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Monday, October 31, 2005

The nature of the blogosphere

I am pretty new to the whole blog thing. My impression so far is that the most popular blogs seems to be MO blogs where an actual Torah source is a rare find. To be fair there are many UO blogs that are equally barren of sources. These tend to be the more extreme ones. On the whole MO gamut, the only blog I found that is consistently intelligent is hirhurim (Although I wonder whether it should be classified as MO).

My question is: Why do the MO bring so few sources. Is it that they are generally ignorant in learning? Is it that they don't really care what the Torah says? I find that whenever someone takes a strong Torah position on these blogs, the MOs write something like: "you can use the Torah to uphold any position" or sometimes they descend into ad-homonym attacks.

Another aspect of these blogs is a tremendous hostility towards Chareidim. GH recently tried to analyze the causes of this hostility (in the MO world in general, not just in the blogosphere) but the post ends up almost justifying hatred towards chareidim. Is this just a result of the hatred of the Am HaAretz for the talmid chacham? I don't really think so. I don't sense a hatred towards Torah learning per say in any of these blogs but rather an aversion to any definitively non-PC positions taken from the Torah. What comes to mind is DB's tremendous hostility to Torah-based conservative political positions such as opposing abortions or right-wing Israeli politics. In other words, as long as Torah learning deals only in the abstract, it is accepted and even loved.

A third aspect that I have noticed is a tremendous hostility towards kiruv efforts of any kind. I am not talking about criticisms of one method or another but rather a total disdain for kiruv as a concept. I think that many of the MO blogs are FFB and I often find myself doubting whether they would even be religious if they were not born into it. So what is it? self-hate? embarrassment about some of the arguments the kiruv organizations make in the name of Torah? Are these people really more tolerant towards secular atheist democrats than they are towards other groups of religious Jews?

I sometimes even find myself wondering what kind of religious life these individuals lead. Do they learn regularly? What do they learn? Do they have spiritual goals? What are they? I am pretty fascinated by this virtual community of obviously intelligent people who remain mostly anonymous to each other.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Reality check

Godolhador writes:

So I spent part of Succot in the occupied Terror-tories, a.k.a Yehudah veShomron, in a typical middle of the road dati-leumi type Yishuv. The view was beautiful, and the people were friendly. They all seemed nice and normal, but on speaking to them, they were very brain washed about the overall situation. Of course they accused me of being brain washed by the liberal US media, so I didn't get very far in my arguments with them. But they believe passionately in our right to keep the territories, no matter what. When I asked them what are we going to do with 1 million hostile Palestinians, they responded that they don't have to live here and they can go someplace else. Where exactly? Dearborn? Lebanon? Ridiculous.

Lets take a look at these issues from 2 perspectives. 1st a pure ideal Torah perspective. 2nd a "realistic" perspective.

The Halacha is clear that unless gentiles meet certain criteria, they may not live in the land of Israel. There is a basic disagreement among the rishonim regarding what these criteria are. On the one end, the Rambam (Avoda Zara, 10:9) holds that unless a gentile accepts all 7 noahide laws in front of a Beit-Din he may not live in the land. On the other end, there is the Raavad and Rashi who hold that if the gentile does not practice idolatry then he may live in the land.

There is another condition though, and this is one that ALL rishonim agree on. If a gentile meets the above criteria, then he must still accept upon himself מס ועבדות (Special tax and servitude). The servitude that they must accept is described by the Rambam (Melachim, 6:2):

והעבדות שיקבלו--היא שיהיו נבזים ושפלים למטה, ולא ירימו ראש בישראל, אלא יהיו כבושים תחת ידם; ולא יתמנו על ישראל, לשום דבר בעולם.

The servitude means that they should be lowly and not lift up their head in Israel, rather be conquered by [Israel]. And they should not be appointed to any position of authority over a Jew, under any circumstances.

Based on these sources Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook Zt"l paskened that a Muslim Arab may live in the land as long as he accepts that the land belongs to the Jews and that he is living there only through our good graces.

If we are to apply these principles to the current situation, the Torah demands that the vast majority of Arabs be driven out of the land. Those who pledge loyalty to the Jewish state can be allowed to stay through the lenient opinions of Rashi and Raavad.

From a practical perspective, GH claims that the transfer of 1 million Arabs from the land is not realistic. This ignores the fact that transfer of populations has worked several times this century (Poland/Germany, Czech/Germany, Greece/Turkey, India/Pakistan). It also ignores a Haifa university study that showed (in June/04) that 64% of the Jews in Israel support the transfer of Arabs. The same study showed the 25% of Jews would vote for the Kach party (!) if such a party was allowed to run in the Israeli "democracy." This means that any claim that there is no support for transfer in the Israeli public is absolutely false. What is missing is a leader that can turn these potential votes into actual action. As far as the logistics of such a transfer are concerned. Well, we already saw in 48 and 67 how fast the Arabs know to run when they are convinced the Jews will actually use the strength that Hashem granted us.

