Guest Posts

Valentine’s Day and Jewish Law

R Michael Broyde & R Mark Goldfeder / Matters of halacha are never simple and Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s response and reply to this short article on celebrating New Year’s Day represents everything that is excellent about Torah study on the internet – and it is not surprising coming from such a thoughtful writer on current events. We welcome this opportunity to reply to his views and hope that this column clarifies our view of the relevant halacha. Rabbi Hoffman disagrees with us about three matters. First, he thinks we have misread Rav Moshe Feintein’s view on when gentile customs can become secular; second, he thinks that Valentine’s Day is still limited in celebration to Christian lands; and finally, he thinks that Rav Moshe did not permit New Year’s Day celebrations, only bar mitzvah or wedding celebrations that happen to fall out on New Year’s Day. We stand by the original article.

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Trees, Torah, and Caring for the Earth

Dr Akiva Wolff and R Yonatan Neril / Tu b’Shevat, “the New Year of the Trees,” has become known as a day for raising Jewish-environmental awareness. That Tu B’Shvat has come to be associated with sensitivity to and appreciation of the natural environment is not by chance. Trees occupy a special place in Jewish thought. Their symbolic and practical importance is woven throughout traditional Jewish sources, helping us understand – and hopefully, improve – our relationship to G-d’s creation: our world.

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Removing Women’s Pictures from Photographs

Hadassah Levy / A recent ad in a local Rehovot haredi newspaper blurred the picture of Sivan Rahav-Meir. Ironically, the ad was for an event at which Rahav-Meir will be speaking. The event is run by the Religious-National Forum and the ad was submitted to the newspaper without the blurring. This news item is being reported shortly after the outrage over the blurring out of Ruti Fogel’s picture from a parsha sheet. The memorial picture included the whole family, with only her photo blurred. Machon Meir, which published the parsha sheet, has a policy against publishing women’s pictures in the bulletin, since it is meant for distribution in shul. The institute apologized both publicly and privately to the family for the gaffe.

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How Many Came Out Of Egypt?

David Ben-Gurion, the “father” of the state of Israel and its first prime minister, was also a noted scholar of the Bible. The bi-weekly study meetings held in his home attracted some of the greatest scholars, rabbis, and professors in Israel, representing a variety of approaches, from traditional interpretation to Biblical criticism and beyond. This note summarizes his ideas on a topical question, namely, how many Israelites came out of Egypt in the Exodus [1]. His interpretation has many merits as a viable peshat explanation even if it also faces some challenges. (My own comments are given in parentheses).

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Building A Better Siddur

R Michael Broyde / I confess: I like davening from the siddur on my Blackberry Bold. It has a backlit screen, the words are clear and I like scrolling more than turning pages. My Blackberry also has a chumash that automatically opens to this week’s parsha and a Shulchan Aruch that I sometimes learn from during those occasional slow moments in davening (like when they are rolling the Torah). But, lurking in the back of my mind is the idea that my e-siddur ought to be doing much more for me, and it is time to build a better mousetrap. Indeed, my Blackberry has already been programmed in its calendar function to tell me every day a lot of davening information, including the Hebrew date, whether we say tachanun today, when is sunrise and sunset, what is the Torah reading, as well as what is today’s daf. What is needed is an e-siddur that takes advantage of that information. I would like my e-siddur to do at least six things and I can project a few more into the future.

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She-lo Asani Isha Revisited, Once Again!

R Aryeh Frimer / I continue to be amazed each time a very old fact is resurrected and rehashed, and presented if it were a brand-new piece of evidence. This time it was Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), who cited a 1471 siddur transcribed by the scribe, polemicist and geographer R. Abraham Farissol for an Italian patroness. This siddur, that has been known and studied for decades, contains the text: “she-asatani isha ve-lo ish – who has created me a woman and not a man.” Schonfeld goes as far as to maintain that “[this] siddur has revealed an early example of egalitarian Jewish prayer, presenting historical attempts to battle gender inequality… This Siddur proves that the degrading attitudes towards women, which we are seeing in certain extreme religious communities in Israel today, are a modern distortion of Judaism.”

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Filling the Void

R Aharon Ziegler / The wonderful Chag of Chanukah is over but the message of Chanukah lingers on, and the holiday of Purim is less than three months away. On Purim, we thank HaShem for the salvation of our people in Persia {Iran} where the entire Jewish community was threatened with physical annihilation. Our enemies sought “Lehashmid  Uleharog  et  Kol  HaYehudim,” to kill every Jewish male, female and child without exception, but G-d, in His imminent compassion and love for us saved us from our enemies. On Chanukah, there was no threat to our physical lives but rather a threat to our spiritual and religious lives. Our enemies wanted “Lehashkicham Toratecha  Uleha’aviaram  Meichukei  Retzonecha,” devoid us of our Torah and religious observances.

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What’s In A Name?

Prof Shlomo Karni / A Biblical given name is often derived from, and commemorates, an event (such as the circumstances of a birth), the nature of the person or place, acts or fate of the person, etc. Such a derivation is usually done through a play on words. At times, such a play is masterful and right on target, at others – somewhat off. Let us revisit a few of these: (this discussion is limited to the פְּשָׁט of the text)

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Is New Year’s Kosher?

R Michael Broyde / A number of years ago I wrote an article addressing celebrating Thanksgiving according to halacha, which concluded that many halachic authorities accept that: 1) Thanksgiving is a secular holiday with secular origins 2) While some people celebrate Thanksgiving with religious rituals, this is unusual, and does not cause Thanksgiving to be classified as a Christian holiday 3) Jewish law permits one to celebrate secular holidays, but not with people who celebrate them religiously. The article concluded that according to most poskim (including Rabbis Feinstein, Soloveitchik and many others) Jewish law permits one to have a private Thanksgiving celebration with one’s Jewish or secular friends and family, so long as one does not treat Thanksgiving as a religious ritual or holiday.[1]Such conduct is proper in my view and I generally celebrate Thanksgiving, although as Rabbi Yehuda Henkin notes, I do so without any religious fervor and sometimes skip a year, as I did this last year, since my eldest son was married on Thanksgiving day.

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The How & Why of Chanukah

R Israel Rubin / The eight-day festival of Chanukah, a post biblical festival of lights, starts on the 25th of Kislev. It celebrates the courageous battles by Yehudah haMaccabee and his forces against the pagan armies of the Syrian-Greeks. The triumphant Maccabeans then entered Jerusalem and purified the Beit Hamikdash. A new altar was built to replace the defiled one. New holy implements were fabricated including a menorah, a table, an incense-altar and parochet (curtains). The rededication of the Beit Hamikdash [The Holy Temple] was set for the 25th of Kislev. With this dedication, once again the daily sacrificial service was renewed along with the chanting of Hallel, singing and playing of musical instruments by the Levites. The decisive triumph against the religious persecution led to religious liberty and national self-determination.

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