New Periodical: Tradition 45:4

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Tradition 45:2 (Winter 2012):

  • The Lost Childhood of Doeg by R. Shalom Carmy – A call to condemn adult bullying and to stop glorifying bullies
  • Ancient Sources, Modern Problems: A Methodological Analysis of Rashi’s Position on Brainstem Death by R. Daniel Reifman – A very technical article (by a doctoral candidate in hermeneutics) arguing that no proof can be brought from Rashi on brain death
  • Unmasking an Odd-Sounding Purim Custom: A Theory by R. Akiva Males – Explains why some wear costumes on Purim, even containing rabbinic sha’atnez
  • My Long Lonely Journey to the Rav by Yisrael Kashkin – A fabulous overview of Rav Soloveitchik’s importance to the thinking layman
  • An Unorthodox Step Toward Revelation: Leon Kass on Genesis Revisited by R. Hayyim Angel – A nonbeliever’s commentary on Bereishis–similarities to insights of R. Jonathan Sacks and Rav Soloveitchik, original commentary and some flaws. Overall a very impressive effort by Kass.
  • Seclusion Under Video Surveillance; The Paradox of R. Chanina ben Teradion by R. J. David Bleich – 1) The impact of video surveillance on the issur yichud (big leniency). 2) A survey of explanation of the apparent permission in Avodah Zarah 18b permitting euthanasia, ending with an original explanation.
  • A Strictly Kosher Review by Dr. Erica Brown – Summarizes Dr. Yoel Finkelman’s study of Charedi literature, which we discussed long ago (link). Points out that, unlike the Modern Orthodox, at least the Charedim have literature supporting their ideology to analyze.
  • The Greening of American Orthodox Judaism: Yavneh in the 1960s reviewed by R. Aaron Reichel – The remarkable student-led Torah revolution of Yavneh, which became a victim of its own success (discussed here – link).

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.


  1. The point of R. Reifman’s article is actually that those who use Rashi to support circulation as a definition of death are not true to the meaning of his words. Rashi cannot reasonably be seen as defining death by circulation. Similarly, the position of the Chatam Sofer does not supply support for the circulation definition of death. In other words, the opponents of brain/respiratory death have lost the halachic underpinnings of their position if R Reifman’s position is not contested. He does use technical language to illustrate his approach, but the point is quite clear and to me(understandably) quite compelling.

  2. I didn’t find the first argument, that “ad libo” means until the chest and refers to breathing, convincing at all. And the second argument seems to me to be the equivalent of saying that no pre-modern source can be used.

    But maybe I misunderstood because there was a lot of technical argumentation in there.

  3. We can read a lot of different things into the sources. R. Reifman was trying to identify as best as possible what the source actually meant in its context and how it is relevant to the current medical understanding. He specifically rejected R. Slifkin’s contention that pre-modern sources aren’t useful. In the case of Rashi he pointed out, among other proofs, that ‘libo’ usually refers to chest and not specifically to heart. Reading ‘libo’ and immediately concluding that it means heart is a product of current language usage.

    The Chatam Sofer famously stated that a person is dead when he isn’t moving, his heart has stopped and then he stops breathing. R. Reifman points out that the Chatam Sofer doesn’t quote Rashi for support. This is surprising if one posits that both Rashi and the Chatam Sofer define death by cessation of circulation. R. Reifman points out that the circumstances of the CS’s teshuva support the thesis that he was using cessation of circulation not as a concept of life and death, but that the cessation of circulation was proof that the breathing has stopped. R. Reifman then shows that up until modern times(when breathing and heart function could be seperated), the CS was understood as considering the cessation of respiration as the time of death. Conclusion: The Chatam Sofer was not claiming that cessation of circulation was a concept of life and death independent from respiration. You can read that into his tesuva, but that isn’t what he meant and it isn’t how he was understood until modern times.

    He uses linguistic techniques to help understand how the words were used and what they meant.

  4. Those two links on the bottom are kind of funny. Print journals have to start asking themselves if others are leaving them in the dust.

