Torah Musings Tue, 07 Jul 2015 01:30:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Medicine on Shabbos Tue, 07 Jul 2015 01:30:12 +0000 medsby R. Gil Student

I. Outdated Prohibition?

Medical technology has changed so dramatically over the past century that we can barely imagine the healing process of past years. Presumably, Jewish law should reflect that change, relating to current medicine rather than that of the past. In particular, the prohibition against taking medicine on Shabbos (absent pressing need) seems ripe for reevaluation. While halakhah is not changing, the appropriate rule for the different circumstances must be invoked.

We are forbidden to take medicine on Shabbos out of a concern that we might grind, which is biblically prohibited (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 328:1). However, medicine today is manufactured commercially and/or mixed at a pharmacy. We do not grind our own medicines but instead take the liquids and pills professionally prepared. If so, does this prohibition still stand?

To be clear, someone with a serious need for medication may certainly take it on Shabbos. There are numerous other exceptions (we’ll briefly mention some below) and you should discuss your personal situation with your rabbi. Good health is unquestionably a religious value. However, sometimes you just have a minor headache or need a little ointment or some other minor medical need that is not pressing. In ancient times, you might have ground yourself some herbs to relieve your pain. Must we retain this outdated concern?

I can imagine some people thinking that raising this question is bordering on heresy, revealing a lack of faith in the halakhic system. Quite the opposite! This is an excellent question that the greatest halakhic authorities of recent times have asked.

II. Permissible Today

R. Avraham Chaim Na’eh (Ketzos Ha-Shulchan 134 n. 7.2) considers the above logic to permit taking medicine in pill form on Shabbos. Since the rabbinic concern for grinding no longer exists, perhaps the prohibition no longer applies. He bases his argument on the Rema (Orach Chaim 339:3) who, quoting Tosafos (Beitzah 30a sv. tenan), permits clapping on Shabbos because we are no longer concerned that this might lead to fixing a musical instrument. Once the reason for the rabbinic decree ceases, the prohibition falls aside. However, because there are still some people somewhere in the world who grind herbal medicine (at the time of his writing and still today), R. Na’eh was not willing to rule leniently.

This general approach is very difficult because the view of the Rema and Tosafos seems to contradict explicit Talmudic passages. While resolutions have been proposed, none are particularly satisfying. As R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik is quoted as saying (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 173), we don’t understand the initial permission so how can we expand it to others cases? (See also Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha-Ezer 13:4, 9; Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:100.) For this reason, most later authorities reject R. Na’eh’s permissive theoretical view.

III. Two Approaches

R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer vol. 8 15:15) takes a different path toward leniency. He argues that two general approaches exist to the prohibition against (non-essential) healing on Shabbos. Rashi (Shabbos 53b sv. gezeirah) believes that the Sages enacted a general (obviously rabbinic) prohibition against any type of healing on Shabbos. While the underlying concern was grinding on Shabbos, the prohibition itself is not directly related. We see this in a number of cases, such as the permission to place a plaster on your eyes on Shabbos, which would be forbidden because of healing except that it looks like cleaning your eyes (Rashi, Shabboss 108b sv. ve-nosein). And similarly, Rashi (Shabbos 111a sv. aval) explains that you may not anoint with rose oil because you are clearly doing it solely for medical purposes. None of these examples involve a concern for grinding medicine but are still forbidden because of the general prohibition.

On the other hand, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Shabbos 21:31) permits certain acts of healing, implying that the prohibition was specifically against taking medicine to treat an illness that is generally healed with privately ground medicine. Even if you do not grind the medicine, taking it is forbidden because grinding is generally involved in treatment.

According to Rashi and those who agree with him, the change in medical technology does not undermine the general prohibition of the Sages. While they may not have enacted such a prohibition today, their ancient enactment remains in force. However, according to the Rambam, this enactment is specifically about grinding medicine on Shabbos that you normally grind during the week. Since we do not personally grind medicine anymore, the prohibition should no longer apply.

IV. Qualified Leniency

Significantly, the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) adopts the Rambam’s approach. If we follow this view, then today when we do not normally grind medicine for any illness, we may presumably freely take medicine on Shabbos. However, R. Waldenberg is cautious because some people do grind homemade remedies and because there are other interpretations of the Rambam’s position. He therefore decides to be as lenient as possible without being entirely permissive.

He notes that some quote R. Shlomo Kluger as permitting continuing taking a medication on Shabbos that you have already started taking prior. While R. Waldenberg disagrees with R. Kluger, he permits continuing taking medicine if failing to do so will cause severe discomfort. He allows relying on R. Kluger’s view because of, additionally, the above argument to permit taking medicine in general.

