Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good Old Auntie

In America they have the ADL. In Britain they have the BBC. (Those 3 letter initials are catchy).

Impartial as always, the Beeb reports on wanton destruction of artifacts on (so called?) Temple Mount.

Apart from the headline (priceless) I particularly like such phrases as:
"Muslim authorities at al-Aqsa mosque, also venerated by Jews as the Temple Mount" (also? who was here first buddy!),
"Jerusalem's holiest religious shrine" (not Judaism's holiest shrine),
"Mosque officials insist it is urgent infrastructure work doing no damage" (why would you think that a bulldozer is doing damage? Ask Arthur Dent!),
"the remains of King Solomon's temple" (no current religious significance then),
"We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends" (because clearly archaeology is always motivated by politics, not history),
"it is a living religious site in an occupied land" (which is why they play football up there and have family picnics (and occasionally throw rocks down on those praying at the kotel) - a living religious site!)

I suppose history has no more significance for the readership of the BBC (since the end of the Raj, and the 'pink bits'), so archeology is just another political tool, and the Jews (as usual) are making trouble again.

Remind me again why Moshe Dayan gave the Wakf control of the site in 1967?!

(And why is this not reported at all on the Israeli news sites?)

Israeli anger over holy site work

A group of Israeli archaeologists is protesting about fresh excavations at Jerusalem's holiest religious shrine, saying it threatens priceless relics.

Muslim authorities at al-Aqsa mosque, also venerated by Jews as the Temple Mount, are digging a 150-metre trench for water pipes and electricity cables.

Israeli critics say the work is causing irreparable damage, indiscriminately piling up earth and carved stones.

Mosque officials insist it is urgent infrastructure work doing no damage.

The Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount compound is the Middle East's most sensitive disputed religious site.

Competing claims have been a catalyst for violence in the recent past and determining its fate lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.


Jewish tradition reveres the area as the remains of King Solomon's temple, while Muslim tradition has it as the location of the Prophet Muhammad's ascent into heaven.

With the rest of east Jerusalem the shrine was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Now the compound is run by the Muslim Waqf authorities under Israeli security control.

The Waqf resumed working this week, using a mechanical digger on a metre-deep trench, cutting through the subsoil and piling it up beside the trench.

Israeli archaeologists say such material should be carefully sifted and documented, as it would be even at sites of far less significance than this most sensitive cultural and religious location.

Gabriel Barkai of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount calls it an act of barbarism.

"They are digging in the most crucial and delicate point of the Temple Mount - of the whole country," the Bar-Ilan University senior lecturer told the BBC.

"They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer."

Living shrine

Dr Barkai identifies the area currently under excavation as the outer courts of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great in the First Century BC.

He maintains it is where the best preservation of antiquities was anticipated, since other parts of the compound are built on exposed bedrock.

He accuses the Islamic authorities of wanting to "show who is the boss" by destroying Jewish remains in al-Aqsa mosque.

He also lambastes the Israeli Antiquities Authority, meant to supervise any work at archaeological sites, for apparently giving the work legitimacy.

Yusuf Natsheh of the Islamic Waqf dismisses such claims, saying the area has been dug many times and arguing that remains unearthed would be from the 16th or 17th century Ottoman period.

He says the work is urgently needed to maintain the al-Aqsa compound as an important religious institution.

Saturated by history

"We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends," Dr Natsheh told the BBC.

"But their rules of archaeology do not apply to the Haram (compound); it is a living religious site in an occupied land."

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has not commented on the issue. "They filled their mouths with water," as Dr Barkai puts it.

"The earth here is saturated by history. All we can do is alert the world to what is happening and try to stop the next disaster," he says.

As far as Dr Natsheh is concerned the Israeli government has no authority over what is happening, as the Muslim authorities do not recognise its legitimacy in the occupied territory.

"We inform the Israeli police about what we intend to do, and then go ahead, so they have no excuse to prevent us," he says.

wikipedia deletions

It is still too hot to function. Maybe life would be better if these entries had remained on wikipedia (unfortunately they were deleted). Still, if you can't laugh, think about it again and then maybe it will be funny!

Water on Mars

"There is water on Mars"

Evidently, there is also glass and a plastic wrapper and now MY JAWS!

Coca-Cola in the Wild

In its natural state, Coca-Cola is docile until attacked, when it will spray sweet liquid on the predator. It has many foes, such as:

* Teens
* Children
* Parents
* Movie-goers

Yet it is often found and eaten. It does many things to protect itself. It may 'accidentally' tip over when frightened, or disguise itself as the less popular Pepsi or Dr. Pepper. Still, even with its most creative attempts, its foes still find it.

In the wild, it stays in packs of 5-23 other cans. Sadly, many packs have been taken into captivity, where rings are put tightly around their middles and the cans are put into boxes. They are then sold to people who take them to houses, where they will not be fed or allowed to roam around.

See Also:

* Coca-Cola
* Pepsi
* Dr Pepper

[EDIT] Actually, organic farming allows for free-roaming.

(EDIT) It doesn't say organic does it edit boy?

This is simply because 90% of all Coca-Cola isn't organically cultivated. Organic and free-range Coca-Colas are more expensive and generally sold only in natural foods markets.

From C is for Cookie

C is for Cookie can be regarded as a case study in persuasive oratory, emphasizing the emotional aspect of public speaking. Cookie Monster builds excitement by answering his opening rhetorical question, "Now what starts with the letter C?" with the obvious reply, "Cookie starts with C!" He then challenges the audience, "Let's think of other things that starts with C," before quickly replying, "Oh, who cares about the other things?" casually dismissing a whole range of other possibilities as irrelevant. Thus, having ostensibly come for the purpose of covering the letter C in its entirety, Cookie Monster has already focused his agenda exclusively on cookies, employing the classic bait and switch tactic. Several times in his presentation, Cookie Monster emphasizes what appears to be the central thesis of his remarks: "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me!" The appealing rhythm of this slogan appears designed to entrance listeners, swaying their emotions and making them instinctively want to chant along with him. After rousing the crowd, Cookie Monster systematically lays out the logical underpinnings of his pro-cookie ideology, comparing cookies to round donuts with one bite out of them and to the moon during its crescent phase, in essence using a straw man argument that implies his opponents would advocate the superiority of these competitors over cookies. In this sense, Cookie Monster may be proposing a false dichotomy representing cookies as the only viable choice to a group of obviously inferior alternatives. But before the audience has a chance to catch on, Cookie Monster launches into another round of repetitive chanting, "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me, yeah!" as young children sing along. Here, Cookie Monster uses a propaganda technique strikingly similar to that employed in George Orwell's Animal Farm by the pig Napoleon, who trained the farm's sheep to bleat, "Four legs good, two legs bad" on his cue. Cookie Monster then adds visual stimulation to his discourse by chomping into a large cookie, concluding his remarks with "Umm-umm-umm-umm-umm" and other chewing sounds.

[I would like to distastefully add that the cookie monster has now gone healthy. when offered both carrot and cookie, he now pick's the carrot! What is this world coming to... I mean, carrots and salad in general is what food eats. SOMETHING IS WRONG!!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have a pleasant Elul

Of course during Elul we are all doing everything we can to improve ourselves and work on our relationship with G-d. But how about our relationships with other humans? Are we also working on improving that?

One simple suggestion that will make you much more loved in the eyes of everyone who shares the bus/office/house with you is to think about the ringtone on your cellphone. Even kosher phones can earn you demerits if you annoy everyone around you by having it switched on in the wrong place at the wrong time, or making it too loud, or using an annoying ringtone.

Did you know that the (really annoying) Nokia tune ringtone is actually based on a 19th century guitar tune called Gran Vals, composed by Spanish musician Francisco Tárrega?

You can see and hear it here:

(If you want to learn how to play it yourself the sheet music is here: F.Tarrega - Gran Vals)

Isn't that much better than the ringtone?

Think of others when you set your ringtone. Choose something others can bear to listen to, or best of all, leave it on silent, so that you don't have to disturb others at all when it rings.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yarzheit - Ben Ish Chai

Today, Monday 13th Elul is the Yarzheit of R' Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, one of the most prolific and influential recent Rabbis of the Sefardi world. He wrote books on almost every topic, from Talmud to Kabbalah to Halacha to Chumash.

Wikipedia writes about him:

The Ben Ish Chai (בן איש חי) is a standard reference in Sephardi homes (functioning as "a Sephardi Kitzur Shulchan Arukh") and is widely studied in Sephardi yeshivot. Due to the popularity of this book, Hakham Yosef Chaim came to be known as "Ben Ish Chai", by which he is referred to by many today. The book is a collection of homilies he gave over two years discussing the weekly Torah portion. Each chapter begins with a mystical discussion, usually explaining how a Kabbalistic interpretation of a certain verse relates to a particular halakha, and then continuing to expound on that halakha with definitive rulings.

Hakham Yosef Chaim authored over thirty other works, and there are many published Iraqi rite siddurim (prayer books) based on his rulings, which are widely used by Sephardi Jews. Amongst the best known of his works are:

* Me-Kabtziel: an esoteric exposition of Jewish law - which he refers to often in Ben Ish Chai - providing a more detailed explanation of the reasoning underlying certain decisions. It has been speculated that Hakham Yosef Chaim's insistence on having all his works printed in Israel prevented this essential work from being published.

* Ben Yehoyada, his commentary on the Talmud, considered a basic resource in understanding the Aggada (narrative sections of the Talmud).

* The Responsa (Hebrew: Sheelot U-Teshuvot) Rav Pe'alim (Rab Pəʕalim) and Torah Lishmah.

