Torah Musings Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:04:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Daily Reyd Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:03:47 +0000
R Aviner: How to do your Pesach Cleaning Cheerfully in Less than One Day
Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Slams Attempts to Lift Kitniot Ban
Kol Hamevaser 8.3: Jewish Community: Models and Ideals
On Conversion to Judaism, by Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz
R Hoffman: Lying About Zionism – An Analysis
▪ From the OU: Curious about Kitniyot?
OU Kosher’s Top Consumer Questions for Passover 2015
Liberty, Freedom and Jerusalem: Lincoln’s 150th yahrtzeit
▪ Different ways to protect religious rights: Revisiting Evangelicals’ Favorite Same-Sex Marriage Laws
▪ I believe this is about the founder of Frumteens: At Last I Met My Rabbi

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Fat, Tails and Intellectual Limits Tue, 31 Mar 2015 01:30:31 +0000 intellectby R. Gil Student

In successfully defending rabbinic Judaism to a Karaite, R. Avraham Ibn Ezra makes an astonishing claim that actually undermines his entire argument. However, properly understood, his point is profound and still relevant nearly a thousand years later.

I. Fat and Tails

Karaites believe that the Torah forbids eating an animal’s tail. Their source is Lev. 3:9, in which the tail (alyah) is called fat (cheilev, which is distinct from shuman, permissible fat). Lev. 7:25 forbids eating fat, even punishing it with excision (kareis). Since the tail is considered fat, it too is forbidden.

However, the rabbinic tradition permits eating the tail. R. Sa’adia Gaon (Tafsir, 3:9) renders the verse regarding the tail as referring to two items–fat and the tail. By distinguishing between the two, he defuses the Karaite proof. However, his translation is grammatically questionable, as Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) points out.

Ibn Ezra (Lev. 7:25) tells how a Karaite confronted him about the lenient rabbinic position on eating the tail. Ibn Ezra responded by pointing out that the verse forbidding fat only refers to sacrifices. Outside the context of sacrificies, the Torah actually permits eating fat, and even moreso the tail! The Karaite was overwhelmed and conceded that he cannot rely on his own biblical interpretations and must instead follow the rabbinic traditions.

II. Undermining Tradition

Ramban (Lev. 3:9, 7:25) points out the absurdity of Ibn Ezra’s argument. Ramban follows the halakhic midrashim in identifying fat in the back of the tail as forbidden, rather than equating the tail with fat. He also reads Lev. 7:25 as forbidding the fat of animals that can be sacrificed, i.e. those species that are allowed on the altar, and not just those specific animals that are sacrificed. This is the position of rabbinic tradition. By arguing that the fat of animals slaughtered for non-sacrificial purposes is permitted, Ibn Ezra deviated from the very tradition of which he was trying to convince the Karaite!

Commentators throughout the years have struggled to understand the Ibn Ezra. R. Ya’akov Tzvi Mecklenburg, in his Ha-Kesav Ve-Ha-Kabbalah (Lev. 7:25), suggests that Ibn Ezra must have had a mistaken disciple who inserted this in his distinguished mentor’s commentary.1 R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson (Divrei Shaul, Lev. 7:25) proposes that Ibn Ezra was arguing le-shitaso, according to the Karaite methodology. He was saying to the Karaite that if you are only going to accept the straightforward meaning of the text, then you are still wrong.

III. Intellectual Limits

I see R. Nathanson’s explanation as an argument about the limitations of human understanding. The Karaite was arguing that biblical interpretation requires only text and human logic. We must apply our reasoning, without any tradition, to best understand the Torah. Ibn Ezra argued that human reason has its limits. Sometimes we lack the evidence to reach a conclusion. Other times, we can make mistakes or reach any of a number of possible conclusions, meaning no conclusive resolution. If we limit our tools to the evidence before us and our own understanding, we may be missing the complete picture. Rather, we must use tradition to decipher the otherwise ambiguous and often obscure text.

I later found that R. David Tzvi Hoffmann (Lev. 3:17) understands Ibn Ezra similarly. He points to another of Ibn Ezra’s anti-Karaite polemics as proof. The Karaites famously understand Ex. 35:3 as meaning that we may not have any fire in our homes on Shabbos, not just that we may not kindle fires. Therefore, they extinguish all flames before Shabbos. Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) writes about a debate he had with a Karaite. He argues that the verse only forbids fires on the “day” of Shabbos, and the biblical day begins with the morning. On this last point, Ibn Ezra adduces many proofs. If so, Karaites should permit fires on the evening of Shabbos.

