Taking the Hard Way Out

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz

דברים י׳ז:ט׳ז

רַק לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ סוּסִים וְלֹא יָשִׁיב אֶת הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס וַיקֹוָק אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עוֹד

Moreover, he shall not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, since Hashem has warned you, You must not go back that way again

The Torah forbids a Jewish king to send Jewish people back to Egypt.  While the Torah only references a king, the Rambam (הלכוֹת מלכים ה:ז) understands this as a prohibition for all Jews in all generations, forbidding them to live in Egypt. The Talmud (Sukkah 51b) records the view of Abaye that this halakhah needs to be taken seriously, as a large and successful community in Alexandria, Egypt was wiped out by Alexander the Great because they had failed to heed this prohibition.   

Why should Jews hundreds, or even thousands, of years after the redemption from Egypt be barred from living in that country? While this prohibition would be understandable for the generation that received the Torah, as they had just been redeemed from slavery in Egypt, why should there be a prohibition for all generations?  The Torah doesn’t forbid us to live in Spain, Russia and even Germany, places where horrific atrocities were done to the Jewish people, and in more recent memory. So why the prohibition to live in Egypt?

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that Egypt represents wealth. We see in Sefer Bereishit that Avraham goes to Egypt to avoid a famine, and Yaakov’s family does as well. Egypt is viewed as a place of natural resources, technological advancement and tremendous wealth. This presents a unique challenge. The temptation to become closely connected to Egypt is powerful, because they can ease many of the burdens facing the land of Israel.

A Jewish king could easily lean on Egypt for their natural resources and technological prowess, neglecting their own land and people. So too, if Jews start moving to Egypt there is a risk that they may stay there permanently for financial reasons. Over time the Jewish people will Become too dependant on Egypt, which puts the welfare of the Jewish people at risk and removes the motivation to cultivate the land of Israel and utilize the ingenuity of the Jewish people. This is not to say that the Torah is against all imports, merely the danger of becoming so dependant on one country that our independence becomes compromised.

While the Torah only prohibits us from living in Egypt, this lesson can certainly be applied more broadly. Our land and our people are our most valuable resources, and we need to have trust that Hashem will help us cultivate both. When we do so, we fully maximize the potential of our people and our land. Over the past seventy years we have seen the capacity of the people and the land of Israel when we are independent and self-reliant. May we never lose that vision or forget just how successful we can be if we trust that Hashem will help us maximize the potential of our people and our land.

Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz (SBM 2000) is a faculty member of  Yeshiva University High School for Girls, where he also serves as the curriculum coordinator for the Talmud and Halakhah departments.


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(When) Should Halakhah Be Enforced?

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

America has a “wall of separation” between synagogue and state, whereas in Israel the civil courts can be called upon to enforce the orders of state-recognized Rabbinical courts (batei din mamlakhtiyim).  This difference was brought to public attention most recently when the Israeli police arrested a Masorati rabbi for failure to obey a beit din summons (not, as many reported, for performing an unauthorized wedding; that was the subject of the summons, not the cause for the arrest).  Such cases test whether Jewish, and specifically Orthodox, support for religious freedom in the U.S. is a substantive commitment or rather a pragmatic concession to the realities of life as a small religious minority. 

Here are two other ways in which the depth of that commitment can be tested. 

First, Israeli courts have the authority to impose sanctions such as confiscation of passports and drivers’ licenses or even imprisonment on men who refuse a beit din’s order to divorce their wives.  Do we support the utilization and even strengthening of such measures, such as the recent extension of this authority to Jewish non-citizens passing through Israel? 

Second, consider the opening of this week’s parshah (Devarim 16:18)

שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים

תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ

אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְקֹוָ֧ק אֱ-לֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖


וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק

Shoftimand shotrim

you must place for yourself in all your gates

which Hashem your G-d is giving you

by tribe

They will be shofet the people mishpat tzedek.

Rashi defines the nouns shoftim and shotrim as follows:

שפטים = דיינין הפוסקין את הדין.

ושוטרים = הרודים אחר מצותם במקל ורצועה עד שיקבל עליו את דין השופט

Shoftim= judges who decide the law

Shotrim = those who enforce their commands with baton and strap until they accept the judge’s ruling

 This verse seems to mandate the establishment of an executive – call them police, sheriff, or marshals – tasked with enforcing the rulings of the halakhic judiciary.

Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto (SHADAL; his commentary is now available online at alhatorah.org) sharply disagrees with Rashi.