The names Ben Ish Chai, Me-Kabtziel , Rav Pe'alim and Ben Yehoyada derive from 2 Samuel 23:20

There is a long article about him on, including a biography of one of his last pupils, R' Yitzchak Kadouri.

Rabbeinu Yosef Chayim of Baghdad, author of Ben Ish Chai, Od Yosef Chai, Rav Pe’alim, Ben Yehoyada, Aderet Eliyahu, and Imrei Bina, and many other works (1832-1904). Both his grandfather, Reb Moshe Chaim, and his father, Reb Eliyahu, served as Rov of Baghdad. Reb Eliyahu and his wife were childless for many years. Finally, 10 years after their marriage, his wife made the long journey from Baghdad to Morocco torequest a blessing from the renowned Reb Yaakov Buchatzeira, the Abir Yaakov. The tzaddik blessed her that she would give birth to a child who would one day illuminate the eyes of Jews everywhere. Less than a year later, she gave birth to a boy, who was named Yosef Chaim. As a child, he spent most of his time studying in his father's large library. At the age of 10, he left the Sephardic cheder in which he learned and began to study with his uncle, the tzaddik Reb Dovid Chai Nissim. Reb Dovid later founded the famed Shoshanim LeDavid Yeshiva located in the Beis Yisroel section of Yerushalayim. When his father passed away, Rabbeinu Yosef Chaim was only 25 years old. Nevertheless, the Jews of Baghdad accepted him to fill his fathers position as Rov of Baghdad. His opinion on halachic issues was sought throughout the Sephardi world and is still followed by thousands of people from these communities, and even outside these communities. Rabbeinu Yosef Chaim's son, Reb Yaakov, succeeded him as rav and maggid of Baghdad. His main disciple was the kabbalist and tzaddik Reb Yehuda Moshe Petaya.

Those who have read his works are inspired by them. Those who have not done so, should! Ben Ish Chai (son of the living man), even after his death is still living (see Brachos 3b)

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Friday, August 24, 2007

Yarzheit R' Tzadok HaCohen

I don't know if it is the heat, or what, but I was too exhausted yesterday to post this. But I can't let R' Tzadok's yarzheit go unmentioned. Yesterday, 9th Elul was his yarzheit. He was one of the few original Jewish philosophers of the 19th century. His thought is a crossover of Lithuanian and Chasidic thinking, and he wrote extensively on almost everything - from chumash and Talmud, to chasidus and even the Torah that he learned in his dreams.

Rabbi Haber at Torahlab is having a sale of two of his books in honour of his yarzheit. They have a limited amount of the Kest-Lebovitz edition of Reb Tzadok’s classics Tzidkas HaTzadik and Machsheves Charutz. They are selling a package of both of these seforim together for only $7.50 plus shipping. Click here for more info and to order.

There is a lot of Torah from him on the internet, but I didn't find very many stories about him. I wanted to include more anecdotes about his life, but haven't got time now to write. So these brief biographies will have to do (taken from wikipedia and torahlab

He was born into a Lithuanian Rabbinic family and then became a follower of the Hasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, and a close friend of Yehudah Leib Eiger, another student of Mordechai Leiner. He is a classic example of a Litvish Jew turned Chasidic. As a young man he gained widespread acclaim as an illuy, a brilliant talmudist. Rabbi Zadok refused to accept any rabbinic post for most of his life. He eked out a living by his wife running a small used clothing store. Upon the death of Eiger in 1888, Zadok Hakohen agreed to take over the leadership of the Hasidim. It was then that he began to give his public classes that would take place on Shabbat, Holidays, Rosh Chodesh and special occasions. It is the transcription of those classes were compiled into his work known as Pri Tzadik. Rabbi Zadok was a prolific writer in all areas of Judaism, halakhah, Hasidism, Kabbalah, angelology, ethics, he also wrote scholarly essays on astronomy, geometry, and algebra.

One of his lone surviving students was Rabbi Michael Mokotovsky, whose son was Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Mokotovsky, better known by his penname Eliyahu Kitov,

Reb Tzadok HaKohein of Lublin
Rav Tzadok, or “The Kohein” as he was known amongst Chassidim, was one of the most prolific authors in the history of the Chassidic movement. Born into a non-Chassidic rabbinic family, Rav Tzadok became famous as a child prodigy authoring articles and books which later became classics. Later in life, Rav Tzadok became Chassidic and became a Chassid of the Izbitcher Rebbe. Having excelled in both the Chassidic and non-Chassidic world, Rav Tzadok’s writings became a synthesis of analytical logic and mysticism. Eventually, Rav Tzadok became the Rebbe of Lublin. His writings are treasured by scholars everywhere.

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yarzheit - Reuven Margolios

Today (7th Elul) is the Yarzheit of one of the most brilliant and prolific (and interesting) scholars of the 20th century. R' Reuven Margolios wrote on such a wide variety of topics, often those that were not normally dealt with by the yeshivish community. However, his Maroglios Hayam is one of the standard Yeshiva books on Sanhedrin. In addition he wrote books explaining the evolution of the Oral Law, defending the Zohar and Kabbala, biographies of Rishonim and many more books.

His breadth and depth of knowelge is truly amazing, and even though he may be controversial in some of his ideas, he is essential reading on every topic.

Reuvein Margolies
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Reuvein Margolies ראובן מרגליות (b. 1889- d. 1971) author of 55+ books on Jewish topics. He established the Rambam library. Possessed of an almost photographic memory, he was well versed in all aspects of both the written (Bible) and Oral Torah (Talmud and its commentaries).


R' Margolies wrote on a wide range of subjects; His works were meant for both scholars and the general public. All of his writings are in Hebrew.

He wrote on the formation of the Mishna and the Talmud displaying a tremendous originality and wide range of knowledge.

He further wrote on the Kabbalah. Such works include "The Rambam and the Zohar" demonstrating correlations between Maimonides Mishna Torah and the Zohar; Nitzotzei Zohar demonstrating correlations between the Tannatic and Amoraic works (such as the Talmud and Medrashim) and the Zohar.

Additionally, he was involved in a controversy with Gershon Scholem over the R. Jacob Emden/R. Jonathan Eybeshuetz controversy. R. Margulies produced a pamphlet defending R. Eybeshuetz and in response Scholem produced his own disagreeing with R. Marguleis's conclusions.

He wrote a number of scholarly biographies of major Jewish personalities such as the Maharsha, the Ohr Ha-Chaim, the Noam Elimelech, the Ramban, and R' Yechiel of Paris including valuable annotation clarifying ideas in their works. The biographies focus primarily on their methods of scholarship and not on their personalities. First printed in Poland, they were never reprinted.

He wrote several works concerning the development of a legal system in the newly formed Jewish State (Kavei Ohr, Tal Tichye).

According to Dr. Yitzchok Raphael, his writing is in a terse style designed to concentrate a maximum amount of information in a minimum of space.


* Toldot Adam (Lemberg 1912) on R. Shmuel Edels
* Yesod HaMishna V'Arikachto (Lemberg, 1933) on the creation of the Mishna
* Sefer Hassidim with his notes (multiple printings)
* Tolodot Rabenu Hayyim ben Atar (Lemberg, 1925), biography on the Ohr Hayyim includes the notes of R. Meir Dan Plotzki (Kli Hemdah)
* Ohr Meir (Lemberg, 1926), biography of R. Meir from Perlmishiya
* Margenuta d'Reb Meir (Lemberg, 1926), sayings of the above R. Meir
* Shealot u'Teshuvot min HaShamyim, R. Margulies's extensive notes on the teshuvot as well as a comprehensive introduction discussing Torah lo' Bashmyim and other related topics (multiple printings)
* Vikuach Rabbanu Yehiel m'Paris (Lemberg, 1928), with biography of R. Yehiel
* Toldot Rabbenu Avrohom Mimoni, biography of Rambam's son, (multiple printings)
* Shem Olam, to reveal the anonymous people in hazal (multiple printings)
* Nefesh Hayyia,notes on Shulchan Orakh multiple printings
* Hagadah shel Pesach (Tel Aviv, 1937)
* Shichot Chakhamim
* Zohar with his extensive notes (multiple printings)
* Sibah hisnaguto discussing R. Emden/R. Eybeschitz controversy, Tel Aviv 1941
* Malechi Elyon on angels in Hazel (multiple printings)
* Ollalot various articles (multiple printings)
* Margolios HaYam on Sanhedrin (multiple printings)
* HaMikrah v'Hamesorah multiple printings
* Mekharim b'Darkei haTalmud v'Hidosov multiple printings

There is also a memorial volume edited by Dr. Yitchak Raphael and published by Mossad R' Kook

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Its not easy to convert

Statistics show that it is difficult to convert!!

The latest recommendation from the Imigration Ministry to the Israeli government is speed up the conversion process.

Look at these facts:
300,000 non-Jews living in Israel:
I thought it was twice that number - 1 million people made Aliya from the former Soviet Union, of whom 60% were not Jewish. Where are the other 300,000? (perhaps they left the country already?)
Why did the government not think about this when it encouraged so many non Jews to move to Israel? Did they not think that Israel was a Jewish country fifteen years ago? The truth is that the Aliya from FSU was designed to counter the demographic imbalance with both the Arabs and the religious Jews. The government was terrified of having either an Arab majority or a religious majority in the country. The cunning plan was to bring in non Jews (the vast majority of whom had no intention or desire to become Jewish). A little bit like the Old Lady who swallowed the fly! The plan worked. Now what?

