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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘halacha’

Why Do We Pray With A Set Text?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

An opinion recorded in the Talmud states that prayers correspond to the daily sacrifices offered in the Temple that are mentioned in this week’s portion (Berachot 26b, Numbers 28:4). It’s been argued that this opinion may be the conceptual base for our standardized prayer. Since sacrifices had detailed structure, our prayers also have a set text.

Why should this be? If prayer is an expression of the heart, why is there a uniform text we follow?

Rambam writes that after the destruction of the First Temple and the consequent exile of Jews to Babylonia and Persia, Jews found it difficult to pray spontaneously. Living among people who did not speak Hebrew, a new generation of Jews arose who no longer had the ability to use Hebrew as a means of articulating their inner feelings to the Almighty. Responding to this, Ezra and the Great Assembly introduced precisely formulated prayer (Rambam, Code, Laws of Prayer 1:1).

Here Rambam is arguing that standardization of prayer allows all Jews regardless of background and ability to express themselves and to be equal in the fraternity of prayer since the well-spoken and the least educated recite the same prayers.

Rambam may also be putting forth the idea that with the appearance of standardized prayer, Jews dispersed all over the world were united through a structured formula of praying.

Finally, Rambam echoes the Gemara, which states that Ezra designed the prayer service to correspond to the standard sacrificial service offered in the Temple. In following this view, Rambam may be suggesting that after the destruction of the First Temple the rabbis sought to promote religious procedures that would link Jews living after the First Temple era with those who’d lived during the time of the Temple. Elements of the Temple service were therefore repeated in some form in order to bind Jews to their glorious past.

The halacha indicates that structure should inspire spontaneity in prayer, but Rambam’s analysis reveals the importance of standardization. Through the set text all Jews are democratized. No matter our station in life, we all say the same words. And through standardization of text Jews scattered throughout the world are reminded to feel a sense of deep unity with their brothers and sisters everywhere and with their people throughout history.

Prayer helps bring about a horizontal and vertical unification of our people, a unification so desperately needed today.

Extremism in Defense of Tznius

Friday, June 6th, 2014

People often ask me what I consider extreme Charedism. The answer is not really that simple. I’m tempted to use Supreme Court  Justice Potter Stewart’s response to a similar question about pornography:  I know it when I see it.

The reason I find it difficult to define is because extremism is sometimes defined by context. In one environment a certain activity might be considered normal while in another it would be considered extreme.  So when I use the term extremist or extremism, it has to be taken in the context of the post.

But as the retort by Potter Stewart indicates, there are times when extreme behavior is such in any context.

One of the things I constantly advocate here is normalcy. I am a firm believer in leading one’s life in ways that are considered normal by two measures. One is Halacha. And the other is by societal standards. Obviously Halacha comes first. But often Halacha has broad interpretation. And it is sometimes interpreted by societal standards. One Halacha that is a prime example of this is Tznius. Or more precisely modesty in dress.

I believe that modern psychology accepts the notion that there are generally (there are always exceptions) differences in how men and women are sexually aroused. Without getting into long detail, men are aroused by the visual.  Women… not so much. Halacha recognizes this. So men are commanded not to gaze at women for purposes of enjoyment. Women are asked to dress in ways that will not initiate thoughts of arousal in men. That is what the laws of Tznius are based upon. One can see expressions of this not only in Judaism, but in the 3 major faiths. The most extreme example of this is Islam. The more religious sects ask their women to wear face covering Burkas that are basically tents that cover the entire body.

Where does Judaism come in on this? Well that’s where local custom comes in. There are basic laws that require certain parts of the body to be covered up called Erva (nakedness). The rest depends on the culture in which one lives. For practical purposes, then,  Iran or Saudia Arabia might require a Jewish woman that lives there to wear a Burka in accordance with the modesty customs of those countries. In the United States, I think it is safe to say that the modesty standards do not go beyond the minimum standards of Erva.

I should add that there is a requirement for a married woman to cover her hair because  ‘Erva’. But the Erva in the case of hair is a horse of an entirely different color. The reasons for which are beyond the scope of this post. But the accepted Halacha is that the uncovered hair of a married woman is considered Erva. And most if not all of it must be covered.

