The Ethical Problems of Hunting

The rabbis never hunted except with nets or with traps because it still allowed for kosher slaughter, but with regard to the bow and the arrow, or a gun, these methods of hunting rendered an animal a “nevalah” and therefore is not a Kosher manner of slaughter.

Wild animals considered acceptable for food and thus apparently hunted included the hart, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep (all listed in Deut. 14:5). Along with hunting, fishing (Isa. 19:8) and trapping birds with nets[1] are mentioned.

The Sages of antiquity have long taken a negative view of hunting. The 19th century German Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine once observed that Jews have historically identified more with the hunted, than the hunter. Hein’s thought is quite accurate.

Philo of Alexandria (ca. 1st century) observed that hunting was as “a sort of prelude to and representation of the wars and dangers that have to be encountered against the enemy.” Western history with its obsession with violence certainly bears this out.  Another 1st century Jewish intellectual, Flavius Josephus, tells us that Herod the Great enjoyed hunting on horseback and he adds that Herod was one of the most violent men ever to have ruled Judea.[2]

One famous Responsa dating back in the 18th century, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, the Chief Rabbi of Prague, was asked whether hunting with a rifle was permitted or not.  In his reply, Landau notes that the only hunters mentioned in the Tanakh are Nimrod and Esau—neither of whom happened to be Israelites. Hunting was never a common occupation among our people. Hunting for sport engenders cruelty within the human breast. In short, hunting for sport or for adventure,  is certainly forbidden; however,  if it is for other constructive reasons (e.g., clothing etc.,) it is then permitted. It goes without saying that if an animal poses a serious public health danger, e.g., a rabid dog, hunting such an animal is indeed necessary. Beyond that, Landau notes that anyone who recklessly exposes himself to danger violates the biblical precept of not endangering one’s health.[3]

Some years ago, when I was touring Mexico, some of the natives asked me if I would like to attend a bullfight. I politely turned the request down, but the invitation did remind me about  a wonderful story I read about Albert Schweitzer, who once wrote in his diary about an invitation he received while he was visiting Barcelona. Schweitzer recalls, “In bright dresses, and fluttering head scarves, all the young women were going in one direction: the arena. They were going to witness how enraged bulls would split open the bellies of poor mules with their horns, and then how they themselves to the jubilation of the crowds were tortured to death. The director of the large music society whose guest I was, addressed me, saying, You must come! You must see it at least once; otherwise you won’t know what Spain is! . . . The man was a deeply pious artist with whom I was seriously conversing just this morning concerning Christianity.”

Perhaps Gandhi was partially correct when he said one can measure the humanity of a civilization by the way they treat its animals. After reading Schweitzer’s passage, something suddenly dawned upon me:  Wasn’t Spain the same country that tortured and persecuted millions of people all over the European and American world when they zealously enforced their infamous Inquisition?  Our Sages stated it eloquently centuries ago:   Human beings are shaped by behavior( adam ni’fal ki’fee pi’u’la’tov).  This observation still holds true even today. How we treat animals in our society does indicate something important about our behavior as a civilized species and our attitude about sentient lifeforms–along with our ethical responsibilities and duties.


[1] See also Amos 3:5; Prov. 6:5; Pss. 91:3; 124:7.

[2] Wars of the Jews, 1.21.13.

[3] Noda B’Yehuda Vol. 2.,  Responsa 10.

How many people really constitute a minyan–and why?

The custom of the minyan is only rabbinic in origin. When examining the minyan’s origins, it is vital we remember that this custom is not something that is etched in stone. However, as a custom, it does have a rich and variegated history that cannot be reduced to a single point of view–nor should it be.

The origin of the minyan is discussed in the Talmud. Some expositions are much more oblique than others  [1], while other suppositions are by far, more lucid. The Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat Miketz 6) explains that since the time of Abraham’s famous defense of the Sodomites, namely that a “congregation” consisted no less than ten people, for ten constitutes an “edah” a “community.” On the other hand, that both Talmudic traditions stress only men make up a “congregation,” even though the Abrahamic story clearly indicates that women also made up part of the minyan Abraham was seeking to extricate!! [2]

On the other hand, there are other rabbinical passages dating back to the Gaonic era (8th-10th centuries) that in Palestine, a minyan consisted may have consisted of seven or six people.[3]

The liturgical historian Abraham Milgram notes that after WWII, a number of Jewish communities actually went back to counting six or seven people as a “minyan,” until the time their ranks would grow in number. This specifically happened in the city of Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. Incidentally, the framers of the Halacha were well aware of this possibility and its antecedents in Jewish tradition.  In functional terms they ruled, if a prayer leader began saying the Kaddish, or for that matter any other portion of the service that would ordinarily require ten people[3], one may conclude any of these services so long as at least six men remain in the sanctuary.[4]

