Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gilu Biradah

Harry Maryles has an interesting post over at Emes Ve-Emunah regarding appropriate tunes for the prayers of Yomaim Noraim. Regarding such matters, generally the saying of taam v'reiach ein l'hisvakeiach is appropriate(there is no point in disagreeing over matters of the senses).

However, there are songs which would clearly be inappropriate for the mood of the day. We don't recite Hallel because it is inappropriate to do so on a day of judgment. Nevertheless, there are schuls and yeshivos that sing upbeat melodies, such as a chassidic marches, for the last kaddish of mussaf, or for ein kitzvah following unessaneh tokef.

Obviously, eimas hadin, fear of Divine judgment on Yomaim Noraim is the overriding theme of the day. Nevertheless, the theme of gilu biradah, from Ivdu es Hashem B'Yirah V'gilu Birada (serve G-d with fear and rejoice in trembling,--Tehillim 2:11), requires a paradoxical combination of both happiness and somberness. This is reflecting in minhagim, like taking a haircut on erev Rosh Hashanah to display our confidence in a good judgment, while at the same time, the day is a day of extra slichos, and by some, fasting as well.

I saw the term "Gilu Birada" applied to Yom Kippur in the commentary of the Artscroll Yom Kippur Machzor in the section after Kol Nidrei. The commentary quotes the verse in connection with a story told about Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev's conduct on Yom Kippur which epitomized this dichotomy.

Rav Avroham Eliyahu Kaplan Zt'l, in Bikvas Hayirah, as quoted in an essay by Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, has a fundamental essay on this idea in general:

...But one who has not traversed the actual pathway of illumination [that of the prophets and the sages],he who stands opposite the rays of light, at some distance, possesses little understanding of this term [yir'ah]. It would be better had he never known this term, and was now learning it for the first time. But this is his problem: He knows it, but does not know it properly. He possesses a dangerous translation of the entire concept, and cannot avoid its negative ramifications. For example, when we mention yir'ah to this person he can only translate it thus: Bent head, wrinkled brow, glazed eyes, hunched back, trembling left hand, right hand clapping al cheit, knocking thighs, failing knees, stumbling heels. And he does not know that this translation is heretical for the one who knows what yir'ah is and what it means, the source from which it flows, and from whence it comes... There are times that demand tears and eulogies... It is necessary then to stoop like rushes and take up sackcloth and ashes. Times come upon the world when our sins require these. Such, however, is not Yir'as Hashem, not it and not even part of it. It is not yir'ah's essence, but only preparation for it...

Yir'ah is not anguish, not pain, not bitter anxiety. To what may yir'ah be likened? To the tremor of fear which a father feels when his beloved young son rides his shoulders as he dances with him and rejoices before him, taking care that he not fall off. Here there is joy that is incomparable, pleasure that is incomparable. And the fear tied up with them is pleasant too. It does not impede the freedom of dance... It passes through them like a spinal column that straightens and strengthens. And it envelops them like a modest frame that lends grace and pleasantness... It is clear to the father that his son is riding securely upon him and will not fall back, for he constantly remembers him, not for a moment does he forget him. His son's every movement, even the smallest, he feels, and he ensures that his son will not sway from his place, nor incline sideways - his heart is, therefore, sure, and he dances and rejoices. If a person is sure that the "bundle" of his life's meaning is safely held high by the shoulders of his awareness, he knows that this bundle will not fall backwards, he will not forget it for a moment, he will remember it constantly, with yir'ah he will safe keep it. If every moment he checks it - then his heart is confident, and he dances and rejoices...

When the Torah was given to Israel solemnity and joy came down bundled together. They are fused together and cannot be separated. That is the secret of "gil be're'ada" (joy in trembling) mentioned in Tehillim. Dance and judgment, song and law became partners with each other... Indeed, this is the balance... A rod of noble yir'ah passes through the rings of joy... [It is] the inner rod embedded deep in an individual's soul that connects end to end, it links complete joy in this world (eating, drinking and gift giving) to that which is beyond this world (remembering the [inevitable] day of death) to graft one upon the other so to produce eternal fruit.


