Friday, September 29, 2006

Past Yom Kippur Writings

The tunes of Yom Kippur reflect/generate changing emotional states during the course of the day

The shorter confession (Vidui Ashamnu) as understood by the Chayei Adam (translation)

Kol Nidre as an example for Hashem - forgive us as we forgive vows.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Artscroll Modim Kvetch

Modim, modim (woops, can't say that)

Modim anachnu lach. Archetypal Prayer of Thanksgiving (our prayers are usually broken down into Praise, Request, and Thanksgiving). Except that when there's a minyan, we say an alternate version during the repetition, the Modim Derabbanan. And there, folks, is a mystery.

R' Alan Brill, in last week's Philosphy of Prayer class at Drisha, noted that the prayer in the Amidah is what he calls "entreaty", rather than "petitionary" prayer. Petitionary prayer is asking for X in return for Y. E.g., a misheberach - please bless so-and-so because I'm pledging to tzedakah, or because the congregation is praying on their behalf. But when we look at the intermediate brachot (4-16 in the daily prayers), where we ask for stuff, we ask in the merit of God's goodness - because You are a great healer, heal us; because You are great in forgiveness, forgive us. R' Mayer Twersky, following (I think) his grandfather RYB Soloveitchik, explains those blessings as expressions of confidence that God will do X or Y, not actual requests that He do X or Y (leaving out the insertions for health and prosperity).

However, Modim Derabbanan, the additional Modim, which is a collection of alternate Modims offered by different rabbis in the Talmud (Sotah 40a), all versions clearly end "al she'anu modim lach", "because we thank You". We thank You ... for giving us life, ... so You shall continue to sustain us, and return us from exile so that we may fulfill Your laws completely, because we thank You" And that's clearly a request. We expect that You will do X and Y, because we thank You. Our thanking Him creates the quid-pro-quo of petitionary prayer.

Rashi tries to avoid the issue, by reading it as a repetition of the first phrase, making it "thus You shall do X and Y ... because You inspired us to cleave to You and to thank You". Which makes little enough sense, although perhaps, it can be read as "You do X and Y to create an environment where we are obligated to thank You", but since they are future needs, such as redemption, that explanation doesn't make much sense to me.

Artscroll takes Rashi one step further. They write

"[We thank You] for inspiring us to thank You."

Not only does it turn the phrase around, and insert "inspiring us" (following Rashi), it then adds the bracketed passage "[we thank You]" which makes the whole thing completely incoherent, and unrelated to the Hebrew.

The Hebrew is simple enough, despite Rashi's attempt to revise the words of Chazal: it's a petitionary prayer. If Chazal put it in, it must be OK, even if it's not OK enough for Rashi or Artscroll. Even the Beis Yosef (R' Yosef Caro) understands this literally, contra Rashi. He gives both Rashi's emendation and the clear simple meaning.

"because we thank You" into "we thank You for inspiring us to thank You". Incoherent babble in the name of revisionism. I thought it was only the heterodox prayerbook authors who took such liberties with their translations. Apparently I was wrong.

* * *

Just for reference, here's the relevant passage in the Soncino translation:

While the Precentor recites the paragraph 'We give thanks' what does the congregation say? — Rab declared: 'We give thanks unto Thee, O Lord our God, because we are able to give Thee thanks'. Samuel declared: 'God of all flesh, seeing that we give Thee thanks'. R. Simai declared: 'Our Creator and Creator of all things in the beginning, seeing that we give Thee thanks.' The men of Nehardea declared in the name of R. Simai: 'Blessings and thanksgiving to Thy great Name because Thou hast kept us alive and preserved us, seeing that we give Thee thanks'. R. Aha b. Jacob used to conclude thus: 'So mayest Thou continue to keep us alive and be gracious to us; and gather us together and assemble our exiles to Thy holy courts to observe Thy statutes and to do Thy will with a perfect heart, seeing that we give Thee thanks'. R. Papa said: Consequently let us recite them all.

