Monthly Archives: August 2014

“Standing” in Awe: Birkat Kohanim and Inclusion

Can kohanim who use wheelchairs do birkat kohanim (the priestly blessing)?

Responsa Shevut Yaakov 2:1 (R. Yaakov Reischer, 1670-1733) argued they can but his position was attacked by Responsa Noda b’Yehuda OC 5 (1713-1793) and others. Generally these attacks were seen as compelling. Contemporary posek R. Shmuel HaLevi Wosner states (Responsa Shevet haLevi 10:28) that R. Reischer’s position was “pushed aside from Halakhah without any uncertainty.”

I suggest that the rejection of Shevut Yaakov should be reconsidered in light of analysis bolstered by new evidence.

According to Talmud Sotah 38a, everyone agrees that birkat kohanim must be performed standing—the only dispute is about how to derive this rule from the Torah. The anonymous first position (tanna kamma) in a beraita (text from the Mishnaic period) suggests that Devarim 27:12-“and these shall stand to bless the nation on Mount Gerizim”-establishes a legal paradigm for the act of blessing. Since Bamidbar 6:23 says that birkat kohanim must be done כה, ‘thus’, we derive it includes all standard blessing requirements.

Rabbi Natan in that beraita prefers to assimilate blessing to the realm of sheirut (priestly Temple service), all of which must be done standing. He derives this from the juxtaposition of service and blessing in Devarim 10:18: “to serve Him and to bless in His Name.”

The Talmud asks: How does Rabbi Natan know that sheirut must be performed standing? It replies that Devarim 18:5 declares that G-d chose them “to stand to serve.”

This appears to be a stub citation of a beraita from Zevachim 23b. That beraita notes further that Devarim 18:7 concludes “and he will serve in the Name of Hashem his Divinity, like all his brothers the Levites who stand there before G-d.” The duplication of the requirement to stand teaches us that it applies even bediavad (post facto), meaning that sheirut performed while seated is invalid.

Tosafot to Sotah 38 cites R. Isaac of Dampierre (RI) as deriving from Zevachim 23 that birkat kohanim is also invalid if performed while seated. All this suggests that the answer to our opening question is an unequivocal no–kohanim may not do birkat kohanim while seated in wheelchairs.

However RI’s conclusion can be challenged in a variety of ways:

1) According to Zevachim 23, Devarim 18:5 is not sufficient to declare that sheirut performed while seated is invalid–that is derived from 18:7. Since the assimilation of birkat kohanim to sheirut is derived from 18:5, perhaps there is an obligation to stand for the Blessing, but it is valid nonetheless if performed while seated. It might follow that a kohen who is incapable of standing can still perform a valid birkat kohanim, and perhaps is obligated to go up to do so.

2) Zevachim 23 is relevant only according to Rabbi Natan. According to the tanna kamma in the beraita on Sotah 38, the requirement to stand for birkat kohanim is derived, via the word ‘thus’, from the one-time blessing on Mount Gerizim rather than from sheirut.

Sotah 38a earlier records a dispute between a tanna kamma and Rabbi Yehudah as to the source of the requirement that birkat kohanim be said in the original rather than in translation. Rabbi Yehuda derives the requirement directly from ‘thus’, whereas the tanna kamma derives it from Mount Gerizim.

Tosafot explain that the tanna kamma did not see ‘thus’ as establishing a bediavad requirement. If we combine the positions of the two tanna kammas, birkat kohanim performed by a seated kohen is not invalid. It follows that a kohen who is incapable of standing can still perform a valid birkat kohanim, and may be obligated to go up to do so.

3) RI assumes that the analogy to sheirut is a genuine midrash halakhah (legal derivation from the Biblical text), i.e. that it establishes a deoraita (having the authority of Biblical law) requirement to perform birkat kohanim standing.

However, the Talmud on Taanit 26b-27a asks why the analogy to sheirut does not prove that birkat kohanim cannot be performed by someone with a mum. It responds that “they are asmakhtot, derabannan, lekulla” (mnemonics rather than midrash halakhah; having the authority of Rabbinic rather than Biblical law; and lenient). This may mean that the analogy to sheirut is mere mnemonic, establishing only Rabbinic requirements. It follows that the requirement of standing for birkat kohanim, at least according to Rabbi Natan, may be Rabbinic rather than Biblical. This makes it likely that the requirement does not apply bediavad or to someone who is physically incapable of standing.

What emerges from all this is that RI’s position invalidating birkat kohanim performed while seated is explicitly based only on Rabbi Natan, not the tanna kamma. The default principle is that halakhah follows a tanna kamma. As well, we now have 2 plausible grounds for arguing that RI’s conclusion doesn’t follow from Rabbi Natan’s derivation.

Nonetheless, we would be hard pressed to rule against RI without finding a Rishon (medieval authority) who disagreed with him. But Maimonides cites ‘thus’ as his source for the requirement to stand during birkat kohanim, rather than the analogy to sheirut, apparently following the tanna kamma rather than Rabbi Natan. Maimonides may therefore hold that a kohen who is incapable of standing can perform a valid birkat kohanim, and perhaps is required to go up to do so.

Shevut Yaakov argues that Maimonides cites ‘thus’ because he followed Taanit 27 and saw the analogy to sheirut as establishing a Rabbinic law. He argues the requirement then does not apply to kohanim who are incapable of standing.

Noda b’Yehuda responds that Taanit 27 does not mean that the analogy to sheirut is wholly Rabbinic; rather, it is Rabbinic in its application to all issues other than standing. He notes that Tosafot Menachot 109 and Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot both state clearly that the analogy is Biblical with and only with regard to standing. Noda b’Yehuda’s critique, and variants advanced by others such as Panim Me’irot, have generally been taken as dispositive.

Noda b’Yehuda’s reading of Taanit 27 seems very forced; nothing in that text suggests that the analogy to sheirut should be understood as Biblical anywhere. Furthermore, Shevut Yaakov concedes that RI would invalidate any seated birkat kohanim, but argues that Maimonides disagrees. R. Landau’s rejection of Shevut Yaakov comes down to the claim that that Maimonides should be presumed to agree with RI—even though RI depends on the forced interpretation of Taanit 27—unless we clearly establish why he disagreed. Intellectually, the real puzzle is not why Maimonides disagreed, but rather why Tosafot Menachot 109 and Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot offered that interpretation in the first place.

The contemporary R. Pinchas Leibush Padua (Pelaot Edotekha 5) solves that puzzle. He argues that Tosafot Menachot and Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot (and Rabbeinu Asher Megillah 3:19) are not presenting an interpretation of Taanit 27a as we have it, but rather either preserving an alternative text or presenting an alternative answer from the Sifrei. That alternative’s explanation of why the analogy to sheirut does not ban someone with a mum from performing birkat kohanim is that Devarim 10:8—“To stand before Hashem to do sheirut and bless”—limits the analogy to standing.

I believe that Pelaot Edotekha’s argument is demonstrably correct. Tosafot Menachot is citing a responsum of Rashi, and the language of that responsum in many versions makes clear that the limitation of the analogy’s Biblical force to standing is a quote, not an interpretation.

