Volume 28 Number 91
                 Produced: Wed Jun 23  6:35:42 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Direction of Prayer
         [Eliyahu Teitz]
Is Bilam a Rasha? (4)
         [Isaac A Zlochower, Joseph Geretz, Russell Hendel, Ari Kahn]
Mechitsah at Hakhel?
         [Prof. Aryeh A. Frimer]
Tefillin on Chol HaMoed
         [Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz]


From: Eliyahu Teitz <EDTeitz@...>
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 18:01:53 EDT
Subject: Re: Direction of Prayer

<< If one REALLY wants to pray in the direction of Yerushalaim, there is
only one choice -- praying in the "great-circle" dirction between you
and Yerushalaim, as was suggested by Yossie Geretz.  >>

I have avoided getting involved until now, but I feel I finally have to
say something.

While the SHORTEST path might be along the great circle, that does not
define DIRECTION.  Yerushalayim is to the east of the Western
Hemisphere, and as such we should probably face east, which I think from
overwhelming custom is generally the accepted custom.  As an indication
of this, look to the communities of Europe, where "Mizrach" was always
the important wall to sit at, even though many countries were more north
of Yerushalayim than east.

Eliyahu Teitz
Jewish Educational Center, Elizabeth, NJ


From: Isaac A Zlochower <zlochoia@...>
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 1999 17:51:49 -0400
Subject: Is Bilam a Rasha?

M-J 28:83 featured a posting which pleaded the case for considering
Bilam (Balaam) a great prophet who bore no malevolence towards the
Israelites and who has been maligned by Jewish tradition.  A selection
of biblical verses and an associated analysis is used to argue the
poster's case against the contrary view of Bilam that is espoused by the
talmudic sages and the bible commentators.  In view of the total
contrariness of the poster's stance, it would have been prudent to have
attempted a more thoroughgoing analysis of all the relevant biblical
verses.  This has not been done.  In particular, Deut. 23:6 has Moshe
saying, "Hashem (the tetragrammaton) your GOD didn't wish to listen to
Bilam and Hashem your GOD converted the curse for your sake to a
blessing, for Hashem your GOD loves you".  Moshe is thus of the opinion
that Bilam (as well as Balak, the Moabite king) wanted to curse the
Jews, but GOD wouldn't allow it.  The end statement about GOD's love is
presumably in contrast to Bilam's motivation.  Is this a pious lie to
"comfort" the people over the slaying of a great prophet?  If not, how
does one presume to understand the Bilam episode better than Moshe (or

The killing of Bilam in Midian is equally incomprehensible if Bilam was
innocent of any ill wishes or plan against the Israelites, and the
tawdry plot of the Moabites and Midianites against them arose only from
an innocent blessing of Bilam.  Instead of Moshe showing anger against
the commanders of the army for allowing the Moabite women to live, he
should have castigated them for killing an innocent prophet.  Nor would
GOD be blameless for allowing his loyal servant to die in a mass
destruction that He had ordered.  Nor should the death of Bilam been
described so tersely and in paranthetic fashion (Num. 31:8).  The
corresponding verse in Joshua (13:22) is even more dismissive, "And
Bilam son of Beor, the sorcerer, did the Israelites kill by the
sword..."  Here is not even granted the status of a prophet, only a

Consider, as well, the fact that Bilam is present in Midian at a
critical juncture instead of being back home in Aram.  Instead of
returning home to the north after being dismissed for following the
Divine mandate and uttering blessings instead of curses, Bilam is found
in the south in Midian.  Now, the Moabites are fraternizing with the
Israelites instead of treating them as a great danger - and the
Midianites have sent the daughter of one of their chiefs to the "party",
perhaps as an organizer. Coincidence or plot?

All of the poster's arguments from biblical verses can be refuted.
Balak doesn't understand a man like Bilam, nor is Bilam one of his
subjects who must fear the wrath of the king.  Conversely, the king must
be careful not to offend the powerful sorcerer. Bilam's awareness of
GOD's election of the Israelites doesn't bespeak acceptance of that
fact.  In fact, this is precisely the reason for the enmity towards
them.  If GOD is close to an entire nation, then where does that leave
those individuals who had previously held a unique distinction of
closeness to Him.  The repeated ostensible changes of the Divine will
about this proposed mission to the Jews should be seen in the context of
the dynamics of the relationship with Bilam.  GOD does not wish to lose
his servant, but will not prevent him from meeting his doom if he
insists on it.  It is sufficient to dramatically show the danger that
Bilam is confronting, and that even Bilam only can discern what he is
shown.  If Bilam is not an evil man (rasha) in general, he does have a
fatal flaw - an inflated ego that can not countenance  the election of
an entire people to be the bearers of the Divine message to the world.
He is very aware of the Divine will, but seeks, nontheless, to thwart

Yitzchok Zlochower

From: Joseph Geretz <jgeretz@...>
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 00:14:26 -0400
Subject: Is Bilam a Rasha?

