Torah Musings Fri, 31 Jul 2015 05:07:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Premature Remarriage Fri, 31 Jul 2015 01:30:33 +0000 imageby R. Gidon Rothstein

14 Av: A Premature Remarriage

R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor was one of if not the foremost rabbinic authority of the late 19th century. Ein Yitzchak 1; Even HaEzer 43 records the response he wrote, on the fourteenth of Av, 5626 (1866), about a woman who remarried based on the testimony of a thirteen year old, who claimed to have heard a non-Jew telling of two Jews who had been kidnapped, taken to a forest, and killed. One of the Jews in the story was clearly identified; the other had the same name as this woman’s husband, and the non-Jew had mentioned some identifying features, but not any specific enough to constitute an halachically valid identification.

The assumption of the question is that a court would not have accepted that as sufficient to allow her to remarry. But she didn’t ask, the question is whether the court must require her to separate from this second husband. The questioner wanted to rule leniently, an instinct R. Spektor praises. Now he has to deal with the halachictechnicalities to see if he can support that instinct.

The Physical Maturity of the Jewish Witness

A valid witness in halachah ordinarily has to have matured to adulthood physically as well as chronologically. This boy was not checked for that at the time his testimony was taken, but R. Spektor thinks there is still room to accept his evidence.

He notes that Ran and Maggid Mishneh think a minor is believed to say that a woman who had been taken captive was not raped (necessary in order to allow a kohen’s wife to return to that marriage once she was freed), all the more so that they would accept the minor’s testimony regarding the death of a missing husband. After all, we do not accept a non-Jew’s word about a captive woman, even when that non-Jew is מסיח לפי תומו, telling a story without realizing why we care about its details, but we do accept such revelations about a Jew’s death.

R. Spektor further notes that the second view in Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 7;3 accepts a thirteen year old boy as a judge in monetary cases even without proof that he’s reached physical maturity. While the Tumim (R. Yonatan Eybeschuetz) held that was because the need for three judges is only rabbinic, R. Spektor disagrees, and says that Torah law necessitates three judges. Yet the thirteen year old qualifies; that, he thinks, is the consensus of later authorities.

A Thirteen Year Old’s Authority

If a thirteen year old can judge, and a woman cannot, and yet a woman is believed as to the death of her husband, certainly the teen would be. This is all the more true since some rishonim seem willing to accept the testimony of an actual minor, let alone here, where our doubt stems only from the failure to check the minor’s maturity. And the woman has already remarried.

The Gemara enunciates a חזקה דרבא, a presumption that children who reach the age of majority have also attained the requisite physical maturity. Once so presumed, we are not obligated to worry about the minority who do not fit that profile; if so, this thirteen year old’s testimony is valid, and she can stay married. R. Spektor supports that by noting that some rishonim allow a woman to stay in her second marriage wherever the worry about whether the first marriage ended is an unlikely minority case, including if the husband disappeared in מים שאין להם סוף, an ocean whose ends we cannot see.

What Makes a Majority View?

A side issue is whether we can call it the consensus view if authorities’ reasoning differs (Shach to Choshen Mishpat 25 had said we cannot). In our case, some authorities felt that the possibility that the boy had not reached physical maturity was so uncommon as to be insignificant, while others thought that even if it was common enough to matter, she was still allowed to stay married once she had done so.

R. Spektor says, first, they’re all still basically relying on the majority of thirteen year olds’ having reached sufficient physical maturity. Besides, Shach’s comment applied to Biblical issues, not rabbinic ones; in rabbinic concerns (which is what we have here), we can group supporting authorities even if they differ on the reasons for their ruling.

The Words of a Minor or a Non-Jew

R. Spektor also suggests room to accept a minor’s testimony on these issues. Taz to Even HaEzer 17;9 says that a child who already understands the basics of ownership and transfer of possession—somewhere between the age of six and majority– can testify who is a brother of the deceased for the purposes of yibum or chalitzah. If so, the minor should be able to verify the death of a husband.

