Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Nishma-Parshah: Ki Teitzei

Take a look at what's on
for Parshat Ki Teitzei


Open Orthodoxy Is Playing A Name Game

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Rabbi Dov Fischer
Open Orthodoxy is the new Conservative Judaism.  Although the “neo-conservative” sobriquet for them is clever, I have resisted that term because Open Orthodoxy is a deviation to the left.

Conservative Judaism took its name because it marked a truly conservative, moderate, gentle approach to looking at Old World frumkeit in a New World, in contrast to the radical changes of Reform Judaism. This conservative Judaism approach attracted many whom we now regard as Orthodox.  Orthodox rabbonim were among the JTS founders.  In many way, Conservative Judaism might have become Modern Orthodoxy. Initially, it sort-of was.

As the Old World frum came to America, they helped create a nice neat diagram: reform to the left, Old World frum to the right.  And Conservative Judaism in the center. Conservative Judaism said that you could keep Torah and mitzvot while also learning English, speaking English in sermons, going to a university as Solomon Schechter had done. It was the opposite of radical; it was conservative.

In time, the emergence of OU and RIETS/YU made things interesting.  By the 1950s, the new generation of American Orthodox Jews now had grown up in America – and they all were speaking English, with English sermons.  Differences were appearing between Conservative Judaism and this new Modern Orthodoxy, but not very deep rifts.  The battles dealt with swordfish.  To some degree, mechitzah became the first real tangible issue that one could point to.  And yet there continued the Traditinoal Shuls that were Orthodox but without mechitzah. But, soon, those who lived by the swordfish died by the swordfish.

The first real poignant clarification probably came when Conservative Judaism responded, Open Orthodoxy-like, with a “kiruv” approach to the dilemma of all those returned WWII veterans buying homes in Levittowns on the G.I. Bill.  Traditional Jews now were locating beyond walking distance from shul, and they faced isolation from Shabbat services.  So, looking at the challenge of the day, JTS & Co. found a way to permit driving on Shabbat – but only to and from shul.  By contrast, the YU/OU crowd did not do that “kiruv,” ostensibly out of touch with the zeitgeist, the reality, the oness that people never would be able to afford a home unless they bought a Levittown home under the G.I. Bill.

We know how that all worked out.  What it led to.  Now, half a century later, any fair-minded look at today’s Conservative Judaism sees that it has degenerated akin to reform Judaism in most every way, with more barriers breaking down each year.

And that degeneration opened a slot on the diagram – the slot between Reform/Conservative and Orthodoxy.  And Open Orthodoxy has filled that slot.

Most of us on this forum or list-serve do not monitor how rapidly Open Orthodoxy declined and disconnected from its initial moorings.  What was OO’s “Levittown Shabbat Driving Heter” – the “kiruv leniency” that killed it?  Was it the decision to ordain women?  Maybe.  Or maybe it was the disproprotionate obsession over homosexuality.

I do not know a single Orthodox rav in our broadly conemporary hashkafic world who bars shul entry to those who drive to shul on Shabbat.  Nor do I know anyone who bars shul particpation to homosexuals or lesbians.  Is it a chiddush that I never have?  But I never made Shabbat Driving a sacrament as did the tragic 1950s Conservative Judaism ruling, and I never have made LGBTQ+ a centerpiece of my philosophy.  All Jews are welcome.

It is this Open Orthodox obsession over these two issues – that we must ordain women rabbis; that we must encourage and celebrate homosexual public love –that helped sever it from Orthodoxy.  As Conservative Judaism somehow slipped away after the 1950 Shabbat Driving Heter, so has Open Orthodoxy slipped away in the afterglow of women rabbis and LGBTQ+ love.  Indeed, the departure from Orthodoxy, the damage to which the name Open Orthodoxy has been self-inflicted, now needs Open Orthodoxy’s leaders to flee from the very name they so proudly boasted and heralded in interview fter interview.

