Monday, June 19, 2017

The Mishnah - A Reading

Dorothy lived in Kansas a wind destroyed four came seeking home the rabbis say wisdom

This is how the Gemara might tell the story of the Wizard of Oz. This is not to say that the Gemara is a bad story teller but that it is not a story teller in the way we are used to. It is a notebook written in short hand. The rabbi is supposed to tell the full tale. The Gemara just reminds him of the barest elements of the story.

The Mishnah is even more succinct. Here's how it might describe the USA's constitutional system:

Three groups. One enacts, one judges, one wages war.

Is there more to the subject? I think there's a little more to say about a political-legal system that came to dominate the planet earth.

Let us not forget what we often forget that the Oral Torah was not supposed to be written down, so when the danger of losing it all due to exile necessitated redaction, the redaction was kept to a minimum. The Talmud is not a textbook. In our era of computer based publishing, it's pretty darn easy to put many words on a page, much easier even than in the movable type era, where is was incomparably easier than in the era of monks writing in long hand, which was easier still than in Mishnaic times where paper was a commodity. We are used to books spelling out every detail of a message. This is not how most Torah commentary was written over the centuries.

This means that a shiur cannot consist merely of reading from a text. However, that is exactly what some shiurim have become, particularly regular shiurim. Sometimes, you get the photocopy of sources which the speaker uses to patch together a lesson of some kind. That he reads the sources too quickly without telling you where to find them on the page is a separate problem of our problematic approach to Hebrew instruction. I have discussed that elsewhere. But the regular shiur, the kind we experience most of the time, is oftentimes a reading. Whether it be Daf HaYomi, Mishnah, Mishneh Berurah, Duties of the Heart, or Tanya, the "maggid shiur" just reads without offering much in the way of background, explanation, or insights.

For baal habatim attending an hour a week class, it's survivable, even though not edifying. For children in school it's soul murder. The boredom is crushing. The kids - boys in particular - go 8-5 in a crowded barren classroom listening to a reading of cryptic material. Some rebbes don't explain. It's almost as if doing anything but reading straight text is considered "goyish." when really reading straight from a text without adding anything is goyish. But mostly it's just ignorance.

Many rebbes today are not educators. Some are warm people but that doesn't make them interesting, doesn't mean they know how to teach. Teachers have to get into the minds of students. They need technique. Oftentimes, the best teachers were not the best at their subjects. Thus, they developed tricks for acquiring the material. The gifted student is often the worst teacher. A teacher, like anyone in any profession, needs skill.

This involves more than warmth and even caring. I think many of the more well meaning people in Jewish education or rabbinics have gone a little bananas with personal warmth, stories, and song. I once spent a Shabbos with a family that does kiruv at an elite university. I was shocked to see this very well meaning nice guy fail to share with the students any Torah at his Shabbos table. His whole angle was warmth, singing, and showing off his children in an attempt to advertise the joys of family life - as if non-frum people cannot have family life. Is he really going to compete with the world of secular entertainment with a few zmiros? What he needed to do was say something meaningful before these very bright and intellectually included college students.

Perhaps because Torah Jews, particularly the children, are a captive audience, some schools don't make an effort to be engaging. After all, you have no choice but to attend the school and they can always threaten you with gehennom, that catch all for religious motivation. The focus, particularly in Israel, seems to be more on gaining admission to school, ie the family winning over the school, rather than the school winning over the family or the student. Also, there is an assumption today, an arrogant one, that the yeshiva world conquered Reform, is sitting pretty, and can wow anyone with the magic of Torah. By magic of Torah I don't mean the magic of true Torah thought, but anything connected to Torah. A cold reading of a cryptic text will do. Just open the book and the magic just flies off the page. This is magical thinking and results in part from excessively mystical understandings of the effects of limud Torah.

What is the connection to Torah Im Derech Eretz? Just look at Rav Hirsch's writings, he makes ideas come alive. He doesn't just recite pasukim. The German approach is to focus on the world that we actually live in, not mysterious higher worlds. As Rav Hirsch wrote:
God's Law does not deal with things that are supernatural or not of this world; instead, it includes every aspect of a full life which can be lived here below. Therefore these laws are עדות, the testimony of God's truths for all our earthy relationships, and hence they are עדות, because they crown all our earthy affairs with the ornament of human nobility which find favor in the eyes of God. The prerequisite for the true fulfillment of God's laws is knowledge, as thorough as possible, of all the realities of human affairs on earth. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 119:99)
I fear that the contemporary focus on the kabbalistic effects of limud Torah have produced an other worldly approach to it. This combined with our forgetting that the Oral Torah is Oral even when printed in books has resulted in some very poor educational practices, not by everyone obviously, but by too many.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sivan 24

Rav Hirsch was born on this day in 1808.

