Thursday, November 30, 2006

V'Hayu Einecha...

Hattip: Steve Brizel.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two Forms of Emunah: Another View

In the spirit of stimulating interesting discussion which we hope Mishmar will become famous for, I present my comments stimulated by Bari's post in the form of a separate posting. I do not so much disagree, rather I am giving a little different balance to the issue of the two types of faith. I also discuss the Iggeres Teiman regarding a person's tendencies towards belief.

This issue of emunah peshuta vs. chakirah is an age-old debate, and the Chassid Yavetz's opinion is as relevant today as ever. Obviously, the views of current manhigim(leaders) are of utmost importance, for it is they who are guiding the Jewish People for the long haul: ad bias goeil(which we hope is actually not such a long-haul).

Regarding a slightly different topic, current charedi hashkafa and mesorah(and even MO for young children, to an extent) is a mix of rational and mystical; the Rambam, Emunah V'deos and the Chovos HaLevavos, yes, but also the Chafetz Chaim, Arizal and the Maharal. Personally, I feel one must be well-grounded in emunah peshutah, especially at a young age. However, I think that it's important to make clear that emunah al pi chakirah is not totally rejected from Yahadus, even though it has weaknesses, and they have, arguably, been proven over time. As Bari quotes from the Chassid Yavitz, it was the "simple people" that were willing to die al kiddush Hashem.

To say that chakirah, however, is totally rejected would be like saying today that some elements of the Moreh Nevuchim became kefirah today(although some hold that). Rav Schwab also quotes a Shu't regarding TIDE that "ki he machalokes yeshanah"; its an age- old debate in Jewish History. Similarly, the question of the two types of emunah is also an age-old one. Of course, all of these are separate issues, but it should be mentioned that there are opinions which favor, specifically, a rational approach. I quote Michtav Meliyahu and Emunah Ramah( Raavad I) here (last comment in thread) which provide a nice balance and historical context for the issue.

The Beis Halevi's opinion in parshas Bo on dealing with a one who is challenging the faith, is also interesting. He emphasizes emunah peshuta, and not debating, but rather davening for that person! In other words, to an extent, one can not "give" another person emunah peshutah-- certainly not overnight-- although one can expose a person to a Torah environment.

Also, see the preface to the Lev Tov edition of Shaar Hayichud at length, regarding the drawbacks of chakirah. There is, of course, basis to the decision to skip Shaar Hayichud in charedi Yeshivos. It should be noted, however, that the Chasam Sofer did teach Shar Hayichud in his shiurim.

My personal thoughts, are that much depends on the person, that there are different mixes of both types of faith, and that it is not an either or issue.

I feel, though, that everyone needs to be well grounded in emunah peshutah, especially at a young age. I would go so far as to suggest, that had the Rambam written the Moreh Nevuchim, or Rav Saadiah Gaon, Emunah V'deos, at age five, they might(chas v'sholem) have become Kofrim! In other words, they as well, possibly, benefited from emunah peshutah.

Iggere Teiman

I would also like to quote the Rambam's letter in Iggeres Teiman("Epistle to Yemen"). He encouraged the Jews of Yemen who were facing forced conversion and also the prospect of a false Messiah; that community subsequently was grateful to him for generations later.

The Rambam there writes that the Torah promises that the Jewish people will always believe in Moshe Rabbeinu, v'gam becha yaaminu l'olam(Shemos 19:9) From this we see, writes the Rambam, that someone who leaves the Jewish faith, did not originally stand at Haar Sinai.

Rav Shaach, in the fifth volume of Michtavim and Maamarim was asked: we see Jews who did leave the faith! He answers that a person still has bechirah, free-will. The Rambam should be understood as merely stating the tendency of the Jewish nation in general; in other words, what I think we would call "a pintle Yid". R Shaach continues that the greater a person, the greater his opposing tendencies as well(e.g., he mentions the example of Korach).

Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg as well, in his sefer on emunah, quotes the Iggeres Teiman, Sefer Hayashar(Rabbeinu Tam) and Chasid Yaavetz, and maintains that emunah is a natural part of a Jew. Rather than create faith ex nihilo, the goal is to simply let the natural faith develop("mimelah") and expand through Torah and mitzvos, and to protect it by being careful regarding negative sources of exposure. He uses the approach of the Iggeres Teiman to answer questions raised by Rav Elchanon Wasserman in Kovetz Maamarim on the obligation to have faith.

However, I don't know for certain if we have ever "proven" this in the conventional sense. To do so, one would have to take ten Jews raised in a forest, and ten non-Jews raised similarly, and demonstrate the difference in the nature of the neshomos(souls), as far as belief. Also, as mentioned above from R Shaach, there is always the bechirah(free-will) factor that affects the equation.

It should be noted that Project Chazon and others have been developing programs to educate children with basic principles of Yahaadus. In a discussion on R Yaakov Horowitz site, the issue of children and emunah issues is raised(see my two comments there). I maintain that having doubts is a perfectly normal phenomenon, even if it is not publicly discussed, for good reasons. In fact, the Chovos Halevovos in Shar Yichud Hamaseh discusses at length natural thought- patterns that are in opposition to faith. This would indeed seem as R. Shaach states that a person has internal opposing, or conflicting forces. Clearly, it is not solely a recent phenomenon.

Challenges to Emunah may be viewed in a positive way: as a building block to growth; as I quoted above from Rav Shaach, "kol hagodel machaveiro, yitzro gadol heimeno". Rabbi Dr. A.J. Twerski also discusses the issue of doubts from a psychological perspective in a response in his "I am I".

Anyhow, thanks to Bari for translating RSZA writings; I agree as well with his last three paragraphs.


The Gift of Gab

Rabbi Levi said: There are four characteristics of women...The Rabbis add an additional two: they are sensitive, and talkative (Devarim Rabbah 6).

I’ve taken some heat on the J-Bloggosphere for my radical stance that women are quite different in nature from men. Of course, the sages has no problem with the idea. And now it seems that even a female psychologist and self-proclaimed feminist has come to the same conclusion. From the article:

It is something one half of the population has long suspected - and the other half always vocally denied. Women really do talk more than men. In fact, women talk almost three times as much as men, with the average woman chalking up 20,000 words in a day - 13,000 more than the average man... The book - written by a female psychiatrist - says that inherent differences between the male and female brain explain why women are naturally more talkative than men.

In The Female Mind, Dr Luan Brizendine says women devote more brain cells to talking than men. And, if that wasn't enough, the simple act of talking triggers a flood of brain chemicals which give women a rush similar to that felt by heroin addicts when they get a high.

What I actually found most interesting in the article is the following admission:

“I know it is not politically correct to say this but I've been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us...I believe women actually perceive the world differently from men.”

Dr. Brizendine admits that political correctness has, for years, caused her to struggle with the scientific truth before her eyes. Kinda makes you wonder what other political or secular orthodoxies are causing scientific evidence to be swept under the rug, no? Anyone think Harvard owes Larry Summers an apology?


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on Emunah Peshutah and Chakirah

Halichos Shlomo Vol. I, Maamarim (pg. 367)
"...In truth, there is a debate between the Rishonim and the Acharonim. The manner of the Kadmonim was to know and to understand the existence of Hashem through Chakirah, to the extent that the intellect can reach. However, the Acharonim, their way is through Emunah Peshutah, and to believe in all this because it says so in the Torah.
And, behold, the truth is, although, certainly, it is not for us to mix in to this matter, but, nevertheless, most of the Mechabrim have decided that the correct path is the simple path, and that is the path where the chances are good for gain, and adverse for loss. And the truth is, that the intellect dictates this, for what benefit is there in Chakirah? Had all the philosophers with their analyses not been able to understand what they did, or, on the contrary, Chas VeShalom, they would understand otherwise, would it then be permissible for them to not believe, Chas VeShalom, in the existence of Hashem? And if so, what benefit is there in analyzing a matter which, either way, I am not free to do as I opine? Will a heretic and an Apikores not get punished?

