Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Collection of Some Sources regarding remuneration for Talmud Torah


רמב"ם הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק ג הלכה י
כל המשים על לבו שיעסוק בתורה ולא יעשה מלאכה ויתפרנס מן הצדקה הרי זה חלל את השם ובזה את התורה וכבה מאור הדת וגרס /וגרם/ רעה לעצמו ונטל חייו מן העולם הבא, לפי שאסור ליהנות מדברי תורה בעולם הזה, אמרו חכמים כל הנהנה מדברי תורה נטל חייו מן העולם, ועוד צוו ואמרו אל תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהן ולא קרדום לחפור בהן, ועוד צוו ואמרו אהוב את המלאכה ושנא את הרבנות וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה סופה בטילה וגוררת עון, וסוף אדם זה שיהא מלסטם את הבריות.

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת אבות פרק ד משנה ו
ויסברו שהוא חלול השם אצל ההמון, לפי שהם יחשבו התורה למלאכה מן המלאכות אשר מתפרנסים בהן, ותתבזה אצלם, ויהיה עושה זה "דבר ה' בזה"
בית יוסף יורה דעה סימן רמו
ואע"פ שנראה מדבריו שם שרוב חכמי התורה הגדולים שבזמנו היו עושים לא נמנע מלהשיב עליהם כמה תשובות. ובאמת לא נהגו חכמי הדורות כמותו, והראיות שהביא לדבריו יש לדחותם ואדרבה יש להביא ראיות להחזיק ביד הנותנים והמקבלים וכן ראוי לעשות דאם לא כן כבר היתה התורה בטלה ח"ו ועל ידי ההספקות יכולים לעסוק בתורה ויגדיל תורה ויאדיר. וכבר כתב והאריך הה"ר שמעון בר צמח בתשובותיו (ח"א סי' קמב - קמח) לחלוק על הרמב"ם ולסתור כל דבריו ולהחזיק ביד החכמים והתלמידים הנוטלים פרס מהציבור והביא כמה ראיות מהתלמוד והמדרשות. ומכל מקום מי שאפשר לו להתפרנס ממעשה ידיו ולעסוק בתורה ודאי מדת חסידות היא ומתת אלהים היא אבל אין זו מדת כל אדם שאי אפשר לכל אדם לעסוק בתורה ולהחכים בה ולהתפרנס ממעשה ידיו
שו"ת תשב"ץ חלק א סימן קמז
וזכות הראשונים תסייע כי מהנראה שהוא הפריז על מדותיו והטעה כל הגאונים והרבנים ז"ל אשר היו לפניו ובזמנו ומתוך שבא לכלל כעס בא לכלל טעות עד שקראם משוגעים. אויל הנביא משוגע איש הרוח. ואם הוא ז"ל עזרו המזל להיות קרוב למלכות ונכבד בדורו מפני רפואתו וחכמתו ולא נצרך ליטול פרס מהקהלות מה יעשו הרבנים והחכמים אשר לא באו לידי מדה זו הימותו ברעב או יתבזו מכבודם או יפרקו עול התורה מעל צוארם אין זאת כונת התורה והמצות והתלמוד.

ביאור הלכה סימן רלא
כתב בתשובת דבר שמואל סימן קל"ח שאלה איזו היא דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם אם לעסוק בתורה ולהרבות גבולו בתלמידים כל ימי השבוע וליהנות מאחרים או ליהנות מיגיע כפיו ומלאכה נקיה כל ימי השבוע ולעסוק בתורה לבד כל יום השבת [ואין כונתו שלא ילמוד כלל כל ימי השבוע דהא פשיטא דמחוייב האדם עכ"פ לקבוע עתים לתורה בכל יום כמבואר בסימן קנ"ה ובסימן רל"ח וביו"ד סימן רמ"ו אלא כונתו על יתר העת שביום איך יתנהג. וגם שאלתו הוא דוקא אם העסק שלו הוא נקי מתערובות גזל ורבית ואונאה דאל"ה אין זה ספק כלל אחד דעסקים כאלו שוב אין נקרא נהנה מיגיע כפו אלא מיגיעת אחרים ועוד דמוטב להתבייש בעוה"ז ולקבל מאה מתנות ולא לעבור פעם אחד על לאו דאורייתא של לא תגזול] ואעתיק בקצרה עיקר תשובתו לשואלו הלא ראתה עינו הבדולח מה שכתוב בטיו"ד סימן רמ"ו בב"י ובב"ח ובט"ז ובש"ך בשם ספר ים של שלמה ומכולם האריך למענתו מהר"י קאר"ו בספרו כ"מ הלכות ת"ת פ"ה וכו' אך הנראה לע"ד שאפילו הרמב"ם ז"ל יסכים בנידון דידן להתיר דאין דנין אפשר משאי אפשר וכיון שכפי צורך השעה והמקום א"א לזה האיש החפץ בחיים להתקיים תלמודו בידו לזכות בו את הרבים כ"א בסיפוק צרכיו ע"י אחרים הרי הוא ככל המון הדיינים והחכמים שהיו מקבלים שכר מתרומת הלשכה כדגרסינן בכתובות פרק שני דייני גזירות והרמב"ם ז"ל פסק כן בהלכות שקלים פ"ד וז"ל מגיהי ספרים שבירושלים ודיינים שדנים את הגזלנים נוטלין שכרן וכו' ואם לא הספיקו להם אע"פ שלא רצו מוסיפין להם כדי צרכן להם ונשיהם ובניהם ובני ביתם. ואיך יעלה על הדעת שיורה בכגון זה הרב ז"ל שיותר טוב לאדם לאחוז בסכלות וחסרון החכמה כל ימיו אשר הוא גרמא לכמה נזקין ומכשלות תלמוד המביא לידי מעשה ולמנוע טוב מבעליו מפני היותו נהנה מאת אחיו וע"ש עוד מה שהאריך בענין זה ולפלא על הבה"ט שלא העתיק רק השאלה ולא התשובה:
ערוך השולחן יו"ד רמ"ו:לט
שו"ת תשב"ץ חלק א סימן קמז
אבל האידנא דשכיח שר שכחה ואנו כמלא נקב מחט סדקית ואמרי' בתמור' (י"ד ע"ב) מש"ה נכתבו הלכו' משום עת לעשות לה' ואם יתעסק אדם במלאכה אינו רואה סימן ברכה במשנתו הלכך מצאו היתר חכמי הזמן להגו' יומם ולילה בתור' ולספק מורי הוראו' בישראל ולהיות נזונין מהצבור וזו חסידו' גמורה לפי הדורו' אין נ"ל שיש איסור בדבר חלילה אפי' לדורו' הראשונים
חפץ חיים ספר שם עולם שער החזקת התורה פרק יא:
"ויש אנשים שממאנים בזה וחושבים שלא לעשות כן מפני שגדול הנהנה מיגיע כפו ובעבור זה ממילא מתרחקים מן התורה וכו' ושוגגים בזה שגגה גדולה דכי מפני מדה טובה בעלמא יאבד הונה של תורה
שו"ת אגרות משה חלק יו"ד ב סימן קטז
ולכן הוא דין ברור ופשוט שנתקבל בכל הדורות אם מדינא אם מתקנה דעת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך שמותר לעסוק בתורה ולהתפרנס מקבלת פרס או ממה שהוא מלמד תורה לאחרים או שהוא רב ומורה הוראה, ואין להמנע מזה אפילו ממדת חסידות. ואני אומר כי אלו המתחסדים מצד שיטת הרמב"ם הוא בעצת היצה"ר כדי שיפסיק מללמוד ויעסוק במלאכה ובמסחר וכדומה עד שלבסוף הם שוכחים אף המקצת שכבר למדו ואינו מניחם אף לקבוע זמן קצר לת"ת, כי אם הראשונים כמלאכים אמרו שא"א לעסוק בתורה ולהחכים בה כשיעשה מלאכה להתפרנס ממעשה ידיו, כ"ש בדורנו דור יתמא דיתמי וגם אין לנו הנשים צדקניות שירצו לסבול עוני ודחקות כבדורותם, שודאי א"א לשום אדם להתגאות ולומר שהוא יכול לעשות מלאכה ולהחכים בתורה. לכן לא יעלה על מחשבתך עצת היצה"ר שיש בקבלת פרס דלומדים בכוללים ופרס דרבנים ומלמדים וראשי ישיבה איזה חטא וחסרון מדת חסידות, שהוא רק להסית לפרוש מן התורה. ומי יתן והיו נמצאים אנשים מתנדבים לפרנס הרבה ת"ח היו מתרבים בני תורה גדולי ישראל ובעלי הוראה כרצון השי"ת שאין לו בעולמו אלא ד' אמות של הלכה.


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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Prisoner Exchange

Rabbi Alfred Cohen in “Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society”(Fall 2003) has an article which discusses the issue of “Ransom or Exchange of Prisoners” , but does not come to a definite conclusion. It appears that there are no contemporary teshuvos discussing the issue.

Briefly, his reasoning and mekoros(most of which I have not myself seen) are:

1) The Mishna(Gittin 45A) states that hostages are not ransomed for more than their worth, in order not to encourage additional kidnapping(YD 252). Yet R. Yeshosua b. Chananya stated that he would have redeemed a child(R. Yishmael b. Elisha) for whatever sum demanded(Gittin 58A), and subsequently, he indeed paid a very large sum. According to one opinion in Tosaphos(ibid), the difference is that an excessive ransom may be paid if the captive’s life is at stake.