Once the impenetrable barriers are broken, the deluge follows.  We saw it with Conservative Judaism.  And now we see it again with OO.  Because they have no real Poskim – no Rav Schachter, no Rav G. D. Schwartz, no Rav Tendler, no real Posek – they have taught their ordainees that each one, like an Eldad and Medad, is a prophet, a Posek fully qualified to make the calls, by virtue of the YCT diploma.  As such, it is like the Scarecrow at the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” being assured that the only diference between him and Pythagoras or Einstein is a diploma. And now with a diploma the Scarecrow can recite the Pythagorean Theorem, and a YCT grad can pasken that intermarriage is OK.

With that diploma, they have taken to the mass social media with rabbinic rulings that, as the milkman sings, would cross a rabbi’s eyes.  The shu”tim of Twitter, Facebook, and – for the deepest rulings – the op-ed page of Forward.  Nor is it just one outlier or two or three.  Rather, the rulings and rabbinic proclamations breach all walls.  Women rabbis – a notion prohibited by Psak of every single Orthodox body down to our own RCA and the OU.  The idea that a Jew may marry a Chrsitian because love is to be honored.  A call on Jewish Federations and Jewish Community Centers not to be intimidated by Orthodox activists into serving kosher food at their banquets if they otherwise prefer not to do so.  The ubiquitous denials that Avraham Avinu lived or that we stood at Mount Sinai at Gilui Shekhinah, even leading RCA to issue one of its most incredible statements of recent memory (incredible that such a statement had to be made, though it had to at the time): that we as Orthodox rabbis believe that G-d gave us the Torah.

Many of us do not relize that several of the wives of these OO rabbis publicly have written articles or given interviews stating one of the following: (i) that they do not believe in G-d; (ii) that they affiliate or identify Conservative or Reform.  I cannot remember the last time an RCA member’s wife gave such an interview or made such a statement.

We saw with Conservative Judaism where a few small changes for “kiruv” have led.  Today, their mainstream ideology in the new generation of JTS grads teaches that, honestly, there were not Ten Plagues, maybe never were Jews in Engypt, there was no gathering of three million at Sinai, that archaeology demands that the Torah narrative be seen as High Fiction.  It all began with formalizing an institutional OK for driving on Shabbat – something that we never have OK’d institutionally, though we all recognize the realities that lead some to drive to our shuls on Shabbat, and we welcome all comers.

I wish for Avi Weiss 120 years, as I am sure I would have wished for Solomon Schechter and Mordecai Kaplan, another fellow who began as Orthodox and just wanted to do the “kiruv” that would keep Judaism open for the masses.  Avi was one of my earliest rebbes and life-changing influences.  His home phone number remains ingrained in my mind forty years later.  Yet, when he published that it is time for Israel to recognize Reform conversions and Conservative conversions, I just looked and tried to figure out l’khaf z’khut “What does he really mean?”  And then I realized, as others among his prized YCT OO students published the same, that he meant exactly what he said.  That is, it no longer simply was about whether the Chief Rabbinate should have all that giyur authority, whether GPS unduly interferes with decentralized rabbinic authority.  It was not about the old discussion of a liberal Orthodox rabbi setting up a conversion court in his Midwest city with a Conservative rabbi and Reform rabbi comprising the other two conversion judges, following a common standard (itself  huge problem).  Rather, that Open Orthodoxy wants Israel to accept Reform conversions – something that even many Conservative rabbis off-the-record will not do (e.g., if there was no immersion or circumcision).

This departure of Open Orthodoxy from Orthodoxy is a tragedy.  For me it is a particular personal tragedy.  I am a kippah srugah guy.  I do not wear a fedora.  I am a child of secular education. I cannot get into the Maccabeats, and I cannot get Shlomo Carlebach on the radio, so I listen to George Jones and Garth, Toby Keith and Alan Jackson. I so much wanted YCT to succeed and flourish. No one, other than its founders, wanted YCT to succeed as much as I did.  I looked forward to meeting its grads, to hiring them, to aligning with them.  For young Jews on the campuses, this was the yeshiva that would fill such a needed gap that I felt RIETS was neglecting.  And this seminary was teaching real-life, real-world rabbinic skills – pastoral care and more.  I was so thrilled.