And that which the Chassid, the author of the Chovos HaLevavos, writes, that the path of Emunah Peshutah is an unpraiseworthy path, and he declares about this that it is similar to the Emunah of fools, it is a Davar Nifla, for, in the final analysis, this Mitzvah is like any other Mitzvah in the Torah, and what would he do about the whole Torah if he would not understand? And, therefore, the Acharonim decided to go on the path of simplicity...
And so too we find in Massechta Shabbos (116a), that they told Rava - "Why did you not come to Bei Avidan?" - and Rashi explains that this was a place where the heretics would debate the Jews in matters of faith - And Rava responded: "There was a certain palm tree on the road and it was difficult (for me to come)?" "Uproot it!" "Its place would be difficult for me" - And Rashi explains that, still, a hole would remain.
...What is the idea here? According to what we have said, it seems, that this was his approach, not to do too much analysis in these matters. And they did not do so, and therefore he responded to them that there is a palm tree on the road. It says in Berachos (57a) that one who sees a Lulav in a dream, he has only one heart for his Father in Heaven". And that is what he was telling them, that he only wants one heart, and does not want to know the opposing views. So they told him - "Uproot it", meaning, back out of this position. And he said to them, that its place is difficult for me, for, still, a hole remains if one also knows the opposing viewpoints.
Also well known are the words of R"Y Yaavetz, among those expelled from Spain, who said that all those of simple faith gave their lives for Hashem, and of the philosophers, not all of them, and there were only few who retained their holiness.
And this is what we say: "Sh'ma Yisrael", meaning, we do not believe in Hashem because of our analyses that brought forth the conclusion that there is One G-d; for there are those Rishonim who explain the Passuk "For no man can see Me and live", that it also refers to intellectual sight, not just sensual - and this is the secret of "You will see My back" - meaning not a clear sight, and therefore our faith is because this is what we were told, 'Sh'ma Yisrael', know that Hashem commanded you to believe that He is One, and this is the inner secret of our belief.
And about this, the Kohen anointed for war says, that in the merit of your implicit faith in Hashem, you will not be handed over into their hands."
The truth is, that for me, I sense with every inner faculty that I have, that following in the path of the Torah is the way to achieve greater heights in refinement of the intellect, of character, of the spirit and soul. It is the path, the only path, to become that special, pinnacle of Creation, type of person, like Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who can state publicly at the funeral of his wife that he has nothing to ask Mechilla for, because he always followed the laws and dictates of the Shulchan Aruch in his relationship with her - meaning, that therein lies the path to perfect harmony between a husband and wife, and, by extension, between one man and his fellow, and between man and himself.
Only the Maker of man Himself could devise such a perfect system for this exquisitely refined existence, for mankind at large is still groping in the dark as to how to achieve it.
And if that constitutes Emunah Peshutah - so be it. I'll be the happiest person in the world in following this simplest of rationales for being a Torah Jew.


Barnie Fife And The Curious Incident At The Falafel Stand

When I was a child, I knew that there was a force of Good in the world. But it wasn’t G-d at that point in my life. It was the police.

There was a large police station just a couple of blocks away from our house. My siblings and I used to go to the huge park across from the station and watch the goings on, trying to guess what the uniformed officers were doing and where they were headed. Occasionally we got lucky and saw them leading a handcuffed prisoner into the station.

We never questioned that the police were the good guys. It was back in the days before 911 (gasp!) and I remember that we had a sticker with the number of the police stuck to the side of our phone. We knew who to call if there was trouble. Yes, it is true that cops were parodied in the media. Who can forget the bumbling Barnie Fife, or Boss Hogg’s half-wit lackey Roscoe P. Coltrane? But I think that at least in the civil portion of American society, police were respected as symbols of the law.

I don’t think that much has changed in the States over the years. The world has moved, on and cynicism has crept into every corner of society. And people are more weary of strangers in general, even ones in uniform. But I don’t get the impression that the average American has a fundamentally different view of the police force than I did as a child. If anything, in this day of public transparency, there is even a stronger feeling that the police are checked from corruption and brutality. In fact, many feel they are reigned in to an excessive degree. And the few times that I dealt with a policeman in the States only confirmed my impression that they are for the most part hard-working, courteous and honorable people.

Check out this link about a shooting in New York just the other day. What I found interesting is not the fact that the family is crying murder; that’s to be expected, regardless of what really transpired. What’s interesting to me is the fact that Mayor Blumberg is calling for a grand jury investigation. And yes, I know that somebody was killed. But surely officers of the law understand that there is a system of oversight in place, and that excessive actions at least in theory will lead to hearings and possible sanctions.

Now contrast this with the perception of the Israeli police force. The average Israeli understands that the police are virtually worthless, when not an outright danger to life and limb. Crimes frequently go unreported, except for insurance purposes. Why bother? It’s not as if there’s going to be a serious investigation and attempt to apprehend a mere thief. And corruption – just forget it. An acquaintance of a friend (admittedly a shady character, though he did not seem to be lying) related that he was once in a hotel room where mafia elements were passing out bribes to dozens of officers. The officers literally stood in line, waiting patiently for their turn to collect a plastic bag full of cash. One need only glance at the geriatric officers that amble in groups down the streets of major cities in Israel to know that it isn’t these yokels that protect the citizenry.

The current buzz in the Israeli media, for those who don’t check the local news, is the recent escape of serial-rapist Benny Sela, and the intense manhunt still in progress. Of course, it is true that escapes happen everywhere, even in the United States. But apparently, as one Ha’aretz reporter points out, such escapes are becoming an epidemic in Israel. And the general consensus seems to be that despite the claims of the officers transporting Sela, the rapist wasn’t even handcuffed at the time of his escape.

Why the difference between American and Israeli police? For starters, order in Israel is essentially kept by the IDF, not the police force. In America, police are paid a decent salary, but certainly nothing to write home about ( has the average for a patrol officer at about 40-50k). Israeli police, on the other hand, are paid much better than the average Israeli. This means that while the US police forces will (as always) attract a certain percentage of power-trip types, the vast majority will be those dedicated to a career in the public service of law and order. The ranks of the Israeli police (and the army, for that matter) are filled with those who seek a decent paycheck and a wonderful package of benefits.

There seems to be an underlying sentiment among the American bloggers that I’ve seen that although the rioters against the planned Gay Pride Parade were brutalized by the police, they essentially deserved it. And I don’t mean to say that they deserved to be beaten for their ideological stance. Rather, I mean that the perception that on the ground, no policeman actually attacked any protester unless “he deserved it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I know of countless first-hand reports that testify to the fact that there was a systematic attempt by the police to brutalize any protester, peaceful or otherwise. A few students related that personal possessions had even been stolen by policemen – one, a valuable watch, and another, his wallet emptied of cash in front of his eyes.

Don’t like it? File a report.

And yes, I know that Israel is a society fighting for survival; who has the time and energy to completely remake the police force when Qassams continue to rain down among us? But the fact is, too many internal ills of Israeli society are blamed on external foes. I think we’ve reached the stage where Israel must choose between being first world country or a third world society with a tangential high-tech industry.

What’s my point here? Perhaps what got me thinking about this whole subject was the police officer beside me at the falafel stand yesterday. Obese and elderly, he didn’t look fit enough to chase down the falafel ball that escaped his pita and rolled across the grimy counter, much less a youthful criminal escapee. Or perhaps it's the following: First, Americans should appreciate yet another facet of the G-d given gift that is the United States. And second, that people should be less hasty to retroactively condemn every action of the protesters against the Gay Parade. In previous posts, I have categorically denounced any violent actions taken by the protesters. Nevertheless, we should keep the state of the Israeli police force in mind whenever we hear of incidents in Israel involving the police as it exists today (…and I’m guessing that most Religious Zionists will agree wholeheartedly.)


Monday, November 27, 2006

A New Look for Mishmar

Let's face it. Until now, Mishmar was like some of my Rebbis from my yeshiva days - you had to forget about the packaging and concentrate on the message. But there's no reason why Mishmar can't look great too. So with just this bit of fanfare, I introduce our new banner. In the near future, we'll be enhancing the overall design of the site too. Enjoy!


Having Your Cake and Eating It Too - Bloggers on Agudah

When the great debate about the permissibilty of joining Sherut Leumi arose in the 1950s, there were factions of frum Jews who held that it should be permissible, among them Talmidei Chachamim.

When the Mizrachi criticized the majority of the Gedolim who opposed it, they put up posters and placards, denouncing their decision as radical and misinformed as to the dangers Sherut Leumi posed.

In a meeting between Ben Gurion and the Rabbanim Isser Zalman Meltzer, Tzvi Pesach Frank, and Meir Karelitz, Ben Gurion challenged those Rabbanim by saying - but there are great Rabbis who disagree with you. What follows is an excerpt from the minutes of that conversation, to the best of my recollection (if this isn't verbatim, it is close)

Rav Tzvi Pesach said - "They are not great Rabbis".

Ben Gurion - "HaRav Frank, a little humility!"

