We need more people like Hillel. This is the central theme of R. Joseph Telushkin’s eloquent and thoughtful Hillel: If Not Now, When? and I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with it. A fractured community like ours desperately needs leaders who, like Hillel, model themselves after Aaron, constantly loving and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah. In this age of selfishness we surely need to ask that if we are only for ourselves, what are we? And in this informationally overloaded society we must overcome the art of skimming and diligently study. But when it comes to conversion, I wonder whether R. Telushkin has misunderstood Hillel’s legacy. Hillel famously converted three candidates whom Shammai rejected — one who wished to learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot, another who rejected the Oral Torah and a third who wished to become the High Priest. Hillel evidently did not have hard and fast rules on who could convert to Judaism. He instead used his vast stores of wisdom to assess each candidate.

Conversion and Hillel

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I. We Need More Hillels

We need more people like Hillel. This is the central theme of R. Joseph Telushkin’s eloquent and thoughtful Hillel: If Not Now, When? and I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with it. A fractured community like ours desperately needs leaders who, like Hillel, model themselves after Aaron, constantly loving and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah. In this age of selfishness we surely need to ask that if we are only for ourselves, what are we? And in this informationally overloaded society we must overcome the art of skimming and diligently study.

But when it comes to conversion, I wonder whether R. Telushkin has misunderstood Hillel’s legacy. Hillel famously converted three candidates whom Shammai rejected — one who wished to learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot, another who rejected the Oral Torah and a third who wished to become the High Priest. Hillel evidently did not have hard and fast rules on who could convert to Judaism. He instead used his vast stores of wisdom to assess each candidate.

II. Conversion Today

Rabbi Telushkin compares this attitude to that of an instructor in Yeshiva University who tells rabbinical students not to convert people unless they, the rabbis, would be willing to bet $100,000 of their own money that the candidate will be fully observant on conversion. The contrast is stunning. Or is it? I contend that Hillel converted those three candidates, and presumably others, because he was confident that they were sincere and would quickly become fully observant. He had a keen sense of human nature and understood these people to their core. If he had been rich enough to have the first century BCE equivalent of $100,000, he would have been willing to bet that these converts would be fully observant.

The relevance of Hillel’s attitude to conversion is questionable when dealing with the complex problems we face today. Unlike in Hillel’s time, Jewishness is sadly no longer inherently connected in people’s minds with obeying God’s word or even believing in His existence. What would Hillel do about insincere conversion candidates? Perhaps he would still be lenient, as was Rav Uziel (whom R. Telushkin quotes). Perhaps he would not. Hillel’s passion and talent was for opening up the doors of Judaism to sincere seekers of God. That is not the big conversion problem on our communal agenda.

III. Attitudes

R. Telushkin describes many other of Hillel’s attitudes, showing their continued importance 2,000 years later. His patience, optimism, confidence in the public, nonjudgmental nature, intellectual curiosity and moderation between selfish and selfless concerns are universal aspects of the human condition that transcend time and place. In extracting these elements of Hillel’s personality and views, R. Telushkin guides us to becoming more like Hillel.

IV. Intepretations

I found many of R. Telushkin’s textual interpretations surprising. Perhaps this is due to my lack of familiarity with the relevant academic literature, but I feel the need to respectfully dissent, at least from the perspective of traditional commentary, from many of his explanations and assertions.

V. Saving a Life on Shabbos

In the first chapter, R. Telushkin tells the story of Hillel falling asleep on the roof of a study hall and being covered in snow. His teachers find him there on the Sabbath, start a fire to warm him, and state that he is a person worthy of violating the Sabbath on his behalf. But wouldn’t they violate the Sabbath to save anyone’s life? R. Telushkin suggests that the laws of saving lives on the Sabbath had not yet crystallized and brings a proof from the book of Maccabees.

I don’t have any theological problem with this theory but find it implausible. Traditional commentaries suggest that someone lying on a roof during a snowstorm is deliberately jeopardizing his life, and according to some we do not violate the Sabbath to save someone who does that (see Iyun Ya’akov on Yoma 35b; Or Gadol, no. 1). Hillel, they were saying, was worthy of violating the Sabbath because he had gone onto the roof to learn Torah and not to intentionally endanger himself.

