Thursday, March 30, 2006

DVAR TORAH: Rosh Chodesh Nisan

Pardes does something unorthodox (no pun intended) on Rosh Chodesh. They blow Chatzotzot, trumpets, which was a Temple practice. This is in opposition to what I have seen in other places that have such practices that instead blow Shofar, the horn of a kosher animal (I believe this also includes that of a cow on any day besides Rosh Hashannah). I ended up blowing it today, in more ways than one, as I screwed up when I was asked to do it on the spot (ok, I volunteered), having never even blown a trumpet before, let alone two at one time.

Now then, I had an dvar torah epiphany today, as I often do, when on my 30+ minute walk home from school. I realized the chiastic structure of the year based on the two especially holy months (at least according to me), Tishri and Nisan which are on direcly opposite sides of the year. Today, the first of Nisan, which also marks the first of months and the first mitzvah, is also the date upon which, as I mentioned in my last week's dvar torah, was the date upon which the Mishkan, the Tabernacle was constructed. The parallel event to this, of course, is the date on which the first Beit HaMikdash, the Temple was finished, on the 15th of the Month of Etamim (the Biblical term for the month of Tishri). We are also commanded to remember two days eternally: the 1st of Tishri, the date on which God rested after creation, which is observed today in measuring the days of the weeks, (ie: "Hayom Yom Chamishi B'Shabbat", "today is the fifth day of the sabbath" which would introduce the psalm of the day on Thursday morning) and the 15th of Nisan, the day on which we were taken out of Egypt, which is marked in the measuring of the months of the year (ie: "On the first day of the seventh month is a day for blowing the shofar for you" refers to Rosh Hashannah which is actually the first day of the SEVENTH month of the year, while today is the first day of the first month). The days we remember eternally are those of God's completion, and the opposite corresponding dates are those of human completion.

So to clarify the chiasm is as follows:
Tishri Nisan
1st Creation Completion of Tabernacle
15th Completion of Temple Exodus

I realized something else too. There is this seemingly arbitrary date given to gather goats or lambs for the Pascal sacrifice, the 10th of Nisan in the year 2448, 5 days before the Exodus. I realized the significance of this date, though I feel I realized it before. When you say "The First Month", from Exodus 12 and on, it refers to Aviv/Nisan, the month that we were taken out of egypt. When you see it earlier, for example in the story of Noah, the first month is Tishri, and today, without a monarchy (for whom the years of the king's reign were marked by the month of Nisan), we have reverted to the years being marked by Rosh Hashannah. Therefore, the 10th day of the 1st month could be that "Shabbat HaGadol" on which we took the lambs and goats of egypt and publically tied them up, or perhaps it could be Yom Kippur, where we take goats and publically tie one of them up with red ribbon and push it off a cliff (well, at least in Temple times anyway). What these two events have in common is that there is a high level of uncertainty and unease. Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur are incredibly stressful and solemn and you don't know whether or not you will be forgiven, and afterwards you have to immediately prepare for sukkot, leading to another stressful four days, and on the 15th of Tishrei, your work complete, you can rejoice (just like the Beit Hamikdash being completed on this date or God resting after His Creation). In Egypt, Nisan 2448, the 1st of the month and the 10th of the month were very unsure times. Sure, they should have had faith in God, but when you go out and take a deity of egypt and tie it up in your front yard, you are sure to raise the ire of the Egyptians (about whom Moses claimed during the Plague of Wild Beasts (after pharaoh suggested they sacrifice within the land of Egypt rather than going into the wilderness) that the Egyptians would stone them to death for doing something so abhorrent to them. No, only after we sacrificed it and had the first seder were we sure and were we free. We also were lacking before that point, and we needed the mitzvah of Circumcision in order to partake of the Pascal sacrifice and to attain God's forgiveness. So we have a mirror of a year, yet we always are aspiring for more, always looking ahead to the next hill we will be climbing in the Jewish year.

Chodesh Tov and Shana Tova,

Nothing I can do, it's a partial eclipse of the sun

A strange dog came up to me today, so I naturally pet it. I say “it” because I was not sure of the gender of the dog as I don’t check the genitalia of canine strangers. You’re sick…

Thus begins my first blog entry of the new biblical year.

Well, I totally fudged the election results, though I never claimed I was a pundit of Israeli politics (my BA’s in American Political Science). It is going to be interesting, though I don’t want to go into any more detail about it at this time.

No, I actually want to comment on “An event that will eclipse even the elections” (-title of an article on Page 5 of the Haaretz English Edition). I believe that today was my first solar eclipse. The conditions were quite overcast, so I feared I would not see it, but the clouds ended up helping me to look with my naked eye.

Speaking of which, I am awarding quote of the day to myself.

Emily: Wait, you’re going to look at the sun with your naked eyes? You’ll go blind

Me: Meh, I have 20-10 vision in both eyes, I can afford to lose some eyesight.

Some great pictures that I took today can be found on Facebook My camera did some weird things and in some of the pictures the sun looked black.

I actually thought of a biblical verse today and tell me if you agree with my interpretation: Joel 3:4 (though the Christians number it differently and place it in chapter 2):

"The sun shall be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before arrives the great and awesome Day of the Lord"

It seems to be about the symptoms of Solar and Lunar Eclipses, respectively, no?

What is the bracha you say upon seeing an eclipse. Many people are saying "Oseh Maaseh Bereishit", "the One who does Acts of Creation", but I think to the primitive ancient Jewish people, like all peoples of those times, they were probably really scared when the sun suddenly disappeared high in the sky. I think they would have said "Baruch Dayan HaEmet" and started to fast and don sackcloth. Well, I said shehechiyanu, anyway (as it was my first solar eclipse... I think...), and scanned the former bracha with my eyes.

Chodesh Tov and Shanah Tovah (yes, this is the New Year of Kings and of remembering the Exodus (“This [Aviv/Nisan] shall be the first of months for you” –Apparently The first Mitzvah of the Torah, you know, if you ignore being fruitful and multiplying, the Noahide Laws, and circumcision in Genesis)

Matt (who finally learned Shin and can now write his whole name in scribal font)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Israeli Election: Exit Polls

Ok, I can put my foot in my mouth, I concede incorrectness on many counts. Likud was the big loser of the night, falling to fourth place, whereas Labor replaced those that they lost. I made a table with the results of exit polling. Take this with a grain of salt, as these are NOT necessarilly the final results, which we won't know for sure probably until tomorrow morning.


English Party Name

Seats previously

Exit poll, channel 2


Kadima (centrist)

-- N/A



Labor (leftist)




Likud (rightist)



k"spnqhnUtkv sUjht

National Unity/National Religious Party

w/Y”B 12



Shas (Sephardic Haredi)



Ubh,hc ktrah

Yisrael Beteinu (Israel, our home)

W/Mafdal 12


יהדות התורה המאוחדת

UTJ (United Torah Judaism)




Meretz (very leftist)



Arab Parties




Pensioners Party



I think that Kadima will form a coalition with Labor, Geel (the Pensioners Party... a real darkhorse), and if still shy of 61, perhaps also Meretz. This coalition will probably have around 65 seats. Notice that I did not include any religious parties in this coalition. There has never been an Israeli government that has not included a coalition with at least relgious party, apparently because it legitimizes its actions. For example, Yitzhak Rabin k"z had Shas in his coaltion, religiously legitimizing the Oslo Accords. I don't think that Shas or any other religious party would legitimize hitnadkut, the Disengagement. Well, now comes the fun part and I'll see how I did at predicting the coalition. After I said this, a few television commentators (I don't own a TV, I watched this at a get-together at Pardes as the Dean explained what was going on) offered similar collusive conclusions.

My prediction on government style: moderate liberal.

Voter Turnout: 63.8% of eligible voters. This is by far the lowest turnout in Israeli history, and is still considerably higher than any American elections (I'm talking about Presidential here. Gubernatorial midterms? Fuhgedaboud'it!)

