Guest Posts

"Half Shabbos" and the Orthodox Teenager

Guest post by Douglas Aronin / A few months back, I saw a cartoon that has made the rounds in Jewish circles. It pictures a chassidic-looking man talking into a cell phone, with a caption that reads: “Remember, if you need anything, I’m available 24/6.” That cartoon, and particularly its caption, stayed with me because it says so much with so few words. More than anything, it speaks volumes about how countercultural traditional Shabbat observance...

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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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The OED and Rashi

by Prof. Shalom Karni / In its latest supplement, that venerable authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), gives legitimacy to several Internet-born acronyms. Among them are WAG (wives and girlfriends, when referring to the entourage of celebrities), LOL (laughing out loud), and OMG (Oh my God). True to its meticulous search for sources, the OED mentions that the acronym OMG was first used in 1917—some time before the Internet—by a British naval officer.

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Coercing a Divorce

A religious court is only allowed to force a man against his will to divorce his wife in specific situations. The exact parameters carry tremendous weight, because an improper stringency will trap women in potentially extortionary situations and an improper leniency will invalidate the divorce and render any future children illegitimate. In this essay from Kol HaRav (link), R. David ...

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The 'Polite' Imperative

by Prof. Shlomo Karni / In several places in our Bible, the Hebrew imperative is followed by ‘lecha’, ‘lach’, or ‘lachem’, as appropriate. We examine here four typical examples: ‘Lech lecha’ (Gen. 12:1), when God commands Abram to leave his homeland and go to the Promised Land. ‘Lech lecha’ (Gen. 22:2), when God orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. ‘Shuvu lachem’ (Deut. 5:27), when Moses tells the children of Israel to return to their tents. ‘Lech berach lecha’ (Amos 7:12) when King Amaziah tells the prophet Amos to go away to the land of Judah. (Other examples include Gen. 22:5, Gen. 27:43, Num. 13:2, and S. of S. 1:8, 2:13.)

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The Conduct of Children is a Message to Parents

By Michael Broyde / A few short days ago, my son Aaron Broyde graduated from קורס מ”כים, the entry level squadron commanders course in the Israeli Defense Forces — and Aaron Broyde is a wonderful source of pride and joy to his father. He joined the IDF nearly two years ago on August 5, 2009 and that too was a source of a great deal of pride and joy to me as well (link). But yet, I sit here today with mixed emotions, feeling somewhat sad, a bit embarrassed and exceptionally overjoyed. First, I am sad that I am not there with him watching and celebrating his accomplishments — I went to his basic training graduation and my wife was with him for this graduation, but I know that I should be there with him to rejoice in his accomplishments. What kind of father does not attend his son’s graduation into a squadron commander? The simple and sad answer is “one who lives very far away,” and that makes me very very sad. As my son embarks on a new and novel journey into an adventure I’ve never experienced, I am an absentee father. I recounted this to one of my friends in a similar situation, and he shared with me his dour reply — “this” he told me, “is life in the Diaspora when you have children living in Israel.” I felt like weeping.

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Commitment Matters

by Dr. Erica Brown / This week’s newspapers dished out the dirt or shmutz, as we say in Yiddish. We read about a love child that broke up a public marriage and a very unpleasant hotel stay for one unlucky chambermaid. Then, to top it off, Sunday’s New York Times featured an article called “Divorce, in Style” abut the businessman and philanthropist Charles Bronfman who, together with the woman he is divorcing, is inviting 100 friends for an evening of cocktails to celebrate their divorce amicably. Engraved invitations requested business attire. Is this a new high or a new low in ending a marriage? Jewish law believes in divorce; it is a mitzva in the instance where two people simply cannot live together. Maybe it’s better to end with a party than to end in a puddle of tears, but this all doesn’t offer much hope as we begin a spring and summer season of weddings. It should make us question whether or not cultural depictions of marriage collude with what we know about real life outside the world of fickle celebrity romance. It should also give us pause when we enter commitments where we say, “Till death do us part.”

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It’s The Punctuation,…!

by Professor Shlomo Karni / In her delightful book “Eats Shoots & Leaves”, Lynn Truss drives home the point with the following story: A panda walks into a restaurant, orders a sandwich, eats it, then, on his way out, draws a gun and fires two shots. The alarmed waiter asks “Why?” In reply, the panda pulls out a badly punctuated wildlife manual and shows him the entry for ‘panda’: “Large black-and-white mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” “So,” writes Truss, “punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.”

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Learning From Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine

Guest post by R. Daniel Rapp / I began my career as a student in Yeshiva College in January 1988. I was somewhat ambivalent about starting Yeshiva, as I would have much rather finished the year in Israel and was still not comfortable with my decision to attend YU. Like so many students before and after me, I could not figure out if my afternoon classes were some unfortunate byproduct of the reality of needing to make a living, or directed towards some higher, amorphous purpose called “Torah U’Madda.” I believe that it was my second Thursday at Yeshiva when a Torah U’Madda lecture was scheduled in Rubin shul. The topic was less than gripping – A Halachic Analysis of the Minimum Wage, given by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine.

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Of Revolutionary Women and Straw Men

Guest post by R. Elli Fischer Rabbi Elli Fischer is a writer and translator from Modiin. He blogs at I do not envy the task that Michal Tukochinsky set for herself in writing “How Women’s Talmud Study is Unique” (New York Jewish Week, April 12, 2011). She wishes to describe how the new (second) generation of women’s Talmud study ...

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