Monday, May 25, 2009

Matter-o-money Leave

Okay, I am putting my blog on matrimony (matter o' money) leave. My daughter is actually getting married this evening, IY"H.

As I anticipated, I do not have time to do any serious blogging and I have to devise speeches for sheva brachos. I do not know if I will be able to post until after Yom Tov.

In the meantime, for good entertainment, there is a doozey post over at Emes Ve-Emunah where Harry bemoans the fact that Charedi'ism looks like it will trump "Centrism" and speculating why HKBH is letting it happen if, as we all know, "Centrism" is the "Derech emes" that HKBH really wants. It doesn't look like Harry caught on to my book, but, what is worse, I don't think that Harry ever really learned Maseches Brachos, specifically 35b.

In any case, back to the simcha at hand, I will leave the reader with a well known and amusing poem written by John G. Saxe in some time in the late 1800s. It tells of a young man asking his shidduch mentor for dating advice. The shidduch mentor is his own echo - and it comes back with some interesting answers. Here it is:

Echo - John G. Saxe


I asked of Echo, t'other day
(Whose words are often few and funny),
What to a novice she could say
Of courtship, love, and matrimony.

Quoth Echo plainly,--"Matter-o'-money!"

Whom should I marry? Should it be
A dashing damsel, gay and pert,
A pattern of inconstancy;
Or selfish, mercenary flirt?

Quoth Echo, sharply,--"Nary flirt!"

What if, aweary of the strife
That long has lured the dear deceiver,
She promise to amend her life,
And sin no more; can I believe her?

Quoth Echo, very promptly,--"Leave her!"

But if some maiden with a heart
On me should venture to bestow it,
Pray, should I act the wiser part
To take the treasure or forego it?

Quoth Echo, with decision,--"Go it!"

But what if, seemingly afraid
To bind her fate in Hymen's fetter,
She vow she means to die a maid,
In answer to my loving letter?

Quoth Echo, rather coolly,--"Let her!"

What if, in spite of her disdain,
I find my heart intwined about
With Cupid's dear delicious chain
So closely that I can't get out?

Quoth Echo, laughingly,--"Get out!"

But if some maid with beauty blest,
As pure and fair as Heaven can make her,
Will share my labor and my rest
Till envious Death shall overtake her?

Quoth Echo (sotto voce),--"Take her!"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From the Florida Sunshine Tree

From time to time, I like to discuss some of the pearls of wisdom that surface in my comments section. Today's comment (posted to my May 14 post) comes from a fellow who identified himself as E-Man, a 24 year old Capricorn from Miami who was born on the Year of the Rat and went to Skokie Yeshiva for High School (this means he left about 7 years ago so he wouldn't know Yaakov, 20 year old Pisces born Year of the Ice-Storm-on-Erev-Shabbos-Zachor) and on to other fine places.

E-Man writes as follows:

Just thought you should know, there are several commentaries that are on the chumash that are shunned by the charaidi community like Ralbag. So if I learn all the commentaries and Ralbag does that make be a new, superhuman like Jew?

Rather, you should say that a charaidi learns and understands the bible according to their current "Gadol." Charaidim are quick to rip the Ralbag and other ideas from rishonim that they find untenable, but will not dare say anything against the Chafetz Chaim or the Chazon Ish. That is probably a more accurate definition of a charaidi. Someone who does not go against the Rabbis of his current time.

Also, in regards to your definition that differentiates between charaidim and other Orthodox Jews, the toiling in Torah refers to toiling in Torah so you can perform the commandments properly. If the charaidim learn Gemorah as well as chumash they will see that in kedushin on 40 b there is a whole discussion of what the purpose of toiling in Torah is. That is to perform the commandments. SO in essence, the whole reason we toil in the Torah is, according to Rashi on the Gemorah, to perform the mitzvos.

Its not worth going into everything, but I don't understand why you constantly insult non-charaidi orthodox jews so much in your book. Does it make you feel better or something about your yiddishkite? Or is it so you can sell more books? I read parts of your book, but I just couldn't keep reading once I got to the discussion you overheard about what Moshe Rebbeinu would wear. It was really ridiculous to me and I didn't understand your point other than you thought Moshe would wear 18th century polish garb. That was just confusing. How do you know he wouldn't wear a suit in formal settings and khakis and polo shirt in informal settings. I actually am privy to info about some big Rabbis that do this, but shhhh don't let that leave the room.

Anyway, I also looked at your haskamos and at least one of the Rbbis was against the label of charaidi used here. He said that you described a torah true Jew. Which I, for the most part agree with. However, your constant knocking of non-charaidi orthodox Jews just left such a bad taste in my mouth. I am not anti-charaidi or anything, just anti a definition that seemingly makes them so much greater than a guy that believes in the Maimonides or Gersonides approach, science is helpful and can be used to describe parts of the bible. That is for ure not charaidi and you say he learns less?

Maybe next book you write can just be what a Torah true jew is, instead of just hat you consider a charaidi, since that definition is, at best, flawed.

Otherwise, keep up the good work.


Okay. Let's try to understand what this guy is saying:

Just thought you should know, there are several commentaries that are on the chumash that are shunned by the charaidi community like Ralbag.

Ralbag and who else? Can I get the whole list?

I am certainly glad that he thought I should know this because it is certainly news to me. At my age (way past 24), not much catches me unawares but this certainly does. Personally, I have never shunned the Ralbag and I never knew anybody in my Yeshivos (Lakewood, Mir) who shun the Ralbag but I guess there must be plenty of chareidim in Skokie and Miami who do shun the Ralbag. Of course, I do not learn much Ralbag on Chumash because my edition of Mikraos Gedolos does not happen to include any Ralbag on Chumash although I do have Ralbag in almost every edition of Nach. I've gone through most of Nach doing Rashi, Metzudos and Malbim. Not much focus on Ralbag but no shunning. I didn't learn much Radak or Minchas Shai either. Are they on the list?

