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by Joel Rich

Any idea on how yizkor got tied to shalosh regalim given that Vsamachta is directly in opposition to the emotions of yizkor? (I have one source with an answer but it’s not overly satisfying-and the original minhag ashkenaz was clearly not to say it on shalosh regalim). What about why not give tzedaka first rather than after the fact? (other than pragmatic fund raising reasons)

Interesting view of our Mesorah(and an outsiders take on the RCA paper):

Like caring for the dying and the dead, defining death was traditionally a role for religious communities. Priests must administer last rites before a soul departs the body, and rabbis need to know the moment of death so that burial can take place within 24 hours. In the Judeo-Christian view, body and soul are inextricably linked, so life must be cherished. Death snaps that bond and leaves a corpse that should be honored with due rites and care, yet not mistaken for the person who is no longer there.
Hence the passage in the Talmud that clarifies the point of death by comparing the body of a decapitated man to the amputated tail of a lizard—the body, like the tail, may twitch or show signs of life, but it is not alive.

Given the rarity of death by decapitation, the usual standard for death was set by the romantic view of the heart as the seat of the life force, and breathing its co-conspirator: Once the heart stopped beating and the person stopped breathing, he was dead.
Yet, as with so many aspects of contemporary life, modern medicine overtook religious tradition. In 1981, a presidential commission set “brain death”—the end of all brain activity, including involuntary acts such as responding to pain—as the determination of life’s end. That definition became the standard in all 50 states and in many other countries, and religious communities generally lined up behind it.
But some Christian and Jewish leaders have recently been raising doubts about brain death. A 2008 front-page article in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano called for revisiting the brain death definition. It echoed the sentiments of many pro-lifers who felt that the dying were losing out to a desire to cut medical costs or the urgent need for donated organs.

A few months later, Pope Benedict XVI seemed to reiterate those fears when he criticized organ trafficking and told a Vatican conference on organ donation that—while the church still strongly supports organ donation in principle—”where certainty [on death] has not been reached the principle of precaution must prevail.” A year later, the U.S. Catholic bishops told Catholic hospitals they should bar the removal of nutrition and hydration from patients who would survive if they were provided.
Then last fall, the Rabbinical Council of America, the central body of Modern Orthodox Judaism in the U.S., circulated a report that seemed to set the threshold of mortality at the cessation of breathing and heartbeat—rather than the cessation of activity in the brain stem, which had been the standard since 1990. Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, a leading Orthodox voice on medical ethics, dismissed the report as “drivel” and “nonsense,” but arguments rage on.

from the Science Times – training for halachic intuition?

Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.

“When facing problems in real-life situations, the first question is always, ‘What am I looking at? What kind of problem is this?’ ” said Philip J. Kellman, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Any theory of how we learn presupposes perceptual knowledge — that we know which facts are relevant, that we know what to look for.”

Experts develop such sensitive perceptual radar the old-fashioned way, of course, through years of study and practice. Yet there is growing evidence that a certain kind of training — visual, fast-paced, often focused on classifying problems rather then solving them — can build intuition quickly.

Which is the whole idea: Subtle shortcuts are the very stuff of perceptual intuition. With practice, neurons in the visual cortex and elsewhere specialize to identify these signature patterns, and finding them frees up mental resources for deductive reasoning, to check answers or to move on to harder problems. Such perceptual intuition isn’t cheating — it’s what the big-shot experts do.

  • Rav Nissan Kaplan-Maariv

    Nice summary of issues surrounding saying “Baruch hashem l’olam” before Amidah at Maariv (Eretz Yisrael vs. Chutz).  Not mentioned by Talmud (Rishonim source it in Saboraim) and said either due to a) late comers (time to catch up) or b) danger (and said in place of amidah so less time consuming).  [Me – either way implies there was a change in circumstances or human nature after the Talmud?!  And of course my usual question – were those reasons a mesorah (tradition) or a guess (BTW see Tosfot (d”h elyonim) on Bava Basra 10: for a great example of mesorah)
    Some differences (a) to (b))  Should you stand?  Should you say when praying individually? – b) explains why chatzi kaddish comes before amidah and isn’t a hefsek.
    Is the E.Y. vs. Ch’ul based on circumstances (e.g. danger in Ch”ul) or just different halachic “minhag”?  difference will be for travelers, do they take on local practice?
    M”B says not to stand (even though we hold (a)) since could be yotzeh amidah with it in emergency) [me – seems a stretch for a concern?]