In our case, however, the minor didn’t see it, he’s reporting someone else’s words.  In those other cases, one factor allowing us to believe the minor was that his story could eventually be proven true or false; with the minor reporting what he heard, even if the allegedly deceased man shows up, he might still have heard that from the non-Jew. That makes us less able to accept his word. But, as R. Spektor already said, we don’t here have to assume the boy is a minor.

What the Non-Jew Tells Us

We do have to wonder whether we’re allowed to believe the non-Jew, once we grant that the boy has told us what the non-Jew said. In this case, he identified one victim fully, and the other Jew, a R. Yehoshua, with less clarity. This woman’s first husband, named Yehoshua, was known to have been traveling with that other Jew, and to have been captured with him.

Maset Binyamin 44 (1530-1620) ruled that if a non-Jew told us the exact identity of one member of a group and that the whole group had been killed, we are allowed to assume the deaths of anyone we know to have been part of that group (we don’t have to worry that some members of the group split off before the rest’s sad end).

Let’s pause to remember centuries when Jews encountered such situations frequently enough to have established law on what happened when a whole group was killed, but the identity of only one victim was well known. And hope that we never are forced to deal with such situations in our lives or in the lives of people we know.

Unfortunately, Taz did not accept that view, so R. Spektor finds another route to leniency. Noda Biyehuda Mahadura Tinyana 55 ruled that a medium identification sign is better than knowing the father’s name. In our case, while the non-Jew didn’t know the father’s name of the second victim, he did know the whole group had been put to death, and knew several lesser identifying facts about the deceased. All of that, R. Spektor argues, is as good as knowing a last name.

What Counts as War?

One last sticking point is that in times of war, we are more exacting about the signs we require—since so  many people are being killed, we worry someone very similar to the person we are concerned about was killed.

Although this happened in a time of war (as of 1864, R. Yitzchak Elchanan was the rabbi of Kovno, in Lithuania; in 1863, an insurrection had started in Lithuania and Poland; this question seems to refer to an event that happened in the course of that insurrection), and the men reported dead had left with the plan to fight any enemies they encountered, their demise came at the hands of highwaymen, not fighters in that war. For that reason, R. Spektor rules that it can be treated as an ordinary death case, requiring only the lower standard of identification.

Sum total, he agrees that this woman can stay with her second husband. More, he believes that the testimony in this case sufficed to allow her to marry—he isn’t allowing this after the fact, he’s acknowledging that she had enough evidence and information to remarry in the first place.

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Kedusha Unites Fri, 31 Jul 2015 01:00:10 +0000 Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

In the Torah, [Shemot 24:12], HaShem tells Moshe, “GO UP TO THE MOUNTAIN AND REMAIN THERE, AND I WILL GIVE YOU THE LUCHOT HA’EVEN, (The stone Tablets)”. The Gemara Brachot (5a) comments, that the phrase “LUCHOT HA’EVEN”, refers to the Ten Commandments.

Rav Soloveitchik noted that throughout the Torah the Ten Commandments are referred to as Luchot “Ha’even”, in the singular form, one stone, except for Parshat Ki Tissa (34:1) where HaShem says to Moshe: “PE’SAL LECHA SHNEI LUCHOT AVANIM”, referring to the Two Tablets as Avanim, plural stones. Why the change from singular to plural?

The Rav suggested a very bold and creative answer. The Halacha is, if a Mezuzah were to be written by a Sofer (scribe) “k’igeret” like a letter on two separate pieces of parchment, it would be deemed Halachically Pe’sula, unacceptable. Likewise, if the Sofer were to write the Parsha of Shema for Tefillin on two separate pieces of parchment, it too would be Pe’sula. Because two components can never be regarded as one even if they are sewn together or glued together. However, a Sefer Torah is different. A Sefer Torah must be written on individual Yeriot (sections). It must then be sewn together with Gidim (veins) of a kosher animal, and yet, when completed, it is considered as one Sefer Torah. The Kedusha (Holiness) of a Sefer Torah causes the fusion of two elements into one. Only Kedushat Sefer Torah, which is the highest level of Kedusha, has this capability. Not so for Mezuzah and not for Tefillin.

