Sunday, April 30, 2006

Oh Those Witty Satmars

I couldn't ignore DovBear's comment here:
My all time favorite bit of Satmar wit. When the Lubovitcher Rebbe died, the Satmar paper ran a eulogy which ended with the words “Hamokon Yerachem Aleichem.”

(Traditionaly we tell dead people: The Lord will confort you. In this eulogy the Satmar punned it into The Lord pities you.)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Haftorat Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

[Please forgive my lapse in these weekly torahs on the Haftorah, I am doing a lot of research at the moment and currently have very little time to devote to blogging.]

In this week's Haftorah we read about Yeshaya's message to the people of Israel. We begin the Haftorah with a very powerful statement from God: "The heavens are my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What house could you build for me, what place could there be for me to rest in?" (66:1).

This rhetorical question, the Radak explains, is to make sure that
B'nai Yisrael understand that the Beit HaMikdash is not God's house. The Radak tells us that the purpose of the Beit HaMikdash is that there needs to be a special place for prayer and for korbanot. In other words, "Don't think that you could ever actually build a house for me; I live in the Heavens and earth is only the place for my feet". Even that metaphorical footstool is so kadosh that we must erect a special building just for that purpose.

Contrast this view of the
Beit HaMikdash with a previous view on The Purpose of the Mishkan. The Mishkan's purpose was to continue the ongoing revelation of Sinai. Why then the difference between the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash? The Mishkan is a moving caravan of nevua while the Beit HaMikdash is the home of the kedusha.

In Hilchot Yisodei HaTorah, the Rambam speaks about navua as a process. Even for Moshe who had no need for sleep, dreams and parables, or an angle - he still had to prepare himself for the nevua. Thus it seems that Moshe needed to have a moving place for this revelation, so that he could function as the leader, bringing BÂ’nai Yisrael through the desert, and a the navi at the same time.

The Beit HaMikdash, on the other hand, it is easy to keep it distinct (kadosh) from the rest. Yeshaya'’s message here is to prevent the people from viewing the Beit HaMikdash has one would view a King'’s Palace. This is not the place where God dwells, this is only the place where my feet are – and that place is kadosh enough to bring sacrifices to.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Judaism and Democracy

Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth in Torah U'Madda Volume 2: 1990 writes an interesting article on “Judaism and Democracy” (actually a speech given at YU). It seems to me that R’ Roth misunderstands the Declaration of Independence and where freedom comes from.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

To which R’ Roth says “Liberty, by virtue of this declaration, is granted as a right to each American citizen…Hence, for the Jewish people, freedom is associated with a transforming event rather than a congressional decree”.

Freedom is not granted to citizens by virtue of this declaration, but rather by virtue of their own humanity; no congressional decree could create or destroy this right.

The idea of an inalienable right is not one that a person can ever give up; under no circumstance may a person waive their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One of the many reasons that a person may not sign a document to be killed, it is an unalienable right – you have no choice in this matter. Much like a person’s Jewishness, it can never be washed away, convert to thirty different religions, you will always be a Jew.

Rabbi Roth does however make a very interesting point about the difference between “western” freedom and the Jewish concept of freedom. The social contract theorists believe that freedom is a personal endeavor, while “freedom, in a Jewish sense, is applicable primarily to the people, not to each individual”. The ancient Athenians had a very similar idea of democracy.

The rest of the article I happen to agree with full-heartedly, it can be found here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I'll Be There Too

I will be attending the Save Darfur rally this coming Sunday in Washington, DC. Will You?

I have been active in Darfur related events and groups for over a year and a half now and I have to say that I am very impressed by the response the Jewish community has to the crisis in Darfur. Unlike many social issues of the past the entire community has come together, a statement of unity that has not happened for many years – likely not since the Soviet Jewry crisis. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist all have links on their web pages speaking about the necessity of Jewish support.

Interestingly, the OU nearly calls it a mitzvah (I would). It is times like these that makes me think that achdus can be a reality.

"In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, all are responsible" ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

I am leading a group of elementary to High School students (and their parents) to the Holocaust Museum and then on the rally. I don’t think that it was planned but the timing (5 days after Yom HaShoa) really places the genocide into perspective.

So, will you be there?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

יהודי מקרב יהודי

This photo was taken this summer (late July) in Mea Shearim; I haven't taken the time to translate the text, but I will someday. It's an interesting spoof on the Yehudi Lo Miragesh Yehudi theme and when I walked past it 30 minutes later it had already been ripped down. Just thought I'd share.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Adam and Eve: Is Gan Eden Really Our Goal?

