Monthly Archives: September 2017

CMTL Alumni Links: Elul-Tishrei 2017

The Center for Modern Torah Leadership’s alumni are actively involved in helping to spread our mission of Taking Responsibility for Torah. We are proud to share some links to Shiurim and articles by our alumni from the past month, so you can have a sense of the important work our alumni do.

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CMTL Elul-Yamim Noraim Reader, 2017 Edition

Check out the 2017 edition of the CMTL Elul-Yamim Noraim Reader for Divrei Torah from Rabbi Klapper and CMTL alumni!

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May a Chazan Lead High Holidays Services from a Wheelchair? Part Two

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

Last week we learned that:

Maharam probably prefers a disabled shaliach tzibbur to one who had not suffered any physical ravages.  He states explicitly that mumim (any from a list of physical blemishes) invalidate kohanim and not shluchei tzibbur.

Maharshal strongly endorses the version of Maharshal’s position that prefers a disabled shaliach tzibbur.   Mahari Brona opposes appointing a person with a mum to a formal communal position as shaliach tzibbur, but he permits having such a person serve as an ad hoc prayer leader, or if there is no alternative.  Mahari Brona states that he saw this position in Or Zarua, but cannot remember where.  Our analysis of the most likely reference in Or Zarua concluded that it was probably irrelevant to the question of mumim or disability.

A few other points before we move on from Mahari Brona.

1) Maharam’s case involved a physical disability that was also a formal legal mum.  Mahari Brona only discusses formal mumim; disability per se is not mentioned, and it is possible that he considered it irrelevant.

2) Mahari Brona takes it as given that a blind man can serve as an ad hoc chazan.  He does not cite a source.  Blindness is a formal mum.  That could have ended the discussion of mumim.   However, Mahari Brona assumes that one can distinguish between “official” and ad hoc shluchei tzibbur, and that blind people can only serve ad hoc.

What is his basis for this distinction?

Or Zarua cites Rav Yehudai Gaon, from Sefer Miktzo’ot, as follows:

והורה רב יודאי גאון

דשליח צבור סומא כשר הוא

ואין מסלקין אותו כל זמן שמעשיו הגונים

Rav Yudai Gaon ruled 

that a blind shaliach tzibbur is valid

and one must not remove him so long as his actions are proper.

The phrase “one must not remove him” can be read as only post facto, meaning that he cannot be appointed to such a position.

However, Or Zarua also quotes a geonic responsum, as follows:

ובתשובות כתב

ושליח צבור סומא או זקן שכהו עיניו מרוב זקנה

והם יודעים להתפלל כראוי


מהו לירד לפני התיבה להוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן

כך ראינו

שיורדין לפני התיבה ומוציאין את הרבים ידי חובתן . . .

But in the response he writes

A shaliach tzibbur who is blind, or one so elderly that his eyes have dimmed from great age, 

but they know how to daven as is fitting,

and you asked

whether they can go down before the ark in order to fulfill the masses’ obligation for them –

Here is how we saw it –

They may go down before the ark and fulfill the masses’ obligation for them . . .

This responsum seems to support blind shluchei tzibbur without qualification, and suggests that we should not read the official/ad hoc distinction into Rav Yehudai either.  Indeed, Rav Yehudai Gaon can be read as making the opposite point, that not only is a blind shaliach tzibbur valid, he is every bit as good as a seeing man, and therefore should not be replaced for any reason other than impropriety.

The next major halakhist to address our issue from first principles is Chavot Yair.  His responsum is very tricky to read, and I have seen scholars completely reverse its meaning!  So please check my translation-with-commentary as carefully as you can, and see whether you agree that I have it right.

שו”ת חוות יאיר סימן קעו


תמהת על אשר שמעת שהרע בעיני שהעבירו שם ק”ק פלוני סומא בא’ מעיניו בימים הנוראי’


You were astonished at hearing that I was displeased that Congregation X put forward a man blind in one eye as shaliach tzibbur on the High Holidays.