Returning to the topic of songs on Yomim Noraim, there is no right or wrong way, as long as one is within certain bounds. A person should daven where he or she feels most comfortable, and will be inspired by the tefillos and niggunim.

(While this is not a music blog, while on the topic of music and the machzor, I would like to link to the Mostly Music website which contains a a brief, thirty-second section of Chamol from both London School of Jewish Song(1973), and from Shloime Dachs(1996), songs #'s nine and seven respectively. Enjoy !)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Iranian Threat to Israel

While I know that the threat of a nuclear weapon being lobbed at Israel, G-d forbid, looms ever larger with each passing day, I cannot get myself to be motivated to do some painful, gut-wrenching, Teshuva, by the potential of this unimaginable catastrophe. It is not even at the forefront of my Kavanah in Tefilla.

Why? The key word is in the previous paragraph - "unimaginable". The scope of such a disaster is so horrific, that I am subconsciously certain that, somehow, this can just never happen. Whether because of my cognizance of Rav Herzog's belief that there will be no Churban Shelishi (which I myself questioned on my blog, but one can never be sure), or because I cannot accept that my Father in Heaven would let so many Jews die in one flash of horror, or just based on pure delusion and dissonance, I can't wrap my mind around the possibility of a tragedy of such magnitude.

I really need to wake up.

I guess the worst thing I can even begin to comprehend as a potential reality is an announcement from Hitlerijad Yemach Shemo announcing one dark morning in 5767 that he has nuclear capabilities. The world had failed to stop the monster, Chas VeShalom, in time to prevent that from happening.

The abject terror we would feel, not to mention the possible flight from Israel of any Jews who had the ability to do so, could spell the end of the Yishuv. Techilas Nefilla Nisah.

And that could be determined next week!!!

I must form some image that will cast the full Eimas HaDin that I should feel, as I look forward, in dread, to the pivotal year of 5767.

There is a tradition from the Aruch LaNer that any year where Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos is either very bad or very good.

Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, Avinu Malkeinu, make this year a GREAT year. A year of life, health, prosperity, and achievement of Teshuvah Sheleima for all of Klal Yisrael.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

5767

I would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a k'sivah v'chasimah tovah. I appreciate the comments of everyone with whom I've had discussions with, both on this blog, as well as(more often) on other blogs. Even when I disagree with someone's comments , I usually find that their comments force me to clarify my own thoughts.

There is a well-known insight from the Satmar Rav Zt'l on the pasuk in Parshas Eikev:

A land that Hashem, your G-d, looks after; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it, from the year's beginning until [the] year's end(Devarim 11:12).

The Satmar Rav notes that in the Hebrew, the Torah uses a hei hayediyah(definite article) for "reishis hashanah"(the year's beginning), but omits the hei, for "acharis shanah"(year's end). This is because people usually say at the beginning of the year, that the coming year will be THE year, and have plans for attaining spiritual goals. However, at the the year's end, it turns out merely to be "a" year, without the expected accomplishments.

May this year indeed be "the" year for everyone.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Changes

Somethin' changin' for me inside
Took a long time
Now there's nothin' left for me to hide
I say what's on my mind
Every Elul, I get a fresh group of students to work with. Because the secular school year begins in September, I’m left with only a few weeks to teach something about the major themes of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It’s been my experience that most yeshiva kids know very little about the chaggim, and this is especially true of my students.

At any rate, there’s always one aspect that I like to stress, the idea of practical change. Beyond the halls of the Beis HaMussar, there is very little emphasis on this idea. Oh sure, when I was in yeshiva myself, we studied mussar, and learn much about character traits and improvement. But it always seemed to me that there was a divide between theoretical knowledge of character improvement and its practical implementation. Of course, I’m sure something leaked through by osmosis. But when a person hears all day of the virtues of charity, fear of Heaven, diligence in Torah, kindness and myriad other character traits, it’s difficult to actually sit down and focus on one practical trait to improve.