RI’s position that birkat kohanim peformed while seated is wholly invalid was based on that text; but Maimonides had our text of Taanit, and therefore believed that the analogy to sheirut is wholly Rabbinic. This was likely the position of every other Rishon who had our version of the text, and is explicit in Rabbeinu Gershom and Meiri. These Rishonim would probably allow kohanim who are incapable of standing to perform birkat kohanim while seated, and I suggest that we have a general halakhic preference for positions based on the Talmudic version that has become standard.

The question is whether this argument is sufficient to return the Shevut Yaakov to the halakhic mainstream. I suggest that this must at least be considered.

Shabbat Shalom!

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When the Text Is So Wrong, It Must Be Right

A crucial principal of the mental martial arts, as of the physical, is that any force exerted by opponents can be turned against them. One of my favorite examples of this is that one can defend against a charge of false advertising by claiming that the advertisement in question was patently absurd, so that no reasonable person would expect it to be true. Thus, “made from the best stuff on earth.”

A classic Jewish form of intellectual martial arts is to argue that a contradiction in a text is so obvious that it must be deliberate, and not a flaw in the argument. This form is useful in responding to Higher Critics of Torah–showing that the Torah contains indisputably deliberate contradictions makes it easier to argue that less stark contradictions are equally deliberate elements of a unified text.

Such an indisputably deliberate contradiction is found in Devarim 15, where verse 4 states:

אפס כי לא יהיה בך אביון

Absolutely there will be no impoverished among you

Whereas verse 7 explains what one’s charitable obligations are:

כי יהיה בך אביון

when an impoverished person is among you

and verse 11 states unreservedly:

כי לא יחדל אביון מקרב הארץ

for the impoverished will not cease from the midst of the land

So which is it–will the poor surely vanish from the land, or certainly never do so? The classical Rabbinic response is to make the first statement conditional—“there will be no impoverished among you if you observe all My commands”—and the second actual—on the assumption that in every generation not all commands will be perfectly kept, and/or that in some generation they will be inadequately kept. Nachmanides prefers to read the second as in the subjunctive, so as to preserve the possibility of a culture without poverty.

The implication of the Rabbinic reading is that poverty can disappear only as the result of Divine effort. Human beings can alleviate poverty, but not eliminate it. This seems to be true even when G-d blesses the land, in other words, even if there are sufficient resources to make poverty an issue of distribution rather than of absolute scarcity.

The available counter-suggestion is that human beings have a straightforward mechanism for eliminating poverty in an environment of plenty–socialism. It is tempting to resolve the Biblical contradiction by assigning poverty amidst plenty as the result of societal choices, whereas in a culture that has internalized Torah priorities, such inequalities would never arises.

Of course, one can respond pragmatically that a socialist culture is unlikely to remain a culture of plenty. A more interesting response would be to claim that a socialist culture is one of universal poverty, even if there is plenty for everyone. In other words, poverty is the absence of sufficient private property.

I regularly challenge students with an opposite question:

Does a socialist culture fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah, or rather eliminate it? The goal of the question is to make them engage with Locke’s argument that private property is justified as a means of inculcating the trait of generosity, and to consider whether economic inequality is per se troubling.

I want to make the somewhat radical argument here that a socialist society fulfills the mitzvah of tzedakah, but that this is a terrible thing. Turning everyone into a giver means turning everyone into a receiver. Perhaps poverty should be defined as the condition in which one’s capacity to live a normal life depends on the kindness of strangers.

Here is a thought experiment: Imagine a society which guarantees to all its members sufficient housing, clothing, food, medical care etc. to ensure that they will never involuntarily suffer hunger or pain owing to a shortage of personal resources. However, accepting those goods from a public agency is an acknowledgement that one has failed to earn enough income to provide for oneself. Are those who accept those goods impoverished, or not? They have no want or uncertainty, but perhaps they have lost dignity.

The counterargument is that a socialist society should be understood as a partnership rather than as a mutual charity society. However, partnerships generally assign benefits on the basis of contribution, not need.

A deeper response is to distinguish between the kindness of strangers and the dynamics of family. If I see you as an extension of myself, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” is not charity but good management. The question then becomes whether it is possible to construct a society which genuinely views itself as a family—i.e. to ask if the kibbutz model is scalable.

Framing the issue in this way may help explain the literary context of our contradictory Torah section, as follows: The guarantee that poverty will cease is preceded by the law of shmittat kesafim, which (at least prima facie) forgives all outstanding loans every seven years. The Torah emphasizes that this law applies only within the community, but that one is entitled or required to demand repayment from nokhrim, strangers. Perhaps the distinction between insider and outsider is essential for such economic levelling devices to be morally effective–as the communitarians teach, there can be no insiders unless there are outsiders–and only when we see our fellows as insiders can we regard forgiving a loan as a write-off in a partnership rather than as charity.

The guarantee that poverty will continue is followed by the rules of intra-Jewish slavery:

כי ימכר לך אחיך העברי או העבריה

ועבדך שש שנים ובשנה השביעית תשלחנו חפשי מעמך

וכי תשלחנו חפשי מעמך לא תשלחנו ריקם הענק תעניק לא מצאנך ומגרנך ומיקבך

אשר ברכך ה’ א-להיך תתן לו.

וזכרת כי עבד היית במצרים ויפדך ה’ א-להיך על כן אנכי מצוך את הדבר הזה היום.

והיה כי יאמר אליך לא אצא מעמך כי אהבך ואת ביתך כי טוב לו עמך

ולקחת את המרצע ונתת באזנו ובדלת והיה לך עבד עולם ואף לאמתך תעשה כן

לא יקשה בעינך בשלחך אותו חפשי מעמך כי משנה שכר שכיר עבדך שש שנים

וברכך ה’ א-להיך בכל אשר תעשה

Should your brother the Jew be sold to you, or the Jewess

he will slave for you six years, but in the seventh year, you must send him free away from you

When you send him free away from you, you must not send him away empty; you must certainly give him severance; from your flocks, your silos, and your vats with which Hashem your G-d has blessed you, you must give him.

You must remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Hashem your G-d redeemed you; therefore I am commanding you this thing today.

When it happens that he says to you “I will not go out from you” – because he loves you and your household, because it is good for him with you.

You must take the awl and place it in his ear and in the door, and he will become to you an eternal slave

You shall do the same to your maidservant.

It must not be hard in your eyes when you send him free away from you because he has worked double the profit of a hiree for you for 6 years

and Hashem your G-d will bless you in everything you will do.

I suggest that the pierced slave chooses economic security over autonomy, and therefore, even though his rights are guaranteed by law, he becomes a permanent charity recipient. If he were truly a member of the household he loves, he would not need the law.

Jews must remember that they were slaves in Egypt, and G-d intervened to redeem us. He then led us though a desert existence that often made us think fondly about the economic security of Egypt. Ultimately the responsibilities of freedom are what Torah demands we assume. Among those is the responsibility to ensure that our fellows are not enslaved by circumstances, and trapped either in want or dependence.

Shabbat Shalom!

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The 40-year-old Clothes on Their Backs

“Your shirt did not wear out from upon you, nor your feet swell, this forty years” (Devarim 8:4).

