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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Talmud’

Samsung Korea VP Visits Yeshiva to Help Koreans Learn Talmud

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Charlie Park, Vice President of Samsung Korea, visited an Israeli Yeshiva at Shalavim last week, accompanied by a South Korean camera crew, and met with the program directors and with students to document how students study Talmud at the Yeshiva.

The South Koreans have developed a fascination with the study of Talmud. The country’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, has told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum.

In addition, it is said, almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the “Light of Knowledge.”

Young-Sam explained, “We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews, who have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics.

“This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand: What is the secret of the Jewish people? How are they, more than other people, able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent?

“The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud… We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud study to our school curriculum. I, for example, have two sets of the Talmud.”

While touring the Beit Midrash, the study hall, he said he now felt he understood “the growing grounds” of the Jewish genius.

Park was at the yeshiva to get a first-hand account of this wonder, but his trip also involved business. He was in Israel to review possible acquisitions of Israeli startup companies.

Torah and the Secular Jew

Monday, February 18th, 2013

I’m not sure what a secular-traditional-religious home is – but that is the way Ruth Calderon describes the home in which she was raised. Although I think that could describe a modern Orthodox observant Jew too, I think it can easily describe a non observant cultural Jew. Which is what I think Ruth Calderon is.

Dr. Calderon is one of Yesh Atid’s newly elected members of the Kenesset. By her own words she is not observant. If I understand correctly her education was that of the typical secular Israeli where Tanach (bible) is taught as literature and history and not as holy writ. And yet she has done something amazing. She has founded a secular Yeshiva. I suppose that means that her school is geared towards non observant Jews who want to learn Torah similar to the way observant Yeshiva students do.

As a youth, Dr. Calderon was not satisfied with the secular treatment of Judaism she got in Israeli schools. She knew instinctively that something was missing. Mainly the entire corpus of oral law as recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud. To put it the way she did in her inaugural speech before the Kenesset (as translated from the Hebrew in The Jewish Week):

I missed depth; I lacked words for my vocabulary; a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories – were missing… for me, this contained – I contained – a void. I did not know how to fill that void. The Talmud is not only the source of Halacha, it is many other things as well. It rich with culture, history, humor, ethics… and much more. She goes on to tell an inspiring story about her discovery of the richness and fullness of the Talmud and described the virtual love affair she has with it to this day. That love affair led her to pursue its study – at least on a secular level and she eventually earned a doctorate in Talmudic Literature.

Because of her love of learning, her Talmud study did not end there. She learns Daf Yomi with a Chavrusa (study partner). And as mentioned she founded a secular yeshiva. She is convinced that studying the Talmud is a vital aspect of being Jewish – even if only culturally – that is missing for the secular Israeli student… lamenting the fact that the founding fathers of Zionism abandoned its study. Again, to quote Dr. Calderon:

It is impossible to stride toward the future without knowing where we came from and who we are, without knowing, intimately and in every particular, the sublime as well as the outrageous and the ridiculous. The Torah is not the property of one movement or another. It is a gift that every one of us received, and we have all been granted the opportunity to meditate upon it a we create the realities of our lives. Nobody took the Talmud and rabbinic literature from us. We gave it away, with our own hands, when it seemed that another task was more important and urgent: building a state, raising an army, developing agriculture and industry, etc. The time has come to reappropriate what is ours, to delight in the cultural riches that wait for us, for our eyes, our imaginations, our creativity. This is a truly profound and inspiring statement. She concludes her Knesset speech with a beautiful drasha – an exposition from the Talmud (Kesubos 62a) that demonstrates the kind of ethics authentic Judaism is all about… and finally ends with a prayer that is said upon entering the Knesset:

May it be Your will, Lord our God, God of our fathers and mothers, that I leave this house as is entered it – at peace with myself and with others. May my actions benefit all residents of the State of Israel. May I work to improve the society that sent me to this chamber and cause a just peace to dwell among us and with our neighbors. May I always remember that I am a messenger of the public and that I must take care to keep my integrity and innocence intact. May I, and we, succeed in all our endeavors. How beautiful it is to see a cultural -and yet still non observant Jew – extol the virtues of Judaism as expressed by our sages. There are some people who might object to a woman citing passages from the Gemarah. They might feel that it is inappropriate for a woman to even speak in public – let alone teach Torah to men. Or even learn Torah for that matter. I am not one of those people. I am on the opposite end of that spectrum. I fully support Torah study by every Jew – man or woman – who desires to do so.

Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One of the biggest issues that has arisen as a result of the Slifkin controversy is the question of whether Chazal, the sages of the Talmud knew the actuality of nature. There are those who say that they did. They say that every statement recorded in the Gemarah with respect to science is an accurate reflection of nature itself. The science redacted in the Talmud is as valid as the Halacha – both being Mesorah.

There are others who say that Chazal did not know the actuality of nature but knew it only via the best science of their era. Among them are Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben HaRambam.

For many of us who have studied both the Talmud and nature via science at even a minor level the second opinion seems a lot more plausible. There are too many scientifically based statements on nature in the Gemarah that are clearly not accurate.

One of the more famous ones is the idea that lice do not sexually reproduce. This fact impacts on Halacha. One of the 39 forbidden Melachos on Shabbos is Netilas Neshama – killing an animal. The Gemarah explains that it is only forbidden to kill an animal that reproduces sexually. One is however permitted to kill an animal that reproduces asexually . This is the opinion of the Rabbanim (as apposed to R’ Elazar) and this is the Halacha today.

Lice, says the Gemarah, do not reproduce sexually and therefore one is permitted to kill them.

Rav Yitzchok Lamproti (Pachad Yitzchok) was around during the time the microscope was invented. He said that now that we know that lice do sexually reproduce, it is therefore forbidden to kill them on Shabbos. All Achronim argue with him and say that since the Gemarah says it is permitted, it stays permitted in spite of our new knowledge.

What is left unsaid in all of that discussion is the apparent assumption Chazal were mistaken about the actual science. The only question is whether this new information is relevant.

Now it should be said that there are still ways to allow for Chazal to not be mistaken about this. One way is to say that the lice that the Gemarah refers to is not the lice we know of today and that in fact it is that lice which is permitted to kill. The lice that we know of that does sexually reproduce is forbidden to kill.

Another way to look at it is that only lice that one can see with the naked eye sexually reproducing is forbidden. If one needs a microscope to see it, then for Halachic purposes it is still considered asexual reproduction.

But it seems to me that the most logical explanation is to say that they did not know then what we know today simply because they did not have the means to know it. Microscopes had not been invented yet.

There was a relatively recent Halacha Sefer published called Orchos Shabbos that discusses this Halacha (14:30) and mentions the position of Rav Elyashiv (note 47). Rav Elyashiv says that one should be Machmir and not kill lice on Shabbos as a general rule. But he also says that according to the strict letter of the law, one may kill lice on Shabbos.

Why be Machmir? It’s possible that the lice of the Gemarah are not our lice and therefore killing our lice may actually be forbidden. But the fact that he says that according to the strict letter of the law one may indeed kill lice on Shabbos, that means that he believes the lice of the Gemarah are indeed our lice. And yet we now know that they sexually reproduce.

Why then did Chazal say that they don’t? I think there is really only one way to interpret it. Chazal simply didn’t know that because they had no way of knowing it in their day. Rav Elyashiv may feels as Rav Eliyahu Dessler did – that even though Chazal were wrong in their explanation, the Halacha was indeed transmitted masoretically and remains in effect.

We may kill lice but for reasons other than those stated in the Gemarah. The point for our purposes being that since Chazal did not have the means to know they made a mistake about the reality of nature in this case. One can conclude that even R’ Elyashiv concedes that microscopes have increased our knowledge of nature beyond that of Chazal. Is there any other way to interpret that? Even if we say that Halacha follows only what we can see with the naked eye, the fact is that what they saw with the naked eye did not reflect reality.

