Friday, June 29, 2007

led astray by G-d??? (II)

The most glaring example of being led astray comes from our parsha. G-d at first tells Bilam to stay away from the Jews, but then acquiesces to Bilam’s going. How can we blame Bilam for accepting the job of going to curse the Jews if G-d appeared to him in a dream and gave the OK?

Chazal (cited by Rashi) say “b’derech she’adam rotzeh leilech bah molichin oso” – G-d will lead a person in the direction he/she wants to travel. AddeRabbi beat me to the punch (at least once a week I seem to be writing about something he touched on once before) in citing an amazing R’ Tzadok (Tzidkas haTzadik #64), but after reading his piece I think I interpret R’ Tzadok slightly differently than he does (AddeRabbi – any feedback?).

Just like an ordinary person can marshal tremendous physical energy and invest it in an incorrect cause, a great person can marshal tremendous spiritual energy even to the point of causing miraculous occurrences, but it may all be in the name of a misguided mission. G-d does not lead people astray – people lead themselves astray. A bully who beats people up cannot complain that G-d gave him strength and that caused his downfall; a spiritually great person cannot blame G-d for granting him prophecy.

I think R’ Tzadok means even more than that. Asking why a person would receive nevuah or be able to perform a miracle if they are wrong presupposes that there is some objective definition of “wrong” out there that stands in the way of attaining a deep religious experience like nevuah, and an objective “truth” that opens the door to these experiences. I think R’ Tzadok does not see things that way (see Tzidkas haTzadik #90) – there is no objective truth “out there”; truth is a construct we create as part of our own religious experience. Bilam was sincerely committed to the truth of Torah as he interpreted it, and that sincere commitment gave rise to the power of prophecy.

I’ve been mulling this R’ Tzadok over for 2 days and still am not sure I captured the essence of the idea. It is not easy to digest, and is worth reading in the original.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

explaining hasidic judaism to the average american joe

A non-Jewish coworker who lives near Kiryas Joel asked me yesterday why Hasidic Jews have “the curls”. He thought it is so G-d can pull them up to heaven. Another coworker who moved to the same neighborhood told me he and a friend from Pennsylvania who knows nothing about Jews spent the weekend “Jew watching” at Home Depot in complete confusion as to the whole lifestyle (I think I am the most “Jewish” person this non-native-NYer has ever had contact with, so K.Y. is pretty much another planet to him).

Next question was whether Hasidic Jews have TVs. He thought they do, but I dispelled that myth and when asked admitted to not having one myself. To the average American, living without a TV is tantamount to saying you live in a log-cabin and read by candlelight near your wood burning stove, because you obviously are not part of the real 21st century world.

How to explain Kiryas Joel in a few simple sentences to your average American Joe is quite a challenge… Anyone have suggestions?

led astray by G-d???

The famous “tanur shel achna’i” gemara (B.M. 59) relates that R’ Eliezer called on G-d the perform miracles to establish the correctness of his argument – a tree moved location by itself, a stream reversed course, the walls of the Bais Medrash curved inward, a bas kol testified affirmed his position. Nonetheless, the Chachamim dismissed all these proofs – “lo bashamayim hi”, the halacha is given to human courts to decide and is not subject to Heavenly interference.

If in the end the consensus of the Chachamim was that R’ Eliezer’s position was wrong, why would G-d perform miracles on his behalf? From a legal perspective we might dismiss miracles as inadmissible evidence, but from a theological perspective, how can we fault R’ Eliezer for standing firm in his position when G-d himself appears to be on his side!

The Radomsker (Tiferes Shlome) asks a similar question regarding Korach. Rashi tells us that Korah was led astray because he saw a prophetic vision that his descendent would be the great Shmuel haNavi. Why would G-d offer such a prophecy to Korach if it would lead him down the wrong path? True, Korach still had free choice to not lead a rebellion, but that does not really address the question – given the seeming justification of his position by G-d himself (as the prophetic vision suggested), how can we fault Korach for not acting on his impressions?

Does G-d (chas v'shalom) lead people astray? One more example later... stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

R’ Chaim Brisker and Wittgenstein - intellectual spoilsports

I’m too lazy to track down a source for this story, but as I recall the general outline, the Bais haLevi once was asked to describe the difference between his derech in learning and that of R’ Chaim Brisker. He explained that when someone asked him a question, both he and the questioner walked away happy - the questioner was happy for having thought of a good question, and he was happy for thinking of a good answer. When someone asked R’ Chaim Brisker a question, neither walked away happy. R’ Chaim would invariably show that the question was never a question to begin with, leaving the questioner displeased, and since the question was never a question R' Chaim could never claim to invent answers.

Richard Rorty's recent death spurred me to try to read a little of his work, so I started on “Achieving our Country: American Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America” (easier than a heavy philosophical work). In a footnote to the essay “The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature” (this entire essay is online) he notes that Wittgenstein and others in analytic philosophy have been more inclined to dissolve problems rather than to solve them, which does not make for happy colleagues. “Such innovators are always viewed with some suspicion: those brought up on the old problems would like to think that their clever solutions to those problems are permanent contributions to human knowledge. Forty-odd years after its publication, Philosophical Investigations still makes many philosophers nervous. They view Wittgenstein as a spoilsport.”

R’ Chaim Brisker and Wittgenstein – spoilsports of the most intellectually pleasing variety : )

reasons behind doing mitzvos (ta'amei hamitzvos) - part 4

Some final thoughts:

I think the value of the Rambam/Ramban’s position is especially significant for those involved in kiruv. The truth of Torah becomes justified because of its correspondence to other already accepted values, e.g. our society accepts humane treatment of animals as a value, and if it can be shown that the Torah subscribes to the same value, Torah is validated. Precisely because the system is reductionist it is easy to “sell”. The only caveat I have is I am not sure how one distinguishes explanation from apologetics; believers often use the former label and skeptics the latter for the same ideas.

A comment asked why I take such a dim view of reductionism – don’t we need health, ethics, social law, etc.? A Torah that fulfilled those needs is one whose necessity is proven! I find that argument very hard to swallow because the same ends can be achieved via different means. The US Constitution does a good job of setting up an ordered society – why are the Torah’s laws better? The movement toward organic food shows great concern with what and how we eat – why do I need the details of kashrus? In fact, this is precisely the argument of reformers, e.g. see this article. Using the ends to justify the means only begs the question of why we cannot satisfy those same ends using more “modern” or appealing methods.