So how should Jewish women in this country dress in order to fulfill the laws of Tznius? One would think that no matter what faction of Judaism one is from, the customs should be the same. But that is far from the case. If one travels to Williamsburg, one will see one style of dress for Orthodox women. And if one travels to Teaneck, one will see another.  But I think it is safe to say that in the vast majority of cases there is a lot of overlap. Most Orthodox women in America dress by covering just below the neck line, covering their arms at least 3/4s of their length and wear skirts that cover the knees .  And most cover their hair.  Those are the basics. There are of course variations of this theme

Police Arrest Pregnant Yitzhar Woman for Inciting Against IDF Soldiers

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

In the hours before dawn on Wednesday, Israel Police awakened and arrested an eight-month pregnant woman in Yitzhar on suspicion of incitement to violence against security forces.

The woman, age 22, had allegedly advocated throwing rocks at Jews “even if the rock causes the death of a soldier” during discussions in an online Yitzhar residents’ email forum called “Yitzharniks.”

A second, 17-year-old resident also commented there is “no halachic problem in killing a soldier during a nighttime eviction” since according to halacha (Jewish law) one may kill anyone breaking and entering, thus posing a possible threat to life.

The conversation containing the incriminating comments was apparently forwarded to police and IDF Central Command by one of the participants, according to a report published by the Hebrew daily Yediot Acharanot.

The newspaper also interviewed the young woman’s mother, who commented, “The young generation is tired of walking around crouched and afraid. My daughter told me in conversation that just like Arab women walk around freely in Israel, there’s no reason that a Jewish women shouldn’t be able to as well… My daughter isn’t stupid. She’ll take responsibility for what she wrote even if she’s wrong.”

The opinion is not unanimous, however, despite a violent incident last month in which residents expressed anger at the demolition of buildings near the outskirts of the Jewish community, located in Samaria (Shomron).

“We have denounced this kind of talk in the past and will do so in future as well,” Yitzhar community spokesperson Ezri Tuvi told media in a statement. “This involves a minor and a woman whose emotions caused their tongues to slip and who already retracted their words.

“On the other hand, we demand the media fully denounce all talk of violence and incitement to hatred and physical harm against the settler public.”

Leftist Yesh Atid chairman and Finance Minister Yair Lapid responded that “Words easily turn into deeds. Some of Yitzhar’s residents have already proven that they have no limits or red lines. A threat to harm IDF soldiers is an action against the state’s sovereignty and against a hallowed basic value of the State of Israel.”

The New Oracle Of Delphi

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

In medicine, there has been a dramatic shift from the paternalistic model – the doctor knows best – to presenting all options and information to patients and encouraging them to make the decisions. In my (limited) experience, I have found that patients generally do not want this responsibility. I recently observed a patient, two weeks out from minor elbow surgery, asking her physician whether she could drive yet. When he responded, “I don’t know, can you? Do you feel you can drive safely with your arm’s current range of movement?” a look of befuddlement and discomfort crossed her face. She repeated the question.

Humans are created with two competing urges. Part of us yearns to be free, to make our own decisions and choose our own fate. Another part of us desires to be cared for, to have our decisions made for us – and to absolve ourselves of accountability for the outcomes of our actions. After all, if the responsibility for making decisions lies elsewhere, then blame for the results of those decisions also lies outside ourselves. This strikes at the very foundation of a sechar v’onesh belief system. It breaks the essential link between actions and consequences and leads to a culture where one’s choices and the resulting outcomes in no way instruct one’s future behavior.

Halacha acts to control these urges. On the one hand we are provided a framework of rules and boundaries within which to exercise our free will. On the other hand the Torah emphasizes, in no uncertain terms, self-determinism and personal accountability.

Judaism recognizes the seductive appeal of having all decisions made for you – the Oracle of Delphi model, if you will. This is the allure of slavery. It is why a Jewish slave who extends his servitude beyond six years, voluntarily relinquishing his free will, has his ear pierced as a form of dissuasion and reprimand. Rav Yisroel Salanter explains that performing this unpleasant task also functions as a punishment for the owner. His guilt lies in not serving adequately as a role model. He clearly did not demonstrate the proper behavior of a Jew, which is to seek, not shirk, a life of responsibility, difficult decisions, personal choice and growth.

The Torah also admonishes us an astonishing four times against turning toward Ov and Yidoni, a method of predicting the future that incurs the death penalty. This too shelters the individual from determining his own fate.

