Monday, December 31, 2007

Hirschensohn III

R' Adam Mintz has a full lecture on R' Hirschensohn. He more or less agrees with R' Brill, but he goes a bit farther into the nature of, and reactions to R' Hirschensohn's halachic program.

R' Hirschensohn's critics are right - he did want to find lots of leniencies. However, the critics are wrong about motivation. It was not simply a search for leniency (and anyone who does all the kulos is a fool), but part of his program to make religion a part of life, rather than something in tension with daily life. There is a sequence of letters in the short-lived periodical HaMetzapeh, available at, in which he lays out his desire to find leniencies, and is roundly criticized by many correspondents. And he couldn't really find all the leniencies he might have liked - as R' Soloveitchik says, sometimes one must surrender to the halakhah.

R' Mintz did a Bar-Ilan search for Hirschensohn, and only found one reference, in a Mishpetei Uziel. Clearly, then, halacha has rejected R' Hirschensohn's approach. But he's a major figure in American Jewish history, as well as Zionist history, as an approach that was not taken, but had such promise.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sefasai Tiftach

Musical Note By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Chanting “Hashem Sfatai” and “Yihyu L'ratson” Audibly

As your Chazzan, why do I recite out loud the six words before the Amida: "Hashem Sfatai Tiftach, etc.," as well as the final ten words: "Yihyu L'ratson, etc."? It seems that most people do not do so. Indeed, according to the Magen Avraham, those verses should be recited "softly." Furthermore, the Shulchan Aruch says that they "need not be recited out loud."

However, as you know, early in our shul history we took upon ourselves many of the customs of the Vilna Gaon, as taught by Rabbi Joseph B.Solovietchik, the late, great Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, who ordained both Rabbi Riskin and Rabbi Berman. As the spritual guide for most "modern Orthodox" synagogues today, he followed the tradition of the Vilna Gaon (Minhag Brisk), that requires both of these sentences to be chanted audibly, because they are an integral part of the Amidah. Just as the Chazzan recites the Amidah out loud, he is required to recite these verses out loud as well. I encourage all our Baalei Tefillah to follow this minhag when conducting services at LSS. Of course, when in doubt you should consult with our present Rabbi Robinson on any issue of Halacha.
Daven Well and Sing Along!

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Taste of the Past

R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was known to have felt a strong connection to R' Hayyim Heller, in part because R' Heller had studied with RYBS' own great-grandfather, the Beis Halevi, with the Netziv, and other greats of the late-19th-century Yeshiva world. He was a link with the past, making the past real for the present.

Similarly, my camp rav R' Bernard Berzon z"l had met my great-grandfather's brother, Joseph H. Cohen, who subtly influenced the shape of American Modern Orthodoxy.

I had such a moment today, at Biegeleisen's bookstore in Boro Park. I asked for David Zohar's recent reprint of R' Chayim Hirschensohn's Malki Bakodesh Vol I, a responsa collection. R Hirschensohn has recently drawn a good deal of attention, not least because his books were put online. His program of working out the halachic background for running a modern democratic state started a conversation that, by the time of Dr. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, seems to have disappeared, on drawing halacha out of a ghetto mentality into its full flowering as the legal system of a Torah-based state.

The store is run by two old men, brothers I think, I don't know their names. The shorter one's ears perked up when I mentioned "Malki Bakodesh, the one by the rav of Hoboken"

"You mean Hirschensohn? Wait just a few minutes, I have some of his old books. You interested in the originals? I have one with his signature. Wait, have a seat." He does some business, goes in the back, digs around, and comes out with two books: Malki Bakodesh Vol 3-4, and vol. 1 of Eleh Divrei haBrit, on the various types of covenants in the Bible. He shows me the signature in the teshuvah collection: "That's his John Hancock! Maybe I have another, let me look."

He goes back, I start reading through the book, it has correspondence with all the greats of the early 20th century - fascinating stuff on running a modern business, political realities, apparent conflicts between civil and religious law. R' Adam Mintz has noted that part of Hirschensohn's program was to show how halacha and modern life don't necessarily conflict, as most other rabbis posit, rather, halacha goes with modern life, they work together.

He comes out, I chat with the taller brother about the dedication in one of the books to Hirschensohn's son-in-law R. Dr. David de Sola Pool, later to author the RCA Siddur, rabbi of the Spanish/Portuguese Synagogue in New York. My mother remembers Dr. Pool as a tall, dignified somewhat forbidding character, very much the old Spanish grandee.

"You know, he used to shop here!" "Hirschensohn?" "Yes, I remember when I was a boy, he would come into the store." Wow. "Here, let me figure out a price, if you want it, or not, if you want it later, I'll put it back for now."

Not only did I buy a book by an interesting rav, I found a memory of him in the store. The people in the past are not gone as long as people remember.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Musaf Kaddish

Musical Note By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
The Regal and Majestic Musaf Kaddish

Almost lost in the sounds of flapping seats of rising congregants and mumbled short discussions of points in the Rabbi’s sermon is the unique Kaddish that is sung before the silent recitation of the Musaf Amidah. This ancient Kaddish is one of a corpus of holy, immutable melodies that were sanctified by the Chief Rabbi of his generation, the Maharil, Rabbi Jacob Mölin of Mayence in the Rhineland (1365-1427), and confirmed as unchangeable minhag by the Shulchan Aruch (o.c. 613). This majestic melody of the Kaddish is often repeated as a theme throughout Musaf, subject to the choice of the individual serving as the Chazzan. It is estimated that this melody is more than 1,000 years old. Those who mistakenly substitute the Kaddish that is sung at the end of the reading of the Torah for the Kaddish of Musaf are making a major error and should be corrected. The mark of a true Baal Tefillah is the one who zealously preserves the prayer tradition as bequeathed to us by our ancestors. No one should ascend the bimah who is not willing to adhere to the musical halacha of Tefillah!

Daven Well and Sing Along!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cross Currents Rhetoric

I have some problems with R' Yitzchak Adlerstein's final response to R' Marc Angel on the current Israeli-American conversion crisis. Not so much halachically, which I am not qualified to judge, but rhetorically. R' Adlerstein uses several cheap tricks to make his points, tricks used forever by less-than-scrupulous Internet posters. I would hope that a Rav would not need to resort to such underhanded tactics.

It seems that in order to construct a "timely" response (read: immediate), R' Adlerstein took a bunch of shortcuts that undermined his whole argument.

I initially submitted this as a comment to the original post, but it was rejected.

* * *

I do not find R' Adlerstein's argument persuasive. Not on the halachic merits, which I am not qualified to dispute, but on structural and rhetorical grounds.