Some sources suggest that even nine people could constitute a minyan so long as the Ark is open; this does not mean that the “Ark is a person,” but rather God’s Presence can also make up as the “tenth man” so to speak.  There is some Aggadic basis for this custom. When Joseph disappeared, the verse later says that “his father wept for him,” which could mean either Jacob (the plain meaning of the text) or possibly, Isaac. One Midrashic account raises an obvious question: “If Isaac knew that Joseph was alive, why doesn’t he reveal this fact to Jacob?” The Midrash answers, “The Holy One, blessed be He, has not revealed it to him; am I then to reveal it to him?” This statement gave rise to the odd rabbinic theory that God was part of the brothers’ conspiracy never to reveal the whereabouts of Joseph!!

Elsewhere, the Halacha mentions a number of other secondary Halachic references indicate that even a child may be used to make up the 10th person of a minyan—so long as he knows how to pray or holds a chumash in his hand (O.H. 55:4, see Mishnah Berurah on note 24), or according to another Ba’al HaMaor (cited in by the Rav 55:5), even four minors may be added to the minyan. One medieval source, Rabbanu Simcha adds that even a woman may count as the tenth person; it is remarkable that R. Sheneir Zalman of Liadi rules in his Rav’s Shulchan Aruch (O.H. 55:5) that one may rely on this lenient opinion—despite the fact that one would never expect to see such a leniency ever practiced in a Lubavitcher minyan!!

This type of reasoning is called, “pilpul” (pepper), and such didactic approaches while they may be interesting, are obviously far from being the contextual meaning of the text.

When examining rabbinic traditions regarding the minyan, it is important to bear in mind that in rabbinic times, only men attended the congregations to pray. In reality it is not the interpretation of the verse that creates the custom, but quite the reverse: it is the already existing custom that creates the interpretation that justifies its etiology.  Nowadays, since women also form a part of our society’s leadership, there is ample reason to argue that a woman should be included as part of the minyan. As social realities change, so too does the interpretation. This is the way it has always been, there is no logical or compelling reason to think otherwise.


[1]One traditional source in T.B. Megillah 23b records that a minyan derives a semantic connection regarding the word “midst,” mentioned in the precept of sanctifying God’s Name (Lev. 22:32) and another passage that speaks about Moses and Aaron separating themselves from the “midst,” of the congregation (16:21). Concerning the latter, the term “midst” is used in conjunction with the phrase “congregation,” i.e.,  the ten spies who brought back a negative report of the Land of Israel. This interpretation is hopelessly contorted and forced.

[2] Tractate Soferim 10:8. According to the Zohar: זוהר – השמטות כרך א (בראשית) דף רנה עמוד א
, וכשאינה מוצא חוזרת ופותחת ואומרת רבש”ע אולי ימצאון שם עשרה כלומר אולי ימצא ביניהם מי שעוסק בעשרה מאמרות ובעשרת הדברות בכל יום וכן אולי ימצאון ביניהם עשרה שמקדימים לבית הכנסת דהא תנן כל הנמנה עם עשרה ראשונים לבית הכנסת נוטל שכר כנגד כלם שבאים אחריו מה כתיב לא אשחית בעבור העשרה כל זה יש לנשמת הצדיק ללמד סניגורייא וזכות על הרשעים להשקיט האף והחמה וכיון שלא מצאה שום זכות ללמד

[3] Rabbanu Yona of Gerona (ca. 14th century, Spain)  notes that not all rituals which sanctify the Almighty’s name are classified as “de’varim shebikdusha” ( BT Berachot 21a, s.v., “v’nik’dash’ti”). Such examples would include: Kedusha, Cha’zor’at Hashatz, Ne’si’at Kapayim, K’riat Hatorah, or the recitation of the  Haftorah with its accompanying blessings. Simply put, the acceptance of the heavenly yoke in the recitation of the “Shema” is not a precept requiring a minyan per se.  Wherever there is a sanctification of God’s Name, that is where a minyan is thus required. These specific services cannot be performed in the absence of the minyan quorum. There are other important implications with respect to the precept of martyrdom that requires that one be willing to die in the presence of at least ten Jews–and Maimonides makes no distinction about the gender or even the age of these individuals. Since the laws of minyan derive from this particular biblical precept, it follows that there is ample room for a different and newer kind of deconstruction of the minyan concept that modern Orthodox rabbis have neglected to consider.

[4] O.H. 55:2, with the Mishnah Berurah’s notes.

[5] See Genesis Rabbah 84:22.

“Let me introduce you to the other members of my gang…”

The New York Post and other newspapers around the country (e.g., The Forward and numerous other Jewish papers) printed a sordid story about a prominent Orthodox rabbi, who plays a major role in approving Orthodox conversions. Evidently this rabbi was caught on tape expressing his infatuation toward a “shiksa” he was converting to Judaism.