Jacqueline Nicholls: New Works

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

JCC Manhattan
334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street: Laurie M. Tisch Gallery
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Through November 1 – www.jccmanhattan.org; 646-505-4444
Jacquelinenicholls.com

Jacqueline Nicholls, a Jewish artist from England, presents us with a formidable challenge. Namely, what is the role of a contemporary Jewish Woman artist and how does one confront patriarchal dominance? She presents her response to both queries in her current exhibition at the JCC Manhattan, beautifully curated by Tobi Kahn and organized by Tisch Gallery director Megan Whitman. The results are breathtakingly forceful, subtle and insightful.

For Nicholls a Jewish woman must be armed with a deep and abiding knowledge of Torah, Tanach and Talmud, hand in hand, if she so chooses, with an artistic immersion in what has been called the Feminine Crafts, i.e. the fabric arts and traditional “Women’s Work.” This Jewish artist affirms that she must be especially articulate in Jewish texts to practice a “counter-voice to turn the narrative” and indeed that is what she does both in her choice of subject and exposition thereof. Her explorations are exhilarating.

The exhibition has three components: “Gather the Broken,” meditations on the Omer; “The Kittel Collection,” studies of a ritual garment and “Ghosts & Shadows,” considerations of women in Talmud.

The series of 49 omer meditations explore the multiple aspects of loss that the days between Passover and Shavuos engender. As an aspect of the semi-mourning that the omer demands, Nicholls looked to the minutia of her daily existence for inspiration. Her emphasis on that which is broken reflects, “only by acknowledging the broken, imperfect aspects of daily life [can]… creativity and a new life can be revealed.” This new and renewed life is of course accomplished on Shavous in the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. This year she created a series of small drawings, one on each day of the Omer and posted on her blog, accompanied by the poetic commentary of Amichai Lau-Lavie. The strength of these drawings, aside from the pure skill of her draftsmanship, is that Nicholls manages to totally personalize the obsessive ritual of omer counting in a way that internalizes both the ritual and the meaning of each individual day even while making a unified work of art. This asserts a uniquely Jewish notion that from brokenness creativity arises.

The kittel is a ritual garment that cloaks us in white in the effort to convince ourselves that we can actually be “white,” as Isaiah (1:18) proclaims that; “Come, now let us reason together, says Hashem. If your sins are like scarlet they will become white as snow.” So too are the other times when we use the kittel – to bury, to marry, to pray on Yom Kippur or lead the congregation on momentous occasions. We don the costume of purity in the effort to become pure. In a similar manner Nicholls has created a series of 10 garments based on the kittel template to explore how a garment can be used to transform meaning and identity in the Jewish tradition.

The “Shame Kittel” is little more than a simple apron, stained black at the bottom edge and discolored a sickly yellow up around the neck. Buried in the yellow is an array of epithets used against the Jews by anti-Semites of all ages. What Nicholls is affirming is that an important part of Jewish identity is never forgetting what those who hate us say about us. Nonetheless a number of the other kittels are more positive, especially the “Majestic Kittel” and the “New Kittel.” The latter offers its seams stitched in gold and an embroidered label in gold with the Shehechayanuprayer, emphasizing our thankfulness to God for giving us new and beautiful things to wear.

Mourning Kittel (2012) cloth, wire by Jacqueline Nicholls
Courtesy JCC Manhattan

Perhaps the most moving kittel is the “Mourning Kittel,” as it transforms the shirt of mourning into a lurid expression of mourners’ emotions. Not surprisingly one of the sleeves is shredded from a frenzy of kriah, the mourners’ ritual tearing of garments. The collar is high and closed tight by a dense coil of metal wire around the neck, deeply expressive of the choking pain of loss. Finally in the center of the ragged garment, somewhere between the chest and stomach, the seams come together to form a hollow that sinks into the interior of the garment. It is as if this is where the pain of bereavement has burrowed into the very substance of the mourner. The symbolic power of this garment is awesome.

