Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Two Levels

The famous question: why no beracha on sending mishloach manos?
Not such an easy one to answer.  Traditionally we are supposed to keep the other Purim mitzvos in mind while listening to the blessings before the megilla but why shouldn't there be a separate blessing for the others? 
For the seudah and matanos l'evyonim, the answers are relatively easy.  A meal on Purim lacks anything particularly distinctive to demand its own beracha.  As for giving to the poor, there is the famous psak of the Rashba that explains why tzedakah doesn't get a blessing - any mivtzah that depends on another person for its completion cannot have a blessing since the other person might refuse the charitable donation making the blessing a vain one.
In truth, many try to apply that reasoning to mishloach manos since it is similar in some ways to charity.  However, many poskim hold that it is sufficiently different to make the Rashba's psak not relevant to this case. 
For one thing, the purpose of mishloach manos is not to give a gift to the needy but to spread love and brotherhood amongst the Jewish people.  Some say that the purpose of the mitzvah is to counter Haman's words in the megillah, that we are a scattered and divided people.  By sending gifts to one another we provde this untrue.
If this is so, then the mitzvah is in the sending, not the receiving of the gift.  Slam the door on the messenger all you want, his having sent it in an attempted stab at friendship fulfills his requirements.  Thus one should be able to make the beracha if that's the case.
Now, there is the position of the Rambam from hilchos Berachos in which he notes that while ben adam l'makom commandments generally get blessings, ben adam l'chavero ones don't.  What the reason for that is remains to be explained.
One explanation is that there is little in most ben adam lchavero commandments to distinguish them as specifically Jewish.  Visiting the sick, burying the dead, helping the poor, and so on all can be found amongst all the nations of the world.  Jews performing these activites may do so l'shem mitzvah instead of simply because "it's the right thing to do" but to the outside observer, there is no difference between what we do and what eveyrone else do in these matters.  Hence some poskim hold that blessings are reserved for distinctively Jewish activities that are generally classed as ben adam l'makom.  So this might explain why mishloach manos might not get a beracha.
The Seridei Eish (hat tip to Nishma for pointing this out to me) notes a different, fascinating answer.  Generally in Jewish law we have a principle that it is a greater thing to do something one is commanded to do than to do it from a voluntary position.  Men are commanded to wave a lulav on Sukkos.  Women can but don't have a command to do so.  Men are therefore considered to have the greater reward, possibly because once something becomes a command the yetzer hara steps in to try and prevent the action but that's a separate topic.
However, the Seridei Eish implies that while this applies to ben adam l'makom commandments, it doesn't necessarily apply to ben adam l'chavero.  Looking specifically at mishloach manos, he repeats the concept that the mitzvah has the purpose of spreading love and brotherhood amongst the Jewish people.  Obviously sending gifts could have been commanded but the real value in a gift is its being offered freely instead of through coercion.
(As a side note, this could explain why the Mishkan was built almost entirely from free-will gifts instead of a mandatory tax)
As a result, the Seridei Eish holds that by applying a beracha to mishloach manos would remove the very purpose of the mitzvah, hence no blessing.
But there's a deeper concept I want to mention that emerges from this.
As written above there are two levels of mitzvos.  Which are the more basic?  One would have to say, based on a review of the Tanach, that ben adam l'chavero, the not-so-glamorous, not-so-specifically-Jewish commandments are the basic level of observance.  Consider the famour drash as to why the generation of the Flood was destroyed while the generation of the Tower of Bavel was only dispersed.  Consider how the prophets repeatedly emphasize social ills as the cause of the destruction of the Temple and our subsequent exiles.  After all, of the three cardinal sins that destroyed the First Temple, only one is ben adam l'makom.  The main sin that destroyed the Second Temple is entirely ben adam l'chavero.
Thus if one were to look at the two levels in a structural fashion, ben adam l'makom forms the second floor while ben adam l'chavero forms the first. 
And while the prophets make clear that God can build a structure by first spreading out the roof and then filling in underneath, human beings can only put something up from the ground level first.  A properly functioning Jewish system must be based on a strong dedication to ben adam l'chavero that then leads to the level of ben adam l'makom.  Anything else is like trying to put up the second storey while the first is yet incompletely.  The whole structure then collapses into a ruin.
Perhaps this is why there have been so much trouble reported out of the Torah observant community in the last while.  For a couple of generations now, the emphasis in the "most kosher" circles has been almost entirely on ben adam l'makom, many times openly at the expense of ben adam l'chavero.  Human dignity is shoved aside in a crazy delusion that somehow God doesn't care how we treat each other, just so long as we shokl hard enough when we daven and our black hats have big enough brims.  Worrying about what our Father in Heaven thinks of the length of our tzitzis while we shove our way rudely past our fellow man is completely in the wrong direction.
This Purim let us all take a step back.  The prophet quotes God as saying that given the choice between forming a functioning society and worshipping Him, he would choose the former because a functioning society will ultimately lead to people approaching Him.  Sole worship of Him will ultimately fail because the dysfunctional society underneath will take everything down with it.  Are you kosher enough?  Don't worry, God forgives.  Did you steal or cheat your fellow man?  God's not so crazy about that, or so the prophets have told us.
We must restore the proper direction of Judaism this Purim by emphasizing the mishloach manos in our lives.  One day a year to show communal fraternity is nice but really, mishloach manos are something you can do all year around.  And maybe that's another reason there's no blessing on the mitzvah.  Something we must always be involved with doesn't require a blessing because there's no start and certainly no end to the efforts.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Defend With Confidence

