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October 22, 2016 / 20 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘rav’

Rav Shimon Schwab: Values And Views

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Several months ago – in the columns of December, January, February, and March – we dealt with the early life of Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, his studies in Telshe and Mir, his serving as a rabbi in Bavaria, his leaving Germany due to threats on his life by the Nazis, his escape to America, and his serving as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Baltimore from 1936 to 1958.

In 1958 Rabbi Schwab was invited to join Rabbi Dr. Yoseph Breuer, zt”l, as associate rav of the German-Jewish community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, Khal Adath Jeshurun. This community is widely regarded as the spiritual “continuation” of the pre-war Frankfurt kehilla.

With Rabbi Breuer’s increasing age and infirmity, Rav Schwab took on many leadership roles. After Rav Breuer was nifter in 1980, Rav Schwab led the community until his passing in 1995.

This month we look at Rav Schwab’s values and views.


Well Prepared for His Role as Rav

“Rav Schwab combined the ideals of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, architect of Torah Orthodoxy in the Western world, and the intense commitment to limud ha Torah that is the legacy of the great Lithuanian yeshivas.

“Rav Schwab was not a bridge between two worlds, between East and West –bridges are not for living on. He was rather the embodiment of the Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim Chaim…. He embodied in one person two diverse Torah cultures: the glorious Frankfurt tradition of Rav Hirsch, with its emphasis on adherence to the emes and insistence on putting the stamp of Torah on every area of public and private endeavor…combined with unwavering devotion to intense Torah study, which was the hallmark of the great yeshivas of Lithuania. On the one hand, he absorbed the Chofetz Chaim’s caress; on the other, he observed the admonishment of the alter Gerrer Rebbe who characterized Rav Hirsch as ‘a lebedige mussar sefer.

“His mission was to make this heady blend the reality of authentic Torah life in America. He wished to set an example for the American ben Torah, whether engaged in full-time Torah study or as a working man. Rav Schwab was convinced that Torah im Derech Eretz offers a vision of Judaism ‘in a way that can be accepted…by the five-and-a-half-million uncommitted Jews in the vast spiritual wasteland that is today’s America in a language they can understand.”[i]

The following is from “Rav Schwab on Chumash,” written by his son Rabbi Myer J. Schwab who has kindly permitted me to quote from it.

Master Orator and Teacher

Rav Schwab was a master orator, and many looked forward to his talks at Agudah Conventions. He invariably spoke in English, although I recall being at one talk which he began in Yiddish. Many of the attendees were clearly disappointed and surprised that he was speaking in Yiddish. However, about 5 minutes into his talk, in Yiddish, he said that one must speak in the language people understandand. There was thunderous applause, and he continued the rest of his address in English.

Rav Schwab was at his best when he was lecturing or giving a shiur. As is well known, the Rav offered numerous unique interpretations of Chumash and Tanach, many of which have been recorded in his Ma’ayan Beis Hasho’evah. Posthumously, a series of books – Rav Schwab on Prayer, Rav Schwab on Iyov, Rav on Yeshayahu, Rav Schwab on Ezra and Nechemiah – was published which contain many new insights that were previously unknown to the general public.

“These insights resulted from his da’as Torah, his instinctive feeling for the inner meaning of the words of Torah and Tanach. This sense grew from his thorough knowledge of the language of the Torah and its rules of dikduk, his thorough grounding in Talmud and Midrash, and most of all from his deep piety, all of which were enhanced by his superb and clear mind.”

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Rav Bina’s Shavuot Message

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Video of the Day

8 Women Receive Orthodox Ordination in Largely Political Endeavor

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

On Tuesday night, according to a report by Ynet, eight women received certificates of Orthodox Jewish ordination in Jerusalem and selected for themselves various equivalents to the commonly used “Rav” or “Rabbi” by males: some picked “Rav,” instantly making the title unisex; others went with “Rabba,” which would be the female conjugation of the male title, although the term is not in everyday use; some went with “Rabbi,” which in the genderless English grammar has been a common title for Reform and Conservative women clergy for decades.

One preferred to go with “Doctor,” possibly recalling the shamanist attributes for which some Jewish scholars were once renowned. Or more simply, because she has a PhD, but no ordination.

