Monday, November 29, 2004

Here is an answer to my question by R. Michael Broyde

I recieved an email from R. Broyde, who had been informed that we were discussing hair covering. He wanted to make sure his views were accurately presented, and sent me this file. I apologize that due to my lack of computer skill, the foot notes numbers didn't make it through cyber space, but they are in order at the bottom. My thanks to R. Broyde

Addendum: R. Broyde is an excellent model of the best in Torah and Maddah, a musmach of YU, a member of the Beit Din of America, Rav of the Young Israel in Atlanta,a professor of law at Emory Law School, and I am sure that he would welcome questions and comments, I only ask that he be given the respect due to a talmid chacham of his stature.

Addendum Number 2: the foot notes are now in place and correspond to their appropriate number at the bottom of the article.

Defending the Custom in Lithuania
that Married Women Did not Cover Their Hair

Michael Broyde (1)

The halachic issues involved in defending the minhagim of a community that has now nearly disappeared is a complex one, and a task not to be taken lightly. Indeed, perhaps one of the failures of our religious community is that we sometimes forget that the concept of not ignoring the teachings of our mothers (al titash torat imecha) and minhag ha'avot (observing the custom's of our fathers), includes not only the acceptance of their strictures, but -- at the least -- the validation of their halachicly based leniencies too.

One such issue was recently touched on by Rabbi Meyer Schiller in his excellent article entitled "The Obligation of Married Women to Cover their Hair" JHCS 30 pp. 81-108 (1995) when he states that:
It is fairly well known that among Lithuanian Jews and their leaders after World War I many married women uncovered their hair. This was common even among rabbinic families.
I question one phrase in this paragraph: the words "after World War I." It is quite clear from both the halachic and historical literature that this uncovering was the practice of the community in Lita (Lithuania) a 100 years before World War I, when Orthodox observance and culture was at its strongest. For proof of this, one need only examine the fact that many poskim note this uncovering in the 1870s as already being well established; see e.g. Rabbi Yosef Chaim (Ben Ish Chai) Parshat Bo 12 (writing around 1870). Rabbi Yecheil Epstein's famous remarks on the commonness of this practice (Aruch HaShulchan OC 75:7) were published in 1903, and Rabbi Kagen's (Mishnah Berurah OC 75:2) in 1881; both of them are clearly referring to what is then an already very well established practice, and not one that took root after World War I, which started in 1914. So too, even a casual survey of Lithuanian Yiddish and Hebrew fiction of the late 1800s indicates that most of women in the observant community of Lithuania did not cover their hair in the 1800s; see for example the well known Yiddish writer Yitzchak Moshe Rumsch's work, Se'ar She-ba'isha (Vilna, 1894) for a "fictionalized" discussion of these issues.

If that is the case, and what is being dealt with is a well-developed custom of the established Orthodox community of Lithuania -- a community that many now perceive as the idealized paradigm for non-chasidic Orthodoxy -- one has no choice but to disagree with Rabbi Schiller's final remarks on this custom that:
the Lithuanian practice is probably best seen as an aberration which, when the time became more receptive, was quickly abandoned. It may be understood in the context of the general laxity which enveloped East European Orthodoxy concerning this halacha in the post World War I era.
This minhag was not a product of the "general laxity" of religious observance in Lithuania in the years when this "practice" was developed; nor was this minhag abandoned. It came to an end with the nearly complete destruction of the Lithuanian Jewish community during the Holocaust.

What then is the halachic basis for this widespread custom emanating from this venerated Torah community? Both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (based on a wealth of rishonim(2) ) codify the prohibition for a woman to uncover her hair even completely as a dat yehudit. Dat yehudit is the term used for the socially determined customs of modesty of Jewish women -- minhag tzininut she-nohagu benot yisrael (Even Haezer 115:5) -- which according to most poskim is not immutable but which can and does change with the customs of Jewish women; see Iggrot Moshe EH 4:32(4), Yabia Omer 3:21 and many sources cited by Rabbi Schiller. Thus, the simple understanding of the Shulchan Aruch's and Tur's discussion of why even fully uncovered hair violates halacha places the prohibition in a halachic context that indicates it to be dependent on the local custom of "modest Jewish women," which certainly was, historically, to cover their hair. This would, however, imply that in a society where the normative custom of observant Jewish women is go without their hair covered, such conduct is permitted, according to Tur and Shulchan Aruch. (As Rabbi Schiller notes, the Beit Shmuel disagrees with the Shulchan Aruch and Tur's classification of the prohibition of full uncovering as dat yehudit.) So too, in a society where many women do not cover their hair at all, the secondary reasons for covering cited by Rabbi Schiller (at pages 93-94) -- licentiousness and Gentile practices -- also disappear. These insights alone perhaps justify the minhag of the Lithuanian community.

