Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Future of Israeli Haredi Society: Can The Written Word Offer Some Insight? (And Assorted Other Comments)

The Future of Israeli Haredi Society: Can The Written Word Offer Some Insight? (And Assorted Other Comments)
by Marc B. Shapiro

 1. Months ago I was asked to write about the situation in Beit Shemesh that everyone was then focused on (and which will probably heat up again in the future). At the present, I don’t have anything to add to the discussion, and if I did it would be with reference to Jewish books, as this is, after all, a site devoted to seforim. While I have in the past given my views on various issues, it was in the context of Jewish books, and this case would be no different. This point was actually sorely missing in discussions of the Beit Shemesh situation and the haredi world in general. While what happens in real life does not always correspond to what appears in the books, knowledge of the latter is a great help in understanding what is going on in the community, at least with regard to the rabbinic elite. For example, if I were going to write something about the Neturei Karta faction that cozies up to Iran and Hamas, I would deal with how these people have tried to justify their actions from talmudic sources. They have even attempted to justify the sending of congratulations to Hamas after the latter succeeded in blowing up Jews in a terrorist attack.

I have also been asked a number of times to write about the more basic issue of haredi ideology and democracy, which is on many people’s minds. They are wondering if the Israeli haredi community really believes in democracy and allowing everyone the freedom to live as they see fit. More than one has asked me straight out if a haredi majority would mean the end of a democratic Israel.[1] I can’t speak about the haredi man on the street, but examination of the writings of the haredi leadership – and in the haredi world that is what really matters – shows that time and again they have expressed opposition to democratic values as well as democracy as a governmental system.

From the haredi leadership’s perspective, while at the present time the haredi world is forced to take part in the democratic process, they assume that if haredim ever became a majority they would dismantle Israel’s democracy and institute a Torah state (i.e., a theocracy led by the haredi gedolim).[2] Since that is their goal, stated explicitly, we have to wonder what such a society would look like. To begin with, if haredim were ever the majority, funding for non-Orthodox (and perhaps even Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox) schools would be halted. There would be massive decreases of funding for universities, with the humanities taking the biggest cuts, and money for the arts, culture, and institutions connected to Zionism would dry up. Freedom of the press would be abolished, artistic freedoms would be curbed, and organ transplants would almost entirely vanish. Public Shabbat observance and separate-sex public transportation would likely be required. There would also be restrictions on what forms of public entertainment and media are permissible and on public roles for women. Of course, women’s sporting events would no longer be televised and men would not be permitted to attend them. From the haredi perspective, these steps are all halakhic requirements, and no one who reads haredi literature can have any doubt that these sorts of things are intended when haredi writers refer to the time when it will be possible להעמיד הדת על תלה. How many non-haredim will be affected by this is questionable, because as soon as the haredi numbers come close to a majority, the non-religious and non-haredi Orthodox emigration will begin (followed no doubt by the yeridah of some haredim as well). No one who has lived in a Western style democracy will want to live in a society where cherished freedoms are taken away.

Everything I am saying now could change. It is indeed possible that the haredi leadership could do a complete turn-around and decide that it is not helpful to take the country in a direction which while more “pious” would end up destroying it at the same time. But this would take some incredible acts of courage by the haredi leadership. They would have to break with a message that has been advocated for the last thirty years or so.

Here is what R. Shakh wrote about democracy (Mikhtavim u-Ma’amarim, vol. 5, p. 124):

בל נחשוב, שהשיטה הנקראת "דמוקרטיה" היא דבר חיובי . . . האמת היא שהיא אסון לעולם. היא נותנת הרגשה מדומה של "חופש" בו בזמן שלאמיתו של דבר היא רק הפקר, ותו לא . . . הדמוקרטיה היא דבר טרף, וכל כוונתם לעקור דרכה של עם ישראל ולהרסו

On p. 127 he writes:

ואנו תפילה להרבונו של עולם, אנא פטור אותנו מקללת הדמוקרטיה החדשה שנשלחה לעולם, שהיא ממש כמו מחלת הסרטן שנשלחה לעולם. כי רק התורה הקדושה היא הדמוקרטיה האמיתית.

If the “curse” and “cancer” of democracy is so bad, what would take its place in a haredi dominated society? The answer is obvious, namely, a theocratic state with a religously sanctioned parliament along the models of Iran. Reading the history of Iran in the years prior to and immediately following the revolution provides great insight into how religious figures learned to make use of the mechanisms of power which they had never before had access to. Just like in Iran the theocracy is for the people’s “own good”, so too will be the case in a haredi theocracy. Here is R. Shakh again, offering the paternalistic explanation as to why people should be denied democratic freedoms, freedoms that are the only guarantee that different types of Orthodoxy can flourish (forgetting for a moment about the non-Orthodox[3]; p. 126):

 האדם חייב לחיות בתוך מגבלות, לצורך אושרו וטובתו. ודוקא הדמוקרטיה ההורסת את המגבלות היא המחריבה את האנושות

Do any American haredi leaders agree with these sentiments, that it is democracy that is destroying humanity? I highly doubt it. But by the same token, I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Israeli haredi political parties, if they ever achieved electoral success, would put R. Shakh’s vision into practice by dismantling Israeli society’s democratic protections. So yes, the non-haredi segment of Israel has plenty of reason to be worried about the growth of the haredi electorate, especially when they hear the haredi triumphalist assertions that the future will be theirs. If the comments one sees on Voz is Neias and elsewhere are any indication, there are also many in the haredi world who recognize that the haredi ideology is really only suited for a minority community, and that troubles begin when people attempt to impose this ideology on others, or insist that no matter how large the haredi community is, its young men should never have to go to the army or receive any vocational training.[4] It didn't have to be this way, as there are plenty of precedents even in haredi writers for a different perspective. But those alternative views are entirely forgotten today.

If anyone still has doubts that the future growth of the haredi parties will present a serious threat to Israeli democracy, here is a passage, from R. Yissachar Meir, that appeared in an official Degel ha-Torah publication, Ve-Zarah ha-Shemesh (Bnei Brak, 1990), p. 630 (emphasis added; many other similar passages could be cited). What will take the place of democracy in the haredi state is spelled out right here:

טעות אחת טעו מנהיגיה הראשונים של המדינה, הם חוקקו חוק הנקרא "דמוקרטיה". כל אחד יודע דמוקרטיה זו מהי, על פי השיכורים הנמצאים במדינה – שלוש מאות אלף מסוממים חיים במדינה  ועל פי זקנים מסוידים וכו' נקבע השלטון. כמו כן בכל מיני שוחד, ודרכי כפיה, נקבע ע"י מה שנקרא "בחירות", איך תנהג המדינה בכל הנושאים העולים על הפרק. על פי דרך התורה, גדולי התורה הם הקובעים את המנהיגות.

Meir could have used a little lesson in history, because just like the Islamic world never had a theocracy until the Iranian revolution, Jewish history also does not know of theocracies (and the closest example we had, with High Priests involved in rulership, did not bring good results).[5]

The truth of the matter is that we get no honesty from haredi spokesmen in these matters. They go on about how the non-religious have such a negative view of them. Well, what about the reverse, namely, what the haredim think of the non-religious? One of the leaders of the extremist haredim is R. Moshe Sternbuch. Here is the first page of a responsum he wrote (Teshuvot ve-Hanhagot, vol. 1, no. 816) in which he states that if a non-religious store owner makes a monetary mistake (e.g., gives you too much money) there is no obligation to point out the error.

He even quotes a 19th-20th century authority (and one who has a fairly moderate reputation) that there is no obligation to save his life! If this is what a well known haredi posek is teaching his followers, by what right can one criticize the non-religious for what they think of the extremist haredim? Let me pose this question to Avi Shafran and the rest of the apologists: How exactly should the non-religious feel about the extremist haredim when the latter are being taught that they don’t have to deal with the non-religious in an honest fashion, and that their lives are not important?

(Quite apart from his religious views, Sternbuch's political views are perhaps even more distasteful. At the recent protest against haredim serving in the army, he said that "the Zionists expelled the Arabs from the Land of Israel." See here).

Here is another responsum, by R. Israel David Harfenes, Nishmat Shabbat, vol. 5 no. 500:4.

I know that people wouldn’t believe me without seeing with their own eyes. The author is asked if you can violate Shabbat to save the lives of irreligious Jews who came from the former Communist countries, that is, Jews who never had the benefit of a Jewish education. His answer is absolutely not, and he questions whether it is even permitted to save their lives during the week! Incredibly, he puts the Reform and Conservative in a better position than the secular Russian Jews, seeing the former as brainwashed by a false ideology. There is thus a possible limud zekhut regarding them.

None of this makes any sense, as people can be under the influence of a secular or anti-religious ideology much like they are under the influence of a Reform or Conservative ideology. If you can apply the logic of tinok she-nishbah to one, there is no coherent reason not to apply it to the other. For good measure, Harfenes also throws in that one who doesn’t believe in the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles is among those who should be killed. Taking a line from the Inquisition, he adds that killing these people is actually good for their souls, not to mention a benefit to the community at large.

In a previous responsum, 400:1, he discusses the same question with regard to the typical secular Jew and concludes likewise that one cannot save them on Shabbat. The only heter he can find is that if the haredi doctors don’t save them, then the secular doctors will refuse to save haredi patients. But unbelievably, rather than seeing this as a natural reaction of the secular Jews upon learning how people like Harfenes don't value their lives, and are even are prepared to let them die, Harfenes sees this as an example of anti-Orthodox hatred! You can’t make this stuff up.

