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by Joel Rich

Spending time in aretz always puts me in a contemplative mood.  The majority of my thoughts are not shareable due to my double mesorah (Kach mkublani/Brisker) that the more intense the emotion the more private it should be.

In the present case hashgacha pratit had me trying to occupy my 6 month old grandson (my wife, the former nursery director, who can occupy children of any age for hours on end with ease, was in charge of the older children).  My ability, as readers of this blog well know, to occupy anyone is fairly limited.  Having run out of  toys and positions in about 45 seconds (maybe a bit longer), my grandson let me know his opinion of my capabilities  in a rather loud manner.  Running out of options, in desperation I took him over to the bookcase and in a soothing (i.e. boring) voice regaled him with the history of some of the sfarim therein.

I explained my great respect for the aruch hashulchan’s approach to psak, contrasted the choftez chaim’s approach and then came to the R’YBS section.  I spent several minutes explaining my deference as well as the derech halimud and some philosophy.  Also a few minutes on the halachic heart as evidenced by the Rabbinic draft tshuva in c-c-c.
Then I came to a book I hadn’t seen in a while – Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, a series of essays edited by the then chief Rabbi elect, Rabbi J. Sacks (1990).

I was struck by what I perceived as the differences and similarity in the state of Orthodoxy (as I perceived them) from 1950 to 1970 to 1990 to 2010 but I was most struck by some comments on “Modern Orthodoxy” by R’R. Bulka summarized by R’Sacks.

“At the same time he acknowledges that Modern Orthodoxy has a sociology which is not altogether in step with its ideology.  In congregational life Modern Orthodoxy is sometimes a euphemism for nominal Orthodoxy.  And therein lies the problem.  Modern Orthodox Jews do not have as many children as their ultra-Orthodox counterparts.  They pursue high-income professions and are disinclined to become rabbis or teachers.  Modern Orthodox communities are not always ideal paradigms of study and prayer.  Sociologists have detected an unresolved ambivalence in Modern Orthodox identities – in the effort to be both traditional Jews and citizens of the modern world.  So Modern Orthodoxy is seen by its critics as a dilution of Judaism, a prevaricating compromise.  For the ultra-Orthodox, modernity and Orthodoxy frame an either/or, not a both/and.  They are two opposed paths between which there can be neither synthesis nor integration.  Rabbi Bulka argues otherwise, but concedes that there are problems in translating this into the communal life of Jews.

R. D. Laing has observed that the individual whose own being is secure in a primary experiential sense is potentially gratified through relatedness to others, whereas the ontologically insecure person is preoccupied with preserving rather than gratifying the self”.  [me – if you’re sure of yourself, you don’t worry so much about detractors]

Me – As I look back to my younger self (circa 1990), heavily involved in local institutions, I wonder what I could have done better to strengthen institutions and individuals that would have answered R’Bulka’s challenge.

More so, I wonder what I (we) can do in the short run (and the long run) to make that happen now.  Suggestions appreciated.

A while back  someone asked about R’YBS not making aliyah as I had quoted the “captain doesn’t leave the ship” theory (as a general possible explanation).  I came across p219 in Divrei Harav (my loose translation).  “For a number of years our Rabbi (the Rav) was wont to say that anyone who was involved in Rabbanus (pulpit?) or chinuch (education) in America was battling against assimilation, and it was forbidden for him to cease his efforts in order to make aliyah, in order to attain the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel.” (Not saying I agree – apparently R’ Lichtenstein didn’t)

  • Rabbi Jeffrey Saks -Lonely Man of Faith (Part 2)

    The universal nature of religious experience (not just for Bnai Brit).  R’YBS wrote in a manner that would be respected by the most educated, but the thought is accessible to all.
    Discussion of existential loneliness (vs. being alone) and the relief available with a relationship to the true lonely one (HKB”H).  Adam I and Adam II (majesty and humility) as mined from the two stories of creation in Breishit.  The autonomous nature of religion and why, with this understanding, one isn’t bothered by issues such as seeming conflicts between science and religion.  (see Rationalist Judaism blog here link)


  • Rabbi Michael Taubes -Status of a Lavi today

    Review of the historical jobs of the Levites and discussion of whether their status continues today or has “the chain been broken” (me – interesting implications for Horiyot triage priorities as well).  IIUC he states that R’YBS didn’t wash hands of Kohanim (me – could be due to (i) status cessation; (ii) Talmid Chacham shouldn’t be serving an am haaretz; (iii) importance in his thought of chazarat hashatz; (iv) roll your own).


  • Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb -“Not One, Not Two:” The Halachos of Counting Jews

    Review of cases in Tanach where census was taken (especially by King David which apparently was an “error” on his part; cue the usual range of understanding of the “sins” of biblical characters).  Explanations (especially Ramban) as to the nature of any “errors” and practical halachic ramifications for us (including counting by using your fingers, a pasuk, by writing or just making mental notes).  Modern census tshuvot mentioned as well.


  • Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh – Machshava 21 – Tzadik veRa lo 4 – The Rav

    R’YBS’s Brisker approach to theodicy – don’t ask why (don’t think twice, it’s alright – cue Bobby Z), ask what HKB”H wants of me in the situation.  Someone asked why chazal sometimes gave cause and effect type reasons.  R’Bednarsh suggested maybe they were at that level; I’d suggest maybe they were trying to make a point (but not that they were sure) or maybe there is a hashkafic disagreement amongst Chazal.


  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Divrei Chizuk from Rav Matisyahu Solomon to DRS Boys

    A quick chizuk drop in based on Shavuot and complete commitment to HKB”H.  I’d love to know the history of this drop in and how the different Talmidim viewed it.


  • Rabbi Yehuda Werblowsky -The Yetzer Hara

    Mussar on defeating the evil inclination – especially for giluy arayot (paging Congressman W.).


  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -The “Mitzvah” to Believe in God

    The Albo is sefer haikarim lists 3 kiarim (basic principles of faith), he held an ikkar is not a mitzvah.  Defying these is Kfirah. [me – what about one who never thinks about these (or HKB”H) at all but just acts appropriately?]  The Rambam uses the word leyda (to know) which R’Aryeh defines as complete focus on HKB”H.  The Beit Halevi understands that we must prove what we can and the rest is emunah (faith).
    R’Elchanan says it’s pashut (simple) to know that HKB”H, as we know him, was creator, etc. but the yetzer hara “bribes” us to not see the obvious.  [me – I really like R’Aryeh and wonder [please don’t answer] if he really buys this – certainly the argument for a “first mover” is strong but….] My real concern was the short bit about the sfardi talmid who wrote his rebbi asking him to tell him what HKB”H wanted him to do in a situation.  Now Bob L. knows I’m always wondering about how exactly to know what will maximize HKB”H’s satisfaction function at each point in time, but I hope the rebbi answered him with something like “stop by and I’ll help you think it through so you can decide what you think HKB”H wants you to do”.


  • Rabbi Jeffrey Saks -Lonely Man of Faith (Part 3)

    Part III.  Adam I in the thought of R’YBS – his majestic humanity (due to his own God given freewill) means man (all mankind) is entitled to dignity and to “conquer” the world around him.  But with that comes responsibility!


  • Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg -Sefer Torah 1 – Mitzvah of Writing a Sefer Torah

    Discussion concerning the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah and the position of the Rosh that one fulfills it by buying sfarim (vs. Rambam).  Is the mitzvah writing based on use (learning) based?  Some implications – donating to shul, buying an already written one, woman’s obligation….


  • Rabbi Kenneth Brander -Fostering spiritual growth for men and women

    R’Brander – nice R’YBS stories – need feelings/don’t be robotic and be comfortable talking with your kids about HKB”H.
    R’Reichman – lots of approaches available question is how to present so that people will listen.  Give Shiurim, take parishioners to meet inspiring figures (Skverer rebbi mentioned as well as some towering chesed figures)
    Rn Rosensweig (since it would be confusing if I wrote R’) – men’s role/opportunities usually better defined.  Local rabbi must lead.  Followed by an impressive to do list with specifics regarding learning giving deeper meaning to mitzvot, prayer, chesed, but all must have inherent religious value.
    Of course, all this “within appropriate halachic framework” (me – a la Roberto Duran “No mas, No mas, rabbah”)