Oh, I get it. He must mean Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag from the Triangle-K! Yes, it's true. Many chareidim do shun SunMaid Raisins and Mott's Apple Juice in favor of products from OU or other more "right wing" hechsherim. I also stay away from this hechsher (Hostess Twinkies are not for me) but sometimes my wife makes me buy the Craisins.

And it's true, we do shun many of his colleagues like the entire Rabbanut.

So if I learn all the commentaries and Ralbag does that make be a new, superhuman like Jew?

Probably not, but drinking lots of Mott's Apple Juice, Minute Maid Orange Juice and eating wholesome Wonder Bread and Sun-Maid Raisins might.

Rather, you should say that a charaidi learns and understands the bible
according to their current "Gadol." Charaidim are quick to rip the Ralbag and
other ideas from rishonim that they find untenable, but will not dare say
anything against the Chafetz Chaim or the Chazon Ish.



Let's go over that list again: Skokie Yeshiva, Shaalvim, YU, Lander College for Men, Talmudic University and looking to Med School and you are such an expert on Chareidim! And I am even learning new things from you! I guess Charedi'ism 101 must be a course in their curriculum (though they certainly do not feature my book!) I am very impressed.

That is probably a more accurate definition of a charaidi. Someone who does not go against the Rabbis of his current time.

Sorry. won't work. A typical chareidi will definitely go against most of the people who are called Rabbis at the current time.

Also, in regards to your definition that differentiates between charaidim and other Orthodox Jews, the toiling in Torah refers to toiling in Torah so you can perform the commandments properly. If the charaidim learn Gemorah as well as chumash they will see that in kedushin on 40 b there is a whole discussion of what the purpose of toiling in Torah is. That is to perform the commandments. SO in essence, the whole reason we toil in the Torah is, according to Rashi on the Gemorah, to perform the mitzvos.

H-m-m-m. This sounds familiar. Let's see, let's see...Oh yes!! Here it is - One Above and Seven Below - page 82:

Q. In the previous chapter, I set out to explain the “meaning of toil”. Yet, aside from the three principles that were quoted from Maimonides, all I did was to describe what toil doesn’t mean. Didn’t I forget something?

A. Guilty! Here are some details that I omitted.

Like almost any commodity, toil can be measured by two attributes: quantity and quality. The three principles listed above provide a quantitative perspective. We have still not, as of yet, defined toil in Torah from the qualitative perspective.

Thankfully, we can always rely on our dedicated teacher. Rashi does not leave us totally in the lurch.

On the phrase “And my commandments you shall guard” (VaYikra 26:3) Rashi explains, “You shall toil in Torah for the purpose of observing and fulfilling [the commandments] as it states ‘and you will study them and you will observe them to perform them’.” There is an end purpose to our Torah study – that we observe the commandments and incorporate Torah principles in all our daily activities.

Apparently, it's according to Rashi on Chumash, too.

Its not worth going into everything, but I don't understand why you constantly insult non-charaidi orthodox jews so much in your book. Does it make you feel better or something about your yiddishkite? Or is it so you can sell more books?

From the FAQ section of my book (page 7-8):

Important Note - The intention is to promote the conventions that the chareidim uphold. It is not meant to challenge the conventions of those who are not chareidi although, in some cases, it is an inevitable cause-and-effect. Although to some readers - who do not [yet] wish to identify themselves as chareidi - parts of this book may inadvertently seem patronizing or antagonistic, be assured that this is certainly not its purpose. I apologize in advance should this occur.

For those who have trouble with this passage (you are not alone), it says this:

The book does not actively or aggressively insult anybody. Nevertheless, it is a given that when comparing A vs. B, anything that is promoted as a strength or advantage to A is automatically highlighting a shortcoming to B. This is called the see-saw syndrome - raising side A automatically lowers side B. Thus although nobody insulted B, B is passively ipso facto insulted (antagonized).

I am only interested in raising the One Above side. It is a truth of physics that when one does this, the opposite (the Seven Below) side goes down. I have no control over it except that my point is that one should not be on the side that is diametrically opposed to "Im Bechukosai Telechu".
A number of people have told me that they are put off by the "condescending" message of the omnipotent tefillin-clad arm patronizingly reaching out over the sinking bare arms. My message to the reader is that, according to Vayikra 26:3, it pays to identify with the upper arm. Anybody who still insists on identifying with one of the seven sinking arms will certainly feel threatened and antagonized, but, don't blame me. I didn't write sefer VaYikra. I am just analyzing it.

I read parts of your book,

One cannot read my book in parts (as I wrote on page 9).

but I just couldn't keep reading once I got to the discussion you overheard about what Moshe Rebbeinu would wear. It was really ridiculous to me and I didn't understand your point other than you thought Moshe would wear 18th century polish garb.

That's because you couldn't keep reading. Incidentally, I didn't write that I thought he would be wearing 18th century Polish garb. I wrote that he would be wearing 21st century Rabbinic garb. Either that of 21 century Chassidish or Misnagdish rabbanim (who may be styled after 18th century Poland) or Sefardic or Yemenite or whatever else is out there.

That was just confusing. How do you know he wouldn't wear a suit in formal settings and khakis and polo shirt in informal settings.

The discussion is about what he would wear in public (formal settings, in your terms). We are not interested in what color his pajamas were. Most readers weren't confused.
I actually am privy to info about some big Rabbis that do this, but shhhh don't let that leave the room.

Wow, a 24 year old non-chareidi (if I read you right) from Miami and you have it in with all the biggies! I take my black hat off to you. And, rest assured, your secret is safe with me.

Anyway, I also looked at your haskamos and at least one of the Rbbis was against the label of charaidi used here.

