Torah Musings Tue, 01 Sep 2015 13:47:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Star Spangled Banner Tue, 01 Sep 2015 13:45:54 +0000 American flag flying in the windR. Avi Stewart singing yesterday at Dodger’s Stadium

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Daily Reyd Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:44:08 +0000
what could be wrong with… ? – Part I – Kosher
▪ The most challenging experience in the Orthodox community is life as a single: The Dating Shame: Orthodox Obsession With Externals Has Reached Epidemic Proportions
▪ A critique and response by the author: וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ; On Changing the Immutable by Marc B. Shapiro
▪ Maharat refers to God as Her: Reframing God as Judge
How to learn Hebrew – 100 years ago
▪ Based on an essay by Dr. Eugene Korn: The Most Objectionable Part of the Bible
▪ Many parallels to the rabbinate: The One Percent: Why So Few Evangelical Pastors Quit A ‘Brutal Job’
▪ I don’t know what to make of this: Boulder Rabbi Ordained as Hebrew Priestess
▪ Surprising part is the author, a leading Agudist: A birthday tribute to Rav Kook
▪ On advertisements for high holiday services: Does Religion Need Glitz?

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Raise Your Right Hand Tue, 01 Sep 2015 01:30:11 +0000 imageby Dr. Erica Brown

“The Lord has sworn by His right hand.”
Isaiah 62:8

If you haven’t been in a courtroom, you’ve watched the scene dozens of times on television and in the movies. A judge calls the court to order and says to the person on the stand: “Please raise your right hand to take the oath” as a symbolic way of assuring that the expert witness, defendant or plaintiff is telling the truth. It is a statement of personal integrity that should ideally heighten the reverence for the law. Jewish writing on the subject often stresses what book the left hand is resting on rather than the significance of the right hand being raised.

Fun fact: According to NW Sidebar, a website for Washington DC’s lawyers and legal community, the raising of the right hand is attributed to 17th century London criminal courts. Judges could choose from a wide range of punishments when determining the fate of a criminal. The problem was that without a proper system of records to understand a criminal’s background, assessing a punishment – certainly one as severe as the death penalty – was itself a possible blurring of justice. To resolve this dilemma, some judges created an alternate moral problem. They branded criminals.

Sadly, it sounds just like what it is. As a leniency, a “T” may have been scorched onto a criminal’s skin for theft, an “F” for a felony and an “M” for murder. In other words, if you weren’t guilty of a capital crime, your body became your criminal record, specifically on the thumb of your right hand. Branding on the cheek, which used to be a practice, meant that a criminal’s record was open for all to see, often preventing a rehabilitated criminal from getting work. The thumb was a more sheltered place on the body. The next time you appeared in court, you were asked to raise your right hand to see if you had committed any previous crimes when you took an oath and if you were granted a leniency in an earlier case.

Thank goodness for computers.

This thesis is entirely credible until you read that as early as the Talmud – about 2,000 years ago – people took oaths with their right hands because this practice was mentioned in the Bible. “Isn’t ‘right’ an expression of an oath?” [BT Nazir 3b]. The Talmud then continues and asks what the connection is between the right hand and an oath and cites a verse from the book of Daniel: “When he lifted up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swore by Him that lives forever” [12:7]. The right hand is associated with taking an oath from this verse.

The Talmud then rejects this view and says that the right hand itself is an oath and cites yet a different proof-text from the book of Isaiah: “The Lord has sworn by His right hand” [62:8]. The Talmud also permits the use of the left hand for the taking of an oath. In other words, the critical act is the raising of the hand rather than the specific hand, according to a number of medieval commentators.

Historically, however, the right hand was always associated in the Bible and in many ancient cultures with strength because it was usually the preferred arm for use in military maneuvers. God’s strength is often referred to as coming from the right hand or arm. When Jacob places his right hand on his second grandson Ephraim (Genesis 48:14), he shows him preferential treatment as the strong one of Joseph’s sons and the natural one to inherit leadership. The right side was also regarded as a position of honor; the High Priest in the Temple always turned to the right first when encircling the altar.

This, no doubt, was a problem for lefties, who were often trained to become righties because left-handedness was associated with being weaker and even evil in some folkloric literature. My grandfather was left-handed but forced to write with his right hand to address this bias.