שאם יתפרסם שרופאים חרדיים אינן מטפלין בשבת עם החולים החילוניים אז הרופאים החילוניים ינקמו נקם ולא ירצו גם הם לטפל להציל חולים מסוכנים מן יהודים חרדיים  (כידוע תוקף שנאת הדת הארצינו הקדושה ירחם ה').

Some might assume that this extremist Satmar outlook [6] is not to be found in the non-hasidic yeshiva world. However, this is not the case. I can cite parallels to what we have just seen in non-hasidic authors as well. I will mention just one such text, as it happens to be among the most depressing, and extreme, of the books to appear in recent years.[7] I refer to R. Menahem Adler’s Binah ve-Daat. Here is the title page.

This book engages in the most crude incitement of hatred for the non-religious that I have ever seen in a sefer, all packaged as a typical halakhic text. Are the views expressed in this book taught in any heders or yeshivot or held by any but the most extreme in Israel? Perhaps the fact that the standard haskamot from figures such as R. Elyashiv, R. Wosner, R. Scheinberg and others are missing is a sign that they didn’t agree with the author. It would take a complete post to cover this book properly (some aspects of the book were already discussed on Hyde Park here).

I will call attention to only some of the points Adler puts forth as halakhah. When I read things like this I wonder, how big can the Orthodox tent really be? When are the various communities in Orthodoxy so much at odds with each other that we must speak of two entirely different communities, much like the Protestants are divided into various sects?

One of the main points of the book is to argue that contemporary non-Orthodox Jews are not to be regarded as tinok she-nishbah, and thus they are subject to all the disabilities of brazen Sabbath violators. This means that they do not need to be treated with any respect or dignity. Those who know the relevant halakhot know what I am referring to, but let me cite some examples that you might not have thought of and which are results of his position. These come from chapter 31 and are stated with reference to most contemporary non-religious Jews (since only very few of them qualify as a tinok she-nishbah). How should the non-religious respond when they hear that this is what a rabbi is saying about them:

אין להקדים שלום לאדם רשע . . . אסור לראות פני הרשע . . . ונראה דהוא הדין תנוק שנשבה

In other words, although he denies that contemporary non-religious are tinok she-nishbah, even if you want to argue that they are, you still can’t look at them.

אין נוהג בו איסור אונאת דברים . . . נראה דאין כלפיו איסור "לא תחמוד"

And talking about humrot, how about this one?
יש מחמירים ליטול ידים אחר שנגעו בהם

When I saw this I thought of the following wonderful story recorded in R. Asher Anshel Yehudah Miller, Olamo Shel Abba, p. 415:

פעם ביקר אצל הרבי יהודי חילוני מגולח ובכ"ז הושיט לו הצדיק [ר' ישראל האגער] את ידו וקבל אותו בסבר פנים יפות, כדרכו בקודש. ישב שם אחד מחסידי צאנז, שהיה מוכר כמתנגד לבית-וויז'ניץ. לחש החסיד באזני הרבי ושאל "מדוע פושט הרבי ידו לפושעי-ישראל זה?" אמר לו הצדיק: "עד שאתה מתפלא עלי, תתפלא על הקב"ה, שגם הוא דרכו בכך, כמו שנאמר 'אתה נותן יד לפושעים וימינך פשוטה לקבל שבים

On p. 408 Adler writes:

המחלל שבת בפרהסיא (גם אם מחלל לתיאבון) יוצא לענין דינים שונים מכלל "אחיך" עמיתך" "רעך" ומכיון שיצא מכלל עמיתך, אין כלפיו את המצוות הנוהגות "בין אדם לחבירו" וכן אין נוהגים כלפיו את האיסורים, כגון הכלמה ולשון הרע.

Is there anyone in the kiruv world who believes this? Would anyone ever become religious if he even had an inkling that there are rabbis who advocate this position about the future baal teshuvah’s parents?[8] Aren't the many haredi hesed organizations that don't distinguish between Jews' levels of religiosity a good sign that the mainstream haredi world rejects the viewpoints of Adler and Sternbuch?

On p. 470 he says that it is forbidden to belong to an organization that has non-Orthodox members, and this even includes charitable organization. The reason given for this position is as follows:

כיון שהישיבה עמהם גורמת קירור בעבודת השי"ת, ומלבד זאת, אופן החשיבה וקבלת ההחלטות אינם לפי דעת תורה.

So we see that it is problematic for an Orthodox Jew to have any dealings with the non-Orthodox. Although the author cites R. Samson Raphael Hirsch to justify this extreme position, this is a complete distortion. Hirsch opposed membership in organizations that were led by the non-Orthodox or even had organizational ties with non-Orthodox groups. He never said that individual non-Orthodox Jews would not be welcome to join with the Orthodox for the betterment of the Jewish community.

On p. 406 Adler tells us that one cannot sell or rent an apartment in a religious neighborhood to a non-religious person. Will the author then complain when the non-religious don’t want to sell or rent to haredim (especially if they think that these haredim might hold the same views as Adler)? If it is OK for haredim not to want to live together with secular Jews because of  the “atmosphere” the latter bring, why have the haredi Knesset members cried racism when secular residents don't want an influx of haredim for exactly the same reason? In a democracy one can’t have it both ways.[9]

Adler is part of a growing trend in haredi writings not to see the secularists as tinok she-nishbah, with all the halakhic implications this entails. While Adler acknowledges the existence of tinok she-nishbah as a category, note what he puts in brackets which pretty much empties the category of any meaning (p. 31):

ולענין הלכה, מכיון שאין בנו כח להכריע, במחלוקות אלו, וגם אין כל הענינים שוים, מתי נקרא בשם "תנוק שנשבה" ומתי לא, ובפרט קשה ההכרעה המציאותית של "שיעור ידיעת כל אחד ואחד" בזמנינו, לכן, בכל הנוגע לדיני תורה, יש להחמיר ולנהוג כלפי מחלל שבת בפרהסיא [שלא ידוע ככופר] ככל דיני "אחיך", כגון לענין דיני גמילות חסד, לבקרו בחוליו, לתת לו צדקה, להלוות לו, להשיא לו עצה טובה. וכן יש להצילו ולהחיותו.

But when it comes to Shabbat, Adler states that it is absolutely forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save a non-religious person, even if he is a tinok she-nishbah! (p. 556).

I realize that, with only some exceptions, Adler hasn’t made up any of the material in his book, and even the most extreme rulings can be found in earlier traditional sources. So what does it say about so much of contemporary Orthodoxy, be it haredi, Habad, or Modern Orthodox, that its adherents would never dream of relating to the non-Orthodox the way Adler prescribes?[10] The reason they wouldn’t dream of relating to the non-Orthodox this way is not because they can point to other halakhic sources that disagree with the ones Adler cites (although the scholars among them can indeed point to these sources). There is something much more basic at work, namely, the moral intuition of people which even when it comes into conflict with what appears in halakhic texts does not agree to simply be pushed aside. Most Orthodox Jews of all stripes refuse to believe that what Adler is advocating is what God wants. It is impossible for them to accept that the Judaism they know and cherish, which has been taught to them by great figures, would have such a negative outlook, and all the halakhic texts in the world won’t be able to change their minds.

Since we are dealing with Adler, let me also note that he gives us advice on how to create anti-Semitism in the world and reinforce the stereotype of the “cheap Jew” (p. 415):

אין לתת לגוי מתנת חינם [כגון "טיפ" (-תוספת) הנהוג לשלם למלצר או נהג מונית]

On p. 417 he writes (emphasis added):

אין איסור לייעץ לגוי עצה שאינה הוגנת ולא זו בלבד אלא שאסור להשיא לו עצה הוגנת

As the source for the underlined halakhah he cites Sefer ha-Hinukh no. 232. To begin with, there is the methodological problem of recording something as halakhah because it is found in the Sefer ha-Hinukh when it is not found in the Shulhan Arukh or any of the classic responsa volumes. This is what I call cherry picking halakhot, and is quite common today. People write books on the most arcane topics and in order to fill the pages they cite opinions from any book ever written, and record all the opinions they find as if they are halakhah. In this case, however, the halakhah cited here does not explicitly appear in the Sefer ha-Hinukh. All the Sefer ha-Hinukh states is that there is a biblical prohibition to give bad advice to a fellow Jew. But who says that this means that it is permitted when dealing with a non-Jew? It could still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons (perhaps even rabbinic), just not from this particular verse. Even if the Sefer ha-Hinukh does mean what Adler says (and the Minhat Hinukh also assumes that this is the meaning), only in the note does Adler reveal that the Minhat Hinukh explicitly holds an opposing position. This is the general trend in the book. He puts extreme positions in the text itself, which are on some occasions based on his own understanding, while only in the notes does he reveal the authorities who disagree.

