Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos - Its HERE!

IT IS HERE! What a great way to prepare for Yom Tov - to go to the printer and collect THE BOOK!

I have translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos, which is an essential commentary on Avos, which until now has not been available to the English speaking public. R' Wolbe writes that this is one of the half a dozen classic mussar seforim that everyone should learn.

It is not being released until after the Chag, and at the moment will not be available in stores. But it will be sold through at a special introductory price of $16 (+p&p). If you are interested in purchasing a copy send me an e-mail and I'll make sure to let you know when it is released and help you to get one of the first copies - I'll even sign it for you if you want ;)

If you have ever tried learning the original, you will know that it is not easy to learn, both because there are many different versions of the text (none of which are free of errors) and because his language style is not simple (like all Rishonim).

It is a really beautiful book, as you can see. It is over 400 pages, and makes a really good read (if i say so myself).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Archeology - not an exact science

This is cross posted from

It has bothered me for some time that we have virtually no archeological evidence for any of the stories in the Torah or Nach.

Many years ago I remember a cover article in Time magazine which used this lack of evidence to 'prove' whether or not the Exodus ever happened.

Why can't we find any of the altars that Avraham built? Where are the wells dug by Yitzchak? Why can't we find the rock that Yaakov slept on, or the gal-ed that he set up to mark the border between himself and Lavan? Where is the evidence that the Israelites lived in Egypt for a few hundred years? etc. etc.

Today's news put this in context for me. For years people have tried to figure out where the stones that were used to build the Temple were hewn from. I remember each tour guide had a different theory as to how far these rocks must have traveled to come to Jerusalem.

Now we know the answer. This just in from Israel National News.

The Antiquities Authority announced today that it has found the quarry that supplied the giant stones for the building of the Temple Mount. The quarry is located in what is now one of Jerusalem's newest neighborhoods, Ramat Shlomo (also known as Reches Shuafat), between Ramot and French Hill. The quarry was found in the course of an archaeological rescue dig prior to the construction of a neighborhood school.

The ancient quarry is spread out over at least five dunams (1.25 acres), with rocks between three and eight meters long - the size of those that can still be seen today at the foundations of the Temple Mount and in the Western Wall - hewn out of the ground.

Remember how big those stones are! This is a quarry covering one and a quarter acres! That is a big piece of land, with a BIG hole in it. Yet for decades nobody has discovered this archeological site. And even now, it was only discovered by chance when they were trying to build a school.

Perhaps I could have understood not finding this if it was in some remote and unlikely location. But look at this:

The Shuafat mountain is some 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount. That, and its proximity to the main road to Jerusalem from the north, made this quarry a prime candidate to provide the rocks to be used in the city's important buildings. Teams of oxen pulled the giant stones down the moderate incline towards the city. The rocks were then placed upon the bedrock, forming the foundation of the Temple Mount, and keeping it stable and firm without the use of concrete even up until today.

Let me say that again: This quarry is a prime candidate to provide the rocks!!!

They have only just found an enormous archaeological find, in one of the most obvious places to find it, by a fluke of good luck!

In that case, what chance to archaeologists have of finding the toothpicks that Avraham used when serving his angel guests hors d'oeuvres? Should we be bothered that we can't find the barbeques that the Israelites used at the foot of Mount Sinai? Don't hold your breath for any of the altars or rocks or wells from the time of our patriarchs.

(Of course all of this makes it even more criminal that our elected government is letting the Wakf destroy all archaeological evidence from the actual Temple Mount itself!)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hair Covering for Married Women

A couple of months ago I posted about women and hair covering without going into the details.

Drew Kaplan wasn't happy that I didn't answer the question that I began with.

So, in answer to him, and to the original person who asked me the question, and for anyone else who is interested, I am cross posting an article I just wrote for on the topic.

Please leave comments on the torahlab site (or here) to share your views or correct my mistakes.

Hair Covering for Married Women

The Mishnah (Kesuvos chapter 7: 6) states that a woman can be divorced and forfeits her Kesuba (divorce settlement) if she violates either Das Moshe (religion of Moshe) or Das Yehudis (religion of Yehudis – it is not clear whether Yehudis here refers to a specific woman or the conduct of Jewish (Yehudi) women in general).
Das Moshe refers to Torah commandments, and includes such things as if a wife feeds her husband or children non kosher food, not keeping the laws of family purity, or making vows and not keeping them. Das Yehudis refers to laws of modesty based on convention (and enforced with rabbinic rulings). The Mishnah includes such things going out with uncovered hair, spinning in the market place and flirting with men in this category.
The Talmud there (72a) challenges the Mishnah (which states that women’s hair covering is a Rabbinic law), and claims that the prohibition of women going outside with their hair uncovered is a Torah law. It is learned from the verse “The Cohen shall uncover the woman’s hair” (Bamidbar 5: 18). The Talmud resolves this apparent contradiction by stating that the Torah only requires a minimal, symbolic hair covering (she may wear a basket on her head), whereas the Rabbinic law requires her to cover her hair entirely.
This law is brought as normative Halachah by Rambam (Hilchos Issurei Biah 21: 17) and the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 21: 2): Jewish women should not go bareheaded in the marketplace.
Later (ibid. 115: 4) the Shulchan Aruch states: These are the acts that violate Das Yehudis: Going into the marketplace, an open thoroughfare or a crowded square bareheaded, without a scarf such as all other women wear, even if her hair is covered by a kalta (small scarf with holes in it).
There is discussion amongst the commentators as to whether this prohibition applies also to unmarried women or divorced or widowed women. The consensus seems to be that it does not apply to unmarried women, and there are lenient opinions as to divorced or widowed women (see for example Igros Moshe Even HaEzer vol. 1. 57 and vol. 4 32: 4).
Regarding the requirement for a woman to cover her hair inside the home, the Talmud (Yoma 47a) praises Kimchis, who merited to have seven sons who were all High Priests in the Temple. This was in the merit of never uncovering her hair even in her own home. All halachic authorities stress that it is correct and modest for a woman to cover her hair in her own home, but most concede that it is not a binding halachah (see for example Igros Moshe Even HaEzer vol. 1. 58).
Similarly, although it is the correct thing for a woman to cover all of her hair, the consensus seems to be that technically it is permitted to show up to one tefach of hair (ibid. see also, Magen Avraham Orech Chaim 75: 2 who states that based on the Zohar it is forbidden for any of her hair to show, and that this is the appropriate custom).
Nowadays, many women do not cover their hair, even outside the home. This has two possible implications on halachah.
According to some opinions, because many women do not cover their hair a man is not obligated to divorce his wife if she refuses to cover her hair, and she does not forfeit her Kesuba (Igros Moshe vol. 1. 114. But see Yabia Omer vol. 3, Even HaEzer 21 who is stringent about this).
There may also be another leniency. It is forbidden for a man to pray or recite a blessing in the presence of erva (a part of a woman’s body which is considered licentious or is normally covered). The Aruch Hashulchan (Orech Chaim 75: 8) says that even though it is forbidden for a woman to go outside without her hair covered, since many women do so, it is no longer considered erva regarding prayer, and it is permitted to pray and say blessings in the presence of a woman with her hair uncovered (although it is forbidden to look at her while praying or saying the blessing). However, the Mishna Brura (75: 10) strongly disagrees and forbids any blessing or prayers to be said in the presence of a married woman with her hair uncovered. This applies even to a husband in his own home if his wife has not fully covered her hair.