That part really didn’t surprise me very much. Many rabbis across denominational lines have oftentimes fallen in love with a gentile woman studying for conversion. It’s been going on since the days of Ruth and Boaz. But this case is different. The rabbi involved, allegedly encouraged her to have sex with his Orthodox friends.

Wait a minute–this part does not sound like Ruth and Boaz at all!

The young woman said that Rabbi Leib Tropper of Rockland County used to tell her, “If you fulfill my needs, I’ll fulfill yours – and you need a conversion.”

Some of you may wonder: Who is this guy?

In American and Haredi circles, Tropper is the vanguard for American Haredism and founder of the “Eternal Jewish Family,” until now, has put tremendous pressure on Modern Orthodox rabbis to accept only converts who adopt a Charedi lifestyle as viable candidates.

Not long ago, Rabbi Tropper even nullified a conversion he himself had carried out because the female convert was seen wearing trousers (It is ironic that Tropper had no difficulty for  allegedly offering Ms Orand a conversion for removing hers). Another EJF leader declared in 2007 that any rabbi who believes the world is older than 5,768 years is ineligible to sit on a conversion court. Rabbi Nate Slivkin was totally disenfranchised, tarred and feathered by Tropper and his organization.

Their biggest success came in 2006, when the Israeli rabbinate declared it would not recognize Orthodox conversions carried out in America, except by a tiny group of mostly Haredi rabbis. This was seen as a deliberate (and successful) attempt, spurred on by EJF, to disenfranchise Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Now back to our story…

Tropper encouraged pretty, blond Shannon Orand of Houston to participate in phone sex and actual sex with men the rabbi knows, including one he calls “the Satmar guy.” Based on the alleged charges, Rabbi Tropper could be heard discussing  the possibility of her sleeping with other men and to perform phone sex with them. One tape appears to capture phone sex between Tropper and the woman. Another purports to show the aftermath of a sexual encounter between this woman, Tropper and Tropper’s wife.

Why did such a thing happen? Rabbi Tropper was once considered the darling of the Haredi world; here is a man who possess seven (or possibly four–according to one of his students I personally know) ordinations (I myself only have two), and was considered to be to be a “gaon,” a “Talmudic genius,” by some.

Haredim would be wise to remember that no Jewish court–regardless how Orthodox it purports to be–can “make” a person Jewish. As the scholar Adin Steinzaltz writes, every conversion is something that occurs within the heart of the conversion candidate. All the rabbinical tribunal can do is merely attest that this process has taken place. Tragically, the “Who is a Jew?” issue, largely promoted by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe,” is responsible for creating the kind of divisiveness that is destroying the lives of not only Conservative or Reform “Jews by choice,” but even the lives of Orthodox converts. No rabbi has the right to use his power to retroactively negate a conversion of any candidate. This flatly contradicts the Halacha itself, and it opens the door for the kind of abuses we see in the Tropper case.

To its credit, the Orthodox RCA has come out with the following press release:

We are deeply appalled, saddened and pained by reports that have reached us concerning alleged inappropriate behavior on the part of the chairman of the rabbinic committee of the Eternal Jewish Family, Rabbi Leib Tropper. We need to wait for more complete information before we can react fully.

Nonetheless, at this time, we would make the following points clear:

1.      What we have heard, if true, violates the fundamental elements of all that Judaism holds sacred.

2.      We urge anyone who might have been victimized to seek appropriate counseling and we, at the Rabbinical Council of America, remain ready to refer anyone who needs such assistance to the appropriate professionals.

In the final analysis, we cannot be “a light unto the nations,” until we first become a light to ourselves.

I would also add that the time has come for Jews everywhere to stop using the pejorative Yiddish term, “shiksa” that describes a non-Jewish woman. Although the term is meant humorously, its derivation indicates the exact opposite. The word “shiksa” is partially derived from the Hebrew term sheketz, which means “abomination”, “impure,” “reptile,” or “object of loathing.” Any sane and moral person ought to ask: How can a beautiful creation of God be an “abomination” to anyone?  This type of cultural stereo-typing of non-Jewish persons diminishes human beings in a manner that is truly contrary to the ethical principles of the Divine Image that each of us is made in. If anyone is truly an “abomination,” it is the individual who flagrantly disparages God’s creations.

Musician Bob Dylan once wrote in one of his popular songs he played with the Traveling Wilburys, “Dirty World Lyrics” which reads, “I can’t wait to introduce you to the other members of my gang . . .” Perhaps Dylan’s words best describes Rabbi Leib Tropper’s unorthodox and loathsome behavior.

Amazingly, Ms. Orand remains as determined as ever to get her Orthodox conversion. We can only marvel at her determination and will-power.