Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Interesting Torah T'mimah re: Sukkah

I've started learning Torah T'mimah on B'reishis and I chanced upon a really interesting connection

See TT on B'reisheet 2:6 "v'eid yaaleh min ho'oretz" citing Sukkah 11b

Note: this might be "old hat" to those who've learned Masechet Sukkah.

See TT #20 explaining that anenei kavod are "gidulo min ho'oretz" and its implication for hilchot s'chach.

Namely, that since eid is from the earth and
So therefore these Ananei Kavod are from the earth - and not from shomayim
And Therefore s'chach must be grown from the earth, too


Monday, 27 September 2010

Why I prefer Tosafot to Rambam or Rashi

Rashi and Rambam are THE two master teachers of Israel

RaShY - roshei teivot for Rabban shell Yisroel

Nevertheless, I have several reasons for preferring Tosafot's approach and essentially it comes in two flavours...

1. Tosafot bring down external sources thereby supplement a "Sugyah" with other sugyot or with non-textual sources

2. Tosafot are so transparent. Admittedly, some of their pilpul might be "Dochaq" but at least they are transparent about it. There is little in the way of a hidden agenda there.

Take it or leave it, Tosafot usually give you the HOW they get there along with the what.

IMHO it is easier using Tosafot to master dialectics than the Talmud itself - whose range of dialectic is far more complex


Sunday, 26 September 2010

ANTM contestant to forego observance

I recently read this posting about an 18 yr. old contestant on the reality show "America's Next Top Model" who, when first asked, described herself as Modern Orthodox (describing her adherence of Shabbat) but when later told that it would be expected of her to do modeling on the Sabbath, said that she would do so. Her involvement in the show also clearly did not consider the parameters of tzniut.
http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/45110/%E2%80%98antm%E2%80%99-contestant-to-forego-observance/ for the details.

The question, though, is: what can we draw from this? Is this simply an individual case of another person sadly leaving the world of Orthodoxy? Or is this some type of statement about Modern Orthodoxy itself, especially its educational institutions (she is a graduate of Maimonides High School in Boston)? Or of Orthodoxy and its educational institutions in general? The comments that follow this article give a smattering of how people are viewing this -- from those who declare that it is none of our business to those who see this as a chilul Hashem challenging all of Orthodoxy. Here was a woman who, at first, stated with pride her allegiance to her faith and then dismissed it summarily in favour of trying to win this prize of being a model. How are we to understand this?

I have read many different takes on this but I want to perhaps add a different perspective. My focus is on this woman's understanding of Jewishness -- how does she understand it? What does she believe she is stating about herself when she says that she is a Jew? There are so many different motivations for why one identifies himself/herself as a Jew. There are so many different understandings of what one means when a person states that he/she is a Jew. The result is that there are so many different reasons for why someone performs a mitzvah or a set of mitzvot, even adopts a lifestyle filled with mitzvot. I wonder what this woman believed she was saying about herself when she stated that she was a Jew, a Modern Orthodox Jew. It is in the answer to that question that I think we will find the answer to the questions we may have about this event.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Answer My Friend is Ohel in the Wind

What is this hakpadah re: the walls of the sukkah drifting a bit in the wind?

A Mishnah Sukkah 1:1 teaches us aray, not a firm structure of 20 Amot!

B. Jews lived in ohalim in the wilderness. Did their tent walls not sway a bit in the wind? Isn't the sukkah a commemoration of same?

So what's the big deal if the canvas walls flap a bit - so long as they flap about as much as a typical tent?


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Sukkah - a Landlord Tenant dispute

Tel Aviv - Court: Renters Can Build Courtyard Sukkah over Owners' Objections



Full disclosure:
My wife Ramona practices Landlord-Tenant litigation
She probably never saw a case like this one

Also one must consider if such a Sukkah - against the Landlord's wishes - constitutes a Mitzvah haba'ah ba'aveirah


Monday, 20 September 2010

My Halachic Core Principles - 1

In trying to identify how left-wing Orthodoxy has stepped over the line, I'm attempting to outline my Core Halachic Principles

My methodology is primarily based upon Beth Yosef and Rema - namely by surveying posqim and coming up with a consensus. R Ovadiah Yosef also employs this at times.