After leaving Pardes, I went with a friend to collect some of the political banners which were now laying fallow on the sides of the roads (sometimes connected to things). We were cleaning that which would have been thrown away a few hours later, though the quote of the day, by a Pardes student named Aaron who saw us at work, was "Oh, do you need help with your grand larceny?"

Good times... Let's see what tomorrow brings... well besides the Solar Eclipse and the First of Months...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Election Day

Today is Election Day in Israel. It is a national holiday where all government offices and banks are closed and students get a day off from school... well, except for Pardes (probably because we are all American, Canadian, British, Polish, or Russian citizens and would therefore not be voting.

This is a major election as the future of the State and its majority position on Disengagement will ride on today's results. This will not be nearly as close as American elections are as there are at least 30 viable parties (31 at last count) who represent a wide range of views, a number of which will reach the threshold and get at least one of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Israel is a Parliamentary Democracy, and unlike America, which, for all intents and purposes, has a bicameral system, nourishes many viewpoints.

I don't necessarilly agree with recent polling. I do agree that Kadima will win with around 35 seats, but that's where my similarities end. I think Likud will get second place with around 20 and Labor will trail close in third place. I don't think the religious parties will do as well as the polls reflect, except I do agree that Sha"s will get around ten mandates. Shinui is dead; the formerly third-largest party is going to fail, a casualty of the formation of Kadima. Smaller parties that I think will make the threshold but barely: Che"tz (the secular party), Mafda"l, Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf Party which supports the legalization of marijuana), and Balad, one of the Arab parties, as well as a smattering of others.

I don't agree that Kadima will collude with Labor but rather with Likud. There is a major rift between all three of these parties, but I don't see Prime Minister-Apparent Olmert working with Amir Peretz, even less than I see him workign with Bibi Netanyahu. I think the Coalition will involve Kadima, Likud, and at least one religious party (and I think that if Labor is in the coalition instead of Likud, then there will be real problems with the religious party).

So after today there will be no more posters, no more people in matching t-shirts handing out leaflets, orange ribbon, and Sha"s Rabbi Trading Cards ("Collect 'em both!"), car processions and megaphone abuses.

With the impending Solar Eclipse, which we will see the sun's corona on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the day the biblical king has his annual coronation, I think this is going to be a very interesting point-in-time as we crown a new Prime Minister and his courtiers (And remember that the last Total Lunar Eclipse was when the Curse of the Great Bambino was shattered).

I just hope that whatever happens, it is the best for Israel.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Gush Etzion Shabbaton

I spent this past Shabbat in Gush Etzion, Efrat to be more precise. Gush Etzion is a lush area in the West Bank directly south of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and north of Hebron. It is between the three holiest cities in the world and therefore it too is important, as the pilgrim's road to each of the sites. Anyway, we went to the Gush Etzion winery, where we learned a little about the winery and then we had wine-tasting... at 11 AM... They had an amazing 2001 Cabernet-Sauvignon which I later found out was produced during the Shmita (Seventh or Sabbatical) year and even though some rabbis allow it, it is technically not kosher to others. Oops, I'm glad I read labels. I try to maintain an elevated level of Kashrut in the Land of Israel and so I must avoid such things.

We went to the Light and Sound show (read: movie) about the history of the settlement which, in modernity, dates from 1920s, but the arabs thrice destroyed pre-State, but was more recently rebuilt for a fourth time. Interesting technological point, the window shade shuts for the movie and the screen comes down. After the movie, the screen comes up and you walk right through where the screen was to get to another room, the site of the bunker which the Arabs threw in the grenades in 1948. I personally have a connection to this type of thing as this is how my Great-Grandmother Freida, was murdered in 1949 in Beit HaKerem, Jerusalem, when an arab threw a grenade into her kitchen.

We also took a "hike" on the Derech Avot, the path of our Forefathers. This would be the road between the three holy cities which was traversed upon Pilgrimage. Proof of this lies in the Mikvehs, the bathhouses that line this ancient path. It is necessary to be pure when ascending to Jerusalem.

Shabbat in Efrat was great. I had intellectually-stimulating discussions on theology, had deep conversations, learned more about a place I really didn't know about (Jews and Muslims get along quite well in this area), not to mention I played the children of my host family in foosball and had an enlightening conversation about Harry Potter, the future of the Conservative movement, and everything in between. I find Efrat (and Alon Shvut, for that matter) to be an interesting sort of gated-community. It is a hybrid between Silverhawk-Mullholland Park-Bel Air Crest, suburban strip mall, and Jerusalem, meaning it has the similar-looking houses but within its gates has a bunch of markets, gas stations, and restaurants, but is also made completely out of Jerusalem stone with synagogues and mikvaot every couple of feet.

It's really a beautiful area and there are many friendly people there. People seem a lot more laid back and optimistic in Gush Etzion than they do in Jerusalem.

I will potentially be back tomorrow with a report on the Israeli election. It should be mentioned that on Wednesday/Thursday, there will be a TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN! I wonder if this has any significance, immediately following this election... (remember the last total lunar eclipse? It was October 27th and was the day that the curse was over... yes, the moon was red and blotted out when the Red Sox won the World Series and shattered the Curse of the Bambino.

Tomorrow is a legal holiday in Israel too, yet for some reason we have school. Go figure...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rabbi Roth on CJLS Current Events Part II: The Centrist View

I decided to take a different approach and brouhgt my laptop this time to take notes to be directly posted to my blog. Here goes:

Rabbi Roth on CJLS Current Events Part II (3/26/06):

Man can’t marry brother, father, son but can marry any other man?

As of this week:

13 is to establish something as a takkanah!

13 is to pass a takkanah

Postscript to Maimonides question from last time

unsure about what Rambam would say about reinstituting sacrificing

Judaism Recognizes difference between refraining and abrogating

Shev v’al taaseh (refraining from fulfilling the command) ie: no lulav on Shabbat even if it is first day of sukkot, no shofar on Shabbat (though Torah tells you to take it first day and to blow it

Kum v’aseh (active abrogation): I do an act which is the violation rather than not doing the act, which is the mitzvah (much more difficult)

Rambam might have said don’t do what the torah says rather than do what the Torah says not to do

(Homosexuality is Kum V’Aseh)

The Torah stands!

Reactions from the Right (and part of the Center):

1. there doesn’t seem to be a stitch of evidence that that is what those chapters are about. They sound like ABSOLUTE PROHIBITIONS, not linked to “sanctification” (ie: marriage ceremonies)

2. It is well-known that a scholarly position offered today may be three years from now in the trashbin of has-been scholarship.

Such a radical step on the basis of what is not clear in the Torah. Does not make the most conceivable ..

3. It put a lot of faith in societal perceptions of what is acceptable. If it eventually becomes acceptable for a brother to marry his sister…

Question: should Torah be taken at face value? What about “Eye for Eye?”

Difference in Leftist and R’ Artson1992? (latter was not validated)

Artson’92:“only type of homosexuality that the Torah knew about is the same as the only kind that anyone else knew about: more powerful against less powerful, victor in war would rape soldiers”


Originally 3 different papers, were combined, and combination worked IMHO better than the combo of 4 leftists

Cannot discuss centrist position without being blunt.

Position argues that since it undermines the authority of the Torah, we must leave the authority intact. Therefore, verses in the Torah, whereas they don’t speak with bluntness “Don’t lie with a man mishkavei isha

Biah Shelo K’Darka: biblical prohibition is restricted to penetrative anal intercourse.

This behavior, position argues, remains forbidden, and no two men are legally allowed to engage in penetrative anal intercourse. All other sexual behavior, which would include manual stimulation, oral stimulation, intercrural (between the thighs), are prohibited d’rabbanan.