Similarly, R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yalkut Yosef 328:52) finds R. Na’eh’s reasoning convincing but, without dismissing the prohibition, allows for great leniency. For example, he permits someone accustomed to swallowing pills to take medicine to relieve pain. R. Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halakhah, Shabbos 28:5 and in harchavos) also allows taking medicine when suffering from pain that does not render you a choleh she-ein bo sakanah, because of the lenient views. See also She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah (Beitzah 5a sv. kol).

V. Stricter Views

However, other authorities disputed R. Waldenberg’s conclusion, which is based on his original interpretation of the Rambam. As mentioned above, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik opposed leniency on this subject. Similarly, R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:53) forbids taking pills on Shabbos. R. Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah 34:3), Dr. Avraham S. Avraham (Nishmas Avraham, Orach Chaim 328:5) also maintain the Talmudic prohibition against taking medicine.

(Reposted from Feb ’14)

]]> 0
Daily Reyd Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:17:27 +0000
▪ Politicians giveth, politicians taketh away: Israeli Cabinet Rejects Measure to Ease Jewish Conversions

RCA Committee Completes Historic Review of Conversion Processes

A Day in the Life of Lipa Schmeltzer, Ex-Ultra-Orthodox Celebrity
▪ Defining success down: A generation of persistence pays off for the Schechter Institutes
▪ Bilam in archeology: Parashas Balak: Deir ‘Alla Inscription – Livius

]]> 0
Books Received Mon, 06 Jul 2015 11:19:31 +0000

  • Be-Rogez Racheim Tizkor by R. Dovid Bashevkin
]]> 0
Not Mourning During the Three Weeks Mon, 06 Jul 2015 01:30:02 +0000 imageby R. Gidon Rothstein

With the advent of the Three Weeks, we enter one of those times of the Jewish calendar where ritual outstrips emotion, where our ma’aseh hamitzvah, the actions of observance, as R. Soloveitchik, zt”l might have said, are more fully achieved than the kiyyum, the internal experience those actions intended to produce.

The time between Shivah Asar BeTammuz, the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, and Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, observed by Ashkenazic Jews as a period of quasi-mourning, are meant to manifest our sorrow over the destruction of the Beit haMikdash and the society that went with it. What has become increasingly worrisome to me is that many of us, perhaps whole communities, enact those rituals year after year without absorbing the emotions that were meant to be included.

I had occasion recently to discuss Aruch haShulchan he-Atid, the part of R. Yechiel Michel Epstein’s Aruch haShulchan that deals with halachic that will be most relevant when we have a restored Israel, with a Beit haMikdash, a Jewish king, a renewed Sanhedrin. In the course of taking the most superficial of glances at the topics he discussed, I noted the difficulties we have today in imagining such a world. More important, and more problematic, is that I repeatedly encounter people open about the fact that they don’t really want such a world.

Leaving the Unimaginable Unimagined

Let’s leave aside tumah and taharah, the complex rules of ritual purity that would come even more into play in a world with a Beit HaMikdash. Today, we know something of those rules from the practice of washing hands before eating bread, the marital laws relating to women’s menstrual cycles, and the obligation of kohanim to avoid the tumah connected to contact with someone who has been deceased (complicating their attending funerals, flying to Israel, and visiting hospitals). For most of us, however, it is still academic.

Let’s even leave aside korbanot, sacrifices, because many today feel they are so out of line with contemporary morality, they again have a hard time stretching their minds to realize that while that was not meant to be the totality of our relationship with Hashem (one of the important errors of the Jews of the First Temple), it was meant to have a continuing and vital role in a full expression of our personal and national identity.

Let’s instead turn to three examples that are relatively imaginable, that don’t seem conceptually problematic, and yet are still far outside the comfort zone of Jews whose actions should imply that they long for a return to this world.


Many translate that word as leprosy, because it is described as consisting of one or more white lesions on the skin. Tradition did not see it as a purely physical disease, however, since only a kohen could declare it to be tsara’at (if the kohen was not expert enough to distinguish tsara’at from not, the Torah scholar would stand next to him and tell him what to say; but it wasn’t until the kohen said it that it counted). In addition, Arachin 16a names seven sins that lead to tsara’at. Finally, the Torah is clear that this can affect clothing and houses, in slightly different manifestations, but the same basic phenomenon.

There’s much to say about tsara’at, but I have the following continuing question, whose answer I sort of know and troubles me: how many of us are ready for a world where we would be required to attribute certain physical occurrences to our spiritual state?

Some would say that’s already true, since the Gemara tells us that yissurim, times of trouble, should lead to introspection. But many treat that in the most general terms, not that these troubles are a direct result of our failings, just that it’s always good to try to improve. Someone struck with tsara’at, however, would have to introspect as part of finding his or her way out of that disease. The Torah never says so, but if the disease comes from sin, rejecting that sin would seem to be the best way to secure healing.

