by Avrohom Gordimer
When challenging a world-eminent halachic master, be prepared. Nice try, but… These thoughts immediately came to mind upon reading the response of R. Ysoscher Katz chair of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, to R. Hershel Schachter’s p’sak prohibiting Partnership Minyanim – public prayer groups which identify themselves as Orthodox, in which women lead parts of the public service, such as Kabbalas Shabbos and Pesukei Z’Dimra. (See also here , here , here and here ) Let’s look at R. Schachter’s p’sak and then turn to R. Katz’ response. As this requires detail and focus, and cannot be presented summarily, we need to break it down by section.
I. R. Schachter’s P’sak In his p’sak, R. Schachter demonstrates that the Ruach Ha-Halacha (Spirit of the Law) is a legal principle that governs halachic decision-making, and that innovations in Torah practice, even if they otherwise would appear to be technically legitimate, must be vetted by the greatest halachic masters of the generation (gedolei ha-dor), who are trained and attuned to the Ruach Ha-Halacha and can discern whether a certain practice conforms thereto. R. Schachter … Read More >>
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com
In the past few months, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has occupied entire floors of hotels in Jerusalem. In early March, Mr Kerry is expected to present a copy of the so-called framework agreement to Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington to both visit President Barack Obama and address the AIPAC conference of AIPAC.
The document will propose a peace deal along pre-1967 borders but with land swaps that take account of “demographic changes” on the ground. The document will attempt to influence the Netanyahu government to give up many different areas of Eretz Yisrael. It is therefore be an opportune time to review the halachos of what constitutes Eretz Yisrael. It must be stressed that this discussion does not chalilah condone the giving up of parts of Israel. It is merely a discussion of the status of its various parts.
TWO TYPES OF LAND Although the verse in Bereishis (17:8) tells us that Hashem told Avraham, “And I shall give you and your descendants after you…the entire Land of Canaan as an inheritance forever,” one can divide up Eretz Yisrael … Read More >>
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Let’s picture the true story of a wonderful Bais Yaakov girl in high school.
She has friends, she loves her Torah classes. She does well in Limudei Chol. She has a life. We shall call her “Shaina.”
Little does she realize that, not too far away, there is a Yeshiva that has a policy which will help ruin Shaina’s life forever.
Let’s fast forward a few years. We see Shaina, our former Bais Yaakov girl, crying. She is carefully taking care of her soon to be deceased husband, “Chaim.” Chaim is lying in the ICU section of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan.
Her two kids are at home, with a baby-sitter. This time it is a baby-sitter – instead of their grandmother. The grandmother is too fatigued from watching them this past two weeks.
At the Levaya the Rabbanim speak about how wonderful her husband Chaim was. It is all true. Chaim was a masmid. He had good midos. They do not mention that there was a policy in place at Chaim’s Yeshiva high school that helped contribute to Chaim’s death.
It … Read More >>
I think it’s time I came clean regarding my doubts about Judaism, about everything I was taught by my parents and rabbaim in yeshiva. How can we be sure that the Torah was really given to my ancestors at Sinai? Are its laws really eternal? Is halacha really G-d’s will? Are Jews in fact a special people? And are Orthodox Jews true examples of what a Jew should be?
I came across some very compelling literature that called traditional Jewish beliefs into question, and was disturbed by what I had read, and so I read more, and did a good amount of serious thinking and research.
As to Orthodox Jews themselves, yes, most seem to be fine people, but there have also always been “characters” – people with strange fixations or behavior patterns. And then there are Jews proven or rumored to be… not so nice.
The thought that the “outside” world might provide a more rarified and thoughtful community was an enticing one. And so I began to entertain doubts about Jewish beliefs, my religious identity and my community.
I was 14.
To my relief now, many decades later, there was no Internet then to intensify my … Read More >>
By the time you read this, the new issue of Tradition may already have launched a thousand conversations. It contains an important article by Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer that prohibits “partnership minyanim.” At the same time, Tradition’s parent organization, the RCA, collected and released other documents adopting the same position. The authors come from across a continuum of contemporary Orthodoxy, including R Gedalya Dov Schwartz,shlit”a, the Av Beis Din of the RCA, and R Jeremy Wieder of YU (still to be published).