Adam and Eve have a relationship with God that is completely unlike anything that we can understand; they do not understand God’s acts, all they know is God as creator.  After Adam and Eve eat the fruit of Etz HaDa’at Tov u’Ra they can appreciate what God has given them.  The breaking of God’s command now gives them a frame of reference upon which to compare what they have.  A new relationship with God has been formed.

“From the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you shall not eat for you will surely die” Genesis 2:17.  In the next verse, God creates Eve (well woman, she’s not called Chava until 3:20) yet Adam does not know how to understand what God has told him.  When Eve speaks to the snake she understands the verse differently; “lest you die” (3:3).  

Look at what the snake replies to Eve: “You will not die immediately.  For God knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will become open and you will become like Gods; knowing good and evil” (3:4-5). The snake is telling her, ‘If you choose this tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you will not die yet, but it will make you like God, a creator”.  Choose knowledge and you’ll understand God in a different way – a better way – but you will eventually die.  Knowledge is better than eternal ignorance.  

At the end of Chapter 3, God punishes Adam and Eve as well as the snake.  These “punishments” do not really seem like punishments.    God placed two trees in the forest the Etz Chayim and the Etz HaDa’at Tov u’Ra, while he only commanded them not to eat from the latter it seems that there was a choice to be made: eternal life or knowledge?  They choose knowledge and God “punishes” them for not appreciating life – now anytime Adam and Eve (and the rest of humanity) bring life into the world it will hurt, to remind them that life needs to be appreciated.  

Is Gan Eden supposed to be the pinnacle of existence?  It is an existence of bliss but one without the understanding of that bliss.  There was no frame of reference, no understanding of how good they had it.  The rabbinic literature is full of references of getting back to Gan Eden but is it really something that we should want?  The answer is yes, but…  That’s what the snake taught Eve, you’ve got it great here, but knowledge is better.  And once you understand what you’ve lost you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to get it back.  It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

New Chancellor at JTS

According to the NY Times, JTS will announce that the search committee has voted on the new Chancellor for JTS; Dr. Arnold Eisen. It's a very odd choice, a) he's not a Rabbi b) he was picked over a few very qualified people c) I'm not sure he's had any official contact with JTS before.

Dr. Eisen, once he's confirmed, among his many duties is to pick the mara d'atra of JTS; meaning he will have an enormous influence on the upcoming CJLS rulings on allowing homosexual candidates into Rabbinical School. [Which I've blogged about before, here and here.]

Just like to point a few things out:
Dr. Eisen, a professor of Jewish culture and religion, did not return calls to his home and office yesterday, and officials at the seminary, which is in Morningside Heights, declined to say anything about the selection, which would still need to be confirmed by the seminary's board.
Gee, Friday afternoon. Might he be getting ready for Shabbos?
Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y., who was widely believed to be another candidate for the position, has been outspoken on lifting prohibitions on homosexuality.
On a side note; Tucker's tshuva allowing Homosexuals into Rabbinical School (again not accepted, just his opinion) has been read by his students at JTS. According to my info, he's very upset that the CJLS has voted to make this upcoming vote a takana and not a tshuva. The practical difference is the number of votes needed to be passed.

The CJLS is a 25 member committee, which means that a tshuva to become the majority opinion needs 13 votes to pass, yet 20 votes to be revoked from majority status (I'm not positive if this has ever happened). A takana, which has never happened before, would need 20 votes to even pass; removing the ability for an opinion to even be awarded minority status. Tucker is upset because he knows his tshuva will never receive the necessary 20 votes; he was counting on it becoming a minority view (which according to CJLS bylaws can be put into practice; see the tshuva on driving on shabbos).

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ben Folds and Shir HaShirim

I regard concerts as a nearly religious experience. Not all concerts are, but there are those which can be described in religious terms - just ask any Deadhead. Earlier tonight I saw Ben Folds play live, and I can only describe it as intense. The way a night hike with a full moon in the Negev is intense - you can come up with other descriptions, but intense covers it all.

I was watching Ben play his piano with the same erotic intensity that describes. I've been a long time denier of the religious nature of Shir HaShirim, until I realized that, for me, it was written like a concert. The author of Shir HaShirim (Shlomo or otherwise, it doesn't really matter to me; it's still a great work) is describing his relationship with God in the only way he can, by describing an erotic relationship. Everyone will, or will eventually, be able to comprehend this message. It is a beautiful book full of tension and release, hills and valleys; I see concerts it much the same literary fashion.

