Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Some Good Writing on Chanukah – Barry Gelman
Here are two links to interesting articles on Chanukah.
1. This article expresses a position I have taken in my work with Christian Zionists. My work with Christian Zionists has been extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling. However, I draw the line and will not work with Messianic jewish groups who claim that one can be Jewish and accept Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior. Being Jewish and accepting Jesus are mutually exclusive and many of these groups prey on unaffiliated Jews and lure them in. You can find the original article here.
2. A wonderful article by Noam Zion: The Rabbinic Idea of Peacemaker: David Hartman Reads Maimonides’ Laws of Chanukah
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December 14, 2011 | 9:54 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
This post originally appeared in August of 2009, but has become only more urgent since then. At the time I wrote it as “a prayer for the full and speedy recovery of Margalit bat Miriam, who was struck and thrown from her wheelchair by a driver who did not see that the light had turned red, because he was speaking on his cellphone.” Margalit bat Miriam has since passed away.
The Federal government has begun the slow process of determining whether or not there ought to be national laws regarding cellphone use while driving. All of us who are committed to living according to Halacha need not wait for a government decision. The verdict is already in.
The halachik analysis of this issue proceeds in a very linear fashion, beginning in the classical discussion concerning unintentional murder. The Torah, as we read just recently, commands that we create cities of refuge for people who have unintentionally taken the life of another person. By fleeing to the city of refuge, the one who unintentionally took the life is protected from the impassioned wrath of the “blood-avenger” (the kinsman of the victim). In addition to being protected, he also will be paying for his act, as he will remain confined to the city of refuge until the High Priest dies.
In its analysis of this passage from the Torah, the Talmud makes it clear that not all unintentional murder is the same. (For a quick summary of the Talmud’s discussion, see Maimonides’ code, Laws of the Murderer, Chapter 6). Sometimes the death of the victim is truly the result of a freak accident. In this case, the person who caused the accident does not flee to the city of refuge. In the eyes of the law, he is completely innocent. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the instance in which again, there was no intention to kill anyone, but the person who caused the death of the other acted with such carelessness and recklessness, that his actions are classified as “approaching the intentional”. This person as well does not flee to a city of refuge. To quote Maimonides (paragraph 4):
There is also the case of one who kills unintentionally, but his act approaches the intentional, as it involves an act of negligence, or is in an instance in which he should have been cautious but was not. He does not flee to the city of refuge for his sin is too great to be atoned for through his exile… Therefore if the blood avenger finds and kills him, he (the blood avenger) is exempt form punishment.
Putting aside for a moment any uncomfortable feelings we may have about the law of the blood avenger, the larger point concerning the perpetrator’s act is clear. To cause the death of another through an act of gross negligence – albeit unintentionally and without any premeditation – is categorized as a “great sin”, one which legally approaches intentional murder.
What do we know about the likelihood of a driver causing a car accident when he or she is speaking on a cellphone (not to mention texting)? As reported in the NY Times on July 19, the likelihood that a driver holding and talking on a cellphone will crash, is equal to that of a driver whose blood alcohol level is .08 percent – the legal definition of driving while intoxicated. As the Times article put it, “drivers using phone are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers”. The article goes on to quote a Harvard study estimating that cellphone distraction causes thousand of deaths, and hundreds of thousands of injuries per year. The potential for committing a “great sin” is astonishingly high. And the research is not showing that using a hands-free phone significantly reduces this potential either.
As halachikly observant Jews, we go to great lengths to lower our risk of sinning. We do not climb trees on Shabbat lest we inadvertently violate Shabbat by breaking a branch. Many of us do not eat corn or beans on Pesach; lest we come to eat inadvertently eat chametz. On the first day of Rosh Hashana this year, we will actually set aside the Biblical mitzva of blowing shofar, lest we inadvertently carry the shofar through the public domain, thus violating the Shabbat. It is self-evident that our system demands that we not drive while distracted by our cellphone, lest we, God forbid, God forbid, inadvertently injure or kill someone. It’s that straightforward.
If for no other reason though, do it for Margalit bat Miriam.