Behind The Name On The Cover: Jerome Schottenstein And His Sponsorship Of The ArtScroll Talmud

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

With memories of the Siyum HaShas still fresh in people’s minds, many Jews around the world have been purchasing a Tractate Berachot in order to take part in the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi, the daily study of one daf of Talmud Bavli.

Over the past few decades many tools have been developed to ease and encourage Talmud study. One of the most popular is the Schottenstein Talmud Bavli, a translated and elucidated edition of the Talmud published by ArtScroll.

The dream of making the entire Talmud accessible to English readers began in the mid-1980s. ArtScroll had already translated many classic Jewish works, including commentaries on the Bible, the Mishnah, and in-depth volumes on the Jewish holidays.

Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, co-founder of ArtScroll, described a monumental leap forward for the Jewish publishing house that occurred in 1982: “Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, met with Rabbi Nosson Scherman and me and smilingly asked when we would begin elucidating the Talmud. We were taken aback. The Talmud? Such a mammoth undertaking? Could we even consider such an awesome project? Was the rosh yeshiva serious? He was serious. He said, ‘You should do it and you will do it, and if Hashem grants me years, when the time comes I will give you a letter stating my approval.’ ” Soon afterward, a team of more than sixty scholars was assembled to launch what would be a fifteen-year project. Apart from the core translation work, the authors were challenged to write a detailed commentary, replete with sources, questions and answers, and references for further research. Budget estimates for the project were daunting – upward of $21 million to produce the 73-volume set.

Early after the project launch, the ArtScroll founders were introduced to Columbus, Ohio, businessman and philanthropist Jerome Schottenstein.

“The Schottenstein family has historically been characterized by a remarkable love for Torah,” said Rabbi Nosson Scherman, ArtScroll’s general editor. “They’ve viewed the perpetuation of Orthodox life as a first priority.”

Born in 1926 to Ephraim and Anna Schottenstein, Jerome Schottenstein entered his father’s business, Schottenstein Stores Corp. (SSC), going on to found the Value City chain of furniture stores. (Years later, under the leadership of Jerome’s son Jay, SCC would become a holding company for its stakes in such familiar names as DSW, American Signature Furniture, and American Eagle Outfitters.)

For decades, Schottenstein and his wife, Geraldine, were known for helping found the Columbus Ohio Jewish day-school system and numerous other Jewish organizations. Jerome became a member of Yeshiva University’s board of trustees in 1980.

Upon learning of ArtScroll’s Talmud project, Schottenstein agreed to dedicate the first volume of Tractate Eruvin. ArtScroll had already achieved wide recognition for opening up Torah learning to a new generation of Jews who had, up to then, been locked out by the language barrier. Schottenstein resolved to underwrite the entire 73-volume project as a heritage gift to present and future generations of Jews.

Jerome Schottenstein passed away in 1992 and was able to witness the completion of only the first several volumes of the project. After his death, the project was continued by Schottenstein’s children, Ann, Susie, Lori, and Jay.

Jay Schottenstein joined the family’s Schottenstein Stores Corporation to work alongside his father, taking charge of the business after his father’s passing. Continuing the family tradition of enriching Jewish life around the world, he and his wife, Jeanie, have dedicated numerous ArtScroll projects, such as the Hebrew edition of the ArtScroll Talmud, Perek Shirah, the Schottenstein Interlinear series, and the long-anticipated iPad digital edition of the Schottenstein Talmud Bavli.

Jay and Jeanie also assumed the major sponsorship of the ArtScroll Talmud Yerushalmi.

“Other than being the source of some obscure quotes sprinkled throughout Jewish sources,” Rabbi Scherman noted, “the Talmud Yerushalmi was a forgotten study for over 1,600 years.”