Ibn Ezra could not have meant that he believes that the biblical day begins with the morning. In another work, he writes about this view that: “God should avenge the Sabbath from one who believes this disturbing interpretation. The tongue of one who reads it aloud should cleave to his palate. Also the arm of the scribe who writes this commentary to Scripture should wither and his right eye weaken” (The Sabbath Epistle, tr. Mordechai S. Goodman, p. 4). Rather, Ibn Ezra must have been arguing about the limits of independent understanding of the Bible. As Ibn Ezra wrote (Ex. 35:3): “I only mentioned this because an understanding person can interpret Scripture in many ways. Therefore, regarding all commandments, we need a tradition and Oral Torah.”

  1. See also Torah Shelemah, Lev. 7 n. 170. 

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From the Archives of Tradition Mon, 30 Mar 2015 23:43:44 +0000 tradition-cabinetby R. Yitzchak Blau

Modern technology generates a host of new halakhic questions including difficulties in determining parenthood due to new reproductive options. If one women donates the egg and another carries the fetus, who is the mother? That debate highlights larger methodological issues. Should we utilize legal parallels even if they seem farfetched? For example is the halakhic status of a replanted stalk of grain in Jewish agricultural law relevant to our modern case of parenthood? Conversely, absent convincing halakhic analogies, should we turn to the world of aggada and midrash to get a sense for how Hazal conceived of motherhood? Can we do this even given our reluctance to derive Jewish law from the aggada? For the first approach, see the contribution of Rabbi J. David Bleich: link (PDF)
For the second, see Rav Ezra Bick’s essay: link (PDF)

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Should Maggid Take Forever? Mon, 30 Mar 2015 00:30:44 +0000 maggid-midnightShould Maggid Take Forever?
The Shulchan Aruch’s view may surprise you

by Chaim Saiman & Josh Weinberger

The view of the seder that has become commonplace is a fairly long maggid– replete with each child opening up his notebook to recite the Brisker Rov’s vort on derech cheirus—thereby delaying the eating of the meal until rather late into the night.

All Night Long

The source for this practice is found in the haggadah itself which famously notes that “כל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים הרי זה משובח׳,” “whoever elaborates in the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.” This point is illustrated as the haggadah recounts the story of the five tannaim in Bnai Brak who were so engrossed in retelling the Pesach story that they had to be reminded that it was time for shacharit.1

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וְרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן שֶׁהָיוּ מְסֻבִּין בִּבְנֵי-בְרַק וְהָיוּ מְסַפְּרִים בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל-אוֹתוֹ הַלַּיְלָה, עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ תַלְמִידֵיהֶם וְאָמְרוּ לָהֶם רַבּוֹתֵינוּ הִגִּיעַ זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית.

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, R. Elazar b. Azaryah, R. Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining at a Seder in B’nei Brak. They were retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt the entire night, until their students came and told them: “Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!”

This view, that more is better, is then codified by the Rambam in his introduction to the Seder (Chametz u’Matzah 7:1) and refined a few paragraphs later (7:4).

אפילו חכמים גדולים חייבים לספר ביציאת מצרים וכל המאריך בדברים שאירעו ושהיו הרי זה משובח.

Even great scholars are obligated to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. And anyone who elaborates in recalling the events that occurred is praiseworthy.

וכן מתחיל ומודיע שעבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים וכל הרעה שגמלנו ומסיים בנסים ובנפלאות שנעשו לנו ובחירותנו. והוא שידרוש מארמי אובד אבי עד שיגמור כל הפרשה. וכל המוסיף ומאריך בדרש פרשה זו הרי זה משובח.

One begins by recalling that we were slaves in Egypt, and recounting all the hardships Pharaoh wrought. But he should conclude with the miracles and wonders that were done for us, and with our freedom. That is, he should expound on the verse “my father was a wandering Aramian” until he concludes that paragraph. And anyone who adds and elaborates in the exposition of these verses is praiseworthy.

According to Rambam, and as common practice confirms, the idea of kol hamarbeh is tied to: (i) retelling the story of pesach and (ii) primarily to maggid, which takes place prior to the meal. This point is made clear as Rambam ties the concept of kol hamarbeh specifically to the recitation of the drasha of ארמי אובד, which, common practice aside, stands as the core of maggid.

Are we there yet?