How to respond to the incessant stream of innovations coming from YCT/ Morethodoxy/ Open Orthodoxy (OO) – or whether to respond at all – remains a frequent topic of conversation and disagreement within the ranks of the RCA, the Modern Orthodox rabbinic group. The RCA is far from monolithic. Its members range from somewhat favorable to OO, to indifferent, to strongly hostile. Many among the more traditional members already refer to Open Orthodoxy as neo-Conservatism, believing that with the imminent demise of the Conservative movement, its ideology has found a new home at the far margins of the Orthodox world. At the same time, many of those on the far-left have formed their own … Read More >>
This past week a terrible tragedy occurred in Scotland regarding a medical doctor. It seems a doctor who was moonlighting did not inform his hospital that he was working another job. On account of his over-tiredness, he did not check that a patient was overmedicated. Nor did he check on the patient. The patient died, unfortunately. This incident highlights an important point in halacha.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics informs us that last year seven million American workers were working multiple jobs. Out of a total employed workforce of 144 million in this country that means that one out of 20 people at work are actually working double jobs. The question is: Are there any obligations from a halachic perspective that these workers have to their day-job employers? Indeed, is having the extra job permitted in the first place?
It is also interesting to note what types of jobs most people have as their second job. Some babysit, others bartend. Some cater. And many run an internet website (more on this as the article progresses).
There is a fascinating Tosefta in Bava Metzia (8:2) which tells us that a worker is not permitted to perform his own … Read More >>
Of the slew of recent articles celebrating the idea of girls wearing tefillin two were particularly notable. One, because of how revealing it is of its author’s attitude toward halacha; the second, because it holds the seeds of a worthy lesson.
In Haaretz, feminist Elana Sztokman (upcoming book: “The War on Women in Israel”) asserted that “the crude, sexist responses within Orthodoxy to girls wearing tefillin” only “reflect men’s fears and prejudices.” And that her brand of “religious feminism is not about… women who are angry or provocative.”
She dismisses those who have noted that the Shulchan Aruch (technically, the Rama) criticizes women’s wearing of tefillin as just “try[ing] to make their objections rooted in halakha,” and she cites in her favor the halachic authority of the founder of a school described elsewhere as representing the “co-ed, egalitarian ethos of liberal Conservative Judaism.” That authority, Ms. Sztokman announces, has “unravel[led] the halakhic myths… about women and tefillin.”
What’s more, she continues, fealty to the halachic sources about the issue only shows how “some men think about women’s bodies and their roles in society” and “how deeply rooted misogynistic perceptions are in Orthodox life.”
And to think that … Read More >>
(The subject of this article has been well covered by other writers in this space, and I apologize if posting it here is the equivalent of a fifth wheel on a cart. But I think it may add some additional food for thought. The piece appeared in Haaretz this week and is offered here with its permission.)
Unlike some in the traditional Orthodox community, I empathize with the young women in two modern Orthodox high schools in New York who asked for and received permission to don tefillin during their school prayer services. They have, after all, seen their mothers wearing the religious objects and simply wish to emulate their parents’ Jewish religious practice. Carrying on the traditions of parents is the essence of mesorah, the “handed-down” legacy of the Jewish past.
None of us has the right to assume that these girls aren’t motivated by a deeply Jewish desire to worship as they have seen their mothers worship. Even as to the mothers’ motivations, I can’t know whether their intention is pure or homage to the contemporary and un-Jewish idea that “men and women have interchangeable roles.” Most of our acts, wrote the powerful thinker Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer … Read More >>
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Poor moral choices can be made by people of either gender, especially when it comes to behaviors involving divorce. Divorces can bring out the worst in people, and many believe that that is an understatement. There are angry wives seeking a divorce who cause their husbands to be incarcerated, simply because they have the ability to do so. And there are husbands who punish their wives by not allowing them to ever remarry. This, of course, is known as the agunah problem, where wives separated from their husbands are still chained to them, unable to remarry, because their husbands have refused to grant them a get, a Jewish divorce document.
The agunah problem has given rise, of late, to a new trend in how some people handle halachah. More and more, when facing obstinate husbands refusing to grant their wives a get, some rabbis are opting for a rather controversial method of relieving the problem. They are granting “Jewish annulments” of the original marriage.
The issue, however, is mired in controversy, where leading rabbis are aghast at both the ease and the extent of the annulments being granted. There … Read More >>
The horse is out of the barn. There are no rules anymore. Everything goes. Making it up as you go along.
These are among the clichés that came to mind when reading the many articles penned by those promoting and defending the decisions of two liberal Orthodox high schools to allow their female students to lay tefillin during morning services at school.
