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December 6, 2016 / 6 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘commandments’

Earliest Ten Commandments Tablet On Auction in Beverly Hills

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

The earliest-known stone inscription of the Ten Commandments will be offered Nov. 16, 2016 by Heritage Auctions in the Living Torah Museum Auction in Beverly Hills, California, Art Daily reported Tuesday. The tablet is the centerpiece of an offering of Bible-related historical artifacts, researched and authenticated, property of the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, NY. The opening bid on the Ten Commandments is $250,000.

David Michaels, Director of Antiquities for Heritage Auctions, suggested “there is nothing more fundamental to our shared heritage than the Ten Commandments.” The two-foot-square marble slab, inscribed in early Hebrew script, probably came from a synagogue destroyed by the Romans between 400 and 600 CE, or by the Crusaders in the 11th century, according to Michaels.

Weighing about 200 pounds, the slab of marble is chiseled with 20 lines of script, in Hebrew and Aramaic. After an introductory dedication and invocation, it lists nine of the ten commonly known Biblical Commandments from the Book of Exodus, omitting the “You will not take the name of God in vain,” and adding instead a commandment commonly cited by the Samaritan sect, calling on the worshippers to “raise up a temple” on Mount Gerizim, sacred to the Samaritans, near the city of Shechem.

Bidders are required to agree to place the object on public exhibition, as per a stipulation by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which designated the artifact a “National Treasure” of Israel.

Samaria was the home to of the Samaritan sect, known by Jewish tradition as the “converts by lions,” based on an account of their forced immigration under Assyrian rule from an unknown origin, and their embrace of the local Jewish God for protection from the lions that roamed their new habitat.

Scholars who studied the carved letters believe the stone was carved in the late Roman or Byzantine era, circa 300-500 CE, to adorn the entrance to a Samaritan synagogue.

The discovery of the Ten Commandments Stone was reported in 1947 by Y. Kaplan, the stone’s owner at the time, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later Israel’s second President (1952-1963). It was first uncovered in 1913 during excavations for a railroad station near Yavneh, Israel, and was acquired by an Arab who set it in the floor of his courtyard. Over many years, foot traffic wore down some of the letters at the center of the slab, although the forms are still discernible.

In 1943, the stone was acquired by Kaplan, who brought in Dr. Ben-Zvi and other scholars to study it. Antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch purchased it in the 1990s, and Rabbi Saul Deutsch obtained it for his Living Torah Museum in 2005. It has been the centerpiece of the Museum’s collection since then and was subsequently published in Biblical Archaeology Review magazine and other publications.

Although considered a “National Treasure” of Israel, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) approved its export the US in 2005 on condition that it be displayed in a public museum. “We seek either an institutional buyer or a private one who will agree to exhibit the 10 Commandments Stone so that all can see, enjoy and learn from it,” Michaels told Art Daily.

The Living Torah Museum auction will include at least 50 other artifacts from the museum’s collection, including a nine-spouted ceramic oil lamp dated to the first century CE that is regarded by some experts as the earliest known first Hanukkah menorah, Michaels said.

JNi.Media

Orthodox Rabbi Teaching Halakha Beyond the Shulkhan Arukh, Judaism Beyond the Commandments

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

“The Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and consistent,” says Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. “And that is a very wise thing. You have to have flexibility, because life is not clear-cut or coherent. Moving here, moving there, you work out the different opinions somehow, and you let it be. As such, Jewish Law and beliefs stay fresh and thriving. A musical symphony. But the moment we codify or dogmatize it all, we are basically destroying it.” One of the areas where Dutch-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and Jewish scholar Nathan Lopes Cardozo differs from the Orthodox mainstream is the Torah’s commandments to annihilate whole peoples, such as the nations of Canaan and the mythical nation of Amalek, God’s proverbial enemy.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: I believe that in the case where moral issues come up, there, even where the Torah says that we have to do away with these people, whether it is Amalek or the nations of Canaan, my feeling is that these were challenges given to Moses and the people to see how they would react, in the same way as Abraham reacts in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, I’m going to wipe them out, and Abraham responds: Will the Judge of the world do such a thing? And God responds by saying, You have a point, let’s see what we can work out.

And then you get this incredible dialogue, this near business deal between Abraham and God on how many righteous people you need so you’ll keep them alive. I think that should be the point of departure whenever we discuss moral issues related to our fellow-man. There my feeling is that even when the Torah sometimes comes with requirements which are problematic from a moral point of view, that we have the option or even obligation, like Abraham, to say to God, Sorry, this won’t go with us. And my reading, which I understand is controversial, is that God is challenging these people: Let Me see how they’ll respond. Did you, people, understand My larger picture of righteousness? Are you understanding what I’m trying to say over here? And as I did in the case of Abraham, when I challenged him by telling him I’m going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham correctly said, No, or at least he was willing to fight it, so I hope you do as well whenever the Torah speaks about killing people. We see this reflected in the sages’ opinion that these nations no longer exist and by doing so they declared these laws inoperative.

JewishPress.com: And yet shortly thereafter, God tells Abraham to execute his son Isaac, and gives him kudos for the fact that he tried to comply.

NLC: I am of the opinion that Abraham, by being prepared to do so, to execute his son, failed the test. I think that the reading of the binding of Isaac should be different from the conventional approach as some Hasidic texts indeed seem to suggest .

JP: God no longer speaks directly to Abraham after the binding of Isaac. Does he lose his prophecy?

NLC: It seems he lost his prophecy. There are all sorts of psychological issues which take place after the incident with the binding of Isaac, which seem to mean that God was not so pleased with the outcome, even though He says, Now I know that you have fear of Me, but that may have a different meaning. It may even mean something like, now that you went for it, you showed you had the correct intentions, but you got My message wrong.