Notwithstanding the prominence of kol hamarbeh in the standard Haggadah and Rambam, this surprisingly does not appear to be the view of either the Tur or Shulkhan Arukh (“SA”). Notably, both of these codes suggest that one should move to the eating part of the seder quickly. Hence Tur/SA open their laws of the Seder as follows (OC 472):

יהיה שלחנו ערוך מבעוד יום כדי לאכול מיד כשתחשך ואף אם הוא בבית המדרש יקום מפני שמצוה למהר ולאכול בשביל התינוקות שלא ישנו אבל לא יאמר קידוש עד שתחשך:

One’s table should be set while it is still daytime, in order to eat immediately as it gets dark. And even if he is engaged in Torah study, he should conclude his studies and hurry [home] as it is a mitzvah to eat right away so that the children not fall asleep.

Eating immediately as it gets dark” offers a rather different ethic than “elaboration is praiseworthy.” Rather than the long maggid and late meal, Tur/SA rule that one should hurry and eat in order to keep the children awake and engaged. Interestingly, the Mishneh Berurah cannot quite accept that the eating part of the seder should start right away – presumably at the expense of an elaborated maggid – and thus reinterprets SA to require starting the seder and maggid immediately. But this is not the plain meaning of either Tur or SA, a fact recognized by the Mishneh Berurah itself.2

Even more surprisingly, neither Tur nor SA cite the famous language of the haggadah – kol hamarbeh harei zeh meshubach – codified in paraphrase by the Rambam. This is particularly unusual, as the SA usually follows the ruling of the Rambam (often verbatim) in absence of clear consensus in dissent among the Ashkenazi Rishonim, such as here.3

The source of Tur/SA is a Tosefta (Pesachim 10:6), repeated with slight variation in the Gemara (Pesachim 109a).

ר”א אומר חוטפין מצה לתינוקות בשביל שלא יישנו. ר’ יהודה אומר משמו אפילו לא אכל אלא פרפרת אחת אפילו לא טבל אלא חזרת אחת חוטפין מצה לתנוקות בשביל שלא יישנו

Rabbi Eliezer states: We grab the matzot so that the children will not fall asleep. R. Yehuda related in his name: Even if he has only eaten one appetizer, and even if he has not dipped in relish, we grab the matzot so that the children will not fall asleep.

Rishonim offer different understandings of this “grabbing” practice. For Rambam (C&M 7:3), it is intended as a tool to pique the children’s interest in the Seder, likely the source of the customary hide-and-go-seek afikomen game. Others (Rashi, Rashbam ibid; Ra’avad to C&M) read “grab” the matzot as meaning to quickly eat them, so that the children will not fall asleep before eating the matzah, the night’s central mitzvah.4

Returning to the Tur/SA then, there seems to be no merit in elongating the maggid on the basis of kol hamarbeh. To the contrary, their plain reading implies that the eating, not maggid, is the night’s primary focus.

Overtaken by Exhaustion

Before we too hastily conclude that the Tur/SA prescribe “Seder-lite,” we should note a line in the SA, based on the Tur, at the end of the laws of the Seder (OC 481):

חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח וביציאת מצרים ולספר בניסים ובנפלאות שעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא לאבותינו עד שתחטפנו שינה.

A person is required to delve into the laws of the Pesach sacrifice and the Exodus and to recount the miracles and wonders that God performed for our forefathers until he is overtaken by exhaustion.

On a careful reading, it is clear that this concept is distinct from the Rambam’s idea of kol hamarbeh. The first divide emerges regarding the timing. Tur and SA cite this at the very end of the laws of the Seder; not only does Rambam, in contrast, place kol hamarbeh in his discussion of maggid, but even the haggada itself puts kol hamarbeh in the opening paragraph of maggid. Further, in the codifing structure of the SA and the Tur, this law shares a chapter with only one other ruling, the restriction on drinking wine beyond the fourth and final cup of the seder. The language draws the conceptual link, that the restriction is meant to encourage staying awake to learn after the Seder. These two instances would indicate that this obligation of lengthy study is reserved for following the completion of the seder.

The source for this halacha is once again found in the Tosefta (Pesachim 10:8), which cites an alternate/parallel story to the one found in the haggadah.

אין מפטירין אחר הפסח כגון אגוזים תמרים וקליות . חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח כל הלילה אפילו בינו לבין בנו אפילו בינו לבין עצמו אפילו בינו לבין תלמידו. מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד והיו עסוקין בהלכות הפסח כל הלילה עד קרות הגבר. הגביהו מלפניהם ונועדו והלכו [להן] לבית המדרש.