No one went with the prevalent “Rebbetzin,” presumably because to become a Rebbetzin one doesn’t need to study, just marry well.

The ordination was given personally by Rabbi Daniel Landis, a YU graduate who is the head of the Pardes Institute, an open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community, based in Jerusalem and operating programs worldwide. Landis is also a senior member of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC).

In his message to the freshly ordained Orthodox female rabbis, Landis explored the fact that his graduates are different from ordinary ordained Orthodox rabbis not merely because of their sex, but in their emphasis on Jewish studies, and on any studying at all for that matter:

“I very quickly abandoned the ambition to achieve only rabbinic expertise, and moved on to the more important initiative of promoting you as creative scholars, with integrity, sensitivity and courage, who have access to the members of their generation,” Landis said.

“Yes, but can they pasken on a chicken?” you might ask. It appears that ruling on the mundane needs of rank and file Orthodox Jews was not the top priority of this ordination, which is not a comment on the quality of scholarship of the graduates. They simply appear to put a different emphasis on their future roles in the Jewish community:

Rav Avital Campbell-Hochstein, one of the graduates, said at the ordination ceremony: “Receiving the ordination is not merely a score for knowledge. Ordination, or permission, like halakha itself, is focusing on human beings, on the image of God. Human beings must be seen and heard. The halakha and the Torah are sensitive to the slimmest signs of humanness.” And so, she continued, “in order for halakha, which is an emanation of the will of God, to be relevant and applicable, we must first and foremost be attentive. Human dignity is our driving force. Halakha can be a divider and it can be a meeting ground. It can be a wall and it can be a bridge. Choosing between those component depends on the human beings who use it, and who represent it.”

So, basically, no paskening on chickens for now. Instead, there was a lot of talk about advancing the status of women in halakha and in Orthodox society. You may have to rely on someone else for your kashrut decisions, but in areas of marriage, conversion, and burial, these ordained female rabbis will make sure, as Rav Naama Levitz-Applbaum put it, “that women will be counted, in the full meaning of the word, and to feel as full partners along the path.”

Perhaps as the number of ordained Orthodox female rabbis grows and as each ordination ceases to be viewed as a revolution and starts to be more commonplace (as has been the case in every profession women have entered over the past two centuries) we’ll start hearing about women Orthodox rabbis who are not so heavily invested in the feminist politics of their role but in caring for their congregations. At which point we should be able to assess this fledgling but growing movement not based on our political views but instead on the concrete scholarship and the halakhic contribution of these female rabbis. Because, let’s face it, Orthodox Jews need rabbis to interpret halakha for them. They have plenty of social workers doing everything else.


Rav Herzog’s ‘Rabbits’ And Other Rabbinic Pesach Correspondence

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Most any historical documents collector can try, but never fully succeed, to explain to non-collectors the electrifying charge one can experience when handling a true paper treasure: “Abraham Lincoln actually held this paper in his hands!” “Can you believe that these are the actual words written by Albert Einstein?”

But there is a whole other transcendental level of delight, enchantment, and reverence that applies to collectors of Judaica documents.

For example, I can never forget the sublime feeling I had when I actually merited to own and hold a letter fully handwritten by the Chofetz Chaim, or when I first added a correspondence by Rav Chaim Brisker to my assemblage of great rabbanim and gaonim. These are far more than important historical artifacts; they are true devarim she-b’kedushah (holy items) that must be treasured and respected as such.

With that in mind, and to mark the final days of Pesach, I thought I’d share some of my rabbinical letters on the subject of Passover. However, I must first note that presenting the very brief biographical summaries that follow proved particularly daunting and is in no way intended to provide any compressive presentation of the holy lives and great deeds of these Torah giants.

* * * * *

Rav Isaac Halevi Herzog (1888-1959) received semicha from the Ridbaz and his doctorate in literature from the University of London. After serving as the rav of Belfast, as chief rabbi of the Irish Free State, and founding the Mizrachi Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, he succeeded Rav Kook as chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael (1937). He enacted takkanot in matters of personal status and effected significant advances by reconciling the necessities of modern living with halachic demands, but he was perhaps most renowned for his belief in the importance of every Jew, regardless of level of observance, and for his loving outreach to the non-religious elements and kibbutzim, which proved highly controversial in some haredi circles.