I would alternately suggest that the Gemara (Yoma 85a-b) offers two reasons to violate the Sabbath to save someone’s life — “And you shall live by them” (Lev. 18:5) or “Violate one Sabbath so he will observe many Sabbaths”. Perhaps the teachers were saying that they were confident that he is a religious individual and will observe future Sabbaths. (See here for R. Shlomo Goren’s explanation of the Maccabees proof: link)

VI. Passover Eve on the Sabbath

In explaining why Bnei Beseira did not know whether the Passover sacrifice may be slaughtered on the Sabbath (Pesachim 66a), R. Telushkin writes that “[a]pparently, many years had passed since Passover had last fallen on a Friday night, and no one seemed to recall what had been done” (p. 220, ch. 2 n. 3). This is quite surprising because the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 6:1) specifically says dismisses that suggestion and says that it occurs once every 14 years. Indeed, this problem has exercised many commentators, with the Meiri even (Seder Ha-Kabbalah, pp. 54-55) offering three suggestions. Other commentators offer additional resolutions.

I can only suggest that R. Telushkin was following the approach of R. Reuven Margoliyos (Yesod Ha-Mishnah Va-Arikhasah, pp. 47-49) that the Yerushalmi means that had it not been for strong rabbinic leadership, this event would have occured once in 14 years. But because leading Torah scholars had manipulated the calendar to avoid this problem, it had not in fact occurred. Only Bnei Beseira, who were weak leaders, allowed this to happen. I find the Meiri’s suggestions more compelling.

VII. Literalism

R. Telushkin devotes chapters seven and eight to the argument that Shammai was a biblical literalist while Hillel focused more on biblical intent. His first proof is from the mitzvah of reciting Shema, about which the Torah say we must do “when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:9). Beis Shammai holds one must literally lie down while reciting Shema at night and stand up while saying it in the morning. Beis Hillel, however, understands “lie down” to mean during the time when people go to sleep at night and “rise up” to mean when people wake up in the morning (Mishnah, Berakhos 10b-11a). This, R. Telushkin suggests, is an example of Beis Shammai reading the Torah literally and Beis Hillel less so.

However, the Gemara explains that Beis Hillel felt forced by the immediately preceding phrase in the verse to explain it as such. If we may recite Shema while “walking on the road,” how can we have to do it while lying down or arising? Rather, the literal meaning of the verse refers to times of going to sleep and waking up. In a footnote (p. 88), R. Telushkin quotes such a suggestion from Dr. Michael Berger. I think it is the simple understanding of the Mishnah and Gemara.

VIII. More Literalism

R. Telushkin brings another example from the debate between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel regarding a thief who builds a house with a stolen beam. According to Beis Shammai, he must return the stolen beam even though this requires his dismantling the house. Beis Hillel, however, takes the biblical requirement to return a stolen object less literally and allows him to return the monetary value of the eam rather than the beam itself (Gittin 55a). My understanding is that Beis Hillel’s leniency was of rabbinic nature (see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Gezeilah 2:2). In order to facilitate repentance, the rabbis used their power of “hefker beis din, hefker” to declare the beam ownerless and require the repentant thief to return just the monetary value. This has no bearing on how to read the biblical text.

Another proof R. Telushkin brings is about praising an ugly bride. Beis Hillel holds you may lie for the sake of peace and say she is pretty. Beis Shammai says you must tell the truth and praise her for a legitimate trait (Kesubos 16b-17a). Evidently, Beis Shammai takes the exhortion to refrain from lying literally. However, the prohibition is not stated as “Do not lie.” Rather, it is phrased as “Distance yourself from lying” (Ex. 23:7). Many authorities see this wording as significant, teaching something slightly different than merely not to lie (see R. Daniel Z. Feldman, The Right and the Good, ch. 5). If anything, Hillel is more of a literalist in this case because he recognizes that the Torah’s language is somewhat equivocal.

Again, I emphasize that while I find these interpretations puzzling, I have no doubt that R. Telushkin bases himself on solid talmudic and historical scholarship. However, it is not the scholarship I recognize, which marred my otherwise great pleasure in reading this fascinating book.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

42 comments

  1. To be fair, the book was clearly written to start some conversations rather than as scholarship.

    On the conversion issue, he writes (p. 178): “The approach I am advocating is consistent, I believe, not only with Hillel’s teachings, but also with that of the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ben Zion Uziel (1880-1953), who argued for a policy of greater openness to potential converts. In Piskei Uziel, one of his volumes of responsa (see number 65), he considers a question posed to him by a rabbi outside of Israel. The questioner notes the large increase of Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women, and writes that some of the men desire their family members to become Jews. They have approached local rabbis with the request that their wives and children be converted. He asks whether such conversions should be performed, because these men do not properly observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and disregard the kashrut regulations.” And continues for another 2 pages.