We rely on our commonsense to determine the ‘pshat’ of the world around us, all the while recognizing that existence has deeper meanings.  Is this the proper way to understand Chumash?  Or is it better to understand the world of the Desert Generation as one in which miracles are commonplace, and time has no true dominion?

Rambam and Ramban have deeply opposed sensibilities on this issue.  Rambam makes every effort to naturalize the Biblical narrative, particularly by claiming that all scenes involving visible angels take place within the mind of a prophet.  Ramban, by contrast, emphasizes that the miraculous and the ordinary are fundamentally indistinguishable, so that the search for “natural” explanations can never yield more than a useful but superficial fiction.

Simple readers of Tanakh can be forgiven for adopting neither approach.  Instead, they enter a world in which the rules of nature are real, but can be suspended without notice, and in which miracles become part of the causal flow.  One can investigate genuine miracles and ambiguous events forensically to determine whether they were truly miraculous.

Ibn Ezra reads our verse in this way.  Why did their clothes not wear out for forty years?

Some say: In the manner of a sign (i.e. miraculously). But others say: Because they took many garments from Egypt.[1] And it is plausible that the production of sweat is not among the effects of manna.

In other words: They may have worn the same clothes, or they may have changed often.  But either way, forty years is a long time for clothes to survive under ordinary usage.  It follows that their fabric was likely not subject to the usual stresses, such as bodily secretions.  Why not?  Well, the Jews ate manna, and perhaps manna-eaters do not sweat.  The durability of their wardrobes is therefore the consequence of a miracle, rather than a direct miracle.

Ramban, in character, criticizes Ibn Ezra as follows:

But his words are incorrect, as Moshe calls this to their attention in order to say that they will receive food and clothing and lasting strength from the doing of mitzvot, just as they lived forty years on manna and had the same clothes and no foot-weariness, all miraculously, because it is “on all that emerges from Hashem’s mouth that a person lives,” and if you were to cover a beam for forty years with a new shirt, it would wear out, even though the beam has no sweat, even though the human being is a worm.

 Moving on to Rashi, who seems to be coming from an entirely different place. He adds more supernatural elements and complexity to the miracle of the clothes’ endurance:

The Clouds of the Glory would scrub their clothes and rinse them like rinsable garments, and their small children – as they grew their clothes grew with them like the clothing of the chomet[2] that grows with it.

What is Rashi’s motivation for introducing the Clouds into the conversation? On one level, he is responding to the same question that motivates Ibn Ezra and Ramban – even if the clothes didn’t wear out, why weren’t they filthy?  And for good measure, what happened when a person changed sizes?  On another level, as Ramban footnotes, he is simply citing a midrash.

The truth is that the midrash subtly sets the agenda for Ibn Ezra and Ramban as well.  A Jewish analogue to “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is “You don’t ask questions about miracles.”  If the shirts lasted forty years miraculously, why would Ibn Ezra bother to ask about sweat, specifically, if the midrash had not already asked?  Ramban’s mention of worms is likewise a reference to a later challenge in the same midrashic story.

And the truth is that the appropriation of the midrash for purposes of pshat-commentary largely eviscerates it.  Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Ramban all essentially ignore the question of why?  Why does G-d maintain specifically their clothing miraculously?  I want to argue that this is the key point of the midrash, but that it can only be seen if one reads the complete version.

But before we look at that version, I want to ask one more question about the snippet Rashi cites. Where did the midrash get the idea that the Clouds functioned as laundry?  There is not, so far as I can tell, any textual hint to the involvement of the Clouds in this matter.

We can of course evade the question by saying “they had a Tradition that the Clouds did laundry”, and leave it at that.  But that seems shallow.  A better answer, I think, would be that they had a tradition that saw the Clouds as givens whose miraculous contributions could be assumed and need not be enumerated in the text.

With that introduction, we can now turn to the text of the midrash itself.[3]

Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon asked of Rabbi Shimon son of Yose son of Lakunya his father in law, saying to him:  Did klei korios (Jastrow, Gur Aryeh: leather work clothes. Korban haEidah: Weaver’s looms) go out with the Jews to the desert?

RSYbYbL: No.

REbS: Then what did the Jews wear all 40 years in the desert?

RSYbYbL: From what they were dressed in by the ministering angels. See Yechezkel 16:10 “and I dressed you in embroidery”

RebS:  But didn’t they wear out?!

RSYbYbL: Have you never in your life read “your shirt did not wear out from upon you”?

RebS:  But didn’t they grow?!

RSYbYbL:  Go out and learn from the chilazon, that so long as it grows its shell grows with it.

RebS:  But didn’t they need laundering?!

RSYbYbL:  The Cloud would scrub them and rinse them.

RebS:  But didn’t they get burnt?!

RSYbYbL:  Go out and learn from the asbestos-linen, that is rinsed only in fire.

RebS:  But didn’t they develop worms?

RSYbYbL:  If they didn’t create worms in their deaths, how much more so in their lives!

RebS:  But didn’t they develop a bad odor from the sweat of their bodies?

RSYbYbL: They would bask in the grasses of the Well, and their aroma would waft from one end of the world to the other, as Shlomoh said: “And the aroma of your shirt like the aroma of Lebanon.”

Let’s take a quick inventory.  The presumption of RSbYbL is that the Jews were wearing miraculous clothing in the first place, outfits given to them by the ministering angels.  This presumption is not, it seems, share by REbS.  He has a naturalistic explanation of our verse, in that the Jews simply wore highly durable clothing, or else had the necessary tools around to keep the shirts on their backs.

In other words, we seem to find here the same clash of sensibilities as between Rambam and Ramban.

REbS is not content to let his father in-law off by accepting that the presence of a tradition makes further disagreement pointless.  Instead, he first argues that even angelic garments are subject to wear and tear, and so the Jews must have had other clothes as well.  RSbYbL responds[4] that the verse says “your shirt,” singular, suggesting that each Jew had only one.  Each further objection REbS makes of this sort causes his father in law to “double down” on miracles – the clothing grows with its wearer, Clouds do laundry via fire, bodies and clothes alike develop no infestations, and the Well produced deodorant vegetation.  (Note that the Well, like the Clouds, makes no explicit appearance in the Biblical text.)

At first glance, we seem to find here the same clash of sensibilities as later between Rambam and Ramban.  But I don’t think this is correct – the key is that these rabbis, unlike the Rishonim, identify the clothes under discussion.

Rabbi El’azar ben Rabbi Shimon surely knows from the outset that the Torah tells us that the Jews’ shirts (and shoes or feet) did not wear out during the Wandering.  He may also know the tradition that Yechezkel 16:10 refers to clothes embroidered by angels for the Desert Generation (the next phrase of the verse refers to shoes).  His challenge is therefore rooted in a refusal to accept that the miraculous aspects of those clothes survived Sin.

RSbYbL sees no difficulty.  Ultimately, he tells his son in-law that the life of the Desert Generation remained one in which G-d was constantly manifest, one perfumed with the aroma of Eden.  Despite their sin, their bodies did not decompose after death.  He has a deus ex machina for every mechanistic objection.