(R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg defends the Minhat Hinnukh's position in his Mishmeret Hayyim, vol. 1, pp. 125-126. But it still makes for uncomfortable reading as he writes:

כיון דבעלות דגוי אינו חשוב כל-כך אין לאו דגזל שייך גבי גוי, וכן באיסור רציחה דהאיסור הוא דנוטל נשמתו וגבי גוי דלא חשוב נשמתו כל-כך לא שייך לאו זה

It would be pretty hard to be an Or la-Goyim while at the same time following Adler’s prescriptions. In a previous post I already mentioned that there is no Modern Orthodox synagogue in the country that would hire someone who had his perspective, and this shows a real cultural divide between at least some haredim and the Modern Orthodox. (I say “some haredim” because I believe that in this matter many, and perhaps most, haredim share the Modern Orthodox perspective.)[11]

At the end of the section in which Adler records what I quoted from him about tipping waiters or cab drivers, he adds:
מפני דרכי שלום מותר

I would like someone to explain to me how it could ever not be darkhei shalom?[12] Adler is speaking to people who wear black suits and hats, the sort that everyone recognizes as Jewish. So by definition if you stiff the cab driver or the waiter it is an immediate hillul ha-shem? Therefore, what sense does it make to even quote the halakhah mentioned above? Isn’t it irresponsible to allow yeshiva students on their own to determine when their actions will cause a hillul ha-shem and when not?

Since this post has dealt with how to relate to the non-religious and non-Jews, let me now turn once again to something relevant in Artscroll. Originally I thought that the example I will now point to was an intentional falsehood, because the Hebrew Artscroll gets it right. However, based upon the note to the passage that we will see, I am now no longer sure. It is one thing to translate a censored passage in the name of good relations, but it is hard to imagine that people who know the truth would go so far as to insert a false note. As thousands of people doing daf yomi have been misled as to the meaning of the talmudic passage we will see, if the distortion is intentional this would seem to be a classic case of ziyuf ha-Torah. When authors added a note at the beginning of their books stating that all references to non-Jews referred to those pagans in China and India, everyone knew it wasn’t to be taken seriously, so there was no ziyuf ha-Torah. Yet people who reads the Artscroll translation and note assume that they are getting the Torah truth. As such, I am more inclined to think that what we will now see is a simple error, rather than a “tactical” mistake.

Avodah Zarah 26a-b reads:

העובדי כוכבים ורועי בהמה דקה לא מעלין ולא מורידין אבל המינין והמסורות והמומרים היו מורידין ולא מעלין

Artscroll translates: “Idol worshipers and shepherds of small animals, the law is that we neither raise them up from a pit nor lower them into a pit. But as for the minin, the informers and the renegades, they would lower them into pits and not raise them up.”

This is, indeed, a proper translation of what appears in the Talmud. Yet in every edition of the Talmud before the Vilna Shas of 1883 the text states אבל המינין והמסורות והמומרים מורידין ולא מעלין  . That is, the word היו, which makes the passage past tense (and thus no longer relevant), is not authentic but was added to avoid problems with the censor. The Oz ve-Hadar edition of the Talmud points out that the word היו was only recently added. Soncino and Steinsaltz also recognize this. What is particularly noteworthy is that the Hebrew Artscroll also knows this, and tells the reader that the word היו is not authentic.

In its note on the passage in both the Hebrew and English editions, Artscroll quotes the Hazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 2:16, that the type of actions referred to in the Talmud are no longer applicable. Why then didn’t Artscroll mention in the English edition that the word היו is not authentic? Furthermore, Artscroll’s citation of the Hazon Ish is mistaken, although as mentioned, I am not sure whether it is an intentional falsification. Contrary to what Artscroll states, the Hazon Ish’s comment was only made with reference to heretics. His “liberal” judgment was never stated with regard to informers.

In its note, Artscroll states: “It goes without saying that the law never applied in places where government regulations would prohibit such an act.” Once again, I am not sure whether Artscroll really believes that this is true. As a historical statement it is false. Here is a page from R. Reuven Margaliyot’s Margaliyot ha-Yam, vol 1, p. 91b (to Sanhedrin 46a), that shows how even in the not-so-distant past an informer could be killed.

2. In this post I mentioned the outrageous accusation, based on nothing at all, that the telegram from Kobe was actually sent by the Chief Rabbinate in order to be able to pressure other rabbis to accept the Chief Rabbinate’s position on the dateline issue. Dr. Dov Zakheim sent me the following valuable email:

I noted in your recent blog you point out that some chareidim are asserting there was never a telegram from Kobe. There was. My father zt"l sent it. He had been the legal counsel of the Jewish community of Vilna (as well as a musmach of Ramailes) and also Reb Chaim Ozer ztl’s personal assistant and legal advisor (see his introduction to his sefer Zvi ha-Sanhedrin). He escaped from Vilna in 1941 and managed the Mirer Yeshiva's legal affairs (where my uncle zt"l was a talmid) when they left Vilna, on the trans-Siberian, in Kobe and then in Shanghai.

Also in the post I referred to the letter published by R. Kasher in which lots of great rabbis refer to the State of Israel as the beginning of the redemption. I noted how Zvi Weinman has shown that this is a religious Zionist forgery, as at least some of the rabbis never signed such a letter. I mentioned that we don’t know if Kasher was responsible for the forgery (as Weinman appears to think) or someone else. Sholom Licht was kind enough to call my attention to this source from where we see that the letter Kasher published already appeared in Ha-Tzofeh many years prior, so Kasher clearly had nothing to do with the forgery.

3. In the last few posts I have dealt with Artscroll a good deal, as is only proper since Artscroll is the most significant Jewish publishing phenomenon of our time. I still have a lot more to say, but let me now turn to R. Jonathan Sacks’ siddur, and give an example where Sacks gets it wrong while Artscroll gets it right.

The blessing to be recited upon lightning and Birkat ha-Hamah is עושה מעשה בראשית This goes back to Mishnah Berakhot 9:2. Although the standard version of the Mishnah omits the word מעשה, it is recorded in various medieval texts and this is how the blessing has come down to us.

What does עושה מעשה בראשית mean? The first thing we must do is figure out if there is a segol or a tzeirei under the shin in עושה. Looking at the siddurim in my house that have English translations, I found that Sacks, Birnbaum, Sim Shalom, and Artscroll, have a segol.[13] This is also what appears in the Kaufmann Mishnah. See here. However, the Metsudah siddur and the Blackman Mishnayot have a tzeirei.

What is the difference between the vocalizations? If there is a segol than the words עושה מעשה בראשית should be translated in the English present, as עושה is a verb. If there is a tzeirei then עושה  is a noun, as in the words of Hallel (from Ps.115:15): עושה שמים וארץ, which means “Maker of heaven and earth.” Let us see if the translations follow this rule. Artscroll, which has a segol, translates: “Who makes the work of Creation.” This translation is correct, although I don’t know why the C in creation is capitalized. This translation implies the continuing work of creation, as reflected in the words of the prayer: המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית

Birnbaum translates עושה מעשה בראשית as: “Who didst create the universe.” This is incorrect, as the passage is not in the past tense. Sacks, who also has a segol, translates: “Author of creation.” This too is incorrect, as עושה with a segol is a verb, not a noun. Sim Shalom, also with a segol, translates: “Source of Creation.” This too is incorrect.

Now for the texts that have a tzeirei: Blackman translates: “the author of the work of the creation”, which is a correct rendering. Metsudah, on the other hand, translates: “Who makes the work of Creation.” Leaving aside the capital “C”, this is a mistaken translation. While Metsudah has עושה with a tzeirei under the shin, it translates as if there was a segol.[14]

Artscroll, while being correct when it comes to this blessing, does not get a pass when it comes to the word עושה. In the Artscroll siddur, pesukei de-zimra, p. 70, we find the words עושה שמים וארץ. This comes from Psalm 146:6. There is a segol under the shin which means that it is a participle and should be translated here with the English present tense, as are all the other verbs in this Psalm. Yet Artscroll translates עושה שמים וארץ as “Maker of heaven and earth”, which is incorrect. Sacks follows many other translations by rendering the words: “who made heaven and earth”. Yet this too is not correct and doesn’t follow the model of the Psalm, which has a series of participles that are to be translated as the present tense:
עושה שמים וארץ
השומר אמת לעולם
עושה משפט לעשוקים
נותן לחם לרעבים
מתיר אסורים
פוקח עורים
זוקף כפופים
אוהב צדיקים
שומר את הגרים

What about the word בונה in the blessing בונה ירושלים? There is a tzeirei under the nun in בונה which means that it is not a verb. Artscroll correctly translates the phrase as “Builder of Jerusalem”. Birnbaum and Metsudah also get it right. However Sacks (and also De Sola Pool and Sim Shalom) are mistaken in their translation. Sacks renders בונה ירושלים as if the nun had a segol: “Who builds Jerusalem.”

Since בונה ישראל must be translated as “Builder of Jerusalem”, and all translations are in agreement that גואל ישראל means “Redeemer of Israel”, does this mean that the conclusion of all the blessings of the Amidah should follow this model? What about חונן הדעת? Artscroll translates : “Giver of wisdom”, seeing חונן as a noun. Birnbaum and Metsudah do likewise. However, Sacks assumes חונן is a verb and translates: “who graciously grants knowledge.” This rendering (which I thinnk is in error) is also found in De Sola Pool and Sim Shalom.