Perhaps the practice of swearing in court with the right hand predates 17th century England by more than a dozen centuries. If the right hand was associated with strength, leadership and honesty then swearing with the right hand was a way one announced personal commitment to the truth to those in the courtroom. And perhaps it was also a reminder to act justly before speaking to ensure that one’s words matched the might of one’s right hand.

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Daily Reyd Mon, 31 Aug 2015 12:28:30 +0000
Orthodox Belief in God and Faith Is Spreading — Got a Problem With That?
Is Modern Orthodoxy in America reached its breaking point?
▪ 80% in-marriage rates pretty impressive in the non-Orthodox world: New AEPi Study Attempts to Measure Organizational Impact On Jewish Identity
▪ Let’s remember that cross-dressing is biblically forbidden: Will increasing LGBT acceptance shift the tide for gay Jews too?
Agudath Israel End-of-Life Symposium Helps Attorneys with Life-Saving Work
▪ The mashgiach isn’t shomer Shabbos: Orthodox Dartmouth Students Demand Stricter Kosher Fare
A Christian-Zionist Revolution is Brewing in Britain

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What Does Masorah Mean? Mon, 31 Aug 2015 01:30:18 +0000 imageby R. Micha Berger


The word “masorah” is overloaded with too many meanings.

Literally, it’s “that which was passed on”. So logically, a common usage would make it synonymous with Oral Torah. And yet, it’s also used for the near opposite – we speak of the masoretic text, its vowels and its trope – the ultimate in the Bible, the Written Torah. And the collections of notes that describe this text are also called “masorah”. (So the masorah describes the masorah?!)

More along the lines of the direction in which I want to head, unlike talking about “Oral Torah” and thus focusing our attention on its Divine origins, when we speak of “masorah” we focus our attention on the chain of people. And so there is the usage of “masorah” to mean mimetic tradition, i.e. transmission by culture and example, that is often posed in contrast to the textual Oral Torah.

R. Dr. Haym Soloveitchik brought the word “mimeticism” into our community’s jargon with his widely discussed essay “Rupture and Reconstruction.”1 An example he provides of a “mimetic tradition” is knowing how much matzah constitutes a kezayis (olive’s volume) because you remember what your father and grandfather ate at the seder. Dr. Soloveitchik also considers this kind of cultural masorah2 a carrier of values and emotion. It is the loss of mimetic tradition that he blames for a loss of awe of the High Holidays and (in speech, not writing) for the loss of what his father, R. Joseph B. Solveitchik (“the Rav”), called the “Erev Shabbos Jew”:3

Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the ‘sanctity of Shabbat.’ True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat… But it is not for Shabbat that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten ‘erev Shabbat’…. There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbat’ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!”

We speak of someone “having a masorah” in two ways: both if they have a received practice and cultural tradition (as above) and if they have a known rebbe-talmid lineage. In both contexts, we’re talking about the importance of all that Torah that doesn’t fit into books.

We talk about a hands-on Jewish professional–such as a sofer, mohel, shocheit, etc.–also of “having a masorah” from the one who taught him the craft. Here too we are speaking of the kind of knowledge you need to learn with your senses and muscles, and not know from books discussing the topic in the abstract.

To pasken mar’os, a rav must also have a masorah on how to determine colors. It’s a skill, a craft, that is learned from practice under the guidance of a mentor. This training, the acquisition of a “masorah,” is usually called “shimush.”


For regular pesak too there is an element that is a craft, an art, a skill, the kind of thing one needs to learn from shimush, not by studying from texts.

Kara veshanah velo shimeish talmid chacham, harei zeh am ha’aretz….
If he read scripture and studied law, but did not serve a talmid chacham, such a person is an am haaretz (an ignorant peasant).
– Sotah 22a

This is why I like R. Dr. Moshe Koppel’s metaphor of laws of grammar for some usages rather than always comparing halakhah to civil law.4 The “First Language” model is much like Dr. Haym Soloveitchik’s mimeticism, but with key differences. Halachic rules are an approximation of something that is inherently more complex in kind than rules and algorithms. This is similar to the way grammar is only approximated by ever more complex rules which still never get a foreigner studying the language in class to the same feel for grammar that the native-speaker has. (And why the Oral Torah loses something when not actually kept oral.) So the English as a Second Language student may know what a past pluperfect is, and I don’t, but the native speaker is more likely to know what is valid poetic license and what will produce non-English results.