One critique that runs through the comments is that I am painting extremes – wouldn’t the Maharal agree that there is an economic utility to usury laws, or wouldn’t the Rambam agree that there is a spiritual dimension to certain mitzvos? I agree! But the question is what is cause and what is consequence.

The question of defining women’s role in Judaism illustrates another significant difference between these approaches. An example: Why are women exempt from mitzvos aseh she’hazman gerama? Some (Avudraham) argue that the duties of the home come first; women are freed from mitzvos to devote themselves to household chores. That rationalization presupposes a specific role for women as a value even higher than the service of G-d and reads that into the halachic structure. Going back to the Maharal’s analogy to a tree, one might suggest that just as there are oak trees and maple trees with different botanical needs, the same holds true of the spiritual needs of our different souls, and hence the differing obligations in mitzvos. If the Torah wanted to define social roles, it could have taken a much more direct route to doing so. My wife prefers the latter type of explanations as it removes halacha from externally imposed social values, yet, many a person has been drawn to Judaism precisely because they see strongly defined social roles as “family values” that they can identify with. Chacun a son gout!

Two quotes: 1) A critique a correspondant offered to my BIL: “What difference could it have rationally towards my moral refinement to discuss a stirah in rishonim in zevochim???? Or offer a lmudische disscetion of a machlokes.” 2) A response from another blog when I asked whether there was value to mitzvos performed in ignorance of their supposed reasons: "So in answer to your first question there is no value other than training or the idea of mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma." Whether you are sympathetic to the first critique or the second statement I think depends on whose side in this whole debate you are drawn to.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

reasons behind doing mitzvos (ta'amei hamitzvos) - part 3

The final approach to ta’amei hamitzvot is that of the Maharal. I would call this the “segulah” approach, and it is the one closest to mysticism. The Marharal offers an analogy that I think captures the essence of his position: just like a seed produces a certain type of tree, and it makes no sense of ask why it produces specifically this type of tree and no other (at best we can explain what processes occur that lead to the result, but not why specifically those processes and no others exist), so too, the nature of a spiritual soul demands a certain type of behavior and attitude, and it makes no sense to ask why these elements are essential for the soul’s existence and nourishment and no others.

This does not mean that there are not benefits to mitzvos that meet our physical needs. However, those benefits are not external reasons for the mitzvos; those benefits are outcomes of the spiritual goodness which is inherent in the mitzvah itself. One need not wonder (as we asked on the Ramban) what value a mitzvah has if the doer is ignorant of the crucial didactic element – how does “bala matzah yatzah” work? – any more than one would wonder how an antibiotic cures an illness for someone who has no knowledge of science. Yes, that didactic element can result from doing the mitzvah, but it is not the reason behind the commandment.

The appraoch also avoids the reductionist elements of the Rambam and Ramban. The Torah is not a book of medicine or psychology alone – the Torah is a book of spiritual growth, sui generis, which may happen to pay dividends in other areas. It is understandable why one should not say “ee efshi b’basar chazir” because the prohibition against pig has nothing to do with it being an unhealthy animal or with inculcating certain ethical eating habits – it has to do with the interaction between the soul and the environment, something which is not reducible to simple rational rules that apply in other areas.

As an example of a debate that may depend on these issues, take a look at this exchange between by BIL, R’ Yosef Bechoffer, and a on whether mitzvos’ value is “salvic” (i.e. to save one’s soul, which sounds very Xstian), or to improve moral character.

So far I’ve set out the shitos with some argument, mostly in favor of the “segulah” approach because I find it appealing. But there is more to be said in defense of the other side, and some practical upshot which I’ll save for a summary. Stay tuned….

Monday, June 25, 2007

science and religion - an example from islam

This article in Discover Magazine (via Instapundit) on conflict between Islam and science is fascinating. Don't some people define the relationship between Judaism and science in much the same way? An example:

What about, say, evolutionary biology or Darwinism? I ask. (Evolution is taught in Egyptian schools, although it is banned in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.) “If you are asking if Adam came from a monkey, no,” Badawy responds. “Man did not come from a monkey. If I am religious, if I agree with Islam, then I have to respect all of the ideas of Islam. And one of these ideas is the creation of the human from Adam and Eve. If I am a scientist, I have to believe that.”

But from the point of view of a scientist, is it not just a story? I ask.

He tells me that if I were writing an article saying that Adam and Eve is a big lie, it will not be accepted until I can prove it. “Nobody can just write what he thinks without proof. But we have real proof that the story of Adam as the first man is true.”

“What proof?”

He looks at me with disbelief: “It’s written in the Koran.”

reasons behind doing mitzvos (ta'amei hamitzvos) - part 2

Before going on with the topic, a word in response to some of the comments on the previous post. The Rambam is still a shitas Rishonim which can undoubtedly be defended from attack. The question here is not “How do I answer up a shverrer Rambam” – the question is “Which of the varied approaches to ta'amei hamitzvot is most philosophically satisfying and/or fits best with the presentation of Chazal”. I wouldn’t start puting band-aids on the Rambam before hearing out some of the opposing views. And on that note, moving on.,.

The Ramban bases his approach on a Midrash which asks the rhetorical question whether it makes any difference to G-d whether an animal is killed by having its neck cut (kosher shechita) or some other means – of course not. The purpose of mitzvos, says the Midrash, is to perfect human behavior. It is not because G-d is concerned with the cow’s welfare that he commanded shechita, or because he is concerned with a bird’s welfare that he commanded shiluach hakan. Rather, the reason for these commandments is because if one becomes accustomed to killing animals in an inhumane way, it desensitizes one to cruelty and leads to human moral failing.

Ramban still suffers from some of the difficulties raised earlier. For example, if the purpose of the mitzvah of shechita is to inculcate humane behavior, why the exceptions for ben pakua or melika? There is still a reductionist element to the whole approach, and there is still the difficulty of why not say “ee efshi” when behavior is inhumane or unethical. Nonetheless, the Ramban gets us out of other jams. It is far easier to argue that kosher laws are designed to create a psychology of restraint from gluttony than to argue the health benefits of refraining from pig. I think most of the rationalists writing blogs (no, I have not done a formal survey) who align themselves with the Rambam end up veering into the Ramban’s territory when they address ta’amei hamitzvot.