First, R' Angel plays the "race card", which is all too common: Ashkenazi rabbis look down on, or don't even know about, Sephardi poskim, beyond the sages of the current generation. R' Adlerstein tries to counter with "well, this lone Ashkenazi posek was greater than that lone Sephardi posek", but is that necessarily so? Don't we more often go with "halacha kebatra'i", because the later one knows all about the earlier one AND knows his current situation, so can rule more effectively for the current situation?

Second, R' Adlerstein admits he does not know the literature:

"Rabbi Angel asserts that Rav Uziel was not a daas yachid – an isolated voice – swimming against the current. I do not have immediate access to Prof. Shilo’s article; this handicaps me in this part of the discussion. I will venture a guess, however, that my colleagues and I (and yes, I consulted some important ones!) would have heard of many of them if they were among the most important halachic luminaries."

Loosely: I don't know the literature, I can't be bothered to look up your references, but based on the gut feelings of me & my friends, your references don't count, so your guy remains a daas yachid.

Which is a pretty weak argument for the superiority of one's position.

R' Adlerstein further dismisses R' Angel's position (and the position of other supporters of R' Uziel) as a possible conspiracy theory, hence weak:

"the feeling that there was some sort of conspiracy abrew, in which Rav Uziel was unfairly targeted, or moved aside in favor of more politically correct poskim like the Beis Yitzchok and R Chaim Ozer, who somehow ingratiated themselves with that famous cabal, the Elders of Bnei Brak."

I don't think that needs further comment.

Finally, R' Adlerstein pulls a trick common with some unscrupulous Internet posters: it's not me, it's my higher-authority sources. No longer is the Mishpetei Uziel arguing with his near-contemporary R' Shmelkes, he's arguing with Rishonim such as the Meiri and the Nimukei Yosef.

Surely R' Uziel's rishonim (who writes a teshuva today without invoking Rishonim?) should stand up against R' Shmelkes' rishonim. It's a disingenuous argument - you're not arguing against X's analysis, you're arguing against X's sources, who are by definition greater authorities. But of course, he's not arguing against Rishonim without help from his own Rishonim. "My guy's better because he uses rishonim" is pretty disingenuous - everybody uses Rishonim to bolster their positions, and as grist for analysis.

Full disclosure: I know the Rabbis Angel, pere et fils; have davened in their shul many times, but I don't know R' Adlerstein except through the Internet and his occasional articles.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Yosef, Politics and Us

(my understanding & summary of R’ Moshe Sokol’s sermon)

So, Yosef, you think you’re all that. But maybe you’re not.

Yosef, once empowered by Pharaoh, displays complete autonomy in reforming and transforming Egypt’s political economy. He brings all production and labor into personal property of Pharaoh, he transfers populations across the land, he brings the country to its knees in an effort to survive the seven years’ famine.

But in his personal life, he completely defers to Pharaoh. He marries at Pharaoh’s behest, to Pharaoh’s priest’s daughter. He asks permission for his family to move in. He asks his family to treat with Pharaoh directly, rather than through him. He asks for permission to go to Canaan to bury Yaakov. Is this any way for the viceroy of Egypt to need to behave?

We can say that he wanted to maintain personal probity, avoid conflict of interest, but the commentators look deeper. The Ramban suggests that perhaps Yosef could have sent food out to his family, rather than forcing them to pick up and move to Egypt Why? Had he started sending food out of the country, he might have been suspected of selling it on the open market, at the higher prices food would command in Canaan which did not have its own food reserves, then pocketing the profits in his Swiss bank account. He would have been suspected of engaging in trade for profit (a common occupation for Jews in Ramban’s time –jjb).

The Meshech Chochmah, on the other hand, published in the 1920s, theorizes that Yosef was worried about the charge that he was putting his homeland, Canaan, his father’s house, above the needs of Egypt. So he made sure to join his father’s destiny to that of the rest of the country. This is the age-old charge of dual loyalty, first seen at the end of the Exile in Egypt, where the new Pharaoh says, “Come, let us deal craftily with them, lest war come, and they rise up and join with our enemies to destroy us.” Yosef, second in command of the most powerful country in the world, almost fully assimilated into their culture, the ultimate Court Jew, still thought his behavior might be suspected of betraying his host country.

We see this today – we live in the most beneficial host country in the world, perhaps ever. We have two men in the Cabinet who are yeshiva educated, one a self-proclaimed Orthodox Jew, and a powerful Senator who also calls himself a traditional Jew, who ran for President and Vice President. Still, we hear charges that the “Jewish Neocons” got us into the war in Iraq to benefit Israel, we have Walt and Mearsheimer accusing the Israel lobby of unfairly manipulating government policy – we are never free of such suspicion.

Even in Israel, you wouldn’t expect this sort of thing to happen – the host country is us, is Jews. But to certain secularist elements, particularly among the so-called “Post-Zionists”, there is suspicion of the Dati-Leumi (national-religious) Jews in government. Perhaps they have dual loyalty as well, to Judaism which would conflict with loyalty to “Israelism”.

Yosef’s story warns us, as the Meshech Chochmah warns us, no matter where we are in history, we must behave with probity in political and government affairs, because there will always be those who suspect us. Perhaps the only solution, is to come to the Rabbi’s Shiur after Kiddush, where we’re studying the Rambam’s Laws of Moshiach.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Who is Hirschensohn, What is He

Having recently acquired a presentation copy of R' Chayim Hirschensohn's commentary on Horios (inscribed to R' Y. Sheinkman; other owner signatures Avraham Goldberg and Ishmael (?) ben Esther Hinda; wonder who they all were), I thought I'd write up notes on R Alan Brill's lecture on Hirschensohn.

R’ Chaim Hirschensohn was born in 1857 in Sfat; his daughter Nina Alblum wrote a biography of life in Sfat in the early days. He visits the Berlin Rabbinerseminar, moves back to Israel, and by 1901 was the chief rabbi of Constantinople. He responds to R’ Reines call for allies, and in 1903, he moves to become rabbi of industrial Hoboken, NJ.

What makes him interesting is his vision for a new era, expressed in a shelf of seforim. This is a new era, wherein to found a new kehillah based on democracy – Judaism, Halacha, Dayyanut to be based on consent of the governed.

· Eleh haBrit: different covenants within Tanach where for each we get more and more obligations.

· Commentary on Horios expresses political theory.

· Responsa collection Malki Bakodesh on how to run a government.

Nobody has really analyzed this material yet. Eliezer Schwied put out a volume on him in English; he and David Zohar have gone through and pulled out punchlines, without analyzing if this is a good read of Horios, how he relates to Rambam and earlier teshuvos.