Given the lengths to which the Torah goes to warn us against the dangers of this choice of lifestyle, it should be no surprise that the temptation is still prevalent in modern society. Most blatantly, this is evidenced by the continued popularity of fortune-tellers and psychics. At a more subtle level, “the expert” has stepped in to satisfy this desire. We increasingly turn to career experts, marriage experts, education experts, and life coaches to tell us what to do. Many parents feel the need to consult experts on everything from how to put their children to sleep to how best to discipline them. Perhaps this suggests that what we seek is not so much the advice itself but more the absolution from having to make judgments of import.

In some sectors of the Jewish community we too have succumbed to the tantalizing pull of abdication of free will. Without even delving into the fads of mekubalim and segulos, suffice it to say we have created a culture wherein rebbeim are consulted on all of life’s major decisions and a fair number of minor ones.

I am not referring to halachic or hashkafic queries, but rather questions that lie well outside these realms: whom to date, what job to take, what schools to attend. These are questions that until relatively recently each individual or family felt capable of answering without outside help. Upon encountering the birth of this tendency, the Ba’al HaTanya (1745-1812) expressed alarm: “Where, in all the books of the scholars of Israel, whether the earlier or later ones, have you ever seen such a custom instituted, to ask about a secular question, such as what to do in some mundane matter…”

There’s No Ban on Women’s Tefillin, Ban on Stupidity Still Holding

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

A couple nights ago, my friend Larry Yudelson posted a link to a Jewish school paper in LA reporting on a Jewish school in the Bronx, where, back in December, the principal permitted two girls to put on tefillin during the girls-only morning prayer. We ran it as a news brief (with the appropriate hat tip to Larry) and didn’t think much more about it. But then the competition, Forward and Times of Israel, avid Jewish Press readers that they are, picked up our lead (no hat tips, though) and regurgitated the student paper’s original report and then some.

So, first of all a big Yishar Koach to the writers and editors of the Boiling Point, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in LA. First, for catching and reporting the story, and second for not going crazy about it, such as depicting these two girls’ teffilin thing as a victory for womankind over male rabbinic repression, which is what the grownup papers inevitably did. To date, they’ve called the story Orthodox girls fight for the right to don tefillin (TOI), and the somewhat less combative Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin (Forwrd), that the Forward quickly followed with the heroic war poem My Fight To Lay Tefillin At an Orthodox School by strapped combatant Eliana Fishman.

JewishPress.com will be covering more of this story in the next few days, God willing. But meanwhile, I believe we should extract the entire issue from the area of controversy, where it just doesn’t belong.

Women have been a challenge to rabbinic Judaism since Rivka called her kid Yaakov over to pull a fast one on her husband, Yitzhak. And feminine rage has been with us for about the same length of time.

The Talmudic sage Ulla (latter part of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th centuries) once stayed at the house of R. Nahman in Babylon. They had a meal and Ulla said grace, and handed the cup of benediction to R. Nahman. R. Nahman said to him: Please send the cup of benediction to Yaltha (his wife).

So Ulla said to him: Thus said R. Johanan: The fruit of a woman’s body is blessed only from the fruit of a man’s body, since it says, “He will also bless the fruit of your body” (Deut. 7:13). It does not say the fruit of her body, but the fruit of your body.

From this we understand that Ms. Yalta, who normally received the kiddush cup from her husband, on this particular occasion did not. And so she got up in a rage and went to the wine cellar and broke four hundred jars of wine.

At which point R. Nahman said to Ulla: Let the Master send her another cup. He sent it to her with a humorous message: All that wine that you spilled can be counted as a benediction. She returned an answer: Gossip comes from peddlers and vermin comes from rags. Which means she was in no mood for humorous remarks from traveling rabbis. (TB Brachot 51b).

In my opinion, after a little over 100 years of suffragists and feminists, it’s high time rabbinic Judaism came to terms with its women, before we lose any more wine barrels. And, indeed, we’ve done a lot in that direction, especially in shuls associated with the National Religious movement in Israel and the Modern Orthodox shuls in the rest of the world.

The problem is that it’s impossible to unload two millennia of rabbinic scholarship and halachic decisions in 100 years. No matter how hard we try, there are always going to be competing and adversarial streams that undermine the ideally smooth process of integrating our women into the Orthodox milieu.

It would have been much easier if religious women all decided to become deeply versed with Jewish law, and started pushing for a more equal, or at least a more prestigious role in the life of their religious communities. Then we would have seen a similar, ever increasing process of women’s integration as we’ve seen in the professions since about WW2.