We follow R' Papa - we say them all. Rashi explains that each came and added their phrase onto the previous ones.

* * *

And, looking around the Web, I see this was already discussed on mail-jewish 12 years ago. Oh well, אין חדש תחת השמש.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Camah Qolot (How Many Shofar Blasts)

A friend is having a dispute with his daughter's teacher over how many shofar blasts are traditional for Ashkenazim. The teacher commits Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, maintaining that because accurate modern machzorim such as Artscroll say that we do 100, therefore that is the way it is, and the earlier machzorim that had other sets were misprints or mistaken.

Just because it's so now, doesn't make it true for the past, though. I went through a number of sources to find out just what was the "old minhag ashkenaz", the "original" custom, and well, there isn't just one, there are quite a lot. However, Artscroll is correct in that 100 has become nearly universally accepted today.

Going back into the past, the Tosafot (12th-century French) bring 40, 60 and 100 as reasonable options and reasons for both. All agree that we do 30 to start out with, since that's the Talmudic minimum (R' Abahu, in Rosh Hashanah 34a). Opinions differ as to which are blown during the repetition of the mussaf amidah, and what is done at the end of services. 40 is brought as the common custom in Franco-Germany (where the Tosafists lived), but they would prefer 60, and they cite the Aruch (earlier Ashkenazic work) that one should blow 100 to fit a Midrash about the 100 sobs that Sisra's mother cried over his death. Rabbenu Tam brings a further variant of 42.

So what are all these variants?

Knock 30 off the top - all agree we do 30 after Torah reading.

After each section of the Musaf: M(alchuyot, Z(ichronot, S(hofarot:
and the blows T(ekiah), S(hevarim), and (te)R(uah), which are grouped as TSRT, TST, or TRT.


And then at the end, either 30, 40, or 10 are blown to make up larger numbers.

So who historically did the various customs?

Tosafot (Rosh Hashanah 33b) list all of the combinations of blasts during the Amidah, so they justify 40, 42, or 60.

RAbN Yarchi (R' Abraham of Lunel, later 12th C.) brings a variety of these customs in his Sefer haManhig (laws of shofar-blowing 20).

One should do the 30 option, but the Sages worried about troubling the congregation, so some do 10. In Sefarad (Christian northern Spain?) and Provence they do [three times] TSRT for Malchuyot, TST for Zichronot, and TRT for Shofarot, making 30. In some parts of France they do TSRT [TST,TRT?] for all three, like R' Yaakov of C. (Corbeil?), and so it is in Champagne and all of Burgundy, doing 30 among all. I hear that in Bavel they do 100, 30 during the silent amidah, 30 during the repetition, and 10 more at the end, to fit the midrash about Sisra's mother. (paraphrased, from Heidenheim machzor note).

So the Western custom was 60, in one variant or another. What about more recent days?

The Shulchan Aruch, recording mostly Sephardic custom in his day, advises 61: 30 at the start, then M-3xTSRT, Z-3xTST, S-3xTRT, or 12, 9 and 9, with the Sephardic Teruah Gedolah at the end.

Our prime witness for Eastern Europe in the 15th century is the Rema, who says that the common custom was 40: (30; 4;3;3) as above. Some would add another 30 at the end, but this was not necessary.

The Vilna Gaon, in the 18th century, seeing value to 60, held that one should blow an extra 20 at the end, bringing the total to 60. So for him, in Lithuania, they were still mostly following the Rema's 40 custom.

In the early 19th century, R' Wolf Heidenheim in Germany produced a set of very accurate machzorim, with a good commentary, on both textual and hermeneutic issues. He produced versions for both Germany (Western Europe) and Poland (Eastern Europe). His machzorim record 42 as the Eastern custom, and 40 as the Western custom, which is still what is printed in current Roedelheim German-custom machzorim today.