Change of behavior by therapy is infinitesimally small

Demand of celibacy is a very non-Jewish demand

The general attitude of people who want to be part of the Jewish community, besides this, is that they want to be part of the community

Therefore, apply to them, Kavod HaBriot, human dignity, demands that we remove the issurei d’rabbanan and only maintain the Torah prohibition

The locus causicus is in B. Brachot 19b, so great is human dignity is that it can supercede even a negative commandment baTorah. “gadol kvod habriot”

But wait, they interpret this to be Torah B’Al Peh, only supercedes rabbinic laws, not Torah

Such forthrightness is not problematic because they have also affirmed the issurim they are going to supercede are issurim d’rabbanan

Concludes with the essence: “in the same way as I, do not put cameras in people’s rooms (as a former Dean of Rabbinical School and former Congregational Rabbi) to see if they are going to the mikvah, I will do the same thing here: Tell men that Homosexuality is assure but I will make the same assumptions, that there is no reason that one should refuse ordination to homosexuals. Also have commitment ceremonies that they will NOT call it “marriage”. If bisexual, halachic preference given to heterosexuality. Man should find release in a woman rather than a man, even if he likes men

Reactions from right and left

First reaction from both: that we will hold ourselves up to almost unavoidable ridicule by saying “you can do all sorts of things but this you may never do”.

When I say “can’t have sex with wife when she is niddah” at least allows for half a month each month for sex. Homosexual sex is NEVER okay

“I believe that the teshuva on driving, until now, is the WORST idea the law committee has ever come up with it. We can become the greatest movement ever and we would STILL never live it down”

There are not five Jews in the world who know that it is only to drive to Shul! (and originally only to NEAREST shul)

In 1950s no sociologist in the world thought that Orthodoxy would survive out of Mea Shearim. Protect Shabbat.

Their intent was absolutely pure. The result should have been (with Monday Morning Quarterbacking) seen in advance.

Left: downright unfair that we should forbid a behavior which is in a certain manner one of the most common behaviors of homosexual men. It should be taken into account that a significant percentage never have anal sex

Halachic arguments against:

To point out to center that term “penetrative anal intercourse” conjures up in the mind of people that which the law is NOT about. This means more than genital contact but insertion.

HaARaAh: the first stage of genital contact

There is no tannaitic definition of HaARaAh, and there is an Amoraic makhloket

We speak of them euphemistically, though this leaves some ambiguity, therefore need to go for the gold and use the real phrases

HaARaAh of Shmuel: Neshikat Eiver (not kissing, but literally genital contact) (“I can’t put my finger on my lips without it going in slightly)

HaARaAh of R’ Yochanan: Hachnasat Atara (inserting the crown of the penis)

Forbidding the brushing up of the penis of the male to the anus of another male, whether or not there is penetration

It is not at all self-evident that Biah Shelo KDarka is limited to anal sex

Rashi: Shelo Bimkom Zera (non-vaginal) (the anus qualifies as non-vaginal, but so does the mouth) (does this mean no Oral sex?)

If you don’t know whether it means both oral and anal forbidden, or neither, or one or the other, then you have a Safek D’Oraita.

Safek D’Oraita LCHUMRA! Interpret doubts in Torah stringently

If you go for Meykil, lenient, then you may violate the actual law of the Torah

Braita: All sexual behavior is forbidden that might in some way lead to forbidden behavior, then that behavior is forbidden. Asur DORAITA!

Makhloket between Nachmanides and Maimonides.

Maimonides says all sexual behavior forbidden DOraita in Sefer HaMitzvot

And summarizes laws in Sanhedrin (which is requoted in Tur & Shulchan Aruch)

The three most important Jewish codes disagree with Center

Nachmanides calls it an asmachta

But you are favoring the RambaN over Rambam and Tur and Shulchan Aruch, the latter two who knew of the RambaN’s response?

Sefer HaMitzvot. Some sort of sexual behavior. If a man and his son or daughter are sharing a bed and there is some sort of genital contact, that’s what Maimonides is talking about?! Mishnah Torah says it is with the taavah, the intention of sexual activity

#3 of Right against Center: You may be mistaken with Kavod HaBriot. Every grant of permission on grounds of Kavod HaBriot is TEMPORARY.

If I a kohen go to a funeral (not going to the cemetery) and the family goes across a field toward their home, that if I follow I will become Tamei, because of Kavot HaBriot, I can follow until we get to their house, but no more after that

In the majority of cases where Bavli and Yerushalmi permits Kavod HaBriot, that x is allowed to violate the law out of deference to the honor of y. I, the Kohen can jump over coffins out of deference in honor for the king.

You argue that not only that the law would be permenant, but that x will be able to break the law for his own purposes

3. Pillars

Only penetrative intercourse is forbidden d’oraita

Others are only prohibited d’rabbanan

All of that can be superceded because of Kavod HaBriot

Right to center: you are either WRONG on all of the three counts or that each of the three is doubtful. One should not base himself on highly debatable things

One of the authors of the center is a relatively young rabbi, and who probably has a tremendous future, and has every potential to be a great posek, and he was a student of one of the authors of the right and of the left, both of whom teach at the seminary. These two authors sat next to each other at the retreat and almost always agree on the meaning of text, only disagree about Category3, how halachic system works, and look to each other for approval.

“I’m absolutely losing sleep over both of you. I wanted a paper that both of you would agree with and instead “

I don’t want it validated by 6 or 7 votes or to squeak through. I don’t want to have a permissible thing, I want it to be the position of the Law Committee.

You’ll never read these papers in the Newspaper articles. They’re too complicated to be in a newspaper.

Argument between right and left: how does halachic system function

It is davka to please the right to keep in the prohibition in the center of homosexual prohibitions

PS on the categories: (1 & 2: eilu veilu divrei Elokim chayim) the question is this:

Is it possible that an argument that is couched in anylitical discourse is so weak an argument that one disputant could say to the other “it is only because your predisposition blinded you that you could offer such an undefendable argument”. It if is possible, is this that case? If so, right can say to center “ein divrei Elokim chayim even though you defend it halacically”

In R’ Roth’s lifetime has disagreed with a lot of CJLS but says “eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim Chayim”.

How about 1950s if he was on CJLS: thinks would say that Driving would make us laughingstock

Very critical speculation. What will depend on the answer to the question is whether members of the right will remain on the Law Committee

Not funny ha ha but funny ironic

Braita on lesbianism say that prohibition is deoraita, but cannot even in theory cannot be punishable by death, because there cannot be penetration, but poskim that is equally as assur.

In theory it is conceivable that Right can make a difference between gay and lesbianism, and have been most of their lives non-Egalitarian, whereas left and center don’t make distinction because it is not egalitarian

No one says lesbian is Gufei Torah, but gay is gufei Torah

Left and center papers talk all the time about possibility of pru urvu in modern homosexuality (Just like my Rabbinical School admissions essays!)

People believe that I’m the most right-wing Conservative Jew on earth, but I haven’t moved an inch. The bell-curve of the Conservative movement moved. Those that used to be on my right… well some of them died… cause and effect… and others have left the seminary or have given up any connection to the Conservative movement. Sleepless nights over whether I was the cause of it. It was not my intent.

Friday, March 24, 2006

DVAR TORAH: Vayakhel/Pekudei/Shabbat HaChodesh

So, I would love to tell you about how Rabbi Roth came to Pardes today and clarified the information about the responsae. I could also tell you that my transportation to and from Mea Shearim today cost more than the Shtender that I purchaced there.

I just wanted to say a few words about the Parshiot this week: these few words are: Betzalel, Mishkan, and Red-dyed Dolphin Skin

Kidding... but I am too tired to write a dvar torah right now (and will be in Gush for Shabbos and away from my computer from computer morning.) I heard a lecture by famed parasha expert Avivah Gottleib Zornberg on this week's torah portion and she mentioned that Betzalel is in the Shadow of God and hears things that moses never told him directly from God. I'm falling asleep on the puma so I need to go to bed...