    Later, on p. 222 he thanks Rabbi Marc Angel “whose writings first brought to my attention the response of the late Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel”.

    It seems to me this she’ala to R. Uziel is a very good fit to the “big conversion problem on our communal agenda”.

    An opportunity for a focused guest post by Rabbi Telushkin or Rabbi Angel to the Hirurim audience, perhaps?

  2. In your posting you missed one of the other thought-provoking sections of R. Telushkin’s book: his discussion of Prozbol (pp. 47 – 55) that is also relevant to many of the discussions here.

    “Tikkun Olam is on eof the relatively few Hebrew phrases that is widely known even among Jews whose knowledge of Hebrew is limited. But, long before its absorption by contemporary Jews who have made it a kind of Hebrew analogue for what is sometimes called “social justice,” it was employed two thousand years ago by Hillel to justify one of the most radical moves ever made by a Talmudic sage. Hillel invoked it to argue successfully for an all but heretical act – the effective overturning of a Torah law in the name of compassion.”

  3. I contend that Hillel converted those three candidates, and presumably others, because he was confident that they were sincere and would quickly become fully observant.

    Maharsha Shabbos 31a seems to say this.

    Nice post. Where did the “thumbs up” go? I wanted to click on it.

    Also, because you link to that old post on waging war on Shabbos, can you PLEASE put the old comments back up on the old site? I miss them.

  4. >Unlike in Hillel’s time, Jewishness is sadly no longer inherently connected in people’s minds with obeying God’s word

    It was a time of sectarianism (and ignorance) no less so than our own time. In a sense it was even worse, because at least now we have the undisputed model of rabbinic Judaism, of what Judaism has been. People have pointed out that even so-called Messianics make kiddush, wear a yarmulke, and in other respects emulate rabbinic Judaism in form. You can be Reform and still put on tefillin, as this is your model of Judaism, even in rejection. In Hillel’s time – put aside the issue of the true antiquity of tefillin – even the sons and students of tannaim didn’t necessarily know that the halacha is to tie them with only green, black or white straps made only of leather (Menachos 35a). A convert didn’t even have a Mishnah to guide him in observance, and there were numerous options and conflicting views. So I don’t see how you can portray the social and religious setting like it’s Frankfurt 300 years ago – and even then certainly no one would have been as frankly liberal as Hillel.

    It is in reality a massive, unresolved contradiction to our practice, although in fairness the guidelines of the Rambam are closer to Hillel than to us.

  5. Gil, you rather seamlessly make the shift from “insincere” to “not completely observant.” In Hillel’s time, when Sadducees were even stricter in observance than Pharisees (at least in theory), maybe. But in 2011, in an age of Reform and secular Zionism, someone may be quite sincere about conversion without intending to take on 613 commandments. The same doesn’t apply.

    Regarding the snow, I fail to see how your quoting of sources that postdate Hillel by centuries is more convincing than quoting books that predate him by a few decades.

    As to Pesach, there’s a strong case to be made that the manipulation (and control of the Mikdash) was through the Sadducees, who engineering it that Pesach always fell on a Shabbat, so until control was retaken by the Bnei Beteira, it hadn’t fallen on a Sunday in many, many years.

  6. Gil,
    With out getting into the question of academic versus yeshish methods of reading texts, it should be noted that through the period of the Tannaim the calendar was set purely based on witnesses. It could well have turned out that pessach had not fallen on a friday nightfor a long time. It was only in the period of the amoraim that a mathematically based calendar with a fixed cycle came into use. Based on your quotation of the Yerushalmi, it seems that the Y’s question is anachronistic.

  7. 1)The sort of diyyuk you cite about the bride or shema is not how most people understand literalism.

    2) Perhaps, as the Maharsha suggests, Hillel understood that the 3 converts were seeking God on a deep level; indeed, the continuation of the Gemara makes clear that they became sincere Jews. But they certainly didn’t present themselves that way. Indeed, two of them demanded to convert under conditions that would violate halacha. It would seem Hillel also understood that a welcoming attitude would bring this deeply hidden seeking to the surface. The Gemara’s end views Shammai’s rejection in a fairly harsh light: “The rigidness (kapdanuto)of Shammai would have pushed us from the world, the humility of Hillel has brought us close under the wings of the Shechina.” This would seem unwarranted if the only difference were that Hillel had an unusual insight into the depths of these individuals and Shammai had a more normal level of insight.