The Torah, it seems, thought the ideal Jewish world would be one where our houses, clothing, and bodies could, on occasion, show us Hashem was displeased with our behavior, as a way to call for us to change. How many of us recognize, and feel, that that in fact would be ideal?


A second example is the obligation to establish a king, and Rambam’s assertion, as one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith, that we will be redeemed by a human being, a descendant of Shlomo haMelech, who will then ascend to the Davidic throne. This is perhaps not the fairest example, since the images of monarchy in popular culture don’t do justice to the halachic system for monarchy. What sounds to many like an absolute ruler, possibly a tyrant, is in the halachic system closer to a constitutional monarchy, with separation of powers and checks and balances, two of the central components of Western democracy that people find so attractive.

Once again, details aside, I have met many people who will openly confess their unreadiness for such a system. Worse, they are transparent about their disinterest in such a world, despite it being the consensus view as to how the Jewish future will unfold.  


The last example is the most distressing, to me, because it is the closest to being attainable, and yet also one that people—and here, it’s even people living in Israel, on the road to the fulfillment of all of these hopes—are becoming sure they don’t want (at least not yet). The ideal was that there would be a central body to decide ultimate questions of halachah. Seventy-one elders, sitting in Jerusalem, would be the final arbiters of what is or isn’t the Torah view on the topics that came before them. Ruling other than they had could, under specific circumstances, lead to the death penalty.

Perhaps it’s an expression of dissatisfactions with what we have in a Chief Rabbinate right now, but I meet more and more people who cannot imagine—even if we point out that it would require a renewal of semicha, and an agreement about who qualified as the top seventy-one Torah scholars of a generation—that they would want such a body to have that much authority.

Wanting It, the First Step to Getting It

I once heard a lecture by Professor Gerald Blidstein, who pointed out that avelut, mourning, is another example of Rav Soloveitchik’s distinction between ma’aseh, actions, and kiyyum, fulfilling the observance. He showed me, after, that in one of the Yahrzeit shiurim published as שיעורים לזכר אבא מרי ז”ל, Rav Soloveitchik had explicitly said that if someone sits shiva for seven days, doesn’t get a haircut and so on for thirty more, and says kaddish for eleven months, but has not actually mourned the deceased, could we imagine that they had fulfilled their obligation?

In the weeks to come, I hope this is a reminder that it’s not enough to refrain from getting haircuts and/or shaving, from laundering our clothing or listening to music, or having weddings, or whichever practices apply. We have to mourn, we have to have that internal experience of recognizing that our world is lesser by virtue of these many losses to our national and communal lives, and from that mourning to rejuvenate our longing for a return to those halcyon times.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, once commented that he didn’t require the boys who came to his yeshiva to want to learn, but they had to want to want to learn. What I am writing about here is not only that we don’t yet mourn what we’ve lost, it’s that I’m not sure we want to mourn it. The reaction by many people when they start to think about the world halachah envisions and longs for is not “how do I reshape myself to realize what I’ve been missing?” it’s “Thank God I don’t have to deal with that.”

I am writing here in the hopes that we mourn. If we can’t yet mourn, that we at least come to say to ourselves that we have to want to mourn, and to begin to take steps that will lead us from wanting to mourn to actually mourning. That we merit being those who see in their lifetimes the fulfillment of Bava Batra 60b, that those who mourn Jerusalem will merit to see its rejoicing.


]]> 0
Daily Reyd Fri, 03 Jul 2015 14:42:57 +0000
R Shafran: In Judaism, love doesn’t always win
Are Rebbetzins an Endangered Species?
Are the Origins of “Abracadabra” Jewish?
Let’s Have Another Asifa
Christian bakers fined $135,000 for refusing to make wedding cake for lesbians
R Riskin: Chief Rabbinate for whom?
▪ Is there a future for religious schools?: It’s going to be an issue
▪ I don’t buy it: R Hoffman: Is Yeshiva Tuition Maaserable? – A New Formula
▪ The ongoing usurpation of democracy in East Ramapo: School-Board Tussle
YCT “Rosh Yeshiva” Dov Linzer Encourages Giving Money To Rebuild Churches
Open Orthodox Rabbis Weiss and Herzfeld Attend Bible Study at Church Massacre Site
YCT President Asher Lopatin Announces Resignation from RCA for Rejecting Open Orthodox Rabbis

]]> 0
Do Pesukei DeZimra Have To Be Said In Order? Fri, 03 Jul 2015 01:30:30 +0000 imageby R. Gidon Rothstein

15 Tammuz: Do Pesukei DeZimra Have To Be Said In Order?

On the fifteenth of Tammuz, 1960, R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayyim 2;16 was asked about whether the order of Pesukei de-Zimra, the selections from Tanach that we say between Baruch SheAmar and Yishtabach, was mandatory. Suppose someone accidentally skipped part of that section—could s/he make it up by saying just what was skipped, or did that person have to go back and start over?