So I tell my students that regardless of what level they are on, they should pick one – and only one – thing to work on in the coming year. It should be focused and specific, and something that they can realistically accomplish if they put in enough effort.

And I do the same for myself.

Of course, the results are usually dismal. By the time the next Rosh Hashana rolls around, if I even remember what I declared, there’s usually paltry improvement. It’s not for lack of trying. I consider myself a serious person, and I make a conscious effort to challenge myself. Yet the aspects of myself I most desperately wish to transform are inevitably the most difficult to amend.

Oooh, I think I like it
I think I like what I’m feelin’
Even though it’s such a surprise

But this year things went differently.

I’m not going to give any details, but I will say that there were two very specific (and loosely related) things that I've always wanted to change about myself. And this year, I nailed them. I nailed them to the wall. What was it about this year? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m getting a bit older, and starting to realize that I won’t be around forever. Perhaps Chazal’s repeated warnings are finally beginning to penetrate. And maybe, just maybe, I worked a bit harder this year than ever before.

Oh, look at the world we make
What have we begun?
People livin' for what they take
All for number one

One change I keep thinking about is blogging. Those familiar with my short blogging career know that I’ve already thrown in the towel once, and Bari knows that I’ve seriously considered it on subsequent occasions. There are so many fundamental problems – dysfunctions, really – with the J-Bloggosphere. Practically by nature, it’s filled with malcontents and agitators. Opinions are formed by the “godfathers” and strictly enforced by a cadre of sycophants. Certainly blogging consumes time that could be spent better elsewhere.

Yet for now, I think I’ll stick around. Why? Because being a member of the Mishmar team forces me to do something exceedingly healthy for my growth as a person just now – organize my thoughts on a gamut of subjects into lucid posts. True, I only intend to post once every couple of weeks. But I do try to make each post substantial, as opposed to a throwaway link to the liberal (or Republican) absurdities or latest Chareidi outrage that encompass the overwhelming bulk of posts on the J-Bloggosphere.

Also, it seems to me that the best way to make sure of how much I actually know of a thing, and especially to find out how much I don’t know, is to write about it. By writing from a certain philosophical standpoint week by week, I am continually thrown back upon my fundamental principles and positions. I reexamine them and satisfy myself that the logic of my conclusions is water-tight.
Changes makin' me see the light
I finally see the light
I finally see wrong from right
Now that it's all said and done

Will I be able to repeat my success for another year? Well, that remains to be seen. But I do know one thing – the taste of this success is something that I could get used to.

I probably won’t be posting again until after Rosh Hashana (teaser: I intend to start off the new year with a defense of a very controversial figure.) So for all the readers of Mishmar, I wish you a happy and successful New Year, one filled with all the blessings of the Torah, and especially with positive and productive change.

Changes takin' me through the night
I finally see the light
I've opened my eyes
Those changes can open you eyes

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Monday, September 11, 2006

How Did the Chazon Ish Know So Much About Medicine?

Shu"t Shevet HaLevi Chelek 10, Orach Chaim 13:

Question: From where did the Chazon Ish draw his amazing knowledge regarding medicine?

Answer: It is clear to me that it is by the power of learning Torah Lishmah, that it is explained in the sixth Perek of Avos that one of the signs of this is that they reveal to him secrets of the Torah, meaning, secrets of the Torah that it is impossible for the human intellect to arrive at, but nevertheless they reveal them to him as a gift from Heaven, and in addition he, zt"l, had a special innate sense in the field of surgery and the fundamentals of nature, and everything was derived from the power of Torah, and we find such by the earlier ones (the Rambam, the Ramban, and other Gedolei Doros) that they were really doctors, and the main thing was that they drew from the wellsprings of Torah, that their senses were sanctified through it.