Similarly, a poseik needs to pick up that feel, and not only the formal rules. He needs the unstructured knowledge of halakhah.

Consider this rather poetic description of how the Rav experienced his shiur, entering the dialog of Torah through the ages as he joins his students in the classroom. Notice how he winds up by discussing this experience as “masorah”:5

The old Rebbe walks into the classroom crowded with students who are young enough to be his grandchildren. He enters as an old man with wrinkled face, his eyes reflecting the fatigue and sadness of old age. You have to be old to experience this sadness. It is the melancholy that results from an awareness of people and things which have disappeared and linger only in memory. I sit down; opposite me are rows of young beaming faces with clear eyes radiating the joy of being young. For a moment, the Rebbe is gripped with pessimism, with tremors of uncertainly. He asks himself: Can there be a dialogue between an old teacher and young students, between a Rebbe in his Indian summer and students enjoying the spring of their lives? The Rebbe starts his shiur, uncertain as to how it will proceed.

Suddenly the door opens and an old man, much older than the Rebbe, enters. He is the grandfather of the Rebbe, Reb Chaim Brisker. It would be most difficult to study Talmud with students who are trained in the sciences and mathematics, were it not for his method, which is very modern and equals, if not surpasses, most contemporary forms of logic, metaphysics or philosophy. The door opens again and another old man comes in. He is older than Reb Chaim, for he lived in the 17th century. His name is Reb Shabtai Cohen, known as the Shach, who must be present when civil law (dinai mamonot) is discussed. Many more visitors arrive, some from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, and others harking back to antiquity – Rabbeinu Tam, Rashi, Rambam, Raavad, Rashba, Rabbi Akiva and others. These scholarly giants of the past are bidden to take their seats. The Rebbe introduces the guests to his pupils, and the dialogue commences. The Rambam states a halacha; the Raavad disagrees sharply, as is his wont. Some students interrupt to defend the Rambam, and they express themselves harshly against the Raavad, as young people are apt to do. The Rebbe softly corrects the students and suggest more restrained tones. The Rashba smiles gently. The Rebbe tries to analyze what the students meant, and other students intercede. Rabeinu Tam is called upon to express his opinion, and suddenly, a symposium of generations comes into existence. Young students debate earlier generations with an air of daring familiarity, and a crescendo of discussion ensues.

All speak one language; all pursue one goal; all are committed to a common vision; and all operate with the same categories. A Mesorah collegiality is achieved, a friendship, a comradeship of old and young, spanning antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times. This joining of the generations, this march of centuries, this dialogue and conversation between antiquity and the present will finally bring about the redemption of the Jewish people.

After a two or three hour shiur, the Rebbe emerges from the chamber young and rejuvenated. He has defeated age. The students look exhausted. In the Mesorah experience, years play no role. Hands, however parchment-dry and wrinkled, embrace warm and supple hands in commonality, bridging the gap with separates the generations. Thus, the “old ones” of the past continue their great dialogue of the generations, ensuring an enduring commitment to the Mesorah.

So there is a community of baalei masorah who carry a mimetic tradition of how to pasken, a tradition of informal knowledge that cannot be codified into books and that creates a feel and emotional consequence. This is the Rav’s usual usage of the word “masorah”.

No better or worse than any of the other usages, but more relevant to two of the conversations currently taking place in our community.


One of the central points in the discussion of feminism and Torah is Rav Herschel Schachter’s use of the word “masorah”. In an article in Jewish Action, Rav Schachter provides his definition of the word. He opens:6

What is Mesorah?

Mesorah is not primarily a corpus of knowledge to master but a process of accessing a chain of student-teacher relationships that reaches back to Sinai. Moshe received the Torah and transmitted it to his student, Yehoshua, who in turn taught it to his students and so on, continuing through today. The nature of transmission of the mesorah is instruction from a rebbe to his student. We connect to the mesorah, to the sacred structure of laws, beliefs and attitudes, through our teachers.

