Avodah Mailing List
Volume 16 : Number 014
Sunday, October 30 2005
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 04:32:26 -0800 (PST)
From: Harry Maryles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Torah and communal sheleimus
Micha Berger <email@example.com> wrote:
> R Harry Maryles replied (on Areivim):
>> I don't see how you can say otherwise. The facts speak for
>> themselves. But to say that Torah Hashkafa is not at tool for
>> Sheleimus would be to say that Torah adherence will not influence
>> behavior in a positive way which to me seems ridiculous.
> In the last line you seem to say that it /does/ guarantee progress toward
> sheleimus. Which position are you trying to espouse?
I am trying to reconcile my beliefs with reality. My sincere belief is
that Torah is an ennobling force. The reality seems to be that numbers of
Frum people, even those that are sincere in their beliefs and motivations
can... and sometimes do... succumb to their Taavos.
This issue is so complex that it defies short discourse. There are many
facets to Torah that all combine to ennoble. And all the primary facets
have nuances. There are also interpretations of Torah and streams of
observance that flow from these interpretations. And the streams vary
greatly and sometimes contradict each other.
It is also important to note that there are two seemingly (although
not actually) conflicting Torah philosophies that impact on human
behavior. OT1H, if one studies the classic Mussar S’forim one can see
what the epitome of ethical behavior should be. A very high and difficult
standard. An obsessive compulsive personality may very well develop a form
of OCD called scrupulosity. Trying to live up to those standards in that
way can result in severe clinical depression. OTOH, there is another
side of the coin which has been trying to counteract this phenomenon is
the self esteem movement. Well... I guess it's not a movement but there
have been many books written by renowned psychologist R. Abraham Twersky
on the subject in an attempt to address this terrible new phenomenon.
I guess what it really boils down to is that Torah, if practiced sincerely
by a healthy personality will guarantee Sheleimus. The problem is the
abnormal personality. Personality development is a key factor in behavior
and much of one's personality develops in very early childhood. An
abnormal personality, no matter what his Chinuch and no matter how
sincere, can easily succumb to Taavos. The truly sincere of such people
may fight off tendencies with all their might and even succeed. But it
is also quite possible for an abnormal personality to fail and succumb
to Taavos. We have, unfortunately seen many a good man fail in this way.
Just by way of one example, It is quite possible that Baruch Lanner was
a relatively good man who wanted to do good, and in many ways did... in
his long tenure at NCSY. But, his ...was an abnormal personality. His
Taavos apparently overcame him and he violated Issurei Erva repeatedly
for years. The reason it took so long to expose and prosecute him,
IMO is that other good people rationalized and/or looked the other way
precisely because he WAS doing much good.
The Torah that ennobled him and motivated him to work so hard for NCSY
could not in the end overcome the Taavos of his abnormal personality.
There is also another relatively famous Rosh Yeshiva who was highly
respected by many generations of Talmidim. But in the end this RY must
have had an abnormal personality and he succumbed to his Taavos and was
Oveir on Eishes Ish. He was ennobled but, when put in an environment of
Nisayon, his abnormal personality caused him to succumb to his Taaovos.
>> The exemplars of Torah behavior are the Gedolei HaDor. They are the
>> one's who observe and understand Torah better than all of us. Even
>> they can be flawed but I think it is safe to assume that if all of
>> us emulated the behavior of the truly great figures in Jewish
>> history we would have no abuse of any kind. Can anyone imagine any
>> kind of abuse in the home of a R. Yaakov, a R. Moshe, or a RYBS?
>> These people were Shelaimim because of Torah.
I stand by this statement. These Gedolei HaDor had normal personality
development. Such individuals... when motivated by Torah Hashkafa and
work hard at it, will develop the Midos Tovos that make them Gedolim
and prevent even a scintilla of abusive behavior.
> To spell out, the choices I gave ... :
> 1 (not quoted)- What the hamon am observe isn't really Torah, and its
> resemblence to Torah is distant enough that the effect on sheleimus on
> a statistical level across the community is small.
Torah behavior is the standard. A blanket statement like, "What the
hamon am observe isn't really Torah" is false. Some people (Orthoprax)
fall into that category and some don't. The HaMon Am is just as subject to
abnormal personality development as the rest of western civilization. But
most of the Jewish people who are sincere in their beliefs and have had
normal personality development will never become abusive in any way.
> 2- Torah does not guarantee sheleimus; it's a tool that people can use
> to seek sheleimus. However, they still have to actively seek it.
