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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘halacha’

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.

The Internet, Halacha, and Olam HaBah

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It’s simply not possible. I don’t believe it. Nonetheless it is being reported as fact. Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel, has linked to the Hebrew language website B’Chadrei Charedim that quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s response to a question about smart-phones.

There is a Gemarah in Brachos that tells us that a man will lose his portion in Olam HaBah if he walks regularly behind a woman down a river. Rav Kanievsky was asked if this applies to someone who has in his possession an I-phone or the internet. His one word answer according to Chadrei was ‘ B’Vadai’ – absolutely! Anyone who uses an I-phone or the internet is in a category of losing his Olam HaBah – his heavenly reward in the world to come!

If this is true, then yet again, I think we all ought to all just go over to MacDonald’s and have a cheeseburger… or violate any other Miztvah in the Torah we want to violate. Why bother observing Halacha if you’ve lost your Olam Habah?

I happen to know Gedolei Torah and Roshei Yeshiva  who use I-phones and the internet. Are they all doomed?

Once again we have what appears to be a huge dis-connect between what a great Torah sage supposedly said – and reality. Either Rav Kanievsky does not know the extent of internet use among a great number of devoutly observant Jews, or this is a gross distortion or mischaracterization of his views. I think that both things are true. I don’t believe he said it and meant it to be interpreted as simply as that one word answer indicates.

I would not be surprised if this is yet another instance of Kanoim – religious zealots twisting the views of a elderly rabbinic leader to fit their agenda. I’m sure his position is far more nuanced than the one word answer (B’Vadai) he supposedly gave to a simple question.

The Agenda is obvious. There are people who are eager to destroy other Jews in a fit of self righteousness. They do not have these devices and do not want anyone else to have them either. So they make sure to twist the words of Gedolei Yisroel to assure it.

They may think they are doing the right thing. But they are by far doing far much more harm than good. They may in fact be responsible for pushing more religious Jews out of observance than saving them from using the internet.

By putting people who have smart-phones into a category of losing their Olam Habah, it is not too difficult to see many frustrated Frum people who have so often been put upon with comments like this say, ‘the heck with it!’ I may as well live a life of ease and not worry about violating Halacha. I won’t make to Olam HaBah anyway.

The Gemarah upon which this one word response attributed to Rav Kanievsky was based upon does not forbid the incidental following of a woman down a river. The loss of Olam Habah  that the Gemarah speaks of is only to those who purposely do so with lascivious thoughts and the intent to sin in that regard. And even then only if it is done on a regular basis.

I would add that even if someone regularly does things like that and has some sort of sexual addiction, he can get help… and do Teshuva. I find it very difficult to believe that the Gemarah’s intent is that someone loses his Olam HaBah permanently if he does that. It is also known that the Gemarah sometimes exaggerates to make a point. Which may be the case here.

If there is any comparison to be made between following a woman down a river and the world of the 21st century and the internet – it is in the area of purposely viewing pornography on it. The problem is not the internet. It is the websites one frequents… if those websites are pornographic. That is the comparison that Rav Kanievsky no doubt meant – if he said anything at all.  Accidentally accessing a pornographic website is not a cause for losing one’s Olam Habah.

But the Kanoim who publish stories like this do not want to be confused with the nuances of truth. They want convey the message that I-phones and any other device that can access the internet is so evil that one should not even touch it! For if they do, their Olam HaBah is at stake.

Court Orders Tel Aviv to Enforce Law Banning Business on Shabbat

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The Supreme Court has ordered Tel Aviv to enforce the law that prohibits stores from operating on the Sabbath. It overruled a February ruling by a lower court, which accepted the city’s claim that it carried out its responsibility by fining business owners without a need to force them to close.

The three-judge panel, including Court President Asher Grunis, ruled that under the “current legal management, the municipality in effect allows violating the law.” He added that there is concern that the city prefers to profit more from sales on Shabbat than it can collect from fining businesses violating the law.

For God’s Sake!?

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The Jewish Press Online is proud to launch our Bookshelf series, offering our readers selected chapters from recently published, quality Jewish books. We plan to introduce relatively unknown Jewish authors, and encourage our readers to purchase their books online. To inquire about having your book included in our new project, please contact us via the Jewish Press Contact Form.