אין ספק כי השוטרים אינם שליחי ב”ד הרודים במקל

כי במצרים הרודים במקל היו נקראים נוגשים, לא שוטרים

ולמעלה (א’, ט”ו) אמר

“ואקח את ראשי שבטיכם אנשים חכמים וידועים ואתן אותם ראשים עליכם וגו’ ושוטרים”,

ובדברי הימים ב’ י”ט:י”א

“והנה אמריה כהן הראש וגו’ וזבדיהו הנגיד וגו’ ושוטרים הלוים לפניכם”,

וביהושע ח:ל”ג

“וכל ישראל וזקניו ושוטרים ושופטיו”,

והנה השופטים היו דנים במה שבין אדם לחברו, או בבוא עדים על איש שחטא,

והשוטרים היו משגיחים על שלום המדינה וגוזרים גזרות והנהגות על העם

There is no doubt that the shotrimare not the agents of beit din who enforce via baton

because in Egypt the baton-enforcers were called nogsim, not shotrim

and above (Devarim 1:15):

Moshe said: “I took the heads of your tribes, men wise and known,

and I placed them as heads over you . . . and as shotrim”,

and in II Chronicles 19:11:

“Here Amaryah the Priest and Zevadyahu the nagid . . . and the Levites as shotrim before you

and in Yehoshua 8:33:

“and all Israel with its z’kenim and shotrim and shoftim.”

So the shoftim judged in interpersonal matters, or when witnesses came that a man had sinned,

while the shotrim would oversee the peace of the state and decree decrees and practices on the people.

Shadal may have a strong textual case against limiting the role of the shotrim to the physical enforcement of court orders. But his argument that they constituted a separate branch of government charged with issuing decrees has no textual basis at all!  Rather, it seems to me, his interpretation may reflect a political conviction that the judicial and legislative powers of the state are best separated, or else he had lots of terms for leaders and needed to find something unique for each category to do.

 Rashi’s reading however has a strong contextual basis.  Our verse begins by mandating the appointment of both shoftim and shotrim, and yet concludes that their single purpose is to be shofet.  This strongly indicates that the role of the shotrim is subsumed with that of the shoftim, and that they are support personnel rather than independent actors.

However, support personnel need not be tasked with enforcement specifically.  I learned from Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger of blessed memory that justice always depends on efficient administration.  The best of batei din with the best of intentions, handling divorce and conversion cases with great sensitivity and deep personal attention, but with a filing system that often misplaces vital documents, will produce more and worse long-term injustices than an impersonal and callous beit din which keeps perfect records.  One cannot expect tzedek from the best of shoftim unless they have the right personnel and system for keeping track of vital documents, or shtarot.  Some of the worst problems with batei din in both America and Israel are the result of underfunding such vital background positions, and/or of underappreciating how important it is to fill those positions well. 

But it is also true that justice ultimately also requires enforcement.  Bad people do not do the right thing by choice when self-interest points the other way; and good people can be stubborn in their mistakes, for various reasons.  A system of law that depends on entirely voluntary submission to the law and to judicial authority will end in the tyranny of bad people.  This is why competent American batei din do not agree to hear financial cases unless both sides sign secularly enforceable binding arbitration agreements. Otherwise, bad people will take good people to beit din and if they win, collect, and if they lose, simply move on to secular court.

At the same time, enforcing the law when it lacks broad social support usually generates different sorts of injustices.  It becomes a tool of power – whether in the hands of a minority or a majority – rather than a tool of justice. 

Halakhah regarding marriage, divorce, and Jewish identity is therefore often trapped within a conflict of values.  On the one hand, the fact that so many Jews reject the authority of halakhah means that efforts at enforcement are often, and often correctly, perceived as powerplays by specific subcommunities rather than as pursuits of justice.  On the other hand, leaving the area completely voluntaristic leaves one spouse at the mercy of another at the moment of greatest conflict and antagonism, and leaves converts subject to the whims of particular subcommunities, bureaucrats, and individuals.

One might argue that halakhah should meet these challenges by divesting itself of all non-personal implications.  This seems to me both impossible and wrong.  Jewish status is inherently a communal matter; to argue for the complete separation of religion and identity is to undo the fundaments of Judaism.  I think it is also reasonable for marital status to be an issue of communal concern and recognition.  The breakdown of a common understanding of marriage may make that an untenable position in the progressive West; and yet that most American liberals still seek state recognition of a broader range of marriages, rather than advocating for the abolition of marriage as a state-cognizable category, may say something important (even for those of us who think that the time has come for the state to completely remove itself from the business of marriage, and either to treat people purely as individuals, or else to let them form economic/domestic partnerships as they wish without any notion that such partnerships entail emotional or sexual elements or commitments).

There cannot be true mishpat tzedek without shotrim.  Often this means simply that our society cannot achieve true mishpat tzedek.  Often nothing positive will be accomplished by appointing more shotrim, or by giving the existing shotrim more power. Power contributes to tzedek only if it is grounded in legitimate authority, and legitimate authority requires the consent of the governed.

There is no reason or basis for aspiring to have shotrim enforce all of halakhah on a community which rejects its authority.  An immediate task for a halakhically committed community is to build moral authority for the Law in the areas where halakhah requires enforcement to produce tzedek.  To do that, we need to demonstrate our own commitment to tzedek within halakhah.  In both Israel and America, this means putting serious time, money, attention and political capital into building a beit din system that is highly professional and capable of building moral consensus across communities.

