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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Mishnah’

Nicholas Tries To Russify The Jews

Friday, May 18th, 2012

In the 19th century, the heart of European Jewry – its centers of Torah learning, its crown of glory – was centered in the vast expanse of the Russian Empire. There, under the hand of the czars, lived millions of Jews – poor in material wealth but blessed with a love of Torah and a dedication to their faith that was unshakeable.

Czar Nicholas I, the evil tyrant who ruled over Russia and who instituted the infamous forced draft of Jewish children of eight and nine years old, was determined to Russify the stubborn Jews and to convert them to Russian Orthodoxy.

Seeing that his drafting of the children was failing to accomplish his purpose, the evil monarch now attempted a subtler plan. He would combine force with bribery; he would use both the carrot and the stick. To begin with, he decreed that all Jews who refused to convert must immediately leave such centers as Petersburg and Moscow, no matter what the economic loss involved would be. Those, on the other hand, who did convert, would be free from all restrictions.

Some Jews where not able to withstand the temptation and did, indeed, leave the faith of their fathers. The vast majority, however, scorned the offer and defied the threats. It was then that the czar brought into play another weapon.

The New Schools

The czar and his advisors realized that it was the total dedication Jews had to Torah that kept them firm in their faith. Children in Jewish schools were totally immersed in Jewish learning and free from any alien influence. Perhaps, if some method could be devised, whereby a new type of school – one that would teach Russian culture – could be introduced, the exposure of these children to the general culture would inevitably lead to their Russification and conversion. It was worth a try.

To that end, the czar chose a young German Jewish intellectual, Dr. M. Lilienthal, whose job it would be to travel throughout the towns and cities of the Pale of Settlement where the masses of Jews lived, to explain and persuade the Jews to send their children to the new schools.

Vilna

As his first stop, Lilienthal chose Vilna, known as the “Jerusalem” of Lithuania. Here, he called together the leaders of the community – men of wealth and prestige, and began to explain to them how Jews would benefit from the new schools.

“It is of great importance that the Jewish children attend these schools so they can become literate in the language of the land. In this way, they will become successful businessmen and will be able to meet the outside world in a more prepared manner. We should be thankful to the czar for this wonderful opportunity to teach our children.”

The leaders of Vilna sat in polite silence, not wishing to publicly disagree with the man they knew was the czar’s agent. One of the elderly leaders, however, Reb Chaim Nachman Parnas, could not restrain himself and rose to his feet:

“Worthy doctor, we are indeed impressed with the desire of the czar to raise the educational standards of his subjects. I am puzzled, however, at his reasons for choosing the Jews. There is hardly a Jew who does not, at least, know how to read and write Hebrew. The Russian peasants, however, are almost totally illiterate, not even knowing the alphabet. Surely they are in greater need of culture than we are.”

Lilienthal, seeing Vilna would not be a very successful stopover, nevertheless persisted. He dwelt on the theme that every Jew had an obligation to learn a foreign language and attempted to bolster his argument with proofs from the Bible. In particular, he cited the case of Mordechai.

“Do you remember,” he said, “how the Bible tells us Bigsan and Seresh plotted to kill King Achashveirosh? How was the plot foiled? The Bible tells us Mordechai informed the king, but the Talmud goes deeper. In Megillah (13b) it tells us Bigsan and Seresh were Tarseeim and were speaking in their native tongue. Mordechai, however, being a member of the Sanhedrin knew 70 languages and was able to understand what the plotters were saying.

Chabad Of South Broward Holds Siyum

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

A siyum in honor of the conclusion of Seder Zeraim, the first of six orders of the Mishnah, was held on April 24, Iyar 2, at the Chabad of South Broward located in Hallandale Beach. The Mishnah is the basis of the Oral Torah. Zeraim deals primarily with agricultural laws.

Iyar 2, the date of the event, commemorates the birthday of Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Maharash (1834-1882). Iyar 2 also marked the day 17 years ago that the eleven months of Kaddish for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson (1902-1994) was completed.

Every morning after the second minyan, a Mishnah is studied in the shul. Dubbed the “New York Mishnah,” this small daily class enables participants to fulfill the mitzvah, even if they’re rushing to work.

The study began three years ago, at first with five tractates. The first letter of the five tractates spelled out Yisroel, in memory of the late brother of Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus, Rabbi Yisroel Tennenhaus, z”l. After the first five tractates were concluded, the study of Zeraim began.

