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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Law’

Police Car Damaged, Haredim Arrested over Archeological Dig

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Jerusalem police on Sunday detained at least seven ultra-Orthodox protesters at the Schneller Compound, opposite the Lubavitch yeshiva on Jeremiah Street, after they disturbed archaeological excavations taking place in the area.

The protesters were claiming that there are Jewish burial caves nearby, which may not be disturbed. Other protesters were dispersed, but not before a police car windshield was damaged.

The protesters belong to the Atra Kadisha (Aramaic for “holy site”) organization, whose goal is the protection and preservation of the tombs of Jews in Israel and around the world, based on the halachic value of respect for the dead.

The organization was founded in 1959, following the original battles waged between the Ultra-Orthodox and archaeologists over the excavation of ancient tombs for scientific study – which is prohibited by Jewish law, as it violates the dignity of the deceased.

Atra Kadisha is considered to be quite extremist, even compared to the Haredi public at as a whole, and he has been involved in violent clashes with police. One of the results of their activity, however, is that many archeological projects, as well as simple construction projects must budget for the possibility of a clash over Jewish graves within the sites in question.

Menachem Elon: The Sweet Revolutionary

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Justice Menachem Elon, who passed away on February 6, revolutionized the study of Jewish law, Mishpat Ivri. He personally took the Choshen Mishpat – the hornbook of Torah laws on interpersonal relations – out of the closet of the yeshivas, where it was the specialized expertise of rabbis given the honorific accolade of Yadin Yadin, into the modern courtroom.

Scores of leading American law schools now emulate Elon and offer courses in Jewish or Talmudic law. Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset now look proudly to our traditional teachings when they enact laws that govern a contemporary society because Elon taught them that the wisdom of centuries of rabbinic study and debate can guide a modern society.

He was an intellectual revolutionary, but unlike most historic figures who have broken new paths, he had no ego. All who knew him were struck by his humility, personal grace, compassion, and sweetness. Lawyers are a contentious lot, but Menachem Elon – a mentor to hundreds of lawyers – had no sharp elbows. Though he differed frequently with colleagues on the Israeli Supreme Court – and particularly with Aharon Barak, who served as president of the court for much of Elon’s tenure – he never was heard to utter an unkind word about those with whom he disagreed.

As a frequent guest in the Elon home and one who was in tune with virtually all his views, I expected expressions of acrimony from him over issues on which his opinions were rejected by less traditionally oriented colleagues. I never heard what I expected. Dissenting judges frequently say, “I respectfully disagree,” not truly meaning the respect that the words express. Justice Elon truly respected even those who disagreed or did not comprehend his own commitment to Torah and Halacha.

A remarkable feature of Elon’s scholarship was his insistence on personally doing the work that bore his name. When I first met him, the English translation of his monumental Ha-Mishpat Ha-Ivri was being crafted by American lawyers and scholars Bernard Auerbach and Melvin J. Sykes. Elon happily confided in me how much he enjoyed his many sessions with the translators, reviewing punctiliously the remarkable work they did in making his landmark treatise understandable (and even enjoyable) to English-speaking readers.

In their Introduction to the Jewish Publication Society’s four-volume translation, Auerbach and Sykes observed that they had benefited from “the many hours we have spent with Justice Elon” and said that the product was “more than just a translation, our work has been a collaboration with him.”

Justice Elon encouraged me to file friend-of-the-court briefs in cases pending in the United States Supreme Court to transmit to the American justices the wisdom of Jewish law on issues that came before the court.

In 1999 and again in 2007 the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of execution methods that were excessively cruel. A brief I wrote and filed in 1999 on behalf of Jewish groups appended 30 pages from an English translation of the Talmud in Sanhedrin. My friend-of-the-court brief concluded with the observation that “if execution by the electric chair, as administered in Florida, results in unnecessary pain and disfigurement, it would be unacceptable under the principles underlying the traditional Jewish legal system applied 2,000 years ago, and should also be unacceptable under the Eighth Amendment today.”