"God has dispersed Yisrael among the nations as עבד and שפחה, as "servant" and "handmaiden," to labor on behalf of God's great work on behalf of mankind. Yisrael is called "a servant" to indicate the arduous labor inherent in its outward position vis-à-vis the nations, and "a handmaiden" to denote the joyous fulfillment of its life's task within the sphere of its own homes, families and communities. For the proper discharge of both these tasks Yisrael needs extraordinary spiritual and moral talents and energy; and it is for these faculties that Yisrael looks up to God its God even as a "servant" and a "handmaiden" would look up to their Master." (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 123, 2)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Criticism of German Orthodoxy

I never hold back when I see criticism of German Orthodoxy from any reliable source. From the book the Transformation, criticism of GO for bringing Zionism into the Agudah.

page 34:

page 35


page 36:


page: 38 

So the book goes on to say that with an imitation of style in place the Agudah took on other Mizrachi attitudes such immigration to the Holy Land not out of sheer desire to live in there but as part of an in-gathering of exiles, an idea promoted by Mizrachi in its package of notions that the modern secular state is part of the redemption. I can testify that I have observed this notion in the words and actions of many yeshivish people. However, one can see from Rav Hirsch's many comments on the subject of the Torah and the land, that land without Torah is pointless and dangerous, that there's no nation without Torah and no redemption with Moshiach or teshuvah.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Reclaiming the term צבא

"From twenty years old and upward, each one who goes forth into communal service in Yisrael." Bamidbar 1:3

"The term צבא in Scripture does not necessarily, or even primarily, denote an army, or service in an armed "host." In Numbers 4:3,  כל בא לצבא לעשות מלאכה באהל מועד ["each one who comes to communal service to do (sacred) work in the Tent of Appointed Meeting"]; ibid., Verse 23 'לצבא צבא לעבוד וגו ["who comes to perform communal service, to minister..."], and also elsewhere in Scripture, it refers to the service performed by the Levites in the Tabernacle. Verses 24 and 14 in Chapter 8, too, prove that צבא denotes any group of individuals united for communal service under the orders of a higher authority, or the service to be performed by such individuals. In the present verse, too, צבא need not necessarily have the connotation of armed service. Rather, it would denote anyone under obligation to come forth from his private life and perform communal services whenever this is needed; hence, anyone on whom the community can rely upon to attend to its interests...."

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Bamidbar 1:3, The Chumash, Judaica Press, Translation by Gertrude Hirschler

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Jewish Virtual Library on Adass Jeshurun

"Adass Jeshurun, Adas Jisroal was originally the breakaway minority of Orthodox congregations in Germany in the mid-19th century. These congregations dissociated themselves on religious grounds from the unitary congregations established by state law in which the majority tended toward Reform Judaism.

"The main aim of this branch was to safeguard strict adherence to Jewish law. The Hebrew terms Adass (or Adat, Adath) Jeshurun and Adass Jisroel, meaning "congregation of Jeshurun" and "congregation of Israel," were chosen by these congregations to express their conviction that, even if in the minority, they were the "true Israel." The names were cherished for their socioreligious connotations by Orthodox groups in the West where Reform Judaism was widespread.

continue reading Jewish Virtual Library on Adass Jeshurun

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Health through Torah Living

As Mishlei (Proverbs 3:17) tells us about the Torah, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness.” And while the Torah commands us to proactively protect our health through natural means (“Guard yourself exceedingly - Deuteronomy 4:9-10), we recognize that Torah living itself is the best guardian of our physical health. Its observance brings about spiritual and physical pleasantness.

What follows here is a very small sampling of Torah teachings that address the correspondence between spiritual and physical health. They serve as a reminder that all of our necessary labors in the way of health and safety are but a histadalus (reasonable effort) and that our welfare resides ultimately in the Almighty’s loving-kindness and our pursuit of spiritual health through Torah living.

Our bitachon (trust) in Hashem is a prime guardian of physical health in part due to the peace of mind it gives us. Rav Avigdor Miller z’l spoke often about the toxic effects of worry and stress and the benefits of simple living. He interpreted literally the Mishnah (Avos 1:7) “I have found nothing better for the body than silence.” Silence can refer to the absence of worrisome and neurotic self-talk in our own heads, talk which induces sickness in many a person. Such silence is good for the body, ie. good for preserving health.

Sampling of Torah on the Connection Between Physical and Spiritual Health

Guard yourself and guard your soul very much. (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)

R. Judah son of R. Hiyya remarked: Come and see how the dispensation of mortals is not like that of the Holy One, blessed be He. In the dispensation of mortals, when a man administers a drug to a fellow it may be beneficial to one limb but injurious to another, but with the Holy One, blessed be He, it is not so. He gave a Torah to Israel and it is a drug of life for all his body, as it is said: And healing to all his flesh. (Eruvin 54a*)

R. Joshua b. Levi stated: If a man is on a journey and has no company let him, occupy himself with the study of the Torah, since it is said in Scripture: For they shall be a chaplet of grace. If he feels pains in his head, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head. If he feels pains in his throat let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And chains about thy neck. If he feels pains in his bowels, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: It shall be a healing to thy navel. If he feels pain in his bones, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And marrow to thy bones. If he feels pain in all his body, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And healing to all his flesh. (Eruvin 54a*)

Resh Lakish has said: The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand, as it says. “When I have healed Israel, then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered.” (Megillah 13b*)

The sages said in the name of Rav: it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no physician. (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12)

R Yose son of R. Bun said: it is forbidden to live in a city that does not have a vegetable garden. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12)

R Eleazar said: honor your physician even before you need him. (Jerusalem Talmud Taanis 3:6)

The best of physicians go to Gehennom. (Kiddushin 82a) Some commentators take this to mean that the best physicians attribute their success purely to their own abilities and fail to connect the true source of healing and medical knowledge to Hashem. This arrogance leads to their spiritual fall.

