Powered by WebAds

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Rav Kook on the search for Truth

One of the difficult fact of life in today's world is the extreme piety and an extreme search for Truth appear to be mutually exclusive. Those who are regarded as pious are often the ones who most limit the permitted areas of intellectual pursuit while those with broad knowledge and searching soul have a reputation for religious laxity. While it is true that many in the MO world have a certain irreverence towards the holy and so this reputation might be deserved, I have always maintained that the reputation of piety on the right is often not deserved. True piety must go hand in hand with relentless search for truth and a truly pious person must be willing to pay a personal price for such a search. In reality I believe that the truly pious exist in both the MO and chareidi world but those individuals are few and far between.

I have recently found a piece by Rav Kook that I believe is written regarding a piety that is not coupled with such a striving for Truth (אורות האמונה 67-68):

The enslavement of the intelligence and its stupefaction result from certain influences, and the more holy the influences, the greater the damage done, amounting to the corruption of the world, and resembling more and more the villainy of false prophecy in G-d's name, actions of wickedness and impurity, idol worship and abomination. Thus when the attempt to stupefy the intelligence is presented in the name of faith, of fear of Heaven, or diligence in Torah and fulfilling of mitzvot, it becomes a terrible lie and a filthy impurity.

Then the holy ones of the Most High, G-d's pure servants, must go forth to redeem the world and Israel, the Torah, and all that is holy to the Lord from these destroyers. Let them be who thy may: liars who want only to cheat their fellows or fur-cloaked deceivers, weak of spirit and small of mind, whose own intellectual light has been obstructed, their feelings dulled, and their imagination coarsened, who purposefully and thoroughly trample down the reality before them, their own faith enrooted in mere fables of faith ... and thus souls stumble and fall, and human beings live the lives of beasts, degradation without knowledge or understanding, without human honor, that most basic element in recognizing the honor of Heaven that fills the world, that gives life to all, and animates spirit and soul.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On maturity

One of the psukim that sets up the whole story of Yosef and his brothers hides more than it reveals (בראשית לז:ב):

אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, נְשֵׁי אָבִיו; וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם

(Mechon Mamre) These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father.

On the term והוא נער Rashi writes:
שהיה עושה מעשה נערות

That he would behave in a youthful fashion

The Maharal points out in Gur Aryeh that Yosef, being 17 years old, did not have the halachic status of נער and so Rashi is pointing out that someone who behaves like a child has the status of a child even if halachically an adult.

The pasuk also informs us that Yosef would bring evil reports about the brothers to their father. Rashi gives us some insight to the nature of these reports:
כל רעה שהיה רואה באחיו בני לאה היה מגיד לאביו, שהיו אוכלין אבר מן החי

Every evil that he saw in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father; That they would eat from the limbs of a living animal...

The Maharal asks why it would be wrong for Yosef to bring reports of his brothers' sins to their father if his intension was to remove them from sin. His response is remarkable. The Maharal points out the Rashi changes the words of the midrash. The midrash does not say that Yosef reported that the brothers ate the limbs of a living animal but rather וחשודין על אבר מן החי that they are suspected of eating the limb of a living animal.

Based on the exact wording of the midrash the Maharal proceeds to analyze Yosef's character:
מפני שהיה יוסף צדיק גמור ... מחמיר היה מאד באיסור אבר מן החי, ולא הניח לו אף עבדיו לבשל לו, כי העבדים חשודין על אבר מן החי, כדאמרינן בפרן מי שאחזו (גיטין סז ע"ב) ... כי הצדיק אשר הוא צדיק גמור העבירה היא חמורה עליו מאד, ומפני זה הוא מרחיק עצמו מן העבירה ואפילו בדבר שאינו אסור, וזה עושה בשביל צדקתו, ודומה אליו מי שאינו נזהר כל כך כמו שהוא נזהר - שהוא נחשד בדבר.

Because [Yosef] was completely righteous ... he would be very stringent regarding the prohibition of limbs from living animals and would not even let his servants cook for him since servants are suspected regarding limbs of living animals ... This is because sin is very serious to a tzaddik who is a complete tzaddik, and because of this he distances himself from sin and even from matters that are not prohibited, and he does this because of his righteousness. And it seems to him that all who are not as careful as him are suspected in these matters.

The Maharal is describing a righteous well meaning person who expects from others the same level of stringency that he expects from himself. This seems to be Yosef's fatal flaw and I believe is related to the first Rashi above. The main difference between a mature person and one who is immature is the ability to see beyond your own perspective. To understand that different people have different needs and different styles. To see things from their point of view. The immature person applies the same standards across the board. Yosef, according to the Maharal, saw everything through the standards he set for himself.

The lesson is tremendous. A righteous person with righteous deeds and a righteous intentions ends up causing jealousy and hatred. The lesson is clear. Being right is not enough! A good message that is communicated in the wrong manner will not only not be helpful but can even damage the recipient it was meant to benefit. A mature person is one who is aware of when and how to communicate their message.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Gedolim Redux, part I

One of the things that truly irritate me is the chareidi definition of "gedolei Israel." The reason this is even an issue is because there has been a constant thread it the past 50 years to either remove from history gedolim who don't agree with the contemporary chareidi agenda or, if the personage is too great to remove, then those sections that are objectionable to the contemporary chareidi are removed from the books.

I will bring several examples in upcoming posts (bli neder), but here is one example for a start:

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer Zt"l had two sons-in-law. One was Rav Aharon Kotler Zt"l and the other was Rav Yitzchak Meir Ben-Menachem Zt"l. Rav Ben-Menachem was the author of an incredible peirush on the Rambam called "Parashat HaMelech". In the introduction to the second volume of this book, published in 1957, he writes the following:

ואם יש לראות יד ה' תוך עומק הדין, ודאי שאין להתעלם מלראות את יד ה' בישועה בדרך נס שהוארה לנגד עינינו אחר שנות הפורענות בשמי ארצנו הקדושה. ורק שתום-עינים לא יראה במה שאירע כאן לפני שמונה שנים את יד ה' הגדולה הנטויה עלינו לחסד ברכה, כאשר מסר השי"ת ברחמיו המרובים רבים ביד מעטים ועמד לנו בעת צרתנו וזכינו לתקומת מדינת ישראל היא ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו השלמה, ונדחי ישראל מכל קצות תבל מתקבצים לתוכה ומקוממים את שממותיה. אכן עלינו לדעת כי התשועה הגדולה והפרקן לעם ישראל בוא יבואו אחר שיתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבא על ידינו, ותתגדל ותתחזק הכרתנו כי יד ה' עשתה זאת ולפיה נחיה, ואנו כולנו מלאי צפיה לביאות גואל צדק במהרה בימינו ולהחזרת השכינה לציון עיר קדשנו.

And if it is [appropriate] to see the hand of Hashem in the depth of [Hashem's] judgment, then obviously we should not ignore seeing the hand of Hashem in our miraculous salvation that we perceived with our very eyes after years of suffering in our Holy Land. Only a blind person will not see in what occurred here eight years ago the great hand of Hashem extending over us for a blessing; When Hashem, in his great mercy, delivered the many into the hands of a few and stood for us in our [moment] of trouble and we merited the rise of the State of Israel - which is the first flowering of our complete redemption - and the scattered ones of Israel are gathering from all corners of the earth and are rebuilding [the land from its] desolation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to know that the great salvation and redemption will come to the nation of Israel after [Hashem's] great Name will be glorified and sanctified by us, and our recognition will grow and become strengthened that the hand of Hashem did all this and according to it will shall live. And we, all of us, are full of hope for the coming of the righteous redeemer, quickly in our days, and for the return of G-d's presence to Zion, our Holy city.

You will only find this in the first printing. It has been removed from all subsequent printings of this remarkable work.

Test your frumkeit

lamedzayin prepared a quiz that attempts to categorize your type of orthodoxy. I took the test and it confirmed my suspicions (as much as such results are worth) that I don't fully fit into any one group. Check it out for yourself:

Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 18%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 53%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 69%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 31%

This means you're: Huh?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On Pride

I really love the counting of mitzvot. The number 613 always fascinated me and I love the efforts of the rishonim to compile lists of the mitzvot. What I am truly fascinated by are the anomalous mitzvot, those that were only counted by one authority but were not included by the others. (disclaimer: not including something in the 613 is not at all indicative of halacha, the number 613 is of an academic nature and is not used to determine halacha, see the Ramban's commentary on the Rambam's sefer hamitzvot for more on this topic)

The Semag writes that when he was compiling his list of the mitzvot, he was reminded in a dream not to forget to count the mitzvah of not exhibiting pride (לא להתגאות). The problem is that we do not find such a command in the entire Torah. The semag, however, does learn this mitzva from a pasuk: "השמר לך פן תשכח את ה' אלוקיך", "guard yourself, less you forget Hashem your G-d" and that through pride, one forgets as it says "ורם לבבך ושכחת" "And your heart [became] prideful and you forgot".