It must be because he's from Miami.

He said that you described a torah true Jew. Which I, for the most part agree with. However, your constant knocking of non-charaidi orthodox Jews just left such a bad taste in my mouth.

Evidently, this Rav was able to understand what you seem to grudgingly acknowledge - the book is not about "chareidim" but rather about Torah-true Jews. I just happen to call Torah-true Jews "Chareidim" because that was certainly the case by Yeshaya HaNavi and - when we use Hashkafa as our definition - it is true today. This is the theme of Chapter 9 and, subsequently, of the whole book. Once you agree with this, then it follows that the ones that are called Non-chareidi" are those who are not full scale Torah-true Jews. The objective of my book is to entice more people to be full scale Torah-true Jews. The knocking comes from VaYikra 26:14-46. G-d wrote that, not me. I am just quoting it. Apparently, what He wrote leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

It must be something you ate.

I am not anti-charaidi or anything, just anti a definition that seemingly makes them so much greater than a guy that believes in the Maimonides or Gersonides approach, science is helpful and can be used to describe parts of the bible. That is for ure not charaidi and you say he learns less?

Excuse me? Is this somewhere in my book? I actually promote Maimonides' approach both on page 60 and again on page 114. But that was after you couldn't keep reading.

Maybe next book you write can just be what a Torah true jew is,...

No need. All you have to do is reread the book and substitue the word "Chareidi" with "Torah-true Jew". I suggested this in the last paragraph of the book on page 229.

Try it it works!

...instead of just hat you consider a charaidi, since that definition is, at best, flawed.

Critics write about the way I define chareidim as if I am alone in my definition. This is a case of denial on their part. I have written profusely, in my book and out, that there are clearly 2 general definitions of chareidim. One used by chareidim and one used by non-chareidim. My definition of chareidim is very much in line with Rabbi Grylak's (Chief Editor of Mishpacha magazine). The one he wrote in his Hebrew language book way before I wrote mine. (It is quoted on page 121.) In fact, if you perceive there are any differences, you are invited to discard the differences and just go with the common denominator.

I use the definition that chareidim use, and to date, no chareidim have written to challenge me on my definition. Makes sense. But, evidently, non-chareidim fantasize that even chareidim think like them. And that there is only one way to define a chareidi - their way. And so, they write that "most people" don't use my definition. Of course, they are right - most people aren't chareidi! But they also seem to think that for some reason I am obligated to use the definition that chareidim in general do not agree with, though nobody has ever explained exactly why. And they never will. Because they do not acknowledge - or legitimize - any other more general, less derogatory definition. (See Chapter 9).

That's why I wrote the book, to enlighten them that chareidim themselves think differently, and why. Chareidim can understand this. That's why they like my book. Non-chareidim are not as broad minded. That's why I wrote in the FAQs:

This book is meant to reframe common perceptions of what constitutes a “chareidi” and will present a definition that may differ from your preconceived notions. If you are already certain about what constitutes a chareidi and are not open to new definitions, this book will not work for you.

And so, this book will not work for someone like E-Man and I am not sure why he even read beyond the FAQs.

Well, at least he made it to the beginning of Chapter 4.

Otherwise, keep up the good work.

Likewise.

Friday, May 15, 2009

At the Drop of a Hat

Yes, I got the hat.

My rendezvous at the Tachana HaMerkazit came off without a hitch except that it really bothered me that I had to buy a ticket to Raanana (just kidding).

The driver's name is Shmuel Almog, by the way. I guess he lives in Raanana or the vicinity. Sweet fellow.

Now, if anybody knows what happened to my 11-year old...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One Above and Seven Below - The Secret of Parshas Bechukosai

And so, for the first time since I opened this blog last July, Parshas Bechukosai has arrived.

For those of you who have read my book, you know that the first section of Parshas Bechukosai is the heart and soul of Judaism for here, G-d is telling us in no uncertain terms what makes a proper Jew and what does not. And it is the secret of the Chareidim.

However, as the few people who comment on my blog seem to indicate, most of the readers have not read 1A7B. And so, l'chvod Parshas Bechukosai, I have transferred the pilot chapter of my book to iPaper in its entirety and am posting it right here.

I also transferred Yaakov's Story to iPaper and will post it after the feature chapter.

Enjoy, and when you review the Parsha this shabbos, pay attention to Rashi!

One Above and Seven Below_Scribd Edition


And now - Yaakov's Story

Yaakov
Good Shabbos!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hats Off to Egged (Drivers)

Did I say something about hats not finding their way home by themselves?

What was I thinking?!

Ferster Hats, the most popular hatseller in Yerushalayim, offers to make up labels that display the name and phone number of the owner to put on the sweatband. This is a very prudent idea because, I don't know if anybody else noticed this, many black hats look alike.

Now, I did not really give up on my hat. As soon as I realized that I forgot it - when I noticed that I wasn't sweating as much as I should be - I ran back to the bus depot at Har Chotzvim (it's a good thing I work there) and tried to find the bus. The bus was gone so I went to a supervisor who told me as follows:

It takes 3 days for them to gather up all the forgotton items on their bus fleet and to sort them out. Then they are brought to their lost and found center at the main Tachana Hamercazit (much more convenient than their previous one in Talpiot!) and I can try to find it then. Good luck!


Thanks.

Well, that was Tuesday and I have been counting the days (Today is day 1 of sefiras HaKova...) and, lo and behold, I get a call from the bus driver (he wears a knitted kipa, incidentally). He said that he didn't want to give in the hat to Egged because he thinks that I will never see it again. He is not based in Yerushalayim but he will be here tomorrow (Day 2 of Sefiras HaKova) when he does a run on the 950 line to Raanana. He will be here from 7:30 pm and his bus goes out at 7:55 so I will have this 25 minute window to reclaim my precious crown.

