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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘the Torah’

Q & A: A Mother’s Mitzvah (Part III)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Question: I am a single mother of young children. Their father has shirked all his responsibilities to them. I do my best for my children, but it isn’t easy. Isn’t their father in serious violation of the Torah by neglecting his children and not making any effort to provide them an education?

No Name Please
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: We learn from a mishnah (Kiddushin 29a) that a father has certain exclusive responsibilities to his children. One of those responsibilities is teaching them Torah. The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 245:1-6) states that it is a biblical requirement for the father to educate his son himself or hire a teacher. The Meiri (Nazir 29) learns from R. Yochanan that besides for designating a child a nazir, a woman shares the obligations of child rearing, including education, with her husband. The Shitah Mekubetzes (Nazir ad loc.) cites the Gemara (Sukkah 2b) about Queen Helena training her minor children to eat in the sukkah, indicating that a mother is also obligated to educate her children in the performance of mitzvot.

Last week we looked at several commentators who indicate that a mother is only responsible to educate her children regarding precepts they will be obligated to perform when they reach maturity, and not discretionary precepts, such as nezirut. The Chidushei Orach Mishor specifies that a mother is obligated to train her children in positive precepts but not prohibitory ones.

Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky explains that a father is actually not obligated to train his children in the performance of mitzvot but he does bear personal responsibility for his children’s transgressions; they are considered his own. It is therefore in the father’s own interest to train his children in mitzvot. A mother, however, bears no personal responsibility for her children’s transgressions.

I posited that the Torah and our sages place the responsibility of chinuch on the father because he might at times shirk his responsibility. On the other hand, a mother will naturally go to great lengths to make sure her children are educated, so no additional obligation is placed upon her.

* * * * *

After I offered my thoughts in last week’s column, I was very fortunate to find similar ideas expressed by the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l (Sha’arei Chinuch p. 113). Baruch sh’kivanti l’daat gedolim! Blessed is He who directed me to the same conclusion as one of our sages!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses the role of a mother in the education of her children and notes as follows: “It is important to emphasize the obligation and merits of Jewish women regarding chinuch.”

He writes, “First and foremost: The obligation of chinuch according to the strict letter of the law is the father’s responsibility.” The Rebbe cites Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 343:2) that the father “is obligated rabbinically to educate his sons or daughters in the observance of biblical precepts when they reach the age of chinuch.” As explained infra (sk2), this differs with each child – each according to his own level of understanding. However, the Gemara (Bava Batra 21a) sets the age at either six or seven.”

“The mother (infra sk4) is not obligated at all in her child’s regard concerning positive or negative biblical precepts. Notwithstanding this,” the Rebbe argues, “the education and the conduct of sons and daughters, especially the very young, is actually dependent to a great degree on the training of the mother, the mainstay of the house and, for all practical purposes, the preponderance of [proper] chinuch is done by her.

“Also well known is that which the Shela (Sha’ar Ha’otiot 44:1) writes: ‘Women are obligated to admonish their children, no different than the father, and even more so since they are the ones at home and more available.’

“And further, there is a greater advantage to education and admonishment when done by women as opposed to men because by nature women are more gentle and infuse more love and caring than men in the training of their children. Indeed, we have seen, especially in these recent generations, that specifically when reaching out with love [as the pasuk in Mishlei (22:6) states] ‘Chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko – Teach the lad in the manner most suited him,’ the results have the greatest success.

Sarah Silverman is Not to Blame

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

To be perfectly honest, until yesterday, I had never heard of Sarah Silverman. I never saw a photo or a video of her; I never heard her jokes, nothing.  While a great deal of junk American culture seeps into the Land of Israel, still we are sheltered from much of it, thank G-d, and I never heard her name mentioned in Israel at all. Until yesterday, when to my surprise and chagrin, I saw the immodest photo of her on the homepage of The Jewish Press, in her sleeveless top and her butt sticking into the air. Gevalt!

Reading on about the silly fuss, I was further chagrined. Rachmonis on rabbis in America if this is where their heads are at. First of all, looking at photos and videos of young ladies like Sarah is the Torah transgression of straying after one’s heart and one’s eyes. From the description of her comedy routines, listening to her is a violation of taking part in a gathering of mockers and scorners. So what is a rabbi doing in a place he doesn’t belong?

Furthermore, is he now going to set out on a campaign to rebuke every Jewish comedian in Hollywood, and every Jewish actor, director, playwright, musician, politician, Facebook inventor, and Jewish Federation president who married a gentile? Why single out Sarah? Pick on Simon and Garfunkel instead.