To top off more ancient authorities, I cited and quoted Justice Elon’s conclusion in an opinion he wrote for the Israeli Supreme Court in State of Israel v. Tamir:

According to Jewish law, a death sentence must be carried out with the minimum of suffering and without offense to human dignity. This is based on the biblical verse, “Love your fellow as yourself,” and the rule is, “Choose for him a humane death.” From this we declare that even a condemned felon is your “fellow.” The justice gave my brief – which I sent him in draft form before I filed it – the personal attention and critical review I had hoped for, and he even considered seriously (but wisely rejected) my request that he formally attach his name to it.

He was, of course, a master of the Hebrew language, and he wrote lovingly and poetically not only about the law but also about Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. He came within a hairs-breadth of being selected Israel’s president, and no one could have filled that position with greater elegance than Menachem Elon.

Preparation is Key to a Successful Shabbat

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

“It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths for you, and you shall afflict yourselves, It is an eternal statute” (Vayikra 16:31).

This is how our Torah sums up the upcoming experience of Yom Kippur: a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. Rather than use the more colloquially known “Yom HaKippurim,” The Day of Atonementthe Torah reading of Yom Kippur morning uses the above term to summarize the twenty-five hour experience we are about to step into.

This once-a-year “Sabbath of Sabbaths” is not alone; our weekly Shabbat is coined a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” as well (see  Shemot 31:15, 35:2, Vayikra 3:3).  However, there are many distinctions between our weekly Shabbat versus the “once a year Shabbat,” ones that make it highly doubtful that any of us would   naturally state that Yom Kippur is just another Shabbat. After all, the tenth day of Tishrei is devoted to fasting in place of the three obligatory Shabbat meals, praying almost all day in place of far more free time, and abstaining from other prohibitions that are totally permissible on Shabbat. Alas, if G-d decided to coin the same phrase for both, it’s incumbent upon us to try and seek the similarities between these two elevated days in our calendar.  Allow me to extrapolate but one that the former clearly possesses, to which the latter, in my opinion, has not been properly privileged: preparation.

There isn’t a Rabbi or Teacher that preached during the past few weeks, and didn’t state, in some way or another, how vital it is to “prepare” for the Days of Judgment. Teshuva, introspection and other such terms were surely refrains in any sermon or class, imploring us not to “stumble into” Yom Kippur without the proper period of preparation.

And indeed, preparation seems to be exactly what is on the menu at this time of the year. Jews of Sephardic decent began to recite Selichot  prayers forty days before Yom Kippur (Code of Jewish Law, OC 581:1,). Ashkenazic Jewa began Selichot at least fourdays before Rosh Hashana (Rama’s glosses, ibid), allowing at least four days of “inspection” of oneself, as one would inspect a sacrifice for blemishes prior it’s offering (Mishna-Berura, ibid, 6). As we draw closer to Yom Kippur, preparations increase greatly, as articulated beautifully by Rav Solovetchik:

“I remember how difficult it was to go to sleep on Erev Yom Kippur. The shochet (ritual slaughterer) used to come at the break of dawn to provide chickens for the Kaparos ritual, and later the people would give charity…Minchah, vidui, the final meal before the fast (seudah hamafsekes), my grandfather’s preparations all made Erev Yom Kippur a special entity, not only halakhic, but emotional and religious as well.

Erev Yom Kippur constitutes the herald that the Ribono Shel Olam is coming…  (A. Lustiger, Before Hashem, page 60-61).

If all the above preparations are so vital for the “Shabbat” of Yom Kippur, are they not critical also for the weekly “Shabbat?” If both are called “Shabbat of Shabbats,” why should just one require preparation, while we stumble into the other with none?

Indeed, it’s known that “One that was busy preparing on the eve of Shabbat will eat on Shabbat, and one that didn’t prepare will not eat on Shabbat (Tractate Avoda Zara 3a). While this seems like good advice rather than a rabbinical edict (i.e., the prohibition of cooking would prevent one who didn’t pre-prepare food from eating on Shabbat), this is not the only statement that speaks of preparing for the Shabbat. Just as the Code of Jewish Law deals extensively with the Laws of Shabbat, there are endless chapters dealing with the Eve of Shabbat (OC, chapters 249-252, 256 & 270), from what should be done in honor of Shabbat, to what one should refrain from due to the oncoming holiness of the day.