In the 28 Adar 1942 correspondence on his Chief Rabbi letterhead reproduced on this page (exhibit 1), Rav Herzog writes:

We are honored to ask you to warn all the owners of the dairies in your place to extinguish all the shefanim and unleavened bread from their homes and properties from the 14th of Nissan and onward. Otherwise, do not give them a Certificate of Kashrut on their milk.

We already provided this notification to the management of the “Tenuva” company.

And we hereby bless you with a kosher and happy Passover.

Though “shefanim” is usually translated as “rabbits,” contemporary scholars agree that this cannot be correct because of the most basic principle of biblical zoology: geographical distribution. That is, all the animals mentioned in the Tanach were familiar to the Jewish people because they either lived in Eretz Yisrael or were brought there (including, for example, monkeys and peacocks which, although not native to the land, were brought in as gifts for King Solomon).

Rabbits, which lived only in southern Africa and Spain, have never lived in Eretz Yisrael and there is no evidence that they were ever imported there. On the other hand, hyraxes – which, interestingly, are called “shafan” in local Arab dialects – may be found in Eretz Yisrael but not in Europe. See Regarding the Identity of the Shafan, by Rabbi Natan Slifkin – the famous “zoo rabbi.”

The word “shefanim” appears only twice in Tanach, Proverbs 30:26 and Psalm 104 – the beautiful Barchi Nafshi, in which King David describes the wonders of all creation from the perspective of Jew living in Eretz Yisrael. At 104:18, he writes: “The high hills are for the ibex, the rocks are a refuge for the shefanim.” In this context, as Rabbi Slifkin argues, King David cannot be describing the rabbits of southern Africa, which, as noted, were not native to Eretz Yisrael. Further, Samuel I 24:2 describes how King David spent time in Ein Gedi among the ibex, and it defies credulity to believe that in Psalms he would neglect to describe the hyrax, which hides in the rocks in the very same area, in favor of the rabbit that lives in South Africa. In fact, both the ibex and hyrax may be seen even today in the mountains of Ein Gedi.

Saul Jay Singer

‘You Murder the Children’: Rav Soloveitchik on Abortion

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When one thinks of Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l soon comes to mind for his leadership thereof. In our time, however, Modern Orthodoxy has become a vague term with problematic tendencies. As Rabbi Steven Pruzansky–who has numerous shiurim on Yeshiva University’s Torah website–recently wrote, “Too often, one finds in the Modern Orthodox world grievances of one sort or another against this or that aspect of Torah, as if Jews get to sit in judgment of God and His Torah.”

No issue might better crystallize the dissonance between Rav Soloveitchik’s Modern Orthodoxy and today’s than abortion. Let us consider the great man’s views.

During a shiur on Parashat Bo in 1975, Rav Soloveitchik stated that “to me it is something vulgar, this clamor of the liberals that abortion be permitted,” adding:

“I consider the society of today as insane…I read from the press that in Eretz Yisrael they permit abortions now! Sapir [probably Pinchas Sapir] comes to the US and asks that 60,000 boys and girls should leave the US and settle in Eretz Yisrael. When a child is born, it’s also immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and yet you murder the children.”

Rav Soloveitchik then predicted:

“And if you kill the fetus, a time will come when even infants will be killed…The mother will get frightened after the baby will be born…and the doctor will say her life depends upon the murder of the baby. And you have a word, mental hygiene, whatever you want you can subsume under mental hygiene…And there is now a tendency for rabbis in the US to march along with society, otherwise they’ll be looked upon as reactionaries.”

Similar remarks appear in Reflections of the Rav:

“If the dominant principle governing the logos [“thinking capacity”] is that abortion is morally permissible because only a mother has a right to decide whether she wishes to be a mother, then infants may similarly have their lives terminated after birth. What if the child interferes with the promising brilliant career of the mother?”

These words might be jarring for those who view Rav Soloveitchik as the mild-mannered author of philosophically oriented books like The Lonely Man of Faith. Equally if not more jarring might be Rav Soloveitchik’s statements on sexual morality, which I discussed a few months ago.

