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▪ A blog is a medium. Some use it wisely, others do not: E Goldberg: Anonymous Bloggers – Cowards or Courageous?
▪ There is a huge difference between asking for a minimum sentence that is already quite harsh and saying that someone should not be punished at all: Pruzansky: Defense? Hardly
▪ A common sense response to the hateful and blatantly false rhetoric emanating from Charedi sources: Slifkin: Letter from Rabbi Gold
▪ Poland gives priority to Jewish rights over animal rights: EJC welcomes Poland’s decision to permit shechita
▪ A man fully shaving his head violates Lev. 19:27. It’s like having a treif banquet for charity: Rabbis’ mass head-shaving inspired by ‘Superman Sam’ raises nearly $600K
Ask the Rabbi: Does Jewish law ever permit bigamy?
Priced out of Pesach – families turn to charity to meet spiralling food costs
▪ Celebrating the struggle of gay Orthodox Jews with Steven Greenberg, because apparently this is a Torah prohibition we don’t like: Orthodox and gay
Orthodox Singers Find Creative Voice by Performing for Other Women Only

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor 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, 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 has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as 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.


  1. Does R’ Pruzansky’s sentencing letter outline the reasons for leniency in sentencing? We all have a bias in favor of a known individual vs. a faceless (to us) one. That’s why charities send pictures of victims rather than statistics.

    • Are sentencing letters supposed to be unbiased? Is that a judge’s expectation on reading them?

      • Bo, but if I understand correctly, R’ Pruzansky was defending his decision to ask for leniency in this particular case without explaining why he felt leniency was particularly deserved. He was taking flack for asking for leniency in a case where many thought there was no particular reason for leniency (unless you hold that unconditional requests for leniency for orthodox perpetrators are always appropriate).

        • Joel:

          Your comment is misplaced. R. Pruzansky is not the sentencing judge. Such judges typically receive reports from numerous sources, including a pre-sentence report, a plea for justice from the prosecutor and perhaps also the victims or their family, members of the community, and others. Others often include clergy who know the person, his background and his life. The judge is supposed to take it all in and come up with a fair and just sentence.

          I gather from the post that as a community rov, R. Pruzansky has some knowledge of the person and some good he has done. No reason that should not be brought to the judge’s attention, just as the victims’ suffering will no doubt be brought to his attention. R. Pruzansky is simply one voice saying something positive about a person about whom a great deal of negative will no doubt be said. Weighing all that to arrive at a just sentence will be done by someone else.

          • Tal,
            I understand the process – my question was exactly what R’ Steven Pruzansky knew that indicated leniency was appropriate. I wrote one such letter years back and gave examples of why I thought the crime, while deplorable, was an abberation in an otherwise outstanding individual’s history. I was simply asking whether that was the case here.

  2. This paragraph by R. Efrem Goldberg deserves being highlighted:

    “The burden of making sure that the Internet functions as a disinfectant and not as a toxin is on the readers and consumers of its content. We must be judicious, careful, and extremely vigilant, not only in what we write, but in how we process and accept what we read.”

  3. Gil – The pictures in the article on the “mass head-shaving” event show that it was done with electric clippers and that some hair was left afterwards. According to the consensus of classic poskim, this is muttar lechatchila.

    As Rav Yehuda Pfoiffer (the author of an excellent sefer on electric shavers with a haskama from R. Moshe Sternbuch) notes, the recently widespread chumra that the peios harosh must be left at grade two length or longer (k’dei lachof rosho le’ikaro) has little basis in halacha, and is conceptually difficult to justify. The very fact that sefarim such as the Chochmas Adam and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch write that leaving even a minute amount of hair is halachically permissible indicates that they did not subscribe to this view.

    Even were the participants in this events to have entirely removed their hair with electric clippers, according to several poskim (such as R. Yonasan Shteiff and the Sho’el Ve’nishal), the Shulchan Aruch paskens ‘meikar hadin’ in accordance with the Rambam, who holds that one is permitted to remove the peios harosh with any means other than a razor.

    This is all discussed on pages 9 and 40-42 of “Hilchos Giluach Hamesukan”, which can be found here:


    Of course none of this should be construed as an approval of Reform rabbis’ halachic (or otherwise) practices.