Shabbat Shalom

POST SHABBOS UPDATE: I did think of something interesting not connected to anything I heard. The Main Torah portions from this week culminate on the First of Nisan, 2449 in the completion of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The special maftir for this week, HaChodesh, occurs on the First of Nisan, 2448, in the dawn of our Redemption from Egypt. These two occurrences are EXACTLY one year apart. When we inaugurate the new month, the new YEAR, if you will, this coming Wednesday night/Thursday, we will be 3318 years out of Egypt, 3317 away from the culmination of the latter half of the book of Exodus in the building of the Mishkan.
Shavuah Tov. 3/25/06 8:58 PM JDT

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Yad Vashem

'"Dear finder of these notes,
I have one request of you, which is, in fact, the practical objective for my writing... that my days of Hell, that my hopeless tomorrow will find a purpose in the future. I am transmitting only a part of what happened in the Birkenau-Auschwitz Hell. You will realize what reality looked like... From all this you will have a picture of how our people perished."

Zalman Gradowski, a member of the Sonderkommando, wrote these words in notes that he buried at the crematoria. Gradowski was deported to Auschwitz with his family on December 8, 1942 and wrote his notes om the hope that they would be found and published. He was killed in the Sonderkommando Revolt, October 1944.'

This is one of the two things that truly made me teary-eyed today at Yad Vashem, the
Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. I actually cried before I even knew what the Sonderkommando was. I had assumed that it was some sort of Partisan uprising group. I felt even worse when I came home and wikipediaed it. I went to the new museum today, which was just recently built, which focused on the people in the holocaust: Not just the victims, but also the righteous gentiles, and - what I found surprising - the Nazis. Their paragraph biography began with their job prior to their ascent in the Nazi party as a single clause. We had "Pharmacist" or "Banker", regular jobs, and ended with "hanged for coordinating the murders of 500,000." The things people do for power...

I am quite speechless right now, I'm sorry. The other thing that made me really teary-eyed, by the way, was toward the end where there were two banners from the end of the war, one in Hebrew with the biblical verse "Remember what Amalek did to you!" and below a banner in Yiddish that said something to the effect of "Remember the holy souls of those who were killed, each and every one of the 6 Million Jews", and of course the Munkatcher children singing Hatikva a few years before the Holocaust which was set against the section regarding the establishment of the State of Israel three years after the Holocaust. Other parts I was just in too much shock. I have grown up seeing these images as it is vital that we not only perpetuate the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust, but also the atrocities that were committed ("Remember what Amalek did to you!"). Still, when I saw video of naked emaciated bodies being piled onto carts, I had to get out of the section.

I really want to learn more about my family in Warsaw. My great-grandfather Max Rutta was one of 22 children in Warsaw, Poland. Yes, that is a huge family tree, but most of the branches were cut down by the Nazis. Hundreds and hundreds of my cousins were murdered.
I have seen some accounts in the Yad Vashem databases online last year of my family (Last Family Name: Rutta, Location: Warsaw) but we don't know how they perished, just that they were never heard from again after the War. I highly recommend searching for your relatives on this database. "Remember, don't forget!"

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

דער פריילנג איז געקומט (spring has arrived)

Quote of the Day: “Even if her husband is only a cabbage-head, she requires no lentils for her pot”. –Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ketubot 75a

Der Freiling is gekomt! Spring has arrived and it is now in the Mid-70s in Jerusalem, and will apparently be high 60s in LA and, um, 37 in NYC... It's been beautiful for quite awhile. But the dusty winds...

Alright, I have to run to class, but a run through of my weekend:

Rabbi Roth is coming to speak at Pardes on Thursday, following which I will be going to Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Shabbos I am going to Efrat in the West Bank town of Gush Etzion.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Rabbi Roth Series on CJLS... ok... on Homosexual Ordination...)

I just attended the first of three public lectures at the Conservative Yeshiva regarding the issue that was postponed a fortnight ago in the Law Committee regarding Homosexual ordination and Homosexual marriage/civil unions.

As some of you may remember from the last public lecture that I attended with Rabbi Roth, "Beards vs Goatees: Roth vs Gillman", I needed to bring paper, as last time I was writing on pizza napkins. So I did, but I ended up taking 6 pages of copious notes, more than the amount of paper I brought. Here are the notes I took, transcribed to computer (sometimes unclear). In addition and with implied permission I also tape-recorded it. Note that my notes may not be complete GREEN denotes that it is a correction I have made from later listening to the tape. RED is an editor's note:

NOTE That this is a work in progress and I will type up more of it soon...

"There are three major sides here, the left position, the centrist postion, and the right postion... uh, rightist position"

He will analyze the three positions and the objections raised to them

Debates fall into 3 Categories of what CJLS deals with
1. What we are arguing about the meaning of a text being referred to by some author as the grounds for the decision which is being rendered, either the text itself proves the position or the extrapolation from the text is supported by that text. ie: all of the arguments we have had: kashrut of american manufactured cheeses, kashrut status of gelatin, these disputes were written about the meaning of something in Chulin, is dvar chadash reasonable extrapolation from that sugya. Don't confuse this as arguing about the sugya, but the meaning about the passage and if it is a reasonable extrapolation of that passage. Much of the argument about the driving on shabbat is regarding halacha sheeina tzricha l'gufa...

2. disputants all agree that the claim being offered is a defensible halachic claim
they don't decide whether it is defensible, but that if it is desirable
1. things that the law requires
2. things that the law prohibits
3. things that the law permits (but not mandatory or forbidden) (most often discussed)
"yes I understand that there is a valid halachic argument for counting women in a minyan, but it is not desirable as men will stop coming to the minyan" therefore, not whether it is defensible, but if it is desirable.
hardly anyone in movement says can't put imahot in beginning of Amidah, (let's ignore the chatima for now), but not desirable because it is a historical revisionism (like changing Declaration of Independence to say "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women are created equal".
Triennial Torah
Approved two different methods:
-1/3 of Bereishit, 1/3 Noach, 1/3 lech lecha for first year, etc... <-- Most synagogues use this -1st/3 of Bereishit, 2nd/3 of Bereishit, 3rd/3 of Bereishit <-- more halachic basis and was the system used in the Palestine Triennial Opponents say that it is halachically acceptable, but object because it interferes with Klal Yisrael
What if I go to another synagogue that doesn't have the same practice?
What if my kid gets Bar Mitzvahed in
Israel after a Second Day Yom Tov that falls on Shabbat and he learned the wrong haftarah?
What will the haftarah be for each of the three weeks? Chairman Roth: We'll find biblical sections!
Bar Mitzvah Dates are chosen 6 years in advance! Roth: We'll make a 200-year calendar
It should be noted that no synagogue follows the latter Triennial Cycle.
B. Gittin: Women can appoint shaliach to accept Get.
Ashkenazic Jewry has not done this for over 700 years, Joint Beit Din discusses reinstating this
Eilu VEilu Divrei Elokim Chayim, both are the words of the Living God
Ordination of Women: JTS on the verge of implosion (or explosion)
tension among the faculty for 2 years
one senior member of Talmud department: "I'm opposed to ordination of women, but if we do ordain women, we should do it Joel's [Rabbi Roth's] way, because it is at least halachic".

1927-1940s = 1 person required for opinion
mid 40s-mid 80s = 3 people required for opinion
mid 80s-today = 6 people required for opinion (political maneuvering)

3. Rare occasions, argue over how halachic system works (Homosexuality issue falls under this category)

US Supreme court: if they said "President needs to be 35" is unconstitutional, may result in a revolt as no precident exists to uproot the constitution
Marbury v. Madison, Supreme Court decides it has Judicial Review (which the Constitution does not talk about, and could have caused a revolt)

Marriage of Kohen to a Grusha (divorcee)
argument: does it exist a precident for sages to do somethig lik this (but it is a valid binding marriage, but after the fact are coerced into getting a divorce (unlike father marrying daughter which does not ever take effect))
CJLS allows before the fact
Mamzerut: CJLS declare as null & void
does there exist a way to undo that?