Introduction

Haim Burg

Chaim Burg

Over the past three thousand five hundred years, the Jewish people have gone through a tumultuous history and radical changes.

The Jews went from wanderers in the desert to an agricultural society. From a band of 12 tribes to a unified kingdom and then a divided country. From living in their own land to a dispersed nation to once again a nation living in their land. From a semi-literate population to world class geniuses.

The major thread found throughout this rollercoaster saga is the important role the Torah played in the lives of the Jews. No matter where or what their circumstances were – Torah was their master blue print, their day-to-day guide of every aspect of living.

At Mt. Sinai the Jews received the written Torah as well as parts of the Oral Law. The two form a single unit – because the written Torah can not possibly be understood or practiced correctly without the definitions and explanations found in the Oral Law.

While the written Torah always remained with the Jews, at various times parts of the Oral Law were lost and had to be retrieved. The discussions and arguments that led to its retrieval (as well as other material), were committed to writing and are found in the Talmud.

The laws given at Mount Sinai are the law – the practice and application is halachah. The laws don’t change-halachah can.

To remain viable in the varied history of the Jewish people, practices of Jewish law had to go through changes, adaptations and variations. These are reflected in the multitude of customs, practices and rabbinic decisions over the years.

Elements of the actual practice could be changed because of halachah’s (Jewish law’s) internal, built-in flexibility. While it is true that the actual practice might be flexible and that the ruling may be more stringent or more lenient, they all must fall within the framework and bounds of Torah.

Frequently the changes were introduced to protect Torah- (the Law) true Judaism. Other times to protect the population. Often to placate the surrounding non-Jewish population. And occasionally to protect Jews from other Jews.

The totally observant life of the Jews in the time of the Temples was not exactly the same as for those who lived in the shteitle (European Jewish villages). And the lives of Jews in the era of the Rishonim (Jewish scholars c.1000-1600) are not precisely like ours today.

This doesn’t refer to the march of time and science – but to actual practices – whether in the area of rearing children or observing the Shabbat – the matzah (unleavened bread) eaten on Pessach or the relationship between Jews and non-Jews.

Halachic decisions by both well-known and not so famous rabbis have been shown to vary from very strict to extremely lenient. And so the concept of not necessarily taking the stringent route is, and always has been, an integral and familiar facet of Jewish law.

Yet, when we look at so many of the practices and rulings of the current era we see that leniency (kulah) is out – stringency (chumrah) is in.

Elements of the practice have changed because of halachah’s internal, built-in flexibility. Halachah is flexible – but the Torah remains constant. In fact, the Torah’s diligence and eternity was made possible due to the elasticity and resiliency of halachah.

This book presents a series of ideas, thoughts, facts and ways of thinking that play an important role in Jewish life. It can be considered food for thought or ‘I never thought of it in this light’.

The book refers to stringencies in practices that various individuals or groups take upon themselves that exceed halachic requirements.

Today, the tendency is to go the chumrah route. Chumrah is a technical word with many legal implications. I use the word chumrah to specifically denote partaking in a more stringent practice.

Another Baby (Almost) Bites the Dust

Friday, April 5th, 2013

There has been yet another case of neonatal herpes reported in the media. From the Forward:

Another Jewish newborn — the second in three months — has contracted neonatal herpes due to a controversial oral suctioning technique employed during ritual circumcision, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has reported.

I frankly do not completely understand why anyone continues using the procedure of metzitza b’peh (suctioning with the mouth – MbP). Even more perplexing is opposition to a New York City Health Department requirement to sign a consent form before allowing that procedure to be performed on their newborn immediately after the milah (circumcision).

I am not going to go through the reasoning as to why this procedure is not Halachicly mandated. Been there and done that more than once. Suffice it to say that suctioning blood from the circumcision wound was understood by Hazal to be a requirement for medical purposes.

That it is mandated in the Gemarah makes it a Halachic requirement. But it does not make it part of the actual milah. The Talmud also does not say how that suctioning should be done. Nowhere does it say that it must be done directly by mouth.