Happy post Yom Kippur post

I hope everyone had a great Yom Kippur. I had meant to post before the big day asking forgiveness for all those I have offended or upset through this blog (and there are many of them - mostly unintentional on my part, and I hope they have forgiven me already before now, but if not...). But of course, like every year, I ran out of time.

So, please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. This blog was supposed to be fun and educational, not insulting or offensive.

juggling frogs has an excellent 'blogger's vidui' which is clever (and I wish I'd thought of it).

I was speaking to my brother who said that since they have moved house they don't have so many bikes on Yom Kippur. I remember the wikipedia entry for Yom Kippur included the following:

Over the last few decades, bicycle-riding on the empty streets has become a new "tradition" among non-secular youngsters, especially on the eve of Yom Kippur.[3] In the non-religious sector, Yom Kippur has thus become the "Festival of Bicycles" ("חג האופניים").[4]), with the sale of bicycles rising in the weeks before Yom Kippur, and companies advertising children's bicycles as "Yom Kippur specials."

But it still shocks me that this is what Israel has become. Then brother Michael pointed me to the following article, which is even more shocking:

Cross-Currents » Atonement Monopoly

At first I thought it was a joke. A Jerusalem shopping mall recently issued a glossy magazine supplement featuring its latest glitzy fashions. In the centerfold, in honor of Yom Kippur, was a Hebrew-language article entitled, “How to make it through the fast day.” Among the suggestions were the usual pre-Yom Kippur precautions: lots of water, no caffeine, many carbohydrates, and so forth.

What struck me was a sub-section called “Additional Tips for an Easy Fast.”(Free Hebrew lesson: the word for “tips” is tippim.)

It is possible, it informed us, to have a pleasant Yom Kippur even without eating. Among the best ways to take your mind off food is to watch some video, play enjoyable games like Monopoly, do some light reading, and meet with friends and family.

Don't get me wrong. I think it is wonderful that even people who don't know the diffence between monopoly and a machzor are fasting. Who knows what that can do in shamayim. We begin Yom Kippur (before even saying 'Kol Nidrei') with the words that we permit even the sinners to join us on this day in prayer. On Yom Kippur nobody is to be left out, and whatever anyone does is all for the good.

But what does it say about Israel as a Jewish country if Yom Kippur is now the 'Festival of Bicycles'? Would you find advice in any other country to watch videos on Yom Kippur?

Isn't it sad that some people spend the happiest day of the year (according to the mishna in Ta'anis) escaping from the reality of that happiness and trying to escape from the 'suffering' of the day. I know that we all watch the clock to a certain extent and count the minutes until dinner, but there are moments during davening of pure inspiration. I find it sad that all that people are left with is the suffering of the day without the joy and happiness of repentance.

I know Israel was never meant to be a 'Jewish' country. The goal of the founders was to make a secular country for Jews. The problem for them was that there were certain religious values and practices that the people were just not prepared to give up (like fasting on Yom Kippur). So what was left was less than nothing. A need for religion and ritual, with no means of expressing it and no framework.

This 'confusion' shows up in many different aspects of Israeli life. Baruch Hashem most people can't give it all up (and most do a lot more than that). But at the same time the traditional values and religious practices have been thrown out, so what is left? Bicycles.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rambam and Teshuva

In preparation for Yom Kippur and doing Teshuva I have translated chapter 2 of Rambam's Hilchot Teshuva and compiled a source book of commentaries and sources on and about it. If I say so myself there is some excellent stuff in there (it changed my understanding of teshuva).

You can download it for free from torahlab (there are 2 pdfs).

One of the most interesting sources I found was this Mabit who makes Yom Kippur much easier to deal with (at least in terms of doing teshuva).

Beis Elokim Shaar Hateshuva chapter 12
After we have explained the concept of repentance, which is regret and abandoning the sin, we must clarify that this is not like other mitzvos. Someone who only does part of a mitzvah doesn’t have the reward for that mitzvah, for example someone who only puts tzitzis on three corners of his garment doesn’t have three quarters of a mitzvah, since all four are required, and so it is as if he didn’t do anything at all. However with repentance, even though the mitzvah would not be complete without the components of regret for the past and resolve for the future, nevertheless, regret on its own, without the resolve for the future helps to a certain extent. Similarly, abandoning the sin without regret for the past also does something. We find with Achav that he humbled himself before G-d when he tore his clothes, fasted and wore sackcloth, which appears to be regret over the past. However he didn’t abandon the sin. Even so it helped him, as the verse states “Because he humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil during his days…” (Melochim 1 21: 29). We also find with the people of Nineveh that they abandoned their sins and resolved for the future, but they didn’t regret the past. The instruction of the king of Nineveh was “every man shall turn back from his evil say and from the robbery that is in his hands” (Yona 3: 8). It seems that only the robbery that was in their hands still was returned, but that which had been spent already, which is difficult to return,theydidn’treturn.RabbiYochanan goes even further and says ‘the money that was in their hands they returned, but the money that was in boxes, safes or towers they didn’t return’. (Yerushalmi Taanis chapter 2).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yarzheit - Chay Adam

Today is not only Tzom Gedaliah (delayed by a day because of Shabbat, which makes some of the piyutim we said this morning in selichot somewhat ironic), but also the Yarzheit of R' Avraham Danzig - the Chay Adam (also the Chochmas Adam and many other names).