But I want to say something much deeper than this. Why blame Sarah? She’s the product of the culture she grew up in. Why should she believe in the Torah? Why should she follow the Torah when the rabbis in America don’t follow the Torah either? If they did, they’d all live in Israel.

Sure, they do more mitzvahs than Sarah. She honors her parents, and gives charity, and don’t worship idols, or murder; and they observe all these commandments and more, but as long as they’re not living in Israel, they’re picking and choosing the mitzvahs they do, just like Sarah, so what’s the big squawk? Why point a finger at Sarah?

For the last two thousand years, three times a day, religious Jews have been beseeching God to bring us back to the Land of Israel, and now that God has opened the doors of aliyah and miraculously rebuilt the Jewish Homeland into one of the leading nations in the world, as He promised He would, why linger and languor in Dallas of all places? Where is Dallas, Texas mentioned in the Torah? If rabbis in America don’t want Jewish children growing up with their heads filled with trashy American culture and slang, then let them move to Israel and set an example for others, just like our forefather Abraham did.

If the rabbis of America want the young Jews in America to respect and love the Torah, then let them champion a true version of Torah and move to Israel, just like it says in the Torah over and over and over again.

Of course Sarah Silverman thinks the Torah is phony. That’s what she sees all around her – Orthodox Jews keeping the Torah in a place the Torah isn’t meant to be kept; Orthodox Jews who prefer living in the impure land of the gentiles rather than living in the Holy Land of the Jews; Orthodox Jews who tell their kids that they are Americans with wonderful American futures waiting for them, when the Torah and all of the Prophets of Israel call to us from the Torah to come home, come home, come home – and now that the Almighty has given us our own Jewish State, with a solid Israeli economy, more Torah learning and Torah giants in Israel than in any other place in the world, and a free airplane ride with Nefesh B’Nefesh, what are the Orthodox Jews waiting for? Of course, Sarah thinks that the Torah and its Orthodox practitioners in America are phony. But why attack Sarah? Physician heal thyself!

Is Half a Loaf Really Better than No Loaf?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I do not question Rabbi Zev Farber’s sincerity. I even applaud his resolve to right what he sees to be wrong in the way we practice Judaism today. But I do not agree with him at all on the way to do it.

In a recent article on Morethodoxy, Rabbi Farber suggests that we change the paradigm with respect to a woman’s role in Judaism. His contention is that women are (at best) inadvertently ignored and mistreated vis-à-vis their public religious personae. Their current place in the synagogue is where this is mostly felt.

Rabbi Farber mentions the fact that women are excluded from any and every part of synagogue service and are basically considered a non entity in the vast majority of Shuls – having absolutely no participatory presence. Even those Shuls that try and accommodate them with things like Women’s Teffilah Groups or putting a Mechtiza down the center aisle of the shul which crosses the Bimah is at best a piece-meal approach to the problem of giving women a greater role. That – says Rabbi Farber is insufficient and does not satisfy a woman’s desire for a greater spiritual experience in the Shul.

Indeed, men do everything. They are counted toward a Minyan; Daven for the Amud; get Aliyos; get to say Brachos over the Torah; get to do Pesicha (open the ark when the prayer service requires it); get Hagbeh or G’lilah (lifting the Torah after Kriyah and/or rolling it together)! All women get to do (aside from Davening) is observe men doing it.

Rabbi Farber would like to see all that change – a basic overhaul in the role of a woman in the Shul – to the extent that Halacha allows. He claims that the only thing preventing real change is an antiquitated paradigm based on a culture that no longer exists. That paradigm stems from a time where women in every civilized society stayed home. It was for those reasons that Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim as late as the Chafetz Chaim created and maintained the current non participatory role for women in the synagogue. Here is how he puts it:

Women were rarely public figures and were discouraged from receiving too much education, taking visible public roles, participating in the power structure, and generally from being around men. If any woman were to express superior learning or knowledge than a man in front of a group it would have been a serious breach in etiquette. This is why, according to Tosafot (b. Sukkah 38a, s.v. “be-emet”), women do not lead the Grace after Meals for men or read the Megillah for men, since it would be insulting to them (zila milta). For the same reason, R. Israel Meir Kagan, in his Mishna B’rurah (281:4) argues that women should not say Qiddush for men, at least in public. The Talmud offers a similar reason why women do not read from the Torah in synagogue (b. Megillah 23a), although they are apparently eligible to do so, as it would offend the honor of the congregation (kavod ha-tzibbur).