Also, we can not ignore that this is really the only choice we have left. The Oslo path has already led to disaster after disaster. thousands murdered, even more injured, tens of thousands of lives ruined. The expulsion of Jews from Azza will just motivate the murderers to work a little harder. Basically, the path of Israel ever since the Yom Kippur war has been a dismal failure. So why not support that which the Torah demands? That is something only godolhador can answer himself.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The fruit and the tree

In the Parsha (1:11), Hashem commands the earth to give forth "fruit trees producing fruit" The earth, however is described (1:12) as giving forth "trees producing fruit"

The midrash explains that the original intention of creation was that the tree itself would be flavorful just like the fruit. The result in creation however was that flavor would only be found in the fruit, not the tree. (ב"ר ה, ט).

A different midrash (that I was unable to locate) informs us the in messianic times, the tree will return to taste the same as its fruit.

Maran Harav Kook Zt"l explains in the 6th chapter of Orot HaTeshuva that the tree itself represents the means while the fruit represents the ends. In an unredeemed world, we appreciate the results of our daily struggles. We set good goals for ourselves and feel the taste of their goodness as we draw near to meeting those goals. These lofty ideals give meaning and purpose to our mundane existence which unfortunately, takes up most of our day. In other words, the means is only as spiritual to the extant that we are focused on the end result.

In the future, however, we will see the connection between our efforts and their results so clearly that the full sublime beauty of the goal will be felt during every mundane moment. The walls between the physical and spiritual will fall and the whole world will be permeated with the active presence of Hashem. Then, "the bark of the tree will taste like the fruit."

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I just read an article on Arutz Sheva about a 16 year old girl who has sat in jail for over 60 days because she refuses to be tried in the secular Israeli court. She demands to only stand trial in a Torah-based Beit Din.

This is an area of Halacha that is often ignored. The Gemmara (גיטין פח ע"ב) says on the pasuk "ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם" (These are the laws you shall bring before them):

"לפניהם - ולא לפני גויים, לפניהם - ולא לפני הדיוטות"

"Before THEM and not before gentile courts. Before THEM and not before the unlearned."

The implication is that barring extraordinary circumstances, a Jew must make an effort to use Jewish courts. More than that, a Jew must make an effort to find Jewish courts that apply Jewish Law.

The Mechaber counts the appointment of a judge who uses non-Torah standards as a violation of a negative prohibition. In Choshen Mispat (סי' ח, א):

"Anyone who appoints a judge who is unjust or who is not wise in Torah or who does not meet the proper qualifications (that a Dayan must meet), Even if this person is entirely pleasant and has many other good qualities. Nonetheless, the one who appointed him transgresses a negative commandment."

The Rema qualifies this ruling a bit:

"In towns where there are no sages who qualify as Dayanim or where the entire population are ignoramuses. If not establishing a court will lead people to go to Gentile courts, then the people select the most qualified members of the community. Even if these judges do not meet the standards of Dayanim, since the town folk accepted their judgment, no one is allowed to disqualify them."

The Mechaber finished the halacha with a statement that is not qualified by the Rema:

"Any judge who is appointed for profit. It is forbidden to stand before him. Further, it is a mitzvah to speak disparagingly of him."

Thus we have 3 categories of judges:

  1. A judge who judges according to Torah law.
  2. A judge who is ignorant of Torah law but the people accept his judgment as fair.
  3. A corrupt judge who has no real standing according to Torah law.

In the current situation in Israel, can we really say that the Rema's heter can apply? A judge of type 2 can only be legitimate, it seems, if there is no judge of type 1 to be found. Baruch Hashem, we have many great Torah scholars in Eretz Israel today. Further, even if we would make the argument that judge type 1 can not be found, then we still have to decide if the average secular judge in Israel falls into category 2 or 3. Since the Israeli courts systematically seem to favor Arab rights over Jewish rights, it is hard to argue that the Israeli court system is one that is accepted by most of the community it presides over.