2) In the case of a prisoner exchange, the issue is: does the terrorist being considered for exchange, who may possibly murder additional people(c’vs), represent more of a “present danger” to life than the life of the captive currently at risk (“choleh l’fanecha” : Noda Biyehuda YD 200 and Chazon Ish Aveilus 208:7 re: autopsy).

3) Rabbi Cohen posits that the Halacha would differentiate between an individual and a community situation, as well as between wartime and peacetime, based on sources which do not directly discuss the issue of prisoner exchange(e.g., Tzitz Eliezer 13:100 and 12:57 re: an army risking additional soldiers’ life to rescue a captured soldier).

4) He concludes that one needs to weigh the benefit of redeeming, which raises morale in other soldiers, versus the negative consequenses of freeing terrorists, namely, the disastrous psychological, political, and physical consequences on the population of releasing violent terrorists.

5) One interesting source for # 3, is R. Yaakov Kamintesky’s dissenting opinion, disagreeing with the suggestion raised by students to ransom R’ Hutner Zt’l from the 1970 Black September hijacking for an exorbitant sum,the latter idea based on the halacha that a Talmid Chacham is ransomed even at a sum exceeding his worth. The suggestion was apparently accepted by many Rabbonim at the time as a valid option.

As related by R. Herschel Schacter, R. Yaakov felt that paying an excessive price did not apply during hostilities, when the delivery of ransom money to the enemy would strengthen their position. (“Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society”(Fall 1988).

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reflections on Blogging

Is there any introspection that Bloggers and Commentators could benefit from during the current Season? Generally, life was complicated enough before the internet, but those who use this medium of communication may have particular reason for, or a particular area in where to engage in contemplation.

People have different "comfort zone's" as far as what they like to post on. Generally, I feel comfortable addressing ideas as opposed to people. I also feel that blogging is a semi-public forum, and that there is always the possibility that non-Orthodox and non-Jewish readers(media and otherwise) monitor these forums. I try to keep this in mind as I write.

There is a discussion in progress about the raison d'etre of Cross-Currents(Cross-Currents, is of course a moderated blog) . I added my thoughts to the discussion there.

Generally, I believe in the honest and open discussion of issues in some type of an appropriate forum, and not hiding one's head in the sand and ignoring a problem or issue. Every society has their problems, and the fact that the Jewish community or charedim have theirs, is not inherently a reason to view them more negatively than any other group. On the other hand, those with antipathy--Jewish or non-Jewish-- will grab on to any available ammunition which we gift to them on a silver platter.

However, the point of any discussion of a communal issue, to the extent and form it takes place, should be positive: to bring change, or at least to view the issue in an as most positive perspective as possible. The Jewish People are positive even when reflecting on intractable problems: note that we end Eicha on a positive note.

(Also, I think that generally, the more public the forum is, the more careful and sensitive one should be in expressing criticism --even constructive--of the community. Anyhow, that is the way I think that I would like to see discussion in the event that I would decide to blog on subjects that possibly would be best left for internal communal discussion; in general, each "Bal H'ablog", of course, has (or should have)their own individual policy for what they blog on and how their particular topics are discussed).

Let us hope that blogging in all forms--moderated, unmoderated, and non-online discussion groups-- will serve as a positive force in the Jewish community. If you have any suggestions for this blog or for the Blogosphere at large, feel free to add them here!

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Centrism and "Extremism"

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the transcript of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s lecture regarding Centrist Orthodoxy. His cogency and erudition make for a pleasant perusal.

Beyond what Jak and I posted a few days ago, there are some additional points, beyond Madda, (though there will be some overlap) which caught my attention and are worthy of further discussion. One of them is the Centrism/ “Extremism” divide. My references to “extremism” throughout this segment are not meant to refer to going out of the bounds of what is considered “normal”, to excess. I mean a zealous devotion to an ideology, to the point of striving for the pinnacles of achievement in those areas.

Here is an excerpt from the lecture:

It is only by instilling this kind of passion that
we can avoid the lapse of centrism into mere compromise.
There ARE times when one must compromise, and this itself

is an issue between us and the Right: how are we to gauge

the qualitative as opposed to the quantitative element?

They are the champions of the qualitative, "shemen zayit

zakh" - adherents of the position which, in a magnificent

sentence in his On Civil Disobedience, Thoreau presented

that, "It is not so important that many should be as good

as you, as that there be some absolute goodness

somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump." We have

a much greater commitment to the quantitative element, to

reaching large segments of the community, even if we are

only to reach them partially and the accomplishments are

limited.

But even if we must, in a certain sense, compromise,

it cannot be out of default. I remember years back

reading a remark of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and a very

perceptive one; he said, "The problem with the

Conservatives is not that they compromise - it is that

they make a principle out of compromise." We cannot, God

forbid, make a principle out of compromise, nor can we

lapse into it by default. But if we are to avoid

lapsing, then that passionate commitment must be kept

burning. It is only when we can attain that, that

Centrism as a vibrant and legitimate spiritual force can

be sustained. Only by generating profound conviction can

we sustain ourselves from within and be inured onslaughts

from without: conviction of the overall importance of

Torah and of the worth - and there is worth!
- of our own
interpretation of it.

There is no question that any movement or ideology requires passionate adherents, or it will perforce be condemning itself to mediocrity, apathy, and, ultimately, demise. However, what must be considered is whether a Centrist upbringing will water down passion for Torah and her ideals, not whether it will dilute passion for Centrism!

I believe that true passion, enthusiasm, and soul-bonding, can be instilled only in conjunction with an acceptance of “extremism” in that which is meant to be inculcated. If enthusiasm for the idea of Torah study as a pursuit, meant to fill both our set times and our spare moments, is to be successfully imparted, there is no room for tempering that gusto with competing values. If going to college, even if we were to assume a pristine environment of pursuit of the humane, is presented, from the earliest years of junior high, is an ideal which one must strive for, even at the expense of precious hours of Torah study, then we have split the protégé’s attention, and have denied him the opportunity to taste the sweet flavor of unbridled passion for Torah.

Of course, the Torah itself demands that in a situation of a Mitzvah which cannot be performed by others, that Mitzvah takes precedence to continued engagement in Torah study. And, to be sure, pursuit of a Parnassah, and a broadening of one’s own horizons, is a Mitzvah which cannot be done by others. However, these are areas which should be pursued only after the passion for Torah study is firmly entrenched in the heart of the student. This cannot happen, for the vast majority of students, in an environment where the option of multi-year, or multi-decade, study of Torah is not seriously contemplated. There is no question that, from Chazal’s standpoint, a person who decides to commit himself to a life of Torah study, making do with the limited funds (and the healthy dose of Bitachon) accompanying this lifestyle, is a Kodesh Kodoshim. He has not only made an excellent choice, but, in terms of Torah study, he has made the choice to be excellent. True, not everyone, not nearly so, is able to make this choice. But this “extremist” approach to Talmud Torah must be there, not only as a thoroughly acceptable, even beyond merely a laudable, option. It must be presented as the pinnacle of achievement, even if only to impress upon the Talmid, the concept, in full color, of כי הם חיינו ואורך ימינו, ובהם נהגה יומם ולילה

In a similar vein, zest in adherence to Halachah must be given the leeway of some extremism in this regard. A person with deep Ahavas Hashem will want to do whatever he can to avoid sin and to please the A-mighty. Now, there is no question that this extremism can spill into areas where it is undesirable, such as in condemnation of others, or lacking perspective of countervailing, or superseding, Halachic concerns. Nevertheless, temperance and perspective must never be had by a dampening of zeal. It must be through a channeling of that zeal to appreciation of the need for tact or balance.

As the Chazon Ish (Iggeros Chazon Ish 3:61), in a letter which is all but the antithesis of Centrism, put it:

"Just as simplicity and truth are synonymous, so are extremism and greatness synonymous...We are accustomed to hearing in well-known circles, as announcing about themselves that they have no share among the extremists, and they nevertheless reserve for the themselves the right of (being) a loyal Jew with sufficient Emunah in Torah and the words of Torah. And we allow ourselves to state from the vantage-point of justice, that just as among those who love wisdom there is no love for a bit of it and hatred of abundance of it, so too there is not among those who love Torah and Mitzvos a love of the middling and a hatred of extremism.

All the fundamentals of faith, the 13 principles, and their derivatives, are always in vigorous contradiction to easily grasped concepts and the ebb and flow of life developed under the sun. And their clear and justified cognition, which grants an excess of particularism in believing in them, is the pleasantness of extremism.

And those who testify about themselves that they have not tasted the sweetness of extremism, are simultaneously testifying that they are lacking in faith in the principles of the religion in terms of their analytical prowess and emotional bonds, and only with the ropes of some level of relationship are they tethered to them. And the extremists, at the depths of their soul, with all of their most intense wish to pity those lacking in extremism, will not accord respect and honor to those who oppose them. And the abyss which divides them, when it meets with practical actions which create, by the force of their nature, arguments and bickering, will add to the rift incurably.