See Sefer HaHinuch 78 on Acharei Rabbim l'Hatot.

Some major exemptions

1. Minhag hamaqom such as insular communities - EG Breuer's or Hassidic

2. Minhag Avot
See Rema Choshen Mishpat 25


Some underlying axioms

Halachah through last Beit Din Hagdol in the Lishkah is axiomatic - equivalent of Halalach L'Moseh miSinai. If they had authored a mishnah it would have become THE authority.
The problem? They didn't and so all Oral Law is an approximation.

See Mishneh Torah Hilchot Mamrim 1:1

Post Hurban
Halacha devolves upon
• Tutorial Authority
Such as Master-Apprentice model

• Rabbis

• Oral Traditions such as mimetics etc.

• Precedent

Source Professor Agus

There is little legislative authority anymore -
Rather authority is analogous to English Common Law and therefore
Case law sets precedent

I reject "Natural Law"

I also Reject those Maimonidists - NOT Teimanim - who claim one Halacha is correct to the exclusion of others

Teimanim follow Rambam via Minhag Avot. No problem

While Neo-Maimonideans are repeating the R Eleizer Hagadol position of Tannur Achnai, that is they are correct by Divine Fiat in face of acharei Rabbim l'hatot


Catholic Israel IMHO does not legislate so much as it can veto a given p'saq

Illustration RMF in Igrot Moshe prohibited Shabbos clocks except for lamps

AIUI, even RZ Frankel was also saying that Catholic Israel can vote on which Minhaggim to perpetuate and which ones fall into disuse. But not to vote on Core Halachah. I have not yet finalized this.

I agree with my friends Michah Berger and David Willig on several issues

Halacha allows a range of valid P'saq - that's how Catholic Israel can VOTE for option X over option Y
EG 3 matzos vs. 2 matzos

•. Halachah has rules of thumb not absolutes

•. Halachah flows and meanders like a river. It is not as rigid as a railroad track, nor as amorphous as gaseous air. It has boundaries and it flows. One does not reach back 1000 years are restore a norm from then and ignore subsequent development.

Imagine North American Football devolving back to Rubgy without a forward pass!


Sunday, 19 September 2010

"Echoes of a Shofar" - "Eyewitness 1948"

«"Echoes of a Shofar" is the premiere episode in the "Eyewitness 1948" short film series produced by Toldot Yisrael and the History Channel. It is the centerpiece of an educational pilot program being developed with The iCenter and made possible through the generous support of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

[On line, it can be viewed at:
WeJew Jewish Video Sharing MegaSite - Echoes Of A Shofar Of Eyewitness 1948

Under a British law in Palestine passed in 1930, Jews were forbidden to blow the shofar at the Kotel, pray loudly there, or bring Torah scrolls, so as not to offend the Arab population.
Despite this restriction, for the next seventeen years, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur.
Shofars were smuggled in to the Kotel where brave teenagers defiantly blew them at the conclusion of the fast. Some managed to get away - others were captured and sent to jail for up to six months.

Six of these men are still alive. Two weeks ago, these six men returned to the scene of their "crime". Armed with shofars, they recounted their individual stories and blew shofar again at the Kotel. This is their powerful and inspiring story»


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Great Blogs discuss IDEAS. Average Blogs discuss EVENTS. Petty Blogs discuss PEOPLE.

"Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Small minds discuss people."
- Eleanor Roosevelt


And so...

In the secular Blogosphere..
A great blog will discuss ideas and philosophy.

Mediocre ones will discuss current events

Small minded ones will discuss people, occasionally to praise of their "icons", but too often to do character assassination.

Similarly, in the Jewish Blogospehere - you can discern this easily

A Blog that teaches Halachah or Hashkafah is praiseworthy

A Blog that discusses current events or trends is neutral

A Jewish Blog Praising someone is probably small-minded, but when attacking or name-calling - then it's probably downright evil.

What about in our own lives?