In today’s world there has been a radical shift in societal attitudes about a woman’s role. Today we find women in all sorts of public roles. Roles that were once the sole bastion of men. There are female doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, Supreme Court justices, generals, CEO’s of major companies and university professors, deans, and presidents. You name the field and women can easily be found there.

Women of every Hashkafic type participate in public positions once anathema to them. One need not look any further than the ultra Orthodox Hamodia to see a woman, Ruth Lichtenstein, as its publisher. Or to note that the daughter of Charedi Gadol Rav Yitzchok Hutner earned her PhD at Columbia University.

Certainly the role of the woman has changed in our day even among the right wing.

So – says Rabbi Farber – things like Kavod HaTzibur that were based on no longer existent sensibilities should be re-visited. And he suggests that the entire paradigm be changed so as to accommodate the sincere desire of many women to more fully participate in the Shul… and thereby enhance their spiritual experience.

Here’s the problem. Rabbi Farber is an Orthodox Rabbi and as such he realizes that no matter what we do, Halacha forbids an equal role for women. Acknowledging that at least tacitly he says that we ought to do whatever we can – where ever we can – to allow as full a participation in the synagogue experience as possible.

Rashi Was a Zionist Racist

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Almost everyone is familiar with the famous first Rashi on the Torah. He asks why does the Torah begin with the account of Creation? After all, since the Torah contains the commandments which Hashem gave to Am Yisrael, it should have begun the precept concerning Rosh Chodesh – the first commandment given to the Israelite Nation.

Rashi answers his question by quoting a Midrash of Rabbi Yitzhak which explains that if the nations of the world claim that we stole the Land of Israel from them, we can answer that since the Holy One Blessed Be He created the world and appointed different countries to different peoples, He can take Eretz Yisrael away from them if He chooses and give it to us.

Did Rashi have political savvy? Did he foresee the day when the Arabs, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, the Chinese, and the Zulus in Africa, would callIsraelthieves, claiming that we stole Eretz Yisrael from the Palestinians? Maybe, but I don’t think he was meaning to tell Bibi what to answer in one of his UN speeches.

Furthermore, the Land of Israel isn’t even mentioned in the first verse of the Torah, or in the second, or the third. Why does Rashi talk about it here? True, Adam was born on the Temple Mount and only later placed in the Garden of Eden, but that’s learned from different source, and not from the very first verse of the Torah. So why talk about the Land of Israel here in a commentary, in Rashi’s own words, that deals with the straightforward meaning and pashat of the text?

The answer to our question is that Rashi is coming to inform us that without Eretz Yisrael there is no Torah, no Am Yisrael, nor Kiddush Hashem in the world. Eretz Yisrael is the foundation of the entire Torah. The Torah was given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael. The Jewish People can only be a Nation in Eretz Yisrael. And theKingdomofGod– the goal of the Torah – can only be established in the world when Am Yisrael dwells in their Land.

Yes, I know, the geniuses in the peanut gallery will jump up and protest, “Am Yisrael survived in exile for 2000 years without Eretz Yisrael, with only the Torah!”

First of all, fellas, the Jewish People are not meant to survive. We are meant to live. Without Eretz Yisrael, we can only survive from one pogrom to the next. Or we can assimilate ourselves into extinction. That isn’t living. That isn’t the ideal of the Torah which promises us, again and again, a good and peaceful life in our Land.

“The Torah protected the Jewish Nation, not Eretz Yisrael!”  they continue to holler.

Protected the Jewish Nation? You call individuals scattered all over the world, without a country or Jewish government of their own, a nation? That’s not a nation. A ghetto in Brooklyn orLakewoodisn’t a nation. Without Eretz Yisrael, the Jews are defenseless minorities in other peoples’ lands, dependent on the goyim for everything.  That’s not a Sanctification of God – it’s the opposite!

“Torah! Torah! Torah!” they scream.

Well, my dear friends – what you call Torah isn’t Torah. The Torah of the exile is the remnant of Torah, the shadow of Torah, the dry bones of the Torah, a reminder of what the Torah really is, as our Sages have explained by the verse, “Set yourself waymarks,” telling us to continuing to keep whatever few precepts we can while in exile, so we don’t forget them, lest they seem new to us when we return to Eretz Yisrael, because the Torah is meant to be kept in the Land of Israel, the only place it can be observed in all of its fullness, with its many laws relating to the Land of Israel, the Kingship of Israel, the army of Israel, the justice system of Israel, and the Beit HaMikdash which you can’t build in Lakewood. Yes, Orthodox Judaism in America is much better than conservative Judaism, and reform Judaism, and yoga, but it isn’t the Torah as the Torah was meant to be kept. That can only take place in Israel.