What incredible mussar! Pride is not just a foundational flaw in the middot that leads to other forms of bad behavior. Pride is the displacing of Hashem's place in your life with your self. Once we understand this, then we can get some insight into the nature of true humility. If pride is the displacement of Hashem in your life, humility is the understanding of Hashem's presence in all areas of life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Democracy in action

While DB continues to sings the praises of all those moderate Arabs he knows and continues to bash those intolerant Jewish right-wingers, one of the "moderate" Arabs who is a member of Israel's Knesset was giving a lovely speech about coexistence and peace:

from arutz 7:

Bishara, addressing an Arab audience in Lebanon late last week, asserted that Arabs were the original residents of the land and urged Israelis to leave and "take their democracy" with them.

”Israel is the 20th century's greatest robbery, carried out in broad daylight. I will never recognize Zionism even if all Arabs do. I will never concede Palestine. The battle is still long," Bishara stated at a Lebanese book fair in Beirut.

The Lebanese audience received Bishara’s comments warmly. "Return Palestine to us and take your democracy with you. We Arabs are not interested in it," the Knesset Member stated.

"The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not a demographic dispute, but a national one. It's not the problem of 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel. They are like all Arabs, only with Israeli citizenship forced upon them. We are the original residents of Palestine, not those who came from Poland and Russia," Bishara told Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir.

Why no comments?

The last three posts have gotten a pathetic amount of comments. Why?

Monday, December 19, 2005

On tolerance and intolerance

Rav Kook writes in his letters (אגרות הראי"ה, ח"א עמ' שנד):

נכון לנו להרחיב את דעתנו ולדון לכף זכות את כל האדם, גם בדרך רחוקה ונפלאה. לעולם לא נכון לשכוח כי בכל מלחמה ממלחמות הדעות, אחרי שהתסיסה עוברת, מוצאים המבקרים בכל הצדדים גם אורות וגם צללים. וברוח דעת ויראת ה' נדע שכל עלילות מצעדי גבר וכל הגיוני איש ופעלם בעולם, בחוג גדול או קטן, הכל ערוך ומסודר מקורא הדורות מראש, לעזור ולשכלל העולם ורדמתו, להזרחת אורו, 'ולעדויי חשוכא' (להסיר החושך). ואם שאנחנו מתאמצים ללחום בעד אותם הדברים הקרובים לרוחנו, צריכים אנו שלא להיות מכורים בידי רגשותינו, ולדעת תמיד שגם לרגשות ההפוכות משלנו יש מקום רחב בעולם. 'ואלוהי הרוחות לכל בשר' (מליצה ע"פ במדבר טז, כב) 'את הכל עשה יפה בעתו' (ע"פ קהלת ג, יא). ורעיון זה, אע"פ שלא ימנע אותנו מלהלחם על הקדוש והאמת והיקר לנו, אבל ימנע אותנו מליפול ברשת הקטנות, הזילותא והקפדנות, ונהיה תמיד מלאים אומץ רוח, מנוחת הנפש ובטחון בה' אוהב אמת, אשר 'לא יעזוב את חסידיו לעולם נשמרו' (ע"פ תהלים לז, כח).

It is proper for us to open our mind and to judge all people favorably, even in a manner that is far-fetched. It is never proper to forget that in any war of ideas, after the agitation has passed, those who are critical-minded can find light and shadow on both sides. And, in the spirit of the knowledge and fear of Hashem, will know that all of the travails of man and all mortal reason and their effects in the world, whether large or small, all is set and ordered by He who created all the generations, in order to help and improve the slumbering world, to [cause its] light to rise and to remove its darkness. ... And this idea - even though it [should not] keep us from fighting on behalf of Holiness, Truth, and all that which is dear to us - will nonetheless save us from falling into the trap of pettiness, disrespect, and severity. [Thus,] we will always be full of brave spirit, peace of the soul and trust in Hashem who loves Truth ...

Rav Kook demands that we remain open to new ideas. That we tolerate those with whom we disagree while simultaneously vigorously fight for what we see as the Truth. The question is, however, how far should this tolerance go? Could not such a tolerance serve our enemies and allow them to take advantage of our good intensions? In another letter, Rav Kook teaches us the limits of tolerance (אגרות, ח"ג עמ' קנו-קנז):
הסבלנות מקור חיים היא. אבל במה דברים אמורים? בזמן שהיא באה מתוך הטוהר של הדעת והמוסר, שאי אפשר לו להתברר כי אם מתוך ההכרה הבהירה בהמהות של חיי האומה ונשמתה התולדותית. אבל בזמן שהיא באה מתוך רכרוכית הלב ורפיון רוח, הרי היא נעשית לסם ממית ומכלה, שסופו להביא קנאה מרה וקשה כשאול, שמחזיקיה יהיו דוקא אותם (שהיו) הדוגלים בשם הסבלנות. וכו'. כי הסבלנות הבאה לחסום את הדרך של עז חיים לעמוד על ידו נגד כל מהרס עד היסוד את נשמת האומה, ו(נגד) מכניס רוח תהו במערכות חייו, היא דומה לאותה סבלנות של האיש הרואה שכבוד ביתו ומשפחתו נתון הוא למרמס כל פריץ והולל, והוא ברפיונו מעמעם ומחשה

Tolerance is a source of life. However, what case are we dealing with? At a time when [tolerance] comes from purity of ethical thought, which can never be clarified except through the clear recognition of the essence of the life of the nation and [the national] soul that results from it. However, when [tolerance] comes from softness of heart and weakness of spirit, it becomes a deadly and destructive poison which will bring nothing but bitter zealousness as harsh as death. And [those who are harshly zealous] will be the very same who raised the flag of tolerance [before] ... [This is] because tolerance that comes to block the path of the vital forces that stand in opposition to that which will destroy the very foundation of the soul of our nation, and [instead] inject a spirit of confusion into its life struggles, [such a tolerance] is analogous to the tolerance of a man who sees the honor of his household being treaded on by every villain and thug, and in his weakness, he [becomes] dull and silent.

The Rav also wrote (אגרות, ח"ב עמ' רסב):
מורך לב הוא גם כן בכלל המדות האסורות, תולדות העצבות והעייפות, שהננו חייבים להזהר מארסה. חמושי גבורה אנו חייבים להיות כשאנחנו מכירים שכל כוונתנו היא טהורה, ישרה ונכוחה ונגד ה' דרכנו. חלילה לנו להיות חפצים דוקא להיות יוצאים ידי כל הבריות, אפילו היותר חביבות ומשובחות

softness of the heart is also among those traits that are forbidden, it is the child of sadness and tiredness from whose venom we must guard ourselves. We must arm ourselves with strength when we recognize that our intentions are pure and strait and that our path is the path of Hashem. G-d forbid that we should desire to be acceptable to all people, even those who are likable and praiseworthy.

We see the actual implementation of both of these traits in the life of Rav Kook. We see in the ways of Maran HaRav Zt"l that he constantly treaded on both the paths of extreme tolerance and extreme zealousness. We see that while he gave strong rebuke to those who went on paths foreign to the Torah (אגרות ח"ב דף ל', עמ' ק', עמ' קכז ועוד; מאמרי הראי"ה, עמ' 341, 351-352 כמו בענין כפר גנים), at the same time tried to give the sinners the benefit of the doubt (אגרות, ח"א עמ' שיא; מאמרי הראי"ה, עמ' 85, 288).

This attitude of the Rav led to fierce criticism from all sides. On the right they accused him of softness and of validating the sins of the non-religious. On the left they accused him of rebuking too harshly and pushing the non-religious farther away. Rav Kook, however persisted in following the derech haEmet, the path of truth, not compromising with the left nor with the right. Thus he writes to one of the great mystics of the day (אגרות, ח"א עמ' שב):
ולא להתבהל כלל מפני איזה בעל שם שמחוץ לתחומנו, שמהלך הרגש והבינה שלהם הלכו ארחות אחרות .

