Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rav Tzadok on the Hagaddah

Here are some of Rav Tzadok's ideas on the hagaddah. He discusses why we have 4 cups of wine, but only 3 matzot. What does it mean to remember the exodus from Egypt and how does 'bread of poverty' taste like manna.

I look forward to your comments.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Rav Tzadok on Hagaddah 01

(Right click and then 'download as')

Rav Tzadok on Hagaddah 01

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lord Jakobovits on Sacrifices

This week we begin the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). The first few parshiyot deal with various kinds of sacrifices. Slaughtering animals for religous rites is a concept which is quite foreign to us today. (See ParshaBlog on Ibn Caspi's view on sacrifices.)

In the 1990 edition of the Singer Siddur (Authorised Daily Prayer Book) there is an article by Chief Rabbi Jacobiwits on the meaning of animal sacrifices. Since this edition of the siddur is now out of print, and I didn't find this on the internet, so I have scanned my copy for anyone who is interested. (If I have infringed copyright or anything else please let me know).

So here are scans of "Some Thought on Animal Sacrifices in Judaism - Probings into a psycho-religious drama"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amazing musical instrument(s)

I know this is just an advertisement for Intel, but it is really quite cool.

What happens to all those balls afterwards?

Mehadrin Matzot

Are matzot still considered mehadrin if they are stolen? Or more specifically, are matzot considered mehadrin (or even kosher) if the tax man is cheated out of his 16% VAT (Sales Tax for Americans)?

I ordered some matzot this year from a different place than usual (for various reasons). I was told that I could pay through my bank. Then after they were delivered I was told that I had to pay cash because the factory would not bill the institution for the matzot without adding 16% VAT on to the price. The institution avoided the increased price by paying cash, and cheating the tax man.

Two further points:

1. Why does the government charge VAT on matza? In Britain there are certain basic foods that are exempt from VAT. Why doesn't the government have a similar system here, where the basic foods (including matza for Pesach) are exempt?

2. After all the boycots of the summer about the price of cottage cheese (which has now returned to the price it was before the boycot) why do we not protest the price of mehadrin/chabura matza? Surely the production costs can't be nearly as high as the retail price! Why don't we stand up (or sit down) and refuse to buy mehadrin matzot until the prices come back to something approaching normal?

Bli Neder next year I'll go to my local supermarket and buy the regular mehadrin matzot from there. I will save several hundred shekel, and even though they may not be as kosher in terms of chametz (though I'm not sure there is any real halachic difference between the cheap and the expensive ones), but they will be more kosher in terms of avoiding theft from the government.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is the difference between Rabbi and Rebbi?

I came across this quote on the website of the Biala Rebbe of Bnei Brak

There are many differences but in short, a Rebbe listens to you from your soul and gives you guidance and answers from that level. Whereas a Rabbi, listens to you from a your mouth and gives you guidance and answers from what would be written in a book.

They actually refer you to a Chabad website which says a similar thing

I think their definition of a Rebbe is lovely. Giving guidance from the soul. Sometimes a person needs someone who can listen to them and advise them in ways which may be not strictly halachic (though of course Rebbes also answer halachic questions as well).

But I'm not sure that I like their definition of a Rabbi (though in many cases it may be (unfortunately) correct).

It sounds, in other words, as if a Rabbi only listens to the words of the questioner, and then opens a book which has the answer written in it (or knows the answer without having to read the book).

I know Rabbis who answer questions like this. Actually, they are better than the Rabbis who answer the question before it has been asked, or without listening to all of the words of the questioner (I know a few Rabbis like that too). And sometimes there is no alternative but to answer the question simply based on the words of the questioner. For example, a phone or e-mail question sometimes does not allow the Rabbi to fully understand the questioner - without seeing their body language and other critical information. Sometimes (for valid reasons) people ask questions anonymously, either through a friend, or on the internet, or in any other way. In such a case all a Rabbi can do is look up the answer in a book - the better the Rabbi the better the book!