The Beinonius which has the right of existence, is the attribute of the Beinonim who love extremism and strive for it with all of the will of their soul, and they educate their descendants to the apex of extremism. But how pathetic is the Beinonius which has contempt for extremism. The obligation of our Chinuch is to extremism! The armory of Chinuch is, to plant contempt and disgust for those who mock extremism.

Therefore, the following statement of RAL, which seems to be a granting of legitimacy to Centrism due to the feelings of the parents [1] and teachers being condescended to, is a bit dismaying:

The process of the shift to the right, especially
with respect to the younger generation, is for many
fraught with pain and a sense of almost bitter irony.
Parents who sacrificed so much in order to maintain
Shabbat observance or to establish and support day
schools at a time when none of these were the vogue,
suddenly find that their homes are not kosher enough or
their Kiddush cups not large enough. Analogously, at the
professional level, educators who pioneered in the Five
Towns or Johannesburg when these were, from a Torah
standpoint, literally deserts, are chagrined to discover
that their very students now regard them with a jaundiced
and condescending eye.

I can only speak for myself, but if my children were to come home one day and tell me that they want to start keeping Yashan in Chutz LaAretz, with all the code checking and mild hardship that entails - not due to social pressures, sincerely - I would be thrilled. If they told me they wanted to try to fulfill some of the more stringent opinions of the Chazon Ish, I would be overjoyed! My children have come on to the path of “extremism”, read, excellence!! They want to excel in their Avodas Hashem, and this is a manifestation of that drive. To be sure, imposition of super-Chumros on others is incorrect, but feeling pain as a reaction to their personal choice, and even to a request from them to alter what goes on in my house, is misplaced. They are passionate, and in their zeal they may overstep the bounds of what is proper to request - but to dampen their enthusiasm by denigrating it is a death knoll to excellence. It is indicative of the lack of passion which RAL identifies in the latter part of the lecture as an Achilles heel of the Centrist community. Unquestionably, if there are issues of basic Halachic adherence in a home, they must be dealt with in a manner exuding tact and grace (any Charedi Rav would agree!). It is not the stuff out of which one builds an alternative worldview.

The Chazon Ish, at the end of the same Iggeres, addresses these issues:

"It is true, that for the boiling spirit in the heart of the youth, it is not beyond possibility that they will issue a heated judgment on the individuals among the mockers, and in a manner which is exaggerated. However, the development of the youth to true love of Torah, which is required for fascination of the soul and Heavenly pleasantness, does not allow to place hindrances on the path of life which leads to 'sitting in crowns and basking in the Glory."

The Chazon Ish concludes with an uncharacteristically harsh condemnation of attempts at limitation of zeal as a Shita:

Those who establish middling houses of Chinuch, were unsuccessful, because of the phoniness which is in the middling. And a wise heart gradually rejects phoniness. Their Chinuch, grants legitimacy to the protege to turn his back on laws which are thrust upon him against his will, and on the beliefs which distress his heart in opposition to the flow of life, and the secret of extremism they have robbed of him, as his parents and teachers have also ruined it.



[1] On a humorous note, I once heard one of these parents self-described as PORK -“Parents Of Religious Kids.” Apparently, some who pick their kids up at the airport at the end of a year in Israel, only to meet a barely recognizable Borsalino hatbox toting youth, are wont to call themselves thus in their chagrin at the socially discomfiting turn of events.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Animal Personhood

This post contrasts the Torah view towards animal experimentation with that of radical animal rights activists, as well as with the philosophy of secular society in general. On a lighter note, I hope that you enjoy the four links at the end of the next section, and that you will find some of the other twenty- odd links edifying :)

Plaintiff in Animal Lawsuits: Owners or Animals ?

Are there any lawyers reading this blog? I am familiar with the tort named "intentional inflection of emotional distress". Some courts have recognized the emotional distress of an owner whose pet was maliciously killed, and authorized the recovery of damages when appropriate.

For example, in 1985, an Alaskan court ruled:

We recognize that the loss of a beloved pet can be especially distressing in egregious situations. Therefore, we are willing to recognize a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress for the intentional or reckless killing of a pet animal in an appropriate case…

However, the court noted that the animal had the status of personal property:

…since dogs have legal status as items of personal property, courts generally limit the damage award in cases in which a dog has been wrongfully killed to the animal's market value at the time of death.

In contradistinction to the above, what about an animal bringing a lawsuit when he or she(or itself) is the claimant?

One Animal Rights lawyer has proposed a new tort to be used by the animals(plaintiffs) against the humans(defendants). An article in The Physiologist, cited below, describes this tort succinctly as the "intentional interference with the primary interests of a chimpanzee ". Obviously, any such suits will originate by parties other than the directly aggrieved. This is based on a form of "personhood" attributed to animals, which I will elaborate on below.

On a personal note, I suppose that I have never quite grown out of my fascination with animals as a child. Although I have never wrestled with an alligator, I suppose that I share this fascination with a contemporary Jewish author, who turned his childhood interest into a career. In any event, the conflict between medical research groups and animal rights activists, as well as the discussion of "Animal Personhood" has piqued my interest.

An Animal Amongst Others ?


What was the philosophy of secular law toward animal research until the advent of the Animal Rights movement?


According to the Ethics committee of the British House of Lords:


More commonly, there are those who hold that the whole institution of morality, society and law is founded on the belief that human beings are unique amongst animals. Humans are therefore morally entitled to use animals, whether in the laboratory, the farmyard or the house, for their own purposes….. The unanimous view of the Select Committee is that it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals, but that it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering…(emphasis mine -BH)


The Ethics Committee does not elaborate upon why humans are unique. Secular humanism, by definition, does not recognize the soul. Man, according to evolutionary theory, merely lies along a continuum with animals.


Assuming that the philosophical underpinning for animal law in Western civilization is not from an external source such as God(as in "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" from the Declaration of Independence), then humaneness must be utilitarian and consists of balancing of human needs and animal needs. Nature, "the law of the jungle", or "survival of the fittest", does not assign a value to actions.


However, utilitarians do indeed recognize animal rights. The "greatest possible amount of happiness among the greatest number" would include animals as well. Jeremy Bentham(Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century) was well-known for advocating both utilitarianism and animal rights.


How would a humanist talk of compassion, if in his own terms, it merely served an adaptative purpose? The need to be humane and compassionate in humanistic terms would ultimately be one of an expanded sense of of self-fulfillment. Although it is obviously better than pure hedonism, it has no intrinsic purpose beyond "self-fulfillment".

As Dr. Melaine Joy, writes:

As we widen our psycho-conscious lens to include the nonhuman
world, we may ultimately expand our sense of self, no longer limiting
our so-called individual identity to only our own body or species
but encompassing other beings as well. Developing an expanded
self may, in turn, expand our capacity for empathy, as we grow, psychically,
beyond our selves.
("Humanistic Psychology and Animal
Rights: Reconsidering the Boundaries of the Humanistic Ethic", Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 45 No. 1, Winter 2005 , pg. 123).

Beyond that, there can be no meaning to compassion and humaneness. The question of humaneness in a secular society in legal terms, was further discussed at the Harvard symposium by Allan Dershowitz.

In contrast, the Jewish value system, is defined in terms of spirituality, neshama and mitzvos. The person, containing a soul, relates with compassion to fellow humans containing a neshama, and ultimately to Hashem, the All-Merciful or the ultimate rachaman.

Furthermore, the Jewish people, tasked with the mission of l'saken olam b'malchus shakai, should be concerned with changing the atheistic view of portions of Western society, even if such change is best made by concentrating on within, and by ripple-effect.


In any event, apparently based on a view similar to that above, of the House of Lords, some groups like the ASPCA, merely seek to minimize cruelty in animals, and do not call for outlawing experimentation. This is called animal "welfarisim", as opposed to animal "rights"(Joy, ibid).


Two Views of Personhood


Steve Michael in "Animal Personhood: A Threat to Reserach?" (The Physiologist, December, 2004) writes from the perspective of the medical research community, and points out the potential threats to research from animal rights activists. As pointed out in the article, there are two types of personhood. One is merely a legal concept which applies to other inanimate objects as well-- corporations, partnerships, and other entities. "Personhood", under this category would be a legal fiction allowing animals(or their representatives) to sue or be sued. However, such personhood would not create new, or additional rights.


Switzerland, is quoted in the linked article as recognizing animals as "beings and not things" in a 1992 amendment. This would seem to be a form of the above type of personhood.


A second, more radical view of "personhood" nearly equates animals with people. This view, as summarized by Michael in the above-referenced article holds that :


certain animals are so much like humans, based upon their mental abilities, they should enjoy at a minimum, the basic legal rights afforded to the least capable humans.


Richard Wrangham, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, explained at a Harvard Law School symposium the idea of nearly equating man and beast using the following thought exercise(based on Oxford University evolutionary theorist Richard Dwarkins) :

Imagine taking your grandmother to the University of Michigan football stadium. I taught at the University of Michigan for a few years so, on a Saturday afternoon, I know that you have an empty stadium that fills up in a couple of hours. You go there with your grandmother and you are the first two people to sit down, and then the thought game is, she has her grandmother sit next to her, and then she has her grandmother sit next to her. You are sitting, chatting passionately to your grandmother, because you really care about sports, and two hours later you feel a nudge in your back, and who is it? There is the person. It is someone very much in the gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo mold, another big, black, hairy thing that walks on its knuckles and has got a protruding mouth, probably very much like a chimpanzee. We are a great ape.