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The 2018 SBM Shayla – Honoring Parents

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

SBM 2018 concluded with a superb series of conversations about the Fellows’ draft responsa to the following case. It was moving and inspiring to see how seriously they took both the issues and each other’s work.  We hope that the case will stimulate further conversations among you, and look forward to sharing the Fellows’ final responsa soon.  Meanwhile, we’re including at the end some guiding questions and approaches drawn from Rabbi Klapper’s draft responsa (note that elements of his draft did not survive the Fellows grilling either).


Kirk and Gwyneth live in Hollywood, Connecticut.  She is 38, he is 39, and they have three children, girls ages 5 and 7, and a boy age 12.  She is a lawyer working for a large firm that specializes in creating offshore corporations to lower tax liabilities. He is a successful serial entrepreneur currently building a business selling nonmatching pairs of socks to young women (www.dobbysoxers.com).  They identify as Modern Orthodox and keep Shabbat and a kosher home, and hilkhot niddah deoraita.

Gwyneth’s parents, Mel and Natalie, divorced when she was still a baby.  She grew up with her mother Natalie on the Upper East Side, living a lavish lifestyle largely financed by Mel, who never forgave either her mother or her for his overwhelming defeat in divorce court.  Mel and Gwyneth were together every second weekend until her high school graduation, and while the relationship never flourished, it has also never been allowed to lapse completely.  Lately they touch base by phone every few months.  Mel has however shown great affection and generosity to his grandchildren, who call him regularly.  Gwyneth and Natalie talk almost daily, and meet frequently.

Mel is still active in his business and very wealthy.  He has never been terribly interested in Jewish practice, although he is a large donor to local Jewish institutions in his current home in Los Angeles.  He has remarried and divorced several Gentile wives since divorcing Natalie.

Natalie has become gradually more interested in religion, and now identifies as Modern Orthodox.  She is an active member of an MO synagogue, keeps a kosher home, and will not eat in nonhekshered fleishig restaurants or check her email on Shabbat, although she does make and receive phone calls and texts.  For some years, she has been in a relationship with Dustin, and they would like to marry.  However, she never received a get from Mel, and Mel has refused to discuss the matter with her, threatening to block her number if she brings it up again.  The Beit Din of America has issued a seruv against Mel and ORA has organized a demonstration in front of his house.     

Natalie asks Gwyneth to bring the issue up with Mel. Gwyneth says that she has already tried, and Mel ordered her never to mention it again.  Natalie also asks Gwyneth to prevent the grandchildren from calling Mel until he gives the get, and if she can, even to prevent them from answering the phone when Mel calls. 

Gwyneth now comes to you and asks whether she is obligated to bring the issue up again with Mel, or whether she is forbidden to, or whether she can choose whichever she thinks is right.  If the last, she’d appreciate any guidance you can give her.  She asks the same question regarding the grandchildren.  She is explicit that she would rather not interfere in their relationship with their grandfather, which has seemed to her a beautiful thing.  She also mentions that Kirk has been very clear that he would not support allowing the children to “be dragged into this thing between your parents,” and that Kirk has a good relationship with Mel that she is sometimes jealous of.  She is aware that Kirk thinks that her mother is impossible to live with, and that Mel is doing Dustin a favor by preventing Natalie from marrying him.  For that matter, she recognizes that her mother has often been a negative force in her life and in her marriage, and both Kirk and her therapist have told her that some of the things her mother has said to her in recent years amount to emotional abuse and attempts at excessive control.  She recognizes that her mother has always tried to sabotage her relationship with Mel.  At the same time, she has deep gratitude for what she sees as a mostly normal and successful childhood, and believes that the stress of not being able to marry Dustin has exacerbated her mother’s weaknesses of character.         

Kirk’s parents Sacha and Scarlett are still married to each other, and they live a few towns over in New Rochelle.  They have identified as Orthodox and been shomrei Shabbat throughout his life.  However, 10 years ago Sacha was indicted for income tax fraud for systematically taking part of the fees for his wedding catering fees in cash and not reporting them.  The indictment was dismissed after he agreed to pay a very heavy fine.  Kirk and Sacha had previously been close, but Kirk has not spoken to his father since the conviction.  He says that he prefers to keep in his mind the clear image of his father as a profoundly righteous man that he imbibed as a child.  His sense is that his father does not believe that he did anything morally wrong, and regrets only being caught, although he has no indication that his father is taking any legal chances these days. However, Kirk calls his mother every day.  Last week, she told him that his father will be receiving a lifetime service award at his shul’s annual dinner and that both of them would really appreciate it if he would make sure to be there; there seems to be a hint that his father’s health is not perfect. She mentions that they would be willing to pay for his ticket if money is an issue.  He mentions all this to Gwyneth, who opposes his going because “it will send the wrong message to our children.”  Still, he feels uncomfortable and even worried, and they both agree to ask you for advice or psak, whichever you feel appropriate.       