How will this drama end? Will I make the dropoff or am I headed for another trip to Ferster? Will some lucky Jew in Raanana turn chareidi (perhaps the driver ;-) )?

Hang on to your hats!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Populations Growing and Shrinking

Since I've come to Eretz Yisrael I have frequently toyed with the idea of going up to Meron on Lag B'omer but, until this year, I have never followed through. To a minor degree, this was due to claims of less than reverent conduct that is known to go on in some spots and admonitions from some Rabbanim (Litvaks, as you would assume) not to go there on Lag B'omer in particular. To a greater degree, it was due to laziness and frugality - it is cheaper and easier to stay home in Yerushalayim. But I think it has been to the greatest degree due to fear. Firstly, the fear of messing something up as I have never done it yet. Secondly, the fear of getting squashed - I hate crowds! And thirdly, the fear of coming back with less than I came with (besides the money). Most specifically, coming back with less kids than I came with. Even though such a development would probably save a good deal of money, my wife still insists that when I go out with any number of kids, I come back home with at least that many.

Well, this year I took the plunge and I took a midnight express trip with only 2 sons (11 and 14). The trip went very smoothly and I managed to brave the crowds but still my main fear was realized. No, I didn't lose either of my kids but I left my hat on the bus.

Aside from that hats cost more than kids :-), kids seem to have an uncanny ability to find their way home all by themselves, even after we vacuumed up the trail of breadcrumbs (and gum wrappers). Hats just don't do that.

Anyway, Meron on Lag B'Omer is a lot like Meron not on Lag B'Omer except for many more people and a lot of free food. That's why, if you can pack a lunch, many gedolim say there is more Kedusha to go not on Lag B'Omer. I could see their point. Yet, there is still something mystical about visiting the graves of these deceased holy people on Lag B'Omer and that is - that it is being done by so many people who aren't deceased. Lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Hundreds of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish people!

Yep. An Arutz-7 news piece claims that there were already 450,000 pilgrims by 6:00 am on Tuesday. If this is so, even if the tide subsided, there still must have been well over half a million visitors all told and more like 6-700,000.

Do you realize what this is? This would be 1 out of every 10 residents in Eretz israel including Druze and Arabs! If we just talk about the Jews, it was probably more like 1 out of 7 (14%). Of course, they were not all Israeli residents. Many were tourists and foreign students in Yeshivas and seminaries.

600,000 Jews! And what kind of Jews?

Predominately religious Torah observant Jews. They were of all stripes and there were even some chilonim but the concentration certainly focused on the more devout. I would guess it was somewhere around 60-70% "Chareidi" (2/3) comprising chassidic, misnagdic, Yerushalmi, Chabad, Breslov and Sefardi-Chareidi - and the rest were Chardal, RW Mizrachi, Hilltop, traditional Sefardi, and smaller concentrations of standard "dati" and MO tourists.

How's that for labels?

In any case it was 600,000 or more Jews who all identify with the spirit of Lag B'Omer and Rashbi and there was no factional strife of any kind. Hatzala was there, ZAKA was there, and throngs of cops and I am sure they didn't see anything but the most trivial order of business.

The fact that so many Jews are anxious to participate in this pilgrimage and that this number keeps increasing from year to year tells us something very comforting:

We are alive and well and growing. and, except for our Yishmaeli cousins, we are the only ones.

A friend of mine sent me an email containing the following You-Tube clip. It is about demographics and it is alarming. It claims that for a culture to perpetuate itself, it must have a fertility rate of at least 2.11. That means that on average, every couple (2 people) must produce 2.11 people to maintain equilibrium. The minute it is less than 2 people (i.e. 1.9), they are not fully replacing themselves. Below 1.8 (lets say 1.75) there is a serious decline as every 2 couples (4 people) are only producing 3.5 people to replace them. At 1.5 you are down to 3 people replacing 4 and at below 1.3 the situation is called to be irreversible. I am not sure why that is but it means that out of evey 1M couples (2M people), there will be 1.3M offspring or maximun potential 650,000 couples. But not every person gets married (especially in the West) and not every woman conceives. (You may ask - how come it doesn't look like there are any less Chinese with their 1.0 policy? You got me there.) If this would produce even 500,000 fertile couples (a highly optomistic 77%), they would require no less than 4 kids/couple to restore the next generation to 2M total (which is not even 2M couples).

Pretty bleak, huh?

Well the video suggests that all Western societies (and this would certainly include secular Jews) - except for the US if we include the "illegal" immigrants - is well below the minimum 2.11 rate and many are courting the 1.3 "irreversible" figure. The developed industrial Asians (China, Japan, Korea) are not doing much better.

Not so our Yishmaeli cousins. They are beating the 2.11 minumum by more than 3-fold. Polygamy has its rewards. This means that in just a matter of time, they will simply overrun the West. All Western societies are shrinking, even the Westernized Jews.

But, as we see from our trip to Meron, the Jews that are not so Westernized stand a chance. Unfortunately we are not as fertile as the Moslems. This is partly because we only get one wife each, and we usually take them a bit older. Also, we do have hetterim for family planning and, unfortunately, ample reasons to take advantage of them. And the fact that they don't have to send their kids to Orthodox day schools (they are actually infesting the public school system in the West) and we do also takes it's toll.

Still we are holding our own and doing a great job of it under the circumstances. The people who oppose increases in child allowance payments should take a good hard look at this video.

Here is the video. According to the You-Tube listing, this video is up since March 30, 2009 - less than seven weeks and it hads already been viewed over 5,800,000 times! It is not for the faint of heart:



And as for us, even though Lag B'Omer may not be the best time to make a trek to Meron, we should take comfort in these numbers and keep the numbers growing, BE"H.