December 13, 2011 | 11:24 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
Hanukkah today is a holiday of great irony. Though not a Biblical holiday, and certainly not Judaism’s most essential holiday, Hanukkah has taken on an exaggerated importance in America, due I think, to its calandrical proximity with one of Christianity’s most important festivals.
Hanukkah commemorates the war in the year 166 B.C.E. between the Jews in Israel and the Greek empire within which Israel of that era found itself. No two cultures could be more different than that of the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks were polytheistic and emphasized the esthetic, as their statues that we visit in our museums illustrate. Their perfect physical body chiseled in the Olympics and cultivated in Greek art and writing is iconic. In contrast the Jewish people were monotheists and a nation not known for their esthetic accomplishments, but rather their theological, judicial, and ethical ones. The Jewish people fought a war against the Greeks to retain their unique religion and not assimilate into Hellenistic culture and beliefs.
We light candles on Hanukkah because Hanukkah is about bringing the light of ethical monotheism into the world, about bringing the light of spirituality into a time of deified physicality, epitomized by the pervasive Greek culture of physicality and its worship. Hanukkah is indeed a battle of light and dark, polytheism and monotheism, the physical and the spiritual, the outside culture against the small Jewish nation trying to withstand assimilation and disappearance.
How ironic that Hanukkah, an anti-assimilationist holiday, has become the holiday of Jewish assimilationism, with the giving of gifts to imitate the Christmas tradition and the extravagant spending on parties which recall their non-Jewish counterparts.
For the previous generation of American Jews the opportunity of the American melting pot was Judaism’s undoing. Jewish people in alarming numbers from that generation assimilated into American culture, and feeling they could not be both Jews and Americans, exchanged their Jewish identity for the promise of American prosperity.
Though we live in a new era, one whose watchword is multiculturalism and not assimilation, it alas has come too late for the high percentage of American Jews whose grandparents were Jewish but whose grandchildren are not. At this time of year, when we might be tempted to use Hanukkah as a way of feeling part and parcel of the outside culture, of having our winter holiday also, let us resist this temptation to fit in, and instead take back our winter holidays for what they should be. A time of learning what it means to resist the American melting pot, a time for all of us, Jew, Christian, Muslim and Hindu, to celebrate our difference and separateness; -to see each of our uniqueness as more valuable than fitting in.
The culmination of Hanukkah’s successful military campaign two millennia ago was the rededication of the Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The symbol of this rededication was the lighting of the oil lamps, the menorah, with pure olive oil. This act, the bringing of light into the darkness, symbolizes the true Jewish take on Hanukkah. This Hanukkah let us celebrate, not presents and fanfare, but a single small light, adding one additional light on each subsequent night of Hanukkah and taking in the message that bringing light into the darkness is really what Hanukkah is about.
December 8, 2011 | 3:13 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
In the past few months, forces have made my good friend and inspiration, Rav Hyim Shafner, apologize for several things he has said. I do not begrudge him those apologies, if it helps him navigate the political world we live in. But I do want to set the record straight:
1) If a couple – whether they be same sex, other sex, intermarried, etc – are part of the community and they adopt a baby, or celebrate that child’s birthday or bar mitzvah – that child deserves to be celebrated. Celebrating the Bar Mitzva or the adoption of a child just – with a cake at kiddush, or with the entire kiddush – just means that Judaism is happy for kids to have loving and caring parents. It does not mean that the parents are a good match, a halachic match or even bashert. It is just a celebration of a family. Families come in all shapes and sizes – some halachic, some not. Our responsibility is to make sure that the kids see Judaism as beautiful and as compelling as possible.
2) Rav Hyim’s hypothetical case of a non-Jew getting an aliya may happen all the time in today’s world when we don’t examine people’s pedigree before they get an aliya. We do check before we would marry them, but not before an aliya. If we know that we accidentally gave a non-Jew an aliya, – even if there is a doubt – we can just add an acharon and still have 7 aliyot.
