Volume 28 Number 83
                 Produced: Fri Jun 18  7:03:50 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Direction of Synagogues (2)
         [Binyomin Segal, Daniel Stuhlman]
         [Joseph Tabory]
Is Bilam A Rasha?
         [Moshe & Davida Nugiel]
         [Stuart Wise]
Standing for Kaddish
         [Gershon Dubin]
Tzohar [Gen 6:16]
         [Myron Chaitovsky]


From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 07:32:11 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Direction of Synagogues

Gilad J. Gevaryahu made some interesting observations about modern
synagogues. And though my experience for the most part is in concert
with his observations, there is one notable exception I'd like to

The oldest standing synagogue in the US is in Newport RI. An early
shipping town, they early hosted a Sephardi (from Amsterdam I believe)
community that built the Touro Synagogue.

 From the outside one can easily tell that the building does not align
with any plot lines or street lines. (Even though the streets here are
pretty clearly the ones from colonial times). The tradition there (as
told to me by the old rabbi there, and other tour guides) is that the
synagogue was set off from the street at a slight angle so that it could
face due east.

I have never verified with personal measurement that it does in fact
face due east, but it was clearly pretty close.

I wonder if this suggest either an ashkenazi/sephardi or older/modern
split on the practical stress on implementing this precept.


From: Daniel Stuhlman <ssmlhtc@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 09:49:45
Subject: Re: Direction of Synagogues

>I made a survey of five Orthodox synagogues within walking distance of
>my house in Main Line Philadelphia (US). 

Following up on the comment of Gilad J. Gevaryahu.

I found his survey very interesting especially since he used a "campus"
[!] to figure the directions.  :-).

I grew up in a shul that was constructed to allow the setting sun of
mincha shine on the aron ha-kodesh.  Everything in the sanctuary was
designed with a purpose of directing one toward the Torah.  The seats
were rounded to remind one of the aseret ha-dibrot tablet above the

We were indoctrinated to believe that one faces the aron and east
(Jerusalem) when davaning.  I had a rude awakening when I went to
college and found the shul had no windows and I am not sure what
direction the aron was in.

In Chicago many shuls have the aron ha-kodesh in directions other than
east.  For those non-Chicagoians -- East is toward Lake Michigan and
most of the streets are in grid east-west north-south.

Daniel Stuhlman
Chicago, IL 60645
<mail to:<ddstuhlman@...>
This is a private message-- not connected to my organization.


From: Joseph Tabory <taborj@...>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 22:13:27 -0400
Subject: Re: Directions

Ancient Israel faced east as determined by Abraham who faced kedmah
(forward) to the East and his right (Teymanah) was south. Medieval maps
were also oriented to the East, apparently also considering Jerusalem as
being the direction of travel. Modern maps are oriented to the north.


From: Moshe & Davida Nugiel <friars@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 09:36:41 +0300
Subject: Is Bilam A Rasha?

 I have a problem with the accepted characterization that Bilam is a bad
person.  The problem is that the Scripture does not support such a view,
but rather the opposite.

1] Pasuk 22:5 Balak is afraid of the Jewish Nation and wants to destroy
it.  However, he offers Bilam a perfectly reasonable motive for
portraying the Jews as a menace, a reason free from irrational hate.  If
Bilam had also been a hater of the Jews, such reasonableness would be
uncalled for.  Rather an appeal to his passions would be much more