  5. i found r’ reifman’s approach of great interest. I am doing my yahrtzeit drasha this year iy”h on treating eye injuries (e.g. detached retina) on shabbat. One major source is:
    2תלמוד בבלי מסכת עבודה זרה דף כח עמוד ב
    אמר רב: עין שמרדה – מותר לכוחלה בשבת. סבור מיניה: הני מילי הוא דשחקי סמנין מאתמול, אבל משחק בשבת ואתויי דרך רשות הרבים לא; א”ל ההוא מרבנן ורבי יעקב שמיה, לדידי מיפרשא מיני’ דרב יהודה: אפילו מישחק בשבת ואתויי דרך רשות הרבים – מותר. רב יהודה שרא למיכחל עינא בשבת. אמר להו רב שמואל בר יהודה: מאן ציית ליהודה מחיל שבי! לסוף חש בעיניה, שלח ליה: שרי או אסיר? שלח ליה: לכ”ע שרי, לדידך אסיר, וכי מדידי הוא? דמר שמואל היא. ההיא אמתא דהואי בי מר שמואל דקדחא לה עינא בשבתא, צווחא וליכא דאשגח בה, פקעא עינא. למחר נפק מר שמואל ודרש: עין שמרדה – מותר לכוחלה בשבת; מאי טעמא? דשורייני דעינא באובנתא דליבא תלו. כגון מאי? אמר רב יהודה: כגון רירא, דיצא, דמא, דימעתא, וקידחא – ותחלת אוכלא, לאפוקי סוף אוכלא ופצוחי עינא דלא. אמר רב יהודה: זיבורא, ודחרזיה, סילוא, וסמטא, ודכאיב ליה עינא, ואתי עילויה אישתא, כולהו בי בני סכנתא.

    rashi comments
    אפילו מישחק ואיתויי כו’ – כדאמרינן לקמן שורייני דעינא בליבא תלו מאור העין מעורין ואחוזין בטרפשי הלב.

    tosfot then says
    וספות מסכת עבודה זרה דף כח עמוד ב
    שורייני דעינא בליבא תלו – פ”ה מאור העין תלוי בטרפשי דליבא ולי נראה באובנתא דלבא תלו כלומר ראיית העין תלוי בהבנת הלב שורייני בשי”ן כמו (במדבר כד) אשורנו ולא קרוב א”נ סורייני בסמ”ך מלשון סייר נכסיה (חולין קה.) באובנתא בבי”ת לשון הבנה כדאמרינן במרכבה (מגילה כד:) באובנתא דליבא הוי חזי.

    iirc the science of the day was that the eye projected rays in order to see.

    trying to understand what the gemara, rashi and tosfot had in mind is a challenge.


  6. Leon Kass a nonbeliever? Why such an insult?

  7. R’ Joel –
    Great topic!
    Have you seen this fantastic article by RDZ Feldman? The last three pages are about your topic.בענין_הסומא_בהלכה#

  8. Anon: I was careful to use R. Hayyim Angel’s description

  9. r’sass,
    no, thanks for the cite-we’ll see how many mareh mkomot I missed :-)

  10. R’ angel’s article:
    An Unorthodox Step Toward Revelation: Leon Kass on Genesis Revisited by R. Hayyim Angel

    can be found here:

  11. Ye’yasher kochakhem to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student and respondents.

    I enjoyed reading R. Reifman’s insightful analysis, and I am happy that his analysis has now been transferred from the Text and Texture electronic forum to the print edition of Tradition. [As Rabbeinu Nachum has cogently noted (today at 1:03 a.m.), the rapid nature of electronic communication appears to be outpacing the production of printed journals. We can celebrate this friendly scholarly competition as part of the rubric of “kin’at sofrim tarbeh chokhmah” (Bava Batra 21a). In any event, the printed edition will always enjoy an advantage vis-a-vis accessibility on the Sabbath and festivals.]

    Accordingly, I will take the opportunity to now respond to R. Reifman’s analysis as presented in print. Specifically, R. Reifman’s comment (p. 23, lines 6-8) that “the absence of Rashi’s comments from the Hatam Sofer’s analysis is so conspicuous that it effectively discredits R. Bleich’s assertion” is true but – on the larger scale – is also misleading. For it is not only R. Bleich that R. Reifman is challenging with his analysis, but R. Moshe Feinstein as well. R. Moshe Feinstein (IM YD 2:146) certainly assumes that Rashi’s reference to cardiac function as a sign of life, and Hakham Tsevi’s reference to cardiac function as a sign of life, do represent normative halakhic sources. It is, of course, R. Reifman’s prerogative to challenge R. Moshe Feinstein [in addition to R. Bleich] if he so chooses, but it pedagogically helpful to explain that R. Reifman’s argument is primarily directed against R. Feinstein. I hope I have presently fulfilled that pedagogical function.

