Sunday, June 29, 2008

Is Wearing Tzitzis Without Techeles Bal Tigra?

So was said over in Rav Schachter's name, from Ginat Egoz, in an interesting post, and comment thread, over at Hirhurim. The relevant quotes from the comment thread:
In his sefer Ginas Egoz, Rav Schachter writes that wearing tzitzis without techeles may be an issur of bal tigra, and one is better off not wearing tzitzis at all than wearing tzitzis without techeles. I asked him if he meant this l'ma'ase to the point that if a high school kid doesn't have techeles in his tzitzis, the rebbe should not bug him about putting on his tzitzis. He said that the high school kid should get tzitzis with techeles and if he can't it is better not to wear tzitzis.
Don't we hold that techelet isn't me'akev the lavan? Then how could it be ba'al tigra?

Tekhelet and lavan are not meakev one another when you don't have one of the two,thus allowing you to still at least fulfill the mitzvah partially.When both are available to you, to be able to fulfill the mitzvah b'shlemuta, it's a different story.
To clarify why Rav Schachter says it is better not to wear tzitzis even though the techeles is not me'akev the lavan: The idea of one not being me'akev the other is only when one of them is not available. If, however, the opportunity for a mitzvah b'shleimusa is available (techeles) and one chooses to do a mitzvah she'lo b'shleimusa (by only wearing lavan), that is an issur of bal tigra. It is better not to do the mitzvah at all than to put yourself b'makom chiyuv (by wearing four corners) and then neglecting the mitzvah b'shleimusa. See the article in Ginas Egoz where he bases this on a Biur Halacha.
The Biur Halacha in question is 34:2 d"h yani'ach where he quotes the gemara that when one does "matan achas" of blood on the mizbe'ach when 2 or four are required the kapara is achieved but bal tigra has been violated. The Biur Halacha adds that this should serve as mussar for those who are lazy in doing mitzvos and don't do the mitzvos in the best possible way, that they can be in violation of bal tigra.
The idea is based on a Beis Halevi 1:42 in the name of the Turei Even that bal tigra is not when you fail to do a mitzvah (3 tzitziyos, missing a parsha from tefillin), but when you do the mitzvah, just not in its most complete form.

Menachot 43b:
תניא היה רבי מאיר אומר גדול עונשו של לבן יותר מעונשו של תכלת משל למה הדבר דומה למלך בשר ודם שאמר לשני עבדיו לאחד אמר הבא לי חותם של טיט ולאחד אמר הבא לי חותם של זהב ופשעו שניהם ולא הביאו איזה מהן עונשו מרובה הוי אומר זה שאמר לו הבא לי חותם של טיט ולא הביא

They surely had techeiles in the days of Rabbi Meir, even if it was expensive. Yet he talks separately of the punishment for failing to place techeiles on a 4-cornered garment and failing to place white strings, with that for failing to place white strings being more severe. A simple, straightforward reading of this would be that Rabbi Meir holds that even if one neglects to put techeiles on his garment (despite the fact that such is available), one should still put white strings on his 4-cornered garment, and that it is a failing not to do this.

Yet according to this position of Rav Schachter, one who does not put on techeiles should not be wearing a tallis or tallis katan with just white strings, for this is a violation of bal tigra.

I would assume Rav Schachter is familiar with this gemara in Menachot, and one can read it in various ways. E.g. referring to someone who simply cannot afford the techelet, or since it was scarce, in places where it is not available. In such an instance, it would not be bal tigra.

And along these lines, what does the Baal HaMaor do with this gemara, if he holds that techelet is meakev? Such that he would wear a 4-cornered garment without tzitzis, since tzitzit were not possible in his day? Perhaps one can read this as referring to one who neglects both aspects of the mitzvah? It seems hard to say.

Does anyone know if Rav Schachter addresses this gemara?

From a practical standpoint, this position is really prime material. Given that one is convinced that this is authentic techeles (as I am), such that there is a mitzvah deOrayta or a deorayta component that people are missing out on, how are you supposed to convince others to adopt it? Pirkei Avot tells us to weigh the sechar mitzvah keneged hefseidah, and it seems that people do this on a practical level when weighing chumras and halachas. As long as it is just standing by and not doing the full kiyum, people will side with the phychologically "frummer" position, which is not to fulfill the Biblical command (!). But if it can be cast as people actively violating an issur deOrayta every day they put on tzitzit, then this may tip the scale in the opposite direction.

Not that I think that this is what is guiding Rav Schachter in his position. Rather, it is a side effect, with interesting fallout.

I would add that there perhaps another reason to say it is bal tigra. See, for example, Barzilai's comment on that thread:
I don't agree with Rabbi Shechter on this point. I believe that the tradition and culture and halacha must move in a linear manner, and it doesn't really matter what the Tanaim held, or what Moshe Rabbeinu held. Withing limits, I'd rather follow normative than correct.
Perhaps I am miscasting this, but it seems that this position is that given this is the authentic techelet, and that Moshe Rabbenu, the Tannaim and Amoraim held this was techeles, and given that Ravina and Rav Ashi were sof horaah, still, I am willing to uproot an aspect of a mitzvah deOrayta and never keep it, and say that this is no longer part of Torah that should be followed. Because this is not normative practice. This seems to me like active bal tigra. And it seems that this may be the attitude of many who are not wearing techelet today.

Given the connection to the Biur Halacha about being lazy, it does not seem that that was what Rav Schachter was saying, however.

Note: Not halacha lemaaseh, of course. As I said, I did not even look into the sefer inside. And I do not have full mastery of the various source texts involved. I still would like to know how Rav Schachter deals with this particular gemara.

perhaps he wouild say that the gemara is speaking of a place where people always wore four cornered garments. If you are wearing a four cornered garment it is better to put on white than nothing, but if you have other clothing best to not wear a four cornered garment.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Parsha Roundup and Reaction

  1. Gems Of Torah
    "One of the reasons Korach gets his name on the Parsha is that he did want to serve Hashem more."
    Another reason is that Korach's name is the second word in the parsha.
  2. At Hirhurim, an occasional vort, which interprets Rashi's comment on vayikach korach that "He took himself" as being that he “took for himself.” This is not the meaning of Rashi, who is initially trying to solve a peshat-based grammatical question about the valence of vayikach, as an Anonymous commenter (the fifth commenter) partially notes.
  3. Rabbi Berel Wein on Korach:
    Moshe, who is known as a person of limitless patience and tolerance... And yet with Korach and his followers, Moshe adopts a hard line and uncompromising stance... The deeper issue here is that Korach wishes to convert Torah and Judaism to a man-made “democratic” faith, not its original and true source as a faith revealed to humans from on high, a faith and life system ordained in Heaven and revealed to humans... On that basic core issue of Judaism, Moshe sees no room for compromise or tolerance... The struggle to maintain Judaism as a Godly revealed religion is an ongoing one. There are many forces within and without the Jewish world that have attempted and still attempt to remove the Godly revealed part from Judaism.
    I, too, have long held the possibility that this idea of "democratic" Judaism was Korach's claim. It finds extremely strong purchase in the pesukim and the midrashim. Yet I would like a concrete example of what he considers this democratic, Korachite force, which seeks to strip God out of Judaism. And yet 'וּבְתוֹכָם ה seems to suggest some role for God here. See Shadal's take on the nature of the dispute.
  4. Rabbi Yossocher Frand on Korach:
    [T]he Almighty administers punishment in a "measure for measure" fashion. What significance is there to the fact that the earth swallowed up the people who sided with Korach? ... What did Korach take? Rashi's approach is that Korach took himself off to one side, to be separate from the assembly of Israel by raising objections regarding the priesthood... As a result of this "striking out on one's own", everything else follows naturally. Inevitably, the next step will be something akin to "he was jealous regarding the fact that Elizaphon was appointed the Prince of the Tribe of Levi."... Once one fails to see himself as part of the tzibur, one becomes bothered by other people's roles.
    Beautiful as homiletics, but I think that this is a misinterpretation of Rashi. See Rashi inside. I would say that pashut peshat in Rashi is that first Korach was jealous. As a result, he separated from the tzibbur in order to contest the kehunah.
  5. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald on Datan and Aviram the Protagonists. One small excerpt:
    Although the Torah does not describe Dathan and Abiram playing a very major role in the rebellion, they are portrayed in the Midrash as the most arrogant and defiant of people. The fact that they stand "neetz'a'vim," erect, is identified by the rabbis as the paradigm of defiance. The Talmud therefore concludes (Tractate Nedarim 64b), "Wherever the words ‘nee'tzim,' fighting, or ‘neetz'a'vim,' stand erect, appears in the Torah it is an allusion to Dathan and Abiram.
  6. Rabbi Zev Leff makes the same claim as Rabbi Yissocher Frand, that Rashi is claiming that the separation caused the jealousy, rather than vice versa. As noted, I am not convinced this is Rashi's intent at all:
    Rashi comments on the opening words of the sedrah, “Korach took -- He took himself off to one side.” Korach separated himself. He did not see himself as a part of the klal, but rather as a detached, isolated individual. His sense of separation caused his jealousy of Elizaphon ben Uziel, when the latter was appointed as the family head, and led to his lust for the glory of the kehunah gedolah.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Did Moshe Poison Korach's Ketores?