2] Pasuk  22:8

 A) This is the pasuk upon which is based the ma'amar of chazal that
Bilam was as great a prophet as was Moshe Rabenu.  Bilam is on the level
where he can at will request a prophecy from Hashem in order to answer a
problem.  No other prophet has the ability to do this.  Granted, Bilam's
power is less than Moshe's in that Bilam has to wait for night, and his
prophecy is in a dream (at this point), however, this ability to request
a communication from Hashem is a quantum leap above all other prophets,
save Moshe.
 B) Bilam does not want to harm the Jewish Nation.  His use of the name
"yud-kay- vav-kay" in referring to the Deity with which he communes
means that he is aware of Hashem's power, and that the Jewish Nation is
His chosen people.
  However, Bilam has a problem, and it is the lack of appreciation of
this problem which leads the commentators to characterize Bilam as evil.
This is his problem:
 **When the King asks a subject to do something, that subject refuses on
pain of death!**
 Therefore, when Balak sends the second delegation, he is telling Bilam
that his excuse to the first delegation, viz., that Hashem will not let
him go, is unacceptable!  Bilam must now come up with a different excuse
for not going.  He again turns to Hashem for advice.  Unlike the
commentators, Hashem is sensitive to Bilam's predicament. Hashem knows
that Bilam is being threatened by Balak, and the new strategy is to
allow Bilam to go, but to advise Balak that Bilam can only report the
words of Hashem.
 This analysis helps us to avoid the great problem of the traditional
approach, namely to explain how is it that Hashem changes His mind about
the desirability of letting Bilam go.  The traditional approach, that
Hashem is allowing Bilam to do something which he really wants to do
anyway is very weak.  Why did Hashem not let Bilam go the first time,
since he allegedly really wanted to go then too?  The new understanding
avoids this problem.  Hashem is reacting to the new circumstances which
have been fostered by Balak's free will decision to insist upon Bilam's
compliance.  Given these new circumstances, Hashem must let Bilam go, or
forfeit his life.  The new plan allows Bilam to bide his time, and
ultimately escape Balak's wrath.

3] We must now deal with the difficult problem of the incident with the
ass.  Traditionally, we are again faced with the question of why Hashem
would again "change His mind," and now be angered by Bilam's going.
However, for a closer analysis let us first turn to the end of the
episode.  Pasuk 22:34 Bilam begs the pardon of God's messenger in that
he was unaware that there was a problem, and agrees to return.  However,
surprisingly, the messenger replies that Bilam should go with the
delegation which the king had sent, and to say only what Hashem says.
Since this stipulation is apparently what was lacking in Bilam's action,
we again turn to the beginning to see in what way Bilam erred which
needed exactly this reply as its rectification.  Pasuk 22:22 is the
pasuk which tells us that Hashem is angered with Bilam.  Interestingly,
it does not come directly at the outset of his trip.  Rather, the new
idea which is described in this pasuk is that Bilam is traveling with
two youths.  Rather than travel in the midst of the "ministers of
Balak," Bilam chooses the company of two youths.  And he is traveling
alone, since the delegation from Balak does not witness the episode of
the ass.  For some reason, Bilam has detached himself from the royal
procession, and is alone on the road with only two youths.  Perhaps he
is trying to escape? In any event he does not want to be in the company
of the royalty of Median-Moav.  Hashem is angered at this.  It is a
desecration of God's Name.  After having received instructions from
Hashem to proceed to Moav, Bilam is hesitant.  He is not carrying out
Hashem's orders to the fullest, namely to proudly accompany the
delegation of Balak.  He is shirking his duty.  Therefore, the messenger
is sent to block his path.  And the instructions he gives Bilam is to go
"WITH the people", as the representative of Hashem, and to proudly carry
the banner of Hashem's fearlessness and power.

4] The episodes of the prophecies of Bilam themselves do not need
elaboration here.  One who reads these beautiful blessings of the Jewish
Nation with open eyes, must see that they are words of Divine
inspiration, given over by one who loves Hashem.

5] Those who hold that Bilam was evil point to the pasuk in Parshat
Matos [31:8] which states that the five kings of Midian were killed in
the war against her, as was Bilam.  But one can say for Bilam, that
despite his innocence, he was a victim of the war, since all the males
were killed [pasuk 7].  We have a principle, first enunciated by Avraham
[Genesis 18:23], that in a catastrophe, both the good and evil are swept
away together.  And the proof is that pasuk 8, which names the kings and
Bilam individually, directly follows the statement of pasuk 7 that all
the males were killed!  Why does the Torah have to tell us that the
kings and Bilam were killed when it just told us that all males were
killed?  Because we may have thought that these individuals may have
been spared!  Sometimes kings are spared even when their entire nation
is vanquished (e.g., Agog,) and maybe great prophets would be spared the
victimization of their people.  No.  The Torah tells us specifically
that these also were killed. And the inclusion of the name of Bilam in
this list is as much proof of his innocence, as of his guilt.