No Landlords (Part II)

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

(Arachin, 31a, 31b, 32a, 32b, 33b; Eruvin 59a; Yoma 12a; Bava Kama 82b; Ketubot 45b)

The second category into which land in Israel was classified for the purpose of determining the scope of reversionary rights during the era when the Jubilee laws applied was known as “batei arei chomah,” houses or other constructions in walled cities.

The reversionary rights the Torah gave to the original owners of batei arei chomah differed from those given to the original owners of sdeh achuzah, ancestral fields, in the following four significant ways.

First, whereas the original owners of sdeh achuzah were precluded by the Torah from exercising their right of mandatory redemption of the ancestral field for a period of two years from the sale, the original owners of batei arei chomah were permitted to exercise their right of mandatory redemption and buy back the property immediately following the sale.

Second, whereas the mandatory redemption rights of the original owners of sdeh achuzah could be exercised at any time two years from the date of the sale until the Jubilee year, the mandatory redemption rights of the original owners of batei arei chomah expired 365 days after the sale.

Third, whereas sdeh achuzah automatically reverted back to the original owners upon the arrival of the Jubilee year, even if the original owners did not exercise their buyback rights, batei arei chomah remained with the purchaser forever and did not revert back to the ownership of the original owners if they did not exercise their buyback rights within one year.

Fourth, whereas upon exercising buyback rights the original owners of sdeh achuzah were permitted to deduct from the buyback price the value of the crops that buyers enjoyed prior to the buyback, the original owners of batei arei chomah were not permitted to deduct any amount for the use that the buyers enjoyed prior to the buyback, but had to refund the full purchase price to the buyer.

Because of these significant differences in reversionary rights, it was important to know the definition of batei arei chomah.

Batei arei chomah are structures (of at least six to eight square feet) in towns consisting of at least three courtyards with two buildings each, with a predominantly Jewish population – provided that such towns were surrounded by a wall in the time of Joshua even though they may no longer be surrounded by a wall at the time of the sale or buyback. Batei arei chomah included not only residential houses fitting that description, but also structures used for business in such times – olive presses, bath houses, storehouses, dovecots, cisterns, vaults.

The laws of Batei arei chomah applied only to structures sold together with the land upon which they were built, but not to structures that were sold “without” land. Since, according to one Tannaic opinion, the land of Jerusalem was not apportioned to any particular tribe, but was designated as Temple property to which all tribes had equal access, land in Jerusalem – as opposed to structures – could not be privately sold and therefore the sale of structures in Jerusalem was not subject to the laws of batei arei chomah but rather to the different laws of batei chatzerim, open towns, which shall be discussed separately.

The fact that purchasers of batei arei chomah were refunded the purchase price in full upon a buyback and did not have to pay the original owners anything for the use that they enjoyed prior to the buyback, caused some concern in so far as this free use might be construed as being contrary to the laws of ribit, interest on loans, which the Torah prohibits, whether paid in cash or in kind.

If the original owner who sold his house for $1,000,000, which he received as the “purchase price” from the buyer, redeemed his house prior to one year and refunded the purchase price in full, this transaction could be construed as a loan of $1,000,000 for one year for which the house was put up as collateral, to be foreclosed upon should the loan not be repaid.

In fact, if one takes the position that prior to the expiration of twelve months there is no real sale at all, but only a conditional sale, it looks even more like a loan. There are two approaches to this concern, one of the Mishnah and one of the Braitah.

According to the Mishnah, which looks at the transaction at the commencement of the transaction, the free use, though reminiscent of interest, is not really interest at all because the free use arises from a sale and not a loan. According to the Braitah, which looks at the conclusion of the transaction, it turns out that the money in the hands of the original owner was in fact a loan, which he now has to pay back and the free use of the property by the buyer is in fact interest.

Jewish Depictions Of Hell

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Although it’s the Hebrew month of MarCheshvan—known as “mar” or bitter, because it’s devoid of holidays, unlike the preceding month which has the High Holidays and Sukkot, and the next month which ushers in Chanukah—that’s not why I’ve been thinking about hell (gehinnom in Hebrew) a lot lately. In fact, I co-wrote an e-book recently with New York-based lawyer and author Joel Cohen called Gehinnom: A Conversation in Hell. (The book, which is available for free download at www.joelcohengehinnom.com, is a work of fiction, or creative non-fiction. The characters come from the Bible: Cain, Korah, Saul, Balaam, Miriam. But the dialogue is imagined.)