The Jew-hating anti-Israel industry has been in full swing since the release of Richard Goldstone's biased report, slamming Israel for daring to defend itself from terrorist attacks coming from 'Aza.  Unfortunately, on the side of the defence there are two groups, not one as there should be to provide a unifed defence of Israel.
The first group is the one that knows that Israel had every right to level the entire 'Aza strip in retaliation for the thousands of rockets fired deliberately at civilian targets from that large open sewer.  They know the facts and have no hesitation to point out that Israel not only committed no war crimes but exercised incredible self-restraint in the fact of  an enemy that did everything it could to maximize the death count of its own civilians.
The second group knows all this is true but isn't quite as confidence.  They say that Israel had a right to retaliate against the attacks from 'Aza but put too much stock in Arab lies about what happened during the incursion and wonder: were we moral enough during that war?  Might we have committed some crimes?
Thus when the newest edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Goldstone report, was released, the two groups reacted predictably.  The first dismissed it as a pack of lies not worth the paper it was written on.  The second studied it and wondered if any of it was really true.
Imagine the following: A, a wild punk, attacks B on the street.  B, a trained martial artist, used his fighting skills to defend himself and then gives a couple of quick blows to A to convince him not to continue the altercation.  By any reasonable perspective, B is beyond reproach.  Instead of killing his opponent as he could have easily done, he did what he could to end matters quickly and with minimal damage.
Along comes Goldstone to write his report.  This is what he writes: A was bothering B.  B, a superior fighter, attacked A all out of proportion.  The end.
In the wake of the Goldstone report, Jew hating groups led and funded by the New Israel Fund have gone out of their way to villianize Israel.  This being the post-Zionist age, none of these groups openly admit they hate Jews and Israel.  Some, like J Street, profess to be quite pro-Israelis although a search for any statements defending Israel in their repertoire is one of futility.  Nevertheless they have put great effort into demonizing our State for their own ends.
Fortunately, a group called Im Tirtzi has pulled the pants down on the New Israel Fund and its anti-Israel activities.  In a detailed report, it shows how the NIF has funded anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups whose reason for being is to attack Israel, aiding and abetting the enemies of the Jewish people.
Some, like Shmuel Rosner, aren't so confident in their defence of Israel and when Im Tirtzu is able to show who the treasonous amongst us are, they pull back and try to minimize the damage to the enemy the pro-Israel crowd as wrought.
Others, like Rav Yonasan Rosenblum, pull no punches when it comes to defending Israel and pointing out that wishy washy allies are no allies at all:
The NIF would prefer its donors to think that it is involved in social welfare projects or pushing religious pluralism. It tells donors that it does not fund groups that call for disinvestment or boycotts of Israel, or who negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, or which advocate the Palestinian right of return, or which engage in propaganda. Each of these claims is false. Im Tirzu shone a light on the activities of the NIF that the organization would rather hide. But increasing public knowledge is precisely what the marketplace of ideas is supposed to do.
Many on the Left employ a double standard concerning free speech. They want their own speech as advocates or professors immunized from criticism – thus Professor Newman's outrage at groups, such as Campus Watch, which publicize what professors say in and outside of the classroom. On the other hand, they develop an elaborate set of rules to disallow the speech of others as incitement, Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, or McCarthyite.
Neve Gordon is an egregious example. He publishes a widely disseminated op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling for a boycott of Israel, but whines when others point out what kind of people head Ben-Gurion University's Political Science Department and files libel suits to silence critics. Similary, NIF's CEO Larry Garber equated criticism of NIF's funding of organizations that call for an end to Israel as a Jewish state with "contemplate[ing] ethnic cleansing."
Finally, the Goldstone Report is a crucial public issue demanding the most robus public debate. The Goldstone findings place Israel in an intolerable bind, unable to defend itself. In his Brandeis debate with Dore Gold, Goldstone could provide no answer to Gold's question: What should Israel do in response to rocket attacks? If every Israeli response to terrorists using civilian populations as a shield is automatically labeled a "war crime" or "disproportionate," Israel is left with the unpalatable choice between swallowing terror attacks or risking international condemnation and possible sanctions. All those concerned with Israel's security have a right to know who laid the groundwork for Goldstone.
SHMUEL ROSNER, also writing in these pages, did not accuse Im Tirzu of stifling free speech. He did, however, describe Im Tirzu's campaign as "ugly, brutal and quite disgusting." Presumably, he was referring to the billboards and newspaper ads depicting Chazan with a horn coming out of her head (a visual pun on the identity of the Hebrew word for fund and that for horn). Those ads undoubtedly succeeded in drawing much more media attention to Im Tirzu's thoroughly researched 135-page report.
For those who still believe that Richard Goldstone meant well with his report, that at worse he was simply assuaging his liberal Jewish conscience by sticking up for the "underdog", there is a final nail in the casket for such incorrect beliefs.  A friend of mine (who actually attended the same school in South Africa as Goldstone) pointed me in the direction of an excellent open letter to Goldstone, one which undermines any claims at a sincere desire to see justice performed. 
The letter writer, a schoolmate of Goldstone's, meticulously builds his case based on openly known facts as well as personal recollections.  His conclusions?
My final conclusions are indeed very sad ones. From all of the above, it is logically obvious that because of all your brilliant qualities, attention to detail, shrewdness etc:
1. You know and understand that your report is null and void.
2. You know exactly that I am right about the Arab truth, Arab facts and Arab information.
3. You know that the I.D.F. is the most moral army in the world.
4. You know that we did our best to avoid civilian casualties.
5. You know that our Israeli cause is just.
6. You know that everything that so many people have emailed to you is correct.
7. You know that your desire to become Secretary General of the U.N. is so over-powering that you do not care about Israel or her survival.
8. In other words, you are the instigator, architect and the driving force about everything in your report ie: the facts have become Goldstone facts the same as Arab facts, the information has become Goldstone information the same as Arab information, the truth has become Goldstone truth the same as Arab truth.
9. You have created in your name a Hamas report that they cannot do.
Now, in all of this there is the inevitable rebuttal: But you're saying it's forbidden to criticize Israel!  Of course it's not.  Criticizing Israel in terms of economic policies, the state of its health care system, the wealth gap between the richest and poorest, all those are legitimate targets.  Twisting facts and then damning Israel for defending itself from attack is not.
The Goldstone report is the modern day equivalent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and those who give any credence to it are haters of the Jewish people.