6000 begin a conversion process each year, but only a third complete it
Should we blame red tape and bureaucracy? Or perhaps the vast majority (98%) don't want to be Jewish?
Perhaps two thirds don't complete the process because they are not yet ready to become Jewish, or because they were only converting for ulterior motives, and didn't follow through with the conversion?

Some are forced to wait 3 months for their certificate! Three months! It takes longer than that to get a drivers' license or a tax rebate. Doesn't seem like a long tme to me.

The statistics don't say how many of those converts continue to lead a Jewish life after conversion. Apparently that should not be an important factor in decisions about conversion.

And why does the government care that more people should convert? “The conversion of non-Jews is both a national and strategic mission, and is vital for the future of the State of Israel." Which word is missing from this sentence? 'religious/Jewish'. Conversion is national and strategic, but not about Judaism any more.

Why don't they make a new kind of conversion where people have to learn and practice 'national and strategic' topics, and we'll call them 'Israeli' instead of Jewish?

I am very much in favour of helping people who sincerely wish to become Jewish, and who are planning on remaining Jewish and observant after they receive their conversion certificate. I have tremendous respect for people who change their lives and their futures by becoming Jewish. And there are systems in place for such people. They are the 2000 who convert each year.

But the State of Israel cannot make people 'national and strategic' Jews by creating a new department. That won't maintain the Jewish character of the country.

And why can't they just remain as non Jews and be good B'nei Noach? Since biblical times Israel has had a large non Jewish segment of society who supported the Israelites and helped them economically. Why should we force people to become Jewish?

Converting non-Jews vital for Israel’s future

Immigration and Absorption Ministry recommends establishment of a new conversion authority was recommended by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry as the solution to help thousands of immigrants convert to Judaism each year.

The ministry made its recommendation in a report sent to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday.

The recommendations included adding more rabbinical judges to conversion courts, removing bureaucratic obstructions, and introducing a special committee headed by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, to deal with halachic issues.

Presently, Israel is home to about 300,000 immigrants who arrived in the country under the Law of Return, but are not defined as Jews according to the halacha. Each year, about 6,000 of these immigrants undergo the conversion process, but only a third of them succeed in completing it.

The ministry’s report revealed that applicants are forced to deal with many different bodies in the conversion process, all of whom have different administrative policies. Also, applicants who eventually make it to the end of the conversion process (30%-50% drop out during the preparation stage) are forced to wait over three months before receiving their conversion certificate.

According to a poll by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the majority of immigrants said an easy conversion, along with openness and acceptance towards applicants, could encourage an increase in conversion.

“The conversion of non-Jews is both a national and strategic mission, and is vital for the future of the State of Israel. We have to enable citizens who are interested in converting, to fully integrate with the nation and Israeli society,” said Immigration Absorption Minister Jacob Edery.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gedolim and the music ban

Yesterday someone got very cross with me and accused me of not listening to the Gedolim. I wanted to use this blog to clarify, to him and to the world, that of course I listen to the Gedolim, and have the utmost respect for them and their Torah knowledge and opinions. I have heard stories and had first hand experiences that leave me in no doubt as to the greatness of the Gedolim.

However, I am equally sure that the banning of the Shwekey/Friend concert did not come from the Gedolim.

I know that the ban did not originate with the Gedolim because the Talmud says many times 'chasa al mamon yisrael'. The Torah always considers money of Israel. If there is a way of permitting something, even b'dieved, it won't be considered forbidden if it would involve great financial loss.

There have been many 'Jewish' concerts in the past, which were similar to the most recent one. If the Gedolim were concerned with this concert, they would have spoken to the organisers and performers from the very beginning, and discussed with them whether there are permissible ways of doing it or not. Had they done that I'm sure that everyone would have complied with their wishes.

However, to ban a concert less than a week before it is scheduled to take place, to cause huge loss to the organisers, performers and ticket holders - that is not the way of the Gedolim. So I am sure the ban did not originate with them.

When a Rabbi issues a p'sak Halacha (unless it is a personal p'sak to an individual, in which case they may or may not) they always explain the reasons and sources for their ruling. This is obviously necessary so that people can understand exactly what is being said, and so that they (or their Rabbis) can study the ruling, to know exactly to whom, when and where it applies. Additionally, a ruling may contradict a different ruling from another Gadol, and my local posek has to be able to evaluate and compare the rulings.

In the case of this ban, the best I could find was:
"We trembled at hearing about the terrible breach in our camp of 'music evenings' and 'concerts' in which musicians sing before men and women sitting together, Heaven forefend, and even not together. All Torah leaders have in the past clearly forbidden these events, even when men and women are separate."

This is not a p'sak Halacha, but a meaningless statement. Nobody even knows why it is forbidden. I have heard at least 4 different possible reasons as to why the concert was forbidden, none of which seem to me to be compelling, but even if they were, how do I know which is the real reason? Perhaps all recorded music is now forbidden? Perhaps wedding bands are now forbidden? Perhaps leaving the Beis Midrash is forbidden? Perhaps all separate sex events are forbidden? I don't know.

It is inconceivable that a Gadol would ban something without saying what they are banning and why. If they don't say what the issue is, how could we follow their ruling to avoid it? We don't know what we are avoiding!

Therefore I am sure that the ban did not come from the Gedolim.

How can it be that people do and say things in the name of the Gedolim? I don't know. In this particular case, though, I don't think the printers even bothered printing the signatures of the Gedolim. They just stated that it came from them. And if they had printed signatures it would not have had any more meaning. Everyone knows that the signatures are on file, and are not a true indication that the document was signed by the Gedolim listed.

If there were such a p'sak it would require another blog to discuss the system of halacha, the limits of lo tassur and the individualistion of halachic ruling. It may or may not apply to the kinds of people who were asking me whether they were permitted to go to the concert or not. But since I am sure that this ruling did not come from the Gedolim I challenge anyone who mocks our Gedolim based on this p'sak.

The Gedolim are the Gedolim and deservedly so. The printers and zealots are just that. There is no obligation to listen to their words. But don't mock the Gedolim.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Music not banned!

Even though the 'Gedolim' (or at least the people who write the signs and posters on behalf of the Gedolim have banned people from attending the Avraham Fried and Yaakov Shwekey concert in Yerushalayim, I notice with some surprise and a lot of relief that they have not commented at all on the forthcoming Jethro Tull concert! Tull are playing on the 23rd in Jersalem and the next day (I think) somewhere else. You can check the details for yourself.

I assume that the 'Gedolim' understand that Aqualung and Thick as a Brick are full of Torah messages and bring a person closer to G-d (presumably the same is not true of the Jewish music that has been banned). I agree with the Gedolim 100% on this issue. There is a lot that can and should be learned from the lyrics, the musical content, and the album covers (although perhaps on in the case of the cover of Thick as a Brick, which is more like a newspaper than an album cover).

I think the Rolling Stones may be also coming this summer, and I am very proud that although the Christians and Moslems condemn their wild, satanic music, our Gedolim, by their very silence, fully support 'Their Satanic Majesties'. Long live Rock and Roll!

I was just watching a documentary about the making of Machinehead, where the original Deep Purple musicians (well, MkII at any rate) were interviewed. For most of my teen years Jon Lord was my hero. He is one of the most talented musicians and composers, and according to all the interviews is also a nice guy and easy to get on with. His blend of rock and classical music was always ahead of its time and created that unique Purple sound.

Anyway, having watched this documentary I remembered why I liked him so much. While some of the other band members are posing with wigs or dyed hair (and possibly some nips and tucks not to mention candles, suits of armour and a wizard's hat), he sits behind his Hammond calmly answering questions and recreating that majestic sound from all those years ago. He looks the oldest of the band by a long way (I think he may be a year older than the others), but (along with Roger Glover) comes across as the one who really cares about music more than anything else.

What a guy. Perhaps I should add him to my 'Gedolim' gallery. (actually I don't have a gedolim gallery, but if I did it would also include Winnie the Pooh and possibly Mickey Mouse). And he has (to the best of my knoweldge) never signed a ban against anyone or anything.

Must be Elul.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Apikoros and Epicurus

Is idolatry logical? By that question I mean, if we would not have witnessed the revelation at Sinai (or personal revelation in the cases of the Avos and others), would the intelligent person be worshipping idols, or G-d??

This may sound like a silly question. Didn't Avraham prove in the midrash that it makes no sense for a person to bow down to an idol which is only a day old, when they themselves are many years older. Or as Avraham said to Nimrod - don't worship the result, look for the cause (water extinguishes fire, so it must be a better 'god').

But, silly idols aside, I think the logic of monotheism vs the sensibility of idolatry may be an argument between Rishonim.

It appears that Rambam, in the blue corner, is firmly on the side of idolatry being foolishness (he refers to it many times in hilchot avodas kochavim as a 'mistake'). In contrast, Avraham, who was the pinnacle of logical thought, discovered G-d:

As soon as this giant was weaned his mind began to roam. Even while he was still young he would think day and night. He was amazed. How was it possible for the planet to be constantly moving, without some mover. Who was spinning it? It is impossible for something to spin itself. He had no teacher nor informer, but was sunk in Ur Kasdim amongst the stupid idolaters, including his mother and father. All the people worshipped idols, and he worshipped with them. But his mind was wandering and comprehending, until he reached the true path, and understood the way of righteousness through his correct reasoning. He knew that there existed one G-d, who moved the planet. He had created everything and there was no other god in all of creation but Him.