Rabbinic tradition understands Exodus 33:6 as meaning that after the Golden Calf the Jews were forced to abandon at Sinai the crowns they were given after receiving the Torah.  The real issue here, I suggest, is whether any of the recognition they received at Revelation survives intrinsically, or rather in the “after-Calf” any Jewish claim to uniqueness requires constant reinforcement through proper action.  In other words, whether there is content to the status of chosenness even for those who fail to live up to its responsibilities.

I think that the memory of the crowns of Sinai changed the Jewish people forever, and in that sense, I sympathize with RSbYbL.  But that memory is perverted when it generates complacency and arrogance rather than responsibility.  After 40 years, there is something wrong if our spiritual clothes still fit.

Shabbat Shalom!


דברים פרק ח פסוק ד

:שִׂמְלָ֨תְךָ֜ לֹ֤א בָֽלְתָה֙ מֵֽעָלֶ֔יךָ וְרַגְלְךָ֖ לֹ֣א בָצֵ֑קָה זֶ֖ה אַרְבָּעִ֥ים שָׁנָֽה

רש”י דברים פרק ח:ד

שמלתך לא בלתה – ענני כבוד היו שפים בכסותם ומגהצים אותם כמין כלים מגוהצים, ואף קטניהם כמו שהיו גדלים היה גדל לבושן עמהם, כלבוש זה של חומט שגדל עמו

 אבן עזרא דברים פרשת עקב פרק ח פסוק ד


יש אומרים: דרך אות

ואחרים אומרים: כי הוציאו מלבושים רבים ממצרים

ויתכן שאין בתולדת המן להוליד זיעה

לא בצקה – מגזרת ויאפו את הבצק (שמות יב, לט), כי מנהג רגל האורח, שהלך רגלי דרך רב, שינפחו רגליו

.ויתכן, שנתן להם השם כח, או הוליכם אט

רמב”ן דברים פרשת עקב פרק ח פסוק ד

“שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך”

ענני כבוד היו שפין בכסותן ומגהצים אותם כמו כלים המגוהצים, וכן קטניהם כשהיו גדלין גדל לבושן עמהם

(לשון רש”י ודברי אגדה (מדרש תהלים כג

:אבל ר”א כתב

.ואחרים אמרו כי הוציאו מלבושים רבים, ויתכן שאין בתולדת המן להוליד זיעה. וכן אמר ורגלך לא בצקה – שנתן להם כח או הוליכם לאט

ואין דבריו נכונים

כי משה יזכיר להם זה, לאמר כי בעשיית המצוה יהיה להם מזון וכסות ויחליפו כח, כאשר חיו במן ארבעים שנה והיו להם השמלות וארח ברגלם לא יבא, והכל ממעשה הנס, כי על כל מוצא פי ה’ יחיה האדם ויתפרנס. ואם תכסה את הקורה בשמלה חדשה בארבעים שנה תבלה אף על פי שאין בה זיעה, אף כי אנוש רמה

קרבן העדה מסכת שבת פרק יז

קורייס. הן כלי אורגים

Jastrow = leather garments

שיירי קרבן מסכת שבת פרק יז

קנים וחבלים של קורייס. לפי מאי דמסיק דאף בקנים וחבלים של קורייס נמי אמר ר”י בן לוי דאין מטלטלין וצריכין לומר שהן ככלי שמלאכתן לאיסור ומזה סייעתא למ”ש הרמב”ם בריש פכ”ו מה”ש כל כלי האורג וחבליו וקנים שלו מות’ לטלטלן ככלי שמלאכתו לאיסור וע”ש בהה”מ שרש”י ז”ל חולק בזה ולפי דעת רש”י צריכין לומר דהירוש’ פליג אבבלי

 פני משה מסכת שבת פרק יז

של קורייס. של הסורג

 Jastrow = סורג = weaver

 בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת וירא פרשה מט

א”ר שמואל בר נחמן שמותן של רשעים דומים לכלי קורייס, מה כלי קורייס כל מה שאת משתמש בהם הם עומדים הנחתם הם מתרפים, כך שמעת מימיך אדם קורא שם בנו פרעה, סיסרא, סנחריב, אלא אברהם יצחק יעקב, ראובן שמעון

קהלת רבה (וילנא) פרשה ב

מעשה בגרגרן אחד שהיה עמל כל ימות השנה ששת ימי המעשה ובשבת לא היה לו מה יאכל, מה עשה פעם אחת נתעטף בכלי קורייס שלו ועלה לראש הגג ונפל ומת וקרא אנפשיה ושנאתי את החיים

 ילקוט שמעוני תורה פרשת אחרי מות רמז תקפז

אלו דברים מדרכי האמורי המספר קומי, והעושה בלורית, והמגביה לגרגרן, והמגררת את בנה לבין המתים, והקושר מטולטלת על ירכו, וחוט אדום על אצבעו, והמונה ומשליך צרורות לים או לנהר הרי זה מדרכי האמורי

(גור אריה דברים פרק ח

רבי אליעזר בנו של רבי שמעון בן יוחאי שאל את רבי שמעון בן יוסי חמיו, כלי קוריוס יצאו עם ישראל במדבר

פירוש, כלי עור שאינם כלים יצאו עם ישראל במדבר, בתמיה

אמר לו, אותן הבגדים שהיו עליהן מה שהלבישו אותם מלאכי השרת בסיני, לפיכך לא נתבלו

שיר השירים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ד

1שאל ר’ אלעזר בר”ש את ר”ש בר’ יוסי בן לקוניא חמוי

2?!אמר ליה: כלי קוריוס יצאו עם ישראל למדבר

3אמר ליה: לאו

4אמר לו: מהיכן היו לובשין כל אותן מ’ שנה שעשו ישראל במדבר

5אמר לו: ממה שהלבישום מלאכי השרת

5Aהה”ד ואלבישך רקמה

5Bרבי סימיי אמר: פורפירא;

5Cתרגם עקילס: איפליקתא

6אמר ליה: ולא היו כלים

7?”אמר לו: ולא קרית מימיך (דברים ח’) “שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך

8?!אמר ליה: ולא היו גדלים

9אמר ליה: צא ולמד מן החלזון, שכל זמן שהוא גדל נרתיקו גדל עמו

10?אמר ליה: ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

11אמר ליה: הענן היה שף בהם ומגהיצן

12אמר ליה: ולא היו נשרפים

13אמר ליה: צא ולמד מן אמיינטון הזה, שאינו מתגהץ אלא באור

14אמר ליה: ולא היו עושין כנמיות

15?!אמר ליה: אם במיתתן לא עשו, בחייהן עשו

16?!ולא היו עושין ריח רע מריח הזיעה של גופן

17אמר ליה: מתגעגין היו בעשב הבאר

17Aהה”ד (תהלים כ”ג) בנאות דשא ירביצני

18והיה ריחן נודף מסוף העולם ועד סופו

18Aבא שלמה ופירש וריח שלמותיך כריח לבנון

 [פסיקתא דרב כהנא (מנדלבוים) פיסקא יא – ויהי בשלח [כא

1ר’ לעזר בר’ שמע’ שאל את ר’ שמע’ בר’ יוסי בר לקוניא חמויי

2אמ’ ליה: מה הוא דין דכת’ שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך (דברים ח: ד)? שמא כלי קוריות היו מהלכין עים ישר’ במדבר

