Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

Image result for lion pride

The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

From Medieval Book Burning to Modern Internet Censorship

Image result for book burning pictures medieval              Image result for book burning pictures medieval

 Information is the currency of democracy. —Thomas Jefferson

When I was a young sixteen-year-old, I remember becoming involved in the Chabad movement in Los Angelos, CA. I remember purchasing a translation of Judah Halevi’s classic theological work, “The Kuzari” that was translated by the early 20th-centuryOriental scholar Hartwig Hirschfeld. When an Orthodox rabbi looked over the book, he declared it, “heresy”, and ordered me to burn my newly purchased book. At the time, I protested and asked, “Could I merely pull out the Introduction and burn that section, but keep the book?” He said that would be fine.

For many years, I felt ashamed of my behavior. Several decades later I decided to use this personal anecdote as a teachable lesson. Often, I have long since pointed out to my students, burning ideas is a cowardly approach to dealing with personal insecurities about faith, as Freud observed long ago in his book, The Future of an Illusion. The only way to defeat ideas you don’t like is to come up with better and more convincing ideas and solutions.

The historian Norman Bentwich (1883-1971) wrote, “Philosophers tend to be viewed with suspicion by a large part of the community. Philosophers, by the very excellence of their thought, have in all races towered above the comprehension of the people, and have often aroused the suspicion of the religious teachers.” [1]

Bentwich makes a valid point. In the history of Judaism over the last 1900 years, Talmudists often viewed Jewish philosophers with a measure of mistrust, accusing them of harboring beliefs that were too dangerous for the masses. Throughout much of the yeshiva world, from the 18th century to the 21st century, no rabbinic student dared pick up the Guide to study—at least during the daytime, but you could see students huddled in their rooms, or sometimes even under a table reading the Guide clandestinely.

Maimonides’ philosophical ideas met considerable resistance in his day, and in the year 1233, not long after his death, Jewish leaders solicited the Dominican inquisitors and claimed Maimonides’ “heretical” teachings threatened to undermine all faiths. As one might expect, they burnt Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed at Montpellier, in southern France.

But a change of heart even amongst Maimonides’ greatest critics occurred once they realized they inadvertently made themselves vulnerable to future Dominican incursions. Within almost a decade, Pope Gregory IX led a campaign to burn other books held sacred by Jews, such as the Talmud. In the year 1242, the Catholic clergy collected twenty-four wagons of the Talmud, which they burnt in Rome. Thus, a dangerous precedent became established.

This condemnation was all the more ironic, considering how the Dominican theologians Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) each appropriated many ideas from Maimonides.[2] In the Summa, Aquinas quotes R. Moses twenty-four times, always reverently referring to him as, “Rabbi Moses.”  Aquinas, in particular, was an Italian Dominican priest and Doctor of the Church.

After Aquinas’ death, William of Ockham (1285-1321) and John Duns Scotus attempted to ban Thomas’ works as dangerous to the Church. Yet, the quest for a pure and acceptable theology did not end with William of Ockham’s condemnation of Aquinas, for in 1324, the Catholic Church later condemned some of Ockham’s works as containing heretical ideas,[3] thus proving that Bentwich’s point was correct, as mentioned above.

Back to the Present

You may ask: Is this relevant? It definitely is! The above historical discussion about censorship proved to be one of many indictments for the medieval Church and rabbis who engaged in that kind of intellectual internecine warfare against their faith’s freethinkers and other intrepid intellectual explorers. But nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, it is all the atrocious for Facebook and Twitter to engage in blocking political content of ideas its leaders and engineers find “offensive.”

Today, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released a surprise but damning report on Thursday that shows Twitter employees admitting they censor people’s’ right-leaning accounts, including banning them from the network because they do not agree with their political views! Had this happened in Russia, Iran, or China, none of us would be surprised—but in the 21st century United States? This is truly an affront to our society!

One Twitter employee named Pranay Singh, admitted that the majority of their algorithms are geared in such a manner that they target people with certain political views. Their method is insidious, they “shadow ban” right-leaning accounts, which essentially bans them from the platform without letting them know that they have been banned while allowing left-leaning accounts to slip through without the same scrutiny.” And they unabashedly admit:

  • “Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck,” Singh explained. “Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.” “I would say majority of it are for Republicans,” he confirmed. [4]

Many friends of mine on Facebook often get in the Facebook jail for asserting political views that the Facebook leadership does not like or approve. Let us hope that a class action suit is initiated. This is a battle that anyone along the political spectrum ought to agree upon. The Left would not like it if the political right behaved this way. Ideas deserve to be heard and debated in the public forum.



[1] Norman Bentwich, Philo of Alexandria (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1910), p. 7.

[2] See Jeremiah M. Hackett (ed.), A Companion to Meister Eckhart: Brill’s Companions to the  Christian Tradition (Boston: Brill, 2013).

[3] Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), p. 350.

[4] https://www.projectveritas.com/video/hidden-camera-twitter-engineers-to-ban-a-way-of-talking-through-shadow-banning/

 

 

Novel ideas needed for Simchat Torah

Image result for Simchat Torah pictures

Simchat Torah is a relatively new holiday. Nowhere is it mentioned in the Talmud; nor is it mentioned in Maimonides or the Tur Shulchan Aruch. But it is explicitly mentioned in the Zohar,[1] a work that dates back to about 1270—although it is a holiday that probably began many centuries earlier when the Babylonian and Palestinian communities finished reading their Torah cycles. Undoubtedly, just as the conclusion of Talmudic tractate always served as a festive occasion—it is a certainty Jews rejoiced in deed whenever their communities finished reading the Torah.[2]

And now for my story . . .

One of my Modern Orthodox colleagues, who works as a day-school teacher  in New York, surprised many of us with a candid remark about his experience of Simchat Torah. He confessed that he struggled with the holiday more so than any of the other High Holidays of the year. He felt that its celebration felt “mailed in and tired.”

Interestingly enough, several other Orthodox friends chimed in and expressed similar thoughts. Some complained about the length of the service. Some people felt they preferred making their own “personal” Simchat Torah concluding a Talmudic tractate or section of the Mishnah. Others thought the synagogues lengthen the Hakafot beyond the realm of sensibility.

As I thought about this discussion, I realized that many people may feel simply overwhelmed with the plethora of holidays we celebrate this time of the year. In other words, people’s ambivalence may in fact reflect tiredness.

Here at Chula Vista’s Temple Beth Shalom, most of our growing congregation is made up of Spanish members who have re-embraced Judaism over the last several years. I often like to tell them about how marvelous their spiritual journey has been for them. Despite several centuries of efforts to forcibly convert the Spanish Jews to Christianity, the Church failed. The fact they are here among us is proof positive that the Jewish spark of their ancestral identities could not ever be destroyed. So it remained dormant—but on one unexpected day, something awoke from within them.