While one will not find teshuvot from the Lithuanian Torah community defending this minhag, this perhaps reflects the nature of Torah scholarship and discourse by the Lithuanian poskim, which generally did not focus on halacha le-maseh. With notable exceptions(3), it focused its profound intellectual energies on -- and produced many Torah works of unsurpassed virtue relating to -- abstract talmudic study, methods of categorization and conceptual analysis of Torah precepts. Not surprisingly, within the Lithuanian Torah community and its writings one can find quite a number of authorities, who -- as was the style -- provided forms of categorization for the obligation of women to cover their hair which indicated that there is no torah obligation for a woman to cover her hair in a society where uncovering is not perceived as immodest.

For example, Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv), a premier Lithuanian authority, in Amek HaNetziv, Sifri Naso 11 argues that whether there is a Torah obligation for women to cover their hair conceptually parallels and is interrelated to the dispute between Rosh and Ravad in Moad Katan 14a (Rosh, Moad Katan 3:3) as to whether torah law prohibits a mourner from having his hair cut. Both cases, Netziv notes, share the common context of the Almighty explicitly directing that a particular act be done in a special and unique circumstance: In one case He directs "roshechem al tefromu" -- that Aaron and his children should cut their hair even though they are mourners, and in the other case He commands "upara et rosh haisha" -- that the hair of a married woman to be uncovered or dishevelled during the sotah ritual. The question is whether the Divine edict directing an act to be done in one unique circumstance implies that in all other circumstances such conduct is prohibited or not?

The Netziv states that Ravad, who rules haircutting is prohibited by Torah law for all mourners generally and that the Lord had to specifically tell Aaron to cut his hair, would rule that torah law also mandates hair covering for all women generally. Ravad maintains that uncovering of hair in the sotah ritual is only permitted because the Lord specifically directed that uncovering of hair (which is generally prohibited) should be done during this ritual. Rosh, who rules that torah law does not prohibit hair cutting for mourner generally, would rule that torah law does not mandate hair covering for a woman generally. According to the Rosh, no hair cutting for a mourner and hair covering for a women are both merely customs, which the Almighty directed must not be observed in specific circumstances. This observation of Netziv would explain why Tur, who was the Rosh's son, categorized even full uncovering as a dat yehudit, a custom. Indeed, although the Netziv does not add this, he is certainly aware of the fact that normative halacha rejects the approach of Ravad and accepts that of Rosh vis-a-vis mourners; see YD 398:1 and 399:13).

One must also add to this mix the well known school of thought which rules the torah obligation for women's hair is limited to dishevelled, rather than uncovered, hair (see Shevot Yaakov 1:103). Indeed, many other limiting forms of analysis from Lithuanian poskim can also be cited related to woman's obligation to cover their hair; see Minchat Ani, s.v. Gilui Sair Benashim; Sedia Chemed 4:19 s.v. Deoriyta; Shut VaYashav Yosef YD 1-3; Chedushai Hafla, Ketubot 72a; Chedushai Mahardam al Sefer Hamitzvot LeHarambam, 175.

Thus, one sees the clear outlines of a halachic justification for uncovered hair begin to appear that might have been used in Lithuanian rabbinical circles and explains why married women did not cover their hair. Indeed, one can find quite a number of achronim who advance explanations for the obligation to cover their hair that lead one to conclude that in situations where modest people generally do not cover, halacha does not mandate such covering. Included in that list are: Sh"t R. Yitzchak Halevi 9 (Brother of the Taz, who discusses whether an arusa has to cover her hair, and relates covering to hirhurim, sexual thoughts); Sh"t Moshe ibn Chabiv EH 1 (who relates the obligation to cover to the societal norm of covering); Machatzek Hashekel EH 21 (same); Sh"t Sefer Yehoshua 89 (who states "but if the custom had been for all Jewish women to uncover their hair, there would be no prohibition even for married women"); Sh"t Vayashav Yosef (Burlow) YD 1; Sefer Chukai Nashim (by the author of the Ben Ish Chai) page 55 (same, but with less certainty); Sh"t Etz Chaim OC 12 (same); Yad Halevi al sefer hamitzvot shel Harambam Aseh 175 (same); Perush Lesefer Hamitzvot Shel Rav Sadya Gaon Aseh 96 (hair covering is a bechukotayhim issue).

