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December 29, 2014 / 7 Tevet, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘rabbis’

Why Did Kayin Kill Hevel? (Rabbi Goldin Gets It Wrong)

Monday, September 30th, 2013

My encounter with Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s “Unlocking the Torah Text” this weekend nearly gave me a stroke. And all I covered was his section on parsha Bereshis.

There were two terrible passages. We’ll deal with one now, and get to the other later.

In brief, I hold there are two incorrect theories of midrash. I call them the “moron approach” and the “skeptical approach.” The moron approach, beloved by idiots who think their stupidity proves their piousness, hold that our sages were merely receiving vessels who did nothing but repeat whatever they heard from their own rebbes. They say the midrashim, in their entirety, go back to Sinai, in one long game of telephone, with not one of the Sages ever making use of his own intelligence or creative powers to add or subtract from the original teaching.

This, thankfully, is not Goldin’s approach.

Instead, Goldin embraces the skeptical approach telling us that midrashim are not really interpretations of verses. Instead, they are something the Sages used to encode and transmit Deep Ideas. Here’s how he puts it:

Midrashim are vehicles through which the Rabbis.. transmit significant messages and lessons. As such, they are not necessarily meant… to explain the factual meaning of a Torah passage.

The Goldin passage I quote above is actually a (unattributed) paraphrase of something that the Ramchal says in Maamar al Haagadot. And let me make this clear: The Ramchal’s approach is a sound way of dealing with problematic midrashim. Trouble is, too many people use this approach to deal with midrashim that are not problematic at all. And this is precisely what Goldin does.

The Midrash he attempts, in this example,  to reveal as a vehicle for transmitting secret lessons is found in Berashis Raba, Berashis 23:16 where various rabbis are quoted discussing competing reasons for Kayin’s attack on Hevel.

In summary:

(1) The brothers divided up the world, with one taking the land, and the other taking the animals. When Kayin saw Hevel standing on “his” land he objected.

(2) The brothers divided up the land and the animals even-steven but both wanted the land where the future Bes Hamikdash would stand. So they fought

(3) The brothers both wanted Chava Rishona, and fought over her. (Chava Rishona is how the Midrash solves the problem of Eve’s two creation stories. The first Chava (the one created alongside Adam in Genesis 1:27) was rejected, and replaced by the Chava created from Adam’s rib in 2:21 leading Adam to declare in 2:23 “Zos Hapaam / This time [I am happy with the Chava]!”)

(4) Hevel had two twin sisters while Kayin had only one. They fought over Hevel’s extra sister (the existence of the twins are indicated by the superfluous word “es” in 4:1 and 4:2 where Kayin’s birth announcement is accompanied with only one “es”, thus one twin, while Hevel’s birth announcement has two appearances of “es” which to the Rabbis suggested two twins.

According to Goldin, none of this should be construed at an attempt to interpret and explain the Kayin and Hevel story. Instead the Sages are “expressing global observations” regarding the real reasons why men go to war, namely territory, religion and women.

And then he makes it abundantly clear that he hasn’t even taken the elementary first step of consulting the midrash in question, writing:

Fundamentally, the Rabbis make the following statement in this Midrash: We were not present when Kayin killed Hevel. Nor can we glean any information directly from the biblical text concerning the source of their dispute.”

Only, even the briefest glance at the text of the Midrash shows this is not true! The Rabbis are not making a statement in unison about Global Facts, nor are they sharing Big Ideas. Rather they are arguing about nothing more than the plain meaning of the verse.

Each of the four suggested reasons for the fight are based on something specific and anomalous in the text, as the Midrash itself tells us, namely the seemingly extra detail about where the fight occurred.

The verse says: “While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

Why mention the field?

(1) Because Kayin and Hevel split the world, with one (the farmer) taking the land, and the other (the sheep herder) taking the animals. In the field, Kayin objected to his brother standing on land, which he owned, so they fought.

(2) The word “field” is often a keyword for the Bes Hamikdash  (eg Micha 3:12) The brothers successfully divided up the entire world, but when they got to the field, ie, the Bes Hamikdash they fought

(3 and 4) Field is also a keyword for women. Both are, um,  plowed (Not my pun! Its in chazal!) and also because of Deuteronomy 22:25 where it says: “If a man finds a girl in the field.” So when the brothers reached the field, ie the woman, they fought.

None of this, by the way,  is a DovBear interpretation. All of it is right there in the plain text of the midrash – which Goldin would have encountered had he checked the midrash before embarking on his unnecessary attempt to “decode” it.

Visit DovBear.

White House Briefs Reform and Conservative Rabbis on Syria

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Nearly 700 rabbis and other Jewish communal officials were briefed by a top White House aide on President Obama’s Syria plans.