But let us be careful, I only suggest such a reading when speaking about moral problems. But when you speak about Shabbat and holidays, where there are no issues between the individual and his fellow-man, there we do not have the right to say, we’re changing the laws of Shabbat because they’re not convenient.

 


 

Nathan Lopes Cardozo was born 70 years ago in Amsterdam, and was named after his father’s youngest brother who was murdered in the Holocaust. His father was a secular Jew who was nevertheless proud of his Portuguese-Jewish origin. His mother, who was not born Jewish, was raised by the Cardozo family and was an integral part of the community. Later on, she saved her husband and his family from the Nazis by hiding them in her Amsterdam apartment. Nathan Cardozo converted to Judaism when he was sixteen, through the Amsterdam Rabbinate, and his mother did many years later as well.

Cardozo spent the next 12 years studying at various Haredi Yeshivas such as Gateshead, whose dean, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gurwitz, ordained him as a rabbi. At 21 he married Freyda Gnesin, a young Dutch woman from eastern European parents he met at the Haarlem synagogue. That’s the Dutch Haarlem synagogue.

CAN JEWS PERPETRATE A HOLOCAUST?

We return to the question of whether God commanded the Jews to annihilate certain nations with the expectation that the Jews would defy Him.

JP: In the story of the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul, where Shaul has spared the life of Agag, king of Amalek, and Shmuel takes a sword and finishes the job — did Shmuel fail?

NLC: What was it that Shaul did wrong, and why did God object to it? It seems that Shaul was more concerned with the animals he had acquired and kept alive than about the people he had killed. There is where the moral failure lies.

JP: But Shmuel is not sanctioned for his action.

NLC: It seems that Shmuel was of the opinion that Agag deserved the death penalty. This is very complicated story. I don’t think that Jewish tradition is always consistent, very often it is not. And I think there’s a reason for that, because it shows different sides of a very complex situation. The Russian British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was not religious but remained very close to his Judaism, has an essay about morality where he says that morality is much more complex than most people think it is. There’s no black and white — this is moral and this is immoral. It depends on your perspective, on how you walk into the problem. So there are cases where the complexity is so big that whatever you do, from one point of view it is morally correct and from another point of view it is morally absolutely unacceptable. So Berlin speaks about a tradeoff, which every judge and every legal system has to make, to find a compromise: how much justice, how much mercy? A way in-between, by which you remove excessive damage on both sides and you’re left with a compromise which is far from ideal, but that’s the part of the human condition.

There is no such thing as black and white responses to these sort of issues, and I think that plays a role in Jewish law as well. We have to deal with clashing Jewish moral forces.

There are reasons to wipe out Amalek and there are reasons why not to do so, especially when it comes to their children. But because there’s this tension of how you look into the story, which is purely subjective, therefore in the end you will have to find a way in-between. Shmuel is right and wrong at the same time. God says to him, Shmuel, I understand your point of view, I will let you get away with it. But don’t think that this is the ideal outcome. Under human circumstances we have to wipe out these people of Amalek, they are very dangerous even for the future generations and at the same time we have to keep them alive because who will say that all of them will be evil? Jewish Law even discusses the question of what to do in case an Amalekite wants to become Jewish and several authorities believe that we have an obligation to convert him as long as he has no blood on his hands!!

THERE’S MORE TO JUDAISM THAN THE MITZVOT

JP: Are you suggesting that there is a Jewish morality outside the realm of the commandments?

NLC: Yes, I think there is, in the sense that there are certain intuitive moral feelings that human beings have, Jews and non-Jews, which are of great importance, and which do play a role in the halakhic decision making process. They are also God-given, just like the commandments. I think that’s not only in these extreme cases, but nearly in all cases, because if you look into the works of the great poskim (halakhic authorities), you see differences of opinions between them. It is because of their intuitive moral approach to certain issues. Sometimes a posek will say, I have to find a heter (permission) for this problem. He may even have made up his mind before he started. And then he looks around all the arguments to justify his position and puts it in an halakhic framework. After which he says, so I was right in what I said at the beginning. He knows quite well that they were all colored by his need to come to a lenient conclusion. This is completely legitimate.

You see it with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, you see it with some very Haredi literature as well. It all has to do with a philosophical and ideological attitude which is deeply influenced by the moral intuition of these particular people, and that’s also why there are tremendous differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi poskim. There’s a world of difference there. The Ashkenazi outlook to life is much more pessimistic , than the Sephardi one. This has its root in their different experiences in the countries from where they hail and consequently we find different halakhic responses.

There’s an ideology to halakha. And there are different opinions as to what that ideology is. The halakha tells us what to do and what not to do. But it has obviously a much larger Weltanschauung, an outlook on life, which lies behind these halakhic requirements. They are never clearly stated anywhere in the Torah, unless they are stated in very general terms, such as you must be holy, but that still requires a moral explanation. So ideologies play a role as well. The ideological differences between the Haredi and the national-religious rabbis concerning the State of Israel’s religious meaning is a good example.

JP: Are we practicing halakha the way we should?

NLC: Let me tell you an interesting story. Reb Haim Zimmerman was one of the greatest Talmudic geniuses in our generation. In his later years he lived here in Jerusalem. I was told that he was the study partner of the famous Reb Shimon Shkop back in Lithuania. I met him once or twice. He had all of the Talmud at his fingertips. He wasn’t so well known, because he belonged to the Zionist camp and not to the Aguda camp. He once gave a class and he quoted Maimonides and he said, Maimonides agrees with me. So his students said, You mean to say that you agree with Maimonides. So he said, No, Maimonides agrees with me. I am today the living authority, Maimonides is no longer alive. So he has no power any more to decide on halakhic matters — I do. And if Maimonides wishes to disagree, please, let’s hear his point of view, but I have the same say in this matter as Maimonides himself had in his days and therefore I could overrule him.