Rav Tzvi Pesach - "They may be learned, but they are not Gedolim. They are the Yeravam ben Nevats of the generation" [As quoted from the minutes of their meeting, in Pe'er HaDor vol. V]

Now, this would seem to me, to be the epitome of the "my way or the highway" complaint against the Agudah today. And in cases where the caliber and number 0f the Gedolei Torah on one side of an issue is much greater than the other, there may be accusations of the above nature as well.
So how hollow is the complaint that the Agudah insists on its "my way or the highway" - as if this is something new. Yes, when the Agudah Gedolim think a certain way - they act on it - and sometimes reject opposing opinions, even of learned people, as lacking in Daas Torah - meaning lacking what the Hashkafas HaTorah-true position should be.
Rav Moshe can think that another Posek is advocating Chillul Shabbos DeOraysa by allowing an Eruv in a certain area, and will state unequivocally that one carrying in an area with such an Eruv is a Mechalel Shabbos DeOraysa, while not Passeling him for Edus, perhaps, since he is following his Rav's (incorrect, in RMF's view) Psak. But if one were to ask him, his answer would be :"My way, and you're carrying in a highway."
One insisting on receiving the approbation of Rav Moshe can show only one thing - that he does consider Rav Moshe's opinion significant enough to make him think twice about unequivocally accepting his Rebbe's. Believe me, nobody ever accepted a Psak from Rav Moshe, and then needed approbabtion from someone else in order to feel totally comfortable following it. Nobody.
So, how pathetic is the sidelong gaze at the Agudah's position on blogs. If you were that secure in your Derech, that you claim you have the sanction of your Rabbeim for - why do you need the "nuance" or "balance" of the Agudah? So you can sleep better at night? Why - having trouble now that Rav Ploni didn't like what your blog does? Or are you sleeping better now that you think he might have said it is okay? Why should it affect you at all? Like I said - if Rav Moshe said to me it was okay, I wouldn't care if another Posek said it wasn't!
There are, I think, only three options here:
1) I accept what the Agudah public policy is, unquestioningly, or, maybe, I won't question it publicly.
2) I accept the public policy they set, and will question it publicly. (Which, perhaps, can be done sometimes, but if their leadership is to remain intact, you might want to make it clear that you actually make clear that you accept it, despite your reservations.)
3) I don't accept their public policy decision when they conflict with what I think is right, and will question it and attack it to the best of my ability in public so that people do not accept their policies and shift over to those espoused by me or my Rabbeim. (Read: undermining of authority of the Gedolim of the Agudah. Call it what you want - that's what it really is. It might be a very "American" and "democratic" way of doing things - let's have a public battle of ideas and let the most convincing position win [and what is most convincing can, quite 0ften, be as a result of being in congruence with the New York Times editorial board position than that of the Torah, since the one being convinced may very well be unaware, or have sufficiently ingrained into his thought process, the Hashkafos of the Torah], but there is no precedent, to the best of my knowledge, for this, in the Torah. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch Paskens that even the greatest Dayan in the world may not have a Talmid who is not a Talmid Chacham sit in his court at the time of judgement, because the Talmid can cause the great Dayyan to lose his ability to think straight. Krumkeit is very contagious.
Those who try to dance on both Chasunahs - options two and three simultaneously, are being intellectually dishonest with, primarily, themselves.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Israel's Long Term Prospects

Just beyond the horizon lies the specter of a nuclear threat to Israel. It seems increasingly likely that the international community will muster neither the will, nor the prowess, necessary to halt the inexorable march toward a nuclear armed Iran. Moscow seems intent on shifting the balance of power, where Israel's strategic edge is less and less pronounced, as evidenced by their recent providing of highly sophisticated surface-to-air missles meant to defend against incoming missile or air assaults. Once deployed, which is in six months on the outside, a preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities becomes little more than a pipedream.

And the threat does not end there.

The war by proxy, ably fought by Hezballah this summer, showed that supplying lethal weapons, capable, eventually, of bearing WMD tipped warheads, is not the stuff of next century technology.Terrorist organizations will probably be able to get their hands on some kind of mass-destruction device in the not-too-distant future as well.

A preemptive strike by Israel and/or the US and the consequences thereof, on the nuclear facilities of Iran, are analyzed quite thoroughly here, in a 2004 study from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

A preemptive nuclear strike by Israel against Iran would have such disastrous implications for the long-term survival of Israel, as to render such a move untenable. Israel would be viewed as the aggressor, as the nation which dropped the atomic bomb on the Muslim world, not vice versa, and would be shut down internationally. The Muslim countries will have been driven into a crazed frenzy of Jew-killing everywhere. Pakistan may very well supply her nuclear weapons to a neighboring country to retaliate against such a massive loss of life in the Muslim world.

What is Israel to do?

It seems absolutely essential that the missile defense system of Israel be as impervious to incoming missiles as possible.In March of this year, it seemed that the Arrow-2 did have the ability to knock down incoming missiles, at the assumed level of technological advancement of Iranian capabilities. However, in the beginning of this month, indications are that Iran showed capabilities beyond what the international community had been aware of, including the ability of the Shehab missiles to drop multiple bomblets simultaneously. Of course, this is just a layman's view of things - if anyone knows better for some silver lining - chime in!

Should Iran attempt, G-d forbid, to attack Israel with nuclear weapons, Israel must be ready to fight back with everything at its disposal, including her own nuclear weapons. There is no room for tepid responses to this occurence, and, yet, I wonder if the IDF ethic is capable of perpetrating that amount of civilian casualty. I hope, for the sake of the Jews living in Israel, that it is.

All this is only in the Hishtadlus realm. There is much work to do in terms of strengthening our commitment to the Ribbono Shel Olam and having Bitachon that he will save us from this present-day Haman.

But, in the back of my mind, I cannot rid myself of the possibility that, ultimately, we may have to resort to a modern-day Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai negotiating for Yavneh and its Sages, the survival of Israel as a Torah center, if securing Jewish sovereignty proves to be beyond our grasp.

I daven that we merit a more satisfactory solution to this looming crisis.


Friday, November 24, 2006

The Seridei Eish - Perspective on Torah of the Greats

(Excerpted from the biography in the beginning of the 5764 edition of L'Frakim):
The Seridei Eish once answered a question that Rabbi Akiva Eiger left with a Tzarich Iyyun. One of the students asked him: Is it possible that Rabbi Akiva Eiger did not know how to answer what he (the Seridei Eish) did know?
He asnwered: There are many levels in understanding, and what I understood, with my limited intellect, in the meaning of the question of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, I was able to answer, but the true deeper meaning of the question of Rabbi Akiva Eiger's question we do not grasp at all, and, indeed, according to his great level, he remained with a Tzarich Iyyun.
On a related note, it is worthwhile bringing down the Shu"t Seridei Eish I:113 regarding acquisition of Torah:

"This is the way of Torah, to clarify and innovate even in opposition to the greatest of the Acharonim. And only regarding practical Halachah, it is forbidden for us to ignore the words of those greats, z"l, whose intellect/knowledge was broader than ours, and we are all as a garlic peel compared to them. But regarding logic and explication of the concepts, we have license to innovate and to say things that they did not relate to, for every person in Klal Yisrael whose soul was at Har Sinai received his share in the Torah and in Torah novellae and there is no challenging this.
I am accustomed to explain, that which Chazal in Pirkei Avos enumerate among the 48 ways that the Torah is acquired: Pilpul HaTalmidim and Emunas Chachamim. And, prima facie, they contradict each other. And, generally, what does Emunah Chachamim have to do with acquisition of Torah?
But this is the matter: If they do not believe in the Chachamim, then they go over their words with light-mindedness and arrogance of folly, to say with a detached haughtiness: they didn't understand, and then the person does not toil to try to delve and establish their words, and in the end it becomes clear that we made the mistake, and not them. And therefore it is among the ways of wisdom to believe that they did not err Chas VeShalom, only that we are myopic and lacking in Daas. But to believe, just like that, without exerting the mind with delving into the matter, and thought, just to say: they knew and we can rely on them without thinking - that is also incorrect, rather we should discuss the matter with contradictions and doubts as if (emphasis mine) they were people like us, and through that we reach a greater profundity and penetrating delving. So, both of these attributes, Emunas Chachamim and discussion to the nth degree, bring about acquisition of Torah."


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Rabbeinu Yonah on Too Much Blogging and Frivolous Blogs

Shaarei Teshuva III:177

(With the commentary of R' Matisyahu Salomon Shlit"a):

The fourth group - one who constantly spends time, in a non-fleeting way, for empty chatter and idle matters, as is the manner of Yoshvei Keranos (idle people).

RMS - This Letz we are speaking of does not harm or damage others, only that is his business which he deals with all day.
And there are two things wrong with this: First, 'Anyone who says too much brings about sin'.

RMS - It is impossible that he will not come to sin, either the sin of Leitzanus or Lashon Hara etc

And, secondly - that he is wasting time from Torah study. And there is, in this matter, the pathway of death, for how does he not pay attention that during those times that he is destroying, he can achieve pleasantness and acquire eternal life, if he designates those non-fleeting times to Torah, during which he is free from his work and his affairs. This is only that his heart disdains Mitzvos and the reward of Olam Haba.

RMS - A person like this is in the definition of Bal Tashchis, for he is destroying and wasting time, for anything which has value, and he wastes it, is considered Bal Tashchis. And so too regarding time, in which there is benefit to do good things during that time.

And besides that he lost much good, he will also bear his sin, for the guilt of wasting time from Torah when he has the ability to study it is a fire which consumes to the point of annihilation, as it says: 'For he has denigrated the word of Hashem - this is anyone who can learn Torah and does not do so, as we have prefaced.

And they, Zichronam LiVrachah, said, 'One who goes to a place where there is a gathering for light-headed joviality, this is a Moshav Leitzim. And about this the Passuk writes: 'And he did not sin in a Moshav Leitzim. And it says after this: 'Only in the Torah of Hashem is his desire - you learn, then, that Moshav Letzim causes Bittul Torah. And one who does not pay attention to this, to learn Torah is his free hours, should awaken himself and not be lost, and he should seclude himself during those times to think about his end,and to understand what will be his end, and to search through his ways, to acquire the (higher) levels of the soul and to draw close to Hashem Yisbarach.


