Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nach Yomi Starts Today

Chodesh Tov!

Just a reminder that Nach Yomi starts today, not sure if I'll be blogging about it or not (I probably will once in a while) but hatzlacha rabah to those starting. I've received a few e-mails from outside sources announcing the project, there seems to be quite a buzz around for this. Not only because Rav Norin, though I don't know him, seems to be quite a respected person but also that the idea is a beautiful one.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Elections

The blogsphere has been very active with comments on the elections and I'd like to share my $.02. I think Harry is onto something, the Israeli public for better or for worse feels that it's time for a dramatic change. Most of the Israeli voting population wants an end to the Settlements, a very difficult decision to be sure.

While driving to Efrat this summer with a cousin of mine whose family is entirely left wing we had a discussion about the Fence; he said "I hate the fence, but it works. It's time for change". I have to whole heartedly agree.

I hate that our land must be divided and re-divided, but it must be. The number of terrorist attacks has gone down dramatically in large part due to the wall. I don't know what the route should be, I don't know how I feel about excluding/including Ariel and other towns. All I know is that it's what Israel needs to do.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Shulchan Aruch Project

One of Wikipedia's sister sites has embarked on the Shulchan Aruch project. This is an attempt to translate the entire Shulchan Aruch (side by side with the Hebrew). I've started to help, but they definitely need more volunteers.

You don't need to be able to type in Hebrew to help, just do the translation and someone else will come in to fix it up after you.
The Shulchan Aruch has never been translated into English in its entirety, though parts of it have (especially Orach Chaim). None of the partial translation are free to use (i.e. free content or in the public domain).

The Hebrew text is online here. The goal of this Wikisource text project is to copy that Hebrew text here (it is in the public domain), and add English translations, section by section, as people look up and learn the various simanim.

Thanks for your help with this project!
We all learn some SA at some point, just come in and add it to the website. Some simanim in the The Hebrew Project have the Mishna Berura too.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Haftarat Parshat HaChodesh

This week's Haftorah is the prophecy regarding the building of Beit Shlishi, Yechezkel's vision for the future. As part of the redemption of B'nai Yisrael the new Temple will be the Temple that lasts forever, a בית עולמים.

The Radak tells us that the coming redemption will also occur on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The story of Pesach is above all the story of the founding of a nation. Leading up to Pesach we learn about a different aspect of the founding of the nation; the purification, the census, and our common history. Now we have the future, the building of the Temple just like the building of the משכן in the desert; a place for the on going revelation from

Rav Hirsch points out that this is not a coincidence. We specifically read this section of Yechezkel to remind us of the future, to give us "the Divine instructions for the service at the Temple which is to be consecrated on that day". The message here is hope, there is a future. Pesach makes us a nation, it tells our history, now we're reading about our future.

Rosh Chodesh Nissan is not only the date of the redemption from Mitzrayim, but will also be the date when we return from exile. We may be moving back to Eretz Yisrael now, but until we have Beit Shlishi we are not redeemed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

One More for the List

A little over a month ago ADDeRabbi posted about Women's seminaries headed by women.

Well there's another one to add to the list:
Mrs. Shani Taragin has been named the new Rosh Beit Midradsh at Midreshet Lindenbaum.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Nach Yomi

I will be (i"yh and b"n) starting the Nach Yomi project on March 30th. I do not know who Rav Avraham Norin is, but his idea is a great one. I have many issues with Daf Yomi one of them being the retention rate in your average hour-long shiur. Daf Yomi, while a great way for not-often-studied Masechtot like Zevachim to get learned once in a while and for serious scholars to review their knowledge; for most people in the shiurim the time could be better spent. The TaNaKh is the source of our history and the TaNaKh knowledge among Jews is disgusting, a Nach Yomi cycle would positively affect the community at large more than the Daf Yomi cycle is.

I hope that I am able to complete this and I hope even more so that Nach Yomi is successful.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Alright this bugs me

While looking through pictures of my sisters current trip to Israel I noticed this hanging on her apartment wall. I really like Matisyahu, but you don't spell his name that way in Hebrew. Argh.

Haftarat Shabat Parah

[This is the third in the series of weekly Haftorah posts; please forgive my lapse last week, I was away for shabbos]

This week's Haftorah comes from Yehezkel, a section dealing with national purity. The connection between this Haftorah and Parshat Parah is the way that Yehezkel describes the purification process, but the Haftorah itself is describing more than just purification.

The Haftorah divides itself neatly into three parts 1: the purification process 2: the goal and the way it is to be attained 3: God will purify Israel even though it's failed so far in the task.