When a man suffers pain, he should visit a physician. (Baba Kama 46b)

Three things sap a man’s strength: worry, travel, and sin. (Gittin 70a)

Heal us Hashem and we will be healed. Save us and we will be saved for you are our praise. Grant complete healing for all our afflictions because you are the Almighty King, Who is a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You Hashem, Healer of the sick of His nation Israel. (Shemoni Esrei, Siddur)

Physical health and well-being are part of the path to God, for it is impossible to understand or have any knowledge of the Creator when one is ill. Therefore one must avoid anything that may harm the body and one must develop healthful habits. (Rambam, Hilchos De'os 4:1)

Worrying that some particular thing should come about in this world is very improper….Such is not found in men with trust in Hashem. Worry hurts the heart and brings sickness to the body…. (Orchos HaTzadickim, Shaar HaDaagah, in Sefer Mitzvos HaBitachon 38)

Sorrow breaks, sadness unnerves, mourning consumes man; but cheerfulness of heart and joyful vivacity exalt, revive and strengthen man, and endow him with inner strength victoriously to brave the most crushing blows of external violence. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, pp. 146-147)

Because to the Jew everything is religion, because the most painful change in his fortunes can but mean a new religious duty for him, and because he is ever passing from one religious experience to another, even the sorrows of life have lost their sting for him. He is beset by only one worry: the fear lest he fail to realize his duty in any situation in which he may find himself. This duty once recognized, he is serene and happy, and carries out with zest the duty which God demands of him. He is not disheartened because his powers are so insufficient, his understanding so limited, his scope so restricted. He stands where his God has placed him; the limits of his powers have been drawn by God. He stands at His service, delivers his work into His hands. His duty done, his daily task fulfilled, he is happy and content. The completion of his work is in any case in the hands of God. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, pp. 149-150)

That is what makes Jewish life so full of happiness: “Shomer mitzvah lo yada davar rah - “He who keeps the commandments shall endure no evil thing.” (Ecclesiastes 8,5) He who conceives of his entire life as a Commandment knows no unhappiness and no evil. The word of God is unto him as the miraculous tree that sweetens the bitterest spring, as the miraculous staff that draws the water of life from the hardest rock, as the holy oil the dedicates and hallows all common, everyday things. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, p. 149)

Do not say: If jealousy and lust and inordinate ambition and various other evils which are the product of living together in the world take man from his true task, I therefore wish to choose the exact opposite – namely, to renounce every bodily pleasure, flee from marriage, comfort and amenity and live a monk-like life. Even if you go upon that way, you are a sinner. Avoid only that which the law forbids. Use that which is permitted wisely for the strengthening and preservation of your body, so that it remains an efficient instrument for the fulfilling of your life’s mission. If you indulge in pleasure in this way, then your physical activities also become a service of God. But if your body is to remain a healthy instrument, avoid everything that might destroy it, and take up everything into your way of life which brings it health and strength. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 429)

The home is a prime source of disease. The family is one of the greatest sources of illness. Most heart attacks are occasioned not by a troublesome employee or customer or a business competitor, but by an altercation in the home. Anger, envy, anxiety, discouragement, resentment, hatred and sorrow bring actual physical suffering and serious illness….Most domestic difficulties are a result of the failure to follow the words: ‘I have found nothing better for the body than silence.’ (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p.78)

The mother must frequently ask herself: What kind of home do I have? Is it a place that develops unhappy attitudes, resulting in sickness of the body and sickness of the soul, personal maladjustment, sadness, complaining and irritability? Or is it a sanctuary of cheerfulness, of liking everyone, where recrimination and useless nagging are never heard? (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p.78)

Whatever is said of the wise mother is also true of the wise father, and even the wise child. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p. 67)

*Translation from Soncino Talmud

Suggested Reading on the Topics of Peace of Mind Through Balanced Torah Living and Health

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
Judaism Eternal, Volume 2, Chapter IV: Jewish Serenity (pp. 145-154)
Horeb, 429, 459, 460, 428, 429

Rav Avigdor Miller
Career of Happiness, pp. 101-108
The Path of Life
Rejoice O’ Youth, 851-891
Rav Miller Speaks

Monday, June 12, 2017

Not the land

It was not the land that Moses had been commanded to proclaim to his people at the outset of his mission as מורשה, as the inheritance they were to preserve (Ex. 6,8). The Law, to be translated into full reality upon that soil, was to be the true מורשה, the one true, everlasting inheritance, the one true center around which the nation and its leaders were to gather as one united community. Herein lay the goal and the destiny, the character and the significance of the people.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Kehillah," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 62

Sunday, June 11, 2017

1908 Samson Raphael Hirsch – Jubilaums-Nummer Rare Publication

This item is for sale on Ebay. It appears to be a centennial publication in honor of Rav Hirsch's birth. Here are some of the photos from the Ebay ad. It includes this list of Hirsch's publications in German:

Jubilaums-Nummer means Anniversary number.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

we must study the customs of the Jewish People

"Chazal state that Minhag Shel Yisrael Torah Hu, “The customs of the Jewish People are Torah.” Most understand this statement as teaching that we must abide by the customs of our people, just as we must abide by the Torah. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited by Rav Hershel Schachter) explains that it means that we must study the customs of the Jewish People with the same rigor as we study the texts of the Torah. Rav Soloveitchik devoted much time in his Shiurim analyzing the basis of various customs because authentic customs have a basis in the Torah."  Rabbi Howard Jachter

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Gertrude Hirschler

For 30 years I have been talking to the Creator of the universe via a translation of the Siddur and commentary on the Siddur by Rav Hirsch as translated to English by Gertrude Hirschler.