Because in 20 or 30 years it's going to be only us and them.


P.S. While we are in the neighborhood, let's have a look at another video about how a nice young Jewish girl is sidestepping the Shidduch crisis. I think it behooves us to do something not only about the Shidduch crisis but about the Jewish education tuition crisis but quick!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ki Li HaAretz - This Land is My Land - Eminent Domain

והארץ לא תמכר לצמתת כי לי הארץ

And the land shall not be sold for permanance; for the land is to Me. (VaYikra 25:23)

With these words, the Torah introduces to us a concept that has been part of civil law in many cultures throughout the world for generations: the law of eminent domain. Eminent domain is the right of a sovereign government to appropriate privately held land for the public good. It basically says that the government is the ultimate owner of the land.

G-d's eminent domain is of significance. And a sovereign state's eminent domain is likewise of significance. How so?

In a recent post, I disputed the claim of a rival blogger that the chareidi world is living in a world of chumros. My contention is that the non-chareidi world is living in a world of kulos. Let us review part of what I wrote:


Thus, I am not worthy to judge the Jews who in 1910 and 1917 had to implement a Hetter Mechira on Shmitta. Yet, as the name indicates, it is a kula - a hetter for what should, in normal circumstances, truly be assur. We know that it is not necessary today. But when somebody who wants to keep Hilchos Shmitta k'dikduko and does not want to rely on this controversial Hetter is called "a machmir" we have truly lost our Halachic compass.

I want to elaborate a bit on the issue of Hetter Mechira to explain why I (and the birds of my feather) think this way. There are 2 stipulations for a Hetter Mechira to be valid:

(A) It has to be a Hetter
(B) It has to be a Mechira

Stipulation A means that even if the "sale" is 100% Halachically valid and there is no question that "Halachic" ownership has been transferred to a non-Jew, we must establish that the fact that a non-Jew now "owns" the land exempts it from all of the laws of Shmitta. In other words, the Mechira may be good, but does that make a Hetter?

Stipulation B means that even if there is no question that the fact that a non-Jew now "owns" the land exempts it from all of the laws of Shmitta, we must establish that the "sale" is valid and that the land is, in fact, Halachically owned by a non-Jew. In other words, the Hetter may be good, but do we have a Mechira?

Unfortunately, both must be in effect. One without the other by definition invalidates the mechanism. So let's examine both stipulations and see if any of them are 100% valid or even close.

Stipulation A - The Hetter

This is relatively simple to deal with. We examine the simple case: If a non-Jew already owns land in E"Y with no mechiras necessary. Say his family [claims to have] owned the land for generations and all legal deeds and titles are in his name - does this suspend the laws of Shmitta?

As you would expect, this is a major machlokes in the opinions of the rishonim. There are numerous players, but 3 heavyweights stand out:

To the extreme right is the Mabit. He maintains that even if a non-Jew legally owns land, all the Halachos of shmitta remain in effect. This means that both the soil remains kadosh and the produce remains kadosh. As per the soil, this means that a Jew cannot work the land not as an employee, leasor, or sharecropper. Any produce that grows under these circumstances are fully prohibited. In terms of produce that grew from non-Jewish labor, it retains all Halachos of Kedushat Shviis. It may be consumed but... it cannot be sold for profit, cannot be exported, cannot be used for irregular consumption, is subject for biur, etc. According to the Mabit, selling the land accomplishes nothing since the Halachos don't change.

To the center is the Bais Yosef. He maintains that the land remains Kadosh but the produce grown through the labor of the non-Jew (or by themselves) does not. This is called Yevul Nochri. As such, a Jew may not lease and work the land and doing so makes the resulting produce forbidden. Thus, selling the land and "leasing" it back still accomplishes nothing with the minor exception of fruit trees and vines that produce by themselves. If the vines are tended by Jews, we are back to square one.

Most other poskim (I do not have names) support either the positon of the Mabit or the Bais Yosef.

The third and most lenient opinion is the Sefer HaTrumos and this is the foundation for the Hetter Mechira. The Sefer HaTrumos wants to say that, because we are in golus, all of Eretz Yisroel today has the status that the annexed land of Suria had in the times of the Bais HaMikdash. There, the Halcha was that only land that is owned by a Jew is subject to the Halachos of Shmitta. Land in Suria that is still owned by a non-Jew has no Kedusha of Shviis whatsoever and even a Jew may be employed to work on that land, or to lease with no restrictions.

The Sefer HaTrumos is certainly a "bar-samcha" yet this ruling came under much attack from his colleagues particularly because there is a Mishna in Challa that seems to negate this perspective. Regardless, the opinion of the Sefer HaTrumos is recognized as a "daas yachid l'hakel" and the general rule concerning a "daas yachid l'hakel" is that it can only be relied on in times of great necessity - "B'shaas ha'dchak".

Thus we see that even if the land is unequivocally under the ownership of a non-Jew, "rov deos" (most opinions) hold that it does not constitute a Hetter. The opinion that it is a Hetter (Sefer HaTrumos) is a daas yachid l'hakel. This is very far from being 100% valid.

Stipulation B - The Mechira

The Hetter is not enough. Even if there were no opposition to the opinion of the Sefer HaTrumos, we must verify the second stipulation, that the land becomes the rightful property of the non-Jew. Or, in other words, that it becomes "non-Jewish" land. There are numerous issues that play a role, many of them are technical issues were applicable in 1910 as much as today. But I only want to discuss one issue that not many people are aware of: Ki Li Haaretz - eminent domain.