  8. Regarding VI and the Bnei Besira, historically it fits very well that they did not know what to do. The incident with Hillel occurs after Herod had most of the Sanhedrin slaughtered, killing off many great sages, and replacing them with puppets and nobodies. Thusly, it only makes sense that they properly know what to do…

    Although I’ve always had the kasha of why no one bothered to ask Shammai who was still around (and left alive by Herod who respected him).

  9. Thanks for all the good comments. Rejecting a statement of the Talmud Yerushalmi as anachronistic is not part of the “perspective of traditional commentary” from which I write.

    The post on waging war on Shabbos can be found on the old blog here: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2007/03/waging-war-on-shabbos.html

  10. “I contend that Hillel converted those three candidates, and presumably others, because he was confident that they were sincere and would quickly become fully observant. He had a keen sense of human nature and understood these people to their core. ”

    What you are saying here is that Hillel had the equivalent of Daas Torah. While not objectionable from the perspective of the person (surely if anyone had daas torah it was someone like Hillel), it is objectionable from the perspective of the narrative itself. The Torah contrasts two approaches, one stringent and one lenient to make its point. If it was about Hillel alone one could argue that Hillel was in fact equally stringent de facto but since it is about both Hillel and Shammai that argument seems spurious. After all, the converts could have gone back to Shammai and sat outside his door day after day begging to be converted. It is possible that their sincerity might have changed his mind. That is not what occured. Rather the story goes out of its way to show that the potential converts have only a frivolous interest in conversion. To ignore that is to destroy the simple meaning of the text.

    A simpler reading is that Hillel had faith that a lenient approach to would be more attractive to a convert and he therefore was willing to risk the possibility that it would not work and that he would convert someone who did not keep the commandments. We know not whether these converts kept the commandments thereafter. If the story wanted to prove Daas Torah, it would surely have noted that little detail. No, Gil, your reading does not make sense unless you are a modern day ideologue trying to write facts into the Avos like Artscroll does.

  11. What you are saying here is that Hillel had the equivalent of Daas Torah.
    ===============================================
    IIRC that’s exactly what some of the mfarshim say in order to cohere how Hillel could have converted them “immediately” after the incidents described with their (mefarshim’s) conception of the requirement. Again, according to the theory propounded by many halachasits, it doesn’t really matter why “the historical Hillel” acted as he did, only how the chachmei hamesora understood his action (me- it’s sort of like chasurei mechsera vhachi katani)
    KT

  12. Rather the story goes out of its way to show that the potential converts have only a frivolous interest in conversion.

    I always thought that it just shows that they grossly misunderstood Judaism, even comically.

    A simpler reading is that Hillel had faith that a lenient approach to would be more attractive to a convert…

    I don’t see that at all. Where do you see Hillel’s concern for attracting converts?

  13. “I contend that Hillel converted those three candidates, and presumably others, because he was confident that they were sincere and would quickly become fully observant. He had a keen sense of human nature and understood these people to their core. If he had been rich enough to have the first century BCE equivalent of $100,000, he would have been willing to bet that these converts would be fully observant.”

    Pure conjecture, if not outright malarkey. While what your saying above is possible, it’s just very unlikely. R’ Telushkin’s inference that Hillel did not have hard and fast rules on who could convert to Judaism, but rather used his vast stores of wisdom to assess each candidate just comes off as much more likely and true to the actual stories as they are told. Your interpretation/inference that Hillel was confident that they were sincere and would quickly become fully observant relies on things not even hinted at in the text, and based on the converts mentioned, there’s no good reason to assume that. You’re just reading into the text what you want to see.

  14. Ezra: Pure conjecture, if not outright malarkey.

    Have you seen the Rishonim and Acharonim? You are disagreeing with Tosafos, Shach and many others.

  15. This is a topic where history is relevant to the text: we have gone through periods of elasticity in regard to accepting converts and periods of unbending restriction.

    One doesn’t need a PhD to recognize this as a likely explanation of the difference between the pshat reading of the Gemara and the later glosses.

    In any case, I think the R. Uziel sh”ut is worthy of analysis, for it appears to touch on the most controversial aspect of the issue in our time: conversion for marriage even when it is understood those converting will not be shomrei litmus test mitzvot.

  16. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Those accusing R’ Gil of saying Hillel had Daas Torah:

    No, he had something even more remarkable and rare: a good understanding of human nature, good judgement, and a deep and broad perspective on the Torah.