And it is now close to fifty years that I have been a Rav in the area, and I was very close to the Chazon Ish zy"a, I visited then the true Gaon, author of Even HaAzel, the Gaon R' Isser Zalman Meltzer ztlh"h, and he knew of my relationship with the Chazon Ish, and after he heard a number of things from me he told me with fascination, "The Chazon Ish paskens Dinei Nefashos in moments (whether to operate or not, and the like), and the wonder is, he said, that more than 90% of the time he merits to be in line with the truth and success."

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

On the Balance Between Freedom and Order

There exists a basic tension between the two concepts of order and freedom. In a certain sense, the two are polar opposites; the claims of one often come at the expense of the other. In a healthy society, there exists a basic equilibrium between the two.

Let’s explain. Russell Kirk defines order as "the harmonious arrangement of classes and functions which guards justice and obtains willing consent to law and ensures that we shall all be safe together." Contrary to popular wisdom, the very first need of society is order, not freedom or justice. Without order there is anarchy, and one can hardly be free if others are not willing to respect those claims to freedom. Note that Kirk speaks of "willing consent," because although order can be kept against the will of a fraction of society, if even a substantial minority wishes to become disobedient, all the forces of government will not be able to suppress the masses.

The claims of freedom are more difficult to quantify (and really deserve book-length treatment.) When most liberals demand freedom, what they usual desire is license rather than freedom. They view "freedom" as did John Stuart Mill, meaning “doing as one likes” or “pursuing one's own good in one's own way,” and as an absolute. This is also the view of libertarians. Conservatives, on the other hand, understand that freedom cannot endure without order. As Kirk writes,


What is deficient in the thought of Mill and his disciples, it seems to me, is an adequate understanding of the principles of order. First, any coherent and beneficial freedom, surely, must have the sanction of moral order: it must refer to doctrines, religious in origin, that establish a hierarchy of values and set bounds to the ego...Freedom as an abstraction is the liberty in whose name crimes are committed. But freedom, as realized in the separate, limited, balanced, well-defined rights of persons and groups, operating through historical developments within a society moved by moral principles, is the quality which makes it possible for men and women to become fully human.

For what it's worth, I'll add that the Torah's view of freedom is quite different from mere license. Chazal say that "the only one who is free is only who engages in Torah study." How can this be? One is free if he is not a slave. Yet Chazal understood that freedom only comes when it is bounded by a moral order. The Jewish people themselves were not permitted to enter their land and experience the “freedom” of normative life until they had first learned to devote themselves to God during their many years in the desert.

At any rate, it is clear that order can exist without freedom, as in a totalitarian or Communist society. But the reverse is not true - freedom cannot exist without order. We can also understand why the two are not intrinsically compatible. We cannot have order without giving up at least some small degree of our freedom. For example, we trade our personal property (in the form of taxes, which reduce our financial freedom) in order to fund a police force to maintain civil order. As President Washington observed, "individuals entering into a society must give up a share of their liberty to preserve the rest."

An understanding of this idea is perhaps the principal contribution of Edmund Burke to political theory: when there is a healthy balance between the claims of freedom and the claims of order, then it is possible to obtain a large measure of justice. In fact, the attempt to achieve such a tension is the primary problem of modern politics.

The Founding Fathers of the United States had immense political and especially historical understanding. They realized that the primary threat to freedom came from the State. After all, government is the power of some men to control and regulate the lives of others. And as we all know, power tends to corrupt those it touches. It is the natural tendency of those who possess power to attempt to accumulate even greater storehouses of power. The Constitution, then, was not merely a guidebook for a specific method of governance. It was a system of restraint against the natural tendency of government to expand in the direction of absolutism. The basic idea was that by dividing the power among different branches and levels (local, state, national) each branch would zealously guard its own claims to power.

Of course, the Framers were not prophets. They knew that the laws of the Republic would be no match for those determined to disregard them. "What have you given us?" a woman asked Benjamin Franklin near the close of the Constitutional Convention. He answered, "A Republic, if you can keep it." By this day and age, it is clear that we have not kept it - both the executive and judicial branches have reached way beyond their borders. (How this came to be is a discussion for another time; needless to say it didn’t begin with the Bush presidency.)