  4. Aryeh Lebowitz

    On length of hair, see Nefesh Harav page 234. Also, this is from an article I wrote on the topic a few years ago…
    V. Length of Hairs. The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch do not provide a precise definition of what is considered a hair and what is considered a shaved area. It seems that all would agree that one my trim the peyos, but exactly how close to the root each hair may be cut remains a point of dispute.
    A. Without a Razor. The Rambam (Avoda Zara 12:6) rules that one is only prohibited from removing peyos with a razor. Cutting peyos off with a scissor that provides a cut as short as a razor is completely acceptable. The Darchei Teshuva (181:2) writes that the Sefer Hachinuch understands that while the Rambam exempts one who removes his peyos with scissors from a punishment, it is still prohibited to do so. However, a cursory glance at the Sefer Hachinuch seems to indicate that the Sefer Hachinuch only applied this stringency to shaving the beard, and not to shaving the peyos of the head. As such, the Rambam’s view seems very clear that one is permitted to remove his peyos using a scissor or a machine that cuts using scissor action. Tosafos (Nazir 41b s.v. Hashta) and the Rosh (Makos 3:2-3) disagree with the Rambam and maintain that the prohibition to remove the peyos ha’rosh would apply equally to removal with a razor and removal with any other cutting instrument. (see Beis Yosef Yoreh Deah 181 for an explanation of the dispute)
    B. Halacha. While the Shulchan Aruch (181:3) rules in accordance with the Rambam, he then cites those who rule stringently in accordance with the Rosh and suggests concerning ourselves with the more stringent view. (See Darchei Teshuva 181:2 who rules that one who unwittingly followed the ruling of the Rambam need not repent for his sin, as the Shulchan Aruch rules that the strict halacha is in accordance with this view.) It therefore seems that one should not remove his peyos, even if he plans on doing so with a scissor type of instrument (most hair trimmers would probably have the halachic status of a scissor). However, the exact length that the peyos hairs may be cut to still remains unclear. The poskim have looked for clues throughout rabbinic literature for the definition of a significant piece of hair:
    1. The Rambam (Nezirus 5:11) writes that a nazir is only held accountable for cutting hair in a way that he removes it entirely. If he trims his hair and leaves the length that would allow the top of the hair to be bent back toward it’s root he is said to have left hair and is therefore not punished for shaving his hair. Dayan Yitzchak Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak IV:113:5) applies this same criteria to the length of hairs in the peyos. Rav Yisroel Belsky suggests that when one uses a number two extension on a trimmer he has left a substantial enough length of hair.
    2. The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:4) rules that a completely red cow that has two white or black hairs would not have the status of a Parah Adumah. If however, the hairs are so short that one would not be able to grab them with tweezers the hair is considered to not be there at all. Apparently the Rambam has another definition of a significant amount of hair, namely that which can be grabbed with tweezers. If this were applied to the halacha of peyos it would constitute a considerable leniency and would even allow a person to get a “number 1” haircut on his peyos. Indeed, Rabbi Herschel Schachter cites the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik that as long as the hair is long enough to “scratch with a fingernail” it is not considered to have been destroyed (Nefesh HaRav page 234).
    3. The Biur Halacha (251 s.v. Afilu) writes that one cannot cut his peyos to the point that they are “literally close to the skin” but can leave “very very little”. While the Biur Halacha does not quantify what is considered “very very little” one may suggest that the intention is for even the shortest hairs so long as their presence is easily felt. (See Perisha 181 who also implies that very short hairs are acceptable).

  5. With regard to Rabbi Pruzansky’s post, I would recommend that everyone consider the words of the Rambam on this very issue (Moreh Nevukhim III, XXXVIII):

    “[O]n the other hand, when sinners and evildoers seek our help, it must not be granted; no mercy must be shown to them, and the course of justice must not be interfered with, even if they claim the protection of that which is noblest and highest: for ‘Thou shalt take him from mine altar that he may die’ (Exod. xxi. 14). Here a person comes to seek the help of God, and claims the protection of that which is devoted to his name; God, however, does not help him, and commands that he be delivered up to the prosecutor, from whom he fled. Much less need any one of us help or pity his fellow-men [under such circumstances]: because mercy on sinners is cruelty to all creatures. These are undoubtedly the right ways designated ‘righteous statutes and judgments’ (Deut. iv. 8), and different from the ways of the fools, who consider a person praiseworthy when he helps and protects his fellow-men, without discriminating between the oppressor and the oppressed. This is well known from their words and songs.”

    Mercy on sinners is cruelty to all creatures. This is especially true in this case, where the defendant did not only engage in abusive acts, but aided and abetted the child pornography industry in its cruel victimization of thousands of children worldwide. Individuals like the defendant are the reason why there is a child pornography industry in the first place. Our only hope of stamping it out is to show the consumers of this sick marketplace that their lives will be over if they continue to transact in it. Yet, I do not see these concerns sufficiently reflected in the Rabbi’s analysis.

    Shabbat Shalom.

  6. Joseph Kaplan

    That is who I was referring to and the commentator quotes him as saying “I would never have done this if there was a direct victim involved.” Since there was a “direct victim” he’s saying that had he done his due diligence before sending the letter he would not have sent it. This lack of due diligence was a serious error. And after speaking to a professional in this area I am aware if many other serious problems with his letter.

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