Two famous stories come to mind:

(1) Rabbi Yaakov Kamintesky explained to Yerucham Meschel, head of Histadrut, the difference between R' Yaakov's grandchildren, who doted on him, as compared to Meschel's, who didn't respect him. The latter's philosophy of Darwinism led to his children and grandchildren progressively devaluing him.

(2) Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm stated that Darwin could not have said his theory had he met Rav Yisrael Salanter. It would be obvious to everyone that such a transcendent human being, an adam hashaleim, could only be the handiwork of God.

(If you believe that guided evolution--not the subject of this post-- is compatible with the pesukim of Maseh Berieshis, adapt the stories accordingly) .



Animal Experimentation


Also at this Harvard symposium, Steve Wise, an animal rights lawyer and lecturer at Harvard Law School, and author of Rattling the Cage, was asked by Michael :


Under what circumstances would it be permissible to use chimpanzees in medical research? Is it always wrong? Morally wrong? If there were significant and clear benefits for finding cures to serious illnesses, would it then be permissible to use chimpanzees in research?


Wise answered:


Well, at least legally, and probably morally, the only time I believe one should be able to use a chimpanzee in research is a situation where one would also use a four-year-old human child. Not many.

Michaels also quotes Roger Fouts, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Chimpanzee-Human Communication Institute, who responded to the above question:

Why are we afraid of death, when it is such a natural thing? Why do we have to take an endangered species [chimpanzees] to help an overpopulated species [humans] to become more overpopulated?


I told this response to a relative who is quick on the uptake. She wryly suggested that perhaps some of the chimpanzees activists might care to volunteer their own lives to help keep in check the overpopulated species of humans.


A Community of Equals


The Great Ape Project is collecting petitions to extend a "community of equals" to all members of the community. Such a community consists of


Equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. (emphasis mine- BH)


Rights would include:

  • right to live
  • protection of individual liberty and
  • prohibitions against torture to apes.

As part of "protection of individual liberty" the aggrieved parties who have been detained against their will:


must have the right to appeal, either directly or, if they lack the relevant capacity, through an advocate, to a judicial tribunal.


In Chapter 1 of Rattling the Cage, Wise calls killing chimpanzees murder and genocide:


I hope you will conclude, as I do in Chapter 11, that justice entitles chimpanzees and bonobos to legal personhood and to the fundamental legal rights of bodily integrity and bodily liberty—now. Kidnapping them, selling them, imprisoning them, and vivisecting them must stop—now. Their abuse and their murder must be forbidden for what they are: genocide.(emphasis mine-BH)

One of the goals of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) at Central Washington University(linked above) is to:

encourage in other humans respect, responsibility, and compassion for all of our fellow apes by offering unique, engaging educational programs and resources to elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students and the public at large(emphasis mine-BH).


Protecting Animals from Other Animals ?


According to Cass Sunstei, University of Chicago Law School Professor of Jurisprudence, at the above Harvard Law symposium , people might have an obligation to protect animals against their predators:

… animals' freedom of choice might indeed impose on human beings an obligation of protection, to the extent that it is costless, against predations of other animals. If a domesticated animal or wild animal is about to be killed by a predator, and we can prevent the murder (emphasis mine-BH) without cost, why not? Why ought we not say that the rights run against third parties that are animals, as well as third parties who are human? I have a fear that in some pockets of the animal rights movement there is a romanticization of natural processes, which often are in animals interests compared with human processes but not always. Nature itself is often cruel, and if we can reduce the cruelty, by all means we should.



Not Homo Sapiens


The Torah permits us to use make use of animals for human benefit while enjoining us against Tzar Balei Chaim(see here, halacha # 13). I have seen a reference to an article on animal experimentation in Tradition by Rabbi J. David Bleich(1986 Spring;22(1):1-36), and the topic is covered more recently, I believe, in Rabbi Natan Slifkin's "Man and Beast".


Rabbi Berel Wein(Living Jewish, pp. 278-280) has noted that polio research would not be possible without the rhesus monkey. Parenthetically, it is also interesting that according to this 1956 article, at a certain point, India was considering regulating export of monkeys due to the sacredness of monkeys to Hindu's. However, India was the first chosen by President Eisenhower to receive the formula of the Salk vaccine, because of the role Indian rhesus monkeys imported into America played in the development of the vaccine.


Rabbi Wein, in the above article, writes that the Torah demands balance and perspective in general, and that this applies specifically regarding man's relationship with the animal world. He notes that animal researchers may be cruel to people as in the Passuk : "Those who kiss the calves are those who slaughter humans"(Hosea 13:2). Obviously a balance is needed.


Similarly, the following is told about Rav Yeruchum Levovitz in this linked article :

On a visit to inter-war Berlin, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz of Mirrer witnessed household pets dressed in pants and sweaters. He commented: "Where they treat animals as humans, in that place they will slaughter humans as animals," and he quoted the verse "Those who slaughter men will kiss their calves" (Hosea 13:2).


Sometimes, one sees dogs being walked that have protective clothing on their bodies in the winter, to keep them warm in the bitter cold. I imagine that Rav Yerucham was not referring to such type of clothing.


What distinguishes the Torah attitude from even the moderate secular attitude is that a man has a Divine Spark, Tzelem Elokim, and is able to choose between good and bad: vayipach b'apev nishmas chayim, God breathed into man a part of Himself, as it were. Thus we reject merely being "unique among animals", as described above by the British House of Lords.


Nevertheless, the Torah instructs us about Tzar Balei Chaim. Animals may not have "personhood" in the sense of animal rights activists, but we are instructed to be careful, in the stewardship granted to us over the earths resources, and not to cause unnecessary pain to any creature.


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Who Wears the Tallis in the Family?

Last night was the first time I ever attended a wedding where the Chosson was of Yekkish descent. The Chosson's father is very proud of his German-Jewish heritage (one of his favorite Sefarim is Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz). Last night was no exception to his upholding his family Minhagim. I had heard of the Minhag that the Chosson and Kallah go under a Tallis, but for some reason I pictured that as four people spreading the Tallis out above them like a canopy.
I was wrong. The Minhag is that the Chosson and Kallah have a Tallis draped over both of their heads (picture putting your Tallis over your own head, only doing that for two people together.)
Seeing this Minhag being maintained was a beautiful thing to behold. Not only was it, at least to my mind, a wonderful opportunity to see an age-old Minhag kept, a celebration of the diversity of Minhagim within Klal Yisrael, but it just seemed like a deeply meaningful expression of what the moment meant for the couple. To me, going under the Tallis was one of the highlights of what I would do as a child on Yom Tov during Bircas Kohanim. It was a special moment of bonding with my father, (OK, some horsing around with my brothers too), together accepting the Berachos of the Kohanim for our family's, and Klal Yisrael's, success.
Here, again, from my perspective, (I'm sure there's more to it than this) the Chosson takes the Kallah under his Tallis to jointly receive the Sheva Berachos, given B'Ahavah by Rabbanim and family,wishing them a life of Simchah and growth L'Netzach Netzachim.
The father of the Kallah quipped in his remarks at the Seudah: "After seeing that for the first time, I wonder who's going to wear the Tallis in this family...". I'm Mispalel that it will be the grandchildren, and beyond, of the newlywed couple, who will continue this awe-inspiring Minhag, Ad Bi'as Go'el Tzeddek.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

The Death and Rebirth of Humane Learning

by Jak Black and Bari

I. The Death of Mada

Recently, Harry posted a link to a summation of the thought of Rav Aaron Lichtenstein (henceforth RAL) a proponent of Torah U'Mada and Centrist Orthodoxy. Although my personal experience and understanding of the hashkafa were enough for me to reject it as a lifestyle, I decided that I would take a close look at the article and revisit the ideas. The article can be found here. In the comments section to Harry's blog, a fellow named Mark linked to a relatively recent article in Jewish Action which contained a critical analysis by Dr. William Kohlbrener of RAL's views, as well as a response to the raised issues by RAL himself.

I'll be frank. After reading the original article, plus the newer material in Jewish action, it is clear that RAL's views on mada have been refuted as a practical worldview, at least in its present academia-centric form. I choose my words carefully here, because although his vision of secular education has merit on a theoretical plane, in practice its value is dubious at best, and probably harmful to the average student.

I will present a summary of the arguments of Dr. Kohlbrener that I found particular compelling, though I advise anyone interested in the subject take a look at the articles himself. Following Kohlbrener's criticisms, I will add a couple of my own, followed by an analysis of RAL's rebuttal.

Dr. Kohlbrener begins by explaining he agrees with the theoretical assumption of RAL’s hashkafa of mada. Meaning, in its purest form, humane learning does have the potential to enhance general and Torah understanding; secular learning does have intrinsic worth. However, he finds serious problems with the implementation of the hashkafa. Kohlbrener divides his criticisms into two halves: problems inherent in the nature of the students (and the society in which they find themselves), and, "more fundamentally," problems concerning the nature of the modern university.