I think that is a most important statement, which the yeshiva world has totally forgotten. And that has a lot to do with the codification problem. I’ve written at length about this problem. The Shulkhan Arukh (“Set Table,” the most widely consulted Jewish legal code, published in 1563) was meant at the time as the abbreviated halakhic guide for the layman. It was the product of an historical development. Since we were living in the diaspora, we had to make sure that Jews would somehow live within the same framework where they were doing more or less the same things, to keep this little nation alive. It required erecting big walls around us to keep the non-Jews out. So the Shulkhan Arukh, a basic Jewish code, is a typical sociological outcome of a diaspora condition. The Shulkhan Arukh at the time correctly said, we need to make sure that we all operate within the same framework and that requires conformity. This is the only way we can create the powerhouse required to keep us alive in a largely anti-Semitic world.

Both the Shulkhan Arukh and earlier Maimonides’ famous codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (“Repetition of the Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law compiled between 1170 and 1180) are tremendous scholarly achievements. But what Maimonides did was extremely dangerous. By writing down the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides finalized the halakha. He basically said, this is the halakha and nothing else. He even wrote in the forward to this masterpiece, that there is no longer any need to study the Talmud because he had put it all in front of us. Here it is for once and for all. He provides no minority opinions, he acts precisely as what he probably was, as the greatest talmudic genius of his time and possibly of all time, and we—after a period of resistance when his books were burned in some communities—have turned him into an halakhic idol: If Maimonides says so then there’s nothing left to discuss. We canonized him.

We never had, as the Catholic Church did, a particular body such as a conclave which decided these matters. With us it was always fluid. A matter of moving forward and going back and so on. You actually see it if you look in the Shulkhan Arukh, and you look into Maimonides, the commentators around the texts often take issue with them. But they can’t stand up against Maimonides, he is too overpowering. The same is true with his famous thirteen principles of faith: he dogmatizes Jewish belief and by doing so creates a crisis in Judaism for which we still pay a heavy price. Since when are there finalized Jewish beliefs? There are none.

This, I think, has created tremendous problems, because what we’re doing is taking the halakha which developed in diaspora for the last 2000 years, and we bring it to the State of Israel, and apply it as if we are still living in diaspora—when we are not. And therefore you constantly have problems in Israel about halakha, because the traditional halakha speaks as if nothing has happened in Jewish history since 1948. But the whole situation has radically changed. So the Shulkhan Arukh is in many ways outdated. And I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulkhan Arukh) lived today, they would say: We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established, why do you still apply our rulings which were meant for the time we lived in the diaspora?

JP: But the Mishneh Torah talks about the laws of the temple and other areas of Jewish life on the land.

NLC: Yes. But Maimonides never wrote about a secular Jewish state. That whole concept didn’t exist. [The late chief rabbi of Israel] Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog writes in one of his letters that the halakha is not ready to take on the State of Israel. Because we never developed the halakha in the diaspora to deal with the State of Israel where we’re running our own (secular) country. We were always under the administration of the non-Jewish world.

The Shulkhan Arukh starts by saying, In the morning we have to get up, and we must imagine God before us always. But let’s ask an important question: what are the prerequisite conditions to enable you to get up in the morning and to say these words and go to synagogue to pray? It requires that the Turkish government, under which the Shulkhan Arukh was written, will have created a legal system that enables you as a Jew to get out of bed in the morning and walk to synagogue without getting attacked. So you have already taken on all sorts of guarantees from a secular administration, to make your adhering to your religious obligations possible. But that was the Turkish government, that’s not the situation in Israel today. So what you really need to do is rewrite all this, and then you’ll have a big problem because the law has to be able to develop and to constantly re-think itself. But how many poskim have made sure we do that? Instead, they will go back to the Shulkhan Arukh and say, no, Rav Yosef Karo says like this and that’s the end of the discussion.

THE ROLE OF THE POSEK

JP: Should a modern posek (halakhic scholar) relate to halakha as precedence law that must be consulted before ruling, or can they approach the halakhic inquiry directly from their knowledge of the Talmud? How much of the millennia of Sh”ut (halakhik Q&A) should a modern posek take into consideration?

NLC: There’s no straight answer to this. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would sometimes make rulings directly from the Talmud. The Rogatchover (Rabbi Joseph Rosen) would rule from the Talmud. Rav Ovadia Yosef, although he tried very hard to get the Shulkhan Arukh to become the absolute voice within the Sephardi world, constantly contradicted himself in the sense that on one side he wanted to go by the Shulkhan Arukh and at the same time he constantly put it aside and went directly to the source.

My feeling is that some poskim today are overwhelmed by their knowledge and they get drowned in it. And therefore they cannot think creatively any more. If you have too much knowledge then you can’t think on your own anymore because your mind is taken up by this encyclopedic amount of knowledge and you can’t step out of the box. This is not only true with halakha, this is true in many other departments of human knowledge as well. We know so much and therefore we get completely overwhelmed by it and we don’t have space left any more in our brain to come up with something new. This has been happening with poskim for quite a while now.

Therefore the biggest religious Jewish scholars are not the right poskim any more since they can’t think outside the box. But if you go one step below, and in Israel you have quite a few of them, you will find people who know halakha very well but they are not stagnated by this staggering knowledge, so they are probably much better equipped for responding to the needs of the day. Rav Yuval Cherlow, Rav Yoel Bin Nun, Rav Ariel Holland, Rabbi David Bigman. And there are many more around, especially in Israel — I don’t think you have so many abroad. But in Israel, at the moment, you have people who think on their own, have a lot of knowledge, and they can examine issues with a critical eye and make amazing rulings.