1) we all have to be democratic, all Jews are part of the universal democratc Ben Noah covenant of complete equality between Jew and nonJew.

2) Halacha empowered by people. In HaBrit, explains that we have many covenants, and Judaism is about Kiymu veKiblu.

He works through “what about Marah” “what about Mishpatim” “what about kiymu vekiblu” which others had not yet done. Hirschensohn talks about a future Israel where halacha and democracy have to work together. Things are solvable, if you use your ingenuity to reexamine texts under modern conditions. He’s not writing Wissenschaftliche history, but halacha of current and future needs. We’re not bound by, e.g., Deutoronomic laws to destroy 7 Nations or Amalek, since we’re now bound by international law. There’s a need to confront new ideas, like higher criticism, because you can’t say that the Torah is dated – it can handle all challenges.

Pg. 41-42 in Malki Bakodesh: While we’re in exile, you don’t have to tell us not to kill the 7 Nations, but as a free people, what will happen when the state is created? Keep ideas fresh, for new great leaders to answer. . We will have to cancel gentile-based minhagim since we don’t have to mix with them any more. Return to a pristine halacha. Return to spirit of shakla vetarya of the Tannaim.

A great undying principle: God is not a tyrant, religion is not based on Divine will, but on our acceptance of covenants of Sinai, Moab, etc. Freely-created covenants of the people. Even the mitzvoth are ultimately voluntary, we took them upon ourselves in response to God’s plan, but we took them – social contract description of Halacha. Individual election to observe the mitzvoth, not a collective klal-yisrael acceptance that most Religious Zionists would see it.

We don’t make up our own laws, we have elected representatives, etc., and halacha works the same way – individual covenants, which apply to our children, because that’s the way law works. To be a good citizen, or member of the Brit of Klal Yisrael, you have to take upon yourself the keeping of mitzvoth.

His unique approach to, e.g. autopsies: Pikuach Nefesh is not sufficient to allow autopsies, because the individual is already dead, but Nivul haMet only deals with memory and honor, not with the actual body,. He has to sit and think about different halachic approaches to problems.

Where others have small-scale pragmatic agendas, he has an overarching vision driving his approach to psak.

In terms of the Bible, he can give you an answer about any narrative, such as miracles, that they are not parables, but historical accounts, similar to Shada”l, but he intimates that we should use the best tools available for analyzing the Bible. He doesn’t want to run through philosophy or kabbalah in America, because people in America don’t really understand this any more. If you want to do Judaism and halacha, you have to know the whole Gemara and all interpretations and all Poskim.

Some of his stuff is translated on Meimad and/or Kibbutz haDati websites, that regard him as a bit of a hero, but only excerpts, not full analyses of issues.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Melodies of Shabbat Chanukah

Musical Note By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
The Melodies of Shabbat Chanukah

This Shabbat Chanukah lends itself to many creative possibilities that I would like you to be aware of, so that you can join me and sing along!

- the well-known melody of "Hanerot Hallolu"

B'tset Yisroel
- the classical "Chanukah O Chanukah"
Shuvi Nafshi - The Italian "Maoz Tzur" by the master renaissance composer Benedetto Marcello (18th Century) 1724.
Hodu - The ancient 15th Century ( c.1450) German "Maoz Tzur - traditional throughout the world.
Ono Hashem - For the first two lines: from the Israeli Chanukah song,"Nerot Dolkim,” to a melody by Felix Mendelsohn.

Musaf Kedusha:
Begins with the 18th Century oratorio from "Judah Maccabeus" by F. Handel: "See the Conquering Hero Comes" or "Hineh Ba" in the Hebrew version. Most important is, that it is in the Major mode, and it therefore fits into the nusach structure that is traditional for Naaritzcho.
I will then use the beautiful niggun "Bilvavi" (which we often use for Kedushah) by Rabbi Shmuel Brazil for Mimkomo. The theme is the internalization of building a sanctuary, the altar, and the eternal light within the Holy Temple-appropriate for Chanukah.
Al Hanissim: The traditional 100 year old melody, sung by many generations of Jewish families.

Daven well and sing along

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Feast of Women's Liberation

Dr. Yael Levine wrote a fascinating piece in today's Ma'ariv, on some little-known midrashim that suggest that the Hasmonean resistance movement was inspired by Chana, the daughter of Matityahu the high priest. She resisted the Greek-Syrian decree of Jus Primae Noctis inspired by the story of Dinah and Shechem, and the resulting two battles won by her brothers initiated the resistance. Further, the Pri Etz Chaim of R' Chaim Vital, based on the teachings of the Ariza"l, attributes the success of the Hasmoneans to Chana's resistance, among other successes attributed to righteous women (Purim - Esther, the Exodus - Bitya Bat Pharaoh, etc.)

Dr. Levine goes on to draw a message from the story, suggesting that all of us work hard to resist infringements on the persons and selves of women, fighting prejudice, rape, prostitution and human slavery, drawing on Chana bat Matityahu's example.

The story is found in the Midrash Chanukah, which one can find in Jellinek's Beit haMidrash or Eisenstein's Otzar Midrashim, and also alluded to in the Oxford ms. (and more explicitly told in the Mishmash Nusach [what Vered Noam calls the Nusach haKilayim]) of the scholion to Megillat Taanit.

Go read Dr. Levine's editorial, linked above.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Creation of Katz

And on the 2,106,042nd day of creashun, teh Intarwebs created lolcats:

moar funny pictures

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More on Lavan

On the other mailing list, four interpretations of Lavan's apparent ignoring of God's command to leave Yaakov alone, emerged:

  • I: Never underestimate the human will to be stupid and worship AZ in the teeth of the evidence.
  • II: Hashem was only first among equals, so the message was only one factor in Lavan's actions.
  • III: Anthropological: terafim were symbols of household power, so keep them with the major family unit.
  • IV: Magickal: fortune-telling talking head would give away their position.
On yet another mailing list, the following uncensored comment of Efodi to Maimonides' Guide 2:46 was mentioned (from the Sabbioneta 1553 edition of the Guide, courtesy of Jewish National University Library):

In it, Efodi maintains that Maimonides' theory of visionary experiences extends also to major events, such as the Akeidah and Jonah in the Whale.

The difficulty with Lavan was raised because, how could he ignore the power of God's message? Avraham Avinu didn't ignore it at the Akeidah. But if the Akeidah was visionary, then there has to be another factor at play besides simple power of the message. I suggest that Avraham did what he did because he was attuned to God. Lavan, however, was a polytheist. Whether he recognized God's message or not, it was either not important to him (I), or only one factor to be counted in the theological equation (II) of figuring out what to do.

