is poetic flourish of some sort or to be taken literally, but it suggests that without some Heavenly sign or assistance (he’ara min hashamayim) and also without the permission of the non-Jews (rishyon m’umos) the Bais haMikdash cannot be rebuilt. True, the second Bais haMikdash was built only with the permission of Koresh, but I had assumed that was more of a practical matter because the Persian Empire controlled the location, not a halachic requirement. Does the Netziv here mean we need permission from the non-Jews also simply as a practical matter, or is there some halachic significance to this statement?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ktzos 28:1 - chiyuv la'tzeis y'dei shamayim (II)

Last week I started a Ktzos and did not finish off the topic. See here for part I: the Rishonim ask what is the difference between a case if ba bamachteres, where Rava apparently did not wish to take his property back from thieves because they had a chiyuv misa and we apply kam lei b’derabbah minei, and a case of esnan zonah with a close relative, where despite the chiyuv misa, the financial obligation to the zonah still exists as a chiyuv latzeis y'dei shamayim and causes the korban to become assur.
Tosfos in Sanhedrin writes that Rava also agrees in the case of ba bamachteret that the thieves should make restitution latzeis y’dei shamayim. However, he still refused their money. These thieves, Tosfos explained, turned over the money only because they thought they were chayav m’dina, which is not true. Rava did not want to accept payment under false pretenses. (Interesting: although they were obligated to make payment anyway, accepting money under false pretense is still assur!) The Ran (B.M 91) answers that the thieves may indeed have not been required to make payment. The case of esnan zonah is fundamentally different from the case of ba bamachteret because the obligation to the zonah is a contractual obligation, and a contractual obligation is not cancelled by kam lei b’derabbah minei, only a financial penalty is cancelled.
What is the point of disagreement – why would Tosfos not accept this sevara? You could perhaps say the issue is how to treat a contract – is keeping an agreement a natural law obligation that doesn't need the court's intereference and hence remains untouched by considerations of kam lei b’derrrabah minei (Ran), or is a contract only meaningful because it is enforceable by the courts, and where the court is blocked from interfering because of kam lei, all bets are off (Tosfos). But AddeRabbi’s nice lomdus in a comment to distinguish between the ba bamachteret and esnan cases got me thinking further. He wrote:
getting fancier, even acc. to rava, we can ask, does kim lei erase the second crime, or the second punishment. in certain cases, it's obvious that it's the latter. for example, your case of etnan. there's one crime with two potential punishments, so the latter punishment is not enforced, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist on some moral plane… that's the definition of chiyuv latzet yedei shamayim - you have a very real obligation, which simply has no enforcement mechanism. with regard to ba bamachteret, there are 2 actions - breaking in and stealing. the forfeiture of life that comes with breaking in makes us focus on that and ignore the theft. we ignore the second crime itself. stated differently, the context of machteret relegates the theft to trivial status. that's what 'be-damim knenhu' means. in that case, there's no chiyuv latzet yedei shamayim even because no debt was ever accrued (and again, chiyuv latzet isn't equivalent to 'moral obligation').
I want to borrow part of this to explain Tosfos. In the case of esnan, or shor b’disho (B.M. 91), the obligation to pay results from a specific act having occurred. Kam lei b’derabbah minei perhaps does not just mean that the financial penalty that results from an act is cancelled (Ran), but it means that in the world of dinei mamonos it is as if the act never occurred. Even if the obligation for payment is a result of normal dinei mamomos and not a penalty, the trigger that caused the financial obligation to occur is missing, and all that is left is a chiyuv latzeis y’dei shamayim.

dishwashing for a Mensch

If you, like I, take charge of the Motzei Shabbos dishwashing, see here for an idea of mine my wife posted about.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"orthodoxy" and luxury - is this really what we should strive for?

One of the local jewish newspaper’s editors has this to say about Orthodox Judaism in my locale (boldface added by me):