Now, the Luchot also had the Kedusha of Torah because of the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments. But when did the Two Tablets acquire this Kedusha? Only after the words of the Dibrot appeared on the Tablets. That is why they are referred to as Luchot Even, one stone. However, in Parshat Ki Tissa, when HaShem says to Moshe: “PE’SAL LE’CHA SHNEI LUCHOT AVANIM KARISHONIM”, carve out two stone tablets like the first ones (the ones that you broke), we are referring to the Tablets before anything was written on them. Hence, the plural, two Avanim.

In life too, when two individuals, each with own unique personality, body and mind, merge together in marriage, Vehayu Lebasar Echad (Bereishit 2:24) they become one unit. The fusion of Kiddushin in marriage creates a new entity. This fusion brings out the best of each component. From two stones-comes Ten Commandments, from many sections of Torah- a Sefer Torah, from two individuals- a Bayit Ne’eman.

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Daily Reyd Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:59:31 +0000
Orthodox rabbis flying to Washington to lobby against Iran deal
Radar reveals buried grand synagogue of Vilnius
R P Lerner: What Azoulay meant about Reform Jews
▪ If you want to understand Hilkhos Shabbos, you have to know ancient ovens: A Group of Archaeologists in Israel Is Recreating a Biblical Oven
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▪ Another win for the Disco Rabbi: Haredi teen agrees to chemotherapy after rabbi’s intervention
▪ Scans instead of autopsies: Chief Rabbi: Autopsy ruling a “victory for common sense”
Meet Brooklyn’s Fearless Hasidic Dog Walker
▪ R E Melamed on Israel kosher laws: Changing the Law to be What They Want it to be

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Polls and Judaism Thu, 30 Jul 2015 01:30:10 +0000 imageby R. Gil Student

The Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey of Jewish Americans shook the community to its core. In addition to the many analyses and debates, the survey sparked dramatic new initiatives that try to address the somber implications. Yet, many pointed out strange results, particularly about the Orthodox community.

A recent article by Robert Wuthnow in First Things, “In Polls We Trust,” raises questions about the validity of polls today. Wuthnow writes, “Response rates have declined precipitously… Currently the typical response rate is 9 or 10 percent, and rates rarely exceed 15 percent. In other words, upwards of 90 percent of the people who should have been included in a poll for it to be nationally representative are missing. They were either unreachable or refused to participate.”

Some the Pew results about American Jews make a lot of sense but others do not. Wuthnow writes, “Polling about religion is troubling not because it is always wrong, but because it has become difficult for anyone to know when the results are correct and when they are not.” If the survey is only good to confirm what we already suspect, what value does it add?

Allen Cooperman and Greg Smith of the Pew Research Center have responded to Wuthnow on the First Things website. They write, “Non-response can produce biases but does not always do so, and it can affect some measures in a survey but not others.” They cite an earlier study on the impact of response rates that says, “One significant area of potential non-response bias … is that survey participants tend to be significantly more engaged in civic activity than those who do not participate.” That is precisely what may be troublesome in the Pew survey of Jews. Orthodox Jews, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, are less engaged in civic activity and less likely to respond to surveys. How much faith should we put in the results about the Orthodox community in such a survey?

Wuthnow replies to this response on the First a Things website. “The issue about non-response rates is not that they always produce bad results.” Sometimes producing good results means that we cannot be certain how much credibility to give to any specific finding. Instead, pollsters should do more research, and provide more transparency, about the impact of low response rates.

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Daily Reyd Wed, 29 Jul 2015 11:55:23 +0000
Pollard Will Go Free November 20
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R Spirn: An Open Letter To Rabbi Herzl Hefter
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▪ Where is the liberal establishment?: Verbal abuse against Jewish students now ‘fact of life’ on US campuses
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▪ Only probation, no prison time: Rabbi Gabriel Bodenheimer plea ends sex abuse case
▪ Based on the list of rabbis, can you guess from where he graduated?: What We Talk About When We Talk About Rabbis
City to Probe 39 Brooklyn Yeshivas

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Who Can Be Called Rabbi? Wed, 29 Jul 2015 01:30:26 +0000 titleby R. Gil Student

I. Respecting Torah Scholars1

Calling someone by a title is a public display of respect, which is why it raises so many complex issues. Who is worthy of that respect and who, even if he once deserved that title, has lost the right to that level of respect? Convention varies by community and culture, some valuing titles more than others. However, in a culture where a title conveys authority, its proper use is even more important.