This is the fundamental reasoning behind the conservative idea of limiting government. It is not, as I have seen claimed, because conservatives would simply like to get rid of all government. (On DailyKOS, I saw one commentator asking why anyone should vote for the GOP to take control of the government, as they "just want to get rid of it anyway?") As I pointed out above, that would simply lead to anarchy. Rather, the more the government gains power, the less freedom the average citizen retains. Keeping the government in check is the only way to prevent its ultimate slide to absolutism (whether in the form of Tocqueville's "democratic despotism" or some other sort of tyranny.) Most people living in modern day America, raised in a society that has perhaps obtained the greatest amount of freedom for its citizens in history, cannot comprehend that that freedom may someday be lost. But as Kirk points out, one need merely stand upon the ruins of the Acropolis of Athens, or on the Roman Capitoline to see that this is not so.

The truth is, we must be wary of any power that the government or even the electorate seeks for itself. It is true that at first such a power might be used to our benefit. But who knows what will happen in the future, when the power is used by others of a more malicious demeanor?

Take for example, the relatively new phenomenon of public referendum. Although by the 1920’s most states had laws allowing for some sort of direct referendum, such laws were rarely put to the test. This changed in 1978 with Howard Jarvis and California’s Proposition 13. As Fareed Zakaria explains,

[Proposition 13] provided a new, magically simple way around the cumbersome process of changing public policy. Instead of voting scores of legislators out of office or lobbying them to vote on bills, why not pass laws directly?…By the 1990s, the number of initiatives had almost quintupled, to 378. In 2000 alone, voters decided on 204 pieces of legislation.

Now, it is certainly true that many of the laws passed can only be described as conservative in nature. Many states have successfully passed referendums on anti-tax laws, homosexual marriage, etc. Yet it is my opinion that a conservative should vigorously oppose such referendums. It is true that having such laws passed through the traditional channels would be infinitely more difficult, and maybe even impossible. Yet once a power is acquired, even for a good purpose, that same power might be wielded for evil elsewhere. This is especially true in the case of referendums, in this modern age of mass media and demagoguery.

It is for this very reason that the Framers made it so difficult to amend the Constitution itself. True, it is exceedingly difficult to muster the requisite majority – as the recent attempts to ban flag-burning and homosexual marriage show. Yet if the power to change the basic laws of governance was more simple to obtain, such a power might eventually change the Constitution for ill. Both Gandalf and Lady Galadriel refuse to take the ring of power, despite the fact that they surely would have used it on the side of good. Tolkien’s point was that power, once released, can in the future be used for the opposite effect.

I write about all of this now to help give an understanding to the background of certain recent events, namely the recent “phone-tapping scandal,” and of the Bush administration's admission that it placed some detainees in the War on Terror in secret FBI prisons.

The truth is that those who cry out in alarm have a good point. It is not easy to balance the claims of order and freedom, especially during wartime. Nobody, for example, would impugn the conservative credentials of William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of National Review. Yet in 1952 Buckley declared that because the apparently "invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union" was a menace to freedom, we would be forced to acquiesce to Big Government to defeat it. (Presumably, once the Soviet Union was defeated, the government would then be hewed down to size.) My point is that it is not always easy to find the golden mean. Of course, the eavesdropping was used against terrorists. But as I pointed out above, although a power might be used now for good, the same power, or a more general power of the bigger Leviathan government, might be used in the future to restrict freedom in unpleasant ways.