Not everybody understands Shir HaShirim, for some people the description gets lost "in translation". When I was 15 I learned it in school, you'd think a 15 year old adolescent with raging hormones would love this class - I found it boring - it was lost on me. I've been to at least 144 concerts (yes, I've got a list) some were bad, some were great, most are just alright. But I see music as another vehicle to express a relationship with God, even if the musician and the audience do not even see it as such.

As Jews we understand this, from the Levi'im in the Beit HaMikdash to Nigunim, we sing. We put on concerts, now granted most Jewish music is down right bad. But it does not change the fact that it is a communication with the divine. Not every shiur is supposed to be life changing, nor every Rabbi. There are those of us who cannot fathom going to 5 concerts let along 144 (or the 288 Grateful Dead shows that a Lubavitch friend of mine has), but that's okay, there is something out there that connects you to the divine. If it's Kabbalah - great. If it's minute details in Halacha - even better. Whatever it is, whatever extra piece of life gets you going, run with it; just remember to use it constructively and don't let it take over your life either.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yom Tov Sheini - Part II

In Part I, we reviewed the Gemara in Betiza which says we should hold two days of Yom Tov since it is the custom of our ancestors (in Chutz L’aretz) and a Gemara in Pesachim which depending on intent to return (da’at l’chazor) you should hold the restrictions of the place you came from and the place you left. So far it seems that a person visiting Israel from Chutz L’aretz should hold two days of Yom Tov unless he intends to return.

No we need to see how this idea is codified in the Halachic literature
רמב"ם הלכות יום טוב פרק ח

ההולך ממקום שעושין למקום שאין עושין לא יעשה ביישוב מפני המחלקות אבל עושה הוא במדבר, וההולך ממקום שאין עושין למקום שעושין לא יעשה, נותנין עליו חומרי מקום שיצא משם וחומרי מקום שהלך לשם, ואע"פ כן לא יתראה בפניהם שהוא בטל מפני האסור, לעולם אל ישנה אדם מפני המחלקות, וכן מי שדעתו לחזור למקומו נוהג כאנשי מקומו בין להקל בין להחמיר, והוא שלא יתראה בפני אנשי המקום שהוא בו מפני המחלקות.

The Rambam codifies the ruling of the Mishna in Pesachim that we place on the traveler the customs of the place he left and the place he is. Though if he has da’at l’chazar (intent to return) he should hold like his place. So in our situation, a traveler to Israel should hold two days of Yom Tov unless his intent is to never return. Seemingly the Rambam would allow a new oleh the ability to hold one day of Yom Tov even if he arrived shortly before.

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תצו
סעיף ג
בני ארץ ישראל שבאו לחוצה לארץ, אסורים לעשות מלאכה ביום טוב שני ביישוב, אפילו דעתו לחזור; וכל זמן שלא הגיע ליישוב, אפילו אין דעתו לחזור, מותר, לפי שעדיין לא הוקבע להיות כמותן. אבל אם הגיעו ליישוב, ואין דעתו לחזור, נעשה כמותן ואסור בין במדבר בין ביישוב. וכל חוץ לתחום אין נותנין עליו חומרי מקום שהלך לשם.
According to the Mechaber people from Israel who go outside the land to live, it is forbidden to do melacha on Yom Tov sheni in public (i.e., Israelis living in America need to hold two days, at least publicly), even if they intend to return. The last line of the seif is interesting, if you’re outside of the tchum (city limits) [i.e., camping, etc.] we’re not going to tell you to hold two days, since they’re not going to see you perform melacha. It seems that ma’arit ayin is what R’ Karo is relying on to rule this way.

It’s not as obvious what the Mechaber would say about a ben ChoL visiting Israel on Yom Tov. He would probably rule similar to the Rambam that a new oleh can and should hold only one day of Yom Tov; though a visitor with da’at l’chazor to Chutz L’aretz still needs to hold two days.