That’s what Rashi is coming to tell us at the very start of the Torah.

You’re welcome. I thought you’d want to know.

The Snake Made Me Do It

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

If Eve had read www.jewishsexuality.com, she wouldn’t have followed after her eyes and got us all kicked out of the garden. If Adam had read jewishsexuality.com, he wouldn’t have eaten the “apple.” Today, we don’t have to make the same mistakes they did. We have the teachings of the Torah and the advice of the Sages to rely upon. While I won’t quote from the holy Zohar here, for people who enjoy the secrets of Torah, there’s a lot more to the snake than his pretty long tail.

Which brings us to Noach. If his generation had taken the time to read jewishsexuality.com, they could have avoided the flood. The Zohar teaches that the wanton sexual sin of the time was the real cause of the flood. Measure for measure.

Concerning Noach himself, our Sages express a certain criticism. Yes, he righteously followed each and every order in building the ark, but he didn’t hurry around the countryside, from village to village, warning people what would be if they didn’t improve their ways.  Maybe he felt they wouldn’t listen. After all, the sexual urge is a powerful passion, and people don’t like being told that they can’t do whatever they please, like they did in the days preceding the flood. Noach was a private tzaddik, minding his own business, unlike Avraham who traveled to and fro, teaching people about the godly way to live.

If a person sees that his fellow man is erring in his ways, he has the obligation to enlighten him, so that the transgressor can correct his wrongdoing. If he doesn’t, he himself becomes part of the sin. True, not everyone is on a level to rebuke others, and rebuke isn’t an easy thing to do, but the principle is clear that when you see someone heading for destruction, it is a good deed to endeavor to save him.

That is what I have been doing when writing about the mitzvah of aliyah. I don’t seek to insult anyone – rather to wake people up to the higher and holier reality which we enjoy here in theLandofIsrael, living according to the guidelines of Torah. And this is why I urge readers to browse through the jewishsexuality.com website, to alert them of the dangers that brought on the flood.  Whether it is the flood of assimilation that is devastating the Jewish People in the Diaspora, or the flood of immodesty and licentiousness on the Internet in which the world is drowning, everyone must do his share to save not only himself, but also his fellow.

Put the two together and you get the Covenant of the Brit between God and the Jewish People, coming up in the Torah portion of Lech Lecha, where our sexual holiness and the gift of the Land of Israel are inseparably linked.

Not in Accordance with the Torah?

Monday, October 15th, 2012

One of the most informative books I have ever read on the subject of early 20th century American Jewry was Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet’s biography of Bernard Revel, the 1st President of Yeshiva University.

The picture painted of American Jewry in the Revel bio matches that of Rabbi Rakeffet’s own autobiographical account of growing up in pre-war era New York. To put it simply – Orthodox Judaism as we know it today did not exist.

The fact is that Rabbi Rakeffet reported that some of the Rebbeim in his elementary religious day school were barely religious. Indeed, the general studies principal there, Harry Sherer (brother of Rabbi Moshe Sherer) ended up becoming a Reform Rabbi.

Virtually the same story was told by Rabbi Hirsch Diskind, son in law of one of my heroes, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. In an article published in Hamodia he said that in the early days of his own right wing Yeshiva, Chaim Berlin, the Rebbeim were barely Shomer Shabbos.

Another point Rabbi Diskind made was the following:

[T]heir hashkafos were not always in accordance with the Torah… For example, I remember how once [when I was in] in sixth grade, my rebbi entered the room crying bitterly. He had just heard the news that Chaim Nachman Bialik (pictured above), the father of modern Israeli poetry, had passed away, and this affected him deeply.

Life was indeed different then. But I must take strong issue with the way Rabbi Diskind framed the issue here. In the most subtle of ways he has condemned secular poetry as not in accordance with the Torah.

I received an e-mail from Rabbi Dr. Noam Weinberg. Rabbi Weinberg has Semicha from Yeshiva University and spent many years learning Torah. He has multiple degrees from top universities and is currently the Principal of Judaic Studies in North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck New York.

His e-mail included a letter he wrote to Hamodia in response to that article. Bearing in mind Rabbi Weinberg’s prestigious educational background in both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol – here in part is what he wrote:

Let’s discuss now the Hashkafos which were not in accordance with the Torah.