3) Are the Batei Dinim that are dragging conversions out over several years, making potential converts miserable actually violating the prohibition of “innue hager”? Rav Sha’ar Yashuv HaCohen paskined that they are considered geirim once they are involved in the conversion process. So it would seem that our Batei Dinim are at list happy to risk violating this Torah prohibition, in order to be extra extra sure that they follow the strictest opinion possible to convert people. Frequently they process conversion candidates inefficiently and painfully by making them have to face a bunch of rabbis who are not trained in the field of conversion, and are not doing it professionally.
No more apologies when it comes to values like welcoming Jews to shul, or making people feel comfortable in a Beit T’fila – a place of prayer and Torah – or when it comes to treating those who want to be Jewish with dignity. The Torah asks us to stand up, and Morethodoxy is about standing up for these Torah values.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
December 8, 2011 | 12:00 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
At the request of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), we are happy to disseminate the following IRF statement concerning the current struggle over who may perform weddings in Israel. For the last month, Israel’s ministry for Religious Services, controlled by the Shas party, has been attempting to prohibit the rabbis of Tzohar, a Modern Orthodox, National-Religious group from performing weddings. Tzohar, whose rabbis have performed over 15,000 weddings in Israel over the past sixteen years, had created its Wedding Project in 1996 in response to the very negative experiences that secular Israelis had been having with rabbis who work for the Chief Rabbinate. Insensitive and discourteous treatment by these rabbis had been leaving a very sour taste toward religion in the mouths of many couples, and many others were simply opting to marry in Cyprus, without a religious ceremony at all. By contrast, in Tzohar’s description of their Wedding Project , “Tzohar’s rabbis do their best to turn the wedding encounter into a spiritual experience; one which enriches both the couple and the rabbi, which leaves a positive impression with the young couple, and which creates the possibility of further meetings between the couple and rabbi further on in life. The success of the Wedding Project lies in a set of guidelines within which the organization’s rabbis function:
1. The rabbi meets with the couple before the wedding for a conversation aimed at explaining and designing the wedding ceremony.
2. The rabbi arrives punctually at the place of the ceremony.
3. Tzohar’s rabbis do not perform more than one ceremony on any given evening.
4. Tzohar’s rabbis receive no payment for officiating at a wedding.
It is shameful that the Ministry of Religious Services has been trying to shut Tzohar down.
(You can learn more about Tzohar at tzohar.org and about the IRF at http://internationalrabbinicfellowship.org/ )
IRF STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF TZOHAR
The International Rabbinical Fellowship calls upon the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel to permit the rabbis of the Tzohar rabbinical organization to continue registering marriages and conducting weddings in the State of Israel as has been the practice for the last decade.
The wedding initiative under the auspices of Tzohar has allowed thousands of Israeli couples, who might have opted for non-halakhic avenues, to marry under the wedding canopy according to the laws of Moses and Israel. Furthermore, it has brought many more to greater love for Torah and the commandments and respect and appreciation for tradition in the spirit of “Her Ways are ways of Gentleness and all he paths are peaceful”. The important work of Tzohar is a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, which should be strengthened and supported.
Tzohar’s wedding project has also been a tremendous resource for many couples from here in the United States and other areas of the Golah looking to celebrate their weddings in the Jewish state. Many of these couples would not have had the opportunity to create as joyous and meaningful a wedding were it not for the work of Tzohar.
We call upon the political and rabbinic establishment in Israel to ease this process and not put up more roadblocks that cause dissention and create difficulties for those who would avail themselves of this avenue of Huppah and Kiddushin. We include in this ensuring the right of every Israeli citizen to register for weddings in the municipality of their choosing regardless of residency.
November 30, 2011 | 9:52 am
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Recently a Kol-Isha controversy has arisen in Israel. In another instance Rav Levanon compared the requirement that male soldiers sit in a program when women are sining to a “time of persecution” that requires one to give up their life in accordance with the ruling or the Rambam.
Rav Moshe Liechtenstein responded here.
In order to have informed conversation on this issue I am posting a series of links to articles that offer various approaches to the issue of Kol Isha.