But for reasons not completely clear to me, many Hassidim say suctioning the blood by mouth is an essential part of the circumcision itself – without which the circumcision would be invalid. I suppose they base it on a mimetic tradition. This is how they saw their ‘fathers’ do it. And this is how it’s always been done. It therefore must be a requirement.

What about babies that have contracted herpes? They reject completely any evidence that is has been transmitted by a Herpes infected mohel. How, they ask, could it be that a Torah requirement would cause a danger to a child? The truth is not what we see but what ‘God says it is’ (or as I prefer to characterize it – what they THINK God says).The babies who have contracted it post circumcision could not have possibly gotten it from an infected mohel no matter what the evidence shows.

What is even more perplexing is how common MbP is even among non-Hasidim. And the fact that Agudah wastes political capital fighting even the requirement that a consent form be signed. Their response has been that this is a church/state issue. And that tampering in any way with any part of milah is an attack against milah itself.

What’s worse is that in their zeal to protect this procedure they have compared government concerns about the health of the baby to anti-bris campaigns of ancient Greece – where a bris milah was outlawed so as to Helenize their Jewish subjects taking them completely out of the Torah’s orbit.

There are many mohalim here in Chicago. Some do MbP and some do not – using a sterile pipette for suction instead. Those who do MbP are the most popular mohalim among Haredim. Even those who are not Hasidim. It’s almost as if they did not know that MbP is an issue. Or don’t care.

How can a father not care what happens to his baby? How can he say that it’s probably going to be OK? True – it probably will since the incidence is of an infected mohel transmitting the disease is very low. But why do they insist on these moahlim? And why do these mohalim insist on using MbP anyway? They are not Chasidic. And yet MbP is automatic with them. (Although my understanding is that some of them will not use if if asked not to… still – MbP is their default.)

Most people know that R’ Moshe Tendler is vehemently opposed to MbP. He has been publicly called a Hellenizer for his efforts by some members of the right. But according to the Forward so too is R’ Hershel Shachter. From the Forward:

In a public lecture last February in London, Schachter, who is a rosh yeshiva, or senior chief rabbinic authority, at Y.U.’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, claimed that his daughter’s hospital treated three cases per year of Hasidic babies infected with herpes. The infections were “obvously because of metzitzah b’peh,” Schachter told his audience, citing his daughter r.

Schachter also cited his daughter as claiming that there are, in fact, about 15 such cases per year in the city, including the three cases or so she claimed per year at her own hospital. Schachter said his daughter explained that the hospitals do not report these cases because Hasidic clients would not return if they were made public. Schachter’s remarks were first posted March 14 on the website Failed Messiah and authenticated by the Forward.

Well Intentioned, but Wrong to Condone Homosexuality

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

It seems that the gay marriage is becoming ever more acceptable in society. From an NBC news website:

In a move described by one scholar as “inconceivable” just two years ago, 75 Republicans have signed the brief to be filed in the case of Proposition 8, a California law banning same-sex marriage, The New York Times reported. The nation’s high court will hear arguments on the law in late March.

Four former governors, including Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet, such as former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, signed the brief, the Times reported. Some of those, such as Meg Whitman, who ran for California governor in 2010, had once opposed same-sex marriage.

I have stated my position on this issue many times. Even though it seems inevitable that it will become the law of the land – I am opposed to legalizing gay marriage. This has nothing to do with how to treat people who have same sex attractions. My position on that is clear. They should be treated as equals among us. And there ought not be any discrimination or disparagement of them. Nor should we judge them. It is not our job to judge what other people do in the privacy of their own homes. Even if we suspect sinful behavior. What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is between them and God.

When it comes to interacting with openly gay people, we have an obligation to treat them with the human dignity that every one of God’s creations deserve. They are no less created in God’s image than people who are attracted to the opposite sex. Who we are attracted to does not define who we are. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, we ought to judge people by the content of their character. Being gay is not a character issue.