Are we focused upon
A. Ideas and Ideals
B. Events
C. People, keeping up with the "Joneses" or what have you?


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Mishnah Brurah and Ba'er Hetev

It's a given that the Mishnah Brurah has always printed along with the Ba'er Hetev.

What puzzles me is that the MB often quotes the Ba'er Hetev verbatim - and w/o any citation!

Mah nafshach! If the MB assumes one has no access to the BH and therefore quoted it, then why did he print it on the page?!

And given that the BH IS printed on the page, why bother to repeat it? Why not just cite "ayein Ba'er Hetev"?

And given that the MB does reproduce the BH, why no mention of it as his source?


Monday, 13 September 2010

"Let women sing at Wailing Wall"

First, take a look at this article from the New York Daily News:

Now, of course, one would say that it is obvious that I, as an Orthodox rabbi, would have difficulties with this article -- yet, doesn't it just express the basic sentiment of freedom of (and from) religion, just as the author herself concludes this article? But maybe it is time to read between the lines -- and recognize that there is much more going on in this article than just a simple battle across religious lines. The article reflects an obscurantism that is rampant in the Jewish world -- an obscurantism that is even promoted in the Jewish world -- in order to maintain the status quo: a Jewish world that makes no sense but is maintained because it allows people to promote whatever they want as Jewishness.

What exactly was this woman's argument? Was it that the Kotel is also a secular/historical site and that, as such, it should not be solely defined as a religious site, thus being subject to religious restrictions? Or was it that, in recognition that Judaism has many different branches, each one seeing the Kotel as their holiest site, all the branches of Judaism should have equal determination as to the religious practice at the Kotel (l'havdel, to be approached in the same manner as the Ma'arat Hamachpeila which had to accommodate different religious practices)? This woman included both questions and neither question in her article. The reason is that either question would actually challenge her perception of Jewishness. If she argues from the viewpoint of different religious perspectives, she would have to deal with the reality of theological distinctions within the generic perception of Judaism; her and the charedim at the Wall are thus not just in disagreement on some practice or ritual but in regard to the basic tenets of the faith. She doesn't want to go there. When she argues from the secular perspective, though, eventually her own religious desires become challenged; she, in the end, effectively wants to pray there. Thus put together an article that ultimately makes no sense -- I want the Wall to be seen as secular so I can use it religiously as I see fit. Welcome to the Kotel -- the holiest, adamantly secular site in the Jewish world.

Yet what about the two possible arguments that I have presented. If the Kotel is the holy site of different religions (Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism etc.), in line with Western thought, shouldn't it be divided amongst the religions? And if it also has secular/historical significance, shouldn't it have a secular place as well? There is one statement within this article that actually answers both these questions -- albeit that the author did not really mean it this way. She wrote:
"However, it is the ultra-Orthodox and Haredi Jews who have turned this ancient attraction into their home." Yes, they have -- because it is their home. The Kotel is not an ancient attraction to them. It is part of their daily life. For many, it is the place they attend, at least twice a day, to daven. It is their life. And that is not something new; this is the way it was until Jordan did not allow access for 19 years.

What, as she terms them, the charedim are doing is simply what has happened at the Kotel for close to 2000 years. But let's stop all that -- because some tourist wants a better photo opportunity. (Okay, that may be a low blow). The fact is that the Kotel is more than a historical relic; it is history itself. It should be respected on this level as well.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Rabbi Under Attack

In the present political climate, it is becoming more and more difficult to assert the Torah position on the gay lifestyle without being attacked as homophobic, a term now being used to reflect racism against homosexuals. Recently, this became a real issue in Toronto as an Orthodox rabbi maintaining a Torah position on Jewish communal participation in the gay pride parade was challenged in this manner, in spite of the fact that he, at the same time, maintained that he and his shul welcomes homosexuals in the same way as any other Jews. You can read more about this at:

At present, the argument that one should be allowed to express one's religious beliefs on this matter still carries some weight. My concern in to the future are the voices that I am already hearing comparing Orthodox Jewish and similar religious views regarding homosexuality to the Southern Baptist position, before the Civil War, regarding slavery and the Dutch Reform Church's support of apartheid. The argument is that religion can justify racism and so it cannot have voice. The challenge is to ensure that this weak and false comparison never gains strength.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Woman’s Response Concerning Women and Kabbalat Shabbat