The first criticism is aimed at the nature of the students. Modern youth completely immersed in the secular culture really have no desire for the acquisition of humane learning. He writes,


When addressing a group of students from a Modern Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, I was surprised at the resistance that I had elicited through my comments about Torah Umadda (which reflected some of my reservations that I am mentioning here.)...Though most of them did, in fact, stand up for the concept, they failed to give the impression that it was anything more than a rallying cry that they had inherited from their teachers.


What explained their intense loyalty to the theoretical idea of mada, but their intense disinterest in actually acquiring it?


I remained confused...until one of the young men confided: "It's not so much that we're interested in Torah Umadda, what we are really interested in is Torah and entertainment"...He revealed that the primary concern of many yeshivah boys...is not incorporating the classics into the life of the ben Torah, but rather accommodating Torah into a contemporary lifestyle - of popular culture, of movies and of MTV.


Kohlbrener's second criticism directed toward the students (and in this case, the layperson too) deals with RAL's position that mada is mandated by the necessity of "understanding the secular mind" within the parameters of kiruv. Kohlbrener asks,


If knowing the zeitgeist means knowing Schwarzenegger, does it mean that we and our talmidim, the leaders of the next generation, should be on line to buy tickets to the next sequel to Terminator? For Rambam, knowing madda meant having access to the classical texts of Athenian culture. For the current generation, madda…includes Yahoo!, The Matrix and MTV.


Kohlbrener's next set of criticisms is aimed at academia itself. Simply put, there is very little humane learning left in the universities, and the average student is unlikely to be exposed to this remnant. It is my personal feeling that Kohlbrener's characterization of academia, excoriating though it is, is actually rather kind. Certainly, the constraints of an article in JA limit a full exposition of the subject, which has been analyzed in countless volumes. As I’ve recommended previously, I suggest the works of Bloom, D'Souza and Kirk as a starting place for a fuller understanding of the changes that have swept the halls of academia.

At any rate, in Kohlbrener's words, the problem with the modern university is that the attitude of engagement with the classic works "has been replaced by a hermeneutics of suspicion - an interpretative attitude in which the interpreter finds himself not subservient, but rather superior to the texts he encounters." Because the student no longer engages with the text, but rather seeks to impose on it his own ideas, it is unlikely that he will unearth the wisdom that lies within. One manifestation of this trend is the movement known as multiculturalism, which seeks, in broad terms, to impose our ideas of gender, race and class on the unwitting classics.

To these criticisms, I add the following two points: First, RAL admits that a student engaged in secular learning must constantly be on the lookout for pernicious influences. But unfortunately, RAL is short on the details of this scheme. If, for example, we sent an aged scholar wise in the ways of the Torah to a university, he would probably be able to detect the points which are out of synch with Torah hashkafa. But how is a simple student to do so? Worse, we’re discussing a student who has not even formed a coherent set of Torah hashkafos. How can he possibly avoid being perverted in manners both evident and obscure?

Second, it is clear that although there are humane insights to be gained from the classics, there is no question that incisive individuals will find those insights in the Torah itself. This is true whether we are talking about psychological insights, interpersonal sensitivity, historical awareness, or any other area of human understanding. Chazal themselves expressed this idea in the mishna, "Ben Bag Bag says: Investigate it and investigate it, because it contains everything" (Avos 5:22). It is true, of course, that the majority of people cannot uncover these insights themselves. Yet the same is clearly true of humane learning. And just as unique voices in the secular world transmit their understanding and insights into the classics to the general populace, so too gedolim such as the Alter from Slabodka and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky transmit their insight into the Torah to generations of talmidim who in turn become the next teachers of the Jewish people. When balanced against the risk the average reader takes when delving into disciplines that are as full of secular values and even heresy as they are of humane insight, there’s really no question about the advisability of such an endeavor.

In his rebuttal to Dr. Kohlbrener, RAL focuses on the distinction between ideology and practice, sticking to his conviction that while in practice it may be difficult, or even dangerous, to follow this hashkafa, the theory is still correct. Unfortunately, with all due respect, RAL seems to have disregarded Burke's injunction: "Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. the circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind." How true! If one chooses any value, even the most lofty of the Torah, such as love, charity and mercy, he finds that it has been qualified in one way or more likely several. Yes, we must love everyone - but not our enemies. Yes, we must be merciful - but one is merciful to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the merciful. It is quite clear that there is no such thing as an ideology distinct and distanced from its praxis. It is always the concrete circumstances which give vitality and meaning to a value. It follows that if there is no realistic and practical method for the implementation of RAL’s hashkafa, it cannot be viewed as anything but an intellectual curiosity akin to liberalism or socialism, which appear admirable on paper, but are useless in the real world of human passions.

RAL is clearly aware of the inherent weakness of this stance. He writes,


Does this concession relegate my argument to the dustbin of anachronism? I trust not...Hashkafically, it makes an enormous difference whether a prospective student shies away from classical culture out of an admiration tempered by apprehension or out of contemptuous disdain.


Well, that might be so, but it verges on the rhetorical. Disdain is the manifest destiny of reasoned apprehension, and the utilitarian and even useful social parlance of refuted ideologies. Sure, television might be great if it wasn’t so corrupt. But practically speaking, it’s contemptuous junk – nothing more.

RAL continues, "Secondly, my position remains meaningful at the practical plane as well," but then merely points to a few individuals as proof of this assertion. He claims that "Dr. Kolbrener may have tightened the noose, but he has not asphyxiated the patient." Frankly, I don’t see how this is so; the patient seems to have died decades ago. RAL continues,


Third, even advocates of Dr. Kolbrener's position can acknowledge the need to keep the home fires burning in hope for better times...Even if winter’s here, might we not, with inspired vision and informed counsel, anticipate the spring?


The metaphorical beauty aside, RAL is again short on the details of this scheme. He assumes that academia will rehabilitate itself at some point, yet I see no reason to make such an assumption; clearly, the trend is toward decadence rather than recrudescence. And who, precisely, should be the ones we send out to brave the storm? What percentage of our living, breathing children should we willingly sacrifice on the altar of mada for the pease-porridge of a distant dream? It’s certainly not going to be my children.

RAL as much as admits that his hashkafa will cause a certain amount of spiritual loss. His response?


Yet before we rush to judgment, we should bear in mind a crucial variable. In assessing benefits and risks, we routinely differentiate between focused dangers and statistical projections…It is palpably clear that many souls could be saved if kollelim were shut down en masse and their members sent out to engage in kiruv. Nevertheless, no such course is ever contemplated...Perhaps one might challenge any comparison between the danger of loss of the committed with forgoing possible gains among the currently uncommitted. Nevertheless, the example is instructive by way of illustrating a readiness to distinguish between focused threat and statistical projection.


I find these words rather shocking. RAL admits that his comparison is flawed for a number of reasons, but asks that we nevertheless utilize the kernel of the idea, that we must distinguish between focused threat and statistical projection. This is a straightforward admission that we are willing to trade a certain amount of our youth for the ideology of mada. Yet even according to RAL himself, the only purpose of the secular studies is that they might possibly lead to a greater appreciation and enlightenment of the Torah itself. Frankly, this is analogous to throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.

In the spirit of Barthes who pronounced the death of the author, I now pronounce the death of mada as a practical ideology.

II. The Resurrection of Humane Learning

Some, of course, will question the above in light of the realities if one of the authors of this diatribe. How can Jak Black, who insists on peppering his posts with obscure references to Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk, and obviously continues to study secular works, have the gall to proclaim the death of mada? The careful reader will have noticed the answer already. The problem with mada is not in the secular learning itself, but rather in the practical forms of academia.

Let's be clear here. In the frum world of modern America, the marriage of Centrism, Modern Orthodoxy or even Chareidism with academia is not based on a love of mada. Oh, sure, some minority might wish to attend university for a love of secular learning and a true appreciation of the way humane learning can enhance the Torah (and I place RAL among this group.) But that minority is so insignificant as to hardly merit attention. The overwhelming majority of people attend college or university strictly for utilitarian purposes – because a university degree is a prerequisite for many types of livelihood. However, in recent years, it has become clear that the social and intellectual environment of the modern university, far from being conducive to a Torah lifestyle, actually poses to it a grave threat.

Chareidim have answered this challenge in a most logical and pragmatic fashion; through yeshiva/college programs, there has been a conscious effort to limit the exposure of students to secular studies, while still retaining the ability to receive the vaunted degree. University studies – as distinct from humane learning - are no longer viewed as intrinsically worthwhile, regardless of how they were viewed in the past, and by whom, but rather as the budding of a parnassah. This pragmatic view also counters any inherent problems of bitul Torah. And what of the gradations of quality? Sure, a Harvard degree might carry more weight than one from Touro. But this, it seems, is the place where bitachon must draw the line between the reasonable histadlus of attaining a college degree and the unreasonable hishtadlus of placing oneself for four years in an anti-Torah environment for the sake of a qualitative advantage, however great it might be. So college yes, Yale no.

Many in the Centrist world, on the other hand, begin with the assumption that only a full course of university studies is acceptable, and this preferably at an ivy league institution. The ideal of Torah U'Mada is then used, ex post facto, as a rationalization for the intrinsic worth of the secular program. Centrism, in which the supposedly balanced youth can juggle all disparate ideological elements and overcome all hormonal-induced challenges if only we have fortified him with enough strength and resilience, becomes the justification for throwing our children to the lions. Reality is never allowed to intrude on this pleasant reverie.