(Rambam Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3)

In the red corner we have the Ran, who seems to accept that Epicurus is correct logically:

The early nations would see that idolatry was worthy and necessary, and that contemplation itself brings to it…. This is because their philosophers thought that G-d has no desire or influence on His creation, but everything exist and continues by itself…. They knew certainly and surely that the planets and stars controlled the lowly world, until each nation has a particular star… and they thought with their wicked logic that serving that star would bring them success.
The result of this was that everyone who worshipped stars felt that this was G-d’s will and desire, since He had given power to each star. They felt it was also appropriate to worship the planets and the stars to receive their blessing, and they set up their laws according to their wicked logic.
There is no doubt that logic brings a person to think like this, were it not that the Torah had enlightened us.

(Derashot Haran 9).

Were it not for revelation, the smart money would be with the idol worshippers (or some more sofisticated version of idolatry).

Epicurusheld that an infinite deity would not be able to interact with a finite world (by definition).

1. A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.

(Principal Doctrines)

If G-d would need the world, or be involved in a changing world, He would no longer be infinite (lacking nothing) and unchanging. Therefore Epicurus rejected belief in any god, trusting only science and his senses.

The Ran seems to hold that this is the basis of idolatry, and seems to agree that it would be logical, were it not for revelation.

What difference does this machlokes make? There is a mishna in Avos (2:14) "know how to answer an apikorus". If we translate apikorus literally, as Epicurus, we have to know the answer. And here I think these two Rishonim would necessarily have to differ.

Rambam, surely, would answer Epicurus by telling him he is begin stupid. The way to answer an apikorus is by thinking and learning to think rationally.

The Ran would say, 'but what about Sinai?' The answer to an apikorus must be revelation and remembering Sinai.

So - how would you answer an Apikorus?

Shimon Hatzadik

"Shimon Hatzadik was one of the remnants of the Men of the Great Assembly..." (Pirkei Avos 1:2)

But WHY was he called a 'tzadik'????

Monday, August 13, 2007

28th Av - Rav Pam's Yarzheit

Someone e-mailed me to say that today is also the Yarzheit of R' Avraham Pam,

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky wrote this moving tribute to Rav Pam:

HOW do you capture the essence of an elderly man, stricken with a devastating and, ultimately, fatal disease, who insists on attending a fundraising event, having to be brought by ambulance and stretcher? With every last ounce of his failing strength he dressed in his Sabbath finery and left his home for the sake of ten thousand children he had never seen with his eyes but had touched with his heart and soul.

How do you write believable stories of a man who would cry bitter tears when hearing the plight of individuals in need? How does one convey the essence of a person whose mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice -- for Torah -- the Bible -- transcended the constraints of his aged and stricken body? No one who was privileged to meet Rabbi Avraham Pam, the Rosh Yeshiva, dean, of Brooklyn's Yeshiva Torah Voddath, who passed away a week ago today, will ever forget the warm smile that sparkled for every person --- the strong or weak, rich or poor, observant or those searching to find the correct path.

Rabbi Pam was appointed a Maggid Shiur, or Talmudic lecturer, in Torah
Vodaath, in 1939. With secularism running rampant even in the Orthodox community, motivating young Jewish American boys to follow their spiritual heritage in those days was a daunting challenge. But the future dean excelled in doing just that. To him, every student was a world unto himself.

Once, one of Rabbi Pam's students was caught secretly studying math during a Talmud lecture. The student explained that he was afraid that he had not mastered the subject and was going to fail a test. Instead of taking offense at the slight, Rabbi Pam assured the boy that if he would study the day's Talmud lesson with diligence, then he himself would tutor him after class. Math, as it just so happened, was an area of the rabbi's expertise.

Rabbi Pam's disciples were truly like his children. Rabbi Moshe Francis, a founder of the Chicago Community Kollel, which has had a major impact
on the strengthening of Jewish observance and scholarship in the Midwest, remembers that he was once speaking with Rabbi Pam at a wedding when someone asked, "Is this your son?" Rabbi Pam did not hesitate. "K'ben," he responded, "like a son."


In 1943, Rabbi Pam married Sarah Balmuth. Though Rabbi Pam often expressed his gratitude for having chosen the right path in life, there was one choice that he forever emphasized to his disciples, in a manner exceeding any other. He always expressed great gratitude to the Creator for having merited a Rebbitzen, rabbinic helpmate, who tended to his every need, enabling him to pursue a life filled with the Divine Service and Torah study.

The Rebbitzen put order to the thousands of requests for appointments, advice and letters of approbation. Rabbi Pam constantly expressed his gratitude for her ever-present care and concern, not only for the physical amenities of his daily life, but for enabling him to grow in spirituality as well.

The Rosh Yeshiva's emphasis on the importance of mutual respect in marriage found expression in his gentle reminders to disciples to celebrate their wedding anniversaries every year, and without fail.

When Yosi Heber, a close student of Rabbi Pam, became engaged, the Rosh Yeshiva was one of the first to be called with the good news. Immediately, Yosi was asked if a date had been set for the wedding. It was August 22nd. "Why, that's my anniversary!" exclaimed the Rosh Yeshiva, "it will be easy to remember!" Not one to forget an important date or miss an opportunity, Rabbi Heber made it his practice to send out an anniversary card to Rabbi Pam and his Rebbetzin every year thereafter. As the years passed, he made a point of sharing his nachas, joy, with the Pams and included a picture of the children as each addition to his family arrived.

This year, the card was sent out a bit early. During shiva -- the seven day period of mourning -- the Rebbetzin motioned to Rabbi Yosi Heber, that she had something to tell him. "I wanted you to know that I mentioned to Rabbi Pam on Tuesday, that I received your anniversary card. I took it to the hospital and read it to the Rosh Yeshiva and he reacted to it. It was the last time he reacted to anything!"

A small, inconsequential thing like an anniversary when used correctly can
become another solid brick in the foundation of a marriage and the development of future generations. Another aspect of the Rosh Yeshiva's ability to take the small and commonplace things in life and elevate them
to being the tools of greatness.

Well after midnight, after the devastating news of the Rosh Yeshiva's
passing reached the world, some of Rabbi Pam's closest disciples made their way to the house to join the Rebbetzin and offer whatever solace they
could. Upon entering the house, they were shocked to discover the Rebbetzin at work on her ironing board. To their astonishment, she responded, "I am simply ironing Rabbi Pam's tallis -- prayer shawl - and kittel for the burial tomorrow. I know it's late at night, but this is my last chance to honor him."

Rabbi Pam never wore the traditional frock (Prince Albert coat) of a Rosh
Yeshiva and always wore a simple fedora --- not a Hamburg or up-brim hat, as most yeshiva deans wear.

Rabbi Pam would leave his hat in the public cloakroom of Mesivta Torah
Vodaath, alongside his students'. Once, he innocently took his hat, not realizing someone, obviously not knowing to whom it belonged, had mistakenly balanced their coffee mug on its back brim. The mug immediately came flying down from the shelf, shattering in a cacophony of ceramic shards. Without hesitating, Rabbi Pam went to get a broom and shovel. He insisted on sweeping up the mess by himself. Then, he went to the local hardware store to get a replacement mug. He could not find the exact matching color and so he wrote a note. In his meticulously crafted expression and perfect lettering, he attached the this message to the mug:

"I was negligent in my actions and I shattered your mug. I have bought this one to replace it. I hope that you forgive me. In the event that this replacement does not suffice, please contact me as soon as possible to
arrange compensation."

The note was signed simply, Avraham Pam.

(Author's note: The note from Rabbi Pam, was cherished by the mug's owner, much more than the replaced mug. It is framed and hangs on his wall!)

Rabbi Pam had learned for himself and taught others that you never lose by keeping quiet. Of course, that viewpoint only applied to personal honor; when it came to chilul Hashem, the desecration of the Creator's name, there was never a moment of silence!

Thirty years ago, Rabbi Pam and his Rebbitzen made their only visit to the
Holy Land together. They stayed in Jerusalem, but when Rabbi Pam visited B'nai Brak, the Ponvez Yeshiva was holding its annual Yarchei Kallah summer program. Rabbi Pam saw this opportunity to sit and study in virtual anonymity, and decided to stay in the Yeshiva setting.

The Pams moved into the dorm specially set up for the Yarchei Kallah families, and for two weeks, Rabbi Pam sat and learned. After two weeks, he was invited to a a lifecycle event -- simcha -- in the Ponovez Dining Room, when he saw some people whispering. Then, suddenly a distinguished man approached, "Torah Vodath Rosh Yeshiva, please sit up front on the head table." The next morning, realizing that his identity was compromised, he and his wife returned immediately to Jerusalem.


Rabbi Pam would lead the charge of Torah sages who decried, improper
business practices or fraudulent dealings with government agencies. He did not differentiate between stealing on an individual, institutional, or
governmental level. It was all prohibited and he let it be known,
emphatically and insistently.

Though he was often the featured speaker at conventions of Agudath Israel and other important venues with the ears of a People focused on his every word, when he left the podium, he was as always the humble giant and master of simplicity.

A disciple recalls how he was in a car with Rabbi Pam and a student his own age, who was also named Avraham. His stop came first and upon leaving the car he turned to his peer, wishing him, "Good night, Avraham."

Rabbi Pam, unfazed at being addressed so informally and not realizing that the message was intended for the other student, simply smiled and returned the farewell. "Good Night to you, too."


In 1990, when the floodgates of the Soviet Union burst open, Jewry was
faced with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of souls potentially being lost to secular oblivion. Rabbi Avrohom Yosef Leizerson of the Chinuch Atzmai organization recalls years later that he was present at the annual Agudath Israel convention that year and was among those who spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva of the spiritual disaster facing the children. At that year's keynote session, Rabbi Pam made an impassioned plea to begin a network of schools in the Holy Land for the children of these Russian immigrants.