There were many books written in the 18-19th century which provided practical halachic guidance for the layperson. The Shulchan Aruch had become so covered with commentaries that it was no longer easy to actually know what to do and what not. So in Europe we find books such as Shulchan Aruch Harav, Aruch HaShulchan, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and the most famous the Mishna Brura. In the Sefardi world there was the Ben Ish Chai and the Kaf HaChaim and Makor Chaim.

The standard 'text book' for Lithuanian Jewry was the Chay Adam on daily living (Orech Chaim things) and Chochmas Adam on other issues (Yoreh Deah things - Chochma/ Deah). His rulings even today carry more weight for real 'Litvaks' than the Mishna Brura (at least some times).

He is also the author of several other little known but excellent Halachic works (listed below). Most of them have been reprinted in the latest edition of the two 'Adams'. Learn them!

Here is the bio from the Jewish Encyclopedia:


His Youth.

Lithuanian codifier; born in Danzig in 1747 or 1748; died at Wilna Sept. 12, 1820. He was descended from a family of scholars in West Prussia, his great-grandfather, Jehiel Michael, having been rabbi in Schottland, near Danzig; his grandfather was Samuel, the author of the commentary on Isaiah, "Neḥamot Ẓiyyon." When Danzig was fourteen years old his father sent him to the yeshibah in Prague, after exacting from him a promise that he would not mingle with the "Moderns," who, through the influence of Mendelssohn in Prussia, were gradually coming into prominence. Under the guidance of Ezekiel Landau and Joseph Liebermann, Danzig zealously devoted himself to the study of the Talmud, and at eighteen years of age he left Bohemia with a "ḥaber" diploma, showing him to be a proficient Talmudist. He then settled in Wilna, Lithuania. When offered the salaried position of rabbi he declined it, considering it improper to receive a stipend in such a capacity, and he engaged in business as a merchant, visiting the fairs of Leipsic and Königsberg. Only in his later years, and after having lost almost his entire fortune through the explosion of a powder-magazine, could he be induced to accept the position of dayyan in Wilna, which office he held until his death. His fixed intention had been to emigrate to the Holy Land.

His Works.

Danzig is the author of the following: "Ḥayye Adam: Nishmat Adam" (The Life of Man: the Soul of Man), Wilna, 1810, reedited many times; "Ḥokmat Adam: Binat Adam" (The Wisdom of Man: the Understanding of Man), ib. 1814, reedited many times; "Sha'are Ẓedeḳ" (The Gates of Justice), on the commandments and prohibitions having reference to the land of Palestine, ib. 1812; Jerusalem, 1863. "Zikru Torat Mosheh" (Be Mindful of the Teaching of Moses), precepts for the Sabbath, Wilna, 1820, and several editions (this little work contains by way of supplement the treatise "Miẓwot Mosheh" [The Precepts of Moses], an extract from Askari's book "Ḥaredim" [The God-Fearing]; "Toledot Adam," a commentary on the Passover Haggadah, ib. 1817 (in the Haggadah edition "Ma'aleh Bet Ḥoron"); "Bet Abraham" (The House of Abraham), his last work, 1821, and many editions (also translated into Judæo-German by Isaac Hamburger, Lemberg, 1875). Among the writings of Danzig not yet published are an elaborate ethical work, specimen pages of which are contained in the introduction to "Zikru Torat Mosheh," and commentaries to several books of the Bible.

Danzig is especially known as the author of "Ḥayye Adam" and "Ḥokmat Adam," which represent the most important productions in the line of codification after the time of Joseph Caro and Mordecai Yafe. In these two works Danzig treats of the same subject-matter as the first two parts of the Shulḥan 'Aruk. The enormous mass of new material which had accumulated in the field of the Halakah since the appearance of the Shulḥan 'Aruk—a period embracing more than two and a half centuries—was collected and critically sifted by Danzig and presented in a readily intelligible form. His codex, however, was intended primarily for the cultured layman and not for the officiating rabbi. Hence there is a tendency to give prominence to the more exacting side of the Law, even though in his expert decisions and treatises, which, under the respective titles of "Nishmat Adam" and "Binat Adam," are added to "Ḥayye Adam" and "Ḥokmat Adam," Danzig shows independence enough to oppose the views of the AḤaronim, and he frequently protests against the tendency to decide in favor of new prohibitions. His "Ḥayye Adam" met with unusual success during the author's lifetime. In many cities societies were formed for the purpose of studying this work; and even to-day these societies may be found in most of the Polish-Russian communities.

His Importance as Codifier.

This success was well merited; for there is hardly another work that presents in so concise and lucid a manner all the details of the discussions of the Aḥaronim. Danzig preserves in his works a certain freshness of tone, and dwells with special emphasis upon the ethical bearings of religious precepts. The high ethical standpoint of the author reveals itself most conspicuously in his "Bet Abraham," and the contents of this little book alone should suffice to refute the accusation that Talmudism had stitled religio-ethical sentiments. The love of God, it is pointed out, is man's highest mission, to which the fear of God is only a preparatory stage. The enjoyment of worldly things is not in itself to be condemned; but man is to bear constantly in mind that the recognition of God and the exercise of good deeds are the proper occupation of life. He lays great stress upon prayer; but this must not bemere lip-service; and, accordingly, he bids his children say their prayers in German rather than in unintelligible Hebrew. This is all the more noteworthy since Danzig in this very work enters a protest against all innovations, and even denounces the reading of German books.