Specific to abortion, one might counter that Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month, but this proves just the opposite, namely: 1) What does this narrow, tragic case indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s general view of abortion? 2) What does it indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s view of abortion after the sixth month even in the case of Tay-Sachs? And vis-à-vis those who claim a woman’s absolute right to “terminate a pregnancy” at any point, I doubt such an attempt to (mis)represent Rav Soloveitchik as a “moderate” on abortion would be received agreeably. In this regard, one of Rav Soloveitchik’s sons-in-law, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, has observed in the context of abortion:

“Even if we were to accept that indeed it is the woman’s own body, we totally reject the conception that she then can do with it as she pleases. This is a completely anti-halakhic perception [emphasis added]. It rests on a secular assumption that, as it were, ‘My Nile is my own; I made it for myself’ (Yechezkel 29:3), as if we are the source of our own existence and therefore the masters of our own being. This is assuredly not the case.”

Rav Lichtenstein summarizes the worldview of that anti-halakhic perception as follows:

“The essence of modern secular culture is the notion of human sovereignty; individual man is master over himself, and collective man is master over his collective… From a religious point of view, of course, eilu va-eilu divrei avoda zara—both approaches are idolatrous. Here one establishes individual man as an idol, and the one idolizes, in humanistic terms, humanity as a whole. The basis of any religious perception of human existence is the sense that man is not a master: neither a master over the world around him, nor a master over himself.”

Yes, Rav Soloveitchik earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin (as likewise Rav Lichtenstein earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard). Yes, Rav Soloveitchik enjoyed classical music (especially Bach). And first and foremost, Rav Soloveitchik was a Torah Jew for whom Halachah was not some intellectual game or cultural style, rather an all-encompassing conviction with profound social implications. Thus his denunciations of abortion, which derived from the same worldview as these remarks in 1953:

Menachem Ben-Mordechai

At First There Was Chaos

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Chaos – that is how the world is described at its inception in the book of Beraishis (Genesis). Confusion. A lack of clarity and boundaries. Or, as I teach my kindergartners, “a mishmash”.

That has been my life recently, as I have grappled with the myriad of details that accompany moving from one home to another. There is an expression, “Go into chinuch (Jewish education) and see the world.” Our family has not had to crisscross the map too many times (we’ve lived in three out-of-town communities), yet somehow we’ve lived in nearly ten different homes in three decades. And for me, well, this has posed a great challenge. The first is remembering our phone number. I remember standing in a store and being asked what my telephone number was. Meanwhile I was trying desperately to remember what my new area code was. Once, when I was faced with a third move in five years, I felt it was too much to have to meet new people once more. One wonderful woman reminded me that as a result of the moves, I had been given the opportunity to meet a great variety of people, and deepen my ahavas Yisrael (love of fellow Jews).

The challenge of moving is to do it without losing all of one’s possessions, and one’s mind. Not long ago, I brought over a plate of cake to welcome a new family to our community. Though it had been but a few days, I will never forget how the house looked. All the curtains were hung and the kitchen totally organized. There was not a box in sight. Floating flowers were in a giant vase on the dining room table. I stepped out, bewildered at the site, knowing that this newly-moved into home was much more orderly then my own.

One of my daughters used to complain when she was young about her lack of talent. She believed that each sibling had something special, whether being artistic, athletic, musical, or even adorable. “But you’re so organized!” I said. She sighed. “That is not a talent”. “Honey,” I answered, “when you get older you’ll realize that it is the best talent of all!” And now she does, as she is able to keep her family and possessions organized while living in a small Israeli apartment. She works outside of her home, but never loses papers or searches for socks, because of her ability to stay organized.

My husband and I asked daas Torah (Torah advice from a scholar) about which neighborhood in our current city we should move to. Should we live where most of the shomer Shabbos people (Sabbath observers) lived, next to one shul or to the neighborhood with only a handful of families, next to the other shul?

There was not a kosher mechitza in the shul with the larger group of people, we told the rav, but my husband intends to daven in the other shul no matter where we live. “No,” the rav told us, “You cannot live near a shul without a kosher mechitza.”

So we moved far away from the shomer Shabbos population, until the day the mechitza was finally made kosher. Our kids were thrilled. Now they could live within the main community, and no longer have to walk a ½ hour each week to see their friends. Those Shabbos afternoons had been hard on us too, as we wouldn’t see the kids until we picked them up after Shabbos.