Rabbi Zlotowitz explained that the terse and enigmatic vernacular of the Yerushalmi made it accessible only to the accomplished scholar. “In a generation where there is an accelerating uptick in serious Torah learning, the masses can now plumb this amazing classic,” he said.

“The Schottensteins are preserving and propagating yet another incalculable gift to the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Scherman, recalling conversations with leading roshei yeshivot of the 1980s, said, “The Talmud is the neshamah [soul] of Klal Yisrael, the key to its survival. It couldn’t be woodenly translated. It had to be elucidated – clarified, illuminated, explained, and expounded. Each tractate cover declares that it’s an annotated, interpretive elucidation. Jerome Schottenstein understood the operational implications of doing it this way – and he stood behind each difficult step of the development.”

Non-Orthodox Reaction To The Siyum HaShas

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The massive turnouts around the world celebrating the completion of the twelfth cycle of the Daf Yomi should finally put to rest any remaining claims by leaders of non-Orthodox movements that they represent the wave of the Jewish future.

Can any among them assert with a straight face that they could attract anything remotely approaching the more than ninety-thousand Jews who flocked to MetLife Stadium or even the tens of thousands of others who gathered at other venues across the U.S. and around the world?

Can they identify anything their movements urge on their members that rivals the proven lure of the timeless exposition of the Oral Law by the sages and scholars of the past two millennia?

In fact, the critique of the Siyum HaShas offered up by some of those leaders highlight just how far they’ve strayed from the Judaism of the Ages. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Uriel Heilman, this is what the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism told him concerning the Reform movement’s view of the Talmud and the Siyum HaShas:

Text study is very important to us, but we focus on the Ur-text, on Torah in particular. That’s an interesting contrast between Reform and Orthodox. Talmud, Oral Law, is not our core text….We’re aggressively pushing Torah and Tanakh study; we’re not aggressive at a North American level of pushing Talmud study. Talmud study remains important, but it’s not as central, certainly doesn’t rise anywhere to the level of a daily study encouragement for us.

[It’s part of] how Reform Judaism looks at rabbinic law…. We see ourselves as successors reclaiming the core Torah text.

The rabbis of today and of yesteryear are of equal authority. The amoraim [rabbinic sages quoted in the Talmud] do not get special consideration. Contemporary commentary is equally as interesting and holy, if you will….

We’re creating new sacred texts. Only time determines what Jews will value for the long term…We’re not assigning Divine weight [to Talmudic rulings]. They don’t carry more weight than contemporary Jewish philosophy…. Oral Law we do not find to be binding.

It is clear that in the Reform mindset there is nothing special about any of the Tanaim and Amoraim of the Talmud who expounded on the Torah, or later commentators like Rashi, Tosafos, and the Rambam. Indeed, as the Reform spokesman made clear, their “contemporary” sages are the equal of the aforementioned giants and quite capable, thank you, of creating “sacred texts.”

The chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which trains clergy, educators and professional and lay leaders for the Conservative movement, made a similar point in an article on the Siyum HaShas in the Wall Street Journal. While he freely acknowledged that studying the Talmud has been key to the growth of Orthodoxy, he went on to ask,

But what about the rest of the Jewish population? How can they be offered a sense of community and meaning? What learning could galvanize non-Orthodox minds, stir our hearts, nourish our souls?…I propose a different page for Jewish learning, one that is open to the larger world and bears the impact of modern thinking. It would cleave faithfully to texts, rituals, history and faith while being informed by art, music, drama, poetry, politics and law.

Imagine if every Jew who wished to do so could awake to a platform of daily Jewish text not limited to the Talmud – and to Jewish media not limited to text. Daily reading of Torah or psalms would be juxtaposed with their echoes in the headlines of the day; a passage from Job would be accompanied by clips from the Coen brothers’ film “A Serious Man”; the poetry of Isaiah could be explored side by side with that of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

So he doesn’t get it either. Contemporary philosophers – even highly regarded filmmakers – don’t bring the same things to the Jewish table as a Rabbi Tarphon or a Rabbi Akiva, a Rashi or a Chofetz Chaim, a Rav Moshe Feinstein or a Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv. The Daf Hayomi siyumim made it clear that the traditional study of classic Jewish texts is fundamental to the survival of the Jewish people and that those seeking to deny the authoritativeness of those texts are in denial about what is plainly before their eyes. And that may well be the enduring contribution of the Siyum HaShas.