He starts by saying that he has not seen anything explicit to that effect (we can be confident that if he hadn’t seen it, it’s not in any obvious place). This implies there is no such requirement, since Megillah 17 lists those readings that must follow a certain order—the Megillah we read on Purim, Hallel, Keriyat Shema, and Shemoneh Esreh. For each of those, the Gemara cites verses to prove the necessity of reading it in order (in the case of Shemoneh Esrei, written by Chazal, a baraita says that Shimon haPakuli ordered the eighteen blessings before Rabban Gamliel, and R. Yochanan says 120 elders, including some prophets established it, in that order.)

Leaving us to assume that that which was not mentioned there, such as Pesukei de-Zimra, does not have an absolute requirement of order.

The Order of Shemoneh Esrei

For Shemoneh Esrei, Rashi is of the view, Berachot 34, that R. Asi insisted on the order of the middle blessings. That would mean if someone skipped a blessing (or mis-said it), s/he would have to go back to the beginning of the middle blessings, not simply insert the missing one. Even so, R. Moshe says, that’s a לכתחלה requirement, the way it should be done. Once someone had finished Shemoneh Esrei, for example, s/he would not have to repeat the prayer (contrary to Megillah or Hallel or Keriat Shema).

What is necessary is that the middle blessings not be said before the first three or after the last three—there, we follow the rule R. Samlai inferred from how Moshe asked to be allowed into the Land of Israel, Avodah Zara 7b, that we cannot petition Hashem before having offered praise. Rambam cites that in Laws of Prayer 1;2, where he is discussing what he saw as the Biblical obligation of prayer.

That obligation includes a basic order, praise, petition, and thanks, an order Rambam saw as necessary to well-formed prayer. R. Moshe reads Rashi as accepting that, but that his comments on the middle blessings was to say how it needed to be done, not whether we had to rectify it if something went wrong.

The Center of Pesukei De-Zimra

From the Gemara’s stopping to tell us when order is מעכב, is required and cannot be foregone, R. Moshe can infer that elsewhere it is not, even when the Gemara tells us the order in which to say it. All the more so for these pre-Barchu selections, where there is no explicit discussion of proper order. We have an order, but that might be how it developed or a convenient way of achieving unity within congregations, not an indispensable requirement.

Nonetheless, he prefers to assume there were reasons for this order, for all that those weren’t strong enough to render it an absolute requirement. Rambam Hilchot Tefillah 7;12, for example, mentions that the Sages praised a person who reads from what we call Ashrei (the Gemara referred to Tehilla le-David, which is actually how Psalm 145 starts) until the end of Tehillim, the last of what we (some of us? I?) call the Hallelukahs. (This stems from R. Yose’s comment, Shabbat 118b, that he hopes his share in the World to Come is among those who finish Hallel every day. By Hallel, the Gemara eventually concludes, he meant Ashrei and the Psalms that round out the book.)

The Rest of Pesukei De-Zimra

The rest of the verses we say seem to be a matter of custom, as Magen Avraham says in Siman 52.  That’s not to say there’s no importance to their order. Once we see that there was a bracha instituted before and after, they become a unit, and R. Moshe is sure that mystics know hidden reasons for how these scattered verses were chosen, some as preparation for saying Ashrei and the following Psalms, others, like Vayevarech David, instituted because of their inherent value.

The Magen Avraham to which R. Moshe referred was in the chapter of Shulchan Aruch that lays out how to choose which parts of Pesukei de-Zimra to say (and which to skip) if one arrived in shul late. Magen Avraham introduces the chapter by reporting Semag’s view, that only the last of the Psalms absolutely had to be said (he apparently took the Gemara’s reference to saying Tehillah le-David to the end of Tehillim as meaning jumping to the last chapter, the last of the Hallelukahs), but included in that that one had to say Vayevarech David.

That does not mean that the order of those Psalms doesn’t matter. For all that they can be skipped, according to Semag, when they are being said, they would need to be said between Ashrei and Vayevarech David. We don’t split up selections from Tanach for no reason. That suggests there is some order to these verses.

Hodu and Assorted Verses

The verses we say after Baruch SheAmar (and which nusach Sfard says before), starting with the words הודו לה’ קראו בשמו weren’t in Rambam’s siddur at all. R. Moshe knows  the tradition (quoted by Beit Yosef at the end of Siman 50 in the name of Seder Olam, as I found from a Bar-Ilan search) that these were the verses recited while the morning communal sacrifice was being offered, which was why some say it before beginning formal prayer.