For 30 years I have been studying the Chumash largely through the translation and commentary of Rav Hirsch as translated to English by Gertrude Hirschler.

For 30 years I have absorbed the hashkafa of Rav Hirsch as expressed in his articles in the Collected Writings many of which were translated by Gertrude Hirschler. 

For many years, not quite 30, I have been studying Psalms via the commentary of Rav Hirsch via a translation by Gertrude Hirschler.

So that's a pretty important person in my life this Ms. Hirschler. And yet all these years I did not know what she looked like. Search her name on the web. You won't find a picture.

That is until now. For thanks a relative of hers I now have a photo of the incredible Gertrude Hirschler and will share it with you.

But first a few details on her life as collected from Gertrude Hirschler by Susan J. Lief Rotenberg, Jewish Women's Archive:

Gertrude Hirschler was born on August 11, 1929 in Vienna, Austria to Bernard Hirschler and Alice Dukes. She was the elder of daughters.

Her father was a successful businessman and the family lived comfortably until forced to flee the Nazis in 1939. They landed in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hirschler attended Baltimore Hebrew College, the Teachers Training School, and Johns Hopkins University night school from which she graduated with with a B.S. in 1952.

In addition to her translations of Hirsch, Hirschler translated numerous other works such as Rabbi Alexander Z. Friedman’s Wellsprings of Torah. She also penned numerous articles for encyclopedias and edited Ashkenaz: The German Jewish Heritage. 

Hirschler, who was Torah observant, passed away in 1994 and is buried in Baltimore.


Photo copyright 2017 Stengler

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Rav Breuer on Vocational Choice

On the importance of choosing a field that suits one's nature. This article is so important. Rav Breuer really understood the common man. No wonder he was such a great community leader.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Eliyahu Munk, translator par excellence

Eliyahu Munk was born in Frankfurt and studied at the Realschule, the Yeshiva of R' Joseph Breuer, and at Gateshead. He later moved to Canada where he worked as a teacher and a businessman. He moved to Jerusalem in 1978. He has translated an impressive number of classic texts including the Akeidas Yitzchok, the Toras Moshe of the Alsich, the Alsich's commentary on Psalms, the Shnei Luchos HaBris, the Or Hachayim, and the Rabbeinyu Bachyha's massive commentary on Chumash.

Image result for eliyahu munkImage result for eliyahu munk

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Torah in motion lectures on R' Hirsch

Torah in motion lectures on R' Hirsch

Most of these will come from a very leftie perspective, one that I often feel misportrays Hirsch. But still there is what to learn from them.

Search results

  1. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: Ancestor of Modern Orthodoxy?

    The Thought and Worldview of Influential Jewish Thinkers Dr. Zev Eleff Tweet ...
    Leah Levy - 2016-08-30 17:52
  2. Class 2. Great Rabbinic Thinkers: Samson Raphael Hirsch

    Dr. Marc Shapiro Premium Tweet ...
    skatz - 2017-01-31 06:11
  3. Separatism vs. Unity: Rav Hirsch (and his Successors) on Relations with the non-Orthodox

    Dr. Marc Shapiro Tweet ...
    tim - 2015-11-18 23:43
  4. Hirsch and the Frankfurt Jewish Community

    Dr. Rachel Heuberger Tweet ...
    tim - 2015-11-18 23:43
  5. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch's Attitude Towards Zionism

    Rabbi Dr. Adam S Ferziger Tweet ...
    tim - 2015-11-18 23:43
  6. The Challenge Unanswered: Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Academic-Critical Scholarship and Biblical Commentary

    Dr. Edward Breuer Tweet ...
    tim - 2015-11-18 23:43
  7. Has Hirsch been Rejected?: The Contested Legacy of Torah and Derekh Eretz

    Dr. Marc Shapiro Tweet ...
    tim - 2015-11-18 23:43
  8. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Contemporary Orthodoxy- A Panel Discussion with all the Speakers

    Dr. Edward Breuer Dr. Marc Shapiro Dr. Rachel Heuberger Tweet ...
    tim - 2015-11-18 23:43
  9. Great Rabbinic Thinkers: Online Spring 2017

    rabbinic greats we have discussed include Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, The  Chatam Sofer, Rav Tzvi Pesach ...
    Leah Levy - 2017-02-28 23:27


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Linked Article: A New Commentary for a Changed World (Mishpacha Magazine)

A New Commentary for a Changed World by Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

"Torah leaders confronting the Enlightenment were forced to develop innovative and original approaches to preserving and transmitting the mesorah. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s groundbreaking commentary on Chumash stands out. Composed in the vernacular, Rav Hirsch’s work presents the Torah as the primary educational tool for personal growth and impresses its eternal relevance on the reader."


