Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Catholics and Jews and Freemasons, oh my

R' Gil Student has long had friendly relations with the Catholic magazine "First Things," which discusses a lot of general religious issues in a fairly open way. He recently published an essay with them, which appeared in a column called "On the Square."

I find it interesting that a Catholic magazine uses "On the Square" as the title of a regular column. "On the square," like "on the level," is a Masonic expression, meaning someone who is trustworthy. But the Catholics have always been opposed to the Freemasons, not least because of their secrecy - who knows what antireligious, especially antiCatholic, things are going in their lodges?

ObJewish: OTOH, I know plenty of Jewish, even some Orthodox, Freemasons, some having been so for several generations. My father amu"sh was raised (admitted to the third degree) by his father a"h, although my father more or less dropped out after the 1950s.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur Kiddush

(N.B., I am not a rabbi, this is a theoretical construct, since odds are, it's not even said even in extremis, for which see below):

Never heard of such a thing? Well, good. Please God, we won’t have to use such a thing ad bias hagoel. The question only really comes up in context of extreme illness, where one really has to eat a normal diet (for those who even approve of this; most say you have to eat funny small amounts, widely spaced, rather than regular meals), or as in the famous story of R’ Yisrael Salanter, where the city is under threat of a plague and the local rabbi orders people to eat, so as to keep their strength up and not succumb to the plague. Only in such circumstances, it seems to me, would there even be a question of “do I say Kiddush over a Yom Kippur meal?”

Is there even an obligation of Kiddush in such a situation? Probably not. It depends whether the “takkanah of Kiddush” extends to Yom Kippur. On the one hand, it’s a holiday, and partakes of the holiness of Shabbat, so perhaps the Shabbat/Yom Tov obligation of Kiddush extends over to Yom Kippur. On the other hand, the takkanah, rabbinic decree, to say Kiddush only applies in situations where it is normal to eat a meal, i.e., not Yom Kippur. Perhas the doubt whether or not it’s even relevant to Yom Kippur creates a situation where “doubt in a rabbinic matter (which most blessings are) leads to a lenient ruling”, i.e., don’t say Kiddush, being lenient in the laws of blessings.

However, if one really were to say a Yom Kippur Kiddush, what would it look like? I’d like to present a possible reconstruction, based on the structure of the Yom Tov Kiddush, and based on the difference between Yom Tov and Rosh Hashanah kiddushes, and how they reflect the Amidahs of their respective days.

The opening would be the same, as it is always drawn from the first two paragraphs of the central blessing of the Yom Tov or Rosh Hashanah amidah, with suitable change for Yom Kippur:

Baruch attah H’ elokeinu melech ha-olam [standard blessing form]

Asher bachar banu micol am, vermomamtanu micol lashon, vekidshanu bemitzvotav.

Vatiten lanu H’ Elokenu b’ahavah, moadim lesimchah chagim uzmanim lesasson

Et yom hakipurim hazeh. [so far, like Yom Tov and Rosh Hashanah, based on the Amidah]

[long attempt to derive a conclusion to Vatiten Lanu deleted]

(facepalm) as soon as I started davening, I realized the obvious, I should just transplant Vatiten Lanu directly into the kiddush, with the long characterization of Yom Kippur intact. So:

L'selicha vel'mechila ul'kapara, velimchol vo et col avonoteinu,

Mikra kodesh, zeicher liytziat mitzraim.

Ki vanu vacharta v’otanu kidashta, micol ha’amim [standard in all Yom Tov kiddushes]

Now we come to the interesting question – the next phrase.

Here is Yom Tov Amidah from Vetaher Libeinu:

. וְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶּאֱמֶת. וְהַנְחִילֵנוּ יְדוָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ. בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְשָׂשׂוֹן. מוֹעֲדֵי קָדְשֶׁךָ וְיִשְׂמְחוּ בְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מְקַדְּשֵׁי שְׁמֶךָ:

And Kiddush:

וּמוֹעֲדֵי קָדְשֶׁךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְשָׂשׂוֹן הִנְחַלְתָּנוּ:

Rosh Hashanah Amidah:

וְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶּאֱמֶת, כִּי אַתָּה אֱלֹהִים אֱמֶת וּדְבָרְךָ אֱמֶת וְקַיָּם לָעַד

And Rosh Hashanah Kiddush:

וּדְבָרְךָ אֱמֶת וְקַיָּם לָעַד

Yom Kippur Amidah:

וְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶּאֱמֶת, כִּי אַתָּה סָלְחָן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל וּמָחֳלָן לְשִׁבְטֵי יְשֻׁרוּן בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר וּמִבַּלְעָדֶיךָ אֵין לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ מוֹחֵל וְסוֹלֵחַ

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְדוָד מֶלֶךְ מוֹחֵל וְסוֹלֵחַ לַעֲוֹנוֹתֵינוּ וְלַעֲוֹנוֹת עַמּוֹ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמַעֲבִיר אַשְׁמוֹתֵינוּ בְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה, מֶלֶךְ עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ מְקַדֵּשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים:

I brought in the closing beracha, because that will become necessary – the closing beracha is similar in the Amidah and Kiddush for each of Yom Tov and Rosh Hashanah.