Disputes of 3rd category are entirely different ball game than disputes in the first two categories
Could you say Eilu VEilu Divrei Elokim Chayim?
could potentially split the law committee
some who have always thought of the law committee as a serious deliberative halachic body would change their opinion of the law committee. That is IMHO an undesirable end

Originally 9 papers two retreats ago
4 this year

The Law Committee voted 20 for to 4 opposed (with zero abstentions) voted to postpone the vote until December. Know that a majority of people who hold your position

a. 1 ½ days discussing each paper separately, so each author might want to edit their papers

b. Why December? what about June and September?

June: Between now and June there is little likelihood that authors could finish rewrites (needed to be distributed a month in advance)

5 positions on law committee expire each year (this week, in fact). Committee decidingew members don’t meet until after june.

Therefore Only will have 20 people in June, not ideal for a vote.

September: Significant number of people will have chagim to deal with

Rabbi Roth assured me following the meeting that the December meeting will be OPEN and will meet at JTS.

Rabbi Roth Believes that 1 of the 4 leftist authors is intending to split his paper and present it as an independent paper

1 of the 3 authors of the centrist paper is considering a radical change in the paper, deleting something from the paper (might fight with other two guys over this)

of the two rightist papers, one of which is much more scientific

understand: A teshuva is not judged by thrust nor by conclusion, but if the conclusion follows conclusively from the content

Rabbi Roth’s disdain for newspaper reporting: you can have nuanced 20 minute phone call with a reporter and get two column inches. How much nuance can you get in two column inches?

Have רחמנות (rachmanus) (mercy), on the authors and don’t take Forward or JTA as gospel.

Roth’s paper is 52 pages and there are some longer.

One of the papers was declared in law committee as Takanah, declared as an act of legislation instead of interpretive.

Constitution of RA: 6 votes validates an opinion, but has no provision for Takkanot. A later addition allows for any standing committee to promulgate own rules, subject to Executive Committee approval

Law committee wanted 13 votes to count as takkanah (absolute majority, but not supermajority)

Executive council said no, 20!

Law Committee said 13 (or 15)

Executive council said no

So remains as 20

By the way, the vote on whether it was a takkanah ended as 13 yes, 8 no, and 4 abstentions

Each author added an addendum to their papers re: other peoples papers

Centrists in their addendum affirmed that left wing’s was a takkanah

Not just “right wing medievalists” believed this, but also center

There was no vote taken over whether centrists paper was a takkanah

Latest issue of Forward: article about the deliberation (Gay Issues Roil Rabbis In Advance Of Parley). Last paragraph is virtually SLANDEROUS! Misrepresentations in toto the argument of one of the papers


Leftist Paper (from three of the original four papers)

Did not work as well as combining 3 centrist papers

Postion of 3 of the 4 authors: Verses in Leviticus that prohibit male homosexuality are Immoral. They find no need to prove that that was {unintelligable (I think he said "correct"}

Premise of the paper is that it is self evident that law in Leviticus is IMMORAL!

Left and right agree on meaning of the verse
there's no argument, it's not a textual argument

Argument: Jewish Law is in 95-99% of the time Positivist law

it starts with Torah, Rabbinic understanding of Torah, Codes, Responsa, and 99% of the time this is how they decide the law

On occasion these authors argue that there are powered (?) cases to which positivist model does not apply (such as this case)

How the do we address the verse in Leviticus?

We address them in the following way: it is the virtually irreversable affirmation of Rabbis and scholars of the Conservative Movement that the Torah is not directly Divinely woven {unintelligible... sorry...}

Heschel: “Torah is a human midrash on an ineffable divine revelation”

(Sinai was wordless)

Torah is people of Israel’s interpretation of what happened

Sometimes we got it wrong

If Chaza”l interpreted Ben Sorer U’Moreh (the rebellious son who was to be put to death) as lo haya v’lo nivra (never enforced), same will happen with these verses

An aside: you never hear egalitarians arguing for equality in ben sorer u’moreh

They got it wrong

didn’t know about constitutional gays

they thought gay was a choice

therefore no longer binding

therefore men can have relationship with men, provided the relationship is MONOGAMOUS


no difference in nature of sexual relation from husband and wife (except no niddah restrictions)

same kind of Kiddushin (but you also need a Get)

seems to be a difference of opinion in one of the authors

see no reason to treat homosexual as heterosexual

bisexual should not have to choose one of the two BUT must remain monogamous at any given time

Both centrist and rightist authors say that this is out of the framework how halachic system works, and is precisly because it is out of this framework of how the halachic system works that and so as at a minimum must be called a Takkana, not as a Teshuva.

It cannot be simply called a Tshuvah because it breaks such new ground in terms of the way that the halachic system works that it is a precedence setting not simply in the actual decision, but in the Manner of decision making, that as a result of that should require some greater majority

Rightist: Torah itself is infallible. If it is fallible then there is no halachic institution.

“Chachamim have right to uproot except gufei Torah” -B. Yevamot

(ED: if it is ambiguous, then you have freedom, but if it is clear cut, no way around it)

no ambiguity in “Kohen can’t marry a divorcee”

“Mamzer can’t enter Congregation of the Lord”. Ok, what does Congregation of the Lord mean, and define mamzer, BUT is is clear that whatever a mamzer is cannot enter the Congregation of the Lord, whatever that is

No ambiguity in “man shall not lie with a man like one lies with a woman

(ME: whereas something such as Al Tevashel Gdi BChalev Imo “don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk”could be interpreted differently and is quite ambiguous, to which Rabbi Roth agreed after the talk)

Remember, the right wing authors reject the notion that the law is immoral

(this fact often gets lost in delibration of young people)

Rightists: Law is NOT immoral

Don’t erroneously believe that rightist authors reject the Documentary hypothesis (ED: ie JEPD).

their contention is that in the same way as the great thinkers of every bygone era knew what the "given" was and would never consider their theology was a success if the result of their theologies was to reject the "givens" they knew were to be "givens" so too the function of this generation's theologans is to devise a persuasive theology which allows one both to affirm both Documentary Hypothesis AND infallible

Rightists (just to anger the leftists): “Theology is Aggadah, not Halacha!”

Rambam would have considered himself a failure if confirming Greek and Islamic thought is the result of his confrontation was to undermine the authority of the Torah

The argument of Torah is of Category 3, the argument between Right vs Left: how does halachic system legitimately work


Today we learned: thrust of t3 of the 4 left wing authors

Next week: the result of bringing in fourth of the four left wing authors (severed the argument)

something now inconsistent, something pointed out by speaker after speaker after speaker, so he severs the two arguments. They didn't dovetail well so roth presents it seperately

Permissibility of marriage of Cohen to Grusha passed immensely, but Roth didn’t agree.

PS: one of the authors at the right finds it in these that decisions and arguments on morality and immorality are made without any recourse to regnant theories of the etiology (?) of homosexuality, because it seems to that author that is perhaps the only way they can make that judgement. Three Regnant theories on the etiology (NOTE: I could not figure out this word either time it appears. I googled "regnant theories homosexualty" and the first thing that popped up was something by Rabbi Roth that contained the exact word I couldn't decipher.)Genetic theory, moral theory, analytic theory, the question is, when I analyze those theories and explain them, Is it conceivable that a moral God should demand of a person whose attractions are to a member of the same gender and would cause people to not act on their own attractions, which means celebacy? The authors on the right find that quite surprising

To say that God did not verbally dictate the Torah does NOT mean that the Torah is not divine

One of my professors, Rahel: What about Zeicher Amalek?

R’ Roth: If Amalek is gone, the mitzvah has been fulfilled!

Rambam on Korbanot?

R’ Roth: to best of my knowledge, Rambam never says that in third temple there will be no korbanot (RambaN thinks he’s nuts for making that claim)

Curse on Eve and all women that men will rule over them because of sin of Garden of Eden?

