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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Law’

Celebrating A Bar Mitzvah

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Question: Why do we celebrate when a boy becomes bar mitzvah?

Answer: The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) states that Rav Yosef, who was blind, found himself troubled at the thought that blind men are exempt from performing mitzvot. He therefore declared that if anyone could tell him that we don’t pasken like Rabbi Yehudah – who ruled that blind men are indeed exempt – he would make a “yom tov” for the rabbis. (Rashi interprets “yom tov” to mean a “banquet.”)

The Maharshal, Rav Shlomo Luria (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma, M’ruba), argues that this Gemara demonstrates that one should celebrate when one first learns of one’s obligation to perform mitzvot. He argues further that this Gemara is the source for celebrating one’s bar mitzvah. We celebrate this day just as Rav Yosef planned on celebrating the day he learned that he was obligated to observe mitzvot.

In our prayers, we say, “Lishmo’a, lilmod, u’l’lameid, lishmor v’la’asot et kol divrei talmud Toratecha b’ahavah.” It is a prayer for God to imbue love of Torah and mitzvot within us. The purpose of a bar mitzvah celebration is to manifest our love and joy in observing the Torah. That’s why we give gifts to a bar mitzvah boy. We thereby demonstrate how overjoyed we are at his new status. The youngster who receives these gifts, in turn, learns of the importance of loving Torah and mitzvot.

Giving gifts is a form of chinuch in ahavat haTorah, which every Jew is obligated to instill in children. By giving a present, one fulfills a chiyuv mitzvah.

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of seven sefarim on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat the Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.

The Audacity of Redemption

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Natan Sharansky, famed refusenik and former Knesset Member who today heads the Jewish Agency, spent nine years in prison and labor camps in the former Soviet Union. His crime? The desire to live in his ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. When asked in an interview how he survived the terrible conditions of the Russian Gulag, including 400 days in punishment cells, he answered that his faith, his Book of Tehillim (Psalms), and his feeling of “inner freedom,” gave him the strength and courage to go on. Behind the steel bars, he said, he felt freer than the prison guards who held him captive.

Freedom is a state of mind. And real freedom requires a little chutzpah, audacity.

It has been said, ‘It is easier to take the Jew out of the Exile, than to take the Exile out of the Jew’. While in Egypt, the Jewish people could not even hear Hashem’s promise of Redemption because of their “shortness of spirit” (Exodus 6:9). Even the name Mitzrayim implies constriction and limitations, from the Hebrew meitzar. The bondage in Egypt wasn’t merely a physical bondage, but a mental one. And so, while still in Egypt, Hashem began the process of taking the Jew out of the psychology of Exile, ridding him of his slave mentality.

According to the Midrash, during the plague of Darkness, the Jewish people searched under the cover of night in their Egyptian neighbor’s homes for valuables. Later, when it was time for the Jewish people to ask the Egyptians for those possessions, they would not be able to deny owning them (Shemot Rabbah 14:3). While the image of Jews snooping around for gold and silver always bothered me, this brazenness was necessary to take the ‘Exile out of the Jew’.

A slave’s time is not his own. So the first mitzvah that Hashem gave the Jewish people was to proclaim the New month (Exodus 12:2) – empowering us to create the calendar and proclaim the festivals – making us the masters of our own time and the masters of our destiny.

And in the greatest act of chutzpah, Hashem commands the nascent Jewish nation to slaughter the Egyptian god, and roast it over fire. The Torah is not a recipe book, but requires that the Passover Offering be roasted. Why? Because when you are having a barbeque in your backyard, the whole neighborhood knows! Just imagine what it must have smelled like that night in Egypt, as the Jews prepared to leave.

A little chutzpah is also necessary in our service of God, as individuals.

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th C. Poland) writes at the beginning of his commentary to the Code of Jewish Law, “One should not be ashamed in front of another who mocks him in his service of Hashem.” If you are always looking over your shoulder, you’re not free. As Jews, we take pride in eating our unleavened bread and bitter herbs, along with all of the other mitzvot we observe, without wondering what the neighbors will say.