I think the best illustration of the difference between Rambam and Ramban comes from the mitzvah of tzedakah. A Rambam-centric view would claim that the reason for charity is G-d’s love for the poor. As the gemara itself asks, one could reasonably ask why a G-d who is benevolent to the poor created poor people in the first place! The Ramban’s approach avoids that pitfall. G-d’s will is a gezeirah – an unfathomable decree. We cannot say about G-d that he has cares, like, dislikes, wants, etc. However, what we can say is that G-d gave mankind the opportunity to achieve perfection. Instead of focusing on the benefit to the recipient of charity (Rambam view), the Ramban would focus on the giver – ethical people act with benevolence, and therefore G-d gave us a mitzvah of charity to perfect our ethical character. Mitzvos are didactic; they are designed to teach people a baseline of morality upon which the ethical person will build (Ramban on ‘v’asisa hayashar v’hatov’).

What I see as the biggest shortcoming to this whole approach (again, see Maharal) is that it is inconsistent with practical law. If mitzvos’ ultimate meaning stems from the didactic lesson they impart, why do mitzvos have any value if one is unaware of that didactic lesson? To take one example, “bala matzah yatzah” – if matzah is shoved down a person’s throat on Pesach night willy-nilly, he fulfills a mitzvah of achilas matzah even if unaware of the lessons of freedom behind the deed! According to the Ramban, isn't this awareness the raison d'etra of the mitzvah, the most crucial ingredient to fulfilling the commandment?

reasons behind doing mitzvos (ta'amei hamitzvos) - part 1

I was partially motivated to write this post by Matt’s musings last week on the nature of chok within the Rambam’s framework of ta’amei hamitzvot. I am generally unsatisfied with rationalism, and this is a good topic to delve a little deeper into why. Before getting to chukim, I want to start with a broader look at ta’amei hamitzvot – how do we answer the classic question of “why do you do that?” Are mitzvos an end unto themselves, or are mitzvos a means to achieve some higher order goal, such as philosophical perfection, good midot, or closeness to G-d?

The classic starting point for this issue is the Mishna in Brachos that prohibits including in our davening a plea for G-d’s mercy which is so vast that it extends to birds in the nest, referring to the Torah’s prohition against taking the eggs from under a mother bird while she is sitting on them. Why not invoke G-d’s mercy in this way? The gemara offers two explanations: 1) because G-d is merciful on all creation, not just on birds; 2) because G-d’s commandments are gezeiros, decrees, not acts of mercy.

The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim explains the commandment of driving off the mother bird before taking the eggs as based on G-d’s concern and mercy for the baby birds. The Rambam himself notes that his explanation contradicts the second explanation of the gemara above, but says we have the right to rely on the first opinion and offer a philosophical explanation.

According to the Rambam, there is an inherent “good” to performing mitzvos based on some understandable (rational) end – in this case, it is mercy for the birds. A similar example would be the prohibition of killing a mother cow and its baby in the same day – again, G-d wishes to show mercy on his creatures.

There are a number of weaknesses with this line of reasoning, some stronger than others, but combined, they make a devastating case (for more detail, see Maharal’s Tiferes Yisrael ch 6-8):

1) The Rambam’s approach is reductionist – mitzvos have no inherent value other than as a means to some other goal. The Torah thus becomes a health manual (e.g. the command to eat kosher), or a manual for ethics, or psychology, etc.,
2) The Rambam admits that he has swept aside one opinion of the gemara, an opinion quoted elsewhere (Meg 25) as a stam statement
3) The mitzvos themselves seem to have exceptions and details which often undermine their (supposed) intented aim, e.g. if a mother cow and baby cow may not be killed in the same day because of G-d’s mercy, how can one explain the permissibility of killing the mother 5 minutes before shkiya and the baby 5 minutes later after shkiya? If shechita is a humane form of slaugher, why is it not required for the ben pakua?
4) Chazal say that one should not say I dislike pig, but rather even though I may like it, since it is prohibited by G-d it cannot be eaten. If there is a rational reason for not eating pig, e.g. pig is bad for one’s health (Moreh ch 48), why invoke G-d’s command as the justification for the mitzvah when one can offer a reasonable explanation for disliking pig?
5) The principle of mitzvos lav le’henos nitnu implies that the only benefit accrued by doing mitzvos is religious in nature. According to the Rambam, the telos of religion is the many benefits like good health and ethics that it inculcates – isn’t this the greatest form of hana’ah?

The Ramban in discussing the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird offers a very different philosophy of ta’amei hamitzvot than the Rambam’s – stay tuned…

Friday, June 22, 2007

using "metziyus" as halachic proof - shabbos 63b

Gemara (Shabbos 63b) records the opinion of Tanna Kamma that the tzitz had written on one line “Yud-kay” and on a second line “Kodesh-L”. R’ Eliezar B”R Yosi disagrees and holds that “Kodesh l’Hashem” was written on one line. The proof – R’ Eliezar says that he was in Rome and saw the actual tzitz! Pretty convincing – except we pasken l’chatchila (Rambam Klei Mikdash 9:1) like the Tanna Kamma and ignore what R' Eliezer claims was the metziyus.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rabbi Mark Angel on "cultic" Modern Orthodoxy

I have no idea what to make of this Jewish Week story about Rabbi Mark Angel’s remarks on the need for more Modern Orthodox Rabbis who feel confident to pasken shaylos. Sounds good to me! But I’m afraid that’s about all I can agree with Rabbi Angel about. My concern is that psak should be more accessible to laypeople who might not call a Rosh Yeshiva to discuss an issue. Rabbi Angel, on the other hand, is concerned that Roshei Yeshiva are robbing Modern Orthodoxy of “intellectual dynamism” and we are crossing the fine line between “true religion and cultism”. Rabbi Angel is giving up the pulpit to start an organization “to focus more on ideas than action and to develop religious responses to questions that have not been adequately addressed in the existing Orthodox legal literature.” What sort of issues does Rabbi Angel have in mind that can better be addressed by Rabbis than Roshei Yeshiva?

“I know there are plenty of good Orthodox Jews who go to the opera,” Rabbi Angel said. “How do we understand kol isha [a woman’s voice]? What are its parameters, what does it include and not include?”
Huh? It seems that the attendance of “good Orthodox Jews” at the opera is in-and-of-itself evidence enough for Rabbi Angel to throw out the prima facie meaning of “kol isha” and open the issue for examination. In fact, the conclusion seems to have already been reached – opera must be permitted because “good Orthodox Jews” attend, and the only question is coming up with a justification. If Roshei Yeshiva seem unable to square these deeds of “good Orthodox Jews” with halacha, then rather than question whether the nominal Orthodoxy of these Jews is all it should be, R’ Angel directs his ire at the Roshei Yeshiva who just aren’t understanding enough.