Firmly in line with what we’ve seen from his rebbe, the Rav, masorah is used in the sense of the chain of transmission through time that conveys the art and culture of halakhic decision-making and Torah as a whole.

A bit further in the article, Rav Schachter discusses “Who Is Authorized to Institute Change?” (emphasis mine):

Changes in practice require delicate evaluations that only a master Torah scholar, a gadol baTorah, can properly conduct. Only someone with a broad knowledge and a deep understanding of the corpus of halachah, with an intimate familiarity with both the letter and the spirit of the law, with a mastery of both the rules and the attitudes of the mesorah, can determine when a change is acceptable or even required. The more wide-reaching the proposed change, the greater the expertise required to approve it. The evaluator must not only be a master of the mesorah, but he must also be able to consider new practices based solely on values internal to the mesorah, removing external influences from the deliberation.

Rav Schachter then applies this topic to feminism itself in a teshuvah:

Indeed, the Rav would often say (see drasha to Parshas Korach), that every person must recognize that he needs a Rav or a Rebbe. Even a Talmid Chochom whose Rebbe had passed away must constantly ask himself in truth (when they present questions to him) what his Rebbe would have said in such a scase, and what stance he would have taken….

The expression that some of those who have permitted this utilize that according to the technical halacha a certain act is permitted, and that which people wish to prohibit it is because of political considerations is incorrect. For even a matter such as changing the mesorah the traditions of the Jewish people is in and of itself an integral section of halacha. When one rules on the donning of Tefillin for women it is not enough to merely examine the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in Hilchos Tefillin and in the sources there and treat it as a simple question.7

The version of masorah in the Rav’s usage is the same concept Rav Schachter invokes to reject an attitude of “but it can be fit to the technical halakhah so your objection is merely political”. Change must conform to masorah to be valid, even if the textualists are satisfied.

This is not an invocation of “daas Torah,” because we’re talking about questions of Torah, not politics or other subjects; we are invoking Torah knowledge, if cultural and informal rather than book knowledge, and not invoking any metaphysical or mystical power; and because we do not expect a single correct answer that “all the gedolim hold.”

But it still makes halachic decision-making when it comes to significant change subject to the skill of a few. The rest of us are forced to submit to the understanding of subject matter experts.


A second instance in which the topic of masorah recently entered discourse was when Rabbi Gil Student recently quoted on these “pages” the Rav’s description of the tragic loss of Germany as a Torah center in the Crusades. To the Rav, it was a blow to the masorah:

Our Torah shebe’al peh is based on Rashi and the Tosafists. If Jewish history had not included Maimonides, the Jewish world would have missed a great deal. Maimonides enriched our thinking and world view tremendously, but the Torah shebeal peh would have survived without him. However, without Rashi and the Tosafists, there would not have been any mesora, any chain of tradition; we could not teach Torah shebe’al peh today. Take as a simple example, the Jerusalem Talmud. Many Rishonim, the early Medieval scholars, speak about the Jerusalem Talmud, and certain parts were interpreted and explained, but without commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists, it is a sealed book…8

The Rav identifies masorah as the ineffable skill to think like a poseik. Masorah is a skill obtained from those who explain how the prior generations developed the law, how the community down the ages conversed about the law, from living in a culture of mimeticism.

We saw the Gemara’s low opinion of someone who learns Torah without shimush. A little further in that discussion, we find the following surprising exchange:

Tanna: Hatannaim (those who repeat codified law) are destroyers of the world.

Could you really believe [they] are “destroyers of the world”?

Ravina said: For they are moreh halakhah (interpret the law) from their repetition of the law.

There is a a beraisa like this: R’ Yehoshua said, “And are they ‘destroyers of the world? Aren’t they settlers of the world, as it says ‘halikhos olam lo – the goings [“halakhah”] of old are his.’?9
Rather, because they are moreh halakhah from their repetition of the law.10

You can’t pasken from codes, from legal knowledge. It takes knowledge of how the codes reached their conclusion – both textual knowledge obtained from commentaries, and the skill to pasken. The latter is obtained with shimush.