In the letters section of volume 13 of Hakirah (link – PDF), writers discuss whether Conservative rabbi and scholar Elliot Dorff should have been mentioned with the title “rabbi.” I do not have a final opinion on the matter but can begin a discussion of the various issues.

The biblical source for the obligation to respect Torah scholars is in last week’s Torah portion: “Rise before the aged and honor an elder” (Lev. 19:32). The Talmud (Kiddushin 32b) understands “elder” in this verse to refer to a Torah scholar. There are four types of Torah scholars for whom you must show respect: your mentor(s) (rebbe muvhak), world-class Torah scholars (gedolei ha-dor), someone who taught you a little Torah and regular Torah scholars who have not taught you anything.

II. Respecting Your Teachers

You must show extra respect to your mentor, such as rising from the moment he enters a room (as opposed to when he approaches your immediate vicinity – Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 242:16). Among the obligations to your mentor is refraining from calling him by his name (ibid., 15). The Rema adds that you may call him by his name if you preface his name with the title “rabbi” (or another title of respect). The Shakh (no. 24) says that this is only when he is not there but if he is there you must call him simply “rebbe.” R. Akiva Eiger and the Pischei Teshuvah (no. 10) quote some who disagree. (Note that par. 30 in the Shulchan Arukh clarifies that this is all referring specifically to your mentor and not just any teacher.)

Someone who is convicted of a serious crime, or has otherwise caused serious injury contrary to halakhah, cannot be called “rabbi”

We see that you must use the title “rabbi” when referring to your mentor. Tosafos (Berakhos 31b sv. moreh, as understood by Terumas Ha-Deshen 138) state that the rule that you may not issue a halakhic ruling in front of your mentor also applies to a “gadol ha-dor.” This is generally understood as meaning that you must apply the extra level of respect reserved for your mentor to the great Torah scholars of the generation. For example, the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 244:10), in the context of the distinction between when you must rise for a Torah scholar (mentioned above), states that you must treat a gadol ha-dor like your mentor. Similarly, the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 472:5) rules that you need not lean at the Passover seder in the presence of a gadol ha-dor, just like in the presence of your mentor. Therefore, you must also refer to a gadol ha-dor with the title “rabbi.”

You must also respect someone who taught you a little Torah–even just one word. However, the respect you must show him is less than what you must show your mentor (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 242:30). The Sedei Chemed (Ma’arekhes Khaf, no. 104) quotes the Tzapichis Bi-Dvash who argues that you may call such a teacher by name, without a title, while the Tzelach (Berakhos 4a sv. va-ani) holds you must use a title although you need not call him just “rebbe.” The Tiferes Yisrael (Avos 6:3 no. 50) also contends that you are obligated to call him by a title.

III. Respecting Torah Scholars

The Sifra (Lev. 19:32, quoted by Rashi, ad loc.) posits that the obligation to honor the elderly also applies to all Torah scholars, even if they never taught you anything. Quite surprisingly, no subsequent Medieval or early Modern source repeats that obligation. The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 243:6, 244:1) follows the unanimous precedent and states that your only obligation to respect Torah scholars consists of rising when they enter your vicinity and refraining from insulting them. The Birkei Yosef (Yoreh De’ah 244:6) notes that the Sifra’s extensive list of mandatory respectful practices was disputed and concludes that the law requires nothing more than rising and refraining from insulting. However, the Chafetz Chaim (Asin, n. 8 in asterisk) assumes that the law follows the Sifra and leaves as an open question why the codes neglected to mention it.

Apparently, according to the Birkei Yosef, you need not refer to a rabbi with the title “rabbi” unless he is your mentor or a world-class Torah scholar. Failing to use the title hardly classifies as an insult for which someone can be sued in a religious court because it is only an implied insult by omission. And according to the Chafetz Chaim you must refer to any Torah scholar with the appropriate respectful title. In my experience, widespread practice follows the Chafetz Chaim and we reserve extra respect for Torah scholars beyond the standard respect shown to all people.