His Ethics.

Love of truth and contentedness he especially enjoins; and declares repeatedly that "an offense against one's fellow being is far more reprehensible than a sin against God." He not only admonishes his family, therefore, to refrain from all dishonesty in their business relations with both Jews and non-Jews, but makes it a duty never to decide in money matters according to one's own opinions, but to inquire of a learned man whether the intended action conforms to the Law. While insisting upon the strictest observance of the rites, he bids his children even to let the time of prayer pass if this be necessary to secure money wherewith to pay a working man's wages.

Characteristic of Danzig is his warning not to study the Cabala before the age of maturity and before the study of the Talmudic-rabbinic literature. He himself shows an acquaintance with the Cabala; but in his halakic writings this is not made apparent. A somewhat mystical touch appears in his prayer for the eve of the Day of Atonement. This prayer may be found in "Ḥayye Adam" (No. 144), and has been published separately several times in Judæo-German as well as in Hebrew, under the title "Tefillah Zakkah" (Sincere Prayer).

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Monday, September 10, 2007

Yarzheit - Noson Adler

Today is the Yarzheit of R' Noson Adler, Rav of Frankfurt and teacher of the Chasam Sofer. Until I researched this post, that was all I knew about him (and the fact that he didn't have any children, yet the Chasam Sofer didn't name any of his sons after his Rebbe because he held that children should only be named after people in the family).

So here is what I found. Much more interesting than your average Rabbi!

ADLER, NATHAN: By : Gotthard Deutsch

German cabalist; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main, Dec. 16, 1741; died there Sept. 17, 1800. As a precocious child he won the admiration of Ḥayyim Joseph David Azulai, who, in 1752, came to Frankfort to solicit contributions for the poor of Palestine. Adler attended the rabbinical school of Jacob Joshua, author of "Pene Yehoshua'," who was at that time rabbi at Frankfort; but his principal teacher was David Tebele Schiff, afterward rabbi in London. In 1761 he established a yeshibah himself, in which several prominent rabbis received their early teachings, notable among whom were Abraham Auerbach, Abraham Bing, rabbi in Würzburg, and especially Moses Sofer (Schreiber), rabbi in Presburg. Nathan Adler was mystically inclined. He had devoted himself to the study of the Cabala, and adopted the liturgical system of Isaac Luria, assembling about himself a select community of cabalistic adepts. He prayed according to the Sephardic ritual, pronounced the priestly blessing every day, and in other ways approached the school of the Ḥasidim, who had at that time provoked the strongest censures on the part of the Talmudists of the old school. His followers claimed that he had performed miracles (Moses Sofer, "Ḥatam Sofer, Oraḥ Ḥayyim," 197), and turned visionaries themselves, frightening many persons with predictions of misfortunes which would befall them. Finally, the rabbis and congregational leaders intervened in 1779 and prohibited, under penalty of excommunication, the assemblies in Nathan Adler's house.

R. Nathan, however, paid no attention to these orders, but continued in his ecstatic piety. He even excommunicated a man who had disregarded his orders, although this was contrary to the laws of the congregation. His doors remained open day and night, and he declared all his possessions to be common property, that thus he might prevent the punishment of those who might carry away by mistake anything with them. Moreover, he commanded Moses Sofer, who had quarreled with his father, never to speak to his parent again. When the same disciple reported to him that he had gone through the whole Talmud, he advised him to celebrate that event by a fast of three days. In spite of the continued conflict with the congregational authorities, the fame of R. Nathan's piety and scholarship grew, and in 1782 he was elected rabbi of Boskowitz in Moravia. But his excessive and mystical piety having made enemies for him, he was forced to leave his congregation, and in 1785 returned to Frankfort. As he still persisted in his former ways, the threat of excommunication was renewed in 1789, which act was not repealed until shortly before his death. His wife, Rachel, daughter of Feist Cohen of Giessen, survived him. He left no children, though Nathan Adler, chief rabbi of London, was named after him. His mysticism seems to have been the cause of his repugnance to literary publications. The cabalists claimed that real esoteric theologyshould never be published, but should only be orally transmitted to worthy disciples. In his copy of the Mishnah he wrote brief marginal notes, mostly cross-references. Some of them were collected and explained with admirable ingenuity by B. H. Auerbach under the title "Mishnat Rabbi Natan." One responsum is found among those of Moses Sofer on "Yoreh De'ah," 261.

Bibliography: Auerbach, preface to "Mishnat Rabbi Natan," Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1862;
M. Horovitz, Frankfurter Rabbinen, iv. 38 et seq., Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1885;
S. Schreiber, Huṭ ha-Meshulash (Biographies of Moses Sofer, Akiba Eger, and Abraham Samuel Benjamin Sofer), pp. 2b et seq. (full of legends), Pecs, 1887;

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Chumra of the Week Club

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Best Article for Ages

I am putting this on my blog for those who don't read Yeshiva World, who may have missed this fantastic article. Nothing else needs to be said (which didn't stop 123 people writing comments on yeshiva world with plenty to say).

Read this if it is the only article you read this week!

Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum: A Kosher Alternative

Many people are in total shock at some of the goings on in the Catskills this summer. I will not go into the details. Suffice it to say that hundreds of our teenagers - boys and girls - were enticed to engage in activities that are far from what their parents and teachers consider acceptable, and far from what we have a right to expect from Yeshiva and Bais Yaakov products. While there are many reasons for it and no easy or simple solutions, we must be very careful not to add to the problem by forbidding everything without providing a satisfactory kosher replacement.

The Yetzer Hora of today is not the one of yesterday or the one our grandparents had to deal with. Today we have television, movies, CDs, DVD’s, Internet, videos, certain type cell phones, and music that are extremely attractive and contain more filth than ever before. They are everywhere and they can easily be brought into our homes without detection. Their influence and message is so powerful and seductive that they have penetrated even the best homes. We are dealing with a mighty foe whose magnetic power of attraction is difficult to resist. Saying “No” doesn’t always work. Unless we provide our children with a kosher alternative to it all, we are asking for trouble.