We endeavor to have beautiful homes, expansive backyards, impressive landscaping, and more. We want synagogues near our homes, kosher food stores, yeshivas, and other religious institutions that we can utilize as our families grow and develop. Our religious life really doesn’t distinguish us in any real discernible way. The male adults and children wear yarmulkes, but that has long been accepted as part of the everyday scenery here in New York. Our wives and daughters may dress a little more modestly, as required, and they may be seen dressed in well-tailored suits and possibly even hats on Saturday morning or midday even when the temperatures reach 90 degrees or more outside.
This is truly a sad statement of what suburban Orthodoxy is all about. To “endeavor” means to strive for. Earlier this week I posted R’ Wosner’s beautiful derasha on shmita as a reminder that work is not an end in itself but just a means to providing the necessities of life needed for avodas Hashem. I don’t see how anyone can delude themselves into thinking that striving for an expansive landscaped backyard conforms to values like histapkus b’mu’at or is a necessity for avodas Hashem. Since when is Orthodox Judaism about striving for luxuries like these, "and more"?! Of course, if this is your version of Orthodoxy it is no wonder it does not distinguish you “in any real discernable way” from the rest of the world caught up in keeping up with the Joneses (or Cohens, as the case may be), working late to get ahead of the next guy at work, having the best car on the block, the best house, the nicest lawn.

The point of the editorial was that living an orthodox lifestyle is not an obstacle to participating in the civic functions of our town because of our integration and lack of discernable differences. I would hope that as orthodox jews we could davka tout our distinctiveness - our higher code of ethics, modesty, and integrity, all of which inspire civic good for the benefit of all.

I have little fear that if left unsupervised my kids will eat at McDonalds or break Shabbos to be more like the society around them. I have far greater fear of their being led astray by the dangerous sway of the "orthodoxy" this article respresents.

balancing work and family - a role model

Balancing work deadlines and family responsibilities is sometimes challenging, and probably the last place you would think to look for moral guidance in this area is the sports pages of your local newspaper. I am not a Utah Jazz fan, and before looking t today’s newspaper I had no idea who Derek Fisher is (he’s their point guard, in case you didn’t know either), but this story explains why I'm rooting for him. Faced with missing a crucial playoff game or being with his 10 month old daughter while she had risky surgery to try to save her eye from retinal cancer, Fisher made an unequivocal choice:

Abramson [the doctor] asked Fisher whether they should try to push the appointment back. “Absolutely not,” Abramson recalls Fisher telling him. “Just do what’s best for my child. How many games I miss in the playoffs is totally rrelevant.”

Abramson was still not convinced. “I understand,” he remembered telling Fisher. “But this is the pinnacle of what you do. Maybe we can make some adjustments.”

Fisher was unmoved. “Absolutely not,” he said again.

And the story has a happy ending as well: his daughter came through surgery fine, Fisher was flown by private jet to Utah to make the game in time for the third quarter, and his presence helped the Jazz pull off a win. But regardless of the final score to the game, Derek Fisher was already a winner in my book.

judaism and libertarianism

In his book “Libertarianism: A Primer”, David Boaz writes (p.27) that the first libertarian may have been the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (6th century BCE), author of Tao Te Ching, who advised, “ Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony”. When I read that line I immediately thought of the contrast to Pirkei Avot, where we are advised to pray for the welfare of the government because without its protection men would eat each other alive, i.e. anarchy would prevail. Of course, one line in Pirkei Avot is not necessarily the full picture of Judaism's outlook on libertarianism, but interesting nonetheless.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ktzos 28:1 - chiyuv la'tzeis y'dei shamayim

One of the problems of my blog is I do not follow a committment to write only about parsha or daf yomi or some other externally relevant barometer to keep me on any track, so if you are reading you are stuck being shlepped along with whatever I feel like learning. Hope no one minds reviewing some Ketzos…

In a case of ba bamachteres (Sanhedrin 72) where a homeowner has a right to kill a thief caught breaking and entering, the thief is not obligated to return the stolen goods because the thief cannot incur two penalties – potential loss of life as well as an obligation to repay stolen goods – with the same crime. Rav is quoted as applying this rule even if the thief still has the stolen goods in his possession; Rava disagrees and holds that only if the goods are broken is the thief exempt from restitution, but if the stolen property exists, the thief must return it. The gemara relates that Rava’s own property was stolen in a case of ba bamachteres, and when the thief came to return the stolen goods Rava refused to accept them in deference to the Rav’s statement.

The gemara Bava Metziya 91 writes that if one threshes with a muzzled cow, one is chayav malkos and must also pay for the food deprived to the animal. Why, asks the gemara, do we not invoke the rule disallowing double-jeopardy? Rava answers (see the gemara for other solutions) that the court cannot impose two punishments, and will only mete out the punishment of malkos for the crime. However, there remains a moral obligation la’tzaeis y’dei shamayim on the individual to make approproate financial restitution.

