Precondition for a Fast

דלמא: ר’ בא בר זבדא, ורבי תנחום בר עילאי, ור’ יאשיה נפקוי לתעניתא. דרש ר’ בא בר זבדא (איכה ג:מא) “נִשָּׂא לְבָבֵנוּ אֶל כַּפָּיִם, [אֶל אֵ-ל בַּשָּׁמָיִם.].” “נשא לבבנו אל כפים” — ואיפשר כן” אית בר נש דנסב ליביה ויהיב גו ידיה? אלא, מהו נשא? נשוי ליבינן לכך ידינן, ואחר כך “אל א-ל בשמים.” כך אם יהיו השרץ בידו של אדם, אפילו טובל במי שילוח או במי בראשית אין לו טהרה עולמית. השליכו מידו מיד טהר.

A story: Rav [Ab]ba bar Zavda, Rabbi Tanchum bar Ila’i, and Rabbi Yoshiah went out [to speak] at a [public] fast.

Rabbi [Ab]ba bar Zavda expounded on “Let us raise our hearts with our hands [toward the G-d in heaven].” (Eikhah 3:41) “Let us raise our hearts with our hands” — and is this possible? Can a person take his heart and put it in his hands? Rather, what does he lift? He pays attention [idiomatically: give heart] to his hands [his fiscal dealings] and then [he can turn] “to the G-d in heaven.” Similarly, if a person is holding an impure breed of house-pest, even if he immerses in the waters of Shiloach [the pool from which the Beis haMiqdash's waters were taken] or the very waters of creation, he will not have eternal taharah. If he sends it from his hand, he is pure immediately.

– Yerushalmi Taanis 2:1 (vilna ed. 8a-b)

Letter to RCA Membership – Glatt Yosher

The following letter was sent to RCA member rabbis:

Dear Rabbonim Chashuvim,

We know that, like us, you were sickened and embarrassed by the recent scenes of religious Jews being led off in handcuffs, charged with corruption, money laundering, and even organ trafficking.  What makes things worse is that this is only the latest of innumerable such scandals involving illegal and unethical behavior in our community. The words of hatarat nedarim ring depressingly true: iy efshar l’fortam ki rabim hem.

The distortion of Jewish values, the reinforcement of negative Jewish stereotypes, and the massive hilul Hashem call for equally massive efforts at Kiddush Hashem.  No doubt each of us has been addressing this issue in his own way among his own kehillah… We must all affirm that:

  • Stealing, whether from Jew or Non-Jew, individual or corporation or government, is a Torah prohibition.  Stealing includes not charging or paying taxes that one is legally obligated to charge or pay.
  • Dina d’malkhuta dina-the secular law of the land is binding on the Jew.

  • We gratefully acknowledge the beneficence and justice of American courts and laws which allow our community to prosper here both materially and spiritually.

  • Jews must sacrifice financially rather than enter situations that have the potential to result in hilul Hashem.

  • Jews must lead in efforts to promote and honest and law-abiding society; that is the true ethic of the Torah as well as the Prophetic charge of being an “ohr la-goyim.”

  • To use the phrase coined by Rabbi Joseph Breuer, zt’l:  A Jew must not only be Glatt Kosher – He must be Glatt Yoshor.

… This is not a time for splitting hairs over possible dissenting views in poskim on this or that point. It is an et la’asot la-Shem, when we must make the ethical demands of the Torah and the day clear in the most public of ways. We strongly urge you to join with us and loudly declare, to our own communities and to the world, that we, representing Torah, will not tolerate any but the highest standards of ethics.

We do not mean to imply that this problem is new, or even necessarily suddenly more prevalent in our communities. It has always been there, more than we cared to admit, testimony to the frailty of human nature. This most recent public manifestation, however, gives us an opportunity to make a real tikkun in an important area, and is the sort of opportunity we look for during the Yamim Noraim season…

May our efforts be blessed from above by Hashem, and may they restore some fraction of the luster of the Shekhina so tarnished by recent events.

Wishing you a ketiva va-hatima tova,

Rabbi Moshe Kletenik

President

Rabbinical Council of America


Rabbi Basil Herring

Executive Vice President

Rabbinical Council of America

Richard M. Joel

President, Yeshiva University and RIETS

Rabbi Kenneth Brander

The David Mitzner Dean

Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future


Rabbi Steven Weil

Executive Vice President

Orthodox Union

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Executive Vice President Emeritus

Orthodox Union

See here for R’ Breuer’s short essay on “Glatt Kosher – Glatt Yosher” as mentioned in the letter.