Who is a Torah scholar? The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 244:2) defines a Torah scholar for whom one must rise as someone who is more knowledgeable than you and worthy of learning from. The Shakh (ad loc., no. 2) adds that he must be an exceptional scholar who is greater than most others (muflag be-chokhmah yoser mi-sh’ar ha-am).

IV. Sinful Scholars

The Gemara (Kiddushin 32b) states that we need not show respect for an ignorant elder (zaken ashmai). I translate this as “ignorant elder” rather than “wicked elder” following Tosafos (ad loc., sv. zaken; see Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Yoreh De’ah 244:2 who argues that Rashi agrees) because we are specifically forbidden to show respect to a sinful but knowledgeable individual, even a rabbi. Presumably, we must distinguish between his improper actions and the Torah for which he would otherwise deserve respect. The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 243:3), as understood by Arukh Ha-Shulchan (ibid.), rules that we are prohibited from showing respect for a Torah scholar who lacks care for the commandments (mezalzel be-mitzvos) and lacks fear of God, but must rather treat him like a lowly member of the community (kal she-ba-tzibur).

This vague definition allows for a certain amount of flexibility to specific circumstances and seems to me to include those who unambiguously deny fundamental beliefs of Judaism. It would certainly include rabbis who permit blatant halakhic violations, although we must be careful to distinguish between disregard for Jewish law and legitimate leniencies within the halakhic process. Someone who is convicted of a serious crime, or has otherwise caused serious injury contrary to halakhah, cannot be called “rabbi.”

My working assumption is that most Reform and Conservative Jews servings as rabbis fail to meet Orthodox religious standards, and some Orthodox Jews serving as rabbis do as well. Based on the above, it would seem that we should withhold the title “rabbi” from them. We need not (but may) call “rabbi” those Jews who do not reach the definition of a Torah scholar and may not call “rabbi” those who fail religious standards even if they are Torah scholars. However, other issues complicate the matter.

V. Other Considerations

To many people, “rabbi” is a professional title. Failing to use that title confuses people and, to a small degree, hurts the subject’s livelihood. Is it proper, in such a circumstance, to withhold the title “rabbi” from someone who fails the religious standards mentioned above but serves in that professional capacity?

Additionally, failing to refer to a community’s leader with the title its members believe he deserves will be considered insulting. Is this offense to an entire community, even though only by omission, acceptable? And what about the personal offense when we distinguish between individuals we believe sufficiently knowledgeable or observant to merit the title “rabbi” and those not?

Furthermore, the right to refuse title can be easily distorted into the “right” to insult rabbis we do not like. Many will withhold the title based on rumor or unproven allegation, thereby perpetuating a questionable accusation. And some will blow out of proportion the acceptance of leniencies they don’t like, such as accepting a particular eruv, and consider that lacking care for commandments. The ease of abuse argues for a liberal application of the title.

All these potential offenses are aggravated if the convention in general society is to refer as “rabbi” to people who have achieved some sort of rabbinic ordination, regardless of their actual qualifications. When nearly everyone calls a person “rabbi,” failing to do so is even more offensive.

On the other hand, the title “rabbi” has long been understood as implying that its bearer is qualified to rule on halakhic matters and serve on a religious court (see these posts: I, II). In reference to someone who lacks those qualifications, do we have license to use the title colloquially and imprecisely?

Additionally, calling someone “rabbi” who fails to meet basic Torah standards can be seen as admission that Torah observance is subject to compromise. How can we honor a sinner, whether affiliated with Orthodoxy or not, with the title “rabbi”?

VI. Inconclusion

As I mentioned above, I have no conclusion to this question. I have seen three general attempts to delicately navigate this minefield:

  1. Praise those from whom you are withholding the title “rabbi” or use another respectful title, to eliminate or reduce the offense.
  2. Use “rabbi” as a professional description rather than title, as attempted in the second paragraph above.
  3. Refer even to those undeserving with the title “rabbi” and reserve the title “rav” for those deserving.