    Re: “this guy was worth violating Shabbos for”: I’m sure some of the commentaries say this, but I think the simple understanding is it’s just an expression; of course we’d violate shabbos to save any life, but sometimes it feels morally uplifting and “worth it”, sometimes more like a formality (though we’d have to do it anyhow). I know I’ve had experiences doing “chesed projects” that have felt more worthwhile than others, though as a metzuveh ve’oseh, “it makes me feel good” is not the ultimate factor in whether I’m obligated.

  17. MiMedinat HaYam

    the bnei beteira had a distinct pblm of (perhaps) not being allowed to bring the korban on shabat, since their ancestors were not from yotzei mitzrayim, per gemara in menachot (with special tfilin), but from generation of “atzamot hayeveshot” of haftara on shabat chol hamoed pesach, which would not beread that year cause shvii shel pesach was on that shabat.

  18. IH quoted this passage from R Telushkin’s book:

    “Tikkun Olam is on eof the relatively few Hebrew phrases that is widely known even among Jews whose knowledge of Hebrew is limited. But, long before its absorption by contemporary Jews who have made it a kind of Hebrew analogue for what is sometimes called “social justice,” it was employed two thousand years ago by Hillel to justify one of the most radical moves ever made by a Talmudic sage. Hillel invoked it to argue successfully for an all but heretical act – the effective overturning of a Torah law in the name of compassion.”

    If one does not understand that the Chachmei HaMesorah have such power under the Torah’s built in “elastic clause” known as Lo Sasur to dictate how we observe Mitzvos of a Torah and Rabbinic origin,and how to transmit and understand halachic queries in the light of TSBP, then the concept of Yesh Koach Byad Chachamim LAkor Davar Min HaTorah is radical.

  19. R Gil wrote in response to David S’s comment:

    “A simpler reading is that Hillel had faith that a lenient approach to would be more attractive to a convert…

    I don’t see that at all. Where do you see Hillel’s concern for attracting converts?”

    David S’s comment would make for a fascinating hypothesis if it was supported by other Talmudic or Midrashic comments of Hillel. In the absence of the same, it can be fairly construed as a misreading of the text as another contemporary argument against the requirement of Kabalas Ol Mitzvos that is based on reading the desired conclusion into the text.

  20. R Telushkin noted :
    “Tikkun Olam is on eof the relatively few Hebrew phrases that is widely known even among Jews whose knowledge of Hebrew is limited”

    I think that there is a well known story about some individuals who were attending a meeting involving some sort of proposed social justice project and that noone had the foggiest idea of what Tikun Olam meant or its orginal context. I think that the use of the phrase Tikun Olam in its contemporary sense is a code phrase for some elements of the liberal-left agenda and does not an awful lot to do with its classical meaning which we find in Aleinu and within the Musaf of RH0, namely recognizing Malchus HaShem.

  21. >If one does not understand that the Chachmei HaMesorah have such power under the Torah’s built in “elastic clause” known as Lo Sasur to dictate how we observe Mitzvos of a Torah and Rabbinic origin,and how to transmit and understand halachic queries in the light of TSBP, then the concept of Yesh Koach Byad Chachamim LAkor Davar Min HaTorah is radical.

    Then the rabbis *can* rescue agunos, but choose not to, and are truly acting nefarious in denying that they can do anything about it.

    You are saying where there is a rabbinic will, etc., albeit in a very frum linguistic garb.

  22. S- Nope.

    Your own study of the Responsa literature should reveal that helping Agunos with the assistance of the many extant Kulos for Agunos is hardly indicative of a lack of desire to do so. However, any Posek worthy of that title will tell you that a Get must be given out of the free will, without any pressure, by the husband.

    “Where there is a rabbinic will” means that one one must adopt Halacha to the social trends and needs of the times, as opposed to evaluating contemporary mores and issues from the prism of Halacha.

  23. Steve B. seems to have missed the point entirely. in favor of poking fun at fellow Jews:

    הלל התקין פרוזבול מפני תקון העולם
    מסכת גיטין פרק ד

  24. There is something else funny about the expression: if the rabbi were to bet $100,000 of his own money, he would render himself passul l’eidus 🙂

  25. >Your own study of the Responsa literature should reveal that helping Agunos with the assistance of the many extant Kulos for Agunos is hardly indicative of a lack of desire to do so.

    I’m just putting what you yourself wrote another way. “If one does not understand that the Chachmei HaMesorah have such power under the Torah’s built in “elastic clause” known as Lo Sasur to dictate how we observe Mitzvos of a Torah and Rabbinic origin,and how to transmit and understand halachic queries in the light of TSBP, then the concept of Yesh Koach Byad Chachamim LAkor Davar Min HaTorah is radical.”