Mimeticism transmits the values we were given at Sinai. Without a deep connection to the Sinai culture, we can never be sure whether our rulings are driven by Torah values, natural morality, or a moral code absorbed from the surrounding society.

Advances in technology and developments in society can cause changes in practice. Such changes can alter the circumstances in some subtle way such that the previous ruling does not apply, both in physical ways and in subtle changes in the people about whom the poseik is ruling. And so the Rav questioned the appropriateness of reciting a blessing on Shabbos candles when the electric lights are already on. Similarly, he ruled in the 1950s that a woman aiming for a bachelor’s or higher degree was in a different enough situation for precedent rulings about teaching gemara to females not to apply.

Without masorah, the poseik has no way of determining which solutions to new problems are in concert with the spirit of previous rulings. Halakhah is not frozen; it does not have inertia, but it does have momentum. Apprenticeship, training under a master, transmits the feel for where the halakhah has historically been taken. Following reasoning found in a minority ruling is appropriate only when one is motivated by the Torah’s own principles. The person who speaks halakhah as a first language knows when an innovative change is within “poetic license”, and when the result simply violates the Torah’s “grammar.”

As R. Yochanan quotes in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “gedolah shimushah shel Torah yoseir meilimudah – the apprenticeship of Torah is greater than its study”.11

  1. Available at 

  2. Interjecting my own wording. 

  3. On Repentance, pp. 97-98 

  4. More as per his book Metahalakhah than in the essay in Azure, “Judaism as a First Language”, available at http: // 

  5. Reflections of the Rav, vol II, pp. 21b-23. Original language is in: R’ Aharon Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s The Rav vol. II, pp 186-189. See also UVikashtem miSham 10:1, pp. 63-65 (tr. The Rav, vol. I, pp. 247-250). There the Rav shares childhood memories of listening to his father defend his hero, the Rambam, against all attackers. There too he describes this inter-generational discussion as “the masorah”. 

  6. “Preserving our Mesorah, a Symposium”, Jewish Action, Fall 2010, available at https: //

  7. Translation from Yeshiva World News http: //, although I find the title they put on the article inappropriate to the dignity of the content. 

  8. Kinos Mesorat haRav, kinah #42, quoted by Rabbi Student on these “pages” in his post “Who Was Greater Than Rambam?” at http: //

  9. Chavakuk 3:6 

  10. Sotah 22a 

  11. Berakhos 7b 

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Daily Reyd Fri, 28 Aug 2015 12:24:15 +0000
Musings on Torah, and the Issues of Our Time
R Turk: Modern Orthodox Halacha?
R Wieder: Re-Evaluating Talmud Torah for Women?
R Gordimer: Down the Rhetoric, Clarifying the Obscure
R Oppenheimer: Homosexuality and the Torah Community
The History and Dating of Onkelos
▪ Estimated attrition rate for American Charedim of 20-25%: The American Jewish future: More Shmuley Boteach than Woody Allen?
▪ On the faithless: Apostate
Does belief in God enhance gratitude? Here’s what psychology suggests(h/t FT)
▪ Struggling with some of the issues discussed recently by R Yitzchak Breitowitz: My Pastor is on the Ashley Madison List

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Picture of a Woman Fri, 28 Aug 2015 02:28:35 +0000 imageI once asked Rav Hershel Schachter whether there is any halakhic concern with publishing a picture of a woman who is dressed modestly. He said there is not and that it is permissible.

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Extraordinary Health Situations Fri, 28 Aug 2015 01:30:10 +0000
Stethoscope on a printed sheet of paper

Stethoscope on a printed sheet of paper

by R. Gidon Rothstein

12 Elul: Tzitz Eliezer on Extraordinary Health Situations

On the twelfth of Elul, 5751 (1991), Tzitz Eliezer 19;53 wrote to Rabbi Dr. Avraham S. Avraham with comments on the latter’s recent fourth—and final, so far– volume of Nishmat Avraham, his work on medical halachah. Tzitz Eliezer calls it a מכתב הערכה, a letter of admiration, and ends his opening greeting by saying לחובת הקודש אכתוב לו קצת דברי תורה לענינים שדן בספרו המהולל, out of sanctified obligation [note: that’s how it is in the printed version; but חיבת הקודש, fondness for what’s sanctified, is a much more common phrase in Rabbinic literature, and I wonder whether that’s what he wrote, and it was then misread in the typesetting], I will write a few words of Torah on matters taken up in this praiseworthy volume.