    Now, I have already noted that R. Moshe Feinstein renders at least one explicit mistake (ta’ut bi-devar mishnah) in his responsa on the definition of death: in IM YD 2:174, sec. 1, R. Feinstein miscopies the gemara in Chullin 20b-21a. I have also noted that R. Yitzchak Ya’akov Weisz was so dazzled by R. Feinstein’s brilliance (rightfully so, of course) that R. Weisz inadvertently swallowed R. Feinstein’s explicit mistake “hook, line and sinker”. See my comment on Dec. 27, 2010 at 9:04 p.m., at

    Ergo, the same way we are forced to admit that R. Feinstein was clearly mistaken in his understanding of the gemara in Chullin 20b-21a, it is entirely possible for R. Reifman to argue that R. Feinstein was clearly mistaken in his understanding of “ad libo” in Yoma 85a.

    On the other hand, one might counter-argue – as R’ Joel Rich commented (5:23 a.m.) – that in one medicolegal context (viz. Avodah Zarah 28b, five lines from bottom), we do find that the Talmud seems to employ “lev” in the sense of the human heart. Perhaps, then, R. Feinstein was relying on this reference to inform his understanding of Yoma 85a. Unfortunately (or otherwise), R. Feinstein did not elaborate, and we are left to struggle. [I write “or otherwise” in parentheses, because it is actually a gift from Heaven that R. Feinstein left to us the task of completing the blanks in his responsa, as per the dictum “makom hinichu li avotai le-hitgader bo” (Chullin 7a).]

  12. R. Reifman has an analysis if R. Moshe’s position on the RCA blog that was posted a year or two ago.

    I suggest that there is(among other differences) a major difference between R Moshe and R. Bleich. R. Bleich depends on Rashi and the Chatam Sofer for his definition of life as the presence of circulation(which he then further transformed into the concept of ‘vital motion’). R. Moshe defines life as the presence of respiration(or some variation thereof). This understanding of R Moshe is supported by his son, the chief rabbinate and many others including R Bleich himself. Therefore R. Reifman’s approach does not necessarily challenge R. Moshe’s conclusions in the same way that it is a severe challenge for R. Bleich

    From a more practical approach, once an interpretation is stated, even an erroneous one, it is not difficult to see how it can be perpetuated without the initial assumptions being reexamine s every time the position is repeated.

  13. Doesn’t R. Bleich define life as vital motion, similar to R. Moshe’s definition as the presence of circulation? I’m not sure I see the difference but maybe I have to see R. Reifman’s post on R. Moshe.

  14. Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha Dr. Stadlan (as well as our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student). You are correct that R. Reifman has posted an analysis of R. Feinstein on the RCA blog (to which I was privileged to respond in the comments, to which R. Reifman graciously counter-responded, and to which was privileged to counter-counter-respond).

    If I am to limit myself, though, to commenting on that which R. Reifman has now produced (be-siman tov u-ve-mazal tov) in print in this new edition of Tradition, I would submit that

    1) R. Reifman renders many excellent points in his printed article; and

    2) I maintain that it is true but also (be-mechilat kevod Torato shel R. Reifman) misleading for R. Reifman to identify the written analysis of R. Bleich as the target of his printed critique, when the principal target of R. Reifman’s printed critique is the written analysis of R. Feinstein.

  15. Some people interpret R. Moshe as opposing brain death. R. Bleich opposes brain death. A very common mistaken assumption is that R. Moshe would agree with R. Bleich’s concept of vital motion. This is completely wrong. R. Bleich is based on circulation. He argued with R Moshe(tradition 16:4. Survey of recent halakhic periodical literature):
    ” Rabbi Feinstein is firm in his opinion that the irreversible cessation of spontaneous respiration is halakhically both a necessary and sufficient condition of death. Radioisotope scanning….is required…as confirmatory evidence if the irreversible nature of respiratory cessation.” This was written in 1977.
    R. Bleich goes on to argue against R. Feinstein.

    It is ironic that many of those who are loudest in proclaiming that R Moshe doesn’t agree with brain death(in fact he may not agree with the concept but he appears to support the actual testing because it tests for irreversible cessation of breathing) don’t realize that Moshe completely disagrees with the circulation or ‘vital function’ concepts.