מימי לא אמרתי דבר וחזרתי לאחורי


In all my days I have never said anything and then turned around and denied it 

(so if I had been displeased, I would certainly admit it)

וידעתי בני ידעתי מ”ש רז”ל שהקב”ה משתמש בכלים שבורים –

I know full well that which Chazal say, that “The Holy Blessed One prefers to use broken vessels (meaning men with broken hearts, and one might infer that He also prefers men with missing eyes)

רק דמשם אין ראיה,

דההיא לא מקרי מום ע”פ האמת, וכל לב נשבר שפיר מקרי צדיק תמים,

מש”כ מום בגוף י”ל כל מום רע

But there is no proof from there

Since (a broken heart) is not truly called a mum, and every brokenhearted man can properly be called “unblemishedly righteous” 

unlike physical blemishes, which are called “every bad mum”.

ומימי לא עלה על לבי דפסול משום דתפלה במקום קרבן וכהן העובד צריך שיהיה בלי מום

כמו שעלה על דעתך ואמרת

(Nonetheless) in all my days, I never considered declaring (someone with a physical mum invalid as a shaliach tzibbur) on the ground that prayer is in place of sacrifice, and a kohen who serves (at a sacrifice) must be without any mum, (and the shaliach tzibbur is parallel to the kohen),

as you considered and said,

דא”כ למה לא חשיב ליה במעלות ומידות דש”ץ פ”ב דתענית

אף דזה ודאי ל”ק

דשם מיירי בסתם אדם בלתי חסרון בגוף

because if that were so, why is mumlessness not on the list of the elevated character and traits of the proper shaliach tzibbur in the second chapter of Taanit (16a)?!

Although this is certainly not a dispositive question, 

since that list is dealing with a standard person, who has no physical lack (that would count as a mum).

מ”מ לא מחשבותיך מחשבתי דברור דאין לדמותו לכהן בכה”ג,

דא”כ כל אדם נמי,

כמ”ש הטור סי’ צ”ח,

ועוד שהרי כתב הרא”ש הביאו הטור סי’ נ”ג

שאין להתרעם על חזן שהוא ממשפחה בזויה שטוב לקרב מזרע רחוקים ע”ש,

וכה”ג בכהן העובד לא, שהרי אמרו רז”ל אין בודקין ממזבח ולמעלה

ואפילו גר כשר להיות ש”ץ

Nonetheless your thoughts are not my thoughts, 

as it is clear that a shaliach tzibbur should not be compared to a kohen in that fashion, 

since if that were so, every individual person also (would have to be mumless in order to pray)

as Tur OC 98 writes (a set of rules for individual prayer built off the analogy to sacrifices)!

Additionally, because Rosh wrote, and he was cited by Tur OC 53, 

that there is no ground for objecting to a chazzan from a despised family, as it is good to bring near the descendants of the distant – see there,

but this is not so regarding a kohen doing the Temple service, as Chazal said: “There is no need to check lineage past someone who served at the Altar”

and even a convert (who has no family lineage) is valid to be a shaliach tzibbur (whereas obviously converts can’t be kohanim).

ועם כל זה קראתי תגר כמו שכתבת

But despite all this I did object vociferously (to the one-eyed chazan), as you wrote,

כי נ”ל דבתרווייהו איכא למיחש מיהא היכא דאיכא אחר הגון וראוי כיוצא בזה

because it seems to me that one should nonetheless be concerned regarding both (a chazan with a mum and a chazan from a family with lineage issues) where there is another who is similarly proper and fit,

כי ידוע שרמ”ח איברים הם כסא ודמות לרמ”ח אורות עליונים ורמ”ח איברים רוחניים שבנשמה

וא”כ כל כה”ג הרי הכסא פגום.

because it is known that the 248 organs/limbs are the throne and image for 248 Upper Lights and 248 spiritual organs/limbs that are in the soul

and if so, in any case like (a one-eyed chazzan), the throne is damaged

והפילוסופים כתבו בהפקד חוש מה יפקד מושכל מה, ועי’ עקידה פ’ שמות שער ל”ה דף צ”ז ע”ב

and (also) the philosophers wrote that where a sense goes dormant, some element of understanding goes dormant with it – see Akeidat Yitzchak Shemot Gate 35 p. 97b.