We should not get worked up at all because of some great person [who is] outside our sphere [of influence] and whose emotional and intellectual paths have gone a way that is different [than ours].

And he also wrote (אגרות, ח"ב עמ' לה):
ולא להתפעל מכל אלה החפצים להגביר סיטרא דדינא, אפילו אם יהיו צדיקים וגדולים בתורה

We should not get excited by those who wish to increase the side of [harsh] judgment, even if they are righteous and great in Torah.

I believe that the derech of Rav Kook is what we need in today’s world. An approach where tolerance and passion can coexist and where respect and zealousness be channeled in constructive and beautiful ways. כן יהי רצון

[Special thanks to Rav Moshe Tzuriel Shlit"a who helped me find these sources]

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The componants of man, part II

Continued from here.

Every individual and every group is motivated by and sees the world through three distinct and separate forces: The Holy, the National, and the Ethical/Humanist.

Rarely do people or groups acquire an equilibrium of these three forces. Quite the opposite, we see that throughout human history, religious zeal has often been used to squash any goal of personal fulfillment that would be advocated by the Humanist force. We have seen a secular fascism that trampled religious and individual rights and those who have lived in the modern western world have seen a humanism that is often hostile to all that is holy and to all that is unique and special about particular groups of people.

Why is this so? Rav Kook in his writings postulates that each of these forces has tremendous amounts of energies at its disposal and these energies at all times must be channeled. When a person is then confronted with a conflict between one force which is engrained in the fabric of his soul and the two other forces which he recognizes intellectually but are foreign to his emotional framework, then the easy solution is to declare the other forces as enemies and wage an individual and communal battle to establish that force with which he is comfortable as the protector of all truth and justice.

The results of such a reaction can be devastating. Each of these forces need the other forces to balance themselves. Ignoring forces which challenge us does not make them go away from the world or from our society, that is impossible as these forces are ingrained into the spiritual fabric of the world. Rather what occurs is the one force which is held above others, be it the force of Holiness, Nationalism, or Humanism loses its balance. Its tremendous energy levels are not checked by any counterforce and quickly turn destructive.

What, then, is a person to do? The answer is that the value of each of these forces must be valued at all times. Further, not only should they be valued but they should be integrated into the fabric of one's soul and of one's society and each be advanced in an extreme manner. Since these forces are remarkable powerful and can not be subdued, each must be pursued with fanatic vigor. The constant channeling of these forces leads them to balance each other out. This is not to say that conflict will not arise between them and that at times, one will need to be victorious over the other, but rather that such a victory will not be at the expense of the intrinsic value of the other forces. each force must constantly exert its special nature upon the others and try to win over the others while not undermining their intrinsic worth.

What comes out of this is that extremism is not bad in and of itself. Rather unbalanced extremism which advances only one of the components of man to the exclusion of all others leaved terror and destruction in its wake. May we all find this balance in our personal, communal, and national lives.

The componants of man

In Orot HaTechiya Rav Kook describes three separate forces that are to be found in any individual or culture at any point in world history:

The Three Forces

1) Holy, religious force. Man's relationship with G-d and the basic spiritual building blocks of man.

2) Nationalist force. This force motivates people to try and better their own communities and to prefer the advancement of their own group over the groups of others.

3) Humanist, Ethical force. This force ignores all considerations of group. It sees only the inherit equality of mankind as individuals.

While a harmonious coexistence of these forces is theoretically possible, quite often we find that these forces oppose one another in fundamental ways. For example, the ethical humanist often has big problems with the nationalist and vice-versa. The religious mystic will often want to separate themselves from society while the humanist will often be opposed to the religious/mystical experience as being opposed to man's primarily ethical mission (bein adam lechaveiro). In other words, each one of these forces in their extreme state is lacking and can not be the source of healthy life.

In a later post, we will discuss what different methods there are to find equilibrium between these three forces and how this fits in to our current societal context.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Life under muslim rule

DB claims that unlike Jewish life in christian Europe, life for Jews under muslim rule was just dandy. While it is true that christian Europe was historically the most violent towards the Jews, this by no means means that life under the Arabs was good. Here is a brief overview of the Jew in Islam and under the rule of Arab society:


According to Arab propagandists, the main issue of the Arab-Israel conflict is "the Palestinian state". This is a myth. As will be clearly demonstrated, the main issue is, rather, the deep, traditional and religious hatred of the Arab for the Jew.

In 1948, before 800,000 Jews fled, 850,000 Jews lived throughout the Arab world. Many Jewish communities had been established 2,000 years before. Some, such as the Yemenite Jewish community, date back from the time of the destruction of the First Jewish Temple by the Babylonians, in the fifth century before the common era.

Arab propaganda would have the world believe that there exists a long tradition of Arab tolerance. In the words of the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, in 1973: "Before the Jewish state was established,there existed nothing to harm good relations between Arabs and Jews."

And, according to former PLO head, Yasser Arafat: "We are not against the Jews. On the contrary, we are Semites and we have been living with each other in peace and fraternity, Muslims, Jews and Christians for many centuries."

But numerous scholarly works and eye-witness reports document the long history of violence, oppression and humiliation suffered by Jews and Christians in the Arab lands from the rise of Islam in the seventh century, until the present day.


In the Arabian city of Medina, Islam's founder, Muhammad, at first courted the favor of the long-respected Jewish community. He even adopted several Jewish practices, such as the fast of Yom Kippur and prayer in the direction of Jerusalem, in the hope of acquiring Jewish converts for his new religion.
When it became clear to him that the Jews were not interested in trading their faith, his attitude toward the Jews soured. Muhammad's resentment was canonized in Islam's holy book, the Koran. Although also containing some earlier, benign references to Jews, the Koran remains decidedly anti-Jewish:

"The most vehement of mankind in hostility are the Jews and the Idolaters...
distorting with their tongues and slandering religion...
the greediest of mankind...
desire nothing but your ruin...
commit evil and become engrossed in sin...
Allah hath cursed them for their disbelief.
Taste ye the punishment of burning.
Those who disbelieve our revelations, we shall expose them to the fire.
As often as their skins are consumed, we shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment."

Thus, the holy book of Islam, the Koran, presents the Jewish people as inherently evil, treacherous, and as infidels of their prophet, Muhammad, Islam's founder.

Furthermore, from among other statements of Muhammad in the Hadith:
"The resurrection of the dead will not come until the Muslims will war with the Jews and the Muslims will kill them... The trees and rocks will say, "O Muslim, O Abdulla, here is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."


Muhammad's new attitude was expressed in practical deed. Upon the thriving Jewish oasis community of Khaibar, north of Mecca and Medina, Muhammad inflicted inhuman atrocities (Israel Ben Zeev, Jews in Arabia). Furthermore, he hideously annihilated the Quraizan Jews of Arabia -- adults and children.

It was Quraizan Jews who had established the prosperous town of Yathrib that attracted an infiltration of the pagan Arabs before the rise of Islam. (This pattern of Jewish industriousness attracting an Arab work force was to repeat itself over and over during the present century.) The Moslem Arabs, now united under Muhammad, eliminated the Jews and expropriated their wealth. The town's name was changed to Medina -- Islam's second-holiest city (Bernard Lewis, Arabs in History, New York, 1966).

This pattern of plundering the possessions of Jews under Arab control was to continue into this century. It is justified by the Koran:
"Some you slew and others you took captive. Allah made you masters of the Jews' land, their houses, and their goods..." (the Koran, Surah 33, Dawood translation).

"Make war... until they pay tribute in a state of humiliation" (the Koran 9:29).

Muhammad's fame spread; the pagan Arabs flocked to him; the Arabian Muslim creed gathered an earth-shattering momentum (Alfred Guillaume, Islam, Baltimore, 1954).

That momentum propelled the Arabs into control of vast territories, far beyond the Arabian peninsula. The Arab conquests constituted a further fulfillment of the biblical verses:

"And he [Ishmael, father of the Arab people] will be a wildman. His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him, and in the face of all his brethren will he dwell" (Genesis XVI, 12), "...and I will make him into a large nation" (Genesis XXI, 18).


Muhammad's successor, Omar, codified the twelve laws under which a non-Muslim, or dhimmi, would be suffered to exist in the Arab world. Calculated to impoverish and humiliate, these Islamic laws were enforced on pain of death.