I agree. Torah does not guarantee anything. We have Bechira Chafshis.
An abnormal personality can... and sometimes will succumb to his Taavos.
> A major nafqa mina lema'aseh -- curriculum changes. How do we raise
> children who are less blighted than our generation?
I'm not sure that it is possible to eliminate abuse completely from our
ranks. There are far too many people whose personality development was
poor who are now parents. Some of them might become abusive parents and
their children's personalities will be abnormal as well.
Obviously, that doesn't absolve us of trying. The key to successful
transmission of Torah values is good parenting. That requires more
than anything else good parenting role models. How we get there is a
good question. But children need role models for their behavior. If a
parent is abusive in the home, a child needs to find other role models,
perhaps in a grandparent or a teacher or Rebbe in school. Of course in
some cases by the time a child reaches school age it may be to late to
impact his personality development because of the abuse he has already
suffered. This child night then become an abuser in his own parental role.
I'm not sure how to tackle the problem but a good start would be for
psychologist like R Abraham Twersky and Gedolei HaDor of all stripes
(i.e. not limited to, but including Agudah) to get together and figure
My own suggestion would be to have good psychologists on staff at
every day school. Their mandate should be to evaluate every child's
personality and determine at the earliest possible age which kids are
at risk. Identifying the problem early is half the solution. School
curricula should include Mussar but faculty should also be traind to
recognize and be alert to those children who might develop "scrupulosity"
because of a personality disorder.
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Date: Sat, 29 Oct 2005 23:22:25 +0200
From: Yisrael Medad <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> the AriZal himself would have davenned facing south (from Tzefat)
Depends when. He spent many more years in Egypt than in Tzfat.
And the word is "ni'anu'ah", "ni'anu'im".
Na'anah is a plant.
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 12:21:26 +0200
From: saul mashbaum <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: colors in the gemara
> But if so, then where does "argaman" fit into this? If it's not the name
> of the fabric, then wouldn't it perforce be the name of the color?
>Clearly RSRH is saying that techeiles is blue, argaman is purple wool.
>That said, I have no idea how he holds this, as the definition of
>techeiles as blue wool is assumed by chazal in defining mitzvas tzitzis.
I hope b"N to post on this soon in some detail, but for now will note
that RSRH describes the symbolic meaning of all the colors in the Mishkan
((and the bigdei k'huna)
in his commentary to Shmot 25:8.
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 14:28:11 +0000
From: Yitzhak Grossman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Lulavim
From: "Micha Berger" <email@example.com>
> Another issue: We rely on the time of qinyan for defining Mi shepara.
Mi Shepara applies even when no Kinyan has occurred, as long as the buyer
has paid the seller. If there has been no payment, there's generally no
Mi Shepara; if a Kinyan has occurred, neither party can renege even with
a Mi shepara.
> lehalkhah, qinyan occurs at the time that the merchandise changes hands.
> However, lehalakhah, forms of qinyan accepted by civil law are also binding.
It is far from clear that civil law controls a transaction between two
Jews; Hazon Ish (HM Likutim 16, especially section 5), for example,
firmly maintains that it does not. The locus classicus for this issue is
the Sugia of Shtaros Ha'olos B'arkaos Shel Goyim (Gittin 10b); see Rosh
and Ran ad locum, Rambam and Magid Mishneh Malveh Veloveh 27:1, Shulhan
Aruch HM 68:1 and Biur Hagra 68:19. Pis'hei Hoshen (Kinyanim Chapter 2
note 14) has an extensive discussion of many relevant Marei M'komos.
Thanks Micha for the good work!
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 10:32:56 -0500
From: Micha Berger <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Lulavim
On Sun, Oct 30, 2005 at 02:28:11PM +0000, Yitzhak Grossman wrote:
: >Another issue: We rely on the time of qinyan for defining Mi shepara.
: Mi Shepara applies even when no Kinyan has occurred, as long as the buyer
: has paid the seller...
It ONLY applies when no qinyan has occured yet. Otherwise, the act is
geneivah. Which is why I raised the question of qinyanim defined by
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Date: Sat, 29 Oct 2005 21:21:50 +0200
From: Daniel Eidensohn <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Ikarei Hashkafah
Shinnar, Meir wrote:
>Now, in terms of some aristotelian thought, it was thought that as man is
>the noblest sublunar creation, the sublunar world was created for him -
>a position rejected by the rambam. With regard to the stars, he views
>the position that they were created for man as even more problematic
Regarding the assertion (MN 3:13) that the Rambam rejects the view that
man is the purpose of creation.