    I can’t think of another way to read that then, Torah is whatever the rabbis (or Chachmei HaMesorah if you like) say it is; by invoking Lo Tasur you’re even saying that if they say left is right then it is. This is what you wrote regarding prosbul. Is there another way to understand what you said? If “Yesh Koach Byad Chachamim LAkor Davar Min HaTorah” in practice is not radical, then why don’t the rabbis ameliorate the plight of agunos, unless they don’t want to? This is what you are in essence saying. They can, but they don’t. They themselves, I might add, deny what you are saying and they say that they *can’t.* But you say that they can.

  26. While reviewing Robert Alter’s translation of this week’s parsha just now, I see he notes in a footnote on פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב (and by extension
    וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וּבְצֵאתוֹ–וְלֹא יָמוּת) that “the sheer splendor of the ornamentation is evoked in a poetic incantation through the repetition of the phrase. Judah Halevi, the great medieval Hebrew poet, echoes these words in a delicate, richly sensual love poem, registering an imaginative responsiveness to the sumptuous sensuality of the language here.

    The poem can be seen in translation in Hillel Halkin’s book on pp. 60-61 which can be seen on Google books: http://tinyurl.com/4sqcbfo.

    Shabbat Shalom

  27. It’s really pp. 60-64 in the book: 60,61 & 63 on Google. The original Hebrew of the Yehuda Halevi poem can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/4hjmbon.
    I also see that he has a religious poem on the subject, which can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/4cwrx58.

  28. S wrote:

    “I can’t think of another way to read that then, Torah is whatever the rabbis (or Chachmei HaMesorah if you like) say it is; by invoking Lo Tasur you’re even saying that if they say left is right then it is. This is what you wrote regarding prosbul. Is there another way to understand what you said? If “Yesh Koach Byad Chachamim LAkor Davar Min HaTorah” in practice is not radical, then why don’t the rabbis ameliorate the plight of agunos, unless they don’t want to? This is what you are in essence saying. They can, but they don’t. They themselves, I might add, deny what you are saying and they say that they *can’t.* But you say that they can.”

    Wrong again. TSBP is entrusted to the Baalei Mesorah who have the right and power under Lo Sassur to decide how we observe Torah based and rabbinically created Mitzvos and rabbinic edicts. The repeated notion that Baalei Mesorah throughout the generations never ameliorated the plight of an Agunah is false.

    IH-take a look at Gittin 36a-b and the Rishionin therein. Obviously Hillel held like Rabbeinu HaKadosh that Shemitah was of a rabbinic nature during Bayis Sheni. Rashi s.v. Mipnei Tikun Olam merely states that Hillel’s ordinance was merely to allow for the continuance of business transactions that had been placed in a dubious future because the signees refused to honor their signed Shtaros. Again, Tikin Olam in the Siddur and Machzor relates directly to Malchus HaShem, not a liberal-left agenda

    FWIW, for those interested on how Hillel dealt with the conversions, see Yevamos 24b Tosfos s.v. Lo and 109b s.v. Raah and Mharsha Chiddusehi Aggados to Shabbos 31a.

  29. For a further analyis re the essence of the differing views of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai, see R Zevin’s essay in Lor Halacha.

  30. Some more details on R. Uziel’s piskei halacha on the topic can be seen on Rabbi Angel’s site: http://www.jewishideas.org/responsa/responsa-of-rabbi-uziel.

    See also http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/1_2_zohar.pdf which reviews R. Angel’s book on R. Uziel. I note in particular, this excerpt and corresponding footnote:

    “R. Angel presents R. Uziel’s view and compares them with those of other poseqim. Thus, when discussing conversion, R. Angel first presents the more hesitant views of R. Uziel’s contemporaries, Rabbis Herzog and Kook. Only then does he present the closely argued teshuvot of Rabbi Uziel supporting conversion of the gentile partner in virtually all cases of intermarriage, without any requirement that the beit din be convinced that the convert intends to observe a halakhic lifestyle. This conclusion is derived from analyses of relevant halakhic sources, which indicate that “the condition to keep the mitsvot is not a sine qua non for conversion, even ab initio (afilu le-khatehilah[3]).

    [3]
    Responsa Mishpetei Uziel, Jerusalem , Mossad HaRav Kook, 5724, no. 20. The teshuvah dates from 1951. When I first read this teshuvah of Rav Uziel, it seemed to me totally preposterous. But I subsequently had the opportunity to devote several years to studying the halakhic literature on conversion, from talmudic to contemporary times, and I now realize how strongly grounded R. Uziel’s position is in the halakhic tradition. Cf. Avi Sagi and Zvi Zohar, Giyyur ve-Zehut Yehudit (Conversion to Judaism and the Meaning of Jewish Identity), (Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute and Shalom Hartman Institute, 5755.”