Rabbenu Bachya mentions that they (Chazal) make a derasha, by way of allegory, that he gave them a poison drug within it (sam hamaves natan {/natun} lahem betocho).

This is quoting Rashi on Bemidbar 16:6:
Do this!…Take for yourselves censers Why did he see fit to speak to them thus? He said to them, “Among the nations, there are various forms of worship and many priests, and they do not all gather in one temple. We, however, have only one God, one ark, one Torah, one altar, and one kohen gadol, but you two hundred and fifty men are all seeking the kehunah gedolah ! I too would prefer that. Here, take for yourselves the service most dear-it is the incense, more cherished than any other sacrifice, but it contains deadly poison, by which Nadab and Abihu were burnt. Therefore, he warned them, ”and it will be the one whom the Lord chooses-he is the holy one“ [meaning,] that he is already in his [state of] holiness. Is it not obvious that [the one] who is chosen is the holy one? Rather, Moses told them,”I am telling you this so that you should not be found guilty. For the one He chooses will survive, and the rest of you will perish." - [Mid. Tanchuma 5, Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8]
which as we see is citing Bemidbar Rabbah and Midrash Tanchuma. Or excerpted in Hebrew:
הא לכם תשמיש חביב מכל, היא הקטרת החביבה מכל הקורבנות וסם המות נתון בתוכו שבו נשרפו נדב ואביהוא, לפיכך התרה בהם והיה האיש אשר יבחר ה' הוא הקדוש, כבר הוא בקדושתו.
And its intent in context is surely death at the hands of Heaven, as punishment from bringing the ketores when one is a zar, as we see by Nadav and Avihu. So Rabbenu says, and such is obviously correct. Thus, this is a strategy to bring about their deaths at the hand of heaven.

Rabbenu Bachya feels compelled to clarify this since one could interpret this as Moshe being devious and putting an actual, physical poisonous substance in their incense which, when burnt, would kill them via its smoke or perhaps via its fire. This would give evildoers an opportunity to open their mouths to claim that the punishment was not Divine. Thus Rashi is not to be taken literally. (And based on context, of Nadav and Avihu, it is clear that Rashi never intended it literally.)

I {=Josh} would add that Ibn Ezra comes close to this interpretation of the evildoers, if we understand him correctly. See my post about whether Ibn Ezra claims poison was put into the bitter waters, where it also appears that he claims that the incense on Aharon's fire pan, with which Aharon stops the plague, was not real incense. Ibn Ezra himself connects the two. The implication was that there was some herb in the incense which stopped the plague. And we might even add that since Ibn Ezra "proves" this by the lack of the definite article on the word ketores in sim ketores, and there is no definite article in the instruction to Korach's congregation in the words וְשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶן קְטֹרֶת, he might, or actually does, hold this as well. Is Ibn Ezra an evildoer, according to Rabbenu Bachya's criteria?

Rabbenu Bachya also notes a curiosity about Onkelos' perush, which might be associated with the misinterpretation of Rashi's midrash. Namely, throughout the parsha, Onkelos translates ketores as regular ketores, and not ketores busmin.

This is contradicted by our own text of Targum Onkelos. Thus, we have:

טז,ז וּתְנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וְשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶן קְטֹרֶת לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, מָחָר, וְהָיָה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר יְהוָה, הוּא הַקָּדוֹשׁ; רַב-לָכֶם, בְּנֵי לֵוִי. וְהַבוּ בְּהוֹן אִישָׁתָא וְשַׁוּוֹ עֲלֵיהוֹן קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין קֳדָם יְיָ, מְחַר, וִיהֵי גֻּבְרָא דְּיִתְרְעֵי יְיָ, הוּא קַדִּישׁ; סַגִּי לְכוֹן, בְּנֵי לֵוִי.
and then:
טז,יז וּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וּנְתַתֶּם עֲלֵיהֶם קְטֹרֶת, וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם מַחְתֹּת; וְאַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן, אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ. וְסַבוּ גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, וְתִתְּנוּן עֲלֵיהוֹן קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין, וּתְקָרְבוּן קֳדָם יְיָ גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, מָאתַן וְחַמְשִׁין מַחְתְּיָן; וְאַתְּ וְאַהֲרוֹן, גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ.
טז,יח וַיִּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ עֲלֵיהֶם אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶם, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּעַמְדוּ, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד--וּמֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן. וּנְסִיבוּ גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, וִיהַבוּ עֲלֵיהוֹן אִישָׁתָא, וְשַׁוִּיאוּ עֲלֵיהוֹן, קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין; וְקָמוּ, בִּתְרַע מַשְׁכַּן זִמְנָא--וּמֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרוֹן.
and then
טז,לה וְאֵשׁ יָצְאָה, מֵאֵת ה; וַתֹּאכַל, אֵת הַחֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם אִישׁ, מַקְרִיבֵי, הַקְּטֹרֶת. {ס} וְאִישָׁתָא נְפַקַת, מִן קֳדָם יְיָ; וַאֲכַלַת, יָת מָאתַן וְחַמְשִׁין גֻּבְרָא, מְקָרְבֵי, קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמַיָּא. {ס}
Then, in the next perek

יז,ה זִכָּרוֹן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִקְרַב אִישׁ זָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן הוּא, לְהַקְטִיר קְטֹרֶת, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח וְכַעֲדָתוֹ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה לוֹ. {פ} דֻּכְרָנָא לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּדִיל דְּלָא יִקְרַב גְּבַר חִילוֹנַי דְּלָא מִזַּרְעָא דְּאַהֲרוֹן הוּא, לְאַסָּקָא קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין, קֳדָם יְיָ; וְלָא יְהֵי כְּקֹרַח וְכִכְנִשְׁתֵּיהּ, כְּמָא דְּמַלֵּיל יְיָ בִּידָא דְּמֹשֶׁה לֵיהּ. {פ}
and when Aharon takes the ketoret to end the plague:
יז,יא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, קַח אֶת-הַמַּחְתָּה וְתֶן-עָלֶיהָ אֵשׁ מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְשִׂים קְטֹרֶת, וְהוֹלֵךְ מְהֵרָה אֶל-הָעֵדָה, וְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיהֶם: כִּי-יָצָא הַקֶּצֶף מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, הֵחֵל הַנָּגֶף. וַאֲמַר מֹשֶׁה לְאַהֲרוֹן, סַב יָת מַחְתִּיתָא וְהַב עֲלַהּ אִישָׁתָא מֵעִלָּוֵי מַדְבְּחָא וְשַׁו קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין, וְאוֹבֵיל בִּפְרִיעַ לִכְנִשְׁתָּא, וְכַפַּר עֲלֵיהוֹן: אֲרֵי נְפַק רֻגְזָא מִן קֳדָם יְיָ, שָׁרִי מוֹתָנָא.
יז,יב וַיִּקַּח אַהֲרֹן כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה, וַיָּרָץ אֶל-תּוֹךְ הַקָּהָל, וְהִנֵּה הֵחֵל הַנֶּגֶף, בָּעָם; וַיִּתֵּן, אֶת-הַקְּטֹרֶת, וַיְכַפֵּר, עַל-הָעָם. וּנְסֵיב אַהֲרוֹן כְּמָא דְּמַלֵּיל מֹשֶׁה, וּרְהַט לְגוֹ קְהָלָא, וְהָא שָׁרִי מוֹתָנָא, בְּעַמָּא; וִיהַב, יָת קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמַיָּא, וְכַפַּר, עַל עַמָּא.
So throughout, it is קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמַיָּא.