וכיוצא בזה כתבתי במקום אחר שאין ליתן לכתחלה לברך ב”המ לקטוע אצבע ואפילו למוכה שחין

דלא עדיף זה מידיו מזוהמות דצריך להעביר הזוהמא כבסי’ קכ”א

ה”נ אפשר באחר

I wrote similarly elsewhere that one should preferably not honor someone missing a finger with leading birkat hamazon, nor even someone with boils. 

as the latter is not better than someone with filthy hands, who has to remove the filth, as in SA OC 181 – 

so here too it is possible to have someone else do it

מלבד מה שיש בזה העדר כבוד למצוה

ואפילו בנגלה הקריבהו נא לפחתך

All this aside from there being in this a lack of honor for the mitzvah

and even in the exoteric framework, “Bring him then to your baron” (Malachi 1:8 criticizes the Jews for bringing blind, lame, and sick animal sacrificeswhen they would not give such to a human overlord) 

אף כי ע”פ הנסתר יש תילי תילי’ סודות נסתרים באברי הגוף גם בפרקי הידים

אפס קצתם תמצא בהקדמה בן מאה שנה

ויש כאן חסרון שפע בכוס של ברכה העליון

יאיר חיים בכרך

and certainly according to the esoteric there are heaps and heaps of secrets hidden in the limbs of the body and even the joints of the hands

you will find but a few of them if you prepare for one hundred years

so there is a diminution in the overflow of the Cup of the Upper Blessing

Yair Chaim Bachrach 

Chavot Yair rejects the application of Maharam’s argument to physical blemishes (perhaps without being aware of Maharam).  His rejection is perhaps based on Zohar, which emphasizes that G-d’s use of broken vessels in no way contradicts the need for kohanim to be without mumim.

Chavot Yair equally rejects giving Mahari Brona’s concern about the analogy to kohanim any halakhic weight.  He makes the compelling argument that in terms of the analogy to sacrifice, there is no difference between private prayer and that of the shaliach tzibbur.

Nonetheless, Chavot Yair rules that one should prefer physically whole chazanim, to the point of making a public fuss about the issue on Yom Kippur.  He does this on the basis of a broad set of arguments.

The first is that kabbalah takes the body as a metaphor very seriously.

The second is that a rabbinic philosopher claimed that the loss of a sense must lead to a fundamental loss of understanding.

The third is that the analogy to a human baron holds, and it diminishes the honor of the mitzvah to have a person with a mum leading it.

The question for us is how much weight to give Chavot Yair.

1) We might say that he has less authority than Maharam, and Maharshal.  Perhaps, as he does not cite them explicitly (although he may implicitly), we can contend that he was unaware of them, and would have conceded had he become aware.

2) We might say that he couches his position in nonhalakhic terms, even though he clearly tried to mandate it in practice.

3) We might give less (or more) weight to arguments based on kabbalah

4) We might say that we do not accept the truth of the position he cites from “the philosophers”

5) We might say that social norms have changed, and in our time there would be no hesitation about sending a physically blemished person to lead a delegation to the local baron.  Or we might argue that the analogy is off – in all societies delegations are often headed by elders, even if they are bringing the choicest of animal specimens as gifts or sacrifices.

Stay tuned for Part 3 soon!  Shabbat shalom and gmar chatimah tovah.

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Teshuvah in the Age of Dataism

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Avraham Bronstein

In the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, teshuvah is inextricably connected to humanity’s overriding mandate to create. “God wills man to be a creator – his first job is to create himself as a complete being,” he wrote. “Man, through repentance, creates himself, his own I.”

Soloveitchik’s emphasis on the human ability to create and shape both oneself and one’s surrounding reality echoes his own context. As Yuval Noah Harari charts in his bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus, the modern era has been about humanism and has seen authority stripped from external forces, whether rulers, gods, or some combination, and refocused within individuals. We see the effects of this shift in terms of politics (democracy), economics (market capitalism), and a variety of other fields.

The underlying assumption of our era, Harari notes, is the belief in the inherent integrity and dignity of individuals who possess the free will to express themselves. Increasingly, and along the same lines as Soloveitchik, this is what many contemporary Jewish thinkers came to mean by Tzelem Elokim – of humanity created in the “image of God.” Rather than seeing teshuvah simply as contrition for wrongdoings, Soloveitchik saw genuine teshuvah, the recreation of the self, as the most profound form of imitatio dei.

Harari’s point, though, is that these humanist assumptions were the product of their times – and times are quickly changing. Humanism is becoming obsolete, and is being replaced by what he calls “Dataism,” a worldview focused on the creation and free flow of ever-increasing amounts of information that is analyzed and shared by increasingly powerful computers. Human agency is quickly becoming outstripped by biotechnology and AI that know more about ourselves than we do – and we are increasingly comfortable outsourcing control of our lives to the Cloud.