*Rambam(Introduction to Mishna #6):* [[Translation R 'AY Finkel -
You should understand that all things that exist beneath tbe orbit of
the moon were created only for the sake of man. Some of the animals
are meant to be eaten, like sheep and cattle and other species. Some
are here to serve purposes other than nourishment, like a donkey which
is meant to carry heavy burdens, or horses which are meant to help man
reach distant places in a short time. The benefit of some species we do
not know; they do have benefits, though, but we are not aware of what
these benefits are. In the same way, some trees, plants and herbs can be
eaten, others are used as medicines. Now, if you find animals or plants
that you think cannot be eaten and seem to have no purpose, you should
blame it on your lack of knowledge. It is impossible for any herb, fruit
or animal-from the elephant to the worm-not to be beneficial for man.
Proof of this is that in each generation, extremely beneficial herbs
and fruits are discovered that were unknown to earlier generations. The
human mind cannot grasp the advantages of each plant, but their benefits
will become known through scientific experiments in time to come. ...
Now that we have stated that the purpose of all things is to benefit man,
we must also probe the question as to why and for what purpose was man
created? After a long investigation, the philosophers concluded that man
has a great many functions, in contrast to all species of animals and
trees which have only one or two functions. .... They analyzed each of
his functions, in order to discover the purpose for which man was created,
and they found that his main purpose is to perform one function only. It
is for the sake of this one function that he was created, and all his
other functions only serve to keep him alive so that he can fulfill his
main function. This function is: To form abstract ideas and to know
the essential truths. ... Before developing his knowledge, a man is
no better than a beast, for the only thing that makes him different
than other living creatures is his ability to think logically and form
abstract ideas. Now, the loftiest idea a man can think of is the Unity
of Hashem and all theological concepts that flow from this. All other
fields of study are only exercises by which to train your mind until
it reaches knowledge of Hashem. A full discussion of this subject would
take up too much space.
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 03:02:43 -0500
From: "R. Alexander Seinfeld" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Ikarei Hashkafah
> Hashem Himself is the greatest good. And, we just concluded that He has a
> "need" (kevayachol) to give. Therefore, if He wanted to give us the greatest
> gift, it would be giving us the ability to be active givers, not passive
> recipients. The greatest good therefore logically must be one that a person
> made, rather than passively received. Passivity is unlike His Good.
May I tweak your argument slightly?
1. Hashem is the greatest good
2. One of his "qualities" is "giving" which requires a recipient
3. The greatest good is (as per #1) Hashem himself. What does that mean?
Closeness to, or a _relationship_ with Hashem.
4. For a relationship to be meaningful, it must be chosen.
Hashem says, in effect, "I can give you everything but a relationship
with me. That you must choose yourself." Therefore, the real dialectics
of human existence is between that desire to have the relationship
(yetzer hatov) and the desire not to have it (yezter hara). When I
choose wisely, I am by definition expanding/deepening/strengthening the
relationship. Hashem engineers history, nature and the personal hasgacha
of each person in order to help us improve our choices.
Philosophically, I don't see any problem saying that Hashem has/had
a lack. We define (as it were; "define" means create boundaries
or limits) Hashem as "Infinite" - that means "no limits" or "no
lack." Therefore, by definition, He lacks nothing....except one thing:
he lacks "lack". The briah can thus be defined as the creation of lack
"within" the Infinite. That's of course logically impossible. I often
pose the following in a beginner's Judaism class: "Everyone please touch
the table. Is it finite or infinite?" of course, they all agree it's
finite. "100% bona-fide finite, right? So you agree that here's a place
that is not infinite, and therefore where God is absent?" Of course,
they don't, but now they appreciate the paradox.
The resolution, as I understand it, is to conclude that God cannot cease
being infinite (again: He lacks lack); thus the briah must be something
of a concealment of His infiniteness. This, I believe, is the correct
understanding of "tsimtsum".
I would also like to propose that we in our discussion distinguish between
the function of the briah and its purpose. The function of the briah may
well be - al pi the Ramchal et al - the expression of Divine Giving. The
purpose - why God would express His Giving at all - is likely unknowable
to us, and irrelevant to living a fully transcendent life.
Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld
The Art of Amazement: Judaism's Forgotten Spirituality
Tarcher/Penguin 2005 € ISBN 1585424188
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 11:17:15 -0500
From: Micha Berger <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Ikarei Hashkafah
On Sun, Oct 30, 2005 at 03:02:43AM -0500, R. Alexander Seinfeld wrote:
:> Hashem Himself is the greatest good. And, we just concluded that He has a
:> "need" (kevayachol) to give. Therefore, if He wanted to give us the greatest
:> gift, it would be giving us the ability to be active givers, not passive
:> recipients. The greatest good therefore logically must be one that a person
:> made, rather than passively received. Passivity is unlike His Good.
: May I tweak your argument slightly?
: 1. Hashem is the greatest good
: 2. One of his "qualities" is "giving" which requires a recipient
: 3. The greatest good is (as per #1) Hashem himself. What does that mean?
: Closeness to, or a _relationship_ with Hashem.
: 4. For a relationship to be meaningful, it must be chosen.
I think you're chassidishizing my line of thought. A Litvak, particularly
one who has had his head in Mussar sefarim lately, would say that the
greatest gift is to be in His Image. Whereas you write that it's to have
a relationship with him.
Classical haskafic fork, as per <http://www.aishdas.org/rygb/forks.htm>.
Micha Berger Man is equipped with such far-reaching vision,
firstname.lastname@example.org yet the smallest coin can obstruct his view.
http://www.aishdas.org - Rav Yisrael Salanter
Fax: (270) 514-1507
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 11:53:45 -0500
From: Zev Sero <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: cohen gadol
Eli Turkel <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Yochanan - 80- (not clear who he was - if he was Yochanan the Chashmonai
> he overlaps with the previous numbers - however this does not jive with
> Josephus and the length of the Chashmonai dynasty. If he is someone else
> then we have another 80 years and have accounted for 340 out of 420 years)
I've heard it suggested that the correct version is that Yochanan served
honestly as CG "*ad* shemonim shana", i.e. until the age of 80, and then
became a tzedoki.
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 19:20:07 +0200
From: Eli Turkel <email@example.com>
Subject: only one opinion.
> The above is not addressed to me however I feel compelled to comment. If
> Chazal say that Chofni and Pinchas did not commit any improprieties
> relating to arayos, there can only be one opinion.
However, there are many medershe chazal on pesukim where the rishonim
and achronim give a different perush on the pasuk. Many of them state
explicitly that one is not required to follow an aggadah pf chazal
contrary to the simple pshat of the pasuk as long as it doesn't change
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Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 19:35:00 +0200
From: Eli Turkel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Faith, Fundamentalism, Rationality and Science:
from judaism in the foothills
Faith, Fundamentalism, Rationality and Science:
Are They Suited to Each Other?
By Rabbi Levi Brackman
About four years ago I met with our local Catholic priest to discuss
starting an interfaith group for our area of North London. During
our conversation the concept of biblical stories came up, ?Do you
believe that Noah really existed and that there was a flood?? I replied
affirmatively. ?Then you are a fundamentalist!? he exclaimed in contempt.
Similarly, someone recently asked me whether I believed that G-d created
the world in six days, again I answered that I did. ?If it becomes known
that you believe in the literal meaning of such primitive stories people
will not take you seriously,? he replied.
Indeed this is a serious matter: how can modern day intellectuals
give truth-value to and believe in stories that were popular during
antiquity. Surely since the scientific revolution no rational,
freethinking person can honestly believe in such outdated ideas about
the creation of the universe. Indeed for this reason many religious
apologetics have endeavored to show how the Bible is really entirely
compatible with science. Many of these people however have found
themselves obliged to change the traditional understanding of biblical
stories so that they fit into scientific theories.
As a rabbi, theologian and student of philosophy and Kabbalah I
have a slightly different response to the question of faith versus
intellectualism and science. It is my contention that real faith is never
blind ? it always leads to rationality. My friend Dr. Daniel Rynhold
recently published a book entitled, ?Two Models of Jewish Philosophy:
Justifying One?s Practices? (Oxford University Press, 2005). The book
endeavors to prove a similar contention. He proposes two models for
rationalizing Jewish rituals and practices. The first model, termed
in the book as the Priority of Theory, is the traditional method of
rationalizing behaviors, where one comes up with a theory or principle
which will then justify a particular practice. Thus, Maimonides would
contend that Jewish religious practices are designed to bring about the
perfection of man(1). Based on that principle Maimonides will explain
how individual practices actually help bring that perfection about.