Is There A Secular Jewish Culture

Haaretz recently ran an editorial accusing the Chareidi community of trying to monopolize Jewish culture all to themselves.  Apparently this was the triggering event:
At the Herzliya Conference, former Shas leader Aryeh Deri took part in a panel on education toward Jewish identity, and two of his points made it into the headlines. He said that until two centuries ago, religion simply was the Jewish culture. Since then, he says, secular Jewry has given us education but no culture, and he basically equated Jewish secular culture with reality TV. As a result, he thinks that the only common denominator for a dialogue on Jewish identity needs to be that God created the world and that the Torah was given to us by God. Everything else for him is barren.

The editorial goes on to make some valid points about the existence of what it calls secular Jewish culture.  Have certain forms of culture appeared in the last two centuries because of the initiative of various Jewish groups looking to express themselves?  Certainly.  Are these forms examples of Jewish culture?  Ah, now that depends.
For folks like Aryah Deri, as well as most observant Jews, the definition of Jewish culture is radically different than the one used by the secular population.  It is important to remember this when listening to statements made by folks on either side of the divide.  What Haaretz has done is to insist that their standards are somehow universal, that Deri should acknowledge that and therefore admit he, and all those who hold like him, are wrong.
Simply put, for religious Jews any culture which lacks an acknowledgement of God as the Creator of the universe and the giver of the Torah at Har Sinai cannot be considered a Jewish culture, even if its membership is 100% Jewish.  From the observant perspective, there is no such thing as secular Judaism.  The two terms contradict one another and I am certain that Deri is working from this perspective.
From the secular perspective, standards are a lot looser.  It seems that pretty much anything that is dominated by Jews eventually gains the Jewish adjective.  Woody Allen films are an example of Jewish culture, Israeli heavy metal music, general literature and television shows are as well for the secular population if only because it's Jews producing them, the sina qua non of calling something Jewish.
For Haaretz to criticize Deri is to arrogantly decide that their perspective is the perspective that all groups must see the world through.  This is patently unfair as it denies freedom of choice to any groups that disagree.  If it was Chareidim doing it, well fine and dandy.  Modern day Chareidim is about lack of choice and freedom of thought.  However, when such insistence comes from the sector of society supposedly championing intellectual inquire and freedom of belief, it simply stinks.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A Casualty of Change

I may have mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of chazanus.  For me, a chazzan warbling and dragging out davening detracts from my prayer experience.  Not that I'm the kind of guy who's out the door as fast as possible but for me, the person leading the services should be inspiring people to raise their own level, not be putting on a show.
From my limited experience in the area, it also seems chazzanus isn't that big a deal in the Orthodox world.  This isn't surprising given that most frum people are in shul to daven, not for the theatre experience.  A good chazzan would prolong the time to dinner/lunch and is therefore more an annoyance than anything.
(One of my beliefs: the length of the davening by the shaliach tzibur is inversely proportional to the quality of the meal awaiting him at home)
Therefore it is with little sadness that I read of the downsizing of the Jewish Theological Seminary's cantorial school.  In many ways the only surprise for me was that such a school still exists in the non-religious world.  After all, with the changing of the siddur to meet secular liberal standards, the expansion of the use in English in their prayer services and the egalitarian concept in which anyone, regardless of actual qualification or (sometimes) knowledge base can go up and lead services, it's a surprise that cantors can actually find work outside of the High Holydays.
The cantor, for me, speaks to a bygone era when people went to shul to feel inspired by the cantor instead of trying to generate that internal feeling through their own efforts.  Yes, a good chazzan could move you to tears with his rendition of Kol Nidrei or a dramatic kedusha, but the point of praying is to move oneself to tears, not to rely on someone else to bring it out in you. 
So as a tribute to the soon-to-be-defunct program, I'd like to share a joke with my reader(s):
God is busy creating the world.  He creates the horse and brings it before him.
"What am I?" asked the horse.
"You are a horse," answers God.
"And what is my job?"
"You will be man's most important tool.  You will carry him into battle and help him expand his civilization by transporting him everywhere."
"And how will he treat me?" asked the horse.
"He will beat you with a stick," answered God, "to make you run faster, and make you sleep outside and when you get sick he won't try to heal you but will just kill you to turn you into glue."
"That sounds awful!" exclaimed the horse.  "How long will I live?"
"Thirty years," replied God.
"That's too long," declared the horse.  "Let me only live for fifteen."
God agreed, sent out the horse and brought in the dog.
"What am I?" asked the dog.
"You are a dog," answers God.
"And what is my job?"
"You will be man's best friend. You will help him hunt, guard him and his children and give him companionship and support."
"And how will he treat me?" asked the dog.
"He will beat you with a stick," answered God, "if you don't do everything he's say, and make you sleep outside and when you get sick he won't try to heal you but will just abandon you."
"That sounds awful!" exclaimed the dog. "How long will I live?"
"Thirty years," replied God.
"That's too long," declared the dog. "Let me only live for fifteen."
God agreed, sent out the horse and brought in the chazzan.
"What am I?" asked the chazzan.
"You are a chazzan," answers God.
"And what is my job?"
"You will lead services for Jews in their synagogues.  You will inspire their prayers, bring tears to their eyes and leave them spiritually inspired."
"And how will I be treated?" asked the chazzan.
"You will be constantly feted," answered God.  "People will constantly praise and celebrate you and you will be the certain of attention wherever you go."
"That sounds wonderful!" exclaimed the chazzan.  "How long will I live?"
"Fifty years," replied God.
"That's too short," declared the chazzan.  "Can't you make it a lot longer?"
So God thought about it and then took the fifteen years he'd take from the dog and the fifteen years he'd taken from the horse and gave them to the chazzan.
So now when you see an elder chazzan eating like a horse and wailing like a dog, you know he's living on borrowed time!