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Shavuous Day Drasha, 5:30-6:30 Aish Kodesh, Upstairs

Shavuous Day Drasha

by Rabbi Tzvi Abraham

5:30-6:30 PM Aish Kodesh, Upstairs
Beit Shemesh, Ramat Aleph
Nachal Maor St.

From the Garden of Eden to the Desert of Sinai:
Tracing the path through tohu v'vohu to Matan Torah

for men and women, mechitza

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Rav Moshe Sternbuch video and audio in English.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch video and audio in English. It's not so often that one can hear a gadol of this stature speaking in perfect English.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Linked Article: Interview with Rabbi Dr. Moshe Miller of Lander College

‘For Rav Hirsch, All Mankind Is Precious To God’: An Interview With Rabbi Dr. Moshe Miller

by Elliot Resnick, Jewish Press

"The Jewish Press: Rav Hirsch advances a number of what some might consider controversial ideas in Nineteen Letters. One of them is his rather liberal view of non-Jews. Can you elaborate?

"Miller: Rav Hirsch very much stressed the humanism of Judaism. For him, the notion that Judaism allows treating non-Jews with a lower standard of ethics is blasphemy. It’s totally anathema to his way of looking at things. And he’s consistent throughout his writings – including those in Hebrew – about the need to treat non-Jews with dignity and respect and, as he writes in Nineteen Letters, to “bear love in our hearts” for them."

continue reading ‘For Rav Hirsch, All Mankind Is Precious To God’: An Interview With Rabbi Dr. Moshe Miller

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Linked Article (Web Yeshiva) You’ll Be to Me a Holy Nation: Contemporary Gadolim on Obligations and Exemptions in Positive Time-Bound Commandments

Why are women exempt from certain commandments to which men are obligated? This question has fascinated some and troubled others. As with any conundrum, we turn to the great scholars of our era, our gadolim for answers. R’ Moshe Feinstein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Joseph Soloveitchik, and R’ Avigdor Miller each approached the matter in similar fashion and stressed the general equality of holiness and spiritual worthiness of the two sexes and the differences in their respective roles and natures. Let’s have a look at their words.

Click here for the full article.

What's the connection to Hirsch? His message is the same as the other gadolim presented in this article. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

No other foundation

"Israel should be one nation, an entire nation that should have no other foundation for its existence, survival, activity and significance other than this Torah. It is to see the realization and devoted observance of this God-given "fiery Law" as its one contribution in world history for the edifice of human salvation. What the Phoenicians sought to bring about with the keels of their ships, what the ancient Greeks sought to achieve with their chisels and what the ancient Romans sought to attain with their swords, Israel is to accomplish with its Torah. Nay more, Israel is a nation that became a nation only through and for the Torah, a nation that once owned a land and existed as a state only through and for the Torah, and which possessed that land and that statehood only as instruments for translating the Torah into living reality. This is why Israel was a people even before it possessed land and statehood; this, too, is why Israel survived as a people even after its land was destroyed and its statehood lost, and this is why it will survive as a nation as long as it does not lose this only מורשה, this sole foundation for its survival and significance. That is the kind of nation that Israel, that all of us, should be." 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Character of the Jewish Community," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 35

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Challenging works that are appropriate for girls

"You do have a variety of challenging works that are appropriate for girls, like the sefarim of Rav Hirsch, which open up their minds to hashkafah, the understanding of middos, and how to meet other people's needs." 

Rav Yaakov Weinberg talks about chinuch, 42c, p. 128, Targum Press, 2006.
Rav Weinberg zt'l was the Rosh Yeshiva of Neir Yisroel in Baltimore.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Some Particulars on Chassidic Tznius

Different groups have different strengths. In my view, the Chassidim are the leaders in tznius. It isn't just the women for the men are tznius too in the long black coats and hats, even outdoors in the summer. But obviously with women putting together tznius outfits is more complicated. Heaven forgive me but I investigated the topic, speaking to some people, and here's what I have concluced regarding Chassidic women and tznius at least as we see it in Israel.

1. Elegance. They look classy and well put together. There's nothing frumpy about Chassidic dress.
2. The secret is in the skirt. I think everything builds from there. The skirts are always well below the knee. There's no near knee incidents, no need to tug at the skirt nervously to get it to reach the knee. The skirts are not made from clingy material. No lycra type stuff. It's thick cotton or wool and synthetic with a backing material. They are never tight. Usually the color is dark, maybe brown, maybe black.
3. Once the skirt is simple, they have more leeway with the tops, which generally are quite colorful and full of designs like paisley, but always neck to wrists and never tight. Sometimes you get a simple shirt and then the skirt might have a pattern on it.
4. To attain elegance they double up on the tops. They won't just wear a t-shirt. They'll wear a dress shirt with a sweater. Or a pullover with a necklace. Or a blouse with a vest.
5. Hair is either fully covered or a short sheitel with a hat of some kind. The scarves can be quite colorful. With unmarried women the hair is always tied and never too long.
6. No high heels.
7. That's the clothing part. Then there's the conduct which is dignified just as it is with the men. They don't block sidewalks, don't shout down the block, don't raise their voices. Generally, they mind their own business. One gets the sense of inner worlds, more going on inside because there is less noise outside.

The result is something amazing, something holy, and something beautiful. We all can learn from Chassidim.