That Saturday night, he convened a meeting of the wealthy and influential
participants at that year's convention. On the way to the meeting, he met a disciple, whom he would later call a "partner" and a "friend," Reb Avraham Biderman. He brought him along to the meeting. It was at that meeting, that Shuvu was born, and then and there Rabbi Pam appointed Avraham Biderman as chairman.

Rabbi Pam lived and breathed Shuvu. It became his focus and his nachas
over the course of the last decade of his life. Laymen ready to donate five or ten thousand dollars to Shuvu, would increase their contributions tenfold after hearing Rabbi Pam's impassioned pleas.

Rabbi Pam would often cajole laymen to give tzedoka, charity, with self-scarifice. He once told Rabbi Sidney Glenner of Chicago that the challenge of the last generation was, quoting the words of the central "Shema" Prayer, b'chol nafsh'cha --- giving up ones life. The challenge of this generation, is b'chol m'odecha --- giving up one's money for the causes of Torah.

There were a few expressions that bothered Rabbi Pam. He did not like
when people would talk about the "Amahliger yohrin," the good-old-days,
when everything was so pure.

He felt that we must do our best to improve our generation without deriding it. And, if someone felt that it was once better, he did not want them lamenting the fact. Rather, he wanted to see them act in a way that would raise the level of this generation.

He stressed the need to be exacting when speaking. He asked his students to refrain from the vernacular that infiltrated the Yeshiva world from the street. He felt it was unbecoming for them to express themselves in a less than articulate manner and once told the boys that they should remove "whatchamacallit" from their vocabularies. A close disciple approached him after one lecture. "What is wrong with 'whatchamacallit'?" he asked "It shows you are not thinking." he replied.

As a young man, Rabbi Pam was traveling home on the New Lots Avenue
subway line when he spotted a five dollar bill lying face down. He mentioned the find to his wife, who responded, "perhaps we can purchase a special treat with the new-found money. Rabbi Pam hesitated. "I cannot. How can we enjoy something special when there is someone out there who is broken-hearted?"

Rabbi Moshe Francis, dean of Chicago's Community Kollel, remembers how an impoverished man came to Rabbi Pam toward the end of a study session in the yeshiva. He closed his Talmud tome, and told his disciple, "this is a mitzvah -- religious duty -- that will not be performed by anyone else here. Therefore, I must stop studying the Torah." He then excused himself and took the man home for a meal.

A man once came to Rabbi Pam in desperate straits. He asked the Rosh
Yeshiva to contact certain philanthropists on his behalf. Rabbi Pam responded that he had just called them all for other charities. He was unable to help the man. He gave him what he could from his own money and the man left. Less than a half hour later, the man realized he had left something in Rabbi Pam's study. When he came back he found Rabbi Pam crying over his inability to help the poor man.

It was a late wedding and Rabbi Pam, who did not have a driver, was one of the last to leave. It was a blustery winter night. As no one who stayed to offer him a ride, he shared a taxi with a student who later related this story.

The cab driver started to drive away from the hall when Rabbi Pam noticed that the man had not turned up the meter flag. The ride would therefore not be recorded into the travel log. Assuming that it was an oversight, the Rosh Yeshiva mentioned that the meter is not running. "My boss," he exclaimed, "he's a ganev --- thief! I should make a lot more than he offers me. It's okay to moonlight once in a while even if I am on his time! Anyway, what's the difference to you. The fare is twelve bucks. Do you mind if I keep all of it?"

Rabbi Pam was adamant. It's not honest. "Listen," said the driver. "It's my way or the highway. I saw you shivering on this freezing night. I stopped. I picked you up and I'm takin' you home. Let me just do my thing. What does it bother you if I make some spare cash." Rabbi Pam sighed. "I'll tell you what. Run the meter. I will pay you double. Give your boss what is coming to him and keep the same amount for yourself." The driver agreed. At the end of the trip the meter showed $12.00.Rabbi Pam paid him $24.00, and gave him a tip of $2.00."


Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz, Associate Dean of Yeshiva of South Shore, related that a few years ago, the Yeshiva had to dismiss a particular student for an action that clearly defied the Yeshiva's standards and policies.

Pressure from parenting committee and others could not influence the staff, which had thought long and hard about before rendering their decision. The young boy had heard his teachers, Rabbi Leib Wolf, and Rabbi Yehuda Horowitz, constantly talk about the greatness of their rebbe, Rabbi Pam. And so, on the slight chance that Rabbi Pam would hear his story, the young man called the Rosh Yeshiva who instructed him to come to Torah Vodaath an hour before the afternoon prayers.

The boy was brought before the Rosh Yeshiva, where frankly and openly, he told him what he had done and the ramifications of his actions. Rabbi Pam chided him strongly about his indiscretion and left him thoroughly chagrined. Then they broke for prayers. Once the services ended, Rabbi Pam changed his demeanor. "I see that you are truly an ehrlicher bochur -- devout lad -- and you will start anew." The boy, by now repentant and unable to speak, nodded his head profusely and Rabbi Pam agreed to help.

The next day, Rabbi Lefkowitz was sitting in his office when the phone rang. The soft voice on the other end of the line said. "This is Avraham Pam." The Rosh Yeshiva went on to ask that the boy be returned to the Yeshiva despite the ramifications the administration anticipated. "It is on my head." Rabbi Lefkowitz needed no cajoling. After all, he mused, it is not often that a member of the Council of Torah Sages calls on behalf of a student he has only met once in his life!

The postscript is vintage Rabbi Pam. The student went on to become a prized pupil in the Yeshiva, won the valedictory award for religious studies, and has been an outstanding student in one of the most prestigious Yeshivas in the Holy Land since he graduated from the South Shore Mesivta - Ateres Yaakov, two summers ago.

There was once a child that was unable to advance to the next grade level, as his skills were way below that of his anticipated grade level. There was no way the principal would allow the boy advance into first grade. The frantic mother called Rabbi Pam, who in turn called the principal.

"If a tutor would bring him up to grade level over the summer would you allow him to enter the first grade?" As soon as the principal agreed, Rabbi Pam arranged for a student of the yeshiva to spend a summer learning with the child, for which Rabbi Pam paid from his own pocket.

Rabbi Pam's efforts in his final public appearance surpasses any human capacity. It took him literally two hours to dress and come to greet the
gathered, all for the sake of the future of the children of Shuvu.

Though many will remember, his strong demeanor, his light gait and uplifting spirit before the terrible illness, no one will ever forget his indefatigable self-sacrifice throughout the last years of his life. His determination and zeal for the spreading of the Divine Word, in spite of his waning strength will give us strength for endless generations. His ethical teachings will resound for all of us to walk in his ways, a true example of the ultimate walking in the ways of the Torah, walking in His ways. The tragic news emanated from the hospital room in Brooklyn, packed with disciples and family members and reverberated throughout the Torah world throughout that night. Rabbi Pam had returned his soul to his Creator. Tens of thousands traveled to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath to pay homage to this Torah giant.

Per his request, there were no eulogies, only Psalms and expressions of gratitude spoken by his oldest son, Rabbi Aharon.

May his memory be a blessing and may be a heavenly advocate for a broken nation.

By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

28th Av - The Netziv

Today was the Yarzheit of the Netziv (R' Naftali Tzvi Berlin), the famous uncle of the Torah Temimah (hence 'My Uncle the Netziv' - great reading if you can get hold of it - it was one of the first recent books to get banned because someone took offence. I suppose that makes it a historical curiosity)

I am way too tired to do much else, except copy and paste this entry from Either it is true or it isn't. I'm not going to get into the issue of the 'real' reason that he closed the Yeshiva. Leave that for the more exciting blogs.

Good night.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (The Netziv)

The Netziv was Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva for almost 40 Years until it was closed by the Russian government in 1892. Founded by R. Chaim of Volozhin, the Yeshivah flourished, increasing from 100 to 400 students.

As a young man the Netziv was undistinguished, but by virtue of his extraordinary diligence grew to become one of the greatest scholars and leaders of his time. The prevalent method of Talmudic study was that of deep analysis of the "sugya" (topic) at hand. The Netziv’s approach was to immerse himself in all the relevant passages from the entire Tannaitic literature, always striving to go back to the earliest sources. Similarly, he paid special attention to the Gaonic literature and the earliest Rishonim, who were closer to the Talmudic period. He believed only in this manner could the text being studied be properly understood. His approach was strongly encouraged by R. Dovid Luria.

The Netziv emphasized study of Chumash and Nach and gave a shiur on the weekly parsha every day after morning prayers. He was an early supporter of the Chovevei Tzion movement and strongly supported the resettling of Eretz Yisroel. However, he was opposed to the selling of the Land for the Shemittah year. Contrary to the view of Rav Hirsch he opposed separate communities.

During the Netziv’s time in Volozhin the Yeshiva produced great scholars, including R. Issur Zalman Meltzer, The Dvar Avrohom, Rabbi A. Shapiro, R. Avrohom Y. Kook, R. Moshe M. Epstein and R. Zelig R. Benges.

The Netziv’s works include his famed commentary on the Sheiltos of Rabbi Achai, his Commentary on the Song of Songs and Meishiv Davar, a collection of his Responsa.

The Maskilim could not bear the success of the Yeshiva and constantly sought its demise. Their continuous barbs were noted by the government who demanded that the Yeshiva curriculum and hours of study be completely revamped. It is often said that the Yeshiva was closed because of the Netziv’s refusal to permit secular subjects to be studied. The fact is that the government’s demand were such that if adopted the Yeshiva would have totally lost its character. For example, one of the demands was that secular subjects be studied until 3:00 PM and that night study cease.