The characters in the book cling in death to the same philosophies and self-awareness (or lack thereof) that they embodied in life. One by one, the characters enter a conversation in “a dark, dank, forgotten cave,” where they have to trust each other’s disembodied voices, since they cannot see each other. The characters (with the exception of Miriam and a young man who later surfaces) team up on one another and expose jealousies, hatred, self-righteousness, and a confusing—and thus, distinctly human!—blend of emotions. Of course, the lines the characters deliver have little to do with what the figures might actually have believed and felt, and everything to do with what Cohen and I believe they might have believed. For such is the stuff of art, and the majority of the artistic canon is fictive—even the works that purport to be “realistic.”

Haggadah shel Pesach (with interpretation of Abrabanel). Hayim ben Tsevi Hirsh. Fürth: 1755.

Surely, one can imagine countless works of Christian art that depict demons torturing lost souls, grim reapers with scythes, and flaming depictions of hell. It’d be foolish to suggest that Jewish art has anywhere near such a prominent tradition of depicting gehinnom, and it’s not my intention to do so here. But many readers of this column probably have a pretty good sense that the Christian apocalyptic traditions of representing demons and eternal punishment for sinners have their origins in Jewish texts.

Some of the Jewish sources include the Mishnah in Gemara Sanhedrin (10:1), which addresses the statement that “everyone in Israel” has a portion in the World to Come. If the Mishnah goes out of its way to specify that everyone “in Israel” has a portion in heaven, surely there must be some who have no portion, the rabbis argue, so they compile a list: those who deny the resurrection of the dead, those who say the Torah isn’t divinely delivered, and those who are apikorsim, or heretics. Rabi Akiva adds that those who read “sfarim chitzonim”—“outside” books—also have no heavenly portion, nor do those who whisper (incantations) over a wound. Finally, Abba Shaul adds that those who recite God’s name as written also will not merit eternal reward. The Mishnah also adds a list of particular individuals and groups who have no heavenly portion, including the kings Jeroboam, Ahab, and Menashe (though Rabi Judah says Menashe was forgiven and did merit reward), Balaam, Doeg (who killed 85 priests), Ahithophel (who led Absalom astray, to say the least), and Gehazi, who disobeyed Elisha.

There are also chassidic traditions surrounding gehinnom. The Apta Rebbe (Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, 1748-1825) famously said that as a sinner he’d be sent to gehinnom, but being unable to endure the sinners, God would have to send them out. His idea was to ensure that he’d be the only one there, a strategy that the Ropshitzer Rebbe—Rav Naftali Zvi of Ropshitz, 1760-1827—also embraced. The latter figured that gehinnom empties out during the Shabbat, and that any sinner who had visited the Rebbe’s house on Shabbat while alive, ought to be able to visit his table in heaven. And what a foolish man the Rebbe would be to let the sinner be returned to gehinnom at nightfall, the Ropshitzer Rebbe said.

Civility: What The Sages Had To Say

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, “civility” is the word on everyone’s lips. This is ironic when one considers that civility is nowhere to be found in anyone’s actions. Each partisan faction is charging the other with hatred and violence.

The rhetoric being bandied about is beyond ridiculous. Our elected officials are saying things that are absurdly similar, except they’re saying them with a straight face. They scream “civility” at the top of their lungs, but each demands it from the other with no signs of action on their own part.

There’s a cliché that says that when one points a finger at another person, he has three fingers pointing back at him. Things get to be clichés by being true. TheTalmud tells us that one should not criticize others for faults one possesses himself. (In modern parlance, “People who live in glass houses “) But all that’s being done is name-calling and finger-pointing.

Why don’t people realize it’s possible to disagree – even on topics of great importance – and still treat one another civilly?

The Talmud is replete with disputes between the disciples of Beit Hillel and those of Beit Shammai. They disagreed on some pretty significant points of law and their differences had many practical ramifications, but the Mishnah tells us that the students of Beit Hillel and those of Beit Shammai did not hesitate to rely upon one another. A member of each school knew a student of the other wouldn’t let him do something he himself considered impermissible, even if the other’s point of view permitted it. They were civil to one another because they recognized that, differences aside, we’re all on the same team.