Onkelos' intent, says Rabbenu Bachya, is to say that this was not authentic ketoret but rather some incense made as spices, and this was the way they constructed the test.

And so too by the sons of Aharon, that is Nadav and Avihu, in parshat Shemini, Onkelos translates:

י,א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם. וּנְסִיבוּ בְּנֵי אַהֲרוֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא גְּבַר מַחְתִּיתֵיהּ, וִיהַבוּ בְּהוֹן אִישָׁתָא, וְשַׁוִּיאוּ עֲלַהּ, קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין; וְקָרִיבוּ קֳדָם יְיָ, אִישָׁתָא נֻכְרֵיתָא--דְּלָא פַּקֵּיד, יָתְהוֹן.
We could have contrasted it to other cases where ketores busmin is used in full. Thus,
ל,א וְעָשִׂיתָ מִזְבֵּחַ, מִקְטַר קְטֹרֶת; עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים, תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתוֹ. וְתַעֲבֵיד מַדְבְּחָא, לְאַקְטָרָא עֲלוֹהִי קְטֹרֶת בֻּסְמִין; דְּאָעֵי שִׁטִּין, תַּעֲבֵיד יָתֵיהּ.
Rabbenu Bachya suggests that Onkelos omits busmin because he only wants to say that when it is by command of the Torah, and with its regular ingredients.

Now, he must have had a different girsa of Onkelos throughout. Not knowing anything else about the quality of the various girsaot, I would tentatively endorse the girsa which Rabbenu Bachya has, because of lectio difficilior and the likelihood that a text without busmin would get the word busmin consistently added in order to conform with Targum Onkelos throughout the rest of Torah. The trend to harmonize and make everything consistent is a strong one, and thus I would suspect consistent, smooth text of being not original which rough text to be original. On the other hand, busmin could have been stripped out in these two contexts by some later hand to make this point, but who would dare to deliberately insert such commentary by stripping out words?

It would seem, then, that Onkelos is considering the possibility of poison, or the possibility that the ingredients were not the same, or that it was not commanded of God (in the case of Nadav and Avihu). The case of its absence by Nadav and Avihu suggests to me that Rabbenu Bachya's interpretation of Onkelos' motivation is correct.

However, I would add that ketores as translation of ketores is effectively a non-translation. Rather than actively suggesting something about the nature of the ketores, since he is unsure, or perhaps aware of a dispute about the matter, he selects a non-translation to leave the Biblical text in its ambiguous state.

By the way, at the end, Rabbenu Bachya endorses the position that the ketores in all these cases was authentic ketores.

The Metaphor of the Tzitzis and the Mezuzah

The midrash brings down two complaints to Moshe. One is related by Rashi:
What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors. These were Elitzur the son of Shedeur and his colleagues, and others like him, as it says, “chieftains of the congregation, those called to the assembly.” And further it states, “These were the chosen ones of the congregation” (1:16). He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moses and asked him, “Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require fringes [’tzitzith’], or is it exempt?” He replied, “ It does require [fringes].” They began laughing at him [saying], "Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? - [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Num. Rabbah 18:3]
Another is that he asked whether a room filled with sefarim required a mezuzah.

The meaning of the midrash seems fairly clear. The tzitzit and mezuzah are stand-ins for the leadership, and the beged and the room full of sefarim are stand-ins for the Bnei Yisrael. As we read their complaint in the beginning of parshat Korach:
ג וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם--כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה. 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: 'Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?'
And indeed, so does Rabbenu Bachya explain it (see right).

But kabbalists give a kabbalistic explanation to these two midrashim. I saw the following in Maggid Meisharim. It appears in other kabbalistic works, but I would guess that it first occurs there.

According to Rav Yosef Karo's maggid, Korach was debating with Moshe about how Bnei Yisrael should relate to the Sefirot, and which to unify with.

According to Korach's first complaint about the tallis made entirely of techeiles, the techeiles represents Malchus, and Malchus {Shechina} is how Hashem relates to and interacts with the world. In the mashal, the entire tallis was made of techelet, and Korach argued that there is no need for white strings. In the nimshal, Korach is saying that one does not require yichud with the seven Sefirot above Malchut. Moshe's reply was that one does need those seven sefirot as well. Thus, the fringes consist of seven white strings and one string of techelet, representing Malchut together with the seven sefirot above.

Korach's second complaint was about the house filled with sefarim, which he claimed did not require a mezuzah. Maggid Meisharim explains this as a continuation of the previous dispute. If the seven Sefirot above are in charge of Malchut, then perhaps one should only attempt to unify with those upper Sefirot. Just as a house is filled with sefarim, does one need the mezuzah (which in this case represents Malchut)? Here, Moshe says that it is required.

I understand the connection of techeilet to Hashem (and one can see Ramban who I cite a bit below for an elaboration). Still, I do not believe that this was the intent of these midrashim about Korach's arguments, but rather this is the usual kabbalistic exercise of reinterpreting earlier sources to bolster their beliefs.

If I wished to, I could challenge this interpretation on the details. In the first mashal, the 7 white strings and 1 blue string represented the seven upper Sefirot and Malchut. But that only works according to the position of Rambam, that the techelet is half a string. Then, only one string of 8 would be blue, and the white ones would number seven. But according to Raavad, that it is a whole string, it would be 2 blue and 6 white. How are 6 white supposed to represent the 7 Sefirot. And according to Tosafot, that it is two full strings of blue, then there are 4 blue and 4 white. How can this interpretation work according to Tosafot? It can't.

And my tzitzit are in accordance with Tosafot, in terms of blue vs. white. Bet Yosef, who is Rav Yosef Karo, cites both Rambam and Tosafot in his commentary on Tur, and does not rule in favor of one. As far as I can tell, in Shulchan Aruch he brings down nothing, since he did not have techelet in his day. But Mishnah Berurah only brings down the position of Tosafot. Vilna Gaon is sure Tosafot is wrong, but is unsure whether Rambam or Raavad is correct.

Can we do such a nitpick? I have precedent for such a nitpick, as Ramban does the same to reject Rashi's interpretation of the mnemonic of tzitzit, in parshat Shelach:

כתב רש"י:
מפני המנין של ציצית בגימטריא שש מאות, ושמונה חוטין וחמשה קשרים הרי תרי"ג.
ולא הבינותי זה, שהציצית בתורה חסר יו"ד ואין מנינם אלא חמש מאות ותשעים.

ועוד, שהחוטין לדעת בית הלל אינם אלא שלושה (מנחות מא ב), והקשרים מן התורה אינם אלא שנים, כמו שאמרו (שם לט א):
שמע מינה קשר העליון דאורייתא דאי סלקא דעתך לאו דאורייתא כלאים בציצית דשרא רחמנא למה לי הא קיימא לן התוכף תכיפה אחת אינו חבור:
אבל הזיכרון הוא בחוט התכלת, שרומז למדה הכוללת הכל שהיא בכל והיא תכלית הכל.
ולכן אמר: וזכרתם את כל -
שהיא מצוות השם.

וזהו שאמרו (שם מג ב):
מפני שהתכלת דומה לים וים דומה לרקיע ורקיע דומה לכסא הכבוד וכו'.
והדמיון בשם גם הגוון תכלית המראות, כי ברחוקם יראו כולם כגוון ההוא, ולפיכך נקרא תכלת:

Thus, the halachic details of tzitzit, that only two knots are required deOrayta, is used to reject Rashi's explanation.

(Read the first part of Rabbenu Bachya, though, about Korach's wife, and chut echad shel techelet.)