As we wrote, eminent domain is the right of a sovereign government to appropriate privately held land for the public good. The implication is that a private owner is merely a junior partner in the land with a non-controlling (49%) share. Another perspective is that the state is the ultimate owner of the land under all circumstances and the legal "occupant" is merely leasing the land from the state on a long-term basis for a nominal fee. This implies that nobody who sells land from one person to the other is really selling it because the land does not actually belong to either of them. The seller is merely transferring to the buyer the rights to exclusive occupancy that he had procured from the state until now. Thus, no matter how thorough and "legal" a "Mechira" one does, the land belonged to the state beforehand and it still belongs to the state afterward.

What it Means

With this knowledge in hand, we note that there have been some very significant changes in circumstances from the time HaRav Kook, ZT"L, advocated the Hetter Mechira in 1910 to the present. The main change took place on 5 Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), 13 years after the death of Harav Kook, ZT"L. Both stipulations are affected.

Stipulation A - The main problem does not focus on 1948 but on more recent times (let us say from 1967 and beyond). In 1910 and 1917 (WW I), the drastic situation of a miniscule food supply was a clear matter of pikuach nefesh. No question about it. Thus, despite all the deficiencies in the Hetter Mechira, there was a clear Shaas hadchak which certainly justified relying on a "daas yachid". The direness of the situation was not merely related to the severe food shortage but to another aspect. I was told (I did not read this anywhere) that the Turkish authorities would not allow a farmer to leave farmland unworked. If one would neglect to work the land, the Turks would confiscate it. Thus, through the shmitta year of 1917, there was a double pikuach nefesh.

1917 relieved the second aspect of the dchak when the British overran the Turks and took over the country. They did not sustain this cruel policy (they implemented enough of their own), but, of course, we still needed to grow food for subsistance. Even this was not to the same degree, as the British opened up commerce to the West. Over the ensuing 80 years, our agricultural prowess (hydroponics and such)and commercial ties with the outside have steadily grown and, together with financial assistance from the diaspora (Keren Shviis, etc.), we see that even though shmittas may still be difficult - as they are meant to be - there is no longer any of the "pikuach nefesh" that was in place in 1910 and 1917 and even 1931 (Rav Kook's final shmitta year).

But there is one more ramification that does relate directly to 1948 and, ironically, it has more adverse "Halachic" significance for the Religious Zionists than for the chareidim. This is that the entire Hetter is based on the ruling of the Sefer HaTrumos that since we are in golus and all of the shmitta laws are Rabbinic, then we can consider all of E"Y as if it is Suria.

The problem is that the most extreme elements of the Religious Zionist camp, which happen to be the strongest advocates of the Hetter Mechira, want to maintain that the "conquest" of 1948 was a Halachic and divinely mandated conquest and we are no longer in golus! If not for the Western lackey government we would have rebuilt the Bais HaMikdash already! This is ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו and that is why it is appropriate to say Hallel with a bracha on 5 Iyar.

Well, if we are no longer in golus and the Kibush makes kedushas haAretz, then shmitta is d'Oraisa and we cannot consider mainland E"Y as Suria, can we? Now, for the chareidim this is no problem because nothing changed in 1948 and shmitta is still Rabbinic. But for the idealist RZs, even the Sefer Terumos is null and void. Obviously, they must hold that, since yad umos haOlam tekifa and we didn't build the Bais HaMikdash, the kibush falls just short of making Shmitta d'Oraisa. But if this is true, then אכתי עבדי דאחשורש אנן and I cannot figure out the justification to say Hallel. We must say that the kibush is just valid enough to justify Hallel but not valid enough to require proper shmitta observance. Hm-m-m. I suppose some people need to grow their hummus and eat it too.

Stipulation B - This is the real sticky problem. Remember that all this Hetter doesn't work if the land does not become "non-Jewish" land. Well, in 1910 when the Ottomans ran the place it can be argued that eminent domain made all the land into non-Jewish land even if the Jew did not sell it! And this can certainly be reinforced by the Turkish grow-or-go policy that I discussed earlier. Even after 1917 through 1935 when Rav Kook ZT"L passed away, the eminent domain was mandated to Bnei Eisav. 1948, however turns the situation on its face. Now, technically all the land is under the jusidiction of the Israel Land Authority or the KKL and they have no authority to sell it out of their authority! Hence, technically even rightful Arab owned land within the jurisdiction of the ILA is technically all Jewish owned land and possibly, even the kula of the Bais Yosef (that produce of non-Jewish land in E"Y does not have Kedushas Shviis) can come into question.

Obviously, all of this is perspective and not psak. Rav Kook is no longer here to give his opinion. There is no doubt that the circumstances that is was based upon have drastically changed. Also, the assurance that he gave to his chareidi colleagues that the Hetter would not be employed wily-nily and the essence of shmitta will not be forsaken due to the Hetter does not seem to have stood the test of time. We have no way of telling what Rav Kook, ZT"L would hold in today's circumstances. ואין לנו לסמוך אלא על אבינו שבשמים and Avinu SheBashamayim says this:

כי לי הארץ .

The land (alt.: the Earth) is Mine. Avinu SheBaShamayim - His A-lmighty Eminence - holds eminent domain.

It is not ours to work on the seventh year and it is not ours to sell on the seventh year unless He tells us otherwise. He talks to us through the tzaddikim and morei hora'ah of each generation. 99 years ago Rav Kook, ZT"L and Rav Yitzchok Elchanan Spector, ZT"L, were here to tell us that those who really need to can sell the land and work it. But neither of them are here to tell us this now.



משנה ח
שבעה מיני פרעניות באין לעולם, על שבעה גופי עברה: מקצתן מעשרין ומקצתן אינן מעשרין רעב של בצרת בא; מקצתן רעבים ומקצתן שבעים. גמרו שלא לעשר רעב של מהומה ושל בצרת בא. ושלא לטול את החלה רעב של כליה בא. דבר בא לעולם על מיתות האמורות בתורה, שלא נמסרו לבית דין; ועל פרות שביעית. חרב בא לעולם על ענוי הדין, ועל עוות הדין, ועל המורים בתורה שלא כהלכה.

