Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rabbi Natan (formerly Nosson) Slifkin

This is going to be a pretty short post as this subject has been discussed on numerous blogs many times. I just wanted to put in my two cents (please forgive the cliche).

My wife and I just purchased two of Rabbi Slifkin's seforim, Mysterious Creatures, which discusses mythological creatures from a Torah standpoint, and his latest, a revamp of a previous sefer, The Challenge of Creation.

Neither my wife nor I really understand how people who are considered Gedolei Yisroel (though by what criteria, I'm not quite sure) can put a person and his materials in cherem when though don't even really know what the material they are banning really discusses, while other roshei yeshiva give hascamas to their students' books that are basically Nazism - discussing the superiority of the Jewish people, saying how all others are sub-human and not worthy to walk the earth - without even reading those books. This was the case of a book a student from Lakewood Yeshiva wrote. His Rosh Yeshiva gave it a hascama, which he did retract when he was actually told what the book said. However, shouldn't that rosh yeshiva, a man considered a gadol b'Yisroel, have read, or at least skimmed the book, before giving it a hascama? And yet as as gadol, according the chareidi/Yeshivish world, he is infallible, as all gedolim are, apparently. So how did he make this mistake?

Answer: Gedolim are indeed fallible, be they modern day rabbis or Chazal, or the Nevi'im, or even Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Yes, Moseh Rabbeinu was fallible and even made mistakes. God told him to speak the rock, and Moshe hit it. I don't care how the meforshim try to dress up his actions to make it seem like he did not goof. He did, and for that goof, Moshe did not get to go into Eretz Yisroel. Period.

And there are so many stories like that in Tanach. Adam Harishon? He goofed. He knew full well what he was being fed. Or how about the story of Yehuda and Tamar. I don't care how the Meforshim like to dress up Yehuda's actions. At the end of the day, he saw a prostitute on the road and decided to sleep with her. And when the time came, he didn't say "I couldn't have possibly made a mistake." He said: "Tsodka Memeni." "She was right and I was wrong." Dovid Hamelech owned up to his mistakes, and he was punished for them. Chizkiyahu Hamelech decided not to have children because he saw in Ruach Hakodesh what Menashe would do. He was punished and continued to be punished until he changed his mind.

The stories go on and on. Nobody is infallible. A man cannot live a lifetime and not sin. These apologetics that exonerate people because we can't imagine them goofing up must stop.

Back to Rabbi Slifkin. He was put into cherem because some people decided to take words and sentences out of context and use them as proof that he was being a heretic. It's disgusting, and the fact that modern day "gedolim" allow themselves to be controlled by their "handlers," their Meshamshiim who restrict access to these "gedolim," who should be accessible to all, is in itself a fallacy they must rectify if there is ever to be a healing in the ever growing rift in Klal Yisroel.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Were the Jedi Yeshivish?

Well, let's see. They wore their uniform and walked around with complete arrogance. They were completely inflexible in their ways. They couldn't see disaster looming right in front of them. They wouldn't listen to the voice of reason that times they were 'a changin' (Qui-Gon), and they were manipulative to the nth degree, especially when it came to Anakin.

I'd say, yeah, that sounds pretty Yeshivish/Chareidi to me.

The Yeshivish/Chareidi world is crashing in on itself. They are becoming more and more a fringe segment of the Jewish nation. Much of what they do and how they act is no more Frum than how Reform Jews act. Neither acts according to Halacha. Chareidim/Yeshivish people hate normative/Centrist/Modern Orthodox Judaism and does not see it as kosher Judaism. They spew hateful slanders at anyone not like them. This is not right. If they are secure in their faith, they needn't spew at others, and if they are insecure, which, I suspect, is what is really going on, they need to figure out why and fix it.

That's all. Short one this time.

Next: Rabbi Natan Slifkin

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bas Kol - Epilogue

Hiskatnus Hadoros, misquoted pesukim, missing the point, probably on purpose, twisting stories to make them look like they favor all this. Are we, at the end of the day, victims of some kind of mind control? Is religion truly the opiate of the masses? Must we always tow the party line, to use a political term? Has our religion, the religion of Emes, become just a political means of controlling the people?

I don't know. But I do know that many Chareidim, Yeshivish people, and the like, pretend the outside world has no effect on the frum one. This is pure sheker. Look at the political climate of the the US. People belonging to certain parties are happy to tow their party's line. Just tell them what to do, and they'll do it, since it MUST be for the good of the many. Why think when we have religious and political figures to do the thinking for us?