Now one does not have to be a Chassid to dress this way. One time I was in a park and saw what I figured could only be Chassidic women and then when I saw the father realized they were Charedi yeshivish people. And I'm not saying that Chassidish style is the only way to be tznius. The women in the burkas are even more tznius but their style is not Chassidish. (I know some say that they are not tznius because they draw attention to themselves, but I really don't agree with that. The first time you see it it draws your attention. After a time or two, you don't notice really, and in times of great sin one is permitted to go entirely the other way. And there is precedent for it. See the Mishnah in Shabbos about the quantity of eye makeup that constitutes carrying.) Anyway, the point is that we can all learn something from the Chassidim on this matter and many others.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

sparkling new meaning

"Hirsch's seemingly unending resourcefulness and talent for winning understanding and respect for the Torah and its laws through appeals to reason never ceased to amaze his listeners and readers. He left no question unanswered, no riddle unsolved. Religious observances that had struck enlightened people as obscure, absurd, and repulsive, suddenly shed sparkling new meaning on their noblest thoughts and endeavors. An apparently hopeless, arid desert was changed to a flowering garden." Mordechai Breuer, "Modernity Within Tradition," p. 20.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Changing the Immutable - new book - with chapter on R' Hirsch


Marc Shapiro's new book contains a chapter on Rav Hirsch and presents his claim that the Charedi world has repackaged Hirsch to maintain his position in the pantheon of gadolim. The most famous example of that is the idea that Rav Hirsch's plan of Torah Im Derech Eretz was an emergency measure. But Professor Shapiro brings numerous others.  To purchase: link

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lag B'Omer in Bet

Last night I headed into Beit Shemesh Ramat Bet to see how the Chassidim in Israel handle Lag B'Omer. I took the 12 bus deep into Bet by the Boyan Chassidim. And they had a small fire in front of their shul. The men and women stood on different sides. Some were talking in Yiddish, which is always amazing to hear as a living language. But by the time we got there they were putting out the flame as I guess it was time for bed. One mother become concerned when her son took a rake and played a little too long and close to the flames and called him to move away. Overall the people were peaceful. I saw before me a community and family scene.

So I walked on up Yarden and then up Rebbi Yehoshua St. towards another Chassidic group. And they were holding a concert which featured a Chassid with a terrific voice along with a clarinet and a keyboard. Again the men and women were on separate sides. There were a slew of children in the middle, all dressed up and cute as can be. The women were dressed very modestly and elegantly and everyone was quite peaceful.

I headed on to another gathering on Yehuda HaNasi street. The music there was too loud for my taste so I didn't get so close. But again the people seemed peaceful.

Finally, I headed over to Satmar. I'm always curious about Satmar. And they had a small fire upon a tall stand in the middle of Hillel St. They also had a live singer on a platform on top of the building on the East Side of the street. But surrounding the fire was a huge circle of men, hand in hand, rocking back and forth to the music. It was an amazing site, their unity, their slow rhythmic motion, and their beautiful coats and streimels. I watched them a bit and a man turned around and invited me to the circle. He wasn't pushy. It was a pleasant invitation. So I danced with them a while. Then I stepped out and watched some more. I found myself getting entranced by the music and the rocking back and forth, back and forth. Another man turned around and seeing me watching smiled at me and also seemed to invite me to join. I needed to go home at this point but couldn't pull myself away. There was something so holy about the sight. I felt almost drunk watching it and found myself transported back to Eastern Europe to a shtetl in the 19th century. No cell phones. Perfect tznius. Togetherness. Peacefulness.  I believe that the Chassidim are some of the most peaceful people in Israel. How do they do it?

Post Script: It's the next day now and I realize what I saw that made me feel as if I were drunk. I believe it was the shechinah.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New Names New Identity

Yitzhak Shamir was born Yitzhak Yezernitsky

Shimon Peres was born Szymon Perski

Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitch

David Ben-Gurion was born David Grün

Levi Eshkol was born Levi Shkolnik

Yigal Allon was born Yigal Peikowitz

Yitzhak Ben-Zvi was the son of Zvi Shimshelevich who changed his name to Shimsi

Moshe Sharett was born Moshe Shertok

Why the name changes? Was it part of the excitement of returning to the land and a new identity that came with it? Was it a shaking off of the residue of bad treatment by the gentiles in golus and names, that while Jewish in a way, had gentile origins? Was it part of a complete departure from the past including that of mitzvah observance and traditional Jewish identity?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Simmy Lerner - Parshas Emor


"For this week's discussion, we will learn a stirring lesson on what it means for a Jew to be free. Why do we count 50 days of Sefirah? Why the phrase "7 full weeks"? And how does Rav Hirsh connect the Sefiras Ha'omer to both Shabbos and Milah?"

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Golders Green Beth Hamedrash Congregation - Munk's

"The Golders Green Beth Hamedrash (popularly known as Munks or GGBH) is an independent Ashkenazi Orthodox Jewish congregation located in Golders GreenLondonUnited Kingdom. It was founded in 1936 in the King Alfred Shul,[clarification needed] and was located for many years in the Lincoln Institute in Broad Walk Lane. It moved to its present location in The Riding in 1956. It was founded by "Yekkish" Jews (strictly traditional Ashkenazic Jews mainly from Germany), among them the Chover, Henry (Heinrich) Aharon Meir Rosenfelder." (Wikipedia)

Official Site page

Newspaper Notice of Rabbi Eli Munk's Passing

I'm not sure but I believe this book was dedicated by the congregation in memory of R' Munk.