But that does not make gay sex permissible or excusable. The Torah is very clear about that too. It is a very serious violation of biblical law. There is no way around that no matter how compassionate we try to be. It is for this reason that I oppose gay marriage. Because the implication of that is to place a public imprimatur on behavior that is sinful. It is in effect koshering a forbidden lifestyle. Making gay marriage not just value neutral but something positive.

This ignores the underlying sinful behavior – completely removing it from the category of sin. By definition marriage gives a societal blessing a gay couple implying that that gay sex is as moral as heterosexual sex. We are saying via legislation that we approve equally of both types of behavior. Gay marriage does not only permit gay sex – it virtually endorses it as a completely legitimate alternative to heterosexual sex.

I don’t blame gay people for wanting to be treated as completely normal in every way possible. No one likes to be stigmatized – even a little bit. The homosexual community wants the world to look at them in the same way as they look at heterosexuals. As complete equals living a sin free lifestyle – same as heterosexual.

Much as I feel for their plight and their desire to be treated as normal, treating gay sex a sin free sex is not what the Torah intended by forbidding it.

This has nothing to do with how to treat gay people. But it has everything to do with how we treat gay sex. We cannot say it’s OK to have gay sex when it is not.

I know there are people who disagree with me on both sides of the issue. I have little patience for bigots who would deny human rights to a gay person and refuse to grant them any human dignity. But on the other side of the issue – sometimes one can have too much compassion and end up completely rationalizing away sex between two men. There is no doubt in my mind that it is a biblically forbidden act no matter what the circumstances are.

And yet well intentioned people are trying to rationalize the sin away entirety. This is the case with Rabbi Zev Farber. About a year ago he wrote an essay wherein he came up with a novel approach to gay sex that would completely take away any culpability for sin by two gay men engaging in it.

While acknowledging that there has been an evolution of sorts even among Haredim with respect to treating gay people with compassion, he felt that both an Agudah Statement as well as an RCA statement fell short of treating gay people fairly. The implication of both statements is that gay sex is still forbidden and that they must live celibate lives to avoid sin. Here is how he stated his problem:

I once suggested the following thought experiment to a colleague: “If, for some reason, it became clear that the Torah forbade you to ever get married or to ever have any satisfying intimate relationship, what would you do?” My own reaction to this question is: although part of me hopes I would be able to follow the dictates of the Torah, I have strong doubts about the possibility of success, and I trust that my friends and colleagues would be supportive of me either way.

His point of course is that it is unnatural if not impossible to ask a human being to deny his sex drive no matter what his sexual orientation is. And yet gay sex is a forbidden act according to the Torah. The vast majority of educated opinion is that gay people cannot change their sexual orientation. His solution is to apply a Halachic principle called Oness (pronounced Oh-Ness) Rachmana Patrei. If one is forced to commit a sin, the Torah exempts him from any culpability. The obvious question is, why should a voluntary act of sex (of any kind) at any given moment be considered forced?

Rabbi Farber argues that when there is no Halachic outlet at all to satisfy one’s natural sex drive then at some point that drive takes over and must be satisfied. That makes it an Oness – forced. When a gay person succumbs – he therefore is absolved of any guilt. He is in effect forced by his own God given nature to act in a way that would be forbidden to heterosexual men.

The problem is that this argument eliminates the sin of gay sex in it’s entirely. Heterosexual men would hardly violate that law. And gay men are exempt from it. So why would the Torah even mention it? Furthermore this argument can be used for pedophiles too. It is well known that pedophiles too cannot not control their attraction to children either. Oness Rachmana Patrei! There are of course reasons to forbid sex with minors. But the Onesss is still there… and we should not discriminate based his sexual orientation. Is there a soul anywhere that would agree with that?!

To Rabbi Farber’s credit, he does not advocate gay marriage in Judaism:

To be sure, calling something oness does not make the action halakhically permitted; it is not. Moreover, adopting the oness principle does not mean that halakha recognizes same sex qiddushin (Jewish marriage) – it does not.

The bottom line for me is that I think he errs in his use of the Halachic device of Oness Rachmana Patrei. And I also believe that he errs in suggesting we encourage “exclusivity and the forming of a loving and lasting relationship-bond as the optimal lifestyle for gay Orthodox Jews who feel they are oness and cannot be celibate.”

