Author Archives: Eli Clark

Where Are the Superstitions of Yesteryear?

R Eli Clark / What is the role of superstition in Orthodox Jewish practice today? This question struck me this week, when two different congregants asked the gabbai for the honor of opening the aron kodesh. Both have wives who are about to give birth. And both apparently subscribe to the notion that opening the aron kodesh will ease the labor of one’s spouse. To the best of my knowledge, this is a relatively recent custom; it is cited in Kaf Ha-Hayyim (134:12) in the name of the Hida, who lived in the 18th century. Yet, despite its explicitly Sephardic and implicitly Kabbalistic origin, the practice has spread to Ashkenazic circles. The question is: how many of those who follow this custom, like the two expectant fathers competing for petiha this past Monday, believe their wife’s labor is actually affected by the performance of a relatively insignificant ceremony in shul?

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The Fanat in the Hat

R Eli Clark / I sat there with Sally. We sat on the bus. We sat there together. No one made a fuss. Then who came aboard? The Fanat in the Hat! And he said to us, “How can you sit like that? “You know it is wrong To sit next to each other.” I said, “She’s my sister, And I am her brother.” He pointed at Sally, “Go back there to sit. If you stay in front, I think I will spit.

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Vampires and Witches in Sefer Hasidim

Guest post by R. Eli D. Clark Rabbi Eli D. Clark lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel. He served as Halakha editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur and also practices international tax law. Halloween is a pagan holiday, and knowledgeable Jews rightly view Halloween as alien to the Torah way of life. (Admission: I confess to watching, as a child, a ...

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Bereishit and Allegory

R Eli Clark / Is it possible that science and Torah do not conflict, for the simple reason that they do not discuss the same issues? Can we say that science addresses only the physical world, while Torah deals with the metaphysical? Regarding the age of the universe, two recent Hirhurim posts addressed the apparent conflict between Torah sources and modern science. One poster (link) assumed that the conflict is real and cannot be resolved; therefore, he concludes that scientific cosmology must be rejected in favor of his reading of Torah sources. The other poster (link) asserted that there is authoritative precedent for interpreting Torah sources in accordance with the conclusions of modern science, thus eliminating any apparent conflict.

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The Retelling of Matan Torah

by Eli Clark / Why is there so little Tanakh study in the Orthodox world? If you read Kinot closely, you should have noticed the authors’ comprehensive knowledge of Tanakh. Who has that kind of knowledge today? Very few Gedolim in recent times studied Tanakh seriously. The most recent running commentary on Nakh from a recognized Gadol is that of Malbim, which was published in 1867. That situation is starting to change in Israel, where Herzog College (next to Yeshivat Har Etzion) has led a resurgence in high-level Orthodox Tanakh study.

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When Life Changes and Language Doesn’t

When physical circumstances change, the applicable halakhic rules often change as well. Many basic aspects of daily life (clothing, food, hygiene, commerce, transportation) have changed dramatically since the time of the Mishna, and these changes are often reflected in Halakha. Sometimes, however, the reality of change is obscured by the language we use. Halakhic texts continue to use words and phrases over centuries or millennia, even though the objects described have changed over time. The question is whether the applicable halakha should also change. A few examples

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Who Is Modern Orthodox?

Guest post by R. Eli D. Clark / Who is Modern Orthodox? This is an old question (one playfully addressed on Hirhurim here). But in comments to a recent thread on this site, posters disagreed whether certain prominent YU roshei yeshiva are “Modern Orthodox” (MO). This suggests that we lack a consensus definition of MO. The question is why? In popular discourse, one encounters various definitions of MO. For some, MO refers to the non-yeshivish wing of Orthodoxy. This is based on a simple division of the Orthodox community into two camps. On this view, if you are not haredi, you are MO.

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