How Should I Respond? — Part II: Email from Agudah

I received the following in my email box. I am heartened to see that we as a community are seeking constructive response.

I am writing to friends and supporters of Agudath Israel to call your attention to an important gathering for the men of our community tomorrow night, Tuesday, 7 Menachem Av/July 28, in the Ohr Hachayim Viznitz Hall, 1824 53rd Street, in Brooklyn.

The asifa, which is being sponsored by community askonim, will be focusing on the timeless (but also all too timely) theme of “Vi’asisa hayashar vi’hatov.” It will feature two distinguished rabbonim – Harav Avrohom Schorr, shlita, and Harav Dovid Ozieri, shlita; as well as two respected legal experts – Benjamin Brafman, Esq. and Jacob Laufer, Esq. I will be serving as the evening’s chairman. We will start with Mincha at 7:15 and then proceed with the program.

Introspection about how to better live our lives in consonance with Torah ideals is always timely. It is particularly timely during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the fact that we remain in Golus, and the reasons why.

And in the wake of recent headlines and front-page photographs that made every feeling Jewish heart ache, it is even more timely for us to take a good, hard look at our obligations to our fellows, to our society, to our government.

I don’t think I can adequately convey how compelling this gathering should be to us all. But I am confident that you realize how vital it is that we hear words of mussar and chizuk, and that we learn to distinguish between conduct that conforms with dina d’malchusa and conduct that does not. I am also confident that you understand how important it is to demonstrate to the wider world how heartfelt and determined Jews respond to news like the tragic tidings of recent days. Tomorrow night’s symposium and our attendance are an important part of that response.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel
Executive Vice President
Agudath Israel of America

I am told one can “attend” by phone via Kol Hamevaser. Dial 212 444-1100, then pressing 8, then 1.

How Should I Respond?

When they gossip in Vilna, they desecrate Shabbos in Paris.

- Rav Yisrael Salanter

Some take Rav Yisrael Salanter’s causality to be metaphysical. I don’t think that fits R’ Yisrael’s general approach to life. Mussar is fully comprehensible without invoking metaphysical concepts. I would instead say it’s more likely to be very rationalistic psychology. In two ways:
1- It fosters a general culture of the rules and tradition not really counting. Each person contributes to eroding the culture, and thus the lives of everyone else in it.
2- It makes Orthodoxy look like a bunch of hypocrites and turns people off from looking at what we claim to preach.

All Jews are intermixed, one in the other.

- Ein Yaaqov, Sanhedrin (the version in the Vilna Shas 27b differs, to speak of “guarantors one for the other”)

We are all in one boat. You can’t drill a hole in the boat without sinking all of us. I know American values are based in personal autonomy, of protecting one’s rights and “live and let live”. But as we see from Sanhedrin, that notion is very un-Jewish. Conversion is summed up by Ruth’s “your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d”, and letting the rest of “O Israel” hear is the first two words of our doxology. We, the Jewish People, are a unit. When Madoff sins, people think less of me.

I think about these words reading recent events in the news. When petty customs evasion is the norm, we open our children to the threat of consorting with drug smugglers. And when the masses play games with their taxes, the hard-pressed charity goes one step beyond. And then another step, and then another.

Yirmiahu posted the following on his blog, Machzikei HaDas:

“The Holy Rav, our master Menachem Mendel (of Rimnov) commented about the curious sight that we often see children who in their youth go to school and continually learn Torah, and daven with kavanah, and answer “Amen, yehei Shmei rabba” and Amen, and are upright in their ways. Afterwards, when they grow up, their behaviour reverses, chas v’Shalom, with diminished middos, neglecting Torah, Prayer, and so forth…the Torah which they learned in their youth, breath in which there is no sin (Shabbos 119b), would be suitable to establish them, and add strength to their neshamas, since a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.

Regarding this he said, “This is because of their fathers who feed them stolen money which they enriched themselves through unfaithful commerce, and fattened themselves in violation of halachah… and in this way they descend into desire and degraded middos.”
From his Holy words it is established, that also with food which is inherently kosher, except that it was acquired with money which isn’t acquired in an upright manner and lacking in emunah. The power of the act enters the product, and the food goes from the side of kedushah and descends and degrades himself into desires and poor midos, rachmana litzlan. “
- The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy’a, Shefa Chaim, Chumash Rashi Shiur, parshas Nasso 5742, page 395.

Interestingly, we already saw this same idea from Rabbi Breuer, in his essay ‘Glatt Kosher — Glatt Yoshor’. And Rabbi Schwab warns us that the reason why, despite of our investment in education, we fail to produce the number of greats that we did in previous generations is that so much of that tuition is being paid with “tainted money”. Non-kosher food “closes up the heart”; food bought with non-kosher money, no less so. This too could be understood in metaphysical terms, but I believe one can keep things in totally rationalistic terms. We are teaching our children that halakhah is something you can get away with violating, and then are surprised when their commitment is not all it could be.