Fatherless and Leaderless

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Our tears have yet to dry. I am not sure they ever will. We have all been thrown to the ground, pinned down by a loss of spiritual support.

Why is this so? It is because Maran HaRav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, was larger than our generation. Or perhaps the generation is too shrunken, too beaten by the wind, to fully appreciate Maran’s greatness. It is still unclear.

One thing is clear. For the Sephardic Jew, this century is divided into two distinct periods – one with Maran’s presence and one that is no longer graced by it. The second period trembles with its own uncertainty because the greatest and strongest of us are incapable of filling the shoes of Maran, who served as posek and leader in an era rife with instability and danger.

Throughout the week of mourning, people spoke of our being orphaned. We feel a deep, unfathomable loss. With all our modern skills and technological know-how, we have yet to develop the device that can measure Maran’s monumental contributions to us, to our generation, and to many generations to follow.

It is not in our power to describe, so soon after his passing, the greatness of such a Torah giant. People will write about his amazing Torah knowledge, the power of his prayers and his outstanding acts of chesed, those he made public and those he hid from the public’s eye. But we will never know, certainly not in the near future, the true extent of Maran’s influence on the history of the Jewish people, how much he shaped the direction of the state of Israel, and how he gave countless Sephardic Jews a different perception of themselves. We are still feeling the effects of his efforts; perhaps we are still at the very beginning.

* * * * *

Maran was the standard-bearer of the movement to restore Sephardic Jewry to its former status in the hierarchy of Torah greatness. Five or six decades ago, Porat Yosef was basically the only higher yeshiva for Sephardic young men. The roshei yeshiva perceived the enormous potential in Maran when he was still a youngster. They did everything to equip him with the tools to realize their vision and bring their hopes to fruition. They placed their hopes in him to return the lost members of our people to the flock by igniting the spark of faith and pride in their hearts.

Maran’s heart was fertile soil for planting the seeds of a revolution among Sephardic Jewry. Even as a youth, his power to pluck lost souls from the depths and carry them on his wings was apparent. Already then, children ran to find places in synagogues and batei midrash with his encouragement.

If the streets of Yerushalayim could eulogize him, they would recount how he gathered the children in all the synagogues, large and small. They would tell how he strode from Musayoff to Geulah and to Beit Yisrael, offering yet another lesson in practical halacha, another page of Gemara, another study in the weekly Torah reading. Every lesson was delivered with his special grace and humor, with a smile and with wit. His lectures were attended by nine-year-old children and ninety-year-old codgers, sharp-minded kollel students and simple laborers after a long day of work.

Yes, this is the way it was long before the politics began, before there was an issue of appointing people to positions, status and jobs. Maran was tilling the ground so that he could sow the seeds of faith – not only in Yerushalayim but in Beersheva, Ashdod, Dimona, Tel Aviv, Tirat HaCarmel, Haifa, Acre and Nahariya. He took it to little settlements and forgotten communities. He never told anyone “No, I don’t have time for you.”

Maran planted the trees of Torah so that their branches would cast the shadow of emunah and yirat Shamayim on the new generation. At the same time that atheistic Mapai activists danced over their success in pulling Sephardic Jews away from their faith, Maran was already laying the groundwork for the counter-revolution to bring them back home. He counted his successes one person at a time. He found them in urban centers and in Zionist establishments, simple people and influential people alike.

How did he do it? Primarily, through the power of his personal Torah study. The energy he put into learning Torah was something unmatched in this generation and, apparently, going back several generations as well. Further, he did it through his sincere, faith-filled prayers that undoubtedly pierced the highest Heavens. His prayers were accentuated by his tears, flowing freely and silently in the hope his wounded brethren would be healed spiritually, step by step until they achieved perfect health.

It would not be right to describe Maran’s public service as beginning with his establishment of the Shas political party. With due respect to Shas and its accomplishments, it was Maran who prepared for it with decades of hard work. He breathed life into the movement; he pushed and encouraged the young men he appointed to fight the battles, instilling courage and confidence where none had existed before. “You can do it,” he said. “It is within reach. We are not powerless.”