BUT (to invoke the 'No True Scotsman' argument) in my opinion a REAL Rabbi (like a good doctor) will listen not only to the mouth, but also to the heart, psychology, emotions and history of the person asking the question. I know that if I have a serious halachic question I will first go to ask a Rabbi who knows me well, and who has known me for a while.

Even fairly 'simple' questions can have different answers depending on the person asking and the unspoken information they convey. In Kashrut for example, I know that some of the people who ask me questions won't believe me if I simply tell them that something is permitted (since they are convinced it is forbidden) and if I told them to do nothing they would go to get a second opinion. So I explain to them that there are some opinions that permit this, but there are also some stringent opinions, and I try to find a simple kashering action they can perform to give them the halachic answer they need.

In hilchot Nida, for example, if I know that there have been shalom bayit problems between the couple I will be more likely to rely on a lenient opinion (if I think that will alleviate the problem) that I wouldn't necessarily use for someone else.

I may give a different answer to a Shabbat question if I know the person has only just begun keeping Shabbat, or is struggling with dilemmas of work and Shabbat I will give them a different answer than to someone who has just come back from Yeshiva for bein hazemanim.

To be a Rabbi a person must know who the person is asking the question, and know what they are really asking (because often that is not included in the question, but must be clarified - sometimes the person themselves does not know what they are really trying to ask), and the more information the Rabbi has, the better will be the quality of the answer.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find a Rabbi who fits this description, and it can be hard to find ways of connecting to him and getting him to know you (and vice versa). Internet answers or book answers are easier. But not always correct.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Achashverosh and Candaules

I am reading Heroditus' history (I'm trying to understand the context of the Purim story, but it will take quite a long time) and have come across several interesting things. I will try to post things as I find them (if for no other reason than to help me remember them).

Since we have just finished with Purim (and since I am still very near the beginning of Heroditus) I thought this was relevant.

We are all familiar with the Megillah, and the beginning where Achashverosh asks Vashti to appear before the assembled guests. We have all heard that she was to appear naked, and that is the reason that she refused, though in fact that does not appear in the text of the Megillah.

1:10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Bizzetha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that ministered in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,
1:11 to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the peoples and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to look on.

However the gemara (Megillah 12b) tells us the instruction was for her to appear naked.

This always struck me as strange. Perhaps I am a prude, but I couldn't really understand why someone (especially not a king) would want others to see his wife naked. No matter how drunk he was, this seems like a strange request.

So I found it interesting that there is a similar (though quite different) story in Heroditus (Book 1):.

Now it happened that this Candaules was in love with his own wife; and not only so, but thought her the fairest woman in the whole world. This fancy had strange consequences. There was in his bodyguard a man whom he specially favoured, Gyges, the son of Dascylus. All affairs of greatest moment were entrusted by Candaules to this person, and to him he was wont to extol the surpassing beauty of his wife. So matters went on for a while. At length, one day, Candaules, who was fated to end ill, thus addressed his follower: "I see thou dost not credit what I tell thee of my lady's loveliness; but come now, since men's ears are less credulous than their eyes, contrive some means whereby thou mayst behold her naked." At this the other loudly exclaimed, saying, "What most unwise speech is this, master, which thou hast uttered? Wouldst thou have me behold my mistress when she is naked? Bethink thee that a woman, with her clothes, puts off her bashfulness. Our fathers, in time past, distinguished right and wrong plainly enough, and it is our wisdom to submit to be taught by them. There is an old saying, 'Let each look on his own.' I hold thy wife for the fairest of all womankind. Only, I beseech thee, ask me not to do wickedly."

Gyges thus endeavoured to decline the king's proposal, trembling lest some dreadful evil should befall him through it. But the king replied to him, "Courage, friend; suspect me not of the design to prove thee by this discourse; nor dread thy mistress, lest mischief be. thee at her hands. Be sure I will so manage that she shall not even know that thou hast looked upon her. I will place thee behind the open door of the chamber in which we sleep. When I enter to go to rest she will follow me. There stands a chair close to the entrance, on which she will lay her clothes one by one as she takes them off. Thou wilt be able thus at thy leisure to peruse her person. Then, when she is moving from the chair toward the bed, and her back is turned on thee, be it thy care that she see thee not as thou passest through the doorway."