One does not eat any desserts after the Pesach sacrifice, such as nuts and dates. A person is obligated to engage in the laws of the Pesach sacrifice all night, even just with one’s son or even by himself or with his student. It once happened that Rabban Gamliel and the elders were reclining at a Seder in the home of Beithus b. Zunin in Lod, and they were engaged in the laws of Pesach that entire night, until the rooster crowed. At that time, the tables were removed from before them and they arose to attend the synagogue.

When compared with the story in the haggadah, several key differences emerge. First, in the Tosefta’s version, the all-night chavruta takes place after the Pesach sacrifice has been eaten (nowadays, the time when we eat the afikoman) and the Seder has concluded. In fact, these are the penultimate lines of Tosefta Pesachim. The Tosefta’s “takeaway” image of Pesach is the post- Seder learning trailing off into the night. Second, rather than telling the story of pesach, these tana’aim are learning the technical halachot of korban pesach.5 Finally, whereas the haggadah suggests that the students had to remind the rabbis to wrap up the Seder because they lost track of time, in the Tosefta the Rabbis conclude their study session in a seemingly deliberate and orderly manner as dawn breaks.In fact, Sefat Emet audaciously reads the haggadah’s story as suggesting that the Rabbis were so involved in their discussion, they forgot to eat matzah!6

Thus, while the Tosefta records a requirement to stay up all night learning the laws of the Pesach sacrifice after the Seder, it says nothing about elaborating the maggid before the meal. Additionally, it makes no mention of the language כל המרבה לספר.

Notably, the Rambam follows the haggadah’s version rather than the Tosefta and likewise makes no mention of the requirement to stay up all night to learn. To the contrary, Rambam ends his laws of the seder with the halacha of what happens when someone falls asleep at the Seder! Further, whereas Tur/SA explain the reason one cannot drink after the fourth cup is to be able to stay up to learn Torah (i.e., hilchot ha-Pesach), the Rambam gives a different reason: so that the taste of the matzah (afikoman) remains the final memory of the Seder on the palate.7 (Rambam 8:9). For the Rambam, the work of the Seder is done before the meal, not after.

If the most famous line of the Haggadah is kol hamarbeh the second most famous phrase is likely בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות/להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים that “everyone must see himself as if he personally participated in the Exodus from Egypt.” Surprisingly, this line is also absent from Tur and SA, a highly unusual omission given the prominence this idea receives in the Mishnah, Haggadah and Rambam.

Minimum and Maximum

A clue to understanding the different views of the Seder may be related to the reading of yet a third famous line in the Mishna, which too appears in the haggadah.

אמר רבן גמליאל כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח לא יצא ידי חובתו ואלו הן: פסח מצה ומרור.

Rabban Gamliel said: Whoever does not mention these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation, and they are: the Pesach offering, matzah and maror.

The conventional understanding is that Rabban Gamliel is setting forth the minimal standard required to fulfill the mitzvah of סיפור יציאת מצרים, the retelling of the Exodus story during Maggid. This indeed is the view of the Rambam (7:5).

Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, however, is quoted as noting that RambaN likely disagrees. Rabban Gamliel’s לא יצא refers not to the minimum standard for maggid, but to eating the Pesach, matzah and maror. On this view, Rabban Gamliel holds that unless one explains why each item is eaten, he has not fully fulfilled the mitzvah of eating the Pesach, matzah and marror. (Milchamot to Rif on Berachot 2b)

What emerges then is a debate over the central theme of the Seder. Consistent with his focus on the maggid, Rambam understands Rabban Gamliel as offering the corollary of the kol hamarbeh principle: The ideal is to stay up all night telling the story, but Rabban Gamliel informs us of the minimal baseline: at the very least, note the Pesach, matzah and marror.

RambaN, by contrast, holds that the eating of the Korban pesach is the primary focus, and thus R. Gamliel addresses this mitzvah. Moreover, as the protagonist of the Tosefta’s version of the all-night learning session, Rabban Gamliel is encouraging a short and quick maggid – just covering the main points– in order to transition the Seder toward its true focal point, eating the Korban Pesach (today, the matzah).8 This accords with the view codified by Tur/SA, who encourage one to proceed quickly to the eating, and then spend the rest of the night learning the laws of the Korban Pesach.

Different Girsas & Different Goals

To sum up, we have raised the following issues: (i) the ideal of kol hamarbeh, (ii) the related story in the haggadah, and (iii) the ideal of לראות את עצמו, Rambam holds the core mitzvah is the retelling of maggid, hence the longer the better. From this perspective, the mitzvot of eating the Pesach, Matza and Maror are understood as visual and tactile props used to enhance the retelling of the story.