Among other restrictions, Jews were forbidden to touch the Koran, practise Judaism in public, or own a horse. Jews were forced to wear particular clothing, including a piece of yellow cloth as a badge. Expressions of grief at Jewish burials were not to reach the ears of Muslims.

By Islamic law, Jewish or Christian testimony was meaningless against a Muslim. On the other hand, the dhimmi lived in constant fear of the Muslim, for there would be no way of defending himself against an accusation of cursing Islam.

Although a Muslim was subject to capital punishment for the murder of a fellow Muslim, the murder of a dhimmi would, at most, cost him a fine.

For this Arab "tolerance", the infidel dhimmi paid extra taxes as prescribed in the Koran:
"Fight against those who believe not in Allah... until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low."

And they did fight; with a brutality that has become a trademark. The helpless Jews in Arab lands repeatedly tasted Arab savagery. Those typical hatchet-and-knife pogroms were visited with regularity also upon the dhimmi Jews of the Holy Land.


Since the Arabian invasion of Palestine in the seventh century, Jews and Christians were allowed to remain alive, between attacks, to be a source of funds obtained by special taxes and extortions, and to serve as helpless scapegoats for the Muslim masses. This policy continued under successive waves of other Muslim non-Arab conquerors of the Holy Land, as well.

The lawful humiliation of the non-Muslim was a fact of life. The degree of harshness of the persecution depended on the whim of the particular ruler.

Arab dominion over non-Muslims was reminiscent of the nation of Amalek of biblical infamy:
"Amalek represents that principle which judges the dignity of men and nations solely in terms of visible power and domination. It is willing to condone any act as long as it results in successful conquest. It will tolerate only that which it fears or that which it can safely despise" (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, Collected Writings II, p.414).

From the beginning of Muslim Turkish rule in 1516, Jews had to pass Muslims on their left side, the side of Satan (David Landes, "Palestine Before the Zionists." Commentary, February 1976). Sultan Murad III decreed death for all Jews of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, but later commuted the sentence (Jacob de Haas, History of Palestine, New York, 1934).

In 1586, the famous Ramban Synagogue of the Old City of Jerusalem was seized by the Muslim authorities. This had been the last synagogue in Jerusalem remaining in Jewish hands (Ben Gurion, Israel, Tel Aviv, 1971).

One single Jew survived the Muslim massacre in the holy city of Safad in 1660 (Jacob de Haas, History of Palestine, New York, 1934).

In 1775, Muslim mob violence against the Jews of Hebron was incited by the infamous blood libel (Samuel Katz, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, New York, 1973).

The Albanian born Mamluk "Arab", called "the Butcher", terrorized the land with his sadistic exploits through the late 1700's (Jacob de Haas, History of Palestine, New York, 1934).

To be permitted to pray by the Wailing Wall, the Jews paid a high annual rent to the Arab whose property adjoined it. They paid protection money to Muslim officials, already paid by the Turkish Government, for fear of desecration of the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and of Rachel's Tomb (David Landes, Palestine Before the Zionists, 1976).

In the 1830's, during the brief Egyptian reign over Palestine, the Jews found themselves caught between the ravages of the Egyptian soldiers and the multi-ethnic Muslim rebels who fought them:
"Forty thousand fellahin rushed on Jerusalem... The mob entered, and looted the city for five or six days. The Jews were the worst sufferers, their homes were sacked and their women were violated" (Jacob de Haas, History of Palestine, New York, 1934).

News of the Damascus blood libel of 1840 brought heightened waves of persecution and murder of Jews throughout Palestine (Moshe Ma'oz, ed., Studies in Palestine During the Ottoman Period, Jerusalem, 1975).

In 1914, after returning from his heinous mass slaughter of the Armenian people, Turkish commander Baha-ud Did threatened to do the same to the Jews if he ever got the chance. Fierce persecutions ensued. Use of the Hebrew language was banned. Entire Jewish families were thrown in prison. Jewish males were forced into labor battalions. Farm carts and animals were confiscated just before harvest time. The entire Jewish population of Jaffa was expelled on Passover, 1915. Resistors were hanged. Thousands wandered helplessly on the roads, starving (Martin Gilbert, Exile and Return, New York, 1978).

During the last few years of Muslim rulership over Palestine, torture for a Jew was the norm upon arrest. By the time the British routed the Turkish Ottomans from Palestine in 1917, the entire country, including the new Jewish settlements, had been plundered.

The documented Muslim excesses committed during the corrupt Turkish rule over Palestine from 1516 to 1917, are too hideous and numerous to record (See Joan Peters; From Time Immemorial p.190 et seq.).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Appoint yourself a rav

After I translated part of Rav Tzuriel's article, there were a few requests that I translate the rest into English. After much toil here is the rest of the article, you can compare it to the original hebrew here.

There are those in our generation who have a custom to choose a rav for themselves, upon whom they rely for halachic rulings, whether stringent or lenient. When they later find that there is another rav who rules differently – even if this other rav brings sources to back his position, and even if reason dictates that the second rav’s position is more correct based on those sources – nonetheless the person continues to rely upon the first ruling they heard saying “I have taken upon myself to behave according to the rulings of rav ploni, and thus I am forbidden to go against his words.”

Let us check if there is a Torah basis for this custom for it seems that there is room for doubt regarding whether such a custom “obligates” a person. Let us bring our arguments:

The phrase עשה לך רב"” (Appoint for yourself a rav) does not appear in the gemara but rather in the first chapter of [the tractate] Avot. (It appears twice, once in the name of Rav Yeshua Ben Perachia, and the in the name of Raban Gamliel in the end of the chapter). It is of note that this term is not brought in the Rambam’s mishne Torah, nor in the Tur or the Shulchan Aruch and its commentators. Therefore let us see how the various commentaries to Avot understood this term:

The commentary that is generally attributed to Rashi writes:

"עשה לך רב. שלא תהא אתה למד לעצמך מסברא אלא מן הרב ומן השמועה"

Appoint for yourself a rav, so that you will not learn by yourself through your reason, but rather from a teacher and through tradition.

In the other mishna he simply writes “I explained this above” (In other words, Raban Gamliel means the same thing as Rav Yehoshua Ben Perachia). That is to say, there is no instruction here that a person appoint himself someone whose rulings they follow. Rather, there is general advise that a person should not learn Torah by himself, but rather find a person to teach him. [This is because] a person who learns by himself does not notice his mistakes and it is also beneficial for him to learn from another.

The Rambam writes in his commentary (on the first mishna):
"שהלימוד מעצמו טוב הוא. אבל לימודו מזולתו יתקיים בידו יותר והוא יותר. אפילו אם היה כמוהו בחכמה, או למטה ממנו"

Because learning by himself is good, but learning from another will be remembered by him for longer and will be more clear. [This is true] even if the rav is his equal in wisdom or [even] of lesser wisdom.

Rabbeinu Yona explains this idea:
"שאפילו אתה יודע כמותו, עשה אותו רב עליך, מפני שהאדם (זכר) (זוכר) מה שלמד מרבו יותר ממה שאדם לומד מעצמו"

For even if you know [as much as] him, make him your rav since a person remembers what he learned from his teacher more so than what he learned by himself.

It is clear from the words of these three commentators that that the point of the mishna is not that a person should put himself in a position where he obeys the rulings of one person; rather this mishna is advise that a person should try and learn Torah from another person and this has no bearing regarding how to decide halacha.

However, in the second mishna in the end of the chapter, some of the commentaries explain the mishna as relating to halachic rulings. In any case, the meaning of the term is not as it is used today but rather to teach humility that a person should not rule alone, but rather rely upon others. Here is the language of the Rambam (משנה ט"ז):
"להוראה, שים לך רב שתסמוך עליו באיסור והיתר, ותסתלק אתה מן הספק, כאומרם בירושלמי (מו"ק פ"א ה"י; יבמות פי"ב ה"ז) 'זיל אייתי לי זקן מן השוק דאסמוך עליו, ואשרי (ואתיר) לך'”

For rulings, make a rav upon whom you will rely in Issur and Heter, so that you yourself will avoid doubt. As [chazal] say in Yerushalmi: ‘go and bring me an elder from the market that I can rely upon, and I will permit [this] to you’

It is obvious to all who are wise that the Rambam was not explaining “Appoint a rav for yourself” in the same manner it is used in the present day. Rather, the [mishna is] entreating a person who gives rulings to include another person [when giving a ruling], so that he should be saved from making mistakes when ruling for others.