In Soloveitchik’s footsteps, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently wrote,

It was Judaism, through the concept of teshuvah, that brought into the world the idea that we can change. We are not predestined to continue to be what we are. Even today, this remains a radical idea. Many biologists and neuroscientists believe that our character and actions are wholly determined by our genes, our DNA. Choice, character change, and free will, are – they say – illusions.

Sacks’ foil here is the determinism and predestination at the heart of the Greek tragedies. Today, however, we are less certain about how independent our choices actually are than we have been in centuries. In particular, we are increasingly aware of the external forces that push us seamlessly in specific directions. In a world where our belief in democracy is shaken by fake news driven by social media algorithms, and our belief in market capitalism is shaken by custom-tailored Amazon recommendations and Google search results, it should be myopic to have faith in our ability to perform self-creation through teshuvah.

Harari himself addresses this concern. He concludes:

If you don’t like this, and you want to stay beyond the reach of the algorithms, there is probably just one piece of advice to give you, the oldest in the book: know thyself. In the end, it’s a simple empirical question. As long as you have greater insight and self-knowledge than the algorithms, your choices will still be superior and you will keep at least some authority in your hands. If the algorithms nevertheless seem poised to take over, it is mainly because most human beings hardly know themselves at all.

Read this way, our introspection during this High Holy Days season takes on special urgency. As Harari notes, the technology is improving much more quickly than our ability to adapt to it. The question of questioning who we are – really – and to what extent we are simply responding to stimuli that are carefully calibrated by a computer somewhere to generate our response is critical, even existential. If we don’t want to lose agency over our own lives, this is the time to reassert control. In his Laws of Teshuvah, Maimonides explains that the biblical Pharaoh, by the end, did not actually have control over his choices – the consequence for the life he had lived to that point. Likewise, the self-creation of teshuvah is, increasingly, all that stands between us and a passive, AI-driven journey through life.

Another avenue forward is shifting our understanding of Tzelem Elokim to a meaning that may survive our Dataist future. Even if we admit that we simply don’t have that complete control to shape ourselves and our lives – and perhaps that was always the reality behind the curtain – being created in God’s image still challenges us in a fundamental way.

Harari admits than modern science, for all its success in comprehending human responses and thought patterns, has not yet come to a satisfactory understanding of consciousness itself. Though we know which neurons and chemicals are involved, the actual feeling of transcendent love is still mysterious and awe-inspiring. Perhaps in this spirit, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler wrote that Tzelem Elokim is really about the human capacity to feel compassion and empathy, and responding to others with generosity and kindness. God is not to be emulated so much as a Creator, in this reading, but as a Giver.

Our liturgy may already know this. According to one popular reading of Unetaneh Tokef, we assert that repentance does not affect the circumstances of our lives, but the quality of our response. Our teshuvah – and avodat Hashem more broadly – might likewise focus less on our  agency and choices, and more on the strength of our human connections and relationships, and the cultivation of empathy and love.

Rabbi Avraham Bronstein (SBM 2002) is the Rabbi at The Hampton Synagogue.


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Engagement with the Vague

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Joshua Blau

The standard “shira” in Tanakh can be boiled down to praise of God, usually in the context of miracles and some kind of salvation. The shira of Haazinu, however, does not match this rubric. While God is praised at various points in the song, there are no miracles or salvations to speak of.  The Torah describes it as God’s “witness” that when in the future Bnei Yisrael inevitably fall from plenty to ruin, they will have brought this end on themselves as a result of turning away from Him.   Why is this a “shira” at all?

The structure of Haazinu is also challenging.  The song moves first through an introduction by Moshe, then praise of God, followed by criticism of Bnei Yisrael.  It then transitions to a historical survey that starts with the specialness of God’s people, moves again to praise of God, and then a satiation of the people that quickly grows sour and becomes idolatry.  Corruption is, of course, answered with abandonment and punishment, although in 32:27 we read a sense of reticence to punish the people as described because of external perception.  The next 11  verses—all the way through 38— are about punishment, but it is unclear who is being punished: Bnei Yisrael. or their enemies, or both in alternating currents. Some verses seem to point one way, some the other, but really just about all of them could be interpreted in the opposite manner if one were pressed.  Haazinu then returns to (self-)praise of God, and end off with vengeance exacted against our enemies for what they have done in punishing the Jews.  Why the long ambiguous section?  If the entire piece were removed, the song would apparently convey the same message.