Originally published 9/8/10, 12:44 pm. Link to editorial no longer works.
When I was a college student, I was often asked if I was a feminist. A fan of Barbie dolls, Louisa May Alcott novels, sewing, and romantic films, I always hesitated before answering the question. After a short while, I came up with the following answer – one that I feel still describes my views quite accurately. Am I a feminist? No, I am not – if being a feminist means that I think women are superior and/or the same as men. However, I majored in mathematics in college and I am now a lawyer – if not for feminists who came before me, both fields would have been closed to me. So, yes, I am a feminist in the sense that I believe there is a role for women in this world beyond the realm of motherhood and away from hearth and home. I am a feminist in that I believe women should be treated with respect – not because they are fragile precious creatures but because they are intelligent human beings. I am a feminist in the way I believe I am obligated to be, by virtue of my dedication to Torah Judaism. I am a feminist because Gd gave both men and women a duty at Sinai – the duty to serve Him, to uphold and glorify His system, to better this world and ourselves – and I will not allow negative external influences or fear of change to keep me and my feminine brethren from fulfilling this mission.
So, with this in mind, how do I feel about the recent conversation surrounding women leading Kabbalat Shabbat? (see Rabbi Broyde’s comments  and a Jewish Week editorial in response.) I am appalled and offended. I am saddened and frustrated. I am naively shocked that, once again, women and men are seriously turning an important matter into a Hallmark film. As Rabbi Broyde so succinctly elucidated in his response – Kabbalat Shabbat is a customary prayer, a relatively minor act among the many components that make up the commandment to pray. And prayer itself is only one small part of our service of Gd – an important part, a crucial part, a spiritually pleasing part for some – but it is not the focal point of our Faith. The exaggerated communal place of the synagogue in present-day Judaism is a blatant mimicry of the Christian church. We do not need a church; we have the beit medrash, we have the home, we have the heart and soul of every Jew. Those are our religious centers. The synagogue, notwithstanding its undeniable sacred significance, is, at its core, intended to be a practical place – a room wherein ten men join together so they can pray.
If you ask me, the problem isn't that women don’t feel good about themselves spiritually because they’re relegated to a back seat in the synagogue – the problem is that men do feel good about themselves spiritually because they occupy the front seat. A twisted priority isn't made right by bending it further in the wrong direction. I pray to Gd from behind the mechitza and thus fulfill the commandment I have regarding prayer; I should feel equally satisfied from that as a man should feel when he prays at the bima. We are both serving Gd as He commands us to – we've just done it differently. And, yes, while it is true that leading communal prayer is an honor and is an honor that women are denied – the answer is not to find some loophole by which women can feel “a part of it”. For some reason Gd does not make this particular honor accessible to women – He must have a reason for it. Let us struggle with that. Let us examine what Gd wants of women and figure out from there what women should be. Let us not find superficial ways to allow women to practice Judaism like a man. If Gd wanted me to serve Him like my brothers do, He would have made me differently. Speaking of prayer, I thank Him every day for making me according to His Will – shouldn't I honor that prayer by trying to be a Jew according to that Will?
I don’t begrudge those who want to experience a feeling of spirituality – it’s quite a feeling and Gd has, thankfully, filled the world with many things that can set the soul on fire. It’s why some do yoga while others listen to rock and roll; it fuels love of opera and love of nature. It is a wonderfully intoxicating existential state. And, if harnessed properly, it can even be a positive influence on one’s relationship with Gd and His world. But it should never be the driving force behind one’s religious observance. We serve Gd because we said we would, because every day we say we will – regardless of how it feels.
So, thank you so much Rabbi Weiss – you've given me a chance to further actualize my “spirituality”? How sweet. But, no, thank you. I’d rather you give me Judaism as Gd intended. Give me a place among my people that allows me to fulfill my purpose before our Gd. Don’t placate me with hand-outs that only perpetuate a faulty understanding of the role of prayer. And the role of women. And the role of men. And, truth be told, the role of Judaism.
I don’t ascribe to this religion for a spiritual high; I ascribe to it because I believe it is the Truth. And that Truth doesn't much care who leads Kabbalat Shabbat. So why should I?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Venus Williams - Champion of Decency

Enjoy this "Feel Good" story


«It is no coincidence, of course, that the rare African-American player on tour would demonstrate empathy for the even rarer Israeli Jew. Ever since Dubai, the families have grown to know each other and to look upon their situations as similar, in some ways.»

