Monthly Archives: April 2017

The House That Was?

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Tuvy Miller

Sanhedrin 71a cites Tannaitic positions in three contexts as declaring that a law in the Torah was never intended to be implemented.  The first is Rabbi Shimon regarding the Rebellious son:

וכי מפני שאכל זה תרטימר בשר ושתה חצי לוג יין האיטלקי אביו ואמו מוציאין אותו לסקלו? אלא לא היה ולא עתיד להיות, ולמה נכתב – דרוש וקבל שכר

Because he ate a tartimar of meat and drank half a log of Italian wine, his father and mother take him out for stoning?  Rather, he never was and never will be.  So why was it written?  Expound it and receive reward.

The other contexts are the ir ha-nidachat (idolotrous city) and bayit ha-menuga (“leprous” house).

R. Shimon’s position regarding the Rebellious Son has become a touchstone for discussions of morality and halakha.  Did moral concerns motivate him to legislate the law of the law out of existence? [1] Those who oppose this reading of R. Shimon [2] often point to the bayit ha-menugah.  There is nothing morally objectionable about it, and yet it is read out of existence! This proves that moral concerns are not necessary to achieve that result, and therefore perhaps the positions regarding ben sorer u-moreh and ir ha-nidachat were also not motivated by moral concerns.

Methodologically, this argument rests on solid ground.  But it does not seem compelling enough to categorically reject the possibility [3] that we should instead look for a moral issue in the case of the bayit ha-menuga  (BHM). [4] This perspective has not, to my knowledge, been adequately explored.

The Torah clearly limits the law of the BHM to the Land of Israel and to Jewish-owned homes. The former emerges quite clearly from the opening verses of the Torah’s treatment “when you enter the Land of Cana’an…” and is even clearer in the Tannaitic sources. [5] In that same verse, the word אחוזה is emphasized in relation to the land and ultimately to the house under discussion. This indicates an additional level of understanding-not only is this law limited to the Land of Israel, it is directly tied to Am Yisrael’s conquest and settling of the Land. [6]

The exclusion of non-Jewish homes derives from בית ארץ אחוזתכם, meaning that the homes must be Jewishly owned in order to become BHM. Based on Sifra and Vayikra Rabbah, Rashi adds a twist to this discussion that I believe will be crucial to our analysis:

ונתתי נגע צרעת – בשורה היא להם שהנגעים באים עליהם, לפי שהטמינו אמוריים מטמוניות של זהב בקירות בתיהם כל ארבעים שנה שהיו ישראל במדבר, ועל ידי הנגע נותץ הבית ומוצאן

This was an announcement to them that these afflictions would come upon them, because the Amorites concealed gold treasures in the walls of their houses during the Jews’ forty year sojourn in the desert and because of the affliction, they would tear down the house and find them (the treasures).

This explanation contends that BHM could only occur with a house that had previously been owned by non-Jews and presumably only as long as such houses existed in the land. [7] Ironically, even though such a house would generally not qualify as a BHM, once conquered it is the only structure that qualifies. [8]

Let us consider for a moment how the Tosefta’s assertion of לא היה ולא עתיד להיות would respond to this understanding of tsara’at. One might say that the two are incompatible because Rashi’s approach assumes as a matter of course that the Jews would actually find this gold, while the Tosefta believes BHM would never occur. Thus the Tosefta would likely not countenance Rashi’s conception of tsara’at ha-bayit.  However, the Tosefta could claim that since we do not see instances where the Jews actually uncovered this gold, Rashi’s position is still tenable as a theoretical Midrashic explanation. If the Tosefta is motivated by some moral concern in asserting לא היה ולא עתיד להיות, then it would now have to maintain that within Rashi’s understanding. It is this possibility that I would like to further examine.  

I contend that if faced with Rashi’s reading, the Tosefta would claim that the reason BHM “never was and never will be” is because it is inconceivable that, having ordered us to wipe out the Canaanite nations, the Torah would reward the Jews with their homes and possessions. In other words, while it may have been necessary, though not morally neutral, to attack these nations in order to take hold of the Land, the Jews had to remember the moral cost of what they had done and could not allow the newfound spoils to dim the memory of the battles. While the Jews would find booty upon their arrival, God did not want that to become the focus of the campaign, nor did He want it to derail the establishment of a just and moral society.