I would add that we can read Rav Yosef Karo's interpretation into the pasuk which is the source (or one of the sources at least) of the midrash. Thus, the pasuk in the beginning of parshat Korach read:
ג וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם--כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה. 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: 'Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?'
It can center on וּבְתוֹכָם ה. We can read the pasuk in a way roughly approximating the following, taking kahal and edah to refer to the seven Sefirot:

רַב-לָכֶם: You have something which is over you -- Malchut.
כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה: The entire "Congregation" of Sefirot are holy, and within them is be Hashem = Shechina, Malchut.
וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה -- Taking the other tack, why do you elevate it over the kahal of Hashem -- rather, one should just focus on the kahal.

There are all sorts of variants of this parsing one can give. This, along with the identity of techelet, might be what influences this kabbalistic interpretation of the midrash.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interesting Posts and Articles #47

  1. The Jerusalem Post has an interesting article about the arod, which is a poisonous snake, and Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, who was a Tanna.
  2. I recently encountered this blog, Sfas haNachal. Some interesting posts. Here is the second one on kabbalah red string.
  3. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach sits next to a lady on a bus.
  4. Hirshel Tzig has scans and discussions about Rav Shach's conversation with two seminary girls. (They should learn to make good kugel.)
  5. Frankincense's calming effects.
  6. The Amazon tribe previously unknown turns out to be a hoax, and a publicity stunt. A while back, DreamingOfMoshiach tried to use this as an "absence of evidence" proof that the river Sambatyon with the ten lost tribes is real:
    Till today 'intelligent' investigators mocked us, the Jewish nation, that we believe without a doubt that the lost 10 tribes are living in exile, on the other side of the Sambatyon and are also waiting for Moshiach so they can return to our Holy Land. Investigators always claimed that such tribes do not exist. They claim that since satellites are placed in every corner of the world, they are able to photograph anything unique. Their second claim is travelling around the world is easily accessible and therefore, every hidden corner has been investigated and according to them, nothing is hidden.
    These photographs prove that an unknown tribe has been living undisturbed for thousands of years totally disconnected from our modern world; regardless of the many people that investigated the Amazon for years, and despite all the modern satellite equipment.

    Now investigators admit that there is a possibility that there are more
    unfounded tribes living in our world undisturbed and are completely disconnected from our modern world.
  7. Granting rights to captured terrorists. From International Herald Tribune:
    Mohammed met his captors at first with cocky defiance, telling one veteran CIA officer, a former Pakistan station chief, that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer–the experience of his nephew and partner in terrorism, Ramzi Yousef, after Yousef’s arrest in 1995.
  8. "My Skirt Is My Korban Todah," at BeyondBT. I disagree with the idea that
    "tsnius is the penultimate women’s mitzvah, the point of her ultimate testing."
    and not only because "penultimate" means next to last. It seems very male-centric, and defining a woman's value and righteousness specifically by how she impacts men around her. And it is negatively focused -- her primary role in life is to not be a temptation, a bor bereshut harabbim. What if I said that because men are aggressive beings, a man's tafkid in life, and his ultimate mitzvah, is to not murder people?! I would propose "chessed" as a good candidate for an ultimate mitzvah.
  9. DixieYid translates an article which sets out that machlokes does not really exist. I consider this part of the modern (and ancient) trend of harmonization. But yes, machlokes does exist.

    An excerpt:
    First, one must understand that it is impossible for there to be an opinion that there not be Hashgacha Pratis on any created thing, because if were the case, these would not be in the hands of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but only in the hands of "nature." But who created this "nature" that we speak of? Hashem!
    This is a line of argument, preceding a harmonization, but it is conceivable that people (such as Rambam) could dispute this argumentation.

    He posts this as a followup to a previous post claiming there was no real dispute between Rambam and Baal Shem Tov about whether hashgacha pratis applies to all, and that Rambam holds of hashgacha pratis (rather than just "hashgacha") on every detail of creation, something Rambam explicitly argues against. See ThanBook on this, and see the comment thread. Three particular conments of interest, not having to do with the specifics:
    Rabbi Micha Berger:
    I have been tenaceous in my argument against Dixie Yid's original post because I am extremely unhappy with this habit of fitting rishonim to what we want them to say. We do it for "frum" reasons, academics do it for their reasons, but both are engaging in the same intellectual dishonesty.

    For those of you who don't believe HKB"H is involved in our lives, it is okay for us to say nowadays, "koichi veoitzem yadi..?"

    These days it seems that the people I know that are afraid to say that Hashem controls every minute detail are the ones that treat Yidishkeit as a burden.

    A Simple Jew:
    Anonymous: YOU just hit the nail on the head.

Korach, Vayeitzei: Why Was Levi Called Levi?

From parshat Vayeitzei:
לד וַתַּהַר עוֹד, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר עַתָּה הַפַּעַם יִלָּוֶה אִישִׁי אֵלַי, כִּי-יָלַדְתִּי לוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה בָנִים; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ, לֵוִי. 34 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons.' Therefore was his name called Levi.
but towards the end of parshat Korach:
א וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ וּבֵית-אָבִיךָ אִתָּךְ, תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹן הַמִּקְדָּשׁ; וְאַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ, תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹן כְּהֻנַּתְכֶם. 1 And the LORD said unto Aaron: 'Thou and thy sons and thy fathers' house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary; and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.
ב וְגַם אֶת-אַחֶיךָ מַטֵּה לֵוִי שֵׁבֶט אָבִיךָ, הַקְרֵב אִתָּךְ, וְיִלָּווּ עָלֶיךָ, וִישָׁרְתוּךָ; וְאַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ, לִפְנֵי אֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת. 2 And thy brethren also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou near with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee, thou and thy sons with thee being before the tent of the testimony.
Thus, the kohanim, descendants of Aharon, are so called because of their function of ministering. (Elsewhere, the Netinim are given over to serve, and are so called because of their function.) And the typical Levites are joined unto the kohanim, to minister under them -- וְיִלָּווּ עָלֶיךָ. And two pesukim later:
ד וְנִלְווּ עָלֶיךָ--וְשָׁמְרוּ אֶת-מִשְׁמֶרֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, לְכֹל עֲבֹדַת הָאֹהֶל; וְזָר, לֹא-יִקְרַב אֲלֵיכֶם. 4 And they shall be joined unto thee, and keep the charge of the tent of meeting, whatsoever the service of the Tent may be; but a common man shall not draw nigh unto you.
This appears at first glance to be another instance of dual etymology. Even though in both cases the root is the same, the question is who is joining. In Vayeitzei it is Yaakov who will join her, while in Korach it is the tribe, such that perhaps they are so called because of their function.

This is readily dismissible, if need be, as a simple pun in parshat Korach, drawing on Levi's name to describe shevet Levi's role, something which the Biblical text frequently does.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Thoughts on Megirot, pt ii

Once again, let me preface this with the fact that I have no inside knowledge of Megeirot or the people involved, just the summary and some details I have seen in blogs and articles. My reaction is to the concepts, as described. I might not have set out my thoughts on the matter -- for why should anyone care? But once I posted someone else's take on it, I thought it would be good to clarify my own position on it.

The good: In the past post, I explained that even though the idea of raising drawer-cleaning to ritual strikes me as silly, and even though I think it is pop-psychology clothed as religion, there are some good aspects to it. Namely, it is good to engage in self-introspection and it is good for harried religious women to have a kosher support group. It may well be that Megeirot or programs like it are the only realistic way for them to have it. And even if some of Megirot is ineffective or silly, the process of engaging in it with other people in the same boat and with someone to support and listen to you can have real emotional psychological effect.

The worrisome: However, in general, present-day Orthodox Judaism has its problem with folk-religion. To a large extent such trends are checked among men, who have plenty of Jewish ritual to engage in, and gemara and so on to keep them occupied. But particularly among frum Jewish women, there is a risk of falling into the trap of folk-religion.

Why particularly women?

First, often (though not always) they are taught lots of "fluff" in school. Like in one concrete example, when they are taught that the purpose hair-covering is so that their hair will be super-special for their husband, but are not told anything about the Das Yehudis or sear beIsha erva. Or hashkafa, which is not a serious source-based discussion, but a mussar shmuez reflecting the particular biases of their teacher. So when they encounter someone else saying incorrect fluff, it is hard to distinguish and say why this particular fluff is wrong.

Secondly, in many cases, they are not given the place to express themselves in Jewish ritual. The husband's role is to learn, and the woman's role is to cook supper, get the kids dressed, and clean the drawers. This is an overstatement, but one pulled from a recent comment on this blog. Since Judaism does not give them the ritual, they sometimes make ritual up, or else invest existing actions with deeper significance.