While in the past, summer camps may have been considered a luxury and kids could be kept in the city, nowadays camps are a lifesaver. Most summer camps provide kids with a kosher outlet for their pent up energies with a balanced program of learning and sports. There is Color War and BOG. There are hikes and trips. Children are kept so busy that they don’t have the time or desire to look for non-kosher means of entertainment.

Many years ago, Pirchei Agudas Yisroel used to organize trips to Washington, Baltimore, and Toronto. Motzoei Shabbos there was learning along with game nights, and concerts. There was the famous Pirchei Choir that put out beautiful records and tapes that brought countless hours of delightful Jewish entertainment into thousands of homes. This was all done in order to keep children busy during their free time so they shouldn’t have to go looking elsewhere. It was important to show children at a very early age that the Torah is not just restrictions, but that Shabbos as well as the rest of the week can be a time of constructive joy and pleasure. Happy laughter and family voices in the home will keep more kids off the streets at night than the strictest curfew.

I still remember when the Pirchei Agudas Yisrael put on a play and concert more than forty years ago in Montauk Junior High School. ( The play was based on the book Family Aguilar. ) There were some who tried to convince the rabbonim to put a ban on it. Since I was the president of Pirchei at the time, Rabbi Moshe Sherer z.l, asked me to go down to the venerable gaon hador, Rabbi Moshe Fienstien z.t.l., to get his halachic opinion. Not only did he not ban it, but he gave it his blessings. He understood only too well the importance of giving the boys a kosher alternative; otherwise they would soon find their pleasures elsewhere. One must be very careful before imposing restrictions. “Restrict everything and everything becomes permitted,” is what my father z.t.l. once said. When some tried to ban the Miami Boys Choir Concert in N.Y. and tried to get Rabbi Pam z.t.l.s’ signature as well as that of the Mirer Rosh Yeshiva to ban it, they both refused to sign.

A number of years ago, Rabbi Motty Katz of JEP and I organized a Chanuka trip to Washington on the two days that yeshivas give off for Chanuka vacation. Thanks to Mr. Yisroel Lefkowitz and others who helped subsidize part of the trip, we were able to charge only $20, which included an overnight stay in a nice motel. We were only able to take along 100 boys even though many more boys wanted to come along. I received a very nasty letter in the mail from a prominent rosh yeshiva accusing me of causing bitul Torah and admonishing me for organizing the trip. I very respectfully replied that it wasn’t I who was causing any bittul Torah but rather the yeshivas that gave the kids off for two days without providing them with something positive to do. I told him that if he wanted, I would show him where some of his students are hanging out during this time. I never received a reply.

I give great credit to the Mirer Yeshivah in Yerushalayim that has realized the great problem of what happens when their bocurim have nothing to do during bein hazmanim. The yeshiva organizes trips at subsidized prices which take their talmidim around Eretz Yisroel. If only other yeshivas would follow their example, many tragedies would be avoided.

When sports and concerts are forbidden, and all forms of kosher entertainment are off limits, we are asking for trouble. If our kids can’t find a place to vent their energy within a kosher environment, then they will find it elsewhere. In a time of war even the Torah itself permitted one to marry a captive non-Jewish girl under certain conditions. Chazal explain the logic behind this law. The Torah understood that a person is only human and therefore in this instance, while fighting a war, it gave him some leeway. The Gemora tells us that for everything the Torah forbade it gave us something similar that was permitted. Today’s war with the Yetzer Horah is far greater than ever before.

But in every generation we have the likes of Doeg and Achitofel who misled great people such as Shaul and Avshalom with falsehoods and lies that caused them to try to kill Dovid. Doeg even succeeded in getting Shaul to kill all the Kohanim in the city of Nov. This shows how falsehoods can be spread, how easily they are believed, and the terrible damage that can result. Even the greatest of the great are vulnerable to such camouflaged slander and can be misled by advisors they trust. Just turn to Shmuel II chapter 16 and read the story of how Dovid who knew better than anyone else of the great dangers of an evil tongue was himself taken in by Tziva who fabricated a false story about Mefiboshes. If even the greatest of the great can be misled, then we’d all better be very careful and constantly on our guard least we too fall into the same trap.

Some have organized special activities and places for these “at risk kids” to get together under proper supervision, but this is not the real solution. The problem must be addressed long before young people reach the “at risk” stage. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If the money we spent on rehabilitation where to be spent on prevention, we’d get far more for our money, and fewer people who need intensive intervention

It must be clearly noted that despite all that was said, one is required to follow the ruling of our sages even when they say “Right is left and left is right.” Nowadays when there is no Sanhedrin, one must seek a leading posek and follow his ruling on all matters and not go “posek hopping.” This applies not only in the above case but in all other areas as well. There are some disagreements among our leading poskim in Hilchos Shabbos which can be an isur sekilah. One can’t pick and choose stringencies from one or leniencies from another. (Gemora ) The Agudas Yisroel follows the ruling of the Moetzes Gedolai HaTorah. Others can decide on their posek whom they wish to follow. But whoever it is, the p’sak must be followed even if it hurts.

Yes, there are legitimate concerns that must be addressed in order to make sure that concerts are conducted in a true Yiddish atmosphere and flavor. Performers should not be Jewish rock or rap singers and the music should not imitate today’s street hip-hop culture as some performers unfortunately do. Sadly, I’ve gone to frum weddings where the music and dancing felt like one was in a discothèque with only the flashing lights missing. Roshei yeshivas and rabbonim danced in the middle of the circle having no idea as what type of music they were dancing to. I hope no one is going to ban music at weddings because of this, but rather the m’sader kidushin or rabbonim should meet with the band leaders as well as the mechutonim to rectify this outrage. Serious concerns must be discussed between the concert organizers and rabbonim beforehand. Instead of seeking to ban these concerts, we must make sure that they are a kiddush Shem Shomayim. Music has a powerful effect upon the listener and we must ensure that it follows in the footsteps and style of Dovid Hamelech the “n’im zemiros Yisroel,” to whose words our music is often put.