Reclaiming the “lost children” of Latin American countries can help revitalize any Jewish community that is willing to welcome them back. One of my favorite newly minted Spanish Jews went with his friend to a Chabad store on Fairfax Ave. The rabbi had no problem asking the Jewish woman to say a blessing over the lulav, but when her Spanish friend asked to say the blessing, the rabbi looked at this dark-skinned Spanish looking Jew in total disbelief. “Are YOU Jewish?” he asked. “Yes I am,” and he took the lulav and etrog and said the appropriate blessing—while the Rabbi looked astonished.

It is high time we welcome back our Spanish Jews. We are the “Jewish people” and not “The Jewish Club.” It is time to welcome back all the lost Jewish tribes. That is debt we owe to our ancestors. We can do no less.

At our shul on Simchat Torah night, you could see all the Spanish Jewish men and women lost in a state of ecstasy, as they danced with the Torah. Since we have trouble getting a Minyan on the second day of Yom Tov, I instituted that we finish the Torah on Simchat Torah night; everyone celebrated with clapping and dancing, as we danced throughout the synagogues with our Torah scrolls, and on the sidewalk facing the shul for the whole world to see.

This modern custom actually dates back to the time when Russian Jews lived under the yoke of Soviet tyranny. The Russian government allowed Jews to affirm their Jewish identity by letting them dance in the streets. Elie Wiesel once commented that he was deeply amazed by the joy these Jews exhibited whenever he visited Moscow when he joined them in their celebration of Simchat Torah.[3]

For obvious reasons, this was something all the Spanish Jews of TBS could easily relate to; and so too, they all danced.

Even on Shabbat, at the end of the Torah reading, we took out all the Torah scrolls so that everyone who could not make it to the Shul on Simchat Torah could dance on Shabbat Bereishit—the first new parsha of the year. I explained that Shabbat absorbs the holiness of all the other days of the week, and that the lesson of Simchat Torah reminds us that everyone needs to celebrate the study of the Torah not only once a year—but throughout the year as well.

As rabbis, we need to think more imaginatively of how we can make the holidays more meaningful; sometimes, thinking outside the box can go a long way in improving the spirit of this most remarkable holiday.

*

[1]Zohar 1:33; Raya Mehemna  Vol. 3; Parshat Pinchas 256b; Tikunei Zohar 56a.

[2] Other rabbinic sources record the observance  of Simchat Torah in a number of communities.   The Machzor Vitri 185 (an important 11th Halakhic work) describes the observance in clear detail and it corresponds exactly to how we nowadays observe Simchat Torah. In one passage he describes how the Second Day of Shimini Atsereth was observed in the French communities. The name “Simchat Torah” came only later.

[3]Elie Wiesel, The Jews of Silence, ch. 5.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, California.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

A Rabbinic Commentary on Trump’s Tallit

Image result for trump wears Tallit image

 

This past weekend, Detroit pastor Bishop Wayne Jackson draped a tallit around Donald Trump’s shoulders at service. What was the Jewish reaction? Well, that takes us to the rest of the story that I am about to tell you.

Most Jews I know are probably confused about seeing Donald Trump wearing a tallit. Some of my congregants said, “He looks ridiculous!” Another said, “Non-Jews are not supposed to wear a tallit!” One old friend of mine from San Francisco reacted with righteous indignation: How dare these Christians co-opt our religious symbols and heritage!

One Conservative Rabbi, named Danya Rutenberg twittered: “You guys, a Jewish prayer shawl–a tallit–is a ritual garment. Meant to be worn only by Jews. This is the worst kind of appropriation,” Conservative Rabbi Danya Rutenberg wrote on Twitter. She also called the move “disrespectful” in subsequent tweets. “Yes, my people also suffer cultural appropriation,” Twitter user Andy Rivkin added.

Let us flip this question on its proverbial head: What if Bishop Jackson had given the tallit to Hillary, or Barak Hussein Obama to wear? Would our reaction as a community be the same? In all candor, Rabbi Rutenberg would probably qvell and wish Hillary or Obama a hearty, “Yashar Koach” with  raucous applause–especially if she were in the picture!

One question that most people haven’t asked yet is, “Why do some Christian evangelicals insist upon wearing a tallit in the first place?” Some Christian evangelical ministers I know have told me that they wear the tallit because Jesus wore a tallit in the first century during his ministry.

Interestingly, one of the oldest references to the wearing of tsitsit outside the Talmud or Midrashic literature can be found in the Book of Matthew, where Jesus criticized some of the Pharisees of his day, “They perform all their actions to be seen by men. They broaden their phylacteries; they wear outsize tassels” (Mat 23:5). Yet despite Jesus’s criticism of what he felt was a gaudy display of religious piety, Jesus wore tsitsit (Mat. 9:20). Evangelicals often feel that more of their people should try to practice the Judaism that Jesus practiced in his day, so that they may become more like him. A lot of evangelical ministers actually sound the shofar at the beginning of their services.

Frankly, that’s not a bad idea.

Their motivation in my view is not a sign of disrespect, but actually a sign of respect that we should all admire. Evangelicals believe that by blessing the people of Israel, they too will be blessed:

 Those that bless you I will bless,

those that curse you, I will execrate.

All the families on earth

will pray to be blessed as you are blessed.’

(Genesis 12:3).

The phenomenon of Christian Zionism has proven to be a tremendous source of moral and financial support for our brothers and sisters living in Israel. Orthodox rabbis like Shlomo Riskin heaps praise upon the Evangelical community every Christiams. Palestinian merchants too are glad to see these Christian pilgrims as well. During the war with Hezbollah, one of my Reform colleagues from Illinois felt deeply moved when he saw the number of Born-Again Christians and evangelicals travel to Israel in the middle of the war to assist the country any way they can.

Are they not infinitely superior to the self-righteous Presbyterians, Methodists, and  the United Church of Christ who often demonize the State of Israel in their weekly Sunday services?

Beyond that, in praise of the Evangelicals, I will go one-step further.

It is this writer’s opinion, if Christians wish to observe certain Jewish customs, they have every right to do so, moreover such a view is actually well-attested in traditional rabbinic sources.

Now some of you might be surprised to know that the Talmud speaks about Gentiles following Jewish traditions.