The goal of this view of the Seder is to create an experience where the entire family, בנערינו ובזקינינו, uses story, study and song, to relive the birth of Am Yisrael. When successful, this is surely close to the Seder’s ideal, but there is also a cost to setting ambitions too high. Elaborate lomdusche vortlech are not always appreciated: the kids might fall asleep, the adults tune out, and tracking Sfat Emet, some may even miss out on the matzah itself. It is no wonder that Rambam who champions this view, ends his halachot of the Seder with the laws that apply to those who fell asleep in the middle (8:14)!

By contrast, following the Tosefta’s requirement to keep the children awake for the matzah, and its story of R. Gamliel and the Elders, the Tur and SA adopt a more modest view of the Seder. There is no mitzvah kol hamarbeh if the effect is that the audience will lose interest or fall asleep. Hence maggid is kept short and the night’s focus rests on eating the Pesach (today, matzah). Then, once the Seder is over, and the kids are presumably asleep, one should follow R. Gamliel’s lead to stay awake all night in discussion of the laws of the Pesach. Notably, this approach hews closer to what some Rishonim as well as academic scholars understand as the practice during Mikdash times. The food came first and the discussion followed.9

Halakhah & Aggadah

The tension between whether the core of mitzvah is to retell the story of Pesach or to focus on the halachot of the korban pesach is also reflected in a competing version of the beraita of the Four Sons. Following the Mechilta, the text of the haggadah explains that we teach the חכם the “הלכות הפסח” whereas the תם,is told stories, כי בחוזק יד הוציאנו’. By contrast, the Yerushalmi’s version is reversed. The חכם is told the story of the Exodus whereas the טיפש—a term far less ambiguous term than תם– is told the halakhah of not eating after the afikoman.10

Of course, the very definitions of halacha and aggadah shift depending on the abilities of the student. In the standard version of the haggadah, the halacha taught to the חכם’s is the lomdus of kodshim relating to the korban pesach. Here halacha takes on a broad meaning: not just a series of rules but a complex religious worldview developed from the analysis of halacha and its principles. The aggadah told to the תם , on the other hand, is more along the lines of the “Little Midrash Says”– a basic narrative that children of all levels can grasp.

The Yerushalmi teaches the opposite. In telling the Exodus story to the חכם, we mean the philosophy and theology of being an עם הנבחר and what it means to serve Hashem. On the other hand, the halakhah we tell the טיפש is much flatter, akin to a קיצור שלחן עורך: Eat this, drink that, and do not touch that. These are rules of conduct, but not much more.

This machloket is replicated in the competing stories of how the tannaim spent the Seder night. Did these proverbial חכמים learn the halakhah of the korban or retell the aggadah of the Exodus? The argument about the details of the Seder is no less than a debate over how to convey the essence of the Jewish experience: halakhah or aggadah? Talmud or theology? This tension is presented in the Mishnah and Tosefta and filters down to Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, with implication for how we should run our own Seder tables.


  1. The text of this story is indigenous to the Haggadah. it does not appear in any other classical source. 

  2. See MB, OC 472 (1) and (3) and Sha’ar HaTzyuin at (2); See also Arukh HaShulkhan 472:1. 

  3. We note that R. Sa’adya Gaon’s haggadah omits both the text of kol hamarbeh as well as the follow up story of the Tana’aim in Bnei Brak. This text does appear, however, in the Haggadot of R. Natronai Gaon, R. Amram Gaon, as well as the Rambam. See Shmuel and Zev Safrai, Haggadat Chazal at 266-67 (Carta 1998). 

  4. See also Sha’ar Hatziyun 472:2. 

  5. The version of the Tosefta cited in Tur states חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח וביציאת מצרים כל הלילה. This girsa is reflected in the psak of the Shulchan Aruch cited above. Nevertheless, many of the girsaot of the Tosefta do not contain this addition, a position favored by most scholars. See Safrai, at p. 45, Joshua Kulp, The Schechter Haggadah at 203,(Schechter Institute 2009); Menachem M. Kasher, Torah Shelimah vol. 12 p.176. 

  6. 5640 d”h kol hamarbeh. 

  7. The Tur/SA also cite the concept of not eating after the Afikoman, based on the Mishna of אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן, in addition to the custom not to drink after the fourth cup for fear of falling asleep. The Rambam, on the other hand, does not mention the additional concern of not drinking more wine after the Seder. 