If that position is accepted by law committee and people leave because they think it is theologically untenable premise, which will probably happen is the same that happened in Women's Ordination, that

The movement may shift, that which was not authoritative would become authoritative

Law Committee, revisited

As per Elena and Michelle's comments on the article regarding the delay of vote on the topic of homosexuality in Conservative Judaism (thanks for posting by the way, I enjoy comments), Tonight I plan on attending a the beginning of a three part series by none other than Rabbi Joel Roth regarding the recent developments in the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards to take place at the Conservative Yeshiva, about a 5 minute walk from my house (as opposed to Pardes which takes damn near half an hour. I also plan on asking him, as the mara d'atra (policy-setter) for the Conservative Movement and my Posek (person I go to for Religious legal advice) for when I was in New York, regarding two issues of passover: one, what the policy is on second day of Yom Tov for people who rent in Israel but are not here for at least three festivals (ie: me) and also the law for tourists (ie: my parents), and, two, can I eat Teimani (Yemenite) Matzah (which is like laffa bread and not perforated cardboard like Ashkenazic matzah).

In other news, the bird sh*t has hit the fan. Bird Flu has hit Israel. Uh oh... (though at least it is creating some sort of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian authorities...

I gave a Dvar Torah on Shabbat comparing the Golden Calf and the Red Heifer, but I don't exactly remember the details. I'll post when I remember it.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Shabbos walk around the Knesset? A Capitol idea!

If you don't get that, you need to realize that the Knesset is the Israeli Capitol building, and further that the latter phrase is a homophonous play on an old-timey expression. Whoa, I haven't used the term homophone since 1st Grade (Yeah, I was in the honors class when I was 6...).

Before I get into that I would like to mention the day before. Friday I used my oven for the first time for something made from scratch. I made a deli-roll for shabbos dinner which was probably the best I ever made. It included: cervelat salami, beef shoulder, and "Mexican" turkey, had a smear of a mustard and mayonaise mixture, both inside and on top, the latter of which I also sprinkled with a light amount of za'atar, tumeric, and sweet paprika. The puff pastry is much larger in Israel so I didn't have to flatten it out, which led to a much more doughy dough. It was very gooey and very good.

For Friday night services my flatmate took me to the Bratzlaver Shul, to which only two actual Bratzlavers belong. It was not what I was expecting (ie, it was not deep in the woods with a lot of screaming at trees), instead is was a service in Nusach Sfard, with one person in the back yelling and clapping his hands, but no one else. Also everyone mumbled their prayers slightly aloud.

Shira will appreciate this one: In attendance at this synagogue, in addition to other people I knew such as former campers) was none other than Rabbi David Weiss-Halivni. I talked to him after services and he invited me to come visit and sit in on one of his lectures at Bar-Ilan or Hebrew University. What topic is the class on? Who cares, It's Prof Halivni, anything he says is interesting. Of course, when I was in his class, interest didn't stop us from ignoring him and talking the entire class...

Now to the morning: I went with our houseguest to the Ariel Shul. It was a nice service and a quick one at that. I got out at 10:30 and decided to take a nice long Shabbos walk before lunch, tallis bag in tow. What a glorious day! The weather was outstanding! I took a walk through the Botanical Garden up to the knesset and its environs.

Upon exiting the gardens, I arrived at the parking lot of the Israel Museum which includes
The Shrine of the Book which contains the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered 60 years ago in caves by Qumran. I was quite surprised that they were open today, I followed a religious Jew who was walking in that direction and I thought that it might be free on Shabbat. I'm not sure if that is the case and I decided not to investigate.

I instead proceeded toward and past the knesset, past the new Flower Clock, which looks like it came out of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch (the one in Israel is better and has a seconds hand), and toward the visitors entrance to the Knesset. Instead of going toward the entrance, I hooked a left into the Wohl National Rose Garden. This rose garden is absolutely spectacular. I am going to keep it in mind as a very romantic date place and a place for a Shabbos picnic (I like Shabbos picnics...). It is not in bloom yet, but spring approaches, and this 2003 World's Greatest Rose Garden winner is already beautiful. Within it is the Garden of Nations which the Christian nations of the world (ok, just nations that are non-Musim...) have donated and dedicated various tracts of land on this 75 dunam park to plant roses and various sculptures. There is a beautiful pagoda donated by Japan that contains within it the flag of Israel, and a rock inscribed with Japanese calligraphy.

After spending a while in the park I went to see the National Symbol of Israel, the Menorah, which was donated by the people of Great Britain. It was sculpted in bronze by Benno Elkan. It took 8 years to sculpt (I remarked that the First Temple only took 7, including its Golden Menorah). Even though I had gone there 9 years ago, I didn't realize that there are a bunch of friezes depicting various events in Jewish history. There's this guy there who gives free tours of it on Shabbat (and has been doing it for 25 years) and he was very nice and I guessed most of the friezes depicted upon it. Can you guess the friezes that are depicted upon it?

Then I went home, had lunch, napped, and here I am...

Shavuah Tov,

Thursday, March 16, 2006


We have arrived to the most famous infamous part of the entire Torah: the sin of the Golden Calf. This parasha however is a diamond in the rough and a gold mine for Dvar Torah topics which have been sorely lacking in the other portions. It is filled with narative and the quirky hyjinks of the Israelitish people that we haven't seen in a couple of weeks. This portion is stuffed and If I wasn't so exhausted I would go into greater detail and would also not sound so grammatically deficient.

Following the Revelation at Sinai on Shavuot (6th of Sivan), Moses ascends to heaven to receive it in written form for 40 days and 40 nights. When the people see on the 16th of Tammuz that he has not come down after these 40 days, they panic and are convinced to build a golden calf. Moses becan counting from dawn the next day (the 7th of Sivan), not from when the Torah was given but rather when Moses ascended to heaven, so when he returned when his 40 days were up on the 17th of Tammuz 2448, he shattered the tablets. It may seem that Moses is angry here, and he indeed is, but he also is the voice of reason against God. God tells Moses that he will destroy the nation and make a great nation out of Moses. Moses demands that God relents. God said, "I pardoned according to your word". He teaches Moses the Thirteen Attributes to say in times of trouble. Notice that the content of this is words, not through any epiatory sacrifice.

I was reading the Book of Hosea last Shabbos afternoon and noticed a very interesting quote:
"קחו עמכם דברים ושובו אל ה' אמרו אליו כל תשא עון וקח טוב ונשלמה פרים שפתינו", "Take words with you and return to God. Say to Him, forgive all sin, accept good, and instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips" -Hosea 14:3. This seems to be a polemic of sorts against sacrifices and seems to support prayer over korbanot.

It seems that prayer is valued over sacrifice. Make your own judgements...

Shabbat Shalom,

Purim, after the fact (JUBILEE!)

I first want to mention that this is my Jubilee post, my 50th official blog posting. At least in this blog...

So Purim came and went and it was quite good. People make a very big deal about Purim in Jerusalem: schools get off for three days for it, malls are covered in celebratory materials, costumes, hamentashen, noisemakers (and firecrackers...), and the radio (as I don't own a TV) plays purim songs non-stop. It seems to have a similar status to the Christmas season in America.

I really enjoyed being able to have that day between the fast on the 13th and Shushan Purim (which I have mentioned is the day we celebrate Purim on in Jerusalem) on the 15th, having that time to eat and drink. If I really wanted to I could have created a drinking game: take a shot when you hear Haman's name, take a shot when you hear Mordechai's name, and beerbong for the entire time it takes to say the names of Haman's 10 sons in a single breath. No, I didn't do this. However, people in Jerusalem want to make sure you perform all the mitzvot to the utmost, so invitations to Seudot and particularly to parties (to use the language of the Megillah, they would be best discribed as mishteyhs) abound, and gifts to the poor and mishloach manot.