  • What interest do we have, if any, in altering the relationship between Kirk and Sacha?  Note that change may strain the status quo between Kirk and Gwyneth.
  • What interest do we have, if any, in altering the relationship between Gwyneth and Natalie?  We may have a long-term interest in improving her capacity to resist Natalie, but there is no reason that process must begin now. 
  • What interest, if any, do we have in altering the relationship between Gwyneth and Mel?
  • We have a clear interest in freeing Natalie.


  • Do we think that Kirk is in constant violation of his filial obligations?
  • Do we think that Orthodox society will be helped by more protests against honoring people such as Sacha?  Do we think that such protests are worth disrupting otherwise healthy families?
  • The second question is really a generalized question of the first.  So we need to start with it, although we may conclude that he is not in violation narrowly, and yet that we have no interest in generalizing his behavior.


Two questions:

  1. Is cutting off contact a per se violation?
  2. If yes, has Sacha behaved in a way that removes all the obligations that cutting off contact would otherwise violate?


Please email your substantive comments to us, or post on our Facebook page.  Thank you for reading!  Rabbi Klapper’s weekly parshah essay will iyH resume next week.

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Of Marriage and Mikvaot: When Does One Not Need to Listen to Their Parents? (Week Five Summary of SBM 2018)

by Amir Zinkow and Yair Lichtman, Senior Fellows

Up until this week, we spent the summer engrossed in the theoretical realm of Gemara, Rishonim, and codes. Now, we have finally arrived at more practical issues. Ironically, many of the more practical cases of kibbud av va’em focus on those people who are in situations that may result in their being exempt from the mitzvot of kibbud and yir’ah. These include cases of parents who tell their children to do things they do not want to do, how to live their lives, or situations of abuse, R’’L.

A seminal decision comes from the 15th century Italian posek Rabbi Joseph Colon Trabotto (Shu’’t Maharik 366). The question that came before him was complicated, with many aspects, but the part relevant to us is this: If a father forbids his son from marrying a specific woman, must the son obey? Does kibbud av require absolute obedience?

Maharik brings three reasons why a son should not have to obey his father in such a case. First, he notes that the Talmud records a dispute as to whether expenditures required to take care of a parent are borne by the child, or rather by the parent.  The consensus psak is that they are borne by the parent. Maharik argues that if we do not require a child to pay actual money for the care of his father, all the more so do we not require a child to go through the emotional suffering that would result from not marrying the woman with whom he desires to spend his life.

Maharik’s second argument is that, in a way, the father is asking his son to commit a sin. For if the son does not marry this woman, he will have to marry someone else, whom he will inevitably come to resent, and Chazal were careful not to create marriages in which resentment is present  (He derives this from the prohibition against men marrying women they have never seen, although he concedes that this prohibition can be relaxed when the alternative may be not marrying).

Finally, Maharik claims that kibbud av is limited to providing direct physical benefit to a parent. In our case, no physical benefit is present.

In shiur, we noted several interesting aspects of Maharik’s argumentation that may affect the way we posken in other cases. One issue we saw is that his first argument is very easily trivializable. How much emotional distress must children suffer before it is too much and they no longer have to listen to their parents? How do we even quantify this? What if someone just really does not want to take out the trash!?

We also observed that Maharik greatly lowered the standard of what kind of transgression a parent must ask of their child in order to remove the child’s obligation of kibbud. In the responsum, the Maharik uses the language of “nidnud aveirah“.  This phrase is difficult to translate, but indicates an action that is close to sinning but not actually sinning.

Lastly, Maharik made the claim that obeying parents is not part of kibbud or yir’ah; we were unsure whether we were comfortable writing obedience completely out of these mitzvot.

R. Moshe Isserles (Rema) in Yoreh De’ah 241:25 brings down Maharik lehalakhah, ruling that if a father is refusing to allow his son to marry someone, the son has no obligation to obey. However, Netziv, in his Meishiv Davar, reins in this general pesak. He reasons that if the marriage will cause the parent any tza’ar or embarrassment, then the son will be in transgression of the mitzvat lo ta’aseh of “arur makleh aviv v’imo”, “cursed is one who is makleh his father or mother”.  (The word makleh is difficult; one can translate it literally as “lighten”, or else as a lesser form of mekallel, or cursing.) In such cases, the son is obligated to obey the parent and not marry the wife of his choice.

We noted again how difficult it is to quantify tza’ar and embarrassment. When weighing a son’s tza’ar against his father’s, it becomes even more challenging to decide: Whose tza’ar is greater?  We also noted that the prohibition against being makleh parents does not appear in the Talmud, although it does in Rambam (Hilkhot Mamrim, end of Chapter 5), and in any case Netziv expands it well beyond Rambam to include causing parents tza’ar or to indirectly cause them bizayon.