A Radical Proposal for the Organizers of the Siyum HaShas

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

With all the well-earned accolades and fanfare that surrounded last week’s monumental Siyum HaShas, one would expect to find numerous direct references in the Torah mandating the study of Torah. It therefore comes as a great surprise that there is not one direct statement in the Torah commanding its study.

Of course, this omission has been a subject of discussion among the rabbis for millennia.

There is no question that the study of Torah is regarded in Jewish tradition as a primary mitzvah. It is even equated in value to all the other mitzvot combined. All the classical codes of Jewish law regard the study of Torah as a mitzvah.

The Sefer Ha’Chinuch (the classic work on the 613 commandments, their rationale and their regulations, by an anonymous author in 13th century Spain) lists the mitzvah “to study Torah and to teach it” as positive mitzvah number 419.

The proof text cited by the Chinuch is the well-known verse from the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:7), “Veshinantam levanechah” – “and you shall teach them to your children.” Only through the Talmudic explication of the verse (Kiddushin 30a) do we learn “one must learn Torah diligently in order that the words of the Torah shall be well organized in your mouth, so that when a person asks you something, you should not stutter or stammer, but be able to respond immediately.”

While the Chinuch also cites other scriptural sources in support of Torah study, all but one of the verses refer to teaching Torah to one’s children, not one’s personal obligation to study Torah. How strange is it that there is no direct mitzvah of studying Torah other than a Talmudic deduction from the command to teach one’s children.

On August 1more than 90,000 people gathered in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to celebrate the conclusion of the seven-and-a-half year cycle of the study of Talmud. Studying all the folios of the Talmud every single day is a monumental accomplishment. Even to study the Talmud in a cursory manner requires an investment of at least one hour of daily study.

The commitment is rigorous, requiring an almost obsessive devotion to the program. This regimented routine and directed system of Torah study was established by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, Poland in 1923 and has unquestionably evolved into the most successful mass educational program for Jewish adults in the past century. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are studying the daily Talmud daf, and have had their lives profoundly enriched.

And yet it seems that one element, perhaps the most important element, of the study of Torah is missing: that of “Velimadetem et b’neichem” – “And you shall teach your children.” Ironically, many men have little or no spare time to study with their children precisely because they are so deeply involved in the daily daf. Obviously, seeing one’s parent regularly studying Talmud serves as a great source of inspiration for children. But the Torah mandates parents to teach their children. In other words, parents have the obligation to personally educate their children. Only if parents are unable to teach their children can they send them to a yeshiva or hire a professional teacher.

An Orthodox man who has four, five or six children would certainly have difficulty finding fifteen minutes a day to study with each of them. That is why I would like to suggest that a new program be added to the Daf Yomi routine, perhaps to be known as Sha’ah Yomit, the daily hour. Those fathers (or grandfathers) who study the daf should make a commitment to study with their children or grandchildren one hour a day. In this way, they will properly fulfill the full mitzvah of studying Torah, the way it was originally intended.

If a parent has only one hour to spare and is faced with the decision to either do the daf  every day or to study with his children, which one of these important duties should assume priority? I will leave that for the parent’s rabbi to decide.

The Daf Yomi should not be used as an excuse not to study with one’s children. It would certainly be a monumental and long overdue correction for the rabbis to boldly declare that parents or grandparents who study the Daf Yomi should set aside one hour a day to study with their children. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the necessary thing to do. Too many fathers, for too long, have abrogated their responsibility of educating their children directly.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/and-you-shall-teach-them-to-your-children-a-radical-proposal-for-the-organizers-of-the-siyum-hashas/2012/08/08/

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