We will now see what some of the commentators (since they speak about this issue directly) have to add to this discussion.
ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן תצו סעיף ד
בני א"י שבאו לחו"ל אע"פ שדעתם לחזור ולא חלה עליהם חומרי מקום שהלכו לשם מ"מ אסורים לעשות מלאכה ביו"ט שני בישוב מפני המחלוקת כמ"ש בסי' תס"ח וי"א דדווקא בפרהסיא אבל בצינעא מותר דהא בצינעא ליכא מחלוקת אבל י"א דמלאכה אסור בכל עניין דא"א לעשותה בצינעא כל כך [מג"א סק"ד בשם התוס'] ועוד דזהו פריצת גדר בדבר שקבלו כל הגולה ואסור מדינא וכן עיקר אך כל זמן שלא הגיעו לישוב והיינו שלא באו עדיין בתוך תחום העיר מותרים בכל דבר אפילו אין דעתם לחזור לפי שעדיין לא הוקבעו להיות כמותן ואם הגיעו לישוב והיינו תוך התחום ואין דעתן לחזור אפילו עיר שאינה של ישראל נעשים לגמרי כבני חו"ל לכל דבר אפילו שלא לעניין מלאכה וחייבין לנהוג קדושת יו"ט שני גם בתפלה וקידוש וברהמ"ז:

Israelis who go to Chutz L’aretz even though they intend to return we don’t place on them the chumrot of the place they go to, in any case, it is asur for them to do melacha on Yom Tov sheini in the community due to different opinions…definitely [asur] in public, although in private everybody agrees [that it is okay to do melacha]. There is an opinion that melacha is asur even in private (Tosafot cited by the Magen Avraham). The same for Benei Chutz L’aretz even they cannot perform melacha and they are chiyuv to observe the kedushah of Yom Tov sheini in Tefillot, in Kiddush, and in Bentching.

This is a description of Yom Tov sheini that we will come back to, R’ Epstein is explicit that this is two full days of Yom Tov. They cannot perform melacha, it might be possible that an Israeli could perform melacha for them (without asking), but we still preserve the kedusha of the day.

משנה ברורה סימן תצו ס"ק יג
ובן חו"ל שבא לא"י אם דעתו לחזור למקומו צריך לעשות שני ימים יו"ט … אכן אם דעתו שלא לחזור למקומו לעולם יתנהג כבני א"י

A ben chol that goes to Israel with the intention of returning needs to observe two days of Yom Tov... If he never intends to return he can take Israeli minhagim [and observe only one day of Yom Tov].
The Chafetz Chaim continues to discuss what intent to return means, not something that I want to get into, talking about one’s family still there, etc. He does not explain what two days of Yom Tov means (see how the Aruch HaShulchan describes it above) but it seems to me that due to his brevity he meant one of two things a) two full days or b) he intentionally kept it ambiguous because he couldn’t decide – the former seems more likely.
שולחן ערוך הרב אורח חיים סימן תצו
בני חוץ לארץ שבאו לארץ ישראל אע"פ שדעתן לחזור אין עושין אלא יום אחד כבני ארץ ישראל ויש חולקין.

Benei Chol that go to Israeli even though they intend to return they don’t do [two days] rather only one day [of Yom Tov] like the Israelis and their differences.

The Ba’al Tanya makes cavalier statement and rules like the Chacham Tzvi (which we’ll see later) and states that when a visitor goes to another location they should follow the minhagim of that place. This is a very popular position, though most people who agree with the Ba’al Tanya and the Chacham Tzvi cannot bring themselves to rule against Rov HaPoskim.

As it stands now the Halachic literature is clearly in favor of two full days of Yom Tov for a visitor to Israel, except for the Ba’al HaTanya who states the exact opposite of Rov HaPoskim.

To be continued...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Yom Tov Sheini - Part I

Living in the community that I do, there is much confusion over what to do on Yom Tov sheini; even I am conflicted when it comes to spending Yom Tov in Israel. What are we supposed to do when traveling to Israel for the year or for chag?

All discussions start with the Gemara in Beitza (4b):
מאי טעמא עבדינן תרי יומי? - משום דשלחו מתם: הזהרו במנהג אבותיכם בידיכם, זמנין דגזרו שמדא ואתי לאקלקולי

Why do we observe two day? Because they sent word from there (Palestine)*. Give heed to the customs of your ancestors which have come down to you; for it might happen that the government might issue a decree and it will cause confusion (in ritual observance).
*- [Before the destruction of the Temple when Rosh Chodesh was determined the news was sent from the Beit Din to the out laying communities; this sometimes took longer than 15 days which would have been a problem for Pesach and Sukkot which both fall on 15th, so the CHoL (Chulz L’Aretz) communities enacted Yom Tov sheini to prevent this problem]

The Gemara is curious, why should we observe Yom Tov sheini if we have a fixed calendar system? The Gemara answers, because it is a minhag of your fathers. We (in ChoL) observe Yom Tov sheini then out of doubt (safek) of when Rosh Chodesh starts in Jerusalem.