I wonder if Rabbi Angel ever asked one of the "good Orthodox Jews" attending Carmen how they prima facie justify their actions in light of the prohibition of kol isha. I think the answer would be revealing.

when is chumra justified? - GR"A

Aside from the question of whether and when appropriate to teach a shitas yachid or chumra, the more fundamental question is whether or when a person should taken upon him/herself such a chumra. Chazal in the Yerushalmi call one who is patur but does a mitzvah anyway “hedyot”, and some chumros are placed off limits as acts of yuhara. So when is chumra acceptable? The Mishna in Brachos (1:3) records a dispute between Shamai and Hillel over whether one should lie down to read shema at night. R’ Tarfon acted in accordance with Shamai and is criticized in the same Mishna, and the gemara debates whether one who acts in accordance with Shamai even gets credit for fulfilling the mitzvah of shema. Why should Chazal express such ire at someone who simply goes the extra mile to fulfill Shamai's view by lying down even though it is not required by Hillel? The GR”A in Shnos Eliyahu rounds up a number of sources and draws a basic distinction between cases where a stricter opinion is rejected as an invalid interpretation and cases where a stricter opinion is a justified interpretation but was never imposed as obligatory. In the former cases there is no reason to adopt the stricter view – it has no theoretical value or justification. In the latter cases, adopting the stricter view is justified, as the validity of the stricter view is acknowledged, it was just never adopted in practice by the masses or imposed as an obligation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Torah im Derech Eretz and Lithianian Chareidi Orthodoxy

This post is in response to a series of comments to this post at Mishmar. It is very hard to fathom a movement which publicly espouses a certain position but privately tolerates actions which contradict and even undermine that selfsame position. The RW/Chareidi/Lithuanian yeshiva (the exact label is irrelevant) reaction to Hischian Torah im Derech Eretz is well documented. R’ Baruch Ber and three other gedolim (I forget all the names offhand) were asked their opinion of secular studies and the unanimous response was negative. R’ Dessler (Michtav vol III p 353) wrote that the Lithuanian yeshivos follow a different path than those of Frankfurt; it is better to sacrifice 999 bachurim who won’t make it through the system in order to produce one gadol b’yisrael through torah-only immersion. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. R’ Shteinman in a recent visit to the US reiterated, “In his concluding words, he spoke about the terrible danger of treif studies, including university studies, saying that this trend must be combated. He also spoke out against the ambition to educate youth for "tachlis." He said, "I've met rich people. They hadn't studied much and they did not study towards `tachlis.' Rather they merited siyata deShmaya."” Even R’ Schwab, the leader of the Breur’s kehillah, originally opposed TIDE, and later in life when he retracted still acknowledged that it was a separatist movement not adopted by Easter European Jewry or its educational institutions. It goes without saying that the major yeshivos like Lakewood, Mir, Chaim Berlin, and certainly yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael do not officially allow any secular studies by their students. I would challenge anyone to find statement of public disavowal for R’ Shteinman’s remarks or to produce an essay written by a gadol from a Lithuanian yeshiva that is at odds with the sources I cited above.

But, argue some, don’t we find tacit back-door unofficial OK to attend college? Don’t many turn a blind eye to those who train for a parnasa? This strikes me as a very strange argument. Usually, public disavowal of a philosophical position while privately embracing its fruit is called hypocrisy. If you believe secular studies are OK, then come right out and say so, even at the cost of social or political position (Isn’t that YU’s attitude?) The psychological result of this contorted thinking is evident – who wants to be the bachur who is embracing the b’dieved position? The fact that a program is labeled as being for those “at risk”, or is never publicly touted, or never given a formal haskama, speaks volumes about the attitude towards it, and speaks volumes about the social stigma that is associated it. And even if we acknowledge this tacit back-door acceptance, it amounts to no more than a pragmatic utilitarianism for the sake of “parnasa”, not an intrinsic acknowledgement of the value of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake or the need for “y’geiya kapecha” as an ideal of avodas Hashem.

Rabbi Meyer Schiller put it best. Writing in the Torah U’Mada Journal (1995), he notes (p.28): “Outside of those various segments of Orthodoxy who seek to recreate largely authentic models of Eastern European Jewish life either in Israel or America, every other approach within Orthodoxy embraces the pursuit of worldly knowledge, beauty, and experience to a certain degree. However, there is little in the philosophy which they have inherited from their Eastern Eurpoean predecessors that can legitimate these pursuits.”

I’m afraid that at heart I am still an idealist who does not see pragmatism as a justification for what is intrinsically “treif” and philosophically objectionable. I find it hard to understand the public applause for R' Shteinman's remarks even as those listening to them hold dinners for their institutions which honor "frum" doctors, lawyers, and professionals who obviously have indulged in the "treif" study of secular knowledge. I guess others are less troubled by these inconsistencies or have found better answers than I to resolve them.

birchos kriyas shema and smichas geulah l'tefilah

Rashi (Brachos 2a) writes that if ma’ariv is davened before dark one fulfills the mitzvah of kriyas shema by reciting it before going to sleep. Tosfos rejects this position, and among the objections raised is the fact that shema said before going to bed is said without the context of birchos kriyas shema and without fulfilling smichas geulah l’tefillah. Tosfos’ position underscores again the fact that the full kiyum of shema requires saying shema with its brachos (Rashi may disagree). Tosfos also assumes that smichas geulah l’tefilah is not just a din in tefilah, i.e. shmoneh esrei should be recited after the bracha of geulah of birchos shema, but it is a din in the mitzvah of kriyas shema, i.e. the mitzvah of shema is properly fulfilled only if it is followed by the bracha of geulah leading to shmoneh esrei (and again, Rashi may take the opposite position).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

the avos feel pain after death

In this week’s parsha, the Jewish people request permission from the King of Edom to pass through his territory and make the case that although they descend from the same family the Jewish people alone bore the burden of Egyptian slavery, so in effect, they owe us one. Commenting on “Vayare’u lanu v’la’avoseinu” (20:15) Rashi explains that the deceased Avos feel pain when their children are persecuted. I have not had a chance to check the meforshei Rashi yet, but the point here seems hard to fit with Brachos 18b. The gemara describes how R’ Chiya’s sons were in grief because they forgot their learning and debated back and forth whether their deceased father was aware of their pain or not. Is it only the Avos which suffer when their children feel pain? Is it only the pain of persecution (like Egyptian slavery) which is felt, but the gemara was unsure whether it extended to other grief that children may suffer? Other possibilities?

birchos kriyas shema and tefilah b'zmana

I should mention with respect to R’ Chaim’s chiddush re: saying brachos kriyas shema b’zman being more important than tefillah b’tzibur that the Ramban writes that part of the celebration of “mikraei kodesh” involves gathering together for tefillah. One might argue that the enhanced kiyum of kriyas shema with its brachos should not outweigh the Ramban’s kiyum d’oraysa of tefilah b’tzibur on Shabbos and Yom Tov. I don’t buy this approach. Celebrating the day as “mikraei kodesh” is a chovas hagavra, not a din in tefillah; reciting birchos kriyas shema is a din in the definition of the mitzvah of shema. One can fulfill mikraei kodesh through some other means during the day, including by davening other tefilos b’tzibur, but one gets only a single chance to properly fulfill shema.