  • Rav- Dr. Abraham J.Twerski-Adolescent Temptations: What Parents & Schools/Yeshivas Need to Know and Do

    Passionate message – The world has changed and there’s no immunity to addiction in any community (and any subset – e.g. “the best boy in the Yeshiva”).  The internet has lots of bad stuff, filters can only do so much.  Control availability to adolescents to the extent possible.  Gambling, etc. also out there and the general culture is pretty bad.
    Best defense – be role models of Kedusha both as individuals and communities, give kids time and bolster their self esteem. [me – Amen!]


  • Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb -Elu V’Elu

    Eilu V’eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim (both are the opinions of the living God) – does this mean that only one opinion (Netzivot) is “TRUTH” and all other opinions on the matter are “False” (even if there is value in them in helping reach the “TRUTH” or having some other positive elements) or are there multiple truths (Ritva) in that HKB”H gave Moshe 49 reasons each way and left it up to the Rabbis of each generation to decide.
    Nice quote from the aruch hashulchan on the many opinions being like a symphony.


  • Rabbi Howard Apfel -Medical Ethics-Modesty

    Issues of what one “sees” in the street in general as part of “unavoidable” situation and then particularly for doctors.  No problems if pikuach nefesh (life threatening situations) and if the only concern in choosing your profession/sub specialty is controlling your thoughts, then R’Moshe allows if you feel confident of yourself (big responsibility).
    You are not required to give up more money because of this concern.  However, R’Avraham discourages people from going into medicine (similar to R’HS) so R’Apfel spends a lot of time calming premeds down).  Sources allowing  touching by Doctor when needed.  Need to be sensitive to patients and be very involved in your work!  [don’t flirt!]


  • Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky -shev Shmaysa Sugyos Part 4 (sfeik sfeika)
    The Mishneh Brurah seems to paskin twice by hilchot sfirat haomer that we do make of bracha in the case of a sfek sfeika (double doubt) but in hilchot brachot (by eating a full sized mini item – e.g. raisin) that in a case of double doubt we don’t make a bracha?
    3 answers given (I suggest a 4th – IIRC R’HS points out there are a number of contradictions in the M”B due to the chofetz chaim being the general editor but parts written by family).
    1. The Bahag (49 mitzvot vs. 1) isn’t really a “safek” (doubt) – it’s just that we’re “being choshesh” for that opinion [me – any other similar data points?] 2. If one safek is a rov (there is doubt but the majority is primarily one way) – you do say a bracha (me – same question)
    3) If the double doubt is in the case of a doubt of doing a torah mitzvah, we do it anyway.

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Shavuot YIFH 2011

    Another potpourri –
    2,000 years of Tohu, then Torah, then  ymot hamashiach explained – jumping off point for who can argue with whom (e.g. tannaim and amoraim) and when.  A number of different opinions covered.
    Defining a chag (holiday) and the status of tashlumim (make up days) especially for Shavuot.
    Nature of 2nd day of Yom Tov in galut and how the calendar and travel times might have led to differing definition of where galut geographically started (but generally we say lo plug – we don’t differentiate).  The nature of these “extra days” (e.g. in an emergency, is it really Yom Tov?).
    Discussion of whether you can start Shavuot early.
    By the way, even “frum” sources debate the “missing years” of bayit sheni.  [I’ll only tell you more if you know the secret handshake]


  • Rabbi Yonason Sacks -Shavuous

    Sfirah mentioned in 2 different places 1) Reah and 2) Emor –  in 1) it’s written in singular form, in 2) it’s plural implying individual and communal (Beit Din) requirement.
    Then discussion of the famous Taz opinion (big chiddish) about not starting Shavuot early.  This leads into the whole question of whether Tosefet Shabbat (making early Shabbat) changes Friday into Shabbat or is it just adding some restrictions to Friday.  Examples of implications (e.g. can you have your Shabbat meal then).
    Taz extends Kiddush bmakom Seudah (must make Kiddush in place you will eat) to time (must also be at time you could’ve eaten).
    Then some nice mussar lessons from avdut (slavery) concerning not getting comfortable in galut and HKB”H’s demand for “fear (yirah) but request for “love” (ahava).


