Monday, June 26, 2006

Korach: "We've Got it Good and We Don't Want to Leave"

The story of Korach and his rebellion gets a lot of attention in Rabbinic literature and deservedly so. It's a story that is hard to comprehend and it has major ramifications on our understanding of Moshe. On the face of it, Korach and his merry men come to Moshe and said "We too are holy, why are you restricting power to yourselves?" A strong statement that results in the death of Korach's band.

What was Korach's problem with Moshe? In verse four we are told that Moshe "falls on his face".
רש"י על במדבר פרק טז פסוק ד
(ד) ויפול על פניו - מפני המחלוקת
Because of the question that Korach asks.
Whatever this question was it was dumbfounding; it was such a good question that Moshe is struck by its potency. Rashi, on the first posuk of the parsha, informs us what the machloket between Korach and Moshe is:

רש"י במדבר פרק טז

והלבישן טליתות שכולן תכלת. באו ועמדו לפני משה. אמרו לו טלית שכולה של תכלת חייבת בציצית או פטורה. אמר להם חייבת. התחילו לשחק עליו, אפשר טלית של מין אחר חוט אחד של תכלת פוטרה, זו שכולה תכלת לא תפטור את עצמה:

The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the issue that Korach really brings up to Moshe is the question of Techelet. They asked if a garmet composed completely of Techelet needed Tzitzit. Moshe response is "Chayavet" - Yes, it does. Korach laughs at Moshe, what a ridiculous statement.

But is it?

Moshe doesn't explain himself but his thought process is easy to understand. What does this question have to do with anything? Only five psukim before this episode the mitzvah of tzitzit is given:

Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner.

Moshe thinks 'Why would a beged of Techelet be any different? Of course it needs tzitzit'. Korach's question is based on a Kal V'Chomer, it's a logical response but is based on an incorrect premise.

The Rambam, in Hilchot Tzitzit, tells us that the Techelet wraps around the white strings to remind us about God's (the blue) dominion over the world (the white). Korach's question about tzitzit then is a moshol for B'nai Yisrael going into Israel. Just as the the Techelet/Hashem wraps around the White/Olam HaBa; the desert is a place where B'nai Yisrael live with God. Every day they eat Man, the Annan HaKavod protects them, their clothes never wear out either. God takes care of their every need, why would they leave?

The giving of the mitzva of tzitzit was an indication to Korach that this perfect civilization was coming to an end. They'd have to face the real world. Why would we want this? It's better to live in the talit sh'kulan techelet your whole world is God.

This, however, is not Jewish. Moshe is leading the people to Israel to put into practice these great ideas. Korach wants to live in the Ivory Tower (okay maybe it's Blue this time), he wants to be an European intellectual always talking and never doing. This isn't Jewish, but the question is so great that Moshe is incapable of answering. Judaism is about bringing the techelet down to the white, not wrapping ourselves completely in it. Korach, after living through Yitziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah, still could not understand what it was all about.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Oh the Joys of Parsley

I work as a Mashgiach in a nearby restaurant and recently we switched from small produce supplied parsley to a Supermarket bought variety. We made this switch because it is a superior product at a similar price (I believe we get a discount from the Supermarket). Even though I spend nearly my whole day with those vegetables I have very little influence on that decision. These Supermarket vegetables (parsley, cilantro, and a few others) are a better quality product but are not anymore cleaner nor bug free. Now, except at Pesach, I never eat parsley at home so I can't really say if this is a fluke or not, but I doubt it.

The other Mashgiach there (different shifts) and I hate checking parsley as it is consistently the dirtiest vegetable and is always infested. The Vaad I work for requires the use of salt and/or vinegar (depending on the vegetable being checked) for the checking. Al Pi HaHalacha it is not necessary to use either of those but as long as you are not using that much it shouldn't hurt the vegetable. [The standard we use is that if you can taste the salt/vinegar in the water (before the vegetable is placed in the bucket) it is enough].

Anyway, the parsley. I hate parsley, even after two pre-washings and two bedikot I still find bugs and this is the Supermarket variety. So if you're not washing your vegetables well please do yourself a favor and start. I know you can't find commercially pre-checked parsley/cilantro, but after you've seen the bugs in vegetables that I see everyday (ugly ones that scowl at me) will always give your vegetables the checking they deserve.

Coincidentally, I find it interesting that the topic of shratzim is usually the last (if covered at all) topic in a Kashrut shiur. This is an issur d'oraita where many people are lax but are machmir on minhagim, but I don't think I'll ever understand them.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Shlomo Katz has released his latest CD Vehakohanim and I cannot illustrate how amazing this album is. I've been a fan of his (and his brother Eitan) for a while now since their duet album came out a few years ago.