The custom of Lithuanian Orthodoxy is not unique in this matter either. At least one other devout Orthodox community also accepted as normative that halacha does not require that married women cover their hair when modest Gentile women do not; this was the practice of the Algerian (and Moroccan) Orthodox community from well before 1900 also. The poskim of this community explicitly defended its custom in this matter with considerable zeal, and one can find a number of teshuvot on this topic from leaders of their community sanctioning this practice. (This Jewish community, like all others in Arab lands, was dispersed and essentially destroyed during the 1950s.) Indeed, to this day, the halachic leadership of this North African Jewish community in Israel maintains that hair covering is not required; see Rabbi Moshe Malka, VaHashiv Moshe 1:34 and 35 and Rabbi Yosef Massas, Mayim Chaim 2:110.

In my view, all of these authorities build on the simple conceptual insight found in Kiddushin 81b-82a which states:
Mar also follows the view of Shmuel, who states, one should not involve himself with women [touching] at all. He replied, 'we accept the other view of Shmuel, who recounts that touching for the sake of heaven is permitted.'
Rashi comments, to justify non-sexual touching that:
Rashi: All for the Sake of Heaven: and my thoughts are not about this women for the sake of sexuality or marriage, but rather touching and making pleasantries with this woman for the sake of her daughter.

Tosafot elaborates and states:

Tosaphot: All for the Sake of Heaven: This is what we rely on since we involve ourselves [touch] with women.

A similar such view is articulated by the Ritva commenting on this talmudic passage. He states:

All is dependent on wisdom and the sake of heaven. This is the normative rule of Jewish law, that all is dependent on what a person sees in himself. If he needs to distance him more, he must do so, even such that he not see women's undergarments when they are being washed. So too if he sees in himself that he has no erotic thoughts, he can look and speak with a prohibited sexual relationship and to ask about the well being of a married women, and this explains the conduct of Rav Yochanan who looked on the women as they were immersing, without any erotic intent, and Rav Ami who spoke with the kings mother, and other Rabbis who spoke with various Matrons [immodest women} and Rav Ada bar Ahava who danced with the bride on his shoulders at a wedding, none of whom where afraid of erotic thoughts. Rather, one should not be lenient on these matter unless one is a greatly pious person.

Similar such sentiments are expressed in Yam Shel Shlomo commenting on Kiddushin 81b. He states:
All is dependent on the that which one sees in one's eyes and feels in one's yetzer. Thus it is permitted to speak and look at an ervah, and ask about her well being. This is what the world relies on as we touch, speak, and look, but still in the bathhouse it is prohibited......
This view is quoted by Pitchay Teshuva Even Haezer 21:4.

All of this has a foundation in the famous formulation of the Ravya on Brachout 24a (siman 76) that all body parts of a women are only prohibited for a man to glaze at when normal women in his society cover these body parts, and thus they are erotic because they are covered. Otherwise (i.e, when normally revealed) they are not erotic, and need not be covered(4).

In this view, non-erotic activity is permitted since it is only touching grounded in eroticism that is always prohibited. To extrapolate this to the next step, which is that a woman may reveal areas of her body that are generally covered when (in time and place) such act of revelation is not thought immodest, is not far-fetched at all. Indeed, many women will go to a male obstetrician (even when a woman doctor is avalable, but merely less convenient), based on the view that even revealing makom ha'ervah to a man is permitted when the context deems it not erotic. Hair -- the logical assertion is made -- cannot be subject to any more restrictions than makom ha'ervah mamash. In a society where hair is generally treated without erotic content, such is permissible all the time, these rishonim would claim. And it for exactly that reasons that hair covering is classified as a dat yehudit (and not a dat moshe) in the Shulchan Aruch (as noted above) as it can change based on social norms(5).

In short, the established custom of Lithuanian orthodoxy was that married women did not cover their hair, and this custom was 150 years old when it -- and every other halachic practice of the majestic Lithuanian community -- was destroyed by the Nazis (may the Lord avenge the destruction) a short fifty-five years ago. A similar custom can be found in the North African Orthodox community at roughly the same times. Halachic support for this practice can be found in the text of the Shulchan Aruch, as well as in the rulings of many rishonim, some poskim and a few shelot uteshuvot.

Lithuanian Jewry, like many other European communities of its time, had customs and practices that some in America no longer consider "normative" halacha. That does not in any way imply "laxity in observance of halacha" by that venerated Orthodox community. Casting aspersions on the fidelity to Jewish law and tradition by now-destroyed Jewish fortresses in Europe is uncalled for -- and also not supported by the halachic sources.

As to what this argument about Lithuania says about the reality in America, that will have to wait, but the theoretical conclusions are clear.