Since they are verses from Tehillim, many chose to say it after the bracha, which covers any and all of David’s songs. Once we’re including it, we still say it before Ashrei (which was really the cause of the bracha, since that’s the part of Pesukei de-Zimra the Gemara mentions), because it was originally said first, as the communal public sacrifice was being sacrificed.

Provisional and Necessary Reasons

For all that R. Moshe has offered reasons for the order of much of that section, he is still confident that if someone forgot a piece, or thought s/he was farther behind the communal prayer than was actually true, skipped a bunch and then found him/herself at Yishtabach too soon, that person should just say the parts skipped, for all that they will be said out of the traditional order.

This contradicts Mishnah Berurah 51;16, commenting on Shulchan Aruch’s ruling thatפותח את ידיך in Ashrei requires proper intent. One who did not have that intent would have to go back and recite the verse again, and Mishnah Berurah tells us that according to Chayye Adam and Levush, it wasn’t enough to say the verse again, the person would have to repeat the rest of Ashrei.

He then comments that if a person forgot, and doesn’t have time during Pesukei de-Zimra, s/he should go back after the silent prayer, say the verse and the rest of the Psalm over. R. Moshe thinks that the preference for saying things in order cannot rise to that level, that the person should be able to say just that verse and get some value from it, particularly since Ashrei is the center of Pesukei de-Zimra, it seems clear that we should want its key verse to be recited in the same section of davening. (Notice that he is comfortable disagreeing with Mishnah Berurah — remember he was born only about 65 years after the author of Mishnah Berurah, so for him, he wasn’t as mythical a figure as he became over the next hundred years—a great talmid chacham, yes, but not someone untouchable, with whom it was impossible to disagree).

Interrupting Pesukei De-Zimra

While he’s lenient about the order of Pesukei de-Zimra, R. Moshe does think of it as a complete unit, such that one should not interrupt oneself needlessly. For example, he is opposed to saying בריך הוא if someone starts saying kaddish while we are in the middle of Pesukei de-Zimra. That’s because that response is not a mandated response to kaddish, is not similar to saying amen. As Magen Avraham notes in 56;8, the custom was actually to say בריך הוא לעילא, as a sign to the chazzan not to stop there (ironically, since it’s now become a stopping point).

Like ברוך הוא וברוך שמו, which has some source in the Gemara but is nonetheless not an allowed response during פסוקי דזמרה, so too R. Moshe feels that this part of the prayers is enough of a unit to preclude responding בריך הוא to a kaddish.

Practical takeaways:   Pesukei de-Zimra is ideally said in the order we find it in our siddurim. On those rare occasions when people come late to shul, there is room to skip and catch up. But if a person forgot some parts, or skips too much and has extra time, s/he can make it up just by inserting it before Yishtabach.

And don’t respond berich hu le-eyla during this part of davening!

]]> 1
Free Will Over Our Thoughts Fri, 03 Jul 2015 01:15:13 +0000 Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Although we are not punished for our improper thoughts as long as they are not committed to action, nevertheless, according to Rav Soloveitchik, we are held accountable for them and Teshuva should be done for them.

The Rav explained, that Judaism believes strongly in the concept of free will, not only in the realm of action, in which man is deemed to have the power to control what he does , but in the realm of thought as well. For example, the Torah enjoins us from coveting that which belongs to someone else [Shemot 20:14]. But how can one truly be expected not to desire something he finds appealing? Ibn Ezra there, on the pasuk of “Lo Tachmod” explains that man must indeed be a master not only over his deeds, but over his feelings and sentiments as well. The Torah enjoins us from having cruel thoughts, from hating people, of finding joy in another’s downfall. We are responsible for our inner feelings, thoughts and emotions, and are thus held accountable if they are negative, mean, and destructive.

At the same time, HaShem rewards us for our inner thoughts, feelings and emotions that are worthy and deserving.

]]> 0
The Convert Problem Thu, 02 Jul 2015 01:30:10 +0000 by R. Gil Student

I. The Problem

While Israeli rabbis and politicians debate conversion standards, afflicting many converts with confusion and difficulty during this transitional period, a local problem of greater personal significance recedes to the background. R. Gedalia Dov Schwartz, senior rabbinic judge of the Chicago Rabbinical Council and the Beth Din of America, tries to tease that problem out of hiding and eradicate it with his booklet, אהבת הגר – Loving the Convert: Converts to Judaism and Our Relationship With Them.