The call Tuesday with Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, was organized by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and attracted 691 callers from all religious streams, according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the RA’s executive vice president.

She said that rabbis were eager to be briefed on Syria so they could better discuss the issue in their Yom Kippur sermons.

Rabbis on the call pressed Rhodes on the moral underpinnings of striking Syria, distinctions between responses to the use of conventional weapons on civilians as opposed to chemical weapons, what the administration’s endgame in Syria was, and on how its Syria considerations affected its relationship with Israel.

Agunot Activist Woman Appointed to Panel for Jewish Judges

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has appointed the first woman as one of the members of the State Committee for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges.

Dr. Rachel Levmore, director of the Project for the Prevention of Agunot and Get-Refusal of the International Young Israel Movement and the Jewish Agency, was named to the panel based on her expertise in Talmudic and Jewish law and her social activism on behalf of “agunim,” women who cannot re-marry because their ex-husbands refused to grant them a divorce, as required by Jewish law before re-marriage.

Dr. Levmore has actively brought about the spread of the acceptance of prenuptial agreements as a successful preventative tool to the problem of the agunah.

Violent Guards and Violent Haredi Extremists Duel in Beit Shemesh

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Six people were wounded and 10 were arrested at a Beit Shemesh construction site Monday when violent Arab guards beat Haredi extremists who broke into a construction site where the Haredim claim Jewish graves are being desecrated.

The guards blocked medics from treating the injured, one paramedic said.

One of the construction site’s project managers is Aryeh Golobinzitz, who is Haredi from Jerusalem and who previously has been beaten up by members of the extremist Atra Kadisha sect. Police detained Golobinzitz and another manager for questioning, along with six security guards and two Haredim.

The protesters broke into the site, and the guards beat them, and one of the victims claimed he was hit with a metal rod during the brawl, which is only the latest of several clashes. Police arrested more than two dozen people last month after hundreds of  Haredi extremists blocked roads and set fires.

Leading Haredi rabbis have rejected Atra Kadisha claims that the construction is taking place over Jewish graves.

In the spirit of the Days of Awe and Repentance, rabbis from Atra Kadisha and from the opposing Edat Haredim community agreed that an inspector from Bnei Brak would be present at the site to make sure no Jewish graves are desecrated.

The agreement lasted as long as Rosh HaShanah and the Fast of Gedaliah, the day afterwards.

On Monday, five days before Yom Kippur, the agreement was as worth as much as the Rosh HaShanah vows to be law abiding Jews reaching out to each other with love and understanding.

On Yom Kippur, which falls on Shabbat this year, there probably will not be any protests, but nothing is certain.

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hebrew Union Pres. Pulls Fast One in Non-Jewish Rabbi Debate

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Earlier this week, we ran a story about a reform cantor and rabbi whose father was Jewish but her mother was not, and who is serving in her two very Jewish sounding roles without the benefit of a proper—or even a Reform—conversion (It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi). To me, it seemed like the ultimate, end-of-the-line kind of illustration of how far the Reform movement has strayed outside the rabbinical tent, although over the heated discussion that ensued by our readers it was mentioned that the lady in question is not the first non-Jewish Reform rabbi since the Reform movement enacted the doctrine of patrilineal descent to determine who is a Reform Jew.

We now received a response letter from David Ellenson, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, protesting our article. I was conflicted over whether we should run the article as is, and expect our readers to debate it, or add my own running commentary. The reason I decided to do the latter, which, I admit, is taking advantage of my position as editor, at the expense of the author, is that the letter is rife with misleading information.

I debated this with our editor in chief, and we decided that, in the name of fairness, we’ll run only complete paragraphs of the Ellenson letter, in sequential order, and add comments only between paragraphs, much the way some people do when they respond to a long email. So, here we go:

To the Editor:

I recognize that the editors and authors of The Jewish Press have a different stance towards Judaism than we at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and in the Reform Movement do. Indeed, I do not question your right to approach Judaism and the issue of conversion as you deem proper even as our own principled position is distinct from yours. However, no less a rabbinic personage than Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer of Posen, the famed author of Drishat Tsiyon, referred to children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers – even without conversion – as zera kodesh. He asserted that “gdolei yisrael” could well spring from among these children.

The citation from Rabbi Kalischer of Posen (who vehemently rejected the Reform movement of his day, see Hertzberg, Arthur, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader) is misleading, and a little bit offensive.

It suggests that Rabbi Kalischer—a student of Rabbi Akiva Eger and one of the most noted Zionist Rabbis of the early 1800s (he called for the redeeming of all of Eretz Israel and for the renewal of the Temple sacrifices, both values that I would love to see adopted by the Reform movement) supported the recognition of the offspring of Jewish men and their non-Jewish wives as Jews, without a halachic conversion.