"We have a certain special history together," Venus Williams said. "I know she would have done the same thing for me or any other player. My parents both came from the South in the '40s and '50s, and just - you know, it was an outrage really. Just like, 'Are you serious? Can you really exclude someone?'

For complete story

Venus Williams defeats Israeli player Shahar Peer at U.S. Open, and shares bond with her


Monday, 6 September 2010

Another "In Your Face" House of Worship

Back to Brooklyn | Chosen People Ministries


«The Lord has provided an incredible opportunity for us to purchase an 11,000-square-foot building in the heart of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn that will house the expanding ministries of our Brooklyn Messianic Center as well as the Charles Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies!»

Naval Birshut Ha"Constitution"?


Re: Rosh Yeshiva vs. Poseiq - 4

Bottom line - what should we do?

Here are some recommendations

For "Baale-batim":
If you want a good shiur on a Blatt g'mara go to a Rosh Yeshiva. If you need a sheilah pasqened - go to a Poseiq. Sometimes they will be one and the same person. Often they will NOT be.

B"H, my in-laws have the luxury of a Rav who is also a rebbe in a Yeshiva, and a big lamdan. They have the best of both worlds and can conveniently do "one-stop" shopping.
For Rabbanim:
Consider my advice to not necessarily turn to one's favourite rebbe to answer a Sheilah. Rather - consider a Poseiq, a Dayan, etc.

For looking up Halachah, think the same way.

Shulchan Aruch and Rema were world class posqim. They might make a better model then a lamdusher sefer written by a teacher.

Consider S'farim such as Beth Yosef and Aruch Hashulchan.

Kitzur Hilchot Shabbat was written for Beis Yaakov High School students. But its the author was a world-class Dayan in Washington Heights [Rav Posen].

If you want to STUDY halachah, a pedagogue may teach you better. If you want to DECIDE halachah the decisive choice ought to be a decider.

E.G., IMHO The Tur teaches the Halachah more clearly than the SA-Rema. But the SA-Rema is more decisive, because the Tur is very subtle and does not push any single Sheetah.

Don't hesitate to use your Roshei Yeshiva to teach you Torah


Don't hesitate to use your Poseiq to make the tough calls


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Rosh Yeshiva vs. Poseiq - 3

Combining Lamdut with P'saq..

In my dreams - If I had a Billion Dollars, I'd start an Institute for Practical Halachah. I would cover Halachah p'suqah across the spectrum of the 4 Turim plus.

Meanwhile what to do with the existing Educational Structure?

Actually, little needs to be done to address my dichotomy of Rosh Yeshiva [RY] vs. Poseiq

The Yeshiva System is already geared more towards producing Roshei Yeshivah. To Produce posqim one needs Three elements
Shimush! Shimush, and More Shimush!

Book learning could be guided by a mentor, but one cannot learn a hands-on skill from a book anymore than once could learn Sh'chitah or Milah [strictly] from a book

The Yeshiva Gedolah in Teaneck had a program of learning Talmud in the morning and then Tur Beth Yosef in the afternoon on the same subject; EG Niddah or Ezehu Nesech. [I'm not sure this is still in place but this is. Great Idea to produce those who can bridge the gap between P'saq and Lamdut. "Switch Hitters"]

Besides Shimush the givens are that:

A GREAT Poseiq would still need to be well-versed in Shas and posqim

A Middle Level Poseiq could master Tur and Beth Yosef and be highly effective

An ordinary Poseiq would need to know practical Halacaha well and would be on-track towards greatness or need to consult those who are greater for anything above the ordinary

Next stop - whom does one consult?