It is completely wrong to encourage a lifestyle that is conducive to sinful behavior. But I agree that we ought not be judgmental about it when we see it.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Respect for Rabbis in the Political Sphere

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

In debates with their Haredi peers, national-religious youths will often be heard to demand why the Haredim do not respect national-religious rabbis. “What about our great Torah scholars!”

But why should the Haredim respect national-religious rabbis if those rabbis’ own community does not?

A letter released this week by deputy mayors belonging to the Jewish Home in the most public way possible—it was published on all the usual sites, including Haredi ones—asks the parties’ rabbis not to interfere with political decisions made by the party’s negotiating team or by the party’s Knesset members, even on the topic of yeshiva students’ military service.

Would a Haredi ever release such a letter?

The settlement movement, it is important to remember, was not the work of professionals and businessmen. It was the work of national-religious rabbis holding discussions at the home of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook through the wee hours of the morning. Hanan Porat and Yehuda Hazani are no longer with us, but we still have rabbis: Moshe Levinger—we’ll return to him—Yaakov Levin, Yaakov Novick, Yohanan Fried, Yoel Bin Nun, Menachem Felix. We still have great Torah scholars: Benny Katzover, Yehuda Etzion, Mati Dan, David Be’eri (of Ir David), Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever (of Amana). All of them participated in creating the settlement enterprise from their book stands at their respective yeshivot. That is what gave rise to the settlement revolution. The revolution in national-religious education, for that matter, was likewise the work of wise and devout rabbis, including Hayim Drukman, Dov Lior, Eliezer Melamed, and others.

And now they come and tell us that when it comes to truly important questions of morality and policy, decisions are to be made without the rabbis. Period.

How are they going to distinguish between what is permissible in politics and what is forbidden? How are they going to strike a balance between what is desirable and what is presently available? No problem. That’s the job of the new halakhic decision-makers: the “professionals.”

True, they never imbibed the Torah as did those rabbis, who for their entire lives have dedicated themselves to the Torah (in the vernacular: they put their heart and soul into it day and night. No movies. No Shlomo Artzi concerts). But apparently it makes no difference. Apparently the Torah does not rub off on its students. Apparently it is not in any way reflected in how they live their lives …

It’s all very strange to me. The Haredim, who regard the State of Israel as an entirely secular phenomenon lacking any and all sanctity, consult their rabbis about such matters. Yet the national-religious community—the community that burst forth into the world of national practicalities and leadership with the message that the State of Israel is the beginning of the redemption, that our country is God’s throne, that the politics of Israel is the politics of holiness—sends the rabbis home, the better to leave decisions to politicians and interested parties.

In a recent emergency meeting of Haredi rabbis in Bnei Brak, I saw precisely the opposite. The Knesset members stood at the rear with modesty and obvious veneration. They maybe even have been posing a little. But one way or another, it was moving. Respect for the Torah. A RECENT conversation with a young national-religious activist made clear to me that this is a deep-seated phenomenon among the younger generation. He sees the change as a positive development. “The rabbis don’t understand politics. Let them leave it to professionals.”

It’s not that he doesn’t respect the rabbis. He just leaves them out of the equation. In a debate with a Haredi he would go straight for the line about “our great Torah scholars,” but deep down he doesn’t in fact believe that Torah study improves a person.

Like him, I am not a Torah scholar. So why do I see things so differently? Is it just a matter of age?

Many of today’s young religious people have grown up in a culture that is more in touch with the media and secular literature than with rabbis, and may even be hostile to the latter. In an effort not to be different from the other guys on reserve duty, they run away from their rabbis. Is it realistic to demand they respect rabbis when their role models are businessmen and their commanders in the army? I received my initial education about respecting rabbis from my late father, an Auschwitz survivor. Once he took me to see the rebbe of Gur. Abba stood opposite the rebbe wearing a belt that one of the Hassidim had given him (“You go in to see the rebbe wearing a gartel”)—and burst into tears. The rebbe asked why he was crying. And my father answered: “Excitement.” I was nine years old, but I remember it as if it had happened yesterday.

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