What pattern do we notice? After Vetaher libeinu l’avdecha b’emet, there are two clauses introducing the final Beracha, joined with “u”. In Yom Tov, the whole phrase is somewhat shuffled and shortened for Kiddush, while on Rosh Hashanah, the second clause is taken verbatim. Rosh Hashanah matches most closely, in that the first clause begins with “ki” and the second with “u” for both it and Yom Kippur. So let’s take that as our paradigm, and use the second clause from Yom Kippur:

Mibal’adecha ein lanu melech mocheil vesolei’ach

Which nicely captures the essence of what we’re praying for all day on Yom Kippur.

Finally, the closing beracha, taken from the closing phrase of the bracha in the Amidah:

Baruch atah H’, mekadesh yisra’el v’yom hakipurim.

So, to bring it all together,

Baruch attah H’ elokeinu melech ha-olam

Asher bachar banu micol am, vermomamtanu micol lashon, vekidshanu bemitzvotav.

Vatiten lanu H’ Elokenu b’ahavah, moadim lesimchah chagim uzmanim lesasson

Et yom hakipurim hazeh.

L'selicha vel'mechila ul'kapara, velimchol vo et col avonoteinu,

Mikra kodesh, zeicher liytziat mitzraim.

Ki vanu vacharta v’otanu kidashta, micol ha’amim

Mibal’adecha ein lanu melech mocheil vesolei’ach

Baruch atah H’, mekadesh yisra’el v’yom hakipurim.

Has anyone actually seen a Yom Kippur Kiddush, and would they know its provenance?

Gemar chatimah tovah, and may next (well, there isn’t time to train and isolate a Kohen Gadol for this one) Yom haKippurim truly be a Yom Ke’Purim, attending with Moshiach (well, he won’t be a kohen, will he? He’ll be attending like the rest of us) at the Beit haMikdash in the final redemption, bb”a.


Updated motzi Yom Tov: corrected Vatiten Lanu.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where's the 'Snag Kabbalah?

I went into my neighborhood seforim shop (in Flatbush, we have neighborhood seforim shops, it's the B&N that necessitates a big trip "out of town") to peruse the new translation (by R' Avraham Yaakov Finkel, noted translator of short books for school fundraisers) of the Nefesh haChaim, the central expression of Misnagdish Torah philosophy by the founder of the Lithuanian Yeshiva Movement, R' Chaim Volozhin.

It looked rather small for a book whose modern editions tend to be fairly large and thick. I started flipping through the back and saw that the entire text was included in Hebrew in the back. Whoops - filler! How much actual English text is there? Not a lot, and the print isn't even that small.

Why is that? There was a note from the author at the beginning, that he had not translated the kabbalistic material. Huh?

One of the big strengths of the Nefesh haChaim is that it speaks in the same kabbalistic idiom as the Chassidic books. It was addressing the same early-19th-century audience, and making a case for the primacy of Torah study over other non-prayer activities. I've even seen some of the same imagery in both R' Chaim's writings and in the writings of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe - that the mitzvos are a rope between ourselves and God, strands being severed by sins. By cutting out the Kabbalah, R' Finkel has cut the meat off the bones of the Father of Yeshivos, leaving his work a poor meal indeed.

Note, I haven't extensively studied the Nefesh haChaim, so it will wait for someone more knowledgeable to write a proper review. I'm just talking about the form; the substance needs deeper appreciation.

But what about Kabbalah for Misnagdim? Following the publication of the works of the Ari, Kabbalah spread throughout the Jewish world, supplanting the pure intellectualism of post-Maimonidean philosophy. This led to the Sabbatean disaster, and in an effort to root out secret conventicles of Sabbateans, different communities had different approaches. The Sephardim, I don't know, there was some strong opposition, but did secret Sabbateans continue much among them? The Ashkenazim were plagued with them throughout the 18th century. Two distinct approaches developed:

The Chasidim gave a quasi-messianic role to their Tzaddikim, their Rebbes. Not that "every Chasid thinks his Rebbe is Moshiach", which is a canard put forth by some Lubavitchers to justify their continuing belief that their late Rebbe is/was [a suitable candidate for] Moshiach. Rather, they believe (see, e.g., Beis Aharon by R' Aharon of Karlin) that the soul of Moshiach is distributed among all Jews, with Tzaddikim having a somewhat higher proportion of that soul.