I offer no policy judgments here; I’ll leave that to others for now. I'm merely saying that one can make a good case in either direction. But I would like to make one final point. It seems mighty hypocritical for liberals among the MSM (mainstream media) and the blogging community to be crying wolf at this stage of the game. For literally decades, liberals have sought to increase the power of the government. This was the only way they could push through many of the liberal schemes of radical egalitarianism and individualism. Yet now they protest when Big Government assumes even more power for itself. Unfortunately, I’m forced to conclude that it is the Bush presidency that truly bothers these shrill harpies rather than the policies themselves. I have no problem with a rational discussion of the powers of government. Yes, let’s discuss whether the executive branch has usurped more power than it ought to in the War on Terror. But let’s also question the need for the taxes that finance the Welfare State. Those who cannot or will not see the connection between the two are being disingenuous at best, and ignorant at worst.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

I Have a Dream

No, not the one of Martin Luther King, Jr. But I can dream, too, as did anyone who created effective social change--Jew or non-Jew!

Harry Maryles
discusses a mindset that my rebbeim(teachers) abhor and consider hashkafically repugnant, as do at least the chaverim(friends) I know in the charedie world. True, I do not know everyone!

I can quote stories from such diverse gedolim(Torah leaders) as Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Mendel Kaplan, Rav Avroham Pam and others, who had the correct hashkafah(outlook) in these matters, and whose actions caused Jew and gentile alike to say "how fortunate is the one who studied Torah !"

Or I can quote Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, writing in the Jewish Observer("With Kindness and Respect", March, 2004) that:

" Havdala(separation, or Jewish uniqueness--B.H.) means to recognize our status as G-d's Chosen People and maintain a higher standard in all areas of life, a standard that unequivocally identifies us as a nation of Torah. It means to insulate ourselves, our families and our homes from the decadent culture of secular society. Havdala does not mean to view people of other faiths as non-entities, to be insensitive to their feelings and needs. This sort of attitude can only lead to chillul Hashem. "

There are some pretty amazing stories in Rabbi Finkelman's article about contemporary Gedolei Torah as well as ordinary people who respected non-Jews in ways that the non-Jews themselves never dreamed of.

But all of this is not the subject of this post. I wish to move beyond that issue, and discuss the concept of a "discussion forum" in the chardei world in general.

------------

I believe that there needs to be a forum created in the charedie community for internal discussion of many issues. In my opinion, the fact that we do not have such a forum is the reason why many of these issues--not just the one referred to above-- are discussed publicly, and in the media, and do not always lead to an increase in k'vod shomayim.

People need to have a healthy outlet in which they can express themselves, even if they are not actually effecting change, and not just say, "let daas torah, or the established organizations handle the issues of our day." I think that this is the reality of our times(see below for more on the interface between gedolim and laypeople).

I realize that each blogger has a different standard as to what he or she feels fit to raise--I am not telling anyone what to do. There is always a question of "airing dirty laundry", versus "hiding one's head in the sand".

In any event, public discussion has lead to chilul Hashem even without the blogosphere. This is not a mere "PR issue", and it should bother each person. As the Mesilas Yesharim writes regarding tikkun chatzos, a person should not feel that he or she is not great enough to be concerned about a lack of k'vod shomayim.

Some might say that the internet already satsifies this need for self-expression. I say, not necessarily.

I agree that the internet allows people of different hashkafos to benefit from each other's ideas. Even if no one's mind is changed, the Internet forces one to try to think clearly and be more precise in expressing one's own ideas. But in my opinion, it is not a substitute for internal discussion.

Some things do not belong in public view, although one can certainly present, at times, an honest public self-critique. We do not need to pretend that the Chareide community is perfect. It is not.

But public discussion can many times be inappropriate, just as it may be for discussion of private matters relating to many other communities and religions, as well as the U.S. Government. There should, therefore, still be a concept of public versus internal discussion, in my opinion.

-------------


There do already exist forums for laymen to express opinions in the charedie world. There are Letter to the Editor sections in the Jewish Observer, Yated and Hamodia. The Agudah Convention has roundtable sessions that have served as catalysts for chessed and other projects that have brought important improvement in different areas.

However, notwithstanding the fact that these forums are well-intended, and that they try to include the broadest opinions possible within their own purview, they are limited, because they need to satisfy people on the far Right as well. How can people in the broader charedie world and beyond get their message across, if their hashkafos, opinions and comments, although no less sincere, appear to some to be unconventional, or slightly so?