That brings me to some questions: why is the bracha said only on the Megillah reading? All four mitzvot are mitzvot in terms of Purim! Also, I was wondering why Megillat Esther is obligitory to be heard by all, while you never actually have to hear Torah being read... except for the part that directly deals with the preface to the Purim story, Zachor Amalek on Shabbat Zachor. Something about that doesn't sit right with me.

Alright, so this year I dressed up as Homer Simpson for the evening. It was an awful costume, but I really didn't have so much time to put it together as I was rushing from the Beit Zkeinim (Old Age Home) in Kiryat Menachem where I visited and brought mishloach manot to my Great Aunt. I wasn't so rushed that I didn't have time to go to the shuk... no I definitely went to the shuk. I bought wine to bring to my professor's house for a seudah and tried something for lunch that I never thought I would try: cow heart shishkebab. It was interesting and quite tasty, but I couldn't get over the fact that I was eating heart. According to my friend Kobi, they also used to sell cow brains there too but stopped. It was very good, and well worth the 15 shekels I spent on two kinds of shishkebabs cooked gachalei eish (over a coal grill) in pat eish tanur (laffa bread).
But I was in fact rushing because I ended up running down Chovshei Katamon late for the time I was supposed to be there, 30 minutes in advance. I got there on time for the beginning of Maariv. I couldn't get a cab for some reason.

My reading was a reprise of Chapter 4. For those of you who remember my Maariv reading from last year, my garbage bag this time was an ironic and unintentional orange. I looked like I was dressed neged-hitnadkut (anti-Disengagement), and my kriah on the words "and mordechai tore his clothing and put on sackcloth and ashes" may have sent an appearance of a political statement.
The shpiels were hilarious, particularly the one from my Chumash teacher, Baruch, who also wins my "Best Costume" prize for an amazing resemblance to Rav Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi infamous for his politically-big mouth. My Talmud class didn't end up writing one, maybe for lack of initiative. Oh well... They served a lot, including alcohol at school during the shpiel. As I said, Israel makes a big deal out of Purim, and Pardes is no exception.

I'm not going to give specifics about the party I went to, but it was amazing and I tried something called Arack for the first time, it was strange and yet intriguing, so I bought some for shabbos. I also had some great conversations with people there. I am being honest here when I say that at this party I fulfilled the mitzvah of Ad DLo Yada* and actually kept confusing Mordechai with Ahasverosh when I was telling this girl the entire story of Purim (what? she asked me to tell it...). I also definitely mistook Haman for Mordechai at some point, so I did my job.
I didn't end up back home from the mishteh until 4 AM and woke up for megillah reading at 7 AM... oops...

I used some yiddish today again in Mea Shearim. The guy in the shop was impressed. That made me kvell...

*You should still check out some of my past divrei torah regarding the necessity of this mitzvah.

Dvar Torah to follow soon

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Fast Day and Two Purims?!

There is something I like about fast days. I don't know why... what happens to me is I am sluggish at the very beginning (probably because I know I'm going to fast) but almost immediately I develop a second wind which lasts me through the day. This Yom Kippur was the easiest fast of my life, and I don't know why. Today I read Torah for the first time, I think, since Tisha B'Av. That might not be true and I probably read much more recently (probably a Rosh Chodesh, but I don't count those)

Alright, so tonight is not Purim. "What?!" you may ask. Well, it is not Purim here in Jerusalem nor in the ancient Persian capital/fortress city of Shushan until tomorrow night, the 15th of Adar. This phenomena occurs in the places that were surrounded by walls in the time of Joshua's conquest (circa 1200BCE). In the Megillah it discusses the war that the Jews fought against those that sought to destroy them. Everywhere but Shushan they vanquished them in a single day, on the 13th of Adar. Shushan took one more day to complete the task, and therefore they celebrate the day after their victory was complete, the 15th of Adar. We cannot make any city greater than Jerusalem so the decree was made that this special date is celebrated in walled-cities during Joshua's conquest in addition to ancient Shushan. There are, in fact, a couple of cities such as Yafo, Akko, and Hevron, which may or may not have had walls during this time, therefore celebrate it BOTH days, observing all of the mitzvot (Megillah reading, feast, gifts to the poor, and gifts to your peers) on both days. I have not heard anything about Jericho, but biblical evidence indicates that during Joshua's conquest, Jericho had walls (but not for long).

If I step out of Jerusalem tonight, I am obligated to do the mitzvot of Purim on the 14th and if I come back I have to do it on the 15th too. I don't see myself leaving J'lem today... it's just too much, though we have the next two days off from school and today was a half day. In fact, the next two days are legal holidays, I believe.

It should be noted that the Fast of Esther that I am observing today is NOT the anniversary of Esther's fast. Esther's fast was a three day fast that supposedly took place during the first three days of passover (and you won't see many people observing that fast.) This fast actually commemorates the ancient practice of fasting during the day when you go to war. This brings an interesting question: should we be observing two fast days in Shushan and Jerusalem just like they almost certainly did 2500 years ago in the fortress city. For that matter, why is Yom Kippur the only major holiday that does not have a second day in the Diaspora? If it were, there would be a lot of people lining-up to make Aliyah.

Now I must practice my megillah reading (for those of you keeping score, I'm reprising my infamous Chapter 4 that I performed last year. Last year's received a standing ovation so I need to be able to top it. I did crack all-assembled up during the dress rehersal last week so I am on the right track.

I cannot reveal my costume, but I can reveal what I was going to do. I was going to dress as pharaoh: I was going to buy a pharaoh headdress and wear pajamas with a frog on my shoulder, to reinact the second plague (particularly the song "One Day When Pharaoh Awoke In His Bed". Unfortunately the headdress I had been eyeing for weeks at the mall got snatched up when I went there to buy it a couple of days ago. Oops.

An easy fast and a merry purim (and a merry shushan purim for those of you with me in Jerusalem... or in a small citadel in the southwestern portion of ancient Iran...)

PS: For further reading, check out the wikipedia entry on Purim (especially the section on Shushan Purim)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

DVAR TORAH: Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor 6 of 5?!

I thought of a new Dvar Torah over shabbat. In the Haftarah we have King Saul commanded to carry out this mitzvah to eliminate Amalek and fulfill the mitzvah conveyed in the Torah special to this Shabbat. Saul almost completely fulfills the entire mitzvah commanded to him, he obliterates all of Amalek, men, women and children. However he leaves alive King Agag, the ruler of the Amalekites and merely captures him. In addition he leaves the best of the animals alive, also violating God's rules. It seems that the former is merely rules of royal combat, a king doesn't kill another king, it's unseemly. As for the latter, Saul claims that this was in order that they could offer all of these animals as a sacrifice to God. Saul thinks he did well, like your dog after digging up your backyard preparing to get rewarded for the good digging job he did. This seems to be the only bad thing Saul ever did (well, until this point, anyway). In comparison to what King David did during his rule, this was minor. Most of what David did, however was personal, and he got punished personally. When David impregnated Bathsheva and had her husband Uriah killed, DAVID lost his son and DAVID was forbidden to build the temple. What Saul did was on the national level and therefore the punishment would be more severe and Jews in the future would suffer from Hodu to Kush because of it. When David took a census when either God or Satan (check conflicting accountss in II Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 21:1 respectively...) provoked him to do so (only God can command a census and only in a way that doesn't directly count the people as one would do with cattle (the topic of the Dvar Torah I delivered at my Bar Mitzvah, Parashat Bamidbar/Machar Chodesh 29 Iyar 5756), the entire nation was punished as 70,000 died in a plague. This single act by Saul son of Kish, though he probably meant well, was enough to tear away the kingdom from him, just as he tore away Samuel's cloak. So to did Samuel tear Agag into pieces (an artist's rendition of which can be found at

But further tearing of clothing happens in the future, Mordechai the Jew tears his own clothing. Mordechai, whose lineage is given in Esther 2:4 as being the son of Yair son of Shimi son of Kish, a Benjaminite, is a descendant of Saul who himself is known as the son of Kish (when people are speaking belittling of him). This is a story of descendants. According to midrash, Vashti is the final descendent of wicked king Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebuchadrezzar if you want to make fun of him). Haman is somehow the stock of Agag. But wait! Saul killed everyone but Agag, and then Samuel killed Agag, the last of the Amalekites. Something must have happened between these two events, and while Agag was chillin' in Saul's crib, he must have impregnated a woman and so when he was killed, his seed did not end. Therefore his offspring led to Hamaddata who begat Haman.

