I’ve been thinking a lot about information overload and how a poseik must not only be familiar with an exponentially increasing number of halachic sources and theories (especially if you include archeological, historical and textual advances), but also the concomitant information explosion in all knowledge (and technology). I wonder if it’s too much to ask and whether heuristics (or mimetics) are likely to play a more important role again in the future. Then again I’m working on a shiur on Brain-Computer interfaces which may answer the demand for memory storage in a much different way!
From the Yeshivat Har Etzion VBM – Dr. Judah Goldberg
The Concept of Jewish Values
There was a time, apparently, when Jewish values did not need much backing or evidence. They were so ingrained and interwoven with the fabric of Jewish living that a simple “pas nisht” (Yiddish for “not proper”) served as a more powerful retort than Chazal’s strongest admonishment. Jewish culture, for centuries inseparable from Jewish observance, reflected a composite of laws and values that generations passed down from one to another as a rich, intricate tradition. The lay person seldom stopped to ask exactly which commandment “being a mentsch” is subsumed under, or why Jews should protect each other, because he likely didn’t question the source for tashlikh or the size of his grandfather’s Kiddush cup either. The teachings of the schoolroom and the lessons of the Shabbat table blended into each other without undue attention to boundaries and territory, and together they charted the path for Jewish living.
Two phenomena, I believe, disrupted this organic relationship to Jewish values, one circumstantial and tragic and the other ideological and possibly welcome. The first is the upheaval, destruction and resurgence of Ashkenazi Jewry through the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century. With God’s grace, Orthodoxy survived the trials of the last century, but not without sustaining a severe rent in the fabric of life whose repair has been anything but seamless.
At the same time that historical events were eroding the force of organic Jewish practice, a school of thought was emerging that reasserted the centrality of classic Jewish texts on purely ideological grounds. The founding figure of this movement was the legendary Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, commonly known as the Gra (an acronym). To quote again from Dr. Soloveitchik,
The GRA, while far from the first to subject the corpus of Jewish practice to textual scrutiny, did it on an unprecedented scale and with unprecedented rigor. No one before him (and quite possibly, no one since) has so often and relentlessly drawn the conclusion of jettisoning practices that did not square with the canonized texts. (n. 20)
Here is the Pew Study: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/
Do you see a value in the results for the orthodox community? For the non-orthodox community? If so, what is that value? What specific action areas/plans should be investigated?
- Rabbi Nosson Rich-Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 313-5 and 314-1
Rules concerning the prohibition on Shabbat of boneh (building) including fastening a leg back to a table, two pieces of wood together or putting straw down on muddy field. Then on to whether there is binyan or stirah (destruction) in keilim (utensils) with specifics regarding tuna fish cans.
- Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb-Structured and Spontaneous: Finding the Right Balance in Our Tefillos
History of why a set text of prayer was introduced. We should realize that we need structure, that Chazal encoded all kinds of hidden meanings in the set text and that it expresses Judaism’s true priorities. It allows us to function as a community and if we do it in a practiced (not rote) manner, we can truly excel and personalize prayer [me – think about the 10,000 hour rule in Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers”].
- Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz-Ten Minute Halacha – Leaving Open Bottles of Wine With a Housekeeper
Review of basic rules of Yayin Nesech and Stam Yeinam. Key issues include is pasteurization enough to make the wine mvushal (cooked) and does a closed bottle suffice to protect from being deemed Stam Yeinam?
Important issue – if the non-ben brit has no financial incentive, do we need to be concerned about possible switching? (Separate issue not raised – for expensive wines, isn’t being “machmir” to get rid of the wine issue of baal taschit [wasting]?).
- Professor David B. Ruderman-The People And The Book: The Invention of Printing And The Transformation of Jewish Culture
Introduction to the academic discipline of the study of books (not content but format, impact of publisher, audiences….) and what Jewish studies can learn from it (right up my alley!).
*Bromberg followed the approach of canon law study by laying out the Mikraot Gdolot and Talmud with the main text surrounded by commentaries.
*The Shulchan Aruch with addition of Rama became the first transnational Jewish text and began the transition from the transcendence of the teacher to the transedance of the text! (paging Dr. Soloveitchik)
*Printed text led to the democratization of knowledge and a secondary elite (anyone could publish a book).
*Christian scholars studied Kabbalah and printed works on it
*Nofet Tzufim (1475) combined Greek rhetoric lessons with examples from Nach (Torah Umada).
*Maase Toveah was an 18th century Jewish medical encyclopedia (Torah Umada).
The internet may return us to the preprinting press days of fluidity and flexibility of knowledge.
- Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz-Ten Minute Halacha – Vegetarianism and Halacha
It’s ok to be vegetarian for health reasons but not for hashkafic reasons. R’Kook explains requiring vegetarianism would imply we have everything else figured out and result with some violating it, while others will channel their corrupt personalities to this area. Most importantly, we need to reinforce the message that man is different from the animals.
Must you eat meat on Yom Tov? Not clear.
- Rabbi Michael Rosensweig-Kedushas Hashabbos – Dedicated and Unchanging
Why is Shabbat mentioned so many times in the Torah? (There is a message!) How are kedusha and bracha defined in general and for Shabbat in particular?
Kedusha is a permanent, unchanging and absolute commitment.
- Mrs. Sara Dena Katz-Kohelet as a Vehicle for Conscious Awareness
We live in a world where a spiritually sensitive soul realizes that something is missing. We should realize we “can’t take it with us” and live our lives accordingly.
Message of Sukkot is to “go outside” and connect with HKB”H’s nature and realize we need introspection (mid-course corrections in our lives).
