Yearly Archive: 2013

0

Rabbi Meir’s Rhetoric

Rav Meir disagrees with the other sages on a number of topics involving logic. 1- When framing a tenai, a condition on a business dealing, an oath, a pledge or the like, the majority opinion and the halakhah is that for a condition to be binding, it must be stated in both the positive and the negative. In other words, the...

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Toward a Torah Definition of “Ethics”

A short thought, maybe a conversation starter… There is a paradoxic obligation: it is prohibited to conform in all ways only to the letter of the law. One must stay well within it (lifnim mishuras hadin; or using the contrasting English metaphor: “beyond the letter of the law”) both in ways that prevent violation through error, habit or negligence and...

7

Temimus and Deveiqus

The mitzvah of Beris Milah is introduced with the words, “אֲנִי קֵל שַׁקַּי, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים — I am Kel Shakai, walk yourself before Me, and be whole.” To me, this pasuk addresses the focus of the most basic open question in Jewish philosophy. Clearly the attention of Yahadus is on keeping mitzvos. But what is the goal of...

8

A Thought About Maoz Tzur

(Updated again for 2009, and again for 2013.) One line in Ma’oz Tzur I particularly love. The 5th verse of Ma’oz Tzur describes the Chanukah story. One phrase in this verse is “ufortzu chomos migdalai“, which would be literally translated “and burst open the walls of my citadel”. Mentally, I used to picture breaking down the walls of the Beis...

2

The Miracle of Oil

Ask someone why we celebrate Chanukah, and of course the first answer out would be about the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. This allowed the reconsecration of the Beis haMiqdash to be done at its halachic best, without relying on leniencies like “tum’ah huterah betzibur — tum’ah is permitted in public”. When everyone is tamei, no one is...

2

Halakhah and Orthodoxy

(Much of this is a popularization of things already posted in this category, originally posted to Facebook.) As I see it, halachic decision-making involves the weighing of numerous items — the strength of the legal logic, the authority of one’s sources, the breadth of acceptance (in both time and population) of the particular ruling, and which ruling better enables the...

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Rav Wolbe’s World part II: Middos

This is the second part of a translation of Rav Shlomo Wolbezt”l‘s contribution to Bishvilei haRefu’ah [In the Paths of Medicine], volume 5, Sivan 5742, “Psychiatria veDat” [Psychiatry and Religion], section beis (pp 60-70). In this section, the Mashgiach prepares the background for the discussion by laying out his basic worldview, his view of the purpose of Torah and life,...

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Rav Wolbe’s World part I: Yedidus

Rav Shlomo Wolbe was a transitional figure in Jewish thought, presenting pre-Holocaust yeshiva mussar to students steeped in modern Charedi idiom. A German-born, university-educated ba’al teshuvah, he studied in one of the premier East European yeshivas and became a Mussar devotee, eventually marrying the daughter of R. Avraham Grodzinski, the martyred mashgiach of the famous Slobodka yeshiva. Until his passing...

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Who in his time?

There were two lines from the Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh haShanah that particularly spoke to me this year — “mekhalkeil chaim bechesed – Who sustains the living with lovingkindness”, and the line from Unsaneh Toqef which tells us that on Rosh haShanah it is written and on the fast of Yom Kippur it is sealed… mi beqitzo umi lo beqitzo...

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From Qeren to Shofar

(Updated after Rosh haShanah 5774 with idea from the Tanchuma.) The Ramban, in his Derashah leRosh haShanah, writes that a shofar is a keli, a formal utensil in the halachic sense. For this reason, while most rishonim hold that a hole in a shofar invalidates the shofar only if the hole is such that it changes the produced sound, the...

3

Why are there poor people

The gemara tells a story on Bava Basra 10a: שאל טורנוסרופוס הרשע את ר”ע: אם אלהיכם אוהב עניים הוא, מפני מה אינו מפרנסם? א”ל: כדי שניצול אנו בהן מדינה של גיהנם. א”ל: [אדרבה!] זו שמחייבתן לגיהנם. אמשול לך משל למה הדבר דומה. למלך בשר ודם שכעס על עבדו, וחבשו בבית האסורין, וצוה עליו שלא להאכילו, ושלא להשקותו. והלך אדם אחד,...

3

Kosher, Tahor, Qadosh

The pasuq (still in parashas Re’eih) discusses the various species of kosher and non-kosher mammals (Devarim 14:3-8), marine animals (v. 9-10), and flying creatures (v. 11-20). And the terminology is that this species is tamei, whereas that is tahor. Then, in the final pasuq (14:21): לֹא תֹאכְלוּ כָל נְבֵלָה, לַגֵּר אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ תִּתְּנֶנָּה וַאֲכָלָהּ, אוֹ מָכֹר לְנָכְרִי, כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה,...