Rav Cherlow came up with some unbelievable rulings which got him in trouble with his colleagues. He has responsa about women wanting to get a child without being married. Israeli poskim have also dealt with sex change operations. These are daring undertakings, Sure, one can also go overboard. It all needs careful consideration.

Rabbi Cardozo related a personal example of thinking outside the halakhic box.

I had a case two years ago: M, the son of a friend of mine, a Cohen, from a Portuguese-Spanish family of Amsterdam, practicing Jews, wanted to get married to a convert who was also a divorcée. And since he is a cohen, he went to the Rabbinate of the Spanish synagogue in Amsterdam and asked if there was any possibility he could marry this woman since he knew that a cohen can’t get married with a convert or a divorced woman. Both are very problematic laws in today’s society. Both he and his bride to be were not so young any more, they were in their forties and had little chance to find other partners and have children. But the Rabbinate said no. After all: a divorcée who is also a convert — and a cohen: impossible. So they came to me. I don’t consider myself to be a posek at all, but I know a little about it. They asked, can’t you help us, so I sat down with them and I said to the woman, why are you a divorcée? Did you get a get (bill of divorce)? Yes, she answered, I received a get via the rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv. I was married to an Israeli man, and after a few weeks the marriage fell apart. I asked if she would mind telling me why, and the answer was that the husband had a physical problem and couldn’t have relations with his wife. He was severely impotent. So I said to her, did the rabbinic court ask you why you wanted to get divorced? No, she said, they just told me I should get a get and that’s what I did. So I told to her that it was my opinion that she was not a divorcée, and that she didn’t need a get because there was no consummation of the marriage and therefore she was never married according to Jewish Law. The Rabbinate in Amsterdam had failed to ask these questions. Not a small matter.

Then I said to the cohen, how do you know that you’re a really a cohen? You come from the same background that I come from, Portuguese-Spanish, from under the shadow of the Inquisition. Can you tell me that your family were really cohanim? The man was actually called Cohen, which would indicate that he really was one. But I knew that the name Cohen was in the Portuguese-Spanish culture the same as “Lord” in England, and nothing to do with having been a descendant of Jewish priests. They used to use this kind of name as an honorary name which did not mean that they were cohanim halakhically. So after a lot of discussion with Israeli poskim, including Rav Bigman, and Rav Hollander, I said to the couple, this is my opinion: the young man is either not at all a cohen, or he might be a Hallal, a desecrated cohen. This is because during the time of the Inquisition, cohanim were incapable of holding on to their cohen lineage by marrying only women that were permitted to them such as virgins and widows. And if they married Jewish women who were not permitted to them, then their offspring are no longer bound by the laws of the cohen and are allowed to marry every Jewish woman including a convert or divorcée. And so I officiated at this couple’s Chupah.

In my opinion there are very few real cohanim in the world today. The Ashkenazi community has also had to go through the most terrible conditions and few there are real cohanim. The only ones who are probably cohanim are the Syrians and Tunisians, who have kept reliable records of their Cohanim.

ELECTRICITY AND SHABBAT

JP: When Edison invented the electric bulb, discussion began among US Jews whether or not electricity is fire. It determined the appearance and behavior of Shabbat for the next century. Today, when we have moved away from the light-bulbs with heated coils, and with solid state devices, even issues of the labor of construction on Shabbat are no longer present, and with major poskim already saying that devices like the telephone are not a problem — is it time to do away with our fear of the Shabbat slippery slope?

NLC: If you would ask me, am I in favor of allowing turning on lights on Shabbat? I would say No, but not for solely halakhic reasons. My reason is this: the fact that I’m not allowed to use electricity creates a certain spirit, a certain atmosphere, which I need and I think my fellow Jews need to observe Shabbat in the right spirit. Not because it is halakhically forbidden — there are enough reasons to rule that using electricity does not contradict the prohibitions of Shabbat. But not all halakhic matters are pure halakha. They have to do with ideology. How are we creating the spirit of Shabbat? What is required there? Therefore, we may say, listen, let’s not use electricity on Shabbat. This is what Shabbat has stood for, for thousands of years. In the olden days there were candles which were prohibited to be lit, over the years this was applied to electricity as well, so that unless there are very specific circumstances where there is really no solution but to use electricity, I would say, don’t light electric lights. Nobody is paying a big price for this. There’s no moral issue here, let’s keep the system as it is.

But take for example the case of the “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew doing work for us on Shabbat. I think that the use of a Shabbat goy in Israel is highly unnatural and unhealthy. After all, it still means that we are depending on the non Jews, even when we are living in an independent Jewish state. In other words: we still need to have Arabs sitting in the electric company to make sure that we have light on Shabbat. I put a very big question mark behind this. I don’t see it as a healthy situation. Perhaps we should find the technological means for Jews to do this work without transgressing Shabbat. There must be ways by which we can do it ourselves and we don’t need non-Jews to do that for us.

I have altogether a moral problem with using non-Jews on Shabbat, because what we’re doing here is making an impression that the non-Jew is seen as a second class citizen; what we can’t do — he has to do. In other words, we are the so called chosen people, and we need to be served by the non-Jews. This discrimination against non-Jews is wide-spread in the orthodox community and very problematic and highly un-Jewish.

JP: You also have thousands of religious kids who are texting on Shabbat. Judging by the articles I’ve read on this issue I get the impression that it’s the norm rather than the exception in certain religious youth circles.