I made this point in an earlier post, when I suggested that when the gemara states that "the best of women practices witchcraft" means particularly the best, who seek spiritual fulfillment, just as "the best of doctors" in that gemara meant particularly the best.

Thus, baking challah in honor of Shabbos is a great thing to do -- and halachic sources even insisted that the man should do this in honor of Shabbos (though Aruch haShulchan says that it is OK for the wife to do it because of ishto kegufo). But since this has developed into woman's work, and she is the one who does hafrashat challah, this has been changed into a ritual for a coven of women. They get together in groups made up of specific (in-)signicant numbers of people, have names of people who need a shidduch or a refuah sheleima, and have them in mind when they perform their ritual. And they come up with silly "fluff" about the mystical significance of the ingredients of challah, and so on.

Women's prayer groups are the efforts of feminists to practice rituals usually reserved just for men. But the "frum" variant is more problematic, in my opinion. They consider Amen to be a word of power, and they meet at the new moon.

A similar problem with Shir haShirim groups. Women like romance, and shir hashirim uses the metaphor of a man and his lover, so this is something women should form a group to say. And of course have in mind shidduchim. And women talk a lot! 9 measures of talk was given to women. So they should have Shmiras haLashon groups, once again having in mind particular people in need of assistance. So these become rituals and segulahs to bring about a particular desired result.

Sometimes, the transforming of life experiences into segulahs and rituals takes away from the living of those life experiences. I have seen kallahs shuffling down the aisle reading a list of names (of sick or single) or saying tehillim, while crying, rather than experiencing the joy and experience of getting married to her bashert. All because the time is portentous, and must be harnessed into a segulah.

Megeirot seems to be along the same lines. Women are overworked, but their role is surely in the home -- making me a sandwich. (I kid, I kid.) And so a ritual is made out of ... cleaning drawers.

I did not mention the competing group -- Chitulim. The idea in this movement is that before changing a diaper, the mother must say a prayer to Hashem. As she uses the baby wipe, she must contemplate what sort of c**p in her life she would like to clear away.

Such is obviously ridiculous. I made it up. Yet Megeirot is taken seriously! Chazal never ritualized drawer cleaning. This is a made-up modern ritual which fills a void.

I must hasten to say that that does not mean that there cannot be value in this. It is good to invest our lives with meaning, and to find meaning in the otherwise mundane.

But here are a group of women following what might be considered a guru figure who are coming up with tefillot to say at this particular ritualized act. I believe that part of the reason of Baal Tosif is to prevent this organic, wild growth of our religion.

That brings me to the founder of this group. There is nothing that says that a woman cannot be spiritual and knowledgable. But when men try to lead, they do so within the framework of established halacha, with a long and developed history behind it. And they do so as rabbis, where there is peer review. One rises in the ranks as one is recognized for knowledge and insight into halacha and hashkafa. And if one diverges, other rabbis are there to challenge it. (At least in an ideal world. But at least these checks are in place.)

Meanwhile, there is no post of "rabbi" for a woman. There is rebbetzin, which many may earn just by marrying a rabbi. In the case of Rabbanit Keren, I saw on a discussion board that a woman asked her rebbetzin whether Rabbanit Keren's practices were off the deep end. The rebbetzin responded that even though this is not our hashkafa, she is a rebbetzin, which means that she is married to a rabbi, which in turn means that he presumably knows about and approves of her message. So she is not off the deep end, but must be based on a legitimate position. Meanwhile, the husband in that case was not really a force in the home.

There are no checks and balances in place, the women who attend are used to fluff, and the connection is to a type of "guru" figure.

The head of Megeirot might not say a single word of kefirah, may say over divrei Torah, and want to bring people close to Hashem. That does not mean that she is a professional therapist who understands what will positively or negatively affect people in general and people in particular; it also does not mean that she knows what Torah sources should be brought to bear, and which to be given prominence, in any given situation.

Thus, this may be true:
No matter what the student said, the instructor was told to tell her: "Sheker (falsehood), that is a statement of the ordinary sechel (intellect) which is your non-sechel. You don't have any sechel." Then the student recited a prayer, intended to redirect the woman's thoughts.
If true, and if this is a bad thing, it is not because of any evil intent of the founder of Megeirot, but because she is not a trained therapist.

Furthermore, back to the fluff angle. I know that many, many things can be cast as a Jewish ideas, when one uses the right words and frames it appropriately. This has happened many times in the distant and recent past. If Rav Dov Lior "warned that it was not based on Jewish teachings," this is quite possible, even though followers of Megeirot will gladly and readily engage in argument that it does.

It is also worrisome that in defending the group and the group leader, someone would see fit to compare Sylvie to Rav Nachman of Breslov or to the Baal Shem Tov. This suggests that the group is more serious about themselves and their practices than I first thought. Usually, we try to vet our leaders more thoroughly. As the saying goes, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

I do not know of any particulars of it, and do not intend to get into any particulars. However, perhaps in the next post (if I decide to post it), I will discuss a bit about why I think discussing perceived problems, or problematic experiences, about something which has the form of a cult, might be a good thing, even if (and I am not saying it does or does not) such goes against the laws of lashon hara.

The "Problem" With sefer Chafetz Chaim

I will admit up front that I have never really learnt through the entire sefer Chafetz Chaim in depth, and that doing so would be a good thing.

However, I recently started to do so, and I think the following observation has some degree of accuracy to it.

The big problem (IMHO) is that the sefer Chafetz Chaim, and the laws of lashon hara in general, lack the diachronic and synchronic debate and development that occurs for almost all other halachot.

For example, take a particular din in kriat shema, whatever it may be. The chances will be that it comes from a particular Bavli and there may or may not be a parallel Yerushalmi.

That source will be taken and interpreted not just by Rif, but also by Rambam and Rosh. And Rif, Rambam and Rosh may disagree as to the meaning of that statement, how to balance that statement with other statements in the gemara, and whether that statement ends up being lehalacha. Each of these works (Rif, Rambam, Rosh) has supercommentaries, with competing ways of understanding their words. And upon the Rif is the Baal HaMaor, who argues on the Rif, and the Ramban, who attempts to defend the Rif.

Then we have Tur, with Beis Yosef, Bach, and Darkei Moshe each providing their own, sometimes differing commentary. Then, the Beis Yosef, after writing commentaries on Rambam and Tur, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, those we have the Rema giving another view side by side.

Upon the page of Shulchan Aruch, we not only have Shach, but we have e.g. Taz. And while later we have the the Chafetz Chaim reworking and harmonizing past material into the Mishnah Berurah, we also have his contemporary who wrote the Aruch haShulchan.

That these halachot of kriat Shema were organized systematically, and received their own simanim and seifim in Shulchan Aruch, means that they were touched upon and debated by multiple generations of Rishonim and Acharonim. It has been highly processed. And in any particular din, we can read through many different perspectives on that din and come to some conclusion.

Contrast that situation to that of the dinim in sefer Chafetz Chaim. Sure, he bases himself on gemaras and various rishonim. But these dinim, with their particulars, are resource-poor, such that we do not get the type of in-depth debate and development throughout generations. And where is the Chafetz Chaim's bar plugta? We would normally have Aruch haShulchan, but Aruch haShulchan did not (afaik) write as extensively on these halachos.

Looking at particulars, I can see certain assertions which I think would be questioned. And Mishnah Brurah has a certain derech of satisfying multiple positions that others would not necessarily go along with. I won't go into the particulars here. It does not really matter; that such debate would have come up is almost certain. For why should these halachos be any different from halachos in every siman in Shulchan Aruch?

A certain sophistication comes about from this debate and development. And while the Chafetz Chaim wrote for his time, certain day-to-day situations come up that require application of principles to "hairier" situations. And people can readily misapply these rules, as is bound to happen when one takes common sense and formalizes it, and when tries to apply rules to extremely complicated situations with many factors.

I think that he needs a bar plugta. I was thinking that it might eventually be a project of this blog, not just translating and expanding on Shmiras haLashon or Chafetz Chaim as others do, but analyzing the sources and arguing with them at times. Of course, people's reaction may well be to question who this Josh fellow thinks he is, and what chutzpah to do so! And for various other reasons, those capable of doing this who would be accepted likely would not dream of taking up the task.