It helps to clarify the issue when we examine the roots of the problem. As I said in my previous post on educational issues, it was once taken for granted that the university is a place of humane study. But as Albert Jay Nock describes in his Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, academia was perverted with the unholy marriage of education and training. He writes,


The theory of the revolution was based on a flagrant popular perversion of the doctrines of equality and democracy. Above all things the mass-mind is most bitterly resentful of superiority. It will not tolerate the thought of an elite; and under a political system of universal suffrage, the mass-mind is enabled to make its antipathies prevail by sheer force of numbers...In the prevalent popular view, therefore, - the view insisted upon and as far as possible enforced by the mass-men whom the mass-men whom the masses instinctively cleave to and choose as leaders, - in this view the prime postulate of equality is that in the realm of the spirit as well as of the flesh, everybody is able to enjoy anything that anybody can enjoy; and the prime postulate of democracy is that there shall be nothing for anybody to enjoy that is not open for anybody to enjoy. An equalitarian and democratic regime must by consequence assume, tacitly or avowedly, that everybody is educable...

The worst result of this was a complete effacement of the line which sets off education from training, and the line which sets off formative knowledge from instrumental knowledge. This
obliteration was done deliberately to meet the popular perversions of equality and democracy. The regime perceived that while very few can be educated, everyone who is not actually imbecile or idiotic can be trained in one way or another, as soldiers are trained in military routine, or as monkeys are trained to pick fruit. Very well then, it said in effect, let us agree to call training education, convert our schools, colleges, universities into training-schools as far as need be, but continue to call them educational institutions and to call our general system an educational system. We will insist that the discipline of instrumental studies is as formative as any other, even more so, and to quite as good purpose, in fact much better. We will get up courses in “business administration,” bricklaying, retail shoe-merchandising, and what-not, agree to call our graduates educated men, give them all the old-style academic degrees, dress them out in the old-style gowns and hoods,—and there we are, thoroughly democratic, thoroughly equalitarian, in shape to meet all popular demands.

In truth, as many agree, there is value in humane learning. My point here is that there is very little humane learning left in the universities. A frank admission of this painful fact would help clear away many of the cobwebs that obscure this issue. Yet in truth, there is no reason whatsoever that humane learning must remain inextricably linked to academia. As Rabbi Fred puts it,


To the extent that universities actually try to teach anything, which is to say to a very limited extent, they do little more than inhibit intelligent students of inquiring mind. And they are unnecessary: The professor’s role is purely disciplinary: By threats of issuing failing grades, he ensures that the student comes to class and reads certain things. But a student who has to be forced to learn should not be in school in the first place. By making a chore of what would otherwise be a pleasure, the professor instills a lifelong loathing of study.

The truth is that universities positively discourage learning. Think about it. Suppose you wanted to learn Twain. A fruitful approach might be to read Twain. The man wrote to be read, not analyzed tediously and inaccurately by begowned twits. It might help to read a life of Twain. All of this the student could do, happily, even joyously, sitting under a tree of an afternoon. This, I promise, is what Twain had in mind.


This sounds so unsophisticated as to be naïve, but his words are utterly correct. If one really wishes to acquire humane learning, all he need do is open a book and begin to study. This can be done anywhere and any time of the day, and the truly diligent can even set aside times for his study. I imagine most Roshei Yeshiva would agree that if one is willing to forgo a time-wasting university schedule in favor of extra years in the beis midrash, that one might even set aside a complete night-seder for his humane studies. If one becomes so enamored of a certain poet or author that he is literally aching to hear what the modern world has to say on the subject, there are biographies and critical studies available on virtually every subject known to man.

Certainly, one who wishes to acquire a humane education will have no problem in his search. Every book known to mankind is available either new on Amazon.com, or used on Abebooks.com. All one need do is locate a book and study. In fact, this scheme has a great advantage, as modern educational methods, typified by the university, inculcate the fallacious notion that learning is something done in school. In truth, learning is a lifelong process. One might even suggest that a person who learns to be self-sufficient in his studies and to repudiate the stifling educational paradigms of academia will find himself more prepared for a humane education than his university counterparts. I am even tempted to suggest the unthinkable heresy that one who habituates himself to this manner of study will find himself more educated than the typical college graduate.

Of course, this is not easily done in the present age. Mass educational methods have succeeded in distorting the motivation of teacher and student alike, bringing education to the nadir where a majority of people associate humane learning with the fondness of having a tooth extracted. But if so, then so be it; I’m obviously not advocating secular studies. If one wishes to remain within the dalet amos of halacha alone, I’m all for that. I’m merely saying that if one really does wish to enhance his Torah with secular learning, that he needn’t – and shouldn’t – turn to academia as a means to that end.

Nor is YU the answer to the problem. The lines that divide the serious Torah students on one half from the average college students on the other were drawn long ago. For all intents and purposes, YU is no different from any other university. A student who is interested in truly immersing himself in his Torah studies, while merely salting that understanding with a modicum of secular learning will not even be allowed to receive a semicha - unless he runs the gauntlet of a "full" secular education. For those who carry nostalgic memories in their breast, read the words of "Former YU." Among a veritable laundry-list of fundamental problems with YU he writes,


Shaalvim and KBY students don't increasingly don't go to YU because almost no one feels a sense of caring about them. I left as the assistant mashgichim were coming but still the nature of the college is that no one cares if there are mechallei shabbos (some even b'farhesya), no kippah wearing, pornography in the dorms. That is from the non-frum and doesn't touch on the girls hanging around campus that detract from learning as well as internet, TV and movies. So unless one is highly motivated and is comfortable flowing against the tide it is very difficult to maintain the same seriousness as in yeshiva in Israel...

It is time for a frank admission from Centrists that academia has become corrupted, and that there is little humane learning left in the universities. If a person truly wishes to live up to the ideal of mada, there is nothing preventing one from acquiring that wisdom beyond the setting of a university. Unfortunately, that would require a true desire for mada alone, rather than the attendant jollity that accompanies a university education. Of course, if a university degree is strictly necessary for a chosen path of livelihood - and often it isn't - then ways must be found to mitigate the impact of academia, beginning with a dual yeshiva/university program that greatly minimizes the number of non-utilitarian secular studies. If not, the situation will only worsen over time, as academia continues its downward spiral into irrelevance. A more serious attempt to focus on, and apply, the ideals of bitachon in the realm of parnassah would be another excellent path of investigation (one can begin with: Igros Moshe, yoreh dei’ah IV 36:1. See also ibid. 12, 16.)

Mada is dead. Long live mada!

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

da'as Torah and false dichotomies

My co-blogger Bari sets up the following hypothetical in the comment field of a previous post:
"But, if the average MO person, or any frum person, were told by a doctor not to go through a certain medical procedure, and, say, the Chazon Ish caught wind of that and called him on your cell and told him not to heed the doctor and go ahead with the procedure - would he: a) Unhesitatingly follow the doctor b) Grapple with it c) Unhesitatingly follow the CI?"
Other commentators have stolen some of my thunder - apologies for any repetition. To my mind this hypothetical is unreasonable because it sets up a false dichotomy. Despite my respect for the Chazon Ish, I would unhesitatingly hang up the phone because that is what the halacha itself demands that I do! To wit, in hilchos Yom Kippur matters of issur v’heter like eating on Yom Kippur are decided based on the expertise of the medical doctor consulted, even (according to some poskim) if that doctor is not even Jewish. If a doctor tells me to eat on Yom Kippur otherwise my life would be endangered, any advice of a posek to the contrary based on their intuition carries no halachic weight. The function of halacha is to apply G-d’s law to the facts at hand, but the determination of the facts at hand is the province of experts in individual fields. Anyone who has opened a gemara is familiar with its format of case law: given case X, the halacha is Y. In this equation, the medical expert or other technical expert's role is clarifying X; the posek's role given X is clarifying Y. If I present a piece of neveilah to the Chazon Ish and he mistakingly paskens the meat is kosher, does that make it so? Do I say "tzadik gozeir v'Hashem mekayeim" and assume the property of the meat magically changes? Absolutely not! The metziyus dictates the halacha, and if a mistake is made in determining the former, the latter will unquestionably be wrong.
It seems to me that a fundemental error is made in extending the principle of da'as Torah (and I hate that term) and assigning expertise to poskim in areas outside halacha and hashkafa. The The gemara in Shabbos (85a) asks: how did the Chachamim know the shiur yenika of plants? Answers the gemara: they consulted the experts, the Chivim and Emorim, who knew farming. The Rambam bases Kiddush haChodesh on astronomy learned from the non-jewish world (Kiddush haChodesh 17:24). The gemara (Pesachim 94b) even writes that the non-Jewish experts opinion proven more correct than that of the Chachamim in a matter of astronomy (and R’ Akiva Eiger’s comment there is irrelevant, v’ain kan mekomo). These are but a few examples. You should no more ask a posek for medical advise than you should ask your doctor to help resolve an issue of ethics. And a posek who would attempt to rule on a question that demands medical or technical knowledge without consultation with the experts in the field will inevitably err. I simply do not understand how one can ask a posek to rule on a metziyus.
This misapplication of the concept of da’as Torah leads to a phenomenon that struck me when I recently saw a book of questions asked to an adam gadol. Does a gadol really need to be asked whether one must help one’s wife to take out the garbage? Or whether a child should be allowed play time after school? What are the halachic issues of consequence here? This is not “da’as Torah”, but simply an excuse to avoid thinking, what Rav Kook calls the substitution of “yiras hamachshava” for “yiras Shamayim”. It seems that the concept of “da’as Torah” has become a catch all, whereby gedolim are assigned the role of guru to deal with all of life’s problems, from the most complex to the most mundane – they are experts on everything and must be consulted on everything. A local Rav told me he was called by newlyweds for advise on how their new can opener works. This is nothing less than a trivialization of the halachic system, a waste of time for all involved.
The role of da'as Torah should be limited to (a) expert determination and clarification of the technicalities of halacha, and (b) expert clarification of the spirit of the law, which halacha itself mandates considering (see Ramban on v'asita hayashar v'hatov). Technical advice, professional advice, practical questions, and issues that your mother and a little common sense should enable you to solve should not be laid at the feet of the giants of Torah.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It's Judaism, But Not As We Know It. Or is it?

