Category: Machashavah

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Modern Orthodoxy, Chareidism, and Mussar

Thinking about it, I don’t think the whole Torah uMadah (TuM) vs. Torah im Derekh Eretz (TIDE) vs. “Torah Only” distinctions which have become the borders between our communities are really compatible with Mussar. To simplify, let’s phrase the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidim as basically whether (1) chol is an opportunity whose risks must be mitigated or (2)...

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Different Parts of the Same Body

We can draw a theme from parashas Bamidbar through the beginning of Beha’alosekha.In Beha’alosekha, Moshe and Aharon count the Jewish People “according to their families, by their father’s household” (1:2), divided by sheivet. Sheivet is defined patrilineally. Membership in the Jewish People as a whole is matrilineal, though. Why? We also find this asymetry in a law mentioned later in...

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Attributes of G-d

When we describe an attribute of G-d, we can’t mean “attribute” in the normal sense. If we said that G-d has properties that are not His essence, we would be saying He is divisible. Therefore, the Rambam takes these “attributes” to be one of two things: 1- descriptions of how G-d relates to man, or 2- descriptions of what He...

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Ki Arumim Heim

“And the snake was [more] arum than all the animals of the field…” (Bereishis 3:1)In this pasuq, “arum” is variously translated. JPS has “subtle”. Others have “sly”, “cunning”, and the like. In Iyov (5:12), Elifaz describes Hashem as One Who “annuls the thoughts of arumim”. In these contexts, it would appear that being an “arum” is no compliment. But in...

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Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

There is a quote from the Christian Testament that it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is a rich man to get into heaven.It makes an interesting contrast to a Talmudic quote, a promise G-d makes the repentant: If you make for yourself an opening like the eye of a needle, I...

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Yom haAtzma’ut

A few years back, when Yom haAtzma’ut was also celebrated on Thursday 3 Iyyar, my father asked me what I thought about not saying Tachanun or saying Hallel. The choice of 5 Iyyar as the point at which we gained atzma’ut, independence, is itself not perfectly compelling. It was not the date we were given independence, or the date the...

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Reasons for Mitzvos

There are three things we might be talking about when we ask about reasons for a mitzvah: (if it’s Torahitic:) the source in the pasuq directly or through derashah; the halachic mechanism by which a given conclusion was reached; the philosophical principle behind the mitzvah. I’m speaking of the third. But the gemara’s usual question is the first: How do...

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Purpose of Qorbanos, part II

“This is what is meant by the verse (Tehillim 89:7), “For who in the heavens can equal God, can compare with God among the divine beings?” Said the A-lmighty, “If I wanted a sacrifice, wouldn’t I simply ask Michael, who is right here next to Me, to offer to Me a sacrifice? From whom do I want a sacrifice? From...

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Causality in Halakhah

A major factor in the Terri Schiavo case is that a feeding tube was defined to be heroic medical intervention, rather than a parallel to the charity we would give anyone who can’t obtain food themselves.In halakhah, what’s the line? I would like to suggest that it is defined based on another halachic distinction.How can someone free a slave? The...

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Life and Consciousness

The differences between the treatment of the Terry Shiavo in American law and halakhah do not rest in scientific knowledge, but in definitions. To be precise two particular definitions: First, determining the line between beneficence and artificially prolonging life. Second, defining which medical states qualify as “human life”. In this entry, I’m just looking at the second one.R’ JB Soloveitchik...

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Purpose of Qorbanos

When reviewing what I wrote on this subject for the Mesukim on Vayiqra, I noticed some more points. First to summarize:Rambam (naively reading the Moreh Nevuchim): Hashem gave us qorbanos, a normal idolatrous practice, to wean us from avodah zarah.Ramban: How is this possible? Noach offered a qorban and there were no idolators or peer pressure. Rather qorbanos are to...

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Eilu vaEilu – part I

Before giving my own thoughts, I would like to discuss two recent articles on Eilu va’eilu: Moshe Halbertal on “The History of Halakhah, Views from Within: Three Medieval Approaches to Tradition and Controversy“ R’ Michael Rosensweig’s article “Elu Va-Elu Divre Elokim Hayyim: Halakhic Pluralism And Theories Of Controversy“ As background: The gemara (Eiruvin 13b) speaks of a protracted debate between...