What Was Korach's Charge?

A popular question with a number of answers. I do some of my thinking while going through other sources, so I will start this week off by explaining Shadal's take on the nature of Korach complaint. Rather than a peirush on a particular pasuk, this can help us frame the entire parsha as we read it.

He writes:

א]ויקח קרח : מקנא היה קרח במשה, ועכשו לקח השעה שהיו ישראל מצטערים על גזרת המרגלים והחרמה, והוציא עצתו לפועל.
קרח ועדתו שראו כל המופתים אשר עשה משה, איך ייתכן שלא יאמינו בשליחותו? ואם לא האמינו הם, שהיו עדי ראייה, הלא זה יביא להטיל ספק במשה ולומר שמא מעשיו מזויפים. אבל האמת הוא כי קרח ואנשי עדתו לא כפרו במופתים אשר עשה משה ולא היו מייחסים אותם לתחבולות אנושיות , שהרי אמרו כי כל העדה כולם קדושים ובתוכם ה', הנה הודו כי ה' בקרב ישראל ושהוא עושה להם אותות ומופתים, אבל קרח ועדתו טעו טעות גדולה מחמת הרגלם בין המצרים עובדי האלילים ולמדו מהם דעות נפסדות בענין האלוהות וההשגחה.
והנה קרח ועדתו מאמינים היו כי יש אלהים בישראל וכי האלהים הזה הנקרא ה', נשבע לאבותם להורישם את הארץ, ושהוא העושה להם אותות ומופתים; אבל היו מאמינים כי האל על ידי עבודות מיוחדות הוא כורת ברית עם כהניו וחכמיו היודעים דרכי עבודתו ועושה להם רצונם.
והנה האמינו כי משה פועל גבורות בכוח האל, אבל האמינו ג"כ שהאל מתפתה ושומע למשה בעשותו לפניו העבודות הרצויות לו, וא"כ עכשו שהוקם המשכן ונודעו משפטי הקרבנות ודרכי העבודה הרצויים לפני ה', יוכל כל אדם להיות כהן ונביא מבלעדי אהרן ומשה;
והנה קרח היה מתנשא לאמר: אני אהיה כהן ונביא, וה' יענה אותי בניסים ונפלאות כאשר ענה את משה ואת אחיו בגדולה, ואני ואחי נהיה להם לנושאי כלים?
ומשה ראה את כוונתו ואמר להם: קחו לכם מחתות, ותראו אם העבודה והקטורת היא מקובלת לפניו מצד עצמה, יהיה המקטיר מי שיהיה , או אם רצון האל הוא שיהיה המקטיר איש מיוחד הנבחר והחביב לו.

which is a lot to read so I will just quasi-translate. Korach was not upset about any specific incident. He was jealous of Moshe and took advantage of the suffering of the people. They just received the decree for the sin of the scouts, and he brought his plan into action.

Korach and his congregation saw all the miracles Moshe did, so they surely did not believe that he was not sent from God. They did not suspect him of performing those miracles through trickery. Shadal's proof is that they say:
ג וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם--כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם יְהוָה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל יְהוָה. 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: 'Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?'
Thus, they think the nation indeed is holy, and that Hashem is among them. Rather, they erred in the nature of God and his providence. (Compare this to what Rav Yosef Karo's maggid informs him about the nature of the dispute! In a subsequent post, beEzrat Hashem.)

They erred because they were used to a specific approach from witnessing it in practice in Egypt. They thought that there was indeed a god, whose name was Hashem, who swore to their ancestors that He would make them possess the land, and that He was the one who made signs and miracles for them. But they believed that this god, via particular services, cut a covenant with His priests and sages who knew the ways of his service, and granted for them their wishes.

And thus, they believed that Moshe enacted great acts with godly power, but they believed as well that God was tempted/persuaded by and thus listened to Moshe when he performed before Him via those particular acts of service which He likes. And if so, now that the Mishkan was built, and the laws of the sacrifices and the ways of the service which Hashem desires are known, then anyone could be a priest and a prophet, and it did not have to be specifically Aharon and Moshe.

And thus, Korach elevated himself to say "I am a priest and a prophet, and Hashem will answer me with miracles and wonders, just as he answered Moshe and his brother in greatness, while I and my brothers will be carriers of vessels?"

Moshe saw their intent and said to them: Take for yourselves firepans, and see if the service and the incense is accepted before him by its own properties, while the offerer of the incense can be anyone, or if Hashem's desire is that the offerer of the incense is a specific person designated by Him and cherished by Him.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Schmoozing During Yizkor

Here is another flier / poster that was distributed in my shul this past Shavuos. (Here is where I discussed the previous one.) This flier read:
Please post this ad in your shul for Shavuos While our chaveirim remember their loved ones during Yizkor on Yom Tov, let's remember how fortunate we are to remain outside. Hazkoras Neshomas -- the memorial service for the departed -- is an ancient Minhag based on the fundamental Jewish belief that the Neshama is eternal. For those who leave the shul for this poignant Tefillah, this brief recess is a perfect time to thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for our good fortune and to be sensitive to the other members of the Kehillah. Gedolei Yisroel suggest that we seize this opportunity to do something productive, such as reciting of learning one of the following:
  • Three Kapitlach Tehillim
  • Mishnayos
  • Hilchos Lashon Horah
  • Hilchos Kibbud Av Va'aim
[For free color posters or to sponsor flyers, posters and additional materials, please call: [Redacted]
לזכות רפואה שלימה לחולי ישראל
Once again, we have well meaning people trying to be mezakeh the rabbim, albeit anonymously. What could I possibly find wrong with this? :)

Let us dissect this poster. The first paragraph, "While our chaveirim..." possibly carries with it an attempt to guilt people into a change of behavior. Look how good you have it! We must remember how fortunate we are to remain outside, and therefore it continues with recommended actions. The implication is that Hashem has granted us this tovah, and it shows ingratitude to misuse the time to shmooze amongst ourselves.

This is made more explicit in the next paragraph, where they state "this brief recess is a perfect time to thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for our good fortune and to be sensitive to the other members of the Kehillah." The idea is then that to shmooze during this time -- which is what everyone for decades has done -- is kafuy tovah to Hashem, and is being insensitive to the people in shul.

The next paragraph says that "gedolei Yisroel suggest." Who are these gedolim? Why were they not mentioned by name as supporting this endeavor? I would like to know their identities so as to know whether I consider them my gedolim. And I also need to know to be able to (theoretically) make inquiries to make sure that the information transmitted in their name was accurate. If they are not identified, that even if gadol X does not support this, perhaps gadol Y is the one who supported it. Also, I would like to know exactly how the question was phrased, and exactly what they answered. And we would need to know their identities to be able to clarify their intent.

Imagine someone goes to the gadol and asked, "Is it a good thing to learn Torah, or the halachos of Shmiras haLashon, during this time?" What Gadol would say no? But such a question and response is a far cry from stating that the present practice -- of shmoozing outside during Yizkor -- is a bad practice, which shows ingratitude to Hashem and insensitivity to those who have lost loved ones. Would these Gedolim consider it forbidden because it is bittul Torah, or not?

By putting Shmiras haLashon in there, there is the additional potential implication that allowing people to hang out a schmooze is bad because they will be saying lashon hara to one another.

As I discussed quite a while ago (in a post titled "why I support talking in shul") , there is value to socialization in and around shul. And that is to allow people to live Jewishly, to hang out with Jews. The demise of the kiddush club because of alchoholism and disrespecting the rabbis derasha has something to it, but on the other hand there is value in making connections an a personal rather than religious level to other Jews. Furthermore, there is a concept of chatzi lachem and chatzi laShem. Whoever put this leaflet together quite possibly does not like the idea of chatzi lachem. There cannot be any time which is not programmed time, controlled in some way. There is value, I think, in simply letting people be. Hanach lahen leYisrael! Leave them alone. Not every single second needs to be controlled and directed towards learning / self improvement. For yourself, sure, it is a positive attitude to take. But not to direct this towards the general community, as a required activity, in the name of nameless Gedolim.