My husband agreed that we should move closer to the other neighborhood, but still felt obligated to help the minyan in the smaller shul. So, we moved closer, but not to the heart of the community; we stayed on the outskirts, but our kids were able to walk to their friends.

Unfortunately, it was time to move once again. This time we were desperate to find a suitable house, and grabbed the first one we saw. We were relieved there was the right amount of bedrooms and lots of storage space. However, once more we were a long distance away from any shomer Shabbos families. Once more our children would leave the house Shabbos afternoon and not to return till after Havdalah.

Penina Scheiner

The Rare Torah Oracle

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Rebecca, hitherto infertile, became pregnant. Suffering acute pain, she went to inquire of the Lord – “vateilech lidrosh et Hashem” (Bereishit 25:22). The explanation she received was that she was carrying twins who were contending in her womb. They were destined to do so long into the future:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger – “v’rav ya’avod tzair” (Bereishit 25:23).

Eventually the twins are born – first Esau, then (his hand grasping his brother’s heel) Jacob. Mindful of the prophecy she has received, Rebecca favors the younger son, Jacob. Years later, she persuades him to dress in Esau’s clothes and take the blessing Isaac intended to give his elder son. One verse of that blessing was “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you” (Bereishit 26:29). The prediction has been fulfilled. Isaac’s blessing can surely mean nothing less than what was disclosed to Rebecca before either child was born, namely that, “the older will serve the younger.” The story has apparently reached closure – or so, at this stage, it seems.

But biblical narrative is not what it seems. Two events follow that subvert all that we had been led to expect. The first happens when Esau arrives and discovers that Jacob has cheated him out of his blessing. Moved by his anguish, Isaac gives him a benediction, one of whose clauses is: “You will live by your sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck” (Bereishit 27:40).

This is not what we had anticipated. The older will not serve the younger in perpetuity.

The second scene, many years later, occurs when the brothers meet after a long estrangement. Jacob is terrified of the encounter. He had fled from home years earlier because Esau had vowed to kill him. Only after a long series of preparations and a lonely wrestling match at night is he able to face Esau with some composure. He bows down to him seven times. Seven times he calls him “my lord.” Five times he refers to himself as “your servant.” The roles have been reversed. Esau does not become the servant of Jacob; instead, Jacob speaks of himself as the servant of Esau. But this cannot be. The words heard by Rebecca when “she went to inquire of the Lord” suggested precisely the opposite, that “the older will serve the younger.” We are faced with cognitive dissonance.

More precisely, we have here an example of one of the most remarkable of all of Torah’s narrative devices: the power of the future to transform our understanding of the past. This is the essence of midrash. New situations retrospectively disclose new meanings in the text (see the essay “The Midrashic Imagination” by Michael Fishbane). The present is never fully determined by the present. Sometimes it is only later that we understand the now.

This is the significance of the great revelation of G-d to Moses in Shemot 33:33, where G-d says that only His back may be seen – meaning, His presence can be seen only when we look back at the past; it can never be known or predicted in advance. The indeterminacy of meaning at any given moment is what gives the biblical text its openness to ongoing interpretation.

We now see that this was not an idea invented by the Sages. It already exists in the Torah itself. The words Rebecca heard – as will now become clear – seemed to mean one thing at the time. It later transpires that they meant something else.

The words, “v’rav ya’avod tzair,” seem simple: “the older will serve the younger.” Returning to them in the light of subsequent events, though, we discover that they are anything but clear. They contain multiple ambiguities.

The first (noted by Radak and Rabbi Yosef ibn Kaspi) is that the word “et,” signaling the object of the verb, is missing. Normally – but not always – in biblical Hebrew the subject precedes, and the object follows, the verb. In Job 14:19, for example, the words “avanim shachaku mayim” mean “water wears away stones,” not “stones wear away water.” Thus the phrase might mean “the older shall serve the younger.” But it might also mean “the younger shall serve the older.” To be sure, the latter would be poetic Hebrew rather than conventional prose style, but that is what this utterance is: a poem.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-rare-torah-oracle/2012/11/14/

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