However, putting all this together, the price of being frum, the cost of living in frum neighborhoods, having to follow certain minhagim and halachas that seem unnecessary, the state of the Jewish Nation, the hatred of the chareidim toward everyone who is not like them. I had a Rosh Yeshiva whose "hashkafa" sessions were hate filled tirades against the Conservative congregation that dominated his neighborhood, a neighborhood to which he had come in order to do kiruv. I can tell you, he is not, to this day, doing a particularly good job of it. 90% of the Jewish Population there hates him. And I mean, really hate him!

Here's where I think things went, and are still going, wrong: The possuk says "do not deviate right or left." This is not just an admonition against not being frum, or becoming an Oved Avoda Zara. This is an admonition to not becoming too "frum" as well. It's an admonition that when you become too fanatical, you lose people faster and faster.

I'm a big fan of Star Wars. In the very original one from 1977, there is a scene that I think succinctly puts this into perspective. Princess Leia is brought before Grand Moff Tarkin, who proceeds to boast about the Death Star's destructive power and that no one in the galaxy will dare oppose the Emperor now that he has the power to destroy an entire planet with one blast. Princess Leia comes back with a particularly sharp retort (using a a false British accent, of course). She says to Tarkin, "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." This is what has historically happened the Frumkeit in general. The more the grip has been tightened, the more people slipped through. People need guidance, loving guidance, not control. If only the Rabbanim in general would have been, historically, more confident in their abilities as leaders and been open to listening to concerns, would we be in the situation in which we find ourselves today? Divrei Chachamim B'Nachas Nishmaim - the words of the wise are heard softly, which means they need to be spoken softly to be heard softly. Instead, concerns were not taken into consideration, and many angry Jews decided to just leave the fold completely or deviate to all sorts of directions, not just Yamin or Smol, right or left. I would like to end this little tirade with a poem with which most people to I've spoken to are familiar. It's entitled "Moshiach's Hat:"

'T was the night of the Geulah, -- And in every single Shtiebel
Sounds of Torah could be heard -- Coming from every kind of Yeedel.
This one in English, -- Some in Hebrew, some in Yiddish.
Some saying P'shat -- And some saying a Chiddish.
And up in Shamayim--The Aibishter decreed:
"The time has come -- For My children to be freed.
"Rouse the Moshiach -- From his heavenly berth.
Have him get in his chariot, -- And head down to earth.
"The Moshiach got dressed -- And with a heart full of glee,
Went down to earth and entered -- the first Shtiebel he did see.
"I am the Moshiach! -- Hashem has heard your plea!
Your Geulah has come! -- It's time to go free!
"They all stopped their learning; -- This was quite a surprise.
And they look at him carefully, -- With piercing sharp eyes
"He's not the Moshiach!" -- Said one with a grin,
"Just look at his hat, -- At the pinches and brim!"
"That's right!" cried another -- With a grimace and frown,
"Whoever heard of Moshiach, -- With a brim that's turned down?"
"Well," thought Moshiach, -- "If this is the rule,
I'll turn my brim up -- Before I go to the next shul."
So he walked right on over -- To the next shul in town.
Sure to be accepted, -- Since his brim was no longer down.
"I'm, the Moshiach!" he cried, -- As he began to enter
But the Jews wanted to know first -- If he was Left Right or Center
"Your clothes are so black!" -- They cried out in fright.
"You can't be Moshiach--You're much too far right!"
"If you want to be Moshiach, -- You must be properly outfitted.
"So they replaced his black hat -- With a Kippah that was knitted.
Wearing his new Kippah, -- Moshiach went out and said:
"No difference to me -- What I wear on my head.
"So he went to the next shul, -- For his mission was dear.
But he was getting frustrated -- With the Yidden down hear.
"I'm the Moshiach!" he cried, -- And they all stopped to stare,
And a complete eerie stillness -- Filled up the air.
"You're the Moshiach?! -- Just imagine that!
Whoever heard of Moshiach -- Without a black hat?"
"But I do have a hat!" -- The Moshiach then said.
So he pulled it right out -- And plunked it down on his head.
Then the shul started laughing, -- And one said " Where's your kop?
You can't have Moshiach -- With a brim that's turned up!
If you want to be Moshiach -- And be accepted in this town,
"Put some pinches in your hat -- And turn that brim down!"
Moshiach walked out and said: -- "I guess my time hasn't come.
I'll just return -- To where I came from.
"So he went to his chariot, -- But as he began to enter,
All sorts of Jews appeared -- From the Left, Right, and Center.
"Please wait - do not leave. -- It's all their fault!" they said,
And they pointed to each other -- And to what was on each other's head.
Moshiach just looked sad -- And said, " You don't understand."
And then started up his chariot -- To get out of this land.
"Yes, it's very wonderful -- That you all learn Torah,
But you seem to have forgotten -- A crucial part of our Mesorah.
"What does he mean?" -- "What's he talking about?"
And they all looked bewildered, -- And they all began to shout.
Moshiach looked back and answered, -- "The first place to start,
Is to shut up your mouths -- And open your hearts.
"To each of you, certain Yidden -- Seem too Frum or too Frei,
But all Yidden are beloved -- in the Aibishter's eye."
And on his way up he shouted: -- " If you want me to come,
Try working a little harder -- On some Ahavat Chinam!"