  8. Interestingly, R. Gamliel who holds that the halachot of the korban are to be learned all night, also holds that the Korban can be eaten all night, as per the first Mishna in Berachot and more explicitly in Mechilta Bo 6. By contrast, R. Eliezer who holds that the Korban can only be eaten until midnight, maintains that the mitzva to learn about the korban also applies only until midnight. (See Mechilta to Shemot 13:14) This reinforces the connection between learning the laws of the korban and a seder focused on eating the korban. 

  9. This is probably the simplest reading of Mishna P’sachim 10:3, and is so understood by the Mordechai (Seder Shel Pesach), and the “Seder Pesach Le’Rabbeuni Shmaya”, a student of Rashi. Amongst modern scholars, see Safrai, 13-18 who assumes that a seder centered on the retelling of the story, (as opposed to the recitation of Hallel and Korban) is a post-Churban innovation of Chazal. For a more complete discussion, see Yosef Tabory, Pesach Dorot at 70-78 (Hakibutz Hameuchad, 1996). 

  10. This idea is developed in R. Kasher’s Haggadah Shleima at 120-123 (Machon Torah Shleima 1967) and The Schechter Haggadah at 206-210. 

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Books Received Fri, 27 Mar 2015 15:53:38 +0000

(Posted on Friday. May automatically be sent out on Shabbos outside of my control.)

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Daily Reyd Fri, 27 Mar 2015 12:34:45 +0000
▪ Oy vey on many levels: ‘Oy vey, my child is gay’
What About Teacher Salaries?
Soldiers at Seders During WWII
▪ This is a thoughtful and nuanced proposal. I wonder how long before the nuance is ignored: New Conservative/Masorti ceremony for interfaith couples
▪ Thid might have implications for yeshivos: Should Unaccredited Bible Colleges Be Allowed to Grant Degrees?
Israeli Dayanim Fill Void Created by Israel’s Supreme Court Decision to Remove Jurisdiction of Rabbinical Courts Over Monetary Matters

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Sages Over Prophets Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:30:22 +0000 by R. Gidon Rothstein

Drasha 12, part 2

The Talmudic sage Amemar makes a daring comment in Baba Batra 12a that Ran struggles to explain. Scholars, Amemar states, are greater than prophets. Ran explains that prophets have one power only, to communicate what they were told; we’re obliged to listen, even if that command temporarily contravenes Torah law, other than worshipping powers other than Hashem.

Scholars, on the other hand, use their intellects to understand the Torah, and we follow them even though they might turn out to be wrong. Our obedience to them is broader than to prophets. In that sense, scholars are greater than prophets.

The Comparability of Prophets and Scholars

However, the Gemara launches into proofs that Amemar is right, focused on finding ways to show that Torah scholars are actually also somewhat prophetic. Ran explains that comparisons only work if they use a similar rubric. If scholars use their intellects only, and prophets their prophecy, the different impact of their words doesn’t show that one group is greater or lesser, just different.

For that reason, Abbaye, Rava, and R. Ashi worked to show that there’s an element of the prophetic to Torah scholars as well. Abbaye started with the claim that two scholars’ arriving at the same idea independently (as happens not only in Torah but in science) shows there’s an element of the prophetic to what they’re doing (although the similar occurrence in science serves as a counterargument). Once we know that scholars also work off inspiration, we can say their inspiration goes to greater uses.

Rava rejects the example, saying the two scholars might have the same mazal. He might have meant that literally, that they were born under the same star. Ran modernizes that to say the two scholars might share matter and form (in his time, the antecedents and determiners of behavior); bringing it to our times, we would say they might have shared enough heredity and environment to arrive at the same conclusion. However we say it, he means their shared discovery might result from shared formative influences, not necessarily prophecy.

R. Akivas Unapproachable Greatness

Rava instead says that scholars sometimes come up with an idea only to later find out that R. Akiva said it. For Rava, that rules out a shared intellectual source, since (clearly) no one has the same intellectual makeup of R. Akiva (a reminder of the awe in which R. Akiva was held).

R. Ashi says that this doesn’t prove the point, because the later scholar might, in that one area, have found his way to the same place as R. Akiva. Whereas Rava thought R. Akiva’s intellect was so unique that none of his innovative ideas were accessible to other humans’ intellects, R. Ashi suggests it might have been the breadth of his oeuvre that made him who he was, but that on any particular topic, another person could be his equal.