NLC: It’s a great tragedy, because it’s a sign that these young people are bored on Shabbat, that they don’t have something which replaces their smartphone, and we are remiss in offering educational ways by which to keep young people engaged so they wouldn’t even touch those devices on Shabbat. When you take something away from somebody you have to replace it with something even better. And if you don’t do that then you get these situations, which, in the Modern Orthodox world, has become a problem. There’s a lot of spirituality and inspiration missing, especially in the Lithuanian Jewish world. The excitement about being a Jew, about wanting to observe the commandments, over which Hasidism has a much better handle, is of the outmost importance. In the non-Hasidic world we’ve become extremely mechanical, we have to keep all the laws and we’re no longer asking what is the music behind it, what kind of music are we playing out here? The original Hasidic thinkers of two hundred years ago, like Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen or the Mey Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica) — were able to give the Jewish Tradition a new spirit and knew exactly what they were writing about, even being prepared to take risks and being highly controversial. They stated what they believed, and because of that the Hasidic world has been given a spirituality which the Lithuanian world is not offering us till this very day.

KASHRUT AND ANIMAL SUFFERING

JP: Should the suffering of meat animals influence their kashrut standard?

NLC: I have doubts about the kosher slaughtering of animals in America and here in Israel. The meat industry today has overwhelmed us. The number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every day is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halakhically. The method of shechita at the time was meant for a small town where once in a while they would eat a piece of meat. You can’t compare it with the reality of the meat industry today, where tens of thousands of cows are killed every day.

I believe that the prohibition on needless suffering by animals makes our whole system non-kosher. Because, if indeed there’s a lot of needless suffering of animals taking place, and I’ve seen this personally, the way they deal with those animals is beyond all description, then the Rabbinate should say: No way we are permitting this. Now this is a very complicated story, because since we are a meat eating society, we have to produce an amount of meat that the shechita laws can’t live up to. It has to go too fast. I don’t know how many shochtim there are in Israel, there must be lots of them, but how is it possible that the shechita will always go well? You can use statistical rules of thumb, you can cite a permission here and an allowance there but how far does that go especially when we are bound by laws on how to treat animals mercifully? I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher).

We should start educating people to no longer eat meat. This is a process, an educational process. The trouble is that if we slowly start to diminish the amount of meat which we require, we’ll have an economic problem on our hands. What’s going to be with all the people who are making their living from this industry? And there are lots of them: shochtim, butchers, supervisors, whatever else there is. You’ll have to find a financial solution for these people, you can’t just say, We stop eating meat. We have to find a slow way by which we will get people off eating meat, finding solutions to the financial problems of the people who are left without their livelihood — this is going to take fifty, sixty years. The trouble is that I’ve never seen the rabbinate or the rabbinic courts really dealing with these issues.

DISMANTLE THE CHIEF RABBINATE

JP: Do we really need the Chief Rabbinate in Israel?

NLC: We need to end the Institution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. I have the greatest respect for Chief Rabbis Yosef and Lau, they mean well but they are the victims of a system that isn’t working. The truth of the matter is that the Rabbinate in Israel is the Knesset and not the Chief Rabbis . It is a political institution. Some people in the Knesset are telling the Rabbinate what they should say and do. There is corruption taking place. The institution is no longer functioning. It was meant for the general, often secular Israeli population. But it has been taken over by the Haredim, the ultra orthodox. This was not the intent for the Chief Rabbinate, because the Haredim have their own Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate lacks the halakhic poskim of great stature to deal with some very urgent issues: conversions, agunot, feminism, kosher slaughtering, running a modern state, which require these people to be great authorities in halakha and be creative thinkers, and the chief rabbis of today are not up to this. They are not on that level. They don’t seem to possess the prerequisite knowledge. Neither do I, but I am not the Chief Rabbi.

Today’s Chief Rabbis are not like the famous Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Rav Ben Zion Uziel or Rav Isaac Yitschak Herzog. I think that in the Ashkenazi Rabbinate the last person of greatness was Rav Shlomo Goren. He had the knowledge and he had the creativity. Afterwards this whole institution disintegrated.

JP: So you would replace it?

NLC: Sure. The last Knesset has already decided that every local rabbinate would have its own conversion system in their own cities, and no longer be subject to the control of the chief rabbinate. Orthodox rabbis who have the authority should decide in their own cities who are the people eligible to become converts. This should not be left up to the chief rabbinate, because the chief rabbinate doesn’t know these people. So how can they decide, without actually knowing the people, who is eligible for conversion?

I am of the opinion, as is the well-known Israeli Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, that we should try to convert the nearly four hundred thousand Russians of Jewish descent in Israel in a mass conversion, even though a priori it’s not the best manner of conversion according to halakha. The reason why I am in favor of this is this: if we do not convert these people they’ll marry our children and in no time we’ll have a million non-Jews here, to the point where it could undermine the security of the state of Israel. It can create enormous social problems. So here you have to consider not just the conversion issue but the security of the state, too.

This is no longer a diaspora reality where you decide on halakha for individuals who are Torah observant. We are dealing here with the state of Israel which requires that we make sure that we remain a unified political entity, that we can marry each other and secure the State of Israel.

But the rabbinate hasn’t for one moment even considered this point of view. That is a serious dereliction of duty.

David Israel

Rationality, Not Rational

Friday, August 9th, 2013

“V’zeh yihiye mishpat haKohanim me’et ham me’et zivchei hazevach im shor im seh vnatan l’Kohen hazroah zerah v’halechaim v’hakevah.

The most frustrating conversations are with those with whom we have deep fundamental disagreements. If conducted in the right spirit, without personal animus and with sincere dedication to the pursuit of truth, they can be very rewarding. When we surround ourselves only with those who see things exactly as we do, we limit our growth. When we surround ourselves only with those with whom we have fundamental disagreements, we never get past the same discussions. We need a balance between the two.

I have a dear friend, a moral philosopher who is a Torah observant Jew. Our fundamental disagreement, one which we can never get past, concerns the relationship between God’s Law and God’s morality. Because the answers to such momentous questions lie at the heart of one’s hashkafa, we need to explore them periodically, testing the current state of our thinking for validity and coherence.  Parshat Shoftim gives us such an opportunity.