In Vehakohanim, Shlomo creates a great Jewish album. If you've read this blog before you'll notice that I love music. I've been to hundreds of concerts and own hundreds of CDs on top of thousands of live shows. Jewish music as a whole does not even attempt to produce itself in the way the secular world does. Blue Fringe among others have tried to force Jewish music to move past that state. Shlomo Katz does it, and does it well.

The entire album is beautifully done, the arrangements are outstanding, the band is great too. My favorite song has to be Yismechu, which should become a staple zemer for shabbos. I had the opportunity to sing this song with Shlomo at a seudat shlishit this passed summer and the song spoke to me then and I still remember that event like it was yesterday.

So, I highly recommend that you all buy the album. You will undoubtedly be as pleased as I am.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is Chabad part of Orthodox Judaism?

It seems that the town of Elkana is in the midst of a debate that has been bugging me for a while. Is Chabad part of Orthodoxy? YNet reported on May 29th that the Rabbanut of Elkana is refusing to adjust their mikveh to Chabad standards because "the Chabad movement is not part of the Jewish Orthodox group and therefore it can not use the facilities of this group".

Them be fightin' words.

The Rabbanut never
said such any such thing; they're just thinking it. "Obviously they are kosher Jews, until they begin acting in a compulsive way, all the while refuting the authority of the community rabbi," said Motti Minzer the representative of the Rabbanut.

The problem here is that any small group (Ashkenazim/Sefardim/etc.) are not going to give up and use a mikveh they deem inadequate. The Rabbi feels no obligation to give in - the local rabbanut is the local rabbanut - it's their call.

I agree, but that brings us to the original question. Is Chabad Orthodox?

In short, I'd say no. And so would they. Chabad doesn't call itself Orthodox, they call themselves Hasidic and Jewish, but the label "Orthodox" appears nowhere on their webpage.

If being Orthodox is nothing more than just a label, why does it matter? I personally hate the term, I'm not religious to be Orthodox, I'm religious because it's what Jews do and what Jews believe. If that makes me Orthodox, then fine - I couldn't care less.

What the label provides is a litmus test to gauge everybody else by. That gauge may or may not be the 13 Ikkarim, it may be some other "test". But it seems that whatever the test should include, at the very least more than one group of those calling themselves Orthodox should adhere to it.

Thus, saying strict adherence to R' Teitelbaum is not accepted since nobody outside the Satmar Community would agree. Torah Min HaShamayim probably would go on the test. So what about the Chabad claim that Rebbe as Moshiach? Is this something that can be written off like the followers of some other movements?

I don't believe so. Messianic claims are too important to the klal to be accepted by any part and not the whole. Thus, Chabad (since it cannot seem to differentiate the elements within itself) has eliminated itself from normative Orthodoxy. It is possible, that if Chabad could purge the Messianic elements from its ranks that it could regain its former status. But if, as some scholars have suggested, most Chabad Rabbis are Meshichi or at the very least accept it as a legitimate belief; then no, Chabad cannot be part of the Orthodox community.

So what now? Chabad isn't Orthodox. It's Chabad and I think they're just happy with that. It doesn't necessarily mean to cut off all ties (it may for certain elements); but these Lubavitchers in Israel should either use the current Mikveh or build their own.

Monday, June 05, 2006

On Documentary Hypothesis

Documentary Hypothesis has been the topic of conversation on some major blogs of late. So when the following quote caught my eye I thought it should be posted.
...The academic study of the Bible has raised major methodological questions, not least about whether the Bible - and even the single book of Genesis - is in fact a coherent and integral whole. The so-called documentary hypothesis argues that what we call the Bible is in fact a latter-day compilation of disparate materials, written by different authors at different times, having different outlooks and intentions, even employing different concepts of and names or God. But even granting that the material compiled in Genesis came, to begin with, from different sources, one must still consider what intention or idea of wholeness governed the act of compilation that produced the present text. Must one assume that the redactor was some pious fool who slavishly stitched together all the available disparate stories without rhyme or reason, heedless of the contradictions between them? Or should we not rather give the redactor the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knew precisely what he was about? Could he perhaps have deliberately juxtaposed contradictory stories to enable us to discover certain contradictory aspects of the world thereby made plain? True, finding a coherent interpretation of the whole does not guarantee that one has found the biblical author's (or redactor's) own intention. But it should give pause to those who claim that the text could have no such unity. Besides, knowing the historical origins or sources of the text is not substitute for learning its meaning; to discover the meaning, a text must be studied in its own terms.
Leon R. Kass The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. p. 13-14.

This book was given to me by a good friend and I found the above quote to be rather astute for a non-religious insight. I do not know the author, though a guest for a Shabbos lunch knew quite a lot about Kass (the guest's brother apparently works with Kass and speaks quite highly about him). I'm quite interested in what Kass has to say about
Bereshit, I'm sure I'll blog about it in the future.