I think the hypothetical forum should be open to both charedim, centrists and modern orthodox, even if it focuses mainly on the chareide world. Baruch Hashem, Orthodoxy in general, and the Charedie world in particular have grown, and it has therefore come to include people of diverse opinions and needs.

Moshe Rabbeinu spoke of Hashem appointing a leader (Bamidbar 27:15), and said "Elokei haruchos", G-d of the spirit of all flesh. Rashi comments from the Midrash(Artscroll Rashi translation):

The personality of each individual is revealed before You; they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can put up with each individual according to his personality.

A community consists of many diverse individuals, each with different physical, intellectual and emotional makeups, and therefore different needs.

--------------

I do not have exact ideas, and the specifics will need to be worked out. I.e., an actual, live, support group or hashkafa club like "Alcoholics Anonymous", or a virtual, closed-e-mail group, like Areivim.


Some questions:

Should there be a rabbinic moderator or adviser? Perhaps there should be three representing a spectrum of different viewpoints. How can the group be kept positive and solution-oriented? How can different ideas be encouraged, if a purview and a scope is stated and defined?


Also, what is the purpose of the group? Is it merely for catharsis, or to stimulate social change? If it is the latter, the question becomes how the group interacts with established organizations(Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel), as well as with rabbonim and gedolie yisrael.

There may indeed be a benefit of gedolim knowing what the tzibbur is thinking; there is a concept of not decreeing a gezirah which the tzibbur can’t follow. It is therefore important for Gedolim to be in touch with members of the klal. Interaction between the hypothetical group, and leaders may not be absolutely necessary for this knowledge, but it would certainly be a helpful way in gauging public opinion.

Of course, if gedolie torah would actually make their decisions predominantly based on what laymen say, that would indeed be an unhealthy situation! One explanation of the negative phenomenon of the “face of the generation is like that of a dog”, is that leaders look to followers for what they decide.


I think that both the Charedie and Modern Orthodox worlds have nothing to lose by considering this suggestion. After all, the MO/Centrists as well, theoretically gain if the Charedie world functions at its optimum. We are all in this together!

......And when this happens(with apologies to Dr. King), we will be able to speed up that day when all of Jews--no matter what political organization they affiliate with-- will be able to join hands and sing, "v'yeiasu chulam agudah achas l'aasos retzoncha b'levav shaleim"!