The list goes on and the idea is clear: we are about to enter a twenty-five hour period of time with just family, friends and G-d, without distractions of the email, phone, work and more. If we want to have a profound “Shabbat” experience, it is vital that we prepare for it prior to its commencement.

It is uncanny for any event to turn out successfully without months of preparation,  Thus too, our weekly Shabbat-event, even while refraining from the thirty-nine prohibitions, and making Kiddush, can easily turn into a wasted experience, or G-d forbid, a disastrous one, if not properly prepared for. Thus lamented Rav Solovetchik:

True, there are Jews in America who observe the Sabbath. The label ‘Sabbath observer’ has come to be used as a title of honor in our circles…But, it is not for the Sabbath that my heart aches, it is for the forgotten ‘eve of the Sabbat’ There are Sabbath-observing Jews in America, but there are not ‘eve-of-the-Sabbath’ Jews who go out to greet the Sabbath with beating hearts and pulsating souls… (Pinchas Peli, On Repentance).

And indeed, even if you buy “ready-made” Shabbat food, pay someone to clean your house, and even have someone else bathe your kids, much spiritual and mental preparation is needed for Shabbat to become a true experience; Have you put thought into what will be the topic of discussion at the Shabbat table? Have your kids prepared a Dvar-Torah to share? Which games will you play with your kids over Shabbat? How will you balance your time between your guests and friend, and the time with your husband/wife and kids? Is there inspiring reading material in the house? How will this Shabbat be different from all others?

The Price We Pay For Contempt

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremists.

The desecration was condemned by the prime minister and others in the government. Chief Rabbi Metzger called it a “heinous deed.” The Internal Security minister did not hesitate to use the word “terror” and announced the formation of a special police unit to combat it. Many people traveled to the monastery to personally apologize, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Beit Shemesh, who took brush in hand to help scrub the offensive words from the walls.

Short of undoing the damage by way of a time machine, you could not ask for a stronger response. But in a harsh statement that was picked up around the world, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa lashed out at haredim – and others – for creating the climate that stimulates attacks on Christians in Israel.

Fr. Pizzaballa is the custodian of all Christian holy sites in Israel on behalf of the Vatican. I know him, and he is an honorable man. He is fair-minded and ordinarily not given to harsh words against Israel. I called him myself after learning of the attack to express, on behalf of the Simon Wiesenthal Canter, our shame as Jews that this would happen in a Jewish state. (He was abroad, but the message was relayed to him, and he received it with thanks.)

While I don’t believe there is really any link between haredi education and this attack, I cannot dismiss his feelings – nor his observations about attitudes toward Christians.

He has complained before about spitting incidents directed at him and his colleagues in the Old City. We called at the time to apologize, and to see if there was any way we could intervene. A colleague sat with him in his office for an hour-long amicable conversation. We had hoped that the problem would subside, especially after a strong statement from the Badatz. Apparently it hasn’t.

So what we have is a message, beamed to the world, that “real” Jews – the ones who look the part and believe in the traditions of the Bible, etc. – despise Christians and treat them like dirt. This despite decades of support from large numbers of Christians as the most reliable advocates for the Jewish state. How’s that for gratitude!

Should we speculate on how many pro-Palestinian websites will make fine capital of this, or restrict ourselves to worrying about the hundreds of right-wing anti-Semitic sites in Europe and the U.S. that will do so?

What could have been accurately written off as the work of extremist kids, not condoned by a majority within their own community, is now on record as an assessment that believing Jews despise believing Christians.

Do we need this? And is Fr. Pizzaballa wrong about a climate of intolerance? I’m not sure he is. Don’t we indeed evidence too much contempt for others? We often treat our own with contempt, for dressing a bit different, or espousing a view we see as wrong.

I can’t even guess which contempt comes first – do we first show contempt for the person who uses/does not use the eruv, and then extend it with a kal v’chomer to non-Jews, and then even further with another kal v’chomer to non-Jews who hold theological beliefs we oppose with heart and soul?

Or do we begin with the outsiders, and then move closer to the outliers, as the bitterness of contempt inexorably spreads through more of our emotional apparatus?

It almost doesn’t matter. The point is that contempt, springing from (in our circles) a glorification of bitul, backfires. It endangers us as a community, because when we are contemptuous of others, others learn to reciprocate.