I would like to further elaborate upon this contention regarding an aversion to benefitting from the spoils of war to show that Tanakh’s perspective on this is complex. Throughout Tanakh, there are a number of instances where there are war narratives that discuss spoils, as well as some legal/philosophical sections. We will briefly examine several of them, though a more thorough analysis will be needed at a later date.

The first example in our exploration is the story of Avraham and the king of Sedom. After defeating the four kings, saving Lot and recapturing the spoils, Avraham and the king meet in what Humash calls “the valley of the king.” After Malki Tsedek’s enigmatic berakha, the king requests- “give me the people and take for yourself the spoils.” Avraham counters that he does not even want “a shoelace” lest the king say in the future, “I made Avraham wealthy.” On one level, this is a theological response, highlighted by the reference to God as koneh shamayim va-arets-Avraham wants everyone to know that his wealth comes from God, not a human king. This would be part of Avraham’s overall mission of keriah be-shem Hashem. However, there is an additional layer here quite relevant to our discussion. Were Avraham to accept the spoils, his wealth would forever be associated with this battle, giving the impression that this was perhaps the reason he went to battle in the first place. Avraham was justified in going to war but feared that if he collected the spoils, it would sully his mission of tsedek u-mishpat.

Later on in Tanakh, the Jews are faced with a similar situation when they prepare to re-enter the Land with Yehoshua. Unlike the Avraham episode which was a war of protection or self defense, the wars the Jews would fight were conquests. Already in Humash, God had made an allowance to take spoils from battles fought outside the Land, but when speaking about the conquest of Cana’an it is more ambiguous. By forbidding the Jews to take from the spoils of Yeriho, God sends a clear message- even if you will be allowed to take spoils in other battles, that is not the goal of this campaign and the booty cannot blind you to the complexity of what you are doing. That the example of Yericho is meant to impact future battles is clear because failing to heed God’s message leads to a breakdown of the campaign at the first battle of ‘Ai.

Perhaps one of the best sources to cite in opposition to our approach is the section in Bemidbar about  the spoils from the war with Midian. The Humash goes to great lengths to describe the booty and how it must be divided and made fit for Jewish use, presumably indicating approval of its acquisition. However, upon closer reading it seems that this picture is not quite accurate. The soldiers were never told anything about the spoils before they went out to battle and from Mosheh’s fiery reaction upon their return, he clearly did not approve of what they had done, at least with respect to the human captives. Furthermore, the requirement to purify the captured items and to divide them up in a specific manner, including giving a portion to God, places further limitations on the unrestricted consumption of these spoils. It may very well be that the reason for all of this is in order to distance the Jews from the reminders of the corrosive Midianite culture, but it is also possible that God wanted the soldiers to understand that their unchecked grabbing of spoils was problematic. Once the booty had been collected it would have been difficult to take it away, but the limitations taught the soldiers that when Divinely ordained war leads to rampant plundering, the moral justification begins to erode.

The text that deals directly with conquest and militates against our perspective can be found in Devarim, immediately after the section containing the first paragraph of Shema. Mosheh tells the people that they will enter the land and find houses filled with good and fields overflowing with plenty, none of which are of their own making. Here, conquering the land seems to go hand in hand with taking the spoils of war. In fact, the “houses filled with good” could be read as an allusion to the gold in the walls. [9] He warns that they should not forget God at this time, and one reason he gives is that the Jews may become over indulgent, neglect their spiritual obligations and begin to drift towards ‘avodah zarah. However, there is a deeper element present here that indicates a different perspective. When imploring the people not to forget God, Mosheh reminds them that this is God who “took you out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” This last part seems rather unnecessary, unless, of course, the Jews need to be reminded that the reason they were taken out of Egypt is to serve God through building a moral and just society in the Land of Israel. [10] This is further bolstered by the command to fear God which, in the Biblical context, refers primarily to behaving morally, as in the story of Avraham and Avimelekh, or in the retelling of the Amalek story later in Devarim. These two details indicate that while God realizes that spoils may be taken, that is not something that is morally neutral. It cannot become the basis for the society that we are creating, which must not be founded upon plunder, rather upon tsedek u-mishpat.