1. Michael J. Broyde can be reached at 404 727-7546 and by email at .
Michael Broyde is a Professor of Law at Emory University and a dayan in the Beth Din of America. He is also the rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and give the daily gemera shiur to the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel.

2. Tosaphot HaRosh Gittin 90a s.v. im benai adam; Rashi, Sotah 25a s.v. ebaya lehu; Semak Mitzvah 181; Ittur, hilchot mered; Kol Bo, Hilchot Gitten (on overet al dat) as well as perhaps Tosaphot Gitten 90b benai adam and Ritva, Ketubot 72a s.v. ela b'chatzar. Rabbi Schiller, at page 92, too states this as the approach of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch. Why exactly these rishonim reached this conclusion is beyond the scope of this letter, and is worthy of full treatment in an article, which is avalable in draft form from this writer, for those who might be interested.

3. The most significant being Rabbi Yecheil Mechail Epstein and his Aruch HaShulchan. Sadly however, the relevant section of the Aruch HaShulchan which would discuss this topic in a systemic manner -- Even HaEzer 115 -- has not yet been published, and we thus do not really know what his full thoughts were on this topic, and whether he had a defense of this custom in preparation. The discussions found in Orach Chaim 75 and Even Haezer 21 are both incomplete, and not necessarily an indication of Rabbi Epstein's final thoughts. (Indeed, a close comparison of the terms uses in Orach Chaim 75 and Even Haezer 21 tempts one to speculate that Rabbi Epstein accepted that the torah prohibition was limited to cases of dishevelled, and not uncovered hair. The use of the term be'avonotanu harabim in OC 75 certainly should not be understood as referring to conduct without halachic justification, as the Aruch Hashulchan frequently will use that term for conduct he does actually justify. For more on this issue, see Rabbi Simcha Fishbane, "The Role and Status of Women in Jewish Law as Expressed in the Arukh Hashulchan" Judaism 43:492-503 (1993). (The Mishnah Berurah was a Polish posek, and did not generally accept, quote or refer to in a positive way the minhagim of Lita.)

4. An example of this can be found in Iggrot Moshe Even Haezer 1:56 who addresses the question of walking along a modern beach where women can be seen who are scantily clad.

5. Encyclopedia Talmudit notes (8:19):

end note: The dat yehudit (practice of Jewish women) is a custom of modesty that is found among Jewish women, even though it is not found in the torah and not grounded in a torah prohibition, rather it is a custom followed among the Jewish people for the sake of modesty, so that Jewish women should be more modest that other women of the world; one who violates these standards does something of immodesty.

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the comments, they have exploded

I took a few days off and my comments sections exploded. Thanks to all for your insightful views and for keeping the tone the way it should(no personal attacks or bashing another's views). Feel free to post more comments. I am collecting a few responses to various points and will have them ready by the end of the week. In the meantime, work has exploded as well, so not much of me will be seen for a few days.

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Happy Turkey Day

Yes, Thanksgiving is celebrated, at least at the guest quarters of the House of Hock. The reasons to do it are long, the reasons not to are weak. So, I will be off for a while, consuming pepcid and other stomach remedies, as the amount of consumption go up. However, please do not forget Pirkei Avot, three who sat and ate, and no words of Torah were said, is as if they ate at the alters of avodah zarah. I have been at too many Turkey dinners and no thanks were given. We should remember to be thankful for our great country(even with the idiot president), and more so, thankful to HKBH, for everything that he has granted us. More posting next week.

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Breakfast at Tiffany's

My kid's school(modern orthodox day school, ivrit b'ivrit, tzioni, and there is a Conservative day school in the area, so most if not all of the families identify themselves as orthodox) had a sunday morning event. As I looked around(R. Henkin's article in mind see next post), I realized that only 10% or so of the mothers(including MVLW, whose answer when asked was "I dont believe in doing it) covered their hair. I have never seen a teshuva, article, or anything officially rabbinic that gives a basis for this. Obviously there are the references(my own, and others) to wives of rabbis who did not cover their hair, but does anyone know what the Halachic justification for this is? or any teshuva or article that says it is ok? Please try to refrain from commenting that all these women are just sinners, as that would be the obvious default answer, and not one that I am particularly interested in hearing.

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Tradition, Tradition

I got my new copy of tradition on Shabbat. For those keeping track, it was the fall issue, but 2003. Guess they keep Jewish time. The first article is by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, who has written 4 volumes of responsa and a few books in english. His wife is Rabbanit Chana Henkin, who runs Nishmat, a center for advanced Jewish studies for women(in fact, I think that the toanot are trained in part by her). (by the way, RenReb, if you are unappy with the rebbitzin appelation, you can try Rabbanit).