This is not the same Eli Munk we know from being a  translator of Torah works.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Klal Yisrael lives only through the family

"Throughout our history we have faced extraordinary dangers against our physical and spiritual existence, from Korach all the way to the Karaim and the Maskilim. But there has never been, in all of history, as dangerous an attack on Klal Yisrael's existence as the one that the feminist movement presents to us today. We have been able to survive heresy and idolatry, but we cannot survive feminism.

"You have to understand that Klal Yisrael was given a Torah only because the women accepted it. If the women had not accepted the Torah first, there is no way that the men could have maintained it. If there will continue to be a bris between Hashem and ourselves, it can only be if the women of Klal Yisrael want the Torah and accept it with enthusiasm, willingness, and desire. And it is not simply because they are the guides and primary teachers of Jewish children; it is a great deal more.

"Klal Yisrael lives only through the family. Those in the secular world somehow manage a little without a family, but we cannot. That is because we require a morality and a value system that goes against that which is prevalent among the population in which we live. And giving our different values, outlooks, and purpose in life requires a family environment; there is no other way by which that can be accomplished."

Rav Yaakov Weinberg talks about chinuch, 42a, pp. 124-5, Targum Press, 2006.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Returning to what once was

Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:24

"Behold it is known that all the people of Poland, Hungary, and Russia...are children of Ashkenaz even Chasidim. And until Chasidus spread they all prayed with nusach Ashkenaz. However, the Chasidic leaders lead them to pray in a different nusach with various changes...They changed the customs of their ancestors and our great rabbis of Germany and France. The reason for the change is not clear nor how they permitted a change from the established nusach....If one desires to change back and pray in nusach Ashkenaz, since it is the nusach of our ancestors and rabbis, he is permitted as he is returning to what once was.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Linked Article: First Hebrew-German Prayer Book in 100 Years Printed on Holocaust Remembrance Day (

"For the first time in over a century, a one-volume Orthodox Jewish prayer book (siddur– סדור in Hebrew) has been printed in Germany. This siddur includes all of the daily and holiday prayers along with a contemporary German translation, explanations of the prayers and Jewish instructions for proper prayer. The siddur was intentionally launched in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 24."

Read more here

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Guest Post: The Distinctive Character and Importance of Minhag Ashkneaz

by Rabbi Tzvi Avraham

In the West, there are basically two styles of worship: high church and low church. High church emphasizes ritual, continuity with tradition, and  decorum.  Low church acquires its character from its  concern with religious feeling, which it promotes and expresses in various ways. Neither is better than the other:  these are not value laden terms, and, at the extremes of the spectrum, both can fall into serious shortcomings:  high church worship into spiritual aridity, low church worship into antinomianism that considers religious feeling reason enough to suspend the rules.  “High church” and “low church” are  useful terms because they suggest a simple, polar typology.  A typology always oversimplifies, but in its simplicity it helps us see through complexity to basic distinctions.   In Judaism, Yekkishe davening belongs to the “high church” type,” Chassidic davening in its early days to the “low church” type.

The Jewish paradigm for “high church” worship is the Temple service,  where the service of G-d lies in performing Divine commandments.   As Divine commandments, they are as fundamental as the laws of physics, for  like the laws of physics, they govern the order of creation, but they govern it as it serves the spiritual purpose for which it was created: the Jewish people and their service of G-d.  Keeping those laws inspires the kohen who believes in them.  The more profoundly he believes and understands them, the more profoundly his spirit conforms to them, the more deeply they take hold of him and lift him above the physical plane into knowledge, fear and love of G-d.  

The Temple service is centered in fulfilling the Law.  When that Law prescribes a time limit, for example,  there is no place for delay in favor of spiritual inspiration or devotional preliminaries because, in the high church paradigm, devotion  begins with reverence for Divine Law.  That reverence is what empowers obedience to lift the spirit to G-d. It is unthinkable that a Kohen would compromise his obedience to the Law  to express his religious devotion, because that devotion is anchored in reverent submission the Law that is  more meaningful and more compelling than any impulse to disobey the Law in favor of religious self-expression.  The Yekkishe concern for conducting things as law and custom prescribe, and the Yekkishe character that subordinates feeling to practice  suggests that the way the Yekkes worship is inspired by the Temple service, that, for them, the synagogue is truly a mikdosh m’at.

I see that symbolized in the way that  a Menorah is placed in front of the Aaron Kodesh in Breuer’s (Washington Heights) and in the synagogue of Machon Moreshet Ashkenaz in Bnei Brak. It is as though, when we enter the synagogue, we step into the Heichal of the Temple. The Lechem Haponim and the Mizbeach Hazahav are missing because the mitzvos that pertain to them can no longer be fulfilled. But the mitzvah of learning Torah and observing the commandment it teaches, and the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah,  still apply.  The minhag of placing the menorah near the Aron Kodesh  declares:  “You have entered a mikdosh m’at!”