The Orthodox community, particularly in metropolitan areas, is quite homogeneous. The differences between people and sub-communities are generally quite minor. Converts, by dint of their non-Jewish backgrounds, are different. The few Jews who do not like people who are different will automatically dislike converts. Many others, though, may unintentionally make converts feel uncomfortable and even unwanted. A resulting feeling of rejection can be devastating to some converts.

II. The Solution: Part 1

The solution to this problem is two-pronged. The first is education of the greater Orthodox community. In this booklet, R. Schwartz takes on that task. Loving the Convert contains four sections. The first part, consisting of chapters 1-4, delineates the halakhic and hashkafic obligations of sensitivity to converts. Not only must we love them and pray for them three times a day, we must be extra careful to avoid offending them. In many ways, converts lack the typical support system in the Jewish community.

The second part of the booklet contains personal statements from converys about the difficulties they have encountered joining the Orthodox community. The third section examines halakhic issues related to converts, such as whether he may become a yeshiva dean (yes) or recite Kaddish for his deceased gentile parent (yes but only occasionally). The fourth part contains the Hebrew endnotes and extensive primary sources for the first and third parts.

Initially, the second section of the booklet seems out of place. Why would a prominent halakhic authority include the emotional words of laypeople in his work? However, when writing about the need to embrace converts, he clearly saw a need to point out both their sensitivities and the areas where our community needs work.

III. The Solution: Part 2

I mentioned earlier two elements to solving this problem. The first is educating the community. The second, not addressed in the booklet, is educating converts. They have to understand that a community that strives for closeness and closed-ness, a tight-knit society that builds a wall to the secular world (of varying heights, depending on each community), will present obstacles to joining. We will ask personal questions about your upbringing; we will play Jewish geography; we will treat you like family.

You may find this invasive, especially when some people are overly nosy. You may feel uncomfortable because you don’t have what you think are the “right” answers. You may not want to reveal your life’s story to strangers or at every Shabbos meal you attend. Just remember that this is not a unique experience for converts. Ba’alei teshuvah and people with unusual backgrounds — foreign accents, small town upbringing — face the same challenge.

You have to learn two skills. The first is blending in. Even those whose racial characteristics preclude fitting entirely into the American Orthodox community can blend in with their behavior. If you dress, speak and act like a member of the community, you will find you are treated much more like a member. You also have to learn how to deflect questions you don’t want to answer. In a perfect world, no one will ask you rude questions. Until then, have answers ready like “Someday I’ll give you the whole story” or “It’s a long and private story.” You can prepare joke answers or change the subject.

IV. Conclusion

It is hard for a community leader to acknowledge a societal problem. I salute R. Schwartz for also trying to solve it, even partially, through education. I’m not holding my breath until we eradicate rudeness. However, raising awareness can at least mitigate the problem and encourage others to reach out to those among us who feel vulnerable and rejected.

(Reposted from Mar ’11)

]]> 1
Audio Roundup Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:00:51 +0000 by Joel Rich

I recently came across an interesting piece taking a position on whether rabbis should play ball with their students or congregants.

It gave me a good laugh as it reminded me of a conversation with one of my former managers who lectured me on the need for a more aggressive consulting personality (what he described was surprisingly a dead on description of his own personality).

My response was to suggest that rather than measuring the approach one might measure the results and recognize the wisdom of Sly and the Family Stone and realize that “different strokes for different folks” has a basis in reality. Or as an earlier manager told me (after one of his subordinates said I would never go out consulting because of my kippa), “Some people are fat, some are women and some wear funny things on their heads, as long as you can make it work for you, that’s all that matters”
~ ~ ~
Some thoughts on r’ m shapiro’s recent book on “censorship”: I’d expand on his quote from Colonel Jessup(you can’t handle the truth) – I think it’s not just that there’s a perception that the general population can’t handle the truth, but also that they don’t want to and themselves feel they are best served by the Colonel continuing to provide the blanket of protection they don’t want to talk about. It’s only when it affects an individual negatively (e.g. Santiago or women of the wall) that they want the truth.

I think the concluding point of truth redefined (i.e. truth is what is best to accomplish hkb”h’s ends -which imho is truth with mental reservation) is on target and I might even agree with the definition in some perfect world, I just think it doesn’t work when mortal, subjective man tries to do it, especially in our era when it all eventually comes out anyway. Sort of reminds me of R’ Aharon Lichtenstein on Daat Torah – there’s just no one around who can give it,

  • Rav Asher Weiss-lechem mishneh
    What is the source of the requirement for lechem mishna (2 loafs on Shabbat)? Is it related to the bracha of hamotzi or to the seudah (meal) or to the breakup of the challah? Why do we cover the challah? Is it related to showing the meal is for Shabbat or to remind us about the maan or related to the order of the brachot (wine vs. bread) or not embarrassing the challah? There are practical differences depending on the reason. (Me – assuming the reasons are prescriptive, not descriptive.)