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Forced Conversion to Islam

The media report that the two abducted (and subsequently released) Fox News journalists were forced, under pain of death, to convert to Islam, and that the Muslim group responsible intends to continue this practice of abduction and forced conversion.
What if, Rachamana Litz'lan, this would happen to a Jew? Would this be a Yehareg V'Al Yaavor situation?
Excerpt from the Sefer B'Chol Nafsh'cha (R' Yitzchok Isaac Weinberg, Yerushalayim 5764) on matters related to Yehareg V'Al Yaavor:
The religion of Yishma'el (Islam) is not included in Avodah Zarah according to most Poskim, because they believe in the Unity of G-d with no others. 1
However, if they are forcing him to accept their religion upon himself or to admit to it, and otherwise they will kill him, he must be killed and not transgress. 2
Because they do not believe in the Holy Torah, and they also believe that there was another who was greater than Moshe Rabbeinu, Alav HaShalom, and this belief is an uprooting of the Torah.
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1 So writes the Rambam Hilchos Maachalos Assuros 11, that the Yishmaelim are not idolators, and their wine is not Yayin Nessech to be forbidden in Hanaah, (only in drinking), and he writes that this is how all of the Ge'onim have taught. In the Chiddishei HaRan to Sanhedrin (61b) he writes that the Yishmaelim are considered idolators. And L'Halachah the Taz (Yoreh De'ah 124:4) and Shach (ibid. 10) decide that Halachah that they are not idolators.
2 The Ritva to Pesachim (25b) writes: "And you should know that the faith of the Yishmaelim, although they believe in the unity of G-d, it is considered complete idolatry in terms of getting killed and not converting, for one who admits to their faith denies the Torah of Moshe, saying that it is not true as it is in our hands, and anything like this is complete idolatry, and they (Chazal) did not say by other commandments that one should transgress rather than get killed where their intent is to have one transgress, except in a circumstance where they tell him to violate Shabbos in order to transgress his religion, but not in a circumstance where they tell him to violate Shabbos so as to concede that your Torah is not true and G-d did not command to keep Shabbos. So I have heard."
And so writes the Radbaz (Teshuvos 4:72), and he adds another reason to forbid accepting the religion of Yishmael (even in a situation of Pikuach Nefesh, of course), because they say that there was someone whose level was above that of Moshe Rabbeinu, and this is a destruction of the religion [And see there, that he writes another reason, that if he acts in a manner which is in accordance with that of Islam, he might transgress serious Aveiros without realizing it. But, this reason only applies if they are forcing him to be completely like them, but if they are just forcing him to admit to their religion this is not applicable.]
And it is known that the Rambam in Iggeres HaShmad writes that one does not have to give up his life when being forced to convert to Islam. But one who looks inside there will see that there they were not forced to convert to Islam, rather they could fulfill the Mitzvos as they wished, they were only forced to admit that their Meshuga was the Messiah, and that was also only outwardly, and the non-Jews knew that the intent of teh Jews was not to really admit it, only from the lip outward, and therefore it was permitted. But certainly, to admit to their religion in a manner that it looks like he really admits it and denies the Torah of the Jews is included in Yehareg V'Al Yaavor, as the Ritva and Radvaz write.
However, there is a practical difference in that the Muslims are not idolators, that if he is forced to admit that their belief in the Creator is correct, he can admit this, and there is no heresy. [As opposed to Christianity, that admitting to their faith is complete heresy, and Yehareg V'al Yaavor]. Only if he is forced to accept their religion, or to admit that their religion is correct, this is included in heresy and is Yehareg V'Al Yaavor.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Uniting the Blogosphere

I wrote this post to stimulate discussion regarding "Unity in the Blogosphere", and to hear(or see) different ideas. In general when I post on any topic, I hope to stimulate discussion, and hear different and diverse ideas, which will be helpful in advancing Yahadus and Avodas Hashem, and which(hopefully) will be discussed in a positive and Darchei Noam-conducive manner.

As posted in the comment section , this is a group blog, and any idea for post-topics(or occasional guest posts, if we decide in the future to do them) will obviously be discussed with all of Mishmar's members. I did solicit ideas here, so feel free to add your ideas for topics of discussion in the comment section, or privately e-mail any one of the members(see each individual profile), so all members can discuss it together.



Those who live in the NY Metropolitan area are familiar with the WINS News("The most listened to station in the nation") tag line "All News All the Time". This is certainly an accurate description of WINS radio (as opposed to CBS radio which broadcasts Yankee games). How accurate is the tag line of each of the J Blogs? Are we "as cacophonous as a henyard" or melodious and euphonious?

For all statisticians and accountants out there, Gil Student has a breakdown of Slifkin vs. Non-Slifkin posts(I added some comments there as well).This is an interesting idea, and perhaps all bloggers can provide some type of monthly topical breakdown on whatever topics they cover.

I join in on the discussions on Hirhurim, and I like interesting exchanges of ideas, even(or perhaps especially) if they are not Slifkin-related.

In the interests of uniting the blogosphere, and of diversity and variety(and promoting Mishmar), I would be interested in seeing an occasional "guest post" from other bloggers here. I guess we would have to work out specific topics. The Bal HaBlogs (my term) on Hirhurim and elsewhere would be welcome here, from my end. Perhaps we will wait a few months, to allow Mishmar to go through its initial start-up stages, and consider the idea further. Anyhow, I am throwing out the idea for consideration to hear blogger's and commentator's thoughts.

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