Audacity, or brazenness, got us out of Egypt. That attitude kept us going for 2,000 years without a homeland, and it’s that same attitude that founded the State of Israel against all odds.

No longer are we ‘shtetl Jews’. As of the founding of the State of Israel, Jews are finally free to live and practice their Judaism without looking over their shoulders. But today, the State of Israel is in desperate need of leaders with some chutzpah. Leaders who don’t cower at international pressure or capitulate to the demands of the White House. Leaders who will do what is in the best interest of this country’s safety and security – at all costs. Leaders with some backbone.

The next time you hear someone repeating the old stereotype that Jews are pushy, remember that Jewish survival has always required a little chutzpah.

Rabbi Shimshon Nadel: My Essential Haggadot

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

“A Haggadah without wine stains is like a YomKippur machzor without tear stains.”

- R. Levi Yitchak of Berditchev

The Pesach Seder is a night etched into the collective consciousness of the Jew. Just thinking about this magical night, conjures up vivid memories of the scents, sounds, and tastes, the special time spent with family, and the experience of exploring our rich tradition. At the Seder, we don’t retell the story of the Exodus – we relive the experience.

The Haggadah, a text that evolved over centuries, serves as the manual that brings the Seder to life.

With thousands of Haggadot in print, it can be overwhelming to decide what to buy and what to use at the Seder. Just like kashering the home for Pesach requires preparation, so too the material for the Seder. And according to the investment is the return.

Below are twenty of my favorite Haggadot. I hope these picks help enrich your Seder.

Torat Chayyim (Mosad HaRav Kook) – A basic Haggadah that features the commentary of the Rishonim (Rashi, Rashbam, Raavan, Ri, Rid, Shibolei Haleket, Ritva, Abudarham, Rashbetz, Ephraim mi’Bonn). Great for understanding the p’shat (simple meaning) of the text.

Haggadah Sheleimah (Machon Torah Sheleimah) – A classic work of scholarship by R. Menachem Kasher, this Haggadah explores the origins of the Haggadah text and its evolution over the centuries. It also contains important halakhic discussions on the components of the Seder as well as many important commentaries published from manuscript.

HaSeder HeAruch (Machon Otzar HaMoadim) – Much more than a Haggadah, this three volume encyclopaedic work contains an in depth analysis on every aspect of the Seder, drawing on rich material from the classic to the contemporary. Vols. 2 & 3 contain commentaries on the Haggdah text itself. It is truly a “kol bo“.

Encyclopedia Talmudit Haggadah Shel Pesach (Yad HaRav Herzog, Encyclopedia Talmudit) – Clear and insightful halakhic discussions of the elements of the Seder, many taken from entries in R. Yosef Zevin’s lucid and elegant Encyclopedia. (Also essential are his essays in HaMoadim B’Halakha).

Zevach Pesach – In one of the most famous classical commentaries to the Haggadah, R. Don Yitzchak Abravanel, the great 15th C. Spanish scholar, employs his famous style of question and answer to explore the major concepts of the Exodus from Egypt. (An English translation by my friend and neighbor, R. Yisrael Herzceg, is available by Artscroll).

Haggadat HaMikdash (Machon HaMikdash, Carta, Sifriat Beit El) – A wealth of material, filled with rich illustrations, that describe the observance of Pesach in the Holy Temple, with a focus on the Korban Pesach. A great way to bring these important elements into focus at the Seder. May we soon merit to eat from the Zevachim and the Pesachim, amein.

Haggadah and History (JPS) – Not a Haggadah, but a gorgeous coffee table book by scholar Yosef Chaim Yerushalmi, which looks at five centuries of the printed Haggadah. Hundreds of incredible illustrations from important Haggadot from all over the world, along with insightful explorations, makes this book a worthwhile investment.