We definitely need our gedolim to guide us, and if we come to them with sincere requests to teach us to run activities al pi Torah, they would respond wisely and constructively. We should no longer leave the field open to those few agitators and connivers who choose to deprive our young people of positive outlets. For if we close the doors to that which is permitted, they’ll unfortunately, soon find other places to fill the void!

© 2007 Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum.

(Thanks for allowing Yeshivaworld to publish this important article.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The World Cares!

This may be the first time I can remember when the Red Cross and European Nations cared more about a Jewish than the Israeli Government seems to do!

May it be G-d's Will that he be brought home safely today!

Red Cross builds Shalit pressure

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has met the Hamas leader to try to gain access to the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

The Director General of the ICRC, Angelo Gnaedinger, met Ismail Haniya in Gaza on Wednesday.

Afterwards, Mr Gnaedinger said he was told a visit to Corporal Shalit was "under consideration and that everybody is working on a positive solution".

Cpl Shalit was seized in Israel by Palestinian militants in June 2006.

Prisoner swap

Two other Israeli soldiers died in the raid carried out by militants from Hamas and other Palestinian groups from Gaza.

The militant groups want Israel to release several hundred Palestinian prisoners in return for Cpl Shalit's release.

ICRC officials say they have raised the issue of gaining access to the captured Israeli soldier in five previous meetings with Hamas, but Mr Gnaedinger's visit was the most senior-level attempt to resolve the issue.

A statement from Mr Haniya after the meeting made no mention of any possible visit to Cpl Shalit. Instead, he said he hoped that Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli soldier would be released in an "honourable prisoner-swap deal".

The Haaretz newspaper reports that Israel has sent Hamas a new proposal in its negotiations over Gilad Shalit. No further details are given.

Quoting a senior Hamas official, the paper also says European officials from more than one country have recently begun mediating between Israel and Hamas over the soldier.

Virtual Shmita?

You may be concerned this shmita about whether to rely on 'heter mechira' where the land is sold to non-Jews for the year. There are many problems with this in practice, politics and philosophy (though nobody questions that it does 'work' and the produce may be eaten).

Shomrei Shvi'it have come up with a brilliant idea. (They thought of it last Shavuos night in the wee small hours while learning).Instead of selling the land to non-Jews and working it, how about selling it to Jews and not working it!

Shomrei Shvi’it is an innovative new project that allows Jews in Israel, and throughout the Diaspora, to properly fulfill the mitzvot of shmitta. The Torah's commandments to allow agricultural land to lie fallow every seventh year, can now be observed in a simple, powerful and inexpensive way.

For the first time for many people, shmitta can become an actual, practical mitzvah, rather than a theoretical commandment for discussion and learning.

As shmitta approaches this coming Rosh Hashana (September 2007), the observant Jewish world is searching for ways to uphold the mitzvah while allowing for regular consumption of agricultural produce. Rabbis, farmers, yeshivot, agricultural organizations, major corporations, small businesses and millions of kosher consumers are studying methods to avoid transgressing the many laws of shmitta.

While this search is important, necessary and even praiseworthy, Jews everywhere are missing out on the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of actually letting the land lie fallow.

Shomrei Shvi’it has created a simple and powerful tool for Jews to once again observe this commandment, one of the few in the Torah where the reward, G-d’s blessing, is specifically mentioned.

Shomrei Shvi’it has purchased a large tract of land that is currently being used for agricultural purposes. All work on this land will come to a complete stop by this Rosh Hashana, 5768.

Jewish people are invited to purchase small tracts of this land, measuring “dalet amot” (2 x 2 square amot), for a nominal fee of $180 per tract . In so doing, each person will be the rightful owner of agricultural property in the Land of Israel, and will fulfill the mitzvah of shmitta by letting that land lie fallow for the entire seventh, shmitta year.

I have no idea whether this actually does anything in terms of shmita. I am highly skeptical that the purchaser has really done the mitzvah of shmita. But they have certainly helped support the Israeli economy, and supported three poor kollel guys. (I don't know why they don't put a webcam overlooking the field so that the purchasers can actually watch their piece of land not being worked all year long!)

With that in mind - what do you think of the idea of virtual shmita in second life? Perhaps everyone could purchase pieces of virtual land and virtually not do anything with them for the whole year. That would be virtually the same as purchasing land in Israel. The only problem I can think of is how to define the borders of virtual Israel (there was no conquest by a virtual Yehoshua or virtual Babylonian exiles, so it becomes a bit tricky). Also, since this is theoretical, would we follow Rambam's theoretical calculation of when Shmita is (this year) instead of his halachic p'sak that we follow the Gaonim (next year - even though he holds that they are wrong)

Any takers?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Is it kosher?

Nowadays the consumer has to rely very heavily on the mashgichim (supervisors) to ensure the food they eat is kosher. It is impossible for the average person to know all the ingredients in products s/he buys, and extremely difficult for them to check on the kashrus of each one.

In restaurants the diner has to trust that the mashgiach is doing his job, and not off 'davening mincha' when he is supposed to be superivsing. It would be virtually impossible to know whether the food you are eating is kosher or not by the time it lands on your plate.

Nowadays the consumer is reliant on supervisors even for plain meat. Gone are the days when you would take your chicken to the shochet and then the Rabbi and you could see yourself whether it is kosher or not.

So stories like these are very disturbing to me. I have no idea whether they ever sold non kosher meat, or whether they were only storing it in the fridge (and I think we should be 'dan l'kaf z'chus):

On Monday at 5:30 p.m., an official from the Chief Rabbinate's Kashrut Supervision Unit discovered that the Tamar-Biton butcher in Kfar Saba had meat in refrigeration earmarked for retail sale that had not been properly koshered according to Jewish law.

In the report entitled "Severe Stumbling Block - Tamar-Biton Butcher," Rabbi Rafi Ochai, head of the anti-fraud unit, wrote: "From the above findings it can be concluded that there were serious lapses and breaches in kashrut supervision directives that raise the possibility that the public was tricked into eating non-kosher meat."