Like a halakhic witness giving hatra’ah, the song gives warning and accuses, ideally to prevent the crime but with the lurking possibility, or in this case certainty, of punishment. A human, however, is not punished in a vacuum; the punishment is meant to in some way repair what was done. Sometimes this reparation takes the form of monetary recompense; other times it is a metaphysical construct we know as kapparah afforded the convicted. Whatever it may be, the punishment is not, or should not be, focused solely on the past, but also on the future. Punishment is aimed at restoration in order to effect a renewed status, to restore one to a position in which a choice may again be made. This is the tenet of teshuvah; that, confronted with the same circumstance, the right choice be made in the wrong’s stead, tying the final knot in the securing rope of personal redemption.

Ha’azinu thus should also function as a call to national teshuvah, as a reminder that not only is God always there—even if sometimes behind a screen—but so is our potential to return to Him. Much like the crying sounds of a shofar, the sound of the shira on our tongues should be an inspiration to climb from the inevitable abyss of abandonment of God and once again bask in His guardianship.

Yet, a witness who gives vague testimony would never make it through the routine checks of a Beit Din. A muffled shofar cannot achieve its function, halachically or otherwise. How can a shira with a central portion that is confusing accomplish its goal of not only conviction but inspiration towards teshuva? A reader might perhaps experience some depth of punishment and believe it was meant for our enemies. At best, these eleven verses are distractions from a message that is fairly clear from the remainder of Ha’azinu.

Chazal do not resolve the problem. While various Rishonim take sides,  a cursory read through Torah Temimah reveals naught but words and phrases taken completely out of context to teach halakhot, or else random drashot.

Perhaps Chazal’s lack of address actually hints at a resolution. It should be well known to the entire People of the Book that there is little to inspire investigation and discussion on par with lack of clarity. Almost the whole oral tradition is based on the tenet of vagueness. In some sense, “imperfections” such as these are the driving force behind the Jewish people’s continuation over the course of millennia of tribulations and exiles.

Ha’azinu, while outwardly a convicting witness, is also one that knows a way back to God. Encoded in these elusive verses is a calling to be curious and questioning, to engage with the text and the Torah that we were lovingly presented with. This is a crucial part of the song we are commanded to remember, what Rashi interprets to be the entire Torah, and in this sense is; the necessity of being an active participant in Torah. Random drashot and interpretive arguments are a perfect symbol of this crucial responsibility that Ha’azinu can only hint at. More than hints, and it would miss its own mark. It is our role to draw out meanings like this one. Passive memory is not enough when it comes to Ha’azinu; it must be on the tip of the tongue. This is what it takes to remain close to God, but more, what it takes to return.

Joshua Blau (SBM 2017) is a recent graduate of Yeshiva University, where he studied math and computer science. He lives with his wife, Hodaya, in Brookline, MA.

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May a Chazan Lead High Holiday Services from a Wheelchair? Part 1

by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

Dear Rabbi:

Mr. Toviah Goodman has davened 1st day Rosh Hashannah Shacharit and Yom Kippur Neilah for our shul since its founding in 1993.  However, he suffered several health setbacks this year, and now is in a wheelchair full time.  Should he continue to serve as shaliach tzibbur, or should we replace him with someone who is able to stand?


The Members of the Ritual Committee, Congregation Mevakshei Psak

Dear Ritual Committee Members,

I am answering you in writing and at length because of the broad issues involved here.  I encourage you to share my answer with your general membership.


The question of whether physical disability might be a disqualification for the role of shaliach tzibbur (communal prayer leader) was probably first raised by an anonymous questioner to Maharam (R. Meir of Rothenburg) in the 13th century).  Here is the question, with R. Meir’s response, as quoted from manuscript by Maharshal (R. Shlomo Luria) in the 16th century.


אם אדם שפגעה בו מדת הדין

שנפלו לו זרועותיו

ראוי להיות ש”ץ?