I point it out because he is going to disagree with the author on several points, yet thinks he’s honoring the sefer by writing. And he is. Because in Jewish tradition, to engage with another’s ideas, and to try to push that conversation ever closer to truth, is a high compliment, even if it means that the writer is disagreeing. It is the highest respect to join with another inמלחמתה של תורה, the battle to work towards the fullest truth of Torah.

Does Childbirth Necessitate HaGomel?

Dr. Avraham (Orach Chayyim 219 in that volume of Nishmat Avraham) had quoted Matteh Levi (a commentary on Siddur) to the effect that a woman who gives birth need not say HaGomel for having survived a dangerous situation. Childbirth cannot be inherently dangerous, since it’s necessary to the continued population of the world, and God would not have commanded something dangerous. It’s an odd claim, since many, many women have died in childbirth in history– even today, in parts of Africa, more than one in 30 women die because of childbirth, and the global rate is one in 390, down from 1 in 210 in the last 25 years.

But Matteh Levi thought that was perhaps why Shulchan Aruch didn’t mention HaGomel in this connection, leading R. Dr. Avraham to suggest that an adult man who had a circumcision (a convert, for example, or someone not circumcised as a child), would also not need to recite it.

Childbirth Is Dangerous

Tzitz Eliezer disagrees with the premise. He notes that the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch record various leniencies for women in childbirth (such as the right to violate Shabbat to take care of her, and that such a woman is exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur). While it’s true that there can’t be danger in every childbirth, since the world needs to be populated, there can be danger often enough that it would constitute, in general, a dangerous situation.

This line isn’t fully clear to me, but I think he meant that even if 1 in 7 women died—a horrific rate; even in early nineteenth century Europe, the rate seems to have been no more than 1 in 20—it still means that many more women lived than died. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous, doesn’t mean it’s not worth a HaGomel, but it does mean that Matteh Levi’s challenge is less pressing. Perhaps Hashem did ordain something that was both dangerous and necessary.

Supporting that view, Shabbat 32a says that a woman’s sins are recalled at the moment of her giving birth, a Mishnah there mentions three sins that lead to death in childbirth, and Shevu’ot 8a (as well as Niddah 31b) picture women in the throes of childbirth as taking oaths they should not have. Tzitz Eliezer thinks that all shows this to be an experience that justifies HaGomel.

In Shulchan Aruch? Do We Rule That Way?

To counter Matteh Levi’s claim that Shulchan Aruch didn’t mention HaGomel for a women who gave birth, Tzitz Eliezer notes that R. Yosef Karo had addressed that in his Beit Yosef, his long commentary on Tur. There, his question had been whether it’s improper for a husband to make the blessing on behalf of his wife, since nothing had actually happened to him.

Beit Yosef thinks it’s fine, leading R. Waldenberg to two conclusions. First, that Beit Yosef is taking for granted that she could have made the blessing; his problem was only whether the husband can do it for her. Second, that once R. Karo dealt with that, he didn’t need to specify it in Shulchan Aruch, since she now falls under the category of those saved from danger.

Later authorities concurred, including Mishnah Berurah 219;17, who rules that a husband can make the blessing for his wife (not so long ago, women did not choose to go to shul to make this blessing, so husbands did it for them). Finally, Tzitz Eliezer notes a report of someone asking R. Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (the co-founder of the Eidah haChareidis in Jerusalem, so no feminist) whether a woman should wait a full month after giving birth before reciting the blessing, and he ruled that a week later was already enough time to be sure she had come through without major complications. But did not question the propriety of making the bracha.

A Newly Circumcised Adult

What’s true of the woman applies to the man circumcised as an adult. For all that he’s required to do this, if it produces enough illness to qualify as being among those who took ill and were healed—the category in Shulchan Aruch—he has to thank God. Tzitz Eliezer notes a debate between Shulchan Aruch and Rema as to whether this is only for internal or external injuries, but assumes that Rema would agree here that if he had to take to his bed to recover, that’s enough danger to justify the bracha.