What we have seen in these examples is that in a number of cases, Tanakh’s attitude towards taking spoils is quite complex. While there is generally a recognition that Jewish armies may plunder, there is a clear message that it is not preferred and certainly is not the goal of the war. Furthermore, the story in Yehoshua and the text just examined teach us that such spoils may not serve as the basis for the society we are creating. The Jewish people are allowed to have a homeland, especially one to which they have ancestral rights. That acquiring this land will come through the loss of life is inevitable, maybe even justified, though still morally fraught. However, once the land has been acquired, every effort must be made to eschew the role of the victor and to build homes and fortunes that do not benefit from the spoils of the defeated. In this way, we will limit our triumphalism, always aware of the costs of our victory and ever vigilant to build a society that seeks to transcend that past of conquest in favor of a future filled with justice and righteousness. 

Notes:

[1] That he made the law halakhically inapplicable because of the immorality of killing a child for relatively benign actions. See Moshe Halbertal,  מהפכות פרשניות בהתהוותן (Magnes 1997) and R. Ethan Tucker’s critique https://www.hadar.org/torah-resource/moral-revolution-or-complex-application. On ir ha-nidachat, see Ramah’s letter to the rabbis of Lunel about killing the children in the city (printed in the back of Yad Ramah on Sanhedrin).

[2] See R. Tucker pp. 18.  See also http://www.torahleadership.org/categories/kiteitzeiben.pdf and http://www.torahleadership.org/categories/kiteitzeibensorer_2.pdf.

[3] A 3rd option would be that there are two distinct parts of the list, but this seems unlikely and is stylistically awkward.

[4] For the purposes of this discussion, I will accept Halbertal’s more radical reading of R. Shimon, insofar as we are testing its validity by questioning one of the primary counter-arguments against it.

[5] Sifra, Mishna 12:1

[6] This understanding is proffered in Sifra 5:3

לאחוזה עד שיכבשו מנין אתה אומר כיבשו אבל לא חילקו חילקו למשפחות ולא חילקו לבית אבות ואין כל אחד ואחד מכיר את שלו, יכול יהו מטמאין בנגעים תלמוד לומר ובא אשר לו הבית עד שיהא כל אחד מכיר את שלו

Compare to Shemot 12:25; 13:5, 11 and Vayikra 23:10; 25:2 where conquest does not obviously appear.

[7] At some point, the houses left by the Amorites would crumble and the Jews would live in houses of their own construction.

[8] Furthermore, and perhaps most radically, it presumes that tsara’at on a house does not signify any wrongdoing on the part of the homeowner, but is instead a harbinger of berakha. This is contrary to most Rabbinic understandings of tsara’at which view it as a punishment for slander or haughtiness, among other things. It is important to explore the implications of this new position, but it goes beyond our analysis here.

[9] Though the Talmud (Hullin 17a) assumes that this refers to the un-kosher foods the Jews would find and would be permitted to consume. On this, see Ramban on our pasuk and Rambam, Hil. Melakhim 8:1.

[10] See the numerous verses later in Devarim about the need to care for the unfortunate among us, specifically linked to our experience in Egypt.

Tuvy Miller (SBM ‘13) is in his second year of semikha at RIETS and works at SAR High School as a Beit Midrash Fellow

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni devar Torah

Music During the Omer? A Model Modern Orthodox Responsum

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

Dear Rabbi Klapper,

What are your thoughts listening to live music during the Omer?  I know that different people do different things regarding this.

Thanks!

Jack Smith

 

Dear Jack,

Thank you for your question!  Every halakhic question is vitally important in and of itself, but your formulation properly raises a really “big” and broad issue: How should an individual Jew in America today (or Israel, but that deserves separate treatment) decide or discover what their minhag is on issues where multiple legitimate minhagim exist?