Today, their failure and their separation from Orthodoxy, their cadre of non-Orthodox ordainees and their women rabbis and their disproportionate focus on reinterpreting the Yom Kippur Mincha Torah reading, their changing the rules and advocating to change the siddur and the matbe’a tefila and endorsing intermarriage and providing cover for JCCs to serve treif if so desired, have led me to stake out a position that I never imagined as a kippah srugah grad from Columbia U.:  Defender of Mesorah within Orthodoxy.

Monday, 28 August 2017

On Geirei Tzedek and their Spiritual Contributions

From RRW
First See http://www.aish.com/jw/s/Marrying-a-Convert.html?s=feat
Guest Blogger: Rabbi Dov Fischer

That is exactly what I tell gerim whom I sponsor through GPS when they express concern about whether their descendants will be accepted within Torah communities as Jews, even with a GPS/CR agreement that recognizes their Judaism fully. I tell them that they will be blessed with a filter that most of us lack, helping steer them away from the least worthy of prospective life partners.

In my 35 years out there, the one constant in my rabbonus has been that the gerei tzedek stand out among the most spiritual, the most dedicated, the most reverent – and, omigoodness! the best Judaically educated – among all those in the kehillah.

Open Orthodoxy’s Name Game Doesn’t Make It Any More Orthodox

From RRW
http://forward.com/life/faith/380721/open-orthodoxys-name-game-doesnt-make-it-any-more-orthodox/

Friday, 25 August 2017

An Insight into Kriyat Shema Al Ha-Mitah

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
                                         An Insight into Kriyat Shema Al Ha-Mitah