The reason the Gemara and halacha assume that a bedridden person has to thank Hashem for being healed, Shulchan Aruch notes, is that an illness that causes a person to take to bed opens a judgment in Heaven. It is not that this illness is or is not fatal, it’s that a time of danger always raises the specter of being judged and found wanting. Recovery from such an illness leads to thanks that we were given more time to live productive lives, to improve our standing in Heaven.

As a closing note on this, Tzitz Eliezer points out Chida, a couple of hundred years ago, asked Chazon Nachum (a giant of his generation) the broader question, of whether performing a mitzvah always means there shouldn’t be an HaGomel, since people performing mitzvot are supposed to be protected from danger. Chazon Nachum rejected the idea completely. Whenever danger is survived, HaGomel is appropriate.

Choosing Food for Someone Who’s Ill

People who are ill sometimes need to act contrary to ordinary halachah for the sake of their health, but we generally try to minimize the extent. For example, if a person could eat non kosher food or chametz on Pesach, with equal positive effect on his or her health, we prefer the non kosher, since that violates a lesser prohibition than the chametz.

In Orach Chayyim 618;3, Rabbi Dr. Avraham had quoted Or Sameach to Laws of Prohibited Foods 14;14, who suggested that that’s only true for those giving food to a sick person. The patient him or herself did not need to distinguish when picking foods. For Or Sameach, this was the same as the rule that we use the minimal force necessary when stopping someone chasing another person to kill him or her. The potential victim, however, would not need to do so.

Tzitz Eliezer disagrees. First, he notes that Or Sameach himself noted a baraita in Yoma that required someone bitten by a snake to tithe food before eating it, sounding like that person, as well, had to minimize the prohibitions ignored. Too, he found another author who disagreed with Or Sameach, R. Eliezer Zussman Sofer, in a book called Sefer haMakneh. Before we see what he had said, note this, as an example of the remarkable library to which Tzitz Eliezer had access (as did his younger contemporary, R. Ovadya Yosef z”l). It’s not only that he knew a great deal, but that he had seen and absorbed books that others never heard of or knew.

In any case, R. Sofer thought it obvious that the ill person would have to take care as to which prohibitions s/he put aside, but others, who are only putting aside the issue of lifnei iver, of placing a stumbling block before a fellow Jew, might be doing the same act of lifnei iver with any food, regardless of the prohibition attached to that food. It is only because we might have thought they need not worry about this that the Gemara tells us that even lifnei iver is pushed aside only at the necessary level; to give the patient food prohibited at a more serious level when there’s less prohibited food available would constitute lifnei iver.

Donating a Deceased Person’s Kidneys for Money

Tzitz Eliezer digresses to an analysis of lifnei iver, which I don’t have the space for here. I will only say that the basic question is whether it is a separate prohibition, in which case there is room to say there’s no difference between greater and lesser transgressions, or whether it’s an adjunct to each prohibition, in which case lifnei iver of a lesser prohibition is itself lesser as well.

For another time. Because the last point Tzitz Eliezer makes is about Choshen Mishpat 420;31, which prohibits taking compensation for a deceased relative’s kidney’s. Nishmat Avraham reasoned that we can take the kidney from the deceased to save a life, but that it falls under the general prohibition of benefitting from corpses. He adds that those in all stages of the funeral business are only allowed to make money because they are doing that which the relatives would have had to do; they are being paid for freeing the relatives of the need to do it).

But Nishmat Avraham, with the concurrence of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l, had added that if the money was needed for the medical care of another relative, it would be allowed.

If we’re talking about transplantation from someone who’s truly deceased—Tzitz Eliezer pauses to record his objections to counting brain death for these purposes, as well as the question of whether kidney transplantation itself is a valid halachic need, topics he’s dealt with elsewhere, and that we’ll leave for another time—he thinks it’s actually permissible to take money for this. He points to earlier authorities, R. Meir Arik and Maharam Schick, who ruled that if it’s a mitzvah to do something, taking money for doing it is no longer considered benefitting from the deceased (Maharam Schick’s case was taking money to pronounce a person deceased).