Whether or not one accepts (some or all) of Maharik’s arguments will determine the extent of the obligations of kibbud av va’em in a variety of practical cases. For example, Rabbi Chaim Jachter spoke to SBM about the possible application of harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam by a son on his father. These sanctions, sometimes imposed by a beit din on a recalcitrant husband to encourage him to give his wife a get, involve the cessation of most forms of social interaction with the husband, including business interaction and casual conversation. May a daughter participate in such sanctions against her father?  Would that extend to refusing direct requests for food or conversation? Rabbi Jachter didn’t issue a definitive ruling on the matter, but it may depend on such issues as whether one must endure emotional pain in the pursuit of this mitzvah, whether the father’s attempts at interaction would be considered “requests to violate the Torah,” and whether maintaining social contact is part of the mitzvah. Rabbi Jachter also raised a potential distinction between teenagers and adult children, considering the effect on both the children and the parents at these varying stages of life.

Another situation in which Maharik’s arguments play out is the case of a mother instructing her son to violate a personal religious practice which falls short of a complete obligation. Shu”t Arugat HaBosem (OC 19), by Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, relates to a man who wants to know if he must listen when his father instructs him to refrain from immersing in a mikveh before prayer. In his discussion, Rabbi Greenwald evaluates whether there is, in fact, an element of mitzvah in such an immersion, and concludes that

כיון דמעולם היה מנהגך כך

א”כ פשיטא דלא גרע ממאי דאיתא ביו”ד סי’ ר”ד דבכל דבר מצוה אם נהג כן ג’ פעמים אפילו לא הוצא בשפתיו צריך לקיים מצד נדר…

Since your practice has always been to do this,

if so it is obvious that this is no worse than what is found in Yoreh Deah 204, [which says] that in every matter of a mitzvah, if one acts in that way three times, even if he did not articulate it with his lips, he needs to fulfill it as a neder…

Rabbi Greenwald allows a person to disobey his parent only after determining that this practice constitutes a mitzvah of sufficient weight.

Shu”t B’tzel HaChochmah (2:55) deals with a case of a son who learns that his father has cancer, whose father asks him to tell him about the diagnosis. Rabbi Betzalel Stern, presuming that it would be bad for the father’s health to hear the news, discusses whether listening to the father’s request falls within the realm of kibbud. He concludes that the son should not tell his father, as he seems to accept Maharik’s claim that kibbud only relates to the father’s personal needs.

This being our final week of shiur, we had a discussion about how these halakhot of kibbud av va’em would be applied given various modern values and realities. For example, given today’s sensitivities towards the emotional pain that come with certain strained relationships, how much do we require a child to go through in order to fulfill kibbud av va’em? We also considered meta-halakhic factors: As focus shifts from the family to the individual, how does this affect our pesak regarding kibbud av va’em? If kibbud av va’em as previously paskened assumed that individual identity (the Self) is at least partially constituted by family membership, and that this halakhah is fundamentally about the creation of a family unit rather than about the fulfillment of the individuals in the relationship, whereas we share modern culture’s position that individual fulfillment is a greater value, and see the self as existing prior to its membership in the family, perhaps this should affect our attitudes towards this mitzvah.  Or perhaps the mitzvah should challenge us to rethink our acceptance of cultural assumptions on these issues.

The modern phenomenon of ba’alei teshuvah raises another issue.  One standard rationale for these mitzvot is that they inculcate respect for the wisdom of the past, and thereby for Jewish tradition.  How do we conceive of and justify these mitzvot for people and societies in which Torah and Halakha are revolutionary instead of traditional? In other words, when children of non-frum parents become frum, they are breaking with tradition – with the way their parents think and act.  How does our tradition deal with this? Are ba’alei teshuvah obligated in kibbud av va’em even though their parents do not keep halakhah?  Does it matter whether the children’s return to observance is experienced as a fulfillment of shared values that the parents did not live out, or as a rejection of parental values?

As we enter our week of teshuvah writing, we are struggling with these questions and more. We hope to consider the cultural, meta-halakhic, and modern realities as we write. Perhaps most importantly, we look forward to weighing the values that underlie all of kibbud av va’em and producing responsa that reflect those values.

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Torah at the Core

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Batsheva Leah Weinstein

In parshas Eikev, Moshe describes to Bnei Yisrael the richness of the land of Israel. He describes its abundant sources of water and its special grains and fruits. Then he says that it is an

eretz asher lo ve-miskeinus tochal bah lechem lo sechsar kol bah” –

a land in which you will not eat in poverty, you will not lack anything in it;

eretz asher avaneha barzel u-me-harareha tachtzov nechoshes” –

a land whose rocks are iron and from her mountains you will mine copper (Devarim 8:9).