Monday, June 18, 2007

brachos kriyas shema and teaching kids halacha

To get back to brachos kriyas shema, since the brachos are part of the kiyum of kriyas shema itself, it is critical according to R’ Chaim to daven the brachos of kriyas shema with shema in its proper time, even if that means davening alone without a minyan. I usually daven at an 8:30 Shabbos minyan, and for the 2 or 3 weeks of the year that this is not early enough to make zman kriyas shema we will start a few minutes earlier. If you daven at 9:00, then you will not make zman kriyas shema I think about 85% of the time (e.g. this week the last time for shema was 9:09). Most shules simply announce that shema should be recited before davening, which only works if you do not accept R’ Chaim’s position.

I raise the issue because my son was invited to a bar mitzvah this past Shabbos where davening was scheduled to start at 8:45. I was unsure whether to tell him to daven earlier or not – do I have to impose R’ Chaim Brisker’s opinion on him because our minyan (and I) think it correct even though the majority of minyanim are either ignorant of the chiddush or follow other views and start later? L’ma’aseh, the question became moot because he knows this is what we do even if he does not understand the lomdus, so he got up early to daven at a hashkama minyan and then went over to the bar mitzvah. But the same issue has come up in other contexts – does chinuch mean teaching kids what the majority of “frum” Jews do, or does it mean teaching the views in halacha one thinks are correct, even if they be chumros that others ignore (or kulos that others reject), and even if these practices will not be understood unless or until the child matures and looks into the topic for him/herself?

french existentialism and the Lubavitcher Rebbe

I don’t know enough about the topic to even begin to think about it, but this posting on the Rebbe and French Existentialism is a fascinating read.

shakespeare for kids

Yesterday I took my kids to a pre-pay program for kids run by where the actors introduced kids to what they do, what the Shakespeare play they would be performing later in the evening was about, and where they played some games with the kids to get them interested. Unfortunately, we could not stay through the play (I’ve had bronchitis the past week), but my youngest kids (the two older ones stayed home) loved it and wanted to stay. In our little group there was another family with 3 kids, two of whom were in their early teens, who had my wife and I amazed. A boy of about 14-15 remembered one of the actors from a performance of As You Like It he had seen the year before; the same boy suggested a symbolic interpretation of something that in the play; another early-teen kid volunteered a correct interpretation of a difficult line the actor read; when asked what they thought the end of the play would be, one kid guessed everyone had to get married because it was a comedy – in tragedies everyone dies at the end (so true!). It is so refreshing to see kids who actually know stuff – who appreciate art and literature for its own sake and not just for a grade at school. Of course, these kids’ parents obviously have taken their kids to other Shakespearean performances and encourage their reading and thinking. But my wife and I also were wondering what school these kids went to, because without formal education to reinforce the experience, parental influence is not enough. And the follow up question we thought about is considering the small fortune we pay in tuition, are our kids getting the type education that can produce these results? I was warming up for a rant on this, but it’s not worth it - you know the answer.

kriyas shema and its brachos

We usually assume that missing a bracha is not a fatal defect in the performance of a mitzvah; the mitzvah as a Biblical command stands by itself separate from the Rabbinic obligation to recite a bracha before its performance. However, R’ Hai Gaon (Quoted in Rosh sima 1 in 2nd perek of Brachos) opines that the mitzvah of kriyas shema is fulfilled only if the brachos of kriyas shema are also recited. A similar distinction between kriyas shema and other mitzvos may be inferred from the Rambam. If one has a doubt whether one fulfilled a mitzvah, the mitzvah is repeated but not the bracha – the weighty Biblical obligation demands that we strive for certainty, but the Rabbinic obligation of bracha does not. However, the Rambam writes (hil keriyas shema 2:13) that if one has a doubt if one has fulfilled the mitzvah of kriyas shema, not only must one recite shema, but one must also recite the brachos as well. R’ Chaim Brisker assumed that the brachos said before keriyas shema are not the same as other birchos hamitzvah that stand independently from the mitzvah itself, but are part and parcel of the fulfillment of the mitzvah of shema itself. Shema recited without its brachos is an incomplete fulfillment of the mitzvah of kriyas shema. So much for the lomdus - I bring this up for another reason, which I will get back to…

new jewish blog aggregator

Kudos to Josh Waxman for putting together a new Jewish blog aggregator. Nice job!

Friday, June 15, 2007

eiruvin 86 - a volatile family mix

The Mishna (Eiruvin 86) discusses case where someone plans be away from home for the duration of Shabbos – does that person’s home need to be included them in the local eiruv or not? R’ Shimon says that if a person plans to spend Shabbos by his daughter’s house, even if he will be in the same city, his own house does not need to be included in the eiruv because we assume it will be vacant for all of Shabbos.

The gemara notes that the Mishna speaks specifically of a case where one is visiting one’s daughter – only then can we assume that even if one is not far from home one will remain away as a guest. But if one plans to spend Shabbos with one’s son, that’s a different story – the volatile mix of parents with their son and daughter-in-law leaves little assurance that the entire Shabbos can pass without the parents returning to their own home! All I can say is that Chazal were the keenest observers of the human condition who ever lived.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

korach's error

The Sefer haIkkarim (III:11) writes that in the presence of a great Navi even those who are unprepared to receive prophecy may be able to do so. An example: although the Jewish people were not yet spiritually ready for a direct Revelation by G-d at Sinai, they could “eavesdrop” on the prophetic experience that Moshe was worthy of having, partaking on his coattails in something they could not achieve on their own. Great people transform and elevate those around them.