Thursday, 11 February 2010


There is a fine difference between aggressive negotiating and brinksmanship.  The former may lead to pushing an opponent nearly into unconditional compromise but there is always some give and take.  With the latter, there isn't.  As the term implies, one party is prepared to push the other to the brink, and then give him a shove off the edge for good measure.
One example of this phenomenon in the Jewish world is the way the Chareidi leadership is currently interacting with the non-Chareidi Torah-observant communities.  There is no other word for their tactics other than brinksmanship.  It would seem their interest in clear - to control all aspects and characteristics of Torah observance as defined by them. 
Look at the events of the last few years and the cultural trends and the pattern becomes clear.  One group has decided that they represent "Torah true" Judaism with any group that differs representing a deviation from the norm and therefore inferior.  Conversion, tznius, kashrus, the standards are set by one group and the others are told "You have to hold by these because we won't recognize or accept yours."
Does such a position generally work?  In a word: yes.  When the Israeli Rabbanut, under its current Chareidi leadership, decided to change the standards of conversion so that only they would be able to decide "who is a Jew?" the RCA put up a brief fight and then submitted.  What was the alternative?
Well what is the alternative?  Modern Orthodoxy, as a movement, has an important choice to make because history is moving along and either it controls its destiny or gets swept away in the current.  There are two choices:
a) accept what those on the right consider the inevitable.  Modern Orthodoxy is an aberration, an illegimitate and weak form of Torah Judaism. It has no future, it cannot control its halachic destiny and therefore all those MO Jews who are serious about Torah observance have to stop fooling themselves, go out and buy black hats and suits and come home to the Chareidim, leaving the rest behind to merge into Conservatism.
b) stand up to the opposition and say "Ad kan", until here.  If pushing back means Chareidi leaders announcing that non-Chareidi Orthodox converts will no longer be recognized by the ultra-Orthodox, if pushing back means the Chareidim will no longer eat in MO institutions or recognize their rabbis' authorities, so be it.  The only way MO can survive into the future as a distinct entity is to jump off the cliff before being pushed.
Not an attractive source of options, are they?

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Smoking Gun Line

Conversation is still raging over Rabbi Avi Weiss' decision to promote Sara Hurtwitz from being the carrier of an unweildly acronym to being the carrier of a new title, one that is probably far more controversial than what it replaced.
Throughout all the arguing back and forth, one thing has been forgotten.  The essential question is: What defines Orthodoxy?  I recently analyzed Rabbi Yosef Kanesky's article defending the "rabba" concept in order to refute his five straw-man arguments.  On further consideration, one line he included in there seems to be the clincher as to how YCT's initiative departs from Orthodoxy, its proponents' claims to contrary not withstanding.  Here's the line:
(4) Orthodox Judaism promotes gender discrimination for its own sake, with Halacha itself lacking the authority to challenge the discriminatory pattern.