Another example – perhaps far more extreme – is that of Elisha ben Avuya, a scholar who suffered a traumatic experience and became the heretic known as “Acher” (“the other”). The Talmud tells us how Acher was riding a horse on Shabbat with his former student Rabbi Meir walking beside him. Even though Acher had lost his faith, he informed Rabbi Meir when they reached the Sabbath boundary. Yes, he had lost his faith, but he maintained his civility. Even a heretic can be a mentsch.

It’s okay to disagree. The question is, why are we disagreeing? The Mishnah in Avot (5:20) tells us there’s a difference between sincere disagreements and those with ulterior motivations. The example the Mishnah gives of a sincere disagreement is that between the students of Hillel and the students of Shammai. As we’ve already noted, these two groups got along quite well despite their differences. This is because each faction recognized that they were both in pursuit of the truth.

But what of the disagreements with ulterior motivations? The example the Mishnah brings is Korach, who tried to overthrow Moses and seize leadership of the nation for himself. Rashi on Numbers 16:1 cites the Midrash detailing the pretexts Korach used to try to undermine Moses. Korach had prepared a list of questions such that, whatever Moses would answer, he could twist things to make Moses look bad.

Korach could smile and say, “Can’t we all just get along?” but his disagreement was insincere. Korach wasn’t after the truth; he had an agenda. Nothing short of a coup would satisfy him. Such a person cannot be civil to those with another point of view.

So why are we fighting? Do we want to discover the truth? Do we want what’s best for our nation? For our communities? For our schools and our synagogues? Or do we come in with both barrels blazing, saying, “It’s my way or the highway?” If we are sincere in our disagreements, we’re not threatened by hearing what others have to say. We only oppose civil discourse when it impedes fulfilling our preconceived idea of how things should be. (It’s actually pretty arrogant for one to unilaterally decide on how the universe should be, without considering the input of others. No human is so wise as to have all the answers.)

Civility starts within. If one really cares about an issue, being civil not only doesn’t hurt the cause, it actually helps. Let’s care less about what the other person is doing and worry more about ourselves. Civility can be contagious – it behooves all whose causes are sincere to be carriers. In the end, sincerity and respect will create an environment of civility. For those whose motivations are ulterior, nothing ever will.

Tu B’Shevat, Human Beings, And Trees

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The source for Tu B’Shevat is the opening Mishnah of the Talmudic tractate Rosh Hashanah: “The Academy of Hillel taught that the 15th of Shevat is the New Year for the trees.”

What does that mean, “New Year for the trees”?

Tu B’Shevat is technically the day when trees stop absorbing water from the ground and instead draw nourishment from their sap. In halacha, this means fruit that had blossomed prior to the 15th of Shevat could not be used as tithe for fruit that blossomed after that date.

So what relevance does this have for us in the 21st century, when most of us are not farmers?

In various places, the Bible compares a person to a tree:

● “A person is like the tree of a field ” (Devarim 20:19)

● “For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people.” (Isaiah 65:22)

● “He will be like a tree planted near water ” (Jeremiah 17:8)

Why the comparison? A tree needs the four basic elements in order to survive – earth, water, air and fire (sunshine). Human beings also require the same basic elements. Let us see how by analyzing these four essential elements individually.

Earth: A tree needs to be planted firmly in the earth. The soil is not only the source through which nourishment is absorbed but also provides room for the roots to grow.

This is true of a person as well. The Talmud explains, “A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place” (Avot 3:22).

A person can appear successful on the outside. “But if the roots are few” – if there is little connection to one’s community and Torah heritage – then life can send challenges that are impossible to withstand. “A strong wind can turn the tree upside down.” A person alone is vulnerable to trends and fads that may lead to despair and destruction. But if a person, irrespective of wealth and status, is connected to his community and Torah heritage, then “even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place.”

People require a strong home base, one where Judaism’s values and morals are absorbed and that provides a supportive spiritual growth environment.

Water: Rainwater is absorbed into the ground and, through an elaborate system of roots, is carried throughout the trunk, branches and leaves of the tree. Without water, the tree will wither and die. The Torah is compared to water, as Moses proclaims: “May my teaching drop like the rain” (Devarim 32:2). Both rain and Torah descend from the heavens and provide relief to the thirsty and parched. The Torah flows down from God and has been absorbed by Jews in every generation. Torah gives zest and vitality to the human spirit. A life based on Torah will blossom with wisdom and good deeds.