What actually happened in shul? Personally, I learned through the Aruch haShulchan on the laws of the beracha of birchas haGomel. But that was not because of the flier, but because I am an introvert, and because that is what I like to do. But as far as I could tell, other people from the shul people stood outside (in the hot sun) and shmoozed for a bit, before going inside, thus paying no heed to the poster. Good for them.

Note: Not halacha lemaaseh. Just commenting on the idea of anonymous leaflets counseling changes in practice.

My Thoughts on Megirot, pt i

Let me preface this by noting that I know nothing of Megirot personally, but just impressions from what I have read in articles and blogs. And there is no real reason you should really care about my take over that of anyone else. However, I do have some thoughts about it. And since I posted Yehuda's comment last week and mentioned that I might try to explain what I agreed with and disagreed with, this will be part of my attempt to follow through.

In this post, I will try to put forth the reasons for Megirot, though tempered somewhat. Perhaps in a later post I will elaborate on the possible causes for concern.

I think that to a large degree, the concept of Megirot is silly. It is pop-psychology by people who are not trained psychologists. And it is masked as religion, and specifically Jewish religion, but it is really folk-religion with a Jewish tinge, guided someone who is not a professional member of the clergy. So there is what to worry about. If that declaration runs afoul of the laws of lashon hara, so be it. I will try to elaborate on why I think this later, bli neder -- perhaps in a different post.

However, there are people in need of help. And I recall a research study in psychology that compared different therapy methods -- e.g. Freudian therapy, Rogerian, Gestalt therapy, etc. -- I am giving examples not from memory, but rather making up the specific examples. But the most important factor in success was not the particular method, but rather whether the therapist believed in it. Now this could be because those who believed in the method were more likely to be effective in applying it. But I think that one should not dismiss the relationship which develops between the therapist. And if the therapist believes it will work, and is committed to it, this will be conveyed to the patient. And the bond with another human being is good to improve one's emotional and mental health. Call this a placebo effect if you will, but this is an actual psychological effect, and its benefit should not be dismissed.

Referring to Yehuda's particular case, as representative of many other cases I am sure exist. Raising 8 children is hard, as this cartoon illustrates:

This can be quite a burden to place on any person. Especially if money is tight as well, as seems to be the case. And post-partum depression can also factor in. To have to look after the kids, clean the house after all these kids, prepare meals, worry about money, etc., with the possibility of more kids on the way when you already cannot cope, is something that most of us cannot really imagine.

Such a person needs a support group, or a therapist, or something. At the least, a book club, to make friends, vent, etc. Or a support group of people going through similar things. Or a therapist to whom one can express and explore one's feelings and psyche. But what are the possibilities of this in a chareidi neighborhood. I don't know, but I would guess slim. Going to a psychologist might bring on stigma that could make it difficult to marry off those 8 kids. Hanging around discussing novels? What a waste of time! Is that something a righteous Jewish woman would do?! Perhaps she could join a tehillim zugging group, or a challah baking group. Or -- one could practice Megirot and go to Megirot groups.

The beauty of Megirot is that it casts itself as a religious activity. One transforms the mundane into the spiritual. And thus one prays, saying "Ana Hashem..." before cleaning any drawer. One goes to a spiritual advisor. And by making use of Jewish or Jewish-sounding concepts, it sounds like a religious activity. And this religious garb is good because it provides an opportunity to women who previously would not be able to participate in it.

A prayer to Hashem might be said before cleaning a drawer, but the important aspect is not the talking to God, but the talking to oneself. This is introspection, and thinking about what one could or wants to change about one's life. And this takes what would otherwise be drudge work, or an overwhelming task for an overworked mother, and turns it into a reflective, transformative experience. This is good.

Further, one attends classes with other women who are going through many of the same problems, and who sought out megirot as a result. This provides a sense of community and a sense that they are not alone in their struggles. And talking over, and preparing "prayers" with a spiritual megirot advisor is a form of therapy.

Of course, in many cases, it is possible that these amatuer "therapists" do not know what they are doing, and can thus unwittingly influence vulnerable people in negative directions. And the focus on the ideas and personality of one perhaps troubled individual can lead one astray. And there is a problem of the (unwitting) coopting of religion for this end, which together with many other things can move the practice of Judaism in a direction it should not go. It is part of a negative trend and may be somewhat cult-like. Even though it might not be avodah zarah, it may be problematic to have such a set-up in the general case. Though for an individual case, if someone's sanity or emotional well-being is dependant upon it, even I might say that one should do this.

This post was meant to argue in favor of megirot, though I think it is balanced. If I get around to making the next post, it would be an expansion of what I only hinted at above -- e.g., why I think this is folk religion, even if every idea can be found in sources; the ritualization of mundane activities, because of the present restricted role for women in ritual Jewish life; and why individual warning signs should be made public, even if a strict reading of Shmirat haLashon would indicate otherwise. No promises, though.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Halacha Alert! How to fold your tallis on Shabbos and Yom Tov

So screamed the kol korei distributed in my shul, this past Shavuos.
Halacha Alert !
How to fold your tallis on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

It says in Sh'miras Shabbos K'hilchosah (15:44:46):
"One must not fold a garment or cloth back into already existing creases... Consequently, one should not fold a tallis or a tablecloth into its previous creases... Any article may be folded if one takes care not to fold it into its original creases (e.g. one can fold it into the reverse of its folds) but one {meaning may} should re-fold it into its normal creases after Shabbos or Yom Tov."
The strong implication of this leaflet is that there is only one proper way to fold the tallis, and that anyone who acts differently is acting in ignorance and contrary to halacha. Also implied is that there is no contrary position. Thus, it is a HALACHA ALERT! You are doing it wrong.

The leaflet is unsigned by the person who printed it up/distributed it, and they presumably thought that there is no need to do so. After all, the author of Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso is a big talmid chacham and posek.

But of course, not everyone follows this particular posek in all their Shabbos practices. And further, this is a quote from the English sefer. Many know that the English version is the strict one, while the Hebrew one, with the same text, has footnotes, where the real kulos are. In this particular instance, the footnotes don't say the kula explicitly, but does give a reference to Aruch haShulchan among other sources, and the Aruch HaShulchan is where the kulah can be found.

The following is the text, and rough summarization (not intended as translation, though I sometimes wander into translation) of the Aruch haShulchan, Orach Chaim, siman 302:

Seif 10: There is a major conceptual dispute between Rambam and Raavad as to the nature of the prohibition of "folding."

Rambam groups it with making pleats on cuffs, just as one it metaken them during a weekday. And then mentions folding.

Thus, says Aruch haShulchan, Rambam considers this a problem of metaken kli. And so Rambam does not hold the gemara is talking about regular folding, but rather a type of folding which is craftsmanship, just as he talks about making pleats on clothing. {Perhaps Aruch haShulchan thinks the Rambam considers making pleats and folding the same, though one can argue it as that they are different actions but both work of a craftsman.} But regular folding (like folding your tallis), there is no concern at all in any form.

Meanwhile, Raavad holds that the prohibition is not because of tikkun kli but rather because he is matriach, taking pains, on Shabbos, for something needed during the week.
As he will develop it, it is only according to Raavad that folding a tallis is problematic.

Seif 11: Here Aruch haShulchan makes this distiction. According to Rambam, since there is no reason of tircha, it is permitted to fold any garment with a regular folding, since there is no tikkun kli, even if for the week.

However, according to Raavad, such would be forbidden for the reason of tircha from Shabbot for chol.

Further, he suggests that Raavad holds this is a problem even where there is no issue of metaken, but just the tircha. He connects this to Tosafot. For they write "from here we learn that it is forbidden to fold tallitot of the synagogue, because they are needed for the next day." And what seems apparent is that there is no issue of metaken kli at all. Rather, the prohibition is because of tircha.

Furthermore, he adds that even according to Raavad/Tosafot, one is not going to simply cast it aside without any folding, for this is not miderech benei Adam. {I, Josh, would note that this appears to be the derech of chassidim. :) } Rather, even according to this, in inexact folding would still be OK. He attributes this as the intent of the Mordechai in the next seif.