    Interesting points – 1) there is no chmar medinah (national drink) today according to R’Weiss; 2) stick to “traditional” segulot for Parnassa [i.e. those mentioned in Talmud] but realize they are to make you realize all is in HKB”H’s hands. Some interesting remarks as to the amount of hishtadlut (effort) required of us. Does not mention the segulah of getting an education so you are employable.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Kriyas Hatorah 139-3

    Rules regarding barchu and birchat hatorah before and after receiving an Aliya. Requirement to hold on to sefer Torah while you are getting an aliyah. The reason for these brachot is kavod hatorah (respect for the Torah) – must be so since you already made this bracha earlier in the morning.

  • Rabbi Norman Lamm -Hakarat Hatov in Halacha and Jewish Thought

    Differences in halachic application depending on whether you view birchat hagomel as primarily a prayer or a replacement for sacrifice.

    There are three kinds of hakarat hatov (gratitude) – 1) social (just words); 2) rational (indebtedness leads to action); 3) confessional (all I’ve accomplished is due to you).

    Why don’t YU alumni feel more gratitude towards YU?? (me – try setting up some focus groups to find out).

  • Rav Nissan Kaplan-blood spots in eggs

    Review of halachot related to blood spot in eggs. The red could be caused by a number of different sources. There’s plenty of room to say checking is not required today (especially given industrial egg production techniques). But R’Moshe said to follow the tradition and check due to maarit ayin (how it looks) since it’s not a large loss.

    Money quotes – “not saying that the poskim were someich on the mtzius” and “we have to asser it even though it doesn’t make any sense”.

  • Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner -Medical Ethics: Rationing End-of-Life Care

    Round up all the usual resource allocation/priorities suspects (redeeming captives, short term vs. long term life saving, duty to save, R’Moshe on first come, first served).

    R’MT’s concern is that rationing may put pressure on individual’s to cease care and relieve pressure on society for better answers. [Me – there will always be some form of rationing/resource allocation both short and long term. The real question is who makes the decisions.]

  • Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff -A conversation with Rabbi Daniel Korobkin

    There have been a lot of changes in American Jewry over the years. Key issue is how to transmit the romance of Judaism.

  • Rabbi Michael Taubes -Parshas Naso Standing for Bircas Kohanim

    Sources of practice to stand during birchat Cohanim and implications for the importance of such a requirement. Level of participants’ concentration is key issue.

  • Rabbi Ari Kahn -Is not in the spirit of shabbat a real thing?

    Review of the general Torah requirement to have a “feeling of the day” (“lishbot”) on Shabbat. Does it apply to individual actions or in the aggregate? Application will be subjective by time and place. General question will be does a particular circumstance add or subtract from Shabbat experience.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Leaving Eretz Yisrael

    Is there a prohibition to leave Israel? If there is, what is it based on? The source will inform on scope and exceptions. (Me – whether there is or not, how one feels on leaving probably informs on their macro halachic heart development.)

  • Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank -Hechsher Keilim Part 1

    Detailed review of sources of rules for hechsher keilim and specific applications (e.g. libbun).

  • Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich -The obligation to feed one’s children

    Technical analysis of source of the requirement of providing sustenance for one’s children in specific circumstances.

  • Rabbi Joel Finkelstein -Readings in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    Brief bio of R’YBS and nice selection of readings.

  • Rabbi Ya’akov Trump -Right of Waiver: Eulogies, Aveilus and Burial

    It’s all really about the dead person, but sometimes we ignore their desires for “halachic reasons”.

  • Rabbi Moshe Taragin -Thursday Night Mussar @ the Gush : A World of Crumbling Rabbinic Authority

    The appointment of Sanhedrin was to increase Moshe’s prestige. Gush leadership has always been substantive, not ego based (me – see latest Jewish Action article on rabbinic leadership). The challenge of the decrease in respect for Rabbinic authority is it can reduce respect for the oral law. We all need connectors to the mesorah. [As a sidepoint, I still don’t agree with the statement, “don’t judge Judaism by Jews”; at least in the aggregate.]

  • Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein-Shloshim Program

    The loss of a husband is truly felt most by the wife. Moving description of R’Aharon ZT”L, especially about the centrality of Torah and being a player in Jewish history.

  • Rav Mordechai Friedman-Topics in Practical Halakha #18, Ma’aser Kesafim

    The dispute over the source of the practice of maaser kesafim (tithing $) impacts the practical applications (e.g. which income is it applied to?, what can it be spent on?). Some interesting practical psak concerning a “requirement” that 51% go to impoverished, as well as the effect of inflation and “rollovers” of profits. [I still don’t get how 10% of income really works since there’s a discontinuity – for example, your income is $10,000 and you need $10,000 to feed your family, what is your maaser kesafim?]