Korach complained that “kol ha’eidah kulam kedoshim”, the entire nation is holy and Moshe is undeserving of his special status. Perhaps Korach’s mistake was failing to realize that the nation’s achievements do not minimize Moshe's uniqueness – to the contrary, they underscore how much of an impact Moshe had.

lo tisgodidu - a creative ridba"z on the yerushalmi

After a dispute whether she’hechiyanu is said on Rosh haShana and Y”K or only the 3 Regalim, the Yerushalmi (71a vilna ed) at the end of Pesachim raises a question of why having megillah read on Purim on the 14th and 15th of Adar is not a problem of lo tisgodidu. What does that have to do with the topic at hand? The Korban haEidah tries to tie the sugya together by suggesting that the differing practices re: she’hechiyanu prompted the question, but the Ridba”z has a more creative approach. The Yerushalmi often cites chunks of a sugya out of place, and this is one of those occasions. The previous Mishna told us that there are four different ways to teach the haggadah which correspond to the four sons alluded to in the Torah. This chunk of gemara belongs to that sugya: why does having four different ways to do a mitzvah not constitute lo tisgodidu, or in the case of Purim, why is having two dates to celebrate the holiday not lo tisgodidu?

So much for the Yerushalmi’s question. Maybe more later on the answer, which daf yomi (bavli) learners encountered not too long in the past in Tosfos Yevamos 14.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

legal formalism, halacha, and reform judaism

After posting a link yesterday to a paper on the differing emphasis in Christianity and Judaism on legal formalism vs. legal realism, I began to think about whether the same distinction holds true between Orthodox Judiasm and other “branches” of Judaism. I may be speaking in ignorance, but just as an example, a simple ritual like eating matzah on Pesach for an Orthodox Jew will bring to mind questions of how much to eat, in what time span, how must matzah be baked, and a myriad of other rules that define the act of eating and the substance of matzah; I do not think a Reform Jew who holds a traditional seder is as concerned with these details as much as with the simple symbolism of the matzah. Yet surprisingly (to me), doing a quick and random search through some of the response on the CCAR website (the umbrella group of the Reform rabbinate) proved my hypothesis incorrect. In this responsa, the question is raised whether it suffices to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah by eating in a tent, or must one construct a sukkah in accordance with the formal legal rules set down by halacha. The formulation of the question strikes at the heart of the issue of formalism vs. realism (italics mine):

Though not everyone will wish to purchase or erect a sukkah, there are those (families with young children, for example) who would find it enjoyable to eat festive meals in their camping tents… Would it not meet the intent, the essential purpose of the observance, by calling to mind the miracles which God did for us when we came out of Egypt? Indeed, given that the rabbinic tradition is divided over whether God actually caused our ancestors to "dwell in booths" in the desert, do we really need to construct huts in accordance with a long list of concrete halakhic specifications in order to remember the wilderness experience?

The question challenges us to consider the meaning of ritual observance in Reform Judaism. Is ritual, in and of itself, ever a "necessity" for us? Does a traditional practice possess any obligatory force above and beyond the moral or religious meaning it conveys? Put in this way, we believe the answer to the question is "yes". And that means that the answer to the present she'elah is "no": it does not fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah to eat outdoors, or in a tent, or in some other non-traditional manner.

The response ends by noting that the moral message of religion does not exist independently from its ritual component. While the Reform movement has taken license to change ritual where needed, since halachically valid sukkot are readily available, there is no compelling reason to do so in this case. Another responsa on the issue of what constitutes a kosher Reform mikveh echoes the same theme – absent pressing need, the legal critieria of the Talmud are binding; one cannot fulfill the spirit of the law but ignore its formal requirements:

The second reason is based upon our attitude toward Jewish tradition as stated above: we do not make changes merely for the sake of making changes. The forms of Jewish ritual practice are often as significant to our religious experience as is the abstract "meaning" which those practices are said to convey. Yes, it is difficult and troublesome to arrange for a proper mikveh. For that matter, it is difficult and troublesome to arrange to have a proper Torah scroll. Yet we do not use a photocopied sefer torah in our worship services. This Committee has spoken out against the substitution of a "non-traditional" sukkah (a tent, a hut, etc.) for the "real thing."

I still have a hunch that the average Orthodox layperson is far more concerned with formalism than the average Reform layperson, but I may be simply ignorant of the facts – it could be that Reform Jews do ask their Rabbis questions like whether their esrog is kosher or how much food a sick person may consume on a fast day. I am a bit baffled by the Reform approach to halacha, but again, it could be because I approach it as an outsider; it would strike any Orthodox Jew as anomolous to sanction eating a non-kosher meal, but insist that a festive holiday meal take place in a sukkah that conforms with precise halachic detail. It would be interesting to investigate this one further, but I need to get back to the day job.

what takes precedence - learning nach or learning mishnayos?

Darshening the pasuk “v’etna lecha es luchos ha’even v’hatorah v’hamitzvah asher kasavti l’horosam”, the gemara (Brachos 5) explains that luchos refers to the actual luchos, torah refers to mikra, mitzvah refers to mishna, and kasavti l’horosam refers to nevi’im and ketuvim. Achronim point out that the derasha does not follow chronological order in which these books were written, but gives precedence to mishna over nac”h. In the gemara’s discussion (Kiddushin 30a) of the scope of the chiyuv of talmud torah upon a father must teach his son, the gemara refers to mikra, mishna, talmud, etc. and Rashi (d”h torah) writes that mikra means torah to the exclusion of nevi’im and ketuvim. Apparently the obligation to study mishna takes precedence over the obligation to study nac”h.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Christian vs. Rabbinic conceptions of law

Legal minds may be interested in a paper here entitled “Jesus’ Legal Theory – a Rabbinic Interpretation” by Professor Chaim Saiman of Villanova Univ. Law School. I was fascinated by Part I of the paper where the author recounts how he engaged a Presbyterian church audience in a discussion about the first Biblical commandment “to be fruitful and multiply. When asked how many children are sufficient to fulfill the command, the audience seemed unable to even comprehend the question, much less to even begin to consider the range of question raised in Yevamos 62 regarding issues like whether one has fulfilled the commandment if one’s children die, whether women are included in the commandment, whether the sex of the children matters, etc. Most of the audience simply felt the answers to these questions were matters of conscience or to be discussed with other community members, but not to be decided based on legal analysis. In contrast, “The Mishna, the Talmud and in their wake Rabbinic Judaism conceptualizes each of these questions as inherently legal. The reasoning process involves (using modern lawyer’s terminology) reading the statutory language and relevant caselaw, identifying latent ambiguities and employing fairly conventional forms of legal analysis in arriving at a conclusion.” Saiman claims that the two approaches represent two competing theories of law - focus on the spirit vs. focus on the letter – that shed light on modern legal issues like whether judges should focus on the purpose of a statute or its grammatical interpretations, emphasize equity or strictly legal outcomes, functionalism vs. formalism, etc.