  • Rabbi Yaakov B. Neuburger -Halacha Li’maaseh: Reshus Hayachid

    Technical introduction to a series on carrying yes, no and where on Shabbat.

  • About Joel Rich

    Joel Rich is a frequent wannabee cyberspace lecturer on various Torah topics. A Yerushalmi formerly temporarily living in West Orange, NJ, his former employer and the Social Security administration support his Torah listening habits. He is a recovering consulting actuary.


    1. Any summary of R. Neuberger’s approach to the reshus harabbim issue?

    2. The somewhat oxymoronic term Modern Orthodoxy defines a movement which in R’Bulka’s words sociology is out of touch with its ideology. Does MO embrace modernity while trying to retain a halachic lifestyle or is it more about defending that lifestyle from the threats posed by modernity? But lest we forget, this is a totally American phenomena To me of course it is irrelevant since IMHO the only honest option for a Jew who says twice a day “vetolicheinu kommemiyut le-artzeinu” is aliya.
      Which brings us to RYBS and the “captain of the ship” metaphor. WADR to RYBS (and I am less than dust beneath the feet of such a gadol),this is a flawed use of the metaphor. If the ship is going down in the middle of the ocean out of sight of land, I agree that the captain should be in the last lifeboat. But what if the ship starts foundering when it is already in sight of land? Shouldn’t the captain lead the attempt to reach (the promised)land? Especially since the Admiral commanded it? I recently heard RHS use the same argument,and bemechila mekvodo,I just don’t buy it.

    3. R’ Anon,
      No, but I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary.

    4. Joel Rich – Unfortunately, what is currently regarded as ordinary is far from the historical consensus, due to various factors, including the ‘textual revolution’ post WW2, in which a simplified version of the Mishna Berura’s position on eruvin (despite the fact that he neglects to even cite the Beis Efraim’s teshuva on reshus harabbim, probably due to the fact that he didn’t have one as he writes in the Biur Halacha 208:9, he actually believes that ‘mechuvan’ is a requirement for a road to be considered a reshus harabbim, and there are numerous proofs that he would agree that with three mechitzos, we don’t pasken ‘asu rabbim’) and the pre-eminence of 3 leading authorities in the US who had far from regular views on the definitions of reshus harabbim (Rav Soloveitchik due to his Brisker heritage; Rav Aharon Kotler due to his familial affinity towards the Mishkenos Yaakov and R. Moshe Feinstein due to his self-admitted major chiddushim in the definition of reshus harabbim).

    5. R’Anon,
      Unfortunately (to me) your first parenthetical statement is imho accurate for many issues today. Sometimes I think Bismarck was right about legislation watching.

    6. Indeed. I think even Bismarck would cringe if he woudl witness the messiness with which some of our ‘laws’ have been constructed recently. It seems to me that hilchos eruvin, largely because en eruv is the most public display of who a town ‘belongs to’, is one of the most politicized areas of halacha today.

    7. JR,

      Link doesn’t work to:

      “Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Divrei Chizuk from Rav Matisyahu Solomon to DRS Boys”


      try this one.
      Just to be clear, Rav Salomon did not come to DRS, our eleventh grade stopped in Lakewood on a trip and we went to the mashgiach’s house where he took a few minutes to address the boys.

    9. Thank you, R. Lebowitz.

      By the way, does anyone know if an mp3 for the symposium of “Modern Orthodoxy Facing the 21st Century” at the RCA convention is available? I also think it would warrant a review, since R. Student was the moderator 🙂

    10. R’ Aryeh,
      Thanks for the correction. It would be interesting to know how the Mashgiach would react to the DRS philosophy statement on the website and whether he’d be interested in a home and home visit for the Lakewood boys 11th grade up in the heights :-). Actually it might make for an interesting discussion with your 11th graders.

      Keep up the good work.


    11. “availability to adolescents to the extent possible.”

      mayim gnuvim mumtakim

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