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Kriyas Hatorah 140-1

    If you switched horses in the middle of an aliya or there was an interruption in the middle of an aliya, do you need a new bracha? Rules when the reader shows the oleh the wrong spot for the reading.

  • Rabbi Noah Gardenswartz -בענין חזרת רשע לכשרות

    Very technical discussion concerning reinstatement of status as an acceptable witness after being disqualified due to being a rasha (evil doer). Can repentance overcome a conviction? Is punishment alone sufficient? Is the concern one of lack of credibility or just divine command?

  • Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein -# 40; Can a Rabbi be publicly more Stringent than his own community?

    A Rabbi being more stringent than the community can be perceived as haughty. It’s a bad idea.

  • Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosensweig-Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l – Shloshim: Jewish Center

    Reflections on R’Lichtenstein’s extraordinary range in Torah, hashkafa and midot.

  • Rabbi Ezra Schwartz -Lifnei Iver: Bad advice

    Looking at (yes, that was an attempt at humor) lfnei Iver – differentiating between ben and non-ben brit and between bad advice and actual transgression. BTW, the bad advice prohibition is not found in the Talmud.

  • Dovid Zirkind -Consumer Ethics Part 5: The Ethics of Tenant Sublets

    What is the halachic status of a sublet apartment? (i.e. who gets the excess profit) Does Halacha make a presumption as to the nature of the lease agreement? Does secular law control? Is work from home a “zeh neheneh vzeh lo chaseir”? (anyone remember the Edgeworth-Bowley box?) Who makes such a determination based on whose analysis?

    [Me – just because you have the legal right doesn’t make it morally right. (I know there are those who would disagree.)]

  • Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner -Issues in Shemitah: Aiding in Sin, Part 1

    Conditions under which lifnei Iver (placing a stumbling block in front of the blind) and/or mesayea (assisting) in a transgression might or might not apply.

  • Rabbi David Hirsch -Kinyanim and Hakaras Hatov

    Technical discussion of kinyanim (acts of acquisition). Kinyan sudar is the only one that works for both land (karka) and movables (mitaltilin). Then some remarks on hakarat hatov.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Kriyas Hatorah 141-1

    Should stand when getting aliyot or leining. Certainly don’t lean on the shulchan cover, since it is an object related to the mitzvah. The oleh should read along softly.

  • Rabbi Aharon Adler -The Rav on Bereisheet: The Beginning of the 2nd Generation of the Avot

    Yitzchak was responsible for picking a wife but Avraham was responsible for making sure the “Sarah” role was filled.

  • Rabbi Azarya Berzon -Aggadeta for Masechet Berachot 9b: יהיו לרצון as an introduction or as a post-script

    “Hashem Tzuri V’goali” could go before shmone esrai (as in requirement of someich geula l’tfila) or after (as in reflecting the mindset of taking aspirational prayer into real life).

    Lesson of Bruriah/yitamu chataim min haaretz gemara (per R’Kook) is never give up!

  • Rav Nissan Kaplan-Behaloscha

  • TITLE 18

    “A man’s reach (in mitzvoth) should always exceed his grasp else what’s a heaven for” (OK – that’s my summary, not R’Kaplan’s).

    You have to jump into the fire if you want success. Kids must feel their father cares.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Kriyas Hatorah 141-2

    Number of people needed at bimah and how long to stay up there during leining. Answering amen to the oleh’s bracha (especially b’al koreih – don’t be late!). Two brothers getting consecutive aliyot rules.

  • Star K-Travel Kosher 2015

    Extensive discussion of travel related issues including kashrut (branded food preparation systems (no), cold cereal (yes if identifiable), unflavored coffee (yes), Starbucks coffee (yes, but…), fish heated in tin foil (yes, but bishul akum), cut fruit (no, but maybe if a lot, ok), microwave/stovetop (you can kasher), storing meat in hotel fridge (yes, if identifiable), airplane hechsherim) and technology (all the automatic sensor and card key issues [me – the tipping point is fast approaching]).

Please direct any informal comments to

]]> 0
Daily Reyd Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:08:36 +0000
R Gordimer: Open Orthodoxy: Confusing Form with Substance
Orthodox Jewish groups brace for consequences of gay-marriage ruling
Jerusalem family finds 2,000-year-old ritual bath under living room
R Hoffman: The Second Wedding
Beneath the Fedora: A Day in the Life of a Chabad ‘Yeshivah Bochur’

]]> 3