A good first step is to study about the existing options.  For an excellent survey of halakhic positions regarding “mourning”, I encourage you to read the essay by Rabbi David Brofsky here.  A very different and valuable presentation is by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed here.  (It may be instructive to compare the breadth and depth of each to the presentations that come up first on Google.)  I won’t try to duplicate their work here, and to some extent will rely on them.  Rather, I will try to frame the discussion in a way that empowers you to make informed and meaningful choices, and look forward to further correspondence.

Mourning is the secondary halakhah of the omer period.  The primary halakhah is the Biblical mitzvah of counting the omer.  This mitzvah connects the barley and wheat harvests, the pilgrimage holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, and marks the period between the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai.  The counting seems intended to create throughout an atmosphere of excitement, celebration, and anticipation that is wholly incompatible with mourning.  Even without the Beit Hamikdash, and therefore without the mitzvot of sacrifices and pilgrimages, it seems inappropriate to be mourning while on the way to Sinai.

The Omer period begins with Chol HaMoed and the last Yom Tov of Pesach, which override any mourning restrictions.  The rest of Nisan is a period in which certain forms of public mourning, such as eulogies, are forbidden.  If mourning begins on day 1, the first sixteen days are our “Vulcan” period, in which the restrictions of Pesach, Nisan and the Omer combine to forbid both happiness and sadness. It seems that we are required to be purely rational and emotionless, at least in public.  But that doesn’t seem realistic or healthy, and one needs to think about how to handle situations in which, for example, insisting on the absence of music would constitute obvious mourning.  Then Yom HaAtzmaut comes only five days later (or six; another issue deserving separate treatment)!  At the other end, the 3 Days of Hagbalah immediately preceding Shavuot, which commemorate our preparation for Revelation, are also clearly a time of joy.  The New Moons of Sivan and Iyyar also fall within the Omer period.  So how can we mourn?

Yet there is no denying that just about every pre-20th century community observed an Omer mourning custom of 32 or 33 days,  starting either from Omer day 1 (=16 Nissan) or else on 1 or 2 Iyyar.  These customs are generally connected to the report that vast numbers of Rabbi Akiva’s students died during the first 32 or 33 days (as the result of interpersonal misbehavior, the Bar Kochba revolt, or both). The regnant explanation of the later starting dates (1 or 2 Iyyar) is that the mourning period was shifted in some parts of Ashkenaz in order to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Crusades, which reached Ashkenaz in Iyyar.  But why move the dates, rather than just extending them?    I wonder if it was an excuse to leave at least Nissan’s happiness unblemished.

The shifting of the dates yields a very odd halakhic result.  A doubtful custom cannot overcome a certain prohibition (and there is room to question the power of a definite custom as well).  Because there are divergent customs with regard to all dates except Iyyar 2-4 and 6–18, and the vast majority of American Jews do not belong to geographic communities bound by a particular custom, a good formal halakhic argument could be constructed to forbid mourning on many or all the other dates.  Instead, the standard halakhah in practice has been that at least those who identify as generic Ashkenazim may adopt any of the preexisting customs as to dates, and even to change their custom from year to year without hatarat nedarim.  One should ideally develop a consistent practice over time, and strive for consistency within any given year; but there is much space for accommodating the needs of friends who have different minhagim, e.g. friends’ celebrations or roommates who listen to music.  And speaking of music . . .

There are two basic frameworks for Omer mourning

1)  Simchat m’reut – essentially, parties.  In this framework there is no issue with live music per se, only with the atmosphere often generated by live music.  So for example chamber music concerts in a concert hall, when you’re not allowed to talk, would be fine (but receptions before and after would not be, even if there were no music).  Conversely, a party with dancing to recorded music would be forbidden.  Generally any combination of alcohol and music would be forbidden.

2)  Specific customs – Obviously there can be no minhag going back more than a century about recorded music.  Various practices have developed as to whether and how to extend a prior minhag about live music.

These options may reflect two radically divergent approaches to religious expression generally.

The first approach, which was championed (at least in this case) by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, contends that formal halakhah should set the pattern for all religious behavior.  Ritual creativity is inherently suspect as a potential violation of bal tosif (adding to the Torah) or as an imposition of subjective desire onto objective obligation.