The Breuers kehillah in Washington Heights still blows 40 *see below. They then add 30 at the end for a total of 70, and another 30 at mincha for people who missed the morning service. However, another German congregation of my acquaintance does 100, adding 60 at the end to make up the total.

By the end of the 19th century, most poskim were pushing for 100 to become universal. Both the Mishnah Brurah and the Aruch Hashulchan argued for 100, following the Shelah, who was influenced by Kabbalah, which in turn was influenced by the customs of Sephardim. So today, the current Sephardic custom, also used by R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, is 30; 10,10,10 in the silent amidah, 10,10,10 in the repeition, and 10 more at the end, making 100. Sephardim add a 101st Teruah Gedolah at the end.

So when Artscroll reports that this is "almost universal", it is correct. However, one is not justified in concluding from that statement that 100 was always the normal custom. The normal customs seem to have been 40, 42 and 60, until 100 years ago.

And if your eyes aren't spinning at the end of all that, you'll have a better understanding of where our shofar blowing came from, and how much you have to make up if you miss part.


1) I am reliably informed that Breuers blows 100, and has at least since the 1980s. 10 during the Amidah, 30 during Full Kaddish, and 30 after Anim Zmirot

2) R' Arie Folger, Chief Rabbi of the Israelitische Gemeinde Basel, tells me that they blow 70.

3) ADDeRabbi: noted & fixed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

AishDas Shabbaton Elul 2006 III

Friday night's panel discussion, on converting intentional sins (zedonot) to merits (zechuyot) through Repentance from Love is available here, hosted by AishDas.

In case I don't get to write up more substantial summaries, here are my initial notes from the first two sessions at the Shabbaton:

Lessons of 12/23 - how do I change my life? (R' Micha Berger):

How have we changed? teshuvah? what about "one day before we die"

How do we change? Micha narrated his experiences on 9/11, walking into and back out of the cloud of debris, since he came from Battery Park, walking up the island to his brother on 97th, tremendous sense of everyone helping everyone else, getting home at 11-12 at night. Everyone said "the world changed, we have changed", but after a year, let alone five, is it really that changed?

One thing I've sadly noticed is that every year I do teshuvah for pretty much the same things.

There is a verse in Devarim (Deut) which reads "The 'Eyes' of G-d are on [the Land of Israel] from reishis hashanah ad acharis shanah -- the beginning of the year until the end of a year." The Satmar Rav points out the asymmetery; first the use of "hashanah", "THE year", but it closes with just "shanah", "A year".

The Satmar Rav notes that unfortunately that is the way with most of us. Every year, when it begins, we are all excited and determined. "This is going to be THE year!" The year I finally have the patience my children deserve, the year I get to synagogue regularly, the year... But the year goes by, and by the end, it's just "a year", another year on the calendar.

To avoid this, we need to look at teshuvah as a process, not as a goal. How do I keep getting better, rather than how far am I from my ideal state? Paraphrasing Kierkegaard: becoming not being. Teshuvah as a process, not as a one-shot deal on Yom Kippur or even during Elul, but on-going:

Don't focus on "who do I want to be", but "how do I keep becoming better" - teshuvah is stepping on the accelerator, not arriving at a destination.

* * *

Lo Tisna: hate blocks repentance between people (R' Micha Berger, discussion facilitators R' Gil Student, Dr. Shani Bechhofer):

The verse links "do not hate your brother in your heart, rebuke your compadre, do not bear sin on behalf of your brother"

Hate in the heart rather than openly. Rather, one should air the hate, resolve it, restore shalom if possible, and thus not bear the sin of hate because of one's ongoing unresolved issues.

Hate is not anger, hate is a state, while anger is immediate, reaction.

Anger is taken care of with "lo tikom velo titor". hate is separate issur.