Rabbeinu Yonah on Other People's Chumras

Shaarei Teshuvah III:176

(With the commentary of Rav Mattisyahu Salomon Shlit"a)

The third group, one who always mocks things, and actions, and his intent is not to ridicule those who do them, only he rejects things that should not be rejected, and rejects the potential positive outcome of actions where there is hope for them to be of benefit

RMS - Meaning, he does not speak about the person, rather about the things being done, for example, someone has adopted a certain Chumra, and the Letz says 'Its just a plain Chumra', and the like, meaning he wants to say its not really necessary. Or he says: 'There is no need to learn Mussar'. And this is Letzanus on the matter, not on the people, rather about some important matter or Mitzvos and the like, that he does not consider of value and he ridicules it.

And about this it states: ' One who scorns a matter, will cause himself injury.' And they said: 'Do not be contemptuous of any man, and do be disdainful of anything, for you have no person without his hour and no thing without his place.' And this Letz, what brought about this attribute is being wise in his own eyes

RMS - And the difference between this and the arrogant one is, that the arrogant one thinks that he, alone, has accomplished, and accomplishes, everything (e.g. a wealthy person who thinks that his success depends on him), as opposed to a wise man in his own eyes, who is a person who thinks he knows better, and therefore he says that this thing (this Chumra or this practice) is superfluous and there is no need that it be done.

And sometimes this Middah can bring a person to heresy, to ridicule Mitzvos, as it says "Malicious people taunted me exceedingly, but I did not swerve from your Torah."

RMS - Meaning, if one ridicules another who is meticulous in his Mitzvah observance, and not on the person, but on the Chumra and the Dikduk itself - he can come to heresy. And we see from this that there is a reality of someone who is essentially a good person, just he negates what others do,and because of this he does not receive the Countenance of the Shechinah.

And this third group is the group which does not accept Tochachah

RMS - Meaning, anywhere in Mishlei where it talks about a Letz who does not accept rebuke, it is speaking of such a person, who thinks he is so smart and clever, and therefore he negates the opinions of others and does not listen to them.

As it says: "Do not rebuke a Letz, lest he hate you', and it says: 'One who chastises a Letz takes embarrassment for himself', and it says: 'Strike the scoffer and the simpleton grows clever.'

And the cause of this Middah is not listening to Mussar, for this Middah which brings about being this type of Letz is the Middah of being wise in one's own eyes, and to such an extent has this Middah taken hold of him, until he mocks his peer's opinion, as it says: 'If you see a man who is wise in his own eyes, there is more hope for a fool than for him.'


Rabbeinu Yonah on "Shtuchs"

(With the commentary of Rav Mattisyahu Salomon Shlit"a):

Shaarei Teshuva III:174

"And this is the topic of the sect of scoffers. Mockery is divided into five parts.

The first part, [This is the lowest of the five] is a man with a (sharp) tongue, who finds, and expresses, faults in people, as it says: "You sit and speak against your brother, you slander your mother's son"; And he is called a Letz, as it states: "The boastful, willful man, scoffer is his name; the arrogant evildoer, he is a willful man" - meaning, the two negative traits which are malice and arrogance, have been gathered and combined in the Letz, for, without him having any benefit from the matter, he causes tremendous harm to his peers, befouling their fragrance in the eyes of people, and this is the ultimate malice, more so than one who robs and takes unlawfully, who is doing so to increase his money.

RMS: This type of person, it does not bother him to say or give a 'shtuch' to another, and to receive only glory for himself from this, and this is the merging of cruelty and arrogance.
He is also arrogant, for one who is humble and submissive, when he recognizes his own deficiencies and blemishes, will not scoff at other people. And our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said, 'In the future, all the wild animals will come to the snake and tell him: 'A lion kills his prey and eats it, and wolf preys on his food and eats it, you, what benefit do you have?' He will tell them: 'And what benefit does a possessor of a tongue have?', as it says: 'If the snake bites because it was not charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer's (the tongue possessor's) art'.

RMS: And because of this he is inferior, for regarding theft, at least he has some benefit from the money, which is not true for the tongue possessor, where he has no benefit from his scoffery. However, one could ask, that there is pleasure for the tongue possessor, because he has enjoyment from what he says and he has a 'geshmak' when he says things like these? The answer is that he has no physical pleasure, and he has nothing left from it. Just like the snake, whatever it eats has the taste of dust, and therefore it does not have to bite people. As opposed to a lion, who kills his prey to eat it, and that is its pleasure, and so too a thief, he has the benefit of the money. But a Letz - a person who has cruelty and arrogance, making him into a scoffer - he has no practical benefit from his speech. He is the first of this group.]

This segment of the sect is also part of the sect of people who tell Lashon Hara.


Two Kinds of Scoffers

וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדת יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם: אַבְרָהָם, הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִצְחָק.
And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begot Isaac. (Ber. 25:19)

Rashi: Because the scoffers of the generation (the “leitzanei ha dor”) said that Sarah was impregnated from Avimelech, since for several years she stayed with Avraham and did not become pregnant from him. What did HKBH do? He formed the facial features of Yitzchok to be similar to Avraham, and everyone bore witness “Avrhaham begot Yitzchok.” That is what is written here “Abraham begot Isaac, that there is testimony that Avrham begot Isaac.”

The Brisker Rov asks a question on this Rashi. Scoffers (“leitzanim”) generally scoff because they are trying to avoid a mussar haskeil. Scoffers at miracles generally don’t want to contemplate that there is a Master of the Universe. Scoffing is a great mechanism to do this – “That’s just natural, no miracle, no Divine intervention . . .”

Here, however, what were the scoffers trying to accomplish? Sarah Imeinu was 90 years old! That SHE was able to give birth after all this time was at least a great a miracle, if not greater, than Avraham giving birth at 100. (Not to mention Ishmael had been borne 13 years prior.) The birth of Isaac still attests to Hashem’s intervention in the natural order.

Answers the Brisker Rov: the leitzanei ha dor were saying that while Hashem may have intervened in nature, the intervention was totally random. It was not a product of Avraham’s great tsidkus, the miracle actually happened to that well-known rasha Avimelech. Ergo, there is no need for us to try to emulate Avraham and his keeping of the derech Hashem.

As one surveys the J-Blogging world, there are a depressing number of scoffers and “leitzanei ha dor.” Some are of the first type – scoffing at the very notion of a Divine order to the world.

But there are others who know enough to recognize that there is a Master of the Universe. That much they won’t deny. What they deny is that there is anything special about Talmidei Chachamim and Tsaddikim or any need to try to emulate them. “I am just as good, and find just as much Divine favor as, them.” We should remember that this too is a bechinah of “leitzanei ha dor.”


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanks Are In Order

As Mishmar crosses the 15,000 hit threshold, in, remarkably, just under four months of being out there in the J-Blog world, the Mishmar crew would like to convey its gratitude to all our readers and commenters, and to all the blogs who have linked, and who continue to link, to our blog and posts.
Agree or disagree, we appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts with an ever-growing audience.
We couldn't do it without you.


The Kiruv Movement

I wish I had more time to post on this, but I’m just too busy this week. Nevertheless, the recent posts I’ve seen concerning Avakesh’s BT post haven’t been up to par, so I’ll just throw out a few quick points. For what it’s worth, I think that Avakesh’s points are irrelevant more than they are incorrect. At any rate, here we go.

1. The BT movement is shielded from frank discussion in exactly the same way that issues of race are shielded in the United States. BT is the frum political correctness, and unless you familiar with, and have worked with many BTs, everything you think you know about them is probably “off.”

2. It is true that the BT movement is a blessing. The problem is that it’s really hard to pin down the real effects of modern kiruv – after all, the kiruv industry requires money to grease its wheels, and they have a strong bias to cook the numbers. Would the millions of dollars perhaps be spent better elsewhere, such as the day-schools, or perhaps kiruv krovim? I just don’t know, but I also don’t know of a serious effort to find out. And of course, it is true that fundraising for kiruv is not a zero-sum game; there are many sources for kiruv funding that otherwise wouldn't donate to Orthodox causes. Nevertheless, I would like to see some serious discussion of this fundamental question.

3. Many BTs come to religion through a deep recognition of the truth of the Torah. Some too, see the falsehood of the world about them, or have always felt an emptiness inside, and instinctively adopt Orthodox Judaism as the natural alternative. But the fact is, many and many more BTs become observant for less than altruistic reasons. Let’s face it – what sort of stable person would change his life on the basis of a few discussions with some kiruv punk who studied for six months at Aish? The answer is, not many at all.

4. The kiruv industry needs serious reform. Potential BTs are not made aware of the real hardships they will face in the frum world. Kiruv workers often seem to care about one thing – the sell, and are little concerned about what happens beyond that point, despite the fact that this should be a major, if not the primary, concern of kiruv. Also, many kiruv workers are of exceedingly low quality; the big, charismatic names we all hear and know are the exceptions, not the rule. How can we expect competent kiruv to come from this?