In one Talmudic passage, the King Arteban of Persia one day sent a gift to Rabbi Judah.  The gift was an exquisite and quite expensive pearl.  The king’s only request was that the rabbi send a gift in return that was of equal value.  Rabbi Judah sent the Persian king a mezuzah. King Arteban was displeased with the gift and came to confront the rabbi.  “What is this?  I sent you a priceless gift and you return this trifle?” The rabbi said, “Both objects are valuable, but they are very different.  You sent me something that I have to guard, while I sent you something that will guard you.”[1]

What kind of protection was Rabbi Judah alluding to? The divine Name Shaddai is written on the back of every mezuzah. Shaddai is an acronym “Shomer Dalatot Yisrael” “Guardian of the Doors of Israel” and not people like King Arteban!

One might wonder: What good is sending a mezuzah to a Gentile King who is not a member of the “Jewish tribe”? Yet, the Talmud seems to suggest that just because a non-Jew is not obligated to observe Jewish rituals, if he did observe Jewish rituals, he certainly receives a reward for doing so! Non-Jews are not necessarily excluded from observing Jewish traditions–contrary to Rabbi Rutenburg.

Maimonides makes a remarkable point in his Mishnah Torah, for he writes: We do not prevent a non-Jew who wishes to perform one of the Torah’s mitzvot in order to receive a reward for doing so—provided that he performs it properly.[2] Unfortunately, Maimonides was not always consistent in this regard, for Torah study is meant for Jews only—not non-Jews.[3] He also felt the same about non-Jews wishing to observe the Sabbath.[4] Despite some old rabbinic attitudes that prohibit non-Jews from studying Torah, in practice most rabbis will probably acknowledge that non-Jews (often along with their Jewish spouses) are certainly permitted to study Torah in a synagogue class.

In practice, most Jews are open-minded when it comes to inviting non-Jews to a Passover Seder, a Bar Mitzvah, or a Shabbat service. Even Chabad invites gentiles to light a menorah during Hanukkah!

Perhaps most importantly, how can perspective proselytes know how to observe the mitzvot if we do not grant them access to much of our sacred traditions?

In short, during the medieval world, positive and respectful Jewish-gentile relations were rarer than they are today. When Trump received the tallit from Bishop Wayne Jackson, instead of getting irritated, we should feel proud that Trump gladly donned the tallit. We should feel the same whenever anyone in the non-Jewish community wishes to show respect to our faith and heritage.  Sometimes in our zeal to be “self-righteous” we often demonstrate a lack of broad-mindedness and generosity of spirit.  Only God knows what is in the hearts of mortals, and we would be wise to recognize that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

 


[1] JT Peah 1:1; 15d.

[2] MT Hilchot Melachim 10:10.

[3] BT Sanhedrin 59a. Cf. Tosfot on BT Hagigah 13a s.v. Ein.

[4] MT Hilchot Melachim 10:9.

The Paradox of Bee Honey

Bumblebee (Photo: Wikipedia)

Updated March 6, 2017

We all love bee honey. No Rosh Hashanah meal would be complete without it. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, we find ourselves with a conundrum that has puzzled many rabbinic minds since the days of Late Antiquity. I am referring to the verse in Leviticus, “But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you” (Lev. 11:23). Maimonides explains, “Honey made from bees and hornets[1] is permitted. The reason is that the bees do not actually make the honey from their bodies. Rather, the bees bring the nectar into their bodies, and then it is collected into their mouths from herbs, which they regurgitate into their hive. The purpose of this enables them to provide themselves with food during the rainy season.”[2]

A klatz kashe in Yiddish is an obvious question that any fool can ask, “But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you” You  might counter: Bees have six feet and not four! Actually, bees use its two front arms for gathering pollen, and its four back legs for walking.

The Talmud in BT Bechorot 7a-b discusses an intriguing question: Can something pure come from an impure source? Or, do we say that whatever comes from an impure source, remains ceremonially impure? On the subject of bee-honey, Rashi offers a different exposition from Maimonides; according to him, “The bees bring into their bodies—they eat from the flowers of the tree, and from this they make honey in their intestines.” Scientifically speaking—Rashi’s exposition comes a bit closer to a modern scientific explanation. Perhaps Maimonides might consider Rashi’s exposition as an example of a permitted substance coming out of an unclean source, which the Sages ruled remains “unclean.” However, the science does not really support Maimonides’ explanation. However, according to Livescience.com:

  • Nectar is a sugary liquid that derives from flowers using a bee’s long, tube-shaped tongue and stored in its “crop.” While sloshing around in the crop, the nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage. Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid — nothing like the thick honey you use at the breakfast table. To get all that extra water out of their honey, bees set to work fanning the honeycomb with their wings in an effort to speed up the process of evaporation. When most of the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bee seals the comb with a secretion of liquid from its abdomen, which eventually hardens into beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months. [3]

Ultimately,  R. Sheishet in the Talmud differs from the view and follows R. Yaakov’s opinion that theoretically, were it not for explicit biblical passages permitting honey, bee honey too would have been prohibited as being the product from an unclean source. The passage he is alluding to is from the story of Samson (Judg. 14:6-9; and his famous riddle regarding bee honey to the Philistines.[4] R. Sheishet evidently felt ambivalent about his colleagues’ explanation as to how honey is produced and felt that given their lack of knowledge on this matter, he could find stronger footing in citing a biblical verse to prove his point.

There is an intriguing interpretation found in Philo of Alexandria, who explains on Leviticus 2:11: “Moreover, it also ordains that every sacrifice shall be offered up without any leaven or honey, not thinking it fit that either of these things should be brought to the altar. The honey, perhaps, because the bee which collects it is not a clean animal, inasmuch as it derives its birth, as the story goes, from the putrefaction and corruption of dead oxen, just as wasps spring from the bodies of horses.”  Was Philo thinking of the story regarding Samson, which describes what he discovered after he ripped the lion in half, “… he turned aside to look at the remains of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the lion’s carcass, and honey” (Judg. 14:8)?  Still Philo’s interpretation offers  a theoretical novelty—that is if one assumes the verse is speaking about bee honey. Although its food is edible for human consumption as seen in the Tanakh,  it is considered unworthy for the altar because of its unclean status. This position has no parallel in rabbinical literature. [5]

Among modern scholars, there is a fairly wide consensus that much of the honey referred to in the Bible was not bee honey at all, but is really a sweet syrup that is produced from the fruit of figs, grapes, carobs, and dates. Both kinds are still made in the East and are called dibis (honey) by the Arabs. Hence, the famous expression, “a land flowing with milk and honey” may not be referring to bee honey, but rather to a land blessed with ample fruit.