Rava proves his answer from the law of esnan zonah – an animal pledged to a prostitute is unfit for use as a korban even if one would be liable for death for having relations with that prostitute (e.g. in a case where she is a blood relative like a mother). The disqualification of the korban is not considered double-jeopardy because although the court cannot enforce payment to the prostitute, the criminal still remains morally liable b’ydei shamayim to fulfill his financial obligation, and that financial obligation disqualifies the korban.

The Rishonim ask: why in the ba ba'machteres case did Rava not accept repayment of his stolen goods (he was not simply being moichel, but refused to even acknowledge the debt)? Even if the court could not impose a payment based on the principle of no double-jeopardy, the thieves remained morally obligated l’tzaeis y’dei shamayim to make restitution?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

r' wosner on the tochacha and shmitah - keeping halacha without absorbing its values

The Torah (VaYikra 36:35 and 43) tells us that the punishment of the tochacha was brought upon the Jewish people for their failure to observe the laws of shmitta. Rashi calculates that the 70 years of the exile between the first and second mikdash correspond to 70 shmitos and yovlos which were not observed. In his introduction to vol 1 of his tshuvos (#17-19), R’ Shmuel haLevi Wosner asks how is it that for hundreds of years while there were batei din of Nevi’im and Tzadikim the laws of shmitah were completely neglected?

R’ Wosner cites the Akeidah as explaining that the purpose of shmitah was not just for the farmer and his land to rest one year and devote that year to avodas Hashem, but that one year is the yotzei min haklal which is melamed al haklal – the one year is the reminder that the purpose of work during the other 6 years should not be dedicated to wealth for its own sake, but to providing one's needs for avodas Hashem. The Jewish people may have observed the letter of the law of shmitah, but they failed to properly absorb its attitude. "Lo shavsa b’shabsoseichem’, even amidst shabsoseichem, your superficial observance of shabbos, there was no real shabbos in attitude.

Nora v'ayom! - the entire tochacha punishment and all the sorrow of that parsha is not due to lack of observance, but due to a lack of appreciation of the attitude and values that observance is meant to imbue in a Jew. With all the talk around the 'net by some about the importance of -proxy over belief and the stress of conformity to halacha over faith, something to think about.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

kiddush hashem under duress

An interesting Rambam pointed out by R’ Friedman this past Shabbos: In Hil Yesodei haTorah (5:6) the Rambam writes that even where the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem obligates a Jew to give his life rather than violate one of the three cardinal sins of giluy arayot, murder, or idolatry, there is no punishment if one fails to surrender one’s life. The Rambam explains that the sin in all these cases of duress is not done with any willful volition and hence the exemption of ones applies. The Rambam writes shortly thereafter (halacha 9) that this same rule applies to a case where one’s life is in danger from mortal illness – one must surrender one’s life rather than violate any of the three cardinal sins. However, here the Rambam writes that if one violates any of these prohibitions, one is liable for punishment. Question: why does the same exemption of duress (ones) not apply to this case where a prohibition is violated to escape mortal illness? (If you are stumped, start with the Ohr Sameiach for an answer).

is being part of a non-orthodox movement better than no connection to judaism?

I don’t want to get into a full discussion of this piece by Jonathan Schorsch in the Jerusalem Post, as it seems more about politics than philosophy, but these paragraphs raise an interesting point worth considering:

What is it to the Orthodox if others prefer a more critical Judaism or a humanistic one? These streams keep thousands upon thousands of Jews connected to Judaism, even if in ways scoffed at by those who would demand that they observe the entire Shulhan Aruch.

Surely this is better than their having no connection whatsoever with Judaism?

Schorsch means this to be a rhetorical question, but I am not sure that Avi Shafran (who the piece was written in response to) or others would not opt for the ‘no connection’ choice. What do you think?

Monday, May 07, 2007

shome'a k'oneh on half a bracha (II)

The achronim challenge the chiddush of R’ Akiva Eiger (see previous post and the very good comments there) from two sources that seem to indicate that a single bracha cannot be split between dibbur on one half and shome’a k’oneh on the other: 1) The Mishna (Brachos 34a) tells us that if a shaliach tzibur must be removed, the person who resumes in his stead starts from the beginning of whatever bracha the shat”z was in the middle of. According to R’ Akiva Eiger, why would this substitute shat”z not be able to start from the middle of the bracha, relying on his having heard the beginning (shome’a k’oneh) already? It seems that the bracha must either be wholly recited or listened to, but cannot be split. 2) Tosfos (46a d”h u’lma’n) writes that when people join together for a zimun (which in the days of Chazal meant the birkas hamazon was recited aloud and everyone listened) each bracha may be recited by a different person, but you can’t split one bracha between two people. According to R’ Akiva Eiger, why not? – half the bracha will be fulfilled through shome’a k’oneh, half through dibbur.