Chassidism began as a kind of Jewish “low church,” indeed, as an extreme version of it:  the  antinomianism of the early Chassidim turned many Gadolim against the movement.  But in the course of time, things straightened out, and surely, no one would say today that Chassidim are lax in keeping the mitzvos. On the contrary, no one demonstrates more concern to keep the mitzvos than the Chassidim. But the antinomian origins of the Chassidic movement help explain the way Chassidim worship and the changes that the Chassidic masters introduced into the Siddur.  Not all Chassidim jump, clap, or wave their hands while davening, but it was once the signature of Chassidic synagogue; and it would seem that is was an antinomian impulse that drove the Chassidic movement to take the radical step that defied Law and tradition when the universal nusach of European Jewry was changed to create what is called Nusach Sephard.

Minhag Ashkenaz contrasts with the Litvisha yeshiva world in different way. After the forced migration  and dispersion of Jewish communities caused by war and social change, local traditions no longer served to govern Jewish practice. Halachic standards once established by tradition now had to be formulated by scholars. But the standards of practice they prescribe arise out of an effort to resolve the practices of different communities, anchored in their local poskim and traditions, into a universal standard of practice that, insofar as possible, takes them all into consideration. The result:  we no longer do things because “That’s the way my father did it,” but because “That’s what it says in the  Mishnah Brurah,” and not infrequently we are told to conduct ourselves in a way that satisfies all the shitos while, paradoxically, doing things in a way that it is not actually prescribed by any one of them, in a way that neither expresses or ever formed the religious devotion of a Jewish community!     The certainty and simplicity of traditional observance is replaced by piskei din that arise out of a forum in which one opinion is almost always contradicted by another, and then, what’s considered right today may be deemed inadequate tomorrow because of a new chumra.  The result is that practice loses its “magic” for a different reason:  the heart gives its all only to that which is certain. When there is doubt, or when authority is compromised by being subject to refutation, the heart holds back and the emotional/religious satisfaction in keeping the law is diminished.

Consider, for example, the psok  pertaining to wearing tefillin on Chol Hamoed.  The Sephardim have a clear tradition that goes back hundreds of years:  they don’t put on tefillin.  German Jews also have a clear tradition.  Minhag Ashkenaz prescribes putting on tefillin as usual, blessings and all.  But those who have no tradition and rely on the guidance of poskim are left in doubt.  The Mishnah Brurah  (אורח חיים לב:ב) writes that it is not clear whether the mitzvah of wearing tefillin  applies on Chol Hamoed. Therefore, they should be worn in a way that expresses our doubt. No blessing should be recited, and when tefillin are put on, they  should be put with the following intention: if I am obligated to wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed, I do so to fulfill the mitzvah, but  if not, then I am not putting them on to fulfill the mitzvah. “This satisfies the opinions of all the poskim” [those who say that that the mitzvah applies on Chol Hamoed and those who say it doesn’t].  The psok of the Mishnah Brurah is based on doubt and prescribes a practice that expresses doubt. Perhaps, in the absence of an authoritative tradition, there’s no alternative.  But can a person who is not sure that G-d desires what he is doing put on tefillin with deep intention and heartfelt devotion?  The simple faith that draws the heart into the deeds of the hand is complicated by doubts and distinctions that, however easy to understand,  are hard for the heart to handle. The mind can manage doubt, but the heart is overcome and stifled.  Indeed, the Mishnah Brurah concludes his discussion saying that those who have a tradition of putting on tefillin [with a blessing] should not change their practice. Tradition is not required to defer to other opinions. Tradition trumps all the doubts that complicate the halachic guidance of the poskim. Tradition sustains the certainty which is the precondition to the whole-hearted practice of the commandments.    Moreover, although the practice which the Mishnah Brurah prescribes “satisfies the opinions of all the poskim because even those who hold that the mitzvah of tefillin does not apply on Chol Hamoed  would agree that a person who does not put on tefillin with the intention of fulfilling a mitzvah does not violate the prohibition of בל תוסיף, the practice that the Mishnah Brurah prescribes to satisfy all the shitos  was not prescribed by any one of them!  This is a second way in which, with the loss of tradition, the continuity of Jewish observance is broken.  

Tradition bespeaks the consent of the gedolim of times past who approved it, as well as the collective wisdom of the Jewish people who sustained it. An ancient tradition has proven itself to be the external form of Jewish love and fear of G-d, for if it were not, it wouldn’t have lasted.  Religious practice that is obedient to  scholarship  and argument is qualitatively different from religious practice that is dictated by the way Jews have worshipped for hundreds and hundreds of years.
So it seems to me that besides the intrinsic value of minhag Ashkenaz,  returning to tradition is important in its own right, because it enables a Jew to say: “Whatever the discussion in the later poskim and whatever their doubts, I have my authoritative tradition and I can rely on it to teach me what Hashem wants me to do. I have no doubts, and every assurance, that I am doing things as G-d wants them done, as they were always done and always will be done, at least by those who share my authoritative tradition. Tradition restores the certainty that empowers the practice of the commandments to carry the heart to G-d.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


"The Teaching which Moses commanded us" so runs the national creed which is to be the heritage of Israel from generation to generation. It is this Torah which is מורשה, the real inherited estate, not the Land and what if offers, the Teaching is the national Jewish heritage, land, and power are only the conditional consequences of this treasure.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Devarim 33:4 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Linked Post: Rav Melamed on Torah/Mada/Kollel/Working (