If the [non-Mosaic] revelation to Lavan was visionary, he could easily discount it, since he wasn't attuned to God-talk. This might be a fifth reading, or a support to the first two.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lavan: daft or dense?

On another mailing list, this question was asked, in terms of why didn't Lavan listen when God spoke to him and told him not to interfere with Yaakov.

A brief response: last week, our LOR spoke about Yitzchak, whose entire experience of God was through the middah of din, strict judgment. He looked into the void of God-directed death at the Akeidah, and never re-emerged. From then on, his life was driven by fear, not love of God. This led to his favoring Eisav. Eisav brought him "tzayid befiv" - hunted food in his mouth. The hunting was an expression of a din-oriented personality, but it was tempered by being channeled into honor of one's parents. He saw Eisav living life under Yitzchak's Din-God, while he couldn't relate at all to Yaakov the simple man who lived in tents. The only way to redirect the covenant with God back onto a more balanced path was through intelligence, cleverness, guile.

Which leads me to wonder. If we regard Lavan as daft or dense for not listening to God's command, what about Yitzchak, his direct contemporary? God speaks to Yitzchak once, and only once, and gives him one command: Fear not. Yet Yitzchak's whole relationship to God was through fear. We speak of Pachad Yitzchak as his defining characteristic. And he continues to live his life in fear, not acting, but being acted upon, and reacting. Yitzchak didn't listen to God any more than Lavan did. Yet Yitzchak gets a renewal of the covenant, and carries it on to the next generation. Yitzchak was not full of guile, rather, quite direct.

So we have Yitzchak not listening to God's single command, just like Lavan. We have Yaakov using guile just like Lavan to counteract all kinds of perceived threats - against his father fearing loss of his rightful heritage; against Lavan fearing loss of his family and wages; finally against Eisav fearing loss of his family and personal safety. Yaakov uses guile to counteract fear - which has long been our pattern, starting with Avraham in Egypt in Lech Lecha.

Lavan acts with guile, and doesn't listen to God, and is regarded as a terrible moral pariah. Is it only because he was an idolator, while Our Avos were not? Is it only that he played for the wrong team, rather than any inherent immorality? In which case, why is Lavan held up as such an immoral model?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

JCPenny 1977 Viral Post

My local gabbai sent me a pointer to this post:

Strap in, shut up and hold on. We're going back.

which has apparently gone viral. Pictures from a recently unearthed 1977 JCPenney catalogue, all the worst excesses of 1970s plaid jackets and paisley Western shirts.

Sure, it's fun to laugh at how silly they/we looked 30 years ago. But think back to that era, if you're over 40. The plaid jackets - everybody wore them in those years. I had a green large-plaid jacket as my good jacket in 6th grade (1976-77), which I wore with dark green polyester pants and a lime-green tie, and thought I looked cool. And this is my Dad's publicity photo from that period (hat tip Del Staigers Tribute Page)

man in plaid jacket holding trumpet

The stripes are light and dark blue on a white background, and if I remember correctly, the shirt was a sort of orangey-brown, like butternut squash.

He still has the jacket hanging in the closet, but I don't think he's worn it in 25 years. Dad generally has good taste in clothes, and that was fashionable back then, even if it looks like Herb Tarlek on a bad day today.

I will point out that when he performed, it tended to be in a plain black-and-white tux, as befits an orchestra musician.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Further Adventures of Beverly Gribetz

According to a new article at JTA, my 2nd-cousin-by-marriage Beverly Gribetz, formerly of Ramaz and the Evelina de Rothschild school, has started a new girls' school called Tehilla, run on Modern Orthodox principles. Girls will learn Talmud, but are coming from a wide range of lower-level schools, both more and less traditional than Tehilla.

It's less aggressively Feminist than the other new Modern Orthodox girls' school being started by the Shalom Hartman institute. Hartman's administrator, R' Donniel Hartman, would enthusiastically accept a girl who wears a tallis, and the Hartman Institute will be housing (temporarily) the egalitarian-leining minyan Shira Chadashah. Gribetz has no current plans for her girls to lein, but if the students want it, she's open to it.

The opening of the two new schools, along with Gribetz' departure therefrom, has brought the imminent closure of the Evelina school.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Google Earth Mapping Oddity

I was playing with Google Earth, looking at friends' houses in the NY Metro area. I scanned over to the George Washington Bridge, and noticed that with the 3-D Structures layer turned on, it looked rather cool. I rotated the plane of the view so that I was looking at it as if flying by at about 500 feet, and noticed something odd.

The program has a picture of the roadway, from satellite, and it has a graphic structure which copies the actual bridge structure. The structure is in place, but the picture of the road, instead of overlaying the bridge structure and appearing to be the actual bridge deck, instead was overlaid on the land underneath the bridge. So the picture of the road deck follows the hills below the bridge, and crosses on the surface of the water, while the structure stands proudly where the bridge itself is. See this picture, you'll see what I mean.

It seems to be a bit of an error - does the picture of an elevated surface follow the land, or does it exist at its own elevation?

For a higher-resolution version, click on the picture.

The All-Purpose Preposition

Bei mir bist-du ungrammatical.

That was my first thought on reading this sentence on Chabad news-site

The Israeli new daily "Israel Today" in today's edition carries a picture taken by the funeral of former Israeli president Zalman Shazar.

Now, I might re-order the adjectives in the first clause, saying "new Israeli daily", since we seem to order adjectives with capitalized ones closer to the noun, but that's a minor quibble.

On the other hand, that's some active funeral, which can take a picture.

The rest of the article is no better. The second sentence describes the subject of the photograph. The third sentence begins "His funeral took place..." Whose funeral? The subject of the picture, or the funeral at which the picture was taken? It then mentions Olmert's diagnosis of "prostrate cancer". And that's all in three short paragraphs.

If you're going to write for an English-speaking audience, you have to write clearly. Hire a real editor, one who went to a good American college, who has read widely and has absorbed good usage from good books, as well as from technical grammar and usage manuals. Yiddish phraseology (the all-purpose Yiddish preposition "bei" just doesn't work everywhere in English) won't cut it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Musical Instruments in the Synagogue

By Cantor Sherwood Goffin

Musical Instruments for Kabbalat Shabbat

In the years following the creation of the Kabbalat Shabbat service by Rav Moshe Cordovero of Tzfat and his brother-in-law Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (author of our L'Cho Dodi text in 1529), the new introduction to Shabbat quickly spread from Israel to Europe. There, communities debated how (or if) they would incorporate this new innovation.