A great deal is written on the first two segments so I'll deal with part three. This section is describing a forced purification one that is not supposed to happen unless there is a great need. This prophecy is describing a time when the Jewish people are so impure that God has to take it upon himself to fix the situation. Sometimes you find parents fixing the mistakes of their children when they've fallen to a point that they can't pull themselves out of. This is not one of those times.
Not for your sakes do I do it, says my Lord, the God who revealed His Love in dealing out justice, be it known unto you, be ashamed and confounded for your ways, the children of Israel. (36:32)

Then the nations that are left round about you will recognize that I, God have built up the ruined places and have planted the deserted ones, I, God have spoken it and I will do it.(36:36)
God here is telling b'nai Yisrael that "I'm going to fix everything you did wrong, I'm going to purify you, rebuild your cities, replant your land; but the nations will know that I did it, not for you, but for myself for you disgraced my name". This action of God's is not selfish, but rather Israel forgot about marit ayin how their actions are perceived. B'nai Israel forgot what ohr l'goyim means, how they're supposed to be the "priests of mankind" (as Rav Hirsch describes them). Sometimes it is necessary to take things into your own hands and fix it - not often, but on occasion - in such a scenario the teacher/parent should explain his actions and that is what God does here in the previous sections. How purity works, what should be, and why I'm in this one situation not doing that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

הטוב והמיטיב

What does it mean to describe God as "good"? In a philosophical light, to describe God as good is trivial it doesn't tell us anything about God. This is one of the major problems brought up in Ethical Philosophy and the Euthyphro Problem.

If it doesn't tell us anything about God, then why do we refer to God as good? Probably because it can tell us something about our relationship to God. God is the source of everything, good and evil.
...If we take the position that God's actions are just and good, then can we not infer something about the author of these actions, that His nature is just and good, or... Something that can be described as "just" and "good"? Maimonidies would respond that we can make the inference, but we haven't really learned anything new about the divine nature, just as we haven't learned anything new about fire's nature to burn when we observe that fire burns. What we want to know is the explanation why fire burns; we want to understand what it is about fire that, given the right conditions, it must burn. While we may be able to do this in the case of fire, we cannot explain God in that way.
Charles Manekin "On Maimonides" p.28
In other words, we want to know why God is good. Is good a term that we describe ourselves with and apply it towards God?
God's oneness implies not merely unity or simplicity but uniqueness. There is no relation between God and his creatures; hence He shares nothing in common with them...If that is the case, continues Maimonides, then
the terms "“knowledge","“power","“will", and "life",” as applied to Him, may He be exalted, and to all those possessing knowledge, power, will, and life, are purely equivocal, so that their meaning when they are predicated of Him is in no way like their meaning in other applications (1.56, p. 131).
It is not sufficient to say, for example, that God is infinitely wiser than we are. For that still implies that God and we share something in common called "“wisdom"” (although He has a lot more of it than we have!) So when we describe God as "wise",” we have to add something like the qualifying phrase, by "‘wise" we mean something entirely different from what we mean when we use "wise" with reference to us.
Manekin p.29
So in describing God as being good, we're relating to God the way we would relate to each other, but this is only because of our limited capability in comprehending God. In reality God's goodness is far beyond anything that we could imagine.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Shechita Pictures

One of my "interests" is shechita, I don't think I would ever do it, but I like to really know what goes on. I came across this website (graphic) which shows a step-by-step trip to a slaughterhouse. It is graphic, but also very informative; complete with Shulchan Aruch references. I don't know enough about Shechita to understand all the halachot but I get the general idea for most of the actions.

While I'm on the subject of Shechita, the Rubashkin's shechita scandal has been bothering me for a long time. I'll post more about it at a later time, but I did ask a friend (a Rav) of mine who is a shochet and mentioned that nothing in the PETA video is "wrong". Just old fashioned or using leniencies that he would advise against. Okay, maybe it isn't treif, but I still won't eat it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Evangelical Connection

There is a strong sentiment in the Zionist bloc that evangelical Christians "may be crazy, but they're our friends".

You clearly have never heard them speak.

I was recently flipping through the TV and came across Zola Levitt, an evangelical missionary who lives in Dallas and takes people on tours of Greece and Israel. Zola went into a tirade about the current situation with the Palestinians commenting that "Israel can handle them". Then Iran would attack Israel "Israel could handle them too. If the entire Arab world attacked, Israel could handle them too. It would bring the war of Gog and MaGog."

Yes, they've got money. Yes, they want to bring that money to Israel. I like Israel and I like Israel having money, but not when the people giving the money don't want peace. They want Armageddon. Evangelical Christians are not people that we want to be in bed with. They want to convert us and want to bring about a war to which they will not fight in.

הוֹשִׁיעָה אֶת עָמֶךָ

Saturday, March 11, 2006

CJLS Tables Discussion

On Friday, the CJLS decided to table discussion on the "admittance of homosexuals to Rabbinical/Cantorial School" until December.