Now remember, this is no. 4 of 5 arguments made against the concept of women rabbis that he lists.  All 5 arguments are weak and made to sound ridiculous, the idea being that you'll then say that since these are the best the anti-rabba folks can do, there is no good reason to oppose this initiative.  But it's the wording of this one in particular that needs to be analyzed.
No. 4 essentially differs from the other arguments in its style.  For example, the first argument, that women lack the intellectual capacity to become rabbis is absurd.  Anyone who actually believes that is an idiot and such people can safely be ignored during a debate.  It's the same with the rest - they can also be dismissed with the line "Only a moron would use that reasoning" - except no. 4.
No. 4, in fact, doesn't present an opposing argument at all.  In fact, it's an argument in favour of the rabba initiative.  Read it again and you can see that this is what Rabbis Weiss, Kanefsky and Rabba Hurwitz believe, that the halacha is discriminatory.  In every other argument, the opposition is presented in positive or neutral terms.  Here Rabbi Kanesky would have us believe that we who oppose his ideas are not merely on the wrong side of political correctness but openly embrace bigotry as a religious value while secretly admitting we know it's actually negative.  Yes, we know discrimination is wrong but so what?  We're in favour of it!
This would seem to be the line that YCT has finally drawn that will ultimately formally separate them from the rest of Modern Orthodoxy.  How is this so?
For the genuine Orthodox Jew, there are two principle considerations when dealing with clashes between halacha and modern values.  The first is that our approach to modern values is guided by the halacha, not vice versa.  The second is that no halachic value is bad.
Thus for the genuine Orthodox Jew, the idea that the halacha differentiates between men and women, assigning them different roles in national, religious and personal life is not discrimination.  It is a positive thing with good consequences and therefore a value to be upheld, not minimized in the face of a society that seeks to eliminate all differences between the genders (except, inexplicably, when it comes to divorce court but that's another rant). 
However, for the Morethodox Jew, these two concepts are held in the precisely opposite fashion.  Their approach to halacha is guided by modern values and therefore there can be halachic values that are bad.  This may fit the YCT way of thinking but it is certainly not Orthodox.
This article in The Jewish Star goes further in helping clarifying the large step Rabbi Weiss has taken out of Orthodoxy despite his (and Hurwitz's) impassioned protests to the contrary:
“I don’t think anything I’m doing is outside the boundaries of halacha,” she stressed. The more advanced semicha, “Yadin yadin is a little more controversial because women are not supposed to be judges or witnesses. It’s a little more halachically complicated.”
“I’m pretty traditional,” Hurwitz admitted drolly with a faint South African accent. “I know halacha. I keep halacha very carefully. I have tremendous emunah. I can’t convince somebody else that I really am Orthodox and that Rabbi Weiss is really Orthodox. The only way is for somebody to realize it themselves. And they’ll realize it.”
Now, I am not commenting on Sara Hurwitz either as an individual or on her sincerity.  However, I am criticizing her willingness to minimize the controversy she is in the middle of.  The statement "Yadin yadin is a little more controversial" is flabergasting.  A little more controversial?  Is there a crack team of scholars at YCT working overtime to prove that women can suddenly be judges and witnesses within the bounds of halacha?  As for the statement "I know halacha", well there I had to shake my head.  I don't think there's a major talmid chacham alive who would make such an arrogant statement.  It reminds me of how some of us in first year medical school thought we knew all about medicine after completing our anatomy and physiology courses.  We had no idea about the size and complexity of the corpus of medical knowledge.  Torah dwarfs even that and she "knows halacha"?
But if you look through the Morethodox website, it becomes clear that she and her friends don't actually know what they don't know.  Read up and down and the articles, with only a few exceptions, all fall into the same patters.  Here's a social issues, hey Morethodoxy has something to say about it!  No halachic analysis, no deep explanations of any gemara, no Torah at all that is not connected to a pre-exisiting social agenda. 
I don't doubt that in time Rabbi Weiss will find a way to create female judges and will overcome every barrier the halacha puts in front of him.  He will continue to call himself Orthodox and insist that everything he is doing is consistent with Torah Judaism.
At the beginning of the NHL season, Brian Burke announced that this year's edition of the Toronto Maple Leads was a fine time that would handily compete for a playoff spot.  Anyone can say anything they want, really but just at least Burke now admits he had a bunch of losers that aren't going anywhere.  Rabbi Weiss is still fooling himself.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Be Vewy Ca'hful, I'm Hunting Wabbits!

A year ago or so Rabbi Avi Weiss of YCT decided that the Jewish world needed something new, a female rabbi.  Unwilling to simply go ahead and ordain women straight out, he took his protege, Sara Hurwitz, and gave her the title "Maharat", an acronym which stands for “manhiga,” “hilchatit,” “ruchanit,” “toranit". 
Over the course of the year, Weiss and Hurwitz rebutted or ignored the widespread criticism they received not from the Chareidim (who, to be honest, couldn't care less) but from the rest of the Modern Orthodox world.  Unlike everyone else, they refused to see that a significant line had been crossed in the name of combining Torah observance with secular liberal ethics in an attempt to minimize the conflict the former has with the latter.  The effors included the founding of a "yeshivah" to train new Maharats.
However, a year later Weiss has decided to be more bold.  Although apparently still unwilling to call Hurwitz a rabbi, he has created yet another new title: Rabba.  Sara Hurwitz will now be known by this title since Rabbi Weiss has, along with Rabbi Daniel Sperber, signed a piece of parchment saying so.  Once again Weiss has made clear that he considers her a rabbi with all the authority he ascribes to that position.
This time, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky has decided to take up the challenge of defending this position.  In an article that draws its style from Rav Avi Shafran, he sets up several arguments against the position and knocks them all down.  (Like Rav Avi Shafran, he also will not publish my comments on his position, but I digress...):
(1) Women don’t have the intellectual capacity to actually master the Orthodox Semicha curriculum.
(2) Women are halachikly barred from teaching Torah publicly, or from tending to the pastoral needs of fellow Jews, or from responding to the common battery of day-to-day halachik questions that Orthodox rabbis need to field.
(3) As full members of the human community, women are entitled to earn PhD’s, head corporations, and hold any elective office in the land, but are inherently disqualified for a position as prestigious as the contemporary rabbinate.
(4) Orthodox Judaism promotes gender discrimination for its own sake, with Halacha itself lacking the authority to challenge the discriminatory pattern.
(5) Orthodox religious leadership is just fine the way it is, and could only be harmed by the contributions of the other half of the population.
Is he serious?  This is the basis of the rebuttals in defence of the Rabba?
1) No one believes that women don't have the intellectual capacity to learn what it takes to be a rabbi.
2) Women aren't barred from anything he lists, and they also do not need a title to do any of those things.  Neither does a man.
3) Since when does Judaism give a lick about what the human community considers acceptable?  Is the human community (does he mean "mankind" in a politically correct way?) going to tell us what we can and cannot observe as well?
4) Orthodox Judaism does not promote gender discrimination for its own sake but because man and women are - hang on! - different.  Yes, you read it here first.  Men and women are different.  They have different drives, interests, intellectual processes, desires, etc.  That does not make one gender better than the other, no more than an apple is better than an orange or vice versa.  It is only the limited thinking of the politically correct that prevents them from not equating difference with inequality.
5) Who says the other half can't contribute?  Why do they need a title to do it?
My final argument against the title, however, is much simpler than all that.  The word "rabba" is simply wrong.  If they're looking for the true feminine, then it's "rabanit".  I don't think they'd use that because it's now the Hebrew equivalent of the Yiddish Rebbitzen so they need something else.  But Rabba?  No, I think it should more likely be "rabbit".  I don't think they'll pick that though.  Women rabbis, bunnies, other stuff comes to mind.