By contrast, Rav Ovadiah Yosef sees popular intuition as a valuable guide to balancing conflicting religious emotions and spiritual sensibilities.  The omer period is legitimately a time of both mourning and celebration.  I contend that this balance is and should be affected by the establishment of the State of Israel and the development of Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaShoah.

If your friends and religious peers do not have a clear practice regarding dates and/or music, and a broadly respected local halakhic authority hasn’t taken a firm stand, and you haven’t been clear about your approach in previous years, there’s a great deal of room for personal choices, but one should have in mind “beli neder” if you want to be able to switch again next year.

I think you should aspire to adopt consistent frameworks for making those choices.

How do you balance the advantages and risks of giving halakhic force to popular spiritual intuition?  Do you see halakhah as a stabilizing force, a kind of spiritual insurance, that enables risk-taking?  As a potentially stultifying and homogenizing force that must be balanced by creativity?  As the best or sole method of turning self-satisfying human actions into service of G-d?

What role does music, recorded or live play in your life and the life of the communities?  Is it an essential and constant background that accompanies all emotions, or limited to celebratory contexts?  Does its periodic conscious absence enable you to focus on religious ideas and contexts that you might otherwise give short shrift to?  Does it make you more susceptible to dwelling unconstructively on negative emotions?  Bear in mind that a powerful halakhic argument can be made that music should always be forbidden while we have no Beit haMikdash, but is nonetheless permitted as a concession to our emotional and religious psychology.

How do you balance the “background” religious emotions generated by the ongoing state of the world and condition of the Jewish people?  Should that balance be different in Israel and the United States?

While you grapple with these questions, I suggest that the default American Modern Orthodox framework is that one should not listen to live music in any context from after Pesach through day 32 (other mourning practices may continue through day 33 for those who identify as Sefardim), excluding Yom Ha’atzmaut, but that listening to recorded music is generally permitted.

Bivrakhah,

Aryeh Klapper

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Weekly Devar Torah

Ruling Desire and Desiring Rules

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Betsy Morgan

On Shabbat Chol ha’Moed it is customary to read Shir ha’Shirim, a megillah of blooming flowers and blossoming love between two lovers. The are they/aren’t they protagonists are understood to represent God and the Jewish people. Throughout the megillah their metaphors and similes of passion never culminate in a final moment. Indeed, it ends with the Dod running away again.

What is the story of love meant to teach us about our relationship with God? The dialogue is limited to exchanges of compliments, but no conversation. Is this an ideal relationship? The most salient features of the megillah are passion and appreciation, but the megillah also serves an additional purpose in teaching about equality.

The presence of desire in a relationship creates an opportunity for unequal power dynamic. This is first expressed in the Torah in the aftermath of eating from the tree of knowledge. A punishment of Chava is “וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ, וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ”, that she will desire her husband, and he will rule her. Her desire creates a vulnerability that results in an imbalanced relationship. In this archetypical relationship in the Torah, there is a strain of closeness and distance, desire and inequality.

This idea appears again in Bereshit in the aftermath of Kayin killing his brother Hevel. God tells Kayin in regards to sin “הֲלוֹא אִם-תֵּיטִיב, שְׂאֵת, וְאִם לֹא תֵיטִיב, לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ”, is it not so that if you are good you will overcome it, because sin is crouching at your doorstep, it desires you and you rule over it. Like a virus needs a host, sin desires the sinner, and thus Kayin can rule over it.

The final time this language is used in Tanach is in Shir ha’Shirim “אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי, וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ”, I am to my beloved and he desires me. Here is a reversal from Bereshit. First, a person is speaking, whereas God was the speaker of both instances in Bereshit. The affected parties are the active ones, aware of their situation and standing. Second, in Shir ha’Shirim, the man desires the woman, the opposite from Chava and Adam. We would expect that this would make him the vulnerable party, at the woman’s mercy to rule over him. However, she is declaring herself to him, making herself equally vulnerable to him. Using her power, she abolishes the power imbalance. They are equal.