Even if we know when Rosh Chodesh starts, according to the Gemara, we should still follow the minhag of Yom Tov sheini because we’re worried about a Government decree. What is this decree the Gemara is talking about? It could be the forbidding of some ritual aspect of the holiday (Rashi seems to think so); in a more contemporary setting, out of fear that the Governments have the calendar wrong which would still cause mass confusion.

So when we travel from Chutz L’Aretz to Israel what do we do?
This answer also begins with a Mishnah (Pesachim 4:1):

משנה. מקום שנהגו לעשות מלאכה בערבי פסחים עד חצות - עושין, מקום שנהגו שלא לעשות - אין עושין. ההולך ממקום שעושין למקום שאין עושין, או ממקום שאין עושין למקום שעושין - נותנין עליו חומרי מקום שיצא משם, וחומרי מקום שהלך לשם. ואל ישנה אדם מפני המחלוקת.

In a place whose custom is to do melacha until chatzot on erev Pesach, do it. In a place [where melacha] is not done, don’t do it. [If you] Travel from place where they perform [melacha] to a place they don’t [perform melacha] or vice versa; We place on him the restrictions of the location from which he departed and the restrictions of the place he as arrived.
It seems from this Mishnah that a visitor should follow his normal minhagim, as well as minhag hamakom.

The Gemara (Pesachim 51a) adds:

דתנן נותנין עליו חומרי המקום שיצא משם וחומרי המקום שהלך לשם. אמר אביי הני מילי - מבבל לבבל, ומארץ ישראל לארץ ישראל. אי נמי - מבבל לארץ ישראל. אבל מארץ ישראל לבבל - לא, כיון דאנן כייפינן להו - עבדינן כוותייהו. רב אשי אמר אפילו תימא מארץ ישראל לבבל. הני מילי - היכא דאין דעתו לחזור, ורבה בר בר חנה דעתו לחזור הוה

We learned: We place on him the restrictions of the location from which he departed and the restrictions of the place he as arrived. Abaye said: That is only [when traveling] from Babylonia to [another town in] Babylonia, or from Palestine to [another in] Palestine, or from Babylonia to Palestine; but not [when traveling] from Palestine to Babylonia, since we submit to them, we do as they. R. Ashi said: You may even say [that this is also true when a man goes] from Palestine to Babylonia; this is, however, where it is not his intention to return; but Rabbah b. Bar Hanah had the intention of returning.

The Gemara is describing a situation where Rabbah bar Bar Hanah is accused of eating stomach fats that were asur in Babylonia, but since he had the intention to return (to Israel) it was okay for him to do so. But the important part for us, is that things (minhagim) can change based on da'at l'hazar - intention to return.

Interestingly, the next section has Rabbah bar Bar Hanah telling his son that he cannot eat the fat for it is not his
minhag (interesting sidepoint that many children of Israelis who have made yeridah still keep their parents minhagim, maybe they should not, this Gemara is pretty explicit that they shouldn’t).

To be continued… [We will be moving into the Halachic material and then Shut on this issue].

Sunday, April 02, 2006

What to do with Hamas? Part II

Almost a month ago I posted about our need to recognize Hamas as the government of the Palestinian people. In short, it seems to me that due to the democratic process we cannot approve of the elections without approving of the elected; however, what I left out was that there are some things that Hamas needs to do in order to keep that approval.

Former President Clinton, reported by
Haaretz, probably feels the same way, yet I find his needs to be a little off base.
So if Hamas would say, suppose they say, 'OK, look, we can't change our theory, we can't change our document, we can't change our history, but we're in government now and the policy of the Palestinian government is no to terror and yes to negotiations. As long as we're in government, we'll honor that policy.' If they did that, I would support dealing with them," Clinton said
What I don't like about Clinton's statement is that, as soon as Hamas leaves power he's okay with them resorting to terror. He's also okay with them leaving their Constitution the way it is. I'm not; I don't think Hamas needs to change it as a precursor to dialogue, but they are under obligation to do so. And once you're a peaceful political party then you are going to be just that forever.