    R. Spira- I think that it is clear from the article that R . Reifman is arguing with R. Bleich’s approach to the sources. It could be that the argument can be applied to R. Moshe and others as well. However it is clear that R. Bleich’s approach is not the same as R Moshe, and he is the only one of the two In a position to respond

  16. Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, Dr. Stadlan. Yes, I concede that R. Bleich in Tradition 16:4 (Summer 1977) argues on R. Feinstein’s 1976 responsum (which – unbeknownst at the time to R. Bleich – would be subsequently be canonized in 1982 as IM YD 3:132), but part of R. Bleich’s 1977 argument is (as R. Bleich writes on p. 131, final paragraph) that R. Feinstein’s 1976 responsum appears to contradict his already published IM YD 2:146. So my point of contention with R. Reifman is that everything R. Reifman argues against R. Bleich (in Tradition 45:4) can be equally argued against R. Feinstein in IM YD 2:146, a responsum which recognizes Rashi and Hakham Tsevi as legitimate halakhic sources in potentially assigning significance to cardiac activity.

  17. Theoretically R . Reifman can be seen as arguing with everyone who quotes Rashi or the Chatam Sofer as supporting circulation.
    However, he is much more of a challenge for those who depend on Rashi to reinterpret the Gemara in Yoma from respiration to circulation. This groups includes all those who define life as the presence of circulation(possible exception of R Schachter) and R. Bleich, who further reinterprets circulation to get to vital function. It is not that much of a challenge for those who accept the Gemara’s pshat of respiration. Therefore, with all due respect, this is a major challenge to R Bleich and others, and a side point with reference to the position of Rav Moshe.

    R. Bleich states that R. Moshe held circulation. As I recall, he brings the previous teshuva to argue about a problem with consistency, not that the previous teshuva changed what R. Moshe held.

  18. Sorry. Last paragraph should have said R Bleich says that R Moshe holds respiration.

  19. Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, Dr. Stadlan. I fully agree with you that – in the end of the day (because of the oral testimony offered by Ha-Rav Ha-Ga’on R. Tendler and others featured on the HODS website) – Rashi and Hakham Tsevi are indeed “a side point” to R. Feinstein’s understanding of the definition of death. Therefore, my opinion is that R. Reifman needed to have stated explicitly: “the absence of Rashi’s comments from the Hatam Sofer’s analysis is so conspicuous that it effectively discredits R. Feinstein’s responsum Iggerot Mosheh, Yoreh De’ah 2:146”.

    To be clear, I definitely believe that R. Bleich (be-mechilat kevod Torato) deserves to be reprimanded for certain exaggerated statements he offered in the context of the brain death debate. However, any reprimand must be administered in the proper dosage, in accordance with Oral Torah principles of how milchamtah shel Torah is to be waged. I maintain that R. Reifman exceeded the proper dosage of reprimand for R. Bleich by overlooking IM YD 2:146 in his current article in Tradition. R. Bleich is not at fault for introducing Hakham Tsevi into the brain death sugya. The problem began already with R. Feinstein.

  20. Interstingly, an intermediate position regarding how much credibility to grant the Hakham Tsevi (between the two poles of R. Reifman who rejects Hakham Tsevi as irrelevant and R. Feinstein in IM 2:146 who embraces Hakham Tsevi as relevant) is Hazon Ish 4:14.
    See here:

    Hazon Ish writes that “ein ha-davar mukhra” (the matter is not resolved) whether Hakham Tsevi’s assertion that life resides in the heart is correct. Although Hazon Ish acknowledges that Zohar supports Hakham Tsevi, Hazon Ish remonstrates that, based on the gemara in Hullin 32b, when the trachea has been slaughtered (but before the esophagus has been slaughtered), all organs suspended from the trachea are considered to be virtually removed from the animal. This should include the heart, reasons Hazon Ish, leading to the conclusion that an animal *can* live without a heart.

    Elsewhere, I have remarked that there is room to question this very analysis of Hazon Ish, seeing as Hazon Ish seems to have overlooked the Hiddushei ha-Ran to Hullin 32b; see my comment on Jan. 5, 2011 at

  21. Le-ma’aseh, I have to apologize to Dr. Stadlan that I did not completely cite all of the remarks of Hazon Ish (YD 4:14) in my earlier comment today at 3:24 p.m. Namely, Hazon Ish actually identifies two reasons why “ein ha-davar mukhra”, only the second of which (viz. the gemara in Hullin 32b) was discussed in my earlier comment. The first reason for which Hazon Ish questions Hakham Tsevi’s reliance on the Zohar that the heart is the source of life is that “we have only what the Sages have said [in the Talmud] regarding what causes an animal to be carrion while [ostensibly] alive.” I.e. Hazon Ish remonstrates against Hakham Tsevi that the Talmud itself does not mention the heart as a source of life. Thus, the dialectical tension between R. Reifman (who insists on following purely what the Talmud says) and Iggerot Mosheh YD 2:146 (who is willing to incorporate what the Zohar says) can actually be seen inherent in this discussion of Hazon Ish.