It is also obvious that in any topic or area that exists [within] halacha, the questioner can switch between one person and another. All the more so in our day, when there are rabbis who have tremendous knowledge in a particular area (for example, the halachot of Shabbat) but are not great experts in another area (for example, the mitzvoth of the land). This is something that is very common in our day when there are many books on every topic and it is almost impossible for an (average) person to (fully) understand all the parts of the Shulchan Aruch. Even if he invested the time to learn all of Rambam, Tur, etc., it is hard to remember it all and answer immediately to any who ask (Except for those exceptional individuals in our generation). And thus, how can we say that someone who relies on a particular rav, it should be like a “neder” for him and [thus] forbidden to act in accordance with another rav?

However, we do find in the Gemara a discussion that establishes that one should not switch from once [halachic] decider to another: (ראש השנה יד ע"ב)
"מקולי בית שמאי ומקולי בית הלל, רשע. מחומרי בית שמאי ומחומרי בית הלל, עליו הכתוב אומר 'והכסיל בחשך הולך'. אלא אי כבית שמאי, בקוליהון ובחומריהון, אי כבית הלל בקוליהון ובחומריהון"

[Someone who acts in accordance with the] leniencies of beit Shamai and the leniencies of beit Hillel, [is] wicked. [Someone who acts in accordance with the] stringencies of beit Shamai and the stringencies of beit Hillel, on him the verse states: ‘and the fool walks in darkness’. Rather if [he acts in accordance] with beit Shamai, [then he should follow both] their leniencies and the stringencies, and if [he acts in accordance] with beit Hillel, [then he should follow both] their leniencies and the stringencies.

It seems from here that a person should not deviate from the rulings of the rav that he accepted. However, it is explicit in Rashi there that his only applies if the leniencies contradict each other (see the examples of Rashi there) but regarding different issues Rashi says:
"אבל בב' מחלוקות שהקילו אלו בזו ואלו בזו, אין כאן לא משום 'רשע' ולא משום סכלות דסבירא ליה בהא כבית שמאי ובהא כבית הלל"

But regarding two [different] disputes where these were lenient here and those were lenient there, there [is no room to say the person is considered neither] wicked nor foolish since he reasons like beit Shamai here and like beit Hillel there.

Here it is explicit that it is allowed to switch from the authority of one rav to the authority of another if one’s [position] seems more reasonable.

Another difficulty for our position is the behavior of Rav Yosef Karo in the writing of his book “Beit Yosef” on the Tur. There he wrote:
"ועלה בדעתי שאחר כל הדברים אפסוק הלכה ואכריע בין הסברות, כי זהו התכלית, להיות לנו תורה אחת ומשפט אחד".

It occurred to me that after all the words (explanations), I will rule the halacha and decide between the [different] positions, since this is the essence, that we have one Torah and one Law.

But he immediately retracts this thought that he should decide because:
"ואיזהו אשר ימלאהו לבו להכניס ראשו בין ההרים, הררי אל, להכריע ביניהם ע"פ טענות וראיות לסתור מה שבררו הם, או להכריע במה שלא הכריעו הם? כי בעוה"ר קצר מצע שכלנו להבין דבריהם, כל שכן להתחכם עליהם. וכו' לכן הסכמתי בדעתי כי להיות שלשה עמודי ההוראה אשר הבית בית ישראל נשען עליהם בהוראותיהם הלא המה הרי"ף והרמב"ם והרא"ש ז"ל, אמרתי אל לבי שבמקום ששניהם המה מסכימים לדעת אחת, נפסוק הלכה כמותם, אם לא במקצת מקומות שכל חכמי ישראל או רובם חולקים על הדעת ההיא ולכן פשט המנהג בהיפך"

And who is the one whose heart would allow him to stick his head between [these] mountains, mountains of G-d, to decide between them through arguments and proof-texts to contradict that which they decided or to decide that which they did not decide? Because, in our great sins, our mind is too deficient to understand their words, and all the more so to make ourselves [as] wiser than them … Thus I agreed in my mind that there are three pillars of halacha that the entire house of Israel relies upon in their ruling, the Rif, Rambam, and the Rosh Z”l. I said in my heart that in a place where two of them agree on a matter, we will decide halacha like them, except for a few places where all the sages of Israel or the majority disagree with that position and thus the custom became the opposite.

It seems that this sort of methodology is a type that is common today.

However, when we look carefully at his words, we will see that he did not act his way because of the dictum of “make yourself a rav” as is understood by many people in our generation. That is, to be obligated to the opinion of a particular Torah personality. On the contrary, sometimes Rav Yosef Karo decided against these three giants because of other reasons (for example בשו"ע או"ח סי' תקפ"ב סעיף ט'; יו"ד סי' קט"ז סעיף א ועוד)

Thus, also regarding obedience to a ruling of a particular great rav in our time, if the questioner is himself a ben Torah and learns the sugya in the Gemara and he sees and understands from [that sugya] that the halacha fits better with the opinion of a different [contemporary] posek who disagrees with the first one, then of course he should follow the latter posek. This is what the Maharal wrote in Netivot Olam, Netiv HaTorah, end of chapter 15 and he concluded that “a judge only has what his eye see.”

There is another consideration [in psak]. We find that every place would customarily decide the halacha according to a particular great sage that lived in that place ((שבת קל ע"א; עירובין צד ע"א, פסחים ל ע"א ועוד. More than this, if [someone] did not act like [this person], it was considered an affront to his honor.

This is what the Rashba wrote (שו"ת רשב"א ח"א סי' רנ"ג):
"ומן הדרך הזה, כל שנהגו לעשות כל מעשיהם על פי אחד מגדולי הפוסקים, במקום שנהגו לעשות כל מעשיהם על פי הלכות הרב אלפאסי ז"ל, ובמקומות שנהגו לעשות כל מעשיהם ע"פ חיבור הרמב"ם ז"ל, והרי עשו אלו הגדולים כרבם. ומיהו אם יש שם אחד חכם וראוי להוראה ורואה ראיה לאסור מה שהם מתירים, נוהג בו איסור. שאין אלו כרבם ממש, דבמקום רבם אילו יעשו שלא כדבריו יקלו בכבוד רבם במקומו"

And in this way, all that accepted as their custom to act according to one of the great deciders, [for example] in a place that is accustomed to act according to the halachas of Rav Alphasi Z”l (Rif), or the places where they are accustomed to act according to the work of the Rambam Z”l, they have made these sages as their Rav. But in any case, if there is one there who is wise and [of stature] to rule and sees reason to forbid that which they allow, then [one should] act [in accordance with the ruling that] forbids. Since these [sages] are not actually like their rav, and in the place of their rav, if they act against his words, they would diminish the honor of their rav in his place.

That is, according to the Rashba, there is a custom that the inhabitants of a certain place, accept upon themselves the authority of an earlier dicidor from a previous generation.

However, in our days in the Land of Israel, this particular way is not at all practical. [This is because] in every city there is a community that is comprised of different sub-communities, Sefardim, Ashkenazim, and among the Ashkenazim there are also different methods of deciding, Chassidim and Mitnagdim, innovators and traditionalists, etc. And also it is inappropriate to say in our land that everyone acted according to one decider since it is common in our time that on one matter a particular community act according to one decider and on another matter like a different decider. [This is true] whether for leniencies or for stringencies. And thus, there is no complete situation in which [we can say] that all of the residents of a city act in accordance with a particular decider.

However, it is appropriate to strengthen the position of “Mara DeAtra” because of the Honor of the Torah ( שו"ת רשב"א ח"א סי' רנג; ובין ספרי אחרונים עיין שו"ת שיבת ציון, סי' כ"ג; שו"ת ישועות מלכו, או"ח סי' ו )

The Rema wrote (יורה דעה, סי' רמב סעיף לא):
"חכם שאסר, אין חברו רשאי להתיר משיקול הדעת. אבל אם טעה בדבר משנה יוכל להתיר וכו'. ולכן אין איסור לשאול ל(חכם) שני, ובלבד שיודיע אותו שכבר הורה הראשון לאיסור. ואפילו אם התיר הראשון, וכבר חלה הוראתו (מפרש הט"ז: וכבר חלה, שכבר עשו מעשה על פיו) אין לשני לאסור מפני שיקול הדעת. וכל זה באותה הוראה עצמו, אבל במעשה אחר (אפילו דומה למעשה הראשון, שעליו פסק הרב) פשיטא שיכול להורות מה שנראה אליו"

A sage that forbade, his colleague is not allow to permit based on reason. But if [the first sage] made a [fundamental mistake] in the mishna, he can permit. And even if the first permits, and his ruling has been implemented, the second should not forbid based on reason. All this is regarding that particular ruling, but on a different matter (even one similar to the first matter), it is obvious that he can rule as he sees fit.