5. Our modern outlook of the BT is seriously skewed. To entice potential BTs, the kiruv movement has gone out of its way to convince people that BTs are the top of the food-chain, the pinnacle of religious virtue. Now, beyond the fact that much of the Torah taught on behalf of this idea is flatly false (the modern BT is not the BT of the gemara) the practical result of this overcompensation is even worse. Because many BTs are taught that “they are the best,” many feel no need to attempt to integrate into normative frum society. This applies even to young BTs that might integrate nicely, but are held back from doing so by this strange mentality. To use Yaakov Menken’s analogy, these are immigrants that refuse to learn the language, yet expect all the benefits of society. More precisely, the immigrants are both pleased and proud of the fact that they cannot speak the native tongue, and have been convinced by ideologues that their ignorance is in fact a form of enlightenment and cultural retention. (Note the parallels to political discussion of multiculturalism?)

6. The problem is not “us.” Yes, there is intolerance everywhere. But for the most part, people go out of their way to accept BTs into communal life.

7. I’ll say it once more. BT is the frum PC. Nothing will get solved until there is frank, honest discussion of this subject beyond the confines of the institutions that have a direct financial stake in the movement.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on (Certain) Sheitels

Halichos Shlomo 20:(12)
"A wig, although they allowed going out wearing one, nevertheless regarding a significant portion of the wigs available today, which are exceptional in their appearance and their salience, there is no Hetter to wear them, because they are in complete opposition to the spirit of Tznius. And the rule is that it is not the manner of Tznius that the appearance be similar to that of a Penuyah, rather it must be easily [emphasis in the original] recognizable that it is not natural hair."
See also here regarding the spirit of Tznius.
I think it is likely that they're talking to those referenced many places on the J-Blogs in the past month or so.
It bears reiterating the primary point of the Seridei Eish linked to above:
" is the way of kosher Jewish daughters that they are nauseated by strange men placing a covetous eye upon them."
Meaning, if a woman 'appreciating the attention', she is not in tune with the inner world of kosher Jewish daughters.


Where Thanksgiving and Pesach Coincide

A father called his son living halfway across the world. The news was devastating: "Your mother and I, after 40 years, have decided to get a divorce."
"We've managed to keep it under wraps for a long time, but it has really been 40 years of misery and pain. There's only so much abuse a person can take."
"Dad! What are you talking about! You two always communicated so well! Never a bad word, always on the same page in raising us. Like heck you're getting a divorce! Don't you do a thing until I come down there and talk to you about it!"
"Come over, son, but I'm not going to commit to anything..."
The father then calls his daughter, from another part of the continent. Same news.
The daughter was even more distraught than the son. She was hysterical with shock and sorrow. "How could you? You love Mom, I know it, I can feel it, and this just sounds so crazy. I'm coming right away to talk to you and Mom about this. Please don't do this before I appear at your doorstep tomorrow."
The father hangs up the phone. He says to his wife, "Hey, Edith. Guess what. The kids are coming for Thanksgiving, and we're not even gonna have to pay for it."
And, now, I'll let the title of this post speak for itself.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Gedolim Who Went to College on College I

Rav Wolbe: (Daas Shlomo - Maamarei Z'man Matan Toraseinu 5717 Behaaloscha):

Once a yungerman, a Charedi Jew, asked me what to do, since he had lost the clear feeling of the presence of a Creator that he had always had during his years of learning in the Yeshiva. I asked him, whether he has an academic degree, and he responded in the affirmative. When I told him, that his dealing with the sciences caused this - he was very surprised, and did not accept this from me.

What, in truth, is the reason, that through dealing with the wisdoms of the world one loses the sublime sense of the presence of the Shechinah which accompanies the Yeshiva man during his years of learning the holy Torah?

And we should ask, in addition: We find Gedolei Olam who did not negate these wisdoms. The Maharal in Netiv HaTorah Perek 14 relates to them positively, and from the GRA a statement has been handed down that what a person lacks in Chochmah he later lacks in Torah. On the other hand,we find that the Gedolei HaDoros definitively negate dealing with these Chochmos in the places of Torah...

...The purpose of the entire Torah is fear of sin. The Torah deals with all matters of the world so that we should know, in regards to all of them, what the will of Hashem is. The center of our lives is the Creator, and when we approach the world - then as well, the Creator remains in the center, and all of our business in this world is to be in tune with His Will...

The foundation of the Torah is Emunah, and its goal - fear of sin, and at its center - the Creator, and it perceives the world only out of the Will of G-d and closeness to Him.
...Now we can understand the danger of attraction to the sciences. The Torah - its foundation and purpose: Emunah and fear of sin. Science - it foundation and purpose: this world and this cosmos. Science is full of biases of the "world", biases of prestige and wealth, social status, livelihood, and the like. And especially for a Yeshiva man, for whom other mundane desires cannot attract his soul, since he is above them, too spiritual for them - a Yeshiva man may be drawn after "Mada", because it, in his mind, guarantees him a respectable place, and "Kavod" is the one thing, of all the promises of the Yetzer, that draws his heart. And this is the danger, that the "Mada" is not needed for him to complement his knowledge in Torah and Mitzvos, rather to gain status in the "world". It is true, that exalted holy people like the Maharal and the GRA, whose entire essence was Torah, and they did not see in the "world" any desire or anything of substance - when they dealt with the sciences their intent was solely "Torah". But us, orphans of orphans, when we deal with them we must suspect that we are not seeking knowledge of Hashem, rather we seek the world, since the world does have a place of honor with us, and we very much aspire to the admiration and the respect of the world. "Better he be considered a fool all of his life in the eyes of people, and he will not be a Rasha for even one hour in the eyes of Hashem." - to that extent we must have the center of our lives focus exclusively on Hashem, and to utterly negate the whole world. This is a difficult task, and it is difficult for us to convince ourselves of this. And therefore, when we can grab hold on to "Madda" - it is a test for us.
The test is twofold: From the perspective of the foundation of "Mada" being in the scientific intellect. The intellect of the Torah is, as Chazal define it... to "look upward", and the intellect of Madda looks at the phenomena of nature and arranges them. Indeed, in a fabulous arrangement, but without leaving the framework of "the world". About this Rabbi Eliezer admonishes, before his death "Withhold your sons from Higgayon" meaning from the scientific method of thought, which is saturated with "Teva". And certainly, not the heart of every man is capable of containing two methods of thought which are different from one another, as a rule. (Besides giants of spirit like the Ramban. And it is known that about the Rambam, the holy one of G-d, the GRA expressed himself that philosophy misled him... But his Torah is Torah. The last section of the Moreh is Torah...)
And the second test is from the perspective of the purpose of "Mada", where today the dealing with Mada, and the certificate, and the degree, are the entrance tickets into the world. One who has obtained them is eligible for the prestige of the world and the appreciation of human society, he is counted, he is "civilized".
And who promises us that when we deal with Mada, we are doing so "L'Shem Shamayim"? Perhaps - it is the hand of the Yetzer in the midst, perhaps there is still an intent to merit "two tables", the table of Torah and the table of "humanity", of the world?
There were people who championed Torah with Derech Eretz, and their goal was to delve into Mada L'Sheim Shamayim, to fulfill "In all of your ways you shall know him" - the greats of Germany z"l. But they could not stop the forgetting of Torah in Germany, the forgetting of Torah in its fullest sense, and it does not seem that they merited high levels in service of Hashem because of their dealing with Mada.
It is not our purpose in this clarification to decide Halachah, for this one should look at the Shiur of Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz (Bircas Shmuel Kiddushin 27) and Reb Elchonon Wasserman. Our intent is to clarify the influence of dealing with Mada.
It is true that the GRA and the Maharal, holy saints who clung to Hashem, and the "world" presented no test for them, for them there really was great benefit from the sciences. Mada helped them understand Mitzvos and deep Sugyos. But for us, moss on the wall, there are many Massechtos, Sedarim and Sefarim to learn, until we reach the point that scientific knowledge becomes needed for us. And, on the other hand, there is the danger that we will be drawn to the "world".
The trajectory of our life is clear: Its foundation is Emunah, the learning of Torah is the learning of the Emunah of the Torah, and the top of the structure is Yir'as Cheit, and all surrounds Him, His Divinity, around which we build our lives.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Modern Orthodox Yeshivot - Outreach or Excellence