Tracing this concept of desire and power gives Shir ha’Shirim a culmination of a larger story, showing how two entities can be vulnerable and equal. God desires us to be His people, as evidenced in the Exodus story from Egypt and throughout our journey in the desert. At Har Sinai we are declared His nation and are sustained in the desert until delivered to Israel. We desire God to be our God, and demonstrate this through the fulfillment of mitzvot and learning His Torah. Pesach is a time when we review the roots of our relationship with God, and renew it by teaching our history to our families at the Seder. The story in Shir ha’Shirim never really ends, because we are still playing the parts in this relationship through the choices we make every day.

Betsy Morgan (SBM 2013, 2014) is a Junior at Drexel University studying Materials Science and Engineering. She is currently serving as the Gabbai for Drexel’s Orthodox Minyan Group and as a Campus Fellow for the Jewish Institute for Ideas and Ideals.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni devar Torah, Uncategorized

CMTL Pesach Reader, 2017 Edition

Check out the 2017 edition of the CMTL Pesach Reader for Divrei Torah about Pesach from Rabbi Klapper and CMTL alumni!

http://www.torahleadership.org/categories/pesachreader2017.pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

הא לחמא עניא (from the Aryeh Klapper Haggadah, in progress)

  • הא לחמא עניא דאכלו אבהתנא בארעא דמצרים.

    כל דכפין – ייתי וייכול;        כל דצריך – ייתי ויפסח.

    השתא – הכא;                                         לשנה הבאה – בארעא דישראל.

    השתא –  עבדי;                                                                           לשנה הבאה – בני חורין.

    This is the bread of poverty that was eaten by our ancestors in the land of Mitzrayim
    Anyone hungry – let them come and eat!  Anyone in need – let them come eat a Pesach!
         This year – here;                                                        The coming year – in the land of Israel!
    This year – slaves;                                                                            The coming year – free people!

    In the United States, we generally recite this paragraph ritually in a locked house or apartment, or a wellguarded resort complex, where the poor – unless previously invited – could not possible hear us. This seems too ironic for words. But it is also true that we live in environments where the desperately and publicly poor are rarely known to us personally, and so reasonable concerns of safety and privacy make the idealistic framework set out here uncomfortable and likely unwise. Can we nonetheless make sense of it? Let us begin by recognizing that the paragraph is structured chronologically – we start in Mitzrayim at the point of the Exodus (“This is the bread our ancestors ate in the Land of Mitzrayim”), move to Israel during the Temple period (““Anyone in need – let him come eat a Pesach”), acknowledge contemporary reality, and finally express our hopes for the future. Our scripted invitation to the needy is a deliberate flashback to the Temple period, when all Israel was camped out in Jerusalem, and the “haves” provided for those who could not afford their own lamb for the Pesach sacrifice. It is not intended as a direct critique of Diaspora practice. Nonetheless, surely one purpose of the Pesach sacrifice was to create a circumstance in which each Jew of means had direct responsibility for the poor. Can we maintain the spirit of the law when the letter remains sadly out of reach? I don’t think the solution is necessarily open-air barbecue seders in public parks. Chazal (Bava Batra 7b) recognize a legitimate tension between the right to privacy and the obligation to remain accessible to the poor. Residents of a courtyard may legally compel each other to pay for the construction of a gatehouse; yet Elijah the prophet stopped visiting one chasid’s courtyard once a gatehouse was built, in protest against his exclusion of the poor. The proper balance between these values depends on social and individual circumstances. In a perfect world, no one responds to the last-minute Pesach invitation, because all the poor have already been provided for. We can recline in the privacy and freedom of our houses and hotels without guilt, but only if we have done our part in advance to ensure that the poor have the wherewithal to make their own sedarim.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rav Soloveitchik on Semikhah

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

INTRODUCTION

This essay is devoted to a purely conceptual “Brisker” account of the Rav’s analysis, in many contexts, of classical semikhah and eligibility for the same.  If this analysis survives critique, a subsequent essay will place it in the context of a central theme of the Rav’s philosophic work.  If that analysis as well emerges recognizably from critique, a third and last essay will draw tentative but concrete implications for contemporary practice with regard to eligibility for semikhah, and humbly submit them for critique.