Every negative attitude we harbor becomes a focus of public attention. In a world of insatiable curiosity and easy communication, not even our thoughts remain private very long.

More important, it seeps into our middos in ways we do not (or should not) like. And it is no consolation that we are not “worse” than other communities. That is not the way they judge us; it is not the way we judge ourselves; it is not the way God judges us.

Can we not convey firm and confident difference without showing contempt? When a child sees a Christian cleric on a Yerushalayim street, bedecked in his strange-looking garb, does his parent help his understanding and development by saying something disparaging about the person and/or his beliefs? Wouldn’t the child (and our community) learn far more if the parent spoke about people who look for Hashem in different ways, and how fortunate we are that we have a Torah to show us how to do it, and how one day all people on earth will learn to serve Hashem the way He wants them to?

The Proper Performance of Bris Milah

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Note from Harry Maryles: The following post was submitted to me by someone who is close to Rabbi Zuriel. It is a footnoted and well sourced Halachic analysis of the Mitzvah of Bris Milah and Metzitza B’Peh.

Rabbi Zuriel lives in Bnei Brak and was a close talmid of Rav Ruderman famed founder and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. He has written well over 30 Seforim on subjects ranging from Shas to Tanach to Mussar to Kabbalah.

After moving to Israel, Rabbi Zuriel learned with – and became very close with many Gedolei Torah including Rav Sraya Deblitzky, Rav Shmuel Toledano, and Rav Friedlander – the famed mashgiach of Ponovezh.

He also learned with Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, and was the Mashgiach in Shalavim. He is very knowledgeable in all areas of the Torah, and very well informed regarding current events and history . His approach is an independent one and is solely guided by his understanding of the the Torah.

His words follow. 

It is always sad to see dispute and bickering amongst brethren. It is even more aggravating to see anger and emotional outbursts, bitter accusations and personal attacks in the public domain. The present controversy regarding how to do the metzitzah of blood during Bris Milah, if by mouth or by tube, is a case in point.

If we check the Gemarah source[1] and so too the Rambam[2] , and the Shulchan Aruch[3] , we see no mention of the “Peh,” the mouth. The Hebrew word for suction is “motzetz” and this can be performed also by the use of a tube using mouth suction. It is important to precede all discussion on this topic by “putting everything on the table”. We are not discussing a Biblical Commandment, nor are we referring to a Rabbinical enactment from the Gemarah’s time. We are referring to a hallowed Minhag from days of yore to use the mouth only.

Certainly the withdrawal of blood is a Rabbinical enactment, but the direct application of the mouth is only a Minhag. Beyond that, using a tube by mouth suction is also a utilization of the mouth and should not to be considered as abolition of the use of the mouth[4]. This understanding is important to know before we clarify what a parent should decide in cases of doubt.

The world famous Chasam Sofer wrote a responsum to permit using other methods than the mouth (“Bris Olam”, page 216)[5]. The great Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsh permitted the use of a short tube (Shemesh Marpeh, page 70). Rabbi Yitzchok Herzog wrote[6] that since the medical experts claim that there is a danger of infection in many cases, it is advisable to use a tube. He adds that those who insist adamantly that the withdrawal should be done by direct application of the mouth “are mistaken and so too cause others to make a mistake”.

The illustrious Rabbi Avraham Kook permitted the use of a tube when in doubt of infection (Da’as Kohen, 142) [also, see the words of the Aruch Hashulchan[7] and Rabbi Chaim Berlin[8]]. Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank claimed[9] that since the entire purpose of the Rabbinical enactment of withdrawing the blood from the wound is to avoid infection, this act being done by the tube is part and parcel of that healing process. May we add that this would even be a “hiddur Mitzva” since this is even safer than the personal physical contact of the Mohel to the open wound.

But why is there such a vehement outcry against the usage of the tube? The answer is that for nearly two hundred years there is fear of Gentile government intervention making the essential circumcision ritual illegal. This started in Paris in 1843, reached Germany and Poland and today in California a small group of “humanists” appealed to the State Legislature to ban the practice. This move was defeated.