See the Shach (ס"ק ס') that if the first sage forbade in order to create a fence, then the second [sage] cannot permit even in another matter.

If is appropriate to state that a “fundamental mistake in the mishna” include an halacha that has been clarified in the famous deciders in a manner opposite to the ruling of the rav in our time. (עיין רא"ש, סנהדרין פ"ד פסקא ו' "אפילו חכמים שבכל דור ודור". ושו"ת חוט השני, של מחבר "חוות יאיר", סי' י"ח. ועיין רמ"א בשו"ע חו"מ תחילת סי' כ"ה "אין להקל בדבר שהחמירו בו החיבורים").

This relates to our topic in that it is inappropriate to go against the rav of the city except if it is clear that he was mistaken in a “fundamental mistake in the mishna” (or in a explicit and accepted halacha in the later books –ed). It is also worth reminding that all of this is when the rav of the place is truly the greatest scholar in that place. But if his appointment was for political reasons, as sometimes occurs in our generation, and the same area has Torah scholars greater in Torah than the rav, in depth and breadth, then it seems that he does not have the authority of “Mara DeAtra”.

In the book “Aruch HaShulchan (יו"ד סי' רמב סעיף נז), [the author] explains that one should not go against the “Mara DeAtra” because of “Hasagat Gevul” (encroaching upon the area of another) and also because it [can] hurt the rav’s livelihood but he did not bring a source for his words. Also there (בפסקא ס"ב) he says that it is forbidden for the second sage to go against the first only when they are of equal wisdom, but if [the second] is greater in wisdom than the first, it is obvious that he is allowed to disagree since “the reasoning of the greater sage is straighter.”

Later (בפסקא ס"ג) he brings up a tremendous difficulty: Why is this whole matter (of the Rema) not discussed in the Rambam or the Tur? He answers that the whole discussion does not apply in our time since we have Shas and Poskim:
"ועכשיו אין לך דבר הוראה שאין לה ראיה מאיזה גמרא או מאיזה פוסק. ורחוק הוא להורות בסברא בעלמא. ואי משום שהפוסקים גם מחולקים, הרי באמת ביאר הרמב"ם (הל' ממרים סוף פ"א) בשל תורה הלך אחר המחמיר, ובדרבנן הלך אחרי המיקל. והוסיף הרמ"א (בחו"מ סי' כ"ה) היינו דוקא כשהחולקים הם שווים (במדרגה), ולא קטן נגד גדול, ולא יחיד נגד רבים"

And now there is no area of halacha that does not have a proof-text from some Gemara or some decider. And it is rare to decide based solely on reason. And if [you say that this ruling of the rema is for the case when] the deciders are divided. For this the Rambam explained in Hilchot Mamrim that in matters of Torah Law you should follow the stringent opinion and in matters of Rabbinic Law you should follow the lenient opinion. And the Rema added that this is only when the deciders are of equal stature and not a lesser [decider] against a greater [decider], and not a individual against the many.

What comes out of our words, is that except for the authority of “Mara DeAtra” (who is the greatest authority in that particular region) who decides on a particular matter, a person is not obligated to always act in accordance with the opinion of a particular rav regarding new matters that come up day to day and that acting in such a way is not the simple meaning of what chazal meant by “appoint yourself a rav.” Rather an obligation exists for every ben Torah to learn the halacha to the best of his abilities and to clarify the Truth as best he can. And in the occurrence when he is in doubt regarding what he learned in the name of a particular rav, he should try and ask that same rav. And if this is not possible, he should ask other rabbis. But if it becomes clear to him that the ruling of that rav is incorrect, he should not follow him (on this matter). This is clear according to the words of Rava (בבא בתרא דף קל ע"ב ודף קלא ע"א). (Of course someone who is not a Talmid Chacham should act in accordance with the local rav without making a stipulation that he will clarify the matter with others).

There is another reason why all the people of a particular community should follow the decisions of the “Mara DeAtra” (As long as he did not make one of the mistakes clarified above). This is because of worry regarding “Lo Titgodedu” (Do not separate yourselves into groups). They wrote in the name of Rav Chaim Volozin (כתר ראש, פסקא ל"ז):
ההנהגות, הדין לילך אחר הרוב, ואין לשנות ממנהגם משום 'לא תתגודדו'. מפירוד המנהג נעשה פירוד הלבבות

In matters of custom, one should go after the majority and not change the custom because of Lo Titgodedu. From separation of customs come the separation of hearts.

This is also the opinion of several other deciders

גם מהר"י קארו (בשו"ת אבקת רוכל, סי' רי"ב) וגם הרמ"א (בשו"ע או"ח סי' תצ"ג) סבורים "ולא ינהגו בעיר אחת מקצת מנהג זה, ומקצת מנהג זה, משום 'לא תתגודדו'" עכ"ל. וב"משנה ברורה" (ל"א סוף ס"ק ח; וכן סי' קל"א ס"ק ו) אסר הדבר אפילו בבית כנסת אחת. ואע"פ שמול המחמירים הללו יש הרבה המתירים חלוקי מנהגים של עדות שונות, למרות שהם יחד במקום אחד, מפני "מנהג אבות"? אבל גם הגר"א ("תוספת מעשה רב", ירושלים, שנת ששו"ן, פסקא ר"מ) וגם "חיי אדם" בספרו "שערי צדק" בסוף שער משפטי הארץ, פ"יא סעיף כ"ה) הם בדעה כי מנהג המקום עדיף ממנהג אבות. וסוף כל סוף הרי איסור "לא תתגודדו" הוא דאורייתא (כן כתב מהר"ל, "גור אריה" על דברים יד, א. וכן כתב שם הנצי"ב ב"העמק דבר". וכן משמעות דברי הרמב"ם בהל' ע"ז פי"ב הי"ד)

Thus because of Lo Titgodedu it is proper that all residents of a place should act in one manner, in accordance with the majority of the inhabitants and according to the psak of the rav of the community.

Chazal hinted to this when they said (מסכת דרך ארץ זוטא, סוף פרק חמישי):

לא יהא אדם וכו' יושב בין העומדים ולא עומד בין היושבים, ולא קורא (מקרא) בין השונים (משנה) ולא שונה בין הקוראים. כללו של דבר אל ישנה אדם ממנהג הבריות

A person should not be one who sits among those who are standing or one who stands among those who are sitting. Nor as one who learn mikra among those who learn mishna or one who learns mishna among those learn mikra. As a general rule, a person should not chance from the customs of the people.

And (פסחים נ ע"ב):
"ואל ישנה אדם, מפני המחלוקת"

A person should not change [the customs], because [it will lead to] disputes.

Of course if someone behaves differently than those around him and does this in a modest fashion so that they are not aware that he is behaving differently than they, there is not harm in this. But if he behaves publicly in a manner different than their custom, this can cause damage, and possibly even be forbidden. Many arguments start up because of ones [who change]. Thus we should work towards a unified custom and ruling.

And thus, as long as the Mara DeAtra has not made a fundamental mistake in mishna or in later authorities, we can say with poetic license “appoint yourself a rav” and all should act according to him. But, as we clarified earlier, this is not the manner in which chazal meant their statement to be understood.

Israel: The only country in the world where journalists openly admit their bias

Journalist Yechimovitch: I Was Never Objective and Always Had an Agenda

(IsraelNN.com) "I was never an objective journalists, I have an agenda and I want to have influence." So said state-run radio journalist Shelly Yechimovitch on Army Radio Tuesday morning.

Yechimovitch added that the Labor Party is the only alternative to the political and economic policies of the extreme-right.

Listeners have long complained of strong left-wing bias in Yechimovitch's reporting, but she continued to be employed by state-run media for years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Then the Satan said

In light of the various "peace plans" circulating around the blogosphere. I wanted to bring a poem by Natan Alterman. I will not argue the Torah sources at this point since I feel there is very little chance of convincing anyone on this issue at this time. I just hope that this poem strikes a chord with people.