פשיטא דראוי וראוי הוא,

ואדרבה מצוה מן המובחר,

דמלך מלכי המלכים חפץ להשתמש בכלים שבורים,

ולא כדרך שרים בשר ודם,

שנאמר (תהלים נ”א י”ט) לב נשבר וג’,

דאין נפסל במומין אלא כהנים עכ”ל

That which you asked:

Whether a person who has been injured by the Attribute of Justice

whose arms fell

is fitting to be a shaliach tzibbur?

It is obvious that he is more than fitting

and just the opposite – he is an ideal candidate

since the Ultimate King wants to use broken vessels,

unlike the practice of flesh-and-blood officials

as Psalms 51:19 says:

A heart that is shattered and crushed – G-d, You will not despise.

because no one but kohanim are invalidated by mumim (physical blemishes)

Maharshal heartily endorses Maharam’s response.

ואני אבוא אחריו למלא את דבריו,

דהא אפי’ לוים שעבודתן בשיר בשילה ובית עולמים,

אפ”ה אין נפסלין אלא בקול, כמ”ש לעיל,

כ”ש ש”ץ שלנו.

I will follow in his wake to add the final touches to his words

that even Levites, whose Service was by singing (in the Tabernacle) at Shiloh and in the Temple

nonetheless were only invalidated because of vocal issues, as I wrote above

all the more so our shluchei tzibbur.

Two highly clever elements of this brief comment deserve explication.

1) Maharam’s Biblical prooftext was from Psalms 51, which is introduced as David’s response to the Prophet Natan’s criticism of him for first sleeping with Batsheva.  The opening sentence of Maharshal’s sequel is a reference to 1Kings 1:14

וַאֲנִי֙ אָב֣וֹא אַחֲרַ֔יִךְ וּמִלֵּאתִ֖י אֶת־דְּבָרָֽיִךְ

I will follow in your wake to add the final touch to your words

These are the words of Natan to Batsheva, concluding his plan to have her son Shlomoh become King David’s successor.  All’s well that ends well.

2)  Maharam simply asserted that prayer leaders are not subject to the same disqualifications as priests; but why not?  Isn’t prayer in place of sacrifice, as “our lips compensate for bulls”?  Maharshal argues that the shaliach tzibbur does not play the same role as the kohen.  He does not actually bring the sacrifice; he merely provides the atmospheric music, as did the Levites.

There are two obvious weaknesses with Maharam’s argument.  The first is that David is clearly not speaking of a physically shattered heart; he is using a metaphor, and the midrash is also using a rhetorical sleight of hand in making the comparison to flesh-and-blood kings.  The second is that G-d does require the kohanim who perform His physical Temple service to be mumless, rather than preferring them to be physically broken vessels.  Maharshal’s clever attempt to finesse the point is not very convincing, as the shaliach tzibbur is actually the one praying on everyone else’s behalf, not a mere musical accompanist.

These difficulties might be brushed aside on the basis of Maharam’s authority.  But did Maharam actually say this?  The footnotes in the printed Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomoh Chullin 1:48) refer one to #249 of the edition of Maharam’s responsum printed in Cremona.  However, the question in that edition reads


אם אדם שפגעה בו מדת הדין

ראוי להיות שליח צבור?

That which you asked:

Whether a person who has been injured by the Attribute of Justice

is fitting to be a shaliach tzibbur?

This version makes no reference to physical disability at all.  The question may be whether a person who clearly has suffered Divine Justice is a fitting representative for a community seeking Divine Mercy.  To which Maharam answers:  If the person has a broken heart, in other words if he has repented, G-d is pleased with his service.

Apparently unbeknownst to Maharshal, the question about physical blemishes was asked to Rabbi Yisrael of Brona in the 15th Century (Shu”t Mahari Brona #25).  He gave a very different, and somewhat odd, answer:

נשאלתי בקהלת ברונא מארץ הגר

אם למנות ש”צ בעל מום . . .

והשבתי שאין נכון בעיני,

רק ראיתי בא”ז שאין למנות ש”צ בעל מום

ושכחתי מקומו

אך נ”ל ראייה מס”פ האומר דקדושין (סז ב)

דמסיק בעל מום עבודתו פסולה בדיעבד . . .