“Open more yeshivas and institutions,” he would insist. “Don’t worry. Hashem will help. You won’t run out of money.” He implanted solid faith in his people, telling them Heaven’s help was right around the corner. From his lofty position he brought the horn of plenty to the Torah world, to all who were in need and to all who hungered for Torah. All we had to do was to come, to participate, to reach forward. The blessings of the gadol hador were available. He had envisioned it and sowed the seeds for it more than sixty years earlier. We are witness to his revolution today.

* * * * *

It is crucial for us to emphasize that Maran not only created a monumental edifice of Torah and halacha, but that he also built people. He was there for the youth, for families, for one Jew after the other. He gave people advice they needed in making important decisions in life. He gave his blessings. Maran was the key in helping them to connect with Hashem.

His home was always open, as was his sensitive heart. He was always ready to listen to barren women, widows, orphans, the ill and downtrodden. Whoever they were, he served as their loving father. He was everyone’s father. When he pinched or slapped someone’s cheek, that person knew that it came from his father. Everyone knew that he loved us all, that he prayed sincerely for us all.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know we had a father who was so wise, who possessed such yirat Shamayim, who was no doubt beloved by Hashem. This feeling gave us strength and spirit. When someone left Maran’s presence, he invariably was stronger than before and committed to building himself anew with Torah and emunah. The future appeared rosier because his father had blessed him and encouraged him.

For me personally, Maran was my guide in life, my leader, my authority. Now I feel I have lost my father. The pain is far greater than when I lost my biological father.

* * * * *

Maran, we were privileged to stand by you for decades. We saw your self-sacrifice and stupendous efforts to raise the Sephardic world of Torah. How can we describe it?

There is a type of pride that is proper and a type that is despicable. It is wonderful when a Jew feels pride for going in the ways of Hashem. With his inimitable wisdom, Maran did his best to raise the honor of Sephardic halachic rulings so that we could be proud to know them and follow them. He showed us that we had no reason to feel ashamed of our heritage, that we could be proud to follow the rulings of Maran HaRav Yosef Karo, author of the Shluchan Aruch.

Thanks to the work of Maran, we have a clear understanding of the ways of halacha, and thousands of Torah students have adopted them with pride and confidence.

During Maran’s lifetime, our bookshelves became filled with sefarim of halacha and responsa. Once, the Sephardic yeshiva world was silent. No more. It is a world that has been completely rebuilt, replete with roshei yeshiva, teachers, rabbinical judges and rabbis who are fluent in the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and the Acharonim. Before Maran, we lacked all this.

Sephardic pride. It is not just an expression; it is an anchor for values and sentiment. For decades, Sephardic Jews were downtrodden and scorned. They did not receive the recognition they deserved. People did not understand the greatness of their own halachic traditions. Maran expertly guided us out of that quagmire. He brought an entire generation of Torah scholars to hold fast to the wisdom of Sephardic Jewry, the wisdom of generations of great scholars who built themselves on the Shulchan Aruch and Rav Yosef Karo.

* * * * *

Today we are confused, bewildered about our future. Our ship has been cast astray and we don’t know where it is headed. Despite this, let us remember how Maran, our leader, always remained confident about the future. He was a born optimist. He knew he was doing the right thing and he always told us to remain on course while seeking to enhance Hashem’s honor.

We are incapable of telling the future. And even though Maran has been taken from us, we must have full faith that Hashem will continue to provide us with the proper leaders. We will continue to follow leaders who will go in the ways of Maran, the spiritual giant who built Sephardic Jewry, placed the crown of Torah on our heads and taught us to love and cherish that Torah.

We pray that we will continue on the road for the sake of our children and grandchildren until we will be privileged to see our Final Redemption.

Chief Rabbi Yosef: Don’t Pray on Plane at Expense of Others’ Sleep

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Praying in a minyan on an airplane is forbidden if it robs others  passengers of their sleep or interferes with the duties of stewards and stewardesses, ruled newly elected Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, son  of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Replying to a congratulatory letter from El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedy on the election of the rabbi to his new post, he wrote, “If there is going to be any interference with other passengers or aircraft crew, one should not organize a minyan but should pray alone.”

The rabbi also cautioned that \praying in a minyan violates Jewish law if it robs others of sleep. He added that he usually prays alone when flying.

Rabbi  Yosef also assured the airline’s CEO that he flies El Al whenever we can.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/chief-rabbi-yosef-dont-pray-on-plane-at-expense-of-others-sleep/2013/10/04/

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