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