Author Archives: Michael Broyde

My Nom De Plume Exposed

Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde Starting about twenty years ago, I and a friend occasionally used a pseudonym to write about matters of halacha and Jewish public policy. The views expressed were not reflective of an overall joint ideology, but we wished to write together on some matters where we shared a common interest. This pen name — ...

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Shaving on Chol HaMoed

R Michael Broyde / I first gave this shiur twenty years ago in Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta on the Shabbat after the Rav died, which was the day before his funeral on Sunday, Chol Hamoed day 4, Pesach 1993. Given the Rav’s landmark work in matters of hashkafa, it is easy to overlook his contributions to contemporary halacha, and I hope that this piece, and the few that I hope will follow (one on the unique view of the Rav concerning a missed yaaleh veyavo) will do a bit to share my view of the Rav as an innovative halachic authority. Although I was privileged to sit in the Rav’s shiur at YU the last 18 months that he gave such a shiur, the truth is that I did not learn much from shiur, as I had a hard time understanding much of what the Rav said.

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Justice Menachem Elon זצ"ל

R Michael Broyde / Israel, the land and the nation, lost a giant this past month. Justice Menachem Elon was a monumental talmid chakham who served on the Israeli Supreme Court from 1977-1993, and as its Deputy President from 1988-93, bringing a deep Torah viewpoint to the highest tiers of the Israeli judiciary. Born in Germany in 1923, his family fled a year before the Nazis rose to power, making their way to Israel in 1935. He studied in the Chevron Yeshiva where he was known as an illuy, a young genius, and was eventually ordained. He earned his law degree from the Tel Aviv School of Law and Economics in 1948 and served as military prosecutor of the 9th Brigade during the War of Independence.

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Mishnah Berurah Methodology

R Michael Broyde/ I have been working for a few years on the methodology of the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch Hashulchan. It has been very intellectually rewarding and the first fruits of this effort has appeared in print entitled “The Codification of Jewish Law and an Introduction to the Jurisprudence of the Mishnah Berurah” (below) which was published in the Hamline Law Review volume in memory of David Cobin. I hope over the course of the next year to publish a sefer on the methodology of the Mishnah Berurah which completes this article and then go on to finish my work on the Aruch Hashulchan‘s writing in Orach Chaim – and then on from there, I hope. For this article, I was blessed with an absolutely brilliant co-author, Rabbi Ira Bedzow, who is a graduate student at Emory and a student with me in our dayanut kollel in Atlanta.

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Report Abuse to Police, Not Rabbis

R Michael Broyde / I have been answering questions about the proper role of the Rabbinical Courts (bet din system) in the United States for nearly 20 years. One of the questions that I am sometimes asked is the role of the rabbinical courts when confronting allegations of abuse. My view – which I know is not the only one present even within the Modern Orthodox community – is simple and clear. There is no place for rabbinical courts when sexual or physical abuse is alleged against children or young adults.

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Women Wearing Tallit?

R Michael Broyde / I have to confess that when I sent this piece out to some of my colleagues and friends to read, I received a very thoughtful but actually saddening reply from one of my close friends. He stated (somewhat edited) as follows: There is, I think, a larger issue looming here, independent of the context of this particular question. Our community is divided into three groups. (1) The first are those who are members of the Modern Orthodox community whose allegiance to our community and its practices are not really dependent on intellectual satisfaction, but are driven by more spiritual ideas. (2) The second are people who are simply content to have a less progressive life in their religious existence than in their professional life, for social, family or other reasons. Both of these groups will be content with your essay. But there is a third group present in our community. This group (3) is not content with a halacha that is lacking modern day sensibilities. This essay argues that we are stuck with various conventions and attitudes even when halacha could afford much greater flexibility. All of us worry if we are providing the right responses for this group, which is made up of people who are who are looking for the same intellectual openness, progressiveness and creativity in all spheres of their life, including Judaism. They are, for sure, less traditional than the rest of the community, but fully bound by halacha. We are at risk of losing this portion of our community and we have to work harder to address the religious needs of this population as it is one that you and I probably identify with most closely. If we are not careful, after writing these kinds of reasonable but conservative responses for a few more decades, you will see that you have not been meeting the needs of this group and we will all agonize over a failed opportunity to strengthen this vital segment of our community.

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Who Is A Ger?

R Michael Broyde / One of the wonderful aspects of American Orthodoxy is the presence of so many righteous converts – more than any other generation in recent memory — we are seeing in the United States. People are joining the Orthodox Jewish community out of love of God, Torah and mitzvot and are professing full and complete fidelity to halacha as part of the process of becoming Jewish. Of course, the thrust of the Torah and halacha is that we ought not make distinctions between converts and born Jews – but yet, there are occasions where Jewish law calls for special care and kindness to gerim and Jewish law restricts a female ger from marrying a preist (kohen). This short note discusses a small conceptual detail in this area of Jewish law by asking “who is the ger that Jewish law considers worthy of these special protections and occasional restrictions?” Is it only one who converts, or is it the children of a convert also? This note points out that, in fact, this is a matter in dispute.

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Orientation During Prayer

R Michael Broyde / One of the more universally recognized aspects of Jewish prayer is that (at least in our part of the world) it is to be directed to the east, toward Israel. Ideally, synagogues should be designed and built to face Israel. Individuals praying alone are likewise encouraged to orient themselves eastward. We teach this to our children at a young age, and often display mizrach plaques denoting this special direction. Notwithstanding the commonness of this knowledge, one frequently sees that synagogues and study halls with regular prayer services do not, in fact, face either eastward or toward Israel; indeed, historically, one can find whole communities where not a single synagogue faced toward Israel.[1] The glaring disparity between Jewish teaching and practice raises fundamental questions: How strict is the requirement to face east during tefillah? Is this practice perhaps not even a requirement at all, but merely a hiddur, an enhancement? Might other ideals or requirements take precedence over the notion of facing east? And even if we do conclude that one should face Israel, what exactly does that entail when we recognize that the surface of the earth is not flat but spheroidal?

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Women’s Only Torah Reading

R Michael Broyde / Modern Orthodox synagogues, like others, actively seek the participation of both men and women in synagogue life. A “women’s only Torah reading” on Simchat Torah is an issue that has surfaced within this context; I write to address this issue and express my view. I should also note that the Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, Georgia, where I was the founding rabbi for 14 years (retired in 2008), and where I am currently a member had such a “women’s only Torah reading” (without any brachot), for the first time this Simchat Torah 5773.[1] I was not involved in the decision to have such a Torah reading, and do not favor such Torah readings. I write not to engage in a polemic or dispute regarding this particular synagogue’s decision – only the current rabbi decides matters of halacha for any synagogue and individuals with questions about this Torah reading should discuss any issues they have with him – but I write to clarify my view, lest anyone be confused about what is my opinion.

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