?אמ’ ליה: ענני כבוד היו מעטפין אותם

6ולא היו בלים

?אמ’ ליה: שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך

8ולא היו גדילין

9אמ’ ליה חלזון הזה כל מה שהוא גדיל נרתיקו גדיל עמו

10ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

11אמ’ ליה ענני כבוד היו מגחצין אותן

13ואל תתמה – אמינטון הזה אין מגחצין אותו אלא באור

16ולא היה ריחן קשה מריח הזיעה

17אמ’ ליה מתכלכלין היו בדשאי הבאר

18A(וריח שלמתיך כריח לבנון (שה”ש =שיר השירים= ד: יא

ספר שבולי הלקט סדר פסח סימן ריח

בפסיקתא דויהי בשלח

ר’ אליעזר בר’ שמעון שאל את ר’ שמעון בר’ יוסי בן לקוניא חמוי

אמר ליה מה דין דכתיב שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך שמא כלי קוריות היו מוליכין עם ישראל במדבר

אמר ליה ענני כבוד היו מעטפין אותן ולא היו בלין

אמר ליה שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך

ולא היו גדילין

אמר ליה חלזון הזה כל מה שהוא גדל נרתיקו גדל עמו

ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

אמר ליה ענני כבוד היו מגהיצין אותה

ואל תתמה אמיטטון הזה אין מגהיצין אותו אלא באור

ולא היו ריחן קשה מריח הזיעה

*אמר ליה מתלבלבין היו בדשאי הבאר

שנאמר וריח שמלותיך כריח לבנון

אם ספק צרכנו במדבר ארבעים שנה בשאר צרכים ולא האכילנו את המן היה נס גדול ודי לנו. ואחר שכפל את הנס לספק צרכינו במדבר ארבעים שנה ככל שאר צרכים ולהאכילנו את המן ולא נתן לנו את השבת ובאכילת המן שהיה בו כל מיני טעמים וכמה נסי נסים היו נעשים בו

 [מדרש תהלים (בובר) מזמור כג [ד] [כג, ב

0בנאות דשא ירביצני

1שאל ר’ אליעזר את ר’ שמעון ואמר לו

2?!כשיצאו ישראל ממצרים, (כלי קואים) [כלי קורייס] יצאו עמהם

3אמר ליה: לאו

4?!ומהיכן היו לובשין כל ארבעים שנה

5אמר ליה: ממה שהלבישום מלאכי השרת

5A(שנאמר ואלבישך רקמה (יחזקאל טז י

5A1?מהו רקמה]

5Bר’ סימאי אמר]: פורפירא

6?!ולא היו בלים

7?!(ולא קרית שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך (דברים ח ד

8?!ולא היו הקטנים גדילים

9אמר ליה: צא ולמד מן החלזון הזה, שכל זמן שהוא גדל נרתיקו גדל עמו

10?!ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

11אמר ליה: הענן היה שף בהם ומגהיצ

12?אמר ליה: ולא היו נשרפין

13אמר ליה: צא ולמד מן (הסיטון) [האמיינטון] הזה, שאין מגהיצין אותו אלא באור

14?ולא היו עושין בהם כנמיות

15?!אמר ליה: במותן לא שלטה בהן רמה ותולעה, בחייהן לא כל שכן

16אמר ליה: ולא היו מסריחין מריח הזיע שלא היו מחליפין לבושיהן

17אמר ליה: הבאר היה מעלה להן מיני דשאים, ומיני בשמים, והיו מגעגעין בהם

17Aשנאמר: בנאות דשא ירביצני על מי מנוחות ינהלני

18והיה ריחו נודף מסוף העולם ועד סופו

18A(בא שלמה ואמר וריח שלמותיך כריח לבנון (שה”ש =שיר השירים= ד יא

(*ואמר נרד וכרכום קנה וקנמון [וגו’] עם כל ראשי בשמים (שם שם /שיר השירים ד’/ יד)

וכל אלו מהיכן היו

(מן מעין גנים באר מים חיים (שם שם /שיר השירים ד’/ טו)

כיון שראו ישראל היאך הקדוש ברוך הוא מנהיגן ומעדנן במדבר, התחילו מקלסין אותו, ואמרו את הוא רעיה טבא דלא חסרת טיבותך לעלם

“על מי מנוחות ינהלני”

אמר ר’ שמואל

יש מים שנאים לשתות ואין נאים לרחוץ

ויש מים שנאים לרחוץ ואין נאים לשתות

אבל מי הבאר נאים לשתות ונאים לרחוץ

נוח לעצם ומרפא לנפש

שנאמר על מי מנוחות ינהלני

ילקוט שמעוני תורה פרשת עקב רמז תתנ

1רבי אלעזר ברבי שמעון שאל את ר”ש בן לקוניא חמוי

2?!א”ל: מהו דין דכתיב שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך שמא כלי קורייס היו מהלכין עם ישראל במדבר

?א”ל ענני כבוד היו מעטפין (בהן) [אותן] ולא היו בלין

א”ל שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך

ולא היו גדלין

א”ל חלזון הזה כל מה שהוא גדל נרתיקו גדל עמו

ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

א”ל ענני כבוד היו מגהצין אותן

ואל תתמה אמייטון הזה אין מגהצין אותן אלא באור

א”ל ולא היה ריחן קשה מריח הזעה

א”ל מתלכלכין היו בדשאי הבאר

שנאמר וריח שלמותיך כריח לבנון וגו

(וידעת עם לבבך (כתוב ברמז ש”ג

 [דברים רבה (וילנא) פרשת כי תבוא פרשה ז יא [כט, ד

מהו לא בלו שלמותיכם מעליכם

א”ר יוסי בר חנינא

מה שהיה עליהן לא בלו אבל מה שהיה להן בתוך התיבות נתבלו

ד”א לא בלו שלמותיכם

ר”א בנו של רשב”י שאל את ר”ש בן יוסי חמיו

כלי קורייס יצאו עם ישראל במדבר

א”ל אותן הבגדים שהיו עליהן מה שהלבישו אותן מלאכי השרת בסיני לפיכך לא נתבלו

א”ל ולא היו גדילין והיו הבגדים קטנים להם

,א”ל אל תתמה על זו, החילזון הזה כשגדל מלבושו גדל עמו

א”ל ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

א”ל הענן היה שף בהן ומלבנן

א”ל ולא היו נשרפים מן הענן שהוא אש

א”ל אל תתמה על זו אסיטון הזה אין מגהצין אותו אלא באש אף בגדיהם שהיו מעשה שמים היה הענן שף בהן ואינו מזיקן