How about מחיה המתים? Is the word מחיה a verb? Artscroll assumes yes and translates: “Who resuscitates the dead.” Sacks agrees with this, but Metsudah, striving for consistency, translates: “Resurrector of the dead.” Metsudah is, in fact, the only siddur that as a rule translates the concluding blessings of the Amidah along this model, while the other translations alternate between verb and noun. Here are some of Metsudah’s translations:

רופא חולי עמו ישראל – Healer of the sick of His people Israel
מברך השנים – Blesser of the years
מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל – Gatherer of the dispersed of His people Israel
שובר אויבים ומכניע זדים – Crusher of enemies and subduer of the insolent

Although Metsudah follows this rule, for every rule there are exceptions, and even Metsudah translates שומע תפלה as “Who hears prayers”. Yet perhaps this is not an exception, and even here Metsudah intended “The hearer of prayers”, but since this doesn’t sound so good in English they came up with a more felicitous wording. It is true that the underlined words of the blessings המחזיר שכינתו לציון and המברך את עמו ישראל בשלום  have to be seen as verbs, and Metsudah translates them as such. But I think that these are a different type of blessings than the ones in the middle of the Amidah.

The question to be asked is must we assume that there is a consistency of form in a prayer like the Amidah? If the answer is yes, then Metsudah is the only translation to get it right, and they must be recognized as having picked up on something that eluded all their predecessors and successors.

Finally, let me return to the blessing מחיה המתים. I asked if the word מחיה is a verb, and noted that Artscroll and Sacks indeed translated it this way. However, they are both incorrect for the simple reason that in their siddurim there is a tzeirei under the yud of מחיה. There are siddurim, such as Tehilat ha-Shem, that have a segol under the yud. In such a case,  the word should be translated as a verb. However, when there is a tzeirei it must be translated as a noun. Metsudah once again gets it right, translating “Resurrector of the dead.” [15] Right before this, we find the words מלך ממית ומחיה. Here there is a segol under the yud, meaning that it is a verb and is to be translated as “Who causes death and restores life”.

Artscroll and Sacks also err in their translation of מחיה מתים במאמרו in Magen Avot in the Friday night service. There is a tzeirei under the yud meaning that it must be translated as “Resurrector of the dead with His utterance.” Artscroll mistakenly renders: “Who resuscitates the dead with His utterance,” using the same translation from the Amidah for the words  מחיה המתים.

I can’t figure out Sacks’ method here. In the Amidah he translates מחיה מתים as: “who revives the dead”, but in Magen Avot he translates: “By his promise, He will revive the dead.” This is incorrect, as it turns the sentence into the future tense, which it is not. Furthermore, if it was to be translated as such, why not do so in the Amidah as well, as the words are identical? Indeed, Magen Avot is nothing but an abridged version of the Amidah, so by definition the translation must be the same.[16] Translating במאמרו as “By His promise”, which I assume means “in accordance with His promise,”[17] is also incorrect, as the passage refers to God’s word, or better yet, the power of God’s word, not any promise.[18]

3. I want to briefly call attention to three books that have recently appeared and which I hope to discuss in future posts. The first is Gil Perl's The Pillar of Volozhin: Rabbi Naftali Zvi Judah Berlin and the World of 19th Century Lithuanian Torah Scholarship. The second is Eugene Korn and Alon Goshen-Gottstein, ed., Jewish Theology and World Religions. The third is Ben Zion Katz, A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis. I know that there are many Seforim Blog readers who will find these books worth reading.

4. Those who want to post (or read) comments, please access the Seforim Blog site by going to  Only by doing this will you be taken to the main site (and not have a country code in the URL). We have recently learnt that readers outside the United States do not have access to the comments posted and in the U.S. We don't know why this is, or how to fix it, but the above instruction fixes the matter.

[1] As a result of these discussions, which led to investigations of haredi literature and discussions with haredi friends, another point became ever more obvious to me. It appears – and I welcome being corrected – that once someone has been crowned a gadol in the haredi world, it is almost impossible for him to lose this status, no matter what he says (and we have seen examples of this time after time). If, for instance, a recognized gadol expresses racist or misanthropic sentiments, or declares that a known and continuing sexual abuser or wife abuser must not be turned over to the authorities, even that would not be sufficient to “defrock” him. In other words, the “immunity” given to haredi (and hardal) gedolim is much more far-reaching than anything that could be imagined in the Modern Orthodox world.
[2] A January 2012 Avi Chai poll found that 7 percent of the Israeli population defines itself as haredi, 15 percent as dati, and 32 percent as traditional. Only 3 percent defines themselves as secular anti-religious. However, approximately 20 percent of primary school students are haredi, which shows the direction the future is going.
[3] It was actually the Religious Zionists who were responsible for creating the undemocratic situation in which Israel is perhaps the only country in the world in which Jews are not free to be married by the rabbi of their choice. I would like someone to show me where, in the entire history of halakhic literature, it is stated that people who are not observant must be forced, or even encouraged, to have a halakhic marriage. The current situation means that when secular Israelis leave Israel and then get divorced, being that they are secular most will simply get a secular divorce. Thus, any future marriage will be halakhically adulterous and the children will be mamzerim. Outside of Israel this is almost never an issue since non-Orthodox people generally don’t get married by Orthodox rabbis, which means that in the event of a divorce we can assume that the first marriage was not halakhically binding. But in Israel, where everyone gets married halakhically, it opens the doors to mamzerut on a massive scale. This was actually recognized by R. Eliyahu Bakshi Doron when he was chief rabbi. He created a big controversy when he revealed that it is a practice among some rabbis that when they perform weddings for the non-religious, they make sure that the marriage is not halakhically binding, precisely in order to prevent future mamzerut. Just this week R. Yaakov Yosef publicly advocated this position. See here.

[4] R. Eliyahu Pinchasi writes as follows in his Dibrot Eliyahu, vol. 1, p. 19:

החכמה נמצאת בגוי אבל היא רחוקה מאוד מלהיות דוגמת התורה. שהרי הוגי דעות נודעים בנו לעצמם פילוסופיה מתוחכמת הממלאים ספרים עבי כרס להצדיק את ההפקרות שנקראת בלשונם דמוקרטיה חופש הבטוי, רעיונות זדוניות מחרבי העולם.

The sheer ignorance of what democracy means is beyond comprehension. Do people like Pinchasi have so little knowledge of basic history that they do not know that it is only democracy that ensures protections for Jews around the world? Does he want the world to go back to the era of dictators when Jews suffered so terribly? Presumably yes, as he feels democracy is destroying the world.. I can easily provide parallels to the language used by Pinchasi in the writings of communists and fascists, especially from Weimar Germany. I was also shocked to read what R. Elhanan Wasserman writes in his Ikveta di-Meshiha, par. 2, published on the eve of the Holocaust.

"ראו כי אני אני הוא". הגיע כבר העת שתבינו, כי בלעדי אין מושיע. אבל העם מסרבים להבין. עוד נאחזים בשולי הדמוקרטיה הגוססת. אף היא לא תועיל, בדומה לעבודות הזרות הקודמות.

I can’t for the life of me understand how he could regard democracy as avodah zarah, and why he sees democracy as being in opposition to proper faith in God, as if we are dealing with a zero-sum game. Instead of democracy, what political system did R. Elhanan want the Jews to support?
[5] I have many other sources regarding democracy, including traditional sources very much in favor of it (especially in pre-messianic times). I hope to provide them on a future occasion. Reading the haredi attacks on democracy, I can’t help but be reminded of Pius IX’s 1864 Syllabus of Errors and the later silencing of John Courtney Murray. The Church identified certain doctrines as false, yet now recognizes that its position in these matters was mistaken. I mention these examples because I am convinced that the American haredi world also rejects the anti-democratic sentiments that I have quoted, seeing them as out of step with where their world is. 

It is worth contrasting the anti-democratic sentiments of haredi leaders with the response of the Church, which fortunately was able to examine its own long history of anti-democratic abuses and come to the conclusion (much later than it should have) that in modern times democracy is the only viable system. As Pope Benedict put it (see here), democracy “alone can guarantee equality and rights to everyone.” He continues with the following valuable words:

Indeed, there is a sort of reciprocal dependence between democracy and justice that impels everyone to work responsibly to safeguard each person's rights, especially those of the weak and marginalized. This being said, it should not be forgotten that the search for truth is at the same time the condition for the possibility of a real and not only apparent democracy:  “As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”  (Centesimus Annusn. 46).

[6] R. Asher Anshel Yehudah Miller, Olamo shel Abba (Jerusalem, 1984), p. 308, reports that the Satmar Rav, R Yoel Teitelbaum, once declared that there were 50,000 Jews in the world. When asked how he could give such a figure when there were many millions of Jews, he replied:

בעיני, יהודים הם רק יהודים שששומרים תורה ומצוות כמוני . . . [שאר היהודים] או שיחזרו בתשובה, או שצריך להוציא אותם מכלל ישראל

[7] I will deal with Torat ha-Melekh in a future post.
[8] Alan Brill, Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding (New York, 2010), p. 255 n. 43, has recently noted that since many laws stated with reference to non-Jews apply equally to heretical Jews: “the main problem is the fundamental use of a double ethic as described by Max Weber in his description of an ethnic economy.”
[9] Interestingly, R. Avraham Yosef has recently spoken of the spiritual advantages of living together with the non-religious. See here.