I hear from a friend who is a rabbinical student at JTS that nearly 80% of the school thinks they should allow it in some form or fashion. He also does not believe that it will cause a fragmentation of the Conservative Movement, but we'll see.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Kotel Outside of the Old City walls?

GH post a Jerusalem Post article about a Haredi plan to build a section of the Kotel outside of the Old City walls to keep men and women separate.

I get it, Haredim are turning all of us into
Opus Dei.

"Sometimes I feel like they're in a different religion." - P.F [re:
The Lakewood Takanot]. I think it's applicable here too.

Yes yes, I know that part is a spoof - in reality they're planning to extend the "prayer area" by 600 square meters. I still find it ridiculous.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

CJLS on Homosexuality

The Committee of Jewish Laws and Standards of the Conservative Movement has decided to finally judge on the nature of homosexuals and the Conservative Movement. A little history is needed to place this in context:

On March 25th, 1992 the CJLS adopted a "Consensus Statement of Policy Regarding Homosexual Jews in the Conservative Movement" which stated

  1. Conservative Rabbis will not officiate at Homosexual Weddings
  2. JTS will not admit homosexuals, there will not be any "witch hunts" for current students either
  3. Individual Rabbis will have the burden on judging the ability for a homosexual to be a communal figure
  4. Individual Rabbis will have to decide whether to give aaliyot or other honors to homosexual congregation members
  5. The Affirmation that Gay and Lesbians are welcome in their synagogues
This was reaffirmed on April 7th, 2005. There are 25 members on the CJLS, here are selections from three members who are still on the Committee.
Rabbi Joel Roth:
The halakhically committed Jewish community, qua community and acting through its communal institutions, ought not take any act, which can reasonably be understood to imply the halakhic coequality, validation, or acceptability of a homosexual lifestyle. It recognizes the legitimacy of the ongoing union of a couple through the institution of marriage. Where there can be no halakhic legitimacy to the union, no matter how loving and caring, there can be no marriage. The halakhic community, therefore, should not legitimate such unions by performing or recognizing affirmation ceremonies. The focus must be on the behavior, not on the individuals who engage in the behavior. We disapprove of the behaviors, not of the people.
Elliot Dorff:
The tasks would be two-fold, probably accomplished in different ways and by different people: (1) to establish Jewish sexual standards for our time, recognizing in that process the values of the tradition, the social realities of modern life, and the new knowledge we have of the formation of sexual orientations; and (2) to educate our constituency as to the product of our deliberations so that they will at least know that Judaism, in this area as in all others, continues to have something important to say to them even if one is not fully complying with its ideal norms.

I happen to dislike many of Dorff's opinions and this is no different. I don't like his idea that Jewish sexual standards need to be updated. I do agree that the "constituency" needs to be educated and shown that Judaism is still important, but this is not the issue to be the litmus test.
Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner:
The burden of overturning Torah's text, that we act for the survival of Israel, was not met by the private anguish that we heard. I was dismayed, however, by the cavalier dismissal of the voice of Vayikra that was heard in some of our discussions. Others can brand Vayikra as a product of "excessive priestly zeal." We consider it Torah. We choose, as our tradition would have it, to read this very prohibition on Yom Kippur. To disregard this level of commandment is to set every other commandment at risk. We do so at our peril.

Word on the street (121st and Broadway) that the CJLS will approve some measure to state that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle for Jews. Most Rabbinical Students think this is a necessary change for the Conservative Movement (coincidentally students are forbidden to drive on Shabbat), I foresee this is the final straw that will eventually break the movement in two, then again I don't have ruach hakodesh nor am I a prophet, so what do I know?

Monday, March 06, 2006

What to do with Hamas?

I'm very conflicted about the current situation with the Palestinian government. On one hand, Hamas is a terrorist group that has avowed the destruction of the State of Israel; therefore, no dealings whatsoever. On the other hand, elections were held and Hamas was elected by the populace, therefore as a democratic society Israel needs to respect it.

If Israel refuses out of hand to ignore the results what would it say to the whole democratic process? Elections are only as good as the people elected? No,
democracy is a process it does not guarantee results.

In 1977 the new Likud Party formed a coalition with DASH and allowed Menachem Begin to become the Prime Minister. Begin is still considered by many to be a terrorist (among those is David Ben-Gurion); what would the Israeli public say if Begin's government was not recognized on the basis that Likud won the majority of seats? This is exactly what we are telling Hamas. We won't deal with you because you're terrorists, but we want you to deal with our government even if you think we're terrorists.

Like I said, I'm very conflicted. But in the end, I think we are obligated to recognize the Hamas government.