The Misnagdim outlawed Kabbalah. This continues to this day. Until the end of the 18th century, the major rabbinic figures in the Ashkenazic world were almost all Kabbalists, and thought of their Judaism to some extent through its filters. Some of the greatest wrote amulets for the common folk, who believed wholeheartedly in the Kabbalah. It's clear that the general run of educated Jews in that time knew Kabbalah, because the Chasidic writings for them are all written in Kabbalistic idiom. But after the founding of the yeshiva at Volozhin, Kabbalah was taken out of the yeshiva curriculum. So today, Misnagdim don't know Kabbalah. And there are no more Misnagdish Sabbateans, nor are there messianic obsessions such as arose over the last Lubavitcher Rebbe.

However, the Chasidim and Sephardim still deal in Kabbalah. Only kooks and entrepreneurs (such as the Bergs and lehavdil R' Aryeh bar Tzadok) seem to be truly involved in Kabbalah in the yeshivish and modernish world. More and more kabbalah is becoming available, even in English, but it's still frowned upon. The closest one gets is an underground shiur in Tanya at major yeshivos, such as Philadelphia or Ner Israel. Even at YU, the "intro to Kabbalah" is taught in the college and the graduate school, not in the yeshiva.

Hence this edition of the Nefesh haChaim, and both English translations of the Ramban's commentary on the Torah, have excised all Kabbalistic material, even though that's a lot of the meat of the writers' material.

The Sabbateans have been gone for 200 years in western Orthodoxy. Is it perhaps time for the yeshivish world to rejoin the rest of Judaism, and expose its practitioners to Kabbalah in some organized, controlled way?

Monday, September 14, 2009

12x Authentic Judaism

R' Sokol this week (Nitzavim/Vayelech) explored some of the midrashim about the death of Moshe Rabbeinu. One that stood out for me was the idea that Moshe, before he died, wrote 13 sifrei Torah, one to be deposited in the Mishkan as a textual reference of last resort, and 12 to be distributed to the 12 tribes. He reads this as giving two messages.

1) Writing a final reference Torah indicates the closing of the Pentateuchal canon. This is it, this is the Law, there will never be another, it will not be replaced, added to or deleted from. There will be no new Testament of God's Revelation and Will. [Hear that, kabbalists, chasidim and other adherents of Continuous Revelation? -jjb].

On the other hand,

2) Giving each tribe its own Torah acknowledges that each tribe reads the Torah in its own way. There are at least 12 ways to understand the Torah, and to develop an authentic Judaism therefrom.

So we have two almost contradictory positions, but since they are the act of one man, they are connected. There is room for different communities within the Torah world: Ashkenazic and Sephardic and Edot Hamizrach, Modern and Yeshivish and Chareidi, German and Eastern European. They are all Authentic Judaisms. But in the end, there is still the reference Torah in the Mishkan or Temple, the one that sets limits for what constitutes an Authentic Judaism.

I asked R' Sokol if he had been reading the JBlogosphere, since this idea sounds like a direct reaction to the flap that was reflected on Hirhurim and elsewhere, in reaction to a blog reflecting a particularly nasty, derogatory-of-the-Other strain of yeshivish though. He said he hadn't. Still, it's quite timely.

Friday, September 11, 2009

High Holidays Tunes and Tradition

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin
The Musical Liturgy of the High Holidays

This Saturday night we begin to say Selichot, the Penitential Prayers that will be recited every weekday morning until Yom Kippur, the day that is in itself based on the Selichot liturgy. Every Selichot service begins with the quintessential Kaddish that we will hear once again before the recitation of Musaf, both on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

This Kaddish is one of more than 53 sanctified melodies known as "MiSinai" melodies, the majority of which have existed since before the time of the Maharil, Chief Rabbi of the Rhineland (1360-1427 CE), who declared them Holy and unchangeably fixed. These melodies of the High Holiday period set the tone for our prayers and infuse them with the ethereal and inspirational atmosphere that raises the emotional level of our Tefilla to the "high" to which we look forward each year. It is on the wings of these songs that our prayers for a good year are carried on high to Avinu Shebashamayim.

For those in the Main Synagogue who are davening with me, I pray that I will be worthy to be your messenger to plead for G-d's blessings of a good and healthy year for all of us and our families. I look forward to davening with you.

Batya and I wish all of our LSS family a Shana Tova!


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