Opening Pandora's Box

Did you ever wonder why is it that a politician can hear his opponent propose something completely logical and reasonable, only to attack and demonize him?  Well, imagine the alternative.  If the politician admits, "Yeah, my opponent is on to something good" then the question to him would then be "Well, are you admitting we should vote for him instead of you?"  Out of fear of this question, politicians generally prefer partisan attacks to compromise and cooperation.  This is the current basis of how government works in North America.
It is not only in politics that cooperation is feared because it is seen as a sign of weakness.  In most social debates, there is more often than not heated argument between closed minds rather than intellectual discussion for precisely this reason.  Mention the possibility of private health care in Canada and watch as the anti-private crowds rise up, crosses burning, reading to lynch you.  Suggest that maybe there should be some kind of limitation on abortion, for example making women go for a pre-procedure counselling session to make sure this is what they want and that they are fully appraised of the risks, and you will be accused of wanting women to procure back-alley abortions and die of septic shock.
Homosexuality and religion also fits this trend.  For some, the concern that there are observant Jews who are homosexual and therefore suffer from urges contrary to what the Torah considers permissible is very real.  These people are suffering on multiple levels.  They want to worship God but one of their basic drives is described by the Torah as an abomination.  Many in the frum community want to help out of their desire to help a fellow Jew in pain.  It was in this spirit that YU recently hosted its very controversial forum on homosexuality and Orthodoxy.  Yes, the event was criticized by many in the rabbinical leadership of the school but it is clear that the organizers' hearts were in the right place.
Unfortunately, an attempt at opening up discussion on this issue isn't an end in itself but a means towards a more concerning end.  As this article in The Jewish Week suggests, the forum is a stepping stone for some towards a greater agenda, the acceptance of homosexuality as "normal" by Torah Judaism.
The argument is often made that homosexuality is a matter of choice, and that an Orthodox Jew engaging in it has made a free-will decision to disobey Jewish law. However given the culture of Yeshiva University, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any of its students voluntarily choosing a homosexual orientation. As an undergraduate at Yeshiva in the 1960s, I knew a handful of gay students. Generally, they were marginalized by their peers, myself included, I am sorry to say. Subsequently, when I served on the faculty, I do not recall either private or public discussion of the issue. Surely, an open forum was long overdue, and its organizers deserve great credit for their courage and leadership.
More fundamentally, however, the forum on Orthodoxy and homosexuality vividly illustrates the growing distance between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewry, two worlds that operate, as it were, in different dimensions within a fractured Jewish people. And as Orthodox Judaism experiences significant demographic growth and becomes an even more vital factor in Jewish communal life, the gulf between these two worlds looms increasingly ominous.
An important question must be asked: having started the discussion, where will it lead?  Furthermore, the subtle point made in the article, that homosexual orientation is not a matter of choice, has important implications.  The non-observant so-called streams of Judaism have already made their view on how this affects Jewish law clear: God made them this way, therefore it's normal, therefore the rules against homosexual behaviour in the Torah don't apply to them.  Are calls for this kind of reasoning going to start creeping into Torah-observant discourse, hidden in the Trojan horses of acceptance and unconditional love?
To begin healing the rift, we must differentiate between the various divisive issues. Some, particularly those dealing with personal Jewish status, e.g., patrilineal descent, may well prove intractable, defying immediate resolution. Others require greater mutual understanding between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. The liberal movements need to engage the Orthodox and challenge them to distinguish between areas that are negotiable and those where no accommodation is possible.