וכיון דתפלתינו במקום קרבן, 

שנא’ ונשלמה פרים שפתינו,

א”כ אין נכון כלל למנותו לכתחלה לש”צ קבוע,

אבל באקראי יכול

דלא גרע מסומא דמתפלל לפעמים

אבל היכא דלא איפשר באחר –

אין לבטל תפלתינו בשביל זה,

כיון דכלנו מתפללים ביחידים והתפלה אינו אלא מדרבנן,

ואף על גב דכתיב ועבדתם בכל לבבכם,

ודרשי’ (תענית ב א)

איזוהי עבודה שהיא בלב? הוי אומר זו תפלה –

אסמכתא היא

או בעת צרה היא דאורייתא . . .

I was asked while in the community of Brona a question from Hungary

whether to appoint a shaliach tzibbur who has a mum . . .

I responded that it is not proper in my opinion

I have even seen in Or Zarua that one should not appoint a shaliach tzibbur who has a mum

but I have forgotten the location of that ruling

But it seems to me that proof can be brought from the end of Talmud Kiddushin Chapter 3

where it concludes that the Service of someone with a mum is invalid even after the fact . . .

so since our prayers take the place of sacrifice, 

as Scripture says “and our lips will compensate for bulls”,

therefore it is not proper at all to appoint him in the first place as a permanent shaliach tzibbur,

but this can be done on an ad hoc basis

as he is not worse than a blind person, who may lead prayers on an ad hoc basis

but where no one else can do it –

we should not idle ourselves from praying for this reason,

since we all pray individually now

and prayer is only a Rabbinic obligation.

Even though Scripture writes “you must serve Him with all your hearts”,

and we derive (Taanit 2a)

What Service is in the heart?  Say that this is prayer –

this is a mnemonic

or perhaps prayer in a time of crisis is a Biblical obligation . . .

Mahari Brona takes the comparison to priests and Service seriously – but how seriously?  Priests with mumim cannot serve ad hoc in the Temple!  So it seems at least possible that his prooftexts are marshalled in support of the missing citation from Or Zarua, rather than independently sufficient arguments.

But Mahari Brona’s claim to have forgotten the location of the Or Zarua is odd; at least in our editions, the seemingly relevant line appears in a collection of halakhot relating to shluchei tzibbur.

וצריך להיות צדיק וישר ונקי בגופו

ואם אינו כן עליו הכתוב אומר . . .

הקריבהו נא לפחתיך הירצך או הישא פניך.

והורה רב יודאי גאון

דשליח צבור סומא כשר הוא

ואין מסלקין אותו כל זמן שמעשיו הגונים.

He must be righteous and straight and naki begufo (literally: clean in his body)

If he is not such, Scripture says about him . . . (Malakhi 1:8)

Bring this (blemished sacrifice) to your baron – will he acknowledge you, or show you favor?

and/but Rabbi Y(eh)udai Gaon ruled

that a blind shaliach tzibbur is valid,

and that he should not be removed so long as his deeds are proper.

What does naki begufo mean?  If we read Rav Yehudai Gaon’s ruling about blind people as a contrast – “but R. Yehudai Gaon ruled” – it might mean that one’s body has to be clean of mumim.  Perhaps that is how Mahari Brona read it in his youth.

However, it turns out that Or Zarua was actually citing a Geonic responsum, and the texts of that responsum make it almost certain that naki begufo refers to a character trait, not a physical condition.  It may have meant simple cleanliness; or, as guf naki came to mean regarding tefillin, it may have referred to specific practices regarding bathroom issues.

So what we have so far is a Maharshal endorsing a Maharam that probably, but not certainly, preferred a disabled Shaliach Tzibbur to one who had not suffered any physical ravages; and a Mahari Brona that follows an Or Zarua that almost certainly says nothing relevant.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 NEXT WEEK!  (Spoiler: Mr. Goodman probably keeps his slot.)

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The Song of Torah

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Noam Weinreich

During the course of God’s final commandments to Moshe (Devarim 30:14-30), he provides a warning that one day Bnai Yisrael will worship other gods and disobey him. As a response to this future calamity, God offers a puzzling solution. God commands Moshe to write down a song, a “שִּׁירָ֣ה”, and states this song will serve as a witness to God.

What is this song which Moshe writes?

According to Rashi, the song refers to Haazinu, the Parshah immediately following this episode. This is of course the simple interpretation, as the final verse preceding Haazinu describes Moshe as speaking a song to Bnai Yisrael. Ramban further points out that he verses in Haazinu are divided analogously to how verses in music are divided.