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Saturday, 4 September 2010

Rosh Yeshiva vs. Poseiq -2

Of course some Posqim are Roshei Yeshiva - R Moshe Feinstein Z"L comes to mind

And some "Roshei Yeshiva" make great Posqim - R Moshe Heinemann comes to mind. So "switch hitters" do exist!

L'havdil - Just as some Physicists might make great Engineers and vice versa, but this is rare in my experience. Theoreticians rarely bridge that gap. EG was Einstein involved in the Manhattan Project?

In the "good old days" people learned torah from a m'lameid and asked sheilos from a Rav - which in small shtetlach might indeed been the same person

RYD Soloveichik's father Moshe hired a m'lameid for his prodigious son. For those who know the story, the rest is history

Yet R Chaim Brisker has been reported to turn to R Elchanan Spektor to pasqen a touchy Get issue.

So we Get the pattern clearly now.

Next Up - some practical applications of Pragmatism

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Friday, 3 September 2010

Humanism, Haskalah, Mussar - 13 Common Denominators

What do the following have in common

1 Deist-Humanist Ben Fanklin
2 Rabbi Mendel (Leffin) Satanover.
3 Mussar Movement's R Yisroel Salanter

Like Hakodesh Baruch Hu, they all possesed 13 middot. :-) Well maybe better stated they were all "obsessed" by a common 13 Middot

Read on from R Micha Berger's "Aspaqlaria"


FWIW, R Zvi Hersh Weinreb's talk in Teaneck on Friday Night several months ago centred on Zeitgeist. Perhaps transcending all the divisions between the various sects is this unifying factor of Zeitgeist

And it might mean that we are not copying each other at all, rather being commonly and simultaneously inspired by the same forces from Above


Thursday, 2 September 2010

Centrist Orthodoxy vs. Modern Orthodoxy

Actually - what's in a name?! After all can't both Centrist Orthodoxy AND Modern Orthodoxy be used interchangeably?

The Issue with the term "Modern O" is that a SEGMENT of Moder O is what we called on Avodah - "O-Lite". They keep Shabbat and Kashrut but are not z'heerim on many things EG
N'tillat Yadayaim
Davening with a Minyan
• Learning Torah

Thus the
Centrist to me implies more - a "modern thinker" combined with Traditional Observance.

Par Example, Think of
Rabbiner Hirsch
R YD Soloveichik
Rav AY Kook


If I could found a new movement it would be an "open-minded" Orthodoxy SANS the Liberal Halachic agenda that has recently grown attached to that appellation

Unfortunately for me, the current crop of Open-Minded Orthodox have used this as a license to revise traditional practice. And indeed, I must therefore truly consider that this is an inherent danger in that enterprise.

Perhaps only R Azriel Hidesheimer and his followers were the one school that could pull off a completely Traditional Observance while tackling such controversial issues such as Biblical Criticism. Even R Hirsch himself was suspicious of pulling this off.

The JTS's - both in Breslau and in NYC, have imho used modern scholarship to compromise Traditional Observance by implementing a Liberalization of Observance. Success in textual criticism has succeeded there at the expense of Piety.
And thus We bear witness - through the prism of History - that this has taken them off-the-derech.

The question remains, CAN we have an open-mindedness without compromising our fealty to Halachah, without fostering a campaign to Revise or Reform "orthodoxy"

It's tricky. I have not seen it done on a large scale. Maybe the nature of Open-mindedness - especially in North America - will inevitably undermine strict Observance. And Only in a more rigidified society like 19th Century Germany, such open-mindedness did not succeed in tempting the highly Traditional types to sway.

And what we call this movement? Pious Modernists? Critical Traditionalists?


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

What is the value of a pact without any commitment?

In the next few days, we will be witnesses again to another round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians -- but what is the point of this discussion, any discussion, if negotiators at the table cannot deliver on their commitment? Is this not the situation with the Arabs?

I wrote about this in my latest Jewish Tribune column, on line at:

Rabbi Ben Hecht