R’ Soloveitchik answered these questions using the conceptual analysis of zimun discussed last week. Zimun does not mean each individual has a chiyuv bracha which the leader exempts him/her from using shome’a k’oneh – rather, zimun is a communal obligation, meaning the entire group shares the obligation of reciting one bracha collectively. Where each individual has a chiyuv to recite a bracha, that obligation can be fulfilled using shome’a k’oneh on all or part of the bracha (like R' Akiva Eiger suggested, and which seems implicit in Sukkah 38, as noted in the comments to last post). However, where the bracha must be recited as a collective obligation on the tzibur, though shome’a k’oneh can exempt the chovas hagavra of individuals, it cannot create a cheftza shel bracha that suffices to fulfill the communal obligation of zimun. R’ Soloveitchik explained that the same was true of tefillah b’tzibur, or has he referred to chazaras hashat”z, “tefilas hatzibur”, i.e. it is a communal prayer, not an obligation on each individual to repeat shmoneh esrei that is effected through shome’a k’oneh.

shome'a k'oneh on half a bracha

The gemara (Brachos 20b) questions whether women are obligated in birkas hamazon min hatorah or only m’derabbanan. The Rishonim offer a number of reasons to explain why there should not be a Biblical obligation – women did not receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael which we give thanks for in bentching; women are not obligated to learn Torah which is mentioned in bentching; women do not have a bris milah, which we also thank Hashem for in bentching. The nafka minah whether the obligation is Biblical of Rabbinic is whether a woman could be motzi a man in bentching (side question: we might have expected a nafka minah to also be whether a woman who has a safeik whether or not she bentched has to repeat birkas hamazon, but this nafka minah is interestingly not offered by the gemara.) The Hagahos Ashri”i in Megillah rules that women are obligated in bentching min hatorah, but cannot be motzi men. Isn't this psak self-contrdictory – according to the gemara, if women are obligated in birkas hamzon min hatorah, they can be motzi men!? R’ Akiva Eiger explains that the gemara’s safeik was whether the exclusion from reciting the lines referring to bris, torah, or the Land of Israel exempt women from all of bentching, but there is no question that they cannot recite these particular lines. If a woman wishes to be motzi a man, he can listen to her bentching and fulfill his obligation through shome’a k’oneh, but would be forced to recite those few phrases himself. It was with respect to these particular phrases that the Hagahos Ashr’i wrote that a woman cannot be motzi a man.

R’ Akiva Eiger’s answer assumes that it is possible to mix shome’a k’oneh with dibbur in a single bracha. Returning to the question of whether shome’a k’oneh is to be taken literally as implying listening is speech or whether it is a seperate mechanism to fulfill mitzvvos, it seems to me that R’ Akiva Eiger is easier to understand if we take shome’a k’oneh as a form of speech, and therefore it can be combined with real dibbur. If it is a separate mechanism, how can a single bracha be fulfilled using two different means?

Friday, May 04, 2007

nice site from library of congress

I was surprised to discover that the Library of Congress has a blog, and if you or your kids like history (as my son does), I would recommend a look at the section of their site called “Today in History”, which seems quite well done. Link.

what briskers wonder about when lost in thought

R’ Chaim Brisker once found his son lost in thought and asked him what was on his mind. R’ Moshe Soloveitchik replied that he was thinking what the din would be if a 12 year old androgynus kohein entered a cemetery. If the androgynus is considered male, there is no issur involved because he is a katan; if the androgynus is female, there is also no issur because tumas kohanim applies to male kohanim only. However, there is a separate issur of causing a kohein to become tamei – perhaps we should consider the androgynus half-female as violating an issur of causing tumah to a half-male. See R’ Reichman’s Reshimos Shiurim (Mes. Sukkah) for the rest of the debate between R’ Chaim and his son on this point.