Throwing such a ludicrous claim without proper citation does not befit the president of an academic institute, mostly because it forced yours truly to spend hours online in search of the cite. But I did. Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, affiliated with the RCA beit din in Montreal, told Paul Lungen of CJN (New standards possible for Orthodox conversions) about an 1864 case when two German rabbis, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Azriel Hildesheimer debated the standards to be applied to child conversion:

“Responding to a query from a rabbi in New Orleans, Rabbi Kalischer argued that if the child was brought up in a home where there was potential for him to grow in observance – even where the mother was gentile – the conversion should be approved. Rabbi Hildesheimer believed conversions should not be approved unless the parents were observant.”

In other words, the honorable president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is trying to pull off a dishonest shmear, suggesting that by his sweet comment that those children of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers are “holy seed” (zera kodesh) – he meant they could become rabbis without a proper conversion.

No, no, no. The debate was over whether a guy who marries a non-Jew can ask for a halachic conversion of their children, even though he is so outside the Jewish fold that he went and married a Jew.

In our own time, Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Israel, in his Zera Yisrael, has offered a broad survey of halakhic writing on this question and has made the same point as Rabbi Kalischer concerning the offspring of intermarried Russian families who have made aliyah to Israel. Rabbi Amsalem has written that such children, who share in the fate and destiny of our people, should be embraced.

This one is not merely a lie, but a stupid lie, because the rabbi in question is alive and well, and can speak for himself, which he did. Here, for the record, is rabbi Chaim Ansalem’s view on the conversion of children of intermarried Russian families (the text was shortened, the full version is available here):

Rabbis Urge Netanyahu to Quit Rather than Free Terrorists

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

The Rabbinical Congress for Peace (RCP), a group of 1,200 rabbis from the United States, Canada and Israel, has sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to each Cabinet minister, urging them to cancel their decision to release terrorists.

The agreement to free more than 100 terrorists was made to satisfy Palestinian Authority demands to resume direct talks on altering the borders of Israel, and the RCP it would be better for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to quit rather than buckle under American pressure.

“Out of all the deplorable and dangerous moves that governments in Israel carried out in the past to start a so called ‘peace process.’ the current move is the most dangerous of them,” the Rabbinical Congress wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

“Today there is absolutely no expert or pundit who thinks that Abu Mazen is serious about peace with Israel, they know he has no control over the Arab street. ‘ In a final resolution, in the new Palestinian state we would not see the presence of a single Israeli,’ he told Egyptian journalists last week. Does he sound like a man seeking peace with Israel?”

The letter added that the Palestinian Authority “knows that the Obama Administration will never punish it if it balks but probably will only offer it more. The negotiations will, as in the past, only make matters worse and in the end the world will blame Israel.

“We unequivocally affirm that according to Jewish Law, if you cannot withstand the political pressure, each one of you is morally obligated to resign immediately. Releasing even one terrorist endangers Jewish lives. A recent research found that 75 percent of the terrorists that have been released in the past revert to attack Jews. This also encourages others to engage in terrorism confident that they will be released.

Thus it is better that the whole government resign than to release even one terrorist.

In a special message sent to Jewish Home party ministers, the rabbis added: “According to Jewish Law it is forbidden for you to remain even one day in a government that releases cruel terrorists and is prepared to negotiate with its enemies and murderers on the borders of Israel.

“You are not doing a favor to the Jewish nation by adding more apartments in Judea and Samaria because by remaining in a government that advances such dangerous policies you are stabbing the settlers in the back. Besides, there is no guarantee that you in fact will get these housing units following the international outcry against it.

“We pray and hope that the government of Israel will come to their senses the last minute and refrain from carrying out such an absurd policy. The Netanyahu government still has time to regret its life threatening decision and safeguard the security of the Jewish people in their land.

The RCP warned nearly 20 years ago repeatedly warned against negotiating surrender of land in Israel to the Palestinian Authority, a ruling that it has said “proved to be without error The Congress cited  the 2005 expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and northern Gaza and their forced relocation elsewhere.” To their horror, they found their new homes repeatedly bombarded by missiles dispatched from the very homes that they themselves had built and from the very fields that they had tilled.

“Unfortunately, the predictions of this Ruling proved accurate: every single withdrawal in these years has invited waves of increased terror and bloodshed of thousands of Jews, men, women and children, young and old. And today, those withdrawals jeopardize the security of millions of Jews in Israel.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/rabbis-urges-netanyahu-to-quit-rather-than-free-terrorists/2013/08/11/

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