After stipulating that the Kohanim receive Divine gifts in place of a tribal portion of the land, the Torah enumerates the Matnat Kehuna. When the meat is slaughtered for consumption, they receive the right shoulder, the two bones of the lower cheek, and the stomach or gullet. The Ramban contrasts the midrashic reading on the significance of these body parts to that of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The former identifies each of the body parts with a feature of the zealous act of Pinchas. The right shoulder representing the shoulder with which Pinchas took the spear in his hand, the cheek bones representing the prayers he verbalized, and the stomach representing the organs of his victims, penetrated by his spear. In other words, the Matnat Kehuna are not a sinecure for the Kohanim but a reward for the acts of their ancestor. In Moreh Nevuchuim, however, the Rambam offers a more direct explanation: each of these organs is the most select of the animal’s body parts, the shoulder being the most select of the extremities, the stomach of its innards, etc. The Matnat Kehuna represent then the recognition that the best goes to God, in this case through the Kohanim who have been designated to serve Him.

This is not the only such explanation that the Rambam proposes. In Chelek Gimmel we find a broad selection of other mitzvot for which he offers rational bases. There is no question that the Rambam maintained that the mitzvot each convey a benefit upon Am Yisrael. At the same time, Jewish law retains its positivist basis for observance since these benefits are not the rationale for observance. The Rambam makes an important move that allows him to accommodate within his approach both the inherent rationality of the Law with its positivist basis for observance: the general outline of a particular precept is rational while its details need not be. In Chapter 26 (Pines translation):

“The generalities of the commandments necessarily have a cause and have been given because of a certain utility; their details are that in regard to which it was said of the commandments that they were given merely for the sake of commanding something.”

The Rambam cites shechitah as his prime example. As he elaborates in Chapter 48, the general mitzvah of shechitah is intended to allow the people to have the good food they require while protecting the animals they slaughter from a painful death. The general mitzvah then exhibits a rational purpose intended to benefit the people. The details, however, e.g., the particular simanim which must be cut, are “imposed with a view to purifying the people.” The Rambam is referring to a passage in Berashis Rabbah cited earlier that asks what difference should it make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu if animals are slaughtered by cutting their neck in front or in back? The Midrash answers: Say therefore that the commandments were only given in order to purify the people.”

The diyuk in the Midrash is clear: “What difference do the details make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? Say therefore that the [details of the] commandments were only given in order to purify the people.” The Rambam can therefore conceive of a functionalist law with a positivist rationale for observance. The generalities of the Law are rational; the details of the Law are positivist in nature. The fact that the Torah exhibits an interior rationality does not preclude an absolute mandate for observance. By asserting that the details serve the purpose of requiring commitment to law independent of rational understanding, the Rambam puts the halachic system firmly on a positivist footing.

When the Rambam declares the Torah a reflection of the rational Mind of God, he does not mean to assert that it has lost its essential character as commandment. Those who interpret Jewish law as a set of social policy prescriptions miss the distinction between rationality and rationale. This confusion plagued the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, leading those who saw Jewish legal sources as rational responses within a historical context to deny their binding nature. Similarly, those who cast Torah entirely as positivist decree may be victims of the same delusion, denying rationality in order to preserve rationale.

Rabbi Ozer Glickman

Redeeming the Captives and Jonathan Pollard

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

There is, to the outside world, something a bit incomprehensible about Jews. Most of the world cannot grasp what idiocy would bring Israel to exchange 1,000 prisoners (and yes, among them hundreds of terrorists and murderers) for the life of one person, a young soldier of no worth in terms of security or military knowledge. The sum value of Gilad Shalit’s life was simply that he was one of ours.

By contrast, here in Israel, though we knew it was a stupid and dangerous exchange, it was never something incomprehensible. Rather, it was completely understood, if not something logical. This is what we were commanded to do, above sanity at time, certainly coming within inches of danger to ourselves. We are not supposed to cross the line of endangering ourselves, but even that line blurs as the desperation to bring out own home grows.

We brought Gilad home – others may well die as a result. Perhaps even this past week, as a young child is in very critical condition because the car in which she was riding was stoned. No one regrets for a moment that Gilad is finally home, finally free. We celebrate each victory he claims on his journey to live his life and take back what was stolen from him. I don’t know if what we did was right, but it was good, and it was needed.

And we as a people continue, as we did with Gilad, always aware that there are others out there still held in captivity. Once it was millions – Russian Jews not allowed to emigrate. We protested, we demonstrated, we demanded, we bargained…until the doors of the former Soviet Union opened and more than a million came out. They are part of Israel now and everywhere mixed in with Hebrew, you hear Russian…or at least Russian accented Hebrew and we know that what we did was good, right, needed.

And there were Jews in Ethiopia and Yemen – and we flew planes to bring them home. Jews in Iran that still need to be brought home, though very few. Jews in Syria who have been smuggled in and even Jews from France, who are coming home. And we know that all our efforts are good and right and needed.

And there is a Jew in the United States. Yes, there is. He is a captive and unfairly so. The price he is paying is not for the crime he committed. There was a price to be paid – and he paid it, but he was betrayed by those with whom he made an agreement. It is to their shame that Jonathan Pollard is still in jail, not his. He has done his time and amazingly enough, the vast majority who condemn him – don’t actually know what he was convicted of doing.

You can’t imprison someone for what you think they did, not even for what you know he did. If you respect American law, than you must accept that Jonathan Pollard was sentenced for committing a crime that, on average, results in a sentence of 3-5 years. He has served more than 28 years.

President Obama wants to come to Israel this week and as recent poll showed 79% of Israelis want to see Obama get off the plane with Pollard. There are few things on which you can get 79% of Israelis to agree and given that approximately 20% of the population is Arab and would presumably not be in favor of Pollard being released, that amounts to an almost complete agreement.