On the plus side, this gives us something to do. The unity of the Jewish People, that we’re all in one boat, means that any personal action I take can actually be a step to reversing the trend.

I often tell people that if I ever were to become capable of deciding halachic questions, my first ruling would be the following: If you buy an esrog, and the salesman declines a check telling you that he would prefer cash, or even that he could charge you less if you paid in cash, you must pay be check. He is prohibited from avoiding sales tax, and you are therefore prohibited from helping him do so, or even making it more tempting. Thus an esrog bought in a circumstance where you have real reason to believe that’s what you are doing would be useless, as trying to use it for the mitzvah would be a mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveirah (a mitzvah made possible through a sin) and void.

Here are some suggestions, and if someone wants to add their own ideas in the comments section, I would be grateful:

  • If one finds that they are much stronger at rituals that involve his relationship with G-d than in interpersonal integrity, how about the following exercise:  Every time you enter a room, kiss the mezuzah (if there is one) and remember that Hashem is in that room along with any people who may or may not be there, watching.
  • Another suggestion for the same person: When you greet a person, think “Behold, the ‘Image’ of G-d!”
  • Embrace a role model, so that when one is making a tough decision, his/her face will be before you to ask, “What would you do?” (Perhaps actually keeping a picture around near your bill desk would help remembering to do so.)
  • If the former advice could be mapped to the line in Pirke Avos “asei lekha rav — make a mentor for yourself”, then one must also consider the continuation: “qenei lekha chaveir — acquire for yourself a friend.” Picking peers with integrity helps keep “shenanigans” in the range of the unthinkable.
  • Think of the people for whom you are a role model. Keep a picture of your children on the desk, reminding you to refrain from making business decisions you would be ashamed to explain to them.
  • Learn the appropriate sections of Choshein Mishpat, the Qitzur Shulchan Aruch (simanim 62-67), or the Chafetz Chaim’s Ahavas Chessed — the halakhos of integrity. Daily, so that the topic is always close to consciousness.
  • Spend more time doing things that are truly important, and free. The less one is caught up in the pursuit of trying to buy happiness, the less tempting it is to try to aquire at the expense of the things that really matter. Related to this is the idea of planning one’s own eulogy, and making every decision in life with an eye toward whether it will help make that eulogy happen.  I thought I blogged this notion already, but I see it’s still on my to-do list. The things I want in my eulogy, a summary of my life’s accomplishments, should drive what I actually decide to do in life. No?

Again, I invite others to join with their suggestions. And to actually follow through on them. Today. While the outrage of today’s news provides the fire and motivation to act.

Natural Morality and Halakhah

What’s the relationship between a human’s intuitive sense of what’s moral and halachic mandate? There is a tendency in some circles to describe the Torah as though halakhah was the sum total of the guidelines Hashem gave us for behavior.

This is belied by a number of the mitzvos that require we follow some sense of “right” or “holy” that isn’t spelled out in behavioral terms. That we must know what “good” means beyond doing what is detailed through halachic methodology  in order to obey them. For example “be holy, for I am Holy” which the Ramban famously tells us is an obligation not to be “disgusting with [what would otherwise be] the permission of the Torah”. By definition, the Ramban assumes there is a definition of “disgusting” that isn’t defined by halachic process. Or “and you shall do hayashar vehatov — the upright and the good” . Qedushah, yosher and tov are treated as givens, that a person is expected to know what they are before one can even begin to explore the halachic mandate.

One can accordingly translate HIllel’s famous words to the prospective ger, “That which you would loathe [if in their shoes] don’t do to others. Now go and learn” into “All of the Torah is an elaboration of natural morality. However, you would never figure out how to reach the right conclusions from those principles unless you go study Torah.”

It’s like saying that all of biology is inherent in Physics. Even that said, you would never be able to derive biology on your own. If we were to rely on our ability to build the system ourselves from the first principles we would quickly exceed human capacity; errors would necessarily be made That’s the role of halakhah, to allow us to work with notions closer to our question than the basic moral principle from which they derive.

Along similar lines is the mitzvah of “vehalakhta bidrakhav — and you shall go in My Ways”, which our sages elaborate (this version is from the Rambam, Hilkhos Dei’os 1:6) “Just as He is called ‘goodwilled’ (חנון), so too you must be goodwilled; just as He is called Merciful, so too you must be Merciful…” Hilkhos Dei’os, Chovos haLvavos — entire texts based on the notion that one must be a moral being.