א”ל ולא היו עושין מאכולת

א”ל במיתתן לא נגעה בהן רמה בחייהן על אחת כמה וכמה

א”ל ולא היה ריחן רע מכח הזיעה

א”ל היו מתענגים בנאות דשאים של באר והיה ריחן מפעפע בכל העולם


שנאמר (שיר /השירים/ ד) וריח שלמותיך כריח לבנון

וכל השבח הזה מהיכן

ממעין גנים באר מים חיים

פסיקתא זוטרתא (לקח טוב) דברים פרשת עקב דף יג עמוד ב

שמלתך לא בלתה – מרוב שלמות פושט זה ולובש זה מתוך כך לא היה בלה

כלי יקר דברים פרשת עקב פרק ח פסוק ד

שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך וגו’. עליך לא נאמר אלא מעליך. יש אומרים שקאי על הזיעה המצוי בהולכי דרכים והזיעה מבלה את הבגדים לכך נאמר מעליך מן הדבר אשר עליך, ועל כן סמך להם ורגלך לא בצקה כי הדרך סיבה לשניהם. ורש”י פירש שענני כבוד היו שפים בכסותם ובלי ספק שבמקום שהיו שם ענני כבוד אשר כבוד ה’ בתוכם נדחו כל המזיקים כי אינן מצוין במחיצת השכינה על כן אמר שלא קיבלו נזק בבגדיהם ורגליהם, על דרך שאמרו חז”ל במסכת ברכות (ו א) הני מאני דרבנן דבלו מחופיא דידהו, הני כרעי דמנקפן מנייהו

מלבי”ם דברים פרשת עקב פרק ח פסוק ד

(ד) שמלתך, הגם שביתר הצרכים לא חסר לך שום דבר, כי לא היית דומה כיתר הולכי מדבר ששלמותיהם ונעליהם בלים מעליהם כמ”ש (יהושע ט) ואלה שלמותינו ונעלינו בלו מרוב הדרך מאד, כי לכם הזמין ה’ שמלות חדשים ונעלים חדשים בכל עת עד שלא לבשתם שמלות בלים ולא הלכתם יחף שיבצקו רגליכם, וכמ”ש (דברים ב) ידע לכתך במדבר וגו’ לא חסרת דבר, וא”כ היה יכול לתת לכם לחם גשמי ומה שנתן לכם את המן היה להכניע את החומר ולהגביר הענין הרוחני, וזה עצמו היה הטעם שהוליך אתכם במדבר וכמ”ש חז”ל שלא נתנה תורה אלא לאוכלי מן ואמרו שלכן עכבם במדבר שאם היו נכנסים תיכף לארץ היה כ”א עוסק בכרמו ושדהו לכן עכבם עד שהיתה התורה שמורה בלבם, הרי הקדים ליסר את גופכם ביסורים להכניעו קודם שתכנסו אל הארץ שלא ניתנה להם אלא ע”י יסורים, ועז”א:

ר’ חיים פלטיאל דברים פרק ח

כי על כל מוצא פי יי יחיה האדם. וסמיך ליה שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך, מכאן רמז שעתידין צדיקים שיעמדו בלבושיהן

 ספר שבולי הלקט סדר פסח סימן ריח

בפסיקתא דויהי בשלח

ר’ אליעזר בר’ שמעון שאל את ר’ שמעון בר’ יוסי בן לקוניא חמוי

אמר ליה מה דין דכתיב שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך שמא כלי קוריות היו מוליכין עם ישראל במדבר

אמר ליה ענני כבוד היו מעטפין אותן ולא היו בלין

אמר ליה שמלתך לא בלתה מעליך

ולא היו גדילין

אמר ליה חלזון הזה כל מה שהוא גדל נרתיקו גדל עמו

ולא היו צריכין תכבוסת

אמר ליה ענני כבוד היו מגהיצין אותה

ואל תתמה אמיטטון הזה אין מגהיצין אותו אלא באור

ולא היו ריחן קשה מריח הזיעה

*אמר ליה מתלבלבין היו בדשאי הבאר

שנאמר וריח שמלותיך כריח לבנון

אם ספק צרכנו במדבר ארבעים שנה בשאר צרכים ולא האכילנו את המן היה נס גדול ודי לנו. ואחר שכפל את הנס לספק צרכינו במדבר ארבעים שנה ככל שאר צרכים ולהאכילנו את המן ולא נתן לנו את השבת ובאכילת המן שהיה בו כל מיני טעמים וכמה נסי נסים היו נעשים בו

[1] See also Pesikta Zutrata.

[2] Contextually, the reference seems most likely to be a snail and its shell, although I do not know why ordinary skin would not do as well for this metaphor.

[3] There is of course no definitive text of the midrash, and what follows is an eclectic version I have put together based primarily on Shir haShirim Rabbah, with reference to versions found in Devarim Rabbah, Midrash Tehillim, Pesikta d’Rav Kehana, and Yalkut Shimoni and Shibbolei Leket.

[4] I think – he does not flesh out his reasoning.

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2014 SBM Shayla

After 5 weeks of intensive study, the Summer Beit Midrash fellows have spent the past week working on Rabbi Klapper’s Shayla on Halakha and disabilities. You can find the Shayla below. We’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions! Please feel free to comment on this blog, Facebook or email us at

Dear Rabbi,

I received the attached letter this morning. After the fiasco last year during your sabbatical when Mr. Yosef objected at the Sefardi minyan when your rabbinic intern insisted that we give that homeless blind man an aliyah, and the whole fight last month when you insisted that Mr. Reiner, no matter how old he was, could only duchen if he stood up without his walker, this is probably the last thing you need, and I’m sorry to inflict it on you. But I think you do need to respond to this family, and maybe it’s a chance for you to give the whole shul a real sense of your overall vision of how Orthodoxy should relate to people with disabilities. Maybe this bar mitzvah will give you a valuable chance to be proactive and not just react when hard cases happen.



P.S. You know everything that happens here ends up fodder for the blogosphere, so I think it would be a good idea to have a formal teshuvah on the bar mitzvah issue ready. We can put that on your blog!

To: Mr. Jacob Hagiz, President, Young Israel of Bedrock (

From: Mr. Yitzchak Taylor-Kogan (

Dear Mr. Hagiz,

Shalom uvrakhah. My name is Yitzchak Taylor Kogan. I am a potential congregant who has recently moved to your neighborhood. Please allow me to introduce myself. I apologize in advance if my writing is somewhat stilted, and if this letter is overlong – my first language is ASL, and translating my thoughts and emotions into English can be challenging.

I was born in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1964, to a nonobservant Jewish family. I was born unable to hear anything. My parents tried to raise me in the “oral method”, and refused to allow me to sign until I was eight. This failed completely, and I am still unable to speak any words intelligibly other than “yes”, “no”, and “hurt”. In 1972 they sent me instead to a school that taught ASL, and I flourished.

However, this school had no Jewish content. I was bar mitzvahed in our Reform temple in 1977 without performing any ritual other than wearing a tallit, and that was really my only Jewish exposure until I went to college, although my family always took pride in our status as kohanim.

I attended Overland College and was drawn to the amazingly open and inclusive Hillel there, and began attending Friday night services (they always had an interpreter) and attending Shabbat dinners. At one of those dinners I met Rivkah, who would become my wife. Rivkah is hearing but does not have the use of her legs. She was also from a weak Jewish background, but we grew  religiously together. By the time we graduated she would often lead the Friday night services, and afterward I would give the Priestly Blessing in Sign.

Why am I writing all this? Our youngest son Azriel will be bar mitzvah soon, and we are thinking very hard about how that should be. Also, we are worried about Binyamin, our oldest son, who often expresses frustration that the synagogues we attend do not invite him to read Torah or lead services, and he gets an aliyah only on Simchat Torah. Some synagogues have even discouraged him from duchaning because they say that  is voice is unmusical and both distracts and detracts from the beauty and solemnity of the ritual.