However, on Sanhedrin 21b, Rabbah derives the halakha that one is required to write a Sefer Torah from the verse where God commands Moshe to write down a song (Devarim 30:19). This interpretation only makes sense if Rabbah understands the song as a reference to the Torah itself! Corroborating this interpretation, the Ralbag notices that immediately after God’s commandment to write down a song, the verses describe Moshe as writing down a Torah, and then returns to the subject of the song before Haazinu. Ralbag takes this to mean that the Torah is being referred to as a song, including, but not limited to Haazinu. He further buttresses this point by challenging the notion that God would place so much emphasis specifically on Haazinu. The Ralbag believes that God would stress the importance of this song so much only if it referred to the entire Torah.

Why would the Torah be referred to as a song? Remember that Ramban suggests that Haazinu can be called a song because of the structure of its verses.  While the Torah as a whole does not share this structure, I’d like to suggest four models in which understanding the Torah as a song, or as poetry (these two will be equated here), provides distinctive ways of appreciating the Torah.

The first model is derived from the commentary of the Netziv, in his introduction to his Torah commentary, the Ha’amek Davar.  The Netziv writes that a defining distinction between poetry and prose is that poetry does not present its subject matter straightforwardly. Rather; it relies on allusions and symbolism, and requires commentary to extract the full meaning of its content. Comparing Torah to poetry tells us that even on a “Peshat” level, the Torah is essentially layered and symbolic, even before arriving at the “Remez” or “Derash” layers of the text.  

The second model is based on a Dvar Torah written by Rabbi Amnon Bazak. Why did God think that a song would be an effective solution to Bnai Yisrael’s future rebellion. Rabbi Bazak writes that the special feature of a song is how easy it is to memorize, and at the same time, to internalize. Therefore, when the Jews start to sin, they will have this song “engraved in the inner conscious of Bnei Yisrael”.  The Torah should be a part of us in the intimate way songs can be.

The third model draws on a passage from the philosophical work Sacred Attunement, by Michael Fishbane. In the course of developing his understanding of Judaism and Torah specifically as an enterprise in meaning creation (עיין שם), he discusses the value of poetry. When we study poetry, each word has significance beyond what it typically does. Paying close attention to each word and its meaning disrupts our habitual, often mindless way of interpreting the world, and causes us to reinterpret the world in a novel way. So too, the Torah can disrupt how we normally think of the world and construct meaning and structures from the random stimuli our eyes present to us, and to reconstruct meaning in a new light, based on the understanding it offers us.

The fourth and final model looks to a comment by the Aruch Hashulchan in his introduction to Choshen Mishpat .

וכל מחלוקת התנאים והאמוראים והגאונים והפוסקים….דברי אלוקים חיים המה… זוהי תפארת תורתינו….וכל התורה כולה נקראת שירה, ותפארת השיר היא כשהקולות משונים זה מזה, וזהו עיקר הנעימות.

In all the disputations of the [rabbis throughout the ages] . . . (each side) represent the words of the Living God….Indeed, that’s the magnificence of our Torah.  The entire Torah is called a song, and the magnificence of song is (the harmonization of) different and distinctive voices.   Indeed, that is the very essence of the pleasure we derive from it.

According to the Arukh Hashulchan, the Torah is like a song in that different people can have different interpretations and understandings, and yet their voices are unified in one harmonious output. In ordinary speech, when multiple people speak simultaneously, our ears hear chaos and cacophony. In a song, however, multiple voices can contribute their own unique sound to a harmony, which culminates in an enhanced and beautiful song. So too with the Torah. It is a positive development that we have so many different voices in our tradition, each contributing a distinctive sound.

So now we have four models for understanding why the Torah is metaphorically referred to as a song, or poetry. It draws attention to the necessity of interpreting the Torah beyond its surface level understanding. It points to how the Torah can be internalized and on the tip of your tongue. It indicates how we can use the Torah to draw attention to how we interpret the world around us, causing us to take a more active role in how we create meaning. Finally it emphasizes the ability of the Torah to incorporate so many different streams of thought and interpretations harmoniously.

Noam Weinreich (SBM ’14) is currently a senior at Cornell University, studying Philosophy and Mathematics.

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