However, among modern scholars, there is a fairly wide consensus that much of the honey referred to in the Bible was not bee honey at all, but is really a sweet syrup that is produced from the fruit of figs, grapes, carobs, and dates. Both kinds are still made in the East and are called dibis (honey) by the Arabs. Hence, the famous expression, “a land flowing with milk and honey” may not be referring to bee honey, but rather to a land blessed with ample fruit.

 


[1] Maggid Mishnah points out that Maimonides derives his view from a Talmudic discussion where he follows the opinion of the Baraitha namely, that hornet honey wasps are “clean: and permitted for consumption. However, R. Shashet and R. Yaakob differ and regard both of these products as forbidden. Among medieval rabbinic scholars, Ramban and the Rosh take a stringent position on this matter. R. Moshe Isserseles rejects their opinion given the scarcity of hornet honey, thus making it a moot point) See  S.A. Y.D. 81:9.

[2] MT Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 3:3.

[3] http://www.livescience.com/37611-what-is-honey-honeybees.html

[4] For other references to bee honey in the Tanakh, see Ps. 19:11; Prov. 16:24.

[5] Spec. Laws 1:291-293.

When the Complexities of Life Converge with Jewish Tradition

 

 One of the best-known blessings Orthodox Jews recite every day is the blessing, “Thank you God for not making me a woman.”

The recent transformation on the cover of Vanity Fair’s 22-page cover story featuring Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, raises a number of fascinating questions pertaining to Halacha as well as Jewish ethics.

To begin with, persons wishing to undergo transsexual surgery are a minority—in fact one per million men and even less with regard to women. Historically, such surgery began in Europe in the 1930s and in the United States in the 1960s.

Historically, the subject of the saris (eunuch) is recorded about forty times in the Tanakh. Ancient societies often positioned the eunuch as court officials, military commanders, and other positions of high authority (Gen. 37:36; 2 Kgs. 9:32; 25:19; Esther 1:10). In the case of Potiphar, he was married—and his status as  a eunuch probably became the principle reason Madam Potiphar fooled around when he wasn’t looking (see Gen. 39ff.).

Traditional Judaic texts raise a number of issues involved:

  • The prohibition against castration pertains to human beings and animals (Lev. 22:24; cf. BT Shabbat 110b-111a)
  • The prohibition against wounding or crushing genitalia of any person wishing to enter the Jewish community (Deut. 23:2).
  • The prohibition against cross-dressing, which would some scholars argue includes acting like someone of the opposite sex (Deut. 22:5).

Superficially, castrating or neutering an animal is prohibited in the Torah—and this applies no less to human beings.[1] The fundamental proof text derives from the Scriptural text, “He did not create it as a chaos, but to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18). However, we should note that many people—including homosexuals and transgendered people can raise children to fulfill the precept of procreation, much like a heterosexual couple can if one is medically unable to sire or bear children.

According to the 13th century anonymous author of the famous Sefer HaChinuch:

  • The Creator blessed all living beings, to be fruitful and multiply, and even commanded the male of the species of the human on this, that it might endure. Without this imperative, a species would eventually die, as would all of its kind. Therefore, if anyone who destroys the procreative organs of generation, demonstrates that this person cannot tolerate the work of the Creator and desires the destruction of God’s good world.”[2]

If a man underwent such a surgery, would he have to grant his wife a religious divorce?

This question applies no less to performing the levirate marriage, which is now effectively been made null and void.

Traditionalist also wonder “Is intimacy with a transsexual permitted or not?’

In the case of a woman who undergoes the procedure, is she obliged to observe ritual circumcision?

Already, in Israel a practical question arose: A transsexual Jew was prohibited from praying with men in the men’s section, as well as in the women’s section! If Caitlyn were visiting Israel, which section would she attend services at the Western Wall?

In short, some Halachic scholars think that appearance is the driving issue here; ergo, if a man undergoes this procedure, then he is now exempt from performing all the precepts that are traditionally incumbent upon men.  One notable Orthodox scholar who makes this point was Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, who served as a judge in the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. [3]

Of course other scholars differ and think that the transsexual surgery does not impact the halacha in any meaningful way.—Caitlyn  is still considered “Bruce” in terms of fulfilling his manly obligations. According to this perspective, human sexuality is something that is fixed and rigid.[4]  Most notably, Rabbi David Bleich’s views offers a sober exposition of the more conservative Halacha perspective:

  • The commandment, “A woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment” (Deut. 22:5)  is not limited to the wearing of apparel associated with the opposite sex but encompasses any action uniquely identified with the opposite sex, proscribing, for example, shaving of armpits or dyeing of hair by a male.” In this vein, “a procedure designed to transform sexual characteristics violates the very essence of this prohibition.”[5]

One must always keep in mind that among many Orthodox scholars the maintenance of the patriarchal order is one of the most important principles that define masculine power in the Orthodox Jewish community. When a person willfully undergoes such a procedure, the act is often perceived as a serious threat to masculine power. In the Muslim community, this same attitude exists as well.

In short, it is intriguing to note that in Jewish tradition, answers come and go, but a good question is an eternal constant. Some of the questions we discussed here in this brief article may be a good case in point. In any event, personal choices like this question are ultimately a matter of personal conscience–and each person must be true to him or herself. In any event, Jewish ethics demands that we never embarrass or shame any human being–which applies no less to transgendered  men and women.

As society continues to change, it is this writer’s view that Halachic responses will continue to evolve with time.

=====

Notes:

[1] See BT Sanhedrin 56b.

[2] Sefer HaHinnukh, No. 291.

[3] Tzitz Eliezer 2:78.

[4] R. Moshe Steinberg, Assia Vol. 1., p. 144; Nishmat Avraham Even HaEzer 44:3.

[5] David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems (  New York: KTAV & Yeshiva University Press) Vol. 1 – Page 100

*

Rediscovering the Meaning of Yahrzeit

One of the most important but also neglected customs of the year is when we observe the Yahrzeit of a loved one.  It occurs with such frequency that we often will forget about the date altogether because we may have forgotten the Hebrew calendar date.

According to R. Solomon Freehoff, this circumstance is the principle reason why he thinks a secular date of death may be used lest the actual day of Yahrzeit be forgotten. Nevertheless, he encourages synagogues and rabbis to instruct people how to observe the traditional Yahrzeit based on the Hebrew calendar—a point that is pragmatic as it is effective. [1]

With the plethora of Jewish calendar programs available in Android, determining the Yahrzeit is no longer a daunting task. Yet, human laziness being what it is, it is still easy to overlook a Yahrzeit—whether one has a computerized program or not.

For some of us, the Yahrzeit date involves no great effort to remember—especially if our parents or loved ones died on a Jewish holiday.