In still other areas, Orthodox leaders need to think seriously whether by insisting on the most extreme public-policy positions, they do damage to themselves that outweighs anything they can possibly gain. Last, Israel requires a new social contract that safeguards its core identity as a Jewish state, yet preserves freedom of choice for individuals.
Most important is the struggle within the Orthodox camp for the soul of Modern Orthodoxy, as illustrated by the conflict at Yeshiva University over holding the forum. Will Orthodox Judaism be open to dissenting opinions and inclusive of all Jews, or closed-minded and dismissive of anything with which it disagrees?
The liberal movements should engage and challenge Orthodoxy?  Based on what?  Our understanding of the fundamental principles of Torah observance, the authority of halacha and the process through which it is determined is diametrically opposed to theirs.  For Conservatives and Reformers, the rules are based on political correctness and Western secular values.  For the Torah observant, those considerations are completely irrelevant.  What possibly discussion could we have?
Furthermore, the statement about Orthodox leaders needing to think seriously about their extreme public-policy positions is an old one which compromisers have been warning us against even since Paul of Tarsus, y"sh, decided that a vague historical figure was the son of God and the harbinger of a new religion.  We ignored him despite the horrible repercussions, we ignored Mohammed despite the consequences and now suddenly we have to be worried about the liberal lobby?
The answer must be clear.  Orthodox Judaism will not be open to dissenting opinions and include of all Jews.  We stand on certain principles that are non-negotiable and those who disagree with them cannot claim to be just as observant from our perspective.  It is forbidden to hate or torment other Jews, regardless of their beliefs or orientation but that tolerance cannot translate into acceptance.
The big fear from the YU forum is that those with a liberal agenda will take the message of tolerance and go to the next logical step: acceptance, which is something no Orthodox Jew can allow.  It's sad to say it but this is why the forum was such a mistake.  Some discussions simply cannot be held because of the consequences.

What the Unwashed Masses Want

Rav Avi Shafran's recent piece on Haiti continues to generate reaction across the blogosphere.  His initial piece, in which he gave the distinct impression that non-religious Jews spewing hatred against religious ones was the reason for the earthquake in Haiti, was followed up by a clarification.  However, if people were expecting an apology they were in for a rude surprise.  True to his nature, he spent the second post explaining how so many people got the "wrong" impression of his first column and that this was no reason for him to apologize or explain himself.  His original piece was fine and any detractors were themselves the problem, not him.
In many ways, it's wasy to see why he would think this way.  One of his own statements describes the bubble he lives in.
I have to confess that I don’t usually read the Cross-Current comments posted to my essays. To be honest, I
have found that posters often seemed to not have really read the essay on which they chose to comment; and that the tone of some postings seemed unnecessarily abrasive.
For all I have been critical of other Cross Currents contributors, it should be noted that they do read the comments posted to their essays and many times respond.  Rav Shafran's lack of interest in the impression his writing makes on his readers is apalling and speaks of an paternalistic attitude most people no longer care for.
Consider these examples of how little Rav Shafran thinks of his detractors:
1) I did not “blame” the earthquake on anything, much less a particular piece of writing or art. I simply cited the Jewish mandate to soul-search in the wake of disaster, and quoted a Godol of our generation who suggested that speech fueled by ill will is a particularly rampant evil in our day. I cited the cartoon and editorial as recent examples, nothing more.
In other words, he mentioned the disaster, quoted someone who, in full, said that disasters are related to our bad behaviour, and then just happened to mention two examples.  But chas v'shalom, you shouldn't read a linkage into that or anything.
2) I wrote quite explicitly that the articles I cited were examples only of anti- Orthodox invective, but that “ill will and its expression, tragically” exist in the Orthodox world as well. I didn’t cite particular examples only because I couldn’t find any recent public ones.
Perhaps in addition to ignoring those who disagree with him, Rav Shafran also skips all those news stories that contradict his assertion.  I mean really, is it that hard to find news about Chareidim behaving badly these days?
But until a court of law or beis din renders a judgment of an accused individual, no matter how heinous the crime and no matter the seeming preponderance of evidence, he or she may not be referred to as guilty
Oddly, I fail to recall what court Rav Nosson Sliffkin was convicted in.  Would Rav Shafran come running to his defence the way he has to Rav Lieb Troppers?  Why is it that the former received no benefit of the doubt and no chance to defend himself while the latter is eligible for both in spades?
But Gedolim, too, are bound by the halacha that prohibits judgment of guilt without a trial.
This is an admirable position and one that raises the question I just asked.
There are two points I would like to make.
First, as a PR specialist, Rav Shafran should be well aware that it doesn't matter what he says.  What matters is what people hear him say.  He could give a speech as true as the Torah itself but if his wording is vague and his audience gets a completely different impression then the defence "Well that's not what I meant!" is worthless.
In a couple of weeks we will learn about how when Moshe Rabeinu was soliciting donations from our ancestors to build the Mishkan, he wore a seamless white robe.  The commentators notes that the reason for this was to head off any possible complaints that he was pocketing some of the money he was collection.
On the face of it, this sounds absurd.  Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, a common thief?  The man who spoke with God face to face looking for a quick buck on the side?  Absurd! 
However, the lesson we draw from Moshe Rabeinu's garment is exactly what Rav Shafran seems to have missed.  Moshe Rabeinu could have worn ordinary clothes and simply ignored any challenges from the riff raff about unjust gain.  After all, both he and God knew that he was innocent of such charges so why should he care what his detractors thought?
Further, even if he did pocket some of the money, wasn't he entitled to it?  What, he was supposed to put up with the burdens our ancestors heaped on him (and which he was happy to complain about on multiple occasions) for free?  Wasn't he entitled to some kind of salary for overseeing the whole operation?  Who could blame him for taking some of the money?  Only someone who didn't appreciate him and such a person could also safely be ignored.
But Moshe Rabeinu was not content with either line of thinking.  For him, there was no substitute for absolute honesty, going beyond any strict reading of the law and instead doing things that would leave even the most disgruntled plebian no chance for complain.  It was not enough that he knew that he was doing no wrong.  He had to make it blindingly obvious that he was doing nothing wrong.  Nothing less would do considering the level of holiness he was working on.
My second point deals with the ongoing comparison between the Tropper issue and the Sliffkin affair.  Not suprisingly, there are those who would like to avoid such comparisons and are prepared to go to various lengths to show there is no connection between the two.  However, most of their arguments are disingenious or simply wrong.
Simply put, those who link Sliffkin with Tropper are not offering an opinion on the correctness of Rav Sliffkin's writings.  It is possible to be completely opposed to Rav Sliffkin's ultra-rationalist beliefs but still be outraged by how the system hung him out to dry without a trial or a chance to defend himself while that same system did all it could to ignore Rav Tropper's indiscretions for as long as it could and now hides its head while offering mealy-mouthed "Well he hasn't been convicted yet" excuses for not condemning him publicly.  The same people who condemn Sliffkin without having read a single word of his supposedly treif book suddenly are interested in judicial process and not ruining reputations!  It is this point that the anti-Sliffkin crowd, discombobulated by their hatred as they are, simply do not understand.
What is it that we, the unwashed masses who respect authority but do not "gadol worship" want?  I can speak only for myself but here is my request.  Do I suspect that Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, and the other major authorities who enabled and supported Rav Tropper as he rampaged through the world of conversions approve of the indiscretions Rav Tropper committed?  Chalilah that anyone should think so.  I have no doubt that these great rabbonim, upon being apprised of what kind of menuval they had been connected with, slapped themselves on the forehead and resolved to move away from any future associations. 
But it isn't enough for me to think that.  I believe that we, the great unwashed masses, need to hear it from these great Gedolim.  I am not asking anyone to come out and condemn Rav Tropper.  However, imagine the impact a public statement on the unacceptability of a Rav commiting such indecent acts, how such acts are against the Torah and how it is fitting for any decent Torah scholar to avoid any such person would have. 
Rav Shafran clearly believes that it is so obvious the "gedolim" think this way that nothing further needs to be said.  I clearly believe that Moshe Rabeinu's white cloak teaches us otherwise.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Answer