The overwhelming feeling among those I know is very simple. There is really nothing to be gained by Obama’s visit. It will be a nightmare of traffic and delays for Israelis a critical week before the Passover holidays. Many of our relatives are flying in or out of the country – honestly, who needs this?

If…IF he were bringing Pollard home, we would greet him with the respect due the President of the United States, even though personally we know he is far from a friend of Israel. We will listen to the nonsense and unfair position he will spout, how WE should do this and WE should do that. We would ignore his pressuring us and ignoring endless violence by the Palestinians.

Paula R. Stern

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty: Zichron Ya’acov

Friday, November 16th, 2012

With the birth of Hodel’s baby, the time had come for Tevye to journey onward. Family was a matter of tantamount importance, but a Jew had an even higher allegiance to God. Had not the Almighty warned that life in the Holy Land must be lived according to the commandments of the Torah? That meant observing the laws of the Sabbath and the holidays, eating kosher food, donning tallit and tefillin, guarding the treasures of marital purity, and observing all of the six-hundred and thirteen commandments – most of which were flagrantly ignored by the young pioneers on the kibbutz. True, they were good, idealistic souls, risking their lives, and giving up material comforts to build a refuge in Israel for the Jews all over the world. Their dedication to making the barren Land bloom was in itself an act of great religious faith, but, to Tevye’s way of thinking, faith in working the Land wasn’t enough. Ultimately, a Jew had to live by the Torah. It was enough of a tragedy that his daughter, Hodel, had been led astray by her husband – Tevye now had to think of Moishe and Hannie, who were bound to be influenced by the other children on the kibbutz. And it was wise, Tevye felt, to whisk Bat Sheva away before she fell victim once again to her passions and grow enamored with some other free-spirited hero.

After Ben Zion’s funeral, the heartbroken girl plunged into a gloomy silence. Tevye also felt troubled. The cold-blooded killing weighed on his mind like an omen. He wondered what would be with the Arabs. True, in his travels through the country, Arab villages were few and far between. Occasional caravans would pass along the road, and Bedouin shepherds would appear now and then in the landscape. But as picturesque as they were to Perchik, Tevye had learned that, like snakes in the roadside, their bites could prove fatal.

Driving his wagon along the trail through the mountains toward Zichron Yaacov, where Shmuelik and Hillel were living, Tevye found himself engaged in deep thought. He even imagined that the Baron Rothschild had invited him into his palatial office to discuss the dilemma of establishing a large Jewish population in the midst of hostile neighbors.

“Well, my respected Reb Tevye, how do you propose we deal with the Arab situation?” the Baron asked in his daydream.

Tevye stood by the large globe of the world in the center of the Baron’s wood-paneled study. Gently spinning the orb, his fingers slid over continents as he pondered his response. Tevye’s footprints, muddied from the barn, had left dark stains in the carpet, but the Baron hadn’t seemed to notice. Why should he? With a staff of round-the-clock servants, why should the dirt of an honest, hard-working milkman disturb him?

“I must confess that I am not a political analyst, but only a simple laborer,” Tevye responded.

“Even a simple laborer has opinions,” the Baron said. “And I respect the opinions of every man.”

“My opinions are the teachings of our Sages, and the pearls of wisdom which I have learned from the Torah.”

“And what does the Torah say on this matter?” the Baron inquired.

Before Tevye could answer, the famous philanthropist held out a mahogany humidor filled with fragrant cigars. Tevye took one and allowed the Baron to graciously light it.

“The Torah says that the Arabs are to dwell in the lands of the Arabs, and the Jews are to dwell in the Land of the Jews.”

“The Torah was written a long time ago. Perhaps political equations have changed.”

“The word of the Lord is forever,” Tevye answered. “The sons of Ishmael have been blessed with lands of their own. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews.”

“Your faith has strengthened me, Tevye,” the Baron said. “Your faith has strengthened me indeed.”

Of course, daydreams are daydreams, and life is life. True, Tevye generally had mud on his boots, but if Baron Edmond de Rothschild ever summoned him to a chat, his secretary forgot to deliver the message. In fact, the Baron was not to be found in Zichron Yaacov at all. He ruled over his Palestine colonies from his castles in France. “Av HaYishuv,” the settlers called him. “Father of the Settlement.” Others called him “HaNadiv,” meaning, “The Benefactor,” after his beneficent ways. Still others called him less pleasant names. His dignified portrait hung in the JCA office, above the heads of the officials who carried out his commands. Under the dark Homberg hat in the picture was a hawkish profile, patriarchal whiskers, a benevolent smile, and a fur-collared coat. Tevye, who fancied himself a fair judge of character, understood right away that the Baron was a unique individual, deserving great respect. As for the bald-headed Frederick Naborsky, Director of the Jewish Colony Association in Palestine, Tevye was less convinced of the sterling nature of his personality.

Tzvi Fishman

Visiting Residents: the Daily Plea of Elul

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

“Resident”- a person who maintains residency in a given place.

“Visitor”- a person who pays a visit; caller, guest, tourist, etc.

School has begun anew on this side of the ocean. It’s hard to find adequate words to describe the joy of parents during the course of this week. Beyond having their children fill their days with study rather then play, having them use time rather than waste it, and being in a secure environment rather than everywhere and anywhere, there is an added benefit to having our children back at school- routine!

No longer will parents have to rack their brains in finding past times and activities to fill the days and weeks of this pro-longed vacation. Each morning, they will wake up at a given hour, eat their breakfast at a fixed time, and have a schedule of classes and objectives that they will meet…each day.