On Purim of 1996, my father Leo Israel Samuel died as I was reading the Megillah at my old beloved congregation in Glens Falls, New York. As a Holocaust survivor, my father’s death left a lasting mark on many of my old congregants who remembered what happened that fateful evening—many of whom remembered speaking to my father who had lived with us during the last year of his life.

Yahrzeits are so personal—most of us have difficulty remember their own Yahrzeits, let alone someone else’s Yahrzeit.  However, this past week, I found myself deluged by dozens of Yahrzeit acknowledgements from people who remembered my father.  Someone had sent me with a beautiful Yahrzeit candle with an acknowledgement. I felt very touched and moved beyond words . . .

As a side note I want to add that as I thought about this experience I suddenly realized how valuable the Facebook website could be in helping people reconnect with old friends and family. It seemed as though the arms of the cyber community lifted me up and I realized that if it could lift me up, it can lift up other lives detached by geographical distance, but united in a spirit that transcends distance—and even time. Creating a web of cyber relationships can also help you expand your sphere of friendships and family many of us have lost touch with over the years. Facebook also can help us renew these old friendships–it is a forum where cyber-friends become almost like an extended family. This past year, I have also discovered many lost relatives bearing the same Samuel name–all through Facebook. No longer do we have to wait to see pictures in the mail of our grandchildren, with a keystroke, suddenly the pictures are there for everyone to see.

Jewish mystical teaches us that the death of a good man or woman represents a moment when the soul graduates to the next higher level of existence. At the time of death, the soul experiences a transcendent release enabling it to grow wings as  it ascends into the eternal reality of spirit. When a loved one dies on a Jewish holiday, this can have great spiritual significance. I remember many people I have helped buried as a rabbi, who passed away on Yom Kippur. According to Jewish legend and folklore, if your loved one dies on Yom Kippor, all of one’s sins are completely forgiven. As a Holocaust survivor who defied Hitler’s hoards with his body and soul, it seemed only apropos my father died on the day of Purim—a time recalling how our ancestors survived the Hitler of their time—Haman.

Rest in peace in the world of eternity—in a realm where suffering no longer has any bite or reality.



[1] Solomon Freehoff, Contemporary Reform Responsa (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1974), 1:168, 2:17.

Michael Brown: Judaic Perspectives on the License to Kill

 

I have been on vacation for the greater part of this past week. While I was away, I listened carefully to the news about a variety of social and international problems I will be addressing within the next several days.

As details of the Michael Brown murder become  known in the news, the race riots  continues in Ferguson.  One witness who was walking with Brown at the time said that the victim raised his hands in the air and did not struggle with or provoke the officer. He said that the officer then fired multiple bullets into Brown’s head and chest. Of course, we do not know all the facts of the incident and everyone deserves a presumption of innocence until the court determines what really happened. In the meantime, the subject is relevant from a rabbinical perspective. We will briefly discuss some of the issues that might be relevant to this case.

Do people have a license to kill a potential slayer?

Let us consider the following case:

  • If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred; but if it happens after sunrise, bloodguilt is incurred. (Exodus 22:2-3)

The laws of breaking and entering go back to ancient times. In days where there was minimal artificial lighting in peoples’ homes, the sound of someone breaking into a house in the middle of the night was bound to create anxiety in the hearts of a family. Since the homeowner could not discern the intent of a thief, he was forced to assume the worst. When a homeowner hears a person breaking into his home, he does not have the luxury of time or light at his hands. He must act to protect his family, his property and himself. The fact the intruder used such an unconventional means of entering his house is proof that his intentions are ominous. Fearful of whatever harm may befall his home, the owner is allowed to take whatever means to prevent the intruder – even murder.

  • Philo’s Perspective

One of the first Jewish thinkers to weigh in on this matter is Philo of Alexandria, who lived in the first century. His insights are exegetically and philosophically sound:

  • If anyone is so crazed with passion for other people’s wealth, sets out to take it by theft and, because he cannot easily manage it by stealth, breaks into a house during the night, using the darkness to cloak his criminal doings. The owner is justified, if he caught him in the act before sunrise, in killing the trespasser in the very place where he has broken in. Though actually engaged on the primary but minor crime of theft, he is prepared if need be to commit the major though secondary crime of murder. If anyone tries to prevent him, he will defend himself with the iron burglar’s tools that he carries along with other weapons. But if, after the sun has risen and is shining upon the earth, any one slays a robber with his own hand before bringing him to trial, he shall be held guilty, as having been guided by passion rather than by reason, and as having made the laws second to his own impulses. I should say to such a man, “My, friend, do not, because you have been injured by night by a thief, on this account in the daylight yourself commit a worse theft, not indeed affecting money, but affecting the principles of justice, in accordance with which the constitution of the state is established.”[1]

In other words, according to Philo, two wrongs do not make a right. Even though the homeowner has been robbed, he is not allowed to take the law into his own hand. Justice must prevail.

  • The Targum’s Interpretation of Exodus 22:2-3

According to the Targum Neofiti (which predates Onkelos by nearly 400 years):

  • “If a thief is found breaking in and is struck and dies, there shall be no sin of shedding innocent blood for him. If the sun has risen upon him, there is for him the sin of shedding innocent blood.

The Torah did not sanction killing the thief during broad daylight was because the thief purposely chose a time when he knew the homeowner would be away at work; nor he did not expect to be apprehended nor did the thief ever have the intention to kill the homeowner for that same reason.[6]

Following in the footsteps of the Mekhilta and Onkelos, Rashi rendered the verse as “If the sun shone on him, there is liability for his blood,” he explains that this passage also has a metaphorical meaning as well.  One scenario includes the case where witnesses surprise the burglar prior to the owner’s arrival. Alternatively, it may refer to a scenario where witnesses warn the owner not to kill the thief, but does so anyway. Since there are witnesses that the burglar has no intent of taking human life, it is obvious he will not kill the property’s owner. If the homeowner knows “as sure as daylight” that his intruder has peaceful intentions, e.g., his father happens to be the burglar or vice versa, then killing the intruder is considered an immoral act. In the event this occurs, the homeowner is culpable of murder.