Since the Jew has to fulfill the mitzvah anyway, the money can be seen as a different issue (by that logic, if the recipient refuses to pay, the donor family would have to donate the deceased’s kidney anyway; in practice, there would probably always be someone willing to pay, so that wouldn’t come up. Tzitz Eliezer does not mention any of this).

He then adds another way to make it clearly acceptable to take money for these kidneys—have the payment come only after the successful transplantation. At that point, the kidney no longer belongs to the deceased, they are the new kidneys of the recipient(s), and from those, Tzitz Eliezer assumes, there’s no prohibition of taking benefit.

He closes by saying that that last was לרווחא דמלתא, additional fuel for his claim that the payment is ok.  Fundamentally, though, he thinks it’s ok, because it’s not for the kidneys themselves—to donate those would be obligatory for other reasons—and therefore not a case of benefitting from prohibited items.

Money for organ donation is a complex topic in our times, but Tzitz Eliezer didn’t venture into it at all. For him, at that point, it was a simple question of whether the family is improperly benefitting from a corpse, and to that, the answer was no.

All part of Tzitz Eliezer’s sense of his obligation or love of the sanctity in Nishmat Avraham, which stimulated his continuing the Torah conversation onward.

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Teachers of the World Thu, 27 Aug 2015 23:30:14 +0000 Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

According to Rav Soloveitchik, Chazal [Our Sages] speak about Matan Torah [Giving of the Torah] in the halachic terms of marriage, because there is a covenant binding our people with HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu, the same way there is a covenant binding husband and wife. The only difference is that the covenant between husband and wife is an intimate event the Matan Torah event was a great event of international, and even of cosmic proportions.

The Gemara Shabbat [88a] states that the entire world would have returned to “TOHU VA’VOHU” nothingness, if the Jewish people had not accepted the Torah. Similarly, the Midrash Shemot Rabba [29:9] says that the entire world stopped, was quiet, and was able to hear the first commandment “Anochi HaShem…”. Furthermore, Chazal tell us [Zevachim 116a] that when the Torah was given, the entire world heard the noise and trembled. They asked Bilam what the noise was all about, saying, “Perhaps G-d is bringing another Mabul upon the world? Bilam responded that it was not destruction coming to the world, rather, G-d had a precious gift hidden away for a thousand generations, and G-d was now giving that gift-the Torah, to His children.

At the time of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, but prior to Matan Torah, the Jewish people were a great nation. As we read in Devarim [26:5]. “Va’yehi Sham LeGoy Gadol”. But as a result of Matan Torah we became not only a great nation, but a holy nation. At that point we became a “Mamlechet Kohanim veGoy Kaddosh”, “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation” [Shemot 19:6]. Rav Soloveitchik believed that the purpose of elevating our people to the exalted position of Mamlechet Kohanim veGoy Kaddosh had a universal aspect. We were charged with the mission and task of passing on the Torah to the entire world. When will this mission become a reality? We don’t know, it might be very slow in coming, but we know, it will happen.

That is what we express in our daily Tefillah of Aleinu. In it, we find the idea that Matan Torah was the beginning; that it was given to us exclusively, but just for a limited time. When the Messianic era will begin, the Torah, that is, the written Torah will be transformed to the entire mankind, and it will be accepted by all. [Yerushalmi Avoda Zara 2:1]. In that tefillah we pray, that this vision, this promise, should be fulfilled and realized, as soon as possible. The Aleinu originally comes from the section of Malchuyot of Rosh HaShana, where we state that every living creature will serve G-d.

The Torah at present is the exclusive possession of Knesset Yisrael. We pray for the day when the Torah will be passed on to the entire world, to all mankind. That is the reason why the Torah was originally given amongst thunder and noise, [Shemot 19:16], so that the entire world heard and felt the emotional experience of Matan Torah. But until that day arrives it is our responsibility to strengthen ourselves, by studying the Torah she’bich’tav, as well as Torah she’b’alpeh, for we will be the future teachers to the world.

[Source: Rabbi David Holzer]

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Daily Reyd Thu, 27 Aug 2015 12:52:10 +0000
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