lo tasuru and aveira lishma

Unlike most commentaries that read lo tasuru as a warning against succumbing to temptation or being misled by idolatry, the Netziv reads the issur as a warning against religious antinomianism – following one’s own intuitions about worship instead of the formal rules of the halachic system. According to Netziv, committing an aviera lishma (see Nazir 23) in almost all instanced is a violation of lo tasuru. Based on that approach, the issur is a perfect lead in to parshas korach.

feeding a pet before eating one's dinner

The gemara (Brachos 40) writes that one should feed one’s animals before sitting down to a meal based on the order of animals before people in the pasuk v’nasati eisva hasadeh l’vhemtecha v’achalta v’savata. The Rambam quotes this din in Hil Avadin (9:8), where he writes that Chachamim haRishonim would feed their slaves and animals before partaking of their own meal, and he cites a completely different pasuk than the gemara as a prooftext. It would seem from the Rambam that this din is a midas chassidus, but not a binding obligation. At the opposite extreme, the Magen Avraham (siman 271) holds that the din is a chiyuv d’oraysa. My son has a pet betta fish and asked if he has to feed the fish before eating. I seem to recall that fish are different than other animals, but can’t find a source that says so. A possible distinction is that unlike a farm animal waiting for dinner, the fish is not any more hungry at human dinner time than later. Maybe the issue depends on whether the chiyuv is rooted in tza’ar ba’alei chaim, which would depend on the animal’s appetite, or a derech eretz hanhaga to train oneself to place others needs first, in which case even if the pet can eat later it should be fed first.

Monday, June 11, 2007

preparing for shabbos

One of the examples of mitzvah bo yoseir m'b'shlucho is preparing for Shabbos; the gemara records how various Amoraim would personally try to help with the Shabbos preparations. Interestingly, the Aruch haShulchan (250:3) calls this a hidur mitzvah and writes that one is yotzei through ishto k'gufo! The Shmiras Shabbos (42: footnote 195) quotes R' Shlomo Zalman as holding that unless one has some pressing need to do other work or is engaged in learning torah one should not only help by doing one act to prepare for Shabbos (which at least minimally fulfills the mitzvah of kavod shabbos through preparation), but one should personally attend to every act that needs to be done, because on each and every act of preparation the sevara of mitzvah bo applies.

netziv quoting moreh nevuchim

I don't learn the Netziv on the parsha religiously (I usually end up having a glance at it because my edition is pretty small which makes for easy carrying in my bag) but this past week his comment on 'ki dvar Hashem bazah" (15:31) in the parsha on korban for avodah zarah caught my eye. He cites the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim as explaining that the pasuk is not referring only to avodah zarah, but to any violation, even of a mitzvas aseh, done with the intent to anger G-d (l'hach'is), and not out of laziness or desire. I can't recall other places that the Netziv cites the Moreh - anyone out there recall other examples?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

bikurim and mitzvos hateluyos ba'aretz

Adding to the previous post, I think perhaps R' Chaim Brisker's chiddush regarding challah also applies to bikurim as well. Tosfos (B.B. 81a) asks why a seperate pasuk is needed to teach us that bikurim only applies to the fruits of Eretz Yisrael - doesn't that din logically follow from the fact that bikurim is a mitzvah hateluya ba'aretz? (Note as well that the Rambam hil bikurim ch. 5 cites a pasuk to teach that challah applies only in Eretz Yisrael but does not cite a pasuk by terumos and ma'asros). Tosfos answers that terumah is considered teluya ba'aretz because the obligation of hafrasha rests on the fruit, without which the fruit is considered tevel. Bikurim is not a chiyuv inherent in the fruit but is a chovah on the person; the fruit is not prohibited before hafrasha. The definition of teluya ba'aretz is where the cheftza of being a growth of the land creates a chiyuv, not simply a chovas hagavra contingent on a person being located in Eretz Yisrael.

challah and the defintion of mitzvah hateluya ba'aretz

The mitzvah of challah became obligatory the minute the Jewish people crossed into Eretz Yisrael, unlike other agricultural mitzvos (e.g. terumah, ma’aser) which applied only after the Land was conquered and divided. Rashi (Kid 37a d”h chovas karka) writes that challah, like terumos and ma’asros, is a mitzvah hateluya ba’aretz, as it applies min haTorah only to wheat grown in Eretz Yisrael.

The Rambam (Terumos 1:22) writes that wheat grown in Eretz Yisrael and exported is exempt from trumah and challah because the obligation is only “shamah” in the Land, as our parsha says. However, with respect to wheat grown outside Eretz Yisrael and then imported, the Rambam writes that there is no obligation of terumah but there is an obligation to take challah. If challah is a mitzvah hateluya ba’aretz like terumah, then just as wheat not grown on the Land is exempt from terumah even if imported to Eretz Yisrael, so too such wheat should be exempt from challah?

It seems that the Rambam disagrees with Rashi’s categorization of challah as a mitzvah hateluya ba’aretz. Both terumah and challah require two conditions for there to be a chiyuv: 1) wheat being in Eretz Yisrael; 2) an act of miruach in the case of terumah (creating a haystack) to finish the process of harvesting, and the act of kneading the flour into dough in the case of challah. R' Chaim Brisker explains: by terumah, it is the fact that the wheat was grown in Eretz Yisrael which creates the obligation in terumah – the miruach is just a necessary part of the processing. Where the grain was grown outside the Land, the fact that miruach was done in Eretz Yisrael does not create a chiyuv of terumah. By challah, the situation is reversed. It is the kneading of dough in Eretz Yisrael which creates the obligation of challah irrespective of where the wheat was grown.