{I would add that this kippul she`aino meduyak might well not be the same as Shmiras Shabbos KeHilchoso's taking care not not to fold it in the original creases. But here is not the place to expand on this idea..}

Seif 12: Aruch haShulchan now turns to the Mordechai. He says that the Raaviah wrote that the white taleisim which one does not need on that day of Shabbos, after leaving shul, it is forbiddden to fold them, then even where all the other conditions from the gemara {of Rav Yannai} are satisfied, because those were the conditions for something that was needed that day. However, if it not in its original folding {seder kipulo} it is permitted, even with two people doing the folding.

The Bet Yosef brings this position down and agrees with it.

This, says Aruch haShulchan, is even within Tosafot's position about tircha from one day for the next. Such is apparent.

Then he sets out to explain how each Rishon and Acharon holds along this dispute of whether the problem is tikkun keilim or tircha lemachar. Tur holds the problem is metaken, and explains how by new and white clother, the tikkun is not so much. So also seems implied in Rashi.

Finally, he has a defense of the modern practice in which everyone folds their tallis normally on Shabbos. He suggests that with our folding of talleisim, there is no tikkun, such that there is no issue according to Rambam et al. Meanwhile, the idea of tircha lemachar they do not hold by, but rather hold like Rashi, Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch about the nature of the prohibition being tikkun rather than tircha lemachar.

Furthermore, he cites the Kolbo saying the same thing, more or less, also defending existing practice of folding talleisim: "And nowadays that they are accustomed to folding all clothing, it is possible that our folding is not comparable to their folding, that they were extremely insistent to smooth out its folds, and we do not do so." [And the Tur and Shulchan Aruch actually separate the law of making folds in cuffs from this law, and do not bring the law of making up beds.]

All this, I would note, is something of a chiddush. It is not clear to me that Tur or Bet Yosef actually make the distinction between these two reasons so clearly, and perhaps conflate the two. And see what Mishnah Brurah does with this, harmonizing reasons. Still, Aruch haShulchan is someone upon whom one can rely.

One more seif before my own suggestion and general discussion.
Seif 13: is about the other law brought down in that same Mishnah, making up the bed on Shabbos, either for Shabbos or after Shabbos. So, insights into one may shed light on the other.

He suggests that the Mishna which prohibits setting up the beds on Shabbos for after Shabbos was talking about where the beds were in a separate room for the beds, where one did not go into that room all the day. But we have the bedroom as it as one of the rooms of the house, and people go in their during the day. It would look messy and not nice. Therefore, setting up the bed is to make the house look nice, and thus is specifically for the honor of Shabbos, and not for machar. He cites Magen Avraham to this effect.

And this is the widespread, common custom everywhere.

As an additional reason for permitting, he brings in his discussion from the previous seifim, about the distinction between metaken and tircha lemachar. He suggests that they hold the reason is metaken, and the way we set up the beds, it is not called metaken, in accordance with the Kol Bo said.

He also draws a distinction between setting up the beds for beauty {which is what we do when we set beds} and setting of the beds to sleep upon.

I {=Josh} would add a few points to what was discussed above. Certainly, when we make up the beds, one cannot easily sleep in them, for the top sheet or blanket is too tight, and in some cases the pillow is covered, etc., etc. It is all done for presentation, so that the bed looks good when it is not being used. It is thus for beauty, and for kavod haBayit and thus lekavod Shabbos. This was my inclination, to make such a distinction, before reading Aruch haShulchan on this, so Baruch Shekivanti!

But I had a similar reaction to the issue of tallis. Why does one fold a tallis? I can testify about myself that I am not always as neat as I should be. My clothing gets rumpled and I leave my bed unmade. My wife is not always so happy about this. And there may be various halachic problems with what I do in this regard, for a talmid chacham {if that is what I am} is supposed to always look extremely presentable. But it means that I am in general not so makpid that my clothing is always neat and pressed.

Yet, I always fold up my tallis after I am done with it. Why is that?? Am I really trying to keep the tallis smooth and unwrinkled for the next day?

I don't think so. Rather, there are two reasons:

1) Ritual. I have a specific ritual for putting on tefillin and putting away my tefillin. A specific order, a specific number of wraps around my arm for tefillin. Indeed, my father taught me the family minhag or wrapping tefillin, which is distinct from the way anyone else I have encountered ever does it. But other people also have distinct ways of wrapping tefillin. Those are more common ways, but they do vary somewhat. On the shel yad, do all the wrappings go on one side, or on both sides.

The same is true for the tallis. My father has a specific minhag of how to fold the tallis, which is distinct from most other people's. I never bothered to learn the intricacies of it exactly, but one of these days I will, bli neder.

The fact that such distinct customs can arise means that putting away the tallis has acheived a status of ritual. If so, people folding their tallit are not going through tircha to put away their tallis for the next day. Indeed, it would be easier to just let it lie there unfolded, because then it would be more accessible the next day! Rather, the seder of putting on a tallis in shul involves the ritual of taking it off and putting it away as well. So the intent is not metaken keli, and one can argue there is no tikkun kli at all. And even if you hold the problem in general is tircha lemachar, like Raavad and Tosafot, this is not tircha for machar, but rather is just part of the donning and doffing of the tallis.

2) Zilzul mitzvah. A related but distinct point. Even if we do not say it is part of the ritual, and that is why I and others fold the tallis, we can say it is a matter of treating tashmishei mitzvah with respect. To cite the Aruch HaShulchan from above, though he was making a slightly different point: "However, to cast aside a garment without any folding at all is not from the derech benei Adam."

That is why we fold our tallis. Why do we carefully wind up the tefillin from one day to the next. It takes time to unroll it. But not only is it not mentchlech in general to cast clothing about haphazardly, it would be a zilzul hamitzvah to simply leave the tefillin with the straps lying about, not in the batim, etc.

So too, the tallis gadol. We do not just want to leave it lying around. So we put it in the tallis zekel. And it is surely improper to just stuff it in, so we fold it. Even if we fold it neatly, exactly on the creases, I would argue that this is the way one puts it away bederech kavod. And it is thus not tircha lemachar.

We do not need to go this far, even though I think what I said is true. We have the Aruch haShulchan, and his reasoning to rely upon. And he is citing Kol Bo, and relying on Rambam et al. (Beis Yosef also cited this Kolbo, though he did not bring it lehalacha in Shulchan Aruch.)

Furthermore, the gemara itself never spoke about folding a tallis. We see it only in a diyyuk that Tosafot made from the Mishna and gemara. And in three generations, at least, masses of Jews did not pay heed to the restriction as it applied to folding a tallis: In the generation of Kolbo, in the generation of Aruch haShulchan, and in our own generation.

One could appeal to the principle established in Pesachim 66a, as cited by Hilel haBavli:

אמר להן הלכה זו שמעתי ושכחתי אלא הנח להן לישראל אם אין נביאים הן בני נביאים הן למחר מי שפסחו טלה תוחבו בצמרו מי שפסחו גדי תוחבו בין קרניו ראה מעשה ונזכר הלכה ואמר כך מקובלני מפי שמעיה ואבטליון

and assume that if many Jews are doing it, it is quite possible they have valid halachic reason for doing so. Especially for something like this which has aspects of mimetic tradition to it. This is not the assumption made in the leaflet. On the other hand, hilchos Shabbos is complication, and surely a lot of things are violated in ignorance, so it is a question of how far one would apply this principle I cited. And further, see in Korban Nesanel on the Rosh (note tzaddi) on Shabbos 113a that after citing the relevant Tosafot, he says וראוי להזהיר העולם על זה. Which firstly shows that in his days, the common practice of many Jews was to fold their tallis regularly on Shabbos. And secondly shows that he wanted to correct this erroneous practice. And the author of this leaflet was doing exactly that. Though perhaps the Korban Nesanel was not aware of other approaches which would permit the common custom.

Still, I hope that in general, this illustrates the problem of this kol korei/leaflet approach. One should really learn through the relevent sugyas. If you want to convince someone to take on a different practice, one should tell them all the relevant details, not just give out an anonymous kol koreh, effectively trying to pasken for them. And tell them to consult their local orthodox rabbi, who can instruct them if it is proper to change one's practice.

Please note: This is not intended halacha lemaaseh. I deliberately did not include in the above my father's practice, which is to always fold it backwards, against the creases, even during the week, so as not to err on Shabbos (which might have its own problems), or what my own practice is. I am not trying to forbid and not trying to permit here, but rather to discuss the issue and its complexities, in order to argue against the kol korei approach to such issues.


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