R. Henkin has had my respect for quite a while, as one of the very few who is willing to read the sources as accurately as he can, delineating what is halacha, custom, hanhaga, and othewise, and letting the halachic chips fall as they may, without reading them with a preordained outcome and agenda in mind. Although I may sometimes not like his conclusions, I cannot dispute how he got there. Any gloss comes at the end, not in the reading of the sources. He has taken Rabbi Saul Berman to task(in a chapter in his book Equality Lost) for his makil attitude on kol isha, and in this article, he dismantles someone from the right.

The article is on tzniut, what exactly is the definition, what is allowed, what is not allowed, both in clothing, and in voice. It is a very good study, from the sources onwards, of how we get to where we are. On the way, he SEVERELY critcizes, Rabbi Eliyahu Pinchas Falk, who wrote a book entitled Oz v'hadar Levusha(a quotation from A Woman of Valor- meaning stregnth and beauty are her rainments). R. Henkin shows how R. Falk deliberately distorts sources, including what appears to be deliberate misreading of R. Moshe Feinstein, among others. R. Falk claims in his book that the standards for tzniut or tremendously strict, and he claims that they are all HALACHA. R. Henkin shows what the bottom line Halacha is(in his view) and how other things are obviously minhag, and not a minhag that should be binding on all.

Why is this important? Our religion places a lot of emphasis on tradition, to the point that some traditions are codified and accepted as law- at which point they are unchangable(or said to be unchangable). Declaring something that should be optional or a matter of minhag to be LAW, influences those who are susceptable to accept such declarations, and they behave accordingly. After a while, what should have been optional, becomes the practice, and that practice becomes codified. And, why is it codified? because someone who thought the ends justified the means distorted the truth and led the masses down the path that he thought was right. And the sheep followed him, unthinkingly. After that, anyone who wants to go back and reexamine why the practice became a certain way is thought of as an apikoros, trying to bring sociological issues into the hallowed halls of pesak.

There, I feel better now. Kudos to R. Henkin for showing R. Falk and his book to be the emperor with the unusual clothing. I doubt if it will have any practical effect on the more Haredi communities, but at least the Halacha is there for all to see. As I posted before, if you want to be machmir, gay gezunt, but make it clear what is Halacha, minhag, hashkafa, and what is made up.

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Friday, November 19, 2004

Can God be unjust?

I have been having a discussion with Shira et al on her blog about Esav and the conversation turned to whether God can be unjust. I would start by pointing to Ha'azinu "hatzur tamim poali, ki chol derachav mishpat.." the Rock whose works are perfect, for all his ways are lawful... and it goes on. The Rambam, in his 13 principles, number 11, says "I believe... that the creator.. does good for those that keep his Mitzvot, and punishes those that violate them." I dont think that I would get any argument that from a traditional/orthodox point of view, it is dogma that God is totally just.

How would it work that God is not just? It seems to me that there are a couple of possibilities: God is not all powerful, and therefore is incapable of being totally just. God is all powerful, but doesn't care enough to be just. God doesn't interpret justice as we do. God has decided to be hands off with the world and let it run as it goes, with minimal/no interference, justice be well, da-ned, so to speak. Of course, this leads into a discussion of reward/punishment after death, which I will try to stay out of for now.

If you believe that there is no ultimate justice in the world, this has profound ramifications on day to day actions. Why not steal, if you can get away with it(ignoring the worldly justice system for a second)? So, for people who don't care about justice, this is carte blanche to do what you want(as long as the temporal authorities don't catch you). For people who do care, it is a horrible problem, because the onus of making sure there is ultimate justice falls to you. If you don't resuce the poor, the starving, the mistreated, they will not be recompensed in some other way to balance out their suffering. And, there is no reward for doing all these nice things, except feeling good about yourself.

I am sure this has been discussed in many places, probably books written, so feel free to write in with erudite quotations of all the people I should have read in my wasted youth but didn't. Or just post what you think.

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

I can breathe now...... maybe

From: Add to Address Book
To: "dan smith"
Subject: Re: the Chevra
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 2004 16:05:03 -0500

Yes the reason it has not been changed is because we are relaunching our website and they were too busy to change it. No we are not trying to trick people into buying the old one. I believe they did change it on the new website. thanks

We will be checking......

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update shmupdateI

Mostly Music still wants to sell you the 1982 Chevra album by trickery. I checked today. I emailed them again. I am not holding my breath. I dont think I am going to be on their Hannukah list. Oh well, support your local book store.

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A little knowledge.....