The Rambam writes:

Moses prayed to God to grant him knowledge of His attributes, and also pardon for His people; when the latter had been granted, he continued to pray for the knowledge of God’s essence in the words, “Show me thy glory” ([Exod. xxxiii.] 18), and then received, respecting his first request, “Show me thy way,” the following favourable reply, “I will make all my goodness to pass before thee” (ib. 19); as regards the second request, however, he was told, “Thou canst not see my face” (ib. 20). The words “all my goodness” imply that God promised to show him the whole creation, concerning which it has been stated, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. i. 31); when I say “to show him the whole creation,” I mean to imply that God promised to make him comprehend the nature of all things, their relation to each other, and the way they are governed by God both in reference to the universe as a whole and to each creature in particular. This knowledge is referred to when we are told of Moses,” he is firmly established in all mine house” (Num. xii. 7); that is, “his knowledge of all the creatures in My universe is correct and firmly established”; for false opinions are not firmly established. Consequently the knowledge of the works of God is the knowledge of His attributes, by which He can be known. The fact that God promised Moses to give him a knowledge of His works, may be inferred from the circumstance that God taught him such attributes as refer exclusively to His works, viz., “merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness,” etc., (Exod. xxxiv.  6). It is therefore clear that the ways which Moses wished to know, and which God taught him, are the actions emanating from God. Our Sages call them middoth (qualities), and speak of the thirteen middoth of God (Talm. B. Rosh ha-shanah, p. 17b)…Moshe’s ability to be the conduit for the Torah and the fountainhead for the halachic process was his being shown the morality inherent in how G-d made and runs the world.

- Guide to the Perplexed I:54 (Freidlander translation)

The revalation of Hashem’s attributes was fulfilled in showing Moshe how He runs the universe. That revalation gave Moshe the ability to “walk in His ways”. But more than that, the Rambam writes later in that chapter:

By the mention of this attribute we are, as it were, told that His commandments, undoubtedly in harmony with His acts, include the death even of the little children of idolaters because of the sin of their fathers and grandfathers. This principle we find frequently applied in the Law, as, e.g., we read concerning the city that has been led astray to idolatry, “destroy it utterly, and all that is therein” (Deut. xiii. 15). All this has been ordained in order that every vestige of that which would lead to great injury should he blotted out, as we have explained.

As the Torah states

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה֔’ הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר׃ וְהָיָה֙ בַּֽעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עָבְרִֽי׃ וַהֲסִֽרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵֽרָאֽוּ׃
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה֙’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה פְּסָל־לְךָ֛ שְׁנֵֽי־לֻחֹ֥ת אֲבָנִ֖ים כָּרִֽאשֹׁנִ֑ים וְכָֽתַבְתִּי֙ עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת אֶ֨ת־הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הָי֛וּ עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֥ת הָרִֽאשֹׁנִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר שִׁבַּֽרְתָּ׃

Hashem said: Here, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the boulder. When I pass my Glory by, I will place you in a cleft in the boulder and I will remove My “Palm” and you will see My “Back”, but My “Face” will not be seen.

Hashem said to Moshe: Carve for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on the tables the ideas which were on the first tablets which you shattered.

– Shemos 33:21-34:1

Natuaral moral law is expressed in halakhah. The connection is not self-evident, and in fact requires Divine Intellect to accurately get from “that which you loathe…” to the laws of making tea on Shabbos. But Hillel, the Ramban and the Rambam all tell us that our intuitive notion of right is in line with the principles of halakhah. It is from seeing Hashem’s creation that Moshe was prepared to carve the second luchos. And thus, where not contradicted by those non-obvious cases, we are required to follow natural morality. That’s qedushah, tov and yosher.

Be a Jew Through and Through

Another guest entry. The following was originally submitted to (but not picked up by) Hamodia. Rav Hirsch’s quoted words are clearly the predecessor of R’ Breuer’s talk on “Glatt Yoshor“, which was also posted to this blog from an email by R’ Dr Levine.

-micha

Be A Jew Through and Through!
Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ 07030
[email protected]

A number of years ago we had a student from Stevens as our guest for the last days of Pesach. He came from a non-religious home and had become observant. At one point he confided in me, “My father once told me that every time he had business dealings with an observant Jew he felt that he was being cheated.” To put it mildly I was taken aback by what he had said.

I explained to him that what his father told him was clearly a broad generalization that could not be the truth about how all observant Jews behaved in their business dealings. I also pointed out that the Torah requires us to deal honestly and fairly with all people – Jew and Gentile.