                       This prayer begins with a statement that God places “chevlei sheinah” on our eyes. But what exactly does this term mean? In our printed Siddurim, and in the text of the Talmud that is the source of this prayer (Berakhot 60b), “chevlei” is spelled with a chet.
                         A few months ago, I discussed this root, Chet-Bet-Lamed. I mentioned that it had four different meanings in Tanakh: 1) cord, 2) take a pledge, 3) cause damage and 4) the anxiousness and/or labor pains that the expectant mother feels approaching birth.  Also, from the cord meaning, developed a meaning of “lot, portion,” because cords were used to measure portions of land. See, for example,     Deut. 32:9, Josh. 17:5 and Ps. 16:6.  (Also, in our daily prayers, right after Baruch She-Amar, we refer to the land of Canaan as “chevel nachalatchem.”)
                         Let us first see how two major siddur commentators have dealt with the term “chevlei sheinah.” Abudarham (14th century) first suggests that it means “chalakim me-chelkei ha-sheinah.” God gives out  portions from the portions of sleep. Then he suggests it has a meaning like “chevlei leidah,” and refers to the anxiety/pains that you have when you cannot sleep.
                      Isaac Baer (19th century), in his Siddur Avodat Yisrael, first suggests that it means “cords.” Accordingly, the image would be of cords tying your eyes closed while you sleep. He then suggests “portions.”  But he states that he does not like either of these interpretations. Moreover, he points out that both the “cords” and the “portions” interpretations would require a patach under the chet: “chavlei.” Yet all the siddurim that he knew of had a segol:  “chevlei.” Based on the segol and his uncomfortableness with the other two interpretations, he concludes that we should understand it like “chevlei leidah,”  i.e., the anxiety/pains that you have when you cannot sleep
                   Let us put aside the question of what the original nikud was under the chet. (The Talmud, where the phrase first appears, has no nikud, so the original nikud cannot be determined.) “Portions” of sleep is a weird idiom. Why should sleep be meted out in portions?  As to the “anxiety/pains” interpretation, it does not fit the context. God is being blessed for putting “chevlei sheinah” on our eyes and “tenumah” (another word for sleep) on our eyelids. It seems to be a positive thing that God is doing. Another problem with both of these interpretations is the use of the verb “ha-mapil,” (literally: he places down upon us, from the verb NFL). The “portions” interpretation would fit better with ha-mechalek. The “anxiety/pains” interpretation would fit better with ha-mevi (=brings). (See the Iyun Tefillah commentary in the Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefillot.)
                  What about the “cords” interpretation? It is still an unusual image. Also, cords seem a bit too big for eyes.
                 So where does that leave us? Fortunately, there is another alternative.  In the Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon (10th century), the word is spelled with a caf, not a chet. (Admittedly, our earliest manuscript of this work is only from the 12th or 13th century. But that is still relatively early.) There is also at least one Kriyat Shema Al Ha-Mitah fragment from the Cairo Genizah with this reading. See the reference in the Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon, p. 87 (published in 1941), to a fragment published by Jacob Mann in 1925. (I suspect that more Genizah fragments with this reading in the Siddur may have come to light since then.)
                  Caf, Bet, Lamed, Yod means “chains.” But is this any better? The root caf, bet, lamed appears only two times in Tanakh, at Ps. 105:18 and 149:8. (The latter, “be-chavlei barzel,” is part of a verse that we recite daily in Pesukei De-Zimra.) Both times it is referring to chains used to bind and restrict someone. It is not used in a positive way.
                   But let us focus on where Kriyat Shema Al Ha-Mitah describes the “chevlei” as being placed. The “chevlei” are placed by God on the eyes. What is so special about the eyes in connection with sleeping? The eyes are the one part of the body that are noticeably different when one sleeps versus when one is awake.  The closing and opening of the eyes thus serves as an effective symbol for sleeping and awakening.
                   There is always a presumption that the more unusual reading is the correct one. Caf-bed-lamed is a rare root. We can understand how caf-bet-lamed might have evolved into the more common chet-bet-lamed. The reverse scenario is much less likely.
                      Thus, most likely, the word was originally spelled with a caf, and the image is of God placing a small chain on our eyes and this symbolizes sleeping. There may be a symbolism of security in the chain as well.  
                     Also, the “cord” interpretation perhaps lacks a symbolism of security and may reflect more of an image of being trapped. Also, do “cords” really fit over the eyes? “Chains” seem to be a bit better “fit” here. Cords seem to be more for tying than closing and covering.
                   Two sources that agree that the original text was likely with a caf are: the editors of the Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon, and I. Jacobson (Netiv Binah, vol. 3, p. 254).
                 Interestingly, ArtScroll, both in its Daily Siddur and in its small separate Kriyat Shema book, has the following explanation: “The expression ‘bonds of sleep’ figuratively depicts the whole body as being securely chained in sleep.” But this explanation does not exactly fit because the text of the prayer describes the “chevlei” as being placed only on the eyes. But it is interesting that the comment uses the word “chained.”  It seems that the author of this comment intuited that “chains” made better sense than “cord.” But the author of the comment does not mention the alternative caf spelling, so I do not think that he was aware of it.  
                  It is also noteworthy that the Talmud instructs us to recite a blessing daily of “matir asurim.” Thus the idea of us being “bound” in some way every night is found here as well. Although admittedly the image in the case of Kriyat Shema Al Ha-Mitah differs since the focus is only on the eyes.
                   Once we realize that the correct text is probably with a caf, it would seem, based on Psalms 149:8, that the word should be pronounced “chavlei,” not “chevlei.”  
                  One other issue needs to be discussed.  In Kriyat Shema Al-Ha-Mitah we recite: “ha-mapil ChVLY sheinah.” But when we refer to the removal of the sleep in the morning, at the end of Birkot Ha-Shachar, we recite only “ha-maavir sheinah,” without the word “ChVLY.” Why should there be a difference? It is interesting to note that in the standard printed Talmud at 60b, “ChvLY sheinah” (with a chet, as mentioned earlier) is recorded for both the evening and the morning blessings. There are also Rishonim like Rambam who record “ChVLY sheinah” as being recited in both the evening and morning. (See Hilchot Tefillah 7:4, and see Abudarham. See further Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefillot, p. 126, Tikkun Tefillah commentary.) But I checked the Lieberman Institute. All the Talmud manuscripts of Berakhot 60b that they have recorded so far have “ChVLY sheinah” (with a chet) in the text of the evening blessing only, and not in the morning blessing.
              Finally, it is interesting to point out that the phrase “sheinah le-einecha and tenumah le-afapecha” is found at Mishlei 6:4. This was obviously the source for the prayer phrase that we have been discussing. It is ironic that our spelling issue only arose because the author of the blessing decided to deviate from the verse and add that extra word, ChVLY. When a prayer text is based on a verse alone, we would have a clear idea how each word is spelled.