One of the downsides of writing a blog is that there are always people who know more, are smarter, think more clearly, are more articulate, and are more polished than the blogger. At least that is true in my case. So, when faced with contrary views, I have three options: admit defeat, defend myself, or model myself after my program director, who advised us and proclaimed himself to be "frequently wrong, but never in doubt" and ignore them. I choose the second path where ever possible.

Anon has taken issue with my characterization of of Esav as greater than Ya'akov in the mitvah of kibbud av(honoring the father). With a hakarat hatov(recognition of kindess) to the encyclopedia judaica, which did my homework for me, I give you Bereshit Rabba 65:16 " R. Shimon ben Gamliel said .. I did not attain 1/100 of the attention Esav gave his father..(goes on to give examples)". This points to Esav as being a prime example of honoring one's father. obviously, the point can be made that Ya'akov also gave similar if not more attention to his father, but that is not put in writing anywhere that I know of, and certainly it is a reasonable conclusion that Eisav bested Ya'akov in this mitzvah.

We also disagreed as to how much emphasis is put on the belief that the Avot/Imahot kept 613 mitzvot. Anon did not think that it rose to the level of a basic tenet of faith. We agreed to a poll of some of my friends, and here are the unscientific results. In the group for whom mesorah publications(publishers of artscroll) provide the vast percentage, if not the exclusive source of reading materiel, a large number felt that believing the avot did not keep 613 mitzvot was sacrilege, if not apikorsus. Among those whose reading was broader), including all of the people with Rabbi before their name, this was not felt to be a tenet of faith, although it was a belief that almost all of them held to some degree. Conclusion: those who accept the Stone Chumash commentaries as Bible(all puns intended) felt much more strongly about the forefathers and mothers keeping the 613 mitzvot.

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Monday, November 15, 2004


I heard an excellent lecture reviewing the episodes of Bracha(blessings) that occur in Bereshit up until this parsha. There are 12 instances of blessing. In the first few, God blesses humans with blessings of physical achievment- peru u'revu(be fruitful), achieve mastery over the world. Then humans get into the act, and the first one is Malkitzedek, who blesses Avraham, but when read carefully, it is a blessing of praise for God. Anyone who attended a decent day school(I did not), knows that there are three types of blessings: shevach(praise), hoda'aa(thanksgiving), and bakasha(request). There follows instances of blessings of thanksgiving, and finally, in Toldot, we have Yitzchak blessing Ya'akov: v'yiten lecha(and he will give to you), a blessing asking God to provide things to Ya'akov, a blessing of bakasha.

He then reviewed the purpose of blessings in general. Shevach- God does not need our praise, He does not need us to tell Him that He raises up the bent over, garbs the needy, and so forth. These berachot are there to remind us that just as God does these acts , so too we must imitate God and do these things. It is a call to action.

Berachot of Bakasha, which fill the Shmonei Esrai, remind us that we are not complete, even though we may think that we are. They remind us of our shortcomings, and the list of things that we need, and need to work on.

The only Bracha that is specifically mandated in the Torah, Birkat Hamazon, incorporates these three types of Berachot, and in the order in which they first appear in Berashit. Hazan et hacol(shevach), Nodeh lecha and al ha'aretz v'al hamazon(hoda'aa), and rachem(bakasha).

All in all a very excellent lecture, taking elements that should be well known, and putting it into a framework that hopefully will help with kavvanah and devekut.

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

and they had upshearin too

In this week's parsha, we read how Yitchak asks Eisav to take his utensils and find some food, before he blesses him. Rashi, and some commentators cited in a publication I read, cite that he wanted Eisav to do kosher shechita. The plain meaning of the text is he wanted Eisav to shoot some vittles and cook them, a definite no-no from a kashrut point of view. All of which brings up the question of whether the avot(ancestors) kept 613 mitzvot. If you hold that they did, you have to do all sorts of gymnastics to explain how Avraham fed the visitors milk and meat, how this episode should be interpreted, and how Ya'akov married sisters, among other troublesome incidents. Would it be so hard to hold, like R. Y. Y. Weinberg, in Sredei Aish(sorry, I couldn't remember the cite, I saw it over Shabbat), who holds that the Avot did not observe the 613. There, that was ok. No apikorsus. And you dont have to play twister with yourself to explain most of Bereshit and Shemot.

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Father, please?

Esav usually gets credit for high degrees of kibud av(honoring his father). However, when you compare how he and Yaakov address Yitzchak, it appears that Ya'akov uses more respect in his language than Esav. Yaakov uses the word na, please, where as Esav comes right out and says " get up dad and eat." In fact, Yitzchak notes the difference in language, when he says " the voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands belong to Eisav." How is this then, a greater degree of honoring one's parent?