One of the major problems that confront the classic Modern Orthodox institution in America is the make-up of the student body.
There are some Yeshiva University ordained B'nei Torah who prefer sending their children to the place where the likelihood of their children attending their alma mater is greatest. These children are Shomer Shabbos and Kashrus to the fullest extent, and want to know and do more. There are other families, as well, who raise their children with a strong sense of appreciation for Yiddishkeit.
Together with these students, are elements of the Jewish scene whose affiliation to a lifestyle guided strictly by Halachah ranges from limited, to virtually non-existent. They come from homes where lights may get turned on on Shabbos, Hechsherim not so meticulously checked, and other lifestyle issues which leave much to be desired in areas of Tznius. They openly do not wear Tzitzis to school, and their relationship to Tefilla ranges from boredom to hostility.
The mix is, more often than not, not beneficial to either side. The entire student body is invited to Regional Shabbatonim, and the segment of the populace still in need of significant progress is quite open in their violation of basic Halachic standards. On school outings, some of these students may sneak a visit to the treife eatery nearby.
The parents basically send their children to the Yeshiva in the hope that their children will marry in the faith, even having attended a prestigious undergrad program, with all the pitfalls that entails in this regard.
Many of the students will go to watch an R-rated movie, with or without parental consent, and there is peer pressure, in many instances, to tag along. Not to mention Saturday night bashes at students' homes. If one of the Talmidim from the 'stronger' group will actively protest, he will get shunned, perhaps even ridiculed, by those who are not, as yet, buying into the program.
The more frum fellows look askance at their peers who are not participating members of the Orthodox Jewish persuasion, and all the attendant feelings of superiority, engendering guilt, hostility, and cliqueishness, seethe just beneath the surface, ready to explode at any time. Those who crave acceptance will compromise on the standards they might optimally want for themselves in order to ingratiate themselves to their friends, and those who don't have this same craving may suffer because of it.
When there is a severe breach in prax-standards, the tension between the good of the individual Talmid, who, if ejected, will almost certainly go to a public school, versus the good of the other Talmidim, who are hurt by an atmosphere of lax standards and inconsistent enforcement of school religious policies, becomes a major headache.
If the son of the YU Musmach (just as a paradigm) would like a meaningful davening environment, or to be among like-minded growth-oriented individuals, he is denied the opportunity until his year (or more) in Israel where he can attend a Yeshiva composed of students of a similar stripe.
Occasionally, there will be the exceptional student who is clearly very sincerely committed to his Yiddishkeit, and simultaneously able to have a positive effect on his less religious peers. In the considerable time that I've observed this scene, I have seen this in, at most, two outstanding individuals. This is, in my opinion, not something for a school to be banking on in the formation of the student body. In Al HaNissim on Chanukah, we mention the miracles of Hashem delivering the mighty in the hand of the weak and many in the hand of the few. Truly miraculous. But, equally so, apparently, is the handing over of the defiled into the hand of the pure. By natural occurence, the impure is a more powerful force. If something Tamei comes into contact with something Tahor, the pure becomes defiled, not the other way around.
It would seem that the only viable option is to have an overwhelming majority of kids who are well-grounded in their Yiddishkeit, along with a small group of students who must conform to the standards that their peers are able to live up to. Otherwise, the better students will, almost inevitably, get dragged down. If this smacks of exclusivity, it's because it is, to an extent, meant to be. There is no substitute for exclusivity in the quest of achieving excellence, for it is undeniable that a negative peer environment impedes it.
Those who are not part of this small group should attend a Kiruv-geared school, with standards in line with what the level of observance dictates, and funded with the charitable aid of the community at large.
One must be willing to sacrifice for the sake of Kiruv, but the sacrificial lambs should not be those getting shoved off the cliff by those behind them in line.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chovos HaLevavos

When we speak about emunah, we say, b'emunah s'hleimah, "with perfect faith". The mitzvah is to grow in emunah, to experience a clarity, and to reach levels of deep-seated, genuine belief. There have been traditionally two different approaches to faith, one more experiential, and one more rational. However, all agree that one's emunah must run deep. The mitzvah is also constant; the Biur Halachah and others speak of "six constant mitzvos".

From the fourth perek of Devarim we see how deep the Chovos HaLevavos run(Metzudah Translation):

Look out for yourself and guard your life exceedingly, lest you forget the words your eyes witnessed, and lest they are removed from your mind, all the days of your life; you will make them known to your children and to your grandchildren...

You will know today, and will restore to your perception that Ad-noy is the G-d in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.

Regarding belief in Moshe Rabbeinu's prophecy, the Rambam in the eighth perek of Yesodie Hatorah says that our ancestor's believed fully in Moshe Rabbeinu, because they directly witnessed Hakadosh Baruch Hu speaking to him at the Revelation at Har Sinai.

However, human beings have limitations as far as their capacity to comprehend metaphysical concepts. Also, a person may reach a difficulty which is unresolved satisfactorily at a particular time.

Certain metaphysical concepts one can't comprehend fully. The Rambam for example, in Yesodie Hatorah(1st Perek) says that a human being can't fully comprehend the unity of Hashem. In the fifth perek of Hilchos Teshuvah, he states that we can't fully comprehend the essence of Hashem, nor completely understand how he knows a person's future actions.

In the gemera and in acharonim, we have cases when we remain with questions, and hope to resolve them at some future time. We say teiku, Hashem Yair Einai, or Tzarich Iyun. Interestingly, Rav Sholomo Heineman used to say that there is a difference in Rav Akivah Eiger between Tzarich Iyun, and Tzarich Iyun Gadol.

Is there, as well, a concept of teiku regarding hashkafa issues which impact upon emunah?

At the Siyum Hashas, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, if I recall correctly, mentioned the need to give "authentic answers", as opposed to "makeshift answers", and he also mentioned the concept of teiku. I believe that he was referring to science and Torah issues. Obviously, each case is different; I do not wish to extrapolate from his words, as he spoke in general terms.

I would like to call attention to an excerpt from a post by Rabbi Chaim B. , in which I participated in the comment section.

"Tzarich iyun is not surrender, but a recognition that the struggle for answers is an ongoing process of learning. The same holds true in the debate of science vs. Torah - sacrificing mesorah to the god of science is not the best approach, but neither is glibly asserting truisms that contradict reason or evidence"

Do you agree with his post? Feel free to continue the discussion there, in order to consolidate the conversation in one internet location.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Hypocrisy of Appeal to Authority Diatribes

One of the most prevalent forms of hypocrisy on the J-Blogs is the misuse of the "Appeal to Authority" issue.

The ENTIRE premise of the Natan Slifkin books, and the supporters thereof, is based solely on appeal to authority. Those who support Natan Slifkin's ventures, or 99.9% percent of them, including one Natan Slifkin himself, are basing themselves on the notion that the theories, that 'need to be reconciled' with the outlook and descriptions of the Torah, are weighty, because the great unbiased experts espouse them. If a second or third-rate scientist would offer other possible interpretations to the data available, he would be disregarded as a minority opinion.

There is a credentialed anatomical scientist, a Ph.D. at Idaho State University, who is working on demonstrating that BigFoot once existed. Now, he may be right, with a Ph.D. and all. Does anyone out there on the J-blogs know better than this Ph.D. in anatomy? I think not. Yet, I have a sneaky suspicion that none of you reasonable ladies and gents takes this fellow seriously. Why not? It is based on appeal to authority. Period. Because the other people out there who are acknowledged experts laugh him off, and even feel embarrassed by his quest.

If you think you might, ask yourself this: Would you accept a scientist's opinion that evolution could not have happened, based on a theory that has the same 'truth probability' in your mind of the existence of BigFoot, as a valid approach of a Rabbi to upholding the Torah's version of events vs. Harvard and Yale's version?

Now, in my comments on my recent post, I was chastised for being a bit disdainful as to the relative value of the opinion of Ms. Rachel Ararat on the interpretation of an Agadda in the Gemara, as opposed to that of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l, as a violation of the Rambam's exhortation to "Accept the truth from whomever said it." This might be the winning ticket, the goldmine of true Hashkafas HaTorah!

This is as ridiculous as calling me out for not wanting to read the opinion of Dennis Rodman on brain surgery when I have Harvey Cushing available. 'Accept the truth from whomever says it' zogt der Rambam! Read the Rodman treatise on brain surgery, and if it is true, accept it!

How inane. I know that Rodman hath no expertise in brain surgery, and I won't bother. Thank you very much.

When asked to judge the relative value of an interpretation of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l, accepted the world over as one of the four or five top experts in Hashkafas HaTorah, vis-a-vis incorporating it into my outlook, don't expect me to give any credence to one who has nothing to approach such credential.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Contemporary Commentary to Bava Metzia 84a

"One day (Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish) were debating in the Beis Medrash. 'The sword and the knife and the dagger and the lance... from when are they susceptible to Tum'ah? From the time that their processing is complete'. And when is their processing complete? Rabbi Yochanan said from when they are purified in the cauldron. Reish Lakish said from when they are polished in water.

He (Rabbi Yochanan) said: 'A robber is knowledgable in his robbery'.

[Oy! How insensitive! What Ona'as Devarim! Even if he just means that he defers to his knowledge in the area, what kind of Gadol speaks this way! My Rebbe is much more sensitive than this. Okay, Rabbi Yochanan is still knowledgeable, from the true greats, but still! The Gedolim from previous generations would never do such a callous thing! It's terrible what we've come to today. And then people wonder why the Talmidim of Rabbi Yochanan throw rocks at people who they disagree with! It's because their Rebbe has a shmek of bad Middos, and it filters down...]

He (Reish Lakish) responded: 'And of what benefit have you been to me? There they call me a chieftain, and here they call me a chief (Rabbi)?"

[Very good. Reish Lakish did not get personal, in a personal kind of way. He was respectfully pointing out that he was no small fry, and that he should not be condescended to in that sort of way, and that he expects more sensitive treatment from his Rebbe. B'Makom Chillul HaShem Ain Cholkin Kavod LaRav - and here his Rebbe had just violated Ona'as Devarim to his face! A very noble response from Reish Lakish]

He (Rabbi Yochanan) responded: 'I benefitted you that I brought you under the wings of the Shechina!'