Left with no choice the Netziv felt compelled to close the Yeshiva. His entire existence was linked to the Yeshiva and after its closing his health began to decline. He passed away less that two years after the closing. His two sons were Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Giraffe 1: Carnivores 0

Alternative title: Don't learn this one from the animals.

I saw this entry on the Maggid of Bergenfield and I had to post it here. What a fantastic story!

Re'eh: Just Like Chicken

The Society for Exotic Kosher Cuisine met once a year at a local restaurant in Teaneck, usually a steak emporium. Its goal was obvious: the members ate the kosher but unusual. If the Torah allowed it, they wanted to taste it. Many in the community found their objective abhorrent, or at least decadent, but at one thousand dollars a plate, and a large membership, the SEKC raised a lot of money for local charities (appropriately, most of the proceeds went to feed the hungry).

In past years, bison, gazelle, and venison (a polite word for deer, or as my son once exclaimed, "Hey! They're eating Bambi!") were popular, if noncontroversial choices. Last year, the theme of their annual banquet was game birds. The SEKC dined on pheasant, goose, partridge, and quail, all considered kosher according to Jewish law. The shechita, the ritual slaughtering, was performed with the strictest rabbinical supervision and with rigorous standards, and everyone dined on their favorite fowl friends. The only proviso from Dan Schechter, the chairman of the society, was that no one was allowed to say,"Gee, this tastes just like chicken."

Two years ago, a locust dessert (chocolate dipped) was planned, but a rabbinical controversy arose over whether the little crunchy orthoptera were certifiably kosher, and so it was nixed. Instead, a society member from a Yemenite background, where the tradition of eating grasshoppers was more readily accepted, spoke on his experiences with edible insects (they apparently taste like marshmallow Rice Krispy treats), and instead tiramisu, with a secret ingredient, was served as the final course (people were too scared to ask what the secret ingredient was).

This year, something particularly unusual was planned for the menu, which was attracting a lot of attention. Though not entirely without controversy, the SEKC was planning to serve an African, even-toed, ungulate mammal. It had a split hoof, it chewed its cud (ergo the term ungulate), and it was reported to be the "tallest of all land-living animal species."* Yes, for this year's feast, the SEKC was going to serve Giraffa Camelopardalis, a giraffe.

The kashrut of giraffes is problematic. Traditionally, the animal referred to as the zemer in Devarim 14:5 is thought to be a giraffe, but it is not universally accepted. Others debate where on the neck to do shechita-- and clearly there's a lot of neck to choose from-- but most authorities state this is not an issue.

Despite the potential controversy, the SEKC was going ahead with its plan, what many in the society considered their greatest culinary achievement to date. They had secured a rabbi who was an expert in obscure shechita practices. He guaranteed it wouldn't be a problem and agreed to do the slaughtering himself. In fact, he was licking his lips at the opportunity. The most prohibitive aspect of the endeavor, however, was its cost. Acquiring a giraffe would be very expensive, with estimates that the meat would cost the equivalent of more than a thousand dollars a pound. But Ronny Atkins, a trustee of the SEKC who had made a killing underwriting mortgages the last five years, had found a giraffe bull at a game farm in the Catskills that was closing due to bankruptcy.The owners of the farm were in such difficult financial straits, they were practically giving the giraffe away. Ronny volunteered to personally bankroll the project.

They transported Jimmy-- that was his name when the children used to feed him leaves and twigs at the farm-- to New Jersey in a large horse trailer with an open top. It looked like something you might see when the circus came to town. Jimmy seemed docile enough; he was more than twenty-years-old, quite aged for a giraffe and didn't look like he was going to cause any trouble. Jimmy was easily led into the slaughterhouse on the docks in Elizabeth, and all the preparations were made.

Rabbi Aaron Zershinsky came in a clean white jacket and carried a set of tools that looked like they had last been used for something unspeakable during the Spanish Inquisition. Aaron Zershinsky was clearly excited about performing the shechita. He brought along Rabbi Baruch Handler from the Hudson County Kashrut Board as an independent observer, to ensure everything was done properly. Baruch Handler was not as excited about the SEKC's plan, but he was not going to interfere.

"Where is he?" Aaron asked, when he saw Ronny Atkins and Dan Schechter walk in, but he didn't have to wait long for his answer. The peaceful old giraffe wandered into the room behind them at a slow amble, looking around at the inside of the large slaughterhouse with intense curiosity.

"He's magnificent," Aaron said. Baruch Handler looked away, not sharing his friend's enthusiasm for his project.

They brought the giraffe into the room that they had reserved for the shechita and led him to a large steel table they had specially modified for oversized animals.

Jimmy took one look at the table and at the long, sharp blade that Aaron Zershinsky had taken out of his satchel, and he knew exactly what they were planning. He would have no part of it.

According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, "The giraffe defends itself against threats by kicking with great force. a single, well placed kick of an adult giraffe can shatter a lion's skull, or break its back." Using his hind legs, Jimmy kicked the shechita table clear across the room, missing Aaron Zershinsky's head by inches. It made such a noise when it struck the wall that Ronny Atkins and Dan Schechter ducked for cover when it made its loud impact. Baruch Handler chuckled to himself from a safe distance.

"The pace of the giraffe is an amble, but when pursued, it can run extremely fast."* Jimmy took off across the room and darted across the slaughterhouse, to the amazement of the workers, into a storage room on the far side of the cavernous building.

Aaron, Ronny, and Dan took off in pursuit, with Baruch following behind at a slower pace. They found Jimmy in the corner of the storage room hiding behind a huge crate of corrugated boxes marked 100% Glatt, though it's hard to hide when you're sixteen feet tall.

They say giraffes are mute,* but Jimmy was letting out a series of grunts and snorts that clearly indicated he meant business. Aaron Zerchinsky, Dan Schechter, and Ronny Atkins stood a few feet away, staring at Jimmy and uncertain what to do, with Baruch Handler standing further at a distance.

"You know," Baruch said, "eating animals is in no way a religious requirement."

"Is that so?" Aaron said, still clutching one of his shechting implements.

"Yes, very much so. In fact, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Kohen Kook regarded the permission from G-d to eat meat as a dispensation from Hashem to satisfy man's animal appetites. It started at the time of Noah's descendants, when man's more violent and animalistic tendencies had gotten the better of him. but G-d put restrictions on what we could eat to teach us to control our passions."

"You are a font of interesting information," Ronny said, shifting his gaze back and forth between Baruch and Jimmy.

"Thank you. According to Rav Kook, in yemot hamashiach, we will learn true kindness to animals and to all of G-d's creations, and most likely we'll all be vegetarians."

"Is there some point to your speech about peace on earth and brotherhood of all animals?" Aaron asked.

"Yes, Baruch said. "At this point it's become quite obvious that you're never going to shecht this giraffe. Might I politely suggest that someone calls animal control and we grant Jimmy a pardon?"

And so they did. Jimmy was tranquilized by a rather puzzled animal control officer. The giraffe was donated to the Turtleback Zoo in West Orange where he spent the rest of his days in relative ease.

Aaron never got to schecht a giraffe. But on a bright note, the SEKC had a wonderful meal of braized veal at their banquet that year. It wasn't exactly exotic, but if you closed your eyes and chewed slowly, it tasted just like ibex.


*Wikipedia, giraffe

This story was influenced by a wonderful story by T.C. Boyle called Big Game. pg. 245 of T.C. Boyle Stories, Viking Publishers, 1998

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Learn from the animals

Something tells me that if Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev or Ehud Goldwasser were buffalo they wouldn't still be held hostage by the lions or crocodiles! (I don't think this is what the Gemara means when it says that we could learn Torah from the animals. However, maybe the politicians could act like animals in a positive way for once)

(I suppose if the UN or btzelem were there they would have criticised the buffalo for unnecessary use of violence - oh the advantages of being an buffalo)

Come on Olmert and co, Bring our boys back home!

From the BBC

An amateur video of an amazing animal confrontation on the African savannah is fast becoming one of the biggest hits on video-sharing website YouTube.

The footage first shows how several lions attack a group of buffalo, snatching a buffalo calf.

As the lions wrestle with a calf by a watering hole, a crocodile joins in the battle, pouncing on the buffalo.

The lions win the tug-of-war, but then the buffalo herd returns, chasing away the lions and freeing the calf.

'Battle at Kruger'

The eight-minute-long footage - filmed in South Africa's Kruger National Park - shows how a big buffalo from the herd gores one of the lions and tosses it in the air.

The buffalo calf is then seen running away to rejoin the herd, while the lions are forced to retreat.

It remains unclear if the calf survived the ordeal.

Almost 9.5m people have already watched the video, dubbed the Battle at Kruger, which was filmed by US tourist Dave Budzinski while he was on a guided safari.

The footage is the envy of professional wildlife snappers, who might be marvelling at Mr Budzinski's luck.

He told ABC News that he used his video camera "once a year" and was not "adept at this sort of thing".

"I'm not a camera person. I'm just lucky to have it!"

His safari guide Frank Watts told ABC: "I have never seen anything like that in my life before".

27 Av - Maginei Shlomo

Today (Shabbat Reeh, 27th Av) was the yarzheit of R' Yehoshua Charif, author of the Maginei Shlomo and Responsa P'nei Yehoshua (and great grandfather of the author of P'nei Yehoshua on Shas). He was the Av Beis Din in Cracow in the 17th century.