The Arthur Szyk Haggadah (Massadah, Alumoth) – Masterful watercolor illustrations and illuminations by Polish artist Arthur Szyk, first published in 1941. The rich colors and graphic imagery of this volume tell the story of the Exodus and draw upon the modern narratives of Nazism and Zionism to express the motifs of Bondage and Freedom. A very expensive brand new edition is available for thousands of dollars. Check Ebay for some of the older editions. My beloved copy was given to me by my Grandpa Jerry, and has a silver book jacket, embossed with Jewish symbols. It’s not dated, but I believe my edition was printed in 1967. I need not mention that I don’t risk getting any wine stains on this one.

Otzar Meforshei HaHaggadah (Machon Yerushalayim) – A beautifully bound Haggadah which features a wonderful collection of rich commentaries from classic to contemporary. Not so user friendly as the first half is just the plain text, while the second contains the commentary – but worth the investment.

Haggadat Hegyonei Halakha (Hotzaat A. Rutner) – Fans of the Hegynoei Halakha series will enjoy R. Yehudah Mirsky’s highly original essays on Jewish Law and Thought.

The Hirsch Haggadah (Feldheim) – R. Samson Raphael Hirsch was one of the leading Jewish thinkers of the Nineteenth Century. Just like his Commentary to the Torah, his comments on the Haggadah take classic Jewish philosophical ideas and make them accessible to a Modern World. Pure Hirschian synthesis! A great resource for yekkeshe minhagim too!

Peirush v’Likkutei HaGra (Mosad HaRav Kook) – This new edition culls from the many works of the Vilna Gaon and his students, bringing together the Gra’s minhagim and deep comments on the Haggadah.

Haggadah Shel Pesach Im Peirush HaReiyah (Machon HaRatzya) – R. Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook was one of the greatest thinkers of the Twentieth Century. While a lean commentary to the Haggadah was published in his work Olat Reiyah on the Siddur, this work offers much more as it gleans from his many original works. It also contains some important essays and drashot as appendices (many of which previously unpublished).

The Limits Of Chinuch (Part V)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Question: Are there limitations to the mitzvah of chinuch?

Answer: We previously noted that the Netziv ruled that children are only to be taught to observe mitzvot and customs in the same manner that they will observe them as adults.

We also suggested last week that Rashi believes that a parent cannot fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch through a shliach – either because a child must see his father first-hand observing mitzvot and emulate him or because a parent must directly observe his child’s progress in performing mitzvot.

* * * *

The Mishnah Berurah in his Biur Halachah (Orach Chayim 675), citing the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 677:8), notes that minor children are exempt from the contemporary Chanukah custom of everyone lighting his or her own menorah, lighting an additional candle each night.

His rationale is that the mitzvah of chinuch only applies to practices that are biblical or rabbinic law in nature. Lighting an additional candle each night, however, is not an obligation (a true chiyuv) but a hiddur mitzvah. Chazal never required parents to ensure that their children fulfill hidurei mitzvah.

But what about the Netziv’s position that children should fulfill mitzvot exactly as they will as adults? Doesn’t this position require children to light menorah just like adults do? If so, it would seem that the Mishnah Berurah disagrees with the Netziv.

We can suggest, though, that the Netziv would agree that children sometimes should not perform mitzvot. What he argues is simply that if a child performs a mitzvah, he should perform it as if he were an adult.

Interestingly, the Mishnah Berurah rules that if a child owns a home, he should light one candle each night of Chanukah. Even this ruling, however, may not contradict the Netziv. The Netziv perhaps only objects to children performing mitzvot in a non-halachic manner. He may not, however, object to a child lighting menorah contrary to the accepted custom as long as he does so in a halachically acceptable manner.

Rabbi Cohen, a “Jerusalem Prize” recipient, is the author of several Jewish books on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.

The Limits Of Chinuch (Part I)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Question: Are there limits to the mitzvah of chinuch?

