Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
As Elul rushes toward Tishrai, my good friend Joey Lipner and I have penned a letter of apology to our classmates who were compelled to "wrestle" with Rabbi Finkelstein. In it, we apologize for never having said or done anything, even as we were quite aware of the bizarre things that were going on. If you were in MTA in those years, or if you know someone who was, please consider signing the letter and/or passing it along. We hope that it will bring some tikkun to this awful situation. Here's the link:
At the same time, we await the report that Yeshiva will be putting out revealing the results of its investigation. I have received assurances that it will be released in full to the public. This is of course a vital first step in fulfilling the spirit of up Rabbi Lamm's statement of apology.
12.12.13 at 12:42 pm | Life and Joseph and his brothers.
11.20.13 at 8:41 pm | 75% of Jews who, according to the Pew report, do. . .
11.11.13 at 1:50 pm | Appreciating the words of a Morethodoxy non-fan
10.31.13 at 12:08 am | We can't afford to be distracted
10.30.13 at 12:06 pm | Why nothing is neutral
8.18.13 at 4:46 pm |
August 15, 2013 | 2:54 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
This month of Elul leads up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time of reflection and tishuvah, return, but with what should we emerge from this process?
Elul, Rosh Hashanah, the 10 Days of Tishuvah and Yom Kippur culminates in a service performed once a year on Yom Kippur itself, on the holiest day, in the holiest place, by the holiest person. But it was also, perhaps the strangest service in Judaism. As the Torah states in Vayikra/Leviticus 16:
ומאת עדת בני ישראל יִקח שני שעירי עִזים לחטאת ואיל אחד לעֹלה... ולקח את שני השעירִם, והעמיד אֹתם לפני ה' פתח אֹהל מועד. ונתן אהרן על שני השעירִם גֹרלות: גורל אחד לה' וגורל אחד לעזאזל. והקריב אהרן את השעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל לה', ועשהוּ חטאת; והשעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל לעזאזל יָעֳמד חי לפני ה' לכפר עליו, לשלח אֹתו לעזאזל המדברה.
7. And he (the High Priest) shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the Tent of Meeting.
8. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel.
9. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
10. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be for Azazel, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go to Azazel into the wilderness.
This Yom Kippur service is the only ongoing mitzvah which specifically required a randomizer. In addition, these two goats from which one is chosen to be a sacrifice and the other, which in a truly strange seemingly un-Jewish act of wanton destruction is thrown off a cliff, had to be identical, in a way -twins. One no different that the other, no more deserving, no more holy, no more attractive; exactly the same but with diametrically opposite ends. As the Mishna in Yoma 62a states:
משנה. שני שעירי יום הכפורים מצותן שיהיו שניהן שוין במראה ובקומה ובדמים ובלקיחתן כאחד.
“The two goats of Yom Kippur had to be the same in appearance, height, and value, and they had to be purchased at the exactly the same time.”
Not only the two goats but the lots used to choose them had to be exactly the same, save the consequences engraved upon them. As the Talmud, Yoma 37a says:
וקלפי היתה שם ובה שני גורלות. - תלמוד לומר גורל אחד לה' וגורל אחד לעזאזל, אין כאן לשם אלא גורל אחד ואין כאן לעזאזל אלא אחד. יכול יתן של שם ושל עזאזל על זה, ושל שם ושל עזאזל על זה - תלמוד לומר גורל אחד [לה' - אין כאן לה' אלא אחד, ואין כאן לעזאזל אלא אחד]. אם כן מה תלמוד לומר גורלות? שיהיו שוין, שלא יעשה אחד של זהב ואחד של כסף, אחד גדול ואחד קטן. גורלות של כל דבר, פשיטא! - לא צריכא לכדתניא לפי שמצינו בציץ שהשם כתוב עליו והוא של זהב, יכול אף זה כן - תלמוד לומר גורל גורל ריבה. ריבה של זית, ריבה של אגוז, ריבה של אשכרוע.
The lots must be the same. Not one of gold and one of silver, one large and one small. The lots may be made from anything but they must be identical.
The central service of the holiest day, the day of judgment and atonement, of G-d being most present, revolved around two completely identical goats, costing the same, looking the same, chosen by identical lots, yet with opposite, truly random destinies. One for G-d the other for Azazel, for wanton, seemingly purposeless destruction.
This service almost seems as if, G-d forbid, it were engineered by a cynic, a tongue in cheek Dadaist, mocking G-d and us and the world G-d created, by attempting to highlight, though an eccentric act of performance art, the seemingly banal randomness of good and evil, the arbitrary meaninglessness of life, human will, choice, destiny and purpose. Though exactly the same, one is randomly chosen for G-d, for holiness, for a sacrifice in the holiest place, and one to be thrown off a cliff in a barren place, alone, witnessed by no one, not even its executioner who had to turn his back to push it off the cliff to its death, torn limb from limb.