The plain meaning of this pasuk is that Eretz Yisrael is a fertile land. The Gemara (Ta’anis 4a), however, darshens this pasuk saying, “al tikri “avaneha” ela “boneha”” – don’t read “her rocks”, rather “her builders”, referring to talmidei chachamim. Read this way, Moshe describes Eretz Yisrael by stating that its Torah scholars are as hard as iron. What does this mean? Rashi (on the Gemara) explains that a Torah scholar must be strong and exacting when making decisions. Kli Yakar (commenting on Devarim 8:9) says that talmidei chachamim are like iron in that they sharpen each other by the challenges that each poses to the other.

Why does the Gemara choose this pasuk as the source for lessons about the characteristics of talmidei chachamim? What is difficult about the simple understanding of the pasuk? Additionally, why make the drasha from “avaneha” to “boneha” when “baneha”, meaning her sons, is closer linguistically and often refers to students of Torah?

In answer to our first question, Kli Yakar explains that in fact the entire pasuk is referring to talmidei chachamim.

The earlier pesukim refer to the land itself, but this pasuk foretells how Bnei Yisrael will experience living in the land – they will not eat in poverty and they will not lack anything. Thus the last part must also refer to how they will live in the land, and be giving not a mineralogical but rather a sociological report; they will live with Torah scholars hard as iron leading the way. The Jewish people are on the brink of entering a new stage in their life as a nation. Until now they have lived directly under the rule of Hashem, experiencing Him in their everyday lives. But now they are being charged with the task of creating a political society, supporting themselves not through the heavenly man but rather through the “sweat of their brows.” Moshe knows that they can easily falter, forgetting that Hashem is still behind all of their success despite its being harder to see. So when describing the land that they still soon live in, the new society which they will soon establish, he reminds them that Torah must be the basis of the nation.

Perhaps this is why the Gemara reads the word “avaneha” as “boneha”, her builders. Says the Gemara in Shabbos (114a), who are builders? These are the Torah scholars who are involved all of their days in building the world. The builders of the Eretz Yisrael are the talmidei chachamim because the land can only be built and survive on Torah. Talmidei chachamim must be as hard as iron so that they can establish Torah as the rock solid foundation of am Yisrael.


Batsheva Leah Weinstein (MA 2015,2016) recently graduated from Ma’ayanot and will be attending Migdal Oz this coming year.


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Human Dignity, Human Relationships, and Kibbud Av Va’Em: Week Four Summary of SBM 2018

This week’s summary is by Tamar Yastrab and Tamar Beer, SBM fellows

Rabbi Klapper began shiur by highlighting the ambiguities of the Gemara’s question “eizehu kavod eizehu yir’ah”. Does the question presuppose intuitive definitions of kavod and yir’ah, and seek to differentiate between the two seemingly similar categories? Or, does the question presume no prior knowledge of the categories of kavod and yir’ah, and seek to define them?

It is curious that the gemara lists examples of kavod and yir’ah for parents rather than precisely defining the categories. We realized that all the examples of yir’ah were DON’Ts and all the examples of kavod were DOs. We noted that strangely, obedience was absent from both these lists, even though obedience seemed the central element in many of the narratives about Kibbud Av Va’em we’ve seen in the gemara.

The next step was exploring the various ways in which several of the listed examples can be interpreted. To take one from each list:

Under yir’ah, we find v’lo machriyo =you shall not weigh in on a controversy in which a parent has taken a position. Rashi limits this to the case of a parent who is a chakham (and the subject matter to halakhah). Rav Chananel ben Shmuel contends that the prohibition applies regardless of the parent’s expertise (and to all subjects (or perhaps: all subjects except for halakhah). We asked whether their positions reflect differing standards as to what kind of parent deserves reverence – does kavod require deference to a parent who is a fool? or rather relate to the context and nature of reverence – is casual disagreement about trivia an act of irreverence?

Under kavod, we find maakhilo– causes him to be fed. Does this require the child to provide the parent with food, to personally serve the parent food (or to ensure that the parent is served by a competent butler)? The same issue arises with regard to all the other listed examples of kavod – do they require provision of goods or rather of services?

This issue may be at the core of the the question the gemara next poses: mishel mi =who is responsible for the financial costs of kibbud (and perhaps yir’ah)?

Our two options are either mishel ben =kavod must be financially paid for by the child, or else mishel av =the financial costs of kavod are borne by the parent. It is tempting to assume that the mishel ben position demands more of the child than the mishel ben position. However, this may not be so, in fact the reverse may be true. If the child is exempt in terms of monetary obligations, it must be that the obligation is on actions. This may imply that the child cannot outsource his obligations to hired others if it becomes too onerous, and also that he is expected to contribute his time and his patience. Another possibility is that the child may be obligated to provide both money and service.