Bialik was a Talmid of Volozhin and was always very fond of Jewish life and culture. Maybe the reason why the Rebbe was crying was because of the fact that he felt connected to another Jew who had a strong passion for his love for the Jewish people, maybe he was a relative of his, maybe he learned with him in Volozhin. Maybe he just liked Hebrew Poetry. Why does that mean that his Hashkafos were not in line with Torah? Did he stop being Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos? Did he do something Assur? Is it just that it is Assur to read Hebrew Poetry…

The hypocrisy is painful!!! Rav Hutner was a student of philosophy in the University of Berlin, who no doubt came across true Kefira in the things he read there, Rebbitzin Bruriah David, Rav Hutner’s daughter was allowed by her father to go to Columbia University where she got her PhD, and Rav Hunter who together with Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz wanted to start a fully accredited college and only because Rav Aharon Kotler said not to did he cancel those plans.

What kind of absurd double standard is it to to say that a Rebbe who cried because of Bialik’s death not knowing why he was crying is considered a person whose Hashkafos were not in line with Torah, whereas Rav Hutner who had a degree in Philosophy from the University of Berlin and read real Kefria is referred to as an individual who “understood each person intimately, better than he understood himself. His brilliance was overpowering, he was able to make everybody feel very close, and we all felt that he was interested in us and our growth.”

Rabbi Weinberg had other criticisms including being Dan L’Kaf Zechus to those ‘barely’ Shomer Shabbos Mechanchim instead of cavalierly dismissing them as barely religious. But the one reflected in the above excerpt is what resonated with me. I believe it is a profoundly important point.

Here is the problem. That a Rebbe in Rabbi Diskind’s era was strongly moved by the death of a Hebrew poet is characterized by him as reflecting a Hashkafa not in accordance with the Torah (emphasis mine) – is very troubling.

‘Setting Limits’

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

“Isn’t it ironic that kids whose parents fail to set and enforce limits feel unloved and angry? Although they tend to test and protest, we have learned over and over again that limits are what kids really want. Invariably, when we talk with out-of-control teenagers or adults who were juvenile delinquents and lucky enough to survive, we ask them, ‘If you could go back to when you were a child, what would you change?’ Most of them say something like, ‘I wish my parents had reeled me in when I was a kid. Why didn’t they make me behave?’

“A counselor we know sat down with a teenager we know who led a pretty rough life. She had been promiscuous… and was in trouble with the law. She went on to describe how she had smoked pot and guzzled beer with her dad as a ten-year old. When the counselor asked her what she thought about it, her eyes lit up with rage and she said, ‘I hate him!’ Surprised, the counselor said, ‘You had so much freedom. Why do you hate your father?’ Even more surprised, the teen responded, ‘I hate him ‘cause he let me do anything I wanted. He never made me behave. Look at me now!’

“If you want your children to have internal controls and inner freedom, you must first provide them with external controls. A child who is given boundaries, and choices within those boundaries, is actually freer to be creative, inventive, active, and insightful. How you expose your kids to the life around them – how you encourage them to use their creativity within limits, by using yours – is key to developing their personal identity and freedom. Setting limits does not discourage inventiveness. The world is full of limits within which we must all live. Give your children a gift. Teach them how to be creative within these limits.” (Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, by Jim Fay & Charles Fay)

“In the beginning of G-d’s creating…G-d saw that the light was good…And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

“…And the earth brought forth vegetation… And G-d saw that it was good… And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

“…Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

“…Let the waters teem with living creatures, and fowl that fly… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

“…Let the earth bring forth living creatures…And G-d saw that it was good…Let us make man…And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.”

The Medrash in Bereishis Rabba (9:6) discusses the difference between what the Torah deems “good” (throughout the six days of creation) and what the Torah deems “very good” (after the creation of man). The Medrash offers a few explanations: “Very good” refers to sleep, because when one sleeps a little he is able to toil exceedingly in Torah study. “Good” refers to when things are going well; “very good” refers to affliction. “Good” refers to the Garden of Eden; “very good” refers to purgatory. “Good” refers to the Angel of Life; “very good” refers to the Angel of Death.”

This Medrash is unquestionably enigmatic and perplexing. How can all of the pleasantries of life be referred to as “good” while all of the dreaded facets of life be referred to as “very good”?

The idea that this Medrash is espousing contains the basis for the implosion and unraveling of Western Society that we are privy to. When a society does not know how to set limits and “Just Say No” then it is doomed to disaster and destruction. The mighty empire of Rome, which ruled the ancient world for centuries, eventually succumbed not so much to external forces as it did to internal hedonism. The insatiable drive for narcissistic gratification and indulgence destroyed the fabric of its society until it was no longer able to maintain itself. The surrounding invading forces were simply the final blow to an already decrepit society.

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