No attempt will be made in this essay to evaluate the Rav’s work, only to present it.  The practical weight of any implications derived from this analysis will depend on the general weight one assigns to the Rav’s opinions in determining individual or communal practice, and/or on evaluation of the argument on its merits as a reading of the tradition.

I have followed the approach of many of the Rav’s direct talmidim in writing the Rav’s material directly, rather than citing him in the third person.  Any content that I believe to be my own is specifically marked {ADK}.  There may be places where I have misunderstood the Rav or made an argument that seems necessary for his thesis but which he himself never made.  Readers are encouraged to check my analysis against the available evidence of his positions, to which I have tried to provide fairly comprehensive access in the endnotes.  Readers who wish to study the Rav’s directly relevant positions in advance of my presentation are directed to

“קביעת מועדים על פי הראיה ועל פי החשבון”, in קובץ חידושי תורה

“בענין תקנת משה”, in שיעורים לזכר אבא מרי ז”ל כרך ב

“קונטרס הסמיכה” in ארץ הצבי

רשימות שיעורים to נדרים ח:, שבועות ל., שבועות לא.,  בבא קמא טו., בבא קמא פד:׳

The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Bamidbar

“Semichah of Yehoshua” in The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Bamidbar

“הערות בריש מסכת אבות”, in בית יצחק כרך כב עמוד סד

 

 

The rest of the article can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tangents and Main Points

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

Students in my Talmud classes are often asked to recall ‘how we got here from there’, meaning how we meandered from the alleged base text or main topic of a session to the fascinating but apparently wholly disconnected conversation we are in.  My class thereby models the text, as the Talmud is constructed associatively; and the tangents are often the true main point of the class, and of Talmudic sugyot).

For this to work, the students must not notice when their train leaves the rails and begins to roam the intellectual countryside, or to mix metaphors:  like Wile E. Coyote, if they look down too soon and notice that they’ve gone off a cliff, they never make it to the other side.

This is a difficult trick to pull off in writing, where language is the only tool that can keep the reader from awareness.  One strategy is to do a reverse Hansel and Gretel, sprinkling candy crumbs on the ground behind you in hopes that the reader will follow and keep picking them up until their original trail is lost.  But it is a trick often necessary when writing a dvar Torah on the early parshiyot of Vayikra, which are rarely directly meaningful to contemporary readers.  Here is one attempt.

Vayikra 7:24 states:

But the organ-fat of a neveilah (an animal that has died of a cause other than kosher shechitah)

or the organ-fat of a tereifah (an animal that was halakhically dying before its shechitah)

may be used for every task, but you surely must not eat it.

Rashi comments:

“may be used for every task” – This came and taught about organ-fat that it does not acquire the tum’ah of the neveilah from which it is taken.

But what does the acquisition of tum’at neveilah have to do with suitability for all tasks?  Rashi here is silent, but “the words of Torah are often poor in one place but rich in another”.  Rashi’s source is a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yose the Gallilean on Talmud Pesachim 23a:

“may be used for every task” – 

What does Scripture teach by writing “for every task”?

You might have thought that it would be permitted for tasks of the Above, but prohibited for mundane tasks –so Scripture writes “for every task”.

This is the opinion of Rabbi Yose the Gallilean.

But Rabbi Akiva says:

You might have thought that it would be permitted for mundane tasks, but prohibited for tasks of the Above– so Scripture writes “for every task”.

What “tasks of the Above” is organ-fat suitable for?

Rashi comments (on the position of Rabbi Yose the Gallilean) that it is useful to prepare hides for Temple maintenance.

Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi (Poland/Germany, d. 1805) in his Panim Yafot argues that Rabbi Akiva reads the word every as permitting one to bring hides that have been prepared with such fats into the Courtyard of the Temple.  This presumes that one may not bring other parts of a neveilah into the Courtyard owing to their tum’ah, and that, happily, turns out to be the position of Rabbi Akiva in Mishnah Eruvin Chapter 10.