Notwithstanding the ruling of the Rema (OC 38:3) that one must protest any attempt by women to lay tefillin, notwithstanding the words of the Vilna Gaon (ibid.) that it is forbidden for women to lay tefillin, notwithstanding the elaboration of the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (OC 38:6) wherein the phrase “we do not permit” is applied to the notion of women laying tefillin, notwithstanding age-old accepted halachic consensus and practice that women do not lay tefillin, and notwithstanding the fact that no major halachic authority was consulted – these liberal Orthodox high schools decided that their female students may indeed lay tefillin.
As the Aruch Ha-Shulchan and others have explained, men do not keep their tefillin on all day and they instead limit their tefillin time to Tefillas Shacharis, due to the comprehensive bodily and mental purity that must be maintained while tefillin are worn. Since men are halachically required to lay tefillin, they have no choice and must keep their tefillin on at least for the morning prayers, after which the tefillin are customarily removed in deference to their sanctity, which could be offended should there be a lapse in bodily or mental purity. Women, on the other hand, are not required to lay tefillin, and they therefore should not do so, lest they be subject to a compromised state of bodily or mental purity while wearing tefillin. To lay tefillin and voluntarily expose the tefillin to potential offense of their sanctity due to such a lapse is discouraged or prohibited; hence do women not lay tefillin, explain the poskim. The poskim specifically differentiate between other mitzvos such as shofar, sukkah and lulav, from which women are exempt but may nonetheless voluntarily perform, and tefillin, whose voluntary performance may engender a prohibited offense of their sanctity.
Those who recently took to promoting and defending the notion of their female students laying tefillin argued that since even men are distracted with iPhones and secular reading materials while wearing tefillin, it is clear that we no longer adhere strictly to the purity requirement for laying tefillin, and women should therefore be no different:
But since nobody really does it the right way – as the Halacha cautions us – why are women any different from men in this respect? Just look at all the men who are consulting their I phones, or reading, during parts of the davening, while wearing tefillin– if that isn’t hesech ha-da’at, what is? So, essentially, we are all deficient in the scrupulous care of the body and the mind that is necessary for tefillin. If women, therefore, want to take the mitzvah of tefillin upon themselves, why is it any different from Sukkah and lulav and shofar
and many mitzvot that are time-caused which women accept upon themselves and, according to Ashkenazic practice, make brachot over those mitzvot? Why exclude them because of deficiencies in practice which men have too?
Others who recently endorsed the idea of their female students laying tefillin argued that since there are sources that do not object to women laying tefillin, female students who seek to lay tefillin as an expression of their sincere religiosity should not be prevented from doing so:
I felt it appropriate to see this as a legitimate practice albeit different than our communal practice – but one that has halakhic justification. As such, I granted the two girls permission in the context – in a tefilah setting – of a group of girls who were supportive of their practice. I felt it appropriate to create space at SAR for them to daven meaningfully. I explained this to our students in this way: it is a halakhically legitimate position despite it not being our common communal practice. But since there is support for it, I would be willing to create such space in the school. I did not, in so doing, create new policy nor invite any female student who wanted to don tefillin to do so.
Both of the above arguments are fundamentally flawed. While men in the congregation of the rabbi who proffered the first argument above may indeed be distracted with their iPhones and secular reading materials during Shacharis and while donning tefillin, from whence does one receive license to provide a wholesale dispensation from the purity requirements of wearing tefillin and thereby overturn half a millennium of p’sak in order to permit women to don tefillin, based on this newly-created dispensation?
The second argument relies on the fact that there exist halachic opinions that do not object to women laying tefillin; hence, there is a reliable basis for women who have a sincere religious desire to lay tefillin. Although halachic precedent and practice for at least half a millennium dictate otherwise, and although no poskim were consulted, those behind this decision have pointed to sources that justify their decision, while overriding the accepted sources on the matter.
Being consistent with this approach, let’s imagine if the letter from this school’s principal read as follows:
Continue reading → Women and Tefillin: A Study in Breached Boundaries
As much as I enjoy reading Jonathan Rosenblum’s column in Mishpacha each week, I find it painful. Comparing my own poor attempt at communication with the richness of his thought and expression always leaves me feeling inadequate.
Last week was no different. How many people in our community would have thought of introducing a column with a reference to Alain Finkielkraut? Many in our community whose secular (non-)education came through our day schools criticize writers for Mishpacha for using “Artscroll English.” Among them, many surely believe that Finkielkraut must be the inventor of a new condiment for hot dogs.
Jonathan, however, doesn’t pander to the lowest educational common denominator. His writing always attempts to not only stimulate and educate, but also to elevate. There are almost always some subliminal messages thrown in, gently prodding a community to make small changes in its thinking.