The fear is that if we ourselves admit that this mitzvah could be damaging to the child, the Department of Health might make capital of our admission. The second cause of the great emotional outbursts of resistance to any change in the ceremony is the worry to keep intact all of Jewish way life, to stay as close as possible to the customs of our forefathers; to forestall all reforms.

The Tal Law and Jewish Law – In Conflict?

Monday, June 11th, 2012

In February, Israel’s Supreme Court voted the Tal Law discriminatory and unconstitutional in a vote of six to three. The law, which provides exemptions for young men studying in yeshiva full-time, has been the subject of much criticism and controversy.

Advocates of maintaining the status quo, argue that those studying Torah provide a spiritual protection to the State of Israel. They also believe that Jewish Law requires exemptions for yeshiva students.

But what does Jewish Law really require?

The Mishnah (Sotah 8:7) states: “…In a Milchemet Mitzvah, all go out [to war], even a groom from his room and a bride from her wedding canopy.” While many explain that women are exempt from combat, they are to assist by “providing food and fixing roads” (Tiferet Yisrael, ad loc.), for example. By including bride and groom, based on Yoel 2:16, the Mishnah emphasizes that all are required to participate in the war effort, without exception.

Rambam defines a Milchemet Mitzvah as, “war [against] the Seven Nations, war [against] Amalek, and assisting Israel from the hand of the enemy who comes up against them” (Hil. Melachim 5:1). This last definition informs our discussion. With a nuclear threat from Iran looming, enemy States on our borders, and the constant threat of terrorism within, anyone who is intellectually honest must admit that we find ourselves today embroiled in a Milchemet Mitzvah, a national security situation that demands the help of all.

Those who advocate exemptions for students studying Torah full-time also find support in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Rambam writes at the end of Hilchot Shemitta v’Yovel, that the Tribe of Levi is exempt from going to war as they are the ‘Army of Hashem,’ so to speak. They are to fulfill their role as spiritual leaders of the Jewish People. They do not inherit a portion of he Land and their material needs are provided for. Rambam then continues and writes:

And not only the Tribe of Levi, but also each and every individual whose spirit moves him and whose knowledge gives him understanding to set himself apart in order to stand before the Lord, to serve Him, to worship Him and to know Him, and releases his neck from the yoke of the many considerations that men are wont to pursue – such an individual is consecrated as the Holy of Holies, and his portion and inheritance shall be in the Lord forever and ever. The Lord will grant him in this world whatsoever is sufficient for him, as He has granted the Kohanim and Levi’im (Hil. Shemitta v’Yovel 13:13).

With this addendum, Rambam allows for anyone “whose spirit moves him” to devote himself solely to Torah study, free from the burden of army service and divorced of all material concerns.

But this passage is problematic. Later commentaries struggle to find a Talmudic source for Rambam’s ruling. Some suggest that this passage is based on Nedarim 32a, where our patriarch Avraham is criticized for drafting Torah scholars in the War of the Four Kings against the Five. Others point to Sotah 10a, which describes how King Asa was punished for mobilizing talmidei chachamim.

Rambam himself rules that even a bride and groom must assist in the war effort (Hil. Melachim 7:4). If bride and groom are not exempted, how can a yeshivah student, “whose spirit moves him,” escape the draft? And by suggesting that Torah scholars can look to their brethren for financial support, Rambam also appears to contradict what he writes in his commentary to Avot 4:5 and in Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10-11, where he decries the practice of relying upon others and emphasizes the importance of balancing Torah study with a livelihood.

What is clear is that Rambam’s ruling here is not the rule, but the exception. His allowance is made for the elite, the select few individuals that are able to devote themselves wholly to avodat Hashem. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein asks,

To how large a segment of the Torah community – or, a fortiori, of any community – does this lofty typology apply? To two percent? Five percent? Can anyone who negotiates the terms of salary, perhaps even naden or kest or both, confront a mirror and tell himself that he ought not go to the army because he is kodesh kodashim, sanctum sanctorum in the Rambam’s terms? (“The Ideology of Hesder,” Tradition, Fall 1981).

Exempting entire sectors of the Jewish Community from army service and from pursuing a parnassah, is not what the Rambam intended.

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/halacha-hashkafa/celebrating-a-bar-mitzvah/2012/06/07/

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