Next up: Were the Jedi Yeshivish? (I've been wanting to do this one for a LOOOONNNNGGGG time!!:)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bas Kol - Conclusion

So what have all these Gedarim left us? Some 95% - 98% of Jews are no longer halacha following, whatever the reasons may be. The Reform movement was a result of some angry people who were tired of being held back. We are told to have Emunas Chachamim because they knew best and halacha can therefore not be changed. Nor can minhagim that are practically considered halacha.


Second day of Yom Tov. Hillel Hakatan came up with and set the calendar. From then on, we all know when Yom Tov is. However, the chachamim of the day admonished those living far enough outside of Eretz Yisrael (who up to that point had to keep two days of Yom Tov because notification of the new month would not reach them in time) to be careful about observing Minhag Avoseichem - the customs of their fathers. The only reason those people kept two days of Yom Tov was because they weren't sure up to that point when Yom Tov was, so they created the best system they could FOR THEIR TIME PERIOD by creating a second day of Yom Tov to be sure they did not violate Yom Tov. However, they were then told to continue keeping two days of Yom Tov just because they were in Chutz La'Aretz. So here's the question: Let's say they had had telephones, or even telegraphs back in those days (forget faxes, email, and the internet - let's just go with something as primitive as a telegram). Information regarding the new month would only take moments, maybe hours, to reach pretty much anywhere. Would people in Bavel or further have kept two day Yom Tov then? I would say absolutely not!! The only reason there was a concept of second day Yom Tov was only to be sure Yom Tov would not be violated. With a telegraph system in place, this geder would not have been necessary and the concept would never have come up! But here we are, some 1700-1800 years after Hillel Hakatan set the calendar, and we still have to keep a completely obsolete Minhag! Why? No one have EVER given me a good reason. EVER!! And if we do have to keep it based on the calendar set by Hillel Hakatan, why do those living in Israel not need to do so? They don't have a Beis Din deciding when Rosh Chodesh is any more than those living outside of Eretz Yisrael do! Shouldn't we be deciding halacha based on the times in which we live? I'm not saying change Halacha that is immutable, like keeping Shabbos and Kashrus. I'm talking about Halacha that was set by Chachamim based on the times in which they lived. Had they had access to technology such as ours, second day Yom Tov would never have been necessary, and probably would not have even come up for discussion! And yet we are told now that we have to keep it because of Minhag Avoseinu. I still haven't heard a GOOD reason.

Kitniyos! Again, Pesach is only 7 days long (ok, eight outside of Israel). If you eat Gebrokhts, not a problem, life's good. I've made stuff that tastes just like Chametz. Couldn't tell the difference at all. But here, you have stuff you know is Muttar to eat on Pesach, as Sephardim do eat Kitniyos on Pesach. And yet, the Ashkenazic rabbis simply decided: Nope. You can't have Kitniyos on Pesach. WHY?! Why did they decide to make the muttar assur? As we know from the Vidui of Rabbeinu Nissim, we are NOT supposed to do that: "That which you have permitted, I forbade, and what you have forbidden, I have permitted." This is part of a Vidui. We saying sorry for doing something we were NOT supposed to do. And here, we have our chachamim making assur that which is muttar, be it Kitniyos or being forced to keep second day Yom Tov.