The business was fined NIS 1,000. The Kfar Saba Rabbinate was advised by the anti-fraud unit head to suspend Tamar-Biton's kashrut supervision certificate.

(look at the strength of the Rabbinate - 1000 shekel fine! You could jaywalk ten times for that price!)

But what does disturb me is that the husband of the owner of the store is the one who pays the salaries of the mashgichim:

In addition to helping in the management of his wife's butcher shop, Yaish Biton is also the treasurer of Kfar Saba's religious council. He signs off on the paychecks of all religious council employees, including the chief rabbi's.

Najati said in response that Biton had promised to add a nikur expert to the Kfar Saba religious council payroll. "As treasurer of the religious council, Biton is the man who controls financial issues here," said Najati.

Ochai said the Kfar Saba case was "just the tip of the iceberg."

He said that although he was not sure if this was the case in Kfar Saba, in many cities and towns the local chief rabbi was weak while religious council officials, often appointed for political reasons, have extensive powers. "As a result, economic interests often take precedence over religious strictures," he said.

The Movement for Fairness in Government's Eisenberg said that in many religious councils there were "bullies" who did not respect the religious authority of the local rabbi. "Sometimes, like in Kfar Saba, there is an extreme case of conflict of interests," said Eisenberg.

"It is not right that the manager of a butcher shop is also the one who gives orders to those who are supposed to supervise him," he said. "There is no doubt that such a state of conflict of interests disqualifies him from serving in a religious council and from being able to sign off on paychecks."

This is a problem which is not really dealt with. In some cases, like this, the conflict of interest is clear. What is not talked about is that most restaurants also pay the salary of their mashgiach. Sometimes the money goes directly from restaurateur to mashgiach, sometimes through an organisation. But ultimately any mashgiach knows that his job and livelihood may be on the line if he says something is not kosher.

That is not a good situation. It is very hard not to be bribed by the knowledge that doing your job properly may get you fired.

I don't have a solution, but next time you eat kosher food think about who you are relying on for the supervision, and to whom (apart from G-d) they are answerable.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

All Creatures Great and Small

Perek Shira presents the the words of praise and gratitude which all of G-d's Creation sing every day.

A Bisele Babka has posted a link to 25 of the World's Most Interesting Animals.

I wonder what kind of song they would sing? Here are my suggestions (but please, this is only a joke. I know that Perek Shira is serious. Just send me your song titles and don't get too excited)

R.e.m - Shiny Happy People

The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is a fish that inhabits the deep waters off the coasts of Australia and Tasmania. Due to the inaccessibility of its habitat, it is rarely seen by humans.

Blobfish are found at depths where the pressure is several dozens of times higher than at sea level, which would likely make gas bladders inefficient. To remain buoyant, the flesh of the blobfish is primarily a gelatinous mass with a density slightly less than water; this allows the fish to float above the sea floor without expending energy on swimming. The relative lack of muscle is not a disadvantage as it primarily swallows edible matter that floats by in front it.

Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl

Tarsiers are prosimian primates of the genus Tarsius, a monotypic genus in the family Tarsiidae, which is itself the lone extant family within the infraorder Tarsiiformes. The phylogenetic position of extant tarsiers within the order Primates has been debated for much of the past century, and tarsiers have alternately been classified with strepsirrhine primates in the suborder Prosimii, or as the sister group to the simians (=Anthropoidea) in the infraorder Haplorrhini. Analysis of SINE insertions, a type of macromutation to the DNA, is argued to offer very persuasive evidence for the monophyly of Haplorrhini, where other lines of evidence, such as DNA sequence data, had remained ambiguous. Thus, some systematists argue that the debate is conclusively settled in favor of a monophyletic Haplorrhini.

Tarsiers have enormous eyes and long feet. Their feet have extremely elongated tarsus bones, which is how they got their name. They are primarily insectivorous, and catch insects by jumping at them. They are also known to prey on birds and snakes. As they jump from tree to tree, tarsiers can catch even birds in motion. Gestation takes about six months, and tarsiers give birth to single offspring. All tarsier species are nocturnal in their habits, but like many nocturnal organisms some individuals may show more or less activity during the daytime. Unlike many nocturnal animals, however, tarsiers lack a light-reflecting area (tapetum lucidum) of the eye. They also have a fovea, atypical for nocturnal animals.


The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a strepsirrhine native to Madagascar that combines rodent-like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It is the world’s largest nocturnal primate, and is characterized by its unique method of finding food; it taps on trees to find grubs, then gnaws holes in the wood and inserts its elongated middle finger to pull the grubs out.

Daubentonia is the only genus in the family Daubentoniidae and infraorder Chiromyiformes. The Aye-aye is the only extant member of the genus (although it is currently an endangered species); a second species (Daubentonia robusta) was exterminated over the last few centuries.

Alice Cooper - Elected

The Axolotl (or ajolote) (Ambystoma mexicanum) is the best-known of the Mexican neotenic mole salamanders belonging to the Tiger Salamander complex. Larvae of this species fail to undergo metamorphosis, so the adults remain aquatic and gilled. The species originates from the lake underlying Mexico City. Axolotls are used extensively in scientific research due to their ability to regenerate most body parts, ease of breeding, and large embryos. They are commonly kept as pets in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Japan (where they are sold under the name Wooper Rooper, and other countries.

Axolotls should not be confused with waterdogs, the larval stage of the closely related Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum and Ambystoma mavortium), which is widespread in much of North America which also occasionally become neotenic, nor with mudpuppies (Necturus spp.), fully aquatic salamanders which are unrelated to the axolotl but which bear a superficial resemblance.

Little Jimmy Osmond - Long Haired Lover From Liverpool

The Angora rabbit is a variety of domestic rabbit bred for its long, soft hair. The Angora is one of the oldest types of domestic rabbit, originating in Ankara, Turkey, along with the Angora cat and Angora goat. The rabbits were popular pets with French royalty in the mid 1700s, and spread to other parts of Europe by the end of the century. They first appeared in the United States in the early 1900s. They are bred largely for their long wool, which may be removed by shearing or plucking (gently pulling loose wool).

