Latest update: September 4th, 2012
What’s In A Beard?
Yishai Fleisher laments the fact that the reggae singer Matisyahu shaved off his beard and is therefore, in Fleisher’s opinion, no longer “outwardly Jewish, so proudly different” (“Culture Wars: From the Maccabees to Matisyahu’s Beard,” op-ed, Dec. 23).
But later on in the article, Fleisher praises the Maccabeats (who of course have no beards) for helping to make “Judaism look attractive.” Perhaps it is time for people like Fleisher to ask themselves what it is they really like about these performers. Is it that these singers really produce a uniquely Jewish sound and feeling or is that they successfully copy music straight out of the secular world, and make Fleisher proud that our boys can do it while wearing a kippah – and even better, a beard?
The truth is, the Jewish public is not stupid. They know when they’re listening to secular music, and are increasingly listening to the real thing because they recognize a fraud when they hear one, and realize a beard is nothing compared to a sound when it comes to Jewish pride.
Auschwitz A German Camp
In “Disaster Barely Averted in Modiin Air Crash” (news story, Dec. 23), your Israel correspondent Steve Walz referred to “Poland’s Auschwitz concentration camp.” This is an unfortunate and inaccurate formulation. It was Germany’s Auschwitz concentration and death camp, imposed on occupied Poland.
The Anti-Defamation League has stated that “As an organization devoted to nurturing Holocaust remembrance, we share Poland’s concern over the frequent description of Auschwitz as a Polish camp, which suggests the object was built on behalf of the Polish nation.”
Meanwhile, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris has written: “The camps were located in German-occupied Poland, the European country with by far the largest Jewish population, but they were most emphatically not ‘Polish camps.’ ”
And the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin noted that “Auschwitz was a German death camp, built by German criminals on Polish soil.”
Poland and Poles don’t have a perfect record, but the Holocaust was carried out by the Germans.
Christian Zionists And Israel
Re David Ha’ivri’s recent op-ed “Are Christian Zionists a Threat to Israel?” (JewishPress.com web exclusive):
There is no question that there are many fine, upstanding gentiles supporting Israel at this time. While certain strategic, moral and political alliances with the non-Jewish world are to be encouraged, it is both naïve and misleading to deny the serious costs involved in Israel’s unregulated relationship with impassioned evangelical Christians.
As content and research director of Jewishisrael.com, an organization that monitors Christian activity in Israel, I regret to say that Mr. Ha’ivri has chosen to diminish the concerns of those working in the counter-missionary field and those investigating growing Christian influence in the Jewish state.
Certain Christian individuals and organizations with whom Mr. Ha’ivri chooses to work may not be aggressively proselytizing in the classical sense. However, they are on a religiously driven mission with the intention to draw Jews close, or they strive for a theological unification between Judaism and Christianity. In addition, these parties are supportive of messianic Christian sects in the Jewish state and aspire toward a Christian restoration in Israel.
If Jewish activists like David Ha’ivri choose to work with devout Christians, they should be honest enough to acknowledge the problems and wise enough to use foresight, seek guidance, and draw red lines in such relationships.
Science And The Sages: The Debate Continues
The Solar Year
My position that the amora Shmuel erred in his calculation of the solar year’s length came under sharp attack in the December 16 Letters section. I had argued, in an earlier letter, that due to Shmuel’s error we begin saying “v’sain tal u’matar” approximately two weeks too late; we also recite Birkas HaChamah, the blessing of the sun, at the wrong moment.
In refutation, a responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, was invoked, in which he scolds a questioner who suggested that Klal Yisrael errs in setting the start date for “v’sain tal u’matar.” Rav Moshe insists that it is highly improper to propose that the entire people of Israel are wrong in how we practice a particular halacha.
One can debate this point; one certainly may not take it lightly, and I did not state in my letter that we should change the date for the commencement of “v’sain tal u’matar.” However, Rav Moshe goes further, by actually defending the possibility that Shmuel’s calculation of a 365-and-a-quarter-day solar year is correct. Rav Moshe writes that the Rambam was uncertain whether Shmuel’s calculation or a second calculation, attributed to the amora Rav Adda, is accurate. The Rambam leans toward Rav Adda’s view, but does not entirely discard Shmuel’s. We, therefore, cannot decide which position is precise.
One must ask: Is Rav Moshe actually entertaining the notion that Shmuel may be right? Further, the reality is that Rav Adda’s calculation is also inaccurate. Rav Moshe was the greatest halachic authority of our generation, but true Torah study requires one to object when a view appears wrong, regardless of the view’s author. The Shvus Yaakov (3:10), writing around the turn of the eighteenth century, believed the world to be flat. Are we now not permitted to argue with this great Sage? Is it heresy to insist the world is round?
The writer also noted the affirmation by the Chazon Ish of Shmuel’s calculation. Here too we are not free of our duty to contest an untenable view. The Chazon Ish writes that Shmuel’s calculation actually originates from Sinai, that is, it was told to Moshe Rabbeinu and is part of the Oral Law. The same, he avers, is true of Rav Adda’s calculation.
This approach is mind-boggling. For one thing, Shmuel’s year is pertinent to only two practices: the date to begin “v’sain tal u’matar” and the time when Birkas HaChamah is recited. Neither of these practices is Sinaitic in origin, which would mean that God gave Moshe Rabbeinu a calendar that had absolutely no ramifications at the time!
Further, the Chazon Ish writes that Shmuel purposely rounded the length of the solar year (a claim others have also made). By contrast, Rav Adda’s solar year, also given at Sinai, is precise: 365 days, 55 minutes, and 25 and 25/27th seconds. Clearly Rav Adda is aiming for an exact figure, yet he is significantly off: the solar year is actually about six minutes shorter. If God were giving Moshe a complicated number for the solar year, why not just transmit the equally complicated, but more accurate, true number?
Far Rockaway, NY
In light of the reader responses elicited by my December 2 letter, it appears that some serious explaining is in order. Apparently my use of the “H” word – that’s heresy – offended some readers, and for this I am truly sorry. I was simply trying to make the point that some observant Jews, when given the choice between Torah doctrine and scientific “fact,” opt for the latter and this position is a dangerous one.
When someone argues that the Talmud contains errors on matters of science, it’s not that far a stretch for him to conclude that since our laws derive from that very same Talmud, we need not, chas v’shalom, observe them.
That’s a dramatic statement, but it’s the intent of the Mishnah in Avos which warns chachamim to be careful with their words lest they lead others to sin. I was taught by all my rabbis that the Torah – that’s the Written and Oral Torah – is absolute truth. It works for me and for most religious Jews.
Those who want to delve into minutiae and the possibility that errors can be found in the Talmud should speak to a qualified rabbi – but they should do it privately. Let’s put aside our differences and work together to demonstrate the unity of the Torah world. With this achdus, we will surely merit the coming of Mashiach who will answer all our questions and resolve all our differences.
Dr. Yaakov Stern
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