Nonetheless, what he said has remained with me, and even now I find such a statement disturbing. Sadly, there are some “frum” Jews whose dealings with others are not in accordance with what Yiddishkeit demands from its adherents.

Recently I came across something from the writings of Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch that deals with this topic. In his essay “Tammuz I” found in the Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Volume I, pages 279 – 281, Rav Hirsch points out that one of the five tragedies that took place on the Seventeenth of Tammuz was that “The tablets [Luchos] were broken when Moshe descended from the mountain.” He then goes on to point out

“And the tables were written on both their sides, , on the one side and on the other were they written.” (Exodus 32, 15.)

The word from Sinai must not grip us only superficially and one-sidedly. It must penetrate us through and through, it must set its stamp indelibly on every part of our being, and whichever way we are turned the writing of God must everywhere be visible on us clearly and legibly. See the Divine tables of testimony! On them there was no above and below, no front and back. The writing pierced right through them, and yet they could be read on both sides. This must be a model for you. Be a Jew through and through. Whichever way you are turned, be a Jew. Do not engrave the Divine writing only on one side, one part, one aspect of your being, so that you will appear a Jew and a missioner of the Divine name and the Divine will only when regarded from one side and one aspect, but when you turn your back and enter into other relationships you will appear as anything but a Jew, a missioner for anything but the name and the will of God; or at any rate you will not be so completely a Jew, you will not be so clearly stamped as a missioner of God’s will. Be a Jew through and through on all sides and in all aspects. And do not esteem one side as facing more directly towards the Godhead. Do not imagine that you have received the stamp of the Divine word with more emphasis on this one side, and that you can allow the other side to be content with the after-effects of this stamp and with the mere traces of this imprint. Do not think that people as they look on one side can discern that the force of the Divine word has penetrated to the other, when you speak of what you call the main sides and the main periods and the main items and the main articles of your Judaism. In relation to God there is no reverse side and no opposite side; everything is turned to God and must be taken equally seriously, on every side the stamp of the Divine will is to be placed with the same force and care and directness. Let yourself be penetrated through and through from all sides with the Divine word!

We have recently observed the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and are now in the midst of the Three Weeks. It should be a time of introspection for all of us, given the calamities that we have experienced during this sad period. Perhaps each of us should now commit to striving to be a Jew through and through in all that we do.

Rav Breuer: ‘Glatt Kosher — Glatt Yoshor’

The essay below, written by Rav Dr. Yosef Breuer, Zt”l, originally appeared in volume XI 1949/50 of the Mitteilungen. It was reproduced on pages 238 to 239 in Rav Breuer: His Life and Legacy. (With thanks to R’ Yitzchok Levine for putting the text on line.)

Glatt Kosher — Glatt Yoshor

The conscientious and minute observance of the laws of Kashruth belong to the sacred obligations to which we are to live up if our Jewish houses are to rise in purity before God and His Torah. Supplying our families with totally reliable foods is one of the major tasks a Kehilla has to fulfill.We may note with satisfaction that the supervision of our meat products from the time of Shechita until they reach the customer meets all the requirements of total Kashruth. This enables our Rabbinate to assume full personal responsibility for the reliability of our Kashruth.The concept “Glatt Kosher” refers to certain situations when an animal is rejected because of an existing “Sha’aloh” generally involving the lung — even if the halachic decision would be favorable. Just as all ethical strivings should extend beyond the prescribed boundaries — “lif’nim mi’shuras haDin” — so the practice should be adopted to declare only such meat as kosher that has not been involved in any kind of “Sha’aloh” (comp. Chulin 37b). Such practice would indeed deserve the title of “Glatt Kosher.”

A further comment: “Kosher” is intimately related to “Yoshor.” God’s Torah not only demands the observance of Kashruth and the sanctification of our physical enjoyment; it also insists on the sanctification of our social relationships. This requires the strict application of the tenets of justice and righteousness which avoid even the slightest trace of dishonesty in our business dealings and personal life.

God’s Torah not only demands of us to love our neighbor in that we concern ourselves with his welfare and property, but it insists further on a conduct of uncompromising straightness (“Yoshor”) which is inspired not only by the letter of the law but is guided by the ethical principle of honesty which, then, would deserve the honorable title of “Yeshurun.”

“He fears God who walks in uprightness” (Mishle 14:2).

We would welcome a campaign to link a drive for “Glatt Kosher” with an equally intensive one for “Glatt Yoshor.” This objective is given hopeful expression by the Prophet Zephaniah (3:13):

“The remnants of Israel will not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.”