Here's a good one: How long to not eat dairy after eating meat. Love this one. The source for this is in Chulin, Daf 105A, which says you're not supposed to eat meat and dairy in the same meal, but should wait until the next one. There, Mar Ukva relates how his father will not eat dairy after a meat meal, but rather will wait until the next day. Mar Ukva himself will not eat it at the same meal, but will have it at the next one. This started the controversy as to what ‘until the next meal’ means. Tosphos on daf 105a in Chulin explains that as long as one has cleared the table after the meal and benched, then one may begin a new meal with dairy. Rambam explains the waiting because meat can get stuck in teeth longer than other foods. Another reason is that it takes approximately six hours to digest meat. Because he says about six hours and not just six, some people interpret this to mean that 5 ½ of waiting is allowed. He also connects it to health issues and idolatry. The Shulchan Aruch says that one must wait six hours for meat, including birds, even if one has just been grinding up food for a baby and not really eating. This is the type of minhag that should really be dependent upon the time and place in which one lives. But here, we're told that once adopted, we cannot change it. At all. Period. End of story! That's just ridiculous!

As I mentioned in previous posts, there are many Pesukim that are quoted completely out of context to give the Chachamim carte blanche to decide all halacha for all time. None of those pesukim actually say this. The one oft quoted in Devarim of not deviating left or right from all they tell you to do is a particular favorite one to be quoted. However, the context does not allow for this carte blanche. At the end of the day, those who have quoted these pesukim out of context should really be no better than the missionaries who quote pesukim out of context from Yesha'ayahu and other Nevi'im to prove that Yeshke was truly the son of God and the Messiah! Seriously, what is the difference? Why are they wrong but the chachamim right? I find the basis for all this to be truly rickety and not in any way a solid foundation at all. I need answers. And the ones from all you out there who like to take things on blind faith. That's a very Christian response, and I have no interest in Christianity. Talk about a false religion! When Christian "Gedolim" are asked about the blatant contradictions in their "bible," the answer given is "some things just have to be taken on faith" or some gibberish like that. Judaism, true Judaism, is, or at least should be, a thinking religion, not a controlling one.

Ki Karov Eilecha - How does it relate to me, today, not to someone who live two or three thousand years ago? We find clearly written in the Gemara, as in the case of meat after dairy, that the minhagim were set up based on what a person did, when he ate. If, as many in weight management say, we should be eating five smaller meals a day rather than three large ones, should we not only wait between those meals? This is what I mean by how does halacha pertain to us, today. Why should we keep two days of Yom Tov today? Even without Hillel Hakatan, our scientific knowledge has progressed enough to EXACTLY when the Molad of the moon is, down to the second!! Wouldn't you say this is a much more accurate way of measuring when the new month starts than a couple of Eidim seeing the new moon?

Ki Karov Eilecha - It should be a pleasure to observe Judaism, not a burden. When Halach was set down, it was set down based on how they lived then, not on how we live today. Today.

I am finding many inconsistencies in how we practice Orthodox Judaism today. I don't have any answers. I wish I did. I still send my kids to frum schools, still pay the exorbitant price of kosher food and Jewish education, still live in the better neighborhood in which I can't afford to live because we need to be in a Jewish community. But for what? It's so frustrating!

I think the Gemara missed the point with the Bas Kol story. When that Bas Kol boomed out and declared that Rabbi Eliezer was correct, God meant to hint to Chachamim that halacha is not set, that it can change depending on circumstance. We all know the danger of learning Igros Moshe: We are supposed to use it as a guideline, not a tool with which to Paskin halacha, as each case Reb Moshe Feinstein paskined was unique and had its own set of circumstances that may not apply to other people with the seemingly same question. The point of the Bas Kol was while Torah is not mutable, halacha is based on circumstances. And even the possuk the Chachamim use (out of context, by the way) of "Lo BaShamayim He" proves this point exactly: It's not in Heaven, so far away that we cannot fathom it. It's here, on earth, for us to learn and apply to us as we live our lives TODAY. That's what chachamim did. They applied it to their day. Had circumstances been different, different halachas would have been paskined because the chachamim would have looked at THEIR circumstances, as indeed they did, and paskined Halacha BASED on THEIR circumstances. And while there certainly has been hiskatnus hadoros, which seems to scare people from changing anything, and a Mesorah, which further prevents halachic decisions being made based on when a particular generation lives, Yiddishkeit is about, at its core, the concept of Ki Karove Eilecha - It is close to us, as it pertains to US, not some fluffy ideal of thousands of years ago. Perhaps if more past Gedolei Yisrael had taken this into account, maybe Frum Judaism would not be the minority of Jewish people.