So it fell to Mordechai to finish the job. It was Mordechai who raised the ire of the last Amalekites. This is history playing itself out like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with a lot more violents and a lot less wit. When Esau cried out, it is now Mordechai crying out using almost identical language, with the payment for Jacob's act of deceit being played out here... actually I noticed some strong parallels between this and the story of Joseph in Egypt (Joseph receives the royal ring just as Haman does, and more, but that is for another time). So Mordy destroys Haman and his ten wicked sons and completes the task given to his royal ancestor. Immediately following this, Mordechai himself is elevated to Prime Minister and once again regains royal prestige that his family had lost so long ago.

I've been thinking about this for a couple of days: Mordechai is constantly referred to as Mordechai HaYehudi, translated as Mordechai the Jew. But if we translate literally, it means Mordechai the Judahite. But wait, he's a Benjaminite. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps he is both. Or perhaps the title of Jew became popular at this point to refer to all of Israel or perhaps those that dwelt in the southern kingdom of Judah after the exile of the ten other tribes. Mr. Owl, The world may never know.

Shavuah Tov (and Shabbat shalom to those of you west of GMT+1 (west of Amsterdam, etc...),

Matt, of the stock of Jesse.

Friday, March 10, 2006

DVAR TORAH: Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor 5 of 5!

This is the fifth and final Dvar Torah in a series of 5 (actually 3) which I have given in the past for Parashat Tetzaveh AND/OR Shabbat Zachor. This particular Dvar Torah was actually done for the Michelle Gluckman Memorial Torah Siyyum this past Simchat Torah at the Hillel, where it fell to me to speak about the Torah portion of Tetzaveh. I actually never wrote anything about this one down on paper (or computer) because it was a quick dvar torah so I will have to do this completely from memory (luckily I have a good long-term memory)

It is a pretty lacking portion. I mentioned that it is a portion devoid of anything. Including the name of Moses. Yes, this is the only Torah portion in the latter 4 books of the Torah where Moses's name does not appear even once. God says ואתה, "and you" instead of referring to him by name. This portion centers on Aaron and sons and their priestly vestments. Moses was originally going to be the High Priest but lost it because of his angry disposition.
In the following portion, Ki Tissa, which has the infamous account of the Golden Calf, Moses implores God for mercy and appeals for God to forgive for the sake of Moses:
ועתה אם תשא חטאתם ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת, "And now, if you will forgive their sin [great!], but if not, erase me from the book which you have written. " -Exodus 32:32 God replied, "He who has sinned against Me , him only will I erase from my book" -ibid :33. Well, we can say that God did erase Moses from something; that which follows chronologically (The Torah's not in chronological order, the Golden Calf preceeds the Mishkan and Priestly garb).

I didn't mention this, but God is also hidden in Megilat Esther just as Moses is hidden from the Parasha that immediately precedes Purim.
I don't actually remember the point to the Dvar Torah, but IMHO, it is interesting and ties up some loose ends.

Shabbat Shalom and remember what Amalek did to you on the way! Don't forget!


DVAR TORAH: Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor 4 of 5!

This is the fourth in a series of 5 (actually 3) Divrei Torah I have given in the past for Parashat Tetzaveh AND/OR Shabbat Zachor. This particular Dvar Torah was originally my article for the Kol Columbia which I proceded to put through a spanish translator, translated back into english, back into spanish, and finally back into english. It's rip-roarious! Gotta love Joseph Caro's mexican cousin, Expensive Jose.

L'chayim, Is Purim! By Matt Rutta, Co-Silla of KOACH As soon as a negation, I do not mean to offend any person in detail with my Dvar Torah, I am right satisfying the obligation with the holiday to put his foot in his mouth. Ampere Purim hour, what an ideal holiday for a university student! Huzzah! You it is hoped that it acts like an idiot, uniforms to the point of misbehaving during religious services; obtain ferschnickered totally, you uniform to the point of not being able to say to the difference between the arc-bandit and the hero. In the past I have described east holiday like "Simchat Torah without the restrictions." The route does not have to be in favor of the foot and music does not have to be a.capella. Hooray! It hopes that Adar is a time of the year where they not only allow us, but does to complete idiots of we ourself. There is relaxing or certain generally accepted uprooting of mitzvot negative of Torahic, as those taxes before cross-dressing (Dvarim 22:5 according to the getting up by Expensive Jose in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 696,8). This is as radical as the elevation of the prohibition in the game granted in Chanukah. In fact, they even force to obtain to us totally and broken completely in Purim. I am never going to call "dry" Judaism the religion. That would be entirely false; we drink the wine in for everything but an express and we followed it generally for above with hard alcohol. Nevertheless, they always remember to us to drink in the moderation. In the Torah, the wine is fallen of Noah, and the Talmud is rife with warnings against embriaguez. Purim is different. Formulaic of Kiddush assigned by mandate for the holiday is no excessive wine, but they order to us that we drink, and we drink much! Megilah 7b, in sugya that is safe that many of you are at least semi-relatives with uniform if you never have studied Talmud, quotes Rava that says, "one is commited to sweeten themselves in Purim until he cannot distinguish between ` cursed is Haman ' and ` blessed is Mordechaí. Rashi confirms that "to sweeten" means "to obtain shikkered with the wine" and Rambam codifies this in law. But the Talmud cannot let the declaration of Rava go undisputed. To leave its position wild is, well, as to leave alcoholic a single one before an open bar. It follows with one of the small intriguing legend of the Talmud. Rabbah invites to Zeira Rabbi to a Purim Seudah, during which both obtain beyond drunkard and Rabbah literally kills (aramaic used is shachtei, that is the same word used for the ritual slaughter of cattles) its colleague. Rabbah feels bad and requests so that the God again brings it to life. A miracle happens and revive Zeira Rabbi. Rabbah again invites to Zeira Rabbi to its Purim Seudah the next year, and Zeira Rabbi is everything like "no. of infier to us! A miracle could not happen again." But this does not contradict the one that finishes being indicated? , it is not a contradiction well because...... In any case, it has diversion but it uses discretion, it remains far from the knives of butcher and chainsaws, and has underclassperson indicated that he is underage and therefore it does not drink to take care of for you in excessive his inebriation and to wake up to him for for the reading of Megillah in the morning ours at least for Kabbalat Shabbat above. We enjoyed the concerts, shpiels of Purim, the reading of megillah. Boo strike of Mordechai and Yay Haman... that, invests it. Purim is doubtlessly a great festival of smaller importance, an excessive physical threat of the spiritual one of the victory, where we left alcohol (it came and the similars) we are victorious on our physical minds and bodies. I admit that he was bad, but she is what you must come to hope of the jokes of Purim, I hope that the rest is better. In the age messianic, all the festivales, the high holidays, and Chanukah will even invest to their Temple-centric celebrations, but to Purim, a holiday in which its body of the text does not even contain the name of the God still will be celebrated with such four mitzvahs that it has since Mordechai and Esther wrote two scroll and one half millenia ago: reading the Megillah, a banquet, the gifts for the poor men, and to send cooked merchandise to the furnace to its friends. And of course, portions and portions of alcohol always-that flows. In order to quote great chacham and gadol of our generation, Rabbeinu Homer horseradish tree Avraham, the Springfielder Rav, that toasts, "to the alcohol, to the cause of-and a the solution to-everything of the problems of the life" A Freylech Purim!