Deprived of water, a person will become dehydrated and ultimately disoriented, even to the point where he may not be able to recognize his own father. So too, without Torah, a person becomes disoriented – to the extent he may not even recognize his Father in Heaven.

Air: A tree needs air to survive. The air contains oxygen a tree needs for respiration, and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. In an imbalanced atmosphere, the tree would suffocate and die.

The Torah (Bereishis 2:7) states that “God breathed life into the form of Man.” The Hebrew word for “breath” – neshima – is the same as the word for “soul” – neshama. Our spiritual life force comes, metaphorically, by way of air and respiration.

We use our senses of taste, touch and sight to perceive physical matter. (Even hearing involves the perception of sound waves). But smelling is the most spiritual of senses, since the least “physical matter” is involved. As the Talmud says (Berachot 43b), “Smell is that which the soul benefits from and the body does not.”

Praying For Moshe Feiglin’s Son

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Editor’s note: This week, Shmuel Sackett, international director of Manhigut Yehudit, is filling in for Mr. Feiglin.


 


Moshe Feiglin’s son, Dovid Yosef ben Faigie Perel, remains in intensive care in stable – yet serious – condition following a car accident. Here is an update for Jewish Press readers, who have followed Moshe’s column for many years:

 

On Thursday, July 1, I picked up Moshe at 5 a.m. for a trip to the Kotel to daven. Immediately afterward we immersed in the Breslov mikveh (in the Muslim quarter of the Old City), and then ascended Har HaBayit (The Temple Mount). Something very interesting happened just before we went up to Har HaBayit.

 

The day before, I e-mailed Rabbi Nachman Kahane (brother of Rabbi Meir Kahane) and asked him to meet us before we go up to the Har so that he can give Moshe a berachah. For the record Rabbi Nachman Kahane is a rare kohen me’yuchas,” meaning he can trace his family’s line directly to the first high priest of Israel, Aharon HaKohen. He is also a Talmudic scholar who has written more than 40 holy books. Finally, he is a member of Manhigut Yehudit and believes strongly in Moshe’s ability to soon become prime minister of Israel.

 

            Just before we arrived, Rabbi Kahane saw Rav Shlomo Aviner, chief rabbi of Beit El and rosh yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim. Rav Aviner is also a kohen, and Rabbi Kahane asked that he bless Moshe as well. Shortly after, Moshe and I arrived (with our dear friend, Dovid Shirel of Hebron). Rabbi Kahane explained that when one kohen blesses a Jew it has the status of a rabbinic blessing, but when two kohanim bless a Jew it has the status of a Torah blessing. Both kohanim held Moshe’s hand and blessed him simultaneously with the traditional priestly blessing.

 

After Moshe was blessed, he, Dovid Shirel and I went up to Har HaBayit and had the very rare opportunity to fulfill a unique halacha. The Mishnah in Midot (chapter 2, Mishnah 2) states that when people ascend the Har, they walk rightward. However, if a person is in mourning or has another problem (which the commentaries explain as praying for a sick relative), the person walks leftward. The reason for this is that people already on the Har will see that the people are walking in the opposite direction and will ask them what happened. When they find out, they will say (in the case of an illness), “May the Dweller [Hashem] in this House grant your son a quick and speedy recovery.” Thus to fulfill this requirement, we walked to the left upon ascending the Har.

 

About 30 minutes into our walk around Har HaBayit, some people who ascended the Har shortly after us noticed that we were walking toward the left. Inquiring about this seeming oddity, Moshe said to them, “Because my son is sick and needs a refuah sh’laimah.” They immediately replied, “May the Dweller in this House grant your son a quick and speedy recovery.” This was exactly as the Mishnah described it over 2,000 years ago! This brought chills to my spine for a long time. After all, it’s one thing to learn the law; but to experience it is infinitely more incredible.

 

Ten minutes after leaving Har HaBayit, Moshe’s wife Tzippy told him via telephone that about 20 minutes earlier Dovid Yosef started moving his leg and arm. The doctors were ecstatic about this small – but very significant – progress. Just imagine: he started improving at the exact time we were davening for him on Har HaBayit and practicing the Mishnah law.

 

We hope for more progress every day.

 

Moshe and Tzippy Feiglin have asked me to express their heartfelt hakarat hatov to the public for their outpouring of prayer and encouragement. They kindly request your continued prayers for their son.


 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/praying-for-moshe-feiglins-son-2/2010/07/07/

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