If a dead sheretz (rodent? reptile? which carries the same degree of tum’ah as a neveilah)

was found in the Temple (on Shabbat, when the muktzah prohibition prevents direct manual removal) – a priest removes it with his belt (even though the belt acquires tum’ah thereby), so as not to linger the tum’ah,

according to Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka;

Rabbi Yehudah says:

With a wooden stick (that does not acquire tum’ah), so as not to increase the tum’ah.

From what places in the Temple must it be removed (even on Shabbat)?

From the Sanctuary and the Hall and between the Hall and the Altar,

according to Rabbi Shimon Dwarfson;

But Rabbi Akiva said: 

From the places where one would be liable for karet if one brought a dead sheretz there deliberately, or a chatat sacrifice if one brought a dead sheretz there accidentally – 

from those places one must remove it; 

but all remaining places – we cover it with a container.

Now why would Rabbi Akiva hold that one should not remove a dead sheretz from all parts of the Temple, when there is a Biblical violation against bringing tum’ah into the Temple?  Eruvin 104a suggests that Rabbi Akiva agrees with a seemingly paradoxical position later stated explicitly by Rabbi Tovi bar Kisna in the name of Shmuel:

Said Rabbi Tovi bar Kisna in the name of Shmuel:

One who brings in (to the Temple) something that has the same tum’ah as a dead sheretz – is liable, but (one who brings in) a dead sheretz – is exempt.

Rabbi Tovi bar Kisna’s position is derived from Numbers 5:3, which explicitly requires sending certain human beings who have acquired tum’ah in certain ways out of the desert camp, and is understood as applying to the Temple afterward.

Scripture writes: “Whether male or female, you must send away” –

This applies to all those who can become tahor via immersion

But excludes a dead sheretz which cannot become tahor via immersion

Thus Rabbi Akiva can hold that there is no prohibition against bringing a dead sheretz in, and therefore no obligation to bring it out, and therefore one should not violate the muktzah prohibition to remove it.

But this actually proves too much – even Rabbi Akiva holds that one must remove a dead sheretz from the Sanctuary and the Hall on Shabbat.  If there is no prohibition against bringing one in, why should one violate muktzah to remove it?

Rashi explains:

he holds that one who brings a dead sheretz into the Temple is exempt –

Meaning there is no Biblical obligation to ‘send it out’,

and therefore the Rabbinic muktzah prohibition is not pushed aside to remove it.

But from the Sanctuary and the Hall we do remove it,

as the Sages did not make their words stand in the way of the Honor of the Divine Presence

The last line of Rashi is fascinating.  On Berakhot 19, the Talmud has a long discussion as to whether, or under what circumstances, human dignity overrides what would otherwise be the Halakhah.  This question is initially presented as dependent on the relative value of human and Divine dignity.  In the course of the discussion, we learn that human dignity presumptively overrides all Rabbinic legislation.  Rashi here extends that principle to Divine dignity as well.  On what basis does he do this?

I suggest the following.  On reflection, it should be clear that the Talmud actually presented a false choice.  The real question is not whether human dignity overrides Divine law, but rather the place of human dignity within Divine law – and if G-d mandates concern for human dignity, doing so cannot violate His dignity.  The conclusion that human dignity sometimes trumps even Biblical-level law in no way contradicts this.  Therefore, Rashi reasons, the premise that Divine dignity trumps human dignity stands, and therefore, if human dignity trumps Rabbinic law, so must Divine dignity.

But Rashi makes a further leap.  In Berakhot, Divine dignity is manifested in human obedience.  Here, Divine dignity is implicated in human aesthetics – no human being of consequence would tolerate dead animals in their home, so it violates His dignity for one to be left where His presence dwells.  By bringing His presence down to human beings – by investing the Mishkan – G-d therefore makes His dignity vulnerable in new ways – not only to human free will, but to the chances of mortality, human and animal.  Perhaps it makes sense, then, that the Temple is so hedged about with commandments – in recognition of G-d’s willingness to risk His dignity so as to dwell among us, we assign ourselves the task of magnifying His dignity to the extent possible through our obedience.

Shabbat Shalom

This Dvar Torah is a rewrite of a Dvar Torah published in 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Weekly Devar Torah