Some, in Germany for instance, insisted that it be visibly seen as "outside the tefilla", and therefore to this day in some German communities, the Chazzan does not wear a talis for Kabbalat Shabbat. The general custom has also evolved to conduct it from the Torah reader's table in shuls where the service is normally read in the front of the shul.

Some communities invited their congregants to come earlier to the shul, where instruments were played during the singing of the service! In fact, an organ was installed in Prague's famed Altneu Shul just for this purpose, where between 1594 and 1716, Kabbalat Shabbat was a festive musicale. The musicians had to stop their playing before sunset, and in some communities, it was done early enough so that the congregants had time to go home, dress for Shabbat, and return for the recitation of the "real" Kabbalat Shabbat hymn, Psalm 92, Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbat.

Today, all of the Jewish world has accepted Kabbalat Shabbat as an integral part of the Siddur and our Tefilla. The musical instruments, at least for us in the Orthodox world, have alas, been abandoned for fear of losing track of the time and thereby desecrating the Shabbat. It is up to all of us to make up for their loss by singing even stronger when the Chazzan reaches L'Cha Dodi. "Uri, Uri, Shir Daberi" - "Awake, Awake, Utter A Song...!"

Daven Well and Sing Along!

(c) 2007 Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mixed Moral Message

I got an email from Aish Hatorah, with their latest Flash animation.

In this, a handicapped boy (unable to learn like others) joins a baseball game. The losing team goes out of its way to make him feel good, and the winning team does too, intentionally dropping the ball repeatedly so that his little grounder turns into a home run. Thus the other boys reach perfection.

Huh? So my inlaws had to exert huge efforts in caring for my handicapped brother-in-law so that *others* might reach "perfection"? What perfection? What about him? If his mission is for "everyone else", why isn't "everyone else" chipping in to share the burden? Once he gets too old for home care, and has to go into a State or private facility, where's the benefit for other Jews? other non-paid people? Is the goal in life "perfection" - and if so, how does one maintain that state for more than a moment?

It's a nice story about how people can help the handicapped feel good about themselves, although, what message does it send the handicapped person to know that only by having others compromise their own personal integrity (by intentionally acting against their interest) can they feel good, feel a part of society?

Something just bothers me about this. Perhaps parents of handicapped (intellectually, physically, emotionally) children could chip in here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Musical Note: Nusach vs. Nigun

MUSICAL NOTE By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Nusach, or Singing Nigunim . Which is Primary?

There are some shuls that “sing” everything, and there are some who don't “sing” anything, and each one is passionate about their style. I have heard that this was actually said by a shul representative (not at LSS): "We don't want nusach here, we just want singing." In other words, don't bother us with tradition, or even the halacha of Tefilla. If the chazzan sings a snappy tune, that's all that matters.

That's quite amazing when you think about it. We didn't sing
nigunim in shul for 18 centuries because of the destruction of the Temple. Now that we are doing so once again, our sacred traditional chant is out the window! Every one of you at LSS knows how much nigunim mean to me. It makes the Tefilla come alive; it warms the soul and inspires. But we can never ignore the davening - which must come first. It is akin to serving the frosting without the cake! I know there are many who might prefer the frosting, but the foundation is an absolute necessity for the sake of the whole.

Nusach, our traditional chant, is the foundation, the structure upon which our Tefilla is built. Nigunim, as desired and appreciated as they are, must be subservient to the structure upon which it all rests.

We at LSS understand this, and when the Chazzan is not here for Shabbat (as this week, when we are at our daughter's new home in Silver Spring, MD), the shul always shows its respect for Tefilla by choosing qualified Baalei Tefilla who understand and respect the nusach, as well as who can sing a beautiful nigun when appropriate.

Our motto is different than the one quoted above. We say: "We want and insist on nusach here at our shul, enhanced by beautiful nigunim." In this merit may all our prayers be acceptable before the Creator of the world who hears all prayers, and may we be granted our wishes for health, success and fulfillment in the world He has created.

Daven well and sing along!
(c) 2007 Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lech Lecha :|

Noticed a cute coincidence in this week's parsha. I have two seforim, diametrically opposed, whose titles are based in this week's parasha, the Dor Revi'i and the Be'er Lachai Ro'i.

Dor Revii was Rav Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the rav of Klausenberg in the 1920s. Rare among Hungarian rabbis, he was a Zionist, and in 1921 he put his money where his mouth was and made aliyah to Palestine. His book, by that name, is one of the main modern commentaries on Tractate Chullin, the part of the Talmud which deals with Kashrut - the most mundane of Jewish topics.

The book is aptly titled. On the one hand, R' Glasner was the great-grandson of the Chatam Sofer, the patriarch of 19th-century Hungarian Jewry, who set it in opposition to Reform on the one hand and Chasidism on the other. So he was the Dor Revi'i, the Fourth Generation, from the Chatam Sofer. On the other hand, God promises Avraham in Lech Lecha, at the Covenant Between Halves, that while Avraham's descendents will be enslaved, the Dor Revi'i, the Fourth Generation, will return here, to Canaan, later known as Israel, then Palestine, and again today Israel. As R' Glasner was intent on Returning There, he clearly felt himself metaphorically fulfilling the prophecy: the Fourth Generation [from the Chatam Sofer] Will Return Here [to Palestine].

Be'er Lachai Ro'i was Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch Spira of Munkatch. His son and successor, the Minchas Elazar, famously formulated Hungarian resistance to Zionism through explication of the Three Oaths made by the Jews after the destruction of the Temple: Kesuvos (111a) quotes R. Yossi ben R. Hanina: "What are these three oaths? One, that Israel should not rise with (or like) a wall; another, that God had Israel swear not to rebel against the nations; another, that God had the nations swear not to subjugate Israel overmuch." (translation taken from Hirhurim). In other words, they were the arch anti-Zionists, and their view really took hold in Hungary, being most vehemently expressed by the late Satmar Rav, Yoel Teitelbaum.

The book, Be'er Lachai Ro'i, is a clear and lengthy commentary on the Tikkunei Zohar, a part of the fundamental work of Jewish mysticism, from which springs many of the basic concepts that informed Chasidism - that the Universe is part of God, that no place is empty of Him, etc. The commentary makes the obscure clear.

So on the one hand, we have the Zionist rav, expounding the depth and complexity of the most mundane subject, and we have the scion of the anti-Zionist dynasty, explaining and clarifying the deep Zohar, both in Hungary in the 19th-20th centuries, both drawing their titles from the same parasha, that of Lech Lecha, that talks about the earliest foundation of the Jewish nation.

Both widely separate in outlook and subject matter, both drawing from the same part of Torah, both in the same universe of Torah discourse. As God's tefillin allegedly read, "Who is like Your people Israel, One Nation in the Land."