First of all, a big thank you to Midwest for guiding me right to the sources I needed.  Certainly he's a Talmid Chacham and a gentlemen.

In order to answer the question asked in the previous post, I have to note that I failed to follow my own advice in seeking out an answer.  One of the principles I always use when I have a question with a mishnah or gemara is "Keep reading.  If you thought of it, chances are the Chazal anticipated it and provided the answer."  I didn't do that this time {slap on the forehead} which caused me needless panic as I desperately checked every other source I could other than the next mishnah!
The first thing it is necessary to understand is the level of cleansing a kli shares requires after being used for cooking a sacrifice.  The concern is that leftover sacrificial food will become nosar which make the pot foribdden for use as long as it's in there.  Does a kli sharet require simple cleaning or kashering? 
The halacha seems require a level of kashering similar to that of regular utensils that have become nonkosher.  In other words, a form of hagala is performed.  However, how it is done is a dispute between Rabbi and the Chachamim.  Rabbi holds that the utensil first undergoes hagala and then merikah u'sh'tifah.  He defines merika as rinsing the inside of the utensil with cold water and sh'tifah as rinsing the outside of the vessel with cold water.  The Chachamim, on the other hand, say that merikah is scouring the inside of the vessel with boiling water, fulfilling the need for hagala, and sh'tifah is rinsing the outside of the utensil with cold water.  In any case both Rabbi and the Chachamim require a purging to remove the sacrifical food absorbed into the walls of the utensil.  Everyone also agrees that merikah u'sh'tifah can only be done in the Temple itself.
When must merikah u'sh'tifah be done?  According to the Rambam, it should be done davka before the food becomes nosar.  Tosafos and the Ra'avad disagree and say that it can be done even after the food becomes nosar.
So back to my original question: what happens if a kli shares was rinsed out after being used to cook a chatas leaves the Temple and then becomes tameh?  The mishnah says that one must poke a large hole in it to remove its status as a kli, therefore removing the tumah as well.  It can then be brought back to the Temple where merikah u'sh'tifah can be performed.  I asked: if the vessel is already externally clean, why can't it be dunked in a mikveh and then be brought back for the purging process?
From what I've noted above, the answer is obvious.  Regardless of who we follow, there are only two ways the vessel can leave the Temple:
a) still dirty
b) already purged and cleansed
It doesn't matter if we follow Rabbi or the Chachamim.  Both require a cleaning with hot water as the essential first step of the cleaning process which would remove first the visible sacrificial remnants and then the part absorbed into the wall.  Therefore, a vessel which has just been rinsed doesn't occur.  Even if we say that it was rinsed first to remove lots of excess food, it would go straight to the hagala process afterwards.
Therefore there is no case in which the situation I proposed occurs.
Interestingly, the Tiferes Yisrael to Zevachim 11:6 (Boaz 1) notes another reason (according to the Rambam's undestanding) why one cannot simply dunk the utensil and return it to the Temple, even in  the unlikely case that it somehow got out of the Azarah gently rinsed but not purged.  The specific case the Mishnah refers to is a utensil used to cook a shelamim offering which can be eaten for two days and one intervening night and which has found its way out of the Temple and into a source of tumah on the second day.  Even if one dunks it in the mikveh, it will not actually become tahor until sunset and at that point the food becomes nosar!  So this solution doesn't work either.