[Again this condescending attitude. Why won't Rabbi Yochanan just get off his high horse and apologize and agree that he was wrong! Instead he just reminds Reish Lakish again that he is just a BT who doesn't really deserve the time of day. This is against a Pefeirush Mishnah!]

Rabbi Yochanan was upset over this. Reish Lakish became very ill. His (Rabbi Yochanan's sister, Reish Lakish's wife) came to her brother and cried (that he should daven for her husband). She said to him: 'Do it for my son!' He quoted her:(Hashem says) 'Leave thy fatherless children, I will rear them,'

[Oh my G-d! Will you stop this!!! What a scoundrel of a Gadol! A woman comes crying to you that her kid should not be left an orphan, that you should daven for his father, when really you should be asking Mechilla on your hands and knees from the father, and you're quoting from some Pessukim in Tanach! Go back to your cave and learn some more! What an unbelievable Chillul Hashem!]

She said: 'Do it for my widowhood!'. He quoted: '...and let thy widows trust in Me'

[He did it again! HE DID IT AGAIN!!! This woman, HIS SISTER, is begging that he should daven for her husband, his brother-in-law, and what? He quotes a Passuk in Jeremiah. He has no heart! Worse than a Ben Noach!!]

Reish Lakish died. Rabbi Yochanan was very upset over his passing.

[Oh! Now you wake up! Now you're crying! When your sister came to you, crying her heart out, you couldn't find it in yourself to daven for her and her orphaned son. Now you cry. Too late. You'll be taking this to your grave, Rabbi. If I can even call you that. Some Rabbi.]

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz - Sichos Mussar - from the ArtScroll translation:

"The punishment meted out by R' Yochanan is astounding in its ferocity. Even if Resh Lakish was wrong in the disrespect he showed R' Yochanan, what had his wife and children done to deserve such pain and suffering? Even more inexplicable is the fact that R' Yochanan himself suffered so much anguish from Resh Lakish's death...

Furthermore, Chazal tell us quite clearly what the lot is of he who causes another to be punished on his account. 'He who causes his fellow to be punished is not permitted to enter into the precincts of the Holy One'. Why then did [R' Yochanan] allow [his disciple] to be punished by insisting, as it were, on respect?

The answer is that it was not at all for the sake of [his] personal honor. Disrespect for the teachers of Israel weakens their leadership and influence in Israel. Lack of respect for the elders of Israel means in effect the elimination of leadership of Israel by their sages. The avoidance of such a calamity overrode any other consideration."

... The Jewish people are different from other nations in that they cannot survive without the institution of elders... A bird without wings has even less capabilities than that of an animal who never possessed wings in the first place. Rather, he is a helpless and pitiful creature. Israel without elders is similar to that bird, helpless.

The understanding of the absolute necessity of the honor and respect which must be the due of our Sages, so as to ensure the existence and survival of Israel, puts[the story] in its proper perspective... It was the very institution of 'elders' whose leadership was being compromised... This put Israel's survival in jeopardy and the measures called for were severe. Since [this was] in defense of this important institution, then perhaps it was not considered as if [Resh Lakish] was punished on [his] account.

It is our shame and disgrace that today's generation no longer listens to its elders, Mesillas Yesharim describes this state of affairs most concisely: This is all the result of the haughtiness which sets wisdom backwards and dulls people's minds. It removes the wise leaders , and disciples who have not been sufficiently apprenticed, whose eyes have barely opened, and already consider themselves to be the wisest of the wise.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Some Prayers Should Be Private

I saw a vort by the Satmar Rov on this last week’s parsha which is pertinent to a contemporary issue.

After the destruction of Sodom, Avraham awoke early and returned to the spot he had previously stood before Hashem. (Ber. 19:27) Chazal tell us that he returned to pray to Hashem (Berakhos 6b) from which we learn the importance of having a set place to pray. Apparently Avraham intended to return to his place of prayer and continue asking for mercy for the people of Sdom.

Why did he wait till the next morning? The Satmar Rov brought a source (I forget where) that he was following the halakha that a talmid chacham may not go out alone at night (Berakhos 43b). He then asked the following: why didn’t Avraham simply take someone along with him? After all, by the Akeida we see he took along two “nearim” and we know Avraham had a substantial household. So why not simply take along a servant or two as accompaniment?

He answered: Avraham was planning on davening for mercy for the people of Sdom. Now while that is a great mitzvah, at the same time there was a danger that someone in his household would observe this and the grave sins of Sdom would seem less severe to this person. The chinuch of his household would not allow that. Hence, he waited to the morning to return alone to the place he prayed before and to try again for Divine mercy.

So while even the most wicked deserve our prayers for Divine mercy, these should be private prayers. Making a public spectacle of such prayers risks a grave chinuch mistake – there are those who will believe the sin is not so bad.

Ha mavin yavin.


Envelopes on Shabbos

As always, posts here should not be relied upon for practical Halachah.

I've seen some contemporary Sefarim (Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen's Practical Guide to Muktzah, Ketzos HaShabbos, and others) that say that envelopes are in the category of being Muktzeh Machamas Chisaron Kis. Generally speaking, this category of Muktzeh is for things that have a primary prohibited use, and any potential permitted use is not under consideration due to the particularized nature of that thing, and, hence, there is an unwillingness to use it for that permitted use.

A classic example is a Shechita knife, which is primarily for Shechita, and one would not consider using to, say, slice bread, due to the specialized and delicate nature of the knife.

The item need not be expensive - a sheet of high quality paper would also presumably not be used for any kind of permitted activity on Shabbos, and may therefore fall under this category as well.

Regarding envelopes, though, at least personally, I don't see it. I use envelopes to store things which are not Muktza all the time. I realize, however, that these Halachos are subjective.

The question arises regarding pledge envelopes given in Shul after Aliyos. Presumably, there are used solely for the insertion of money/checks and sending it over to the Shul, an action prohibited on Shabbos. Indeed, I recently saw a responsa from Rav Ovadia Yosef who says that these envelopes are Muktza for this reason. He recommends that the Shul insert a Dvar Torah/ Halachah in the envelope, so that it serves that purpose as well and will not be Muktzah.


Patriotic Liberals and Other Creatures of Myth

I. Divisive Rhetoric?

I’ve been reading Ann Coulter’s works since she began publishing a few years ago. She levels many accusations at the liberal Left, but perhaps the sharpest invective in her repertoire is reserved for her theory that liberals are less patriotic than the average American.

“Why is the relative patriotism of the two parties the only issue that is out of bounds for discussion?” Ms. Coulter asks in her book Treason. “Why can’t we ask: Who is more patriotic: Democrats or Repulicans? You could win that case in court...Liberals want to be able to attack America without anyone making an issue of it. Patriotism is vitally important—but somehow impossible to measure. Liberals relentlessly oppose the military, the Pledge of Allegiance, the flag, the national defense. But if anyone calls them on it, they say he’s a kook and a nut. Citing the unpatriotic positions of liberals constitutes ‘McCarthyism.’ ”

To be honest, I’ve always assumed she was half-joking, or at least sprinkling her point with a liberal (ahem) dose of hyperbole. But recently, especially since reading James Burnham’s fantastic The Suicide of the West, I’ve come to realize that, Ms. Coulter’s intention aside, there is much truth to her rhetoric.

II. Liberal Egalitarianism

The starting point for our purpose is to note the liberal view of egalitarianism, though we might technically begin from even further back, to their relativist worldview. The liberal view of humanity states that there is no intrinsic difference between any brand of humanity, and therefore, humans should not discriminate against one another on the basis of property, sex, race, color, religion, or ancestry. At first, this egalitarianism found practical expression in the political realm, with the liberal program for universal suffrage. But in our time, it has bled into the social and economic fields, where it has actively sought leveling measures such as the progressive income-tax and inheritance taxes.

Once we accept this egalitarian assumption, the next step is simple: if all humans are essentially equal, then any basis for distinction, whether based on tradition, custom, prejudice, superstition or sentiment, is regarded as non-rational. As James Burnham puts it,

Looked at somewhat differently, liberalism’s egalitarianism is equivalent to a tendency - and we must continue to speak here of “tendencies” rather than of anything absolute - against social hierarchies and distinctions, against those factors in human life that mark off one group of men from the rest of mankind...Thus liberals are anti-aristocratic, and are opposed to political, economic or social distinctions based on family, religion or property, especially landed property, and perhaps most passionately of all to distinctions based on race or color.

As of yet, no great novelty, but this is where it gets interesting. Because of the liberal tendencies toward egalitarianism there is no real reason democratic centralization should stop with the single nation. In fact, the idea of a “nation” is viewed as an outdated and divisive concept. Thus liberals incline favorably toward ideas, movements and organizations that are universal in nature – world courts and united nations. And here, so that there be no mistake, I quote the liberal Quincy Wright, cited in The Liberal Papers:

Experience since the Second World War should have made it clear that a liberal foreign policy must assume that liberalism and democracy can only flourish or indeed survive in a suitable environment, that such an environment under present conditions can be no less extensive than the entire world, and that, therefore, liberal foreign policy must look at the world as a whole. Any form of isolationism and regionalism is obsolete. The nation that would save itself must subordinate its immediate interests to the maintenance of a peaceful, stable, and just world. That is the assumption that the United States and other nations made in establishing the United Nations.