6] The final, and most damaging , pasuk against Bilam is also found in
parsha Matos, viz., 31:16.  Moshe confronts the armies returning from
the war with Midian, and he becomes angry.  He is astonished that the
Jewish warriors have allowed the females to remain alive.  These are the
ones who, "by following Bilam's words," had caused the sons of Yisrael
to trespass against Hashem.  How are we to understand this phrase.
Rashi provides the traditional understanding, that after Bilam realizes
that he is unable to curse the Jewish Nation, he gives Balak other
advice (not recorded in Scripture).  This other advice is to attack the
Jewish People by undermining their morals.  By making the women of
Moav/Midian promiscuous, the Jewish men would ultimately be led into
idol worship. This, then, according to the midrash which Rashi brings
down, is the "davar" to which the pasuk refers, and if this is correct,
then one would have to say that in this incident, Bilam truly acted in
an evil manner.  However, there is another commentary, Chezkuni, which
offers a different interpretation of the pasuk.  According to Chezkuni,
the davar Bilam is actually part of the prophecy which Bilam stated
about the Jewish Nation in the presence of Balak, and hence the
expression refers to something which is part of Scripture.  The pasuk
referred to is 23:21: None hath beheld iniquity in Jacob, Neither hath
one seen perverseness in Israel...  Chezkuni holds that this portion of
prophecy, which were the words of Hashem transmitted by Bilam, were the
"davar" which was able to teach the Midianites how to cause the Jews to
sin.  If we look at the matter in this way, certainly we cannot blame
Bilam for transmitting the words of Hashem.  After all, this was
Hashem's desire.  Therefore we must conclude that this analysis of
Chezkuni provides us with a way of interpreting the pasuk in such a way
that the integrity of Bilam is not impugned.  That is to say, that Moshe
is telling the returning Jewish armies that these women were the cause
of the Jewish People's downfall, in that they (or their leaders) were
able to use the information which Bilam gave to Balak about the
greatness of the Jewish Nation, and to devise a plot which succeeded in
undermining the Jews.


From: Stuart Wise <swise@...>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 16:13:58 -0700
Subject: Re: Names

I just recalled something when I was very young.  I attended the wedding
of a woman who converted to Judaism.  She had adopted the name Brachah.
At the wedding, held in their house, at the reading of the kseuvah, I
remember being taken aback to here the"chasan didon" Shayne Rivah.
Shayne Rivah is a woman's name!  After the wedding there was talk and he
explained it was the only name his parents knew (they and he were not
frum), that of a deceased grandmother, so they gave it to him.

My question is this: Are there any ramifications of a person being so
named?  I know there are unisex names such as Simcha and Yonah, but if a
person if given a gender-inappropriate name, is there anything that
should be done to correct the gender mistake, or are names
interchangeable regardless of gender

Stuart Wise


From: Gershon Dubin <gershon.dubin@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 06:01:31 -0400
Subject: Standing for Kaddish

>What is also interesting it it does not seem clear that there is an
>explicit source requiring standing durring Kaddish.  I do think it
>would be highly inappropriate not to stand.  However the sources seem
>only to require standing if the Kaddish is said after something done
>while standing such as Shemona Esrei or Hallel.
	Ezriel, I believe this is currently the practice of the
Sefaradim.  I recall being at a bar mitzvah of a Sefarady boy at which
the bar mitzvah boy made a siyum.  After the hadran, when it came time
to say Kaddish, I looked around the room and found that I was the only
one of the men standing for Kaddish.  My wife was the only woman
standing, and my son the only one of the boys!



From: Myron Chaitovsky <mchait.brooklaw@...>
Subject: Tzohar [Gen 6:16]

While I cannot shed light on the Rabbi's source for Tzohar as a jewel
(Rashi ad loc cites this interpretation) I do note that the Public Radio
mail-order catalog, Wireless,often offers a beveled piece of cut glass
as a replica of what ships used to use to draw light from the surface to
the hold/cabins below.  For obvious reasons, open flames were not
advisable on board wooden ships.  Conceivably, this practice was not
unknown to the Rabbis who lived in an area of the world well acquainted
with shipping and maritime trade.

Myron B. Chaitovsky
Director of Admissions
Brooklyn Law School


End of Volume 28 Issue 83