For Israeli haredim, there is now a mindset that they can only live among other haredim, and this is why they create exclusively haredi neighborhoods and towns. Such a concept is entirely new, and not only did it not exist in Europe but didn’t even exist in Israel in the first decades of the State. Many readers probably recall the time when hasidic rebbes lived in Tel Aviv.
[10] I have to admit, however, that one sometimes does find even moderate haredim who seem to have sympathy with Adler’s approach. R. Moshe Eisemann, who used to have a great deal of influence in the moderate haredi camp, wrote as follows with reference to the Jerusalem fanatics who throw stones at passing cars (not knowing, of course, if the drivers are Jewish or Arab): “If it is true that he who hurls a stone were well-advised to be pretty sure that he is doing the right thing, I believe that the one who feels no urge to do so, must engage in even deeper soul-searching.” Tradition 26 (Winter 1992), p. 34. Maybe I was absent that day in yeshiva, but I was never taught that it is normal to have an urge to throw a stone at a fellow Jew (which of course could kill him, as we have seen with the Palestinian stone-throwers). On the contrary, I was taught that I should have an urge to show the non-religious Jew about the beauty of Shabbat, which an invitation to a Shabbat table will accomplish much better than a rock in his windshield. 
[11] What is one to make of R. Shmuel Baruch Genot, Va-Yomer Shmuel (Elad, 2008), no. 84, that it is forbidden for Jews to oppose the death penalty in places where Jews are not affected (unless done for reasons of darkhei shalom): דאסור להציל גוף נכרי. This is the sort of pesak (and I can cite many similar examples) that in the Modern Orthodox world is regarded not simply as wrong, but as deeply immoral (especially since during the Holocaust so many non-Jews adopted Genot’s position vis-à-vis the Jews!).

While at least since Jacob Katz’s Exclusiveness and Tolerance scholars are now no longer deterred from studying the medieval Jewish view of “the other”, there is still great reluctance to examine contemporary views, for fear of how this might play into the hands of anti-Semites. I am curious to hear what readers think about this. How long can we keep all of this “under the carpet,” and should we even be attempting to do that?

Ruth Langer has discussed the medieval tradition in her new book Cursing the Christians? A History of the Birkat HaMinim (Oxford, 2012), p. 12:

For Jews engaged in dialogue, it has been much easier to identify the problems within Christianity than to turn that scrutiny back on our own heritage. Jews, after all, were very much the victims, not just of the Holocaust, but also of centuries of Christian anti-Jewish venom and oppression. Consequently, traditions developed among those studying Judaism in the wissenschaftflich mode to obscure embarrassing elements of the tradition rather than to confront them. . .  Christian anti-Judaism in its many expressions led to Jewish responses and attitudes that were equally vicious; the power relationships between the two communities prevented Jews from expressing this with physical violence, but Jews still lacked respect for their neighbors. . . . In our time, Jewish publishers are restoring uncensored versions of many texts, reclaiming a difficult heritage. While from an academic perspective, this has merit, there has been all too little discussion about its impact on the Jewish community.

I would, however, dispute the use of the expression “equally vicious.” Once Langer assumes that it was Christian anti-Judaism (and I would add “anti-Semitism”) that led to the Jewish responses and attitudes, then I don’t think it is correct to portray them as “equally vicious.” The one who is responding to widespread murder of his coreligionists, and responding only through the pen, cannot be regarded as “equally vicious.” Furthermore, considering the oppression that Jews suffered in medieval times, all the anti-Gentile sentiments found in texts from this period are completely understandable.
[12] I have often heard people pronounce דרכי as darkei. This is incorrect. There is no dagesh in the kaf.
[13] The Artscroll Talmud also has a segol but the Artscroll Mishnah has a tzeirei.
[14] There are times in the Bible where the word עושה with a tzeirei is to be translated as if it has a segol, but these are exceptions. When it comes to vocalizing a text, one should certainly not insert a tzeirei if one is going to translate the word as a verb. The exceptions, where we find a tzeirei under the shin, are Ex. 15:11: עושה פלא, which appears to mean “doing wonders”, although,  as R. Mazuz pointed out to me, it could also be translated as “doer of wonders”= עושה-הפלאים. Amos 5:8: עושה כימה וכסיל, and Ps. 14:1, 3, 53:2, 4: עושה טוב, could perhaps also be read in this way. However, in Jer. 51:15: עושה ארץ בכחו, the word appears to be a verb.
[15] See R. Mazuz’s comment in R. Yosef Hayyim Mizrahi, Yosef Hayyim (Jerusalem, 1993), p. 123, Or Torah, Adar 5772, p. 568.
[16] See Abudarham ha-Shalem (Jerusalem, 1963), p. 148:

וכיצד היא ברכה זו מעין שבע, מגן אבות בדברו כנגד מגן אברהם. מחיה מתים במאמרו כנגד מחיה מתים. הא-ל הקדוש שאין כמוהו כנגד הא-ל הקדוש . . .

[17] See Daniel 12:2.
[18] See Abudarham ha-Shalem, p. 148: מחיה מתים במאמרו על שם (יחזקאל לז) כה אמר ה' הנני פותח את קברותיכם

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taliban Women and More

Taliban Women and More

Marc B. Shapiro

1. In this post I am going to respond to a number of emails and requests to deal with certain topics. I can’t get to everything I was asked about, and will only touch on some topics, but here is a start.

Let’s begin with the common practice in the Israeli haredi world of ignoring what the Sages tell us in Kiddushin 29a and not teaching young men a trade so that instead they can devote themselves to Torah study.[1] People assume that this is a late twentieth-century phenomenon. While it is true that the numbers of people who currently follow this approach is much larger than ever before in history, it must be noted that even in previous years there were those who acted in the same fashion. We see this from R. Pinhas Horowitz’ strong words against this approach in his Sefer ha-Berit, vol. 2, ma’amar 12, ch. 10.

R. Meir Mazuz has recently suggested that this negative attitude towards work explains a passage in one of the most popular Shabbat zemirot.[2] The following lines appear in Mah Yedidot.

חפציך בו אסורים וגם לחשוב חשבונות, הרהורים מותרים ולשדך הבנות, ותינוק ללמדו ספר למנצח בנגינות

Artscroll, Family Zemiros, translates as follows:
Your mundane affairs are forbidden on it [Shabbat] and also to calculate accounts; Reflections are permitted and to arrange matches for maidens; To arrange for a child to be taught Scripture, to sing a song of praise.
(R. Jonathan Sacks, in his siddur, p. 388, translates the last words similarly: “singing songs of praise.”)

The first thing to note is that the translation is incorrect. The words למנצח בנגינות do not mean “to sing a song of praise”. The word למנצח is not an infinitive (that would be לנצח, patah under the nun). It is a noun with a prefix, and means “to the choirmaster” or something like that. Artscroll, in its Tanach (Ps. 6:1), translates למנצח בנגינות: “For the conductor, with the neginos.” The note tells us that neginos are a type of musical instrument.

I sympathize with Artscroll when confronted with the need to translate the words למנצח בנגינות in the song. It is obvious that the words make no sense. Until then the passage was speaking about what was permitted on the Sabbath and then you have למנצח בנגינות .

This is an old problem and while a couple of forced answers have been suggested, others have argued that what we have here a mistaken reading, and instead of למנצח בנגינות it should read וללמדו אומנות (perhaps even reading אומנות with a final holam in order to make it rhyme). The entire paragraph in Mah Yedidot is derived from Shabbat 150a, and there it states: משדכין על התינוקות ליארס בשבת ועל התינוק ללמדו ספר וללמדו אומנות. After seeing this, can anyone still have a doubt that the standard version is incorrect?

R. Mazuz is apparently unaware that others before him had already suggested that וללמדו אומנות was the original version,[3] but he is the only one to suggest why the text was changed. Although it strikes me as a bit far-fetched, he assumes that when people stopped teaching their sons a trade this verse became problematic, and therefore someone took it upon himself to alter the text.

After criticizing Artscroll’s translation (and in future posts I will have more such examples), let me now mention an instance where of all the translations I have consulted, only Artscroll gets it right.

Every Friday night we say the following (which is based on Isaiah 52:1):

התנערי מעפר קומי לבשי בגדי תפארתך עמי

Sacks translates: “Shake yourself off, arise from the dust! Put on your clothes of glory, My people.” All the translations I have consulted render along these lines. The problem, however, is obvious. If “My people” is being addressed, then why are the verbs and the suffix of תפארתך  feminine?

Artscroll recognized the problem and translates: “Shake off the dust – arise! Don your splendid clothes, My people.” The translation is explained in the note: “Jerusalem – your most splendid garment is Israel. Let the redemption come so that they may inhabit you in holiness once more.” In other words, Jerusalem is being addressed, not the people of Israel. “My people” is therefore identified metaphorically with “your splendid clothes.” The stanza thus needs to be read as a continuation of the prior stanza – מקדש מלך עיר מלוכה – which is also addressed to Jerusalem.

Furthermore, if you look at Isaiah 52:1, upon which the text is based, it reads: לבשי בגדי תפארתך ירושלים עיר הקודש  “Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” So we see that also in the original verse it is Jerusalem that is being addressed. Artscroll cites this interpretation in the name of Iyun Tefillah (found in Otzar ha-Tefilot) and refers to it as “novel”. This understanding (which is actually the peshat of the words) was also suggested by R. Kook[4] R. Baruch Epstein,[5] and R. David Hadad.[6] 
2. A long time ago I was asked to deal with the so-called Jewish Taliban women, who completely cover their faces when they go out. I know that everyone has downplayed their significance and referred to them as crazy. I think that this is too optimistic an assumption. Although I am not predicting it, I would not be surprised if this turned into a real phenomenon. All these women need is one somewhat respected Torah scholar to support them and they will then become just another faction in extremist Orthodoxy. You will then have groups that don't allow women to drive (or smoke, or use a cellular phone, etc.), and another group that also requires that they cover their faces when they leave home. The real difference today is that while with the other groups we have men telling women how to behave for reasons of tzeniut, the Taliban group is completely female driven and led.