The gemara challenges the mishel ben position by citing a beraita which rules that a child can feed their impoverished parent with food set aside as ma’aser ani (=the poor tithe given in the third and sixth years of the shemittah cycle). If kavod imposes a financial obligation on the son, satisfying kavod from a pool designated for the poor generally may be considered illegal “double dipping”, since it diminishes the total resources set aside for the class of poor people.

The gemara answers that the obligation of kavod can be satisfied with the parent still poor and still hungry. At that point there is no double dipping involved in feeding the parent with maaser ani. However, the beraita concludes by citing Rabbi Yehudah as declaring that “A curse should fall on one who feeds their parent maaser ani”. Since kavod has been satisfied, why the curse? The gemara answers that “Nonetheless, it is degrading”. If it is degrading, how can the obligation of kavod have been satisfied?

Rabbi Klapper suggested, following an idea of Rav Hershel Schachter and building on an answer given in shiur by Amir Zinkow, that perhaps parents are owed not only the special obligation of kibbud av va’em, but also that the general obligation of kavod habriot (=human dignity) has particular manifestations in the relationship between children and parents. While this standard obligation of kavod applies equally to every person, what is considered to be kavod can vary depending on the relationship with the person.

This can explain why one may not use maaser ani to feed a parent even after the obligation of kibbud av va’em-has been satisfied. Perhaps receiving charity in the context of a parent-child relationship is degrading, and as such, would be considered a deficiency in the baseline level of kavod which every person deserves.

The gemara next cites a beraita in which Rabbi Eliezer answers the question “How far does kibbud av v’em extend” by citing the case of a parent throwing a wallet full of money into the sea. The child must not humiliate the parent. The pronouns of the statement are ambiguous- כדי שיטול ארנקי ויזרקנו לים בפניו ואינו מכלימו. Whose wallet? Even if the child’s wallet, must the parent indemnify the loss if we hold mishel av? If the wallet belongs to the parent, or if the parent must indemnify the child, it may be hard to understand why this case would be used as an extreme case of kibbud. Rabbi Klapper asserted that in fact children do often develop a sense of entitlement to their parents’ money, and become angry if parents spend money on their own pleasures that diminishes the child’s financial expectations.

We next delved into various rishonim.

The Sefer Charedim believes that the chiyyuv is extremely far reaching, comparing the parent-child relationship to that of a king and servant. Sefer Charedim suggests that the child is obligated in all demands of the parents, barring only a parental request for a child to violate halakhah. He also contends that kavod is intended to express and/or inculcate ahavah =love.

The Ramban suggests that the core chiyuv of kibbud av va’em is providing the parent הנאה =benefit. He is therefore compelled to explain various cases of obedience as providing psychological benefits for the parent, but he is unwilling to say that obedience per se gives the parents a relevant benefit.

The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the obligation of kibbud av va’em is meant to imbue children with a sense of gratitude for those who provided for them”.

The Sefer Yereim suggests that there is no set amount required for kibbud av va’em, and proposes that the more careful one is to fulfil this command to better. We noted that this seemed odd both because kibbud av va’em is not listed among the mitzvot that “have no measure”, and because the case of maaser ani indicates that there is in fact a set requirement.

Rabbi Klapper suggested that the halakhic portions of the text which delineate specific requirements can be understood in conjunction with the heavily midrashic stories that illustrate great acts of kavod by drawing a distinction in kibbud av va’em. The standard level is chiyyuv =obligation, relating the the examples of kavod and yir’ah outlined in the beraita and perhaps to the more expansive interpretations of the rishonim. However, inherent in the mitzvah is also a level of kiyyum, where the child may act beyond what she or he is called upon to do. In this regard, we can comprehend the extreme narratives of אתא רב דימי and רבי אבהו (Kedushin 31.) as going above the letter of the law.

We discussed other textual oddities present in the gemera and rishonim. The gemara exempts women from kibbud av va’em because of רשות אחרים. What does רשות אחרים mean, and how could it exempt women from an unambiguous halakhic obligation? (We noted Rabbi Mordechai Willig’s position that the exemption is socially contingent.)

Tzipporah Machlah Klapper suggested that perhaps from the plural אחרים we can infer that the gemara was talking about her children, rather than her spouse. Rabbi Klapper believes that this constraint points to a larger limitation on kibbud av va’em. Kibbud av va’em is one relationship that at times overrides some relationships (Tosfot- אם יעסוק בכבוד אביו הלא אבידת חבירו קודמת כדאמרינן באלו מציאות (ב”מ דף לב.), yet can also be overcome by other relationships. Perhaps the marriage relationship supersedes the parental relationship halakhically. This suggests that husbands as well must prioritize their marital relationship over their obligations of kibbud av va’em where those conflict.