Routine is a blessing: it provides an on-going consistency to our lifestyle, and creates a sense of devotion, as it’s done each and every day. It’s no wonder that when the Sages debated as to the most important verse in the Torah (introduction to the “Ein-Yaakov”) the verse that surprisingly “won” the debate was the verse that commands the Kohen (on-call in the Temple) to offer (Bamidbar 28/4) “The one lamb…in the morning, and the other lamb… in the afternoon.” As surprising as it sounds that such a technical command should triumph “Hear Oh Israel the Lord is our G-d the Lord is one,” or ” you shall love your fellow as you love yourself,” it seems clear that consistency in performing the commands of G-d each day supersedes the sporadic, one-time thrillers of sorts. It is therefore not surprising that our religion has always favored action over (just) thought (Tractate Avot 1/17) with even the intellectual exercise of studying Torah being a means for us to fulfill the commandments (conclusion of the Talmudic debate, Tractate Kidushin 40b).

But while a consistent, steadfast routine is indeed a value, and while remaining a devoted “Shomer Torah Umitzvot,” consistently adhering to the dictates of Jewish law, is a daily, elevated, worthy, and obligatory aspiration, there is also an undesirable side-effect to it as well; it becomes boring:

I don’t know many who have great joy to wash their hands three times each morning (Code of Jewish Law, 4/2), brush their teeth twice each day, or pray the same exact prayers (with the small exception of Monday/Thursday, and the “Psalm of the day”) each morning, afternoon and evening every day.

I have failed to see the “Minyaner” frequenting the synagogue thrice daily, who indeed feels the words that open the Code of Jewish Law (1/1- “One should rise like a Lion to stand in the morning to do the will of the commander”) when he walks into the shul in the early AM. The fatigue of waking up so early, together with seeing the same Tefillin & Siddur, usually does not allow the “lion” in him to express himself.

I am still waiting to see the smile and joy that one should have when he has the privilege of stating a blessing before and after eating his breakfast/lunch and dinner.

The list can easily go on, and I’m sure you can fill it with many more examples from your daily routine. But let’s take the example most fresh in our mind as August comes to an end: driving around the neighborhood on the first day of school. I’m sure you see excitement, smiles and a sense of anticipation in the air (at least in the eyes and lips of Parents…!) But will we see that same scene during the fifth week of school?!

Our Sages, while clearly giving credit to the consistent routine (as shown above) also stated (Yerushalmi, Tractate Megilla 4/1) that when hearing the semi-weekly Torah reading, one is forbidden to lean on the Bima, as; “…just like it was given with fear and awe, so we must act with fear and awe.” Did any of us feel this “fear and awe” during this week’s laining?

Continuing on the same theme, while many naturally “shuckle” while learning Torah, how many feel the verse, describing the feeling of the Jews at the tip of Mount-Sinai, where (Shemot 20/15)…” the people saw and trembled,” the source for swaying to and fro during study (see Baal HaTurim ibid, Machzor-Vitri 508) Is the movement of the body during the daily Daf-Yomi a reflection of a “trembling” sensation when trying to decipher the holy word of G-d? Or more logically a Jewish habit?

Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

The Blessing

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I was preparing a shiur to honor the memory of my father, Paul Magill, a”h, on the 20th anniversary of his passing, and I was looking at that week’s sedrah, Parshas Re’eh. I was struck by the words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know.”

It hit me that these words were not telling us exclusively that if we observe the commandments we will receive all the good things that are written in the tefillah of Shema, namely “rain for your land at the right season … that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil … and you will eat and be satisfied” (along with receiving other benefits for following Hashem’s ways that are mentioned elsewhere). It seemed that in this passage it was also saying that we are blessed because we hearken to the commandments of Hashem, that it is wonderful that God wants us to be his partner, so to speak, in perfecting the world.

While Hashem could certainly perfect the world by Himself, He wants to give us the opportunity to gain merit for helping Him because He loves us so much. One of our rewards is not the pay we get, but doing the job itself.

I thought about this regarding my father and how I could describe his love for me. There were so many kindnesses he showered on me, so many lessons he taught me in his gentle, intelligent way. As a boy, I was so happy with all the time he spent with me. We hiked together. We played baseball, along with many other sports (and he helped me gather my other friends to participate with us), and he took me to sporting events. We went swimming together and traveled to Expo ’67 in Montreal. We sang songs in the car while going to work with him during my summer vacation. And he even let me help him with his job.

My father took me to see the historic sights in our home city of Philadelphia. He laughed with me and encouraged me by helping me with my homework. When we planned a joint outing together for some fun, there was almost never a change in plans. And when I turned 16, my father taught me how to drive.

He taught me by example about perseverance and honesty. He was a role model and a friend who listened to me and always made me feel important.

At college (my first time away from home), 350 miles from home, I continued playing the street hockey of my youth. One cold day, I got hit in the shins with the puck – and it hurt a lot. I remembered that back in Philadelphia they sold cold-weather pucks, which were able to stay soft even when the weather got brisker. Coming home to my apartment, I planned on calling and asking my father to mail me a supply of those cold- weather pucks.

When I entered my building lobby I saw a package for me from my father. Inside were cold-weather pucks with a note that read, “I thought you might need these.”

In my 30s, when I took my first steps toward becoming religiously observant, my father wholeheartedly supported me. Once, when driving to his native Canada, he stopped at a restaurant for some coffee. I stood by his car in the parking lot on this cold day and davened Minchah, as sunset was approaching. When I finished davening I saw that my father was sitting in the car waiting for me the whole time. Even though the restaurant had been closed, he never hinted that I had in any way inconvenienced him.

Bringing Shabbos into my parents’ apartment in Philadelphia some time later, I still recall my mother and father, a”h, singing Shabbos songs with me from the transliterated Hebrew. We all enjoyed our connection. I recall walking with my father to shul on another occasion, happy to share this experience with him.

Alan Magill

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