The truth of the matter is that the Taliban women make a certain amount of sense. They are part of a community that forbids women’s (and even little girl’s) pictures to appear in printed matter because seeing this might arouse sexual thoughts in men.[7] Even though these women never studied Talmud, we know that one doesn’t need to be talmid hakham to derive a basic kal va-homer. Even these uneducated women can conclude that if men’s souls can be destroyed by seeing a picture of a woman or a little girl, how much more so can they be driven to sexual frenzy by seeing a live woman or girl? As such, it makes perfect sense that when they go out on the street they are completely covered and only their husband and children are permitted see their faces.[8] It is their opponents in the haredi word who have to explain why it is permitted to see the faces of real live women but forbidden to see their pictures. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the Taliban women have rightly concluded.
I am sure that any rabbinic authorities that come to support the Taliban women will be able to find relevant sources to defend this lifestyle. I know this will surprise readers, especially as many rabbis have declared that the Taliban women are completely distorting Jewish rules of modesty. These rabbis have claimed that unlike Arabs, Jewish women have never dressed this way (unless they were forced to) as the face is not ervah. Therefore, these rabbis have asserted, Jewish tzeniut has never, has ve-shalom, seen it as a value for women to completely cover their faces.

Lines like this are good for applause in a Modern Orthodox (and even a haredi) shul, among people anxious to be reassured that these Taliban women couldn’t possibly have any sources in our tradition for their actions. The truth of the matter is that, whether we like it or not, there are sources that are strong supports for the Taliban women, and there is no reason to deny that they exist.[9] Sotah 10b is clearly praising Tamar when it mentions that she was so modest that she covered her face in her father-in-law’s house. R. Joseph Messas (Mayim Hayyim, vol. 2, Orah Hayyim no. 140) points out that Shabbat 6:6 refers to Arabian Jewish women going out veiled, which means that their entire face was covered except for their eyes. He also points to Shabbat 8:3: כחול כדי לכחול עין אחת, which as explained in the Talmud refers to those women who were so modest that they were completely veiled, with only one eye showing in order for them to see (see Rashi, ad loc. See also Rashi to Isaiah 3:19.) Messas tells us that in his youth he personally saw Jewish women who dressed like this: וכן ראינו בימי נעורנו. R. Meir Mazuz’s mother testified that brides in Djerba would only show one eye, also for reasons of modesty.[10]

Here we have evidence that the Taliban dress was actually a traditional Jewish dress, just the sort of material that can be used to support the new dress code. In fact, one doesn’t even need to look to Morocco or Djerba, or even to talmudic literature, to find sources that women dressed this way. It is found right in the Song of Songs 4:9. This verse states: “Thou has ravished my heart with one of thine eyes.” The Soncino translation explains: “It is customary for an Eastern woman to unveil one of her eyes when addressing someone.” In other words, normally, for reasons of modesty, the woman is entirely covered (although this covering would be see-through so she could walk properly), and only at certain times would she remove it to reveal one eye. I know some people are thinking that this is exactly the sort of explanation you can expect from Soncino, which loves to quote non-Orthodox and even non-Jewish commentators, and if you look at the various traditional commentaries they do indeed provide all sorts of allegorical meanings for this verse. Yet the Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 8:3, also understands the verse as giving an example of modest behavior on the part of the woman, that she only uncovers one eye. As explained by Korban ha-Edah:

מביא פסוק זה לראיה שדרך הצנועות לצאת באחת מעיניה מכוסה ואחת מגולה

(Korban ha-Edah and all the other traditional commentaries I have seen assume that the woman always goes with one eye uncovered, while Soncino explains that she only uncovers this one eye on special occasions.)

R. Baruch Epstein takes note of this passage in the Jerusalem Talmud in his commentary to Song of Songs, and adds.

לפנים בעת שהיו נוהגות הנשים ללכת עטופות היו מגלות רק עין אחת כדי לראות מהלכן, ומכאן רמז שמנהג כזה הוא מנהג כשר וצנוע, שהרי כן משבחה הכתוב שלבבתו בעין אחת.

If this practice is, as Epstein says, a מנהג כשר וצנוע, then I don’t think we should be surprised if some circles attempt to bring it back into style.

A few paragraphs above I quoted a responsum of R. Joseph Messas.[11] In this teshuvah he also explains why women can’t be given aliyotAs is well known, in earlier days this was permitted but the Sages later forbid it on account of kevod ha-tzibbur (Megillah 23a). There have been lots of interpretations of what kevod ha-tzibbur means, but Messas has a very original perspective. He claims that the reason women were banned from receiving aliyot is because this would lead to sexual arousal among the male congregants. Messas believes that this came from the actual experience of the Sages, who saw what happened when women received aliyot. He also assumes that these women would have been dressed in a Taliban-like fashion[12]: בהסתר פנים כמנהג נשים קדמוניות. But even such a woman, covered head to toe, still created problems with the sexually fixated men.[13]

ובדורות שאחריהם ראו שיש בזה מחשבת עריות, שהצבור היו שואלים זה לזה, מי זאת עולה . . . ואם היה קולה ערב מוסיף להבעיר אש היצר, ולכן עמדו ובטלו את הדבר.

Knowing how concerned the Sages were about avoiding situations that could lead to sexual thoughts, it makes sense that they would ban the practice if they thought that women’s aliyot would lead in this direction.[14] But Messas now has a problem, because the Talmud doesn’t give this as a reason for abolishing women’s aliyot. Instead, it states that they were abolished because of kevod ha-tzibbur. This leads Messas to offer one of the wonderfully original interpretations that can be found so often in his writings. He claims that because the Sages didn’t want to insult the (male) community by telling them the real reason why they abolished the aliyot, namely, that even during Torah reading men can't control themselves from sexual thoughts, therefore they invented the concept of kevod ha-tzibbur! However, this is not the real reason, and therefore all attempts to explain the meaning of the term are irrelevant. The real reason is the male sexual desire which as Messas states, is always in need to being fenced in:[15]
וכדי שלא להראות את הצבור שחשדו אותם, תלו הטעם מפני כבוד הציבור, שלא תהא האשה הפטורה מן הדבר מתערבת עם האנשים המחוייבים בו וכן בכל דור היו גודרים גדרים בעריות

Based on this male weakness, Messas claims that the mehitzah has to be built in such a fashion that the men cannot see the women. He even has a most original way to explain to the women why they are placed in what amounts to a completely other room. Rather than being a sign of their insignificance, it is a sign of how important they are. The proof of this importance is that men are constantly drawn to look at them. Therefore, by building a high mehitzah we are able to save the men from themselves.

I haven’t yet mentioned the shawls that some women have started wearing (and which was the practice in the days of the Rambam; see Hilkhot Ishut 13:11) Most shawl-wearers are not so extreme as to completely cover their faces, and because of this the practice has been defended by some fairly mainstream people. According to R. Ovadiah Yosef’s son-in-law, R. Aharon Abutbol, and R. David Benizri, R. Ovadiah sees the practice in a positive light for those women who are able to take it on.[16] Among others who have spoken out in favor of the shawls are R. Yitzhak Ratsaby,[17] R. Avraham Baruch,[18] and R. Mendel Fuchs, a dayan for the Edah Haredit (who refers to the “heilige shawl”).[19] There is even a fairly recent book that discusses the matter in detail. It is Ahoti Kalah, by R. Avraham Arbel. Here is the title page.

Arbel is a great talmid hakham.[20] His book carries haskamot from mainstream figures, including R. Ovadiah, R. Neuwirth, and R. Nebenzahl. In the book, he explains the importance of the shawl, how women are not supposed to leave their home and if they must go out they should appear unattractive so that men are not drawn to them, and how it is absolutely forbidden for women to wear jewelry outside their home. (Recently, Arbel expanded the section of the book dealing with women’s tzeniut into a full-fledged book of its own.)

3. In the last post I quoted R. Kook’s comments about the holiness of the am ha’aretz. This is not a sentiment that has been widely shared among the rabbinic elite, and negative comments about the am ha’aretz abound in rabbinic literature from all eras. Most of these comments appear in non-halakhic contexts, but there are plenty that are found in classic halakhic works. See for example Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 198:48, where R. Moses Isserles states that if a woman coming home from the mikveh enounters a דבר טמא או גוי , if she is pious she will immerse again. This is obviously not so applicable today, as in any big city in the Diaspora, where people walk to the mikveh, it is impossible not to come across a non-Jew on the way home. The formulation of Rama was made in an era when Jews lived in their own quarters, and at night it wouldn’t be common to come into contact with non-Jews. On this halakhah, the Shakh quotes the Sha’arei Dura who expands the lists of things a woman hopes to avoid on the way home to include an am ha’aretz. (This formulation obviously troubled some, and Pithei Teshuvah quotes the opinion that only an am ha’aretz gamur is meant, i.e., one who doesn’t even recite keriat shema [due to his ignorance]. This definition of an am ha’aretz is found in Berakhot 47b and Sotah 22a. Examination of rabbinic literature shows that the term “am ha’aretz” has a variety of meaning, ranging from a simple ignoramus to one who is actually quite wicked and hates the Sages.)