To succeed in that, he has to limit what he can say. I am not subject to the same intensity of limitation, so I can take what he says to the next level. Which is what I feel compelled to do in regard to the column at hand.
Jonathan reacted to a … Read More >>
A fantastic recent essay in the New York Times brought to mind a fantastic Talmudic narrative. The latter [in Tamid 32b] describes the would-be world-conqueror Alexander the Great approaching the gates of the Garden of Eden. When denied entry (insufficient righteousness the grounds), he asks for, at least, a souvenir and is given an eyeball (or, perhaps, a skull’s eye-socket).
Seeking to somehow gauge the odd gift, he places it on one pan of a scale, with gold and silver in the other pan. The precious metal pan rises. And it continues to do so, no matter how much gold and silver he adds. Asking the rabbis accompanying him what is happening, they explain that the eye represents the impetus for human desire; it is that which sees and wants, and is never satisfied. He is skeptical but the rabbis then prove their point by placing some dirt, a reminder of the reality of mortality, atop the eye. Its pan then rises high, outweighed by, unconcerned with, oblivious to, all the precious metal.
All of us have likely desired to possess something we don’t. But I have always been confounded by the spectacle of very wealthy people consumed … Read More >>
Whoever the “Letters” editor of Hamodia may be, I prefer to think that he/she is more clever than obtuse. It is the only way I could understand the reaction to a reader other than wimpy silliness.
The reader took offense at some reference in the paper’s coverage of the passing of Ariel Sharon. Apparently, the article’s author lost all of his religious bearings, and made reference to the former Prime Minister as z”l – of blessed memory.
What could this author have been thinking? We know that Sharon made no pretense of halachic observance. If he was not frum, there should be no reason why we should find any berachah in his remembrance at all! Therefore, the reader took Hamodia to task: “Even though the writer attempts to describe him as a very proud Jew, it seems to be quite irrelevant when the proud one is actually not practicing what he’s proud of. Hamodia, being an orthodox paper with Torah values should of (sic) not honoured an unorthodox person with this title.”
The reader has a point. When Sharon ignored orders and led his troops across the Suez Canal within striking distance of Cairo, thereby singlehandedly turning the … Read More >>
by Steven Pruzansky
The controversy du jour deals with the high school girls and their tefillin, and it has prompted the usual litany of responses. Once again, what passes for psak in the Modern Orthodox world is little more than cherry-picking the sources to find the single, even strained, interpretation of a rabbinic opinion in order to permit what it wants to permit or prohibit what it wants to prohibit. The preponderance of poskim or the consensus in the Torah world matters little; fables – like Rashi’s daughters wearing tefillin – carry more weight.
No honest reading of the sources could ever give rise to a statement such as “Ramaz would be happy to allow any female student who wants to observe the mitzvah of tefillin to do so.” Happy? Tell it to the Rema or to the Aruch Hashulchan. And what about the prohibition of lo titgodedu – of not having contradictory practices in the same minyan (e.g., some girls wearing tefillin and others not)? And what of the statement being made to the traditional girls – that their service of G-d must somehow be inferior to that of their peers who are on a “higher” … Read More >>
If ever there were a question to inspire ambivalence it might be whether the current push in Israel to outlaw the word “Nazi” and Holocaust-era German symbols is a good idea.
On the one hand, the word and symbols are often used these days to score political points, to just insult someone with whom the user disagrees or in the ostensible service of humor. Placards of Yitzchak Rabin’s image in a Nazi uniform were brandished in demonstrations before his assassination; and, more recently, religious Jewish children were dressed in concentration camp garb to protest government budget cuts. A long-into-reruns popular American television show included a character, the irascible owner of a food stand, who nom de tv was “the soup Nazi.” Talk about trivialization.
But there’s another hand, too, at least to many minds: Outlawing speech is not something to undertake lightly. And just where does one draw the line between speech that’s just impolite or crude, and speech that is so depraved as to merit being criminalized? Forbidding the shouting of “fire!” in a crowded theater is understandably worthy of penalization; calling someone a soup Nazi, well, somewhat less so.
And then there is the question of … Read More >>
Apologies for causing an unwarranted adrenalin surge in some of our readers who may be hostile to our Israeli cousins. This will not be an expose about black-hatted people on the dole squandering public funds at upscale clothiers. Most charedim in Israel never heard of The Gap. But then again, most of them don’t know enough about the other gap, the one we are going to talk about. And it does make a catchier title than “Are They All Really Resha’im, Part Two,” which is what the piece is really about.