Moshe and Davida Nugiel wrote as follows:
> 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
> effective.

Actually, Balak had no objective reason to fear the B'nei Yisrael who
were explicitly commanded not to harm the Moabites. See Devarim 2:9
where Moshe Rabbeinu recounts:

H-shem said to me: You shall not distress Moab and you shall not provoke
war with them, for I shall not give you an inheritance from their land,
for to the children of Lot I have given Ar as an inheritance.

If Balak did not know this was true, a simple ambassadorial mission
would have revealed that he had nothing to fear. Indeed, just recently
the Jewish people retreated in front of the Edomites who refused to
allow them to pass through their land. And although the Jewish nation
did defeat Sichon and the Amorite nation, this was only *after* Sichon
agressively attacked the Jewish people first. In fact, prior to the
attack the Jewish people had *asked permission* to pass through their
land, a move which would have greatly improved the Amorite economy. The
refusal and subsequent attack can only be attributed to what we call
nowadays anti-Semitism. The fact is though, that the Jewish people did
not agressively attack either Edom or the Amorites and both Balak and
Bilaam surely knew this.

Shall we say that Mizrayim was justified in their persecution of the
Jews?  They too had a 'reason', See Shemos 1:9-10. Shall we justify the
Crusaders who waged war against the Jews for the 'reason' that we had
murdered their 'savior'? Shall we justify the pogroms of the previous
century, each of which had a stated 'reason' either political, religious
or financial? Shall we justify the Nazis, may their name be cursed and
erased? After all they too cited 'reasons' to support their
genocide. After all, the Jews control the governments, the banks, the
media, the food supplies, the raw materials, etc, etc.

So the fact that Balak appeals to Bilaam using 'reason' is not a very
convincing argument since the 'reason' was patently false to begin with.
Indeed, the common thread seems to be that all wicked enemies of the Jewish
people have always had a 'reason' to 'justify' their hatred and have always
used 'reasons' rather than explicit irrational hatred in order to incite
acts of violence against the Jewish people. However, a 'reason' does not
provide justification, nor does it diminish the wickedness of those who
have, through the ages, sought to destroy the Jewish nation, G-d forbid.

Joseph Geretz
Focal Point Solutions, Inc.

From: Russell Hendel <rhendel@...>
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 07:58:29 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: RE: Is Bilam a Rasha?

David (v28n83) asks for a defense that Bilam was wicked. This topic by
the way was recently discussed in the email group, Torah-Forum where a
variety of opinions (similar to those in our mail-jewish group)

While it is certainly interesting to cite various Biblical commentators
I think it would be helpful if we started the discussion with a direct
citation of Biblical verses. There are two main sets of verses
explicitly indicating Bilam was an evil person.

1) Jos 24:8-9---"BALAK asked Bilam to curse the Jews..and I (God)
      refused to listen to BILAM"(So he wanted to curse us). (cf Dt 23:6
      which also places blame on Bilam although the major emphasis of
      the Dt 23:5-6 verses is against Amon and Moav-- finally compare
      Neh 13-2 "Bilam was hired to curse us but God changed the curse to
      a blessing"--so apparently he did curse us).

2) Nu 31:14-16---"These women were against the Jews AT THE ADVISE
      of Bilam...." (or at the WORD of BILAM--at any rate this verse
      makes it clear that Bilam helped instigate the women against the
      Jews a sin which caused a plague of 24000).

With regard to this last verse (Nu 31:14-16), it is this verse that
explains why we judge the juxtaposition of the Nu 25 (Sinning with the
Midianite women) and Nu 24 (Bilams prophecies) as indicating causality.
For we do NOT learn that Bilam gave advise from the
juxtaposition. Rather we learn it from the explicit verse Nu 31:14-16)
AFTER having learned that he gave advice to the Midianite women we can
then see the juxtaposition as SUPPORTIVE evidence.  In my email group,
Rashi Is Simple I call this the principle of OTHER VERSES--in other
words Rashi is not learning something from some minor nuance in the
verse being studied but rather he is learning it from an EXPLICIT
statement in another verse.