Another interesting observation we made was that though the Rambam brings many of our sugyot down to halacha, he never mentioms the idea שלשה שותפי באדם, that G-d and parents are partners in each human being. How could he omit one of the most foundational text related to kibbud av va’em? (Note that Tur promptly reinserts it in his own code.) Perhaps for the Rambam, kibbud av va’em is has no emotional bearing on the parent-child relationship and really addresses the child and Hashem alone. Thus Rambam explains that a child should remain silent and respectful even when their parents publically humiliate them is because וְיִירָא וְיִפְחַד מִמֶּלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים שֶׁצִּוָּהוּ בְּכָךְ , he must be in terror and fear of the King of Kings Who has commanded him to show kavod to parents. In stark contrast to Sefer Charedim, he says nothing about the child’s emotional relationship to the parent. For Rambam, at the root of kibbud av va’em is truly kibbud Shamayim. Yet perhaps he goes too far in removing the human relationship from the equation, and his position leaves too much space for abuse.

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VeShinantam LeVanecha

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Alex Zaloum

On the verse (from this week’s parsha), “And you shall teach them to your children…” (Devarim 6:7), Rashi comments: “Your children — these are your students, and we find in every place that students are called children…” Rashi brings three proofs from Tanakh for this claim:

  1. “You are children to Hashem, your G-d.” (Devarim 14:1) – we are Hashem’s children by virtue of learning His Torah.
  2. “The children of the prophets in the House of G-d” (Melachim II, 2:3) – the disciples of the prophets are referred to as their children.
  3. “My sons, do not be negligent” (Divrei HaYamim II, 29:11) – stated by King Chizkiyah, who taught Torah to all of Israel.

Two questions:

a) Why does Rashi feel the need to bring not one, not two, but three proofs that students are called “children”?

b) Why does Rashi choose to bring these three proofs? [Rashi could instead or in addition have brought Bamidbar (3:1), in which the sons of Aharon are called “toldos (offspring of) Moshe” because Moshe taught them Torah (see Rashi there). Alternatively, Rashi could have brought Mishlei, in which King Solomon calls the student he is addressing “my son” dozens of times.]

In keeping with Jewish form, to answer these questions,  let’s ask another question:

As is well-known (though is not always readily apparent), Rashi states that his intention in each of his comments on the Torah is solely to explain the “straightforward meaning of the verse” What, then, compelled Rashi in our verse to translate “banecha” as “talmidim.” Why was he not content with its usual meaning (children)?

One possibility is that Rashi was making clear that the verse did not imply that parents must teach their children Torah personally.  Here are three possible grounds for avoiding that implication.

  • Rashi knew that Menashe and Ephraim were primarily taught Torah by their grandfather Jacob (see Rashi to Beraishis 48:1), and reasoned that Jacob would not have taken the mitzvah away from Joseph if it could only be fulfilled by parents personally .

  • Rashi understood Bereishis 49:7 as giving the tribe of Shimon the roles of (sofrim and) m’lamdei tinokos (teachers of Torah to children). It is clear from context that this role is to be the source of income for the tribe of Shimon, and it is not logical that their income could be derived entirely from teaching orphans or children of the ignorant.  Therefore, we must assume that even parents capable of teaching their children Torah may hire teachers instead.

  • Rashi knew that from time immemorial Jewish children were taught Torah primarily in cheder, and the five-year-old (“ben chumash l’mikra”), for whom Rashi writes his commentary, when taught our verse in cheder will certainly wonder: “If the obligation to teach children Torah rests on the parents, then why did my parents send me to cheder? They should teach me themselves!”

Whatever the source, it must have been strong enough to convince Rashi to uproot the word “children” from its straightforward meaning.  But Rashi was then bothered: why then didn’t the verse simply state: “And you shall teach them to your students”?!

To answer this, it did not suffice to bring a proof that students can be called children, rather, Rashi shows that “we find in every place that talmidim (students) are called banim (children),” i.e. that the Torah’s word for student is “child”.

To support this claim, Rashi brings proofs from all three parts of Tanakh – Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim – each of which express a different teacher-student relationship: 1) G-d to Jewish people, 2) Prophet to disciple, and 3) King to subjects.

[With this we can understand why Rashi didn’t bring a proof from “toldos Moshe,” since there the word “banim” is not used (but rather “toldos”).

It is likewise understood why Rashi didn’t bring a proof from Mishlei, since one could argue that perhaps King Solomon initially wrote Mishlei for his actual son, Rechav’am, and only afterwards made it into a sefer for everyone (and thus this wouldn’t show how students in general are also called “children”).]

Rashi concludes, “…just as a student is called a child, so too a teacher is called a parent …” (and of course brings Scriptural support for that as well).

The message is clear: no matter the context, teaching Torah starts with a connection between rav and talmid — one that is comparable to the deepest human connection that exists. Our living Torah cannot be transmitted through words alone, however profound they may be; it must be given and received with mutual devotion, care, and respect.

Rabbi Alex Zaloum (WBM 2016) graduated from Harvard in 2016 and recently received semicha from the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ. He currently works for BioCatch in New York.

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