I shouldn’t give you the impression that it’s only the children. Rivkah and I among ourselves often wonder why shul can’t be more open and welcoming the way our Hillel was. Also, there are parshiyot in the Torah that are hard for us to understand – why are kohanim excluded from the Temple Service just because they have physical blemishes? Why isn’t there a special mitzvah to help the blind, instead of just a prohibition against tripping them? Why do prophets use disability as a threat or as a metaphor of insult?

The short of it is that it’s more than Azriel’s bar mitzvah – we want to find a community that values us and makes us feel like we are contributors and not guests or difficult relatives. We want our children to feel welcomed and equal to all their peers. We want to be part of a community that understands Torah in a way that recognizes us as beings created in the image of G-d rather than as damaged goods and/or objects of sympathy.

So please tell us what your community is like, and what Azriel’s bar mitzvah would be like in your shul. We look forward to your reply.


Yitzchak, Rivkah, Binyamin, and Azriel Taylor-Kogan.

How would you answer this Shayla? Stay tuned for tshuvot from Rabbi Klapper and the fellows!

Shabbat Shalom!

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2014 Summer Beit Midrash, Week 5

Aron Rubin & Noam Weinreich

This week the Summer Beit Midrash Program completed its survey of the Halakhot surrounding the case of the “Cheresh” (deaf-mute), and thus concluded the shiurim for this year’s program.  The Mishnah treats a cheresh as equivalent to the shoteh (mental incompetent) for almost all legal purposes, meaning for example that they have no legal obligations.

Maharam Schick (19th century) was the first posek we saw deal explicitly with the case of someone who was born a cheresh and yet learned to speak with difficulty, respond to questions, and read lips. The question is whether this constitutes “speaking”, and such a person can therefore be considered a cheresh who speaks, who is treated as fully competent by Halakhah.  The standard case of a cheresh who speaks is someone who becomes deaf after learning to speak.

Maharam Schick writes that we cannot bring any proofs regarding this case from the Talmud, since the Amoraim were not aware of the possibility of someone being born without the ability to hear who nonetheless learned to speak.   He also considers the possibility that since such a person learns how to speak through physical imitation, it is not considered actual speech. He seems to conclude that since this category is a safek (in doubt), he does not believe such a person can be removed from the presumptive category of lav bar daat (non-mentally competent). We discussed in shiur whether such a conclusion implies the Maharam Schick would want this person to put on teffilin to err on the side of caution or not.

Moving along the 19th century, we looked at a responsum of the Shevet Sofer, a grandson of the Chatam Sofer. We had previously looked at a Teshuva of the Chatam Sofer discussing whether to send a shoteh (cognitively impaired) person to a non-Jewish school to learn, even though he will not enable him to keep kosher whole in the school.  Although the Chatam Sofer, according to a superficial reading, seems to say it is better to remain in the status of shoteh rather than go to such an institution, the Shevet Sofer points out he never was discussing a case of an actual Shoteh who is not obligated to observe the mitzvot, and so that specific person did not need the academy in order to become a Bar Chiyuv, obligated. In the case the Shevet Sofer is dealing with, where the academy would effect a change in the status of this deaf-mute from unobligated to obligated, he is willing to place him in such an institute. He seems to frame the conversation in terms of the value of making someone fully obligated in Mitzvoth. This seems to show the Shevet Sofer believed it was important that those who can become obligated in mitzvoth should be.

We next saw the groundbreaking responsum of Rav Azriel Hildesheimer. He discusses three potential approaches to someone who was born a cheresh and afterwards learned to speak. The first option is they are able-bodied in every respect and are considered like any other speaking person who is deaf; the second option is that they are still considered a cheresh and not chayiv in Mitzvot; and the third option is we are in doubt as to this person’s status, and therefore we decide stringently. He goes through the various opinions of the previous century, and which of the three approaches they take. Rav Hildesheimer discusses his personal encounter with the academies for the deaf and mute, and how amazed he is at the level of intelligence displayed by the students, and how he is sure they are mentally competent, and he comments that Chazal must not have encountered this possibility, which explains why they did not discuss it. He also comments that we need to approach each individual separately, since some people born mute and deaf do not become mentally competent. It seems that it was obvious to Rav Hildesheimer that people who are so competent, as the students at the deaf-mute academies were, must be obligated in mitzvoth.

We then moved on to the 20th and 21st centuries. We noted  a Teshuvah by Chief Rabbi Herzog who largely agrees with Rav Hildesheimer.  We then moved to a teshuvah by Rav Benny Lau, where he responds to a rabbi who asks him about a cheresh who could speak read lips very proficiently, who was to be one of the Edim (witnesses) for a wedding. Rabbi Lau responds by going through the history of Halakhic decisions regarding the cheresh, and attempted to construct a historical narrative where the perception of a cheresh shifts over time. We thought several of his readings were difficult, and that the historical progression was not as clean as he presented it. However Rabbi Lau’s main thesis that the modern day reality for a cheresh is very different form the one Chazal lived in, and this reality has a profound impact on modern psak.

We then looked at a famous court case in Israel about a deaf and mute woman who was capable of sign language, and wanted to convert. The court rejected her request, with one of their main contentions being that sign language does not qualify as “speech”. Rabbi J. David Bleich responded to this court decision, and while he did not deal with the particulars of whether sign language constitutes speech, he does say that if a Cheresh is capable of any speech whatsoever, then they are no longer considered in a category of Cheresh.

Rav Meir Twersky, in a public shiur for YU’s Kollel Yom Rishon, assumes that a cheresh remains legally incompetent nowadays – he does not even mention the possibility that the Halakhah has changed in that regard.  He does acknowledge that this Halakhah seems in conflict with our experience of educated deaf-mutes, and sets out the options as follows:

  1. You could say that the status of a cheresh is based on lack of daat (the mental competence necessary for legal obligation) and is a reflection of reality, and Chazal knew something about the interiority of even educated deaf-muted that we don’t know.
  2. Chazal knew something about the daat of deaf-mutes that we can reconstruct, even though we would not perceive it independently.
  3. The status of deaf-mutes is simply a gzeirat haKatuv, a Biblical decree whose rationale is not humanly knowable. The problem with this position is that we have no record in the Tradition of any Biblical source for the status of a cheresh.

Rabbi Twersky quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as taking approach 1 and Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg as taking approach 3.  Rav Twersky himself ends up taking the second approach and explains that daat is not about intellect but rather about awareness and the ability to communicate with others. One who is not able to hear has a lack of awareness and connection to one surroundings.

R. Klapper questioned whether R. Twersky was obligated to at least mention the positions that the status of cheresh had changed.  He worried that the purpose of the shiur was to prevent the audience from considering such positions, and one Fellow cited a published article by Rabbi Twersky in which he mentioned the status of deaf-mute in the context of a broader ideological argument about the nature of descriptive Talmudic statements with normative implications.  Rabbi Twersky argues, following one understanding of his grandfather the Rav, that all statements in Chazal about human nature are descriptions of metaphysical human nature and true for all time and unchallengeable by evidence from science or experience.  He therefore believes that Halakhot based on such statements cannot be changed on the basis of an argument that either reality or our understanding of reality has shifted.  Rabbi Klapper thought that he nonetheless had an obligation to mention the opinions of the great poskim of the past who apparently disagreed, at least with regard to this specific issue.