  --------------------------------------------------------   
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. He sleeps a bit better now that he recites ChVLY with the correct spelling and vocalization (“chavlei”). But he is still not sure if he has the correct image and understanding.   

 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Parshas Shof'tim - A Man Alone, and in the Community

From RRW

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha -- hope you enjoy
 Baltimore Jewish Life | Parshas Shof'tim - A Man Alone, and in Community

Huffington Post: Trump Could Learn Something From The Middle Path

President Trump's response to Charlottesville has generated some very powerful, mostly critical, public responses. In a certain way, many people have noted that the problem did not lie in any specific detail that he included in his presentation. There was just something in the gestalt of his words that left people very upset. What I would say is that he missed the demanded focus of the situation.

I develop this idea further in my latest Huffington Post blog -- Trump Could Learn Something From The Middle Path -- at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/rabbi-ben-hecht/trump-could-learn-something-from-the-middle-path_a_23156307/.  

My original title for the post, btw, was 'The Demand was for a Focused Response' but it was changed by the editors.

Feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Tehillim and Torah on the Upcoming Eclipse

From RRW

Guest Blogger
R Joel Finkelstein


When we see the eclipse Monday (Be sure to wear your goggles), we may feel a need to thank G-d for nature, for the wonders of the world and the universe. 


Rabbi Chaim David Halevi, former chief rabbi of  Tel Aviv  says that if we feel so moved, we should say Vayevarech david from our daily prayers, I Chronicles 29, 10-19

Rabbi David Lau says that those who wish to express their feelings should try Psalm 19, Hashamayim mesaprim kvod kel 

or Psalm 104 Barchi nafshi, which we say on Rosh Chodesh, Tues and Wed.


I would add  the third to last psalm, Psalm 148, Halelu et Hashem min hashamaim.

And for more on Eclipses and Torah, see http://www.hakirah.org/vol23brown.pdf.‎

Also, Tzvi Pittinsky on eclipses in Tanach, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DAv5drUgtU&t=32s.

We do live in a wonderful, expansive world and the eclipse is but one piece of G-d's amazing puzzle called the universe. 

 

The Left’s War On Jews

From RRW
http://5tjt.com/lefts-war-jews/

Friday, 11 August 2017

Meaning of Chalom (Dream)

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First


                                What is the Origin of the Word “Chalom” (=Dream)?