  • Maimonides’ Guidelines

Maimonides writes in his famous legal code that the owner that since the thief is prepared to kill the owner if he should resist him, the Torah considers the thief to be a “pursuer” (“rodef”) and the owner is legally justified in killing regardless of the thief’s age or gender.[2]

Elsewhere Maimonides writes:

  • The thief’s intention is obvious from the outset. The thief knows that if the house-owner should tries to prevent him from stealing his property, he is prepared to kill him. Therefore, it is lawful for the house-owner to kill him.  The law would be the same whether the thief enters by the way of the court, or roof, rather, the Torah mentioned only one kind of scenario because of its frequency.[3]

However, in v. 3, the license to kill is not carte blanche for if the breaking and entry occurred during the daytime, it is much easier to make a clear determination as to whether the intruder’s intentions are benign or dangerous. In addition, by calling out to his neighbors who are awake to assist him in preventing the crime from occurring.[4] The Targum of Onkelos also seems to have supported this reading. If a thief broke into a house during the daytime hours, there were witnesses “whose eye fell upon him,” i.e., the witnesses warned the owner not to kill the thief, and he still went on to kill the intruder, the witnesses could testify in a court against the homeowner who would be tried for unlawful homicide.[5]

However, Maimonides limits this metaphorical perspective and argues that the law permits the homeowner to kill  the burglar applies even if the homeowner did so in the daytime. [7] This case assumes that the owner was acting only in self-defense. As one might expect, issues pertaining to self-defense and the use of force are not always so obvious. Maimonides adds that if the homeowner used excessive force and killed the intruder, the owner may even be guilty of murder![8]

Given the numerous complex scenarios that could unfold, Maimonides also noted that if the homeowner killed the thief as he was leaving the scene with his property, or if he fled without taking anything, the homeowner is guilty of murder. Similarly,  if a person broke into a garden, or a field, or a pen or corral, the intruder may not be killed   – even if the intruder was still located within the vicinity which he broke into – in all of these cases, if the homeowner killed the intruder – there is bloodguilt and he will be tried for homicide.[9]

Maimonides further adds:

  • Different rules apply with regard to a thief who stole and departed, or one who did not steal, but was caught leaving the tunnel through which he entered the home. Since he turned his back on the house and is no longer intent on killing its owner, he may not be slain. Similarly, if he is surrounded by other people, or by witnesses, he may not be killed, even if he is still located within the domain that he broke into. It is obvious that if he is brought to the court, he may not be killed.[10]

The rational for Maimonides’ decision is clear. If a thief  broke into the house, he knows that the owner has a reasonable chance of capturing him. Therefore, to prevent his capture, the intruder is prepared to kill him. This is not the case when the thief breaks into an open enclosure such as a corral to steal cattle or sheep. The thief knows that the owner will have little chance of apprehending him. In such cases, it is clear the thief did not come with the intention to kill.[11]

Lastly, Maimonides specifies the particulars regarding how someone ought to handle someone who is deliberately endangering the life of another person, one is required to give the victim a verbal warning.

  • If the pursuer was warned and continues to pursue his intended victim, even though he did not acknowledge the warning, since he continues his pursuit he should be killed. If it is possible to save the pursued by damaging one of the limbs of the pursuer, one should. Thus, if one can strike him with an arrow, a stone or a sword, and cut off his hand, break his leg, blind him or in another way prevent him from achieving his objective, one should do so. If it is impossible to ensure precise accuracy, then the defender is entitled to slay the pursuer, even though he has yet killed his intended victim. The reason for this is because the verse plainly states, “When two men are in a fight and the wife of the one man, trying to rescue her husband, grabs the genitals of the man hitting him, you are to cut off her hand. Show no pity” (Deut. 25:11-12).  There is no difference whether she grabs “his private parts” or any other organ that imperils his life. Similarly, the pursuer may be a man or a woman. The scriptural passage makes it clear that whenever a person intends to strike a colleague with a blow that could kill him, the pursued should be saved by “cutting off the hand” of the pursuer. If this is unavoidable, the victim should be saved by taking the pursuer’s life, as the verse continues: “you must show no pity.”[12]

  How any of these details will pertain to the Michael Brown murder remains to be seen, but Jewish tradition has grappled with problems like the one we are observing in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

 


Notes:

[1] Philo, Spec. Laws 4:7-9.

[2] Rashi went even further in his commentary than Maimonides “This is not considered murder. It is as if he (the thief) had already been dead. Here the Torah teaches: if someone comes to kill you, kill him first. This thief came with the intention of killing you for he knows full well that man cannot control himself while seeing his property being taken from him, and remain silent. Therefore, it is foregone conclusion that most people will do anything within their power to resist—even slay the burglar, if need be ( BT Sanhedrin 72a). Rashi seems to imply that when the Torah says the intruder who breaks in at night, the Torah considers it as though  “he has no blood,” i.e., he is already considered dead. Maimonides does not seem to have accepted that opinion for even in such a case, it is not a foregone conclusion that the owner should kill the intruder, but rather he may kill him.

[3] Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin 8:6.

[4] As noted by Ra’avad (Abraham Ibn Daud). This view has been championed by Rashbam; Ibn Ezra; and Saadia Gaon. See Nachmanides’ interpretation of Onkelos.

[5] R. Tzvi Meclenburg argues that Ibn Daud is not necessarily contradicting the view expressed by the Mekhilta, rather, he maintains that the simple meaning of the text does have practical Halachic significance.

[6] Ibn Daud’s gloss to Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:10.

[7] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:12.

[8] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:10.

[9] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:12.

[10] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:11.

[11] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:7.

[12] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Rotseah u’Shmirat Nefesh  1:7-8.

Rabbi Yosef’s Surprising View on Plagiarizing

The Jerusalem Post featured an unusual article about the Chief Rabbi of Holon Rabbi Avraham Yosef, the son of the late Sefardic-Haredi leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. His son sits on the Israel Chief Rabbinate’s council and commands considerable influence in Orthodox politics in Israel and abroad.

In one of his Moreshet Orthodox website, somebody asked him the following question:

  • My friend needs to submit university work; she took the work from someone else and asked me to change the wording so that the work will not look like the same. Is it permissible for me to help my friend to re-word the work?” a woman asked.

Rabbi Yosef said that it is permissible to plagiarize and cheat. “[It is] permitted. And it is [fulfilling the] commandment of bestowing kindness, especially if she has a good command of the material,” Yosef ruled.[1]

There are several halachic problems with R. Yosef’s advice. The primary problem I wish to point out is the issue of ge’nei’vat da’at, which in Hebrew means, “stealing one’s mind,” which can easily apply to all forms of misrepresentation, taking credit for someone’s work. Anytime a person deliberately tries to create a mistaken assumption in the minds of others, this is considered a major breach of Jewish ethics and law. Arguably,ge’nei’vat da’at goes far beyond just lying. It is also a clear violation against bearing false witness—a law that is considered one of the most important of the Ten Commandments.