Hate - Rambam? - better to clear the air with your fellow, if you hate him - this is tochacha - "i don't like to bring this up, but you know, what you said/did the other day really hurt me"

Pragmatic suggestions: if you're tired of hating the other, just lie in his favor, say you were wrong - sheker is OK in the cause of shalom, saith the Gemara.

Try to clear the air with the other, don't keep it bottled up, because it will come out in even worse ways, when you interact with that person or in similar situations.

Tape timings for the mp3 file, about 90 min. all told

0-3:30 Stu Feldhamer's intro with gemara
3:30-26:20 R' Sokol
26:20-52:30 Gil
52:30-82:40 Micha
82:40-88:45 questions
88:45-end Stu wraps up

AishDas Shabbaton Elul 2006 II

Report on Panel: Shivisi: Keeping G-d Before Me in This World
R' Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. Discussion groups facilitated by R' Bechhofer and Sharon Kantrowitz. Someone else will have to report on Sharon's group.


R’ Bechhofer:
Going to address something I’m not all that knowledgeable about, in the spirit of practical processes of improvement, the theme of AishDas and this event.
Read & translated Ps 16, where it is found. "Shivis Hashem Lenegdi Tamid, ki miymini bal emot." I have placed Hashem opposite me eternally, so as not to budge from my right. Shav’ – placed, also hishtavvut, equanimity.

It’s very hard for us as Americans to maintain concentration on anything for more than 5-7 seconds – which is why TV news switches positions or cameras that often, to keep up attention.

But we are to visualize the Divine Name, YKVK, before us at all times. The Name itself. There is some quality to the Name that we can use it. However, the name is a stand-in, since we can’t really imagine the Infinite.

We should, however, be able to train ourselves to imagine the Name before us, for a few minutes a day, and see how that changes us. Ideally, for Shma and Shmone Esreh – the Rambam requires us to think about God all day. He tried himself just to reach thinking about God 22 out of 24 hours a day, but thinking about God all day was the level of the prophets.

One starts by trying to say Shma and the first two paragraphs of Shmone Esreh with proper kavvanah – this alone is a work of years. This requires a visualized focus. The Piaseczner Rebbe, in Poland before the War, went so far as to say that if one can’t do it any other way, one can bedieved use the Raavad’s position that imagining God with a body is not apikorsus, and use one’s God-image as a focus. Can you imagine? Allowing the Raavad lehalacha today? But this was so important.
One should visualize the Name hanging in front of one, ideally in black letters on white parchment, in Torah script, or better as black fire on white fire.

What’s the goal? As Metzudos says, if I keep Hashem before me always, I will have equanimity (same root: shav and hishtavvus). We say “lenegdi”, not “lefanai” (opposite me, not before me). Before me is easy. Opposite me, well, that opposes my tendencies to do things not for God’s sake. Limiting my reactions. Keeping me towards equanimity.

Reactions from discussion:

Micha & I, with prompting from R’ Bechhofer, explained visualizations that we’ve used in similar contexts. Micha visualizes a white light, coming from Infinitely far away, down tohim, when saying the Name, in the first bracha of the Shmone Esreh – the Name Havayah, the Name of Existence, as fundamentally we are created beings to whom God gives Existence at all times. I, following R’ Brill, sometimes do a thing visualizing pickin up the letters of God’s name, cleaning them off, hanging them in a row, then setting the Name a little above my line of vision, to be a focus for further mystical ascents.

Much discussion about keeping God’s middos before one, vs. keeping God (and/or as represented by His Name) before one – special quality to the Name.

Difficulties with imaging things. R’ Bechhofer was convinced he couldn’t do so at all, until someone took him through it. The AriZal says it’s better to imagine the Name inside one, a bit behind the head.

AishDas Shabbaton Elul 2006 I

First reactions: boy am I tired. 18 hours yesterday, almost all ON, from Shacharit, through first panel, and lunch, and lunch discussion with Micha and Steg, and Mark L., and afternoon panel, and mincha shaleshudis maariv, and melave malka, and selichos, and finally home at 1:30 AM.