R. Ashi’s answer is that people sometimes come up with ideas that turn out to have been an הלכה למשה מסיני, a law handed down explicitly at Sinai. Those, Ran says, cannot be accessible to the human intellect, because if they were, they would have been given over to the ordinary processes of Torah. Hashem made halachah le-Moshe mi-Sinai, in Ran’s view, for ideas or issues that were not amenable to regular human thought. For a scholar to have come up with it, therefore, shows that an element of prophecy was mixed in, allowing Amemar to correctly say that a scholar is greater than a prophet.

I don’t think Ran has quite clarified the discussion. Rambam, for example, states that all halachot given at Sinai were widely known, making R. Ashi’s idea hard to understand. Leaving those concerns aside, Ran is clear that the Gemara means that Torah scholars are not only more powerful than prophets—in that their decrees last forever and are a function of their freewill, as opposed to the prophet who obediently transmits exactly what told—but they also partake of the prophetic, that some of their ideas and insights bear the mark of inspiration, not simple thought.

Certifying Authorities

One last way they are greater, Ran says, is that Torah scholars are the ones who articulate the standards by which we can judge the validity of prophets, not vice versa. In saying that, he makes the remarkable claim that if a prophet told us not to listen to a particular scholar, we would ignore that prophetic directive.

He quickly moves to a different aspect of the issue, but I think he is saying that just as a prophet cannot uproot a mitzvah, the prophet cannot deny a certified scholar the authority the Torah gives him. Were I able to engage Ran in conversation, I would wonder why the prophet could not, as an horaat shaah, a temporary command, tell us not to listen to a certain scholar (or even tell us, prophetically, that this scholar has personal deficiencies that rule him out from being a source of Torah knowledge).

However Ran would have answered, his bigger point was that the Torah tells us to listen to a prophet and provides rules for identifying a false prophet. But not every false prophet will show themselves that way, so how do we authenticate a prophet? That was left up to Torah scholars, who gave us some rules, such as Nedarim 38a’s saying that a prophet has to be wise, strong, and wealthy (which Ran discussed before, here and here) and guiding principles.

Next time, we’ll see Ran’s view of how we authenticate prophets, and how prophecy relates to other ways of knowing the future. For now, we’ve seen his understanding of scholars as being above prophets, in their right to use their intellect combined with quasi-prophetic ways of arriving at their ideas. And that element, the mixing in of the supernatural with the seemingly natural (coming up with an idea), the blurry line between the intellectual and the prophetic, the natural and the supernatural, will be the focus of next time, the final piece of the Drashot haRan.

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The Irrationality of Anti-Semitism Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:00:48 +0000 Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Twice in the Torah we find the word “Mikreh”- happening. Once in Parashat Ki Teitzei, regarding Amalek, where we read “Asher Korcha Ba’derech”- that what occurred to you upon your way [Devarim 25:18]. The other is in Parashat Balak, where we find the word “VaYikar Elokim El Bil’am”- HaShem just happened to call upon Bil’am –[Bamidbar 23:4]. According to Rav Soloveitchik, the use of these words sheds much light upon the two events.

VaYikar” denotes an element of surprise. As Bil’am himself stated “U’lai YiKareh HaShem Lik’ra’ti”- Perhaps HaShem will happen upon me.” Bil’am had serious doubts as to whether the encounter between him and HaShem will ever take place; it was possible, and even probable, that HaShem would refuse to speak to him. When it finally did occur, “VaYikar” HaShem, meaning that the unexpected took place.

Besides the element of surprise there is also the element of irrationality in the fact that Bil’am received divine revelation. Bil’am was a mere mortal human being, a “basar vedam”, as anyone else; why did HaShem address Himself to him? Why did HaShem care about Bil’am? The Rav explained that we do not comprehend the true and full story of Bil’am, and most likely, we never will. This is the meaning of “VaYikar Elokim El Bil’am”; why HaShem chose to speak to Bil’am cannot be understood.

The same idea is expressed in the story of Amalek; and the battle they waged against our people Bnei Yisrael as we left Mitzrayim. The land of Amalek was very far from the route that our people were taking to reach their destination—Eretz Yisrael. Our people had absolutely no intention of declaring was or occupying any of their territory. Suddenly, and irrationally, Amalek hated Bnei Yisrael. There seemed to be no motive or logic for their hatred. Their ambush upon us was a complete surprise that cannot be explained in rational or psychological terms. “VaYavo Amalek VaYilachem Im Yisrael”—Amalek came and battled Yisrael [Shemot 17:8], Amalek traveled from their distant land; nothing logical motivated them- they just wanted to attack us.