משנה ט
חיה רעה באה לעולם על שבועת שוא, ועל חלול השם. גלות בא לעולם על עובדי עבודה זרה, ועל גלוי עריות, ועל שפיכת דמים, ועל השמטת הארץ. בארבעה פרקים הדבר מתרבה: ברביעית ובשביעית, ובמוצאי שביעית, ובמוצאי החג שבכל שנה ושנה. ברביעית מפני מעשר עני שבשלישית; בשביעית מפני מעשר עני שבששית; ובמוצאי שביעית מפני פרות שביעית; ובמוצאי החג שבכל שנה ושנה מפני גזל מתנות עניים.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Genie of Ochel Nefesh and the Markey Bill

As of late, Mondays have been my busiest week days. I recently undertook a course to be certified as a Rabbinic Marriage Counselor. The course meets on Mondays in Bayit VeGan. So now, on Mondays, I leave the Har Chotzvim office in the late afternoon, scoot over to Bayit VeGan where the course runs until 9:00 pm and then dash back to Har Nof to catch HaGaon Rav Asher Zelig Weiss's weekly shiur from 9:00 to 10:00. Then I have a personal chavrusa at 10:30 til 11:00 pm and then I can go home (and practice what I learned in the Marriage Counselling course).

In short, I had a long day yesterday.

Rav Asher Weiss's shiur typically analyzes a Halachic topic that is related to the relevant Parsha, and last night, in light of Parshas Emor, Rav Weiss chose to discuss Hilchos Yom Tov. The topic he focused on was not actually in Parshas Emor but rather in Parshas Bo (Shmos 12:16) which was the "hetter" of doing melacha for אוכל נפש . In the main, he analyzed various opinions of the rishonim as to exactly which melachos are included in this hetter and which are not and why.

In the course of the shiur, he discussed the concept of "mitoch she'huttra, huttra" - מתוך שהותרה לצורך אוכל נפש הותרה נמי שלא לצורך אוכל נפש . This means that there are a few melachos that one may do on Yom Tov even if their primary purpose does not relate to "ochel nefesh" once it is already permissible to do these melachos for the sake of "ochel nefesh". This is a very bold leniency that is very uncharacteristic to normative Hilchos of Shabbos and Yom Tov. Typically, the opposite is true and the Rabbanan forbid things that are not forbidden from the Torah (e.g., handling of muktza, engaging a non-Jew, climbing a tree, riding an animal, etc.). This Halacaha certainly goes against the tide and, accordingly, we have to be very specific as to where and how to apply it.

Some poskim say that "mitoch she'huttra, huttra" only applies to הוצאה and מבעיר and others hold that it applies to a much broader range of melachos. Still and all, this chiddush of the gemara is confined to Hilchos Yom Tov and that's where it is meant to stay. It is not employed in other areas of Halacha. You might say that "mitoch she'huttra, huttra" is a genie that grants special favors to its master. And its master is Hilchos Yom Tov.

I sense that in the non-chareidi world, there is a bit of jealousy over the Yom Tov genie of "mitoch she'huttra, huttra" and that they have let the genie out of its bottle!

The most obvious and relevant example is the propensity of the non-chareidi Jews to litigate civil disputes in secular courts.

The secular courts are what we call erkaos ha'ovdei kochavim and there is no love lost between chazal and this institution. In a perfect world where there are Halachic courts - batei dinim - qualified and empowered to manage civil affairs, chazal have nothing but the fullest contempt for those who seek redress outside beit din (see Rambam Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:7). Alas, we do not live in our "perfect world". The opening section of Choshen Mishpat expressly mandates that today's batei dinim are not as qualified as the proper ones (musmachim in Eretz Yisrael). What's more, qualifications aside, their power to enforce rulings is very limited.

As such, in certain circumstances, there may be a need - a צורך - to approach a secular court. Most commonly this occurs in a case of siruv and לא ציית לדינא where one party does not abide by the ruling of a beit din. In these cases, a plaintiff may approach a secular court after beit din issues a license (harsha'ah) to do so. Additionally, beit din can not deal with criminals so a Rav may issue a harsha'ah when there is a criminal complaint that may involve pikuach nefesh and does not constitute mesirah (a very touchy subject).

We see clearly that due to pressing need, siruv or pikuach nefesh, the erkaos are "huttra l'tzorech". However, we do not find any authority that says about erkaos that מתוך שהותרה לצורך פיקוח נפש הותרה נמי שלא לצורך פיקוח נפש . That genie is the exclusive property of Hilchos Yom Tov.

Evidently, somebody let the genie out of the bottle. And this has the potential of causing more harm than good.

I noticed this phenomenon when I was doing research about Agunah issues in the scope of my book. Every agunah episode is a tragic situation and we would all like to do away with these heartaches. Nevertheless, there are very few true Agunot. A true agunah is a woman whose husband is not in position to give a get because he is either physically or mentally AWOL (or MIA). This is rare. Most "agunah" cases are actually cases of recalcitrance - מסורבי גיטין - where the husband and wife are both at the table and know to follow the rules but one of them doesn't want to play.

For true agunot, some creative ideas have been put forth such as annulments or "conditional weddings" but, unfortunately, there is very little Halachic currency in these accounts. I wrote about this at length in a previous post (click HERE).

For the more common cases of outright recalcitrance, there is a large and growing movement for pre-nuptual agreements. The goal of the pre-nuptual agreements are to motivate the stubborn player to cooperate by imposing heavy penalties for continued recalcitrance. Now, in theory, these prenups should be effective because there is no Halachic problem with getting one to cooperate with beit din. HOWEVER, there is a very severe problem with artificially "motivating" one to issue a get without the sanction of beit din. This is called a "get meusah" (forced get) and it is a recipe for an illegitimate divorce and other illegitimate issues.