Why is such a thing performed? How in the world does such a ceremony so seemingly cruel in its randomness bring total atonement for the Jewish people? Indeed it seems to fly in the face of everything we believe in and hold sacred.
Imagine for a moment that you are one of these two goats in holy Temple, destined for, you assume, a sacrifice. Now a random lottery chooses one over the other. Very much like life. One goat is chosen for G-d, for the alter, the other goat watches as his “twin” is led to the ritual slaughter. Imagine you are the goat watching. Your twin has been chosen for a Temple offering. You are relieved; you are led out of the Temple, you imagine to freedom. You are calm, smug, only to be thrown from a cliff in the wilderness, in a Jewish ritual act unprecedented throughout the year.
Both goats die. In fact all goats die, and all of us will die. The question that matters of course is which has lived the nobler life? This is the lesson of the tishuvah process. Not to escape death for another year, not to pray for a physically good year, live what we have for G-d and not for Azazel.
Often we wish to escape from responsibility into an imagined freedom. But in this world in which we have no control, our freedom from life, from death, is an illusion. What we can do is aim, within all this randomness of our universe, to live a life of holiness and meaning. A life La’Hashem-for G-d, and not La’azazel-for naught. Yom Kippur and the process of tishuvah can not help us to control the coming year, but it can help our life and our inevitable death, be on the Jewish alter, in the temple, not in some forsaken spiritual desert.
If we the Jewish people understand the message of the two goats, then indeed they can serve as atonement for us. If not, then it is just another Yom Kippur spent to assuage our guilt, and whose temporary inspiration will erode by Chanukah.
August 8, 2013 | 11:15 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
(Readers are invited to find the numerous recent posts on this topic at www.morethodoxy.org)
I love my wife. And this love shapes my daily routine, and defines the contours of the way I live. I am aware of the scientific position that what we call love is in reality a complex set of bio-chemical reactions, refined over the millennium by a process of natural selection that favored those homo sapiens who were able to sustain faithful, long-term mating relationships, and that love is therefore a delusion, a deception performed by our genes. I am aware of this position. But it doesn’t in any way affect my belief that I am truly loving my wife. Nor does it alter in any way the set of rituals and behaviors through which I respond to this love’s call. I recognize the validity of the position and of the questions that it raises, but I am not troubled by them.
I of course cannot know what Rabbi Soloveitchik meant when (in The Lonely Man of Faith) he acknowledged his awareness of “the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the very foundations upon which the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest,” yet asserted that he was not “troubled” by them. Perhaps he was not troubled because he knew how to effectively refute the arguments of the Biblical critics, or because he had uncovered the flaws in their scholarship. Or, as is suggested by the fact that he never published further on the topic of biblical criticism, perhaps there was a different reason that he was not troubled. Perhaps he likened believing in the traditional view of the Scriptures to believing in the truth of love.
I am blessed (or lucky) to possess a strong experientially-based belief in the truth of Divinely-given Torah. It is an experientially- based belief that in no way addresses the weighty questions of Biblical authorship and historicity, questions whose existence I am acutely aware of. Yet, it largely shields me from their effects. When, for example, I act honestly even when this honesty comes at a personal cost, and I do so because it is written in the Torah that I should, I feel – truly and deeply – that I am responding to God’s voice, to the voice we all heard at Sinai. Or when I succeed in “doing the upright and the good,” my experience is that of responding to the words that are calling out from the Sefer Torah – the Sefer Torah to which we point as we say, “and this is the Torah which Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.” Equally, on the occasions when I ignore the pasuk in Vayikra, and fail to guard my tongue from speaking lashon hara, my experience is that of having defied the word that God spoke to Moshe upon the mountain. This is what it feels like to me. The belief that I am in fact living in relationship with God’s word is no less real than the belief that I am in fact loving my wife.
I know that we are all different, and that there are many Orthodox Jews for whom this doesn’t work as well, for whom this kind of “compartmentalization” evinces a lack of intellectual and spiritual integrity. But I also know that I am far from alone in feeling and living the way I do. And so I write this short essay in the effort to describe this way of being – of knowing the questions and even finding them worthwhile and important, but not being “troubled” by them. I write, to ratify the viability of being intellectually aware and at the same time genuinely pious. For it is, I believe, no less viable than both recognizing the biological realities of hormones and neurological hard-wiring, and at the same time, being unquestionably in love.