  22. Daniel Reifman

    Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on my article. As Dr. Stadlan noted, my analysis of R. Moshe’s position is available on the Text and Texture blog, and an expanded version will appear in a volume on time of death being published by the International Rabbinic Fellowship, which should come out later this year. In addition, I hope to publish a follow-up essay in Tradition addressing the Hatam Sofer’s position, in which I offer my opinion on Rav Moshe’s citation of the Hatam Sofer.

    The only point that I want to take issue with is the editor’s comment that Rav Moshe defines life based on presence of circulation. I do not recall Rav Moshe mentioning circulation anywhere in his teshuvot on this topic (YD 2:146 and 3:132). He does mention heart function (usually in the same breath as brain function), but it’s clear that the overriding factor in Rav Moshe’s definition of death is cessation of breathing — he states this many times in both of these teshuvot. The most challenging aspect of Rav Moshe’s position is figuring out what the relationship is between breathing on the one hand and heart/brain function on the other, which is the main topic of my article. (The second most challenging aspect is understanding Rav Moshe’s approach to Rashi and the Hakham Tsevi, which I address as well.) There is certainly very little basis to say that Rav Moshe concurs with R. Bleich’s definition of life as “vital motion”.

  23. R. Spira. Thanks for the source.

  24. Thank you, Dr. Stadlan, for your kind words.

    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, R. Reifman, for your detailed response as well as the good news that you will be publishing further on this topic. While it is true that your analysis is available on the Text & Texture blog, so is my alternate approach (in the comments there), and I am grateful to Text & Texture for rendering this interactivity possible. In any event, I wish you hatzlahah rabbah on your forthcoming International Rabbinic Fellowship publication as well as the future Tradition article.

    In defense of our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student’s comment that R. Feinstein equates circulation with life, I believe R. Student is following the methodological claim of R. Hershel Schachter. Namely, in Be-Ikvei ha-Tson no. 36, R. Schachter claims that R. Feinstein defines life in terms of circulation. Now, R. Schachter fully accepts R. Tendler’s testimony that R. Feinstein ruled that brain dead patients are absolutely dead. However, R. Schachter claims that this ruling of R. Feinstein flows from R. Feinstein’s alternate ruling regarding placing tefillin on a gangrened arm (IM OC 1:8-9), which became a cause-célèbre between R. Feinstein and R. Yom Tov ha-Levi Schwarz. [See Ma’aneh la-Iggerot nos. 5-6, available at ] Since R. Schachter considers the dispute between R. Feinstein and R. Schwarz to be unresolved, R. Schachter concomitantly deems the status of the brain dead patient to be a safek. [R. Schachter claims there is a further safek that perhaps we need all the evarim she-he-neshamah teluyah bahem to be dead for the patient to be considered dead, but it is not even necessary to analyze the validity of R. Schachter’s second claim once one accepts the first safek to be insoluble.]

    Interestingly, in Be-Ikvei ha-Tson itself, R. Schachter never explains how he discerns R. Feinstein’s (alleged) circulatory position within the words of IM YD 2:146 and 3:132. However, in a lecture delivered on April 20, 2010, R. Schachter divulges his hermeneutic methodology. See , at 83:20 into the lecture. Namely, R. Schachter claims that since – in IM YD 2:146, p. 249, third paragraph – R. Feinstein states twice that the nose is not an ever she-ha-neshamah teluyah bo, R. Feinstein intended to incorporate the entire idea of “ki ha-dam hu ha-nefesh” into his responsum.

    Personally, I don’t necessarily agree with R. Schachter’s methodology of how to read that particular paragraph of Iggerot Mosheh, since one might counter-argue that R. Feinstein understood “ki ha-dam hu ha-nefesh” to simply mean that *when* a person is breathing, then his soul is carried in the blood (i.e. in the oxygen molecules attached to the hemoglobin in the erythrocytes). I.e. circulation of blood may be necessary but not sufficient for life. But – leaving aside my hermeneutic misgivings – the above is R. Schachter’s claim of how to read R. Feinstein.

  25. Oh, no! I didn’t mean to write circulation. In fact, I thought I had written respiration and didn’t understand R. Reifman’s comment as directed at me until I saw R. Spira’s recent comment. That was just a typo, think faster than I type. Sorry about the confusion.

  26. Lawrence Kaplan

    Gil: I think you mean you type faster than you think!

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