MVLW(my very learned wife) holds that Ya'akov addresses his father kind of as a stranger, in formal language, thereby neccesitating the use of na, please. Whereas Esav is on easy informal terms with his father, is much closer, and his language reflects that closeness. In this construct, the use of please is not only not neccessary, but indicates a distance between the two. It seems to me to be a plausible explaination, I would be happy to hear others. If one looks at the use of the word 'na' in other circumstances, I am not sure if the applications are similar. Examples: Esav to Yaakov- give me some of the porridge (ha'aliteini na)
God to Avraham- take your son to be sacrificed (kach na et bincha).

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Power to the people

The power of the media is in their public support and spread of information. I am sad to report that Mostly Music has not changed their Chevra listing. I emailed them again, asking why it had not been done, and so far I have not gotten a response(the first one got a response within a day.) So, if you too want to email them and ask, feel free. here is their email address.

we could also contact their advertisers. Hmmmmm

I am not normally a big social activist. But right is right, truth is truth, and frum Jews misbehaving makes me really mad.

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Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

Finally. I posted about this last week, so just a few random left over thoughts.

It is hard to imagine Arafat was sick and dying for a week from "unknown causes". It reminds me of the USSR/Russia as recently as Boris Yeltsin, who would be in the hospital, and no one knew if he was dying, had a cold, or simply found the keys to the vodka cabinet.

On the other hand, French medicine can claim another celebrity victim. Diana princess of Wales died at their hands. There is a maxim in taking care of trauma victims(doesn't always happen, but usually) that if you get to the emergency room talking, you should leave walking. She didn't.

Arafat is the source of most of the world's ills today. He gave terrorism legitamacy(as legitimate as terrorism can get). If you think of all the "fashionable" terror groups from the 60's and 70's(Baader-Meinhoff gang, Red Army, SLA, IRA) most are gone or off the radar screen. Arafat not only popularized killing innocents, but made it "acceptable" as a policy tool. So, his gifts to the world include not only his own horrible acts, but those that imitated and were inspired by him: 9/11, car bombings in Iraq, the Chechen school massacre(ma'alot on a huge scale), the list is endless. Just think what a much better world it would be if he had made peace when he had a chance.

Only God can think of and carry out a punishment that will fit his crimes. Let it begin. I am only sorry that we can not be witness to it, but I have to believe it is occuring as we speak.

Finally, it is a huge mistake to allow the burial on any piece of land we have any hope or expectation of holding on to. Tunisia would have been the best place.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

stealing by any other name

About a week ago I posted about the music group the Chevra, who are bringing suit against their creater and manager. In that post(which, by the way, included the titles of all the songs from the first album, in order), I linked to their album on the web site of Mostly Music. They have lots of albums, sound clips, a search engine, and lower prices than the neighborhood bookstore. As a commentator named "a" noticed, my first link was to a Chevra album, but not to THE CHEVRA, but one from 1982. It seems that when you search Mostly Music for Chevra, you get the 1984 Chevra(not related to the recent group in the least), and Volume 2 of the recent Chevra. BUT NO VOLUME I of the recent Chevra. Not wanting to accuse Mostly Music of trying to decieve customers into buying a 20 year old album by taking advantage of a name similarity, I emailed them last week to let them know of their error. They emailed me back quite promptly, thanking me for pointing this out to them, and informing me that they were going to correct it. I checked it out again today and to my surprise, shock and amazement, nothing has changed. So, either they are deliberately trying to decieve the public, or very lazy.

This type of behavior goes into the catagory of g'nevat da'at- literally stealing thoughts, or misleading. It is worse, but similar to the offense of publishing fawning record "reviews" that regard each and every new record as the second coming of Shlomo Carlbach, decieving people into thinking it is actually "good".

More sad examples of people who should know better, and do know better, stooping to new lows either because they can get away with it, or that so many other people do it, it is not recognized as wrong. Unfortunately for them, behavior like this can not be codified as minhag, or as a practice accepted by the people, so they eventually have to answer for these violations of halacha. If only they paid a bit more attention to their behavior, and not to the bottom line.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

Are you defined by where you visit?

Any person over the age of 12 who has participated in a group activity has probably encountered the question: define yourself in order of importance. My usual answer is Jew, husband/father, profession, avocations, etc. Of course you can add human being, American, etc. I have found that visits to blogs mirror that list, except that it kind of stops at Jewish. In thinking about how people get to blogs, my guess is that either you have a major interest in a topic, and find blogs that reflect that, or, start at one blog and find yourself referred to an ever growing circle of related blogs.