I don’t know what is halakhically proper in every situation. However, while I personally feel profoundly uncomfortable withholding a professional title someone regularly uses, I feel even more uncomfortable conferring the title “rabbi” on someone who eats treif and violates Shabbos.

(Adapted from a May ’12 post)


  1. Here are links to some past posts on the issue of the nature of rabbinic ordination and positions:


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Audio Roundup Tue, 28 Jul 2015 21:31:23 +0000 by Joel Rich

A MO educator whom I greatly respect, asked why it seems our high schools seem to excel either in limudei kodesh or chol but not in both. I would expand that question to life in general and also add the seeming dialectic between intellect and emotion. Why can’t we strive to learn like a Litvak and daven like a chassid?
~ ~ ~
“Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock” – Daniel Strange
In a recent article addressed to evangelical pastors I outlined a three-point “to do” list that might begin to move us into this stance:
• Develop and deploy a biblically rich and nuanced theology of religions
• Discern and denounce the arrogance and intolerance of pluralism
• Demonstrate and display, in both word and deed, the unique power of the gospel to change lives and communities
Replace gospel with orthodoxy and evangelical pastors with kiruv professionals, and tell me if it fits.

Please direct any informal comments to

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Daily Reyd Tue, 28 Jul 2015 12:27:34 +0000
R Maryles: A Schism Removing it from Orthodoxy
Shabbat Pamphlets Make the Evening News
R Rothstein: ITIM Goes to the Mikveh — Thanks, ITIM!
Preserving the Customs of Jewish Damascus
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▪ What a difference a few years make: Boy Scouts of America votes to end controversial ban on openly-gay scout leaders

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Editorial Judgment and Jewish Censorship Tue, 28 Jul 2015 01:30:33 +0000 censorshipby R. Gil Student

My column in this week’s issue of The Jewish Link of New Jersey

From the Orthodox Jewish perspective, history is a means to an end rather than a goal in itself. There is no similar concept to Torah for its own sake–history for its own sake. This translates into two different utilitarian attitudes. One sees history as a source of inspiration, a method of increasing devotion to religious principles. The other sees history as a series of lessons on human nature and divine providence. Both view history from a utilitarian lens, but the different perspectives yield radically different results that pit segments of Orthodox society against each other.

If history is a source of inspiration, it need not be accurate. History consists of stories, almost parables based on a true story. As long as the story works, it can be accepted as history; if it fails to inspire, it must be rejected. Historical truth is only as valuable as its positive message. This entails no intellectual dishonesty as long as there is no real claim to accuracy. History is meant to convey themes, as the punchline goes: “I don’t know if the stories about [any given rabbi] are true but they don’t tell such stories about you and me.”

On the other hand, if history is a series of case studies in religious personalities and communities, it must be preserved in its full glory. We may not be able to make sense of the complex events immediately but we must first determine what happened and then attempt to learn from it. If we distort the past, we cannot properly apply it to our times. Changing history will condemn us to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. This is the tradition I was taught.

Editing History

Professor Marc Shapiro, in his recent book Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2015; $37.95) reveals a wide variety of what he considers censorship in the Orthodox community and beyond. I am sure he would agree that some examples are merely editorial decisions. Every living author has an editor who polishes the manuscript. A deceased author deserves the same privilege, although the editor must observe the same restraint he would use with a live author.

This only becomes censorship when the editor wields his red pen too strongly. Shapiro describes the debate surrounding Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook’s editing of his father’s writings. Shapiro clearly feels that the younger Kook took too much liberty with his father’s previously unpublished writings while others believe he was merely serving the role of faithful editor.

Continue reading here: link

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Daily Reyd Mon, 27 Jul 2015 12:29:05 +0000
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▪ Sad article for day after Tisha B’Av: Is Orthodox Judaism on the verge of a historic schism?
A rabbi’s mission: Saving Damascus’ Jewish culture
World’s oldest Lamentation Scroll displayed for Tisha B’Av
Of Genomes and Jews

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