mitzvah of kohein gadol to marry a besulah

The Chasam Sofer has an interesting safeik according the Rambam’s opinion that it is a mitzvah (and not just an issur aseh) for a kohein gadol to marry a besulah (Hil Issurei Biya 17:13) and it is prohibited for a kohein gadol to have more than one wife, what if a kohein was married and was then appointed kohein gadol – for him to fulfill the mitzvah of marrying a besulah would mean marrying another wife, but doing so would force him to divorce his current wife. Is there really such a chiyuv?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

double jeapordy: makkos mardus along with regular malkos

Tosfos (Makkos 13) writes that if a kohein marries a woman who is both a divorcee, a gerusha, and a chalutza, the kohein would receive only one round of malkos as punishment for violating the Torah prohibition of marrying a gerusha, but no additional makkos mardus for violating the Rabbinic prohibition of chalutza. The Mishne laMelech (Issurei Biya ch 17) derives a general principle from Tosfos: once a person is liable for punishment for violating a Torah prohibition, he/she cannot simultaneously be punished for violating a Rabbinic prohibition. The Pri Megadim (Pesicha haKolleles I:28) disagrees. He assumes that a person could theoretically receive makkos mardus along with regular malkos. The case of a gerusha who is also a chalutza is an exception, because Chazal used the extra “vav” in the word “v’isha m’gerusha” as a basis for the law of chalutza. In other words, Chazal placed chaltuza under the same rubric as gerusha, and you can’t get double punishment for the same issur twice. In other cases where the prohibitions are different, there would be punishment for both.

What is the point of dispute between these achronim? One issue obviously is how to define the issur of chalutza – do we look to the root pasuk as a basis for defining the nature of the issur or not. But what about the more fundamental issue – why should the fact that a person is getting malkos for an issur d’oraysa automatically exempt them from receiving makkos mardus for an unrelated issur derabbanan?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

relating to non-observant family

I have been contemplating writing something on this topic for some time, but was never able to really formulate the idea in a way that I liked. I’m still not sure I can, but agav parshas hashavua I want to broach the topic. “Ish aviv v’imo tira’u v’es shabosai tishmoro” juxtaposes the mitzvah of honoring parents with the mitzvah of observing Shabbos – two ideas which seem to have very little to do with each other. Chazal already address the issue and read the juxtaposition as teaching that if a father or mother asks you to desecrate Shabbos, then you are under no obligation to listen. The Ohr haChaim haKadosh presents the idea more generally. There is no obligation to honor parents who are resha’im (though see Rambam Mamrim 5:11); keeping shabbos is an indicator of minimal observance; the Torah therefore expresses “ish imo v’aviv tira’u”, the command to honor, as contingent on “es shabsosai tishmoru”, the observance of shabbos by those whom one is honoring. The Maharil Diskin flips the equation around. He explains that by practicing “ish imo v’aviv tira’u” one assures “es shabsosai tismoru” – the pasuk is not a condition, but a havtacha, a promise that proper observance of kavod to others will lead to their greater commitment to observance.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the halachic particulars, but taken more broadly, the Maharil Diskin and the Ohr haChain reveal different approaches to a tension that is not easy to grapple with (and which I, and I am sure many others, have experienced). For a true relationship (i.e. beyond superficial amicability) to exist between people they must share like values. I may be friendly with my coworkers, but Thursday night for them is drinking night, for me is mishmar and Shabbos-prep night, and those different worlds we live in sums up why I would not seek advice on a meaningful life issue from them. But what happens when circumstances force us into relationships with people with whom we share dissimilar values – in particular, where a person’s commitment to torah and mitzvos is not shared by a parent or other relative, who may not understand or appreciate what that commitment means or entails? The Ohr haChaim’s approach places kibud, which I am taking the liberty of interpreting as having a meaningful relationship (as parents and children should), as contingent on the parent (or other) appreciating “es shabsosai tishmoru”, or at least what it means for those who are observant. It is very hard, especially for those (like myself) who are more introverted, to form bonds with people whose value system is different than their own, and we often eschew anything beyond amicability unless we can be met at least somewhat on our own terms. On the other hand, trying to develop a relationship with others despite their not sharing the same (or any) level of observance may be the very vehicle that brings them to appreciate the values we hold dear, akin to Maharil Diskin’s approach to the pasuk.

On a practical level, the issue is somewhat relative to the type of observance one practices. Many people observe shabbos and eat kosher but are otherwise completely steeped in American culture and society and its values. The fact that you can’t share a steak at the same steakhouse is surely an obstacle to dealing with people, but at least these people can share an appreciation of good food, good times, good olam hazeh, and in NY there are plenty of kosher restaurants to share that steak at. It is far harder when one lives or practices an “orthodoxy” that is based on greater prishus, where the desire for a good steak or a restaurant meal (or some other olam-hazeh desire) is something to be worked on in mussar seder rather than boasted about or valued. The typical American lifestyle is not built around kedusha or tahara, and for many (myself included) there is more to distance oneself from than embrace in popular culture. The fact that orthodoxy encompasses a range of behaviors just increases the tension – try explaining to an outsider why ploni, who is also nominally orthodox can have a TV or go to makom X or eat Y [worse still: if ploni is nominally a rabbi] and you can’t.