I don't know as much about the Munkatchers, what is the Rebbe's connection to Lech Lecha for the title?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fall 2007 Tradition

A new edition of TRADITION is out, Fall 2007, although the new issue is not yet online.

These summaries are based on bare skimming of the articles, I may have missed serious points.

  • EDITOR'S NOTE by Shalom Carmy, “End of a Leper’s Holiday: Carl Hubbell Comes Home”, on the power and perils of communicating through metaphor.
  • TORAT HASHEM TEMIMA: The contributions of Rav Yoel Bin-Nun to Religious Tanakh Study, by R’ Hayyim Angel, on the ongoing argument between traditionalists and the new style of Tanach study, which involves critical issues such as philology and archaeology in understanding the text, while not departing from the truth of Torah.
  • MARRIED – WITH AIDS, by Alfred Cohen, on the thorny questions in such a situation – should they marry, but then the other one may become infected, so use condoms, but what about the mitzvah to have children, but then the children might get infected, so what right do they have to bring them into the world, so should the HIV-positive person marry? You see the problems. He offers some precedents, but not much concrete advice. He seems to advise divorce, because while married, the mitzvah to procreated argues against condom use, but leaves it as a series of issues to be balanced one against the other.
  • THE PURSUIT OF SCHOLARSHIP AND ECONOMIC SELF-SUFFICIENCY: Revisiting Maimonides’ Commentary to Pirkei Avot, by Aryeh Liebowitz: Rambam was not opposed to private arrangements, or self-sacrifice, to enable oneself to study Torah full time, only to communal arrangements for supporting scholars in full time learning. This was based on conditions in Egypt in his time.
  • FROM THE PAGES OF TRADITION: Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg: In Praise of Esther Rubinstein, by Shnayer Z. Leiman. R’ Weinberg’s eulogy for the wife of the last “Chief Rabbi” of Vilna, who was a great person in her own right – Zionist leader, broadly educated, founded several schools for religious girls, taken untimely at age 42 in 1924.
  • SURVEY OF RECENT HALAKHIC PERIODICAL LITERATURE: The $25,000,000 Funeral. A latter-day “Pearl of Great Price” story (in the Xtian bible, we have similar stories): one should forego worldly wealth in pursuit of mitzvot, e.g. honoring one’s parents or Jewish burial. Whether necessary or not, one who foregoes his large inheritance to ensure his parent’s proper burial is to be honored.
  • Review essays: on E.J. Schochet’s biography of Saul Lieberman, which praises the huge quantity of data, while questioning the book’s lack of analysis of R’ Lieberman’s personality and motivations; on Chaim Rapaport’s book on Jewish approaches to homosexuality, which rejects the “oness” approach (they’re biologically forced into such behavior), but offers “mumar letei’avon” (rebel for appetite, rather than rebel out of rejection) as a way to approach/accept the homosexual. His chapter of real-life letters to homosexuals puts his ideas into practice.
  • Review of Elisheva Baumgarten’s “Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe.” The last sentence: “… a critical work for understanding the medieval Jewish family and the daily realities of the Jewish experience in Ashkenaz during the High Middle Ages.”. Social history and family life- both big trends in recent history works.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Musical Note - Sim Shalom

MUSICAL NOTE By Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Sim Shalom/Tov L'Hodos

Each Shabbat at the LSS Main Minyan I sing various congregational singing melodies which I insert into the regular musical "nusach" of the day. Since I have written about this very often in this column, you may be aware by now that I carefully choose my nigunim according to the laws of Nusach Hatefillah as set down by our Sages and successively confirmed by the rabbis and the expert baalei tefilla over the past 700 years. They have determined the musical modes of each tefilla, and I therefore respect those guidelines when planning my musical program for each Shabbat.

You should also be aware that I have a cycle of nigunim so that an element of "freshness" can be instilled into each Shabbat's musical selections. One exception is that of Sim Shalom for Musaf, which has become one of our "signature" melodies sung each Shabbat with the approbation of the congregation. The original melody is "Tov L'hodos” composed by Itzy Katz for the third "Rabbis Sons" album in the 1970's. It fits the Mode of the tefilla as well as the "Mood" of the tefilla, and the original words echo the Meaning of the words of this tefilla. It is sung with feeling and gusto by our congregation and ends the Musaf Amidah on a "high" note. In any case, you now know my own "3 Ms"criteria for nigunim: Mode, Mood and Meaning, and there is even fourth: "Min Hamikdosh", that it not be from secular sources, except in rare, exceptional circumstances as indicated in this column during the calendar year.

Daven well and sing along!
(c) 2007 Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue

Friday, October 12, 2007

Zman Simchaseinu 3a

Rabbi Rich Wolpoe and I have been having a long offline exchange about my difficulties understanding his position on Sukkot as Zman Simchateinu (the Season of Our Happiness). To recap: in the amidah and Kiddush of the three pilgrimage festivals, the day is commemorated as Zman X, where X is taken to correspond to the historical event commemorated by the holiday. Pesach and Shavuot are obvious – “season of our freedom” is the Exodus, and “season of the giving of our Torah” is the Stand at Sinai, which occurred within a day or two of Shavuot. But Sukkot is “season of our happiness”, which the Talmud links to the Clouds of Glory, which are exegetically linked to the Sukkah, called the Sukkah of God, in Psalms and other places.

The problem: Clouds of Glory doesn’t correspond to a specific date.

R’ Wolpoe’s solution: it’s not Clouds of Glory, it’s the Temple, because:

a) if Tisha B’Av is the epitome of sadness, the Temple Dedication must be the epitome of joy;

b) the haftarah of the day is all about the Temple Dedication, which did occur on Sukkot;

c) parallelism must be maintained – each holiday must correspond with a specific date, as the other two do.

My difficulties:

a) it contradicts the Talmud;

b) unlike the others, which occurred before or during the giving of the Torah, it occurs almost 500 years later;

c) other Temple and Mishkan dedications occurred on other days – it’s not exclusive to say “Sukkot is The Day on which to dedicate Temples”;

d) must parallelism be that literal?

R’ Wolpoe doesn’t like my objections, doesn’t think they’re dispositive, which they’re not.

* * *

I think I’ve come up with a way to reconcile our positions, based on the Haggadah and the Bikkurim. (You can probably see where I’m going).