               I have always wondered how the ancient Hebrew language understood dreams. My initial thought was that Ch-L-M might have derived from  Ch-L-H (sick). As I investigated, I learned that the issue is really the opposite. Two times in Tanakh there are words which seem to be from the root Ch-L-M and which means something like “healthy” or “strong.”  These instances are at Is. 38:16 and Job 39:4. Therefore, the issue that scholars discuss instead is: is there a connection between “dream” and “healthy/strong”?
              One suggestion made is that from an initial “healthy/strong/youth” meaning came the meaning “sexual dreams.” From this, the meaning evolved into “dreams” in general. This suggestion is found in several respected sources. Fortunately, other respected sources think it is ridiculous and I agree.
              Marcus Jastrow, in his dictionary, also seems to relate the two Ch-L-M roots. With regard to Ch-L-M/dream, he implies that “dream” is not the fundamental meaning of the root. Rather, the root fundamentally meant “sleep well.” Obviously, this is farfetched as well.
               Another scholar claims that we should relate Ch-L-M/dream to Aleph-Lamed-Mem. One of the meanings of A-L-M is “bind.” Accordingly, he suggests that dreams reflect “the entanglement of ideas during sleep when they are free of the rule of the intellect.” But obviously we would prefer to interpret the word Ch-L-M without having to make a substitution of aleph for chet.
                 Rav S.R. Hirsch is another figure who tries to understand the ancient Jewish view of dreams.  In his commentary to Gen. 20:3, he sets forth an entire Jewish philosophy of dreams that he believes is implicit in the root Ch-L-M. But there is a problem with his analysis. There is an unusual word at Job. 6:6,  “chalamut.” The Targum understands this as having a meaning identical with “chelmon,” the yoke of an egg.  Rav Hirsch’s theory is based on assuming that this word “chalamut” is related to dreams and that its translation is “yoke of an egg.”  (Rav Hirsch writes: “Every chalom is a chalamut, a return of the psyche, the mind, to the embryonic state.”) But today most scholars believe that this word “chalamut” has nothing to do with dreams and is not the “yoke of an egg.” Rather, it is a plant that has liquid flow from it.   (R. Hirsch does use the word “healing” in his discussion. He believes that dreams have an aspect of healing to them, consistent with the other Ch-L-M meaning.)
                I have to add that the words with the letters Ch-L-M at Is. 38:16 and Job 39:4 may instead derive from the word “chayil” (= strength), and there was possibly no root “Ch-L-M” in Hebrew that meant “healthy” or “strong.”
               I am going to conclude, along with one of my favorite sources, The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, that the etymology of the word Ch-L-M/dream has yet to be satisfactorily explained. My search for its origin still remains a dream! But as you can see, I did learn many interesting things along the way.
                I also learned that the vowel “cholam” may be called this because it is a “strong” vowel. (So says Ibn Ezra.)
                  In my chalom/dream research, I also came across a very interesting interpretation of a phrase that we are all familiar with. Psalm 126:1 use the phrase “hayyinu ke-cholmim” to describe the Jewish reaction to the return to Zion with the permission of the Persian kings. We are used to understanding these words to mean “we were like dreamers.” The turn of events was so surprising that it was unreal. Interestingly, the Targum offers a different interpretation: “we were like people who were healed.” Professors Shmuel and Ze’ev Safrai, in their classic work Haggadat Chazal (p. 232), take the position that this is most likely the correct interpretation! They also mention a text of this verse in the Dead Sea Scrolls (see J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll, p. 40) that has a different spelling of ke-cholmim here, with the lamed preceding the vav.  They claim that this spelling certainly fits their interpretation. But I would not rely on the spelling in the Dead Sea text (very possibly an error) to understand the meaning of our traditional text. Also, the post-Talmudic Masoretes certainly knew of the Targum’s interpretation. If they thought it was correct, they would have likely chosen a different nikud for our word. Finally, since Ch-L-M with a meaning like “healthy/strong/healed” is rare in Tanakh, only appearing two times, it is unlikely that this alternative (but creative!) interpretation of Psalms 126:1 is the correct one.
                  As part of my research for this column, I was also investigating another sleep-related root: Lamed-Yod-Nun (alternatively, Lamed-Vav-Nun). We are all familiar with this root. It means to “spend the night.” (For example, it is the root of the word “malon,” lodging place.) I discovered that according to many scholars the root of this word is Lamed-Yod-Lamed, which means “evening” and that the second lamed evolved into a nun. For further examples of lamed/nun switches, see, e.g., Rashi to Is. 21:15.
                Finally, this is a good time to mention a fascinating work from the early 13th century, authored by one of the French Tosafists, R. Jacob of Marvege. R. Jacob would seek answers from heaven about halakha (by means of seclusion, prayer, and uttering divine names), and his questions were replied to in a dream! R. Jacob then compiled the answers he received and published them as “She’elot U-Teshuvot Min Ha-Shamayim.” (We have a copy in our library at Congregation Beth Aaron.) I wish there was someone around now who could use this method and finally determine for me the origin of the word “chalom”!
                (For more on R. Jacob, see Encyclopaedia Judaica, 9:1233. For other Rishonim who relied on dreams for pesak, see the introduction in Reuven Margaliot’s edition of R. Jacob’s work, and Peering Through the Lattices by Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel.)
                
  --------------------------------------------------------   
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. (He would like to acknowledge the site balashon.com which provided some of the material for the above column.) He will not be able to sleep and dream properly until the origin of the word “chalom” is finally determined.