- Professor Michael Walzer-War and the Jewish Tradition
Looking at the justness of war from viewpoints of reason (secular/natural law) and revelation (halacha). Discusses the evolution of both approaches noting the lack of halachic development due to the lack of a state for two millenium.
- Digital Nation | FRONTLINE | PBS
Modern technology’s impact on how we think, read, write, etc. Some of us even spend much of our time in a virtual world. My take – “deal with it” because the times they are a changing. It would be interesting to think about the impact on the Torah world (see “The History of the Book” reviewed herein for a possible paradigm).
- Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Ice Makers on Shabbos and Yom Tov
Ice makers on Shabbat and Yom Tov – there’s more than one technology and a number of basic halachic differences of opinion.
- Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky-Common Shul Questions in Hilchos Shabbos
Discussion of a number of Shabbat issues that a pulpit Rabbi will likely need to deal with and several leniencies that can be employed if needed.
- Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Daily Halacha Chabura #1
Discussion of permitted interruptions at different points of prayer.
- Professor Kagan-Lecture 4 – Introduction to Plato’s Phaedo; Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part II
More on arguing for the existence of a soul – we experience it, creativity comes from it and free will mandates its existence (along with counterarguments).
- Rav Asher Weiss- Parshas Noach
Is suicide murder? (R’AW thinks not). Under what circumstances might it be permitted? Review of sources and competing interpretations.
- Rabbi Nosson Rich-Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 314-2
Issues regarding opening of vessels/cans, etc. on Shabbat (old hole vs. new).
- Rabbi Nosson Rich-Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 314-3
Continuation dealing with opening old spout vs. new on Shabbat, destroying the container (vs. just changing its function is a key issue).
- Rabbi Nosson Rich-Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 314-4
Opening cans on Shabbat, removing hinges or doors. When do you have a kli gamur (complete object) and when not?
- Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank-Torah as the portal to understanding God
Halacha reflects divine wisdom in mystical terms and a conceptual understanding of mitzvoth reveals an inner truth. The Rambam stressed that through intellectual perfection one could know HKB”H but ethical attributes were important as well.
- Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz-By Way Of Introduction – Rav Ovadya Yosef to Taharat Habayit
Shiur was given prior to his ptirah and provides a biography of R’Ovadia ZT”L and his halachic approach. Stays away from political issues!
No surprises, the major themes were he:
*unified sfardic psak like R’Yosef Karo (vs. Ben Ish Chai)
*was not afraid of leniencies
*had complete knowledge of all sources
- Rabbi Nosson Rich-Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 314-5 and 315-1
Sealing holes in utensils and opening utensils, cutting rope and other “destruction” on Shabbat issues.
- Shay Schachter-Walking in His Ways – Ethics & Etiquette
R’YBS differentiated ethics (what you do even if no one is watching) and etiquette (what you do because others are watching) – both are important! He understood imitato dei as meaning we each must develop our unique talents.
- Rabbi Ari Kahn-כדי לעשות נחת רוח לנשים
Review of Talmudic and later sources concerning women’s participation in rituals, focusing on dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah. It can’t be totally forbidden.
- Rabbi Yona Reiss-Women’s Issues in Halacha: Female Rabbis, Torah for Women, Saying Kaddish & Bat Mitzvas
Changes in society and women’s participation in learning and leadership positions. The key issues for analysis include srarah (TBD), modesty, and tradition. Enhancing vs. undermining halacha is an important part of any analysis. No to women Rabbis and partnership minyanim. Yes to Yoetzet.
- Professor Kagan-Lecture 5 – Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part III: Free Will and Near-Death Experiences
The free will argument can be undermined by a number of methods (e.g. we don’t really have free will, quantam mechanics shows even physical existence isn’t deterministic). You can deal with near death experiences and being able to imagine a soul without a body. (This is beginning to sound like some machloket where neither side can come close to a slamdunk (see Ramban’s intro about absolute proofs) proving their case and just keep saying their’s is the “better” explanation.)
- Rabbi Dr. Levi Cooper-The Villager and the Flute: Hasidic Tales that Contravene Jewish Law
Review of the Chassidic tale of the boy who played his flute on Yom Kippur. In its original form it is very antimonian (fine for original chassidim, not so much for halachists) and thus mutated over time but lost some of its original power. It also moved into a version about the mission of Lubavitch as well as a modern anti “new age” spirituality exclusivism.
- Jonathan Ziring-Eilu V’Eilu and Chacham Echad She’asar
Eilu V’Eilu (multiple truths) vs. single truth (but we may not get it right). Analysis of competing halachic theories and sources and how they might impact one’s halachic decision making process.
- Rabbi Nosson Rich–Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 315-3
Putting up a mechitza on Shabbat (it’s ok for modesty) or curtains. Issues include permanence vs. temporary construction. Chazon Ish says there is a problem with wall hangings as adding on to a building (so could be a problem putting up the “this weeks” parsha plaque). There is no issue of ohel (tent) if the cover is up before Shabbat, even if only a tefach open.
- Rabbi Dr. Levi Cooper-Maharal: The Mystic as Legal Scholar
A bit of biography of the Maharal with focus on his opposition to written codifications of Halacha and possible reasons for such opposition. General theory is that each case is different and thus must be readjudicated from scratch.
- Professor Kagan-Lecture 6 – Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part IV; Plato, Part I
Possible refutations of the “imagination” argument (Descartes) for the existence of the soul with focus on Socrates and Plato.
- Rabbi Michael Rosensweig–Shabbos and the Relationship between Kedusha and Tahara
More on integrating the seeming opposites of Bracha and Kedusha. Note the relationship between Kedusha (spreads to others and is primarily permanent) and tahara (is easily infected and temporary) then on to Shabbat and kedushat hazman.
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