When one brings the Bikkurim, the first fruits, one recites a little script for the priest, recapping the entire enslavement and exodus experience, culminating in one’s ability to bring one’s first fruits from this land flowing in milk and honey. That is taken to imply, by the author of the Haggadah (a Tannaitic midrash, hence an early source) that the culmination of the Exodus was the construction of the Temple where we could fully observe the Torah – without the Temple, more than half the mitzvoth are in abeyance. That’s why Dayeinu ends with the construction of the Temple – it is the culmination of the Exodus. (See Dt. 26:1-11).

Further, the verse at the end of the passage notes that bringing Bikkurim involves a mitzvah to be happy with everyone in your domain. Rashi interprets that to mean, inter alia, based on the Gemara in Bikkurim 83, that one rejoices in one’s harvest, which culminates in the Harvest Festival of Sukkot.

I gather, from one of his notes, that one of his correspondents may have picked up on this Rashi, and took Zman Simchaseinu to refer to the harvest season, rather than a historical event – but that much non-parallelism is not necessary either.

The verse at the beginning of the Bikkurim passage refers to Nachalah – heritage – as a prerequisite for bringing Bikkurim. The Gemara in Megillah reads that as “when the Temple will be built”. There are two passages, about coming to “the rest”, which was Mishkan Shiloh, the semi-permanent pre-Temple temple, and “the heritage”, which was the permanent Temple on the Temple Mount, between Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives.

Under that reading, clearly the passage in the Torah, as the Haggadah indicates, leads us straight to R’ Wolpoe’s idea. Bikkurim

a) depends on Nachalah – the Temple;

b) describes itself as the consequence and culmination of the Exodus experience;

c) is linked to Simcha, through the last verse.

I could almost say it looks chiastic, but that would be putting the cart before the horse. However, it does link Nachalah, the inheritance, with Simcha, through the Exodus. So the simcha of constructing the Temple, where we could fully observe the Torah which was given on Shavuot, and made possible only by our Exodus which freed us to worship Hashem, fits right into the pattern. The Torah itself gives a hint that one Simcha, the ultimate pre-messianic Simcha, is the construction of the Temple. Linked with the Gemara’s note that the harvest brings simcha, Sukkot is truly Zman Simchateinu, both historically through the Temple, which is also linked to the Clouds of Glory in the I Kings description of the dedication; and through culmination of the harvest. Perhaps the Bikkurim passage itself mandated that Solomon dedicate the Temple on Sukkot, but I haven’t seen that said anywhere.

* * *

One could also give a mathematical allegory: what is the order of the Festivals, as given in the Torah? Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, in the old calendar which began with Nissan. One occurred at the beginning of the Exodus, one occurred during the Exodus, one is the culmination of the Exodus: a progression upwards from minimal mitzvah observance (we only had Pesach and Milah in Egypt), through the command of the full set of mitzvot, to the fulfillment of all the mitzvoth in the Temple.

Another bolster to the idea of the Temple as Zman Simchaseinu: each “event” is really a continuous process over a long period of time, with one date that signifies the entire process. The Exodus began over a year before the Jews left, when Moshe went to Paroh saying “let my people go,” and was prophesied to Abraham 400 years earlier. The Giving of the Torah may have been dramatically symbolized by the Stand at Sinai, but really took place over the full 40 years in the desert, from the mitzvot of Pesach in Egypt, through Moshe’s death speech. The Clouds of Glory similarly existed throughout the Exodus period, and perhaps all the way through the Temple. But the specific date for Clouds of Glory would be the date on which they filled the Temple, on its dedication on Sukkot.

Thus we can preserve the phenomena: Clouds of Glory in the Talmud as the historic event commemorated by Sukkot; the Bikkurim passage; and the parallelism of specific dates even if the event being specifically commemorated was not actually accomplished until 487 years later.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Second Hakafot

Responding to a kvetch on Avodah last year, that it’s foolish to believe that our holy tzadikim based the idea of hakafot on a misquoted text, I wrote:

In fact, Yaari says that the whole thing is based on this mistaken transcription.

He quotes from Shaar Hakavvanot (R' Chaim Vital; shaar 6) "...I saw my teacher [the Ari] z"l who was very careful in this to circle after the sifrei torah or before them or after them and to dance and to sing before them as much as he could on the night of motzai Yom Tov after Aravit."

The problem was that Shaar Hakavvanot was not printed until 1852, and then in Salonika. Various excerpts appeared from manuscripts in collections of customs of the Ari. One such was the Negid uMitzvah of R' Jacob Tzemach, (Amsterdam, 1712, p. 76) who wrote "...and to dance and sing before them, and to make seven circuits with all his strength with great simcha at night, and in the day we did not see him do so."

R' J. Zemach was not accurate in his transcription, and left out "motzai Yom Tov", transposing it to Simchat Torah night (Shmini Atzeret, since he was in Eretz Yisrael).

The author of Hemdas Yomim (part 3, Days of Sukkot, ch. 8) did not have a ms. of Shaar Hakavvanot, and relied on R' Jacob Tzemach.

R’ Vital did not bring any reasons for the 7 hakafot; later authors attributed meanings to it, e.g. the 7 midot (lower sefirot?) according to the Shelah hakodesh, etc.

Actually, I don't think this is necessarily the origin of chassidim outside of Israel specifically doing hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret. It seems instead to be the origin of most of Jewry's doing it on the night of Simchat Torah, rather on motzaei Simchat Torah. Meanwhile, in the Land of Israel, the original Ari custom of motzaei Simchat Torah took hold in Chevron and J'lem, at least down to the 1700s. In Italy, too, they had accurate versions of Shaar Hakavvanot, and did their hakafot on motzaei ST.

In fact, the Chasidish minhag to make hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret was an innovation of the Hemdat Yamim (ibid., ch 7), to express unity with the Jews of EY who were making their hakafot that night. It was picked up by R' Alexander Ziskind of Horodno (Yesod veShoresh HaAvodah 11:16). A misnaged (quoted in S. Dubno, History of Chasidism, 446) testifies (lefi tumo) that in the Maggid's court (kloiz) in 1772 he saw the Chasidim making hakafot on Shmini Atzeret "like we do on ST".

The hakafot that we do during the day seem to be a much later invention. They sprang up independently in several places, in Germany, in Baghdad, in Poland (as testified to by the above Yesod veShoresh HaAvodah), etc. in the late 18th century.

So even if you don’t have easy access to Yaari, you can read this summary, with pointers to his sources. There was a mistake in transmission, which led to the universal Simchat Torah night hakafot, and there was a conscious choice made by the author of Hemdat Yamim, and ratified by early Chasidim, to do extra hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret.