And herein lies the pitfall of some of today's prenups. They are very meticulously and properly composed. A bit too meticulously.

You see, the problem is that most batei din cannot really enforce the punitive terms of a prenup. No surprise, seeing as they are meant for people who do not really respect beit din. But the wizards who compose them make sure that they are enforcible in a secular court, a bona fide binding contract. Now, there is no problem with this as long as first beit din rules that the recalcitrant party is in breech of contract and issues a harsha'ah for the injured party to take the prenup to a secular court to enforce it on behalf of beit din. However, this does not always occur. Often, a beit din may feel that, even though the time deadline has come to pass, recalcitrance has not been proven or that both parties are equally recalcitrant (very typical scenario) and there is no Halachic justification to enforce the penalties of the prenup. Whereupon, one party (usually the female one) runs to the secular court with the legally binding prenup - with no harsha'ah from beit din - and has a liberal Western minded judge (usually a female one) enforce the prenup. Since beit din did not authorize this, any money extracted may be Halachic gezel and a resulting get may well qualify as a get meusah.

This is playing with fire. But I guess we established that מבעיר is one of the melachos that everyone holds we say mitoch she'huttra, huttra!

Speaking of מבעיר, I want to discuss the burning issue that inspired me to write this post. This is what is known as the Markey bill. This is a proposed bill pending in the New York legislature that aims to assist victims of sexual abuse by temporarily suspending the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil claims. There is a bit of disagreement among Orthodox askanim on whether or not to support this bill.

It seems that even before the swine flu we have been faced with a growing pandemic of revelations of sexual abuse within the greater Orthodox community. I am as distressed as everybody else to read about these stories and I bemoan the weaknesses that far too many "frum" Jews have fallen prey to and more so the plights of those who have been victimized by them. It goes without saying that victims of abuse should have full access to every resource that can aid in healing and closure.

Still, when it comes to what can be presented and litigated in a secular court we must tread carefully. We must not lose sight of what is muttar and what is not.

Now, I have heard that numerous rabbanim have allowed people to report suspected sexual offenders to the police and to press charges. Quite obviously a sexual miscreant is a menace to society and it can be deemed a case of pikuach nefesh to take these fellows out of circulation. However, when it comes to suing in civil court for monetary compensation, I don't really see any real pikuach nefesh and I am not sure that many erudite poskim permit it.

So now, on one hand, I have no problem at all with the Markey bill. All it does is eliminate the statute of limitations on claims and offenses that were prosecutable before the expiration of the limitations. I have never been a great supporter of the whole concept of statute of limitations being that no such concept exists in Halacha. But we do need to take a good strong look at what we are allowed to bring to a secular court even if we are within the limitation period.

In other words, let us pretend that today (R"L) a young man is molested in an Agudah affiliated camp or in some Yeshiva or Torah U'Mesorah institution. And let us assume that to this point, the camp or yeshiva administration, and certainly the parent umbrella organization, is not currently aware that the perpetrator is a sexual offender. Now, I understand perfectly that many rabbanim will permit us to "throw the book" at the perpetrator and press charges both criminally and civilly. But, are there Halachic grounds to sue the administrators or the incorporated entity of the camp or organization?

We are all influenced by western society's dogma of "all associated parties are responsible" that is the basis of mountains of litigation in Western courtrooms. Negligence here, negligence there. Everybody is responsible for the miscreant behavior of their children and spouses and their children's spouses and their spouse's children and their employees and their employee's spouses and children and for their products and for what their products produce and for everybody who can't read instructions and doesn't know that coffee is hot. In the West there is never an ingrown toenail without somebody to sue.

Is that what the Halacha says?

Here's what the gemara says:

חרש שוטה וקטן פגיעתן רעה החובל בהן חייב והם שחבלו באחרים פטורין. העבד והאשה פגיעתן רעה החובל בהם חייב והם שחבלו באחרים פטורין

This means that from an Halachic perspective, when an person inflicts some damage, it doesn't matter who their spouse is, who their parent is, who their employer is, as long as the parent/spouse/employer did not actively aid and abet the perpetrator, and more so if they were not aware of their destructive tendencies, then there are no Halachic grounds for compensation from them.

As for the Markey bill - If it merely exposed the perpetrator and stopped there I would consider it worthy of undivided support. But, as long as the claims can be extended to the "she'ar yerakos", we are playing with fire. A yeshiva, camp, or frum organization can and should only be sued in Beit Din on Halachic grounds. If there are no grounds to sue in a beit din, then there are no grounds to sue anywhere.

Let's keep the genie in the bottle.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Har Nof - An Aging Community?


I have been meaning to post this image for months. I was finally motivated to action last week to commemorate the mitzvah of מפני שיבה תקום והדרת פני זקן which appears in parshas Kedoshim. Though I still didn't get it posted by Shabbos.

The sign is found on Rechov Agassi almost across the street from Kehillat Bnei Torah. It has been there for as long as I can remember (about 20 minutes on average) and I am not aware of another sign like it anywhere in Har Nof or in the entire world, for that matter. I wonder if they have such a sign near Neve Simcha?

What is it doing of all places on Rechov Agassi? There are no old age homes in Har Nof. The average "baal habus" in Har Nof is about 45. The bus routes do not go down Agassi so it is a much quieter street than Shaulson or Katzenelenbogen. And it has enough speed bumps to keep draggers at bay and provide ample parnassah to all the mechanics in Givat Shaul.

Perhaps it pays to remind lower aged people that nobody ever gets any younger. Maybe we need to put a sign like this in Ramat Beit Shemesh?

רבי טרפון אומר: היום קצר , והמלאכה מרבה, והפועלים עצלים, והשכר הרבה, ובעל הבית דוחק