Answer: Yes. The Talmud (Sukkah 42a) states that we give a lulav to a child only after he knows to shake it properly. Rav Naftali Tzvi Hersh Berlin (the Netziv) questioned why this is so. We know that simply picking up a lulav and etrog correctly is good enough to fulfill the mitzvah (which is why we are specifically instructed not to hold the etrog rightside up until after making the berachah). Why, then, should we wait until a child knows how to properly shake the lulav if he can already fulfill the mitzvah simply by picking it up?

The Netziv answered that, as a general principle, one does not teach children to practice mitzvot in a way that they will abandon when they grow older. In other words, we teach children practices that they will observe as adults. Since adults shake the lulav in a prescribed fashion when doing the mitzvah, so must children. If they are not old enough to know how to, we wait until they mature.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and at Amazon.com.

Standing Idly By

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Presumably, almost all the readers of this publication are Orthodox Jews – those that pride themselves on serving G-d through fulfilling His commandments. Keeping in mind the rabbinical edict, “A mitzvah that comes your way—don’t miss it!” (Rashi, Bavli Megillah 6b), it would behoove the readers to know that an oft-missed mitzvah has come their way.

The Torah warns us twelve times to have special consideration towards the orphan and the widow – yatom v’almanah. The first such commandment appears in Shemot 22,21: “Any widow or orphan you are not to afflict.” It is followed directly by a description of the consequences to society in its entirety if there is affliction. It is frightening to print in a newspaper column; readers will have to refer to the original.

Rashi clarifies that in essence we are warned not to cause suffering to any individual: “This is the law for all people, here the text spoke in accordance with present reality, for they [widows and orphans] are weak of strength and it is common to find them afflicted.” Or as the Soncino Edition (J.H. Hertz, 1962) commentary states: “Who are bereft of their human protector and destitute of the physical force to defend their rights.” Ibn Ezra adds: “For all who sees one who afflicts an orphan or widow and does not come to their aid, he is also considered to be an afflictor.” Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch enlightens us further: “The widow has lost her mouth in her husband, has nobody to speak for her any longer. The orphan…[suffers from the] misuse his weakness and lack of protection…even rich widows and orphans are easier to be taken advantage of and misused, than other people… in society, amongst people…they are bereft of anybody to stand up for them, to protect them, guide and advise them, and so are exposed to be wronged and humiliated. Hence, in their case the Torah addresses primarily the members of the community in the plural ‘thou shalt not misuse their weakness or make them feel the weakness of their position.’”

Rashi related the mitzvah to reality. The reality today is that there is another individual who has lost her support, has suffered the abuse of her rights and who has no man to serve as her pillar of support. That is the modern-day agunah—the victim of Get-refusal. In fact, the very man upon whom the agunah originally depended to honor her and act as her protector turns against her and abuses his power over her.

There is one agunah today in the United States who is both orphaned of her father and whose husband is refusing (as of the time of this printing) to give her a get. This is Tamar Epstein. Lest one think that this is a problem solely for the rabbis and not for the layperson — the rabbis have already done their utmost to convince Mr. Aharon Friedman to give Ms. Epstein a get, to no avail. In fact not only did the Beth Din of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada issue an Declaration of Contempt (ktav seiruv – see page F1 in this week’s newspaper) against Mr. Friedman, the rabbinic judges included a plea directed to all: “Any person who has the ability or opportunity to influence him to free Tamar Epstein from the chains of her agunah status is obligated to do so and doing so will indeed be the fulfillment of a great mitzvah.”

Each and every reader of these words is now aware of a biblical commandment (mitzvah d’oraita) and a rabbinic-ordained commandment (mitzvah d’rabbanan) to help Tamar Epstein achieve her get. Moreover, most readers recite every Tuesday at the close of the morning prayers (shacharit): “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy…” Someone has to help Tamar Epstein find relief from the affliction she is suffering. Will you heed the words you yourself recite in prayer? Will you take the mitzvah of helping Tamar to heart? How can you help deliver the get to her hand? It is incumbent upon each and every one in the Orthodox community to consider how he or she can help. It is not easy for readers sitting in the comfort of their own home to actually take action. For that reason an additional commandment was necessary to spell out that one may not stand by when a fellow Jew is in a position of need. It is human nature to need that extra push in order to have the will to help.  Now that you know, you cannot stand idly by.