I should also point out that once we establish that Bilam was wicked and
involved in sexual sins we have the right to interpret other Biblical
verses that way: For example, Nu 22:30 is interpreted to mean that Bilam
committed Bestiality--again: The derivation is not from the verse itself
but from the OTHER verses which depict Bilam as an evil person.

Russell Hendel;Phd ASA;Rashi Is Simple;http://www.shamash.org/rashi/

From: Ari Kahn <kahnar@...>
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 1999 22:57:35 +0300
Subject: Re: Is Bilam a Rasha?

Regrading Billaam, he is not the only biblical character who seems
sympathetic based on the verses, I think a similar argument could be
presented for Esav.  However this is an interesting approach which I
have heard attributed to the Vilna Gaon regarding Billaam, chazal at
times used the name Billaam when referring to a different 'prophet' of
the non-Jews - Jesus. The argument goes, that the Jews afraid of
censorship, and backlash simply replaced Billaam for Jesus.
 The Mishna in Sanhedrin which states 'all Jews have a share in the
world to come' then limits some individuals, all the limitations are
Jewish with the exception of Bil'am. Why would one have thought that he
had a share to lose (the Rambam based on the Tosefta argues that
righteous gentiles have a share - but Bil'am was not righteous) why
would he need an exception?
 There are a number of passages which make this thesis extremely
credible: (emphases added are my own):
 Sanhedrin 106a Bil'am also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, [did the
children of Israel slay with the sword]. A soothsayer? But he was a
prophet!  R. Johanan said: At first he was a prophet, but subsequently a
soothsayer.  R. Papa observed: This is what men say, "She who was the
descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters.'
106b A certain 'min' said to R. Hanina: Have you heard how old Bil'am
was?  He replied: It is not actually stated, but since it is written,
'Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days,' [it
follows that] he was thirty-three or thirty-four years old. He rejoined:
You have said correctly; I personally have seen Bil'am's Chronicle, in
which it is stated, 'Bil'am the lame was thirty years old when Pinhas
the Robber killed him.' Mar, the son of Rabina, said to his sons: 'In
the case of all [those mentioned as having no portion in the future
world] you should not take [the Biblical passages dealing with them] to
expound them [to their discredit], excepting in the case of the wicked
Bil'am: whatever you find [written] about him, lecture upon it [to his

Hereford, in 'Christianity in the Talmud and Midrash,' utilizes this
approach extensively.

Ari Kahn


From: Prof. Aryeh A. Frimer <frimea@...>
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 13:22:07 +0300
Subject: Re: Mechitsah at Hakhel?

Josh Backon notes that according to Rav Yaakov Yehiel Weinberg Zatsal,
Resp. Sridei Eish Even ha'Ezer Siman 77 "only in batei Knesset was there
an old takana to make high mechitzot ... but in public meetings ..
there was never an obligation to make a mechitza: one only requires that
men and women don't sit togther or intermingle." Hence, he suggests that
at HAK'HEL the men and women stood on different sides but there wasn't a
physical mechitza separating them.
	That works well for Rav Weinberg who holds mechitsa is
derabanan. But according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, mechitsa is a de-oraita
wherever masses of men and women are bidden to congregate. Hence, how
does he explain the absence of a Mechitsa at hakhel?



From: Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz <sabbahillel@...>
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 23:41:46 -0400
Subject: Re: Tefillin on Chol HaMoed

> From: Moshe Feldman <moshefeldman@...>
> I would think if the tefillin wearers can be seen by the non-tefillin
> wearers, then you have even a greater violation of lo titgod'du.  The
> prohibition is "lo ta'asu agudot agudot"--do not make yourselves into
> separate groups.  The extension of this halacha is that there is a
> prohibition even where a single group contains members with varying
> minhagim.  In the case of the mechitzah, surely you have formed separate
> groups!
> OTOH, if the tefillin wearers cannot be seen by the non-wearers, this
> would be a good solution.  I myself wore tefillin on chol hamoed in
> Israel and davened in the women's section.  In Israel, it is very clear
> that there is a lo titgod'du problem in wearing tefillin publicly.

Since the mechitza runs from the front to the back, the two groups
cannot see each other.  The rav paskened that in this case, it was not
lo titgod'du.  As you stated davening in the women's section was


End of Volume 28 Issue 91