It is surprising that some medieval scholars thought this is only a rabbinical prohibition, but the verses pertaining to all forms of theft are well-known. In fact, the Tanakh even mentions the crime of plagiarism “See, therefore, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another” (Jer.  23:30). More seriously, Rabbi Yosef is misleading others to sin, which is arguably Judaism’s most cardinal sins and violates just about every biblical law pertaining to fraud and deception. [2]

Then again, there is a famous rabbinical dictum: R. Eleazar further said in the name of R. Hanina: Whoever reports a saying in the name of its originator brings redemption to the world, as it says, And Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai (Esther 2:22). [3]

The literal meaning of ge’nei’vat da’at in Hebrew is theft of one’s mind, thoughts, wisdom, or knowledge, i.e., fooling someone and thereby causing him or her to have a mistaken assumption, belief, and/or impression. Thus, the term is used in Jewish law to indicate deception, cheating, creating a false impression, and acquiring undeserved goodwill. Ge’nei’vat da’at goes beyond lying. Deliberately creating false impressions about one’s behavior is also subsumed in this prohibition—whether in words or in deeds.  The Tosefta reads:

There are seven kinds of thieves.

(1)   The first among them is the one who steals the minds of people.

(2)  He who urges his friend to come as his guest, but in his heart does not really wish to invite him.

(3)  One who excessively offers gifts to his friend, knowing that the latter will not accept them;

(4)  One who opens up barrels for another, that were sold to a shopkeeper;

(5)  Anyone who falsifies measures.

(6)  One who secretly pads scales . . .

(7)  Anyone who deceives people is called a thief, as it is written: “And Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel, 15:6).[4]

As a case in point, the sages believed that there are seven types of thieves and, of these, the most serious offenders is someone who “steals the minds” of people.

The Talmud  discusses the principle of ge’nei’vat da’at  and cites the 3rd century scholar named  Shmuel, who taught: It is forbidden to steal the mind of anyone, even idolaters.” [5] The Talmud observes that Shmuel never expressly stated such a law, but it was deduced from an incident in which his attendant duped a heathen ferryman. Scholars were not sure what exactly happened, but here is how the discussion went: One view asserts that Shmuel once told his attendant to give the ferryman a chicken and the latter thought he was getting a kosher chicken but was actually given one that was unkosher. Another opinion is that the ferryman thought he was receiving undiluted wine but was instead given diluted wine.[6]

The “Lemon Laws” of our country certainly have strong antecedents in biblical and rabbinical laws that demand personal integrity and moral excellence.

After the death of his father, the Israeli rabbinate considered him as a possible successor for his the Sephardic position of Chief Rabbi. However, when the police began Examining alleged issues involving a breach of trust, and other sundry ethical violations, they forced him to withdraw his candidacy. “Yosef was a candidate for Sefardi chief rabbi but his candidacy ended when police began investigating him for alleged breach of public trust and an illegal conflict of interest. Yosef allegedly coerced store and restaurant owners to get kosher supervision from a private kosher supervision company started by his late father and run by one of Yosef’s brothers” (JPost). [7]

So what can we deduce from all of this?

Shakespeare perhaps said it best:

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

An evil soul producing holy witness

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,

A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

  • William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, I, iii, 93);

When one examines the religious politics and chicanery in Israel today, we could also add, “The devil can cite Talmud, Halacha, Midrash, Hassidut and Kabbalah as well.”

When one considers the amount of fraud that is publicized on the Web involving kickbacks, racketeering, and other numerous criminal offenses, the Rabbi Yosef embarrasses his community as well as every non-Orthodox Jewish community. If we wish to become a light unto the nations of the world, then we had better start becoming a light to ourselves first.

====

Notes

[1] http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Rabbi-rules-copying-work-in-university-is-permitted-in-Jewish-law-346738

[2]  Regarding theft:

Exod. 21:16. 22:1-5, 7-13. Le 6:1-7. 19:11, 13, 35-37. 25:17. Deut 5:19. 19:14. 23:24, 25. 24:7. 25:13-16. 27:17. Josh 7:24, 25. Job 20:19-22. 24:2. Ps 37:21. 50:18. 62:10. Pro. 1:13-15. 3:27. 6:30, 31. 11:1. 16:11. 20:10, 23. 22:22, 28. 23:10. 28:24. 29:24. 30:8, 9. Isa 1:23. 61:8. Jer 5:26-29. 7:8-11. 22:13. Ezek 33:15. 45:10. Hos. 4:2. 12:7. Amos 3:10. 5:11, 12. 8:4-6. Mic. 6:10, 11. 7:3. Zach. 5:3, 4. Mal. 3:5,

Regarding Fraud and Dishonesty, see Lev. 19:11; Lev. 19:35–36; Lev. 25:14; Deut. 19:14; Deut. 25:13–16; Deut. 27:17; Job 24:2; Ps. 37:21; Prov. 11:1; Prov. 11:26; Prov. 16:11; Prov. 20:14, 17, 23; Prov. 22:28; Prov. 23:10–11; Hos. 12:7–8, 14; Amos 8:5–6; Mic. 6:10–13; Hab. 2:6.

Regarding the sins involving hypocrisy: Job 17:1, 3–9; Ps. 5:9; Ps. 26:4; Ps. 50:16–23; Isa. 29:13; Isa. 32:5–8; Isa. 48:1; Isa. 58:1–2; Ezek. 33:31–32.

Lying and Falsity:  Exod. 20:16; Job 15:35; Job 21:34; Job 24:25; Job 31:33; Ps. 5:6; Ps. 31:18; Ps. 50:19; Ps. 52:2–4; Ps. 55:20–21; Ps. 62:4; Ps. 63:11; Ps. 116:11; Ps. 119:69; Ps. 120:3–4; Prov. 2:12–15; Prov. 6:16–17, 19; Prov. 10:18; Prov. 12:22; Prov. 17:4; Prov. 19:22; Prov. 21:6; Prov. 26:23–26; Isa. 59:2–3; Jer. 5:2; Jer. 7:8; Jer. 9:3–6; Hos. 4:1–2; Hos. 11:12; Zech. 8:16–17.

Causing others  to sin: Num. 25:1–2; Neh. 6:13; Prov. 1:10–16; Prov. 4:14–15, 25–27; Prov. 16:29; Prov. 28:10; Isa. 33:15–16.

[3] BT Megilah 15a, Mishnah Avot 6:6 

[4] Tosefta Bava Kama 7:8; it is shocking that some medieval scholars think that the prohibition against ge’nei’vat da’at is not Biblical but rabbinical (Semak, 262). Such rationalizations only create scandal in the Jewish community and it also reenforces the impression that all Jews are dishonest in business.

[5.] BT Chullin 94a-b.

[6] Tosefta Bava Kama 7:3.