These sugyos are harder to deal with than the biggest kashes in shome'a k'oneh or other gemaras, and it seems like there is no one magic answer to dealing with situations where committment to torah and mitzvos becomes an obstacle to relationships with family. I may be over-extending my reading of the Ohr haChaim or Maharil Diskin, but the issue is something to think about.

shome'a k'oneh as a hefsek

Are we to take shome’a k’oneh literally – listening is a form of talking, or does it simply mean that listening itself suffices to fulfill mitzvos without the need for actual speech? In other words, is shome’a k’oneh actually a form of dibbur, or a substitute for it? This question is usually presented as the point of disagreement between Rashi and Tosfos (Sukkah 38, Brachos 21) in the case of someone in the middle of shomeh esrei who hears kaddish or kedusha. According to Rashi, the person should stop davening and listen, fulfilling the obligation to answer through shome’a k’oneh. Tosfos disagrees and holds that pausing to listen would be a hefsek. If shome’a k’oneh is taken literally as a form of dibbur, we understand Tos.’ position that it would be no less a hefesk than actual speech, but if shome'a k'oneh is an alternate to actual speech, Rashi’s position seems to make more sense.

A third approach to this case is given by the Ritv”a, who applies the rule of ‘kol hara’uy l’bilah bilah m’akeves bo’. Even where speech is not required, the potential to be able to speak is. I can call on shome’a k’oneh to fulfill my obligation to recite hallel because at least theoretically I could read it myself. I cannot call on shome’a k’oneh in the middle of shmoneh esrei where I cannot stop to speak.

This is some of the classical stuff on the topic, but my brain is still stuck on the kriyas hatorah question in the previous post…

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

shome'a k'oneh and a question that stumps me

If you’ve been following the past two posts, you have a nice piece of Brisker lomdus distinguishing a chovas yachid which one fulfills through shome’a k’oneh from a chovas tzibur. By a chovas yachid, e.g. hallel, each individual has an independent obligation to recite hallel which can be fulfilled by listening to someone else – shome’a k’oneh – provided that both parties share the same level of obligation. Since through shome'a k'oneh someone is acting as me, that person must be obligated in the same manner that I am.

By a chovas hatzibur, a communal obligation, no one person has an individual obligation to do the mitzvah. All that needs to happen is for the community to see that the mitzvah is performed, irrespective of who the performer is or their level of obligation.

The Rav used this to explain why someone with a non-Biblical obligation can form a zimun with someone who has a Biblical obligation to bentch - since zimun is a chiyuv on the group rather than the individual, we look at the mitzvah act, not the level of obligation of the one bentching. We now also easily understand the gemara (Megillah 23) that a minor or woman can read k’riyas hatorah on behalf of the tzibur. Even though they have no personal obligation in talmud torah, a minor or woman can create a cheftza shel mitzvah of k'riyas hatorah.

And now I arrive at my question and no answer: How can k’riyas hatorah be a paradigmatic case of a chovas hatzibur that does not need to fit into the rules of shome’a k’oneh when the very source of the principle of shome’a k’oneh is k’riyas hatorah!? See Sukkah 38 which derives from the fact that Shafan read the Torah before King Yoshiyahu, but the Navi ascribes that reading to Yoshiyahu himself, that shome’a k’oneh!

As easy answer would be that shome’a k’oneh defines King Yoshiyahu as the reader, but being a reader is itself not the mitzvah – the mitzvah is on the tzibur as a whole to listen to the reading, and for that we do not need shome’a k’oneh. But this answer is wrong, as the Rosh (Megillah ch. 3) writes that one called to the Torah must read along with the shaliach tzibur because shome’a k’oneh does not suffice to define one as the reader – if the Rosh is right, the only reason the gemara would invoke shome’a k’oneh is to explain how the tzibur fulfills their obligation!

So how does k’riyas hatorah work – is it a chovas hatzibur which does not involve shome’a k’oneh, as the Rav’s approach and the gemara in Megillah indicates, or must it involve shome’a k’oneh on some level, as the gemara in Sukkah indicates? Anyone have any ideas – I’m stuck!