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Trends in Resolving Torah and Science

This is the nearest I plan to get to discussing L’affaire Slifkin on this blog. I’m not going to discuss issues dealt with by R’ Gil Student in his Hirhurim blog, or in any of the other Jewish blogs. My opinion is already better represented on line already than what I could produce. When I read R’ Shternbuch’s article I...

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Brisk and Telzh

At some point during my time in YU I chose not to follow the more popular “track”, leading to Rav Herschel Schachter shlit”a’s and lbchl”ch R’ YB Soloveitchik zt”l’s shiurim. Instead, I chose Rav Dovid Lifshitz zt”l’s shiur. A key element of that decision was my sense that something inherent in Brisker Derekh did not speak to me; Rav Dovid’s...

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The Kuzari Proof, part III

A recent email from Yeshivat Har Etzion of a shiur by Rav Chaim Navon included the following quotes from R’ JB Soloveitchik’s essay “Uvikashtem MiSham“. Notice the poetic treatment of the idea that knowledge through proof is indirect, yet one’s belief in and relationship with the Creator should be first-hand. While the philosophy of the Middle Ages and also that...

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Rav Dessler’s Approach to Creation

(You might want to see also Different Approaches to Creation, a survey that just touches on a variety of opinions, as well as Divine Timelessness.) I think that in order to understand Rav Dessler’s position about the nature of time during ma’aseh bereishis one needs to start with MmE vol II pp 150-154, aptly titled “Yemei Bereishis veYemai Olam“. Comments...

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Divine Timelessness

Bereishis Rabbah( 5:5): G-d made the creation of water conditional on its splitting before the Jews when they left Egypt….It was not just with the sea that He made a stipulation but with everything that He created during the six days of creation…. G-d commanded the sea to divide, the heavens and earth to be silent before Moshe…the sun and...

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The Legislative Authority of a Bas Qol

A brief summary of the Encyclopedia Talmudit entry on “Bas Qol”, the paragraph about its impact on halachah:An Achna’i-style oven was made from pieces of pottery that were not cemented together. So, the question arose: Can it, like any other oven, become tamei? Or, is it like shards of pottery which can not? Rabbi Yehoshua and the other sages ruled...

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Politeness and Taharah

The word “polite” comes from the Latin “politus” via the Old English “polit”, to polish. Polish is itself of the same derivation.I think this is a very telling statement about Western Culture. Politeness is about perfecting the surface. It doesn’t demand a change of the self, but putting up the appropriate front for others. This is the key to a...

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Theodicy

Here is a domain in which the split between philosophy and relationship that we’ve been exploring for the past few posts comes to the fore.I developed a philosophy about theodicy, tzadiq vera lo, why tragedy visits people who live far more righteously than others who seem to be free of it. I explored four different reactions to tragedy, comparing them...

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Argument by Design ver. 4.0

Ver 1.0:Medrash Temurah: “G-d created” (Gen. 1:1): A hereic came to Rabbi Aqiva and asked, “Who made the universe?”. Rabbi Aqiva answered, “Haqadosh barukh Hu“. The heretic said, “Prove it to me.” Rabbi Aqiva said, “Come to me tomorrow”. When the heretic returned, Rabbi Aqiva asked, “What is that you are wearing?” “A garment”, the unbeliever replied. “Who made it?”...

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The Kuzari Proof, part II

All proofs require first principles. A proof starts with givens, postulates, and derives a conclusion from them. Regardless of how sound the proof, the conclusion could never be more solid than those givens. In other words, if I want someone to accept my rigorous proof of G-d’s existance, they must first accept all my givens, as well as the validity...

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The Kuzari Proof, part I

[I later found I had a more formal presentation of this idea in Mesukim MiDevash for Yisro. This post was updated Apr 18, 2007, with a quote of Luis Ginsberg taken from Hirhurim.] Rav Yehudah Halevi makes a statement in The Kuzari which is usually taught as follows: No one could invent a story that alleges all of the target’s...

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Psychology and Mussar

The story so far from the previous two entries: Contemporary western society puts its trust in science to the extent that things outside its domain are assumed to have a lesser reality. The current stance toward morality is therefore one of uncertainty, which is paraded as the virtues of tolerance and relativism. It also means that instead of lauding free...