  • < href="">Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Using Automatic Bathrooms on Shabbos

    You need to understand the mechanism (cue “The Music Man” – “but you gotta know the territory”) – R’Belsky says it works by your leaving triggering something, so it’s “Kocho” [generally directly attributable to you].  Then summary of electricity/Shabbat status and great quote from R’Yaakov (if I may use poetic license) – All the reasons forbidding electricity on Shabbat are weak (me – force?), but since all the gedolim of the previous generation agreed, it must be forbidden (I like R’Asher Weiss’s positivist formulation of this – anything the Rabbis think should be forbidden is the definition of maakeh b’patish!).
    R’Belsky ok’s walking away if drabannan (which electricity is) and disgusting (I would’ve gone with kavod habriot).


  • Rabbi Elli Fischer – Chumrah

    Chumra (stringencies) come in two basic flavors! (i) not required, but do it anyway; (ii) unsure if required, so do for safety sake.
    Category (i) may be due to a desire to be more holy, the desire to influence HKB”H to treat you on a higher level, and/or to protect against general societal influence.  Category (ii) may be [Brisker] halachic hychondria?
    Rest of shiur contrasts Mishneh Brurah is approach (he categorizes as a soft category (ii)) of generally recommending chumrah and not innovating Kulot vs. R’Moshe’s approach of reluctant leniencies (Chalav Yisrael, women teachers, etc.).
    R’Moshe took this approach to 1) build trust (US reality is different but I’m still loyal to mesorah); 2) Solidarity within orthodoxy (draw bright lines vs. conservatives); 3) avoid appearance of concession to US culture/reality (vs. “ideal” in the alte heim).


  • Rabbi Yonason Sacks -June Zman- Hiddur Mitzvah

    Discussion of hiddur mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah) – is it a torah or rabbinic mitzvah?  Then a number of implications.
    My favorite issues – 1) can a torah mitzvah have a l’chatchila (preferred) and bdieved (after the fact)? 2) is hiddur mitzvah a mitzvah klalit or pratit (a totally separate mitzvah or one specific to the mitzvah you are beautifying)? [which column in HKB”H’s spreadsheet are you credited under]; 3) are all hidurim equal? (cue Animal Farm)


  • Daniel Fridman -דרכיה דרכי נועם, וכל נתיבותיה שלום

    Implications of dracheha darchei noam (all her ways are pleasant) in the halachic process – if there’s an ambiguity, HKB”H doesn’t want us to suffer.  Examples where applied include etrog and yibum.


  • Rabbi Yehuda Balsam -eilu vieilu divrei elokim chaim, Rabbi Dovid Miller – ailu veAilu divrei elokim chaim
    Two shiurim covering much the same ground and opinions – does  eilu v’eilu (both are the words of the living God) mean both opinions are right at some level, or one is wrong but it still has value.  R’Miller discusses when you can follow a minority opinion vs. “minhag haolam” and R’Balsam explains why Beit Hillel over Beit Shammai (can’t be nice guys finish first).
    Trivia correction – IIRC Cuban missle crisis included issue of US missiles in Turkey, not Germany.

  • Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky -Pesachim 23 Submitting to Adultery

    An introduction to situations where one must give up their life rather than be forced to commit a transgression.  It’s complex!


  • Dr. David Shatz -Rav Kook

    Some general background on R’Kook – including his brilliance in halacha as well as hashkafa.  Then some specifics on Zionism, relations with secular society/individuals and secular knowledge.  R’Kook felt Jewish education had become disconnected from real life.  He also was a proponent of individuality in educational pursuits.  A curriculum of R’Kook is difficult because he didn’t really edit his work for publication or educational presentation.


  • Rabbi Seth Mandel -Controversy Surrounding the Pheasant

    A little hard to listen to due to the bird noises in the background!
    Interesting history of how R’Zivotofsky and R’Greenspan set out to ensure mesorah (unbroken experiential tradition – not just “I heard”) of shechitah of certain species (especially birds) would not be lost. 
    What about chickens that don’t look like chickens? (me – if it quacks like a chicken? J)
    Can you ask “logical” questions (e.g. how could there be a mesorah on a native American bird?) on a mesorah?  [Reminds me of how can you ask a logical question on a gzierah shava, v’yesh l’chaleik] Question for Hashgacha organizations – do you give a hechsher on something for which only a subsection of the people has a mesorah?  [me – BTW, please bring back DE!]


  • Rabbi Azarya Berzon -Business Ethics: If a dog uncovers a lost object, who keeps the object?

    An analysis of what actions actually achieve ownership.  What is the role of intent?


  • Rav Asher Weiss-Praying in Need

    Rambam vs. Ramban on prayer.  When you pray for others do you have to mention their names?  Pray for others before yourself?  If ill, can you employ a non-Jew or other rabbinically prohibited device to take you to a Rabbi or write an amulet on Shabbat?  Some recording problems.