* * *

Other well-known halachot based on "mistakes": the kashrut of bee-honey (when the text meant date-honey in the Torah, and only switched in the period of the Early Prophets) and turkey (based on a mistake about Asian Indians vs. American Indians). When asked about turkey, isn't it based on a mistaken identity, the late Bobover Rebbe replied, "It's a good thing our ancestors weren't as frum as we are". So now we have a mesorah that turkey is kosher. And now we have hundreds of years of a minhag to do hakafot on leil Simchat Torah. It matters far less what the origin was, than that it has been ratified by pretty much all of Klal Yisrael.

* * *

And now this old custom, of hakafot on the night after Simchat Torah (did the moderns in Israel know it was ancient? Was it continued down to the present day or was there a break in the practice?) has been interrupted by the new rabbinic ban on outdoor concerts. For the political repercussions, please see Harry’s blog.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Driven Re-Leaf of Chosen Foreskins

Shalom Auslander is the author of "Foreskin's Lament", yet another memoir about a frum guy's journey to freedom from Orthodoxy. He joins the august company of Elisha ben Avuyah (in the words of Milton Steinberg), Chaim Potok, Nathan Englander, Solomon Maimon, etc.

Here's a summary and highlights of his interview on NPR, if you don't want to sit through the whole half-hour. My and Debbie's reactions below:

The interviewer asks about his growing up in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Monsey. [Zev S. points out on Areivim that he went to a local Modern-Orthodox yeshiva, hardly "Ultra-Orthodox".] He goes on about how he was raised with stories of a man who will kill you if you don't do the right thing, banish you, torture you, who can raise mountains and split seas, and repeatedly visits destruction on his chosen people. [Meaning God, of course].
Justify Full
He also had an abusive father. These he admits fed on each other, reinforcing each other:

- Eat a cheeseburger, God will kill you.
- Go in the garage again, Dad will break your arms.

He went to Israel after HS for a year, to some yeshiva in a small town "between J'lem and T-A" (between Minsk and Pinsk?), and flipped out - learned 10 hours a day, went to mikvah on Friday, gave in to pressure and bought a fedora (which pretty clearly indicates that he wasn't "ultra-Orthodox" before), excelled in the learning. "I rose to the top, I was the second, third, or fourth coming, whatever they're up to." Stayed in the yeshiva for some years.

Claims to still have UO mindset, but gave up on praxis due to personal tragedies - fellow student in car accident, grandfather ill. Got tired of small-town, moved to NYC, freied out (goes to McD's, prostitute). Feels he could easily have become a terrorist, because religion leads there. Madrassas == Yeshiva of Spring Valley.

"No longer observant, painfully ... miserably religious, watching others trying to get away from God as am I."

Intellectually wants to reject, emotionally feels he can't.

Keeps family away, even though now married with a kid - his psychiatrist pushes him to do so.

Waited 15 years to have a kid, finally decides to, then has to face question whether to "mutilate" him because some "maniac, 6000 years ago, did" "the past coming out and stealing something that should have been purely joyous".

"Everything I like, music, comedy, etc. comes from anger."

Waffled about circumcision all through pregnancy. After difficult delivery, Dr. asks if you want to circumcise, he says yes, it was done apparently right after birth. He listens to his son's screams from the other room - that was when his son became Jewish. [not?]

* * *

Debbie's thought - he never actually flipped out or freied out, he was just a chameleon, giving in to pressure wherever he was. In Monsey, he's the good boy, crying for acceptance from family. In yeshiva, he puts on the uniform. In NYC, he embraces sin.

He goes on about how he's always religious emotionally. Doesn't look like that at all - looks like his core essence is rejection of religion, but with a strong desire to be liked and accepted, unlike his situation at home. He wasn't really frum (qua pious) at all. Perhaps in the Rav Wolbe sense of doing religious stuff without thinking about why he does it, though, he might have been "frum".

His emotional reactions are strongest in rebelling against religion, comparing yeshivas to madrassas, his religious fervor to the 9/11 hijackers,

I know people who gave up religion because of intellectual reasons, those become Orthoprax. Remember the joke about the Vilner Apikorus? Giving up the religious behaviors and community, that seems to me more emotional than rational.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Their Eyes Were Opened

Rabbi Sokol spoke on Shabbat Bereshit, bringing us the words of Harav YB Soloveitchik zt”l, on the effects of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is abstracted from an essay in the book Yemei Zikaron.

פרק ג

ז ותפקחנה, עיני שניהם, וידעו, כי עירמם הם; ויתפרו עלה תאנה, ויעשו להם חגרת

כא ויעש יהוה אלהים לאדם ולאשתו, כתנות עור--וילבשם.

Gen. 3:7 - Their eyes were opened, both of them, and they knew they were naked; and they made holes in fig leaves, and made for them loincloths.

3:21 - God made for the man and his woman, coats of leather - and clothed them.

What is the significance of the clothing? Of God clothing them? Of the different types of clothing? What does it mean that God made them clothing of leather (Rebbi Meir in the Gemara emends the text to “Or” with an aleph - clothes of light.)

The Zohar speaks of two kinds of souls, the naked soul and the clothed soul. The naked soul is the soul unadorned, lost, perpetually in crisis. The clothed soul is clothed in faith, in learning, in a lifetime of experience.

The naked soul is always questing, always questioning, unsure, lonely. It bounces from crisis to existential crisis. It knows not where it is or where to go. The clothed soul, by contrast, is grounded, it knows its place in the cosmos, it is secure in that knowledge, it has a solid context for living a full life shaped by its spiritually full life that it still lives.

This becomes particularly important in old age. While one is young, striving for better jobs, more money, better life for one’s children, the distinction seems unimportant. There is external stuff to fill up even the life of a naked soul. But as one ages, retires, ceases to strive for better things, and gets even older, one’s friends die off, one’s spouse is no more – there’s nobody to talk to. There’s no way to relate, and one just closes in, goes nuts, or gives up.

But the clothed soul has a full life context that continues, even after the externals are gone. R’ Sokol’s uncle died on Rosh Hashanah. Even as he was about 90, he was getting up in the morning, praying with a minyan, going to Daf Yomi – being in religious society because his life was shaped by religious society. He has a social and spiritual context, a coat of faith, that he carries over from earlier life. That coat of faith is the coat of light of which Rebbi Meir spoke.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, which is widely considered to have been a fig, the fruit brought knowledge without context. It elevated their souls to consciousness, but naked, without spiritual context. So they made clothing out of the fig tree, the source of their downfall. This is the clothing of deception, of falsehood. It’s what you might think might help, but doesn’t really. God then gave them the clothing of light, gave them a spiritual context to shape their lives, in charging them with the commands and existential curses upon leaving the Garden.

Then their souls were truly clothed. May we all develop a coat of faith, to sustain us through life.