Gyges, unable to escape, could but declare his readiness. Then Candaules, when bedtime came, led Gyges into his sleeping-chamber, and a moment after the queen followed. She entered, and laid her garments on the chair, and Gyges gazed on her. After a while she moved toward the bed, and her back being then turned, he glided stealthily from the apartment. As he was passing out, however, she saw him, and instantly divining what had happened, she neither screamed as her shame impelled her, nor even appeared to have noticed aught, purposing to take vengeance upon the husband who had so affronted her. For among the Lydians, and indeed among the barbarians generally, it is reckoned a deep disgrace, even to a man, to be seen naked.

No sound or sign of intelligence escaped her at the time. But in the morning, as soon as day broke, she hastened to choose from among her retinue such as she knew to be most faithful to her, and preparing them for what was to ensue, summoned Gyges into her presence. Now it had often happened before that the queen had desired to confer with him, and he was accustomed to come to her at her call. He therefore obeyed the summons, not suspecting that she knew aught of what had occurred. Then she addressed these words to him: "Take thy choice, Gyges, of two courses which are open to thee. Slay Candaules, and thereby become my lord, and obtain the Lydian throne, or die this moment in his room. So wilt thou not again, obeying all behests of thy master, behold what is not lawful for thee. It must needs be that either he perish by whose counsel this thing was done, or thou, who sawest me naked, and so didst break our usages." At these words Gyges stood awhile in mute astonishment; recovering after a time, he earnestly besought the queen that she would not compel him to so hard a choice. But finding he implored in vain, and that necessity was indeed laid on him to kill or to be killed, he made choice of life for himself, and replied by this inquiry: "If it must be so, and thou compellest me against my will to put my lord to death, come, let me hear how thou wilt have me set on him." "Let him be attacked," she answered, "on the spot where I was by him shown naked to you, and let the assault be made when he is asleep."

All was then prepared for the attack, and when night fell, Gyges, seeing that he had no retreat or escape, but must absolutely either slay Candaules, or himself be slain, followed his mistress into the sleeping-room. She placed a dagger in his hand and hid him carefully behind the self-same door. Then Gyges, when the king was fallen asleep, entered privily into the chamber and struck him dead. Thus did the wife and kingdom of Candaules pass into the possession of Gyges, of whom Archilochus the Parian, who lived about the same time, made mention in a poem written in iambic trimeter verse.

The same pride in the most beautiful wife, the similarity that neither wife wanted to be seen naked, and in both cases someone was killed (though the Megillah does not specifically state that Vashti was killed). But the differences between the stories are also clear - Achashverosh wanted to show off his wife in public, Candaules wanted to show only one trusted servant in private; Achashverosh retained his kingdom despite this event, Candaules lost both his kingdom and his life.

Still, I thought it was interesting.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rav Tzadok on Purim

Last week I said I was going to speak this week about the historical context of Purim. I think it is important to understand the context to get the real meaning of Purim. But I failed to keep my promise. It was too difficult for me (and Micha Berger suggested that a shiur should be meaningful, not history - which is a fair point).

So instead I take an idea of Rav Tzadok and develop it. He points out that unlike Shabbat (which is sanctified by G-d) and festivals/Rosh Chodesh (which is sanctified by Yisrael) Purim was chosen (and thus sanctified) by Haman and his lottery.

He discusses the meaning of lottery, and explains that someone who perceives G-d as acting randomly with the world will in return have G-d act with him in that way. (This is similar to someone who does not believe in the resurection of the dead who will therefore miss out on the resurrection of the dead.)

I look forward to your comments.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Rav Tzadok on Purim

(Right click and then 'download as')

Rav Tzadok on Purim

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.