So first one has the theory and then one can use it to rationalize the
Amongst a number of problems inherent in this method of rationalizing
religious practice Rynhold points out the following difficulty. If
a practice is found not to fit into the proposed theory or principle
one may be feel obliged to either revise the practice or change its
traditional meaning. If this were to happen it would follow that not
all religious practices, in their original state, adhere to the proposed
rational principle or theory. This would disprove the original contention
? that all practices fit into a particular theory of principle(3).
Based on this I contend that justifying religious beliefs based on an
exterior set of principles, namely science is similarly problematic. If
one finds that one is unable to fit the entire creation story in its
literal state, into the theory of evolution, for example, one may feel
obliged, as some have, to change the traditional meaning of the Biblical
story. In doing this one would be admitting that the biblical creation
story, in its literal sense, is not rational and negates scientific
reality. This puts one in the absurd position of automatically canceling
out the original goal, namely to prove that the biblical story is
eminently scientifically plausible.
Rynhold thus comes up with a second modal of justifying religious practice
which he terms the Priority of Practice. The concept is simple: practice
itself engenders a rationality that is not reducible to principles or
general theories. Based on Aristotelian philosophy which states that
habitually acting in a virtuous manner, for example, produces reasoned
a nd rational confidence in virtuous behavior, Rynhold concludes that:
?As a matter of empirical fact habituation or practice does seem to
create a reasoned confidence in our practices(4).? An example of this is
the Shabbat: experiencing a Shabbat with all its richness brings about
an understanding of the rational behind it. Thus, habitual religious
practice yields a rational apprehension of the ritual that would not
have been attainable without experiencing the practice itself.
According to this modal of justifying religious practices one?s starting
point is faith. One believes that because the practices have a Divine
origin they are worthwhile. However, only after practicing the rituals can
one hope to gain a rational understanding of their purpose. This should
come as no surprise, as Rynhold points out, this is exactly the method
one employs when teaching a child the importance of study. According
to Maimonides one should bribe a child with all type of material
incentives until the child independently appreciates the intrinsic worth
It seems to me that this modal can be used with regards faith in biblical
and religious doctrines as well. Indeed if one believes that scientific
theory is the key to truth, fitting the Bible?s story of creation into
that perceived truth will be difficult. However if one begins from a
standpoint of faith maintaining that the Bible is the word of G-d and
therefore contains the true version of events, sooner or later one
will comprehend the rational behind the stories(6). One of the great
Chassidic masters said: ?For a believer there are no questions; for a
unbeliever there are no answers(7).? This is not to say that the believer
has blind faith. Although believers may begin from a standpoint of faith
their journey does not end there, true believers are able to believe in
religious doctrine whilst maintaining their intellectual integrity. This
is similar to practice: before one has become practically acquainted with
a ritual it is difficult to comprehend the rational behind it. Similarly,
whereas an unbeliever will find it difficult to comprehend the intrinsic
rational behind doctrines of faith, for a believer it is much easier.
Indeed the Kabbalists have already said that the key to proper
comprehension of biblical and mystical concepts is faith(8). Some
would have us believe that faith and intellectualism create an
unhappy marriage. This could not be further from the truth. When I
was teaching Judaic Studies to 18-year-old High School students, they
were often surprised to find that there was deep rational underpinning
to religious concepts. Frequently, even subconsciously, a tremendous
amount intellectual energy is expended to fully comprehend our deeply
held beliefs and convictions. It is interesting to note that this fact
crosses boundaries. In the academic world too people spend massive amounts
of energy, both intellectual and physical, to prove that a theory they
believe in is correct. If one really believes in a theory or doctrine
most obstacles both intellectual and physical are surmountable.
So as we read the story of creation in the Torah portion this week let us
not dismiss it as being fictional or as not having literal meaning. Let
us realize instead that with a little faith one is able to achieve that
which would otherwise seem virtually impossible.
(1) Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed III:27.
(2) For greater detail see Rynhold p18-47.
(3) Rynhold, "Two Models of Jewish Philosophy" p121.
(4) Rynhold, ibid., p187 (5) Rynhold, ibid., p185.
(6) This does not mean the science is to be dismissed and nonsense,
indeed science often helps us to understand concepts found in the Bible
and in rabbinic literature.
The stress here is that the believer sees the Biblical account as being
absolute and science as subject to change, this way, eventually, the
two can be married successfully.
(7) It is not clear which Chassidic leader this is attributed to.
(8) This concept is found often in the Chassidic discourses (on
Kabbalistic themes) by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem
M. Scheneershon of blessed memory.
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