Rav David Bigman - Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Maale Gilboa. A New Analysis of Kil B’Isha Erva.
Michael Makovi - A New Hearing for Kol Ishah
Rabbi Saul Berman - Kol Isha Revisited
Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin - A critique of Rabbi Berman’s article
Avraham Shammah - Kol Isha with a current perspective
Rabbi Chaim Jachter - The Parameters of Kol Isha
November 28, 2011 | 9:43 am
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
Last week I wrote a blog post on another blog in which I suggested Abraham had on some level failed the test of bringing his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. That instead of bringing him perhaps the more ethical response would have been to protect the innocent child even in the face of the Divine command to sacrifice him. It seemed more in keeping with the teachings of the the God of the Bible who abhors injustice and loves mercy. Here is the post.
I received several responses from individuals of various religions who found my suggestion that Abraham failed, to say the least, highly objectionable. Many asked how I could suggest that a better decision would have been for Abraham to refuse to kill his son when the bible and so many religious traditions clearly see this as Abraham’s greatest moment of faith and religious success.
To these concerns I would answer that Judaism, my tradition, has a particularly unique view of the Bible, that multiple interpretations, even when in contradiction with each other can be simultaneously true. There are several levels on which the bible is understood in Jewish tradition, from that of the plain meaning of the text to more mystical levels, and several in between. On the level of the text’s plain meaning perhaps there are fewer legitimate interpretations but when it comes to deeper levels, especially those of the Midrash, the narrative and homiletically level, we have many examples from Jewish tradition in which we are presented with ancient interpretations which are contradictory, yet simultaneously seen as valid. Thus it can be true that while on one level Abraham indeed performed an act of great faith, on another level he failed to care for his weak child and caused his wife’s death of shock.
Another criticism some had of the suggestion that Abraham failed his final test was the supposition that the righteous individuals in the Bible are perfectly righteous. How could I have the audacity to suggest that the people upon whom many religions are founded, were flawed?
There is a very long Jewish tradition of not seeing our ancestors as perfect. For instance the rabbis of the Talmud suggest that Jacob was fooled by his wife Leah as punishment for fooling his brother Esau when he surreptitiously took the first born blessing from him, or ancient Rabbis who suggest that the Jewish people were punished much latter in the time of Queen Esther for what Jacob did to his brother, showing in effect, that what he did was wrong. Some ancient Jewish commentaries even understand that the Jewish people had to go down to Egypt into slavery as a punishment for Abraham putting his wife in danger in the beginning of the Book of Genesis, when he told Pharaoh, in an attempt to save himself from harm, that Sara was not his wife but his sister. And on and on.
I would suggest that, seeing the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs as righteous, but none the less flawed, -rather than threaten theological soundness of religious life, actually strengthens and deepens it. If our founders and mentors are perfect, and thus like Gods, then who are we to learn from them? To model our lives after them? But if they are human, and flawed, like us but none the less paradigms of constant religious striving, self reflection, and spiritual work. Men such as King David, about whom the prophet Natan in the Biblical book of Samuel says “You are the (sinful) man,” who sinned and yet repented and rose above his sin to a better and more holy place, only then can they truly be our spiritual mentors.
November 26, 2011 | 8:31 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
I want to clarify that my aside regarding giving an aliyha to a goy after he had been called up accidentally as a question of kavod habriot verses an issur d’rabanan was probably wrong. Though generally kavod habriot is docheh an issur dirababanan (Gemara Berachot 19b), this instance is a case of being motzie others in their chiuv and just as we would not allow a goy to make kiddush and be motzie us, so too with regard to an aliyah.
One other thing (my thanks to a respected Rabbi in our field for pointing it out)-Though I said that batey din (Jewish courts) do not rely on Rav Moshe’s leniency regarding to ger katan (converting a child) out of fear, this is perhaps incorrect, their motivation may be (and judging others favorably would demand I assume it so), a halachic one, not wanting for halachic reasons to rely on such a leniency. Though knowing the individuals on the ground and our sociological reality today, in my opinion we should rely on it, nevertheless, I apologize for my tone and assumption of wrong intent.