Editor’s Note:  A protest rally against Mr. Aharon Friedman’s recalcitrance has been organized by ORA and will be held on Sunday, December 4th, 1 PM at 1131 University Blvd., Silver Spring, Md.

Rachel Levmore, Ph.D. in Jewish Law from Bar Ilan University, is a rabbinical court advocate; coordinator of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel and the Jewish Agency; and author of “Min’ee Einayich Medim’a” on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal.

 

Hasbara In The Rubble

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Berachah – blessing – says the Gemara, is found only in things that remain unwatched and out of sight. Hasbara – the way Israel explains itself to the world – might be in better shape taking a cue from that Gemara.

Every few years marketing pundits come up with a new strategy for hasbara, claiming the old one was all wrong and the new one will work better. Perhaps the most infamous sea change in hasbara took place a few years ago, when marketers decided Israel should brand itself as a “fun” place and undo all the old stodgy stereotypes. We know how well that worked.

It is unfair to blame Israel. Its job is to fight on the military front, and we daveneach day for the success of its soldiers. The second front, that of public opinion, should be fought by Jews around the world. There is only so much a small country with limited resources can do. (Friends in the Foreign Ministry like to remind me that the yearly hasbara budget for the ministry is less than the advertising budget of Israel’s leading yogurt producer.)

Yet the most effective tools sometimes are the ones that remain hidden from sight, never having been promoted as hasbara instruments. A few weeks ago I witnessed one of these in action.

Around this time each year, dozens of cities host “Honor Israel” nights in which Christian friends of Israel gather to show their support for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. As a staffer at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I was invited to Grand Rapids, Michigan to update such a gathering about BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy that Palestinians have been counting on to turn public opinion away from Israel. When I arrived, I learned that someone who happened to be nearby had been added to the program.

Major Liron Shapira is a career IDF officer. A kibbutznik, he served in a combat force and then decided he was ready for new challenges. He switched to the IDF search-and-rescue (SAR) unit. When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Liron deployed with the IDF team that was one of the most vaunted success stories of the international relief effort.

Liron was not in the U.S. on a hasbara assignment for the IDF. He was the partnering with a U.S. military unit he held in high esteem. In several ways he struck a different figure from the type of Israeli spokespeople Americans often encounter. He was soft-spoken, tentative rather than certain, and strikingly humble. No airs or pretensions at all. All of this made his effort devastatingly effective.

His audio-visual presentation told the story of the entire operation as seen by the SAR people, as opposed to the medical personnel who took over once survivors were located and transported. Preserving footage of some of the most difficult extractions from the rubble demonstrated the competence of the Israeli team, but small vignettes he included offered the greatest insight into the Israeli soul.

He showed pictures of backslapping between members of different SAR teams, but also pointed out the differences between them. On one occasion, cutting through concrete was hampered by embedded iron rods. His platoon did not have the instrument it needed to reach a trapped survivor, but he knew of several others that did. He only went to groups he knew possessed at least two of the tools. Nonetheless, each of them turned down his request to borrow the tool.

Liron detected a casualness about human life even among these lifesavers – with one exception. The U.S. team shared the same regard for human life, he said. Liron’s voice expressed genuine anguish and childlike innocence in relating this and similar stories. How could people not respond to the opportunity to save a life?

Even in dealing with death, the different groups displayed their prejudices. He showed pictures of large buildings reduced to piles of rubble, with bodies openly lying in the debris days after the quake. No one stopped to cover them until the Israelis chanced upon them. (A Midrash praises King David for returning to the battlefield the day after victory for the single purpose of burying the enemy dead.)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/hasbara-in-the-rubble/2011/06/07/

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