Speaking of the am ha’aretz, here is something interesting, as it includes both a difficult comment of Rashi (actually, the commentary falsely attributed to Rashi) and what might be is an example of Artscroll purposely omitting mention of it because of how problematic it would be to explain. Nedarim 49a states: “Rav Judah said: The soft part of a pumpkin [should be eaten] with beet; the soft part of linseed is good with kutah. But this may not be told to the am ha’aretz.”

Why don’t we tell this to the am ha’aretz? Artscroll quotes the explanation of the Ran that if the boors knew about this, they would uproot the plants before they could be harvested. Tosafot claims that the ignoramuses won’t believe what we tell them and they will mock the teaching of the Sages. “Rashi” has a completely different explanation. He writes:

משום דדבר מעולה הוא לרפואה ואסור לומר להם שום דבר שיהנו ממנו

What this means is that we don’t let the am ha’aretz know about the medicinal property of this plant. In other words, we don’t want the am ha’aretz, even though he is another Jew, to benefit, and he is thus treated no differently than an idolater. (Tosafot cites this explanation and rejects it.) Even though “Rashi” is referring to a real am ha’aretz, as per the Talmud’s description in Berakhot 47b, it is still quite a shocking explanation. It is true that there is a passage in Pesahim 49b which states: “R. Eleazar said: An am ha’aretz, it is permitted to stab him [even] on the Day of Atonement which falls on the Sabbath . . . R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Johanan's name: One may tear an am ha’aretz like a fish.” Still, these passages are according to almost everyone not meant to be taken literally,[21] while “Rashi,” on the other hand, means exactly what he says.

[1] Many have discussed why Maimonides doesn’t explicitly record this halakhah in the Mishneh Torah. See the interesting approach of R. Hayyim Eleazar Shapira, Divrei Torah, Eighth Series, no. 18 (p. 974), which can be used to justify the Israeli haredi perspective.
[2] See Or Torah, Heshvan 5772, pp. 169-170. R. Mazuz’s own attitude towards yeshiva students preparing themselves to earn a living is seen in his haskamah to R. Hayyim Amsalem’s Gadol ha-Neheneh mi-Yegio. The book is available here.

Here is R. Mazuz’s haskamah.

Here is the letter of R. Mazuz that appears at the end of the volume.

There are numerous texts I could bring in opposition to the approach of Amsalem and Mazuz (which I believe is also the approach of the Sages). One noteworthy one is found in Ateret Menahem, p. 23a, where R. Menahem Mendel of Rimanov is quoted as follows:

אם א' אומר לחתנו היושב ולומד תורה בהתמדה שיתחיל לעסוק במו"מ עבור כי איתא [אבות פ"ב מ"ב] יפה ת"ת עם דרך ארץ וכו', זה הוא מערב רב חו"ש

[3] See e.g., Naftali ben Menahem, Zemirot shel Shabbat (Jerusalem, 1949), p. 134.
[4] See Zev Rabiner, Or Mufla, p. 92.
[5] Barukh She-Amar, p. 238.
[6] See R. Meir Mazuz, Darkhei ha-Iyun, pp. 127ff.
[7] Regarding not seeing women’s pictures, this position can also find sources to support it. R. Joseph Hayyim, Rav Berakhot, ma’arekhet tzadi (p. 137), writes quite strongly against women’s pictures, because men will come to look at them. Here is the page.

[8] For some, it is better if the women basically do not go out of the house at all at all. Such a position is held by R. Hayyim Rabbi, a mainstream Sephardic rabbi (who like all significant Sephardic rabbis, also has a website. See here).

Here is his haskamah to R. Hanan Aflalo’s, Asher Hanan, vol. 3, and see Aflalo’s response that a rabbi has to actually be part of a community and know its situation in order to properly decide matters for it.

While Aflalo’s reply is phrased very respectfully, his feeling that Rabbi is way off base comes through very clearly.

Rabbi’s position about a woman not leaving the house can find support in a variety of traditional texts (not least, the Rambam, Hilkhot Ishut 13:11). What makes it significant is that he offers this advice even today. While it is true that in the Islamic world Jewish women were more accustomed to stay inside than their co-religionists in Europe, we also find European rishonim who see this as something to strive for. See e.g.,, Radak to 2 Samuel 13:2: ודרך הבתולות בישראל להיות צנועות בבית ולא תצאנה החוצה. See also Rashi, Deut. 22:23: פרצה קוראה לגנב הא אלו ישבה בביתה לא אירע לה. For other relevant sources, see R. Mazuz's comment in R. Raphael Kadir Tzaban, Nefesh Hayah, vol. 2, p. 267.

I was surprised to find that the Moroccan R. Raphael Ankawa, in the twentieth century, ruled that a husband could forbid his wife from leaving the house without his permission. If she didn’t listen, she would lose her ketubah. See Toafot Re’em, no. 3. In a letter of support for Ankawa by R. Shlomo Ibn Danan and R. Mattityahu Serero they go so far as to state that if the woman doesn’t go along with the husband’s command and take an oath binding herself in this matter, the husband can, if he wishes, refuse to divorce her and she will remain an “agunah” her entire life without any financial support from him! He, of course, will be given permission to remarry.

ואם לא ירצה לגרשה תשב עד שתלבין ראשה ונותנין לו רשות לישא אשה אחרת אחר ההתראות הראויות והיא אבדה כתוב' ואין לה לא מזונות ולא פרנסה ולא שום תנאי מתנאי הכתובה.

(As late as 1965, another Moroccan posek, R. Yedidyah Monsenego, ruled that where the husband had reason to suspect his wife of being unfaithful, he could require her to never leave home without him, even to visit relatives, except when she had to go to work. See Peat ha-Yam, no. 24)

All I can say is that contemporary women should be thankful that the RCA beit din and many of the rabbinic courts in the State of Israel have realized that in modern times men and women must be treated equally in the divorce proceedings, and women can no longer be held prisoner in a dead marriage as was often the case in earlier times. With this in mind, let me remind people that in an earlier post, available here, I wrote as follows:

R. Hayyim Benveniste, Keneset ha-Gedolah, Even ha-Ezer 154, Hagahot Beit Yosef no. 59, in discussing when we can force a husband to give a divorce, writes:

ובעל משפט צדק ח"א סי' נ"ט כתב דאפי' רודף אחריה בסכין להכותה אין כופין אותו לגרש ואפי' לו' לו שחייב להוציא.

Can anyone imagine a posek, from even the most right-wing community, advocating such a viewpoint? I assume the logic behind this position is that even if the man is running after her with the knife, we don’t assume that he will actually kill her. He must just be doing it to scare her, and that is not enough of a reason to force him to divorce her. And if we are wrong, and he really does kill her? I guess the reply would be that this isn’t anything we could have anticipated even if we saw the knife in his hand, sort of like all those who have let pedophiles run loose in the yeshivot, presumably on the assumption that just because a man abused children in the past, that doesn’t mean that he will continue to do so.

(I will return to the issue of sexual abuse in a future post, because readers might recall that I expressed doubt that any rabbis would ever join the Agudah’s proposed rabbinic panel to determine if an accusation warranted going to the police. See here. The Agudah has just acknowledged that it was impossible to form such a panel precisely because of the legal jeopardy it would place the rabbis in. See here. Since it looks like all the public pressure will lead to clergy being made mandated reporters, it will be interesting to see what the Agudah response will then be. Will they instruct their followers to follow the law or expect them to go to jail in order to avoid mesirah?)

Regarding Aflalo’s point mentioned earlier in this note that a rabbi has to know the situation of a community, I recently found a very interesting comment by R. Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, Kedushat Levi ha-Shalem (Jerusalem, 1958), Likutim, pp. 316-317. He asks why we say תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות, that in Messianic days Elijah will answer all problems. Since Moses will be resurrected, and he is the giver of the Torah, why don’t we say that he will provide the answers? R. Levi Yitzhak explains that only one who is living in this world knows what the situation is and how the halakhah should be decided. This is not the case with one who is dead and has lost his worldly connection. This explains why Elijah will provide all the answers, as he never died and was always part of the world. Therefore, unlike Moses, Elijah is the one qualified to decide matters affecting us. The lesson here is obvious, especially for those who think that every issue must be decided in Israel by authorities who really have really no conception of how American Jews live.

[9] I can’t tell you how often I have been with people (usually at Shabbat meals) who go on about how backwards the Muslims are, the proof being how they treat their women. This is usually contrasted to Judaism, which puts women on a pedestal. As an example of this “backwardness” people have pointed out that in Saudi Arabia (which is only one Muslim country, mind you), women are not even permitted to drive. I never have the heart to point out that there are hasidic sects, less than an hour away from where we are, that also don’t allow women to drive.
[10] See Ma’amar Esther, printed together with Va-Ya’an Shmuel (n.p., 2001), vol. 4, p. 19 (third numbering).
[11] Messas’ responsum is analyzed by Avinoam Rosenack, “Dignity of the Congregation” as a Defense Mechanism: A Halakhic Ruling by Rabbi Joseph Messas,” Nashim 13 (2007), pp. 183-206. On p. 201 n. 41, he provides references to scholarly literature that discusses medieval Jewish women’s adoption of Muslim modes of dress.
[12] Contrary to what Messas assumes, as far as I know there is absolutely no evidence that Jewish women generally dressed like this in the Rabbinic period. The fact that the Mishnah specifies the Arabian Jewish women shows that only one specific group dressed this way.
[13] Since he mentions women’s voices, let me return briefly to my second to last post which dealt with kol isha. I neglected to note the pesak of R. Abraham Yaffe-Schlesinger, Be’er Sarim, vol. 2, no. 54, who sees it as obvious that a woman is permitted to sing in front of non-Jews.
In the post, I mentioned three Modern Orthodox high schools that allow young women to sing solos. I was informed that the North Shore Hebrew Academy also has to be added to this list. See here.