  • Rabbi Elchanan Adler -Lifnei Iver (1)

    First in a series.  Rashi explains lifnei iver (not placing a stumbling block) as a prohibition against giving inappropriate advice.
    Interesting question – why not accept the literal interpretation of the pasuk?  R’Perlow suggests an overlap with the prohibition of not setting up dangerous situations (damim).  Me – similar question by Yibum and using the deceased brother’s name?


  • Rabbi Moshe Taragin -Should We Rejoice When the Wicked Fall 6-12-11

    Sources and discussion on where, how and when to react to the death of evil persons [cue Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – we have all been here before (right after OBL met his END)].


  • Rabbi Shmuel Marcus -Husband and Wife Accepting Early Shabbos at Different Times

    Analysis of R’Moshe tshuvah concerning whether husband’s accepting Shabbat early impacts wife.
    1) Husband’s acceptance can’t bind wife (a’la neder) [me – not explained why a community’s acceptance can bind others but a husband’s can’t].
    2) It’s worth being stringent for wife to not do family related work after husband accepts Shabbat (e.g. cooking).


  • Rav Nissan Kaplan-anias amen

    Scary stories and examples of the power of saying (or not saying) proper amen.  Then detailed discussion including:
    *what is proper intent (agree/halevi)?
    *when must you say?
    *when can’t you say?
    *when is it dealer’s choice to say?
    *specifics by amein, yhei shmeih rabba


  • Rav Nissan Kaplan-To become a talmid chacham

    Must want it a lot, learn a lot, pray a lot (and really mean it) and don’t read “other books”.  Getting Torat Hashem is realizing it’s different from gaining other knowledge and primarily requires siyata dshmaya.
    To me, the implications seemed that if you don’t get it, you didn’t want it enough.  This approach does not resonate with me.


    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. I’ve heard RHS say (many times) that Yizkor was instituted only after the shuls realized it was a good idea to collect tzedaka on the 3 regalim. Once they’re giving tzedaka, we’ll say Yizkor to elevate the souls through the tzedaka given. But it was never the main focus. I don’t remember any source he’s quoted for such an idea.

    2. Re-Yizkor:The Gaonim(R’Hai and R’Nissim were against saying Yizkor on the festivals,but their sevara was not to ask the departed to intervene for the living, which doesn’t seem to have anything to d o with the festivals(except for YK)The minhag seems to have caught on during the persecutions of the crusades (machzor Vitry)I don’t see any contradiction between hazkarat neshamot and “vesamachta bechagecha” It is about remembering, not about mourning. In the same way mussaf is aboutremembering the Temple service,not about mourning its destruction.

    3. Yet there is growing evidence that a certain kind of training — visual, fast-paced, often focused on classifying problems rather then solving them — can build intuition quickly. Which is the whole idea: Subtle shortcuts are the very stuff of perceptual intuition

      Sounds like exactly the pseudo-science that brought us Mozart for babies. Be very suspicious of someone offering you shortcuts to learning.

      Great summaries BTW.

    4. r’ shlomo,
      true, i was more focused on the blink/halachic heart issues (i am eternally greatful for r’ybs [i suppose i could stop there :-)] opening comments jn his draft tshuva (in c-c-c) on knowing the answer then constructing the tshuva.

    5. I have read that since one those days we read in krias hatorah the value of tzedaka, we try to give another push to give. Basically yizkor was instituted to fundraise.

    6. a young T”C pointed me to the following from R’HS on yizkor:


    7. Shalom Rosenfeld

      I’d heard that Yizkor was tied to the tzedaka themes of the Torah reading; cue Rambam about what’s called “simcha”, and the Torah concluding “ish k’matnas yado, k’virkas Hashem elokecha asher nasan lach.”

    8. and of course, aiui the eidot hamizrach don’t have it at all.

    9. Shalom Rosenfeld

      R’ Joel —

      We’re Ashkenazim, we’re miserable. What else is new? 🙂

    10. R’SR,
      :-), but in truth it does seem the crusades left a lasting impression.

    11. Shalom Rosenfeld

      R’ Joel,

      Some say it’s the persecution; it may also be all the centuries of miserably cold, gloomy weather.

    12. Kav HaYashar says the souls visit then.

    13. “Husband’s acceptance can’t bind wife (a’la neder) [me – not explained why a community’s acceptance can bind others but a husband’s can’t].”

      When does what the husband do bind the wife?
      Purim Torah -lilot kol ish sorer bbveto…

    14. “Jenny on June 24, 2011 at 2:38 am
      I’ve heard RHS say (many times) that Yizkor was instituted only after the shuls realized it was a good idea to collect tzedaka on the 3 regalim”

      That essentially has been my understanding for decades-of course one must remember that even in the 20th century there communities that only said Yizkor on Yom Kippur.

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