Attendees raved about it: "better than last time, amazing job, terrific discussions". Others thought we packed too much program into the day.

Much of it was the R' Micha Berger Show, with considerable contributions from Rabbi & Dr. Bechhofer, and from R' Gil Student, as well as Yavneh's own Rabbi Moshe Sokol and Sharon Kantrowitz - anyone know good speakers on pragmatic mussar (rather than abstract shmuessen)?. As usual, the shul's social-workers contributed a lot to the discussion.

Somewhat lower attendance than last two times, we had 38 at the dinner, 8 of whom were invited guests. Also, less than 50 at the Melave Malka, where we had 70+ last time. I think the timing, so close to Yamim Noraim, despite the great idea of "getting ready for the teshuvah season", put some people off - more shul time, more to pay for at the same time as shul dues and seats, etc.

It would be nice if more people who participate verbally on the Aishdas email lists took the idea of a bricks-and-mortar organization for personal work seriously. Or at least, it would be nice to meet more fellow listmembers. Blogger Ari Kinsberg showed up for Kabbalat Shabbat, and appreciated Micha's davening in the Aishdas singing mode; as he's in the neighborhood, I hope we'll see him at shul in future.

It's someone else's turn now to make AishDas real. Washington Heights, anyone?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Obligatory 9/11 anniversary post

I remember that day, although I missed it all but the shouting (didn't realize it was happening, being alone in the house & not watching the news, until after the towers fell), but I don't want to remember it. I have not yet gone to see Ground Zero. I worked across the street the summer after high school, I was in & out of the WTC complex every day, taking walks, eating lunch, watching the trains come & go. I was in the complex on 9/9/01, taking the train to see my mother-in-law, two days before the end. I can't go see it, look down into it, it's too hard, even to think about it brings tears to my eyes.

But what bothers me as well, is not the pain of the wound to my city, not the pain of the deaths of thousands, not the pain of the individual stories, but the pain of the wound to my country and its ideals which I hold dear.

This is a country founded on certain ideals, of rugged individualism, of civil liberty, of speaking truth to power, of government of the people, by the people and for the people.

It has become a country of fear, paranoia, greedy self-interested government officials, us-vs-them, rich-vs-poor, management-vs-unorganized-labor, suppression of civil rights, theft of elections, and well on the way to Nehemiah Scudder's government.

The result of 9/11, then, is that the terrorists have won. And it's not actually that the terrorists beat us down. We did it to ourselves. We elected a bunch of greedy, elitist, racist SOBs who have systematically done this to us. We have not risen up and thrown the bastards out of office; instead we re-elected them in 2004.

Our government, that is supposed to be for us, has instead used 9/11 as an excuse, a propaganda point, to push us into a needless war based on lies, to suppress our freedom to travel and to assemble, to exert such pressure on the Press that no longer is it the independent critic of government that it needs to be, but is instead a ministry of propaganda. I wish to God there were a liberal media, but with all the fear-mongering about the awful liberal media, there is no more liberal mainstream media, only pro-government and really-pro-government media, unless faced with personal disaster like Katrina.

The country is starting to awaken from its long sleep. Polls predict major anti-incumbency feeling. But the forces of power continue to press down. Now, in the middle of political-primary season, the American Broadcasting Company brings out its propaganda piece, "The Path to 9/11", where the blame for 9/11 is cast almost entirely on the Democrats, where the Clinton administration is accused falsely of doing exactly what the Bush administration actually did (ignoring calls to capture UBL in Saudia Arabia vs. ignoring calls to capture UBL in Tora Bora), to once again promote, falsely, the Government's fear-strategy, their theory that a vote for Democrats is a vote for the enemies of the country. To call one's Honorable Opposition traitors - this undermines the ideals of this country, and once again is an example of the pot calliing the tin can, black.