There are many individual breeds of Angora rabbits, four of which are ARBA recognized. Such breeds include, French, German, Giant, English, Satin, Chinese, Swiss, Finnish, to name a few.

Bob Marley - Buffalo Soldier

(Of course his name must be Se-Lassie - get it?)

Females are 27 inches (69cm) at the withers. Male Komondorok are a minimum of 28 inches at the withers, but many are over 30 inches tall, making this one of the larger common breeds of dog. The body is not overly coarse or heavy, however, and people unfamiliar with the breed are often surprised by how quick and agile the dogs are.

Its long, thick, strikingly corded white coat (the heaviest amount of fur in the canine world) resembles dreadlocks or a mop. The puppy coat is soft and fluffy. However, the coat is wavy and tends to curl as the puppy matures. A fully mature coat is formed naturally from the soft undercoat and the coarser outer coat combining to form tassels, or cords. Some help is needed in separating the cords so the dog does not turn into one large matted mess. The length of the cords increases with time as the coat grows. Shedding is very minimal with this breed, contrary to what one might think (once cords are fully formed). The only substantial shedding occurs as a puppy before the dreadlocks fully form. The Komondor is born with only a white coat, unlike the similar-looking Puli, which is usually white, black or sometimes grayish. However, a working Komondor’s coat may be discolored by the elements, and may appear off-white if not washed regularly.

Older and Wiser

Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks? They don't come much older than President Shimon Peres, but yesterday, while speaking to the Austrian chancellor he finally admitted (or figured out) something that most of us have known for a very long time - Hamas wants to destroy Israel!

(Do you think he drank too much coffee? Or have they given him those 'smart pills'?)

He almost admitted that pulling out of Gaza was a mistake! I wonder how long it will take him to see that Oslo isn't doing too well at the moment either (how does that Nobel prize look on the mantlepiece now?)

Everything he has been done and tried to do for the past several decades (at least) turns out to have been a mistake. (I hope I never have to come to a realisation like that!) All this time he thought the Palestinians were our friends!

Perhaps he is in the process of doing teshuva (it is Elul, even for the president). Perhaps he has finally heard the screams of the kids in Sderot!

Let us hope (and pray) that with this realisation about Palestinian - Israel relations he will also actually direct the government to do something, and to make Israel a safer and even better place to live.

Hamas wants to destroy Israel, says Peres

"We had a rough day in Sderot. Seven rockets fell and almost killed our children. It's an intolerable situation and there is one address for it – Hamas. There is a limit to how much Israel is willing to tolerate," President Shimon Peres told Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer on Monday.

In thier meeting in Jerusalem, the president told the chancellor, "Israel left Gaza completely. There is not one Israeli citizen in its territory. Today I ask myself why? Why is Hamas shooting? What is its goal?

"There is only one answer. Hamas is a religious-fanatic organization that does not want a Palestinian state for its people, but wants to impose the dangerous radical religious hegemony that is taking over the entire Middle East and gives a green light to kill innocent people in its name."

Peres continued to condemn Hamas' actions which he said harmed both the Palestinian and Israeli people. "Hamas has one goal," he said, "to destroy the State of Israel. This is a danger to the entire free world. There is a limit to how much Israel is willing to tolerate."

Monday, September 03, 2007

Price of Love

Many people complain about the shidduch crisis, and the associated problems in the 'frum' world. It is interesting to see that y-net and 'Josh' have cottoned on to the idea of shidduchim and are promoting it.

Josh realises that if he wants something he has to pay for it. My only question is how much is a wife, love and happiness for the rest of his life worth to him? A measly $1000!!

In the frum world the price of a shidduch ranges from nothing (I know many people who spend hours and days trying to set people up on a shidduch who don't expect any financial reward) to tens of thousands of dollars (from both the man and the woman). It bothers me that there are shadchanim who charge so much, but on the other hand, to find a soul mate and life partner is surely worth any price (right dear?)

Josh did the maths, and figured out he will actually be saving money (or at least breaking even) by paying someone $1000 to find him a wife.

Good for him. I hope he finds his bashert at the right time (for the right price), and it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the idea of professional shadchanim for non-religious people caught on. There are many single people looking to get married, and at the moment only the religious ones have access to the shadchanim (with only a few exceptions - and the internet)

The only advice I would give to him is that if he thinks he is busy now, just wait until the shadchanim finish with him!

Find a bride for Josh – get $1,000

Shuki Bachar (aka Josh) promises a nice reward to whoever finds him a bride

"Someone smarter than me once told me 'if you want something done right, pay..'" – This is how Josh explained the idea behind his project "Finding a bride for Josh."

He tried dating websites but said that 90 percent of the faces stay the same and "who has time to surf the web all day." So he decided to make a move and offer $1,000 to the person who find him love.

His decision was based on a simple calculation:

A subscription to a dating website: NIS 120 ($28) a month

Average length of subscription: 36 months

Total: NIS 4,320 or $1,000

He promises to mail the check to the matchmaker on the day of the wedding.

For the project he also interviewed himself:

Why are you doing this?

"I am very busy and don't have the time to go looking for Cinderella every night in the bars and clubs. Looking for a bride is a full-time job. After traveling in the world, studying in the US and dating, I am ready to settle down."

Josh believes in doing things differently

Tell us about yourself

"I am a 32-years-old software engineer. I own a small company and want to find the 'one and only.' I believe in doing things a little differently.

Why "Josh"?

"My name is Yehoshua (Shuki) but my friends call me Josh because of the time I spent in the US. It sounds much cooler too."

What are you looking for in a woman?

"Non-smoker, over 25, intelligent (an academic degree is preferred), cute and settled. She must be real and enjoy having fun. A sense of humor is required."

What will you do on the first date?

"Go visit my mother. No, I'm kidding, I want to get to know the person."

How many girls do you plan to date?

"As many as I need till I find the right one."