I found blogs when I was online searching to find the lyrics to the Ruach song, "puff the kosher dragon". I found blog in Dm, an excellent Jewish music blog, and that led me to MoCHassid(welcome back again), protocols(before Luke, although it is still entertaining, sometimes),the excellent R. Simcha at Hirhurim, who I remember when he first posted, and many other fine blogs, like Miriam Shaviv at bloghead, Reb Yudel, the House here, Village idiots, the back of the bais, Cara's world, Velvel, Sklaro, Menachem Butler at AJHistory when he had more time to post, and many others. Recently I have found Psychotodler, Renegade Rebitzin, Ben Chorin, the Shaigitz, my buddy Adam at Baynonim, and Shira at on the fringe. This is not to exclude anyone and is certainly not a exhaustive list of who I visit(wonder if I have any free time at all, good thing they do not serve snacks.) The point is that all of these blogs are Jewish blogs and write primarily on Judaism from one point of view or another. I dont have any interest in visiting blogs that talk about having kids or husbands discussing their situations in life. While I do enjoy chatting with psychotodler about medical issues occasionally, I dont go to blogs where we chat strictly about them. In other words, my blog visitations define my preoccupations in r/l. Also, I did not have a need to go to the blog index, if there is such a thing to find where to go, I sort of wandered around and followed the comments and links. I wonder what everybody elses experience has been as far as how they started and how they wound up at the blogs they visit, and if the topic of those blogs reflect their r/l concerns, or is everybody else blogging fantasy football. The floor is open.

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Thanks to Nisht, you can now email me by clicking on the appropriate line above right. I just noticed it, I am not sure how long it has been there, but Whump there it is. Let the email flow.

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dont burn all your bridges

How many doctors are going to want to be involved in the medical care of Elizabeth Edwards? May she have a refuah shelamah.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

mimetic tradition

What happens when the way your parents practiced orthodoxy, or the way you feel it ought to be practiced does not jive with the orthodoxy around you? Psychotoddler notes the conflict when his daughter has a vocal recital, but his community holds that the strictures of kol isha do not allow her singing in public. Obviously, there are those that hold it is not allowed. Is there halachic room to allow it? and if there is, should those who are against it be allowed to set the level of observance? A friend of mine who lived in New York at the appropriate time tells me that The Rav(RYBS) used to attend the opera. I have no first hand knowledge of this, and I am not meaning to spread lashon hara(not that I think saying someone attends the opera is lashon hara, now, if you were going to a country music concert, that would be another issue). However, if he did, that would be part of our mimetic tradition. Is it any less worthy than any of his written works? From the same source, I understand that the Rav's wife did not always cover her hair in public. Am I just totally misinformed? Don't these actions say something about his view on the halacha ? R. Rakeffet-Rothkoff notes in an lecture that 40-50 years ago there was rarely seperate seating at weddings, even of those on the right. Why, and how, are we ignoring actions that speak to a halachic understanding, and veering off in another direction? Obviously this topic has been well covered by R. Haym Soloveichik in his article in tradition in 1994. But nothing much seems to have changed. If anything, the practice seems to be veering even further and further away from what it used to be.

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Only in America

We only had one group of trick-or treaters. 3 little Sikh kids(boys with turbans) from the next block, two dressed like batman, one like spiderman, celebrating the christian holiday with pagan origins, getting candy from the orthodox jew. (and yes, they know that we don't celebrate the holiday, and also are very happy to eat the kosher food at the annual block party)

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wine, not 2 martinis

Like most(I hope), we frequently have guests for Shabbat meals. We have an eclectic bunch of friends, try to invite new arrivals and guests, and I try to keep the conversations away from fashion, lashon hara(you know what that includes), who is building additions on their houses, and keep it reasonably on Torah, hashkafa, and appropriate subjects for the Shabbat table. Frequently though, the conversation devolves into mortgage rates, work related tidbits(someone even tried to do a little networking), and who is getting divorced. I find that the same thing happens at shul. Unless I make a concsious effort, most conversations slowly sink into inappropriate matters for Shabbat. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Many of the conversations I overhear also are business related, even those that are muttered during Torah reading.

I am thinking of changing my family minhag and adding the (usually unsaid in my community) first paragraph of Shabbat lunch kiddush. "Im Tashiv ....." Guess there is good reason that it is in the Haftorah for Yom Kippur. Translated loosely in part: and you will honor the Shabbat, and not do your usual business and talk about it , then you will enjoy with(or because of) God, and he will elevate you, and give(lit. feed) you the inheritance of Jacob your father, because the mouth of God has spoken. Maybe I will post it in the dining room.

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