    P.S. The short article is also worth reading for its précis of the difference in Halachic process between Sephardic and Ashkenazic mesorah. Toward the end is something that Steve B. Should take to heart (the paragraph starting with “In the world of Ashkenazic Jewry…”) given his earlier remarks in this thread.

  31. >However, any Posek worthy of that title will tell you that a Get must be given out of the free will, without any pressure, by the husband.

    יבמות קו, א

    וכן אתה מוצא בגיטי נשים כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני

    הרמב”ם (הלכות גירושין, פרק ב, הלכה כ)

    שאין אומרים אנוס, אלא למי שנלחץ ונדחק לעשות דבר שאינו מחויב בו מן התורה, כגון מי שהוכה, עד שמכר או עד שנתן. אבל, מי שתקפו יצרו הרע לבטל מצווה, או לעשות עבירה, והוכה עד שעשה דבר שחייב לעשותו, או עד שנתרחק מדבר האסור לעשותו, אין זה אנוס ממנו, אלא הוא אנס עצמו בדעתו הרעה. לפיכך, זה שאינו רוצה לגרש, מאחר שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל, ורוצה הוא לעשות כל המצוות, ולהתרחק מן העבירות, ויצרו הוא שתקפו, וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו, ואמר: ‘רוצה אני’, כבר גרש לרצונו

  32. Chardal – that’s only when he is obligated to divorce his wife due to extraneous circumstances, not whenever she wants a get.

  33. ““the sheer splendor of the ornamentation is evoked in a poetic incantation through the repetition of the phrase.”

    IH – Does “veata tered mata mata” in Devarim invoke the sheer spendor of Israel’s downfall, or is repeating words just Biblical Hebrew’s way of saying that the thing being discussed is to be repeated and/or continuous? I don’t find anything intrinsically wrong with literary approaches to Tanach, but this is one of many cases in which people seem to get carried away with them.

    “If “Yesh Koach Byad Chachamim LAkor Davar Min HaTorah” in practice is not radical, then why don’t the rabbis ameliorate the plight of agunos, unless they don’t want to? This is what you are in essence saying. They can, but they don’t.”

    S. – The answer is obvious: Chazal had the power, and contemporary rabbis don’t. The difference may be due to lack of smicha, sanhedrin, communal unity, or other factors. (I’m surprised how many words Steve managed to write while missing this answer.)

    “Chardal – that’s only when he is obligated to divorce his wife due to extraneous circumstances, not whenever she wants a get.”

    Alan – The Rambam’s principle is that the husband may “agree” to divorce on a deep level, even when superficially he refuses to. There is no intrinsic reason why this principle should only work in the particular circumstances that are measured. IIRC, for centuries Geonic and later Sefardic communities did force husbands to divorce based on this or a similar principle, until the Rosh (?) moved to Spain and made them stop the practice.

  34. Shlomo: I agree I got a little carried away before Shabbat because the Halkin book was mentioned together with the Telushkin book; and, then I read the Alter footnote in the Parsha. Alter often has interesting philological insights in his footnotes which makes it worth reading along with Mikraot Gedolot.

    There are indeed many word doublings in the Torah, to which my ears have always been drawn. [My personal favorite remains Gen 22:17 which always brings a tear to my eyes]. But how many other examples are there of entire phrases like:
    לד פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב וְרִמּוֹן, פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב וְרִמּוֹן, עַל-שׁוּלֵי הַמְּעִיל, סָבִיב.

    It clearly made an impact on Yehuda Halevi, which makes it far more interesting than just “literary approaches to Tanach”. In the same way that one wouldn’t use that phrase when Rashi or Ibn Ezra note unusual wording (which Alter frequently footnotes as well).

    —–

    But, I am more interested in the mainline discussion about conversion; and, particularly the very relevant piskei halacha of R. Uziel as raised by R. Angel and now R. Telushkin. Gil?

  35. The Rambam’s principle is that the husband may “agree” to divorce on a deep level, even when superficially he refuses to. There is no intrinsic reason why this principle should only work in the particular circumstances that are measured.

    Other than being against the Gemara.

    תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף פח עמוד ב

    אמר ר”נ אמר שמואל: גט המעושה בישראל, כדין – כשר, שלא כדין – פסול ופוסל

    רש”י מסכת גיטין דף פח עמוד ב

    כדין – כגון הנך דאמרינן בהו יוציא ויתן כתובה או שהיתה אסורה לו.

  36. “It could well have turned out that pessach had not fallen on a friday nightfor a long time.”

    Given that we went 400 years without a 30-day-long Elul, I would not rule out any apparently low probability calendar event as impossible. And remember that it was quite easy to prevent erev Pesach from falling on Shabat by intercalating a second Adar.

  37. ” noone had the foggiest idea of what Tikun Olam meant ”

    I have surprised some not-very-learned Jews when I have shown them the original source in Gittin for “Tikun HaOlam”.

  38. “Other than being against the Gemara.”

    Alan – You mean: Other than being against the Gemara as explained by Rashi. I don’t think the early hachmei sefarad agreed with Rashi on this.

    For the record, I don’t advocate this halacha lemaaseh.

  39. I don’t think the early hachmei sefarad agreed with Rashi on this.

    Source please. It’s against the end of the very same Rambam Gerushin 2:20, and the Rif (as explained by the Ran, in acordance with Rashi).

  40. Apropos of how complicated was Chazal’s view of conversion, see these two mind-blowing sugyot in Sanhedrin 96b:

    To set the scene, Nebuzaradan, commander of Nebuchadnezzar, has reached the temple while destroying Jerusalem:

    חזא דמיה דזכריה דהוה קא רתח אמר להו מאי האי אמרו ליה דם זבחים הוא דאישתפיך אמר להו אייתי ואנסי אי מדמו כסי ולא אידמו אמר להו גלו לי ואי לא סריקנא לכו לבשרייכו במסריקא דפרזלא אמרו ליה האי כהן ונביא הוא דאינבי להו לישראל בחורבנא דירושלם וקטלוהו אמר להו אנא מפייסנא ליה אייתי רבנן קטיל עילויה ולא נח אייתי דרדקי דבי רב קטיל עילויה ולא נח אייתי פרחי כהונה קטיל עילויה ולא נח עד די קטל עילויה תשעין וארבעה ריבוא ולא נח קרב לגביה אמר זכריה זכריה טובים שבהן איבדתים ניחא לך דאיקטלינהו לכולהו מיד נח הרהר תשובה בדעתיה אמר מה הם שלא איבדו אלא נפש אחת כך ההוא גברא מה תיהוי עליה ערק שדר פורטיתא לביתיה ואיתגייר

    תנו רבנן נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזר אדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים מבני בניו של סנחריב לימדו תורה ברבים ומאן נינהו שמעיה ואבטליון מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק ואף מבני בניו של אותו רשע ביקש הקב”ה להכניסן תחת כנפי השכינה אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקב”ה רבונו של עולם מי שהחריב את ביתך ושרף את היכלך תכניס תחת כנפי השכינה

    The gemara does not seem to answer whether Malachai ha’Sharet win or lose their protest regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s descendents attempt to convert.

  41. So, Gil, any feedback on http://www.jewishideas.org/responsa/responsa-of-rabbi-uziel or the excerpt and corresponding footnote:

    “R. Angel presents R. Uziel’s view and compares them with those of other poseqim. Thus, when discussing conversion, R. Angel first presents the more hesitant views of R. Uziel’s contemporaries, Rabbis Herzog and Kook. Only then does he present the closely argued teshuvot of Rabbi Uziel supporting conversion of the gentile partner in virtually all cases of intermarriage, without any requirement that the beit din be convinced that the convert intends to observe a halakhic lifestyle. This conclusion is derived from analyses of relevant halakhic sources, which indicate that “the condition to keep the mitsvot is not a sine qua non for conversion, even ab initio (afilu le-khatehilah[3]).

    [3]
    Responsa Mishpetei Uziel, Jerusalem , Mossad HaRav Kook, 5724, no. 20. The teshuvah dates from 1951. When I first read this teshuvah of Rav Uziel, it seemed to me totally preposterous. But I subsequently had the opportunity to devote several years to studying the halakhic literature on conversion, from talmudic to contemporary times, and I now realize how strongly grounded R. Uziel’s position is in the halakhic tradition. Cf. Avi Sagi and Zvi Zohar, Giyyur ve-Zehut Yehudit (Conversion to Judaism and the Meaning of Jewish Identity), (Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute and Shalom Hartman Institute, 5755.”

    from http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/1_2_zohar.pdf as they seem to counter your criticism “That is not the big conversion problem on our communal agenda”?

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