0

Earning one’s livelihood

The pasuq reads:  וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ, וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, וְאָכְלוּ וְשָׂבֵעוּ, לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה.  {ס} And the Levi, because he doesn’t have a portion nor an inheritance with you, and the ger, and the orphan and the widow, who are within gates, shall come, eat and be satisfied; so...

1

Seeing and Listening

Thinking about the title word of yesterday’s parashah, I wondered about the two sensory metaphors we use for learning. Here our parashah opens “re’eih”– see. But usually the Torah uses “shema“, to listen. In fact, shemi’ah appears later in the very same paragraph.1 כורְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה. 26 Behold, I put before you today a blessing and a curse: כז  אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל...

13

So, Should I Believe?

If the topic of how far we can stretch Orthodox believes, and whether Dr Farber’s paper violates those limists bore you, you might want to skip ahead to the subtitle “Toward an Orthodox Epistemology“. Well, now that we spent two posts on the topic of a man who is considered to be an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and dayan but doesn’t...

0

The Limits of Orthodoxy

I feel a need to chime in about the contretemps about Dr Zev Farber’s essay “Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History and Judaism” on thetorah.com. But first I want to lay out some thoughts about defining heresy, who qualifies as a heretic, and the limits of Orthodoxy, which may not be the same thing. To be clear,...

5

Orthodoxy and Biblical Criticism

This is part two of my reactions to the internet discussions about Dr Zev Farber’s essay “Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History and Judaism” on thetorah.com. In the first part, I tried to lay out how I view the topic of what is Orthodoxy and what is an Orthodoxy Jew, just to set the scene. Very quick...

1

Hatred

The Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin 1816-1893, last Rosh Yeshiva at Volozhin) wrote a relatively famous piece in Meishiv Davar (1:44) that is quoted a lot this time of year. I thought I would translate a core section (pg 52, col 2, paragraph starting “Vehinei“). The context is that the Netziv just discussed the prohibition against going into business...

7

Ways of Peace

In a comment on my recent post “Infinite Worth“, Raffi asked: Hey – would you elaborate on your intriguing definition of darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of He Who makes peace”? Vav — I’d be glad to. (Now aren’t you glad I don’t inject my sense of humor into this blog too often?) The factoid behind Raffi’s question is...

0

Value and Money

Yerushalmi Mes’ Qiddushin (or, as the Y-mi would itself call it: Meikhas Qiddushin, see here , the section subtitled “Linguistics”, for why I believe the difference in nomenclature is significant) includes three discussions that I believe reflect on the topic of how to relate value to price. In 2:5, vilna ed. 25a, the gemara discusses the possibility of marrying a...

2

Infinite Worth

I have for a while kept a theory that not only do we aggadically consider human life to be of infinite value but that this notion has halachic import. For example, there is a dispute about what to do when an enemy or criminal gang tell a group of Jews to turn one of their number in to be killed,...

4

Experimental Evidence of the Efficacy of Hispaalus

Scientific American just (June 24,2013) put up a podcast titled “Teaching People To Be Nice” by Christie Nicholson on their “Mind & Brain :: 60 Second Mind” series. To quote (in full): Can you train someone to be a nicer person? A recent study using meditation techniques shows that it might be possible. (The research is published in the journal...

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VeAhavta

My rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, passed away on 9 Tammuz 5753, 20 years ago today. I am posting a gemara that rebbe would often refer to in his shmuessin. Yuma 86a: At Rabbi Yanai[‘s school] it was said: Anyone whose peers are embarassed by what is heard about him, that is a desecration of Hashem’s name. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchaq...

2

Process and Permanence

When you drop a drop of ink into a cup of water, the ink spirals around in some chaotic pattern and eventually diffuses until the entire liquid is a uniform light blue. Even though each time you repeat the experiment the dance and spiral is different, something about it in the general is predictable. If you had different snapshots of...

1

Qinyan and Ba’alus

(Originally posted Mar 2007, now enlarged.) “Qinyan” is usually translated “acquisition”, and “ba’alus“, “ownership”. I would suggest that neither translation is precise. And this imprecision only leads to difficulties in understanding the law, rather than the clarity we get by analyzing the halakhah on its own terms. This is another instance of what we looked at in “The Country of Yir’ah“,...