My correspondent further wrote: “I wanted to let you know that the son of Rabbi _____ (former president of the RCA [name deleted by MS]) told me that his father used to go to see Broadway shows based on the Psak of the Rav, who felt that if you couldn't totally make out the face of the female singer it would be permitted."

One of the commenters on the post called attention to R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin, Bnei Vanim, vol. 4, no. 7. In this responsum, he says a couple of things very relevant to the post. To begin with, he writes that it is permitted to listen to the singing of a single woman if this is something that you are used it, and it will not be sexually arousing.

לע"ד מדינא מותר לשמוע קול שיר של בתולות אם רגיל בקולן שאז שמיעתן זהה לראיית שערן

This is the same viewpoint I quoted from R. Jacob Pardo, who distinguishes between married women, whose singing is always forbidden, and single women whose singing is only forbidden if it is sensual song. Also noteworthy is that R. Henkin rejects the viewpoint found in various aharonim that a post-pubescent female (i.e., niddah) has the same status as a married woman, and her singing is therefore forbidden:

וכיון שנהגו להקל בשערן של בתולות ולא חלקו בין נדות לטהורות הוא הדין בקולן, כל שהוא רגיל בו ואינו מהרהר.

He concludes his responsum by stating that if the song is not sensual, and the woman’s voice is heard on the radio or out of a loudspeaker, since this is not really “her” voice it is permissible to listen. What this apparently means is that any time a woman sings into a microphone, it is permissible to listen to her (assuming her very appearance is not arousing). This basically gets rid of the entire kol isha prohibition in our time (when the songs aren't sensual), since today every event with a woman singer uses a microphone. Based on R. Henkin’s responsum, all Modern Orthodox high schools could once more return to having young women sing solos (even though I am certain that this is not his intention).. Here is his conclusion (emphasis added):

ולא מפני שאנו מדמים נעשה מעשה להתיר לכתחילה לשמוע קול אשה המזמרת לפננו לבדה, אבל בשירה ברדיו או דרך רמקול וכו' שעל פי דין אינה קולה ממש ובצירוף עוד טעמים [ראה להלן מאמר כ'] ובתנאי שהשירה אינה של עגבים נראה פשוט להקל.

In Bnei Vanim, vol. 2, p. 211, he quotes his grandfather as even permitting watching a woman sing on the television, because again, the voice is not her actual voice. He also notes that his grandfather later expressed doubt on this point.

שמעתי מפיו הקדוש שקול אשה על הרדיו אינו נקרא קול אשה ומותר לשמעו [בפעם הראשונה ששאלתי אותו על זה אמר בפירוש שגם בטלביזיה אינו נקרא קול אשה ומותר לשמעו, אבל כשחזרתי ושאלתי אותו על זה אחרי זמן לא היה ברור אצלו – ואולי מפני חולשתו]

In vol. 4, p. 30, he refers to a woman singing the national anthem, which based on his argumentation would, I think, be quite easy to permit, even watching on television. As he notes, this is not the sort of song that arouses sexual thoughts:

ורבים מקילים לשמוע קול שיר של אשה ברדיו כשהיא אינה לפניהם, ואינה שרה שירי עגבים אלא שירי מולדת וכיוצא באלה ורחוק שיהרהרו בה ואינו תלוי באם מכירה או לא.

I would also like to share an email I received from Benny Hutman which relates to R. Moshe Feinstein’s opinion. In my post I called attention to a responsum of R. Moshe Feinstein which I claimed cast doubt on R. Mordechai Tendler’s assertion that according to R. Moshe kol isha is entirely situational and depends on whether or not someone is aroused.

Benny writes:
It seems to me that R’ Moshe must hold that the prohibition on Kol Isha depends on whether a person is used to hearing women sing. R’ Moshe holds like the Aruch Hashulchan that nowadays one can say Shema in front of a woman with uncovered hair because the reality is that we are constantly confronted with such hair and therefore it is no longer arousing. For this to make sense we need to understand the Gemara in Berachos when it says “sear b’isha erva” to mean that hair could be ervah, meaning I would have thought that ervah by definition could only refer to parts of her body, ka mashma lan that hair despite not being skin can be ervah. However it won’t actually be ervah unless it is normally covered. Since the language of the Gemara is exactly the same (as is the source) it follows that the gemara means that Kol Isha could be ervah despite not physically being attached to the body at all. However, just as R’Moshe says that our constant exposure to uncovered hair makes sear no longer be ervah, the same logic dictates that if someone has been listening to women sing all his life kol isha will not be ervah. Arguably it can also be situational so that if someone has been going to the opera all his life such singing will not be kol isha, but pop music will be. It seems to me that this heter should apply to almost all Modern Orthodox men. This would explain how Rabbi Tendler could say that R’ Moshe held that the prohibition is situational despite R’ Moshe’s tshuva apparently holding it is forbidden. It depends on who is asking the question and the time, place and manner of the singing.
Finally, R. Hayyim Amsalem, in his recently published Derekh Hayyim, p. 45, states that it is a well known fact that great Torah scholars and chief rabbis have in the past been present at various official events that included women singing, and they did not walk out. As he explains:

הם ידעו לחשב שכר "מצוה" כנגד הפסדה, ושגדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה לא תעשה שבתורה (ברכות דף יט ע"ב), שלא לדבר על העלבת פנים העלולה להגרם, והרי המלבין פני חברו ברבים אין לו חלק לעוה"ב (בבא מציעא דף נט ע"א), יתכן וכשהיו יכולים להשתמט מלהופיע בטקס כזה שידעו מראש שיכלול גם שירת נשים היו נמנעים מלהופיע, אבל היכן שההכרח אלצם להשתתף הרי שמעולם לא נשמע רינון אחריהם על השתתפותם, או על העלבת המעמד ביציאה פומבית.

[14] Rosenack writes (“Dignity”, p. 190): “Messas’s remarks allow the inference that he knew of an ancient tradition—either from the days of his own ancestors, or from the time of the talmudic sages—of women going up to the Torah, before the institution of the [talmudic] prohibition discussed here.” This is incorrect. What Messas is doing in this responsum is describing what he imagines the situation was like in the era that women received aliyot, and why this was later prohibited. There is not even the hint that he knew of any ancient tradition in this regard, and he certainly did not.

In terms of women’s aliyot, in my post here I called attention to R. Samuel Portaleone’s opinion that in theory it is permitted to give a woman an aliyah in a private synagogue. Without knowing of Portaleone’s view, R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin concluded that ”if done without fanfare, an occasional aliyyah by a woman in a private minyan of men held on Shabbat in a home and not in a synagogue sanctuary or hall can perhaps be countenanced or at least overlooked.” “Qeriat Ha-Torah by Women: Where We Stand Today,” Edah Journal 1:2 (5761), p. 6. (Henkin also assumes that women’s aliyot on Simhat Torah are permissible.) There is another source in this regard that has been overlooked by those arguing for women’s aliyot in so-called partnership minyanim (I hate this term!). R. Moses Salmon, Netiv Moshe (Vienna, 1899), p. 24 n. 112, sees no problem with women getting aliyot today. As mentioned already, women are denied aliyot because of kevod ha-tzibur. Yet according to Salmon, since today men who get aliyot no longer read from the Torah, kevod ha-tzibur is no longer a concern. This was all theoretical for Salmon, as no one in his Hungarian town was dreaming of calling women up to the Torah, but from the standpoint of pure halakhah, he saw no objection. He also claims that according to Maimonides, women can be counted in a minyan. See ibid., n. 111. Here is the page from Salmon.

[15] The same approach is adopted by R. Matzliah Mazuz, Ish Matzliah, vol. 1 no. 10. He writes:

לע"ד כבוד ציבור דהתם, אינו כפשוטו, אלא לישנא מעליא, ועיקר הכוונה כאותה ששנינו בסוכה דנ"א תיקון גדול

[16] See here and here.
[17] See here and here. See also his Shulhan Arukh ha-Mekutzar, vol. 6, pp. 246ff., and here for a placard signed by some leading Sephardic rabbis.
[18] See hereHe thinks that a woman who refuses to say good morning to her male neighbor is demonstrating proper tzeniut.
[19] See here.
[20] Incidentally, in no. 328:2, he states that there is no longer a problem taking medicine on Shabbat, since people today do not grind their own medicine.

  • [21] See the numerous explanations of these passages in R. Moshe Zuriel, Leket Perushei Aggadah, ad loc. Tosafot, ad loc., quotes one opinion that does take the passage literally, but this opinion assumes that the am ha’aretz spoken of is a violent person suspected of murder

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