[7]  http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Rabbi-rules-copying-work-in-university-is-permitted-in-Jewish-law-346738

Book Review: The Making of a Halachic Decision (3* out of 5)

 

Author: Rabbi Moshe Walter. Title: The Making of a Halachic Decision The Making of a Halachic Decision. Pages: 231.

Price: $24.00 Publisher: Menucha Publishers.ISBN: 1614650896. Rating: 3* out of 5.

Any student of Jewish law has often wondered about the origin of the Halachic decision making process. True, the Talmud is full of arguments. If you ask a Jew his opinion, he will give you at least two different answers.

Rabbi Moshe Walter’s new book, The Making of a Halachic Decision The Making of a Halachic Decision, examines such questions as, “What constitutes a halachic decision? How we arrive at a conclusion when there are a myriad of perspectives to choose? Why are some decisions considered more valid than others? What about minority opinions?

For many years, I have grappled with many of these same questions. So, with great interest, I read Rabbi Walter’s book to see how an Orthodox scholar arrives at his conclusion.

The first part of the book attempts to define the Halacha. The root of the term “Halacha” derives from the verb, halach “to go.” Halacha is thus, “a process; just as one walks from point A to point B, so too, halachah is a process that begins at point A and finishes at point B” (p. 19).

Sounds pretty simple, but wait!

The author goes on to stress that the study of the halachah is more important than the actual study of the Talmud. This is a refreshing perspective. Too many yeshivas tend to worry about Talmudic pilpul, a process that involves intricate hair-splitting arguments over the thought processes of the Talmud.

Walter stresses that halachah is vital because it has a practical application; of course, the halachah can be quite theoretical as well. Among the other points Walter stresses is the importance of studying the section of Jewish law dealing with everyday issues, known as “Orach Hayyim,” the “path of life.”

Thus far, I agree with his observations. The practical matters of prayer are activities we do every day. Yet, it is amazing how ignorant even young rabbis are when it comes to applying these basic principles at a Torah reading, or when the minyan is less than ten.

Walter divides his book into three sections: Klalei Hapsak (Principles of Decision Making), The Halachos of Hora’ah (Laws of Rendering Decisions), and Klalei Haposkim (Principles utilized by the Halachic scholars in rendering their legal decisions.

The section on Klalei Hapsak provides the reader with a short synopsis of the medieval authorities that created the Codes that would later inspire the creation and formation of the Shulchan Aruch. These sources include:  Rif, Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah, the glosses of the Rosh, and Tur, and why each of these sages decided to write their books and codify halacha the way they did and the reactions they received.

One of the questions Walter raises is whether Maimonides ever intended to create a substitute  for the Talmud, or did he intend for his Mishnah Torah to be used concurrently with it?

In the second section, “Halachos of Hor’ah” Walter raises some interesting questions about the dynamic relationship between the person making a halachic query to the rabbi he is asking. He touches upon questions such as:  What information must the questioner share with the rabbi? When may a questioner ask a different rabbi? What is the role of the rabbi? Which rabbis are bona fide halachic authorities? How is a rabbi expected to respond to a halachic question? What is semicha today?

In the section pertaining to not creating factionalism in matters of Halacha, (lo tisgedenu based on the verse “Do not make a bald spot between your eyes in Deut. 14:1), the author attempts to explain the rational for not challenging a decision once rendered in a court. Walter correctly notes that other courts within the city are free to make their own decisions (p. 135).

My objection to Walter’s work is that he fails to take into consideration the reality of realpolitik  when it comes to making halachic decisions. Aristotle said it best, “Man is a political animal destined naturally for political life.” Rabbis of the Haredi community would do themselves a favor and utilize Aristotle in their deliberations of Jewish law.

Walter also fails to discuss why the Israeli and Haredi environment routinely disrespect this principle and insist that every Jewish community in the Diaspora or in Israel, follow the rulings of a Haredi scholar, whom has a large following. Questions like whether a Jew can accept the definition of brain death is important since it pertains to the importance of organ transplants. Yet, many Haredi rabbis claim that a Jew can receive a heart from someone who is brain dead, but can never return the favor in reverse. Such intellectual chicanery disgraces and discredits the halacha as we have witnessed countless times in Israel.

In practical terms, these rabbinical scholars routinely negate other rabbinical conversions if a woman should fail to cover her hair (if she is married), or if she wears pants. Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s wife did not cover her hair. Would today’s extreme Haredi rabbanim dare to negate the Rav’s halachic rulings?

There is an outstanding work entitled HaMachloket b Halacha edited byHanina Ben-Menahem, Neil Hecht, Shai Wosner.  This massive two volume work spans over a 1400 pages. I am astounded that Walter did not think to quote from this study. The authors systematize the material far better and Walter should familiarize himself with this study in the next revision of his book.

Here is another criticism I have of the book.  Walter quotes Maimonides:

  • Know firstly that I did not say, Heaven forbid, not to engage in either the study of the Gemara or the halachas of the rav, Rabbi Yitzchak [the Rif] or another besides him . . .For I did command or think that I would burn all the sefarim that were authored prior to me as a result of my work? Did I ever state explicitly in the beginning of my work that I only wrote it  . . . for one  who is unable to delve into the depths of the Talmud and will be unable to understand from it the way of the forbidden and the way of the permissible [p. 44].

Walter’s view of Maimonides does not convince me at all. Maimonides makes his position super-clear in his Introduction to the Mishnah Torah:

  • A person should study the written Torah first, and then read this [book], and thereby know the entire oral Torah, so that he will not need to read any other book in between them.” The criticism also reflected divergent local traditions and custom (minhag).

Maimonides’ greatest Ashkenazi critic, R. Abraham b. David of Posquières (Ravad),wrote these scathing words in his Introduction to Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah:

  •  Maimonides “has abandoned the method of all the authors who preceded him, because they brought proofs for their words, and cited their sources … But this way, I do not know why I should disregard my tradition and my proof for the sake of this author’s book.”

Ravad saw through Maimonides subterfuge.

Frankly speaking, Maimonides had no illusion of what he was attempting to accomplish. Bear in mind the Talmud in his time hardly resemble the Vilna Shass used by Artscroll today. The Talmud was a scattered document; haphazardly produced. Maimonides penchant for order viewed the Talmud with disdain—especially because of its theological penchant toward anthropomorphism.  His inclusion of theological ideas represented a vast improvement over the original Talmud.

In short, Walter’s book is a fine for a beginner interested in explaining how halacha is arrived, but the Hebrew encyclopedia work HaMachloket b’Halacha mentioned earlier does a vastly better job for anyone familiar with Modern Hebrew and the halachic sources the authors quote.