This Weeks Yarzheit from
Reb Yehoshua Charif of Cracow, author of Maginei Shlomo, an attempt to resolve the questions of the Baalei Tosefos against Rashi; great-grandfather of the Pnei Yehoshua; born in Vilna at end of 16th century; arrived in Cracow in 1640 as Rosh Yeshiva; replaced Reb Yoel Sirkis (the Bach) as Rov few months later, until Reb Yom Tov Lipman Heller (Tosefos Yom Tov) became Rov in 1643; among his talmidim was Reb Shabsai Cohen (the Shach); 1648.

Maginei Shlomo was written to answer Tosefot's questions on Rashi (hence the title, defender of Shlomo).

Hebrew Academy Parsha Sheet saved me the bother of translating this paragraph of the introduction to the sefer (I have it open in front of me):

The Maginei Shlomo was written for the purpose of resolving the difficult passages in Rashi which the Baalei Tosfos dispute and question. In the preface to the sefer, written by his grandson it is related that the author once commented to his students that Rashi had appeared to him in a dream and said, "Because you trouble yourself to save me from the powerful and brilliant lions of Torah, the Baalei Tosfos, I, together with my students, will come greet you in Olam Habah, the World To Come." On the day of the Maginei Shlomo's petirah, passing, approximately one half-hour before his soul left its earthly abode, he lay in bed surrounded by a group of Torah scholars. He looked up and said, "Make room for the light of Yisrael, Rabbeinu Shlomo Yitzchaki, Rashi, who has arrived with his entourage to accompany me on my journey to the next world. I stood by his side throughout the years to rejoin and elucidate his commentary from the challenges posed by the Baalei Tosfos and now he is compensating me."

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Friday, August 10, 2007

Berlin is (not) Jerusalem

Another rant, I'm afraid. Not content with replacing life in Israel with life in Berlin (or anywhere else for that matter, but in this case it is Berlin), the Orthodox have taken a leaf out of the classic Reform text book. Remember how over 100 years ago the Reform movement removed any mention of Israel and Jerusalem from the siddur. They felt that Germany was home to them much more than some distant land and ancient memory. Well, antisemitism and the holocaust don't seem to have changed some people's understanding of the situation. Berlin (apparently) is still the site of the Temple. One Shul in Berlin has gone one step better than removing Israel. YNet reports that they've brought its heart to Germany! Read it and weep (literally).

Berlin Jewish Center builds replica of Western Wall

Germany’s new $8.2 million Jewish community center will feature a replica of Jerusalem’s Western Wall - accurate down to the plants sprouting from it, the center’s leaders said.

The 100-square-meter replica will be part of Szloma Albam House, whose opening Sept. 2 will provide another sign of the growth and vitality of Berlin’s 12,000-member Jewish community.

”This is a symbolic part of making Berlin a central hub of Jewish life again,” the center’s executive director, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal told the Associated Press on

The project began when a team from the Chabad-Lubavitch organization traveled to Jerusalem to photograph a section of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, famous for the tradition of inserting tiny prayers on paper into its many cracks.

Almost 19 tons of “Jerusalem Gold” sandstone quarried in the region arrived in Berlin on July 11, and has since been chiseled and installed to match the photographs.

The complete replica, located in the center’s entryway, will also include identical plants sprouting from the cracks.

The Western Wall replica is not meant to be used for worship, but as a symbol and reminder of the center’s mission.

Teichtal told the AP that the center’s architecture directly reflects center’s philosophy. A large cobalt and light blue glass window greets visitors as a symbol of transparency. The sleek, contemporary design by Russian architect Sergei Tchoban, shows that Szloma Albam House is focused on the future.

”Within the transparency is tradition, and that’s why we’re building the wall,” he told The Associated Press. ”It’s the strongest symbol of the survival of the Jewish people.”

Focused on the future is right. I just hope it is not the same as the future that the Meshech Chochma saw for German Jews all those years ago:

"This is the way of our people, that when they enter a foreign land they are bereft of Torah scholars from the trials and travails of persecution and expulsion, but then the G-dly spirit awakens within them to return to their roots. They learn, teach Torah, do wonders, until the glory of Torah is restored... Soon they begin to say our forefathers have given us falsehood, as they forget their origins and become as full citizens, abandoning the teachings of their faith, learning foreign languages, learning from 'kilul' and not 'tikkun', thinking Berlin is Yerushalayim... Then a storm will arise to rip them from their roots..."

(taken from divrei chaim)

Please, let's not lose our heads or our heart!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

To those who repent and those who don't

We are about to begin the month of Elul, a time of introspection, repentance and regret. It seems that not only has the government begun the process a wee bit early, but that they are also playing G-d!

Just as we ask G-d to forgive those who repent and those who don't, Ehud Olmert and co. have decided that the amnesty they gave to the terrorists is valid, even if they don't actually renounce violence and terrorism.

Or to put it another way - the terrorists are caught in the act. The govt. checks the lists of names, and sees they have made it to the book of life. So they are off the hook. Terribly sorry old thing for the inconvenience of arresting you. We didn't realise that you have amnesty. Please, have your guns and bullets back, and don't let us stop you in your 'terrorist activities'!!

What!!! Just when things seem as though they can't get any madder, we wake up somewhere over the rainbow to find that there's bats in the bellfry!


(No, even in capital letters it makes no sense).

I'll leave you to read the article for yourselves. Let me know what you think.

(And let's all hope and pray that G-d is this lenient with us on judgement day)

Israel yesterday captured an Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades member while he was engaging in terror-supporting activity but let him go after it was determined he was on a list of wanted gunmen granted amnesty by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, WND has learned.

Part of the amnesty deal required the 178 terrorists – all of whom are members of the Brigades, the declared military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah's organization - to sign a document stating they will not engage in terrorist activity and that they would restrict their movements to the city in which they reside for three months.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades took responsibility along with Islamic Jihad for every suicide bombing in Israel the past three years. The amnesty agreement was made as an Israeli gesture to Abbas and to bolster Fatah against Hamas in the West Bank.

The incident in question occurred on Wednesday at 8:30 pm when the IDF stopped what security sources said were four suspicious Palestinians entering the al-Badin checkpoint outside the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Two Palestinians were immediately let go when it was determined they were civilians, but the two others - known Brigades members - were detained after they were found to be carrying large quantities of bullets security sources said were being smuggled from Jenin to Nablus.

According to security sources, the Brigades members normally reside in Nablus and had left the city and purchased the bullets in Jenin. They were captured upon trying to reenter Nablus. In line with the amnesty agreement, the one military on the list had pledged to restrict his movements and remain in Nablus. The sources said the listed militant told the IDF repeatedly he was on Israel's amnesty list and that arresting him would "blow up" relations with the PA.

After consulting with superiors, the IDF released the Brigades member on the amnesty list but arrested the other gunman.

Asked to comment, the IDF did not deny the incident:"We make our arrests in accordance with the directives of the political echelon and the different agreements with the PA," said an IDF spokesperson.

An Israeli security official told WND this was not the first time Brigades members granted amnesty violated their agreement to refrain from terrorism. He said the military was aware of one incident last month in which a Brigades gunman on the list shot at Israeli forces.

"We now have a situation in which a terrorist organization has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card - literally," the official fumed.

According to statements by Palestinian officials and reports by the media, most terrorists turned in their weapons in line with the deal.

A widely circulated AP article this past weekend quoted a senior Palestinian security official stating "all but three Al Aqsa members have surrendered their weapons and sworn off violence, as part of the arrangement."

But calls Monday to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members who received amnesty yielded a much different story.

Abu Yousuf, a senior leader of the Brigades in Ramallah, told WND most Brigades members turned in one of several pieces of weaponry they possess.

He said most Brigades members have two to three guns, including one to two personal weapons and one assault rifle issued by the PA, since the majority of Brigades members are also members of Fatah's security forces.

"It's true Brigades members turned in one of their weapons as a symbolic act, but they kept the others," he said.

Reprinted with permission of WorldNetDaily

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

25th Av - Steipler Gaon's Yarzheit

(In every picture he has a grumpy face, but in reality everyone who met him said he always greeted people with a smile. Never trust the cameras, even without photoshop!!)

Don't make the mistake of naming your child 'Steipler' after the Steipler - his real name was Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky. He was the brother in law of the Chazon Ish (and lived next door to him in B'nei Brak) and was the father of R' Chaim Kanievsky, who he held to be a bigger talmid chacham than he was.

His yarzheit was yesterday, and even though it is over 20 years since his death, he is still quoted all the time in yeshivas, mussar shmuezen, and in books. Perhaps only the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav are cited more often (of his contemporaries, making them the prophet, the Gaon and the Rishon) - and in America R' Yaakov, R' Moshe and R' Aaron.

There are interesting articles about him in these locations (some of the facts may even be true)

The Steipler Gaon, Zt'l

Judaism 101 - Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, The Steipler - A ...

We Knew The Steipler Gaon, zt'l 23rd Av 5760, His Fifteenth Yahrtzeit

But here is the entry from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, known as The Steipler or The Steipler Gaon (1899–1985), was a world-renowned Posek and Talmudic scholar.

He was born in the Russian town of Horensteipl, from which his appellation, "the Steipler", was later derived. He was the son of Chaim Peretz, who was a Chernobyl Chassid and the local shochet. Around the age of 11, Rabbi Kanievsky entered the Novardok yeshiva, studying under its famed dean, Rabbi Yosef Yoizel Horowitz.

Having progressed rapidly and gained a reputation as a Talmid Chacham, around the age of 19 he was sent by Rabbi Horowitz to set up a branch of the yeshiva in Rogochov. However, the Bolshevik Revolution was in full swing and Rabbi Kanievsky was conscripted into the Red Army. In spite of the harsh conditions, he continued to strictly observe all the mitzvot.