I'll say it right out: [extreme rhetoric deleted]

UPDATED 9/18/06: Actually, since using such extreme rhetoric hurts real people, rather than affecting those who use such rhetoric in public against me & mine, I cannot bear to keep it on my blog where it has already hurt a friend of many years standing.

Instead, I simply decry in the strongest terms the extreme rhetoric used by certain elements in the leadership of this country, and by their friends in the mainstream media. Such rhetoric has been used in other countries, where it can lead to extreme actions to fit the words. That does not belong on the American stage.

I apologize for trying to use such rhetoric myself. It does not belong in the mouths or pens of decent people anywhere.

[end of update]

* * *

My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of Liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims' pride:
From every mountainside, let Freedom ring!

Our fathers' God, to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing;
long may our land be bright with freedom's holy light;
protect us by thy might, great God, our King.

* * *

O, thus be it ever where freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In god is our trust”;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

* * *

May the good Lord save our land and our people from those who would destroy her in the name of greed, using the name of patriotism.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Plato Beats Aristotle

Someone commented that Kabbalah presently has no place in the Litvish yeshiva world. This is true. But...

In the field of Jewish philosophy, kabbalah is the massive winner over Maimonidean rationalism and philosophic mysticism. Or, Plato is more popular than Aristotle. Or, France and northern Spain beat out Andalusia.

Rambam, for all his brilliance, expressed a philosophy of Judaism that was incomprehensible to the masses. At the same time, however, kabbalah was being developed in France and northern Spain. As a comprehensive religious philosophy that informed every mundane activity with religious meaning, it was much more attractive to most, than a cold intellectual contemplation of the ultimately unknowable God.

Rambam, if anything, was speaking to intellectuals, who were already attracted by Muslim philosophy, and needed a counterbalancing intellectualism to pull them back towards Torah. However, clearly from the Chasidic texts, lots of people can come to some grips with Kabbalistic emanationism.

I'm sure the Rambam would have regarded kabbalism as some kind of shutfut, partnership between the demigod partzufim and the unknowable Divine, akin to gnosticism's division between the evil creator god, and the unknowable god of goodness above it.

But like it or not, Kabbalah is the regnant paradigm, except in the Litvish world.

Certainly it's popular among Sephardim, and among Chasidim. The Litvish stopped teaching it, apparently to stem the tide of Sabbateanism (which was based on misreadings of Kabbalah), which seems to have worked. The 18th century was rife with it, as it is known that almost all of R' Yonatan Eibeschutz' immediate family, sons-in-law, etc. were Sabbateans, if not RYE himself. By the late 19th century, it was gone. Chassidism remapped it as a psychological guide and meditation scheme, and created the godly rebbe system, which defused the messianic impulse. I don't know how the Sefardim defused the Sabbatean bomb.

Meanwhile, today, there is lots of spiritual searching. The Kalte Litvaks have failed to impress the emotional content of a true insular Yiddishe life on their students. Rav YBS often complained about this - they have the knowledge, but not the emotional connection, they don't cry on Yom Kippur. So, naturally, we are turning once again to the emotional frameworks of Kabbalah and Chasidut, to inform our observance with love, with dveikus, etc. Temimus isn't enough, if there isn't an emotional component, so we turn to dveykus.

Even aside from the Bergian cultists, there is a tremendous resurgence in Kabbalism, both in the Orthodox world (Bnei Baruch, followers of R' Baruch Ashlag, opponents of the Berg co-optation of R' Ashlag pere, and others) and in the secular world (Bergism).

BRGS seems to finally be stepping into this, recognizing that kabbalah has become a real force in even the Misnagdish world again (the Vilna Gaon was a major kabbalist, R' Chaim Volozhin wrote in Kabbalistic metaphor in Nefesh HaChaim), requiring some familiarity with these schools of thought. It's a good thing, a broadening thing, that will help them speak to their congregants.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Meme: upon how many transit systems have you traveled?

Got at!