This is in no way a complete treatment of the topic. Hopefully we will all have more kavanah when davening to Hashem to restore our Judges as they were before.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mitzvat Yeshuv HaAretz I

It is written in Sifri (ראה נג):

מעשה ברבי יהודה בן בתירא ורבי מתיא בן חרש ורבי חנניה בן אחי רבי יהושע ורבי נתן, שהיו יוצאים לחוץ לארץ, והגיעו לפלטיא, וזכרו את ארץ ישראל, זקפו עיניהם וזלגו דמעותיהם וקרעו בגדיהם, וקראו את המקרא הזה (דברים יא, לא-לב): "וִירִשְׁתֶּם אֹתָהּ וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֵת כָּל הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים". אמרו: "ישיבת ארץ ישראל שקולה כנגד כל המצוות שבתורה", וחזרו ובאו להם לארץ ישראל.

It is told regarding Rabbi Yehuda ben Bateira and Rabbi Mattya ben Harash and Rabbi Hannanya ben Ahi, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Nattan. They were leaving the Land of Israel. When they arrived at Paltia (presumably outside of the Land), they remembered the Land of Israel, they lifted their eyes, started shedding tears, and recited the following verse (Deut. 11:31-32) "You shall inherit the Land and dwell in it. You shall be careful to fulfill all the laws and statutes." They said: "The settlement of the Land of Israel is equivalent to all the commandments of the Torah." They turned back and came into the Land of Israel.

I believe that this is the earliest source in the Oral Torah for the commandment of settling the land of Israel. I will try to post other sources from the Tannaim and Amoraim and then start with the Rishonim on the topic.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The lowly arava

The Gemara in Sukkot 43b presents the following story (rough translation):

One time the 7th day of Sukkot fell out on the Shabbat and bundles of Aravot were brought out before the Shabbat and placed in the Temple courtyard. The Baytusim (A sect that disagreed with the Rabbis regarding the ruling that the custom of the aravot is done even on Shabbat) noticed this and placed the aravot under rocks (The rocks are muktze and can not be moved on the Shabbat so the aravot could not be used the next day). The next day Amei HaAretz (ignoramuses who were presumably not knowledgeable in the laws of muktze) noticed the aravot and removed them from under the rocks. The Kohanim took the aravot and placed them at the sides of the Temple alter.

In Moadei Reiya, pg 111-113, Maran Harav Kook Zt"l explains this story as an example of how the natural instinct of the common folk, ignorant in Torah but for whom the honor of the Torah is of great importance, saved the Rabbis from a tremendous dilemma. If the Rabbis would have instructed to remove the aravot from under the rocks, this would have been seen as an abolishment of the laws of muktze. If on the other hand the aravot would have not been used, it would have seemed as an agreement to the position of the Baitusim.

The natural instinct of the ignoramuses was to simply undo the insult that the Baitusim inflicted upon the sages. These simple Jews, not knowledgeable enough to understand all of the Halachic issues involved, can be a positive force in the world. A natural Jewish instinct is an important (though not sufficient) quality in a healthy spiritual life.

When we beat the arava on the ground, we are not punishing it. Rather we are demonstrating that this natural instinct (represented by the arava that in turn represents the ignoramus who respects the Torah) is a real force in the world and can be the cause of good. This force must be respected and channeled towards constructive ends.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

False choices

There is a false perception in the religious world that a individual has 2 paths to choose.

  1. A modern orthodox life that largely disregards the opinions of Gedolei Torah regarding one's personal and communal life. This community identifies with the national mission of the Jewish people in an abstract fashion but is often swayed by the opinions of the gentile world and can not be counted upon to stand up for Torah ideas and ideals when they are contridicted by modern ethical thinking.

  2. A Chareidi life that largely disregards the modern world, at least in the realm of moral thought and cultural participation. This community upholds the honor of their own Gedolei Torah but has a tendency to de-legitimize the Torah opinions of Gedolim who view things differently. This community sometimes descends into historical revisionism and may sometimes "paint the target around the arrow." This community generally stresses the importance of personal mitzvot and Torah study but often ignores its responsibility towards the national mission of the Jewish people. In some segments of this community, the mitzvah of yeshuv Eretz Israel has been completely ignored.
These choices should be seen for what they are: false choices.

While on a societal level, it is true that most communities fall into one of these categories, a third option is gaining strength in Eretz Israel. Torah communities that uphold the ideology of Maran HaRav Kook Zt"l have been established in Israel during the past few decades. Communities that uphold the standards of Torah learning and observance while still feeling a responsibility towards those mitzvahs that apply on a national level.

This blog hopes to explore current issues from a Torah perspective that is holistic. All legitimate Torah sources and arguments are welcome. Outright statements of Kefira will not be tolerated and will get your comment deleted. Also this blog will not tolerate any Bizui Talmidei chachamim (disparaging statements regarding Torah sages) whether the comment is about Rav Soloveitchik or the Satmar Rav, all comments must be respectful.

I hope you will find the posts enlightening and thought provoking. I will certainly try to keep them so.