Once, during his army stint, Rabbi Kanievsky was court martialled for "failing to do his duty" when there was a possibility of breaking the Sabbath. He was forced to walk between two rows of soldiers who were ordered to beat him as he passed. In later years, Rabbi Kanievsky remarked that the satisfaction he had enjoyed for making a stand for his religious convictions was an achievement never again equalled for the rest of his life.

After serving under arms for some time, Rabbi Kanievsky managed to get discharged. He decided to move to Białystok in Poland in order to continue learning Torah unhindered from Communist interference. There, he studied under Rabbi Avrohom Jofen.

In 1925, Rabbi Kanievsky published his first Sefer, Sha'arei Tevunah ("gates of understanding"). This was received with great acclaim, and the work eventually reached Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz (known as the "Chazon Ish) in Vilna. Without even meeting him, Rabbi Karelitz decided that the author of such a work was worthy of marrying his sister Miriam.

Rabbi Kanievsky was then appointed Rosh Yeshiva of the Novarodok yeshiva in Pinsk. In 1934, he relocated to Bnei Brak in Israel, where his brother-in-law Rabbi Karelitz had already been living for a year and a half. For many years he was head of two yeshivas there. Though known as a world-class scholar, Rabbi Kanievsky shunned publicity and lived in humble circumstances, teaching, writing and devoting himself to Torah and good deeds.

Over 150,000 mourners thronged to Rabbi Kanievsky's funeral in 1985. His son, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, is a Haredi rabbinical authority in his own right.

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Monday, August 06, 2007

Kiruv for non-Jews

I have been asked to post this psak of R' Moshe Sterbuch on my blog. It seems to me that he is certainly not speaking about someone who is in the process of conversion (or investigating that option), but is writing about a person who is not interested in being Jewish. Hence the name 'kiruv for non-Jews'. I don't even believe in kiruv, and I am not even familiar with the concept of trying to encourage non Jews to become frum.

But, your thoughts and comments please. I am just copying a pasting at the request of the translator (the translation was approved by R' Sternbuch and he wants it circulated and distributed).

A number of months ago, I had been asked to host a young man for Shabbos by a kiruv organization. During the Shabbos meal he expressed great interest in everything Jewish. When I asked him about his background, he mentioned that even though he had been raised as a non-Jew by his non-Jewish mother - but since his father was Jewish he knew he was Jewish. I was shocked by the revelation but said nothing to the young man. After Shabbos I asked the director of the program why he had sent me a non-Jew for Shabbos? He replied that he had received a halachic ruling from an American rav who allowed participation of a non-Jew – who viewed himself as Jewish. This was so even though the program had a mixture of boys and girls and there was a danger of intermarriage of the participants. I have since found out that this is not an isolated incident but in fact reflects the decision by certain individuals in kiruv to proselytize those who have a Jewish father. I mentioned this information to Rav Moshe Sternbuch. After gathering information from other sources, he wrote the following psak which he requested me to translate and disseminate. Daniel Eidensohn

HaRav Moshe Sternbuch shlita
Kiruv for someone with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother You ask what are the guidelines for kiruv programs - that encourage Jews to fully observe the Torah - which take place in religious schools or organized events. In particular should a person who is not halachically Jewish - because his mother is not Jewish but his father is - be encouraged or even allowed to participate? I have heard that there are
rabbis who not only permit it but even encourage it, They assert that especially those people who already view themselves as Jewish – even though they are mistaken - should be encouraged to participate because they might eventually convert.
My view is that it is absolutely forbidden to try to proselytize a non-Jew even if he mistakenly views himself as Jewish. One obvious reason is that such an approach actually encourages intermarriage. If people with only a Jewish father are encouraged to participate in Jewish educational even ts it will convey the message that in some sense they are actually Jewish. That is because it is commonly accepted that only Jews are allowed to participate in these events.
Thus this innovation crosses the red lines that have always been accepted by Torah true Jews. Typically the intermarried couple does not realize that they are constantly transgressing prohibitions which carry the punishment of kares [Rambam Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 12:6]. But at least they need to be aware that intermarriage cuts them off completely from the Jewish people. If we allow and even encourage their non-Jewish offspring to participate in Jewish educational events, they will feel that they still have an intimate connection to the Jewish people – G-d forbid!
Another basis of concern is that I see this as a violation of following non-Jewish practices (chukas akum). These rabbis are showing mercy to the Jewish father by a de-facto acknowledgment of the non-Jewish concept of patrilineal descent. According to the unanimously held Torah view - any person with a non-Jewish mother is completely non-Jewish. Also the gratuitous granting of Jewish status and benefits to this non-Jewish child violates the Torah prohibition of Lo Techanem.
These rabbis also try to justify their innovation by claiming that it is a solution to the massive problem resulting from the intermarriage of Russian Jews. They assert that one should encourage the conversion of the child of a non-Jewish mother because the Russian Jews intermarried because of the unfortunate circumstances under the
Communists. Therefore they are to be regarded as innocent children who grew up in captivity (tinok shenishba). They feel it is appropriate to show special mercy on these unfortunate people. I agree that they should be shown special sensitivity and leniencies. However this is only when they have at least distanced themselves from their intermarried parents or have already indicated an interest in genuine conversion. However if the parents insist on continuing their intermarriage, there is no halachic basis to be sorry for them. The child in that case is a non-Jew and will remain as such.
Concerning the specific case that you mentioned of a student whose father is Jewish but the mother is a non-Jew. One of the kiruv programs wants to include him – even though he still lives with his parents. You mentioned that a number of American rabbis have given halachic rulings that his participation in the program should be encouraged because he might convert. Do not associate yourself with their programs. You will receive much greater reward by disassociating from them than the possible benefit that might result.
I am being deliberately brief in my comments here - even though there is clearly much more to mention. That is because the plague of intermarriage has already spread here to the Holy Land – the palace of the King. The Holy One Blessed be He should help us and quickly bring into actuality our Redemption. Eliyahu should come and purify our
camp so that we are fit to receive the countenance of our righteous Moshiach.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

21st Av - R' Chaim Brisker

Today is the Yarzheit of R' Chaim (Brisker) Soloveitchik. Perhaps more than anyone else in the past 200 years he has shaped yeshivas and the style of learning that goes on within them.

R' Chaim's most famous work 'Rabbeinu Chaim Halevy al HaRambam' has the status (almost) of one of the Rishonim and is learned in all yeshivas.

The classic 'brisker' style resolves contradictions within texts by making distinctions between two similar things (often 'cheftza' and 'gavra' the object itself and the mitzvah on the person who is relating to it). In a sense he brought the scientific method into Talmud study, as this HaAretz article points out:

Defining the exact nature of the Brisk revolution is not easy. Certainly, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik was an extraordinarily gifted teacher, who combined profundity and close analysis with clarity of explication. Yet much of the vocabulary he used is found in earlier sources. The emphasis on seeking an underlying conceptual stratum to explain halakha can also be traced to Soloveitchik's predecessors.

And yet there is no question that Reb Chaim's method of Talmudic analysis is revolutionary, not least because he created a language that could be applied to many different areas of halakha. Like Freud and Marx's terminology, his language mapped out new territories for consciousness to explore. His teachings inspired a generation of wildly creative Torah scholars. Whereas earlier Talmudic geniuses, as Lichtenstein writes, relied on brilliant intuitions that could not be replicated, Reb Chaim's methodology could be learned and disseminated. The sudden explosion of yeshivas at the beginning of the 20th century coincided with the spread of the Brisker method.

And this is what Wikipedia has to say about him (there is also a great chart there with the whole family tree - take a look at it):

Chaim (Halevi) Soloveitchik (Hebrew: חיים סולובייצ'יק), also known as Reb Chaim Brisker, (1853-July 30, 1918) was a rabbi and Talmudic scholar credited as the founder of the popular Brisker approach to Talmudic study within Judaism. He was from Brest, Belarus (Brisk in Yiddish), then in Imperial Russia, now in Belarus. A member of the Soloveitchik-family rabbinical dynasty, he is most commonly known as Reb Chaim Brisker ("Rabbi Chaim [from] Brisk").

He is considered the founder of the "Brisker method" (in Yiddish: Brisker derech; Hebrew: derekh brisk), a method of highly exacting and analytical Talmudical study that focuses on precise definition/s and categorization/s of Jewish law as commanded in the Torah with particular emphasis on the legal writings of Maimonides.

His primary work was Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim, a volume of insights on Maimonides' Mishnah Torah which often would suggest novel understandings of the Talmud as well. Based on his teachings and lectures, his students wrote down his insights on the Talmud known as Chiddushi HaGRaCh Al Shas. This book is known as "Reb Chaim's stencils" and contains analytical insights into Talmudical topics.

He married the daughter of Rabbi Refael Shapiro and had two famous sons, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (also known as Rabbi Velvel Soloveitchik) who subsequently moved to Israel and Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik who moved to the United States and subsequently served as a Rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University in New York and who was in turn succeeded by his own son Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993).

He had four main students; his son, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, Rabbi Baruch Ber Lebowitz, Rabbi Isser Zalmen Meltzer, and Rabbi Shimon Shkop.

A witty anecdote is used to illustrate how the three of them differed in their studies and related to their teacher: it is said that had Reb Chaim said, "This table is a cow," Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik would say that the table had the same Talmudic laws as a cow, Rabbi Shimon Shkop would say the molecules in a table could be rearranged into a cow, but Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz would go milk the table.

I love that last quote!!!

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life