According to the Rambam, a mitzvah hateulya ba’aretz is a mitzvah where the obligation centers on produce of the Land, not just a mitzvah contingent upon the person performing the mitzvah being located in Eretz Yisrael.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

the skull of Arnon found under the mizbeiach

For those learning Yerushalmi Yomi, an upcoming gemara discusses the mistake of King Chizkiyahu in trying to add an extra month after Nisan had already started in order to avoid a pesach done b’tumah. What is remarkable is the source of this tumah – the gemara says that the skull of Arnon haYevusi was discovered under the mizbeiach. How could it be that such pains were taken to insure that the mikdash was tahor, and right under the mizbeiach was the skull of Arnon?! Fortunately for Yerushalmi learners, this occurrence is mentioned by Tosfos Sanhedrin 12a, where we have the Margolyas haYam to help us. Among the explanations he cites is a Chasam Sofer who explains that the tunnels which ran under the mikdash were adjacent to Arnon’s family’s burial plots. Perhaps when cleaning or construction work was done on these tunnels the digging broke through to the graves. The Minchas Eluzar suggests that the skull was not a human head, but was an idol of Arnon which had been buried there, and the concern was for the tumah of avodah zarah. There are other details that need to be worked out – e.g. we usually assume a non-Jew is not metamei b’ohel, and Arnon was presumably not Jewish – so it is worth looking at the Margolyas haYam.

Monday, June 04, 2007

r' chaim brisker on zecharya hanavi's vision of the menorah

We had the zechus this Shabbos of having R’ Yisrael Chait, RY of Yeshiva Bnei Torah, davening at our minyan, and he spoke and developed a theme based on a R’ Chaim Brisker on the haftarah. In the end of the haftarah, Zecharya haNavi sees a vision of a menorah with two olives, one on the right and one on the left. He asks the Angel what these olives are, and the Angel tells him that he, Zecharya, knows what they are. Zecharya again tells the Angel that he does not understand what they are, and the Angel responds with the famous pasuk “lo b’chayil v’lo b’koach ki im b’ruchi”, that it is not armies or strength that will lead to the rebuilding of the Mikdash, but the spirit of G-d. What is the meaning of this exchange – the Angel seems to be playing with Zecharya, insisting that Zecharya understands what he clearly said that he does not understand?

R’ Chaim explained that the Angel’s first response meant that Zecharya understood what the olives stood for, which indeed he did – one stood for Bayis Rishon, one for Bayis Sheni. What Zecharya did not understand, which is why he again asked the Angel to explain the vision, is how Bayis Sheni would come to be when the Jewish people lacked independence, an army, and the physical might to conquer the Land. The Angel’s answer is that all that is not needed. The Rambam paskens (hil beis habechira ch 6) that “kedusha rishona kidsha ‘sha’ata”, the original sanctification of Eretz Yisrael was done by Yehoshua through conquest, and was therefore temporary, as it could be undone when the Land was conquered by a mightier power. However, “kedusha shniya kidsha l’asid lavo”, the second sanctification of Eretz Yisrael done by Ezra was permanent because it was not done by conquest or might, but rather through the simple fact that the Jewish people decided to live in the Land and establish a chazakah. The modest action of the squatter who parks himself on the Land can be more effective than the most glorious and heroic battle of a conquering army.

(I think I have seen this R’ Chaim written up somewhere… will update if I track it down or someone points me to it in a comment.)

for ray bardbury fans: the danger of tv

Ray Bradbury recently won a Pulitzer, and while I haven’t read any of his stuff in years, I found this article interesting. He insists that "Fahrenheit 451" is not about censorship and 1950’s era McCarthyism (which is how it is taught in high school), but about the dangers of TV. Remember that in the book people are surrounded by wall to wall TV screens that provide all the information and entertainment they need without the need to ever turn pages. Oh, and if you had a hava amina of believing the TV producer who said that television actually encourages reading, well, read this.

Friday, June 01, 2007

software piracy on a legacy product - what is the halacha?

My son asked if it is permitted to copy a computer game which is no longer made by the company. I explained that geneiva usually refers to a physical object and not intellectual property, and that issues like these usually fall under the rubric of hasagas gevul or yoreid l'toch umnaso shel chaveiro because of the profit denied to the company. The question here arises because the game is no longer made (same issue would come up if the company was out of business) and sold by the manufacturer. Copying the legacy game provides a benefit to the user with no profit loss to the company no longer distributing it. I have not gone through the sugya of intellectual property issues and halacha thoroughly, but the sevara here seems pretty strong. Any thoughts?

cheating on tests

My son came home from school disgusted today because of the rampant cheating on finals that goes on in his school. Some of his classmates see nothing wrong in helping out a friend who otherwise would fail - ah, the nobility of misplaced sympathy : ) My son feels bad because he works hard while others just cheat their way through. So who is to blame here - the students doing the cheating, or the administration and staff that seems either oblivious to what is going on or powerless to stop it? My wife (who used to teach) told me that her observation under similar circumstances was that the school knew full well who the cheaters were, but to crack down on them would mean a confrontation with parents, some of whom bankroll the school. It makes me so glad to hear this when I am at work slaving away to earn the $ to pay for this quality education.

two versions of what orthodoxy is all about

I think one of the keys questions that affect a person’s religious practice can be summed up with a chakira: is a jew someone who is like everyone else except where restricted by ritual laws have to be obeyed, or is a jew someone with a unique set of values, attitudes, and behaviors which happen to coincide under some circumstances with Western values? The teenagers who get together for a pick-up basketball game in shorts and T-shirts on Shabbos or the adults who will vacation at a beach or a Las Vegas casino while making sure to eat kosher food I think view their religiosity based on the first tzad of the chakira. What determines whether an action is acceptable is whether one can point to a specific se’if in shulchan aruch that prohibits something (and even so, apparently some people think not all dinim in shulchan aruch are created equal), and if not, what is OK in secular society is by default OK for the Jew. The second tzad looks at things very differently. It’s not about whether there is a specific prohibition against something, but about whether a particular action or desire is for the sake of avodas Hashem or not. Halacha is not a collection of technical restrictions that impinge on a “normal” lifestyle, but halacha becomes a guide to a mindset that has completely different goals, values, and aspirations than what passes for “normal” in our society. One of the problems I have encountered in dealing with coreligionists who fall into tzad #1 of the chakira or who are non-religious is that they simply do not understand that those of us who aspire or try to live our lives by the tzad #2 approach. Decisions about what is permitted or prohibited are viewed through a completely different mindset (and again, this issue is especially hard to deal with when the other people are family members). When asked “Where does it say X is prohibited” or confronted with the observation “…But I see lots of frum people with yalmukahs there” how is one supposed to respond? There is no short and simple answer because the question presupposes a different framework of religious. Has anyone else confronted this problem?