_ _ אז אמר השטן:הנצור הזה
איך אוכל לו.
איתו האומץ וכשרון המעשה
וכלי מלחמה ותושיה עצה לו.

ואמר:לא אטול את כוחו
ולא מורך אביא בתוכו
ולא ידיו ארפה כמיקדם,
רק זאת אעשה: אכהה מוחו
ושכח שאיתו הצדק.
_ _ _

כך דיבר השטן וכמו
חורו שמים מאימה
בראותם אותו בקומו
לבצע המזימה.

Then Satan said: "How will I overcome
this one who is under siege?
He possesses bravery, ingenuity,
weapons of war and resourcefulness."

And he said: "I'll not sap his strength,
Nor fill his heart with cowardice,
nor overwhelm him with discouragement
As in days gone by.
I will only do this:
I will cast a shadow of dullness over his mind
until he forgets that justice is with him."


This is what the Satan said and it was as if
the heavens trembled in fear
as they saw him rise
to execute his plan.

Kosher business

BSheva has a very interesting article on a relatively new investment company called Hillat Shoham. This is a unique enterprise in that all investments are done according to halacha. Issues of Ribit (interest), supporting shabbat violations, and other problems are all guaranteed to be halachicly valid. Apparently, difficult questions are brought to Rav Elyashiv Shlit"a for halachic consideration.

I don't know the specifics, but I think we should bless this application of Torah to yet another area of the modern world.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Shimon and Levi

In the process of saving their sister Dina from and taking vengeance against Shchem, Shimon and Levi kill the entire population of the city. Since the halahca forbids the murder of gentiles, various commentators try to understand under what halacha were Shimon and Levi permitted to harm the rest of the city which was apparently not guilty of kidnapping. Here is an overview of some of the answers.

The Rambam writes (הלכות מלכים ומלחמות ט:יד):

ומפני זה נתחייבו בל בעלי שכם הריגה שהרי שכם גזל והם ראו וידעו ולא דנוהו

And this is why the citizens of Shchem deserved to be killed. Since Shchem was guilty of kidnapping and they saw and knew [that he kidnapped] and did not judge him.

Rambam claims that the whole city was guilty of abrogating the Noachide law of dinim or setting up courts of justice. Since according to most opinions, the punishment for the abrogation of any of the Noachide laws is death, the whole city was deserving of death for this infraction.

The Ramban disagrees, he quotes the opinion of the Rambam and challenges the Rambam understanding of the nature of the Noachide law of Dinim. He then goes on to challenge the Rambam's approach to the story of Schem (בראשית לד וישלח):
ומה יבקש בהן הרב חיוב, וכי אנשי שכם וכל שבעה עממין לא עובדי עבודה זרה ומגלה עריות ועושים כל תועבות השם היו

Why does the Rav [Rambam] look for [a specific sin] to obligate them [for death]. Were not the people of Shchem and all the seven nations Idol worshipers and [guilty of] sexual indiscretions and committed all that is an abomination to Hashem.

The Ramban basically disagrees that one can be put to death for not imposing justice (especially when the people were probably powerless to execute judgment against their king). He instead proposes that this city was an evil society and every individual was guilty of one form or another of evil behavior.

The Ohr HaChaim gives two explanations of his own (וישלח לד כה). The first is that Shimon and Levi really only intended to kill Shchem but they expected the rest of the city to come and defend their king. Therefore, the rest of the city had the status of Rodfim or people who are pursuing you in order to kill. Because of their status as Rodfim, Shimon and Levi were permitted to kill them. The Ohr HaChaim's second explanation is that the rest of the city were accomplices to the kidnapping. By enabling Shchem to perpetuate his crime, they were also guilty and deserved punishment.

The Maharal in Gur Aryeh gives yet another explanation. He says that Shchem's act is considered an act of war against the Jewish people. Shimon and Levi were on a mission to extract vengeance for Hashem and all the dinim of their mission were only constrained by the halachas of war. Since in war, it is not individual against individual but rather nation against nation, they had no liability for the civilian casualties of Shchem even if individually, those people they killed were not guilty of any specific crime.

If anyone has any more explanations, I would love to hear them.

5000 Hits!


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is real debate in today's frum world possible?


I had two different debates snuffed out before they began in the previous weak. One was with someone you would characterize as modern and the other would probably categorize themselves as chareidi. Both know a lot of Torah.

The MO person refused to discuss the sources with me. All of his arguments were basically based on what he saw as the modern reality. He felt what I was proposing was simply not practical and that the sources are irrelevant since even if I prove to him that the sources support my position, there are too many other issues at stake to actually make my position a relevant one. He then started explaining to me how I was falling into the chareidi trap of trying to impose an ideal halacha upon an imperfect world and that I have to realize the nuances of modern life.

The chareidi person basically argued to me that a certain godol took a position different than the one I was advocating and therefore what I say is irrelevant. When I pointed out that other gedolim take my position and that I did not just make it up out of thin air, I was accosted with proclamations as to which godol is greater. I tried to veer the conversation away from a futile effort to judge gadlut and asked the person if he thought that when gedolim get together the conversation goes like this:

Gadol A: I say the halacha is A
Gadol B: I disagree, it is B
Gadol A: I am a bigger baki in gemara
Gadol B: Well, I know more rishonim than you
Gadol A: That might be true, but gadol C testified that I am always right
Gadol B: Nobody holds by gadol C

... Ok, this dialog is getting way too painful to write. He then went on to tell me that I was falling into the MO trap of putting more weight on my own learning than that of the gedolim. I was glad to know that I somehow managed to simultaneously fall into both MO and chareidi traps.

In both cases I tried to veer the conversation to a discussion of primary sources and an analysis of how they apply to our world. I both cases, the other side would not let the conversation deal with the actual Torah sources. Why is this so? Before I became religious, I always imagined a Beit Midrash as a place where the Torah is studied and debated. After I became religious, I realized that it is often learned, but positions are rarely debated in any real depth.

Is this a failure of chinuch? Has anyone else had similar experiences? I would love some feedback on this one. I really do not know where these attitudes come from.

[UPDATE - I wanted to avoid writing on specific issues in order to keep the topic on focus. However, due to comments that this post is too vague, I will divulge that the topic discussed was the halachas of Eruvin. The MO person basically took the position that Eruvin were a necessary component of modern religious society so an halachic way must be found. The chareidi position was that since several (Lithuanian) gedolim took a position against a local eruv, it should not be used. Neither was at all concerned with whether the eruv should be valid or not based on rishonim and achronim.]

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yaakov's ladder

A beautiful vort on the parsha is told over by Rav Yosef Carmel:

When Yaakov's dream is over, Yaakov wakes up and reacts (בראשית כח:טז):

וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב מִשְּׁנָתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה' בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי

And Yaakov awaked out of his sleep, and he said: 'Surely the Hashem is in this place; and I knew it not.'

The Torah add immediately after (שם יז)
וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אלוקים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם

And he was afraid, and said: 'How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.'

What is the meaning of this fear? Is it connected to the realization in the previous pasuk? What makes it even more difficult to understand this fear is Hashem's promise to Yaakov in the dream (שם טו):
וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָך

And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.'

What room is there for Yaakov to fear after such a clear promise. The Radak explains the fear as awe in the face of that which is lofty. To the Radak, the fear is a result of the amazing vision that he saw and his perception of the holiness of the location in which he was.

Chazal, however, see this fear as a result of a result of a particular interpretation of the dream. The dream, according to the midrash, is not just one that relates to Yaakov as an individual but rather on that relates to the entire history of the Jewish people. The angels are not just guardians for Yaakov the Tzaddik but rather representatives of the various nations and empires the Jewish people will encounter throughout their history.

Lets look at the text of the midrash (ויקרא רבה כט:ב):
אמר רבי ברכיה ור' חלבו ור' שמעון בן יוחאי בשם ר' מאיר מלמד שהראה הקב"ה ליעקב שרה של בבל עולה ויורד של מדי עולה ויורד ושל יון עולה ויורד ושל אדום עולה ויורד. אמר הקב"ה ליעקב אף אתה עולה, באותה שעה נתיירא יעקב אבינו ואמר שמא ח"ו כשם שלאלו ירידה אף לי כן, אמר לו הקב"ה ואתה אל תירא אם אתה עולה אין לך ירידה עולמית לא האמין ולא עלה

Rabbi Barchia and Rabbi Chelbo and Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai all said in the name of Rabbi Meir: This teaches that Hashem showed Yaakov the representative angel of Bavel go up and go down, the [angel of] Madai go up and go down, the [angel of] Yavan go up and go down, and [the angel] of Edom go up and go down. Hashem said to Yaakov: 'you shall also go up,' at that moment Yaakov [became] afraid and said: 'perhaps, just as these [angels] also descended, the same will happen to me.' Hashem answered him: 'You, don't fear. If you ascend, you shall never descend.' Yaakov did not believe and he did not ascend.

