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by Joel Rich

We recently were in a town in the Northeast for Shabbat in a shul that easily could sit 750 people. Shabbat morning there would not have been a minyan without us. At first I was saddened but then realized “chochma bagoyim taamin” –

And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
– this is not where Jewish destiny will be played out!

Question: An individual (Y) comes to the Rabbi for counseling. The Rabbi realizes it’s best for Y if he confronts his brother (X) (neither are the oldest) in a manner which may be very hurtful (perhaps deserved) to X (such that the sum total of help to Y is less than the hurt to X). Does he counsel Y to do so? What if both X and Y had come to him for counsel?

  • Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz-Oral Law 1

    A really excellent history of the Talmud including a bit on how there is a reflection of the local cultures. R’Breitowitz mentions the theory that the amoraim actually changed the results of the tannaim “in the guise of interpretation” but this is not the traditional interpretation (but IMHO would fall into the best guess, wrong answer category).
    The purposes of the gemara:
    1) major job is as commentary on the Mishna – it’s needed since oral transmission was maintained by purposely using obscure language [but it’s only obscure when you see the gemara!] – (me – see “guise” comment above as an alternative explanation for chasurei mechsara)
    2) It functions as a psak (decisor) book for mishna (not that often)
    3) seeks to deduce general underlying rules from specific halachot in mishna
    4) apply halacha from mishna to new situations by formulating principles (go from inductive to deductive reasoning)

    Gemara also includes many provisional statements not initially rejected but rejected later on or elsewhere so need to be careful when quoting sources!
    Gemara also gives two sources for aggadic material: 1) lectures in shul; 2) breaks from long shiurim in Yeshiva.
    Interesting discussion concerning the non-literal interpretation of aggadic material (e.g. sheidim (demons)) – Rambam and Maharal. My question – when did the non-literal approach start? Was it correlated with changes in the general world of rationalism? Then onto discussion of rational vs. kabbalistic approaches (BTW, no demons in Yerushalmi).
    Example of possible local influence. The Medrash of angels saying praise at the splitting of the sea and HKB”H saying don’t, my creatures are drowning: 1) Bavli – Egyptians are drowning, they are people too; 2) Yerushalmi – Jews aren’t out of water yet. [Bavli Jews lived in peace with neighbors.]

  • Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz-Oral Law 2

    Discussion of the general organizing principles of Sedarim (orders) and Mesechtot (tractates). Interesting discussions of controversies around Chanukah, Acher/R’Meir, Hillel and then onto Pirkei Avot. Unfortunately, I don’t think they put the rest of the series on line.

  • Rav Asher Weiss- “Noach” 5773: Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach

    Right up my alley! Gemara says in one place there are 7 mitzvot Bnai Noach, elsewhere it implies 30. Perhaps 7 categories containing 30 but R’Weiss prefers 7 mitzvot are required by HKB”H, rest were made up by man. Then on to the main event. Are there any universal mitzvoth – i.e. can Bnai Noach be bound by logic – Netziv & R’Nissim Gaon, Dor Revii – Yes; R’Asher Weiss and Albo – No! R’Weiss then allows that some might be universal – e.g. the Talmud says we learn the rule that if Reuvain tells Shimon to kill Levi or Reuvain will kill Shimon, Shimon can’t kill Levy – who says whose blood is redder? (me – didn’t understand this “some”and maybe that’s why the Kesef Mishneh says it was a known law, the red blood explanation was just a later descriptive (vs. prescriptive) statement)
    Very interesting take on those who are patur (exempt from mitzvoth) [suma-blind, very special needs kids, etc.] R’Weiss understands the exemption is from earthly court, but HKB”H still wants each to love him and do what they are capable of, thus there is still a requirement to educate them to the extent possible.

  • Rabbi Michael Taubes -Parshas Noach Davening in a Language other than Hebrew

    Why is Hebrew called “lashon hakodesh”? Holy things were transmitted in this language or there are no foul words in it. Then long discussion of using other languages for prayer, kriat shma, etc. “Obviously” it’s best to use Hebrew and know what you are saying. If you don’t have both conditions, what do you do? (me – lots to discuss on maaseh vs. kiyumr).
    I was struck by the Mishneh Brurah’s “walking it back” by saying we can’t really exactly translate some words from Hebrew so it won’t really work in other languages – I would think this is not a new phenomena.

  • Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank-Maharal and the purpose of agadeta

    Perhaps Chazal were giving “deeper reasons” (spiritual) when they gave reasons for certain phenomena that differed from now known scientific explanations. Perhaps most people should spend less time on aggadic material since it is often meant to be understood on a non-literal level.
    The debate concerning Chazal’s knowledge of science is an old one (and one can always reread your sources to be consistent with my theory so don’t bother to try to convince anyone whose mind is made up ).
    R’A Feldman’s position on science – now that we know Kabbalah as an explanation for previously not understood phenomena, we are no longer permitted to “believe” that Chazal didn’t know reasons/science. (paging R’Slifkin)

  • Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner -Dental Halachah: Bone Grafts

    If you were there you could get continuing education credits!
    Discussion of halachic ramifications of bone grafts using bone material from cadavers. Need to determine if the material is from multiple cadavers, the demographics of the collection area [Ben Brit vs. Non], the extent of the processing of the material and the volume of the material on hand.
    Issues include:
    *dignity of the corpse
    *delaying burial
    *benefitting from a corpse
    *ritual impurity for Cohanim

    Interesting analysis including which parties actually take part in each stage and how halacha views their participation (or lack thereof).

  • Rabbi Michael Rosensweig -The Centrality of Sefer Bereishis in Judaism Part 2

    Continuation of series. Brief discussion of Breishit as the “shoresh emurah” (root of faith) and the creation as “Yeish m’ayin” [something from nothing].

  • Rabbi Reuven Brand -The Prime Ministers

    First in a series about finding HKB”H in many places.
    Lessons from Menachem Begin (me – the whole book is a great read):
    1. Begin’s speech on ELAL not flying on Shabbat – underlines the importance of Shabbat
    2. Begins refusal to allow Etzel retaliation when Haganah sank the Altalena and turned Etzel members over to the British – no civil war/strife baseless hatred.
    3.Asking “Zbig” (he’s still on TV and still not a friend IMHO) to strike language from a mutual statement on the U.S. recognizing Israel’s right to exist – lesson of national Jewish pride.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Getting Dressed

    Minhag Yisrael concerning putting on pants first vs. shirt (me – no mention of boxers vs. briefs). Most important (to me): 1) R’SZA says don’t expand segulah type minhagim past those stated in Talmud since may not work and people will scoff (me – vs. those stated in Talmud?); 2) Rashba on importance of keeping even Buba Meisa’s (me – I wonder if he would still say this today?)

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – How to Put on a Talis

    Should have made a video! Atifat yishmaelim (wrapping like the Arab nomads) means not covering your eyes with the talit (but that’s not what the mishna brurah says?!?). Would also be nice to know if there’s some meta message being transmitted with this requirement of atifa?

  • Rabbi Elchanan Adler -Weekly Halacha: Tircha D’Mitzvah

    When does one get rewarded for the effort in showing up (schar psiah)? All mitzvoth? Only those specifically mentioned in Talmud? Only those involving need to transit somewhere?

  • Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky -Shas Topics: Shlichus Part 2 – Ein Shliach Lidvar Aveira

    2 sources in Talmud for “ein shliach l’dvar aveirah” [no agency in case of sinning] – one grounded in logic, one in scripture (you know where this is going!). There are/may be exceptions to the rule when there is personal benefit from the act, if it’s a rabbinic violation or the agent is unaware it’s a sin. As in all halacha, the source (see above) makes a difference when establishing the scope.
    Does the concept mean that the act has halachic force (e.g. the transaction is effected, a violation occurs and is punishable) or there is no halachic force at all (e.g. the transaction is null and void).

  • Rabbi Ally Ehrman -Learning From A Rebbi Who Is Religiously Deficient

    Can you learn from someone who is religiously deficient? No! [what about R’Meir and Acher? Only if you’re at R’Meir’s level (me – once again proving we imitate Chazal except when we don’t)].

  • Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky -Authority of Chazal Applications and Limitations

    Rambam categorizes authority of Sanhedrin/Beit Din Hagadol.
    I) Mpi hashmua (heard from the source). This includes laws that have no hint in the Torah but heard from Rabbis in a chain of generations back to Moshe. The other category is defining undefined Torah terms (e.g. what is an Etrog?).
    II) Torah laws derived from the “midot shehatorah nidreshet bo” (rules of explication?)
    Siyag – decrees necessitated by local (in time and place?) circumstances. (Are these considered Torah requirements?). These are often applications of (me/R’A Weiss term) ratzon hatorah/extensions of existing mitzvoth; others are simply preventative measures (Rambam vs. Ramban on this issue as being an extension of Lo Tassur).

  • Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik -Outreach: Its Implications, Amplifications and Pitfalls

    Kiruv (outreach) is important in the political and religious world, but we must also be careful not to be marchik krovim (push away those who are close). We need extra siyata dshmaya (heavenly help) which comes from purity of purpose,
    The requirement for kiruv is grounded in hocheach (giving rebuke) and brit rishonim (covenant with Abraham). Interesting political tidbits on Bush (the first), Baker and Jackson(as in Jesse).
    Key issues are not having fellowship but having friendship with non-orthodox and having no formal organizational ties! (SCA?)

  • Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman -The Best Medicine: The Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim

    Major requirements of bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) are being there for them and providing benefit to them. The rest (and there is a bunch) is commentary.
    Interesting opinion that tfilat rabim (prayer of many) means that 2 or 3 praying together, while not tfilat hatzibbur, has a status greater than individuals praying separately.

  • Rabbi Moshe Taragin-Religion by Association

    “Foul language” isn’t necessarily sexually explicit but includes coarse (non-lashon naki = non-”fine” language). [me – otoh having a “wild card” word eases the mental effort required – especially when it can be used as a noun, verb, adjective or even a gerund?] Use of such language and/or certain clothing styles can cause associative dissonance (I made that up) – meaning you become what you imitate.

  • Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank- Genesis, Evolution, and the Creation of the Universe

    Science and Religion deal with different realms – physical vs. spiritual. This is not a new idea but modern physics with “multiple truths” make this reality more understandable (tell that to all those who rolled their eyes at my double slit analogy).

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Work Exercise and Travel Before Davening

    R’Lebowitz does a yeoman’s job trying to provide a theoretical underpinning to define which activities are permitted or prohibited prior to morning prayer. It does seem, however, that CLOR is the only simple rule to follow (arghhhh – multiple undefined generating functions at work again!).

  • Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein-Pizza-what and how much?

    Review of the basics concerning different baked items and which have the halacha of pot (bread) or of pot haba b’kisnin – [if I could really translate it, we’d be done], pashtida [if I could……] and what constitutes kviat seudah (a halachic meal).
    Depending on your position on each of these issues, you may either always wash and say grace after meals on pizza or only do/say upon consuming mass quantities (cue – the Coneheads).

  • About Joel Rich

    Joel Rich is a frequent local lecturer on various Torah topics in West Orange, NJ and supports his Torah listening habits by working as a consulting actuary.


    1. Pot is not bread. Pot is grass. Money is bread.

    2. Yes, we all know where Jewish destiny is being played out. I think the problem is not the communities where there is barely a minyan on shabbat but rather those flourishing communities that have three minyanim on shabbat and are content with sitting on the sidelines and watching the Jewish people struggle with their destiny from afar.

    3. r’dt,
      True, but this shul once fit your description (which was part of my point)

    4. R’ Scott,
      Pot is grass ? hmmm- I’ll have to ask someone about that, the reference is somewhat familiar but I can’t quite place it.

    5. R’ Joel
      a few weeks ago you posted shnayer leiman’s shiur “kutzo shel yud”. The link seems to only have half of the class! Did you hear the whole thing? how?

    6. r’chaim,
      sorry-iiuc that’s all there is

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