I just returned from a very pleasant three day vacation with my wife to Niagara Falls – the children stayed home with their grandparents. Suffice it to say that a short term, adult-only vacation is a great stress buster; I highly recommend it. That is not what I am posting about, however.

Our hotel, like many hotels, passes out free newspapers at your door every morning, in this case a popular newspaper called USA TODAY. I’ve seen that paper in prior business travels, and it seems to be popular because it gives you a quick overview of national issues, business, weather etc.

As I was perusing our free paper over breakfast, I could not help but be drawn to an op-ed about abortion. Here is the link: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060814/opcomreligion37.art.htm

This was an unusual op-ed because it was written by a professor of “moral theology” at a rather obscure university, whom the footnote indicated had authored a book with the tendentious title “The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions.” I immediately skipped down to the section on Judaism, and sure enough, was treated to this blurb:


Judaism:

Because of the survival challenges Jews have faced historically,
Judaism places great stress on children as a blessing. Nonetheless, as Orthodox
theologian Laurie Zoloth says, “Abortion appears as an option for Jewish women
from the earliest sources of the Bible and Mishnaic commentary.” According to
most Jewish authorities, the fetus does not have the status of a nefesh, a
person, until the head emerges in the birthing process. This does not mean,
however, that late-term abortions would be deemed acceptable in all
circumstances. In some cases, performing an abortion is even considered a
mitzvah, a sacred duty, not a “lesser evil.”

My first reaction was: Aaaargh!!!!! My second was: Who are they kidding?

Now I am well aware that there is a dispute in the sources, of the Mishna in Ohalos, the Gemaras in Sanhedrin, the views of Rashi and the Rambam. Still, I think that among modern day poskim – say in the last 200 years – there is a consensus, more or less, that abortion is (1) generally forbidden; (2) mandated for pikuach nefesh (to save the life of the mother) and (3) may be permitted in other, narrow circumstances not quite pikuach nefesh but still rather severe. I think it would be fair to say that one would be hard pressed to find respected, mainstream Orthodox poskim who would permit an abortion in all but the narrowest non-pikuach nefesh circumstance and even harder pressed to find any Orthodox authority who would advocate abortion as an “option” for Jewish women. (Indeed, if anything the two most prominent Orthodox “theologians” of recent times – Rav Soloveichik and Rav Moshe Feinstein – were, to my knowledge, rather strict on the issue.)

Apart from the substantive deficiency, my next issue is the only authority cited is “Orthodox theologian Laurie Zoloth.” Who? I have never heard the name even in the negative sense (e.g. bloggers ranting about the near kefirah that goes on in some left-wing Orthodox circles) and certainly never quoted as an authority. A quick Google search indicates that Ms. Zoloth is a Professor of Ethics who considers herself Orthodox and writes and lectures about ethical issues, primarily medical ethics.

Then there are the downright misleading portions:

Because of the survival challenges Jews have faced historically, Judaism places great stress on children as a blessing. This is academic Judaism at its worst, IMO. Children have been considered a blessing ever since HKBH blessed Adam and Eve and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. The Torah tells us that Hashem picked Avraham Avinu as the father of the Jewish people precisely because he would perpetuate the tradition of the way of Hashem to his offspring. Hence Avraham prayed mightily for children to continue his mission.

Abortion appears as an option for Jewish women from the earliest sources of the Bible and Mishnaic commentary. – Really? Where? The sources I know about are the pesukim in Mishpatim (Shemos 21:22) which talks about an unintentional abortion and the Mishna Ohalos 7:6, which talks about a women having labor problems. Option? Where?

In some cases, performing an abortion is even considered a mitzvah, a sacred duty, not a "lesser evil.” And what circumstances might those be, hmmm? Why pikuach nefesh, that’s when. Kind of let’s the air out of the rhetorical tire, no?

So, to put it mildly, the blurb is highly misleading. Yes, I know I could write in to the editor, but frankly I doubt it do much good in this case. Still, I think we can derive several lessons from this little event:
  • Don’t believe everything you read, especially about religion. The same article talks about religious views of abortion in such varied religions as Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism. I haven’t a clue as to whether they are accurate or not. But having seen how the “Jewish” view was completely butchered, I would read the rest with several pounds of salt.

  • People who know better will slant things to fit their agenda. I find it hard to believe that the author of the article, if he was really interested in finding out the Orthodox Jewish position on abortion, could not come a lot closer than what he did. Rabbi J.D. Bleich, for one, has easily accessible, English reviews of such “contemporary” halakhic issues. Even your average LOR would realize that the above blurb, whatever it is, is not Judaism as we know it, and could point the good Professor to the pertinent sources. So where there is an axe to grind, there will be a grinding stone to grind it.

  • Academic theology commands more respect in the non-Orthodox and non-Jewish world than we are used to. In the world of Orthodoxy, the position of the Jewish academic – by wish I mean those engaged in study of some aspect of Judaism, such as history, theology, religion, etc. in the context of secular academia – is marginal at best. In the Orthodox world, the religious leaders are poskim, Roshei Yeshiva, and prominent rabbonim. A “Professor of Jewish Theology” is viewed as, at best, a curiosity and at worst a suspect heretic. An authority on the position of “Judaism” on controversial issues like abortion, certainly not.
    My impression is that this is emphatically not the case in Reform and Conservative circles, not to mention in non-Jewish circles.
    This has to be kept in mind when discussing Jewish issues with those outside the Orthodox fold. The fact that “Professor X at Bar Ilan” thinks that there is no reason for us to observe Tisha Be Av is interesting, but frankly has no impact whatsoever on the practice of Orthodox Judaism in just about any circle I know of, be it, MO, RZ or Charedi. But those outside the Orthodox world may not be aware of that reality.





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An Informal Survey of Mishmar Readers

Please indicate (in the comments) if you:
a) Strongly agree
b) Agree
c) Unsure
d) Disagree
e) Strongly Disagree

with the following excerpts from Sifrei Kadmonim:

1)
אע"פ שנטלה נבואת הנביאים שהוא המראה והחזון, נבואת החכמים שהיא בדרך החכמה לא נטלה, אלא יודעים האמת ברוח הקדש שבקרבם.
"Although the prophecy of the Neviim, which is apparition and vision, have been removed, the prophecy of the Chachamim, which is through wisdom, has not been removed, rather they know the truth through the Ruach HaKodesh which is inside them" (Ramban Bava Basra 12a)
2) דע כי דבר זה היה מקובל אצל הצדיקים, לא היה אחד מכחיש בו, כי הקדוש ברוך הוא מראה את הצדיקים מראות נוראים כדרך שהוא מראה את הנביאים
"You should know, that this matter was accepted by the Tzaddikim, and not one denied it, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu shows the Tzaddikim awesome sights similar to His showing the Neviim." (Rav Hai Gaon, brought in "HaKosev" to Ein Yaakov Chagiga, Chapter 2)
3) אליהו הנביא עודנו חי, נכסה ונגלה בכל דור ודור לצדיקים הזוכים לכך,... עד הגאולה השלימה, הוא משוטט בעולם הזה בין הצדיקים והחסידים
"Eliyahu HaNavi still lives, concealing and revealing himself in each and every generation to the Tzaddikim who merit it,... until the complete redemption, he wanders in this world among the Tzadikim and the Chassidim" (Beis Elokim of the Mabit, Shaar HaYesodos, Chapter 60)
4) שעקר גדול אל התורה ושורש אל האמונה שהוא מסתעף מאמונת ההשגחה הוא שהשם יתברך מכריח הטבע תחת כפות רגלי המאמינים... ומי שיספק שהשם יתברך לא ישלים רצון הנביא או הצדיק או החסיד הראוי לכך, הנה הוא כמטיל ספק בתורה ובשרש משרשיה
"A great fundamental of the Torah and a root of Emunah, which is a derivative of belief in Providence, is that Hashem forces nature under the feet of the believers... and if one has a doubt that Hashem will not perform the will of the Navi or the Tzaddik or the Chassid who is worthy, he is as one who places doubt in the Torah and in a root of its roots" (Sefer HaIkarim, Maamar IV, Perek 22)
5) מחוייבים להאמין, התחדשות אות ופלא לעת הצורך בעולם כולו, על ידי נביא או אפילו לאחד מן החסידים, ונמשך הענין מאבות לבנים
"We are obligated to believe, in the novelty of a sign and wonder, at a time when necessary, in the entire world, through a prophet or even one of the Chassidim; and this matter continues on from fathers to sons" (Rashba, brought in "HaKosev" to Ein Yaakov Chullin 81a)

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Samuel Francis and The Enigma of Modern Liberalism

I saw something interesting the other day. For the longest time, I haven't been able to understand the ideology of modern liberalism. Oh sure, I understand its fundamental tenets. But the canon of thought that defines liberalism seems, for lack of a better word, mistaken. Its conception of man, its view of the world and the goals of society, its understanding of the transcendent - they are all flawed and demonstrably incorrect. Since the early 60’s, with the publication of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, liberal policies have been systematically exposed as utter failures. In fact, it is well known that the neoconservative idea arose primarily as a reaction to the failure of liberalism. As Irving Kristol put it, neoconservatives are simply "liberals who have been mugged by reality." And Norman Podhoretz suggested that neoconservatives should more properly be called neo-liberals.