This, the Rav stated, is precisely what anti-Semitism is all about. Our nation has enemies whose enmity and hostility stems from an irrational fear of Jews. Many of these nations have nothing in common with us. From a rational perspective we are distant from them as they are from us—yet, they hate us. The basic principles of logic cannot be employed. We have to accept both the irrational attack of Amalek and the prophecy that Bil’am received as situations of mysterious and incomprehensible happenings. They are no different than the mystery of the Para Aduma laws, the laws of Kashrut, Brit Milah and Sha’atnez-all categorized as “Zot Chukat HaTorah.”

Once we understand this root cause of anti-Semitism it becomes clear that changing ourselves to please or appease our enemies will not serve any benefit. Their hatred for us is deep-rooted and totally irrational which we have to accept as Zot Chukat HaTorah, and deal with it as it comes up.

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Daily Reyd Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:48:35 +0000
YUTorah Pesach to Go
On the Maxwell House Haggadah
▪ Using gluttony to get people to learn Torah: Why Is This Seder Different From All Other Seders? Scotch
Big Tallis Roundup: Tallis Wearing During Drosho, Hesped, Megillas Esther night reading, etc.
▪ A rightly cynical R Adlerstein: Askanim For Hire?
▪ This is weird. Token good deed that looks good but benefits no one?: Restored synagogue to reopen in Turkey after government-funded restoration
Boca Raton Synagogue Wins Guinness World Record for Largest Prayer Shawl
History And Memory
God Is The Ultimate Stagehand
▪ Interesting perspective from a Reform rabbi: Should Christians Celebrate Passover?
A Historic Pessach Kosher List from Very Dark Times

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Exodus: Salvation or Transformation? Thu, 26 Mar 2015 01:30:50 +0000 by R. Gil Student

I. Two Exodus Stories

Everyone likes a story of an underdog succeeding, a happy ending after a difficult struggle. There are usually two variations on the theme. One is that of personal transformation, overcoming personal difficulties and becoming a better individual. Another is salvation from a bad situation. The former is about personal change and the latter is about a person emerging from suffering.

The Talmud (Pesachim 116a) prescribes that the magid (story) section of the Haggadah begin with negative historical facts about the Jewish people. The sages Rav and Shmuel debate with which story we must begin. Rav states that we must start by telling how our forefathers were idolators while Shmuel holds that we begin by stating that we were slaves in Egypt. In practice, we follow both. After the four questions we say “Avadim hayinu — we were slaves” and then we subsequently say “Mi-techilah ovdei avodah zarah — our forefathers were idolators.”

The differing visions between these two rabbis of the Haggadah plot seem to reflect the types discussed above. Rav sees it as a tale of transformation. We were originally idolators and through the long period of enslavement and Exodus we changed into monotheists. In this vision, the turning point is “Va-nitzak” — and we cried out to God from the difficulties of the slavery. Rather than turning to idols, the enslaved Jews prayed to the one, true God.

Shmuel, however, sees the story as one of salvation. The Jews were slaves and God freed them. In this telling, the turning point is “Va-yotzi’enu” — and God took us out of Egypt. Occurring twice in the Haggadah — once in “Avadim hayinu” and again in “Arami oved avi” — this passage marks God’s physical redemption of the Jews from slavery.

II. Theological Salvation

However, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Chametz U-Matzah 7:4) interprets Rav’s dictum in a way that reconciles the two approaches. Maimonides describes the ancestral idolators as “Deniers, mistakenly following nonsense and fervent idolators.” First they denied God’s existence; then in their disbelief they were confused by faulty thinking, which led them into idolatry. While Rambam is certainly not excusing their disastrous theological error, he is explaining that the process which brought the forefathers to idolatry was one of coercion. They fell into idolatry. It was not a choice but an external circumstance. In this interpretation, the Exodus story is one of salvation from a situation of idolatry into monotheism.

According to the Rambam, the turning point in the Haggadah remains “Va-nitzak.” However, rather than serving as a a sign of communal growth away from idolatry, it shows the theological salvation from the errors of idolatry. God redeems the Jews from idolatry into the path of monotheism.

According to both the plots of transformation and theological salvation, the story’s ending seems less than happy. Not long after leaving Egypt, the Jews reverted to idolatry with the Golden Calf episode and continued to periodically return to this ancestral sin. However, a similar objection can be raised to the salvation plot. Throughout the centuries, Jews were exiled and conquered. The seder of a Jew in Auschwitz or Siberia was certainly ironic, in some ways similar to that of an idolatrous Jew. While we tell the Exodus story as a single unit, the plot continues throughout the ages until the time when we no longer need to say “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.”

(Reprinted from April 2011)

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