III. A Matter of Priorities

In general, it is not the values to which a person adheres that reveal the most about his character, but rather the order of priority in which the values are arranged. Telling us, for example, that a person values family, life, liberty and peace tells us practically nothing – what human does not value these things? The real question is, what happens when there is a conflict of interests between the various values? Which takes precedence? Which is shunted aside ignobly?

Let’s take, for example, the values of Liberty (national independence and self-government) Justice (distributive justice of a more or less social welfare sort) Freedom (personal freedom and individual liberties) and Peace (the absence of large-scale warfare among major powers).

For the older liberalism of the nineteenth century, the order of precedence would be: Freedom, Liberty, Justice, and Peace (though Freedom and Liberty were used interchangeably). Older liberals tended to be patriotic and nationalist. They believed in the self-government, independence and sovereignty of their own country, and also in the right of other countries to self-determination. As rationalists, they believed that discussion was the preferred method of conflict resolution, yet Peace was still a modest priority.

But times have changed. For the majority of liberals, Peace has become paramount. The concepts of individual freedom (our Freedom) and national freedom (our Liberty) have become disassociated and downgraded, Liberty considerably more than the Freedom. What does the degradation of Liberty imply? Burnham answers,

To downgrade Liberty means to dilute the idea of the sovereignty of the nation and of the uniqueness and superiority of the civilization, and to reduce the importance that we attach to these in the scheme of public values. In terms of attitude, it means, concretely, that patriotism plus Christian faith are to one or another extent replaced by internationalism: not just an “international outlook” that views world affairs in global terms, with due realization that under modern circumstances there is a multiplicity of interests beside those of our own nation and culture that must be taken into account, but an active internationalism in feeling as well as thought, for which “fellow citizens” tend to merge into “humanity,” sovereignty is judged as an outmoded conception, my religion or no religion appears as a parochial variant of the “universal ideas common to mankind,” and the “survival of mankind” becomes more crucial than the survival of my country and my civilization.

Meaning, when push comes to shove, the interests of the “world” must take precedence over the interests of our nation. The fact that liberals often place the benefit of the world before the good of the United States should be patently obvious to any observer of the political scene. Tracts can, and have, been written about the damage caused to the interests of the US by global institutions such as the United Nations, adherence to international treaties, and subjugation to the decrees of the International Court of Justice.

Of course, some liberals will claim that while the US must certainly forsake its short term interests for the sake of the “greater good,” in the long run the US will be the ultimate beneficiary (and frankly, some will not even claim this much; the good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the US alone). Yet this is a dangerous and specious argument – the tangible loss is often both immediate and catastrophic, while the supposed benefits are illusory and indefinitely delayed.

IV. Patriotic Liberals and Other Creatures of Myth

I want to make clear that I do not question the worth of the liberal values here. It may be that the internationalist view is correct – that the good of the world in fact outweighs the good of the US, and that the US should submit to the judgment of international institutions, even when it conflicts with the direct interests of the US. I leave that to the reader to decide (though my personal view should be clear).

Nevertheless, what we can learn from the above is that most liberals are, practically by definition, relatively unpatriotic. Of course, they are ostensibly patriotic in the sense that they wish for the benefit and advancement of the interests of the US. But that desire is tempered by the overriding internationalism inherent in liberal ideology. When the two values come into conflict – as is happening more and more often in our increasingly global community – it is national patriotism that loses out.

It also stands to reason, as we pointed out above, that patriotism is actually anathema to liberal ideology. Because patriotism promotes an ideal of national pride, it is inherently divisive in nature. Thus, even though a liberal, and certainly a liberal politician, may mouth paeans to the idea of patriotism, it certainly leaves a bitter aftertaste behind. And this is only when liberals are not attacking patriotism outright. As Phil Donahue put it, patriotism is “the last refuge of scoundrels...Beware of patriotism.”

So it seems to me that there is great truth to the charge that liberals really are less patriotic than most Americans. Does this make any practical difference? Perhaps, and perhaps not. The coming two years will probably shed some light on the answer.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Eruv Awareness Campaign

This past Erev Shabbos, at 3:00 PM, my wife called the local Eruv hotline and the Eruv was up. At about 3:55, we got a phone call from a neighbor, whose wife had given birth a few days prior, that he needed a place to eat that night. He had been invited to eat at a family living about a mile away - doable in a stroller for a two year-old tot, dubious for her to walk it. Shabbos starts at 4:30. And he says that the Eruv is down.

I called the Eruv hotline, and, sure enough, the Eruv was down. Final. No way the crew can make it on time. This is frightening - you call at 3:00 and it's up, and a few minutes later it's down! How is one supposed to know this?

Quickly, my wife called a few friends, and there were quite a few 'saves' from those phone calls. One family was planning to walk a good two to three miles to a friend for the Shabbos day meal, and she also had stroller-bound li'l ones. I saw another father wheeling his child in a stroller to Shul for Minchah and Maariv, and I had to turn him right around.

The real problems began later. On Friday night, one of the students of a Rebbe who had made an Oneg at his house walked over with a Chumash. The Rebbe had to plead with him to leave the Chumash at his house, despite the fact that the student needed the Chumash to study for his Parshah test. Another student had brought his keychain, to be able to open the door when he arrived back home, when his parents would be out. The Rebbe encouraged the student to walk back immediately so he could still catch his parents.

On Shabbos day, there was virtually no sense that the Eruv was down. One of the local Rabbanim told me that outside people were walking, carrying things like it was a regular Shabbos with the Eruv up. I asked him if he told people not to stop and to turn right around and walk back. He thought that Muttav Yihyu Shogegin was operative, in most cases. (From personal experience with this, from the last time it happened, I think he's right).

Since there is an Eruv virtually every Shabbos, and carrying on Shabbos is such a given, it seems that people get the impression that the whole concept of Hotzaah is viewed as a Chumrah, and the Eruv is just to satisfy the Machmir opinion that you need an Eruv! It really is an Akirah of Shabbos, to an extent. (No Halachic pun intended).

Does the undeniable convenience of having an Eruv justify the mass Chillul Shabbos that occurs once or twice a year when it does come down?

Either way, there has to be a serious education of the public as to the seriousness of Hotzaah when the Eruv is inoperative.

And, instead of the call-in basis of finding out, perhaps Eruv membership dues should include a phone tree going out a few minutes before Shabbos to inform the community as to its status.

How do things work in other communities?


On Creativity and Potato Chips in Chinuch

There is much creativity going on at Hirhurim(inspired, naturally by a Mishmar post). From the simple idea of "Shatnez in Potato Chips", a host of ideas are being generated.

Since the very profound subject of potato chips is now receiving a great deal of attention in the blogosphere(blogging can be unpredictable), I thought I would post on a story of Rav Mendel Kaplan and potato chips, which illustrates an important chinuch(educational) principle. I will also comment on creativity techniques.

Rav Mendel Kaplan Zt'l was sitting in his succah with his students, and there was a bowl of potato chips on the table in front of him(I do not know if they were Kettle or regular). Rav Mendel did not take any for himself. He was asked about this, and he told his students that he doesn't like to eat potato chips because they make too much noise. Apparently, Rav Mendel felt that eating this snack himself was undignified.

However, when he saw a talmid who was overly serious also not taking the chips, he then took some. When asked by this student why he now was eating them, he said "because I do enjoy potato chips !"(Artscroll Biography).

The primary lesson I observed from this story is that a rebbe has to be aware of the needs of his different students. People are different and there is no one- size- fits- all approach. Thus, chanoch lenaar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenah.

However, I was also amazed that someone could do two contradictory actions in such a short time span. I think that the latter point can be related to the technique of looking at things from different perspectives, which in turn is related to the art of thinking creatively. Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo de Vinci refers to this concept as the DeVincian principle of Sfumato, which is a painting technique, but more broadly, is the willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.

And now back to brainstorming and creativity...

Brainstorming was introduced in 1953 by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive. One of the key principles is not to censor any ideas. Mind-Mapping, stream of consciousness writing, and meditation are similar methods which use the free flow of thoughts as a way to generate original ideas.

I remember reading in one of Rav Aryeh Kaplan's books on meditation that sometimes, one needs to stop thinking about a problem, and the solution will come by itself, or "pop into one's head". Evidently, this is the way Hashem created the brain, that one needs to "let go", and let ideas arise to consciousness.

In this vein, Rabbi Kaplan Zt'l relates that he was once trying to visualize a multi-dimensional figure for a physics problem and was having trouble doing so. Some time later, while taking a bath, the figure popped into his head.

I am not sure how many "marketable" ideas will come out of the "Potato Chips and Shatnez" concept, but if it promotes camaraderie in the blogosophere, brotherhood, and collaborative cogitations(whether cacophonous or melodious in nature), then more power to Reb Gil !