Of course, the idea that one's intellectual rivals are patently mistaken might cheer some partisans, and to a certain degree, I too partake of this cup. But frankly, it flummoxes me more than it delights. How can it be that so many people subscribe to ideas that are so clearly mistaken? How, just to name one example, can anyone in their right mind support affirmative action, when its policies have proven to exacerbate rather than assuage racial divisiveness?

Obviously, I know the conservative view of modern liberalism - it is nothing more than the manifest destiny of individualism and egalitarianism lacking the normative checks of the past; in Bork’s terminology, radical individualism and radical egalitarianism. I mean by this that according to conservative intellectuals, there does not exist a defense per se of modern liberalism. It is not an ideology that one might subscribe to, but rather an insidious perversion of the formerly noble goals of true (albeit flawed) thinkers such as Locke, John Stuart Mill and Emerson.

And yet, I assume, surely this is not the way modern liberals view themselves. Surely there are liberals out there that have produced a coherent exposition and defense of the modern liberal idea. So I began to read what they had to offer, from the punditry of Alan Colmes and Al Franken, to more serious works by Robert Reich, John Rawls and others. I spoke to my liberal friends. I trolled political discussion boards.

But nothing helped. The ideas of modern liberalism are, quite simply, so much bunkum. In all my life, I’ve never seen so many arguments based on sentimentality, disingenuousness, appeals to amorphous and fluid concepts, and just plain stupidity.

This is to say nothing of what passes for partisan political discourse on the J-Bloggosphere. I'm practically embarrassed to recount some of the liberal positions I've seen espoused by supposedly rational commentators. The most recent I recall was a group of liberal commentators who took the jaw-dropping position that a druggist who refused, on principle, to carry a certain drug (a type of birth-control pill) was “forcing his views on others.”

This brought me to the next question. If modern liberalism is illegitimate as an intellectual idea, how is it that it gained ascendancy? And more worrying still - why does it continue to instill allegiance? Is it really true, as Ann Coulter claims, that the electorate simply has no conception of the real agenda and intellectual underpinnings of the "liberal party"?

And then I saw something that explained it neatly, an essay in Samuel Francis's Beautiful Losers. I'll admit that I haven't been overly impressed with the work thus far (and I'm nearing the end.) Francis was recommended to me as the most eloquent of the paleoconservative theorists, and frankly, if this is the best the paleos have got, I can see why the neoconservatives are having their way. Nevertheless, he did make a couple of interesting points, and his explanation of the influence of ideas is one of them.

Francis begins by recounting that ever since the renewal of conservative thought in the 40's, conservative intellectuals have been wedded to Richard Weaver's principle that “Ideas Have Consequences.” In Weaver’s own words,


I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine our course.

Put more simply, society is a consequence and an outgrowth of the ideas that empower it. It followed that if conservatives could somehow "win the battle" of ideas (i.e. logically discredit liberalism) then eventually society would, by osmosis, become more conservative. But Francis claims that this assumption is false. He explains,


I have less faith in the power of intellectual abstractions than most of my conservative colleagues. The historian Lewis Namier remarked that "new ideas are not nearly as potent as broken habits"...In the tradition of Namier and Burnham, I place more emphasis on the concrete forces of elites, organization, and psychic and social forces such as class and regional and ethnic identity...as the determining forces in history.

So according to Francis, although ideas have power, that power is meager compared to the manipulations of societal elites. In fact, the elites often espouse an idea not because of its intrinsic worth, but rather because it meshes well with their own agenda and weltanschauung. In a sense, this is the polar opposite of Weaver's view - it is not ideas that creates society, but society that creates the ideas. This is where liberalism enters the picture. Francis writes,


Liberalism barely exists as an independent set of ideas and values. Virtually no significant thinker of this century has endorsed it. Internally, the doctrines of liberalism are so contrary to established fact, inconsistent with each other, and immersed in sentimentalism, resentment, egotism, and self-interest that they cannot be taken seriously as a body of ideas.



Harsh words. If liberalism is a bankrupt idea continues Francis, what explains is ascendancy? He answers that "the ideology or formula of liberalism grows out of the structural interests of the elite that espouses it." He then goes on to delineate the connections he perceives between what he refers to as the managerial elite and the mass-scale aspects of liberalism (which is beyond the scope of this piece.)

Of course, I have serious reservations about his thesis. The kernel of the idea comes from James Burnham, who sought only to explain the impact of the separation of control from ownership in corporate America, and it seems that Francis has stretched the thesis in directions that Burnham never intended. Also, many of the connections Francis draws are dubious at best. And it may just be that Bork is correct - liberalism is nothing more than the radicalism of otherwise healthy values. Nevertheless, if we accept his premise, our original question is answered. Yes, liberalism is bunkum; the reason it remains a powerful influence is because the managerial elite finds it a useful tool. As you can see, I still haven't made up my mind here – I welcome any and all further discussion, as well as any book recommendations that might finally explain the enigma that is modern liberalism.


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Friday, August 11, 2006

the aron and the luchos: one unit

When the parsha recounts the story of the second luchos, there seems to be undo repetitive emphasis placed on the aron:
"...Make two tablets of stone...and an aron of wood" (10:1)
"I wrote on the tablets... and placed them in the aron" (10:2)
"I made an aron of acacia wood and hewed two tablets..." (10:3)
"I came down from the mountain and placed the tablets in the aron..." (10:5)
"At that time G-d seperated the tribe of Levi to carry the aron of the covenant..." (10:8)
If someone is at a Sotheby's auction and buys a multi-million dollar Rembrandt, that person doesn't start asking the auctioneer about the $100 frame the painting is displayed in. So why is such great attention given not just to the luchos, but to the "picture frame" that housed them? It seems while a frame is not integral to the picture it displays, the aron was an inseperable componet of the luchos themselves. This idea is underscored by Rashi's interpretation of which aron the pasuk is speaking about. Rashi writes that this was not the aron of the Mishkan made by Betzalel, but a second aron. When the Mishkan was later constructed, one aron was used to hold the broken luchos, and the aron of the Mishkan held the complete luchos. Ramban asks, if there were indeed two aronos, where was this second one placed? There was room in the Mishkan only to hold one of them! It seems that the Ramban assumes that the aron is defined by its place and function in the Mishkan, but according to Rashi, the aron can exist independent of the Mishkan and as an essential component of the luchos themselves. R' Solovetichik brought proof to this same idea from the Rambam in Hil. Bais haBechira: the Rambam discusses the construction and placement of the klei hamikdash like the menorah, mezbaich, shulchan, etc. all in the context of building the Mikdash, but Rambam omits any discussion of the aron - the aron is not part of the mishkan, but is part of the cheftza of the luchos (Igros haGRI"D p.181). The Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 379) asks: why do the Rambam and Chinuch count as a mitzvah l'doros that only kohanim (according to Ramban even Leviim) carry the aron, but omit the responsibility of the kohanim to carry the other klei hamikdash (as the Torah relates in Parshas baMidbar)? The Meshech Chochma points to the pasuk in our parsha which identifies the kohanim as designated to carry the aron as the source l'doros, but offers no rationale. R' Soloveitchik explained that the other kelim were sanctified based on their utility in the mishkan; once the mishkan was disassembled, their status as klei kodesh was negated. Only the aron by virtue of its intrinsic connection to the luchos retained its status even when the Mishkan was disassembled and required kohanim for transport. The gemara (Yoma 72b) derives halachos of how a talmid chacham should act from the construction of the aron - just as the physical aron held the luchos, a talmid chacham holds within him the Torah learned. Just as the luchos could not be given without the accompanying aron, a person cannot absorb Torah without first transforming him/herself into a proper "kli kibbul" to receive that Torah. The gemara (Shabbos 32b) writes that amei ha'aretz, the uneducated, are punished for calling the aron kodesh by the name "arna", meaning just a box (see Rashi, maharasha). Maharal explains that to the amei ha'aretz the aron is just the frame holding the Rembrandt. However, a talmid chacham recognizes that the aron is the "seichel Eloki", the container which is also called aron kodesh, because the kli to receive Torah is essential to the Torah itself.

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