Age of the Zohar

There is much debate to who the author of the Zohar is; Shimon bar Yochai or Moses de Leon.

Many scholars and apparently the Yemenite, Sephardic, and Italian communities at the time never accepted de Leon's claims that he only found it and published it - the authenticity of the document is in question, not the usefulness. Over time the the Zohar became increasingly respected and gained wide acceptance throughout the Jewish world.

The Wikipedia article writes:
Scarcely fifty years had passed since its appearance in Spain before it was quoted by many Kabbalists, including the Italian mystical writer Menahem Recanati. Its authority was so well established in Spain in the 15th century that Joseph ibn Shem-Tov drew from it arguments in his attacks against Maimonides.
The language, the descriptions of places, and post Talmudic-era events are brought down as proofs that Rashbi could not have been the author. Gershon Scholem believed that Moses de Leon himself wrote the Zohar.

Michael Sokoloff (the author of
the dictionary to replace Jastrow) recently said this:
One does not need to be an Aramaic scholar to see that the Aramaic used in the Zohar could not have been from that [post-destruction] time period.
As I said earlier, I do not believe that ascribing authorship to de Leon instead of Rashbi detracts from the importance of this work.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Haftarah Terumah

[This is the second installment of the weekly Haftarah discussion.]

This week's Haftorah is from Melachim Alef; the story of Shlomo building the first Beit HaMikdash
. The connection between the parsha and the Haftorah doesn't need to be said, it's too obvious.

There are, however, some interesting points about the Haftorah. Shlomo is building the Beit HaMikdash to fulfill his father's legacy and building this L'shem Shamayim and therefore, only wants the best. So he sends a letter to King Hiram of Lebanon wanting a treaty to use the cedar. All is well and good, but something is different. This is not as glorious as the Mishkan is.

Rav Hirsch points out:
Still all this enormous expenditure is not what we have in mind. Solomon was rich enough and could well afford it, and his people were not deprived of anything through it. But "his people" - That is what we are thinking of. What a dismal picture do they, does Israel, present at this building. Where is the enthusiasm of the men and women which our Sidra describes?...Considering the origin and aim of the building, how much more glorious and holier was the work of the weaving and embroidering women and girls, the working of the Jewish men, so long unaccustomed to artistic work, under the guidance of Bezalel...Then all the glories of Phoenician technique and Solomon's artistic taste! It was a different kind of participation that Solomon reserved for his people. Conscripted labor - reminiscent of Pharoh's time - was what they had to render, and task-masters too were not lacking! It is that, that strikes the thinking reader like an icy blast on reading this report.

Wow, it was not until I read this earlier today that I had any inclination that there was anything remotely "wrong" about Bayit Rishon. It may be that there's nothing "wrong" about it, maybe that it's a reference to how holy the Mishkan was. Sometimes we think that the Mikdash was more important that the Mishkan - according to Rav Hirsch that's not the way it works.

Good Shabbos

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Parshat Terumah: The Purpose of the Mishkan

In this week's parsha Terumah we are commanded to build the Mishkan. The building of the mishkan is of central importance to Judaism not only is it where the Shechina dwells but it is also the source for the melachot on Shabbat (see Shabbat 73a). But what is the purpose of the Mishkan? God commands us to build it and we build it, but there's something more about why we need a mishkan. The Ramban provides the answer.

רמב"ן פרשת תרומה
וסוד המשכן הוא, שיהיה הכבוד אשר שכן על הר סיני שוכן עליו בנסתר. וכמו שנאמר שם (לעיל כד טז) וישכן כבוד ה' על הר סיני, וכתיב (דברים ה כא) הן הראנו ה' אלהינו את כבודו ואת גדלו, כן כתוב במשכן וכבוד ה' מלא את המשכן (להלן מ לד). והזכיר במשכן שני פעמים וכבוד ה' מלא את המשכן, כנגד "את כבודו ואת גדלו". והיה במשכן תמיד עם ישראל הכבוד שנראה להם בהר סיני. ובבא משה היה אליו הדבור אשר נדבר לו בהר סיני

The Mishkan, therefore, is to continue the revelation at Sinai, to provide a place for the on going emanation of the divine intellect.
According to R' Shlomo Riskin (in a shiur givien last year*) there is not a coincidence that only one parsha after the revelation at Har Sinai (according to Rashi the events of Mishpatim happened there too) God tells us that the divine dialogue needs to continue, and we must build him a place to continue the conversation. R' Riskin notes that this is exactly the reason why the Sanhedrin meets in the Beit HaMikdash so that their decisions are made in the presence of God.

[* - A version of this shiur is now available on the current issue of Toras Aish from - it is however, a shortened and less potent shiur. I have the shiur in audio format (mp3) if anyone is interested.]