In any case, the opinion of Rav Shlomo Zalman is not clearly that assigned to him by Rabbi Twersky.  His published responsum (Minchat Shlomoh 1:34) is a composite of two letters written to two different rabbis in response to their separate questions.  In the first part, Rav Shlomo Zalman says that  Chazal must have understood something that we cannot understand, but it is difficult to apply this halacha l’maaseh since charashim should be bnei daat nowadays.  He adds that if he can speak slightly, then he is a bar daat. If only people that are used to being around him can understand his speech, then he isn’t sure if he is a pikeach.

In the second part, written to Rav Sheinberg, he concludes that while it is very difficult to decide definitively an issue that great decisors have written about at length, but it would also be very difficult to rule that people who appear fully competent should be “pushed away from fulfillment of mitzvot”.

Rabbi Klapper suggested that properly understanding Rav Shlomo Zalman’s position  requires taking both parts of his teshuvah into account.  His guess was that in practice Rav Shlomo Zalman would refuse to eliminate the category but at the same time would severely limit it and make it difficult to apply in any specific contemporary case.

What about Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg?  He does say that there is a gzeirat hakatuv that a cheresh doesn’t have daat.   But he brings this up in a different context.   Rav Goldberg is primarily discussing the status of a peti (people with mental disabilities) and whether they can get married. If a cheresh has limited mental capacity, then we have to extrapolate from them to someone with Down’s Syndrome (peti), since we know that they can’t have more daat than a cheresh, which would prove that a peti doesn’t have daat and must be treated like a shoteh, who cannot marry at all. So he argues that the status of a cheresh is merely a gezeirat hakatuv and indicates nothing about the daat of a cheresh.  R. Klapper suggested that R. Zalman Nechemiah might have very different things to say, and novel solutions to offer, when he addresses cases of cheresh directly.

So in the end both Rav Shlomoh Zalman and Rav Nechemiah in practice seek to avoid excluding people with disabilities from the worlds of ritual and ritualized relationships.

In an excursus, R. Klapper noted that sometimes we need to say that a rule is a rule (lo plug), but that we also sometimes need to find ways to make exceptions when the rule has very unfortunate consequences.  Rambam says that the laws of the Torah are like laws of nature, and so they are good for most people most of the time. Does this mean that if you are a scientist, and people are affected by tsunamis, that should you tell them that they should just drown because nature is good?! No, you try to find a way to save them.  The same is true with halacha. It is usually good for most people most the time, but in a case where it is hurting people, it is the job of a posek to try and save them. Halacha says that you need to give a get, but if a husband is using that against his wife, then you need to find ways to force him to give it to her. But not having the law leads to much more injustice.

At what point does a lo plug break down because there are so many exceptions and people are just finding exceptions because the rule is no longer a good rule?

What happens if the rule was made when one could not tell which case should really be exceptions, and now we have a way of telling?  What if circumstances have changed so that there are now more exceptions than cases to which the rule should really apply?  Does this mean that rishonim who argued lo plug would now argue differently? It is hard to just throw away the rule. Many poskim just show that everyone is an exception. Is there an argument to say that there used to be a lo plug (since we didn’t know how to discern between one cheresh and another) but now there isn’t?  We could create another category that is outside the law. We could just say that the exceptions, because they have some capacity for speech and/or other abilities to communicate,  are considered cheresh hamedaber v’eino shomeia (who speaks but does not hear).

In the next shiur, we noted Rabbi Daniel Feldman, who cites a somewhat different roster of decisors who held the options outlined by Rav Hildesheimer.  Rabbi Feldman also provides a way to reconcile the positions that take modes other than speech as implying legal competence with the passage on Gittin 71 that seems to say that the capacity to communicate in writing is not sufficient evidence of competence, and to read a problematic Rashi in a way that allows for the possibility of someone born deaf nonetheless attaining legal competence.

An article by Dr. Yisroel Barma in Techumin suggests that the category of cheresh that existed in the time of Chazal is an oversimplification that we can break down. If it is about lack of daat like shoteh, we now know that there are different types of Charashim. Some have processing gaps that perhaps make them like a shoteh, in that their disability is in the brain, whereas others have deafness that results from sensory issues and are unrelated to shoteh.

However, if you assume that the lack of hearing is the problem, then this doesn’t matter and they would all be charashim.

We concluded the last shiur with a discussion of an article by Rav Elisha Ancselovits  in Techumin.  We noted that his approach is very similar to Rav Twersky’s, but that since he does not share Rav Twersky’s general assumption about the nature of Talmudic statements, he reaches almost entirely opposite halakhic conclusions.

Rabbi Ancselovits assumes that Chazal’s statement that a cheresh didn’t have daat must have made sense, i.e. cohered with the available evidence, in their own time.  Since Gittin 72a says that writing is not sufficient to demonstrate daat, it must be that the cheresh‘s lack of daat is unrelated to intellectual acuity.

He offers two ways to reconcile Gittin with our own experience of competent deaf-mutes.  The first is that the gemara in gittin only applies to someone who used to hear and then became deaf and mute;  the fact that he can only write now, shows that he has lost a significant mental ability, and this undercuts our presumption of competence.  This would not apply to someone who was always deaf.

He then notes that there is a contradiction between the Mishnah in Gittin that says that nodding is considered speech for a mute, and the beraita on 72a that says that writing doesn’t count as speaking (for a cheresh). Rambam and baalei tosafot both explain that the difference is between a cheresh (for whom both writing and body language don’t work) and ilem (mute) (for whom they both work). But the second answer in Rosh is that body language is actually stronger than writing and is considered a form of language. Based on this assumption, Rav Ancselovits argues that a cheresh who can communicate through sign language alone is considered a cheresh hamedaber, a speaker,  since sign language is considered a language.  He further argues that, as noted above, the status of a cheresh was not the result of an intellectual lack, but rather of a social lack – not enough people to communicate with.  Now that Sign is broadly spoken, and deaf people can communicate with many people in many ways (he does not even mention email and texting), it should be clear that a cheresh in our day can be a full bar daat and therefore bar chiyuva.

He then goes much further and argues that sign language can also count as public reading and recitation for a variety of ritual purposes, for example that a signing shaliach tzibbur would work for a congregation that understood Sign.

Several of Rabbi Ancselovits assumptions are certainly open to question.  For example, even if one follows Rosh unequivocally, it is not clear that sign language should count as “nodding” rather than “writing”.  Furthermore, like Rav Twersky, he has no evidence for his explanation of the status of a cheresh in the time of Chazal other than his need to reconcile it with his commonsense impression that it no longer applies today.  Finally, his move that sign language is not only evidence of competence, but considered actual speech for many other purposes even where writing is insufficient, requires a radical definition of the category that was not articulated in the precedents.

This concluded Rabbi Klapper’s lectures, and Friday morning we were given the question to which we will be writing responsa.

Shabbat Shalom!

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