You may know the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) by its colloquial name, Machon Lev, after the founder of the venerable institution of applied science, Prof. Zev Lev z”l, a former ben-bayis of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky z”l. JCT students combine Torah learning and the pursuit of their academic careers. In other words, it has been mostly avoided by charedim, at least until recently. JCT took a leadership position in not only welcoming charedi students, but in creating special options for them that would respect their sensitivities and needs.
On one particular day, six JCT students were selected to be interviewed by Rabbi Shai Piron, Israel’s … Read More >>
In a recent article in HaAretz, reprinted here on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Avi Shafran offered several explanations why there seems to be an Orthodox “animus” against President Obama. He discounts theories like racism and Obama’s social liberalism before arriving at the one he prefers: a lack of hakaras hatov — gratitude.
I have always greatly respected Rabbi Shafran and his writing, and consider him a personal mentor. And I think it is unquestionably true that some people have made “over the top,” irrational criticisms — not that I feel that these reactions are unique to the Orthodox Jewish community, or unique to our current president. But on balance, I think Rabbi Shafran must revisit not only that social liberalism, but the very areas in which he feels our thanks are due, in order to understand why there is so much negativity about the Obama presidency from Orthodox Jews.
Here’s what I wrote about Obama’s election, in November 2008:
I believe that getting America to the point of electing a black President was one of America’s finest hours. — Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein, November 12.
He beat me to it, as I was going to make a similar comment. … Read More >>
Hella Winston was surprised that her name appeared at the bottom of the recent New York Post report about the murder of Brooklyn businessman Menachem Stark, indicating her “additional reporting” to the story. She had not written any of the article – and certainly not its tasteless, insensitive headline (which implied that an unlimited number of people surely wished the Chassidic businessman dead) or the article’s incendiary opening words: “The millionaire Hasidic slumlord…”
She had nothing to do, either, with the rest of the ugly piece, which was rife with unnamed “sources” and unsubstantiated innuendo. (It went so far as to dredge the cesspool of a rabidly anti-Orthodox blog to find what it apparently deemed a journalistic gem– an anonymous posting opining that the victim’s “slanted shtreimel on his head gives his crookedness away.”). She had not seen the article before its publication.
Ms. Winston, a sociologist by profession, had simply been contacted by the article’s main writers, she says, and provided them a small piece of information of no great consequence. Needless to say, the Post’s odious offering deeply hurt the murdered man’s wife, children and community. And I have no doubt that Ms. Winston is herself pained … Read More >>
(The article below appeared earlier this month in Haaretz. I share it here with that paper’s permission.)
The gabbai at the shul I usually attend on Shabbos is something of a comedian. When I was recently called to the Torah, he offered the traditional “Mi Sheberach” and added a blessing for “ha-president” – which he quickly qualified by adding: “Not Obama – the president of the shul.”
I interjected “yes, Obama.” Nearby congregants gasped.
They shouldn’t have. The Mishneh teaches us that Jews should pray for the government, as governments are what prevent people from acting on their worst instincts. For many years, every American Orthodox synagogue included a special prayer for the president and vice president, a practice that, for some reason, has fallen into disuse.
But beyond the Jewish obligation to express hakaras hatov, “acknowledgement of the good,” to the leaders of their lands, I believe that the current occupant of the White House well deserves our special good will.
That is not, I know, the common stance in the Orthodox world. I have been puzzling over that fact for five years.
A registered Republican since I could vote, I shared in the skepticism and concern … Read More >>
by Yaakov Rosenblatt
A couple of weeks ago, while visiting family in New Jersey, I picked up a copy of The Lakewood Voice (Dec 25), a hand-out magazine comprised of news and advertisements. The cover story was about Lakewood Mesivtas. There was an informative article about why entry bechinos are delayed until Tu B’Adar. And there was a description of three types of bechinos an 8th grade boy might receive. The first option is a bechina in which the boy is asked to prepare a piece of Gemara. The second, considered more difficult, is where the boy is questioned at random on the Gemara he learned year to date. The third type of bechina, considered most challenging, is where the boy is asked questions he cannot answer. In that case, the tester isn’t expecting an answer, but is probing to see how the young man’s mind works.
I was surprised that there wasn’t a fourth option: a written test with questions on the entire body of information learned, middle school to date, including gemara, chumash, halacha, and yedi’os klalios. This would give the school a clear recap of the boy’s academic level.
Philosophically, a coming-of-age transition which … Read More >>