In order to live as a free nation in their own land, the nation had to struggle with various empires: Babylon, Persian, Helenism/Greek, and Roman. The struggle was harsh and at times the darkness of exile and the suffering seemed to have no end. Nations that received world domination seemed to have received the right to rule for all times. In the dream of Yaakov is a great message that after every ascension of an empire, it will eventually descend. All these Empires crumbled and are no more. Yaakov's invitation to ascend implies that in the end of the road, in the end of days, the nation that comes from him and which will bring the world to its perfection
might also share the same fate as these empires.

Whoever ascended to the top of the ladder in the end came crumbling down. This is what Yaakov feared and this fear affected all subsequent generations! Jewish history could have been very different if Yaakov would have found courage and ascended. This idea is made even more explicit in the end of the midrash:
א"ר ברכיה ור' חלבו בשם רשב"י ר' מאיר היה דורש...אמר לו הקב"ה אלו האמנת ועלית עוד, לא ירדת ועכשיו שלא האמנת ולא עלית עתידין בניך שיהו משתעבדין בד' מלכיות בעולם הזה במסים ובארנוניות ובזימיות ובגלגליות (כנראה מכשירי עינויים). באותה שעה נתיירא יעקב אמר לפני הקב"ה רבש"ע יכול לעולם אמר לו (ירמיה ל) ואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק

Rabbi Barchia and Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai: Rabbi Meir would expound ... Hashem said to him [Yaakov]: 'If you would have believed and ascended more, you would not have descended. Now that you did not believe and did not ascend, your children are destines to be enslaved to the 4 empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) through various taxes and forms of torture.' At that moment Yaakov [became] afraid. He said to Hashem: 'Master of the Universe, could this [enslavement] be forever?' Hashem answered him: 'Don't fear Israel! For I shall save you from afar.'

The lesson we can get from this for all generations is that our level of Emuna is what decides the level of our achievements. When a person merits to hear the voice of Hashem commanding him 'Ascend!' and he believes and ascends, this is what allows him to be successful.

May we merit so see the ascent after which there will be no more falls.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On the efficacy of bans and changing reality

onthemainline has a very insightful post on the effectiveness of bans in our day in age.

Click here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Honor of the Torah

Rael Levinsohn emailed me a letter written by the Chafetz Chaim's son-in-law to Rav Kook during Rav Kook's lifetime. We are posing it on both our blogs. See Rael's post here. I was thinking of writing a series of posts on Kavod HaTorah and thought this would be a good start (From אגרות לראי"ה, p. 566):

Rav Aharon HaKohen
Author of the book ‘Avodat HaKorbanot’
Son in law of the Gaon Israel Meir HaKohen Shlit”a author of the book Chafetz Chaim and Mishna Brura
Tel Aviv, Eretz Yisrael

With Hashem’s help, 5688 (1928)

Even though my heart was always greatly pained when people who claim to be observant of Torah and mitzvoth dare to disparage the brilliant and righteous, pious and modest, leader of the land of Israel, our teacher Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook Shlit”a – I refrained from public protest regarding the honor of the Torah. [This is because] I know that my master and teacher, the Chafetz Chaim Shlit”a – who honors and is very fond of the honorable Gaon Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Shlit”a and whose heart was greatly sickened when he heard of the persecutions against [the Rav] – did not come out with public rebuke regarding this, saying that silence regarding such matters and the reduction of their publicity is [the proper way] to repair them – [that is] to lessen and reduce their value. (nevertheless, no one dares utter words of disparagement against our teacher Rav Avaraham Yitzchak HaKohen Shlit”a in front of our master[, the Chafetz Chaim,] and he would turn his eyes with contempt from any posters [disparaging Rav Kook -ed]).

However, when I recently saw that a periodical that has appeared – which arrogantly dares to call itself “meeting place of the sages” – wrote horrible, cursed, and blasphemous words against our teacher Rav Avaraham Yitzchak HaKohen Shlit”a – [words which] are forbidden to even put in print – I find it a holy obligation in my soul not to be silent (as is explicit in the Rambam הלכות ת"ת פ"ו הל' יא-יב). [This is because] someone who disparages a Torah scholar has no portion in the world to come, and is in the category of one who “despises the Word of Hashem” (כי דבר ה' בזה), and we are obligated to banish him. [And this is especially true regarding] this brilliant and pious [rav] – that it is forbidden to remain silent [on this matter] and we must go out and rebuke this humiliation of the Torah, and join ourselves to the protest and great anger of the rabbis and sages of the Holy Land and the exile regarding these words of villainy. [Thus] we should not see [that which is] Holy destroyed, G-d Forbid.

And may Hashem, may His Name be Blessed, remove the disgrace from the children of Israel and raise the honor of our Holy Torah. These are the words [of one] who writes with a wounded and agitated heart regarding the honor of our holy Torah which is [being] given over to disgrace.

Aharon HaKohen
Son in law of the brilliant Rav, the righteous Chafetz Chaim, Shlit”a

Leisure time in Podova

onthemainline reports about a new psak against computer games and computer movies.

While I am sure that there are many games and movies that can be very damaging. The language of the psak seems to imply that all liesurly activity is assur.

I find this interesting since I have been going through the letters, poems, and plays of the ramchal lately. Apparently in Podova, whenever a Jew would be granted a doctorate from the local university, they would throw him a big party and write poems in his honor. Within each poem there lay a riddle which the party's participants would try to solve with the correct solution earning the person a prize.

What amazes me about these letters and poems is how natual social life seemed to be integrated with deep religious meaning for the Ramchal. In much of religious society today, there seems to be an unnatural break between leisurely life and religious life. There is the kiddush and the shiur and the 2 often don't mix. I think that the model of social life that is reflected in these writings of the Ramchal should be investigated further to see what we can learn from this giant of Jewish thought.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Talmudic manuscripts

I found a link to a great project that I knew nothing about.

If you want to view the existing handwritten manuscripts for any daf of the Gemara, it is now available online.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Two nations are in your womb

When Rivka's pregnancy becomes difficult she asks Hashem why she is suffering. The answer that is given is a little odd (בראשית כה:כג):

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה לָהּ, שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ, וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים, מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ

And Hashem said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb; and two regimes from your insides shall be separated ...'

What was Rivka's concern and how does this answer alleviate that concern? A famous midrash informs us that the baby would get agitated whenever she passed by a beit midrash and also whenever she passed by a house of idol worship. She was worried about the nature of her child. The difficulty with this explanation is the answer that she is given. How does the fact that instead of one child there are two bring her any peace? All that she finds out is that she had one bad apple in her womb.

What obfuscates things further is another midrash that does not seem to fit at all. Rashi brings the gemara (ע"ז יא ע"ב):

גיים כתיב, אלו אנטונינוס ורבי שלא פסקו מעל שולחנם לא צנון ולא חזרת לא בימות החמה ולא בימות הגשמים

It is spelled גֵיִים, 'proud ones.' These are Antoninus and Rabbi - for neither radish nor horseradish ceased [to be found] on their tables neither during the sunny season nor during the rainy season.

What in the world does that have to do with Rivka's concern? The Maharal has a brilliant explanation in Gur Aryeh. He explains that Rivka's natural concern after hearing that she was having twins was that history was repeating itself. She remembered the behavior of Ishmael all too well and was deeply concerned that she was bringing another "Pereh Adam", a wild beast of a man, into the world. The midrash explains that she was informed that she was having two גֵיִים, proud men. Edom might be a rasha but he will be a human rasha and not a barbarian. An appreciation for that which separates man from animal (eating at designated place, appreciating delicacies such as radish) is a level of moral sensitivity in and of itself and thus curtails some of the baser behavior men can exhibit even in a person with low moral character. Thus there will be a common bond of humanity between Edom and Israel that is not shared with Ishmael.